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Why I let a Palestinian woman from East Jerusalem decide my vote

It doesn’t feel good or empowering to give up my right to vote. It feels mostly shitty, and maybe that is how it is supposed to feel. But as long as it is not an inalienable right for those who live under the same governmental roof, it is absolutely alienable to me.

I just returned from the voting booth in Tel Aviv. Voting is such a private matter, and at the end of the day, nobody except the person voting knows who he/she voted for.

My voting experience today, however, wasn’t a private matter. And it wasn’t an enjoyable or empowering one either, because I decided to give up my right and privilege to vote in an act of protest, frustration and guilt. I let Riman Barakat, a Palestinian woman from East Jerusalem, decide who I should vote for. And she chose Balad, an Arab nationalist party, a party I would not have voted for and have no specific affinity to (below is a text from Riman on why she chose Balad and what she thinks about me giving up my vote).

ILLUSTRATION (Protest against a new Jewish settlement in Ras Al Amud, East Jerusalem, 27.05.2011 photo: Activestills)

I’ve only met Riman once before in Ramallah, because we have a mutual friend. But I do not really know her, or her political views,  and cannot say she is my friend. But I turned to her because I preferred not to give my vote to a total stranger on Facebook randomly, but do it personally, talk to her first – and because she is a woman, and from East Jerusalem specifically.

I did it because today, I live in a one-state reality I do not want to live in, and regardless of the term one chooses to use, it is a reality of systematic inequality, discrimination and violent oppression towards the Palestinian minority. When Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967 it had to by definition apply (de jure) all the same laws and duties on the Palestinian population – and with them, there are supposed to be rights. However Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, while able to travel freely in Israel and entitled to public education and national healthcare and pay the same taxes as I do, cannot vote in national elections. They are withheld the most basic and concrete political right any civilian should have to seek out representation and improve their quality of life. This is one of the most blatant forms of disenfranchisement and hypocrisy and it has been the status quo in Israel for 46 years. (West Bank Palestinians of course do not even have those rights, but formally, Israel is not bound to them legally in the same way as East Jerusalem Palestinians, which is why for me it makes it all the worse.)

A country that prides itself so aggressively on its democracy cannot annex an area and leave its population in the dust and think it can get away with it. And I cannot happily go to the polls and vote for a party – even if there is a party I really do believe in – because it feels like a sham. And I am angry that it feels like a sham. I am angry that I couldn’t feel good about voting today and that I was not capable of feeling empowered by my civil rights.

So I did it because I will to live in a place where civilians who are subject to the same government and authorities and whims for all these years can have the same rights before the law. Because I want to actively combat the disenfranchising of Palestinians under Israeli governance and control.  Because on election day in the Israel of 2013, the only thing that felt right was to give voice to someone who has systematically been deprived of that privilege for so long.  And because I want to make a public and provocative statement that ticks people off or gets them thinking- and honestly, I assume I did it in large part because of I feel guilty; because I’m sick and tired of feeling guilty that I have all these privileges that Palestinians do not.

My name is Riman Barakat and I am the Palestinian co-Director of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. I am an East Jerusalem resident which means that I cannot directly vote or influence Israeli elections, but today this has been possible when I was asked to decide an Israeli friend’s vote. I decided to vote for Balad as I believe Israel needs to move into the direction of becoming an inclusive democracy that guarantees minority rights for the Palestinians living in Israel and for any ethnic identity living in Israel. I believe that Balad’s direction corresponds with my understanding of a democracy that guarantees full rights to all  citizens and assures collective rights for minorities. I see potential for Balad to develop its vision for a resolution of the conflict , as its purpose both supports a bi-national state, as well as a resolution of the conflict according to the 1967 borders, and those two visions may need to be merged to create a different model that will also allow the State of Palestine to also guarantee minority rights for Israelis living in Palestine.

I very much welcome the initiative of Mairav and various other Israelis who decided to leave their vote for a Palestinian to decide. This is a positive message  from Israeli society to the Palestinian public assuring them of solidarity with the Palestinian cause .  Palestinians today keep referring to the fact that although there are various polls that show that most Israelis want a two-state solution, many Israelis vote to parties that do not carry an agenda for just and viable resolution to the conflict.   This is a chance for Israelis to show Palestinians their goodwill  and for Palestinians to influence the result. Tomorrow’s result might not change much, and the Likud party might still get the majority of the votes, but getting more Palestinian seats is essential . This action will also politicians’ future election campaigns, in which they will feel the need to take the Arab voice, as well as the Palestinian voice more seriously.

In case anyone is wondering, my heart was telling me to vote for Da’am. Not because I know their history very intimately, or because I have learned the ins and outs of their politics, or the record of their party members; I was likely going to vote for Da’am because of their non-national call for Arab-Jewish cooperation through worker’s rights and social welfare, and to be frank, primarily because of the charisma with which their chairwoman delivers that message. She was the only inspiring voice I heard throughout this election cycle. I want to see them make the threshold and get into the Knesset. And it hurts that today, I could not be a part of that. It hurts that I did not vote for the party I felt something for. And maybe, because of my vote, they won’t make it in, and I have to live with that.

But maybe it is supposed to hurt. Maybe that is exactly the point of this act of protest and statement I am so publicly making. To feel uncomfortable and deprived and upset. And I don’t want or need anyone’s pat on the back or admiration for this move. The opposite. I’m not proud of it at all. In fact i’m ashamed. People should be angry and ashamed, like I am, that it has come to this. It has come to a point where I, who never thought I could or would give up my right to vote, have done so.

Related:
Who gets to vote in Israel’s democracy?
Watching elections I cannot vote in

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  • COMMENTS

    1. rsgengland

      Freedom House has just released its latest freedom index.
      ISRAEL HAS BEEN RATED THE ONLY FREE COUNTRY IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA.
      Palestinian governments in both sections have overstayed their mandates.
      Whether you rate their voting as democratic or not, the evidence in the surrounding countries is that ‘once elected into power, they stay
      and keep that power at all costs’.
      I hope you are proud of your action.
      To me it represents the height of ignorance.
      Palestinians are dedicated to the destruction of Israel, by whatever means possible (Hamas leaders speech in Gaza last month, Morsi’s speech released on video recently).
      Never forget the Ethnic Cleansing of Jews from the Muslim/Arab lands due to plain old Antisemitism, as an example of the future potential of the Palestinians.
      Jews were Ethnically cleansed from Gaza West Bank after 1948.

      Reply to Comment
      • There are plenty of people overseas who cheer for Israel like it’s some personal football team, without ever having to personally experience the daily realities that are so disquieting to people Mairav and so degrading/disenfranchising to people like Riman. Then the spectators in this stadium get upset and passive-aggressive (“I hope you are proud of your action. To me it represents the height of ignorance!”) when the Mairavs and the Rimans won’t play as they’re supposed to.

        The reports of Freedom House might be your frame of reference for viewing their situation, but don’t expect Palestinians who live as ‘permanent residents’ or under military rule (there is no Palestinian government – as Aziz Abu Sarah pointed out in his article today, the PA does not have governmental powers and functions more as a municipality) to be bowled over by the force of your Caps Lock key. Millions of people here have no vote, and this is a lot more hard-hitting. No matter how you slice it, this cannot be called a free country. Freedom House seems to get around the contradiction by classing the OPT as distinct from Israel, which is intriguing, considering the Territories are full of Israeli settlers and Israeli infrastructure and ruled over by the Israeli military (if you happen to be Palestinian) and by Israeli civil law (if you happen to be Jewish). People like Mairav and Riman can’t side-step that quite so neatly.

        Reply to Comment
        • Rebecca

          No need to repeat. You said it, Vicky!

          Reply to Comment
        • Thank you Vicky for this reply.

          Reply to Comment
      • TobyR

        So what?
        a) Freedom House is a bought and paid for subsidiary of the US government, and of course they are not going to substantially criticize Israel.
        b) Even they could only classify Israel as “free” by resorting to the trick of excluding the “territories” from their considerations.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Do you mean that they judge Israel within the same borders that most people on this site believe are her boundaries according to international law?

          Reply to Comment
          • A lot of people on this site argue that those *should* be Israel’s boundaries. There’s a glaring difference.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            No, a lot of people argue that those are her borders and base the rest of their arguments on this point. The argument is that Israel exercises power and settles people beyond some line that signifies to them the supposed legal extent of Israel’s sovereignty.

            Reply to Comment
          • That’s the point. So long as Israel is governing the non-citizen population of the OPT by martial law and settling the West Bank, no one can possibly judge the ‘freedom’ it affords to its residents solely on the basis of what happens within a set of borders that it is not abiding by.

            Reply to Comment
      • Rauna

        Palestinian governments in both sections have overstayed their mandates.

        1. These 2 places are not even a proper/legitimate states and have no right to self determination. So what different does it make. Their life and affairs are controlled and dictated by the Israeli government.

        2. Hamas was democratically elected but the whole world refused to recognize this legitimate government instead it’s been labelled as a terrorist organisation. Seems that freedom house has overlooked this fact.

        “Never forget the Ethnic Cleansing of Jews from the Muslim/Arab lands”

        R, actually you’re the one who had forgotten about the facts on the ground. The muslim/arabs have been ethnically cleansed from their villages and lands since 1900s and intensified after the creation of jewish state.This continued through into the millenium. Arabs in Jerusalem are subjected to so many legal instruments designed to make their life harder and eventually force them into a tight corner. In Area C, the Arabs has been treated like subhumans with barely basic amenities to live on. That’s the facts not a myth.

        I hope you’re proud of what you’re doing and enjoy your life in Israel.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          1. These 2 places are controlled by Israel because in 1922 and 1948 Arabs had declined peace.

          2. Hamas was declared as terrorist organization.

          If Gazans want to be represented by a terrorist organization – it is their holy democratic right. However it also means that Gaza Strip is officially at war with Israel.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Mairav, that was an inspiring article — especially since ended up voting for a party that you would otherwise not support.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Richard Witty

      On your facebook page, I thought that you had said that you were voting for an East Jerusalem resident, I thought as a write in for her specifically.

      I misunderstood what you did as “throwing your vote away”.

      I think the voting as agent for the disenfranchised is a charitable, noble effort, hopefully a temporary situation.

      Better that you vote AND your neighbor also gets to.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Kolumn9

      Because you decided to spare the East Jerusalem resident the effort of applying for the Israeli citizenship he is capable of receiving? It seems that you are rewarding laziness. It doesn’t particularly make sense to me that you are giving your vote to someone who has the full capacity to be able to vote themselves.

      Reply to Comment
      • Victor

        I feel the same way as you. If she had been voting for someone in Nablus or something, I could understand even if I didn’t agree, but Arab residents of East Jerusalem are able to gain Israeli citizenship if they wish. If they want to vote in the Israeli election, they can do so. This seems to be a case of wanting to have their cake and eat it to. How typical.

        Reply to Comment
      • sh

        a) Mairav said in her article that Riman is a woman;
        b) I think it’s a wonderful thing to do. Congratulations Mairav and to all who participated. I couldn’t bring myself to, I’m ashamed to say, because I’d already decided for whom to vote and said so and felt bad about changing track in the last minute. But next election I will and I hope that it will be a mass action.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          a) you are right. my apologies for using the incorrect personal pronoun.

          b) seems rather unlikely to take off. it is kind of a wash anyway. does it really matter if the vote that changes hands goes for Hadash Daam or Balad since it would have gone for one of these parties anyway?

          Reply to Comment
    5. Grandma

      Without commenting on the action itself, I just wanted to make an observation. We can assume that most of the people who decided to give their votes would have voted on the left side of the spectrum, specifically; Hadash, Dam and Meretz (possible Balad and Labour, but that is less likely).

      That being the case, can we assume that the action, in an effort to “even things out” while the corrupted system is still in place, only further strengthened the corrupted system?

      You could say the votes-in-place-of may have gone to some of the same parties, hadash and dam, but if your struggle is other than arab nationalism
      any vote that would have gone to hadash or da’am and went to ra’am tal is a wasted vote. I know, such a statement doesn’t sit well with the non-prescriptive intentions of the action, but that’s the situation.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Mairav Zonszein

      To assume that just because Palestinians from East Jerusalem can apply for citizenship is to show no understanding or compassion for the complexity and difficulty of Palestinian identity in general and of Palestinians in Jerusalem specifically. You think those that walk into the separate Interior Ministry for Arabs there are really excited about getting their passport and becoming “Israeli”? No. They are hoping to have a sewage system and garbage pick up, and to travel abroad without risking losing their right to residency in the place of birth.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        You make this huge deal about East Jerusalem Arabs not voting in national elections when they abstain from doing so only out of personal choice.

        You are of course welcome to argue that they don’t want citizenship for whatever complicated reason, but arguing both sides is hypocritical.

        Reply to Comment
    7. ayla

      thank you for sharing your process with us throughout, Mairav. This is an excellent piece, and you did a good thing. Next time I hope the action doesn’t feel guilt-driven, as I’ve found that guilt-driven actions feel wrong. This often has to do not with the action itself, but with how we come to it.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Mairav has the ability to see and make connection across what many others see as socio-political no man’s land. This ability has a painful side, emoting “incorrectly,” with some alienation thereby. Seeing something others do not–well, who is crazy?

      As to East Jerusalem Palestinians offered registration for the vote, a population born to annexed administrative control should not have to ask for the vote. If Israel wants its eternal Jerusalem, treat residents there as full citizens–don’t ask them to endure severance in their family, ethnic, and friendship identities. Citizenship has nothing to do with patriarchcal largesse. Rather, citizenship is a check on the State via membership beyond the State’s control. All at once, to every East Jerusalemite born post 67.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Reimy

      In the past year the Israeli ministry of interior has frozen all applications of East Jerusalem residents for Israeli citizens. East Jerusalem residents can vote for the municipal elections of Jerusalem. So, please don’t throw around words such as laziness etc. etc

      Reply to Comment
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