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Palestinian Journalist Mohammed Omer: Lifting the Blockade Isn’t a Hamas Demand — It’s a Human Right

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The Palestinian death toll has topped 1,100 after one of the deadliest 24-hour periods since the Israeli assault on Gaza began 22 days ago. Most of the dead have been civilians. More than 180,000 Palestinians have been displaced over the past three weeks — that is roughly 10 percent of the population of Gaza. We are joined from Gaza City by award-winning Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer. “I believe Israel wants to make people turn against the resistance,” Omer says. “There is no way for people to turn against the resistance — in fact it is the other way around. People in the street say we do support resistance because that is the only way to end the occupation. … I’m afraid we are going to have more radical generations in the Gaza Strip, and I fear for the future of Gaza and the future of the West Bank — and I fear the future of the region if the international community is not acting now to end the blockade and the operation in Gaza.”

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

AARON MATÉ: As we continue to cover Gaza, we’ll be joined by the Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer in a moment. But first let’s turn to the British broadcaster Jon Snow of Channel 4. He recently returned from Gaza. He made this emotional appeal for people to consider the children caught in the conflict.

JON SNOW: What I never knew is what I know now, which is that those people who live in Gaza are mainly the unbelievably young. The average age is 17. That means that about quarter of a million are under 10. There was one specific moment that stood out above all others, and that was penetrating the third floor of the Shifa Hospital, one of two floors dedicated to children. That’s where I met Maha, terribly crippled by shrapnel that had penetrated her spine. That’s where I saw this little two-and-a-half-year-old with panda-sized, huge, suppurating, round, panda-like wounds that almost prevented her eyes opening at all. They were the consequence of a broken skull and a fractured nose. I can’t get those images out of my mind. I don’t think you can either, because they’ve been everywhere. They are the essence of what is happening in Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: British broadcaster Jon Snow. We go now to Gaza City, where we’re joined by Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer. In 2008, he won the Martha Gellhorn Prize, honored as, quote, “the voice of the voiceless,” and his reports were described as a, quote, “humane record of the injustice imposed on a community forgotten by much of the world.”

Mohammed Omer, welcome back to Democracy Now! This was the most intensive bombing period, the last 24 hours. You are not only a journalist, you are a resident of Gaza. You are Palestinian. Talk about what happened over this last day.

MOHAMMED OMER: OK. Thank you, Amy. What has happened in Gaza is absolutely terrifying. In my last 29 years living in the Gaza Strip, this is the worst night, by no comparison. This is the worst night. And what is really most scary, that before, I used to tell people, “Well, try to avoid areas where Hamas residents or Hamas people are living,” but nowadays I changed my theory, and I started to tell people to try to avoid places where children are located. Israel is targeting children in the Gaza Strip. Most of the airstrikes, most of the bombs, most of the artillery shelling that targets people is mostly children in all parts of the Gaza Strip.

I’ll focus a little bit on the humanitarian side, since Sharif focused more on the other side of the—on the ground, on what’s happening. And nowadays, if you see in my background at this moment, the only power plant in Gaza is bombed. If that means something, it means, according to officials, that we will have about one year of no electricity and no light, if they are not able to solve the crisis soon. Rafah crossing is closed. There is nowhere to hide. There is nowhere to run to, unlike many places or war zones. The humanitarian crises are growing in the Gaza Strip. The people in Khan Younis and Rafah are unable to make phone calls. The massacre this morning at al-Najar family, where 18 family members were killed, was a catastrophe, and people were not able to make one single phone call to call an ambulance or rescue teams to evacuate the bodies under the ground.

The situation, as it is, is quite deteriorating. I’m afraid it’s going to get even much worse in the coming hours. As I’ve said, the target is mostly children. We hear bombs now and then, and we hear more casualties and more people who are being bombed. I don’t know if you hear right now in the background, but there is more bombing that is happening at the moment as I speak.

AARON MATÉ: Mohammed, we first spoke to you three weeks ago, just as the bombing was beginning. What has this period been like for you?

MOHAMMED OMER: You know, one of the things which strikes me is to see the spirits of people in Gaza. It’s quite high, and they are very strong, and they are ready to go. But the human cost is great. The damages that are caused to human beings are quite great. I’m a father of a child, and I know what it feels to be a father of a child. You have all the time to think about the safety of your family, constantly, because the Israeli F-16 bombings can target anywhere, basically, and the same with the tank shells and the Israeli gunboats. You have the Israeli gunboats from the west of the city, you have from the east of the city also the tank shells, and you have F-16s and the drones hovering over your heads 24/7, 24/7 in the Gaza Strip under constant bombing. Last night, it was nine to 10 hours of constant bombing that did not stop. That means there is nothing else you can do except to wait the moment where you die, basically.

AMY GOODMAN: In a comment to close the CBS News show Face the Nation Sunday, host Bob Schieffer suggested Hamas forces Israel to murder Palestinian children.

BOB SCHIEFFER: In the Middle East, the Palestinian people find themselves in the grip of a terrorist group that is embarked on a strategy to get its own children killed in order to build sympathy for its cause—a strategy that might actually be working, at least in some quarters. Last week I found a quote of many years ago by Golda Meir, one of Israel’s early leaders, which might have been said yesterday: “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children,” she said, “but we can never forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.”

AMY GOODMAN: That was CBS’s Bob Schieffer. Mohammed Omer, could you respond?

MOHAMMED OMER: I mean, this has been all the time the policy, basically to target civilians and to target people who are defenseless. I mean, if you look at the cases of people who are killed, just it’s—I would like to invite President Obama just one single hour at the Shifa Hospital to see the cases and the people who are killed. Those are people who are killed by U.S. taxpayers’ money. This is the bombs that are falling on people’s homes when they are trying to sleep or when they are trying to seek a shelter. This is one of the most terrifying wars where I have been covering as a journalist and as also a national living in the Gaza Strip.

This is a policy which Israel is knowing what they are doing. I believe that Israel, what they wanted to do is to make people turn against the resistance. Now, of course, there is no way that people can turn against the resistance. In fact, it’s the other way around. You find the people in the street who say, “We do support resistance, because that’s the only way to end the occupation.” People feel that they are disowned by the rest of the world, particularly the Arab world. People feel that they are not being cared for by the international community, which is rightfully so. If you look at Ban Ki-moon visit, Ban Ki-moon went to a lot of places in Israel, while Gaza is about less than an hour. He did not come to Gaza to see the real destruction. I mean, he was coming here for a ceasefire, but there was no way that he can do a ceasefire without involving a direct talk with Hamas. The people who are part of the problem, and they should be part of the solution, have been all the time ignored.

And there is no way that I can go to see this is going to end any time soon, because the international community refuse to talk to Hamas. But the bombing is going to continue. More killing is going to continue. And the humanitarian crises are going to grow even further. If that’s going to grow further, then we don’t know who is going to be the next. Is it going to be me who’s killed? Is it going to be one of my family members? Is it going to be one of my friends? You really don’t know. And what’s new in Gaza, that nowadays you really don’t know who is being killed, even in your next—your neighbor. The ambulance crew take a long time to get inside to evacuate bodies, because it’s just not possible for them to move. There is so much demands on rescue teams, who are unable to remove in and outside of the cities and the camps and the villages.

What is happening is beyond imagination. I never thought that Israel—and I would hear Israeli officials commenting on how they justify killing children. All the time, they say that Hamas is using civilians as shields. Well, OK, I take this argument, but tell me how many Hamas members are killed. Not so many. Seventy-seven percent of the population are actually—who were killed, are civilians, according to the United Nations. I argue it’s more, because even if you target somebody who is affiliated to Hamas, wearing a jalabiya and sleeping with his children, I don’t believe this is a military target.

AARON MATÉ: Mohammed, we have 30 seconds. The main issue for Hamas is ending the blockade of Gaza. Can you talk about why this is such a critical issue for Gazans who are willing to sacrifice their lives for the siege to be lifted?

MOHAMMED OMER: Remember that this is not a demand by Hamas. This is also a demand by the international community. The U.N. have always called on Israel to lift the blockade, to open the borders and make life possible. To lift the blockade, it’s pretty easy. It’s a pretty easy equation here. Israel will have to open the border. If you remember, in January 2008, when Palestinians knocked down the wall between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, there was not one single rocket that was fired into Israel. If that indicates to you something, it shows that Palestinians just want open borders, and they want lifting the blockade, and they want to enjoy their life, like the rest of the neighbors. And Israel is not giving the chance for the Palestinians to basically get in and outside of the Gaza Strip.

I’m afraid that we are going to have more radical generations in the Gaza Strip, and I fear the future of Gaza, and I fear the future of the West Bank, and I fear the future of the region, if the international community is not acting now to end the blockade and to end the aggression in Gaza and to make sure that people are safe and secure. There is nowhere safe. There is nowhere secure. We are being bombed constantly by Israeli F-16s and tank shells. And the international community is waiting. We are—the way the international community is dealing with the Gazans is unfortunately as numbers. Now it’s 1,200 people who were killed. That’s only a number. But each one of these numbers is a story. Each one of them is a memory. Each one of them is a whole narrative that we need to understand. We need to see the people. I have been to the cemetery yesterday, where a mother was screaming over the body of her son. And why? Because Israel targeted one of the graveyards, and she was collecting the bones of her own son who was killed some years ago. Imagine, if that’s something that’s happening anywhere in the world, what the reaction of the international community would be. But because it’s in Gaza, there is no reaction.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohammed Omer, I want to thank you for being with us, award-winning Palestinian journalist, reporting to us from his home in Gaza City. You can follow his reports on Twitter. He is standing against the backdrop of his city, of Gaza City. In the background, you can see the power plant that is still smoking from the Israeli military attack over the last 24 hours. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Aaron Maté.

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