Israeli and Palestinian activists have used Facebook to organize a creative campaign where Israeli citizens can offer their vote in today’s election to Palestinians living under occupation. The project’s Facebook page describes the effort as a “Palestinian-Israeli electoral rebellion” and says:
This is an act of refusal, a democratic rebellion. We are Palestinians and Israelis who refuse to participate in the illusion of democracy anymore. In the upcoming Israeli elections we, citizens of Palestine, will exercise our civic right to vote. We, Israeli citizens, will give up our own votes and instead vote as our Palestinian counterparts tell us to.
We believe that all people are born equal. This is supposedly a universal value. Yet the current Israeli and international law do not treat the citizens of Palestine and the citizens of Israel equally. Without a ‘one person-one vote’ system, Israel cannot be democratic. Without equality between citizens, the UN and other global institutions cannot be democratic. Either the Israeli occupation stops, or all Palestinians must be allowed to vote in the Israeli elections. To leave Palestinians subjects of a state in which they are not full citizens, is in contradiction with the basic principles of democracy.
We know that to some, this is a provocative act. We hope to provoke thought, dialogue and a political change. What we want is equality between people – in Palestine, Israel and the world.
We are not alone. The world-wide struggle for institutions that reflect equality between people is a long and difficult one. In a similar campaign in 2010, citizens of the UK gave their votes to people from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Ghana. Another campaign will take place in Germany in 2013. We are inspired by our sisters and brothers in squares in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Mexico, Spain, the US and Britain, inspired by the movements for women’s suffrage, the Indian resistance to the British occupation, the struggle for democracy in South-Africa and the American civil rights movement. Their victories give us hope. We too shall overcome.
Haaretz reports 2,000 Israelis have offered up their vote:
Ofer Neiman planned to cast a ballot in Jerusalem on Tuesday, but not for a party of his choosing. Rather, he decided to “give up” his ballot, as he put it, for an East Jerusalem Palestinian – a man who doesn’t have the right to vote in elections for the government under whose laws he lives, and which has the power to determine his fate.
That man is Bassam Aramin, who, like Neiman, is a peace activist. The two are part of a new initiative called Real Democracy, inspired by a similar movement that sprang up the UK in 2010. There, supporters were asked to donate as it were their votes to people in countries such as Afghanistan and Bangladesh. In just ten days, the group says, about 2,000 Israelis have volunteered to give up their votes by being paired up with Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank or Gaza.
“I always supported Meretz and Hadash,” Neiman explains. “But I came to the conclusion that specific parties by themselves will not bring about any change from the left, and it’s more important to emphasize in various ways that these elections are not actually democratic. For me, it’s part of an ongoing worldwide movement to let people know there’s no democracy here, so instead of these false hopes by voting for left-wing parties, I’m voting on someone else’s behalf.”
Critics might say that there is a flawed logic here. Palestinians have voted in elections; Aramin himself voted for the Palestinian Legislative Council in 1996 and in 2006. The latter wasn’t easy, because the Israeli government and the Jerusalem municipality didn’t want Palestinian Authority voting booths dotting the officially united capital, even though the right of East Jerusalemites to cast ballots was stipulated in the Oslo Accords. And with Hamas emerging as the victor, it was an election many pro-peace Palestinians and Israelis would just as soon forget.
But those elections don’t mean much under the circumstances, Neiman posits. “The Palestinian elections are meaningless, because they’re still under Israeli occupation and they have no sovereignty,” he says.
Aramin, whose 10-year-old daughter Abir was shot and killed in 2007 by a border policeman, is a co-founder of Combatants for Peace and is involved in the forum that brings bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families together. He knows that Real Democracy’s campaign will be dismissed by many as a fringe phenomenon. But he hopes that it will make people think twice about accepting the status quo.
“My hope is that a lot of Israelis will start to open their eyes and ask, ‘why are these crazy Israelis giving their votes to the Palestinians, to the ‘enemy,’” he quips. “I hope that through this, more people will realize that what we’ve been living with for almost 46 years is not a normal situation, and it is not democracy. Perhaps this campaign will open up some debate about it.” He asked Neiman to vote Hadash, “because it’s the most serious Arab-Jewish party, and because I like Dov Khenin. He’s always with us, fighting for real democracy and coexistence.”
Ofer Neiman sent us an update on the campaign last week, and here is how the vote was breaking down: