You probably already know Hanin Zoaby. She's the Arab-Israeli woman who was on the relief flotilla that provoked—in some peoples' eyes—the Israeli attack that left at least nine people killed and left the Middle East even more unstable than it already was. For that, apparently, she is now the "most hated woman in Israel".
Accused of treason for supporting the Free-Gaza movement, forbidden by the courts to leave the country for 45 days, Ms. Zoaby was attacked, physically, when she spoke in the Knesset last week to explain her decision to join the flotilla of ships hoping to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. She said she viewed her action on behalf of 1.5 million “prisoners” in Gaza as a kind of “mitzvah,” a Hebrew term for a religious good deed. The reference only made her Jewish assailants angrier.The government itself wants to revoke her citizenship. But you have to be a citizen of something, right? If she's an Israeli, and they take away her Israeli citizenship, then where does she go? What does she do? She becomes a citizen of nowhere: an unperson.
On Sunday, Israel proposed that a three-man internal inquiry probe its bloody attack on the flotilla two weeks ago, and that it be headed by a retired Israeli judge and two high-ranking foreign observers, including a Canadian.
Ms. Zoaby has been labelled an enemy, and a supporter of terrorists. Yet the unmarried, Western-dressed Muslim woman hails from one of Israel’s high-profile Arab families, one that has counted a high court judge, a mayor of Nazareth, a long-serving Knesset member and a deputy cabinet minister among its members.
To many in the Knesset today, Ms. Zoaby’s transgression, like that of the four other Arab Israelis who joined the flotilla, is unforgivable. A Knesset committee has recommended the removal of many of Ms. Zoaby’s parliamentary privileges, including her immunity from prosecution and her diplomatic passport. The Interior Minister, leader of Israel’s Ultra Orthodox Shas Party, has asked whether her Israeli citizenship can legally be revoked.
That may be the Government's game. An unperson has no rights, and if they can arbitrarily take away an Arab's citizenship, then they can arbitrarily strip people of their rights and do with them what they will. They can be thrown into the deepest, darkest hole, in pieces, and nobody could say boo. That would mean they never had any rights at all. A terrible mockery of everything that the Jewish state historically stands for—but it sounds about right for the Netanyahu/Lieberman government.
The Government is not alone in its attitude.
There have been death threats, hundreds of them."Elaborate death curses". For people who weren't even on the flotilla. I'd ask "has it really come to this", but it came to this all the way back in 1995. It has just gotten worse.
In the wake of the flotilla incident, a Facebook site, called Execute Haneen Zuabi [sic], was established (and later taken down) and a group calling itself Pulsa Denura , (Aramaic for “lashes of fire”) says it has carried out elaborate death curses on several Arab Israelis, including Ahmad Tibi, a member of Knesset who wasn’t even on the flotilla.
(Pulsa Denura was the name of the group that said it had cursed Yitzhak Rabin shortly before he was assassinated, and cursed Ariel Sharon after he decided to evacuate Israeli settlements in Gaza in 2005.)
To her credit, though, MK Zoabi is not going to ground, nor acting afraid. Her and her supporters know why this is happening.
“She did what few people would dare to do,” said Teres Zbidat, a Dutch-born woman who has lived with her husband in nearby Sakhnin for 16 years."What they call citizenship is really just membership in the Zionist movement?" No wonder they want to hush her up. That's not one of the talking points. That's not what an MK is supposed to say. Certainly it's not what an Arab-Israeli woman is supposed to say.
“Which is why Israelis hate her so much,” Ms. Zbidat said. “They see her as a success story that they allowed to happen. Then they say: ‘But you weren’t supposed to become one of them [the Palestinians].’ ”
Ms. Zoaby explains the contempt for her as a reaction to the world criticism Israel is experiencing, similar to the backlash against Arab Israelis that followed criticism in the war against Hamas in Gaza.
“I embarrassed them,” she said, referring to Israelis. “I was an easy target for their revenge.”
Would she do it again, would she go on another flotilla? In a heartbeat, she says.
“I was appalled by the Israeli behaviour” on board the ship, she said. “I didn’t expect such violence.”
(Ms. Zoaby is credited by passengers with convincing the Israeli commandos – in her good Hebrew and tenacious style – with getting long-delayed medical treatment for the wounded.) What if doing it again meant losing her citizenship? “Yes,” she said determinedly. “It would just show that what they call citizenship is really just membership in the Zionist movement. It’s not real citizenship.”
I don't even necessarily agree with her. She calls Arab-Israelis "1948 Palestinians". I disagree with that. I think there is a space for Arab-Israelis to care out their own identity as something other than "Palestinians on the wrong side of the wall". But death threats, curses, and unpersonhood? That's what the other guys are doing. That's what Israel is supposed to be a bastion against, which is the stated reason why they get all that American support.
It won't work, either. Look at Ms. Zbidat's comments. She isn't going to be the only one thinking that. The more that MK Zoaby is treated like this, the greater the connection that will be built between the Arab-Israelis and Palestinians. Arab-Israelis will only become more and more alienated from the Israeli state at a time when Israel badly needs to show the world that it's about more than exclusivist ethno-nationalism.