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Wednesday, 27 March, 2002, 17:35 GMT
Arab MP refuses to back down
The BBC's Tim Sebastian met Dr Azmi Bishara
The BBC's Tim Sebastian met Dr Azmi Bishara
An Arab Israeli member of parliament, Dr Azmi Bishara, who is on trial charged with voicing support for a terrorist organisation, has said he is unrepentant, despite facing a likely jail sentence.

Dr Bishara, one of 13 Arab members of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset is accused of sedition, after allegedly praising the Lebanese guerrillas of Hizbollah and calling for Arab countries to support Palestinian resistance.

I praised not that organisation's ideology but the consistency

Dr Azmi Bishara
"I can't go far enough in condemning what is the atrocities of Israel in Lebanon and the occupied territories, " he told Tim Sebastian for BBC HARDtalk.

"I think it is my duty not as a Palestinian but as a democrat, as a liberal in the Knesset to say that."

He went on to claim the Israeli Government was not ready for peace, because it is not prepared to give back the occupied territories seized in 1967 - which include the West Bank, Gaza, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

He also described the situation in Israel as "apartheid".


Dr Bishara, 45, whose case resumes next month caused controversy in 1999, by becoming the first Arab to contest the prime ministerial election in Israel.

However, he is also the first member of the Knesset to be stripped of parliamentary immunity and face prosecution for making political statements in the 54 years of the state's history.

Dr Bishara is accused of supporting a terrorist organisation
Dr Bishara is accused of supporting a terrorist organisation
Dr Bishara, who was a professor of philosophy before he entered politics, went on to explain what he meant when he praised the Hizbollah.

"I praised not that organisation's ideology but the consistency, the struggle against Israeli occupation," he said.

He also defended his call for the Arab states to support a Palestinian uprising, denying interpretations that he wanted renewed attacks against Israel.

"I'm calling for resisting Israeli violence, which I think is the primary normal, daily, routine violence - is the violence of occupation," he said.

"In the eyes of the Arabs in Israel, the eyes of the Palestinians, what is to be compared with Nazi and fascist policies is the policies of occupation in the Palestinian territories."


Dr Bishara's comments come at a time when Arab leaders are meeting in Beirut to discuss a new peace proposal for Israel by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah.
Yasser Arafat
Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat is not attending the Beirut summit

When asked how successful he thought this new peace plan will be, Dr Bishara was optimistic.

"It has a very good chance for the first time. I think we, the Palestinians are closer than ever to our rights," he said.

"It's getting harder and harder, but it's getting harder and harder for Ariel Sharon to prove to the Israeli people that he can impose unjust solutions by the use of force or break the will of the Palestinian people."

You can hear the HARDtalk interview in full at the following times:

BBC News 24 (times shown in GMT)
27 March 0430, repeated 2230

BBC World (times shown in GMT)
27 March 0430, repeated 1130, 1630, 1930, 0030

Dr Azmi Bishara
"Most of the Israelis think that Hizbollah is heroic."
See also:

27 Mar 02 | Middle East
Arab summit: Egyptian view
27 Mar 02 | Middle East
Legacy of the siege of Beirut
26 Mar 02 | Middle East
Two observers killed in West Bank
27 Mar 02 | Middle East
Mid-East 'needs peacekeeping force'
26 Mar 02 | Middle East
Bright Beirut offers template for peace
27 Feb 02 | Middle East
What is in the Saudi peace initiative?
21 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Quick guide: Arab League
04 Jan 02 | Country profiles
Timeline: Arab League
20 May 99 | Israel elections
Putting Arabs on the map
27 Feb 02 | Middle East
Protests over Israeli Arab MP's trial
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