Interview Nabil Abuznaid: “They can swallow Palestine, but they will not digest it”

Nabil Abuznaid: “They can swallow Palestine, but they will not digest it”


Jornal de Notícias 09-03-2017


The memory is of the 1960s and the store where Nabil Abuznaid went with his mother to buy the school uniform in the heart of Hebron. Today, he represents in Portugal the country that, in the legal eyes of the world, does not exist.

Today, he cannot take his children to that central street and show them that memory. He is not allowed to enter there, even though it is an internationally recognized Palestinian territory. Territory, not state. There is an Israeli settlement. Hope in the UN? If it did not depend on Trump’s dollars …

The opening of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem was confirmed for May. Can it ruin the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue?             
If at the time there is some dialogue left to ruin … In my perspective it is already ruined. That will just put salt in the wound. On that day, the Palestinians will witness a second “naqba” (“catastrophe”, as the Palestinian exodus of 1947-48 was called) in the city we believe should be the capital of Palestine, for which we have fought all these years. It will be a sad day, a black day for humanity, for politicians, for the peace camp, even for the United States, a country built on the right to self-determination and now legalizing occupation. East Jerusalem was occupied in 1967 and continues to be considered by the international community as an occupied territory. And now (the American president) Donald Trump comes to reward the occupant and legalize the occupation saying: enjoy, it is yours. It will be a sad day for all those concerned with peace, international law and for all people except a few dozen such as (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu and company, who are organizing celebrations.

Trump’s decision encouraged the Palestinian Authority to reject the US as exclusive mediators in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Who will be the right mediator?       

We are not talking about who, but the principles by which he rules. If you want to be fair, we do not care where you come from. It is not about replacing the US, but about finding the just mediator who can really bring peace. How a mediator can bring peace says: Jerusalem is out of the discussion and I give it to one side. Who gave you authority for this? What right is it that a real estate magnate who sells towers and land in New York must give up my land – Jerusalem-East is almost all Palestinian and of Palestinian cultural heritage. We seek an honest mediator, but also have real influence. We look at Europe, for countries like France, for the whole world. Because this is a conflict that affects the whole world. If you look at the vote (from the resolution rejecting the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem) at the United Nations, the United States tried to use money to influence the vote. Not only have they taken a stand as they want to drag the world behind them. Who is affected? Poor countries that suffer the most. Like Guatemala, a poor country that decided that it will do the same as the US.

Looking at Syria, the UN seems to reveal a lack of power to intervene. Was it worth the leader of the Palestinian Authority to go to New York for intermediation?      

Why not go where we can still go? We have to get on the podium where the international community joins. We tried in 1974, when Yasser Arafat went to the UN and said, “We have the weapon and the branch of the olive tree: do not let the branch of the olive tree fall from my hand, let us work for peace.” The international community has not done much: since 1974, what happened between the Israelis and the Palestinians was bloodshed. Now we go back there and say, “Please, let us take this peace process forward.” We are trying. What else can we do? And look at the US war against us for going to international organizations, which is where you go when there are conflicts. When we went to the International Criminal Court we were punished, when we went to UNESCO, UNESCO was punished. We cannot go to any international organization because there are financial threats from Washington. We hope that (UN Secretary-General) António Guterres, who knows who the Palestinians are, can do something. But there is also pressure on him and the UN, with threats of funding cuts. We do not realize why it is that when it comes to Palestine, the US thinks differently.

With the whole world together in the chaos of Syria, Israel annoying Iran, Netanyahu pondering to anticipate elections to legitimize himself on accusations of corruption, etc., aren’t you afraid that the Palestinian cause is being lost in the foam of they days? 

The Palestinian cause will always be important. Wherever I go, any city, country, I see initiatives in support of Palestine, 70 to 80 percent of the world’s people are on the side of Palestine. It has to do with justice, as it did with apartheid in South Africa. The cause cannot be swept under the rug. When Israel occupied 78 percent of Palestine and 28 percent (the West Bank and Gaza) came under the responsibility of Jordan and Egypt, Israeli leaders said: “Great, Palestine no longer exists on the map!” They think they can swallow Palestine. But they will never digest it.

The truth is that, across the West Bank, it is increasingly difficult to perceive Palestine as a territory. There are checkpoints, the roads are closed to the Palestinians …         

The occupation is not easy. It not only controls the land but also destroys the culture. By preventing me from going to Hebron they are robbing me my childhood. But they will not rob me of hope and determination. I will continue to resist. And I can see the victory of the Palestinians. We have a poet, Mahmoud Darwish, who says Palestinians have two options: victory or victory.

How many generations will it take to witness this victory?          

I hope not much more. I leave a message to the international community: you must not leave us alone, you must fight with us. As Desmond Tutu used to say, to see oppression and to think that it is nothing with us is to align with the oppressor. It is the responsibility of the international community to help make our children free. Why do we have to live our lives under the threat of guns, why do our mothers have to weep their children in prison – we have more than 7,000 people detained in Israel. For what? Wanting to live well in the place where they were born. We are not born slaves. We were born to be free like the rest of the world, but we have to fight for it. We are barred from traveling from one city to another, barred even from burying the dead. In 70 years, we have not witnessed a single day of justice. We need the world to stand up for us.

Is it possible to imagine advances with Netanyahu?          

Netanyahu plays the game well. And he found a partner who encourages his behavior. Since Trump’s decision on the embassy, ​​he is trying to implement Israeli law in East Jerusalem and expel the Palestinians from there. That is why it is time for the international community to recognize the state of Palestine and tell Netanyahu: “This land is internationally recognized, it is occupied, and it is Palestinian territory, so stay away from it.” International shyness only encourages him to continue with the settlement policy. Why should he stop? I ask the International community if you have not yet realized that criticizing Netanyahu is not the right medicine? It is time for the world to assume that it wants to save the two-state solution and say to Netanyahu it is enough.

Do you think Ahed Tamimi, the 16-year-old young woman detained after being filmed kicking Israeli soldiers, could become the new symbol of Palestinian resistance?         

It may, but we have so many symbols of these ..

She had “luck” …         

For being alive.

Yes, but also by the international projection that her image gained.      

And how does that image benefit her in prison? She can be a symbol, just like any Palestinian mother can be, her mother, has two children in jail and is alone … Believe me, I could write a book about each of the Palestinian families. Tamimi appeared on television and became known, but there are so many young Palestinians no one has heard of: they were killed in the dark, buried in secret. This must stop. Why do we have to leave the house in the morning with the anxiety of not knowing if we will be back at the end of the day, living worried about being late to school because of security checks, or not being able to harvest our olives. Why do not we have the right to have a land that we can call ours? What harm have we done? What happened to the Jews in the Holocaust was a crime against humanity, but why do the Palestinians have to pay for it? We do not want to erase Israel from the map. We want to live as neighbors, with good neighborly relations.

You came from Holland to Portugal. You were in Washington before. Does the way the Palestinian cause look differ from country to country?            

Much. The Netherlands is considered the second pro-Israel nation in Europe, after the Czech Republic. It was a difficult mission, but interesting because of the effort to try to change attitudes and opinions. Here, the people are very friendly, but I feel they are not very political.

Not interested?           

I figure they have their own problems. And I feel that youth is less involved in international politics – I’ve never been contacted by universities, nor sought for information, lectures, nothing. In Washington and the Netherlands, it was the students who made the difference. They influence politics a lot. The Palestinian question should be important to any student interested in international law, peace and democracy.

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