The victim's discourse and its political effect

The victim's discourse and its political effect
Comment: Following a legal battle that reinstated her right to stand for the Knesset, Haneen al-Zoabi explains misconceptions about the identity, message, and struggle of Palestinian citizens of Israel.
6 min read
28 Feb, 2015
Haneen Zoabi faced a ban from parliament led by Israeli parties [AFP]

The recent attempt to disqualify me from the Knesset and bar me from running in the parliamentary elections is now behind us.

However, we have to understand to the political meaning of the action and identify its effects.

The Israeli response to our statements and positions was one of "shock", which manifested in the form of incitement against us. 

We linked the incitement to our statement that Hamas was not a "terrorist group", and for our support for and participation in the Mavi Marmara-Gaza flotilla.

However, we did not take the further step, which would be to ask: What exactly is the reason for this incitement against us? And how does taking part in the flotilla and making those comments differ from other similar activities and statements in which we support our people and their struggle?

Further, what is the deeper political meaning of the Israeli anger against statements that we consider as self-evident, and which we would not think twice about were it not for the response of the Israeli media, parliament and politicians?

Identity and struggle

The deep political issue that lies behind the raucous incitement is a battle to decide, or attempt to decide, the following question: Does equality include the acceptance of the Arab [Israeli] as a Palestinian who supports the struggle of his people without hesitation?

The question over equality, and an equal right to identity, was legally debated behind closed doors away from the Palestinian and Israeli public - despite it being an essentially political debate that should have been conducted between us and Israeli society in political and media forums.

But blind racism has prevented such a debate from taking place. 

The first battle for disqualification took place in 2003, when Azmi Bishara and the National Democratic Assembly (Balad) were targeted on the issue of "a citizenship state" on the question: Do you support a state that equates between Arabs and Jews? 

Then, in 2015, the battle moved on to the next question: Does equality allow for Arabs to support the struggle of their people?

In other words, the debate sparked by the assembly in 2003 went from being about the meaning of "equality" to being about the meaning of "Arab", for the question to become: By "Arab" do we mean that segment of the population that considers itself as part of the Palestinian people and shares its suffering and struggle?

Citizenship state

In the flagrant contradictions between the concept of the "Jewish state" and the reality of our existence in this state, which were politically articulated by the "citizenship state" project, the following points need to be kept in mind: 

1- These fundamental political contradictions do not lead to a real political debate, except in the event they cause clashes. Only in the event there are clashes does Israeli public opinion give these issues any attention, and in their own way, of course.

2- The political implications of these contradictions, as far as the state is concerned, are not discussed in any real sense. Instead, incitement and futile arguments dominate the conversation, and the issues are only discussed in legal rather than political channels.

3- The legal debate, in turn, which has so far been in our favour, does not make its way into the media and does not produce a real political discussion.

Therefore, the effect of this crucial debate on the public awareness remains nearly non-existent. In other words, the Israeli public opinion does not "internalise" the decisions of the Israeli court or the arguments of the defence as part of its political culture.

The legal-political debate that took place before the legal adviser is in our favour, as a Palestinian minority in the interior, not because legal authorities are more accommodating of our historical position, but because they adhere to stricter rules.

     Our community, by virtue of its survival instinct, tends to lower its head whenever there is a storm.

Nevertheless, this lays the foundations of a logic that we not only are in need of vis-a-vis the others, but also vis-a-vis our own community.

Indeed, our community, by virtue of its survival instinct, tends to lower its head whenever there is a storm.

I am not one of those who believe that the head will rise to the same height after the storm passes.

In this context, we must pause at the conclusions made by the current legal adviser, in his response before the court to the disqualification lawsuit.

"Zoabi belongs to an ethnic minority in the country, and she defines herself in her statements that she is part of the Palestinian people. Therefore, she identifies from this position with its struggle," he said.

Defiant messages

This is a somewhat odd sentence. The legal adviser to the Israeli court seems to understand that our statements stem from our affiliation with our people.

He also asks the electoral commission to "understand this", apparently clarifying that the cause of the incitement is that the Israeli public opinion does not yet understand that we are part of the Palestinian people.

Here, we must ask ourselves: Why has Israeli society not understood the discourse that we engage in day and night, and that all Arab parties, leaders, bodies, associations, and members of Knesset carry with them?

If certain statements can make Israeli society lose its collective mind, then what about the other statements that make up the bulk of our discourse and rhetoric? What have they convinced the Israeli public of?

We have to pause at the difficult possibility that Israeli society has developed two mechanisms to deal with our defiant discourse.

Some defiant messages are allowed to pass "peacefully" and without any reaction, being under the ceiling of the politically permissible that tames and tones down their defiant nature.

These messages leave Israeli society's collective mind and memory as quickly as they entered, peacefully and without reaction or comprehension.

Other messages are seen as a violation of this ceiling, and "shock" the Israelis. Yet they do not pause at them, or show real interest, in which case there would be a possibility to take advantage of this awareness to start a real debate about equality and identity.

I say this because I believe the Israelis would not have been shocked if they had truly understood the dozens of "non-shocking" messages we sent out before, and which would have otherwise had created a real understanding of our position on the conflict.

Khalil Gibran said that half of what we say has no meaning but we say it to complete the meaning of the first half. Here we say, half of what we say may sound superfluous, but we have to say it anyway to establish the meaning of the first half.

The issue for any defender of a right, is for the idea to become established and to have a political effect, and not just for statements to be allowed to pass quietly.

Once again, and by all means, we must stress and insist on exercising our identity in all its dimensions, and this includes supporting the struggle of our people for freedom, and against the occupation and the blockade.

We must insist that we do not see this struggle as terrorism, but we see the occupation as terrorism.

The issue in 2003 was about equality, and the issue in 2015 is about the right to belong, and between them lies the translation of the project behind the Rally [of Arab Parties] for national identity and full citizenship.

For this cause we shall remain unified and persistent.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.