The Flotilla Question

Many questions concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are being asked in Israel these days. One of the most popular of the questions is related to a decision made by me, an elected Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, to participate in a "controversial" flotilla to Gaza. The question why I am going is not a real question, but rather a new excuse for many Israelis, and especially their politicians, to criticize the Arab citizens of the country. Too often we are deemed "a fifth column" as was clear when Prime Minister Netanyahu recently warned the bigots among his constituents that we were voting in "droves." These dead-enders, equally at home in a discriminatory Jewish state as a white Southern extremist in a Confederate state, seek to diminish the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel and their representatives in the parliament.

So why did I decide to take part in the new flotilla? With all honesty I would say that the answer is quite simple. First, there should be an immediate end to the eight-year blockade which was imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israel. Gaza is now little more than a huge jail for the 1.8 million Palestinians caught inside. Second, and I believe this whole heartedly, Israel should not fear the demand for respect of human rights coming from the international community - from its formal organizations as well as from the civil society effort organizing the flotilla. In fact, the entire effort is little more than a few fishing ships carrying medical equipment and solar energy grids. Ours is a civil, peaceful, unarmed, and nonviolent act. Yet the whole of Israel seems to be going through a thunder storm because of it.

The right wing's ability to drive hysteria in Israel is both bizarre and terrifying. Bizarre because this is simply a humanitarian undertaking, terrifying because the fears generated lead the extremists among the Israeli population to take violent action against Palestinians. In addition, this conduct routinely diverts the public's attention from the actions of the left wing, making the left look almost irrelevant.

Ever since the news of my participation in the flotilla was published, I have been aggressively criticized by Israeli Jewish Knesset members from the right and even from the "left," which has also been critical, though framing misplaced outrage differently. Nevertheless, all of them were and still are calling to punish me via the Ethics Committee of the parliament. They want to dismantle my parliamentary immunity in order to bring me to court. It is unfortunate because their actions, which arise from a clear desire to satisfy the public's misguided anger at Palestinian citizens of the state, are practically shifting the focus from the real issue of the humanitarian disaster in Gaza caused by the criminal blockade to the marginal issue of my participation in what they describe as a "hostile" flotilla.

More than anything, it is obvious that the situation of Palestinians in Gaza will inevitably lead to another round of bloody war, perhaps even more horrifying than the one we had less than one year ago. Still, my very outspoken colleagues in the Knesset would not even consider lifting the blockade as a means to avoid future war.

At this moment, while the members of the flotilla are unsure whether the ships will indeed arrive in Gaza, I am more than convinced that joining the effort is a fulfillment of my duty as an elected representative of the Joint Arab List. It is also a protest - and a well-justified one - against the Israeli government policy which discriminates and alienates the Palestinian citizens of Israel, confiscates our land and demolishes our homes. The same thinking leads to the blockade on Gaza and perpetuates the occupation of the West Bank, including the expansion of the settlements in violation of international law.

By joining the flotilla I am not breaking any law. It is purely a legitimate political act aimed to draw regional and international attention to the tragic situation of Gaza. Furthermore, it is time to tell the fanatic right-wing extremists in the Knesset that they are not doing us a favor by deigning to allow our electoral participation; on the contrary, after being elected by a vast majority of more than 90 percent of the Arab vote, we, the indigenous people of this country, are in fact doing a major favor to Israel by participating in the internal political game in which the advancement of our rights and interests is sharply circumscribed by the overwhelming majority. If the Jewish State democracy, which has been continuously shrinking under the right-wing majority in recent years, successfully excludes us as legitimate "players" then we might decide to drop the game altogether and expose the real limits of Israel's self-proclaimed "Jewish and democratic state."

The Israeli-imposed limitations on the rights of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel are intended to divide Palestinians from one another. The Arab Joint List, however, intends to show that we are all one Palestinian people - from the Palestinian communities ethnically cleansed and forced into refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank to those that remain next to the ruins of over 400 Palestinian communities where are departed brothers and sisters used to live. Israel, which refuses two states, is pushing us more and more toward Palestinian unity and the demand for one state with equal rights for all.