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2006-04-19

Israel Holds Hamas-Led PA Directly Responsible for Tel Aviv Attack as Occupied Territories Starved of International Aid

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The Israeli government has announced it holds the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority directly responsible for Monday’s suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Meanwhile, millions of dollars of aid to the PA have been cut off worsening the humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Territories. We speak with Oxfam, Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi and economic researcher Shir Hever in Jerusalem. [includes rush transcript]

The Israeli government has announced it holds the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority directly responsible for Monday’s suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Nine people were killed in the blast, making it the deadliest Palestinian strike against Israel in two years. The group Islamic Jihad took responsibility for the bombing and Hamas said the attack was justified. Israel called Hamas’s justifications "clear declarations of war."

The bombing was widely criticized by the international community. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri defended his stance, saying "Hamas and the Palestinian people will not buckle in the face of political pressure and blackmail." Meanwhile, Israeli troops clashed with hundreds of Palestinian stone throwers in the West Bank city of Nablus on Wednesday. Israeli forces reportedly fired tear gas, rubber-coated steel pellets and some live rounds at the crowds. Israeli troops also arrested more than 20 Palestinians in raids across the West Bank. The father of the Tel Aviv bomber was reported to be among those detained.

Israel said it plans to revoke the residency permits of several Hamas MPs living in East Jerusalem. This comes as Japan has confirmed that it will halt new aid payments to the Palestinian Authority, adding to a financial crisis. The US and EU have cut off millions of dollars in aid to the PA since Hamas’s victory in the January 25th elections, demanding that Hamas recognize Israel and renounce violence. Last week Oxfam International warned that the humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza will only worsen in response to international aid cuts.

  • Adrienne Smith, spokesperson for Oxfam, an international aid organization. She speaks to us from Boston.
  • Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies and the Director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University. He’s also the author of several books most recently "Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East."
  • Shir Hever, economic researcher for the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on the humanitarian situation, we begin with Adrienne Smith, spokesperson for Oxfam. Welcome to Democracy Now!

ADRIENNE SMITH: Hi, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk both about the situation in the Occupied Territories now, who has cut off aid, what it means, and also about the latest suicide bombing?

ADRIENNE SMITH: Well, obviously, we’re very concerned about the humanitarian situation. People there were living in a very difficult environment already, so a cutoff of aid would have very serious implications.

AMY GOODMAN: And the suicide bombing that just took place?

ADRIENNE SMITH: Well, obviously, that has even more serious implications, because it really distracts in a really horrific, horrifying way from the situation and the very precarious situation for people living on both sides who have very real security needs. So, obviously, we’re very horrified by that and very much renounce the situation and hope that it can be resolved.

AMY GOODMAN: How is the Occupied Territories affected by the aid cutoffs?

ADRIENNE SMITH: Well, what happened is that as the European Community decided that they wanted to cut off aid to the territory, to the Palestinian Authority specifically, there was a hope and a desire that N.G.O.s, like an Oxfam or the Red Cross, would be able to continue aid so that people were unaffected, so that one could both simultaneously cut off the Palestinian Authority, but also not have people affected. And we don’t believe that that’s possible.

You know, Oxfam is providing the only source of clean water to about 140,000 [families] who depend on that, and so we certainly will do everything we can to help people, but we do not feel that we can replace the Palestinian Authority in infrastructure that existed, and the Red Cross has done a similar assessment, as have other groups. And we just feel that that is not a scenario that’s going to work. So we are talking about people being hurt.

AMY GOODMAN: Your figures at Oxfam, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, 60% of them live on about $2 a day?

ADRIENNE SMITH: That’s exactly right. And living in deep need like that, they’re not in a position where they’ve set aside provisions. They haven’t been able to stock up. So this will cause a real change in their livelihoods. And that’s not a change that these people can afford.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, Adrienne Smith, spokesperson for Oxfam, speaking to us from Boston. For more on the latest news out of the Occupied Territories, we’re joined on the phone by Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies and the Director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University. He’s also the author of several books. His latest, Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East. We’re also joined on the phone from Israel by Shir Hever, an economic researcher for the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem.

Professor Rashid Khalidi, your description of what is happening right now in the Occupied Territories and the European Union, the United States, Canada, now Japan cutting off aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority?

RASHID KHALIDI: I think that what’s happening is an intensification of the situation that’s existed really for the past six years. You have a population basically imprisoned, which is now under sort of a lockdown almost, with almost no movement and with very, very limited ability to engage in economic activity, which is now being further punished by this removal of aid. That’s the basic situation. It’s gotten worse, I think, because of this terrorist attack the other day, which I think will just enable further pressure to be put on the Palestinian people.

I think the irresponsibility of Palestinian politicians obviously is part of this, but the cruelty of the international community in punishing three-and-a-half million people for the political decisions of its leaders and for their votes is really quite extraordinary, and I think quite despicable. I believe that the responsible power, which is Israel, the occupying power, and the international community have a responsibility to this population, which has absolutely nothing to do with the political aspects, which should be completely separate.

AMY GOODMAN: And your response to Hamas saying they do not condemn the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv?

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, until Hamas and other Palestinian groups understand that attacks on civilians, any civilians, are morally wrong, politically mistaken, and in my view, are war crimes, they are going to have real trouble pushing the Palestinian cause forward. I understand the argument that the Palestinians have a right to resist. I don’t think that that absolves them of moral considerations, like you do not kill women and children.

And, I mean, I think that Hamas has, frankly, put itself in an absolutely impossible position. They agreed to run in Palestinian elections, which were held under agreements that they never approved of, but which involve responsibilities, and I don’t think they’re living up to those responsibilities. I think they’re doing this in a very cynical way, because I think they understand that the international pressure that’s put on the Palestinian people may make public opinion in the Occupied Territories rally behind them, but the suffering that’s being inflicted on the Palestinians is quite extraordinary, and I really don’t think the international community should be mixing these two things.

AMY GOODMAN: Shir Hever, you’re an economic researcher for the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem. You’re a Jewish Israeli. Your response to the situation right now, the cutoff of aid, and also the attack in Tel Aviv being supported by Hamas?

SHIR HEVER: I think the cutting of the aid shows a deep hypocrisy in the international community and also in Israel, because these same powers were the ones who pressured the Palestinians in the first place to hold a democratic election. And what the Palestinians need was not the democratic election. Of course, democratic elections are important, but what they really need most urgently is the end of the occupation. And after the Palestinians did hold a democratic election, that was supervised by international observers and was deemed to be very democratic and very free, and chose Hamas, the same powers who demanded that they make this election are now punishing Palestinians for their choice in the election. Now, the main question to be asked at this point is whether the Palestinians — whether the Hamas government will be able to find alternative sources of funding or without these sources of funding, will we see a deterioration of the conflict into more intense and more violence than it used to be so far?

AMY GOODMAN: What has been the response inside Israel to both situations, to the attack and also to Hamas having support cut off?

SHIR HEVER: Well, first of all, it’s Israeli policy to cut off the support for the Hamas, and it’s important to know that Israel is obligated by international law to provide money that was in the first place due to the Palestinians. It’s taxes from Palestinian workers who, according to the agreements, must be transferred to the Palestinian Authority. It’s customs that Israel is collecting for on behalf of the Palestinians and taking a very large percentage to itself. And the fact that Israel is withholding the money is, by itself, illegal, but the Israeli public does not really recognize this fact, and there is a general consensus, at least among the Zionist parties in the newly elected government, that the aid should be stopped to Hamas.

But at the same time, when the alarms about the humanitarian catastrophe that is impending in the Occupied Territories increase, these same parties actually encourage some emergency donations, some emergency assistance, because Israel in a way realizes that it still holds a responsibility over the Palestinian population, even though it’s not recognizing this fact. I think we all know that this humanitarian catastrophe will be Israel’s fault, and I think the international community knows that and Israel also has to prevent this catastrophe from happening in order not to be accused of killing large amounts of Palestinians by starvation.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, Professor Khalidi, Israel’s ambassador called Iran, Syria, and Hamas government the new axis of terror and said the recent statements by the P.A. in relation to recent suicide bombings were clear declarations of war. Your response?

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, I mean, he’s the ambassador for propaganda in New York. The Israeli ambassador’s job is to stir things up, and he’s doing a wonderful job of it. We are on a steep slope, I’m afraid, towards war with Iran in this country, or at least major strikes against Iran, which are acts of war, and I believe that the Israeli military is planning — I mean, if the Israeli press is to be believed, the Israeli military is planning and may soon be launching much more serious operations in the Occupied Territories. So this is part of the drumbeat to war.

It’s rather amusing that he should have mentioned Syria, because when the Bush administration quite recently was considering bringing down the Syrian regime, it was reported, at least in Israel, and quite extensively, that the Israeli government warned the Bush administration against doing this, saying that the alternatives would be much worse, that the situation with Syria is perfectly stable and that however bad the Asad government wants, they would much rather have them there than any of the possible alternatives. So, it’s a cynical statement, obviously partly generated by anger at this attack in which nine Israelis were killed in Tel Aviv, but I think largely generated by the need to continue the drumbeat over Iran and to prepare for what is coming insofar as the Occupied Territories are concerned.

I mean — and I think your other speaker mentioned the point that I don’t think anybody should forget. In June, we will begin the 40th year of occupation. This occupation has gone on for two-thirds of the existence of the state of Israel, two generations in the life of Palestinians. It’s completely unacceptable. It’s illegal. It’s become considerably more onerous a burden on the Palestinian people every year. And the last six or seven years have been completely intolerable, and it goes on and on and on, without anybody ever talking about it as the core of the problem. It’s not even mentioned as a major problem.

This has to be ended, or we’re going to see more and more actions like the one we saw in Tel Aviv. I abhor them. I think that they are the worst possible thing, not just for the Israelis, but for the Palestinians. But I see no way of even beginning to address what drives people to do this unless you can end this occupation. It’s been going on for 39 years. In June, it will be the beginning of the 40th year of it, and I just see no movement in the international community, I see nothing in this country, nothing whatsoever to address it. And any time anyone tries to address it in this country, we’re screamed down as Israel-haters or we’re screamed down as anti-Semites, and so the occupation rolls on, protected by this kind of rhetoric.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you both to stay with us for a few more minutes. We have to break right now for 60 seconds. Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University. Shir Hever is economic researcher at the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We’re speaking with Shir Hever, who is an economic researcher for the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem. Rashid Khalidi joins from us here in New York. He’s Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies and Director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University. On Friday, the U.S. government barred Americans from doing most business with the Palestinian Authority. The Treasury Department memo said transactions with the P.A. by U.S. persons are prohibited unless licensed. It said that the decision had been based on existing terrorism sanctions. Professor Khalidi, your response to this and how significant is this? 0

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, it is significant. I mean, it’s part of this blunderbuss legislation, which treats anyone who deals with anything which has anything to do with anything which can be described as terrorist as illegal. And it’s a very blunt tool. I mean, there is a problem with the financing of terror, and there is a legitimate concern, particularly when we’re talking about things like al-Qaeda, which actually attacked the United States. It has been largely used in this country against supporters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, by the way. A large number of the terror trials that this administration has engaged in had nothing to do with attacks on Americans, or at least nothing to do with attacks on the United States. And I think that it will make even more complicated the task of humanitarian organizations dealing with the consequences of Israel’s occupation.

I only wish that the United States would face up to the fact that Israel, as the occupying power, under the Third Geneva Convention is responsible for the safety and the welfare of the entire Palestinian population under occupation. The sham and the fiction that there is a Palestinian sovereign independent government which has that responsibility is, in law, completely unjustified. Israel is the occupying power. The Palestinian Authority has no sovereignty and almost no jurisdiction and is about to be eliminated almost, as its limited control is further eroded. And that means we in the international community and Israel are responsible for the welfare of these people. Laws like this, which are as blunt and as indiscriminate as they are, are going to make individuals who are trying to deal with these humanitarian problems very worried about their safety from prosecution.

And I would remind you, you can deliver humanitarian aid in a variety of ways through N.G.O.s, but some things have to be delivered by a quasi-governmental body, like education and health, and that has to be this Palestinian Authority, which has simply taken over the services that were performed by Israel’s civil administration in the many decades of occupation before the P.A. was set up in the mid-'90s. And that has now been described as a terrorist authority, both by Israel and the United States. Well, terrorist teachers and terrorist doctors and terrorist nurses and terrorist tax collectors, it is obscene. It makes absolutely no sense, but it is a weapon that this administration has chosen to wield, both an ideological weapon and a financial weapon, here, in the case of Palestine, and elsewhere, and until the American public wakes up and realizes that we're not well served by these laws, I think we’re in real trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that the economic crisis will destabilize Hamas?

RASHID KHALIDI: It may. It’s hard for me at this distance to judge. And I think that Hamas may — the Hamas government may crumble. I don’t think that will necessarily mean that Hamas will be less popular or that it will be possible to create a stable alternative to it. I think destroying the democratic process in Palestine, which would be the result of that, wouldn’t be good for anybody. We would go back to a situation where armed groups would dictate Palestinian policy, which was the situation for much of the Intifada, which I think was one of the worst things that could possibly have happened to the Palestinian people. I don’t think the Intifada served them well, the Second Intifada, the one from 2000 until 2004, 2005. And I’m afraid that that is where the situation is being pushed, and I think that will be catastrophic, both for the Palestinians and the Israelis, frankly. I don’t think the Israelis will benefit one bit either.

AMY GOODMAN: The Telegraph, a London tabloid, Shir Hever, reported Saturday that aid —

RASHID KHALIDI: It’s actually a broad sheet, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Okay, reported Saturday aid work has been nearly paralyzed on the West Bank, because many aid workers fear the United States now sees them as terrorists.

SHIR HEVER: Yes, I think that the United States is only proving to a large extent that the money — its double standards towards terrorism, because while the United States is putting all these obstacles in the face of people who try to deal with Palestinian businesses, at the same time the United States is funding the Israeli occupation of the Occupied Territories, and it’s providing Israel with weapons with which Israel violates international law, violates human rights, and commits atrocities against the Palestinian population. So it’s actually the United States government itself that is responsible for many violent actions that Israel is committing and is funding these actions, and we should ask ourselves if, morally, is that any better than funding terrorist Islamic organizations.

AMY GOODMAN: And where do you think the change will come from in Israel? Is there a peace movement that you feel actually has weight?

SHIR HEVER: Well, I am part of the anti-occupation forces in Israel. I wouldn’t exactly call it a peace movement, because the peace movement is a very general name, but I think the forces against occupation in Israel are not very strong, especially not the Jewish parts of that movement. What is very strong, however, is the gradual erosion of the Israeli society’s ability to maintain the occupation, to keep bearing the economic burdens, the social burdens. Israel used to be one of the most egalitarian and fast-growing economy in the western world. And today, it’s the most unequal economy in the western world, if at all it is part of the western world. It suffers from high levels of unemployment, and a lot of people are losing interest in the Zionist nature of the state because of that, and they’re becoming more apathetic and more centered about their daily survival. And this is actually the source, as cynical as it may sound, this is a source of hope for a solution to the situation, because only when Israelis are not willing to participate in the army and in the actions that it undertakes, only then the Palestinians will be finally able to claim their independence and their right.

AMY GOODMAN: Shir Hever, we’ll have to leave it there, economic researcher for the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem, and Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies and Director of Middle East Institute at Columbia University in New York.

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