Interview with Khaled Barakat: Unity and liberation for Palestine and the prisoners
The following interview was translated from the original Arabic:
The Central Information Department of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine conducted this comprehensive political interview with the writer, Comrade Khaled Barakat, coordinator of the international Campaign to Free Ahmad Sa’adat. The interview addressed a number of issues, including the current situation of the Palestinian political struggle and developments in Palestine and in the Palestinian diaspora. Today, we publish the first part of the interview with Comrade Khaled Barakat:
Q1. There is a heightened state of tension in the occupied West Bank and throughout the homeland after the burning and martyrdom of the Palestinian baby Ali Dawabsheh (18 months). We see continuous Israeli crimes, but also continuing political and security meetings between the Palestinian Authority and the enemy, the most recent being that between Saeb Erekat and Silvan Shalom in Amman. How should we assess the enemy’s behavior both politically and on the ground, and the performance of the PA leadership? What is required of the Palestinian national forces?
A: What is needed today Is what was needed yesterday: to leave aside the fragmentation and tampering with the Palestinian cause and work immediately to achieve operational and political unity on the ground to confront the enemy and thwart its plans and policies. The crime of the burning of the child martyr Ali Dawabsheh at dawn on 31 July was preceded by the assassination of the martyr Mohammed Abu Latifa in Qalandia refugee camp and the near-daily bombing of the Gaza Strip targeting fishers and farmers, the imposition of collective punishment on prisoners, the storming of Muslim and Christian holy sites, particularly the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and other crimes, reaching Lebanon and Syria. This reflects the nature of these crimes, inherent in the nature of the Zionist enemy as a settler colonial invader. This entity, this state can only be and always has been, a criminal and a murderer. And it requires a united political response to live up to the level of the sacrifices of our people.
And I say that knowing that the PLO and Palestinian Authority leadership has sought to exploit such events not to fight for our people but to improve their negotiating position and maintain their privileges. Particularly, the Fateh movement must bear its national responsibility and not trade on the national struggle and its historic role. Popular armed resistance alone has the potential to defeat the occupation and the settlers, not anything else.
The protection of Palestinian land and holy sites and the advancement of Palestinian rights advocated by Palestinian factions in separate statements requires first the unity of all patriotic forces to uphold their responsibility and duty. Confronting the occupation and the crimes of the settler colonists and responding to them must be part of a plan of action and a unified strategy.
Q2: Comrade General Secretary Ahmad Sa’adat threatened an open hunger strike if the Prison Administration did not repeal its order prohibiting him from family visits, and the PFLP Prison Branch expressed its willingness to join in such a strike along with its leader. Later, he was transferred to Nafha prison and there is now a boiling state of tension in Nafha prison and throughout the prisons, the General Secretary and his fellow prisoners were beaten and abused. How do we follow up on these developments – what are the steps that can be taken, particularly outside occupied Palestine?
A: Comrade Sa’adat threw a stone into still water, as he has done on multiple occasions in the past, with an idea that is known and intuitive, shedding light on what is happening – the confiscation of the most basic rights of the prisoners, who are confronting brutal attacks by Zionist prison authorities. The hunger strike is an ultimate weapon to which a captive resorts after exhausting all means to achieve their goal. What is important is to achieve the demands of the prisoners collectively, of the national prisoners’ movement, its leadership and solid core. The issue here is a simple right; family visits are a basic right of a prisoner. There is no human conscience that can justify the collective punishment of Palestinian families, prisoners’ parents, spouses, children and grandchildren.
It is required of us to do our duty and uphold our responsibility to pressure the occupation, its institutions and organizations at the Palestinian, Arab and international levels to advance the demands of the Palestinian prisoners’ movement. Everyone is needed to uphold their responsibilities. The final word in determining the demands is that of the comrades and brothers in Israeli jails, who are best able to identify and determine the nature of the battle, the details and the timing, as they are the most knowledgeable and intimately acquainted with the situation.
Q3: Gaza is still a massive wound. The dust still settles after the battle; the crossings are continuously closed, there is a constant siege, and the reconstruction process is non-operational. There are also fears of political deals to cut Gaza off from the struggle against the occupation of our entire people, to liquidate the resistance over a long-term calm, or to use blackmail and threats over the suffering of our people. How do you see these positions and what do you advise to our people in the Strip to confront such plots?
A: Our people in the Gaza Strip do not need advice from us as much as they need us to act to provide a positive climate at the national level to protect the struggle and accomplishments that were made through their blood and suffering. You should not accept the transfer of the call for “reconstruction” to a political blackmail project that seeks to benefit the enemy and hostile forces to impose their will through cement, medicine, and food, after they failed to impose their will with bombs and massacres. Again, Palestinian elites, political parties and political forces must elevate their role to the level of the sacrifices and commitment of the people, and bear their national responsibility by implementing the popular demand for the achievement of national unity without hesitation or delay. The road to national unity is known to those who want to achieve it, and not to reproduce empty and false slogans with no political will behind them.
What is needed is perpetuation of the status of confrontation with the enemy as required by the stage, nature and conditions of our people in each area. It is required to strengthen the resilience of the popular classes and the poor, to protect and amplify their voice and their achievements in the refugee camps, both inside and outside the homeland. What is required is to demand of the official Arab regimes, and first the Egyptian state: act now to end the siege on our people. What is needed is a unified Palestinian political stance that opens the way for a new political stage. All of our people know what is necessary.
In the final analysis, we must say the following: The Palestinian popular classes who pay almost the entire price in the conflict with the enemy do not wish to see their blood, their sacrifices and their struggle wasted or dissipated, their achievements traded or auctioned in the market of policies, or lost between the forces and countries that vie and contend in the region for their own private economic and political interests. The siege must be broken without political concessions. This is a critical Palestinian, Arab and international responsibility that is not limited to the resistance and our people in the Gaza Strip.
To the extent that over a century of militancy, struggle and permanent readiness for sacrifice has assured us of the leading role of the impoverished and oppressed classes as stakeholders in progress, change, and liberation, we are equally assured through experience of the permanent readiness for compromise and trading on our rights by the traditional reactionary forces who sit on the throne of the Palestinian political decision which they have monopolized and confiscated for themselves.
The reality is that our people are aware of and understand, almost instinctively, the meaning and requirements of the stage of national liberation. National unity does not mean uniformity and conformity in all situations; in fact, consistency means diversity in the context of our battle for return and liberation in a broader and larger national movement than simply “factions,” although these are supposed to serve as a revolutionary vanguard. Our people understand this equation well and have always preceded far beyond their “leadership,” and we have always faced the curse of a layer of “pashas,” “leaders,” “sheikhs” and traditional leadership at the head.
Reliance on the so-called “long-term truce” or “negotiations” and similar deals with the enemy and dealing unilaterally with all of these “initiatives,” are all miserable options that have only benefitted the enemy. Not one such similar initiative has succeeded or benefited our people since 1948, so why would it be different today? This is particularly true in light of the political fragmentation on the Palestinian scene.
Engaging in such behavior is always rationalized with the goal of alleviating the suffering of our people. In reality, however, such “initiatives” only prolong the suffering and torment, whether intentionally or through erroneous understandings of the nature of the enemy, its positions and the political conditions. Relying on illusions necessarily leads to equally disastrous results.
Q4: But what about reconciliation between Fateh and Hamas? How do we understand this in light of this analysis, particularly when we are discussing the largest Palestinian movements?
A: What prevents Fateh and Hamas from ending the so-called “division” are political options, negative positions, and considerations of regional and international sponsors and authorities that each movement takes as a source of legitimacy, as well as their insistence on a political role as a partner in the Palestinian Authority. Any who accepts to be a follower or a tool in service of regional and international forces, or even a junior partner, must bear the consequences before history and our people.
Our people is the reference above all references. And when we say that “no voice is louder than the voice of the Palestinian people,” this slogan must not be emptied of its democratic essence and content by minimizing it into a call to “resolve the issue of elections” and divide the roles and functions of the Authority between Fateh and Hamas, diminishing the Palestinian cause. It is required of all national forces, and specifically the radical left and the Popular Front, to embark on a broader program of mass popular organization inside Palestine and in all countries of exile to impose a new reality to achieve national unity and to raise awareness and hope. The situation of our cause is absurd and condemns us all; it must not last long, this is a time of historical responsibility, of suffering and of blood.
Q5: Popular resistance, especially in the West Bank, is facing major threats, there is little support for the “youth movement” in Jerusalem, the national liberation project is being undermined because of the continued policy of the Palestinian Authority in relying on negotiations, its continued security coordination with the occupier, its political arrests. The Palestinian political system is confiscated, our case is divided into files of humiliating negotiations and agreements. What is the alternative?
A: If we follow the movements of the enemy and read the proceedings of the Herzliya strategy conference and the visions presented by Zionist forces, we easily realize that the Zionist enemy does not want to give anything to the Palestinian Authority, not even illusions. It views the West Bank and Jerusalem as an integral part of the “Land of Israel;” for them, this is “Judea and Samaria.” The leaders of “Israel” view peace today as the development of joint industrial zones in Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus and other cities, and strengthening its relations with a Palestinian capitalist comprador layer. And thus the Palestinian resistance has a double task: to deter the enemy and its settlers on the one hand and to deter the Palestinian class cooperating on security and economic levels with the Zionist enemy. These struggles are important and interrelated – and this is not a new issue for our people in the occupied homeland.
The popular movement in occupied Jerusalem and in areas that are not controlled by the Palestinian Authority needs to develop self-sufficiently from inside and do not need to be contained or directed by the factions. Whoever wants to struggle, they stand before an open and empty field. Maintaining our struggle and an open conflict with the enemy requires removing the shackles of the security, economic and political role of the Palestinian Authority which stands as a barrier between the masses and the enemy – usually in favor of the enemy. On the ground, where there is no Palestinian Authority control, the Palestinian resistance is more able to organize, to act, and to move.
In this respect it should be noted that there is a renewal of creative forms of resistance, of studies and articles produced by today’s new generation of young Palestinians, addressing forms of popular resistance and current challenges. There is no political project of liberation without the attendant intellectual and cultural project of liberation.
Q6: To return to the question, what is the revolutionary democratic alternative to what exists today?
A: The answer is that the revolutionary democratic alternative is born in the squares and the streets, the universities, factories, trade unions and prisons; it must be advanced from a matter of wishful thinking and dreams to a practical question. This means that we must resurrect a revolutionary renewal, cut the Oslo path and establish a new phase in which the Palestinian national liberation movement can regain its role and the prestige it lost in favor of NGOs, with the leadership and initiative of the refugee camps and the popular classes, workers and the poor.
The conflict with the enemy is long and difficult. It will continue for decades to come, and the task of the new generation includes communication with previous generations, reading and learning about their experience and in turn establishing new mechanisms of struggle to advance the movement. The question of the revolutionary democratic alternative is a collective question that requires a collective answer. This revolutionary democratic alternative cannot be born through a decision, statement or appeal of any faction, no matter how hard we try to perfect the language.
Q7: What is the reality of the Palestine Liberation Organization today and its challenges? Is it possible to repair and restore its role and status?
A: Today, the PLO’s leadership does not reflect the aspirations and dreams of our people. The actions and attitudes of this leadership is a source only of despair for the masses of our people. The PLO was a great historical achievement of the early Fedayeen (freedom fighters), and the organization must be restored and its decision-making process and institutions freed from the monopolizing grip of this “leadership.” It must include in its ranks all of the national forces of resistance from different intellectual and political trends, without exception. The PLO that we want is a national united front fighting to achieve our full national rights, for return, the liberation of Palestine and the establishment of a democratic Palestine on the entire land of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital. And in this arena, let us compete with one another to achieve these goals.
Q8: The occupation abducted leader, activist and Palestinian Legislative Council member Khalida Jarrar, and before that dozens of MPs, in disregard of the international community and flagrant violation of international law. There has been broad solidarity from progressive international forces, but on an official level there has been very little action from the international community, particularly the United Nations, regarding the imprisonment of members of the PLC. How can we build pressure around this issue?
A: The enemy failed to forcibly displace the leader, Khalida Jarrar, from Ramallah to Jericho, due to her struggle and the wide support she found. If they had been successful, they would have created a dangerous political precedent. There was clear popular and international solidarity with her as a Palestinian leader confronting occupation and injustice. And she achieved a victory, forcing them to cancel the order for forced displacement. There were efforts throughout occupied Palestine, the Popular Front held a strong political position, there were dozens of meetings with parliamentarians around the world, visits from solidarity delegations, and Khalida Jarrar’s protest tent turned into a daily space of organizing solidarity. All of this forced the occupation within a month to turn back as it failed to implement its order. In other words, the occupation’s order was defeated.
Khalida Jarrar’s detention, her imprisonment, comes in this context, to cover up the failure of the occupation in achieving its goal of forced displacement. If we look at the list of charges against Jarrar, we can see how much the occupation has failed. The international press and even the Israeli press have published articles exposing the fraudulent nature of the “Jarrar case.” Dozens of parties, activists, parliamentarians, delegations and trade union and party leaders have denounced these charges and are defending Khalida Jarrar against the occupation.
Q9: The Zionist occupation has confessed that the boycott campaign is no less dangerous to its existence than the strikes of the armed resistance. What are the reasons for the escalation of these campaigns and the growing results that have led to serious losses for the occupation to the extent that it is investing millions of dollars to suppress these campaigns?
A: Nothing hurts, frightens and impacts the occupation and its interests more than armed resistance. However, there are real blows being dealt to its image, public relations, and economy by another weapon of struggle: the economic, political, academic, and cultural comprehensive boycott of the Zionist entity. The Zionist state is afraid of isolation, and the boycott movement is building international isolation and rejection of normalization, in accordance with the logic of accountability: a criminal state must be punished with isolation.
In addition, the growing global boycott movement raises many questions about the occupation state, its founding and future, its nature and role. Herein lies the greatest fear of the Zionist entity and its leaders, whereby it sees the international boycott movement as a strategic threat which must be confronted, and for which it is willing to spend millions of dollars to stop what the Zionist state itself has labeled the battle of the “delegitimization of Israel.”
The occupation, with all of these efforts, has failed to prevent the global boycott campaigns from making real achievements in what might be seen as the “forbidden triangle” for Palestinian organizing: universities, trade unions and churches. These institutions have huge social, political and economic investment in the occupation; trade unions, for example, in the United States, have poured efforts and funds into investment in the Zionist entity, in particular “Israel bonds,” in retirement accounts and pensions. These social institutions have provided a cover to the Zionist state, using the justification of reparations for the European crimes and the Holocaust against Jews in Nazi Germany, through alliances with US and Western states’ imperialism and colonialism, and with the strategic imposition and threats of the Zionist movement.
Today, these institutions are divided, and some play a major role in participating in the boycott campaigns. There is a deep internal struggle, and in the corridors and meetings, a constant debate and political battles between “supporters of Palestine” and “supporters of Israel,” particularly in general assemblies and conferences. We may not win every vote, and every clash, but the presence of Palestine on the agenda is becoming a clear reality and is recognized by the enemy as a major breakthrough which it cannot tolerate. Thus, it regards the issue as a matter of strategic, and existential, threat.
It is always important to remind ourselves that this achievement is possible due to the blood of the martyrs, the suffering and sacrifices of our people, and the popular resistance in all of its forms, in the first place, the armed resistance. There is no way to mobilize a solidarity movement with a silenced or defeated victim; silence for our people means death. The people, the forces of justice in the world, will stand by the side of those who fight, who scream, who rebel and defend their rights.
The conscience of humanity cannot observe the images of death and destruction and war crimes perpetrated by the Zionist enemy in Palestine and stand by as an observer. The United Nations have done so for seven decades, in the exercise of a crime and the complicity of silence, but the liberation movements, progressive forces, and the democratic, popular, student, feminist movements, labor organizations and popular movements do not stand silent in the face of these crimes, and demand to hold governments accountable. These forces have different calculations than states.
Finally, the Zionist enemy has gone too far in the use of its military arsenal against our people. It has used all weapons with the exception of nuclear weapons, targeting our people specifically.
Q10: France continues to imprison the Arab struggler, Georges Ibrahim Abdallah. What do you think needs to be done to build the campaign of solidarity with him and pressure for his release?
A: Solidarity with Comrade Georges Ibrahim Abdallah is an ongoing campaign, based in Beirut, with the family and friends of Georges Abdallah and individual Lebanese and Palestinian activists, but without any meaningful support from the Lebanese state and major parties, including, unfortunately, forces of both the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance. But, particularly in the cities of Toulouse, Marseille, Paris and elsewhere in France, events and struggle is continuing, with a series of events and rallies outside the prison where he is held.
There is also a connection with the campaign of solidarity with General Secretary Ahmad Sa’adat, which since its inception in 2002 has sought to build solidarity with Arab and other political prisoners in the prisons of France, Canada, the United States, the Philippines, Colombia and elsewhere, linking the struggles of our peoples against imperialism, our common enemy, as we work to raise the voice of indigenous peoples, the true owners of the land, to confront the forces of colonialism and settler colonialism, from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States to Mexico, South Africa and Palestine.