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'A Continuous Struggle': Israeli Knesset Member Haneen Zoabi on Land Day, Zionism and Citizenship in the 'Jewish State'

'There is no way to struggle for full equality and full citizenship without challenging the concept of a Jewish state,' Zoabi says.

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The state of Israel claims that it can be Jewish and democratic at the same time, as if there were no contradiction between the two. Any debate within Israel regarding the inherent contradiction between being a Jewish state and being a democratic state is considered no less than a “strategic threat." If we are not Jewish and refuse to give up our rights, then obviously we present not just an alternative view, but something that contradicts the state’s very legitimacy: Zionism.

How you define your struggle as Palestinian citizens of Israel in relation to the struggle of the rest of the Palestinian people? 

Our struggle has two components, as citizens and also as Palestinians.  And unlike the state, we don’t see why both components -- our citizenship and our nationality -- should clash.  On the contrary, citizenship should be inclusive.  We are fighting for normal citizenship with full recognition of our national rights as indigenous people that would include our history, our identity, our culture and our nationality.

My citizenship is conditioned by the Jews' privileges.  It’s even conditioned to my loyalty to these privileges!  Therefore, there is no way to struggle for full equality and full citizenship without challenging the concept of “Jewish state."  To struggle for democracy in Israel is to struggle against Zionism.  And this is what unifies our struggle with the wider Palestinian struggle.  Racism, Oppression, Judaisation, Apartheid and Undemocracy inside Israel; Apartheid, Occupation, Oppression, and Judaisation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; and the denial of the right of return -- all of these mechanisms of control serve the same ideological project: Zionism.

Nakba Day, the first Intifada, the second Intifada -- all of these days are days of unity.  But still our struggle is not united, because it lacks a unifying vision and a unifying framework of legitimacy. The Palestinian issue did not begin in 1967 and does not only concern the territories occupied in 1967.  It concerns the entire Palestinian people, and even the wider Arab region. 

After the Oslo Accords of 1993 defined the Palestinians inside Israel as an internal Israeli matter, we reformulated our national project in a manner that secures our reintegration into the Palestinian people and guarantees our place as an integral part of the Palestinian issue, both as part of the conflict and as part of the solution.  Our demand for a “state of all its citizens” has put the Palestinians in Israel at the heart of the direct confrontation with the Zionist enterprise and has forced the “Jewish state” to admit the primacy that it grants to Jewish-Zionist values over democratic values, and to recognise the impossibility of coexistence between the two.

This is the role we play.

Elsa Rassbach, a member of CODEPINK, is a filmmaker and journalist from the United States, now based in Berlin.

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