Haneen Zoabi is the first female Arab citizen of Israel who is of Palestinian descent to serve in the Israeli Knesset. Serving since 2009, Zoabi represents the National Democratic Assembly party whose aim is to transform Israel into a democracy for all its citizens. The party is now part of the Joint List.
An outspoken opponent of the Israeli occupation, Zoabi courts controversy due to her rejection of Israel as a Jewish state and her strong criticism of its policies.
Speaking to MEMO, Zoabi criticised the new “expulsion bill” which was recently approved by the Israeli Knesset. The controversial legislation, seen to be targeting Arab MKs of Palestinian descent who staunchly oppose Israel’s military policies, allows Israeli Members of the Knesset to dismiss colleagues for incitement, racism or support for armed struggle against the state.
Earlier drafts allowed MKs to suspend colleagues for varied periods of time up to the end of their term. Having previously been suspended and banned from the Knesset on several occasions, Zoabi said anything she says in defence of human rights could be considered incitement in the context of the new bill.
“Saying you have conducted crimes, you have killed, you must not kill, we have the right of equality” would count as incitement, she said.
“It is really to demolish any kind of criticism,” Zoabi continued, “and it’s not just persecution; it’s political cleansing.”
Rejecting the notion that Israel can be both Zionist and democratic, Zoabi maintains that the struggle for a democratic state that affords equal rights to all its citizens poses a challenge and threat to Israel.
“Freedom of expression and freedom of election, the two procedures of democracy which Israel kept till now, Israel is now deleting, demolishing, withdrawing from even the basic elements of procedural democracy.”
“This expulsion law is the way Israel is trying to tame us, to oppress our political struggle,” she continued, saying that that the real challenge and enemy for Israel is political struggle and the struggle for democracy and equality.
“There are 83 racist laws which discriminate against every aspect of our lives,” she added, recounting laws on citizenship, family reunification, land confiscation and residence which favour Israel’s Jewish citizens. “Israel has always been a racist state,” she stressed, this has manifested in the fact that half of the Israeli society support the expulsion of Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Arab citizens of Israel – Palestinians who were not expelled in 1948 and constitute 18 per cent of Israel’s population today – Zoabi stressed, are still part of the Palestinian issue. “Whenever you say Palestinians, everybody will think about the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip… this is partially an Israeli success.”
“Israel has managed to really divide the Palestinian issue and to make the 1948 [referring to Palestinian citizens of Israel] an internal Israeli issue and the refugees on the margins of the Palestinian issue, and concentrate just on what is happening in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”
When asked whether this division in the geography and the political realities of Palestinians inside Israel, in the occupied territories, and in the diaspora meant there was no unified national struggle for Palestinians as a whole, Zoabi said that it is not just the physical contact that should be measured, but rather the concept of the struggle and the fight for rights and justice.
Palestinians living in different areas, within Israel, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and refugees in the diaspora, perceive themselves and define themselves as one people and this is an achievement in the face of 70 years of a violent Zionist project, she explained.
“You have 1948 who perceive themselves not just as part of the Palestinian people; they perceive their struggle as part of the coherent national Palestinian struggle. They perceive the struggle against the siege, the struggle against the occupation, as part of their struggle.”
“Israel has succeeded in dividing our political realities by formulating different kinds of control to different sections of the Palestinians: legal control for 1948, military control in West Bank, military and more physical for Gaza, and Judaising control in Jerusalem.”
Different systems of control force you to develop different strategies and tools of struggle, she added, saying that each section of the Palestinian people should deal with their situations directly, but still merge their struggle within a general framework.