Among Joint List's Many Tasks: Convincing Arabs It Was Worth Voting

The magnitude and multitude of the tasks facing Joint List in the coming term is equal to the depth of the oppression, discrimination and alienation among Israel’s Palestinian citizens.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Joint List leader Ayman Odeh (left) with MKs Haneen Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka, February 17, 2015.
Joint List leader Ayman Odeh (left) with MKs Haneen Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka, February 17, 2015.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The low turnout among Palestinian citizens of Israel in the 2015 election is both sobering and painful (much as it delighted Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman). Even if they disagree with the ideological arguments advanced by those who call for boycotting the Zionist enemy, Palestinian citizens of Israel have trouble believing that the Israeli political system truly intends to listen to their voices. They have been given no reason to believe that Jewish-Israeli society can free itself of the racist arguments it offers for the extra rights it has claimed – and continues to claim – for itself at the Palestinians’ expense.

Irrespective of the size of the individual pieces that will be put together, the right-right wing of the Israeli political map is bigger than the center-right wing (which is headed by Zionist Union). And we’re still waiting for the soldiers’ votes, which are liable to add another seat to the right-wing bloc.

The magnitude and multitude of the tasks facing the Arab community’s Joint List in the coming term is equal to the depth of the oppression, discrimination and alienation among Israel’s Palestinian citizens.

The Joint List is the one truly refreshing thing to emerge from this election – and the low turnout rate among its target population doesn’t change this fact. It merely adds one more task to the many facing its elected representatives in the coming years: to convince its electorate that it’s worthwhile to vote, that it’s worthwhile to up their turnout. Not because elections are the be-all and end-all, but because they’re a tool that must be used.

The Joint List cracked a deterministic "idee fixe" – that the Arab parties were incapable of overcoming their internal disputes in order to thwart the plot to curtail Arab political representation. Now it will have to shatter another deterministic conclusion that is even more firmly set – that there’s no point in trying to influence the Israeli political system.

Israeli Palestinians’ brothers and sisters in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip observed Tuesday's election with great interest, and they were especially interested in the Joint List. The low turnout rate on the other side of the Green Line also disappointed them – the ones deprive of the right to vote in elections that determine their fate.

The broader Palestinian public sees no difference between a Likud-led government and one led by Zionist Union. But it’s no secret that the Palestinian Authority leadership was hoping for some arithmetical miracle that would topple the Likud government. It was very careful not to say anything that would be perceived as supporting a government led by Zionist Union, but the PA leadership is still sunk in delusions about the past: It still thinks that under a Labor-led government, the Oslo Accords would have had a chance of becoming a real peace process that would have resulted in a Palestinian state.

And this returns us to the many and weighty tasks awaiting the Joint List, with all its progressive potential as a representative of the oppressed: waging a battle over the allocation of resources and budgets to Israel’s Arab population; giving a presence to all the weakened members of Israeli society – Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern origin), women and the disabled – without regard to their national or ethnic origins; and making the eminently logical linkage between social justice and the demand that Israel withdraw from the territories and dismantle the settlements.

One additional task – perhaps by the very fact of its existence – is to provide inspiration for the Palestinian political system in the West Bank and Gaza. No weakened and oppressed population is merely a passive bystander in the course of its own life. Every oppressed and passive group has the possibility and the responsibility of striving to influence the existing situation that works to its detriment (the same existing situation that works to the benefit of the ones with the power to oppress). The Palestinian political system in the West Bank and Gaza must undergo deep internal changes in order to lead the difficult battle against Israeli colonialism.

It’s hard to imagine such changes now. But a year ago, it would also have been hard to imagine the Joint List.

Amira Hass tweets at @hass_haaretz

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