The NS Interview: Haneen Zoabi

“I was not elected to keep silent or to sit at the table and clap” - Haneen Zoabi, Palestinian membe

What is it like being a Palestinian in Israel?
Israel did everything it could to make us forget our history: controlling education and the media, putting us in a ghetto, preventing us from having normal relations with the Arab world and visiting our families in Syria and Lebanon.

Are Arab members of parliament treated differently?
Of course. The state treats all Jews and Palestinians differently. Israel doesn't recognise us as the owners of this homeland. The theory is that we have equal civil rights, but the practice is very far from this.

Do you endorse a two-state solution?
The reality of Israel's actions shows us that it's unrealistic to have a real sovereign state in the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as the capital. The more realistic solution is one state with full national equality for both national groups.

Is the west right to refuse to engage with Hamas?
No one can tell the Palestinian people whom to choose as a government. Hamas is not a terrorist organisation. I don't think that Hamas has a clear political vision, but regardless of whether I disagree [with it], the international community cannot mediate neutrally if it starts to label the organisations of the Palestinians as illegitimate.

Why did you join the Gaza aid flotilla?
The natural question should be: "Why not?" I participated not just because I'm Palestinian, but because I believe in freedom, equality and justice. One and a half million people in the biggest prison in the world is not just an occupation, it is a humiliation.

Did you feel a duty to speak out?
I was not elected in order to keep silent or to sit at the table and clap.

Were you surprised by the violent response?
I wasn't surprised, but I didn't expect it to be so severe. This aggressive kind of reaction indicates a total breakdown of politics. They could not challenge our arguments politically, so they called us traitors and terrorists.

Do you have faith in the Israeli investigation into the flotilla raid?
No, none at all. Those accused of committing war crimes cannot investigate themselves. Bin­yamin Netanyahu [the Israeli prime minister] has said that this committee will show that Israel is a victim and that there were no violations. So is he already stating the results?

You've had death threats. Are you afraid?
Personally I am not afraid, but politically I am worried. After the vote in the Knesset when they stripped me of my parliamentary rights, two members - one from the coalition, one from the opposition - said: "Haneen, this is just the beginning, this is not the end - we don't want to see you in the Knesset." They mean not just Haneen, but everything I represent.

Will you be able to carry on working?
We didn't expect an easy struggle. I chose to be involved in politics because I was born in a racist context. I will continue using all the democratic tools that are available. I ask Israel not to push us into undesirable activities.

Are you against the very idea of Israel?
We do not want to throw Jews into the sea. We are not against Jews. We are against Israeli policies and the definition of Israel as a Jewish state.

How does the struggle in the Palestinian territories compare to your own in Israel?
This is the difference - as citizens of Israel, we are utilising all the tools that we have, but those in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have given up resisting occupation.

What about the Palestinian Authority?
The PA seems more focused on building a state than ending the occupation. It's irrational; you can't negotiate borders while Palestinians are under siege and Israel is expanding settlements.

What is your hope for Arab citizens in Israel?
I have a vision of our rights as indigenous people. We didn't migrate to Israel; it is Israel that migrated to us.

You've been quoted as saying that it would be a good thing for Iran to have nuclear weapons.
That is inaccurate. It cannot be that someone who is struggling against oppression is calling for nuclear weapons. But if the world doesn't prevent Israel from having nuclear weapons, why does it prevent others?

What would you like to forget?
I think it is better not to forget. I want to learn from the mistakes and enjoy the positive memories, especially because I live in a context that is obsessed with making me forget.

Do you vote?
Of course I vote. I am a political representative.

Are we all doomed?
No. If you struggle for justice and human values, then this is enough reason to continue.

Defining Moments

1969 Born in Nazareth
2001 Joins Balad (National Democratic Assembly), the Israeli Arab political party
2003 Co-founds and heads I'lam, an NGO exposing Israeli media bias
2009 Becomes first woman to be elected to parliament (Knesset) on an Arab party list
2010 Participates in the Gaza aid flotilla in May. On 13 July, the Knesset votes by 34-16 to strip her of three privileges, including the right to hold a diplomatic passport