A Palestinian Legislator Speaks Out:
An Interview with Jihad Abu Zneid

Brit Tzedek's Deputy Director Aliza Becker spoke with Palestinian Legislative Council member Jihad Abu Zneid about her assessment of the present situation.  Abu Zneid is a Fatah council member from East Jerusalem and the founder and director of the Women's Center of the Shuafat Refugee Camp in East Jerusalem. We discussed the critical issues facing the Palestinians including the political separation of Gaza from the West Bank and the economy in addition to the role of women.

We want to give a special thanks to journalist and comedian Ray Hanania  for transcribing the interview for Brit Tzedek. 

How has the economic situation changed for Palestinians on the West Bank since Fatah reassumed control over the Palestinian Authority?
Recently, with the change in government and its relations internationally, there has been a resumption of pay for Palestinian Authority employees. We received 60 percent of the past due salaries and have received regular wages for the past two months. This has fueled a great sense of hope today. At least for now.

People can see the possibility of improvement, but they feel the world doesn't care. Most people want to avoid the bloodshed and the violence that has marked the past. But they are the silent majority.

People can see the possibility of improvement, but they feel the world doesn’t care.

Unemployment is very high and contributes to the rise of religious extremists. If the economy improves, then it will mean that their lives will improve, and then that leads to hope, and that leads to a willingness to believe in the promise of the peace process rather than today's reality. The majority of Palestinians want peace.

Salam Fayyad has given us some hope.  People feel more secure personally. They feel safer. They felt they were being punished before by the Israelis for the failure of the peace process. The rivalries surfaced in that. And that caused it to worsen. If you were on one side of Palestinian politics, you were punished by the other side.
 
Now that the police are being restored, there is hope that our security will improve even more. There is no reason to have any guns on the street outside of the police. We can't have these militias and political groups being armed. It is against our best interests.

How has the split between Hamas and Fatah affected the peace process?
There is no peace process right now, just talk. There is a real lack of trust in the Israelis. The Arab governments have not stepped up and have not proposed anything substantial or new ideas at all.

You can’t have peace between Palestinians and Israelis until we reunite the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

You can't have peace between Palestinians and Israelis until we reunite the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. We have to bring the Palestinians together for everyone’s benefit when it comes to peace. It will not help bring peace to have the two separated politically and as societies.
 
The separation is just temporary, and I believe we will overcome the differences. It cannot stay this way for long. Our families are together, even if the land is divided. We are one body, in two locations.
 
We want the Palestinian people to be united again. We do not want them to be split.

As a Fatah party member, how do you view Hamas?
Hamas is controlled from outside of the territories, not from Palestine. Many of the Hamas activists, though, are like us and we support them.

We [Fatah] do not agree with their [Hamas] politics and their repressive policies against women and citizens, but we defend their right to speech and expression.

When the Hamas-Fatah rivalry erupted, there was this misperception that Fatah was punishing the Hamas people. There were some groups who tried to punish the Hamas leadership in the West Bank, factions of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, for example. But we defended the Hamas leaders. We would not allow them to punish any Hamas leaders. We stood up to the militants and told them no. They must not take the law into their own hands.
 
Hamas spokesmen still tried to incite violence by claiming that Fatah was seeking to avenge the killings and destruction in the Gaza Strip, but that was not the case. We protected the Hamas members in the West Bank because they are Palestinians. We do not agree with their politics and their repressive policies against women and citizens, but we defend their right to speech and expression.
 
Hamas has a very strong presence in the West Bank. It is not just in the Gaza Strip. But they have not asserted themselves as much and there is a larger presence of Fatah loyalists in the West Bank. So they are not seen as being as powerful as they are in the West Bank. Hamas is there but they are underground in the West Bank. Fatah controls the street but Hamas controls the religion and religion is very powerful in our lives and Arab culture.

Although Hamas is isolated internationally, they continue to enjoy strong support in the Gaza Strip, but we [Fatah] do have supporters there. There was a big Fatah protest recently.

Is Hamas the main proponent of Islamic extremism in Palestinian society?
Hamas is only one religious movement.  There are many others. Hizb ut-Tahrir  staged a rally in Ramallah recently that drew more than ten thousand people.

Unemployment is very high and contributes to the rise of religious extremists.

These groups have been very critical of Hamas because they have viewed them as being too secular. And they are very, extremely critical of the secular leaders and groups in our society. They want an Islamic government.
 
They not only support the oppression of women, they even oppose women praying in a mosque. In Gaza, women have no real voice because of these movements.

What are the main challenges facing Palestinian women?
There is a major problem with honor killings. Thirty-six women were killed in 2006. Domestic violence, I think, is the number two issue we face. This includes incest. And the third challenge is education, training and teaching women.

The big problem for women is that we are not respected. The men do not respect our rights as women. They respect us in a moral way but not in terms of empowerment.


Related Articles:
 
Against all obstacles by Jihad Abu Zneid. Common Ground News Service. May 18, 2007.

Interview with Jihad Abu Zneid, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and President of the women's center of Shu'fat refugee camp. Peace Times.

Palestinians Back Caliphate over Politics by Carolynne Wheeler. Telegraph (UK). August 27, 2007.


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