Weeks after his convoy mission to Gaza was completed, British MP George Galloway was in the U.S. rallying support for his future endeavor of a U.S. backed convoy to Gaza. Prior to giving a speech in Falls Church, Virginia, Mr. Galloway sat down with Managing Editor Najib Aminy to discuss the Middle East conflict.
Mr. Galloway is a well-known supporter of the Palestinian effort and has spent over 30 years fighting for this cause. Galloway founded the RESPECT party among British Parliament and currently represents Bethnal Green and Bow. Aside from his political work and activism, Galloway is hosts both a television and radio show and has authored a number of books and articles pertaining to this conflict.
PRESS: Could you explain you trip to Gaza?
Mr. Galloway: We were watching the bombardment in horror—the 22 day and night bombardment of Gaza by Israel. We were marching and demonstrating and we realized marching and demonstrating were important but not sufficient. The idea came to me that we should organize quickly a column of British vehicles, flags, laden with such aid we collect in a very short time and that should set off for Gaza.
We deliberately chose to go the long way so as to give the Egyptian government plenty of time to consider how they were going to handle this convoy. Given that the Rafah crossing point into Gaza is controlled by them, usually closed by them. We had to build up enough public relations, steam, enough politician momentum that the Egyptian government would want to absorb this movement rather than repel it.
And that worked. We set off for the 14th of February with 110 British vehicles, more than 300 British volunteers, 24 ambulances, a fire engine, trucks full of wheelchairs, blankets, tents, medicines, biscuit’s, cooking oil. 23 days, 9th of March, birthday of the prophet, we arrived in Gaza to a tumultuous welcome. Tens of thousands of people greeted the convoy. We gave the vehicles and their contents to the elected government of Palestine, which was my duty as an elected politician.
What did you see in Gaza?
The devastation is very considerable. It’s as bad as you have seen in the news and probably worse. It’s like an earthquake has hit the territory, but unlike a normal earthquake, when all the governments of the world airlift emergency aid, reconstruction, and experts, and rescue dogs and everything else. In Gaza, of course the opposite. The earthquake was a manmade one and the doors were locked before it started and still are now.
Not a brick of reconstruction has reoccurred and not a drop of assistance has been received from the governments of the western world and precious little from the governments of the East.
I am now trying to generate support for a U.S. aid convoy to Gaza. Not of course driving to Gaza across the Oceans, but raising the money, going to Egypt, renting the trucks, buying the material and going through the gates.
How did you end up getting involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Just by chance actually, I was at the age of 21, alone in the Labor Party office in my town of Dundee, an all-white town, never met an Arab, never met a Muslim. To the door of our office came someone from the Palestinian Student Society in the local university. I almost didn’t open the door because I had no authority to deal with anyone’s issues. I was actually, in these old fashion days, turning a stencil machine, means by which we duplicated leaflets in those days. I did answer it and he asked if he could come in and talk to the leaders of the party about Palestine. I told him there are no leaders here but you can tell me and I will tell them.
And after two hours I was a signed up member of the Palestinian resistance. It was a mesmerizing two hours and it changed the course of my life. Within two years of that, I was living in Beirut with President Arafat feeding me boiled eggs at breakfast time from his hands, I lived with the Palestinian revolutionary in Beirut, and from then on it was personal, not just political, and this drew me in to a wider involvement in the Arab world and henceforth in the broader Muslim world.
What was said in that two-hour meeting?
Well, the scale of the crime that had been committed against the Palestinian people, but I had no idea of the scale of the crime, historic nature, the epic dimensions of it, the scale of the suffering the lives of the refugee camps. The enormity of a country being wiped off the map, and its people scattered. It’s a very epic story.
What is the root of this conflict and when would you date it back to?
Well, the root is a big lie, one of the biggest lies in history, which was that Palestine was a land without people and that therefore it could be given away to a people without land. Although, as it happens, they did have a land, it was a land on which they had been ruthlessly and horrifically victimized. Some of them were survivors of the intent to genocidally destroy the Jewish people as a whole under European fascism.
But most of them came from Europe and North America, and in the generations since the formation of the state in 1948, most Israeli settlers came from Brooklyn and you can tell from their voices they already had a country of their own, houses of their own.
This lie that Palestine was a land without people is a remarkably tenacious lie. There was never anything called Palestine, there was never anybody called Palestinian, [they were] somehow figments of their imagination. This is a racist lie, it actually says these people are just Arabs and the Arab lands are big and wide and they can settle in any of them. This idea presupposes that the Palestinian people were some kind of Bedouin camel-riding, tent-dwelling people.
Of course anyone who knows Jerusalem, jaffah, Haifa, or elsewhere, that Palestinian people were settled and already highly developed and highly cultured people. So this is the essence of the conflict. The Zionist movement was promised by the British in 1917, the land, which belonged neither to the British or the Zionists but to the Palestinians, and nobody was insulted what the implications of this would be and everything that has flowed has flowed from that British decision.
So you would date it back to 1917?
Indeed, the Balfour declaration, which happened in the building I work in and I pass the room in which that declaration was made. It is the original sin from which everyone else and everything else is brought.
What are your thoughts as to Israel’s military actions this past December-January?
Well, everything that happens is a result of all that has happened before. If we take the most recent, of course it is important to know that these kinds of things have been going on for 60 years—the Palestinian tragedy didn’t begin on the 27th of December.
The Palestinians had a general election for a president and parliament. It was the only free and fair election ever held in the Arab world, no less than Jimmy Carter described it as flawless, and the Palestinians chose Hamas.
Now I am not myself a supporter of Hamas, never was, but I am a supporter of Democracy, and the Palestinian choice has to be respected. Instead, what happened was the entire occupied territory was besieged, sanctions were placed, Israel was allowed to steal taxation, money belonging to the Palestinian people, loans and grants that were in the pipeline from other countries were frozen, and a noose was tightened around the neck of the Palestinian people all to punish them in the way they voted.
Towards Christmas time past, the Israelis decided the cease-fire which had lasted six months would not be renewed and they began targeted killing of the leading Palestinian militants and trying to kill the elected representatives, more than 50 of whom I may say are currently in Israeli prisons, no other country in the world where fifty members of its parliament in the prisons, including the speaker of the parliament.
And so it was clear and is clear, now that the dust has settled, that the Israeli government set out on a deliberate policy to try for an electoral purpose, I believe, to get themselves re-elected to generate a political and military crisis and then to use overwhelming force.
Well they used the overwhelming force. They killed, maimed, orphaned thousands of people, made 61,000 families homeless, and they still didn’t get re-elected. The Israeli public decided, we’ve seen how ruthless and efficient killers you are but actually we prefer people even more ruthless and efficient at killing than you are. So move over please, and we’ll take Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Lieberman.
Is this a conflict of land, religion or both?
It has nothing to do with religious difference. Jews lived perfectly, happily and amicably in Palestine before Zionism attempted to take over the country. Jews lived in Muslim lands for centuries. In fact after the retreat of the Islamic civilization in Andalusia the Jews left Spain and Portugal with the Muslims to live under their protection rather than take their risk with European Christian rule restored.
It has nothing to do with religion. The majority of Palestinians are Muslims, substantial minority are Christians and [they] historically have lived perfectly happily with Jews in the old city Jerusalem in particular.
It’s about land, about European settlers, coming to someone else’s country, taking their country and driving them out. It’s really not rocket science.
What do you to say to pro-Israeli supporters who argue that the land is theirs because of their ancestors?
Well they didn’t say that in the beginning. It’s important to know. First of all the Zionistic leaders to whom Balfour promised the land, to a man, were atheistic Jews, so any claims now later to the Old Testament being a kind of state agents charter are surely fatuous. Second, they were ready to accept other lands as their state of Israel. They looked at Seasahls, an area of Uganda, Patagonia in South America.
They were ready to make their state of Israel in any piece of land they could get their hands on.
And third, if it is their ancestors’ land that has to be questionable, on the principle a Chinese man can become a Jew. That would not make it is his ancestors land, fallashas from Ethiopia already are in Palestine. [It] clearly isn’t their ancestors’ land, but if amongst the Zionist settlers whose ancestors 2,000 years before had that land. Well, what kind of recipe would that be in the world? If everyone had the right to go back to where their ancestors were 2,000 years ago and take the land from the people who had lived there in the interim and kick them out as refugees, you just have to state to realize how absurd a proposition it is.
What do you think of the U.S. role in Israel?
The United States has recently changed government, and now has, instead of an imbecile, a professor in charge. And we must hope all that education and all those brains haven’t gone to waste. Because if the U.S. does not change it’s policies towards this subject there would be no point in closing Guantanamo bay, they’ll have to re-open it again. In fact they would have to open 100 Guantanamo Bays.
Because it’s the double standard and the injustice is being suffered not just by Palestinians—there are others in the Muslim world. Palestine is the heart of the matter, it’s that driving so many Muslims in the world crazy that some of them want to hurt us in retaliation for that injustice and those double standards.
The British and American govenrment by their own self definiton are Israel’s greatest friends, I am really not sure why that should be, but that is what they say, and so if they are Israel’s greatest friends, armorers, and financers, diplomatic backers, than they must tell their good friends that their time is very short for some kind of negotiated settlement to this issue. It’s moments to midnight, and they are not doing Israel or any of it’s people any favor by pretending otherwise.
What can be done to ease Israeli-unrest and stop the rocket attacks?
Well nothing. The Palestinian people have every right to struggle, to try and recover their land, these rockets are pitiful, ineffectual, largely harmless, expression of despair. Just like when a young man blows himself up in an act of self-immolation, which takes other people with him, these are not militarily effective methods of fighting. They just happen to be all that the desperate Palestinian thinks he has with which to fight.
So if we want to stop the resistance, we have to stop the occupation. We have to end the occupation and allow the Palestinians to build their own states and allow the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.
It’s really not rocket science—no justice, no peace. You can’t have peace without justice, and the Palestinians have no justice, so there is no peace.
What do you say to critics who argue that your message only makes pro-Palestinian supporters angrier?
Trust me, nobody needs me to get angrier. All that Muslims need to make them angry is the ability to watch the news on TV. IF they watch the news on TV, trust me, they are angry. They don’t need me to make them angry.
What do you say to people who claim your activism only adds fuel to the fire?
I don’t accept it at all. That would be, it would have the whiff of racism because it would imply that the Muslim people need someone like me to come all the way from Britain to make them angry about something they wouldn’t otherwise be angry about.
They are always looking for a cleric to ban, an organization to suspend, for someone to deny a visa to. All that the young Muslims need is the TV. Need their eyes to read on the Internet what is happening. In not just Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, threats against Iran.
When you say Muslims, do you mean pro-Palestinian, could you elaborate on that?
The Muslim world, 1.8 billion strong, apart from a few collaborators, kings and presidents, every Muslim supports the Palestinian cause. That makes more than 1.7799 billion people. That’s a lot of people.
It’s among that population that the British and the Americans have a real problem of security as we discovered on 9/11, on 7/7. In the pool or swamp of hatred there are some people whose hatred has mutated into violent intent. This is why I am arguing if Britain and America have governments who represent their own people rather than someone else, and don’t have their own self-interests at heart, they would solve this problem as one means of draining that pool, draining that swamp of hatred.
Of course there are many people in the world who are not Muslims who care about Palestine, but not that many. I know, because for 34 years I have been trying to interest them.
What do you think of the media coverage on this conflict?
Well I was surprised to hear you say earlier that you can have some media that is biased in one way and some media biased in the other.
I am not aware in our country of any media that is biased towards the Palestinians. On the contrary, the bias is viciously hostile, and in fact it’s bad enough the Palestinians are suffering this, but insult is added to injury that they who are the victims of terrorism are being called the terrorists.
And the people who are in fact the terrorists. The Zionist idea and it’s practitioners are called the victims of terrorism. It’s really quite an Orwellian inversion of the truth.
Most non-Muslim people in the western world have no idea of the story you and I are talking about. In a recent poll, with the Zugby organization, a clear majority of Americans thought the Palestinians were occupying Israeli lines rather than the other way around and that shows how far we have got to go.
One of the reasons for that especially in the US is that no American politician would speak to you in the way I am speaking you now. Because if they did, their political career would be ended because the pro-Israel lobby is so ferocious and the counter-veiling force so non-existent that no American politician that didn’t have a suicide wish would speak to you in this way.
That means the American public never actually hears anything other than the Israeli point of view and that is what I am here for. As someone who has nothing to fear from these people to try and help in a small way and restore some balance.
When do you expect there to be peace in this region of the world?
I am not expecting peace anytime soon because the price is justice and Israelis are not prepared to pay that price as evident by their election of Netanyahu and Lieberman, this was an actual declaration of war this election.
They [the Israelis] rejected those who committed the mass murder in Gaza and chose bigger killers instead. That’s not the action of an electorate that wants to pay the price of peace. So I am not expecting peace anytime soon, maybe not in my lifetime though I hope in yours.
There are only two ways for peace. Either we can have a Palestinian state in the west bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as it’s capital linked by underpass or flyover and thus made contiguous with an Arab border with no Zionist settlements, with no Zionist incursions over the sea, air or the land with international guarantees with the right of the Palestinian refugees driven from their homes in 1948 to return to their homes and their lands.
But I have got a better idea. We should have one state of Israel Palestine from the river to the sea in which every Jew, Christian and Muslim lives as an equal citizen before the law, with one woman, one man, one vote. That is the kind of normal, democratic, and secular state that emerged from apartheid in South Africa. I’d like to hear the argument against that being the state that emerges from apartheid Israel.
What are your thoughts about President Obama?
It’s too early to say, hasn’t been in more than 80 days or so. He has inherited an economic catastrophe like has never been seen by any incoming president since FDR. So it’s too early to say. He has said and done some good things and has said and done some bad things.
Appointment of George Mitchell as the negotiator on the Israeli-Palestinian track. He did a wonderful job on the Northern Ireland peace process, and that has been guided more or less safely into harbor with mutual respect from both sides. Mitchell was an ideal facilitator negotiator. I hope he has the same kind of success, and I hope he approaches it with the same kind of attitude.
I think President Obama’s overtures towards Iran on the first day of Persian New Year were very important and significant and deserved to be treated seriously and reciprocated.
On the other hand, he has made other choices, which are not good. Choosing Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff is not immediately encouraging. People like Dennis Ross and others being back in the policy loop in the region is not encouraging. And choosing Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State will turn out to be a very bad decision by him. Personally, I wouldn’t trust the Clintons as far as I could throw them, which isn’t very far.
What advice would give President Obama pertaining to this conflict?
He knows the case, he sat with Professor Said, He knows from Edward Said, the Palestinian case, it’s centrality, and he is a very clever man. Barack Obama is the cleverest president you have ever had, and because he is, I have some hope he will see the sense of our position. If they continue business as usual, giving Israel every bullet, every bomb, every rocket, every dollar that it needs to commit the crimes that it does, well you are merely storing up real problems, not just for the region, but for ourselves, so I am hoping Obama listens to that.
He did commit himself before the election to the Arab peace plan, and Israel has rejected that and elected a government that would be implementing it. Is he going to continue to pay for and be responsible for [what happens?] Because he is responsible for it, when every Palestinian child is killed by an American bullet, he is responsible for it.
Is he prepared to pay for, and be responsible for a government and a state whose actions, every action, is inimical to the interest of the U.S., never mind the Palestinian people who are its principle victims?
What do you say in defense to attacks on your character from your meeting with Saddam Hussein to allegations stemming from the Oil for Food scandal?
Speaking in the U.S. a foreign country, already in the thousands turn outs are not getting smaller, if I reach Canada tomorrow instead of it being four cities or towns hosting me it’s 20.
If I have to do it electronically, which probably will happen, I will be speaking 10 or 100 times the number of people if they hadn’t banned me. So I have a very big audience for what I am saying. I have two national radio shows every week, two international television programs every week, I have a newspaper column, speak to large audiences, a member of parliament. *
My enemies have tried very hard to stop me speaking throughout my life, and pretty much they failed.
You were once an avid boxer in your youth. If you had the opportunity who would you box and why?
It would have to be George Bush and Tony Blair in the ring together. I wouldn’t want to beat one of them alone. I would want to beat the living daylights out of both of them and if I beat them, it would not be a fragment of what they did to their own people, never mind millions of people elsewhere.
If I could leave them dazed on the canvass there would be quite a few people carrying me aloft.
*When the interview was taken place, Mr. Galloway was banned from entering Canada because of his convoy to Gaza. Galloway was turned back at the border and rather than speaking in individual Canadian cities he went through with the speeches via satellite.