Dr. Jan Fermon is the secretary general of the Brussels-based International Organization of Democratic Lawyers. He studied at the Free University of Brussels, where he graduated with a law degree in 1983. Fermon earned a PhD on a scholarship from the University of Maastricht, carrying out comparative research on the protection of lawyer client privilege. Mr. Fermon specializes in Belgian, European, and international criminal law, as well as international humanitarian law and immigration law. Fermon has filed international war crimes lawsuits, including a 2003 case against US General Tommy Franks for a deliberate attack of the US forces on the press staff at Palestine Hotel in Iraq, and deliberate attacks on civilians. On the third day of the Sixth International Conference in Support of Palestine, we interviewed Dr. Jan Fermon on a number of issues including the Palestinian cause, the conference, and the US-UK support for the Zionist regime. The following is the transcript of the exclusive interview for Khamenei.ir:
What did you find the most impressive about the Sixth International Conference in Support of Palestine? What outcomes do you think may arise from such conferences?
I think the conference was very impressive and very interesting. What I found the most impressive was the fact that there were so many delegations from so many countries. I think the conference was also a very good answer to the allegation that this region is in a war between Sunnis and Shias; because actually in the conference Sunnis and Shias were together and also all Muslims were together to defend Palestine. So it was a good response to sectarian ideas. I also found it also good because different ideas and different opinions on Palestine were expressed, confronted and discussed. I think that is necessary because nobody has a miraculous solution for the Palestine. The struggle has been going on for decades. Palestinian people have tried different roads and different combinations of methods of struggle. So I think it is good to constantly search how to make the struggle go forward. I think it’s good to have these ideas expressed and to have a discussion about the development of these ideas as this could contribute to the struggle of the Palestinian people.
What’s your take on Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech and what he offers as a solution to the Palestinian issue, that is a referendum wherein all groups in Palestine will decide their own future?
I think the speech very clearly expressed the position of Iran on the Palestinian situation and the Palestinian struggle. I know Iran has always had a clear position on this so the speech was in line with their position. I think the emphasis on unity and also the emphasis on Palestinian people’s right to resist were two important points of the speech. As for the solution to the Palestine issue, it is of course in the first place up to the Palestinian people. They have to decide on how they would take this forward and which direction they will take this. All those who are concerned about the struggle and all those who have been in solidarity can express their opinions, their advices, and their feelings about the Palestinian struggle but at the end it’s the Palestinian people who have to fight themselves free. So the ideas of unity and resistance are of course very important ideas—which I share; so how to put that into practice, how to make this a practical program for the everyday struggle in Palestine, I think that’s up to the Palestinian people. In that struggle I think they also have the right to make mistakes because nobody has the absolute truth on the struggle. So even if the Palestinians make mistakes, I think we have to stand by them. We can say in a friendly way that we think you are making a mistake, but at the same time I think we should stand by them. My personal feeling is that the initial program of the PLO as it was at the time of its foundation—one democratic state where all the different communities of Palestine could live together on the basis of equality for everyone and equal rights for all citizens of Palestine. I think that’s the program which is probably the only solution.
Do you agree with Iran’s stance on supporting all resistance groups defending Palestine? Do you personally agree with arming resistance groups?
Well, let’s me put this on the level of principles. I think the Palestinian people have the right to resist violation of international law, acts of aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity, etc. by all means that are legitimate under the International law – which includes force; because the preamble of the Declaration of Human Rights refers to the right to rebel against tyranny. Some of the UNGA documents also refer to the right of resistance including armed resistance against such violations. I think the whole history of people fighting colonialism and the post-colonial wars is a history of that kind of resistance. I belong to an organization which has stood by the Algerian people, the Vietnamese people, and the South African people in all their forms of resistance and I think in the same way, I stand with Palestinian people in all their forms of resistance. Now where they get their arms and how they get them, actually I am not in that trade. I’m not in that kind of business. I understand that if you want to resist, if you want to pose military resistance to an aggression, then of course you need weapons. So that should not be something abnormal.
Why do you think the UN lists resistance groups as terrorist groups?
I think first of all this terrorist listing process, as you know, was first organized immediately after 9/11. Some forces seize that opportunity to create instruments, lists, legislations, etc. which on one hand are aiming at people who do commit terrorist acts-- because those people also exist—but which are also immediately used for political purposes in order to attack those groups who somehow threaten the interests of the United States, Europe and the West. As a matter of principle I always opposed the existence of such lists as such; because I think when people commit criminal acts, they should face criminal law and anybody who is involved in criminal acts—like bomb attacks on cities, etc.—the criminal law is perfectly capable of dealing with them. If I organize a conspiracy for mass murder, the traditional international criminal law is more than sufficient [to deal with me]. From the very beginning, with a series of friends in Europe, we warned that these special instruments, special anti-terrorist legislations would be used for political purposes. They could of course be used against Al-Qaeda and later DAESH, but it could also be used to criminalize people who oppose and resist western domination, western intervention. And of course this was a completely different matter. Actually we’re struggling with that every day; because those groups are either included on the terrorist list because they resist U.S., EU interests; people are criminally prosecuted on terrorist legislations for that. It’s of course not in line with the international law to put groups like Hezbollah or Hamas on the terrorist list as they are people’s movements that are waging resistance against aggression – in the case of Hezbollah—and occupation and aggression, in the case of Hamas. So they should not be on this list.
Have you ever been labeled as an anti-Semite while defending Palestine or the Palestinian cause?
Personally not but of course this is something that is happening all the time now throughout Europe. In France people have been prosecuted for calling for the boycott. In the UK people are under prosecution for calling for the boycott. Activists in Belgium have been calling for disinvestment of banks who were investing in the settlements have been—not prosecuted yet but-- publicly named as anti-Semites. Of course that is a trick, because it is obvious that this is not a question about Jews or Jewish people; this is about a political movement, Zionism and a state that is based on a racist program, that is constantly and permanently violating the international law and human rights at the same time. So criticizing such a state, I would say, is a duty for everybody who tries to defend justice and law. But of course there is a very strong pressure on people who do so, and they criminalize them, calling them anti-Semites. There are also some far right groups, who previously supported Nazi and neo-Nazi groups, and are really anti-Semites. We have to distinguish between them and tell them that you are not really anti-Zionist, you are anti-Semites and we will not stand with you. This can create confusion. Of course the Zionist lobby uses that confusion to say that this is also the problem about anti-Zionists. We need to be very strong and very clear on both; if not, it could be a real problem on public debate.
The British government has been supporting the Zionist regime since it was first established upon the occupation and the forced evictions of Palestinians off their homelands. Why do you think Britain has been backing the Zionist regime, spending billions of dollars to do so?
I would like to say two things about that. It’s very obvious that the United Kingdom—which has always been following the US policy almost blindly—has sometimes taken the lead and is now trying to take the lead again; because since the Brexit they have tried to turn again towards the Persian Gulf states and try to intervene more actively on the international level, so they have always supported the Zionist regime without any restrictions. The Zionist regime simply could not exist without the support of the US and the UK. It would be politically and financially impossible. The Zionist regime has also played an extremely important strategic role for the west. The west has always tried to dominate this region and Israel plays a key role in that by destabilizing other countries, waging wars whenever it’s necessary to bring down some enemy of the west. So Israel has always been an important piece of strategy there. But I think that’s not going to change in the short run. On the other hand, I’d like to refer to South Africa. South Africa was also a very important strategic situation. Of course more important during the cold war than after that but nevertheless it was strategically important for the west, even after the cold war. Because it dominated the south of Africa and the routes around the south of Africa which many oil tankers still have to take those routes because they can’t go to the Suez Canal—or maybe couldn’t in the past. So South Africa remained strategically very important. Nevertheless at some point it became impossible. South Africa was defeated on the military field by Angola and Mozambique and the Cubans. Cuba fought on the side of the Angolan people and really defeated the South African army. The resistance inside became uncontrollable during the Soweto uprising when people from the townships massively stood up and defied the authorities. There was an armed struggle. There were strong boycotts throughout the world. At some point it became an embarrassment rather than a strategic advantage to be an ally of South Africa. I think we need to try to think about how we can create similar conditions in relation to Palestine. They [the Zionist regime] have been defeated a few times and politically it becomes more and more embarrassing [to ally with the Zionist regime]. I think the Israeli leadership is also getting out of hand because they’re very provocative in what they do. I think there might come a point in Europe and at a second stage in the United States and the UK, where this kind of policy will be an embarrassment; where the US, UK and Europe will also try to find a solution. How it would be? It will depend on the strength of the struggle at that time. So what is the future? I hope the struggle will go in that direction. When is it going to happen? Nobody knows. It would depend on so many different factors. For example, if the attempt to destabilize Syria had been successful, that would have pushed the Palestinian people into a much worse situation. Now the attempt to quickly get rid of the Syrian authorities, to dismantle the Syrian state has obviously failed and Syria will go back to stability. It will take time, but if Syria goes back to stability, that’ll be a major defeat for those policies and also for Israel. Even if Israel is not directly intervening—which of course they are by bombing Syria from time to time—it would be a defeat for Israel.