Independence Day: A Celebration for Whom?

Date: 2019/05/09

Israel celebrates Memorial Day and Independence Day in succession. This year these holidays lie on May 8th and 9th. Over the course of these two days, business owners are fined if they do not close their businesses by sunset on May 7th. Sirens are blasted to signal a moment of silence for the twenty-four thousand soldiers killed in the build up to and since the establishment of the State of Israel. Festivals and parades run on the night of May 8th and Israeli citizens celebrate independence day, enjoying their long weekend with family and friends.


The Palestinian Arab minority of Israel is not an active participant in these celebrations. Seventy-one years after the establishment of the State of Israel, the collective memory of the Nakba remains strong, particularly as a result of Palestinian Arab citizens’ ongoing experience of dispossession and exclusion from the public sphere. For Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, May 8th is anything but symbol of their liberation. The Palestinian Arab community that remained following the establishment of the State of Israel, although granted residency and citizenship, suffered nearly two decades of oppressive military rule following the establishment of the State and has never enjoyed equal rights as citizens before the law.


Following the passage of the Jewish Nation-State Law, which enshrines in constitutional law the second-class status of Arab citizens, the alienation of the Palestinian Arab minority from the State has increased. Legislative attacks combined with ongoing socioeconomic inequality have left Palestinian Arab citizens with little hope in formal democratic processes and their elected leadership, as evidenced by low voter-turnout for the 21st Knesset. in which only 52% of Arab voters participated. As a result, the number of seats held by representatives of the Arab parties fell from thirteen to ten.


Keeping with historical precedent, none of the leading Jewish parties offered to include the Arab parties in their coalition before the elections. An extreme right wing majority, which is characterized by its increasingly brazen disregard for international law, minority rights, and Palestinian statehood, sits in the Knesset.


In this political climate, and just days after Israel escalated its attacks on Gaza, the alienation of Palestinian Arab citizens from independence day celebrations should not come as a surprise. Instead of celebrating, thousands of Palestinian Arab citizens are gathered in Khubbayzeh, a village that was demolished nearly seventy-one years ago today in the days preceding Israel’s declaration of independence.


In light of this phenomenon, it is of the utmost importance that Palestinian civil society in Israel and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel are empowered to meet their political potential within Israel. The size of the Palestinian minority of Israel is their strength in attaining equality and equitable treatment. Constituting 22% of the population, Palestinian citizens of Israel are the key component to ending the occupation of Palestine, and forcing Israel to recognize all ethnic and religious minorities as citizens with equal rights. To be able to achieve a just and sustainable peace in Palestine and Israel, Palestinian citizens of Israel must unite, transcend identity voting, propose a solution to ensure Palestinian self-determination, and work to advance the socioeconomic status of the community. In doing this, Palestinian citizens must develop a coherent vision and strategy and work to form coalitions within Israeli society.


As Prime Minister Netanyahu shifts from claiming to support a two-state solution to promising annexation, it has become even more crucial for Palestinian citizens of Israel to work with each other and with other Israeli communities to rise above identity politics and propose a solution to ensure Palestinian self-determination and social justice.


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