The Joint List's Struggle Still Requires Dialogue With Parties in Government

איימן עודה
Ayman Odeh
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Ayman Odeh, in the foreground in the Knesset chamber, as his Joint List colleague Ahmad Tibi, sitting behind him, speaks to Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli in July.
איימן עודה
Ayman Odeh

For three years we have struggled together, the Arab citizens and the center-left camp, against Benjamin Netanyahu. Because of a step that had no precedent in the past two decades, the Joint List twice recommended to the president that he give Benny Gantz the task of establishing a government, and prevented Netanyahu from forming another one.

This staunch position caused the split in the Joint List due to the agreements between the United Arab List and Netanyahu. In our third recommendation to the president, the Joint List recommended Yair Lapid, even though we knew there was a strong possibility he would hand the task to Naftali Bennett, because the main thing – for us – was to replace Netanyahu. Period.

As far as we were concerned, replacing Netanyahu was just one step in the struggle for real democracy, but for the left-wing camp, the main thing is not the matter of basic democracy – the occupation, the weakened classes and the discrimination against the Arab population. The main thing for the left is the end of the attack on state institutions, including the Supreme Court. This is an important matter in its own right, but not sufficient.

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Last month I twice attended sessions of the Supreme Court. One time I was optimistic, during a hearing on the request to clear the name of the slain Yaqub Abu al-Kiyan of Umm al-Hiran; but unfortunately the bastion of Israeli democracy denied the petition. The second time came this week, when I accompanied the doctor from Gaza, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, whose three daughters, Yasmin, Miyar and Aya, were killed by tank fire on his home in 2009.

Dr. Abuelaish asked for recognition and an apology. It is enough to listen to the bereaved father when he speaks about his three daughters and proposes a solution of peace for the two peoples to be filled with emotion over his nobility, compared to the cold faces of the “democratic” Supreme Court. I don’t have a great deal of hope that they will answer his requests.

In his book “Representations of the Intellectual,” Edward Said writes that the hero of his youth was Jean Paul Sartre, and the dream of his life was to meet him. Then in 1978, Said received an invitation to meet Sartre at a dinner in the home of Michel Foucault. Excited, he flew to Paris, and in Foucault’s home Sartre told him, “Finally you have gotten some sense, you Arabs, you have Anwar Sadat!” Said couldn’t even swallow the food in his mouth, and waited for the first moment he could leave Foucault’s house and return to New York.

I understand the anger and disappointment he felt toward someone whom he saw as an ally, but who did not understand the complexity of the region and centrality of the Palestinian issue. Parties that were allies in recent years are today part of the coalition that is deepening the occupation and harming the weakened classes. But I don’t have the privilege that the intellectual had to act the way he did.

I am obligated to continue the struggle, and also to speak with the left-wing camp, in spite of the disappointment. Last week I submitted a bill to build a hospital in Sakhnin – the city in Israel that lies the farthest away from the nearest hospital. A city with a modest socioeconomic standing, where the life expectancy is one of the lowest in Israel. I told myself, finally, here is a health minister from Meretz – but in the first meeting between us, Nitzan Horowitz told me the government has already decided to build a hospital in Kiryat Ata.

I sat with Meretz MKs to try to win their support for my bill, but they told me that a hospital is not built by passing a law. I reminded them that former minister Sofa Landver passed a law to establish a hospital in Ashdod. They told me my bill needs to specify the plot of land intended for the hospital. I told them I fear that if I specify the plot of land, you will tell me, “You can’t dictate to us where to build.”

But I can sit with the Health Ministry and offer 10 alternatives in the area of Al-Batuf (Beit Netofa). I know that in every conversation between a minority and the privileged over the rights of the minority, there is always a reason for the privileged to say: Yes, but. Nonetheless, I have still not lost hope that the health minister will agree to be a partner in establishing a hospital in the area of al-Batuf.

Ayman Odeh is the chairman of the Joint List.

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