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BDS Movement Founder Omar Barghouti discusses growing solidarity with Palestinians and whether Fatah-Hamas unity deal motivated Israel’s aggression

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

The UN Human Rights Council will been begin an investigation into the allegations over whether Israel engaged in war crimes in its assault on the Gaza Strip. This is all happening in the shadow of Israel’s military assault on Gaza, which has killed more than 700 Palestinians. The UN is already classified 1.1 million Gazans as refugees.

Now joining us to unpack all of this is our guest, Omar Barghouti. He is an independent Palestinian researcher and human rights activist, and he is the founding member of the global, Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against Israel, also known as BDS.

Thank you for joining us, Omar.


DESVARIEUX: So, Omar, let’s start off. Since I know you’re in the West Bank, I want to get your response to Israel’s bombing and what the response has been in the West Bank, specifically the Palestinian Authority’s response.

BARGHOUTI: The Palestinian response in general to Israel’s ongoing massacre in Gaza–and that’s what it is; it’s a full-fledged massacre of civilians in Gaza–has been more or less united. Even the Palestinian Authority, which really lacks a democratic mandate at this point, was forced under public pressure to take a tougher stance in the last couple of days. It has adopted the main demands of the resistance in Gaza, saying that a ceasefire without ending Israel’s brutal siege of the Gaza Strip is unacceptable. So they have to go hand-in-hand, the ceasefire plus ending the siege, taking effective measures to end Israel’s siege, opening the borders, so that Gazans will not be incarcerated in the world’s largest open-air prison.

At the civil society level, at the popular level, support for our Palestinian brothers and sisters in Gaza has been overwhelming. It has been unprecedented, in fact. We have not seen this much support among Palestinians when they’re in the West Bank or Palestinians in the ’48 territory, Palestinian citizens of Israel. It has been absolutely overwhelming support for the resistance, support for defending Palestinian rights and Gaza and everywhere else.

DESVARIEUX: Yeah. And, Omar, some people are suggesting that the real motivation for this aggression is that Israel would not accept that unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas. How much do you think this unity agreement motivated Israel’s attack?

BARGHOUTI: I think it’s one of the motives. But Israel has attacked Gaza three times in the last six years. There was no unity government in the last two wars of aggression on Gaza, but still Israel managed to commit those wars. So it’s not really the only reason. We’ve got to look elsewhere.

Israel is continuously trying to break the Palestinian will to resist, to make Palestinians give up, and to build what they call an iron wall, to sear into our consciousness that we can never succeed in resisting Israel’s regime of occupation, settler colonialism, and apartheid. They do this through military means, through imprisoning many, many Palestinians, house demolitions in the West Bank, destroying homes, and confiscating the most fertile lands and water resources, keeping them for Jewish-only colonies in the occupied territories, encircling Jerusalem, denying access to education, to health, and so on. So they’re trying, their continuing the Zionist program of the maximum amount of land with the minimum number of Palestinians, the indigenous Palestinians. So the war on Gaza has to be seen in that context. Sometimes it’s taken extreme violent measures, as we’re seeing in the current Israeli massacre in Gaza, and sometimes it’s more low-key, as we’re seeing in parts of the West Bank.

DESVARIEUX: But, Omar, you did mention that you do think it’s one of the reasons that they started to be aggressive. But it’s not really making sense in my mind, because in a sense, they’re always–if Hamas and Fatah were moving towards a more Fatah deposition, essentially accepting Israel’s right to exist, why would they want to break up this negotiation, this unity?

BARGHOUTI: Yeah, you’re assuming that the Israeli government is very rational, and I think that’s not a very accurate assumption. The current Israeli government is the most fanatic right-wing, extremist government with real control by extremist settler movements within the government. We’ve never seen such a fanatic right-wing government in Israel’s history. In this current government, with several fascist elements in fact openly calling for ethnic cleansing and sometimes genocide, there isn’t much rationalism. They’re not really worried about what 20 years from now Israel will look like. They’re thinking now they want to get rid of as many indigenous Palestinians as possible, and sometimes they’re not even watching what that is doing to Israel, how that’s even eroding Israel’s regime, its entire regime of repression against the Palestinians. So, yes, rationally what you’re saying is correct. A national unity government that is accepting, more or less, the PA, the Palestinian Authority position in Ramallah would theoretically serve Israel’s purposes. And that’s why people like me, a human-rights activist, I’m opposed to the political program of that unity government. Every Palestinian wants unity, but not on any grounds. It has to be grounds of human rights or basic rights under international law. But the current government is not very rational.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about the status of the movement that you have helped found, BDS, or the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign. Before the kidnappings and the bombings, the movement was really picking up steam. You had renowned physicist Stephen Hawking who joined the academic boycott, European companies who had decided not to do business in Israel. Give us an update. How is the movement changing or evolving with this recent attack, and what do you make of the international community’s sort of measured response to Israel’s assault on Gaza?

BARGHOUTI: I think BDS has reached a qualitative level of development before the aggression, the massacre in Gaza, and we expect it to expand much, much faster when this massacre is over. Israel will pay a very steep price for its war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza, ’cause this time around there is a BDS movement that enables activists around the world, conscientious people around the world, including Israeli people of conscience, to act effectively, resolutely against Israel, to isolate Israel academically, culturally, militarily, economically, financially. BDS has reached new heights, [as] I mentioned, even before the aggression, with huge pension funds in Europe, banks, even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation divested from G4S, a British security company involved in Israeli prison systems, checkpoints, settlements, and so on, various violations of human rights. The Presbyterian Church, the Methodist church, divested from U.S. companies involved in the occupation and settlements. So it has really grown into the mainstream. BDS related success proliferated [inaud.] [why] we expect it to rise even faster, to grow even faster with Israel’s current massacre.

And that’s again part of Israel’s miscalculation. It thinks just because it has Congress in its pocket and it has a couple of fanatic Islamophobic governments like the Canadian government supporting its incremental genocide, what Professor Ilan Pappe calls “incremental genocide”, in Gaza, it has support from President Hollande in France and a few other Western leaders, that this is the world. And this is not the world. In those countries, more or less democratic countries, the people still count for something. And at the grassroots level, the BDS movement is far more popular. Among unions, cultural figures, academics, activists, students, LGBT, feminists, antiwar, BDS is really growing into the mainstream.

So Israel feels drunk with power at this point. It’s a very powerful country with massive nuclear arsenals and so on. It is killing Palestinians in Gaza with total impunity, or so it thinks, with total impunity. Just a couple of hours ago, a few hours ago, it committed yet another massacre, in Beit Hanoun, when it bombed an UNRWA, a UN school that was designated as an emergency shelter. And the coordinates were provided to the Israeli military. They still bombed it. And I just heard the Israeli news. They said, oh, a shell just went off its path and hit this school by mistake, killing at least 15 to 20 Palestinians, injuring hundreds of Palestinians, civilians, in a UN shelter. So Israel thinks it can get away with all that.

But it won’t, because now there’s this global movement with a clear Palestinian leadership that’s focused on Palestinian rights. It’s a very effective nonviolent, human rights-based movement that rejects sectarianism, rejects racism, and is growing by the day.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Omar Barghouti, joining us from the West Bank, thank you so much for being with us.

BARGHOUTI: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Omar Barghouti is an independent Palestinian researcher and human rights activist. He is a founding member of the global, Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. His views have been presented on CNN, Bloomberg and BBC and opinion pieces published in the New York Times, New York Daily News, the Guardian, among others.