‘This was an act of resistance against the occupation army’: Hanan Ashrawi

Published : Oct 30, 2023 19:27 IST - 6 MINS READ

Hanan Ashrawi.

Hanan Ashrawi. | Photo Credit: ABBAS MOMANI/AFP

The former spokesperson for the PLO fears that the Hamas attack will be used to label Palestinians.

Hanan Daoud Mikhael Ashrawi, perhaps the most visible face of Palestine after the late Yasser Arafat, was the official spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). A Palestinian Christian, she represented Jerusalem in the Palestinian Legislative Council in 1996 and was re-elected in 2006. In 2020, Ashrawi resigned in protest against the Palestinian Authority’s decision to renew security coordination with Israel. She has criticised the Abraham Accords, believing they exclude the Palestinian issue. Recently, Ashrawi was appointed chair of the board of trustees of Birzeit University in the West Bank, which brings her full circle to the place where she taught English literature in 1990. She spoke to Frontline by phone from her residence in Ramallah. Excerpts:

Were you surprised by the Hamas operation of October 7?

I was both surprised and not surprised. It was unprecedented in that Palestinian fighters confronted the Israeli army, stood up to it, and in many ways exposed its claim to be a strong army that cannot be defeated. This was an act of resistance against the occupation army that surrounds Gaza and regularly bombs and kills civilians.

The entire Western world has condemned it, thousands of Palestinians have been killed in the retaliation. Was it not avoidable?

What Israel is doing to Gaza today it has been doing for decades. Thousands of Palestinians were killed in five attacks on Gaza before this one. It is systematic terror. They kill people in Gaza from a great distance; they did not need to look the victims in the eye. It is a policy that the Israeli occupation army is pursuing against Palestinian civilians. There is misrepresentation by the mainstream media, which picks up on Israel’s distortions and discusses the incident without any context. This narrative has been refuted time and again.

Also Read | Do Palestinians have the right to resist? The unequivocal answer is yes

There is a feeling that Hamas has only brought death and destruction to the Palestinians. How do you see this?

Is there Hamas in the West Bank? Do you have any idea what is happening there? Where is the morality of the world when Palestinians are killed? Why are only Palestinians asked to show moral strength? Ask yourself these questions and try to find answers. Blaming Palestinians and making them feel guilty is part of the pattern. They are already conquering the West Bank. Every day there is violence there between settlers, supported by the Israeli army, and Palestinians. The year 2023 was the bloodiest for Palestinians, even before October 7. In the West Bank, where there is no Hamas.

We are attacked every day. Every town and village in the West Bank is besieged by settler colonies, people have no protection. That is what worries me. This violence takes place in the dark, quietly, and the world does not know about it.

What will this action by Hamas mean for the larger Palestinian cause?

I am worried that it will be used to label Palestinians. If you look at the anger which the people of Gaza have held for 17 years... they have had no hope. They have been shelled and killed. Food, water, land, whatever they had, has been taken away from them. They have been treated like subhumans, denied their rights.

The West supports Israel’s demand to wipe out Hamas. Many have equated Hamas with ISIS.

Do you know what Hamas is? They [Israelis] have tried to wipe them out before. They bombed and shelled and killed people, wiped out whole families. But that did not wipe out Hamas. They do not understand that Hamas is a political and military organisation. It is at the head of a government. It has an organisation, an institution, social welfare programmes. It is not just a group of fighters who appeared out of nowhere. It is part of the political fabric. They stood in the elections.

How are they going to wipe out Hamas? Are they going to kill all the people? If you ask the people of Gaza, they will tell you that at least someone stood up for them.

By killing people and bombing, they are not weakening Hamas. They are waking up others, like the Palestine Liberation Organisation [PLO], which took the path of negotiation but got nothing in return. We tried to be nice and thought the world would hear us. That did not happen.

Also Read | Occupation or withdrawal? Israel faces difficult choices in Gaza

Israel blames divisions in the Palestinian ranks for the failure of the two-state solution agreed to in the Oslo peace process. You were a part of the process. Can you explain why it got derailed?

It is a tragic story. Even as we signed and moved towards the Oslo process, Israel continued land confiscation and settlement building. I challenge them. They cannot blame the failure on Palestinians. They wanted to control large areas. They told us: You have the upper part of Jerusalem, we will have the lower part. I told them Jerusalem is not an onion that you can slice. Negotiations were going on but did not lead to any result.

In November 1995, [Yitzhak] Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli extremist who opposed the peace process. The following year, Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposed the Oslo Accords, was elected Prime Minister. He wanted to stop the peace process, and he did.

Even in Area A [where the Palestinian Authority has full civil and security control], Israelis come in whenever they want, blow up doors, arrest and kill people. The Oslo process is honoured more by rupture than by compliance. Israel picks and chooses what it likes about it…. Oslo was a very convenient tool for the Israelis to grab more land, buy more time, create more realities. Now they are blaming Palestinians for the security of the army. Their army enters areas A and B [Area B is where Israel and the Palestinian Authority have joint security control] while not allowing Palestinian security forces to defend Palestinians.

How can the process get going again?

We need an end to the occupation and an end to the brutality. I would like to see all parties abide by international law and international humanitarian law. The Hamas attack proves that Palestinians have not forgotten nor have they exiled themselves nor have they capitulated. What drives the Israeli Right insane is that Palestinians are not giving up. For me, this is a source of hope. It is time for the world to understand the Palestinian problem in context, not piecemeal. And to deal with it for the sake of world peace.

Iftikhar Gilani is an Indian journalist based in Ankara.

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