- Refaat AlareerPalestinian academic and activist.
Israel’s assault on Gaza has entered its second week, as Israel killed at least 42 Palestinians in Gaza Sunday in the deadliest day so far when it bombarded the besieged area with airstrikes, artillery fire and gunboat shelling. Israel has killed nearly 200 Palestinians, including 58 children and 34 women, and destroyed over 500 homes in Gaza, leaving 40,000 Palestinians homeless. Israel also leveled a 12-story building housing the offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera. “This is a total destruction from the Israeli occupation against the native Palestinians in Gaza,” says Palestinian academic and activist Refaat Alareer, who lives in Gaza. “This is not new. This is a continuation of Israeli aggression against Palestinians that started in 1948, the Nakba.”
AMY GOODMAN: A warning to our viewers: Today’s show contains graphic images of violence and death.
Israel’s deadly assault on Gaza has entered its second week. On Sunday, Israel killed at least 42 Palestinians in Gaza in the deadliest day so far as Israel bombarded the besieged area with airstrikes, artillery fire and gunboat shelling. Over the past week, Israel has killed nearly 200 Palestinians, including 58 children and 34 women. Israel has also destroyed over 500 homes in Gaza, leaving 40,000 Palestinians homeless in Gaza. Meanwhile, Israeli security forces and Jewish settlers killed at least 11 Palestinians in the West Bank Friday in the deadliest day there since 2002. This comes as Hamas is continuing to fire rockets into Israel, where the death toll has reached 11, including two children. One Israeli airstrike on a Gaza refugee camp killed 10 members of the same extended family, including eight children.
Israel has also leveled a 12-story building housing the offices of the Associated Press, Al Jazeera and other media outlets on Saturday. Israel justified the attack by claiming Hamas is using the building, but offered no proof. Earlier today, U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken said he has not seen any Israeli evidence of Hamas operating in that building. The head of Al Jazeera called the attack “a blatant violation of human rights” and a “war crime.”
Israeli strikes also damaged at least three hospitals in Gaza, as well as a clinic run by Doctors Without Borders. A number of doctors have also been killed in the Israeli airstrikes, including Dr. Ayman Abu al-Ouf. He headed the coronavirus response at Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest hospital. He and two of his teenage children died in an Israel airstrike on their home. Another prominent doctor from the Shifa Hospital, the neurologist Mooein Ahmad al-Aloul was also killed in an airstrike on his home. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said the Israeli airstrikes have erased entire residential neighborhoods and left earthquake-like destruction.
On the diplomatic front, President Biden is facing growing criticism for refusing to call on Israel to halt its assault on Gaza. At the United Nations, the United States blocked the Security Council for the third time in a week from issuing a statement calling for a ceasefire following a virtual U.N. Security Council meeting on Sunday.
Meanwhile, massive protests against the Israeli assault took place across the globe over the weekend, including Chicago, New York, Washington, London, Paris, Madrid, Doha and Baghdad.
We begin today’s show in Gaza, where we’re joined by Refaat Alareer, Palestinian academic and activist who’s the editor of the book Gaza Writes Back and the co-editor of Gaza Unsilenced. Also with us is Matthias Schmale, director of operations in Gaza for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, known as UNRWA.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Refaat Alareer, can you describe the situation on the ground right now in Gaza?
REFAAT ALAREER: Thank you, Amy. Thank you for having me. Thank you, Democracy Now!
You’ve just mentioned that this is an earthquake-level kind of destruction, reminiscent of the tsunami that happened in Japan almost a decade ago, and gives us sparks of the Blitz in the ’40s. Now, what Israel is doing is total devastation and destruction to Palestinian homes, Palestinian infrastructure, the roads, the access to water, sewage. Today, Israel started a new chapter by targeting Palestinian economy. So many businesses, so many factories have been destroyed and damaged. In addition to that, you mentioned the Israeli attacks on clinics also, especially those providing COVID-19 services and vaccinations, when Gaza is plagued by COVID-19. Israel is also damaging and targeting Palestinian schools. So this is a total destruction from the Israeli occupation against the native Palestinians in Gaza.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe what the past hours, the days have been like for your family, Refaat? And we are speaking to you on the phone versus through video, Skype. You’re having a lot of trouble with electricity.
REFAAT ALAREER: Exactly, exactly. Israel is preventing the fuel to get to the sole power plant in Gaza and also targeting facilities, which means that we will have less electricity. We have very slow internet connection now, because there’s at once a total blackout.
The most important thing that could summarize this is that every single night here in Gaza, we say, “This is the worst night of our lives.” And every night, Israel proves us wrong, because it comes with more monstrosity. It comes with more bombardment, more missiles raining on Palestinian heads. Last night was a horrific night. And again, Israel also chooses the timing when kids are asleep or about to sleep or have just slept, and starts the bombardment campaign in order to maximize the damage, maximize the trauma and maximize the terror. You mentioned two nights ago, Israel leveled a whole neighborhood, destroying blocks of people, of homes. People, whole families were massacred. Alkolak family had almost 20 family members massacred by Israeli warplanes as they slept, as they huddled in the safety of their home.
AMY GOODMAN: You wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times, “My Child Asks, 'Can Israel Destroy Our Building if the Power Is Out?'” Talk more about — you have six children?
REFAAT ALAREER: Yeah, I do, yeah. The thing is that, again, what makes this far worse than anything is that this is not new. This is a continuation of Israeli aggression against Palestinians that started in 1948, the Nakba you just mentioned. Israel is particularly trying to destroy our young generation, especially the children. Out of the 200 people Israel massacred in six days, 60 are children, almost 40 are women, about 20 are invalid people. So this is an open war against the vulnerable, the sick. The kids are suffering the most.
A friend of mine told me the other day that the worst-case scenario for us is to survive this brutal war by Israel, because the trauma, especially with the kids, is not going to be an easy thing to deal with. It’s not going to be something that can fix by just Israel ending this aggression. There has to be a radical solution to end the aggression and the brutal Israeli racist apartheid regime.
AMY GOODMAN: You write that your daughter, who is 8 years old — or, in Gazan time, two wars old — asked sheepishly if, quote, “they could still destroy our building now that the power was out?” Can you talk more about how your children — you’re keeping your children safe, what it means to go outside, Refaat?
REFAAT ALAREER: We never go outside. I just went outside with my son to run some errands, and it’s very dangerous. We took our COVID masks off, because we didn’t want to be targeted for people trying to hide. I asked my son, I told him, “Omar, do you want to walk together or far away from each other?” He looked at me and said, “What difference does it make?” because he knows when Israel throws these bombs, it destroys.
So the kids cannot go out. They are always huddled. And we try to keep them in the safest place in the home, but there is no safety, when Israel throws bombs that are five — together, five or six or seven tons on the same building. The kids are horrified. They wake up shrieking. They wake up crying. And they’re shaking. Even when the door slams, the kids would fidget and think that this is some kind of Israeli bomb nearby. The trauma is unprecedented. It will never go away. I hope it will go away. But with the kids, we try to keep them close to us. We tell them stories.
Something new I saw from my two little daughters Linah and Amal is that they started building houses. Usually they play dolls. The past two nights, they used their dolls and cubes to build high-rises, high-rising buildings and homes. And this is really heartbreaking, because it seems that they are aware that Israel is destroying homes, and these very children are trying to build even with toys.
And finally, when it comes to this, I want to emphasize a point. Israel has tried to destroy the Palestinian children, Palestinian youth, for decades and decades, in the First Intifada, 10 years ago, 30 years ago, 60 years ago. But every time, the next generation grows fiercer and more determined to be free, more determined to be part of the global struggle for freedom, because Israel is a racist, colonial regime that is bombing, besieging and destroying a native people who have very little means to resist.
AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, President Biden spoke with both the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. According to the White House, in his conversation with Netanyahu, Biden, quote, “reaffirmed his strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza,” unquote. House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff Sunday urged the Biden administration to push harder for a ceasefire. In an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation, Schiff was asked if he believed Israeli attacks on Palestine were disproportionate in comparison to attacks from Hamas against Israel. This was his response.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Every rocket that Hamas sends into Israel is a deliberate effort to kill civilians, and I think we need to understand that. These rockets are indiscriminate and, by definition, designed to kill civilians. Israel has a right to defend itself, but has to use every effort to avoid civilian casualties. Now, I think they are trying, but nonetheless the death toll increases, and the violence has got to stop. And I think we need to do everything possible to bring about a ceasefire. I think the administration needs to push harder on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to stop the violence, bring about a ceasefire, end these hostilities and get back to a process of trying to resolve this long-standing conflict.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Adam Schiff. And, of course, we’ve heard what Biden said and also his conversation with Netanyahu on the phone. But then you have progressive Democrats, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is saying, “Apartheid states are not democracies.” Refaat Alareer, what do you say to President Biden?
REFAAT ALAREER: I think it was Biden that gave Netanyahu the green light to start it. When they tweeted that America supports Israel’s right to defend itself two days after the aggression started, I quickly said that this is going to be a long war against civilians, because Israel is killing us using American weapons, using American technology, using American planes. America has — the American administration — all American administrations have blood, Palestinian blood, on their hands. The massacre that is going on is on Biden.
And it’s very shame to see people like Adam Schiff and those people who were fierce rivals to Trump and his barbarity say things like Israel has the right to defend itself. There is no moral equivalence here. Israel is an occupying power, the aggressor, and Palestinians are the oppressed, native people defending themselves with what little means they have. But sadly, it seems that both the Democrats and the Republicans unite fiercely to enable Israel, to empower Israel, because both countries were born in genocide and continue to ethnically cleanse natives and oppress them.
As for AOC, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and other amazing Black Caucus and the wonderful solidarity in America with Jewish Voice for Peace, Indigenous peoples and Black Lives Matter activists, this shows how Israel’s lies and fabrications are no longer dominant. People stopped fearing Israel. They now can see that Israel is brutal, that Israel is apartheid. And this amazing and meaningful solidarity with the Palestinian struggle is something that means a lot to us. We learn from these people, and we are part of this global struggle. And we hope this is going to increase more and more to create real pressure to stop America from arming Israel, empowering Israel to kill Palestinians.
AMY GOODMAN: Refaat Alareer, please stay safe, Palestinian academic and activist — we hear your children in the background — editor of the book Gaza Writes Back and co-editor of Gaza Unsilenced. We’ll link to your op-ed piece in The New York Times headlined “My Child Asks, 'Can Israel Destroy Our Building if the Power Is Out?'”
We will soon be speaking with the head of B’Tselem, the leading Israeli human rights group. But next up, we stay in Gaza City and talk to the director of operations in Gaza for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA. Stay with us.