Israel-Palestine peace talks, another fruitless attempt to solve the everlasting conflict

About two weeks ago July 30,  President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators Tzipi Livni (Israeli Justice Minister) and Saeb Erekat (lead Palestinian negotiator) in the Oval Office to start discussions about the two-state solution.

Over the next nine months the Palestinian and Israeli representatives will meet to reach a “final status” agreement, trying to end one of the longest conflicts in the history of Middle East. Like in the previous attempts to solve this dispute, US will play a “facilitator role.” For that they have appointed former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, as a special envoy to the talks. Though in my opinion appointing the same person who was responsible in finding a solution in the flunked Camp David is not a wisest thing, US still keeps its faith in him.

During his public appearance, Secretary of State Mr John Kerry promised economical gains for the Palestinians if the final peaceful solution is reached and harmful attacks on Israel’s legitimacy ended. Saying that “There will be new jobs, new homes and new industries for the Palestinians.” Desirable outcome to wish for, but hard to believe when it lacks the explanation how it will exactly be achieved. Therefore seeming just an empty promises.

He also claimed that during the negotiations all issues will be on the table for discussions. This will be a tricky situation because a lot of the subjects under the focus, such as the question of refugees, borders and settlements, have been through the years themes that have prevented finding a consensus. It will be interesting to see if they finally, first time in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, can find a solution that would please both sides.

For example the question of Jerusalem. Palestinians wish to get back the East Jerusalem, which has been occupied by Israelis since the 1967. The Old City contains the third holiest place in Islam, the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, from where Mohammed is said to have visited heaven on his winged steed Burak. Israel on the other had is unwilling to divide or give up Jerusalem, which is a religious and political centre for the Jews. It is also the capital of Israel and holiest city in the Judaism containing the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. I doubt that Israel or Palestine’s representative are willing to accept the other side’s demands and surrender in this demand.

Secondly, the issue of borders and Israeli settlements. Palestinians want the lands that were seized by Israel in 1967 – the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza to belong to a future Palestine. They also want all or most of the Israeli settlements to be abandoned. Palestinians appear to accept that some settlements will have to stay but they want to negotiate for a minimum number and a land swap for any that are left. Though Israel has withdrew from parts of the West Bank and Gaza, it would still like the borders to include the major Israeli settlements that have been built on the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Another complication in here is that some right-wing members of the cabinet and Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party do not accept the idea of a two-state solution and new borders. Any departure from this would break up the coalition which forms the government.

Thirdly, the right to return. Palestinians demand the “right of return,” arguing that without it a great injustice would not be put right. Emphasizing that the people who lost their homes in the years of Nakba have the sole right of those lands and houses. They refuse to recognize the concept of Israel as a “Jewish state”, saying that this is discriminatory and ignores the Arab minority of Israel. Israel rejects the idea that Palestinian refugees from previous wars should be allowed any “right of return” to their former homes. They say that this is a device to destroy the state of Israel by demography in order to establish a unitary state of Palestine.

These three issues are only few of the core topics that will be discussed during these nine months, but one of the hardest one’s. Though the US representatives seem to be confident that this time will be a breakthrough in this seemingly everlasting conflict. Unfortunately  through the years the peace meetings have often taken the same form: both sides meet, agree on working towards peace and the two-state solution but never the less, pass the time without any visible actions or progress. The Oslo Accord, Camp David, Roadmap For Peace, Annapolis Conference are some of the well known examples of the failed attempts.

Seems that all the meetings and conferences are more as a window dressing for the open public, just to show to the people that efforts have been made, than any real work towards it. Therefore, we will probably see more and more futile attempts until all sides finally recognize that open public has long lost the faith in all the meetings and instead of handshakes accompanied with a shiny smile, they want to see real results in solving the so called everlasting conflict.

US-Mideast-Talks_Horo

http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/Kerry-Sides-will-meet-again-to-continue-talks-within-two-weeks-321546

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11138790

 

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Demonstrations against the Prawer Plan

Monday 15th, thousands of people all over Israel joined in demonstrations against the violent and inhumane Prawer Plan that would evict 30,000-40,000 Arab Bedouins from their homes and land, destroying their communal and social fabric, condemning them to a future of poverty and unemployment. The Plan also calls for the demolition of about 40 villages and the confiscation of more than 700,000 dunams (70,000 hectares) of land in the Naqab (Negev). The so called resettlement plan was approved by the government in January and by the parliament in June. Two more votes are expected.

Demonstrations took place in different places, with thousands of people gathering in Jerusalem, Sakhneen, Um El-Fahem and Beer El-Sabe’. Demonstrators blocked the roads, carried Palestinian flags, posters and shouted out messages such as “No more Naqba!,” “No to the Prawer- begin plan!” “Don’t make me homeless!”

1069864_354077711388681_1420646889_nPeaceful demonstrations turned in most of the places to violence when police forces started to throw smoke bombs into the crowd, capture them and beat them with bats. This provoked some demonstrators to throwing stones at them. Overall more than 30 people got arrested and approximately 50 people injured.

820452-01-08https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=1hew3G8pfkM (3 min video from protest in the Jerusalemm)

I witnessed the protests in Umm el-Fahem, where approximately 500 people took part. Blocking the road, carrying the flags, posters and shouting out messages like in the  other locations.

1002126_498117686920235_1648391338_nDuring the demonstration I asked observers what they think about such act and which emotions it brings. I wished to hear from both sides. There were various answers.

Most Israeli Arabs felt proud and happy that their thoughts are being said out loud and spread over the country. For them it was a small victory, a chance to show to Israel that Palestinian minority consist of proud people who are not afraid to defense their rights and fight against the injustice.  Though they were still worried that this one time act does not change the Prawer- Plan, they were confident that this kind of demonstrations are necessary and may start further discussions.

I also asked how do they feel about the general Israeli Jewish attitude against them? All of them said that though there are many friendly Jews, majority of them still don’t like Israeli Arabs and try to discriminate and suppress them through different laws.

I managed to ask from few Jews also. They had a bit different opinion of what is going on. Some of them said that they don’t understand why Israeli Arabs are protesting, “they have everything they need for life and since the Prawer Plan is government decision, it is illegal to protest against it.”

After talking to one Israeli Arab I wished him a peaceful and happy life. He answered to me: “ What is peaceful and happy life? Can we ever have happy life without our land? Without our freedom? With our homes demolished and our friends evicted from their houses? Can we feel peaceful when we are discriminated in our own land? There will be no happiness until we are free from the occupiers!”

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Here is a fragment of the message about the Prawer Plan.

Naqab you are the base, with you we will stop Prawer!

Naqab you are the will, rise the voice of awakening!

Raise your voices young people, everyone has declared a strike!

My people has decided, my people are free!

People join us, land of the Naqab is precious to us!

The daughters of Naqab is calling for you!

From Naqab to the north, we are people who do not know fear!

Prawer is out and the Arab land is free!

With protest we will not let Prawer past!

Prawer leave, the land of Naqab will not submit!

Enough settlement, enough demolition

The ending of Haq Youth movement season in Saffuriyya

Last Friday was the ending of Haq Youth movement season. To show the appreciation HRA organized a short fieldtrip to the Saffuriyya village with a picnic, singing and handing out diplomas. All the facilitators, their group members and mentors were invited, bringing together about 100 enthusiastic and active young people.

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Day started with a trip to the Saffuriyya village. Until the 1948 Saffuriya was a Palestinian village with about 4000 people, who lived their quiet and peaceful life. This all changed in the 1948 when Israeli forces attacked and bombed the village, forcing everybody to go. All the residents of the Saffuriyya lost their homes and were forced to leave their lands. It was a sad sight to see. Empty land with some ruins to remind the fostering life that once was there.

Here is a picture of Saffuriyya village, before and after the Israeli attack.

SaffuriyyaCOMBINED_bodyMany Saffuriyyans still want to return to their lands, but they are forbidden to do so. Only Israeli Jews are permitted to live there. Therefore all the beautiful and new houses you can see before entering the village, belongs to them. Now they are trying to do the same with the Arab Bedouins (more about it from this article: http://arabhra.org/HRA/SecondaryArticles/SecondaryArticlePage.aspx?SecondaryArticle=2134). If this kind of behavior is not unhuman and clearly against human rights, then what is?

After listening the guide, it was time for activities. We played different games to get to know each other and drew posters about Palestine and the Haq movement. We also sang national songs about Palestine. I didn’t understand the words, but I saw the mixed emotions they were causing.  I saw the overwhelming pride of these youngsters, being high-spirited about being a Palestinian, being proud about their culture and heritage.

Aside from that, I also felt sadness. Sadness about the Palestinians who are forced out from their lands, to make room for the Jews. Sadness about the restrictions they have to face, while being under the Israeli power. This is also how I see Palestinians in general, proud about their heritage, but at the same time feeling sadness about the losses and discrimination.

At the end of the day, all facilitators and their group members were given diplomas to show HRA’s appreciation about their effort and work. Within every organization, it is important to show to your workers, especially to the volunteers that their presence and work is noticed and valued.

Since there were so many people, I didn’t have the chance to get to know everybody, but the ones I did were all very welcoming and kind. I think this kind of attitude also describes the Haq Youth movement as general. Active group of youngsters who want to make a difference, working together to bring hope and raise the awareness about Palestinians rights, at the same time being kind and welcoming to all the people they meet.

Thank you HRA and Haq Youth movement for this fun day!

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Israel, a land where justice applies only for the Jews

Among the 8 million residents in Israel, Palestinian Arab minority makes up about 20,7% of them. More precisely, their population in the April 2013 was estimated about 1,658 million. Palestinian community consists mostly of those who remained behind on the year of Nakba (1948), when approximately 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes and land taken by the Jewish forces in order to make a way for a Jewish-majority state and their descendants.

Projections based on the Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics predicted that by the year 2025, Palestinian Arab minority in Israel will constitute about 25% of the country’s population. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel used a phrase “demographic bomb” to describe this phenomenon, noting that if the percentage of the Arab citizens rises above its current level of about 20%, Israel will not be able to maintain its Jewish demographic majority. Even when Israel’s politicians claim at the international level that they consider Palestinian Arab minority as equals, such expressions and thoughts show that majority of them is trying to exclude Palestinian Arabs and sees them as a threat to their existence.

More about the public opinion concerning the Palestinian Arab minority can be seen in this poll: https://arabhra.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/2012-israeli-jewish-public-opinion-info-sheet.pdf

Discrimination is even built in to the legal system. Israeli government regularly enacts laws which excludes, ignores and harms them. Since the establishment of the state, Israel has relied upon these laws to ground their discriminatory treatment of the Palestinian Arab minority, continue their unequal status and unfair treatment. There are three ways in which the laws can harm the Palestinian Arab minority: direct legal discrimination against non-Jews within the law itself, indirect legal discrimination through “neutral” laws and criteria which apply principally to Palestinians, and finally an institutional discrimination through a legal framework that facilitates a systematic pattern of privileges to the Jewish population.

Such laws have remarkably increased since the 2009, when elections for the 18th Knesset brought to the power one of the most rightwing government coalitions in the history of Israel. Members of the Knesset immediately introduced a flood of discriminatory legislation that directly or indirectly targeted Palestinian Arab minority in Israel. These new laws and bills which still continue to emerge, exclude Arab citizens from the land, turn their right of the citizenship from a conditional privilege, undermine the ability to participate in the political life of the country, criminalize political expression or acts that question the Jewish nature of the state and privilege Jewish citizens in the allocation of the state’s resources.

More about the laws that discriminate the Palestinian Arab minority can be found at the Adalah homepage:

http://adalah.org/eng/Articles/1771/Discriminatory-Laws

Since the legislation and the state itself publically approve or even endorse the discrimination of the Palestinian Arab minority, Jewish population regards such excluding laws and behavior as normal. Here are three examples that have recently run through the media, showing how the discriminating laws turn to direct behavior that harms the Palestinian Arab Minority.

Case nr 1.

Israel’s largest bank, Bank Hapoalim refused to allow Arab customer to transfer his bank account to the branches in the Jewish neighborhoods. Channel 10 conducted an experiment to show the discrimination of Arabs in the Israeli’s society. An Arab man, entered a Tzur Yigal Bank, which is a branch of the Bank Hapoalim in the Jewish neighborhood and requested to transfer his account from the Arab branch to theirs. Though he had a steady income and his account had never been in overdraft, the branch manager turned him down. Minutes after Ibrahim left, a Channel 10 investigator entered and requested to move his account from the Ra’anana, a Jewish city, to the branch in the Tzur Yigal. The branch manager had no problem with it. Over the course of 24 hours, Channel 10 conducted a similar experiment in five other branches. In two of them, the racially mixed Haifa and in the branch next to the Tel Aviv University, Arab clients were allowed to transfer their accounts. In three others, an Arab applicant was refused to make the transfer, while the Jewish client did not have any problems with it.

Case nr. 2.

An Israeli public swimming pool refused to allow an entry to a group of children with cancer because they were Arab. According to the video report from the Israel’s Channel 2, Dr. Gali Zohar wanted to surprise a group of twenty Bedouin children with cancer, with a fun day at the pool in the Mabuim village. He called to the swimming pool to agree on time and managers even promised to admit the children free of charge. Everything was fine until the managers realized that the children were Arab descant and cancelled the arrangements. According to them, allowing the Bedouin children in to the public swimming pool would be a “problem.” Adding that although the families of Mabu’im do not have an issue with the Bedouin children, they still have a problem with the ‘sector’ (a term commonly used to describe the whole Arab community in the Israel).

Video report from the Channel 2 (Israel):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkIadeF-pMA&feature=player_embedded

Case nr. 3.

A popular Israeli amusement park Superland, in the Rishon Lezion, segregated between the Jews and the Arabs although it claimed to be open for everybody. A Jaffa school teacher wanted to buy tickets to the amusement park for the Arab students, when park’s management declared that the Arab and Jewish children have to come at the separate days. He was told that the amusement park is open for the Jewish schools on certain days and for the Arabs on different one. Although Arab and Jewish schools are separate, the racial segregation in public facilities like in the parks or by the pools are not mandated by the law, still the Palestinian Arab minority of Israel have to face constant discrimination.

Three cases presented above only proves the overall attitude among the Jewish community. It should also be noted that these examples are not exceptions, but humiliations and difficulties that they constantly have to face while being under the Israeli legislation. Despite their large proportion in the Israeli population, people from the Palestinian minority are still treated as a second class citizens. Many of them even feel that society at large treats them as enemies. Even the country’s definition as “Jewish,” points out that it is for Jews and for Jews only. Therefore others, like the Palestinian Arab minority, do not have a place in it and definitely do not have the same rights as Jews whose state it is. In spite of the Israel’s ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its promise to protect all of its citizens against discrimination, for the Palestinian community, the equal rights are still being denied only because of their national belonging.

 

Israeli government approves massive new evictions in the Naqab

Nazareth – Late last night, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government approved the Prawer Plan Law. This law was passed by the Knesset in 2011 and it legitimizes the displacement, dispossession, and eviction of tens of thousands of Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel, while not recognizing their right of ownership of their ancestral land.

The Prawer Plan is presented as a “development plan” for the “improvement of living conditions” for all citizens of the Naqab, but with the mass expulsion of the Bedouin Palestinian citizens at the heart of the proposal.  This approval paves the way for the next Knesset to implement it components, which stipulate the seizure of more than 800,000 dunams of land (about 200,000 acres).  The plan will recognize around 30 unrecognized Bedouin villages, affording the residents the legal right to ownership of their homes, with a land area of around 48,000 dunams (about 12,000 acres), while the rest of their ancestral territory is confiscated.

In effect, the execution of this plan is extortion. The Bedouin are forced to acquiesce in order to win legal ownership over their homes, but in doing so they give up their rights to their land.  Furthermore, the Plan entails a five-year period for the Bedouin to accept the meager compensation or lose their rights to everything. This is basically a warning from the government.  They will begin demolishing all but the recognized villages to make way for the development of Jewish settlements in the Naqab in the next five years and if the Bedouin protest, they will lose what small area they have.

The Prawer Plan was designed and approved without any consultation with the Bedouin indigenous to the Naqab. The head of the Council of Unrecognized Villages responded yesterday, “We want the conditions improved. We don’t accept the outlined proposal. We’re all for regulating the unrecognized villages, but only in cooperation and coordination with the people living in them.”

This most recent decision is disappointing, but not unexpected.  The Prawer Plan has already justified the destruction of many homes in the Naqab.  However, Sunday’s decision marks a significant step forward in the spread of destruction.

The timing of this decision is also suspect.  It comes in the weeks leading up to the formation of a new government (the American equivalent is a president’s lame duck period), but also the day after the High Court of Justice ruled in defense of the Prawer Plan.  It will be difficult for advocacy groups to hold the new government that will form in a few weeks accountable for this abuse committed by its predecessor.

The Arab Association for Human Rights calls on the government to overturn this decision and to uphold the rights of the Bedouin Arabs of the Naqab to their land and their homes. Furthermore, the HRA would like to denounce the clandestine manner in which the ruling was processed.

Mohammad Zeidan, general director of the HRA, responded to the decision, “The Bedouin Arabs have a right to live in the lands they own and should not fear encroachment from Jewish settlements.  It is not right to force an exchange of land for a promise not to destroy homes.  The Bedouin land that is confiscated should not be a viewed merely as potential zone of development; this is the source of the Bedouin lifestyle and their livelihood. It destroys their indigenous way of life and forces them to integrate into a society that does not respect their traditions.  To force this exchange on the Bedouin of the Naqab is to deny them their human rights.”

 

The Israeli Elections in Nazareth: a Beginner’s Guide

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Israel has caught election fever.  Last October, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that he was rescheduling the next national elections for January 22, 2013.  Since that day, parties from across the political spectrum have jockeyed for position in the public’s favor.

Recent polls confirm what many Israelis have known for years.  The religious right is gaining influence.  In fact, the single biggest story of this election has become the meteoric rise of settler-hero and conservative icon Naftali Bennett.  He advocates the annexation of areas in the West Bank and he favored a ground invasion of Gaza during Operation Pillar of Cloud. Netanyahu and the new Likud Beitenu party he formed with Avigdor Lieberman are still projected to win handily.  However, Bennett has pledged to join a Netanyahu-led coalition after the election, so each percentage point he climbs in the polls wins him more influence in the future ruling coalition.

As in all aspects of public life, the veering Israeli political discourse has very little presence in Nazareth, the capital for Arabs in Israel. Palestinian Arabs would never vote for Naftali Bennett’s Habayit HaYehudi party (“The Israeli House”).  He comes from an ideological school similar to Meir Kahane, the radical rabbi whose most famous scion, Baruch Goldstein, famously murdered 29 Palestinians in Hebron in 1994. Needless to say, Bennett’s rise does not mean an end to the increasing flow of discriminatory legislation, which has further abused the rights of Palestinians in the last few years. The democratic process functions, but Palestinian citizens have such extreme positions (relative to the mainstream discourse) they have been pushed from political viability.

Naftali Bennett gives a speech at a campaign event.  A recent profile in the New Yorker described Bennett as "the face of the next generation of Religious Nationalism"

Naftali Bennett gives a speech at a campaign event. A recent profile in the New Yorker described Bennett as “the face of the next generation of Religious Nationalism”

Winners and losers are chosen by Jewish Israelis, but in Nazareth the elections are still a big event. With all that in mind, what do national Israeli elections look and feel like in Israel’s largest Arab city?

First things first, how do Israeli elections even work?

When an Israeli citizen walks into her voting station on Election Day, she will see a ballot with a list of parties on it, not names.  That is because Israel has a proportional representative system.  Each party chooses a “list” of candidates that best represent their collective beliefs and people vote for a list.

Traditionally, lists are comprised of candidates from a single party, but in the past multiple parties have submitted joint lists.  This is the case with current Likud Beitenu list.  Netanyahu’s Likud and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu agreed to run on a joint list for this election. Citizens vote by list and the amount of seats a party wins is based on their list’s percentage of the vote.  Parties like Shas, Likud Beitenu, and Yesh Atid are projected to win a large percentage of the vote, so they publicly campaign with long lists of candidates.  For example, Likud Beitenu is polling at 28.8%, which would earn them 34.5 seats in the Knesset.  That alone is not enough for a ruling majority.  After the election, there will be a period of negotiations that will form a ruling coalition.  So, despite Netanyahu’s party only capturing 34 out of 120 total seats, he will be able to organize a coalition of right wing parties and run the Knesset with over 70 members of the Knesset (MKs) behind him.

For the Palestinian minority, the minimum requirements are a more relevant function of the proportional representation system.  You see, there are many more political parties in Israel than those currently holding seats in the Knesset.  These are parties that win less than 2% of the popular vote. There are three Arab parties with seats in the current Knesset: The United Arab List (Raam-Ta’al), The National Democratic Assembly (Balad), and The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash). Each of these three promotes non-Zionist views and purports to serve the needs of the Palestinian minority.  Ta’al and Balad are purely Arab lists where Hadash is an Arab-Jewish communist party.  In the current Knesset, the United Arab List has three seats, Balad has three, and Hadash has four.  So, when the Arab parties campaign, they have much shorter lists than Likud-Beitenu.  Hadash, for example, has seven faces depicted on their campaign posters.

I thought 20% of Israel’s citizens were Palestinian, why aren’t Arab parties winning more seats?

It’s true, there are 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, yet their favored parties only win ~9% of the Knesset’s seats.  The numbers don’t add up.  American readers may be quick to explain away the dissonance with apathy. The real reason why there are not more Arab Knesset Members is the Arab boycott.

The history of Palestinian citizens’ voting trends mirrors the history of the Arab/Israeli conflict.  In the beginning – from the war in 1948 to the war in 1967 – Palestinian citizens lived under martial law. There was a separate court system for them, curfews were in effect, and travel permits were a necessity.  Even under those strict rules, the early secular Zionists awarded many Palestinians living in Israel citizenship. The peak voter turnout for the Palestinian minority was 1955 when 90% of Arabs voted.  From 1955 to 1981 there was a gradual increase in Palestinian voting, then a gradual increase from 1981 through 2001.

The percentage of Palestinian citizens of Israel who vote in Israeli elections over the Israel's history

The percentage of Palestinian citizens of Israel who vote in Israeli elections over the Israel’s history

In the early 1990s, the Arab parties played a critical part in supporting Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s diplomatic efforts that led to the Oslo Accords.  Then in 2000 the Second Intifada broke out in the Occupied Territories and Palestinians in Israel rose up in solidarity.  Israeli security forces reacted with violence and 12 Palestinian citizens were killed in the protests.  As a result of this harsh antagonism, the Palestinians organized a mass boycott of the 2001 elections.  Since then the inequality in rights enjoyed by Palestinian and Jewish citizens has only grown and the amount of Palestinians who choose to boycott has grown with it.  This coming election is projected to have fewer than 50% of Palestinian citizens vote.

Why not vote? 

There are four categories that most justifications for boycotting fall into.

  1. Indifference towards Israeli politics
    1. Palestinian citizens have had more than 60 years of experience being ignored by the political mainstream.  There is a common sentiment that it just doesn’t matter any more.
  2. Self awareness of political insignificance
    1. These first two points are inextricably linked.  Apathy is bred from marginalization.  The marginalization of the Palestinian minority is ingrained in the fabric of Israel, due to its institutional definition as a Jewish and Democratic state.
  3. Disappointment with Arab leadership
    1. This is the reason most often cited by mainstream Israeli politicians.  They claim that Arab MKs have given up on the day-to-day struggles of the Palestinian citizens in favor of the larger struggle for Palestinian nationalism
  4. Protest
    1. Since the massive boycott in 2001, this faction has grown larger and larger.  In the months leading up to the election, Nazareth has hosted multiple high profile public events in which the merits of boycotting as a protest were weighed in a formal debate.  This is a telling sign.  The most important debate leading up to the elections for Palestinians in Israel was not between candidates, but between boycotters and voters.

Local civil society leader and general director of the Arab Association for Human Rights, Mohammad Zeidan, is boycotting the election.  He describes his position; “65 years of participation was more than sufficient for people to realize that their participation has no impact on their status.  In fact, it was used by Israeli to show that it is a democracy in which the minority has the rights to be represented.  The participation was used against the goal of equality in Israel.” Mohammad directed me to this video of PM Netanyahu addressing the US Congress.  In it he describes how Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and uses the equality of the Palestinian minority to defend his statement.

Mohammad went on to analyze how the boycott is perceived, “boycott is becoming more legitimate as a political expression, rather than just not showing up.” The Saturday before the elections on the 22nd, there was an organized protest drive through various Arab cities in the Galilee.  This event and others like it are attempts to make boycott a public act of protest.

This past Sunday, the Arab League published a formal call on Arab citizens of Israel to participate in the elections. The request was motivated by a fear of the rising influence of far-right parties, but many among its target audience fail to see a persuasive reason to listen. Susan Barhoum, a Nazarene Christian, still plans to boycott. “My vote will not stop the discriminatory legislation.  It doesn’t matter.”

So if Palestinian citizens do choose to vote, who do they vote for?

Even though more and more Palestinian citizens are choosing to boycott, voting is still a popular option.  Fahim Dahoud is an Arab and a lawyer living in Nazareth Illit.  He is planning on voting this Tuesday.  “I want to change something.  First of all, I think it is my duty as a citizen.  If all Arab Palestinians vote, we can change the map.”  He went on to describe a precarious electoral balance, “The difference between the right and the left is five votes.  If 70% of Arabs vote, we can change the balance.”

There are three major non-Zionist political parties.  By that I mean these parties advocate a restructuring of the Israeli government from one based on Zionist principles to one prioritizing democracy and equality for all citizens.  These parties are the Islamist-leaning Raam-Ta’al, nationalist Balad, and communist Hadash.

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On the left in white, a poster for Raam-Taal. In the center in orange, Balad. On the right in red, Hadash

Ta’al was formed in the mid-1990s by Ahmed Tibi.  Tibi is currently the head of the party and its most outspoken member.  He was a vital and ubiquitous critic of Operation Pillar of Cloud as well as a target for Zionist enmity due to his relationship with Yasir Arafat.  In the 2009 elections Ta’al was running as a part of the United Arab List, but were disqualified from participation by the Central Election Commission.  Tibi took the decision to the Supreme Court where it was overturned.  He is on record stating, “This is a racist country. We are accustomed to these types of struggles and we will win.” This coming election will see Tibi’s Ta’al once again leading the United Arab List.

Haneen Zoabi is second from the right on this Balad poster

Haneen Zoabi is second from the right on this Balad poster. The character inside the white box is the Arabic letter that will show up next to the party’s name on official ballots.

Nazarenes call the party more commonly known as Balad by its Arabic name al-Tajamu.  Balad is a party more focused on Palestinian nationalism and advocates for a bi-national Israel in which only the principles of democracy guide government.  It was also formed in the mid-1990s and is currently led by Jamal Zahalka.  However, Balad has been in the news lately more for the case of Haneen Zoabi. Ms. Zoabi, a Nazareth native, is the first Palestinian woman to ever be elected to the Knesset. Two weeks ago the Supreme Court overturned the CEC’s decision to ban her from the elections.  Zoabi has become a symbol of sorts for the Palestinian minority after she was demonized by the Jewish Israeli public for her participation in the Mavi Marmara flotilla in 2009.  In response to the CEC’s decision to eliminate her from participating in the election, Dr. Jamal Zahalka declared “This [move] hurts the entire Arab public. Its purpose is to weaken the political power of the Arab citizens in the Knesset and to strengthen the Israeli right. We fully support MK Zoabi and all her actions, and we emphasize again that if the Supreme Court does not reverse the decision, Balad will not take part in the coming elections.”

The disqualification of Haneen Zoabi was not the only legal speed bump that Balad had to hurdle in this race.  The week before the election, every party is allotted seven minutes of airtime on each of the three main channels to broadcast campaign advertisements.  These are opportunities to share a party message or just to familiarize the public with new candidates. Balad produced an ad featuring cartoon versions of right wing politicians singing the national anthem “Hatikva” to the tune of an Arab pop song.  The CEC banned this ad and the ad from Michael Ben-Ari’s Strong Israel party that aired with the slogan “not an Arab country, and not a country of infiltrators.” The ruling was overturned after ACRI filed an official appeal on the grounds of free speech.  If anything, the litigation controversy increased the reach of these two divisive ads.

In probably the most interesting political tactic seen in Nazareth this election season, Balad has been using the following advertisements to sway Arab voters who plan to boycott:

The poster reads: ‘Who are you leaving the [Knesset] to?’ and the pictures on the right depict three virulently right wing and racist MKs

The poster reads: ‘Who are you leaving the [Knesset] to?’ and the pictures on the right depict three virulently right wing and racist MKs

The third and final Arab party that is projected to win seats in the Knesset this election is Hadash.  This is a communist party that advocated for Jewish and Arab coexistence.  Their local branch, al-Jabha, is popular in Nazareth municipal politics and they are expected to do well here.  This is the party that was co-founded by Tawfiq Ziad, the Palestinian citizens of Israel who earned fame for his “poetry of protest” and for organizing the first Land Day protests in 1976.  Their party platform includes policy goals such as “achieving a just peace to the Palestinian/Israel conflict”, “protecting workers’ rights”, “eradicating weapons of mass destruction”, and “equality between the sexes”.

Hadash has been criticized for a lack of women at the top of their list.

Hadash has been criticized for a lack of women at the top of their list.

These three parties have joined together to run Facebook campaigns and events in opposition of the boycott. A new Arab party is taking a different approach.  The Hope for Change Party has promised to focus only on domestic issues and has pledged to join any ruling coalition.  They are not projected to win any seats in the Knesset. In a last minute reaction to poor polling data, the Hope for Change Party has pulled out of the election.

One of the few Hope For Change posters to be found around Nazareth.

One of the few Hope For Change posters to be found around Nazareth.

What about the future? 

Those three parties are fairly well established in Nazareth and their roots run deep.  So, this election will not be a revolutionary or game changing opportunity for a new face to make an impression.  Unfortunately, the Palestinian minority faces an increasingly hostile opposition in the Knesset.  Constant threats to ban Arab parties from participating, racist incitement from other MKs, and a deluge of discriminatory legislation all increase the antagonism and apathy felt by Palestinian citizens.  That combined with the divisions within the minority and the constant refusal of Zionist parties to invite Arab parties into their coalitions all contribute to the seemingly implacable status quo and the stagnant struggle for political rights.  The question is, if change won’t come this election, what are the prospects for the future?  In other words, what do young people living in Nazareth think?

Shadi Saleh Mari turned 18 this year.  He was born and raised in Mashhad, a village near Nazareth, and is already an accomplished actor.  He describes a divided youth, “The parties have summer camps for kids.  I went to the tajamu camp when I was younger.  We sang the party songs and made friends.  Now teenagers use more energy on the elections than on policies.  My friends and I went to see mayor Ramiz Jeraisy give a speech on breast cancer awareness.  Mayor Jeraisy is Jabha and my friends are Tajamu.  Before Ramiz even started to speak, my friends were already heckling him. They didn’t care what he had to say because he was from a different party.” The strong relationships and communities that have developed around the different parties reflect the natural internal divisions within the minority and cripple the dream of an impactful unified Arab list.  For this, and other reasons, Shadi is choosing to boycott the election.

One young Nazarene, Maroun Maa’lous, has a different perspective.  He is also 18, so this will be his first election too, but he is happy to vote on Tuesday.  Maroun thinks boycotting is useless, “if you don’t vote, you don’t have any influence.  I think the Israeli government is interested in the non-Jewish citizens votes.  A non-vote is like a vote for who you do not like.  The party I vote for has done a lot. I grant them my vote for their good work.  He plans on voting for Hadash on Tuesday. “Hadash is the only Arab-Jewish party in the Knesset and the best chance for peace.” Specifically, Maroun is happy to espouse the virtues of Dov Khenin, a Jew and the third on Hadash’s list.   “Dr. Hanin, he is a fighter.  He fights for Arab minority rights, for immigrants’ rights, for animals, for the environment.”  Hadash has four seats in the current Knesset, but with the growing percentage of boycotting Arabs, that total could fall.  Dov Khenin’s future lies in the balance.

These two young men present a stark contrast.  It would appear that they represent two poles on the political spectrum.  In reality, these two perspectives lie on the extreme left of Israeli politics.  But, this is the way it works in Nazareth.  The Palestinian minority has its own internal politics and Israel has its national politics; this election is poised to drive a wedge further between them.

* * *

For a deeper analysis of some of the trends discussed here, I encourage you to read this piece from local journalist, Jonathan Cook:

http://www.jonathan-cook.net/2013-01-19/palestinian-citizens-wearily-eye-israeli-elections/

Declaration of the Arab Association for Human Rights on International Human Rights Day 2012

Nazareth – 24 years ago, the Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) was established with the mission to protect and promote the human rights of the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel.  Today, the condition of human rights inequality in Israel is no less dire.  This past year has seen a gross violation of human rights in the form of Israel’s assault on Gaza, it has seen the Haifa District Court reject the appeal for justice on behalf of the family of Rachel Corrie, and it has seen the upgrade of Palestine’s status in the United Nations to non-member observer. On International Human Rights Day this year, the HRA would like to highlight the major developments in the human rights situation for the Palestinian minority in Israel.

In October, the European Union Parliament voted to pass the ACAA protocol. This trade agreement may set a precedent for further advancement of EU-Israel trade and it represents a significant missed opportunity for the EU to exercise its institutionalized conditionality of human rights concerns in all trade deals.

Over the course of the year, a spate of new legislation, proposed policies, and actions of lawmakers affected the condition of the Palestinian Arab minority’s human rights. In January, the Israeli High Court upheld the “Nakba Law”, which denies funding for any organization that recognizes the “Nakba”. Also in January, the “Prawer Plan” for Bedouin relocation was accepted.  It will force the relocation of 70,000 Bedouin from their lands in the Naqab.  On the 11th of January, the Supreme Court denied the petitions of many human rights organizations to revoke the discriminatory “Citizenship Law” which divides families of Palestinians in Israel. Also in July, MK Michael Ben-Ari published a video of himself ripping a Christian Bible in half; a clear polemic against religious minorities in Israel and an extremely troubling indicator of racism among public officials.

These developments, international and local, are each troubling in their own right; however, the effect on the Jewish Israeli public is much more frightening. As a result of institutional discrimination, the Jewish Israeli population has become polarized and racism has become a mainstream political opinion.  This process was the subject of an illustrative poll taken in September of Jewish Israelis in Tel Aviv. It found that 42% of Jewish Israelis do not want an Arab child learning in the same classroom as their own child, 33% favor legally blocking Palestinian citizens from voting in the Knesset, 59% favor preference for Jews in government hiring, and 42% do not want an Arab family as a neighbor.

With the region as politically and socially tumultuous as ever, this should be an occasion to remember the Human Rights inside Israel as well.  There are some disturbing trends that show no sign of stopping. Looking forward to the challenges we face in the future, the support of the international community will be as important as ever.  This International Human Rights Day, the HRA reaffirms its dedication to the principles of freedom and equality. Our organization will continue advocating Israeli adherence to international humanitarian law and we will continue protecting and promoting the human rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

80% of the “Full Israeli Experience”

Friedman

For this past Sunday’s New York Times, Tom Friedman wrote an article entitled “The Full Israeli Experience”. Treating Friedman as an whipping boy has become popular in some circles in recent years, but for the Times to run such an opinion – in the widely read Sunday edition especially – its editors are lending credence to his close-minded and restricted view of the world.  In doing so they promote misunderstanding and provide a buttress of support for national policies that are not in the American people’s interest.

Even without the obvious critique that the “full Israeli experience” cannot be accurately applied to the country’s mainstream national politics when only 80% of its population is represented, this article was hugely disappointing.

Why?

Tom Friedman argues that to be taken seriously in Israeli politics (and by virtue of the special relationship, American politics), you must understand the severity of Israel’s security situation.  He argues that the “bastards for peace” approach of Ehud Barak is superior because it purports a re-trenchment in the ’67 borders and a serious effort to advance the peace process. This is a harmful simplification of the conflict.

The problem is that the conflict does not end with the ’67 borders. This is not a binary conflict in which agreed upon borders will make history go away. The two states are inextricably linked.  This goes beyond the right of Palestinian refugees to return and potential conflicts over religious site.  This is about the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens in Israel living as second-class citizens.  A re-trenchment would mean that Israel would love the pressure from the international community to make serious change in its politics and become the true bastion of democracy it has always claimed to be.

The flaw in Friedman’s argument is best displayed with an example.  Let’s use Egypt.  In Egypt, Mohammad Morsi recently tried to acquire extra-presidential powers so he could advance the Muslim Brotherhood’s goal of codifying Shari’a law.  This is something the United States, and many international freethinking progressive people oppose.  Why do we oppose it though?  Is it because Morsi would have become a dictator like Mubarak? Yes, partially.  Is it because Shari’a law is what many Americans are actually afraid of and that there are deep seeded prejudices in the Western world against Islam? Probably.  But, the real reason why Americans should have opposed Morsi claiming those extra powers is that at the heart of the American system of government and the root of liberalism is the belief that for all people to be free and equal, there can be no inherent link between a particular religion and the state.  Unchecked state power in the hands of an Islamic party would generate institutional discrimination against any religious minorites.

This brings us back to Israel.  What Morsi was trying to do, the battle he is waging with the Egyptian courts right now is the same one that was fought over the future of Israel in its nascence.  Eventually David Ben Gurion won out and propagated his vision of the Jewish State.  For 64 years, the “Jewish and Democratic” state has thrived in perpetual hypocrisy.  First, the Palestinian minority lived under military rule with a separate legal system, now it is perceived by many as a “nest of terror…that should be exiled” as Nazerat Illit mayor Shimon Gafso recently stated.

This is an oppressed minority that lives with no real hope for change.  Friedman, in his effort to create some weird fear-inducing paranoia on behalf of the Israeli people, has supported a strategy that would ensure the continued discrimination against 20% of Israel citizens.

Yes, there are militant extremists who openly advocate for Israel’s destruction.  They are a small, but vocal minority.  Failing to address these major issues of self-determination and democratic values would only validate their claims and swell their ranks.  There is no righteousness in holding a supposed moral high ground when the human rights of millions are being attacked.

The path ahead may seem treacherous, but there is no better occasion to strive for harmony and justice than in the face of difficult times.

The Arab Association for Human Rights celebrates the graduation of a new group of human rights facilitators

Nazareth – This week the Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) is proud to announce that a new group of students has graduated from our human rights training course.  In the name of “Mansur Kardosh”, the HRA’s founder, our “Human Rights Education and Community Outreach” program presents a new group of human rights facilitators.

21 college students participated in the course. With the HRA’s “Haq” Youth Group, they will go on to establish human rights forums, which will increase human rights awareness and facilitate public action through volunteer work and application of their human rights training. The “Haq” Youth Group has already successfully launched 19 of these human rights forums is various Arab cities and villages throughout Israel.

As trainees they were given 96 total hours of training, including special guest lectures, and covering various theoretical concepts and more practical applications. They learned about international human rights groups, minority rights, national rights and the specifics of how to manage and direct groups for the purpose of creating positive change.

The HRA’s general director, Mohammad Zeidan, took the opportunity to congratulate the new facilitators, “This is an opportunity to celebrate the culmination of the work of the HRA over the past 20 years.  We have always tried to promote a cultural respect for human rights in our society, especially among the young audience, so we are proud of our ability to send this new group of able youth leaders back into a society which is suffering human rights discrimination in so many ways.”

The HRA Condemns the Israeli Aggression Against Gaza

Nazareth – The Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) would like to affirm that Israel is not above international law and the current escalating Israeli aggression on Gaza, with its continuing indiscriminate attacks on civilians and densely populated residential areas constitutes a war crime. Furthermore, the renewal of a policy of assassination is considered extrajudicial killing and constitutes a gross violation of human rights and international law.

The continuing Israeli attack on Gaza and the threat to further expand its military operation constitute a flagrant challenge to the international community, who have shown their inability to take the necessary practical action to stop the crimes.  It also is in violation of agreed-upon universal values of protection of civilians in time of war.  The inability of the international community, including the United Nations Security Council and international legal bodies, to take firm action to stop Israel are perceived as giving approval of the continuing Israeli aggression against the Palestinians. Moreover, their mere silence is an act of compliance.

Mohammad Zeidan, the HRA general director, has condemned these attacks; “this aggression would not have happened if the international community had taken a stronger stance following Israel’s war crimes in 2008 and 2009.  I would also say to the international community that in failing to meet the legal obligation to criminalize Israeli actions, specifically in the case of the Goldstone Report, Israel has been allowed to continue its crimes against the Palestinian people and humanity.”

The HRA condemns all Israeli practices against the Palestinians in Gaza and against Palestinians in general.  Specifically, The HRA:

1)      Confirms the need for the UN and the UNSC to fulfill its obligation to take immediate actions to stop the Israeli aggression and to take punitive measures against Israel to stop the ongoing war crimes.

2)      Calls for international institutions to intervene immediately to provide the necessary protection for the Palestinian civilians and civil infrastructure inGaza.

3)      Calls on the Human Rights Council and the general prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to initiate an investigation on all Israeli war crimes committed against Palestinian civilians and to prosecute those responsible in accordance with international law.

4)      Calls on international institutions to provide the necessary humanitarian aid and medical relief to enable local Palestinian institutions so they continue providing the basic needs of the citizens under Israeli bombardment.