Israeli forces assassinated Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of the Palestinian group Hamas, as he was returning from a mosque in Gaza City. Tens of thousands of Palestinians took to the streets in response. We go to Palestine and Israel to hear from Dr. Mustafa Barghouti of the Palestinian National Initiative and Neve Gordon of Ben Gurion University. [includes transcript]
Israeli forces have assassinated Sheik Ahmed Yassin the spiritual leader of the Palestinian group Hamas, as he was returning from a Mosque in Gaza City. It is being called the most high-profile assassination Israel has carried out since the start of the second intifada. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have taken to the streets. The Palestinian Authority declared three days of mourning and a general strike has been called. The Hamas leadership said Sharon had, "opened the gates of hell" and the group vowed all-out war. Yasin founded Hamas in 1987. He has been the target of several other assassination attempts in the past. Israeli radio reported that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon personally ordered the killing. Israel has blamed him for being behind dozens of suicide bomb attacks.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, speaking to reporters, defended the killing of Yassin by calling him "the Palestinian bin Laden" and said his hands were covered in Israeli blood.
Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that with the act "Israel made clear again that terror has no immunity and that it will strike against its activists, its deputies, its leaders anywhere they are.
Palestinian Authority officials condemned the assassination. Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said, "This is a crazy and very dangerous act. It opens the door wide to chaos. Yassin is known for his moderation and he was controlling Hamas and therefore this is a dangerous, cowardly act," The Associated Press reported receiving a fax from Hamas that read: "The Zionists didn’t carry out their operation without getting the consent of the terrorist American Administration, and it must take responsibility for this crime." Haaretz newspaper is saying that this may indicate that Hamas could for the first time seek to strike at non-Israeli targets.
- Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative, President of the Palestinian Medical Relief Committee.
- Neve Gordon, Professor at Ben Gurion University.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We go first to Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative, President of the Palestinian Medical Relief Committee, joining us on the phone from Ramallah. Welcome to Democracy Now!.
MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us, your response to the assassination?
MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: I think this is a very serious attack in many ways. First of all, this is a consolidation of the assassination policy that Israel has been following, which is considered by international law as a crime. In this case, it’s extra judicial killing in which the Israeli Prime Minister makes himself the prosecutor, the judge, and the executer at the same time and he imposes his own law, and he runs the assassination himself. In this particular case, it has been reported that he himself ran the operation of the assassination. If a Prime Minister in a country that claims to be a democracy gets himself involved in such an act of assassination, then what kind of democracy are we talking about? The other aspect is that with this attack, Israel has assassinated 325 Palestinians, half of them, 160, are civilian non-combatants who happened just to be bystanders, including about five of those who were killed this morning. The other aspect of this attack is the political aspect. This is a very dangerous move. It is like a serious provocation to prevent any possibility of cease-fire in the area, any possibility of any movement for real peace. It exposes the reality of what Sharon was speaking about when he spoke about withdrawal from Gaza. This means we are not heading for peace, but we are heading for more conflicts, more violence and one more time Sharon has proven that he is capable of undermining any possibility for making things better or quieter in this area. I think what has happened today will carry very serious impacts in the future, not only on the stability here in the occupied territories, but in the whole region, and it raises the big question, which is how can we have security or peace in this region without ending the Israeli military occupation, and without the international community making some effort to restrain the government of Sharon and making him understand that there is something called international law that must be respected.
AMY GOODMAN: After the assassination, the Israeli government closed off the west bank and Gaza. Are you closed off now in Ramallah?
MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Totally. This is an act of collective punishment that is not justified by any means. As you can see, Israel treats the Palestinians as slaves. Basically, we are like slaves. We have 734 checkpoints cutting the country into pieces of clusters of prison-like entities. Gaza has become a large prison, Qalqilya is a prison and now they impose this closure. This closure is not dween the occupied territories and Israel, because that type of closure exists all the time. It is a closure of movement between one city and another, one village and another. It is a closure that prevents sick people from getting to hospitals or students from getting to universities. It is a closure that makes every city and village simply a prison. What Israel is doing here is the creation of Apartheid. It is a true Apartheid system where no law is respected, where no human right is respected, and in addition to that, Israel is proceeding with the building of the wall, the new Berlin Apartheid wall. Yesterday I was in a village called Harbas, where people demonstrated peacefully, Palestinians, Israeli peace activists and international peace activists against the wall and the Israelis encountered that peaceful demonstration, which was totally non-violent with gunfire. 31 people were killed. — Sorry, 31 people were injured. One of them was an Israeli peace activist who was shot in the eye. And another Canadian peace activist was arrested. That is what is happening on a daily basis. There is a process of collective punishment and operation and the strange thing is that we, the oppressed, the occupied, the ones who are suffering most of the killing and injuries are accused of being the aggressors and the occupier. The oppressor is presented as the victim. It is a very strange situation.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mustafa Barghouti is Secretary General of the Palestinian national Initiative. We are also joined by Neve Gordon at Ben Gurion University in Negev. Welcome to Democracy Now!. Professor Gordon, your response?
NEVE GORDON: Well, I walked into class this morning. It’s the politics of human rights. I asked my students if anyone feels safer now that Sheikh Yassin has been assassinated. Not one of them raised their hand. In fact, most of them feel much less safe today than they felt yesterday. Because they know from past experience that after each active aggression by Israel, there is the likelihood that the Palestinian Hamas will retaliate. What I think — I’d like to in a way connect with what Mustafa just said about the protests yesterday with the 31 people wounded, because I do think it’s connected to the assassination of Yassin. What we have been seeing for the past month in the occupied territories is that the Palestinians have moved to grassroots non-violent resistance around the fence and the separation wall that Israel is building. The way Israel is reacting to this non-violent resistance is exactly what happened yesterday, people are coming and are lying down in front of the bulldozers, are lying down where the root of the fence will be built, Palestinians, international and a few Israelis and the military beats them, shoots at them and as Mustafa said, yesterday a person was wounded. So, we see an attempt to change the character of the intifada, which has been a violent intifada to a non-violent, grassroots popular mobilization. This act that happened early this morning of assassinating Sheikh Yassin is just one other way of Israel resisting this non-violent intifada, because what is clear will happen and has already happened today in Ramat Gan, with the lone Palestinian that managed that enter and to attack a few Israelis, that there will be retaliation. What Sharon is actually doing, what we see here, is basically the subjugation of the political to the military. Again, Barghouti said that Sharon was authorized this killing. According to Israeli radio, he not only authorized this killing but he commanded over this killing. Sharon is seeing himself again as a soldier, and basically allowing the military values and the military way of seeing the world to control the Israeli political realm and the political has been relegated to a secondary status. So, there’s no diplomacy, there’s no negotiation, and there will be no way out of this bloody conflict, so long as the military option is the basic option, is the favored option.
AMY GOODMAN: The French Foreign Minister de Villepin has condemned the assassination. The United States has simply called for calm and restraint on all sides. Mustafa Barghouti, what difference does it make how the U.S. responds?
MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: It is different. I don’t think that Israel would have behaved in this manner in it didn’t feel that it is protected by the United States. And that it has the heaven of being able to act and function and feel at the same time impunitive to international law and impunitive to all of these violations of human rights. It is the United States that is the government of States, the country that is capable of restraining Israel more than anybody else. And if the United States at least condemns these kinds of attacks and tells Israel they are not acceptable, then the whole situation — the whole situation would be different, but this is not happening up to now. I totally agree with Neve Gordon when he said that when the Israeli army shoots even Israeli peace activists like Ethan Lewenski and attacks these non-violent actions, which we are trying to organize. We are trying to take the Palestinian struggle into the diction of non-violent, mass popular actions, when Israel does these kinds of attacks, it practically strengthens the extremism and pushes the area into violence. And when the international community fails to respond to Israeli attacks, it strengthens the opinions of those Palestinians who feel we are alone, we are isolated, where nobody is with us. There is no respect to international law and that by itself, of course, strengthens the extremists. But I am not pessimistic. I believe that there is a whole great change everywhere in the world, including in the United States. All people need is access to information. Access to the truth. They are entitled to knowing the truth. And your radio and other stations help people get the truth. If they get the true, I am sure that the United States like the Europeans will simply take the stance of supporting the right of the Palestinian people to be free, to be dignified, to get rid of this terrible occupation, which has cost so many lives on the Palestinian and Israeli side.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative, President of the Palestinian Medical Relief Committee, joining us from Ramallah and Neve Gordon, a Professor at Ben Gurion University in Negev in southern Israel responding to the latest news, Israeli military assassinating Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas. This is Democracy Now!.