by Azmi Bishara | | 8 July 2004
Exclusive Interview with Dr Azmi Bishara, MK, on the Hunger Strike
Azmi Bishara (AB) spoke with Johayna Marlow (JM) and John Young (JY) on Pacifica Radio
JY - Good evening, etc… Dr Bishara is currently in Occupied Palestine at the ar-Ram roadblock between Jerusalem and Ramallah where he is encamped to stand with the people of Palestine in their long struggle for Freedom. On Saturday, Dr Bishara began an open-ended hunger strike to protest the construction of the illegal Israeli Apartheid Wall now snaking its way all over Palestinian land. He now speaks with us from his protest tent.
JM – Azmi Bishara - Member of the Israeli Knesset, Prime Ministerial candidate, philosopher, professor, politician, writer - and tireless advocate for Human Rights – Citizen Azmi - marhaba and ahlan wa sahlan!
AB – Well thank you, thank you very much – good morning – at least it is morning here!
JM – Yes, yes of course! Dr Bishara – the crimes against the Palestinian people, under the 37 years of illegal Israeli occupation are uncountable. So, would you tell us why this particular crime, the Apartheid Wall, has moved you so strongly that you have decided to risk your livelihood, your health, your freedom – indeed your very life?
AB - Well, I think this is exactly the question I want to raise. With all the details of the Occupation – and the Occupation itself is full of violence and oppression (Occupation, in itself is a milieu of violence you know, an environment of violence against the Occupied: there is no way to sustain an Occupation without humiliating the Occupied - there is no other way) - but we did not determine upon a Hunger Strike on the other crimes of the Occupation – so, why do we declare it now? Exactly because this is not just another detail.
It is not just another characteristic of the Israeli Occupation. We believe that we see here something essentially different which has decisive implications for the lives of the Palestinian people, which I would sum up in the words ‘it is destroying the Palestinian society’.
I am not saying it’s a Genocide - I am saying it’s a socio-cide. It’s a kind of a destruction of a society. By putting a Wall within Palestinian neighbourhoods and between its houses, by separating people from their land; in certain cases from their schools and hospitals and so on – there is, in the illegal Israeli Wall built in the Occupied Territories, there is even more than demographic separation and trying to push the Arabs behind the Wall and take the, then unpopulated, land - take the land from the people but in certain cases they separate the Palestinian people themselves, certain places where they want to include settlements in(to Israel) so they have to include Palestinians in Israel (excluding them from Palestine). These Palestinians are walled in enclaves - real enclaves with one gate - surrounded by the Wall. For example, in certain cases we are speaking about nine villages, or eight, or seven villages - 30,000 people, 40,000 people locked behind a Wall. I mean, anything similar anywhere else in the world, in any other country in the world, would really provoke international attention – it will not be tolerated anywhere else in our world today – it shouldn’t be tolerated here. Just look around, look a Darfur, look what happened in Sudan – the next day everybody was there – not only Powell but also Kofi Annan in their attempt to send UN Security Forces.
Here, not only have massacres happened in the past and nobody moved, but this time there is something really far-reaching going on - which is the destruction of the whole Palestinian Society. And I just wanted a sharp expression – a sharpening of expression – that is the Hunger Strike. Just telling the world that it is question of life and death for the Palestinian people.
JY – We wanted to let our listeners know – and we have some figures here that bring it home to the US listeners: the Wall itself is approximately 500 miles long – that is, if you built one here in the West Coast of the US it would stretch from San Francisco just to the outskirts of San Diego. Or in the East coast from south of Washington DC just to the north of Boston. It is incredibly wide – its width exceeds that of a 6 lane highway –and it rises 25 feet up into the air – that’s taller than a 2-storey house. Its cost, in US tax-dollars is $2.8 billion.
The propaganda has it that this is a ‘separation fence’ – why is it now called the Apartheid Wall? And would you tell us, Dr Bishara, about the Apartheid system that Israel is imposing upon the Palestinian people?
AB – Well, if you want the truth, actually it is worse. The Apartheid regime in South Africa did not even build Walls. That Apartheid system wanted a legal separation from the blacks. But in South Africa the whites wanted to live with the Blacks, the African Blacks: they wanted to live with them as second-class citizens.
Here we have the situation where, first, they don’t want to give the ‘natives’, in quotation marks, or as they call them in politically correct language – ‘the indigenous people’ – they don’t want to give them the status of second-class citizens or even third-class citizens – they don’t want them as citizens at all. Second, they can exclude them by transferring them, by pushing them out of the borders, like they did in 1948 by making them refugees but this will necessitate a huge massacre. And on the third option they don’t want to give them a state – as it were to get rid of the Palestinians (from the Israeli state) by giving them sovereignty, like colonial countries, separate from their colonisers.
None of these. The Israelis just want to have their land but to have the Palestinians out. To ‘give’ them a kind of a separate political entity but to keep it under Israeli control so it does not develop into a sovereignty, a real sovereignty. So, push them behind the Wall, but to have an authority inside them (that is keep them under Israeli control) which guarantees that these people who are pushed behind the Wall will not become a ‘security threat’ for Israel.
What Israel wants is altogether more than Apartheid ever was. I mean, apartheid South Africa did not think like this. They looked at the people as a part of nature – they were a little part with (of) ‘romantic colonialism’ - they just saw the blacks there and they wanted to ‘belong’ – the whites in South Africa wanted to belong to a place.
But here, here there is an attempt to negate you – to negate your existence, to destroy the Palestinians. I believe that this is a sort of separation which is metaphorically called Apartheid but in many senses of the word it is worse, because the Apartheid, and you see historically how it developed, it left options open for the development of equality between citizens and the creation of one South African nation as we see now.
But the Israeli society, excuse me the Israeli government, does want to destroy all the options for possible development like this and you see it on the ground where nature is being destroyed and the Palestinian society is being scattered, really. Really, really divided into pieces, disconnected from each other and an attempt (is being made) to develop a leadership inside it (Palestine), a leadership which is tested, which is examined, according to one criterion only – whether it guarantees the security of Israel, whether it guarantees that these people (Palestine’s people) do not pose a security threat to Israel.
(Editor’s note – this is the only case of colonial occupation where the occupied must guarantee the security of the occupiers.)
So I think there is a kind of specificity about this particular Apartheid – I don’t know how to call it (what to term it) – usually people here call it ‘Occupation’ now, but colonial occupations of the past were there to go, not to stay. And the colonisers built something.
I know all kinds of colonialism of the West in the Third World – and they built something rather than destroyed it. They left something behind and they were proud that they were leaving a kind of civilisation behind (whether this is a cause for pride or not – Ed) - this is of course, disputed in the case of colonialism: but what is undisputed is that in the case of Israel they have destroyed and demolished and they did not build anything at all.
In the Palestinian society I do not know of any single Israeli building around.
Except the Wall ………except the Wall …of course!
JM – Yes, of course! And this brings us to the most timely topic that we would like to ask you about - in February you were at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, where you heard the Palestinian team present a flawless and eloquent argument against the construction of the Wall in its present position, you gave a mesmerising lecture to the Symposium, and you received a standing ovation when you demolished Netanyahu’s spurious arguments on Nederlands TV. And you were at the head of a huge demonstration for Justice for Palestine, where the Israelis had so little support in Europe that they were forced to fly in some 700 people from Tel Aviv and more from the US and elsewhere.
For four long months the ICJ has sat on its opinion. This very Friday they will present their ruling which, while not binding and without the force of law, is still very significant in world terms. We would like to ask you several questions on this matter, Dr Bishara.
First of all – could you tell us what the long delay has meant for Palestinians on the ground?
AB – Well, the long delay has meant that the Wall has been built in more and more areas taking more and more land and now just a small part of the West Bank is still not closed – exactly the part where I am making the Hunger Strike - because it is the last part now. If this part is closed then the whole West Bank will be closed and behind the Wall. That is why I am here in this place near Jerusalem, where the Wall takes on this monstrous, monstrous dimension of separating one Palestinian house from another and a citizen from his brother.
The delay, of course, had very heavy repercussions for the Palestinian Society. In certain cases it caused life damages, life losses, because in peaceful, really peaceful, demonstrations we have in the villages near Jerusalem, three people were killed in really peaceful demonstrations in which foreigners participated.
JY – Dr Bishara, in 1972 we know the ICJ ruled against the South African Occupation of Namibia, and we wonder if the ruling which comes through this Friday will have a similar result in opening the door for the destruction of the system of apartheid, perhaps through sanctions?
AB – Well, the decision of the Court in The Hague will not be obeyed by Israel. But the International Community, probably through the UN General Assembly (UNGA), will adopt it – probably. But this will also not be enough. The UN Security Council (UNSC) has to adopt it and there you have the veto of the United States - although the US is theoretically, officially, against the Wall: against the Wall in its present track now – and as this is an official position they cannot veto their own position. But anything can happen given the relationship of Israel and the United States. That’s why we have fears.
Until now the International Community has dealt with Israel, not only without sanctions but they dealt with Israel with privileges. They dealt with Israel, at least countries like the US (and the European Union – Eds) with privileges – and other countries too. So it’s not only no sanctions – Israel is like a spoilt child somehow, like the thug of the neighbourhood, allowed to do things that others are not allowed to do. The climax is this issue of the Wall. Nobody, nobody in the world builds walls today. Even the Berlin Wall collapsed and it did separate two sovereignties, two ideologies, two ways of life etc. But still it collapsed and, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the whole world looks away when Israel is building a Wall. That is why we make this Hunger Strike – so that the whole world does not look away.
JM – Assuming a positive ruling for Palestine from the ICJ – what would you then want to see happen?
AB – If there is a positive decision I want the one superpower in the world to see that this decision is implemented and that it becomes not only advisory, but compulsory – obligatory - because it was requested by the UNGA – who requested the opinion of the ICJ about the legal repercussions of the Israeli Wall. Probably the way is to take it to the UNSC, but not to take it there as just one more condemnation (of Israel – Ed).
JY – Does it give you hope if the ruling is positive – would you say that it is a tremendously hopeful moment for Palestine?
AB – Well, it’s a hopeful moment for Palestinians, yes, from the moral stance, but you know it’s easy to turn it into rhetoric, if things are not taken seriously. What I ask, is that we should not celebrate this decision too soon before we know that it will be taken seriously and implemented.
JM – At the time of this program you are in the fifth day of the Hunger Strike, in a tent in the blistering one-hundred-and-twenty-degree heat and choking dust of the ar-Ram roadblock on the road from Jerusalem to Ramallah – with friends, certainly, but also surrounded by the implacable hatred of the occupying Israeli Military – what do you feel is the particular effectiveness of the Hunger Strike ?
AB - It may help us to explain to the International Community and to the Israeli public opinion about the severity of the issue of the Wall. It may be helpful in explaining to the world that this really is an issue of life and death for the Palestinian Society.
Hunger Strikes are between life and death and the situation in the Occupied Territories is between life and death like that.
So what we are trying to achieve is to make things move in that direction (of understanding) – we want to push the world public opinion and our colleagues in the world, be they Parliamentarians or philosophers or intellectuals or writers to see it. I did not leave everything else and sit here because of (just) another detail of the Israeli Occupation - I participated in demonstrations; I organised demonstrations. I appealed to Courts; I participated in Courts. And I am a Parliamentarian who has used the Parliamentarian tools and it is said that I used these tools in a skilled way over the past 8 to 9 years. But here is a problem where you face a really crucial point when you need to alarm the world – to … to … scream – to silently scream, if you want. And this is the purpose of what we are doing and, hopefully, there will be resonance. Even if the Wall is built – walls can be destroyed. I mean – if the Israelis destroy, demolish, inhabited houses, they can destroy a wall which is against the inhabitants.
JM – Dr Bishara, a hunger strike is a very painful action to take; when we heard about your brave action, we thought of the Irish freedom fighter and poet Bobby Sands (and those who died after him), also an elected member of Parliament – the British – who died on the 66th day of a hunger strike in an English prison in his own country. His stand received almost hourly publicity, but in the USA we’ve heard little or nothing in the media about your action. Would you like, even briefly, to comment on this?
AB - Well, you see, I don’t want to blame the media now – it is too early! I have blamed the media a lot in the past and I have a lot of theories about why American mainstream media does not criticise Israel but really we are in the sixth day of the Hunger Strike and I want to give the media a chance to come. I don’t want to start blaming them yet, on the sixth day!
JY – Yes, of course, Dr Bishara. Your passionate belief in the justice of the Palestinian cause, a belief so strong that you now risk everything, touches us very deeply. And we thank you for allowing us into your protest tent and for sharing a few of your thoughts with us.
JM – We are sure that our listeners join us in wishing you the strength to continue this brave struggle for justice. Please stay safe, we need you, Citizen Azmi. Good-bye.
AB – Thank you. Thank you – and goodbye!
To hear the complete interview, visit www.me-radio.org