By Omar Radwan
On Wednesday 28th July, a unique event will take place at the House of Commons. Three Arab members of the Israeli Knesset, Jamal Zahalka, Haneen al-Zoabi, and Talab al-Sana will hold a seminar discussing the significance of Israel’s self-proclaimed “Jewish character” and what it means in practice for the Palestinian minority within Israel’s 1948 boundaries. The seminar will focus on the discrimination encountered by Israel’s Arab citizens in light of Israel’s claim to be the only democratic state in the Middle East. This claim was always inaccurate and today it appears increasingly hollow, with a campaign of persecution and intimidation in full swing against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and their elected representatives and the ongoing occupation and colonisation of the West Bank, which denies even the most basic rights to the Palestinians there.
This event will give British MPs a rare opportunity to hear the true facts about Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens. While Israel’s supporters in Britain often claim that Israel treats all its citizens equally – with Arabs enjoying the same rights as Jews, these three Knesset members have first hand experience of the persecution Israel metes out to its Arab citizens. Haneen al-Zoabi will speak of her experiences after she took part in the Freedom Flotilla, which was attacked by Israeli forces while attempting to take aid to Gaza. On her return to the Knesset, some of her Knesset colleagues attempted to physically attack her, while others screamed abuse, refusing to let her talk about the raid. Following this, Israeli interior minister Eli Yishai called for her parliamentary immunity to be revoked, accusing her of treason, and a Knesset committee voted to recommend that this take place. The Knesset also voted to withdraw her parliamentary privileges, including her diplomatic passport, her right to assistance in with legal costs, and her right to visit countries with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations. Such measures against a person whose only crime was to participate in a humanitarian mission would be unthinkable in a truly democratic state but this is not the end of the story. Zoubi has received hundreds of death threats and there is even a campaign on Facebook calling for her execution.
The other speakers at the seminar, Talab al-Sana and Jamal Zahalka have also been on the receiving end of Israel’s campaign of harassment against its Arab parliamentarians. Along with Haneen al-Zoabi and three other Arab members of the Knesset, Afo Agbariah, Muhammad Barakeh, and Ahmad al-Tibi, they are now under fire over a trip they made to Libya, which is not classified as an enemy state by Israel, last April. Knesset members from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party have suggested that they should be exiled there. The Knesset has already stripped Muhammad Barakeh of his parliamentary immunity over accusations that he assaulted police officers at a demonstration and it is looking into the possibility of stripping the other parliamentarians who visited Libya of their immunity. Stripping Arab parliamentarians of their immunity or their privileges is Israel’s latest weapon against its Arab lawmakers. While Jewish Knesset members have had their immunity revoked in some cases this has always taken place because they were accused of corruption or other civil crimes. However Zoabi, Sana and Zahalka have not been accused of any crime. The decision is purely political and it is part of what seems like an Israeli campaign to criminalise political activity by its Arab citizens.
Community leaders and activists like Ameer Makhoul, the head of Ittijah, the Union of Arab Community-Based Associations and Omar Saeed, a member of the Balad Party, have been arrested and charged with espionage. An Israeli court imposed an order barring any mention in the media of Makhoul’s arrest, which had to be lifted when it became widely known. In a blatant attack on freedom of expression in the Arab community, a new law passed by the Knesset prohibits the government from funding any organisation which commemorates the Nakba, the expulsion of Palestinians from their land by Israel in 1948. It seems that Israel is now treating its Palestinian citizens the same way as it treats the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, without any regard for due process or human rights. The tactics it is using against the leaders of its Arab minority are worthy of a Stalinist dictatorship. There is no way that Israel can continue on this road and claim to be a democratic state.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.