n the aftermath of Hamas’s October 7th terrorist attack, Israel’s military has been bombing the Gaza Strip, where it has killed more than three thousand Palestinians. Tensions are also mounting in the West Bank, where several dozen Palestinians have been killed since last week. While the media’s focus has, understandably, been on the more than thirteen hundred Israeli victims of the initial attack, and on Palestinian civilians now facing siege and aggression in the occupied territories, there are two million Palestinians living inside Israel itself, making up approximately twenty per cent of the country’s population.
I recently spoke by phone with Amjad Iraqi—an editor at +972 Magazine and a policy analyst at the think tank Al-Shabaka who comes from a family of Palestinian citizens of Israel—to discuss how Palestinian Israelis are reckoning with this month’s events, and what the war may mean for their future. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we also discussed the distinct forms of discrimination that Palestinian citizens of Israel face, how the relationship among different Palestinian communities has changed over time, and what Hamas’s tactics mean for any future state that recognizes equal rights for its inhabitants.
How would you describe the symbolic or practical relationship between Palestinians who are citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza?
Most Palestinians—about seven hundred and fifty thousand—either fled or were expelled during the 1948 war. But, after the armistice lines were created between Israel and the surrounding Arab states, you still had about a hundred and fifty thousand Palestinians on the Israeli side of the border. And the state decided to grant these Palestinians citizenship, and their descendants to this day still have that Israeli citizenship. So, historically, we are part of the Palestinian people. We originated in historical Palestine as it was understood from the British Mandate period. And we’re still part of that Palestinian society, but with this specific legal class and legal status.
How do the rights of Arab or Palestinian citizens within Israel differ from the rights of Jews in Israel?
From the early days of the state, up until 1966, Palestinians inside Israel were placed under military rule—the same infrastructure that we’re familiar with in the West Bank. There were curfews and orders and even arrests. This entailed a lot of harsh restrictions on Palestinians, including on their political organizing, and social and cultural expression. But one of the most pivotal things was that Israel confiscated masses of land—not just from Palestinian refugees who were expelled or who fled but also from Palestinian citizens inside. My home town, Tira, shrank by about a third from its original size. Military rule was lifted in 1966, and since then you’ve had this gradual progression, let’s say, of Palestinian citizens’ rights.