Rio Negro – Thursday, January 5, 1989
Interview with Suhail Akel, a Palestinian leader
We are not terrorists (view)
His shoes are stained with an orange dirt. He has just returned from Congress Square where he went to ask for his people. He wears the typical “kefia” on his back. It is a type of “shawl” usually worn by Palestinians. Yasser Arafat himself wears it even when he speaks at the United Nations: it is a revolutionary symbol. His name is Suhail Akel. He is the representative of the Palestine Information Office in Argentina with headquarters in Rosario, 1618 Pellegrini Ave. He says that he does not belong to the PLO, but he speaks as if he does belong to it. Speaking about the activities of the Palestine Information Office, he says that they consist of “defending the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, informing the Palestinian problematic, commemorating the essential dates for our people and lobbying the Argentine government for the acknowledgement of a future diplomatic office of the Palestine Liberation Organization”. He speaks slowly; he does not want a single concept to be misunderstood. Almost like an expert diplomat. After the interview, he asks for the recording of the conversation; he wants to be sure that what has been said is what is going to be published. When the PLO is related to terrorism, he reacts asking: “What terrorist organization is recognized by 136 countries?
Carlos Alberto Torrengo and Gerardo Yomal
(Special delivery for “Rio Negro”)
-The representative of the PLO in Brazil once affirmed that they would request the installation of a diplomatic office in Buenos Aires. Do you believe this interest still exist?
The PLO has always been interested in opening a diplomatic office in Argentina which represents Palestinians. Just as the Israeli interests have their embassy (we do not want it to be closed) we, Palestinians, want to have our own embassy. In order to achieve it, we have sent a series of letters to the Argentine government and we have carried forth various public demonstrations. We have had no answer yet, but we remain confident in the democratic government and in the next government which will emerged from elections so that the opening of our representation may be given course next year.
-Are there higher expectations of achieving your objectives with a "Peronista" government than with a Radical one?
Fundamentally, we are confident in Argentines because this decision does not belong to a government or a party. We are confident in the good will of Argentines, so that this PLO diplomatic office may be opened. Every government has its own conscience and knows how to proceed.
-Surely, you also trust, due to a question of ascendancy, Menem. Are you more confident about him?
We are confident in Menem as an Argentine politician.
-Are you more confident in him than in Alfonsin?
No, we believe that the time left before the finalization of Alfonsin’ s governmental term is enough to generate the possibility of opening our embassy. It is necessary to remember that in the international forums the Argentine government has pronounced itself -in the words of Alfonsin himself- in favor of an International Peace Conference for the return of the Palestinian people to their occupied territories, as well as, it has pronounced in favor of the participation of the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, the PLO, in this Conference.
-Has the meeting with the USA caused an effect on the PLO’s international relations?
Having conversation with the US is highly important, especially because the US is the sole important ally of Israel and it can exert pressure upon it. If we achieve an accord with the US, it will be taken a positive step to achieve peace and our return to our occupied territories.
-The argument used by national and international sectors in order not to recognize the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people is that this organization carries out an armed struggle. Has the PLO changed this attitude? Will the PLO appeal to armed violence once again?
Our people have chosen the PLO as their sole and legitimate representative after carrying out a referendum in which the PLO achieved a 95% of votes. Therefore, Israel is not the one which must decide on who the Palestinians’ representative is. And I would like to clear up a few things: the PLO is not a political party or a terrorist organization such as the West has tried to make it seem; the PLO has its parliament, its trade unions, its student and worker unions, etc. In a certain way, it has the structure of a State. It is also necessary to explain that we are not the ones who engendered terrorism, but the victims of Zionist terrorism which has dispossessed us of our lands trampling over our corpses, so as to create the State of Israel. I was born in Jerusalem in 1946 and in 1948 I was violently expelled from my land together with my family; many of us took a ship or left towards the dessert leaving our history behind and leaving our families divided and displaced. We were not the ones who expelled Jews; Zionists were the ones who entered our land supported by England, their ally at that time. They did not even respect the UN decision of dividing Palestine: a 55% for a Jewish state and a 45% for a Palestinian state. We are not terrorists; with our armed struggle, we are searching for the liberation of our people.
-Would the PLO once again put bombs into buses filled with Jewish children?
I have no precise information about the fact that the PLO put bombs into buses filled with Jewish children. If Israel does not accept having conversations, we will continue with our armed struggle until we regained the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967. But we do want to find a peaceful solution to the conflict through in an international peace conference through the United Nations. The Western press has declared that the PLO has give up terrorism after its Algiers Summit. We have not given up terrorism because we are not terrorists; we are victims of terrorism. Is not the fact of going to Tunis and kill the 2nd commander of the PLO an act of terrorism? Isn’t it an act of piracy? We have not killed an Israeli leader in revenge. We could have done so, but we have not done it.
-But some time ago Palestinian cells killed Israeli athletes and the Israeli Ambassador in London...
Excuse me... the Israeli athletes were killed by the Black September Organization which is not even in the PLO.
-Could groups, such as the one headed by Abu Nidal, have been the ones who attack the Pan Am plane which exploded in the air? Do you consider them PLO’s residual groups?
No, they are not the PLO’s residual groups. They are totally opposed to the interests of the PLO. On the other hand, we understand these Palestinian groups which were born in refugee camps where they themselves saw how their parents were and brothers were massacred. This does not justify violence, because we do not justify violence under any point of view, but we cannot forget that violence engenders more violence. We need to reach a peaceful agreement in order to reach that these groups may be definitely controlled.
-Up to what point will these groups headed, among others, by Abu Nidal not allow Arafat (whom they call “Dove”) to advance in the peace negotiations with Israel under the supervision of US and USSR?
These groups cannot block Arafat’s advancement.
-Don’t they have power?
No, of course, they have no power; they have no consent from the Palestinian people, even though certain Arab governments support them. We cannot forget that Israel also posses its reactionary sectors: Rabin Meir Kahane, for example. He is directly in government; on the contrary, we do not possess this kind of people in our leadership. This Rabin is an Israeli MP who proposes the expulsion and deportation of all Arabs, without exception.
-Is there any contact with the Israeli group “Peace Now” which moved hundred of thousands Israelis in favor of peace?
We need to solve our problem in a peaceful way. With these pacifist movements, things may be improved looking for the contact between a Jewish brother and a Palestinian brother. Many of them desire peace.
-Political sectors from our country, which are certainly distinguishable, have named the Argentine government “the Radical synagogue”. What does it mean to you?
It depends on the Argentine sectors which said that. We do not involve ourselves in the internal problems of Argentina. We are respectful.
-I have asked because there were versions which related your office with the ultra-rightist National Alert group...
These versions are totally untrue. All begun when they sent an adherence to us, but the truth is that we receive adherence from all different sectors of the Argentine politics such as the Vice-president Victor Martinez, Peronistas, Israeli centers, UCD, etc.
-We would like to get a more precise opinion on the relationship between Menem and the PLO and the possible opening of a diplomatic office in our country.
It seems you are certain that he will win... There is no relationship. We are confident that if Menem wins the elections, he may recognize the Palestinian people’s need of having a diplomatic representation in Argentina.
-Do you sense a wink or a higher approval from this political sector?
do not sense winks; we deal with deeds. The Palestinian people do not need
winks, they need deeds. They need Argentina become part of the group of countries
such Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, among others, which already count with
PLO offices. There are 110 in the world. Argentina must give the Palestinian
people the possibility of having a truly authorized spokesman by way of their