Opinion

Donald Trump Wants to Revoke My Citizenship. Because I'm an Arab

Trump’s Mideast plan pushes the hard right dream of population transfer: the involuntary revocation of Israeli citizenship for 300,000 people. We, the Arab minority, had no say

'The White House endorses revoking the citizenship of 300,000 inhabitants of Israel's Arab communities': US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House, Feb 11, 2020
AFP

President Donald Trump wants to revoke my citizenship. Because I am an Arab.

No, not in the United States, but in Israel. His Mideast "Deal of the Century" endorses an exchange: Multiple Arab towns in northern Israel would come under the writ of a future Palestinian state, and in exchange, Israel would annex Jewish settlements situated in the Palestinian territories.

This dry description doesn’t do the idea justice. This is what it really is: A population transfer conducted without any consultation with the people affected. A policy position based on ignorance about the complex layers of identity of Arab citizens of Israel, already targets of incitement and racism by Israel’s right-wing. And a legitimation of the hard right aspiration towards an homogenously Jewish Israel, where minorities are conditional guests and whose citizenship is not equal in origin or rights.

Those Arab towns are situated in what is known as the "Triangle," a region with an Arab majority bordering the northwest corner of the West Bank. For the Israeli establishment, that Arab population is a demographic threat to the Jewish nature of the Israeli state, together with general anxieties about the high birth rate among Arab families in Israel and Palestine.

The Trump plan "contemplates the possibility, subject to agreement of the parties that the borders of Israel will be redrawn such that the Triangle Communities become part of the State of Palestine…the civil rights of the residents...would be subject to the applicable laws and judicial rulings of the relevant authorities." 

The plan "explains" that, since the security concerns prompting Israel to acquire these Arab communities in 1949 have since been resolved, these communities could now be passed on to a future Palestinian state. "These communities, which largely self-identify as Palestinian, were originally designated to fall under Jordanian control during the negotiations of the Armistice Line of 1949, but ultimately were retained by Israel for military reasons that have since been mitigated."

The White House is giving a rationale for revoking the Israeli citizenship of the 300,000 inhabitants in these communities - myself included. Who would decide the fate of these communities? There is no mechanism mentioned to gauge grassroots Arab opinion. Would there be a localized referendum? Or would it be left to the Israeli and U.S. administrations to "benevolently" decide the fate and citizenship status of a quarter of a million citizens of Israel?

Removing our agency is only one aspect of Trump’s plan. Another is the superficial and ignorant foundations on which the "analysis" the Arab communities in Israel are based, not least, the blanket statement that we "largely self-identify as Palestinian."  

We, the Arab citizens of Israel, are the Palestinians who remained under Israeli rule after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. We represent about 21 percent of the entire Israeli population. Generally, our national, cultural, and civic identities coexist separately. Our Palestinian identity is foremost in relation to ideological, cultural, and religious issues; our Israeli identity is tied to our civic status, political engagement, work, and education. Arab citizens have historically operated within the Israeli political system to address their issues and concerns.

Ayman Odeh poses with supporters during a campaign rally for the Joint List in the Arab town of Kafr Yasif in northern Israel, August 23, 2019.
AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP

And contradicting the Trump plan’s claim, recent polls show that more members of these communities now self-identify as Arab, or Arab Israeli, rather than Palestinian.

The idea of revoking the citizenship of thousands of Arab citizens is not new, but rather a continuation of Israel’s discriminatory and alienating policies, and of right-wing incitement against the community. Those policies include the Jewish Nation-State Law, which practically and symbolically institutionalized the primacy of Jewish Israelis and the Hebrew language. Since 1948, we, the Arab minority, have been targeted by unfair laws, budgeting and planning, land confiscations, surveillance and political suppression.

Benjamin Netanyahu and his associates have a long history of inciting mistrust against Arab citizens and their representatives. The prime minister has frequently and groundlessly labelled Arab Knesset members as terrorists and collaborators to galvanize his right-wing base. 

And this isn’t the first time that Israel’s right-wing has mooted the idea of a land and population swap. In 2014, serving as foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, the head of Yisrael Beitenu Party, promoted a plan to transfer various Israeli Arab towns to the jurisdiction of a future Palestinian state, a riff on a theme he'd already been pushing for a decade. In 2017, Netanyahu repeated that proposal in front of Trump’s senior advisor Jared Kushner and Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt- two key architects of the Trump peace plan.

The Arab-Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm in the foreground and Wadi Ara in the background, Israel January 30, 2020
AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

As Israel prepares for a third round of national elections, incitement against the Arab community in Israel is spiking again. Both the Likud’s Netanyahu and former military chief and Kachol Lavan head Benny Gantz have serially failed to secure the 61-seat threshold needed for a governing coalition.

Simultaneously, Arab voters and their representatives have been thrust into the center of the national political debate, with the electoral strength of the Joint List (an alliance of four parties: Hadash, Taal, Balad, and the United Arab List) as a potential kingmaker and third major party – predicted to win 13-14 seats in the 120 seat Knesset. 

Cue the pushback and the incitement. At an "emergency rally" held by the Likud in November 2019, Netanyahu declared that a Gantz minority government formed with the help of the Joint List "is an existential threat to the State of Israel…they will celebrate in Tehran, Ramallah and Gaza the way they celebrate after every terror attack. This would be a historic national terror attack on the State of Israel." By portraying Arabs as traitors and supporters of terrorism, Netanyahu delegitimizes any political alliance in which the Joint List has a voice.

He continued in the same vein: "To be dependent on them all the time, especially at the current time, is an enormous danger to Israel and a breach of a kind never seen before in the history of the country." 

A Netanyahu 'emergency appeal' on Facebook on election day, Sept 17 2019: 'Long queues at Arab polling stations…You must go vote Likud to stop a last-minute leftist-Arab government'
Facebook

Arabs in Israel and their leadership have expressed their hostility to the peace plan and all its provisions. They reacted to the idea of being "transferred" out of Israel with anger, doubt and sarcasm. Some labeled it as racist and dangerous – and a transparently expedient attempt to help shore up Netanyahu’s flailing political fortunes. 

Dr. Samir Sobhi, mayor of Umm al-Fahm, one of the towns referenced in the Trump plan, responded to the "deal of the century" by affirming the wall-to-wall Palestinian consensus to reject the deal, and further noted that Arabs in Israel refuse to become an "electoral card" in the hands of clandestine deal-making by Netanyahu and Trump. Leaders of the Arab community are actively devising a plan to combat the Triangle transfer proposal.

Arab citizens in Israel and their leaders also have had to contend with hostile questioning about why they oppose the idea of transfer swap if they identify with the Palestinian cause. That, again, is a tendentious reading of our identities. And the repercussions of any such plan go far beyond the issues of identity and ideology, to the very fabric of our lives, and our human rights. 

Would we need permits to access the beaches of Haifa and the Dead Sea, places we grew up visiting? How would we maintain our close connections to family members living further within Israel’s 1967 borders? Many of us study and work in cities such as Tel Aviv. What will happen to our jobs and education? The plan foresees a Palestinian state still subject to various forms of Israeli control. So would Israel enforce military rule in our now-Palestinian cities, like it did over Arab villages within Israel from 1948-1966? 

Arab Israelis protest Trump’s Mideast peace deal in the Arab-Israeli town of Baqa al-Gharbiya, northern Israel. February 1, 2020
AFP

I suspect that any forced implementation of this plan would be experienced as another Nakba, a radical disconnection from our access and connection to our land once again. 

Trump's Mideast plan is profoundly unAmerican, and against American traditions of democracy and individual rights: it would require accepting Israel’s revocation of the citizenship of thousands of its citizens without consulting them, and the targeting of a group of people for their ethnic and religious identity.

And it would risk violating those international laws concerned with the revocation of citizenship. Article 15(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights rules that "No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality." 

Trump’s peace plan threatens the status of Israel’s Arab population, and fuels right-wing detractors whose delegitimization of equality now has the imprimatur of the president of the United States. But it also opens up a bigger set of queries: Who is worthy of full citizenship and protection under the law?

Both the United States and Israel claim democracy to be an identifying trait and distinguishing set of values. But by marketing a plan that attempts to strip people from their citizenship, it seems that those governing the two countries are comfortable with limiting the basic rights of citizens, granting them only to a select group of people along ethnic and religious lines.This doesn’t sound like democracy to me.

Dr. Anwar Mhajne, a native of Umm Al Fahm, is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Stonehill College, MA. Twitter: @mhajneam