OSAKA — While international calls are growing for another round of peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, May Shigenobu, daughter of the Japanese Red Army guerrilla group’s founder, said little progress will be made unless Palestinian grievances are recognized.
The only daughter of Fusako Shigenobu and a Lebanese father, May Shigenobu was born in Lebanon in 1973 and grew up in Beirut among Palestinian refugees.
Her mother was arrested in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, in November 2000, after decades on an international wanted list for her alleged role in Red Army-related incidents in the 1970s. The group was engaged in actions in support of the Palestinian cause.
May Shigenobu came to Japan in spring 2001, and at age 28 was granted Japanese citizenship.
During her upbringing in Lebanon and the Middle East, she rarely saw her mother. She said she lived in Beirut with a Japanese family under an assumed name, and traveled throughout Lebanon and Palestinian communities in Israeli-occupied territories, living among the refugees and gaining firsthand experience of their conditions.
The experiences have not made her bitter toward the Israelis, Shigenobu said, adding that she has numerous Israeli and Jewish friends. Nevertheless, she has concluded that any successful peace agreement will have to take into account Palestinian concerns.
“Israel continues to build settlements within Palestinian (-administered) territories as well as territories that are supposed to be part of a future Palestinian state, despite the fact that, in the Oslo peace agreement of 1993, Israel agreed to reduce its settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” Shigenobu said during talks with foreign and Japanese journalists in Osaka last week.
Her firsthand experience in the camps also made Shigenobu realize the importance of something most people outside the Middle East take for granted: water.
“Israel controls the Jordan River by the West Bank. Eighty percent of the water goes to the Israeli community, while only 20 percent goes to the Palestinian community. Some Israelis understand this is discrimination and are working to stop the Israeli government from further discrimination,” she said.
Since arriving in Japan, Shigenobu has taught English while occasionally submitting articles to the Japanese media as an avowed sympathizer of the Palestinian cause.
She is one of three people allowed to visit her mother and is involved with a volunteer group that is supporting her mother’s trial.
While her mother’s generation chose guns and confrontation, Shigenobu said that other, more peaceful, ways are now needed to promote the Palestinians’ cause.
“In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a much greater need to make the world aware of the plight of the Palestinians, so there may have been a need for direct tactics. But times have changed, and people have to change as well. So, the ways to solve the Palestine problem today are different as well,” she said.
Fusako Shigenobu is currently on trial on charges stemming from her alleged role in the 1974 seizure of the French Embassy in The Hague by Red Army members, as well as for forging a passport for a friend believed to have engaged in terrorist activities.
Shigenobu said her mother may be guilty of the passport forgery. However, she denied that her mother was the mastermind behind a series of Red Army terrorist attacks, including murders.
“My mother was not involved with the military branch of the Japanese Red Army. But she is likely to be in jail for a very long time,” Shigenobu said. “If she’s found guilty, she’ll get a minimum of 10 years.”
She would not talk in detail about the case, saying only that she believed a final verdict was a long way off.
In the recently published book “Himitsu” (“Secret”), Shigenobu talks about her life and her first impressions of Japan, and says a major problem in Japan is that most people are unfamiliar with both the history of the Palestinian people and the Middle East in general.
“The clash between the religions is something most people in Japan are not familiar with,” Shigenobu said, adding that an important part of her work in Japan will be to raise people’s awareness of Palestinian issues. “In my own way, I’m carrying on my mother’s work.”
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