By Susan Schwartz, MMNS
The beleaguered nation of Gaza has become an international symbol of resistance as it struggles under the boot of Israeli occupation and siege. Its residents are admired by humanitarians for their courage and determination. Many individuals and organizations have provided aid to Gaza, and many have worked to communicate to the world the plight of Gaza and of Palestinians everywhere.
One such person is Haneen Zoabi, a member of the Israeli Knesset and a survivor of the Mavi Marmara. Ms Zoabi witnessed the massacre that took place on that ship and watched some of the severely wounded bleed to death. She has been the object of death threats and has been threatened with punishment by Knesset members for her humanitarian work. Ms Zoabi established the first media course in 1948 occupied Palestinian schools.
Haneen Zoabi spoke to an overflow audience in La Mirada, Ca. this past weekend under the sponsorship of the Palestine American Womenâ€™s Association (PAWA). She was introduced by Muna Coobtee who represented PAWA and stood at the podium before a banner which read: â€œA Salute to our Heroes in Gazaâ€.
First Ms Zoabi thanked her audience for the standing ovation and observed that the atmosphere here was so much warmer for her than the Knesset. She addressed herself to Israelâ€™s treatment of its indigenous Palestinians who account for approximately 18% of the population. â€œWe call ourselves the Palestinians of â€˜48â€. These Palestinians are often overlooked as Israel claims that they enjoy equal rights with Jewish Israelis. This portrayal of Israel as a classic democracy – the only democracy in the Middle East – is false.
There is judicial and political discrimination that Palestinians have to contend with, she continued. She reminded her audience that the Palestinian issue did not begin in 1967. Israeli Palestinians are part of the problem and must struggle within their citizenship. The United States has a responsibility to support the Palestinian struggle.
Israel has â€œconfiscated our land and destroyed our citiesâ€. In Israeli Palestinians are under represented in both the public and private sector but are over represented under the poverty level and as a percentage of the prison population.
Ms Zoabi accused Israel of preventing Palestinians from developing their economy and intentionally creating a weak state. Israel does not permit teaching of the Nakba in schools. â€œWe are not permitted our own feelingsâ€. She said that after Oslo Palestinians refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Ms Zoabi argued that Israel does not need peace. It needs negotiations to give the illusion that it wants peace.
She urged her audience to take action. Ms Zoabi also spoke of the success of the international BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) program aimed at Israel. She urged her audience to continue their work with BDS.
While Ms Zoabiâ€™s English is excellent, she at times had to search for a word. When she spoke the Arabic word to her audience, they responded with help This gave the entire gathering a friendly, almost family like ambiance.
â€œWhat a brave woman she isâ€ said a young girl of perhaps student age in the audience.
A lively question and answer session followed. Ms Zoabi received a prolonged standing ovation when her speech was completed.