Silvia Cattori: I had the privilege of attending the presentation you gave in Milan on 8 October 2007 [1]. Your analysis of the situation in Palestine is different than the traditional discourse and conceptions, including within the Palestine solidarity movement. Do you think that the Italian public is ready to adopt your positions?

Omar Barghouti: I came to Italy in March, 2007, for a tour, and I spoke about different issues. Art and oppression was one of them. I spoke also about the One-state solution, as well as the boycott of Israel [2]. There is a growing movement in Italy that understands the need for effective pressure on Israel. It is no longer sufficient to take part in traditional solidarity acts, such as demonstrations and writing letters. Clearly, such conventional actions cannot alone move Israel, because they do not raise the political price that Israel has to pay for occupying and oppressing the Palestinians. Europeans can demonstrate all they want; Israel no longer cares. I think more Italians are realizing this.

Raising awareness is certainly important and that should continue as long as the colonial conflict does. But this is no longer sufficient.

After September 11th, Israel became much more belligerent and now really cares little about international opinion. During the seventies and eighties, even into the nineties, Israel was extremely sensitive to western public opinion. In the twenty-first century however, Israel has become less and less sensitive, because of its enormous power and its unparalleled influence on Washington, which remains the political master of the Europeans. And that is how Israelis look at things. “We have Washington in our pocket, who cares what the Europeans want?”

To give an example, when Belgium tried to put Ariel Sharon on trial for his role in the 1982 Sabra and Chatilla massacre in Beirut, Condoleezza Rice threatened the foreign minister of Belgium that the US would pull NATO out of Belgium, among other drastic measures. Within days, the law was reversed and the Court never summoned Sharon. The US did the same with Germany and France during their dispute over the Anglo-American war on Iraq in 2003.

Israel realises that its vast influence over Congress automatically translates into substantial, albeit indirect, influence over Europe. Israelis, therefore, do not particularly care about European public opinion.

More Italians are now realizing that the time has come for effective pressure against Israel; this is not time for just saying, “Naughty boys, you are doing the wrong things.”

Silvia Cattori: The Wall Street Journal recently wrote, “The dream that was Palestine is finally dead.” [3]. How do you react to this kind of statement?

Omar Barghouti: That is wishful thinking. Neoconservatives, who control the Wall Street Journal, are on their way to the dustbin of history after all their failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. They would like to think that Palestinians are finished. I think they are finished. It will take some time, for sure, but I honestly believe their crusade has been proven criminal and futile and their arguments refuted.

Their grand ideological design - that was supposed to start with Iraq and then roll like a domino throughout the oil-rich Arab region, all the way to controlling the world - is being shattered. Their vision has been exposed as fundamentally racist, dogmatic, and profoundly flawed. Thanks to the resistance in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, this neocon vision of empire is on its way to ultimate defeat.

Silvia Cattori: When you see Palestinian leaders collaborating with the occupier, instead of working for your national interests, what do you say?

Omar Barghouti: Those among Palestinian “leaders” who are colluding with the occupation are certainly part of the problem, not the solution. I condemn them in the strongest terms. I publicly expressed my view on that even when Hamas took over Gaza [4]. Although I am very critical of Hamas for different reasons, I recognize that a majority of Palestinians under occupation democratically elected them to govern and to lead the struggle for freedom and self-determination. The world has to respect this democratic Palestinian choice, although only one-third of the Palestinian people participated in these elections. The remaining two-thirds, Palestinian refugees around the world and Palestinian citizens of Israel, were not even considered.

The Palestinians should be the ones to hold Hamas to account if they fail to govern properly or to advocate for Palestinian rights — not America, not Europe and certainly not Israel.

Some Palestinian political leaders are complicit in maintaining Israel’s colonial and racist rule. Instead of openly acquiescing to the occupation, however, their role is to give the world the false impression that it’s merely a dispute; that we can sit and negotiate nicely in Switzerland or elsewhere. Thus they conceal the reality that it’s a colonial conflict that needs massive grassroots struggle plus sustained and principled international pressure in order to end it.

Using the word “dispute” is a real disaster that has afflicted us since the Oslo agreements [5]. It started in Madrid, before Oslo; but the Oslo process was the most devastating blow to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. It led to a paradigm shift from a struggle of an oppressed people against occupiers and colonizers, to a dispute between two national groups with conflicting but symmetric rights and moral claims.

Silvia Cattori: So, how can we explain that all the negotiations with Israel have only brought more suffering to the Palestinians? People like Misters Erekat, Abbas, Abed-Rabbo [6] are still ready to compromise themselves with countless «peace processes» that have such dramatic consequences for the Palestinians, and are obstinately following the same road. What hope can the Palestinians have in the face of this catastrophic situation?

Omar Barghouti: If you take the example of South Africa, the most repressive years of apartheid were the years just before the end; not in the sixties and seventies, but in the late eighties and early nineties. Apartheid reached its peak of power, its peak of repression, and then it collapsed. From my perspective, at this moment, when the Zionist movement has so much influence in the world, I don’t see it as the end of the question of Palestine.

On the contrary, I see it as the beginning of the end of Zionism itself. Israel and Zionism have lost whatever international respect and admiration they once had. They are steadily becoming pariahs. Israel, a state whose incessant ethnic cleansing and criminal dehumanization of the Palestinians is more or less out in the open, is now solely reliant on bullying, intellectual terror and arm-twisting of the international community and elected officials in the West to achieve its objectives. People around the world do not like or support Zionism, as several recent polls have shown; they are simply afraid of Zionism, and the difference is huge.

In the fifties and sixties of the last century, Europeans used to love Israel, the romanticized home of the kibbutz, as a beacon of “liberal democracy” in a region swarming with autocracy and “backwardness.” Europeans, after all, helped build Israel, in more ways than one; and they looked at it, ever since, as their «baby» in the middle of a «barbaric sea of Arabs». Israel was perceived as the enlightened, white, civilized entity in the middle of this jungle of unruly, brown natives of the South.

And while many Europeans have yet to be liberated from this racist, colonial attitude towards Arabs, Israel today has very little sympathy in Europe or anywhere else in the world. It has protégés that are handsomely paid, and extremely effective political lobbies that are very well oiled. With such tools, Israel has managed to dictate the discourse, the political line, in the European mainstream media, parliaments and power milieus.

Like their American counterparts, European officials are now often faced with the tough choice of duly following the official Israeli line or losing their careers – and, frequently, their reputations as well. European complicity in maintaining Israeli occupation and oppression is accordingly secured through threats, intimidation, bullying, not persuasion. This is the most significant loss historically, for Zionism. It has squandered the sympathy it once enjoyed and entirely lost its ability to touch the hearts and minds of people, even in the West. Zionism now gets what it wants only by the stick.

But how long will people stay scared and cowed? Eventually, they will revolt — if not for the Palestinians’ sake, for the sake of their own freedom, dignity and sense of justice. We are talking about Europeans and Americans, citizens who enjoy relatively wide-ranging and historically established democratic rights. They are not the oppressed and impoverished people in the Global South who lack the tools to affect change.

You Europeans are people who live in a relative democracy – and it is very relative; you are well-to-do; you have your voice in regular elections and you can use it to make a change, but it will take a loud wake-up call from the neo-colonized South, reasserting its will and its quest for justice, sustainable development and reparation for centuries of colonial rule. European grassroots can then be persuaded to shed their colonial heritage and recapture their destinies from their aloof ruling elites who have hijacked their agenda and are increasingly betraying their interests. But that will need a lot of awareness raising and many small yet sustainable advocacy campaigns that can gradually grow. This empowerment is crucial and indispensable in bridging the North-South gap, not just economically, but also conceptually and culturally.

Silvia Cattori: Palestinians know better than anyone that the United States and Israel utilized the 9/11 events to brand any resistance as «terrorism». Today, your own Palestinian Authority is committing itself to follow this road. Mr. Abbas claims that he will fight «Hamas terrorists» in the name of «moderate Muslims». Is the real objective to fight the only anti-colonial resistance that still exists in Palestine?

Omar Barghouti: Yes, but the Zionist movement has played a key role in frantically promoting this “clash of civilizations” theory, based on the false premise that September 11th was a fight between Muslims and the rest of the world, between Islam and the so-called “Judaeo-Christian” civilization. This neocon, Zionist-espoused concept has gained a lot of pre-eminence in the West, sadly, and has influenced many Europeans.

You open any mainstream European paper and there is always an article reinforcing the portrayal of Muslims as the evil other. Muslims are nonchalantly labelled as «terrorists». You don’t hear of any Muslim achievement in art, in culture, in literature. You are never told anything about the Islamic civilization. You are bombarded with images and sound bites of angry Muslims shouting, burning flags and supporting Bin Laden. No context. And you never hear those people speaking for themselves. Always some wise western expert is interpreting them. Explaining them. Speaking for them. Re-creating them.

Of course, some of our “leaders” with a slave mentality and no vision or principles have internalized these concepts to the extent that they’ve forgotten that life exists outside this wretched box. To be, from their view, is to be like the oppressor, as the Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, once wrote.

Silvia Cattori: But, is this not terribly efficient for pushing public opinion to fear these Arabs and Muslims? After all, Israel and the United States are making an endless war against them, shaping the conflict so that people are not moved when they are massacred.

Omar Barghouti: This religious facade of the perceived “clash” remains on the surface only. Deep inside, the conflict has nothing whatsoever to do with religion. It is all about racism, economic exploitation and hegemony. Of course, convincing Europeans of that will take a long time, because September 11th was a very traumatizing shock to them. Whoever did September 11th knew exactly what they were doing. It was almost a self-fulfilling prophecy, creating the infrastructure for this «clash of civilizations» theory in a dramatic and criminal manner. But I don’t believe in «clash of civilizations»; I believe that people and nations, with their rich diversity, have a lot in unity, a lot in common.

And, yes, this growing European anti-Muslim racism, the truly new form of “anti-Semitism”, is certainly very dangerous. Muslims are seen as even less human than European Jews once were. Let me give you an example from the Danish cartoon affair, the racist depictions of Islam and the Prophet. I wrote an article about this [7] where I said, “Imagine a Danish cartoonist doing the same kind of cartoon, but against Judaism; what would happen in Europe?” Alas, many Europeans do not see it that way, because, for them, it’s tolerated nowadays to be racist against Muslims.

Still, I don’t see it as a long-lasting phenomenon, because the Holocaust has already forced Europeans to traumatically experience the moral and physical abyss to which racism had led them.

Silvia Cattori: What was your reaction when you learned that Switzerland had organized secret meetings for two years between Palestinians and Israelis. Those meetings led to what is called the «Geneva Agreements» or the «Geneva Initiative». [8]

Omar Barghouti: The «Geneva Initiative» contradicts the fundamental requirements for a just peace. It ignores the basic injustice, the core of the Palestinian cause, which is Israel’s denial of the inalienable right of the refugees of Palestine, like all other refugees around the world, to return to the lands and homes they were uprooted from.

It is, therefore, very surprising that the Swiss government, in particular, a consistent defender of international humanitarian law, would sponsor and support such an agreement that blatantly violates international law.

Silvia Cattori: Don’t you think that the Swiss diplomats might have been naïve, or misled by those who had a pro-Israeli bias, as Mr. Alexis Keller for example [9], those who were giving an orientation most favourable to Israel? If not, how can we explain that, on the Palestinian side, negotiators have been selected who generally appeared not very honest, quite ready to support what pleased the occupier, like Mr. Yasser Abed-Rabbo?

Omar Barghouti: I never defend corrupt Palestinian politicians who put their selfish personal interests above everything else. But we are dealing here with international law, and Switzerland does not need anybody to teach it about international law. It is the seat of the Geneva Conventions. Its endorsement of this Initiative cannot be out of naïveté. It wanted to please the United States, the European Union and other powers. And the timing was not completely innocent either.

It is not entirely related, but one factor that made the Swiss go with this was the banking scandal linked to Holocaust reparations that was raised in the US at about the same time, along with the huge lawsuit against leading Swiss banks for billions of dollars in compensation. The Swiss image was tarnished in the US, and, of course, that affects business. Switzerland lives on banking, more than anything else. So, when the banking industry’s reputation and record are stained in the US and in the rest of Europe, it looks very bad for Switzerland. Switzerland wanted to do anything it could to please Israel, even at the expense of bending some principles, knowing well the ability of Israel’s lobby in the US to calm the storm.

Silvia Cattori: When crimes of such a magnitude are committed in Palestine, no one has the right to make such mistakes. It is most regrettable that during these long years of the liquidation of the Palestinian resistance, the floor was given to people who were condemning the occupation but were really supporting racist solutions. These solutions are unacceptable for the Palestinian people, because they should have championed valuable measures such as the boycott of Israel.
Don’t you have the right to blame those who have perverted your cause by not insisting on the right of return of refugees? They also supported the Palestinian Authority born in Oslo, saying they represented the people «who fought against the occupier», while continuing to pretend that the Palestinian problem started in 1967 and not in 1948?

Omar Barghouti: So what does it serve to accuse them of betrayal? I say what I have to say, but I don’t want to denounce; I want to convince people to move forward, to leave the old, ineffective slogans of the solidarity movement behind and move in a new direction, in line with what Palestinian civil society is calling for.

So, instead of condemning solidarity leaders, I will just tell them, “Maybe you are misinformed; maybe you have been deceived by Israeli propaganda, sometimes parroted by Palestinian Uncle Toms; maybe you are just fixated on certain slogans that you’ve repeated so often that they’ve become almost intuitive from your perspective.”

The “two states for two peoples” slogan has turned into dogma. And the solidarity movement has largely fallen under the spell of this entrenched point of view. So we need to challenge that doctrine and move people forward rather than alienate them. And, from my experience, many people do undergo transformative and radicalizing experiences when faced with facts, rational arguments and a compelling moral vision. When you sit with them and you convince them, you realize that many people are basically honest and well meaning. They are sincere; they, like us, support justice; they want peace; but they are so misinformed because they have had too many speakers, including Palestinians, come before and tell them: “Two states, for two peoples, that’s what the Palestinians want.”

Silvia Cattori: It must be a comfort for you to see that more and more people rise up and call Israel’s violations of human rights by their real name, as has just been done by the Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, Prof. John Dugard [10]. What message would you like to send him?

Omar Barghouti: Prof. Dugard is an inspiring, principled and courageous jurist and human being. I do have something very clear to say to him. In his last report on the occupied Palestinian territory he used the term “apartheid” for the first time to describe Israeli policies; he wrote, “Certain policies of the Israeli occupation resemble apartheid.”

This is not a minor statement coming from somebody of the stature of John Dugard. My point to him is this: please keep pushing in this direction, because the UN already has resolutions on how to deal with crimes of apartheid anywhere in the world. Apartheid is a generalised crime. It’s not just in South Africa. Now we have a precedent; we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. All we need is to justify and popularize this diagnosis of Israel as an apartheid state. Although Israel is in several areas very different from Apartheid South Africa – much worse, in the view of Desmond Tutu and others – it has enough in common with it to justify the comparison. After all, no two patients develop the exact same symptoms to the same disease; but they are still diagnosed the same. If Israel is found guilty of practicing apartheid, there are international law instruments, like sanctions, that can be applied by the UN to deal with it.

Silvia Cattori: Wouldn’t you have preferred that Mr. Dugard say squarely that it is «apartheid» instead of something that «resembles» apartheid?

Omar Barghouti: Mr. Dugard is a diplomat. We appreciate enormously that he had the courage and moral clarity to even mention the loaded term, apartheid.

You don’t expect a UN official to be the first to say it that way. We, Palestinians, have to be the first to say so, to prove it, to make it stick. The solidarity movement has to say it; and then, perhaps, the UN.

One cannot expect much from the current UN, particularly with the new Secretary General — a mediocre bureaucrat, in my opinion, who behaves as if he were a junior employee on the payroll of the US State Department. But the UN remains our only forum where we have any hope of asserting our rights under international law. I do not support those who argue for bypassing or ignoring the UN. What else do we have? As biased and subservient to US interests as the UN has become, there is room for reform, for making it more reflective of and sensitive to the aspirations of humanity, and especially of the oppressed peoples of the South, including Palestinians. It’s a long march, though.

Silvia Cattori: Despite the seriousness of Dugard’s conclusions, the Israeli authorities have systematically rejected his reports. I was present at the United Nations, in March 2007 in Geneva, when the Israeli Ambassador expressed, in front of an audience of ambassadors, his official disagreement with Mr. Dugard. He accused him of telling lies, and of making aggressive and biased declarations. Were you surprised by this reaction?

Omar Barghouti: These are the tactics Israeli officials and their supporters are increasingly resorting to; no more convincing, no more arguing. Now, look at what they are doing in the US and the UK, they are suppressing debate on Israeli policies; debate is simply too dangerous to them. It opens people’s minds. This is precisely why we are fighting for debate.

It should not be acceptable in self-defined democratic societies to have debate on Israel, only Israel, censored or de-legitimized.

Silvia Cattori: After the publication of his book denouncing Israeli apartheid, did you contact former President Jimmy Carter [11]?

Omar Barghouti: Many people have sent letters supporting Carter, but the powerful Zionist pressure groups in the US mobilized the entire establishment against him. Now, a former president, who is also a winner of the Nobel Peace prize, is no longer interviewed on mainstream American television or in major newspapers. Mr. Carter needs a lot more support than just our heartfelt thanks.

Silvia Cattori: How did you react when Mr. Bush proposed Mr. Blair as a « man of peace »?

Omar Barghouti: Mr. Tony Blair will not do anything to help bring about peace or justice. Many British citizens convincingly accuse him of being a dishonest opportunist and an American lackey. I sympathize with both characterizations. In my opinion, he also lacks the vision and courage to do anything meaningful for a just peace.

Silvia Cattori: What did you think of the Annapolis conference that was held in the U.S. in November 2007?

Omar Barghouti: By insisting that Palestinian "negotiators" must recognize Israel as a "Jewish State," Israel has really kicked the sleeping lion in the ribs, to borrow the metaphor used by Uri Avnery — whom I completely disagree with, otherwise. Barak’s "unwise" and stubborn insistence during Camp David II in 2000 that Arafat must drop the right of return for Palestinian refugees led to a real awakening of the refugee community, leading to massive mobilization and concerted pressure on Arafat not to budge. Indeed, he was killed without surrendering that right.

This time around, there were two lions that Israel kicked in the rib when it demanded Palestinian official acceptance of its right to exist as a Jewish state: the same huge lion representing refugees and a smaller, usually far-milder lion, representing the Palestinian community inside Israel, almost 1.5 million indigenous Palestinian citizens of Israel who have hitherto been completely marginalized and disenfranchised in all "negotiations" concerning ending this colonial conflict.

Luckily, Olmert and the current political elite in Israel proved, in preparing for Annapolis, to be as obtuse as their predecessors. This is the price Israel must pay, apparently, for being the world leader in recycling leaders! Each Israeli leader who rises to power (with the exception of those who die or are assassinated by Israeli right-wing settlers) is soon discredited and embroiled in scandals of all sorts: sexual, financial, war crimes, etc. They then slide down into oblivion, only to be reincarnated and reinvented a few years later as embodying a new "hope" for a nation gone astray — and they miraculously get re-elected by respectable margins! Israelis do not only suffer from selective amnesia; they are truly bankrupt at the leadership level. Not just Palestinians are, it seems.

Another important point about Annapolis is that Mahmoud Abbas has no mandate to give up anything significant. He is no Arafat. He lacks the historical record of struggle against Israel. His popularity, while higher than Olmert’s pathetic 3%, is still quite dismal. He has a severe deficiency in vision, in my opinion. Hamas controls Gaza; and this weakens him further. In short, he is not a leader who can do "business" and deliver the "goods" dictated by Israel and the US. He will talk and smile a lot; travel even more; try to appear courageous; but it will all falter, I think. With Arafat’s departure, Israel lost its final opportunity to push for a two-state solution — an unjust and immoral solution, at any rate. No regret.

The one-state alternative, the moral alternative, is no longer seen as a utopian idea; it is increasingly being researched and presented as a serious possibility looming in the air above all those "negotiators." Just look at Olmert’s recent warning in Ha’aretz that, if the Annapolis process fails, Israel will head in the apartheid direction (as if it hasn’t already!). Annapolis cannot but fail. It does not deal with the root causes of the conflict, and does not promise justice or equality.

Silvia Cattori: What is your feeling when you see your political representatives doing the same job as the occupiers?

Omar Barghouti: I completely condemn them. It is shameful for the Palestinian Authority (PA) to play the role of sub-contractor for the occupiers, relieving them of some of their colonial burdens.

Silvia Cattori: Is that the opinion of the majority of the Palestinians?

Omar Barghouti: I do believe that the majority of the Palestinians denounce the complicity of the PA, to various degrees. Almost everybody I know, academics, intellectuals, cultural workers, artists, and so on, do not condone the PA forces’ illegal, arbitrary arrest of dissident activists, for instance, or the PA’s role in exonerating Israel.

Silvia Cattori: So, for the majority of the Palestinians, Hamas members are not «terrorists» but just normal citizens?

Omar Barghouti: They were elected democratically. Arresting people because they are resisting the occupation is a disgrace. They did not break Palestinian laws; they are resisting the Israeli occupation. Israel wants the Palestinian Authority to be its policeman, to do its job on its behalf.

Silvia Cattori: Outside Palestine, things are not simple either. For a long time, those who wanted to talk about the « pro-Israel lobby », the boycott, or Israeli apartheid, were excluded from the debate, vilified by the leaders of the solidarity. Is that not a way to protect Israel? If not, how can we explain that the left, most leaders of the solidarity, never saw Israel in the same way as apartheid South Africa, and have always shown themselves reticent to qualify Israel as an apartheid state? [12] Were you surprised by the weak response since 2004 to your calls for a boycott of Israel?

Omar Barghouti: Some “soft Zionists” in the solidarity movement are trying their best to say «no, Israel is not apartheid», because they know exactly what such a label means. It could well invite sanctions and wide-ranging international boycotts.

Punishing apartheid is something many people around the world know how to do. And «soft Zionists» realize that. They realize this is much more potent, much more effective, than any Palestinian weapon. Palestinians can develop their «Qassams» forever, but that will never hurt Israel as much as a sustained boycott campaign, a non-violent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign in Europe, North America and Asia, a la South Africa.

Silvia Cattori: Is it difficult for you to take the floor with people who may denounce the crimes of Israel, but do not really question the nature of this state, and who do not always share your positions regarding the boycott ? And others who see your position regarding the solution of «one single state» ? Would Palestinians of Israeli citizenship, who are enduring colonial oppression and Zionist racism within the State of Israel, be better qualified for speaking about what they are enduring because of Israeli racism?

Omar Barghouti: No, I don’t mind, because Michel Warschawsky defines himself as an anti-Zionist, and he supports most Palestinian rights. We disagree on tactics; we disagree on advocating certain rights. There is no disagreement on sharing a panel with him, however, to debate ways of ending Israeli oppression.

I would not share a panel with a representative of an Israeli institution that takes no position on the occupation, for example, or does not support Palestinians rights. With Warschawsky, it will be a debate, I respect him, but we disagree significantly, I think, on the issue we are debating, which is the role of religion and ethnicity in Israeli racism.

We need to unite all our forces. So, we need to distinguish between people we disagree with on tactics, and people who are real enemies, with whom we disagree on the main principles of justice, international law and the paramount principle of equality.

We can disagree with people on how to end the injustice or even what forms of injustice we need to be fighting against; but we should keep that disagreement in its context, as a disagreement between people who agree on a key goal: ending injustice. Our main fight is against those who blindly support Israel and oppose even ending the occupation. So that distinction needs to be made. Still, it doesn’t mean to be naïve and to accept certain artificial limitations on the debate.

As a Palestinian, I cannot accept being told by anybody in the solidarity movement what is allowed and what is not allowed for me to propose, to argue for. We decide what is allowed. Even though principled people in solidarity with Palestinians are our partners, our comrades, they are still not “us.” They should not speak on our behalf, as though we’ve ceased to exist.

Silvia Cattori: But that is largely what is happening! The voice of the Palestinians, who have a vision like yours, is tiny in the debate. The positions of the Israeli «peace camp» represent a big voice in the debate in Europe; a voice that likes to denounce the occupation but doesn’t tolerate the one that touches the nature of the “Jewish State.” And it is that voice that defines, de facto, the limits of the debate, in supporting solutions which can secure, for Israel, the «Jewish supremacy» in Palestine. Your own voice is almost inaudible.
In France, for example, there are traditional associations, working with the representatives of the Palestinian Authority, who decide who are the «real friends» of Palestine and who are not. Their publications emanate mostly from authors of the Israeli «peace camp» and from those who, in Europe, work with them. It is the same in the meetings. Shouldn’t the Palestinians who are the real representatives of the resistance against the occupier have a bigger place?

Omar Barghouti: We cannot accept this awkward situation, I agree. The problem is that some meek Palestinians have allowed the so-called Israeli “peace” camp to do this. In reality, there is no peace camp in Israel, in the sense of a movement supporting a just peace, the only peace that would be worth its name. But, unfortunately, we have quite a few Palestinians who are into this peace business – yes, it is a business; they travel with their Israeli “partners;” they speak together; they go to fancy hotels; they get invited by the Swiss and Norwegian governments, to resorts; and so on. They love it; it is a lucrative enterprise. And the price they pay is compromise on basic Palestinian rights and, indirectly, on their very dignity. They stop speaking for themselves and allow those sham peacemakers to speak on behalf of the Palestinians.

Silvia Cattori: So, you put the responsibility on the Palestinians who accept to be part of a peace « business »?

Omar Barghouti: Not the whole responsibility, but part of the responsibility is on the Palestinians who work in such a way that gives up even Palestinian self-representation.

Silvia Cattori: The fact remains that this biased solidarity has been a very demoralising factor, and a damaging factor for the victims of the Israeli oppression. In 2002, when Sharon launched his war, there was a big protest movement in Europe. There were 30,000 people in the streets of Paris. In 2005, when the Palestinian prisoners in Israel went on a hunger strike, and the Israeli planes killed more then one hundred people in Jabalyia (a massacre of the magnitude of Jenin), there were no more than about one hundred people in the streets of Paris.
All that should be considered very carefully because, in Palestine, people suffer and die because of all the errors and manipulations made in their behalf! It is a merciless war, and not a conflict between two equal sides. If there are intervening parties whose hidden objective is to maintain the framework acceptable for the survival of Israel as a Jewish State, this can be nothing but demoralising for those who want the Palestinians to gain recognition for their rights!

Omar Barghouti: I think it is fine that some people want to work on just ending the occupation; as long as they don’t say that people working for the whole spectrum of Palestinian rights and against Israeli injustices are wrong. In other words, if someone says, “My limit is this, I will work against the occupation and organize a group to raise awareness about it,” it they work for Palestinian rights. If we cannot work with those people, we shall alienate and lose many in the mainstream.

Silvia Cattori: Can we hope that, thanks to voices like those of Ilan Pappe, of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt [13], of Jimmy Carter, of John Dugard, who broke certain taboos, and thanks to the efforts of anonymous people who helped these voices be heard, that you are at the beginning of a new era regarding a radicalisation towards Israel?
And will these new voices bring about a balance to the voices like Avnery, (who is indeed useful, but nevertheless, supports unjust solutions), to make these voices unacceptable for the Palestinians?

Omar Barghouti: Anti-Zionist Jewish voices are increasingly exposing the deception espoused by soft Zionists like Avnery. Being a Zionist today essentially means believing that the ethnic cleansing of Palestine was acceptable or justifiable in order to establish the Jewish State, and that Palestinian refugees should not be allowed to return, in order to maintain the “Jewish character” –read: racist supremacy- of the State.

That is the test of morality for anyone working for a just peace. Justifying ethnic cleansing and denial of refugee rights to maintain Israel’s Jewish supremacy is racist. Anyone upholding such positions cannot be a moral person. If someone says, “The Nakba was horrible, it was indeed a war crime, but I think two states are better,” then we can talk, we can debate. But if he or she says that the ethnic cleansing was acceptable, then they are racists who view that Palestinians as cockroaches. I cannot have any reasonable dialogue with such people. So, that is where I draw the line.

Silvia Cattori: So, the anti-war movement did not completely fail, as the journalist Jeff Blankfort suggests [14]?

Omar Barghouti: I don’t think it failed. It has not achieved as much as it should have, given the energy, the passion, the sense of solidarity among many people around the world. I agree that one of the reasons – there are many - is that the «gatekeepers», those who are setting the boundaries, telling people what is allowed and not allowed, and drawing the red lines, do not have a radical-enough agenda. Their agenda is too weak and too shy to address the three fundamental forms of Israeli oppression against the Palestinians: denial of Palestinian refugee rights; the military occupation and colonization of the 1967 Palestinian territory; and the system of racial discrimination, or what I call, intelligent apartheid, against the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Of course there are many global reasons why it is much more difficult to have solidarity with Palestine, especially after September 11th, when the Palestinians were demonized, dehumanized and portrayed as «terrorists» by Israel and the US. Even in Europe this is growing as well.

And, due to Zionist influence in the media and over Congress in Washington, any academic, any intellectual, any artist, any politician who dares to come out in public to support justice for Palestine, is likely to be subjected to character assassination or may lose his/her career altogether. The price paid by conscientious people who are committed to defending Palestinian rights and who are calling for an end to all forms of Israeli Zionist injustice is greater than ever. I particularly salute all those who, despite all the intimidation, are still struggling for Palestinian rights.

Silvia Cattori: When I went to Israel, in 2002-2003, it was a shock for me to discover that, as massacres and destructions of such a magnitude were going on in Palestine, there were, besides internationals and Palestinians of Israeli citizenship, only a few hundred Israelis in Tel Aviv or in Jerusalem ready to take to the streets to protest against the crimes of their «reservists».
So, I realized that the « peace movement » in Israel, as we had imagined it, had never existed, and that some had made a sort of manipulation to make people believe that peace activists in Israel were a driving element in favor of Palestinian rights. Whereas, in reality, the Palestinians cannot expect much from this movement. What is your own opinion in this regard?

Omar Barghouti: The Israeli “left” is largely a fraud. It is a big lie. There is no Israeli left, by any international standards of the term, and I challenge anybody to show me otherwise. I spoke about this at a conference in Bil’in, in May, where I said: “With its rejection of Palestinian refugee rights and its insistence on Jewish supremacy and racial discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, the Israeli ‘left’ makes the xenophobic right in Europe look as moral as Mother Teresa, in comparison.”

Somebody from Gush Shalom challenged me, claiming that, “It all depends on how you define the left. You define the left as those who accept the right of return for the Palestinian refugees. I can define the left as people who are just opposed to occupation. So I disagree on your definition of the left.”

I answered, “Well, forget the relative definitions of the left. Let us agree on a universal definition. Can we agree that equality is the basic principle, the fundamental principle that any leftist who deserves the name of a leftist should agree to, that all human beings are equal?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Then, let’s agree that anyone who refuses to grant the right of return for Palestinian refugees, simply because they are not Jewish, actually believes that Palestinians – whether Muslims or Christians — are not equal to Jews; are lesser humans. That makes him/her a racist, certainly not a leftist.”

This is not my definition, it is a universal definition. By this universal definition, the great majority of those in Israel who claim to be leftists are really bigots on the right. They are not left at all. They are against the right of return; they are against recognising the Nakba - the ethnic cleansing of 1948; most of them are even against fully ending the occupation of Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank in accordance with international law.

The Israelis invented and propagated the myth that there is a huge left camp; and when we started the academic boycott against Israeli academic institutions, those same “leftists” dishonestly screamed, “Israeli academics are at the forefront of the struggle against occupation. How could you boycott our academics?”

This is all myth. According to reliable research done by Israeli scholars, the total number of Israeli academics who have ever signed a petition condemning the occupation – let alone went on the streets to demonstrate - is only a few hundred, out of nine thousand academics. If you were to survey their opinions on the inalienable right of Palestinian refugees or ending racial discrimination against “non-Jews” in Israel, you would find only a handful of Israeli-Jewish academics supporting such rights. This is the real size of the left in Israel; it is an extremely tiny group of principled, courageous and morally consistent anti-Zionists.

Despite that, our call for boycott is institutional in nature; it does not target individual Israeli academics per se. So we stand on solid ground at all levels, particularly given the well-documented complicity of all Israeli academic institutions in maintaining and promoting various aspects of Israeli oppression against the Palestinians.

Silvia Cattori: This very tiny left group which succeeded, through various stratagems, in getting a big voice, and in maintaining the solidarity movement within certain limits, would it not be also part of the problem? In supporting the «Oslo Agreements», the «Geneva Initiative», and so on, did it not push forward the cause of Israel?

Omar Barghouti: Palestinians need to clarify to the solidarity movement, and to the world, that no one should speak on our behalf. We are “mature” enough, “old” enough to speak for ourselves. We don’t need any patronizing behaviour from friends or foes.

Many Israeli leftists, over decades of occupation, got used to speaking for the Palestinians and then dictating to the Palestinians what we ought to be thinking and asking for, with the ultimate goal being how to help those Israeli “leftists” in “their” struggle! When we started the boycott movement, we effectively told them, “Enough is enough!”

The Palestinian calls for boycott clearly outlined to those who count themselves in the Israeli left that their patronizing attitude towards us was humiliating and colonial, and that self-determination means, above everything else, our right to decide our destiny and to articulate our own aspirations for freedom and equality. They are used to perceiving us as the stereotypical natives, almost like immature children who need to be told what to do in order to behave.

Palestinian civil society has in 2005 expressed its will in issuing the massively endorsed BDS Call. Anyone in solidarity with the Palestinians can no longer ignore this call and continue to dwell on traditional, ineffective forms of support. BDS is simply the most morally sound and politically effective form of solidarity with Palestine today.

Silvia Cattori: But those politicians who have an interest in applying the brakes whenever holding Israel to account, are still very influential in the debate. Do you agree with Palestinian political scientist Abdel-Sattar Qassem [15], who said that «real Palestinians» have so far had only a very small role in the debate about Palestine?

Omar Barghouti: Genuine representatives of Palestinian public opinion are seldom given a chance to be heard, because the mainstream western media, the large international conferences, the European and American funding organizations, are not interested in any principled Palestinian position advocating the application of international law and universal rights. They invite people who are pliable, “moderates” who will readily give up the right of return, for instance, and accept “Israel’s right to exist” as a racist apartheid state, in return for a subset of Palestinian rights. Only those “good Arabs” are sought after in such world forums.

Silvia Cattori: Could we label these Palestinians who did not behave correctly as traitors to their cause? Particularly since 2002 where the situation had become so bad for the resisters who were hit by extrajudicial Israeli killings.

Omar Barghouti: I would not call all of them traitors, because there are all kinds of traitors. It is a relative term. Of course we have our quislings who overtly or covertly collaborate with Israel. But most of the Palestinians involved in the peace industry are delusional, selfish or both. Many of them are in it for the money, for personal privilege, and wish to think that they are serving the cause in their own way. The fastest way to get rich today is to form a joint Palestinian-Israeli group doing anything: women’s rights; football for peace; children’s rights; theatre for coexistence; film to overcome psychological barriers; environment; democracy; parallel historical narratives; academic and scientific research; just about anything, except joint struggles to end the occupation and oppression!

Joint Palestinian-Israeli projects that claim to be “apolitical” – and are therefore politically biased and misleading — attract a lot of European money. And, unfortunately, many Palestinians — particularly given the resource-starved environment they live in under occupation — and of course many Israelis are involved in this profitable business. Some European political elites will generously pay any project that may help alleviate their deep-rooted guilt feelings over the Holocaust. Our rights matter very little in this manipulative and deceptive agenda.

Silvia Cattori: Before going to Palestine I was like everybody: I believed that very bad people called «anti-Semites» did really exist. But suddenly, after having written one or two articles defending Palestinian rights, I was surprised to discover that I was accused of being «anti-Semitic» myself. So, now, I do know that this word is a very strong weapon in the hands of those who want to silence people criticizing Israel in a free and honest way.
Anti-Semitism did exist in the 1930s. But today, I see that there are many people who hate Arabs, also in the left. As far as I am concerned, I never met any «anti-Semite», that is to say a person who hates Jews because they are Jews. On the other hand, I have met people who are interested in making the world believe that «anti-Semitism» is a phenomenon of a big magnitude, in order to justify the existence of Israel on Arab land. What is your position about that?

Omar Barghouti: Anti-Semitism does not justify Israel. I think there still is anti-Semitism, people who hate Jews for being Jews, in the US and Europe especially. But this phenomenon now is more fringe than it ever was and is far from influential in any country. Islamo-phobia, on the other hand, is rising dangerously in the mainstream across Europe and the US. Racist hate of Arabs and Muslims is truly the new “anti-Semitism” today, as Noam Chomsky once said.

It is important at this point to make one distinction very clear: our conflict is with Zionism and with Israel as a colonial entity. I am opposed to all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism and Zionism. I, as well as the great majority of Palestinians, have absolutely nothing against Judaism or against Jews as a religious group, absolutely nothing.

Furthermore, we are against Israel not because it is Jewish, but because it is colonial oppressor denying our rights. If Israeli Jews give up their colonial existence and racist privileges and accept our rights, we have no problem coexisting with them in a de-zionised Palestine, which would necessarily entail the right of return for the refugees and unmitigated equality for all, irrespective of religion, ethnicity, gender or national origin.

The most generous offer the indigenous Palestinians can extend to the Israeli-Jewish settlers is to accept them as equals living with us, not above us. No master, no slave. But accepting Israel as a “Jewish state” on our land is impossible. No rational Palestinians with any sense of dignity can accept a racist state -that excludes them and treats them as relative humans - existing on their indigenous land.

Silvia Cattori: The fact remains that «anti-Semite» has a much stronger impact than «racist», because in many countries of Europe, there legal are consequences for those who are accused of being « anti-Semitic ».
Should we not be considered equal, Jews and non-Jews? Why should we accept this biased way of making people feel guilty about something that does not exist any more, but proves to be very useful for pro-Israeli war propaganda purposes?

Omar Barghouti: Yes, we should fight that, too. There has to be a struggle to reject all racism equally and not to accept current European laws that treat anti-Semitism as a separate class of crime, far worse than any other form of racism, including Islamophobia or anti-black racism, arguably the most prevalent expressions of white racism nowadays.

These laws are themselves discriminatory. Anti-Semitism is just another form of racism, no more, no less; it should be treated as one branch of racism, not a super branch. But, in any case, it does not justify Israel’s racist nature; it cannot justify Israel’s crimes. We should decouple anti-Semitism from anti-Zionism. While the former is a form of racism; the latter is a moral stance against racism.

Silvia Cattori: But this will not be possible as long as Palestinians find themselves in a situation of inequality, and that the oppressed people can’t tell us how they live. Instead, those who play the game of «normalization» have the stage, which is a kind of collaboration!

Omar Barghouti: Palestinian representatives ought to respect and unite behind our civil society’s BDS call for a struggle against the three key forms of Israeli injustice, not just one – occupation and colonisation of the 1967 territory is just one form of injustice.

The core of the question of Palestine remains the much larger injustice, the denial of the basic rights of the refugees, who constitute the majority of the Palestinian people.

And there is a third form of injustice, which is often overlooked – the regime of institutionalized racism against Palestinian citizens of Israel. Even if Israel ended the occupation tomorrow, it will not end this colonial conflict. The solidarity movement in Europe and the rest of the world has to respect the genuine voice of Palestinian civil society, rather than promote Palestinian quislings or little bureaucrats who tour the world to say anything as long as they are paid well. They do not represent the Palestinian people; they do not speak on behalf of the Palestinians.

Silvia Cattori: Thank you, Mr. Barghouti for your insightful analysis.

Thanks to Greta Berlin for translation.

[1Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), is an independent Palestinian researcher whose political and cultural writings have appeared in several publications. He is a human rights activist involved in the struggle to end oppression and conflict in Palestine/Israel through civil resistance. He holds a Masters degree in electrical engineering from Columbia University and is currently a doctoral student of philosophy (ethics) at Tel Aviv University. He contributed to the recently published philosophical volume, Controversies and Subjectivity (John Benjamins, 2005). He also contributed to The New Intifada: Resisting Israel’s Apartheid (Verso Books, 2001). He advocates an ethical vision for a unitary, secular democratic state in historic Palestine. He is a dance choreographer and trainer. He spoke at several arts conferences on the relation between art and oppression.

[2In 2004, 171 Palestinian organizations and unions made a call to the international community to support boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it fully abides by international law and universal human rights.

[3“Whether there might have been a better outcome is anyone’s guess. But the dream that was Palestine is finally dead.” Drawn from the article by Bret Stephen, Who Killed Palestine? A failure with a thousand fathers, Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2007. B. Stephen is a member of the editorial staff of the Wall Street Journal and was a director of the Jerusalem Post.

[5The Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 in Washington, in the presence of Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli Prime Minister, of Yasser Arafat, President of the PLO executive committee, and Bill Clinton, President of the United States.

[6Advisers to President Yasser Arafat yesterday, today in control, often presented as « submitted to the United States and Israel» and serving above all their own interests, material and prestige

[7Omar Barghouti. "Secular Arabs Detest Hypocrisy too". ZNet.

[8The “Geneva Initiative”, or “Geneva Agreement”, signed on December 1, 2003 in Geneva. The main promoters were the Israeli, Yossi Beilin and the Palestinian, Yasser Abed Rabbo. Also participating were Zionist writers like Amos Oz and David Grossman. This Agreement was rightfully presented as a «soap bubble» by the historian Ilan Pappe, but was presented as a real «hope of peace» by Dominique Vidal, and was «supported without reservations» by the l’Union française juive de paix (UFJP) and greeted feelingly by the Mouvement de paix.

[9Alexis Keller, the promoter of the « Geneva initiative » declared, during a conference in 2003, that this initiative, “ Represents the maximum that the Israelis can give up… that both parties have red lines that they cannot cross, like the right of the Palestinian refugees to return home. That Israel cannot admit their return because it must remain a Jewish State.” (with a Jewish majority). Apparently, the fact that this concept of a «Jewish State» is racist did not bother Mr. Keller.

[10In a report released in February 2007, Mr. Dugard wrote that Israel’s policies «resemble those of apartheid».

[11President Jimmy Carter, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. Simon & Schuster, 2006

[12Until very recently, even a progressive monthly like «Le Monde diplomatique» had never associated Israel with apartheid. At best, in 2004, Mr. Alain Gresh wrote that this «resembles apartheid».

[13« The Israel Lobby », John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, London Review of Books, 23 March 2006.

[14"The anti-war movement has failed" interview of Jeff Blankfort by Silvia Cattor, Voltaire Network, 23 february 2006.

[15"Palestinians will never surrender: Dr Abdul Sattar Kassem interviewed", Palestinain Pundit, 15 september 2006.