On 10 December, Human Rights Day, I met Shawan Jabarin in Geneva to discuss recent developments in Palestine. Jabarin leads the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq in Ramallah. He is a prominent human rights advocate and former administrative detainee. In 2006, Israel imposed a travel ban on Jabarin using “secret evidence” which neither Jabarin or his lawyers have been allowed to see. Jabarin’s travel ban was lifted for the first time in March 2012.
Adri Nieuwhof: Israel is criticized for attacking journalists who report about the occupation. During the recent attacks on Gaza three journalists were killed and at least twelve were wounded. How do you assess Israel’s attacks on journalists?
Shawan Jabarin: Israel targeted journalists in Gaza intentionally. They feel these days that the media have power. The media can defeat any party by taking reports outside. It comes with the evolution of the media, the social media. It is everywhere available. As occupying power, Israel does not like the reporting, that is why the media and journalists were intentionally targeted. They [Israel] have no moral. The aim is not to get the reality out. The aim is to create dust and make people not to see what happens. They feel that they lose their image. But it does not help them. It reminds me of the 1960s in apartheid South Africa. With the new technology, the social media, it will now not take that long as then. People speak about sanctions. Palestinians have to strategize how to build on this.
AN: Can you please comment on the vote on Palestinian statehood in the UN General Assembly?
Some main players stand still. The UK has asked the Palestinian Authority to sign a commitment not to go to the International Criminal Court for twenty years as condition for their “yes” vote. For a country like Britain — which is responsible for the Palestinian case — to close the door for remedy is the lowest moral possible. The French also mentioned that Palestine should not go to the ICC. Why protect Israel? Why encourage them by protecting their crimes? Britain and France are members of the European Union. No state can join the EU without ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court treaty. Is there only justice for whites, for the West? They play with the pain and suffering of the victims instead of providing justice, protection and remedy. As if Palestinians are not fully human beings, equals.
The “no” vote on Palestinian statehood in the UN General Assembly means a vote against the rights of Palestinians, against the right of self determination, against the two-state solution. It means that Israel continues to have a free hand to do what it wants, to continue its game of playing with time and create more facts on the ground.
AN: What did the Palestinian people gain with the acceptance of Palestine as a non-member observer state?
SJ: It opened the door for Palestinians to use legal mechanisms in the future. Palestine can join the Geneva Conventions. It can join the Sea Treaty, which is important for Palestine to protect natural resources such as gas and petroleum, and to protect its right to water. The Sea Treaty would include the Dead Sea. It means that if any company wants to dig, it cannot do so with Israel.
The ICC is important. The Palestinian Authority has to show that they are serious [about] and stand behind the rights of the victims. It should submit an application for membership for the Rome Statute of the ICC. It will not change the reality on the ground. We have to strategize on an international level how to use the legal mechanisms in our work.
The PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] needs to remain the representative of the all Palestinians. The entry point of representation is the PLO, not the PA. The PA can play a role as a service body, not as a political body. It is time for the PLO, with the participation of all Palestinian organizations, to elect a PLO national council. To lead the PA.
The right of return is important. I see two options for the future. The first is a two-state solution with the right of return to property inside Israel. The second option is one democratic state for all people with the right of return.
But what we need now is the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. It is important for Palestinians to change the “game” from bilateral agreements to unilateral agreements with the UN and international law as a basis for negotiations. After Gaza, after twenty years of failure of negotiations, we as Palestinians have to rethink our narrative, we have to take the lead. The step at the UN will mean nothing if we don’t use it well.