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OCTOBER 2000 – THE MEANING OF BEING A NATIONAL MINORITY IN ISRAEL

 During the month of October 2000, following the beginning of what was to be called the Al-Aqsa Intifadah (the second Palestinian uprising), several thousand Israeli Arabs (henceforth: Palestinian citizens of Israel[1]) showed their support for their Palestinian brethren in the Occupied Territories by demonstrating in many Arab villages and towns throughout Israel. As is the case in many demonstrations, these included the waving of flags and placards, burning of tires, blocking of roads, and general expressions of discontent with the actions the State of Israel was taking in the occupied territories. Also, as in all cases of demonstrations, Israeli police forces were sent in to maintain order. However, unlike other demonstrations, order was maintained by the use of live ammunition – the police forces shot and killed thirteen demonstrators.[2] This in turn led to even greater outrage among Palestinian citizens of Israel, who demanded that the events be investigated and conclusions drawn. A state inspection committee, the Or Commission of Inquiry, was set up on November 8, 2000 to inquire into these dire events. However, although the committee submitted its recommendations on September 1, 2003, their full implementation remains in question and no one, so it seems, ever paid the price of the unwarranted deaths. It is important to note that while the Commission drew personal as well as systemic conclusions, as it was entrusted to do – its mandate being quite wide in range – its actual influence on those under investigation and on Israeli society at large was quite narrow.

            This paper will employ two approaches for the examination of these events. Both of these approaches rely and are in fact derived from the writings and thought of Hannah Arendt. The first, a more theoretical approach, will examine Arendt’s thought on nationalism so as to highlight both its effect on the Palestinian citizens of Israel (and their intimate, ethnic relation to the Palestinian people), and on the Israeli police forces – their reaction when faced with a threat which was clearly internal to the state mechanism, but just as clearly perceived as nationalistically external. Additionally, Arendt’s thought on minorities and minority rights will also help shed some light on the behavior of the Palestinian citizens of Israel and that of the police forces. This line of thought is closely related to Arendt’s notion of statelessness, which is interestingly connected to the topic at hand. While the Palestinian citizens of Israel do in fact have a state, their brethren in the occupied territories, whom they were vouching for and with whom they feel a strong connection, are in fact stateless. Moreover, the status of the Palestinian citizens of Israel as citizens is more often than not referred to as “second class citizenship” – one might argue that such a position within a state is as close to that of statelessness[3] as one can get. 

            The second more practical approach, will examine Arendt’s specific views and warnings regarding Zionism, the Jewish state, and the Arab inhabitants of the land – “[I]ndeed, she saw the Zionist terror in the late 1940s as designed expulsion of the Arab population. In this context, “democracy” comes to mean some vague notion of self-determination, not inalienable human rights for every member of the state.”[4] Moreover, Arendt’s views regarding Zionism were not for her Zionist specific; rather they pointed to the disastrous effects and conclusions that are derived from the combination and near-marriage in modernity between nationalism and state sovereignty.[5]

            These views, warnings and observations shall provide a very focused view on the consequences of the Jewish nation-state, both for its Palestinian citizens and, more frighteningly, regarding its democratic and human-rights-upholding character. Arendtian conceptual and ethical frameworks are called upon, in the article, to explicate these difficulties.



[1] Two events, prior to the first Intifadah are seen as catalysts for the “Palestinization” of the Arab citizens of Israel – “Land day” demonstrations, 1976 and the Lebanon war of 1982. Following these, and even more so, following the first Intifadah, these citizens of Israel have referred to themselves (and prefer to be referred to by others) as “Palestinian citizens of Israel”.Schiff, Zeev et al., Intifada : the Palestinian uprising--Israel's third front (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990), p. 178-79.

[2] Bishara, Azmi, "Reflections of October 2000: A Landmark in Jewish-Arab Relations in Israel," Journal of Palestine Studies30, no. 3 (2001): p. 54. Hammami, Rema and Salim Tamari, "The Second Uprising: End of New Beginning?," Journal of Palestine Studies 30, no. 2 (2001): p. 13.

[3] “Refugees, minority populations, and displaced persons are for Arendt more oppressed than Marx’s proletariat; their oppression, taking the form of rightlessness, will continue to prevail unless there is a new understanding of the nation-state and citizenship.” Birmingham, Peg, Hannah Arendt & human rights : the predicament of common responsibilityStudies in Continental thought (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), p. 133.

[4] Ibid., p. 138.

[5] Ibid., p. 137.

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