Photo by Julie C.
High turnout in Palestinian towns and villages, racist attacks in mixed cities, exclusion of the Palestinian Bedouins and greater involvement of Palestinian women: an assessment of the October 22nd municipal elections in Israel.
With rates as high as 92% in Ka’abbiyye-Tabbash-Hajajre, 87% in Sakhnin, 78% in Kfar Qara, 67% in Abu Ghosh, 70% in Abu Sanaan (Jerusalem Post), and 87% in Rahat – the main Palestinian city in the Naqab area – the turnout eligible Palestinian voters was higher than usual. In comparison, the national rate for these last elections stands at 42.63%, with the lowest levels of participation in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, 22% and 32% respectively, partly due to a boycott of the elections by Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.
The Palestinian community’s participation in this year’s municipal elections was higher than it was in January’s Knesset elections, in which 57.9 percent of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and/or residency voted. The discrepancy in the number of votes between local and national elections could be explained, according to columnist Shlomi Eldar in al-Monitor, by the lack of trust in Arab members of the Knesset and in their power to improve the situation of Palestinian citizens of Israel. Thus, left to face the everyday discrimination associated with being a second class citizen of Israel—both on a political and socio-economic level—Palestinians chose to turn to their municipalities for solutions.
The feeling of attachment to the local community also seems to be at the origin of the choice made at voting booths this year. According to a pre-election survey conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms, Mada Carmel, out of 513 eligible Palestinian voters in Arab villages, towns and mixed cities, the vote seems to be driven by family affiliation for 56.1% of the surveyed. 27.2% of those surveyed were based their votes on efficiency, while 6.8% voted based on party programs.
Tensions running high in mixed cities
In officially mixed cities and in Jewish-majority cities with a high representation of Palestinians, like in Nazareth Illit (Upper Nazareth), elections took place in a rather tense atmosphere. The re-elected mayor of Nazareth Illit, Shimon Gapso, ran on a program based on protecting the town’s Jewish character against the influence of the Arab population, which constitutes about 18% of the 50,000 inhabitants:
"I would rather cut off my right arm than build an Arab school," said the re-elected mayor in an interview for the Washington Post last September. "No, no, no. No mosques, ever (...). And no Christmas trees."
Pamphlets stating, "This is the time to guard our home! … All requests for foreign characteristics in the city are refused," were also issued throughout the campaign, in accordance with his slogan: "Upper Nazareth, Jewish forever."
According to Shlomi Eldar, in al-Monitor, this situation has led to an exceptional alliance between two main Arab parties, Balad and Hadash, in order to counter Gapso with a consolidated list.
In al-Lydd (known in modern day Israel as Lod), Arab candidate Abd al-Karim Azbarga was shot in the stomach on the eve of the elections. In this mixed city, tensions between the Jewish and the Palestinian populations ran high around the municipal elections. The shooting could be linked to the elections and to alleged incitement by former Labor party Knesset member, Yoram Marciano, against Azbarga and against the Arab population, labelling them a threat to the Jewish character of the city before the municipal elections began (Times of Israel, Jerusalem Post). The affair is currently under investigation.
In Jaffa, Likud members ran under campaign slogans such as, "Silence the muezzin in Jaffa? Only Likud can," strongly targeting the area’s Palestinian population. Palestinians constitute about one third of the city’s population and are already being pressed to leave the old city in the name of development.
The same atmosphere prevailed in Karmiel (north Israel) where Koren Neuman, head of Likud’s list for the municipal elections, declared : "Our message is that we want to keep our city Jewish-Zionist. That, after all, is the mission of the state of Israel. We're not against anybody. But Karmiel is supposed to be a Jewish city and we must not allow its character to be changed."
A joint Arab-Jewish party called Karmiel Rainbow was apparently the victim of "dirty tricks" used by the adversaries, according activist Naama Blatman-Thomas in an interview for al-Jazeera.
"When I have spoken to Jewish residents, the narrative in their minds is that their city is under threat of a takeover, that the Arabs will take our women, and so on. The views expressed in Karmiel are part of a much wider trend across the Galilee."
Between 75.000 and 90.000 Palestinian Bedouins excluded from the elections
Despite higher than usual participation in many of the Palestinian areas within Israel, about 75,000 to 90,000 Palestinian Bedouin living in the unrecognized villages of the Naqab (Negev) Desert were, once again, barred from participating in this year’s municipal elections.
"The unrecognized villages are afforded no official status. [They] receive few-to-no basic state services such as electricity, water, telephone lines, and educational or health facilities; have no local councils and do not belong to other local governing bodies; and are excluded from government maps and state planning," according to a 2011 inequality report put out by Adalah’s, the Haifa based Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.
About 70.000 Bedouins living in the Naqab’s unrecognized villages are under threat of being forcibly displaced by the Prawer plan, a plan sponsored by the Israeli government that aims at relocating the Naqab’s Bedouin population in the name development.
Palestinian women’s involvement in the elections on the rise
One positive element of this year’s municipal elections was a marked increase in the involvement of Palestinian women, especially in Palestinian villages. More women were running this year for a seat in the local councils, like in Majd al-Krum or in Akka, and the general attitude of the communities toward the participation of women in the elections – whether through candidacy or involvement in the campaigns – seems to be evolving in a positive manner.
In the Galilee and Triangle (muthaleth) areas, the Palestinian feminist organization Kayan facilitated discussions between female residents and the candidates. The objective was to raise awareness of the future local councils on the needs of women so that they will be better included in future municipal decisions and budget allocations. Although a lot of work is still to be done after the elections, the debate turned out productive and encouraging according to the organizers.
Adella Biadi-Schlon, community organizer in Kayan, the candidacy of Knesset member Haneen Zoabi (Balad) for the head of Nazareth’s local council was also a positive example for women, even though the attacks against her may discourage women from running.
Mada Carmel’s survey shows encouraging results regarding female participation in local elections, with 66.3% and 55% of those surveyed rejecting religion and customs respectively as sufficient reason to prevent women from running for election, a seemingly favourable viewpoint for candidacy of women in future local councils.