The Arab Israeli ultimatum: history or citizenship
Benjamin Netanyahu took his country’s erasure of Arab Israeli history one-step further on November 9, inquiring to his interior minister on the feasibility of citizenship termination against the embattled Israeli minority population:
“We will act against those who throw stones, block roads and call for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the place of the State of Israel… I will instruct the Interior Minister to evaluate revoking the citizenship of those who call for the destruction of the State of Israel.”
For starters: the Prime Minister is not kidding. Throwing a stone in Israel to protest police violence, 70 years of occupation, or any other legitimate grievance an Arab Israeli may have with their government is an act that can now cost you 20 years in prison.
But more importantly, what is the significance of Netanyahu’s warning against those who “call for the establishment of a Palestinian state in place of the State of Israel”? This is a case of political-linguistic concision: glossing over a complex topic in a space that permits only a limited amount of language. The desired effect? Leave the public to their own fear-mongering assumptions influenced by decades of indoctrinating Arab/Muslim/Palestinian demonization.
This statement by Netanyahu intended to provoke the terrifying images of bombs over Israeli cities and the second genocide of Jewish people in a century that would precede his country’s “destruction.” But Israeli policy towards the “threat” of Arab Israeli cultural memory suggests there to be a very different interpretation of what could constitute calling for the “destruction” of Israel.
In history, every event is subjective. May 15, 1948, depending on the chance of your birth, can either be celebrated as the day Zionist settlement finally achieved its goal of creating a Jewish state, or mourned as the day you were forced to flee your country and never allowed to return. To those Palestinians to whom the latter scenario is their everyday reality, May 15, 1948 became known as “al-Nakba,” or “the catastrophe.” On the contrary, the same date is celebrated in Israel as “Independence Day.”
In 2011, the Jewish State cut-off public funding for any citizen or organization that would use those funds for mourning al-Nakba. Cultural memory for the minority Arab citizens in Israel thus became a recognized threat to the national myth of the Jewish State: a country founded through settlement on “a land without people for a people without a land.” In the words of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, “There is no other normal country that funds events comparing its establishment to a catastrophe.”
If the mere remembrance in Israel of Palestinian history pre-1948 is codified as a threat to the existence of the Jewish State, what are the implications of Netanyahu’s latest inquiry on the termination of Arab Israeli citizenship for advocating the “destruction” of Israel?
The right to be a citizen in the “democratic” Jewish State will consequently depend on one’s pledge of allegiance to the founding myth of Israel; one that if you are ethnically Palestinian, requires you to renounce your history as national threat.
What could then be interpreted as grounds for citizenship-termination in Israel? Waving a Palestinian flag certainly could. An act that asserts an alternative cultural memory in Israel – the existence of the Palestinian people prior to 1948 – easily fits into the current qualifications for calling for the “destruction of Israel.” How about advocating for the right of return of Palestinian refugees from 1948 or 1967? Such a policy would surely increase the population of non-Jews in Israel from its current standing of 20% to a number very likely over 50% – spelling certain doom for the demographic supremacy required for the existence of a Jewish state on indigenously non-Jewish land.
What does it mean to call for the “destruction of Israel”? With a country whose “existence” rests so delicately on religious demographic statistics, its “destruction” certainly doesn’t necessitate bombs or genocide. Losing citizenship for promoting “Israel’s destruction” could mean something as simple as recommending the observation of Palestinian human rights in the Jewish State.