Few Palestinians are as closely identified with the struggle against Israel’s wall in the West Bank as Jamal Juma’. The coordinator of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign since its establishment in 2002, Juma’ has suffered because of his political activities. He was imprisoned in late 2009 and early 2010 but following his release, he has worked relentlessly against a project that has been declared illegal by the International Court of Justice.
Juma’ spoke to The Electronic Intifada contributor Ida Audeh about the dearth of popular resistance in areas of the West Bank under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction, the UN statehood bid and the role of the Palestinian diaspora in national liberation.
Ida Audeh: It has been nine years since the start of the campaign against the wall. What were the goals you set for yourselves?
Jamal Juma’: We wanted to stop construction on the wall, to tear down the sections that had been built and to return properties to the farmers who owned them. Incidentally, these goals were identical to the recommendations of the International Court of Justice in 2004. Since 2004, we have been calling for a boycott of Israel.
IA: According to a recent UN report titled “Barrier Update: Seven years after the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Barrier” [PDF], about 30 percent of the wall has not yet been constructed. Is completion of the wall slower than originally planned?
JJ: Popular resistance had a primary role in delaying the completion. When Israel started to work on the wall in 2002, the plan was to complete it in 2005. At the time the government was talking about a 650-700 kilometer wall. Construction was halted in some areas because of resistance by affected communities. Court cases were initiated, which took six or seven months, during which time all construction was put on hold. So the deadline was pushed back from 2005 to 2008. In 2008 they pushed it to 2011. And this year they couldn’t finish it either, so the new deadline they set is 2020. [The length of the wall is now projected to be 810 km long.]
IA: How have you moved on the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice?
JJ: The decision was issued under the umbrella of international law, and this made a huge impact globally on the issue of boycotting Israel. The decision gave a legal basis to activists everywhere who were working on the wall and on settlements and Jerusalem because the decision touched on all these issues. Activists could base their calls for boycott and bringing down the wall on this court decision.
The official political aspect is worth noting. Pressure was placed on the the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization to leave the decision in a drawer and not to move on it. So the decision was frozen and never submitted to the United Nations Security Council even to this day.
Today, more than any other time past, after the total closing of political horizons, and the collapse of what is referred to as negotiations, and the clear, US position of total support for settlements, we say now we must start to challenge. We have to start a global battle in the international law arena. The first thing the PA must do is to take this recommendation and put it on the track for implementation within the Security Council and other international fora.
IA: How effective do you think the campaign has been in mobilizing people locally? Ramallah seems to be in a bubble. Bilin, Budrus, and other villages in the Ramallah district seem to have to contend with the wall by themselves.
JJ: As a popular resistance movement, one of our most important goals is to find a way to implicate the national forces to put their full weight behind popular resistance, to make it their top priority. Everyone talks about popular resistance but in practical terms no one is thinking of implementation.
Another reason for the fact that places like Bilin and Budrus are resisting alone is the following: 70 percent of the population of the West Bank is in Area A, which is under the control of the PA, and they are prevented from engaging in popular resistance. At least 95 percent of the refugee camps are in Area A, and so are the largest cities. The PA’s position is that whoever wants to resist should not be in Area A, as though area A is liberated. This is one of the most deadly issues killing popular resistance. Because when you exclude 70 percent of your population, then you are not supporting popular resistance.
[Editor’s note: following the Oslo accords in 1993 the West Bank was divided into Areas A, B and C. The Palestinian Authority has limited autonomy in Area A; Area B is under joint Israeli and Palestinian control and Area C, covering 60 percent of the West Bank, is controlled by the Israeli Civil Administration.]
So the villages in Area C, which are in the path of the wall, can take action against the wall. But try to go [in area A] and you find the Palestinian security forces there ahead of you. We have to overcome this. If there is going to be widespread national activism, there has to be a strategy for national work that is agreed to. I say that from every occupied inch of land, we have the right to mount our resistance.
IA: Why are our markets still stocked with Israeli products?
JJ” For a long time now, we have been calling for a total boycott of Israeli products. Then the PA came up with the line of boycotting Israeli settlement goods. That would eliminate one-third of Israeli goods from the market, and if they are eliminated completely, then in practical terms that eliminates more than 50 percent of Israeli goods from our market, because many Israeli companies work through the settlements. But how far along has the PA gotten in this? One feels that the issue is dead, as though the PA to some extent has somehow gotten stuck with this issue and would like to bow out. So now they are lowering the volume on this and trying to kill it. When they announced this project originally, the plan was to have no Israeli settlement goods here by the end of the year  But in fact, there are now more products, not fewer. Ramadan is approaching and most of the Ramadan goods are from the settlements. This is what people are saying. I haven’t completely documented this.
IA: So how are you confronting this?
JJ: We have a grassroots campaign to boycott that has launched actions in towns and villages. There are groups who go to stores, institutions, commercial areas and they speak to the owners about not stocking Israeli goods. We address this in summer camps and we made good progress with the cafeterias at the universities. It took a huge effort but now many of them sell no Israeli products at all. We are trying to do the same with the schools through morning messages and other ways. The issue is not a simple one; it takes a lot of effort from many groups working together, from the labor unions and women’s committees and student unions.
IA: The boycott of Israeli goods must be difficult to promote when you have economic ventures like Rawabi, the real estate development project led by Palestinian businessman Bashar Masri, which involves Israeli companies.
JJ: The Palestinian middle class is disappearing. Many big companies and some individuals have taken control of economic activity. Sadly, these large companies have political influence and relations with political actors and they can thwart any kind of national action. When you work for boycott, you are stepping on the toes of local mafias that have political influence. They are prepared to run you down.
IA: In July, the Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the Greek president to Ramallah, seemingly indifferent to the outrage such a move would spark in light of the Greek government’s heavy-handed attack on the Freedom Flotilla II.
JJ: This is a very awful decision. The Palestinian leadership is not entitled to conduct itself in this manner. By doing so, it insults its own people.
The big question for the Palestinian leadership is, for how much longer are you going to bet on the Americans? We need a real evaluation of the past and agreement on a new strategy. I don’t believe that the current political situation and the current political configuration and the national forces are capable of doing this. For that reason, we need national and international pressure and pressure from our friends to develop new strategies to support and activate popular resistance throughout the West Bank, not just in Area C or the areas close to the wall, and to be organized and have a unified leadership.
We need to activate international solidarity and international law in two areas: getting the Palestinian leadership to give full, unequivocal support to an international boycott movement and demanding that the world impose a boycott and sanctions on Israel. The resolution regarding the wall must be taken to the UN and to the Security Council once more. The Goldstone resolution [on Israel’s war crimes in Gaza] must be implemented. There are tens of resolutions, including Resolution 181 and the resolution regarding the right of return. All of these resolutions must be raised at the UN.
IA: The PA plans to go to the UN in September and ask for recognition of a Palestinian state. Do you agree with this approach?
JJ: We have been talking to the national forces and leftist and democratic forces and institutions, as well as to the Palestinian human rights [and civil society organizations]. We developed a working paper that outlines our positions. We wanted to get a legal perspective on what international law says about going to the UN. We concluded that we should in fact go to the UN but not in order to establish a state on the 1967 borders. We should be demanding that the membership of the PLO be raised to state status. The approach [of going to the UN] doesn’t affect the right of return [for Palestinian refugees] or Palestinian rights or the PLO.
We are going to follow these issues and hold town meetings in all the districts. We are trying to come up with a position that we can submit for public discussion and to inform people what is happening, because no one tells the public what is going on. People don’t know what the PA wants.
IA: What role would you like to see Palestinians in the West play?
JJ: We want to see Palestinians abroad act not out of loyalty to Fatah or Hamas but rather out of loyalty to the cause and what serves it. If not, the first thing that is threatened is the right of return. This issue is being targeted. Palestinians abroad must be aware of this and organize themselves; otherwise, it will be sacrificed.
We are in a very dangerous phase. We’ve reached a dead end. There has to be a true Palestinian awakening. Palestinians in the diaspora might readjust the path and tip the scale. They are 70 percent of the Palestinian people, and they are the ones who must speak their piece. The ones here [in the West Bank and Gaza] are held hostage to the occupation and the Americans. Those abroad can coordinate their demands and work with all activists. The tremendous effort put forth by the Zionist lobby and its blackmail of international organizations requires a countervailing force, a concerted effort. In order to face the challenges, we have to organize ourselves and know what we want.
Ida Audeh is a Palestinian from the West Bank who works as a technical editor in Boulder, Colorado. Her op-eds and articles have been published by the The Daily Camera, The Electronic Intifada, Countercurrents and Counterpunch. She can be reached at idaaudeh A T yahoo D O T com.