Olivia Zemor

Silvia Cattori: Were you surprised by French President Jacques Chirac’s invitation to Ariel Sharon? What do you think it was aimed at?

Olivia Zemor: The French Minister of Foreign Relations announced Sharon’s visit in April 2004. Then, a great protest campaign was launched against the visit of this war criminal to France. More than 30 000 cards were sent to President Jacques Chirac and posters were stuck as well. The visit did not take place but the French government kept making concessions to Israel and increased its collaboration with this country, including the military field. Nicolas Sarkozy, Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Michel Barnier went to Israel and their statements were astonishingly submissive to Israel and its Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who did not miss a chance to insult France and the French. The French leaders have supported the pro-Israeli pressure group in France and its blackmail regarding anti-Semitism. Therefore, we have no choice but to denounce -contrary to what other associations have done, that is to remain silent- the double standard of the French government, which supports the creation of a Palestine State and welcomes a dying Arafat while, on the other hand, stimulates Israel’s colonial and annexation policy by showing positive signs such as honoring its leaders and allowing the Israeli Army to collect money in the French territory by refusing to force Israel to apply international law. Jacques Chirac has given another step by inviting Sharon to France. It is a serious violation of the Human Rights that should be defended by our democracy. Sharon’s visit is expected to take place “after July 14 Celebrations.” Anyway, we have reacted (see the posters, slogans, pamphlets and the calls to participate in demonstrations available in our web site Europalestine). Right now, all organizations are urging people to participate in a massive demonstration which will take place on July 9, 2005 in Paris.

Poster of the "Israel is lying" campaign
(Text: "Israel talks about peace but takes the land")

Considering that the media do not reflect these actions at all and that political authorities support the pro-Israeli pressure groups, the situation is extremely unfavorable for Human Rights in Palestine. What chances do you actually have of being heard?

Olivia Zemor: Whereas in the very same Israel the media is also used by those who oppose Sharon’s policy, the situation in France is completely different. There are newspapers that define themselves as “progressive”, such as Le Monde and Libération, which refuse to give a space to Israelis such as Tanya Reinhart, Emmanuel Farjoun and Ilan Ppappe, who openly oppose Israel’s colonial policy. Nothing is published either on the abuses committed by the Zionist extreme right groups like Betar and the Jewish Defense League which are very active in our country despite being prohibited even in the United States. With regard to the pro-Israeli pressure groups in France, they not only have supporters in the media but in our government too. Nicole Guedj, one of the leaders of CCJO (Consultative Council of Jewish Institutions), was Secretary of State for Victims’ Rights until May and, as it happens, she regretted a lot the false anti-Semitic attacks (such as the RER D farce she widely publicized) but she never said a word about the numerous victims of real acts committed against the Arabs or the blacks. This is a situation we are constantly denouncing, whereas other Human Rights organizations usually support the anti-Semitism denunciations but do not condemn other forms of racism.

Do you mean all your efforts are neutralized by those who defend adverse interests?

Olivia Zemor: The truth is the intensification of Israeli military interventions in the territories is accompanied by a generalized intensification of the work of pro-Israeli groups in the whole world. Their objective is to present Israel as the victim, something that helps to divert attention from the violations the very same Israel is committing against Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In the regional perspective, the situation is quite disturbing too. The Israeli government wants the war to be extended in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Lebanon so that it can go on with the elimination of as many Palestinians as possible. This is a project called “transference.” Since Palestinians are very attached to their land, Israel tries to force them to leave by all kinds of pressures. It is actually a “disguised deportation” not to arise the hate of the public opinion.

Are you saying the worst problem for Human Rights advocates in Palestine is to sensitize the public opinion?

Olivia Zemor: Part of the public opinion is perfectly informed for they have access to Arab TV stations such Al-Jazeera; but another part is so badly informed that it can not understand what is really happening there. The very same term “Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” (which should be taken out of our vocabulary) makes us believe there is a war between two States, two Armies, when what we actually have there is an occupant and an occupied. The truth about the occupation, the State terrorism Israel is implementing, the long list of brutalities, humiliation and strangulation actions which all occupations bring along are deliberately concealed; the media confuse the people with false presentations such as “attacks/reprisals”, “return to the cycle of violence” which lead people to believe that all Israel does is to “guarantee its security” by committing “as in every single war” some excesses, of course. Israel has been monopolizing the media for 60 years. We may not have the very same means our adversaries have but if we gather our energy, if we get together we’d have the chance of saying a different message, of proving Israel is lying, of showing the true face of the occupation.

Don’t you think that the link that has always existed between those Israelis who defend peace -who have to protect their own interests which is something understandable- and the advocates of Human Rights in Palestine -who, on their side, have lost everything- has helped to weaken solidarity? Wasn’t the solidarity movement wrong in the past?

Olivia Zemor: A divided solidarity movement can not be effective. Nowadays, the movement has new bases which are the essence of the campaign we have been launching during the last month on the topic Israel lies. Thirty associations are participating in France. We got together to launch a great information campaign. In several cities of France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland we have exhibited posters that show the annexation of Palestinian territories for 60 years and the brutality of the occupation and we have distributed stickers with several messages. Through this campaign, which we will keep for some months, we want to mobilize as many citizens as possible. This is the only way we have to make the balance of forces to oblige our governments to impose sanctions against Israel.

Do you have any example to prove the flagrant way in which Israel “lies”?

Olivia Zemor: Israel has always lied. There is the “land without a people for the people without a land” concept; then the alleged “flight” of the Palestinians in 1948, a story aimed at hiding the massacres and expulsions suffered by the Palestinians; the Six-Day War was presented as a self-defense war when it was actually an Israeli attack; Ehud Barak’s famous “generous offer” in Camp David; and now, the “calm” with dead and wounded Palestinians every day and a wall that annexes more and more Palestinian territory. Israel has a long list of lies.

Don’t you think people who got mobilized and excited during decades with false peace promises are tired?

Olivia Zemor: Yes, but we have no other choice. The Palestinians are more than tired and they still resist. Despite all its lies, it is very difficult for Israel to expel them out of their land. It is obvious the wall is being closed around them. They are caged in something that looks more and more like Indians’ reservation. They will lose achievements of the Palestinian civil society in terms of access to education and organization. In 38 years of occupation, Israel has killed or incarcerated most of its leaders, its eminent men and women and has corrupted a certain amount of Palestinians which is another huge disadvantage. I don’t know if the Palestinian Authority is right in acting as if it still have certain authority or power when it can not do anything. It maintains the illusion Palestinians control their destiny, that internal reforms can improve the situation when they are actually occupied. It does not offer slogans of action to the Palestinian people who knew how to mobilize themselves massively and successfully during the first Intifada through spectacular actions of civil disobedience and who are pretty much paralyzed nowadays.

Are you optimistic regarding the union of all forces in France?

Olivia Zemor: Many militants of all associations have realized that in order to be able to influence our right or left wing political leaders and to make people respect the international law we are forced to have a popular mobilization. Unfortunately, we won’t succeed with delegations, press releases or petitions. Certain associations’ leaders in France and other parts hoped the relations they had with parliamentarians would change a bit. But what have the governments gotten during all this time? I think it is obvious we have no choice but to make a popular mobilization like those made during the war against Viet Nam and Algeria or against the apartheid in South Africa.

Poster of the "Israel is lying" campaign
(Text: "The true face of israeli occupation")

Is that the sense of the campaigns launched nowadays by “Palestine Resistance”?

Olivia Zemor: Yes, the French must understand the resistance against the oppression in Palestine is the last trench against brutality; that Palestine represents the society they are preparing for us and we are already seeing it in Iraq. It is the survival of the fittest, the law of the jungle. If we allow the elimination of Palestinians to continue, if we accept they end like the Indians in the United States, we will have to pay the price. The world has to understand the struggle for the right of the Palestinians to self-determination not only belongs to the people of Jewish or Muslim origin. People must understand that this is a drama that not only affects the people that live there, that this is not a simple injustice or suffering but something that has to do with us directly, which is the symbol of what they want to imposed upon us: a world in which tomorrow, the weakest, the defenseless will live in hell. What they are preparing for us is a dark tomorrow. We have to say we don’t want such a world neither for us nor for our children. We must not forget what happened during WWII when people decided not to intervene for they felt they were not being affected directly. Today, we know. We can neither avoid our responsibilities, nor can we say we did not know.

So, the media that minimizes the seriousness of the abuses in Palestine and the governments that do not say a word, will then have to recognize their own complicity?

Olivia Zemor: They are to be partly blamed for the problems we have to inform the public opinion. No media outlet is willing to report the actions the solidarity movement is making, which are unknown to the population. This the reason why we have no choice but to go to the streets with posters, stickers, in demonstrations making street shows...until the media stop pretending they don’t know the reality.

You are neither Israeli nor Palestinian. You are involved in the movement. Do you invest all your energy in this when you could have a better life?

Olivia Zemor: I am not an exception. I am not the only one who is committed to this cause. I know many people who invest their time and energy according to their own possibilities. I think those like us who get outraged due to such brutality and arrogance and due to the denials of rights the Israeli policy represents are increasing in number. I don’t think my life is worse for all this. I don’t have the situation the Palestinians have, I am not exposed to the same dangers, and nobody has destroyed my house, I don’t fear my children be kidnapped at night or on their way to school. This is not the first time I get involved in a cause. Injustice outrages me. I fought because I wanted France to recognize the crimes it committed in October 1961, when the police threw Algerians to the Sena. I don’t see how I could have a better life. I think that if I don’t get involved my life would be worse because I would have done nothing to prevent society from being more unjust. For me, life is better if I don’t have to kneel down.

Interview made for Voltaire Network on June 30, 2005.