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2014-07-22

What Does Hamas Really Want? Israeli Journalist Gideon Levy on Ending the Crippling Blockade of Gaza

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As the Israeli assault on Gaza enters its third week, a new push is underway for an internationally brokered ceasefire. Speaking earlier today, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said there is "no real hope" of an immediate halt to the fighting because Hamas’ conditions are too far from those of Israel, the United States and Egypt. Hamas’ demands have centered on an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the release of its prisoners. The seven-year siege has crippled the economy, civilian infrastructure and water supplies. In Gaza, unemployment tops 40 percent, and almost 80 percent rely on humanitarian aid. The United Nations has warned Gaza will no longer be livable by 2020 unless urgent steps are taken. The last ceasefire in November 2012 was supposed to ease the blockade, but Israel only intensified it. With Hamas vowing to continue fighting against what it calls a "slow death," a new ceasefire largely hinges on whether the United States and others will pressure Israel to reverse its stance. We are joined from Tel Aviv by Israeli journalist Gideon Levy. In a recent piece for Ha’aretz, Levy writes: "[Hamas’] conditions are civilian; the means of achieving them are military, violent and criminal. But the (bitter) truth is that when Gaza is not firing rockets at Israel, nobody cares about it. ... Read the list of [Hamas] demands and judge honestly whether there is one unjust demand among them."

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Aaron Maté.

AARON MATÉ: As the Israeli assault on Gaza enters its third week, a new push is underway for an internationally brokered ceasefire. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is set to arrive in Israel shortly. Earlier today he met with Secretary of State John Kerry and leaders of the Arab League in Cairo. Speaking Monday from Washington, President Obama continued his backing for Israel’s assault, but said the U.S. will intensify its role in the ceasefire effort.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As I’ve said many times, Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas. And as a result of its operations, Israel has already done significant damage to Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. I’ve also said, however, that we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives. And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a ceasefire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking earlier today, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said there is, quote, "no real hope" of an immediate ceasefire because Hamas’s conditions are too far from those of Israel, the U.S. and Egypt. Hamas’s demands have centered on an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the release of its prisoners. This is Hamas Deputy Leader Ismail Haniyeh.

ISMAIL HANIYEH: [translated] The demands of our people are clear. The aggression must be stopped, and a guarantee should be given it would not be repeated. The blockade must be lifted, this unjust blockade that our Palestinian people are living in.

AARON MATÉ: The seven-year siege has crippled Gaza’s economy, civilian infrastructure and water supplies. Unemployment tops 40 percent, and almost 80 percent rely on humanitarian aid. The U.N. has warned Gaza could no longer be livable by 2020 unless urgent steps are taken. The last ceasefire in November 2012 was supposed to ease the blockade, but Israel only intensified it. With Hamas now vowing to continue fighting against what it calls a "slow death," a new ceasefire largely hinges on whether the U.S. and others will pressure Israel to reverse its stance.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re now joined by Israeli journalist Gideon Levy in Tel Aviv. In a piece for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz headlined "What Does Hamas Really Want?" Levy writes, quote, "These conditions are civilian; the means of achieving them are military, violent and criminal. But the (bitter) truth is that when Gaza is not firing rockets at Israel, nobody cares about it. ... Read the list of [Hamas] demands and judge honestly whether there is one unjust demand among them."

Gideon Levy, welcome to Democracy Now! Why don’t you lay out the premise of this piece, what you’re trying to convey in your article in Ha’aretz?

GIDEON LEVY: Look, we tend to beat our enemies and never to listen to them. And many times, listening even to the enemy, even to the most bitter enemy, can serve a much better cause than beating and beating and beating. And unfortunately, Israel is just using the violence right now without listening to their conditions. I don’t know if their conditions are acceptable. I don’t know if those are really their conditions. But they say it very clearly: They ask for freedom for Gaza, they ask to lift the siege. Can you recall a more just require than this? But I’ll say something more than this. Doesn’t it serve the interests of Israel, seeing Gaza free and seeing Gaza building its economy and not living those unhuman conditions in the biggest cage in the world, which creates only more hatred and more violence? So, it is really at our door now to decide. Do we want to go from one cycle to the other, from one circle of bloodshed to the other, not solving anything? Or are we willing, once and for all, to put a real, just solution to the problem of Gaza?

AARON MATÉ: Well, with the massive civilian toll in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked Monday if he’s worried about losing international opinion. Netanyahu was speaking to Brian Williams of NBC News.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: You know, at a certain point, you say, "What choice have you got? What would you do? What would you do if American cities, where you’re sitting now, Brian, would be rocketed, would absorb hundreds of rockets?" You know—you know what would you say? You’d say to your leader, "A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do." And you’d say, "A country’s got to do what a country’s got to do." We have to defend ourselves. We try to do it with the minimum amount of force or with targeting military targets as best as we can, but we’ll act to defend ourselves. No country can live like this.

AARON MATÉ: That’s Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking on Monday. Gideon Levy, so he’s saying here that this current attack is about self-defense. And the blockade has been justified in terms of, "Well, we have to stop Hamas from smuggling rockets; they are, after all, a group that’s committed to our destruction." Your response to that?

GIDEON LEVY: So did you stop the smuggling with the siege? Did you really stop? We see now how well equipped Hamas is. This is ridiculous, because any siege can be broken for certain purposes. But the siege breaks the people of Gaza and pushes them again and again to the corner, to the corner of violence and to the corner of desperation.

But I would like also to comment about the prime minister’s remarks, as if Israel has to react. Sure, Israel has to react and has to defend itself, but, Mr. Prime Minister, where did it start? Those rockets fall on our heads just by chance? There is no context to this? There was not the breaking of the political negotiations by the Israelis refusing to release some few veteran prisoners? There was not a war declared on Hamas in the West Bank after the kidnap and the murder of three Israeli youngsters, arresting 500 Hamas activists who were not involved in this kidnap? Didn’t Israel stop the salaries—transferring the salaries to 40,000 Hamas workers, employees in Gaza? And what did Israel think? Wasn’t Israel against the unity government? And what did Israel think, that all this will pass like nothing and Hamas will accept everything? So I have news. Those who believe that nothing will happen were either extremely arrogant or blind or both.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain, Gideon Levy, the feeling of Israelis—you’re in Tel Aviv; we’re about to be joined by a guest in Jerusalem—of the rocket fire that’s coming from Gaza, the something like 2,000 rockets?

GIDEON LEVY: Look, I don’t want to underestimate. It is certain fear, for sure, more in the south, close to the Gaza Strip. This morning there were two sirens in Tel Aviv, and five minutes later life went back to its routine. I don’t say that people don’t carry some kind of fear, but, by and large, the life, at least in the center—I’ve been yesterday to the south; the picture is different there—by and large, life is more or less continuing, with some changes. People go out less, but it’s not the big fear of the horrible days of the Second Intifada with the exploding buses and suicide bombers. I don’t even hint to say that this can become a routine—no way, it can’t. But compared to the suffer of Gaza, this is really a children’s game right now. And thanks God also, there are almost no civilian casualties in Israel. Having said this, I don’t call for more casualties in Israel; I just say let’s try and solve it once and for all and not go again to the old games, which have proven already that they lead to nowhere.

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