Israeli Arabs' Only Hope at the Polls

Joint List head Ayman Odeh is the only one that has succeeded to instill in me the hope that there's still a chance of ending the occupation.

Sayed Kashua
Sayed Kashua
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Joint List head Odeh campaigning. Lieberman looked lackluster in comparison.
Joint List head Odeh campaigning. Lieberman looked lackluster in comparison.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Sayed Kashua
Sayed Kashua

Dear Salman,

First of all, I hope you’re in good health, and that we will be able to meet again in Jerusalem. Forgive me for writing you in a newspaper and not in a personal letter. But this time I felt it was my duty to publish a letter in response to your recent opinion piece in these pages ("Why I’m voting Meretz and not for the Arab ticket," March 12), in the hopes that you will once again choose the path of Moshe Dayan and change your mind. Not necessarily about voting Meretz, but rather in making your crude comparisons, which to me are unrealistic, between Balad and Yisrael Beiteinu, and the Islamic Movement and Habayit Hayehudi.

I’m sure you’re aware of my views on jingoism and nationality, as well as my stance on religion and religious political parties. But when I read your article, I felt you were doing a great injustice – not only to the new Joint List of Arab parties, but particularly to this newspaper’s readership.

I wondered why you chose to compare the Islamic Movement to Habayit Hayehudi, and not another religious movement like Shas. Of all the possibilities, why did you compare Balad’s nationalism to Yisrael Beiteinu, and not to the nationalism of Zionist Camp, or even that of Meretz?

Have the Islamic Movement and its representatives sought to rule over another people? Do they champion occupation and force other peoples off their land because of promises made in holy books?

Your description of Balad members as being in the vein of Yisrael Beiteinu was misleading, and constitutes an act of throwing sand in the eyes of the reader. It’s possible that some Balad supporters are guilty of jingoism, but comparing that party and its platform to Avigdor Lieberman’s party is a great sin. How can you compare a party that goes by the slogan “a state for all its citizens” to a party that considers Arabs a demographic threat, a fifth column, and as being representatives of terrorist organizations in the Knesset?

When have you heard a Balad MK call for the destruction of Israel, or for deporting citizens? Sadly, your article contained incitement reminiscent of Lieberman’s messages against Arabs.

May God forgive you, my friend, for prompting me to defend a religious party, and even a nationalist one. Although, if you’re wondering, yes – I believe concessions should be made when it comes to an oppressed minority on the issue of nationalism.

“If only there were a Palestinian state already,” a good friend and Balad supporter told me after I accused him of nationalism but not jingoism. “Just let there be a state and I’ll be the first to burn the flag,” he said.

Yes, we deserve some concessions. When I was young and optimism still flowed in my veins, I marched in protests against land appropriation, against the occupation and discrimination, and I remember how I acted when I heard some protesters shouting religious slogans, and others yelling jingoist ones.

How I had to bite my tongue, look for the group with the red flag under which Jews and Arabs marched together, still at the same protest, and remind myself that the overarching goal of the joint march – crying out together against discrimination and disenfranchisement – needs to be front and center.

I’m the last person who would support a schism between Arab and Jewish parties; I’ve always supported parties that feature a joint list. But I look at the Arab towns and I see the danger, the want, the crowding and violence that will only get worse without a fundamental change in the government’s policy toward its Arab citizens. We need a strong defense, a defense that no other party can currently offer Arabs.

It’s possible that I’m mistaken, Salman, my friend; it’s possible that there’s no room for hope. But I must say that Joint List head Ayman Odeh managed to instill some faith in me since last summer, full as it was of hatred, racism and blood, during which I felt that there would never be a common future together.

I saw Odeh facing Lieberman, and for the first time in many years, Lieberman didn’t scare me. He looked lackluster compared to the young politician who wouldn’t play into his hands. I saw Odeh and understood for the first time in many long months that there is still something to fight for, that a regime of segregation and fearmongering can be beaten, that it’s still possible to overthrow the government that silences the people, that it’s still possible to prevent a descent into the abyss of apartheid.

Odeh is the only one that has succeeded to instill in me the hope that there is still a chance of ending the occupation; that there is still a chance that we will be accepted as full citizens, including having roles in decision making and in land and resource allocation; that there is still a chance that we will stop being accused of treason and ingratitude when we aren’t satisfied with the crumbs and justifications we are fed by some of the decision makers; and that there’s still a chance that one day we will be full citizens with all that entails.

For that hope, for that faith, I am in Odeh’s debt, and because of that hope and faith I’m sorry that I am unable to vote.

“But it 40 days haven't passed,” my mother answered on the phone this week when I asked her to go out and vote.

“I know,” I answered my mother, busy mourning my father. “But, Mom, you have to.”

“Okay,” she gave in. “For you, for your children.”

“For all our children,” I told her.

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