equality imbalance

It’s a charge I heard numerous times while in Israel. “This country is meant to be a democratic state but there’s only democracy if you are Jewish. For everyone else it’s a Jewish state.”
This time it was Palestinian Israeli activist Nadeem Nashif who was saying it. As head of the Haifa NGO Baladna, it’s his job to highlight the bias within society against Israel’s Arab minority. It’s a never-ending job.
Nashif’s complaints range from the cosmetic – the fact that the state’s flag carries the star of David, symbol of the Jewish faith, to the exclusion of the 25 per cent of Israel’s population that are from religious minorities – to overt, tangible discrimination against Arabs.
“The state’s main agenda is to serve Jewish people in Israel and abroad. But we are excluded from all decision-making. We have Arab people in the Knesset but they are never part of the coalition – we will always be in opposition so have limited influence.
“Most discrimination is not something very clear by law though. A few laws are clearly for Jewish people but most discrimination is there between the lines,” he says, launching into a list of his complaints.
Palestinians make up a fifth of the population in the original 1948 boundaries of Israel, but own just three per cent of the land. Similar imbalances exist in the country’s higher education system and within many workplaces.
One reason for this that really makes Palestinian Israelis angry is the way it is embedded into the social fabric. Many jobs – even those as basic as working in shops and restaurants – are only given on condition of military service. But Palestinians are exempted from national service.
This exemption means they lack a special social security code that entitles Israelis to special benefits such as access to education, land rights, jobs and benefits. Orthodox Jews are also exempted from army service. The difference is that they are still awarded the magic code.
“Putting that condition in your job ad is therefore a subtle way of saying this job isn’t for Arabs,” says Nashif. “Arab graduates find it very hard to find good jobs, even if they have the same grades as Jewish applicants. People would rather have Jewish employees. There is a glass ceiling for jobs.
“If you are lucky enough to get to university that is. There is less investment in our schools and when you finish you get more basic jobs. Because we don’t serve in the army we get fewer possibilities. It’s harder to get dormatory places at university, and to rent or buy property.”
He believes his people are also fighting for their own identity in a country that tries to deny their right to exist as a cohesive community. Nowhere is this more evident than in schools, where they are educated separately from Jewish Israelis and other Arab-speaking minorities such as Druze and Bedouin, but still have no freedom over what they learn.
Nashif says: “As a community we have no influence over what is taught. Teachers have to go through a screening process with the secret services…the first thing is you have to be a ‘good Arab’. You can’t be into politics, not into Palestinian identity or an activist.
“Even once you are in the system you have to preserve your job, and your behaviour is monitored. If you do anything wrong you will lose your job. Teachers are afraid of losing their jobs and being left without any benefits.
“Anything connected to Palestinian identity or thought is not taught. Our textbooks have a Zionist narrative. It’s a very colonial approach.
“We don’t learn anything about ourselves, our own history or culture. We only learn about Jewish culture. It’s good to know about that but we should also look at our own culture and past.”