Interview

Interview: Alice Walker

Interview: Alice Walker

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker will join the flotilla of ships next week that will try to break Israel’s maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip. She says the goal is to bring supplies and raise awareness of the situation there. Last May, during a similar attempt by activists, Israel raided six ships. On one, clashes broke out and Israeli commandos killed nine people.

Foreign Policy reached the author of The Color Purple in Greece, where she is preparing for her departure.

Foreign Policy: Why are you taking part in the flotilla mission?

Alice Walker: In 2009, I was in Gaza, just after Operation Cast Lead, and I saw the incredible damage and devastation. I have a good understanding of what’s on the ground there and how the water system was destroyed and the sewage system. I saw that the ministries had been bombed, and the hospitals had been bombed, and the schools. I sat for a good part of a morning in the rubble of the American school, and it just was so painful because we as Americans pay so much of our taxes for this kind of weaponry that was used. On a more sort of mature grandmotherly level I feel that as an elder it is up to me and others like me — other elders, other mature adults — to look at situations like this and bring to them whatever understanding and wisdom we might have gained in our fairly long lifetimes, witnessing and being a part of struggles against oppression.

FP: How long have you been involved in Palestinian activism? What drew you to it?

AW: It started with the Six Day War in 1967. That happened shortly after my wedding to a Jewish law student. And we were very happy because we thought Israel was right to try to defend itself by pre-emptively striking against Egypt. We didn’t realize any of the real history of that area. So, that was my beginning of being interested in what was going on and watching what was happening. Even at that time, I said to my young husband, well, they shouldn’t take that land, because it’s actually not their land. This just seemed so unjust to me. It just seemed so wrong. It’s really unjust because in America we think about Israel in mythical terms. And most of us have grown up with the Bible. So we think that we are sort of akin to these people and whatever they’re saying must be true — their God is giving them land and that is just the reality. But actually the land had people living on it. The people were in their own homes, their own towns and cities. So, the battle has been about them trying to reclaim what was taken from them. It’s important, when we have some new understanding — especially adults and mature adults — we must, I think, take some action so that younger people will have a better understanding of what they are seeing in the world.

FP: Is the goal of this mission, though, to just raise awareness, or is it to actually deliver supplies?

AW: Well, our boat is delivering letters. So what we’re trying to draw attention to is the fact that the blockade is still in effect. On the other boats there will probably be supplies. I haven’t checked but probably things like sewage supplies.

FP: But Egypt has partially reopened its border with Gaza. So, couldn’t you get supplies in through there?

AW: No, you can’t. You can get two suitcases. Not only that, they closed it. They opened it and then closed it. So, that has not been worked out. I know people like to rally around what they think is a positive thing, but it’s not that positive yet because it’s not firm. They limit the number of people. They close it. They say two suitcases. You can’t build a sewage system with two suitcases.

FP: Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations said the stated goal of “humanitarian assistance” was a false pretext for your mission — and it’s actually designed to serve an extremist political agenda, and that many of the groups participating in the mission maintain ties with extremist and terrorist organizations, including Hamas. Your reaction?

AW: I think Israel is the greatest terrorist in that part of the world. And I think in general, the United States and Israel are great terrorist organizations themselves. If you go to Gaza and see some of the bombs — what’s left of the bombs that were dropped — and the general destruction, you would have to say, yeah, it’s terrorism. When you terrorize people, when you make them so afraid of you that they are just mentally and psychologically wounded for life — that’s terrorism. So these countries are terrorist countries.

FP: How is the United States a terrorist country?

AW: It is. Absolutely, it is. It has terrorized people around the globe for a very long time. It has fought against countries that have tried to change their governments, that have tried to have democracies, and the United States has intervened and interfered, like in Guatemala or Chile. I feel that it is so unreasonable, and I don’t quite understand how they can claim everyone else is a terrorist and they are not when so many people right this minute are terrified of the drones, for instance, in the war in Afghanistan. The dropping of bombs on people — isn’t that terrorism?

FP: Of course Israel and the U.S. aren’t the only ones that use bombs. Hamas has fired rockets at Israel in the past.

AW: Yes. And I’m not for a minute saying anybody anywhere should fire rockets. I mean, I would never do it. Nor would I ever supply such a thing to anyone. But it’s extremely unequal. If people just acknowledge how absurdly unequal this is. This is David and Goliath, but Goliath is not the Palestinians. They are David. They are the ones with the slingshot. They are the ones with the rocks and relatively not-so-powerful rockets. Whereas the Israelis have these incredibly damaging missiles and rockets. When do you as a person of conscience speak and say enough is enough?

FP: Are you concerned at all that your trip could be used as a propaganda tool for Hamas?

AW: No, because we will never see those people. Why would we see them?

FP: You don’t think you’re going to see anyone from Hamas?

AW: No. I don’t think we would. If we manage to get through with our bundle of letters we will probably be met by a lot of NGOs, and women and children, and schoolteachers and nurses, and the occasional doctor, if anyone is left.

FP: But doesn’t Hamas control the security apparatus of Gaza?

AW: They may well control it, but we’re not going to see them. It’s like everyone who comes to D.C. doesn’t see the president.

FP: I have to ask, since the previous flotilla trip ended with an Israeli raid on one of the ships and nine people dead. Are you frightened?

AW: Sometimes I feel fear. And the feeling that this may be it. But I’m positive — I’m looking at it as a way to bring attention to these children and their mothers and their grandmothers, and their grandfathers and their fathers, who face this kind of thing every day. I grew up in the South under segregation. So, I know what terrorism feels like — when your father could be taken out in the middle of the night and lynched just because he didn’t look like he was in an obeying frame of mind when a white person said something he must do. I mean, that’s terrorism too. So, I know that feeling. And this is what they are living under. And so, if you ever lived under terrorism yourself — you know terrorism USA, Southern-style — then you understand that people don’t like it and they should not be subjected to it anywhere on the planet.