The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Meet Aida Touma-Sliman, Palestinian Knesset Member

Suspended for Criticizing War on Gaza

  DECEMBER 28, 2023

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  • Aida Touma-Sliman
    Palestinian member of the Knesset suspended last month for criticizing the Israeli military assault on Gaza.

As Israel threatens to continue its assault on Gaza for “many months,” we look at growing Israeli civil opposition to the war. This week, 18-year-old Israeli Tal Mitnick became the first conscientious objector since October 7. We speak with Aida Touma-Sliman, an Palestinian Arab member of the left-wing party Hadash who was suspended from the Knesset last month for criticizing Israel’s assault. She was punished for a social media post she made condemning Israel’s attack on al-Shifa Hospital, and decries the “extreme right-wing government” and its suppression of critical voices in Israel.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: As Israel is threatening to continue its assault on Gaza for “many months,” we begin today’s show looking at resistance to the war inside Israel. On Tuesday, an 18-year-old Israeli teenager named Tal Mitnick was sentenced to 30 days in prison after he refused to enlist in the Israeli army. He spoke out against Israel’s assault on Gaza before his sentencing on Tuesday.


TAL MITNICK: [translated] I am standing today in Tel HaShomer base, and I am refusing to enlist. I believe that slaughter cannot solve slaughter. The criminal attack on Gaza won’t solve the atrocious slaughter that Hamas executed. Violence won’t solve violence. And that is why I refuse.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Last week, Tal Mitnick spoke to Novara Media about why he decided to become a conscientious objector.

TAL MITNICK: What led me was the realization that it’s not just a couple soldiers that are bad soldiers or that enact a violent occupation on Palestinians, but it’s actually a whole system, system of violence, of pulling people into the army and making them work for the occupation and for oppressing Palestinians. …

A lot of my friends are serving and right now are in military service. And when I tell them my opinions, because I am their friend, they see the humanity in my positions, and they see that my only — I only want further to be good in this place. I want security, and I want peace for everyone. And when people get to know me, when people hear this opinion, they — this opinion is very humanistic and very normal.

So this is what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to make more teens, make more young people hear this position that there is an alternative to the massacre that is happening right now in Gaza and to the massacre that Hamas committed on October 7th. There is an alternative in peace, of peace and nonviolence.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Tal Mitnick speaking to Ash Sarkar, the British journalist. He has now been sentenced to 30 days in prison for refusing to enlist. Israel is facing growing criticism for stifling antiwar voices.

We’re joined by Aida Touma-Sliman. She’s a Palestinian member of the Knesset from the progressive Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, known as the Hadash party. She was suspended from the Knesset last month for criticizing the Israeli military assault on Gaza. She is joining us now from Akko in northern Israel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Aida Touma-Sliman. If you can start off by talking about the significance of Tal’s resistance, but then go on to talk about the situation in Gaza today and why you were suspended? I mean, you’re an elected leader of the Knesset. Who gets to suspend you?

AIDA TOUMASLIMAN: Well, hi. Thank you for hosting me.

Actually, those who suspended me are the same people who are putting Tal now in prison because he has refused to enlist himself to the army. Those are those who are ruling Israel, this government, very extreme right-wing government, who is refusing to hear any voice, antiwar voice, anybody who is opposing this bloody war. There are massive pressure used by the government in order to silence the voices who refuse to believe that military actions and wars and killing innocent people might get us anywhere or can be a way to solve the problem.

I think it has been already a month since I was suspended by the so-called ethics committee, parliamentarian ethics committee, who punished me for quoting testimonies from physicians from al-Shifa Hospital, which were published in the international media. And for that, I’ve been punished and not allowed to speak out in the Knesset or to participate in the committees for two months — one has passed already.

Of course, this is not democratic. But when you see that the same government, the same Knesset is supporting a war that is killing more than 21,000 people, 70% of them children and women in Gaza, you understand that it’s ridiculous to speak about democracy in such situation, because launching such a war was as if a reaction to Hamas’s attack on the 7th of October, which also we don’t — I don’t see it as in any way legitimized to kidnap civilians, including children, but it, of course, do not legitimize also this crazy war that has been going on in the last more than two months. It’s already 80 — more than 80 days.

So, you can understand that when Tal refused to enlist himself, he is a unique voice in the Israeli society, for a young man to stand up against all the mainstream — and not only mainstream, but kind of consensus. Today the situation in Israel is almost 90% of the society is in consensus of supporting the war. To stand up and to say that he will not take part in this war, he is not willing to be part of this military forces that are attacking, bombing in Gaza, it’s a very brave position to take. It is not easy. I’m sure he will not be embraced or tolerated inside the military prison. But we have to also remember that he is the first one to do it during this war. We hopefully think that there are — might be some young women and men who are finding other ways to avoid enlisting themselves, but at least they are not going publicly about it or turning it to a political issue. But he’s still a unique voice and not the majority voice, for my regret.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, MK Aida, if you could also talk about — you’ve mentioned the fact that, you know, 90% of Israeli society is supporting the war, but there is a minority that is opposed to it. And you’ve mentioned that this number, the number that is critical of the war, has increased in recent weeks. If you could explain where that resistance is most prominent and what you think has led to an increase in this opposition?

AIDA TOUMASLIMAN: Well, from day one, we understood that the forces that — democratic forces, the antiwar, anti-occupation forces that existed before the 7th of October will — with no regard to the shock that happened on the 7th of October, will still continue to believe in peace, will still continue to believe that occupation should be ended and the war should be ended. In the beginning, there were, as I mentioned to you also, a lot of anger and fear of people that avoided having clear activities against this war. Most of the activities were to put pressure to release the kidnapped Israelis in Hamas — at Hamas in Gaza.

But more and more people started to understand that, first of all, even this war, if they thought the war — the Israeli government had persuaded them in the beginning that this war is needed also to release the kidnapped Israelis. Today they understand, especially with the testimonies of the released hostages telling how dangerous it was to stay under the shelling and the bombardment of Israel. So, they understand that this war, first of all, is risking the security of the hostages who are still — 109 people are still in Gaza. And second, they started to understand that what really released part of the hostages was the negotiation and the contacts and the diplomatic path, and not the military path. So, more and more people are understanding that this war is not bringing them anywhere. Of course, 20% of the population in Israel, which is the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel, are against this war. But we need more from the Jewish side also to be against the war.

Lately, we managed to put together a big demonstration in Tel Aviv, which was the first demonstration against the war that was challenging the silencing policy that was led against especially the Palestinian citizens of Israel. You know, we were under a crackdown on — not only on the citizens, the Arab citizens, but also the leadership. If me silenced in the Knesset, there were also former MKs and the head of the High Follow-Up Committee who were arrested just because they were on their way to have a small protest against the war. Many students were dismissed from school, from university. And people were dismissed from their jobs, only because they published something that expressed sympathy to what’s happening to the people in Gaza, to our people in Gaza.

But today, for example, we challenged this silencing policy again, and we had a protest in Nazareth. Despite the warnings of the police and the fact that they wanted to avoid this protest, we insisted, and we had this protest. Tomorrow we will have a big meeting of different groups and organizations, anti-occupation, antiwar. And we are going to establish a big coalition against this war. We are not intending to bend for this silencing policy and terrorizing people who are against the war. We understand very clearly that crimes are committed and civilians are killed and that the amount of destruction is huge. And if the international community choose to be silent, that’s their problem. We are not going to be silent, and we want to stand up against this war.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, MK Aida, there are places where you still see in Israel criticism of the war, including Haaretz and +972 Magazine, journalists who have also appeared from there on our show. In addition, of course, to the concern about the hostages in Israel, now over 150 Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza. If you could talk about the impact of that, as people in Israel see the costs to Israeli lives as this war goes on? Is there a sense within Israel of what it is that is being fought for?

AIDA TOUMASLIMAN: Yeah. Well, as I mentioned before, gradually more and more people are understanding that the war is not going to bring any security or any peace for both sides, including and mainly the Israeli side. More and more people understand that they cannot continue forever with this war, because there are implications of that war not only in the meaning of losing lives. There are also injured soldiers. More than 5,000 soldiers have been injured. Some of them will stay handicapped for all of their lives. Families are seeing how their sons, the soldiers, are coming back from war traumatized and need psychological treatment. There are implications on the economy. We are going to face — there’s a raise — just yesterday, there was the poverty report that shows there is a raise in the percentages of people who are dropping down of the poverty line. And we are expecting a very difficult economic year to come because of this war. And people are starting to ask the hard questions: why we need to continue this war if we are going to pay such a high price and still not reach any security?

You have to understand also that people in the north of Israel, near my house, and in the south of Israel are not living in their homes because of this war. Still, we are not saying that this is the most difficult situation. Of course the war is horrific in what’s happening in Gaza. But to make the Israeli society stand up against the war only because of the suffering of the Palestinians, as much as it is moral, I’m afraid it’s not enough to make the people in Israel, especially after the 7th October — it’s not going to make them stand up against the war. But what is happening in the Israeli society, the fact that more than 150 soldiers have been killed, the fact that the families are receiving their sons, their soldiers injured and handicapped, it might be more — sorry — sufficient in convincing the people to go out against the war.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask specifically about the power of the voices of the hostages or their loved ones who are speaking out for them. This is Sharon Kalderon speaking last week, sister-in-law of Ofer Kalderon, who’s being held hostage in Gaza.

SHARON KALDERON: We just want them to sit, all the cabinet, will sit and will find a way to negotiate and to bring our people home. We want them home, but no one is doing nothing right now except fighting. And fighting is not the answer right now. We want our people here, back home with us. And if we fight, we cannot bring them alive. And we don’t want to get bags. We want to get them alive. So this is why we’re here, every day, until we hear from the government that they are sitting, talking.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is a powerful voice, the families of the hostages. You have, on Monday, them screaming, shouting in the Knesset as Netanyahu was addressing the Israeli parliament, ”Achshav! Achshav!” — “Now! Now!” — demanding that the hostages be released. Already it’s clear that a number of them, not just the three men who were killed by Israeli soldiers, the young hostages, but a number of others were killed in the Israeli bombing in Gaza. The significance of this voice, and if it’s being amplified by others? Did you expect the hostages to play this kind of role — the hostage families?

AIDA TOUMASLIMAN: Well, of course. I mean, no one can imagine the suffering of people who don’t know what is happening with their family members. If I was in their place, I will also be not quiet, and I will do whatever I can in order to change and to bring them back. So, yes, I think it is expected, although they are showing very high, really, effect — they are very effective in how they organize themselves and how they are very vocal and speaking out and demanding to bring their families.

This is also happening, I think, as a counter to the fact that this government, the Israeli government, is not giving this issue much attention, if you compare it to the other targets or goals that Netanyahu put for this war. And that’s why they’ve felt neglected. That’s why they’ve felt that they don’t have enough backup from the government, and they needed to organize themselves and to be so vocal about the issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Aida Touma-Sliman, we only have less than a minute, but you are a Palestinian journalist, as well as an MK, a member of the parliament. I wanted to get your response to — it’s believed over a hundred journalists and media workers have been killed in Gaza. The headlines today, TV journalist Mohammad Khair al-Din and Ahmed Khair al-Din, the journalist and cameraman, also died in a bombing in Gaza. Your response to the demand, for example, by Al Jazeera for the International Criminal Court to take on the issue of the targeting of journalists?

AIDA TOUMASLIMAN: Well, there are 105 journalists who has been killed since the beginning of this war. If you remember, it started also by other journalists before who were killed, including Shireen Abu Akleh, who was targeted and killed, from Al Jazeera. We have the feeling that the journalists are targeted in order to silence the voices who are coming out from Gaza and exposing the reality of what is happening.

AMY GOODMAN: Because Western journalists are not allowed in by Israel.

AIDA TOUMASLIMAN: Of course, I think that there should be an investigation. Of course, there should be an investigation, and it should be a clear out that there is no possibility to continue to be quiet about this targeting.

AMY GOODMAN: Aida Touma-Sliman, we want to thank you so much for being with us, a member —


AMY GOODMAN: — of the Israeli Knesset, a MK — that’s a member of the Knesset — Palestinian member, suspended last month for criticizing the Israeli military assault on Gaza, joining us from Akko in northern Israel.

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