Israeli Knesset Members Visit House of Commons

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Yesterday, MEMO organised a visit to the House of Commons by Arab members of the Israeli Knesset, Haneen Zoubi, Dr Jamal Zahalka & Talab Al-Sana.

Here’s a report from the event by artist and activist, Eleanor Kilroy:

Notes on MEMO Public Seminar with Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset – House of Commons, UK, Wednesday 28 July 2010

MEMO Event

“There is democracy for the Jews, and Jewishness for the Arabs,” says one of the speakers through smiles. I imagine few of us thought the Arab Knesset members would make us laugh, but humour is a strategy they use to brilliant effect, when conveying and arguing against the absurdly criminal, and criminally absurd, laws of the Israeli State. Referencing The Citizenship Law, ‘an Israeli invention’ that has to date destroyed 25,000 Palestinian families, the Chairman of Balad, Jamal Zahalka envisages a romantic encounter between a Palestinian couple: they begin their date with the question of how they can get together and change the demographic balance of Israel: Palestinian love, he reminds us, is a conspiracy against the state.In concluding his talk, Zahalka passes on to us the nature of Israeli democracy as defended to him by the Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin: you can debate, there is the first reading, the second reading of a bill, and so on, and only then is a law passed. The Knesset passed a law that says that any land confiscated by the Israeli State over 25 years ago cannot be reclaimed, even if it has not been built upon. Given that most Palestinian land (75 % between 1948 and 2010) was confiscated before the 1980s this law is of little use to Palestinians, so Zahalka suggests a trade: “You take my land and give me democracy; instead I propose that I take the land and you can have back your democracy.” Zahalka is also willing to forego the dubious compliment of being the proud Arab, a ‘folkloristic identity’, and a good citizen – for Palestinians being a good citizen of Israel means giving up your rights: there is no normal citizen in Israel: Just ‘citizen plus’ (a Jew) or ‘citizen minus’ ( a non-Jew).

Haneen Zoabi commands so much respect and love that several of us are compelled to stand when the chair, MP Jeremy Corbyn, introduces her. Zoabi’s words are a constant affirmation of her existence because she knows that, as a Palestinian, for Israel she has no identity, no history, no right of recognition: ‘We are phantoms, denied Israeli justice, not allowed to mention the word Nakba…. Don’t call me Muslim: I am a Palestinian… I am the indigenous people, and when I say I want equality I make a huge historical compromise. Yet in the minds of Israelis I am a strategic threat when I ask for democracy. I represent universal values, but in Israel they disqualify us from elections: “Look they are asking for democracy”… Israel is now more willing than ever to sacrifice its democratic image – it is easier and more beneficial for the State than to keep its Palestinian citizens free of democratic activity…. The law for all citizens to swear loyalty to a Jewish state is an obsession and by introducing its centrality to the State’s project, the present government hopes to blackmail the world with the notion of a ‘Jewish State’ before it is too late and the world wakes up to what that really means…. The Zionist project is to domesticate the Palestinians. Within Israel, I am not a Palestinian, and I am not an Israeli, but I must swear loyalty to a state that doesn’t recognise me.’

Zoabi underlined the role of the education system in Israel that erases her identity and history: ‘It is not surprising that in the Knesset I meet with hostility because as Israeli children these MKs didn’t learn about Palestinians… even if they could just teach them: “there were Palestinians, but they ran away from their homes [in 1947/8]”, that would be something’. The final speaker, Talab al-Sana, references research carried out by a professor at Haifa University on books for Israeli children; he found that in over 50% of the books included in the study, Arabs were presented in a negative light: as thieves, as armed thugs, even to the extent that if they ride a donkey, the beast is deformed, and if they have a dog, the dog is blind! The purpose, he emphasises, is to distort the image of Arabs in the eyes of this child so that when the child meets her/his first Arab, if the latter is well-dressed, they will say, ‘Oh you are a good Arab, not like the others.’ Children, al-Sana adds, are victims of brainwashing by the Zionist establishment.

We listen to Al-Sana through an interpreter, Daud Abdullah of Middle East Monitor. Al-Sana began his career as a lawyer, but frustrated with laws that allow for the demolition of people’s homes and the stealing of their land, he decided to enter politics in the hope of challenging these ‘democratic’ means of dispossession at their inception. Recently, he reminds the audience, a law was passed against commemorating the Nakba: ‘Whoever displays sadness or grief will be punished; we should go and visit our depopulated and ethnically cleansed village and show joy! There is no country which prosecutes emotions except Israel.’ Recently al-Sana asked in the Knesset if they would create a police force responsible for monitoring people’s feelings.

There are already 22 laws which legally discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel. Zoabi insists that every state that supports Israel supports undemocratic polices of racism, oppression and occupation. An examination and analysis of Israel’s treatment of its citizens throws into stark relief the myth of Israeli democracy: the US says it supports Israel because it is a ‘democracy’ and a ‘victim’, but the racism of the State is systematic – it is not just a policy, it is an ideology, and a part of the Zionist attitude to others.

Haneen Zoabi is asked if she will take part in the next Freedom Flotilla to attempt to break the siege on Gaza and her candid response is that she feels she must participate: ‘To send a message that this is my right’.

– Elly

Elly is working with Reading PSC on our BDS activities focusing on artists planning on performing in Israel.

Haneen Zoubi was a Freedom Flotilla participant and first female Arab elected to the Knesset, watch this France24 report on the reaction within the Knesset to her description of the flotilla raid as ‘piracy’.

Al Jazeera’s Riz Khan interviewed Haneen Zoubi a few weeks ago:

UK readers can watch BBC HARDtalks’s interview with Haneen Zoubi on the iPlayer – non-UK on Youtube.

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