Opinion |

Israel's Arab Citizens Aren't Pawns in the Hands of Netanyahu and Trump

Yousef Jabareen
Yousef Jabareen
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An Arab village in the Wadi Ara area, northern Israel.
An Arab village in the Wadi Ara area, northern Israel. Credit: Nimrod Glickman
Yousef Jabareen
Yousef Jabareen

In the past year, Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed that Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman is “part of the left.” A few years ago, this “leftist” proposed a plan that was far-reaching even by the racist standards of the day. Lieberman’s 2015 slogan, “Ariel to Israel, Umm al-Fahm to Palestine,” threatened 20 percent of Israeli citizens with transfer and created symmetry between the oppressed minority and the illegal settlement enterprise.

Incitement and delegitimization have since become the sole language spoken by Netanyahu governments. But the idea of transferring hundreds of thousands of residents from the Little Triangle and revoking their citizenship is a new height. At bottom, the transfer’s goal is racist: reducing the number of Arab citizens, weakening their position and their struggle for equality. The Mideast peace plan – the love child of U.S. President Donald Trump and Netanyahu – “contemplates the possibility, subject to agreement of the parties ... that the Triangle Communities [will] become part of the State of Palestine.”

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A euphemism such as “land swaps” can be used, but imagine how residents of Kafr Qara, Taibeh or Baqa al-Garbiyeh feel when they hear the prime minister toying with the idea of placing their homes outside the borders of the state. Will a doctor living in Taibeh and working at Kfar Sava’s Meir Hospital have to quit? Perhaps the medical establishment will provide transportation to and from the new border crossings. This is what oppression of the demographic majority looks like.

Arab citizens are not pawns in the hands of Netanyahu and Trump. We are citizens by dint of having lived here from time immemorial. In a state that respects its citizens, even changes to municipal boundaries require the approval of residents. And remember: Many residents of the Triangle own land at a distance from their homes, as well as land from which they were dispossessed.

Many residents of Umm al-Fahm, where I was born, are refugees from the abandoned village of Lajjun, to which they still demand, rightfully, to return. The total area owned by Umm al-Fahm residents today is less than 20 percent of what it was in 1948. It’s the same in all the Triangle communities. Trump’s peace plan would deny these people their historical rights.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin claimed, in the arrogance reserved for overlords, that Israel’s Arab community will need to decide between its Palestinian identity and citizenship, as if these are contradictory. We are citizens fighting for full equality, civil and national, and we are proud of our Palestinian identity. Haifa and Jaffa are part of our homeland, no less than Nablus. This is the legacy the Nakba generation left us, and which we will leave for our children. When I was born, Lieberman was still in Moldova.

There is great irony in the claim that we enjoy complaining while also “enjoying the delights of the government in Israel.” As if citizenship is a favor the right granted us – either transfer, like replacing a passport, or shoved into living under Israeli military rule in Palestinian Bantustans. Our fight for equality is long and stubborn, and I am proud of our community, which has stood firm despite systematic persecution, discrimination and exclusion.

Those who want to transfer us see all Arab citizens of Israel as a “fifth column,” “demographic threat” or “security risk.” They view their plans for the Triangle as only the beginning. They seek to do the exact same thing to the entire Arab population of Israel, thus placing our citizenship in doubt. Hundreds of thousands of Arab citizens live in the Triangle, and in all of Israel there are over 1.5 million Arab citizens, in what remained of their homeland. Netanyahu and Trump’s annexation plans include a section that prepares the ground for their transfer and the revocation of their citizenship.

Netanyahu is more dangerous now than ever before, and he will do anything to stay in power. The right-wing government is going crazy. Every Israeli citizen, Jewish or Arab, who is guided by the principles of democracy and equality, must fight alongside us. In the Israel of 2020, the right thing to do is to stand in solidarity with the Arab community on behalf of democratic and human values. There is enough room for all of us.

Yousef Jabareen, a Knesset member from the Joint List, lives in Umm al-Fahm.

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