Part I: An Introduction
Israel faces a major dilemma in that, considering all its territory (including Judea, Samaria and Gaza), only about half of its population is Jewish. The Jewish population is about 6.9 million (April 2021 figures, according to the Israel CBS) and the Arab population is about 6.3 million: About 2 million Arabs live in Israel proper (April 2021 figures, according to the Israel CBS), about 2.3 million Arabs live in the West Bank (July 2021 projection according to the CIA World Factbook) and about 2 million Arabs live in the Gaza Strip (July 2021 projection according to the CIA World Factbook). Besides Jews and Arabs, there are close to half a million “others” residing in Israel proper, not including foreign workers and illegal aliens. Those “others”, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of foreign workers and illegal residents, clearly tip the balance against the Jewish population of Israel, such that if you look at the greater picture, Jews are not the majority in the Land of Israel.
Israel has been accused by its detractors of being an apartheid state. Of the roughly 6.3 million Arabs, only about 2 million have Israeli citizenship. They were given Israeli citizenship only because they reside in Israel proper. Based on modern democratic principles, the Israeli government considered that it had no choice but to grant them citizenship, it being the representative of the population and them being legal permanent residents. When Israel regained the rest of its Territory during the 1967 Six Day War, it preferred to retain its presence there as a military occupation rather than annex this very central and essential part of the Holy Land. It did so only to avoid having to grant the Arab residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza a path to citizenship.
In 2005, Israel even pulled its army out of the Gaza Strip and evicted its own Jewish citizens from that territory, in order to amputate a cancerous leg so to speak, thus negating its Arab residents’ claim to the rest of Israel. Israel maintains its military presence in Judea and Samaria, commonly known as the West Bank, but even there it has ceded control of Arab settlements and population centers to the Palestinian Authority, thus cutting them off from the rest of Israel and justifying its decision not to grant their residents citizenship. The Israeli government prefers to view the historic heartland of Israel as a disputed territory under a quasi-military occupation, even ceding control over parts of it and building walls around it, merely to avoid granting its Arab residents citizenship. Israel has been performing legal acrobatics for decades for this very reason, not because it doesn’t want to annex the West Bank, but because it understands the consequences. On the one hand there is no way Israel would be willing to abandon the West Bank of the Jordan River, which by its very definition is the Land of Israel, but on the other hand there is no way it can absorb that many Arabs, while remaining a Jewish and democratic state. That would mark the beginning of the end for it in its current state.
You can imagine what would happen if Israel absorbed an additional 4.3 million Arab citizens. Currently the Arabs account for about 21% of the citizens, and their political parties get between 10-15 seats in the 120 seat Israeli Parliament, the Knesset. They sit in the opposition, seeking to undermine the state and its credibility, but they are largely isolated.
Israel is a splintered society with many different political parties, and the system is set up in such a way that, to form a government, a majority of these parties or their members must join together and form a coalition under one leader, who becomes the prime minister. This is already a challenge with only 110 seats or less remaining. Theoretically, the Arab parties could already attain 20 seats if their constituents really wanted. Just imagine what kind of havoc that would cause, requiring 61 out of the remaining 100 members of Knesset to get along. Now just imagine if the Arabs could get 50 seats, that would basically require all the Jews to get along, lest the Arabs gain control of the government, and the risk is not that farfetched. The system is bound to fail eventually, as it has been failing in recent times, with 4 elections being held in the span of only 2 years (from April 2019 to March 2021).
To better understand this dilemma, one needs to consider that it has defined the political landscape of Israel for decades and that its roots precede even the State of Israel. When the British captured the Holy Land from the Ottomans, the population was small, under a million, but the Arabs were the clear majority. With time more Jews arrived, but also more Arabs, such that when the international community decided to carve out a Jewish State in the Land of Israel, it literally carved out the Land on the map and demarcated it between its Jewish and Arab residents. The 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine (Resolution 181) gave Jaffa, Acco, Lod, Ramle, Beer Sheva, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Nazareth and everything around Jerusalem and Betlehem to the Arabs. The Jewish State was divided into three separate spheres that included the central coast up to Haifa, the eastern Galilee and the Negev desert. Jerusalem was designated as an international city to be administered by the UN. The Jews wholeheartedly welcomed this, it was better than nothing for them, but the Arabs clearly rejected it.
The Arabs did not have national aspirations in the Land of Israel. There was never an independent Arab state in Israel and no such national identity existed within the Arab tribes and nations, so they had little to gain from this Partition Plan. What they did have in common was their bitter rejection of the formation of any Jewish State, hence they immediately reacted with violence and war, aiming to annihilate the Jews and their fledgling state. The Arabs did not consider that the Jews stood a chance, the Jews being a minority in the Land surrounded by an entire Middle East filled with Arab nations united against them. The Jews had a mere foothold along a narrow coast, and as soon as the British pulled out, the Arabs presumed they would easily drive them out. The opposite happened when Arabs fled and were expelled from territory Israel captured in 1948.
Nonetheless, the Arabs retained control over large portions of the Land, with Egypt taking the Gaza Strip, and Jordan taking the West Bank. They used these territories to attack Israel, not to establish a “Palestinian” state, for the “Palestinian” national identity is a fabricated one, based on a word that is entirely foreign to them, even the phonetic sound for the letter “P” is absent in their language. Instead, they established refugee camps in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, places they had originally come from, and especially inside Israel, in the West Bank and Gaza. They consider themselves refugees in territory they claim as their land. How can you be a refugee in your own land? The answer is that they don’t want the West Bank or Gaza when they are offered them, they want what the Jews have. They want Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, to assault the Jews and drive them out.
Israel as a nation is confronted by the absurd, for the absurdity of its actions in perpetuating myths it has taught itself and the world. The first myth is the one mentioned above: That a nation must grant citizenship to all its inhabitants. This is something the Jews had sought for themselves and received from Napolean, known as Jewish emancipation. The second myth is related to this, for while we dreamt of being French, British and German citizens, we also turned our backs on God: “Behold, a people that dwell alone and are not reckoned among the nations.” (Numbers 23: 9). “And now, if you truly listen to My Voice and keep My Covenant, you will be a treasure to Me from all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you will be unto Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19: 5-6). The second myth is that Israel can be a nation of its inhabitants or a nation like other nations, as opposed to a nation of God.
And now that we understand the main points, we will conclude this segment of the discussion. This article has been divided into parts. The next part will utilize passages from the Torah to present an alternative to the current narrative on citizenship.
Yshai Amichai is a father of six and the author of the Hebrew book, “The Constitution of Israel” ("חוקת ישראל"), and the English book, “The Upright One,” both of which will be made available to the public soon. You may contact him by email: [email protected]