Genevieve — Journalisms — Barghouthi on Civil Society and the Prospects for Peace in the Middle East

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With Promises to Keep Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi tours an American Lecture Circuit in Memory of Dr. Edward W. Said
By Genevieve Cora Fraser
“Nothing less than Palestinian self-determination will do; and only that will ever defuse the already far too explosive Middle East.”
Edward W. Said
1992 Epilogue to The Question of Palestine (1979)
As dear friends and long-time colleagues, an ailing Edward Said and Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi had planned to journey together. They would travel in America to lecture on college campuses and Arab organizations and speak of the reality on the ground in Palestine. And they would spread the word about a recently established democratic opposition movement they co-founded and for which Barghouthi serves as Secretary, the Palestinian National Initiative, a.k.a. Al Mubadara as well as the role the Palestinian Civil Society plays in the Initiative.
In June, Said suspecting the end was near requested that Barghouthi go with or without him. The tour would include Harvard and Princeton as well as other prestigious universities, and organizations such as ALWAN in New York City which promotes the arts and culture of the Arab world. Said also made Barghouthi promise to deliver the keynote address at the Sixth Annual Eqbal Ahmad Lecture at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Dr. Said, a Columbia University literary scholar who was considered to be the foremost advocate of the Palestinian cause in the United States, died on September 25 after a long battle with leukemia. In 1999 following Eqbal Ahmad’s death, Said credited Ahmad as “perhaps the shrewdest and most original anti-imperialist analyst of the post-war world.” Ahmad was Professor of International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts as well as managing editor of the quarterly Race and Class. The first Eqbal Ahmad Lecture was delivered by Kofi Annan who spoke on the crisis of knowledge in the Third World.
So during the first week in November, Dr. Barghouthi fulfilled the promise he made to his dying friend and began the tour and on November 4 delivered the Eqbal Ahmad Lecture before a packed and attentive audience. The topic, “There Is a Vision: Civil Society and the Prospects for Peace in the Middle East,” opened with graphic details of the reality on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza and a brief history of Israel’s 56 year-long land grab which started with a 1947 proposal for 55% of the Palestinian territory, that soon expanded to 78%.
And if Ariel Sharon has his way with an annexed Palestine, Israel will own 91% or more of the original territory with Palestinians living on less than 9% of what had once been Palestine, Barghouthi began. In other words, the 3.6 million Palestinians will be imprisoned in ghettos, reminiscent of but larger than those in Warsaw prior to Germany’s attempt at a Final Solution.
As a medical doctor, Barghouthi pulled no punches, illustrating the talk with photos of the most recent dead and dying victims of Israel’s 36 year-long occupation and describing the gruesome manner in which they died. For example, the “rubber” bullets used by the Israeli Defense Force are actually heavy metallic shards with a thin layer of rubber that penetrate areas such as the skull and are nearly impossible to dislodge. And of those shot, 90% of the penetrations are in the upper body. In other words, the intent is to kill. And who are the victims, he asked?
“Between the 29th of September 2000 and the 14th of October 2003, there were 2,654 Palestinians killed,” Barghouthi stated. “Of this figure, 496 children were killed – one in every five killed was a child aged 17 years or younger. 47,000 people have been injured. Of these, 2,500 will be permanently disabled, 500 of whom are children. 100 children have lost their eyes due to being shot with rubber bullets,” he said.
As the President of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees (UPMRC) which he founded with other like-minded medical professionals, his facts are meticulously gathered and indisputable. He knows them by heart and articulates them passionately. UPMRC today is one of the largest and the leading Palestinian non-governmental organizations providing health and community services to more than 1 million people (1/3 of total population) yearly, throughout 435 Palestinian communities. Dr. Barghouthi is also the Director of the Health, Development, Information and Policy Institute in Ramallah, Palestine
“What is behind this policy of maiming and killing innocent people as well as this policy of assassinations?” Barghouthi asked. “Why is it that the Prime Minister of Israel bypasses the legal system and becomes the judge and jury? In addition to the random killings, there have been 292 extra-judicial assassinations, in which 144 by-standers were killed, 33 of whom were children and 25 women.”
“Since 1967, there have been over 650,000 arrests. These arrests represent 47% of the male population which has had a catastrophic impact on the economy and society as a whole, as you can well imagine. Many have stayed in jail for up to 6 years and 360 children have been arrested,” he stated. “Since 29 March 2002, there have been 28,000 Palestinians arrested and detained because they were suspected of ‘doing something’. They are arrested without evidence and no charges are brought.”
“And of course there are the sieges and closure of entire cities. There are 482 checkpoints effectively cutting the country into prisons. What once was a 45 minute drive can now take 9 hours with the checkpoints…. that is if the checkpoints are open. The entire population of the West Bank is now forbidden from owning a car,” he said.
“These are acts of collective punishment where workers cannot get to their jobs, students cannot get to schools. Humiliation and violence are practiced widely. Today many people who are sick are prevented from getting medical attention which has resulted in 82 deaths, 27 were children. There were 52 women who were forced to give birth out in the open air, at checkpoints, because the Israel soldiers refused to let them pass. Of these women, 1/3 lost their babies,” the doctor said, his voice strained with emotion.
“At times people are ordered to strip, to take off their clothes. Curfews are imposed at the will and whim of the soldiers and can last for up to two months. People are unable to move about either by day or by night because these closures are now enforced by tanks. Some tanks attack ambulances carrying patients.”
Barghouthi’s anger was evident as he continued. “Tanks have crushed ambulances while sparing nearby garbage cans. So you see it is all very deliberate. In fact over 120 ambulances have been attacked, 25 health workers killed and 425 health workers have been injured. Israeli soldiers sometimes force the injured to remain where they have fallen and bleed to death.” Dr. Barghouthi illustrated this comment with a photo of a bloodied Palestinian journalist who could easily have been saved if the medical team had been permitted to do their job.
“The psychological impact on the people and especially the children of Palestine has been catastrophic. Homes are bulldozed. Children watch as their siblings’ heads are blown off and others stand waiting for rescue in the rubble of their former homes,” he said, clicking away at a PowerPoint presentation projecting photo after photo of terrorized children, rampaging tanks, destroyed homes, and bloodied and cowering victims onto the overhead screen.
“The outcome of Israeli policies is that 75% of all Palestinians live beneath the poverty line on $2 or less per day. Over 60% are unemployed. There is a huge challenge for Palestinians to merely survive,” he emphasized, “with the Apartheid Wall the most recent invention.”
“This wall they like to pass off as a fence because it sounds less imposing. This Apartheid Wall is twice as high as the Berlin Wall and three times as long,” he said ticking off the reasons why it has nothing to do with security but rather land theft. “It makes the Berlin Wall look like a toy in comparison. And it is not built on the border but deep into the Palestinian territory. It is an unprecedented encroachment.”
“In Qalqiliya, a population of 46,000 now has only one entrance, a gate and a key. The gate is opened between 6:00 in the morning and 6:00 in the evening. At times the gate is closed, simply shut tight without warning which makes it the largest prison on earth.” Barghouthi proceeded to describe how the Israeli military is now requiring thousands of Palestinians living near the Apartheid Wall to obtain permits to live in their homes with no guarantee that the permits will be granted. It is another way to annex or steal their land, he explained.
Barghouthi reminded the audience of the ghetto in the movie, The Pianist. “The Palestinians are the victims of the victims,” he said.
“There is a myth that Israel is the victim and Palestine the aggressor. They would have you believe that Israel is David and Palestine is Goliath. How can that be with Israel having the 4th largest military in the world? Palestine has only a few thousand policemen with light guns. This is not a war. This is occupation,” he said.
“I am here to tell you today that both Israel and Palestine are the victims. They are both victims of a wrong policy. The violence that erupts is a symptom of a disease. And as a medical doctor I can tell you that you should not treat the symptom but the cause of the disease,” he explained.
“Oppression is the cause of the violence. You cannot negotiate a military solution as Sharon would have you believe. Israel cannot and will not break the will of the Palestinian people in their struggle for justice and dignity and self-determination,” he stated emphatically. However, the preconditions of a peaceful solution must include free elections, Barghouthi cautioned.
Yasser Arafat was elected President of the Palestinian Authority in 1996. It is past time for another election. According to Barghouthi, a free and open election process would also serve as the perfect opening to usher in international peacekeeping forces to insure that the legality of the process is upheld. This would allow Israel to leave Palestine and end the occupation. It would also save Israel billions of dollars and help boost their faltering economy.
“Peace cannot be imposed by secret negotiations held behind the backs of the people,” he insisted. “People have become fixated on the peace process not peace itself. Israel must accept Palestine as an equal partner with rights. They must also decide what they want for their future.”
Israel cannot claim to be a democratic state while upholding the rights of only Jews. Nor can it claim to be democratic while imposing segregation, maintaining a cruel and unjust state of apartheid on a population of 3.6 million people, Barghouthi expounded. If Israel wants to be both democratic and to keep possession of the illegal settlements there is only one solution possible, create one state that is bi-national. But they realize that Palestinians will soon be the majority. So for them, that is not an attractive solution.
Toward the conclusion of the lecture Dr. Barghouthi outlined the vision he shared with Edward Said for a just peace through the establishment of a sovereign, independent, viable, and democratic Palestinian state on all of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital. He explained that the Palestinian Civil Society was developed after the failure of the Camp David peace talks in 1978 when Palestinians came to realize that help would not be found from outside their borders, but from within.
The so-called Civil Society is a non-violent, self-reliant, self-determined network of NGOs or non-government organizations that include educational, medical, cultural, and charitable organizations as well as research institutes, plus environmental and legal organizations to name a few. Through the Palestinian National Initiative, Al Mubadara, the Palestinians hope to establish the first Arab democracy in the Middle East utilizing the Palestinian Civil Society as the institutional framework.
According to the Palestinian National Initiative’s statement of principals, this Initiative is a response to popular demands from men and women calling for increased participation by Palestinian citizens in the process of nation building and for the opportunity to participate in the just struggle for the realization of an independent, viable, democratic and prosperous state which guarantees security, justice, equality before the law, and a dignified existence for its citizens.
Immediately following the death of his friend, Edward Said, Dr. Barghouthi released a statement where he described him as “a man with great courage and clear conviction… a shining light in a confused world.”
“For the Palestinian National Initiative, a movement striving for democracy in Palestine itself co-founded by Said, the death of this unique and most prominent leader, a man of values and integrity who truly believed in freedom and justice is a great loss. The Mubadara remain determined to follow in his foot steps, and remain committed to his vision, conveying all his hopes and values not just of a free Palestine, and free Palestinians but of freedom for all, the world over,” Dr. Barghouthi stated.