My friend, Palestinian scholar and educational leader Yamila Shannan, once told me something I’ve never forgotten, “Ignorance is not the absence of knowledge; it is the presence of myth.”
There are many myths that surround American understandings of Israel, but one of the most difficult to dispel is the fairy tale of Israeli democracy. Earlier this week, Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s advisor on Israel, published an op-ed in The New York Times full of falsifications about who is to blame for the situation in Gaza. Spoiler alert: It’s not Israel.
One of his pieces of evidence for why Israel is blameless for the situation in Gaza is the “normal lives” of “Arabs in Israel.” In some cases, “Arab” citizens are even allowed to “thrive,” according to Greenblatt’s analysis.
Adalah has documented Israel’s institutional discrimination against its Palestinian citizens for over two decades.
In Israel, there is a distinction between citizenship and nationality. Citizenship is Israeli, but citizens are identified by nationality comprised of various ethnic and religious categories, including Jewish, Arab, and Druze.
In 2013, the Israeli Supreme Court affirmed that there is no such thing as an "Israeli nationality."
Israel tolerates “procedural democracy” by giving Palestinian citizens of Israel the right to vote and participate in political life; however, true democracy requires a foundation of equality and justice. Maintaining a Jewish majority is a critical component of Israel's self-identity as a Jewish and “democratic” state. Israel’s Law of Return, adopted in 1950, grants every Jewish person in the world the right to obtain citizenship and live in Israel; Israel does not, however, recognize the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
No where are Israel’s colonial ambitions more clear than in Palestinian access to land. Palestinians citizens of Israel make up 20% of the population and live on less than 3% of the land. Residency in 43% of all towns in Israel is determined by Admissions Committees that filter out Palestinian applicants on the basis of their “social unsuitability."
Trump and his Middle East team soon will unveil yet another “peace plan” for the region. Given Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, his relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and his approval of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, Palestinians have no reason to take Trump’s plan seriously. Netanyahu’s campaign promise to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank is a real threat in this political moment.
We have a big job ahead of us. Our task is to do more than present accurate information. In order to dispel myths, we must also articulate a truthful and hopeful vision that promises safety, belonging and love for all. We must challenge the willful ignorance of Israeli and U.S. leaders who fuel racism, hatred and lies. James Baldwin once said, “Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
But Palestinians have an alternative. A future where all people of Palestine/Israel live in freedom, historic justice and equality.
We will assert this hopeful vision throughout the course of the Democratic Party primaries and into the Democratic National Committee convention in the summer of 2020. The issue of justice for Palestinians will be a central debate among Democrats and progressives. Adalah Justice Project, through outreach, messaging and action, is ready to shape that conversation.
Let’s remember that Baldwin also instructed:
“The impossible is the least that one can demand.”
With impossible hope,