On Palestine and India: An interview with Samia Al-Botmeh

May 16, 2014

Political solidarity to end colonialism and not charity aid is what the Palestinians want from Indians

An interview by Syed Mohammad Raghib and Abhay Kumar

Samia Al-Botmeh is a Palestinian, who teaches economics at Birzeit University near Ramallah, Palestine. She is the author of numerous articles on gender, labour economics and political economy of development. She has recently been in India, addressing a number of gatherings about the conditions of Palestinians under Israeli colonialism. In an interview with Syed Mohammad Raghib and Abhay Kumar in New Delhi, she talks about a wide range of issues including the sufferings and exploitation of Palestinians, the brutalities of Israeli colonialism and India’s pro-Israeli foreign policies. The excerpts are as follows.

What is the condition of Palestinians there?

Everybody suffers from poverty as the economy of Palestine is under colonial condition. Like the British colonialism in India, Israeli colonialism is also a reality. Israel is not only exploiting Palestinians but it is also trying to get rid of our existence. Israeli colonialism, what European colonialism did in North and South Africa, is driving out the indigenous populations to capture lands and resources. Everything is used to serve Israeli interests. We, Palestinians, are deprived of our right to shape our own destiny. Choice and liberty are denied to us.

You have argued that Palestinian economy was earlier dependent but it has now been destroyed? Could you kindly tell us more about this?

It has been from dependence to destruction. Israeli occupation subdues us. It is doing ethnic cleansing. Neoliberalism has further intensified income disparity and inequality. In other words, colonialism coupled with neoliberalism has stifled our life. We are suffering from both economic and political subjugation.

You have studied the condition of women in Palestine. Do they suffer most under the Israel occupation? What kind of discriminations are they facing in their own society?

We are, at social and political level, a patriarchal society. Women do suffer tremendously as a result of the combined effects of colonialism and patriarchy. Women carry a double burden as they perform their household role at home and carry out production outside. Women take more responsibility than men but they have less access to markets. Israeli occupation has an adverse effect on their lives since Israel places strict movement restrictions. This seriously affects women’s capacity to conduct their lives normally. Productive sectors–manufacturing, agriculture and service–are eroded, which used to offer works to women. Despite the fact that the women of Palestine are better educated (95 per cent literacy below the age of 60) than the women of many countries in Arab regions, including much patriarchal Saudi Arabia, they have lower level of participation at workplaces. That Palestinian women are participating less in the labour market is the result of factors related more with colonialism than values and social customs.

You have written an article ‘The Political Economy of Food Aid to Palestine’. Could you tell us more about relation among aids, poverty of Palestine and the roles of major powers?

The political question of colonialism has been reduced to humanitarian intervention. We, Palestinians, just receive aid but no one is dealing with the big elephant in the room. The root cause of our predicament which is colonialism is not addressed.

India has come in for sharp criticism for its pro-American and Israeli foreign policy since the 1990s. As a Palestinian, how do you view the shift in India’s foreign policy?

The shift in India foreign policy is justified by the ruling classes in the name of national interests. Israel is seen as technologically advanced county in warfare and India, therefore, is desperate to get benefit from it. As a result, India is reluctant to express its solidarity with Palestinian struggle. Despite India’s strategic relation with Israel, Palestinians back home do differentiate between the position of the government and that of people. We have no doubt that Indians are with us and we hope that they will further pressurise their government to stand with justice to fulfill the rights of the Palestinians rather than build their power through alignment with colonialism.

There is a view that India would lose if it does not have a strategic relation with Israel. In support of this argument, the examples of some Muslim countries are given, which have forged their ties with Israel.

Let me make it clear that the liberation of Palestinians is not just a Muslim issue. We expect Muslims to support us as much as the rest of humanity. Muslims share religion with the majority of the Palestinians (a proportion of the Palestinians are Christians) but we seek support in the name of humanity. For example, I am not a Buddhist but that does not stop me from supporting Tibet.

As a Palestinian, what is your message to Indians?

We seek solidarity from India. Indians should pressurise their government to completely boycott Israel. They should strongly tell their government that deepening strategic ties with Israel and aid for Palestinians can’t go together. There is no justification for India allaying with colonial Israel. India cannot do what the USA has done by always backing up Israel. The double standards of providing Palestinians with powder milk for gaining sympathy and maintaining strategic alliance with Israel simultaneously must be discarded. Say no to Israeli goods, computer chips, weapons, companies, academic institutions, cultural institutions. . We appeal to all of you to apply pressure on Israel as has happened in South Africa to end colonialism.

Before we close this discussion let us ask you about the solution of Palestinian question. According to you, what is the best solution?

I support one state solution, where all inhabitants live according to rule of law and there is no discrimination. The state should be democratic and it should treat all its citizens equally.

[Syed Mohammad Raghib and Abhay Kumar are pursuing PhD at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.]