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Historian Rashid Khalidi: Palestinians “Living Under Incredible Oppression, … It Had to Explode”

StoryOctober 09, 2023
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In New York, we speak with Rashid Khalidi, author of The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine, who lays out how this weekend’s extreme violence between Hamas and Israel will force “a paradigm shift.” Colonial powers will no longer believe they can force people to live under the conditions Israel has subjected Palestinians to and expect no retaliation of the oppressed, says Khalidi. “That idea has exploded as a result of the horrific events over the past two-and-a-half days,” says Khalidi, who calls the blockade of Gaza “a pressure cooker. It had to explode.” In response to the escalated conflict, the U.S. promised Israel would have “what it needs to defend itself,” pledging more military aid and munitions to Israel, already the largest annual recipient of U.S. military funding, as the Biden administration moved warships toward Israel. “We finance this occupation. We finance this violence,” says Khalidi, who calls on Biden to defuse the situation instead of escalating it. “You cannot make peace over the bodies of Palestinians.”

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

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

Israel has ordered a complete siege of Gaza after Hamas broke out of the blockaded Gaza Strip Saturday, carried out an unprecedented attack by air, land and sea on Israel. Over the past three days, at least 1,300 people have died, including over 800 inside Israel, over 500 in Gaza. We’ve been to Gaza and Jerusalem. Now we’re joined here in New York by Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University, author of a number of books, including The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine.

Professor Khalidi, thank you for being with us. As you listened to voices of Orly Noy in Jerusalem, of Raji Sourani, the human rights lawyer in Gaza, the attack we heard on air live, and Ofer Cassif, the Knesset member of Israel, can you respond to what has taken place and what it looks like is about to take place? Israeli military equipment and tanks are headed down to Gaza now.

RASHID KHALIDI: I’m afraid that the horrific casualties among civilians, Israelis and, increasingly, Palestinians, is just the beginning of what’s going to be an awful, awful, awful massacre in Gaza. The desire for revenge after the killing of a very large number — hundreds, apparently — of innocent Israeli civilians is going to lead to a horrific massacre in Gaza of probably many, many more people than we can imagine. And I agree with what Raji said, of course, my friend Raji, who I hope is OK. And I agree with what Orly said and with what Ofer Cassif said. War crimes don’t justify other war crimes. And we are about to see horrific war crimes.

But I think there are two things that have to be added. This has to be put within the context. And the context is not just occupation. The context is settler colonialism and apartheid. The people of Gaza, the refugees in Gaza, originate in the areas where Hamas fighters were attacking in the last couple of days. Those were Palestinian towns and villages in 1948. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine led to the cooping up of what are now 2.4 million people in Gaza. Today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the United States. These are the Indigenous people of the southern parts of Israel that the Hamas fighters were attacking over the past few days. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is, I think that we’re about to see a paradigm shift. The idea that you can coop up 5 million people, put them behind walls, tighten the siege on them, use an eyedropper to allow them some food, some water, some electricity, that idea has exploded as a result of the horrific events of the past two-and-a-half days. This cannot continue. It’s not just a matter of occupation. We have to recognize that you cannot treat an entire people the way Israel, not just under this neofascist government, but under all of its previous governments, have treated them. You cannot expel three-quarters of a million people in 1948 and not expect the return of the repressed. You cannot commit daily violence against Palestinians — one Palestinian has died every day this year — in fact, slightly more — in the occupied West Bank. You cannot expect that not to lead to a reaction. The reaction will be violent. The reaction sometimes may include things that are unquestionably war crimes.

But that kind of pressure put on an entire people over three-quarters of a century will necessarily, inevitably bring a violent reaction. And this pressure cooker that the Palestinians are in, which the Hamas military commander listed — he said what they’re doing in Jerusalem, trying to take over the Al-Aqsa Mosque and turn it into a site of Jewish prayer, what they are doing in the occupied West Bank in terms of the effective annexation of more and more Palestinian land to Israel, and the application of Israeli law to Israelis and military law to Palestinians — apartheid, two legal systems in one place — the imprisonment of 5,000 Palestinians and the administrative detention of hundreds, and, finally, the siege of Gaza — when Gallant, Yoav Gallant, the minister of defense, announced that he was cutting off fuel, food, water and electricity to Gaza, he called the Gazans “human animals.” That’s 2.4 million people who are being treated as if they are animals. They’re not Hamas fighters. As Raji said, the fighters are one thing. Hamas is one thing. Hamas has imposed itself on the people of Gaza. The people of Gaza are the ones who are going to suffer. As in every one of these wars, almost all of the casualties are going to be civilians, that Israel has waged on Gaza. This will be the fifth or the sixth attack on Gaza. And I’m very, very afraid that Raji is right: We are going to see unparalleled massacres. But I think we have to see that this may be the end of an era, when people in Washington and people in Arab capitals assume you could just fly over Palestine, ignore it and pretend that we’re in a new Middle East of peace, while an entire people is living under this kind of incredible oppression, in a pressure cooker. It had to explode.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what’s happening now. You have the Republicans attacking Biden, saying that it’s his support for Iran, making that $6 billion deal, unfreezing Iranian assets, that has allowed this to happen, The Wall Street Journal saying Iran is behind us, the White House pushing back, Blinken saying they don’t have the evidence at this point. What this means? And also Hezbollah on the border of Lebanon and the incursion this weekend, as well?

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, I mean, the possibility of a wider conflict should terrify everybody. And instead of moving aircraft carriers, the United States should be trying to defuse the situation. Instead, I think they’re blindly going ahead with the policies that they have followed in the past. You do not send presents, as President Biden has done, to an apartheid government that is moving towards basically destroying the protections of the Israeli constitution for Israeli Jews and annexing the West Bank. And that’s what this administration has been doing. That’s what previous administrations have done. We finance this occupation. We finance this violence. There are American weapons that are being used today, right now, in Gaza to kill innocent civilians in violation of U.S. law. And American politicians blithely talk as if they live on another planet.

I think, though, that the ground has shifted, and even though American politicians live in Never-Never Land, as far as Palestine is concerned, reality is going to intrude itself sooner or later. There is a widespread revulsion across the Arab world against what Israel does in Palestine. Authoritarian, dictatorial, absolute monarchies are trying to ignore that, ignore the feelings of their own people, the sentiments of their own people. That’s not going to work. You cannot make peace over the bodies of Palestinians. That’s not peace. That is the peace of the dead. And the kind of repression that is being exerted day in, day out — theft of land, expansion of settlements and so on — necessarily, inevitably is going to bring a reaction. So, whether the people living in Washington, D.C., and in their own alternative reality believe it today or tomorrow, sooner or later, I think that reality is going to dawn. But you cannot do this forever.

AMY GOODMAN: The national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, just 10 days ago said, you know, it has been very quiet in the Middle East, which has allowed the U.S. to move on to other areas of the world. “Very quiet,” he said. And I’m wondering if you can comment on that. And do you think what led to this attack by Hamas fighters on Saturday had anything to do with Saudi Arabia and Israel normalizing relations at the behest of the United States?

RASHID KHALIDI: I don’t doubt that that was a factor. I think the basic factor was that people couldn’t live under these circumstances. And Hamas has basically acted in a way involving enormous brutality against the civilians, things that are unquestionably war crimes. But it has acted in a way to shatter that whole paradigm. I think people are thinking very carefully in places that have normalized with Israel.

The other thing that should be said — I think Orly mentioned this — this is a massive intelligence failure, on the part of American intelligence and especially on the part of the Israeli intelligence services. They had absolutely no idea this was coming. They transferred three battalions from the Gaza front to the West Bank to protect settler rampages against Palestinians, denuding the towns on the southern borders of the Gaza Strip of the people who could have defended against the attack by Hamas. This was one of the great deception operations in modern military history, and people are going to teach this. Leaving aside the war crimes, they’re going to teach this in military academies for years and years to come. This is on level with the 1973 war in terms of deception, and an entirely mistaken concept on the part of Israelis, thinking that you could do this to Gaza forever and that they would just lie down and take it.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Rashid Khalidi —

RASHID KHALIDI: — thinking that you can do it — sorry, go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: This news just came out from Times of Israel, also from the Associated Press: Egyptian intelligence repeatedly told Israel Hamas was planning something big, warnings were discounted, this according to an intelligence official in Cairo.


AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts on this, in the last 30 seconds?

RASHID KHALIDI: It’s very similar to what happened before the 1973 war, when Israel was getting intelligence that the Egyptian and Syrian armies were planning a major attack. And the conception — the concepsia, in Hebrew — that these people would never do such a thing, they’re not capable of this, the arrogance that was involved in ignoring those intelligence reports in 1973 and in 2023 are among the things that led to this catastrophic outcome, which I think is going to change a lot of things in the Middle East in the months and years to come.

AMY GOODMAN: Rashid Khalidi, we want to thank you for being with us, Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University. His latest book, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine. Raji Sourani, Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, leading human rights lawyer, speaking to us from Gaza as the bombs went off. Ofer Cassif, member of the Israeli Knesset. And Orly Noy, board chair of B’Tselem, Israeli human rights organization. That does it for our show. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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