Palestinians across the occupied territories and Israel observed a general strike on 1 October in protest against Israel’s Jewish Nation-State Law, adopted by the Knesset (parliament) in July.
The strike coincided with a bitter fight to resist Israel’s planned demolition of West Bank Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar, and increasing disquiet about US president Donald Trump’s “deal of the century”, which threatens to endorse Israel’s annexation of large swathes of the West Bank.
According to the Spanish media outlet Agencia EFE, “shops were shuttered down, government and financial institutions did not open to business and schools and universities suspended classes” across Palestinian neighbourhoods on both sides of the Green Line (the armistice line that separates Israel from the occupied West Bank).
The World Bulletin reported that Israeli forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas canisters to disperse stone-throwing Palestinians in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and al-Bireh. Similar clashes were reported in the village of Nabi Saleh and the cities of Nablus, Qalqilya and Hebron. Joint [Arab] List member of the Knesset Yousef Jabareen told the Ynet news website:
“The strike sends a message of opposition to the continued discrimination and racism towards the Arab public, which will not receive inferior citizenship status as second or third class citizens. We were born in this country and will fight for national equality. Full and equal citizenship for all.”
The Jewish Nation-State Law enshrines in Israel’s Basic Law (the nation’s de facto constitution) that the country is the “national home of the Jewish people” and that “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people”. This formally denies 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel such a right. The law also enshrines Hebrew as the nation’s sole official language, ending 70 years of nominally equivalent status for Arabic.
In a July interview published on the website Arabs48, Hassan Jabareen, general director of Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, argued that the new law legitimises land grabs for exclusively Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and seeks to justify apartheid:
“The law clearly shows how the Israeli regime is a colonial system of apartheid, in violation of the Apartheid Convention, which considers apartheid a crime against humanity.”
In early August, two separate demonstrations took place in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, protesting the new apartheid law. Both were initiated by non-Jewish minorities in Israel and were supported by a large number of Jewish Israelis.
Israel’s Druze community – supported by opposition parties the Zionist Union, Yesh Atid and centre left party Meretz – initiated the first demonstration, attended by 50,000 people. The second demonstration was initiated by the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, an umbrella organisation representing Israel’s Palestinian minority.
The latter protest, which attracted 30,000 people, was supported by the Arab Joint List parties, which together hold 13 seats in the Knesset. However, the Zionist opposition parties largely boycotted the protest, according to a 12 August report in Haaretz, an Israeli daily.
While the openly racist Jewish Nation-State Law has attracted criticism across a wide spectrum of Israel’s political establishment, including from Israeli president Reuven Rivlin, Zionist political parties have attempted to channel such opposition within the confines of what is in the “national interest” of the apartheid state.
The supposedly progressive Zionist Union (Israel’s Labor Party) and Meretz (a coalition of left wing parties that ruled in coalition with Labor when Yitzhak Rabin’s government ushered in the 1992 Oslo Accords) have avoided joint action with the Joint List and other Palestinian-led organisations. No doubt they fear being tainted by large numbers of Palestinians carrying their national flag and chanting in Arabic.
At the first demonstration, the political bankruptcy of Israel’s official opposition was on display. Israeli flags were held aloft and attendees sang Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah”. At the second, some Israeli flags were also present, but were outnumbered by Palestinian flags.
Likud prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu predictably used the presence of Palestinian flags to attack opposition to the Jewish Nation-State Law, claiming that the demonstration was attempting to turn Israel into a Palestinian state. “There is no greater testament to the necessity of this law. We will continue to wave the Israeli flag and sing Hatikvah with great pride”, he tweeted.
A united Palestinian voice
In September, representatives of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee and the Joint List parties, with the backing of the 11 factions under the Palestinian National Committee for the Heads of the Local Arab Authorities, travelled to Ramallah to seek the endorsement of all Palestinian factions for a united general strike on 1 October. The united action is an important step forward.
The Oslo Accords entrenched a division between Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza from Palestinians living in Israel and millions more Palestinian refugees forcibly exiled from their homeland after Zionist militias ethnically cleansed their villages in 1948.
While the Palestinian Liberation Organisation was offered a seat at the table to discuss the outsourcing of the occupation to forces under its command, Palestinians living outside the West Bank and Gaza, in Israel and in neighbouring Arab countries found themselves marginalised from the “peace process”.
Palestinian communities have been further fragmented since Hamas won Palestinian Legislative Council elections in 2005. Since Hamas ousted Abbas’ Fatah faction from power in Gaza, the territory has been subjected to a land, sea and air blockade.
The united call by Palestinian factions for a general strike could mark a historic moment in the forging of a new, united Palestinian political leadership.
The strike followed six months of Friday protests at the Gaza Strip border fence, which have been ruthlessly repressed by Israeli troops. As of 5 October, at least 183 Palestinians have been killed and more than 18,000 injured, according to Gaza health officials.
The strike was also a display of solidarity with Khan al-Ahmar, near Jerusalem. The village’s Bedouin community, which has long been denied official Israeli housing permits, faces demolition of their homes by Israeli occupation forces to make way for new Jewish-only settlements.
The Arab Higher Monitoring Committee chose 1 October for the strike to mark the 18th anniversary of the killing of 13 Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the injuring of hundreds more, two days after the outbreak of the second intifada. Then, angered by images of Israeli occupation forces killing Palestinian protesters in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian citizens of Israel took to the streets en masse, blocking highways and clashing with Israeli security forces.
The Al-Aqsa intifada – a largely spontaneous uprising provoked by former Israeli prime minister’s Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Al-Aqsa mosque – was ultimately defeated by Israeli repression. This repression reminded Palestinians living in Israel that their citizenship was no protection from the US-funded Israeli military machine.
Once again, Palestinians in Israel are being reminded of this. Israel’s Jewish Nation-State Law, adopted with a more open display of support for Israel’s colonial expansion by Washington, has proved a lightning rod for renewed collaboration and mobilisation by Palestinians living on both sides of the Green Line.
Nick Everett is the convener of Friends of Palestine WA.