Shooting attack against civilian bus is "because of occupation", Balad chairman says

If the Joint List leaders don't publically support Balad's political program ahead of the Israeli elections, Balad will leave, said leader MK Sami Abou Shahadeh.

 MK's Sami Abu Shehadeh and Ahmad Tibi seen during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, February 23, 2022. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
MK's Sami Abu Shehadeh and Ahmad Tibi seen during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, February 23, 2022.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Balad chairman Sami Abou Shahadeh in an interview on KAN radio on Sunday refused to acknowledge the shooting terror attack at a bus on Saturday night near Ofra.

Asked for his thoughts about the attack, Shahadeh said:

"I think that the occupation has many casualties, and the way to end all of this violence is by ending the occupation. I think that there needs to be a clear political project that ends the occupation and Jewish supremacy and racism, we are in favor of a democratic project."

After the host asked him directly if he supported the shooting, Abou Shahadeh said:

"The truth is that we never called for violence and we are against violence. [But] we think that that is not what happened yesterday. We think that what leads to violence is the occupation, since the occupation by definition is an act of ongoing daily terror, since to conquer millions of people, and to put them under a government that they oppose for decades is an ongoing act of violence."  

The shots were fired at an Israeli bus on Saturday night on Highway 60 near the village of Silwad in the West Bank. There were no casualties, but the bus was damaged. Investigators found at least eight bullet holes in the bus.

Abou Shahadeh said in an interview on Channel 12's "Meet the Press" on Saturday that if the leaders of the two other parties that make up the Joint List, Hadash and Ta'al, do not publicly express their support for Balad's political program, the party will part ways with them.

The Israeli-Arab parties in the Knesset

There are currently four Israeli-Arab factions in the Knesset: Ra'am led by MK Mansour Abbas, which exists independently, and three that together make up the Joint List: Hadash led by MK Ayman Odeh, Ta'al led by MK Ahmad Tibi and Balad led by Abou Shahadeh. 

"I handed my demands to [Joint List and Hadash faction leader] Ayman Odeh and to the entire Hadash list, and am waiting for an answer," Abou Shahade said.

For example, if Odeh decides to recommend Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid for Prime Minister after the election, Balad will break away, he said.

"The joint political framework works for Balad as part of the organization of the Palestinians as a national minority, but only with a joint political project. Without this we will not be able [to remain]", he said.

One of the billboards put up by Balad, as part of its campaign against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saturday, January 16, 2020.  (credit: BALAD SPOKESPERSON)One of the billboards put up by Balad, as part of its campaign against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saturday, January 16, 2020. (credit: BALAD SPOKESPERSON)

Recommending Israel's prime minister

According to Israeli law, following the parliamentary election, each list that makes it into the Knesset may recommend one of the party leaders as Prime Minister in a meeting with the President. The president then gives the mandate to form a coalition and government to the leader who has the highest chances of succeeding.    

The Joint List recommended that Defense Minister Benny Gantz receive the premiership twice in the current election cycle. Following the second election in September 2019 Balad did not join the recommendation while the other three parties did, and following the third election in March 2020 the entire party supported recommending Gantz.

This must not continue since the past year showed that all of the Zionist parties are not interested in equality for the Israeli Arab sector, Abou Shahadeh argued.

"Politically, essentially, there is no significant difference between the Zionist Right and the Zionist Left", he said.

"Politically, essentially, there is no significant difference between the Zionist Right and the Zionist Left."

Sami Abou Shahadeh

In the interview on KAN radio on Sunday, Abou Shahadeh described his initiative as a "third branch" of Israeli-Arab politics, the first being Ra'am, who is most in favor of participating in Israeli governance, and the second being the other two parties, Ta'al and Hadash. Abou Shahadeh wants to form a third party that will demand that Israel turn into "a state of all its citizens" instead of a Jewish state, no less.

All political options are on the table and there are talks being held with "all kinds of people and political movements" in order to found this third branch, Abou Shahadah said.

"We are not closing the door, if our friends [in Hadash and Ta'al] accept Balad's reading of Israel's political landscape and … say in a press conference to the public that we are not a part of this [the government] … and want to join Balad, they are welcome," he said.

"The idea of a 'state of all its citizens' comes explicitly to cancel Jewish supremacy in every aspect, including racist legislation," he said. This included canceling the Law of Return, which allows any Jew to receive citizenship in Israel, and changing Israel's flag and national anthem, he said.

"A serious change needs to be made in the racist structure that discriminates in favor of Jews and in order to do this the structure needs to be taken apart and rebuilt as a democratic model that is good for all its citizens," he said.

Meeting with Palestinian Authority intelligence chief

Channel 12 reported on Friday that Abou Shahadeh, Odeh and Tibi met with the Palestinian Authority's Chief of Intelligence last week and discussed the Israeli election. MKs on the Right called for a criminal investigation into the meetings, which they claimed were an illegal attempt to influence the election.

Abou Shahade dismissed the claims.

"We meet regularly with the Palestinian leadership and with the different factions in the PLO and discuss many issues that relate to the Palestinian people," he said.

But the meetings do not have to do with the election, since the election will not change anything for the Palestinians, Abou Shahadeh said.

"They saw that Balad was correct in its reading of the political landscape, that there is no significant difference between what Gantz offered and what Netanyahu offered. [Justice Minister Gideon] Sa'ar is Netanyahu B, [Finance Minister Avigdor] Liberman is Netanyahu C," he concluded.