The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens in Israel, which is an extra-parliamentary body representing Palestinian citizens, called for a nation-wide strike on January 11, 2016. Half a million Palestinians answered the call, as businesses, schools, and government offices in Palestinian municipalities in Israel closed their doors. Since then, protests have taken place throughout Israel and further action is being considered by Palestinian activists, Knesset members, mayors, and council heads.
What sparked the protests was the demolition of eleven homes by Israeli authorities in the Palestinian town of Qalansuwa on January 10. Israeli authorities defended the demolitions, saying the homes were built without permits. Residents and activists have, however, pointed to political motivations behind the decision.
In December 2016, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed officials to escalate the demolition of illegal Palestinian structures. The campaign was a reaction to an Israeli Supreme Court decision ordering the evacuation of Israeli settlers in Amona, an unauthorized Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.
Israel’s housing policy and zoning laws are designed to discriminate against its Palestinian citizens. By confining 20% of this population to roughly 3% of state territory, Israel has maximized resources for its Jewish citizens and forced Palestinians to build illegally.
Of course, the recent outburst of home demolitions is not confined to “Israel proper” (Israel within the 1949 armistice lines). According to a report from the United Nations, in 2016, Israel “demolished or seized 1,089 Palestinian-owned structures” in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This is the highest figure recorded by the organization in eight years.
The fact that Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories, including the Gaza Strip, bear this burden elucidates a long obscured reality: a single government rules the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. At the same time, as the recent surge in demolitions among Palestinian citizens and non-citizens demonstrates, while one state apparatus rules Israel/Palestine, it is made up of two “distinct but mutually reinforcing” regimes – something anthropologist Amahl Bishara has written about.
While Palestinians in Israel are discriminated against, as citizens with rights to expression and assembly (however limited), they are in a better position to organize themselves through a common set of institutions. In addition, the primary (but by no means exclusive) form of violence they face is legal/bureaucratic, not militarized.
By contrast, Palestinians in the occupied territories (including Gazans) are under military rule, where brutal and direct violence is routine. As non-citizens, they are denied basic civil liberties. The prevailing system of enclosure and separation physically prohibits the emergence of united dissent. What is more, the Palestinian Authority, which collaborates closely with Israeli occupation forces, tends to suppress, rather than organize, Palestinian protest.
These differences impact how Palestinians react to Israel’s regressive policies. In Israel proper, Palestinian citizens have, for example, responded to demolitions as a united front through demonstrations and walk-outs. In the Occupied Territories, Palestinians have responded to home demolitions in localized, sporadic, and deadly confrontations with the Israeli military.
This two-part governing regime is designed to socially and politically fragment the Palestinians in order to minimize the prospects of a mass movement. Nevertheless, as Israel continues to pursue similar policies toward Palestinians inside and outside of Israel, it may effectively be doing more to unite, rather than divide, these two populations.