Ramzy Baroud numbers among remarkable Palestinian journalists, alongside such figures as Khalid Amayreh and Laila el-Haddad. Having been a producer for Aljazeera, he taught Mass Communication at Australia’s Curtin University of Technology and appeared on BBC, ABC, National Public Radio and CNN several times.
Of his 2006 book “The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle”, Prof. Fred Wilcox of the Ithaca College writes: “This is not a book for those seeking a facile, sanitized account of the Palestinian Diaspora. Ramzy Baroud is committed to truth telling, and his new book will undoubtedly disturb, shock and outrage his readers.”
Baroud, whose writings have been praised by Noam Chomsky as “sensitive, thoughtful and searching”, is the chief editor of the Palestine Chronicle, an outstanding online publication dedicated to Palestine issues that enjoys contributions from renowned and prestigious writers from all around the world.
He has contributed to Japan Times, the Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, and Al-Ahram Weekly and will be publishing a new book “Gaza: The Untold Story” with London’s Pluto Press.
In this exclusive interview with Foreign Policy Journal, we talked about the latest remarks of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the Durban II anti-racism conference and the subsequent outrages stirred up in the U.S. and Europe, the Holocaust Denial tradition and its impact on Palestine’s cause, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The latest striking controversy surrounding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was the controversial speech of the Iranian President in the UN World Conference Against Racism (Durban II). It actually evoked a series of reflections and responses. Many western diplomats called it “outrageous” and “inadmissible” while the majority of Islamic Scholars and Palestinian authorities lauded it. What do you think about that? What does the public inside Palestine feel about Mr. Ahmadinejad’s remarks?
In fact since the Iranian President’s speech, there has been similar criticism of anyone who dares to voice concern regarding Israel’s brutal policies in the occupied territories. The issue is not that President Ahmadinejad uttered “outrageous” comments or not. The true point of contention is the fact that Israel is being criticized in the first place. Since that incident, other such encounters have followed: the rejection of a UN report on Israel’s blatant human rights violations in Gaza, and the fact that the Pope was reportedly upset, and according to Press TV, staged his own walkout, when a Palestinian Muslim scholar called on him to condemn Israeli “aggressions”, etc. Even if one plays the devil’s advocate, and assumes for a fleeting moment that Ahmadinejad and the Palestinian Sheikh who dared to criticize Israel are indeed “anti-Semitic”, which they are not, then what would one say to explain the constant criticism leveled at Israel by numerous human rights organizations, former presidents, leading scholars, etc?
Israel constantly reduces the debate to that of individuals, not that of its own policies as a way to avoid its responsibility towards international law and the human rights of a subjugated people. Needless to say, Palestinians and many millions around the world are outraged by the double standards practiced by Western governments in dealings with Israel and Muslims, Arabs, and in fact other nations, mostly in the Southern hemisphere, who are still exploitable and lowly regarded. They staged a collective European walkout over comments made by the Iranian president, which if kept in context are undeniably true, and yet continue to extend a hand of friendship and cooperation towards Israel which has caused indescribable misery to a whole nation; misery that is still ongoing.
Meanwhile, some critics believe that Iran is forfeiting many of its international advantages and even its homeland security at the cost of defending the Palestinian cause and denouncing Israel. Iran is the most outspoken enemy of Israel on the grounds of defending Palestinians rights. However, the critics believe that Palestinian authorities are showing a reluctant and indifferent approach toward these “sacrifices”, not even bothering themselves to express empathy with Iran in words. What do you believe?
These are two different issues, one being Iran’s stance towards Palestine with all of its historic, religious and internal dynamics, and two being the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority’s stance towards Iran. I will only discuss the latter point.
The PA in Ramallah is experiencing an unprecedented challenge to a status quo that was wrought by Oslo and the peace industry which followed. For nearly 16 years, the Oslo culture espoused little political, economic or territorial gains as far as the ordinary Palestinian was concerned. After all of these years, Palestinians continue to be as far away from their political aspirations as they were before the “Peace Process” came into the scene. In fact, in many respects the situation is worse: more land confiscated, more illegal settlements established, etc.
However, not all Palestinians lost out; a few benefited, and accumulated unprecedented wealth and prestige. Those gains were outcomes of the mere “process” itself. In other words, the “peace process” for them, became an end in itself; it espoused a status quo that, over the years, a ruling Palestinian elite learned to live with, and benefit from. That elite is now based in Ramallah, its jurisdiction is largely limited to distributing international aid to friends and cronies.
The elite’s problem with Hamas is neither religious, nor political, nor even ideological. It’s merely the fear that any change to the status quo will result in tremendous losses, mostly financial. Also, those who thrive on corruption are most fearful when a non-corrupt body take over and threaten to govern by the law and bring about accountability, which could also mean courts, trials and jail terms.
It’s from this point of view that the PA is most distressed when it sees Iran taking a lead in pushing for a change in the status quo regarding Palestine. However, the PA position, while is most belligerent in the case of Iran, has been consistent regarding any entity that voices any criticism of the PA’s conduct, voices support for the democratically elected government of Hamas, or dares to chastise the PA for its human rights violations and subservience to Israel. Threatened regimes tend to be extremely sensitive and reactionary when it comes to outside criticism.
The other issue is the custom of Holocaust denial being underscored by Mr. Ahmadinejad. Denying the Holocaust, despite having been a long-term tradition, went under the global spotlight after his fervent remarks in early 2005. Mahmoud Abbas is also branded as a Holocaust denier. What do you think about it? Whether it happened or not, does it make any impact on the betterment of Palestinians’ situation to deny the Holocaust outspokenly?
When the crimes of the Holocaust are discussed, the discussion almost immediately becomes two pronged: one of the Holocaust as a despicable crime against humanity, which should be duly remembered, as not to be repeated against any other nation, and the memory of those who perished in that most dreadful time in history also be recalled. But there is also another Holocaust discussion, one that is hardly concerned with the plight of humanity and the dignity of people. It’s not about remembrance and is scarcely pertinent to issues concerning human rights. The second reference to the Holocaust is always used in political contexts, often infused to justify vile human rights violations against other nations, mostly Palestinians and Lebanese, and utilized as a pretext to infringe about the sovereignty of other nations, like Iraq, and now Iran.
Therefore, any discussion of the Holocaust is very central to the current political discussion of the Middle East: Israel in Palestine, Israel vs. Iran, etc. One must learn to distinguish between the Holocaust as a terrible war crime and what that which Norman Finkelstein poignantly depicts as the “Holocaust industry”, which is a mere Israeli, Zionist manipulation of the Nazi’s genocide to achieve specific political goals, which ironically, contributes to the further violations of human rights.
The short answer is that without discerning the difference between the actual Holocaust, and the terrible manipulation of the memory of its victims, the use of the term would hardly be beneficial to the Palestinian people and their rightful struggle for freedom.
And finally, what do you think about the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Should the Palestinians eventually brace themselves for a “two-state solution”, or is there any practical agenda to adopt a one-state way out?
I am not sure if one can still earnestly discuss a two-state “solution”. Israel has created enough facts on the ground that makes such a formula utterly unworkable. I believe that maintaining the two state solution ruses is part and parcel of maintaining the greater ruse of the so-called peace process. The peace process is fundamentally based on the notion that the ultimate outcome of the process is two states for two people. To accept the fact that two states option is no longer possible, is to demolish the entire peace process discourse, which is terrifying to those who have invested much time and resources in maintaining it. If there is no two-state option, thus no peace process, then the discussion would have to be refocused on: co-existence based on a one-state formula, which demolishes the very premise behind the Zionist vision for Israel, that of racial superiority and political exclusivism to one single race. One-state means the abolishing of the racist discourse of Zionism and restructuring the state based on a secular, democratic model. Neither Israel nor the West is ready to entertain such a prospect. But they are equally unready to accept the fact that a viable Palestinian state is no longer possible. This is a bind that was created by Israel itself, financed and defended by the U.S. and Western governments. These parties still refuse to face the facts, and insist on maintaining a charade that shall yield nothing but further conflict.