Should Palestinian citizens of Israel boycott the April 9 Knesset elections?

israel election

Photo caption: Welcome to Israeli elections where advocating war crimes gets you votes!
Sign reads “No to ceasefire. It’s time for continuous (non-stop) fire.”

As Haidar Eid, Associate Professor at al-Aqsa University on the Gaza Strip,put it,

If we are to gain anything from this critical moment, we should seize the opportunity offered us by the blatant racism of Israeli elections and the so-called “deal of the century” to foreground the much needed alternative. I.e, equality and justice for all.

One way of doing this, in my view, is for Palestinian citizens of Israel to boycott the April 9 Knesset elections. After all, let’s take a look at who can vote in the elections. Millions of Palestinians live under Israeli rule but cannot vote for the government that controls their lives. There is even a “Partial” category to who can vote in the Israeli 2019 elections: Palestinian Citizens in unrecognized villages — only a small percentage of them can vote!


Photo caption: IMEU poster: 2019 Israeli Elections: Millions of Palestinians live under Israeli rule but cannot vote for the government that controls their lives.

The creation of the Jewish state on 78% of Palestine in 1948 resulted in the fragmentation (both geographic and juridical) of the Palestinian people, who are united, nevertheless, in opposing the legitimacy of the partitioning of Palestine. To this day, they continue to demand their internationally recognized right of return to their homeland and self-determination in it.

In response to one of the many questions on Quora that are designed to legitimate Israel [Do anti-zionists understand how much better Israel treats Palestinians (who live in Israel, not the territories) than any of the other countries surrounding?], I quoted the following from a United Nations publication issued by ESCWA and later withdrawn for political reasons:

Domain 1 embraces about 1.7 million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel. For the first 20 years of the country’s existence, they lived under martial law and to this day are subjected to oppression on the basis of not being Jewish. That policy of domination manifests itself in inferior services, restrictive zoning laws and limited budget allocations made to Palestinian communities; in restrictions on jobs and professional opportunities; and in the mostly segregated landscape in which Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel live. Palestinian political parties can campaign for minor reforms and better budgets, but are legally prohibited by the Basic Law from challenging legislation maintaining the racial regime. The policy is reinforced by the implications of the distinction made in Israel between “citizenship” (ezrahut) and “nationality” (le’um): all Israeli citizens enjoy the former, but only Jews enjoy the latter. “National” rights in Israeli law signify Jewish-national rights. The struggle of Palestinian citizens of Israel for equality and civil reforms under Israeli law is thus isolated by the regime from that of Palestinians elsewhere.

In addition to the above, a report published in commemoration of Land Day (‘A potent symbol of the Palestinian struggle’) this year by Jihad Abu Raya, a Palestinian lawyer and activist based in northern Israel and the founder of the Falestaniyat movement, gives us a searing picture of the situation of Palestinian citizens of Israel. The report had the subtitle, ‘Palestinian citizens of Israel gather annually to demand their rights to the land Israel stole’, and included the following information about the confiscation of Palestinian land by the Israeli government and Palestinian resistance to it:

On the first Land Day, 30 March, 1976, Palestinian citizens of Israel tried to rescue what remained of their lands after the Israeli government announced plans to confiscate around 20,000 dunams (2,000 hectares) of private Palestinian land in the Galilee, particularly in the areas of Sakhnin, Arraba and Deir Hanna.

The goal was to create a Jewish city on these lands, as part of a wider campaign to Judaise the Galilee. It came through the implementation of the 1976 confidential Koenig Memorandum, which recommended that the confiscation of Palestinian land continue and that work should be done to impoverish Palestinians with the aim of displacing them.

… Yet, the confiscation of land in the Galilee was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. The protests and mass demonstrations had been building since the Nakba.

In a process of harassing and chasing those Palestinians who remained in their homeland, the confiscation of land began immediately after the Nakba, with the passing of the absentee property law.

It is clear, given the above, that Palestinian citizens of Israel should continue to resist their domination and oppression at the hands of the Israeli government. But is the use of the tactic of boycotting the April 9 Knesset elections by Palestinian citizens of Israel an effective means of doing so?


Photo caption: Mosque minarets are seen next to an election campaign banners depicting Ahmad Tibi, from of the Hadash-Ta’al party in the Israeli-Arab village of Taibe, northern Israel April 3, 2019. Picture taken April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Nijmeh Ali and Yara Hawari are both Al-Shabaka policy members and discuss this question here in one of the organization’s roundtable discussions, a forum for Palestinian debate on important issues.

Ali, who is currently working on her PhD at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Otago University, New Zealand, grew up in Haifa; her family are internal refugees originally from Mia’ar in the Galilee. Hawari’s research is focused on oral history projects and memory politics, framed within Indigenous Studies.

In making their points, each answers the following questions put to them by Al-Shabaka:

  1. What do Palestinian citizens of Israel gain by participating in the Israeli elections? By boycotting them?
  2. How does the historical context of Palestinian political participation inform your stance?
  3. How do recent events such as the passing of the nation-state law and the dissolution of the Arab Joint List come into play?
  4. What role does voting or boycotting have in the continuous and future struggle for Palestinian liberation?

Their discussion highlights the following important points:

  • Electoral rejection without constructing a solid alternative establishes a political passivity that is dangerous for a colonized, occupied, and oppressed people
  • Far from being a sign of apathy, election boycotts are a well-used political tool
  • Palestinian citizens of Israel can act when circumstances guarantee mass support politically and, on the ground,
  • Boycotting the Knesset elections must be a tactic that is part of an overall vision for the Palestinian citizens of Israel

My own view is that, since there is little difference between the candidates (see: Netanyahu and Gantz are two sides of the same coin) that can effect meaningful change for Palestinians (within the Green Line and outside it), Palestinian citizens of Israel might as well boycott this election and continue to work on an effective political vision for the future.

Rima Najjar is a retired professor at Ql-Quds University, Palestine. Her father comes from Lifta/Jerusalem and her mother from Ijzim/Haifa.

Note: The above was first published on Quora as an answer to the Question, ‘Should Palestinian citizens of Israel boycott the April 9 Israeli elections?’



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