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"Jerusalem is at the heart of the Palestinian cause"

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By Codepink DC

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Dr. Mustafa Bargouti talks with Elsa Rassbach about the Global March to Jerusalem on March 30th

Every year on March 30, Palestinians around the world celebrate Land Day, which commemorates a general strike and marches in 1976 against Israeli land appropriation, an event that was a pivotal event in bringing about Palestinian national unity. This year Palestinians throughout the Middle East and in the Diaspora will commemorate Land Day by calling attention to the dangers facing Jerusalem. 

The Israeli government has long denied most Palestinians -- whether Muslim or Christian -- access to Jerusalem, even to visit holy sites. The organizers of the Global March allege that through methods of ethnic cleansing, Israel has been forcing Jerusalem's remaining Arab inhabitants out, thus endangering the multi-religious, multi-ethnic character of the city that is the intended capital of Palestine. 

On March 30, the Palestinians will attempt to get as close to Jerusalem as they can: whether at the borders of Lebanon and Jordan, at checkpoints in the West Bank, or at the Erez crossing in Gaza. There will also be a demonstration in Jerusalem itself. The Palestinians will be joined by supporters from five continents. An eminent Advisory Board includes the Nobel Peace Laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire. Solidarity vigils and actions are also planned on March 30 at Israeli Embassies and other locations in 60 cities around the world. 

The Palestinian coalition organizing this Global March to Jerusalem is perhaps unprecedented in its breadth. Equally unprecedented is the Israeli campaign against the March, which has included faux Websites and Facebook pages to mislead participants regarding gathering places. After 70 supporters from India, Malaysia, Pakistan and other Asian countries visited Iran on their way to Lebanon to join the March, the Israeli press alleged that the March is directed from Iran and that violent "clashes" with Israeli forces are planned. 

Among the most outspoken Palestinian supporters and organizers of the Global March is Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, 58, the well-known nonviolence advocate. As General Secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, Dr. Bargouti played a key role in recent attempts to bring Hamas and Fatah together. He is a medical doctor educated in the former Soviet Union, the US and Jerusalem; he founded and leads Palestinian Medical Relief society, which provides health care in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In 2005 Dr. Bargouti ran for presidency of the Palestinian National Authority and won 19% of the vote. He resides in Ramallah in the West Bank.

ER:  You have joined with Palestinians from many different political perspectives and many places in the world to call for a Global March to Jerusalem. What is this initiative about?

MB:  It's an act of solidarity with the Palestinian people. It will take place on Land Day, March 30, a day that symbolizes the unity of Palestinians in the struggle for freedom and dignity and against theft of their land. We hope to bring to the world's attention the very grave violations that Israel is committing against Jerusalem. Both the UN and The International Court of Justice hold that annexation of East Jerusalem, which is part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, is a violation of international law.

ER:  But there is illegal Israeli confiscation of Palestinian land throughout the Occupied Territories and also within Israel.   Why the focus on Jerusalem?

MB:  Jerusalem is at the heart of the Palestinian cause. East Jerusalem should be the capital of the Palestinian state. If Jerusalem is lost, the whole concept and idea of Palestinian statehood is lost, and the possibility of peace is lost. And Jerusalem is an important place for all of humanity -- a holy place for Muslims, Christians, and the Jewish people. It should be the place where peace begins. 

Today in Jerusalem you see the Israeli system of segregation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing in the sharpest possible way. If a Palestinian man from Jerusalem marries a woman in Ramallah, only 16 kilometers away, he will not be able to live with her. The Israelis will never grant her the right to move to Jerusalem, but if he moves to Ramallah, he will lose his ID and his residency permit in Jerusalem. And the permit may be withdrawn for political reasons as well. Though I was born in Jerusalem and worked there as a medical doctor for 15 years, after I ran for president in 2005, the Israeli Army thereafter has refused to allow me in. Most Palestinians including Christians and Moslems, also cannot enter.

But any Jewish person from anywhere in the world who decides to immigrate to Israel, whether from Siberia or the United States, will immediately be granted the right to live in Jerusalem or anywhere else in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Jerusalem is accessible to every Jewish person. It should be accessible to everybody. Many Jewish people from Israel and other parts of the world agree and are participating in and even organizing the Global March. 

ER:  Among the demands of the March is "the right of return." Why would Palestinians who live in historical Palestine support such a demand? 

MB:  This demand means a lot to us, too, because there are huge numbers of refugees living in Gaza and West Bank who are denied access to the place they were forced to leave. Even Palestinians living in Israel who carry Israeli citizenship are not allowed to return home to their villages in Israel like Iqrit and Kafr Bir'im. The right of return is a right recognized by international law under a special UN resolution 194. We do understand that its implementation will have to be negotiated, but the right itself has to be respected.

ER:  Last year on May 15th, Nakba Day and also Israeli Independence Day, Israeli soldiers killed dozens and wounded hundreds of unarmed Palestinians who tried to cross over the borders of Lebanon and Syria. Could the Global March lead to a repeat of such violence?   

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