Earlier this week, Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Avidgdor Lieberman repeated that his guiding principle in negotiations with the Palestinians "must be not land for peace but an exchange of territory and population to create two national states." While he later backtracked and claimed this is not the official position of the Israeli government, he has been making such statements repeatedly for several years now. In the most recent national elections held in 2009, his party, Israel Beitanu [Israel is our Home], became the third largest political party in the Israeli government, clearly indicating that such positions carry significant traction with the voting public.
His proposals are patently illegal according to international law. Under the UN International Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples passed in 2007, as an indigenous community and as a national minority, the Arab citizens of Israel are entitled to certain specific rights, including protection against forced transfer or violation of any indigenous peoples' rights, forced assimilation or integration, or propaganda designed to promote racial or ethnic discrimination (Article 8.2), and states should cooperate in good faith with indigenous peoples and get prior consent prior to any project that affects their land or territories (Article 32.2).
Lieberman’s latest comments and other racist pronouncements (including racist bills, such as proposals linking "loyalty" and citizenship), generate significant anger and fear within our community as they further delegitimize and weaken the already precarious base upon which some 20% of Israel’s citizens rest. Many of his statements, border on, or may even qualify as incitement against Arab citizens.
Furthermore, such statements are in direct contradiction to a new consciousness which has emerged in the Arab-Palestinian community. Accordingly, we call for the protection of our rights as full members of society. As such, community leaders are advocating for new legal and political frameworks in Israel based upon true equality, partnership and mutuality for all citizens and groups. This is based on the central tenant that we will continue to reside within the borders of Israel and within our historic homeland.
Importantly, in March 2008, Dirasat, together with the Municipality of Umm al-Fahem, hosted a meeting to discuss plans related to population transfer and its potentially profound ramifications for our community. Over 100 participants - including religious leaders, municipal heads, social activists and academics - attended. The speakers expressed their strong opposition to the plan for the following six reasons:
• The proposal is motivated by the desire to weaken the collective existence of the Arab minority in Israel. It is based on racial discrimination and this must be rejected;
• The existence of the Arab community within Israel is necessary in order to maintain special ties with its historical homeland, including Nazareth, Haifa and Jerusalem. Social and economic ties between these areas have been nurtured for over six decades;
• The plan is based on finding a resolution to the issue of (illegal) settlements and will further perpetuate their existence via proposed "population exchange;"
• Proposals such as this prolong the hardship of the community and weaken it in its fight for full equality;
• While the plan is entitled "population exchange," historically, population exchanges only took place through consent by the affected populations and included a mutual exchange of native communities. In our context, there can be no comparison between the existence of the native Arab minority in Israel and the illegal presence of settlers in the occupied territories.
• Any attempt to dictate a radical change in the civil status of the Arab minority unilaterally and by force can be considered war crimes.
We continue to be extremely disturbed by such statements. Perhaps even more distressing is the silence with which they are greeted by the Israeli public and by Jewish leaders within Israeli society. Without genuine, sustained, targeted and strongly worded condemnation both within Israel and internationally, such racist proposals, which display a blatant disregard for one fifth of Israel’s citizens, will continue to be propagated and assumed to be acceptable.
We call on the international community to condemn this plan and others like it in the strongest possible terms. The vital role you can play will contribute to promote the fundamental rights and freedoms of Arab-Palestinian citizens in Israel, along with compliance with international law.