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'How can the West talk about Israel's right to self-defence on land illegally occupied at the expense of Palestinian lives?'

November 17, 2023 at 8:55 pm

Algerian Opposition politician, Karim Tabbou in the city of Tipasa, Algeria on July 2, 2020. [Photo by RYAD KRAMDI/AFP via Getty Images]

Algerian Opposition politician, Karim Tabbou, gives extensive interview to Arabi 21 about the Gaza war

Karim Tabbou is an Algerian politician, known for his open political position and his sharp criticism of Western officials because of their selective approach to the issue of human rights and international law. He is one of the prominent and well-known faces of the popular movement. He is a former political official and a fierce opponent of the Algerian authority. He was imprisoned and arrested several times because of his demand for democratic change in Algeria. Tabbou is being prosecuted today on charges related to “assaulting state security”, “incitement to gather” and “publishing information that harms the authority and reputation of the army”.

In this special interview with Arabi 21, Karim Tabbou addresses some of the current international events, especially the war against Gaza, the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur to Algeria, the BRICS summit and the political reality in Algeria. He also explains his disappointment and harsh experience with the justice system, the state of public freedoms in Algeria and political prospects.

The following is the full course of the conversation:

Let us start with the current situation in the Middle East. During his visit to Israel, the Head of State of France called for the establishment of an international coalition to fight the Hamas Movement. What is your reading of this?

By calling for the formation of an international coalition to fight Hamas, which he describes as a “terrorist” organisation that does not represent the Palestinian people, Emmanuel Macron is completely aligned with the extremist positions of the Israeli right. Moreover, it provides a “political pretext” for a large and wide-ranging Israeli military operation which, over time, will emerge as an operation of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian population of Gaza.

As for the issue of representation of the Palestinian people, he neglected to say – and this is an aspect of Western political hypocrisy – that it is difficult to talk about elections and representation under Occupation, as is the case in Palestine. It is important to remember that the only time the Palestinian people were asked to vote for their representatives, they voted for the Hamas Movement in elections that the EU observers described as democratic and representing a model for the Arab world.

The haste of the French Head of State, who doubled his contradictory statements, affirms not only his lack of political courage but, also, his annoyance and the annoyance of the Western world of any complaint being filed against Israel.

By making a fuss, Emmanuel Macron is trying to restore his place in the spotlight and at the forefront of the international stage after the insults he was subjected to at the diplomatic level. His activity at the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict faded with time and as the conflict intensified and, in the end, regardless of meagre electoral gains and his re-election to his last term, France is lagging behind under him, is exhausted and is on the way to collapse.

By insisting on focusing on what Hamas did and ignoring the serious violations and horrific bombing committed by the Israeli army against the Palestinian civilian population, it only confirms the selective position and double standards of some Western countries on the issue of human rights and the application of international law.

Of course, this should not put into doubt the sincere commitment from the Western public opinion by intellectuals, non-governmental organisations and other structures of the international community to the peoples who, despite everything, continue to struggle for human freedom and dignity, without discrimination based on race, sect, geographical affiliation or based on gender or skin colour.

Don’t you think your assessment of the situation is too harsh?

I will remind you of an event we experienced a decade ago.

Do you remember Shalit? In 2006, Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier with French citizenship, was arrested by an armed faction of the Hamas Movement at an Israeli army guard post near the Gaza Strip. In exchange for the release of this corporal in the Israeli army, the Palestinians requested the release of women and minors detained in Israeli prisons. Western media was mobilised and parliaments met in special sessions, considering the situation to be a matter of diplomatic emergency and, in every place, Hamas was ordered to release the soldier. While Hamas’s demands fell on deaf ears, the Israeli army launched an attack on the Gaza Strip and arrested more than 60 members of the Hamas Movement, including MPs, ministers, and senior administrative officials, and killed more than 1,000 civilians. This time, since the matter concerns the Palestinians, the media, parliaments and heads of Western countries have remained silent, even though the matter concerned ministers, MPs and hundreds of deaths.

READ: Silencing the journalists

But, this time, they’re saying that Hamas was the one that started the aggression?

You want to talk about aggression? Since 1948, Palestinians have been suffering from all forms of violence. It is almost a miracle now to see people declaring themselves as Palestinians. Everything was done to erase the Palestinian people from this land. Since the establishment of the so-called “Jewish Homeland” in the land of Palestine, the real owners of this land have been suffering from attacks, violence, land confiscation and forced displacement.

When I hear about Israel’s right to defend itself, I get the feeling that some Western leaders are insulting our intelligence and think we have lost our memory. How dare Biden, Macron, Olaf Scholz, Ursula von der Leyen and Rishi Sunak talk about the right to self-defence on lands illegally occupied by Israel and at the expense of massacres and bloodshed of the Palestinian people? The hypocrisy and contempt of these Western leaders, who were complicit in the massacre that turned the Gaza Strip into a huge cemetery for children, women and the elderly, will remain ingrained in the memory of humanity.

How dare they talk about self-defence for a State that violates all rules and international law, that has violated dozens of UN resolutions, committed crimes live on television that have been documented and explained, pushed thousands of Palestinians into exile, demolished homes and emptied entire villages of their residents and replaced them with settlements, all of which was done before the eyes of the international community.

However, the State of Israel is a unique case, as it is a State that owes its establishment to the UN and, at the same time, refuses to adhere to UN resolutions. The question that arises is: How can a State that was established in the name of the principle that every nation has the right to a State reject the right of the Palestinian people to establish their State?

In 2004, the International Court of Justice condemned Israel’s construction of the separation wall and called for its dismantling. A State that allows itself to ignore hundreds of Security Council and UN resolutions and rejects the opinion of the International Court of Justice becomes an obstacle to a just and lasting peaceful solution to this conflict.

However, if we were to reverse the course of the problem, we could say that it is the responsibility of international bodies today to answer the question of how to put an end to this denial and injustice? Their refusal to give a clear answer regarding the specific dates for establishing a sovereign Palestinian State on land with precisely defined borders which are based on an inalienable right, which is the right of the Palestinians to resist by all means, including armed resistance, in order to seize their right to self-determination.

There were negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis in the past, so how do you explain the continuation of violence?

Israel continues to implement its original plan to kill the Palestinian people. At every stage of this plan, with complicity of the West, they arranged pretexts to impose its orders.

In the wake of the Oslo Accords, which were held under American auspices and in a context of the PA’s complete weakness, after seizing major concessions from Yasser Arafat – may God rest his soul – Israel ramped up its confiscation of Palestinian lands and the construction of settlements. Therefore, the Palestinian negotiators found themselves betrayed by Israel, ignored by the Americans and they lost their credibility before public opinion. The Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, exploited the PA’s political weakness, in collusion with some Arab leaders, to corrupt and bribe some Palestinian officials, and to provoke disputes between the Fatah and Hamas Movements.

The betrayal of which the PA was a victim has established the belief within a large part of the public opinion that the option of negotiation and talks is a waste of time. This situation did not come about by chance; it is a well thought out approach. By playing on the rivalries between Fatah and Hamas, the Israeli intelligence services discredited any Palestinian political representation and created the “motive” for exclusion and preserving this current and deadly reality. Taking advantage of this situation, as it always does, the Israeli right wing imposes a fait accompli of tension and conflict.

As for the leader of the PLO, a few years later, he found himself besieged in his residence in Ramallah, completely humiliated, accused of collusion with terrorism and, after his Arab brothers, especially Egypt and Jordan, abandoned him, Yasser Arafat died in deplorable circumstances that are still a mystery to this day.

This situation helped Hamas’s rise in power and earned it the appreciation and respect of not only the Palestinian public opinion, but also Arab public opinion. It is almost a paradoxal relationship, as political deadlocks often lead to the emergence of movements calling for the adoption of armed struggle as a means of liberation from colonialism and abuse.

But conflict takes unexpected turns? 

The operation carried out by the Al-Qassam Brigades against Israeli military targets inside settlements located around the Gaza Strip was considered a military insult to Israel. The psychological impact of the Hamas attack is so great, that Netanyahu finds himself facing one of the most difficult tests in his political and professional career.

READ: Forever war? Israel risks a long, bloody insurgency in Gaza

But, at the same time, Israeli extremists, with unconditional support from the American administration and Western countries, are trying to make the Hamas attack the motive for firing up the deadly machine of ethnic cleansing, in the hope of creating terror that will lead to the forced displacement of the residents of Gaza, proving their power and control once and for all. It also hopes to continue the annexation process, i.e., the confiscation of the Palestinian Territories. This is not only a crime against humanity, but also a programmed execution of Palestine, its people and its State.

Do you really think the stakes are that high?

The mobilisation of massive Israeli military means and the deployment of American military forces in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East signals a new geopolitical and military era in the region.

Sending a large naval force, which includes its largest aircraft carrier, a high-altitude missile defence system, surface-to-air missile batteries and batteries designed to intercept long-range missiles, as well as putting US Special Forces on pre-deployment readiness, is so disproportionate, that a Hamas attack alone cannot explain this level of mobilisation.

The Americans’ message is to maintain Israeli military superiority and occupy the field to limit the influence of regional powers such as Iran and Turkiye.

The calming of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, their joining of the BRICS group and the strategic partnerships that Iran and Turkiye have established with China, which has become the main trading partner for this region, are all factors that may change the economic and political facts in the region.

What position does the Palestinian issue have in all these geopolitical issues and stakes?

For the Palestinians, this issue is fundamental and vital. Indeed, it is part of their being. A memory, an entire history and a dream of freedom cannot be erased, no matter how much deception and violence it has been subjected to. What Westerners and Israelis have always failed to understand is that, from generation to generation of Palestinians, the dream has remained the same and has not changed: liberating Palestine from Occupation. The traumas and violence they suffered increased their sense of belonging to Palestine and, therefore, the duty to work for its liberation. The religiously veiled Israeli lies, and the wrong reading of history will not change anything of the established fact that Palestine is Palestinian land.

At the same time, today, Palestine stands at the crossroads of all geopolitical stakes in the region, extending from the Eastern Mediterranean to the entire Middle East. For Russia, far from any sympathy with the Palestinians, it finds a special interest in this tension. This conflict requires an additional war effort for the Americans, who find themselves involved in two war fronts: Ukraine and Palestine.

For China, which is accustomed to a neutral stance towards the Israeli Occupation of Palestine, the escalation of violence in this region will cost the Americans and their allies a heavy financial price and reduces their focus on East Asia, which is the subject of an economic and security bet. China remains an important trading partner for the countries of the region, and its preference for Iran and Turkiye regarding cooperation in the field of energy, technology and armaments actively involves it in the geopolitical issues of the region.

Palestine finds itself today, against its will, at the centre of geopolitical stakes, which involve a mixture of culture, religion, trade and politics. Clash of civilisations, religious wars in the shadow of an arms race, and the current war against Gaza has not only revealed this reality, but also permanently deepened the cultural, political and religious gap between the Islamic world and the West. The wound is so deep that engaging in a real peace process under these circumstances is a miracle.

The human cost of this war is excessive: thousands of martyrs and wounded, trauma and destruction. What, in your opinion, justifies Israel’s reaction?

Bombing civilians in schools, hospitals and places where women and children gather, is more than just a war crime; it is a crime against humanity. An army that commits such crimes and finds a way to justify them is an army in need of glory; it is an army without honour.

All the human remains scattered on the streets and on the walls of Gaza, the torn bodies of children and women without protection, the homeless without shelter, must be counted, recorded and documented, so that they remain a testament to the heinous crimes that will be added to the records of the criminal history of all Heads of State complicit in this war.

To have as a friend and political ally such as the criminal, Benjamin Netanyahu, is not only a betrayal of the values of freedom, justice and equality, it is a disgrace, shame and humiliation. Therefore, it remains for public opinion, alone, to work to save the small remaining shred of humanity’s honour, and that is by demanding the immediate cessation of this war and for all those involved to be prosecuted. Otherwise, all of humanity will head toward difficult conflicts and divisions.

What is your assessment of the reaction of countries, on the one hand, and on the other hand the reaction of public opinion, so far?

The cruelty, brutality and destruction caused by the Israeli army’s bombing of the civilian population in Gaza cannot leave anyone indifferent. The catastrophic scene of the raids on entire neighbourhoods, the torn human bodies, the screams of the wounded under the rubble, the dead numbering in the thousands, the children, women and the elderly under bombing, would leave anyone emotional, except for those with hardened hearts.

All over the world, despite Israeli propaganda, millions of citizens defied the bans, investigations, intimidation and contempt and demonstrated their support for the Palestinian people.

In Istanbul, Paris and London, in Yemen, Lebanon and Tunisia, in Jakarta and Islamabad, in Ramallah and Newark, in Rome and Amman, in Cape Town in South Africa and in other cities of the world, the mobilisation to stop the bombing of the civilian population is exceptional and rare.

As for the countries, unfortunately, as usual, the logic of interests takes precedence over the issue of values and law. The term “interests” includes more than just business and partnerships, but also includes military agreements, political support and strategic cooperation.

READ: The question is no longer ‘Are Western forces participating in fighting the Palestinians?’ but ‘What is the size and type of their operations?’

 In addition to the magnitude of interests between States, there is also the problem of the overlap between the logic of the State and the logic of authority. Countries governed by weak political systems and suffering from a problem of legitimacy find themselves, especially in times of major crises, voiceless and unheard.

Even on the Palestinian issue?

Especially in this regard. Since this issue is related to international law, responsibility falls on the international community, of course, to enforce its rules, decisions and laws. The right of the Palestinian people to have their own State is more than a right; it is a debt owed by the international community.

The Arab regimes use the Palestinian issue as a political and electoral pawn, and do not provide any added value to this issue. The Arab regimes are a mixture of followers, imposters, hypocrites and clowns.

Are you optimistic after all this tragedy?

The Palestinian issue is a moral issue for humanity. It is not a conflict, but rather an issue of Occupation. It is about ending racism, apartheid and fascism, which target the Palestinians. The international community must come out of its slumber and have the courage to speak the truth and not remain silent in the face of this injustice. The position of Bolivia – which severed its diplomatic relationship with Israel due to the crimes of the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip – is bold and a demonstration of political and diplomatic courage. This country has presented the best example of what the international community should be, regarding values, principles and law.

The path of peoples to impose their values is still long but, as the late Mouloud Mammeri said, “Continue your fight at the height of the fight, because when everything seems lost you must not give up.”

In terms of national issues, what do you think about the recent visit of the UN Special Rapporteur to Algeria?

He saw with his own eyes all the restrictions imposed on the exercise of freedom of assembly and the establishment of associations and, in his press conference, Mr Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, recommended to the Algerian government to ease the strict restrictions imposed on gatherings and associations, so that laws and practices are consistent with the Constitution and international law. He also touched on the popular movement and its aspirations for change, explaining that the movement showed a wonderful and amazing civil spirit and gave the best example to the world in organising peaceful protests. He also pointed out that the criminal charges brought under overly restrictive laws, including the anti-terrorism law, conflict with Algeria’s international obligations in the field of human rights and are directed against individuals, associations, unions and parties and create a climate of fear.

Even though the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations are not binding, highlighted are three points that are important to us:

– Strict restrictions imposed on demonstrations.

– Overly restrictive laws, including the Anti-Terrorism Law (Article 87 of the Criminal Code), which conflict with Algeria’s international obligations.

– The movement is a movement of democratic aspirations that demonstrated a wonderful civil spirit.

Of course, the authorities will not be happy with these observations, as they have opposed for years the arrival of the Special Rapporteur and have repeatedly declared that there are no prisoners of conscience in prisons.

Some people link the refusal to accept Algeria into the BRICS group with its internal situation of political instability. What do you think?

Personally, I would have been surprised if Algeria had been accepted into the BRICS group. The authorities counted on joining the BRICS for political reasons. In fact, all that matters to the authority is to give an appearance of the presence of a “new Algeria” in terms of major global economic issues and it joining this group would have given it an aura or even legitimacy that it lacks internally, to a large and chronic extent. The Head of State promised that the year 2022 would be the year of economic recovery, the issuance of the investment law and the restoration of macroeconomic and trade balance balances. After taking advantage of the cash flows from the rising fuel prices, the President of the Republic thought he had found a solution to the social crisis, so he established an unemployment grant and decided to slightly increase wages. His calculations are to ensure social peace, on the one hand, and on the other hand to achieve a good chance of joining BRICS that will give him popular confidence.

He refuses to hear anything, despite the reservations expressed by veteran experts in the economic and geopolitical fields. The Head of State tried to make the request to join the BRICS a ploy for political evasion.

Naively, some citizens believed that this accession would put an end to the problems the country is suffering from, but there is no way for a naive, superficial analysis, economic improvisation, political lies, manipulation of numbers and tampering with legislation act as qualifications for a request like this. Strong economies depend mainly on foresight, wealth creation, control of technology, political stability and many other conditions to have a position among the world’s major players.

To ensure true economic inclusion and integration in today’s world, it is absolutely necessary to put an end to empty slogans and respect the standards required in the modern management of economics and politics, curb internal weaknesses and give priority to intelligence.

READ: The humanitarian paradigm and the normalisation of forced transfer

In a country where the barracks are better equipped than universities, where the governor is more important than the professor, the imam is more important than the researcher, the dancer is more valuable than the writer, the informant is better than the freedom fighter and where lies are constructed as political discourse, and malicious propaganda has been elevated to the level of media policy, bankruptcy is inevitable.

On the day following the expansion of the BRICS group to include the other six countries (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina and the UAE), the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs announced that the conditions for joining this group are: weight, prestige and position of the nominated country on the international stage. He also explained that the countries that were accepted into the BRICS group share a similar vision, very clearly advocating a multipolar world, promoting more democratic and equal international relations, and emphasising the growing role of the South in global governance mechanisms.

Why, in your opinion, is Algeria still unable to break out of the bottleneck?

The country is sick with its rulers. The Algerian State resembles a mountain range with multiple peaks. Yes, there is a crisis of confidence, a crisis of legitimacy and a crisis of representation, call it whatever you want, but our dear Algeria lacks a project. It is hostage to an authority whose only concern is its survival and continuation.

The main share of the official discourse and activity is subject to political calculations, manoeuvring and the struggle for power. The hopes and concerns of the Algerians are placed on the shelf and on the margins. Interest groups and power factions are waging battles for internal positioning. Since 2019, four general directors have overseen Sonatrach, seven general directors have run the Algerian Television Corporation, five general directors have been in charge of the General Directorate of Taxes and three general directors have been in charge of the Algerian Airways Company. These are just a few examples.

Algeria has become like a chessboard, playing between those who want to seize it and those who have seized it. Seizing it is the goal of both, the corrupt and the corrupted, the briber and the bribed, bound by a contract – the contract of corruption and bribery.

As for the alternative, the country can only be saved by returning to true universal suffrage, which would be the culmination of the exercise of public freedoms, within the framework of a comprehensive political process, for all the active forces in the country, which come together around a democratic contract. Otherwise, decline will lead to collapse.

So, based on your opinion, the solution is closely linked to the issue of freedoms, and you yourself have been a victim of arbitrary deprivation of freedom. How do you evaluate the situation in Algeria since 2020?

Public freedoms have become non-existent since the violent outbreak of the movement’s marches. The authorities decided to thwart any attempt to achieve democratic change. Laws restricting freedoms were issued, justice was placed under guardianship and the political police returned to their previous methods of infiltration, surveillance and intimidation to spread fear in society.

Political parties were prevented from practicing their activities, associations were dissolved, journalists were imprisoned, students were punished because of their participation in the movement, university professors were dragged to the courts and police stations, and ordinary citizens found themselves in prison because of posts on social media. Repression reached unbearable levels, including travel bans, confiscation of passports, and punitive measures against expatriates, measures that revealed that the authority’s nature remained unchanged, despite the promises, whitewashing and false allegations.

The harsh sentences issued against Qadi Ihsan, Ibrahim Lalami and other detainees testify not only to the nature of the authority, but also to its pathological stubbornness in maintaining its existence in an atmosphere of fear and prevention.

What was your experience like, as well as the judicial harassment to which you were exposed?

I am being prosecuted in four cases on unconvincing charges, related to violating national unity, incitement to gather, actions that harm state security and undermining the reputation and morale of the army, etc. In addition to these unjust and baseless charges, I have been placed under judicial supervision for the third time in a row, with a ban on participating in political activities and press conferences, and must appear every Monday to sign in at an Internal Security barracks in Daly Ibrahim. Despite all these restrictions imposed on me, I remain firmly steadfast, and I continue to struggle for my beliefs, inspired by the famous quote by the late writer Mouloud Mammeri, “Do not give up, even if everything seems to go slowly, because a breath can bring success. Success is only the reverse of failure, and you can never know how far away the goal is. So, continue your fight at the height of the fight, because when everything seems lost you must not give up.”

A final word…

Ultimately, after more than a month of brutal bombing of the civilian population in Gaza, the world, especially the West, has revealed, in broad daylight, its violence, racism and hypocrisy.

As for the Arab rulers, who have always used the Palestinian issue in all their political propaganda, they have shown that they are complicit with the Zionist Occupier and that they are without honour.

As for public opinion, which was mobilised to denounce the horrific crimes committed against the civilian population in Gaza, they found themselves powerless in the face of the killing machine of these hateful and revenge-hungry neo-Nazi Zionists.

Without an immediate end to this unprecedented brutality, the world will plunge into complete chaos and completely lose confidence in its laws and institutions.

I would like to quote three beautiful sayings by the dissident from the Soviet regime during the 1970s, the late great writer, Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

The first quote applies to what is happening in Palestine he wrote, “Ironically, the more I sink into this brutal, cruel world, the more I listen to the few who, even in such a world, appeal to one’s conscience.”

The second quote that applies to what is happening here, is “I don’t have the strength, as a small individual, to confront the evidence of massive totalitarian lies, but I can at least ensure that I won’t be the communicator of the lies.”

He also said, “Our freedom is built on what others do not know about our lives.”

READ: ‘Do you condemn Hamas?’

This article appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 16 November, 2023