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March 10, 2013

Palestinian MP outlines his country's situation

Reuel S. Amdur

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You've heard it said that Israel has a right to defend itself. Well, Dr. Mustapha Barghouti, an MP in the Palestinian Authority, asks, "Why then does Palestine not have a right to defend itself?"

He is the leader of the Palestinian National Initiative, a party with two members in the government of the Authority.  He ran unsuccessfully for president against Mahmoud Abbas.  Barghouti spoke at the University of Ottawa under the joint auspices of Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East and a pro-Palestine University of Ottawa student group.

According to Barghouti, Palestine has suffered over 60 years of injustice, with ethnic cleansing in 1948 displacing over half the population.  Furthermore, “It’s the longest military occupation in modern history—45 years.”  The occupation, he said, creates “the worst style of Apartheid.  It consolidates a system of oppression and violation of human rights.  42% of adult males in Palestine have spent time in jail.”  He did not mention it in his talk, but he was one of that 42%.

He spoke of the Palestinian share of the land.  The United Nations assigned 45% to the Palestinians.  In 1967, they were left with 22%.  By 2000, they were down to 18%, and in 2005 there was only 11%.  The Palestinian Authority, he said, is an Authority “without authority.”  He called it “a Bantustan, providing security for the occupiers but not able to provide security for its own people.”

Under this system of Apartheid, the colonists have access to 90% of the water.  Per capita Palestinian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is less than half of what the colonists have.  The same is true of electricity.  There is an Apartheid system of road segregation.  If a Palestinian is caught using a Jewish road, he gets six months in jail.

“300,000 Palestinians,” he said. “are stuck behind the wall.”  With special permits, they are allowed to cross through designated gates at designated times, subject to unannounced closure or arbitrary denial. 

According to Barghouti, for over ten years resistance has been essentially non-violent.  The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have responded with tear gas, gun shots, and dogs.  He showed a video of a dog engaged in a prolonged attack on a Palestinian woman who had been walking by.  Israeli soldiers had difficulty in getting the dog loose from her.  A second video showed what happened to a young demonstrator.  He is seen being blindfolded, legs shackled.  He is made to rise from his sitting position and executed by rifle fire.  His body is then seen on the ground.  News reports have described the third video, in which an Israeli general smashes his rifle into the face of a Danish international peace volunteer.  Barghouti himself favors a non-violent campaign, pointing out that such a campaign was successful in freeing India.  In the current situation, Palestine faces a much stronger military power, making military resistance a poor option.

Why was it necessary for Palestine to seek recognition at the UN?  Western powers urged a solution through negotiations with Israel.  Well, during 20 years of negotiations Israel used the negotiations as a cover for further expansion.

At the UN General Assembly, 138 countries voted in favor of recognizing Palestine as a non-member observer state, nine against.  The nine were the United States, Canada Israel, the Czech Republic, Panama, and the small countries of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, and Nauru.  Barghouti commented that the small countries “are practically colonies of the United States.  They rely on American money.”  He claimed that the nay-sayers represent 5% of the world’s population.

Barghouti took special aim at Canada for its role in the UN vote and the in the Israel-Palestine dispute more generally.  Commenting on Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird’s trip to New York to speak and vote against Palestinian statehood at the UN, he charged that Baird was there “to speak on behalf of Israel.”  Was this “to make the US look a little bit better?”  While Barghouti said that Canada supports whatever Israel does, Israel has since been successful in irking even Stephen Harper, who has criticized Israel’s decision to expand its colonization in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, virtually cutting the West Bank in two.

There is a contradiction in Canada’s position, Barghouti observed.  Canada says that it wants a two-state solution.  Yet, “It votes against anything that would make two states possible.”  He remarked that the two-state solution will vanish if the settlement activities continue. 

In speaking at the UN, Baird warned that if Palestine gained recognition it might get access to the International Criminal Court, where it might bring charges against Israel.  Barghouti pointed out that by making this argument Baird was essentially acknowledging that Israel is guilty of such crimes.  Thus, he was trying to shield war criminals.  Barghouti said that one charge that would be made to the court would be for the assassination of Yasser Arafat.  The truth of his laying of blame will be known in the next few months, when Arafat’s autopsy results are released. 

Barghouti correctly predicted that Israel would withhold Palestinian tax money.  Israel collects taxes for the Palestinian Authority, for which service it was agreed to allow Israel to keep 3%, but now they are holding on to everything.  This constitutes “stealing the tax money.” 

Addressing the question of Palestinian recognition of Israel, he described this as a game similar to the business of negotiations.  Palestine has recognized Israel, but that is not enough.  Now Israel is demanding to be recognized as a Jewish state.  If that happens as well, then there will be further demands.  The issue, he argued, is not Palestinian recognition of Israel.  “It is Israel’s recognition of Palestine.”

A questioner asked if Jews and Palestinians are in fact related.  He replied that Sephardic Jews (those from the Mediterranean and from Arab lands) have genomes more like those of Arabs than they have with Ashkenazic Jews (those from Eastern Europe). 

He reminded the audience of Nelson Mandela’s declaration that Palestine is the world’s greatest moral issue today.  Barghouti’s hope is that, because of the popular pressures unleashed by the Arab Spring, Arab countries will eventually use the oil weapon to support the Palestinian cause.

There are things that Canadians can do to help the Palestinian cause: Visit Palestine, support the BDS campaign (boycott, divestment, sanctions), demand that Canada stop military cooperation with Israel, and support the Palestine Medical Relief Society.  The Society provides medical care to isolated people and those without care in the course of the struggle.  Some staff of the Society have been attacked by the IDF.

Barghouti’s party, the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI), opposes Fatah because of corruption in Fatah.  It opposes Hamas because it is authoritarian and supports violence.  The PNI is a corresponding member of the Socialist International.  Fatah is a full member, as is Israel’s Meretz.  According to Wikipedia, Israel’s Labor Party was a member but it hasn’t paid its dues.

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