Deiaa Haj Yahia
The Electronic Intifada / August 11, 2023
At the end of July, Shikma Bresler, one of the leaders of the protests against the Israeli coalition government’s judicial reforms, stood up to speak out against the annulment of the so-called “reasonableness” powers of the supreme court.
She made a point to single out other countries where, she said, democracy was being threatened by coups, including Hungary, Turkey, Iran and Venezuela.
None of those countries, she said, are engaged in a military occupation. Thus, she concluded, the “occupation is not the reason for our situation.”
In other words, she suggested, to great cheers and applause from thousands of protesters, that Israel could be a perfectly fine democracy even with occupation.
Such words perfectly illustrate why Israel’s Palestinian citizens feel they have little stake in protests that pitch themselves as being about democracy, but are not about democracy for all, let alone for Palestinians under Israel’s military occupation.
“These protests are supposed to have a leftist character and the goal of equality,” said Ghassan Minyar, an activist from Lydd with the National Democratic Alliance, better known as the Ballad Party.
“But it seems that Zionism is stronger.”
Bresler’s words – a denial of Palestinian political and national rights – were not an exception.
Early in the demonstrations, Palestinian flags were removed by police and other Jewish protesters.
Speeches referencing Israel’s occupation were often silenced. Reem Hazan, of the Democratic Front in Haifa, also known as the Hadash party, decided against delivering a speech at the beginning of the protests after being asked to change its content by the organizers.
Her speech touched on the occupation and racial discrimination, linking the judicial amendments to the occupation. Hazan later told Al-Ittihad newspaper that “the censorship of political opinion is intrinsic to fascism, and not part of the fight against it.”
A history of persecution
“There is a big contradiction in the protests,” said Abdul Abu Shehada, a member of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality. “On one hand, protesters try to portray them as having a liberal, leftist character, when, in truth, they do not even meet the basic standards of liberal thought.”
Youth activist and Baladna member, Marah Amara, 24, from Kafr Kanna, near Nazareth, said that prejudice against Palestinian citizens has long been deeply embedded in Israeli society.
“Israel harmed our Palestinian community’s rights long before these protests. I don’t feel any additional threat [from the judicial reforms] because racism and discrimination are already embedded in all parties. I don’t feel these protests speak to me or address my rights.”
Why, she continued, would Jewish Israelis expect Palestinian citizens to join their protests?
“Israeli Jewish society does not participate in protests about our fundamental issues, such as prisoners’ rights and crime. We didn’t see any Jewish Israelis protesting the passing of the racist nationality law. When Palestinians suffer, it’s easy to ignore us, and anyone ignoring the human rights of minorities will eventually ignore human rights in general.”
With the participation of soldiers, politicians and “elitists,” said Amir Bwerat, 26, from Arraba village in the north, the protests do not speak to or welcome Palestinian citizens.
“When they come to ask us to join, we tell them: ‘Now you remember us? Where were you when they passed the nationality law?’”
Bwerat, who works with youths in deprived communities, pointed to decades of underfunding in Palestinian communities in Israel, underfunding that has left many opting for a life of crime.
That situation is only getting worse. Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s finance minister, on Tuesday announced that he would be freezing all funds to Israel’s Palestinian communities and East Jerusalem.
“One cannot talk about democracy when blood flows in the streets, arms are freely available, homes are still being demolished, and the infrastructure of Arab towns is destroyed. We have not reached a stage where we can demand democracy: we don’t even have our basic rights.”
Not our revolution
Bwerat said the forcible removal of Palestinian flags was the clearest signal that these protests were not for or about Palestinians.
“Seeing protesters trying to take down the Palestinian flag in various demonstrations made me automatically refuse to participate. Lowering the flag that represents my homeland and people means denying all my rights.”
The ultra-right coalition behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has also not caused Palestinian citizens to come out in numbers.
According to Minyar, this is because none of the concerns of Israel’s Palestinian population feature in any of the protests.
“There is no importance attached to ending the occupation in the agenda. There are no calls to abolish the racist laws enacted in recent years, such as the Kaminitz Law, which accelerates house demolitions in Arab [Palestinian] towns, or the nation-state law, while Palestinian families remain prohibited from reunification.”
“In all this, why should I, as a Palestinian, defend the Supreme Court? Wasn’t it the one that legalized calamities against our people in Khan al-Ahmar and Al-Araqib? For me, these protests are a struggle between Jewish elites of white ethnicity, fighting for a democracy that serves only them.”
The participation of what is called Israel’s left also does not sway opinion. Haya Suleima, 40, from Nazareth, said she never “believed in the intentions of the Israeli left.” The so-called unity coalition that brought together Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, the one preceding Netanyahu’s current coalition, did nothing for Palestinians, she pointed out.
All stripes of Israeli governments, the community activist continued, have neglected the Palestinian communities in Israel, and the proposed judicial amendments will not change anything for Palestinian citizens.
Most importantly, she said, the protests are led by elite soldiers in many cases, the so-called “brothers and sisters in arms.”
“How can we, as Palestinians, stand shoulder to shoulder with those accused of war crimes? This is not our revolution.”
Deiaa Haj Yahia is a Palestinian journalist based in Taybeh