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May 13, 2010

Don't be silent, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti says

Scott Stockdale

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Palestinian political dynamics and the realities for Middle East peace is not just a Palestinian, Arab, Christian or Muslim problem; it's a justice issue that involves all of humanity, according to Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian presidential candidate, legislator and Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

Speaking at the University of Toronto recently, as part of a four city tour of Canada, Dr. Barghouti said he wanted to present the reality of the situation in Palestine because Canadians have a right to know the truth; and most media outlets don't present the reality. Currently Palestinians comprise 70% of the population while Israel has 78% of the land.

A strong critic of the 1993 Oslo Accords, Dr. Barghouti said Israel didn't withdraw from 90% of the West Bank, but agreed to allow Palestinians to control garbage and sewage. 

He added that the Israeli offer at the Camp David Summit of 2000 would have left the Palestinians without most of the water resources in the West Bank and provisional borders, which no Palestinian leader could agree to.

“More than 60% of the West Bank is under Israeli control. Even if we own the land, we're not permitted to build a school, a house or plant a tree. We must get a permit from the Israeli government.”

He said Israel's 42-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is the longest occupation in history.

Inside these occupied territories, Israeli per capita GDP is $26,000 compared to Palestinian GDP of $1,000. Moreover, there is a grossly unequal distribution of resources which allows Israeli's to use 48 time as much water as Palestinians, on a per capita basis.

After displaying a chart of these statistics, Dr. Barghouti said: “We have to buy bread at market value and we pay double the price for water and electricity.”

He said the Wall Israel built in and around the West Bank, which the 2004 International Court of Justice said was illegal and must be dismantled, is a factor in a matrix to expropriate Palestinian land.

“The west is told that this Wall is for security. This is not true. Eighty-five percent of the time, it's inside occupied territory, up to 25 kilometers inside (occupied territory) at some points. Most of the time, it separates Palestinians from Palestinians. There's now a plan for an Eastern Wall that will separate a wide area in the east (of the West Bank).”

The current Wall is 850 kilometers long and 8 meters high, three times as long and twice as high as the Berlin Wall, the dismantling of which the world celebrated and recently marked the anniversary of its dismantling with another celebration.

Meanwhile, Dr. Barghouti said more than 40,000 Palestinians are almost completely cut off from the world by this wall, which they can only get through at gates which  Israeli  soldiers have the keys to.

“Tens of thousands of people are enclaved behind the wall. They can't go to hospitals, schools or universities. They need permits to cross and they're only allowed to cross from 7:40 to 8 (a.m.), 2 to 2:15  (p.m.) and

6:45 to 7 (p.m.). Eighty women have given birth at the gates in front of the soldiers. One third have lost their babies. Labour doesn't come to women according to a schedule.”

He added that many other people suffering with heart attacks could not get through the gates to go to hospitals.

Dr. Barghouti said that in Gaza, the Israeli government controls all passages  in and out of Gaza, as well as all air space and water systems. 

Speaking about the Israeli assault on Gaza that began December 27, 2008, Dr. Barghouti said 412 children were amongst the 1,400  killed. Some 5,300  people were injured and 25,000  houses were demolished.

“After (nearly) three years, not a single house has been rebuilt. Why: because the international community can't convince the Israeli government to let construction material into Gaza. When the Israeli army was leaving, they destroyed 352 factories for no reason.”

He said that during the assault on Gaza the Israeli army used illegal weapons such as white phosphorus, which kills if inhaled and destroys organs if it get into the blood stream. And doctors found discs in the arms and legs of amputees.

He showed videos of some of the injuries caused by these weapons and said: “Much of what I've shown was not in the Canadian press.”

Dr. Barghouti is the General Secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI), which espouses a doctrine of non-violent, non-militarized Intifiada.

The PNI was established as a formal political group in June 2002 by prominent Palestinian politicians, activists and academics. It has emerged as an alternative to Fatah and Hamas. Unlike the majority of Palestinian political factions, the PNI has no armed wing and practices peaceful resistance to the occupation.

While in Ottawa, on May 6, just prior to coming to Toronto, Dr. Barghouti said he met with the leaders of the NDP and Liberal parties and about 22 MPs, but he said he wasn't able to meet with anyone from the Conservative Party, which forms the government of Canada.

“I speak about change that's coming (in Palestine). I wish change would also come to Canada as well.”

And how will this change come about? “Don't be silent,” Dr. Barghouti said.

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