Interview with Khaled Barakat and Charlotte Kates

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! interviewed Khaled Barakat, international secretary of the Campaign to Free Ahmad Sa’adat, and Charlotte Kates, co-ordinator of the Samidoun Palestinian prisoners’ solidarity network, during a mini speaking tour organised with the RCG in April.

FRFI: Britain was centrally involved in the imprisonment of Ahmed Sa’adat and has been historically supportive of Zionist colonisation of Palestine. How do you see the ongoing relationship between Israel and British imperialism?

KB: The level of oppression that Palestinians faced under British colonisation weakened the Palestinian economy and its natural growth and development. The British state is directly responsible, from the Balfour declaration on, for the presence of the Zionist movement and colonialism in Palestine. Palestinians are still suffering from the legacy of British colonisation. When British direct colonisation or the ‘Mandate’ ended in 1948, Britain continued to support Israel and historical records show the central role of the British state in building the settler colonial system through providing military, economic and technological assistance to the Israeli state. Britain continues to cover up Israeli crimes in the international arena, including in the United Nations and other international institutions. Of course, all of this cannot be separated from British imperialism’s agenda in the region at large.

FRFI: Are we witnessing a new intifada in Gaza? What are the obstacles to developing the movement? 

KB: The cycle of Palestinian revolts and uprisings is a natural outcome of oppression and siege. What is happening in Gaza today is a natural response to the continuing siege and aggression against our people in Gaza, who faced three full-scale wars and military attacks in the last 10 years while under siege the entire time. What Israel wants to impose in Gaza is a logic of imprisonment of approximately two million people while depriving Palestinians of practicing their basic rights, including their freedom of movement. The popular intifada in Gaza is a collective Palestinian response led by Palestinian youth and resistance forces along with civil society institutions, where all segments of Palestinian society are participating and have a role to play. The role of women in this movement – the Return Marches – is particularly prominent in the Strip. We must remember that the Palestinian resistance in Gaza has a very long history and that Gaza has been the spark of Palestinian revolutionary movements and intifadas throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s. What is vital for this uprising to grow, succeed and achieve its goals is for it to become comprehensive, with the participation of all Palestinians, Arabs and international solidarity movements to provide the basis for victory. This is a popular initiative that provides an alternative to the status quo and all covert and overt schemes to liquidate the Palestinian cause peddled by imperialist, Zionist and reactionary forces.

FRFI: How do you assess the influence or role or the PFLP on the ground? Where does the fight for socialism come in?

KB: The PFLP’s role on the ground is a growing one. Over 50 comrades have been hit by live fire in the recent return marches and the movement in Gaza and hundreds are imprisoned by the Israeli occupation. The PFLP reaches all segments of Palestinian society, including organising students, youth, women and workers, as well as playing a role in the military resistance. The Front has had a central role throughout the last year in building the popular movement against the siege on Gaza, and the comrades of the Front have organised demonstrations that have brought thousands to the streets. In the West Bank, comrades face a very difficult situation due to the constant attacks and mass imprisonment of leaders. Israeli intelligence agencies are engaged in a violent campaign against the youth of the Front, as we have seen in Dheisheh refugee camp, in which dozens of cadres of the Front have been shot in the legs in order to create permanent disabilities. Leaders are constantly targeted, as we see in the case of Khalida Jarrar. In Jerusalem, the Israeli occupation has shut down many popular institutions, including media outlets, youth centres and public activities and events under the pretext of ‘security threats’.

The Front outside of Palestine continues to organise in Palestinian refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon as well as in the diaspora. Today, the Front’s focus is on consolidating all efforts to confront the project of liquidation under the so-called ‘Deal of the Century’, the imperialist-Zionist attempt to end the Palestinian cause and erase Palestinian national rights and identity. The Popular Front strives to push for a vision of a liberated Palestine as well as organising for social justice today on a local level in municipalities and villages. That vision is of a liberated Palestine that is a socialist, democratic society on all of the land of historic Palestine. It is of course difficult to build an alternate economic system under occupation, but the main issue is achieving that liberated Palestine. 

FRFI: Britain had just joined US and French imperialism in bombing Damascus yet the in Britain opposition has been limited, and Labour MPs have joined in the pro-war chorus. In our view building a new anti-war movement must happen on an anti-imperialist basis and break with the pro-Labour politics that sold out the protests against the war on Iraq. Corbyn’s leadership sees Russia as the problem and responds to antisemitism smears by rushing for an alliance with Zionists. What role do you see for Palestine in European or US movements against imperialist intervention in the Middle East?

KB: We think that the vast majority of people are genuinely opposed to the drive toward imperialist war. This was also the case when Tony Blair boosted the war on Iraq, and Theresa May is on the same path today, disregarding a wide variety of British voices, even liberal voices as well as those on the left. It also, as in the war on Iraq, shows clear disregard for international law. British participation in the aggression on the people of Syria is also part of the colonial, imperialist nature of the state. Notice that this is not the only aggression or participation of Britain in attacks against the Arab people. For example, British military support of the Saudi regime continues the war and catastrophe being imposed on the people of Yemen. It is also a key factor in imposing regimes, such as that in Bahrain, on Arab peoples along with other Gulf reactionary states. There is military aggression, economic and military interventions, not to mention the daily security coordination that targets movements and peoples. The role of Palestine in the movements against imperialism in Europe and the US must be central. Palestine and the Palestinian people are on the front lines confronting imperialism on a daily basis. Palestinian communities in Europe and the US also have an integral role to play in these movements. We know that Palestinians will have a greater role once they are able to regain control of their national institutions that are being confiscated by monopolistic forces, and that Palestinian progressive forces in particular will have a greater role not only in forwarding the struggle for Palestinian rights and liberation but also participating in various arenas of struggle locally, in their respective cities in Europe and North America, continentally and globally. This is especially true as the number of Palestinians and the size of our communities is growing.

FRFI: The PFLP has announced it will not participate in the Palestinian National Council. Why has the Front taken this position? And what role do Palestinians and their supporters in Europe have in this matter?

KB: This position has been held since mid-2015, when the Palestinian Authority [PA] president Mahmoud Abbas and his political party attempted to convene the PNC on an exclusionary basis, under occupation, without the participation of the Palestinian people or key movements. At that time, the Front declared its position, and [PA leader Mahmoud] Abbas retreated. Today, they are pushing harder for the same false PNC on the same basis. The Front has seen that the role of the Palestine Liberation Organisation has been diminished over the past 25 years and replaced by the PA. Of course, new forces have emerged and they have the right to participate in the formation and political decision of our Palestinian national institutions. The exclusionary, monopolistic policies of Abbas are not merely undemocratic, but also a transparent attempt to legitimise his role through the confiscation of central Palestinian national institutions from the Palestinian people. It is as if a sector of the capitalist class and the security forces have seized control of the Palestinian institutions in order to dominate them.

The convening of the PNC under occupation will not allow for a true free discussion and dialogue, not to mention that it is impossible to convene a representative PNC with the participation of the resistance forces under these conditions due to the full military control of Israel over the West Bank. Israel would be the entity giving permission for the PNC to convene and approving or disapproving entry permits for PNC members. This provides an Israeli veto on the PNC. You can imagine that a PNC without the participation of the Front, Hamas and Islamic Jihad is illegitimate and useless for the Palestinian people and their cause. It is the PNC of the Palestinian big capitalists, or what we call the ‘class of Oslo’, in reference to the disastrous Oslo accords that created the PA. The PFLP offers a vision of convening the PNC in Beirut with the participation of all forces and the participation of Palestinian communities in electing their representatives on a democratic and inclusive basis, that emphasises the role of youth and revitalises the role of the Palestinian shatat (exile population). This, of course, must include the participation of Palestinian resistance movements. The Front's position has been welcomed by all forces in Palestine except Fateh. 

Palestinians in Europe have a right to participation and representation in the PNC. Many Palestinians in Europe have expressed their political views and outlook in the demonstrations and popular events that have taken place across the continent in support of national unity based on upholding Palestinian rights, most centrally the right of Palestinian refugees to return as the most central issue for Palestinians overall, and especially in exile and shatat. They have issued statements like the one we have seen from the Union of Palestinian Communities and Institutions in Europe against the convening of such an unrepresentative, exclusive PNC without the consent of the Palestinian people. In many ways, they express their rejection to the monopoly of the PA through art projects and cultural resistance, including in demonstrations in Athens, Berlin, Brussels, Gothenburg and elsewhere. The mood at these events and the slogans that you hear in the streets at these events come in total rejection of this monopolistic politics and in support of real democracy and national unity. Palestinians in Europe do not see the PA as an institution that represents them in any way. 

FRFI: Prisoners have been central to campaigning over recent years. What is the role of Samidoun? Do you see the potential for prisoners to form part of a new leadership to challenge Abbas and the PA?

CK: Palestinian political prisoners are at the heart of the Palestinian cause; often in the most dire and isolated of circumstances, they have launched hunger strikes, boycotts and campaigns from behind prison walls. Therefore, it is only natural that they should be central to campaigning for Palestine - from the hunger strikes, to the imprisonment of leaders like Ahmad Sa’adat to the targeting of youth like Ahed Tamimi, Palestinian political prisoners are in many ways the true leaders of the Palestinian liberation movement. They present an example of struggle, sacrifice and commitment not only to their own freedom but to the freedom of Palestine and its people. One of the goals of the Israeli occupation is to isolate these prisoners by keeping them behind bars, confiscating them from the Palestinian movement as well as from the international movements for justice and liberation of which they are an integral part. By building solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners and campaigning around their freedom, we work to break that isolation and hinder the attempts of the Israeli occupation to silence the Palestinian people’s imprisoned, revolutionary leadership. Supporting Palestinian prisoners is also critical to supporting Palestinian resistance; affirming that all Palestinian prisoners must be freed now is also standing with the Palestinian resistance against all attempts, in Palestine or in imperialist countries, to criminalise such resistance to occupation, colonialism and apartheid. 

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network aims to build greater solidarity and ties between supporters of Palestinian prisoners around the world. We also aim to strengthen the links between global movements confronting imperialism, racism, oppression, colonialism and capitalism and serve as a bridge between the Palestinian prisoners’ movement and the movements of political prisoners around the world – including the Black liberation movement, the Puerto Rican liberation movement, the Irish anti-colonial liberation struggle, the Indigenous movements confronting settler colonialism in the US, Canada, Australia and elsewhere, the Filipino revolutionary movement, the Turkish and Kurdish popular movements, and many others. We aim to bring the voices of the Palestinian prisoners to the world and build effective campaigns for their liberation and for the Palestinian cause overall.

Samidoun chapters and affiliates can develop their work in various ways; organisers in Palestine and Lebanon work in cultural resistance campaigns supporting the prisoners as well as direct outreach to targeted youth, while organisers in Athens work primarily to organise Palestinian refugees for popular action. In New York, organisers protest on a near-weekly basis for Palestinian prisoners and organise boycott campaigns, much as we see in Manchester and London. The same is true of other Samidoun groups in places such as Brussels, Toulouse and Berlin. Most of all, we want to bring together and expand our collective movement to most effectively confront imperialism, Zionism and oppression in all forms and to work for the liberation of all Palestinian prisoners and all of Palestine, from the river to the sea.