The Palestinian leadership has been careful not to support the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and has banned demonstrations in solidarity with the rebelling peoples. Palestinian television has virtually ignored the events in Egypt.
Dr. Mamdouh al-Aker, a 68-year-old urologist, studied in Cairo and was a member of the Palestinian-Jordanian delegation at the Washington-Madrid talks. He treats patients in Ramallah and Jerusalem's Augusta Victoria Hospital.
For the past seven years, he has been the general commissioner of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, an organization formed by a decree by Yasser Arafat in 1993. The commission seeks to guarantee that the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization meet the requirements for safeguarding human rights.
How is that so many people like yourself are happy about the developments in Egypt [before the bloody clashes erupted], yet there is no public expression of support in West Bank cities?
[On Tuesday] afternoon I returned from a meeting on another matter with [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas. Appalled, I told him about a young man who initiated on Facebook a solidarity vigil for the Egyptian people. He was detained and interrogated the evening before the demonstration. Abbas expressed dissatisfaction and promised that the young man would be released immediately. I didn't know that he had already been freed.
Demonstrators who went to the Egyptian consulate in Ramallah and were dispersed told me that security personnel in civilian clothes monitored them, threateningly. Two weeks ago, other young people organized a similar solidarity event for Tunisia. They told me they intended to demonstrate even though they had been told this was forbidden. In both cases, young people said they were thankful to the two peoples for their support of the Palestinian cause.
I was impressed by their enthusiasm. But most people don't demonstrate because they know it is not welcomed. We have a pattern of restricting the freedom of demonstration and assembly. Demonstrations of support for our own people, during the attack on Gaza and against the occupation, were suppressed.
What is that Palestinian Authority afraid of when it bans solidarity demonstrations?
There are two reasons. Due to the close relations with the Mubarak regime, the leadership is perplexed by expressions of support for the opponents of a friend. The second reason - when a regime is insufficiently democratic, it fears that popular demonstrations might spin out of control.
There are reasons to suppose that many of the factors that drove people to protest in Tunisia and Egypt are in play here.
There is one huge difference: Here we live under Israeli occupation. We have to focus on the main goal of ending the occupation. And that's the problem: For years we have behaved as though we have turned into a subcontractor of the occupation, so we have to return and make the occupation pay a price. Not necessarily by using arms, and definitely not by harming civilians.
People dare in several places to confront the Israeli army, but not the Palestinian police.
Yes. But that won't continue indefinitely. The main lesson to be drawn from the Al Jazeera documents is that Israel is not ripe for a fair political agreement. So we should concentrate on our internal situation, put our home in order, enhance our steadfastness. A storm of change is soon to happen, and if we fail to change our path, we will be swept up by it.
People have quoted you as saying that the Palestinian Authority is a police state without being a state.
Generally, I don't like expressing in Israeli media our criticism of the Palestinian Authority, even though the criticism is public and can be found in all our publications. But I consented to your request for an interview.
For three years I have been warning that certain characteristics will drag us toward becoming a police state, unless we pay attention: Arbitrary, illegal arrests. Torture of detainees - due to our complaints, there has been an improvement for several months, but now there appears to be a return to this miserable procedure. Screening of candidates for public posts by the intelligence and preventive security apparatus. Arrests of civilians by the security apparatus - there was a promise that this would end, but we will still wait for an explicit guarantee from the high political level. A lack of compliance with court rulings.
And in the Gaza Strip?
It's a mirror image. Just two weeks ago, I was invited to a conference of the "security sciences academy" in Jericho. Participants discussed perceptions of security in the future state. I said the situation in this pre-state period will influence the future state. I brought up two reasons for incredulity: the building of a national army under the auspices of the occupation and its close scrutiny. That's surreal; it has no historical precedent! Another absurdity is the size of the security apparatus; our ratio between security men and civilians is one of the highest in the world. Why?" That's not under orders from Israel and the United States?
I didn't discuss the political aspect. I'm talking professionally from the angle of human rights. Almost 30 percent of the [PA's] budget is allocated to security; these allocations come at the expense of health and education. [Participants at the conference] sat and kept quiet.
Isn't it strange that the leaders of an occupied people are not supporting a popular uprising?
That's the result and the price of being dragged to the status of a regime, before liberation, while giving up on the agenda of a national liberation movement. As a regime, they must identify with regimes.
Is the situation reversible? Can the PLO return from its status as a virtual regime to a national liberation movement?
The same people? No. But there is a new a spirit. The Palestinian Authority's role has to change. The leadership core must return to the PLO, while the PA should remain with powers as a large municipality. Nothing more. The PLO, which has lost its structure, must be rebuilt.
One of the tragic mistakes is that we didn't focus on the demand for the right to self-determination that encompasses everything. Instead, they concentrated on the idea of a state. A state? [Benjamim] Netanyahu and [Ariel] Sharon also talk about a state, without land, water and borders. Everything is enclaves. As far as I'm concerned, they can call that an empire.
I can feel the seeds of change. There are demonstrations in the villages, the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel], the boycott on settlement products, defying the PA on the Goldstone report. What has happened in Tunisia and Egypt will expedite the process of change, revitalize the Palestinian cause and bring it back to where it belongs - not to a government or a "state," but as a movement of national liberation."
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