On 31 May 2010, Israeli pirates attacked civilian vessels in international waters.

Silvia Cattori: Were you surprised to learn that today, Monday, 31 May, the Israeli navy has attacked the humanitarian aid flotilla and shot at the people who were sailing to Gaza?

Hazem Jamjoum [1]: The attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was somewhat expected; the Israeli government and the Israeli military had made it somewhat clear that they did not want to allow the activists to enter Gaza strip. I was shocked when I heard that they had actually killed so many people. I had expected them to steal the boats, anchor them and arrest the activists. But to use this violence was a big shock for me.

But I think it also makes some sense; it reveals how the Israeli military logic works, in the sense that Israel has shown for 62 years that it does not have problems with killing people [2], or with acts of piracy, or with violations of international law. And I think increasingly it becomes more and more clear that Israel feels it can literally get away with murder, regardless of whether it is against Palestinians or non-Palestinians. It is not the first time that it kills non-Palestinians.

Because quite simply, the international community has shown that it will not take any concrete measures to punish Israel or to render it accountable for the crimes that it commits.

Silvia Cattori: The Israeli navy’s attack against the flotilla in international waters has brought about a wave of reactions against Israel that have turned out to be larger in scale than during its massive bombardment of Gaza which in just eight minutes, on 27 December 2008, left about 300 people dead on the ground. Does this mean that Palestinian lives do not deserve the same attention?

Hazem Jamjoum: It is a big story. First of all, I think that unfortunately the media, like Israel, has really very little regard for Palestinian lives, and Arab lives in general. You see also killings on an almost daily basis in Irak since 2003 but all they get now is barely a few words on the bottom of the screen of most news channels. The same is true with Palestine: Israeli has been killing Palestinians for 62 years and in large numbers, particularly since 2000, with the launch of the second Intifada (uprising), and this is not news. The reason that it is now something that is very important for the media is because those 700 hundred people on those boats are all from outside Palestine: there are Europeans, Americans, Turks, and so this is maybe a little more relevant for the international media because it is international people who were killed and injured on those boats. In addition also thousands of people gave money for the supplies and for those boats. And maybe also after the massacres in Gaza strip, in 2008-2009, there has been growing a very strong movement in all strata of society that is finally beginning to criticize Israel. I think the fact that the media has given this massacre on Freedom Flotilla so much attention is itself an evidence of how successful and big this movement has grown.

Silvia Cattori: Are you surprised by the fact that the US has not condemned the act of piracy committed by Israel and has not demanded the lifting of the blockade on Gaza?

Hazem Jamjoum: Not really. It has become very clear that the States are not going to hold Israel accountable and this Freedom Flotilla was part of the movement to render Israel accountable. If States are not going to do it, this flotilla would do it and take the supplies to Gaza. This was the idea. The flotilla is neither charity nor humanitarian aid: it is a political statement. For the organizers of the Freedom Flotilla, this was one hundred percent a political act. The idea was that if governments of the world are not going to hold Israel accountable for this medieval siege – we have never seen a siege of a territory like this for 800 years – they would do it.

This is the idea of the flotilla and this is also the idea of the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) which was launched in 2005 by the Palestinian civil society, by all political parties, the unions, the refugee organizations, etc. This campaign began to grow much faster after the massacres in Gaza when people around the world began to see Israel for what it really is: a regime of apartheid, occupation and colonization. And I think that the growth of this movement has made even the media more sensitive to the reality that Israel is not a state that is protecting Jewish people, it is a state that is committing crimes on a daily basis.

Silvia Cattori: Do you think that this sea attack will make it possible to put an end to the impunity and protection that Israel had always enjoyed from our media?

Hazem Jamjoum: Yes, Israel has been very much protected until now by the media, by States, by all institutions having any kind of power. This has been especially so in a region like Europe where Jewish organizations have been very successful and have managed to exploit the guilt over the Holocaust in the Second World War, and to use lies like the allegation that Palestinians left their homes because Arab leaders had told them to leave. People were also afraid of being accused of anti-Jewish action if they criticized Israel.

But when you see Israel using F-16s and tanks, bombing a defenseless civilian population who have nowhere to go because the boarders are tightly closed, storming a ship filled with international people, including MPs, humanitarian aid workers, and shooting on them and their ships, it becomes harder to say that if you criticize it your are engaging in anti-Jewish action.

The second thing is that an increasing number of Jewish people, realizing that Israel has been doing this for 62 years allegedly in their name, have become aware that Israel is misusing and abusing their name to cover up these crimes. I think that a growing number of Jewish people are saying «You cannot do this in my name any more», and are opposing Zionism and the ongoing crimes of Israel, which is also a very important phenomenon.

Silvia Cattori: If Israel has been able during 62 years to pursue its policy of ethnic cleansing, based on hatred and dehumanization, isn’t it because its propaganda has always managed to reverse facts by portraying the Palestinian victims of its apartheid policy as terrorists and presenting Arabs and Muslims as being inferior, violent and fanatic?

Hazem Jamjoum: Definitely, and not just Israel of course. If you watch Hollywood movies, you will see that Arabs and Muslims are so portrayed, especially since the so-called «War on Terror» - but even before. Even popular culture is very dehumanizing and is completely racist and Israel has used it to its benefit for 62 years. That so-called West, the so-called « civilized world », sees Arabs and Muslims as part of a barbaric, savage, sub-human kind of people. If you watch the Israeli media as well, the same Palestinians and Arabs are portrayed again as savage, barbaric and inherently violent, crazy and irrational creatures. We still have a great deal of work to do all around the world to begin to fight back against these racist stereotypes, against this image of Arabs and Muslims as barbarians. Obviously, it goes without saying that this is not true. History tells us how much western civilization has actually borrowed from others.

Silvia Cattori: What renders the context still more difficult for outsiders to understand is that the authorities of Ramallah and their representatives abroad are playing the game of the Israeli occupation. On the same day of the attack against the flotilla, Elias Sambar, the Palestinian representative to UNESCO, who was hosted on the French France 2 TV channel, did not conceal the existing fracture. “You know what I think of Hamas”, he said, speaking to Daniel Shek, the Israeli ambassador to France, who couldn’t find words hard enough enough to incriminate Hamas. How can one understand such complacency vis-à-vis a colonial occupying power that is so cruelly tormenting the Palestinians and such contempt by a Palestinian diplomat of the democratically elected Hamas authorities?

Hazem Jamjoum: This Palestinian leadership has put all of its strategy into one failed basket, i.e. its belief that by talking with Israel and by convincing the international community, they can somehow achieve something, like regaining the rights of the Palestinian people. Over the past 13 - 14 years, it has become extremely and fully clear that these negotiations are only benefiting Israel which is using them as a method of stalling, and buying this time to consolidate its apartheid regime, its theft of Palestinian land and its construction of colonies.

The dehumanization of Hamas fits in with the general dehumanization of Islamic political groups and with the building for a war with Iran, as Hamas is being portrayed as part of an Iranian camp in the region. It should be clear also that Hamas is the popular choice, democratically elected in 2006, and we stand behind that election as a vote of no confidence in the negotiations. When Palestinians voted for Hamas in 2006, they were saying to Fatah that they did not accept the negotiations which have proven to be a failure. The fact that this leadership in Ramallah is continuing with the « proximity talks » and negotiations is just more proof that this strategy is failing.

Silvia Cattori: It seems that President Mahmoud Abbas has not really called for an end to the blockade. Isn’t it so?

Hazem Jamjoum: I don’t know. Actually I can’t remember. They have been critical of the siege in certain points. Whether they have tried in a consistent and systematic way to work through the United Nations and through their international contacts to break the siege, I am not sure.

It is perfectly clear that the leadership in Ramallah has taken a very strong position against Hamas and they see Hamas as a threat to their political monopoly. They use against Hamas the same line that Israel is using against it and this is extremely unfortunate. This is particularly so since sometimes they talk about reconciliation with Hamas and in the same breath completely oppose Hamas and demonize it.

I think that both sides need to go back to basics and to the fundamental demands of the people. They need to break their ties with the apartheid regime and to go back and call for the basic rights of the Palestinian people – the right of refugees to return, full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel who have completely been dropped from the Palestinian leadership agenda. There are about 6,4 millions Palestinian refugees in the world, and there are 1,5 million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel. They have a big share of Palestinians in the world. And they are completely neglected by both of these leaderships.

Silvia Cattori: In this context, the refusal of the United States to seize this opportunity to demand the lifting of the blockade was therefore not surprising?

Hazem Jamjoum: No, there is no surprise in the US position. The United States is very clear: Israel is one of its strategic allies and its number one ally in the region. It essentially considers Israel to be its extension in the Middle East. I think that US politicians believe in this position. Whether in fact Israel is in the interest of the US, is something that I think is extremely questionable. The US military - recently general Petraeus - made it very clear that American soldiers are losing their lives because of the US policy of supporting Israel. I think that is a very accurate assessment. People within the US State Department since 1948 have said that support for Israel is actually counter to the US economic and strategic interests. They are right.

Silvia Cattori: Will this not change?

Hazem Jamjoum: I think it will, it has to change because of the growth of social movements in the US which are calling for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. The Green party for example, which is the third party in the US is in favor of BDS, as are an increasing number of US politicians, especially those who have visited Gaza Strip after the massacres and have had the courage to speak up. But in US politics, I think that Politicians can’t just oppose Israel for fear of the consequences. It requires that social movements in the US become stronger and the trend is in their favor. They are critical of Israel and are calling for an end to Israeli apartheid and an end to US support of Israel’s apartheid regime. And so I think we should be cautiously optimistic and really what it requires is just more work.

But it is not just the US support for Israel that allows Israel to continue in this way. It is European support too. Europe is the largest foreign importer of Israeli products in the world, larger than the US. The relationship between the US and Israel is more based on finance and investments. This is why divestment campaigns are so important in the United States. The European Union has a free trade agreement with Israel, and cultural exchanges are very important. All this represents a challenge.

This interview was first published in French on June 4, 2010:

[1Specialized in International Relations and Peace and Conflicts Studies, Hazem Jamjoum is a founding member of the « Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid », of the « Sumoud Political Prisoners Solidarity Group », and of the « Israeli Apartheid Week ». He is a third generation Palestinian refugee, and is the Communications Officer at the « Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights » in Bethlehem, – one of the organizations that drafted the 2005 Palestinian Civil Society Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS) – and the editor of its quarterly English language publication al-Majdal.

[2See a lecture by Hazem Jamjoum in the enclosed video.
See the article by Hazem Jamjoum : «Not an analogy : Israel and the crime of apartheid», The Electronic Intifada, 3 April 2009.