Fida Qishta, Freelance journalist and Gaza Strip Coordinator for the International Solidarity Movement
Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, independent Palestinian lawmaker and democracy activist
Amidst worldwide protests, Israel is continuing its bombing campaign against Gaza for the third consecutive day and preparing to launch a possible ground invasion. Following months of a crippling blockade, this has been described as one of Israel’s bloodiest attacks on Palestinians since 1948. Latest reports indicate that 310 people have been killed and 1,400 injured in the aerial strikes across the Gaza Strip since Saturday morning. The latest targets of the air strikes include the Hamas Interior Ministry building and the Islamic University. Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced today that Israel is in an "all-out war with Hamas and its proxies" in Gaza. Fears of a ground invasion are growing after Israel declared a military buffer zone around Gaza, closing off the strip and its 1.5 million residents to journalists and civilians.
We speak to Dr. Moussa El-Haddad and Fida Qishta in Gaza, Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi in Ramallah, Gideon Levy in Tel Aviv and Ali Abunimah in the US. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Amidst worldwide protests, Israel is continuing its bombing campaign against Gaza for the third consecutive day and preparing to launch a possible ground invasion. After months of a crippling blockade, this has been described as one of Israel’s bloodiest attacks on Palestinians since 1948.
Latest reports indicate that a total of 310 people have been killed and 1,400 injured in the aerial strikes across the Gaza Strip since Saturday morning. The latest targets of the air strikes include the Hamas Interior Ministry building and the Islamic University. Five people in a single family were killed in a strike Sunday night on Jabalya. This is a surviving family member, Iman Baloushi.
IMAN BALOUSHI: [translated] Seven of us were sleeping when, all of a sudden, the walls came tumbling in on us. They were screaming. I told them all to call for martyrdom, because we were going to die tonight.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced today that Israel is in a, quote, "all-out war with Hamas and its proxies” in Gaza. Fears of a ground invasion are growing after Israel declared a military buffer zone around Gaza, closing off the Strip and its 1.5 million residents to journalists and civilians. The Israeli cabinet authorized a calling up of 6,500 reserve soldiers Sunday. Israeli prime minister spokesperson Mark Regev said the military campaign would continue until there was "quiet in the south," referring to the rockets launched from Gaza into southern Israel.
MARK REGEV: Our initial strikes against the Hamas military machine have been successful, but we have no doubt that the Hamas military machine in Gaza remains both formidable and lethal. This campaign will continue, and we have to prepare for different contingencies. Obviously, the final goal remains achieving peace and quiet in the south.
AMY GOODMAN: Al Jazeera is now reporting 318 Palestinians have been killed. Two Israelis have been killed by rockets from Gaza since Saturday. Hamas’s political leader, Khaled Meshaal, vowed that rocket attacks would continue and suicide missions against Israel would resume in an interview broadcast on Al Jazeera Saturday. The exiled leader in Damascus called on Palestinians to unite and rise up in a Third Intifada.
KHALED MESHAAL: [translated] This is a historical moment. We worked shoulder to shoulder during the First Intifada and the Second Intifada. Despite the political differences between us, today what is needed is for us to work together in the upcoming intifada and our coming resistance, not only in Gaza, but also in the West Bank.
AMY GOODMAN: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, however, blamed Hamas Sunday for triggering the Israeli assault.
PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS: [translated] I want to say very clearly that, yes, we talked to Hamas and the leaders of Hamas in Gaza, and we spoke to them clearly and honestly, directly and indirectly, and through many parties, Arab and non-Arab. So we were in touch with them. Now it’s not important what problems existed between us. We called them and told them, “Please, we ask you, do not end the truce. Let the truce continue and not stop,” so that we could have avoided what happened. And I wished it had been avoided.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by a number of people right now for our discussion. In Jacksonville, Florida, we’re joined by Ali Abunimah. He is founder of Electronic Intifada, author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. His latest piece, “We Have No Words Left,” was published in London’s Guardian newspaper.
We’re also joined from Gaza by — well, from Gaza City by Dr. Moussa El-Haddad. He’s a retired physician. His daughter Laila El-Haddad is a journalist who writes the popular blog “Raising Yusuf.
Dr. Moussa El-Haddad, we welcome you to Democracy Now! Can you describe where you are and what the situation is like right now?
DR. MOUSSA EL-HADDAD: Well, I am in the middle of Gaza City, in the heart of Gaza City, and the situation is indescribable. If this is not a holocaust, I don’t know what holocaust is. According to the news, they say almost 318 people are dead. The majority of those are civilians. At least 300 of them are civilians. And they say about 1,500 are injured, but a lot of them are seriously injured. The hospitals lack a lot of the necessary staff, instruments, even gauze and medicines, and everything is lacking. Physicians and nursing staff are working around the clock. People cannot find a place in the hospitals for treatment, injuries. And I am sure there will be a lot more of the dead under the rubbles of those buildings that were attacked and demolished.
Every now and then, we hear a rocket attack or two. So, there are warplanes in the sky flying all over the time. As I speak to you now, I can hear them up in the sky, the pilotless jets and the warplanes, F-16s and God knows what. The warships in the sea are also attacking from the sea. And attacking who? Hamas? They are not attacking Hamas; they are attacking the people, the civilians. The civilians — I mean, I’m looking at the street right now, the main street of Gaza, Omar al-Mukhtar, and hardly you can see anyone walking there, because every single person is afraid.
As you mentioned, last night, a family, five people, a woman and her four children, were killed when they were in their house. Three and — I don’t know, three or four mosques were demolished. These are praying areas. These are mosques. So I don’t know —- nobody is safe. No place is safe. All the buildings that were attacked, they are not military buildings. Even in the initial day, on Saturday, the first 150 people, they were civil servants. They were not striking attackers. They were civil servants, civilians. I don’t know. I -—
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Dr. Moussa El-Haddad, I’d like to ask you also about the — there have been reports that the Israelis were trying to block television signals. What’s the situation with the electricity, the ability of the people to at least get some information and communicate with each other?
DR. MOUSSA EL-HADDAD: Well, as I speak to you know, I have no electricity in my house. I have a generator that I can open or let work for like two or three hours every now and then to let the internet work and watch TV. We have electricity like three or four hours a day. We have no cooking gas. I mean, I’m talking about the people. Maybe I have a little left in my house. But people don’t have electricity about 75 percent of the time, no cooking gas, no gas for the cars. So fuel is also lacking. And the only source of, like, food and fuel lately was through Egypt, through those tunnels, and these were attacked last night. At least forty tunnels were demolished last night.
I don’t know. This is — can you tell me if any of this is against Hamas? There’s nothing against Hamas. This is a clear-cut genocide and holocaust against civilians, civilians who are helpless. They don’t have warplanes. They don’t have warships. They don’t — even the rockets that they talk about are homemade. And I just — I cannot — and I really lost the words, because the situation is so bad. And we are in the twenty-first century. We are not in tenth or fifteenth century. Everybody in the world can see and hear. But who acts? Who is doing anything? Now, they say the killer and the killed are the same. They are putting Israel, with all its military power, [inaudible] level like Hamas and people of Gaza.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Moussa El-Haddad, we’re also joined by Fida Qishta, who is a freelance journalist living in Rafah and the Gaza Strip Coordinator for the International Solidarity Movement. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Fida Qishta. Describe what is happening in Rafah.
FIDA QISHTA: Well, at this moment, everything is calm, but yesterday was a massive attack to Rafah’s border. They attacked the border area with more than eleven rockets by the F-16, and it was the only source for the Gazans to stay survivors, by the food and the medicines, anything that they could bring through the tunnels. But now, the only way for the Gazans to stay survive is destroyed.
And yesterday morning, they attacked a pharmacy in Rafah near my house. It’s just fifty meters away from my house. And they [inaudible] other normal buildings in Rafah, too, which just include families and civilians. I don’t know what is the reason for doing that. As Dr. Moussa said, they’re attacking civilians. And it’s true that the Israelis say that they attack — their attack is really, really massive, and it’s really unbelievable that we can see in our eyes what’s happening. It’s too much. The hospitals — and even in Rafah, the biggest hospital, Abu Yusuf Al-Najjar, cannot afford to have more than twenty injured. And they moved the injured to Gaza City. And most of the people stay at home. Everything is closed. It’s like a war. Nobody goes out.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Fida Qishta, I’d like to ask you about the role of Egypt. There have been reports that the Egyptians along the border have prevented Palestinians from trying to escape the violence. Could you talk about that or what you have — the reports you have heard there?
FIDA QISHTA: Well, when we heard the attack to the border, me and some friends from the ISM went there to observe in our eyes what’s going on. And when we went there, we saw the Palestinians. Palestinians didn’t try to escape. The Palestinians tried to show their anger to the Egyptian soldiers, why they didn’t open just part of these borders or the crossings to let the injured go out of Gaza to have treatment in Egypt. This is what the Palestinians tried to do. They didn’t try to escape to Egypt. This is a false information. People went to the border with Egypt after the attacks by the F-16s happened, and they tried to show their anger for the Egyptian soldiers to let them — just let the injured go to Egypt for treatment. They didn’t try to escape.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, then come back to this conversation. We’ll also be joined by Gideon Levy in Tel Aviv. He’s with Ha’aretz. And Mustafa Barghouthi, he’s in Ramallah. Ali Abunimah is also with us from Florida. He’s the founder of Electronic Intifada. Then we’ll hear an excerpt of the Nobel Prize acceptance speech of Harold Pinter, who died last week. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. Our guests on the phone, Fida Qishta, freelance journalist in Rafah; Dr. Moussa El-Haddad. He’s a retired physician, speaking to us from Gaza City. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re speaking with guests in Rafah, in Gaza City. Now we go to Tel Aviv with the Ha’aretz journalist Gideon Levy. He’s on the phone with us. His latest piece is called “The Neighborhood Bully Strikes Again.”
Welcome to Democracy Now!. As you listen to Dr. Moussa El-Haddad, Fida Qishta, speaking to us from Rafah, your thoughts in Tel Aviv and the response of the Israeli population to what’s happening right now?
GIDEON LEVY: First of all, I feel horrible as an Israeli when I hear all those reports, when I watch all those horrible pictures. But unlike me, I am afraid that most of the Israelis are quite indifferent. They think that there was a legitimate reason. The attacks on the southern part of Israel was a legitimate reason. Israel has the right to do everything. Unlike them, I think that Israel crossed any line of humanity or morality or even legality. And I think what Israel is doing right now there is horrible and has no justification.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Do you think that there may be some decision by the Israeli government to act now, just as the Bush administration is leaving office and Barack Obama will be sworn in on January 20th, that there’s a feeling maybe that the US government at this point will not react in any negative way to this kind of action?
GIDEON LEVY: Look, you can find all kind of justifications about the timing. There are also elections coming, elections in Israel, soon. But I must remind you that Israel went through a very similar war two years ago, a little bit more than two years ago, two-and-a-half years ago, when there were no elections and President Bush was still in power and there was no elections in the United States and not here. So, I mean, the second Lebanese war. I wouldn’t count — I mean, the situation is much more complex than this. There are [inaudible] calculations, but I don’t think that’s the main thing. The main thing is that Israel is reacting, overreacting with overpower to a situation which has to have a solution, but not this kind of solution.
AMY GOODMAN: And how do you think, Gideon Levy, that this relates to the February 10th elections? Explain who is running and how this plays into this, the bombing of Gaza.
GIDEON LEVY: You mean in the domestic Israeli politics?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, with Tzipi Livni, with Ehud Barak, with Benjamin Netanyahu.
GIDEON LEVY: There was a poll published yesterday in Israel which showed that, within two days, Labor had gained 50 percent more in the poll, namely because Ehud Barak, he’s the man who is mostly identified with this operation. He’s the Minister of Defense, as you know. So he might gain — his party might gain out of it, but I wouldn’t go so far and think that he did it only for the elections. It was in the back of his mind. If he gains so Netanyahu loses, and maybe Kadima remains in the same place or gains also a little bit, but it’s too early to judge, because we don’t know how will it end. You know, all those operations [inaudible] in a very successful way, but then you don’t know how will they end.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined in Ramallah by Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, independent Palestinian lawmaker, democracy activist. Your response from the West Bank right now, which isn’t under siege, to say the least, in the same way as Gaza, Dr. Barghouthi?
DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: We are not under siege, but we are under Israeli attack, as well. The Israeli army attacked civilian nonviolent demonstrators yesterday in Nil’in and killed one person and injured three very seriously. Another young boy was killed in another village in [inaudible]. Three people have been killed already in the West Bank, and the number is rising.
But let me say that what Israel is doing in Gaza is not an act of self-defense, as it is claiming. It’s not an attack on Hamas. It is an attack on the whole Palestinian population. What we see is a war crime, a bloodbath, unprecedented since 1967. What we have had so far is 318 people killed, including thirty children, and at least 1,400 people injured, including 150 children and forty women. I was shocked deeply today over the fact that yesterday the Israeli planes destroyed a house in Jabalya camp and killed five girls, five sisters from one family, and injured their mother seriously and critically. This is a bloodbath that should stop immediately.
Israel is claiming that it is attacking Hamas, but in fact it is attacking all the Palestinians. It is attacking the whole infrastructure. They have destroyed a university. They have destroyed five mosques. They have attacked the hospital. They are shooting and destroying everywhere. And it seems imminent that there will be even a land invasion which could destroy and kill and take away thousands of lives. This is very dangerous. And Israel would not have gone so far if it wasn’t for the compliance and the silence of the international community.
One very important point here, I must clarify that it was not the Palestinians or Hamas that broke the ceasefire; Israel was the one that broke the ceasefire since two months. They started operations and attacks here and there, trying to provoke a reaction, ’til there was a reaction, and then they claim that it was the Palestinians who broke the ceasefire.
Also, I want to clarify that Gaza Strip is the highest densely populated area in the world, with almost 4,150 people in each square kilometer. When you start bombing the place with bombs that are one to two tons heavy, then you’re determined to kill people and kill civilians and innocent people. I’ve just heard Tzipi Livni, the Foreign Minister of Israel, saying that Palestinians should go away from Hamas and Gaza. Where should they go away? In which place? Where? Which place they can go to, when Israel is putting Gaza for two years under total blockade, by sea, by air, by land. Israel has been claiming that it has withdrawn from Gaza. Israel never ended its occupation of Gaza. It maintains the occupying of the airspace, the sea around Gaza and the land around Gaza. And it was preventing people from getting medical aid and equipment and fuel and electricity. I was just talking to our people in Gaza and asked them, “What is your situation?” They told me they don’t have bread. Even bread is unavailable in Gaza. And now Israel is bombarding it in this horrible and unacceptable way.
I think the world community must see the reality. This is an unprecedented bloodbath that the Israeli generals are using — and politicians are using for their political campaigning in their elections. For one more time, they’re using Palestinian blood for their election campaigns. I’m so sorry that even some left parties in Israel are supporting such an aggression. They all claim that this is about missiles. But let me ask a very simple question: How many Israelis were killed during the last six months by missiles? Almost none. The only two Israelis that were killed so far were killed after this operation.
Will this bring peace? It will not bring peace. Will this bring security? On the contrary, it is bringing back the intifada of the West Bank. It is creating terrible feelings all over the occupied and Palestinian territories, and this must be stopped. And if it wasn’t for the compliance of this terrible American administration, Bush administration, who seems to insist to have a very dark reputation before he leaves his office, if it wasn’t for that support and compliance, Israel would not have dared to go so far in punishing innocent victims and in creating this terrible disaster in Gaza Strip.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, what about the issue of the complicity or the silence of other Arab governments and also of the Palestinian Authority now also criticizing Hamas?
DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: Well, I think the Palestinian Authority is finding itself in a very difficult position. One of the main reasons of this operation is to weaken Abbas so badly that I don’t think he will be able to speak on behalf of Palestinians anymore. Even Abbas is now under terrible pressure to stop all negotiations with Israel, to stop all forms of security coordination with Israel, because, at the end of the day, he was elected by the Palestinians and not the right-wing extremists in Israel. And I think he has just called for a general meeting with all parties, including Hamas, and they have. This is something that never happened during the last year and a half. And I believe that the intention now among Palestinians is to find a way of regaining their unity in front of this grave, inhuman and unacceptable bloodbath.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring in Ali Abunimah, who is in Jacksonville, Florida, though usually based in Chicago, founder of the Electronic Intifada. Your comments on the situation, on Mahmoud Abbas, for example, saying that it was Hamas that brought this on?
ALI ABUNIMAH: I want to say, Amy, first of all, that we have to go back to the Warsaw Ghetto or Guernica to find crimes in the modern era of the scale of the viciousness and of the deliberateness of what Israel is committing with the full support of the United States, not just the Bush administration, but apparently as well the incoming Obama administration. We have to recognize the complicity not just of the so-called international community, but also of the Arab regimes, Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak, the Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit of Egypt. Tzipi Livni, when she issued her threats against Gaza, was in Cairo in the biggest Arab capital, and Aboul Gheit stood next to her silently.
Mahmoud Abbas is not a bystander, the so-called president of the Palestinian Authority. For two years since the elections, which Hamas won, he and his coterie have been collaborating with Israel and the United States, first to overthrow the election result and then to besiege Gaza. We have talked before of the Palestinian Contras, funded and armed by the United States, which sought to overthrow Hamas in June 2007 and had the tables turned on them. And now this. The complicity of Mahmoud Abbas is very clear and must be clearly stated. He does not have the authority, moral or otherwise, to call together the Palestinian people for anything. He has gone over to the other side. He has joined the Israeli war against the Palestinian people, and I choose my words very carefully.
And let me say this, as well, Amy, that Israel is trying to produce and promote the fiction that it is engaged in a war with a so-called enemy entity. What Israel is doing is massacring a captive population. You heard — you said in the headlines how Nancy Pelosi, our so-called progressive, liberal, antiwar Speaker of the House, gave her full support to these crimes. Obama has done the same through a spokesman. And that will not change. The United Nations issued a weak statement aimed at covering the backsides, let me say, of those who issued it, not aimed at changing the situation.
What are Palestinians calling for today? Yesterday, the Palestinian National Committee for the Campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions reissued and reaffirmed its call on all international civil society in the United States, in North America, in Europe, everywhere, to redouble the efforts for boycott, divestment and sanctions modeled on the anti-apartheid movement. This is necessary. This is moral. This is the nonviolent resistance we can all participate in. And it is more urgent than ever. Let’s not look back at these crimes like we look at the Warsaw Ghetto and like we look at Guernica and we look at the other atrocities of the twentieth century and say, “We had the chance to act, but we chose silence and complicity.” The time to stop this is now.
And we also have to be clear that those who are accountable — Ehud Barak, his orders over the past few months to withhold insulin, chemotherapy drugs, dialysis supplies, all forms of medicine from the people of Gaza, were just as lethal and just as murderous as the orders to send in the bombers and warplanes to attack mosques, to attack universities. The Islamic University in Gaza is not a military site. It is a university with 18,000 students, 60 percent of them women. Last night, Israeli warplanes attacked a female dormitory in the Islamic University. This is what Israel is attacking. They attacked the fishing port. No food gets into Gaza. People can barely fish enough to sustain them, and Israel has attacked the fishing boats that sustains them. These are historic crimes, and we cannot be silent about them.
And we have to continue this nonsense that there’s fault on both sides. We have a captive occupied population. 80 percent of the people in the Gaza Strip are refugees. 750,000 of them are children. Where else in the world can these crimes be committed while the world looks on, while our elected politicians in Congress, Democrats and Republicans, sit there applauding, when you see the shameful statement of Howard Berman, the Democrat chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, giving his full support to Israel? People have to stand up to this. We cannot sit on our hands anymore and say change is coming. Change is not coming unless we create it.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to break. Then we’re going to come back to this discussion. We are going to put off the playing of the speech of Harold Pinter, the Nobel Prize winner, to tomorrow. He died last week. We’ll play an extended excerpt of that speech tomorrow. We’re talking about what’s happening in Gaza right now, joined by guests from Ramallah, from Gaza City, from Rafah, from Tel Aviv and from the United States. We’ll be back in a minute.
We have on the line with us Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi in Ramallah. We’re joined by Dr. Moussa El-Haddad. He is a retired physician in Gaza City. We’re joined by Fida Qishta. She is joining us from Rafah. And Ali Abunimah is on the line with us from Jacksonville, Florida, in studio.
Ali Abunimah, I wanted to ask you about the statements at this point of Barack Obama, or the lack of them. Of course, he’s on holiday right now in Hawaii, but David Axelrod was on the networks. Again, they are continuing to say that there is only one president at a time, and that president is President Bush now. Condoleezza Rice is briefing Barack Obama. But he did say that not only would it be counterproductive for the President-elect to weigh in too deeply, but he said that Obama’s commitment to the "special relationship” between the United States and Israel, in a way that suggested general sympathy for the Jewish state’s actions. I’m reading from the Huffington Post. Your response?
Isn’t it convenient that we only have one president at a time, when it suits Barack Obama to stay silent on something that is inflaming the whole world? Apparently, we don’t have one president at a time when it comes to the economy or Iraq or Afghanistan or other issues. But on this, Barack Obama is content to remain silent and, in fact, to give, through the statements of David Axelrod, his more or less open support for what Israel is doing, which fits with the policies that he has enunciated consistently of supporting Israel’s attacks on Gaza, supporting the blockade of Gaza, supporting the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006.
And this is why Israel feels so comfortable carrying out these sorts of atrocities, which cross every red line of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, of the Nuremberg Principles, of all of the laws of war that were developed in the twentieth century. Israel feels totally comfortable crossing them, because it knows that it will have full support from any US administration, no matter what political shade it is.
And this is why it’s crucially important that people don’t sit by waiting ’til January 20th. January 20th, the calendar flipping is not going to change anything. What’s going to change things is boycott, divestment and sanctions, people rising up and demanding an end to impunity, demanding, for example, that Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni be brought to account before an international war crimes court for the orders that they have given for these massacres of the civilian population of Gaza. That’s what’s going to bring change, and that’s what people must call and organize for.
I’d like to bring in Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, again. The issue of what is the potential for reaction in the West Bank and in the Arab street, as opposed to the complicity of many of the Arab governments at this point — your sense of, if this continues much further, what will be the reaction?
DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI:
Well, let me explain one very specific point. Israel is very proud, with the complicity of some Arab regimes and some of the people in the Palestinian Authority, about what’s going on. But I want to remind you that what is happening in Gaza and in the West Bank is nothing but also a slaughter of democracy. We have, as Palestinians — we, the civil society in Palestine, we, the Palestinian democratic forces, jointly with many others — managed to have the best democratic experience ever in the Arab world. Everybody knows that, and President Carter reported it when we had the last elections. And I think this complicity of some certain Arab sides are specifically because they don’t want this democracy to happen. They don’t want this democracy to survive. And if Israel is very proud to be in alliance with dictatorships, then that reveals how democratic Israel itself is.
Israel has been claiming that it’s the only democracy and so on, but why is it slaughtering Palestinian democracy? They did that in 1976, when we had elections for the first time for our municipalities, and within one year, because they didn’t like the elected people, they either bombarded them or deported them or arrested them. And now, after 2006 elections, they are putting forty-five members of our parliament in jail. One of the leaders, one of the members of parliament, is not Hamas. His name is Ahmed Saadat. He’s from the left, from the secular democratic left. He was just sentenced to thirty years in jail, just because he is the secretary-general of a Palestinian organization. It’s amazing how the world is silent about this slaughter of democracy. And if Israel is happy with being in alliance with some dictator, then it is the one that is losing.
The main question here, that I want to come back to some myths that Israel is spreading. They keep stressing that they are attacking Hamas. This is not on Hamas; this is on the whole Palestinian population. They claim that they ended occupation in Gaza. This is not true. They never ended occupation in Gaza. They continue to occupy Gaza. Now they’re changing the form of occupation again, and they’re threatening to complete the invasion again and destroying people’s lives. Third, they claim that it was the Palestinians who broke the ceasefire. This is false. This is incorrect. Israel broke the ceasefire. And now the party that is refusing to have ceasefire is Barak, the Defense Minister of Israel, and he’s the one who is refusing to allow ceasefire to happen again.
At the same time, I must say that Israel is not only attacking the Gaza Strip. Practically, Israel in the West Bank has created a system that can only be described as an apartheid system, a much worse apartheid than the one that prevailed in South Africa at one point of time. Why do we have all these problems? For one very simple fact: the violence is a symptom of the disease. The disease has been there all the time, for forty-one years, and it is the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories. And because the Israeli government does not want to stop this occupation, that’s why we keep running from one conflict into another. Please.
I wanted to bring Gideon Levy back into the conversation from Tel Aviv from the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. Gideon, you write, "Blood will now flow like water. Besieged and impoverished Gaza, the city of refugees, will pay the main price. But blood will also be unnecessarily spilled on our side. In its foolishness, Hamas brought this on itself and on its people, but this does not excuse Israel’s overreaction." What about — can you elaborate on this?
Yes, I think that Israel had this legitimacy to protect its citizens in the southern part of Israel, and it had the legitimacy to do something, as the Israelis all expect the government to do, but this doing something does not mean this brutal and violent operation. The diplomatic efforts were just in the beginning, and I believe we could have got to a new truce without this bloodshed.
And even about the military reaction, you know, there are all kinds of stages. Immediately to send dozens of jets to bomb a total helpless civilian society with hundreds of bombs — just today, they were burying five sisters. I mean, this is unheard of. This cannot go on like this. And this has nothing to do with self-defense or with retaliation even. It went out of proportion, exactly like two-and-a-half years ago in Lebanon.
Dr. Moussa El-Haddad in Gaza City, the responsibility of Hamas here and the response of the people of Gaza? Right now, a quote of Tzipi Livni, who just recently said, "Unfortunately, in this kind of attack, there are some civilian casualties, but Israel took all the necessary actions to warn the civilians before the attacks to leave the places they know that Hamas stays."
DR. MOUSSA EL-HADDAD:
Well, it’s not some civilians. All those who are dead now, most of them are civilians. And a question that keeps coming up, people are saying Israel has the right to protect itself from the Hamas rockets. What about the West Bank? Does Hamas — does West Bank has rockets that they throw on Israel? Of course, none. And look at what’s happening in the West Bank, in Hebron, Nablus and Ramallah and everywhere. People are being killed almost every day. And I just cannot explain to you the situation right now.
Hamas, as an organization, was, as Dr. Barghouthi just mentioned, this government was democratically elected in front of the eyes of the whole world, and this is the only democratic election that happened in the Middle East, really democratic. And people — why just the world didn’t give this government a chance to prove itself? It was not going to throw rockets or just — when they had this truce and the ceasefire, who broke it? It was Israel. We had a siege for one-and-a-half months, nothing allowed in, no medicines, no food, no nothing. And still, Hamas and other organizations did not throw any rockets. Israel kept on coming, and they killed twenty-three people in three weeks. Of course, this provoked Hamas, and they just did not renew this issue of ceasefire, because it was useless.
I’d like to ask also Fida Qishta back into the conversation — this continuing occupation and encirclement and the problems that you face in Gaza, how do persevere, you and other residents there, day to day, manage to get through?
Well, for Palestinians, in general, they face a lot from the Israeli occupation. And if you don’t find a house in the whole Gaza Strip that isn’t damaged by losing a son or a father or a daughter or a mother — we used to face lots of problems with the Israelis. And me, myself, I’m one of the people and a person who lost their house in 2004. We managed to continue our lives. We managed to build a new house, and now we survived. But the problem of the other people who can’t build new houses or even afford food for their families.
Palestinians try to be strong. But under these attacks that the Israelis now — actually, the war that Israelis started with Palestinians in Gaza, it’s really unbelievable and not acceptable. It’s genocide. And all the world should stop and say to Israel, “Stop it. That’s enough. The Gazan people chose this government, and you should accept it.” And for us, as Gazans, we try to continue our lives, no matter what happens. We keep the hope, and we keep the struggle for the future and for our families. We don’t think, for example, if the Israelis destroy a house or kill a son or a daughter, that means our life is ended. We try to survive and continue our life. We try to do our best with it, but Israel is trying every single day, every single minute, to destroy the Palestinians’ hope. And I don’t know what these normal Palestinians did for them, what these civilians did for them. So we try to manage and continue our life. This is what we try to do. No matter what, we try to continue our lives.
I want to go back to Ali Abunimah. The next step now? Israel is preparing for a ground invasion, calling up 6,500 troops. Do you hold Hamas responsible for any of this? What do you think Hamas should be doing now?
Well, what could — I mean, this thing about if they hadn’t fired rockets, this was the Israeli propaganda that Mahmoud Abbas was repeating in Cairo. And as Dr. El-Haddad said, has one single rocket ever been fired from the West Bank? No. And as Dr. Barghouthi was saying, the West Bank is under constant attack. People are being killed. Amy, you had on your show the settler pogroms that were happening in front of the eyes of the world in the West Bank, the settlement construction that goes on. There has not been a single rocket fired from the West Bank. Abbas has capitulated to the Israelis. His so-called security forces, trained by the United States and armed by the United States, have been fighting the resistance in the West Bank. Did that spare one single Palestinian in the West Bank from Israeli violence or colonization? No, it did not.
This notion that Israel has a right to defend itself —- against who? Against 1.5 million people who are refugees, who are starving, who are caged in the world’s largest prison or concentration camp. Don’t Palestinians also have a right to defend themselves? What should Palestinians do? I turn the question of those who keep pointing the finger at the Palestinians. Resistance is not acceptable, and so -—
Ali Abunimah, we’re going to have to leave it there.
Thank you, Amy.
I thank you very much for being with us, Ali Abunimah in Florida; Dr. Moussa El-Haddad and Fida Qishta, both in Gaza; Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi in Ramallah.
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