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Israel is at war with its Palestinian citizens
Courtesy of Active Stills

Israel is waging war on its Palestinian citizens who dare to resist

The bombardment of Gaza may have stopped, but Palestinians living within Israel – a community of two million known as ‘48ers’ – are still being targeted and treated as second-class citizens

Ward Kayyal, a cinema student at Tel Aviv’s Minshar School of Art, was gathered with friends in the street following the funeral of Mohammed Mahmoud Kiwan when plain-clothed Israeli policemen pulled a gun to his head, forcing him and bystander Mohammed Sa’adi – a 13-year-old boy – into an unmarked vehicle.

“I said, ‘I can’t breathe’. They threatened to kill me if I moved. I didn’t resist, but they kept hitting me anyway,” Kayyal tells Dazed. “When we arrived at the police station, they beat us up. We were on the floor for three hours, legs and arms tied. One of the cops took a selfie with us. It was vile.”

But the next day, both Kayyal and Sa’adi were released. No charges were brought against either of them. “They weren’t after us specifically, they just wanted to harass and intimidate,” Kayyal explains.

Ward Kayyal and Mohammed Sa’adi are two out of 1,550 Palestinian citizens of Israel – mostly young and poor – who have been locked up since May 9. Israeli police launched ‘Operation Law and Order’ on May 23, a rampage of mass arrest of anyone who has dared to resist its regime of apartheid over the past few weeks.

The timing is cynical and deliberate. As Palestine slips down the international news agenda due to the ceasefire in Gaza, Israel is seizing the opportunity to crush dissent in other parts of the country.

Over the past few weeks, a popular uprising has spread across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, sparked by Israel’s attempt to forcibly expel seven Palestinian families from the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in Occupied East Jerusalem, and the brutalisation of worshipers inside the Al-Aqsa mosque. Over 11 days in Gaza, Israel indiscriminately pounded civilian centres, murdering over 253 Palestinians, including 66 children.

What has been underreported, however, is that there has been a Palestinian uprising not only in the West Bank and Gaza – areas Israel has illegally occupied since 1967 – but within Israel itself, where two million Palestinians are nominal citizens.


When the Zionist movement conquered Palestine in 1948, it forcibly displaced more than 750,000 indigenous people from their homeland in what Palestinians call the Nakba. Most Palestinians fled to neighbouring Arab countries. But those who remained in their homes, defying threats to their lives by Zionist militias, became citizens of Israel. Today, this community of two million self-identify as Palestinian citizens of Israel, or, colloquially, as ‘48ers’ – i.e., those who remained in the homeland in 1948.

As citizens, these Palestinians have voting rights and elect members of parliament. However, they remain second class citizens, facing over 65 discriminatory laws and widespread economic exclusion. And, as with Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, 48ers also face threats of house demolitions, forced expulsions under the guise of ‘legal eviction’, and land confiscations. The Palestinian-Bedouin village of Al-Araqib in the Naqab, South Israel, has been demolished more than 173 times

Despite the pervasive image in the West of Israel being a liberal democracy, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself has asserted that Israel is not a state of all its citizens because it is a Jewish state. Israeli leaders refer to Palestinian citizens as a ‘fifth column’. In 2018, the Israeli Knesset (parliament) passed the ‘Jewish nation-state’ Law, which declared: “The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”

Last month, when Human Rights Watch concluded that Israel was guilty of crimes against humanity of persecution and apartheid, they were not solely referring to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, but to an entire system of oppression across all territories Israel effectively controls.


Unsurprisingly, when Israel began its campaign of violence in Jerusalem and Gaza earlier this month, Palestinians in Israel’s ‘mixed’ cities staged peaceful protests in solidarity with their compatriots only a few kilometres away.

These protests were violently crushed by the Israeli authorities. And what came next was truly terrifying. Right-wing Jewish mobs descended on Palestinian neighbourhoods, destroying property, dragging Palestinians out of their homes, and lynching a Palestinian man live on Israeli TV.

We have seen these scenes described in the media as “intercommunal clashes”, with some suggestions that for every Jewish mob committing an act of violence, there was a Palestinian one doing the same. But this is false.

While it is true that a synagogue in Lydd was set alight, and that Jews have been attacked on public transport, the vast majority of the violence was directed at Palestinians. And worse, this has happened with state support, implicit or otherwise.

In Haifa, Palestinians were instructed by the police to lock up their shops and go home as “settlers are coming”. The message was clear: we can’t protect you. In Lydd, armed gangs in sinister, militia-style uniforms set up roadblocks across the city. Many Jewish Israelis keep their weapons after compulsory military service whereas Palestinians are by and large unarmed. All of this suggests there is a very thin line between ‘mobs’ committing these atrocities and the authorities themselves.

Needless to say, as Palestinians are being arrested en masse, right wing settlers are getting off the hook

“It’s what we are calling for – unity and solidarity with our Palestinians brothers and sisters in the Occupied Territories – that Israel wants to crush” – Somaya, a Palestinian woman in Haifa


The bombardment of Gaza may have stopped, but Israel is now going to war against its own citizens. More profoundly, it aims to destroy the unified political consciousness that has emerged over the past month, says Somaya, a Palestinian woman in Haifa who attended the protests: “It’s what we are calling for – unity and solidarity with our Palestinians brothers and sisters in the Occupied Territories – that Israel wants to crush.”

More mob attacks are expected, as over 100 new WhatsApp groups have been formed with the express purpose of committing violence against Palestinians. As arrests have continued, Palestinian youth groups released a statement calling for help from the international community.

As the extent of Israel’s arrests and indictments become clear, there is simply no justification for framing the events of the last three weeks or so as ”extremists on both sides” or ”intercommunal clashes”. There was – is – an uprising by Palestinian citizens of Israel. This was – is – met with terrifying street violence by far-right Jewish gangs and settlers. And if the latter has somewhat ebbed, it is only because the state is more fully taken on the task through the police and judicial system.

Read our explainer on how to talk about the Palestinian crisis