Last update - 09:21 28/02/2007
Israeli Arab group proposes new 'multi-cultural' constitution
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondent
A proposed constitution written by the Israeli Arab advocacy center, Adalah, states that Arab Knesset members will be able to bring about the disqualification of bills that impinge on the rights of Arabs, and classifies the State of Israel as a "bilingual and multicultural" country rather than a Jewish state.
The proposal, entitled "The Democratic Constitution," also calls for majority and minority groups to split control of the government in such a way that will strengthen the Arab minority on issues relating to the character of the state.
Adalah's version of the constitution essentially abolishes the Jewish elements of Israel, but allows the Jewish majority to maintain its character through educational and cultural institutions. The proposal invalidates the Law of Return, which grants automatic citizenship to people with at least one Jewish grandparent, and states that citizenship will be granted to those who come to Israel for humanitarian reasons, regardless of their religion.
The document states that the "internal refugees" Arab residents and their descendants expelled in 1948 and whose number is estimated at about a quarter of today's Israeli Arab citizens will return to the area where they used to live and receive compensation. The introduction to the proposed constitution demands that Israel recognize its responsibility for the "historical injustices that it caused the Palestinian nation in its entirety," withdraw from the territories and recognize the Palestinian people's right to self-determination. The proposal sets the state's borders along the 1967 cease-fire lines.
The proposed constitution grants citizenship to all descendants of Israeli citizens, whether they were born here or abroad, as well as to all spouses of Israeli citizens thereby undermining Israeli efforts to limit marriages between Israeli Arabs and Palestinians living in the territories.
Instead of dealing with the issue of who is a Jew, says Adalah, the proposal deals with the issue of who is a citizen.
Adalah's constitution is the first one proposed by an Arab institution, though there have been many proposed by various Jewish ones. Adalah chairman Prof. Marwan Dwairy said the other proposals are not based on democratic values.
"They relate to Arab citizens like foreigners in this homeland, in which history, memory and collective rights are the legacy of Jews alone," he wrote.
Adalah hopes that its proposal will spur public discourse on the legal and cultural standing of Israeli Arabs.
"If this 'Democratic Constitution' succeeds in highlighting the large gaps that exist between it and the other proposals, and generates dialogue and topical public discussion on the nature of the freedoms and rights in the this country, we will see it as an important step," wrote Dwairy.
According to the proposed constitution, all assets of the Waqf (the Muslim religious trust) that were expropriated after 1948 and all assets seized by the state from Arabs will be returned to their original owners, who will also receive compensation for the period of expropriation. The state must also immediately recognize all unrecognized Arab villages, the proposal states.
The document does not state what the symbols of the country should be, but says that they will be determined either by a Knesset committee, half of whose members will be Arab, or by agreement of 75 percent of Arab MKs.
All official publications, court rulings and media reports will be in both Hebrew and Arabic, according to Adalah. The proposal states that every cultural group, whether religious or ethnic, will be able to run their own institutions, and that national minorities can choose their own representative body, at the state's expense.
The proposed constitution grants the judicial system the authority to overturn any laws that contradict the constitution.
Adalah says that many of its sections are based on international declarations of human rights, and has consulted with legal experts from around the world, including some who were involved in South Africa's changeover from an apartheid state to a democratic one.
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