I Am a Palestinian Citizen of Israel, and I’m Not an Enemy of the State

Amid constant calls to ‘prove’ our loyalty to the state, I’d like Prime Minister Netanyahu to see that my pride in my Palestinian identity isn’t an attack on Israel’s security - it’s a fact, and one I won’t hide.

Netanyahu at the site of a shooting that killed two and wounded seven in Tel Aviv, January 2, 2016.
Ofer Vaknin

Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at the scene of the New Year’s Day attack on a Tel Aviv bar and promptly delivered a strident speech attacking the Palestinian-Israeli community as a whole and blaming them for the actions of the assailant, Nashat Melhem.

The prime minister’s speech was not an isolated event but part of a wholesale campaign to confine and define Palestinian citizens of Israel according to the terminology and policies of his government. As a Palestinian citizen of Israel, I would like to respond to the accusations he made at the time. The charges they raise against my community have only been voiced by the Israeli government in louder and more vociferous tones since.

“You can’t say you’re ‘an Israeli in your rights and a Palestinian in your obligations’. Whoever wants to be an Israeli must be so all the way.” Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on January 2, 2016.

It’s time for Israel’s right-wing politicians to understand, and assimilate, the fact that the self-definition of an Arab in Israel as a Palestinian does not make them an enemy of the Israeli state.

I consider myself to be Palestinian in my rights and obligations. I don’t feel I need to deny my ancestry and my roots for me to declare and prove loyalty to Israel. My recognition of, and pride in my roots does not pose a threat to Israel’s security, nor should it be considered an ‘attack’ on it - it’s just a fact.

Even Netanyahu’s government doesn’t deny that this country was inhabited before 1948 by Palestinians - including our grandparents - whom Jewish Israelis displaced, tore down their homes and lived in their stead. We are the children and grandchildren of those same Palestinians. We won’t shy away from our origins, and we have no need to hide them.

I consider that I fulfil all my obligations to the country to my personal moral limits, I obey its laws and I don’t pose a threat to its security. 

I have no need to prove to you that I’m a good Arab. I’m a human being who's been raised on principles and morals. I shouldn’t need to suck up to the government in order to climb the career ladder or beg to receive my equal rights as a citizen. I am a human being who believes in my abilities and my own rights without waiting for someone to hand them out to me.

“I expect of all Arab Knesset members with no exceptions to deny this crime without hesitation.” Benjamin Netanyahu, Tel Aviv, January 2, 2016.

This is Netanyahu’s constant refrain. But he should save his breath rather than waste it on repeated demands from Arab MKs for them to state their loyalty and their disavowal of murder. Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, has again and again said on record that he “condemns and denounces all violence against innocent civiliansI am fundamentally and morally against murder of innocents in any situation.” 

“I cannot accept two countries inside Israel, a lawful country for the majority of its citizens and a country inside a country for part of the citizens where no law is being enforced.” Netanyahu.

Regarding Netanyahu’s constant reminders to us that Israel’s a state governed by the rule of law, I thank him, but as an Arab in this country, let me remind him and his government’s ministers of this too, as apparently they’re the ones who need reminding. Let me showcase some of the hypocritical ways Israel deals with Jews and Arabs.

Israeli forces are capable of subduing a Jew when he commits a knife attack without firing a shot. We all remember the Jewish terrorist who stabbed and killed Shira Banki, a Jewish teenager, at the Jerusalem pride parade - and yet not one bullet was fired; the terrorist was subdued and prosecuted according to the full force of the law.

Meanwhile, it’s enough for an Arab to put a hand in his pocket or pull up his trousers at a checkpoint for him to become a tragic news article. You’ll say here that there’s been a lot of documented stabbing attempts and I’ll tell you that you’re right, but I have just one question: for all the Palestinians that were shot and killed by the army and police, wasn't there any chance they too could be subdued and prosecuted? 

Where is the law when I watch a news report showing a Jewish woman in Jerusalem who says she’s armed with two knives in her car and shows them proudly to the camera? What if she’d been an Arab? Wouldn’t that have been reason enough to open fire on her? After watching this report, what do you expect me, as an Arab, to feel about the equal application of the law for all its citizens?

If we’re on the subject of the rule of law: No Jew’s home has been torn down because they killed an Arab. The government acts towards Jewish citizens according to the fundamental principle of preserving their rights to their property. But when the government is dealing with an Arab killer it enforces Mandate-era emergency regulations and tears down their house, knowing that this is contradictory to international laws (the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 33, says a governing power "shall not punish any protected person for an offense he did not personally commit.”) Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation and terror are prohibited. Reprisals against individuals and their property are prohibited.

In too many cases, Israel’s laws are enforced for the benefit of Jews alone while we, Arabs, suffer under emergency protocols.

It is indeed time for the prime minister and his ministers to remember that this country is a state of law - laws that protect and not only attack - for Arabs as well.

“I look positively upon the increased enlistment into the army, civil service and state facilities from Christians, Druze and Bedouin in the north, as well as Muslims.” Netanyahu

I should thank the prime minister for his concern about our integration into the country in regards to army enlistment. I personally feel I missed out by not experiencing army service and I envied Arabs in neighboring countries for their excitement to serve their country. 

But the situation here is different. I refused to be drafted. There are many Jewish Israelis who also refuse the idea of army enlistment; just recently Tair Kaminer, a young woman from Tel Aviv, went to jail for refusing to serve in the Israeli army because it’s an occupation army.

Ayman Odeh can again supply my explanation: “I am fundamentally and morally against the murder of innocents in any situation.” Prime Minister Netanyahu, you’re smart enough to understand what I mean by that. 

Sometimes it’s easier to speechify than to listen. My last recommendation would be for the prime minister to consider what he is doing to advance the lofty aims he himself put forward in that speech, once he’d listed all the possibilities for inciting against my community. He called for “the path of integration, coexistence and peace and not on the path of incitement and hatred and malice.” Benjamin Netanyahu, Tel Aviv, January 2, 2016.

Rita Khoury is a graduate of the Technion and an information systems engineer. She works in the hi-technology sector. Follow her on Twitter: @RitaHKh.