Tens of thousands of Palestinians protested in the centre of Israeli capital Tel Aviv last Saturday against a racist constitutional law that discriminates against Arabs.
It was the latest protest against the new Nation State law, which says only Jewish people have the right to self-determination in Israel.
This implicitly denies the same right to the Palestinians who lived there for hundreds of years before Israel was founded in 1948.
Passed by the Israeli government last month, it entrenches racism against Arabs into the constitution and confirms Israel’s existence as an apartheid state.
Most Palestinians in Israel are the descendants of those who stayed on their land after Israel’s creation in 1948. Israel was founded through a process of ethnic cleansing in which Israeli militias systematically destroyed Arab villages and forced some 850,000 Palestinians to flee.
The campaign was designed to ensure the new state of Israel had a Jewish ethnic majority.
Palestinians who remained were officially given equal rights, but face an array of racist laws and practices.
The Nation State law effectively writes this discrimination into Israel’s constitution.
It was passed amid Israeli politicians’ fears that Palestinians will outnumber Jewish people when the population of Palestinian territories is taken into account.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, and right wing Israeli politicians want to do the same to the West Bank. Both Palestinian territories have been occupied by Israel since 1967.
Israel has reinforced its control over West Bank land by building huge settlements that act as commuter towns to Israeli cities. The occupation has also ensured that the West Bank’s economy is tied to Israel’s.
Yet the very presence of Palestinians is seen by Israel as a threat to its existence.
The new law deals with this by describing settlements as a “national value” that the state must encourage, while denying Palestinians the same rights as Israelis.
Protesters in Tel Aviv responded by asserting their identity as Palestinians. Many protesters waved Palestinian flags.
Protester Omar Sultan told the Al Jazeera news network, “This law is against us, against the Arabic language, against peace, against our future in this land. We are the real people of this land.”
Tellingly, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded to protesters’ identification as Palestinians by saying it is “no better evidence of the Nationality Law’s necessity”.
Yet despite this—and the deeply racist attitudes ingrained in Israeli society—many Jewish Israelis joined the Palestinians in protesting.
Few Israelis on the protest called for a single state. But the unified call for equality is a sign that Arabs and Jews could live together with equal rights in one state in all of Palestine.