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Palestinian Israelis taxed and squeezed.

Discussions of Palestinians in the international press are generally based on the assumption that 'palestinians are an Arab population concentrated in the West, Bank and Gaza. Palestinians within the state of Israel are typically ignored. Who are the Palestinians in Israel?

Before 1948 a Palestinian population lived across the whole of historical Palestine. In 1947 when the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab Palestinian state, giving 55 percent of Palestine for creation of a Jewish state, there were as many Palestinians as Jews living within this region; that is, 600,000.

During the 1948-49 war, Israel seized another 20 percent of Palestine, expanding in the triangle million west of Jerusalem, in the eastern Galilee and the Negev, driving almost 1 million Palestinians out of this region I which then became the truce borders of the state of Israel. A shattered remnant of 175,000 Palestinians remained within this expanded Jewish state. Israel expropriated the land of those who had fled or were driven out, razing some 400 Palestinian villages. It also seized the land of many Palestinian internal refugees who remained in Israel but who were uprooted from their land ("present absentees," in Israeli legal definition).

Before 1948, Jews had secured ownership to about 7 percent of the land within Israel. Through a complex process of expropriation of former Palestinian land, some 94 percent of the land is now held by Jews, most under a Jewish land trust that restricts its use to Jews, while Palestinian land ownership within Israel has been reduced to 4.5 percent of the land. The remnant of Palestinians left within Israel in 1948 were granted citizenship, but kept under a military administration until 1966, which greatly restricted their ability to gather, work or travel within Israel.

Today these Palestinian Israelis have grown to some 900,000, or 18 percent of the population of Israel. Their rights and privileges are markedly inferior to those of Jews, making Palestinians, in effect, second-class citizens. Uprooted from their former agricultural base, Palestinians have been turned into a proletarian labor force in an Israeli-owned economy.

The second-class citizenship takes a number of forms. Most basically, it is rooted in a definition of Israel as a "state of the Jewish people," which makes the very existence of non-Jewish Israelis an anomaly. In 1984 a law was passed in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, that bans any political party that calls for equal citizenship of Arab and Jew. Different laws of nationality allow a Jew anywhere in the world to immigrate to Israel and acquire citizenship, while Palestinians born in this land but who no longer reside there because of expulsion or absence at a certain time cannot return and become citizens.

The Israeli government plans land development, installing the full infrastructure of roads, water, electricity, sewage and buildings, making these available to Jews, many of them recent immigrants, on subsidized terms, while Palestinians not only receive no such help, but are often forbidden to expand and develop their own houses and infrastructure through denial of permits.

Although Palestinians pay heavy taxes to the state, their areas receive far fewer services than Jewish areas. Arab local councils receive approximately 25 percent of the funds allocated to Jewish local councils.

In addition, educational assistance, job preferences, children's allowances and housing programs are attached to military service. Since Palestinian citizens, with the exception of the Druze and the Circassian groups, are not allowed to join the military, they are excluded from this whole structure of benefits.

One of the particular concerns of Palestinian Israeli human rights groups is the oppression suffered by groups of Palestinians who reside in several hundred unrecognized villages. The policy of the Israeli government since 1950 has been to concentrate the Arab population into Arab-defined towns, such as Nazareth, separated from the Jewish population, largely preventing the development of these Arab towns' economic base and institutions. Residents of remaining Arab villages scattered in the Galilee, Haifa region and Negev have been pressured to move. into these larger Arab zones by denying the villages recognition.

Israel defines these villagers as lawbreakers for continuing to live in these unrecognized areas. It denies them basic services, such as electricity, water, access roads, schools, health clinics and the right to build houses or cultivate their lands. Permits for new construction, including repairs, are denied; when new construction is built without permits, it is demolished.

One example of such an unrecognized village is Arab, El-Naim, which I visited in January. Located in a hilly region overlooking the Sea of Galilee, the inhabitants live on ancestral land where they traditionally herded cattle and goats. In 1964 the stone houses of the village were declared illegal and demolished by the Israeli government. Any new buildings have met the same fate. Most of the land was expropriated and some of it used to build the Jewish settlement of Ishhar, which enjoys full services. By contrast, the more than 700 inhabitants of Arab El-Naim live in tin shanties that leak, are cold in winter and hot in summer.

The village lacks electricity and the villagers must bring in water by water tanks, which is often unclean and causes diseases. There is now one water pipe that has been installed in the village, but hooking it into the houses is forbidden. Having lost their means of subsistence, the men of the village go out to work at Israeli construction sites. Lacking a school of their own, the children have to walk to a distant transportation point to go to school. Since most do not have shoes, this means that only a few, mostly boys, are able to receive even the first grades of schooling.

The Association of the Forty is a Palestinian group founded in 1988 to work for the recognition of these villages and their incorporation into health, educational, developmental and other services equal to those available to Jewish citizens of Israel. The association has succeeded in forcing the recognition of eight villages, five of them only in mid-1992. But adequate services even for these are still denied.

Ultimately the Association of the Forty and other groups such as the Galilee Society and the Arab Association for Human Rights are engaged in a struggle for equal citizenship, redefining the state of Israel as a state of all its citizens. For more information write: The Association of the Forty, 37 Hanassi Ave., Haifa 34644, Israel; fax: 972-4-332196. To help with the particular plight of the village of Arab El-Naim, write: Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Knesset, Jeruasalem, Israel. Request that the village of Arab El-Naim in the Galilee be recognized as a legitimate village, and that its residents receive the same rights to services as are available to residents of Israeli villages.
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Author:Ruether, Rosemary Radford
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Mar 22, 1996
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