By Suhad Bishara

The Nakba dispossesses Palestinians: not only of land and territory, but also at the level of political discourse. Since the establishment of the state of Israel, the country’s judiciary has worked to constrict the space for Palestinian political activity – both parliamentary and extra-parliamentary – through various methods. This was true during the era of military rule over Palestinian citizens of Israel (1949-1966) as well as in more recent decades with the deepening discourse about the “Jewish” character of the state.

We can see this most clearly in the banning of Palestinian political movements, from the Land Movement in the 1960s to the northern branch of the Islamic Movement today. Israel has not merely limited the freedom of speech – it has done so in a specific way, allowing some “liberal” forms of dissent while strictly regulating those it sees as mounting ideological challenges to Zionism.


The Land Movement

In the late 1950s, a movement known as al-Ard (“The Land”) emerged among Palestinian citizens of Israel, who were then ruled under martial law. The Land Movement’s attempts to register itself as a charitable association were rebuffed by the state, which alleged that the movement sought to harm the State of Israel. The Land Movement appealed the decision, which was subsequently upheld by the High Court of Justice in the Jiryis case. Quoting the Land Movement’s own literature, the Court described its goals as:

Finding a just solution to the Palestinian problem – which [the Land Movement] views as indivisible – that is in accordance with the will of the Palestinian people; fulfills its interests and aspirations; restores its political existence; ensures its full and legitimate rights; and sees it as the primary holder of the right to determine its own destiny, within the higher aspirations of the Arab nation (p. 675).

The Court described these goals as tantamount to “completely and absolutely negating the existence of the State of Israel in general, and the state’s existence in its borders today in particular” (p. 677). For the Court, “the essential point is that the state of Israel was established in part of the territory of Palestine, and there is no recognition of this fact” in the Land Movement’s proclamations (p. 677). On the basis of this interpretation of the Land Movement’s principles – and without any suspicion of criminal activity – the Court upheld the refusal to register the Land Movement. Less than week after the Court’s decision, on 17 November 1964, defense minister Levi Eshkol outlawed (p. 638) the Land Movement, citing the 1945 Defence (Emergency) Regulations promulgated under the British mandate.

The next year, the Land Movement sought to enter parliamentary elections under the name of the “Socialist List,” but were struck from the electoral rolls. This act was also upheld by the High Court in the Yardur case,[1] which is based on the conception that the Land Movement’s ideology was a threat to the state insofar as it challenged Jewish supremacy. The Court treated the Jewish character of the state as a quasi-constitutional framework in which all other laws should be interpreted and argued[2] that, “the status of Israeli citizenship encompasses the duty of loyalty to the state of Israel” (p. 386).

For the Court, loyalty was not simply a matter of obeying the laws of the state but sharing its ideological commitments. In upholding the exclusion of the Land Movement from elections, the test was purely ideological and the Court affirmed banishment from parliamentary politics of any discourse that could be seen to challenge the supremacy of the Jewish people in “Eretz Israel.”


Regulating the Space of Discourse Today

The legacy of expelling Palestinian political narratives from the space of legitimate political discourse continues today. On 17 November 2015 the State of Israel issued a one-sentence order outlawing the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in the name of “state security, public safety, and public order.” The decision came 51 years to the day after the ban of the Land Movement and relied on the same British-era emergency regulations. In an interview with the Arabic-language al-Shams radio station, public security minister Gilad Erdan clarified that the decision was not taken on the basis of any suspicion of criminal activity, but because of what he termed its “deceitful campaign” to protect the al-Aqsa mosque.

Despite the similarity in the decisions to ban the Land Movement and the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, there is one important difference: the Land Movement strove to inscribe itself within Israel’s institutional spaces, as a registered association, as a political party, and as a litigant before the Israeli courts. These moves arguably fettered the Land Movement to the state, and ultimately to no avail. In contrast, the northern branch of the Islamic Movement has eschewed any involvement in state institutions or official political discourse, instead working on the ground as a mass politico-religious movement. Israel’s use of the same instruments of repression in this case – specifically, the British colonial emergency regulations – signal a disturbing expansion of the state’s willingness to suppress Palestinian political activity. Israel is not content to merely marginalize Palestinian nationalism in the parliamentary sphere, but seeks to do so throughout society.

The move to ban the northern branch of the Islamic Movement is part of a broader context of outlawing ideological expressions that do not comport with Zionism, such as the suspension of Knesset member Haneen Zoabi for statements deemed unpatriotic; the law withholding state funds to any institution commemorating the Nakba; and the statute authorizing lawsuits against supporters of boycotts in protest of the occupation.

In upholding these laws and decisions, the Israeli judiciary has extended the project of colonization from land to political values themselves. Zionist ideology and the interests of the occupying power have become a legal reality that colonizes the political space of the Palestinian citizens of the state and attempts to dispossess them from their natural Palestinian political scene.  In this aspect, for Palestinians, holding Israeli citizenship thereby becomes another instrument of repression.

An earlier version of this article appeared in Arabic in Jadal Magazine.

[1] Justice Haim Cohn dissented, citing the lack of any statutory authority to disqualify parties from elections as well as the lack of evidence against the Land Movement’s members.

[2] In 1985 , article 7a was  added to the Basic Law: the Knesset which identified in detail the political horizon available to any party or candidate wishes to participate in the parliamentary elections. The article, as of today, prevents participation in the elections to those who “expressly or by implication,” negate the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, incite racism, or support “armed struggle, by a hostile state or a terrorist organization, against the State of Israel.”