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U.S. Backs Down and Grants Visa to Omar Barghouti, Palestinian Advocate of Israel Boycott

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This weekend saw the heaviest attacks on Gaza by Israeli forces since the 2008-2009 war on Gaza. Nineteen Palestinians were killed. We speak to Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti, author of the new book Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights. After months of extended delays and an international public pressure campaign, in March the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem granted Barghouti a visa to visit the United States for his book tour. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: And now we move to what’s happening in Gaza and Israel. This weekend saw the heaviest attacks on Gaza by Israeli forces since the 2008-’09 war on Gaza and stoked fears of another ground invasion. Israel launched a series of air raids Thursday after Hamas gunmen fired an anti-tank missile at an Israeli school bus, critically wounding a teenager and injuring its driver. Hamas said the attack was in response to an earlier Israeli assassination of its three senior members. Israel responded by launching a series of air strikes throughout the Gaza Strip, killing 19 Palestinian militants and civilians.

On Sunday, both sides said they were willing to restore calm after four days of intense fighting. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday issued a warning to Hamas.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] Our policy is clear: as attacks on Israel’s citizens and soldiers continue, the response will be much harsher.

AMY GOODMAN: Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri suggested Hamas was acting in self-defense and would pursue a ceasefire if Israel were to initiate one.

SAMI ABU ZUHRI: [translated] We are not interested in escalation. The Palestinian factions are defending themselves from Israel’s aggression. The ball is in the Israeli court. Our message to the occupation leaders is that calm will be met with calm.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, on Sunday, the Arab League called on the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Gaza. For now, a tense ceasefire remains in place in place.

To discuss these developments, we’re joined by Palestinian activist and author, Omar Barghouti. He lives in the West Bank. He’s a founding member of the BDS movement, a nonviolent campaign to boycott, divest and sanction Israel until it complies with international law. His book is called Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights. After months of extended delays and an international public pressure campaign, in March the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem granted Omar Barghouti a visa to visit the United States for a tour for his book.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

OMAR BARGHOUTI: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. You were a resident here in the United States. You lived here for many years now.

OMAR BARGHOUTI: Yes, I lived here for 11 years.

AMY GOODMAN: You went to Columbia University.


AMY GOODMAN: But you still had trouble coming in to the United States.

OMAR BARGHOUTI: I think I never had trouble until my book tour was announced. So I think it is connected to the book tour. There was a clear attempt to cancel this book tour. I never had any security issue with the U.S., or anywhere else, actually. So there was absolutely no excuse. The visa was issued and then delayed. Some processes came up after it was supposedly approved.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about what’s happened just in the last few days in Gaza, 19 Palestinians killed.

OMAR BARGHOUTI: I think it’s another chapter in ongoing Israeli aggression. What’s important is to place this in context, because for many viewers, they would forget that the context is occupation. Israel continues to be the occupying power that’s controlling Gaza, and it has imposed a very illegal, barbaric and immoral siege on Gaza, causing the slow death of hundred, even thousands, of Palestinians, the pollution of the water supply, and many problems with access to healthcare, education. During the 2008-2009 attack on Gaza, Israel destroyed many houses, hospitals, university buildings and schools and so on, U.N. centers. So that’s the context that we have to see this in. It’s not enough to see it as a ping-pong: Hamas attacked this, and Israel retaliated. Israel is never retaliating, because it’s the occupying power, and occupation, by definition, is aggression and violence.

AMY GOODMAN: On Sunday, the Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil El Araby affirmed an Arab League request to the U.N. Security Council to allow for the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Gaza.

FOREIGN MINISTER NABIL EL ARABY: [translated] A no-fly zone over Gaza, I think, is a fair demand, and we partook in it. We are one of the countries that participated. Very briefly, this conflict must be put to an end. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been going on for more than 60 years, and we must work on putting it to an end. This requires a ceasefire from all countries and to begin a serious conference for a solution to be reached. Continuing with current world policies will not achieve anything.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to this, Omar Barghouti?

OMAR BARGHOUTI: I think it’s very important. We’re seeing a not just sea change in Arab diplomacy after the departure of Mubarak, the dictator of Egypt. First we saw the U.S. veto against its own position for decades that Israel’s colonial settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace. The U.S. had to veto that, because there was no longer Mubarak to do its dirty work. If Mubarak were still around, he would have pressured the Palestinians to pull this out of the Security Council and not to embarrass the U.S. So the U.S. had to vote against its own position and to stand in this little dark corner with Israel facing the entire world community. So we’re seeing here some change, some real change, in the tone of the Arab League and of the Arab officials towards the Palestinians. Absolutely, a no-fly zone is more justified than ever over Gaza. Why should it be over Libya only, and Israelis, as an occupying power, continue to bomb Gaza with U.S. weaponry, F-16s and U.S. missiles?

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what’s been going on in the West Bank and Gaza with the Arab rebellions, these revolutions, from Tunisia to Egypt, to Yemen, Bahrain?

OMAR BARGHOUTI: I think it was extremely inspiring, and it has emboldened Palestinian popular resistance and Palestinian peaceful resistance, especially in the BDS movement, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. We feel we’ve been vindicated, in a way. For many years, we’ve been trying to chart a new path to resist Israel’s occupation, apartheid and denial of Palestinian rights, colonization, as well as the siege of Gaza and so on.

Now, with the Arab revolutions, Israel has lost its Arab cover. The most important allies that have been complicit with Israel’s policies — Mubarak and others — are going one after the other. And Israel is feeling this complete imbalance in its so-called Arab neighbor. So, Israel is losing that cover, and this is extremely important for our movement. And it has given a boost to the Palestinian nonviolent movement, especially in the form of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. We saw a lot of growth around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Has the PA been putting pressure on Palestinians not to protest?

OMAR BARGHOUTI: Not directly, no. We have not seen any direct pressure on Palestinians not to protest. The PA has not done anything to boost the protesters, to really support them, except verbally symbolically. But they have not tried to stop protests, except in demonstrations that were supporting the Arab revolutions. Yes, there, there, we saw direct pressure, suppression and complete anti-democratic policies. I was personally in a demonstration supporting the Tunisian revolution, even before Egypt, and it was violently suppressed. The Tunisian flags were confiscated, and we were told we are not allowed to demonstrate in support of Tunisia.


OMAR BARGHOUTI: I think because the PA felt that its natural allies are those Arab dictators. This is its kind of family that it belongs to. And repression feels solidarity with other repression.

AMY GOODMAN: You knew Juliano Mer-Khamis, the leader of the Jenin Freedom Theatre, who was just gunned down last week to the shock of so many. Talk about him and who you believe killed him, or who’s being held now.

OMAR BARGHOUTI: It’s very hard to say who killed him, because no Palestinian group or individual had any interest in killing him. I mean, any patriotic Palestinian lost Juliano, because Juliano did a great service to the people of Jenin, especially the refugee camp, and on the front of cultural resistance. When I talked about nonviolent popular resistance, people forget that Palestinians have been resisting Israel’s occupation and apartheid in many forms, including culture — dance, music, poetry, theater and so on. And Juliano was really one of the people at the forefront of that cultural resistance.

In the last year or so, especially after the attack on the flotilla, we’ve seen a very steep rise in cultural boycott of Israel. So we’re connecting this with the cultural resistance on the ground. It’s not just that the Palestinians are continuing to produce culture to counter Israel’s occupation and apartheid, but we’re also calling on performers, musicians, theater directors, and so on, not to perform in Israel, as they did during the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.

AMY GOODMAN: Omar Barghouti, your book is called Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights. Israel is deeply concerned about the BDS movement, is spending millions to try to defeat it. Explain the movement and why you’ve written this book.

OMAR BARGHOUTI: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, was a call that was issued in July 2005 by the great majority of Palestinian civil society. So, very few Palestinian organizations have not supported BDS. All the major trade unions, women’s groups, refugee groups, and so on, have supported it. All the political spectrum, all political parties, support the BDS movement.

It’s a global movement with a Palestinian leadership, and it focuses on the three basic Palestinian rights. And this is often forgotten, especially here in the United States. It’s not just to end the occupation, because the 1967 occupation victimizes one-third, a mere one-third, of the Palestinian people. Two-thirds are either refugees in exile or Palestinian citizens of Israel. So, to have a minimal kind of exercising of our right to self-determination, we would need to end the occupation of 1967, end Israel’s system of racial discrimination — so, have full equality in Israel for Jews, non-Jews and so on — and the right of return for refugees in accordance with U.N. Resolution 194. Without that, Palestinians cannot exercise our right to self-determination, and we can never have a just peace.

The BDS movement is based on international law and universal principles of human rights. We have Israeli partners. We have many faith communities, many trade unions supporting the movement now. It has really grown drastically, and this is why it’s worrying Israel, because it has not yet developed a weapon to counter this simple nonviolent movement. It’s not a centralized, dogmatic kind of movement. It doesn’t have a very difficult agenda. It’s a basic, liberal, decent agenda based on human rights that any person can join. And many people have been joining.

AMY GOODMAN: Omar Barghouti, I want to thank you very much for being with us, has just come into the United States after months of delay of being granted his visa. His book is called Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights.

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