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Israel threatens Palestinian legislator

By Eric Ruder | April 27, 2007 | Page 16

IN RESPONSE to the threat of secret charges against him, Azmi Bishara, the most prominent political leader of the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, has been forced to resign from office.

Bishara was elected to the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, in 1996 and is a founder of the National Democratic Assembly (NDA), a party whose central plank calls on Israel to be a state of all its citizens.

The exact nature of the charges against Bishara are unknown because Israel's Shin Bet security services placed a gag order on Israeli media outlets, which first reported rumors of impending charges in mid-April while Bishara was on a diplomatic trip to neighboring Egypt.

Now Bishara has to decide whether to go into political exile, spend years fighting to prove his innocence of bogus charges, or face a long prison sentence. Given that he was the recipient of a kidney transplant from his brother, a long term in an Israeli prison would almost certainly kill him.

For years now, the Israeli establishment has considered Bishara's eloquent advocacy of the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel a threat. The powerful appeal of the NDA's demand that Israel become a state of all its citizens is intolerable to Israeli politicians.

Israel claims to be the Middle East's only democracy, but its citizens are the Jews of the world--that is, not the 1 million Palestinians who remained--or descended from those who remained--after Israel's 1948 war to establish a state in Palestine. Some 800,000 Palestinians fled at the time after Jewish militias carried out massacres designed to provoke an exodus.

The charges against Bishara are the latest chapter in Israel's decades-long drive to eradicate any and all expressions of Palestinian resistance to its colonial project of emptying Palestine of its indigenous Arab population. Bishara's NDA stands as a nagging reminder of Israel's hypocrisy and the leading representative of a force--a Palestinian civil rights movement--that has the potential to pressure Israel from within.

This isn't the first time that Bishara has come under fire for his unapologetic defense of Palestinian rights.

In 2001, the Knesset stripped him of his parliamentary immunity--the only time in its history it made such a move against one of its members--in order to charge him, among other things, with "incitement to violence" and "supporting a terrorist organization" (Hezbollah) because of a speech he gave that addressed the right, enshrined in international law, of an occupied people to resist occupation.

Bishara deserves the support of all those who stand for justice and equality.

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