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 Dec 24 2009 

Forum Palestina; fighting for a cause


This December 21, 2009 picture shows a truck carrying humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, in Damascus.

A representative of Italy's Forum Palestina—a body of associations and committees dedicated to the Palestinian cause— draws parallels between the plight of the occupied territories and Italy's world War II-era occupation.

The following is the transcript of his interview with Press TV's Face to Face program:

-My name is Marco Benevento and I'm one of the representatives for Forum Palestina. Our organization gathers several associations and committees in one single entity. It was born in 2001 and our very first act was the planning of a demonstration on March 19. This event gathered about 150,000 people.
Since its foundation, Forum Palestina acted in support of the Palestinian cause, and the reasons are the same historically recognized for Italy's fight against German occupation during World War II. We do believe that Palestinian citizens are facing a similar situation, and that's why we think that they have all the rights to defend themselves against Israeli's illegal occupation.

-We can say that the anti-Zionist battle has now become a fight for freedom, in defense of vital democratic spaces. In these days we have a deputy from PDL, Fiamma Nirenstein - a woman with Jewish roots, but also a right wing cultural background - who is trying to obtain official recognition for the link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. In this country there has always been someone trying to hardly impose this equation throughout the last decades. Some students from the University of Florence were accused for this reason, but also many authors and intellectuals have been suffering from isolation due to their blaming of Israeli's aggressive policy. Their positions often led to public accusations of anti-Semitism. We strongly reject any equivalence between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and to make this clear, we should specify what we mean when we talk about anti-Zionism. At the beginning Zionism was very far from being a religious movement; it was rather opposed by rabbis on the religious side, and also accused, on the laic side, for being racist and partial by the Jewish unions of that time. That's why we believe that what they're trying to establish today is a real mess and, frankly, also unacceptable by any sane person.

-My family was hit during World War II by fascism, being heavily touched by those terrible events. But my personal experience is something relatively insignificant if compared to the wide empathy shared by the majority of Italian citizens toward Palestinians, and this is happening because the situation in the middle-east area is a huge injustice, something that, despite the work of some press and opinion-makers, is impossible to hide to the public. And this phenomenon is precisely what urges people like me on working, not only in favour of the Palestinian people, but also for the right to existence and independence of other people, as the Lebanese and the Iraqis in the middle-east. And I also think that our troops should not be in Afghanistan, but, unfortunately, these positions do not agree with the policies that move the economy in a country like Italy.

-The Italian anti-Zionism movement is divided into different areas. There is a strong catholic front working alone, outside the interests of our organization, which is anyway worthy of our respect, since they are involved in very big projects. One of these is the Colomba operation, whose participants provide daily assistance to Palestinian children going to school under the menace of rocks thrown by Israeli settlers. And this movement is not officially recognized by the Church, in my opinion because they are afraid of a serious conflict with the powerful Israeli lobbies. Then, we have an area which is very close to unions and right-wing parties. They believe that Israel and Palestine have an equal right to exist, but our position is different since we think that the existence itself of an Israeli state denies the creation of a legitimate Palestinian state. Our side of the Italian anti-Zionism movement differs because, as I said, it is a network of associations based all over the Italian territory.

-We have been dreaming for years the idea of a conference on Zionism, and this dream was partly held by our hesitations, partly by our difficulties, and partly by our limits, since there is a bad habit in Italy, which consists in acting without documenting enough on a particular issue. Our organization, which is made up of political activists, decided to face this issue throughout a symposium whose guest were professors, intellectuals, journalists, Palestinian politicians, and even Israeli politicians. Among them, we invited Jeff Halper who is a well-known right-wing Zionist. I don't know exactly if this definition might be considered acceptable but, in any case, he works in Israel to help rebuild those houses destroyed by the Israeli army.

-Our conference revolved around ten open questions, so that anyone could take part in the discussion and reach his or her own conclusions. And these are the conclusions that will guide the development of a future political strategy, but for us, the most important achievement of our event has been the realisation of the first conference in Italy on “What is Zionism?”. And, also according to the conclusions of our conference, we believe that the meaning of Zionism is well represented in this map. This is the fulfillment of the original Zionist project. You can see how it was at the beginning, where green space represents Palestine and white space represents Israel after the separation in '47-'48. And then, piece by piece, Israel eats all the green space of Palestine, without leaving any kind of corridor. A state like Israel, with these features - and I also mean political features - stitched in the core of the middle-east area, with considerable resources in terms of oil, communication areas, the control over the Persian Gulf, the promiximity to Syria, Iran and Egypt… We can see these elements, all together, as a clear and accomplished colonial project.

-We believe it was a success. The hall was very crowded, we made over 200 registrations in a period of two weeks, and there were always at least 250-300 persons attending conference sessions. The quality level of the debate was excellent, and our conclusion, as politicians, is that metaphorically we gave a first kick on the ball. The ball has been played by experts with a greater theoretical knowledge, and then returned to us for a better understanding of the Zionist phenomenon. We think that in universities and also in policy, unlike past years, we can now talk about anti-Zionism without fearing an accusation of anti-Semitism.

-I think current operations being held in Gaza started around March-April 2002. That was the beginning of the so- called “Desert Shield” operation which led to the occupation of the six major Palestine cities. Their main facilities were destroyed and Palestinian leader Arafat was forced to remain inside his Muquata. This situation of practical imprisonment lasted three years until his assassination. From that moment on, Palestinian citizens have constantly been under siege, divided, not only in terms of population, but also from a political point of view. Many leaders were arrested, as it happened to Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Sa'adat, others have been murdered, as it happened to Rantisi and Sheikh Yassin, and the list would be too long since, until now, a huge number of persons have been assassinated by Israeli forces. These events led to the actual situation in which there are two different Palestinian authorities, two Bantustans. One is Gaza, that enjoys much more independence, but still remains an open prison, and the other one is represented by a certain number of individual pieces of territory, with weaker power, a strong relation with western interests, and always less autonomy. I want to point out that, in both cases, we are talking about two prisons where Palestinians have absolutely no human rights.

-The bombing of Gaza in 2008 caused around 1400 deaths, destroyed thousands of homes, and made things even more critical for the citizens of Gaza, already suffering from a severe embargo. We have seen terrible images coming from those territories, with elderly people and all the weakest parts of the population being heavily traumatized by the bombings. This philosophy is constantly enforced by the state of Israel. They have a specific proceeding, called Dahlia, which consists in hitting the opponent as hard as possible, annihilating it, terrorizing it… And that's the only reason that can explain the use of certain weapons and techniques, such as the embargo, by Israeli authorities. Their aim is to shock in depth, to mortify the enemy until he becomes totally powerless. In a situation like this, the resistance - and I mean also minimum resistance, such as staying and not leaving - is an example of great courage by Palestinian citizens. Indiscriminately: soldiers, children, women… It's just something that touches our hearts, making us feel a deep respect towards these people.

-Someone would like us to believe it, but unfortunately numbers give us a different picture of the situation. And when I say “someone” I mean opinion-makers, some of the biggest operators in the field of politics and information. Just think about the number of dead people. Around 6500 Palestinian citizens have been killed since year 2000, 11000 persons have been imprisoned, and among them 40% of Palestinian politicians. These are the facts. Do we want to talk about the issue of access to drinkable water? I think that the amount of water accessible to every single Palestinian is no more than a fifth of what is granted to any Israeli citizen. I really don't think these two situations can be compared in any way. It seems natural that, when there's an occupation, there is also a legitimate right to resistance. And resistance can also turn into war, in fact, today there is a real war going on. And, as we all know, every war brings death among civilians. Honestly, I think that Palestinians would prefer living in peace, rather than fighting for their survival. There's no doubt about this.

-It's very hard for me to give you an answer on this issue, also because I don't like to play with hypothesis. But I want to share with you a story I've been told by a Palestinian citizen I met two years ago in a Syrian camp. I asked him: “According to you, is it possible to have two distinct states and populations, or a two-nation state with Israelis and Palestinians living together is the only available solution?” He told me: “I like a lot the second hypothesis, but let me tell you something… Algerians waited almost a century before reaching their independence, and many other nations did the same… That's why I trust in our victory.” So I went back home remembering his words, and most of all thinking to his extraordinary confidence in the future.

-I think that, with actual Israeli representatives, there's no real chance for reaching an agreement. And that's because I see them as the personification of a great moral and political objection, with no perspective at all. I think that the policies of Netanyahu and Lieberman, who is actually Israeli's foreign secretary, confirm my point of view. Approving the foundation of new colonies is something that gives us an idea of what I'm talking about, and also a clear message from Israel, that they're not interested in stopping the conflict. Also Obama's words seem to support the policy led by Israeli governments, and European countries are behaving in the same way, because there are huge economic interests at stake. If we talk about the economic exchange between Italy and Israel, we can see that it reaches a level of 70% in terms of high technology. When economic interests are so deep and evident, what could any Italian General say? And what about the president of an Italian weapon industry? Who do you think he would prefer to deal with? And we can say the same for the president of an oil company. That's why I think that real answers will only be coming from the resistance of the Palestinian people.

-There is a funny analogy between what usually happens in Italian and Israeli schools. In Italian schools there is always big talk about “memory days”, focused entirely on Jewish culture. And I have no problem with this, since I've always been against fascism, and I also think that holocaust is something that needs to be condemned for its atrocities, with no exceptions at all. But focusing only on this side is one of the ways to let Israeli's policy be accepted unilaterally, without considering the crimes they have committed until now, and the pain they have caused. The very same pain they had experienced in the past. For this reason I think that Italian society, in the sense of media operators, prefers to remove the problem of Palestinian rights, in the very same way that Israelis remove the issue from their school books. And the strange fact is that, not only they avoid talking about the history of Palestinian people, but they are doing the same with the history of Jewish people. In Israeli schools they don't teach, for instance, the history of Ethiopian Jews, or the history of the Jews living in Iran, or the history of mizharins who were the Jews living in the middle-east. They only talk about the history of Ashkenazi Jews, the ones living in Europe. And that's another crazy thing about this almost-absurd country.

-I want to answer your question with another question: “Have you ever heard about a country, a people, whose call for rights has received a concrete intervention by the United Nations?” I can tell you, there is not one in history. UNO is an anti-democratic organism. There are only a few nations that constitute the Security Council, and the rest of the world, which is also the majority, has no power at all. The nations outside the Security Council are meaningless from a political point of view. Most of the wealth of the world is concentrated in very few nations and, inside them, it is owned a by an even smaller group of people. If a country like the U.S. can invests in armaments a sum of money 50 times bigger than what is spent by the rest of the world all together, what can we possibly ask UNO? Real answers can only be the ones coming from those people who are patiently working to break, piece by piece, the giant chessboard represented by UNO.

-Solutions are coming from the development of the situation. I also think that the size of this economic crisis is calling into question global balances, and that's why I see greater opportunities for movements and nations, to find their path to independence and a growth of weight inside the international community. For instance, what recently happened in Lebanon, where the state had to acknowledge the right to have defensive tools to the resistance movement, is one of the signs that things could be moving in the right direction.

-The Italian anti-Zionism movement is also a solidarity movement with the Palestinian people. We boycott Israel's economy throughout disinvestments and sanctions and, to keep our effectiveness, we absolutely need to remain independent. We must plan our interventions in a way that will allow us to escape the logic of big events, to enter a new phase of capillary presence in public opinion. That's the challenge for organizations. We must have the ability to arouse great attention, but also to be methodical, reaching a much wider influence in the society, outside our usual contacts.

-We know that occupant armies usually commit crimes. Sack, rape… And I can tell you that this news doesn't particularly surprise me, because it's the result of the way our societies are now conceived where everything must be included within a profit policy. That's why even a corpse, if dissected, can be considered as goods. A thing like this is horrible if we only think about it, but we're talking about people who believe they have the right to drive a bulldozer over the body of Rachel Corrie, for instance… She was an American activist who strongly opposed to the demolition of Palestinian homes. So, in this kind of society where everything is allowed, there's no big surprise if we find real monsters.

-We are currently preparing our delegation that will fly to Gaza on November 27 and 28, in occasion of the anniversary of bombings, to take part into the Gaza Freedom March. We will go there with 150 of our people, and it will be our second presence at the event. The first time we brought our contributions for a hospital in Gaza, throughout this booklet. As you can see they are made of very simple materials, designed by some of our members. And also this time, thanks to the booklets, dinners and fund raising in work places, we are going to donate 20,000 Euro. We are not a big association, but this is our first commitment towards Gaza citizens. It will be a huge event, with 350 people coming from France, other people coming from United Kingdom, the U.S…. And then, next year we will have about 4 or 5 events held every month in different Italian cities.

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