Gaza War Disgruntles Israeli Arab Voters

With brutal images from the recent Israeli onslaught on Gaza still flashing before his eyes, Ihab Issa swears he will not be voting in Israel’s upcoming general election.

"It’s just war, war, war. Every couple of years Israel goes to war and children and innocent people get killed…in Gaza, in Lebanon," Issa, a 28-year-old Israeli Arab, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Monday, February 2.

"Now they ask me to vote for somebody. How can I vote?"

Issa, who owns a restaurant in Nazareth, the largest Arab town in Israel, is not alone.

Many Arabs are planning to boycott the February 10 polls to elect a new parliament and a new prime minister over the Gaza offensive which killed and injured thousands of Palestinians in 22 days.

Arab political parties have also called for an election boycott.

The Sons of the Homeland (Abna el-Balad) party has joined the Islamic Movement in Israel in urging Arabs to shun the ballot.

Experts predict that the growing boycott trend will induce a dramatic fall in the Arab voters’ turnout.

"The Palestinians are so angry (at the Gaza war)," says Haneen Zobi, a media expert from Nazareth.

"I am afraid of a low turnout."

A study by the Association for the Advancement of Democracy in the Arab Sector in Israel predicted that no more than 45 percent of eligible Israeli Arab voters will vote.

That would likely spell troubles for the ruling Kadima-Labour coalition, which unleashed the Gaza war.

There are 13,000 Arab voters among the 70,000 voters on the ruling Kadima’s voters list.

Last year, Defense Minister Ehud Barak reportedly won the Labour party leadership primaries thanks to Arab voters.

The opposition Likud and other right-wing parties are already leading in all national opinion polls.

Revenge Vote

But some Israeli Arab politicians believe that flocking to the polling stations would be the best answer for the Gaza crimes.

Dr Afo Egbarieh — whose Arab Democratic Front for Peace and Equality is contesting the election under the slogan "Protect our existence, build our future" – admits that an atmosphere of depression is gripping their community.

"You can see it everywhere. People are depressed…indifferent."

But he insists that Israeli Arabs should opt for active voting rather than boycotting.

Sheikh Ibrahim Sarsour, who heads the United Arab Party, could not agree more.

"These are the elections of revenge, not in blood but by democratic means," he told AFP.

He asserts that a high Arab turnout would also be the ultimate answer for the injustices they face in Israel.

Arabs, descendants of Palestinians who stayed after hundreds of thousands of compatriots fled or were driven from their homes by Zionist gangs in 1948, are estimated at 1.5 million or 20 percent of Israel’s 7.3 million population.

Though legally considered Israeli citizens, they face discrimination in all walks of life.

Poverty rate among Israeli Arabs is almost twice that of the Jewish population and they are also suffering from discrimination in jobs and education.

With recent calls for the next government to step up pressure to "transfer" Israeli Arabs to a future Palestinian state, Sarsour believes the stakes in the election are too high to ignore.

"We feel we are facing a real threat to our physical existence."

( and Agencies)

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