PALESTINE IN RECENT MONTHS has witnessed a new kind of continuous, low-level ferment that betokens many Palestinians’ profound disquiet with the status quo: Israel’s ever more entrenched military occupation and the ceaseless expansion of its colonization project. Predictions that this ferment would erupt into something bigger and more general, akin to the two intifadas of the past three decades, have proven misplaced. This may have been due to the efficiency of Israeli repression, combined with the collaborative efforts of the security agencies of the Palestinian Authority (PA) whose cooperation senior Israeli security officials have lauded. It may also have been a function of the diffuse nature of the movement, which observers across the political spectrum agree has been spontaneous rather than centrally organized. As usual, the casualties have been heavily lopsided. While over thirty Israelis have been killed, the Palestinian death toll is over two hundred, with many of the latter shot down by Israeli army snipers during protests and demonstrations.
Among the most striking characteristics of these events has been not so much the willingness of Israeli security forces to use deadly force and to shoot to kill—that is nothing new—but the willingness of the authorities to publicize the policy. Large majorities of the Israeli public have responded with enthusiastic support, part of a sharp rightward, authoritarian turn in Israeli attitudes and politics that has led to more overt expressions of hatred toward Arabs than ever before. That shift has also produced an unprecedented wave of public hostility directed at fellow Israeli Jews who dissent from the bigotry and authoritarianism. For the Palestinians, whether those who are citizens of Israel or those who live under military occupation, all of this is not particularly new. But the rising tide of anti-democratic sentiment and chauvinism inside Israel has begun to affect many Israelis who always assumed that they would benefit from tolerance and freedom of expression within the Israeli system.
This issue of the Journal touches on several of these phenomena. Thomas W. Hill’s article on Israeli and Palestinian prisons picks up the theme of “carceralism,” which was the focus of issue 172. Hill examines the ways in which many of the features of the Israeli prison system, through which about eight hundred thousand Palestinians have passed since 1967, have been adopted in Palestinian prisons, in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. He highlights how the vaunted security coordination between the PA and Israeli security forces has shaped carceral practices now enforced by Palestinians against other Palestinians. Like the Israeli prison system, the two sets of prisons are used in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip against those who engage in armed resistance and also to suppress purely political dissent against the status quo of Israeli occupation and colonization.
Meanwhile, an essay by Amal Jamal discusses the draft law introduced in the Knesset in November 2014 to define Israel as the exclusive nation-state of the Jewish people, thereby formalizing the second-class status of the over 20 percent of Israeli citizens who are not Jews. Jamal traces how the drafting and debate of this bill have mirrored the increasingly overt nature of racist and chauvinistic discourse in Israel, as well as the growing contempt for Arab minority rights.
Finally, Nabila El-Ahmad and Nadia Abu-Zahra contribute an article showing how for more than six decades Israel used the process of Palestinian family reunification to evade its international legal obligations to implement the right of return for Palestinians who were made refugees in the 1947–49 period. While it paid lip service to family reunification in order to deflect international pressure to implement the Palestinian right of return (in adherence to the terms under which it gained United Nations membership in 1949), Israel simultaneously pursued policies to secure and maintain a Jewish majority. As the authors point out, family reunification was the unfulfilled promise that not only garnered Israel admission to the United Nations but continued to deny Palestinians their right of return for fifty-five years after the Nakba.