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Gaza Debate: As Palestinian Deaths Top 100, Who’s to Blame for Escalating Violence? What Can Be Done?

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The death toll in the Gaza Strip continues to rise in the fourth day of Israel’s aerial offensive. Medical officials in Gaza estimate that at least 22 people were killed Thursday, bringing the number of Palestinian fatalities to 101, about half of them reportedly women and children. No deaths have been reported on the Israeli side. The Israeli military says it has dropped hundreds of tonnes of bombs on 1,000 targets throughout Gaza, more than during its eight-day assault in late 2012. The intensification of Israeli airstrikes has been met with a barrage of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. We host a debate between Palestinian human rights attorney Noura Erakat and Joshua Hantman, senior adviser to Israel’s ambassador to the United States. “Israel is currently under attack,” Hantman says. “Since 2005, over 8,000 rockets, missiles and mortars have been indiscriminately fired at our civilians.” But Erakat says Israel’s bombardment of Gaza “amounts to a massacre.” “Israel has precise weaponry and is targeting homes,” she says. “This is a disproportionate attack, by what we consider the only democracy in the Middle East, by the U.S.’s most unique ally, to whom we provide $3.1 billion a year.”

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The death toll in the Gaza Strip continues to rise in the fourth day of Israel’s aerial offensive. Medical officials in Gaza estimate more than 22 people were killed Thursday, bringing the number of Palestinian fatalities to at least 101 dead. More than 700 have been injured. Half of those killed were reportedly women and children. On Thursday, hundreds of Gazans attended a funeral procession for the victims of an Israeli strike that killed eight members of a single family, including five children. In another attack, an Israeli missile hit a small beach café on Wednesday where a group of young men were watching the World Cup semi-final between Netherlands and Argentina. The café was obliterated and is currently being combed for dead bodies.

The Israeli military says it has dropped hundreds of tons of bombs on a thousand targets throughout Gaza, more than during its eight-day assault in late 2012. The intensification of Israeli airstrikes has been met with a barrage of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. The Israeli military estimates that 442 projectiles have been fired since Tuesday, including nearly a hundred on Thursday. So far, there have been no reported Israeli deaths, but nine Israelis have been treated for injuries, dozens more for shock. Meanwhile, the Israeli military has mobilized some 20,000 reserve soldiers to bolster its regular forces for a possible ground invasion of Gaza. In a televised statement on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to fight on.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] So far the battle is progressing as planned, but we can expect further stages in the future. Up to now, we have hit Hamas and the terror organizations hard, and as the battle continues, we will increase strikes on them.

AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration has backed the Israeli offensive on Gaza, saying the U.S. fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself. Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah denounced Israel’s offensive on the Gaza Strip, saying it violates the Geneva Convention.

PRIME MINISTER RAMI HAMDALLAH: [translated] What the government of the Israeli occupation is doing, air-striking civilians, children in their homes, is a war crime par excellence. This is a contravention of all laws and international regulations, most notably the Geneva Convention.

AMY GOODMAN: The crisis in Israel and the Occupied Territories follows months of growing tensions, and both sides debate when the latest flareup began. Three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped in the West Bank last month, their dead bodies found weeks later. During that time, Israel launched massive raids on the Occupied Territories, killing around a dozen people, arresting hundreds, seizing property. Israel particularly targeted Hamas, whom it blamed for the teens’ kidnapping. Rocket attacks on southern Israel from militants in Gaza followed, intensifying earlier this month. Israel has launched deadly raids on the Occupied Territories throughout the year, including the unpunished killings of two Palestinian children whose shootings were caught on video in May. Palestinian leaders have accused the Israeli government of exploiting the teens’ abduction to destroy the Palestinian Authority’s recent unity deal with Hamas and maintain the divide between Palestinian factions.

For more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by two guests. Joshua Hantman is the senior adviser to Israel’s ambassador to the United States. He’s the former spokesperson for the Israeli Ministry of Defense. And we’re also joined by Noura Erakat, a Palestinian human rights attorney and legal scholar. She’s adjunct professor of Georgetown University and co-founder of Jadaliyya ezine.

Joshua Hantman and Noura Erakat, we want to welcome you to Democracy Now! Let us begin with Noura Erakat. Can you talk about what’s happening right now?

NOURA ERAKAT: Absolutely. What’s happening is an absolute atrocity. It’s absolutely cruel that we’re watching on as the death toll of Palestinian mounts. It’s now reached 100. And it’s crude to even count those numbers, because they remain nameless and faceless, when each of those lives affects an entire family. Approximately 300,000 Palestinians have been asked to move or be displaced in preparation for an imminent attack. What’s happening right now amounts to a massacre. It is not a war. And we should all be concerned.

Israel claimed that it has the right to self-defense, but an occupying power does not have the right to self-defense; it has an obligation and a duty to protect the civilians under its occupation. Even if it fails to meet that duty, it must abide by humanitarian law, principles of distinction, proportionality, of necessity. It has not abided by any of those. What’s happening in Gaza amounts to war crimes. It’s a repeat of what happened in 2008 and 2009. It’s a repeat of what happened in 2012.

Unfortunately, we can see this repeated again, unless Israel is held to account under international humanitarian law mechanisms, under international criminal law, under sanctions by other governments, in order to stop these massacres—not just now, but in the long run—and more importantly than that, to address the root causes of these flareups or symptoms of a much deeper problem, which is the structural violence of occupation, of apartheid and of settler colonialism.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Joshua Hantman, what about this issue of the disproportionate nature of the numbers of civilians that are being killed in these strikes?

JOSHUA HANTMAN: Well, let’s be clear: Israel is currently under attack. I mean, the professor talked about occupation right now. Let me remind you that Israel actually left the Gaza Strip in 2005. We removed all of our settlements. We removed the IDF forces. We took out 10,000 Jews from their houses as a step for peace, because Israel wants peace and it extended its hand for peace. That was in 2005. Since 2005, over 8,000 rockets, missiles and mortars have been indiscriminately fired at our civilians.

Now, the professor also talked about human rights and about international law. Hamas, the internationally recognized terrorist organization, controls the Gaza Strip. They are hiding behind civilians while firing at our civilians. Let me remind you that just yesterday the Hamas interior minister—the Hamas Interior Ministry, they called for their people, for their civilians, to act as human shields. Their spokesperson also came out and said, “Come and act as human shields,” because while we mourn every civilian death on both sides, Hamas celebrates civilian deaths.

I blame Hamas for every civilian death, because while we send text messages and phone calls and even put warning shots in the areas where we’re going to try and take out the terrorist infrastructure and the particular terrorists, Hamas fire from mosques, they fire from next to houses, they fire from schools. They keep their missiles and their rockets in the basements of houses. This is a double war crime. They are firing at our civilians indiscriminately. I mean, they fired yesterday towards Jerusalem, OK. They’re firing at Jerusalem indiscriminately. What would happen if one of these rockets landed in an Arab area in Jerusalem? Or if, God forbid, it hit a holy site of the Muslims? It’s indiscriminate fire. It’s a war crime. I actually spoke to a lawyer yesterday who told me there are five or six war crimes that Hamas is guilty of. You cannot blame occupation because Israel left in 2005. And one more point—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s put this point—

JOSHUA HANTMAN: One more point—one more point, ma’am.

AMY GOODMAN: Joshua Hantman, let me put your point to Noura Erakat. Your response?

NOURA ERAKAT: Absolutely not. It’s been well established that while Israel removed 8,000 of its settlers, which were already in Gaza illegally, and then replaced them in the West Bank, where the settler population continues to grow, in 2005, that it maintained control of the naval borders, of the land entries and exits, of the electromagnetic sphere, of the population registry of Gaza. It maintained the right to enter and continue its military occupations. Under international law, the occupation—Israel’s occupation of Gaza has never ended. It remains an occupying power.

JOSHUA HANTMAN: [inaudible].

NOURA ERAKAT: Israel can repeat its propaganda over and over, but on the ground, the occupation remains and is well and alive, unfortunately. That’s why Palestinians in Gaza cannot leave, even if they want to become refugees right now, they don’t even have the right to become refugees, because they are held captive in an open-air prison.

JOSHUA HANTMAN: Ma’am, you’re making interesting points.

NOURA ERAKAT: As for blaming Hamas for every civilian death, this is really crude. We should be alarmed that the fourth-largest nuclear power in the world—certainly the largest military power in the Middle East—is blaming the victims for their own deaths. Eleven homes have been targeted with Israeli rocket fire. Hamas has crude weaponry and is indiscriminately firing. I don’t dispute that. Israel has precise weaponry and is targeting homes where 11 families have been targeted, including the Hajj family, the Hamad family, the Kaware family. This is a disproportionate attack by what we consider the only democracy in the Middle East, by the U.S.’s most unique ally, to whom we provide $3.1 billion a year, and who U.S. taxpayers can hold to account.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Alright, Noura—Noura Erakat, let Joshua Hantman respond?

JOSHUA HANTMAN: Ma’am, you know, as an international lawyer, that as soon as you put munitions within a house or fire from within a house or fire from within a schoolyard, that becomes a military target. No country in the world would accept a situation whereby over three-quarters of their population are under direct rocket fire. Ma’am, just imagine—just imagine if the United States had over 200 million of its population under rocket fire from an internationally recognized terrorist organization, which, by the way, I’m sure you are not defending here, because Hamas, they wouldn’t allow a young, liberal, secular woman to express her views like you do, ma’am. They would not allow my gay friends to express their sexuality freely. They would not allow Jews to open synagogues or Christians to open churches. This is an Islamist, fundamentalist organization that you’re sitting here defending. And I also assume, ma’am, that you don’t justify their use of human shields, which they openly talk about. They’re proud about it, ma’am. They don’t hide the fact that they use human shields. I take it you would join me in condemning this.

AMY GOODMAN: Noura Erakat?

NOURA ERAKAT: First of all, let’s put this all in context. This is not Israel responding to rocket fire. Hamas has maintained the truce since November 2012. Israel broken this truce. Israel has blamed Hamas for the kidnapping of three settlers, and has yet, after killing 100 civilians in Gaza, after killing a dozen Palestinians during its Operation Brother’s Keeper, has yet to produce a shred of evidence that Hamas is behind this. This is not in response to rocket fire. Netanyahu is responding to domestic considerations and, unfortunately, is using Palestinians as cannon fodder. And because of the dehumanization of Palestinians globally, everybody is watching. Because a hundred Palestinian lives has become so normalized, has become so crudely and cruelly accepted, that there has not been condemnation of this.

As to the human shields, Israel continuously and repeatedly uses this mantra of Palestinians used as human shields. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Israeli Breaking the Silence, a group of former soldiers, have all testified to the same—

JOSHUA HANTMAN: Hamas admit to it. Hamas say they do it. They’re proud of it.

NOURA ERAKAT: —to the same allegation—reports about this same allegation—and I encourage listeners and viewers to look up those reports—and have disproved that Palestinians have been used as human shields. Hamas might ask Palestinians to be human shields, but are Palestinians robots? Do they not have minds and hearts, and care for their children? Why would they—why dehumanize them and accuse them of mindlessly listening to Hamas, to whom they protest against? This is a dehumanizing discourse, and we should reject it vehemently.

AMY GOODMAN: Joshua Hantman, I want to ask you about the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s actual tweet, where he said, “Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created,” “We mourn every child.” Now, in this latest assault in Gaza, you have over a hundred Palestinians killed. It’s estimated at least 22 of them children. About a half of them are women and children. How do you square that with what your prime minister says? There have been no Israeli deaths in this.

JOSHUA HANTMAN: Let me actually correct you, because this escalation was started by Hamas. And if you look, what the professor said is completely incorrect. The truce was not held by Hamas. And every single month for the last decade, rockets have been fired into Israel. Even after November 2012, where we had this Operation Pillar of Defense, and we restored the deterrents, you know how many rockets were fired in 2013, the quietest year in a decade? There were still 76 rockets fired at Israel, 76 indiscriminate rockets fired at our kids, fired at our old people, fired at our women. This—

AMY GOODMAN: But could you respond to this issue of the deaths?

JOSHUA HANTMAN: Yes, ma’am. I’m going to get—I’m going to get to it, ma’am.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve got over a hundred Palestinians who have now been killed.

JOSHUA HANTMAN: I’m going to get—well, first of all, I’ve already said that for Israel, any civilian death is not only a tragedy, but it’s a failure, as well. And we review every single operation and every single strike to see how we can improve. We’ve hit over 800 targets to try and stop these rockets, to try and stop this indiscriminate missile fire against our civilians. Out of those 800 targets, I’ll be honest, the precision—the precision is quite outstanding. And there is no military in the history of the world that has actually used such precision targets. I mean, think about it from a military tactics point of view. We tell our enemies—we tell Hamas where we’re going to hit. We tell them with text messages, with phone calls, with leaflets. We tell them in order to get civilians out of harm’s way. But for them, civilian death is actually—it’s actually a success. This is what they want. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Noura Erakat, your response to Joshua Hantman?

JOSHUA HANTMAN: My counterpart—my counterpart would not condemn this use of human shields, which Hamas is proud about. They call it—they call for it on TV. They said it—their spokesperson said it yesterday. Their Interior Ministry put out a press release saying, “Palestinians, come to the roofs. Stay in the homes where we’re firing the rockets from.” It’s disgusting. And I would like her to actually condemn it.

NOURA ERAKAT: I absolutely consider it reprehensible. What straight-minded person would actually accept that? That’s not the point. I’ve repeatedly explained that Palestinians are not robots who listen to Hamas. They care about their children and their families. This—

AMY GOODMAN: Noura Erakat, what do you think needs to happen, in this last minute that we have?

NOURA ERAKAT: You know, what really needs to happen is what has needed to happen for over 66 years of the displacement and dispossession of Palestinians, over 47 years of military occupation and continuing colonial expansion, which is the lifting of the siege, the end of the occupation, equality for all in Palestine, without distinction—Palestine and Israel, without distinction to religion, as Israel would have us believe. The entirety of the Israeli state is built on the premise of a demographic equation that needs and necessitates a Jewish majority. That should make us all concerned and raise red flags for us and make us stop before we call it the only democracy the Middle East and continue to fund it another year with $3.1 billion without any accountability.

AMY GOODMAN: What would stop the Israeli assault on Gaza, Joshua Hantman?

JOSHUA HANTMAN: Ma’am, what would stop the Israeli assault on Gaza? A commitment for a long-term ceasefire. No more rocket fire. I’m talking about not the trickling in of more rockets and more missiles, but actually Hamas stopping the rocket fire. Let me remind you, ma’am, that the Palestinian Authority, who, by the way, controls Areas A and B in the West Bank and—

AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.

JOSHUA HANTMAN: —used to have control also in the Gaza Strip, they’ve just joined a unity government with Hamas—

AMY GOODMAN: We have to end it here.

JOSHUA HANTMAN: —this terrorist organization that’s been firing rockets at Israel. So we call on them to end this unity for terror and make peace.

AMY GOODMAN: Joshua Hantman, senior adviser to Israel’s ambassador to the United States, and Noura Erakat, a Palestinian human rights attorney, adjunct professor at Georgetown, we want to thank you for being with us.

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Israeli Scholar Neve Gordon on Israeli Mass Surveillance in Gaza & the Use of AI to Kill Palestinians

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