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“Reminiscent of South Africa’s Grand Apartheid”: Israeli Human Rights Group Slams Israel at U.N.

StoryOctober 22, 2018
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Shortly after Israel announced a new “zero tolerance” policy toward demonstrations in Gaza, some 130 Palestinians were injured Friday while protesting ongoing Israeli occupation and demanding the right of return. Four paramedics and 25 children were among the injured. Ten thousand protesters gathered along Israel’s heavily militarized separation barrier with Gaza as part of the weekly Great March of Return protests that began March 30. Since then, Israeli forces have killed at least 170 Palestinians, including more than 30 children, and injured thousands more. We speak with Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. He was in New York last week testifying before the U.N. Security Council officially for the first time.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We end today’s show with the ongoing siege on Gaza, after 130 Palestinians were injured Friday while protesting the ongoing Israeli occupation and demanding the right of return. Twenty-five children and four paramedics were among the injured. Israel announced it was implementing a, quote, “zero tolerance” policy towards protesters in Gaza shortly before 10,000 protesters gathered along Israel’s heavily militarized separation barrier with Gaza as part of their weekly Friday protests under the banner of the Great March of Return. The protests began March 30th. And since then, Israeli forces have killed at least 170 Palestinians, including more than 30 children, and injured tens of thousands more.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Israel has postponed the planned demolition of the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank after facing international condemnation. Last week, the International Criminal Court warned Israel that population transfers in occupied territories constitute war crimes.

We return now to Part 2 of our conversation with Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. He was in New York last week on Thursday, when he testified before the U.N. Security Council officially for the first time. I asked Hagai about his message to the world.

HAGAI EL-AD: So, what was key for us is really trying to spell out the daily reality for a Palestinian living under occupation, in the moments that don’t necessarily make the news, when soldiers enter a Palestinian home in the dead of night—and people abroad might assume that they have a search warrant or probable cause or something like that, but, no, military law gives almost any soldier the authority to enter any Palestinian home any time, and the army does—and a million other ways in which Palestinians, day in and day out, have absolutely no control over their lives, have no representation in the Israeli institutions that determine everything in the life of a Palestinian, and to try and explain that, to give flesh and blood to the meaning of living under that regime, not for a month, not for a year, not for a decade—an entire people for more than half a century in that reality.

AMY GOODMAN: And there you’re talking about the West Bank. In Gaza, people are being killed regularly. There’s the Great March of Return protests that began on March 30th. And your official figures for how many people the Israeli military has killed since then?

HAGAI EL-AD: It’s more than 170 fatalities. More than 30 of them were minors, under 18. Three of them were actually children. They were 11 years old. These are the youngest ones that were killed since March 30. And more than 5,300 that were injured from live gunfire.

But it’s really important for me to emphasize that Gaza is also another example of Israeli control. Israel controls everything between the river and the sea. In Gaza, the control is external. We decide what and who gets in and out of the Gaza Strip, except of the Rafah Crossing with Egypt that is closed most of the time. We control the population registry in Gaza. If you’re a Palestinian in Gaza and you need medical care—not necessarily even in Israel; you need medical care in the West Bank or in Jordan—you need an Israeli permit for that. We control everything in different ways, directly or indirectly.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about Israel’s plans to demolish the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar. On Monday, Israeli forces arrested four villagers, injured seven people, as they protested the arrival of the demolition teams. This is Bedouin villager Ahmad Abu Dahouk speaking last month.

AHMAD ABU DAHOUK: [translated] We ask all the free people in the Arab nation to react. It is a war crime. The Israeli authorities want to demolish and evacuate us. Are they going to send us to a better place? No, they will not. They will relocate us to a worse place.

AMY GOODMAN: He is speaking from Khan al-Ahmar. Explain what this place is and what’s happening.

HAGAI EL-AD: So this is just a few miles east of Jerusalem in a part of the West Bank known as Area C, that’s about 60 percent of the West Bank, and that’s in an area that has been high up on the Israeli list of priorities for a while to minimize Palestinians’ footprint there, to displace many Palestinians out of that area and to expand settlements in there. And it exposes, in great detail, the Israeli hypocrisy in its planning policies used against Palestinians living in the West Bank.

There was a letter by the Israeli ambassador, actually, to the Security Council just a day before my briefing, trying to articulate the Israeli argument, somehow, as if what is about to happen is legal. Why is it legal? Because the Palestinians have been building illegally. Why is it legal? Because this was backed by the Israeli High Court of Justice. Why is this legal? Because Israel was kind enough to offer relocation sites to the community. And all of this are just lies on top of distortions on top of lies.

Why are Palestinians building illegally? Because Israel created a planning regime that is meant to serve settlers and to dispossess Palestinians. If you’re a Palestinian in Area C in the West Bank, your chances of getting a building permit from Israeli authorities are around one in 100. Right? So Palestinians have no other choice, and that’s why they build without permission from Israeli authorities. And the Israeli High Court, when it makes a ruling that says that demolition orders are legal, while completely ignoring the context—that Palestinians cannot build legally in any way—doesn’t make that ruling just or sensible or even formally legal. It only makes the judges of the Israeli High Court complicit in what—if this indeed will take place—will be the war crime of forcible transfer of protected people in an occupied territory.

Khan al-Ahmar is the most visible example of this phenomenon these days, a community of some 200 people in that location with a school that serves other communities in the area. But this is happening not only now and not only in Khan al-Ahmar. This is part of a broader Israeli policy to take over as much Palestinian land, minimize Palestinians’ footprint, concentrate as many Palestinians as possible in the parts of the West Bank known as Area A and Area B, and then say that those areas, like Area A, “Hey, don’t worry about that. That’s where Palestinians are running their own lives,” when in fact what they’re talking about are isolated Bantustans that are getting more and more closed by further and further Israeli settlements in the rest of the West Bank.

And in the end, what you have is this picture in which Palestinian life and Palestinian territory and the Palestinian people and spirit are completely broken up into small, digestible, more easily controllable areas—Gaza separated from the West Bank, East Jerusalem walled off the rest of the West Bank, the West Bank itself chopped into these different segments.

AMY GOODMAN: You referenced apartheid in your speech to the U.N. Security Council. You said, “Take a look at the discriminatory planning mechanisms and the separate legal systems in the Occupied Territories. They are reminiscent of South Africa’s grand apartheid.”

HAGAI EL-AD: Yeah. We tried to make a nuanced point there, because often if you make that point, Israel will say, “How dare you compare these two realities? We don’t have laws that say that Palestinians and Israelis cannot sit on the same benches,” for instance. And indeed we don’t. But that’s why the distinction was made there between petty apartheid and grand apartheid, not those aspects of apartheid—the benches, the separate beaches and so on and so forth—and I’m not talking here about restrictions on movement, but to focus on the issue of the policies, the legal systems and, of course, voting rights.

AMY GOODMAN: You also wrote in Haaretz, “What are the Palestinians supposed to do? If they dare demonstrate, it’s popular terror. If they call for sanctions, it’s economic terror. If they pursue legal means, it’s judicial terror. If they turn to the United Nations, it’s diplomatic terror. It turns out [that] anything a Palestinian does besides getting up in the morning and saying 'Thank you, Rais'—’Thank you, master’–is terror.”

HAGAI EL-AD: Yeah. This has become so routine in Israel. This has become so normalized after 50 years, that people have difficulty even in accepting that basic rights—that people who live under oppression have the right to reject that reality. And any avenue that the Palestinians try is met with one form or another of condemnation.

But for Israel, this is part of a broader agenda. The agenda is not only to overcome Palestinian opposition to their oppression, but also to silence Israelis and to silence the international community. So, it goes further, right? You know, if an Israeli is against occupation, she or he must be traitors. If an international is speaking or acting against occupation, they must be anti-Semites, right? And I’m saying that with a lot of cynicism, but this is no laughing matter. This is actually quite an effective silencing mechanism that Israel is deploying continuously, all over the world.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, this week, the pope sainted Archbishop Romero, Óscar Romero, of El Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980. The last speech he gave before he was gunned down was heard throughout El Salvador on the radio. And he ordered the soldiers, he beseeched them, he pled with them, to put down their arms, to defy orders. He said, “Stop the repression.” In April, your group, B’Tselem, called on Israeli soldiers to refuse orders to shoot unarmed protesters. Did they heed?

HAGAI EL-AD: No. We published ads. This is actually also like a legal responsibility, a moral responsibility, not only, I think, from like any decent person, but also according to like Israelis’ own laws. If a soldier receives a flagrantly illegal command, he is duty-bound not to follow that command. And commands that order soldiers to fire at unarmed protesters that are not endangering anyone, from a distance, these are flagrantly illegal commands. They should not have been given. And the responsibility for that is with the country’s leadership, with the prime minister, defense minister, chief of staff. And that’s where the responsibility begins. That’s where the brunt of the responsibility is. But if such orders are given, soldiers are duty-bound not to follow such orders.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to an emergency room doctor who we interviewed. He is a Canadian doctor, and he went to Gaza to help Palestinians—the Palestinian-Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani, who was shot by Israeli forces in both legs while he was helping treat Palestinians injured by Israeli forces during the nonviolent Great March of Return. It was May 14th. It was a Monday. I asked Dr. Loubani—this is right after he was shot—if he felt he was targeted as a doctor.

DR. TAREK LOUBANI: I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know what orders they received or what was in their heads, so I can’t tell you if we were deliberately targeted. What I can tell you is the things that I do know. In the six weeks of the march, there were no paramedic casualties. And in one day, 19 paramedics—18 wounded plus one killed—and myself were all injured, so—or were all shot with live ammunition. We were all—Musa was actually in a rescue at the time, but everybody else I’ve talked to was like me. We were away during a lull, without smoke, without any chaos at all, and we were targeted—and we were, rather, hit by live ammunition, most of us in the lower limbs.

AMY GOODMAN: So that was Dr. Tarek Loubani, the Canadian-Palestinian doctor. We spoke to him just after he was shot. The man he was talking about, paramedic Musa Abuhassanin, was shot and killed by Israeli forces. He was shot in the chest. Dr. Loubani tweeted a photo captioned “A haunting photo, Friday, May 11. Left: Mohammed Migdad, shot in the right ankle. Hassan Abusaada. Tarek Loubani, shot in left leg and right knee. Moumin Silmi. Youssef Almamlouk. Musa Abuhassanin, shot in the thorax and killed. Volunteer unknown. Photographer: shot and wounded.” He said this was a photo they had just taken so they could have for their scrapbooks. Talk about this, Hagai.

HAGAI EL-AD: There’s a lot of information also about additional incidents, and I invite viewers to go to the B’Tselem website and read more data and analysis on this reality. What I would want to add is that one can rest assured that, in all likelihood, no one is going to be held accountable to any of these killings. Israel has a well-lubricated whitewashing mechanism that doesn’t really investigate. It performs what looks like an investigation in order to push against international legal authority. Sometimes it will take a very long time until they will close the case, sometimes a shorter time. But based on our data analysis, more than a decade of working on such issues both in the West Bank and in Gaza, more than 97 percent of the time, no one will be held accountable.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about the criticism that you’ve faced in Israel. Two years ago, our guest, Hagai El-Ad, spoke first before the United Nations Security Council. The Israeli government threatened to revoke his citizenship. He was then barred from speaking at Israeli schools. Then, this is Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon speaking yesterday.

DANNY DANON: [translated] Mr. El-Ad, you are a citizen of the state of Israel who serves our enemies. They are using you against us. IDF soldiers protect you, and you come here and smear them. Shame on you. Shame on you, you collaborator.

AMY GOODMAN: “Shame on you, you collaborator,” the Israeli ambassador to the U.N. said. Hagai El-Ad, your response?

HAGAI EL-AD: He said it in Hebrew. No one could understand that in real time at the Security Council chamber, and of course he knew that. He was talking to an Israeli audience back home when he was saying that. Twenty seconds before that, he was speaking in English from the same very seat, celebrating Israeli “democracy,” because, “Hey, we have human rights organizations such as B’Tselem that get to present before the Security Council.”

It’s a perfect example of Israeli hypocrisy at its worst, in the sense that democracy is reduced to a product for export. That’s what we celebrate abroad—”the only democracy in the Middle East”—but at home, going after the traitors, trying to silence the opposition to the occupation—both things at the same time.

By this point, I’m already used to having both of these voices, but usually it will be the prime minister and then someone else speaking five days later somewhere else. Right? But to have the same person, within less than a minute, do “democracy” in English, “collaborator” in Hebrew—absolutely amazing. But to have like a deep understanding of how cynical that is, that’s all you need to look at.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the Trump administration? Has it changed what’s happening on the ground in Israel and the Occupied Territories? What about the Trump administration’s relationship—President Trump, Jared Kushner’s relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu? Prime Minister Netanyahu’s inner circle is increasingly being arrested, the latest charges brought against his own wife, moving in on Benjamin Netanyahu himself. And we see, you know, something similar happening in the United States with an investigation of President Trump. But what’s happening?

HAGAI EL-AD: I don’t want to over-credit Trump and Netanyahu. They haven’t begun this. They have both inherited this reality that has begun many years before that in Israel by governments left, right and center that were part of the occupation project. I don’t want to shy away from that history and that context.

At the same time, of course Trump is making everything much worse, in the sense, in Israel, of like this government, that not only they have a green light from the White House to basically get away with almost anything they want to do, but in fact that what they have here is, from their perspective, a concern, a limited-time window of opportunity in which to advance Israel’s occupation project with no fear of consequences from the U.S., with no fear of anything happening at the Security Council because of the American veto. And that is scary.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, in New York last week, where he testified before the U.N. Security Council officially for the first time.

I’ll be speaking in Aliso Viejo in Orange County, California, Wednesday night at Soka University. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Thanks for joining us.

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