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[Interview] Joint List MK Neveen Abu Rahmoun: Israeli system unable to face criticism, protest and popular struggle

First published December 3rd, 2018 in Middle East Sight Magazine

BEN GOREN: How long have you been a Member of the Knesset?

NEVEEN ABU RAHMOUN: I started my role as a Member of Knesset on the 10th of August this year, following the rotation in the Joint List.

BEN GOREN: Why did you choose to stand for election to the Knesset? What are your goals?

NEVEEN ABU RAHMOUN:  My political participation began at the 11th grade, when I joined Balad as an activist. Being a representative in the Knesset is one of the meaningful ways to create an impact for us, the Palestinian public,  not only on daily life but also on the political discourse. As Palestinian citizens, the Knesset is a crucial platform to promote civic and social issues. My main goals are to change the future of the society I live in, specifically in issues involving children’s and women’s right, and to promote the status of the Palestinian society in Israel. As a native, it was also important for me to enter the Knesset to promote the vision of A State for all its Citizens.

BEN GOREN: Have you ever experienced incidents of misogyny, islamophobia, or racism from other members of the Knesset?

NEVEEN ABU RAHMOUN:  It is well known that there are members of Knesset that use every opportunity to incite against the Palestinian people, to preserve stereotypes and to de-legitimize Palestinian representatives and our political discourse.

BEN GOREN: What obstacles have you faced as a woman in becoming active in Israeli / Palestinian politics?

NEVEEN ABU RAHMOUN: When I entered the Knesset we broke the record of female representation – 35 women (now there are 36). I think the issue of women’s representation in politics is very important, this is our way to create impact and change. I wish all women in the Knesset would act to promote the feminist agenda, but unfortunately some of them are busy in trampling women’s right in general and Palestinian women’s rights in particular. Just last week, the coalition halted a bill to set up a parliamentary inquiry committee into the phenomenon of murder of women in Israel.

BEN GOREN: The Knesset is currently reading a Loyalty To Culture Bill that would give the Minister of Culture sweeping powers to cut funding for any institution that it considers to be disloyal to the ‘national culture’ such as by hosting events about the occupation or the Nakba. Do you think this will pass the Knesset? is there any opposition within the Knesset and from other parties outside of Balad to this bill?

NEVEEN ABU RAHMOUN: The Joint List objects to this bill, of course, as well as other parties in the opposition. The question of its passing depends on the coalition and in agreements Netanyahu might have with Yisrael Beiteinu to promote some of their bills (and specifically a bill that
calling for the death penalty for Palestinians “in circumstances of terrorist acts”)

BEN GOREN: In what way did the Great Return March get covered in Israel and how do Palestinian Israelis view it?

NEVEEN ABU RAHMOUN: We view the march as an important and integral part of the popular struggle, especially in our time when there is an attempt to eliminate the global discourse supporting the Palestinian issue. The israeli media covergae treats the demonstrators as criminals, terrorists, and creates public opinion that allows the Israeli military forces to continue shooting freely. I see it as a weakness of the Israeli system, that is unable to face criticism, protest and popular struggle.

BEN GOREN: What do you see as the main environmental impacts of the occupation and the siege of Gaza?

NEVEEN ABU RAHMOUN: The Siege and occupation affect every aspect in daily life of Gaza’s population – basic human rights, political right, health, mental health, freedom of movement, everything. Ending the siege is Israel’s political duty and I think international pressure must be applied to reach this outcome.

BEN GOREN: What do you see as the main legal limitations on women’s rights in Israel? What differences are there between the rights of Jewish and non-Jewish women’s rights in Israel?

NEVEEN ABU RAHMOUN: There is a very meaningful issue with women’s employment in Israel, a field from which the Palestinian citizen is completely excluded. There is a significant shortage in budgets to address this issue, and a lack of projects that are adapted to the needs of women. There are also no industrial zones in the Arab villages.

Other than that, as I mentioned before, there is a severe issue of gender based violence and murder in Israel, and there is a problem with the way law enforcement and welfare authorities handle it. Many of the police cases involving gender based and domestic violence are closed without proper investigation and in almost half of women’s murder cases in the last decade – a previous complaint was filed by the victim or her family. We are also concerned by the ease in gun regulations in Israel, allowing hundreds of thousands of civilians to apply for a personal gun permit. This situation can
increase the number of women killed in domestic abuse cases.

BEN GOREN: You have called for an end to co-operation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Hanin Zoabi stated that President Abbas should step down. Do you agree with Ms Zoabi and who do you think would be the best candidate to lead the Palestinian Authority moving forward?

NEVEEN ABU RAHMOUN: President Abbas must allow the Palestinian people to participate in the non-violent popular struggle against the Israeli Occupation, and use all diplomatic possibilities to end the occupation and to form a Palestinian state.

BEN GOREN: Currently in the West there is heated debate over whether to characterise Israel as an apartheid or fascist state and some argue that its actions in Gaza and those of settlers constitute a form of biological warfare in service of ethnic cleansing. How would you characterise the State of Israel?

NEVEEN ABU RAHMOUN: I participated in many political and academic debates that attempted to find a definition for the situation in Israel. I think what we have here is a unique situation of Occupation with elements of apartheid, colonialism, and legislation with a tendency towards fascism.

BEN GOREN: You have said that the most under discussed impact of the Nation State Law is that it is a green light for Israel to annex Area C, and that Trump and Israel will  most likely look to Jordan to form confederate control of areas A & B. Should Palestinians accept this and if not why? What would be the likely longer term outcomes if the PA accepted or rejected this deal?

NEVEEN ABU RAHMOUN: I raised the danger of Area C annexation, that stems from the Nation State Law, because I think the Palestinian Authority and all international political bodies should object to this project, and should not accept it as an unavoidable fact.

BEN GOREN: What changes do you see in education policy of the Israeli Government that either increase or impede greater understanding and empathy between the newest generations Jewish and non-Jewish Israelis?

NEVEEN ABU RAHMOUN: The Israeli school programs are far from representing the Palestinian narrative. The history and civics school books intentionally ignore the Palestinian narrative in order to create a distance between the young generation and everything to do with its identity, its people. As long as this is happening, it’s very hard to talk about education for coexistence, or understanding and empathy.

BEN GOREN: Do you believe that Israel can be a Jewish AND democratic State?

NEVEEN ABU RAHMOUN: I think Israel should be a state for all its citizens, only then it could be truly called a democracy.

BEN GOREN: What examples are there in which you feel that Israel does not act as a democratic state in terms of freedom of speech?

NEVEEN ABU RAHMOUN: The clear examples are the Nakba Law, enacted in 2011 and  the Loyalty To Culture Bill. Both of these laws allow the government to subtract or cut funding from cultural and educational institutes allowing freedom of speech to artists that wish to criticise Israeli policies, mainly regarding the occupation and Palestinian rights, to express non-Zionist views or to mention the Palestinian narrative. There is an entire public that does not have the right to express itself freely regarding its history and its national identity. We see that these laws and policies have already started to impact artists and institutes, people are afraid and they start to internalize the oppression.

BEN GOREN: Why is Israel concerned with what it calls incitement? Is there a real threat from incitement and is Israel evenly applying its standard in clamping down on ‘incitement’ regardless of its source?

NEVEEN ABU RAHMOUN: There might be real incitement, but the Israeli government also treats every legitimate political criticism on the occupation and the siege on Gaza as incitement.

BEN GOREN: Is there religious freedom in Israel? Have religious groups have faced discrimination and if so how?

NEVEEN ABU RAHMOUN: In practice, Israel controls the Islamic Waqf and therefore prevents Muslim autonomy over the congregation’s property, lands and buildings. Also, in contrast to other states in the area, the Christian Orthodox congregation has no control over its property. Israel preserves Patriarch Theophilos’ control over all the congregations’ assets, and he’s been selling them to different entities, including settler organizations, in the last few decades.

BEN GOREN: You have in the past been investigated by Shin Bet. Do you think Israel regards Balad’s shift in position to advocate for a single non-Jewish non-Zionist democratic State including the West Bank more of an existential threat than the Two-State Solution?

NEVEEN ABU RAHMOUN: There was no official shift in Balad’s position. Balad still advocates the concept of a state for all its citizens alongside a Palestinian state.