December 14, 2017

NGO director shares his views with the Herald

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

‘Israel is firing into a fishbowl from which you cannot escape’

By Vera von Kreutzbruck
Herald Staff
After a brief six hours of ceasefire proposed by Egypt, violence in Gaza has rapidly intensified again, with the Palestinian death toll approaching 200. In June, the kidnapping and death of three Israeli teenagers triggered one of the most intense Israeli bombardments on the Palestinian territory in years. Meanwhile, Hamas continues to launch rockets into Israel.

In order to better understand what’s happening on the ground, the Herald spoke with Sergio Yahni, the director of the joint Palestinian-Israeli non-governmental organization the Alternative Information Centre (AIC). Yahni, who lives in Jerusalem, was born in Argentina and in 1979, when he was 12-years-old, left the country with his parents to escape the military dictatorship.

The AIC was founded in 1984 by Palestinian and Israeli grassroots activists as a bi-national organization “to promote peace, justice and equality for Palestinians and Israelis.”

“We don’t intend to be a substitute for the Social Democratic movement in Israel nor the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). We see ourselves more as a hinge organization that facilitates a platform,” he told the Herald.

What is the situation like in Gaza at the moment?

It has worsened in the last few days. The level of violence and the death toll have increased. Synagogues and cemeteries are being bombarded. On the other hand, it has become clearer that even though Israel is resorting to such violence, it has not forced Hamas to surrender.

Many people from Gaza are fleeing. Where are they going?

Outside the Gaza Strip, only citizens with foreign passports can leave, and they are the minority. Gaza itself is like a fishbowl, it’s closed-up — on one side is the sea, on the other the Israeli wall and the last side is the Egyptian wall. Israel is firing into this fishbowl from which you cannot escape. If people manage to hide they do it in central Gaza, the most populated area. The UN said recently that over 4,000 people have taken refuge in schools.

Do you think that the so-called “two-state solution” to the conflict, backed by the international community, is still a viable alternative?

At the present time, the two-state solution is utopian. All the political forces that backed it are disappearing. Besides, there are now around 600,000 (Israeli) settlers in the West Bank — that is almost 20 percent of the population.

When you talk to people from both sides of the conflict, what do they see as the most realistic solution?

They do not have a plan. More than a political project, Palestinians aim for a human rights-based solution. For example, the right to move freely, to not be arrested without cause, to meet with a judge. These are basic rights that come from the French revolution. Neither the one-state nor the two-state solution seem like a real solution to local people. It becomes less relevant when what you aim for is a guarantee that rights will be respected.

The recent surge in violence was triggered by the killing of three Israeli teenagers. Hamas has not claimed responsibility. Who do think could have been the perpetrator?

At first Israel had identified three people from Hamas as being responsible, but later they said that they were former Hamas militants. Then the possibility arose that the Salafi Muslims did it, a group that is at odds with Hamas.

But neither Hamas nor the Salafis have publicly claimed responsibility.

On the contrary, Hamas said they were not the authors of the crime. With respect to the Salafi Muslims, they are a disorganized group, with much less internal coordination than Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood. It is likely that just a Salafi cell was responsible. The operation was more the likes of a post-modern armed fight.

How does this escalation of violence play out for Hamas, who has already been debilitated due to Egypt’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood?

It could happen that Hamas wins this war. Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and while the latter were defeated in Egypt by Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, Israel until now has not been able to defeat Hamas.

What about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, how has this conflict affected his image?

He is the first loser of this conflict. He seems to be alienated from reality. His political capacity has been hit very hard. He is a symbol of the peace negotiations, since 1992 prior to the peace accords. But now, he doesn’t know what to do.

What do you think about language of Israeli Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who says that Hamas “will pay for continuing escalation”?

He lets his ministers from the Likud party talk and waits to see how the public reacts. If too much criticism arises he takes back what they said. He does nothing that would compromise his future in politics, he wants to survive, politically. He is against the left and Islamists and he is playing with fire. He is a coward.

Why is he a coward?

One should remember that he never carried out actions like prime-minister’s Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon or Ehud Barak did. He is not the kind of guy who has that courage to do what they did.


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