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Refaat Alareer in Gaza: Israel’s “Barbaric” Bombardment Is Part of Ethnic Cleansing Campaign

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As hospitals in Gaza are overwhelmed by those killed and wounded in Israel’s massive bombing campaign, we go to Gaza City to speak with Palestinian academic and writer Refaat Alareer about conditions inside the besieged territory. Israel announced Monday it was completely cutting off all food, fuel and electricity to Gaza amid airstrikes of unprecedented intensity, launched in response to Saturday’s surprise attack by Hamas militants on southern Israel. Hamas has threatened to begin killing hostages if civilians inside Gaza are targeted without warning. “No one is safe. No place is safe. Israel is bombing everywhere,” says Alareer, who describes his own children as “shaking out of fear” amid the assault. “Why is this happening? Because we refuse to live under occupation. We refuse to live in total submission. We want freedom.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: Hospitals in Gaza are being overwhelmed as Israel continues a massive bombing campaign in response to Saturday’s surprise attack by Hamas militants on southern Israel. The death toll inside Israel has surpassed 900. Meanwhile, authorities in Gaza say at least 770 Palestinians, including 140 children, have been killed so far in Gaza. Israel is also reporting the bodies of 1,500 members of Hamas have been found inside Israel.

On Monday, Israel announced a complete siege of Gaza, pledging to block electricity, food and fuel from entering the territory, which has been under an Israeli blockade for 16 years. Hamas responded by threatening to begin killing hostages seized in southern Israel.

At the United Nations, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said, quote, “The imposition of sieges that endanger the lives of civilians by depriving them of goods essential for their survival is prohibited under international humanitarian law,” unquote. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres also condemned the Israeli siege.

SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: I’m deeply distressed by today’s announcement that Israel will initiate a complete siege of the Gaza Strip, nothing allowed in, no electricity, food or fuel. The humanitarian situation in Gaza was extremely dire before these hostilities. Now it will only deteriorate exponentially. Medical equipment, food, fuel and other humanitarian supplies are desperately needed, along with access for humanitarian personnel. Relief and entry of essential supplies into Gaza must be facilitated, and the U.N. will continue efforts to provide aid to respond to these needs. And I urge all sides and the relevant parties to allow United Nations access to deliver urgent humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians trapped and helpless in the Gaza Strip. And I appeal to the international community to mobilize immediate humanitarian support for these efforts.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.N. Palestinian refugee agency reports Israeli bombings have damaged 18 of its buildings in Gaza, including four schools and eight healthcare facilities. According to the U.N., more than 187,000 residents of Gaza have been displaced. Numerous residential buildings have been hit in the Israeli attack.

AHMED SHAMALAKH: [translated] The Shamalakh family has been entirely wiped out. The entire family, 14 people, all under the rubble. We got out 12 people, and still the rest are under the rubble. We cannot get them out. Israeli forces hit the building without warning. They did not ask us to evacuate. They did not say anything. Suddenly we heard the airstrike, and we ran to the building. We found out that it collapsed entirely.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, more details are emerging of the horror that took place Saturday in southern Israel during the unprecedented surprise Hamas attack. More than a hundred bodies have been retrieved from Be’eri, an Israeli kibbutz near Gaza. That’s about 10% of the kibbutz’s total population. A number of residents from there remain unaccounted for, including the well-known 74-year-old Canadian Israeli peace activist Vivian Silver, who is a member of Women Wage Peace and a former board member of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. Her son, Yonatan Zeigen, fears she has been taken hostage by Hamas. He spoke to ABC News.

YONATAN ZEIGEN: I think this is exactly what she was working to prevent, all kind of war. You know, it’s not completely surprising, although it’s very overwhelming, that we got to this point. These two people have been in a state of war for so long that this is the outcome. And this is what she was working to try to prevent. And I was raised on those values and on those aspirations.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Gaza, where we’re joined by Refaat Alareer. He’s a Palestinian academic and activist, the editor of the book Gaza Writes Back, co-editor of Gaza Unsilenced. In 2021, he wrote an op-ed in The New York Times headlined “My Child Asks, 'Can Israel Destroy Our Building If the Power Is Out?'”

That was two years ago, Refaat. Describe what’s happening right now in Gaza.

REFAAT ALAREER: Thank you, Amy, for having me, and thank you for this coverage.

What’s happening is what Israel has always worked to achieve. Israeli leaders and officials are speaking about sending Gaza to the Stone Ages. Israeli officials are speaking about destroying Gaza. They are focusing on damage and destruction rather than precision. We speak about whole blocks destroyed, all government buildings, 20 U.N. facilities, including schools and clinics, all the roads, all the infrastructures. All the roads leading to the major hospitals, especially the one in the heart of Gaza City, were destroyed. So, Israel bombs Palestinian families as they sleep, as they stay in the safety, so to speak, of their home, and then bombs the ways that lead help and aid and ambulances to these areas, and then bombs the ambulances that try to help those people. That’s why we have about 800 Palestinian casualties. We speak about more than 400 children, women and elderly people. Most of them were killed in the safety of their homes without any prior warning — not that any warning would justify this Israeli brutality. Israeli war criminals are speaking about Second World War level of destruction against the Gaza Strip.

What is happening in Gaza is complete and utter extermination of the non-Jewish population in occupied Palestine. As you mentioned, Israel ordered a medieval hermetic siege from air and sea. Israel has also just bombed the only way out through Egypt, the Rafah crossing. The only way out is for — what’s happening, what we are foreseeing is slow starvation, slow genocide. Maybe Israel is going to push us all into the sea.

And I think what is making it even more difficult than before is that the whole world, not even lip service — all American and European countries and politicians are rushing to pledge allegiance to Israel and to Netanyahu. American politicians, American presidential hopefuls are literally calling for genocide. American mainstream media is not pushing back against Israeli officials calling for the collateral damage of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza.

Why is this happening? Because we refuse to live under occupation. We refuse to live in total submission. We want freedom. We want this occupation to end. This is not a state of war, as one of your guests just mentioned. This is a state of occupation that started over 75 years, that started with the British Empire giving Palestine to the Zionist movement in 1917.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Refaat, you mentioned Gaza’s border with Egypt. What has been the response of the Egyptian government to that border crossing, which, as we understand, was also bombed by Israel, as well?

REFAAT ALAREER: I’m not following closely, because we barely have any electricity or internet. But what I heard is that the Rafah border is now closed, so people cannot leave. And also, when we talk about people leaving, very few people in Gaza have visas or passports that would allow them to leave. I’m reading a report just now that Israel is even warning to strike any aid coming from the Egyptian side into Gaza. So, with no food, no electricity and no water, we can only expect what Israel has been working to achieve, what Israel and Israeli officials and politicians are promising now.

Some are calling for striking Gaza with a nuclear bomb. Can you imagine that? And many other Israeli officials are using Nazi discourse and Nazi language, talking about Palestinians as savages and animals that need to be exterminated and that Gaza needs to be turned into a parking lot. This is what we are dealing with. We are dealing with a systematic, structural, colonial attempt to annihilate and exterminate the Palestinians, with the aid and support of the West and American tax money. America is sending $8 billion. This is really insane. America is also sending warships and bombs and bullets for Israel to kill more and more Palestinians.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what are you asking for people in other parts of the world and other governments to do?

REFAAT ALAREER: I think the governments are not only complicit for giving the green light, they are participating actively. The shameful statement from France, Italy, U.K. and Germany and America the other night was a hideous attempt to justify Israeli massacres and genocide taking place in Gaza. We have no hope in these countries. We have no hope in these governments, at least now.

The only hope we have is in the growing popular support in America, in the movements of — the movements, the human rights and the rights movements in America and across Europe, to take to the streets to pressure their politicians into putting an end to this dark, dark episode of not only the history of the Middle East, but also the history of humanity. If people are asking how was the Holocaust allowed and other genocides in Africa and across the world, now you can see this live on TV, live on social media. Palestinians’ whole blocks destroyed, hospitals, schools, businesses. We are speaking about thousands and thousands of housing units destroyed by Israel. So, my message to the free people of the world is to move to pressure, to mobilize and to take to the streets.

AMY GOODMAN: Refaat Alareer, you are the father of six. How old are your children? And can you describe what it’s like to live there right now? Now, Israel says that it has 1,500 dead Hamas fighters. That’s outside of Gaza. The number inside Gaza is nearing 800. Describe the bombing strikes now. This is before Israel does what it’s threatening to do, which is lay complete siege. They’ve said they’ve cut off electricity, they’ve cut off gas, food, etc., but actually ground troops moving in.

REFAAT ALAREER: Like I said, this has been systematically happening for over seven decades. It was the noose around Gaza’s neck was tightened 15 years ago, and it’s being tightened even further now. The situation is unspeakable. You can’t describe what’s happening in words. We speak about thousands, hundreds and thousands of Israeli bombs and shells targeting all areas of the Gaza Strip. The kids can’t sleep. The kids can’t eat. The kids can’t even speak. Most of the time they’re just mute, silent, shaking out of fear, sometimes whimpering because of how close the bombs are wherever you are in Gaza. And again, the houses shake every time there is a bomb around. And this is happening again all over Gaza Strip.

Israel is telling people, is pushing people forcibly to leave out of their homes and urging them to go to certain places, like the city center or the U.N. places, shelters, and then Israel bombs the roads leading to these areas and bombs these crowded areas. Yesterday, there was a massacre. Israel killed about 60 Palestinians in Jabaliya refugee camp in a local market where there is a U.N. school, people taking shelter there. So, whether it is my kids or any Palestinian kid or any Palestinian, no one is safe. No place is safe. Israel is bombing everywhere.

Israel is lying. And that’s something — thank you for highlighting this — that Israel sometimes, once every 100 times, 1,000 times, it sends a message warning 10 minutes before and asks, for example, a huge building of 50 housing units to leave. And you can’t take anything with you if you have only this limited time to leave. And when people leave, wherever they go, they will be chased and hunted down by the bombs. These are, again, barbaric, and these are an extension to Israeli attempts to exterminate Palestinians, whether in Gaza, in Jerusalem or in the West Bank.

AMY GOODMAN: Refaat, let me ask you about that. You say Israel gives a warning, and now Hamas is saying if they don’t get that warning before a building is bombed, they will kill one hostage for each one of those bombings. Can you talk about how much support there is for Hamas within Gaza, the government of Gaza?

REFAAT ALAREER: Amy, I’m sorry. Who translated that message for you? The message was clear. It was a threat. And it clearly stated, with the bare minimum of humanity, that Israel sends a warning before it bombs a family home. And when we speak about homes in Gaza and in Palestine, in Gaza, we speak about houses that have like five or six or even seven housing units, flats, where three generations live in the same place. That’s why Israel exterminated more than 30 families. Most of the family members were killed because it bombs without sending a message. The message from Hamas was clear: Send a warning before you bomb, meaning don’t bomb Palestinian homes with the kids and the women and the elderly and the young people inside.

So this is what’s going on. And people in Gaza want to be safe. We don’t want to be killed. And it seems that this is a desperate call for mediators to interfere, stop this. And it’s already — it already happened that Israel — and I was saying this the other day, that Israel seems to be bent to kill Israeli captives, Israeli soldiers held in Gaza, more than they are interested in killing Palestinian fighters and Palestinian children, because Israel does not want to negotiate, does not want to release the almost 5,000 Palestinian — political Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. So, the idea about the framing of this is incorrect, is inaccurate. And at the same time —

AMY GOODMAN: Refaat, I do want to clarify what you said. You said that Hamas has threatened to kill a hostage if Israel doesn’t warn that it is going to bomb a residential home.

REFAAT ALAREER: Exactly. Is that much to ask? I don’t think this is much to ask. And I think this is more of a desperate call to save both Palestinian children and families and at the same time the Israeli soldiers kept in Gaza.

Now, what’s happening here is that Israel is sending disinformation and fabrication all over the internet, on social media, and many mainstream media agencies and outlets are swallowing and repeating these military lies against Palestinians to demonize the Palestinians. And that’s why we see so many Americans, sadly, especially officials and politicians, presidential hopefuls, calling for genocide against Palestinians, because there is misinformation. But at the same time, they think that if they do this, if they say this, it’s going to bring them more money from the Israeli lobby in Washington, D.C.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Refaat, you’ve told the BBC recently that the scenes right now in Gaza are, quote, “exactly like the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.” Could you elaborate on that?

REFAAT ALAREER: If you have seen the pictures from Gaza, we speak about complete devastation and destruction to universities, to schools, to mosques, to businesses, to clinics, to roads, infrastructure, to water lines. I googled this morning Warsaw Ghetto pictures, and I got pictures I couldn’t differentiate. Somebody tweeted four pictures and asked to tell which one is from Gaza and which one is from the Warsaw Ghetto. They are remarkably the same, because the perpetrator is almost using the same strategies against a minority, against the oppressed people, the battered people, the besieged people, whether it was in the Warsaw Ghetto, the Jews in Warsaw Ghetto in the past or the Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the Gaza Strip. So, the similarity is uncanny.

Israel, Israeli officials using Nazi language discourse to — even there was a tweet from the Jewish Congress that says the number of Jews that died on Saturday is more than the number of Jews that died on any given day during the Holocaust. And this is not Holocaust revisionism. It’s Holocaust denial, because this is objectively and statistically incorrect completely and utterly. The Zionist movement, the Israeli government is willing to abuse and engage in Holocaust denialism in order to justify what’s going to happen — what is happening and what’s going to happen in Gaza in the coming hours and days. I think this is dangerous, and this has to be stopped. The similarities between Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto should be a waking-up call to all free people around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Refaat Alareer, we want to thank you for being with us, Palestinian academic, activist, editor of the book Gaza Writes Back, co-editor of Gaza Unsilenced, speaking to us from Gaza City.

When we come back, we go to Tel Aviv to speak with the Israeli journalist, the conscientious objector Haggai Matar. Back in 20 seconds.

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Israeli Conscientious Objector Haggai Matar: Hamas Attack Reflects Israeli Violence in Palestine

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