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2006-07-20

Ralph Nader: U.S. Carries "Inescapable Responsibility" for "Israeli Government’s Escalating War Crimes"

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Former Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader wrote a letter to President Bush this week that harshly criticized the White House for its response to Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon. [includes rush transcript]

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has issued an urgent appeal to the international community to intervene saying his country has been "torn to shreds." While many countries have called on Israel to halt its military assault, the Bush administration has so far openly rejected calls for a ceasefire. U.S. and Israeli officials have reportedly agreed the bombings will continue for another week.

In a letter to President Bush this week, former Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader harshly criticized the White House for its response to the crisis. Nader is perhaps the most well known Lebanese-American in the world. He ran against George W Bush for president twice–in 2000 and 2004. He is also the most prominent consumer advocate in the country.

  • Ralph Nader, independent presidential candidate for 2000 and 2004.

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: In a letter to President Bush this week, former presidential candidate Ralph Nader harshly criticized the White House for its response to the crisis. Ralph Nader is perhaps the most well known Lebanese American in the world. He ran against George W. Bush for president twice, in 2000 and 2004. He is also the most prominent consumer advocate in this country. Ralph Nader joins us on the telephone right now. We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Ralph Nader.

RALPH NADER: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us what you wrote to President Bush.

RALPH NADER: I wrote him a letter that basically described the need for him to get advice from his father and Brent Scowcroft and James Baker about how he should deal with this Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which of course violates a whole range of international treaties and Geneva Conventions, to which the United States has been a longtime signatory. And the first priority that Bush should adopt is to recognize that the U.S.'s indiscriminate support of Israel's indiscriminate bombing of Lebanon — ports and hospital and roads and wheat silos and residential areas — puts a responsibility on the President, who is shipping a lot of tax dollars to Israel, as well as a lot of weapons, to put a stop to this through a ceasefire and to take a stronger initiative in resolving the core problem, which is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

AMY GOODMAN: You also take on the issue of President Bush’s father and where he should go for advice.

RALPH NADER: Yes, I wanted to draw a contrast as to just how extreme and messianically driven President Bush is, even in comparison with his father and his father’s key advisers, Jim Baker and Brent Scowcroft, both of whom opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Bush, in 2004, was quoted as saying, quote, "I trust God speaks through me," end-quote. We’re dealing here with not just a phenomenally ignorant man, but a messianically driven man, and so when the Prime Minister of Israel visits the White House, he, Bush, knows who the puppeteer and who the puppet is, but he doesn’t like to appear like a puppet, so he embraces messianically anything that Israel chooses to do militarily and to, in the words of the combat reservists who have refused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza, the Israeli combat reservists, they refuse to serve in Gaza and the West Bank and in their words they, quote, "We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people," end-quote. And that is exactly what George W. Bush’s unqualified support, weaponry, diplomatic cover, vetoes in the UN against UN resolutions, is providing the Israeli military regime an opportunity to do, the Palestinians and anybody in the area that the Israeli military regime wants to dominate, damage.

What’s interesting here is that the Israeli peace movement, just like the peace movement in our country, was cowed when the hostilities began a few days ago. But that doesn’t mean that the Israeli peace movement and leading commentators, former ministers of justice and defense and intelligence officials, who in prior months and years spoke out against the occupation, colonization, domination, destruction of the West Bank and Palestine cannot reassert themselves. But when they’re up against George W. Bush and a supine congress and a absurdly compliant Hillary Clinton, and others, it’s very hard for the Israeli peace movement, in the Knesset and elsewhere, to reassert itself. And that’s the cardinal failure of the Bush regime, that they have sided their positions with the militarists in Israel, but not with the broad, deep and prominent Israeli peace movement.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, we have to break. We’ll come back to you. We’ll also be joined by a member of the Israeli peace movement, Professor Ilan Pappe from Haifa, which has been hit by Hezbollah rockets. We’re also going to be joined by a prominent doctor in Gaza. We’re talking to former Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader. We’ll be back with him in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, leading consumer activist in this country. Ralph Nader, I wanted to play for you an excerpt of Tuesday’s White House press conference. In it, Press Secretary Tony Snow is questioned by veteran correspondent Helen Thomas. Commonly referred to as "the First Lady of the Press," Helen Thomas is the most senior member of the White House press corps. What many people may not know is that she’s also of Lebanese descent. At Tuesday’s news conference, she questioned Tony Snow about the U.S. response to the Israeli assault.

HELEN THOMAS: The United States is not that helpless. It could have stopped the bombardment of Lebanon. We have that much control with the Israelis.

TONY SNOW: I don’t think so, Helen.

HELEN THOMAS: We have gone for collective punishment against all of Lebanon and Palestine.

TONY SNOW: What’s interesting, Helen —

HELEN THOMAS: And this is what’s happening, and that’s the perception of the United States.

TONY SNOW: Well, thank you for the Hezbollah view, but I would encourage you —

HELEN THOMAS: Nobody is accepting your explanation. What is restraint? You call for restraint.

TONY SNOW: Well, I’ll tell you, what’s interesting, Helen, is people have. The G8 was completely united on this. And as you know, when it comes to issues of —

HELEN THOMAS: And we stopped a ceasefire. Why?

TONY SNOW: We didn’t stop a ceasefire. Let me just tell you — I’ll tell you what.

HELEN THOMAS: We vetoed —

TONY SNOW: We didn’t even veto. Please get your facts right. What happened was that the G8 countries made a pretty clear determination that the guilty party here was Hezbollah. You cannot have a ceasefire when you’ve got the leader of Hezbollah going on his television saying that he perceives total war —- he’s declaring total war. When they are firing rockets indiscriminately -—

HELEN THOMAS: We had the United Nations —

TONY SNOW: Please let me finish. I know this is great entertainment, but I want to finish the answer. The point here is, they’re firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas. The Israelis are responding as they see fit. You will note the countries that disagree with the —

HELEN THOMAS: —- bombardment of a whole country -—

TONY SNOW: — that disagree with the government of Israel in terms of its general approach on Palestine, many of our European allies agree that Israel has the right to defend itself, that the government of Lebanon has the right to control all its territory, that Hezbollah is responsible, and that those who support it also bear responsibility. There is no daylight between the United States and all the allies on this. They all agreed on it. This was not difficult.

AMY GOODMAN: White House Press Secretary Tony Snow responding to reporter Helen Thomas’s comments. Ralph Nader, beginning with his comment, when she asked about isn’t this collective punishment, saying this is a Hezbollah response.

RALPH NADER: Well, of course, the history of this is not just two weeks old. In 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon, violating all kinds of Geneva conventions and UN resolutions, the New York Times’s Tom Friedman accused the Israeli military, actually reported, indiscriminate bombing in Beirut, and there were warships, Israeli shelling indiscriminately in Beirut. These are total war crimes, massive damage and death and destruction to innocent people.

The border between Israel and Lebanon involves raids of Israel, much more than Hezbollah, because of the more powerful factor. They still control large farm acreage, the Shebaa Farms, which are Lebanese soil. The Israelis have abducted Israeli civilians. They won’t tell the United Nations or the Lebanese government the location for thousands of land mines in South Lebanon so they can be deactivated. And during the 18-year occupation of South Lebanon, itself illegal under international law from 1982 to the year 2000, Israel drew water, precious water, from the Litani and even took fertile topsoil back to Israel, and other plunders. So, you know, for Tony Snow to act like, well, you know, everything started with this attack by Hezbollah, which is basically an attack designed to provide for a prisoner exchange. This has happened numerous times over the Lebanese-Israeli border.

But as Israeli commentators pointed out, this invasion of Lebanon doesn’t have anything to do with it. This is just a pretext by Israel, that Israel wants a puppet regime in Lebanon. It cannot stand an independent Lebanon, and it seeks to achieve that objective by this massive invasion and dividing the sectarian conflicts, as it did in 1982. So, it’s really tragic to see the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns, and others acting as if they were emissaries of the Israeli embassy. When Mr. Burns said on the McNeil-Lehrer Report the other night that all the civilian deaths and destruction in Lebanon are due to Hezbollah, that is the kind of go signal that the Israeli regime wants to hear from the United States.

But I think it’s important for all peace-seeking people to move to pressure the U.S. government to get a ceasefire and to finally involve the Bush administration in serious negotiations as an honest broker to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with a two-state solution, a viable Palestinian state, which is supported by large numbers of Israelis, as well as, of course, Palestinians, and I might add about 70% of American Jews support a two-state solution to this problem, which has gotten us involved into more and more quagmires in the Middle East, not to exclude the Iraq war.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, I wanted to bring Professor Ilan Pappe into this conversation. Hezbollah is continuing to fire rockets into Northern Israel. 29 Israelis have been killed so far, including 15 civilians. On Wednesday, Hezbollah fired over 100 missiles, hitting Haifa and for the first time Nazareth. The rocket attacks killed two boys there. They were both Palestinian with Israeli citizenship. Nine others were wounded in the attack.

We’re going to go to Northern Israel to speak with Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian, author and political scientist at the University of Haifa. His latest book is called A History of Modern Palestine. Joining us on the line from Haifa, Professor Pappe. Thank you for joining us. We’re also speaking to Ralph Nader, on the line here in the United States.

ILAN PAPPE: Hello, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about what’s happening in Haifa right now, the rocket attacks on your city, and your response?

ILAN PAPPE: Well, today was a relative quiet day. There were several sirens, but no rockets fell, unlike tomorrow. But I’m aware that what we are going through pales in comparison to what goes on on the other side of the border, where a large number of civilians have been killed.

And I think I can talk also as a spokesperson for the Israeli Committee Against the War, that the citizens of Haifa, Palestinians and Jews alike, there are quite a large number of them who ask probably the same questions that Ralph Nader asked before. Why doesn’t our government accept the offer of the United Nations to an immediate ceasefire and the beginning of diplomatic negotiations? And why does the United States, in the most immoral position I have ever recalled since the end of the second World War, tells us and the poor citizens of Lebanon that it doesn’t mind the mutual killing of citizens, so that the military operation could go on, where it knows that it has the power to stop today the shelling of both Israelis and Lebanese and to start maybe a more fruitful negotiations, not only over the questions of the prisoners of war, but maybe even over the question of the comprehensive solution.

AMY GOODMAN: How important is the U.S. stance, Professor Pappe?

ILAN PAPPE: Immensely so. I think that, first of all, it has the power, like it never had before, to stop an escalation, which has already claimed the lives of many innocent people. So that’s a very powerful position. Secondly, it’s the only superpower in the area and in the world, and that’s a very great responsibility. And thirdly, without the U.S. support, the aggressive Israeli policies, not only towards Lebanon, but also towards the Gaza Strip and towards the Occupied Territories, would have changed dramatically. So I would say that in fact the Middle East conflict continues, very much because — not only because, but primarily because — of the American position.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Pappe, we’re hearing over and over again in the U.S. media about how the Israeli population is fully behind their government, especially as the rockets continue to slam into Haifa, now Nazareth. Is this true?

ILAN PAPPE: Yeah, it is true. It is true that the Jewish society — as you know, 20% of the Israelis are Palestinians, and I doubt very much whether they support this policy, but it is true that the majority of the Jewish population supports the government, but they do it because (a) they’re misinformed — nobody in Israel can see what are the results of the Israeli bombing in Lebanon — and because it is an indoctrinated society that, through the educational system and the media and the political system, gets a very distorted picture of the reality around it.

So you can get the consensus around the government policies, but, you know, from history we know that the majority support for certain policies doesn’t vindicate it or doesn’t justify it. And for the first time, I think, this war actually — and this is my great hope, as well — is going to bring questions to the fore, because I think more and more Israelis realize that what they were promised a week ago, that in 48 hours or so the mighty Israeli Air Force would settle all the problems of the Middle East for once and for all, this promise was made in vain, and my hope is that the Israelis will start to ask questions that would first lead to the end of this war, but maybe would start an era of pluralism in Israel, which pretends to be a democracy, with some of the more bizarre and dangerous policies of the government would be questioned by its society.

AMY GOODMAN: We started the show in Beirut, now talking to you in Haifa, talking to Ralph Nader here in the United States. And I want to go back to Ralph Nader, but I want to go from all of these places also to Gaza, where a parallel Israeli assault continues to claim lives on a daily basis. Wednesday, 30 Israeli armored vehicles entered Gaza’s Mughazi refugee camp at sunrise, just hours after Israel’s withdrawal from northern Gaza Tuesday. Israeli soldiers occupied the camp while bulldozers leveled the surrounding farmland. An Israeli drone fired a missile into the edge of the camp. Six Palestinians were killed, over 50 injured, in the attack. Over a hundred Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli military over the last three weeks. Many of the casualties have been children. A UN Security Council resolution opposing the offensive was vetoed by the United States last week.

To discuss the latest developments in Gaza, we’re joined by Dr. Mona El-Farra, a physician and community activist in northern Gaza, also a health development consultant for Gaza’s Union of Health Work Committees. Dr. El-Farra, welcome to Democracy Now!

DR. MONA EL-FARRA: Thank you very much for interviewing me.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the situation on the ground right now?

DR. MONA EL-FARRA: Yes. Right now the east of the middle camps in Gaza Strip, the Israelis — as you mentioned earlier, at least seven people were killed, and I am sorry that one of the injured was one of the health emergency team whose both legs were amputated. And the army tanks destroyed the power plant in that area, so the whole area of the middle camps, besides the majority of the Gaza Strip, still doesn’t have electrical power. The hospitals are working under heavy load of increasing number of casualties, besides the [inaudible] deaths. We are working while the drug stores in Gaza Strip are in very bad need for medications and medical supplies. So, the situation is actually deteriorating.

The Israeli occupying forces are moving from one place to another. After they finished with Beit Hanoun village in the north, they are moving to the middle camps. They are continuing their assault against different ministries, the buildings, and while they are bombing Gaza Strip official buildings, they don’t avoid civilians. And I can say the whole situation is a very ugly situation and is not promising. We still live in big prison, Gaza. I call it big prison. A whole nation is living under collective punishment. A whole nation is captured, is really captured. We are captured. We are chased by the gunboats from the west of Gaza and the army tanks in the east and north, while the air raids continue on top of Gaza.

And I’m sorry to know that the world, the media or mainstream media doesn’t cover what’s going on in Gaza, which is, they are attacking Gaza piece by piece, and it is very — I feel sorry for what’s happening here. But despite all that, today I was in the middle camps, just two kilometers away from the incursion area, and I’m pleased to tell you that I was there — while hearing to the bombing happening in the east, I was there with children who are trying to have a little fun by being through a summer camp in that area, a summer camp organized by one of the civil society organizations trying to find some fun for those kids. So, while the army tanks with their bombing loudly, those children were dancing to the folklore music, Palestinian folklore music, and these children living in the refugee camp, and they named their camp the "Camp of Freedom." And so, Palestinian people are still fighting in different ways, resisting in different ways, towards our freedom.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mona El-Farra, speaking to us in Gaza. As you listen to this, Ralph Nader, in the United States, the U.S. press very much backing off what’s happening in Gaza, as they focus on Lebanon. Your response.

RALPH NADER: Yes, and also focusing on the evacuation of American citizens, of which there are far more than 25,000. The Canadian paper said there are 25,000 Arab Canadians in Lebanon. There’s probably a quarter of a million. So, low-balling American citizens is another tactic of the Bush administration.

But getting back to the terrible situation in Gaza and the West Bank, I think the framework of analysis here for Americans in trying to persuade their government to pursue peace instead of mayhem and war in the Middle East and in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the following. Just ask four simple questions: Who is the occupier, invader, and who is seizing more land and water? It’s Israel. Who has the most military power and domination, by a thousand to one, the most modern, probably, army in the world, after the United States? Who has slain more civilians and destroyed more civilian homes and infrastructure? Again, Israel. And who has the full backing of the U.S. government? Israel.

Now, doesn’t it seem logical that the parties who should take the initiative in what they declare should be a two-state solution should be Israel and the United States? That’s the essential point here, that the U.S. has an awesome responsibility for that suffering, the deaths and injuries and disease and incarceration of the people of Gaza and the gulag that’s called the West Bank, where more land is being seized, more water is being taken, colonies are expanding, Israeli-only highways are built. I mean, we’re talking here about the biggest prison in the world, and it’s financed in significant part by the U.S. taxpayers and a supine congress. And so, it is very important, because all this is going to lead to more instability in the area, which will boomerang against our own security in the United States.

And all this requires people to speak up, like Rabbi Lerner of Tikkun and the Jewish Americans who were speaking up, like the 300 British Jews who spoke up condemning the devastating attack by Israel against defenseless people in Gaza. And, of course, all over the world the protests that are going on. There are 66 UN resolutions that are still on the books, critical of Israel, that Israel has not complied with. 66, not just the one resolution about disarming Hezbollah.

And so, we’re seeing here a situation, Amy, where even the New York Times, its editorials, the absence of dissenting views on the editorial op-ed page of the New York Times, is abdicating the responsibility that it had to be a more balanced paper when Anthony Lewis used to be a columnist there. So, it’s a terrible situation. It’s only going to get worse.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think would happen if the U.S. press brought out the voices of this level of dissent in this country and around the world? What do you think would happen to U.S. public opinion?

RALPH NADER: I think an informed public opinion about more of what’s going on there would lead to more pressure on Congress and the White House to enforce the Arms Export Control Act, which prohibits shipping weapons to any country that uses it offensively. Blowing up trucks with medical supplies and wheat silos in Lebanon certainly qualifies as that.

And I think also it would begin pushing the White House and Congress to an aggressive peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is the core conflict that is breeding so much of this Islamic agitation and is not unconnected with the war and quagmire in Iraq. As Gideon Levy said in Ha’aretz the other day, "In Gaza, a soldier is abducted from the army of a state that frequently abducts civilians from their homes and locks them up for years without a trial, but only we’re allowed to do that, and only we’re allowed to bomb civilian population centers," end-quote. That’s the kind of dissent, humanitarian dissent, [inaudible] a lot of in Israel, but it needs to be encouraged from the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to Professor Ilan Pappe, joining us from Haifa. Israel’s basic demands, passed to Beirut by Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi: return of the two captured Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah; Hezbollah withdrawal to the Litani River, which is roughly 20 miles north of the current Lebanese-Israeli border; no more rocket attacks against Israel; return by Hamas of the Israeli soldier. Your response, Professor Pappe?

ILAN PAPPE: Well, I think the demand for the return of the soldiers has been a pretext, and, in fact, nobody is talking about that demand any more here in Israel. We all forgot about it. This has long time been forgotten. If you want to return captive soldiers, you don’t go and bomb the other side in a way that may harm your chances. So, I don’t think this is the issue at all, and I don’t think these Israeli demands are going to be accepted unilaterally.

I think the Israelis are facing, both in the case of the Hamas and the case of the Hezbollah, two very weak military powers, but determined enough to show the Israelis that there are two options here. One is the option of a very troubled, but nonetheless constructive, dialogue, or the option of destruction and violence.

And I think that these Israeli demands are not made in good faith, and I don’t think that they are really the objective of the Israeli operation either in Lebanon or in Palestine. I think the real target of these operations, which were by the way preplanned and they were not just in a reaction to the abduction of the soldiers, was to try and eliminate the only two resistance movements left in the Middle East that oppose the Israeli decision to unilaterally impose its vision on Palestine, a vision that includes the creation of a greater Israel over most of the West Bank and the enclaving and imprisoning of the Palestinians in two small Bantustans.

And now, the Arab regimes are unable to oppose it. America endorses it. The Europeans seem to be indifferent. And there are only two movements, which are not just guerrilla movements, but also popular social and cultural movements, that oppose these policies. And the Israelis think they have the window of opportunity with the unconditional American support to use force in order to impose their will. And I think that’s the real agenda.

And had the soldiers not been abducted, the Israelis would have chosen another incident, a different incident, to unleash their forces in what they think is a moment of historical opportunity. But I think we all are going to learn that they were wrong, and the price we are all going to pay is going to be very high for this adventurous and reckless policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Dr. Mona El-Farra, speaking to us from Gaza, the attitude of people on the ground. I mean, you now have Hamas leadership in jail, members of the parliament, of the cabinet. You have, of course, the Israelis saying, the Israeli military saying, that they will stop if the soldier, the Israeli soldier, is returned. Are attitudes changing or hardening on the ground?

DR. MONA EL-FARRA: First, I think the freedom of the captured soldier is a pretense by Israel to go ahead and implement its plan against Gaza, against the Hamas and the different factions of resistance in the Gaza. On the ground, people in Palestine — all people in Palestine and Gaza Strip think it is very easy for them — it is very easy: free the soldiers, free our political prisoners and Hamas, other members who were imprisoned, and the soldier can get out. But it is not as easy as this.

This is a pre-planned military assault against the Gaza Strip. It is part of Israel’s planned expansion in the area and aggression against Palestinian people and not to go ahead with the agenda of negotiation. And I do strongly believe that neither the wall nor the aggression nor the assault against the Palestinian people will bring peace to Israel. I believe the only outlet of this is negotiation and peace, but peace that is built on justice, peace that will guarantee some of the Palestinian national goals. And I believe the long term for us, for the conflict in the area, long term, first to start with two nations, two states, then end up this land will be for both people. And Israel should learn from the history.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mona El-Farra I want to thank you for being with us, physician speaking to us from Gaza; Professor Ilan Pappe, Israeli historian, teaches at the University of Haifa, his latest book is A History of Modern Palestine; and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, speaking to us from right here in the United States.

RALPH NADER: Amy?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, Ralph?

RALPH NADER: I’d like to point out Tom Hayden’s remarkable statement showing his change from supporting the 1982 invasion of Lebanon to now being a critic of U.S. policy and Israeli policy in the Middle East, that came out yesterday. A very personal statement, candid mea culpas, and very insightful. And he said, quote, "It should be clear by now that the present Israeli government will never accept an independent Palestinian state, but rather harbors the colonial ambition to decide which Palestinian leaders are acceptable," end-quote. I think people should read that on the website.

AMY GOODMAN: We will also link to that on our website at democracynow.org, where people can find the transcript of today’s discussion and also video and audio podcast our show. Thank you all for being with us.

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