“The priority is to return and remain”

Hassan Jabereen (Photo courtesy of Adalah)

On 10 October, the Israeli Cabinet voted in favor of a proposal that would require every non-Jewish person seeking citizenship in Israel to vow loyalty to “the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” The Electronic Intifada contributor Jillian Kestler-D’Amours spoke with Hassan Jabareen, the founder and director general of Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, about the loyalty oath and what it means for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Jillian Kestler-D’Amours: Talk a bit about the loyalty oath; were you at all surprised?

Hassan Jabareen: It seemed to many, internationally and locally in Israel, that this is a very new concept to come and declare that Israel is a Jewish state and to ask [non-Jews] to accept it. It’s not.

The basic law of the Knesset, article 7-A, says that no political list [party] that will be allowed to run for the Knesset if it denies the character of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. I have been, in the last 15 years, standing before the [high court] at least three to four times, in every election, representing an Arab political party to convince the court that the Arab political party and its platform does not deny the character of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

So the oath is not a new thing. But it’s very dangerous still.

JK: Why is it dangerous?

HJ: The question is whether this law will give legitimacy to other future laws, such as if I want to work in any ministry office, should I give an oath? If I want to be accepted to any official job, to teach in university, to teach in high school, elementary school, should I give this oath or not? We don’t know where this will end.

JK: Is Israel’s definition as a “Jewish and democratic state,” as the oath outlines, a contradiction?

HJ: It depends how you define “Jewish state.” For me, Israel could have Hebrew as the dominant language, Jewish holidays, Hebrew symbols, Judaism as the official religion. But in the same time to be democratic [it must give] the same right to [Palestinians in Israel]. Arabic is the official language, symbols should also express the Arabs here, and holidays also express the Arab religions.

To live one beside the other, like binationalism, gives self-determination for the Jews and for the Palestinians. This Jewish state, it depends how you define it. Some person can believe that he is Zionist and he can believe in a binational state. The intellectuals of the Zionist movement during the time of 1948 and before, like [Judah] Magnes, believed in one binational state and despite that they were Zionist. So it’s a matter of definition.

But we know that the official — and this is the most important — definition of Israel as a Jewish state [means] that others don’t have national rights here. And here is the problem.

JK: What impact will the loyalty oath have on Palestinians citizens of Israel?

HJ: The Palestinians in Israel don’t need those laws in order to know that they are living in a Jewish state; they face that every day. They have very high political consciousness about their situation. They know that the state treats them inferiorly, unequally. But they have different priorities.

The definition of Israel as a Jewish state is not in their priorities. For example, this law doesn’t do anything except again declare that they are inferior. Their situation in [terms of] land, housing, home demolitions, in day-to-day life is more important than those matters [of laws].

One of the characteristics of the Palestinian political consciousness is to remain and to return. To remain and to return makes the land, the house and the home the most important [issues]. So they want us to give an oath? They ask the Palestinian woman from Canada, if she wants to get married to a Palestinian man in Nazareth, to give an oath? She will say, “[Curse] the Jewish state. But I will give the oath in order to come back and to be here.”

So we make the priority, the first thing, to return and remain. And that’s why we are strong and this won’t shake us. In Umm al-Fahm and Nazareth, people didn’t demonstrate against this law. They hate it. They know that it’s racist. But the priority is remaining.

JK: What should the international community be aware of?

HJ: They have to know about the legal consequences of a “Jewish state.” They have to know that the Palestinian citizens of Israel are not against the right of self-determination of Jews, but we are against the exclusiveness. We are against the fact that Israel denies our historical claims and historical rights. They deny that our historical memory is part of this land, deny that we are natives, deny that we belong to a people. They treat us just as individuals who came from nowhere, because [to them] we have no roots, [and] the only roots are Jewish roots which go back to 2,000 years ago.

This is the problem. So if we clarify this matter for the international community and they will see how the official definition of Israel as a Jewish state means direct inequality as a basic principle of Israel, they might change their perspective.

Originally from Montreal, Jillian Kestler-D’Amours is a reporter and documentary filmmaker based in occupied East Jerusalem. More of her work can be found at http://jilldamours.wordpress.com.