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“Israel Targets Civilians, the Casualties Speak Volumes”: Int’l Protection Urged for Besieged Gaza

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Thousands of Gazans have fled their homes amidst a relentless Israeli bombing campaign that has now killed more than 170 people, most of them civilians, since it began a week ago. The United Nations estimates at least 80 percent of the dead are civilian, of whom 20 percent are children — at least 36 dead. More than 1,200 Palestinians have been wounded, nearly two-thirds women and children. Some 940 homes have reportedly been severely damaged or destroyed, 400,000 people are without electricity, and 17,000 people are displaced. Hamas has fired an estimated 700 rockets into Israel, causing no direct killings but leaving an Israeli teen critically wounded. We get reaction from Palestinian attorney Diana Buttu, who has served as a legal adviser to the Palestinians in negotiations with Israel and to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “When Israel talks about who it’s targeting and what it’s targeting, they’ve never proffered any proof or any evidence for what it is they’re trying to hit,” Buttu says. “At the end of the day, as much as Israel tries to claim they are not targeting civilians, they are — and the casualties speak volumes.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in the Gaza Strip, where Israeli Defense Forces and tanks are positioned along the border in the seventh day of Israel’s offensive. As of this morning, the Palestinian death toll has reached at least 172, among them 140 civilians, including 30 children. According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, more than 1,200 people have been wounded. This weekend brought the deadliest strikes to date, including a bombing that killed 18 members of the same family. No Israelis have been killed.

On Sunday, the Israeli military dropped leaflets and sent text messages to warn residents of the northern Palestinian town of Beit Lahia to evacuate the area as it planned to intensify its large-scale bombing campaign. One displaced resident described an Israeli leaflet telling locals, quote, “any moving body after noon will be struck,” unquote.

In addition to bombing homes, Israel has carried out a number of attacks on Gaza’s civilian infrastructure. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights says the targets have included charities, parks, sports clubs and a mosque. The United Nations Humanitarian Affairs Office estimates thousands have been displaced in Gaza. Almost a thousand homes have been destroyed. On Saturday, Israeli shelling killed two disabled women and wounded four when a tank shell struck a rehabilitation center in Gaza City. A member of an ambulance crew spoke to the media.

AMBULANCE CREW MEMBER: [translated] These are the targets of Bibi Netanyahu. These are the remains of children. These are dolls for children. These are the targets of Bibi Netanyahu. These are the targets of the Jews. They are children in an organization for the disabled.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, has expressed alarm at the escalation in fighting as the Security Council is demanding a ceasefire. His office released a statement that, quote, “The Secretary-General does not believe that what is inherently a longstanding, serious political dispute between Israelis and Palestinians can be resolved via military means by either side. He remains engaged with both sides to urge de-escalation and an end to violence.”

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Israeli Cabinet that responsibility for civilian deaths in Gaza lies with Hamas.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] We don’t know when this operation will be over. It may take a long time, and we need your support and your discipline. Hamas uses the residents of Gaza as a human shield and is bringing disaster on the residents of Gaza, and therefore the responsibility for any harm done to civilians in Gaza, which we regret, the responsibility is that of Hamas and its partners, and them alone.

AMY GOODMAN: Militants in Gaza have fired hundreds of rockets at Israel.

Well, for more, we’re joined from Harvard University by Diana Buttu, an attorney based in Palestine. She has served as a legal adviser to the Palestinians in negotiations with Israel. She was previously an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Diana Buttu, can you respond to the latest news from Gaza right now?

DIANA BUTTU: Yes, Amy, in addition to the killings of people, there have been more than 940 houses that have been destroyed by the Israeli army, in addition to much of the water infrastructure has also been targeted. This is a war that has been taking place against the Palestinian civilian population, deliberately designed to bring down the Palestinian civilian population. And this is why we’ve been calling for international intervention to hold Israel accountable to make sure that this precisely stops.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about how you see this ending?

DIANA BUTTU: The problem is, Amy, is that I don’t see it ending. The real issue here is whether Israel is going to be held accountable. And so far there hasn’t been any international actors who have stepped forward to say anything to Israel or to do anything against Israel. There haven’t been sanctions lobbied against Israel. There haven’t been any statements. And at the end of the day, it’s going to be simply a question of whether Israel gets tired of continuing to bomb a civilian population. We’ve seen this in the past, when it’s carried out bombing campaigns against Lebanon and also the previous bombing campaigns against Gaza. They usually end when Israel—when public opinion turns against Israel. And at the point in time, I just don’t see that there’s any action that’s being taken the stop Israel from continuing to carry out these attacks.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to comments made by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on the weekend on Fox News.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: You know, here’s the difference between us. We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles. That’s basically the difference. They’re embedding these rockets that they’re firing wholesale into our cities, terrorist rocketing, trying to kill as many as they can. They’re not succeeding because of two reasons. One is because we’ve developed this incredible missile defense system, which I think is a historic development in the history of defensive warfare, with U.S. help, and I want to thank the American people, President Obama, the U.S. Congress for helping us fund this amazing development. But the other reason we’re succeeding—you have to understand some of the rockets do pierce through this shield, and the reason we’re succeeding is also because we’re targeting the rocketeers. The rocketeers are firing from homes. These homes are actually command posts of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad army. So, that’s where they have their secure communications, weapon caches, rockets, hidden map rooms and so on. These are their command posts. Obviously we’re not going to give them immunity, and so we have to attack them. And we try to minimize, as we can, civilian casualties.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on Fox this weekend. Diana Buttu, again, he said, “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians; they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles. That’s basically the difference,” he says.

DIANA BUTTU: This is simply Israeli propaganda at its finest. When you look at the death toll and you see the numbers, then the numbers actually speak volumes. When you see that 80 percent of the people who have been killed are civilian, when you see that half of them are women and children, and when you see that who they’re actually bombing is a population 43 percent of whom are under the age of 14, then this is very easy to pierce through the propaganda.

But more importantly, I think it’s important to keep in mind that when Israel talks about who it’s targeting and what it’s targeting, they’ve never proffered any proof or any evidence for what it is that they’re trying to hit. They simply make these allegations, and networks like Fox take it in and simply accept it as being fact. But the fact of the matter is, is that when all of this is over, Israel has never allowed independent investigators to come in and see what it is that Israel is doing. At the end of the day, as much as Israel tries to claim that they’re not targeting civilians, they are, and the casualties speak volumes.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week we spoke to Joshua Hantman, the senior adviser to Israel’s ambassador to the United States. I asked him about the killing. At that point, it was more than a hundred Palestinians had been killed by Israeli airstrikes, most of them women and children. This was his response.

JOSHUA HANTMAN: 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.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Joshua Hantman, the senior adviser to Israel’s ambassador to the United States, again, responding to my question about the number of Palestinian children and women who have been killed. He talked about precision bombing. Diana Buttu, your response?

DIANA BUTTU: Yes, he’s precise. He is precisely bombing children, and he’s precisely bombing women. If their targeting is so precise, then what he’s saying is actually correct, that they are actually targeting women and children and civilians. And so, at the end of the day, as much as they can try to coat this as being somehow an aggression against some elements within the Gaza Strip, we know otherwise. And the death tolls in these past three aggressions against the Gaza Strip, these past three massacres, really lay out the picture that is actually happening there.

Amy, it’s important to keep in mind exactly what we’re talking about here in the Gaza Strip. This is a place that is twice the size of D.C., Washington, D.C., and it’s got 1.8 million people in it. Half of the population is under the age of 18. As I said, 43 percent is under the age of 14. If you are age seven at this point in time, you’ve been through three bombing campaigns by the Israelis. So, at the end of the day, as much as the Israelis want to claim that they’re using this target precision devices, etc., the toll is really being taken out on Palestinian civilians. So far to date, the Israelis have dropped more weaponry and more bombings than over the three-week campaign that took place in 2009. They’ve admittedly dropped more than 800 tons of bombs on the Gaza Strip.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel says it’s launching its attacks in response to the rocket fire from Gaza.

DIANA BUTTU: This is also another myth, Amy. It’s important to keep in mind what the events were that led up to this whole issue. There were three Israelis who had gone missing in the West Bank. The three Israelis, even though the Israelis knew that they were killed immediately, they ended up putting Palestinians under collective punishment. They ended up arresting more than 500 Palestinians. They killed 11 within that—even before the attack on the Gaza Strip. They ransacked 2,000 homes. They ended up demolishing quite a number of homes. And it became clear that this was going to spiral out of control. Bibi Netanyahu himself said that he was going to try to escalate to try to go after Hamas, even though they had absolutely no evidence. And what he really intended to do was to try to break this national unity government. He knew very well that the international support was alongside the Palestinians, because Israel had continued its settlement activity. It had failed when it came to the peace process. And it needed to bring international support back to Israel by carrying out a bombing campaign against Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Critics say the Israeli government is trying to destroy the Palestinian Authority—the unity deal with Hamas, as well as the recent efforts for international recognition by joining U.N. conventions. Can you respond to this, Diana Buttu?

DIANA BUTTU: Yes, I think that this is very much part of the strategy. If you think back to where we were just a couple of months ago, we were at the end of the peace process, a peace process that had failed in large part because—or entirely because the Israeli side continued to build more and more settlements. Even Secretary Kerry had said that he was exasperated by the situation. The national unity government was formed. Israel kept trying to break that national unity government. The international community was not willing to side with Israel on this, recognizing that this national unity government was the best thing for Palestinians. And in particular, there aren’t any members of Hamas within the national unity government. And so, he did his best to try to break it. He tried to do it through propaganda, and now he’s trying to do it with this military assault, all the while trying to shift focus onto Hamas and what Hamas is doing and ignoring the fact that he’s actually heading a government that consists of people who call for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain who those are who are firing the rockets at Israel? Who are the forces within Gaza? And what is the response within the population?

DIANA BUTTU: There are different people who are firing rockets. Some of them are members of Islamic Jihad, some of them are members of other smaller organizations, and some of them are members of Hamas. To be quite honest, I don’t know. I don’t live in Gaza at the moment; I used to, but I don’t at the moment. So it’s unclear.

The response of the Palestinian population is mixed. On the one hand, Palestinians recognize that there needs to be some defense and that they need to defend themselves against what Israel is doing. And on the other hand, there are some Palestinians who are critical and who are saying that this is just simply going to wreak more and more havoc on Palestinian lives. But at the end of the day, they recognize who is dropping the bombs, which is the Israelis.

And moving forward, I think that the only way that we can move forward is begin to talk about protecting Palestinians and having an international protection force that is there to protect Palestinians. This is something that the Israelis have refused to do over time. And I think now is the time that we begin to talk about this issue once again.

AMY GOODMAN: What has been the role of the United States?

DIANA BUTTU: The United States has been the biggest enabler for Israel. We haven’t heard any condemnations by Secretary Kerry or Obama. Instead, we’ve simply heard that Israel has a right to defend itself, whereas we know what Israel is doing: It’s defending its military occupation. We haven’t heard anything regarding the death toll that’s been inflicted on Palestinians and the efforts made by some Palestinians to broker a ceasefire. Instead, it’s simply been a hands-off system of allowing Israel to do whatever it wants to do. And again, Amy, this is not going to bring us any further to ending this conflict.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Hamas is ready for a ceasefire?

DIANA BUTTU: Hamas has indicated that they are ready for a ceasefire. They’ve listed out their conditions for a ceasefire. There was a call made last Thursday by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to Secretary Kerry to try to get him to broker a ceasefire. He indicated that Netanyahu had outright rejected it. Netanyahu keeps indicating that he will not entertain talk of a ceasefire. And if you think about it, he has no—there’s no urgency for him to do so, because of the fact that there has been no international response against what Israel is doing.

AMY GOODMAN: I know you have to leave, Diana Buttu, but what are the conditions that Hamas has laid out for a ceasefire?

DIANA BUTTU: The primary conditions are for Israel to stop the attacks. Another condition is that they’ve indicated that they should release those prisoners that were re-arrested in this roundup after the three Israelis had gone missing. They’ve also indicated—they put forward other conditions relating to the movement of people, etc. But interestingly enough, they have actually not mentioned anything about the ongoing siege, which I think is one of the main reasons that this continues.

AMY GOODMAN: Diana Buttu, thank you for being with us, attorney based in Palestine, though she is at Harvard University right now, where we are speaking to her in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Diana Buttu has served as a legal adviser to the Palestinians in negotiations with Israel. She was previously an adviser to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. When we come back, we go directly to Gaza. Stay with us.

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Next story from this daily show

“We are Human Beings”: Gaza Doctor Pleads for End to Israeli Bombing of Civilian Population

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