«« TERRORISME



Israel fuels the fire

Globe and Mail - Wednesday, July 10, 2002


Éditorial - When Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres accuses his own government of promoting racism, his compatriots would be wise to pay close attention.

Fortunately, Mr. Peres is far from alone in denouncing drastic new legislation that would prevent Israeli Arabs from purchasing homes in Jewish developments built on state land. The huge domestic outcry may yet torpedo the law, or at any rate consign it to the back burner.

But either way, another ugly stain will have been added to the checkered résumé of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Evidently confident that there will be only muted protest from his friends in the U.S. administration, Mr. Sharon has dispatched an appalling message whose timing could scarcely be worse.

Approved by the Israeli cabinet 17-2 on Sunday, the bill does not affect the three million Palestinians trapped in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Rather, it is aimed at the roughly one million Arabs who live in Israel proper, hold Israeli citizenship and constitute about 18 per cent of the population.

More than 90 per cent of the land in Israel is state-owned, meaning that most property ownership rests on long-term leases issued by the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency. Arabs have long had great difficulty in securing such ownership. Matters came to a head two years ago after a lawsuit was brought to the Israeli Supreme Court by Adel Kaadan, an Israeli Arab who tried to buy land in the co-operative village of Katzir in Galilee but was rejected because he is not Jewish.

To its considerable credit, the court flexed its independence and agreed that Mr. Kaadan was, indeed, a victim of discrimination. Now comes this proposed law, which is an effort to circumvent the court's ruling by decreeing, on grounds of Israel's security needs, that state land designated for development will be "for Jewish settlement only."

The implications of the move are alarming, and not merely because of the ammunition it provides to those who contend that Israel is an inherently racist state. The uproar may rekindle Israel's "who is a Jew" debate, which has pitted the country's chief rabbinate against those who converted to Reform or Conservative (rather than Orthodox) Judaism. Some Russian immigrants whose Jewish roots are tenuous have also voiced dismay at the bill.

But it is Israel's Arabs who have the most at stake. Already bitter over what they see as long-standing discrimination, they can only have their sense of insecurity reinforced by this bill. That, in turn, can do Israel nothing but harm. Since the Palestinian uprising began almost two years ago, almost all the terror attacks have emanated from within the occupied territories. If Mr. Sharon and the right-wing members of his uneasy governing coalition want to spread the flames by stoking Palestinian anger and despair within Israel proper, legislation like this seems guaranteed to do it.

Along with a couple of other political heavyweights, notably Israeli Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein, Mr. Peres recognizes this dangerous dynamic and has vowed to resist the bill, which still faces hurdles in the Knesset. Israel's friends must hope it dies there. Otherwise, as the bestselling daily newspaper Yediot Aharanot starkly predicted yesterday, "the belief that the Palestinian citizens of Israel are a ticking time bomb will turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy."