In the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, we spoke with Leila Khaled, the longtime activist with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
What is the meaning for the Palestinians of Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem capital of Israel?
Trump’s proclamation about Jerusalem comes as no surprise, as it reflects the ongoing role of the United States in relation to Palestine — that is, as the key partner of the Israeli occupation in the violation of the rights of our people. The United States already sends $3 billion each year to the Israeli military, and today’s proclamation by the warmongering, imperialist Trump only underlines just what a nefarious role the United States plays in Palestine and in the region more broadly. Jerusalem is, and will remain, the capital of Palestine; neither Trump nor all of the might of the Israeli army and violent, illegal settlers, will ever be able to break that connection or erase the Arab identity of occupied Jerusalem. There is a groundswell of popular anger among Palestinians and Arabs in broad rejection of this colonialist stunt, which exposes the ugly reality of the U.S.-dominated so-called “peace process” which has brought so much devastation to our people.
Recently you were supposed to be in Italy for several public initiatives. Media campaigns and pressure from political parties and the Italian Jewish community stopped your entry into the country. This is the latest in a series of similar censorship over the last year in Italy against events and initiatives about the Palestinian cause. Why is Palestine so scary?
The rejection by the Zionist organizations and the right-wing fascist groups reflects their continual goals of spreading fear and hatred. These groups do not represent “the Jewish community” as a whole. They are organized Zionist political groups that are actively working to suppress Palestinian organizing and spread racism and hatred. This is an ongoing part of the anti-colonial struggle, as colonizers always seek to project the image of the oppressed people as “scary,” “barbaric,” “terrorist” and so on. We always depend on the wisdom and the knowledge of the masses, including the Italian people, to see through these lies and stand with justice for Palestine and the world. The authorities may prevent us physically from reaching our people and our friends around the world, but thankfully, my voice was able to reach these events and I participated over video conference with events in Cagliari, Rome and Napoli.
For us, this is a daily situation that we deal with. The most important thing is not to accept it and to resist it with whatever possible space that we may take to tell our side of the story, because the objective of separating us from the movements is precisely to suppress the Palestinian narrative and prevent our voice from being heard. I am thankful to UDAP (Unione Democratico Arabo Palestinese) and to all of the support we received from so many organizations and political parties, beyond what we expected, from Italian organizations, writers, unions and journalists.
This year, Palestinians commemorate two events that are cornerstones of the Israeli occupation of historical Palestine: the Balfour Declaration and the 50 years of the OPT military occupation. The colonial process continues without interference, and what you see is the de facto creation of a single state, where one people has privileges and rights and the other is living under an apartheid regime. Is it the end of Palestinian national aspirations?
In fact, it is the end of the illusions about the nature of the Israeli state and the Zionist project. The aspiration of the Palestinian people to continue their struggle for freedom will never end. Over the past decades, forces attempt to convince us that Israel could be a democratic project or “partner” when in fact it is a settler colonial, racist, apartheid regime. Those in the “international community” who call on Palestinians to support a two-state solution simultaneously fail in any way to stop Israel from building settlements, confiscating land, demolishing houses, practicing every form of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians whether they were in Haifa and Akka or Jerusalem, let alone Gaza.
What is dead are these illusions, and the historical exit which we in the PFLP stand for is the only “solution”: which is the liberation of all of historic Palestine and establishing a democratic, secular society in a Palestinian state throughout Palestine, where all people live in equality, regardless of their color, race, sex, religion or language. And because we understand that a “state” represents a class, we stand for socialism and a state of the popular classes and not the state of the capitalists, whether they are Palestinians or Israelis.
How is it possible to overcome Israel’s geographical and physical division of the Palestinian people? Today half of the Palestinian population in historical Palestine is less than 20 years old. It means they born and grew up after Oslo agreement, with the wall and the military checkpoints, unable to know each other and contact each other. This division creates different kinds of resistance against the same occupation. How can the youth overcome this separation and renew a national liberation movement, destroyed by Oslo and the weakening of the PLO (in favor of the PA, which represents only the Occupied Territories)?
This is a very important question. Our society, our people, are youthful, and this is a promising fact in and of itself: the fact that the majority of our people are youths. But I want to answer your question about the dispersion of Palestinians. Palestinians have lived on their land for thousands of years as one people, together. The catastrophe that they faced in 1948 — the orchestrated, designed catastrophe — was exactly this, displacing Palestinians from their land and preventing them from practicing their natural right to return. After 1948, our people found themselves living in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and inside their own homeland. Many of them have had to migrate to the Gulf countries, Latin America, Europe and North America trying to find a living and sustain themselves due to the misery and oppression of exile. I’m not sure if your readers, for example, know that there are over 500,000 Palestinians in Chile, or that there are 250,000 displaced Palestinians who remain internally displaced inside Israel.
This reality was created by the colonialist powers and by Israel, and the way that Palestinians could unify themselves is through their revolution and their collective political project, a liberation project that can ensure all of their rights. And these rights can be identified in our view as their right to return and self-determination on their own homeland, to practice with their free will their political choices and the kind of future they wish to build. The same is true today. Creating these islands and isolated contingents of Palestinians is part of creating a state of siege that every Palestinian segment is facing. This state of siege is orchestrated to create a situation for Palestinians that restricts their ability to struggle, as they seek basic survival — being able to go to school, to eat, to live. These are existential, individual and collective questions as well, and they prevent Palestinians from being able to mobilize and struggle for their cause and their liberation.
Palestinian youth today are looking for a new wave of this continuing Palestinian revolution against occupation and a liberation project. The PLO needs to be fully rebuilt with its institutions — not dependent on the PA — and needs to be led by the youth and women in order to truly reclaim its role. I remember my own energy and enthusiasm as a youth, and this is a spirit we need in order to rebuild the Palestinian national liberation movement and redirect the Palestinian compass, not simply because of age but because we need fresh ideas as fresh air and fresh blood in the veins of our revolution.
Is the Palestinian Left, a cornerstone of the national resistance, going through a crisis? Is it still able to formulate an alternative or to promote itself among Palestinians, inside historical Palestine and in the diaspora?
I can speak about the PFLP. We have acknowledged that we are living in a crisis as a Palestinian left. This was detected early on, in the Fifth National Congress of the PFLP in 1993. We said that we are about to enter a comprehensive structural crisis that includes political, military, financial, theoretical and other levels. This has been documented publicly and it is a self-criticism that is available. There is no magic solution to come out of this crisis except through struggle, which includes struggle on all of these fronts. We also have acknowledged that we cannot hide this from the masses; on the contrary, we must be engaged with the masses because the masses of our people are the main factor for the renaissance of the Palestinian left, and we must listen to their pain and their questions.
Of course, this crisis is not separate from the crisis of the national liberation movement in Palestine and in the region and in the left worldwide. I do think that it is time to overcome the events around the loss of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc; this was a critical moment, but we must come forward because an alternative world, that we continue to struggle for, that all of humanity continues to struggle for, can only come through struggle and mutual support and international solidarity that confronts all forms of oppression, imperialism, capitalism, racism and sexism. This highlights the need for an international Popular Front, if you will, that can embrace all of us. We know that self criticism is a vital revolutionary tool, but this should be always practiced along with the struggle itself against the forces of oppression and exploitation. We must differentiate between the loss of a group of states that once represented socialism and the movement of the people of the world looking for an alternative society, a happier world. And that is the ultimate goal of all revolutionaries around the world, dedicating their lives to protect children, to defend nature, to fight racism and sexism.
All of these things are not separated from the struggle to liberate Palestine. We know that building a unified movement of the left is a complex task that can only be obtained by committed revolutionary movements and individuals. I don’t know, maybe we need another Lenin!
How do you view the reconciliation process between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority? It seems that there is still a lack of national viewpoint or national comprehensive strategy.
We deeply believe that any national comprehensive strategy must only come through resistance and a framework of dialogue within the resistance. This means both work and thought, practice and theory, not by division, clashes or violence. Our classic position is usually based on the term “national unity”; however, this is changing today — not the need for a national unified front, but the forces that could form such a front. We think that what happened in Cairo, in dialogue between different Palestinian factions, is not enough. Factions represent a portion of Palestinian society, but we need a dialogue throughout sectors and organizations, including women’s organizations, student groups and among Palestinian youth. How can we bring our people from all sorts of backgrounds to be part of the discussion, an important and vital part — just as important, if not more so, than the factions?
This is why we see somewhat of a gap between the role of the factions and the needs of our people, and we must move beyond this to truly build a unified national front. Remember that Hamas and Fateh are both on the right wing of the Palestinian national liberation movement. We do not see them as identical forces; they are different from one another, but they can both be understood as on the right wing of the Palestinian movement. What is needed is to strengthen the left wing of the Palestinian national movement: in essence, the PFLP. Remember, a bird cannot fly with only a right wing!
Israel has succeeded in portraying the Palestinian resistance as another form of Islamist terrorism, a narrative that the international community is happily accepting (including through the acceptance of the Israeli security model against a specific ethnic or religious group, i.e the refugees in Europe). What are the tools today for the liberation movement to break this discourse?
Israel always tries to exploit the high level of ignorance that exists today about Islam. They want to portray, for example, an organization like Hezbollah and say that they are like ISIS, when in fact they are nothing alike — and Hezbollah fights ISIS on the battlefield while Israel shares common goals with ISIS. They attempt to project an image of resistance that is “Islamist” and “jihadist,” knowing that there is a rich soil in Europe and elsewhere created by fascist and right-wing forces (some of which are themselves anti-Jewish groups) to promote racism. We have seen growing alliances between Israel and fascist forces. I urge people to explore and read more about various groups influenced by Islam, because they are quite diverse. It is a simple fallacy of generalization that is enhanced by racism and colonialism.
I want to speak on three different levels. The first one is personal — not to brag or to be self-centered, but my existence as a secular, Marxist, feminist leader in a leftist organization who has been engaged in direct resistance operations as a woman is a clear refutation of this framework. Groups like ISIS or similar formations hate us as much as Israel hates us. But even more than this, Israel promotes the creation and development of groups such as ISIS throughout the region and shares common goals of chaos and destruction. Israel seeks to fabricate a false image about Palestinians and to sell it particularly to the Western world in an attempt to say that we are not a people with a cause, with rights and a just struggle.
But I question if this strategy is truly working in today’s world. People’s ability to verify facts, despite all of these fabrications and the media propaganda and brainwashing, is something that still exists and can expose these lies for what they are. In fact, several months ago, there was a Palestinian operation in Jerusalem against Israeli soldiers. Israeli authorities immediately rushed to claim that this was an attack by ISIS, when in fact this was an operation carried out by three Palestinian youth who sympathize with a Palestinian secular leftist group. Because ISIS does not exist in Palestine and has never attacked Israel or Israeli interests. ISIS has burned the Palestinian flag. If there is any claim of an existence for ISIS in Palestine, it is clear that this comes only at the hands of Israeli intelligence.
Second, colonial powers always try to find a scapegoat for the crisis of the capitalist system and why it is not working. So if you listen to Trump, for example, and his racist campaigns against people of color, against Latinos and Muslims, trying to say that they are the “problem” in the United States, while at the same time he partners with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other reactionary states that support these violent, reactionary groups in Syria and elsewhere, to the joint benefit of Saudi and U.S. capital in the hundreds of billions of dollars. The crisis of the capitalist system in Europe and the United States has always tried to find these scapegoats, as we saw during the Nazi and fascist eras in Europe through the use of racist campaigns that began with hateful words, articles and books and ended up with mass killing and the Holocaust. Today, Israel is attempting to use the crimes of Nazism as a justification for its own racist projects of killing and exclusion and seeks to falsely claim the heritage of “defending the Jewish people” when it is in fact a racist colonial project for the expulsion of Palestinians.
Third, refugees are forced to come to Europe for a reason; their stories did not begin when they arrived at your shores. There are political events that pushed them there — massacres, interventions in their countries, supporting dictatorships, bombing their homelands. A classic example is the history of the relationship between Italy and Libya. The Western countries are led by a vicious ruling class that wages war on the Arab world for oil and profit. When you study the history of countries like Iraq and Syria, you know that hundreds of thousands and millions of Iraqis, Syrians and Afghans were forced from their countries by the wars imposed upon them, seeking safety. In fact, people did not migrate because they lived under dictatorship; they were forced to migrate in order to survive because of wars imposed upon them. Europe has a large share of the responsibility, along with the U.S. and reactionary Arab states in creating these wars. When Europe supports the policies of war and intervention promoted by the U.S., it should not expect other results. Security for people of all nations comes through confronting imperialism.
Finally, it only benefits imperialism and reactionary regimes to turn political conflicts into religious and sectarian conflicts, because this strips the entire argument of people’s rights and their just cause and it turns the entire discussion into a vague, empty and shallow one. This is what our enemies want us to do. Conflicts happen because of real reasons and interests – political, economic and social reasons, and not because someone was born Jewish, or Muslim, or Christian. We should know this as the basis of scientific thinking and analysis.
I want to take this opportunity to thank il manifesto for conducting this interview with me and providing a space for our voice with your readers. We encourage them to energize and mobilize to build a strong, progressive movement to confront capitalism, imperialism and austerity and struggle for a socialist, democratic Italy. We know that you have your own struggles and we support you.
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