Interview with Suad Amiry*
Milan, April – Professor of architecture at Birzeit University, Suad Amiry is founder and chairwoman of the Riwaq Centre for Architectural Conservation in Ramallah. She was a member of the Palestinian delegation that held bilateral peace-negotiations in Washington from 1991 to 1993, sponsored by the US government. Already well-known in the field of architecture, last not least through her recent publication “Throne Village Architecture”, Amiry became famous through her “war-diaries”, accounts of every-day life under Israeli military occupation summed up in “Sharon and My Mother-in-Law: Ramallah Diaries”, which will soon be followed by the likewise bitterly witty “If That is Life”.
Arabmonitor met her while she was on a tour through Italy.
You have become a famous writer for having described Palestinians’ life under the Israeli check-point regime. How has that regime affected the Palestinian economy?
“What you are defining as the check-point regime is an exacerbation of the reality of our life since over 35 years by now. Israel is a colonial power and the occupation that is going on since 1967 on our side of the Green Line is effectively keeping us under curfew ever since, restricting our mobility, preventing people from getting employment or making a living in the various trades and professions. But above all, the occupation has destroyed the Palestinian agriculture and traditional Palestinian way of life.
Consider that since the outbreak of the second Intifada alone, as many as one and a half million olive trees have been uprooted or cut down. Add to that the massive land confiscations for the purpose of founding and expanding settlements, for the building of roads and of the separation wall and also for the appropriation of the West Bank’s aquifers and you have an idea of the destruction waged on the Palestinian landscape itself.
As you know, the olive tree is the life-line of Palestinian agriculture. Around the cultivation of the olive orchards an entire way of life evolved through centuries. The wholesale destruction of our olive and fruit orchards is destroying the very face of Palestine and is aimed at destroying our capacity to resist as Palestinians as sons and daughters of this land.
The check-points and closures are aimed at depriving us from the fruits of our own land and our own labour. Consider the effect of a routinely held months long curfew on any one of our cities, during which our agricultural products couldn’t be moved to the market.
After the curfew is lifted, Palestinian products are gone; the only products on the market are the Israeli ones, because during the curfew their trucks are the only ones that freely have access to all the Palestinian markets.
All the while, those landowners whose properties did not yet get confiscated for security purposes were prevented by the roadblocks and curfews from tending to their land and forced to slaughter their livestock which they were prevented from bringing to the grazing grounds.
Add to that the construction of the so-called separation barrier sneaking right through our landscape and separating farmers from their fields and pastures and families from one another, and you get a picture of what is happening to our landscape and to our lives.”
As a former member of the Palestinian delegation to the US, do you feel betrayed by the States?
“No, I couldn’t feel betrayed, because I never actually expected much to come out of such negotiations. The United States have always backed Israel’s interests and aims and furthered Israel’s projects. There was no reason to believe that they wanted negotiations with the Palestinians for any other reason than securing the well-being of the colonial power on our backs.
It was Yasser Arafat who believed that negotiating with the colonial power under the protection of the United States in the role of mediating power would have permitted the Palestinians to defend their own aims and rights and get backing for the constitution of their own sovereign country. It was the whole atmosphere of expectation created around the Oslo Accords by the media that led the Palestinians to grasp at the straw of negotiations, inducing them to believe that this was the path they had to walk to free themselves from the occupation, to gain independence from the foreign military power encroaching on our land.
Today a one-people world emerged in which popular liberation movements, who had previously played a protagonist role in the decolonization process, lost ground. The Palestinians were unfortunate enough not to have succeeded in obtaining their liberation in time, that is, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, during the long period of the two-peoples’ world in which there was a margin for movement. We are now living in a one-people world and it will be enormously difficult, and certainly not depend on us alone, to recreate a margin of movement for liberation.”
Did people vote for Hamas at the recent parliamentarian elections because it is believed to be more steadfast?
“The main explanation why so many people who never had been militants in the Hamas movement voted for is that we have become very flexible, and this by necessity. Everybody’s asking himself why so many Christians, communists and women concerned about women’s rights voted for Hamas.
The answer is: Palestinians know there is no military solution to our problem, but they know also that peaceful resistance didn’t bring them any gains either. As you know, every week there are peaceful demonstrations against land confiscations, against the advancing of the separation wall that destroys our people’s lives, livelihoods and hopes, while the Israeli government reacts to the peaceful demonstrations in a violent manner, with military force. A considerable number of people have been seriously injured and even killed during peaceful demonstrations, while armed Israeli settlers are being let loose against the demonstrators and the Western media turn a blind eye on Israeli violence against Palestinians.
Therefore, the generation of adults who advocated either military action or peaceful resistance against the occupation, is disavowed in the eyes of the younger generation, but not only.
People have confidence in Hamas because Hamas proved to be the movement that really got things going on the ground by supplying assistance and creating structures that materially supported whole families, independently of their particular religious inclinations or political affiliations. In this sense, by merit of its relentless activities, together with its uncompromising stance against Zionism, Hamas has come to embody the quest for justice. The vote for Hamas at the parliamentarian elections was, in my view of things, a vote of protest against the deadlock into which the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have been driven after decades of either armed or peaceful struggle for their liberation.”
The reaction of the USA, the EU and Israel to the victory of Hamas was to threaten diplomatic isolation and financial starvation. What’s the message for the Palestinians living under occupation?
“All I can say is that it was a democratic process that brought Hamas to power. So how can those who advocate democracy for the Middle East, now point their fingers at the Palestinians and single them out for punishment for having participated in a democratic voting process, only because its results are deemed unwelcome? And how can the recognition of the results of our election polls are conditioned on Hamas’ recognizing Israel?
The Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Palestinian National Authority both recognized Israel, but what they got in return was catastrophic for the Palestinians. Therefore, the question should not be whether Hamas recognizes Israel, but whether Israel recognizes the Palestinians’ rights to their own independent, sovereign state within the internationally recognized boundaries.”
Do you think Hamas will be transformed by its electoral victory?
“Of course; inevitably. Hamas will have to shoulder government responsibility and meet many institutional obligations, last not least the responsibility for an extended “army” of civil servants working in the educational, the health-care and the law-enforcing fields whose salaries must be paid, as those salaries, especially in our present suffocating economical conditions, are becoming more and more the only economical back-bone of our society.
An increasing number of families survive on only these salaries. I think that going through the day-to-day work, Hamas will be pushed on the same path as the PLO in the past. I think that within some two years, Hamas will be in the same position in which Fatah is today.”
What was more disastrous for the Fatah-led Palestinian National Authority: Hamas’ victory at the election polls or the Israeli assault on the prison of Jericho and the US-British betrayal behind it?
“I don’t want to compare the two events. Hamas’ victory and the assault on the Jericho prison are two different events. Jericho was a highly symbolic operation, aimed at inflicting a maximum of humiliation on the Palestinian people.
Let’s not forget that the United States and Great Britain hold a great responsibility for what happened. There was an agreement with the Palestinian National Authority, mediated by the United States and Great Britain, according to which the custody of the Jericho prisoners would not pass to the Israeli armed forces, but was to stay with the Palestinian police who would carry out the custody under observation through British and US officers.
Having broken this agreement taken with the Palestinian Authority is downright outrageous, amounts to a conspiracy and there is no rationale whatsoever for humiliating the Palestinians in the way we have seen on all the TV screens of the world. Israel thinks that humiliating Palestinians is a means to break their moral spine. Furthermore, for Israel it’s a way to express its contempt for international and traditional standards of acceptability.
In the light of international and traditional standards of acceptability, even war has its rules, its code of dignity. By pointing at systematic humiliation as a means of warfare, Israel denies the humanity of its adversary and becomes the main source and fosterer of extremism in the Arab world, considering that humiliation is the most effective means to provoke violent response and even suicidal reactions.”
Islamic movements have become the expression of popular mass-resistance. Can the secular Palestinian resistance redefine its position within these new parameters?
“One of the major mistakes of the PLO came from its failure to grasp the significance of populist movements and to work with them. In saying this, I wouldn’t exclude myself, to be honest. All of us have gone ahead for a long time tending to our jobs and roles without reaffirming our positions.
As we became involved in bureaucratic assignments, in non-governmental organizations’ commitments and in institutional responsibilities, we overlooked grass-roots activities, their meaning and impact on the ground, therefore leaving a wide and important space to Hamas. Now, the challenge is on us, the secular movement, to make up for this failure for which the election polls presented us the bill.”
Which are the prospects for a future cooperation between Hamas and the Islamic liberation movement of the Palestinians of ’48?
“There is cooperation with the Islamic movement especially from Umm al-Fahm, but otherwise and in general, cooperation with the Palestinians of ’48 is still scarce and sporadic.”
Do you believe the Palestinian National Authority should dissolve and hand responsibility back to the Israeli occupation government?
“During the last year I started thinking about that and meanwhile I reached the conclusion that the Palestinian Authority should indeed, dissolve. Since the Oslo Accords (September 1993) and until now, the Authority was part of a national project, the core symbol and tool for the project to establish a national, Palestinian leadership in the process of acquiring control over the territory and building public institutions through which control on the ground enfolds. At the end of the process, after the final status negotiations that were to conclude the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian National Authority was meant to have become our government, the government of a sovereign state. However, what the Israelis had in mind was an entirely different thing.
The Israelis had in mind an “authority” that would govern the Palestinian people, but not the Palestinians’ territory. While keeping encroaching on our territory and building more and more illegal settlements, they boasted that through the Oslo Accords, over ninety percent of Palestinians were governed directly by their own national, Palestinian authority.
Taking away the ground under people¹s feet with all its resources, but leaving responsibility for the lives of people, their schooling, health care, security policing in the hands of a local authority, funded by foreign donors, made the establishment of such a local authority become the most inexpensive form of maintaining and deepening the military occupation in Palestine. In the face of this outcome, the logical step would be to dissolve the Palestinian National Authority and hand responsibility back to the occupying power. But it is up to the political forces that won the recent parliamentarian elections to take such a decision and to rally for support of it. It’s up to Hamas to promote such a decision which would involve renouncing to rule over the people through the administrative machine of the Palestinian National Authority. It would mean a strategic renouncement. Let’s see, whether they are up to it.”
Do you believe that Hamas should join the PLO and redefine its positions from within this wider Palestinian movement?
“Yes, definitely. The main difficulty is that Hamas never wanted to be part of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, but defined themselves as part of a supernational movement. Hamas wanted to constitute an alternative to the PLO. In the meantime Hamas, when asked whether it would adhere to previous accords between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, pointed out that the negotiating partner with Israel is not the Palestinian Authority, but the Palestinian Liberation Organization. In the light of the present circumstances and their own acknowledgements, I hope they will revise previous positions and join ranks with the other Palestinian factions inside the PLO.” Daily Newsletter of the Jerusalem Times Press Service
Friday, April 7, 2006
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