LONDON: The Israeli government is taking steps to suppress the collective Palestinian national identity and ban their legitimate political expression, experts claimed this week.
One expert, Israeli Arab politician Sami Abu Shehadeh, a former Knesset member, also said the recently elected right-wing government in Israel will have a particular impact on Palestinian citizens, who make up 20 percent of the population within Israel.
He was speaking at a Galilee Foundation panel on Wednesday to discuss the Israeli government’s influence on the Palestinians and their struggle for equality.
One of the most dangerous signs of what is to come, Abu Shehadeh said, is National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s judicial reforms, which include ordering Israeli police to remove any Palestinian flags in Israel and the occupied territories.
He added: “The State of Israel does not consider our national composition to be part of our identity.
“They continue to reshape us as a minority with no ethnic or religious identity, and that’s influencing government policy.”
He said the landslide victory of Israel’s extreme right-wing parties in December was a wake-up call for the whole of Israel and its long-established Western allies.
Abu Shehadeh also said Palestinians could face discrimination in the education sector because of the new government’s stance.
“Most people in the world don’t realize that Israel’s education system, like the rest of its society, is built on apartheid,” he added.
The country has three different official education systems: one for the Palestinians, one for the Jewish secular community, and one for the Jewish religious community.
While all school systems include modern Zionist history lessons, Palestinians are barred from learning their own history, which Israel’s Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton has described as “dangerous incitement” against the Israeli government and military.
Experts who spoke on the panel argued that the new coalition government’s underlying policies are aimed at targeting Palestinians, who have received little international attention or public debate in the country.
They argue that the focus has shifted to the new government’s judicial reform plans, which they say threaten Israel’s democracy.
“While legal reforms are important, the extreme Israeli audience is not going to wait for these laws to pass,” Abu Shehad said.
Dr. Areen Hawari, Director of the Gender Studies Program at the Mada Al-Carmel Arab Center for Applied Social Research in Haifa, shared her views on the matter.
She said: “Israel is a settler colonial state, a homeland for others, just like South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
“The colonial powers, especially Israel, established in 1948 after World War II, had a strong need to belong to the West as part of their existence.
“In order to be part of the West, you need to introduce that you are at least procedurally democratic.
“That’s why the left in Israel is ready to oppose these new reforms, because if you lose Western support, you lose your existence.”
However, for the first time, Khawari said, the new government “doesn’t care at all” what the West thinks of them.
She claims this is due to the success of its ongoing occupation, recent normalization deals with several Arab states, the country’s gains under the Trump administration and the EU’s continued silence.
Dr. Hassan Jabareen, a Palestinian human rights lawyer, acknowledged that several of the thousands of Israelis protesting new judicial reforms in Tel Aviv were critical of the country’s treatment of Palestinians.
Likewise, he said: “We cannot protest in Tel Aviv to save Israel’s democracy when we don’t think of Israel as a democracy. We see ourselves as victims of that legal system.
“So while it is difficult for Palestinians to participate in protests, we agree with some of the protest leaders that we are actually the main victims of the new Israeli government.”
With the growing threat of extremism in Israel, Abu Shehad told Arab News that Palestinians, especially those who have settled around the world, need to rethink the way they strategize for liberation.
“One of the challenges we face is that, as Palestinians, we are talking to ourselves and to people who are like us.
“For us activists, everything that is happening [in Palestine] Taken for granted, yet many people in the world don’t understand the basics. “
He claimed that activists must continue to educate others who do not understand the Palestinian cause, issues and narrative.
“It’s important for the world to see that we’re not fighting democracy based on a false image. It’s not enough to call it apartheid … I think it’s the most racist society possible,” he said.
“People should see this truth and support our fight. We are fighting for peace, justice and equality for all, Palestinians and Jews alike.”