‘The Palestinians are being treated with far more barbarity than people know’
Alison Weir is an activist, a journalist, and the executive director of If Americans Knew, which is an organization whose mission is to give Americans information on topics of importance that are underreported or misreported in the media. She recently returned from the Palestinian territories and sat down with Final Call Assistant Editor Ashahed M. Muhammad to give readers a perspective of the harsh realities in a region that has been immersed in conflict for the last 60 years.
Final Call (FC): What was the catalyst for your interest in that region and how long have you been involved in activism and research?
Alison Weir (AW): Seven years. I knew nothing about Israel or Palestine before the current Intifada that began in the fall of 2000. That got my interest and curiosity. I quickly noticed we were getting one-sided coverage, mostly–of course–the Israeli perspective. I wanted to know more. I was so outraged at what I started to learn when I found out what was going on, what was being done with my tax money, and the fact that the American media was covering it up. It was so important to me that I quit my job and traveled over to Palestine as a freelance reporter.
FC: What types of difficulties have you encountered as a result of your outspokenness and activism?
AW: We’ve gotten some death threats, one very explicit one. The anonymous caller left a voicemail on our answering machine saying ‘me and my buddies trained by the Israeli military are going to come in and kill every single one of you’ and he gave a specific deadline. We get harassing phone calls and emails, and on the Internet you can find some very defamatory and false information about me which is perplexing. If they don’t like what I am writing or what I am saying, then try to contest that, but don’t make up things that are false. It is sort of strange. On the other hand, for the most part, we get very positive feedback, which is exciting. We get far more positive feedback then negative.
FC: Have you ever been stopped or detained trying to enter the Palestinian territories on one of your visits?
AW: Yes, they did stop me one time. Israel denied me entry and locked me up in the airport in a cell for 28 hours and then deported me, so I never know (for sure) if I will get in. I don’t fly into Ben-Gurion Airport to get in. This last time, I was able to make it in. I looked into the number of people who were killed during the time I was over there, August, September and October and 116 Palestinians were killed during that period. Nobody even has any idea that Palestinians are even being killed, much less 116 in three months. Every single day they are being kidnapped. We try as much as possible to give information about both populations, especially in our statistics. Looking at the statistics over those three months, three Israelis were killed. Three Israeli soldiers invading Palestinian lands.
FC: What surprised you the most during your research and fact-finding?
AW: One of the things is just how bad it is. A lot of people say ‘I know the Palestinians have it hard’ and people say ‘well, its both sides that are doing wrong,’ but the fact is there is an enormous disparity. The Palestinians are being treated with far more barbarity than people know. The torture in the prisons is routine. The fact that over 11,000 Palestinians are in prison. The fact that everyone in Palestine is basically a prisoner. This isn’t rhetoric that I am using here. I just came back. Often, they cannot get out of their town or village because it is surrounded by Israeli checkpoints that don’t let people out. Imagine if you wanted to go visit your relatives the next town over and you couldn’t leave because there are hostile forces with machine guns and tanks saying no.
FC: There used to be a time, when internationally, people said they were not against the American people, just the American government’s policies, however, after Bush was elected again, many feel that the American people might not be as opposed to the policies as many think. Do the American people care enough to really get active, even after finding out this information?
AW: The thing that’s really amazing is that I still find the majority of Palestinians differentiating between the governmental actions and the American people. It’s amazing to me and I’m not sure we deserve that kind of forgiveness, but we are getting it. Despite the fact that the American public voted for Bush twice, even after we, many of us, feel we should have known better. At this point, they are not yet as angry at the American people as some of us would expect them to be, but it’s not going to last forever. Some people justifiably are recognizing that the source of Israel’s power is the American public through our tax money and our elected representatives.
FC: Bush and the neocons are beating the drums of war again regarding Iran…
AW: That’s right, the same group.
FC: …the same rhetoric and same people speaking, preparing us for a conflict with Iran, speak to that.
AW: Yes, it’s so disturbing, the same group that pushed Iraq, and got us into that disastrous situation. I can’t think of anything more despicable. It’s not hard to identify them, the specific groups of individuals and organizations. There is a clear paper trail. These same groups and individuals are very much pushing the “clash of civilizations” trying to divide the “West” against the rest of the world, Muslims against Christians at a time when I think we all realize that we need to see our fellow humanity. Instead, we have a group that wants to do the opposite, and I think that is what we have to oppose.
FC: Is there anything else that you want to get across to the American people about this important issue?
AW: We have the power to bring justice and peace to that region. The American public, we are the only ones with the power to do it because it is our tax money that is so significant. We give Israel in the realm of $10 million per day. Our government vetoes movements by the rest of the world to bring peace there. As American citizens, we can rise up against this and say, we’re not going to let this continue and we’re going to stop it. Not only can we do this, we have the obligation to do it.
FC: Thank you.
(For more info about Ms. Weir’s organization and research regarding media coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict visit http://www.ifamericansknew.com/.)