Rafael Palomino, representative of the Spanish NGO Asamblea de Cooperación por la Paz.
Rafael, welcome to 4 Elements. Let’s start by knowing the dimension of the new escalation of violence in the conflict between Palestine and Israel; explain to us why you want to be very precise in saying that it all started in Jerusalem.
Yes, it all began in Jerusalem because it is the epicentre of the conflict and, therefore, of the current situation, which is why we must understand what the condition of this city is. Jerusalem is a city which, according to international law, is divided into two areas; the western part, which belongs to the State of Israel, whose population is Israeli Jewish, and the eastern part, East Jerusalem, which, according to international law, is the Palestinian area and should be the capital of the future state, although it does not exist and is not expected to exist. In the West, the Jewish population enjoys effective citizenship and a level of access to resources comparable to any European country, whereas in the East, annexed by Israel in 1967, every Palestinian is assigned the status of permanent resident, an intentionally atrophied legal figure which results in the violation of rights. In addition, some 200,000 Jewish settlers reside in the East with full rights and full citizenship. In this context, it is a fact that local policies in Jerusalem are geared towards the Judaisation of the municipality, and which are materialised in bureaucratic measures that result in the corralling of the Palestinian population, who live with less and less enjoyment of effective rights. In this context, tension is chronic, with multiple open fronts which could ignite at any moment.
Rafael, what you describe brings us back to what the UN calls an apartheid situation.
Yes, it is apartheid because there is oppression from one side, with ethnic-religious conditions, towards another side with other ethnic-religious conditions, it is full-blown apartheid and this is what the UN and human rights organisations, including Israeli human rights organisations, have said. I think that the differentiating factor now, and which has led to the outbreak of, shall we say, more brutal violence, is that several of these fronts have been opened up which exist simultaneously. On the one hand, there is the feeling of frustration at the cancellation of the elections called by the Palestinian National Authority, following the agreement between Hamas and Fatah; on the other hand, there is the 6th May, known as Jerusalem Day, which usually means a huge increase in tension due to the harassment of the most radical sectors of the Israeli settlers towards the Palestinian population in the Old City; the possible eviction of several Palestinian refugee families from Shaykh Yarrah Street; and the coincidence with Ramadan and the installation of security barriers and a huge police and military presence on the steps of the mosque. This cocktail of situations and events and facts has led to what we are experiencing today… Clashes in Jerusalem, an escalation in Gaza which is what we are talking about these days. Which is a novelty is the confrontation in so-called mixed cities on the Israeli side, such as Haifa, plus Israel’s land incursion?
The world got used to talk about the escalation of the conflict every now and then, but we are in a pandemic context in which Israel is seen as an example of vaccination. But how was this experienced in the area, as a focus of discrimination and anger?
Yes, we always refer to international law, and that’s how it is… the rage is justified from the moment that there is the Geneva Convention where the occupying power, Israel, is obliged to guarantee medical supplies and prevent any type of epidemic which emerges in the occupied territory, as is the case here. What happens is that Israel claims which, according to the Oslo Accords (signed in 1995), competence over health is granted to the Palestinian authorities in its territory; the interesting thing is to see how Israel clings to them when it suits it. The current situation is that Israel is practically back to the new normal but Palestine is worse than ever, with its hospitals at 100%.
Anger at the apartheid situation is one of the causes of the increasingly desperate situation, but what other causes are making the situation worse and worse?
Well, as I said, the causes, the facts, the discrimination have been there chronically for decades and what happens is that when several issues are aligned the response, the anger and the Palestinian frustration can be different, as I said it is COVID, it is Ramadan, eviction, it is construction of new settlements in Jerusalem, it is almost inevitable that it will lead to a situation like the one we are living now unfortunately.
Yes, and the internal Palestinian situation, with Hamas strong, what is the internal Palestinian situation like?
Yes, I would say that it is a divided people, rather, on the one hand, the Palestinians see their political class as very distant, almost all the party cadres have had a very similar discourse for 20 years, they are men over 70 years old; this leads to a feeling of unease towards their authorities and parties and, in addition, there is a brutal division between Hamas and Fatah and an administrative division which leads to a fragmentation of the territory and a disconnection between the Gazan population and that of the West Bank and Jerusalem which undoubtedly weakens their common positions.
Finally, Rafael, the effect of the announcement of the International Criminal Court on the investigation of war crimes, what effect can we expect from this and in the short term how can the situation be calmed down a little?
The ICC is an achievement, but there are reasons not to be too optimistic, at least in the medium term. I doubt which consequences this declaration of ICC jurisdiction will have for Israel, but it could be positive in the medium and long term because these processes are slow. For me there are several elementary keys to improving the situation, we will see if the escalation goes up or down, and of course we all hope which will relax the situation a little, although the problems will not be solved in the short term because it is totally impossible. It is not enough to provide economic aid to Palestine and limit itself to saying that the settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem are illegal, courageous steps must be taken, which are far from being taken, such as the arms embargo on Israel or the application of sanctions, including ceasing to consider Israel as a preferential partner from an economic and political point of view. And as I said before, there has to be self-criticism on the Palestinian side, of course; and I believe that the survival in the short term and the increase in influence in the medium term of an increasingly cornered and minority Israeli dissidence is important, I believe that it is essential for there to be a change in Israeli mentality, and in the future other political options will be voted for, more oriented towards achieving peace and towards the end of apartheid and colonisation, there has to be a change in the mentality of Israeli society. And then the resilience of the Palestinian population is another key which has been amply demonstrated in recent decades, but which is showing signs of exhaustion.
Rafael, do you have anything to add?
Yes, I would like to thank you and take this opportunity to call for the release of Juana Ruiz Sánchez #JuanaRuiz, a Spanish aid worker who was arrested a few weeks ago, and we demand that the Spanish government take the necessary steps to ensure which Juana is released.
Yes, just the week before we had Begoña Lalana on the programme, spokesperson for the family of Juana Ruiz, from the Palestinian organisation Health Work Committees, who was illegally detained in the occupied Palestinian territories by the Israeli government.