The Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, Dr. Ahmad Al-Tibi, stressed his rejection of the committee formed by Barak to investigate the violence, which erupted between the Israeli police and 1948 Palestinians as part of Al Aqsa uprising.
In a telephone interview with Albawaba.com, Tibi added that Palestinians of Al-Jalil, Muthalath and Negev have not announced that their anger was vented and finished with, indicating the possibility that confrontations could reoccur. He noted that he understood from the Israeli Military leaders’ remarks that there is an Israeli plan to invade the Palestinian areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
Q: After the uprising of the 1948 Arabs and the casualties inflicted among them, how do you assess the situation now and the events behind the green line?
A: There have been two driving forces behind the uprising of the 1948 Arabs, which resulted in the death of 13 and the wounding of over a thousand Arabs. First, it is the rejection of the massacre and the defilement of Haram Sharif by Sharon and our unwillingness and inability to release condemning statements. The second drive is that we, as an Arab Palestinian minority within Israel, have our political stand regarding the final status of Jerusalem and the Israeli attempts to award the barest minimum of Palestinian sovereignty over it and over our holy shrines particularly Al-Aqsa Mosque and Al-Haram Al-Sharif.
Q: “Haaretz” quoted you today as rejecting the cooperation with the committee formed by the Israeli Government to investigate the events. Why did you reject this committee?
A: It is impossible, with the killing of 13 martyrs and the wounding of thousands by live ammunition, to accept an investigation by any committees other than an official investigative committee that is different from a general one.
The proposal to form a general committee headed by a judge appointed by Barak without consultation with us is nothing but an attempt to calm the situation. We do not need calming. We have called for an official investigative committee. The committee presented to us even includes Dan Sharon, an army general and a former chief of staff. I do not understand why they appoint a former chief of staff to a fact finding committee set up to investigate our allegations against the Israeli police and their practises against our people. There is also a message, which we reject, in the fact that one of the committee members is an expert on terrorist organizations. So we have rejected the idea of a general investigative committee and we have our objection to the committee structure and our dissatisfaction with the Arab member of the proposed committee. I do not want to elaborate more on this. We do not accept this from Barak and there are a number of Jewish lawyers who are calling for the formation of an official investigative committee. As I have said, 13 martyrs have been killed, and this is not a less significant event than the collapse of the stock market which led to the formation of a formal investigative committee.
Q: A UN International investigative committee has been formed to investigate the Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza; Why don’t you call for this committee to investigate the Israeli actions inside the Green Line?
A: In our most recent follow-up committee meeting, we asked for more attention to be paid to the acts committed against us by the Israeli police, and the treatment of us as a minority by the Israeli government. We have forwarded letters to the International and UN Human Rights’ committees to pay more attention to these issues concerning us.
There is no harm in asking for an investigative committee but our basic official request is to have those responsible for the atrocities tried before a court. We have direct allegations against some police officers. Perhaps, those who oppose the formation of an investigative committee are afraid of being accused of taking part (in the actions being investigated). We have accusations against some of the people whose names we would like to present to the committee.
We, as an Arab Palestinian minority in Israel, have two basic elements in our identity: a national element which is Arab Palestinian, and a civil element which is our Israeli citizenship.
We are not ready to relinquish either of these two principles. We do our best as Arab and Palestinian nationals in order to strengthen our citizenship and enrich it at its core. This is because our citizenship at present is superficial as there is no government that shoots its own citizens. There is no democracy that shoots its citizens. Even in Seoul, when demonstrators threw petrol bombs at the police from a distance not exceeding 20 meters, not a single bullet was shot at them. In France, for example, when streets were blocked by trucks, not a single bullet was shot. The Israelis claimed that we (the demonstrators) had closed the streets.
Does closing a street by an Arab justify shooting him? This is the question that we would like to forward to the official investigative committee. Further to what I said earlier regarding the two elements of citizenship, there is a difference between a minority normalizing itself with the citizenship from a legal point of view, and the status of our people in the occupied territories.
Our people in the occupied territories can, and should, ask for international protection by the UN forces. We as minority in Israel, do not want to ask for international protection by UN and foreign forces. It is true that we lost some people, but we can defend ourselves in various ways. But we would like to draw the attention to our conditions, particularly the attention of the human rights organizations. We call upon Israel to abide by international agreements and the norms which it signed as a member of the United Nations for the protection of minorities such as ours.
Q: The Israelis have an Arab deputy minister, Nawwaf Masalheh. Have you put pressure on him to quit his position?
And regarding your insistence on forming an Israeli Investigative committee and your refusal of an international committee, does this mean that you have confidence in Israeli justice?
A: First of all, regarding their claim of democracy, I would like to say that the kids and youths, from our areas who were jailed a few weeks ago on charges of throwing stones, continue to be detained until the processing of their papers by the attorney general is completed. This means that they have to be detained for at least one month until they appear before the court officially. This contradicts what the Israeli police did yesterday when they released the two Israeli citizens who shot and killed martyr Manasrah in Beit Birin four days ago. The Israeli police claimed that the investigation of this case had been completed. Is this their democracy?
A few days ago, I sent an unprecedented blunt letter to the chief of the Supreme Court telling him that the sacred cow which you are proud of, the judiciary system, has failed many times before and has failed this time with its open practice. When an Arab kid aged 14, an Israeli citizen, throws a stone, he will be jailed upon a decision by the Supreme Court until his papers are completed, while when an Israeli citizen shoots targeting the heart to kill, nothing happens to him. We can’t keep silent about all of this.
Regarding the fairness of the Israeli judiciary system, I am not in a position to give them a certificate of fairness. But I would like to give you one example.
One year ago, an Israeli from Haifa University carried out a study including 100,000 Arab and Jewish criminals. The researcher compared the crimes committed by Arabs with those committed by Israelis and found that the sentences against the Arabs have been 30 percent more severe than those against Jews. He also found that the possibility of sending a convicted Arab to jail for the same violation, and for the first time, was 40 percent higher than that for a Jew.
There is a difference between an official investigative committee formed many times before, and a general committee as proposed by Barak. The official committee has various authorities. This is similar to the committee which investigated the Sabra and Shatila massacres and convicted Sharon. So I would like to humbly say that the International Committee which Sharm Al Sheikh called for is not a fact finding committee as Barak proposed before the Arab Summit, and was rejected by us.
What is your impression after your contact with the Palestinian President. Are the Palestinians in Gaza and West Bank in danger?
I understood from the remarks of some Israeli military leaders that there are plans for invading the territories. But, the morale of President Arafat is high and as you know, this is the case with him during crises; he is in direct contact with the international community, Arab countries, the European Union and the US Administration, and basically with the Fateh leadership and his security forces and people. As for the Israeli threats, yes there are Israeli threats to invade Area A. There is a planned Israeli escalation and today there is the problem at the airport. Yesterday, there was a bombardment of Beit Jalabom …..… etc.. All this does not indicate that Israeli military decisions are improvised. Israel has what’s called a “drawer’s plan”. It is not a coincidence that “Newsweek” published a report that there was already a drawers’ plan to invade Area A.
Q:There are reports about the US giving Israel the green light to intensity its attack and kill between 2000-3000 Palestinians to confuse the Palestinian authority politically. If this happens, or at least Israeli forces enter Area A, do you expect the Arab streets in Israel to flare again?
One of the reasons that Arab people in Galili and Negev took to the streets were the pictures of martyrs. We took to the streets with overwhelming anger and did not commit ourselves to venting our anger on just a single occasion. We will never commit ourselves (to only one demonstration) as we are one people driven by our national passion and the political situation. So, we always react to the events.
Q: Yesterday and today there were fundamentalist attacks and statements by fundamentalists calling for the killing of 1948 Palestinians and threatening Israeli entrepreneurs who employ Palestinian workers. How would you describe the situation between the Palestinians and Israeli community as a whole? Is there a complete separation, and how can this matter be contained? Furthermore, in the first uprising, the Israeli community moved a little bit to the left but this time, we hear the Israeli left wing saying that they are handicapped in their ability even to demonstrate in support of Palestinians because of fear and the risk of disappointment.
A: First, regarding the move of the Arab community , and particularly the Arab leaderships and parliamentary members, I would like to say that this move has been exposed to an unprecedented ugly campaign and daily threats by right wing members and Jewish extremists. I remember when the Israeli police forces provided protection for Sharon and his colleagues in the Knesset. The police protected Sharon and attacked two people. My hand was wounded, and Kidin Azra, the well known Likud member, was released today. I was present during the dialogue when he was pointing with his finger at me as his enemy. “He should be resisted and I would say that he is the enemy,” he said.
The same applies to my colleagues. So I would say that this campaign aims at intimidating us. I do not know, maybe one of the Israeli extremists may understand the matter wrongly and commit. . . . .
Secondly, they want to deprive the Arab members of the Knesset of their legality so that they aren’t able to participate in the country’s decision making. The right wing tells Barak that the ten Arab members are enemies and this practically means that they are a terrorist ring, so that nobody will deal with us. The Israeli Radio and TV have shied away from conducting interviews with us over the past two weeks, or even listening to our views because they received instructions not to become involved with the Arab Knesset members. There is no doubt that our stand as an Arab leadership differs from the previous leaderships. Our position is more solid and so they hate us more.
This situation also depicts the relationship between the Jewish majority and Arab minority in the social and economic sectors. There is an economic war against us and an indirect siege of the Arab minority within the state. We have never experienced this situation before.
This time, the Israeli left wing’s attitude differs from its position in 1987 as they stayed isolated during this period with the exception of a few voices. This Zionist consensus came as a result of their claim that the whole world is against them, so they gathered together from all wings in an attempt to form an emergency national government. They have put the Arabs in the country on the enemies’ list and they are treating them as such.
I am greatly disappointed with the Israeli left or semi left because Israel does not have a real framework called the left. Most Israelis stood against Netanyahu to vote for Barak. He won because the voters themselves are not different from Netanyahu.
Q: The meeting between Sharon and Barak ended without reaching an important agreement between the two. If a coalition government is formed, will it be a terrorist government?
A: A coalition government will not be formed in one session. Ariel Sharon who started this provocation and who was said to be the cause of all these problems by the acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ben Ami, has been rewarded by calling him to join the government. This situation resembles “crime and punishment” where the crime is committed by the Israeli government, and the punishment is the award offered to Sharon to reinstate himself as an important minister. I have never seen such a government that would be able to reach a settlement, while the principle of what’s called peace has been undermined.
Q: What is your point of view regarding the Arab Summit? What options are left for the Palestinians particularly when the political organizations see that the uprising should take other forms and transfer violence from the West Bank and Gaza into Israel so that the Israeli people would know that there is a real war, and that the Palestinian people are not the only people who pay the price?
A: The Arab Summit fell short of the level of the events. The outcome of the summit was the minimum, or below the minimum, of what the Arab people aspire to. It presents the maximum for the Arab leaders so that their resolutions will not provocative the Zionist enemy despite the fact that there were enough justifications to have more escalating resolutions. The only positive outcome of this summit is that Palestine has unified the Arabs. The summit ascertained that the Arab public has specific impact on some Arab leaders who spoke out and reflected their communities’ reactions and solidarity with Aqsa uprising.
Q: What will be the position of the Arab block when Knesset reconvenes on Oct. 26 and will you join some Israeli factions such as Meritz or Middle Wings?
A: All observers think that this round will be very hot. The right will be inflamed and will fire all its arrows at the Arab members of Knesset. The four Arab blocs, including mine, will propose a no vote in the first session.
I do not think that the proposal will succeed because no one other than us will vote in its favor. But this is a basic principle for us in light of the crimes committed inside the red line.
I have heard that the reason for canceling the Knesset emergency sessions was the fear of confrontation that may take place between the right wing members and us. We hope the right wing will not come down to this low level in its parliamentary work, but we are ready to face any parliamentary challenge. I do not rule out anything that the right wing may do.
Q: What is left for Palestinians after Geneva Human Rights resolutions and the UN Security Council and Arab summit resolutions?
A: We should be cautious and try to find a status for the Arab minority in Israel. This status is intensifying and we do want to give an opportunity to the right wing to attack us as there are some amongst them who are waiting for that. We do not want to step back fifty years in the past. We have our means of achieving that through our political and national struggle. We are very well aware of that. I am sure that our Arab brothers wherever they are, understand our special circumstances. We appeared as a notable power in the past few days.
Q: What are the options of the Palestinian people?
A: The uprising has just started, and it cannot be calmed in order to return to the situation which prevailed before Sept. 28. I told you that there is a line that cannot be crossed. Israel’s way of negotiating with the Palestinians should be adjusted. Israel should change its way of dealing with the Palestinians and their rights. I doubt that there will be any change. Regarding the other party, the Arab support for the uprising will be enhanced. The uprising should achieve its objectives as it is not an objective in itself, but rather a means of achieving objectives.
The third party is the international community and whether it will change its way of dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict and particularly the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We all should make use of this uprising to change this way first, and then manage the crisis wisely without being deceived by those who want to create a gap between the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority and commit atrocities and massacres in the Palestinian occupied territories.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)