Jerusalem: An Israeli-Arab lawmaker`s decision to join hundreds of activists on a pro-Palestinian flotilla has elevated her from relative political obscurity, transforming her into the poster child for the growing rift between Israel`s Jewish majority and its Arab minority.
Unapologetic for defying Israel`s Gaza blockade and being on board the boat where activists clashed with Israeli commandos during last week`s raid on the flotilla, Hanin Zoabi has received death threats, was nearly assaulted in Parliament and faces high-level calls to strip her of Israeli citizenship.
In an interview, Zoabi said she has no regrets. She says she was on a different part of the ship, far away from the violence that left nine activists dead and dozens wounded after the naval troops rappelled onto the boats in international waters and clashed with knife and club-wielding Turkish activists. She further enraged Israelis by accusing the military of sparking the bloodshed.
"The Israeli military is like a rapist that gets scratched and then blames the victim," she said. "Israel acts like a bully. Its barbaric behaviour violates international laws."
Zoabi`s participation on the blockade-busting flotilla was widely seen as a provocation in Israel even before the violence. Israel considers Gaza`s Hamas rulers to be terrorists, and announced ahead of time that it would not allow the flotilla, led by a Turkish Islamic charity with ties to Hamas, to reach the territory.
But when it emerged that Zoabi was on the ship carrying the Turkish activists involved in the violence, she faced a wave of accusations of treason.
The charges have highlighted the schism between Israeli-Arabs and their Jewish counterparts as Israel is facing widespread condemnation over the incident and is still struggling with the seemingly untenable peace process with the Arabs.
Israeli Arabs make up about one-fifth of Israel`s population. Although they enjoy equal citizenship rights, they have suffered from decades of discrimination, high unemployment, poverty and are often viewed through a prism of mistrust.
A Palestinian uprising last decade, as well as wars against Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Hamas, have added to the tensions as Arab politicians have sided with Israel`s enemies. Just two weeks ago, Israel indicted two prominent Arab activists for allegedly spying for Hezbollah.