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9509News from Israel: 'The Butcher of Beirut' dies at 85 after eight years in coma

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  • Zafar Khan
    Jan 12, 2014
      Ariel Sharon: 'The Butcher of Beirut' dies at 85 after eight years in coma
      Published January 11th, 2014 - 13:17 GMT via SyndiGate.info


      Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon passed away on Saturday after eight years in a coma, leaving behind a bloody and conflicted legacy in the land he called home.

      Nicknamed "the Bulldozer," Sharon is remembered by Palestinians and many other Arabs for his participation in and leadership over numerous massacres in several countries and his central role in repressing the Palestinian national movement over the course of decades.

      Israelis, meanwhile, remember him as a strong but controversial statesman who led the country with an iron fist through uncertain times.

      Indeed, Sharon's iron fist sometimes proved too extreme even for the Israeli military. At numerous moments throughout his career he was reprimanded for his ruthlessness in dealing with Palestinian and other Arab civilians.

      Despite being punished by military superiors, he consistently managed to return to leadership positions in the "most moral army in the world," as the Israeli armed forces refer to themselves.

      A major supporter of the Israeli settlement movement of Palestinian lands, he presided over the unprecedented expansion of Jewish colonies in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.

      While Israelis remember him for the decision to pull 8,500 settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, Palestinians remember that he was a key architect of the movement that brought 500,000 Jewish colonists to settle the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

      When in 2000 he toured the Al-Aqsa compound in occupied East Jerusalem and set off a Palestinian national uprising, it was no exaggeration to say that his mere footsteps had managed to ignite a rebellion.

      Indeed, there is hardly a figure in the region today who inspires as much passion and anger as Ariel Sharon.

      A troubled youth

      Born in 1928 to Belarussian parents on a Jewish collective settlement in the British mandate of Palestine, Sharon joined a Zionist militia in the 1940s to take part in the campaign to create a Jewish state.

      Sharon participated in military campaigns led by the Haganah, which famously devised Plan Dalet. This plan was the template for the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in order to create a Jewish majority in what was to become Israel.

      Following independence, Sharon joined the infamous Unit 101 of the Israeli armed forces, where he led covert cross-border operations against civilian and military targets in the Jordanian-occupied West Bank.

      On Oct. 1953, Sharon led a squad on a raid into the village of Qibya, blowing up houses and throwing grenades at random into residential neighborhoods. The raid, which would come to be called the Qibya Massacre, killed 69 civilians, two-thirds of them women and children, and provoked international outrage.

      Sharon's military legacy in the years following were also mired in controversy, as his conduct in the Suez Canal war was seen by superiors as unnecessarily aggressive.

      Following a major victory against Egyptian forces in 1967, however, Sharon was appointed head of the Southern Command for the Israeli military in 1969.

      Sharon the politician

      By the early 1970s, however, he was in trouble with superiors again, and was subsequently relieved of duty in the armed forces.

      Sharon moved into politics, and he became a major force behind the establishment of the right-wing Likud party. He was an early advocate of the movement that advocated Jewish colonization of the territories captured in 1967.

      From the beginning of the settlement movement, he actively promoted efforts to take over Arab-owned lands and give them to Jews, with the intent of preventing Arabs who had fled from returning.

      After success in the 1981 elections, Sharon was appointed Minister of Defense, a role that would earn him international notoriety as he presided over the bloody Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

      The invasion, which came in response to PLO attacks from southern Lebanon onto Israeli territory, killed around 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, and was exceedingly brutal even by the standards of the ongoing Lebanese civil war.

      In one of the most shocking episodes of Sharon's career, he presided over and facilitated the massacre of around 3,500 unarmed Palestinian civilians in Sabra and Shatila in southern Beirut by Israeli-supported Lebanese Phalangist militias. Israeli forces who controlled the area, surrounded the camp and lit flares during the night to help militants navigate alleyways as they slaughtered residents.

      The Kahan Commission, an Israeli government body set up to ascertain whether the Israeli armed forces bore responsibility for the massacre, charged in 1982 that Sharon indirectly bore "personal responsibility" for "ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge" and "not taking appropriate measures to prevent bloodshed."

      The brutality of the invasion of Lebanon united previously-divided Lebanese factions against Israel, and led to the creation of the Lebanese political party and militant group Hezbollah, which would go on to challenge Israeli supremacy in the region.

      Israeli forces eventually withdrew from most of Lebanon but occupied southern Lebanon until 2000, when they pulled out after years of Hezbollah-led resistance.

      Settlements and Intifada

      Due to public pressure in the wake of the massacre, Sharon lost his position as Defense Minister but remained in the Israeli cabinet, focusing primarily on the settlement movement and domestic issues in the 1980s and 90s.

      Sharon was a principle architect of the settlement movement, using his positions as Minister of Housing Construction and Minister of National Infrastructure among others to facilitate the construction of a vast apparatus of illegal settlements on occupied lands in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights.

      As Sharon told a meeting of the right-wing Tzomet party on Nov. 15, 1998: "Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours. ... Everything we don't grab will go to them."

      In other posts, he worked to incorporate Jewish settlements into instruments of national planning, thus normalizing their status as integral parts of Israel despite their illegality under international law.

      In September 2000, amid rising anger in the Palestinian territories over continuing settlement construction and the breakdown of peace talks, Ariel Sharon toured the Al-Aqsa compound in occupied East Jerusalem accompanied by 1,000 security forces.

      The site is holy to both Muslims and Jews, and years of Israeli construction around the site -- including the demolition of an entire Palestinian neighborhood, the Maghrebi Quarter, in 1967 -- make it an extremely important symbol for Palestinians.

      The visit led to mass protests, while violent Israeli repressions of these protests fueled into widespread public anger at Israel's failure to abide by its responsibilities according to the peace talks and end the occupation.

      The days that followed marked a major escalation of the Palestinian national resistance against Israel, and unleashed waves of fury and violence against both Israeli military and civilians that became known as the Second Intifada.

      Sharon subsequently emerged as Israel's Prime Minister in February 2001, and would oversee the brutal response to the Intifada that left thousands of Palestinians dead. At the same time, hundreds of Israelis died in the waves of Palestinian militant bombings that hit Israeli cities.

      Sharon famously said in a statement on public radio in March 2001 in response to a US-led fact-finding commission on the beginning of the violence, "Israel may have the right to put others on trial, but certainly no one has the right to put the Jewish people and the State of Israel on trial."

      'The Butcher of Beirut'

      Towards the end of his life, he began to support limited pull-outs from the occupied territories. In 2005, he campaigned for and successfully implemented a withdrawal of all settlements in the Gaza Strip (and four in the West Bank), angering the settler movement and acquiring a reputation as a man of peace abroad.

      But for the Palestinians, this last-minute act -- which Sharon himself argued was strategic, and not a peace offering -- did little to salvage the reputation of a man who was known popularly as the "Butcher of Beirut."

      On Jan. 4, 2006, Ariel Sharon suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke, putting him into a coma that would last more than eight years.

      During that time, Israeli leaders have continued settlement expansion across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

      The Gaza Strip, meanwhile, was placed under Israeli siege beginning in 2006, and Israeli military control over its borders, trade, airspace, and water mean that it is, by international standards, an occupied territory.

      Nearly ten years after "the Bulldozer" disappeared from public life, his legacy of warfare and repression lives on.

      In fact, he has been more successful in laying the groundwork for Israeli occupation and control than he could have ever possibly imagined.

      Israel announces plans for 1,400 new settlement homes
      10 January 2014 Last updated at 22:17


      Israel has announced plans to build 1,400 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

      The move was expected after the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners last month, but was delayed until after a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

      Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said it showed "Israel's clear commitment to the destruction of peace efforts".

      There has been little sign of progress from the direct negotiations mediated by Mr Kerry, which resumed in July.

      A dispute over settlement construction led to the collapse of the last talks.

      About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

      Israel's Finance Minister Yair Lapid criticised his own government's announcement, saying it "complicated" the peace process and was a "mistake".

      "In every aspect, it seems the world is losing its patience for us," Mr Lapid told the Israeli Ynet news website.

      'Displaying true agenda'

      On Friday, Israel's housing ministry issued tenders for the construction of 801 housing units in West Bank settlements, including Efrat, Elkana and Emanuel, and 600 in Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem.

      The ministry also re-issued tenders for a further 532 homes in East Jerusalem that had previously failed to attract bids from contractors.

      The settlement watchdog, Peace Now, said that since the direct peace talks resumed, Israel had announced plans for 5,439 settlement homes.

      "These latest tenders could cause negotiations to break down and destroy Kerry's efforts," said Peace Now's general secretary, Yariv Oppenheimer.

      Mr Erekat, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) executive committee and its chief negotiator at the peace talks, said the Israeli government was "openly displaying its true agenda".

      "The announcement of yet more settlement units at this particular moment is a test for the US administration's ability to hold Israel accountable for actively sabotaging their efforts for peace," he added.

      At the beginning of the month, the US secretary of state held talks with Israeli and Palestinian representatives in an effort to secure a "framework" for a final Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

      He hoped to achieve consensus on core issues - including security, borders, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees - so progress could be made towards signing a comprehensive treaty by April, US officials said.

      In a separate development on Friday, the Israeli foreign ministry summoned the ambassador of the Netherlands "for clarification" over the decision by the Dutch pension fund asset manager, PGGM, to divest from five Israeli banks involved in financing West Bank settlements.

      Raffi Schutz, the ministry's deputy director general for European affairs, told Caspar Veldkamp that the move was "unacceptable and relies on false pretence".

      He said Israel expected the government of the Netherlands "to take an unequivocal stance against such steps, which only wreak damage" to bilateral relations.

      Last month, the Dutch water supplier, Vitens, ended a partnership with the Israeli water company, Mekorot, which supplies settlements.

      Israel's Druze conscientious objectors
      Though over-represented in the Israeli military, some men from the Druze community refuse to serve.
      Dana Ballout Last updated: 08 Jan 2014 20:04


      Omar Saad, an 18-year-old Druze man from northern Israel, was released on Wednesday from his second term in prison for refusing conscription into the Israeli army.

      He is expected to return to prison on January 12, and like other conscientious objectors before him, Saad's continued rejection could lead to several more prison terms before being released for good.

      Saad, a talented violinist and a member of the sibling group Galilee Quartet, is one of what some Druze say is a growing number of conscientious objectors from their community. The signs of dissent have made some Israeli officials uneasy about a people they have actively embraced but whose loyalty they have often questioned.

      There are around 120,000 Druze in 22 villages in northern Israel, close to two percent of the population. There are also 800,000 Druze in Syria and around 450,000 in Lebanon. A religious offshoot of Ismaili Shia Islam, the Druze are unlike other Arab populations in Israel. Since 1956 members of the minority group, known for its religious secrecy, have served in the Israeli military - putting them at odds with their Arab brethren.

      Although the overwhelming majority of Druze serve in the army, for decades some young Druze men have refused to serve. Strong opposition to Druze conscription into the Israeli army began in 1972 with the establishment of the Druze Initiative Committee urging the end to what they call exploitation of Druze soldiers.

      Today, vibrant local news outlets and social media sites have led to louder voices of protest among younger Druze in Israel.

      Government response

      "Our Druze brothers are part of us. They serve in combat units in the IDF [the Israeli army] and they should be treated as equals," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on November 30.

      Netanyahu's comment came in response to a highly publicised incident last month in which Druze soldiers were denied access to the Dimona nuclear site for a military drill, while fellow Jewish soldiers were waved in. Israeli Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Muwaffak Tarif called the event an unacceptable insult to the Druze, showing blatant discrimination against the soldiers based on their religion.

      Today, 83 percent of Druze enlist in the Israeli army, compared to 72 percent of Israeli Jews. Countless social media groups are dedicated to Druze pride in Israel and Druze battalions are often on the front lines of Israel's battles.

      "In the military, Druze often serve as the point of contact with Arabic-speaking populations under Israeli military control. That is the case with the Palestinians in the West Bank, and that was the case in southern Lebanon," said Uri Zaki, former US director of the Israeli non-profit organisation B'Tselem.

      For example, Zaki recalls Druze serving as interrogators in the West Bank during his service in the early 1990s. While recognising that the minority group does face discrimination in Israel, Zaki said it would be fair to say that Israeli Jews generally feel solidarity with the Druze community, mainly because of the fact that they serve in the military.

      Economic imperatives

      Professor Amir Khnifess, a scholar on the relationship between Druze and the state of Israel, said it's complicated to be Druze in Israel - particularly as a soldier. For many Druze, he said, serving in the Israeli military has little to do with loyalty to the Jewish state and more to do with seeking a better standard of living.

      "The Druze don't serve in the army because they hate Palestinians, they do so because serving in the army will give you economic benefits," he explained. "You are already facing discrimination for not being Jewish, so [the Druze] want to reduce the level of discrimination by serving in the army."

      Khnifess compared the Druze service in the Israeli military to Palestinians working on construction sites for future Israeli settlements. "It's not because they are disloyal to their people, it's because they have to live," he said.

      Druze service to the Jewish state began in the 1940s at a time when the previously politically passive, peasant community was in conflict with Arab nationalists. This drove some Druze to fight alongside the Jews, who welcomed and encouraged their support.

      "There is a special three-fold bond between the Jewish people and the Druze community - in blood, in life and among our peoples. I would like to express the Jewish people's appreciation for those Druze who have fallen in defence of the State of Israel," Netanyahu said in a visit to the Druze communities last April.

      "I fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Druze soldiers and commanders, and my late brother fought alongside Druze soldiers who brought honour and security to the state of Israel, and I and the Jewish people will never forget this."

      This so-called "blood bond" between the Druze and Jewish Israelis is not shared by all Druze. A 2009 study found a consistent decline in Druze patriotism and loyalty to the state of Israel.

      "There are many advantages to serving in the army. The government takes care of you, you get a good salary, housing benefits and a good retirement plan," said former Druze soldier Yusef Ali, who comes from a family of both soldiers and objectors. "But they brainwash us in the army and use us," said Ali, who served in the IDF in 1996. "The bottom line is they don't give a damn if we are Druze - we are still 'Arabs' to them."

      'We are Arab first'

      Reliance on the security sector for employment has resulted in the Druze having among the lowest university attendance rates in the country. In addition, many Druze claim blatant government discrimination against their villages and have actively protested against scarce economic opportunities.

      Druze activist Hadiy'ya Kayoof, who comes from the northern village of Isfiya, notes that only a small minority of people in her village have attended university. In addition, her village lacks modern urban planning and proper infrastructure due to government procrastination in approving building maps, she said.

      Historically, Druze communities have allied themselves with their host country's government for protection and survival. In Syria, the Druze are allied with the Assad regime. In Lebanon, the main Druze party, the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), has flip-flopped its alliances based on the changing powers in the country.

      After more than 60 years of fighting alongside one another, young Israeli Druze are increasingly frustrated, seeing their community's loyalty to Israel as misplaced and their service undervalued.

      "I refuse the term 'Israeli Druze'," said Kayoof, who is a member of an organisation against the mandatory conscription of Druze into the Israeli military. "We are Arab first, Palestinian second, and living under Israeli occupation," she said, adding that she "personally believe[s] that the Druze have begun losing their trust in government".

      Like Kayoof and Saad, many are taking it upon themselves to reconnect with their community's Arab identity and perhaps even reconcile with fellow Arabs - many of whom view them as traitors to the Arab and Palestinian cause.

      Israel-Romania row over settlements building
      In latest row between Israel and EU, Romania refuses to allow its workers to build illegal settlements in the West Bank.
      Last updated: 11 Dec 2013 03:01


      A diplomatic spat has erupted between Israel and Romania after Bucharest reportedly refused to allow Romanian construction workers to be employed in settlements being built in the occupied West Bank.

      The row, reported by Israel's military radio on Tuesday, comes in the wake of tensions between Israel and the European Union over new guidelines that bar EU funding for any Israeli entity operating in the occupied Palestinian territories.

      Talks with Bucharest on importing Romanian manual labour broke down in 2012, the radio said, but resumed at Israel's initiative after a new Romanian government came to power in May that year.

      Differences centre on Bucharest's request that Israel guarantee no Romanian construction workers would be employed on settlements on occupied Palestinian territory that are considered illegal under international law.

      The Romanian foreign ministry confirmed to the AFP news agency that the talks were continuing and said Bucharest's position would be consistent with "respect for international law, the positions of the EU and the protection of Romanian citizens".

      It said the latest draft of the accord had been sent to Israel in August for possible revisions, adding that "the negotiations are nearing the end".

      It was Israel's second diplomatic row with an EU country this week, following a row with the Netherlands over a new security scanner to be installed on the Israel-Gaza border that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was to have inaugurated last Sunday.

      The Dutch government had hoped the scanner would serve to facilitate an increase in the export of goods from Gaza to the West Bank, but Israeli officials accused the Dutch of trying to impose "political conditions".

      Also on Sunday, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans refused to accept an Israeli military escort around Palestinian-ruled areas of the West Bank city of Hebron.

      The European Union guidelines, which go into effect in January, ban funding for and financial dealing with projects linked to Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem.

      The Palestinians view continued settlement construction as a major obstacle to US-brokered peace talks relaunched in July after a three-year hiatus.

      Calls to boycott Israel grow on US campuses
      Calls to boycott Israeli academic institutions in support of Palestinian rights are gaining momentum.
      Samuel Nelson Gilbert Last updated: 10 Dec 2013 11:43


      On December 4, the council of the American Studies Association (ASA) voted unanimously to endorse the call from Palestinian civil society for an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions (USACBI), becoming only the second academic association in the US to do so. The decision was described by the ASA as an "ethical stance", which "represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians".

      Support for the resolution was described to Al Jazeera by author and Professor of American Studies Alex Lubin as "nothing less than the breaking of what Edward Said called 'America's last taboo'…Creating a space within US society to break through the enforced silence on Israeli occupation".

      In an interview with Al Jazeera, Distinguished Professor at University of California-Riverside, David Lloyd spoke about the conference that preceded the historic vote: "There was an incredible swell of applause and enthusiasm for the speakers who supported the Boycott. All expressed in different ways that this [boycott] was a fundamental matter of justice. This event indicates just how much things have shifted within the academy."

      Palestine solidarity movement

      The vote follows what many view as a trend in academia made evident by the growth of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) movement on US campuses. The student groups work in "solidarity with the indigenous Palestinian peoples" endorsing the campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights.

      Following the conference professor Lubin wrote, "Although the Palestinian solidarity movement has existed for a long time, it has been the growth of SJP activism across American university campuses, more than anything else perhaps, that has expanded the possibilities for discussion of Palestinians within the American academy."

      Since its beginning in the early 2000's, SJP has gained considerable ground, catching the attention and concern of Zionist organisations and Israel Advocacy groups

      A recent publication by the David Project, a non-profit Zionist organisation that seeks to shape the campus discussion on Israel, implicated SJP as part of the "pervasive negativity toward Israel on key leading American Universities and college campuses, which could erode long-term bipartisan support for the Jewish State".

      Earlier this year the Anti Defamation League came out with "The Top-Ten Anti-Israeli groups in America" with SJP among them.

      Oren Seagal, Director of ADL's Centre on Extremism told Al Jazeera: "SJP is one of those organisations that we feel - in terms of the tactics and messaging - is hell bent on providing a very biased, non-nuanced version of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is not conducive to dialog."

      "Both in its tactics and how widespread the organisation is at campuses around the country, and its various campaigns, we are very concerned about SJP," Seagal said.

      Brett Cohen, National Campus Programme Director for the global Israel Advocacy group StandWithUs, told Al Jazeera, "Their only goal is to create ill will against the State of Israel. It is clear that SJP and BDS supporters are trying to fight the Middle East War on campus."

      Accusations like these have been part of the US discourse for years. The problem, many argue, is that criticism of Israel can lead to legal challenges, university administrative pressure and accusations of Anti-Semitism.

      The Palestine Solidarity Legal Supportinitiative was formed to address the escalating legal repression against Palestinian solidarity activists. As attorney Liz Jackson said, "These Zionist organisations purport to fight anti-Semitism, but really their goal is to establish legal precedent, any way they can, that equates anti-Israel with anti-Semitism. They are attempting to squash freedom of speech. This is becoming the primary first amendment issue of our time."

      These challenges have not halted the growth of SJP and BDS. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Anna Baltzer National Organiser of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation spoke about BDS's recent successes. "We've seen successful boycott and divestment campaigns at more than 10 universities. Recently eight other major US universities passed resolutions recommending university divestment from US companies profiting from the occupation."

      SJP has seen its membership swell; more than 130 chapters are now active at US campuses.

      Danya Mustafa, co-founder of the University of New Mexico SJP chapter told Al Jazeera, "The movement has grown tremendously. You have more SJP'S branching up at colleges all over the county. Momentum is building."

      SJP's success has expanded dialog about Israel/Palestine that was previously unimaginable at US campuses, in part though SJP's coalition with other solidarity movements helping locate the Palestinian struggle within a broader critique of imperialism, colonialism, racism and apartheid.

      Growing support

      "Palestine has become a core issue for US progressives and leftists in a way it was in an earlier era globally. But for a long time it has been so suppressed," Sunaina Maira, an Asian American Studies Professor at University of California-Davis told Al Jazeera. "Now it's been revived and incorporated, as US academics and activists are seeing it through the lenses of colonialism, apartheid and indigenous rights movements."

      Yet a large pro-Israel sentiment within the US public remains.

      Some, however, argue that this starting to change due to the increased public awareness of Israeli actions in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel proper.

      "Can you really have a state that calls itself democratic where people of one religion or group have more rights than other people?" wondered Les Field, an Anthropology Professor at the University of New Mexico. "Is that the American ideal? The idea that an Arab citizen of Israel could become president, that is not possible in Israel."

      Sunaina Maira claims that it is this awareness has led to the growth of SJP. "SJP has been around more than 10 years. But in the last 5 years it has really expanded. One of the reasons for this growth is public awareness that Israeli continues to act with impunity, war after war."

      Campus climate

      While the growth of SJP and BDS is clear, many caution against assuming a pro-Palestinian sentiment is taking over US campuses.

      "There are more than five thousand campuses in the US. In terms of those that have a consistent level of anti-Israel activity, it is a small portion of that number," the ADL's Seagal said. "No one should think that all this terrible anti-Israel stuff is taking place at every university."

      Yet the American Studies boycott vote coupled with the growth of Palestine solidarity activism throughout the US, is evidence to many that a change taking place in the US in regard to the questions of Palestine.

      Professor David Lloyd said: "I myself believe, and I am not optimistic by nature, that we're going to win because we're beginning to win a moral fight. We're moving from a point where it can be labeled the kind of minority obsession by a bunch of leftists, to a point where it becomes the defining moral issue for students at the university. And, at that point, you have five thousands students cramming into a gym demanding that the university divest. I think that time is coming."

      Israeli former security chief: failure to end conflict is bigger threat than Iran
      Yuval Diskin says two-state solution will soon no longer be possible and Palestinian youths are 'frustrated and hopeless'
      Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
      theguardian.com, Thursday 5 December 2013 09.17 GMT


      The failure to reach a deal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict poses a bigger existential threat to Israel than the Iranian nuclear programme, according a former head of the country's security agency, Shin Bet.

      Yuval Diskin, who left office two years ago, criticised the continuing occupation and the growth of settlements in the West Bank, saying a solution based on two states would soon no longer be an option.

      "I would like to know that our national home has clear borders and that we hold the people sacred, not the land. I would like to see a national home that is not maintained by occupying another people. I say this even though it's not popular: we need an agreement now, before we reach a point of no return from which the two-state solution is not an option any longer," Diskin said in a speech to mark the 10th anniversary of the Geneva Initiative, a peace plan proposed by Israeli and Palestinian politicians and public figures.

      The former security chief, who featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary The Gatekeepers, added: "We cannot live in one state between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea and we cannot treat the conflict as shrapnel in the backside." He was referring to comments by the economy minister Naftali Bennett, who dismissed the conflict as "shrapnel in [the] rear end".

      Diskin called for a freeze in settlement expansion, saying that the release of long-serving Palestinian prisoners, agreed by the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, before the current talks began, was "a disgusting and cynical move that was born out of a desire to avoid freezing settlement construction".

      Speaking as the US secretary of state, John Kerry, arrived in Jerusalem for a fresh push at unblocking the current talks process, Diskin warned of the consequences of the Israeli government's stance.

      "It doesn't seem like the current government is trying to change the direction of the settlement enterprise. Our friends in the world are becoming frustrated with the implementation of the two-state solution. There is immense frustration in the West Bank. The Palestinians are feeling that their state is being stolen from them. The Palestinian masses feel they have no future. We must take into account the link between the Palestinians and their brothers, the Israeli Arabs. The concentration of fuel fumes in the air is such that even a small spark can cause a massive explosion."

      Palestinian youths "that were born into occupation are distressed, frustrated and hopeless", he added.

      Diskin has repeatedly criticised Israeli government policy since leaving the Shin Bet, which runs security and intelligence operations in the West Bank and Gaza. His comments were dismissed by serving officials as "recycled criticism and self-righteous preaching". Diskin was "out of touch with reality", they said.

      Israel's other silent war
      State-sponsored racism and discrimination against African migrants continue amid international media silence.
      Last updated: 17 Nov 2013 12:18


      A recent Jerusalem Post op-ed on "South Africa's obsession with Israel" resurrects complaints regarding the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, which during its 2011 session in Cape Town concluded that "Israel's rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid."

      The op-ed author reasons that, "[i]f… supporters of the tribunal were honestly concerned with the lives of Palestinians, why then was there not a single word mentioned about the abuse of Palestinians by Arab regimes such as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait, who keep them stateless, refuse them access to higher education and do not allow them the vote?"

      This critique conveniently ignores the fact that Palestinian statelessness is a direct result of the establishment of Israel, whose initial crime of ethnic cleansing granted Arab regimes the opportunity to engage in such abuses.

      Furthermore, none of these regimes is portrayed by the US political class and media as a highly ethical democracy meriting multibillion-dollar annual donations.

      As it turns out, South Africa's alleged "obsession" with Israel extends beyond the treatment of Palestinians. In 2012, a resolution was passed "abhor[ring] the recent Israeli state-sponsored xenophobic attacks and deportation of Africans".

      One could argue that, because Africans are also treated like excrement in other places around the globe, Israel is being unfairly singled out for criticism.

      However, this debate is generally averted thanks to the relative silence surrounding the plight of Africans in Israel.

      Battling the 'cancer'

      Among the diminutive ranks of the vocal minority is Israeli-Canadian journalist David Sheen, who reports relentlessly on the hazards to African existence in the Jewish state.

      These range from verbal and physical abuse - including, for example, the pelting of African women and children with bottles, cassette players, and other impromptu projectiles and the firebombing of homes and daycares - to long-term incarceration in inhumane conditions without trial, to the mass secret forcible repatriation of Sudanese asylum seekers in violation of the UN convention on the status of refugees.

      In a May blog post for +972 Magazine, Sheen marked the one-year anniversary of the "anti-African pogrom" in Tel Aviv, when "a thousand Jewish Israelis ran rampant through the streets… smashing and looting African-operated businesses and physically assaulting any dark-skinned person they came across."

      The rioters were encouraged by the likes of lawmaker Miri Regev, who announced that African migrants are "a cancer in the body" of the nation - terminology generally reserved for Palestinians.

      As Sheen notes, Regev "apologised after the violence, not to African asylum seekers, but to Israeli cancer victims, for comparing them to Africans - [and] was appointed by [PM Benjamin] Netanyahu to head the Knesset Interior Committee, the very body that decides the fate of those asylum seekers".

      Sheen's fundraising campaign to write a book on the plight of African refugees in Israel has been met with widespread vitriol, including from Amir Mizroch, editor-in-chief of Israel Hayom English.

      In an email, Sheen shared his response to Mizroch's allegation that writing a book about racism against Africans in Israel without also discussing racism against Africans in Arab countries constitutes racism against Israelis: "When I mocked his logic, asking him if it was necessary, in order to put the reports in their proper context, for me to also be locked up in an underground jail and tortured - sadly, the fate of many of these African refugees before they arrive in Israel - Mizroch tweeted: "now THAT I'd pay to see ;)".

      It's worth reiterating that the mistreatment of Africans in non-Israeli locales often occurs in the countries from which they have fled and to which Israel has no qualms about illegally deporting them. Netanyahu has pledged to rid the country of its "tens of thousands of infiltrators" from Africa.

      Monochrome Judaism

      The deployment of the term "infiltrators" to denote Africans in general, who are caricaturised as animalistic criminals responsible for many of Israel's ills, is disturbingly reminiscent of other historical periods involving the scapegoating of ethnic minorities.

      Sheen remarks: "When Israel rounds up and deports African refugees, it makes a mockery of the millions of Jews who died during World War II because no one would grant them shelter."

      Deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon's suggestion that the presence of Africans in Israel constitutes the establishment of "an enemy state of infiltrators" fails to account for the fact that the award for setting up adversarial countries on other people's land goes to Israel itself.

      Although the fundamental reason for restricting African access to Israel is to prevent a tipping of the demographic balance in favour of non-Jews, the circumstances facing Ethiopian Jewish immigrants indicate that religion only gets you so far. Lest the target national colour scheme be irreparably disrupted as well, Israel has been known to forcibly inject Ethiopian females with contraceptives.

      Other partial exceptions to the goal of monochrome Judaism do, however, exist. Sheen noted in May: "Since Israel took over responsibility for reviewing refugee status requests from UNHCR, out of the 60,000 non-Jewish African asylum seekers living in Israel, Israel has approved only one single solitary application. And that one African woman that the State of Israel… has deigned to bequeath refugee status upon - is an albino".

      As for the hyper-paranoid ruckus concerning the allegedly inherent criminality of Africans, such allegations don't jibe with the statistics. As Sheen has documented, criminal behaviour is more prevalent among "veteran Israelis" than asylum seekers, but, while instances in which Africans accused of raping Jews produce calls for the indiscriminate deportation of refugees, no such hysteria is generated when the rapist is Jewish.
      The hypocrisy is rendered even more acute by Israel's institutionalised rape culture, of which Sheen provides a few contemporary examples:

      "The Jerusalem chief of police was indicted for sex crimes involving nine female officers. An Israeli mayor charged with 'repeatedly raping a female subordinate over a lengthy period of time was given no jail time, and [was] instead invited to attend an event organised by the municipality marking 'International Women's Day'."

      A new video produced by Sheen and bestselling author Max Blumenthal features footage of Israeli defenders of African rights being serenaded by other members of the public with shouts like "May you be raped!"

      'Landscape of denial'

      Originally solicited and then rejected by the New York Times, the video also includes an interview with former Knesset member Michael Ben-Ari, who declares: "We are waging a war against the phenomenon of assimilation."

      Given such candidness with regards to politically incorrect designs, the international media's complicity in censoring reality is no doubt partly to thank for the upkeep of Israel's image.

      So, obviously, is Israel's PR machine, which as Sheen points out is "[w]ell-oiled from decades of distributing disinformation about Palestinians", and thus in a position to magically convert the horrendous treatment of Africans into a narrative of incomparable magnanimity.

      The perpetuation of this narrative entails the attempted silencing of persons like Sheen, subject not only to verbal intimidation but also physical harassment.

      The fabrications upon which the state of Israel teeters are meanwhile explored in a new documentary by Israeli journalist Lia Tarachansky, On the Side of the Road, which tells the story "of those who fought to erase Palestine and created an Israeli landscape of denial".

      Parliamentarian David Rotem appears in Knesset footage in the film informing his detractors: "You want to convert this state into a state for all its citizens, and you will not succeed. We will stop you."

      So much for democracy.

      Cast as existential threats to the Jewish state, Palestinians and Africans have served as targets for Israel's Prevention of Infiltration Law, devised to thwart Palestinian homecoming, and updated in 2012 to provide for the instantaneous imprisonment without trial of Africans.

      It seems, however, that a neurotic nation that depends upon the forgery of ubiquitous enemies to justify the wanton trampling of rights and dehumanising subjugation of the "Other" might indeed be its own worst adversary.

      After all, as Israeli historian Avi Shlaim has warned: "A history which is no longer credible serves neither to legitimate the State nor to inspire… its citizenry."

      Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.

      Follow her on Twitter: @MariaBelen_Fdez

      The structural roots of Israeli apartheid
      Recent rulings by the Israeli high court have made a mockery of the concepts of equality, justice, and dignity for all.
      Last Modified: 29 Oct 2013 15:58


      Palestinian-Israeli negotiations have intensified in recent days. The talks, facilitated by US Secretary of State John Kerry, have resulted in 13 meetings between the two delegations to discuss issues of mutual concern. Yet in the midst of the current flurry of activity aimed at saving the two-state solution from the shelves of rich archival libraries, three-time Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is insisting that the conflict is not a political one at all.

      To the contrary, at a recent talk delivered at Bar Ilan University, Netanyahu explained that the conflict is about Palestinian hatred for Jews as a people. There is, he maintains, a cultural malaise inherent to Palestinians that is not connected to Israeli military and structural violence against a dispossessed and stateless people. His diagnosis leaves little in the way of possible remedies, aside from cultural sensitivity trainings (for Palestinians, mind you) or, more realistically, the indefinite subjugation of an entire people - billed to US taxpayers.

      The hawkish leader's analysis is contingent on the belief that Palestinians are not rational actors, but emotional ones impervious to reason. Netanyahu's analysis is fundamentally racist and flawed because it ascribes to Jewish immigration into Mandatory Palestine an innocuous character it has never possessed.

      Israel's establishment as a homeland for a Jewish majority in a land where a Palestinian-Arab majority existed has necessitated the on-going forced removal and subjugation of the non-Jewish Palestinian population - not simply in the Arab-Israeli War or the Six-Day War, but into the present day.

      Forced into ghettoised communities

      Today, there are 6.8 million Palestinian refugees. These are people who fled the war and the threat of harm in 1948 - the Nakba - and 1967, and their descendants. Yet the travails of Palestinians are by no means finished. Israel's present-day administrative practices in housing, residency, water distribution, urban planning, education, and taxation policies are herding Palestinians into ghettoised communities or forcing them from the territory altogether.

      Within Israel, Palestinians are squeezed into designated areas or urban townships, as is the case with the 70,000 Palestinian bedouin in the Negev. Within the West Bank, Israeli policies are forcing Palestinians to search for opportunities in Area A, or a mere 16 percent of the occupied territory, severely constraining their movement. And the Gaza Strip, subject to a naval blockade and a comprehensive land siege, is the largest ghetto of all.

      Surrounding the concentrated and disconnected West Bank population centres is an intricate network of Jewish settler colonies, with the attendant physical and economic infrastructure, and whose residents are subject to a different set of laws designated for Jewish persons only with the intention - and result - of privileging them legally, administratively, economically, and politically.

      Still, this apartheid reality is not the worst-case scenario for Palestinians, many of whom insist that, come what may, they will never be forced out again.

      Endorsing apartheid

      Yet notwithstanding the courageous Palestinian determination to stay rooted to what land remains to them, Israel is pressuring thousands of Palestinians out of the territory and into forced exile along with those already removed since 1948. Between 1967 and 1994, Israel revoked the residency rights of approximately 140,000 Palestinians in the Occupied Territory through what can best be termed "silent deportation". The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics comments that, were it not for Israel's discriminatory policies, the Palestinian population would be greater by 14 percent.

      Within Israel, the ban on family reunification has forced Palestinian citizens, constituting approximately 20 percent of Israel's population, to build their families and lives outside of their place of birth if they marry a Palestinian from the Occupied Territories or a resident of an "enemy state". After the Israeli High Court upheld the discriminatory ban, Israeli Knesset member Yaakov Katz explained "… the State of Israel was saved from being flooded by 2-3 million Arab refugees".

      The intended purpose of Israeli laws, policies, and decrees within the state, as well as the Occupied Territories, is to diminish the Palestinian population. Under international law, this policy amounts to forced population transfer. In common speech, it is ethnic cleansing - sometimes by Israeli military might and sometimes via the law.

      It is in this context that Netanyahu proclaimed in his Bar Ilan address: "We will not be satisfied with recognition of the Israeli people or of some kind of bi-national state which will later be flooded by refugees."

      Palestinians officially recognised the State of Israel in 1993. The demand for something more, namely recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and state of the Jews alone, began in the early 2000s. Such recognition is a way of sanctioning Jewish privilege and ongoing Palestinian forced removal, dispossession, and exile.

      Israeli vs Jewish

      To date, a bifurcation between Israeli citizenship and Jewish nationality has facilitated both of these objectives. There is no such thing as an Israeli nationality under Israeli law. Israel recognises two basic bundles of rights - one for Jewish nationals who are entitled to citizenship, housing and education subsidies, employment opportunities and one for Israeli citizens only.

      In effect, a Jewish national (as defined by Israeli law) residing in London with no relationship to the state is entitled to more state benefits and protection than a Palestinian-Israeli citizen in Nazareth whose family lineage in the area dates back centuries.

      A group of Jewish-Israelis concerned with this structural discrimination recently filed a petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice seeking recognition for an Israeli people rather than a Jewish one. Despite the law's discriminatory implications, the court rejected the petition, explaining that the issue of whether there is a "peoplehood ... common to all its residents and citizens, called 'Israeli' ... is a national-political-social question and it is not the court's place to decide it."

      Some Israelis, like those who comprise the NGO Zochrot, are intent on having this discussion among Jewish-Israelis. In late September, Zochrot organised a conference aimed at promoting acknowledgment and accountability among Jewish-Israelis for the ongoing forced removal and exile of Palestinians. It explains that "realising the return of Palestinian refugees is a prerequisite for the country's decolonisation, ending the conflict, doing justice and creating an egalitarian civil society serving the interests of all its members".

      The NGO Monitor, an Israeli organisation incensed by the proposition of equality, has launched a campaign against Zochrot by targeting its European government funders.

      To an outside observer brought up on the merit of equal rights, the conditions to which Palestinians are subject are cause for indignation rather than the irrational hatred voiced by Netanyahu. Significantly, these conditions are the fruit of power, privilege, and politics and they can be remedied by affording equality, justice, and dignity for all. US taxpayers would be better off investing in these ideals rather then in an apartheid regime, which they are helping to make more durable.

      Noura Erakat is a Palestinian human rights attorney and is currently an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.

      Why Jerusalem’s new mayor will only be able to count on one half of the city
      East Jerusalem’s Arab residents boycott election seen as pivotal by the Israelis
      BEN LYNFIELD JERUSALEM Tuesday 22 October 2013


      It was a tale of two cities in Jerusalem yesterday as Arabs who make up 39 per cent of the city’s 800,000 residents shunned a hard-fought election for mayor seen by Israelis as pivotal to the city’s future.

      For Israelis in West Jerusalem, where schools were transformed into polling stations, campaign banners hung from porches, and volunteers vied for the attention of voters, the pressing issue was whether to re-elect Nir Barkat, a tech millionaire who has a largely secular support base and takes credit for reviving the city’s economy, or to give a chance to Moshe Lion, the candidate backed by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, who has argued the city is mismanaged and has promised to cut municipal taxes.

      But in Arab East Jerusalem, an occupied area annexed 36 years ago in a move Israel insists unified the city, Palestinians neither knew the name of Mr Lion nor thought the outcome would have any impact on them. Mr Barkat was ahead by six points in a poll published five days ago but his supporters were concerned that low turnout could boost Mr Lion

      “We’re not involved in any way, the majority of East Jerusalem is living normally this day,” said Raymond Kawa, a grocer in the upscale Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. “There are no posters, no directions to the ballot sites. I will never vote. This is an occupied city and we can feel the difference between how East and West are handled.”

      Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s office kept up a tradition of urging East Jerusalem residents to stay away from the balloting. “Participating would mean if not tolerating, then legitimising the annexation of Jerusalem and this is not in our books,” said Abdallah Abdallah, a Palestinian legislator who is Deputy Commissioner on Foreign Relations for Mr Abbas’s Fatah movement. With the status of East Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope to establish their capital, supposed to be discussed in the current negotiations with Israel, the Palestinian leadership is not interested in anything that could be interpreted as acceptance of Israeli rule.

      But many East Jerusalem residents did not cite the higher politics as their reason for ignoring the balloting. Rather, they said they have been turned off by what they see as discriminatory policies in all areas. “The garbage bin here has not been taken for a week,” Mr Kawa said. “It’s discrimination, that wouldn’t happen on the other side of town.” He said a road being built through the Arab neighbourhood of Beit Hanina was also taking longer than it would on the West side, causing daily traffic problems.

      Mohammed Abdo, a store owner in the lower-income Wadi Joz neighbourhood, said it was impossible to get building permits. “People can’t build on their own land, but a settler can come and the next day can build. They hit the Arabs with municipal taxes but give us nothing. If I have a problem with water they won’t respond because I’m Arab.”

      Shaher Sharabati, a butcher, said: “The most important thing is that children have a place to play. But there are no playgrounds for children in Wadi Joz, in contrast to West Jerusalem. If they gave services people would vote.”

      Mr Sharabati was dismissive of the idea that if Arabs voted they would have the political power to get the services: “It doesn’t matter who wins. It will remain the same. East Jerusalem will always be treated as inferior.”

      A municipality spokeswoman said in a written response that under Mr Barkat considerable effort has been focused on upgrading the quality of life in Arab areas in order to “close the gaps that have deepened due to decades of neglect”. She said the Mayor regularly meets Arab leaders and has established forums on business, education, health and welfare. At the start of the school year he inaugurated over 120 new classrooms in Arab areas, she said.

      Meir Levy, a Shas activist, vied with Barkat supporters at a polling station in Beit Hakerem. Mr Lion being elected, he said, was “the last will” of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the revered and immensely popular ultra-Orthodox sage who died two weeks ago aged 93.

      But in the Pat neighbourhood, Magi Adika, a teacher, said after casting her vote for Barkat that the incumbent had improved education in the city and opened more entertainment places for young people to go to on the Sabbath.

      Mr Barkat has no sympathy for Palestinian aspirations to establish a capital in East Jerusalem, urging that they instead use part of Ramallah in the West Bank. He also supports Israeli settlement in Arab neighbourhoods. Still, Mr Lion, who is backed by the ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman, has sought to portray Mr Barkat as being soft on the Palestinian issue.

      Court nixes push for 'Israeli nationality'
      Nationality is ethnically defined in Israel, which critics say underpins discrimination against Palestinians.
      Jonathan Cook Last Modified: 18 Oct 2013 12:32


      Nazareth, Israel - A court decision this month that rejected Israelis' right to a shared nationality has highlighted serious problems caused by Israel's self-definition as a Jewish state, say lawyers and human rights activists.

      A group of 21 Israelis had appealed to the Supreme Court to demand the state recognise their wish to be classified as "Israeli nationals".

      Since Israel's founding in 1948, authorities have refused to recognise such a nationality, instead classifying Israelis according to the ethnic group to which each belongs. The overwhelming majority are registered as either "Jewish" or "Arab" nationals, though there are more than 130 such categories in total.

      Critics say the system, while seemingly a technical matter, has far-reaching effects. The citizenship laws, they say, undergird a system of systematic discrimination against the one-fifth of Israel's population who are non-Jews - most of them belonging to Israel's Palestinian minority.

      Some observers also fear that the court ruling, which effectively upheld Israel's definition as a Jewish state, will strengthen the aversion of Israel's right-wing government to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

      Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly insisted that Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority recognise Israel as a Jewish state as a condition for reaching a peace agreement.

      'I am an Israeli'

      The case was brought to court by the "I am an Israeli" movement, led by Uzi Ornan, a retired linguist from northern Israel. The group, which includes both Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel, argued that they should be allowed to change their nationality to "Israeli".

      "This ruling is very dangerous," said Ornan. "It allows Israel to continue being a very peculiar country indeed, one that refuses to recognise the nationality of its own people. I don't know of another country that does such a thing. It is entirely anti-democratic."

      The "I am an Israeli" movement objects to Israel's system of laws that separate citizenship from nationality. While Israelis enjoy a common citizenship, they have separate nationalities based on their ethnic identity. Only the Jewish majority has been awarded national rights, meaning that Palestinian citizens face institutionalised discrimination, said Ornan.

      Ornan added: "It tells the country's Arab citizens that they have no real recognition in their own country - that they will always be treated as foreigners and they will always face discrimination."

      Others view the ruling more positively. Anita Shapira, a professor emeritus of Jewish history at Tel Aviv University, said creating a new category of "Israeli national" would undermine the Jewish essence of the state and alienate Jews from other countries who felt a connection to Israel through a shared religion.

      "The attempt to claim that there is a Jewish nationality in the state of Israel that is separate from the Jewish religion is something very revolutionary," she said.

      The "I am an Israeli" movement's petition was originally heard and rejected in 2007 by a district court in Jerusalem. The group then appealed to the Supreme Court, the second time that Israel's citizenship laws have been challenged in this venue.

      In the first hearing, in 1971, Justice Shimon Agranat ruled that it was "illegitimate" so soon after Israel's founding for the petitioners to "ask to separate themselves from the Jewish people and to achieve for themselves the status of a distinct Israeli nation".

      Though more than 40 years had passed, that position was largely upheld in the new ruling. Asher Grunis, the head of the Supreme Court, decided: "The existence of an Israeli ethnic nationality has not been proven." Another judge who heard the case, Hanan Melcer, warned that conceding such a nationality would jeopardise "the Jewish and the democratic nature of the state".

      Unequal treatment?

      However, legal analysts have drawn the opposite conclusion. Aeyal Gross, a law professor at Tel Aviv University, wrote in the Haaretz newspaper that the court's decision "will continue to obscure the possibility of having real democracy in Israel".

      Hassan Jabareen, the director of Adalah - a legal rights group for the Arab minority in Israel - said the state's refusal to recognise a shared nationality stripped Palestinians inside Israel of equality in most areas of their lives, including access to land, housing, education and employment. "It is also disturbing that Israeli law treats Israel as the Jewish homeland for Jews everywhere, even those who are not citizens of Israel," he said.

      Jabareen said this was achieved through the 1950 Law of Return, which allows Jews anywhere in the world to come to Israel and gain automatic citizenship.

      Israel used another law - the Citizenship Law of 1952 - to belatedly confer citizenship on the Palestinians who remained on their land following the 1948 war that established Israel. The Law of Return effectively provides an immigration policy only for Jews. Under the terms of the Citizenship Law, only a few dozen non-Jews - those who marry an Israeli citizen - qualify for naturalisation every year.

      Israel passed another law in 2003 that bars most Palestinians from the occupied territories and Arabs from neighbouring states from being eligible to naturalise, even if they marry an Israeli.

      At the time, officials said the law was needed to prevent terrorism, but most observers believe the legislation's real aim was to prevent what Israelis call "a right of return through the back door" - the fear that Palestinians would use marriage to Palestinians inside Israel to win citizenship and thus erode the country's Jewish majority.

      Ornan and others complain that the ethnic and religious basis of Israeli citizenship is further accentuated by Israel's adoption of arcane personal status laws dating from the Ottoman period. There are no civil institutions dealing with most areas of Israelis' private lives, forcing citizens to be identified with their religious community. Civil marriage, for example, is not possible inside Israel, and anyone marrying across the religious divide must marry abroad, typically in Cyprus, and then register the marriage upon their return.

      Civil rights groups such as "I am an Israeli", as well as the Palestinian minority's political parties, have been trying to challenge the citizenship laws, arguing that they are the key to Israel's system of structural discrimination.

      Adalah has established an online database showing that Israel has more than 55 laws that explicitly discriminate between Jewish and Palestinian citizens. This number has grown rapidly in recent years, said Jabareen, as the Israeli right-wing has been forced to legislate many established but uncodified discriminatory practices that were under threat of being ruled unconstitutional by the courts.

      In one recent example, Netanyahu's government passed the Admissions Committee Law in 2011, to prevent the Supreme Court ruling against vetting committees that have long denied Palestinian citizens access to hundreds of communities controlling most of the land in Israel. The government acted after a Palestinian citizen of Israel, Adel Qaadan, spent two decades in a legal battle to be allowed into one such community, Katzir. Qaadan was among the petitioners who lost this month's case to be recognised as an Israeli national.

      Growing divide

      The court ruling highlighted the growing divide between the ruling right-wing coalition on one side, and civil rights groups and the Palestinian leadership in Israel on the other.

      Since the mid-1990s, the Palestinian political parties have increasingly challenged Israel's claim to be a "Jewish and democratic state". Instead, they have demanded that Israel be reformed into what they call a "state of all its citizens", or a liberal democracy.

      Leading Israeli politicians - including a recent prime minister, Ehud Olmert - have admitted that discrimination against Palestinians exists. However, they have suggested that it is informal and similar to the discrimination faced by minorities in many democratic western countries.

      Civil rights groups, on the other hand, claim that the discrimination is structural to Israel's definition as a Jewish state. One member of parliament, Ahmed Tibi, has pointedly commented: "This country is Jewish and democratic: Democratic towards Jews, and Jewish toward Arabs."

      A survey published this month by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 49 percent of Israel Jews supported giving more rights to Jewish citizens than to Palestinian citizens. The same survey found that barely more than one-quarter of Palestinian citizens felt a sense of belonging to Israel.

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