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You cannot occupy another people and consider yourself a just society — Haneen Zoabi, suspended Palestinian legislator

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Israeli-Palestinian lawmaker Haneen Zoabi was suspended from the Knesset for a week by the ethics committee last week, after the committee reviewed a case where Zoabi suggested that Israeli Defense Forces soldiers murder Palestinians.

Zoabi had made her comments at a Knesset committee discussion last month, and it was actually lawmaker Oren Hazan who had complained about her – the same one who recently said he would put Ahed Tamimi “in hospital”, the same one who recently called Gazan families visiting relatives in Israeli prison “dogs”, “human scum” and “beasts”.

The discussion in which Zoabi made her statement was concerning the bill prohibiting representatives of organizations that act against the army from lecturing in schools. She said:

“The army also murders from time to time, not every day. … Haven’t you heard of Palestinian youths being murdered?… Who [is it that] murders the Palestinians in the occupied territories?”

The ethics committee opined:

“Using the expression ‘murderers’ in relation to soldiers acting in the state’s name, is unworthy of the broad protection the committee extends to MKs’ political freedom of expression and is a violation of the rule that ‘an MK will act in a way appropriate to his status as an MK and act to foster the public’s confidence in the Knesset.’”

Zoabi said in response to the suspension:

The committee redefines its role from Ethics Committee to Censorship Committee. I didn’t know I needed a permit from the MKs for what terminology to use, what to say and what not to say and what values I may or may not defend. Is my duty to tone down the Israeli army’s war crimes, or to cry out against these crimes and say murder is murder? The Ethics Committee forces us to lie and cover up crimes. It would be better without such ethics.

I would like to provide a translation and transcript of an interview with Zoabi from Thursday, which she had on the Israeli Maariv radio channel 1045 FM with host Yossi Mizrahi. It provides Zoabi with more space for clarification of her stance – and the host is just tolerating her enough to let her speak without too much disruption for a few minutes. I start about 00:35 with the essentials. Note that the podcast is titled “Justified suspension”, exhibiting the bias against Zoabi from the start:

Mizrahi: From your tone, I understand that you accept this, that you understand that when words like “murderer soldiers”, there is punishment, even if it is very light?

Zoabi: Yes, for the truth, a hurting truth, for a society that does not feel the value of other human beings, yes, there is a punishment. Yes, for the fight for democracy, in a society that does not recognize democracy, there is punishment – when you enter a struggle, then yes, you are aware that you also need to pay for your struggle.

Mizrahi: When you say ‘for the truth’, it means that you still claim that soldiers are murderers – that on purpose they hurt Palestinians, or something in that style, that’s what I get?

Zoabi: In many cases, 100%. In cases where you bomb whole neighborhoods in Gaza, then you know that your bombings kill humans. When you shoot protesters at short range, then you do know that your shooting will certainly cause the death of the protesters. When you shoot children in the back in Jerusalem, then yes, you know 100% that your shooting will murder humans. So yes, there is intentional murder. I am insisting on this 100%. They want to investigate me on that sentence – I am willing to stand against any court, both in this country as well as abroad, in order to investigate this sentence. I think I am speaking truth. But what is the problem? That also murderers want to murder quietly. They also want that people, that the victim, will also be afraid of the truth. The victim cannot be afraid of the truth – maybe the state is afraid, it has many reasons to be…

Mizrahi: Tell me, if we’re already talking about murderers, do you have the same level and tone of critique towards Hamas and its people?

Zoabi: I think that under international law, without getting into detail, within the paradigm of a nation under occupation, in this general framework, the people have a right to resist. And I am not getting into the details because I’m not there, I cannot determine…I am in a civil struggle, the struggle which I have taken upon myself is a political struggle. Other people, my nation, have other ways – I am not judging it, and I’m not judging in the micro now. You need to agree with me on the macro equation – the macro says, that there is a nation under occupation. The nation which is under occupation loses, loses its sense of humanity if it does not struggle for its freedom. It’s not just a right – it is your obligation, if you are oppressed.

Mizrahi: It’s clear, you’ve clarified this. The question is, whether you sometimes think about the Israeli society – inside the state of Israel? Put the Palestinians aside – do you understand the meaning of your words, the tear that you are creating between Jewish and Arab public, [how it affects] the extremity between the sides?

Zoabi: Yes, I understand that there is a society which exists inside complete insulation, it doesn’t want to look itself in the mirror, it wants to do everything – including occupation, including settlements, including expulsion, including oppression, and at the same time to believe that it is a just society. If you are saying that I need to provide peace of mind for this society…

Mizrahi: No, to think about how to reconcile rather than separate…

Zoabi: No, first of all, the truth does not separate. I cannot reconcile through illusions. I am very honest. I cannot reconcile through lies. I cannot reconcile by telling the one who murders my nation “it’s ok, you have your reasons, I understand, you have your justifications” – I can’t do this. The only way to reconcile is through a just struggle. This is my way to not separate. Yossi, I want to tell you a very important sentence…

Mizrahi: Please, as an ending…

Zoabi: My struggle is precisely to reconcile. My struggle is to not separate…

Mizrahi: It’s not really working, you know…

Zoabi: But the problem is not with me. You need to find the problem in the right place. My vision (and I thank you for listening – I’m not used to it)…

Mizrahi: I’m like Sharon Gal, but I don’t shout or scream at people, I try also not to curse them…

Zoabi: Thank you very much…

Mizrahi: welcome…

Zoabi: I believe in the vision of a state of all its citizens. What is this vision? It is about not telling you “you came from Europe, go back”. No, I’m telling you, you’re here – you can continue to live here, but not on my expense. If you came to replace me – I am not willing to accept it.

Mizrahi: I would be willing by the way to go back to Europe – I didn’t come from there… Thank you very much MK Zoabi.

Zoabi: You’re welcome to stay. Thank you very much.

Mizrahi: Thank you very much.

I believe that Zoabi is making strong points. They are at least discussible. Her point about indiscriminate killing in Gaza is also very valid. In fact, it seems to be supported by Israel’s most esteemed legal scholar in this area, Yoram Dinstein, who notes in his book ‘Laws of War’, that “from the standpoint of LOIAC [Laws of International Armed Conflict], there is no genuine difference between a premeditated attack against civilians (or civilian objects) and a reckless disregard of the principle of distinction: they are equally forbidden” (in Norman Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah)

The ethics committee’s decision and opinion appears to be completely in line with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that “The IDF and security forces are not murderers”, and that they ostensibly cannot be, because “IDF soldiers and Israeli police put their lives on the line to defend themselves and innocent civilians from bloodthirsty terrorists who try to kill them”. Netanyahu said these things in March 2016, in response to a request for a probe by US Senator Patrick Leahy, regarding apparent violations of human rights by Israel. This was just one day before the notorious extrajudicial execution in Hebron, filmed in detail, when Israeli medic soldier Elor Azarya shot a bullet at point blank into the head of a wounded and immobile Palestinian, Abd al Fattah al Sharif. Education Minister Bennett emphasized that Azarya was “certainly not a murderer”. Netanyhu then doubled down on his claim, saying: “Our soldiers are not murderers. They take action against murderers, and I hope that a way will be found to balance between the action and the overall context of the event. In the meantime, I suggest that everyone calm down”. As I have pointed out, Azarya’s soldier comrades testified themselves that such things happen “tons of times” – they just don’t often get filmed.

Zoabi has made a general, but valid and discussible point. But this point is so provocative for Israelis that they must shoot the messenger – or suspend them.


H/t Jamil Dakwar

Jonathan Ofir

Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.

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5 Responses

  1. eljay on March 20, 2018, 10:54 am

    … The ethics committee opined:

    “Using the expression ‘murderers’ in relation to soldiers acting in the state’s name, is unworthy of the broad protection the committee extends to MKs’ political freedom of expression and is a violation of the rule that ‘an MK will act in a way appropriate to his status as an MK and act to foster the public’s confidence in the Knesset.’”

    The “ethics” committee appears to be saying:
    – murder committed by soldiers of the state is not murder; and
    – an MK can only “act in a way appropriate to his [or her] status as an MK and act to foster the public’s confidence in the Knesset” if s/he deliberately lies and refers to murder committed by soldiers of the state as something other than murder.

    Those are interesting “ethics”.

  2. RoHa on March 21, 2018, 2:14 am

    “You cannot occupy another people and consider yourself a just society”

    I’m pretty sure they can, if they put their minds to it.
    They can probably consider themselves a society of teapots if they really want to.

    • RoHa on March 21, 2018, 2:41 am

      I should add that I don’t believe that the Israeli Jews think of themselves as being a just society. I do not believe that they care about justice. They only care about getting what they want.

      • Mooser on March 21, 2018, 11:32 am

        “They only care about getting what they want.”

        “RoHa”! How many times do I have to tell you: an absence of philo-semitism is proof of anti-semitism.

  3. Ossinev on March 21, 2018, 8:24 am

    “Mizrahi: I would be willing by the way to go back to Europe – I didn’t come from there… ”
    This is self evidently a contradiction. Having said that I wonder where he /his family actually originated from.
    As for Oren Hazan , “the flower of Zioland youth” – in his own words the youngest member of the Knesset:
    What terribly a nice young man (well 36 year old Fascist scumbag in the real world ) – Zioland should be so proud of all these burgeoning “most moral” statesmen.

    Shame that Jeremy when presented with the classic Ziotrope of “there are no Palestinians” didn`t follow up with a question along the lines of “well then tell me who exactly are these native people who you say do not exist”.

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