RAMALLAH (IPS) - The assault on Chris Davies, Liberal Democrat party spokesman for the environment for the north west of Britain and a member of the European Union’s parliamentary delegation to the Palestinian Legislative Council, has delivered a firm political message to the European parliament.
Davies was assaulted when he was taking part, together with several Israelis, Palestinians and people from other countries, in a protest rally against Israel’s barrier that divides Palestinian farmers from their land in the central West Bank village of Bilin.
Davies slammed the United States bias towards Israel, and questioned the EU policy on Hamas.
IPS: Why did you attend the demonstration, and what led to the assault?
Chris Davies: I did this as a personal initiative. I had read about Israelis and Palestinians working together to cross the divide by taking part in these weekly demonstrations to remove the [wall], and wanted to see the situation for myself.
Our group walked peacefully towards the wall and held up our hands to show that we were unarmed and nonviolent. Immediately about 30 tear gas canisters were fired at us. Twenty Israeli soldiers then shoved us backwards, forcing a number of us to fall over backwards. I was also manhandled. We then withdrew.
IPS: How did you deal with the situation, and what were your impressions?
CD: I kept repeating to the soldiers that they were there illegally, that we were there on invitation from the Palestinian landowners. The situation seemed very clear cut. Israel is using this Palestinian land for the benefit of the settlements in violation of UN resolutions and international law.
This is also in stark contradiction to statements made by Israeli politicians who visit the EU’s headquarters in Brussels on a regular basis. The current route of the wall is also in violation of a ruling by the Israeli supreme court.
Furthermore, from what I’ve heard we received pretty mild treatment, as the soldiers were aware of the presence of EU parliamentarians as we carried the EU flag and verbally informed them.
IPS: What is the purpose of your visit here and what do you hope to achieve?
CD: The EU’s parliamentary delegation to the PLC [Palestinian Legislative Council] comprising eight members makes this four-day trip biannually to assess events on the ground and to hold talks with the relevant political parties, families of young Palestinians jailed by the Israelis, and various civil and business organizations. We are also endeavoring to help move the peace process forward.
This particular trip focused on meeting the 38 Hamas legislators jailed by Israel after Hamas won the 2006 legislative elections. We particularly wanted to meet again with Dr. Aziz Dweik, a speaker of the PLC.
IPS: You decided to visit Hedarim prison in the north of Israel where Dweik is held despite being refused permission by Israel to see him. What was your point?
CD: Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s office turned down our written request and warned us about the message we would be sending out by meeting “with terrorists.”
It was a symbolic gesture. We wanted to make a point that we as officially elected members of parliament should be entitled to meet with our Palestinian counterparts, also officially elected members of parliament.
Furthermore, we are extremely confused by Dr. Aziz Dweik being labelled a terrorist. A resolution was passed 10 months ago by the Inter Parliamentary Union, the body that represents parliaments across the world. Their assessment was that Dweik has no ties to terrorism of any sort and is only guilty of being democratically elected to a party that Israel and the West does not wish to deal with.
IPS: Why should Israel deal with an organization which says it is dedicated to the Jewish state’s destruction?
CD: The EU’s argument is quite simple. How do you make peace if you don’t talk to your enemies and who better to talk to than the democratically elected legislators of your enemy? Whether you agree with their views or not they have a mandate and should be free to exercise that. Isolating Hamas will only encourage even more extremist elements.
The EU has some serious differences with Hamas’s ideology and its shelling of Israeli towns, and we have pointed this out continually to their leaders.
But we have to also remember there are more pragmatic factions within Hamas who would be prepared to reach some kind of compromise with Israel. I spoke to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh myself and he mentioned the possibility of co-existence within the 1967 borders. We are, however, not sure if the more militant factions are calling the shots at present.
We also have to bear in mind that Hamas is also responding to the status quo, which includes Israel’s illegal and continual control of the territory’s borders, coastline, airspace, population registry, water and electricity as well as carrying out regular military incursions into the besieged strip. The actions of Hamas are not coming out of a vacuum.
IPS: Do you disapprove of the EU refusing to deal with Hamas?
CD: We the EU paid for the Palestinian elections three years ago which were both free and fair according to reputable international observers, including ex-US president Jimmy Carter. The US, too, pushed for democratic elections knowing the political platform of the organization.
We believe this sets a very bad precedent for the Arab world by encouraging free and fair elections and then refusing to recognize the democratic results.
Furthermore, many of the European Union countries were themselves occupied during the Second World War and supported resistance movements against their occupiers. Hamas too is fighting an occupation. There seems to be a failure to appreciate what the word means.
IPS: Have you tried to balance your visit by meeting with Israeli politicians or the family of an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas over two years ago and imprisoned in Gaza?
CD: We met Gilad Shalit’s father on Saturday and promised we would raise the issue of his release with Hamas when we visit Gaza. The EU has a complementary parliamentary delegation to Israel which meets exclusively with Knesset [Israeli parliament] members. What we need to do is swap notes and work out ways of moving forward together.
IPS: What have you done to try and help end the bitter infighting between the rival Palestinian factions of Hamas and Fatah?
CD: We have advised both sides that it is not important who is in power but that they work together towards the common goal of a Palestinian state and understand that the common enemy is the occupation. We are here to support the elections without favoring one side over the other. It is high time we started respecting the results of elections irrespective of our personal opinions.
To this end we met Sunday with members from the PLC and urged them to work towards overcoming their differences with Hamas and will be doing the same when we meet with Hamas representatives in Gaza.
IPS: Israel has a strong relationship with the EU and is currently lobbying for an upgraded status. Will this go ahead and do you support this?
CD: Quite frankly, I find it very hard to justify upgrading Israel’s status with the EU when the country regularly ignores EU initiatives about the implementation of international law, continues with the occupation, to build settlements and to carry out human rights abuses. But there is a strong support from many in the EU for the upgraded status to be approved.
IPS: You have said that a new boycott against Israel is the way to go to pressure it to end the occupation and abide by international law.
CD: Yes, Boycott the Occupation [the name of the initiative] is something I will investigate when I return to the UK. It should be something similar to the boycott of apartheid South Africa. I plan to draw as much publicity as possible towards this.
IPS: What is the way forward towards a more equitable Israel-Palestinian policy from the West?
CD: More people need to stand up to America’s orthodoxy of bias in favor of Israel. The EU has to stop kowtowing to US foreign policy and show a more vigorous independence. And EU members need to provide more than lip service to the suffering of the Palestinians by actually standing by their principles.
If there will be no two-state resolution to the conflict, then we need to work towards one state where Palestinians have full and equal rights.
IPS: What do you want to say to the Israelis?
CD: What is your end goal? Put all your cards on the table and tell us what you are really trying to achieve. Your actions on the ground, which appear to impede progress at every turn, are not matching your words of peace and progress. It is beginning to look like a deliberate conspiracy.
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