The plight of the Palestinians once again calls our attention to the collective punishment, torture and post traumatic stress disorder of an innocent people under sanctioned occupation.
Press TV in its program Remember Palestine
has interviewed Ken O’Keefe, former US marine and activist for Palestine in London who is set to embark on a hunger strike himself in solidarity with the Palestinians. Ken talks about the human suffering and in his words, “a stain on human conscience” that is life for the many children and people of Palestine under brutal occupation by Israel. What follows is an approximate transcript of the interview.
Having visited Gaza during the time of siege, what were some of your longer lasting memories from the place?
Well, I became very close to the Sanumi family, they aren’t the only family I came to know closely, but nonetheless the experiences of the children is in very, very extreme terms a tremendous stain on the conscience of humanity that we have allowed 800,000 plus children now to endure over five years of what can only be considered one barbaric sort of siege, which subjects all of these people to a collective punishment policy.
And as your previous guest was discussing, basically every single person in Gaza is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and the most affected of course are the children.
To see children in Gaza is simply amazing, I mean, they are all over the place, there is children everywhere. And so it is impossible to ignore the fact that the biggest victim of these policies is in fact the children.
So you have a situation where access to clean water is deteriorating; access to food, there’s instability there; and there is of course the constant threat of there being continued actions from the Israelis. I mean, this must be a living nightmare.
It really is. And because the situation is so bad and has been so bad I find it really important for us to stop focusing so much on the problem itself and what it is that we can do and in fact compelling the sorts of changes that need to occur for anything to actually significantly improve for the better.
Number one first off, Israel… is Isreal. Israel does what it does. In all honesty it’s very clear that the Palestinians might as well be dogs. They are not considered as equal human beings in any stretch. And we know a lot about the sorts of things like rabbis going in and whipping up soldiers before they went into Gaza and started slaughtering people - there are copious amounts of evidence about that.
So for us to expect the Israeli power structure to change is foolish. So now that we know that Israel isn’t going to change, what can we do?
The first thing I see right now is, the first task at hand is… now we don’t have Mubarak in Egypt any longer, this is the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood, if it is to honor itself and its religion, if it is to do anything in any way to indicate that it’s nothing more than a continuation of the Mubarak regime, then Rafah needs to be opened. Absolutely now.
It needs to be opened and trade needs to be established - fair trade needs to be established because at the end of the day the ‘aid industry’ as I call it is not the answer. People cannot lead a dignified life while they are reliant on hand outs.
And the only way that the Palestinians will be able to exercise their real ability to be self determined is by having access to markets abroad, to be able to import and export, to be able to bring in the raw materials required to rebuild and for instance build desalination plants and other things, fixing the sewerage system and all of this stuff.
Gaza will be like a phoenix rising from the ashes once they are able to do this. We must make that happen one way or the other.
You’ll be embarking on a hunger strike - I hope you don’t mind me bringing that up in this forum. Why are you doing this and what are you hoping to achieve?
The family members of the hunger strikers have called today for people to enter into a hunger strike in solidarity or conduct actions that will spread the word about what is going to happen to these hunger strikers. They are going to die. In the next few weeks surely they are going to die.
Now, if that has to happen let us make sure that Israel pays for that quite dearly by the raising of consciousness to such a level that it will never happen again.
What we saw in Ireland is the power of Bobby Sands and many other hunger strikers who were very much in tandem with what we are experiencing now.
Israel made a deal brokered by Egypt, they have broken the deal on May 14th they broke that deal. They are not allowing family members in Gaza to go and see their family members who are in prison - who are imprisoned in dungeons quite frankly with no due process of law; they are not keeping people out of solitary confinement; they continue to torture people…
I’ve met dozens and dozens and dozens of prisoners in Gaza and in the West Bank. Every single one of them has been tortured. So, every single one of those prisoners is being tortured right now. This has to end, it’s not acceptable and I believe that we as people have the power if we truly wish to exercise it to change the situation.
But we’ve got to be willing to take some serious steps and be willing to sacrifice something significant if we are really that serious.
Is it going to make a difference?
You know what, at the end of the day I’m not doing what I do for any expectation. All I know is that if I sit by and do nothing or if I do very little I’m not honoring myself and I’m not actually being true to what I know and that is that every single human being on this planet is a brother or sister even though many of them are acting like absolute psychopaths. We are all brothers and sisters and the Palestinian people are my family.
Now, if I saw my family, say for instance my mother and my father in that kind of suffering and I didn’t do anything about it, would I have any ability to respect myself? Absolutely not. But I don’t look at just my mother and my father and my brother and sister in blood terms as my family I look at the Palestinians as my family.
And if you see them that way then you are compelled to do more. I do believe there will be justice however; I’m not even concerned about peace, I want justice and I believe the path to justice is through the truth and there are too many lies out there right now. When we understand the truth - and many of us do - it’s time for us to act and effect the justice that is required for any kind of peace worth having, to exist.
When you speak with the families of those who have been incarcerated, been locked up, been tortured, what do they tell you about how they suffer and if they appreciate that additional light that’s been shone on the situation?
As your previous guest also mentioned, the resiliency of the people is absolutely astounding. What they’re dealing with I think would just crush most of us in the West. We are so used to a comfortable lifestyle, comparatively comfortable lifestyle, that the kinds of trials and tribulations that these people have to endure on an everyday basis are just simply astounding. And the resilience of these people is amazing.
What I always… what strikes me more than anything else about the Palestinian people is that a guy like me born and raised in the United States, served in the marine corp, was in a war… I walked the streets of Gaza for six months I walked those streets and I was taken care of, I was looked after and the hospitality and generosity of the people - despite that fact that my birth nation is causing more suffering for them than virtually any other nation because without my birth nation Israel couldn’t possibly get away with what it is getting away with. And this brings it back to the American people.
Ken, best of luck.