We must convince our people to believe in politics: Haneen Zoabi
Jonathan Cook, The Israeli Occupation Archive
Haneen Zoabi is a Palestinian member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. A member of the Balad party (the National Democratic Assembly), she has served as a Member of Knesset (MK) since 2009. Zoabi is known for her fierce opposition to Zionism, to the concept of Israel as a Jewish state which she sees as inherently racist and unjust, and to the Israeli occupation. Instead, she envisions Arab-Jewish co-existence in Israel/Palestine, based on justice and equality, in a state for all its citizens. She also advocates replacing the Israeli occupation by a Palestinian state, and protecting the rights of Palestinian refugees.
Zoabi became known around the world after her participation in the Gaza Flotilla aboard the MV Mavi Marmara. As a result, she has been viciously attacked by her Knesset colleagues, who were quick to remove several of her parliamentary privileges; was subjected to a lengthy legal investigation by the Israeli attorney general; was threatened with the revocation of her citizenship by the Interior Minister; was vilified by the Israeli media; and received threats, including death threats, from members of the Israeli public. As prior IOA coverage of her work shows, Haneen Zoabi withstood these attacks with courage and dignity.
On 22 December 2011, a few days after this interview took place, Israel’s attorney general dropped an investigation of Haneen Zoabi for attempting to enter Gaza illegally. Click Balad for history and principes of the party, also known as the NDA or National Democratic Assembly.
Jonathan Cook and the IOA editor sat with Haneen Zoabi at her Nazareth home in mid-December 2011 for an extended interview. The edited discussion is presented below.
During the past year, a series of ethnocentric and other legislative initiatives were introduced in the Knesset, designed to define loyalty to the state as Jewish; severely penalize participation in non-violent BDS actions against the occupation; enable discrimination in housing and access to land via “Admission Committees” that can bar Palestinian Israelis from residing in hundreds of communities to keep them exclusively Jewish; punish NGOs that protect the civil rights of citizens by limiting or taxing international funding sources they depend on; limit the press; influence the Supreme Court; and more.
How do these efforts affect the million and a half Palestinian citizens of Israel, and how do you see future relations between Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel unfolding over the next few years?
First of all, the situation of the Palestinians in Israel is not new. I don’t agree with the [Israeli] left’s description that we are moving from a democratic to a fascist state. It is a gradual continuation of long-standing policies that confiscated my land; that discriminate against me; and that refuse to recognize me as an equal citizen and as one of the owners of this homeland.
The problem is not simply the terms of citizenship: We want to be equal to the Jews, but also, as the indigenous people, this homeland belongs to us. I want to be equal not because I immigrated or because I’m a citizen. Primarily I want to be equal because it is my homeland and nobody has the right to take it away. And when I ask for this kind of equality, not as an immigrant but as a member of the indigenous people, as the owner of this land, then I am already making a compromise, making a huge compromise. In this context, just asking for equality with the Jews is a compromise.
But there is also something new, something that really changed in the nature of the racism and discrimination. Earlier, the racism and discrimination were inherent in policies that were part of Israel’s liberal and democratic discourse.
The state really believed it could be Jewish and democratic, and defended Israel as though there was no contradiction between the values of Jewishness and democracy. When many years ago my party [the National Democratic Assembly] started pointing out that there was a contradiction between the two, its arguments seemed to many to be dangerous. We found ourselves defined as a “strategic threat.” Israelis and the world would say: What’s the contradiction? Others – the Shin Bet, the domestic intelligence service, and mainstream politicians – would say that this undermines Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.”
Now, even Israeli policy-makers understand the problem. These [anti-democratic] laws have forced some of the Knesset members to say, “If there’s a contradiction between Jewish values and democratic values, we prefer the Jewish values.” Now it’s not even a question of which value they prefer, it’s clear they prefer to be Jewish over being democratic.
Now, this is a new reality, not just a continuation of the [old] policies of racism and Judaization. Israeli Jews don’t hesitate now to say “We prefer the Jewish values,” and they are willing to use these values to justify discrimination, racism and treating Palestinian citizens as a strategic threat.
Because, if Jewish values are at the core of policy – and this obsession with the Jewishness of the state is part of a new political culture – and we are not Jewish, and we will not give up our rights, then obviously we present not just an alternative view, but something that contradicts the state’s very legitimacy: not the religious aspects, but the political aspects, meaning Zionism. Because Jewishness here means Zionism, not Judaism. It is misleading to talk about a Jewish and democratic state; it is a Zionist state. Because we are challenging these policies, it has become natural to say that our struggle, our very existence, is threatening the state. This is new.
Because there has been a formalization of the preferences: “Which comes first, the Jewish or the democratic?”
Yes. At the National Democratic Assembly [known in Hebrew as the Balad party], when we said we stand for a state for all its citizens to end this contradiction, the reaction was: “You are extremists, you are creating a problem that doesn’t exist, this is all very theoretical.” But now it is at the center of the political debate: whether to be more Jewish or to be more democratic.
Earlier on, when the question was raised, it didn’t seem that our view was legitimate. But this is a legitimate question, and my demand for democracy rather than Zionism or Jewishness is legitimate. It does not make me extremist or nationalistic.
There is this obsession with “Judaizing” everything. Just today I read about Netanyahu’s support for the so-called Mosque Law [a bill to ban the muezzin’s call to prayer being broadcast over loudspeakers].
With him justifying it by saying: “We should not be more liberal than Europe…”
But I’m not part of Europe! The mosque is part of the East, part of our heritage, and not part of European history or culture. It’s misleading and ridiculous to try to make a comparison with Europe. To ban the muezzin here is like banning church bells in Europe. But the Zionists don’t understand the history of the land which they claim is theirs.
The second new element affects the Zionist left. Until now, the Zionist left perceived the state as democratic because the laws didn’t harm their rights, and their freedom of expression. And the left didn’t count the Palestinians and the violation of their rights as part of its definition of democracy. If you are democratic, the first question should be how the state treats the Palestinians. This was not the Zionist left’s attitude to democracy: To be a democracy is to be democratic to the liberal, secular, Zionist left. This is how they defined democracy.
These new laws have started to affect the Zionist left, but still they are defending themselves in the wrong way. They haven’t realized that the psychological, cognitive infrastructure for these fascist laws, apartheid laws, hate laws has been built over the past 63 years of the state. And, that it is they – the left Zionists – who are the real founders of racism.
There’s a sort of parallel with what has been happening between the settlements and the outposts, where the inhabitants of the outposts are considered more extremist than the settlers but the settlements are what made the outposts possible in the first place.
Exactly. For this reason, the leftwing Zionists make us angrier than the rightwing.
The third new element: Earlier, the law was racist but without resorting to the direct expressions and aims of apartheid. Now the laws are becoming more transparent, such as the attacks on the cultural expressions of Palestinian citizens, such as the Nakba Law and the planned Mosque Law. Why? Because to choose Zionism at the expense of democracy is now legitimate: you’re defending yourself, you are defending the Jewish state.
Like the position of Yuval Diskin, the former head of the Shin Bet [the domestic intelligence service] stating that his agency has the right to use undemocratic means to defend democracy.
Yes, it was in 2007, under the Olmert government, and [his centrist party] Kadima, which now attacks Netanyahu for being a fascist. But the authorities were already saying we are such a threat in 2007; that they would prosecute us even if we used democratic tools for our struggle. So the new reality is to criminalize our struggle.
Earlier, the laws were addressed more toward our rights to exist as equal citizens; now the danger is that these laws address our rights of struggle. This is graver because, when you have racism, you have the right to struggle against it. But now there are laws to criminalize the struggle itself. This is the real function of loyalty laws – it is not just an expression of racism, it has a political consequence, and a very dramatic one.
As Diskin said, even if you fight with democratic tools, the aim is now to treat our democratic tools as undemocratic in order to make it easier to prosecute our struggle.
What Netanyahu means by loyalty is that, if you are an association, if you are a person, you must recognize Israel as a democratic and Jewish state. If you don’t, then your tools are not democratic.
How will it affect our reality? I think that the state is pushing us towards the edge.
It’s like the Admission Committees Law [which gives formal standing to screening committees to prevent Palestinian citizens from joining rural Jewish communities that control 81 percent of the territory in Israel]. What did it change? The reality has been the same for decades, but now there’s a law.
Now there’s a new attack in the Negev [to destroy Bedouin villages the government has refused to recognize]. This is something to fight against not through laws but through political struggle. There was a huge demonstration in front of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem. Against land confiscation you struggle with political tools. So, I cannot say that it will change our readiness and willingness to struggle. It will not.
I can give you an example: I visited a mitzpe [an exclusively Jewish “look-out” community set up as part of the state’s Judaization campaign in the 1980s] in the Galilee after the Admission Committees Law was passed. What I found interesting was there were some long-standing members of the community saying “I’m disgusted by this law, it makes me angry. I want to protest against it.” And I was thinking, but this has always been the case. Why are you suddenly so angry? The reason wasn’t so much what the law was doing as that now there was a law. They could live with it when the admissions committee made its decisions to stop Arabs from becoming members behind closed doors. But now that there’s a law that says, in effect, Arabs can’t live here, they’re very uncomfortable, they don’t like it.
The question is, have they become more aware? There are two scenarios.
In the first, Israel reverts to Kadima, to classical Zionism – not left Zionism, not right Zionism. It returns to classical Zionism and portrays itself as left – left, that is, compared to fascism.
In the second scenario, Israel says “No, we must re-analyze the entire conflict, the treatment of the Palestinians; it seems that in order to be Jewish you must be undemocratic.” The second scenario is to conclude that you cannot be Jewish and democratic. You must really choose. For us, this is a good scenario.
Why good? If they choose to be Jewish, then it will be clear to the whole world that the Jewish state cannot be a democratic state. This is what we [the NDA] started to say 15 to 16 years ago, after Oslo.
What I foresee happening is the bad scenario. If they choose this scenario, it means that they must get rid of the so-called extremists. The two “extremists” are [Avigdor] Lieberman [of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party] and the National Democratic Assembly, which demands a state for all its citizens. That way we go back to the old consensus: the classical, Zionist consensus. To do that they have to get rid of Lieberman, the Jewish extremist, and the National Democratic Assembly.
I think that this is what the left-Zionists are choosing. To fight against fascism, they want to shore up the foundations of the classical, “light” expression of fascism. Why am I saying this? Because I see how the Knesset members from Kadima and the Labor Party are treating us, and the terminology they use. They never defend us or criticize these laws, or conclude that we must give full rights to Palestinian citizens, or question how Israeli society reached this racist low-point.
Why am I more afraid of the classical Zionists than of the rightwing? Because rightwing Zionism is more honest, clearer, more direct. Then, even the international organizations and public opinion can recognize it.
How will this process of becoming a more openly racist society affect the relations between Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel? Not long ago, nearly everybody in Israeli-Jewish society was pretending that all citizens were equal. Of course, if you looked into it more deeply, it was fairly easy to find out that that wasn’t the case. But now, as you were saying, a good deal of it is being formalized so that it is more obvious and will be obvious to people in Europe who read the news.
But they will say that now there is discrimination, whereas before there wasn’t. I just read the statistics of the Israel Democracy Institute for 2011 that say 67 percent of Israeli society doesn’t recognize or admit that there is discrimination. According to the Institute, the Netanyahu government didn’t really affect the perception of democracy among Jews in Israel.
As long as nobody was disturbing the boat too much, they could just continue the same way and increase their power. But these other people [like Lieberman] make it difficult to proceed because the world is now watching, and because there’s violence.
Yes. If you prefer the state to be Jewish at the expense of democratic values, it’s not necessarily a problem. The problem is only if others don’t agree with you. So Netanyahu needs a parallel strategy to deal with the objections of the Palestinians, the PLO and Abu Mazen (though not the Palestinians in Israel), and the international community. He needs them to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Because once Israel is recognized as a Jewish state, there is a legitimacy to all these Jewish laws and efforts to Judaize everything.
Today it’s seen as racism, because Israel is supposed to be a democracy. But if the world recognizes Israel as a Jewish state, then Israel’s legitimacy will be restored. So Netanyahu’s problem is not that everybody is watching, but that he hasn’t succeeded yet in his strategy to have Israel recognized as a Jewish state. Netanyahu’s perception is that, once he has this recognition, even if the discrimination is clear, he is secure because “You recognized me as a Jewish state and this is what a Jewish state should do: Judaize the land, Judaize everything.”
There are noticeable changes within Israeli Jewish society: conflicts between the secular and religious sectors; the rise of the more extreme and violent right and its revolt against the very occupation army that makes its activities possible, and so on. How do these changes affect Palestinian citizens of Israel?
This is something different. I define conflict as between elites, but this is not conflict within the establishment itself. This is a conflict between classical Zionism and more rightwing Zionism. It’s a conflict between the establishment, whether it’s Netanyahu or Kadima, and the extreme right. These are extremists even by the government’s own definition, so it has no choice but to control them. It can never accept this kind of phenomenon because violence must be controlled and directed by the state. The state doesn’t allow individuals or elements outside the police or army to be violent. Netanyahu is very serious when he says: “We’ll never allow anyone to attack our soldiers.” He’s very serious about it because the Israeli military is a holy thing, the most prestigious, and the most important institution in the Israeli state.
It is crucial to note that this is not about democracy; it is not a consideration of human rights. Rather, it’s about the authority of the state. In order to make the violence of the army more effective, it has to be protected from these attacks.
However, the mere fact that it did happen shows how much the settlers feel safe; how much the settlers and the extremists feel that they have the power, even to attack the Israeli army. They behave as though they are the real government. Because they have their agents in the government, in the Likud, and in other places.
But they also fear that Netanyahu is going to betray the final borders of Israel. We are close – I think, more than ever before – to the point of defining the borders of Israel. Not formally. The aim of the Netanyahu government is to totally Judaize Jerusalem, so that there is nothing to discuss, even if discussions with the Palestinians were to take place, because the physical reality is stronger than any discussions. And to try to expand the settlements as much as they can to create facts on the ground. Anything that remains negotiable is something that could be part of a Palestinian state.
The consensus in Likud no longer believes in the Greater Israel concept, from the river to the sea. They have withdrawn from this idea. But they need the Jordan Valley, the settlements with the expansions, all of Jerusalem, and they don’t want a future government, whether Likud or Kadima, to be able to sign anything other than an arrangement based on cantons – small, geographically separated land areas that the Palestinians can call a “state.”
I think that the settlers know this, and they want to change the policy. This is where there’s a disagreement between the settler-extremists on one hand and the Likud and Netanyahu on the other.
The settler-extremists do not agree with any kind of Palestinian state. Netanyahu himself will not sign an agreement that includes a Palestinian state. But he is trying to put limits on the governments that will come after him, even if they were to try to do anything. This is where the settler-extremists want to force Netanyahu to reconsider his policies. This is the real dispute with Netanyahu. They know that he won’t sign, but they don’t want the Likud consensus to be the basis around which a future agreement might be formed. This unspoken process…
The unspoken part is the less-than-full Israel.
Yes. There will be something left for the Palestinians, and the settler-extremists do not want even that. And they want to change the conception inside Likud. Even if they are confident Netanyahu will not sign an agreement, they don’t want the Likud even to utter “two states.” They think that just to speak of two states is very dangerous. So Likud must change its thinking or lose to the more extremist Zionists.
This is the real dispute. They think that they should test their strength, like children, against the government, against Netanyahu. They are loud and they feel secure that Netanyahu cannot make changes to the coalition government, so they can do, and are ready to do, anything. And this is the political tool to get Netanyahu to withdraw from the vision of two states.
After the PA’s attempt to gain international recognition for a Palestinian state, the reconciliation efforts between Hamas and Fatah, and the Shalit prisoner-exchange, where does the Palestinian anti-occupation struggle stand? What’s next?
The mere fact that during our discussion so far I didn’t mention the Palestinian leadership once, and kept speaking about the plans and strategies of the Israelis as if the Israelis play alone, as if there is no other side, reflects the fact that, yes, Israel is playing alone. The Palestinians are not a factor in this story. The debate, instead of being between the Palestinians and the Israelis, is between the Israelis themselves – between Netanyahu and the Zionist left, or Netanyahu and the extremist right. And what about the Palestinians? It is their land, their lives, their freedom. So this is the first part of my answer: we are not a factor.
Over the last six years Israel has made a lot of unilateral decisions, such as the [West Bank] wall and the Gaza siege. The only thing for which there is a Palestinian partner is security coordination. Well, this should be the last place for Palestinians to be a partner. This is where the Palestinians have adopted the role of facilitators of the occupation on Israel’s behalf.
Oslo was a fatal strategic mistake with which we [Balad] didn’t agree. You don’t enter negotiations before an agreement about the aims and the framework of the negotiations – that is, the other side should recognize that he is an occupier and that he needs to end the occupation. I cannot enter negotiations with you to see whether, at the end, you’ll accept that you are an occupier, occupying my people and my land, or not. You need to discuss this with yourself. And when you accept that you are, then you can come to me in order to end the occupation.
This is not, as Netanyahu would put it, “a precondition.” This is the meaning, framework and context of the negotiations. Otherwise it’s a mere reflection of the power relations between the occupier and the occupied.
In the 1990s the Israelis rethought their strategy because they weren’t benefiting from the occupation as much as they had done. During that period, a calculation of benefits and costs could be made. Over the past six years, even the question of benefits versus costs no longer applies. Now there’s no cost to the occupation. There used to be two kinds of costs: economic and security. When you have the wall and the siege these costs no longer exist.
And the Europeans are paying for it…
Exactly. And if you have, as Barak described it, a great security coordination, then there’s really no cost. In June 2011, a large headline in Haaretz announced that the Israeli army no longer had wanted-lists. All of them were in prison, most of them handed over by Palestinian Authority security forces to Israel.
So why end the occupation? Why even enter into negotiations? Not only is there no benefit to signing an agreement, there is also no need to enter into negotiations because Israel has economic stability and security coordination with the Palestinians. You no longer need the Palestinians because you can do it all unilaterally, by yourself.
This new reality has led the Israelis to feel that there is no need for peace. And anyway, from the beginning, peace was not viewed as a value. Because Oslo didn’t talk about values, it never addressed the problem of my rights as a Palestinian. Rather, from the beginning, Oslo defined my rights as a problem of Israeli security. This is the framework of Oslo. As a result, we lost the terminology of rights and occupation as a violation of rights. What was left was the discussion of benefits and incentives. We lost even these after the wall, and the siege, and the security coordination.
The consequence for the Palestinians was that we lost the terminology of struggle and resistance. Instead, in the West Bank, it became a matter of “economic peace” and “economic prosperity.” The Palestinians lost the incentive to struggle as the Palestinian elites became the direct beneficiaries of the negotiating process. Netanyahu is only too aware, as is [the Palestinian Authority prime minister] Salam Fayyad, that if Israel gives the Palestinians some economic prosperity and stability, then they’ll have their own calculation to make of the cost of struggle, instead of the cost of occupation.
So, it’s no longer the occupation that is costing Israel; rather it is the struggle that is costing the Palestinians. And that is a huge difference.
The second thing is the Gaza siege. It is not just a siege but also a division between the Palestinians. It has hurt Palestinian unity and made the struggle much harder. Now we are entering a new phase with the Arab revolutions. And I think this is a context that will change again.
It is not just the internal dynamic between Hamas and Fatah. The changes underway in the Arab World also have an effect. Changing political authority in Egypt will alter the dynamics between Hamas-Egypt, Fatah-Egypt, and Hamas-Israel-Egypt. And similarly the changes in Syria will affect Hamas, with [Hamas leader Khaled] Meshal likely to leave Syria.
This puts pressure on Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority to change the strategy of endless negotiations. The Israelis will not offer him anything. Now, even he knows that Israel will not give him anything. And still he doesn’t want to dismantle the Palestinian Authority, to announce the death of Oslo and to think about an entirely different strategy. No, he wants the PA to continue.
So, his only hope is to unite with Hamas and think about modifying his approach, such as his address to the UN. But this wasn’t really a shift of strategy. Even when he addressed the UN, it was chiefly to put pressure on Israel to return to the negotiations. If Israel is ready, he’s prepared to enter negotiations again, even when he sees what’s happening in Jerusalem, even when he sees the best possible outcome: cantons, some municipalities that will be called the “Palestinian State.” And he’d be responsible not for foreign policy, such a state would be disarmed, he’d be responsible for domestic matters…
Collecting the rubbish…
Yes, and education, and so on. When we supported Abu Mazen going to the UN, we said this should be part of changing the whole strategy. The Palestinians had to close the door on negotiations with Israel. The US had to withdraw from its role of mediator. The reference point had to become the UN and UN resolutions.
Now we must look for inspiration in the Arab Revolutions. The people need to go to the street. If you are strong on the ground, you can convince others to support you. If you are weak on the ground, then you will not gain the support of the international institutions.
And in the end, we need not only the human rights associations to support the Palestinians but also the official support of other states. And at the moment they support Israel. We need to create a new dynamic in which Israel must reconsider its choices and again feel the cost of the occupation. We must put the question of benefits and costs back on its agenda.
Because now it’s not an issue. Now we [the Palestinians in Israel] are the issue because you [the Palestinians under occupation] stopped being the issue. Why are these new laws emerging now? Because the Palestinian struggle in the West Bank and Gaza stopped to be a struggle.
Now there is more time to deal with what’s next: the Palestinians inside Israel. Since the borders are secure, Israel shifts to the issue of identity and the state’s Jewishness. If Israel were preoccupied with the issues of borders and occupation, it wouldn’t have time to deal with issues of Jewishness. It wouldn’t be on the agenda.
The other aspect of the “Jewishness” demand and the Zionist occupation is that it’s also unifying for Israel – even when faced with the debate between the secular and religious. Netanyahu sees as a greater danger the Jews who do not serve in the military, especially the secular ones. The danger is that there is no longer a willingness to sacrifice, to put the state at the center of one’s life; there is more individualism at the expense of the state and of Zionism. So, from an Israeli-Jewish standpoint, the Jewish identity debate is unifying, and gives meaning to the society’s values: “We must all be nationalist Zionists.”
To what extent might the continuing decline in the rate of secular Israelis serving in the military and the growing global influence on them undo Israel one day?
Israel doesn’t want to shift from a Zionist project to a normal state. Because then everything is open to question and democratic values must be respected. Israel wants to preserve the centrality of the Zionist project because that is what most unifies it. If Israel becomes “normal,” is influenced by globalization, and focuses on economic prosperity and individual rights, it will lose its purpose.
What’s ahead? I think a third way. Not Fatah, not Hamas. A democratic youth movement that will be inspired by the Arab revolutions. Even though I don’t feel it rising directly, I think this will happen because nothing else can succeed. Hamas has lost in Gaza because it was very oppressive on domestic issues. A very different reality must emerge.
Does the logic of the anti-democratic legislation and the repression under Netanyahu lead to an accentuation of Palestinian identity inside Israel? Does this kind of legislation not force Palestinians here to have a stronger sense of their Palestinian identity? Even those who traditionally identified themselves as Israeli Arabs must struggle to maintain such an identity in the climate that’s being created. I wonder whether this creates a potential bridge between the Palestinians in the occupied territories and ordinary Palestinians in Israel for some kind of common struggle, for a third way. They start to say: “We’re all suffering the same kinds of repression, we’re all being slowly caged in by Netanyahu and these laws, we’re suffering the same kind of reality.” Does this create a bridge to some sort of anti-apartheid movement across the Green Line? Do you see this as a possibility?
I agree. These laws make it very apparent that you cannot be an Israeli, even for those who try to forget they are Palestinians, for those who don’t want to deal with it.
The first obstacle to developing our struggle has been the need to politicize more of our people. Before we consider new strategies, we must convince our people to believe in politics. We cannot secure our rights, we cannot develop ourselves, we cannot develop our society, if we don’t struggle. This is our first objective and it has proved a huge obstacle for the political parties here. At the next election I think even more people will not turn out to vote [in the 2009 election the turnout among Palestinian citizens of Israel fell to a historic low of 53 percent]. This has been the trend: a decline in our political involvement.
But an increase in political consciousness doesn’t necessarily translate into greater political involvement. It’s a contradiction: We feel more Palestinian than ten years ago but, at the same time, there is less involvement in traditional politics, such as the parliament, media and so on. This is because people believe less in the tools we have presented them. So we need to look for new tools, and the Arab revolutions provide an example of such tools.
We need to reconsider the tools and maybe part of this reconsideration is to refocus on a unified Palestinian national struggle. To define ourselves as part of the Palestinian national struggle and not a domestic Israeli issue. In fact, that has been the case since the start of the second Intifada, when we refused to define ourselves as a domestic Israeli issue.
There was a conference I attended a couple of weeks ago. It raised the question of the relations between the Palestinian national movement and the Palestinians inside Israel. By the end, my view was that we are part of the Palestinian national struggle: we are part of it because we are facing Zionism, and that makes us part of it. We are part of it because during our struggle we raised the Palestinian consciousness of our people. We are part of it because during the struggle our discourse and activity reinforced that Palestinian identity. This makes us part of it.
But we cannot be coopted by it. We cannot be part of the PLO because the context dictates the tools and the strategy, not the aim. The context is our Israeli citizenship. I’m Palestinian, and my citizenship cannot change this. I’m a Palestinian and I must fight for my people. And I cannot accept a state that gives privileges to the Jews at the expense of my rights.
Israel cannot dictate to me how to define my position as part of the Arab world, to go to Syria, to have strategic relations with Arab states. But, strategically speaking, at the level of organizing, we cannot be part of the PLO. And in addition we must struggle for citizenship rights.
And what about the context for that struggle? Is it a struggle for two states?
Two states, but not for two nations. It’s two states: one is a sovereign Palestinian state, which would be for all of its citizens, and the other is also a state for all its citizens, with a right of return. This framework means identifying Zionism as racism.
What is the framework that unifies the struggle? Is it the struggle for a state in the West Bank? No. Is it a struggle for the return of the refugees? No. Is it a struggle for equal rights inside Israel? No. The framework is to challenge Zionism.
And only then, I would define the right of the Jews here. And the right of the Jews is not for a state of their own. It is a right for self-determination here – not as a state, but rather within a state for all its citizens. And then this state gives Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs collective rights. Or, it can be a bi-national state.
If you read the National Democratic Assembly’s program, it says that this vision of two states – not the two states of Netanyahu, or [Kadima’s] Tzipi Livni, or even Hadash [the Communist party] – may open the door to another solution in which the two nations co-exist equally. So what leads us is the principle of equal co-existence, and not the principle of two separate states. It is about equal sovereignty.
And, according to the NDA program, any other solution that implements this principle of equal co-existence, and equal sovereignty, can be accepted. The principle is not two states; the principle is the values of justice and of sovereignty for two nations. These values lead us to solve the occupation problem via two states; and the problem of Zionism and racism via a state for all its citizens. And, of course, justice means the right of return for all the refugees.
But, if the reality develops towards another solution, which is more workable but is based on equality, justice and equal sovereignty to both, then it will not contradict the NDA program.
Regarding the national struggle: We must shift away from the paradigm under which, until now, the rest of the Palestinians tell us – the Palestinians citizens of Israel – “Your struggle against Israel is your own struggle.” They don’t appreciate that, when I challenge Zionism, it affects the position of the Israeli state and the ability of that state to oppress them. It is not my struggle against the state; it will not affect just me. What it means in practice is that, as Palestinians, they have the right to tell me what they think I should accept and what I should not accept.
They must consider our struggle as part of the Palestinian struggle, even if we didn’t announce a unified struggle. If I say, “OK I will serve in the Israeli military,” they have the right and the duty to tell me “You cannot serve in the military” because my struggle is part of the Palestinian struggle. They have a duty and responsibility to point out to us if we cross certain red lines.
And the same for us. When they signed Oslo and, as I said earlier, I regarded Oslo as a fatal strategic error, I have the right and responsibility to say “You must not sign Oslo” or “You must not go to Annapolis” or “You must not recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” And if they think of giving up the rights of the refugees, I have the right to say “No, you cannot sign this agreement.”
This will unify us because the same reference values are shared by all of us as Palestinians. The same framework applies to all of us, but in different ways and via the use of different tools and strategies. So this is how we are unified.
Would you share with us your experience as an MK, especially after the Mavi Marmara [Zoabi’s participation in an aid flotilla to break the Gaza siege in summer 2010 that was attacked by the Israeli navy resulting in nine passengers being killed] and subsequent attacks on you at the Knesset?
The ongoing atmosphere at the Knesset hasn’t changed. I can feel the hostility and the lack of cooperation. But formally, they must follow Knesset procedures. When there are debates they must accept my participation; if I raise a question to a minister, he must accept it. So they follow the formal procedures. Of course, there’s no social contact, maybe a superficial “Hello” or “Good Morning” – that’s it. Generally, the Arab Knesset members, all except one, have only very formal relations with the other MKs. There are also occasional small talks.
At the beginning of my term, because I am a woman, they expected me to be “softer,” even in a political sense: to concentrate more on co-existence, on social and feminist issues, and not to be occupied with what they consider “political issues.” So they had special expectations of me. During the first six months they were kind to me but, after they heard me and noted the issues I raised, they were even more hostile because of those higher expectations.
Because I’m a woman, and even though I speak like my colleague Jamal [Zahalka], I’m regarded as more extremist than him. I’m a woman, I’m supposed to be nicer. Even before the Mavi Marmara, they were more hostile towards me because I hadn’t met their expectations. After the Mavi Marmara, relations were finished.
But this is not what worries me. What worries me is the political de-legitimization. OK, don’t like Haneen. It’s not an issue of whether I am liked. It is whether I have the freedom and legitimacy to struggle for my political views. And they are making every attempt to delegitimize my party, the National Democratic Assembly, and to delegitimize me personally. They are very keen to disqualify me and my party from the next elections. It is this kind of political reaction that is more important, not the personal hostility.
Jonathan Cook won the 2011 Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.