University News

Zoabi talks future of Palestinians in Israel

Member of Israeli parliament calls on state to provide equality, democracy to Palestinians

Staff Writer
Monday, March 7, 2016

Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian Arab member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, spoke at Brown Thursday evening at “Critical Conversations: Suffering Embrace? The Futures of Palestinians in Israel,” an event sponsored by the Department of Middle East Studies. Before Zoabi took the microphone an hour into the event, a group of panelists presented their perspectives on Palestinians in Israel.

The panelists included Gershon Shafir of the University of California at San Diego, Areej Sabbagh-Khoury of Columbia, Shira Robinson of George Washington University and Brown’s Beshara Doumani, professor of history and modern Middle East history and director of Middle East studies and Brian Meeks, panel moderator and chair of Africana studies.

Zoabi was elected to the Knesset as a representative of the National Democratic Assembly political party. She is also a member of the Joint List, a political alliance that consists of four Arab-dominated parties including feminists, Islamists, socialists and Palestinian nationalists.

During the question-and-answer portion of the event, Joey Tzezana, from Tel Aviv University, asked, “What is the purpose of this debate? Is it to find the future of Palestinians? Why only bring people that agree with each other … I would have truly liked to hear the debate to solve this conflict.”

In response, Doumani said the purpose of the event was not to “find the humanity in each other and find a solution.” Rather, the event centered on the conditions and future of the Palestinian people.

Zoabi and two of her colleagues were recently barred from Knesset activity after meeting with the families of Palestinians who were killed while carrying out attacks against Israel. The meeting was part of a campaign urging Israeli authorities to return the deceased’s bodies to their families, she said.

“I am worse than the enemy because I am supposed to be a Zionist, delete my history, give false legitimacy to the state that expelled 85 percent of my people and regard myself to be loyal to this colonialist project,” Zoabi said of the struggles of the Palestinian Arab movement in Israel.

During the question-and-answer session, Sam Rubinstein ’17 asked “what it means to be an indigenous person and at what point do you become a native person?”

Zoabi answered with an alternative question: “Can you justify expelling people, oppression, killing? I’m not talking about that this was your homeland 2,000 years ago. I’m talking about human rights.” She stressed the need to establish true legitimacy of the Israeli state through equality.

The representative spoke of Israel’s “fascist transformation,” saying the state oppresses minority voices. At the end of her speech, Zoabi called for the international community to support Palestinians fighting against persecution in a state she perceives as undemocratic.

Before peace can be achieved, the Israeli government must offer Palestinians equality, Zoabi told The Herald in an interview after the event. Asking for equality is not an unreasonable demand, Zoabi said, arguing that for Palestinians to ask for equal treatment from the Israeli government is a “huge compromise.”

Zoabi sees her service in the Israeli government as a service to Palestinians: “I am serving my people by challenging the state for equality,” she added.

She summarized the Palestinian struggle as “the minimum meaning of dignity … What makes us angry is not just about the oppression but how easy it is to kill Palestinians and portray yourself as the only democratic place of the region.”

Corrections: A previous version of this article stated the panelists spoke about the “intertwined histories of Israel and Palestine.” In fact, they spoke about Palestinians in Israel.