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Interview with Sattar Kassem, in Nablus
« Palestinians will never surrender »

The Palestinians voted massively in favour of Hamas in the elections in January 2006. It was necessary to respect their choice. However, the European Union decided to punish them by ending grants, consciously putting millions of Palestinians in misery. The victory of Hamas caught not only those governments that had counted on a Fatah victory but also those parties and progressive movements who have never really listened to Palestinian opinion or heard their true aspirations

11 September 2006 | - : Post 9/11 Israel Palestine Resistance

In the face of the desperation of the Palestinian people, it is more urgent than ever to listen to those Palestinians faithful to their cause and to draw the appropriate conclusions.

Mr Sattar Kassem, professor of Political Science at Al Najah University in Nablus, responded with frankness and courage to the questions asked of him by Silvia Cattori.

Silvia Cattori : You are a strong voice in Palestine, but a voice we don’t hear much in French speaking countries. Why?

Sattar Kassem : For 26 years, I am not authorized by the Israeli authorities to go out of Palestine. I spent two years in the Israeli jails and eight months in a Palestinian prison under Arafat’s regime.

I was injured by four bullets shot by men recruited by the Palestinian authorities. But I am always here, with my pen, to help my people to recover their rights and try to get a change in the Arab world.

I firmly believe that present Arab regimes must disappear, because they defend foreign interests and not the interests of their citizens.

Most of these dictatorial regimes are collaborating with Israel, so against the rights of the Palestinians and the Lebanese. These regimes are the puppets of certain powers, more particularly of the United States.

Silvia Cattori : Were you arrested and the victim of an assassination attempt under Mr Yasser Arafat’s regime because you criticized his policy? Does that mean that you had no democracy, no freedom under his government?

Sattar Kassem : Under Arafat’s regime there was no democracy, no freedom of opinion at all. So many people where arrested! In 1999, with nineteen other persons, I signed a statement saying that there was so much corruption in the country and that Arafat was leading that corruption. [1]

So he put us in jail.

After that, I wrote an article entitled “Democracy under the prisons” where I criticized Arafat for his undemocratic behaviour. For that reason, they sent some people to shoot me. Arafat never wanted to implement any kind of democracy.

Silvia Cattori : Do you mean that the 1996 elections was not a fair election?

Sattar Kassem : Yes. It was not fair because there was so much fraud in that election. But there was no opposition, so nobody cared.

Silvia Cattori : So now, for the first time in the region, you had fair elections, Hamas won and, for the first time in history, we have seen the European Union punishing, by way of sanctions, a people under occupation?!

Sattar Kassem : That is true, that is a paradox. That question should be directed to the Europeans. We had fair and honest elections but we did not have the general atmosphere of democracy, and that was a problem.

Probably you noticed outside too, that after Hamas won the election, it appeared clearly that a certain number of personalities -particularly in Fatah party- did not accept the result of this election.

Silvia Cattori : In such a difficult context, do you think that the Hamas movement will succeed to implement that atmosphere of democracy you call for?

Sattar Kassem : I do not think so, not because they are not able to do it, but because they are facing terrible problems from so many sides. The Israelis do not want to let this government function. Actually, the Israelis have arrested most of the ministers and many legislative members.

Silvia Cattori : When you complain about “Arab regimes” do you include the Palestinian authority?

Sattar Kassem : I include the former Palestinian authority and Abou Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), the present President of the Palestinians.

Silvia Cattori : But, when you make such a statement, is it based upon facts you can prove on the basis of your personal experience?

Sattar Kassem : I have been an opponent to the leadership of the PLO in the parliament for more than 30 years.

From my knowledge and research on Arafat, I learned that he had abdicated his revolutionary task and that he was not working for the interests of the Palestinians: that he worked as a filter for the Israelis and, finally, that he had damaged the image of the Palestinians in the different Arab countries he used to live in; and also that he had damaged the ethical and the social fabric of the Palestinian people.

Silvia Cattori : Have you an example?

Sattar Kassem : For instance, he used to send the young, loyal and faithful Palestinians who proved to be real fighters to southern Lebanon where they used to get killed.
Because one of Arafat aides used to contact the Israelis to inform them about the mission of those fighters; so that they would not be surprised. By that way, the Israelis killed those young people.

Silvia Cattori : Do you mean that Mr Arafat never imposed any security policy to his fellows?

Sattar Kassem : What I can tell you is that information used to flow into the hands of the Israelis. Arafat never made any kind of investigation within the PLO to know who was leaking information to them.

So, if you insist on such behaviour, this means that the leaking of information is receiving your consent.

It is for that reason that I am saying I knew that he was not revolutionary but that he was filtering.

The faithful Palestinians used to be put aside by different means, and Arafat generally kept around him those Palestinians who cared about their personal interest.

Silvia Cattori : So, in your opinion the leaders around Mr Arafat where compromising from the start?

Sattar Kassem : Yes. From the early seventies, Arafat always depended on suspect people who, I think, have security ties with the Israelis. They were corrupt when they were in Lebanon, in Tunisia, in Jordan.

When Arafat was in these Arab countries he intended misbehaviour. He never prevented his aids to misbehave and do many wrong things in the Arab streets.

For instance, when he would let one of his fellows humiliate a tribal Jordanian leader; this would lead the whole tribe to start hating the Palestinians.

When the PLO was fired and kicked out of Beirut by the Israeli army, they went to Tunisia. The Tunisians tell us that when the Palestinians came to Tunisia, they brought with them brothels, whore-houses.
All whore-houses flourished because there were so many clients - Palestinian clients. The Palestinians made bars and dirty places in Tunisia flourish.

For the Tunisians, the Lebanese, the Jordanians and the Kuwaitis, these are the true Palestinians. That’s what they think.

From that time we have been hated in Tunisia, Kuwait and Lebanon.

I wrote several articles against this scandalous corruption warning that these leaders where guiding their people towards a very terrible end. Except for people who had direct experience with these leaders, very few believed me.

From 1994, after Arafat’s arrival in the West Bank and Gaza, the people started to realize that what I was telling them was the truth. It is unfortunate that they discovered the truth too late.

True he is dead now, but we are still suffering from all his policies. Therefore, I can say that he was no different from any other Arab leader.

Silvia Cattori : Did these people of Arafat’s circle belong to the staff that came back to Palestine in 1994?

Sattar Kassem : Yes, alas.

Silvia Cattori : But did Mr Arafat know that his aides were misbehaving? Was he aware of what was happening around him?

Sattar Kassem : Yes, he was aware and he was very clever. If you are challenged several times and you don’t correct your behaviour then you intend such behaviour.

Arafat was warned hundreds of times by so many people that his aides were misbehaving, but he did nothing to stop that.

He was supported by the money he got from Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Emirates. So, because Arafat was the man of Israel and America, these countries were asked to finance him.

He had a lot of money; he was the richest so called "revolutionary man" in the world. How can that be when revolutionaries are generally under siege?

Without the consent of Israel and America, these countries wouldn’t give him money.
These aren’t independent countries. Now it is on orders from Israel and America that they aren’t giving money to Hamas.

Silvia Cattori : Did you work with the people in Mr Arafat’s entourage?

Sattar Kassem : Yes. I worked with them for some time and I saw what I am telling you about. This is the truth.

Silvia Cattori : Did you write about that?

Sattar Kassem : Yes. I wrote a book in Arabic called "The Road to Defeat" about what Arafat and his aides used to do.

Silvia Cattori : If I understand you well, this means that Mr Arafat was far from the reality and from the real expectations of his people?

Sattar Kassem : I think that the Israelis consumed him. That’s what the Israelis do to their agents. Once they are consumed they throw them away and I think that is what the Israelis did to Arafat: after spoiling him, they threw him away because he was of no more use to them.

Silvia Cattori : When I met Mr. Arafat in April 2002, I got the feeling that he was surrounded by a number of opportunistic people. Was he not the victim of bad advisers?

Sattar Kassem : Yes, but he was the leader, the centre. He never tried to have honest advisers; he always lived with dirty people. And dirty people always give dirty advice. Arafat was not a "real Palestinian".

I even have a definition for “Arafatism” and I spread it internationally. “Arafatism” means that Arafat was the one who used corruption to bring the Palestinians to their knees.

Silvia Cattori : According to you, what is a "real Palestinian"?

Sattar Kassem : A "real Palestinian" is one who cares about Palestinian interests and directs his policy toward the achievement of these interests. Arafat was not working for the interests of the Palestinians. He was damaging the image of the Palestinians.

Silvia Cattori : But in the opinion of the leaders of the solidarity movement, for instance, or of a writer like Uri Avnery who considered him as his personal friend, Mr. Arafat was a great man living in a very simple way, “a partner to build a new hope”!

Sattar Kassem : That is true; he used to live a very simple life. However, I believe that Arafat’s mission served the Israelis, but not the Palestinians.

His life was very simple, but his aides were very rich. Some of them lived in 5 star hotels and used to go to Monte Carlo and Las Vegas. You know how difficult life is in Palestine.

I invite those people who supported Arafat and believed that he was honest with the Palestinians to come and talk openly about his policies. I am ready.

Silvia Cattori : But how can we believe that Mr. Arafat’s mission was to accomplish what the Israelis wanted?

Sattar Kassem : At least for me, all my expectations about Arafat turned out to be true. I am convinced of what I am saying. For instance, in 1979, I wrote that the PLO was going to recognize Israel.

At that time, the people didn’t believe me and started saying that I was a spy, because I raised doubts about Arafat.

In 1994, when Arafat came to stay in Palestine, I wrote that he would do the same thing he used to do in Lebanon; that he would open whore-houses, he would damage the Palestinian ethical and social structure and he would co-operate security-wise with the Israelis.

Unfortunately, all that I wrote turned out to be true. I told all this frankly to the authorities. That is why they shot me.

Silvia Cattori : When you speak of the “Palestinian ethical and social structure”, what did you mean exactly?

Sattar Kassem : Any people should live with an ethical code, so as to be able to respect others and to live with them. If the ethical code is absent, then everybody will be against everybody else. If there are no ethics how can we live together?

This is what happened during Arafat’s time. All the bad people, the gangsters, became strong and all the good people stayed at home. Arafat time established a system of terrible values, which caused respect among people to disappear.

Silvia Cattori : Despite all of that, it appears that PLO leaders succeeded in winning the sympathy of the left all over the world. Until today, most of the leftist parties consider Arafat and PLO representatives as revolutionary leaders and they still support them, and distrust Hamas authorities?

Sattar Kassem : Generally speaking, Arafat was entrusted with giving that image. But he was not honest at all. Of course, Arafat was not the only leader in Palestine.

There were leftist leaders too, like George Habache, for instance, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. There was Nayef Hawathme also, who is the leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Arafat and his aides - although they knew beforehand that the international community was not going to liberate Palestine - gave that false image that they were really working for Palestine with the help of the international community.

The Palestinian leaders and the Arab leaders in general, used to show to the international community that they care about their people. In fact they are the true allies of Israel.

Silvia Cattori : If the PLO representatives are, like you say, detrimental to the interests of the Palestinians, why doesn’t the Hamas government remove them?

Sattar Kassem : From the time Hamas won the elections, Fatah leaders, with the support of their representatives outside, started working very hard against the new government.

They have been co-operating with the United States, with Arab countries and with Israel to topple the Hamas government.

Of course, that is part of Arafat’s heritage. They have been working very hard to rob Hamas of its authority and topple the government. That is why they have been concentrating on the PLO since Hamas won the elections. The PLO was so disregarded by Arafat and his aides – they did not care about the PLO.

They did not even care about the Palestinian National Charter. When they signed the Oslo Accords, despite the fact this agreement was contradictory to the Palestinian National Charter, none of them cared.

Now they care, because they want to strip Hamas of its authority. So, that is part of a conspiracy. It is an international conspiracy.

Silvia Cattori : Do you mean that the PLO representatives are part of a conspiracy against Hamas?

Sattar Kassem : Yes.

Silvia Cattori : Do you consider Mrs. Leila Shahid, the PLO representative in France for more than twenty years, and who was appointed recently by Mr Abou Mazen to the European Union, as part of what you call a “conspiracy”?

Sattar Kassem : All of them are cooperating with the Europeans States, the United States and the Israelis against our real national interests.
I personally believe that Leila Shahid is part of Arafat’s court. For me, as a Palestinian, Leila Shahid is not a reliable person. I do not trust her.

If I was in the Authority, I would remove her, because what she has been talking outside of Palestine all about for so many years is a kind of surrender. This will not bring any just peace to the Palestinians.

We want peace, but the peace we believe in is the peace that will bring the Palestinian refugees back to Palestine. Other than that, on the contrary of what she says, we have not to talk about.

So, all the Palestinians who are part of the Oslo Accords, for us, are not accepted. They are part of Arafat’s policies, part of the corruption, and part of the collaboration with the Israelis. Now, if some people say that they won us some friends, we too can win friends. We can explain our situation; everybody can explain the difficulties and the miseries the Palestinians have been facing over the years.
And, as for the leftists and for the rightists, we can also talk to them and try to convince them of our real aspirations.

So, to gain supporters in Europe is not enough. What Leila Shahid, and all the others who follow her participated in is the liquidation the Palestinian cause. And that is why today most of the Palestinian people support Hamas.

Silvia Cattori : Did you vote for Hamas?

Sattar Kassem : Yes. I voted for Hamas. Why? Because we want to regain the Palestinian cause, because we should keep our just cause alive. And the Palestinian cause is not the establishment of a so called “Palestinian authority”; that is not what we care about.

We care about the return of five million of refugees who have been suffering for around sixty years and living under very difficult and dire conditions in refugee camps. That is what we care about.

And besides, Arafat and Fatah and all of these PLO people who pretend to represent us have also been conspiring against other Arab countries, such as Syria and Lebanon.

They have been contributing to the Israeli and United State propaganda. They have also been standing against Iran, although Iran has been extending so much help to the Palestinians.

Again, if we talk about financial aid that these people insist we should get from Europe that is an adventure.

How can I depend, and my live, on the Europeans? At any time if they feel displeased with me, they will say, “OK, I am turning off the tap.” That is what happened.

Although the European states insist on democracy, it appears that they do not defend democracy, they do not want democracy, and they want a democracy that is tailored to their own interests.

So, if we want to live, we have to depend on ourselves.

And under occupation, it is the responsibility of Israel to provide enough food and to provide salaries for the people under occupation. That is international law. Besides, if I need some help and some financial assistance, I should get it from friends, not from those who are supporting Israel.

Silvia Cattori : Who are these friends?

Sattar Kassem : At least I can get it from Malaysia for instance; I can get it from Iran.

I was a presidential candidate in 2005 and I told the people: if I am elected, I am not going to take a penny from those who are not our friends, because at any time they may threaten us. I want my live secure.

Silvia Cattori : Are the people who succeeded Mr. Arafat better?

Sattar Kassem : Abou Mazen is a very weak person and he doesn’t have a vision. All Palestinians know him. I have known Abou Mazen personally for more than thirty years and I know that he has been against resistance all the time. So, Arafat was just putting him there until the time comes.

Silvia Cattori : In your opinion is he an honest man?

Sattar Kassem : I think he is better than Arafat in that sense, but he is very weak. He is like a tool. Fatah people supported him to keep him in power, especially as they knew he was weak.

Silvia Cattori : Was he not the man that Israel and United States promoted, as from 2003?

Sattar Kassem : He was Israel’s choice, but all the influential people in Fatah are the men of Israel and the United States. So, these three parties made that choice, but the person chosen is very weak and incapable.

Silvia Cattori : Are the authorities of the Hamas government more capable?

Sattar Kassem : The government of Hamas has nothing to do with the former Fatah governments. It hasn’t taken the chance yet.

Since Hamas won the legislative elections, all sort of troubles started to obstruct that government from carrying out its duties. Hamas hasn’t taken the chance so we can’t judge, we must wait.

Generally speaking, Hamas didn’t take the offensive. They are scared. What I mean by taking the offensive is not, of course, to carry guns and kill everybody.

Silvia Cattori : Are you thinking of the offensive against corruption? Did you expect that the Hamas government would open the files as soon as it took office and arrest the corrupt politicians?

Sattar Kassem : Yes. The new authorities should, at least, open the files of corruption. But they didn’t do so. They didn’t even talk about it. They are scared.

The new government was even supposed to collect the thousands of cars that Arafat distributed to his own people, sell them and use that money to pay salaries to the employees who have been without income for months.

Silvia Cattori : So why didn’t the Hamas government collect these cars? Do they fear causing a civil war?

Sattar Kassem : As I told you, they are scared. When they are asked to correct the situation they will tell you that confrontation will lead to civil war. This is not an excuse, since, if they open the files of corruption, they would be able to make all Fatah people leave the country.

Silvia Cattori : How could the Hamas government take the risk of a confrontation, since the real power, like the Security Service, is still under Mr Abou Mazen’s orders?

Sattar Kassem : I think that our authorities have good intentions, but they can do nothing, because whatever they say or do, they will be considered internationally as “terrorists”.

However, if they had opened the corruption files, then most of corrupt Fatah leaders would have left the country. That isn’t “terrorism”; that has to do with an internal problem.

Silvia Cattori : Are you in contact with members of the Hamas government?

Sattar Kassem : I see them, I meet them, and I phone them in Gaza and here in the West Bank.

Silvia Cattori : The Israeli officials used to portray them as mad people? How are they in fact?

Sattar Kassem : They are nice people. They are honest and they would like to serve the Palestinians. Unfortunately they are facing many obstacles and they are accused of being “terrorists”, that is the problem.

Silvia Cattori : Do you think that the European Union supports the United States’ boycott against the Hamas government with the intention of helping the Israelis to win and to constrain the Palestinians to give up their rights? Further, has France been pushing in 2004 for the 1559 resolution in order to suppress the only force of resistance able to constrain Israel to draw back?

Sattar Kassem : Yes. Look at the Europeans: they want Hamas disarmed; they want Jihad Islamic disarmed, they want Hezbollah disarmed, they want Syria and Iran disarmed. So, who is going to defend the Arabs?
Why should Israel not be disarmed? This is completely unfair and that is completely unreasonable. It is unacceptable.

I want to defend myself. Who could be so mad as to accept to be crushed without fighting back?
How on earth can they ask Hezbollah to be disarmed, while Israel is armed to the teeth? The Europeans States are actually adopting the Israeli point of view; they are not adopting a fair and balanced point of view - they are completely biased. If they want us disarmed, they should ask Israel to disarm as well. Then there will be a kind of justice.

Silvia Cattori : The Swiss diplomacy continue to make the promotion of the “Geneva Accord”, relying on Mr. Abbed Rabbo; an “accord” that the majority of the Palestinian factions have strongly refused. [2] Is this denial of your aspirations not upsetting the Palestinians?

Sattar Kassem : I think this Swiss initiative does not represent the Palestinians, but rather the parties who have compromised with Israel and the United States. The western powers believe that there is a kind of democracy that is tailored to their own interests and to the interests of the neo-liberal capitalism.

If it deviates, then it is not democracy. That is unreasonable.

You know, they think that they are dealing with an immature and adolescent people. No, we are mature, we have our own thinkers, we have our own intellectuals, we can analyse things and we can read them in the right way.

These Palestinians, who are cooperating with Israel, with the Europeans countries and the Americans to halt Hamas, are actually committing treason.

How could these people, like Rabbo, incite against Hamas saying that, “If you do not support the Geneva Accord, if you don’t support those who promoted it, the Hamas extremists will ascend to power”?

Silvia Cattori : But now, the Hamas government is in power. Again, why didn’t Hamas condemn the attitude of all those people who go on participating in masquerades, in contempt of democracy?

Sattar Kassem : Hamas does not have the power. Until now Hamas has not had the power. The security services are all under the leadership of Abu Mazen, and from the time of the elections, Fatah has been making so many problems for Hamas, that they did not leave them any time to plan, or to think about what to do. Fatah has been busying Hamas in daily problems.

Besides, Abu Mazen has monopolized all the security services; so upon whom can they depend?

Fatah has created a real problem, not only for Hamas, but for the people. For example, you can go now into town and you will see armed people. Who are they? They are Fatah people. They are armed and they harm the people, they steal from private properties, they can threaten, they blackmail the people, and sometimes they kill. I was shot by these people in 1995.

Silvia Cattori : Are they still doing the same?

Sattar Kassem : Yes, they are still doing the same. They were brought up by Yasser Arafat and financed by Yasser Arafat, so many of them now belong to the security service.

The security service is supposed to preserve and to observe the security of the people. Instead they are threatening the people’s security.

Silvia Cattori : That means that, as yesterday, under Mr. Arafat’s power, people are scared because Fatah people are still powerful?

Sattar Kassem : Yes. We are scared of the Israelis and of Fatah people. Both are making threats to our security.

Silvia Cattori : So, you have two camps: the camp of Fatah, which is struggling to not lose its power and the camp of Hamas, who would like to defend the interests of the people, but which is impotent?

Sattar Kassem : That is true. And the camp of those who are against our own people is strong, because they are supported by Israel, by the United States, and by the European countries.
Mr. Bush said openly, “We are supporting Abu Mazen financially and militarily.” They are supplying him with guns. Guns to use against whom? Against Israelis? No, against Hamas, of course!

Silvia Cattori : Does this mean that, when Mr. Abu Mazen and the PLO representatives call the new Hamas government to respect the results of the agreements negotiated with Israel, it is just because they want to preserve the privileges they got?

Sattar Kassem : Yes. They want Hamas to adopt the Oslo Accords so that they will preserve their personal interests and privileges.

The Europeans and the Israelis needed supporters for the Oslo Accords. This is why they encouraged the corruption that Arafat established in the West Bank and Gaza.

For the United States, Israel and European countries, corruption was an instrument to get supporters. So, much of the European money was wasted for the corrupt people.

Palestinians do not believe that the negotiation has been productive for them; on the contrary. So they don’t want it anymore.

Silvia Cattori : Do you think the European Union will change its strategy and recognise the legitimacy of the Hamas authorities?

Sattar Kassem : No. The European countries will never recognize Hamas, never.

The European states are a tool in the hands of the Israelis and the Americans. There are not independent. They are not united. If Hezbollah wins the war, the movement within the Arab countries will accelerate.

Silvia Cattori : What are the differences between Hamas and Hezbollah?

Sattar Kassem : Hamas does not have a strong organisation, weapons or training. Hamas is under occupation. Palestinians suffer, but regardless, they will continue their fight. They will never surrender.

As for the Hezbollah, Israel will not be able to disarm or cripple them. Hezbollah will remain strong. What is now important about Lebanon is that the people should know what terrible things Israel is doing against this country, as well as against Palestine.

In fact, Israel is not destroying Hezbollah. Israel is harming the entire Lebanese civil population. The attack on Lebanon was huge, but Israel hit the civilians and hasn’t been hitting Hezbollah.

Thousands of civilians have been killed and injured. Tens of thousands of houses have been destroyed, as well as bridges, factories and electrical generators.

So the people need to learn about the mentality of the Israelis and their destructive behaviour.

That is why I think we have to make the Palestinian cause an Arab and an Islamic one. Hezbollah has an excellent organization, a good administration, a good conflict management. Israel has tried several times to launch attacks against Hezbollah. This is not the first attack, but Hezbollah always turns out to be the winner.

The problem for us is that recognition by the Europeans and the Americans of our right to resist is something impossible, because we aren’t powerful. Unless we are strong enough, we can’t convince anyone.

Silvia Cattori : You arrive at the same conclusion as the Lebanese political analyst, Youssef Aschkar, [3] who thinks that the so-called “war against terrorism” is a war against societies and against communities, a war cynically designed to destroy entire countries and peoples. He also concludes that the latter are no longer protected by their authorities.

Sattar Kassem: Yes, that is alas true. This is not, as Bush and Blair say, a war against “terrorism”. This is a war against all of us.

Silvia Cattori

[1This refers to the «Appeal of the 20 » drafted by the members of the Legislative Counsel, among whom was Hussam Khader. Israel abducted him in 2003 and since, he remains imprisoned. This appeal denounced Mr. Arafat’s compromises with the occupying Israelis, corruption, and the difficulties generated by the Oslo-Accord.

[2The Geneva-Accord, signed in Geneva in December 2003, is the result of two years of negotiations. This agreement is consider unjust and unfavourable to the Palestinians. The Israeli, Yossi Beilin, and the Palestinian, Abed Rabbo, were the chief negotiators, along with the pro-Israeli, Alexis Keller, mandated by Switzerland to pilot this initiative.