Ammad Shaqour – Al-Quds Al-Arabi – 7 July 2017
Two weeks ago, 23 June to be specific, a number of weekly and daily Arabic papers issued in Israel published an article by the head of the Joint List in the Knesset, Ayman Odeh, entitled “Towards establishing a democratic camp to increase our effectiveness and influence in the advancement of our cause”. This is no ordinary newspaper article. It is the announcement of a serious political project, which could give Arab Palestinians in Israel, who carry Israeli identity cards (for the first time since the Nakba in 1948), a role in Israeli politics, with all the repercussions that entails for their overall status as citizens and their demands for equality at all levels, and their rights as an ethnic minority in Israel. It could also affect all matters relating to the occupation and Israeli colonialism on Palestinian lands, and everything connected to the Palestinian cause.
By this call for an Arab-Jew “democratic camp” in Israel, the head of the Joint List is striving to ensure that Arab Israelis have an effective role in curbing racist Israeli policy and can repudiate all the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which is more extreme, right-wing and racist than any preceding Israeli government. Odeh delineates these policies with piercing insight, in four points, on four different levels:
– The systematic work to eliminate the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state, or of establishing relations with the vast majority of other Arab governments, and the striving to make normalisation public and official policy, so that regional conflicts become the priority over the Palestinian cause.
– Incitement against Arab citizens (in Israel) with a systematicness not preceded by any prime minister, and the intensification of legislation against Arabs.
– The systematic narrowing of the democratic margins, by the pursuit of humanitarian organisations, the destabilising of the Israeli Supreme Court, attempts to control media channels and academia, and spreading a low-level atmosphere of intimidation.
– The deepening of neoliberal economic policy which breaks down all networks of social protection for the poor and middle classes.
In his article/political project, Odeh then emphasises that Arab Israelis treat Jewish participants as “equal partners” in this “democratic camp”, by way of a correct and logical formulation. He says that the Arab minority in Israel alone cannot, on one hand, impose a change in Israeli policies, while on the other, liberal Jewish forces cannot impose that change without the large Arab minority. Or, as he states in his article, “so as not to accept interpretations of a formula based purely on equality, we, the Arab citizens, must realise that, being only 20% of the population, we alone cannot bring change. Our (different and diverse) partners in the “democratic camp” must also realise well that they cannot do so without us! Alternatives [to Israeli government policies] cannot be created without the quantitative and qualitative political weight of the Arab citizens. With this critical weight and this equality, we can build the democratic camp.”
There is no doubt that this wise political project, if it succeeds, is capable of achieving a very important leap for Arab citizens in Israel, and their weight not just in Palestinian equalisation, but on the general Arab level. The practice of an effective role for the Arab minority in Israeli politics would remind us of the enormous role of Jewish minorities in America and in Europe. I am greatly aware of the vast gulf in status and opportunities between the Arab minority in Israel and the Jewish minorities in the West. What can be noted in this comparison is that the Arab minority in Israel is proportionally far larger than those Jewish minorities.
Over the span of 69 years, from the Palestinian Nakba to 1993, the year the Oslo accords were signed, and the beginning of ‘Gaza-Jericho First’, and more clearly, from the June 1967 War until Oslo, leadership and guidance of the Palestinian national effort has been tied to the Palestinian body outside the lands of Palestine. With the leaders and members of the PLO and many Palestinian families beginning to return (the total numbers, accounting for natural increase, in the first seven years of Oslo until the outbreak of the second intifada, stand at about half a million returned Palestinians refugees), the Palestinian centre of gravity has transferred to the ‘Interior’, which means the West Bank (including Jerusalem, of course), and the Gaza Strip.
Since the beginning of this century, incorrect policies, or what could be called policies lacking in sufficiently feasible or reasonable wisdom, have led to an unprecedented state of division in Palestine. This division led to the bloody coup in Gaza in 2007, in addition to the formation of core divisions between Palestinians of the ‘Interior’ and the Palestinian refugees (here we recall the Istanbul conference), as a result of the ignorance, neglect, and weak performance of the Palestinian Authority, and what the status of the PLO has led to. All this leads us to believe that the time has come for Palestinians in the ‘Interior of the Interior’, meaning in Israel, to direct the general Palestinian national effort.
With no Arab pressure for the Palestinian national effort, since the people of the Levant are preoccupied with their bloody and shameful wars, their national interests and the threats to their homelands, there is no alternative but to search for other means of support. In this context, I believe the Palestinians of the ‘Interior of the Interior’ have a role to play in this support. In life, ‘heroes’ search for a ‘role’, but ‘roles’ may also search for ‘heroes’.
Ayman Odeh concludes his article/project with an expressive and inspiring paragraph. “I do not want this article to close the debate, but to open its doors with confidence, strength and clarity. The time of fluctuation must end in the same place! Our people who support the Joint List, and who entrust us with responsibility for it, demand today more than ever that we not only analyse reality, but work to change it.”
The initiative by Palestinian citizens of Israel to establish an Arab-Jew “democratic camp” is worthy of support. It opens a wide and promising door for a fruitful national effort. Israel is not a country of six million Jews, each one the spitting image of Netanyahu or Bennett or Lieberman. It is a society of individuals, movements, organisations, clubs and parties of diverse stripes, forms, attitudes, intentions, and policies. There is no Palestinian advantage in considering and treating Israelis as though they are all mirror images of this colonial racist. It is our national interest not to be the cement and the glue which binds all the Israelis against our people and their legitimate rights and aspirations. Of old, they said, ‘he who does not realise fully will never be free of ignorance’.
Adding to the above is the outcome of the Israeli Labour Party elections two days ago, and the ascent of Amir Peretz and Avi Gabbay to the elections which will decide the chairman of the Labour Party, which may open the door for an expansion of Israeli support for the Arab-Jew democratic camp, which would have room for liberals in the Israeli camp.
It cannot be assumed that this proposed political project will proceed without any damage to the Joint List, but we must not forget that the List is a tool, and the objective, not the tool, is the most important.
Translated by Conor Fagan
Original article found here.