Land Day vs. the ‘Jewish State’: an interview with Haneen Zoabi

landday
Land Day, 1978. (Photo: Gidon Gitai)

Since the late 1970s, Palestinians have each year marked March 30th with protests to celebrate Land Day. The day commemorates the first widespread struggle of Palestinian citizens of Israeli against land confiscation intended to create Jewish majorities in certain communities: the policy of Judaisation. The marches and general strikes began in Galilee; six unarmed Arab Israelis were killed. After solidarity protests spread to the occupied West Bank, Gaza and the refugee camps in Lebanon, the day marked the first common struggle for a Palestinian national cause after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, an event Palestinians call the “Nakba” (“Catastrophe”). This year on Land Day there will be worldwide boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) activities against Israeli policy as well as a Global March to Jerusalem to call attention to continuing Judaisation and ethnic cleansing in the city that was supposed to be the multi-ethnic, multi-religious capital of a future Palestinian state.

Haneen Zoabi, 43, became a member of the Knesset in 2009, the first Palestinian woman to be elected on an Arab party’s list. She is a member of the Balad party that seeks to transform Israel into a democracy for all its citizens, irrespective of national, ethnic or religious identity. Zoabi was born in Nazareth to a Muslim family. In 2010 she participated in the Gaza Flotilla on board the Mavi Marmara. I spoke with her recently per Skype.

haneen zoabi
Haneen Zoabi. (Photo: Sharon Roffe-Ofir/Ynet News)

Elsa Rassbach: What does Land Day mean to you?

Haneen Zoabi: To me Land Day is a day of ongoing and a continuous struggle around the issue of “land property.” This is still the crucial issue between us and the state. The core of the Zionist project is a continuous stealing of land from the Palestinians and transferring it to the Israeli Jews. Renaming the places, the junctions, the villages, the streets, and giving Jewish names to the landscape is part of this “confiscation.” It’s a way to steal from us and confiscate our historical relation with our homeland. This is the meaning of Ariel Sharon’s famous statement in the Knesset in 2002 when he said that the Palestinians inside Israel, whom he called “Israeli Arabs,” in effect have only temporary “rights in the land,” the land not yet confiscated, but “all the rights over the Land of Israel are Jewish rights.”

During the 63 years since 1948, Israel has confiscated 85% of our land and turned it over to the exclusive use of the Jews. It has developed and built 1000 towns, cities and villages, all of them only for the Jews. And ZERO for the Palestinians. We live now on 2% of our land. We don’t even have permission to build our own houses on our own land and thus have no rights to use our land that hasn’t been confiscated!

ER: How does Israel’s definition of itself as a “Jewish state” affect the Palestinian citizens of Israel?

HZ: The “Jewish state” is a state that has been established by Jews and is run by the Jews for the sake of the Jews — all at the expense of the Palestinians. It’s a racist definition. The state declares me to be an outsider in this land, though I’m the opposite. I’m the indigenous people. I didn’t immigrate to Israel; it was Israel that immigrated to me.

The state of Israel claims that it can be Jewish and democratic at the same time, as if there were no contradiction between the two. Any debate within Israel regarding the inherent contradiction between being a Jewish state and being a democratic state is considered no less than a “strategic threat.” If we are not Jewish and refuse to give up our rights, then obviously we present not just an alternative view, but something that contradicts the state’s very legitimacy: Zionism.

ER: How you define your struggle as Palestinian citizens of Israel in relation to the struggle of the rest of the Palestinian people?

HZ: Our struggle has two components, as citizens and also as Palestinians. And unlike the state, we don’t see why both components — our citizenship and our nationality — should clash. On the contrary, citizenship should be inclusive. We are fighting for normal citizenship with full recognition of our national rights as indigenous people that would include our history, our identity, our culture and our nationality.

My citizenship is conditioned by the Jews’ privileges. It’s even conditioned to my loyalty to these privileges! Therefore, there is no way to struggle for full equality and full citizenship without challenging the concept of “Jewish state.” To struggle for democracy in Israel is to struggle against Zionism. And this is what unifies our struggle with the wider Palestinian struggle. Racism, Oppression, Judaisation, Apartheid and Undemocracy inside Israel; Apartheid, Occupation, Oppression, and Judaisation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; and the denial of the right of return — all of these mechanisms of control serve the same ideological project: Zionism.

Nakba Day, the first Intifada, the second Intifada — all of these days are days of unity. But still our struggle is not united, because it lacks a unifying vision and a unifying framework of legitimacy. The Palestinian issue did not begin in 1967 and does not only concern the territories occupied in 1967. It concerns the entire Palestinian people, and even the wider Arab region.

After the Oslo Accords of 1993 defined the Palestinians inside Israel as an internal Israeli matter, we reformulated our national project in a manner that secures our reintegration into the Palestinian people and guarantees our place as an integral part of the Palestinian issue, both as part of the conflict and as part of the solution. Our demand for a “state of all its citizens” has put the Palestinians in Israel at the heart of the direct confrontation with the Zionist enterprise and has forced the “Jewish state” to admit the primacy that it grants to Jewish-Zionist values over democratic values, and to recognise the impossibility of coexistence between the two.

This is the role we play.

land day 5
First Land Day poster, 1976. (Image: Ismail Shammout/FATAH-Palestinian National Liberation Movement/PLO Unified Information)
Posted in Activism, BDS, Gaza, Israel/Palestine, Israeli Government, Nakba, Occupation, One state/Two states

{ 22 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. seafoid says:

    “To struggle for democracy in Israel is to struggle against Zionism. And this is what unifies our struggle with the wider Palestinian struggle. Racism, Oppression, Judaisation, Apartheid and Undemocracy inside Israel; Apartheid, Occupation, Oppression, and Judaisation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; and the denial of the right of return — all of these mechanisms of control serve the same ideological project: Zionism.”

    And Zionism is nuts

    This wonderful Palestinian nails it from 6:30 on

    link to youtube.com

    Only those who live and THINK CRITICALLY inside the Zionist state can really understand how absurd it all is

    • Blake says:

      Amen to that.

      • DanFeiner says:

        It seems reasonable that Israel could be a Jewish state, as long as non-Jewish citizens have equal rights and freedoms, access to healthcare and education and other benefits. You may be thinking this sounds like “separate but equal” but that is not what I am proposing – minorities should be fully integrated and free to practice their religion. Consider that virtually all countries in this region are religious autocracies – i.e. “Islamic Republic of Iran,” “Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” etc, and this is something that is part of the context of the region. No one can believe that Israel/Palestine will not have a religious affiliation – it will be either Jewish, or Muslim. With respect to the affiliation of the Palestinian territories, one need only look at what has happened to Palestinian Christians in Gaza. Ideally yes, Israel should not have any religious affiliation. But this is never going to happen, so why not focus on ways to provide the Palestinians and the Jews with self determination instead of attacking Israel’s right to exist a Jewish state? To reiterate, if not a Jewish state, it would be a Muslim state, which seems to me to be just as extreme as a single Jewish state.

        • Dex says:

          Oh please — Israel does not have the right to exist as a Jewish state. That is not even debatable in this day and age.

        • it will be either Jewish, or Muslim…….. To reiterate, if not a Jewish state, it would be a Muslim state, which seems to me to be just as extreme as a single Jewish state.

          our country is not one or the other. why do you think they cannot share a state?

        • Izik says:

          Does Palestine have the right to exist as a religious Muslim state, as stated by its constitution?

          Article 4. From the Palestinian constitution:
          “ARTICLE 4

          Islam is the official religion in Palestine. Respect and sanctity of all other heavenly religions shall be maintained.
          The principles of Islamic Shari’a shall be the main source of legislation.
          Arabic shall be the official language.

          Does Saudi-Arabia have the right to exist as a theocratic Muslim state? Does Iran?
          All of this doesn’t matter anyway. The definition of Israel as a Jewish state is a national definition, not a religious one. It’s just like France is the home of the French nationality and Germany is the home of the German nationality.

        • Cliff says:

          Wrong Izik.

          Jewish identity is not simply ethnic. It is not simply religious. There are many different ethnic groups that are Jewish. Their commonality is that they belong to the Jewish religion (and if not at present, then they once did).

          You can be Jewish and an atheist but not Jewish without having some previous link (a former relative) that included the religion.

          There is no such thing as someone spontaneously being Jewish but also an atheist.

          You had a parent who was Jewish and atheist perhaps, but somewhere back that parent had a religious link in his or her family tree. That is what denotes someone as ‘Jewish’ – and from there, they can be Jewish and atheist.

          Israel’s Law of Return allows people descended from Jewish families to gain Israeli citizenship providing they haven’t converted (I think).

          But there is no such thing as a ‘Jewish’ nationality. Just like there is no such thing as a Muslim nationality or a Christian nationality.

          Both Muslims and Christians have their own ethnic groups as well. There are Asian Muslims, Arab Muslims, etc. etc. with their own unique cultures.

          Nationality should belong to the people of a territory. What does Jewish nationalism or Jewish nationality mean for the 20% of Israel that is ARAB?

          This goes back to Zionism’s original and on-going sin = the land was not vacant and the only way you got a Jewish majority is through WAR and ETHNIC CLEANSING of the real INDIGENOUS POPULATION, the Palestinian people.

        • Shmuel says:

          The definition of Israel as a Jewish state is a national definition, not a religious one. It’s just like France is the home of the French nationality and Germany is the home of the German nationality.

          I think Yoav Peled put it well:

          In liberal democracy the state is officially neutral with respect to the ethnic (and other ascriptive) identity of its citizens, so that members of all ethnic groups enjoy the same citizenship rights. The nationalism officially espoused by the state in liberal democracy is civic nationalism, unencumbered by association with any specific ethnic identity….

          As the constitutionally defined “state of the Jewish people”, which nonetheless has a substantial (about 16%) non-Jewish citizen Palestinian minority, Israel is not neutral with respect to the ethnic/religious identity of its citizens. Rather, it is what Rogers Brubaker has called a “nationalizing state” (Brubaker, 1996), in that it actively and openly fosters the interests of Jews. The nationalism of the Israeli state is not “Israeli nationalism” (an inconceivable idea for most Israelis) but Zionism, that is, Jewish nationalism. Israel is, therefore, clearly not a liberal democracy.

          Source: link to hevra.haifa.ac.il

        • Izik says:

          ‘Israel’s Law of Return allows people descended from Jewish families to gain Israeli citizenship providing they haven’t converted (I think).’

          Wrong. The law applies to anyone who is born to Jewish ancestry or converts to Judaism.

          ‘But there is no such thing as a ‘Jewish’ nationality. Just like there is no such thing as a Muslim nationality or a Christian nationality.’
          There definitely is a Jewish nationality and Zionism is a manifestation of it. It was formed as a result of the failure to integrate Jews into their host societies and their ongoing persecution.

          ‘What does Jewish nationalism or Jewish nationality mean for the 20% of Israel that is ARAB?’
          Israel is a Democratic state that allows its citizens to the right to fully express themselves and preserve their cultural identity. Arabs in Israel should have (and indeed do) the same rights as any Jew.

          But let me ask you this. There are many countries in the world who are not Democratic and DO have an exclusivist religious denomination which by-law discriminate against other religions minorities. Even the new Palestinian state will be an officially Muslim state with Shar’ia as a source for legistlation. Is that OK by you? Is it OK that Saudi-Arabia doesn’t allow Jewish/Christian religious ceremonies to take place on its ground? How about Iran?

          Why do you choose to single out Israel as allegedly suffering from “discrimination”, but clearly ignore actual instances of religious discrimination?

        • LeaNder says:

          Germany is the home of the German nationality

          Who is this this Izig? No hesitation to use Germans as an example anymore?

          “Germans” are only the result of post French Revolution nationalist power struggles between Austria and Prussia, or the part of the German speaking people unlucky enough to be left inside the national borders. The native German speakers of Switzerland were more lucky. Slightly less lucky were the native German speakers of Alsace-Lorraine. If we leave out the more complicated Germanic tribal patterns or enclaves of German speakers elsewhere like in Belgium.

          The “nationalist” German Question would in time lead to another “nationalist” question: the Jewish question, or more precisely its German variant: Die Judenfrage.

          So I wonder, if Germany and the Germans is such a good choice in this context.

        • American says:

          ” Ideally yes, Israel should not have any religious affiliation. But this is never going to happen”…Blake

          You know I constantly see pro Israeler’s say….”it’s never going to happen”…constantly declaring what is is never going to happen. They are “never” going to do this or that, the US or whoever is ”never’ going to make them do this or that, they are ‘never’ going to let Iran get the bomb and on and on.
          Well, a lot of Americans and other people in the world ‘never’ though they would live to see the day that handful of zionist and a outlaw little client state would control the policy of the world’s super power either.
          There is no such thing as ‘never’ and “never” never last.

        • Cliff says:

          Izik said:

          Wrong. The law applies to anyone who is born to Jewish ancestry or converts to Judaism.

          Your response does not contradict what I said. In fact, it reinforces it.

          You must be of Jewish descent (that is the lowest common denominator). Obviously, if you convert to Judaism – you are a Jew.

          link to mfa.gov.il

          A description of the Law of Return would not be complete without mentioning the 1970 amendment, which accords the right to immigrate to Israel to non-Jews who are either children or grandchildren of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew or the spouse of a child or grandchild of a Jew (on condition that this person was not previously a Jew who had knowingly converted to another faith). The amendment was intended to accept in Israel families, mainly from Eastern Europe, where mixed marriages were abundant.

          Izik said:

          There definitely is a Jewish nationality and Zionism is a manifestation of it. It was formed as a result of the failure to integrate Jews into their host societies and their ongoing persecution.

          No, there definitely isn’t a Jewish nationality. An American Jew who is not a citizen of Israel has nothing to do with Zionism or Israel. He or she is not part of the Jewish nation. He is part of the American nation and only holds citizenship in America.

          An Israeli Arab is not a Jewish nationalist. He is an Israeli Arab citizen of the Israeli nation. Unfortunately, he or she is discriminated precisely because he is NOT a Jew and does not benefit from the institutional and societal discrimination inherent to the Zionist State. Your racist apartheid State privileges Jews over non-Jews but that does not for one second imply that you or Israel or Zionism represents world Jewry.

          And that racism does not imply that there is any such thing as a ‘Jewish nationality’.

          Your second sentence is just a lazy and superficial explanation of Zionism’s origins. That does nothing to prove the existence of Jewish nationality and it sure as hell does not reconcile the notion of a Jewish nationality with the many non-Israeli citizens who are Jewish.

          Try again. Your hasbara is outdated.

          Izik said:

          Israel is a Democratic state that allows its citizens to the right to fully express themselves and preserve their cultural identity. Arabs in Israel should have (and indeed do) the same rights as any Jew.

          Israel is not a democratic State that allows it’s citizens the right to fully express themselves and preserve their cultural identity. If that were the case then there would be open immigration for Palestinian Arabs who are not Jewish into Israel proper in the same vein as the Jewish law of Return.

          Palestinians who marry Israeli Arabs are not allowed to maintain permanent residence in Israel proper or gain citizenship.

          The best example of the inequality and racism and un-democratic values espoused by the so-called ‘Jewish and democratic’ State of Israel is the Nakba law.

          link to articles.latimes.com

          link to haaretz.com

          High Court rejects petition against Israel’s controversial ‘Nakba Law’
          Arab, Jewish citizens submit petition against law granting finance minister power to reduce budget of state-funded bodies that reject Israel as Jewish state or mark the Palestinian Nakba.

          I would not trust a fascist Israeli like yourself to tell me how Arabs are treated in your apartheid State. I will refer to the Arab minority rights groups like Adalah:

          link to adalah.org

          And of course, there are plenty of day-to-day examples of discrimination that pass into the memory hole:

          Olmert: Discrimination against Arabs deliberate
          Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says longtime discrimination against Israeli Arabs seeking public service posts deliberate; PM says that complete absence of Arab employees at Bank of Israel ‘terrible’

          link to ynetnews.com

          NGO reports -

          Human Rights Watch:
          SECOND CLASS
          Discrimination Against Palestinian
          Arab Children in Israel’s Schools

          link to hrw.org

          Etc etc.

          Israel’s discrimination of it’s Arab minority is well-known and well-documented.

          You are a liar, Izik.

        • From Leander: “Germans” are only the result of post French Revolution nationalist power struggles between Austria and Prussia, or the part of the German speaking people unlucky enough to be left inside the national borders.

          Leander, this statement reveals too things. First, your profound ignorance or naivity. By your quasi-logic, can you tell us when ‘Frenchmen’ or ‘Italians’ or ‘Czechs’ or ‘Englishmen’ or ‘Poles’ or ‘Serbs’ or ‘Hungarians’ came into existence?

          Second, your comment is evidence again of deep antipathy towards Germans. Why have you chosen Mondoweiss to express your anti-German feelings? To help me, at least, understand you better, would you explain what is your connection, if any, to Israel?

        • Israel’s nearest neighbors – Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, prospective Palestine, Egypt (and Turkey) – are not Islamic states in the same sense that Israel claims to be a Jewish State.

          I do have a question, though. Can an American citizen – born of and raised by (say) two observant Orthodox Jews with certifiable Jewish ancestry going way back – immigrate to Israel and receive full Israeli citizenship, even though he/she has publicly converted to Christianity and is not married to a Jew? The answer to this question would help clarify whether the ‘Jewish nationhood’ of Israel is based on an exclusive religion.

        • American says:

          Thomson….unless things have changed ..no.
          There was a case 2 years go where a Catholic man who was born to Jewish parents, a Jewish mother, was adopted by a Catholic family during the war and raised Catholic, he applied to Israel for citizenship and was rejected.

        • RoHa says:

          “There definitely is a Jewish nationality ”

          Then we must throw all Jewish MPs out of the Australian Federal Parliament. Australian law explicitly says that MPs must be of Australian nationality only.

        • seafoid says:

          “There definitely is a Jewish nationality and Zionism is a manifestation of it.”

          This where it gets very messy. If there is a Jewish nationality of which Zionism is the manifestation then Jewish=Zionist=Israeli
          Which simplifies to Jewish=Israeli
          Which reduces further to My mother = drunk or sober

  2. I have nothing but admiration for the way that Haneen Zoabi conducts herself in the face of the most appalling abuse and cretinous insults which is her lot, as it is Palestinians in general, She, and her family, are the true heirs of the ancient people who lived in the region, unlike the thieving arrivistes who have concocted a web of deceit, fantasy and violence to cover their excuses for the occupation and dispossession of people like her. She retains a remarkable dignity and self-possession, whilst also being courageous in her forthright, calm and powerful eloquence. I fear for her, given the numerous examples of the boorish, thuggish behaviour of her opponents. I hope her voice is hear loud and clear not only in Israel, but far and wide, as people slowly begin to understand the depths of the horror show that Israel perpetrates.

    NB, George Galloway was elected to the UK parliament yesterday. A local spokesman said that his stand against the war, and his commitment to the Palestinian people, were enormous factors in inspiring many young people to vote, who had never done so before. As usual, the establishment politicians are way behind the instincts of ordinary people.

    • Blake says:

      I second that. I refuse to watch BBC anymore since seeing her interviewed on “hardtalk” a few years back by Stephen Sackur when she remained composed, cool, calm and collective (and very eloquent) in the face of his onslaught, even repeatedly demanding she recognized “Israel”.

  3. Refaat says:

    To the Land we belong and to her we shall return.

  4. States can pass laws and define themselves any way they want. The problem is the attitude of other countries, primarily the USA, which should not give any support to such ethno-theocratic states.

    The US can be friends with Israel if it chooses to remain a ‘jewish’ state. But the US should not give any money, weapons or diplomatic support to Israel or any state which rejects democracy as Israel does. The US should instead encourage Israel and all other states to become true democracies without any bias shown to anyone of any particular religion or ethnicity.

    Unfortunately the situation today is the opposite of this ideal. The USA is the enabler for the ethno-theocratic state of Israel. The siege of Gaza and the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank would not continue without American support. If the US withdrew its support, Israel would be forced to become a democracy.