Aris Oikonomou | 17.06.2007 16:03 | Palestine
My name is Salah Al-Ta'mari I am member of the Fatah, governor of Bethlehem and Minister of Youth in the Authority.
Right. We know that this is the 40th year after what is known as the “Six Day War” and according to some voices this is the date that the “Palestinian Issue” started. Would you agree with this? Do your think the roots of the current situation are to be found there?
Of course not! It was at that point that the “Palestinian Problem” took a new form and it went to a new level. All the Palestinian people became prisoner in their own land or went to refugee camps in Jordan, Syria and all over the world. The whole of Palestine was occupied in 1967. So we cannot say that it was the beginning of the “Palestinian Problem” but another phase of a situation that precedes the war.
The genocide of our people started well before 1967. Already with the creation of Isreal in 1948 the ethic uprooting started. The year that followed the creation the uprooting took the form of ethic cleansing. Since 1967 we have entered a new phase of this ethnic purification. We are still living in this phase. The wall and the racist and killer policy of Israel is the living proof of their historical intention.
We should note that Palestine was not the only one occupied, part of Egypt and Syria was also occupied. The situation was region became more intense. The region was pregnant with another war, which took place in 1973. The era is marked by tensions, problems, civil wars and disturbances at all levels. Although there was a peace agreement signed, well not a real peace agreement. It was a peace agreement signed between Egypt and Israel, Jordan and Israel and of course the Oslo agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis but again that did not end the tension.
We are still far from peace mainly because the Israelis concept of peace is so different from ours. To them peace means security. When you ask them to define security they fail to do so. To us, peace means the end of occupation and our legal rights to be met. It is as simple as that. So as long as our concepts of peace grow mutually a part it means that tension will remain in this region. Now it has taken another dimension, it has become regional. Iran is involved, the States are involved, Europe is involved and many other countries in the world are involved. But the Israelis continue the policy of occupation. This policy of continual occupation does not help in achieving peace.
How do the people live today in Bethlehem? How do they live the occupation?
Bethlehem, the capital of the Christian world, is a big prison due to the wall constructed around it. There are only four gates and no mobility for the people of Bethlehem. There is a disconnection between Bethlehem and Jerusalem (10 km) and Bethlehem and the surrounding villages. This means, increasing unemployment, the deterioration of the economy which is based on tourism and agriculture. We receive over 30 000 tourists per month but very few stay overnight bringing about the collapse of tourism for our city.
This is planned effect by Israel aiming at putting pressure on the Palestinians to leave. Some have already succumbed nevertheless the majority have stayed.
There is suffering, there is the uncertainty about the future, there are problems that our younger generations are facing who hear a lot about peace but do not see it nor enjoy it. Their future is at stake. The wall is a criminal act against our youth, especially in the northern part of Bethlehem. We need to take to care of the emotional health of the younger people which can and has been disturbed from what they see. We do not want them to indulge in violence as a reflection of the Israeli violence against them. Whether the violence is in the form of a wall, arrests, assassinations, destroying of houses and confiscating land. All those acts are violent acts by the Israelis.
We try to preach non violent methods of resistance, but our younger ones don’t see the fruits of it. This is where the danger is. Violence will lead nowhere besides further suffering, further casualties and more loses of life. We are trying to educate our younger to express their anger against injustice in a positive constructive way. I hope we will succeed in that.
Do you think that a solution to the conflict should include a solution to the refugee issue?
The refugee issue is the core of the problem from 1948 and even more so after 1967. We are not asking Israel to open the borders and allow 5 million refugees to come back, it is impractical. Nobody asked for that. First of all they should admit that there are refugees and that they should return and the rest could be scheduled. But in principle they should admit that “yes refugees do have a right to return”. That is the resolution that is a human right even. They cannot get away with it. They cannot ignore it. They cannot overlook it. We cannot overlook it.
We talked before of the “Palestinian Problem”. This is a refugees problem. And when we started our resistance back in 1965, we where in Bethlehem we waged our resistance for the return of refugees. So I do not think that it could be overlooked and it is not impossible to solve, if we come up genuine and creative solution.
Some people say that “Palestinian Problem” had its solution in the Oslo agreements, would you agree with that?
Let me say bluntly, I was one of those that accepted Oslo, not because Oslo brought about justice but because Oslo introduced less injustice. We thought Oslo could be a turning point after which we could negotiate a real solution to reach our rights with the support of the international community.
But unfortunately it was the Israelis who sabotaged the implementation of agreement. The main blow that was aimed at the peace process was the assassination of Rabbin. I say bluntly that Rabbin converted to peace, not for the sake of the Palestinian people bu for the sake of Israel itself. He came through on what he signed and that is why he was assassinated by the Jews themselves.
The other factor that derailed the peace process was the suicide bombing. This is controversial method of resistance. I myself do not agree with it nor do I accept it. You cannot aim at civilians nor civil places. This is my opinion. Although I have spent most of my adult life in uniform and I have fought against the Israelis I would have never thought of doing or organising a suicide bombing in a restaurant or any place else. We say it openly and bluntly. We cannot descend from the high ground of morality which we occupy. The Israelis do kill our men, our children, our women and elders. But we go by our own code of ethics.
So these two blows were aimed at the peace process resulting in its derailment. If we had a receptive partner from the Israeli side peace could be at hand. But the Israeli government being right wing as it is I do not think there is room for peace.
The media in Europe present the situation in Palestine as a small civil war between power thirsty factions, the Hamas and the Fatah. What is your opinion on this?
I am not a Hamas member. I will never be a Hamas member and if Hamas is the only organisation left on Earth I would not joint it. But Hamas is not my enemy. They are our brothers, they are Palestinian. They have their own ideology, which I do not agree with, but we stand in the same ditch against the occupation. Occupation is the enemy!
There are elements who have interest in sabotaging the result of the Palestinian. These elements represent foreign powers and interests. Be it the USA, Iran or European countries they are alien to our people. Hamas won the elections, Hamas should form the government. This siege is unfair. The boycott of the Palestinian Government is unfair. Hamas won the lections, it is our people that elected them. If they do not accept it then they better shut up and not give us, or anyone, lessons about democracy if they do not want to accept the results of democracy.
In Bethlehem as a governor, Hamas is not a problem. My problem are some elements who are not Hamas who take their orders from abroad. So cannot say it is Hamas. I do not agree with their ideology or social program. But they are not the enemy. The enemy is the Israeli occupation.
Thank you very much