JERUSALEM: As a Palestinian living in the West Bank, Mousa Maria has no legal right to vote in Israeli elections this week. But thanks to a protest initiative, an Israeli voter will be casting a ballot for him.
He's participating in the "Real Democracy" project, a joint campaign launched by Israeli and Palestinian peace activists in which Israeli citizens "donate" their ballot to Palestinians.
Maria will be voting through Shahaf Weisbein for the Arab-Israeli party Balad. He asked Weisbein to vote for the party to show support for its embattled member Hanin Zoabi, who faced attempts to disqualify her from the Knesset last month.
"The Israelis tried to stop her from being a member of the Knesset and I think that she needs support, and if she knows that some Palestinians support her too it will make her feel stronger," Maria told AFP.
Weisbein announced on January 3 that she was donating her vote because "millions of Palestinians are affected directly by the decisions and acts of the government I am given the 'opportunity' to choose."
"This is not a democracy, it is an apartheid regime," she wrote on Facebook.
Shimri Zameret, a 28-year-old Israeli activist who helped come up with the initiative, is donating his vote to a 19-year-old Palestinian who has asked him to boycott the January 22 elections.
"I would prefer to vote, but I completely see it as a legitimate way to look at this," Zameret told AFP.
"It makes a lot of sense to say that this system is so illegitimate that to participate in it is to give it legitimacy."
The activists behind the initiative say it is intended to challenge a system they see as inherently undemocratic.
"The Israeli government rules the citizens of Palestine, but is not elected by them. That's undemocratic. Democracy means rule by and for the people," the group says in its mission statement.
Zameret also hopes the initiative can draw attention to what he calls a lack of democracy at the United Nations, calling for reform of veto powers and a reorganisation of the body along the lines of the European Union.
"As an Israeli who is opposed to my government, I don't have a voice in the UN. If you look at the EU for example, the opposition parties are represented, but in the UN it's only the government," he said.
Zameret said the initiative had attracted "thousands" of participants, along with plenty of criticism from Israelis and others on Facebook.
Some Palestinians have also been wary, sending private messages of support, but declining to be publicly linked to a joint Israeli-Palestinian movement.
"It's difficult for people to get involved in something that is seen as a joint Israeli-Palestinian partnership. They are scared that they would be seen as collaborators," he said.
Even as Maria's ballot is cast, many Arab residents of Israel -- Palestinians who stayed in what became Israel after 1948, and their descendants -- will stay away from the polls, boycotting for political reasons or out of sheer apathy.
Some pollsters believe less than 50 percent of community will cast a ballot on January 22, which Maria calls a huge mistake.
"My message to them would be that if there is any kind of problem, to find a solution you have to be inside it," he said.
"If they boycott the elections inside Israel, it means they will lose... If they have a space in the government, they will have a better chance to do something. Even if they don't do very much, they will have a voice."