Is there no one to speak up for Palestine?
On the occasion of International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the Ambassador of the State of Palestine to Bangladesh, Yousuf S Ramadan, talks to Eresh Omar Jamal of The Daily Star about some recent major developments concerning the longstanding occupation of Palestine by Israel and the forces that are contributing to the denial of Palestinians' human rights.
Today is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, a UN-organised day of observance. However, it was the UN's Resolution 181 (II) that led to the partition of Palestine and called for the establishment of "Independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem". So what role would you say has the UN played in the Palestine-Israel conflict?
Let me start by explaining the history a little bit. The Palestinian issue started immediately after the Balfour Declaration of 1917, when the British colonial regime denied our mere physical existence and pretended that Palestine is a land without a people. Then 27 years later, after the British colonial rule in Palestine, UN Resolution 181 (II) gave the right for the Jewish minority to establish a state on 54 percent of Palestinian land. So again, our individual and national rights were denied.
Although only 33 countries voted with the motion and 13 countries against it, the Palestinian people, as a result of this, were collectively uprooted and extradited to the periphery of their homeland. So that was the result of what the UN did in cooperation with the British colonial regime. It was a great injustice which brought tremendous suffering to the people of Palestine, even until today.
In 1977, the same UN tried to compensate the Palestinian people by recognising the injustice which was inflicted on them, and declaring November 29 of each year as International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. But that is not good enough for Palestinians because the suffering that we have been facing since 1948 has been unbearable. And it is unacceptable that it has lasted for such a long time.
The Balfour Declaration, as you mentioned, was written before the UN declaration that allowed for the partition of Palestinian land. That indicates that the decision was made long before it actually came into effect. Why would you say that is, and can it be described as a conspiracy?
Of course it was a conspiracy, that is well known. We the Palestinians were the victims of European history. The Europeans wanted to create a Jewish state in Palestine in order to get rid of the Jews from Europe. So they were given something that they did not own, and we were the ones who had to pay the price. That is why we have to remind the international community that you are responsible for the creation of the state of Israel and parallelly for the creation of our misery. That is why the international community has to take responsibility for solving this longstanding issue. What we are asking for is not absolute justice, we are asking for a possible justice.
Nelson Mandela once described the plight of the Palestinian people as "the greatest moral issue of our time". Why don't more world leaders talk about it, especially today?
We only ever had one Nelson Mandela. He was an icon of freedom, a man who never compromised his values. When a man like him gives such a statement, that is a reward for the people of Palestine. It makes us believe that our cause is a just cause and that one day we will get our victory and achieve our goal. It takes courage to do what he did, and not many leaders have the courage of Nelson Mandela's.
The former leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, did sometimes mention that we should also hear what the Palestinians have to say and for that he has been vilified by the British media and even his own party as being an anti-Semite. However, Semitism doesn't refer to a race, but rather a language group, which includes the Palestinians. Can you elaborate on this?
That is why the whole story from the very beginning has been one of injustice. The creation of Israel, from the beginning, was illegal. And the issue of anti-Semitism is another injustice on top of that, because all the people in the Middle East, including the Palestinians, are Semitic people. But today when you talk about being anti-Semitic, that means you are talking only against the Jews. So they have hijacked the name for themselves.
How do Palestinians view Donald Trump's so-called "Deal of the Century" and his decision to recognise East Jerusalem as the capital of Israel? And are you more or less hopeful with a possible Biden presidency?
The four years of Trump's presidency has been the darkest time for the Palestinian people in the 21st century. Not only was he unfair, he was so reckless that he exceeded all boundaries when it came to the Palestine-Israel issue. Not only Palestinians, but the whole Muslim world considers Jerusalem as a holy city of Islam. And when you ignore that, you ignore the right of 1.8 billion Muslim people, in order to satisfy Benjamin Netanyahu.
But facts are still facts, and Jerusalem will always be the capital of Palestine, whether Trump or Netanyahu like it or not. So the Trump administration gave us a hard time, not only by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, shifting the US embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, but also by putting tremendous pressure on countries who donate money to Palestine to stop their donations—and unfortunately the majority of those countries complied.
The Palestinian people were delighted when Trump lost the election. And we hope Joe Biden, who was vice-president for eight years and was one of the architects of the peace process during the Obama administration, if he wants to continue to be called the leader of the free world, would help us taste that freedom. Otherwise, the peaceful struggle could become null and void and we would have to rethink our strategy in this struggle.
What is Israel's intention, to resolve the crisis or to keep it going, because Israel is still constructing illegal settlements on Palestinian land and doesn't seem too concerned, especially with the backing of western countries?
You are absolutely right. But let me add one thing here. The Israeli policy, especially under Netanyahu, has been focused on acquiring as much of Palestinian land and removing as much of its demography as possible. We have been negotiating for 27 years with Israel and during these years of negotiations, we are supposed to see a withdrawal of the occupation. But instead of seeing a withdrawal, we have seen an expansion of the occupation. So what is the use of sitting at the table and discussing peace?
Before 1993 and before we signed the peace agreement with Israel, Israel only controlled three percent of settlements in the West Bank. Today, Israel controls 43 percent of the West Bank. So nothing is left for the Palestinians to build their state. And then comes the "Deal of the Century", which makes it even more difficult. It offers the Palestinians an archipelago of around less than 15 or 16 percent of what was historically Palestine, and basically tells the Palestinians to go ahead and build their state there. We do not agree. This plan belongs in the garbage. And we will not even think about it.
This is an abridged version of an online episode of Star One on One (a live video interview series) from November 28. The full interview can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/dailystarnews/videos.