NEWS

‘Israel is using banned weapons against us’

You have led an exciting life; for 35 years you have been the recognized leader of the Palestinian movement. You forgot to mention that since 1948 I have been fighting with all the Palestinian people to defend our land. Looking back over your life, what do you think has been your greatest achievement and what was the thing you most regret? Look, no mortal is perfect. It is human nature to err. Even the prophets made some mistakes. I have made my own, as you have yours. But there is one mistake I think I have never made – to separate myself from the trials and tribulations of my people, who have suffered so much for so long, as no other people on earth have done. I remember what the South African foreign minister said when he visited me during my isolation in Ramallah: «What I have seen here,» he said, «is something we never suffered under apartheid in South Africa.» So if I believe that I am leaving behind an achievement, as you said, it is that I did not make that mistake, that I have been and will be with my people, resisting the occupation. It is an occupation which not only kills fighters and civilians, destroys homes and infrastructure, but – just as important – desecrates the holy sites of Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land. What are you referring to? Take, for example, the wall of shame around Jerusalem, with which they have closed off the Christians’ road from the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. As you are aware, this used to take about half an hour by car. Now it takes three hours, if you are lucky enough to get through the checkpoints. In order to build another part of the wall in Aboud [near Ramallah], about 14 months ago they destroyed the Church of St Barbara, an ancient church, older than the Holy Sepulcher. Also in Bethlehem, they desecrated the statue of the Virgin with 13 bullets. Do you remember the international outcry, which was justified, when the Taleban destroyed those statues? Why didn’t anyone protest here? I would like to draw attention to another, very important aspect of what we have suffered. A year ago, the Americans went to Baghdad to find weapons of mass destruction. They are still looking and still haven’t found any. So we tell them to come here to see the real weapons of mass destruction that Israel is using against us. I am talking about chemical gases, depleted uranium weapons and other banned weapons. This is a serious accusation, but have any specific incidents been recorded or confirmed by independent, international observers? Many incidents. They are doing it systematically. Today, as we speak, they are using chemical gases in Beit Jala, Nablus and Gaza. Here in front of me, I have a report from an American source, by a non-governmental organization in New York, which accused Israel of using dum-dum bullets, chemical gases and depleted uranium gas against us since 2000. Do you know that the incidence of cancer in Palestine has increased enormously? That sterility among the younger generation is as much as 20 percent? In the past, we were famous for our fertility! During the siege of Beirut, I said half-jokingly that Palestinian families need 12 children – two to ensure the perpetuation of the family and 10 to free Palestine. Since you mentioned Iraq, may I ask you what you felt when you saw the photographs of the torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison? I felt what everyone else felt. I also made the comparison with what we suffer, and worse, at the hands of the Israelis. But some of us manage to stand up and fight.