Aida Touma-Suleiman, a member of the Israeli Parliament since 2015 and also a member of the Israeli Communist Party, spoke to Evrensel: “We want to stop the war immediately.”
By Ekim Kılıç, Evrensel correspondent, Turkey. Translated to English for the Red Phoenix.
Israel’s attacks on Palestine took a new dimension this week. The people of Gaza, under bombardment, were cut off from the world last Friday. While the developments in the Middle East continue to frighten the peoples, various struggle groups in different countries are striving to raise the voice of peace. One of them is Aida Touma-Suleiman, a member of the Hadash People’s Bloc in the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) since 2015 and a member of the Communist Party of Israel. Before becoming a member of parliament, Suleiman was the editor-in-chief of Al-Ittihad newspaper.
What is your general analysis of the recent events?
First of all, let me thank you for having me. I think it is very important these days that all our voices are heard in the world and at the same time we send a call to the world to intervene and try to stop this crazy war that we have seen since October 7. Let me start by saying that what happened on October 7 was very shocking. Like many other Israeli citizens and Palestinians, we did not expect so many civilians to be killed. We feel sorry for Israeli civilians. And we feel the pain of Israelis who have lost loved ones, who have been killed or kidnapped into Gaza and don’t know what happened to them. But we need to realize that we have been living in such a chaotic situation for a long time. As long as the Israeli occupation continues to oppress the Palestinian people, there will be no sense of security for both sides.
Now I speak not only as an Israeli citizen, but I am a Palestinian myself. And I feel the suffering of my people in the last 75 years and especially in the last few years after the collapse of hope for a political solution and the end of the occupation with the political diplomatic agreement between both sides. We understood that the situation was going to be complicated.
The despair on the Palestinian side was compounded by the fact that the Israeli government was formed in the last year as a very right-wing government, including fascist parties and members. This government had no intention of either ending the occupation or starting any political process. On the contrary, this government was conducting such a policy that we saw the number of Palestinians killed. Since the beginning of the year, there have been more incidents than we have seen in many years. The number of attacks by settlers on Palestinian civilians, the burning of Hawara, or the attacks on Al-Aqsa Mosque, trying to legitimize the division of Al-Aqsa, turning it into a place where Jews or settlers can pray… All this escalated the situation. Of course, no one thinks or justifies the killing of civilians for any reason.
But you have to understand the context in which what happened on October 7 took place. It in no way legitimizes us, in fact we were the only force in Israel that always insisted on keeping civilians out of the blood equation. And we have generally insisted that there is no military solution to the continuation of the occupation or to the Palestinian situation. We have always believed that a real negotiation must begin. We have always believed that Palestinians, like every other people in the world, must have the right to establish their own state, to have the right to stop the occupation, to be free from the occupation and to have the right to stop the violence against Palestinian society.
Since October 7 and the horrific scenes we saw, we can only hear voices calling for revenge from the Israeli government and the majority in society. It seems that logic and the brain have taken a vacation. The only instinct is anger or deep sadness, but it has all turned into revenge. I think the current Israeli government is using these legitimate feelings of anger and sadness and lack of security to start a war to strategically realize the plans that this government has already made from the beginning to liquidate the Palestinian issue, to stop any possibility to end the occupation. And it seems to want to put the whole region in a new order.
This is evidenced by the fact that the US has suddenly changed its position 180 degrees from its initial refusal to support the Netanyahu government to embracing it and supporting it militarily and financially. We can see the decision to move aircraft carriers to the Middle East, we can see the amount of military support that the US is planning, all of this shows that the plans are for a big event, for a big war. Because the US is afraid that the fifth military power in the world will not be able to confront Hamas. We fear that this could lead to a regional war. This could be catastrophic for everyone.
That is why we have been calling for a stop to the war from day one. We want to stop the war immediately. We call for an agreement to release all the abducted children and women, or at least to release them in a humane way. We call on the world to immediately launch a humanitarian corridor. We must get humanitarian aid to Gaza, which is facing a catastrophic situation. We also warn that the plans to evacuate northern Gaza, to ethnically cleanse it, to push people south or into Sinai, as was initially announced, is a crime. This is an unacceptable crime. We must issue these warnings so that the world wakes up and tries to stop this insane war.
“THE ISSUE OF KIDNAPPED ISRAELIS IS CRITICAL”
Can you see the end of this war?
I wish I had a clear and definite answer to your question. At least it would be a relief to know how it will end. Sometimes small actions continue throughout the war and make the situation terrible. This is what we are really afraid of. We are at least relieved that Hezbollah is not really involved in this war, although there are many provocations in the north. And I’m sorry to say that I don’t understand why Israel attacked Damascus Airport or Aleppo Airport, nobody understands that this is a call for Hezbollah to get involved in this war in a bigger way.
But I think the issue of the abducted people, not yet, but I think it should guide the next actions of the Israeli army because there are more than 200 people. The pressure is increasing from families who want to know what happened to their relatives who are in Gaza. The fact that the declaration of this war is to erase Gaza really scares me. The world is silent about it. Because when you talk about erasing Gaza, you are talking about mass deaths; civilians are dying. You are talking about ethnic cleansing, mass destruction and the transfer of a population. What does it mean to erase Gaza? There are more than 2 million people there. When you say you are going to wipe out Gaza, by definition it means committing war crimes. Transfer, ethnic cleansing, mass murder, killing civilians, killing children, destroying the economy, everything. And we have seen hospitals bombed, churches bombed, mosques bombed. When I say the world, I’m not talking about people. Actually the peoples of the world are demonstrating, and they want to stop this war. But I am talking about governments.
I’m talking about the United Nations, whose Security Council has been unable to pass a ceasefire resolution because of the weight of the United States and the United Kingdom. So, I mean… and I say this very painfully, what can stop this war? Not the blood of the Palestinians. Nobody seems to care about that. What can stop this war is the attempt to rescue the kidnapped Israelis.
“THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL ARE ALSO TRAUMATIZED”
What is the reaction of the Israeli public?
We have to understand that the Israeli people are traumatized. For the first time in decades, they are very severely traumatized. For the first time they feel that they are not safe in their own state. For the first time they are facing the number of people killed. Almost every family in Jewish Israeli society is somehow connected to one or more people who have been killed or kidnapped. This sense of security has been completely undermined. The sense of trust in the great myth of the Israeli security forces has also been damaged.
People are scared and angry, but at the same time they are angry and they want revenge because they understand that the government and the army betrayed them, did not protect them, the government in particular and Benjamin Netanyahu in particular did not do what was expected. There is a lot of anger towards the government. Not only did the government fail on October 7. It also continues to fail to support families, to deliver humanitarian aid to those who have been evacuated from their homes and are staying in hotels and other places.
People are angry and they are asking many questions. All the discussions about who is to blame and how Israeli society got to this point and punishing those responsible are postponed until the day after the war. I think the price Netanyahu will pay, the political price, will be very high. So he knows that his political life or his prime ministerial opposition will continue as long as the war continues. And this is a frightening idea.
“THE TWO-STATE SOLUTION IS STILL THE MOST VIABLE SOLUTION”
What is the position of your party and Hadash on the Palestinian question?
Actually, the two-state solution was first proposed by the Communist Party in Israel. We were the first to bring it up, but at that point we were attacked by the Israelis and the Palestinians, and it seemed to be the only promising solution that everybody was talking about until a few years ago today. As I said in the last few years, as the situation on the ground escalated and as the Israeli government continued to establish more and more colonial regime in the West Bank, instead of settlers or occupation… You know, occupation is a status that should be a temporary status. The Israeli government, especially the last government, has decided that this is not a temporary situation. They want to take it to a colonial status. They want to establish the Great State of Israel. They want the Palestinians to be residents with few rights, not even citizens. This is essentially an apartheid regime. The apartheid regime has existed in the West Bank for several years. And they are trying to establish it more and more inside Israel. There are more and more voices saying openly that they don’t want a diplomatic solution.
For those who don’t know, Hadash is basically a grand coalition based on the Communist Party and its alliance. So the solutions that we actually offer are solutions that we agree on, especially on the Palestinian issue. We believe that every people under occupation has the right to resist the occupation, to get rid of the occupation. We don’t decide what are the ways of resistance that the people will decide. We hope that any resistance will exclude civilians. But we are not the ones who decide how the Palestinian people will resist. As long as there is repression, there will be more repression, there will be more resistance. That is the nature of the situation. We know that there are still voices talking about a one-state solution, we know that there is a one-state solution. This is apartheid. Because when you talk about one state, one state, the world cannot guarantee the security of the Palestinians under all human rights and international laws that talk about occupation.
We believe that the Palestinian people have the right to self-determination. And the Palestinian people have decided that they want a state of their own. They agreed on a state within the 1967 borders. Its capital is Jerusalem. It is implementing the United Nations resolutions on refugees. Therefore, we support this. Even though the solution seems to be disappearing, we believe that it is still more valid than any other solution.
ISRAELI MOTHER: DON’T USE OUR PAIN FOR MORE BLOODSHED
What are you doing to stop the attacks? A while ago, your comrade Ofer Cassif, a member of Knesset, was suspended for criticizing Israel’s attack on Gaza.
First of all, you know that we are a very strange voice in parliament. We are very isolated. We are the only ones who voted against the war decision, including the decision to expand the government and to bring weapons into the government. We were the only ones who voted against such a government. The others supported it or did not vote. We are attacked every day for our position that we want to stop the war and stop the killing of children and women in Gaza. In my speech in the Knesset I said that children in the settlements around Gaza and children in Gaza want to live. Knesset members were shouting at me: ‘How can you equate our children with the children in Gaza! Our children were at a party and they were killed. The children in Gaza brought this on themselves’. And we are talking about children.
We regret that there is a massive attack on the right to expression. Especially when this attack comes from Palestinian citizens of Israel or from democratic forces in the Jewish community. That’s why, for example, Ofer Cassif is under threat. In fact, we are all under threat. Ofer more so because they cannot tolerate the fact that he is a Jew. And he still speaks against the war. And there is a big attack. First of all, you can see that they are trying to promote undemocratic, semi-fascist laws under the guise of war and emergency needs. That’s what they call it. So you can see that they allow carrying weapons in public. They distribute weapons like they distribute ice cream. Especially in mixed cities like my city, where Jews and Arabs live together in the same city, this is how they distribute weapons. More than 170 people were arrested who were followed on social media. If they have a Palestinian flag in their Facebook history, or if they say something about the children in Gaza these days, or if they say stop the war, they are arrested. Every night there are new arrests in our villages and towns.
The Party and Hadash have already published their positions and analysis of the situation and declared their position against the war. We call on our people to use and share these statements. So that they can raise their voices against the war.
The main goal is to reach out to Israeli Jews who spoke out against the war, and some of them spoke out against the war at funerals when they buried their own people – their sons or their brothers. One mother, a brave mother who lost her child, saw on one of the missiles going into Gaza the name of her son who was killed in the war. And she came out and said: “Don’t use our pain or my son’s name to bomb other children and spill more blood.” So we want to reach out to them, it’s time to build a kind of Jewish-Arab Democratic Front to confront this.
“THERE ARE BRAVE WOMEN’S VOICES AGAINST WAR”
You are the founder of the Arab feminist group Women Against Violence. What are the effects of the occupation on women?
I think there are many factors, but certainly the militarization of society and the occupation are two things that have been a big obstacle for women to promote a feminist approach to dealing with political issues. Having said that, I have been in discussion with the Israeli feminist movement for a long time. For eight years I was the Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Women, Status of Women and Gender Equality. I chaired this committee for eight years, and there were many discussions where the Israeli feminist movement felt that part of the struggle for women’s rights to equality was to demand the right of women to serve in combat units in the army and to be pilots. I was always saying that we live in a society where the army and being part of the army divides people into different classes. Where you serve in the army and what you do in the army actually decides how much power you will have in your lifetime and what positions in Israel you will be promoted to in your lifetime.
The feminist movement has chosen to fight to be part of this repressive machine called the military, instead of talking about eliminating this way of thinking that the military should control every aspect of life. And I’ve always said that I want women to fight to contribute to political solutions and to be part of decision-making processes, rather than being part of bombing other people or protecting settlers who bomb or burn other people. I think a lot of women’s issues are put off by saying, “This is not the time to deal with this issue, we have too big problems.” We are in a state of war. So nobody wants to talk about including women in decision-making processes.
On the Palestinian side we are under occupation. This is not the time to raise issues of women’s rights that are not accepted by everyone. You are only raising issues within Palestinian society. In my opinion, all these claims are tools of oppression that have been developed over the years, first of all, to neutralize 50 percent of society and make it a reserve for everything that patriarchy decides. Secondly, they serve values and issues that contradict the feminist vision: All people being equal, all people achieving their rights. The moment you decide that you can be part of the occupation machine or part of the settler operation, you are denying Palestinians and Palestinian women their right to be equal. So I think it is time to check and see if there are women who want to lead an active movement against the war.
That is essentially what I have been trying to do for the last three days. Because there were brave women’s voices, not the majority of course, but there are brave women. And I think all women, even if they are not on the right side politically, they don’t want to be afraid that their sons will be killed in this war.
“INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY ACTIONS MUST INCREASE”
Is there anything you would like to add?
It is very important to see the solidarity of other nations and people demonstrating, to get them involved in this war and to put pressure on their governments to stop it. In the last two or three years, because of what happened in Ukraine and before that in other parts of the world, the Palestinian issue was off the agenda of the international community. Now it has been brought back.
Above all, we want to see all actions that are in solidarity with us as Palestinians and democratic Jewish democratic forces that are trying to raise the call to stop the war. What we have always believed, that there is no escaping the Palestinian issue in the Middle East, has been proven more than ever in the last two weeks.