Meeting a rare being - an Arab-Israeli woman parliamentarian
Haneen Zoabi, the first Arab-Israeli woman elected to the Knesset on an Arab party’s list, talks to PATSY McGARRY
HANEEN ZOABI is that rarest of beings, an Arab-Israeli woman who is a member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.
Two other Arab-Israeli women have preceded her there. Hussniya Jabara served from 1999 to 2003 with the social democratic Meretz party, while Nadia Hilou, an Arab-Israeli Christian woman member of the Labor party, was in the Knesset from 2006 to 2009.
But Haneen Zoabi became the first Arab-Israeli woman to be elected to the Knesset on an Arab party’s list. That happened in 2009 when she stood for the Balad party, which opposes the idea of Israel as a Jewish state and favours it being a democracy with equal rights for all, regardless of national or ethnic backgrounds.
Balad believes Israel should recognise Palestinian Arabs as a national minority with appropriate autonomy and it desires the creation of two states based on pre-1967 borders. It also supports implementation of UN resolution 194 on the right of Palestinian refugees to return to lands from which they were removed in 1948.
Speaking to The Irish Times yesterday, Ms Zoabi was uncompromising. Israel had “a deliberate policy to exclude us (Palestinian Arabs) from the Israeli economy. They want to make us a poor and dependent minority.”
She does “not accept the definition of Israel as a Jewish state which must, by definition, be a racist state”. She feels that “no normal person will accept a state which defines itself by one nationality or religion”.
If it is legitimate for Israel to so define itself, “why demonise South African apartheid when it defined itself as a white state,” she asked.
She would “never accept racism towards us in a state which gives privileges to its Jewish citizens at the expense of Palestinian citizens” and where “more than 30 laws” discriminated against Palestinian rights where land, budgets and education were concerned.
She noted, for example, that while Palestinians made up approximately 18 per cent of the Israeli population, just 7.9 per cent of students at universities there were Palestinian, while of those in government jobs, 7.6 per cent were Palestinian with just 2 per cent of employees in the public sector and 1 per cent in the private sector coming from that background.
Most Palestinian women graduates in Israel were unemployed, she said, 54 per cent of whom had university degrees. She did not agree that as a woman she had more freedom in Israel than do women in Arab countries.
A higher percentage of Arab women were at work in Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan than in Israel, she said, while in the Knesset she had experienced “very, very sexist” abuse. This happened in particular after her participation in the Gaza flotilla of May 2010. She was on board the Marmara when it was boarded by the Israel Defence Forces in what she later told the Knesset was “a pirate military operation”.
In July 2010, as punishment for taking part in that flotilla, a Knesset committee removed certain parliamentary privileges from her. These included her right to take part in debates and vote in committees.
Her diplomatic passport was removed, as was her right to financial assistance should she need legal aid. She also lost a right to visit countries with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations.
She very much welcomes the current “Arab Spring” revolutions sweeping the Middle East as “part of the struggle for justice, freedom, and human values . . . towards the model of a secular state for all citizens.”
She has “no views on Iran” other than that fears about it were rooted in nuclear weapons. She believes the entire Middle East region should be freed of nuclear weapons, beginning with Israel, “for the benefit of all of us”.
Ms Zoabi will speak in Wynn’s Hotel, Dublin, at 7.30pm this evening. She will be in Derry tomorrow, Belfast on Thursday and Cork on Friday.