For Ferhat Mehenni, Israel is an ideal partner and friend for Kabylie, a
geographic sliver of Algeria’s northern coast whose people wish to secede from
the large North African nation’s control.
“We are in a hostile
environment,” Mehenni told The Jerusalem Post during an interview on
Thursday. “Both countries share kind of the same path, but Israel already
exists – that’s the only difference.”
Mehenni founded the Movement for
the Autonomy of Kabylie and has served as president of the Provisional
Government of Kabylie from exile in France since Algeria’s “Black Spring” period
in 2001, during which the Kabylian people challenged the Algerian government’s
ban on their culture and language.
Kabylie, located on the northern
Mediterranean coast of Algeria, remained its own country throughout the Middle
Ages and the Ottoman days, only to become part of Algeria proper during the
French colonization period in the mid- 19th century. The region subsequently
suffered many battle scars during the Algerian War of Independence, which
occurred from 1954 through 1962.
“Kabylie never accepted losing its
independence and this is what led the entire battle for the independence of
Algeria,” Mehenni said.
The people of Kabylie, who Mehenni said fill
Algeria’s universities, were never from Arab or Muslim backgrounds and are from
their own Berber culture and language, however.
As such, he explained,
“the Kabylians have always had a bit of sympathy for Israel.”
War of 1967, Kabylie applauded the defeat of the Arabs,” Mehenni
The Kabylians have tried repeatedly to assert their rights within
the jurisdiction of the Algerian government, but have made little progress,
according to Mehenni.
“Lacking means for an armed resistance, our
generation has opted for political combat, and we produced the ‘Berber Spring’
in 1980,” he said. “This was a cultural, linguistic initially, because we saw that there was an ‘Arabist’ steamroller on the children in our schools,
and since we began a long pacifist walk toward our existence.”
that a democratic government might resolve their problem, the Kabylians were
hopeful when a multiparty electoral system fell in place, but the powers of the
Islamic regime still held stronger, according to Mehenni.
Kabylians took part in an academic boycott stretching from kindergarten to
university demanding that their language be recognized, an operation that worked
but still did not land Kabylie official administrative recognition, he
“Kabylie has invested in its identity quest, but never was a
stronghold for Islam,” Mehenni said. “In 1990, while in Algeria, we observed an
Islamist tidal wave; in Kabylie, there hasn’t been a single Islamist
For quite some time, Kabylie remained the “Switzerland of
Algeria,” but in 1997 the Algerian army came to an accord with the Islamists and
attacks moved to Kabylie, inflicting the region with disruption and chaos,
Algeria, meanwhile, does not invest a single dinar in
Kabylian development, and even discourages businesses from locating in Kabylie,
where the country advocates “Arabization,” he said.
Bouteflika came to power in Algeria in 1999, Kabylie has boycotted legislative
and presidential elections.
While Kabylians have remained the backbone of
the Algerian administration, they have been removed from all senior positions,
and in the army, they are forced to retire before they can gain access to
positions of responsibility, Mehenni asserted.
Kabylian women do not wear
veils, and Kabylians living in France did not participate in the campaign for
legalizing veils in schools, according to Mehenni.
Rather, he said,
Kabylians have become quickly enamored by France’s values, including secularism
Kabylie has always been engaged in the cause of Algeria, but
has always been rejected by the state and now only strives for independence
precisely due to this rejection, Mehenni stressed.
Calling the current
Algerian country a “rogue state,” Mehenni said the country remains a haven for
Islamic terrorism and is in danger of becoming a second “Iran” – a nation with
which it shares strong relations since 1995.
Algeria desires a nuclear
bomb for itself, and Bouteflika has constructed twice as many mosques during his
terms as president than have been built during all of Algeria’s history, he
continued. While most countries agree that Kabylie’s situation is one of
injustice, many shy away from its defense because of Algeria’s vast oil and gas
wealth, according to Mehenni.
“The environment of Israel is more
favorable to Kabylie,” he said, stressing the fact that all of the Arab
governments in the region favor Algeria and do not side with the Kabylian
people. “We definitely hope that the ostracism of the Kabilye government
will be repealed by most of the Arab countries in the region.”
his visit to Israel – his first ever – Mehenni said he was received by the US
State Department, the Greek senate and the European Parliament.
ministers are also all in exile, scattered around what he calls the “diaspora” –
Canada, the UK, Germany and Italy.
“By building links, there is
recognition,” he said.
During his stay in Israel, Mehenni met with MK
Danny Danon (Likud), a representative from the Foreign Ministry’s North African
division and Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau, among others. He described
Landau as “very attentive” to what he and international relations minister,
Lyazid Abid, presented him.
Kabylie is a region with many mountains and
huge amounts of water, so Mehenni said it was a great opportunity to meet with a
government minister that manages a complex water system.
Landau could not
be reached for comment before press time on Sunday.
Mehenni said that he
and his people would continue to pursue a “defiance to the Algerian law, which
wants Israel to be boycotted,” and stressed that he hopes “our relations can be
While traveling in Israel, Mehenni said he and Abid found a
realization of their dream, allowing them to leave with the conviction that
Israel should adopt Kabylie as a sister.
“Freedom for Kabylie, eternity
for Israel,” he said.