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No, Arab MKs don't 'care too much' about the occupation

Israel’s Arab politicians are often attacked for ‘dealing too much’ with the Palestinian issue. But if they don’t speak up for a people who lack even the most basic civil rights, who will?

Aida Touma-Sliman and Ayman Odeh speak at the Hebrew launch event for the Joint List, February 11. (photo: Activestills.org)

Aida Touma-Sliman (right) and Ayman Odeh speak at the Hebrew launch event for the Joint List, February 11. (photo: Activestills.org)

One of the most-repeated criticism of Israel’s Palestinian members of Knesset, which always come up around election time, is that they “deal too much” with issues relating to Palestinians in the occupied territories, yet they neglect their voters — the Arab public in Israel.

This criticism was raised, yet again, in Haaretz’s poll [Hebrew] published last week, which raised both these issues, as if they contradict each other. A plethora of articles published in the Hebrew press have repeatedly raised this issue over the past week. Asking what the Arab MKs do for their public is a legitimate and important question, and it has good answers, which are not all reflected in legislation and presence in Knesset committees. But I would like to focus on the second half of the equation.

Arab members of Knesset are often criticized for making hollow gestures or, at worst, being traitors. The general assumption is that the Palestinian population is “external” to Israel, and that its struggle — from its day-to-day protection against the violence of both the military and the settlers to its struggle for independence — has nothing to do with Israel’s parliament. This is where the typical Israeli conversation starts.

And that is precisely where the problem lies. Israel has ruled the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea for nearly 50 years. There are certain areas where Israel has delegated responsibility (though rarely authority) to others, but Israeli sovereignty is bar none. Whether a Palestinian in Gaza can build his home or leave the Strip to study is up to government officials in Jerusalem and members of the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. A resident of the West Bank who wants to travel abroad for work or drive to East Jerusalem for medical purposes — and sometimes simply wants to work his land — needs the approval of the Israeli government. Tax collection, control over electricity and water, currency, the population registry, natural resources, movement of people and goods — all of it remains in the hands of the Israeli government.

Democracy for beginners

These people, nearly four million of them, have no representation in the government or the Knesset. They cannot vote. The majority of them have been subjects of a military regime their entire lives. Residents of Bil’in can lose their land to a nearby Jewish settlement that grows at an unprecedented rate while being violently attacked by Israeli soldiers week after week. Only settlers and soldiers, however, have the right to vote for a government that maintains this kind of situation. Even if the residents of Bil’in have something to say about the matter, they do not have the right to vote.

An Israeli Border Policeman arrests a Palestinian activist during a protest marking ten years of popular struggle against the wall in the West Bank village Bil'in, February 27, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

An Israeli Border Policeman arrests a Palestinian activist during a protest marking ten years of popular struggle against the wall in the West Bank village Bil’in, February 27, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

It is worth pausing for a second to take it all in: there are people of different national and religious origin who live one next to the other. No one whines over the fact that the ultra-Orthodox MKs or the Jewish Home party care about their constituents in the settlement of Modi’in Illit. One can criticize the fact that settlers are often treated more favorably than other citizens, but there is no arguing over the fact that the very fact that settlers have the ability to influence government policy.

On the other hand, the people on whose land settlers live, and very often the people who build those settlements — they have no right to expect to be represented in the Knesset.

When the Arab MKs (and the Jewish ones in Hadash) tend to the interests of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, come protest in Bil’in or join flotillas to Gaza — they aren’t doing so as a gesture or a provocation. If Shas’ Aryeh Deri waves the flag of the poor, invisible Mizrahim, and if Joint List head Ayman Odeh mentions that the most invisible citizens are the Palestinian ones, then the Arab parties must take responsibility for the most invisible people in the entire land. These are the a-b-c’s of democracy.

This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

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    1. Pedro X

      The A, B, Cs of democracy is that only citizens have a right to vote in their country’s election. Enemy Aliens and friendly citizens of other countries have no right to vote in another country’s election, no matter how much policies adopted by the other country affect them. Otherwise, almost all other people in the world would have a right to vote in American elections.

      The Palestinians have a right to vote for their own politicians. In Gaza they voted for Hamas and unending war against the Jewish state. In the West Bank they elected the corrupt PA instead of Saalam Fayyad’s party. The Palestinian governments control what happens in their areas. The Palestinians chose to spend billions on war materials in Gaza instead of social infrastructure and social programs. The PA incites hatred and violence against Israel and pays terrorists or their families life long salaries instead of investing the monies in promoting an expectation of peace among its citizens. In Gaza the Palestinians have a water shortage, but have failed to build large desalination plants even though Israel and the international community have offered their technical and financial assistance. In Gaza there are serious electrical shortages because the Palestinians did not invest in the infrastructure to improve the distribution and production of electrical power. Parts of the West Bank suffers water shortages because the PA water authority does not distribute its water fairly and has failed to develop sources which they have a right to develop under the Oslo Accords.

      The Palestinians have the right to build new political parties to replace Hamas and Fatah which have failed the Palestinian public. Yet these new parties are unseen or have no popular support.

      Reply to Comment
      • Felix Reichert

        “The A, B, Cs of democracy is…”

        The ABC of international law is that occupation is temporary.
        Another ABC of democracy is that a democratic government doesn’t sabotage the democratic elections in another country, let alone the areas it illegaly occupies.

        “The Palestinian governments control what happens in their areas.”

        That is simply untrue. As you well know.
        The Palestinian “government”, which is in fact nothing but a subcontractor of the Israeli occupation, controls SOME aspects of everyday Palestinian live. MOST aspects (especially in the West Bank) are controlled by the occupying power: Israel.

        “The Palestinians chose to spend billions…”

        I would really LOVE to see your source on this, especially reagarding to “billionS” (plural!). Billions of Viatnamese Dong?

        Over which period of time, and how does it compare to their other expenses?

        According to a 2011 cable published by Wikileaks Hamas spent 40 Million (13% of their annual budget) on security, weapons, etc. Now nothe that this an estimate by the Shin Bet, so it’s probably exagerrated.
        The other 87% went elsewhere, most of it towards salaries, and a considerably larger amount than 13% towards social programs and welfare.

        Israel spent 18% of its budget in 2010 on the military.

        As you well know.

        So why are you knowingly lying to us? Again. And again. Ana again. Is it your job?

        “In Gaza the Palestinians have a water shortage, but have failed to build large desalination plants even though Israel and the international community have offered their technical and financial assistance.”

        I’m pretty sure I’ve asked this before, but never got a satisfying answer (with a link please!): when did Israel ever offer any assistence conscerning water desalination in Gaza?

        In regards to the PA and Hamas shunning international assistance in builidng one:
        You’re lying. Again. And again. And again.

        http://www.timesofisrael.com/europe-funded-desalination-plant-to-supply-water-to-gaza/

        “In Gaza there are serious electrical shortages because the Palestinians did not invest in the infrastructure to improve the distribution and production of electrical power.”

        Another lie. They did invest. As good as they could. WHich is difficult, when Israel destroys your electricity supply, and doesn’t let material in to actually rebuild.

        “Parts of the West Bank suffers water shortages because the PA water authority does not distribute its water fairly and has failed to develop sources which they have a right to develop under the Oslo Accords.”

        Another half-truth and distortion. Israel controls the aquifiers. It controls access to them. It has the power to grant permits, or to refuse permits to drill wells. If the Palestinians try to improve the water situation you know full well what happens:
        They don’t get a permit. And if they build anyway, their well will be demolished.

        Reply to Comment
        • JeffB

          “I’m pretty sure I’ve asked this before, but never got a satisfying answer (with a link please!): when did Israel ever offer any assistence conscerning water desalination in Gaza?”

          They may have offered to build a desalinization plant. Frequently Europe does: http://www.timesofisrael.com/europe-funded-desalination-plant-to-supply-water-to-gaza/

          Having regular wars has suppressed the need. Where Israel has agreed to help is to have the Gazans buy Israeli agriculture and not grow their own. Agriculture uses a ton of water and Hamas has been draining the local wells so quickly they are destroying the water table in Gaza permanently. That’s the Gazans not the Israelis.

          As for Pedro X’s point he’s right. A population which has surrendered to an occupation renounced running a guerrilla campaign. I don’t consider Gaza occupied but even if it were once an army is capable of conducting guerrilla maneuvers then it no longer is.

          Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          The Palestinian governments control Palestinian lives on a day to day basis. The Palestinian ministry of Health determines how many hospital beds are available, how many nurses, doctors and other health workers are employed. The Palestinian Health system determines which cases to refer to Israel and negotiates payment for same. The ministry of Youth and Sports determines whether Arab youth can play friendly games against Israelis. The ministry determines what money to spend on youth and sport development.

          The ministry of Public works determines what public infrastructure is built. Ministry of Waqf and Religious Affairs determines what happens in Mosques in the West Bank. The Ministry of Eduction determines what is taught in schools in the West Bank. Laws regarding ownership of land such as it is an offense punishable by death to sell land to Jews is a law made by Palestinians. Palestinians control their own courts. They control their own prisons and security services. They control distribution of water in accordance with the Oslo Accords. Palestinians have their own labour laws. Palestinians have their own municipal councils and governments. They have their own environmental laws. They determine laws respecting child welfare and social assistance.

          As a result Palestinians control the majority of affairs which affect them on a daily basis.

          With regard to Hamas, even at 40 million a year, over the last 26 years that amounts to an expenditure of over 1 billion dollars. But we know that Hamas spends more than 40 million a year on military. In 2004 Israel seized 40 million of funds from Hamas in just the West Bank. Qatar in 2012 gave Hamas 400 million. Tablet also noted that Qatar transfered hundreds of millions to Hamas in 2013 and 2014. The cost of Hamas tunnels to Israel cost over 100 million dollars. Hamas has an army of over 20,000 soldiers who cost many dollars to support. Of course many of these fighters were supported with civilian salaries. This is one of the reasons why Fatah refuses to pay Hamas’ civil servants.

          So the Europeans are building a baby desalination plant. Israel offered Palestinians a plant to solve all their needs and Arafat crushed that offered.

          Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        It’s software. The guys at Elbit think they’ve written something that passes the Turing Test, but it’s not hard to see: it’s a rules based system, written in Prolog I suspect.

        Reply to Comment
      • andrew r

        Enemy Aliens and friendly citizens of other countries have no right to vote in another country’s election

        In fact, they are rightfully citizens of Israel according to the UN partition plan the Zionist leadership supposedly accepted. They said, “yeah, yeah, we accept it” and went on an ethnic cleansing spree, occupying much of the territory of the UN-proposed Arab state, then called their debased creation a “Jewish” state and legally defined the political refugees as “absentee”. Gaza and the West Bank are ghettos holding the people segregated from the Jewish state.

        By voting for Zionist parties, Israelis vote for unending war against the Palestinians.

        Otherwise, almost all other people in the world would have a right to vote in American elections.

        That’s called imperialism.

        Reply to Comment
        • andrew r

          For clarity: The situation where people around the world are affected by US policy without having a say in the govt. is imperialism.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      Is Israel a vibrant democracy or a state that resembles apartheid? They aren’t mutually exclusive, as Nicholas Kristof explains in his column in the New York Times (daily circulation: 1.8 million) yesterday:

      “The Two Israels”: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/01/opinion/sunday/nicholas-kristof-the-two-israels.html?_r=0

      The roughly 200,000 Bedouin Arabs reflect the ways in which Israeli democracy falls short. The government doesn’t recognize their land claims and has bulldozed Bedouin villages and then herded them into bleak modern townships that are basically the Israeli equivalent of American Indian reservations.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Bar

      98% of Palestinians live under either PA or Hamas rule. The suggestion that they have no rights may be true, but it isn’t because of Israel but their own (elected) leadership.

      Which, by the way, raises the question: since we know who is stealing their freedom, why is the author attacking Israel for what Palestinians do to Palestinians?

      Reply to Comment