Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti Narrows "Big Gap" between Gaza Reality, Americans' Knowledge

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti Narrows "Big Gap" between Gaza Reality, Americans' Knowledge

Article excerpt

AFTER ISRAEL ended its 22-day "Operation Cast Lead," Dr. Mustafa Barghouti spent a week in the Gaza Strip. Israel refused him entry through the Erez checkpoint, so he had to make a two-day journey to Gaza via Jordan and Egypt.

Even though he had followed events closely on al-Jazeera television, Barghouti said, he was so shocked by what he saw in Gaza that he couldn't speak about it for four days. Now he feels it is his duty to tell the world, and especially the U.S., because of the "big gap between what's happening in Palestine and your [Americans'] knowledge of it." That knowledge was exemplified by the first question he was asked when he appeared on Fox News: "When will Palestinians stop barbaric assaults on Israel?"

Barghouti, a medical doctor, is head of the Palestinian Medical Relief Committee, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. During his U.S. visit, he spoke at Columbia University Feb. 12 on "The War on Gaza and the Israeli Elections: What Next?"

Gaza, he explained, is a mere 220 square miles with a population of 1.5 million people who have been under siege for almost two years. In the assault's first day alone, Israelis killed 150 Gazans. By the end of the operation, the Israeli offensive had killed more than 1,400 people and injured 5,300, the majority of them civilians-although Barghouti observed that Western media counts only children and women as civilians, "as if Palestinian men cannot be civilians." By contrast, he noted, Israel's fatalities totaled 4 civilians and 10 soldiers, half of the latter killed by friendly fire.

While in Gaza, Barghouti spoke with older residents who had lived through 1948 and 1967; all agreed that Operation Cast Lead was the most brutal. Beyond the complete destruction of 17,000 homes, with another 20,000 left uninhabitable, Barghouti said what shocked him most was the destruction of what remained of Gaza's private sector-351 factories, including its largest cement factory, and many farms-which the Israeli army dynamited in the last two days as it was leaving Gaza. Barghouti wryly remarked that he was under the impression that the U.S. supports the private sector.

When Egypt closed one tiny port in 1967, he reminded the audience, Israel deemed it an act of war. Gaza has been under siege for two years, with all land, air, and sea passages closed. This, too, Barghouti reasoned, is an act of war.

Why, he went on to ask, did Israel launch Operation Cast Lead? If it was for "regime change," it hasn't worked, he pointed out: the assault has empowered Hamas and reduced the approval rating of President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA to only 13 percent. Nor did it boost Defense Minister Ehud Barak's electoral chances. In trying to present himself as the most brutal candidate for prime minister, Barak said of Yisrael Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman that he was "a lamb in hawkish clothing-when did he ever kill anybody himself?"

"This is the voice of a moderate?" Barghouti wondered.

Possibly, he continued, the assault on Gaza served as a testing ground for new weapons that Israel can now market.

Barghouti said he viewed the results of the Israeli elections as not merely a move to the right, but a declaration that Israel, so corrupted by occupation, now accepts to be an apartheid state. Asked whether he prefers a one-state or two-state solution, Barghouti responded that one state would be easier with regard to equal rights and duties. His heart wants two states, he admitted, but his brain has seen the maps and knows the window is closing on the two-state solution.

If there were to be a Palestinian state, Barghouti stressed, it must be a real state with the right to choose its leaders. However, Palestinians do not now have the power to choose one or two states, he noted: that choice is Israel's. However, he concluded, "We Palestinians do have the power to refuse to accept to be slaves of either occupation or apartheid. …

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