As a Palestinian refugee, can you describe the depth of hardship Palestinian refugees face?
The hardship of Palestinian refugees is multi-layered. First, the humanitarian condition of the refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria are appalling. They are being looked after by the UN agency UNRWA, which is chronically underfunded and operates with a limited political and financial mandate.
In Lebanon, the refugees are isolated and denied work; in Syria, they are starved and bombarded; in Gaza, they are under siege;and in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, they are a constant target for the Israeli occupation army.
The refugees continue to bear the brunt of the Israeli occupation, and the passing of time has done little to rectify the injustice they have suffered since the Nakba -their ethnic cleansing from their historic Palestinian homeland in 1948.
The lack of a political horizon, is equally vexing. Every refugee problem in the world throughout the 20th century has been remedied somehow, except that of the Palestinian people. Theirs is the most protracted refugee crisis in recent memory, and with time the crisis itself has turned into the status quo. Thus, being a ‘refugee’ has become the identity of three or four generations of Palestinians. This is unendurable, let alone inhumane.
The war on Iraq in 2003 and now the war in Syria once more highlight the urgency of the refugee crisis, highlighting the reality that a Palestinian refugee is never safe in the Middle East, but always vulnerable; always a scapegoat. The situation in the Yarmouk refugee camp among camps in Syria should be enough to push the issue of the refugees back to the surface. It is far more urgent than that of a defunct ‘peace process’ since the lives of hundreds of thousands of people are at stake, but it is yet to be considered a focal point of discussion, or top the agenda of any party, even within the Palestinian leadership.
How do you see the status of international support of Palestinians?
It all depends on how we define the word ‘support’. A proper definition would mean providing some form of assistance to the Palestinian people in their just demands and struggle for freedom and justice, and to stand steadfast against the belligerency of the Israeli occupation and Israel’s ever-violent military machine. While there is much solidarity for Palestine among most world countries, the US and other Western powers have managed to block any serious efforts towards holding Israel accountable for its oppressive actions and ensuring the end to the Israeli occupation. There are many UN resolutions that articulate clearly a fair end to the conflict, but a combination of US vetoes, Western support and backing for Israel, and US funding of the Apartheid regime in Israel is making life incredibly difficult for Palestinians.
That said, a growing movement among civil societies around the world to boycott Israel is finally changing the dynamics. It is too early to celebrate the successes of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, however it is worth noting that thanks to BDS, ordinary people are managing to make their voices heard. By boycotting Israel, civil society is confronting both Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights, and the US underserved status as a so-called ‘peace broker.’ That paradigm is finally shifting, and frankly, this kind of solidarity is likely to make a tangible difference in the long run, justas international solidarity did before the toppling of the Apartheid regime in South Africa.
Thomas L. Friedman recently published an article in New York Times, titled "Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel-Palestine" in which he insists that Netanyahu is the reason for the conflict. Do you agree with his point?
Elsewhere in his article, Friedman names Moshe Yaalon as a decent man; is he really decent, considering how he has treated Palestinian lives when he was Minister?
I will refrain from saying much about Friedman’s strange affinity to Israel or his tired clichés. He has for a long time served as a mouthpiece of the US establishment, and despite his guarded criticism of Israel once in a while, he has shown nothing but kinship with and attachment to Israel, even when the latter was massacring innocent civilians in Gaza. The note on Yaalon is quite interesting thought and it shows what a false intellectual he is.
Ya’alon took part in every major Israeli war since 1973, and his name was associated with the most atrocious of Israeli wars and massacres, first in Lebanon and, later, in Gaza. His ‘commitment to Israel’ never dissuaded him from ordering some of the most unspeakable war crimes carried out against civilians, not in Qana, Lebanon in 1996, nor in Shujaya, Gaza in 2014.
Ya’alon was - and remains - an ardent advocate for the illegal colonialization of Palestinian land. In 2005, he vehemently rejected the so-called redeployment from the Gaza Strip, in which a few thousand illegal settlers were relocated to Jewish colonies in the West Bank.
His war crimes caught up with him in New Zealand in 2006, ,over the assassination of a Hamas commander, Saleh Shehade, together with 14 members of his family and other civilians. An arrest warrant was issued but later revoked, under heavy political pressure, allowing Ya’alon to escape the country.
He was at the helm of the army in 2013, just in time to carry out the devastating war on Gaza in 2014, which killed 2,257 Palestinians in 51 days. The UN monitoring group, OCHA, estimated that over 70 percent of those killed were civilians, including 563 children.
The destruction of Shujaya, in particular, was a calculated strategy devised by Ya’alon himself. In a July 2013 meeting with UN Secretary-General, Ban-Ki-Moon, Ya’alon informed the UN chief that he would bomb the entire neighborhood in case of war. He did.
In May 2015, he was still unrepentant. Speaking at a conference in Jerusalem, he threatened to kill civilians in case of another war on Lebanon. “We are going to hurt Lebanese civilians to include kids of the family,” he said. “We went through a very long deep discussion. We did it then, we did it in (the) Gaza Strip, we are going to do it in any round of hostilities in the future,” he stated. He also spoke implicitly of dropping a nuclear bomb on Iran.
He repeatedly gave the Israeli Occupation army the green light to carry out a‘shoot to kill’ policy against Palestinians in order to fight what he called the rising ‘tension’ in the Occupied Territories. During a visit to a military base in Gush Etzion in November 2014. Ya’alon said:
“It must be clear that anyone who comes to kill Jews must be eliminated. Any terrorist who raises a gun, knife or rock, tries to run over or otherwise attack Jews, must be put to death.”
One can go on and on. If that is what Friedman defines as ‘decency’, not only is it completely unacceptable, it also says much about Friedman himself.
Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a US-Arab journalist, media consultant, an author, internationally-syndicated columnist, Editor of Palestine Chronicle (1999-present), former Managing Editor of London-based Middle East Eye (2014-15), former Editor-in-Chief of The Brunei Times, former Deputy Managing Editor of Al Jazeera online.