The deadly Israeli crackdown on Palestinians protesting restrictions at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque is part of an effort to divide the holy site and undermine the Palestinian struggle for freedom, says Dr. Mustafa Barghouti
AARON MATÉ: It’s the Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. The occupied West Bank faces its worst violence in years. At least three Palestinians were killed and dozens injured by Israeli forces in East Jerusalem and several West Bank areas. Tens of thousands of Palestinians are protesting new Israeli restrictions on the Noble Sanctuary, or Temple Mount, a holy site in East Jerusalem. Israel installed surveillance cameras and metal detectors last week, after Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Israeli soldiers inside the compound. Palestinians have responded with an unprecedented boycott, refusing to enter the mosque gates and instead praying at the barricades outside. Speaker 2: Al-Aqsa is ours, and we are for it. Whatever happens to al-Aqsa will happen to us, we and all of Palestine. The youth of Palestine belong to al-Aqsa and whatever al-Aqsa would need from us, we will do it. AARON MATÉ: The clashes came after the Israeli security cabinet kept the metal detectors in place. This decision came over the advice of Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, which argue it would provoke violence. Some Palestinians say that’s Israel’s goal. They accuse Israel of thwarting Arab sovereignty over the holy site, and previously inciting Muslims by allowing visits from far-right Israeli extremists. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti is a Palestinian physician, activist, and politician. He joins me now from Ramallah. Dr. Barghouti, welcome. M BARGHOUTI: Thank you. Good to be with you. AARON MATÉ: Thank you for joining us. You were in Jerusalem today. You’re speaking to us from Ramallah now. Talk to us about what happened today. M BARGHOUTI: Well, I managed to get to Jerusalem, which not that easy thing to do, since I, like most Palestinians in the West Bank, are not allowed, we are not allowed into Jerusalem. If you want to go, you need a permit and they wouldn’t give us a permit. And that [inaudible 00:02:16] has been there since ninety-one. So, I managed to get there, and we joined the prayers. Of course nobody accepted to go through these metal detectors. And we prayed in the streets in front of the gates to the mosque. The Israeli army was not only insisting that we should go through metal detectors but more than that. In addition to prohibiting most Palestinians from West Bank, and from Israelis, to come to Jerusalem, they additionally wanted to allow into the old city only people who are above the age of fifty. Of course, we refused this discrimination so we prayed in the streets. We had the prayer, a normal prayer. There were thousands and thousands of people and for no reason, immediately after we finished the prayer, the Israeli policemen and army attacked us. They attacked the people with the sound bombs, with the stun grenades, as we call them, with the tear gas, with bullets. They used metallic bullets that are covered with a thin piece of fiber. And they also used high velocity bullets. Eventually, and so far, we had four hundred and thirty-six people injured and no less than three people killed by the Israeli army gunshots. I want to say that it’s not only that Israeli tried to impose these metal detectors. They practically closed down eight out of ten of the gates to al-Aqsa mosque. And then they wanted to filter who enters and who doesn’t enter through the `two other gates. These Israeli actions are not for security reasons only. They are practically a political act, which is trying to substitute and change the nature of the situation at the Aqsa mosque. In a way it’s trying to say that Israel is in control, and they can do anything they want. And then can restrict anybody from entering the mosque. AARON MATÉ: Okay, Dr. Barghouti, so I just want to note two corrections or clarifications that I should make based on what you just said. I said in the intro that have been dozens injured, but you’re saying now the number is actually over four hundred. And also, it’s interesting to note also, that it’s not just security cameras and metal detectors as you say, it’s also closing down all these entrances. So, you mentioned the praying going on outside and people refusing to enter inside the mosque compound. A lot of people might just be hearing about this story today because of the violence that broke out and those deaths that you mentioned. But can you talk about this, as I mentioned, unprecedented action over the past week with Palestinians refusing to go inside the mosque. What’s been happening and why they’re doing it? M BARGHOUTI: Well, Palestinians are practicing civil disobedience. They’re practicing nonviolent resistance. And our actions were hundred percent nonviolent till the army started shooting at people. And even then some young people only throw some stones, but in reality it was an un-violent act, a peaceful act, that was confronted by severe violence from the Israeli army. If you go back to one week ago, the whole idea of what’s happening is that Israel used the case that there was an attack on two Israeli policemen by the way of three Israeli citizens. These are Palestinians but they are Israeli citizens living inside [inaudible 00:06:10] areas. They used this attack, which happened, by the way, outside the mosque, to justify taking measures to change the nature in the mosque itself. And we believe that all these actions were preplanned by Israel and they were just waiting for a moment to use them. And when they imposed these metal detectors and so many cameras, and wanted to control who enters and who doesn’t enter, of course people were very upset and decided to refuse these Israeli measures. Because we perceived it as an Israeli consistent for to change the situation with the other steps later. We anticipate that if we accept these metal detectors then sooner than later Israel will set up Palestinian Muslims cannot enter the mosque from let’s say seven in the morning to eleven and then they will restrict the entrance to Israeli legal sectors who would come to the mosque. And our impression is that this could lead to much more difficult situation where Israel could try to divide the mosque. That’s what happened in Hebron when Jewish terrorist doctor went into the Hebron mosque and killed twenty-nine Palestinians while they were praying. And the outcome of that operation was that Israel divided the Hebron mosque and now half of it is prohibited for Palestinians. So we don’t want this scenario to repeat again in Jerusalem. But this was not only about the mosque, actually. During the last week the Israeli government also took a very strange decision to pass a law that would practically prevent any future peaceful negotiations about the [inaudible 00:08:02] by insisting that any separation of Jerusalem or any discussion about bringing back East Jerusalem to Palestinian side would require two-third of votes of the Israeli Knesset which is impossible. So, in a way Israel was taking away the issue of Jerusalem from the table of negotiations and if you combine that with the enhancement of settlement activities, which has increased by seventy percent since President Trump was elected, then you understand that Israel is practically trying to kill the [inaudible 00:08:39] solution and trying to kill the possibility of peace based on the establishment of a Palestinian independent state. And most Israeli ministers don’t hide their intention. They say there is no place for Palestinian state. They say that Palestinians cannot have their own independent free state. And that’s why we see this action and the action was in part of a parcel of activities of measures that are taken to prevent Palestinians from getting free from occupation. AARON MATÉ: Alright, Dr. Barghouti, so in terms of that attempt to provoke Palestinians as you say, can we talk history for a second, because I think it’s important to understand the context? Al-Aqsa is a flash point in the history of this conflict. I’m reminded in watching what’s happening now of first of all what happened in the mid-nineties in Netanyahu’s first term when he authorized the construction of these tunnels at the Western Wall, setting off Palestinian protests that lead to deaths. And then of course in two thousand when Ariel Sharon visited the al-Aqsa mosque under heavily placed protection, huge militarized presence, that angered Palestinians, given his own record when he was the Israeli Defense Minister, setting off deadly clashes that then led to a brutal crackdown on Palestinian protesters, which of course set off the Second Intifada. M BARGHOUTI: That’s correct. And didn’t Netanyahu do one thing else? When also a peace agreement was signed between Palestinians and Israelis, it was Netanyahu that launched a very big campaign of incitement against Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister of Israel then, who signed that agreement. And that incitement by Minister Netanyahu led to the assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin. Since then he aggravated the public and was elected as a Prime Minister in Israel. And since then, he did everything he could to prevent the proceeding with the peace agreements and implementing the peace agreements and finalizing the negotiations about the future. This man is an enemy of peace and now he lecture … They both belong to the same political movement, originally the Likud. Both of them did everything they could to provoke the Palestinian side by taking measures in their Aqsa mosque, which they know is the most sensitive place for poor Palestinians. And they know it is a very sensitive place for one thousand five hundred million Muslims all over the world. I think Netanyahu is trying to provoke the Palestinians so that he can break the possibility of any peaceful negotiations or the possibility of peace based on [inaudible 00:11:38]. AARON MATÉ: And, Dr. Barghouti, can you talk about how the protest in East Jerusalem has spread to other parts of the territories? There was a march in solidarity inside Gaza and we also saw some clashes break out today in other parts of the occupied West Bank. How has the protest impacted the wider territories? And if you could talk also about the difficulty of trying to organize mass nonviolent Palestinian resistance when you’re living under occupation. M BARGHOUTI: It’s not easy, but we are doing it. And for many, many years, many foreigners were telling us, “Why don’t you organize mass popular protest?” Which we, by the way, did very well during the First Intifada in forty years. Now we have mass popular nonviolence resistance. It’s all over. Today in Hebron tens of thousands marched in an act of civil disobedience. In Jerusalem, we have tens of thousands, probably more than sixty to seventy thousand people praying on the streets. I don’t think you can go more peaceful than that. Yet, unfortunately, whenever we do peaceful actions and nonviolent actions they rarely get reported in the international media. When there is an act of violence it gets reported all over the world. This is unfair. And I think people overlook the fact that most of the Palestinians struggle is nonviolent. And I have personally been an advocate of nonviolent peaceful resistance for the last fifteen years. And I believe it is the most effective way. We are trying to repeat the traditions of Martin Luther King and Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, using their experience and using the history they had, in our struggle ourselves. I believe today was a day of triumph in the sense that there was so many activities, not just in Jerusalem, but all over Palestine. And more than that, among Palestinians all over the world. And more than that, there were demonstrations internationally and in many Arab countries as well in solidarity and support with the Palestinians in the occupied territories. So, I think this issue of the Aqsa mosque has practically brought together the Palestinians again. It got over the internal division and it provided a very good platform for solidarity with Palestine. AARON MATÉ: So, Dr. Barghouti, given that, whenever there are cases of incitement and violent clashes we always hear talk about a Third Intifada breaking out. If you could comment on that and what you want to see happen after today, after this deadly day of violence, with as you said, at least, three Palestinians killed. M BARGHOUTI: When the First Intifada started, the word intifada entered the world lexicon. It was not used before. Intifada means “uprising” and in the first intifada … It had a very positive impression, because it was about people revolting against injustice, against occupation, against discrimination. It was perceived positively. In the Second Intifada case, Israel managed to deform the information and the impression about the word intifada. And it became linked to military action sometimes or certain violent actions and that’s why today I think when we speak about a new uprising, I think it is happening within the context of the First Intifada. Mostly mass popular, mostly nonviolent and I think it represents one of the best forms of civil disobedience against injustice and oppression and persecution. AARON MATÉ: You know, Dr. Barghouti, what you say there about the Second Intifada, I’m also reminded of the fact that, you know, while many people might look back and think about Palestinian suicide bombings, which were a part of it, those suicide bombings only came after weeks and weeks and weeks of a brutal Israeli crackdown, in which the ratio of Palestinians to Israelis killed was massive. It was mostly Palestinian protest. Some gunmen opening fire, but a lot of Palestinians just throwing rocks and a huge Israeli crackdown using heavy weapons that killed scores of Palestinians. And as you say, the attention did not really come until the suicide bombing started a lot later. M BARGHOUTI: Absolutely. It is so unfair. If a Palestinian does a violent action it is described as terrorism. And if the Israeli Army kills thousands of people, like they did in Gaza, it is never called state terrorism, for instance. And that is, of course, unfair. In the last attack on Gaza, and I was there, by the way, when that happened, two thousand two hundred and fifty Palestinians were killed, mostly civilians, including five hundred and ninety children. On the Israeli side seventy-two people were killed, but sixty-six of them were soldiers while they were invading Gaza. So, there is complete imbalance here in the number of people killed and the number of people injured. But most important, Israel has a huge arsenal. They have tanks. They have planes. They have helicopters. They have artillery. We have none of that. And we are not in a war with Israel practically. We are in an act of resistance against oppression and against injustice. And Israel tries every possible way to make people forget the word occupation. They don’t want the world to know that they have been occupying us for more than fifty years in the West Bank and Gaza and that they have been displacing seventy percent of the Palestinians since seventy years. They want to deter their discussion from the real content, from the real roots of the problem, into the side effect of the problem. They want people to be busy with the symptoms rather than look at the cause of the disease. And that is the occupation and the discrimination against Palestinians. And I hope this time we can try to keep our struggle as popular, as nonviolent as possible and that the world will start to see the case of the Palestinians as a case of people who are struggling for freedom, like the people did in India, like the people did in America, like African Americans tried to get their equality in the United States in the Civil Rights movement, like the people of South Africa struggled for ending the system of apartheid. We are exactly in the same situation and I hope the people of the world can start to see that in a clear way. AARON MATÉ: Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, Palestinian physician, activist, and politician, joining us from Ramallah. Dr. Barghouti, thank you. M BARGHOUTI: Thank you so much. Have a good day. AARON MATÉ: You too, sir. And thank you for joining us on the Real News.