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Why is Israel after my brother?

May 11, 2007

By Marwan Bishara
PARIS - For Israel's one million Arab citizens, allegations of treason against Azmi Bishara, a former Arab member of the Israeli parliament, is the latest demonstration of a 60-year dilemma: How does an Arab live in dignity in a Jewish state without being treated as a strategic threat?
During last year's summer war against Lebanon, Bishara, like most of the Arabs in Israel, condemned the government's "war of choice" and denounced what he believed amounted to war crimes against the Lebanese people.
The Israeli government responded with an investigation into allegations that he aided the enemy in a time of war and passed information to a foreign agent - Hezbollah. Bishara, who resigned from the Knesset in April and is not in Israel, has called the charges "trumped-up" and "ridiculous." But they could lead to life imprisonment.
I find this investigation particularly outrageous not only because Azmi is my brother, but because he gets my vote. Azmi's vision of an Israel based on universal democratic values - including an end to inequality and to the occupation of the Palestinian territories - is indispensable to solving the Middle East conflict. But for the past six years, this vision has been threatened politically and physically.
The accusations against Azmi, who served 11 years in the Knesset, are the latest in a long series of harassment. Six years ago, Azmi was stripped of his parliamentary immunity and put on trial for voicing support for Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation and for helping some constituents to visit relatives in Syria. He won both cases.
Attempts to outlaw "Citizen Bishara," as he came to be known, as well as his party, the National Democratic Assembly, continued until the Israeli Supreme Court ruled against the government's attempts to ban the NDA and its leadership from running in national elections. The victory only seemed to infuriate his political enemies even more.
Before that trial began, I wrote that I couldn't hide my enthusiasm for what such a legal process could bring to light. Alas, I cannot say the same about the present case.
Not because Azmi lost his way. If complaining to Lebanese friends about war is a crime, Israel should round us all up.
Rather, his accusers seem to be motivated more by revenge than reason. And in the shadow of the government's bitterness over the failures of the Lebanese campaign, Azmi is being asked to prove his innocence before those responsible for the war crimes he condemned.
It's doubtful under such circumstances that he can get a fair trial. "Bishara's wariness of the courts is not unfounded," Israel's leading daily, Haaretz, wrote in a recent editorial.
By portraying Azmi as an informant rather than the intellectual leader he is, the government seeks to intimidate his party and dissuade Israeli Arabs from supporting his political ideas.
In the past, Azmi has been arrested, shot at and threatened, and his home has been attacked by a mob. So I doubt that the new accusations will stop him or the Arab movement for equality at home and freedom from occupation across the borders.
There's a broad consensus among Israeli Arabs that the motives for investigating leaders like Azmi are political. His idea of Israel as a state for all its citizens is perceived by the security establishment as a challenge to the very nature of the Jewish state.
Over the past six decades, Israeli leaders have referred to their Palestinian fellow citizens as an internal enemy or a fifth column, only to see them becoming more politicized and radicalized.
This was especially the case during the second intifada in late 2000, when despite a harsh security crackdown, the Israeli Arab minority demonstrated popular sympathy and support for the struggle of Palestinians under occupation.
Even though my brother has not been officially charged with anything yet, the allegations against him are meant to make it clear that no one, not even a popular leader, is immune from prosecution for signs of disloyalty to the Jewish state.
The only way to correct the injustice done to this representative of the people is to close this silly investigation, sooner rather than later.
*Marwan Bishara is a senior political analyst for the Al Jazeera English network»

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