“They are an invented country.” This is one of the stern swipes directed at Israel that were made by the Palestinian Ambassador to Zimbabwe Tamar Almassri.
The Ambassador expressed his dissatisfaction during a sit down interview with Review and Mail Writer and Researcher Albert Chavhunduka. In the conversation, a number of key issues were discussed chief among them were the solidarity between Palestine and Zimbabwe, the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the illegal sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe.
Below is a vivid account of the interview with Ambassador Almassri.
AC: What does the solidarity between our two countries mean to you Ambassador Almassri?
Ambassador Almassri: First of all, I can say we are very proud of our bilateral relations between Palestine and Zimbabwe. I’m not talking about the official relations only, but the broad relations in the struggle against the two apartheid regimes, the former apartheid regime in Zimbabwe during white colonial rule and the current apartheid regime of Israel.
We are very honoured as Palestinian people and as the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) that we were part of the African struggle against colonialism. I can say that the PLO led by Cde Yasser Arafat had a very deep vision of opening relations with the national movements in Africa. Our comrades in Zimbabwe were one of these freedom fighters that we opened relations with and we are proud that the PLO was fighting together with them against colonialism in Zimbabwe in the mid-1970s.
Former president Yasser Arafat had very strong relations with the leaders of ZANU-PF and ZAPU before the independence in 1980 and we shared our values of freedom, solidarity and independence. Actually, because we are under the Israeli occupation, we feel exactly how the people of Zimbabwe felt under colonialism. I think our relations with Zimbabwe before independence in 1980 weren’t only for solidarity but there was also some action on the ground to support the struggle of the people of Zimbabwe and the national movement in the country.
We are very proud of our early relations with Zimbabwe and even later on after 1980. Zimbabwe did a lot for Palestine in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Harare votes all the time for the Palestinian issue and we are very proud of that and we are here to strengthen these relations with Zimbabwe.
AC: You have mentioned quite a lot about how Palestine supported African countries to fight against colonialism and apartheid. Since the Israeli occupation of Palestine, what has Zimbabwe done to support the State of Palestine against the occupation?
Ambassador Almassri: Zimbabwe was one of the first countries in the SADC region that we opened relations with and we were part of the African story in the fight against colonialism. African nations deserve a lot and it’s a peaceful continent with friendly people. As I mentioned, Zimbabwe has been with us all the time, my comrades in ZANU-PF and officials in government have one position and that is to support the Palestinian people and for that reason we shall continue working together.
AC: For the past 2 decades, Zimbabwe has been under illegal sanctions imposed by the West. Our late former president Robert Mugabe strongly denounced these sanctions and called for their removal, something that we also see with the government of president Emerson Mnangagwa. What is your opinion about these sanctions imposed on our country?
Ambassador Almassri: Our Palestinian position is very clear. We are against these sanctions totally and we have no tolerance when we speak about these sanctions to be lifted on Zimbabwe. I think the embassy of Palestine in Harare has said it many times and even myself have repeatedly said that I am not shy to say these sanctions are illegal.
I remember last year, I visited the department of the children’s welfare and I left the hospital with a broken heart because their conditions were very poor and I imagined that without the sanctions, this country can develop its infrastructure very well. Actually, the sanctions do not affect the government but they affect the people so for us, I see this as some form of a collective punishment.
I repeat again, that these sanctions should be lifted today before tomorrow. There is no playing about this subject, Zimbabwe is a peaceful country, with friendly people and the country helps stability in Africa we should support the government and its leadership to protect peace and stability by lifting the sanctions immediately. So this is my position, that I have said all the time and I am proud because I was the guest of honour to deliver the speech on the Anti-sanctions day on the 25th of October in 2021.
There are also double standards by the West when they imposed these sanctions. I ask myself, why the sanctions on Zimbabwe and they turn a blind eye on the Israeli occupation? These are double standards and we refuse it totally and I ask the people to also look at Israel. Actually it means there is no justice in the world, this international system that was created after WW2 unfortunately suppresses the weaker people in society and we are victims.
To punish Zimbabwe and leave Israel is unfair and on top of that to subscribe Israel as a democratic state is discriminating against the people of Palestine. We support democracy and we want democratic states everywhere. For example, in the United Nations, about 160 countries voted for Palestine then one country, came with its veto opposing the vote and they supported Israel occupation of Palestine and not the vote of the majority.
AC: Since you said the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe are unfair and illegal and should be lifted. When it comes to the Israeli Occupation of Palestine, do you feel also that perhaps Israel should have been put under sanctions and not a country like Zimbabwe?
Ambassador Almassri: Not that I feel that way, but I believe 100% that Israel should be sanctioned because it’s an apartheid state and it’s the last occupation to happen in the 21st century. The amnesty report last month, declared that Israel is an apartheid regime. Even the Israelis themselves in their community, they have classifications, for example a Jew of black origin is not treated the same like a Jew of white minority. This is actually hypocrisy and we should stop that.
AC: Ambassador you have taken a keen interest in the local environment and have even taken time to visit some of the communities in Mbare and Budiriro for example and you’re even learning Shona. Why?
Ambassador Almassri: I have so much experience in Africa and I love the atmosphere here at a personal level. Also as a diplomat, I consider myself as representing the cause of my people, the Palestinian people who are under the occupation. So in my understanding, I shouldn’t just stay in my office and behind my desk all the time but I should meet everybody and explain to them our issues and the oppression of my people under the Israeli occupation.
I should meet everyone, share with them our story and culture. I get requests from local civil society organisations and other associations, they want us also to meet and speak and cooperate with our embassy.
I’m very proud to have this rich experience and I see myself as a friend of this country and this embassy represents the Palestinian leadership and its people and at the same time we also represent the people of Zimbabwe to Palestine. Our mission is to strengthen our relations and be on the ground with the people and be active.
AC: Ambassador, you have strongly condemned the Israeli Occupation of Palestine and oppression of your people. Israel has requested to be part of the observer membership to the African Union (AU). What do you think are the effects of Israel being admitted into the AU?
Ambassador Almassri: Actually, I look at this issue as a scandal. It is scandalous for the AU and if we allow the Israel apartheid regime to be granted the observer membership in the AU, why? It is against the charter of the AU itself, against its standing principles and against the values of the African nations. If the AU accepts that request, it means it is accepting a colonial power in the AU and we know from experience how many African countries suffered from colonialism
If they grant Israel this membership, they will see it as a reward for its occupation of Palestine. So we are against that totally and until now, we have some facts about the Israeli behaviour in Africa, it’s destructive behaviour and they don’t treat African immigrants in Israel as human beings. Even the Jews who are from Africa, they are not treated equally as other Jews in Israel. So Israel one of the racist countries in the world and it shouldn’t find a place in the AU.
We think that if the Israel government is granted the observer membership in Africa, it will increase its crimes against our people because its criminal leadership will think the world is rewarding them for the massacre and killings committed against the Palestinian people.
So we should raise our voice to the AU and say this doesn’t help anybody and according to our experiences we should normalise that any country that has any relations with Israel shouldn’t get any benefits. The propaganda is very different from the reality.
AC: It’s quite clear that the world turned a blind eye on the Israeli Occupation of Palestine. In the event that the AU grants Israel the observer membership, what picture do you think this will paint or mean about the organisation?
Ambassador Almassri: Actually Israel is an invented country. Historically, my country Palestine starts from the sea to the river and this should be understood very well and we are not shy to say that. The society of Israel itself is divided too much so they cannot even represent among themselves a single value. If you read the history of African countries, Israel was supporting all the colonial powers in African countries but the Palestinian people and the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation was part of the struggle of most countries on the African continent. For this reason, when we speak loudly we are against this issue of granting Israel observer membership in the AU. We will defend our history with Africa. In history, we know that Israel had the best relations with apartheid governments for example in South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia. We think that our duty is to clarify these facts to the people that Israel cannot represent any value to the African people.
AC: Do you think Zimbabwe is on the correct path in its effort to re-engage with the rest of the world?
Ambassador Almassri: Frankly, I was impressed by the Vision 2030 and I spoke about it with some officials in the government and that we support it and wish the best for the country. I am sure that the leadership of the country under President Mnangagwa will do something good for the country to improve the quality of the society.
AC: I have an understanding that you’re one of the youngest ambassadors we have here in Zimbabwe. Do you think that modern day leadership should mainly comprise of the youthful people and what advice do you have for the younger generations here in Zimbabwe?
Ambassador Almassri: Nobody told me officially that I’m the youngest ambassador here but I hear that many times, even from my colleagues and I’m proud of that and to have the experience to represent the great Palestinian people in one of our best friend countries like Zimbabwe. I hope that this gives everybody the motive to work harder and to show that the youths can do something. But I would like to say the issue of age, not that it’s not important but to know your mission is what is more important.
AC: Lastly, honourable ambassador what is your general feel or perception about Zimbabwe now that you’ve been here as compared to the perception outsiders have concerning our country?
Ambassador Almassri: Zimbabwe actually is a very great country. At a personal level, I’m very happy and to serve my country here as well. On my official level I can say that Zimbabwe is a giver country- it gives you the warm atmosphere to work as a diplomat and makes one to feel that they are in their second country. The people are very friendly, the leadership is supportive and eager to strengthen the relations of Zimbabwe with the whole world and I think this is an opportunity.
The education here is very great, in spite of the sanctions, I’m very satisfied to even register my daughters to study here at a Zimbabwean school. Zimbabwe just needs one thing, and that is to break the sanctions and these sanctions should be lifted today before tomorrow because it can help the country to improve its economy, infrastructure and health services. Also, if these sanctions are lifted, Zimbabwe doesn’t need anybody to help them actually it can help other countries.