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Why I'm 'giving' my vote to a Palestinian in Israel's elections

‘I very much want to vote for the party that best represents my ideological leanings; I’m waiving that right in these elections because so many others living under this government’s control can’t vote at all.’

By A. Daniel Roth

Millions of people will go to the polls on March 17th to decide who will represent them in the next Knesset. Millions more are not able to. Among them are approximately 4.5 million Palestinians who live under occupation and siege in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Those millions of people do not have the right to vote for the government that, at the end of the day, decides their fates.

The fact that millions of people live under Israeli rule without representation or basic civil rights is an affront to the very idea of democracy. That’s why I am going to “give” my vote in the upcoming election (the first in which I am eligible to vote) to someone living under occupation. I will consult with, and observe the wishes of, a friend living in occupied territory.

Democracy is, first and foremost a societal norm, which asks members of society to view each other as having equal worth. Even if that norm rarely, if ever, truly exists at large, the basic rules and norms of democracy are meant to protect against discrimination and ultimately, oppression.

For nearly five decades of occupation, Israel’s democratic systems have failed to protect millions of non-citizens under its military rule from the humiliation and violence inherent in that undemocratic system of governance. The idea of giving or sharing my vote makes me nervous and uncomfortable, but in the current situation, at this moment in time, I think it is important. Most Israelis enjoy a great number of democratic freedoms – including freedom of the press and elections — but the occupation casts a giant, ugly shadow over those same freedoms and rights.

Voting is not the most important thing one can do in a democracy; it is but one tool we have for making change. Perhaps more important is the time between elections, when individuals and society at large can engage in open and public debate, educational work, and nonviolent direct action. I moved to Israel to develop my connection to my culture, to my people, and to contribute by helping build democratic activity toward a more free and peaceful reality. In particular, I moved to Israel to take an active part in the movement to bring about a just and swift end to the occupation.

The ease with which I, a Jew, was able to take active part in this society after I moved here, to the place in which our people are rooted and which many of us call home, is a privilege. This privilege stands in stark contrast to the experience of millions of Palestinians who have been here for generations. For those reasons, and more, I choose to leverage those privileges in the struggle to break systems of inequality.

It is a matter of strategy. Actively opposing the occupation means utilizing every resource and privilege we have access to in order to educate, advocate and act to advance self-determination for all peoples.

Some will argue that Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have governing bodies that represent them, and to some degree that’s true. But the overarching power between the river and the sea is, in fact, the Israeli government. When a Coca-Cola factory opens in Gaza it is only because the IDF allowed it. And in the parts of the West Bank known as “Area A”, supposedly under Palestinian Authority control, the Israeli army enjoys full freedom of operation whenever it chooses.

A state’s democratic nature must have its foundations in the active participation of all people living under its control — not simply holding elections. Institutions are helpful, but only insofar as they represent the dynamic, growing and shifting interests of those they serve. They must facilitate freedom, security and participation. As soon as state institutions exist simply to exist, they have failed us.

My decision to “give” my vote to a Palestinian living under occupation is not ground-breaking: it is a statement that nothing less than full equality and freedom for everyone is acceptable. It is a small act in the struggle for self-determination for all people and all peoples.

I deeply value my right to be here and to vote here, as well as my right to write this article. I very much want to vote for the party that best represents my ideological leanings; I’m waiving that right in the coming elections because so many others living under this government’s control can’t vote at all, and it is fundamental that we fix that. I intend to act here and now. I intend to use every resource at my disposal to end the occupation and build a true democracy.

A. Daniel Roth is a journalist and educator based in South Tel Aviv and he is a co-founder of All That’s Left: Anti-Occupation Collective. His writing and photography is at allthesedays.org and you can follow him on Twitter @adanielroth.

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    1. BigCat

      UNGA Resolution: A/RES/67/19 recognizes “Palestine” as a country SEPARATE from Israel. You can’t eat your cake and have it, i.e. you can’t have your own country and demand a vote in another country you don’t live in.

      Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza (i.e. “Palestine”) and Israel have been engaged in a process to demarcate the international borders between Israel and “Palestine” and hopefully will succeed one day.

      Arabs living in “Palestine” have their own government, consisting of their President who forms the Executive, the members of their Parliament who make their laws, and their Judiciary. They are subject to the laws made by their own government; they have their own civil administration, civil courts, criminal courts, administrative courts and Sharia courts.

      It is true that Israel still controls the borders, but that has nothing to do with the ability of both parties to practice true democracy in their respective domains. In fact, in the past Palestinians have been practicing democracy, voting for their own institutions and electing their diverse representatives. They can chose to go to elections whenever they choose – even TODAY! But their problem is nepotism, corruption, internal fighting, etc. that saw Hamas expelling the Fatah-members from Gaza, some of whom were thrown to their deaths from the windows of high-rise buildings.

      Anyone who honestly cares about the Palestinians must help them get their acts together. Blaming Israel, or oneself as the author is doing, will not help them, but rather worsen the problem!

      Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn4

      It is your vote. Feel free to throw it away if you so wish.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Richard Flantz

      I think I share your ideological leanings, & admire & support your motives, your move, & what you say here about your activism. But I don’t understand what you mean, in practical terms, when you say you will “give” your voite “to a Palestininan living under occupation”. Please explain.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        He means he will vote according to the wishes of his friend in the occupied territories. He will serve as a proxy voter for that friend, voting for the candidates his friend would vote for if his friend could vote.

        Reply to Comment
        • BigCat

          Brian, his friend can vote for his own Government and Parliament as Israelis do. His friend has voted several times before for his own Government and Parliament as Israelis do for their own Government and Parliament. His friend can still vote today, tomorrow or anytime the Palestinian leadership chooses for him to vote for his own Government and Parliament. Support his friend by demanding the “President and Parliament of Palestine”, as they call themselves btw., to hold general elections so that his friend can vote. Why are you not doing that? Why do you insist on the insane one-state-solution and doing away with the Jewish State? What is wrong with you, Brian?

          Reply to Comment
    4. Bruce Gould

      This message is only for those people who live on earth and who have some connection to reality – everyone else, please ignore:

      There is one entity between the Jordan and the sea, Egypt and Lebanon, and it controls everything. It expands settlements as it sees fit, it knocks down the homes of whomever it feels like, it controls the borders, the air, the water, the computer networks, it imprisons whoever it feels like for the flimsiest of reasons. It contains huge refugee camps, it creates thousands of new homeless people every year. It is not a benign entity.

      Reply to Comment
    5. C.C. DeVille

      What’s with the odd photo that accompanies this article? Looks like the woman just gave Bryan a prostate exam

      Reply to Comment