Interview with Marwan Barghouti

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Marwan Barghouti, 41, is a member of the Palestinian Legislative  Council, the General Secretary of Fatah in the West Bank, and the chief coordinator of Al-Aqsa Intifada.  Barghouthi joined Fatah at the age of 15 and studied history and political science at Bir Zeit University, taking a masters degree in international relations.  He spent six years in Israeli jails and was deported from his homeland in 1987.  His involvement with the first Intifada was as a liaison officer in the PLO’s offices in Amman and Tunis.  He returned in 1994 under the Oslo accords, as a believer in the peace process.  He is now on Israel’s most wanted list.

I sat down to talk with Mr. Barghouti last Tuesday, July 31, the day after the assassination of six Fatah activists by the Israelis in Nablus. Surrounded by bodyguards with automatic rifles, Barghouti was very angry and defiant about Israelis assassination policy.  We discussed his views on the peace process, the Intifada, Israels planned invasion of the Palestinian territories, and charges of incitement in the Palestinian media.  The interview was cut short by the news of the attack on Nablus (which killed eight, including two children), when Barghouti received a phone call warning him of two Apache helicopters in the vicinity.  Barghouti suggested that I leave immediately for my own protection, so I did.  The Israelis didnt attack that day, but did attempt to assassinate Barghouti three days later in a botched missile attack on his convoy traveling in Ramallah.

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The Israelis claim that Yassir Arafat is responsible for starting this Intifada last October after the failure of the negotiations at Camp David.  Is this true?

The Israelis are crazy.  First of all, do you really think that Arafat gave the orders for this Intifada to start?  This Intifada didnt start by ordersand never will stop by orders.  It will stop when it achieves it demands, it goals, which is to put an end to the Israeli occupation.  Second, these military activities (against the Occupation) are not organized by Arafat.

Then can you tell me who is actually in command of the Intifada?  Who is coordinating the resistance activities if you say Arafat isnt in fact in command?

There is a committee which has representatives from all the Palestinian political factions.  We have meetings every week in the central committees in the West Bank and Gaza.  There are also regional committees in Jenin, Nablus, Rafah, Hebron, and Jerusalem, etc. So whos in charge of the central committee here in the West Bank? I am in charge in the West Bank. Can you comment on the riots this past Sunday in Jerusalem?  The Israelis claim that the Palestinian Authority provoked these riots by calling upon Palestinians to defend Al-Aqsa.  Are these allegations correct? I think that the Israelis are always responsible for these provocations.

For example, take the provocation by the Temple Mount Faithful with their plans to lay the cornerstone of the third Jewish temple on the Haram-Al-Sharif compound.  The Israelis deliberately tried to disturb the Muslims and the Arab world by their plans to build a third temple. I think that it is a disaster that the Israelis allowed these Jewish fanatics to disturb the stability in the region with their provocative acts.  Why do they do these things?  Why, for example, did Barak let Sharon visit the Haram-Al-Sharif compound last September if he was really interested in peace?

Are you interested in peace with the Israelis?

I do believe that I am one of the prominent people who support the peace process, and somebody who fights for the peace process.  I support the dialogue with the Israelis, whether it be with members of the Knesset or the Israeli peace groups. The Oslo agreement was supposed to lead to an end of the Israeli occupation, and implementation of the accords was supposed to begin in 1994. By 1997, the Palestinians were supposed to control more than 80 to 90 percent of the Occupied Territories, and the remaining 10 percent was supposed to be negotiated during the final status talks.  What happened was that the Israelis never implemented their part of the agreements, and now the Palestinians only have 18 percent of the Occupied Territories under Palestinian control.

Do you believe Yassir Arafat was wrong then to sign the Oslo Accords?

I do believe that Yassir Arafat did things that nobody in the Arab world could do by signing this agreement with the Israelis.  Arafat signed a very bad agreement, and he accepted all of the Israeli conditions without any guarantees from the Israelis that they would implement their side of the bargain.  He arrested hundreds from Hamas and Islamic Jihad and succeeded in preventing any kind of suicide bomber or terrorist activity against Israel during the last four years before the Intifada.  He made the Israelis feel secure, and the settlers, and the occupation forces, but for the Palestinian people, things just got worse. So are you saying that the Oslo Accords were a mistake for the Palestinians? The mistake was not with the Oslo Accords, but the mistake was with these crazy leaders in Israel–like Netanyahu and Barak–who didnt implement the agreements.  I believe that Oslo did open the door for peace in the Middle East, but unfortunately, the Israelis never implemented the agreements, so there is no real agreement now. So in your opinion, were there any mistakes made by the Palestinians in the negotiations?

In the final status talks at Camp David, Barak came and convinced the Palestinians to put aside the interim agreements and go directly to the final-status negotiations.  I was opposed to the Camp David summit because I insisted that the Israelis first implement the interim agreements they had signed before we even consider the final-status issues.  I asked why should we have to put aside these signed agreements when we had them in our hands and go directly to the final-status talks?  And what did Israel suggest at Camp David?  First, to cancel the right of return for the refugees, second, to maintain the majority of the settlements, and third, to keep the occupation in Jerusalem.  So it was not possible to reach a settlement under  these conditions.

The Israelis allege that 97 percent of the Palestinian population are currently under the control of the Palestinian Authority.  Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak repeated this claim yesterday in an editorial in the New York Times.  Barak said, in effect, that the Palestinians mostly rule themselves. Is this true?

This is not true, not true.  Tell me where 97 percent of the Palestinian population are living under control of the Palestinian Authority?  They are  not.  All of the villages, all of the refugee camps outside of PA are under  control of the Israeli occupation.  Jerusalem, its not under the Palestinian control.  You are talking about 200,000 in East Jerusalem alone.

And all the villages in Areas C and B are not under the PA control.
So this is not true.

Can you comment on the death of the six Fatah activists yesterday in Nablus. The Israeli Deputy Defense Minister claimed it was a work accident.

The Israelis always make this allegation, trying to claim that it was a work accidentteona avudah they say in Hebrew.  They always say this, but it is not true.  They claim that what happened three weeks ago in Tulkarem was a work accident when they assassinated one of the Hamas activist.

In Nablus, when they assassinated Osama Jayabna by the telephone, they also said it was a work accident.  Not long after that–about one week ago–when Sharon came to the conference of the Likud, he started to talk about his achievements.  He said, These people who attack us in Jenin, now they are not alive–in Tulkarem, in Tamun, in Nablus–and in Bethlehem.  I heard him personally say this in his speech on television.  So he (Sharon) confirmed that they assassinated all the people they denied killing before this meeting.  So I think that it is very clear that when the spokesman of the Israeli army said that three of these people were accused of putting a bomb in Tel Aviv and that they are wanted, its obvious that they killed them. But how did this happen, if there were no military helicopters in the air at the time, nor was there any tanks.  So how did they do this? The building was less than two kilometers from an Israeli military base, and they used a remote control for the explosives.

So if there wasnt explosives in the house, then where did they come from?  The Israelis claim the explosion cam from within the house. From the Israelis.  They planted them there, and they used the remote control to explode the explosions. So the explosives were planted by collaborators?

Yes, absolutely.  They always recruit collaborators to implement their crimes. So the what does this mean for the future, because during the funeral there were many calls for revenge, so what can we expect in the future? I think that its not a personal or family clash, so when we talk about revenge, its not this sort of revenge.  By revenge we mean to continue the Intifada and to escalate the resistance against the Israeli occupation. Why are they trying to assassinate these people?  Because they want to put an end to the Intifada and the resistance by these assassinations of the activists.  But we will succeed, and  we will not allow them to achieve their attempts if we succeed in continuing the Intifada and resistance.

And this will continue, absolutely. So this means you plan on escalating the resistance?

Yes, of course.  This means to escalate the resistance. Does this mean just demonstrations, or does this include violent acts? Yes, of course.  When we are talking about resistance, this also includes armed resistance against the Israeli occupation.  This is very clear.

Armed resistance against whom?

Against the occupation.

Does occupation mean against settlers and soldiers?

Yes, of course.  Do you think that we have to recognize the occupation? I think it is very clear what is the meaning of the occupation.

So civilians are targets?

If they are part of the occupation, yes.  They are occupation, they are occupiers.

What about ordinary Israeli civilians?

No, noeverybody in the West Bank and Gazaincluding Jerusalem, because its an occupied territorythey are occupation.  They have to leave our country.  I dont like to see anybody who will be killed, if he is Israeli or Palestinian, if he is soldier or civilian or any other.  But what we are fighting for is our independence.  If the Israelis tomorrow make a decision for full withdrawal from the territories, we will distribute flowers to the Israeli soldiers as they withdraw from the occupied territories.

To the 1967 borders?

Yes, exactly.  We are talking about the 1967 borders.  We recognize Israel, and we constantly repeat that.  The question is not if we recognize Israel, but if Israel recognizes us.  That is the question.  We recognized Israel 10 years ago, and we dealt with this issue, and we didnt ignore this issue. And our strategy at Fatah is to prevent any kind of activity inside Israel.  This is very clear.

So no activity inside Israel?

No, nowe havent done anything inside of Israel.  As I said before, in principle, we oppose any kind of military activity inside Israel, but we do believe any activity inside the Occupied Territories is legal. One of the arguments currently underway among the Palestinians is why should we refrain from attacks against Tel Aviv when the Israelis dont respect Ramallah? The people ask, If they dont respect the areas under Palestinian sovereigntyarea Athen why should we have to respect their areas?  But as I  have said before, I am against military activities inside of Israel. But if the Israelis invade the West Bank and Gaza, this will change.

So do you take the Israeli threats to invade the Palestinian territories and topple the Palestinian Authority seriously?

Yes of course we take this seriously.  The Israelis have already increased their forces throughout the territories.  They now have hundreds of tanks around every major city in the West Bank and Gaza, so they are serious.

But who will they make war against?  We havent any tanks, any aircraft, any weaponswe have nothing.  They say they will destroy our infrastructure, but I ask, what infrastructure?  Everything we have comes from the Israelisour roads, electricity, water and goods.  So when they talk about destroying infrastructure, they are really talking about destroying buildings and killing innocent people.  This is what they can do.  But this here is the biggest difference between the Intifada and the Israeli army.  The IDFcan defeat an army, for they have the power and ability to defeat any army in this region, but they cannot defeat the Intifada. If they want to defeat the Intifada that means they have to destroy four million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, and they cannot do this.  They cannot break the will of the Palestinian people for their independence.  If they came into Ramallah, do you really think they would feel more secure?  They were already here for more than 26 years, and they left.  Why would they want to return?  What do you think will happen?  It would be a disaster for the Israelis to invade the territories.  If there is already a large number of people willing to carry out suicide bombings inside of Israel, dont you think that number would sky-rocket with an invasion?  If they invade usin our houses and landthey will pay the price.  For if someone invades your home, you dont care what you do to drive them out.

How does Fatah feel about the US plan to send more CIA personal to take part of the observer force recommended by the G8?  Does Fatah support or reject the placement of CIA personal to observe the cease-fire between the two sides?

No, absolutely not.

Why not?

Because they are the same if they are Israelis or the CIA, they are the same, there is no difference.

Then what would be acceptable to the Palestinians?

What we are asking for from the international community is an international  force for protection.  We ask for an international force to be sent to the Occupied Territories to protect the Palestinian people from these aggressive Israeli attacks and to observe the full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza.  We are not talking about just observers.  We had 20 to 30 observers already come from America, and all they did was register the names of the Palestinian victims.  I think the media did this job better than the observers, so we dont need just that.  What the Palestinians are asking is for the international community to send international forces to protect the Palestinian people and to observe the full Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories because any solution which will not lead to an end of  the Israeli occupation will not work on the ground.

So besides an international force, what else would be necessary for the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table?

Its very clear that we are not against the negotiations since the first day, but it is not logical to ask the Palestinians to stop the Intifada to return back to the negotiations.  I think that we must continue the Intifada and the resistance on the ground if the negotiations are to succeed. For it has been our experience that we cannot trust the Israelis.  Since the Madrid conference till now–almost 10 yearswe were going to the negotiating table, thousands of meetings, not hundreds believe me but thousands of meetings on a lot of issues like political, economics, security, etc.  And what happened while were negotiating?  The Israelis used the timeused the umbrella of the negotiations to build new settlements.  Israel since the 1967 war to 1993 built roughly 25,000 housing units during the 26 years of Israeli occupation.  Since 1993 until the eve of the Intifada–in a period of seven years–they built 23, 400 new housing units.  So I think the Israelis laugh at the Palestinians and use the negotiations to advance their own goals. So I think it would be a disaster for the Palestinians to end the Intifada as a condition for returning to the negotiating table.  The best and shortest way to stop the Intifada will be Israels full withdrawal from the Occupied Territorieslike what happened in Lebanon.

So do you support the recommendations of the Mitchell Report or not?

The question is not whether I support the Mitchell Report or not.  Of  course, I hope they will implement the report, but the Israelis have never implemented anything they have agreed to implement.  Never, for instance, like the Sharm-Al-Shiekh understanding, or the Egyptian or Jordanian initiatives, or the Tenet cease-fire proposal.  And now consider the G8 declaration to send observers to the Occupied Territories.  They destroyed the idea when they insisted upon American and CIA observers, for they are already here.  They are working here.  So this will not solve the problem.  We have a consensus among the Palestinian political factionsincluding Hamas and Islamic Jihadof one goal for the Palestinians.  And that goal is an end to the Israeli occupation.

Do you believe there is any chance of a return to negotiations with the present government in Israel?

To be honest and frank with you, I dont think there is any chance, any room or any opportunity for any agreement with Sharon.  So we will opt for more escalation of the Intifada in the coming weeks.

Several prominent Jewish organizations in America, as well as the editorial boards of the New York Times and the Washington Post, have accused the Palestinian Authority of inciting hatred toward Israel in its official media.  They also accuse the Palestinian Authority of teaching hatred toward Israelis in Palestinian textbooks. Is the Palestinian Authority guilty of  incitement toward Israel?

This is not true.  To begin with, we have initiated several people to people programs with the Israelis, but the problem is that the Israelis regard it as a people under people program.  We have initiated the dialogue, the negotiations, the joint projects between the youth, the women, the journalists, and the intellectuals.  Yet what did the Israelis do?  Last December, they killed Dr. Thabet Thabet, a colleague of mine and a peace activist inTulkarem.  Dr. Thabet personally hosted more than 25 Israeli delegations in his home and office, and yet the Israelis killed him. They said he was a terrorist, and now they say I am at the top of the terrorists. And they accuse the Palestinians of incitement?  Dont you think the occupation is the biggest incitement of all?  The greatest incitement in the world is the occupation itself.  If you have an occupation, you dont need to incite the people, for they are already angry.  If you have 96 military checkpoints in the Palestinian territories, or bulldoze thousands of olive trees, or kill more than 500 Palestinians and injure and maim thousands more, you dont need incitement.  If you bomb our cities and towns, destroy hundreds of buildings and assassinate more than 60 individuals, you dont need incitement (Pounding his fists on the table at this point).  Do you really think that we need to incite anybody?  The main incitement is the occupation itself!

Do you think the Arab nations have done enough to help the Palestinians during the current Intifada?  Have they done enough, or do you think they could do more to help the Palestinians?

Of course they can do more, and they have to. What kinds of assistance are we talking aboutI mean, what would be most beneficial? They can give all kinds of assistance.  I think the Arabs have to stop playing the role of observers and do more than just show in their media how many Palestinians are victims.  I think they have to take real measures on the ground to help the Palestinians.  They should insist to the Israelis that they stop their aggressive attacks and to implement the UN resolutions.

At the very least, they should close the Israeli embassies in Cairo and Amman and to stop the normalization of ties with Israel.  They must cut any kinds of relations with Israel, whether its political, economic or security cooperation.  The Israeli government has to feel that they are completely isolated in this part of the worldand not just by the Arabsbut also by Europe and everybody else.  So we are looking for support by the Arabs, and they can start this by cutting their relations with the Americans.

Why should they cut their ties with the Americans?

Because I think our problem is not with the Israelis, but our biggest problem is with the Americanswith you, unfortunately.  Do you realize that the Palestinians have more support in the Israeli Knesset than we do in the US Congress?  The number of the people who support the creation of a Palestinian state in the Israeli Knesset is more than 50 members out of 120. In the US Senate, I cant even think of two out of a hundred members who support the creation of a Palestinian state.  So our problem is really with the US Congress, not the Israelis.

What would you say to the American people if you had the chance?

The Palestinians are asking themselvesincluding mewhy do the Americans treat us so badly?  Why do they always support the Israelis more than even the Israelis themselves?  Why are they always accusing the Palestinians of being violent terrorists while ignoring Israels brutal occupation?  The occupation is the greatest terror of all and the greatest violence in this part of the world.  Why are they so aggressive in their policies toward the Palestinians?  Why do they ignore the Palestinian national rights?  For 20 years the Americans insisted that the PLO accept Israels right to exist as well as UN Resolutions 242 and 338, and we did that.  Now the Americans ask  the Palestinians to make compromises on these resolutions and to accept the Israeli conditions for peace.  I think the Americans should look for their long-term interests in the region and realize that they have many interests greater than Israel.  They cannot continue to ignore the Arab nation of more than 300 million people as well as a billion Muslims all over the world for the sake of these 4 million Jews in Israel.  Its time for the Americans to start being fair in their policies toward the Palestinians.

Mr. Jefferson Fletcher is a student at University of Arkansas in King Fahd Middle East Studies Program. He has traveled to Middle East.

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Jefferson Fletcher is an award-winning documentary fillmmaker who has traveled extensively throughout the Occupied Territories, Jordan, and Lebanon. Fletcher's first film, "Road To Nowhere: Journeys Through Palestine," showed a side of the Palestinian refugee problem rarely seen by most Americans. Fletcher currently resides in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Since 2001, Fletcher has given more than sixty lectures on the Palestinian refugee problem to thousands of people across the South.

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