– Palestinians need more attention, and we are here to get it. We noticed that we have a huge lack of narration. Pro-Palestinian activist crying and shouting in the streets, in Gaza and occupied territories, are not the only answer. A lot of the MEPs do not get this kind of message, sometimes they are in the dark when it comes to Palestinian message behind some events. Israeli lobbyists have much broader means to signal and advocate their point of view, from Jerusalem Post to Jewish organizations present on multiple levels of civic societies of Europe – says Ahmed Frassini, Coordinator of EUPAC, European Palestinian Council for Political Relations.
Interview by Wojciech Albert Łobodziński.
As EUPAC, you work with a broad representation of European politicians, not only with those stationed in Strasbourg or Brussels…
Yes, exactly. We have thirteen members of EUPAC who are placed all around Europe, and they are in contact with members of state parliaments around the continent, not only the MEPs. This provides us with a very broad net of support that is convergent at all the levels. Now we have a project of a series of events in different national parliaments around Europe, this would not be possible without the above mentioned network.
The European Palestinian Council for Political Relations, EUPAC is the first agency with the scope of political lobbying and advocacy in the political environment of the European Union. What was the idea behind creating it in the last year?
All of the Palestinian activity in the European Union is held thanks to private initiatives – or they are politically linked to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. The main job of all of this organization is to seek help for Palestine, reach European citizens, by creating pro-Palestinian narrative.
For a long time, only the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Relations, so the Palestinian Authority and its administration, worked with politicians. We believe today that it was done with little success. We noticed that there is a gap in relations with the European Parliament and its politicians. We believe that there is a need to create a parallel channel of cooperation with MEPs and political organizations of the EU. We want to do it at the same time as other Palestinian organizations, and bring the message in places that they cannot.
We were told many times by the European politicians that Palestinian are not seen by them, in an active way, at the events, conferences, or mainly in the broad discours around the topic created in Brussels. So our mission is to bring more visibility to our cause here. That is why we have created EUPAC with help of Palestinians and Europeans with Palestinian origin, accompanied with experts from different political parties of the EU, from the national levels, like Poland, France or Belgium, but also from help of people working in the European Parliament.
In the European Parliament, do you get more support from specific factions, or do you try to work more broadly, advocating freely from left and right? In Poland, for example, there is no political affiliation that is intuitively linked with the Palestinian cause or not. Sometimes you can find support in places you would never expect it.
The same here! Any MEP and politician who supports the rights of Palestinians and the idea of self-determination, liberty and right to return and to resist the occupation is addressed by us, regardless of political affiliation. We do not hesitate to speak about Palestine anywhere. If there is a possibility of working together, we take it. Palestinians need more attention, and we are here to get it.
We noticed that we have a huge lack of narration. Pro-Palestinian activist crying and shouting on the streets or on TV, in Gaza and occupied territories, are not the only answer. A lot of the MEPs do not get this kind of message. Sometimes they are in the dark when it comes to Palestinian message behind some events. Israeli lobbyists have much broader means to signal and advocate their point of view – from Jerusalem Post to Jewish organizations present on multiple levels of civic societies of Europe. Now we are here also to show that we can bring reference and present our narrative.
On the day we are talking, there is another Israeli crime in Jenin. If you google some news, they will be probably written from the Israeli point of view. The machine is working.
The only mainstream medium on the global level that presents Palestinian point of view, and the state of affairs in Palestine is Al-Jazeera…
Of course, but still – you know it, because you are a journalist and you are interested in the topic. An assistant of a MEP will probably not know, and will just check the first links in Google, which are pro-Israeli. Now, thanks to our presence here, we are asked by MEPs or the European administration to provide them with information and opinions from us, if they want to react to events happening on the ground in Palestine. So this is a kind of just when the other looks for an alternative version of news, this is the least one can do at the beginning. Israelis try to erase us from history, by mixing all possible meanings, by confusing antisemitism with antizionism.
We could see this working, when we saw Ursula von der Leyen praising ‘Israeli Independence Day’ in May this year.
We were shocked. We are 14 million people in the world. This 14 million hope that justice will prevail in the end, and our rights will win with the oppression. We are calm and steady because we know that justice is our power. But with such events we can see that this is not enough.
As EUPAC we sent her a letter with the invitation for the conference about Nakba. We knew that she wouldn’t come, but we gave her a message that if she wants to know something about the history, there is a space where she could get informed.
This is a great problem for the Palestinians. Seeing such gestures, we realise that we are alone and no one’s there to help them. This video with Ursula von der Leyen was used by the Israeli media straight after it viralled in the Internet. The same happens with every message that can strengthen their narrative of Palestinians being left alone by the rest of the world. We are very weak against the Zionist lobby in Europe, but what can we do? There is no other choice than to work.
And do you seek support from the Jewish organizations which are anti-Zionist?
When it comes to Europe we try to work with them. Those organizations working in the EU are present at our events and in our network. The only problem for us is Zionism, not Jewish religion or identity.
Now we are trying to address the issue of Israeli military personnel who also have European passports. We want to make visible the phenomenon of people who are Europeans and at the same time commit crimes in Palestine. We want the EU to create a system of punishment for them.
You can actually cooperate with the International Crime Court on that.
We are already doing that. We have a huge group of experts and lawyers working on this topic.
In Poland, if you are a Polish national, you cannot just go and join another country’s military, without the green light from the Ministry of Defence. We treat it like treason.
You see – this is knowledge that can be useful to us. Can you imagine how many Europeans serve in the IDF? Our organization, composed of Europeans with Palestinian origin, is actually trying to use the European system of law and human rights to our advantage to stop the crimes against Palestinians on the ground. We advocate for BDS and labeling the products from the illegal Israeli settlements, because Europeans cannot profit from products or resources from occupied settlements or regions. European citizens do not know most of the time about products or money coming from the occupied regions, and we want to make it more visible for the public.
Last week the European Parliament voted to ban trading with partners who do not respect human rights. This also should consider Israel. Carrefour, for example, deals with Israeli settlements. Same goes for banks and financial corporations who make building illegal settlements possible. We are here to fight this phenomenon.
International law says that occupiers cannot use the resources from the occupied territories, but Israel is doing that, when it comes to fruits, food, gas and water and many more. We will use existing European laws for that. We need a network of NGOs, political parties and activist organizations to enforce this law into life when it comes to Israel. In the end lobbying is not enough, parties think about votes, so the common organization is also needed.
Do you think that there is a window of opportunity thanks to judicial reform’s chaos in Israel?
Possibly. However, the current Israeli government is of course extremist and far-right, but in our view it is no different from any other Israeli government. 800 thousand settlers did not come in the last year, some of them came there even thanks to the Israeli left. So the problem is not this particular government, but occupation itself.
The number of crimes against Palestinians is rising, and now they are trying to legalize such actions. Currently they are trying to legalize keeping bodies of dead Palestinian prisoners in the prisons, they are doing it right now in the Knesset! We hope for serious reactions from the EU, but we do not see it.
In Jerusalem, not long ago, the EU canceled an event because Ben Gvir wanted to come there. They could not say that he was not welcome there. They just cancelled it. This shows the weakness of Europe. Another example – they welcomed a group of settlers in the Parliament.. We hoped that the EU would stop dealing with Israel because of this government, but they still deal with them. Now they want to share personal data with Israel. We asked them how do you want to do it in the light of occupation. How do you want to share my data with Israeli police, which will use it against me and my family in the West Bank? This puts us in danger. They replied that they were running their negotiations, but without stopping it. So here are the places we are trying to show our interest and the interests of Palestinians. We will try to do our job in the best way. We need to take Europeans from the dark, and show them the reality of the occupation.
Ahmed Frassini is the coordinator of EUPAC, a Belgian-Palestinian journalist born in Palestine, media strategy consultant. He holds a diploma in in filmmaking, master in communication, wrote a PHD dissertation in cultural and ethnic studies in The State Saint Petersburg University of Culture and Art