Balad arrests won’t be the last in Israel’s ethnocracy
The arrests of senior Balad party officials appears to mark a new escalation in Israeli authorities’ efforts to eliminate or stifle Palestinian activism inside the Green Line.
On Sunday morning, more than 20 individuals connected to the party, including chair Awad Abdel-Fattah and other senior members, were arrested by the Israeli police, who conducted raids of party properties, seizing documents and computers.
According to police, party officials are suspected of having allegedly misrepresented the source of millions of shekels used to fund Balad activities. The police claimed that the investigation had begun with the authorisation of the attorney general’s office.
Balad has slammed the charges as “another stage in the political persecution of the Arab minority and political movements”. Secretary-General Metanis Shahadeh described the accusations as part of an “intimidation campaign” that has included previous attacks on Balad members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
Balad, whose three parliamentarians sit in the Knesset as part of the Joint List, has been a bête noire of the Israeli right for some time.
Earlier this year, Haneen Zoabi, Basel Ghattas, and Jamal Zahalka, were temporarily suspended from Knesset debates after they met with the families of Palestinian assailants whose bodies were being held by the Israeli authorities.
In 2014, another Balad parliamentarian, Said Nafa, was convicted of an illegal visit to an enemy country and contact with a foreign agent, following a Druze delegation’s visit to Syria. He was subsequently sentenced to a year in jail.
Going further back, in 2007, Balad party founder and then-MK Azmi Bishara was forced into exile, after Israeli authorities prepared to charge him with having assisted Hizballah during the 2006 war.
That same year, the Israel Security Agency, known as Shin Bet, openly affirmed its intention to “thwart the activity of any group or individual seeking to harm the Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel, even if such activity is sanctioned by the law”.
These latest developments, however, are also part of a more recent trajectory. Last November, the Israeli government outlawed the Islamic Movement’s northern branch, whose leadership had long been targeted with travel bans and criminal prosecutions.
At the time, there were warnings that the move could be the start of a new drive to target those active in opposing the hyper-nationalist trends in the Israeli government and in campaigning against wider issues of institutionalised discrimination.
It’s not just the high-profile leaders of the Palestinian community inside Israel who have found themselves targeted. There is also a routine harassment of campaigners and activists by Shin Bet and the police, including interrogations and house arrests.
The approach of Netanyahu’s government to the state’s Palestinian citizens can be broken down into two main elements.
On the one hand, there is an acknowledgement that without substantial investment in Arab communities that have suffered from decades of land expropriation and budgetary discrimination, the economy as a whole will be held back.
On the other hand, the desire to repress Palestinian nationalism and identity, and undermine dissent to the state’s Jewish character, is a concern shared across the Israeli political spectrum, and especially by coalition partners Likud, Jewish Home, and Yisrael Beiteinu.
In short, the Israeli state wants economically productive and loyal, second-class citizens.
Those who object to this model, those who demand equality, or who seek to build links of solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as further afield, find themselves a target.
Remember that in 1998, during Netanyahu’s first time as prime minister, a report produced by the Shin Bet and cabinet ministers attributed the so-called “threat” posed by Palestinian citizens “mainly to the emergence of civil ideology, calling for Israel to become a state of its citizens”.
Only a settler-colonial ethnocracy could consider such a “radical” demand to represent existential peril, and it is precisely this anxiety which means Balad is neither the first, nor will be the last, to feel the wrath of the Israeli authorities.
Published first by The New Arab.