Sa’d Nimer is a professor of political sciences at the University of Birzeit, in the West Bank. He gives classes opened to foreign students, stemming from American and European universities. He deciphers the speech of the mainstream’s media in the West and Western governments, generally favorable to Israel, even when this State commits evident war crimes. But Sa’d Nimer is also very critical about the Palestinian Authority… Analysis of a conflict that seems without end.
The Magreb and Orient Courier – How can you explain the absolute violence with which Israel has launched the attack against Gaza in July 2014? And what is the reason for this attack, the real reason?
Sa’d NIMER – The real reason for the aggression by the Israelis… They have two objectives in their mind.
The first -and all agree on that-, they don’t want to see a united government and don’t want to see a united Palestine.
During the negotiations with Mahmud Abbas [President of the Palestinian Authority, member of Fatah party], the Israelis kept saying: “But you are not representing all the Palestinians; Gaza is outside your representation!” Now, with Gaza coming to the West Bank, and the West Bank going to the government, that reason is not there any longer.
Plus, they are considering Hamas as a terrorist organisation, but whether you see it as such or not, it is a genuine part of the Palestinian people. So they consider them as such and want to keep them down of even eliminate them.
The second reason for that, Israel was in a very bad situation after the Palestinian unity government and the failure of the last nine months’ negotiations.
That put them in front of the entire international community as accused of deliberately failing the negotiations with the Palestinians by the continuation of building settlements. And you know that the EU took finally a decision, to boycott all the settlements; and they took even another decision: to call all the companies, which belong to the EU to boycott the companies working in the settlements. To get out of this situation Israel need to export the conflict. Which means to go to war!
Then they can manipulate the media again, that their enemy is Hamas and that Hamas is organised as a terrorist organisation: “In that case we have the legitimacy of going to Gaza and going to war.”
But the war on Gaza is not a war on Hamas; it is a war against the Palestinian people in general. Against 1.8 million Palestinians living in Gaza. You cannot target Hamas in particular in Gaza. Whatever you target, you always also target civilians; and according to the United Nations, 85% of the casualties of Gaza are civilians.
So the aim is not achieved and that is why they were so reluctant to aim for something: first it was the elimination of Hamas, then they changed and it was the destruction of tunnels used under Gaza. This is I think a very stupid reason for such a war, which is very aggressive.
Today, the 23 of July, we are talking about more than 700 Palestinians killed during this war. Already. And it continues! More than 4.500 injured! And we talk about an overwhelming majority of civilians, mostly children and women and elderly, including bombarding hospitals, schools, mosques!
Israel from the fourth day of this operation ended all their legitimate targets and directly they started targeting houses and areas as a whole. So I don’t think that it is a legitimate war in any way, nor can we call it a war. Because a war should be between two armies.
But what we are seeing here is the mighty Israeli having an aggression against almost unarmed people with a few rockets, who only killed few Israelis.
MOC – What is the responsibility of Hamas in this matter? What is the feeling of the population of Gaza about the decision of Hamas to strike Israel?
Sa’d NIMER – Now to put it right from our perspective as Palestinians, it is the Palestinians who are defending themselves.
At the end of the day you cannot talk about this war as beginning only 16-17 days ago. You need to go to the origins of the conflict. Remember that this is the third war in a row after 2008-2009, 2012 and now 2014. Gaza is under siege, Gaza is surrounded, Gaza is a huge prison by Israel and Israel determines every single thing in Gaza every day. And since inside it is a siege people definitely have the right to defend themselves.
Gaza is hungry; no jobs, no money, no nothing, no water. I’m talking about before the war; I’m talking about these seven years. Gaza was suffering. If you have a cat and you put it into a cage and don’t give it food or water and let the door open even only a little bit, it will scratch your face. That is exactly what is going on.
Now Hamas is defending the Palestinian people, Hamas is defending itself against the aggressions of the past seven years. Saying that, the demand of Hamas to stop all these atrocities is quite clear. The siege on Gaza, that is the only one all talk about.
The Palestinians inside and outside Gaza now all agree with Hamas. Personally speaking, I don’t agree with Hamas ideas or with their ideology, but at the same time, now I feel so proud and I support Hamas because they are defending themselves and the Palestinian people. They are saying that despite the siege we can still fight and we will not give up. There are certain elements, which are necessary to end this war, and ending the siege is one of them, therefore most people surround Hamas and protect them. This is why their popularity is rising everywhere.
Ending this war is depending on the Egyptian peace initiative, but it is not acceptable to stop fighting and then start talking again. We have been trough the process already twice and when we stop the war Israel doesn’t comply.
Now we want guarantees, not only Israel but also those signing with Israel –the United States or the United Nations or any other country, even Egypt itself- to ensure that Israel will comply with the articles of the ceasefire; to lift the siege.
MOC – Nobody reproaches Hamas to have used the rockets? Because without these attacks, the Israeli government would not have attacked Gaza…
Sa’d NIMER – No, this is exactly the Israeli propaganda! Aand how they try to display Hamas and the relationship between Hamas and the Palestinians in the West!
Because from the very beginning, they show Hamas as a terrorist organisation, they cannot accept the idea that people flock around Hamas and cheer for them. So this is not the reality.
People do support Hamas!
MOC – The leaders of the Fatah [the other big party in Palestine, opposed to the Hamas]-I met them in Ramallah- told me that the only solution for Palestine is the diplomatic one, the negotiation. What is your position about this?
Sa’d NIMER – Well…Yes, we know that this is the policy of Mahmoud Abbas…
From the first day he was elected, he had a clear strategy that there would be no third Intifada, no violence and he is against violence and only believes in negotiations.
Now, we are approaching the 22nd year of the Oslo agreement. But what did the Palestinians get?
I cannot answer that question. Nothing happened.
Since Abbas was elected, what did the Israeli give to the Palestinians as a good gesture?
This is a sent message.
Why did the Israeli release 1.000 Palestinian prisoners for one Israeli soldier?
Abbas negotiated for ten years and no prisoners were released. Hamas captures one soldier and one thousand prisoners are released.
So! That is the way!
Israel sends us the message that they do not understand other things than force.
MOC – About Fatah, in your lessons you says that there is probably an interesting development of some Fatah members concerning the assassination of Yasser Arafat? Could you give us an insight into this?
Sa’d NIMER – Well, we do not have any solid argument or facts about this. I said in my class that there are speculations about this. But those who are stalling the investigations are the Palestinian Authority, via the institutions publishing the results.
But why do they not pursue this issue?
Apparently, and this is how the Palestinians feel, we have not any evidence, but if that was to be true, that Arafat was poisoned, it should be through a Palestinian hand -working or collaborating with the Israeli. But done by a Palestinian, a cook, a soldier, I don’t know what.
So maybe that is a reason why the issue is not being followed up…
MOC – What about the reconciliation process between Fatah and Hamas? Is it something true and concrete or is it just words?
Sa’d NIMER – First of all, let me explain something, which people in the West usually misunderstand…
When we talk about Hamas, we are not talking about a military organisation on its own. We talk about part of the Palestinian people supporting that, a party with organisation, society and also a militant group. You might meet lots of people from Hamas without knowing – it is a party.
The idea of excluding Hamas is effectively excluding part of the Palestinian people; Hamas is 15, 20, 30%. We cannot simply throw them into the sea! So at the end of the day, we are the Palestinian people together with different ideas and we need to come and sit together, accept each other and try to work out a way to obtain the liberation of Palestine, also by understanding our differences. Now, we cannot lead or go about ending the occupation without the unity of Palestinians.
But the Palestinians are separated between two major parts: Hamas and Fatah in this case. Fatah, which believe in negotiation to find a way out of the situation, whilst Hamas also believes in fighting to achieve the aims and end the occupation; hence including an armed struggle.
We need the Palestinian unity to end the occupation. So the reconciliation is a strategy meeting to say what “our” coordination is, what is the maximum and what is the minimum, which we can accept.
Then we come to the second point: how to achieve it. With weapons, only weapons, with a peaceful way? Maybe we will come to an agreement in this as well. But we need unity, it is the only way to get out and to reach democracy. I cannot understand people who say: eliminate Hamas, put them aside. We cannot put a part of our people away. We need to understand them. Even the PLO [the Palestine Liberation Organization; Palestinians parties organization, leaded by Fatah] tried to absorb the Hamas and bring them into the political game. They brought them into the elections and into the core arena of the politics by the word boycott. They tried to bring them into the PLO, they signed the charter and they were beginning to join. In the reconciliation document there were three articles, which showed that Hamas was changing its core fundaments.
One of the articles said that the aim was to agree on the Palestinian state on the 1967 borders. Hamas before that wanted to destroy Israel and take all the land, now they accept the Palestinian state within those borders.
The second point stated that all Palestinian fighters should contain their struggle within the 1967 borders, so no more bombing on the street of Tel Aviv, but the Israeli soldiers on the road blocks are legitimate targets, because they are occupation soldiers. Hamas also agreed to that.
The third point that Hamas agreed was that Mahmoud Abbas was the representative of the Palestinian people in the peace talks and whatever he agreed upon with Israel, America, whoever, is allowed to and given the momentum by the Palestinians to do so. And this is great because now Hamas is not saying “we don’t agree”: they say “we agree with whatever Abbas obtains for them”.
Even the international community failed to see these three important points, that Hamas was willing to come forward and to cross the line and to change its political ideas.
So we were achieving something.
But in return there was an embargo on Hamas and a siege to Gaza later on, which definitely would push anyone to fight.
MOC – Fighting with rockets against Israel now means that the principles of the reconciliation are over?
Sa’d NIMER – No! Fighting against Israel is defending itself.
During all these years, when Israel came with its military planes, how many people were assassinated by Israel through the embargos?
MOC – But the Hamas did not respect their signature on the reconciliation documents about fighting!
Sa’d NIMER – It only applies to the West Bank; in Gaza there is nothing, whom to attack?
MOC – I am just trying to understand whether the reconciliation process is on the road again or not.
Sa’d NIMER – I think that now, the head of Hamas in speech yesterday, still confirmed that what we want is to end the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and to live within the 1967 borders.
He said to end the occupation to establish a Palestinian state.
So I think they are still committed to the idea of establishing a Palestinian state according to the 1967 borders, including Jerusalem.
MOC – What is the real power of the Hamas? Because they always say that they will “open the doors of hell” to punish Israel for the dead of Palestinian people, but they don’t do anything, really. Are they able to really strike Israel?
Sa’d NIMER – Look… The power of Hamas is growing today and they are now following the same steps as Hezbollah after the war of 2006 on Lebanon.
There are surprising everyone in the West Bank and also in Israel by their new tactics and their ability. Apparently the underground tunnels, which they started is something like 50 meters down the ground. They are now developing different kinds of weapons and different kinds of rockets, all that to encounter the Israeli to say that “we are equal”.
They cannot take Gaza and just bombard it like that! If you bombard Gaza “we can bombard Tel Aviv”. It means that we want a truce, but if you think that the moment you bombard whoever you like, you also have to consider that the Hamas has the ability to reach Haifa.
So this doesn’t mean that Hamas could wag a war against Israel and defeat Israel. But it means that, if you have a stick I also have a stick. So be careful and know that if you are going to hit me I will also hit you.
MOC – What happens in Gaza is incredible. I was in Aleppo for some weeks: I saw the images of Gaza and it is the same as in Aleppo during the war. So it is amazing that Hamas only sends a few rockets, and not more?
Sa’d NIMER – Yes, but they cannot do more than that…
The thing is that we also know the psychology of both peoples. I don’t want to say that the Palestinian people are always the victims: we can tolerate very much, but Israel is very sophisticated and continued rocket attacks on Israel is very effective mentally.
It is the first time that the Ben Gurion airport has been closed: all the business is off and it is more of a tense situation for the Israeli than for the people of Gaza who are used to being “victims” and being bombarded – not to lessen their misery in any case. In Israel people are inside the bunkers, businesses are closed, the stock market is going down – it affects Israeli society very much. They cannot tolerate long wars. It is the first time a war comes to Israel, until now the wars were always outside Israel, but now it happens also inside.
The era changed and now if you come out to fight, the fight comes to you into your cities. The formula of having a strong army and therefore nobody can touch is not working anymore for the Israelis and we in Palestine depend on the Israeli psyche, which is different to Palestinian psyche.
According to Israeli journalists, the truth about Israeli casualties during this war could not be published because otherwise there would be a revolution in Israel, because the Israeli censorship over the media prevents the real facts from coming through.
The Palestinian resistance in Gaza, from their own calculations are talking about 60 soldiers killed, whereas the Israeli only talk about 30. All other casualties, Israel does not talk about it. So the Israeli cannot tolerate a long war. Whereas the people in Palestine have a longer resistance power. Now the Palestinians can retaliate.
MOC – Why have there been no attempts of “terrorist” attacks in Israel?
Sa’d NIMER – It is quite clear that suicide attacks target civilians and Hamas does not want to go there again.
Now there are sending the rockets but they are not very precise or sophisticated, so they are not very efficient. The efficiency of the rockets is keeping the Israelis in the bunkers and on their nerves. It is about the equality of the war – not the casualties or the dead, but the feeling of being in war.
The equation is that I can reach your cities and I can reach your people and keep them from working.
MOC – Do you mean that Hamas decided not to strike civilians and therefore there are no bombs in Israel? Not because of the security system developed by the Israelis?
Sa’d NIMER – Yes, you are right, because the West Bank is open!
But absolutely not because of the security system! People jump the wall every day to work or go to mosque. If Hamas wanted they could bring someone in with a bomb, under the wall you can put a small hole and thousands of Palestinians cross over to go into Israel to work, to pray… especially during Ramadan, because people like to pray in the al-Aqsa mosque.
There are ladders, which can be used. So the security can be avoided. Many borders are open, not Jerusalem, but there are agricultural parts where there is not even a fence.
It is not the incapability to do it, but the decision not to do it.
MOC – May I have your reaction to the speech of this Israeli minister in the Knesset who said that all Arab women and babies in Gaza have to be killed?
Sa’d NIMER – We are accustomed to all those right-wing parties in Israel…
Rabbis in the synagogues say that, we are used to it. Lieberman since 5 years is foreign minister and his ideas are well known, he thinks all Palestinians need to be transferred out of Israel.
Other right-wing personalities say similar things, talking in such racist ways about the Palestinians. The other day there was a Rabbi saying that the Palestinians are not people, they are animals and we should crush them. We are used to that…
But are you!?
Can you imagine if any minister in your government talked about France or Germany in the same way and that they are bugs and they should be crushed? Do you think he would stay one minute in his position? But the world media accepts it when it is Israeli talking about Palestinians.
Dehumanising Palestinians is one thing and at the same time people are afraid of Israel and being associated with anti-Semitism. But it has nothing to do with it as such.
Many times we have Jews living in the West Bank and there is no problem with that. Apart from the Settlers.
MOC – During your lessons you said that Israel is continuing the peace process to legalise the settlement? And what does Mahmoud Abbas expect from negotiations?
Sa’d NIMER – Well, the Israeli did not stop the building of settlements during the whole period. Especially after the peace processes in 1993 until now and it is a very steady series of steps, sometimes escalating.
The Israeli enlarge the settlements and introduce new ones, every time peace talks happen. They create a new reality and at some point creating a Palestinian State will be impossible. Areas with only Palestinians on the West Bank are nowadays only 2% anymore. So the Israeli are willing to give us only 40% of the West Bank and that is not acceptable. So they need to take away the settlers, but that Is now impossible.
I cannot understand that when we are both negotiating over this cup and you give it to me but at the same time you are still using it, still building on it. But you say that you will give it to me within the framework of the two-state solution. So this means that you are not really interested in the peace process and that you do everything in your hands to change demographics and the reality to avoid any constructive solution.
As Sharon said when he gave West Bank territories to the Palestinians, “They can call it an Empire as far as I am concerned”; but it remains inside the walls.
So Abbas can be an Emperor but needs permission from Israel to visit his lands.
MOC – If violence is not a solution, due to unequal conditions, and negotiations are fruitless, what will be the future of Palestine?
Sa’d NIMER – People are under occupation. It is not only that they have the right to resistance but it is their duty to resist this occupation! We choose how to resist this occupation! Sometimes we choose to resist by civil and peaceful means like the demonstrations across the place, sometimes we will choose other means like the boycott movement, and sometimes you also have the armed struggle as one or part of the resistance against the occupation.
The UN Resolution in the 1980s stated clearly that the Palestinians have the right to resist the occupation in any way they find appropriate.
We choose and sometimes we do not choose like when we have a truce. So I think it is not violence, the Palestinians resist. Otherwise you can say that the French resistance was violence. But it was a legitimate resistance. And as much as the French had the right to resist the Nazis in the Second World War, we have the right to resist our occupation, be it in armed struggle or peaceful way.
This is our right and I don’t think it is violence by the Palestinians.
MOC – What I wanted to know is that if you cannot obtain anything from negotiations, and if armed resistance cannot succeed against the Israeli army, what is the solution then?
Sa’d NIMER – We cannot defeat the Israeli army, but you can bring them to the moment to be annoyed and sit down to sign the peace treaty.
Like with the Oslo agreements, it all started by the First Intifada, that annoyed the Israelis and made them sit down and sign.
So the only thing to do is fighting and resisting forcing the Israeli to sit down. The moment you are silent and do nothing, like the last decade, nothing happened, the Israeli did not comply with anything. In the time in which the Palestinians used armed resistance the settlers decreased in numbers, in times of peace they increased. So what is the message to take from that?
I should resist to take the settlers down. Now there are over 600.000 settlers in the West Bank. This is a huge number. During the Second intifada the number dropped dramatically. Because we know that about 70% of the settlers in the West Bank are there for financial reasons for the package that Israel is offering them: reduced taxes, lower house prices and villas, lots of benefits.
But the Israeli prefers his life to the settlement, so they leave with danger.
MOC – How do you explain the position of the EU in this situation with Israel?
Sa’d NIMER – Well… It seems that there is a double standard with the EU regarding the issue of the Palestine-Israel conflict…
They are talking about the human rights; they did not accept Turkey in the EU for its record of human rights. But the Israeli seems to have special status to obtain the special relations with the EU. We know that there is a double standard. But we believe in the BDS movement [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel’s policy], you know doing a very god job in Europe. This is the same way it started in South Africa, during the Apartheid regime until it reached a political level and a boycott. Today we are hearing about Gaza, South America is leading this boycott, Chile is blocking all commerce treaties with Israel, the Maldives are now also cancelling the three treaties with Israel, other countries boycott Israel and there is growing consciousness and willingness to boycott Israel.
There is even the academic boycott, which started in the UK and now even reached America the greatest ally of Israel. So it is a process and we will see how it will develop.
But in the EU countries still have double standards, they are the West and consider Israel to be part of the West. But Israel is not a democracy. Israel is a racist, non-democratic country even for its own citizens.
MOC – Is not the Israeli Lobby another reason?
Sa’d NIMER – The Israeli lobby is working, definitely. And they want let us believe that they represent all Jews.
But in America you now have a counterpart to the Israeli lobby. They are a new group that is anti-Zionist and saying that Israel does not represent all Jews.
But so far the lobby is very strong and the influence is very strong, in particular over the congress. Over all elections there is large pressure to choose those congressmen in favour of Israel – often connected with large financings. In Europe the lobby is less influential on European politics –excepted in France or Belgium; that’s strange… Even though there are Jewish communities, they are less influential. I would look at the Europeans with a view to supporting the Palestinians, but when it comes to the politics and the interests, calculations are different. It is a different situation to the atmosphere…
But some statistics showed that 62% of Europeans asked thought that Israel is a threat to international peace. The problem after this poll was that the European leaders were apologising to Israel.
MOC – It is very difficult to criticise Israel, for instance in France or in Belgium, as you said…
Sa’d NIMER – Yes, I know, we are still under the impression that criticising Israel is like anti-Semitism. But it is a different story. We are not talking about Jews, but about policies of a state, a state of the United Nations.
And since they are a member of the UN they need to comply with international law and humans right law and the Geneva Convention … so they do not behave according to those laws and since they are not above the law we need to criticise them and it does not have anything to do with anti-Semitism.
MOC – Do you consider the European media to be well informing the public opinion about the situation in Gaza?
Sa’d NIMER – At least it is much better than the American one but still I don’t think that they are absolutely right and I will remind you that a few days ago there was the big demonstration in front of the BBC.
The BBC’s policy was biased, because they tend towards a pro-Israel position, which is why there were demonstrations in front of the BBC in London. Those were to ask them to be more accurate in the reporting. So in Europe we can still see that some of the main media are not that accurate, or a little bit biased, maybe afraid of Israel in the same way. But generally speaking still much better than compared to America, especially the CNN or Fox News – who are entirely taking the Israeli side, sometimes even changing the truth to side with Israel.
Even admitting a mistake afterwards does not make it good, because I do not believe channel news would make such mistakes – a veiled lady will not be Israeli, so it is a wanted confusion and biased news reporting. People here appreciate Russia Today TV, because they believe it to be very accurate, at least as neutral as possible.
And if you are neutral, you are pro-Palestine…
Look… People should stop seeing Israel as a wider European and Western country. It is not any more. You have to adapt reality.
What is going on here is inequality between Israel and the Palestinian. All know the name of the Israeli soldier Saul Aaron, but no one knows even one of the Palestinian prisoners. What about the 6000 Palestinian prisoners? Some spent more than 33 years in prison? Children are in the same prisons as adults… Nobody is concerned about this. Nobody sees the misery in Palestine, the media covers Israel but ignores the reality in Palestine.
The Palestinians are demonised, due to considering Israel a democracy. But it is not.
Even inside Israel, the black Jews from Ethiopia are differently treated to those who come from Poland. Or even the Eastern and the Western Jews are treated differently. So then consider the Palestinians – they are at the bottom of the ladder – 1.6 million of them living in Israel and who are citizens of Israel.
So, this is not democracy when 1.6 million of a country are second class citizens; it is racism, so countries should stop dealing with Israel and considering it as part of the West.
Interviewed by Pierre Piccinin da Prata (Birzeit University,West Bank)