A speech by Dr. Mustafa Barghouti on Palestinian political dynamics and Middle East peace.
DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI, SECRETARY GENERAL, PALESTINIAN NATIONAL INITIATIVE: Richard Goldstone headed a very important investigation commission, which was assigned by the United Nations, and he went to Gaza. I spoke to his committee in Jordan, because Israel did not allow Mr. Goldstone and his team to enter West Bank or Israel. They managed to go to Gaza, but not to Israel or the West Bank. Mr. Goldstone, who was highly respected and is highly respected as one of the most decent judges of the world, was highly praised in Israel for his work in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, exposing war crimes there. But the same man, after doing the investigation in Gaza and coming up with a decent report, is now described by Israel as anti-Semite, although he is Jewish himself. Mr. Goldstone reported seven war crimes that took place in Gaza, including attacking civilians, killing civilians, preventing medical care from reaching civilians, killing 16 medical personnel while they were trying to provide medical care for the people, destruction of infrastructure, disproportionate use of force, and finally, the use of illegal weapons. The image you see on the screen now is the image of the white phosphorus, which was sprayed all over Gaza, although white phosphorus is prohibited. It can cause terrible burns, it can kill people if it is inhaled, and it can destroy organs if it goes into the bloodstream. This is an image of the hand of a woman which was burned because of white phosphorus. This is her foot. The next image, an image of a child whose face was burned. And these are arrows that come out from the so-called flechette bombs, which are also forbidden because they resemble [“dum-dum”] bombs. They come out from a bomb which throws these arrows in a wide area, with a very short distance between one arrow and another, and they can injure people and kill them. We found disks in people’s injuries. We don’t know how they came there, but we know that these disks were responsible for the amputation of many legs and arms. Some suffocated under the rubble. And this is the image that is especially painful to me. It’s an image of the five daughters of [“Samira Abu Bakr”], who lost the five daughters in one hit. One of them was 4 years old, the youngest, and the oldest was 17. You can imagine the feelings of that woman when she had to lose five of her daughters at once. It won’t surprise me if you tell me today that much of what I have shown you you’ve never seen in the Canadian press. These are schools that were destroyed. And this is a classroom in which the children decided to put the names of the students, their friends, who were killed during the attack. And these are the three heroes of Israeli war: Olmert, Livni, and Barak. Livni is still described as a moderate, and Barak, who is still the defense minister of Israel. I want to show you a couple of videos. The first one is a video of what happens when the Israeli army goes into a village. In this case we’re talking about Ubeidiya village in Bethlehem area. The army says they went there to catch somebody who is wanted. But you would see how they do the search. First they bombard the house, make a big hole in it. Then they use high velocity bullets; they spray the place with bullets, not thinking of what could happen to somebody who is innocent there. And then they use dogs. And you will see what happened to an innocent woman. This is another image that was taken by accident at one spot near Nablus when the Israeli army stopped a young Palestinian student, university student. We don’t know what happened to him during the interrogation because we don’t have footage of that. We have only footage that were taken accidentally by a neighbor when the army decided that this boy represented no threat to them, and they were just releasing him and giving him his ID back and telling him to go home. I show this to you because it’s just one incident of what happens regularly at different checkpoints. What people don’t know is that most of the time the Palestinian struggle in our history during the last hundred years was nonviolent. We have a lot of internationals who demonstrate with us, a lot of Israeli peace activists who come also and participate in our demonstrations. And these are very resilient activities. In some villages, like Bil’in, where people demonstrate week after week for the last five years, even when we have a wedding in the village, we go out to the wall with the groom and the bride and demonstrate. They encounter us with severe violence. They use teargas bombs. They have these machines that can throw up to 25 teargas bombs at once. They shoot high-velocity bullets, rubber bullets. They use canisters with chemical water that makes us smell like skunk when we are subjected to these chemicals. They burn trees because of the bombs they use. And sometimes they kill people, like has happened to [“Ahmad Hassan Youssef”], who was 10 years old, who was shot in the head with a high-velocity bullet that blew up his brain, or to Ahmad Abu Hantosh from Nablus, who was hit with the so-called rubber bullets that can kill, by the way, if they are shot from close distance. This is an image of a young man who was demonstrating peacefully in the village of Ni’lin when he was handcuffed, blindfolded. And while he was handcuffed and blindfolded, the Israeli army forced him to sit on the ground, and for 2.5 hours. After that, a high-ranking Israeli officer approached him, a colonel, and forced him to stand in front of a soldier, and ordered the soldier to shoot him from a distance [of] 15 meters. In any other country which claims to be a democracy, such incident would lead not only to taking the officer and a soldier to court, but it would probably lead to the resignation of the defense minister and maybe the prime minister of that country. Of course, in this case this did not happen. The young woman who took the footage from the video camera—that was given to her by an Israeli human right organization, by the way—who was only 16 years old, that girl was interrogated, her house was invaded, her father was arrested, and her brother was shot at with a rubber bullet that caused him severe injury in his thigh. This is what’s happening on the ground. I told you the facts. I told you the truth—nothing but the truth, as they say. And it’s up to you to decide what to do with that truth. But when I speak to you, I say we live in a difficult world. We know that. We understand that much of our world is still based on material power. But I want to alert you to the fact that when we speak about violence, it is totally unacceptable to continue to do what’s being done in the media of the world, that violence is described and criticized when it is practiced by people who are oppressed when they try to defend themselves somehow in self-defense, but when it is practiced by a state or an army of a state, it’s not described as violence. That’s why it annoys me sometimes when we are in totally peaceful nonviolent demonstrations for hours, totally nonviolent, and we’re attacked by the Israeli army every possible way, we’re injured, and then a young little boy gets upset because of the teargas and the rubber bullets and throws a stone at the soldier, and then all the journalists come to tell me, “You see, there is a little bit of violence here; this is not totally nonviolent.” But they don’t see the rest of the picture, the rest of this horrible violence that is taking place. We have to be fair, and people have to be fair. And that’s why I say today we are talking about a struggle in Palestine that’s not a struggle between two equal sides, and one cannot continue to equate between the Israelis and Palestinians as if this is just a struggle between two sides that cannot find a way to talk to each other. This is not true. This is a struggle between people who are oppressed and an oppressor, people who are under colonialism and a colonialist, people who are suffering from apartheid and a system and a force that is practicing apartheid and hurting the future of both Palestinians and Israelis and destroying, because of this apartheid system, the whole potential and possibility of two-state solution. This is a struggle between the culture of power and the power of culture, the same power of culture that we have, the power of vision, of values, of humanity. Gandhi himself, from whom we learned a lot, said that nonviolence would not be listened to unless [it] itself becomes a power. And we learned that we can make our nonviolent resistance powerful through self-reliance, through self-organization, and through defiance of injustice, because we understood that nonviolence does not mean submission. Nonviolence does not mean non-struggle. Nonviolence does not mean weakness, submission, or passivity. Nonviolence means struggling for your rights. Gandhi himself said once: I cannot teach you violence, as I don’t believe in it, but I can teach you not to bow your head to anyone, even at the cost of your life. In the same lines of what Martin Luther King said once: a man can’t ride your back unless it’s bent. And we are not going to bend our backs to Israel. We’ve learned that nonviolence is about and struggle is about not giving in or giving up, not giving up our dignity, even in the most difficult times, and we’ve learned that nobody can take away from us our dignity. They can imprison us, they can torture us, they can shoot us, but one thing they cannot do, and that is to take away from us our dignity. We’ve learned that in our struggle we have to keep the initiative in our hand. And that’s why we call our movement the Palestinian National Initiative: it’s about being proactive and not reactive; it’s about taking the initiative and keeping it in our hands. And we know that future and success depends on who determines the course of events. When we demonstrate peacefully, when we build a clinic or a school or plant a tree in a land that is confiscated, we are taking the initiative in our hands. When they attack us, they try to take the initiative back. Sometimes they manage. But we come back again next week, and the week after, and the week after, and the week after, because we would not let the initiative go away from our hands. We’ve learned how not to give up. And when people ask me, is there anything that people can learn from the Palestinians, I say yes, at least one thing: resilience. It’s the same resilience that is embedded in a story I want to tell you quickly, the story of a peasant who depended, or who depends, in his life, on his olive trees, like many Palestinian peasants and farmers. He waits for the month of October and November, when he harvests the trees, presses the olives, and produces olive oil that he sells in the market, and then pay back his debts, or pay the fees of his children to universities, or he gets the money to prepare a wedding for his son or daughter. The story of this man who had finished pressing the oil, got 26 barrels of oil, and put it in a truck, and went to the market to sell it, and he was stopped by an Israeli checkpoint. And the army stopped him, told him to get out of the truck, and asked him to curse himself, his country, and his religion. And the man said no. And they told him if he doesn’t curse, they will destroy his products. And he wouldn’t curse. So they started throwing on the ground one barrel after the other—the first one, the second one, the third one. And after each one, they would ask him, would you curse, and he would say no, till they throw completely on the ground the 26 barrels of oil and he went back home with nothing. And to his great surprise, he found in front of the door of his house 26 barrels of olive oil that were collected by the villagers of his village. And they’ve been watching, and they’ve been observing what was going on at the checkpoint, and they came to his help. That is the kind of spirit that sometimes I feel that the Israeli authorities don’t understand. And that’s why I say today, at the end of my talk, to us defiance of oppression and occupation and injustice does not only mean defying the injustice: it also means defying any feeling of loss of hope or depression among ourselves; it means not accepting injustice, and believe in ourselves, and organize and mobilize and work with patience. Sometimes things look dark. To that, Mahatma Gandhi said, when I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love always win; there have been tyrants and murderers, for a time, but in the end they always fall. Because of that, we started our initiative; because of that, we started our movement, thinking in the same way that Martin Luther King thought when he said, we had the faith, we had the faith in taking the first steps when you don’t see the whole staircase. But the question is: why am I here with you when I should be back there? Why am I spending time with you, which is very precious to me because I am needed there? And that is because I believe in humanity and I believe in you, and I believe that we will not succeed alone without the help of all good human beings in this world, like the people of South Africa could not have succeeded against apartheid system without the help of all good human beings in this world. I’m here to ask you to help through divestment, through sanctions actions. I don’t think it is acceptable to invest in companies that are supporting and creating occupation or building this terrible wall; I don’t think it’s acceptable to keep supporting a system of injustice in this manner. And please remember, when I ask you for your solidarity and support, this is for the sake of both people, for Palestinians and Israelis, because what this Israeli government and these governments are doing is the destruction of the future of both people in the long run. I want to remind you, and especially to the people of Jewish origin, with what Einstein said in the ’50s. He said, if we do not succeed in finding a path of honest cooperation and coming to terms with the Arabs—of course, he meant the Palestinians in this case—we will not have learned anything from our 2,000-year-old history, and we’ll deserve the fact [fate] which will beset us. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain, especially from development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks. I’m here with you to say that the Palestinian issue is not a Palestinian issue only. It’s not an Arab issue only. It’s not a Muslim or a Christian issue only. It’s an issue of humanity. That’s what Nelson Mandela referred to when, at the moment when South Africa was declared free from apartheid, he said: we will not be completely free till Palestinians are free. I’m here to say, to remind you with what Martin Luther King said. He said, in the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. Please don’t be silent. Thank you.