As Israel holds national elections amid increasing crackdowns on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, we speak with Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, who is in Jerusalem and has been speaking with Palestinian families in the Occupied Territories. He is calling on Israel to end its decades-long occupation. He describes the ongoing Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes and the growth of illegal settlements and says the situation is likely to get worse after elections, as the political parties expected to make major gains are “in favor of illegal settlements, colonization of occupied land and the displacement of Palestinian families.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
Israel is holding its fifth national election today in less than four years. The election could result in former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returning to power, even though he’s currently on trial for corruption.
The election comes at a time of an increasingly deadly Israeli crackdown on the occupied West Bank, where the Israeli military has been carrying out near-nightly raids. At least 125 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank so far this year, including dozens of children. Meanwhile, Amnesty International is calling on the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel for committing possible war crimes in Gaza during its deadly assault in August.
We go now to Jan Egeland. He is secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, joining us from Jerusalem.
Jan, you’ve just returned from Gaza. Can you talk about the conclusion of your trip in both the occupied — in the Occupied Territories and West Bank and Gaza?
JAN EGELAND: Yeah, I’ve been back now to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, where I have traveled for 45 years. And I must say it’s one of the bleakest visits I’ve had, in part because there is no peace process at all, there is no reconciliation between the two neighbors, and there is more settler violence against Palestinian civilians. There are more house demolitions of Palestinian homes, and there are more of our aid programs, aid projects, aid structures that are being demolished by the occupying power.
I don’t think people outside of this region really understand that we have had now 55 years of occupation, 15 years on a siege of Gaza, where Gazans, 2 million of them, half of them young people, feel they are living in an open-air prison. They cannot leave. They cannot enter at will. They have no real livelihood prospects if they are young, etc., etc. So, hopelessness is what you feel at the same time as there is also more and more violence.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jan Egeland, I wanted to ask you specifically about the demolitions you mentioned. There have been 700 structures demolished by the Israeli authorities just since January of this year, in the past 10 months, even though there is continued worldwide condemnation of Israel’s attempt to seize more and more land of the Palestinians, but yet Israel suffers no consequences from its continued flouting of that condemnation.
JAN EGELAND: You’re absolutely right. Hundreds and hundreds of structures are — houses; these are homes, really — are leveled. Many of them were built by Norwegians, Swedish, German, British aid money for very vulnerable people, Bedouins and single mother households, etc. What the occupying power says is that they are just doing city planning, that they’re just doing city restructuring and so on.
In effect, what you see is that there are more and more settlements, illegal settlements, which means that in violation of international law, you transfer your own population to colonize other land, and the population that lived there is being transferred.
Today I met with Fatima, 70 years old. She is here in occupied East Jerusalem. She has been living in the same house since she was born. Her father started to rent it in 1948 from the Jordanians. Today, in her backyard, there is a tent set up by the extremist right-wing politician called Itamar Ben-Gvir. He is the one who will be elected today on a potentially very large profile of extremist, rightist parties under the rubric of religious Zionism. He brings in settler youth from the illegal settlements in the West Bank. And I saw numerous films, from footage from cameras, of these settlers beating up Palestinians. They hurt this Fatima, 70-year-old. She was bleeding. Her two sons came to rescue her. And not the mafia, the violent settler youth, were not arrested; her sons were arrested because they were defending Fatima in her own house. You can’t make up this kind of an injustice that is before our eyes here in occupied lands.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned the conditions in Gaza. For those people who are not familiar with life for the 2 million inhabitants of Gaza, could you talk about some of the worst atrocities occurring there?
JAN EGELAND: Gaza, of course, is not a place where there are Israeli soldiers anymore. They were withdrawn. But Gaza is under siege. The border is closed shut, and you have to go through enormous kinds of barriers, checkpoints, etc., controlled by Israel to be able to enter. There are two — one from Egypt, one from Israel — entry points, and there is another one where trucks can come and go. Those places are often shut down. That’s why we say there is a siege.
The fishermen — and, of course, there is a great dependency on aid now in Gaza, so people tried to feed themselves by being fishermen. They’ve been doing that for thousands of years. They can’t go three miles into the ocean. If they go further, the fisherman, the Israeli Navy would be arresting them, or even sinking their boats. They cannot go by air to this area, because Israel is controlling the air completely. This is siege. This is an open-air prison. Gaza, 2 million inhabitants, is two-thirds of the municipality of my hometown of Oslo in Norway.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Jan Egeland, in this year, 120 Palestinians have been killed so far, making it the deadliest year since 2015. For the first two weeks of October alone, six Palestinian children killed, bringing the death toll of children, those under the age of 18, to 28 this year. Can you talk about whether you see this changing with this election that’s about to happen, but, most importantly, how this will end? What is the Norwegian Refugee Council calling for?
JAN EGELAND: Well, I mean, it may change to the worse by the election today, because the parties that are likely to make big progress are all parties who are against reconciliation with their own neighbors, the Palestinians, against a peace process, and in favor of illegal settlements, colonization of occupied land and the displacement of Palestinian families from their ancestral lands. So I think it could get worse, but I’m not giving up.
I met with the group of European consul generals and ambassadors here in Jerusalem today. I think there is in Europe a great support for helping Palestinians in their hour of greatest need.
On the Palestinian side, the political leadership are split. They are incoherent. There is a big divide between the West Bank and where — held by the Palestinian Authority, and Gaza, where it’s Hamas and so on. So, of course, the Palestinian side is weak.
The stronger side is Israel. And there is one force that can really convince Israel to do what is in their interest, namely to make peace with their neighbors, and that’s the United States. But the United States is nowhere to be seen as a political force for a peace process.
AMY GOODMAN: When President Biden met with the Israeli president, Isaac Herzog, at the White House last week, during public remarks neither of them mentioned the Palestinians, yet Israel receives — is one of the highest recipients of military aid in the world from the United States, receiving billions of dollars. Your message to President Biden, Jan Egeland, what this means?
JAN EGELAND: Well, my message to the Biden administration is perhaps even reinforced by my message to the U.S. Congress. I mean, if you’re friends of Israel — I’m a friend of Israel. I have known many Israeli prime ministers. I studied at the Hebrew University here, been a friend of Israel for my entire life. If, you, the United States, will be a friend of Israel, tell them to not undermine their own security by enraging the Palestinian youth beyond belief by humiliating them, grabbing their land, making it impossible for them to have livelihoods in places like Gaza, and killing children five times more frequently than the total number of fatalities on the Israeli side of all ages, military and civilian. I mean, you can’t make it up, the kind of an injustice that is before our eyes here. And that’s not in Israel’s interest, because they need to live in peace and security with their neighbors.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jan Egeland, I’d like to broaden the discussion. Last month, your organization, the Norwegian Refugee Council, was awarded the Hilton Humanitarian Prize, which is considered the world’s largest annual award for a nonprofit. Congratulations, first of all.
JAN EGELAND: Thank you.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But I wanted to ask you — there are more people on the move, refugees, from their home countries across the world than ever before. What do you see as some of the areas that are deserving attention when it comes to refugees, that are not getting the kind of attention among the media and the citizens of the advanced industrial countries?
JAN EGELAND: Indeed, we have broken that ceiling that I didn’t believe we would break, had hoped we would never break in my lifetime, which is well over 100 million people now displaced by violence and conflict in the world. You go back 10 years, and it was 45 million. Now it’s 110 million.
The Ukraine war alone has displaced 14 million people, half of them refugees in the rest of Europe, half of them basically displaced within Ukraine. Ukraine is a horrific war. I’m going there on my third visit this year now, after this. Of course, Ukraine is getting a lot of attention, and it is also getting a lot of our assistance, and there are resources going there.
In the shadow of that war, it got worse in Gaza and the West Bank, where I am now. It got much worse on the Horn of Africa. Somalia, where we will have a famine — we haven’t had a famine now for decades — will probably have an epic famine there. It’s got worse in Syria on both sides of the frontlines, in Yemen on both sides of the frontlines, in the Congo, etc.
So I’m nervous, really, for the world turning inwards-looking, becoming more — U.S. is becoming more polarized, more inward-looking, more nationalistic. So are so many European countries. And we are, in a way, we, Norwegian Refugee Council, and all of the other colleagues, left often a little bit alone in the frontlines, where there are more people in need than ever before.
AMY GOODMAN: Jan Egeland, we want to thank you for being with us, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, speaking to us today from Jerusalem.
Next up, New York has agreed to pay $36 million to settle lawsuits on behalf of two men who were wrongly convicted and jailed for decades for assassinating Malcolm X. We’ll speak to an attorney, as well as an independent historian who helped break open this case. Stay with us.