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Haneen of Nazareth

Emmanuel Martinez, 21 April 2009

Alternatives’ EMMANUEL
MARTINEZ recently
interviewed Haneen Zoubi,
the first woman to be elected
on an Arab party list to the
Israeli Knesset. She is a
member of the Balad party,
and the former director of the
I’lam Media Center.

A: Being the first woman elected from an
Arab party, what does that mean to you?

Z: First of all, it’s a huge responsibility
and I think I could be a good model and
a good example for Palestinian women.
Of course, I will be more sensitive
to women’s issues and women’s
discrimination and the position of
women, but this will not be my only
issue— I don’t believe there are women
issues. Women issues are issues of
a society. The women’s problem is
also the problem of all of Palestine.
The Palestinian women’s experience
in Israel has a lot in common with the
Palestinian men’s experience because
Israelis share out their discrimination—
it is a national discrimination.

A: A lot is heard about Palestinians in
Gaza and the West Bank, but what is
the discrimination that Arabs are facing
within Israel?

Z: You cannot think of any topic in
which you wouldn’t find discrimination.
For example, jobs: the percentage of
Palestinian women working is 19%, the
percentage of Jewish women working is
65%. And it is not because Palestinian
women don’t want to work; no one wants
to be poor, no one wants to live in poverty,
but more than 50% of Palestinian society
is below the poverty line so of course
we have the drive and the motivation—
a very big motivation, including women,
to work. The fact that we don’t work
is the real explanation for our poor
situation. There are no investments from
the side of the state… the percentage
of the industrial investment amongst
the Palestinian society in Israel is 1%
although we are 18% of the society… I
will give you more statistics in order also
not to give you the feeling that I’m talking
just ideologically… The percentage of
investment in Palestinian schools and
pupils is one-eighth of the investment
in Jewish schools... You can investigate
any field, health, education, work,
environment— anything you think about…
There are 40 unrecognised villages that
don’t exist on the Israeli map. They have
no electricity—no access to the network— no water network. They are so neglected
they don’t exist on the Israeli development
maps or the Israeli official maps. This is
our discrimination.

A: What are the issues that you feel are
most important for the Arabs and what
are the issues you wish to defend in the
Knesset, whether it is Palestinian women
or not, the issues you, Haneen Zoubi,
want to defend first and foremost?

Z: My party has 3 seats in the parliament
so, of course, each of us will specialize
in some topics. I will put a lot of effort
into the topic of the work of the women,
the influence of the Palestinian women
in the work market. I think the economic
independence of women is a crucial
factor that gives her strength to compete
and fight against any kind of violence. I
have met hundreds of academic women,
women with BA degrees and MA degrees
that don’t have any chance, any opportunity
to work— they have been unemployed for
4,5,6 years and they still search for work;
their unemployment rate is 60%. And it is
not just the academic women; there are
women ready to work, to do other kinds of
work— agriculture for example… I think the
issue of work is very crucial for the woman
to be more strong and independent and
not dependent upon her husband or upon
her father or children or friends or brother,
so I think this is a very crucial issue.

A: And what are the other issues for
Arabs in general?

Z: The most crucial issue is land—
the confiscation of land and house
demolitions… In the next 10 years, about
40% of the young population will be
unable to find a house. The state has
confiscated 93% of our land— it’s as
simple as this. We will have no place to
build a house, to develop ourselves and
to live. We will have no land on which to
live. The Arabs who used to own the land
live in a small and very dense area…. In
1975, after the state confiscated 40% of
Nazareth’s land in order to build [Upper
Nazareth]— and it’s really a settlement— it
is not like the occupied territories in the
Gaza strip or in the West Bank but it is
a settlement because it has the same
logic as a settlement. They confiscate
land from Arabs and give it to a Jewish
population… Now Upper Nazareth
is surrounding Nazareth. We are a
population of 70,000 in Nazareth and
Upper Nazareth is 30,000 so it’s less
than half of Nazareth but it is three times
more in terms of land.

A: You were obviously very happy to
be elected, but what do you think of
the overall election results, which were
strong for Avigdor Lieberman and his
Yisrael Beiteinu party, as well as Binyamin
Netanyahu’s Likud?

Z: The Israeli society has chosen the
right-wing ideology and the right-wing
political option. Since 1997, Israeli
society and the political system have
gone to the right: more and more to
the right, more and more to extremists,
more and more to refuse any option
that is just and for a real peace with
the Palestinians. And also towards
more and more refusals to recognize
our rights as residents, as citizens of
Israel, our rights to equality, whether it’s
national equality or civic equality… My
problem, the Palestinian problem, is not
just Lieberman, it is also all the realist
parties who don’t see Lieberman as
illegal or as racist or as extremist.

A: Talk a little about the role of media,
how are Arab-Israelis and Palestinians
depicted by the mainstream Israeli
media?

Z: How the Israeli media treats the
Palestinians doesn’t differ from how the
Israelis treat the Palestinians– the same
ideology, the same generalities. The
Israeli media and journalists adopt the
terminology of the official policies without
investigating these policies. When Israel
confiscates the land and we make a
demonstration to defend the land, the
Israeli newspapers construe us as violent
against the police, not as people who are
defending their land and as people who
have the right to defend their land. They
portray us as violent people who don’t
respect the law, who don’t respect the
police, but Israel is breaking international
laws and sometimes a lot of its own laws.

A: In the next few years there looks like
there will be a bad economic situation
added to an unstable government
coalition, and there was, just months
ago, the war in Gaza. Do you think that
the relationship between Arabs and Jews
in Israel is going to get worse or better?

Z: I think there will be worse relations.
Not because both sides are worsening
the relation, but because the Jewish
population, the Jewish society and the
Israeli policies are getting more and
more extreme. We have nothing so we
have nothing to change. We are not
prejudiced against the Jewish citizens.
We don’t have anything to change, we
are fighting for our rights. But the Jewish
citizens are neglecting or not recognizing
our rights… We need our rights. We are
asking and demanding not to confiscate
our land, not to demolish our houses, not
to fire us from our places of work, not to
deny our history, not to deny our identity.

A: When you think about your identity,
do you see yourself as an Israeli, an
Arab, a Palestinian?

Z: I am Palestinian—or Arab—and I am
an Israeli citizen so I take my citizenship
very seriously. I don’t think that Israel takes
my citizenship in a very serious way. I am
more loyal to my citizenship than Israel.
Israel, when it says that it is a Jewish state,
means that it is not loyal to my citizenship.

A: So Israel should change this idea of
being a Jewish state?

Z: Rights for all of its citizens, this is my
party’s program. Not a Jewish state, but
a state for all of its citizens.