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The Zuabis

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Hanin Zuabi

THE SOLE contribution of Ya'ir Lapid to Israeli folklore so far is his saying that he would not join a move to block Binyamin Netanyahu, since this would mean joining forces with "the Zuabis."

This needs explanation to a foreign audience. The Zuabi family is a large Hamula (extended Arab family) located in Nazareth and the vicinity. Several members of this family served in the Knesset in the early days of Israel, all as members of Zionist parties or Arab factions attached to Zionist parties.

The present member of the Knesset bearing that distinguished name is Ms. Hanin Zuabi, the 44 year-old representative of the Arab nationalist Balad party. The founder of the party, Azmi Bishara, left Israel after being accused of security offenses. He said that because of his severe diabetes, he could not afford to go to prison.

Hanin, however, is widely hated on her own account. She has a knack of getting under the skin of Jewish Israelis. She is intentionally provocative, abrasive and infuriating. Once she was physically attacked by one of Avigdor Lieberman's female storm troopers while making a speech from the Knesset rostrum. She did not flinch.

But her main claim to glory (or hatred) was the audacious decision to go aboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara that tried to run the blockade and take supplies to Gaza. The incident, in which 9 Turkish activists were killed by Israeli commandos, raised a tsunami of emotions in Israel. Hanin Zuabi was branded as a traitor. Many Arab citizens admire her courage, but that did not prevent her party from losing a seat in the recent elections. However, Zuabi kept her seat in the Knesset.

She is now the pet hatred object. In a recent article, a leading journalist put her picture next to that of Sarah Netanyahu and called them the two most hated women in Israel -- one on the left, one on the right.

So if Lapid had refused to cooperate with Hanin, few Jewish Israelis would have criticized him. What aroused a storm of protest was a single letter. Lapid did not refuse to cooperate with Hanin Zuabi but with "the Zuabis" -- in the plural. This was understood to mean all members of the three Arab factions in the Knesset.

"Racist!" the cry arose from many sides. "Inexcusable!" "Intolerable!" "Detestable!"

THESE CRIES might have sounded convincing, except for one fact: in all the present efforts to build a new government coalition, no one even suggested including the "Arab" factions.

There are three "Arab" factions. ("Arab" in quotes, because one of them, the communist "Hadash," has one Jewish MK, the popular Dov Hanin. However, the voters of the party are almost all Arab. The size of its Jewish vote did actually decrease this time.)

The members of these factions live practically in a parliamentary ghetto. They function like other members, have full rights, one them is a deputy speaker and presides over sessions, in theory they can even make their speeches in Arabic, though all of them choose to speak in Hebrew.

Yet there is a glass wall between them and their colleagues. There is a tacit agreement among the Jewish members that they should not be included in coalitions. The closest they ever got was in 1993, when Yitzhak Rabin depended on their support, without including them in his coalition. Without it, the Oslo agreement would never have happened, nor would Rabin have been assassinated. The fiercest denunciation of his policy was that he had no "Jewish majority", that he was giving away our God-given land with the help of Arab factions. One of the most bitter accusers was Binyamin Netanyahu.

ONE MAY well ask how the Arabs got into the Knesset in the first place.

This was by no means a foregone conclusion. After all, in Israel's Declaration of Independence the new state was defined as "Jewish." Why should Arabs be allowed to participate in enacting the laws of the Jewish State? Why should they be citizens at all?

There was a lively debate about this in the secret deliberations at the time of the founding of the state in 1948. It was David Ben-Gurion who made the final decision. He was concerned about world opinion, especially at a time when Israel was fighting for admission to the UN. Since Ben-Gurion was a politician, he was very good at combining the national interest with his own.

The first Knesset was elected in January 1949, while the war was still going on (I remember voting near the army convalescence camp where I was recovering from my wounds). At the time, the Arabs who remained in Israel after the mass flight and expulsion were subject to "military rule," which made the life of every individual Arab, down to the smallest detail, totally dependent on the military governor.

Ben-Gurion saw to it that the Arab citizens -- while enjoying a free vote -- voted for his party, Mapai. The heads of the extended families were told that life would be made miserable for them if they did not deliver the prescribed number of votes for the party. Each one was told how his people must vote -- for Mapai itself or for one of the Arab factions set up by Mapai precisely for this purpose. Thus it was easy to check how each family had voted.

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