arab woman, child vote.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
At 9 p.m. all the drivers whose cars in Nazareth were decked with colored party flags - orange for Balad, red for Hadash and green for the Islamist Party - honked their horns hysterically, desperately calling for Arab voters to come out to vote. After 10 p.m., the only ones honking were the drivers with the green flags - and they were honking out of joy.
This election was a blow to the Arab sector. Not only did its number of representatives in the Knesset likely decrease, but the power of Israel Beiteinu - which calls for Arab Israelis to be transferred to a Palestinian state - grew substantially.
Fewer Arabs showed up at polling stations than ever in the history of the state. According to a Channel 1 exit poll that means that the Balad party led by MK Azmi Bishara won't cross the threshold entitling it to a Knesset seat; and Hadash got only two mandates. The United Arab List-Taal got four.
The UAL is a joint list of the Islamic Movement and Taleb A-Sanaa, a Beduin MK from the Negev. In this election, MK Ahmed Tibi's one-man Taal party joined them. All three will be sitting in the Knesset according to Channel 1. Hence the reaction of the supporters of the Islamic Movement.
Tension was high in the Sadaqa Community Center in Nazareth moments before the poll results were announced. Hadash party members hushed each other to hear the TV. When Channel 1 announced that Kadima won only 29 seats, there were sounds of surprise and happiness from the 100 or so members and activists in the room. But when they saw Israel Beiteinu got 14, there were gasps and boos. Relief swept the room when Hadash's two seats flashed on the screen. But when there was no indication of seats for Balad, people in the room gasped again.
By 9:30, a half hour before the polls closed, activists in the Nazareth headquarters of Balad already knew their party's presence in the 17th Knesset was in question.
"Things are looking very doubtful," said Kamil Hilu, a middle-aged Balad member wearing a tweed jacket. He and other members and activists furiously tried to compute what was the likelihood of their party passing the threshold.
Beyond the decreased number of Arab MKs in Knesset, the success of Israel Beiteinu was worrying to the Arabs.
Elias Khoury, an electrical engineering student at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, said the results were "terrible." "The right-wing parties will be more powerful and that's terrible for us because they don't understand the Palestinians [Arab Israelis] who live here and they are against us living here, like Lieberman," he said as he stood outside the Hadash headquarters in Nazareth.
The problem was the low voter turnout, he said.
"Voters were just not interested in voting because they had the feeling that no one will give us our rights," he said.
While the results were neither final nor official, Hadash leader MK Mohammed Barakeh said that he expected Hadash would get more mandates because many in the Arab sector went out to vote at the last minute.