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“We don’t live in a normal country”

Jerusalem24 – Diana Buttu, lawyer, political analyst, activist, and former spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization, joined us on Wake Up Palestine to help break down the current turmoil experienced by Palestinians and Israelis – from the suspension of security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, to the lack of elections for the Palestinian presidency, to the weekly protests against Netanyahu’s administration.

Underpinning Buttu’s observations, is the urgency of educating and preparing Palestine’s younger generations for the realities of their situation, so that they may finally be able to shape those realities – and their future – according to their own will.

Below are some highlights of our discussion with Diana Buttu.

Palestine as a “secondary issue” for Israel

In the run-up to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to the region, former Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat commented it was imperative “to portray the Palestinian issue as secondary” during his visit.

This is broadly reflective of Israeli thinking when it comes to Palestinians, affirms Buttu – both on the government’s and on the public’s part.

“Netanyahu’s always talked about it. He talked about it in the 90s, about how it’s so important to turn this issue into a secondary issue rather than a primary one,” says Buttu. “And that’s why you’ll see that when he was Prime Minister a while ago, that his attention was always focused on Iran. That’s why they started on the path of doing these false agreements with other Arab states. In order to try and deflect, in order to try to push attention away.”

“This government has in its sights two things. One is to save Netanyahu from prosecution. And two is to continue to go after Palestinians as much as possible.”

And the weekly protests held across Israel since Netanyahu’s return to power show that the wider Israeli society’s level of preoccupation with Palestinians mirrors that of their government.

“These are not protests in support of Palestinian rights. These are not protests where we’re even mentioned. It’s that they’re concerned that the changes that are being proposed in the Israeli legal system will somehow affect them. And I’ll be clear: these changes that they’re proposing in the Israeli legal system will never affect them. Because that’s what it means to live in a Jewish supremacist society, those who are privileged will never be affected.”

The excuse that it is “not the time or place” to bring up the occupation is one that has been used by the left wing in Israel for 75 years, Buttu adds. “We’ve seen now generations that have been waiting for their time and place to come. And the so-called Israeli left doesn’t care for it. In fact it’s the opposite. The so-called Israeli left is part of the problem – if not an essential part of the problem, because in their minds, rights only come up when it’s convenient for them.”

“Oftentimes one of the things I worry about is our voices are not allowed to speak. Instead, somebody speaks on our behalf.”

Nevertheless, despite Israel’s continued bid to portray the Palestinian issue as secondary, Palestinians find themselves firmly in the crosshairs of this current administration.

“This government has in its sights two things,” Buttu affirms. “One is to save Netanyahu from prosecution. And two is to continue to go after Palestinians as much as possible. And they’ve made it clear, that’s what their political platforms are. They have no other political platform, period.”

So what is the appropriate response from Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who, like Buttu, live in Israel and “have been warning about the rise in fascism for years”?

“Continue to do what they’re doing,” she says. “Which is, we are continuing to raise our voices, we are continuing to protest in our way. We are not joining the Israeli protests because the Israeli protests don’t care about us. We are continuing to protest.”

“Oftentimes one of the things I worry about is our voices are not allowed to speak. Instead, somebody speaks on our behalf rather than us speaking for ourselves. And I think it’s very important for us to continue to highlight exactly what it is that Israel’s doing.”

On “fake peace education”

Back in the 1990s when the PA was first established, there became “an obsession” with people-to-people initiatives bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. These initiatives were “wonderful for international applause”, Buttu says, but deeply problematic in their very concept.

“The problem is, at the end of these initiatives, one child or one person is going back to occupation, going back to living in a refugee camp, going back to living under a lack of freedom. And the other is going back to live in a place that they’re free, they’re the occupier, they can do whatever they want – and potentially also be a soldier.”

“We can’t pretend we live in a normal country.”

This obsession morphed into a preoccupation with the Palestinian curriculum and textbooks.

“Embedded in all of those textbooks and all those sorts of things is that they wanted us to be able to accept Israel as an occupier,” says Buttu, “accept Israel’s presence, accept everything that Israel is doing, and to switch away from us teaching our own children about what it’s going to be like when you turn a certain age and the Israeli army comes and takes you and arrests you. Or what you should be doing when the army is coming and trying to demolish your home. Or how it is that we should protect one another when we’re at demonstrations.”

“All of that education fell by the wayside in exchange for education about these people-to-people initiatives.”

Buttu insists Palestinian children must be taught their own history and their own narrative, in addition to preparing them to the reality in which they live.

“We can’t pretend we live in a normal country. We don’t live in a normal country. And instead we really must educate both about history but also about what is coming, when it comes to the actions of the army, when it comes to the actions of the Israeli government and so on. And teach them not to be afraid.”

What does “better leadership” look like for Palestinians?

Palestinians have been “mired” in Abu Mazen’s [Mahmoud Abbas] leadership since 2005, says Buttu, with no one born after 1987 having ever voted in a Presidential election.

“You’re really talking about an entire generation that hasn’t had the ability to choose its own not only leadership, but its own destiny,” she says. “What do we want our struggle to look like? What is it we are striving for?”

“I really do think that we have to start taking control of our national liberation movement, and taking control of our national government.”

“That’s a terrifying thought, that all of the work that has been put into bringing us this far is just going to peter out because we haven’t had elections.”

Buttu points out that two-thirds of the total Palestinian population live outside the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, who are excluded by default from any representation. “We have millions of Palestinians […] who have never been able to express their life in terms of what it is they want the future to look like.”

Abbas’ form of government, modeled after the post-Oslo thinking of the 1990s, is woefully inadequate in dealing with the circumstances 30 years later, according to Buttu.

“This model is just going to continue to peter itself out, and it’s not at all reflective of the will or the demographics of us the people,” she says. “All of these things, all of these decision-making bodies, if we don’t take control of them now, they’re just going to die as the people die.”

“And that’s a terrifying thought, that all of the work that has been put into bringing us this far is just going to peter out because we haven’t had elections or because we haven’t had a change in vision, a change in leadership.”

Listen to the full interview on Wake Up Palestine.

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