For a quarter of a century, the Palestinian minority in Israel has celebrated Land Day on March 30 as a protest against Israelís discriminatory policies toward its one million Palestinian citizens and to underline its collective and individual rights. Land Day is also a commemoration of the bloody confrontations with state "security" forces that took place in 1976 when six Palestinians were killed and some 100 injured [while protesting Israeli government plans to expropriate 60,000 dunams (14,826 acres) of Arab owned land in the Galilee]. Since then, it has become a sort of Martin Luther King Jr. Day that remains unrecognized by the state.
In 1948 and the subsequent few years, Israel confiscated nearly 85 percent of the territory within the Green Line from Palestinians. Most of this land was taken from the 800,000 Palestinian refugees who were thrown out or fled for fear of massacres during the 1948 war. Over the five decades since then, Israel confiscated more than two-thirds of the land owned by its Palestinian citizens and on which they depended for their livelihood. Their share of land has dropped from 9 percent in [postwar] 1948 to less than 3 percent in 2000.
Today, there are 220,000 displaced Palestinians in Israel who are not allowed to return to their homes and villages. There are 43 villages not recognized by Israel that are inhabited by more than 70,000 Palestinians, or almost 8 percent of the Palestinian population. For decades, even the recognized Palestinian municipalities received an insignificant fraction of government subsidies, while budgetary discrimination in education, health, culture, development, and other areas persisted. Israelís standard of living is among the top 20 worldwide, yet one of every two Palestinian children in the country lives under the poverty line, and half of the Israeli children living in poverty are Palestinian. Over the last six years, unemployment increased by 88 percent among Palestinian academics in Israel and two-fold among Palestinian women, according to December 2000 government figures. This partially explains the increasing dissatisfaction and protest among Israelís Palestinian minority.
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It is evident now more than ever that Israel cannot be a democracy for all its citizens while continuing to be a state for all Jews. Israel proved it could only tolerate Palestinian "under-existence" based on dependency and coercion. For their part, the Palestinians have learned that integration and assimilation in a "Jewish state" means no more than marginalization, dependence, and cultural disfiguration. Today, they are ever more keen on achieving equality without integration, until the conditions are ripe for the state to become that of its citizens and, hence, a new Israeli society made up of both Jewish and Palestinian citizens.
It is estimated that in two decades the demographic factor will change in favor of the Palestinians, hence strengthening their demand for equality and liberal democratic norms. In 2000, there were 8.2 million people in historic Palestine, 40 percent of whom are Palestinians, and by 2010 to 2015 it will be 50 percent. In the same time period, Palestinian citizens of Israel will comprise a quarter of Israelís population, hence transcending the barriers of a small minority into the realm of bi-nationalism.
For the advocates of an ethnic Jewish state, this might be a reason to worry. But for those searching for a democratic, enlightened, and genuinely modern Israel, this is the time to mend bridges with the Palestinian minority in a spirit of tolerance and equality.
from The Forgotten Million: Land Day and Israel's Palestinian Minority by Marwan Bishara