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Rashid Khalidi: Israel Systematically Targets Palestinian Journalists to Hide Reality of Occupation

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Palestinians are holding a state funeral in Ramallah for Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, a veteran journalist who was one of the best-known television journalists in Palestine and the Arab world. Abu Akleh, who was a U.S. citizen, was wearing a press uniform and covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank when she was fatally shot in the head on Wednesday. Israel initially claimed she may have been shot by a Palestinian gunman, but later said it was unclear who shot her, after witnesses, including other journalists, said she was shot dead by Israeli forces. “People are shocked all over Palestine, all over the Arab world, actually,” says Rashid Khalidi, professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University. Israel’s “colonial army” has “systematically targeted” Palestinian journalists, says Khalidi. “It’s really important to Israel that nobody see what’s going on in the Occupied Territories.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: Palestinians are holding a state funeral in Ramallah for the Palestinian American Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh a day after she was fatally shot in the head while covering an Israeli military raid on a Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. Witnesses, including other journalists at Al Jazeera, said she was shot dead by Israeli forces. At the time of her death, she was wearing a helmet and a vest marked “press.” Ali al-Samudi, a Palestinian journalist, was wounded alongside Abu Akleh.

ALI AL-SAMUDI: [translated] The occupation is murderous and criminal. They shot us for no reason. We, a group of journalists, were there wearing our full press uniforms, in addition to the helmets with the word “press” written on them in large letters, as big as the whole world. We were obvious.

AMY GOODMAN: Shireen Abu Akleh was a U.S. citizen. She worked at Al Jazeera for a quarter of a century. She was one of the best-known television journalists in Palestine and the Arab world. Israel initially claimed she may have been shot by a Palestinian gunman, but later said it was unclear who shot her. Palestinian authorities accused Israel of committing the, quote, “crime of execution” and rejected an offer from Israel to carry out a joint probe into her death. On Wednesday, Ala’ Salameh, the head of the Palestinian Media Association, spoke out against the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh and other Palestinian journalists.

ALA’ SALAMEH: [translated] Our protest today confirms that the occupation must be pursued, to pursue the Israeli leaders and war criminals who were involved in these crimes, the crimes which led to the death of those journalists, and their last was the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by the acclaimed Palestinian American Middle East historian Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University, the author of a number of books, including The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine.

Professor Khalidi, welcome back to Democracy Now! If you can talk about what happened to Shireen, the significance of what has taken place, the latest we know about her death, and even where she was, covering an Israeli raid in a Jenin refugee camp?

RASHID KHALIDI: Right. Well, this is a terrible shock to people all over the Arab world and to anybody who has followed events in Palestine, because she was probably the most prominent reporter covering what is happening there for the last, as you said, quarter of a century.

What she was covering was yet another raid on the Jenin refugee camp. Jenin is the site, among many other things, of a very serious battle that took place during the Second Intifada in 2002, when a large number of Israeli soldiers, perhaps as many as 24, were killed and 50 Palestinians were killed, including both resistance fighters and civilians in the camp. And ever since then, Israel has basically imposed collective punishment on the refugee camp and the region.

All of this takes place against a background of increasing anger and frustration all across the Occupied Territories at the unending nature of the occupation, at the fact that there is no political horizon whatsoever. Israel refuses to change an occupation that has been in place for 55 years, and, in fact, is tightening it in many respects. And so there have been attacks on Israelis. There have been all kinds of outbreaks of violence.

And the Israeli response has been the response of every colonial army, which is collective punishment and vengeance. What has been happening all over the Occupied Territories in response to horrific attacks on Israeli civilians inside Israel is essentially sanctioned — state-sanctioned murder — in many cases, of unarmed civilians, and, yesterday, of an unarmed journalist who was clearly marked as a journalist, wearing a protective vest with “press” across the front and a helmet with “press” on her head. This is what colonial armies do. They believe that only force, and nothing but force, is understood by the lesser peoples whom they rule. And that’s the kind of attitude that the Israeli military has.

Their lying — their systematic lying and cover-ups, in this case, fell apart when the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem showed that Israeli claims that there was gunfire from the Palestinians, in fact, related to someplace that was hundreds of meters away, and that where Shireen and her colleagues were targeted was an area where there was no shooting going on, except by Israeli snipers, who killed her, wounded one of her colleagues.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Professor Khalidi, could you also speak about the significance of the fact that she was Palestinian American?

RASHID KHALIDI: Right. Well, I have a sense that if an American journalist were killed by the Russians in Ukraine, we would be hearing even more about it. I have to say that this is a person who was widely known throughout the Arab world. But the fact that this is the second American killed by Israelis in the space of a couple of months — I think three months — has not gotten the kind of outrage that it would have gotten in another situation. However, it has to be said, the fact that she is an American citizen, the fact that she is well known to her colleagues of the press, I think, has affected the coverage in a positive way. Nevertheless, the systematic lying and cover-ups that the Israeli government is so adept at doing were wheeled out almost immediately, claims that they’ve, in fact, been forced to back down from.

But perhaps the fact that Shireen was an American will lead to a little more concern about the systematic brutality that the occupation is wielding all over the Occupied Territories. This case is egregious, but young men are being shot down almost every day, unarmed young men, demonstrators, whatever. In some cases, yes, there are clashes, but in many cases what is happening is that people who are either totally innocent or are involved in demonstrations are being murdered by Israeli snipers. And this is what seems to have happened in this case.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Professor Khalidi, who was the first American? You said she was the second American to be killed in recent months. Who was the first?

RASHID KHALIDI: There was an elderly Palestinian American who was stopped at an Israeli checkpoint and then put facedown on the ground in the middle of the night, and he died, presumably of a heart attack, because of maltreatment by the Israeli forces. I don’t recall his name.

AMY GOODMAN: I think his name was Omar Abdelmajid As’ad.

RASHID KHALIDI: Exactly. I believe that was about three months ago — I mean, it might have been February — that he was arrested, detained, taken to an empty building in the middle of the night — it was a very cold night; he was on his way home after a family visit — and, with other detainees, put facedown in the dirt and then was found lifeless very soon thereafter. He was an elderly man with a heart condition.

AMY GOODMAN: Rashid Khalidi, your family is there. You’re a well-known family in the West Bank. If you could talk about the effect this has had? I understand at the funeral today they’re projecting Shireen’s image across Ramallah, where a state funeral is being held for her. And again, to talk specifically about the Jenin refugee camp and the Israeli raid, one of a number of raids that are taking place. They call it a counterterrorism raid.

RASHID KHALIDI: Right, right. Well, people are shocked all over Palestine, all over the Arab world, actually. Shireen Abu Akleh was a household name. I mean, her face was familiar to everybody in the Arab world who follows news from Palestine on Al Jazeera, which is the preeminent channel, Arab satellite channel, covering Palestine, in particular. So the shock yesterday was universal. People woke up to the news in the United States. They had heard it much earlier in Palestine and the Arab world. And so, there have been actually ceremonies and memorials for her all over the Occupied Territories, all over Palestine.

Jenin has become a symbol of resistance. And I want to say something here, which is that we are now praising and lauding Ukrainians who resist Russian occupation. Palestinians who resist Israeli occupation, which has been going on not for 80-something days, for 55 years, since June 1967, in the Occupied Territories, are branded as terrorists by the Israelis and by media that just repeats, parrots that sort of thing. They would never describe Ukrainians fighting Russian occupation as terrorists.

So, Jenin is a symbol of resistance because, as I mentioned, of a battle that took place in 2002 during the Second Intifada, when the Israelis moved into the camp and they were confronted by Palestinian militants, who fought them over several days. And, as I’ve said, about 50 Palestinians were killed, many of them — many of them militants, many of them civilians, and about 24 Israeli soldiers were killed. Ever since then, Israel has adopted a policy, as it does everywhere always, of collective punishment, of punishing a region, of punishing a district, of punishing, in this case, a refugee camp, perpetually putting checkpoints close around the camp, entering in the middle of the night, destroying property, beating people up, arresting people and so forth.

And because several of the people whom the Israelis claim or believe perpetrated attacks inside Israel, in which many Israelis — I think as many as 19 Israelis have been killed over the past many weeks — because several of the supposed perpetrators or the alleged perpetrators came from Jenin or the Jenin area, this collective punishment and this bloody vengeance, where people are being shot down, sometimes in clashes but quite frequently simply in demonstrations, or quite frequently because the Israelis are just shooting, as they often do, is being carried out particularly systematically in the Jenin area and in the Jenin refugee camp.

So, the incident that Shireen Abu Akleh and her colleagues were covering yesterday was yet another Israeli raid on this camp, part of what has been a repeated series of raids. And these are not Israeli soldiers just going after militants. These are Israeli soldiers sacking people’s homes, destroying their property, throwing things in the street, beating people up, arresting people, and whether they’re innocent or whether they’re involved in militant activity.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Professor Khalidi, what kind of hope do you have for some kind of accountability, further investigation and accountability for her murder?

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, together with the International Federation of Journalists, are bringing a case about the murder of a number of Palestinian journalists. There have been — something like 46 Palestinian journalists have been killed by Israeli forces since the year 2000, many of them during the Second Intifada and several of them just this past year, in fact. Palestinian journalists have been systematically targeted.

It’s really important to Israel that nobody see what’s going on in the Occupied Territories. If people knew the day-to-day reality, which you can only find out through the work of brave journalists like Shireen, who gave her life to cover this story, nobody would know. The Israelis are very good at bullying the media and trying to prevent the story from getting out. But at the base, where the rubber hits the road, where the journalists are on the ground, they shoot Palestinian journalists all the time. As I’ve said, 46 have been killed since 2000, according to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate.

So, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate and the International Center for Justice for Palestinians and the International Federation of Journalists are bringing a case before the International Court of Justice about several of these murders. Israel has targeted media offices repeatedly. They bombed several media offices last May in Gaza, destroying entirely several bureaus. And they’ve done this repeatedly in Ramallah and in other places.

So, attacks on journalists in order to squelch the story, at the root, are a part of the colonial information control. The British Empire did this everywhere — in Ireland, in India, in Egypt, in Palestine. And the Israelis have been doing it systematically and very effectively, shooting at journalists, intimidating journalists on the ground in Palestine, and then bullying editors and producers here in New York and in the United States and around the world to impose their line, which is generally mendacious — they make stuff up — and also to prevent the truth, which is that this is a brutal occupation that’s only sustained by brute force against the will of an entire people. That fact and the fact that it’s supported by us, the United States — these are American weapons being used, this is American money that’s supporting this — is something that is essential for the Israelis to blur, to occlude, to hide.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett went to meet with Putin. There was some talk of either, you know, Turkey’s leader or Bennett negotiating between Russia and Ukraine. At the same time, wasn’t Naftali Bennett almost toppled recently as prime minister?

RASHID KHALIDI: Yes, he lost one member of his coalition who left for reasons having to do with Passover, violations of Passover rules. And then there was a threat by other members of his coalition to leave, which I understand just today has been withdrawn. So, his coalition is in very shaky shape. I think they’ve lost their majority. They hold on with barely half the Knesset seats right now.

AMY GOODMAN: So, does that have any effect on the possibility of any kind of solution between Israel and Palestine?

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, Bennett is a settler himself. He lives in a settlement. He’s a committed supporter of the eternal, permanent occupation of all of what’s left of Palestine. He is unwilling under any circumstances to negotiate with the Palestinians. He’s made that very, very clear. So, he heads a coalition which includes some parties that are interested in a negotiated settlement, but his party and several of the other parties in the coalition are as committed to continuing the permanent occupation of Palestine and the colonization of what’s left of it, the continued establishment of Israeli settlements, the continued expropriation of Palestinian land. Bennett, whatever the nature of his coalition, is not going to lead a movement towards any kind of resolution under any circumstances. In that respect, he differs in no wise from Netanyahu and the opposition.

AMY GOODMAN: Rashid Khalidi, we want to thank you for being with us, Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University. Among his books, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine.

Next up, we speak to the renowned Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov. Stay with us.

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