The Israeli state has launched a major campaign of arrests and political persecution against activists of the National Democratic Assembly or Balad, the political party of Palestinians in ’48 Palestine. The party is represented in the Knesset as part of the Joint List, where its representatives, including Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi and Basil Ghattas, have been repeatedly targeted for their statements recognizing their own Palestinian identity and their support for the Palestinian liberation struggle. Indeed, today, Israeli attorney general Avichai Mandelblit has approved the police to interrogate Zoabi and Zahalka on the ongoing arrests, regarding “campaign finance issues.”
In the past two weeks, dozens of activists and leaders in the party have been arrested in allegations that were initially trumpeted as related to “corruption,” but are in fact instead attempts to label the party as receiving “improper foreign funding.” Thus, rather than Balad/NDA leaders being accused of stealing money from the party or from the Palestinian people, they are being accused by the Israeli state of bringing money from international and Arab supporters to Palestine to support the Palestinian people. Exact allegations, however, have not been released and are “secret,” withheld from the public and the detainees, reported Al Jazeera. The party issued a statement in which it “unequivocally denies all allegations and calls for the immediate release of all activists.”
The party and other Palestinian activists in ’48 have warned of this as an ongoing attempt to criminalize Palestinian political activity among Palestinian citizens of Israel. Broad protests have taken place throughout Palestine ’48 and political forces throughout the Palestinian population, including Abnaa al-Balad, Hadash and the Higher Arab Follow-Up Committee have denounced the arrest campaign, calling for Palestinian unity against repression.
On 18 September, the homes of party leaders were raided by Israeli police and 20 members and leaders of the party were arrested. Dozens have been released, with some being ordered to house arrest, forbidden from leaving their homes and in some cases from internet usage. Party general secretary Awad Abdel Fattah was released from prison to house arrest Wednesday, 28 September, as were Kayed Attiyah Awni, Ezzedine Badran and Shadi Awad. Deputy General Secretary Yousef Tatour was also released after being detained one day before. Over 35 leaders and activists have been arrested in total in the past weeks, with the majority released. Murad Haddad, member of the municipal council of Shafa ‘Amr and the party’s central committee, saw his detention extended until Wednesday inn a Haifa magistrate’s court. Several lawyers have also been arrested and released, including Eyad Khalayleh, Haneen Ighbarieh, Mohammed Tarabeh and Alaa Mahajna.
Balad labeled the move to interrogate Zahalka and Zoabi as “an escalation in the rabid political persecution against the Assembly and a provocative attempt to smear the reputation of the party….[this] is retaliatory political action that cmes after police have failed to intimidate the members and cadres of the party over the last two weeks.”
The Abnaa al-Balad movement noted in its statement on the repression that “these despicable repressive campaigns have been a systematic practice against our struggling people throughout their history since the beginning of the occupation of Palestine in 1948. We have seen the prosecution of all of the movements and activist national political currents among our people since the Al-Ard movement.”
Indeed, political persecution of the political activity of Palestinians in ’48 is nothing new; for the first twenty years of Israeli occupation, Palestinians lived under martial law and were prohibited from forming political parties; the Al-Ard movement of Palestinian citizens of Israel was prohibited in 1964. The movement of Palestinians in ’48 produced a series of movements, including the protest movement against land confiscation that sparked national protests and general strikes in 1976; after the killing of six Palestinian protesters, 30 March became known as Land Day. Palestinians from ’48 have always been imprisoned alongside fellow Palestinians in Israeli jails; today, there are over 100 Palestinian political prisoners holding Israeli citizenship, including Lena Jarbouni, Raed Salah, Ameer Makhoul and Said Nafa.
In late 2015, the Northern Islamic Movement, a large Islamic political and social organization among Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship, led by Sheikh Raed Salah, was banned by the Israeli state following its extensive campaigns against repression and limitation of access to Al-Aqsa Mosque. Zahalka labeled the move at the time a “declaration of war” against the Palestinian population. Dozens of social organizations were raided and served with orders for their closure, including kindergartens, clinics, mosques and a sports league.
Salah is currently serving a 9-month prison term for “incitement” for delivering speeches against Israeli action at Al-Aqsa Mosque. “Incitement” is the same charge currently being used against Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour, also holding Israeli citizenship; Tatour has spent 11 months in prison and then house arrest and is threatened with up to eight years in prison for posting her poetry on YouTube. Tatour’s case has received international support from literary organizations and prominent writers and poets.
Nafa, a former member of the Knesset, is imprisoned for visiting Syria, an “enemy state” and meeting there with exiled Palestinians and Palestinian political parties; interrogation and arrest of Palestinians for visiting Lebanon, Syria or meeting Palestinian political parties labeled “prohibited organizations” are not uncommon.
Palestinian citizens of Israel are subject to over 80 discriminatory laws, including a number of laws specifically targeting Knesset members. These include new laws allowing the expulsion of members if 3/4 of the existing members agree; as well the suspension of members based on majority vote, carried out against Balad MKs earlier in the year, for meeting with the families of Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers.
Balad advocates for “a state for all its citizens” and participates in the Joint List, a coalition of mostly Palestinian parties in ’48 formed after a new threshhold law would see most of the Palestinian parties excluded from the Knesset. However, participating in the Knesset is itself highly controversial among Palestinians in ’48 Palestine, and numerous Palestinian citizens of Israel participate in a boycott of Knesset elections. Opponents of Knesset participation emphasize that the Knesset itself is an institution that is fundamentally racist and Zionist and based on the dispossession and expulsion of Palestinians. Organizations including the now-banned Islamic Movement in the North and Abnaa el-Balad emphasize that the participation of Palestinians in the parliament, where they are subject to racist laws and repression, is used to beautify the image of Israel internationally and claim that it is “democratic” for all of its citizens.