Real Democracy – a Palestinian-Israeli vote share

January 23, 2013
Sarah Benton

The Real Democracy, Give Your Vote campaign’s Facebook page has drawn over 1,000 ‘likes’

An Israeli chooses to share his privilege of voting

An Israeli university student discusses the process that led him to give his vote to a Palestinian friend without one.

By Liel Maghen, +972
January 22, 2013

Israelis head to the polls in Tel Aviv amid a sea of campaign posters, January 2013.  Photo by Roee Ruttenberg)

As an Israel citizen and believer democracy, I have always cherished my ability to vote. Through last three elections, I have implemented this right with an authentic belief that using it is my responsibility as a citizen and that it has a real effect on my daily life. However, since the last election, I have learned that the right to vote is not a basic right in my country, but a privilege dependent on geography and ethnicity.

I grew up believing that democracy is a form of government in which residents have a say in the decisions that affect their lives. It is a system that is supposed to allow all residents to participate equally in the creation of laws that shape their daily reality and generally presented through the basic right to vote.

Although the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem and the West Bank is highly affected by the Israeli government, its members do not have the ability to shape the decisions that shape their lives.

The two democratic solutions for this distorted situation would be to either build a totally independent system Palestinians or to share with them the right to vote enjoyed by Israelis. But for now, until one of these proposed solutions is formally chosen, the only direct action I can take, as a supporter of the basic idea of electoral democracy, would be to give my right to vote to a Palestinian friend and by thus bring a slight balance to the general condition of discrimination.

As I see it, this is the only practical action that would give this unprivileged population the ability to change the government which affects their daily lives in the upcoming Knesset term. In order to make this action even clearer, I have decided to give this vote to a local East Jerusalemite who is considered, formally, a local resident of Israel and even has the right to vote for local councils. But because of his ethnicity, from childhood, he hasn’t had the option of affecting the shape of the government and its laws.

The option of giving away my vote led me to initiate an interesting discussion with Aziz Abu Sarah. Like in every debate about the elections, it combined interests, ideals about democracy and even practical understandings of the parliament and its electoral system.

Eventually, he chose the Hadash party, which through all of its history has symbolized a joint way of life through cooperation, trust and equity. Thus, generally, I am pleased with Aziz’s decision. Nonetheless, I must say that it was very difficult for me to give him my vote. Although I agree with the party he chose, it was frustrating for me as I understood I wouldn’t have the ability to make a statement in these elections and to have, even symbolically, a direct representative in my parliament.

Even though it was only for one election season, I felt from like a traitor that gave his basic civil right to a foreigner that is considered in some parts even as an enemy, or alternatively as if I was being deprived of my basic right. Anyway, with deep doubts, I asked myself if I wish to do it again in the future.

But before I tried to answer this question about the future, another conclusion about the present came to my mind. The people of East Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories live whole their lives without the basic ability to affect those making decision about their reality. If I felt these negative feelings after only one simple experiment, I can just imagine the amount of difficulty and severe frustration of living my whole life under a government I cannot shape (without even thinking about the other problems that they might face).

This conclusion made me realize the importance of my action even more and lent more certainty to my decision. I chose the option of sharing my privilege in a reality of discrimination in order to create a more balanced reality. But together with that, I understood that the right to vote, especially when it is not given to everyone, is not enough to determine a democracy. Citizens, together with their right to vote and especially in our problematic political situation, must also choose other ways of direct action that confront their reality. Everyone can choose his own way, as long as participation in the system doesn’t end with the right to vote.

Liel Maghen is a political science student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is giving his vote in Israel’s January 22 Knesset elections to Aziz Abu Sarah.

The Israelis who give their vote to Palestinians

When Israelis go to the polls on Tuesday, many will be voting for policies on dealing with the Palestinians. For some though, it is an opportunity to reach out to Palestinians themselves to let them have a say in Israeli politics, and they are doing this by donating their vote.

By Yuval Ben-Ami, BBC news, Middle East
January 18, 2013

Tel Aviv–Aya Shoshan does not look like the kind of person who would give up her right to vote.Besides being a politics student at Ben Gurion University, she is a member of an organisation helping struggling Palestinian communities in the South Hebron hills benefit from renewable energy sources. In short, she is an informed, concerned Israeli citizen.

At some point, however, her concerns made her doubt Israel’s very idea of democracy. “I believe that that the act of voting is far less important than that of creating public awareness.” She says “There are almost four million Palestinians living under Israeli rule with no civil rights and in a state of shocking inequality.”

Around a million-and-a-half Palestinians are citizens of Israel, and may vote in its elections. Two-and-a-half million others are governed by the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and by Hamas in Gaza, and have the vote in Palestinian municipal and legislative elections.

To varying degrees, the residents of all territories remain subject to Israeli policies.

Through a new initiative called Real Democracy, Ms Shoshan met a Palestinian from the West Bank, who, like other West Bank residents, is not eligible to vote in Israel’s upcoming elections, and “donated” her vote to him.

“He hasn’t yet decided who to vote for,” she says. “He wrote to me online that the gesture truly moves him, and that he will study the Israeli parties and get back to me with his pick.”

Facebook group

Real Democracy draws its inspiration from a campaign launched in Britain in 2010.

The Give Your Vote project called on British citizens to donate their votes to individuals who are directly affected by UK policies in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Ghana.

Shimri Tzameret, an Israeli activist who studied in the UK and worked in a research initiative called Building Global Democracy at Warwick University, was involved in the British campaign and can be credited with importing the concept to his native land. In true democratic tradition, he rejects such recognition. [Shimri Zameret is a JfJfP signatory]

“There are no organisers and participants,” he says, “there is no hierarchy. We are doing this horizontally.”

Mr Tzameret believes the Palestinians to be unjustly disempowered, not only on a national level, but on an international one too.

“International organisations such as the UN are governed undemocratically,” he says.

“The UN was founded six decades ago by the nations that won World War II. Since Israel is linked to the US, I benefit as an Israeli from the undemocratic power belonging to the US. This means that when I vote for the Israeli government I don’t only vote for whoever governs the West Bank, but also for whoever governs the Security Council.”

Interested in sharing this power, Mr Tzameret and his friends opened a Facebook group which quickly drew over a thousand Israelis and Palestinians.

An Israeli member may offer his or her vote, and a Palestinian may declare that he or she is willing to participate in the Israeli democratic process.

Since Israel prohibits most Palestinians from entering its territory without special permits and bars Israelis from visiting West Bank cities, most pairs will have never met in person.

Perhaps ironically, Mr Tzameret’s Palestinian partner, a 19-year-old Hebronite named Omar, is considering using his right to vote to boycott the elections.

If this is Omar’s final decision, Mr Tzameret vows to refrain from voting.

“Statistically, the weight of an individual’s vote is negligible,” he says, “and besides, all the talk about left and right within the Israeli system does nothing but camouflage the fact that this is not a democracy.”

‘Against the tide’

Bassam Aramin
Bassam Aramin, whose daughter was killed in the conflict, supports the campaign

One better-known participant in the project on the Palestinian side is Bassam Aramin.

Mr Aramin’s 10-year-old daughter was killed by a rubber bullet fired by an Israeli border guard during clashes with Palestinians in the West Bank town of Anata, in 2007.

He has since been active in reconciliation efforts. He is among the founders of Combatants for Peace, an organisation of former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants, who swap their weapons for words, and a member of the Bereaved Families Forum, which brings together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost loved ones to the conflict.

Mr Aramin quickly warmed to the idea. “Of course elections are an internal issue in every country, and outsiders must not interfere, but here the idea is one of protest: A democratic society conquers another. How can that be?”

He says he expected many Palestinians would object, but found the contrary to be true. “It appears to be our role to do those things that are unusual, to swim against the current,” he says. “As for me, I’m glad that a campaign like this exposes Palestinians to good and moral people on the other side.”

Mr Aramin’s partner is an Israeli named Ofer. Through Ofer, he will be voting for Hadash, a party of Jewish Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel, promoting a progressive and socialist agenda.

“I thought as an Israeli, not as a Palestinian,” he says. “I asked myself which party I would vote for had I been an Israeli, and this seemed to be the best choice.”

2,000 Israelis volunteer to vote for Palestinians

New initiative pairs up Palestinians and Israelis, who cast ballots according to their partner’s preference.

By Ilene Prusher, Ha’aretz
January 22, 2013

Shimri Zameret’s protest ballot on behalf of a man named Omar from Hebron on Tuesday, Jan. 22. Photo by Shimri Zameret

Ofer Neiman planned to cast a ballot in Jerusalem on Tuesday, but not for a party of his choosing. Rather, he decided to “give up” his ballot, as he put it, for an East Jerusalem Palestinian – a man who doesn’t have the right to vote in elections for the government under whose laws he lives, and which has the power to determine his fate.

That man is Bassam Aramin, who, like Neiman, is a peace activist. The two are part of a new initiative called Real Democracy, inspired by a similar movement that sprang up in the UK in 2010. There, supporters were asked to donate as it were their votes to people in countries such as Afghanistan and Bangladesh. In just ten days, the group says, about 2,000 Israelis have volunteered to give up their votes by being paired up with Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank or Gaza.

“I always supported Meretz and Hadash,” Neiman explains. “But I came to the conclusion that specific parties by themselves will not bring about any change from the left, and it’s more important to emphasize in various ways that these elections are not actually democratic. For me, it’s part of an ongoing worldwide movement to let people know there’s no democracy here, so instead of these false hopes by voting for left-wing parties, I’m voting on someone else’s behalf.”

Critics might say that there is a flawed logic here. Palestinians have voted in elections; Aramin himself voted for the Palestinian Legislative Council in 1996 and in 2006. The latter wasn’t easy, because the Israeli government and the Jerusalem municipality didn’t want Palestinian Authority voting booths dotting the officially united capital, even though the right of East Jerusalemites to cast ballots was stipulated in the Oslo Accords. And with Hamas emerging as the victor, it was an election many pro-peace Palestinians and Israelis would just as soon forget.

But those elections don’t mean much under the circumstances, Neiman posits. “The Palestinian elections are meaningless, because they’re still under Israeli occupation and they have no sovereignty,” he says.

Aramin, whose 10-year-old daughter Abir was shot and killed in 2007 by a border policeman, is a co-founder of Combatants for Peace and is involved in the forum that brings bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families together. He knows that Real Democracy’s campaign will be dismissed by many as a fringe phenomenon. But he hopes that it will make people think twice about accepting the status quo.

“My hope is that a lot of Israelis will start to open their eyes and ask, ‘why are these crazy Israelis giving their votes to the Palestinians, to the ‘enemy,’” he quips. “I hope that through this, more people will realize that what we’ve been living with for almost 46 years is not a normal situation, and it is not democracy. Perhaps this campaign will open up some debate about it.” He asked Neiman to vote Hadash, “because it’s the most serious Arab-Jewish party, and because I like Dov Khenin. He’s always with us, fighting for real democracy and coexistence.”

Shimri Zameret, one of the activists, discovered late Monday that a group of nine Palestinians from Bil’in, a site of regular protests against the West Bank barrier, wanted to participate. Zameret put up a note on Real Democracy’s Facebook page asking for Israelis to give up their vote for the nine, but was skeptical that they’d have enough last-minute takers.

“In 45 minutes, we had nine Israelis come forward. We were all shocked at how fast people signed up,” he says.

Sometimes the Palestinian “match” for the Israeli voter says his or her choice is to boycott the vote altogether. That’s what happened for Zameret, who is voting on behalf of a man named Omar in Hebron.

“It’s a form of civil disobedience. Yes, people get angry at me and say, ‘how do you change the system if you don’t participate?’ But I don’t agree,” says Zameret. “Sometimes boycotting is a better way of highlighting the lack of legitimacy of the system.”

Shelly Nativ, 40, who lives in Tel Aviv and works at Open University, was casting a vote for Wajih Burnat, a Palestinian in Bil’in whom she knows from going to protests in his West Bank village. He decided to vote for Ahmed Tibi and Ra’am-Ta’al.

“To have a few million people decide the fate of double the amount of people, that’s not a democracy,” she says. “For me things here have gone so wrong, I didn’t feel comfortable to just go and vote, because I felt that the parties I might vote for couldn’t address the severity of the current situation. So the campaign made sense to me – I can at least give my vote to someone else.”

She hesitates, and moves away from the polling place where she just voted, concerned she could be accused of campaigning too close to the ballot box. “I hope it has some kind of impact,” she adds, lowering her voice. “The positive impact will be if it will somehow diversify the public debate about our state of affairs. It has been very narrow so far.”

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