Saturday, July 9, 2011

INTERVIEW with Italian Activist

Media Center: You arrived yesterday?

Italian Activist: I arrived a few days ago.

MC: You are part of the Welcome to Palestine initiative?

IA: Yes

MC: What did you tell Israeli security at the airport?

I: I just told them I was here for tourism.

MC: Did they ask more questions?

IA: Yes, a lot. For 11 hours. Every hour or every half- hour someone was coming and asking me a lot of questions. If I knew people here, my interests, questions about wife, and work. Very, very detailed. Specific questions about the people that I knew here. They wanted very detailed questions such as where I wanted to stay and sleep. They repeated the same questions tens of times. I had to answer the same question 20, 30 times. I noticed many people were denied entry.

MC: So they knew you were coming to Palestine and did they know it was for the initiative?

IA: No they thought I was coming to Palestine for tourism.

MC: Did you fly in with other activists?

IA: No, I don’t know. I just saw a lot of people were denied entry. I saw also people who I suppose were not activists, many Americans of Palestinian origin. They were denied entry with out any explanations. They deny entry to even foreigners of Palestinian origin, not just activists.

MC: How many other people did you see while being interrogated?

IA: Many people. I can say some of them were of Palestinian origin, others from Europe and the U.S. In 11 hours I saw at least 50 people. I can say that at least 20 were denied entry.

MC: How specific were you with your answers?

IA: For example they were asking me everyday what were my plans. Where was I planning to sleep. Which people was I planning to meet. Exact information about my family. The life of my friends and about my work. Which customers I have. I didn’t say anything about the Palestinian initiative for this week, which I was coming here for. I answered them very honestly but I told them that I was coming here for tourism. They didn’t ask me if I was going to join any activists. They didn’t ask me specifically if I was an activist. I didn’t tell them about my specific activities. That is why I am here.

MC: Have you been to Palestine before and if so, were you interrogated as well?

IA: Yes, last year exactly the same. I told them the same thing last year.

MC: Can you talk about what you plan to do this week? What you want to see come out of this initiative?

IA: I would like to join this initiative this week to get more information about the lives of Palestinians. So that when I go back to Italy I can inform as much as possible about the real situation of Palestinians. The media in Italy is always saying false things about the situation in Palestine. They say Palestinians are terrorists and that Israel has the right to stop them. They say that there is no occupation and Italians don’t know much about the occupation.

MC: How did you find out about this initiative?

IA: I pertain to one solidarity campaign for Palestine in Italy and we are always aware of these initiatives and we are a network of activists.

MC: Do you know other Italian activists here?

IA: No, not for this initiative

MC: Going back to the interrogation process, can you describe the atmosphere, paint a picture for us, so that we can feel what is was like?

IA: Actually I did not have major problems because I did not tell them directly that I was here for this campaign. But they were very, very suspicious. Some of them (interrogators) were polite and talked kindly. Some of them were talking in a hard way. They had raised their voices. A little bit threatening also. But not much compared to those who declared straightly that they were coming here to join the campaign. These people were interrogated in a very bad way. The atmosphere in general is an atmosphere of oppression. You really feel it is very oppressive. You really feel what it is like to be in cage. Somebody is controlling you. Somebody wants to control your actions, your thoughts. Maybe you can understand a little bit about the situation of the Palestinians. They live in a jail. It is as if you are not talking to humans, you are talking to robots.

MC: Did you get food or water? Could you use the bathroom and were you handcuffed?

IA: Yea I had no problems. I had with me some water and biscuits. (Not given food or water). I was free to go to the bathroom. But this is because they didn’t know about the real reason I was there. I was not handcuffed.

MC: How long do you plan on being here?

IA: At least a week.

MC: And you plan on participating in demonstrations and other actions?

IA: Yes, sure. Also activist groups in Italy, they are already planning on having demonstrations in Italy against the decision of European airline companies denying boarding of passengers. This is illegal, really illegal. I want to say that today, we as European activists, we understand that we are not living in democracies. We are being occupied exactly like Palestinians are. We are not even free to take a plane from our nations with our own airline companies. Our governments, which we elected in democratic elections, are not taking the decisions that we are telling them to do. They are doing what Israel is telling them to do. This is valid for Italy, Germany, Greece and Belgium. Valid for all countries that are denying their passengers to travel, who are leaving by boats and air as well. We need to fight the occupation in our own countries as well.

MC: Can you talk a little bit about Italy’s policy towards Israel?

IA: Our government, which is Berlusconi’s government, is a one which is really pro-Israel. When Berlusconi visited Israel he said that Israel was a great democracy and that it was respecting human rights. When he visited the Palestinian territories and he was asked what he thinks about the wall, he answered that he saw no wall. That is what our president said. He said that Italy will support whatever Israel does. We have to really struggle that the people do not vote for a government like this in the next elections. He said that only a few months ago when he visited Israel officially. These days our foreign minister, when we asked him to assist us, he said no. He said that we should not come here against Israel’s will. So we are not even citizens anymore (when we are here). This is even true for America citizens.

MC: Can you talk about the Palestinian activist environment in Italy?

IA: In Italy the Palestinian activist environment is very good. It is growing everyday. Last year we participated in the Viva Palestina campaign. We found tens of thousands of medications for Palestinian hospitals and wheelchairs for Palestinian people. Also, paper stationary and printers for Gaza, which are banned. One of our friends he participated in bringing the medicine into the Gaza Strip. We are doing every month demonstrations from north to south of Italy. We are inviting Palestinian activists to come to Italy. We organize press releases to explain to the population what is happening. We are in coordination with other groups from UK, Germany, and France. We are a sort of network.

MC: Why do you think the relationship between Italy and Israel is so strong?

IA: I mean Italy and Israel have a lot of interests in common. They are cooperating a lot in the weapon industry. Just two weeks ago there was a big exhibition in Milan where all Israeli high tech companies went there to promote their products to try and make ties between Italian and Israeli companies that make weapons. There is a really big connection between our countries unfortunately. The Israeli lobby is really strong in Italy; they are controlling the media very well. But we have some Jewish activists, which are supporting the Palestinian cause. They are very few but very active. That is a positive point.

MC: What steps do you think this campaign will take in bringing more awareness to the Palestinian cause and its people? Especially with the media attention it has drawn.

IA: I’m 100% sure that there will be more awareness. The fact that 95% of the internationals could not reach Palestine is not so negative. Because now our own countries see that we are not really free to do what we want. There were demonstrations in the airports, which is really good. Our media is now forced to talk about this issue. People in Europe are asking what happened? Who are those people? Why were they denied entrance? And the media cannot deny this; the whole world is talking about this. I’m sure more people will come. Israel cannot stop activists from coming. I’m sure more people will come every year. Especially now because we have more technology such as Facebook and Twitter. We are all connected. After people demonstrate in Palestine, people can see this in Italy, Spain, and the UK.

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