29 June 2011 — Guardian Comment
In arresting Sheikh Raed Salah, the UK authorities support the persecution of Arab citizens of Israel
The decision to ban the Palestinian leader Sheikh Raed Salah from entering Britain, and then to arrest him, was transparently not based on any serious examination of his political activities. It was an ugly kneejerk response to the growing hostility of the Israeli establishment and its supporters abroad towards anyone opposing its racist policies – and a rising tide of Islamophobia in Europe.
Salah is head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, and three times elected mayor of the Palestinian town of Umm el-Fahm. He and I represent different political organisations and traditions. But there are no legal or legitimate reasons to pursue him. The Israeli persecution of him has recently intensified, as have its attacks on leaders of Palestinian citizens of Israel more generally. So have its demands that those of us struggling for equality recognise Israel as an ethnically or religiously defined Jewish state. There is no other meaning to a “Jewish state” except the recognition of the legitimacy of granting privileges to Jews in Israel at the expense of Palestinian citizens, annulling the legitimacy of our struggle for real democracy.
Because I took part in the first freedom flotilla to break the illegal and inhuman siege of Gaza, the Israeli establishment has waged a propaganda campaign against me, accusing me of “terrorism”, and demanding the withdrawal of my parliamentary immunity and citizenship. This will be difficult to implement, but it threatens my political legitimacy and defines me as a “risk”. This is what is now happening with Salah. Unable to produce any legal evidence, the Israeli establishment and its supporters in Britain accuse him of antisemitism. Salah has rebutted the fabricated allegations behind these claims and instructed his lawyers to begin legal action against those repeating them.
It appears that the charge of antisemitism is being used as a way of suppressing criticism of Israeli policies. Since when has the struggle for equality become a form of racism? Since when have states that boast of their democratic credentials acquired the right to arrest people for their political views?
The British authorities cannot give one legal reason for Salah’s arrest. His statements against Israeli policies are no stronger than those made by many Israeli leftwingers and humanitarians. But it seems that the British government has bowed to pro-Israel pressure even when it comes to its home affairs.
By arresting and threatening to deport Salah, the British government is denying Palestinians in Israel the right to speak for themselves and make their case to the international community in what is universally understood to be one of the most combustible conflicts in the world. That is why the condemnation of the British government’s action by Palestinian members of the Israeli parliament has been so strong.
Palestinian Israelis are simultaneously part of the Palestinian people and citizens of Israel. Israel established itself in our land, and Israeli citizenship has no meaning for us unless we have equal citizenship to Israeli Jews and unless it permits our campaign for equality. This is what we, and Salah, are doing.
Pro-Israel organisations in Britain and elsewhere are manipulating growing European Islamophobia to discredit us by falsely portraying the democratic Palestinian struggle against racism and discrimination in Israel as antisemitic.
Palestinians experience this Israeli propaganda every day, but we can compare it to the daily racist reality. It is our land that Israel confiscates: 82% so far. We do not have the right to use it. It has constructed 600 Jewish cities and villages and hundreds of Jewish housing communities, which by law we do not have the right to reside in. It is our homes that get demolished, our history that is rewritten. It is we who are separated from our families and excluded from services, education and jobs.
The British authorities have fallen into an Israeli trap. Instead of supporting our leaders and their campaign for freedom and democracy, they are supporting Israeli persecution of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Until now, Palestinian citizens of Israel have been struggling for our political rights in our country, and confronting Zionist racism inside Israel. But now it seems we have to confront Zionist racism abroad as well.
The pro-Israeli lobby must not be allowed to determine politics in Britain. Palestinians in Israel see the arrest of Salah by the British authorities as backing Israeli policies against us. We ask the British people to reject this, not to allow Israeli racism to inform them and support instead our just demands for democracy in our own land.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011