Friday, July 2, 2010

Being a Palestinian Israeli: Dr. Adel Manna

The world is watching Israel has been the focus of increasing international attention since the attack on Gaza in December 2008 but even more so recently for the attack on the flotilla bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza, for the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, for aggressive building of settlements on occupied territory, for housing demolitions in East Jerusalem, for its nuclear potential and for tension in the special relationship it has historically enjoyed with the United States.

Less attention has been paid to the 1.5 million people, 20% of its population, who are Palestinians—Arabs, Christians, Druze—and citizens of Israel.

Dr. Adel Manna, an insider as member of this Arab Israeli minority, talked with us from Israel to provide a current perspective on the situation. He is the director of Academic Institute for Arab Teacher training at Beit Berl, a government-funded institute in central Israel and Senior Research Fellow at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem. He is a well-published authority on the history of the Ottoman period and is now writing a book about the Palestinians during the first decade of Israel's existence. His views on the subject are available here and here.

Declaration In December, 2006, in response to the growing discrimination and denial of human rights by the Israeli Government, the National Committee of the Heads of the Arab Local Authorities in Israel released a declaration—The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel—highlighting the aspirations of the Arab minority in Israel.

The declaration reads, in part: We, the Palestinian Arabs living in Israel, the natives of the land and the citizens of the state, part of the Palestinian people and the Arab nation … the 1948 war brought about the creation of the State of Israel on 78 percent of the territory of historical Palestine. We, who counted 160,000 in our homeland, found ourselves within the borders of the Jewish state, cut-off from the rest of our Palestinian people and the Arab world, were forced to accept the Israeli nationality and we became a minority in our historical homeland.

From Dr. Manna's perspective, things have got much worse for the native population since this declaration was released, making him fearful for the future of his children and grandchildren.

Here are selected excerpts transcribed from the June, 2010 Tidings from Hazel Kahan interview which can be heard in full:

We are perceived as people who are living temporarily in this place, as second-class citizens and, more than that, as a fifth column, as part of the Arab world, part of the Palestinian people in conflict with Israel while all the Jews in the world are perceived potentially as citizen of Israel…all they have to do is come to Israel and the next day they can be citizens of Israel while myself, who was born on the eve of the establishment of the State of Israel, for the last 60 years or more I am experiencing this discrimination…which is getting worse...

We are perceived by the majority and their representatives as challenging the State of Israel as a Jewish state…Being Jewish means automatically Jews have more rights than others and we say we don’t agree to that. We will not acquiesce to the status since 1948 that all Palestinians particularly Arabs would be forever second-class citizens in this State...The definition of the State of Israel as of the Jewish people and a Zionist state means we are excluded from the common goods of this state.

Passports and citizenship Dr. Manna explains that traveling on an Israeli passport means that as Israelis, Palestinians are not allowed into many Arab countries. At the same time, certain notation identify him to the Israeli authorities as a Palestinian, and is given rigorous inspection at airports. This is an established, ongoing policy:

In my country, I’m an Israeli citizen, they behave to me as a stranger…they want to remind me whenever I leave this country, at the airport, that I am a foreigner in the country, I am not an Israeli citizen. Everywhere else in the world…my Israeli passport protects me as an Israeli citizen, the same way like any Jew. This passport gives me equality outside Israel. This same passport discriminates against me when I come to the airport in Israel.

An imposed divided loyalty Palestinian Israelis are faced with a profound dilemma and a conflicted identity:

I am loyal to all the laws of Israel. This is what a citizen in a democratic state should be asked for…but in Israel that is not enough. They are asking us as a Palestinian minority to be loyal to all the policies of this right-wing government…against the Palestinians or Lebanese. And we question those wars…there are other ways to solve problems. Whenever you say that, you are automatically fifth column, partners to Israel’s enemies…Loyalty to policies that exclude us? It’s like asking Blacks in South Africa to be loyal to apartheid. We can't do that... The policy is that Israel wants to bring more Jews into Israel and to get rid of us.

Unintended consequences The years of discrimination, of what Dr. Manna describes as an “ethnic democracy” are having unanticipated consequences:

Arabs in Israel are getting more and more bitter…they are getting more experience as citizens of Israel, more educated, more outspoken and less willing to accept the discrimination. They (the Government) are no longer frightening them.

As long as the Palestinian minority was a weak minority which did not challenge the identity of the State, they were able to live with that. In the last decade the Palestinians became more outspoken, they are telling the majority that…the problem is the ideology of the State—Zionism. Being Jewish and Zionist means the State has an ideology against all non-Jews and non-Zionists and since we can’t be Jews and Zionists they want to get rid of us, and if they can’t get rid of us they want us to be second-class citizens…

Dr. Manna describes it as “an unfortunate, delicate, difficult situationwhere “we always have to balance our feelings and what we think with what the Israeli law is asking from us.”

We are citizens who are keeping the laws since 1948, we are good citizens. All that we demand is equality…

Unfortunately, instead of appreciating the relative silence and nonviolence struggle of the Palestinians, this government and other governments are pushing us into the corner to choose: either you are with Israel or you are with Israel’s enemies.

The future? Expulsion and transfer will not be possible, according to Dr. Manna, because “there is nowhere for us to go.” Instead:

This issue will be on the focus of the next year more and more.. rights and fair representation in all the institutions of Israel, a promise made in Israel’s declaration when statehood was declared…We are waiting this for 62 years.

Israel can’t behave to us the way they behaved in the past…Israel is paying a high price. I do hope, I really do hope, that the Jewish majority will understand that what they are doing lately is counterproductive…this heavy use of force, to try to frighten everyone is not working any more. They have to change their policy towards the Palestinians in occupied territories and towards the Palestinians in Israel.


This interview on Tidings from Hazel Kahan was originally broadcast on WPKN radio on June 30, 2010. Tidings is produced by Tony Ernst.