This past summer, during Operation Protective Edge, Anett Haskia came to the Israeli public’s attention when, as the mother of a soldier on active duty, she spoke out in support of the IDF’s fight against Hamas in Gaza. She wasn’t the only mother to turn up at rallies for the troops, but she was most likely the only Arab Israeli one to do so.
Now, she’s running to be a Knesset member with Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Zionist Jewish Home party — not the usual place for a person of her background. But then again, she is not typical at all.
Haskia is a 45-year-old Muslim Israeli Arab hairdresser and divorced mother of three grown children, all who have volunteered to serve in the IDF. Her eldest son served in the Kfir infantry brigade, her daughter was the first Muslim Arab Israeli woman to enlist, and her youngest son, 22, is currently serving in the Golani brigade.
Growing up in Acre in a family of six children and a home that was welcoming and open to people of all religions and ethnicities, Haskia, who now lives on a kibbutz in northern Israel, never envisioned the divides that exist between Jews and Arabs in Israeli society today.
Haskia has been working for the past four years through her The True Voice organization to help Arab Israeli youth better integrate into Israeli society, guiding them toward military or national service. She believes their future depends on their becoming proud and responsible Israeli citizens, rather than waiting for the establishment of a Palestinian state — something she not only predicts won’t happen, but which she is deliberately working against by joining Jewish Home.
In a recent phone conversation in Hebrew with The Times of Israel ahead of the January 14 Jewish Home primary election, Haskia shared her perspective, expounded on her positions and explained why she refuses to be called “Palestinian.”
What is motivating you to run for a seat in the Knesset?
I grew up among Jews. Today, I see the hatred they [Israeli Arabs] have. They see Jews as the enemy. Israeli Arab leaders call Israel a fascist state, but all they do is get a lot of money from the state and at the same time denigrate it. And who pays the price? The Arabs. I have to get up and say I don’t agree with the Arab members of Knesset who speak in my name. We do want to live in peace. We support the state of Israel. They [the Arab parties] go and lie to us, and together with the extreme left sell us the idea of a single state that won’t be Jewish — and it’s a big lie.
You are also against the two-state solution, with a Palestinian state existing alongside Israel. Why?
I don’t think the establishment of a Palestinian state will solve the problem of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For them [the Palestinians], you [Jewish Israelis] are an occupying nation that raped, stole land and threw their families over the border and they will never ever forgive you. Peace will not happen. They think peace will come when they throw the last Jew in to the sea. As long as Hamas is carrying out terror and wars, there can be no peace. We made peace with Arafat and what did that bring us? It brought the [Israeli] disengagement [from Gaza] and a wave of terror attacks.
You may not personally identify as Palestinian or with the Palestinian struggle for national self-determination, but what about Israeli Arabs who do?
I am an Arab first. Arabic is my mother tongue. I was born in Israel, so I am an Israeli. I am also an Arab who was born to Islam, whether or not I agree with it. I have no connection to the Palestinians…I am not a Palestinian because I am an Israeli. I have no feeling for the Palestinians, just as I have no feeling for the Americans or any other nation. I am Israeli.
Israeli Arabs can identify as Palestinians and call themselves Palestinians, but they should be loyal to the State of Israel. I have a problem with those who call themselves Palestinian and live in Israel and want the state’s destruction. That is a betrayal of citizenship. Everyone can identify as they wish. I have a problem with people who want to destroy the state.
Are there really many Arabs in Israel who think like you and will join you?
Who says there aren’t others like me? The problem with you is that when we give you a finger, you want the whole hand. You don’t have patience…You should thank me that I am here. If I am here, then I am not the only one. I did not come from a place where only Anett was born. There are a lot of Arabs supportive of Israel, but they are afraid to come out. They are afraid to be seen as traitors to Arab society. And then when Jewish society doesn’t accept them, they can’t come back to Arab society, they’ll be eaten alive.
I have gone through a lot of things in my life. I am a bold, strong woman. But there are people for whom it is hard. If I were not strong I would have failed in my struggle, because the state does not support me. Even when you want to come out and make your Israeli voice heard, no one wants to listen. For four years I have been looking for someone to recognize me as an Israeli and not as a Palestinian.
It’s true there are not thousands or millions of us. But the day that Anett Haskia will be strengthened, then the Arab Israelis will understand we can change.
Arab Israelis who join Zionist parties usually join ones on the left end of the political spectrum. Why are you running for a spot on the list of the right-wing Jewish Home party?
Jewish Home is not right-wing extremist like everyone thinks. I am against a Palestinian state like Jewish Home is. I support the settlements, and Jewish Home supports the settlements.
Since [the] Oslo [Accords] people look at me like a terrorist. I am afraid to say that I am a Muslim. Everyday I have to apologize that I am a good Muslim, a good Arab.
Where is the peace after the disengagement? Yes, I want there to be more settlements. The more settlements there are, the fewer terror attacks there will be and I will regain respect. The settlers are the truest citizens. They are protecting us with their bodies and lives. They are the human fence.
Would you live in a West Bank settlement?
I would have no problem with that. I get along with everyone. I am often a guest of settlers and they accept me with warmth. We have dialogue…We realize that we both want the same thing.
Are you, as the only Arab Israeli woman to ever join the Jewish Home, concerned about tokenism?
People can say what they want. My goal is paramount. I have a vision. I am going to build a new generation of Arab Israelis.
You seem to be highly focused on changing things for younger Arab Israelis.
As much as this doesn’t sound nice, I am investing all my energy in to the next generation…I am not interested in investing in the parents and grandparents to change their consciousness. When I become an MK I will work only for the Arab youth. I don’t want to see them as addicts or criminals. We have great kids that we can be proud of, that are the salt of the earth together with Jewish kids.
I want to see them finish high school and do Gadna (pre-army training) so they’ll understand what the army is. Arab youth thinks that the soldiers take weapons and kill Palestinian children. They don’t understand that the IDF is fighting Hamas, a terror organization…They have fallen victim between the Israeli and Palestinian identities. They don’t know with which flag to identify. They need to be taught to love Israel, which is a Jewish and democratic state, and to understand that there is no other state for them. Everything begins and ends with education.
Are your own children proud of you? Are they supporting you in your efforts to run on the Jewish Home ticket?
My children are my life, and they are proud of me. They will be there for me. They want me to realize my dream, inshallah [God willing].
Some would see you as a Palestinian traitor. Does this make you afraid?
I have been called that, but I am not afraid of anything…And I am not brave. I am simply fighting for [the rights and privileges represented by] my blue Israeli identity card. It is not easy in Israel to say, “I am an Arab, a Muslim and a proud Israeli.” It would be easier to say I identified as a Palestinian. If I did, everyone would support me.