By Dr. Haidar Eid
Stripping Professor Azmi Bishara of his parliamentary immunity in 2005 was another evidence of Israel’s racist treatment of its Palestinian “minority”—the 1.3 million Palestinians who, despite all numerous odds, have remained on their homeland, which became Israel in 1948. The Israeli parliament (Knesset), then, voted in favor of stripping Bishara because of “his anti-Israeli remarks” and his organizing trips to Syria—considered “enemy state” by Israel.
Unsurprisingly, this was the first time the Israeli Knesset takes such a decision since its inception. Never had a Jewish Parliamentarian been stripped of her/his immunity for making political statements, though racism is the ideology that informs most political statements made by Israeli politicians.
Bishara, one of the most charismatic, outspoken representatives of the Israeli Palestinians heads the Tajjamu (The National Democratic Alliance). The comments that infuriated the Israeli establishment then were his denouncement of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s warmongering policies in Palestine and Lebanon and his suggestion that resistance is a legitimate response to Israeli occupation. The Israeli officials interpreted this as “incitement to violence” and “expressing support for terrorism.” The second accusation referred to the trips he had organized for 800 Israeli Palestinians to be reunited with relatives in Syria they had not seen since 1948.
This decision, the lifting of his parliamentary immunity, was taken in order to enable the Israeli Attorney General to indict Bishara. In other words, the Israeli establishment considered, as it still does, its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip “legitimate,” and that any resistance to it is “illegitimate”. That, of course, flies in the face of international law. Now, in 2007, accusations have been hurled against Bishara in what seems to be an organized campaign coordinated between the official Israeli media and the security apparatus. Moreover, more serious steps are being taken as a result of the very strong collaboration between the latter and the political establishment encouraged by the demagogic hysteria controlling the Israeli street after the humiliating defeat in Lebanon. As in 2005, the target of this campaign, according to Bishara, is the Palestinian national identity within Israel and the 1967 occupied territories.
Bishara’s statements and positions emanate from his party’s political program. Such program poses a very serious threat to the nature of Israel as “the state of the Jews”. Put differently, the NDA program calls for a secular definition of the state–”the State of all of its Citizens.” To recognize the exclusivist nature of the State is the precondition for being welcomed in the Knesset. Different from the Israeli Communist Party, for example, the NDA emphasizes the national identity of Israeli Palestinians, who have been discriminated against for 59 years. There is no Israeli nationality, while Israel continues to define its national character as Jewish and not Israeli, which effectively excludes all Palestinians and "non-Jews" living in Israel. This, as noted by the UN Committee on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights, "encourages discrimination and accords second class status to [Israel’s] non-Jewish citizens." (1998 Concluding Observations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights).
A serious comprehensive solution to the Palestinian question will not, therefore, neglect the 1948 Palestinians and those who were expelled and dispossessed of their lands on 1948, namely, refugees living in miserable camps. The mechanism by which such serious issues can be resolved is not a bantustanization a la apartheid South Africa as suggested by the signatories of the Oslo Accords. Rather, a secular democratic state where all citizens are treated equally regardless of their religion, sex or color, is the right solution that brings an end to the conflict. This is partly what Bishara’s programme is about; this is the reason behind the cuurent campaign; and this is why the Palestinian national identity of Israeli Palestinians is considered a threat to the Zionist establishment.
Azmi Bishara is what the official Palestinian leadership is NOT. Charisma combined with a political vision and a clear-cut ideological programme. Whereas the Palestinian leadership is prepared to recognize a "Jewish state" alongside a Palestinian State regardless of what this means, namely the discriminatory practices applied by Israel against its non-Jewish, i.e. mainly Palestinian citizens and residents since 1948, Bishara’s programme makes the necessary link between all Palestinian struggles against the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and against Israel’s ethnically-based displacement, dispossession, discrimination and rights violations of about 1.3 million Palestinian citizens, including some 250,000 internally displaced, as well as the 1948 externally displaced refugees, who are entitled to return, restitution and “Israeli citizenship” under international law.
– Haidar Eid teaches at the Department of English, Al-Aqsa University.