Omar Barghouti: the Ongoing Intifada

by Oct 15, 2014Amandla Issue 35, Magazine

Interview by Alex Hotz

A!: What is the current state of resistance among Palestinians after the recent Israeli onslaught?

OB: It’s important to put this in context: Palestinian resistance against Israel’s regime of occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid has been going on since 1948, since the onslaught of settler colonialism. Palestinians have been resisting predominately through civic popular means, but most of the world media do not cover that aspect of our resistance. In 1948 there was some rioting in occupied East Jerusalem, as well as very angry demonstrations by Palestinians. Palestinian citizens of the State of Israel were out in large numbers in main cities – Nazareth, Jaffa and other places –demonstrating and saying that we are part of the same Palestinian people and we will not stand silent while our people are being slaughtered, ethnically cleansed, with their homes demolished and their trees uprooted, and so on. So it’s an ongoing resistance that has intensified, but it has its phases and it goes up and down; people cannot sustain the same level of resistance all the time.

A!: Can you see any signs of an emergence of a new intifada arising from the murder and assault of many Palestinians in July and August?

OB: It’s very hard to tell – it is a possibility because it depends largely on Israel’s level of aggression. The Israeli settlers, who are completely licensed and protected by the Israeli government, enjoy enormous impunity. There’s a division of labour between the government and the settlers; the intensity of the attacks on Palestinian civilians, on Palestinian homes, on Palestinian security, has been enormous, which might lead to a third intifada. But I do not think of intifada as having one shape and form. Palestinian popular resistance, Palestinian popular uprising (called the first intifada in 1987) can change its forms.

We might [compare] an ongoing intifada, so to speak, [to] the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and its great successes internationally – the isolation of the State of Israel. The regime of occupation is intensifying in a way unprecedented in decades, as is the internal popular resistance against the war, against the intensification of colonisation, the building of settlements, the police repression, the army repression, and every day repression (check-points, lack of freedom of movement, lack of freedom of education with students having an extremely difficult time getting to their schools and university, sometimes being shot, and so on). It might take various forms, but we’re already seeing ongoing intifada, so to speak.

A!: How would you see the prospects for Palestine struggle in the context of what looked so promising as the Arab Spring and has now become much more like an Arab Winter?

OB: I would not dismiss the Arab uprising so fast. Revolutions go through phases. If one studies the Cuban Revolution, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution – some of the greatest revolutions in history – they’ve gone through phases. The French Revolution, for example, advanced through a very, very bloody phase, with extreme repression and only after that freedom and justice emerged.

So I wouldn’t dismiss what’s happening in the Arab world; decades of militarised and backward, repressive autocratic regimes, installed, endorsed and maintained by the West, by imperial powers, cannot be defeated so fast. The regime can change, but the structures of oppression remain, and no one in their right mind thinks that we can get rid of decades of a very entrenched structure of oppression in just a couple of years. It will take much longer and we’ll see ups and downs.

But one thing that will not be lost is that for the first time in decades, Arab masses – men, women, labourers, farmers, students, unemployed – went to the streets and took matters into their own hands, peacefully predominantly, in a very civic and resolute way. So it’s not just about putting a slip of paper in some box every four years – that’s not the only thing we want, cosmetic democracy. We want real democracy, which entails economic justice: without housing, without fighting poverty, without equal opportunity, raising the minimum wage, and so on. Without these, people cannot enjoy freedom.

A!: We all know what daily life is like under the Israeli occupation. How different is it for opposition groups under Hamas or the PLO?

OB: I think there is a misunderstanding of the status of Gaza under international law. Gaza is still considered occupied territory, so the occupation is alive and well in Gaza as well because it is surrounded by the State of Israel; the air-space, the land, everything is controlled by the State of Israel and according to the UN definition that amounts to occupation. So Gaza is also under occupation.

Within Gaza itself we do see many problems, many social problems, many cultural problems, even repression of human rights by the Hamas government. We also see a lot of repression of freedom of expression by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. But certainly the presence of Israel’s occupation and repression are the most important factors that we all feel.

In Gaza, it’s much more intense because of the brutal, medieval Israeli siege which deprives our people – 1.7 million Palestinians – of basics; Israel bans basic items from construction material to musical instruments to crayons, from entering Gaza. Israel even counts the number of calories per capita needed to keep our Palestinian sisters and brothers in Gaza alive – to make sure that they don’t starve to death while keeping them on the verge of starvation. That’s an official Israeli policy, announced a number of years ago, and still enforced today.

That level of criminality, and of criminal impunity, has got to stop. This is why it is extremely important for all conscientious people around the world, people of peace and justice, to support the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions for BDS against Israel.

A!: Norman Finkelstein, and now more recently Noam Chomsky has come out in quite a critical damning way against the BDS movement. Has this damaged the BDS movement?

OB: No, not at all. First, I will not comment on Professor Chomsky or on Norman Finkelstein out of respect for their history and all they have done to support Palestinian rights. But I’ll deal with a criticism that we’re hearing from soft Zionist voices in the United States and in Western Europe.

Many Zionists who consider themselves liberal (which is an oxymoron because Zionism is a racist ideology, so to be liberal and racist just doesn’t fit) have been sidelined by the BDS movement. The BDS movement has stripped them of their gatekeeping status. Before the BDS movement, they used to be the gatekeepers, telling people what’s allowed and what’s not allowed in support of Palestinian rights: you shall go that far and you shall stop at that point.

Now the BDS movement represents a genuine voice of the Palestinian people, and we are speaking for ourselves. We are reaching out to churches, unions, Jewish groups and progressive student groups all over the world, without having to go through any gatekeepers. For many so-called liberal Zionists, losing their status as gatekeepers is quite unsettling.

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