"No State Has the Right to Exist as a Racist State"
By Silvia Cattori
12/08/07 "Voltaire" -- - -Omar Barghouti belongs to a new
generation of Palestinians who never adhered to the solution of
" Two States, Two peoples". They are advocating, instead, the
boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) of Israel as well as a
«secular, democratic state» solution, where Palestinians and
Israelis would share equal rights, after historic injustices are
redressed and the refugees are allowed to return.
Silvia Cattori: I
had the privilege of attending the presentation you gave in
Milan on 8 October 2007 .
Your analysis of the situation in Palestine is different than
the traditional discourse and conceptions, including within the
Palestine solidarity movement. Do you think that the Italian
public is ready to adopt your positions?
Omar Barghouti: I came to Italy in
March, 2007, for a tour, and I spoke about different issues. Art
and oppression was one of them. I spoke also about the One-state
solution, as well as the boycott of Israel .
There is a growing movement in Italy that understands the need
for effective pressure on Israel. It is no longer sufficient to
take part in traditional solidarity acts, such as demonstrations
and writing letters. Clearly, such conventional actions cannot
alone move Israel, because they do not raise the political price
that Israel has to pay for occupying and oppressing the
Palestinians. Europeans can demonstrate all they want; Israel no
longer cares. I think more Italians are realizing this.
Raising awareness is certainly important and that should
continue as long as the colonial conflict does. But this is no
After September 11th, Israel became much more belligerent and
now really cares little about international opinion. During the
seventies and eighties, even into the nineties, Israel was
extremely sensitive to western public opinion. In the
twenty-first century however, Israel has become less and less
sensitive, because of its enormous power and its unparalleled
influence on Washington, which remains the political master of
the Europeans. And that is how Israelis look at things. “We have
Washington in our pocket, who cares what the Europeans want?”
give an example, when Belgium tried to put Ariel Sharon on trial
for his role in the 1982 Sabra and Chatilla massacre in Beirut,
Condoleezza Rice threatened the foreign minister of Belgium that
the US would pull NATO out of Belgium, among other drastic
measures. Within days, the law was reversed and the Court never
summoned Sharon. The US did the same with Germany and France
during their dispute over the Anglo-American war on Iraq in
Israel realises that its vast influence over Congress
automatically translates into substantial, albeit indirect,
influence over Europe. Israelis, therefore, do not particularly
care about European public opinion.
More Italians are now realizing that the time has come for
effective pressure against Israel; this is not time for just
saying, “Naughty boys, you are doing the wrong things.”
Silvia Cattori: The Wall Street
Journal recently wrote, “The dream that was
Palestine is finally dead.” .
How do you react to this kind of statement?
Omar Barghouti: That is wishful
thinking. Neoconservatives, who control the Wall Street Journal,
are on their way to the dustbin of history after all their
failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. They would like to think that
Palestinians are finished. I think they are finished. It will
take some time, for sure, but I honestly believe their crusade
has been proven criminal and futile and their arguments refuted.
Their grand ideological design - that was supposed to start with
Iraq and then roll like a domino throughout the oil-rich Arab
region, all the way to controlling the world - is being
shattered. Their vision has been exposed as fundamentally
racist, dogmatic, and profoundly flawed. Thanks to the
resistance in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, this neocon vision of
empire is on its way to ultimate defeat.
When you see Palestinian leaders collaborating with the
occupier, instead of working for your national interests, what
do you say?
Omar Barghouti: Those among
Palestinian “leaders” who are colluding with the occupation are
certainly part of the problem, not the solution. I condemn them
in the strongest terms. I publicly expressed my view on that
even when Hamas took over Gaza .
Although I am very critical of Hamas for different reasons, I
recognize that a majority of Palestinians under occupation
democratically elected them to govern and to lead the struggle
for freedom and self-determination. The world has to respect
this democratic Palestinian choice, although only one-third of
the Palestinian people participated in these elections. The
remaining two-thirds, Palestinian refugees around the world and
Palestinian citizens of Israel, were not even considered.
Palestinians should be the ones to hold Hamas to account if they
fail to govern properly or to advocate for Palestinian rights —
not America, not Europe and certainly not Israel.
Some Palestinian political leaders are complicit in maintaining
Israel’s colonial and racist rule. Instead of openly acquiescing
to the occupation, however, their role is to give the world the
false impression that it’s merely a dispute; that we can sit and
negotiate nicely in Switzerland or elsewhere. Thus they conceal
the reality that it’s a colonial conflict that needs massive
grassroots struggle plus sustained and principled international
pressure in order to end it.
Using the word “dispute” is a real disaster that has afflicted
us since the Oslo agreements .
It started in Madrid, before Oslo; but the Oslo process was the
most devastating blow to the Palestinian struggle for
self-determination. It led to a paradigm shift from a struggle
of an oppressed people against occupiers and colonizers, to a
dispute between two national groups with conflicting but
symmetric rights and moral claims.
So, how can we explain that all the negotiations with Israel
have only brought more suffering to the Palestinians? People
like Misters Erekat, Abbas, Abed-Rabbo 
are still ready to compromise themselves with countless «peace
processes» that have such dramatic consequences for the
Palestinians, and are obstinately following the same road. What
hope can the Palestinians have in the face of this catastrophic
Omar Barghouti: If you take the
example of South Africa, the most repressive years of apartheid
were the years just before the end; not in the sixties and
seventies, but in the late eighties and early nineties.
Apartheid reached its peak of power, its peak of repression, and
then it collapsed. From my perspective, at this moment, when the
Zionist movement has so much influence in the world, I don’t see
it as the end of the question of Palestine.
the contrary, I see it as the beginning of the end of Zionism
itself. Israel and Zionism have lost whatever international
respect and admiration they once had. They are steadily becoming
pariahs. Israel, a state whose incessant ethnic cleansing and
criminal dehumanization of the Palestinians is more or less out
in the open, is now solely reliant on bullying, intellectual
terror and arm-twisting of the international community and
elected officials in the West to achieve its objectives. People
around the world do not like or support Zionism, as several
recent polls have shown; they are simply afraid of Zionism, and
the difference is huge.
the fifties and sixties of the last century, Europeans used to
love Israel, the romanticized home of the kibbutz, as a beacon
of “liberal democracy” in a region swarming with autocracy and
“backwardness.” Europeans, after all, helped build Israel, in
more ways than one; and they looked at it, ever since, as their
«baby» in the middle of a «barbaric sea of Arabs». Israel was
perceived as the enlightened, white, civilized entity in the
middle of this jungle of unruly, brown natives of the South.
while many Europeans have yet to be liberated from this racist,
colonial attitude towards Arabs, Israel today has very little
sympathy in Europe or anywhere else in the world. It has
protégés that are handsomely paid, and extremely effective
political lobbies that are very well oiled. With such tools,
Israel has managed to dictate the discourse, the political line,
in the European mainstream media, parliaments and power milieus.
Like their American counterparts, European officials are now
often faced with the tough choice of duly following the official
Israeli line or losing their careers – and, frequently, their
reputations as well. European complicity in maintaining Israeli
occupation and oppression is accordingly secured through
threats, intimidation, bullying, not persuasion. This is the
most significant loss historically, for Zionism. It has
squandered the sympathy it once enjoyed and entirely lost its
ability to touch the hearts and minds of people, even in the
West. Zionism now gets what it wants only by the stick.
how long will people stay scared and cowed? Eventually, they
will revolt — if not for the Palestinians’ sake, for the sake of
their own freedom, dignity and sense of justice. We are talking
about Europeans and Americans, citizens who enjoy relatively
wide-ranging and historically established democratic rights.
They are not the oppressed and impoverished people in the Global
South who lack the tools to affect change.
Europeans are people who live in a relative democracy – and it
is very relative; you are well-to-do; you have your voice in
regular elections and you can use it to make a change, but it
will take a loud wake-up call from the neo-colonized South,
reasserting its will and its quest for justice, sustainable
development and reparation for centuries of colonial rule.
European grassroots can then be persuaded to shed their colonial
heritage and recapture their destinies from their aloof ruling
elites who have hijacked their agenda and are increasingly
betraying their interests. But that will need a lot of awareness
raising and many small yet sustainable advocacy campaigns that
can gradually grow. This empowerment is crucial and
indispensable in bridging the North-South gap, not just
economically, but also conceptually and culturally.
Palestinians know better than anyone that the United States and
Israel utilized the 9/11 events to brand any resistance as
«terrorism». Today, your own Palestinian Authority is committing
itself to follow this road. Mr. Abbas claims that he will fight
«Hamas terrorists» in the name of «moderate Muslims». Is the
real objective to fight the only anti-colonial resistance that
still exists in Palestine?
Omar Barghouti: Yes, but the
Zionist movement has played a key role in frantically promoting
this “clash of civilizations” theory, based on the false premise
that September 11th was a fight between Muslims and the rest of
the world, between Islam and the so-called “Judaeo-Christian”
civilization. This neocon, Zionist-espoused concept has gained a
lot of pre-eminence in the West, sadly, and has influenced many
open any mainstream European paper and there is always an
article reinforcing the portrayal of Muslims as the evil other.
Muslims are nonchalantly labelled as «terrorists». You don’t
hear of any Muslim achievement in art, in culture, in
literature. You are never told anything about the Islamic
civilization. You are bombarded with images and sound bites of
angry Muslims shouting, burning flags and supporting Bin Laden.
No context. And you never hear those people speaking for
themselves. Always some wise western expert is interpreting
them. Explaining them. Speaking for them. Re-creating them.
course, some of our “leaders” with a slave mentality and no
vision or principles have internalized these concepts to the
extent that they’ve forgotten that life exists outside this
wretched box. To be, from their view, is to be like the
oppressor, as the Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, once wrote.
But, is this not terribly efficient for pushing public opinion
to fear these Arabs and Muslims? After all, Israel and the
United States are making an endless war against them, shaping
the conflict so that people are not moved when they are
Omar Barghouti: This religious
facade of the perceived “clash” remains on the surface only.
Deep inside, the conflict has nothing whatsoever to do with
religion. It is all about racism, economic exploitation and
hegemony. Of course, convincing Europeans of that will take a
long time, because September 11th was a very traumatizing shock
to them. Whoever did September 11th knew exactly what they were
doing. It was almost a self-fulfilling prophecy, creating the
infrastructure for this «clash of civilizations» theory in a
dramatic and criminal manner. But I don’t believe in «clash of
civilizations»; I believe that people and nations, with their
rich diversity, have a lot in unity, a lot in common.
And, yes, this growing European anti-Muslim racism, the truly
new form of “anti-Semitism”, is certainly very dangerous.
Muslims are seen as even less human than European Jews once
were. Let me give you an example from the Danish cartoon affair,
the racist depictions of Islam and the Prophet. I wrote an
article about this 
where I said, “Imagine a Danish cartoonist doing the same kind
of cartoon, but against Judaism; what would happen in Europe?”
Alas, many Europeans do not see it that way, because, for them,
it’s tolerated nowadays to be racist against Muslims.
Still, I don’t see it as a long-lasting phenomenon, because the
Holocaust has already forced Europeans to traumatically
experience the moral and physical abyss to which racism had led
What was your reaction when you learned that Switzerland had
organized secret meetings for two years between Palestinians and
Israelis. Those meetings led to what is called the «Geneva
Agreements» or the «Geneva Initiative». 
Omar Barghouti: The «Geneva
Initiative» contradicts the fundamental requirements for a just
peace. It ignores the basic injustice, the core of the
Palestinian cause, which is Israel’s denial of the inalienable
right of the refugees of Palestine, like all other refugees
around the world, to return to the lands and homes they were
is, therefore, very surprising that the Swiss government, in
particular, a consistent defender of international humanitarian
law, would sponsor and support such an agreement that blatantly
violates international law.
Don’t you think that the Swiss diplomats might have been naïve,
or misled by those who had a pro-Israeli bias, as Mr. Alexis
Keller for example ,
those who were giving an orientation most favourable to Israel?
If not, how can we explain that, on the Palestinian side,
negotiators have been selected who generally appeared not very
honest, quite ready to support what pleased the occupier, like
Mr. Yasser Abed-Rabbo?
Omar Barghouti: I never defend
corrupt Palestinian politicians who put their selfish personal
interests above everything else. But we are dealing here with
international law, and Switzerland does not need anybody to
teach it about international law. It is the seat of the Geneva
Conventions. Its endorsement of this Initiative cannot be out of
naïveté. It wanted to please the United States, the European
Union and other powers. And the timing was not completely
is not entirely related, but one factor that made the Swiss go
with this was the banking scandal linked to Holocaust
reparations that was raised in the US at about the same time,
along with the huge lawsuit against leading Swiss banks for
billions of dollars in compensation. The Swiss image was
tarnished in the US, and, of course, that affects business.
Switzerland lives on banking, more than anything else. So, when
the banking industry’s reputation and record are stained in the
US and in the rest of Europe, it looks very bad for Switzerland.
Switzerland wanted to do anything it could to please Israel,
even at the expense of bending some principles, knowing well the
ability of Israel’s lobby in the US to calm the storm.
When crimes of such a magnitude are committed in Palestine, no
one has the right to make such mistakes. It is most regrettable
that during these long years of the liquidation of the
Palestinian resistance, the floor was given to people who were
condemning the occupation but were really supporting racist
solutions. These solutions are unacceptable for the Palestinian
people, because they should have championed valuable measures
such as the boycott of Israel.
Don’t you have the right to blame those who have perverted your
cause by not insisting on the right of return of refugees? They
also supported the Palestinian Authority born in Oslo, saying
they represented the people «who fought against the occupier»,
while continuing to pretend that the Palestinian problem started
in 1967 and not in 1948?
Omar Barghouti: So what does it
serve to accuse them of betrayal? I say what I have to say, but
I don’t want to denounce; I want to convince people to move
forward, to leave the old, ineffective slogans of the solidarity
movement behind and move in a new direction, in line with what
Palestinian civil society is calling for.
instead of condemning solidarity leaders, I will just tell them,
“Maybe you are misinformed; maybe you have been deceived by
Israeli propaganda, sometimes parroted by Palestinian Uncle
Toms; maybe you are just fixated on certain slogans that you’ve
repeated so often that they’ve become almost intuitive from your
“two states for two peoples” slogan has turned into dogma. And
the solidarity movement has largely fallen under the spell of
this entrenched point of view. So we need to challenge that
doctrine and move people forward rather than alienate them. And,
from my experience, many people do undergo transformative and
radicalizing experiences when faced with facts, rational
arguments and a compelling moral vision. When you sit with them
and you convince them, you realize that many people are
basically honest and well meaning. They are sincere; they, like
us, support justice; they want peace; but they are so
misinformed because they have had too many speakers, including
Palestinians, come before and tell them: “Two states, for two
peoples, that’s what the Palestinians want.”
Silvia Cattori: It
must be a comfort for you to see that more and more people rise
up and call Israel’s violations of human rights by their real
name, as has just been done by the Special Rapporteur to the UN
Human Rights Council on the situation of human rights in the
occupied Palestinian territories, Prof. John Dugard .
What message would you like to send him?
Omar Barghouti: Prof. Dugard is an
inspiring, principled and courageous jurist and human being. I
do have something very clear to say to him. In his last report
on the occupied Palestinian territory he used the term
“apartheid” for the first time to describe Israeli policies; he
wrote, “Certain policies of the Israeli occupation resemble
This is not a minor statement coming from somebody of the
stature of John Dugard. My point to him is this: please keep
pushing in this direction, because the UN already has
resolutions on how to deal with crimes of apartheid anywhere in
the world. Apartheid is a generalised crime. It’s not just in
South Africa. Now we have a precedent; we don’t have to reinvent
the wheel. All we need is to justify and popularize this
diagnosis of Israel as an apartheid state. Although Israel is in
several areas very different from Apartheid South Africa – much
worse, in the view of Desmond Tutu and others – it has enough in
common with it to justify the comparison. After all, no two
patients develop the exact same symptoms to the same disease;
but they are still diagnosed the same. If Israel is found guilty
of practicing apartheid, there are international law
instruments, like sanctions, that can be applied by the UN to
deal with it.
Wouldn’t you have preferred that Mr. Dugard say squarely that it
is «apartheid» instead of something that «resembles» apartheid?
Omar Barghouti: Mr. Dugard is a
diplomat. We appreciate enormously that he had the courage and
moral clarity to even mention the loaded term, apartheid.
don’t expect a UN official to be the first to say it that way.
We, Palestinians, have to be the first to say so, to prove it,
to make it stick. The solidarity movement has to say it; and
then, perhaps, the UN.
cannot expect much from the current UN, particularly with the
new Secretary General — a mediocre bureaucrat, in my opinion,
who behaves as if he were a junior employee on the payroll of
the US State Department. But the UN remains our only forum where
we have any hope of asserting our rights under international
law. I do not support those who argue for bypassing or ignoring
the UN. What else do we have? As biased and subservient to US
interests as the UN has become, there is room for reform, for
making it more reflective of and sensitive to the aspirations of
humanity, and especially of the oppressed peoples of the South,
including Palestinians. It’s a long march, though.
Despite the seriousness of Dugard’s conclusions, the Israeli
authorities have systematically rejected his reports. I was
present at the United Nations, in March 2007 in Geneva, when the
Israeli Ambassador expressed, in front of an audience of
ambassadors, his official disagreement with Mr. Dugard. He
accused him of telling lies, and of making aggressive and biased
declarations. Were you surprised by this reaction?
Omar Barghouti: These are the
tactics Israeli officials and their supporters are increasingly
resorting to; no more convincing, no more arguing. Now, look at
what they are doing in the US and the UK, they are suppressing
debate on Israeli policies; debate is simply too dangerous to
them. It opens people’s minds. This is precisely why we are
fighting for debate.
should not be acceptable in self-defined democratic societies to
have debate on Israel, only Israel, censored or de-legitimized.
After the publication of his book denouncing Israeli apartheid,
did you contact former President Jimmy Carter ?
Omar Barghouti: Many people have
sent letters supporting Carter, but the powerful Zionist
pressure groups in the US mobilized the entire establishment
against him. Now, a former president, who is also a winner of
the Nobel Peace prize, is no longer interviewed on mainstream
American television or in major newspapers. Mr. Carter needs a
lot more support than just our heartfelt thanks.
How did you react when Mr. Bush proposed Mr. Blair as a « man of
Omar Barghouti: Mr. Tony Blair
will not do anything to help bring about peace or justice. Many
British citizens convincingly accuse him of being a dishonest
opportunist and an American lackey. I sympathize with both
characterizations. In my opinion, he also lacks the vision and
courage to do anything meaningful for a just peace.
What did you think of the Annapolis conference that was held in
the U.S. in November 2007?
Omar Barghouti: By insisting that
Palestinian "negotiators" must recognize Israel as a "Jewish
State," Israel has really kicked the sleeping lion in the ribs,
to borrow the metaphor used by Uri Avnery — whom I completely
disagree with, otherwise. Barak’s "unwise" and stubborn
insistence during Camp David II in 2000 that Arafat must drop
the right of return for Palestinian refugees led to a real
awakening of the refugee community, leading to massive
mobilization and concerted pressure on Arafat not to budge.
Indeed, he was killed without surrendering that right.
This time around, there were two lions that Israel kicked in the
rib when it demanded Palestinian official acceptance of its
right to exist as a Jewish state: the same huge lion
representing refugees and a smaller, usually far-milder lion,
representing the Palestinian community inside Israel, almost 1.5
million indigenous Palestinian citizens of Israel who have
hitherto been completely marginalized and disenfranchised in all
"negotiations" concerning ending this colonial conflict.
Luckily, Olmert and the current political elite in Israel
proved, in preparing for Annapolis, to be as obtuse as their
predecessors. This is the price Israel must pay, apparently, for
being the world leader in recycling leaders! Each Israeli leader
who rises to power (with the exception of those who die or are
assassinated by Israeli right-wing settlers) is soon discredited
and embroiled in scandals of all sorts: sexual, financial, war
crimes, etc. They then slide down into oblivion, only to be
reincarnated and reinvented a few years later as embodying a new
"hope" for a nation gone astray — and they miraculously get
re-elected by respectable margins! Israelis do not only suffer
from selective amnesia; they are truly bankrupt at the
leadership level. Not just Palestinians are, it seems.
Another important point about Annapolis is that Mahmoud Abbas
has no mandate to give up anything significant. He is no Arafat.
He lacks the historical record of struggle against Israel. His
popularity, while higher than Olmert’s pathetic 3%, is still
quite dismal. He has a severe deficiency in vision, in my
opinion. Hamas controls Gaza; and this weakens him further. In
short, he is not a leader who can do "business" and deliver the
"goods" dictated by Israel and the US. He will talk and smile a
lot; travel even more; try to appear courageous; but it will all
falter, I think. With Arafat’s departure, Israel lost its final
opportunity to push for a two-state solution — an unjust and
immoral solution, at any rate. No regret.
one-state alternative, the moral alternative, is no longer seen
as a utopian idea; it is increasingly being researched and
presented as a serious possibility looming in the air above all
those "negotiators." Just look at Olmert’s recent warning in
Ha’aretz that, if the Annapolis process fails, Israel will head
in the apartheid direction (as if it hasn’t already!). Annapolis
cannot but fail. It does not deal with the root causes of the
conflict, and does not promise justice or equality.
What is your feeling when you see your political representatives
doing the same job as the occupiers?
Omar Barghouti: I completely
condemn them. It is shameful for the Palestinian Authority (PA)
to play the role of sub-contractor for the occupiers, relieving
them of some of their colonial burdens.
Silvia Cattori: Is
that the opinion of the majority of the Palestinians?
Omar Barghouti: I do believe that
the majority of the Palestinians denounce the complicity of the
PA, to various degrees. Almost everybody I know, academics,
intellectuals, cultural workers, artists, and so on, do not
condone the PA forces’ illegal, arbitrary arrest of dissident
activists, for instance, or the PA’s role in exonerating Israel.
So, for the majority of the Palestinians, Hamas members are not
«terrorists» but just normal citizens?
Omar Barghouti: They were elected
democratically. Arresting people because they are resisting the
occupation is a disgrace. They did not break Palestinian laws;
they are resisting the Israeli occupation. Israel wants the
Palestinian Authority to be its policeman, to do its job on its
Outside Palestine, things are not simple either. For a long
time, those who wanted to talk about the « pro-Israel lobby »,
the boycott, or Israeli apartheid, were excluded from the
debate, vilified by the leaders of the solidarity. Is that not a
way to protect Israel? If not, how can we explain that the left,
most leaders of the solidarity, never saw Israel in the same way
as apartheid South Africa, and have always shown themselves
reticent to qualify Israel as an apartheid state? 
Were you surprised by the weak response since 2004 to your calls
for a boycott of Israel?
Omar Barghouti: Some “soft
Zionists” in the solidarity movement are trying their best to
say «no, Israel is not apartheid», because they know exactly
what such a label means. It could well invite sanctions and
wide-ranging international boycotts.
Punishing apartheid is something many people around the world
know how to do. And «soft Zionists» realize that. They realize
this is much more potent, much more effective, than any
Palestinian weapon. Palestinians can develop their «Qassams»
forever, but that will never hurt Israel as much as a sustained
boycott campaign, a non-violent boycott, divestment and
sanctions (BDS) campaign in Europe, North America and Asia, a la
Silvia Cattori: Is
it difficult for you to take the floor with people who may
denounce the crimes of Israel, but do not really question the
nature of this state, and who do not always share your positions
regarding the boycott ? And others who see your position
regarding the solution of «one single state» ? Would
Palestinians of Israeli citizenship, who are enduring colonial
oppression and Zionist racism within the State of Israel, be
better qualified for speaking about what they are enduring
because of Israeli racism?
Omar Barghouti: No, I don’t mind,
because Michel Warschawsky defines himself as an anti-Zionist,
and he supports most Palestinian rights. We disagree on tactics;
we disagree on advocating certain rights. There is no
disagreement on sharing a panel with him, however, to debate
ways of ending Israeli oppression.
would not share a panel with a representative of an Israeli
institution that takes no position on the occupation, for
example, or does not support Palestinians rights. With
Warschawsky, it will be a debate, I respect him, but we disagree
significantly, I think, on the issue we are debating, which is
the role of religion and ethnicity in Israeli racism.
need to unite all our forces. So, we need to distinguish between
people we disagree with on tactics, and people who are real
enemies, with whom we disagree on the main principles of
justice, international law and the paramount principle of
can disagree with people on how to end the injustice or even
what forms of injustice we need to be fighting against; but we
should keep that disagreement in its context, as a disagreement
between people who agree on a key goal: ending injustice. Our
main fight is against those who blindly support Israel and
oppose even ending the occupation. So that distinction needs to
be made. Still, it doesn’t mean to be naïve and to accept
certain artificial limitations on the debate.
a Palestinian, I cannot accept being told by anybody in the
solidarity movement what is allowed and what is not allowed for
me to propose, to argue for. We decide what is allowed. Even
though principled people in solidarity with Palestinians are our
partners, our comrades, they are still not “us.” They should not
speak on our behalf, as though we’ve ceased to exist.
But that is largely what is happening! The voice of the
Palestinians, who have a vision like yours, is tiny in the
debate. The positions of the Israeli «peace camp» represent a
big voice in the debate in Europe; a voice that likes to
denounce the occupation but doesn’t tolerate the one that
touches the nature of the “Jewish State.” And it is that voice
that defines, de facto, the limits of the debate, in supporting
solutions which can secure, for Israel, the «Jewish supremacy»
in Palestine. Your own voice is almost inaudible.
In France, for example, there are traditional associations,
working with the representatives of the Palestinian Authority,
who decide who are the «real friends» of Palestine and who are
not. Their publications emanate mostly from authors of the
Israeli «peace camp» and from those who, in Europe, work with
them. It is the same in the meetings. Shouldn’t the Palestinians
who are the real representatives of the resistance against the
occupier have a bigger place?
Omar Barghouti: We cannot accept
this awkward situation, I agree. The problem is that some meek
Palestinians have allowed the so-called Israeli “peace” camp to
do this. In reality, there is no peace camp in Israel, in the
sense of a movement supporting a just peace, the only peace that
would be worth its name. But, unfortunately, we have quite a few
Palestinians who are into this peace business – yes, it is a
business; they travel with their Israeli “partners;” they speak
together; they go to fancy hotels; they get invited by the Swiss
and Norwegian governments, to resorts; and so on. They love it;
it is a lucrative enterprise. And the price they pay is
compromise on basic Palestinian rights and, indirectly, on their
very dignity. They stop speaking for themselves and allow those
sham peacemakers to speak on behalf of the Palestinians.
So, you put the responsibility on the Palestinians who accept to
be part of a peace « business »?
Omar Barghouti: Not the whole
responsibility, but part of the responsibility is on the
Palestinians who work in such a way that gives up even
The fact remains that this biased solidarity has been a very
demoralising factor, and a damaging factor for the victims of
the Israeli oppression. In 2002, when Sharon launched his war,
there was a big protest movement in Europe. There were 30,000
people in the streets of Paris. In 2005, when the Palestinian
prisoners in Israel went on a hunger strike, and the Israeli
planes killed more then one hundred people in Jabalyia (a
massacre of the magnitude of Jenin), there were no more than
about one hundred people in the streets of Paris.
All that should be considered very carefully because, in
Palestine, people suffer and die because of all the errors and
manipulations made in their behalf! It is a merciless war, and
not a conflict between two equal sides. If there are intervening
parties whose hidden objective is to maintain the framework
acceptable for the survival of Israel as a Jewish State, this
can be nothing but demoralising for those who want the
Palestinians to gain recognition for their rights!
Omar Barghouti: I think it is fine
that some people want to work on just ending the occupation; as
long as they don’t say that people working for the whole
spectrum of Palestinian rights and against Israeli injustices
are wrong. In other words, if someone says, “My limit is this, I
will work against the occupation and organize a group to raise
awareness about it,” it they work for Palestinian rights. If we
cannot work with those people, we shall alienate and lose many
in the mainstream.
Can we hope that, thanks to voices like those of Ilan Pappe, of
John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt ,
of Jimmy Carter, of John Dugard, who broke certain taboos, and
thanks to the efforts of anonymous people who helped these
voices be heard, that you are at the beginning of a new era
regarding a radicalisation towards Israel?
And will these new voices bring about a balance to the voices
like Avnery, (who is indeed useful, but nevertheless, supports
unjust solutions), to make these voices unacceptable for the
Omar Barghouti: Anti-Zionist
Jewish voices are increasingly exposing the deception espoused
by soft Zionists like Avnery. Being a Zionist today essentially
means believing that the ethnic cleansing of Palestine was
acceptable or justifiable in order to establish the Jewish
State, and that Palestinian refugees should not be allowed to
return, in order to maintain the “Jewish character” –read:
racist supremacy- of the State.
That is the test of morality for anyone working for a just
peace. Justifying ethnic cleansing and denial of refugee rights
to maintain Israel’s Jewish supremacy is racist. Anyone
upholding such positions cannot be a moral person. If someone
says, “The Nakba was horrible, it was indeed a war crime, but I
think two states are better,” then we can talk, we can debate.
But if he or she says that the ethnic cleansing was acceptable,
then they are racists who view that Palestinians as cockroaches.
I cannot have any reasonable dialogue with such people. So, that
is where I draw the line.
So, the anti-war movement did not completely fail, as the
journalist Jeff Blankfort suggests ?
Omar Barghouti: I don’t think it
failed. It has not achieved as much as it should have, given the
energy, the passion, the sense of solidarity among many people
around the world. I agree that one of the reasons – there are
many - is that the «gatekeepers», those who are setting the
boundaries, telling people what is allowed and not allowed, and
drawing the red lines, do not have a radical-enough agenda.
Their agenda is too weak and too shy to address the three
fundamental forms of Israeli oppression against the
Palestinians: denial of Palestinian refugee rights; the military
occupation and colonization of the 1967 Palestinian territory;
and the system of racial discrimination, or what I call,
intelligent apartheid, against the Palestinian citizens of
course there are many global reasons why it is much more
difficult to have solidarity with Palestine, especially after
September 11th, when the Palestinians were demonized,
dehumanized and portrayed as «terrorists» by Israel and the US.
Even in Europe this is growing as well.
And, due to Zionist influence in the media and over Congress in
Washington, any academic, any intellectual, any artist, any
politician who dares to come out in public to support justice
for Palestine, is likely to be subjected to character
assassination or may lose his/her career altogether. The price
paid by conscientious people who are committed to defending
Palestinian rights and who are calling for an end to all forms
of Israeli Zionist injustice is greater than ever. I
particularly salute all those who, despite all the intimidation,
are still struggling for Palestinian rights.
When I went to Israel, in 2002-2003, it was a shock for me to
discover that, as massacres and destructions of such a magnitude
were going on in Palestine, there were, besides internationals
and Palestinians of Israeli citizenship, only a few hundred
Israelis in Tel Aviv or in Jerusalem ready to take to the
streets to protest against the crimes of their «reservists».
So, I realized that the « peace movement » in Israel, as we had
imagined it, had never existed, and that some had made a sort of
manipulation to make people believe that peace activists in
Israel were a driving element in favor of Palestinian rights.
Whereas, in reality, the Palestinians cannot expect much from
this movement. What is your own opinion in this regard?
Omar Barghouti: The Israeli “left”
is largely a fraud. It is a big lie. There is no Israeli left,
by any international standards of the term, and I challenge
anybody to show me otherwise. I spoke about this at a conference
in Bil’in, in May, where I said: “With its rejection of
Palestinian refugee rights and its insistence on Jewish
supremacy and racial discrimination against Palestinian citizens
of Israel, the Israeli ‘left’ makes the xenophobic right in
Europe look as moral as Mother Teresa, in comparison.”
Somebody from Gush Shalom challenged me, claiming that, “It all
depends on how you define the left. You define the left as those
who accept the right of return for the Palestinian refugees. I
can define the left as people who are just opposed to
occupation. So I disagree on your definition of the left.”
answered, “Well, forget the relative definitions of the left.
Let us agree on a universal definition. Can we agree that
equality is the basic principle, the fundamental principle that
any leftist who deserves the name of a leftist should agree to,
that all human beings are equal?”
said, “Then, let’s agree that anyone who refuses to grant the
right of return for Palestinian refugees, simply because they
are not Jewish, actually believes that Palestinians – whether
Muslims or Christians — are not equal to Jews; are lesser
humans. That makes him/her a racist, certainly not a leftist.”
This is not my definition, it is a universal definition. By this
universal definition, the great majority of those in Israel who
claim to be leftists are really bigots on the right. They are
not left at all. They are against the right of return; they are
against recognising the Nakba - the ethnic cleansing of 1948;
most of them are even against fully ending the occupation of
Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank in accordance with
Israelis invented and propagated the myth that there is a huge
left camp; and when we started the academic boycott against
Israeli academic institutions, those same “leftists” dishonestly
screamed, “Israeli academics are at the forefront of the
struggle against occupation. How could you boycott our
This is all myth. According to reliable research done by Israeli
scholars, the total number of Israeli academics who have ever
signed a petition condemning the occupation – let alone went on
the streets to demonstrate - is only a few hundred, out of nine
thousand academics. If you were to survey their opinions on the
inalienable right of Palestinian refugees or ending racial
discrimination against “non-Jews” in Israel, you would find only
a handful of Israeli-Jewish academics supporting such rights.
This is the real size of the left in Israel; it is an extremely
tiny group of principled, courageous and morally consistent
Despite that, our call for boycott is institutional in nature;
it does not target individual Israeli academics per se. So we
stand on solid ground at all levels, particularly given the
well-documented complicity of all Israeli academic institutions
in maintaining and promoting various aspects of Israeli
oppression against the Palestinians.
This very tiny left group which succeeded, through various
stratagems, in getting a big voice, and in maintaining the
solidarity movement within certain limits, would it not be also
part of the problem? In supporting the «Oslo Agreements», the
«Geneva Initiative», and so on, did it not push forward the
cause of Israel?
Omar Barghouti: Palestinians need
to clarify to the solidarity movement, and to the world, that no
one should speak on our behalf. We are “mature” enough, “old”
enough to speak for ourselves. We don’t need any patronizing
behaviour from friends or foes.
Many Israeli leftists, over decades of occupation, got used to
speaking for the Palestinians and then dictating to the
Palestinians what we ought to be thinking and asking for, with
the ultimate goal being how to help those Israeli “leftists” in
“their” struggle! When we started the boycott movement, we
effectively told them, “Enough is enough!”
Palestinian calls for boycott clearly outlined to those who
count themselves in the Israeli left that their patronizing
attitude towards us was humiliating and colonial, and that
self-determination means, above everything else, our right to
decide our destiny and to articulate our own aspirations for
freedom and equality. They are used to perceiving us as the
stereotypical natives, almost like immature children who need to
be told what to do in order to behave.
Palestinian civil society has in 2005 expressed its will in
issuing the massively endorsed BDS Call. Anyone in solidarity
with the Palestinians can no longer ignore this call and
continue to dwell on traditional, ineffective forms of support.
BDS is simply the most morally sound and politically effective
form of solidarity with Palestine today.
But those politicians who have an interest in applying the
brakes whenever holding Israel to account, are still very
influential in the debate. Do you agree with Palestinian
political scientist Abdel-Sattar Qassem ,
who said that «real Palestinians» have so far had only a very
small role in the debate about Palestine?
Omar Barghouti: Genuine
representatives of Palestinian public opinion are seldom given a
chance to be heard, because the mainstream western media, the
large international conferences, the European and American
funding organizations, are not interested in any principled
Palestinian position advocating the application of international
law and universal rights. They invite people who are pliable,
“moderates” who will readily give up the right of return, for
instance, and accept “Israel’s right to exist” as a racist
apartheid state, in return for a subset of Palestinian rights.
Only those “good Arabs” are sought after in such world forums.
Could we label these Palestinians who did not behave correctly
as traitors to their cause? Particularly since 2002 where the
situation had become so bad for the resisters who were hit by
extrajudicial Israeli killings.
Omar Barghouti: I would not call
all of them traitors, because there are all kinds of traitors.
It is a relative term. Of course we have our quislings who
overtly or covertly collaborate with Israel. But most of the
Palestinians involved in the peace industry are delusional,
selfish or both. Many of them are in it for the money, for
personal privilege, and wish to think that they are serving the
cause in their own way. The fastest way to get rich today is to
form a joint Palestinian-Israeli group doing anything: women’s
rights; football for peace; children’s rights; theatre for
coexistence; film to overcome psychological barriers;
environment; democracy; parallel historical narratives; academic
and scientific research; just about anything, except joint
struggles to end the occupation and oppression!
Joint Palestinian-Israeli projects that claim to be “apolitical”
– and are therefore politically biased and misleading — attract
a lot of European money. And, unfortunately, many Palestinians —
particularly given the resource-starved environment they live in
under occupation — and of course many Israelis are involved in
this profitable business. Some European political elites will
generously pay any project that may help alleviate their
deep-rooted guilt feelings over the Holocaust. Our rights matter
very little in this manipulative and deceptive agenda.
Before going to Palestine I was like everybody: I believed that
very bad people called «anti-Semites» did really exist. But
suddenly, after having written one or two articles defending
Palestinian rights, I was surprised to discover that I was
accused of being «anti-Semitic» myself. So, now, I do know that
this word is a very strong weapon in the hands of those who want
to silence people criticizing Israel in a free and honest way.
Anti-Semitism did exist in the 1930s. But today, I see that
there are many people who hate Arabs, also in the left. As far
as I am concerned, I never met any «anti-Semite», that is to say
a person who hates Jews because they are Jews. On the other
hand, I have met people who are interested in making the world
believe that «anti-Semitism» is a phenomenon of a big magnitude,
in order to justify the existence of Israel on Arab land. What
is your position about that?
Omar Barghouti: Anti-Semitism does
not justify Israel. I think there still is anti-Semitism, people
who hate Jews for being Jews, in the US and Europe especially.
But this phenomenon now is more fringe than it ever was and is
far from influential in any country. Islamo-phobia, on the other
hand, is rising dangerously in the mainstream across Europe and
the US. Racist hate of Arabs and Muslims is truly the new
“anti-Semitism” today, as Noam Chomsky once said.
is important at this point to make one distinction very clear:
our conflict is with Zionism and with Israel as a colonial
entity. I am opposed to all forms of racism, including
anti-Semitism and Zionism. I, as well as the great majority of
Palestinians, have absolutely nothing against Judaism or against
Jews as a religious group, absolutely nothing.
Furthermore, we are against Israel not because it is Jewish, but
because it is colonial oppressor denying our rights. If Israeli
Jews give up their colonial existence and racist privileges and
accept our rights, we have no problem coexisting with them in a
de-zionised Palestine, which would necessarily entail the right
of return for the refugees and unmitigated equality for all,
irrespective of religion, ethnicity, gender or national origin.
most generous offer the indigenous Palestinians can extend to
the Israeli-Jewish settlers is to accept them as equals living
with us, not above us. No master, no slave. But accepting Israel
as a “Jewish state” on our land is impossible. No rational
Palestinians with any sense of dignity can accept a racist state
-that excludes them and treats them as relative humans -
existing on their indigenous land.
The fact remains that «anti-Semite» has a much stronger impact
than «racist», because in many countries of Europe, there legal
are consequences for those who are accused of being «
Should we not be considered equal, Jews and non-Jews? Why should
we accept this biased way of making people feel guilty about
something that does not exist any more, but proves to be very
useful for pro-Israeli war propaganda purposes?
Omar Barghouti: Yes, we should
fight that, too. There has to be a struggle to reject all racism
equally and not to accept current European laws that treat
anti-Semitism as a separate class of crime, far worse than any
other form of racism, including Islamophobia or anti-black
racism, arguably the most prevalent expressions of white racism
These laws are themselves discriminatory. Anti-Semitism is just
another form of racism, no more, no less; it should be treated
as one branch of racism, not a super branch. But, in any case,
it does not justify Israel’s racist nature; it cannot justify
Israel’s crimes. We should decouple anti-Semitism from
anti-Zionism. While the former is a form of racism; the latter
is a moral stance against racism.
But this will not be possible as long as Palestinians find
themselves in a situation of inequality, and that the oppressed
people can’t tell us how they live. Instead, those who play the
game of «normalization» have the stage, which is a kind of
Omar Barghouti: Palestinian
representatives ought to respect and unite behind our civil
society’s BDS call for a struggle against the three key forms of
Israeli injustice, not just one – occupation and colonisation of
the 1967 territory is just one form of injustice.
core of the question of Palestine remains the much larger
injustice, the denial of the basic rights of the refugees, who
constitute the majority of the Palestinian people.
there is a third form of injustice, which is often overlooked –
the regime of institutionalized racism against Palestinian
citizens of Israel. Even if Israel ended the occupation
tomorrow, it will not end this colonial conflict. The solidarity
movement in Europe and the rest of the world has to respect the
genuine voice of Palestinian civil society, rather than promote
Palestinian quislings or little bureaucrats who tour the world
to say anything as long as they are paid well. They do not
represent the Palestinian people; they do not speak on behalf of
Thank you, Mr. Barghouti for your insightful analysis.
Silvia Cattori - Swiss
Thanks to Greta Berlin for translation.
Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the
Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI),
is an independent Palestinian researcher whose political and
cultural writings have appeared in several publications. He is a
human rights activist involved in the struggle to end oppression
and conflict in Palestine/Israel through civil resistance. He
holds a Masters degree in electrical engineering from Columbia
University and is currently a doctoral student of philosophy
(ethics) at Tel Aviv University. He contributed to the recently
published philosophical volume, Controversies
and Subjectivity (John Benjamins, 2005). He also contributed
to The New Intifada: Resisting Israel’s
Apartheid (Verso Books, 2001). He advocates an ethical
vision for a unitary, secular democratic state in historic
Palestine. He is a dance choreographer and trainer. He spoke at
several arts conferences on the relation between art and
In 2004, 171 Palestinian organizations and unions made a
call to the international community to support boycott,
divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it fully
abides by international law and universal human rights.
“Whether there might have been a better outcome is anyone’s
guess. But the dream that was Palestine is finally dead.” Drawn
from the article by Bret Stephen, Who Killed Palestine? A
failure with a thousand fathers, Wall Street
Journal, June 26, 2007. B. Stephen is a member of the
editorial staff of the Wall Street Journal
and was a director of the Jerusalem Post.
Omar Barghouti, “A
Secular, Democratic State Solution – the Light at the End of the
The Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 in Washington, in the
presence of Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli Prime Minister, of Yasser
Arafat, President of the PLO executive committee, and Bill
Clinton, President of the United States.
Advisers to President Yasser Arafat yesterday, today in control,
often presented as « submitted to the United States and Israel»
and serving above all their own interests, material and prestige
Omar Barghouti. "Secular
Arabs Detest Hypocrisy too". ZNet.
The “Geneva Initiative”, or “Geneva Agreement”, signed on
December 1, 2003 in Geneva. The main promoters were the Israeli,
Yossi Beilin and the Palestinian, Yasser Abed Rabbo. Also
participating were Zionist writers like Amos Oz and David
Grossman. This Agreement was rightfully presented as a «soap
bubble» by the historian Ilan Pappe, but was presented as a real
of peace» by Dominique Vidal, and was «supported
without reservations» by the l’Union française juive de paix
greeted feelingly by the Mouvement de paix.
Alexis Keller, the promoter of the « Geneva initiative »
declared, during a conference in 2003, that this initiative, “
Represents the maximum that the Israelis can give up… that both
parties have red lines that they cannot cross, like the right of
the Palestinian refugees to return home. That Israel cannot
admit their return because it must remain a Jewish State.” (with
a Jewish majority). Apparently, the fact that this concept of a
«Jewish State» is racist did not bother Mr. Keller.
In a report released in February 2007, Mr. Dugard wrote that
Israel’s policies «resemble those of apartheid».
President Jimmy Carter, Palestine: Peace not
Apartheid. Simon & Schuster, 2006
Until very recently, even a progressive monthly like «Le Monde
diplomatique» had never associated Israel with apartheid. At
best, in 2004, Mr. Alain Gresh wrote that this «resembles
The Israel Lobby », John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt,
London Review of Books, 23 March 2006.
anti-war movement has failed" interview of Jeff Blankfort by
Silvia Cattor, Voltaire Network, 23 february
will never surrender: Dr Abdul Sattar Kassem interviewed",
Palestinain Pundit, 15 september 2006.
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