Israelis are getting ready to head to the polls for the second time in 2019. Israel’s last national elections were five months ago in April, ending in a razor-tight finish with Netanyahu’s Likud party winning 35 Knesset seats and the Blue and White party winning 35 Knesset seats. The remaining 50 Knesset seats were won by smaller parties, with the majority going to right and far-right parties that had previously been in a coalition government with Likud. Netanyahu was awarded a continuation of his Prime Ministership and tasked with forming a coalition.
Unexpectedly, after more than a month of failed negotiations – the unresolvable issue was whether Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population would continue to be exempted from military conscription – for the first time in Israel’s history no post-election government was successfully formed. On May 30, the Knesset was again dissolved and another snap election scheduled for Tuesday, September 17.
Much of this second round of election campaigning is a repeat of what that took place in the runoff to the April vote. The two main contenders remain Benjamin Netanyahu – as of this year Israel’s longest-serving prime minister – and former IDF general Benny Gantz of the "centrist" Blue and White party. Like the lead-up to April’s election, both campaigns have been rife with racist incitement.
During the runoff to April’s election, Gantz released a video bragging about his achievements of "sending parts of Gaza back to the Stone Age." For this round, a Blue and White party ad slammed Likud for considering alliances with the Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am Balad parties (parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel) during 11th-hour attempts to form a government following the April vote.
Never to be outdone in inciting racism, Netanyahu last week was sanctioned by Facebook for going so far that he violated the platform’s rules against hate speech when his page sent out automated messages warning of "Arabs who want to destroy us all." In August, Likud, complaining of Palestinian citizens of Israel trying to steal the election, introduced legislation to install surveillance cameras in voting booths. On September 5, speaking to the extremist settler community of Hebron – the first time ever that an Israeli prime minister has visited Hebron – Netanyahu promised the settlers they would remain. "Hebron will not be devoid of Jews. It will not be ‘judenrein," he vowed, reinforcing his campaign promise to not dismantle a single settlement in the West Bank. On September 10 he went even further, stating that if re-elected he will annex the Jordan Valley immediately.
None of this is new. During the April vote, Likud representatives placed 1,200 hidden cameras in polling booths located in communities where Palestinian citizens of Israel live and later bragged that they had succeeded in lowering voter turnout among Arabs. Leading up to the April vote, Netanyahu had bluntly declared that "Israel is not a state of all its citizens," explaining that the inequalities between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of the state were intentional and would remain under his rule. During Israel’s 2015 election, Netanyahu had warned Jewish voters that "Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls."
But how many "Arab voters" (aka Palestinian citizens of Israel) are there and how many Palestinians living under Israeli rule don’t have the option of citizenship and won’t be able to vote on Tuesday?
Twenty percent of Israeli citizens are Palestinian. Despite such grotesque racism as surveillance cameras in polling stations, they are able to vote in Israeli national elections and have representation in Knesset. But they are only one-third of the Palestinians living under Israeli rule and military occupation.
Though the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are the official governments of the West Bank and Gaza, respectively, Israel is unquestionably the entity in charge. Israel controls the borders, the currency, and the central bank. It collects taxes on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA), maintains the right to carry out military operations on Palestinian land, and controls the amount of freedom, or lack thereof, that Palestinians across Israel/Palestine are granted.
During 2018, Israel approved only 54 percent of the permits that residents of Gaza applied to travel outside of Gaza for vital medical treatment. Reasons for denying people in Gaza necessary medical treatment are often absurd, such as denying travel because a relative at one time moved from Gaza to the West Bank without Israeli permission. Besides the right of travel, Israel regulates the fuel and building materials available to Gazans and has at times even controlled the amount of food imports according to the number of calories Gazans would be able to consume so as to restrict the population to a diet that would “keep Gaza’s economy on the brink of collapse.”
Israel controls not only the exterior borders of the West Bank but what goes on inside the territory as well. While the Palestinian Authority manages such things as utilities and infrastructure for Palestinians in the West Bank, Israel remains the ultimate authority. Israeli settler regional councils control 40 percent of West Bank land and the Israeli military reigns supreme throughout. Even in areas like Ramallah, supposedly under complete Palestinian Authority control, Israel reserves the right to enter the city at any time, to close streets and shops, burst into homes, and make warrantless military arrests.
While the PA does maintain a judicial and penal system – one that itself is incredibly repressive – Palestinians are also subject to Israel’s military court system and such laws as Military Order 101, which bans peaceful protest. Between 1967 and 2013, around 800,000 Palestinians – 20 percent of the total West Bank population and 40 percent of its adult male population – were subjected to Israeli military arrest. Each year, 500-700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12, are arrested by the Israeli military. They are blindfolded, beaten, subjected to solitary confinement, denied access to attorneys, and tried in the only juvenile military court in the world. Israel’s military court system also includes administrative detention where Palestinians are held indefinitely without charge or trial. As of July 2019, Israel was holding 454 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza under administrative detention. Though Palestinians are regularly prosecuted in Israeli military courts and regularly serve time in Israeli military prisons, Palestinians have no say over who is appointed to run the Israeli military, let alone Israel’s military courts.
East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, is defined under international law as part of the West Bank. But in 1980, when Israel’s separation wall was built, the historical holy city was formally annexed to the Jewish state. Common sense might follow that Israel would have then absorbed East Jerusalem’s Palestinian population – now numbering around 370,000 – and given them citizenship.
Rather than being Israeli citizens, Palestinian in East Jerusalem hold the status of permanent residents, allowing them to vote in municipal, but not national, elections. While this may at first seem a move in the right direction, a closer look reveals careful manipulation of demographics to ensure an at least a 70 percent Jewish majority at all times. Through such policies as exorbitant taxation, requiring constant proof of residency, and denial of family unification, since 1967 Israel has managed to revoke the residency of 14,595 Palestinian Jerusalemites. Still nervous about the demographics, Israeli lawmakers in the Knesset – a body East Jerusalem Palestinians have no representation in – spent 2018 working on the annexation of three large Jewish-only settlement blocks surrounding Jerusalem to bring 140,000 Jewish Israelis setters into the municipality – all the while displacing the current Palestinian population.
Israel has no intention of ending its military occupation. 2019 marks 52 years of occupation, 12 years of siege of Gaza, and 26 years since the failed plan for a two-state solution under the Oslo Accords. 600,000 Israeli citizens currently live in approximately 200 illegal Israeli settlements that cover the West Bank and East Jerusalem and with Donald Trump as president, the US has over the past two years moved its embassy to Jerusalem and recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley. While Netanyahu rambles on with election promises of total annexation, the reality is that for all reasonable purposes and analyses, such annexation has already become a fact on the ground and Israel is already by simple definition an apartheid state.
A look at who is and isn’t allowed to vote in Israel/Palestine reveals Israel’s motivations at controlling the demographics of who can and cannot vote:
- 6.589 million (Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics) Jewish Israelis residing in Israel proper, and East Jerusalem, and West Bank settlements have voting rights.
- 1.5 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship living in Israel proper and East Jerusalem (Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics and Jerusalem Municipality) are able to vote.
- 4.88 million Palestinians living in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza (Palestinian Authority Central Bureau of Statistics) are not allowed to vote in national elections.
Most polls predict that Netanyahu will continue as prime minister. But as we watch this round of voting in Israel, let’s remember that only 30 percent of Palestinians living under Israeli rule have the right to vote. That alone is enough to counter the absurd proclamation that Israel is a democratic state.
Ariel Gold is the national co-director of CODEPINK.