I remember a time when I was speaking on CNN and they asked me about United States policy regarding Israel. This was perhaps three and a half years ago and I said, “Look at Nelson Mandela! He is the most respected politician in the world. Every American president wants to have a photo opportunity with him.” Yet when I was speaking he was still on the American Congress’ list of terrorists. And after that—I don’t know why but maybe that interview helped—the name was removed. But it took a recommendation from Condoleezza Rice.
The fact that the Congress is holding a very strange policy of being totally supportive of Israel regardless of the fact that Israel is violating international law is simply a reflection of the weakness of the American political system. But it should not stop us from struggling for our rights because one day even the American Congress will recognize that it was wrong.
I tell you frankly: The Israelis themselves will not be free as long as we are not free. As much as we are oppressed by this apartheid occupation system, they are also hostage to it. When we struggle for our rights as Palestinians we practically struggle for their freedom as well.
Slate: Can you say more about how you’re struggling for Israeli freedom?
Barghouthi: You see, they are oppressing us, but they are hostages to the same oppressive system. Look at how fearful they are on issues of security. Why? Because they know they are doing wrong. They know they are motivating and precipitating hatred because of their acts. When they continue to occupy us, they create a strong demographic problem for themselves. It is a totally contradictory policy: From one side they are taking away our land, making us angrier, and depriving us of very basic rights—but at the same time, by grasping our land and stealing it they’re creating a demographic problem, because we are not leaving! We are staying here. And gradually we are coming to equal them in numbers. By destroying the two-state solution they will create only one alternative, a one-state solution, which they don’t want.
So if we force them to free us—if we can manage to force them to accept a two-state solution—I hope that then they will be free themselves. I mean, they won’t notice but that’s what will happen. They will liberate themselves from the conflict. If they don’t do so, eventually we will have to liberate them in another way, which is having democratic rights in one state.
I think history is full of examples that enslaving others does not make you free. Although it might sound a bit strange, I say and I feel in my heart that we are struggling for the future of the children of both Palestinians and Israelis. Because an oppressive system creates only anger and cannot last. Violence creates only violence. There’s only one alternative to that and it’s the alternative we are proposing.
Slate: How does the Palestinian push for statehood fit into the Arab Spring?
Barghouthi: The Arab Spring is great because it is finally bringing democracy to the Arab World. The Arabs have been starving for democracy, starving from corruption and oppressive systems, and they’ve been deprived of the right of strong solidarity with Palestinians because of despotic regimes. The more freedom there is in the Arab World, the more solidarity there will be with Palestinians.
And there is another important factor, which is that the success of democracy in the Arab world will contribute to the success of democracy in Palestine. For me, this is one of the biggest issues because we don’t just want a state—we want a good state, a democratic one with equal rights, women’s rights, and social justice.
Finally, the Arab Spring has been very helpful for us because it presented parties like Hamas with the power of nonviolence, which we have been advocating. I remember meeting the leaders of these movements after the success of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. They said, “You see, your theory is working.” Of course, it’s not my personal theory; but the fact that we were advocating nonviolence definitely left an impact on them. When they saw the revolutions succeeding in Tunisia and Egypt in this peaceful way, they realized what they now understand, which is the power of the people and the power of nonviolence.
Slate: Did you carry anything over into politics from your experience as a doctor?
Barghouthi: Absolutely. If you are a good doctor you have to be a good human being. And understanding the human perspective is always an advantage in my political life. I think having that aspect is very, very helpful. Because you know politics can drive you to wrong decisions and wrong feelings, sometimes. It’s a tough thing. I think my background helps me remember that the human aspect is more important.
At the same time it provides, also, a certain perspective in terms of diagnosing the problems and trying to find solutions.
Slate: It helps you discriminate between causes and symptoms?
Barghouthi: In a way, if you don’t overdo it, of course. Sometimes situations are coexistent.