We Protested Mike Pence's Speech, and Israel Could Not Tolerate It

Israel's Arab parliamentary bloc and Knesset members hold signs in protest as security members scuffle with them during the speech of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Israel's parliament in Jerusalem, on January 22, 2018. Ariel Schalit/AFP/Getty

Earlier this week, I and several other Arab members of the Joint List were forcibly removed from the Israeli parliament chamber after we attempted to silently protest U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's speech.

As Palestinians indigenous to the land and citizens of Israel, whose families have lived here for countless generations, my colleagues and I felt compelled to act because of the Trump administration's recent recognition of Jerusalem as part of Israel, in contravention of international law and 70 years of U.S. policy, and the complete disregard it has shown for Palestinian rights since taking office.

So, as Pence began his address, we held up signs reading "Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine" before we were swiftly and violently ejected to the cheers of right-wing lawmakers.

Over the past year, President Donald Trump has demonstrated beyond any doubt that his administration cannot be an impartial mediator between Israelis and Palestinians. He has surrounded himself with senior advisers who strongly support Israel's illegal settlement enterprise, even appointing them to lead his efforts to make peace in the region. His recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital was simply the last straw, giving direct support to the East Jerusalem annexation law passed by the Knesset in 1967.

Emboldened by Trump's support, Israel's hard-right government has accelerated construction of settlements and its attempts to annex the occupied Palestinian West Bank, while Israel's occupying army has cracked down on Palestinian human rights defenders, arresting and imprisoning nonviolent activists—and even a 16-year-old girl—on bogus charges in its discriminatory military court system.

And mirroring Pence's dangerous messianic zeal, right-wing Jewish extremists who want to build a temple in the Noble Sanctuary mosque complex in occupied East Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam and one the most sensitive holy sites in the world, have stepped up their provocations in the sacred compound, at the risk of sparking a major religious conflagration.

Pence himself has played an important role in the Trump administration's policies in Israel/Palestine. Motivated by his Christian Zionist ideology, he is an ardent supporter of the Israeli right-wing and the settlement enterprise. He strongly encouraged Trump to recognize Jerusalem as part of Israel and stood proudly behind him during the announcement.

Christian Zionists like Pence support Israel because they view its establishment as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy—which ends with the return of the Christian messiah and the damnation of anyone—including Jews—who do not accept him as their savior. Ironically, Pence's brand of Christianity harms some of the oldest Christian communities in the world, those of Christian Palestinians, who face the same discrimination and oppression at the hands of Israel that Muslim Palestinians do.

While Pence was lavishing praise on his fellow religious fanatics in the Knesset, just a few miles away millions of Palestinians—Christian and Muslim alike—were trying to survive another day under Israel's brutal 50-year-old military rule. In his Knesset speech, Pence urged those who "cherish freedom" to look at Israel and "marvel at what they behold." If he had bothered looking at the reality before him rather than being absorbed by his dangerous religious fantasies, he would have seen that Israel has denied Palestinians in the occupied territories the most basic of freedoms, including freedom of movement, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion, for more than half a century.

He would have seen Palestinians having their land and homes stolen by Israel and handed over to illegal Jewish settlers, and the rubble of Palestinian homes systematically destroyed by Israel, the families who lived in them left homeless, because they were built without the difficult to obtain permits required from Israel's racist occupation regime.

If Pence had scratched below the surface inside Israel's internationally recognized pre-1967 borders, he would have seen Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up about 20 percent of the population (about 1.5 million people) being treated as second-class citizens in the land of their ancestors, subject to dozens of discriminatory laws affecting virtually every facet of life from land ownership and housing rights, to education, health care, employment, and family reunification.

As Arab Palestinian members of Israel's parliament and public faces of our communities, we are regularly subjected to racist abuse and death threats. Just as our constituents are, we are systematically discriminated against by our fellow lawmakers and constantly belittled and harassed because we will not acquiesce in our own subjugation. Take the way we were forcibly removed from the Knesset during Pence's speech, for example. Jewish lawmakers would never be treated in such a violent and disrespectful manner simply for engaging in peaceful protest. In fact, Jewish members of Knesset have protested in the past, including against the head of the European Parliament, and they were treated gently.

While claiming to be a democracy, our ejection from the Knesset shows that Israel cannot even tolerate a simple democratic protest but rather that they applaud the crushing of dissent. Can one imagine members of the Black Caucus being evicted from Congress in this way for expressing dissent against the Trump administration's policies?

In protesting Pence's speech, we wanted to make a statement against the dangerous and racist policies of both the Trump administration and Israel. Like many Americans who are similarly engaged in boycotts and other forms of nonviolent resistance against Trump's racist, xenophobic policies, we wish to create a society and a country where all citizens are equal, regardless of race or religion.

In his pandering to the Israeli right and its supporters in the U.S., Trump has unwittingly exposed as a fraud the zombie U.S.-sponsored "peace" process that for more than two decades Israel has used as cover to continue its theft of Palestinian land and deepen its occupation and violations of Palestinian human rights rather than ending them.

Now that the mask is off, the international community must reject the Trump administration's efforts to force Palestinians to return to a dead-end bilateral negotiations process, including its slashing of funding to the U.N. agency that provides humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees.

The world must finally face the reality that Israel is an apartheid power that rules over millions of Palestinians in the occupied territories without granting them any rights and that systematically discriminates against its non-Jewish citizens. We urge all countries and people of conscience to support us as we struggle peacefully for our freedom, justice and equality.

Dr. Ahmad Tibi is the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset. He represents the Joint List, the third-largest political party in the Israeli parliament.