Living in Israel are the members of two peoples, Jewish and Arab, majority and minority. All are citizens who must be treated equally. This basic truth, the cornerstone of any democratic regime, is being undermined yet again.
The World Zionist Organization's Settlement Division, part of the executive branch of the government, is formulating a plan to "Judaize the Galilee" and create a "demographic balance" vis-à-vis the Arab population. Zafrir Rinat reported yesterday in Haaretz that the goal is to attract 100,000 new Jewish residents to the Galilee, with the objective, in the agency's words, of "giving expression to Israeli sovereignty through settlement activity."
This program must be scrapped immediately. Israeli sovereignty over the Galilee is not being questioned in any way. Whether most of the residents are Jews or Arabs, every resident of the Galilee is a citizen of the state and must be treated as such. A state that encourages members of one people to settle in any region, while at the same time imposing harsh restrictions on the growth of the other, is acting in a racist manner. There is no other way to describe such behavior.
Since 1948, Israel has blocked the establishment of new Arab communities in the Galilee, even though the older communities are bursting at the seams for lack of land reserves, while it has expropriated huge tracts of Arab land. It has developed industrial zones almost exclusively in the Jewish communities. Now it is calling for the "Judaization" of the region. This is a state acting unjustly toward its citizens.
"Since the 'tower and stockade' period, nothing has changed," wrote Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on his Facebook page Saturday night, during the demonstrations against the Prawer plan for the Negev that is expected to force tens of thousands of Bedouin out of the unrecognized villages where they live. "We are fighting for the national lands of the Jewish people," he argued.
Whether the Prawer initiative will benefit the Bedouin, as the government claims, or harm them, as its opponents argue, the foreign minister's remarks are intolerable. Since the days of the tower and stockade, the expulsion of Arabs from their villages and the expropriation of land in the Negev and the Galilee, a state was established. The state's sovereignty over its lands needs no "reinforcement." What is in desperate need of reinforcement, however, is the egalitarian, non-racist, nondiscriminatory character of the state.
The government must develop the Negev and the Galilee for all its citizens, Jews and Arabs alike. Anything else could further exacerbate the alienation already felt by Israeli Arabs citizens and escalate their protests.
This Op-Ed was previously published by Haaretz