“Most important thing Palestinian unity”

Interview with Maryam Abu Dagga, PFLP
Maryam Abu Dagga has been a political activist with the PFLP in the Gaza Strip for all her life. Imprisoned at the age of 15, she was forced into exile in Jordan, Lebanon and Bulgaria where she finalised her studies. After the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority she returned to Gaza, where she founded, in 2006, the Palestinian Developmental Women Studies Association (PDWSA). Her current work focuses on Palestinian female prisoners.

Maryam Abu Dagga was interviewed be the Intifada
Magazine during her participation in the 9th International Symposium against Isolation, held in Vienna on December 4-5, 2010.

Intifada: Recently you spoke in different meetings and forums in Berlin, Copenhagen and other European cities. What is your impression of the European solidarity movement?

Maryam Abu Dagga (M.A.D): First of all thank you for this meeting. Living in Gaza under the siege is very hard, and after the war our suffering and problems have gotten worse, especially for the people of our party. We have many problems and many difficulties to move. So it is only at very few times that we have the possibility to meet people internationally to speak about our problems. This occasion is very important for me and for the Palestinian people in general, not only the Gazans. All Palestinian people are under occupation and siege by Israel, and not only by Israel because Israel is supported by the European countries and American imperialism.

As for the European solidarity movement, I discovered new things in those days, the European people changed. Their opinion towards the Palestinian question changed in a way that is favourable to our people, because before the Israeli propaganda was overwhelming and managed to hide the real situation of our country from the Western public. But now after the war and after the attack on the Mavi Marmara, the attack on international activists and the murder of Turkish citizens, the real face of imperialism and Zionism is very clear and this helps our people because we get media attention. Before that Israel routinely killed our people and this was no news, it didn’t go on TV, but now the images speak by themselves. I had so many meetings in Denmark, Germany, Italy, and the people in the streets see our flag and say “long live Palestine!”. I’ve seen a lot of people demonstrating against Israel. Indeed I believe this is the time of uniting all the anti-imperialists. When I had meetings with the people, leftists or normal people, young or old, I felt their energy and solidarity like fire, and they promised me to work against Israel because they know Zionism very well. I feel the world uniting little by little as one country, and I believe the end of imperialism is near.

Intifada: Well hopefully. As for your work in Gaza, can you describe your activities with the prisoners’ movement and the women’s rights movement?

M.A.D: I am one of the first people who were imprisoned. I was 15 years old and I was still a child who needed to live with my parents and play but the Zionist occupation won’t allow the people to live normally. So I understood that it is my right to defend my land and my people because I’ve seen the attack of Israel against civilians. They took the land of my father, and I listened to my parents who told me many stories about the Israelis treating our people badly. I also heard how Israel killed our people from the radio, from the tales of the elder, because here all the families have fought Israel. Now our people are dispersed, some are in Palestine and some in other countries - I don’t know my brother because we live in different places and we’re not allowed to come or go. This is a tragedy.

In prison I learned important things; the first was to know my enemy very well. This gives me power to fight him, and so I joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). I chose them because they give the women equal place in the party, so I took my place in the party to fight against the enemy. I stayed in prison for two years, and after this they did not allow me to stay in Gaza, they put me on the border with Jordan and I was there for 12 days, I was not allowed to go back to Gaza neither to go into Jordan because the Jordanian authorities wouldn’t let me. Our comrades then took me illegally. From this moment I decided to defend my rights and the rights of my country. For thirty years I have been a member of PFLP, I am a political and social activist.
I studied Philosophy because I believe my weapon is not only the gun but also education - it is very easy to have a gun but difficult to have a proposal for the future and be able to convince people. I graduated with top marks even though I was the oldest of the students, but being member of the Palestinian revolution I decided I had to be the best.

After 30 years I returned to Gaza and I met all the women prisoners who were in prison with me. I thought they had forgotten me, but all of them came to see me in our office, like in a film, we were so moved and happy and we cried, I couldn’t believe I was meeting those women again. Until now I sometimes I ask myself whether I’m really back in my land or I am only dreaming.

Now these old prisoners live in a difficult situation and have many problems, some are unemployed, some of them have serious health problems, some of them are old and have nobody to take care of them, some of them lost their husbands... So I decided to establish this association for Palestinian women, and the first goal is to support female prisoners and former prisoners. We give psychological and legal support, and teach them how to write their stories, because I believe true history is the one told by the people who made history, and not by someone else. Now we have 36 stories of Palestinian prisoners that we published, and we care for their families and for the prisoners inside occupied land. I made a project for Palestinian heritage, which is very good to empower people. We do many things, give training courses, help with health treatment and prevention. Now there are 100 women in my association without distinction of party, the only flag is the Palestinian flag.

Intifada: Since you mentioned the party question, what is the PFLP’s relationship with Fatah and Hamas who rule in the West Bank and Gaza respectivley. Also, what relations does the PFLP have with DFLP and the Islamic Jihad.

M.A.D.: The female prisoners of my organization are all from different Palestinian factions, Fatah, Jihad, PFLP, Hamas. When you are in prison nobody knows or asks from which party you are. All are Palestinians against Israel. So I think the prisoners give a very good example of unity among the Palestinian people. We are in prison for Palestine, not for the party. PFLP represents my political culture, but Abu Ali Mustafa, our Secretary General, was not shot as member of PFLP, but as a Palestinian revolutionary, so he’s a martyr for the whole Palestinian people - like Arafat, like Ahmad Yassin. Therefore I want to put forward the experience of Palestinian female prisoners as an example to the leadership of Hamas and Fatah and tell them, through demonstrations and conferences, that we are Palestinian revolutionary women and we fight against Israel, we give our life for Palestine and not for a party. Unity is necessary for the Palestinian people. When we have at last liberated Palestine we can discuss how important every party is in the government, but now all the Palestinian people are under occupation, so we need unity of everyone, democrats, socialists, revolutionaries, against Israel which is the only enemy. The fight among the factions is only useful for Israel and not for the Palestinian people.

Intifada: There are reports that Fatah arrests PFLP members in the West Bank and in Gaza Hamas closes PLFP youth centers or tries to intimidate demonstrators - where do you think this problem comes from? Is it the leadership of these factions?

M.A.D.: Our party faces problems from the Abbas government and the Hamas government. Lack of democracy is on both parts. PFLP considers that the fight between Hamas and Fatah is a very dangerous thing. Therefore we make everyday actions and gather people to push Hamas and Fatah to unity. If we fight among ourselves it is us, our future and our cause who lose, therefore in a democratic way, by demonstrations, by political meetings with Hamas and Fatah, we try to make them see how this is wrong. We defend our people, our ideas and our principles through democratic means, because we can’t point our guns at each other: in the end we need Fatah, we need Hamas, we need all the Palestinian organizations, but we also need to correct the mistakes: Hamas and Fatah consider they are governments, but they are both under occupation and their mandate is over now, so we need to hold elections. Everywhere when there is a crisis you hold elections.

Intifada: Do you think it is possible to get Fatah back to the camp of resistance?

M.A.D.: The point is not Fatah or Hamas. Our party struggles to establish new legal norms where every party has a proportional representation, so no party or movement controls the whole government and can act as a dictator, because when a party has the whole power it will change and become authoritarian.

Intifada: According to the media, the PFLP is working with the DFLP and PPP to build a new front, on the basis of Fatah’s stance, which is being characterized as collaborating with Israel and selling away the resistance and do not represent the Palestinian people any longer. On the other hand, Hamas in Gaza has a resistance program, but they have other ideals. Do you think there is a viable perspective for the PFLP in the future?

M.A.D.: We have been working a long time for the unity of the Palestinian left. We have had many problems, DFLP made many problems, many times they agreed and then pulled away... But there is no other way, because if the left parties are weak, Hamas and Fatah will fight all the time, but if we are powerful we can act as a balance. This is valid not only for the Palestinian people but everywhere. So it is necessary to gather leftist groups and parties, because we have a wide common ground – we also have small disagreements but we can achieve unity on important things, even though we have differences which is normal in a democratic frame. We will keep working in this direction.

Intifada: You have frozen your participation in the PLO because of the negotations that were no longer democratically approved...

M.A.D.: This was a kind of provocation. PFLP didn’t support Abu Mazen’s negotiation which were not carried out on a democratic basis. The legal number of the PLO assembly was not even present at the meeting when that was decided. Our party doesn’t agree with negotiations with Israel that do not get us anywhere - we meet with Israel, get nothing out of it, and in the meantime Israel keeps taking our land and making settlements, so there is a crisis on this side. On the other side there is also a crisis with Hamas, because Hamas speaks about the resistance but in practice they stopped, now they are behaving very quietly towards Israel and they are asking Israel for ceasefire, which is very dangerous. We believe no resistance, no Jerusalem to return, nothing we will get if we keep fighting among ourselves. Therefore we work for unity from the first to the last. We can have then a general program of resistance, a national program to which everyone can commit notwithstanding the differences among the parties. The negotiations have to stop because they will get nothing to our people, nobody believes Israel will give us anything, this is an occupation and our right to liberation struggle is guaranteed by international law. Why should we stop?

Intifada: Do you think the PLO can be reformed? Do you want to get back there or are you thinking of another form of organization?

M.A.D.: We have to try because this is our place, this is also our history, the PFLP’s, it is not Fatah’s property. So we will work with others for the PLO to be as before and suitable to all the Palestinian organizations, and not be taken over by one organization, be it Fatah or Hamas. The PLO did not fall from the sky, it costed us many sacrifices and deaths, it is the history and the house of the Palestinian people, we gained it with our struggle and it belongs to all the Palestinian people, not to Fatah.

Intifada: What is your view about future developments? Will there be another war, will Israel provoke a third Intifada?

M.A.D.: Israel has been making propaganda and preparating for a long time for a new war against Gaza. Our people live in a strange situation, because everything shows the war is near. Our people have experience especially from the last war that the situation is special, not like any other war: we have no planes, army, tanks, and Israel’s orders are to kill as many Palestinians as possible. Our people have steadfastness – don’t abandon your house, don’t surrender. But they haven’t got anything to actually fight back. In Lebanon it is different because of Hezbollah. But Gaza is very poor. And Israel wants to show its power: because of its defeat in Lebanon and its real face being exposed to the world during the last war in Gaza, they now have an internal crisis and want to do something to solve this crisis and regain national unity, and they will do so with the war. Since the last war our people are without work, without health care, without houses which we are not allowed to rebuild because Israel won’t let the materials get to Gaza, this is our tragedy and all the world is deaf. So it is your duty as internationals to speak about this, to work to expose the fascist face of Israel and to stop their provocations and prevent a second war against our people.

Intifada: So you are asking us Europeans to spread this image of the occupation and support the boycot campaign?

M.A.D.: This would be good, but still not enough. We need many groups to come all the time and speak the truth, explain to the public the truth about Palestine and its history. Israel was not born of immigration, but of occupation. America and Europe closed their doors, only Palestine welcomed Jewish settlers, and they implemented their colonialist project and killed our people and took our land for themselves. We welcomed them in the beginning because Palestinians are not anti-semitic, the Arab world was much more tolerant than Europe and America. Also now, we are not against Jews nor against anyone else, we are against Zionism which is the spearhead of imperialism. If the Jews living in Palestine were not Zionists, they had to agree to a Palestinian democratic state, with a democratically elected government and where all the people live together and have equal rights with no religious, sexual or ethnic discrimination. But Israelis are Zionists, they want to exterminate the Palestinians and take the whole land.

Intifada: The one-state solution has always been the position of the PFLP. What is your strategy to implement it?

M.A.D.: We have a right to the whole Palestinian land. But now we agree with the national program of Palestinian rule in the ’67 territories. After this is achieved we will continue to fight for one democratic state. The whole of Palestine is our historical land, but this is the program on which to build unity with all the Palestinian forces. So we subscribe to it, but we consider it as a first step, because our strategic aim is one democratic state for all the people.

Intifada: Do you believe in the future there will be a new leftist movement? At the moment we have US imperialism and Western-backed dictatorships like Mubarak, and on the other hand mainly Islamic resistance movements. But when Israel attacked Lebanon and Gaza many people carried posters with Hugo Chavez...

M.A.D.: There are leftist parties who won in Latin America. And from everywhere we can learn lessons: for example in Bulgaria and other former Socialist countries, at first they wanted to make a revolution against the socialist rule, and now they want to make one again... Of course we can’t go back to things like they were before, there were many shortcomings; the goal of socialism is still right but when you try to actually build it it can go right or it can go wrong. To build socialism you need a world movement and to learn from each other, which doesn’t mean that everyone can do the same way because in different countries there are different conditions, but you can complement each other, share our experience and study the right path for each country. I think now all the left understands or will try to understand the new capitalism, because it is necessary to.

What are the reasons for the economical crisis in all of Europe? Governments don’t have money for their students, for health care and welfare, but they have lots of money for imperialist wars, which are wars against all the people. So everything is intertwined. If the wars stop, everything will be ok. If Israel goes out and the occupation ends, it will be one step for the freedom of all the people, not only the Palestinians.

Intifada: What do you think are the immediate possibilities to lift the siege on Gaza? What is the PFLP’s strategy to achieve this goal?

M.A.D.: I think the most important thing is Palestinian unity. This gives us much power, we can speak with one voice and gather more solidarity. The second is our friends, our people, Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, revolutionaries, Socialists, who have to explain to the public and make pressure on the governments to make pressure on Israel, because if Israel wasn’t supported by America and Europe it wouldn’t exist. They created Israel, they gave them our land, they have been helping Israel until now. Who believes America cannot prevent Israel from doing anything or cannot force them to withdraw? Only children could believe this! America uses Israel, and wants it to stay to wage war against the people of the Middle-East and take their resources.