(Excerpt from Sista Resister: Bios of 50 Radical Women of Color Activists Resisting Sexism, Colonialism & Racism by m seenarine. Forthcoming 2021 from XPYR Press.)
Introduction: Zionism and Feminism
The overwhelming majority of people affected by divisive patriarchal ideologies such as racism, casteism, Zionism and Islamophobia are women and children. The survivors of thousands of years of misogynist authority and religion are also mostly women and children. Jews in the apartheid state of Israel consider themselves an integral part of the Anglo-sphere, and for over seven decades, Zionists have practiced some of the worse forms of Eurocentric oppression in the world against Indigenous Palestinians.
The 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine advocated for independent Arab and Jewish states, and a neutral Jerusalem. The UN Plan was rejected by Arab leaders, but the 1948 Arab–Jewish War led to the establishment of Israel over the former British territory. As tens of thousands of Eastern European Jews, Persian Jews, and other Jewish communities from across the globe migrated to colonize Palestine, they displaced millions of Indigenous Arabs, Christians, Druze and other local populations.
The West Bank and Gaza remained under Arab control, but the colonization continues with Zionist military occupation, illegal Jewish settlements, walled-in Palestinian ghettos, and the killings and imprisonment of Palestinians. As of 2013, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) has condemned Israel in 45 resolutions. And, the UN General Assembly has adopted numerous resolutions saying that the strategic relationship between Israel and the USA encourages Israel to pursue aggressive and expansionist policies and practices.
Amira Hass, a Jewish female journalist argues, Israeli feminism has a dangerous mutation, namely the demand for an increasing number of women to assume “combat” roles.
We do not know whether some day they will have to defend the homeland from a foreign army. Meanwhile, they – like the male soldiers – are maintaining the military occupation and defending its trophies: the outposts and the settlements, all of them illegal. The female soldiers, like the men, whether or not they are combat soldiers, are sent to defend the observance of the Jewish mitzvah to abuse, to rob, to expel.(156)
Yet, patriarchal hegemony, including Jewish variants, is never complete, and the feminist agency of Palestinian women like Haneen Zoabi is a model of resistance for struggles in the Global South.
Haneen Zoabi (born May 23rd 1969) is a Palestinian educator, activist and politician. In 2009, Zoabi became the first woman elected from an Arab party to the Israeli Knesset, a parliament increasingly dominated by right-wing Jewish men. Haneen was born in Nazareth to a Muslim family. Nazareth, known as "the Arab capital of Israel," is the largest city in the Northern District. The population in the childhood home of Jesus is around 77,000, mostly Arab citizens of Israel, of whom 70 percent are Muslim and 30 percent Christian.
Sista Haneen described her parents as liberal Muslims,
My parents are Muslims. They pray, they fast, they have been to Mecca, but they raised their children to think and feel as liberal, open-minded people.(157)
The Nazarene child grew up in a home where academic achievement was extolled. Her brother is an economist, with a degree from Tel Aviv University and one sister is an Arabic language instructor. Haneen earned a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and psychology, and a Master of Arts in communications. She became the first Arab citizen of Israel to graduate in media studies, and she established the first media classes in Arab schools.
After university, Nazareth's native daughter worked as a mathematics teacher and school inspector for the Ministry of Education. In 2003, Haneen co-founded an NGO to expose Israeli media bias. And in 2009, she resigned to focus on her political career. Zoabi decided to go into politics because of her family's commitment to public service, and her "desire to effect even small positive change for my people."
Zoabi joined the Balad party in 2001 and entered the Knesset after the Arab party won three seats in the 2009 elections. The female Arab Parliamentarian served as a member of the Israeli Knesset until 2019. Haneen is a fierce advocate for Palestinian, Arab, women and non-Jewish rights in the Zionist state. She comments, "I was not elected to keep silent or sit at the table and clap."
Like Jesus in his time, this female Nazarene is not afraid of speaking truth to power. Haneen's courageous voice interrupts the false narrative of Jewish Holocaust victims living peacefully in West Asia's only 'democratic' state. For example, the female Arab leader notes the hypocrisy of the Zionist state,
The state treats all Jews and Palestinians differently. Israel doesn't recognize us as the owners of this homeland. The theory is that we have equal civil rights, but the practice is very far from this.(158)
In May 2010, the Parliamentarian participated in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla to deliver aid to the besieged Palestinian territory. The female Parliamentarian was on board the Turkish ship, MV Mavi Marmara, when Israeli commandos attacked and killed nine activists.
Zoabi was arrested, and she accused the Jewish authorities of acting criminally after her release,
It was clear from the size of the force that boarded the ship that the purpose was not only to stop this sail, but to cause the largest possible number of fatalities in order to stop such initiatives in the future.(159)
On July 13th, 2010, the Israeli Knesset voted to strip the female Arab parliamentarian of the right to hold a diplomatic passport, to participate in Knesset discussions, and to vote in parliamentary committees. Asked to describe what is it like being a Palestinian in Israel, the Nazarene politician responded,
Israel did everything it could to make us forget our history: controlling education and the media, putting us in a ghetto, preventing us from having normal relations with the Arab world and visiting our families in Syria and Lebanon.(160)
Zoabi is opposed to any form of mandatory national service for Israel's second-class Arab citizens. In 2009, she characterized right-wing Israeli politicians like Avigdor Lieberman, Tzipi Livni, and Benjamin Netanyahu as "a bunch of fascists pure and simple."
However, Zoabi observed that Israeli president Netanyahu is "much more dangerous" than Lieberman, because he, "shares Lieberman's fascist views but takes care to sugarcoat his message for the international media. My anger is real, not a joke for the TV cameras. I will not shake the hands of these men."(161)
On July 29th, 2014, Zoabi was suspended again from the Knesset for six months. Of the parliament’s 120 members, at least 65 are part of the Zionist right and far-right. Nazareth's daughter regards the two-state solution as politically unrealistic, and the idea that Israel is a Jewish state as inherently racist. Instead, the Palestinian parliamentarian advocates a single state shared by Jews and Palestinian Arabs alike, with full equality and rights for all national and religious groups. Palestinians have advocated for this political solution ever since they rejected the 1947 UN Plan.
The Arab educator and activist explains her reasoning,
The reality of Israel's actions shows us that it's unrealistic to have a real sovereign state in the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as the capital. The more realistic solution is one state with full national equality for both national groups.(162)
Zoabi argues that rejection of the Jewish state concept is the only way to combat right-wing Jewish leaders' demand that all Israeli citizens take loyalty oaths. She contends that it is Jewish right-wing leaders like Lieberman who should take an oath of loyalty. "He is an immigrant from Moldova. I was born here, as were my ancestors. He's the outsider, not me."
Despite facing the wrath of the Israeli parliament and state, Haneen remains firm in her Indigenous views. Rejecting the 'Jewish state' concept, the Arab parliamentarian argues, is the only idea that can remove Lieberman from the circle of political and moral legitimacy... When you agree with the 'Jewish state' idea, you necessarily agree with the idea of loyalty to this state. Rejecting the 'Jewish state' concept will block the road for anyone who demands our loyalty to such a state.(163)
The former Palestinian teacher explains the source of her activism and courage,
We didn't expect an easy struggle. I chose to be involved in politics because I was born in a racist context. I will continue using all the democratic tools that are available. I ask Israel not to push us into undesirable activities... We do not want to throw Jews into the sea. We are not against Jews. We are against Israeli policies and the definition of Israel as a Jewish state.(164)
I have a vision of our rights as indigenous people. We didn't migrate to Israel; it is Israel that migrated to us.
Chapter 22. Haneen Zoabi (Nazareth, Israel)