Dominci in Israel: Dispossession by Law
Imagine you are an Israeli Arab. You receive a graduate fellowship in an American university. You set there in the campus cafeteria, meet with a Syrian or Lebanese colleague or friend, a fellow Arab who happens to share with you the same religion, nationality and language. You then return home for the summer vacation. You are arrested, stripped of your citizenship and expelled out of your homeland.
This episode is not taken from a satirical novel. It is what the new Knesset law all about. The law already passed in its second and third reading. “Knesset passes law to strip terrorists of Israeli citizenship” was the Haaretz headline. That is, not only does the law make dispossession and transfer of Palestinians legal, but it also labels the entire people terrorists.
On March 28, 2011, the Knesset plenum in Israel gave its final seal of approval to “citizenship loyalty” law that enables Israel’s Supreme Court to revoke the citizenship and the status of any permanent resident convicted of espionage, treason or aiding the enemy during war. We must remember here that Israel considers itself to be in a permanent state of war with Arabs and Palestinians.
“Anyone who betrays the state and carries out acts of terror must know that citizenship and loyalty go together,” said Yisrael Beiteinu MK David Rotem, who initiated the bill. Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman lauded the Knesset’s decision as a step toward “contending with the phenomenon of exploiting democracy in order to subvert it.”
This is no doubt a modern Israeli version of dispossession and ethnic cleansing. “No citizenship without loyalty” simply means that two million Palestinian Arabs living in Israel today can be immediately expelled or put in prison, by law of course. The absurd irony is that since every Arab Palestinian in Israel is considered a permanent enemy of the state and potential threat of its national security, any discussion involving two Arab citizens can be literally seen as subversive to the state.
One might wonder how could an Arab Palestinian be loyal to a state that continues to define itself as a Jewish state that belongs to the Jewish people, in which native Arab Palestinians are seen as potential enemies? Isn’t the “Jewish democratic” state of Israel after all a state in which democracy and law are goaded into the service of an ethnic hegemony and the suppression of the native community?
One might also wonder what about solidarity with fellow Palestinians under occupation and blockage in the West Bank and Gaza? What about national solidarity with fellow Arab victims of Israeli attacks and massacres? Is that considered treason too? The law is ambiguous enough to include all expressions of national and humanist solidarity under the category of terrorism.
The new law does not tell us whether the category of terrorism includes Israeli Jewish terrorists, such as Kahana’s supporters or Jewish settlers who terrorize Palestinians on a daily basis. Nor does it really explain who the terrorist is. One thing is for sure here; Israel can right now begin a systematic persecution of all Arab Palestinian citizens under the banner of legal and democratic ideals.
There is a famous passage by the French philosopher Roland Barthes named “Dominci, or the Triumph of Literature.” Barthes examines a case in which an inarticulate rural laborer is condemned in terms of legal discourse. The judges describe Dominci’s motives in terms borrowed from literary clichés, jargon and abstract lexicon.
Dominci’s trail is a classic account of how hegemony is produced through interactions between formal institutions and discourses. These notably include language, literature, law and journalism. It is a classic example of how colonial hegemony is exercised over the body of those who can hardly speak back.
So if your Palestinian grandmother would say in her next prayer “May God grant victory to Arabs and Muslims,” she too can be arrested, trailed, condemned and expelled for providing a divine aid to the state’s “enemies.” Perhaps it is time for young Palestinians in Israel to remove all those Gazan, Lebanese and Syrian “enemies” from their Twitter Friends list.
The timing of the law is by no means coincidence. This week marks the 35th anniversary of the Land Day, the annual commemoration of the massacre of six Palestinian citizens by the Israeli police. The approval of the Loyalty Law comes in this historical moment to mark the transition from ethnic cleansing by direct force to one exercise by law and legal manipulations. Not only does it come to remind Palestinian citizens that Israel is never ready to admit its massacres, but never ready to admit Palestinian right to exist in their homeland.
- Seraj Assi is a PhD Student in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, Washington DC.