Israel likes to portray itself as the Middle East’s only democracy; a bastion of (western) civilization in a sea of (oriental) despotism. That picture has always been false, of course, as soon as you include the Palestinians who were ethnically cleansed and who now are subject to Israeli rule in the Occupied Territories but who have zero civil rights in Israel. It’s not for nothing that Israel is compared with South Africa’s racist apartheid system.
But Israel’s disrespect for basic democratic rights is even more pervasive than this. Just ask the Bedouin in the Negev desert, who have never had their right to their pastoral lands recognized, though they have lived there for hundreds of years prior to the founding of Israel. Most of them must live in tin shacks or tents because Israel destroys any more permanent buildings.
One Bedouin community had finally won the right to elect its own local council, however the Israeli parliament cancelled the vote just weeks prior to it taking place – likely to ensure it maintains control while a lawsuit moves through the courts to demand land rights. According to Abu Ras, a geography professor at Ben Gurion University: "If there is a Palestinian state, Israel does not want the Bedouin controlling lands that connect those two Palestinian territories. It would rather the Bedouin were concentrated in as small a space as possible." Also within Israel, the parliament's Central Elections Committee attempted to ban Arab parties from Israeli elections in January of this year. Ultimately it was overturned in the Supreme Court but the unanimity of all the Jewish parties was indicative of the level of disrespect towards the civil rights of the large Arab minority inside Israel. Israeli government cabinet minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said after the Supreme Court decision that is was "unfortunate, since no boundary was established to prevent the disloyalty of some of the Arab MKs toward the state of Israel… "In the next Knesset, we will pass a citizenship law that will prevent the disloyalty of some of Israel's Arabs." And in Gaza, of course, the Israeli government has maintained a deadly blockade since Hamas won a landslide victory, following an election that was imposed upon Palestinians by Israel and the United States. In 2007, Israel and the USA supported and armed an attempt by Fatah to overthrow the Hamas government. It failed badly and Hamas took total control of the Gaza Strip. In the present round of prisoner-swap negotiations between Hamas and Israel, for the release of Cpl. Shalit, Israel continues to refuse to lift the illegal blockade. Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri said in an article in Xinhua that: "This siege is imposed on the Gaza Strip because Hamas won in the legislative elections in 2006, and apparently this siege has nothing to do with the deal to release the Israeli soldier… The Israeli decision is part of the ongoing Israeli military aggression on the Palestinian people." Across the northern border in Lebanon, the government now includes members of Hezbollah, which is incredibly popular with the country's large Shia population, having led an insurgency against the illegal Israeli occupation throughout the 80s and 90s. Israel's defeat at the hands of a small guerilla force has never sat well with it, nor the idea of an independent Lebanese state to its north. Again, even though it is the democratic will of the people of Lebanon that Hezbollah should be represented in parliament and that it should continue as a guerilla force to defend the southern borders, Israel cannot accept this democratic affront to its god-given right to determine the shape of the region. To call Israel a democracy is to do damage to the word.
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