Published on December 8th, 2014 | by admin0
“Israel is the occupying power. Palestine is the occupied country. it is not a situation where there is equality.”
His Excellency, Ahmad Abdelrazek, Ambassador of Palestine to Dublin. He talks to SIGNAL about the ongoing conflict in Gaza, the future for the Palestinian state and why Israel is guilty of running an apartheid regime.
Dublin will be the final diplomatic post for Ambassador Abdelrazek, bringing to an end a diplomatic career that started in Paris in 1976, when he started his career as a cultural attaché for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) information and liaison office in the French capital. He remembers the early days of his diplomatic career as eventful, during that turbulent decade, when the fledgling Palestinian diplomatic apparatus was built from the ground up, building contacts through political activism and student networks.
“We were not recognised by many governments, so what we could do was limited, but we made progress, considering we had the Israelis constantly trying to stop our ability to function diplomatically (and also by assassination attempts). Most of our work was information based, trying to establish in the international consciousness that the Palestinians were a people who had a right to their own state. I think we have achieved that aim. In the post-World War 1 era, Jewish organisations spread a propaganda saying: ‘Palestine is a land without people for people without land.’ I think we have made people in Europe recognise that such statements are lies and were never true. But we were casualties of history after World War ii and the horrible crime of the holocaust; we can understand the sympathy and guilty feeling towards the jewish people, after what they suffered, so it took time for people to understand the reality of the situation. The image of being Palestinian has changed for the better and we have legitimacy and international law on our side.”
The Ambassador does not speak of regrets in terms of what the Palestinians have achieved or not achieved. There has been progress, “all things are possible,” he says, before referring to Ireland. “in the Middle East, Ireland is seen as an inspiration to the people there. This country was colonised and occupied for centuries, but never stopped seeking its right as an independent country, and it succeeded. On the international stage, we know that the Irish Defence Forces have a long history of UN mandated service in the Middle East. They are soldiers who are highly respected, for historical and psychological reasons; they are not an occupying force. We welcome and respect their presence in the region and the sacrifices which they have made for peace.”
SIGNAL spoke to the Ambassador in mid-August, during one of the rare ceasefires in Gaza, which collapsed soon after we met.
Condemnation of Israel’s actions in the Palestinian enclave has been widespread. But, as the people of Gaza have become victims in the conflict, can the blame not also be apportioned to Hamas, which has consistently conducted rocket strikes against the Israeli civilian population since it took control of Gaza in 2007?
Frequently, many Governments and international commentators have the wrong approach to the entire question. They treat both sides as if they are two equal forces. They forget that Israel is the occupying power. Palestine is the occupied country, the occupied people. It is not a situation which is equal; Palestine does not have the same means as Israel so it does not have the same responsibilities. The occupied do not have the same responsibilities as the occupier. Immediately after the disappearance of the three Israeli teenagers, Israel launched a very large aggressive campaign in the West Bank, killing nine people. They arrested more than 500 people. They accused Hamas of being behind the kidnappings. They used the kidnappings to provoke the attack against Gaza.
So who was responsible for the kidnappings?
We don’t know, the Israelis don’t know. If they had proof they would show it. They accused three people of being involved in it and they demolished their houses. When a Palestinian boy was kidnapped in Jerusalem and burned alive, Netanyahu said that the perpetrators must be found and punished. He found the perpetrators, did they demolish their houses? No. Why is there different treatment for Israelis and Palestinians? This is apartheid. When the Israel Occupying Forces (IOF) kill innocent Palestinians, they always say that they ‘investigate’, but nobody is ever indicated. This is apatheid.
If we consider the overwhelmingly superior military might which Israel possesses, shouldn’t Hamas safeguard the Gazan civilian population and follow a political solution, like the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank?
Of course Hamas made many mistakes since they took control of Gaza. But, we have to remember, Gaza is under siege by Israel for eight years. In these eight years, there have been no possibilities to develop the Gazan infrastructure or economy. John Ging a former Defence Forces’ officer and former Head of UNRWA in Gaza, said: “We needed to build 100 schools, but we could not get authorisation from Israel to build these schools so we had to reject 40,000 students because we have nowhere to educate them.” How can you develop an economy when you do not have control of that economy, when you can’t educate children? Even fishermen cannot fish properly in the waters of Gaza. There are differences between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in how we choose to resist Israeli occupation. But we have the right to resist, that right to resist is a legal international right to people under occupation. It’s the method that you choose, that is the question. The principal is absolute. Israel may say they have disengaged from Gaza, but what it is now is an open prison for almost 2 million people. Israel may have left the room but they have locked the door. An occupying power cannot expect an occupied people to accept this situation.
To understand how Israel really operates with its military might to perpetuate occupation, look at the West Bank, there is another form of resistance. There is no armed resistance there, but what does Israel do? It kills people, it enters cities and arrests people, destroys homes. It exerts its will as an occupying power. Of course they use pretexts of terrorist threats in Gaza, but even staunch supporters like the US have criticised Israeli methods in Gaza. This is not about fighting Hamas, it is about the destruction of Gaza and its ability to function as part of a Palestinian state. If Israel says they are fighting Hamas, why do they bombard water installations, sewage treatment
plants and electric stations?
The charter of Hamas does not recognise the right of the state of Israel to exist. What do you think the Israeli response to Hamas should be considering this?
If you want to talk of extremist views, presently in the Israeli Government, you have Ministers, like Neftaly Benet, who say they will do anything to stop the Palestinians having their own state. There are other extremists in parliament who are of the same view. Why does the whole world not look at these attitudes and boycott this government, some of whose members have these views? The Palestinian side, including Hamas and all other Palestinian political parties, is now negotiating as one government, not different components. Just as the Israelis negotiate as one government, so too are we. Our government has been recognised by the international community, but not by Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Let me go back to the Hamas charter. I would like to bring to your attention that the PLO signed the Oslo Accords of 1993. As part of this, the articles of the PLO charter, which called for the end of the state of Israel, were abolished during the visit of President Clinton to Gaza in December 1998. It was five years after the Oslo Accords, not before. Israel negotiated with the PLO without the PLO disavowing its charter seeking for the destruction of the State of Israel. I think Israel should accept that any solution will take in consideration Hamas as a Palestinian component. If we look at what is happening now, we will notice that during all the cease-fire negotiations, brokered by Egypt, between the Palestinian and the Israeli delegations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad were members of the Palestinian delegation.
So if there are constructive peace negotiations, do you believe that Hamas will abolish its charter calling for the destruction of Israel and recognise the right of Israel to exist?
The PLO has done it before, so why not Hamas? When we talk of recognition, it is actually Israel that does not recognise the existence of the State of Palestine. When you are negotiating to end a conflict, you do not negotiate with your friends, you negotiate with your enemy. When Hamas accepted the formation of a Palestinian Unity Government, based on the Oslo Agreements, as agreed by the quartet, and international law, they have given a mandate to President Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate on their behalf. Hamas have said that if the Palestinian people accept an agreement between Palestine and Israel, then they will abide by any such agreement. As President Abbas has said, any agreement will be put to a referendum to determine the will of the people. The Israelis do not want to negotiate. Why? Because before the Unity Government they said there was no point in negotiating with President Abbas as he doesn’t represent all the Palestinian people. Now, since he is a representative with the consent of all Palestinians, they are using any excuse not to open negotiations. They cannot use the participation of Hamas as an excuse not to take part. It is not with Hamas they would be negotiating. There are political parties in the Israeli government, which call for the complete expulsion of Palestinians, but we would not be negotiating with them, we would be negotiating with the Israeli government. We must be afforded the same treatment. Hamas do not need to renounce the charter in order for negotiations to commence.
So it is just words that are holding up progress?
Every time we say to Israel that we want to talk, they want more concessions. Now they want to be recognised as a Jewish state. They have previously signed peace agreements with Egypt and with Jordan. They are also a member of the United Nations; we have signed the Oslo Accords with them. Never in these cases are they recognised as a Jewish State, it was referred to as the State of Israel. They have invented this. Even outgoing Israeli President Shimon Peres has said that Israel does not need the Palestinians to recognise it as a Jewish State. This is another obstacle created by Netanyahu. The Israelis like to tell us to come to negotiate with no preconditions, as we did recently, under American mediation.
We talked for nine months, and the negotiations failed because of two elements. Firstly, the continued construction of illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land and secondly, they didn’t respect their agreement to liberate Palestinian prisoners. But the most important element was the settlements. Even the Americans acknowledged this. How can we believe they want peace when they continue to construct settlements? During these nine months of negotiations, it was the most intensive period of settlement construction since 1967. So how can the Israelis say they want peace? Either they are lying to us or they are lying to their own people. How can they settle people in occupied territories, knowing that, if they really want peace, they will have to evacuate them? How can you make peace when you occupy the land of other people?
So, considering all you have said, how can the peace process start again?
We are ready to negotiate, but there needs to be a framework and agenda for negotiations. We cannot have open-ended discussions. We need to delineate the borders. How can they talk about security, like they do constantly, when you do not know where are your borders?
What do the Palestinians need from any negotiating
We want our rights as an independent and sovereign people. We do not want or need Israeli charity, or any of their so called ‘generous offers’, as they always repeat. They can keep their charity for themselves. We want the rights which international legality entitles us to. That means, the return of all territories illegally occupied by Israel since the 4th of June 1967, including Jerusalem. This is our right. We will negotiate on this basis, as recognised by the international community, but not Israel. If we can start on this basis, there will be progress. The Israelis talk a lot about security, but it is not only for them, it is also for us. They have the fourth most powerful military force in the world and we need protection from them. We do not want a future where they can invade us or attack us when they want; we need security and protection for the Palestinian people.
Do you believe that Jerusalem will be the capital of the Palestinian State?
Of course, East Jerusalem will be the Capital of the State of Palestine. Jerusalem (East and West) is internationally recognised as an occupied city. We believe it should be the capital for both peoples, Israelis and Palestinians. We do not want to build a wall dividing the city; we are willing to share it. We do not build walls as they do. It could be like the Vatican and Rome, like Brussels, a city of mixed sovereignty, a capital for both peoples.
Do you consider that realistic and practical?
We do, if there is the goodwill to make it happen. We have the goodwill; ask the Israelis the same question.
Neighbouring Arab states, like Egypt, could surely do more for Gaza? Why, in your opinion, has the Rafah crossing not been opened to assist those suffering from the conflict in Gaza?
Egypt is helping, but Egypt is a sovereign country. Do you think any country can just open its borders without control? We cannot ask Egypt to support and accept all the injured and suffering people from Gaza, it is a heavy burden for them alone. We are looking for help elsewhere internationally (including in Ireland). But there is also something else to consider when people talk about letting people flee from Gaza. We Palestinians have learnt many things from our tragedy since 1948 until now. I have learned myself; I am a refugee. I was born in Lebanon as a refugee. My parents thought they were only leaving for two weeks. I have my father’s passport, with the stamps showing they were turned down by Jewish forces at the border when they tried to go back to their village, Aziz, in Palestine. We have learned not to leave; if we leave, we will never be allowed back. We will not flee. That is what Israel wants, that is why they are destroying Gaza. We will see the scale of destruction when the UN Investigation Commission delivers its report, we will sue the Israelis for what they have done in Gaza. We know they have used families as human shields; they have put families in windows and shot from behind them.
Do Hamas use human shields?
Have you seen any reporters’ state that they have seen Hamas use human shields? Nobody has reported this. Were there fighters behind the four children who were bombed playing football on the beach? Any way, we will see more clearly, when the UN investigation panel complete its work.
So you can say that Hamas do not endanger the
population in the methods they use to engage the IDF?
I will ask you a question. In a territory as small as Gaza (342 sqkm), with 1.8 million people, where can there be safety?Israeli Occupation Army (IOF) tell people to go to the beach, and then they bomb the beach. They tell people to go to the schools and then they bomb the schools. Even the Secretary General of the United Nations has said that Israel could be prosecuted for war crimes for what they have done and what they are doing. UNRWA said that they told the Israelis 17 times of the coordinates of a school, where there were women and children, but the Israeli army bombarded it. They do not listen; they do not want to listen.
What should Israel do about the rockets that are fired into their territory from Gaza and what of the collapse of recent ceasefires, which Israel has blamed on Hamas?
Israel should simply finish with the occupation and make peace. This is the only way to stop the rockets, to stop the massacre of Palestinians. If the Israelis accept that the siege of Gaza must end, then there can be a solution to this, by starting serious negotiations for a two states solution. If not, the same cycle will continue. In a war, you use all the tools you have, including information, and propaganda. This is what the Israelis do; they are not the first. When Israel says; it is Hamas who withdraws from talks, they are wrong. It is the Palestinian delegation (including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other parties), representing President Abbas, which has abstained until Israelis become serious and not just wasting time. The decision to withdraw or continue with talks will be the decision of the Palestinian delegation. Without the end to the siege though, I do not think any ceasefire will hold, because Palestinians will not accept that our people in Gaza continue to suffer from eight years of Israeli siege.
But what must come first Ambassador? Do the rockets stop and the talks start or do the talks have to start before the rockets stop?
Just because they are killing does not mean that we will do the same. In the West Bank there are no rockets being fired but we are still being killed, and the Israelis are still destroying our houses and arresting people.
Do you think there is scope for a UN Peacekeeping force in Gaza?
We have asked for the protection of the Palestinian people, in the West Bank and Gaza. We have asked the international community for this. We do not understand this silence; this disengagement from European countries, when they didn’t support the establishment of the UN Human Rights Commission to investigate what was happening in Gaza. The people in Europe are sympathetic, they understand the situation and we appreciate that. But the governments have not acted as they should have. European countries have the means to make an impact. They say; they have to be ‘balanced’. For people, who are being killed and occupied, balance means you are making excuses for the occupier.
Do you believe in actions like the boycott of Israeli goods?
Economic sanctions should be made at least against the settlements, because they are illegal and violating international law. We do not condone any illegal actions but economic sanctions are effective, look at the cases of Iran or Russia, why do those who called and are calling for economic sanctions against them consider it is effective, and do not believe they will be effective against Israel?