Interview with Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi
The following are major excerpts of a May 14, 2021, interview with Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi (HA) by Amy Goodman (AG) of Democracy Now. The news broadcast also included a second panelist, Rasheed Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies, Columbia University, New York.
The video of the entire program is posted on YouTube and can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-K1vYhdoJyY
Ashrawi was an English literature professor at Birzeit University in Ramallah, West Bank, and served in the past as head of the faculty of humanities at the university. She was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council representing Jerusalem in 1996 and was re-elected for the “Third Way” bloc ticket in 2006. Making history as the first woman to hold a seat in the highest executive body in Palestine, she was elected as member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 2009 and in 2018.
Transcription of the interview, as well as subheadings and footnotes, are by World-Outlook.com.
AG: From Ramallah, West Bank, Hanan Ashrawi joins us, long-time Palestinian diplomat and scholar. Formerly an executive committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, she was the first woman to hold the seat in the highest executive committee in Palestine. She also served as the spokesperson of the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace process.
We start with Hanan Ashrawi. The IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] tweeted one line: “The IDF is attacking by air and ground forces the Gaza Strip.” Can you talk about what’s happening there now and the significance of both the attacks there and also the mob attacks through other parts of Israel and the occupied territories?
HA: What the Israeli occupation forces did was, once again, target an area that is the most densely populated area in the world, that is under a state of siege. They have nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, they don’t have sirens, they don’t have shelters, they don’t have an air force, and, of course, they have no protection whatsoever.
They [Israel] started bombing and shelling, by air primarily, and they destroyed, at first, three major high-rise buildings with residential apartments. And then they continued. This is a pattern. They continued, they escalated, they are destroying roads and streets, infrastructure, electricity, and so on, and they are turning life in Gaza—which is already a disaster area as a result of the siege—they are turning it into a sheer hell. …
[T]here are so many people killed, but I mean it’s difficult for us to talk about statistics. But … when I read stories, when I see pictures… of whole families—a mother and her three kids… bombed, shelled, destroyed, killed brutally in their own homes in their own beds.
Israel’s unbridled power to kill, destroy, maim
This is the reality of living under occupation… under a state of siege, where Israel has total license to use unbridled power, to kill and destroy and maim and get away with it.
And then you get people like [U.S. president Joe] Biden and others saying Israel has a right to self-defense.
I will repeat something I’ve said, and I will continue to say: There’s no normality under occupation. This is an abnormal situation and an occupier who is oppressing a whole people who cannot claim self-defense if its victims decide to strike back even in a minimal way. The real issue is the occupation.
Now we are seeing not just in Gaza—where we are seeing of course horrific scenes of death and murder and destruction—we are seeing also in the West Bank, there are protest marches ongoing in every town, city, and village. We are seeing in Jerusalem again the Israeli border guards, the Israeli security are targeting individuals, they are killing, shooting at Palestinians, they have injured scores of them and arrested many.
In historic Palestine, what we call 1948 Palestine, which became Israel, the indigenous Palestinians are again being targeted. The irony is they are being beaten up by Jewish Israelis because they happen not to be Jewish, because Israel legislated a basic law called the nation-state law, which says that only Jews have the right to self-determination, which means that even Palestinians who were in Palestine before Israel was created, although they are Israeli citizens, they have no rights whatsoever. This is legalized discrimination and apartheid very clearly.
So, as a result of decades of discrimination, and oppression, and so on, the Palestinians in all major areas, cities, and towns in ’48 Palestine are now protesting, because they are facing the violence of the Israelis, ironically of the Israeli settlers who came from the West Bank.
It’s not enough that they are stealing our land, that they are illegally building colonies and settlements in the West Bank. They are fully armed, they are never held to account, and they are always protected by the Israeli army in the West Bank.
Now they have been imported, particularly the most extreme, racist wing, the Lehava group that has been emboldened and adopted, actually, by [Israeli prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. They are wreaking havoc within Israel, within what they call the mixed towns and cities, wherever they can find Palestinians, even though they are supposed to have the same passports or nationality as Israelis. They are totally vulnerable.
And the Israeli security, Netanyahu, also imported not just the settlers into Israel but also the border guards, which means he is treating all of historical Palestine as an occupied territory. He is treating Lydda, Ramle, Acre, Haifa, all these towns and villages as though they are part of an occupied territory, which means Israel is re-occupying Palestine.
Palestinians united in opposition to injustice
This is a pattern. But it has now come to a head because now Palestinians everywhere are united in their opposition to oppression, to injustice, to violence, to cruelty and brutality. You have them as I said in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, in the Gaza Strip, within Israel or ’48 Palestine, and all over the world.
Now Palestinians in the [United] States and in Washington, and Manhattan, New York, and Chicago and different places are also protesting along with their allies, along with this amazing solidarity network that is emerging in the U.S., as well as in Europe and in the Arab world. So, there is this unity of identity, unity of struggle, despite the difference of injustice.
It’s not only that you can be under occupation, you can also be suffering from discrimination and apartheid, you can be facing an army, you can be suffering exile, dispossession, and refugee status. But you all know that the source of your oppression is the same.
AG: Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, can you talk about what you think is going to happen over these next few days, and particularly tomorrow, the significance of the day tomorrow [May 15], as well as these attacks happening during Ramadan and the end of Ramadan?
HA: Well, of course, as expected tomorrow is the commemoration of the Nakba [catastrophe in Arabic, it’s the date the people of Palestine memorialize their expulsion from their lands in 1947-48], the date on which Israel was formally formed, or created on the land of Palestine, but it’s not the beginning of Palestinian suffering because the Zionist enterprise started before that, and not even just with the Balfour declaration….
There has always been an attempt of dispossessing Palestinians, displacing them and replacing them with another nation. And the extremist Zionist ideology actually gained more and more traction, and has been adopted now, till now, in a process of negation of a whole nation—our land, our history, our culture, even our very physical presence, our identity—and replacing us with a new narrative, with a new people that came from outside Palestine, at the expense of the Palestinian people, without any kind of curbs, or engagement, or accountability.
Israel: A colonial-settler state
So, to the Palestinian people, the date, the Nakba, signals a process. It is probably in the middle of this process, but it is always ongoing. And as you have seen in the protests in ’48 Palestine, the Zionist ideology does seek to displace and replace a whole people. It is a settler-colonial enterprise. It has acted in protection as a colonial, a Western colonial outpost. It has been a functional state for the remnants of western colonialism.
AG: What do you think needs to happen now?
HA: I think what needs to happen is two things. Palestinians need protection in accordance with the law, and Israel needs accountability in accordance with the law.
The problem is it [Israel] has been emboldened, it has been given license to act with full impunity, it has become the primary source of identification and support—these refrains that…Israel’s right to self-defense, which is absolutely bizarre and unconscionable. This is in addition to the fact that the Israel lobby and other factors… have worked together to give Israel preferential treatment and immunity to act with full impunity.
What needs to be done is to treat Palestinians with full recognition of our rights to freedom, to dignity, to live in our own land, to self-determination, actually. And to start treating Israel as a country governed by international law and humanitarian law.
Oppose unholy U.S.-Israeli alliance
The U.S. of course…we are not going to expect a miraculous transformation. We know the Biden administration has bent over backwards now in order to prevent any kind of intervention or engagement. Sending a symbolic, third-, fourth-level civil servant does not do anything—[U.S. State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israel and Palestinian Affairs] Hady Amr going to Israel. When Netanyahu clearly told the American administration, whether it’s the President or Secretary of State, that it’s none of your business when they asked him to calm down on the issue of Jerusalem, and Al-Aqsa mosque, and Sheikh Jarrah evictions…
And Biden is looking internally, at his own elections, at this own party’s elections, and he is ignoring a whole body of a new conversation in the U.S.—the progressives, the minorities, women’s movements, LGBTQ, Blacks, everybody is out there placing Palestine in the middle of a conversation of rights, of equality, of justice. Within the Democratic Party they are not just turning a blind eye, they are sort of closing their ears because they don’t want to hear.
There are changes now. There is a new conversation, a new language. Palestine is no longer a taboo. It is part of the discussion. It is part of the global rights movement. We have allies.
This unholy alliance between U.S. and Israel historically, has cost the U.S. a great deal. It has cost it credibility, and standing, and interests, and quite often even lives. Because when you have this obsessive support for a country that is creating a situation of extreme abnormality and injustice—the occupation is itself an abnormal state, a state of constant aggression—and yet it is getting cover and protection, and it is getting emboldened.
During the Trump administration they became…actually partners in the crime of the Israeli occupation, and annexation, and so on. So, this does not in any way serve American interests, it may serve the interests of individuals who seek to get re-elected on the basis of Palestine-bashing and rendering the Palestinians invisible and silenced, and amplifying over the Israeli voice in a distorted way.
But at the same time the truth is coming out.
 The Balfour Declaration was a public statement issued by the British government during the First World War announcing support for the establishment of a Jewish settlement in Palestine, then an Ottoman region with a small minority Jewish population. “His Majesty’s Government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” wrote British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour in 1917 to a prominent British capitalist who supported the settlement project. The declaration violated British promises to the Arabs of independence and self-determination. It was not made public in Palestine until May 1920. The British government backed plans of the World Zionist Organization at the time to colonize Palestine with European Jews, in order to create a powerful new obstacle to the Arab independence struggle. The British rulers hoped colonial settlers would feel they had a stake in helping combat the Arab democratic movement.