Posted by on May 26, 2011 in Blog

The Mossawa Center’s Statement on Recent Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu:

In response to recent remarks by the leaders of the United States and Israel, the Mossawa Center, the Advocacy Center for the Arab citizens of Israel, calls upon the two nations to recognize the unique status of the Arab Palestinian minority in Israel.  Statements by both President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declaring Israel a “Jewish State” neglect the rights of this national minority that lives in the State of Israel and constitutes 20% of its population.  In the case of a two-state solution, it is imperative that minority rights be protected in accordance with the essential principles of democracy.
In his speech to the U.S. Congress, Prime Minister Netanyahu declared proudly that Israel’s Arab citizens are the only Arabs in the world that “enjoy real democratic rights.”  Mr. Netanyahu, it seems, is oblivious to the fact that the Arab citizens of Israel are systematically discriminated against not only due to the definition of the state as Jewish, but also by anti-democratic legislation and inequitable budget allocation.  The Arab community in Israel lived under military rule from 1948 to 1966, and since that time legal discrimination against them continues in areas such as family reunification, land ownership, cultural and economic rights. This dangerous trend is evidenced by the over 24 discriminatory bills that have been submitted by Netanyahu’s governing coalition and are now in various stages of the legislative process.  More such bills are expected to be submitted, further deepening this discrimination.  Add to that calls by Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman for the revocation of the citizenship of Israel’s Arab citizens.
Mr. Lieberman’s proposals for land swaps as part of a peace deal clearly include land on which Arab citizens currently reside.   The Mossawa Center emphasizes the necessity of any negotiations including representatives of the Arab citizens who will be affected by these “swaps.”  President Obama also referred to “mutually agreed upon land swaps” this week.  He must clarify that any agreements on these swaps must be made with the elected representatives of the Arab minority at the negotiating table.  If this is not the case, they cannot be and will not be mutual.

The Mossawa Center lauds the efforts of the millions of Arabs that took to the streets to struggle for real democracy across the Arab region, and calls upon the leaders of the United States and Israel to support those people and not the regimes that oppress them.  Phone calls of support from Prime Minister Netanyahu to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak demonstrate the Israeli leader’s backing of the oppressor, and it is important that he reverse this stance. The democratic systems of Lebanon and Turkey are not perfect and require reform, but the fact is that Israel is not, as the Prime Minister asserts, “the only democracy in the Middle East.”  The Mossawa Center, as an institution committed to democracy and human rights, calls on the international community and the Jewish citizens of Israel to cooperate and support democratic movements in the Arab and Muslim world.

If Mr. Netanyahu truly wants his country’s Arab citizens to enjoy democratic rights, he must remove all of the discriminatory laws against us, and to insist that Israel be defined as a homeland for the Jews with equal rights for Arab citizens.  He must end the tragedy of millions of refugees in a manner consistent with international conventions, beginning with the 300,000 refugees living inside Israel as internally displaced persons.  He must recognize Bedouin ownership of the land of the dozens of unrecognized villages in the Negev desert.  He must ensure that those Bedouin citizens have access to services such as electricity, water, healthcare, education, and sewage systems.  And, he must halt immediately the confiscation of Arab land that is being carried out all over the country and return land previously confiscated using discriminatory laws.  

To have true democracy for Israel’s Arab citizens, Mr. Netanyahu must repeal the laws that legalize discrimination in housing and the allocation of development funds, and act immediately, in accordance with the OECD report on Israel, to increase the budget allocated to the Arab community from 5% to 20% as is proportional to the population.  Instead of allowing his coalition to propose a law making it legal to discriminate in government jobs on the basis of military service, he should live up to Israel’s commitment to increase the percentage of Arab civil servants from 6.97% to 20%.  

The Palestinian citizens of Israel do not enjoy the basic rights that people in democracies enjoy.  The Mossawa Center invites American lawmakers and journalists to come to Israel and see for themselves the situation of the unrecognized villages, and to witness the dual realities that have pervaded here for 63 years. Laws that prevent us from commemorating our history of the Nakba (“catastrophe” of 1948) are not democratic laws.  When 13 Arab citizens were killed during protests in October of 2000, police on the scene did not behave as law enforcement in a democracy should behave.  They failed to apprehend the killers, and now, eleven years later, justice has still not been served.  

Mr. Netanyahu claims that his democracy protects freedom of worship in Jerusalem, yet Muslims and Christians in Israel do not feel that this is the case. The Mossawa Center reminds him that Israel retains control of the Muslim waqf that is supposed to serve the country’s one million Muslim, but which is classified as “top secret.”  Currently, Suheil Dawani, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, is fighting in the courts to remain in the country after his residency permit was denied by the government.  Across the country mosques, churches and cemeteries have been confiscated, demolished, and vandalized over the decades since the establishment of Israel, and it is high time the government allocate more than 2% of the Ministry of Religion’s budget to the Arab community’s religious institutions.  In a two-state solution, Muslims and Christians must have free access to holy sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, sites which are currently extremely restricted by the Israeli authorities.

This unequal reality that has been imposed on us, the Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel, can be changed.  The Jews and Palestinians can live in peace in a two-state solution.  To achieve this, both communities will need to make historic compromises to build a better future.  The Palestinian refugees must be included in the solution, and we ourselves will accept our formal status as a minority in the state of Israel as part of this compromise.  Our people have been in this region for the last four thousand years, and reconciliation must be based on truth and acknowledgement of the needs of both communities rather than a denial of one another’s history.

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