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“Nowhere in Gaza Is Safe”: Palestinian Death Toll Tops 5,000 as Israel Rejects Calls for Ceasefire

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The death toll from Israel’s 17-day bombardment of Gaza has topped 5,000 as Israel intensifies its assault on the besieged territory ahead of an expected ground invasion. Israel continues to reject calls from the United Nations for a humanitarian ceasefire, and relief groups say the aid convoys that have been allowed to enter Gaza are a mere drop in the bucket compared to the needs of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents. We get an update from Palestinian scholar Jehad Abusalim, executive director of humanitarian and educational organization The Jerusalem Fund, who describes life in Gaza for those who have stayed and reiterates international calls for a ceasefire. “Israel is just bombing Gaza nonstop, killing as many civilians as it could, simply because it’s being enabled by the international community,” says Abusalim.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

The death toll from Israel’s 17-day bombardment of Gaza has topped 5,000 as Israel intensifies its assault on the besieged territory. Palestinian officials say more than 2,000 children have now died in the Israeli attack.

Israel is continuing to reject calls from the United Nations for a humanitarian ceasefire. While Israel has intensified its bombing campaign, it has not yet launched a full-scale ground invasion. The New York Times reports the Biden administration has advised Israel to delay a ground invasion in part to give the U.S. more time to prepare if the war spreads across the region.

On Friday, Hamas released its first two hostages, Judith and Natalie Raanan, a mother and daughter who are dual U.S.-Israeli citizens. They were kidnapped on October 7th during the Hamas attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,400 people. The Israeli army now says it believes 222 hostages are being held in Gaza.

So far, two aid convoys have entered Gaza, and a third is on its way, but the U.N. and relief groups say far more aid is needed — not dozens of trucks, but hundreds of trucks of aid, they say. In Gaza City, doctors in the neonatal section of Al-Shifa Hospital say dozens of babies could soon die if the hospital runs out of fuel.

DR. NASSER BULBUL: [translated] As you can see, all the babies in here are underweight and need intensive care around the clock. But we lack basic medicines, like caffeine citrate and antibiotics, like ampicillin and gentamicin, and surfactant. We have ventilators, but now seven ventilators are not working because we don’t have the right cables to operate them. We are only operating with 10 ventilators, which is a strong sign that the failure of this department is looming. We call on everyone to send the necessary medical supplies for this critical department, or else we will face a huge catastrophe, especially if the electricity is out in these departments, where there are 55 babies. We will lose all those who need electricity within five minutes.

AMY GOODMAN: More than half of Gaza’s population has been displaced by the Israeli assault. This is an 18-year-old Palestinian named Dima Allamdani. She had fled to southern Gaza after Israel ordered Palestinians to leave their homes in the north. Much of her family died in an Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis, where the family had sought temporary shelter as it made its way south.

DIMA ALLAMDANI: [translated] I went to look for my mother, my father and my siblings at the morgue. At first they told me, “Come, see your mother.” They didn’t show me her face, but I recognized her from what she has on her feet. God bless her soul. I felt heartbroken. It was like a nightmare. They opened my father’s coffin, and he had no signs of injuries, but he died. God bless his soul. I had a 16-year-old sister among the dead, and they wrote my name on her coffin since they thought it was me. Her body didn’t have any signs of injuries, but maybe she died from internal injuries. … They also showed me my little sister. She’s in first grade. And they asked me, “Who is she?” At first I didn’t recognize her due to all the cuts and burns on her face. Then they wrote her name on her coffin. I would have never thought that my family would end up like this. I felt heartbroken. It’s a nightmare. I can’t believe it, until now, that they’re all dead, no one left.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel has also bombed the home of Raji Sourani, the best-known human rights lawyer in Gaza City. He and his family survived the attack, his home destroyed. In a message to friends, he wrote, quote, “Israel, Biden and the west who support Israel it in doing these crimes against civilians are criminals. We will have our dignity and freedom and end this criminal occupation. One day we will have those criminals accountable,” he said.

We begin today’s show with Jehad Abusalim, a Palestinian scholar and policy analyst from Gaza. He’s the executive director of The Jerusalem Fund in Washington, D.C.

Jehad, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you lay out for us what you understand has taken place so far in Gaza and the latest word about whether Israel is going to engage in a ground invasion, or when they will? This does not preclude what they’ve done until now, which is the intensification of airstrikes on Gaza, the death toll at 5,000 people in Gaza.

JEHAD ABUSALIM: It appears that Israel has one plan and one plan only, and that is revenge. But revenge is not a plan. Israel is destroying Gaza. Israel has destroyed most of the city of Gaza and many towns and villages across the Gaza Strip, home to more than — homes to more than 1 million Palestinians who are now displaced.

I think the important question now, the challenge ahead of us in the United States, in Europe, around the world, is to push for ceasefire. Ceasefire now is what is needed, because as we witness the continuation of killing, of the destruction of the Gaza Strip, as we witness the failure of world governments to hold Israel accountable and to put a stop to this carnage, to this bloodshed, we are devastated, Amy. Entire families are being erased, wiped out off the map and of the civil registry. So I think for us Palestinians, in Gaza and beyond, and for every person of conscience around the world, the priority now should be ceasefire, to protect civilian lives, to protect the dignity of people and to prevent the situation from spinning out of control. It already did.

AMY GOODMAN: And your response to the Israeli government and military saying they’re going to de-Hamasify Gaza, that this was the worst killing of Jews — 1,400 Israelis killed, including other nationalities and religions, on October 7th — and that if — once they get rid of Hamas in Gaza, Gazans can live there?

JEHAD ABUSALIM: Well, they’re not leaving a Gaza behind for Gazans, for Palestinians in Gaza to live there. They’re practically destroying, carpet bombing the entire city and other towns and villages around, across the Gaza Strip. No one wants to see civilians hurt, regardless of who they are or where they come from or what their ethnicities or faiths or nationalities are. There is an important question that I think we need to grapple with as members of this world who care about people’s lives and dignity: Is there going to be a military solution on the ground? And the answer is, no, there isn’t going to be a military solution. Whatever Israel is engaged in right now is pure revenge. It doesn’t have any strategic value. And it doesn’t have any direction. Israel is just bombing Gaza nonstop, killing as many civilians as it could, simply because it’s being enabled by the international community. No one in the international community is asking the tough questions. Is there going to be a military solution? What will this look like? What will this mean for the region?

The region is about to be engulfed in far more violence, so I think this is a moment where we need courage, we need boldness, and we need the ability to confront the realities that got us to this point, that got us to this terrible situation. As I’m talking to you, you know, I’m thinking about my family, too. My friends receive the news — my friends who are from Gaza and abroad, they receive the news of their entire extended families killed in an instant. There will not be a military solution for this. And the only solution — and I’m happy to talk about this on your show today — the only path forward is to face the situation with courage and ask ourselves, “How did we get here?”

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about that solution, that you can see at this point.

JEHAD ABUSALIM: I think there has to be a reassessment of the entire approach towards the Palestine question and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as many in the West like to describe it. I think we have witnessed decades of failure, especially by successive U.S. administrations that promised that they would mediate and negotiate and lead Palestinians and Israelis towards a just and lasting peace, but none of these promises have been fulfilled. We’ve witnessed nothing but cynicism, and we have witnessed nothing but continuous enabling of successive Israeli governments to continue with their policies of uprooting Palestinians, ethnically cleansing them, destroying their lives and destroying any possibility for Palestinian statehood and independence.

And I think one of the biggest U.S. failures in foreign policy we have just witnessed over especially this year, as we saw the U.S. administration enabling the most right-wing government in Israeli history, a government that included people like Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, who casually talked about wanting to ethnically cleanse Palestinians. We heard statements by Israeli officials about the need for a second Nakba. And as Israel and the Israeli settlers, who were backed by the full force of the Israeli state, were attacking Palestinian communities across the West Bank, burning homes, killing people, taking over land, the United States government has given this right-wing government in Israel a visa waiver program that excluded Palestinian Americans, especially those from Gaza, and was pushing for an Israeli-Saudi normalization in a way that empowered Netanyahu’s vision that peace with the rest of the Arab world can be achieved through bypassing Palestinians and ignoring their just demands. So I think there has to be a complete reconfiguration of this approach. And there has to be — and tough questions need to be asked.

AMY GOODMAN: Jehad, I wanted to get your comment on the Israeli military informing Palestinians in Gaza that they would be identified as a partner in a terrorist organization if they didn’t follow forced displacement orders and move south. This message came in leaflets that were dropped from the sky by drones on Saturday, after Israel ordered 1.1 million residents in the northern part of Gaza to move south — of course, not clear if they could ever return. Can you talk about this?

JEHAD ABUSALIM: Let me tell you about my 88-year-old grandmother who lives in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. She is frail, she is old, and she’s ill. She was sleeping in her bed when an Israeli bomb hit the neighborhood where she lives, and she was injured by shrapnel and glass. My cousin, who was taking care of her, had to carry her on his shoulders and run down the stairs, run across the neighborhood as the bombs were falling, carrying a frail 88-year-old grandmother who witnessed more than eight or nine wars so far since she was born. Her entire life has been defined by war, by bloodshed, by aggression, by losing loved ones.

So, I think this entire narrative about north versus south, safe versus unsafe, is nothing but a false narrative that I think we should resist and we should not accept. Nowhere in Gaza is safe. Hundreds of people have been killed and lost their lives regardless of where they reside. That’s why we need a ceasefire now. And this is the demand by Palestinians from Gaza, whether they live in northern Gaza or southern Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Jehad Abusalim of The Jerusalem Fund is in Washington as he talks to us.

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Palestinian Human Rights Lawyer Raji Sourani Describes Surviving Israel Bombing His Home in Gaza

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