Last year, Mireille Fanon-Mendes France of the Frantz Fanon Foundation testified in the trial of Ameer Makhoul, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and the director of Ittijah, the Union of Arab Community-Based Associations. In January, Makhoul was sentenced to nine years in prison for charges related to espionage and contact with “enemies of the state.” According to Makhoul, during the 22 days he was held in isolation after his arrest, the Israeli authorities used severe interrogation methods that caused him both psychological and physical harm.
Mireille Fanon-Mendes France knows Ameer Makhoul through years of regular meeting while representing their respective organizations at the World Social Forum’s International Council.
The Frantz Fanon Foundation is named for Fanon-Mendes France’s father, the celebrated black psychiatrist, thinker, activist and writer originating from Martinique. Fanon was deeply involved in popular struggles against racism, colonialism and oppression. He supported the Algerian struggle for independence and became a member of the Algerian National Liberation Front. The Frantz Fanon Foundation aims to promote Fanon’s ideas worldwide.
The Electronic Intifada contributor Adri Nieuwhof interviewed Fanon-Mendes France about her involvement in the Palestinian struggle for liberation.
Adri Nieuwhof: How would you like to introduce yourself?
Mireille Fanon-Mendes France: I have been very active in the solidarity work with Palestine for a long time, since 1967. I have worked on the issue of Palestinian prisoners since the first intifada but I was more involved during the second intifada, when I went several times [to the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip] and wrote a report on this issue.
Furthermore, I assume the presidency of the Frantz Fanon Foundation working on the actuality of thoughts of Frantz Fanon [on] colonialism and domination, racism, alienation and emancipation, on the right of people to self-determination. I am also on the board of the French Jewish Union for Peace. And I am me.
AN: Why did you get involved in the movement in solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people?
M F-M F: My first involvement was against racism. I’ve worked for a long time on human rights. Then I understood the most important right is the right to self-determination for all peoples. In fact, this right is complementary to the right for states to choose their own political representatives, and the right to use and benefit from their own natural resources.
Since the beginning, I have been very concerned about what self-determination means for peoples. And what it means for governments, the international community and the solidarity movement. I tried to understand why it was so difficult to claim this fundamental right. Later, when I studied international law, the right of self-determination was my main focus. This right is the result of the decolonization and the victory of the states that met in Bandung in 1955 [which paved the way for the Non-Alignment Movement]. If there is one people in the world who cannot obtain this right, we have to push, to act, so that it is realized. The Palestinian people have not obtained their right to self-determination and the international community tries its best [to ensure] that this right is not achieved. That is why I am involved.
AN: You were a witness in a hearing in the case against Ameer Makhoul. What is your view on how Israel dealt with Ameer Makhoul’s trial?
M F-M F: I was once in court in Haifa as a character witness for Ameer Makhoul. It was a hearing. I was very surprised about the court case against Ameer Makhoul; I’ve known him for a long time. I went to Ittijah in 2003. I had the opportunity to get to know him better during our meetings with the World Social Forum that took place every six months.
Many people know Ameer. I am very impressed by him; I find him trustworthy. He is inclusive in his approach. I was very proud to be his character witness. It was a very difficult test for me; it was a heavy responsibility. It was not about my own life but for his life and his family. About the trial, I would say that I know how they [Israel] arrange the law, and I know how they get a signature under a confession. He was treated badly [in detention], deprived of sleep and kept in a bad position for a long time. Unfortunately, I understand why he signed. I know he was not capable to do what he admitted in his confession.
He was denied the right to a fair trial. They use this horrible procedure called a plea bargain. If we could “use” Ameer as a symbolical example of a political prisoner it would be great. He is a Palestinian prisoner from Israel. There is always violation of rights of Palestinians from Israel. We have to denounce this racist and xenophobic treatment of Palestinians by Israel. We have to denounce Israel’s violations of human rights conventions and international political conventions. We don’t have to accept the apartheid system used by the Israeli government against the Palestinians living inside Israel.
AN: The call for an international campaign for the release of Palestinian political prisoners is becoming louder. What is your opinion on such a campaign?
M F-M F: All the political prisoners are in jail for political reasons. Some are held [without charge] under administrative detention, and the period of detention could be extended over and over again. It is against international law. Together, we have to work to do what is possible on this issue, and even more, because it is one of the war crimes committed by Israel. To be held in jail in Israel as a Palestinian political prisoner from the occupied [West Bank and Gaza Strip] is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention; it is a grave breach.
They [Israel] have to be sued for this at the level of the International Criminal Court. As state parties to the Geneva conventions did not do this, we can ask questions about these states, because they don’t live up to their obligations. In 2004, the International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled in its Advisory Opinion on the wall that state parties have the obligation to respect the Fourth Geneva Convention, and also ensure the respect for the convention. State parties leave Israel to continue its violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. They did not ask for sanctions, not in the UN General Assembly or in the Security Council. State parties are accountable. By not acting, they become complicit in Israel’s war crimes.
AN: What do you consider as a critical contribution for international solidarity organizations and concerned citizens to support the Palestinian people in achieving their goals?
M F-M F: A lot of things need to be done. We cannot do what we want without the agreement and support of the Palestinian movement. For me, we have to push the international community, to see how we can ask the international community why they don’t respect their obligations to international law. Why are they allowing war crimes daily?
What it is doing in Libya is symptomatic. The international community seeks its own goal. Not the obligations and the respect of international law toward all the nations. Some of the states use the law of the stronger, the law of the jungle, or the law of the hegemony of some of them. They want a world that is one side that is “good,” and another side that is “bad.” In this world vision, Palestinians are the “bad” people, and people who support the Palestinians are “bad” people too. We have to ask our governments to act responsibly and stop the Israeli war crimes. We should hold our governments, as state parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, to account for their complicity in Israeli war crimes at the International Criminal Court.
We should use both national law and international law in our activism. For example, in the legal action in France against [French transportation giant] Veolia for its complicity in the Jerusalem light rail project, the company has been sued under national law, the French Civil Code. We could also sue the French government at the International Criminal Court for allowing a French company to be complicit in war crimes.
And as a solidarity movement, we should work at these two levels, national and international. The same counts for the boats to Gaza. I would prefer an international flotilla of boats from several nations. We have to work together to achieve the right of self-determination for all peoples, the right of peoples to use their natural resources. We have to respect the choice of the people. We are not working for ourselves. We want to uplift humanity.
Photo courtesy of Mireille Fanon-Mendes France.
Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.