[News] Azmi Bishara - Why Israel is after me?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 3 11:42:14 EDT 2007


Why Israel is after me
By Azmi Bishara

AZMI BISHARA was a member of the Knesset until his resignation in April.

May 3, 2007

Amman, Jordan ­ I AM A PALESTINIAN from Nazareth, 
a citizen of Israel and was, until last month, a 
member of the Israeli parliament.

But now, in an ironic twist reminiscent of 
France's Dreyfus affair ­ in which a French Jew 
was accused of disloyalty to the state ­ the 
government of Israel is accusing me of aiding the 
enemy during Israel's failed war against Lebanon in July.

Israeli police apparently suspect me of passing 
information to a foreign agent and of receiving 
money in return. Under Israeli law, anyone ­ a 
journalist or a personal friend ­ can be defined 
as a "foreign agent" by the Israeli security 
apparatus. Such charges can lead to life 
imprisonment or even the death penalty.

The allegations are ridiculous. Needless to say, 
Hezbollah ­ Israel's enemy in Lebanon ­ has 
independently gathered more security information 
about Israel than any Arab Knesset member could 
possibly provide. What's more, unlike those in 
Israel's parliament who have been involved in 
acts of violence, I have never used violence or 
participated in wars. My instruments of 
persuasion, in contrast, are simply words in books, articles and speeches.

These trumped-up charges, which I firmly reject 
and deny, are only the latest in a series of 
attempts to silence me and others involved in the 
struggle of the Palestinian Arab citizens of 
Israel to live in a state of all its citizens, 
not one that grants rights and privileges to Jews that it denies to non-Jews.

When Israel was established in 1948, more than 
700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled in 
fear. My family was among the minority that 
escaped that fate, remaining instead on the land 
where we had long lived. The Israeli state, 
established exclusively for Jews, embarked 
immediately on transforming us into foreigners in our own country.

For the first 18 years of Israeli statehood, we, 
as Israeli citizens, lived under military rule 
with pass laws that controlled our every 
movement. We watched Jewish Israeli towns spring 
up over destroyed Palestinian villages.

Today we make up 20% of Israel's population. We 
do not drink at separate water fountains or sit 
at the back of the bus. We vote and can serve in 
the parliament. But we face legal, institutional 
and informal discrimination in all spheres of life.

More than 20 Israeli laws explicitly privilege 
Jews over non-Jews. The Law of Return, for 
example, grants automatic citizenship to Jews 
from anywhere in the world. Yet Palestinian 
refugees are denied the right to return to the 
country they were forced to leave in 1948. The 
Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty ­ Israel's 
"Bill of Rights" ­ defines the state as "Jewish" 
rather than a state for all its citizens. Thus 
Israel is more for Jews living in Los Angeles or 
Paris than it is for native Palestinians.

Israel acknowledges itself to be a state of one 
particular religious group. Anyone committed to 
democracy will readily admit that equal 
citizenship cannot exist under such conditions.

Most of our children attend schools that are 
separate but unequal. According to recent polls, 
two-thirds of Israeli Jews would refuse to live 
next to an Arab and nearly half would not allow a Palestinian into their home.

I have certainly ruffled feathers in Israel. In 
addition to speaking out on the subjects above, I 
have also asserted the right of the Lebanese 
people, and of Palestinians in the West Bank and 
Gaza Strip, to resist Israel's illegal military 
occupation. I do not see those who fight for freedom as my enemies.

This may discomfort Jewish Israelis, but they 
cannot deny us our history and identity any more 
than we can negate the ties that bind them to 
world Jewry. After all, it is not we, but Israeli 
Jews who immigrated to this land. Immigrants 
might be asked to give up their former identity 
in exchange for equal citizenship, but we are not immigrants.

During my years in the Knesset, the attorney 
general indicted me for voicing my political 
opinions (the charges were dropped), lobbied to 
have my parliamentary immunity revoked and sought 
unsuccessfully to disqualify my political party 
from participating in elections ­ all because I 
believe Israel should be a state for all its 
citizens and because I have spoken out against 
Israeli military occupation. Last year, Cabinet 
member Avigdor Lieberman ­ an immigrant from 
Moldova ­ declared that Palestinian citizens of 
Israel "have no place here," that we should "take 
our bundles and get lost." After I met with a 
leader of the Palestinian Authority from Hamas, 
Lieberman called for my execution.

The Israeli authorities are trying to intimidate 
not just me but all Palestinian citizens of 
Israel. But we will not be intimidated. We will 
not bow to permanent servitude in the land of our 
ancestors or to being severed from our natural 
connections to the Arab world. Our community 
leaders joined together recently to issue a 
blueprint for a state free of ethnic and 
religious discrimination in all spheres. If we 
turn back from our path to freedom now, we will 
consign future generations to the discrimination we have faced for six decades.

Americans know from their own history of 
institutional discrimination the tactics that 
have been used against civil rights leaders. 
These include telephone bugging, police 
surveillance, political delegitimization and 
criminalization of dissent through false 
accusations. Israel is continuing to use these 
tactics at a time when the world no longer 
tolerates such practices as compatible with democracy.

Why then does the U.S. government continue to 
fully support a country whose very identity and 
institutions are based on ethnic and religious 
discrimination that victimize its own citizens?

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