Israel’s Knesset passed the Nation-State law which asserts that the right of self-determination in the country is “unique to Jewish people” on 19 July.
Minority Arab lawmakers were removed from the Knesset after they tore up the bill and called it an “apartheid law.”
The West Asian territory of Israel has a past of religious and territorial contentions, dating back to Biblical times. Romans ruling over the land suppressed a large number of Jews or Hebrews whose ancestry in the region claims to be traced to the Exodus led by Moses. Jews and Muslims alike were persecuted during the Crusades before a relatively stable existence under the Ottoman Empire. At the end of the 19th century, Ottoman rule began to disintegrate and the “Holy Land” for Jews, Christians and Muslims entered murky waters over religion-backed territorial rights.
At the end of World War 2, Jews escaping Nazi persecution received support from the Zionist Movement which pressured the British, French and US administration to allow the creation of the state of Israel. Arab Palestinians did not support the UN Partition which would leave many Arabs in Israeli territory, and vice-versa. Moreover, the UN partition has been criticised of favouring Israel over control of water resources.
The Israeli Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948 by David Ben Gurion prompted a series of wars fought by Arab states against Israel. The Arabs were initially on the offensive, but their military resources dried up when the UN declared an arms embargo on the region. In 1949, Israel signed a series of armistice agreements with the Arab nations involved. No peace treaties were signed and in 1967, Israel fought the decisive “Six Day War” against Egypt, Jordan and Syria during which they occupied the Golan Heights from Syria.
Following the historic Oslo Accords, Palestinian National Authority (PNA) was established as an interim self-government body. However, the authority is undermined by imposition of Israeli law on Palestinian lands. There are over 150 illegal Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel has also violated international law by claiming the Golan Heights from Syria.
The Knesset passed a controversial bill, that officially defines Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people and states that, “The realization of the right to national self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” 62 lawmakers voted in favour and 55 opposed it; independent legislators Benny Begin and Orly Levy-Abekasis abstained.
The legislation includes clauses stating that a "united Jerusalem" is the capital of Israel and that Hebrew is the country's official language. It also recognises the Jewish calendar as the national calendar. Further, in violation of international law, another clause legitimises illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine with a clause reading: ‘The state sees the development of the Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.’
Israel’s Supreme Court recently upheld an injunction to halt the demolition of a Bedouin village in Palestine called Khan al Amar. Between 2008 and 2014, over 6,000 Bedouins were forcefully displaced in Area C after Israeli forces razed their homes. In 2017, the Bedouin village of al-Araqib was destroyed for the 119th time by Israeli forces, even though its residents carry Israeli citizenship.
The initial drafts of bill were intended to significantly limit the discretion of Supreme Court justices’ decisions, requiring them to set the state’s Jewish character above its democratic character, in rulings where the two clashed. Succumbing to conservative and ultra-orthodox pressure within and outside the ruling coalition, it was altered in May.
Soon after the law passed, Arab lawmakers tore copies in protest, and were subsequently removed from the Knesset plenum hall. Lawmaker Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List, released a statement saying that Israel had "passed a law of Jewish supremacy and told us that we will always be second-class citizens.”
The law is rife with contentious clauses and cultural symbolism. However, most of the clauses have little practical impact.
Our assessment is that the new legislation will further alienate Arabs living in Israel and Palestinian territories. We believe that the law may be used to secure more seats for the Jewish majority over Arabs holding Israeli citizenship in the Knesset. We feel that Israel’s recent expansion of settlements and promotion of a superior Jewish identity may come under severe criticism from the international community.