Jenin: The Full Story, a Q&A with Mustafa Barghouti

7 Jul
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Dr Mustafa Barghouti is the leader of the Palestinian National Initiative, and also the president of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. He is a former Palestinian presidential candidate and a medical doctor.

Dr Barghouti spent several days in Jenin this week, entering the city and refugee camp on the second day of Israel’s incursion and attacks which killed twelve Palestinians, including four children.

Palestine Deep Dive speaks exclusively to Dr  Barghouti to hear his account of how Israel's attacks on Jenin unfolded, the extent of the damage left in their aftermath and the subsequent mood on the ground, as well as his thoughts on how Palestinians are treated in the mainstream media today.

PDD: Can you provide a summary of this week’s events in Jenin?

Dr Barghouti: Absolutely. Well, first of all, let me say that the Israeli attack on Jenin is not justified in any way. The attack was not on Jenin camp itself only but also on the whole of the city of Jenin. Israel used its full military arsenal. They used armoured vehicles and eventually tanks. They used Apache helicopters. They used F-16 jet fighters which were patrolling the area. They used rockets and they used drones to attack basically a civilian population. One of the most densely populated areas in the world. The Jenin refugee camp, which has 16,000 people living in something that is less than half squared kilometre.

The attack basically was on a civilian population and the Israeli army aimed at arresting or killing the people who are resisting occupation but they failed with the exception of killing 12 people including 4 children who were below the age of 17. Given that they failed, they conducted arbitrary arrests of people who are not really part of resistance. They also conducted terrible attack[s] and caused huge damage in the camp. The Israeli tanks and bulldozers, they brought armoured bulldozers which bulldozed the main streets and the camp, destroyed houses in the process, destroyed so many cars, and then they set fire in many buildings, in Jenin city as well as in Jenin Camp.

They also used drones that shoot rockets on civilian population. I've been to many houses which were completely and totally destroyed. It was just a miracle that so many more people have not been killed but not less than 200 people were injured. The official number is 130 injuries but actually, many people prefer to get treatment at home rather than going to hospital in fear of being arrested. I visited the main hospitals in Jenin which are very close to the camp, and I saw casualties. I saw people shot mainly to be killed. The injured people had had bullets in their abdomen, and their chest, and their legs. All the bullets that were used were high-velocity bullets and the goal was to kill. I've seen a man who was shot in the head. His brain was shattered and before we left the hospital, they announced that he died. But inside the houses, they also committed terrible massacres. Terrible attacks on people. Their families told me that the army would penetrate their house through the walls of their house.

They moved from one house to the other by creating holes in the walls and suddenly the family would see the soldiers in front of them. They would isolate the men from the women, handcuff the men, isolate them in a separate room, and then arrest most of them and the women would be isolated in a different area, but all kept in one room. Usually, the army cut off electricity. As you know, the area is very hot and it's summertime, so people were stuck inside the rooms with no water, no food, no supplies and in very hot weather. Many of them are older people who suffer from hypertension and diabetes and heart diseases.

They were kept like that for two days while the army used the rest of the house. In many cases, they used the houses of the people to create stations for the snipers, the Israeli snipers, to shoot what they think people who are participating in resistance. Many, many families told me that their money was stolen by the soldiers. I saw, and I have a photo of the-- There are little pieces that the children keep their money in, it's little money, of course. I don't know how they call that, but they broke these boxes that belonged to children. One of them was in the form of a toy, and they took the money of these children.

More than that, they isolated children in certain cases in a room with an officer or a soldier interrogating them, trying to force them to testify against their families, to testify that their family had guns, for instance. When they failed to force the children to do that, they would bring into the room a dog to terrify the children who were isolated from their families. This is the kind of behaviour that the Israeli army conducted. In addition to that, they attacked the ambulances, prevented medical teams from reaching injured people on time. One guy by the name of Hamesia was shot and left to bleed to death, and his body was found hours later because the army would not allow any medical person to get close to him.

Ambulances were shot at, first aid teams were shot at, and journalists were shot at. There is a videotape that shows how the Israeli army shot 10 times from an armoured vehicle a TV camera and the TV crew of Al-Araby TV station. Only a miracle prevented these journalists from being killed like has happened before to Shireen Abu Akleh in the same area and it's not surprising that they've done this behaviour with our journalists. During the last 10 years, the Israeli army killed 52 Palestinian journalists in different attacks on people.

So far, the total number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli army is 197, and many, many hundreds were injured. These are the highest numbers since 2005. The attack on Jenin failed and failed in the sense of catching the people they were after.

PDD: What is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu trying to achieve by invading Jenin?

Dr Barghouti: Netanyahu declared very clearly that his goal is to not only prevent the establishment of an independent Palestinian state but to extract from people's minds the whole idea of a Palestinian statehood. He has announced and his fascist government have announced plans to expand settlements in an unprecedented rate. They are already building 50 new illegal settlements, which did not happen for years. They declared the establishment of not less than 13,000 new settlement units. They say that their goal is to legalise all the settlement outposts that were created by settlers, including the seven new outposts which were allowed to be created by this new Israeli government. The total number of settlement outposts are 171. The plan of Netanyahu is to fill the West Bank with these new settlements so that the number of settlements will increase from 151, to add to the 171 new settlements. Smotrich, the second most important minister in the Israeli government, who called himself a fascist homophobe, declared the strategy of the Israeli establishment.

He said, we will fill the West Bank with settlers and settlements so that Palestinians would lose all hope of a state of their own and then they will have one of three options, either to immigrate, or die, or accept a life of subjugation to this Israeli regime. Ben-Gvir said, we've killed 120 Palestinians, we will kill thousands more. This is the kind of language that this Israeli government is using. So what is Netanyahu's plan?

Netanyahu's plan is to annex completely the whole of the West Bank and Judaize it, prevent the establishment of a Palestinian independent state, prevent freedom for Palestinians, and at the same time kill any person who wants to resist this injustice. When he speaks about killing and arresting Palestinians who resist occupation, he means practically any Palestinian who refuses these terrible plans to sustain occupation and the system of apartheid in Palestine. He is failing because the whole of the Palestinian population will never accept a life of enslavement under the Israeli occupation and system of apartheid.

Practically what Netanyahu is doing is exactly what Einstein described as insanity. When one continues to repeat doing the same thing and expect different results. We've been subjected to Israeli oppression for 56 years of occupation and 75 years of ethnic cleansing that took place in the Nakba in 1948 and they keep oppressing us but we never stop resisting this injustice in every possible way. And that's why I say that Netanyahu is failing because his goal of subjugating Palestinians to submission will never succeed. Meanwhile, so many Palestinian lives are lost, so many Israeli lives are lost also in the process, and I think it is the responsibility of the Israeli government for the death of every Palestinian and every Israeli, although the numbers are so different. When you compare the huge number of Palestinians who were killed in comparison to the number of Israelis killed, but I think all of these people, the blood of all these people, whether they are Palestinians or Israelis is on the hands of these extremist and fascists like Netanyahu, Smotrich, and Ben-Gvir who don't want to allow peace to prevail in this area or justice to be here.

I do believe that we are facing now one of the most extreme Israeli governments but the unfortunate thing is that the Israeli opposition, the Zionist opposition in Israel, which is opposing Netanyahu on matters of judiciary internal system, do not object what Netanyahu is doing to us, the Palestinians. In reality, all the leaders of the Israeli opposition came out supporting the Israeli attack on Jenin Camp and supporting the Israeli attacks on Palestinians. That is really most unhelpful and most disappointing because that means that unfortunately, all Zionist parties in Israel are supporting the system of occupation, apartheid, and fascism and the rise of fascism, which is also affecting Israel itself.

There were many wise Israeli leaders who said at one point of time that occupation will become the cancer that eats Israel from within and I think that is exactly what's happening. Occupation produced settlers, settlers produced apartheid, apartheid is producing fascism now in Israel and that is the most dangerous thing we are subjected to.

Meanwhile, I want to praise the great spirit of resilience and solidarity that Palestinians have shown in Jenin Camp and have shown to each other because today I was with a medical team that came from Ramallah and from Jerusalem, and from Tulkarem with Palestinian Medical Relief Society, the organisation that I lead. They were all inside the camp helping people, providing treatment to them. People came out from all over the country to provide milk, food, health sanitary material to the children in Jenin camp, and so many municipalities around Jenin sent their tractors and machines to try to help repair some of the horrible infrastructure that was caused by the Israeli army. Water pipes were cut, roads were bulldozed, sanitary facilities were destroyed, electricity was completely cut. The whole infrastructure was destroyed, and that's not the first time. This is exactly what happened in 2002 when Israel invaded Jenin Camp and destroyed everything and killed more than 70 people at that time. It is really ironic that the generation that is resisting occupation today are the children who were born in 2002.

PDD: What is the attitude of young Palestinians on the ground today towards the “Peace-Process”?

The young generation and myself have lost hope in the so-called peace process a long time ago, but what do we have? Oslo Agreement was signed in 1993, exactly 30 years ago. Israel obstructed the implementation of Oslo Agreement, which was supposed to be an interim agreement only for six years, leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Yitzhak Rabin who signed that agreement was assassinated by an Israeli extremist. Netanyahu aggravated the Israeli public against the Israeli government that signed [the] Oslo Agreement. Netanyahu wrote a book then in 1994 called A Place Under the Sun where he promised that he will kill Oslo process and will prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. That's exactly what he did. Since 2014, not a single meeting has taken place between Palestinian leadership and Israelis. Israel obstructed all these meetings, obstructed negotiations, and continued to build illegal settlements that are cutting away the land of the West Bank and destroying any potential for a two-state solution.

When Israel attacks Jenin Camp, a civilian population, attacks refugees who were displaced from their land, from their homeland in 1948 living in horrible conditions in a refugee camp that is under the Israeli occupation. When Israel attacks such a refugee camp, which is in very poor situation under their occupation with their military arsenal, with their tanks, with their planes, with their drones, with their jet fighters, when they do that, it is totally unacceptable that the world will be silent and more than that, that some of the countries of the world would encourage Israel.

The statements of the United States government and the British government saying that Israel has the right to defend itself is nothing but giving a green light to this aggression. What about the Palestinian people who are under Israeli occupation? Don't we have the right to defend ourselves or we are subhuman beings for them? I think the fact that it is shameful that the British parliament would be discussing preventing the most peaceful form of resistance which is boycott, divestment and sanctions. Using BDS like has happened in South Africa is nothing but an act of freedom of speech, freedom of people to fight against injustice, freedom of people to protest to occupation and the system of apartheid.

These stands supporting Israel makes those people who make statements like “Israel has the right to defend themselves,” make these people participant[s] in the war crime that Israel has committed and continues to commit against the Palestinian people. The whole talk about two-state solution became nothing but a cliché that convinces nobody. If the United States, if Britain, if Europe really was serious about a Palestinian state, they would have recognised the Palestinian state and not limited their recognition to Israel alone. If they were serious about a two-state solution, they would have started immediately pressure on Israel including sanctions to force it to stop the illegal settlement activities which these countries admit are destroying the possibility of a Palestinian state and two-state solution. I think the whole talk about two-state solution is nothing but a way of distracting the attention, a way of giving Israel more time to finish the real job that it is doing here, which is the annexation of the West Bank and the total elimination of any potential for two-state solution.

And we say to that even if Israel has destroyed the two-state option, that doesn't mean they have destroyed our hope for freedom. And they have created a new reality, which is a one-state reality, a one apartheid-state reality. The alternative to which can only be one democratic state where Palestinians would enjoy equal rights not only as citizens, but also as a nation, equal citizens right[s] and equal national rights. This is the only solution to a situation of one apartheid state.

PDD: How are Palestinians treated in the media today?

Dr Barghouti: We are mostly ignored and rarely interviewed. Even I remember 10 or 20 years ago, we were interviewed much more frequently on the international media like CNN and BBC. The last years we've been ignored totally. And I don't think that the Palestinian narrative makes itself through most of these outlets. That's why we rely more on social media these days.

Even when we have the rare opportunity of bringing to the attention of the people, the Palestinian narrative and the Palestinian point of view, the Israelis immediately attack these stations like they did now with the BBC. They want to monopolise the truth. Israelis want to monopolise the media. They want to prevent people in Britain and in the world from knowing the reality, the truth. BBC interviewed me, but they also interviewed many Israelis. Much more than they interviewed us, and still, the Israelis would attack [the] BBC because they want to silence the voice of the truth. They want to obstruct the ability of people in the world to know the truth about what's happening here. We are not saying they shouldn't interview Israelis, let them do that, but they should interview us as well. We have the full right to bring our opinion to the world's media and to the world's people. Then people can judge by themselves who is right and who is wrong, what is correct and what is incorrect, and what are the facts. But to prevent people from even having the access to the point of view of the others, which are the Palestinians in this case, reflect, in my opinion, two matters.

One, a fascist behaviour, which tries to monopolise the truth and monopolise the facts. Sorry. It also shows that the Israeli side is weak because they are afraid of the truth. They are afraid of the fact that if you put one of us in front of the media with an Israeli in front of the media, even one of the fascist Israelis, the people will immediately recognise that what we are telling is the truth. I always say to my colleagues in the media that what we need is maybe 1/10 of what the Israelis have, and we will prevail. Why? Because we are telling the truth and that's what they are afraid of.

PDD: Should the BBC have apologised to former Israeli PM Naftali Bennett for asking if Israel is “happy to kill Palestinian children”?

Dr Barghouti: Yes, I think that was very fair because Israel is killing children. Just before the last attack in Jenin, the Israeli soldiers shot a little boy, two and a half years old, and his father, while they were standing in front of their house. The father got two bullets in the shoulder, the child got the bullet in the brain, and he died, two and a half years old. Ten times they shot them. Then the Israeli army said it was by mistake, but no soldier was taken to court and nobody was punished for that. I, myself, a medical doctor in 1996 was trying to help an injured person on the fifth floor in Ramallah where there were clashes between the Israeli army and the people.

And while I was trying to stop the bleeding for that person, an Israeli sniper saw me and shot me twice. I still carry 35 shrapnels in my back and shoulder. Nobody was punished for that. No, Israel kills children and kills civilians and kills medical doctors, and kills journalists. I don't think that BBC should have apologised for this. In my opinion, the Israeli establishment and with all its mighty power is practicing what I call intellectual terror against the media people worldwide, and against anybody who is in solidarity with Palestinians. Nobody should accept to be subjected to this intellectual terror that Israel is practicing.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Palestine Deep Dive.

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Mustafa Barghouti

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti is a Palestinian physician, activist, and politician who serves as General Secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, also known as al Mubadara. He has been a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council since 2006 and is also a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization Central Council.