Jumaa Alzbarqa served as a member of the Israeli Knesset for two years. He heads the office of the National Democratic Alliance, or Balad, in the southern city of Bir Al-Saba in the Naqab. We met at his office and talked about current events and what was until recently the remote possibility of the so-called “Zionist Left” parties like Meretz going into a coalition with the leader of the neo-fascist “Right” party, Naftali Bennett.
Alzbarqa — who is from Laqiya, a small Palestinian Bedouin town not far from Bir Al-Saba — told me about the following interaction he had with a member of the Zionist-Left Meretz Party while he was serving in the Knesset. “I asked him to co-sponsor a bill that would place a two-year moratorium on home demolitions in the Naqab,” Alzbarqa told me. “But he said he would not give a hand to legitimizing illegal construction.”
“Illegal construction” is code for Palestinian construction. Regardless of the severe housing shortage for Palestinians, Israeli authorities never give Palestinians permits; therefore, building without a permit is their only choice. A report published in 2020 demonstrates the severity of Palestinian home demolitions in the Naqab. There have been over 2,000 Palestinian homes demolished in the Naqab alone for several years in a row, so this is clearly not a small problem. At the same time, there have been no Israeli Jewish homes demolished. In fact, home demolitions of Israeli Jewish homes do not occur.
This story demonstrates the racist reality within Israeli politics and exemplifies the absurdity of calling any Zionist party “Left.” It also explains why the so-called Zionist Left could join a coalition government headed by Naftali Bennett: their differences are inconsequential.
An unrepresented majority
Israel governs a majority of Palestinians, but the State of Israel runs as though they do not exist. Palestinians and Palestinian interests have little or no representation in state institutions. More often than not, government agencies will have an “expert on Arab affairs” who is not Palestinian and yet speaks on their issues. The coalition headed by Bennett has been applauded as inclusive because it includes an Arab Islamic party. However, any expectation that this government will serve the needs of Palestinian citizens of Israel is misguided.
The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Affairs is an umbrella organization that acts as a de facto representative of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. It is made up of the leaders of the various political and civic organizations within that community. Members are drawn from the Arab heads of local authorities and major Arab organizations and parties within the 1948 Palestinian community. Because of their precarious status within the Zionist state, they cannot engage in direct elections. However, there have been calls from within the community to engage in direct elections for positions within the Committee. However, the Israeli State has made it clear it would not allow a de-facto Arab ‘parliament’ within the 1948 community.
Ra’am, or the United Arab List, the one Palestinian political party that is part of the Bennett coalition, represents the Southern branch of the Islamic movement in Palestine. It came into being when certain members of the Islamic movement within 1948 Palestine decided to participate in the Israeli elections and embraced the Oslo “Peace Accords.” The Southern faction should not be confused with the Northern branch of the Islamic movement, headed by Sheikh Ra’ed Salah and outlawed by Israel for its stance against the apartheid state. Ra’ed Salah himself has been persecuted by the Zionist state and has been arrested numerous times for his anti-Zionist political activities.
Within the Ra’am Party itself, there are serious disagreements regarding the decision to join the coalition. In fact, the one member of Knesset who made it possible for the coalition to win the vote in the Knesset by a 60 to 59 split is from the Ra’am Party. Knesset member Sa’id Elharoumi, whose abstention from the vote made it possible for the coalition to move forward, is now expressing serious concerns about the government. He was quoted as stating that unless the government reaches an agreement that will guarantee rights to the lands and respect to the Palestinian Bedouin population in the Naqab, there will be consequences that “endanger the entire political reality in Israel.” In other words, unless the Palestinian citizens in the Naqab are provided the rights they deserve, the party, or parts of it, may rescind their support for the fragile coalition.
Still, the decision by Ra’am to join the coalition led by Bennett is viewed poorly by other Palestinians, and members of the Follow Up committee are calling for the expulsion of Ra’am from within its ranks. According to a report in the Arabic publication Arab-48, Ahmed Khalifa of the Abna’a El-Balad movement, which initiated the move to expel Ra’am members, said:
We in Abna’a El-Balad do not see that there is a place for any of the vehicles of the Israeli government in the Follow Up committee, whatever its name. The legitimacy of the Follow Up is mainly because it is a unitary body that struggles in the face of Israeli governments and opposes their policies.”
Exploitation, not inclusion
The inclusion of Ra’am in the coalition is not a sign of genuine inclusion or the Israeli government suddenly showing concern for the needs of its Palestinian citizens. It is more of an attempt to exploit Palestinian Arab politicians whom Zionists are willing to stomach for as long as they need to and for whose propping they need to pay the least in return. This is both a reflection of the racist tendencies of the new government and the lack of integrity of the members of Ra’am.
The international support for the sloppy patchwork of a coalition that now constitutes the government of Israel is a result of the misguided assumption that Palestine is bleeding because of a particular government or a single prime minister. The problem in Palestine is the Zionist system of oppression, occupation, and apartheid. The solution cannot be found within that system.
Feature photo | An Israeli woman walks past posters showing photos of Palestinian children killed in Israel’s latest attack on Gaza that were hung by Israeli activists in the streets of central Tel Aviv, May 31, 2021. Keren Manor | Activestills