Nir Rosen is an independent journalist and the author of "In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq." He is a fellow at the New America Foundation and has reported extensively from Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003. [includes rush transcript]
Earlier this year Rosen wrote a cover story for the New York Time Sunday Magazine called "The Flight from Iraq." He estimated that up to 50,000 Iraqis were leaving their homes each month.
- Nir Rosen, independent journalist and the author of "In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq." He is a fellow at the New America Foundation and has reported extensively from Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Nir Rosen is an independent journalist and the author of In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq. He is a fellow at the New America Foundation and has reported extensively from Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003.
Earlier this year, Nir Rosen wrote a piece, a cover story for the New York Times Sunday Magazine, called "The Flight from Iraq." He estimated up to 50,000 Iraqis were leaving their homes each month.
Nir Rosen joins us now from our firehouse studio here in New York, just returned from Beirut on Sunday night. Welcome to Democracy Now!
NIR ROSEN: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk further about the refugee crisis? Again, lay out the numbers that we’re talking about inside Iraq and outside.
NIR ROSEN: Outside Iraq, we’re approaching three million refugees who have left since 2003. There were, of course, refugees who left before then, due to Saddam and other factors.
Inside, I think you have a similar number of internally displaced Iraqis fleeing their homes in mixed areas and going to more homogenous areas. Sunnis from Basra are heading to Sunni neighborhoods, Baghdad, or all the way up to Kurdistan. Shias from Diyala province are going to safer areas for Shias. Kurds from Mosul going up to Kurdistan, as well.
And a family like the one we just saw on the show is never going to go back to their home again, actually, it seems.
AMY GOODMAN: Why?
NIR ROSEN: Iraq has been changed irrevocably, I think. I don’t think Iraq even — you can say it exists anymore. There has been a very effective, systematic ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from Baghdad, of Shias —-from areas that are now mostly Shia. But the Sunnis especially have been a target, as have mixed families like the one we just saw. With a name like Omar, he’s distinctly Sunni -— it’s a very Sunni name. You can be executed for having the name Omar alone. And Baghdad is now firmly in the hands of sectarian Shiite militias, and they’re never going to let it go.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of Senator Levin calling for the Maliki and the whole government to disband?
NIR ROSEN: Well, it’s stupid for several reasons. First of all, the Iraqi government doesn’t matter. It has no power. And it doesn’t matter who you put in there. He’s not going to have any power. Baghdad doesn’t really matter, except for Baghdad. Baghdad used to be the most important city in Iraq, and whoever controlled Baghdad controlled Iraq. These days, you have a collection of city states: Mosul, Basra, Baghdad, Kirkuk, Irbil, Sulaymaniyah. Each one is virtually independent, and they have their own warlords and their own militias. And what happens in Baghdad makes no difference. So that’s the first point.
Second of all, who can he put in instead? What does he think he’s going to put in? Allawi or some secular candidate? There was a democratic election, and the majority of Iraqis selected the sectarian Shiite group Dawa, Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution, the Sadr Movement. These are movements that are popular among the majority of Shias, who are the majority of Iraq. So it doesn’t matter who you put in there. And people in the Green Zone have never had any power. Americans, whether in the government or journalists, have been focused on the Green Zone from the beginning of the war, and it’s never really mattered. It’s been who has power on the street, the various different militias, depending on where you are — Sunni, Shia, tribal, religious, criminal. So it just reflects the same misunderstanding of Iraqi politics. The government doesn’t do anything, doesn’t provide any services, whether security, electricity, health or otherwise. Various militias control various ministries, and they use it as their fiefdoms. Ministries attack other ministries
AMY GOODMAN: Which is the most powerful militia?
NIR ROSEN: Well, the various Shia ones, such as the Mahdi Army, the Badr Corps, the police, the Iraqi police, the Iraqi army. Of course, the American army is also another militia, and it’s a very powerful militia in Iraq — maybe not the most powerful. But the Mahdi Army basically controls the police and the Iraqi army. Of course, in the north the police are more in the hands of various Kurdish militias, and the army is in the hands of Kurdish militias. So it sort of depends where you are.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break. When we come back, we are going to talk more about the refugees throughout the Middle East. There are not many here in this country. We’re talking to Nir Rosen, independent journalist, author of In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Nir Rosen, independent journalist, author of In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq, a fellow at the New America Foundation, has reported extensively from Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003, most recently has just returned from Beirut, actually on Sunday night, and has particularly focused on refugees. His piece in the New York Times is called "The Flight from Iraq."
Talk about why people go to different countries, why Iraqis go in this — you’re saying up to three million Iraqis out of a population of what? Some 27 million?
NIR ROSEN: Twenty-six, twenty-seven, originally, yeah. Nobody knows for sure.
AMY GOODMAN: More than — so, close to 10%.
NIR ROSEN: Yes, and, of course, up to a million have died —
AMY GOODMAN: More than 10%
NIR ROSEN: — since the occupation began. Well, there are various factors for why they choose different countries. Access is one of them. Syria is the most open and generous of all the countries in the region. They basically take anybody who comes in. And for a long time, they were giving them free healthcare, and they still provide free education. Well, they’ve been — they are being overburdened, as well, because the Syrian government subsidizes things such as bread. So every loaf of bread an Iraqi buys is actually being paid for in part by the Syrian government. As a result, they’re finding it more and more difficult to bear the cost.
The Jordanians basically closed their borders by the end of 2005, in part because they were being overburdened, and they also have demographic issues to worry about. Half of the small Jordanian population are Palestinian, and now you’ve introduced another million Iraqis. And this is a very fragile regime in the first place, the Jordanian dictatorship.
AMY GOODMAN: What does each country gain by letting in Iraqi refugees?
NIR ROSEN: Well, Jordan took in initially many of the wealthier ones, as did Egypt, and so they certainly gained a great deal of money and investment, and they required for residency a certain amount of money in the bank. But Jordan was a less friendly environment for Shias. Syria, again, is the most friendly environment for really any Iraqi; Shias, Sunnis, Christians each find welcoming neighborhoods there. Lebanon, very difficult to get to, and there’s a likelihood of being expelled by the Lebanese government, but Christian Iraqis have found that the Christians of Lebanon have been generous in protecting them. Shia Iraqis have tended to go into the Shia neighborhoods of Beirut. Egypt closed its borders more or less after about 150,000 Iraqis came in, mostly Sunni. The majority of the Iraqi Arab refugees are Sunnis, despite the fact that Sunnis are a minority in Iraq. And Sweden has taken in, I think, 40,000 or 50,000, as well. They’ve been quite generous. As you’ve said, we took in about 700, which is a laughable amount.
AMY GOODMAN: What are the politics of this, given that the US said they went into Iraq to save the people of Iraq, only allowing in 700 here?
NIR ROSEN: Well, there are various reasons for why they won’t take them in. I think the fact that they’re Arab and Muslim is probably one of them. The main factor is probably that if you take any refugees, you’re admitting that your whole program in Iraq is a failure. If Iraq is exporting refugees, people are fleeing Iraq for their lives, then everything we’ve done is a failure, which indeed it is, of course, failure.
And there are also security reasons. Homeland Security Department is finding it difficult to screen the Iraqis and difficult to even send their people to various embassies to initiate the screening process. That’s taken a painfully long time logistically.
AMY GOODMAN: Why can’t they screen them?
NIR ROSEN: I think it’s just incompetence and sort of a lack of interest. And one of the factors that prevents Iraqis from getting visas, for example, if you’ve paid a ransom. Many Iraqis, virtually every family I know of, have been victims of kidnapping. If you pay a ransom to release your relative from kidnapping, according to the US government, you have materially supported terrorism, and therefore you can be prevented from obtaining a visa to the US.
AMY GOODMAN: If you’ve paid any kind of ransom?
NIR ROSEN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Governments have paid ransoms, like the Italian government, for people to be released from Iraq.
NIR ROSEN: Yes, I’m sure the US government has, as well, but this has been an obstacle for Iraqis. And in general, there’s an aversion, it seems, on the part of America to take in Arabs or Muslims, and Iraqis, in particular. I think Christians have a much better time, Iraqi Christians, as informally the West, whether Australia, England, America, are more likely to take in Christians and are more interested in their plight. I think there’s also stronger interest groups in the West, in Canada and the US, who are active on behalf of the Iraqi Christians.
AMY GOODMAN: What does it do to the politics of a country, to Syria, to Jordan, to Lebanon, having the Iraqi refugees come in? And then, I want to broaden that to: what is the effect of the war on these countries?
NIR ROSEN: Well, when we think of the Iraqi refugee crisis, we have to think of the crisis that people in the region think of in relation to that one, and that’s the Palestinian refugee crisis. In 1948, up to 800,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes in Palestine to make way for what became Israel. They went to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan. There were put in refugee camps. Eventually, after a few years, they were militarized, mobilized. They had their own militias. They were engaged in attacks, trying to liberate their homes. And they eventually were instrumentalized by the various governments, whether Lebanon, Syria, Jordan. Different groups used them. And they were massacred, as well, by the Lebanese, by the Jordanians. They contributed to destabilization of Jordan, of Lebanon, as well.
And I think you will see something similar happening with the Iraqis, because we have much larger numbers, approaching three million, and many of them already have links with militias back home, of course, because to survive in Iraq you need some militia to protect you. And there are long-established smuggling routes for weapons, for fighters, etc.
And add to that the very sensitive sectarian issue in Syria, in Jordan. The Syrian regime is a minority regime perceived by radical Sunnis to be a heretical. Syria is a majority Sunni country. The majority of the refugees are Sunni. Syria has a good relationship with a Shia-dominated Iraqi government. There have been various Islamist opposition groups who have sought to overthrow their government in Syria. Jordan, as well, has its own Islamist opposition. We’re likely eventually to see, as Sunnis are pushed more and more out of Baghdad and as the militias are pushed into the Anbar Province, that they might link up with Islamist groups in Syria, in Jordan, in Lebanon.
So I think it’s wrong to think of Iraq as its own conflict. There’s now a regional conflict. It’s going to involve Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon. And I think we’ll see governments being overthrown — for example, the one in Jordan. What we already see are fighters being exported, for example, the fighting in Lebanon the past few months. Many Iraq veterans have sought shelter in Lebanon among — in the Palestinian refugee camps, for example.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about that, what’s happening right now in Lebanon with Fatah al-Islam, with, in particular, the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp.
NIR ROSEN: Well, Nahr al-Bared refugee camp doesn’t exist anymore. It’s been wiped out completely. The Lebanese army destroyed, flattened completely a refugee camp that at once housed 40,000 people. And they’ve now been made homeless. They left with only their shirts on their backs, basically.
What provoked this conflict was the existence of a group called Fatah al-Islam that declared itself in late 2006. They sort of piggybacked onto a pre-existing Palestinian group, a secular one called Fatah Intifada, taking advantage of, I think, benign neglect on the part of Syria and a very welcoming environment in northern Lebanon, where you have Salafis already work in close reliance with the Sunni-dominated Future Movement. And it seems like, as Sy Hersh explained in his article, the Future Movement, led by Saad Hariri, hoped that they could take advantage of the presence of the Salafis and jihadists in the camps and elsewhere to be sort of the Sunni militia against Hezbollah. But these groups weren’t interested in fighting Shias. They were more interested in fighting Israel, the US, the crusaders, and establishing their own sort of Islamic emirate in the north. And as a result, there’s been a very brutal and bloody clash with the Lebanese army and security forces.
They took advantage of the fact that the Palestinian camps in Lebanon are basically autonomous in terms of security. The Lebanese security forces weren’t allowed, thanks to an agreement several decades ago, to actually enter the camps. And some of these camps, Ayn al-Hilwah, south of Beirut, have long been exporting jihadists to Iraq. What happened about a year ago was that the flow was reversed, and fighters from Iraq began seeking shelter elsewhere. They can’t go to Jordan. They can’t go to Syria. Lebanon was a much more permissive environment — no strong state, no strong security forces, Palestinian camps already sort of lawless, and a place where Lebanese seek shelter if they’re absconding from the law, and a very friendly environment for Salafis in the Sunni areas because of the increased sectarian tensions in Lebanon.
People in Lebanon are viewing their conflict, especially Sunnis, within a context of the Iraq conflict. They believe in these conspiracy theories about the Shia "Crescent," about a Shia program, and Iran is exporting its revolution in the region. These are baseless sort of fears, but they’re very strong fears held on the part of Sunnis. And as a result, the Sunnis of Lebanon are looking for their own militia to protect them from what they believe is Hezbollah’s attempts to control the country.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the comments of Seymour Hersh, the investigation that he did, specifically saying that the US and Saudi governments are covertly backing militant Sunni groups like Fatah al-Islam as part of an overarching foreign policy to go after Iran and the Shia influence?
NIR ROSEN: Well, Sy Hersh and I deal with sort of different levels, in the sense that most of my work was on the ground in refugee camps and in poor neighborhoods of Lebanon. So I dealt with the actual militias, not on the geopolitical level with the people who might be sponsoring them. So I found no evidence that the US government or Saudi Arabia were directly involved.
What is clear, however, is that jihadist groups in Lebanon are being sponsored and assisted by various Salafis in Lebanon who are very close with the Lebanese government and who support the March 14 Movement. And money is coming in certainly from Saudi Arabia from rich patrons. They are well armed — very new weapons compared to the Lebanese army — laptops, very well fed. And some of their apartments are rented by people who are closely associated with the Lebanese government.
But given where I was, there was no direct US involvement, as far as I can see. It would be very foolish for the US to support these jihadists. I think the Lebanese government and its allies found that it was also very dangerous for them, that they cannot control these people and use them for their own ends. We tried this ourselves in Afghanistan and are still suffering as a result of that. And these groups in Lebanon, I think, actually ended up taking advantage of the Lebanese authorities, instead of the other way around.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Nir Rosen, independent journalist, author of In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq. He has just come out of Lebanon, has been looking at refugees, the mass crisis. I mean, you’re putting the numbers now at, well, over five million numbers, with those refugees inside Iraq, the internally displaced, around two million, and then you’re saying three million outside.
NIR ROSEN: I think almost three million inside. I mean, the rate is increasing so fast every day, every month 30,000 to 50,000 are leaving their homes.
AMY GOODMAN: Where does the UN come into this and refugee camps in these countries?
NIR ROSEN: Well, until now, there haven’t really been refugee camps outside of Iraq. Iraqis have sort of blended into the urban environments of Amman, Jordan; Damascus, Syria; Beirut; Cairo. These are urban people who have fled, and they prefer an urban environment. There’s a taboo about refugee camps. And the governments have not set up refugee camps either. So this makes it harder to help them and harder to track them, as well.
Within Iraq, there have been some camps set up for the internally displaced in southern Iraq. But about 150,000 to 200,000 Iraqis have fled to northern Iraq — Irbil, Sulaymaniyah, Dahuk — and they have also just rented homes in urban areas in towns.
The UN was very slow to respond, in part because of a lack of funding, in part because the UN was still in a sort of intellectual mode where they were assisting the Iraqi government. There was a reconstruction effort, stability effort, development, not dealing with the humanitarian crisis, because usually it’s the other way around. You solve the refugee crisis first, and then you initiate the reconstruction, development, etc. Iraq was unusual in that sense, in that what initially was a reconstruction effort became a humanitarian crisis. And the UN was reluctant to admit it, that there was a humanitarian crisis, because that would imply the Iraqi government, which is assisting, is a failure. And, in fact, the Iraqi government is a party in the conflict and is one of the main actors in prolonging this conflict, to the extent that we can even say that there isn’t an Iraqi government.
So the UN has been very late, in part because it depends on funders. You can’t blame the UN. The UN is basically America and the donor countries. But there was this lazy intellectual process of recognizing that Iraq is a failure. And, of course, the UN was traumatized by, first, the failure to prevent the war in Iraq — and it’s been seeking a mission ever since then — and, of course, the bombing in August 2003, which basically expelled the UN from Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you make of the Syrian prime minister Monday saying that his country will help rebuild Iraq, help Iraqis rebuild Iraq?
NIR ROSEN: I think it’s optimistic. I don’t think anybody can really help Iraq at this point. And Syria lacks the funds. We in the West have been focused too much on Iran and Syria, as if they are the solution to Iraq, or the problem or the cause of the problem, whereas, in fact, this is mainly an internal conflict. And there isn’t much that a country like Syria can do. The US, with all of its troops and all of its money, has failed completely.
Syria does have the advantage of having a good relationship with all the parties in the conflict. It’s been very good at maintaining relations with Sunni resistance groups, with Shia radicals like Muqtada al-Sadr. Maliki, the prime minister, actually lived in Syria for a long time. President Talabani was in exile in Syria when he established his own political party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. So Syria does have a very good relationship, and it could be the key to bringing some of the Iraqi groups together. But at this time, I think there’s actually no hope.
AMY GOODMAN: Nir, what about Iran? What about the whole Bush-Cheney push to attack Iran? And what is the significance of this? And how does it play out in these countries?
NIR ROSEN: Well, I think we’re dealing with a mentality on the part of our administration that nobody else is going to have the guts to take on Iran in the future, the next president, so if we don’t do it, who’s going to do it, and we’ll be vindicated in the future just like Reagan was vindicated, allegedly, for bringing down the Soviet Union. So they have this long-term view of how history will treat them, and if they don’t take down Iran, nobody else will, which is probably the case, although they can’t take down Iran, either.
Iran is not Iraq. You can bomb it, but I think you’d only basically strengthen the support for the government, as always happens when you bomb a country. We saw this in Yugoslavia and elsewhere. And they’ve been blaming Iran for everything under the sun lately, for supporting Sunni radicals in Iraq or attacking the Iranian-backed leadership in Iraq, for attacking — and then they blame Iran for supporting the Taliban, who, of course, were bitter enemies of Iran. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
AMY GOODMAN: And interestingly, the president of Afghanistan, Karzai, coming in and saying Iran is a partner and then receiving Ahmadinejad in Afghanistan, and President Bush at the same time attacking Iran.
NIR ROSEN: Well, the countries in the region know that they can’t lose Iran as an ally and as a neighbor. The US can easily alienate Iran, without suffering too many consequences. But Iraq does depend on Iran as a friendly neighbor, likewise Afghanistan. And if you were to antagonize Iran, of course, the consequences would be much more severe than antagonizing Iraq, which had a very weak army.
AMY GOODMAN: What are the politics? Why is Bush doing this, escalating the rhetoric?
NIR ROSEN: Well, there is a general aversion on the part of the US administration towards any Islamist movement or government. This is why they brought down the Islamic Courts in Somalia, this is why they overthrew the Hamas democratically elected government in Palestine, this is why they refuse to deal with Hezbollah, an overwhelmingly popular movement in Lebanon: I think a fear of any successful Islamist model. And then, we’ve had a long animosity with Iran. We haven’t forgiven them, I think, for the hostage crisis a few decades ago.
And I think we’re now in search of a new enemy. When I wrote my book, I was doing research on LexisNexis, and I found that in May 2003 universally the US press was talking about when do we got to war against Iran? Iraq has been such a success. We brought down Saddam’s regime so quickly. So now, Iran is next, obviously. And everybody was behind this, of course.
AMY GOODMAN: The Lieberman-sponsored resolution condemning Iranians fighting in Iraq for killing US soldiers, but then the report coming out that there are more Saudi fighters in Iraq than Iranian fighters.
NIR ROSEN: It’s difficult for me to understand why the Shias would need Iranian fighters. Iraqis are very good at killing, as we’ve seen. Shias were in the army. They were the majority of the army. Shias were in the Fedayeen Saddam, as well. And they’ve been very eager to fight the Americans — the Mahdi Army, other groups.
So Iran might be sponsoring various Shia militias, of course. It has its own proxies in Iraq: the Supreme Council, one of our main allies, the Dawa Party, one of our main allies, the Sadr Movement to a lesser extent, and, of course, some of the Kurdish parties, as well. Iran has a very good relationship with various Iraqi movements.
I am skeptical that they are actually sending fighters to Iraq. I just don’t see the need for it. Iraqis are very well trained. They might be sending some weapons. But then again, there’s also a black market in weapons, so just because a weapon is Iranian doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily been sold by Iran. Various groups use American weapons. It doesn’t mean that the Americans are arming people, although, in fact, we are arming militias.
I mean, it’s very hypocritical for the US to complain about any foreign intervention in Iraq in the first place, given that we occupied Iraq and destroyed it, and now we’re arming Sunni militias in various neighborhoods, making the situation much worse. In various Sunni neighborhoods of Baghdad, we’re creating our own militias. We are the ones who armed the police and the army, who are, in effect, controlled by a sectarian Shia militia. So it’s absurd to take the American accusations seriously, except that they are intending to go to war against Iran.
AMY GOODMAN: On that issue, Nir Rosen, Time magazine ran an article this week called "Prelude to an Attack on Iran." It ends with a quote from an unnamed US official: "There will be an attack on Iran," he said.
NIR ROSEN: I mean, this is just such a foolish game to play. American soldiers are basically held hostage in Iraq. They can’t leave, and they can’t stay. And Iran has the ability to make things much more difficult for the Americans. Until now, while we are fighting Shia militias, Shia resistance groups, it’s not a sort of universal uprising on the part of Shias. We did face that a little bit in 2004, and it was very difficult for the Americans. But Iran does have the ability to mobilize Iraqi Shias, of course, against the Americans and, if it wanted to, to sponsor other groups that might want to fight the Americans.
Iran, until now, I think, has been the primary beneficiary of the US war in Iraq, in that their people are the ones in charge, and their main enemy, or one of them after Israel, Saddam Hussein, was removed. So we could have seen Iran as an ally in all this, and I think that we could have seen them as an ally in Afghanistan, as well. But we’ve chosen to invent an enemy where we didn’t have one before.
AMY GOODMAN: David Petraeus, the general, this report that’s coming out, along with the Ambassador Crocker, the second week of September, it’s now reported, they may well be reporting on September 11th to Congress. What is the significance of this?
NIR ROSEN: I don’t think it’s significant. What can they say that would make any impact one way or the other?
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think has to happen?
NIR ROSEN: In Iraq? It’s too late for anything good to happen in Iraq, unfortunately. If the Americans stay, we’ll see a continuation of this civil war, of ethnic cleansing, until all of Iraq is sort of ethnically — or sectarian, homogenous zones, which is basically what’s already happened. If the Americans leave, then you’ll see greater intervention of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, supporting their own militias in Iraq and being drawn into battle.
But no matter what, Iraq doesn’t exist anymore. Baghdad will never be in the hands of Sunnis again. Baghdad will be controlled by Shia militias. They’ve been cleansing all the Sunnis from Baghdad. So Sunnis are basically being pushed out of Iraq, period. They can go to the Anbar Province, which isn’t a very friendly place. I think you’ll see that there won’t be any more elections in Iraq. Maliki is the last prime minister Iraq will have for a long time. There is neither the infrastructure for elections anymore, nor the desire to have them, nor the ability of Iraqi groups to cooperate anymore. So what you’ll see is basically Mogadishu in Iraq: various warlords controlling small neighborhoods. And those who are by major resources, such as oil installations, obviously will be foreign-sponsored warlords who will be able to cut deals with us, the Chinese. But Iraq is destroyed, and I think we’ll see that this will spread throughout the region, and this will destabilize Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Before we wrap up, I want to talk about the Occupied Territories, about Gaza and the West Bank, particularly Gaza now, the news out, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza enduring a fifth day of power blackouts. The outages began after the European Union suspended its funding of Gaza’s main electricity plant. What’s happening now?
NIR ROSEN: Well, Hamas was elected democratically in elections that the US President Jimmy Carter and the international community recognized were free and fair. We, of course, were very upset that Hamas won the elections, and we imposed sanctions on them and tried to overthrow the government in a soft coup, by basically strangling the economy. And that didn’t work. As a result, we increased the heat on Hamas. We began training and sponsoring Fatah militias, with the cooperation of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and, of course, Israel, and attempted to overthrow the Hamas democratically elected government. And that, too, failed. And Hamas actually managed to eject the Fatah militias from Gaza.
And, of course, now, thanks to US pressure, the Europeans, who would like to deal with Hamas, who have a much more realistic view of the Middle East, are unable to do so. And, I mean, all you’re doing is actually radicalizing this group. This is one of the more moderate Islamist groups in the region, in fact, and they were willing to negotiate with Israel. But what you do when you allow a group like this to take part in elections, and then when they win you try to overthrow them, is merely radicalize them and encourage the Salafis, those with leanings towards al-Qaeda.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean by Salafis.
NIR ROSEN: Salafis, like the Wahabis of Saudi Arabia, a much stricter interpretation of Islam, generally they reject any innovations and any form of modernity, any deviations from what they perceive as a true Islam, whether Shiism or influences of modernity, of reform. And they often, as well, believe that if you don’t follow their line of thinking, you’re a heretic, you’re an infidel, and you can be killed. Zarqawi was a Salafi, for example.
And these movements are not very strong in Palestine yet. But what we’re doing is taking a moderate group like Hamas and actually encouraging them to be more radical, telling them that negotiations, politics, elections won’t work, all you have is violence. It is such a foolish process, because you can’t push them into the sea, which is what Israel would like to do, of course. But if you keep them in this prison, which is Gaza, and you bomb them every day, which is what Israel is doing, and they’ve killed — since Israel withdrew from Gaza, they’ve killed over 150 children and hundreds of civilians. So it’s not exactly withdrawal in the first place.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think needs to happen there?
NIR ROSEN: What needs to happen at this point is a one-state solution, where Palestinian refugees are allowed to go back to their homes, where Israel is a state for Jews and non-Jews alike, a state for its citizens. And this one-state solution is inevitable. I think the choice that Israeli Jews have is whether they accept it peacefully, following the model in South Africa, or do they wait a few decades and have to deal with a much more violent uprising on the part of the Arab Israeli population and the population in the West Bank and Gaza? But I think, one way or the other, it’s inevitable that Israel can’t exist as a Jewish state that doesn’t give equal rights to its non-Jewish Arab citizens.
AMY GOODMAN: Nir Rosen, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Nir Rosen, independent journalist, his book is called In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq. He is just back from Beirut, Lebanon.