But like a shark whose physiology requires that, to stay alive, it never sleeps or stops moving,
So, with these achievements under its belt, where next for the Jewish state?
I have been arguing for some time that
It should therefore be no surprise that we are witnessing the first moves in
These citizens, today nearly a fifth of
The time now finally appears to be upon us, and the crushing of these more than one million unwanted citizens currently inside the walls of the fortress — the Achilles’ heel of the Jewish state — is likely to be just as ruthless as that of the Palestinians under occupation.
In my recent book Blood and Religion, I charted the preparations for this crackdown. Israel has been secretly devising a land swap scheme that would force up to a quarter of a million Palestinian citizens (but hardly any territory) into the Palestinian ghetoes being crafted next door — in return Israel will annex swaths of the West Bank on which the illegal Jewish settlements sit. The Bedouin in the
There will be no resistance to these moves from
But these measures cannot be implemented until an important first battle has been waged and won in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. One of Israel’s gurus of the so-called “demographic threat”, Arnon Sofer, a professor at Haifa University, has explained the problem posed by the presence of a growing number of Palestinian voters: “In their hands lies the power to determine the right of return [of Palestinian refugees] or to decide who is a Jew … In another few years, they will be able to decide whether the state of Israel should continue to be a Jewish-Zionist state.”
The warning signs about how
All this abuse was reserved for the representatives of a community the Israeli general Moshe Dayan once referred to as “the quietest minority in the world”.
But the state’s violence towards, and intimidation of, Palestinian Knesset members — until now largely the reflex actions of officials offended by the presence of legislators refusing to bow before the principles of Zionism and privileges for Jews — is entering a new, more dangerous phase.
The problem for
The result has been the emergence of an unexpected political platform: the demand for
The figurehead for this political struggle has been the legislator Azmi Bishara. A former philosophy professor, Bishara has been running rings around Jewish politicians in the Knesset for more than a decade, as well as exposing to outsiders the sham of
Even more worryingly he has also been making an increasingly convincing case to his constituency of 1.2 million Palestinian citizens that, rather than challenging the hundreds of forms of discrimination they face one law at a time, they should confront the system that props up the discrimination: the Jewish state itself. He has started to persuade a growing number that they will never enjoy equality with Jews as long as they live in ethnic state.
Bishara’s campaign for a state of all its citizens has faced an uphill struggle. Palestinian citizens spent the first two decades after
Given this climate, it may not be surprising that in a recent poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute 75 per cent of Palestinian citizens said they would support the drafting of a constitution defining Israel as a Jewish and democratic state (Israel currently has no constitution). Interestingly, however, what concerned commentators was the survey’s small print: only a third of the respondents felt strongly about their position compared to more than half of those questioned in a similar survey three years ago. Also, 72 per cent of Palestinian citizens believed the principle of “equality” should be prominently featured in such a constitution.
These shifts of opinion are at least partly a result of Bishara’s political work. He has been trying to persuade Israel’s Palestinian minority — most of whom, whatever the spin tells us, have had little practical experience of participating in a democracy other than casting a vote — that it is impossible for a Jewish state to enshrine equality in its laws.
It is in this light that the news about Bishara that broke in late April should be read. While he was abroad with his family, the Shin Bet announced that he would face charges of treason on his return. Under emergency regulations — renewed by the Knesset yet again last week, and which have now been in operation for nearly 60 years — he could be executed if found guilty. Bishara so far has chosen not to return.
Coverage of the Bishara case has concentrated on the two main charges against him, which are only vaguely known as the security services have been trying to prevent disclosure of their evidence with a gagging order. The first accusation — for the consumption of
The Shin Bet claims this after months of listening in on his phone conversations — made possible by a change in the law in 2005 that allows the security services to bug legislators’ phones. The other Palestinian MKs suspect they are being subjected to the same eavesdropping after the Attorney-General Mechahem Mazuz failed to respond to a question from one, Taleb a-Sana, on whether the Shin Bet was using this practice more widely.
Few informed observers, however, take this allegation seriously. An editorial in Israel’s leading newspaper Haaretz compared Bishara’s case to that of the Israeli Jewish dissident Tali Fahima, who was jailed on trumped-up charges that she translated a military plan, a piece of paper dropped by the army in the Jenin refugee camp, on behalf of a Palestinian militant, Zacharia Zbeidi, even though it was widely known that Zbeidi was himself fluent in Hebrew.
The editorial noted that it seemed likely the charge of treason against Bishara “will turn out to be a tendentious exaggeration of his telephone conversations and meetings with Lebanese and Syrian nationals, and possibly also of his expressions of support for their military activities. It seems very doubtful that MK Bishara even has access to defense-related secrets that he could sell to the enemy, and like in the Fahima case, the fact that he identified with the enemy during wartime appears to be what fueled the desire to seek and find an excuse for bringing him to trial.”
Such doubts were reinforced by reports in the Israeli media that the charge of treason was based on claims that Bishara had helped Hizbullah conduct “psychological warfare through the media”.
The other allegation made by the secret police has a different target audience. The Shin Bet claims that Bishara laundered money from terrorist organisations. The implication, though the specifics are unclear, is that Bishara both helped fund terror and that he squirrelled some of the money away, possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars, presumably for his own benefit. This is supposed to discredit him with his own constituency of Palestinian citizens.
It should be noted that none of this money has been found in extensive searches of Bishara’s home and office, and the evidence is based on testimony from a far from reliable source: a family of money-changers in
This second charge closely resembles the allegations faced by the only other Palestinian of national prominence in
As with Bishara, the Shin Bet had been bugging Salah’s every phone call for many months and had supposedly accumulated mountains of evidence against him. Salah spent more than two years in jail, the judges repeatedly accepting the Shin Bet’s advice that his requests for bail be refused, as this secret evidence was studied in minute detail at his lengthy trial. In the closing stages, as it became clear that the Shin Bet’s case was evaporating, the prosecution announced a plea bargain. Salah agreed (possibly unwisely, but understandably after two years in jail) to admit minor charges of financial impropriety in return for his release.
To this day, Salah does not know what he did wrong. His organisation had funded social programmes for orphans, students and widows in the occupied territories and had submitted its accounts to the security services for approval. In a recent interview, Salah observed that in the new reality he and his party had discovered that it was “as if helping orphans, sick persons, widows and students had now become illegal activities in support of terrorism”.
Why was Salah targeted? In the same interview, he noted that shortly before his arrest the prime minister of the day, Ariel Sharon, had called for the outlawing of the Islamic Movement, whose popularity was greatly concerning the security establishment.
Sharon’s concern was two-fold: the Islamic Movement was raising funds for welfare organisations in the occupied territories at the very moment Israel was trying to isolate and starve the Palestinian population there; and Salah’s main campaign, “al-Aqsa is in danger”, was successfully rallying Palestinians inside Israel to visit the mosques of the Noble Sanctuary in the Old City of Jersualem, the most important symbols of a future Palestinian state.
Salah believed that responsibility fell to Palestinians inside
Salah had become a nuisance, an obstacle to
That now is the fate of Bishara.
Indications that the Shin Bet wanted Bishara’s scalp over his campaign for
In the meantime, Bishara has been put on trial twice (unnoticed the charges later fizzled out); he has been called in for police interrogations on a regular basis; he has been warned by a state commission of inquiry; and the laws concerning Knesset immunity and travel to foreign states have been changed specifically to prevent Bishara from fulfilling his parliamentary duties.
True to Ayalon’s advice, Bishara and his political party, the National Democratic Assembly (NDA), were disqualified by the Central Elections Committee during the 2003 elections. The committee cited the “expert” opinion of the Shin Bet: “It is our opinion that the inclusion of the NDA in the Knesset has increased the threat inherent in the party. Evidence of this can also be found in the ideological progress from the margins of Arab society (such as a limited circle of intellectuals who dealt with these ideas theoretically) to center stage. Today these ideas [concerning a state of all its citizens] have a discernible effect on the content of political discourse and on the public ‘agenda’ of the Arab sector.”
But on this occasion the Shin Bet failed to get its way. Bishara’s disqualification was overturned on appeal by a narrow majority of the Supreme Court’s justices.
The Shin Bet’s fears of Bishara resurfaced with a vengeance in March this year, when the Ma’ariv newspaper reported on a closed meeting between the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and senior Shin Bet officials “concerning the issue of the Arab minority in
Ma’ariv quoted the assessment of the Shin Bet: “Particularly disturbing is the growing phenomenon of ‘visionary documents’ among the various elites of Israeli Arabs. At this time, there are four different visionary documents sharing the perception of
In other words, the secret police were worried that the influence of Bishara’s political platform was spreading. The proof was to be found in the four recent documents cited by the Shin Bet and published by very diffrerent groups: the Democratic Constitution by the Adalah legal centre; the Ten Points by the Mossawa political lobbying group; the Future Vision by the traditionally conservative political body comprising mostly mayors known as the High Follow-Up Committee; and the Haifa Declaration, overseen by a group of academics known as Mada.
What all these documents share in common is two assumptions: first, that existing solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are based on two states and that in such an arrangement the Palestinian minority will continue living inside Israel as citizens; and second, that reforms of Israel are needed if the state is to realise equality for all citizens, as promised in its Declaration of Independence.
Nothing too subversive there, one would have thought. But that was not the view of the Shin Bet.
Following the report in Ma’ariv, the editor of a weekly Arab newspaper wrote to the Shin Bet asking for more information. Did the Shin Bet’s policy not constitute an undemocratic attempt to silence the Palestinian minority and its leaders, he asked. A reply from the Shin Bet was not long in coming. The secret police had a responsibility to guard
Questioned by Israeli legal groups about this policy when it became public, the head of the Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin, wrote a letter clarifying what he meant.
In other words, in the view of the Shin Bet, a Jewish and democratic state is democratic only if you are a Jew or a Zionist. If you try to use
The extension in the future of this principle from Bishara to the other Palestinian MKs and then on to the wider Palestinian community inside
The Shin Bet is not, admittedly, a democratic institution, even if it is operating in a supposedly democratic environment. So how do the state’s more accountable officials view the Shin Bet’s position? Diskin’s reply had a covering letter from Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz, the country’s most senior legal officer. Mazuz wrote: “The letter of the Shin Bet director was written in coordination with the attorney general and with his agreement, and the stance detailed in it is acceptable to the attorney general.”
So now we know. As
Jonathan Cook, a journalist based in Nazareth, Israel, is the author of “Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State” (Pluto Press, 2006). His website is www.jkcook.net