|A human rights activist and a student of Political Science Bruno Jäntti has devoted his life to the fight for social justice and equality with a focus on the Israel-Palestine conflict.|
A STUDENT of Political Science and a peace activist, Bruno Jäntti is also a founding member of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) chapter in Finland and is currently researching, amongst other things, the Finnish military with the Israeli arms industry.
Hi Bruno, can you tell us a bit about your history first?
I was born and raised in Helsinki and at the moment I’m studying Political Science at Tampere University. After completing my civil service I felt that it was time to leave Helsinki Metropolitan Area for a while and to study either abroad or somewhere else in Finland. Since for a Helsinki native Tampere is, for all practical purposes, abroad, and the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Tampere University is arguably the most highly regarded in Finland, it seemed like a neat option.
These days you’re involved in a lot of work related to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but you’ve been interested in human rights for a long time. Where did your passion for these issues come from?
My parents have always been politically oriented and they are both quite well versed in philosophy and literature. Certainly, my basic values have a lot to do with my upbringing. Having said that, my gut feeling is that no ideology was rammed down my throat and that I was able to reach my own conclusions, at least partially independently, as to who and what makes sense politically.
Looking back, when I was 13 or 14 my dad recommended that I watch the Spike Lee joint Malcolm X, and this movie made me ponder my own life trajectory and proved to be something of a turning point in my teenage years. I figured there’s probably more to life than fancy clothes, mediocre rap music and chasing girls. It’s safe to say that before high school I had already decided that I would devote a sizable portion of my life to working with individuals and organisations that are serious about social justice, equality and other worthy goals.
What is it about the conflict in Palestine that first interested you?
I became interested in US foreign policy, and at first I was reading a lot about the civil rights movement in the US and Central American history. However, it didn’t take long before I started to focus almost exclusively on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Besides the main reason for this particular interest, namely its enormous significance in international politics, there is a kind of a personal link for me as well: I have Jewish background from my mother’s side and themes such as the Nazi Holocaust were very much present in our household. When I started to educate myself on the history of Zionism and the state of Israel, at first I was extremely puzzled by the contradiction between what lessons I was taught on the Nazi Holocaust, on one hand, and what the conventional wisdom of Israel claimed, on the other.
The more I have learned and come to understand about Israel’s history, the bigger the contradiction has become. The beginning of 2011 marks the 11th year of my focus on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and for years it has been the centrepiece of my life.
On the same subject, your work in this area is presumably at least partly inspired by the fact that Finnish companies are contributing to and benefitting from the occupation. What are the main areas of concern in this relationship?
It’s not so much the Finnish private sector as the Finnish Ministry of Defence (MDF) policy of collaborating with the Israeli weapons industry. I wouldn’t say the Finnish links to the Israeli occupation are the main motive for my Israel-Palestine activities, rather it is simply the main campaign of ICAHD Finland as of now.
I’m reasonably convinced that the MDF makes its decisions based on its own assessment of what the Finnish military needs at any given time. However, through the arms trade Finland does directly benefit those very companies that are a decisive component of the longest ongoing military occupation in the world and who market their products as being ‘battle-tested’ by the Israeli army. In short, my work for the Palestinian emancipation has very little to do with Finland and a lot to do with reality on the ground in Israel and Palestine.
Is Finland no “better” or “worse” than other Western countries, then?
Whatever the conventional wisdom claims, Finland is a rather typical Western state. When it comes to a whole host of issues, such as racism, nuclear waste per capita and so on, Finland’s record is not comparatively impressive at all, in fact quite the contrary. The Finnish-Israeli arms trade issue illustrate vividly the case in point: when we met with individuals who we hoped would educate us on this subject we noticed that, with the exception of a handful of people, basically no one in Finland knew about the topic. However, the MDF policy of conducting arms trade with Israel is in contradiction with the official Finnish policy of pushing for a legally binding arms trade treaty, which would ban all forms of arms trade with states that violate human rights according to the UN.
Furthermore, if the MDF signs the most recent UAV deal with an Israeli arms company this April, the total value of the arms trade is close to 200 million euros. Hence, one would expect that, say, somebody in the media would be at least aware of the existence of such trade. However, to this day, of all the dozens of reporters we’ve been in contact with not a single one has had any clue on the topic. In short, it can be said that the Finnish public harbours a number of illusions about Finnish politics and hence it’s not surprising that the actual policy outputs of the Finnish governments and the private sector are not often well known among the general public.
You mentioned the reality on the ground in Palestine – what is that?
It’s a reality of more than 43 years of illegal Israeli-imposed military occupation. Those who remained in what became Israel in 1948 are largely second-class citizens; a reflection of the fact that Israel insists it is a state of the entire Jewish people rather than a state of all its citizens. However, the most serious and the most urgent problems now are the occupation and the illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of Palestinians being detained and tens of thousands who have been tortured, the demolition of 25,000 homes, hundreds of checkpoints. The list is a long and an unpleasant one.
Please tell us about ICAHD.
ICAHD is an Israeli non-profit NGO, which is campaigning to end the Israeli policy of demolishing Palestinian homes. An important ICAHD tactic for this end is the rebuilding of Palestinian homes together with the Palestinian communities. The ultimate goal of ICAHD is ending the occupation and helping to bring about a just and lasting solution to the conflict. ICAHD Finland is the Finnish branch of ICAHD. Both ICAHD and ICAHD Finland are effective in what we do, but the challenges are not to be taken lightly. It will take a long time before we and our colleagues in the occupied territories, Israel and in the Western world are successful.
Finland recently joined the Holocaust Task Force, an organisation working to provide support for WWII holocaust education and research. What are your thoughts on that?
To make a long story short, when the Nazi Holocaust is being taught in schools in a way that fosters the respect for human rights of all people, then it is among the most potent tools for educating pupils on a number of very important topics. However, when it is taught and dealt with in a way that is intended to encourage support for official Israeli policies, then we enter the area of unreason and propaganda. I’m afraid that the Holocaust task force belongs to the second category more than to the first one. I’ve written on the topic in Finnish.
What would you like to see the future hold for the Palestinians?
Palestinians have been forced to suffer for generations under the yoke of Israeli expansionism and occupation. The most urgent goal is to end the occupation. Whether a two-state solution with a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders or a one-state solution with equal rights to all of its citizens, the solution has to be based on the principles of international law and equality between the two groupings. The main obstacle for this is Israeli-US policies that undermine the realization of both the two-state solution on the internationally recognized borders and a single state solution which grants equal rights to all. In the end of the day, there can be no lasting peace without justice, and there can certainly be no justice without a lot of hard work towards it.
Date and place of birth: 10 April, 1985, Helsinki.
Place of residence: Tampere and Helsinki.
Family: Mom, dad, my fiancée, two little brothers and one older brother.
Education: Soon to complete BA in Political Science.
When I was young I wanted to be…a professional basketball and/or classical guitar player.
The one thing that would improve the world would be…an increase in popularity of Jon Lajoie.
I respect…Dr. Norman Finkelstein.
In the future I hope…that we will be able to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories.