Knesset member and Palestinian firebrand Ahmad Tibi has reiterated that the current wave of violence is a reflection of anger and despair and called on Israelis to seize the moment and act to correct the situation. In an interview with Al-Monitor, Tibi appealed to the Israelis, saying that the fastest way to reach peace and save lives is to end the occupation of Palestinian lands. “Sooner or later, the Israelis must realize that nothing can break the will of a people longing for freedom and independence. This, the longest and last remaining occupation on Earth, must come to an end, through international pressure and the struggle of the people,” he said.
Tibi pointed out that the current situation has increased cohesion between Palestinians, even though the division continues. “The Palestinian people are akin to a multi-sided body existing as one in the West Bank, Gaza, the interior and the diaspora. Despite that fact, we regret the continued division among the Palestinian people.”
One of the most vocal Arab members of the Israeli Knesset, Tibi appeared to be indirectly criticizing the current round of violence by Palestinian youth, calling instead for a totally nonviolent peaceful protest, saying, “Broad, peaceful, popular resistance is an avenue that remains untried but must be espoused, as it will garner the support of the whole world.”
The brunt of Tibi’s anger was focused on the right-wing Israeli government and its racist attitudes toward Palestinians. He told Al-Monitor, “The current Knesset is the most extremist, racist and hostile to Arabs and Palestinians.”
Tibi rejected the Nazareth mayor's accusation that the Joint List is not representative of Palestinian citizens in Israel. “The Joint List, in all its constituents, received 90% of the votes of the Arab electorate. In other words, the Arab populace gave those members legitimacy to represent it in the Knesset,” he told Al-Monitor.
Tibi also revealed that the Knesset disciplinary committee is considering taking measures against him for expelling an abusive right-wing minister, as Tibi was chairing that particular Knesset session. “Indeed, a precedent was recorded with a minister being forced to vacate the podium. … Though a complaint has been lodged against me and extreme political pressure is being exercised to have the Knesset committee reprimand me for the expulsion.”
The text of the interview follows:
Al-Monitor: How can the Israelis be convinced that their security is linked to ending the occupation?
Tibi: The current state of “anger by the people,” as I have called it, has made the Israelis realize that they do not live in security, all because Israelis were killed, at a time when they remained oblivious to the martyrdom of tens — no, hundreds of Palestinians. We want our people to live and do not want to see any young man or woman meet their demise, particularly considering that they are mere children, 13 or 15 years of age, motivated by injustice, oppression and occupation. Sooner or later, the Israelis must realize that nothing can break the will of a people longing for freedom and independence. This, the longest and last remaining occupation on Earth, must come to an end, through international pressure and the struggle of the people. We hope that they will soon come to this conclusion, in order to preserve the lives of each and every soul in the region and avoid the shedding of more innocent blood.
Al-Monitor: Do you think that the cohesiveness between the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza and the interior is increasing or decreasing?
Tibi: Cohesion intensifies in times of hardship because everyone shares the same hopes and pains. Israel thought that it could isolate the Palestinians inside its borders from their brethren on the outside, but it has failed to do so. An organ is inseparable from the body, and the Palestinian people are akin to a multi-sided body existing as one in the West Bank, Gaza, the interior and the diaspora. Despite that fact, we regret the continued division among the Palestinian people, as said division only benefits the occupation, and it is high time to see it end.
Al-Monitor: What advice do you offer the Palestinian leadership, which finds itself in an unenviable position?
Tibi: I do not like to use the term “advice.” The Palestinian leadership is capable of fulfilling its responsibilities toward its people and the cause. But let us point out that ending the divisions, as I have already mentioned, is of great importance, as is standing together against the occupier. In addition, the international community must exercise pressure on all the factions to end this tragedy and grant the Palestinian people their historical rights. Broad, peaceful, popular resistance is an avenue that remains untried but must be espoused, as it will garner the support of the whole world.
Al-Monitor: The issue of East Jerusalem is one of the reasons behind the current uprising. What, in your opinion, is the best way to keep the issue of Jerusalem atop the list of priorities?
Tibi: Jerusalem is the crown jewel. It is the cradle of [the three major] monotheistic religions, and home to the holiest of Muslim and Christian holies. Any affront against it enflames Palestinian sentiments, and presumably Arab sentiments as well. Jerusalem is the target of a fierce policy of Judaization, and its inhabitants are being suffocated and subjected to injustice, inequality, discrimination and deprivation of their and their children’s basic rights. It is atop the list of priorities, without detracting from the importance and status of any other cities and regions. The occupation must end in all territories occupied in 1967. The Arab and Muslim worlds must mobilize and rise to the aid of Jerusalem and its inhabitants. The message sent by those young people to the world is exactly like the one that my friend, the author Ibrahim Nasrallah, said when he wrote, “We want to live or die at our leisure, and not when you decide to kill us.” Our youth love life, as long as it is a free and dignified life.
Al-Monitor: In past decades, Israel succeeded in suppressing all forms of Palestinian leaderships, and even refrained from associating with the legitimate leadership, despite Jerusalem being under de facto Israeli civilian rule. What is your advice to the inhabitants and leaderships of Jerusalem?
Tibi: The youth of Jerusalem have proven to be truly patriotic in their relentless quest to defend Al-Aqsa. I am in constant contact with them and the religious and secular Palestinian leaderships of Jerusalem, who shall never surrender their legitimate, religious, historical, political and civil rights. I have warned the world about the activities taking place there, be they in the form of attacks on Al-Aqsa Mosque or the oppression and suffocation of East Jerusalem’s neighborhoods. Besieging those neighborhoods with cement barricades have transformed them into prison ghettos and exacerbated the suffering of their inhabitants. The Israelis are gravely mistaken if they think that financial allocations or travel privileges can make Jerusalem’s Palestinians forget that they are under occupation, for all forms of occupation are brutal, unacceptable and unenduring. Those youths have again focused the attention of the world on Jerusalem.
Al-Monitor: How are you dealing with rising racism against Palestinian citizens of Israel?
Tibi: Racist attitudes have always been present but have risen to the forefront lately among the Israeli populace, not just among ordinary people, but also among ministers, members of the Knesset and even the prime minister himself, who now considers the participation of Arab citizens in elections, which is an unalienable right in any democratic system of governance, to be a danger that must be confronted. We are trying to oppose this racist phenomenon through parliamentary and legal means, as well as through the media. When an Arab employee is fired, when a veiled Arab student is assaulted, when racist comments are posted on social networking sites, we inform the authorities of them, file complaints and raise the issue in parliament.
Al-Monitor: There are those who hope that you would play a bridging and mediation role between the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships, but matters did not progress as expected. How do you assess your role at present?
Tibi: We refuse to see our role as confined to “bridging” between people. We are an integral part of the Palestinian people and desire to be partners in the process of ending the occupation. We stand by our Palestinian people in their concerns and their cause, all the while maintaining our civil rights as Israeli citizens. During Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s term in office, Arab members of the Knesset were, as we parliamentarians called it, a “safety net” that ensured that the process proceeded peacefully. Now, on the other hand, the current Knesset is the most extremist, racist and hostile to Arabs and Palestinians, with the members of said Knesset lacking any semblance of peaceful aspirations. Despite that fact, we endeavor to contribute to reaching a compromise and a solution through any of the positions that we hold.
Al-Monitor: You prevented a right-wing member of parliament from hurling attacks at you and succeeded in having him expelled. How did that take place, despite the frantic situation that grips Israel?
Tibi: Knesset sessions are governed by official regulations. You alluded to the expulsion of Minister Ze'ev Elkin, who insulted Arab members and myself personally, accusing me of being responsible for the bloodshed in the streets. I chaired that particular session in my capacity as deputy speaker of the Knesset; consequently, I had certain powers in addition to the existence of a provision prohibiting insulting the session chairman. Indeed, a precedent was recorded with a minister being forced to vacate the podium, adding to the fact that the minister was right wing and the session chairman an Arab. But such are the rules and regulations of the Knesset, which everyone must respect, including ministers — though a complaint has been lodged against me and extreme political pressure is being exercised to have the Knesset committee reprimand me for the expulsion.
Al-Monitor: Although [Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government came to be as a result of a single vote's difference, how do you explain the resilience of the current Cabinet, despite the repeated mistakes and transgressions of the prime minister?
Tibi: This government is homogenous in its hatred for Arabs and is governed by the same right-wing ideology and aggressive stance toward Palestinians, as well as its belief in a military instead of a negotiated solution, for they think that what cannot be achieved through force can be accomplished through greater force. The irony here is that Netanyahu is viewed as being the most moderate in this extremist coalition. For the time being, the Cabinet endures. But nothing can be taken for granted when the difference is one parliamentary vote, for its downfall can come at the hands of any member of parliament, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Al-Monitor: Attention has been focused on the mayor of Nazareth’s recent opposition to the joint electoral list. How do you assess the stance of the Palestinian populace of Israel vis-a-vis the performance of parliamentarians from the Joint List?
Tibi: We, just like any other community, have many differences in opinion. The Joint List, in all its constituents, received 90% of the votes of the Arab electorate. In other words, the Arab populace gave those members legitimacy to represent it in the Knesset. This reflects the complex balance that we aim to maintain between our activities and national sentiments, as opposed to the civic and economic aspect of the job. The Palestinian populace of Israel gave us its trust, and we are fully aware of the sentiments, concerns and demands of the street, which we convey to the Knesset and the authorities, without prejudice toward any opinion or aspiration.