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Palestinian Poet Mosab Abu Toha Decries Israel’s “Inhumane” Assault as Gaza Death Toll Tops 25,000

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Palestinian health authorities say the death toll in Gaza has passed 25,000. This comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly affirmed in recent days that he opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, saying Israel must maintain indefinite military control between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. We get an update and speak with Palestinian poet Mosab Abu Toha, who was detained by Israeli authorities as he and his family fled Gaza in late November. He says that while there must be an immediate ceasefire to stop the suffering, only “a just solution to the Palestinian case” will bring long-term stability to the region. “If there is no peace, … we will unfortunately witness more and more of the killings of innocent people everywhere,” he says.

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

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Gaza, where the death toll from Israel’s 15-week war has topped 25,000. There are reports Israel is blowing up entire neighborhoods of the besieged city of Khan Younis. Al Jazeera reports Israel has targeted hospitals, ambulances and schools in the city where thousands of civilians are sheltering.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports the United States, Qatar and Egypt are pushing Israel and Hamas to take part in what the paper describes as a “phased diplomatic process” involving the release of hostages held in Gaza and the eventual withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. After the report was published, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he rejects the proposal because it calls for the war to end. On Thursday, Netanyahu also publicly rejected calls by the Biden administration for the future establishment of a Palestinian state and called for Israel to be in control of the region from the river to the sea.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] I clarify that in any arrangement in the foreseeable future, with an accord or without an accord, the state of Israel must have security control over the entire territory west of the Jordan River. This is a necessary condition. It clashes with the principle of sovereignty. What can you do? I tell this truth to our American friends, and I also stopped the attempt to impose a reality on us that would harm Israel’s security. A prime minister in Israel should be able to say no even to our best friends, say no when necessary and say yes when possible.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as Netanyahu faces growing domestic pressure to bring home the remaining 130 hostages held in Gaza. Earlier today, the Israel Knesset session was suspended after hostages’ families disrupted a committee meeting, demanding lawmakers do more to free their loved ones. Protesters also blocked entrances to the Knesset.

For more, we’re joined in Cairo, Egypt, by Mosab Abu Toha, Palestinian poet and author, who was detained by Israeli authorities as he and his family fled Gaza. He wrote about his experience in a New Yorker article headlined “A Palestinian Poet’s Perilous Journey Out of Gaza.” He’s a columnist, a teacher, a founder of the Edward Said Library in Gaza, also the author of the award-winning book titled Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear: Poems from Gaza.

Mosab, welcome back to Democracy Now! We talked to you just after you made it out of Gaza, following some of your family members. You had been detained. Can you describe that journey and the family members that are still left in Gaza, particularly your brother’s wife, who is about to give birth?

MOSAB ABU TOHA: [Inaudible] for having me, and thanks to Democracy Now! for the continued coverage of the massacres that are taking place in Gaza.

I was on the show a few weeks ago with you, and I describe the horrific experience that I went through. Just yesterday, I watched a video of merciless Israeli soldiers stripping naked fellow Palestinian civilians, and they were beating them in the face, beating them in the stomach. They are outside in the open in the cold weather. And I’m really surprised, because when some media outlets communicated with the Israeli army about my case, they said, “Well, we deny everything he says. It’s true we took him. We interrogated him. But we did not attack him.” But we can see on videos now that are coming out on social media by Israeli soldiers the merciless treatment of Palestinians. So, everything this army is doing is inhumane, is against whatever a child can think of doing. Even a child cannot do anything like that to a cat or to a mouse.

Yesterday, my wife told me that my son, every time he is going to sleep, he starts to weep and sob and cry out loud sometimes. And he asks about his friends in Gaza. Are they eating well? Do they have water? And what about his parents — his grandparents, sorry, about his cousins?

So, what is going on right now in Gaza is really unprecedented. I can’t think of another case in history where everything is taking place live. And the world leaders are supporting Israel with whatever they can. I was released, thankfully, after a lot of friends and media outlets wrote about my case. But there are still hundreds and hundreds of innocent people who are still under Israeli custody, who are being stripped naked, who are being beaten in the face and thrown outside in the cold.

My parents and my siblings are still back in Gaza. My parents and three of my siblings and their children are in north Gaza, a place where there are only six ambulances for about more than 500,000 Palestinians there. They are running out of food, running out of water. Yesterday, my brother sent me a voice message from his phone, about to cry. There is no bread for the children. There is no medicine for the cold and the flu, not to mention that there is no medicine for people with chronic diseases. And we have been telling the whole world about this on social media, on TV, and no one is listening.

I mean, Israel is accusing Egypt of closing the border with Gaza. But this is a big lie, because from day one, Israel bombed the Rafah border crossing, and they are bombing the aid trucks. And they are not allowing the UNRWA commission general from going to north Gaza. So, this is a very highly official person, and he is not allowed to go to Gaza, because they are saying, “Oh, Hamas is stealing the aid from the people.” But, OK, let international staff go into the north of Gaza and see what’s happening there. Why are you blocking the way between the northern part and the southern part? And they are still.

So, from day one, Israel asked people from the north of Gaza to go south. And now they are continuing to bomb the southern part of the Gaza Strip. So nowhere is safe, whether it’s north Gaza or south Gaza. And there was — yesterday I posted something on social media, and someone with — I don’t know what kind of people they are — and he said, “Why is your brother still in north Gaza?” I mean, do you mean that if he left — if he had left north Gaza, he would live in peace in south Gaza? My friends and my neighbors and my wife’s family are in north Gaza, and they are starving, and many of them were killed. So where do we go?

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the telecommunications blackout that went on for something like eight days, and what that means for someone like your sister-in-law when it comes to giving birth?

MOSAB ABU TOHA: Well, Israel was really cruel enough not only to cut off water and food from the people in Gaza, but they also cut electricity. They cut off internet connection. They cut off mobile services and landline services also. So, this is not — I mean, this is not about me calling my brother: “Hi. How are you? Are you still alive?” No, it’s even when someone is being bombed — and many people are under the rubble, by the way, until now. They are under the rubble, and they send sometimes messages from their phone services. I mean, the only way people can communicate with the outside world is using an eSIM card that they could connect to networks outside of Gaza. So, some people would send, “Oh, they bombed my neighbors’ house, and they are under the rubble. Can someone please call the Red Cross? Can someone call the ambulances?” So it’s not only about disconnecting us from each other, but also when someone is wounded, is thrown in the street, and they try to reach out to an ambulance. There is no way they can do that. So, I don’t know what kind of cruelty that lead someone to cut water, food, to cut the connection, and also to cut their lives, for they are ending the lives of everyone in Gaza, especially children.

AMY GOODMAN: Mosab Abu Toha —

MOSAB ABU TOHA: And now my sister, my brother’s wife, is pregnant. Yeah. Sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: And when is she expected to give birth? She’s in the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza?

MOSAB ABU TOHA: Yes, she is in the Jabaliya refugee camp. She was staying at a school, at an UNRWA school, with her husband and her three other children. But because the schools are very crowded and there is no water, no toilets to use, so they sometimes go back and forth between their family house and the school, the UNRWA school, in the Jabaliya refugee camp. And by the way, our house was bombed in October, on October 28th. And we were lucky because we were not there, so no one of us was harmed.

But still, they are under the threat of being killed any moment, under the — I mean, not only by the Israeli airstrikes, but also as a mother. My brother’s wife is now pregnant. There is no guarantee that she is going to give birth just like other mothers give birth to their children. There is no cleanliness. There are no clothes for the newborn. There is no formula milk, if needed. There is no medicine for the mother if she needs any treatment. So, many people are dying, not because of the Israeli airstrikes, not because of the bombs, but also because there is not any sign of good life there.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Mosab Abu Toha, about the significance of massive protests around the world and in the United States, particularly led by the Jewish community, what that means to you, and also South Africa bringing this case against Israel, charging it with genocide, to the International Court of Justice.

MOSAB ABU TOHA: I was invited to read during a rabbi event for ceasefire. And we have been seeing the South African attempt to prove Israel’s genocidal attempts to kill as many Gazans as possible. So we have African people who lived under the apartheid system, and we have Jews who were killed during the Holocaust in Europe, so they are now uniting together to stop these massacres. So this tells us, as Gazans, that we share the same suffering with other people. But, unfortunately, this suffering is brought to us by other people now in Israel, Zionists, who are bringing this cycle of violence in to us — and not for a year, for a year or two. It’s been happening even before the Nakba in 1948. So this tells us that suffering is colorless, doesn’t have to be — you don’t have to be a white or a Muslim or an Arab or a male or a female. It’s enough for you to be a human to sympathize with other people and to call for a ceasefire and to stand for your fellow human beings.

And I hope that we can hear similar pleas and similar — and we can see other attempts, not by the free people of the world, but also if there is any free leader in the world who can step in and say out loud to stop the massacres, the nonstop massacres of the Palestinian people, and to call for a just solution to the Palestinian case.

AMY GOODMAN: Mosab, we spoke to you right before Refaat Alareer was killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza, the renowned Palestinian poet. I know he was a close friend of yours. I was wondering if you could share your remembrance of him. Talk about his significance and how he died.

MOSAB ABU TOHA: Well, first of all, Refaat’s death is not a unique death. There are many other intelligent and wonderful and lovely people who were killed the same way. And by the way, many people don’t know this, but Refaat’s body is still under the rubble of the house that was bombed. So, I want everyone to imagine that your brother, that your father, that your neighbor was not only killed, but his body is still under the rubble, and the body is starting to decay. I don’t know what remains of Refaat’s body. This really breaks my heart.

I would like to remember Refaat as someone who was always ready to listen to our literary works. He likes — he liked to read some of Shakespeare’s sonnets, of John Donne’s poems. He was a huge fan of John Donne. I would like to remember Refaat as someone who loves — who loved to go to strawberry farms and pick strawberries with me and to play pun games.

Refaat is someone who didn’t want to die. And in his poem “If I Must Die,” he didn’t say, “If I die.” “If I must die,” if my death was a necessity, “Let it be a hope. Let it be a tale. Let it bring hope.” And it’s really very, very, very sympathetic and very, very beautiful to see that many people around the world are reading his poem and flying his kite. And I’m sure that Refaat is outside now, seeing — I mean, although his body is still under rubble, but his spirit, his soul is watching everything. He is watching the kites that are flying in the sky of the free world. And I think, I believe, that his only hope right now is that these kites will fly over Gaza to protect the children and mothers and fathers and everyone in Gaza from the Israeli airstrikes.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to end by asking about what you are calling for. The Wall Street Journal is reporting the U.S., Qatar and Egypt are pushing Israel and Hamas to take part in what the paper describes as a “phased diplomatic process” involving the release of hostages and the eventual withdrawal of Israeli forces. But following the report, Netanyahu said he rejects the proposal because it calls for the war to end. Your response, Mosab?

MOSAB ABU TOHA: OK. So, I don’t think that any ceasefire that is going to be signed between Hamas and Israel is going to end the Palestinians’ suffering. So, if this suffering does not end, I don’t think that there will be peace. What should be called for is a just solution to the Palestinian case. It’s not only about the hostages. It’s not about even the children who are being killed now. Because if there is no peace, if there is, I mean, not realistic peace, if peace is not been reached, I think that we will unfortunately witness more and more of the killings of innocent people everywhere.

What I call for is a ceasefire, because we want to save as many children and many family members as possible. What I’m calling for — I mean, if they can’t, I mean, impose a ceasefire right now, at least get some food and some water and some sanitary pads to the mothers and everyone in north Gaza at least. I mean, I don’t know what makes this world powerless in front of Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: Mosab Abu Toha, I want to thank you for being with us, Palestinian poet and author, detained by Israeli authorities as he and his family fled Gaza, a columnist, a teacher, founder of the Edward Said Library in Gaza, author of the award-winning book, Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear: Poems from Gaza. We’ll also link to his pieces in The New Yorker magazine.

Next up, we speak with one of the directors and people featured in Israelism, a new documentary about the relationship between U.S. Jews and the state of Israel. Stay with us.

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