By Geoffrey Cook
It is hard to imagine a more thankless and demanding job than representing an Arab district in the Israeli Knesset or Parliament, but that is what Haneen Zoabi has been doing for three terms while remaining faithful to her constituents.
Zoabi was born in 1969 within the city of Nazareth to a politicly conscious Muslim family. She has held three consecutive terms in the Knesset from 2009 under the Joint List coalition. Not without controversy though having been suspended three times from that body. There have been many attempts to silence her including an attempt to impeach (expulsion) her, and repeated death threats. She believes she will be blocked from returning to her seat in the next election although she has firm support within her constituency.
Although there have been Arabs who have held seats within the Knesset, she is the first Arab woman to do so.
Her position on statehood is that there should be one state for every individual there should be one vote. There are over 1.6 million Arab citizens of Israel or 20.7% of the population. Her position is that there should be one state over the territory of the old Palestinian mandate. With the demographic shifts, Palestinians would dominate this state, with political fissures and constitutional guarantees, this would be a truly democratic state unlike the situation today.
Now with political pressure, she feels, Jewish residents represent first class citizens whereas Arabs are pseudo-citizens, and the Jewish Israelis are attempting to silence the Arab Other as they are attempting to silence her, their representative. The Palestinian population is thereby under siege.
She was quite animate in her presentation in the college town of Berkeley. She made the argument that Israeli “democracy” was really Colonialism because it was based upon their oppression of the Arabs. There can be no “democracy where human rights are not respected.”
Of course, she is hated by the extreme Israeli right wing in power for the last nine years, she also found opposition to some of her ideas by a significant percentage of her fellow Palestinians.
She questioned the meaning of citizenship where the underclass was held in so much derision and oppression. For her, the Palestinian “citizen” is silenced. This is one marker of a Colonial state. Yet the Palestinian is a challenge to Zionism. In short it is a form of settler colonialism where the indigenous is marginalized. The Palestinian is not only marginalized but is treated as the enemy. Since 1948, the Zionists have stolen 517 cities and villages from the original inhabitants. Palestinians now control only 2.3% of their land of before 1948.
The Palestinians of Israel made a huge historical decision to stay in their homes after the Nakba, but they are not true citizens. New laws are attempting to expel them…discriminating laws. Israel wishes to replace the Palestinians’ space with themselves. Especially, with Tel Aviv’ shift to the right, all Palestinian institutions have come into question. “We don’t exist under Israeli law.” The semi-fascist state is enshrined in law now.
Yet she declares that Israelis with the Palestinians could still create a real democracy which expresses a hope for future justice and a correction of the social order out of that current fascist-like state of today.
Israeli Arabs made a huge historical compromised to stay put. It was a decision to become marginal, “yet Palestinians can’t accept Israel as a Jewish state.” Still, they are taught to admire the Israelis.: They should be loyal to their very oppressor. Of course, they cannot accept this. They therefore are accused of terrorism.
Jewish institutions are curiously funded by Palestinian taxes. These taxes not only oppress Palestine, but progressive Jews, too, who are their natural allies, and are attacked by their own government.
She noted that there is a difference between citizenship and nationality. Jewishness is the marker of being an Israeli. Thus, Israel mixes nationality and citizenship.
Addressing and appealing for support to an American audience, she states the obvious that American politicians are afraid of Tel Aviv and they give them a blank check. Whereas America is the enabler of Israel, Israel has become the oppressor of the international community, yet “Israel is not above international” law.
At this juncture, Zionist demonstrators appeared attempting to silence her. They bore signs claiming that she and Hatem Bazian, the professor who had organized her presence, were terrorists and murders. They were jeered out of the room, though. In America, Zionists have attempted to disrupt discourse on Palestine to the point of spying on academic speech claiming it was anti-Semitic. They have even had professors fired for bringing the Palestine issue before the classroom. Israeli oppression is evident even within American academia. The true nature of Israel was displayed in that room that day and is the reason Israel has become a pariah state. Slowly, the younger generation of Americans are becoming more receptive to the Palestinian plight which denotes a change of attitude amongst the international community.