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Mustafa Barghouti: Israel’s Siege & Bombing of Gaza Are War Crimes. Is Ethnic Cleansing Next?

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As Israel prepares to launch a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, we continue our coverage of escalating conflict in the Middle East. We’re joined from Ramallah by Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian physician, activist and politician who serves as general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, also known as al-Mubadara, and is a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization Central Council. “I don’t want any Palestinian or Israeli civilian to be killed,” says Barghouti, who argues that a ground operation in Gaza would constitute a campaign of ethnic cleansing, and condemns Israeli occupation and settlement under far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as having destroyed any “prospective for a two-state solution.” Barghouti also discusses President Biden’s abnegation of responsibility toward Palestinian Americans, Egypt’s role in the conflict and the relationship within Palestine between the “totally marginalized” Palestinian Authority and groups like Hamas.

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

AMY GOODMAN: Gaza is on the verge of losing all electricity as Israel continues to bombard the territory while imposing a siege blocking the import of all fuel, food and electricity. The death toll from Israel’s massive bombing campaign has topped 1,055 Palestinians, with over 5,000 wounded. Meanwhile, the death toll in Israel has soared to 1,200 following Saturday’s shocking attack by Hamas militants. Another 2,400 Israelis have been wounded. Hamas is believed to be holding as many as 150 hostages. Israel is now preparing to launch a ground invasion of Gaza.

Tension is also growing along the Israel-Lebanon border, where Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters have repeatedly exchanged fire.

Earlier today, a U.S. plane carrying ammunition landed in Israel, a day after President Biden gave a speech at the White House where he reaffirmed U.S. support for Israel but made no reference to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, which has reportedly killed at least 260 children and 230 women since Saturday. According to press freedom groups, at least seven Palestinian journalists have also been killed.

Inside Gaza, residents say there’s no safe place for civilians to go. This is Samah Abo Latifa, who lost her brother in an Israeli airstrike.

SAMAH ABO LATIFA: [translated] We had fled from Abasan, escaping from death. There were continuous airstrikes over our heads. They told us to come to Khan Younis. We came to find death. If we stayed in our houses, we die. If we go on the streets, we die. O my beloved brother, he fled from one place to another. O my beloved brother, may your soul rest in peace. I have no people left, except for two. God bless them for me. I hope to carry their children. O my beloved brother, please, God, don’t take anyone else. This is enough. I can’t handle anymore. I hope I die before them all.

AMY GOODMAN: Samah Abo Latifa went on to describe the scope of Israel’s bombing campaign. She spoke from a nursery, where her family has taken refuge.

SAMAH ABO LATIFA: [translated] I’ve never seen airstrikes like this time, not in 2014, not in 2008. No war was like this time. I’ve never seen anything like this. Every minute and every second there are airstrikes. Every minute there are martyrs, in their houses, young people, children, all. I can’t talk. I swear I’m so tired. We have never witnessed strikes like this time. We thank God when the day is done. But they say it will be worse. We wonder what else could happen to us. The coming days could be harsher. Our hearts will ache more for the loss of our loved ones.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, tension is also high in northern Israel near the border with Lebanon. Hezbollah has claimed responsibility for firing an anti-tank at an Israeli military post earlier today. Israel has been shelling towns in southern Lebanon. Residents in northern Israel say they no long feel safe.

RACHEL KANDELL: It doesn’t feel very safe, because if they came into our house and they did anything they wanted, without any way of protecting ourselves, this is a very unsettled grounds. This is not — you know, this is Israel. We are in the 21st century. We should feel secure. We should feel like we have a home to go back to. And many people in Israel, unfortunately, are not in this space. They don’t have a house anymore. They don’t have families. The lines for the funerals are endless. There is so much pain, pain that is beyond explanation in words. This is truly a nightmare.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian physician, activist and politician who serves as general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative. He’s been a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council since 2006, also a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization Central Council. He’s joining us from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

Dr. Barghouti, welcome back to Democracy Now! If you can give us the context for what’s happening right now, what you’re most concerned about? We’re talking to you in the occupied West Bank as hundreds of thousands of Israeli reservists are moving down to Gaza.

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: What concerns me most, Amy, is this process of dehumanizing Palestinians, in which Western government leaders, including President Biden, are participating, dehumanizing Palestinians to the level that the Israeli army minister called us animals. And Human Rights Watch was absolutely correct when they came out with a statement saying that this kind of description of Palestinians is nothing but a justification of war crimes on them. And that’s exactly what’s happening now.

The first two crimes that are happening is the Israeli blockade on Gaza, depriving 2.2 million people from water, food, electricity and medical supplies, depriving them from the possibility of normal life. Children are lacking water, are lacking milk. I get calls from our people there in Gaza constantly, patients who have kidney problems, in need for kidney dialysis, who could die in two, three days because they cannot get it, patients with cancer who lost treatment, and other sick people who are in very deep situation.

This is not the only situation. In addition to that, the second crime that is taking place is the bombardment of Gaza with terrible airstrikes. You have just said that it took the lives already of 1,000 innocent civilian Palestinians. It slaughtered no less than 260 children. But the worst thing is that 250,000 people already, quarter of a million people, have lost their homes. Thousands of houses have been destroyed. High-rise buildings have been smashed to earth. And the people don’t have a single space which can be safe for them. I heard an Israeli saying that she wants to be safe, and I want her to be safe, but they also should remember that also Palestinians need to live in peace and security. And that is what’s not there.

More than that, Israel turned back to using what was prohibited, which is white phosphorus. They used it, as you remember, in 2008 campaign on Gaza. Now they’re back to using it. It is a prohibited kind of weapon that is forbidden, but they use it openly and frankly.

The more important thing is that Netanyahu is saying that Palestinians should be evicted from Gaza. He’s preparing for a third war crime, which is ethnic cleansing of the population of Gaza. He said that every Palestinian in Gaza should leave their homes. He didn’t say where to. Maybe to the sea. But his spokesperson of the army made it clear. He said in a statement, which became the top line in Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper — he said that all Palestinians in Gaza must evict to Egypt. These people, these criminals who committed ethnic cleansing against 70% of the Palestinian people in 1948, 70% of the population of Gaza were among these people who were evicted from Palestine. Now they are subjected to the possibility of another transfer, another kind of ethnic cleansing, that would empty Gaza so that Netanyahu can annex it.

Now I understand, after all these threats with ethnic cleansing, what Netanyahu meant when he said that he will change the map and the order of the area for 50 years to come. Now I understand what Netanyahu did when he carried a map of Israel in the United Nations, in front of the whole world community, a map of Israel that includes annexing the West Bank, which is occupied territory, annexing Gaza Strip, which is also occupied territory, and annexing East Jerusalem, including also the Golan Heights. Nobody said a single criticism to that, except maybe the German government. This is the reason — this is the background of what’s happening.

But let me also say that what we see now in Gaza is only a result of a protracted problem of 56 years of Israeli military occupation of Palestinian land. How many times on your show, Amy, and on other shows we said that the solution is to end the Israeli illegal occupation of Palestinians, that the solution is to stop what has become the worst system of apartheid ever, much worse apartheid than what revealed in South Africa at one point of time? How many times we said that building settlements in the Occupied Territories will destroy any prospective for two-state solution? How many times we complained about settlers’ violence and settlers’ terror against Palestinian communities?

I find that President Biden, unfortunately, practiced — excuse me for that, but I have to say it — Mr. Biden practiced racial discrimination between Americans who carry Israeli citizenship and Americans who carry Palestinian citizenship. I did not see him say that those who killed Shireen Abu Akleh, a very peaceful journalist who was Palestinian and American, and who was never held to accountability — nobody was indicted for killing her. He didn’t say a word about the American Palestinians in Turmus Ayya whose houses were burned and whose cars were attacked and whose lives were threatened by Israeli illegal settlers, some of whom also carry American citizenship.

I don’t want any Palestinian or any Israeli civilian to be killed. I am against that. I’m against killing children. But today and now Israel is preparing a huge ground operation on Gaza. If that happens, it will be a total disaster. If ethnic cleansing takes place, this will be a terrible, terrible, terrible disaster for everybody. And if the ground operations start, it will definitely lead to the explosion in the north and Hezbollah getting involved, and maybe this will lead to a whole regional war. I think what we need here is balanced, reasonable and responsible reactions, and not continuation of dehumanizing Palestinians, accusing Palestinians of responsibility even when Palestinians are killed.

I think that Netanyahu doesn’t care about his people. I think Netanyahu is the most corrupt, opportunistic politician ever. This man cares only about his position. He doesn’t even care about the 150 or 200 Israeli prisoners now in Gaza. If he cared about them, he would accept immediately a ceasefire. He would accept immediately a prisoners exchange, so that these people can come back home safe, and Palestinian prisoners would be released, some of whom have been in Israeli jails for 44 years. This is the solution, and not to escalate. But Netanyahu knows if any inquiry starts about what happened at the borders of Gaza, they will find him responsible for negligence, irresponsibility, lack of preparation, intelligence failure, military failure, political failure, and he will be sent out of the office, which means he will go to jail because of four cases of corruption against him. He knows that. And that’s why he’s ready to kill anybody to stay in his office. This man doesn’t care about lives of Palestinians or Israelis.

He didn’t care about the fact that he brought to his government fascists, like Smotrich, who doesn’t hide calling himself a fascist homophobe, and who said that “We will fill the West Bank with settlers and settlements so that Palestinians would lose any hope of a state of their own. And then they would have one of three choices: either to emigrate or accept a life of subjugation to Israeli rule or die.” That is the finance minister of Israel. And we didn’t hear any criticism to that, neither from Netanyahu nor from your foreign minister, Mr. Blinken, nor from any other Western leaders, who are now, unfortunately, participating in escalating the situation rather than calming it down.

The big question that Palestinians have — and this is my last point here — the big question that Palestinians have is: Why the double standard? Why the United States and Europe send to Ukraine $224 billion of equipment, of planes, of tanks, to fight what they say is occupation? And why in our case they are sending arsenal and money and support to the occupiers of Palestine? Why we don’t see any sanctions —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Dr. Barghouti, I want — 

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: — to brutal forces and to stop the occupation?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Dr. Barghouti, I want to ask you — you’re in the West Bank. What’s been the response of the Palestinian Authority to the attacks on Gaza? And also, for our listeners and viewers, if you could talk about the escalation in attacks in the West Bank by both settlers and the Israeli army since this extreme right-wing coalition of Netanyahu came to power?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Since the attacks started in Gaza by Israeli airstrikes, there were many, many demonstrations in the West Bank, mostly peaceful — peaceful, all peaceful and nonviolent demonstrations. And the Israeli army responded with gunfire. Up ’til this moment, 23 Palestian young people, mainly, were shot and killed by the Israeli army, without them engaging in any kind of military action.

And that has been our life. You know, one of the main reasons why the attack happened in Gaza by Hamas is the fact that during the last eight months, before this whole thing started, Israeli army and Israeli settlers killed 248 Palestinians, including 40 children. And now in addition to that, most roads in the West Bank are blocked. There is 650 military checkpoints, many of which are totally closed to Palestinians. The only passage to Jordan is almost closed all the time. And Palestinians live in clusters of ghettos separated from each other. And people are extremely worried about what might happen. We’ve just heard that the Israeli army is devoting a whole division with tanks for the possibility of reinvading every corner of the West Bank, as well.

So, the most difficult thing here is not only the army attacks on Palestinians, but also the settlers’ attacks. And these settlers are completely crazy. And they are completely criminal in their attitude towards Palestinians. They’ve already burned so many houses. They’ve already attacked so many villages. They’ve already killed so many Palestinians. And that’s the kind of fear and worry that we have.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how should Egypt and other Arab countries in the region respond?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Well, before I respond to your question, I have one little piece of good news, although it’s painful news. You mentioned the name of the journalist Salam Mima, who was one of the seven journalists who were killed by Israel. Luckily, but painfully, this journalist was found alive after 31 hours with her three children below the rubble of their destroyed house. Unfortunately, her husband died. She is injured, and her three children are injured. And you can imagine the horror that she went through being under the rubble for 31 hours. And only by luck, somebody heard her voice. And this raises the question: How many tens of Palestinians are now below the rubble, and nobody can try even to save them because the places are constantly bombarded?

Regarding Egypt, I would say that the Egyptians have two responsibilities. One is that they should not allow Israel to evict and ethnically cleanse Palestinians towards Egypt. This must not happen. And that, because I warn you: If Israel succeeds in evicting Palestinians from Gaza now and conducting ethnic cleansing, this would be an application of Smotrich, most extreme religious Jewish extreme position in the Israeli government. And it would mean that the next plan will be to ethnically cleanse the West Bank, as well, and throw Palestinians out of the West Bank to Jordan. These are not theoretical concepts. This is exactly what they said, what they speak about about Palestinians, especially now after all this process of dehumanization of Palestinians.

The other thing that Egypt must do is to provide support immediately to Gaza. We are ready to help ourselves, our people. We are ready to collect water, food supply, medications. My organization, in particular, militant Palestinian Medical Relief Society, is already engaging in preparing all these materials. We are ready to send them to Gaza, through Egypt even. But Israel says that they will bombard any supplies that come to Gaza. Here, I think it is the Egyptian and international responsibility to stop Israel and prevent that from taking place.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Barghouti, we have less than a minute, but I wanted to ask about the relationship between the PLO, the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas, well known for the tension between the two, to put it mildly.

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Well, as you know, Hamas, as well as Jihad, are Palestinian political groups, militant groups that are not in the PLO. But there are problems even inside the PLO. I think now the PA feels totally marginalized, not only because of what’s happening on the ground, but also because of Israel, that did everything to humiliate the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli army invades any spot that the Palestinian Authority should be in charge of, including Ramallah. And they cut off our tax revenue. We pay taxes to the Palestinian Authority through Israel, and Israel cuts away a lot of these resources.

So, the solution to this is nothing but unifying all Palestinians without exception. And you know my stand. I said it long time ago. What we need is, after this war ends, is immediate, free, democratic elections for Palestinians. And all polls show that neither Fatah nor Hamas will get a majority. Nobody else will get majority. It will be a pluralistic democratic system, through which groups like us, who are non-Fatah, non-Hamas, can try to do their best to push in the direction of democratic transformation, but also that would allow Palestinians to coexist peacefully in a good political system. At this very moment, this sounds very distant, mainly because not only the PA did not hold elections, but Israel and the United States all the time refused that we should have democratic, free elections. And that does not fit with all these calls everywhere and in other places about democracy. It’s another type, another form of double standard.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, speaking to us from Ramallah in occupied West Bank, Palestinian physician, activist, politician who serves as general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative.

Next up, to Tel Aviv to speak with the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy of Haaretz. Stay with us.

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Israeli Journalist Gideon Levy: Israel Should Lift Siege & Call Off Plans for Ground Invasion of Gaza

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