Not All Israeli Citizens Are Equal (NY) TIMES OP-ED) By YOUSEF MUNAYYER Washington 05/24/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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I’M a Palestinian who was born in the Israeli town of Lod, and thus I
am an Israeli citizen. My wife is not; she is a Palestinian from
Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Despite our towns being
just 30 miles apart, we met almost 6,000 miles away in Massachusetts,
where we attended neighboring colleges.
A series of walls, checkpoints, settlements and soldiers fill the 30-
mile gap between our hometowns, making it more likely for us to have
met on the other side of the planet than in our own backyard.
Never is this reality more profound than on our trips home from our
current residence outside Washington.
Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport is on the outskirts of
Lod (Lydda in Arabic), but because my wife has a Palestinian ID, she
cannot fly there; she is relegated to flying to Amman, Jordan. If we
plan a trip together — an enjoyable task for most couples — we must
prepare for a logistical nightmare that reminds us of our profound
inequality before the law at every turn.
Even if we fly together to Amman, we are forced to take different
bridges, two hours apart, and endure often humiliating waiting and
questioning just to cross into Israel and the West Bank. The laws
conspire to separate us.
If we lived in the region, I would have to forgo my residency, since
Israeli law prevents my wife from living with me in Israel. This is
to prevent what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once referred to
as “demographic spillover.” Additional Palestinian babies in Israel
are considered “demographic threats” by a state constantly battling
to keep a Jewish majority. (Of course, Israelis who marry Americans
or any non-Palestinian foreigners are not subjected to this
Last week marked Israel’s 64th year of independence; it is also when
Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” during which
many of Palestine’s native inhabitants were turned into refugees.
In 1948, the Israeli brigade commander Yitzhak Rabin helped expel
Lydda’s Palestinian population. Some 19,000 of the town’s 20,000
native Palestinian inhabitants were forced out. My grandparents were
among the 1,000 to remain.
They were fortunate to become only internally displaced and not
refugees. Years later my grandfather was able to buy back his own
home — a cruel absurdity, but a better fate than that imposed on most
of his neighbors, who were never permitted to re-establish their
lives in their hometowns.
Three decades later, in October 1979, this newspaper reported that
Israel barred Rabin from detailing in his memoir what he conceded was
the “expulsion” of the “civilian population of Lod and Ramle,
numbering some 50,000.” Rabin, who by then had served as prime
minister, sought to describe how “it was essential to drive the
Two generations after the Nakba, the effect of discriminatory Israeli
policies still reverberates. Israel still seeks to safeguard its
image by claiming to be a bastion of democracy that treats its
Palestinian citizens well, all the while continuing illiberal
policies that target this very population. There is a long history of
In the 1950s new laws permitted the state to take control over
Palestinians’ land by classifying them “absentees.” Of course, it was
the state that made them absentees by either preventing refugees from
returning to Israel or barring internally displaced Palestinians from
having access to their land. This last group was ironically
termed “present absentees” — able to see their land but not to reach
it because of military restrictions that ultimately resulted in their
watching the state confiscate it. Until 1966, Palestinian citizens
were governed under martial law.
Today, a Jew from any country can move to Israel, while a Palestinian
refugee, with a valid claim to property in Israel, cannot. And
although Palestinians make up about 20 percent of Israel’s
population, the 2012 budget allocates less than 7 percent for
Tragically for Palestinians, Zionism requires the state to empower
and maintain a Jewish majority even at the expense of its non-Jewish
citizens, and the occupation of the West Bank is only one part of it.
What exists today between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea
is therefore essentially one state, under Israeli control, where
Palestinians have varying degrees of limited rights: 1.5 million are
second-class citizens, and four million more are not citizens at all.
If this is not apartheid, then whatever it is, it’s certainly not
The failure of Israeli and American leaders to grapple with this
nondemocratic reality is not helping. Even if a two-state solution
were achieved, which seems fanciful at this point, a fundamental
contradiction would remain: more than 35 laws in ostensibly
democratic Israel discriminate against Palestinians who are Israeli
For all the talk about shared values between Israel and the United
States, democracy is sadly not one of them right now, and it will not
be until Israel’s leaders are willing to recognize Palestinians as
equals, not just in name, but in law.
Yousef Munayyer is executive director of the Jerusalem Fund.
(Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company 05/24/12)
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