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Haneen Zoabi addresses an audience about Israel in Bonn

7. May 2019
By: Between the Lines – Ludwig Watzal
„The old will die, and the young will forget“ as David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, once said. Haneen Zoabi presented herself as the living counterexample. Zoabi focuses on Palestinians living in Israel which hold Israeli citizenship. She offered a quite astonishing inside view of „Israel’s democracy“.


Zoabi, born in Nazareth in 1969, belongs to the Arab minority in Israel. From 2009 till 2019 she was a member of the Israeli parliament. According to the new „Nationality Law,“ the 20 percent Arab minority is not supposed to exist. The law defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people in which only the Jews have the right of self-determination. The Arab minority can’t make use of such a right as the indigenous People of Palestine.

The speaker made clear how dramatic the transfer of power and wealth was after the establishment of the State of Israel. Before 1948 native Palestinians owned 83 percent of the land, today only 2.3 percent, although they make up 20 percent of the inhabitants of Israel. Having been a majority in Palestine, the expulsion of over 700,000 people in 1948 turned them into a minority living under a harsh military regime until 1966. 

Till that time, the Palestinians in Israel couldn’t assert their identity. Instead, they had to struggle for mere survival and had to work as cheap laborers. Those who fled from their villages during the war of 1948 but remained within the jurisdiction of the State of Israel were legally classified as “present Absentees”, a category used to justify the confiscation of their land. The Israeli military regime took their land for „public purposes,“ and distributed it to Jews only. The Israeli policy under military rule aimed not only at erasing their identity but also to replace them as a people. For example, most Palestinian villages were assigned Hebrew names.

For Zoabi, the granting of Israeli citizenship paradoxically meant weakening their identity and living at the margin of Israeli Jewish society.

The Israeli school system promotes the inferiority of the Arab population. It doesn’t allow the Palestinians to assert their Palestinian identity and history. Israel casts its discriminatory policies in a legislative garb. According to Zoabi, no less than 85 laws consecrate and maintain the privileges, the superiority, the discrimination, the racism, and a Jewish majority set in stone.

Zoabi demonstrates that the official slogan of Israel as „democratic and Jewish“ state is a contradiction in terms. If it is declared as a Jewish state, it cannot be democratic by excluding the substantial non-Jewish minority.  For her, Israelis are built for themselves a psychological and mental ghetto, and they truly believe that there are no Palestinian people. But, as she affirms: „We Palestinians are not immigrants or ghosts.“ When Israelis tell Zoabi that there are 20 odd Arab countries in which Palestinians can live, she tells them,“ and you [Jews] have 200 states”, to which you could return. Indeed, most Israelis [or their parents] came from every corner of the globe as immigrants to Palestine.  But she insisted that she could but she does not call for the expulsion of the Jews. She and Palestinians do accept to live with Israelis who came from abroad, though only on the basis of equality. She says that the Palestinians’ greatest weapon is the justice of their cause, that the world must recognize.

„When Israel will decolonize itself and the state, then we can live in a normal state.“  Zoabi is fighting courageously for Israel to abolish its discriminatory laws and become a true democracy. That is the main reason, she said, why Zionist parties have repeatedly attempted to lift her parliamentary immunity. Zoabi said that in the 1980s Israel was indeed a racist state. Today she designated the State of Israel as fascist.  While the term appears outrageous, the examples she gave about Israeli measures tend to vindicate that designation. Zoabi does not believe in the capacity of Israeli society to mend its ways. She calls on international pressure on Israel, including through the BDS campaign (boycott, divestment, and sanctions).

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