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Hanan Ashrawi & Rashid Khalidi: U.S. Backing Has Given Israel License to Kill & Maim Palestinians

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Palestinian scholar Hanan Ashrawi says Israel’s latest assault on Gaza is turning life in the besieged territory into “sheer hell,” aided by U.S. military and diplomatic support. “Israel has total license to use unbridled power to kill and destroy and maim and get away with it,” Ashrawi says. We also speak with Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University, who says President Joe Biden’s continued defense of Israeli actions reflects long-standing erasure and dehumanization of Palestinians. “One wonders what proportion you have to have of Arab deaths, of Palestinian deaths, over Israeli deaths. Is it 20 to 1 before the United States finally begins to recognize that this is not legitimate self-defense?” Khalidi says. “This is a perfect illustration of the bias that has been a feature of American policy for many, many years.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

As we continue to look at Israel’s assault on Gaza and the Palestinian uprising, we’re joined by two guests. In New York, Rashid Khalidi is Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University. He’s the author of several books, including his latest, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine. And in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi joins us, longtime Palestinian diplomat and scholar, formerly an Executive Committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the first woman to hold a seat in the highest executive body in Palestine. She also served as the official spokesperson of the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace process.

We welcome both of you back to Democracy Now! Let’s begin in Ramallah with Dr. Hanan Ashrawi. On Thursday, the Israeli Defense Forces, the IDF, put out a one-line tweet: ”IDF air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip.” Can you talk about what’s happening there now and the significance of both the attacks there and also the mob attacks throughout other parts of Israel and the Occupied Territories?

HANAN ASHRAWI: Yeah. Well, what the Israeli occupation forces did was once again target an area that is the most densely populated area in the world, that is under a state of siege. They have nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. They don’t have sirens. They don’t have shelters. They don’t have a air force. And, of course, they have no protection whatsoever. And they started bombing and shelling, by air primarily. And they destroyed three — first, three major high-rise buildings with residential apartments, and then they continued. This is a pattern that continued. They escalated. They’re destroying roads and streets, infrastructure, electricity and so on. And they’re turning life in Gaza, which was already a disaster area as a result of the siege — they’re turning it into sheer hell.

And as you’ve mentioned, there were so many people killed, it’s not — I mean, it’s difficult for us to talk about statistics, but when I read stories, when I see pictures of whole families, a mother and her three kids, bombed, shelled, destroyed, killed brutally in their own homes, in their own beds, this is what the reality of living under occupation is, under a state of siege, where Israel has total license to use unbridled power to kill and destroy and maim and get away with it.

And then you get people like Biden and others say Israel has the right to self-defense. I will repeat something I’ve said and I continue to say: There is no normalcy under occupation. This is an abnormal situation. And an occupier who’s oppressing a whole people cannot claim self-defense if its victims decide to strike back even in a minimal way. The real issue is the occupation.

Now we are seeing — not just in Gaza, we are seeing horrific scenes, of course, of death and murder and destruction. We are seeing also in the West Bank there are protest marches ongoing in every town, city and village. You’re seeing in Jerusalem, again, the Israeli border guards, the Israeli security are targeting individuals. They’re killing — they’re shooting at Palestinians. They have injured scores of them and arrested many. In historic Palestine, in what we call 1948 Palestine, which became Israel, the indigenous Palestinians again are being targeted. They are in a — they’re being beaten up, actually, by Jewish Israelis because they happen not to be Jewish, because Israel legislated a basic law called the nation-state law, in which it says only Jews have the right to self-determination, which meant even Palestinians who were in Palestine before Israel was created, and although they are Israeli citizens, have no rights whatsoever. This is legalized discrimination and apartheid, very clearly.

So, as a result of decades of discrimination and oppression and so on, the Palestinians in all major areas, cities, towns and so on, in '48 Palestine, are now protesting, because they are facing the violence of the Israeli — ironically, the Israeli settlers, who came from the West Bank. It's not enough that they’re stealing our land, that they’re illegally building colonies and settlements in the West Bank. They are fully armed. They are never held to account. And they are always protected by the Israeli army in the West Bank. Now they have been imported, particularly the most extreme, racist wing, the Lehava group, that has been emboldened by and adopted, actually, by Netanyahu. And they are wreaking havoc within Israel, within what they call the mixed towns and cities, wherever they can find Palestinians, even though they are supposed to have the same passports or nationality as Israelis. They are totally vulnerable. And the Israeli security — Netanyahu actually also imported not just the settlers into Israel, but also the border guards, which means he is treating all of historical Palestine like an occupied territory. He’s treating Lydda, Ramle, Akka, Haifa, Jaffa, all these towns and villages, as though they are part of an occupied territory, which means Israel is reoccupying Palestine. This is a pattern.

But now it has come to a head because now Palestinians everywhere are united in their opposition to oppression, to injustice, to violence, to cruelty and brutality. You have them, as I said, in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, in the Gaza Strip and within Israel, '48 Palestine, and all over the world. Now Palestinians in the States and in Washington and Manhattan, New York, in Chicago, in different places, are also protesting, along with their allies, along with this amazing solidarity network that is emerging in the U.S., as well as in Europe and in the Arab world. So, there is this unity of identity, unity of struggle, despite the differences of injustice. It's not — you can be under occupation, you can be suffering also from discrimination and apartheid, you can be facing an army, you can be suffering exile, dispossession and refugee status, but you all know that the source of your oppression is the same. And that’s why we [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I wanted to bring — I want to bring Professor Khalidi into this conversation. And he’s here in New York. And speaking of the United States and its role, I wanted to play a clip of President Joe Biden reiterating his support for Israel’s military attack on Gaza, shrugging off concerns over the mounting Palestinian death toll.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: And one of the things that I have seen thus far is that there has not been a significant overreaction.

AMY GOODMAN: Biden did not mention Palestine or Palestinians during Thursday’s remarks from the White House. And the Biden administration has stopped the United Nations on several occasions this week, the Security Council, from taking up a resolution. Can you talk about this, Professor Khalidi?

RASHID KHALIDI: Yeah. Well, one wonders what proportion you have to have of Arab deaths, of Palestinian deaths, over Israeli deaths. Is it 20 to 1 before the United States finally begins to recognize that this is not legitimate self-defense? We’re currently at about 11 to 1, 119 Palestinians killed in Gaza as against nine Israelis. And the biased rhetoric from American leaders, American politicians continues. I think that this is a perfect illustration of the bias that has been a feature of American policy for many, many years. You have in Washington an entrenched view, going back to what Hanan just said and what Representative Tlaib just said, that the Palestinians are less than human, are not important, they don’t really count. Thirty-one children have been killed. One Israeli child has been killed. Any child being killed is a tragedy. But that does not penetrate the consciousness of the politicians who make statements like this, whether the president or the secretary of state or the secretary of defense. And I think it’s tragic that a country that claims to be in support of human rights universally should basically consider a whole group of people less human and less entitled to rights.

I think that what’s happening all over historic Palestine today has brought us back to basics. I mean, it’s really tragic that it should have taken this kind of ordeal for everybody, but in particular for Palestinians. But it has brought us back to the understanding that things that were done back in 1948, things that have been done since 1948, whether the occupation of '67 or whether the Nakba of 1948, have echoed and echoed and echoed down to the present, what happened in Jerusalem in Al-Aqsa, what happened in Sheikh Jarrah, what's happening now.

Gaza is not just 2 million people in a strip of land 356 square miles. These are people who were driven from their homes in 1948 and who have been denied permission to return to those homes and have been stripped of their property by Israeli laws. Nobody talks about this in Washington. Nobody talks about the fact that — a terrible attack on a synagogue, which happened, for example, in Lyd, a city that Israelis call Lod, has been featured in all the American media. The third-holiest mosque in Islam, built in the eighth century, has been attacked repeatedly. Stun grenades, tear gas bombs have been fired into the precincts of the mosque as worshipers are praying in Ramadan. I haven’t heard a peep out of an American official about this.

So, we’re really talking about something that at the top, at least, of the American political pyramid, in my view, is really quite disgraceful. And I think things are changing at the bottom. I think people are fully aware of the complete iniquity in the way in which the United States deals with this. And I think they’re beginning to be aware of the fact that the American weapons being used to kill 31 children in Gaza and another 80 people, others, most of them civilians, are being used in violation of U.S. law. U.S. law dictates that those weapons be used solely for defensive purposes. So, when American officials bleat about Israel is engaged in self-defense, what they’re doing is not just protecting Israel, they’re protecting themselves, because otherwise those arms sales would be illegal, and they would be complicit in illegal actions. So, I think that it’s disgraceful that we should hear such statements. But it is really interesting that other voices are beginning to be heard in the United States and around the world protesting this.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see a difference, Professor Khalidi, between the Trump administration and the Biden administration, between President Trump and President Biden, in dealing with Israel?

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, of course there are differences, but they play the same tune. They play it in a different register. The Trump administration essentially adopted the most extreme tenets of the most extreme Israeli government in history. It’s a government that intends to create one Jewish supremacy state in the entirety of what they call the land of Israel. That’s the Netanyahu agenda. And the Trump administration signed on to that completely.

This administration, however, is still committed to the same kind of bedrock inequalities that every American administration for decades has supported, whether this involves not talking about Palestinians at all, as no administration official has done all week, or whether this involves a kind of acceptance of Israeli terms, like Israel’s security. Israel’s security is seen to mandate the killing of 119 people, most of them civilians, a dozen women and 31 children. That kind of thing, it was shared — that kind of logic, I should say, is shared between all of the American administrations, really —

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about —

RASHID KHALIDI: — for many decades.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about going back decades. I wanted to go back to 1986, what, like, more than 35 years ago, when then-Senator Joe Biden talked about U.S. support for Israel, saying if Israel did not exist, the U.S. would have to invent an Israel to defend its interests in the region. This is what he said.

SEN. JOE BIDEN: We look at the Middle East. I think it’s about time we stop, those of us who support, as most of us do, Israel in this body, for apologizing for our support for Israel. There’s no apology to be made. None. It is the best $3 billion investment we make. Were there not an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interest in the region. The United States would have to go out and invent an Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator Biden in 1986. Has he changed his view? And talk about what he is saying, Professor Khalidi.

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, what he’s saying is that Israel operates as a proxy of the United States in the Middle East. And what he’s also saying is, “Vote for me and continue to give me campaign donations.” That’s unspoken. And those two elements in support for Israel, both in the Democratic Party and in the Republican Party, have been constants.

The search for a strategic role for Israel sometimes has gotten pretty desperate, because Israel in fact harms American interests, in many cases, in the Middle East. But the pretext which, during the Cold War — Biden was speaking in ’86 at the very end of the Cold War. During the Cold War, it could be argued, “Well, Israel is an American proxy, and there are Soviet proxies,” and so on. Those feeble pretexts for arguing for a strategic role for Israel as benefiting the United States, those have disappeared since the Cold War.

Since then, unfortunately, the so-called war on terror has taken the place of that. And Israel has managed to merge into American concerns that were sparked by the 9/11 attacks and the rise of the Islamic State and so forth, in order to sell itself to Americans — Netanyahu is a master salesman in this regard — as a valuable ally in the war on terror. In fact, American support for Israel probably provokes a lot of terrorism. Israeli actions, we know, provoke resistance. Colonial settler regimes always provoke resistance. If you dispossess people, they’re going to resist. Native Americans did the same thing. Africans facing settler colonialism did the same thing. Palestinians have resisted. And this resistance, coded as terrorism, is then turned into a pretext for arguing that Israel is vital to American interests. Well, if you did not have this settler colonial process of dispossession, which has been going on since 1948, you would not have the resistance, and you would not have what is being called terrorism by American politicians.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, can you talk about what you think is going to happen over these next few days, and particularly tomorrow, the significance of the day, tomorrow, as well as these attacks happening during Ramadan and the end of Ramadan?

HANAN ASHRAWI: Well, of course, it’s expected. Tomorrow is the commemoration of Al-Nakba, in which — the date in which Israel was formally formed or created on the land of Palestine. But it’s not the beginning of Palestinian suffering, because the Zionist enterprise started way before that, and not just even with the Balfour Declaration of [ 1917 ] and so on. There has always been an attempt at dispossessing Palestinians, displacing them and replacing them with another nation.

And the extremist Zionist ideology actually gained more and more traction, and has been adopted now ’til now, in a process of negation of a whole nation — our land, our history, our culture, even our very physical presence, our identity — and replacing them, replacing us, with a new narrative, with a new people that came from outside Palestine, at the expense of the Palestinian people, without any kind of curbs or engagement or accountability.

So, to the Palestinian people, the date Al-Nakba signals a process. It probably is in the middle of this process, but it is always ongoing. And as you have seen in the protests in '48 Palestine, the Zionist ideology does seek to displace and replace a whole people. It is not — it is a settler colonial enterprise. It has acted [inaudible] protection as a colonial — a Western colonial outpost. It has been a functional state, let's say, for the remnants of Western colonialism. And the U.S. —

AMY GOODMAN: So, what do you think needs to happen now?

HANAN ASHRAWI: I think what needs to happen is to provide two things: Palestinians need protection in accordance with the law, and Israel needs accountability in accordance with the law. The problem is it has been emboldened. It has been given license to act with full impunity. It has become the primary source of identification and support, these refrains that Rashid talked about where — you know, Israel’s right to self-defense, which is absolutely bizarre and unconscionable. This is one thing, in addition to the fact that the pro-Israel lobby, as well as other factors, self-interest in terms of elections and so on — all these things have worked together in order to give Israel preferential treatment and immunity to act with full impunity. What needs to be done is to treat Palestinians with full recognition of our rights to freedom, to dignity, to live in our own land, to self-determination, actually, and to stop treating Israel as a country governed by international law and humanitarian law. This is one.

The U.S. — of course, we’re not going to expect miraculous transformations. We know that the Biden administration has bent over backwards now in order to prevent any kind of an intervention or engagement. Sending a sort of symbolic, let’s say, third-, fourth-level civil servant does not do anything — Hady Amr going to Israel or wherever — when Netanyahu clearly told the American administration, whether it’s the president or the secretary of state, that it’s none of your business. When they asked him to calm down on the issue of Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah evictions, he said, “We have the right to do whatever we want,” and told them very clearly, “It’s none of your business.” So you think Hady Amr is going to come and be listened to and has — or will have the full weight of the office? No, it’s clearly just a gesture, a symbolic gesture.

And, of course, Biden is looking internally at his own elections, at his own party’s elections, and he’s ignoring a whole body of a new conversation in the U.S. — the progressives, the minorities, women’s movements, LGBTQ, Black. Everybody is out there placing Palestine in the middle of a conversation of rights, of equality, of justice. And within the Democratic Party, they’re not just turning a blind eye, they are sort of closing off their ears, because they don’t want to hear. There are changes now. There’s a new conversation, a new language. Palestine is no longer taboo. It is part of the discussion. It is part of the global rights movement. We have allies.

And to add to what Rashid said, this unholy alliance between the U.S. and Israel historically has cost the U.S. a great deal. It has cost their credibility and standing and interests and quite often even lives, because when you have this obsessive support for a country that is creating a situation of extreme abnormality and injustice, and the occupation is in itself an abnormal state, a state of constant aggression, and yet it is getting cover and protection and it is getting emboldened — as we said, during the Trump administration, they became party to — they became actually partners in the crime of the Israeli occupation and annexation and so on. So, this does not in any way serve American interests. It may serve the interests of individuals who seek to get reelected on the basis of Palestine bashing and rendering the Palestinians invisible and silenced, and amplifying only the Israeli voice in a distorted way. But at the same time, the truth is coming out. You can no longer —

AMY GOODMAN: On that note, we have to end it there, but, of course, we’ll continue to cover what is happening and developments on the ground in Gaza, in the West Bank and in Israel, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian diplomat and scholar, speaking to us from Ramallah, and professor Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University. We’ll link to your op-ed in The Washington Post headlined “What we’re seeing now is just the latest chapter in Israel’s dispossession of the Palestinians.”

Next up, we look at how Republican senators are trying to block one of the nation’s most prominent voting rights advocates to head the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department. Stay with us.

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