Israel’s “law of citizenship” will have dire consequences

The definition of Israel as “Jewish and democratic” already makes the Palestinian minority second-cl

On Sunday 10 October, the Israeli cabinet voted in favour of an amendment to the country's "law of citizenship", supporting a proposal that would require non-Jews seeking to become citizens to swear allegiance to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic" state. The move comes as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu continues to insist that Palestinians must "recognise Israel as a Jewish state" an agains the background of faltering negotiations.

One of the reasons for the Palestinians' rejection of this demand is the situation of the Palestinian minority in Israel (around 20 per cent of the population). By coincidence, just two days before the cabinet vote, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a press release on the plight of Dahmash, an "unrecognised" Palestinian village 20 kilometres from Tel Aviv, sandwiched between Lod and Ramle. Here in microcosm is what Israel "as a Jewish state" has always meant for its Palestinian minority.

Dahmash has been inhabited since at least 1951, and its residents are Israeli citizens. Yet the Israeli authorities "refuse to rezone the land as residential" – despite doing so for land nearby – and "refuse to provide basic services such as paved roads, sewage, health facilities, kindergartens and schools". Moreover, "the authorities consider almost every one of the 70 houses 'illegal', and 13 are under threat of demolition".

The people in Dahmash thus face the same daily emergency as the tens of thousands of Palestinians living in "unrecognised villages" in Israel, as I saw for myself when I visited in July.

Paradoxically, some of Dahmash's residents were given the land by the state "as compensation for lands from which they had been displaced" in 1948 and "to which the Israeli government prohibited them from returning". Since then, however, officials have refused to "zone Dahmash for residential construction".

Many towns and neighbourhoods in central Israel, including the new residential development bordering Dahmash, were also originally zoned for agricultural use, but authorities rezoned those lands to allow them to expand and created plans that permitted residential construction. Neither regional nor national authorities have provided such a plan for Dahmash. In the last few years both Ramle and Lod have constructed residential complexes restricted to military career personnel and religious Jews.

The case of Dahmash highlights the important role played by both national and local planning mechanisms in maintaining Israel's regime of control and segregation. In the words of HRW's deputy Middle East director, "The 600 people of Dahmash are treated as if they don't exist, while Jewish towns are developed nearby in a way that threatens Dahmash residents' access to their homes and lands."

Nor is Dahmash an isolated case. A recent Haaretz article on the Galilee described how "the goals of the hilltop Jewish communities" in the region – according to a member of the Jewish Agency hilltop planning team – are "to prevent Arabs from 'taking over' government lands, keep Arab villages from attaining territorial continuity and attract a 'strong' population to the Galilee".

Twenty-nine Jewish communities, most of them co-operative, were built in Misgav between 1978 and 1988. The regional council also includes six existing Bedouin communities, whose conditions are light years removed from those in the Jewish areas. The Arab towns in the area do not belong to the council.

But it's not just a problem of land zoning for existing communities: as HRW describes, since 1948, "more than 900 Jewish villages and cities have been established in Israel, while the only new Arab towns allowed in 60 years have been seven towns that the government planned and constructed for Bedouin residents of the Negev". In a country that presents itself as the region's only democracy, the only new Arab towns in 60 years are half a dozen townships built as part of a "relocation" drive.

Ramle's mayor, Yoel Lavi, "who sits on the planning committee that rejected Dahmash's [alternative zoning] plan, told Israeli television in 2004 that the Maccabi District was not meant for Arabs because allowing Palestinian-Israeli citizens to live there would 'harm the ability to market the project since people won't want to live there' ". In 2006, Lavi explained his own "solution" to the unrecognised village of Dahmash:

. . . take two D10 bulldozers, the kind the IDF uses in the Golan Heights, two border police units to secure the area, and go from one side to the other . . . when you give the first shock with the crane everyone runs from their houses, don't worry.

That day has not yet come for Dahmash – but it is rather reminiscent of scenes in al-Arakib in the Negev, the village which just last week was destroyed for the sixth time this year. While the current trends in the Knesset are certainly troubling, the example of Dahmash highlights what "Jewish and democratic" has long meant for Palestinians living as second-class citizens in their own land.

Ben White is an activist and writer. His latest book is "Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy"

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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.