The Occupation Is a Crime of Aggression: Gazans React After 25 Palestinians, 4 Israelis Die

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Leaders in Israel and Gaza have reportedly reached a ceasefire agreement after an intense three days of fighting left 25 Palestinians and four Israelis dead. Palestinian authorities said the dead in Gaza included two pregnant women, a 14-month-old girl and a 12-year-old boy. The latest round of violence began on Friday. According to The Washington Post, Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinian protesters taking part in the weekly Great March of Return, which began 13 months ago. Palestinians then reportedly shot and wounded two Israeli soldiers near the border. In response, Israel carried out an airstrike on a refugee camp, killing two Palestinian militants. The heaviest combat took place on Saturday and Sunday as militants in Gaza fired about 700 rockets into Israel while Israel launched airstrikes on over 350 targets inside Gaza. The weekend has been described as the heaviest combat in the region since the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza. Residents in Gaza fear the ceasefire will not last. We go to Gaza City to speak with Raji Sourani, award-winning human rights lawyer and the director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. We also speak with Jehad Abusalim, a scholar and policy analyst from Gaza who works for the American Friends Service Committee’s Gaza Unlocked campaign.

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AMY GOODMAN: Leaders in Israel and Gaza have reportedly reached a ceasefire agreement after an intense three days of fighting that left 25 Palestinians and four Israelis dead. Palestinian authorities said the dead in Gaza included two pregnant women, a 14-month-old girl and a 12-year-old boy.

The latest round of violence began on Friday. According to The Washington Post, Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinian protesters taking part in the weekly Great March of Return, which began 13 months ago. Palestinians then reportedly shot and wounded two Israeli soldiers near the border. In response, Israel carried out an airstrike on a refugee camp, killing two Palestinian militants. The heaviest combat took place Saturday and Sunday as militants in Gaza fired about 700 rockets into Israel while Israel launched airstrikes on over 350 targets inside Gaza. The weekend has been described as the heaviest combat in the region since the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza. Residents there fear the ceasefire will not last.

MAHMOUD AL-WEHDI: [translated] This truce will be the same as the previous ones. Each time, there is a truce for a week or two, and then they are back to fighting again. This is how it has been throughout the history of the Palestinian people. We are suffering from the fight. Airstrikes that target civilians, they strike residential buildings, and we are left with our clothes we are wearing. There was no time to take personal stuff.

AMY GOODMAN: The violence comes at a time when Israel is facing accusations it’s reneged on an agreement to ease the devastating 12-year blockade on Gaza. In late March, Israel and Hamas agreed to a deal brokered by Egypt for Israel to expand the fishing zone for Palestinians off the coast of Gaza, but Israel shrank the fishing zone last week. The Israeli rights group Gisha described the move as an act of collective punishment.

To talk about the crisis in Gaza, we go to Gaza City, where we’re joined by Raji Sourani, an award-winning human rights lawyer. He’s the director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza and a member of the executive board of the International Federation for Human Rights. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1991. He was also twice named an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. I know there will be a delay between my questions and Raji Sourani’s response, so I hope folks will bear with us as he speaks to us from Gaza City, where a ceasefire has just gone into effect, which allowed Raji Sourani to even make it to the studio.

Raji Sourani, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you describe this latest escalation of violence, what you understand took place?

RAJI SOURANI: Thank you. Thank you, being with you. And, yes, the situation in Gaza in the last three days was rather mission impossible to move anywhere in Gaza, and it was no single place a safe haven in Gaza. The Israelis bombed everywhere, from south to north. And basically, and as usual, in the eye of the storm were the civilians and the civilian targets. That’s why the situation was very tense. And, of course, a mere resistance in Gaza, I mean, retaliated with hundreds of rockets against Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you explain, when Israel says that it hit 350 military targets, what those targets are?

RAJI SOURANI: That’s nonsense, because a bunch of Hamas and Jihad activists was being killed, I mean, by the Israelis; the rest, the overwhelming majority, of those who has been killed or injured are entirely civilians, civilian people, including two pregnant women, children and many other civilians. There is an entire family in northern part of Gaza erased. I mean, they don’t exist anymore—father, mother and their children. Same thing happened in the middle area.

So, basically, Israel knocked down, I mean, many of towers in Gaza, where it’s entirely residential areas for very, very ordinary people. And that’s why there is hundreds, if not thousands, of people are in the street right now after their towers and apartments has been destroyed. Gaza is one of the most heavily populated area on Earth, and the density of population incredible. And Israel was like elephant in the garden bombing, shooting everywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: On Sunday evening, President Trump tweeted, “Once again, Israel faces a barrage of deadly rocket attacks by terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. We support Israel 100% in its defense of its [citizens],” he said. Trump continued, “To the Gazan people — these terrorist acts against Israel will bring you nothing but more misery. END the violence and work towards peace–it can happen!” Raji Sourani, your response?

RAJI SOURANI: Well, I think President Trump is the last one who should speak about peace and who should speak about terrorism. And I think what he’s doing against Palestinian people, against Palestinians, goes against international law, international humanitarian law. It is evil and unacceptable by all meanings and standards. I don’t want to dig deep into history. I don’t want to go back to a year ago when he promised Israel of having Jerusalem as its capital, which is totally illegal and unacceptable, by not Palestinians, but by international community and by international law. When his security adviser threatened—threatened—the International Criminal Court prosecutors and judges, and they gave a promise that they will hold accountable any of them who take any decisions against U.S. or Israel for the war crimes they are doing, and he expired their visas and promised to freeze their accounts and take even further procedure against them, he’s not the one who can talk about terrorism. He is doing, effectively, rule of jungle, not the rule of law.

And if he’s talking precisely about Gaza and what had happened here, Israel do war crimes and crimes against humanity for the last 20 years or so. They are doing it in the daylight. It’s not we, the Palestinian, who are saying that; it’s the Palestinian-Israeli international human rights organizations, and it’s the U.N. bodies, including Human Rights Council and the U.N. Commission of Inquiry, who says Israel do war crimes. And they are safe, and they are doing it once and again, because they feel they are immune, Israel and its leaders feeling fully immune, because the American administration, especially Trump administration, will provide them with full legal, political immunities. They have a free hand. They are doing these things in the daylight. They practice rule of jungle, and they are not held accountable at all.

AMY GOODMAN: On Sunday, Congressmember Ilhan Omar tweeted, “How many more protesters must be shot, rockets must be fired, and little kids must be killed until the endless cycle of violence ends? The status quo of occupation and humanitarian crisis in Gaza is unsustainable. Only real justice can bring about security and lasting peace,” said Congressmember Ilhan Omar.

Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the daughter of the former Vice President Dick Cheney, attacked Omar, tweeting back, quote, “1. Hamas controls Gaza. 2. Hamas is firing rockets at civilians in Israel. 3. @IlhanMN is defending Hamas. Real question is how many times will @IlhanMN rush to the defense of terrorists?” Raji Sourani, can you talk about the role of Islamic Jihad and Hamas and also the Great March of Return, that has gone on for more than a year, every Friday after prayers?

RAJI SOURANI: Almost a month ago, the Commission of Inquiry, which was formed by the U.N. Human Rights Council, concluded its report, and they said, in a clear-cut and unequivocal way, Palestinians do have the right of freedom of expression. Palestinians do have the right to have their demonstrations. Nobody have the right to tell them where to do it, whether on the border or in Gaza. These demonstrations, for one full year, in five designated areas provided for these peaceful demonstrations, were entirely peaceful, and no evidence whatsoever, after a full, thorough investigation by the Commission of Inquiry, showed that there was any level of violence has been practiced. Not a single Israeli soldier life has been threatened, and no Israeli soldier was injured or killed in these five designated area where peaceful demonstration took place.

But the Commission of Inquiry and all the human rights organizations—Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, FIDH, EuroMed, Human Rights Network, Palestinian-Israeli—that the Israeli did war crimes, crimes against humanity, by snipers, who saw surely the bodies, faces, the signs, of the children they killed, of the women they killed, of the nurses, of the handicapped, of the old and young people, who were demonstrating hundreds of meters away from these Israeli soldiers, where they didn’t pose any sort of threat. So Israel wanted this. Israel wanted to kill and shoot at children, nurses, women, the civilians, who demonstrated for one year almost, to say one thing: We cannot tolerate this criminal, illegal, inhuman siege, which, considered by international law, by international humanitarian law, by Geneva Conventions and by the International Criminal Court, it’s a crime against humanity, cannot be tolerated.

They suffocated us. Thirteen years, we are unable to move in or out of Gaza. Gaza turned to be the biggest man-made disaster. Due to that, we cannot treat our water. We cannot treat our sewage. We cannot treat our electricity. Israel said 13 years ago, “We will send Gaza to the Middle Ages.” And they effectively did. People of Gaza are disconnected from the outside world. We have 90% of the population under poverty line, 85% of the population shifted to be receiving rations from UNRWA and other charities. There are 65% unpaid or unemployed. This is the biggest man-made disaster. And it’s not because we are so. We have one of the highest percent of university graduates in the world. We have no illiteracy. We have a skilled working class. We have very strong business community. But Israel wanted to send us to the Middle Ages, and effectively they did. They said that once and again.

Hamas and Jihad Islamic, they are part of us, part of the Palestinian political spectrum. They are part of the resistance against the occupation. After 70 years of Nakba, more than 50 years of occupation and 25 years of Oslo Accords, nobody—nobody—talking about end of the occupation—occupation, a crime of aggression. And the Israeli occupation is not holy. This is a crime and should end. Palestinians deserve dignity and freedom. Israel, instead of that, they are taking Jerusalem—Jerusalem, they ruled it out, and it’s theirs, de facto and de jure, after serious ethnic cleansing for Palestinians in Jerusalem and the process of Judaization. So, they ruled out Jerusalem, and Jerusalem now, de facto and de jure, not negotiable. West Bank, 70% of it, the Israeli laws are applied in it, in the settlements. And what’s left, I mean, almost 30%, and not a single Israeli leader in the last elections said that there will be a Palestinian state in the west of Jordanian River. It’s vice versa. All of them said, “No Palestinian state.”

Regarding Gaza, Gaza, it’s like animal farm, after this criminal, illegal, inhuman siege and suffocation and three wars launched in five years, and after all these measures against the Palestinian civilians. The Palestinian civilians, they are in the eye of the storm, and they are the target by Israel. If they are targeting Hamas or Jihad or Fatah or PFLP, we, as human rights organizations, have nothing to do with that. Because they are part of resistance, they have rules of engagements to deal with. But when we are talking, we are talking about bold, clear-cut war crimes, crimes against humanity, happening against Palestinian civilians. And they are the ones who are in the eye of the storm, and that’s why Israel doing something ugly, bad, when they do the policy of rule of jungle against the Palestinian civilians.

AMY GOODMAN: Raji Sourani, we have to break, but we’re going to come back to this discussion, award-winning human rights lawyer, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, on the executive board of the International Federation for Human Rights, received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1991 in Washington, D.C. He is speaking to us from Gaza City. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Between the Bars” by Elliott Smith. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. We’re joined by Raji Sourani, award-winning human rights lawyer, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. He’s speaking to us from Gaza City, was able to make it to the broadcast studio because a ceasefire has been declared. Since Friday, the numbers vary, but it’s believed 25 Palestinians have been killed, four Israelis have been killed, in the latest escalation of violence.

Jehad Abusalim is also with us, a scholar and policy analyst from Gaza. He’s now working in the United States for the American Friends Service Committee’s Gaza Unlocked campaign. He’s speaking to us from Chicago.

I wanted to ask about the comments of Jared Kushner this past week in a 45-minute conversation, though he rarely speaks publicly, at the Washington Institute on Near East Policy, where he said, “If you say 'two-state,' it means one thing to Israelis, it means one thing to the Palestinians. Let’s just say—we said, 'You know, let's just not say it. Let’s just say, let’s work on the details of what this means.’” What he’s talking about is, supposedly, the Trump administration is releasing a peace plan at the end of Ramadan, which begins on Monday. Jehad Abusalim, have you been following this conversation, what this peace plan looks like? And your response to what’s taken place in Gaza over the last few days?

JEHAD ABUSALIM: Mr. Kushner’s peace plan is going to be nothing but an affirmation and formalization of the status quo and of the reality that exists on the ground right now. What Kushner and the Trump administration want to do is basically make sure that the facts on the ground that Israel has created over the past decades are to be considered formal and to continue and for the status quo to be perpetuated.

And for Palestinians, this will not change things, because Palestinians already experience these conditions on a daily basis. For Palestinians in the West Bank, they deal, on a daily basis, with the settlement enterprise, which has been expanding continuously, nonstop seizing Palestinian land and turning Palestinian cities, towns and villages into open-air prisons surrounded by walls, checkpoints and fences. And in the Gaza Strip, the blockade will continue, rendering the lives of more than 2 million people into a living hell. These policies, these facts that were created on the ground, will continue with Kushner’s peace plan or without it, because these are realities that Palestinians experience on a daily basis.

And what’s happening in the Gaza Strip is inseparable from this nonstop system of violence that has been targeting Palestinian lives and perpetuating their suffering and pain. I joined your show almost a month ago to talk about a surge of violence in Gaza and around Gaza. And between the beginning of March and—the end of March and the beginning of May, although Gaza did not make it to the headlines, the situation in Gaza was still unbearable. The media only pays attention to what’s going on in Gaza only when there is military violence. But for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, as Mr. Sourani explained earlier, the reality is that they’re experiencing violence on a daily basis.

Every minute that passes in Gaza is a minute of violence. Every moment that passes is a moment of violence. When people are deprived of their basic rights, they’re unable to travel, to move freely, to secure their basic necessities, this is violence. And the surge of violence that we just witnessed over the past few days is nothing but a manifestation of frustration on the part of Palestinians as they are trying to tell the world that their suffering and pain shall not go unheard of.

AMY GOODMAN: Jehad, I want to bring back Raji one more time, because we’ll lose him on the broadcast satellite. Raji Sourani, the Middle East regional director for Save the Children, Jeremy Stoner, has said, “We may have entered the most serious stage in this crisis since the 2014 Gaza war.” You’ve suggested these attacks are even worse than what happened in 2014 during the so-called Operation Protective Edge. Your final comments on what you think needs to happen now?

RAJI SOURANI: Well, what we need, not a big thing; basic, fundamental thing. I mean, all what we want is freedom of movement for goods and individuals. Is that too much? Freedom of goods and—for movement of goods and individuals between Gaza and the West Bank and between Gaza, West Bank and the outside world. That’s all what we need.

We are the stones of the valley. We have been here ever, and we will continue here forever. And I’m not worried about our fate, about our destiny. We will not give up, and we have no right to give up. We have just, fair and right cause. We know that there is total imbalance in power between us and Israel, between us and Israel and its ally. But we know we are in the right side of history, and we know we have just, fair, right cause. We know that tomorrow is ours, irrelevant of the status quo and what’s going on at this time of the history.

We will continue having our moral, legal, ethical superiority on a criminal occupation. Who do war crime on the daylight against, very unfortunately, civilians, civilian people? They didn’t conclude lesson of history. They didn’t understand even what happened with them in the Second World War. And we turned to be the victims of the victim. International law, international humanitarian law and human rights, it’s not something invented by the Palestinians. We didn’t invent the ICC. This is the crème de la crème of the human experience. We have, rightly, the right to use it and to use its protection for us. All what we need, rule of law, not the rule of jungle Israel is practicing against Palestine people.

AMY GOODMAN: Raji Sourani, we want to—

RAJI SOURANI: That’s what we want.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much—

RAJI SOURANI: We want a protection for civilians.

AMY GOODMAN: —for being with us from Gaza City.

RAJI SOURANI: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: The Palestinian Center for Human Rights there in Gaza. And, Jehad Abusalim, Ramadan begins today. Do you expect the ceasefire to hold? And what are your—what is your message to the U.S. Congress, as you live here now?

JEHAD ABUSALIM: I don’t think the ceasefire will hold, because when we talk about violence in Gaza or in Palestine in general, so long as the conditions that produce violence are in place, we will not cease to witness new surges of violence. And like there was escalation more than a month ago and like there was escalation over this weekend, we are going to witness more of these escalations in the coming new months. And I am afraid that we actually might witness a large-scale confrontation this year. And the reason here is that so long as the root causes of why there is violence and why there is frustration in Palestine are not addressed by the international community and by the concerned parties, there will never be a situation where calm and quiet and peace will be the rule and not the exception.

And this, you know, takes us back to the issue of the blockade. When there is a ceasefire in Gaza—and this has been the experience of people over the past months and years—even when there is a ceasefire, the blockade does not cease to affect people’s lives on a daily basis. I mean, like I mentioned earlier, the fact that military confrontation is put to an end temporarily, that does not necessarily mean that people’s lives improve in Gaza. We’re still dealing with unemployment. We are still dealing with collective trauma as a result of these large-scale bombardment campaigns. We are still dealing with people’s inability to have their basic rights, such as freedom of movement, electricity, water and so on. So, unfortunately, the current political formulas that are put in place, mainly by the U.S. administration, do everything but addressing the root causes of why there is injustice in Palestine.

And my message to the U.S. Congress is very clear and simple: Palestinians deserve to live in dignity. Palestinians deserve to have life like any ordinary people in the world. And it’s unfair that the world continues to watch as Palestinians in the Gaza Strip suffer under this illegal form of collective punishment that is the Israeli blockade, and Palestinians in the West Bank continue to suffer on a daily basis, on check—

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank Jehad Abusalim, scholar and policy analyst from Gaza. Just lost his satellite feed, as well. He now works in the United States with the American Friends Service Committee’s Gaza Unlocked campaign.

This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in 30 seconds to talk about a new piece out at The Intercept, “The Complete Mercenary,” about Erik Prince. Stay with us.

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