Why I let a Palestinian woman from East Jerusalem decide my vote

It doesn’t feel good or empowering to give up my right to vote. It feels mostly shitty, and maybe that is how it is supposed to feel. But as long as it is not an inalienable right for those who live under the same governmental roof, it is absolutely alienable to me.

I just returned from the voting booth in Tel Aviv. Voting is such a private matter, and at the end of the day, nobody except the person voting knows who he/she voted for.

My voting experience today, however, wasn’t a private matter. And it wasn’t an enjoyable or empowering one either, because I decided to give up my right and privilege to vote in an act of protest, frustration and guilt. I let Riman Barakat, a Palestinian woman from East Jerusalem, decide who I should vote for. And she chose Balad, an Arab nationalist party, a party I would not have voted for and have no specific affinity to (below is a text from Riman on why she chose Balad and what she thinks about me giving up my vote).

Why I let a Palestinian woman from East Jerusalem decide my vote
ILLUSTRATION (Protest against a new Jewish settlement in Ras Al Amud, East Jerusalem, 27.05.2011 photo: Activestills)

I’ve only met Riman once before in Ramallah, because we have a mutual friend. But I do not really know her, or her political views,  and cannot say she is my friend. But I turned to her because I preferred not to give my vote to a total stranger on Facebook randomly, but do it personally, talk to her first – and because she is a woman, and from East Jerusalem specifically.

I did it because today, I live in a one-state reality I do not want to live in, and regardless of the term one chooses to use, it is a reality of systematic inequality, discrimination and violent oppression towards the Palestinian minority. When Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967 it had to by definition apply (de jure) all the same laws and duties on the Palestinian population – and with them, there are supposed to be rights. However Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, while able to travel freely in Israel and entitled to public education and national healthcare and pay the same taxes as I do, cannot vote in national elections. They are withheld the most basic and concrete political right any civilian should have to seek out representation and improve their quality of life. This is one of the most blatant forms of disenfranchisement and hypocrisy and it has been the status quo in Israel for 46 years. (West Bank Palestinians of course do not even have those rights, but formally, Israel is not bound to them legally in the same way as East Jerusalem Palestinians, which is why for me it makes it all the worse.)

A country that prides itself so aggressively on its democracy cannot annex an area and leave its population in the dust and think it can get away with it. And I cannot happily go to the polls and vote for a party – even if there is a party I really do believe in – because it feels like a sham. And I am angry that it feels like a sham. I am angry that I couldn’t feel good about voting today and that I was not capable of feeling empowered by my civil rights.

So I did it because I will to live in a place where civilians who are subject to the same government and authorities and whims for all these years can have the same rights before the law. Because I want to actively combat the disenfranchising of Palestinians under Israeli governance and control.  Because on election day in the Israel of 2013, the only thing that felt right was to give voice to someone who has systematically been deprived of that privilege for so long.  And because I want to make a public and provocative statement that ticks people off or gets them thinking- and honestly, I assume I did it in large part because of I feel guilty; because I’m sick and tired of feeling guilty that I have all these privileges that Palestinians do not.

My name is Riman Barakat and I am the Palestinian co-Director of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. I am an East Jerusalem resident which means that I cannot directly vote or influence Israeli elections, but today this has been possible when I was asked to decide an Israeli friend’s vote. I decided to vote for Balad as I believe Israel needs to move into the direction of becoming an inclusive democracy that guarantees minority rights for the Palestinians living in Israel and for any ethnic identity living in Israel. I believe that Balad’s direction corresponds with my understanding of a democracy that guarantees full rights to all  citizens and assures collective rights for minorities. I see potential for Balad to develop its vision for a resolution of the conflict , as its purpose both supports a bi-national state, as well as a resolution of the conflict according to the 1967 borders, and those two visions may need to be merged to create a different model that will also allow the State of Palestine to also guarantee minority rights for Israelis living in Palestine.

I very much welcome the initiative of Mairav and various other Israelis who decided to leave their vote for a Palestinian to decide. This is a positive message  from Israeli society to the Palestinian public assuring them of solidarity with the Palestinian cause .  Palestinians today keep referring to the fact that although there are various polls that show that most Israelis want a two-state solution, many Israelis vote to parties that do not carry an agenda for just and viable resolution to the conflict.   This is a chance for Israelis to show Palestinians their goodwill  and for Palestinians to influence the result. Tomorrow’s result might not change much, and the Likud party might still get the majority of the votes, but getting more Palestinian seats is essential . This action will also politicians’ future election campaigns, in which they will feel the need to take the Arab voice, as well as the Palestinian voice more seriously.

In case anyone is wondering, my heart was telling me to vote for Da’am. Not because I know their history very intimately, or because I have learned the ins and outs of their politics, or the record of their party members; I was likely going to vote for Da’am because of their non-national call for Arab-Jewish cooperation through worker’s rights and social welfare, and to be frank, primarily because of the charisma with which their chairwoman delivers that message. She was the only inspiring voice I heard throughout this election cycle. I want to see them make the threshold and get into the Knesset. And it hurts that today, I could not be a part of that. It hurts that I did not vote for the party I felt something for. And maybe, because of my vote, they won’t make it in, and I have to live with that.

But maybe it is supposed to hurt. Maybe that is exactly the point of this act of protest and statement I am so publicly making. To feel uncomfortable and deprived and upset. And I don’t want or need anyone’s pat on the back or admiration for this move. The opposite. I’m not proud of it at all. In fact i’m ashamed. People should be angry and ashamed, like I am, that it has come to this. It has come to a point where I, who never thought I could or would give up my right to vote, have done so.

Who gets to vote in Israel’s democracy?
Watching elections I cannot vote in