Israel broke an informal ceasefire on Wednesday by assassinating Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari in an air strike. The Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, who helped mediate talks between Israel and Hamas in the deal to release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, has revealed Jabari was assassinated just hours after he received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel, which included mechanisms for maintaining the ceasefire. Baskin, the founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, joins us from Jerusalem. We also speak with Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer based in Gaza. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at a piece by Max Fisher in the Washington Post that talks about the killing of the 11-month-old son of BBC journalist Jihad Misharawi. Not only was his little baby killed, but this Israeli round hit Misharawi’s four-room house, killing his sister-in-law, wounding his brother. According to BBC Middle East bureau chief Paul Danahar, who was with him in Gaza, he said, "We’re all one team in Gaza." After spending a few hours with his grieving colleague, Danahar wrote on Twitter, "Questioned asked here is: if Israel can kill a man riding on a moving motorbike (as they did last month) how did Jihad’s son get killed."
I want to turn, as well, to Gershon Baskin now, founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, the initiator of the secret talks between Israel and Hamas for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. He is speaking to us from Jerusalem.
Gershon, can you talk about the assassination of Jabari, the military head of Hamas, and the significance of this, as reported in Ha’aretz, what Jabari received just before he was assassinated?
GERSHON BASKIN: Well, Jabari, as the leader of the military wing of Hamas, Izz al-Din al-Qassam, was the person who was called on by the Egyptians and by his own leaders to enforce previous ceasefire understandings that were reached between Israel and Hamas after each round of rocket fire emerged over the past years. With the increasing intensity of the rocket fire and the shortening of the periods of ceasefires between myself and my counterpart in Hamas—we worked together on the Shalit prisoner exchange deal—Razi Hamed, the deputy foreign minister, proposed to the parties that they enter into a long-term ceasefire understanding with mechanisms that define what are breaches and what are not breaches and how to deal with emerging situations that are defined by Israel as impending terrorist attacks. I had written a draft about eight months ago. The draft was circulated around to Israeli officials, Hamas officials, the Egyptian intelligence and the United Nations. It was rejected, or it was decided by Hamas and Israel at that time not to decide, not to make a decision on it.
About about a month ago, when the intensity of the fighting continued again, Razi Hamed and I decided to give it another chance, and we talked together and tried to make the proposal that I had initially written a little bit less complex, easier to understand or perhaps easier to implement, and it was also designed as a trial period of between six—three to six months. I met Razi Hamed last week in Cairo. We talked about it. He went to begin showing it to the Hamas officials. He showed it to some Hamas officials sitting in Cairo. They told him to go back to Gaza and to show it to the military and political officials back in Gaza, and he did that on Wednesday morning. He was showing it around to Ahmed Jabari and other people. I was supposed to receive from him that evening a copy of the draft that he had written in Arabic for me to deliver to the Israeli side and to the Egyptian intelligence, which I was not able to do in the end.
AMY GOODMAN: Because he was assassinated.
GERSHON BASKIN: That’s right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Gershon, I want to read part of a recent piece in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz about the Israeli assassination of Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari. The article by Aluf Benn is titled "Israel Killed Its Subcontractor in Gaza." It begins, quote, "Ahmed Jabari was a subcontractor, in charge of maintaining Israel’s security in Gaza. This title will no doubt sound absurd to anyone who in the past several hours has heard Jabari described as 'an arch-terrorist,' [or] 'the terror chief of staff' or 'our Bin Laden.'
“But that was the reality for the past five and a half years. Israel demanded of Hamas that it observe the truce in the south and enforce it on the [multiplicity of] armed [organizations] in the Gaza Strip. The man responsible for carrying out this policy was Ahmed Jabari.
"In return for enforcing the quiet, which was never perfect, Israel funded the Hamas regime through the flow of [shekels] in armored trucks to banks in Gaza, and continued to supply infrastructure and medical services to the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip."
Your response to that article and placing Jabari in the context of the security situation in Gaza over the past few years?
GERSHON BASKIN: Well, I don’t want it to be misinterpreted. Ahmed Jabari was not a man of peace. He was not an angel in any way. He was a warrior. He was a fighter. He was the person responsible for the Hamas coup d’état, which was conducted in June of 2007 when they brutally executed some of the Palestinian Authority security personnel. He was a strong military man who refused to speak to Israelis directly. I never had direct contact with him; it was always through third parties, other people in Hamas or other people. He never talked about peace. The truce that we were talking about was not a peace agreement. So it has to be clear: Jabari was a deeply religious Muslim who believed in the cause of Hamas and the ideology of Hamas, which includes the destruction of Israel.
But Jabari also saw, over the last year or two, a continuation of this policy of having periodic fighting with Israel that left always, in every round, between 10 and 30 Palestinians killed in Gaza, a lot of destruction, and almost no one killed in Israel. The lack of balance of power and force is so—is so obvious here that Jabari came to the conclusion, along with others in Hamas, that this was futile, a futile way to fight Israel, and they wanted a time-out. During the time-out, it was obvious that they were going to continue to build their forces, continue to smuggle in weapons through the tunnels and other ways to build up their rocket potential, longer-range rockets, anti-aircraft missiles. So this was Jabari’s thinking.
Now, my perspective on this was that Israel had to secure quiet. It is unacceptable for the civilian population in the south of Israel to be constantly under the threat of rocket fire from Gaza. There are several ways to achieve that quiet. One is to do what Israel is doing now: to assassinate people, to put two-and-a-half million people in—1.6 million people in Gaza under rocket fire, to put another million people in Israel under rocket fire. To kill a lot of people, to do a lot of damage, in the end will create some kind of deterrence and have quiet for a period of time. Or we could try what we’ve never tried before, and that’s engagement, dialogue and trying to reach some longer-term understandings. I don’t know if it would have worked. Honestly, I don’t know if Jabari would have held to the terms of the agreements or if the other factions would have given into that. My point was: Let’s try it. We’ve never done it before. Let’s try it. Maybe will have a dynamic of its own, which, instead of leading to more escalation, will actually bring about de-escalation and a possibility of having a new kind of relationship with Gaza.
AMY GOODMAN: Gershon Baskin and Mohammed Omer, I want to ask you both, the response where you each are, respectively, to these attacks right now, Gershon Baskin in Jerusalem and Mohammed Omer on his way to Khan Younis.
GERSHON BASKIN: Tafaddal, Mohammed.
MOHAMMED OMER: Yeah, shukran. Well, there is also more of this attack, just to bring more breaking news. The Israeli air strike just targeted a motorcycle in the west of Gaza City at the moment, as we speak. And ambulances are on their way to evacuate the people who were targeted. There is another new Israeli F-16 missile. We don’t know if it’s F-16 missile or if it’s the armed drones which fired a new round of missiles on the northern part of the Gaza Strip.
Let me just mention something about—back to the humanitarian situation. Today, the Egyptian prime minister made a visit to the Gaza Strip, Hisham Kandil, and he was able to see the destruction and the damage caused to the Palestinian population. And he was at Shifa Hospital holding one of the babies who was injured. And we could see that the prime minister, his T-shirt had a lot of blood on his—from this child who was injured, who actually died in the hands of the Egyptian prime minister today as he was speaking to the media.
Other thing that I would like to mention here about the crossings in the Gaza Strip, the Rafah Crossing is open today. Kerem Shalom is closed. Erez Crossing was open in the morning; now it’s closed even for humanitarian cases. According to the United Nations and according to my observation and counting, there is 12 houses that were completely demolished in the last three days. About 150 houses, including mosques, roads, schools and farmlands, are being targeted—even kindergarten for children. Begs the question: Where the Gazans are going to hide when the Israeli F-16s are firing missiles day and night?
AMY GOODMAN: And Gershon Baskin?
GERSHON BASKIN: Yeah, I think, Amy, I mean, it’s the same situation in Israel. I have an iPhone application here which is called Seva Adom, Red Color, the Color Red, which warns people when a missile is being fired into Israel. I’m getting these now almost every other minute. It’s very good for geography lessons, because I’m learning the name of every town in the south of Israel—not only in the south, it’s a wider region now, as well. And here we have the civilian population under fire; it’s not targeted at all at military targets. It’s fired at the civilian population in Israel, and the Israelis are angry.
The Israelis don’t know why they’re being targeted from Gaza. From the Israel point of view, the Israeli point of view, the Israeli understanding of the situation, Israel left Gaza in 2005 and stopped the occupation of Gaza, from their perspective, without having a single settlement left there or single military personnel on the land of Gaza. And the civilian population has been targeted by thousands and thousands of rockets since the beginning of this operation. Since the assassination of Jabari, there’s been more than 500 rockets sent entirely on the civilian population. Not one of the targets is a military target.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Gershon Baskin, I’d like to ask you, four years ago, after the presidential election and before President Obama was inaugurated, the Israeli government launched an invasion of Gaza and actually pulled the troops back just before President Obama was inaugurated. Now, once again, after a presidential election, the Israeli government has begun taking actions in—against the population in Gaza. But the difference now is the situation has changed dramatically in the Arab world, especially in Egypt. Do you—what do you—what is your sense of the Egyptian government’s—the test that this poses to the Egyptian government in its relationship both to Israel and to the Palestinians?
GERSHON BASKIN: Well, I think we’re seeing, by the nature of the operation that Israel is conducting now, as opposed to Cast Lead four years ago, is that Israel is taking a lot more care for the—what’s called, the horrible term, "collateral damage" to be a lot less. If there’s been, according to Mohammed, 500 sorties so far over Gaza, and there are 23, maybe 24, of the people that he mentioned killed in Gaza, that’s significantly, significantly less than was in Cast Lead. My understanding is—and I haven’t seen the list of names of all those people killed, but I understand that most of them are combatants.
I don’t want anyone to be killed, and I think that this whole operation could have been avoided. But the reality is that Israel is considering its relations with Egypt as one of its primary concerns. The Egyptian military intelligence has played a crucial role in the last years mitigating and negotiating between Israel and Hamas, including with the release of Gilad Shalit and including in the last ceasefires. I was sitting in Cairo with a senior intelligence officer on Sunday evening when he received a phone call from the head of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, informing him that they had agreed to enter into the ceasefire. This was immediately communicated to the Israeli side by the military intelligence in Egypt. So, the relationship with Egypt is Israel’s most important strategic asset. And another war, a full-fledged war in Gaza, with horrendous damage, would certainly jeopardize the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
AMY GOODMAN: We just have 10 seconds left, Mohammed Omer. Are you still—
MOHAMMED OMER: The majority of the people who were actually targeted are civilians. We’re talking about two women among the 23 who were killed—two women, six children and two elderly people. As I speak right now, there are more people, and ambulances are arriving to the Khan Younis hospital with more casualties who are civilians. The target is here civilians. Because the military leaders are hiding under the ground, Israel finds nothing else but to attack civilian population in the Gaza Strip.
AMY GOODMAN: Mohammed Omer and Gershon Baskin, I thank you both for being with us. Gershon Baskin, founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, initiator of the secret talks between Israel and Hamas for the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. And thank you to Mohammed Omer, Palestinian journalist based in Gaza, speaking to us from Khan Younis. In 2008, he won the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States.