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Israeli Journalist Amira Hass, Daughter of Holocaust Survivors, Calls for Gaza Ceasefire Now

StoryOctober 20, 2023
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In Part 2 of our interview with legendary Israeli journalist Amira Hass, who has reported from the occupied West Bank and Gaza for over 30 years, she discusses attending Wednesday’s historic protest in Washington, D.C., led by American Jewish groups, calling for an immediate ceasefire, as well as the events leading up to the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, the ongoing hostage situation, and what could come next. “How can they say Israel is not responsible?” asks Hass, who says the government has continued its policy of apartheid, occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians despite decades of international pressure to end the conflict. “Israel did everything possible to foil the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman.

We spend the rest of the hour with the legendary Israeli journalist Amira Hass, who’s reported from the occupied West Bank and Gaza for over 30 years. She’s the Haaretz correspondent for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, usually based in Ramallah. Her latest piece is headlined “With No Water or Electricity from Israel, Gazans Risk Dehydration and Disease.”

Today we bring you Part 2 of our conversation. On Thursday, Democracy Now!'s Nermeen Shaikh and I spoke to her after she attended Wednesday's historic protest in Washington, D.C., led by American Jewish groups, calling for an immediate ceasefire. We asked her to describe the scene.

AMIRA HASS: Look, it was people. It was an expression of common grief and shock of people, of Jews, whose main two slogans were “Not in our name” and “Ceasefire immediately.” And for me, it was very important to be there. So I was there as a person, as an individual, as a Jew, not as a journalist. There were quite a few Israelis that I know that live or study these days in the States.

And it was also, you know, like, we all need some kind of — this kind of support, which, by the way, Palestinians are not allowed to hold. Jews are allowed to hold demonstrations. I understand that all over Europe there are places where Palestinians are not allowed to hold demonstrations in solidarity with their slain people in Palestine. So, here, again, we are privileged, the Jews, that we can do things that Palestinians are not allowed to, though I know that here there were some. In the States, there were some demonstrations of Palestinians. But Palestinians are being silenced, as here their sensitivity — that their sense of grief is not being respected. They are called as supporters of terror, whatever. And I was in Boston just before, and I could tell that even the word “Palestinian” is not allowed to be used in all kind of official statements.

I can very much identify with a feeling of being ostracized by the whole world as a Jew, of being not listened to or this feeling — this indifference that the world shows to Palestinians, Palestinians’ plight, Palestinians’ ordeal is so shocking. And I, as a Jew, I say, and the child of survivors and the grandchild of Jews who were murdered by Nazi Germany, I can — my identification and sense of identification and anger and despair, I must say — despair — grow larger by the day, by the minute.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Amira, you wrote in one of your recent Haaretz pieces precisely from the position of someone who is the daughter, the child of Holocaust survivors, in a piece headlined “Germany, You Have Long Since Betrayed Your Responsibility.” In the piece, you write about your father, who would tell you as far —

AMIRA HASS: Yeah.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: — back as 1992, he himself a Holocaust survivor, when you return from Gaza, he would say, quote, “True, this isn’t a genocide like what we went through, but for us, it ended after five or six years. For the Palestinians, the suffering has gone on and on for decades.” So, if you could, you know, say a little bit more about your father’s position and the fact that this isn’t also, in a sense, understandably, the position of most people who are survivors, were the children of survivors of the Holocaust?

AMIRA HASS: Yeah. Yeah.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: If you could explain a little?

AMIRA HASS: Look, I mean, in 92 years, it was — we could say that it is not genocide. I want to say, I mean, I don’t — as I explain over and over again, I prefer not to talk now, not to dwell into definitions, but to describe the situation. Of course, in '92, in comparison to today, it was like a benign occupation in comparison to today, to what's going on now.

Look, I know I come from a leftist family, so it has been clear that if there is a lesson to the Nazi German industry of murder, which I think is more accurate to say than Holocaust — if there is a lesson, it’s that it shouldn’t be the fate of any people in the world, not just the Jews. And another lesson that my father taught me, he warned about wars. He warned about that during wars things can — things always get worse and worse and without control. And that’s why, exactly why, the Israeli right wing and the messianic religious settler right wing has been always pushing for wars and regional wars, because in order to achieve the grand plan of repeating and completing 1948, the Nakba. I mean, I say again, I say these things, and I don’t believe that we are in this stage, and we are. And we are, and we are, and the world is silent and/or idle. And it was idle during — in so many phases in human history, it was idle.

I want to say something else. At the beginning of 2000, during the Second Intifada, I was contacted by Howard Zinn, the great historian Howard Zinn, who, very much in the vein of my father’s warning about wars, he told me that he thinks of an initiative of people to start talking about war, to outlaw wars at all, you know, not just to say that these are certain crimes in a war. The war is a crime. That’s why I also don’t use the term “war crime,” because the war is a crime. But because wars unleash such barbarism out of human beings, all human beings, that then our ability to return to decent normalcy is so limited. This is the background. This is my background, my parents’ background. And we’ve tried — they tried and I tried, both as an activist and as a journalist, to appeal to people and to the, you know, humanity of people and rationality of people, because this will harm — what’s happening today, the Palestinians are the targets, for sure. But eventually this can harm — this will harm anybody in the region, and it will harm Israeli Jews, and as it does Palestinians in Israel. I’m still talking, and I’m still hoping that it will stop immediately.

AMY GOODMAN: You came on Democracy Now! in February. And at that time, you wrote to us afterwards, saying, “The danger of mass expulsion of Palestinians is nearer than ever since the Nakba. One cannot repeat enough times this message in order for it to remain a warning and not a prophecy.” Can you explain exactly —

AMIRA HASS: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — what you mean? Of course, it’s now October. At this point, something like 3,800 Palestinians are dead, but the hundreds of thousands that have been displaced, and then the Israeli army telling the Palestinian population in Gaza that half of them must leave the northern part, the most populated part of the most densely populated place on Earth, and move south.

AMIRA HASS: Look, I must say that I — at that time, when I wrote in February, I thought more about the West Bank. But we see that they are working now in these two fronts that are inseparable, because it’s the Palestinian people in both under Israeli occupation, even though the West Bank — the Gaza Strip is in a different constellation. But just as Dr. Mustafa said, they want to pressure Egypt to open and to allow and to let Palestinians go, because, otherwise, people will say, “Oh, it’s also the fault of Egypt. Why don’t they let all the people flee to Egypt?” They are called in Israel to build — to let Palestinians build there in Sinai, to build a new town and things like that. But in the West Bank also, the danger of mass expulsion, and that’s why, again, I repeat what Dr. Mustafa said, that that’s why the King Abdullah is so alarmed, because he senses that if Palestinians are being pushed, pushed, pushed, they will be pushed towards Jordan. There is a longer, longer-standing Israeli claim that the real Palestine is Jordan, because the majority of people in Jordan are Palestinians. So the danger now exists. And again, I repeat that wars — the right wing wants wars in order exactly to accomplish these plans, that are kind of subdued during normal times. And our normalcy is never normal.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Amira, I want to, in fact, quote to you again from another piece that you wrote, just days after the Hamas assault in Israel. You wrote a piece headlined “Arriving Again at the Cycle of Vengeance.” In this, you write, “As in every Israeli war against the Gaza Strip that Hamas had an interest in, especially given the murder of civilians, one should ask: Does this organization have a realistic plan of action and a realistic political goal, or did it mainly want to rehabilitate its own position in the eyes of Gaza residents? Was its military operation accompanied this time by a logistical plan to assist and rescue Gazan civilians under attack?” So, if you could respond to some of those rhetorical questions that you asked?

AMIRA HASS: Yeah.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what is going on with the hostages? I mean, now Israel has said — they’ve increased the number — there are 203 hostages, Israeli hostages, who are being held in Gaza. What is their position? And what do we know of what the Israeli state is doing to negotiate or force their release? Presumably, they’re also being affected by this constant bombardment.

AMIRA HASS: Exactly. I have no idea how many people, how many of the hostages. Some of them, I know their relatives. I know one of them who is 85 years old and a very brave journalist, who in — Oded Lifshitz is his name. I just realized it. He’s 85. In the ’70s, he exposed the Israeli — the expulsion of Bedouins in the northern of Sinai. He exposed it in a series of articles. I know some people that are relatives, as I said, of friends of mine.

And we don’t know what’s happening. You know, like, we don’t — I mean, if they are under — they are in the same conditions like every Palestinian now in Gaza. If they are alive, they are without water and electricity. If they are wounded, there is no way to really treat them. They are separated — if they’re separated, how they are held by — some are held by Islamic Jihad. Some are held by Hamas. Where do they hold them? Did they flee from the south to the — from the north to the south? We don’t have answers to all these questions. And I don’t know how many answers the Israeli army has.

You know, at this time, while we are talking, Israel is also arresting, and has arrested and arresting more, Palestinian workers from Gaza, who were in Israel during just when everything started. At first they were allowed to go into Palestinian cities in the West Bank, but now they are arresting them. And I allow myself to suspect that they also want to play with this card when they are negotiating about the release of the Israeli prisoners or, yeah, the people who were abducted.

Look, Hamas proved to be very resourceful when it comes to the military operation. They knew how to neutralize Israeli surveillance facilities, how to neutralize the shooting, automatic shooting. They knew where the military bases were, etc. So they were very resourceful, in a way that I could have said impressive, if not for the atrocities that were committed later. And the atrocities were committed. And I know that it’s not the time to tell Palestinians to pay attention to this, because Israel’s revenge is a hundred times more bloodier, but still there were atrocities.

So I feel there is a tremendous contradiction between the planning of the immediate military operation and what comes aftermath — what is the aftermath, because, for example, the civilian now — the civilian face in the West — in Gaza. If they knew they have such an operation, and they knew that Israel will retaliate ferociously, then why, for example, they did not even — I didn’t know — take care that people have water? I don’t know. I mean, if they can arrange to have so many weapons, they must have also prepared for assisting the civilian population, their civilian population. But I see that this, from what I can tell, from far, I don’t think — I don’t see that this has happened.

I don’t think that Hamas can be erased. It can flourish outside of Gaza. But I don’t understand its political plan right now. Do they want to liberate all of Palestine, so it doesn’t matter if it will take 50 years, 80 years, and at the cost of lives of Palestinians and Israelis, that I don’t know who will return to the country? Who will live in this destroyed country, if this is the plan? If the plan is political, immediate political, is it worse to ask, demand the release of present Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, and the cost is so much? I think I know some prisoners in jail now. I don’t think they’ll be happy to be released, thanks to the death of thousands or tens of thousands of Palestinians.

So, right now I see very — militarily, a very apt organization, that indeed gave Israel a very distinctive blow. But I don’t see that there is a political viable position that comes with it. That’s me now. I don’t know. I mean, we are waiting, because just war, just war, just bloodshed, where will it lead us to? Where will it lead the Palestinians to? Now it’s very difficult for people to criticize Hamas. There is a lot of support. But is it a political — does it have a political, logical, human perspective? I don’t see it.

AMY GOODMAN: And the response to the repeated assertions on television, I want to ask you also, because it’s how Americans understand what’s happening, is through the corporate media. I mean, their younger population doesn’t watch television, older population does. If you watch CNN, starting, for example, yesterday, but this was a repetition before, it’s one Israeli Defense Force representative after another. You even have Naftali Bennett — right? — who’s the former prime minister, who is now one of the army, saying, “Are you” — to Sky News — “seriously asking me about Palestinian civilians?” But starting yesterday, after the bombing of the hospital, however that turns out, whoever’s responsible for that, throughout the day through today, the lower third of CNN was “U.S. sources, U.S. officials say Israel is not responsible.” That goes larger than the hospital.

AMIRA HASS: Of course.

AMY GOODMAN: Throughout the day, the discussion that it seems Netanyahu was quite victorious in this, whether it’s a lie or whether it’s true, a bigger point, Israel is not responsible. And so I wanted to ask you about that. This is at a time when over 3,500 Palestinians, of course, have been killed. Dozens of other health facilities, actually including that one attacked just a few days before, that IDF did not say they didn’t do. What this kind of coverage means? Because, you know, Noam Chomsky says the media is manufacturing consent for war, in general. But it matters because the U.S. is the most powerful country on Earth and the main weapons supplier to Israel.

AMIRA HASS: Yeah. Look, what does it mean, Israel is not responsible? Israel has engineered this since — you know, since the early '90s, when the world pushed Israel and the Palestinians — and the Palestinians wanted this — to have a kind of a compromise. And this is following the Palestinian First Intifada, that had a very clear political message: We want to — we don't want our children — I heard so many activists say that — we don’t want our children to live in the way we lived under occupation, so let’s compromise and have a state, a Palestinian state, alongside Israel. And this was an accepted, an accepted way out from the bloodshed and the crisis and the conflict. And the world supported it, or seemed.

And Israel did everything possible to foil the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel. So it only increased and enhanced its colonialist drive during — since the beginning of Oslo. And Israel disconnected Gaza and put it — treated it as a separate enclave with no connections to the people of the West Bank and the rest of Palestine and Israel — not since Hamas came to power, long before, in the early '90s. So, what is not responsibility, not Israel's responsibility? It is Israeli policy that has created such a chain of reactions, that we could tell it. We could say — we said it over and over again, to Israelis, to diplomats, to foreign diplomats, to foreign countries. We warned over and over again. We knew, and we wanted to prevent it from happening. So how can they say Israel is not responsible?

And you know what? Every Palestinian who is killed today in Gaza is registered in the Israeli-controlled population registry. Palestinians are not registered in a separate one. It’s Israel which controls. If a person is not registered, he is there — if a newborn is not registered in the Israeli registry of population, then the newborn does not exist. Israel controls still today. Palestinian Authority is obliged to give every name of a newborn and every change of address to Israel for validation of this change. So what is not responsible? It’s part of Israel. I mean, Israel controls the whole country, controls the people, decides how much water they have, what is the economy they are allowed to have. If they don’t go to universities in the West Bank, Israel decides. Israel decides about every detail of these people. So, what’s happening now is not Israel’s responsibility?

This is — exactly, this is how the majority of mainstream media don’t want to deal with it. They start to deal with the conflict and the cruelty only when it reaches this unbearable top. But there is incremental cruelty and violence and evil and bureaucratic evil, bureaucratic violence, that has been there for years accumulating, one layer, one layer after another. And it shocks everybody, every Palestinian.

You know, Palestinians in Gaza, people who are under 30 years old, have never seen a mountain in their lives. A mountain. They don’t understand the concept of a spring of water coming out of a rock over a mountain. I know it because a friend of — a young friend of mine, she had the chance to come to the West Bank because she has cancer. So her friends tell her, “You are so lucky, because you have cancer, so you could leave the Gaza Strip.” Her brothers are surprised when she tells them about the mountains that she she saw in the West Bank. So, you take from the people for so many years. You take — you take every hope and every horizon, every joy, you take out of them.

And still I want to say, and again I want to say, that the more I hear about this Saturday — and I think that many details are — I mean, I verified about many details, and the atrocities were there. But it taught me that people came — not all, not the majority, a few, but it only tells me how the pressure that has built up, how monstrous it was, to create these monstrous attacks in one day.

AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass, longtime Israeli correspondent for Haaretz in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, usually based in Ramallah. She’s author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza, Reporting from Ramallah, and wrote the foreword and afterword to her mother Hanna Lévy-Hass’s Holocaust memoir, Diary of Bergen-Belsen. To see Part 1 of our interview with Amira and also our interview yesterday with Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, visit democracynow.org.

I’m speaking tonight in Charleston, West Virginia, at the Grassroots Radio Conference, 7:30 p.m. at the Capitol Theater. Visit democracynow.org for details.

Oh, and happy birthday to Robby Karran! I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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