Haneen Al Zoubi, champion of democracy and embattled Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, spoke in the northeastern US in late April. Al Zoubi is from Nazareth in the Galilee, northern Israel/Palestine, whose population stubbornly remains 50% Palestinian Arab despite nearly 70 years of intensive Judaization, to the consternation of Israel. She is an outspoken opponent of the Jewish state, and its oppression of the Palestinians, be they citizens, under occupation or in exile. She was aboard the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara in 2010 as it led a flotilla attempting to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Israeli commandos boarded it on the high seas and killed 9 activists; two days later she attempted to describe it to the Knesset and was vilified and physically attacked in a tumultuous session. Al Zoubi’s views and activism have made her an object of fear and loathing in Israel, the target of attempts to limit her parliamentary privileges, to prevent her from running in elections, to remove her citizenship; and the target of racist and sexist diatribes, death threats and physical attacks.
Israel’s antipathy toward its Palestinian citizens arises of course from its definition as the state of the Jewish people rather than of its citizens. The current radical antagonism has been building since the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Israel envisioned a “peace without Arabs,” as Israeli ex-patriate scholar Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin put it.1 The Oslo Accords did not recognize the Palestinian Arabs as equal inhabitants of historic Palestine, and the injustice done them by the establishment of Israel. Rather they expressed the idea of “separation,” which would remove the Palestinian Arabs from Israel’s midst and let it continue its separate, Zionist, Jewish destiny. The principle of “separation” introduced “a new mood of intolerance towards the Arab minority inside Israel,” as veteran journalist Jonathan Cook observed.2 This led to increased repression, which escalated sharply with the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada in September, 2000, and since, from the suppression of the al-Aqsa intifada, to the 2006 attack on Lebanon, to the massacres of Gaza in 2009, 2012 and 2014.
Al Zoubi spoke with great energy and conviction, to audiences in Boston, New York, New Jersey and Washington, on a tour organized by the Palestinian American Community Center in Clifton, NJ, an outpost of patriotism and culture in ultra-Zionist greater New York. The PACC’s web site features a stirring anthem about Jerusalem by Lebanese chanteuse Fairouz, and a wide variety of programs. New Jersey Palestinians raised the Palestinian flag at Paterson city hall on May 3, as the PACC raised $430,000 for a kidney dialysis center in Ramallah. The following remarks are from her address to the Palestine Center in Washington on April 27 (video and edited transcript, supplemented in a few spots by the author’s transcription).
Al Zoubi introduced herself as a representative of the “forgotten side of our people, of the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians.” She acknowledged Israel’s heinous crimes against the Palestinians under occupation since Israel’s conquests of the West Bank and Gaza in the June, 1967 war, but insisted that
we cannot talk about peace, talk about justice (which is the aim of peace) if we forget that it is a refugee issue starting in 1948. We are talking about a creation of a state at the expense of the Palestinian people. We cannot talk about justice or peace unless we talk about the reason for the occupation, the definition of the state and aim of Israel, and the way it treats Palestinians wherever they are.
Israel slaughters in Gaza, steals land in the West Bank and Judaizes Jerusalem, and claims “we are a democracy, and we defend ourselves from Hamas, from terrorists.” “I am a citizen—the 1.2 million who stayed in the homeland are the test of whether Israel is a democracy or not… in Israel there are 50 racist laws, I’m talking about the Israeli legal system, not the occupation, [not] Hamas… this is the test of democracy. So let’s for once talk about Israel itself.” The fifty racist laws are “apartheid laws which create two different systems toward two ethnicities/nationalities inside Israel, one for Jews, one for Palestinians.”
There is an Israeli law which prevents me from living in 700 communities which are built, of course, on my land. By law, [this means] I cannot live in over 60 percent of the land of Israel. It is a law that was not passed in 1948, or the 1950s or 60s when Israel felt weak and needed to control everything; this is a new law… it was passed in 2011! Of course the law doesn’t mention Palestinians; the law mentions that the [community’s] Acceptance Committee can reject anyone without the ability for me to appeal to the court. Before this law, I could appeal to the court. But now I can’t appeal and can be rejected—why? Because there is no social or cultural compatibility. Under social compatibility, we as Palestinians are rejected… What is this if not apartheid? Can you imagine the U.S. having a law like this for African Americans; an Acceptance Committee law regarding social ethnic groups that make up 20 percent of society? Can you imagine in Europe if a law were passed against Jews or another group?
Al Zoubi emphasized that “land is still the most conflicted issue between us and the state. Judaizing the land at the expense of the Palestinians, the slogan ‘the most amount of land with the least amount of Palestinians’—this is the summary of Zionism.” Thus the government plans to expel 30,000 (or more) Palestinian Bedouin who live in “unrecognized villages” in the Negev—half of Palestine. “You can build for Jews anywhere you want, but within these 12 million dunams [three million acres] they want to evacuate [Palestinians] and gather them in a small area to control the land.”
This is not even discrimination. Discrimination is to give “A” less than “B”. In Israel, to discriminate against us would mean to give us less than the Jews but no, [Israel] is taking from “A” and giving to “B”—[Israel is] stealing from us, everything. It is the treatment of not even the enemy—we are the obstacle of the Jewish state… We don’t exist. This is the real treatment. This is why we don’t accept the word “discrimination”—we don’t exist. [Israel] plans as if we are not there. Judaizing the Negev and using the word “develop” takes for granted that there are Palestinians. If they are there, [Israel] will throw them away—no problem.
Al Zoubi noted the brutal candor of Israeli officials.
In the Knesset they say “we are a Jewish state, and you are invaders.” You can find it in the protocol of the Knesset when a minister answered to me, “you are invaders, and the new crusaders,” a formal answer from an Israeli minister in 2013, yet Israel talks about how it is a democracy. Can any prime minister in the world talk like this to his citizens? “Invaders?” And still talk about itself as a democracy?
Such a system is inherently violent and repressive.
Fifty-one Palestinians [citizens] have been killed since 2000—none were Hamas. I thought the problem was Hamas? From the fifty-one who were killed, just one Israeli police officer went to jail for twenty-four months. This is a violent system: it is legitimate to discriminate against us. . . We are not just like the African Americans who struggle for democracy, we are also the indigenous people. We cannot struggle for civil rights within the existing definition of the state as a Jewish state, while African Americans can. They can struggle for civil rights within the definition of the American state, because America is a state for the citizens. In Israel, the state is for part of the citizenry—it is not for me.
The violence is also psychological.
The whole idea of citizenship is something awful and something disempowering and a way of colonizing my identity. [Israel is] giving me my citizenship on one condition: to lose myself, to have nothing to do with my people or my history, and logically I must thank [Israel] every day because they did not expel me… I remember reading in fourth grade, [translated from Arabic] “we build your schools and we pave your streets” so I’m primitive, and Israel came to develop my country and I must be so grateful.
Her Israeli education naturally omitted the thriving Palestinian society that Israel destroyed, including Jaffa, the most important seaport between Alexandria and Antakya, with its orange exports, its seven daily Arabic newspapers and seven sports clubs, Umm Kulthum’s theater and festivals. Israel is “not just confiscating land, but they are confiscating my homeland’s history – renaming the geography, renaming the bridges, streets, cities, trying to change the landscape in order for us to not recognize our homeland, our history. [Israel] has deleted everything.”
Yet Israel still lacks one thing, “legitimacy from its victim. Israel needs to be recognized as a Jewish state in order to ignore everything I say… We must learn how primitive we were and internalize our inferiority,” beginning by denying history.
The education system has pulled every textbook which has the word “nakba” because this is the [Palestinian] “narrative,” not the fact, it’s a narrative, maybe an imagined narrative that we were expelled in 1948, and Netanyahu’s ministry two to three years ago gave the direction to omit it from textbooks…
And in Israel there is a special law to prevent me from commemorating the Nakba… every institution which took its budget from the government … if any institution commemorates the Nakba in any way, the Ministry of Finance can freeze the budget of this institution.
This is from power, not weakness. “These insane laws—the Acceptance Committee Laws, omitting the word ‘nakba’—took place over the last six to seven years, not the beginning of Israel when it was weak and needed to be aggressive.”
I’m not talking about the right wing or Lieberman. Lieberman has not contributed to these racist lawa at all. We are talking about the “left wing,” the Labor Party. These are the Labor Party and Likud’s laws, not the right wing, as if the problem is a few extremists. The problem is the system itself. The definition of the state itself!
Israel tolerates Al Zoubi and her colleagues in the Knesset because they are powerless. Israel “is giving us these positions because our scream makes no difference. [Israel] steals my land, doesn’t permit me to study my identity, express my identity, struggle for democracy, calls me a terrorist—and then says, ‘Okay, scream.”’ This is possible only in a herrenvolk democracy.
How is there even a majority? Ethnic cleansing. Democracy was forced by ethnic cleansing— the “majority rule” was reached by ethnic cleansing. During the forty-seven years of occupation in Jerusalem, Israel has withdrawn the identity of 176,000 Palestinians. Imagine these numbers. It is a continuous ethnic cleansing… stealing land, land confiscation, oppression, Judaizing every single region, and Israeli intelligence still appoints teachers in the education systems.
Israeli Jewish society simply doesn’t believe in democracy.
According to the Israel Democracy Institute in 2012 (which makes a democracy index every year), fifty-five percent of Israelis don’t agree with full equality with Palestinians. I’m not even talking about the national struggle for independence, just equality. How can this society claim she wants peace when she doesn’t even want equality for her citizens? To shock you more, thirty percent of society agrees to put Palestinian citizens into reservations if there is a war between Israel and the Arab world in order for Palestinians to not collaborate. It is like the Japanese internment camps in World War II—thirty percent. It is legitimate to be racist, it is a part of the definition and political culture.
Palestinians do not exist for Israeli Jewish society, and Israel acts with impunity.
In the history curriculum, we don’t exist. When we want to live in “this” area or “that” area, we don’t exist. In Gaza and the West Bank, the Israeli culture does not view Palestinians as “behind the wall,” they are “behind the ocean.” Israel doesn’t pay the price, they are economic friends with the US and when we speak in the Knesset, and when we say, the Arab MKs, the world will punish you, the world will isolate you, then a minister will come, and say, be calm, no one will punish us, we have very good relations with everyone, better relations with the USA, and better relations with… and we sit and say, yes, he’s right, we are alone.
Change will not come from within Israel.
We cannot wait for the salvation inside Israel, and it is not related to internal dynamics. So when people ask, “what about the left wing,” we say “55% of the [Jewish] society doesn’t agree with equality.” No left wing. Meretz, even Meretz, has won four seats, and Meretz supported the war on Gaza for the first two weeks, the last war upon Gaza. Meretz! The most extremist left in the Knesset, supported the war on Gaza.
Absent external pressure, Israel has become more and more aggressive.
Since no Palestinian will accept our dictations and the maximum we give is less than the min- imum Palestinians will accept, [Israel] will solve it by ourselves. And they did. They did it by building the wall and the siege of Gaza we forget about. Israel says there is no occupation— when they control the sea, borders, travel, taxes, electricity, destroy schools, bomb everything, destroy society, put two million people in jail. Yet they say, “Israel is not occupying. There is no need to solve the struggle, just a need to maintain and manage it.” And they are managing it very well. Israel is able to strengthen its economy and everything is okay—they don’t pay the price.
Americans are responsible.
We need justice and we ask Americans not to be part of this racist policy. Because it’s your taxes. . . and this is your regime, and okay, you cannot be neutral, you cannot be neutral, so please be aware that you are part of this oppression. You are part of the oppression.
Al Zoubi eloquently inverted Israel’s moral ultima ratio.
And if anyone criticizes us [Israel] we will say anti-semitic. And we will mention the Holo- caust. But you cannot mention the Holocaust. Because you don’t represent the victims of the Holocaust. Because the whole lesson and the whole idea of the Holocaust is, don’t kill, and don’t be racist. And you kill, and you are racist. So we are the victims. We the Palestinians can represent the victims of the Holocaust, not you. And it is a humiliation of the victims of the Holocaust every time you mention them while you are racist. You are humiliating the Holocaust. You are humiliating the victims of the Holocaust. We are respecting the victims of the Holocaust as a tragedy. You are not, you are using them in order to justify your crimes against humanity and your war crimes and your oppression of the Palestinians.
Al Zoubi emphasized her progressive outlook. “I am a feminist, liberal woman. We want equality between men and women, not just Israelis and Palestinians or Jews and Arabs inside my homeland.” She concluded:
We are representing a vision of justice. To live together, in equality. We don’t want to throw the Jews, the Israelis, to the sea. We don’t. But there is no possibility with a racist definition. We demand right of return for the Palestinians to their homes. We demand total withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. We demand East Jerusalem, and we demand a state for all of its citizens. We cannot live in peace and justice with Zionism and Jewish state as a racist state.
Like the Palestinians, the classical European liberal traditions descended from the Enlightenment and Jewish emancipation rejected Zionism categorically. Classical Reform Judaism, Marxist internationalism and plain secularism, in their various ways, viewed Zionism as a reaction against liberal modernity, against the emancipation of Jews from pre-modern conditions and their assimilation and integration into gentile society. They found it reactionary and racist, the fraternal twin of the racialist anti-semitism that arose at the same time as Zionism.
In contrast, for nearly fifty years, US criticism of Israel has been limited to minimal and/or misleading terms: anti-occupation; international law and human rights; progressive Zionism; Israel as US strategic asset; Jewish identity politics; and anti-anti-Semitism. At most, criticism admits that Zionism is a form of colonial settler ideology and practice. It is that, but it is much more, a reaction against modernity. The fundamental opposition of Zionism is not Jewish settler vs. Arab indigene in Palestine, but Jew vs. gentile everywhere. On the Jewish left, this opposition gives us the minimal critique noted, a form of Zionism which dominates US criticism of Israel as completely as the “Israel lobby” does the mainstream.
Al Zoubi and her Palestinian colleagues are horribly correct; they are alone, and the first among the culpable are the left, the gatekeepers of criticism, who refuse to oppose Zionism, in the US and Palestine. The Palestinians will remain alone unless we can recover the basic liberal concepts and vocabulary which hegemonic Zionism has buried. In the words of Count Clermont-Tonnerre, in the debates over emancipation in the French National Assembly in December, 1789: “We must refuse everything to the Jews as a nation and accord everything to Jews as individuals.”3 Today this is perhaps the most scandalous statement one can make, but the real scandal is that it is necessary, that the left has not been making it, and advancing such politics and analysis, as Zionism has come to genocidal fruition.
- Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, “A Peace without Arabs: The Discourse of Peace and the Limits of Israeli Consciousness”, in George Giacaman and Dag Lørung Lønning, eds., After Olso, New Realities, Old Problems (London: Pluto Press, 1998). [↩]
- Jonathan Cook, Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State (London: Pluto Press, 2006), p. 79. [↩]
- Clermont-Tonnerre, “Speech on Religious Minorities and Questionable Professions” (23 December 1789) (May 11, 2015), citing The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History, translated, edited, and with an introduction by Lynn Hunt (Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1996), 86–88. [↩]