War between Israel and Gaza: Issa Kassis, mayor of Ramallah: “The occupation is not just weapons or soldiers, it is in your head, it prevents you from dreaming” | International
Issa Kassis (Jerusalem, 56 years old), mayor of Ramallah, the administrative capital of the West Bank, where the headquarters of the Government of the Palestinian National Authority is located, traveled this week to Barcelona to participate in a round table at the Smart City Expo congress . Kassis, who gave an interview to EL PAÍS this Wednesday, flew from Amman (Jordan), where he grew up and where his father still lives since he was expelled in the Six Day War (1967) that pitted Israel against several Arab countries. . The councilor, a Palestinian Christian, had a career in the world of finance and studied and lived in the United States, but in 2000 he decided to return to Ramallah, where his entire family is from. There he obtained a Palestinian identity card, so he had to renounce American residency. He did not doubt, nor does he doubt now, about the future in the West Bank, despite the crisis due to Israel's war in Gaza unleashed after the Hamas attacks on October 7.
Ask. What is it like to live in Ramallah right now?
Answer. Living in Ramallah these days is very, very tense. People are worried, scared. Businesses are losing money, schools have returned to virtual classes, there are demonstrations almost every day in the streets. People are afraid of Israeli settlers and almost every day there are raids and arrests by the Israeli army: there have been more than 2,000 detainees in raids in one month, and constant murders, two days ago, a man who was crossing the street in Ramallah . Beyond what is happening in Gaza, the West Bank is not safe in many ways. It is very worrying.
Q. In this congress he participates in a round table entitled “Cities in search of talent and economic vitality.” Has it ever been possible to focus on this in Ramallah?
R. The quick answer is yes, and there is the resilience that Palestinians have built up over years. Yes, we live under occupation, but life cannot stop. For our society, mostly young and very equal, for entrepreneurs and those starting a life, for university graduates. We continue to build the city, at a slower pace and with higher costs due to occupation, but economic prosperity is the most important thing.
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Q. What changed on October 7?
R. That day showed everyone that the risk remains and is enormous. When fear enters people's heads and hearts, it pushes them to alternatives: either to leave or to stay doing nothing, and in this emptiness is where people lose hope. The West Bank has achieved some economic growth despite the occupation. Starting October 7 it is more difficult, but we do not want opportunities for people with talent and skills to be lost.
Q. Attacks by settlers have increased. What role does the Israeli army have?
R. Since this Israeli Government took power, settler attacks have increased drastically, but above all systematically, and that is the problem. This creates a threat to the Palestinian Authority, because it has to ensure control of the West Bank while maintaining the Oslo accords. [que establecen áreas de responsabilidad militar de Israel en Cisjordania]. On the other hand, what we see is that the settlers are protected by Israeli soldiers, I can't say that they don't stop them, but they are with them, while the Palestinians can't do anything but run, throw stones and be stopped. This makes the settlers increasingly bold. And the soldiers have closed the cities with cement blocks, it can take an hour or more to get in or out. There are great restrictions, and I don't see that they are helping to stop the settlers, rather they are putting pressure on them with their own means.
Q. What is your priority as mayor?
R. My priority is to generate good citizens, people who believe in democracy, who know how to convey their demands. Both Ramallah and Palestine are places where everything could be done better under better circumstances, places where people want to stay.
Q. President Mahmoud Abbas has said that he does not rule out participating in the Gaza Government, as long as there is a comprehensive solution also in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. What is this solution?
R. The president is asking for justice, and justice is built on peace, on the resolutions of the Security Council and the UN Assembly, on the treaties and agreements that have been accumulating. An independent, connected Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a fair agreement for the return of refugees. Our message has not changed: justice is the requirement for peace in Palestine.
Q. Do you fear that Hamas will gain popularity in the West Bank in the wake of the crisis?
R. Hamas is a part of Palestinian society. What every Palestinian wants is justice. True, his popularity may have increased, but I can't think about it now, because what we all want now is a ceasefire. The international community has to impose it, everyone knows the figures, we have exceeded 10,000 deaths, more than 4,000 of them children, it is heartbreaking. The lives of Palestinians matter, as well as those of Israelis, we do not want anyone to die, we have been killing each other for 75 years, and it is clear that it is a recipe that does not work. We need to sit down and talk, and there should be formal elections in Palestine and Israel. I am sure that no one wants war, it is not a good way to win votes. Yes, it is to go towards justice and peace and prosperity, thus earning respect.
Q. At this congress he meets representatives of European and American cities. What does it tell them?
R. I tell you that what happened on October 7 is a very big alarm that has awakened the world and has made the civil society of your countries against the war. Israel cannot win this war, because no one can win it, there are no winners. Because there are innocent people who die. And because? Because their lives don't matter. Why does the international community allow it?
Q. How would you describe the role of the European Union?
R. It has always supported us, and it is still close to us: it supports the budget of the Palestinian Authority, it generates jobs... And I ask that you continue, that you do not lose hope. Because otherwise people will lose interest. Either you are a fair mediator or you continue to support a system that accommodates the occupation.
Q. The level of destruction in Gaza is unprecedented. Did you imagine something like this would happen?
R. I never imagined this would happen. This question always arises: until when will we tolerate this, until when will we accept that the settlers confiscate the lands, until when do we have to prove that we are normal people who deserve life, until when the occupation. Superman won't come to save us. As a Palestinian Christian, I believe in peace and even in loving your enemy, but not if you are weak. I believe in the future and continuing negotiations, but it is not happening, so how long will the West Bank tolerate it? What happened on October 7 is a reaction; people suffer a 17-year siege. The occupation is not just weapons or soldiers, it is in your head, it prevents you from dreaming, and it is very difficult to understand it from the outside. Young people see life outside on their cell phones, and this raises many questions: some reason well, but others lose hope. We do not want to reach this point that Gaza reached. We did not expect these massive killings, on both sides.
Q. Is there room for dialogue?
R. They are doing an act of revenge, to save the reputation of the army or whatever, and maintain their sense of superiority that Palestinian lives don't matter. They insist on seeing us all as terrorists. The dialogue will not begin until we see each other and treat each other as equals. There is always room for negotiation, but definitely not with this Government.
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