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

Editor's note: In commemoration with Land Day, Palestinians and their supporters plan on leading a "global march to Jerusalem" tomorrow, which will include protests and marches towards the Israeli border in a number of Arab countries. The march was called to protest Israeli policies restricting Palestinian access to Jerusalem and an "an end to the Apartheid, ethnic cleansing and Judaization policies affecting the people, land and sanctity of Jerusalem," as the march website puts it.

Since the 1980s, Palestinians have each year marked March 30th with protests to celebrate Land Day.  The day commemorates the first widespread struggle of Arab Israelis against land confiscation intended to create Jewish majorities in certain communities: the policy of Judaisation. The marches and general strikes began in Galilee; six unarmed Arab Israelis were killed.  After solidarity protests spread to the occupied West Bank, Gaza and the refugee camps in Lebanon, the day marked the first common struggle for a Palestinian national cause after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, an event Palestinians call the “Nakba” (“Catastrophe”). This year on Land Day there will be worldwide boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) activities against Israeli policy as well as a Global March to Jerusalem to call attention to continuing Judaisation and ethnic cleansing in the city that was supposed to be the multi-ethnic, multi-religious capital of a future Palestinian state.

Haneen Zoabi, 43, became a member of the Knesset in 2009, the first Palestinian woman to be elected on an Arab party's list.  She is a member of the Balad party that seeks to transform Israel into a democracy for all its citizens, irrespective of national, ethnic or religious identity. Zoabi was born in Nazareth to a Muslim family. In 2010 she participated in the Gaza Flotilla on board the Mavi Marmara. I spoke with her recently per Skype.

What does Land Day mean to you?

To me Land Day is a day of ongoing and a continuous struggle around the issue of “land property."  This is still the crucial issue between us and the state.  The core of the Zionist project is a continuous stealing of land from the Palestinians and transferring it to the Israeli Jews. Renaming the places, the junctions, the villages, the streets, and giving Jewish names to the landscape is part of this “confiscation."  It’s a way to steal from us and confiscate our historical relation with our homeland.  This is the meaning of Ariel Sharon's famous statement in the Knesset in 2002 when he said that the Palestinians inside Israel, whom he called "Israeli Arabs," in effect have only temporary "rights in the land," the land not yet confiscated, but "all the rights over the Land of Israel are Jewish rights."

During the 63 years since 1948, Israel has confiscated 85% of our land and turned it over to the exclusive use of the Jews. It has developed and built 1000 towns, cities and villages, all of them only for the Jews.  And ZERO for the Palestinians.  We live now on 2% of our land. We don't even have permission to build our own houses on our own land and thus have no rights to use our land that hasn’t been confiscated!

How does Israel's definition of itself as a "Jewish state" affect the Palestinian citizens of Israel?

The “Jewish state” is a state that has been established by Jews and is run by the Jews for the sake of the Jews -- all at the expense of the Palestinians. It’s a racist definition. The state declares me to be an outsider in this land, though I'm the opposite.  I'm the indigenous people.  I didn’t immigrate to Israel; it was Israel that immigrated to me.

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.

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