The Arab Parties' Big Move |

I Still Have a Dream - and It Means That I, a Bedouin Arab Woman, Must Vote

A self-interested Knesset and inciting government made me want to boycott the election. But the joint Arab list and fresh faces among the candidates give me hope and persuade me to go out and vote.

Hanan Elsana
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A Bedouin girl in an unrecognized village near Rahat, southern Israel.
A Bedouin girl in an unrecognized village near Rahat, southern Israel.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen
Hanan Elsana

I have always dreamed of living in a free country with a society that respects and accepts the other.

I dreamed about a society that takes care of others, that embraces the poor and lifts them above the poverty line, that adopts the principle of pluralism.

Until two years ago I was optimistic. I knew the dream would come true because these characteristics express democratic principles and I live in what is supposed to be the most democratic country in the Middle East.

I knew that every citizen has a social and national responsibility to strengthen justice and equality in society. So for 14 years I worked to ensure the rights of Bedouin Arab women in the Negev, mainly in the unrecognized villages.

With donors from abroad I opened classrooms for women to learn to read and write, I established a center for business entrepreneurship for women, and I tried to increase awareness of their situation.

I encountered tremendous difficulties - Bedouin society is traditional and conservative - but the government makes things yet harder for us.

The 90,000 residents of the Negev’s unrecognized villages lack infrastructure and basic services. Their socioeconomic situation is the worst in Israel, and in addition they must fend off home demolitions.

But I persevered. Each time I thought about the dream - freedom, justice, equality - I smiled an optimistic smile because I believed that the gloomy situation would change.

Again, we are in a democratic country, the government is “a government of the people,” and I didn’t think the people would want anything else.

Elections implement a government of the people. The people choose their representatives, who in turn swear to work for the benefit and security of the people.

But what happens when the people’s representatives, those who take their seats in the Knesset, prioritize their own personal interests? Instead of reducing the distress of the citizens, they increase it? And to ensure that the citizens turn a blind eye to the government’s actions, the legislators keep the electorate busy with a discourse of racism, anger and hatred - between left and right, Arab and Jew, men and women, the country’s center and its outlying areas.

These legislators benefit from the people’s wealth. And we no longer know where to invest our resources:

Do we help others (and ourselves) with daily survival and in dealing with the economic, educational and social hardships? Or do we fight Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which has developed this strategy of reinforcing its position by inflaming racism and incitement.

I addressed my anger to our representatives in the Knesset, to the Arab parties: “We’re in the field and you’re in the Knesset. How did you allow this to happen? Why didn’t you work to stop it?”

And since the Prawer Law - a government effort to confiscate Bedouin land and relocate the residents to other villages - had passed its first reading, I had made up my mind that we should not vote and must boycott the election.

I felt that we must do this not out of apathy and distance from Israeli politics but as a call on the parties to unite, to be cured of the illness of the Knesset seat and to give access and opportunity to new faces.

The recent increase in the minimum vote needed to get into the Knesset, not the demands of the people, prompted most of the Arab parties to merge. So I was still hesitant and thought that I would nevertheless boycott the elections.

But efforts in Hadash (a party that I previously had not supported), the innovations, the new faces on the joint list of Knesset candidates, including people experienced in working in civil society – all these things influenced me.

Although I have reservations, the fact that I believe in the abilities of most of the candidates is a reason to go out and vote.

After all, I still have a dream.

The writer is the director of the Al Badia Center for Empowering Bedouin Arab Women.

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