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2014-08-01

Recipe for Lasting Ceasefire? Lifting Israeli Siege & Int’l Accountability Could Break Status Quo

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The Gaza Health Ministry now says at least 50 Palestinians have been killed today in Gaza following the collapse of a U.S.- and U.N.-backed ceasefire. Hamas and Israel are blaming each other for violating the truce. Israel has launched a major operation to rescue a soldier captured earlier today. The Israeli Defense Forces just identified the soldier as Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin. Hamas says the soldier was captured before the ceasefire began. The 72-hour ceasefire announced Thursday was supposed to bring Israeli and Palestinian representatives together in Cairo, but the outbreak of violence puts those talks in jeopardy. We speak with Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund and its educational program, the Palestine Center. "We cannot go back to a status quo where a ceasefire ends rocket fire from the Gaza Strip but does not end the system of violence that is the siege … enforced through the regular use of Israeli fire," Munayyer says. "You cannot call it a ceasefire while that system of violence still exists."

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. For those who listen on the radio, we were just showing the images of well-known artists, activists, leaders holding up the names of the dead in the Gaza conflict. I’m Amy Goodman, with Aaron Maté.

AARON MATÉ: Well, the Gaza Health Ministry now says at least 50 Palestinians have been killed today in Gaza following the collapse of a U.S.- and U.N.-backed ceasefire, Hamas and Israel each blaming the other side for violating the truce. Israel has launched a major operation to rescue a soldier captured earlier today. The IDF just identified the soldier as Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin. Hamas says the soldier was captured before the ceasefire began.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on Gaza, we’re joined by Yousef Munayyer. He’s executive director of the Jerusalem Fund and its educational program, the Palestine Center. Yousef, your response to the end of the ceasefire, you know, really just moments after it began, and the significance of what’s taking place right now in Rafah? And this number of more than—well, it might be at this point—it might be more than—the number of total dead is more than 1,450, maybe more than 1,500.

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Well, it’s, of course, tragic, Amy, and horrifying, what is going on right now. And I think it—you know, what we’ve seen this morning really kind of is a microcosm of what we’ve seen throughout this entire operation.

You know, let us, just for the sake of argument, accept the notion that the Israelis have legitimate strategic and military aims here, just for the sake of argument. I don’t think that’s the case, but if they do, they still have an obligation here to protect the civilian population. What they’re trying to do militarily is essentially take out a small group of militants—perhaps, maybe at greatest number, 10,000 or so—among a population of 1.8 million Palestinians, and there is mostly civilian targets throughout all of the Gaza Strip. What is required here, if we are to think about this in medical terms, is surgery with a scalpel. Instead, they are going about this surgery with a jackhammer. And I think that any doctor that would be doing a surgery with a jackhammer would not only be immediately losing their license, but would be thrown in prison, as well.

Unfortunately, what we saw yesterday and the day before, the response from Washington was to continue to open up arms caches to supply the Israelis with some of the same artillery that was responsible for targeting a U.N. school and killing 17 civilians as they slept. So, this is really criminal. What we are seeing here is absolutely criminal. Even if we were to accept the notion that their military aims are justified, the way that this is being carried out is a violation of the laws of war, and we’ve seen it time and time again on the ground.

This morning’s example is a perfect one. There was clearly an operation at some point this morning in Rafah, where the Israelis lost some soldiers, and in response they have undertaken this horrific bombardment in the Rafah area, which has left scores of Palestinians dead. These kind of measures are simply unjustifiable, and it is long past time for the international community not just to step in with, you know, a discussion about temporary ceasefires, but to rein the Israelis in by demanding an end to these attacks on a civilian population.

AARON MATÉ: Yousef, if these ceasefire talks go ahead, what are you expecting to happen? Benjamin Netanyahu is going in with something like 87 percent support amongst Israeli Jews. Ninety-five percent of Israeli Jews say that the operation is just. So, from his own people, he isn’t facing much pressure to back down.

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Right, and I think there are reasons for that. You know, in the lead-up to this, the Israeli public was ginned up by leaders who were told, first and foremost, that Hamas as an organization was responsible for the disappearance of three Israeli teens, who we subsequently found out were murdered. That turned out to be not true. And, of course, the Israelis not only accused Hamas, but they punished Hamas and all of Palestinian society through a massive collective punishment campaign. So, the Israeli public has been primed to believe that not only is Hamas guilty, but that all Palestinians are guilty, and therefore deserving of what is to befall them at the face of this brutal military campaign.

I think once you get to ceasefire talks, there have to be serious conversations about how you address the legitimate grievances of Palestinians on the ground. We cannot go back to a status quo where a ceasefire ends rocket fire from the Gaza Strip but does not end the system of violence that is the siege. You know, the siege in the Gaza Strip is enforced through the regular use of Israeli fire on Palestinian civilians, on fishermen and on farmers inside the Gaza Strip, through extrajudicial assassinations. You cannot call it a ceasefire while that system of violence still exists. So, if we’re going to have serious conversations about a ceasefire—and I think there should be, and should have been quite a long time ago—there needs to be a conversation about that, in particular.

And there needs to be a conversation about how you hold the Israelis accountable for ceasefire violations. It’s very important that any agreement takes into account the dramatic imbalance of power between a very strong, militarized state in the Israelis and a non-state actor and stateless people in the Palestinians. If the Palestinians commit a ceasefire violation, the Israelis are able to hold them accountable on their own. But if the Israelis commit a ceasefire violation, as they have done repeatedly after the beginning of the 2012 ceasefire agreement, how are the Palestinians able to hold them accountable? They are not. So with one Israeli ceasefire violation after the other, Palestinians are simply provoked to using the only methods that they have available to them to respond. That is a formula for a breakdown of a ceasefire time and time again. So until you have accountability, particularly for the Israeli side, you’re not going to have a sustainable ceasefire.

AMY GOODMAN: What would the elements of a lasting ceasefire, a truce, look like? What are the Palestinians demanding? And would you separate the Palestinians, from Hamas, from the PA? Who has the power, even inside Gaza and outside, the leadership, for example, in places like Doha in Qatar and the leadership right now on the ground?

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Well, Amy, this is a very important question. I’m glad you brought it up. There has been, in the discussion about this, a lot of sort of misleading information characterized by this dichotomy between Israel and Hamas. The reality is, the situation on the ground, you know, it’s not just Hamas that’s involved in the militancy on the Palestinian side. Every single Palestinian faction, political faction, that has a military wing, from Hamas to Fatah, to Islamic Jihad, to the Popular Resistance Committees, the Democratic and Popular Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine—a spectrum that spans from Islamists to nationalists, to secularists, to leftists—all of them are taking part in the militancy here. This is not a response by Hamas. This is a response by the Palestinian people to the attacks of an Israeli military occupation and siege on Palestinian society. This siege does not discriminate between members of factions. The bombs that are being dropped do not discriminate between young or old, let alone they discriminate between, you know, members of this group or that. Palestinians today, I think, in the Gaza Strip are more united than ever before behind the idea that the siege has to come to an end, that they have suffered for far too long under a system of violence that collectively punishes 1.8 million civilians simply for a political aim, and that is not justifiable.

So I think what they are asking for, what they are demanding, is that that siege come to an end, that they have the same rights, the same basic rights, as everybody else would expect. And I think that the problem in the past has been, you know, Palestinians have been confronted by a false choice: Either, they are told, you know, "Live on your knees," or, "If you’re going to fight, you’ll die standing." If that is the choice that they are presented with, time and again, they’re going to choose to fight and die with dignity than live in humiliation and under subjugation of this occupation and siege. So that choice that these ceasefires in the past have presented to Palestinians, that has to change. We have to give them a different alternative here, one that recognizes their basic rights, as should have been the case long ago.

AMY GOODMAN: Yousef Munayyer, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund and its educational program, the Palestine Center. When we come back, Amnesty International has just issued a statement about the United States resupplying ammunition to Israel, and then we’ll look at the CIA admitting they’ve been spying on Senate staffers. Stay with us.

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