Knesset member Mansour Abbas, who recently split off from the Arab Joint List, dropped a powerful bomb when he said, “Religious principles are no less important than [Arab] national principles.”
The utterance has not yet been answered by Abbas’ former allies on the Joint List. Until now, the premise of all the partners was that the unifier trumps the divider, or in other words, “We are Arabs, and that is enough to unite us.” Abbas argues, however, that the principles of the Islamic movement “are the accepted principles in our Arab society.” He claims, in other words, that the priority of religion expresses the position of the Arab majority.
Blowing up the Joint List
Abbas’s statement touches the heart of the disagreements within the Joint List, which have so far been swept under the rug. The upcoming election campaign has opened the door wide to a new kind of debate, which is being held for the first time in public. The national principle is important—indeed, it is a pillar of the original Joint List—Abbas argues, but it is not the most important. Islam is the basis, and so the religious principle must be the determining one.
Mansour Abbas demands that Hadash (led by the Israeli CP) and the National Democratic Alliance refrain from voting on controversial laws, such as those that support the LGBTs or that limit the Islamic courts, laws that allow people to “rent a womb” and the like. This restraint, he said, is a condition for maintaining the unity of so diverse a group. Abbas wants to force their acceptance of his approach even while “updating” the concept of nationality, which he considers too vague.
Abbas knew that the other three member-parties of the Joint List did not accept his worldview, and so he found it fitting to drop this bomb. Undoubtedly the List’s recent decline in public opinion polls, from 15 seats to 10, has had a role in changing his position. The decline expresses the Arab public’s loss of trust in the List.
Abbas claims that this loss of credibility, and the failure to bring any material or political achievement, are results of the List’s insistence on cooping itself up in the parliamentary opposition. In other words, the Arab Joint List has finally decided to stop relying on any one camp, left or right. While the “national” conception has forced it to adhere to the Israeli Left, the religious conception does not stop it from joining any side that will meet its cultural and social demands, even if that side is hostile to the Palestinian people. At the heart of the matter, MK Abbas believes that both the Israeli Right and the Israeli Left are Jews—that is, infidels. Therefore, he says loud and clear: We are ready to march with any political party, on condition that it fills us with budgets to combat the violence that is spreading in the Arab community and accomplish concrete things for it.
Abbas’ statement that the principles of the Islamic movement “govern Arab society” has only one meaning: we must preserve the status quo. We must not shake the existing and deeply rooted conservative tradition within Arab society. This tradition sanctifies the patriarchal structure. The oppression of women, which deprives them of the freedom to choose their clothing, and which negates their freedom to move, study and work, is the same tradition that allows men to oppress women. The premise is that men are their guardians—and may kill them for the sake of family honor.
This tradition strengthens the rule of clans within the local governing authorities. It encourages widespread corruption based on the principle that whoever is close to the plate will eat. It is what prevents activity in theater, dance and literature, for fear of a sexual reference. Abbas is trying to keep the social situation intact while rushing to ally with Netanyahu, basing himself on the urgent need to procure budgets for solving the problem of violence. Yet violence in Arab society is an outgrowth of the same approach that preserves the patriarchal structure.
The violence and crime pervading Arab society are symptoms and not the disease itself. The root lies in a faith that sees any non-Muslim as an infidel, in the oppression of women, in crying “Heresy!” whenever people express themselves freely. Religion, encouraged by Mansour Abbas and his party, imposes Islamic law at the expense of tolerance—not just tolerance towards the other, but tolerance between brother and brother, brother and sister, husband and wife, families and clans.
Budgets are no solution
In reality, the Islamic movement’s positions are the cause of the problems in Arab society. It is ridiculous to think that Netanyahu will solve them, both because he has no interest in raising Arab society from the abyss, and because the root is internal. The Islamic movement is splitting from the Joint List in order to entrench the very principle that sickens the society.
Additional budgets are no solution to the crisis because they will feed the same leaderships that adhere to the current mentality. The other members of the Joint List did not dare to oppose this mentality so as not to shake the boat. Additional budgets will deepen the nepotism and lack of transparency in distribution of funds.
If we Arabs want to eliminate violence, we must organize as a civil, modern and democratic society. We must uproot the clan regime and allow for fresh and modern civic leadership, one that includes women at all levels of decision-making. All those who claim to support the struggle against the Occupation and for the attainment of national rights must stand at the forefront, protecting human rights and women’s rights, while respecting freedom of sexual preference. It is impossible to separate the social solution and the political solution, they go hand in hand.
Until now, the Hadash and NDA leaderships have not been willing to enter a discussion with Mansour Abbas and the Islamic Movement, because they wanted power no matter what. A false unity allowed them to hide behind divisive sectarian and national principles. Hadash, the so-called “communist” and progressive party, relies to this day on dubious alliances with the large families in the Arab communities. Thus it sanctifies the existing sectarian divisions within its electoral list (Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze). “National unity” is an empty slogan that papers over a clan regime that oppresses women, youth, and every free voice.
The third way
The Daam party, to which I belong, presents a third way, which encourages a revolution of consciousness and a vision that reaches beyond nations, religions and genders. It seeks to build a foundation for a new society. It promotes activists and voices that will bring about change. Daam’s program, the Israeli-Palestinian Green New Deal, embraces the values of democracy. Daam advocates a position that is consistent with Arab society’s need for openness and freedom. It seeks radical change on all levels. All this cannot happen without true Jewish-Arab partnership, based on universal principles and equality. As long as Arab society suffers from the diseases we have mentioned, it will remain too weak for such a partnership.
In the current election campaign, ask every Palestinian Arab: Will we continue to tread in the same place? Will we continue to live in the shadow of prejudice and tradition? Or should we take our destiny and our lives and the lives of our children in a different direction? What kind of society do we want to live in? Can we catch up with modern scientific development? Will we become part of the progressive movements in the world that strive to change the political and economic and social situation, or will we remain bystanders?
Does it make sense for us as a people to remain outside the important scientific and technological developments that are taking place at the local and global levels? How can we flow with the rest of the world as a society limited by religious traditions and beliefs?
The Daam Party calls for the construction of a shared and green economy that will benefit everyone. Together we must mobilize the resources to build a modern and equal educational system and a health-care system for the general public. We must create job opportunities tailored to the new economy and promising a life of respect for both peoples. The green economy will not be realized without the construction of an egalitarian popular movement including Jews and Arabs in Israel and the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
- Hanan Manadra Zoabi is co-director of Sindyanna of Galilee. She is a member of Daam, a political party in Israel.