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Palestinians in Gaza Ask Jimmy Carter: Former U.S. President Answers Videotaped Questions

Photo of non-governmental Palestinian representatives watching President Carter's press conference. Photo of President Carter speaking at the press conference.

Gazans gather, above, to watch the April 21 Jerusalem press conference of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Click here, or on images above, to view video footage of the press conference and the Palestinian observers in Gaza.


Overview:
At the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, nongovernmental representatives from the human rights community and nongovernmental organizations gathered to hear President Carter's April 21, 2008 Jerusalem press conference and send him their questions via video. The gathering was organized by the Rebuilding Alliance, an American nonprofit working to rebuild communities in conflict zones and make them safe (www.RebuildingAlliance.org); by Tamer Mansour, media director for the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme; and Dr. Eyad El Sarraj.

Click photos or hyperlinked text below to view video. Note: RealPlayer required to view (download at right).  Transcripts of each question are followed with with President Carter's responses.

Photo of Bahjat El Helou Photo of Nadine Rajab
Question 1:
"The USA boycott and Israeli siege imposed on the Palestinian people and Hamas is so severe, but do you think that this siege has benefited or gotten Hamas' leadership lost?" Thank you.

- Bahjat El Helou
The Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights
www.piccr.org 

President Carter:
First, let me thank Donna Baranski-Walker of The Rebuilding Alliance for helping me connect with the people of Gaza, despite having been refused entry to go in person.  I am very grateful.  Thank you also to Raji Sourani and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, who have been the voice for human rights in Gaza for decades.  

RESPONSE:  The boycott of Hamas after winning a free and fair election in 2006, and subsequent punishment of the people of Gaza, have backfired and the group may be more popular than ever.  Polls show that Palestinians voted for Hamas members because of frustration with corruption in the dominant party, Fatah, and because Hamas' humanitarian efforts and good governance of municipalities had helped people educate and provide for their children amidst a crippling occupation.  The same polls show that popular support for Hamas in 2006 was not based on support for the group's religious or political ideologies.  The international community and Israel should have seized on the opportunity to persuade more Palestinians to participate in the political process, which would have done more to undermine extremist ideologies than the current course.

Question 2: 

"Mr. President, I would like to ask you, there are many civil rights marches in Gaza every day. What is your feeling about the suffering Palestinian women who lose their sons every day?"

- Nadine Rajab
The Palestinian International Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza
www.end-gaza-siege.ps

RESPONSE: This is an interesting question: why do we not hear about the non-violent protests happening all the time in the occupied territories?  We mostly read and hear about violence.  Maybe if the rocket attacks would cease and the world community were more aware of the brave efforts of Palestinians to protest in a non-violent way, it would have more of an impact on world opinion.
 
For me, I cannot imagine the grief of a parent who has lost their child in this violence.  I hope that, within my lifetime, we will see the day when no more children, Israeli or Palestinian, are buried by their parents as a result of this conflict.

Photo of Husam El Nounou Photo of Osama El Jarou

Question 3:
You know the siege on Gaza has resulted in disastrous humanitarian consequences, this is aggravating feelings of hatred, intimidation, and despair, as you mentioned in your press conference.  Can you imagine how this is giving foundations for American relations with Arab countries in the future, and how can we all together break this violence and counter-violence?

- Husam El Nounou
Gaza Community Mental Health Programme 
www.gcmhp.net 

RESPONSE:  The people of the United States want to lead with their values—values of freedom, democracy, and respect for the dignity of all.  When we have been at our best, these values have served us well, and our fidelity to them has helped us lead the movement for human rights worldwide over the decades since World War II.  I believe there is a determination being expressed by many in my country to reaffirm these values—not just in word, but in deed. 
 
It is my hope that, if we speak clearly and bring to light the facts as they are, and challenge ourselves to live up to our ideals, America will again be a great partner in peace and justice.

Question 4:
During your tour to the Middle East, what is your message for the young people?

- Osama El Jarou
Human Rights Activist

RESPONSE:  My greatest hope for the youth is that they not give in to despair, though it might be difficult to resist this.  I am saddened when young people, full of life, cannot see a future for themselves or their children.  Perhaps it will be the young, both Israelis and Palestinians who decide it is time for a new way forward, a new way out of the cycle of violence.  If this happens, my dream will have been realized.
Photo of Mahmoud El Khozendar Photo of Ayman Quader
Question 5:
Gaza life is freezing due to the prohibition of the income or deposit of fuel to Gaza for more than six months.  They allow amounts in of only 30 percent of certain types and less than 6 percent of most of the other types.This has brought the area to near starvation situation and disastrous situation for health, the economy, the environment, which is a disastrous situation.
Does the international community agree with the policy of cutting off the Gaza Strip, which is considered as collective punishment, and do the people of Gaza have to pay for their last democratic election, where your Excellency was a witness for that election and carried surprising results for the Gaza people?  Thanks.

- Mahmoud El Khozendar
Petrol station owner

RESPONSE:  The closure of Gaza by Israel is a violation of international law, as it is a form of collective punishment against 1.5 million people for the reckless actions of a few who are launching rockets.  Unfortunately, the United States and most European nations are supporting this illegal act. I have strongly urged the Palestinian leadership to stop the rocket attacks, because it is creating a horrific situation for the people who live close to Gaza, and it also provides Israel with an excuse to punish Gaza as a whole, without receiving much international criticism.  The Carter Center and I have  issued several statements criticizing the closure as well as the rocket attacks.  

Question 6:
"After you were prevented to enter Gaza, how do you feel? And you have an open invitation to visit Gaza again and try again.  Thank you."

- Ayman Quader
The Palestinian International Campaign to end the siege on Gaza
www.end-gaza-siege.ps

RESPONSE:  I was very disappointed not to be able to visit Gaza, so receiving and having the chance to answer your questions is very important to me.  I hope that soon I can visit you at the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.


 

Photo of Salah Abo Hatab Photo of - Dr. A'aed Yaghi
Question 7:
"Mr. President, in your press conference, you spoke about occupation, but you didn't speak about occupation as the main and the only problem of violence in the Middle East. Do you think there are now different interpretations of occupation? Has the United Nations interpretation of occupation or the international order changed and is the United Nations no longer involved in the struggle?"

- Salah Abo Hatab
Human rights activist in Gaza

RESPONSE:  Occupation is a terrible circumstance because it deprives people of the ability to control their own lives and larger societies, and it prevents the emergences of national autonomous and sovereign institutions.  It must be rejected and permanent self-government must prevail everywhere on earth.  This should be the position of the international community, but enormous political pressures in the United Nations have resulted in permanent occupation, with the confiscation and colonization of Palestinian land.
Question 8:
Our regards, from the biggest prison in the world where dozens of patients have died because of lack of medication or inability to reach medical facilities outside the Gaza Strip. Mr. President, what would to say to the mother of Isama Azlouri, a three-year-old who is suffering from leukemia and dying now because she has been denied access to medication outside of Gaza?

- Dr. A'aed Yaghi
The Palestinian Medical Relief Society 
www.pmrs.ps

RESPONSE:  My answer will be similar to the one I gave for the previous question.  It is inconceivable to me, and most people who stop to think about it, that a three-year-old child would be deprived of life-saving available medical attention because of an Israeli policy to refuse passage for a child and her family to a hospital.  Sadly, there are too many stories like this in the occupied territories.  The Carter Center and other human rights organizations can help publicize these cases.  During my recent visit, I witnessed very good cooperation between some dedicated Israeli medical personnel and Palestinians to ensure that Palestinian children who are able to reach hospitals in Israel receive the treatment they need.  I hope this can grow and sow the seeds of trust and compassion.  Also, I have pushed very hard to persuade the parties to find a way to open the crossings in order to allow children like Isama, and others in need, to be able to reach the care they require.
Photo of Jaber Weshah Photo of Jaber Weshah
Question 9:
"I am an ex-Palestinian prisoner who served 5261 days in Israeli jails and shifted from military violent resistance to human rights defending.   When the Oslo Accord was concluded I was still in the jail, and I rejected it for one reason: it was not based on a firm bedrock of human rights.  Do you, Mr. President, believe that any peaceful accord or agreement, which is not built on a firm bedrock of human rights, can last?"

- Jaber Weshah
Palestinian Center for Human Rights 
www.pchrgaza.org 
(Response to questions 9 and 10 at right.)
Question 10:
Second question, Mr. President:
You mentioned repeatedly Shalit's name, the Israeli soldier captured within the Palestinian militant group.  I respect the suffering of Shalit's mother, but I think at the same level the whole world must respect the suffering of thousands of the Palestinian and Arab prisoners in the Israeli jails. Suffering has no passport.  Would you believe, Mr. President, that any peace accord that does not bring the release of those prisoners -- will it last? Thank you.

- Jaber Weshah
Palestinian Center for Human Rights 
www.pchrgaza.org

RESPONSE:  I will answer these two questions together.  Peace cannot last without a real and tangible protection of human rights.  Like in Northern Ireland, prisoners -- some who were called "terrorists," who had "blood on their hands" -- were freed as part of the peace agreement there.  Palestinian society must see the return of their 11,600 sons and daughters who are in Israeli jails, 110 of whom are women, and 350 being children.  Since 1967, Israel has detained 700,000 people, 24 percent of the Palestinian population.  Since the Annapolis Conference, 2,437 Palestinians have been arrested, three times more than the number released during the same period, according to Palestinian sources.  41 members of the freely elected Palestinian Legislative Council continue to be jailed without charge, apparently for having been elected in the 2006 elections.  Reconciliation cannot happen without remedying this fact of life in Palestinian society.  Every family is missing loved ones. There must be healing and a renunciation of violence together. 
Photo of Mohsen Abo Ramadan Photo of Huwaida Arraf
Question 11:
Because of the continuation of Occupation and the apartheid system, like you mention in your book, could you serve the role, with other international peace makers such as Nelson Mandela, Mary Robinson, and Desmond Tutu, as a moral power to put pressure on Israel in order to face and to put an end to this occupation and the apartheid system of the Occupied Palestinian Territories? Thank you.

- Mohsen Abo Ramadan
Civil Society Activist

RESPONSE:  My use of the word "apartheid" has upset some in Israel and the United States, though many Israelis use the term to describe the situation in the territories.  In fact Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned recently that if Israel does not reach a two-state agreement soon, that it would "face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, and as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished."
 
Olmert's warning mirrors my intention when I wrote the book, to raise the alarm.  But I also wanted people around the world, including my own fellow citizens of the United States, to understand the system of separation and deprivation that now exists under the occupation.  My concern is that the United States is not meeting its obligation to uphold the human rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to be free from fear and violence, and to push for a fair peace settlement, with justice for all. I and the Carter Center will continue to do our best to be of help.
Question 12, at the Press Conference in Jerusalem
(no video):
"My name is Huwaida Arraf and I work with the Rebuilding Alliance and the International Solidarity Movement. I was asked to be here today to relay a question on behalf of civil society in Gaza. 
I understand that the Israeli authorities prevented you from entering Gaza to see the realities on the ground and to meet with the people yourself. And the people of Gaza are not allowed to be here to ask for themselves. So this question comes from Dr. Eyad Sarraj, founder and director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme. 

Given the Israeli and American Administrations' response to your trip / initiative, what do you believe your chances are of working with these two administrations to lift the suffocating siege on Gaza – a siege that has been termed by most local and international human rights organizations as a war crime? 

And if your response is 'little or no chance,' then what about working to lift the siege via other avenues? People are being starved and are daily dying as a result of this brutal siege…. "

- Huwaida Arraf
Co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement
www.palsolidarity.org/ 

RESPONSE:  I will continue to speak out about the closure and do what is in my power to press the issue.  Because I have no power to affect any policy directly, I will have to rely on my ability to speak to the public and the press and to officials when possible.  The Carter Center has an office in Ramallah and we can try to keep the issue in front of the public. 
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