Azmi Bishara and the Struggle in Palestine '48
On April 22, 2007, Azmi Bishara announced his resignation from the Knesset, the Zionist parliament. Bishara has long been a prominent voice of the Palestinian Arab community inside Palestine '48, a firm advocate of the Palestinian cause, and deeply engaged with the Arab movement. The representative of the Balad party, the National Democratic Assembly, he had repeatedly come under attack; however, this resignation indicated a new and changed situation - the pending entry of security charges against him, including charges of treason. These political charges, coming close in time to threats to ban the Islamic Movement within Palestine '48 and repression aimed at its leader, Sheikh Raed Salah, and the political imprisonment of Mohammad Kana'aneh, General Secretary of Abnaa el-Balad (the Sons of the Land movement), indicate a new drive against the Palestinian people within Palestine '48. Bishara's repeated call for the dismantling of the racist structures of the zionist state, highly popular in Palestine '48, have challenged at the core the Zionist project in Palestine. It is to be noted that, as the Zionist militias engaged in their campaign of ethnic cleansing, dispossession and genocide in 1947-1948, driving out nearly one million Palestinian Arabs from the areas of Palestine occupied in 1948, they sought to render Palestine separate from the wider Arab nation. Nevertheless, approximately 150,000 Palestinians were able, through their resistance and steadfastness, to remain on the land, even as the "Jewish state" was proclaimed against their wishes and over their land. Many of these were "internal refugees," people who remained within the borders of the state of "Israel", yet had been forced from their original homes, villages and properties and were prevented from returning by the zionist state. The Zionist state, based as it is on the dispossession of the Palestinian people and the occupation of Palestinian land, has always regarded these Palestinians as potential and actual internal enemies, threats, and a constant reminder of the illegitimacy of the Zionist occupation of Palestine and of the reality, that despite massive military presence, 59 years of occupation, and the political, military and economic support of the world's leading imperialist power, the United States, it had never been able to vanquish or eliminate the Palestinian Arab people in any part of Palestine.
The zionist state, at its core, is antithetical to the existence of Palestinian Arabs in Palestine '48. The mere presence of Palestinians undermines their narrative while proving a physical reminder of the temporary nature of settler-colonial conquest. In the 59 years of occupation that have followed Al-Nakba, the Palestinians of Palestine '48 have always remained, a constant reminder, a "time bomb," a "demographic threat," a "dagger in the heart of Israel." By their very existence, they illustrate and make evident the Palestinian Arab presence in the land, the commitment to stay with the land and not leave, and the crisis that settler colonialism faces when it can no longer maintain its power due simply to force of arms. Every Palestinian birth is seen as a threat to the Zionist state, and the state has poured funds into encouraging Palestinian women to bear fewer children, and "Israeli" Jewish women to bear more children. Every Palestinian child is seen as a threat, and indeed, in the twisted logic of Zionism, every Palestinian child is a threat, and a promise, that the project to destroy Palestine has not succeeded, that despite 59 years of occupation, oppression and apartheid, Palestinians have continued to live, and to struggle, and have not broken their connection to their land. The growing number of Palestinians, compared to decreasing numbers of Zionist immigrants from abroad, are a continuing reminder that the settler-colonial project cannot be sustained indefinitely.
Furthermore, Palestinians within Palestine '48 have rejected the attempt to deprive them of their connection to the Palestinian cause, and the Arab nation. The repression directed against Bishara, against Mohammad Kana'aneh of Abna'a el-Balad, a political prisoner in Zionist jails, against Ra'ed Salah and the Islamic Movement - mirroring the attacks on Palestinian political organizing in the West Bank and Gaza, have been directed at some of the most prominent and effective advocates for Palestinian citizens of Israel as Palestinian Arabs, who have refused to delink the struggle of Palestinians "of the inside" from the broader Palestinian and Arab cause, and who have refused to concede to the Zionist definition of the land of Palestine as "a Jewish state." The popularity of that national democratic movement is indeed a threat to Israel.
A state like Israel - a settler-colonial entity that relies upon the military power of its settler population to keep its control and power over occupied land, defined as an ethnically-exclusive "Jewish state" - is, in fact, threatened by Palestinian Arab existence. There were approximately 150,000 Palestinians remaining inside the borders of the newly-formed Zionist state - despite the best efforts of the Zionist militias dedicated to forcing Palestinians from their land - in 1948. Today, there are over 1.2 million Palestinians in Palestine '48, citizens of a state that is based on the denial and suppression of their existence. The Zionist state has long claimed to be "Jewish and democratic," basing its claim of "democracy" on the denial of the rights of the Palestinian Arabs whose land was taken to create the state. There are, today, six million Palestinian refugees, continually denied their right to return to their homes, lands and properties, since 1948. Despite United Nations Resolution 194 - a resolution that has been reaffirmed by the UN General Assembly over 100 times, and the acceptance of which was a condition of Israel's admission to the UN - the vast weight of international human rights and humanitarian law, and the individual, fundamental, national and collective rights of Palestinian refugees, these refugees have been continually denied their right to return for one reason - because they are Palestinian Arabs, and their existence puts the clear lie to the claim of the Zionist state to be anything other than what it is - a racist, illegitimate, settler colony. By definition, "democracy" in Palestine must mean the end of Zionism, and the dismantling of all of its structures, because the Zionist state is, by definition, a state for settlers and not a state for the vast majority of Palestinians. Nevertheless, by refusing Palestinians' right to return, denying the history of al-Nakba, justifying colonialism through racism and a false story of legitimacy that relies on the alleged right of the British Empire to deny Palestinian Arabs their right to self-determination in their land, Israel claims to be "democratic." The West Bank and Gaza - the remaining 22% of Palestine seized in 1967 - are "the territories." While, for many years, the Zionist state refused to recognize even the existence of the Palestinian people - Golda Meir, Israeli Prime Minister, said in 1969 that "There was no such thing as a Palestinian people...they did not exist," due to the Palestinian revolution and the ongoing resistance of the people of Palestine, it has become nearly impossible, even for the most extreme of Zionists, to perpetuate that fiction. Therefore, instead "the territories" are where Palestinians are, while within the areas of Palestine occupied in 1948, there are only "minorities," "Israeli Arabs," people with no connection to the millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and the six million Palestinian refugees waiting to return home.
The Palestinian movement within the Zionist state, by its very existence, shatters this mythology. As the numerical population of Palestinians within Israel has grown, the advocacy of "transfer" that has always been part and parcel of Zionist ideology has come to the forefront once again. David Ben-Gurion, founder of the Zionist state, once wrote, "'The Arabs will have to go,' but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war;" he found his "opportune moment" in Al-Nakba. Nevertheless, despite rampant discrimination and oppression, those Palestinians who remained in the land refused to leave or to relinquish their rights and identity. Indeed, Zionist historian Benny Morris conveys his perspective that Ben-Gurion's ethnic cleansing did not go far enough: "I think he made a serious historical mistake in 1948. Even though he understood the demographic issue and the need to establish a Jewish state without a large Arab minority, he got cold feet during the war....my feeling is that the place would be quieter and know less suffering if the matter had been resolved once and for all...[Ben-Gurion] left a large and volatile demographic reserve in the West Bank and Gaza and within Israel itself." Morris elaborated further, "The Israeli Arabs are a time bomb. Their slide into complete Palestinianization has made them into an emissary of the enemy that is among us....In both demographic and security terms, they are liable to undermine the state." Morris's comments well illustrate why, rather than a "Jewish and democratic" state, Israel is better described as a "Jewish and demographic" state.
This type of commentary is rampant in the Zionist political scene. Gideon Ezra, the public security minister of the Zionist state, stated that "There are Arab citizens in the State of Israel. This is our greatest sorrow. Finish things in Gaza, finish things in Judea and Samaria [the Zionist term for Palestine's West Bank]. We'll be left with the greatest sorrow." Benjamin Netanyahu, former Israeli prime minister and still influential in the political scene, stated in 2002 that "if there is a demographic problem...it is with the Israeli Arabs who will remain Israeli citizens...We therefore need a policy that will first of all guarantee a Jewish majority. I say this with no hesitation, as a liberal, a democrat and a Jewish patriot." Avigdor Lieberman, Deputy Prime Minister in the current Ehud Olmert government and "Minister of Strategic Affairs," a Russian colonizer to stolen Palestinian land, stated in 2004 that 90 percent of the Palestinians inside the Zionist state would "have to find a new Arab entity" in which to live. "They have no place here. They can take their bundles and get lost," he said. Lieberman has repeatedly urged that Palestinians' homes and citizenship be transferred to some new entity. Rehavam Ze'evi, who referred to Palestinians as "lice," acted as tourism minister in Zionist Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government until assassinated by Palestinian fighters in 2001; Ze'evi ran for office under a platform urging the expulsion of Palestinians. In 2005, the Knesset passed a bill to memorialize Ze'evi by creating a national day of mourning and creating a school curriculum to celebrate the memory of this man, best known for his blatant, open, racism and urging of genocide.
Such repugnant racism is often explained away as the fruit of "fringe" or "extreme" elements, despite the fact that this "extreme" occupies major positions of power within the Zionist political system. However, in reality, it reflects the nature of the Zionist state itself, a racist state based on the denial of Palestinian Arab rights and existence, codified in a series of laws that create the institutional framework for Zionist racist rule in Palestine. The Indian Appropriations Act in the U.S. followed centuries of genocide and broken treaties; the 1876 Indian Act served much the same purpose in Canada. In Apartheid South Africa, the series of laws, from the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act to the Population Registration Act to the Group Areas Act, to the Pass Laws, passed to create the formal structures of apartheid, followed upon a long period of colonialism. In Palestine, these laws, enacted by the Zionist state immediately following al-Nakba, have provided a self-created "legal" justification for apartheid and colonization.
It is interesting here to note the role of British Lord Balfour in both South Africa and Palestine. In a British Parliamentary debate over the establishment of the Union of South Africa, Lord Balfour argued that they could not grant the indigenous African population equality with the white settler colonialists without "jeopardizing the whole structure of white civilization." Lord Balfour, of course, is infamous in the history of Palestine for his role in issuing the "Balfour Declaration," the 1917 statement of British colonial intent in Palestine. Anticipating the defeat of the Ottoman empire in World War I and envisioning the future partition of the Arab world between European imperial powers, Lord Balfour issued a declaration on behalf of the British government supporting the establishment of a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine. The Palestinian Arab indigenous people were referred to merely as "existing non-Jewish communities." British colonialism, over the next thirty years, poured support and resources to the Zionist project, relying on Zionist militias to suppress repeated national revolts by Palestinian Arabs, seeking self-determination in their own homeland. Upon the succession of Zionist power to British colonialism in imperial authority over Palestine, the new Zionist authorities, relying solely upon their military power to prevent the return home of the country's rightful inhabitants, did not hesitate to create the legal framework for Zionist power that persists to this day: the Law of Return, the Absentee Property Law, the Nationality Law, and their successors.
The Law of Return granted Israeli citizenship to any Jewish person anywhere in the world who wished to claim it - while Palestinians were denied their right to even enter their own homeland; the Absentee Property Law declared those who had been forced to flee their homes "absentee" and confiscated their property, instantly seizing 90% of the area of Palestine occupied in 1948 as "state lands," then prohibited to Palestinian ownership or cultivation; the Nationality Law, while granting vast rights to Jewish settlers, placed stringent conditions on the citizenship of Palestinians. Far from being weakened over time, in 2003, the Nationality Law was amended to prevent the spouses of Palestinian citizens of Israel from becoming naturalized citizens, leading to the forced separation of a number of families. There are numerous internal refugees - 15% of the Palestinians of Palestine '48 are internally displaced, prevented from returning to their homes and villages due to Zionist expulsion and land confiscation. One-quarter of the Palestinians inside the Zionist state have recently faced land confiscation, property loss or home demolition at the hands of the Zionist state. Over twenty laws regulate the institutional and legal discrimination against Palestinians. Palestinian villages and towns, street names and locations were renamed to erase their Palestinian Arab content, as if altering names could eliminate a history and a people.
Just as the Zionist state has continued to wage war on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and has continued to deny the rights of the millions of Palestinians in exile, it has simultaneously done so to the Palestinians of Palestine '48. All three of these sectors of the Palestinian people have faced different aspects of Zionist racism, colonialism, apartheid and occupation, yet, centrally, they face the same enemy and the same fundamental contradiction with the Zionist state in Palestine. They are, fundamentally, three sectors of one nation, one struggle, and one cause, and the liberation of Palestine means - must mean - justice, liberation and self-determination for the entire Palestinian nation, in all of its constituent sectors. Just as Zionism has waged war on the Palestinian people, it has attempted - and continues to attempt - to divide these sectors of the people from one another, place their interests at odds to one another, and promise concessions to one at the expense of another. In order to forward its goals, it has attempted to create an "Israeli Arab" identity that is separate from both the Palestinian people as a whole, and from the Arab people in their entirety. The "Israeli Arab" identity is one that is "Israeli" first, and only then Arab - even then, Arab identity is confined to a cultural or linguistic construct, without national rights, community identification, political meaning, or self-determination. However, the Zionist drive to redefine, narrow and debilitate Arab Palestinian identity has been, despite 59 years of occupation, deeply unsuccessful. And it is in this lack of success that the persecution of Bishara, Kana'aneh, Saleh and the Palestinian Arab movement is rooted.
The Palestinian Arab movement within Palestine '48 had traditionally been concentrated in the Israeli Communist Party. The ICP, which played a critical role in organizing the Palestinian community and from which came many important leaders of the movement within Palestine '48, also accepted the existence of the Zionist state in Palestine, and frequently focused on parliamentary struggle and winning representation within the Knesset. A number of Palestinian organizations have arisen within Palestine '48, which have taken different positions on the question of parliamentary participation. Indeed, in response to the Knesset participation of Palestinian leaders such as Bishara, the Knesset Law has been amended several times; once, to affirm that all parties participating in elections must agree to the "Jewish and democratic" character of the Zionist state, and again, to require Knesset members to take an oath of allegiance to the "Jewish and democratic" state. Bishara and other Palestinian members of Knesset have faced disqualification challenges on the basis of their support for Palestinian rights and opposition to Zionism, and Bishara has, in the past, has had his immunity as a member of Parliament stripped and been indicted for political charges related to his public advocacy (that were later dismissed, in 2006). Avigdor Lieberman, the advocate of transfer, has called for the execution of the Palestinian Knesset members. However, other Palestinian organizations, such as Abnaa el-Balad, and the Islamic Movement in the north, have refused participation in the Knesset, highlighting that accepting Zionist state structures, and placing the Palestinian Arab national struggle within the context of these state structures, has never - and cannot - succeed in dismantling those same structures, and instead promotes acceptance of the Zionist occupation of Palestine, normalization with that occupation, and defining the Palestinian national struggle as merely one of a minority, for civil rights, within the existing Zionist state, without challenging the nature and existence of the state itself.
Indeed, the recent charges against Bishara have demonstrated the accuracy of that critique. Bishara's unwillingness to speak and act within the prescribed boundaries of the Zionist parliament, and his use of the Knesset as a site for challenging the fundamentals of the state and for supporting the Palestinian and Arab cause, altered the rules of the game of Knesset participation. Rather than providing a pathway for normalization and the legitimization of the Zionist state, Bishara's participation was viewed as a threat to those goals, and thus became unacceptable. Nevertheless, Knesset participation itself as a political act is bound up with the requirements of acceptance of the Zionist state, its elections, and involvement in and identification with its internal political situation, rather than the development of the Palestinian Arab national movement - and Bishara's case is an example of the consequences of attempting to expand or subvert that role. Bishara, who refused to confine Arab identity to that of the "Israeli Arab," who was deeply concerned with the Arab people as a whole, and who advocated eloquently for Palestinian rights, including the right to return, was met with charges of treason, based on allegations relating to contact with "foreign agents." As in the case of Salah, who was imprisoned for two years on such charges, and Kana'aneh, currently imprisoned on charges related to contact with "foreign agents," active involvement on the part of Palestinian Arabs with the Arab world is criminalized and labeled as "foreign," "enemy," and a "security risk," by a state that is based on foreign settler-colonialism of indigenous Arab land! Journalists and activists throughout the Arab world are labeled as dangerous "foreign agents" and "enemies," and political participation by Palestinians of Palestine '48 with the broader Arab world is thus made criminal.
However, in a state that is based on the forcible dispossession of Palestinian Arab land and the destruction of the Palestinian people by a settler-colonial force, there is nothing more patriotic than "treason." Of course, the specifics of these allegations are highly unproven, and, indeed, deeply unlikely. The specific allegations are a political ploy and a means of repression against the Palestinian people. However, "loyalty" to the continuation of the Zionist state, its founding precepts, its racism and its settler-colonial apartheid nature, is directly contradictory to the interests of the Palestinian people within the Zionist state. It is impossible to both work for justice for the Palestinian people and to be "loyal" to a state that is based on their oppression, occupation and dispossession; to be loyal to Zionism is to commit treason against the Palestinian people. This repression is simply a testament to the refusal of the Palestinian people to relinquish their rights and identity. Indeed, even the most basic acts of self-defense are met with repression. For example, in Shafa'amr, where an off-duty Israeli soldier shot up a bus of Palestinians, killing four, during which he was subdued on the bus and was killed in the struggle, seven Shafa'amr residents, including Jameel Saffouri, a member of the Central Committee of Abnaa el-Balad movement, continue to be under investigation for allegedly defending themselves against a killer.
The importance of Bishara's rejection of the limited scope of "Israeli Arab" identity and involvement with the Arab people as a whole is reflected in the fact that his resignation was submitted from Cairo. Rather than accepting the Zionist definition of the Arab world as "foreign" or "enemy," Bishara, as a Palestinian Arab, stood with the Arab people as a whole in rejecting the machinations of the foreign enemies of the Arab people - Zionism, Israel and the United States. The allegations against Bishara, focusing on alleged connections to the Lebanese resistance, including Hezbollah, and to Syria, indicate the failure of 59 years of attempting to separate Palestinians within the Zionist state from the Palestinian people and from the Arab nation. As the United States has been pressuring its client regimes in the Arab world to grant even further concessions to the Zionist state than they already have, threatening those states that defy U.S. dictates with war and destruction of the type it has visited upon Iraq, and attempting to give Arab legitimacy to a renunciation of Palestinian rights, this rejection of the separation of the Palestinian people from the broader Arab world, alongside the opposition in Lebanon, the national resistance in Iraq, and the ongoing commitment of the Arab people - despite the actions of their regimes - to stand against occupation, oppression and imperialism, indicates an alternative and necessary path to the Arab world that must be of deep concern not only to the Zionist state but to U.S. imperialism. At a time when the U.S. is attempting to push normalization, it is a clear indication that normalization means nothing but a subservient "Israeli Arab" or U.S. puppet identity for the Arab world as a whole. As the U.S. has attempted to exacerbate sectarianism in Lebanon, promote civil war in Iraq, and create a dangerous factional rivalry, with U.S. weaponry, in Gaza, the ongoing resilience of the people of Palestine '48 and their brothers and sisters in the West Bank and Gaza, and in the diaspora; the continuing resistance of the people of Iraq to occupation and to sectarianism; the rejection by the Lebanese opposition of U.S. control in Lebanon create a political alternative that, after years of imperialism, devastation, and brutality, has not been quashed.
The siege on the West Bank and Gaza, the attacks on the right to return, the demand that Palestinians "recognize Israel" and legitimize their dispossession, are all acts on the part of the U.S. to attempt to kill the Palestinian cause, and intersect with the repression directed against the Palestinian people within Palestine '48, a project with the same goal. As Condoleeza Rice demands that Palestinians cease their resistance against the occupier that steals their land, imprisons 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners, and kills Palestinians daily with bombs, bullets, helicopters and fighter planes made in the U.S. and paid for by billions of dollars in U.S. tax money annually, the U.S. continues its massive funding of the occupier and its vast political and diplomatic support for its aggression. Rice's concern is how to create a subservient population from a Palestinian people that, for 59 years, has engaged in a revolutionary movement, a vast resistance that has become a symbol to the world of the power of a people to stand on the front lines against imperialism, against all odds, experiencing great suffering, and yet retaining dignity and the promise of victory. It is quite clear from the people of Palestine '48, who have experienced just such attempts for over 59 years and continued to hold steadfast in their resistance, just how unsuccessful Rice's project will prove to be.
Solidarity now is desperately needed for the Palestinian people as a whole - in Palestine '48, in the West Bank and Gaza, and in exile. The Palestinian people within the Zionist state cannot be ignored. They are engaged in a struggle for existence - and that struggle is a key part of the struggle for the liberation of all of Palestine. In our events, activities, articles, speeches and demonstrations it is critical that the repression directed against the Palestinian people inside the Zionist state be challenged directly and repeatedly, in a context of international solidarity. Just as the solidarity movement must emphasize solidarity with the Palestinian people in exile, and with our own Palestinian and Arab communities facing repression within the United States, it is also deeply important that we publicize and draw attention to the war of repression being waged against the Palestinians of '48. The mythology of the "Jewish and democratic" state, that views the West Bank and Gaza as the main - or only - site of the war on Palestine - must be shattered; the Palestinians struggling for freedom, justice and liberation within Palestine '48 require that solidarity. Moshe Sharett, Israel's first Foreign Minister, wrote in 1948 that "the most spectacular event in the contemporary history of Palestine - more spectacular in a sense than the creation of the Jewish State - is the wholesale evacuation of its Arab population...I doubt whether there are 100,000 Arabs in Israel today. The reversion to the status quo is unthinkable..." It is all of our duty to do whatever we can, 59 years later, to render Sharett's prediction invalid, and instead render the continuation of the Zionist status quo unthinkable.
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