Israel's persecution of Azmi Bishara, the prominent Palestinian scholar, head of the National Democratic Assembly and - until recently - member of the Israeli Knesset, is only the recent articulation of this reality. After all, this is not the first Israeli attempt to criminalise Bishara or other Palestinian political leaders. The state hopes that by reframing his political agenda as treason, incitement to violence and support of terrorism, his ideas will lose legitimacy, his community will be intimidated and the establishment will not need to deal with the challenge that the Palestinian citizens of Israel present to the ideology of the state through their demands for equality.
Bishara rightly claims that he will not have a fair trial. Indeed, we know from the history of the General Security Service (GSS) of a culture of lies and fabricated files (even against their own men as in the Bus 300 affair, which was hijacked by Palestinian militants in 1984). We also know that even in cases unrelated to "security", the Arab citizen is twice as likely to be indicted, convicted and imprisoned compared to his fellow Jewish citizen. Professors Aryeh Rattner and Gideon Fishman of Haifa University write: "Being an Arab may lead to a presumption of guilt without facts and the rules of evidence."
We also know that security is the sacred cow to which Israeli judges bow. Security has always been an important tool for the maintenance of the Jewish and Zionist character of the Israeli state. It was a major pretext for the confiscation of Palestinian citizens' lands. Israel's persecution of Bishara is part and parcel of this security mindset of the Israeli state vis-á-vis its Palestinian citizens. Those citizens were denied their basic rights and were subjected to a military administration for 18 years (1948-1966). Since then, the GSS has been the main state organ in charge of viewing us as a "fifth column." Bishara has already had his trial(s) without knowing. The justices of the Israeli Supreme Court have authorised more than once the wiretapping of his private conversations. "parliamentary immunity", "freedom of expression" and "democracy" are all tricks through which Big Brother comes to haunt you in the end.
Not only does the GSS closely monitor and control the Arab education system inside Israel, but it has publicly declared that the Palestinian citizens of Israel are a "strategic and demographic threat" to the state. In fact, it can be said that Big Brother is not only patrolling "thoughtcrimes" but has "telescreens" in the bedrooms of the Palestinian citizens, penetrating our private realms and controlling some of the most intimate aspects of our family and love lives. The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law forbids family unification and effectively prohibits Arab citizens from marrying citizens of more than half of the countries in the Middle East. In this dehumanising context, the law declares that marriage and children are not humanitarian affairs.
Had Israel been a democratic state, one would have expected the legal apparatus to criminalise and outlaw anti-democratic movements. Israel, however, persecutes Bishara for his democratic agenda. "State of all its citizens" and "universal equality" would be considered a trivial and possibly conservative agenda in any normal democratic state. Strangely, in Israel, such an agenda has been labelled as dangerous, subversive and extremist. The Knesset rejected several times an "equal protection" clause that Bishara had proposed. Equality remains outside Israeli legislation.
After all, these are unorthodox ideas in Israel. The Zionist "Newspeak" is supposed to turn them into unthinkable ideas. The fact that three groups of Palestinian elites inside Israel - National Committee of the Heads of the Arab Local Municipalities, Adalah and Mada al-Carmel - have recently issued "vision documents" articulating our demands for equality, expressing our grievances and presenting an alternative historical narrative meant that Bishara had risen in prominence and influence.
On the other hand, anti-democrats and racists who openly propagate violence against as well as the expulsion of Palestinians (including those who are citizens) serve in the Knesset and the government, and cabinet ministers who routinely issue racist statements against the Palestinian citizens are not held accountable. In fact, they become more popular in the Jewish community after such statements.
It is thus hard to escape understanding the Israeli irony without the Orwellian backdrop. Bishara, vocal in his opposition to Israel's brutal assault on Lebanon last summer, is accused by the Thought Police (the GSS) of helping the enemy in times of war through contact with a foreign agent. The "enemy" here stands for the Arab world to which the Palestinian citizens belong and the "foreign agent" is defined retroactively as such by the Thought Police. These alleged crimes are punishable according to Israeli law by life imprisonment or death penalty. "Thoughtcrime is death."
On the contrary, cabinet ministers who urged the Israeli military - still ironically called the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) - to wipe out dozens of Lebanese villages and not feel morally restricted during the war were heralded as patriots. Those who perpetrate war crimes are considered "men of peace". The Big Brother is persecuting Bishara because "war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength."
What might be bewildering in recent developments is Israel's disregard for the impact that these policies might have on its future. Israel has always discriminated against the Palestinian minority, isolated it from its larger Arab milieu and employed a multi-layered control system. Since October 2000, however, Israel has been moving rapidly towards a collision by continuously pushing this minority further into the corner. Most of the minority's leaders were incessantly interrogated and at times physically assaulted by the police; Ra'ed Salah, a prominent religious and political leader, was imprisoned; several laws further restricted political speech and participation; Bishara faced two political trials; and more Arab houses have been demolished. More persecution of Bishara and his party will take Israel one step closer toward collision with its Palestinian citizens.
Israel is in effect presenting Azmi Bishara with two similar "options": to end up as either a Kafkaesque or an Orwellian protagonist. The former was executed, the latter was brainwashed and forced to betray his world waiting for an impending execution.
Meanwhile Bishara, as a genuine civil rights leader, is resisting the attempt to drag him into Kafka's Trial by Big Brother and his Thought Police. He courageously holds his ground: "We will not be intimidated. We will not bow to permanent servitude in the land of our ancestors or to being severed from our natural connections to the Arab world."
Nimer Sultany is a Palestinian citizen of Israel and currently a doctoral candidate at Harvard Law School.
He has worked as a human rights lawyer in the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and as the head of the political monitoring project
at Mada al-Carmel (the Arab centre for applied social research).