In September 2003, the Permanent General Mission of Palestine relaunched its office in Tokyo after eight-year absence. Mr. Waleed Ali Siam, Head of the Mission, spoke to WEEKLY MDS how the Palestinians would fight back the intensifying brutality of the Israeli military. The interview gives a precious occasion for our readers to listen to the real voice of the Palestinian people and strengthen solidarity with their struggle for peace and justice. (April 6, 2004, in Tokyo)
-- How do you view the recent moves of the Israeli government and military like assassination of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and construction of "apartheid walls"? How do they affect on the life and human rights of the Palestinian people?
If Israel and its leadership want peace and are realistic about accomplishing peace for the Israeli people as well as for the Palestinian people, they are going on the wrong way.
First, Ariel Sharon said last year in the Knesset that Israel is an occupying force. The Israelis do recognize that they are occupying a land that is not theirs. Second, as a so-called democratic country, it has not shown to the international community nor to the Israelis that this is a really democratic country where freedom of speech is guaranteed and human rights are protected.
This so-called peace-loving government has, since 1994 when we signed the Oslo agreement, extended settlements, built more settlements, confiscated more land, blockaded Gaza and the West Bank, humiliated people on security checks, and jailed children, women, old men and regular people. Over 8,000 people have been arrested by the Israelis since 2000. We have tens of thousands of people right now in Israeli jails. No International Red Cross staff can see them, no parents can see them, and no one can go to court. Where is democracy in that kind of system?
Also the Israelis have been destroying schools, homes, factories, the private sector, projects of donors built for the Palestinians. Where is a country that wants development for another country? The worst thing is that they are killing children, shooting children with real bullets, killing women, and killing everybody they have on their way, using the most sophisticated weapons, tanks, helicopters and missiles. We have seen them using the Palestinian Territories as an experimental area for their weapons. Israel is considered right now the tenth country in the world for exporting weapons, and the fourth of military power. Still it is requesting the Palestinians to protect it. From whom? And with what should we protect them?
Adding to that, Israel is assassinating people's spiritual leaders. Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, as an example. Sheikh Yassin has, first of all, been in Israeli jail many years. He has been the spiritual head of Hamas. He has never given an order for suicide bombing. The Israelis never proved and can never prove that he gave an order for anybody to have a suicide bomb. He was only a handicapped, chaired man. He cannot eat with his hands. He cannot use anything in his body other than his mouth. When he talks, it takes some time to talk. Sharon had to congratulate his army for assassinating this handicapped man coming out of prayer. That is a shame of a democratic country. I don't think the Israeli military was going to World War III to kill one person in a chair. Imagine that all this mighty power is to kill one man in a chair. This is humiliating for the Israelis also.
Not only Sheikh Yassin, they have been assassinating many people. In one assassination in Gaza, they used 1,000 tons of bomb in F-16 that hit a building and killed one man. When they were told that around 20 people including children died with this man, they said "In war, everybody has to pay a price." It is a shame. Where is democracy, where is humanitarianism? Where are the Israeli Jews that suffered from the Germans in Europe? They are making the same sufferings to the Palestinians. The victim that was victimized in the past is victimizing the new victim right now, worse than himself.
Then we have agriculture. They are taking everything in agriculture out of the land. They are cutting the trees, taking them outside. These trees feed families. Agriculture was very strong exportation for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Now we import everything to eat, specially olives. We were well-known to have olives, but now we don't have.
Also the wall. There is an American movie called Schindler's List. I am going to take a story from this, comparing to the Israelis. In this movie, the Germans take the Jews and let them build a wall all around the ghettos. Then the German Army brings all the Jews out of the camp by trucks and takes them to factories. The Jews work in the factories and are brought to the ghettos at night. Schindler was one of the guys who saved the Jews. In 2002 and 2003, the Israelis built the wall around the Palestinians. They are putting gates, taking workers to build the wall and also build settlements, and taking Palestinian workers to work and bringing back at night. I leave the comparison to your readers, but I think the Palestinians are suffering more right now. Where is the humanitarian world? How can Israel proclaim itself as a democratic country when a pregnant woman wants to go to hospital, she is not allowed and dies with her child on the border.
Is this a peaceful country that wants peace?
There may be a question asking about terrorism against Israelis. First of all, we call against any suicide bombing or any killing of any civilian. It is a crime and not acceptable in any kind of word. I want to make sure that you understand that. But also by international law any country under occupation has the right to resist. We are resisting as much as we can from within the Territories. Anything outside the Territories is against international law and against humanitarianism. In Gaza or the West Bank, if a tank comes against my house, I have the right to resist against it. If I see an Israeli soldier, I have the right to resist him. But I don't have the right to go to cafes or restaurants in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv and bomb myself. That is unacceptable.
-- The peace process since the Oslo Accord seems to be on the brink of collapse. Who do you think is to blame for this, and what do you think is a possible way-out for positive changes?
What we, the Palestinians, want is that the occupation leave the Palestinian Territories at this time. We will go to the United Nations to accomplish what we want. But, let me explain to your readers one thing. In the UN, over 900 General Assembly resolutions have been adopted and over 200 Security Council resolutions have been adopted against Israel, and none has been implemented to the Palestinian issue, since 1949 until today. If Israel has not answered to the request of the international community, that means it is a country that is doing whatever it wants. On the contrary, UN resolutions have been implemented by force on Libya, Iraq and other countries. The only country they have not been implemented on is Israel.
Israel has signed two peace agreements, one with Jordan, another with Egypt. And the third one was with the Palestinians. Until today, the Camp David Accord has not been fully done by Israel. The Israelis have not given one-kilometer army difference between them and Egypt. The CDA says any border with Israel must have one-kilometer no-military zone. Today on all the border between Israel and Palestine and Egypt we have Israelis. It is against the CDA. Israel never agrees to everything that they signed to. In Jordan also they have problems with water and the borders.
With the Palestinians, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish radical finished the Oslo agreement. The Israeli radicals like Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu did not want the Oslo agreement. Because if there is a Palestinian state, they believe that it is the end of Israel. On the contrary, however, the Palestinian state could help Israel to survive more. The Palestinians would open doors to the Arab countries. Unfortunately they don't want to end the Zionist movement, which aims at Great Israel from Palestine to Iraq. This is in books. Read the Zionist thinking, theory, planning and dreams. I believe that the Oslo agreement still survives in spirit. The two leaders, Rabin and Yasser Arafat believe that this is the only way to accomplish peace in the area. Unfortunately Rabin is gone. Arafat is still there. But he cannot find a real partner in peace. Sharon is not a real partner. In 1984, an Israeli Commission Court announced after the investigation of Sabra and Shatila massacre that Sharon was not fit for any public office. Now Sharon is the No.1 man in Israel. Where is this Commission's finding? I think many people in Israel from the radical side do not want peace with the Palestinians. They want to take the whole thing. They want to take all the Palestinians out and throw them out. This will never happen. We Palestinians have survived 50 years, and will survive another 50 years. Could Israel survive 50 years in what is happening now? I don't think so. They have to come to a solution with the Oslo agreement. We still believe in the spirit of Oslo. We still believe that there must be a final agreement with the Israelis. It will not take 5 or 10 years to accomplish. It should be implemented in 3 to 6 months. We are asking the following.
1. Israelis should withdraw all their settlements from the West Bank and Gaza, Jericho area and Jerusalem.
2. Borders: Israel should withdraw from the Egyptian-Palestinian border and Jordanian-Palestinian border.
3. The air should be Palestinian and not Israeli.
4. Sea: We should have our own territorial sea.
5. Water: We should take our share of water.
6. Jerusalem is capital of Palestine. As well we will share Jerusalem as capital of Israel.
Refugees have the right to return to the Palestinian Territories. Some of them have the right to return to Israel right now because they had lived there. Also there must be compensation from Israel for all the refugees and for all the people who have been suffered from the Israeli aggressions. People have been in jail. People have had their home and land damaged. People who were shot and got handicapped have to be paid compensation from the Israelis. I tell you why.
We are in 2004. The World War II ended in 1945. Over 50 years until today, there have been many Jews asking for compensation from Germany, Switzerland and others. Why can they ask for compensation and are we not allowed to ask for it? The Germans did not occupy the Jews. The Jews were part of Germany, part of Switzerland, part of Europe. They were Germans, Swiss, Spanish, French, English and so on. We Palestinians are under occupation. We have more right to ask for compensation.
What's good for the gander is good for the goose. Why should we be different from each other? We are all born in nine months. We all come from the same family. We are neighbors. We can either complicate the peace process or simplify it.
We want to know how many years they want this place. Do they want another 50 years? There has to be clear definition. We are clear to say that 100% of Palestine is not what we want. We want part of the Palestinian Territories. We agreed to 22%. We might have made a mistake to agree to that low, but we agreed. We will live with this 22%. This is all we want. Many Palestinians and many Israelis have a lot of friends on both sides. Sharon does not represent all the Israelis. He presents a small part of percentage of Israelis. Unfortunately the other half is asleep right now, or depressed. I know many Israelis including the ambassador here and his people working with him all want peace. And I want peace. As long as we have people like this who want peace, there is hope.
-- Do you believe Palestinians and Israelis can live together peacefully?
Yes, of course. We lived before together. There is no magic solution to it. And we can live together, we can survive together. But each has to have its independent land, its independent borders, its own independence. Then we can work much better.
-- The US/UK war on Iraq and the following occupation of the country seem to have certain interrelation with the Palestine issue. Do you have any comment on this?
I think the Bush administration made the biggest mistake after Vietnam. Vietnam was a big mess-up for America. And Iraq is the second mess-up. Does the Bush administration believe that liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein will bring democracy to the Arab world and solve the Palestinian problem? I think whoever thought of that did not read history at all. It doesn't make sense to leave the Middle East problem that has been ongoing for over 50 years and try to solve a new problem. I take a simple thing in our daily life. If you have a big problem in front of you, you will not leave this problem and go fixing the tire of your car. But this is what the Americans have done.
I think they had their own hidden agenda. What they wanted is the oil in the Middle East. It is clear. Plus it helped Israel a lot to get more powerful in the Middle East than any other county. There is no other country that can stand up to Israel. In the past there were many like Iran, Iraq or Syria. But right now the only military power in the Middle East is Israel. The invasion of Iraq has only supported Israel to be the major power in the region. This is the new world order of George Junior. It is not because of dictatorship. The American government has supported so many dictatorships in the world. Why only one, Saddam Hussein? Saddam Hussein was working with the Americans. He was getting weapons from the Americans. He was supported by the Americans during the Iran-Iraq war. Then come and tell that Saddam is much dangerous and he is responsible for 9/11. That is a myth.
-- Do you believe that the Greater Middle East Initiative by the US could bring about democracy and prosperity in the region?
I always say to my friends Americans and others. For us, the Arabs, specially Muslims, democracy is within religion. I explain to you why. When Prophet Muhammad came after the Jewish and the Christian prophets, he did many things. He freed the slaves. Slavery was outlawed in Islamic law. Women were given full rights. Women were in Islamic wars, riding horses. Women were heads of states in some areas. Women did not wear black nor cover their eyes. During Prophet Muhammad's time, there was a bank called Islamic House. People put money there so they can feed the poor. After Prophet Muhammad died, people had an election to decide who was the follower. All this is inside our roots. Democracy is in our thoughts, our mind, our source of society, our religion and our books. We know what democracy is.
My question is: When did America, the fully democratic country, give the rights to the blacks? Not until today. When did it give the full rights for women? When did it allow people to do whatever they want? Where is the freedom? As to the Palestinians, when Arafat came in 1994, we had an election. We had a woman running against him. When did we see a woman run for president in the US? This is a 220-year old country. There has been no such woman. The Palestinian Territories Authority is very young, but we have had women running for office. Real Islam gives full rights to woman, education, work, running for office, being in the military and so on. Women have served as fighters, doctors, nurses and everything. Always women have equal rights in our countries. If you come and teach us democracy, show us what you have done in democracy. We have no slavery. We have no buses that do not allow blacks, yellows or others. We have equal opportunities at work. We don't have, until today in Palestine and the Arab world, a black or a brown or a yellow fighting the government or the institutions, saying "I am not hired because of my color." We have many black, colored people in our countries, but there is no difference. We have always treated the Christians best. We have always treated the Jews best. We have equal opportunities, equal rights of religion and everything. But, those dictatorship governments supported by the Americans are the ones giving bad pictures about who we are and what we are all about.
-- Do you mean that democracy should not or could not be imported from abroad?
Before the question, I want to add one thing, if you allow me. President Arafat was elected at over 86% of the voting supervised by the international community including Japan. He was elected by the people, for the people. But, democratic countries like America and Israel are calling for the overthrow of President Arafat. This is the hypocrisy. Democratic countries that want to export democracy to the world are calling to overthrow a leader elected democratically in the election they monitored themselves. If they are going to teach us democracy, please teach us how it is from the beginning.
-- Global movement against the Iraq war has been regaining its momentum as shown in the worldwide demonstrations on March 20 calling "End the occupations." What do you expect from this "another superpower" confronting the US unilateralism?
In every revolution in the world, it was the people that made the changes. In every change in every government, it was the people that did the changes. I do believe that people around the world, if they are united together, can make a lot of changes peacefully. We have to stop the wars, we have to stop the genocides, we have to stop the hunger. Hundreds of thousands of people are dying because the pharmaceutical companies don't allow the medicine to be sold at cheap price in Africa. It is the responsibility of any human being who is educated and has the knowledge of what is going on in the world. They have to unite together, support each other to arrive at a very peaceful surroundings of this world.
The governments are very busy in maintaining the control over the society, and the military is getting mightier and wants to prove to other people how mighty it is. The people are paying the price. We have had so many people in solidarity, coming to the Palestinian Territories from Japan, Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, South America, from all over the world. We even had an American girl who was killed by the Israelis. We even had a British man killed by the Israelis. Without them we have no support. We need the support of these people.
-- Could you please give solidarity massages to the peace-loving Japanese people and encourage them to back up the Palestinian cause?
As an Arab and as a Palestinian, I do remember Japan is the only country hit by atomic bomb, a mass destruction weapon that killed hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed cities. And this country rebuilt itself in less than 50 years to be a mighty economic power in the world. So the people and government of this country have also responsibilities, if they see any injustice in any part of the world, to intervene against it. Money is not enough. Do not pay the bill only. Get involved. You are welcome as an international force.
The Japanese people can get involved, first of all, to tell the government that they want to stop the genocide that is going on in Palestine. They can demonstrate in a peaceful way to show their support to the Palestinians and other people. They can go to the Palestinian Territories, stay with the families of the Palestinians, and protect them from there. They can send in food. They can send money and replant all of trees in Palestine. They can do many things. We are going to do worldwide and in Japan a fund-raising to replant all the lands that have been destroyed by the Israelis. This is what the Japanese people can do.
-- Thank you very much.