‘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.