Israelis donate their votes to Palestinians
Israeli citizens go to the polls next Tuesday, in an election that is expected to provide another term for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Although an estimated one fifth of those living within Israel are Palestinian, the vote is also set to have an effect on the Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza and also East Jerusalem, the majority of whom are unable to vote in the election.
In response to this issue, a group of Israelis have set up a campaign entitled “Real Democracy” through the social-networking site Facebook. The page allows Israeli citizens to “donate” their vote to Palestinians who are unable to vote in the Israeli election.
Downtown Jerusalem - a stone’s throw from City Hall and a short taxi ride to the Israeli Knesset. But many of the decisions made here reach far beyond the Green Line.
Ofer Naiman is one of the founders of the “Real Democracy” campaign, inspired by a similar effort during the 2010 UK elections where British citizens could donate their vote to a person living in Afghanistan or Iraq.
“The idea is to have a platform where Israeli citizens can post messages saying something like “I’m an Israeli citizen and I’m giving my vote because there’s no real democracy here,” and Palestinians can respond saying please vote for one of the parties or boycott these elections- it should be emphasized that boycott is also on the agenda.”
Naiman and other supporters of the campaign argue that Israel’s elections reinforce a system that affects Palestinians while disenfranchising them.
He explains that the campaign, which was started a month ago, is a pragmatic way to involve more people in the election:
“Overall I find it to be a reasonable compromise between people who think the elections are illegitimate and people who think we should participate, which is what some of my friends on the left wing think we should do.”
The campaign has drawn several hundred active participants and over 1,000 supporters.
The founders estimate that Israeli offers outnumber Palestinian participants by around four to one, with sixty percent choosing either to boycott or to vote for the communist party Hadash. The remaining forty percent is split between other parties such as Da’am and Balad.
Mohammed Castero owns a coffee shop close to Damascus Gate. Like many Palestinians living in East Jerualem, he is unable to vote in the Israeli election as he does not have Israeli citizenship.
Yet he was also unable to vote in the recent municipal elections in the West Bank, which only covered areas behind the Separation Wall erected by Israel in 2002.
He says like many Palestinians in East Jerusalem, he would be unlikely to vote even if he could:
“If we look at the government twenty years ago, up to now it’s all the same. There is no one who really wants peace. If Netanyahu or anyone else wins- nothing is going to change. Because of that, we don’t care.”
Ali Ibrahim lives in Ramallah, the largest town in the West Bank- an area cut off by the Separation Wall.
Although he wasn’t aware of the campaign before, he says he now intends to participate:
“I respect them. They know that their government is wrong, and that they treat us badly. So I respect them. Because I’m Palestinian, I live here and it affects me- I have to know about what’s happening in Israel. It will affect us, and we can’t do anything about it. Whoever wins the election will be bad- but there are degrees.”
Even so, he is against the idea of getting an Israeli to boycott the election on his behalf:
“Boycotting this voting, I think it’s kind of running away from reality. Because it will happen, you know?”
Najeeb Abu El-Eltham also lives in Ramallah and says he makes an effort to read about Israeli politics. He says he wasn’t aware of the campaign, but that he is not convinced it could effect the Israeli government:
“I just don’t think it’s going to change to a more pro-Palestinian ideology. So yes there has to be communication between the people - but not through Facebook."