In Israel, the fight against annexation

Submitted by AWL on 13 February, 2020 - 10:38 Author: Interview with Maisam Jaljuli
Maisam Jaljuli

Maisam Jaljuli, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and activist in the left-wing Jewish-Arab social movement Standing Together, spoke to Daniel Randall from Solidarity about their struggles against annexation, occupation, racism, and for workers' rights and social justice.

For other interviews with Standing Together activists, see ”Beyond co-existence to solidarity”, an interview with Alon-Lee Green and Sally Abed, and ”Jews and Arabs standing together”, an interview with Hannah Pollin-Galay.

DR: Can you tell us about the demonstration Standing Together organised on Saturday 1 February?

MJ: This was a large and impressive protest, in which some 2,000 Jews and Arabs came out to the streets after receiving only a few days’ notice. The message was that we are against annexation and also against the transfer of Arab citizens in the “Triangle” region of Israel. Though not everyone noticed this detail, the Trump Plan actually stipulates that the Israeli citizenship of 300,000 citizens in this region, including myself, should be revoked.

Even merely flirting with the notion of revoking my citizenship, after I have dedicated myself to the good of all in our society through my work as a labour organiser and social activist, is incredibly insulting. Our protest proved that Jews and Arabs within Israel will not accept this plan, or any similar unilateral plan. This one in particular is riddled with hatred and endangers all of us with a future of endless warfare.

DR: Following this protest, what are the prospects for building a movement within Israeli society against annexation and occupation?

MJ: We now face a tremendous challenge: To convince citizens of Israel that this plan is not only harmful to Palestinians—in the occupied territories and within Israel—but also detrimental to Jews, a death sentence for everyone living here. Most unfortunately, the Blue and White party praised the plan. Even some politicians that are considered ‘soft left’ equivocated and did not produce a clear statement of censure against Trump’s plan.

That’s why the burden of responsibility falls on us, citizen activists, who need to build a strong civil base of opposition. My vision is to create a big tent that will include all the different peace movements, all the different social movements, with our movement Standing Together taking a leadership role. It is important to act decisively in the short term, expressing loud, resolute opposition to Trump’s plan, and exerting great pressure on centre-left political parties to walk away from this plan. This is what we are doing. We are purchasing big billboards, holding protests and smaller community events on this. But, we also need to think about the long term, which means bringing as many people as possible into this big tent, showing them that it is in their self-interest to join it.

DR: What are the practical implications of Netanyahu's aims, given a green light by the "Trump Plan", for Arab citizens of Israel?

MJ: For an entire decade, Netanyahu has been trying to delegitimise Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel. The first peak of this violent campaign came in 2015 when he tried to encourage Jewish voters to go to the polls by warning them that Arabs were “streaming to the voting booth” in large buses. The Nation State Law was, of course, the most acute expression of this project, a law that differentiates between first and second class citizens. Now, it seems like the Nation State Law was merely a warm up for the revocation of our citizenship, which is now proposed. This time, the policy also appears on a document signed by the most powerful nation in the world, the United States. We face a material, immanent threat of forced transfer and loss of citizenship.

I’m speaking primarily about the threat that this plan poses to us, Palestinian citizens of Israel, since I feel it is a less known aspect of the plan. Of course, the threat of annexing large parts of the West Bank, and isolating Palestinians there in separate bantustans is equally dangerous. In fact, the two go hand in hand: They are two prongs of the same racist vision of dehumanizing Arabs, Palestinians, excluding us from the public sphere, controlling our ability to move, to influence, and live as we wish.

DR: The prospects in official/electoral politics in Israel seem bleak. Ahead of the next elections, what's your assessment of that?

MJ: Hands down, the most critical goal for this coming election is Arab voter turnout. We need to make the Joint List, under [left-wing MK Ayman] Odeh’s leadership, the third largest party in the Knesset. I do think that we can get 15 parliamentary seats. If that’s the case, we get to decide who will be the next Prime Minister.

Sadly, the Blue and White party has reversed many of its proclamations about equality and civil rights and has descended into right-wing positions, with regard to Palestinian Arabs. As a result, the Joint List will not be a part of any coalition. That’s for sure. However, if we are big enough, we will be the ones to “tip the scale” between the parties and that will give us a window of influence. We would also have the chance to be leaders of the opposition and that would grant us power of a new sort.

DR: Some international commentators, especially on the left, claims that a genuine two-states settlement is now impossible, or that "the two-state solution is dead". This seems highly premature to us, as the shift in the balance of forces required to bring about some kind of unitary or post-national framework is far less feasible than the shift required to force Israel to concede a viable Palestinian state. What's your view on this?

MJ: I truly do not agree with this assessment. Declaring that “there is no two-state solution” actually comes from Netanyahu’s rhetoric, which he espouses in order to attract even farther-right Messianic voters, who believe in a “Greater Israel” from the river to the sea! He has convinced a great many people of this. The rhetoric is easy to say. But, if we are being realistic, we should face the fact that “one state” has one meaning, and that’s an apartheid state. I still hold that a two-state solution is not only the fairest solution, it is also the only realistic solution.

DR: What campaigns is Standing Together currently working on, beyond building action against the threat of annexation?

MJ: Anyone who knows our movement (feel free to check out our website!) knows that we believe in combining the struggle for Israeli-Palestinian peace, with ‘domestic’ struggles for racial and social equality.

So, on the “domestic” end, we have several ongoing campaigns. One is fighting the extreme day-to-day violence and crime within Arab society in Israel. Though people abroad are less aware of this issue, it is actually tearing us apart from the inside and it is something that our communities talk about a lot. Of course, the responsibility for our community’s violence lies squarely with the government, which offers us next to nothing in terms of infrastructure, community support, and education. We cannot ask people to organise around larger, more abstract issues without addressing this immediate crisis. We literally walk out the door and fear for our lives and our children’s lives. That is why Standing Together has taken on this issue, acting in partnership with Arab communities throughout the country, mobilising to speak up for their right to safety, dignity, public resources, and a gun-free society.

Simultaneously, we are working on healthcare justice. Our public heath care system is crashing and there are appalling gaps between what services citizens can obtain, based on where they live, which is a function of economic and social status. This year we will focus on a campaign to guarantee rights for the aged, equivalent to the minimum wage. This is about fighting for their dignity, especially for those who do not have pensions, and that is a great many.

In addition to these two overarching projects, all of which are organised and executed through Jewish-Arab partnership, we have campaigns on climate justice, public housing, and the integration of the Arabic language into the public sphere.

DR: What can activists elsewhere in the world do to support Standing Together, and other progressive forces attempting to build Jewish-Arab unity on the basis of socialist politics?

MJ: Right now, we are witnessing the rise of the extreme right all over the world. At the same time, there are also effective progressive movements sprouting up from the grass roots all over the world. We at Standing Together seek partners. We want to learn from you, from your experience, and from your knowledge, as a way to improve our struggle for justice in Israel.

Thanks for Hannah Pollin-Galay for translation.

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