“We don’t live in the territories, we cannot throw stones and we cannot participate in the legitimate resistance against occupation,” Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset (parliament) told Green Left Weekly.
“We participate in the struggle so our own position as citizens. Our unique role is a political resistance and not, for example, an armed resistance.”
Zoabi is the first Palestinian woman to be elected to the Knesset, representing a so-called Israeli-Arab party. Israeli-Arab is a term used in Israel to describe the Palestinians that remained after the ethnic cleansing that accompanied Israel’s founding.
Zoabi is one of three sitting members from the National Democratic Assembly (BALAD).
She has been speaking in Australia to mark the 61st anniversary of al Nakba — the Palestinian catastrophe caused by the ethnic cleansing that accompanied the founding of Israel in 1948.
BALAD is a nationalist party for Palestinians who still live within Israel. It advocates the reform of Israel away from being a state based on Jewish supremacy, in which the non-Jewish population are second-class citizens, into a democratic state for all.
BALAD’s Chairman Azmi Beshara is currently in exile after being accused of collaborating with Hizballah during Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon. It is one of three main Palestinian parties in Israel, the other two being the left-wing Hadash and the Islamist-influenced United Arab List (Ra’am).
Zoabi lives in Nazareth and previously worked as a journalist. She founded the I’LAM Media Centre for Arab Palestinians, an organization aimed at combating Israeli media bias.
Zoabi was elected in February, just after Israel’s December-January assault on Gaza ended. It was a chance she nearly didn’t receive, after the Israeli far-right sought to ban “Israeli-Arab” parties from running in the elections.
This position was backed by the Central Electoral Committee in a 27-3 vote. This ruling was later overturned by the Supreme Court.
Despite this, Zoabi remains positive about the contribution the Palestinian community inside Israel, numbering at 1.2 million, can make to the wider struggle for Palestinian freedom.
She said: “By raising and preserving our national identity, we are contributing to the Palestinian struggle. If the Palestinian refugees struggle for their rights, they are on the side of all Palestinians and when we also struggle for our rights and stand up for our people, this assists the struggle.”
“We participated in demonstrations during the war on Gaza. About 200,000 Palestinians out of 1.2 million marched — one sixth of the Palestinian population. It means that in every house in Palestine there was one person who demonstrated.
“Not standing still as citizens inside Israel is our contribution to the Palestinian struggle in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
Around the world, calls for boycotts against Israel have grown and have been supported by the Palestinian parties in Israel.
However, the situation is different for Palestinians inside Israel, Zoabi said. “If, as citizens, we boycott the parliament, this would mean that we also boycott the struggle because when we entered the Knesset we do not enter to promote relations with Israel, but instead to struggle against Israel.”
While Zoabi said for those outside Israel to promote relations with the Jewish state works against the struggle, “by boycotting Israel I am boycotting a whole area of struggle for my rights.”
Zoabi’s election also coincided with a general move to the right in Israeli politics. Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu became Prime Minister with the support of the racist far-right Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) party of Avigdor Lieberman.
Zoabi believes that this has been caused by a combination of weaknesses in the three traditional support groups for Palestine within Israel: the Palestinian community and parties, the Israeli left Zionist (supporters of Israel as Jewish state) “peace camp” and the broader anti-Zionist forces.
The left-Zionist party Meretz, traditionally seen as part of the “peace camp,” supported the war on Gaza. The result was it dropped from holding five seats to three.
Zoabi said the current state of the Palestinian resistance also fed into the right-wing sentiment in Israel.
“When you face a weakened Arab leadership and a disempowered Palestinian Authority or Palestinian negotiator, you would say, why do I need peace? Before [the 1993 Oslo peace accords, then Israeli PM Yitzhak] Rabin had reached a conviction that they need peace because occupation was costly. You need peace when war or occupation is costly.”
The affect of the weakening of Palestinian resistance has been profound.
Zoabi said: “The rate of hostility has increased a lot. Seventy-five percent of Jewish people do not want to live in a society with Arabs.”
“On the question of apartheid, most towns are mixed, with both Arabs and Jews. Most of the Jewish population and the authorities in towns like Jaffa and Haifa, are trying their best to transfer Palestinians out so they can become purely Jewish towns.”
“They prevent the Palestinians from renovating their homes and they are trying to push them into giving up their homes so they will leave. Arabs are being attacked a lot more in the streets and in their market shops, comparing the last year to previous years.”
However, Zoabi said such attitudes are nothing new. “We have a special case of racism in Israel. You can’t find this kind of racism in any other country in the world, where the state usually defines itself neutrally.”
“This is not the case in Israel. We don’t struggle simply against discriminating policies or attitudes. We are against the very definition of the state and this is what differentiates our struggle.”
In fighting back, Zoabi believes Palestinian parties in Israel play an important part in bringing Palestinian people together and helping people rediscover their national character.
Zoabi said: “Over the last 60 years through continuous policies, Israel has tried to create an ‘Arab-Israeli.’ But it is their own creation.
“This is a person who has no roots, no belonging, no nationality, no culture, who owes their existence to Israel.”
Zoabi said that in the part, Palestinians inside Israel have been used as a bridge for negotiations between Israel and Palestine.
But she believes that this is a role that can no longer be maintained: “We are part of the Palestinian people and our role in the struggle is to make sure the Palestinian people, our people, have our rights as occupiers, as citizens of Israel and as refugees.”
“We have these three groups of Palestinians, each of them have their special historical rights and all three combined represent the whole of the Palestinian people.”
Stu Harrison is a writer on Palestinian affairs for Australia’s Green Left Weekly, where this article was originally published. This article is republished with permission.