Co-President of the Catalan Association of Jews and Palestinians Together

“Israel is acting with total cruelty and impunity”

Cohen attributes the escalation of the current conflict in the Middle East to the constant violation of Palestinians’ rights by the Israeli authorities

“Gaza has become an open-air prison where more than one and a half million people live” “THIS CONFLICT REQUIRES INTERVENTION ON AN INTERNATIONAL SCALE”
Do you think that we have a clear enough view of what is happening in Israel and Palestine?
It may seem like there’s a lot of confusion, but in reality things are very clear. If there is confusion, it’s because there’s no good assessment of the real situation: we are talking about a 70-year-old military occupation of a territory. There’s been continuous colonisation by Israel and a situation of apartheid against the Palestinians who live in Israeli territory and who make up 20% of the population. Practically every day, armed settlers, with the help of the state, are driving Palestinians from their lands. It is really ethnic cleansing that has been going on for seven decades. And all of this obviously causes a reaction from the Palestinian resistance groups with actions like the attack carried out by Hamas. It must also be remembered that Gaza is under an illegal blockade simply because it has a government that the West doesn’t like. Gaza has become an open-air prison where more than one and a half million people live, in an area similar in size to that of Barcelona’s metropolitan area.
Given Israel’s military superiority, what was the point of the Hamas attack?
They want to mobilise public opinion against what’s happening, especially in the Arab world, and given the recent efforts to reach an agreement to normalise relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. It was a desperate attempt to show that Palestine will not surrender and will continue to call for the return of its land and freedoms. The attack was also to show that Hamas has grown in strength. It was not improvised or spontaneous, it required a lot of preparation and coordination to get past an intelligence service as strong as Israel’s. Now we’re witnessing the terrible reprisals from that. Completely isolating Gaza means the people, above all the civilian population, could starve, while we can be almost certain that a land invasion will follow.
How does Hamas attacking civilians and help the Palestinian cause?
The bottom line is that the Israeli authorities kill civilians just about every day, but we don’t find out about it. There’s a very clear bias in the Western media and Israel is portraying itself as a victim now more than ever. Before the Hamas attack, this year some 200 Palestinians had already been killed by Israeli attacks, 40 of which were children. And that is apart from such inhumane measures as not allowing cancer patients in Gaza to receive treatment in Israeli hospitals, for example. News about the suffering of the Palestinian population does not get coverage. Hamas took hostages to try to prevent retaliation and to negotiate a prisoner exchange, which is another serious issue. There are about 5,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons. Of these, some 1,500 are imprisoned without any formal accusation of wrongdoing.
Could the Hamas attack spur Islamophobia in Europe?
There’s an underlying Islamophobia in Europe that Israel knows how to use. Israel argues that it’s protecting the West from Islamic fundamentalism. Hamas is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the same organisation that governs Turkey. But Turkey is a member of NATO and was on the verge of joining the European Union. Since Turkey is an ally of the West, no one says anything about who governs it. Islamism is used as a weapon to accuse certain people of being extremist, and it’s magnified by the Western media. There’s a lot of misinformation.
How can we help from Catalonia?
At first the EU wanted to cut aid to Palestine in retaliation for the Hamas attack, but Josep Borrell [the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy] backed down. The Coalició Prou Complicitat amb Israel [a coalition of pro-Palestinian groups in Catalonia] demands that the EU – including the Spanish government, obviously – stop giving unconditional support to Israel. People should lobby against the impunity with which Israel acts without any criticism from Western democracies. It’s also necessary to call on the Catalan government to suspend the cooperation agreements it has with Israel as long as the human and political rights of the Palestinian population are not respected. Israel must pay a political price for its actions. The problem is that the West is unconditionally on the side of the state of Israel.
Is Israeli society divided on the Palestinian issue?
As the Catalan Association of Jews and Palestinians, we know that, unfortunately, there is an internal division between the religious component that represents the settlers and Israel’s current government and the secular part of society, which is against the Netanyahu government’s wish to limit the powers of the Supreme Court, which is the guarantor of Israeli democracy. The problem is that Israel is only a democracy for Jewish citizens, the rest are not included. Within the borders of Israel live the original people of Palestine, who make up 20% of the population. A democracy in which 20% of the population is not represented and does not have the same rights is not a real democracy. This was made very clear in a fundamental law of 2018 in which the right to self-determination is recognised exclusively for the Jewish population. The reality is ignored, which is that there’s a Palestinian population of eight million people that will not just cease to exist.
What is life like for the Palestinians who live within Israel?
To begin with, there are differences between the status of people who live in Jerusalem and those who live in the rest of the country. In Israel, for example, let’s imagine there’s a family that needs to extend their house because they have more children. Although this is a society in which the family is the basis of everything, if they ask for permission to carry out the work from the relevant local authority they will be refused, simply because they are Arabs. If they then go ahead and extend the house anyway, without permission, and they are found out, the house will be knocked down. It’s as brutal as that. If you’re Palestinian you can’t live in certain neighbourhoods either. It’s not written anywhere in law, but an Arab couple would not be allowed to go and live in a Jewish neighbourhood. The population is not allowed to mix. It’s the same with public functions, such as military service.
In what sense?
Until 2018, the Druze – who are a minority with Muslim roots in Israel – did compulsory military service [Israeli Arabs have never done it]. But a law pushed through by the Netanyahu government that year tightened the apartheid conditions and they were banned from doing military service. Now only Jewish people have all their rights recognised and guaranteed. The rest of the population are treated as second-class citizens. They can vote but are not represented; Israel is not a real democracy. Apartheid also applies to the occupied territories.
How is it possible that a conflict that gets so much attention is so far from being resolved?
This conflict requires the intervention of an outside power, on an international scale. The balance of power at the moment means that for the United States and NATO, Israel is their main ally in the region. This is the root of the problem. We’ve already seen that the much discussed two-state solution cannot be a solution at all if we take into account that there are already 750,000 settlers living in the occupied Palestinian territories. As long as there are no international powers to defend the rights of the Palestinian population, it is very difficult to bring the conflict to an end, because no one will stand up to Israel. The situation is that Israel has been gradually eroding the rights and absorbing the territory of the Palestinians. This makes the immediate future very bleak, especially for the Palestinian population, who will no doubt continue to suffer very harsh reprisals on behalf of the Israeli authorities. Global geopolitics would have to be completely rebalanced for there to be any real hope of a fair and just solution.

interview international

Sign in. Sign in if you are already a verified reader. I want to become verified reader. To leave comments on the website you must be a verified reader.
Note: To leave comments on the website you must be a verified reader and accept the conditions of use.