Letter by Azmi Bishara addressed to Israeli Knesset  


Honorable Speaker, Respected Knesset,

The tempest that swept Israel following my speech in Syria took me by surprise. Of course, I wasn’t surprised by the campaign of incitement and assault by right wing extremists, as this is but the continuation of an on-going process to delegitimize the Arab public and its leadership-a process that reached one of its numerous climaxes in the events of October 2000. What amazed me, and disappointed me greatly, was the enlistment of segments of the “Left” to the choir of incitement and distortion.

This campaign of incitement didn’t miss a single element of classic Fascist demagoguery: disinformation, distortion, lies, demonization, the fostering of anxiety and fright, the projection of rage and hate at the “other,” monolithic discourse, and a fixation on the image of the opponent-other rather than the content of his words.

What is amazing is the fact that the uproar surrounding my speech in Syria took place without any regard for its content, or, worse, by way of its explicit distortion. In the speech I expressed opinions that I have expressed repeatedly in various fora: from the Knesset podium, through the media, and various Arab forums, including – as in this instance – of a ceremonial nature. My words were certainly not extreme – for had they been, there would have been no need to misconstrue them and present them in such a distorted fashion.

I opened my speech by addressing the agony, the struggle, and the hopes of the Palestinians in general, and those under direct military occupation in particular, who are forced to contend with the American-Israeli war machine. I continued with criticism of those Arab regimes that love the process of resistance more than the realization of its declared objective-that is the creation of a free and happy society. Further on, I quoted a poem by Ahmad Shawqi, which addresses Damascus’ struggle with French colonialism in 1925. After that, I spoke of Assad and Syria’s rational foreign policy; I criticized the supposed dichotomy that some of the Arab regimes posit between the absence of a just political solution and economic growth, and a just political solution and the absence of economic growth; I emphasized the need to create a modern and enlightened society based on a people’s sovereignty that will constitute a social contract among free individuals; I noted how many people are anxiously following the current Syrian regime’s economic reforms, as well as its attempts to coordinate the different Arab positions. In the last paragraph of my speech, I presented the need for an alternative to either submitting to the dictates of the Israeli government, or accepting the option of war that it presents.

“[A]n Israeli government came into power determined to shrink the realm of resistance, by putting forth an ultimatum: either accept Israel’s dictates, or face full-scale war. Thus, it is not possible to continue with a third way – that of resistance – without expanding this realm once again so that the people can struggle and resist. Nor is it possible to expand this realm without a unified and internationally effective Arab political position. This is precisely the time for such a stance.”

A patchwork of words was fabricated out of these last two sentences, by distorting both the words and their meaning. My call to resist the occupation, in a way that will prevent a tailspin into all-out war, received the headline “MK Azmi Bishara’s War Speech.”

It is difficult to comprehend how this sentence calls for war, when it attempts to determine the factors necessary to prevent war. I sincerely hope that the government of Israel will not drag the region into war, which will only cause countless and needless casualties. I am horrified by calls for a “military determination” and for war, especially when voiced by government ministers, and am even more horrified by the public acceptance of political opinions based on the need to go to war and arrive at a “military determination.”

Action on the political level is essential for arriving at a peace accord that is based on a genuine historic compromise, the right to self-determination, and the values of justice and equality. Any agreement based on Israeli dictates and submission to them, not only is unacceptable as such, but also doesn’t stand a chance. I expressed this position before Camp David, both inside and outside the Knesset, and it has been proven as correct.

In such a situation, a unified Arab political position is of great importance. Were there such a position, the Palestinian people would have been spared much blood and suffering in their struggle. Such a position would have played a central role in bringing about international pressure on Israel to end its occupation. History teaches us that occupations end through resistance, international pressure, or both.

Some of the attacks against me, especially those from the Right, revolved around my opposition to the occupation, and my support for resistance and the Intifada. And so, I oppose the occupation, and oppose the Israeli demand that the Palestinians accept dictates that preclude the possibility of arriving at a genuine historic compromise. I think that every person must oppose the occupation. I regret that it is necessary to remind – especially the Left in Israel – that resistance to the occupation is legitimate, both morally and according to international law. I oppose occupation whether it is in the West Bank, Southern Lebanon, or the Golan. And yes, I congratulate those resistance movements that succeed to overcome colonial occupation, be it in Southern Lebanon (where the Hizballah was a part of the Lebanese resistance) or anywhere else in the world. I also hope that the second Palestinian Intifada – another resistance movement – will bring about the end of Israeli occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. I was under the impression that this is what a large part of the Israeli public thought as well.

Anyone who wants to see the occupation end should also support international intervention and a unified Arab stance. Every Palestinian – even if an Israeli citizen – shares this position. The call for Arab support for the Intifada was voiced by me, as well as by countless Palestinians, including the leadership of the Arab public in Israel, consistently since 1987. In my humble opinion, the role of Israeli peace seekers is to struggle for the exact same principles – Neither Dictates Nor War-and to recognize the Palestinian right to struggle against the occupation and against the brutal repression inflicted upon the Palestinian population in recent months…

…For years the Israeli establishment marginalized the Arab Members of Knesset and the Arab public in Israel, from the central political discussion. As a Palestinian, a citizen, and an elected public servant who represents a broad public, I see activism and the expression of opinions on central political questions as the essence of my duty. This in no way detracts from my efforts to achieve civil equality through the extensive legislation I have initiated – an equality that can not, by the way, be achieved without real historic compromise.

[My] activism in the Arab arena has another, no less important, context. Just as I call for Arab solidarity on the Palestinian question, as a Leftist – who seeks liberation and equality – I am obliged to support and express my solidarity with the democratic forces in the Arab world.

I am a citizen of the State of Israel. I also recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel by virtue of the right of the Jewish-Israeli collective which it has consolidated to self-determination (see my interview with Ari Shavit in Ha’aretz (1997) that was translated into Arabic and disseminated widely), in the framework of a historic compromise that includes the realization of this right, but also the realization of the rights of the Palestinian people and the rights of the Palestinian refugees. However, I am not an Israeli patriot. I am Palestinian, a member of a nation whose tragedy did not end in 1948. Don’t ask me, for example, to rejoice in Israel’s victories on the battlefield, or to celebrate Independence Day. By the way, on this count too, you will be hard pressed to find Arab citizens who hold a position that differs from mine.

I am an Arab and a Palestinian. Israel’s victory is my tragedy. But nonetheless I call for a historic compromise in a democratic and egalitarian framework. Such a historic compromise is the only way we will all be able to continue living here, without senseless wars.