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Sharif Abdel Kouddous on the Targeting of Journalists & Israel’s “Colonial Fantasy” to Depopulate Gaza

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As the United Nations calls again for a ceasefire in Gaza, Palestinian health officials are warning thousands of women, children and sick people could soon die as Israel continues its bombardment of Gaza. Gaza is also facing a second day of a communications blackout. “Gaza City itself is a hollow shell” where “the streets have been turned into graveyards” and “the smell of death is everywhere,” says independent journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous. “It increasingly seems that Israel is trying to push Palestinians into Egypt, which is a long-standing colonial fantasy,” he says of Israel’s campaign of Palestinian displacement in Gaza. Kouddous also calls out the journalism community’s silence in the face of what is the deadliest conflict for journalists in decades, noting the “bias being laid bare.”

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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.

As we continue to look at Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, I want to turn to the words of the British Palestinian surgeon Ghassan Abu-Sittah describing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. He had been working in the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, which was one of the last functioning hospitals in the Gaza Strip.

DR. GHASSAN ABU-SITTAH: Day before yesterday, there was a major airstrike, over 50 killed, on a mosque. And Al-Ahli was completely inundated with the wounded, and we were operating all through the night. And by the early hours of yesterday morning, we had realized that we have basically run out of medication for the anesthetic machines, and we had to stop the operating room. We had finished early, and that is when we made the decision.

At the same time, in the early hours of the morning, there was heavy bombing all around the hospital. I mean, we — close to the hospital, you could feel the building being shook. And we were being — and it sounded like tank fire. It didn’t sound like air raids. And so we made the decision that it was time for at least the operating room staff, since we were being — not going to be able to provide a service, to evacuate. And so, yesterday morning we left. And we could — you could hear the sounds of the tanks around the hospital when we walked out. And we literally walked all the way to Nuseirat camp in the central zone.

When we left, there were over 500 wounded needing the urgent medical care, needing surgical intervention, that we cannot provide because we had run out of medication. We had run out. The operating room could no longer function. And at the best, there were two operating rooms in Al-Ahli. We were always overwhelmed with the number of wounded, compared with what we were able to provide.

AMY GOODMAN: The British Palestinian surgeon Ghassan Abu-Sittah, speaking through his surgical mask in Gaza. We’ve been trying to reach people there, but it’s the second straight day of a telecommunications blackout. This is only the latest one.

To talk more about Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, we’re joined now by independent journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous, produced the award-winning documentary The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh for Al Jazeera’s documentary series Fault Lines and has reported from Gaza for Democracy Now! and other outlets.

Sharif, it’s so important to talk about what’s happening there even as this telecommunications blackout is happening. Also, the leaflets that are being dropped on Khan Younis, which is where so many thousands of Palestinians have been instructed to go, to head south, from northern Gaza south — now leaflets are being dropped there, saying they must move further south. Can you respond to this overall situation?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, I mean, you have a situation where the northern part of Gaza, north of Wadi Gaza, and Gaza City itself, which was home to nearly 1 million people, is now a hollow shell. Most neighborhoods in Gaza City and in northern Gaza, in general, have been very badly damaged or destroyed. You have these armored columns of Israeli forces going in and tearing up the roads. Electricity, water, sewage infrastructure basically no longer exist.

And, you know, there are reports that the smell of death is everywhere, as an untold number of bodies are lying under the rubble. The U.N. estimates that about 2,700 people, including 1,500 children, are missing and believed to be buried under the ruins. And there’s reports of the people that have remained in the north digging with their bare hands, trying to find their family members. And the streets have been turned into graveyards.

So, only a fraction of the people who lived in northern Gaza remain there, and most have been forcibly displaced to the south in scenes that are reminiscent of the Nakba. One-point-five million people have been displaced in Gaza. That’s nearly double the number that were ethnically cleansed in 1948 and were never allowed to return to their homes. And many of these people are people who were displaced, or their descendants, from 1948. We have to remember that 80% of Palestinians in Gaza are not from Gaza. They’re refugees. So, most of the Palestinians in northern Gaza are now packed into the south. There’s no indication if or ever they’ll be able to return to the north. The Israeli military effectively controls most of the northern area. And northern Gaza is basically uninhabitable now. You know, it’s been destroyed.

And there’s hardly any aid coming in. You know, Gaza is now receiving only about 10% of its needed food supplies. Dehydration, malnutrition are growing. Nearly all of the people in Gaza, the 2.3 million people, are in need of food, according to the U.N. And as you mentioned, the communications systems are down now for second day. And this is a more serious telecommunications blackout, because it’s the result of no fuel to power the internet and phone networks, so it may be a more permanent communications blackout. And this communications blackout is actually causing disruptions to the little amount of cross-border aid deliveries that were coming in.

And as you mentioned, the Israeli forces now have dropped these leaflets just the other day telling Palestinians in areas east of Khan Younis, which is, you know, a bigger city in the south of Gaza, to evacuate. Where are these people supposed to go? It increasingly seems that, you know, Israel is trying to push Palestinians into Egypt, which is a long-standing colonial fantasy. And, you know, there are plans that have been documented for this. There was a document leaked last month from Israel’s intelligence minister that detailed a durable postwar situation solution for Gaza, which includes the long-term transfer, forcible transfer, of Palestinians to northern Sinai. There’s something called the Eiland plan, which is named after a retired major general, who outlines a proposal to forcibly transfer Palestinians to Sinai.

But right now, yeah, we don’t know what the situation is. Egypt has staunchly refused this kind of mass displacement of Palestinians into its territory, and it has tried to negotiate aid to come in. But there’s increasing pressure right now on Egypt, because at the end of the day, this is an Egyptian border, the Rafah border crossing. It’s the only border crossing into Gaza that is not controlled by Israel. Egypt right now is letting in maybe 50, maybe 80, maybe a hundred trucks a day, just a fraction of the amount of aid that used to come into Gaza even before October 7th. And the reason it’s only letting in a fraction is that it’s allowing Israel to dictate the terms. So it gets approval from Israel of how many trucks can enter the Rafah border crossing. Those trucks then enter. They go up to an Israeli border crossing, where they’re checked. They come back down and then enter into Gaza.

And there’s increasing pressure on Egypt from civil society in Egypt, from people around the world, for Egypt to just open the border and let the aid in. If Israel wants to bomb U.N. aid trucks, then, you know, that’s something else. But right now Egypt is coordinating with Israel on how much aid gets in, and people are beginning to starve, and infectious disease is spreading because of no water, and it’s an incredible crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, the number of journalists who have been killed, I think Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 42 journalists and media workers have been killed since October 7th. It’s the deadliest month for journalists since the group began collecting information in 1992. If you can talk about the global response, the global journalist response? And then we’ll talk a bit about the latest on Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed not in Gaza by the Israeli forces, but was killed last year outside the Jenin refugee camp.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Yeah. I mean, what can you say? I don’t know what the number is even now. You know, it’s at least 35. Maybe 40 Palestinian journalists have been killed in just over a month, by far the highest number of journalists killed in such a short amount of time. And, you know, foreign journalists can’t get into Gaza. Israel is not letting them in, and nor is Egypt. So you have a situation where you’re killing most of the journalists, the registered journalists in Gaza. You’re not letting other journalists in. And then we’ve seen very problematic coverage from newsrooms, Western newsrooms, of what’s happening on the ground, problematic language, and people have been protesting this. And we just saw — you know, people have been resigning from The New York Times. The poetry editor of The New York Times just resigned from there, you know, because of the language used by The New York Times in this coverage.

But also, you know, you haven’t seen the type of outcry that one would imagine from the journalistic community for their colleagues who are being killed in Gaza. And the ones that aren’t killed in Gaza have lost so much. They’ve lost their families. They’ve lost their homes. When Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered by the Saudi government, there was massive condemnation from Western news outlets for the murder, and rightly so. When Evan Gershkovich, The Wall Street Journal reporter, who remains in prison in Russia, was arrested, there has been and still remains a massive outcry over his arrest. But we haven’t seen the same kind of outcry over this record number of journalists, Palestinian journalists, that have been killed in Gaza. I think it’s deeply, deeply problematic and reveals a bias that is being laid bare in many ways.

And as you mentioned Shireen Abu Akleh, you know, when this all kind of — the assault on Gaza began on October 7th, we saw people post on Twitter, on social media kind of photos of Shireen and just saying that — kind of wishing that she was around, that she was alive to report, because she was such an incredible journalist and so needed in a time like this. You know, even the Lebanese journalist who was killed in shelling in southern Lebanon by Israel — 

AMY GOODMAN: Issam Abdallah.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: — one of his last tweets — Issam Abdallah, yeah, Issam Abdallah — one of his last tweets was a photo of Shireen. And he just wrote, “Shireen,” with a heart. And then, after he was killed, someone put up his photo and said “Issam,” with a heart.

AMY GOODMAN: And the latest news —

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: So, yeah, Shireen — go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: — about the Israeli army bulldozing the memorial for her where she was killed?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right. I mean, as we heard in headlines, you know, Israel has repeatedly conducted very brutal raids on Jenin, on the Jenin refugee camp, which is the heart of militant Palestinian resistance in the West Bank. We’ve seen drone strikes on Jenin. Just a few days ago, a drone strike killed about 14 Palestinians in Jenin, one of the deadliest days in the West Bank since 2005. And we saw drone strikes just the other day, as well, and raids on the hospital.

And during one of these raids, they came in — the site where Shireen was shot by an Israeli sniper has become a memorial area. When I went there last year to report on her killing, there’s photos of her everywhere. There’s flowers. There’s written pieces of tribute that are all hung up. The tree where she was killed under, you can still see the bullet holes. And it’s a place where family and friends have sought some solace by visiting this area and remembering Shireen. And an Israeli bulldozer came in during one of these raids and completely destroyed this road and this area where this memorial was. And it doesn’t seem — it seems to just be some kind of vindictive act, because there was no reason to destroy this road that leads to the entrance of the Jenin refugee camp.

They’ve also — you know, in an earlier raid, they destroyed this memorial which was in the shape of a horse, which was kind of well known in Jenin, in a main roundabout, and was built from the pieces of an ambulance that was blown up in an airstrike by Israel in 2002. And it was — they used the parts of the destroyed ambulance to kind of create this horse monument, which was a testament to Jenin’s spirit of resistance. They also came in and kind of removed that. So there seems to be also an attack on symbols of resistance to Israel, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sharif, we’re going to ask you to stay with us. We’re going to switch gears. Sharif Abdel Kouddous is a journalist who won a George Polk Award for documentary The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh for Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines series. After the break, Sharif will stay with us, and we’ll be joined by another guest to talk about his new documentary and all the latest developments around Cop City in Atlanta. Back in 20 seconds.

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