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“Hold Israel Accountable”: Palestinians Call on Int’l Community to Oppose Golan Heights Annexation

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington on Monday to meet with President Trump, who signed an order officially recognizing Israel’s control of the Golan Heights in defiance of international law. We speak with Budour Hassan, a Palestinian writer and project coordinator for the Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights, and Jehad Abusalim, scholar and policy analyst from Gaza. He runs the Gaza Unlocked campaign for the United States for the American Friends Service Committee.

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Israel has bombed Gaza for a third day in a row and mobilized dozens of tanks, raising fears that the Israeli government could launch another invasion. The latest airstrikes came earlier this morning, after Hamas announced it had reached an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Israel. Tension has been escalating for days in Gaza. On Friday, Israeli soldiers shot dead two Palestinians taking part in the weekly Great March of Return protests. Sixty-two other Palestinians were injured. On Sunday, Israeli air raids struck parts of Gaza, including a refugee camp. Then, on Monday, militants inside Gaza launched a series of homemade rockets toward Israel. One of those rockets hit a house north of Tel Aviv, injuring seven members of a British-Israeli family. Israel blamed Hamas for the rocket attack and retaliated by launching heavy airstrikes in Gaza City targeting the office of Hamas’s political leader and the group’s military intelligence headquarters. Seven Palestinians were reportedly injured in the strikes.

AMY GOODMAN: This all occurred as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington Monday to meet with President Trump, who signed an order Monday officially recognizing Israel’s control of the Golan Heights in defiance of international law. Netanyahu had been scheduled to address AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, today, but cut his trip short short due to the situation in Gaza and flew home. Speaking at the White House, Netanyahu defended Israel’s use of force.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Israel will not tolerate this. I will not tolerate this. And as we speak—as I told you, Mr. President, just now—Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression. I have a simple message to Israel’s enemies: We’ll do whatever we must do to defend our people and defend our state.

AMY GOODMAN: The tension in Gaza comes as Netanyahu faces an uphill battle ahead of the Israeli elections April 9th and as Hamas faces internal protests over recent tax increases and deteriorating living conditions.

To talk more about the situation in Gaza, as well as the Golan Heights and other issues, we’re joined by two guests. Jehad Abusalim is a scholar and policy analyst from Gaza. He’s joining us from Chicago, where he works on the Gaza Unlocked campaign run by the American Friends Service Committee. And in Jerusalem, Budour Hassan is with us. Budour is a Palestinian writer and project coordinator for the Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Budour Hassan, if you can start off by talking about what happened in Washington yesterday, President Trump signing, just before the Israeli elections, in which the embattled prime minister is running, though the attorney general of Israel says he’ll be indicting him—the significance of the annexation of the Golan—of the U.S. recognizing the annexation?

BUDOUR HASSAN: Yeah, by recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, the United States has turned itself into a pariah state, blessing and glorifying the violation of human rights. It’s obviously significant that after decades of refusing to recognize sovereignty, Donald Trump has given this massive election boost to Netanyahu by recognizing the sovereignty of the Golan Heights.

And what’s missing, though, Amy, from the coverage of the whole saga of recognizing the Golan Heights is no one actually is talking about the people of the Golan Heights, what they want and what they seek. And the people of the—the Syrian people in the Golan Heights have reiterated, time and time again, that this, their land, is Syrian. It’s not a disputed land. It’s not a contested land. It’s a Syrian land. And they have done everything in their power in order to defy Israel’s attempts to Judaize their land.

Since 1967, and especially since the annexation in 1981, the people of the Golan have risen up several times against Israel’s annexation. In 1982, actually, in February 1982, they’ve waged a 5-month general strike and a civil disobedience campaign that would go on to inspire Palestinians during the First Intifada, stressing that they refuse to hold Israeli identification cards and that they refuse all attempts to erase their Syrian identity. Again, in 2018, last October, Israel tried to impose municipal elections in the Golan Heights as a gesture of its sovereignty over their territory. And again Syrians in the occupied Golan Heights took to the streets in mass in order to oppose the holding electoral municipal elections in their lands and saying—stressing that they are Syrian.

During these decades, only just 6 percent of the entire residents of the Golan Heights have applied for Israeli citizenship, meaning that the vast majority of people, the overwhelming majority of Syrians in the Golan Heights, recognize and identify themselves as Syrians—again, despite Israel’s imposition of a curriculum that tries to erase Syrian identity and replace it with an artificial Jewish identity. We’re talking about 27,000 people living—mainly Syrian—living in the occupied Golan Heights who have been systematically discriminated against in terms of resources, whose resources have been exploited. We’re also talking about 230,000 Syrians who have been displaced in 1967, more than a half-million Syrian refugees from the Golan Heights who continue to be denied their right of return. We’re talking about families that have been fragmented between the Golan Heights and Syria. And we’re also talking about Israel’s continued exploitation of this resource-rich area and continued attempts to control and monopolize tourism and to claim sovereignty over the territory.

And Trump’s move recognizing, and signing this executive order, gives blessing to these continued violations and erases an entire people off the map. One friend in the Golan Heights had told me that it’s bizarre that a person who probably has never heard of the Golan Heights before that, he gives himself the right, entitles himself, to acknowledge Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan. It’s neither Trump’s to recognize this sovereignty, and it’s neither Israel’s to take. And this is—we’ve seen this happen in Jerusalem last year, when [the United States] moved its embassy, and except for a few rhetoric and few condemnation here and there, nothing actually happened. No punitive measures have been taken against the U.S. move to move its embassy to Jerusalem and to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. And if we only get rhetorics, the same will happen. And this is the danger. Obviously, people in the Golan will continue to resist and will continue to protest, as they’ve always done, but this is an extremely dangerous step. And this signals that the United States, again, doesn’t give any regard to human rights or to international law or to international humanitarian law.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to ask Jehad Abusalim of the American Friends Service Committee’s Gaza Unlocked campaign, your reaction to the president’s announcement, and specifically how the international community has—because we’ve often heard much more about the Israeli occupations in the West Bank and prior occupations in Gaza, but very little about the Golan Heights. How has the international community dealt with the Golan Heights? And also, what’s been the evolution of Israel’s own policies toward the Golan Heights?

JEHAD ABUSALIM: Thank you so much for having me.

I think what’s been happening in the Golan Heights is inseparable from Israel’s broader policies of seizing Arab and Palestinian land and continuing to control these lands. And the Golan Heights, like the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, you know, is a territory that have been—that the people there, like my colleague Budour said, their voices have been rendered unheard and silent over the years.

I think President Trump’s decision adds to the legacy of his administration and says much about the place of the occupation of Arab and Palestinian lands in the larger conversation in the U.S. today. This is a legacy of a president who separated refugee children on the border. This is a president who has been talking about building walls and separating people. This is a legacy of an administration that has been trying to separate people and divide them on the basis of their race and religion and so on. So, by rushing to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, President Trump gave Netanyahu a present, as part of boosting him for the sake of the upcoming elections in Israel. But this moment says much, says a lot about where the U.S. stands today and how do we view Israel—the United States’ role in the region.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But where does the rest of the international community stand on this?

JEHAD ABUSALIM: Well, unfortunately, we’re living in a global moment where there is rise of right-wing populism. There has been a decline in the ability of the international community, through the traditional institutions that have emerged after World War II, to at least exercise the minimum. And the minimum here, you know, we’re talking about condemnation. We’re talking about denouncing such steps. Unfortunately, the international community has been watching for a long time. And the inability of the international community to hold Israel accountable and to challenge the United States’ negative role, not only when it comes to the Palestinian issue—the Palestinian issue and the occupation of the Golan Heights is part of a larger package of how the United States behaves in the Middle East and how it exercises its foreign policy and what considerations inform that policy.

I think it’s about time for us to think about, and for the international community to think about, taking serious steps to challenge this approach and to challenge the United States and Israel and to hold Israel accountable and to act beyond condemnation and issuing statements. For long, the international community has been issuing statements of condemnations, and now, you know, fewer countries are talking about what’s going on in the Middle East, in Palestine, in Syria and so on. And I think this is the result of years and years of postponing the big issues and only highlighting certain aspects of the narrative and of the problem as it fit what, you know, the discourse is in the West. I think it’s about time to go beyond these narratives and to challenge the negative role the U.S. has played and to hold Israel accountable.

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