Stop With the Nonsense That Palestinians Are a Minority in Israel

You can’t argue that the Palestinians aren’t an integral part of greater Israel; occupied and dispossessed, but integral.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Palestinians protest in Ramallah for release of bodies.
Palestinians protest in Ramallah for release of bodies. Credit: Amira Hass
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

A delusion under which most Israelis live lets them invent vacuous excuses based on the virtual reality they’ve built for themselves. According to this fallacy, the State of Israel only controls its own citizens, most of them Jewish of course, but nobody counts the millions of other subjects who fall under its control at least as much, maybe more. They’re invisible.

That’s the only way one can argue comfortably and learnedly about whether Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. The discussion is a fascinating intellectual one, with only one problem: It has long since lost relevance. A country where about half the subjects aren't Jewish can't be Jewish. If it insists on being Jewish by force, it isn’t democratic.

A state where half the subjects are denied rights can't be democratic. In a state that doesn't intend to change its borders or the nature of its rule, this discussion is merely part of the delusion of perpetually parading around naked but feeling fully clothed.

Two peoples equal in size live under Israeli rule: about 6.3 million Jews and 6.3 million Arabs. Half and half. That’s the outcome of 50 years of life in a binational state, not Jewish and not democratic. To the 1.8 million Arab citizens, you have to add the 2.7 million Palestinians living under direct Israeli rule in the West Bank, and about 1.8 million living under indirect Israeli rule in Gaza.

The fate of all these subjects, from registration at birth to the currency they use and most of their rights, is set in Israel. They are subject to its rule; they are part of the state.

Israel tries to shake off its Palestinian subjects when it finds it convenient. At night it invades their homes, and by day it claims they aren’t under its control. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t argue that the Palestinians aren’t an integral part of greater Israel; occupied and dispossessed, but integral.

The fact that this reality was forced on them by the military and that they aren’t part of Israel’s partial democracy doesn’t mean they don’t belong. The Jewish settlers in the West Bank are part of Israel and their Palestinian neighbors aren’t? That can’t be, even if most of Israel’s Jews prefer it.

In a piece this month in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition, when Gadi Taub applauds Jewish democratic Israel, he bases his argument on the Arabs being a “minority” and the enlightened state treating them based on the EU treaty for protecting minorities. It sounds lovely, but it’s completely unreal.

Minorities? Finland’s 5.5 percent Swedish minority, Muslims in France and Australia’s 450,000 aborigines are minorities. But half the population isn’t a “minority.”

The Arabs are only a minority based on false presentations ignoring the existence of most of them. Just as Israeli TV viewing habits are only measured in Jewish households because that’s convenient for the Jews, Taub only counts a small part of the minority because it’s convenient for him. The Palestinians aren’t a minority, they’re half the population. They’re not migrants, they’re locals.

In Haaretz’s Hebrew edition earlier this month, Tzvia Greenfield counts them as Taub does and therefore can sing her praises of Jewish democracy. But Roni Schocken, in his piece, lifts the veneer that covers the state’s contents, which are not Jewish and not democratic.

As the era of the two-state solution draws to a close, and on the eve of the debate’s diversion to the real issue – rights in the binational state that has been in existence for quite some time – it’s time to stop talking about the Palestinians as a minority.

Anyone who wants them to be a minority should have withdrawn from the West Bank long ago. But anyone who wants to keep the West Bank should withdraw from talking about a Jewish majority. There’s no way around that, not even with the help of a thousand articles discussing the wonders of this delusion of Jewish democracy.

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