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Israel’s Ultimate Goal Is Ethnic Cleansing: Dr. Mustafa Barghouti on Growing Famine, Al-Shifa Attack

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A new U.N.-backed report has found that famine is imminent in northern Gaza with nearly a third of Gaza’s population experiencing the highest levels of catastrophic hunger. This comes as Israel launches another major raid at Al-Shifa Hospital, where tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians have taken shelter since the start of the conflict. In the south, daily bombing continues while the Israeli government threatens a full-scale ground invasion on the border city of Rafah. “The world should impose sanctions on Israel,” says the Palestinian National Initiative’s Mustafa Barghouti, who joins us from the occupied West Bank. Barghouti responds to Israel’s latest military actions and claims, gives an update on the status of ceasefire negotiations, addresses conditions in Israeli prisons and more. “It’s a massacre. It’s a huge genocide,” he says. “The ultimate goal of Israel is ethnic cleansing.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: Famine is imminent in northern Gaza. That’s according to a U.N.-backed report published Monday. The latest findings say virtually everyone in Gaza is struggling to get enough food and that nearly a third of the population of 2.3 million people are experiencing the highest levels of catastrophic hunger. At least 27 people, mostly children, have died from malnutrition and dehydration in the north. According to the new report, the death rate is expected to accelerate and reach famine levels soon.

The World Health Organization said in a statement, quote, “The IPC report confirms what we, our UN partners and NGOs have been witnessing and reporting for months. When our missions reach hospitals, we meet exhausted and hungry health workers who ask us for food and water. We see patients trying to recover from life-saving surgeries and losses of limbs, or sick with cancer or diabetes, mothers who have just given birth, or newborn babies, all suffering from hunger and the diseases that stalk it,” end-quote.

This comes as the Israeli military launched another major raid on Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City Monday with Israeli forces backed by tanks and artillery surrounding the complex and troops storming into a number of buildings. The Health Ministry said about 3,000 people had been sheltering at the hospital, which is the largest hospital in Gaza, and that everyone who tries to move is targeted by sniper bullets and quadcopters, they said. Among those killed in the raid was Faiq Mabhouh, a senior office in the Gaza police who was in charge of coordinating aid distribution in the north.

Meanwhile, President Biden warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a telephone call Monday that an invasion of Rafah would be a mistake, and called on Netanyahu to send a team of officials to Washington to discuss “an alternative approach” to targeting Hamas in Rafah without a major ground invasion. Israel has continued to bomb Rafah almost daily, prompting the Palestinian Foreign Ministry to say Israel has already begun its large-scale attack on the area.

The death toll in Gaza is close to 32,000, over a third of them children, while nearly 74,000 people have been injured.

For more, we’re joined by Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, Palestinian physician, activist, politician. He serves as general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative. He’s joining us from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

Dr. Barghouti, welcome back to Democracy Now! Let’s talk about this issue of famine, doctors describing the wasting that you see, for example, at the temples of people who are dying of starvation, particularly children. Can you talk about what this means and when these officials in the U.N. and other bodies talk about this “man-made” disaster?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Well, the reality is that the whole of Gaza population, 2.3 million people, are suffering from malnutrition already. That includes children, men, women, pregnant women, breastfeeding women, everybody. And that is because of the Israeli-imposed siege on Gaza, which is combined with continuous bombardment that is taking away the lives of people. But it is also combined with the fact that Israel has destroyed more than 70% of people’s homes. They don’t have normal place to be in. They don’t have normal clothes. They don’t have clean water to drink. And they don’t have food supplies.

And this is all happening in front of the world. We’re talking about famine. We’re talking about hunger. And we are talking about actually 700,000 people starving now in the north of Gaza, that includes also Gaza City, of whom 350,000 are children. And that’s why I think almost 30 people — 30 children children have died because of starvation already. This is all happening because of the Israeli siege, because nobody in the world — not the United States, not Europe, not the international community as a whole — is capable of forcing Israel to stop this terrible crime of collective punishment against a whole population. And Israel will not change its policy and its approach without sanctions. The world should impose sanctions on Israel to force it to open the routes of supplies of humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza and to accept a ceasefire, because even if supplies are there and the bombardment continues, people will survive to die. That is the reality of the situation.

Today, 5% of the total population of Gaza have been killed or injured. We’re talking about almost 120,000 people. If that had happened in the United States of America, you would be talking about almost 12 million people killed or injured in five months of this terrible war. So that is the reality of the situation. But add to that, malnutrition causes low immunity. Lack of water causes diseases. There is an outbreak of certain diseases like infectious hepatitis, which has already affected 10,000 people. We have 32 medical teams from our organization, Palestinian Medical Relief Society, working in Gaza, and they report horrible reports. About 1 million people at this very moment in Gaza are sick with respiratory diseases, with gastrointestinal infections, with diarrhea, with hepatitis. And our biggest worry is the outbreak of certain infections among children because these children in Gaza have not had vaccination for more than 165 days.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about — I think it’s the fourth raid now on Al-Shifa? And they say tens of thousands of people have taken refuge there, the Israeli military and spokespeople saying they’re very careful, they have highly trained forces, that they separate the civilians from the militants, and them talking about a high-level Hamas official, Faiq Mabhouh, killing him, along with other fighters — Mabhouh apparently a top food — the person in charge of food distribution in the north.

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: First of all, the Israeli army is lying when they say that they differentiate between civilians and noncivilians. How can this explain the fact that more than 80% of the people who were killed are civilians, women and children mainly? How can they explain that 70% of everybody killed are children and women? They lie. And they lie around the clock. And each time, they are caught with a crime that is obvious, like shooting the people who are starving in the north, trying to get some food from humanitarian aid, and they shot them. We’re talking about 400 people shot while they were trying to get some flour. These people are totally civilians. They are not armed. They’re not threat to anybody, but they killed them, in addition to injuring more than 3,000 other people. So, they keep lying, and I don’t believe their lies.

Now, Mr. Mabhouh, who was killed, is a policeman. He is not a fighter. He’s not from Qassam Brigade. He’s not carrying arms to fight. He was simply organizing some supplies to get to the north. And for the first time, two days ago, 13 trucks with some flour got to the north of Gaza, clearly. And this was well organized. People received their portions. There were no gangs to steal this supply. And obviously, this is something that Israelis didn’t like. They didn’t like that people were organized and getting some supplies after so many days of hunger. And that’s why they killed Mr. Mabhouh. They want chaos in Gaza. And their goal from attacking Shifa Hospital is actually to push people from Shifa Hospital and from Gaza City to the south, again, because the ultimate goal of Israel is ethnic cleansing.

And the reality is that the whole operation, military operation, to attack Rafah is already ready to be implemented, and maybe parts of it has already started to be implemented, as you mentioned. And there, why are they attacking Rafah, with 1.4 million people there, in an area that is very small, that does not exceed 25 square miles? They will cause a terrible massacre. But their real goal is to push people through the borders to Egypt, because Netanyahu did not change his original plan of ethnic cleansing. And the United States government, Mr. Biden and his administration, instead of saying to Netanyahu, “You cannot have an operation in Rafah, and you have to stop this fight, and you have to accept ceasefire,” instead of that, they are deciding to become part of his war cabinet, discussing the plans of how to attack Rafah rather than saying that this attack should not take place.

AMY GOODMAN: National security adviser Jake Sullivan briefed reporters on this last call between Biden and Netanyahu. He laid out the concerns Biden expressed about that possible ground invasion of Rafah.

JAKE SULLIVAN: First, more than a million people have taken refuge in Rafah. They went from Gaza City to Khan Younis and then to Rafah. And they have nowhere else to go. Gaza’s other major cities have largely been destroyed. And Israel has not presented us or the world with a plan for how or where they would safely move those civilians, let alone feed and house them and ensure access to basic things like sanitation. … But a major ground operation there would be a mistake. It would lead to more innocent civilian deaths, worsen the already dire humanitarian crisis, deepen the anarchy in Gaza and further isolate Israel internationally.

AMY GOODMAN: So, if you can talk about what this team from the Israeli government is that’s going to Washington, D.C., to come up with a so-called alternative plan — although Israel keeps insisting they don’t kill Palestinian civilians, they have very targeted troops that know exactly the difference between them — and what it means to say if they attack Rafah, which, of course, every day they are doing, but a full-scale ground invasion, they will establish humanitarian — what are they describing it as? Humanitarian islands for people to go to?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: That’s not true, because there is no safe place anymore in Gaza. And if there are places which will not be bombarded, as they claim, they are places without any infrastructure, without water, without electricity, without food, without medical services, without medicines, without anything. Where will people go?

To talk about the possibility of such an attack that it would cause more harm is not enough. It will cause a huge massacre, the largest massacre in human history probably, at least in the modern history. We will be talking about tens of thousands of people who would be slaughtered. That is the reality. And they have no place to escape to. Israel kept saying to people, “Move from this place to that place. It will be safe.” And then they would bombard the safe space. So the United States should not say — I repeat, should not say — there isn’t a good plan. They should say that the whole attack should not happen and that this war must stop.

And when the Israelis say they differentiate, they are lying. Are the 14,000 Palestinian children who were killed military activists or militants? These are children, for God’s sake. And they are not 19 or 18 years old. These are 10 years old, 2 years old, 1 years old, even months old. That is the reality of what’s happening in Gaza.

It’s a massacre. It’s a huge genocide that Israel is engaging in. And the United States of America does not have the guts to go to the United Nations Security Council resolution and allow the passage of a resolution demanding immediate ceasefire. That’s what we need: immediate ceasefire, no attack on Rafah, and supplies immediately to the civilian population of Gaza, which is starving.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk —

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Any other thing —

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk — 

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Any other thing is just talk. Yeah, please.

AMY GOODMAN: — about the negotiations that are going on in Qatar right now? Talk about what Hamas has put forward.

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Hamas tried, as we were — as the reports show that we have received, the reports show that Hamas tried to be flexible. They made some concessions to make it possible to reach an agreement, because they are really worried about the humanitarian situation of the people and the so many people who have been killed. But, unfortunately, Netanyahu restricted the team that went to Qatar. He restricted their authority and authorization. And in my frank opinion, I think Netanyahu is — he made all these restrictions with his team to prevent reaching an agreement and then used that failure to justify an attack on Rafah.

I do not think — because Netanyahu knows if he goes into a deal with Hamas about release of some prisoners and exchange of prisoners, his coalition partners, the fascists, Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, will bring his government down. So, all he thinks about is how to save himself, how to save his position. He doesn’t care about Israeli prisoners. He knows. He knows very well that if he attacks Rafah, so many Israeli prisoners will be killed. He knows that, but he doesn’t care about them. And he is stuck with these fascists in his government, and he’s driving his whole government into the direction — and, actually, the Israeli society at large, he’s driving them into the direction of fascism, because what’s happening in Palestine cannot be made except by people who have no respect whatsoever, not only to international law, but to human lives, in general.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re in the occupied West Bank, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti. You’re in Ramallah. Can you talk about the arrest of journalists? You have Ismail al-Ghoul — he’s with Al Jazeera Arabic — stripped naked there for hours, detained, interrogated with others when they raided Al-Shifa Hospital. Al Jazeera reported that satellite trucks were attacked outside — that’s TV satellite trucks — to restrict further images. You have in the occupied West Bank Rula Hassanein, who is a Palestinian journalist. It’s unclear if she was taken from her home in Ramallah, or was it Bethlehem, at like 2:00 in the morning, has a 9-month-old baby, is breastfeeding. This just happened. The attack on journalists, and what do you think is the message Israel is sending?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: The message is that they are reoccupying all of the West Bank and all of Gaza, subjecting all Palestinian people, without exception, to terrible oppression.

And as you know, Amy, since the beginning of this war, Israel did not allow any foreign journalists to enter Gaza, except for one from CNN who was allowed there only for three hours. They didn’t allow any foreign journalists in, and then they started executing the local journalists. Up to now, 146 Palestinian journalists in Gaza were killed by Israeli snipers or Israeli bombardment, including two from Al Jazeera network. And now they’ve arrested a third one, al-Ghoul, and practically tortured him before releasing him. And you remember the story of the family of Dahdouh, who lost his wife, his children, because he was reporting for Al Jazeera.

And in my opinion, the attacks on journalists are also taking place in the West Bank. More than 30 journalists were arrested so far. And it goes on. And in the West Bank, by the way, Israel has arrested more than 7,500 new people. The total number of people in Israeli jails in the West Bank has risen from 5,300 to almost 9,000.

And one thing that the world doesn’t talk about is the terrible torture that the people in Israeli prisons are subjected to. They are fighting them, torturing them with hunger. They brought down the rations for — their food rations by 70%. They beat them regularly. Most recently, they attacked even one of the political prisoners, Marwan Barghouti, and many of his colleagues, as well, beating them badly. And it goes on. We have lost already 13 people in Israeli jails because of torture and because of beating and because of starvation. The situation in Israeli prisons is horrifying. And in Gaza, we don’t know exactly the number of people who were imprisoned or kidnapped. We’re talking about thousands of people, maybe 3,000, maybe 4,000. But the people who were released told us horrible stories about how they were tortured in an Israeli concentration camp in the Negev with electrical shocks, with drowning them in the water, with terrible beating. The director of Shifa Hospital is still in prison. They broke both of his hands, as was reported. And they tried to force him to admit things that he never did. That is the reality and the situation on the ground. It’s horrifying.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, I want to thank you for being with us, Palestinian physician, activist, politician, serves as general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, speaking to us from his office in the occupied West Bank in Ramallah.

Next up, we talk about Haiti. As violence continues, we speak with the former U.S. special envoy for Haiti, Ambassador Dan Foote, who resigned in 2021 citing the Biden administration’s, what he called “inhumane” treatment of Haitian asylum seekers and U.S. meddling in Haitian politics. Back in 20 seconds.

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