Ha’aretz correspondent for the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the only Israeli journalist to have spent several years living in and reporting from Gaza and the West Bank.
Meeting at the White House, President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized the "unbreakable" bond between Israel and the United States. Despite ongoing Israeli settlement expansion, roadblocks, closures and the attack on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla, Obama said he thinks Israel "has shown restraint." The meeting came on the heels of a decision by the Israeli military prosecutor to take disciplinary and legal action in four separate cases from Israel’s twenty-two-day assault on Gaza last year. We speak to veteran Israeli journalist Amira Hass. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama hosted talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House Tuesday in a push to restart direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials. Obama urged the two sides to resume talks before the partial freeze on building illegal Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank expires in September.
At a joint news conference after their meeting Tuesday morning, both Obama and Netanyahu emphasized the "unbreakable" bond between Israel and the United States and downplayed recent US-Israeli tensions over the settlements. In his remarks to the press, President Obama made no mention of settlement expansion or the Israeli commando attack on the humanitarian aid flotilla that killed nine people, including a US citizen. He noted that Netanyahu is, quote, "willing to take risks for peace" and praised Israel’s moves to begin easing the blockade of Gaza.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Let me, first of all, say that I think the Israeli government, working through layers of various governmental entities and jurisdictions, have shown restraint over the last several months that I think has been conducive to the prospects of us getting into direct talks.
I think it’s very important that the Palestinians not look for excuses for incitement, that they are not engaging in provocative language, that at the international level they are maintaining a constructive talk, as opposed to looking for opportunities to embarrass Israel.
AMY GOODMAN: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu echoed President Obama’s optimism about moving forward with direct negotiations, but warned that Israel wants a secure peace.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: We don’t want a repeat of the situation where we vacate territories, and those are overtaken by Iran’s proxies and used as a launching ground for terrorist attacks, rocket attacks. I think there are solutions that we can adopt, but in order to proceed to the solutions, we need to begin negotiations in order to end them. We’ve begun proximity talks. I think it’s high time to begin direct talks.
AMY GOODMAN: Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama came on the heels of a decision by the Israeli military prosecutor to take disciplinary and legal action in four separate cases from Israel’s twenty-two-day assault on Gaza last year. One soldier was charged with manslaughter in connection with the deaths of a Palestinian mother and daughter who were shot while waving white flags. The prosecutor also called for a criminal investigation into air strikes on a building into which Israeli troops had ordered a hundred members of a single family. Over two dozen members of the family were killed in the shelling.
For more on the US-Israeli relations and prospects for peace and accountability, I’m joined now on the phone from Tel Aviv by veteran Israeli journalist Amira Hass. She’s the Ha’aretz correspondent for the occupied Palestinian territories and the only Israeli journalist to have spent several years living in and reporting from Gaza and the West Bank.
Amira, welcome to Democracy Now! Your comments on the meeting between Netanyahu and Obama yesterday and what came of it?
AMIRA HASS: Oh, truly saying I have no comment. I thought we were talking about something else. I didn’t even watch it. I think it’s — by the time we know really what happened there — I mean, it will take some time before we know really what happened there. I only hope that — or I suspect that Obama allowed himself to be misled by the sweet talk of Netanyahu. That’s my impression. I mean, that’s my guess. But I’m sorry, because I prepared for speaking about other things.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Amira, let me ask you, President Obama praised Netanyahu for the easing of the blockade. Can you talk about what that means?
AMIRA HASS: Look, perhaps Obama should ask himself if he was set aside in life of just getting chips and ketchup and Coca-Cola and not being allowed to produce, to create, to export, to send his daughters to university, to send his —- to have visitors from outside, if this is the life that he thinks are suitable for a human being, then maybe all the Americans who voted for him made a mistake.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, explain -—
AMIRA HASS: Because the blockade here. The blockade — look, everybody talks about food when we come to this blockade. So now Israel is giving some more items of food to the — allowing the Palestinian merchants to buy some more tens of items of food to get into Gaza, and maybe some other stuff, I don’t know. But everything which is connected to raw materials for industry, for producing, anything connected to construction material is very limited. Nothing has changed. So, adding ketchup, as somebody told me, adding ketchup is not making — does not make people feel that the blockade is over. Maybe now there are more types of shampoo that Israel will allow to enter. But anyway, in the past years, Palestinians have managed to bring in shampoo and some other hygiene products from Egypt through the tunnels. And this is not the blockade.
The blockade is about being imprisoned in Gaza. This is the real — this is the real closure. This is the real siege. And this is not going to change.
Only today, there was a court hearing about — of a petition of a Palestinian lawyer, woman lawyer, female lawyer, from Gaza who wants to complete her MA studies at Birzeit University, and the state does not allow her, because they say that when it comes to the passage, to the movement of human beings, nothing has changed. They still do not allow — they haven’t been allowed anyway for the past ten years or fifteen years, but ever more severely, they don’t allow the passage, the movement of people between Gaza and the West Bank, except of some rare, very exceptional humanitarian cases. So this remains the same. This remains the same.
Also, Palestinians cannot export. Israel is talking only about bringing in products, not exporting. So even if Palestinians got now raw materials, for example for textiles for furniture, the industries, the traditional industries that Gazans were — excelled at, they are not allowed to export them. So they won’t earn a living. So Gaza is a huge prison where people are dependent on charity, some sort of charity. This situation is not going to change now with Israeli new measures.
AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass, the meeting yesterday between Netanyahu and Obama came on the heels of the decision by the Israeli military prosecutor to take disciplinary and legal action in four separate cases in the Israeli assault on Gaza last year.
AMIRA HASS: Mm-hmm, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Among them, a soldier charged with manslaughter in connection with the deaths of a Palestinian mother and daughter. Can you explain that story?
AMIRA HASS: There are several. There are two — yeah, this is — and I’ve spoken to the family. I think it was the fourth or the second day or the first morning, the first day of the ground invasion, where people understood that they should leave their homes and go from the east of Gaza to more to the west, towards the city itself. There was a group of people, thirty, forty people, with children, with women. The whole area is an agricultural area, with scattered houses. It’s not heavily populated. They left with waving white flags, and from a distance of I don’t remember how many meters — sixty, seventy, hundred — a tank stopped them, then shot at the mother and the daughter. The family couldn’t even bury them. They had to flee. They had to flee, and they came back a week or fifteen days later to recover the corpses. These are the mother and the daughter.
The same unit, Givati unit, was in charge of the whole area. And I have, like many other journalists and human rights field workers, we have researched all the measures of this unit over the area — destruction of houses, bombing, shelling, not allowing people to reach — to get rescued by medical teams. This has been — this has been the case in all over this area and other places, but very, very strongly in this area, where the Samouni, a bit further to the west, the Samouni family that you also mentioned, are a difficult — are one of the most difficult cases of this onslaught. And as you said, twenty-nine people were killed, twenty-one or twenty-two of whom in the house to which the soldiers themselves ordered them to be in. So the soldiers knew very well that there are civilians gathered in the house feeling secure, because they were asked to be there. And what’s very surprising, that it takes — took the army so long, a year and a half, to admit that something went wrong there, because — I mean, according to their criteria — even according to their criteria, because all the information was valid, was available from the start. From the start, you could — the information to at least to suspect about what your soldiers are saying. Why wait so long? And it seems not by surprise — not by coincidence that the announcement came yesterday, just on the eve of Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the Samouni family, twenty-nine killed in that family, the Israeli military told them to go into that house, and then they struck the house?
AMIRA HASS: Sorry? Can you repeat?
AMY GOODMAN: The story of the Samouni family, the twenty-nine members —-
AMIRA HASS: Yeah, this is the Samouni -— yeah, this is just what I remarked. Yeah, this is the — it’s in the same area where the Abu Hajjaj family, the mother and the daughter, were killed. It’s the same unit. So we see, overall, the practices of shooting at civilians from very short range, close range, shooting at people carrying white flags, not allowing rescue teams arrive to the wounded, not allowing people to rescue their own relatives. And here, in the Samouni family, the unique case is that the soldiers were talking to the people. They were talking, even talking in Hebrew, because all these people knew — the men in this family spoke Hebrew, because they were working in Israel for many years. So this was — in that particular case, it was an extreme, even in the standards of the onslaught on Gaza.
AMY GOODMAN: Could you also comment on the committee tasked by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate the nine deaths aboard the aid flotilla that was headed to Gaza? The head is going to be Philippe Kirsch, the former president of the International Criminal Court.
AMIRA HASS: I didn’t even — when was it published? When was this known? I didn’t follow it.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, it just recently came out. But this meeting —-
AMIRA HASS: Yeah, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —- that’s happening between Netanyahu and Obama is the first since then. In fact, Netanyahu was supposed to meet with Obama, but he — but Netanyahu left in the midst of these — right after the strike to return to Israel, when the attack on the flotilla happened.
AMIRA HASS: That he left? He left — ah, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: This is the — yeah, so this is the first meeting they’ve had since then.
AMIRA HASS: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: The fallout from that, Amira Hass?
AMIRA HASS: I’m sorry. The line — I don’t clearly hear you, sorry.
AMY GOODMAN: The fallout. The fallout from the attack on the Gaza flotilla. It wasn’t mentioned yesterday, but what you think the fallout has been?
AMIRA HASS: Wasn’t mentioned. I don’t know.
AMY GOODMAN: In the territories and the effect on Israel.
AMIRA HASS: Why it hasn’t been mentioned?
AMY GOODMAN: No, the —-
AMIRA HASS: Why it hasn’t been mentioned? I’m sorry.
AMY GOODMAN: No, what has been the fallout in Israel and Gaza?
AMIRA HASS: Ah, I see. Look, right now people think that it has calmed down. There are ways to -— people are looking and different politicians are looking for ways to sort things out with Turkey, especially the military. I think the military cherishes the relations, old relations with Turkey. And I think they want to amend. They came yesterday with a story as if they — some of the corpse — of the posthumous analysis showed that some of the people — there were some other bullets, other than the military bullets. So they still keep to the version that it’s the Israeli soldiers who were attacked. So, right now in Israel, the flotilla, people know it was a big political flop, and military flop, too. But now we know, like, events are tracing one after the other here. So right now there is not so much talk about the flotilla as there was two weeks ago or three weeks ago.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Amira Hass, I want to thank you for being with us, Ha’aretz correspondent for the occupied Palestinian territories, only Israeli journalist to have spent, what, more than a decade living and reporting from Gaza and the West Bank. Thanks for being with us. She talked to us from Tel Aviv.