'Palestinians must unite to tackle the occupation'
Shamikh Badra is the youth and students coordinator for the Palestinian People Party (PPP) in the Palestinian Gaza Strip. The PPP is a left-wing, secular party that is part of the Palestinian liberation movement. Badra is on a tour of Australia to speak about the situation in Gaza and Palestine's struggle for justice. Green Left Weekly’s Patrick Harrison spoke to Badra.
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Since the Egyptian revolution that overthrew Mubarak, there has been a lot of hope for changes in Egypt's policy towards Israel — in particular the possibility that the Egyptian government might open its borders with Gaza and alleviate Israel's near-total siege on the territory. How has the relationship between Gaza and Egypt changed?
Now the borders between Gaza and Egypt are closed completely. The situation, which was so bad before, is even more difficult and complex.
Many needs for Palestinians are increased. They suffer from a lack of electricity as they previously suffered but it has worsened, all the crises are increased. Gaza now is isolated from the whole world. No-one can enter Gaza or go out from Gaza.
We hear in the media that the crossing is open, the blockade is ended. But on the ground it is another thing. Right now many people are gathered in Cairo airport who cannot go home. What we see in propaganda is one thing and what is on the ground is another.
What is the relationship between the PPP and Hamas in Gaza?
We should co-ordinate between all the Palestinian parties. To be frank, we have differences between our program and that of Hamas. In spite of that, we co-ordinate on national issues of struggle against the Israeli occupation because we have one enemy, which is the occupation.
But sometimes (most of the time) we have a lot of differences on many things. We seek, with all progressive movements and parties in Palestine, to achieve national unity with all parties and we want reconciliation. This is the first step in order to prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections, and Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) elections. I think this will begin to address the problems in Palestine; we need elected leadership for the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, chosen by the people.
We seek, as a progressive party, to reinforce the democracy and human rights in our society. We defend women's rights — women have played an important role in the struggle against the occupation. Negotiations for unity between Palestinian groups is the only way to solve the problems we face. And we seek to achieve the social justice and peace and to develop our society.
What is the PPP's position on the Palestinian Authority, has it been involved in the movement for a unity government in the last year?
We are involved in this movement and have a lot of initiatives for national unity between all parties, not just Hamas and Fatah, and we organise a lot of demonstrations in co-ordination with other parties to push those two sides to achieve reconciliation. The PPP refuses to participate in either the Fayyad government or Haniyeh government — as we see participating in these governments as deepening the divide between the two sides of our nation.
What role does the grassroots struggle play in Palestine?
The protests challenge the occupation. As long as we ask the international solidarity movements to visit us in Gaza, we ask them to go also to the West Bank. In the West Bank there is a real battle between the Palestinians and the occupation. The occupation is expanding the settlements, building the Apartheid Wall which separates the Palestinian territories – so we need solidarity from all the international progressive delegations.
I think non-violent resistance is very important. It publicises the crimes of the Israeli occupation. We believe in these demonstrations. Our party is active in these demonstrations and wants to co-ordinate with all the left parties around the world to participate with us. Palestine is an international issue, not just a local one for us.
How much influence do the left wing forces have in Palestine?
I think the progressive and left parties, they have power when gathering together — then we can influence and push the two sides of the division that exists right now. But I think we need to have a strategy between these parties to organise.
We can talk about the thousands of people who are members of our parties, but we can gather a lot of people not from our parties, who want to end the division. When we organised demonstrations in March last year to achieve reconciliation between the parties, a lot of people participated in the Gaza Strip and West Bank— 10,000 or more around Palestine.
After a few days of these demonstrations, the [Hamas-led] government in Gaza arrested the people who organised these demonstrations, and the [Fatah-led] government in Ramallah also arrested people and used violence to prevent these demonstrations. I myself was arrested; for eight hours, they questioned me, and after the intervention of the national parties, I got out.
I think people need to be encouraged to struggle to end the occupation, to change the bad situation. We have seen a lot of people are afraid, so we should encourage them to take action; this is our mission as left parties.
What is the PPP's view on calls for a one-state solution to the occupation?
As the PPP, after the peace process has failed, our perspective is that we must go to the international community to ask for international recognition of our state on the 1967 borders [the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza territories occupied by Israel since 1967] and to seek admission to the United Nations.
This is because we believe this is a crucial step that will contribute to end the occupation and the realisation of Palestinian rights. The right of self-determination of Palestinian people, like that of all peoples, is an inalienable right that is not up for negotiations.
The establishment of our state is the natural, legal, historical right for the Palestinians.
We need a practical solution. For 70 years statehood for Palestine has been a promise of the international community, the solution accepted by the international community, but despite all that we couldn't realise it. How could we achieve a solution which is not even acceptable to the international community under these conditions?
The one-state solution [in which there is one democratic state based on historic Palestine in which all citizens enjoy equal rights] is good, but there are no practical steps towards achieving this. We would have to change the world first. We wish to achieve this solution -- but how?
If we can establish a state for Palestinians, this would be an important step. The Israeli occupation is comfortably settled in now because we do not have a state, but if we achieve this we can advance the struggle against the occupation.
How does the PPP relate to Palestinians inside Israel?
We co-ordinate with progressive parties in Arab Israeli communities in historical Palestine, and we coordinate also with Israeli Communist Party (Rakah). This party stands against the occupation and against the movement of Zionism.
This party struggles in order to defend the rights of the Arabs inside Israel. This party believes in Palestinian rights; it was formed from our comrades before the Nakba and with Jewish people against occupation and Zionism. So we have a good relation, we act together as one party.
In this party, there are a lot of writers, poets; they clarify by their writings the crimes of the Israeli occupation and confirm the heritage of Palestinian people, the culture and the civilization of these people, such as Tawfiq Ziad, a poet and one of the leaders of the party, and many others.
What role does the grassroots struggle play in Palestine?
The protests challenge the occupation. As long as we ask the international solidarity movements to visit us in Gaza, we ask them to go also to the West Bank. In the West Bank there is a real battle between the Palestinians and the occupation. The occupation is expanding the settlements, building the Apartheid Wall which separates the Palestinian territories -- so we need solidarity from all the international progressive delegations.
I think non-violent resistance is so important. It publicises the crimes of the Israeli occupation. We believe in these demonstrations. Our party is active in these demonstrations and wants to co-ordinate with all the left parties around the world to participate with us. Palestine is an international issue, not just a local one for us.