Medical doctor Mustafa Barghouti (55) works and lives in Ramallah, Occupied Palestinian Territories. In the government of national unity (March-May 2007) under Prime Minister Ismail Hanijeh, Mustafa Barghouti was Minister of Information. The interview was conducted via phone on February, 6th, 2009 by Karin Leukefeld. A german abridgement was published in the Berlin daily Junge Welt (7.2.2009).
Have you been to the Gaza Strip after the war? What did you see?
Yes, I was there for a week, I came back 4 days ago and what I’ve seen is just indescribable. First of all I saw devastation that never happened in this region before. I think the scene I’ve seen could only be compared with what happened in Second World War in some places. What I’ve seen is not only the death of 1340 people, mainly civilians, 87 percent of them are civilians and 50 percent of them are children and women, there are 410 children killed. About 5300 people injured, again mostly civilians, with a big number of children. The shooting on the people of Gaza was clearly indiscriminate. Israel used very big bombs, F 16 fighters, tanks in the most densely populated area in the world. We’re talking about areas, where 78000 people are living in 1 square kilometre in the Beach Camp. Or more than 72000 in 1 square kilometre in Jabaliya camp. So the use of Israeli force resulted in a very high number of people killed. 25 families were completely distinguished. I am speaking about for instance the Balousha family, which lost five daughters. One was 4, one was 8, one was 12, one was 14 and one was 17. All sisters. There were so many others, where two or three or four members of the family were killed. And in addition to bombarding people, there was – I got the records from the people – clear-cut assassination. Execution. One very specific example is the case of Ijad Zamouni, who was 24 years old, who was shot by the army in the leg, fell down, started to bleed, tried to call for help, his wife tried to come out to help him, they shot at her, he tried to crawl to safety, the army tied his legs and hands and than they started shooting at his legs as a target, for a while, until he died. This was one specific example which I got information about from many different people. Another example was a man in another area, where they told me, that the army got close to them and the tanks were around their house, one tank was around 10 meters from their house. Than the army ordered them by loudspeakers to leave their home and leave the area and when his mother and three of his children got out, raising a white flag, the army, there were two soldiers in the tank. One as he described it, was eating chocolates and the other one was behind the gun. And suddenly they started shooting at the girls, so two of them were instantly killed and another one was injured. These are some examples. What I found was just killing for killing on many occasions.
What will you do with this information, these cases?
We are documenting all these cases in a proper way. I think, the only thing, that should happen is an independent international human rights commission should come and investigate and report. I think, what happened in Gaza is nothing but war crimes. This is just a glimpse of the situation. One other thing is their intentional destruction of the whole private sector for no reason. 361 factories were completely destroyed. And these factories were destroyed in areas, were there was no war going on. It was after Israel occupied the area altogether, completely and they decided to practically cleanse the whole area within a distance of 500 to 1000 meters and on the last two days of the war, when the army was in total control of this region, they put dynamite and bombarded these factories and exploded them. So, on one side I saw sadistic behaviour, in killing people and second, devastation and destruction can only be explained as behaviour of revenge. No democratic country, that respects human rights, would do such things. This was a massive massacre and collective punishment of a whole population. 1,5 million were stuck, there was nowhere, they could flee to –
What is needed most now in Gaza?
Lifting the siege, because, you know, in Gaza, the people suffered great losses and total devastation. 200.000 people were forced to leave their homes completely, 4100 houses are totally destroyed, completely. 20.000 are useless, because they are partially damaged and it is dangerous to live in. So, in total a destruction of 25.000 houses. It can only be compared to what you have seen in Germany in the Second World War. A total devastation and destruction of whole neighbourhoods. These people have nothing to repair their houses with, or repair the infrastructure, electricity lines, the water pumps, the sewage systems are totally disturbed. The sewage is pouring into the sea untreated. Creating an environmental disaster. And the Israelis are not allowing any construction material into Gaza. The only things they allowed so far, is food and some of the medical needs, but not all. For instance, equipment is not allowed. Anything that relates to metal, or equipment or glass or cement, is totally forbidden. I stayed in a room in Gaza, which had no glass in the windows. It was substituted with plastic sheets and I felt cold, but nothing in comparison with what people in Gaza feel. They are not allowing a single piece of glass into Gaza.
Why do they stop these things? Do they give an explanation?
They consider it strategic material (laughs). You see, in my opinion the behaviour of Israel – like what they did yesterday to a Lebanese ship, which was approaching Gaza. They captured the ship in international waters, which is totally unacceptable. They took it to Israel and interrogated anybody on the ship. What Israel is doing is, they feel totally (impunitive) and above the international law. And this is not the fault of Israel only, it is also the fault of the international community, including Germany and other countries, who are silent about the Israeli behaviour. There is a great amount of complicity with Israel. I know, this might be related to the old guilt feeling. But people, who are oppressing us and conducting this terrible crime, are destroying the potential for peace. They are not the ones, who suffered in the Holocaust, which I respect. I respect so much the suffering of the Jewish people in the Holocaust, I respect so much their suffering in all the pogroms everywhere. But this is no justification for these people, who did not suffer themselves. And who are doing such terrible things to the Palestinians and who are destroying any potential for peace. So the world community cannot continue to be silent about the Israeli behaviour, which has created a much worse, I don’t know how to call it? Apartheid, combined with genocide, war crimes. It is unprecedented in the human history, that a country could go so wide in violating any principle of human rights and still be allowed to do so.
The European Union wants its aid to Gaza only be delivered by the Palestinian Authority, not by Hamas…
There is no Palestinian Authority in Gaza, it doesn’t exist. So this is another way of saying, we don’t want to help Gaza. Except, what Israel approved. And this is a shameful behaviour. For this is the first time in history, when the occupier wants the occupied, in this case the Palestinian Authority in the Westbank, to provide protection to the occupier. And they want the international community to punish the people who are occupied and provide guarantees and protection to the occupier. And nobody is raising the question: why occupation? For 41 years! Longest in modern history!
The EU urges for Palestinian unity, do you see a chance for a Fatah-Hamas agreement in the near future?
Will you remember, we had a national unity government, which I brokered myself. It was a good government with a moderate programme. Because Israel did not want it, it was put under siege by the international community, until it fell apart. Unfortunately, that unity government was boycotted by the international community on Israel’s instructions. So if we have a new national unity government, what are the guarantees, that the world community will recognize it and that it will not be up to Israel to decide?! The funny thing here is, that Israel wants to occupy us, decide who should lead us, choose our leaders and also choose who should negotiate on our behalf with them. In a way, what they are doing can only be compared with the behaviour of the South African Apartheid system, where the apartheid government wanted to decide, who should run the Bantustans. And who would work as agents for them. That will not work with us. We have managed to develop the best democratic model in the Arab world, everybody admits that. And that democratic model should be respected. And that is why we can have maybe temporary agreements. But the key to our national unity is to allow the Palestinians to have democratic elections again and choose their leaders by themselves.
Do you see a chance for a two-state-solution at all?
My heart wants to see a two state solution, because I want to end the suffering as soon as possible for us and for them and for everybody. But my brain tells me, it is impossible. Because of the settlements, because of what they are doing on the ground, impossible because de-facto arrangement of an apartheid system. The building of the wall and all, a two-state-solution is impossible because the world community is not standing up to Israel. How can we have a two-state-solution with all these settlements? How can we have a two-state-solution when Israel is confiscating every main road in the Westbank. How can we have a two-state-solution when people are arrested and imprisoned by Israel around the clock? How can we have a two-state-solution, when these settlements are destroying not only the nature of the land but the whole continuity of any Palestinian area with an other. This is Bantustization and Ghettoization! What I see is Israel is not serious about the two-state-solution, some of them, maybe. But in fact they are killing this solution. There is no difference between Ehud Barack or Livni or Likud leader Netanjahu, all of them say the same things: they will not give up East Jerusalem, they will not accept to end settlement, they all speak about, they are not accepting a single refugee to come back. So practically we see a procrastination policy, because Israel is playing a public relation game. The people in the governments in Europe know about this, but it is relaxing for them to say, ok, lets speak about this, but in reality is is not happening. So my biggest worry is, that the whole two-state-option is being killed by Israel and that is a great, great problem, because it means a longer conflict. One thing I am sure of, that we, the Palestinians, will never accept to be slaves in an apartheid system, that is for sure. So there is a short way to peace, which is the international community pressuring Israel immediately and telling Israel, you will be punished, if you don’t accept the peace immediately, than we can have a two-state-solution. Or a longer way, which means long years of apartheid, after which we will eventually manage to have a one state solution with democratic rights, equal rights for everybody, like Daniel Barenboim said.
Mahmud Abbas asked for EU-troops to protect the Palestinians, would this make a difference?
Israel is refusing any presence of international troops, totally. So if you speak about European protection that will include East Jerusalem, Westbank and Gaza, we can discuss the idea. But if it is only for Gaza, that is totally unacceptable. And I think, Israel is refusing that anyhow. I think it is totally unrealistic.
(Questions: Karin Leukefeld)