The awakening of Palestinian citizens of Israel

The awakening of Palestinian citizens of Israel
Opinion: Palestinian citizens of Israel face the same racist ideology as their brothers and sisters elsewhere in the Occupied Territories. They stand united in resistance as one Palestinian people, writes Jonathan Kuttab.
5 min read
18 May, 2021
A woman raises a Palestinian flag during a protest in the coastal city of Jaffa on May 15, 2021 [Getty/AFP]

For many years, Israel/Palestine observers have concentrated on the areas occupied in 1967, and neglected the Palestinians who managed to stay in their homes in 1948, becoming citizens of Israel. 

They are an integral part of the Palestinian people, and have also suffered from the discriminatory and racist practices of the Zionist state of Israel. Today they number around 2 million, and constitute 22% of Israel's population, yet their participation in Israeli political decision making remains close to zero.

While they do have the vote, their representatives to the Israeli Knesset are effectively barred from political power by an unwritten understanding that they would never be allowed to participate in governing coalitions. All recent Israeli governments have been made up of coalitions.

The two largest parties combined have been unable to muster the necessary 61 Knesset members to form a government. Even during the 2020 election, when the political alliance of four Arab-majority political parties, the Joint List, garnered 15 mandates and became the third-largest party in the Knesset, it was completely ignored as the much-smaller Jewish parties were wooed, bribed, and welcomed to join other Jewish parties to form a coalition government.

"What the world has witnessed in Sheikh Jarrah is a continuation of what Israeli Palestinians have experienced since 1948"

The Israeli state openly discriminates against Arabs. It claims to be democratic, but also insists that it is a Jewish state, and that laws favouring Jews are a necessary intrinsic aspect of it. The Israeli government feels that it has sufficiently controlled and "domesticated" its Arab population, and refuses to discuss them even during negotiations with other Palestinians.

The recent events in Sheikh Jarrah, however, have highlighted many of the grievances of Palestinian citizens of Israel. What the world is witnessing in Sheikh Jarrah is a continuation of what Palestinian citizens of Israel have been experiencing since 1948, with racist laws, compliant courts, and determined extremists deliberately pushing Palestinians out of their homes and laying claims to more and more land on behalf of Jews.

The fact that the two-state solution has been effectively scuttled by Jewish settlements in the West Bank, has now been clearly acknowledged. This situation has been exacerbated by a determined swing to the right in Israeli politics that is increasingly manifesting itself in blatantly racist legislation.

The recent Jewish nation-state law openly declared Israel to be the state of the Jews only, giving the Jews alone the right to self-determination in Israel. Jewish parties which had been considered illegal and too noxious for the Likud Party are now part of government, and are openly inciting hatred. 

Deliberate and peaceful attempts by Palestinian citizens of Israel to integrate into Israeli society and demand equality have been continuously rebuffed, and they are forced to sit and watch from the side-lines as Israel continues to rule and oppress their brothers and sisters in the West Bank, Gaza, and, of course, East Jerusalem. Last week, right-wing groups were openly chanting "Death to the Arabs" and attacking Palestinians in the streets.


On top of all this, problems in Arab towns and villages continue to accumulate. Crime and lawlessness are rampant. While Israel has been aggressive in its efforts to combat any form of armed resistance by Palestinians - which it brands as "terrorism" - it has been unwilling to invest much effort in providing Palestinian citizens of Israel with security or protection from ordinary criminals, hooligans, and feuding families who have been wreaking havoc and causing regular civilian fatalities with little or no police intervention.

The last straw came during Ramadan, when many Palestinian citizens of Israel travel to Jerusalem to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque, especially during laylat al-Qadr, the last Friday of Ramadan, when the heavens are said to be open and all night prayers are held.

"Racist rhetoric has openly and arrogantly favoured Jews over Arabs in all parts of Palestine, and has viewed all Arabs as potential enemies to be ruled and controlled"

Israeli police, unlike in previous years, did not allow worshippers from the West Bank to come to Jerusalem, intercepting the buses carrying Israeli citizens on the outskirts of Jerusalem and preventing them from entering the city to pray.  

Enraged worshipers left the buses and continued on foot where they were met by East Jerusalemites. Pilgrims were guided to Al-Aqsa Mosque, and offered free meals and hospitality.  At the mosque, they found to Israeli soldiers and policemen attacking Al-Aqsa with an arrogant show of force, tear gas, and rubber-coated bullets that left hundreds wounded. 

This event highlighted the ties between East Jerusalemites, West Bankers, Gazans, and Palestinian citizens of Israel, who all face the same racist ideology. Racist rhetoric has openly and arrogantly favoured Jews over Arabs in all parts of Palestine, and has viewed all Arabs as potential enemies to be ruled over and controlled.

It therefore comes as no surprise that demonstrations have erupted throughout towns and villages. It is also no surprise that they have been met with police brutality, as well as gangs of racist thugs attacking stores and cars, and attempts to lynch any Arab they could catch.

"Palestinian population is becoming one unified people, yearning for equality, and for freedom"

For many years, Zionists have endeavoured to keep the Palestinian people fragmented and subject to differing laws and systems of control. Projecting the mirage of a two-state solution, they have attempted to separate Israeli Palestinians from their brothers and sisters in the occupied territories, just as they attempted to separate Jerusalemites from the rest of the West Bank and Gaza.

By undermining the two-state solution, spreading control over all of Palestine, and erasing The Green Line, the Israeli government has created a new reality. Israelis are left with one state covering historic Palestine, which is currently governed in an apartheid fashion. One half of the population of Israel-Palestine is not Jewish, and this existing Palestinian population is becoming a unified people, yearning for equality, and for freedom.


Jonathan Kuttab is a leading human rights lawyer and a Non-resident Fellow at Arab Center Washington DC. He is a resident of East Jerusalem and a partner of Kuttab, Khoury, and Hanna Law Firm there. He is the co-founder of Al-Haq, the first international human rights legal organisation in Palestine, and of the Palestine Center for the Study of Nonviolence.

Follow him on Twitter: @jkuttab

Have questions or comments? Email us at:

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.