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A talk to WSPSC by Dr Christos Giannou, Guildford 3 May 2016

Dr Giannou worked in Lebanon for the Palestine Red Crescent between 1980 and 1990 and was director of the only hospital in the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp during two years of uninterrupted siege in 1985-88. Later he became Head Surgeon of the International Committee of the Red Cross and retained his interest in Palestinian developments.

In an extraordinary coincidence, he had just met again the previous day one of his patients during the siege, Fatima Hilo whom he had treated in Shatila when she was 14, and she came with him to the talk. Fatima is a journalist and film maker based in London. Tennyson’s ballad The Lady of Shalott is about a woman confined in a tall tower who survived and escaped, choosing to join the land of the living. Were he writing today he might have called it The Lady of Shatila

 

We expected him to tell us about this terrible siege: 3,500 people were confined in a space of 200 x 200 meters. By the end, they were all living in underground bomb shelters and tunnels and virtually no structure survived the Amal and Lebanese army artillery barrage. According to the UN, 635 were killed and 2,500 wounded on both sides.

He mentioned it briefly and showed some pictures, but concentrated instead on a coruscating far-ranging analysis of Palestinian policies from 1967 to the present day

The thrust of it was that they were driven at critical times not by a rational analysis of how the Palestinian situation could best be improved, but by a combination of a romantic urge to resist Israeli oppression with violence and of corruption in the higher echelons of Fatah and the PLO.

The first Intifada of 1987 to 1993 was a non-violent civil disobedience against Israeli occupation. The Israeli army, with a policy of “The Iron Fist: might, power, and beatings, namely ‘breaking Palestinians' bones’", killed about 1,200 civilians, wounded 26,000 children, but failed to contain it. The adverse publicity and international boycotts forced it to the negotiating table and led to the Oslo Accords of 1993-5.

This successful civil resistance was organised by a younger generation of Palestinian leaders in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), without any assistance from neighbouring Arab states. Unfortunately the negotiations were led by the older external leaders fronted by Arafat, romantic and incompetent, and not by the younger leaders. While Israel deployed a powerful advisory team of lawyers, the PLO did not and accepted terms that failed to bind Israel effectively to what appeared to have been agreed. Norway was at the heart of the negotiations. According to an official Norwegian retrospective report by Waage in 2001, “ ... the Oslo process was conducted on Israel’s premises, with Norway acting as Israel’s helpful errand boy ... Israel’s red lines were the ones that counted, and if the Palestinians wanted a deal, they would have to accept them, too.... [this] would explain the disaster that followed Oslo”.

After the murder of PM Rabin in 1995, illegal settlement in the OPTs continued and increased, and the Second Intifada followed in 2000 to 2005, provoked by Sharon. Unlike the First Intifada, the violence of the Israeli reaction was met with violent resistance and suicide bombings.

Dr Giannou considers this was a romantic and irrational route, in view of the disparity between the power of the Israeli state and of the Palestinians. The way in which a small group of Palestinians have become wealthy through their collaboration with Israel in the Palestinian Authority and acted as policemen for Israel has also shielded Israel from having to bear the real cost of the Occupation. The recent development of ISIL has been in part the result of general Arab frustration with the Western support both for Israel and for illegitimate Arab regimes in the region. Many young people have joined it not because of its religious basis, but as the only avenue they have to express their opposition.

He believes like most that the current situation in Israel/Palestine means the Two State solution is a dead duck, that a fresh set of Palestinian leaders should emerge who should reconsider their objectives, focus on an analysis of alternative One State solutions and use this as their aim, coupled with encouraging the BDS (Boycott, Disinvest, Sanction) drive abroad. This, together with increasing Jewish recognition, especially in the Diaspora, that present Israeli policies will be disastrous in the long run, must eventually lead to a just solution for Palestinians and Jewish people ... even if it takes 30 years.

Anchor He asked if the Palestine Solidarity Campaign might not help in this process by, for instance, organising a debate between Palestinian experts on One vs Two state solutions, then answered questions.

The large audience was fascinated by the depth and breadth of his presentation and thanked him for coming. The meeting was also filmed by Fatima.

George Roussopoulos, WS PSC