One out of every five Israelis did not watch last week’s televised broadcast of Israel’s official independent day ceremony. One out of every five Israelis did not identify its elected representatives amidst the politicians seated that night near the resting place of Benjamin Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement. One out of every five Israelis was not impressed by the fireworks that light up Jerusalem’s sky or moved by the nation’s symbols brought to life by an endless parade of IDF soldiers. After all, one out of every five Israelis is a Palestinian-Israeli and they have no place in the Israeli collective or in the ceremonies that celebrate this collective.
The State of Israel excels in carrying out policies of “containment”. Prime Ministers claim to contain rebellious backbenchers, The Bank of Israel claims contain the threat of inflation and the IDF claims to contain the civil unrest in the Occupied Territories.
Yet Israel also excels in practicing exclusion, especially the exclusion of minorities. Such minorities do not find their representatives around the Cabinet table or in high level positions within government or in senior positions in Israel’s financial sector, nor do they read about their ongoing exclusion from society in the national newspapers or hear about it in nightly news broadcasts.
Amongst these minorities, the Palestinian-Israeli one is unique as its history is taboo, its story dangerous and its opinions subversive. This is a minority that has been forcefully marginalized since the establishment of Israel, one that for the past Sixty Five years has been treated with suspicion and has been asked to demonstrate its allegiance to Israel time and time again.
The exclusion of the Palestinian-Israeli minority from Israeli society takes many forms. It manifests itself in mandatory personal interviews for those seeking academic degrees, in the percentage of Palestinian-Israelis employed by the State of Israel, in the ongoing neglect of Palestinian-Israeli villages, in the refusal of hi-tech companies to employ Palestinian-Israeli employees and in their absence from all major political parties.
However, it is Israel’s national symbols that truly emphasize the degree to which this minority has been isolated.
Our national flag, bearing the biblical Star of David, is one that they cannot identify with and our anthem is one that they cannot sing. For how can Palestinian-Israelis sing of the yearning of Jewish souls to the biblical land of Israel if they are not Jews themselves? Thus, one out every five Israelis is made to feel like a stranger in his own homeland. Should this minority ever again dare express its frustration given this state of affairs it shall meet the barrage of bullets it faced in October of 2000.
Israel’s Declaration of Independence states that the birthplace of the Jewish people was the land of Israel. Here, their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. It also states that throughout their exile, the Jewish people never ceased to hope to return to this land and restore their political freedom and create, by right, their own sovereign State.
But the Declaration also states that Israel will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex and that the Arab minority is invited to participate in the building of the State of Israel on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its institutions.
It would appear that Sixty Five years after its establishment, the State of Israel is a very different country than the one envisioned by David Ben Gurion. As it celebrates its independence, Israel should recognize its achievements but also acknowledge its shortcomings and do all it can to realize the pluralistic vision of its founders.