Jericho, 9 September 2002
The interview below was conducted in the Palestinian prison in Jericho on 9 September 2002. Ahmed Saadat, who as yet has been neither convicted nor charged, has been held there since 1 May, along with four PFLP militants and Fuad Shubeiki, who is accused by the Israelis of being implicated in the ‘Karine A’ arms shipment.
Ahmed Saadat is Secretary-General of the PFLP. He succeeded Abu Ali Mustapha, who was assassinated by the Israeli army in Ramallah on 27 August 2001. U.S. and Israeli authorities accuse him of having organised the execution of [Rehavam] Zeevi, a minister of the Sharon government known for his extreme position in favour of the mass expulsion of the Palestinians. Saadat was arrested by the Palestinian Authority on 15 January 2002, and detained in the Presidential compound in Ramallah.
On 29 March the Israeli Army imposed a siege on Arafat’s presidential palace. From the very beginning, they made the lifting of the siege conditional on the fate of the PFLP militants.
On 27 April, a Palestinian military tribunal, sitting in the presidential compound besieged by the Israeli Army, sentenced four PFLP militants to 18, 12, 8 and one year(s) respectively for killing Zeevi. In the early evening of 1 May, the six men were taken to Jericho, under the terms of an agreement imposed by the USA, which left them guarded by Palestinian jailers who were themselves under U.S.-British control. During the night, the Israeli Army withdrew from the approaches to the Presidential palace. On 3 June, the Palestinian High the Court of Justice ordered Saadat’s release.
Saadat has remained in prison ever since.
(NB : in September 2006 Saadat was taken by force from his jail by the Israeli army. Until now, he's still in jail, in Israel)
Q: Why are you here?
A: We are here mainly for political reasons. The Israelis, supported as ever by the United States, demanded that the Palestinian Authority hand over to them all the people implicated in the assassination of the Minister for Tourism, R. Zeevi. The Authority, which has seldom been so weak, does at this time everything that the United States requires of it, and so made an agreement with Israel and the CIA. This agreement has no basis in law. Under Palestinian law, our arrest was illegal; there is not a single article in our law under which we could be sentenced to any punishment whatsoever.
With regard to my comrades, they were tried under Israeli law by a special Palestinian court composed of people with no background or position in the field of Justice, and they received sentences of up to 18 years in prison. My situation is a little different inasmuch as I have not been tried. They arrested me and put me here, simply because I am Secretary-General of the PFLP. Under the terms of the agreement they reached, I am to be “isolated”, which means they want to prevent me carrying out any kind of political or media activity. The Palestinian Supreme Court ruled in favour of my release, but nobody paid any attention to it.
So we are here, in what is officially a Palestinian prison, but which also contains – as you can see – the British and members of the CIA. Their job is to ensure that inside this prison the PA does whatever the Israelis demand: in fact, these “observers” are really prison warders. This is, ultimately, an Israeli prison. You saw the security procedure at the entrance: the Palestinians took your names and put them on a list. At the end of the day the Americans and the British will take it away and send a copy to the Israelis. This is the reason that people are afraid to visit me…
Q: A few days ago, Marwan Barghouthi’s trial began, and received a lot of media coverage. Why do you think that he is talked about so much, while silence surrounds you and your comrades?
I want to make clear first of all that it is important that we talk about Barghouthi. I am in favour of it, not particularly because it’s Barghouthi, but because he can serve as a symbol of all the Palestinian political prisoners in Israel.
As for the silence surrounding us, primary responsibility for that rests I think with the PA itself and with the NGO’s associated with it. They have chosen to put the emphasis on those held in Israel because for them our case is really embarrassing. As I said, they put us here because the Americans insisted, and the fact that Palestinian leaders agreed to arrest members of the Palestinian resistance looks very contradictory. This is why the PA and its NGO’s have chosen to keep quiet about our case. It is an enormous admission of weakness.
We are here because we did away with Zeevi, a racist minister of the extreme right, who advocated the “transfer” of all Palestinians to Jordan, who was a member of the Israeli cabinet and consistently supported every proposal to assassinate leaders of the Palestinian resistance. He was one of the people who asked for the assassination of Abu Ali Mustafa [former secretary of the PFLP, killed in August 2001]. We have the right to respond in kind, i.e. by killing one of their leaders. What the Authority should have done and should do now, rather than submitting to Israeli demands, is to do exactly what the Israelis do: demand that all the Israelis who order or carry out the murder of Palestinians be handed over to them. Instead of that, it says nothing and just avoids talking about us. All that it has succeeded in doing is to help the Israelis, who have been demanding for some time that the PFLP be included on the European Union’s list of terrorist organisations. And now, it has happened. Before, there were already some Communist parties who refused to meet us, and now it’s even worse. The French Communist Party, for example, which came here to meet the “Palestinian left”, refused to meet us officially. Also the Cypriot Communist Party. And others. This also contributes to the silence surrounding us.
Q: On the outside, there is a lot of talk about uniting the Palestinian factions. How does that appear to you, who are locked up with the agreement of the Palestinian Authority?
A: You know, the situation is complex. Members of Fatah, including members of the party executive, took part in the demonstrations demanding our release. There are more and more contradictions in that party between the role it plays – or would like to play – in the resistance, and the role it plays within the Authority.
The Authority would like the resistance to end completely in order to negotiate with the Israelis, but this is not how the general population or the political parties feel. We want much more: after the failure of Oslo, we want a real strategy of struggle that will make it possible for Palestinian claims to be realised, and for us to build a truly democratic Palestinian society at the same time. Fatah agrees with this. I would go so far as to say that our political parties are collectively of one mind today that we need a temporary leadership to direct the Palestinian resistance. Obviously the PA doesn’t want to discuss a temporary leadership that would take away some of its own power.
It is clear that today the Authority is an obstacle to the resistance, inasmuch as it represents the interests of only the Palestinian bourgeoisie, interests which they share with the Israelis but not with the Palestinian population. They have no interest in what the intifada is trying to bring about. On the contrary, what they want is to stop the resistance; in other words, you could say that their interests go against the interests of the people. You see, even if we manage to create unity between the Palestinian political parties, an obstacle will remain, and it is called the Palestinian Authority.
Q: How would you assess the current situation?
A: To make sense of it, you have to go back to the Oslo Accords. These agreements were a project – almost entirely economic in nature – drawn up between the Palestinian bourgeoisie and the Israeli occupier. Through these accords, Israel succeeded in making the PLO give up its platform and strategy, to the detriment of the Palestinian population’s living conditions. Remember that at that time, after the Gulf War, the PLO had enormous financial difficulties. The Oslo Accords offered the possiblity of financial recovery thanks to important commercial agreements. Oslo is not a political agreement that might have led to a solution for the Palestinian people. Instead it was a plan that involved only security and commercial issues, with Israeli security as one of its goals.
There was with Oslo a passing of the baton between the Israelis and the Authority in a number of regions, including in those areas that the Authority did not completely control. The years passed, with the results that you already know, and there was one fundamental rule contained in the Oslo Accords: namely, it was forbidden to seek any “solution” except through negotiation with the Israelis.
Then there was the Camp David episode, and the scandalous proposals of Barak and Clinton. The PFLP was (and still is) in favour of stopping all negotiations with the occupier, which would have meant that the Palestinian Authority would have had to become a real resistance movement, in touch with the people. But it didn’t choose that route. And so today we have reached this situation in which the only opposition that remains between occupier and occupied is the opposition of the Palestinian people against the state of Israel. Meanwhile the Authority looks in from the outside, a spectator that wants only one thing, which is to recover its power at any price.
Q: What strategy would today allow for the rebuilding of a strong Palestinian movement?
A: For all the reasons we’ve mentioned, the resistance is today in a very difficult situation. But even in this difficult situation, it is apparent that it still is making an impact, particularly in Israel, specifically in the form of growing social instability and the economic crisis that has been going on for many months. We need to build foundations to ensure that resistance continues and becomes stronger and stronger. This involves many things: first of all, it is necessary to create a popular resistance, open to everyone, in which the entire population has a place. And in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, i.e. that the people make the sacrifices and only the bourgeoisie reaps the benefits, it is essential that we do not separate resistance to the occupation from the fight for democracy. Today we need to rebuild a strong and democratic PLO, as this is the only authority capable of representing all the Palestinian population, including the refugees. We need to combine a unity among our base with a unity among our leadership.
The second fundamental element is that we should never forget that our struggle must be seen in an international context, i.e. within the imperialist world order. Israel is a state whose fundamental role is to protect the imterests of imperialism in our region. That has strong resonances with the situation of South Africa in the time of Apartheid. Our fight is basically anti-imperialist. The Palestinian question is today at the heart of world problems, which is why we must build a resistance that is linked to the anti-imperialist movements of the whole world. The solidarity that we need is an anti-imperialist solidarity. I’m thinking here particularly of the anti-globalisation movement which has developed over the last few years. If we want to succeed, we must certainly build a popular resistance, but we must also never separate the local from the global and take care to ensure that our struggle is integrated more fully into the struggles against imperialism and capitalist globalisation, both of which we must address.
Q: We’ve talked about strategy. What about a political plan?
In the PFLP, we don’t think that “two states for two peoples” is a viable solution. Even if we reach this goal, the problem will be far from resolved, primarily because the state of Israel will continue to exist exactly as it is. Above all, two major questions would remain: What about the refugees? For us, the question of the right of return for refugees, who represent more than half of all Palestinians, is a fundamental question inasmuch as the right of return is an inalienable right. Now, the two state solution leaves out the refugees. It is out of the question that they can live in the West Bank or in Gaza.. you see, the main problem remains. And what happens to the Palestinians of 1948? This problem is equally important. There are more than a million of them, and they are first and foremost Palestinians, and they too live under the oppression of the state of Israel. I won’t spell it out but you can see, the two state solution can only be at best a temporary solution.
Translation and all errors therein by Lawrence of Cyberia.
A real solution to the conflict would have to meet three fundamental needs: the end of the occupation, the return of the refugees, and the creation of a truly democratic government on all of historic Palestine. When you look at history, this is the only legitiamte solution. And above all, as I was saying just now, we have to envisage a solution on the international level. From this point of view too, only the establishment of a truly democratic government on all of Mandate Palestine can meet our aspirations. Of course this solution attacks global imperialism head-on, and we know very well that the imperialists will never accept it. This means we must continue our resistance. It will go through highs and lows, but it is clear that to reach our goals we need time. And support. But I think that the emergence of the anti-globalisation movement is an eminently positive sign. Also, your very presence here and the fact that we are meeting tells me that, even if the present is difficult, the future is perhaps not quite so dark.
French version on http://juliensalingue.over-blog.com/pages/2002_430688.html