[News] The Only Palestinian Woman in Israel's Parliament

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Feb 25 14:57:43 EST 2009

February 24, 2009

Arab Parties Face Most Hostile Knesset in History

The Only Palestinian Woman in Israel's Parliament



When Israel’s 18th parliament opened today, there 
was only one Arab woman among its intake of legislators.

Haneen Zoubi has made history: although she is 
not the first Arab woman to enter the Israeli 
parliament, the Knesset, she is the first to be elected for an Arab party.

Sitting in her home in Nazareth, the effective 
capital of Israel’s 1.2 million Palestinian 
citizens, she is dismissive of her predecessors, 
two women elected on behalf of Zionist parties. 
“They were worse than decorations,” she said. 
“Decorations don’t do any harm, but these women 
damaged our society. They were no role models at all.”

Ms Zoubi, 39, a representative of the Tajamu 
Party, known for its Palestinian nationalist 
platform, has already shown she will not be 
following in their path. On a recent induction 
day for Knesset members, she made headlines 
locally when she pointed out to an official who 
repeatedly referred to “the territories” that he 
meant “the occupied Palestinian territories”.

Her election is not Ms Zoubi’s only pioneering 
moment. She was the first Palestinian citizen to 
graduate from a media studies course in Israel, 
at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and she 
established the first media classes in Arab 
schools. For the past six years she has headed an 
organisation exposing Israeli media bias.

Her priority now, she said, is to advance both 
the cause of the fifth of the country’s 
population who are Palestinians, commonly 
referred to as “Israeli Arabs”, and the cause of Palestinian women in Israel.

“I don’t want to become the Knesset address for 
Arab women’s issues. I need to raise the interest 
of the men in my party on women’s issues, not 
allow their interest to wane because they can dump the issue on me.”

But she said she does represent a demand among 
the minority’s women for change and political 
involvement. “Women congratulate me in the 
street. Even women I know who are usually 
supporters of the Islamic movement or who were 
planning to boycott the election because of 
[Israel’s recent attack on] Gaza came and told me they voted for me.”

Alongside her will be nine male Arab party 
legislators: two from Tajamu, four from an 
Islamic party and three from the Communist party. A remaining one is Jewish.

They will be facing the most hostile Knesset in 
history. Of the parliament’s 120 members, at 
least 65 are classified as belonging to the right 
and far-right and may yet form a governing coalition.

Avigdor Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu, 
which threatens to strip Israel’s Palestinians of 
citizenship unless they pledge loyalty to a 
Jewish state, has 15 seats. One of the National 
Union’s four legislators, Michael Ben-Ari, a 
former member of an outlawed anti-Arab terrorist 
group, is appointing two extremist settlers from Hebron as parliamentary aides.

“In a proper state, Lieberman’s programme would 
be declared illegal. But the real concern is not 
his platform but that it has been legitimised by 
the main Zionist parties,” including Kadima, 
whose leader is Tzipi Livni, and the Likud Party 
of Benjamin Netanyahu, who is attempting to cobble together a ruling coalition.

Tajamu is almost universally despised by Jewish 
legislators. Its founder, Azmi Bishara, is living 
in exile after he was accused of treason over the 
2006 Lebanon war; its officials are hounded by 
the secret police, the Shin Bet; and, as in other 
recent elections, Zionist parties attempted to 
bar Tajamu from running. The courts overruled the move.

Ms Zoubi said she will not be fazed. “The Knesset 
is always hostile to Arab Knesset members and we 
are well used to their racist language. Even the 
building shows us we are not welcome. Everywhere 
there are Jewish symbols – from the Star of David 
on the flag to the menorahs – that we as Palestinians cannot identify with.”

Like other Palestinian citizens, she has watched 
the TV news bulletins showing Jewish legislators, 
even cabinet ministers, shouting down Arab 
legislators in the Knesset chamber and having them ejected.

The racist discourse that lies behind Knesset 
debates is a concern, she said. “It is 
frustrating and exhausting having always to be on 
the defensive about why I identify as a 
Palestinian, why I am not a Zionist, why the 
Jewish state is not democratic and cannot 
represent me, why I am entitled to citizenship. It is a Sisyphean labour.”

She admits to boycotting the first Knesset election after she turned 18.

“There is a significant group in our society that 
calls for a boycott, saying we will always be 
excluded from the political system here. But we 
need a Palestinian voice in the Knesset. I and 
the other Palestinian MKs are an obstacle to the 
Zionist parties’ success in trying to control our society’s consciousness.”

The party’s platform – developed by Mr Bishara – 
is to reform Israel from a Jewish state into a 
“state of all its citizens”, a programme now advocated by all the Arab parties.

“The Jewish public don’t like self-confident, 
unapologetic Arabs, which is why Azmi was always 
feared. But actually I think there is a base of 
support even among Jews for reforming Israel into 
a proper democracy, maybe as much as 30 per cent.”

She hopes that her election – by breaking one of 
Jewish society’s stereotypes about the 
Palestinian public – may start to win over more 
Israeli Jews to the party’s programme.

In the meantime, she said, Tajamu will work to 
oppose confiscation of Arab land and house 
demolitions, and demand proper infrastructure in 
the minority’s communities, as well as have their 
educational and economic rights recognised.

But she is critical of the Palestinian minority’s 
dominant political demand for many decades: 
equality. “The struggle solely for equality 
treats me as a number, it reduces me to part of a 
mathematical formula. It ignores my history, 
identity and narrative as a Palestinian. I want 
to be a full Israeli citizen, but it must not 
come at the expense of my people’s collective 
rights to an identity and a past.”

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in 
Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel 
and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and 
the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) 
and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments 
in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is 

A version of this article originally appeared in 
The National 
(<http://www.thenational.ae>www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

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