Meet HANEEN ZOABI.
Haneen is a member of the Israeli Knesset—and the first woman to have been elected to the Knesset on an Arab party list. She bravely advocates for equal citizenship rights for the Palestinian citizens of Israel and also calls for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Haneen is part of the Palestinian Israeli minority in Israel, and was born in Nazareth.
At an early age, Haneen expressed an interest in politics. But it was her experience as an Arab woman living inside of Israel that finally drove her to run for political office. Haneen says that Arab women in Israel suffer from inequality on two levels: first as Palestinians enduring national and social discrimination, and secondly as women struggling for equality within society.
Haneen joined the Balad Party in 1997, one year after it was established. The Balad Party maintains a one-third quota for women candidates and advocates for the rights of Palestinians, legally designated as ‘Arab Israelis’.
Palestinian citizens of Israel—once a majority—now only comprise 18 % of the population. Their political power is not proportionate to their population; they make up only 7% of the government and 2% of elected officials in Israel. Haneen says there are 30 laws in Israel that legally discriminate against Palestinians: “For example, I cannot marry a Palestinian from Ramallah or Gaza, or from Lebanon or Syria and have a family here, because Israel wants to preserve a Jewish majority.”
Haneen emphasizes the need to recognize Palestinians as equal citizens in Israel. “I am not an immigrant”, she stresses, “This is my homeland. We are the indigenous people. I have a vision of our rights as indigenous people. We didn’t migrate to Israel; it is Israel that migrated to us.” She says this reality is not recognized in her country, noting for example that Palestinian students cannot study their history in schools—not even in Arab schools.
Palestinian women in Israel and also in the Occupied Territories have a unique struggle, and Haneen advocates for feminists in Israel to support them. “We can’t call ourselves feminists if we occupy other women, demolish their homes, force them to live under a blockade, support settlement expansion, and then come home and talk about women’s rights.” Supporting women struggling for peace and justice must start with challenging discrimination against Palestinians.
Women like Haneen are working within and outside the political system to change the status quo—and ultimately bring justice and equality to all people in the region.
Read Haneen’s Op-ed written for International Women’s Day 2011 titled:
“Who are you calling feminist?”