Q&A with MK Ahmed Tibi

The outspoken UAL Knesset member answers readers' questions.

tibi 298.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
tibi 298.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Rafi, New York: How do you feel when you are constantly being questioned over your loyalty? Do you see yourself and the sector as a whole at least partially responsible for this? Ahmed Tibi: In Israel it is custom to accuse the victims. The Arab minority in Israel is discriminated against in all fields, and day by day there are questions about their reality. I do believe a state should be loyal to its citizens, mainly to the minorities who are being discriminated against. The state should be loyal to its citizens and when we ask about loyalty, people here in Israel demand of the Arabs to accept, for example, the government's foreign or security policy. No, we are not loyal to this policy, we are not loyal to the Zionist ideology. We are victims Zionism and the Zionist ideology, mainly the confiscation of lands from Arabs in 1948, and after that, giving it to Jews. That is to say no, we are no loyal to the ideology. We respect the law, even though we do believe that some of the laws are aimed against us. Rivka Cohen, Israel: How is your personal relationship with right wing MKs? On a personal level, who do you get along with? Ahmed Tibi: I can't say that we are friends. We are not. But sometimes in the corridors, out of the session ward, we do speak, but usually the relations are not good. There are some radical MKs that I do not even salute or say hello to. If someone is willing to deport me from the country I cannot respect them, but I do respect some MKs on the right, for example Reuven Rivlin from the Likud. He is very rightist, but on the civil issues he is a man I can talk with. Jane, Los Angeles: As a former advisor, Do you miss Arafat? Where do you think we would be today had he still been alive? Ahmed Tibi: I miss Yasser Arafat very much. Next week there will be the anniversary of his death. I do miss his charisma, his power, leadership, his status as a symbol of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian cause, his pragmatism. I do believe that the Palestinian people lost the father of the nation, and I think that the American administration and the Israeli government should be held responsible for their foolish and extreme policy of neglecting Yasser Arafat. He's the man who was able, more than anybody else to lead towards the vision of the two-state solution. I think there are two leaders who departed us in a very tragic situation, and if they had been here, that situation would have been different. Those leaders are the late Yitzhak Rabin and the late Yasser Arafat. I do believe that their deaths changed the geo-political situation in the area, but I can't say exactly what the situation would be if one or the other were alive. Jack Russell, London: Do you ever foresee a situation in which Israeli-Arabs, having not connected to Jewish Israel, and definitely do not want to be part of a future Palestinian state, seek an autonomy? Ahmed Tibi: We are not talking about autonomy. I am, as a leader for the Arab movement for change in the Knesset, I am talking about the struggle for equality based on recognition the Arab minority as a national minority. There should also be full civic partnership. We want to be partners and we don't want to be ignored or pushed into the corner. Israel should be recognized as a state with more than one nationality. That's why I am calling for Israel to be defined as a state of its own nationalities. Defining Israel as a Jewish democratic state is something contradictive. Both values cannot go together. You cannot be a democracy that believes in equality and at the same time define yourself via ethnic definitions. The Jewish state is an ethnic definition, saying every Jewish citizen in the state is superior to any non-Jew, mainly Arabs. Jews can be superior if they are much more talented or capable, but there are Arabs who are much more talented then Jews in Israel. Mainly it should be emphasized that we are the indigenous people. We were here when Israel was established in 1948. We accepted a citizenship of Israel and we want the citizenship to be complete and meaningful. We do feel that our citizenship has been intimidated in the last few years. We want to defend our national identity and our citizenship at the same time. Ken, USA: Do you think it would be more beneficial to your cause if Israeli-Arab MKs adopt a less aggressive attitude? Ahmed Tibi: We are the victims. You know, it's stigmatic to say that Arab MKs are aggressive. We are being accused that we are aggressive because we are talking and struggling against occupation. We cannot be anything other than hostile to occupation. We cannot be quiet when our rights as a national minority are being oppressed. We should be very strong in defending our rights for equality and calling for Israeli-Palestinian peace, calling for an end to occupation. Yitzhak Goldstein, Boston: Do you fear the growing strength of the Shi'ites and Iran? How will the Shi'ite-Sunni conflict pan out? Ahmed Tibi: I want every country to deal with its issues independently. I do not want any external interference of any Middle East countries and its neighbors. I don't want anybody to interfere in the Palestinian issue unless supporting the legitimate Palestinian-elected leadership. I am very unsatisfied by the growing intensification of some religious groups. I want the national factor to be superior, and not the religious factor. But some are using Iran as an excuse to change the geo-political situation in the Middle East. Abu Mohammed, Gaza: Simply, do you think the Annapolis conference will be successful? And more do you think Israel is going to give Palestinians any thing rather than more Road Maps while postponing every core issue such as Jerusalem or refugees? Ahmed Tibi: I am not so optimistic about the success of Annapolis. I do believe that the American administration did not create the right atmosphere for this success to appear. There is this internal Israeli coalition-opposition which makes it very difficult for Ehud Olmert to go on. The American Administration is not putting real pressure on the Israeli government in order to go forward in the peace process. Mr. Olmert is constantly promising Abbas to change the situation on the ground and in the West Bank by removing roadblocks or checkpoints, and at the same time his defense minister, Ehud Barak, is increasing the number of roadblocks. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, when visiting Israel, meets with leaders of coalition members such as Shas and Israeli Beiteinu, and it seems that the American administration, like Israel, considers the Palestinian cause as an internal Israeli affair. This is a totally mistaken conception. The Palestinian cause is an issue of self-determination, an issue of occupation, and it should be dealt with that way. I think that after Annapolis, some committees will start to negotiate on the final status issues and it will take time. But without putting a strict timetable (on these issues), it will be worthless. Negotiations will not succeed and we will go back to the same Israel-Palestinian negotiations, which led to the situation we are in now. Amanda Newman, New Jersey: Why is it a betrayal of Arab dignity to be a minority within Israel? Canada, England, Australia, France, the USA all have Arab minorities. Why can't Arabs be a proud minority within Israel? Look at the legal rights, economic purchasing power, freedom of religion, and women's rights that Israeli Arabs enjoy as compared to Egyptians, Libyans, Algerians, Pakistanis, and Saudis. Ahmed Tibi: Pakistan is not our control group. Israel defines itself as a democracy, but democracies can't be selective and can't be ethnocracies, that is to say, a democracy for Jews only. Israel defines itself as a Jewish and democratic state. That is to say the Israeli democracy is mainly aimed at serving its Jewish citizens. Arab citizens in the state of Israel are discriminated in every aspect. There are some laws that were passed in the Knesset specifically against the Arab citizens. That is to say: we would be grateful and very pleased if the situation of the Arab minority in Israel is equal to the situation of minorities in Canada or Belgium. These are good models that Israel should learn from. Do you know that in the Central Bank of Israel there are 900 employees, of which none are Arab? There's only one non-permanent Arab employee working there. Is it possible that in the central bank of the US or Canada there would be no African-American employees? (In Israel) it's a policy, a continuous systematic policy. Jay Dershowitz, New York: Can peace be achieved without the return to Israel proper of any refugees? Ahmed Tibi: Issues of refugees should be settled according to UN resolution194, accepted by both parties. It is an issue that can be settled both in moral, political, historical and legal grounds. The issue is cardinal and important part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There can be no peace without settling the refugee problem, and Israel is morally and legally responsible for creating this problem in 1948. Ari Schuster, Jerusalem: Are the Israeli Arabs really happy and content living in a country where they constitute a minority, with a distinctly different culture, religion and national destiny? Ahmed Tibi: This is the nature of minorities. We are the indigenous people. We were here before Israel. But we accepted the citizenship of Israel in 1948. Part of our people were deported or ran away, but we are still here as citizens of the State of Israel. Israel should accept its reality as a multicultural state. We are different from the majority both in language and cultural customs, but we are both citizens. We should be equal in citizenship and different in culture. It can coexist. Gilad Mos, London: The Arab leadership seems to be preaching cultural isolation. How do you expect to move forward when every few days you are quoted as saying one more thing that makes the majority think of you as "the other"? Ahmed Tibi: We are "the other" from the historical or cultural point of view, and from the national point of view, but we should like to coexist in the State of Israel under equal terms. The majority should deal with us as the equal "other" and it is not. Look what they did to us at our demonstration in October 2000. Arab demonstrations who went out to demonstrate against the Al Aqsa mosque massacre were shot dead. Thirteen of us were killed by the Israeli police. Some were shot dead by snipers. They are relating to us as the enemy not, as the different citizens. We can be different because we are but we want to be equal. Jonathan Dansie, Salt Lake City: Why do you object to the fact that one has to get authorization before visiting countries that Israel is still technically at war with? Ahmed Tibi: Because I am an opposition member of the parliament, I don't want my activity to be dictated or authorized by the coalition or by the government. I am against the government. I cannot accept a law that says my visits to Lebanon or Syria should be approved by the Minister of Internal Affairs, that is to say by the security forces. When I visited Lebanon two years ago after the murder of Rafik Hariri, I asked Israel's Interior Minister Ofir Pines for permission and he refused. I traveled and visited Beirut anyways, although he rejected my appeal. This law is mainly aimed against Arab MKs in order to frustrate our relations with the Arab world. Ami, Tel Aviv: What is your analysis of the clash in Pki'in in terms of Druze feelings towards the state? Ahmed Tibi: It was terrible in Pki'in. 2000 policemen occupied Pki'in, used live ammunition against Arab Druze who demonstrated against a cellular antenna. The way the police dealt with this demonstration is the same way the dealt with our demonstration in October 2000. That is to say that the police are dealing with non-Jewish demonstrators as enemies that should be brutally dealt with. That's why I believe that an official interrogation or parliamentary committee be established, and those in the police command responsible for the shooting in Pki'in should be fired from the police and pay the price.