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Biden’s SOTU on Gaza: Israeli Daughter of Freed Hostage & Palestinian American Professor Respond

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In his State of the Union address, President Biden addressed Israel’s assault on Gaza, where the humanitarian crisis continues to worsen amid a relentless bombing campaign and siege. We’re joined by two guests: Eman Abdelhadi, a Chicago-based Palestinian Egyptian American professor, artist and activist, who on Thursday delivered an alternate State of the Union address called “The State of Genocide,” and Neta Heiman Mina, a member of the Israeli chapter of Women Wage Peace, whose 84-year-old mother, Ditza Heiman, was one of the hostages released during the temporary ceasefire and hostage exchange between Israel and Hamas in November. Abdelhadi says that by arming Israel while offering limited aid to the starving population of Gaza, the Biden administration is “effectively holding a gun to Palestinians’ heads, shooting at them with one hand and throwing crumbs at them with the other.” Meanwhile, Mina calls on the Israeli government “to do everything we can” to return the remaining hostages, including an immediate ceasefire and the release of Palestinian prisoners. “This genocide has been going on for 152 days, and it is 100% an American project,” Abdelhadi says, adding that campaigners plan to hold Biden electorally accountable for his continued support for Israel. “We are going to make sure that the DNC knows where we stand on this issue.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.

In his address, President Biden talked about Gaza, which has become a key election issue. As they watched, progressive lawmakers Cori Bush, Summer Lee, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib — the only Palestinian American in Congress — held up signs reading “Lasting Ceasefire Now” and “Stop Sending Bombs.” Tlaib, Summer and Bush also donned Palestinian keffiyehs. Separately, many Democratic women wore white in honor of the suffragettes. Today is International Women’s Day. This is President Biden.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Israel has a right to go after Hamas. Hamas ended this conflict by releasing hostages, laying down arms — could end it by releasing the hostages, laying down arms and surrendering those responsible for October 7.

But Israel has a — excuse me. Israel has an added burden, because Hamas hides and operates among the civilian population like cowards, under hospitals, day care centers and all the like. Israel also has a fundamental responsibility, though, to protect innocent civilians in Gaza.

This war has taken a greater toll on innocent civilians than all previous wars in Gaza combined. More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, most of whom are not Hamas — thousands and thousands of innocents, women and children; girls and boys also orphaned; nearly 2 million more Palestinians under bombardment or displacement; homes destroyed, neighborhoods in rubble, cities in ruin; families without food, water, medicine. It’s heartbreaking.

I’ve been working nonstop to establish an immediate ceasefire that would last for six weeks to get all the prisoners released — all the hostages released and to get the hostages home and ease the intolerable humanitarian crisis and build toward an enduring, a more — something more enduring.

The United States has been leading international efforts to get more humanitarian assistance into Gaza. Tonight I’m directing the U.S. military to lead an emergency mission to establish a temporary pier in the Mediterranean on the coast of Gaza that can receive large shipments carrying food, water, medicine and temporary shelters. No U.S. boots will be on the ground. A temporary pier will enable a massive increase in the amount of humanitarian assistance getting into Gaza every day.

AMY GOODMAN: Ahead of Biden’s State of the Union address, hundreds of protesters blockaded roads outside the White House, near the Capitol, delaying Biden’s speech as they demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Other protests took place nationwide. More are expected this weekend in Chicago, where the Democratic National Convention will take place this summer. An antiwar coalition held a 24-hour vigil in the city’s Federal Plaza reading as many names as possible of the more than 30,000 Palestinians killed by Israel’s bombing of Gaza. They also hosted an alternate State of the Union address by our next guest.

EMAN ABDELHADI: Tonight’s State of the Union is the state of the genocide, because our leaders have followed a familiar playbook: investing in power, money and blood at the expense of humanity.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Chicago, where we’re joined by Eman Abdelhadi, a Palestinian Egyptian American activist and assistant professor at the University of Chicago, where her work includes studying the politics of Muslim Americans. She supported President Biden in the 2020 presidential election and even drove some of her friends to the polls.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor Abdelhadi. Your message last night?

EMAN ABDELHADI: Thank you, Amy, for having me.

I want to point out that I co-wrote and co-gave the speech with Ari Bloomekatz, who is the editor of In These Times magazine. And our message was that business cannot go on as usual, and we are not going away. This genocide has been going on for 152 days, and it is 100% an American project. It would not be where it is today if the U.S. did not send weapons to Israel, did not lend unconditional support. And so, it is disingenuous to put it at the end of the speech as though it were a faraway foreign policy issue and not a core issue that is on Americans’ minds.

AMY GOODMAN: And your response to this idea of setting up a port? First it was airdropping food. But it’s as if it’s a natural catastrophe, like an earthquake or a tornado or a hurricane, where you have to ensure that somehow people get food. But it is a U.S. ally who the U.S. is arming: Israel.

EMAN ABDELHADI: Yeah. President Biden is effectively holding a gun to Palestinians’ heads and shooting at them with one hand and throwing crumbs at them with the other hand. And he wants us, as American people, to focus only on the crumbs that he’s throwing. Meanwhile, we are saying, and have been saying, “President Biden, drop the gun.” It is absurd to frame these deaths as though they are just collateral damage and not an intentional strategy of ethnic cleansing by the Israeli state.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring in Neta Heiman Mina, who is a member of the Israeli chapter of Women Wage Peace. Her 84-year-old mother, Ditza Heiman, was taken hostage by Hamas from her home on the Kibbutz Nir Oz near the border with Gaza but was released on November 28th. She’s joining us from Israel.

Neta, thanks so much for being with us, coming back on Democracy Now! There were a number of hostage families represented last night who were guests of congressmembers, of the Bidens, of the Israeli American or American hostages in Gaza. First of all, how is your mother? And can you talk about what you want to see happen now?

NETA HEIMAN MINA: Hi. Thank you for having me.

My mother is OK. She is starting to live her new life. She can’t go back to her home in the kibbutz, because the kibbutz is wounded by the Hamas. But she’s still waiting for her neighbors and friends from the kibbutz, that there are still 37 live hostages from Kibbutz Nir Oz still in Gaza.

I think we need to do everything we can to bring them back, even if it’s said a ceasefire, even if it’s said a release the Palestinian prisoners. We must do it as soon as possible, because they don’t have time. They can’t stay there. I was in some event today, and this is the number of days they are there. And there are old people and children and women that we hear what they are going through. Those people doesn’t get their medications. It needs to be as soon as possible.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the movement that has been formed by the hostage families? I don’t think their message comes through as clearly in the United States. We have interviewed a number of people, of those Israelis who were killed on October 7th, like Hayim [Katzman], who was a student at University of Washington — we talked to his sibling, Noy [Katzman], in Brussels, who said, “My brother would not want this killing to continue in Gaza.” If you can talk about what hostages’ families are saying right now and how a number of them, well, like you — you’re the daughter, you’re with Women Wage Peace — a number of those even taken or who died were peace activists?

NETA HEIMAN MINA: I don’t want to talk in the name of all the families, the hostages’ families, because we have different thoughts about the situation. But I think the majority want to do everything to bring them back, and they don’t care if we need to stop the war now or release the Palestinian hostages — the Palestinian prisoners, sorry. I think the majority want to do everything to bring them back. We talked two weeks ago with people from the — there was people that they understand, and they told us that Israel can manage with stop the war now and can manage with the release of the prisoners, and there is no problem to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me bring back professor Eman Abdelhadi. Can you talk about what Netanyahu is threatening, the land invasion of Rafah, what that would mean?

EMAN ABDELHADI: It would mean the complete ethnic cleansing of the rest of the Gaza Strip. We’ve seen 1.5 million people squeezed into this tiny piece of land. And now that last refuge, that last piece of land that was supposed to be safe, would be under attack. Palestinians literally have nowhere left to go.

Ultimately, this is a continuation of the policy that Netanyahu has been following since October, right? And since before October, in fact. He and other officials from his administration have been very open in declaring their intent to clear Gaza, to basically empty it of its inhabitants and ready it for settlement. And yet they have faced no consequences from the Biden administration. Your guest before said that we need a transformative foreign policy, and yet what we’re seeing is that the American ruling class is unwilling to transform the relationship of unconditional support to Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Eman, what are the plans for the Democratic convention in Chicago, where you are?

EMAN ABDELHADI: Well, you know, we are very unhappy with this administration. I think the “uncommitted” campaign shows this. Chicago has the largest Palestinian community in the country. It’s, in fact, one of the largest Palestinian diasporic communities in the world. And we are not going away. We are still going to be in the streets. And we are going to make sure that the DNC knows where we stand on this issue.

AMY GOODMAN: And let me ask Neta Heiman Mina: I’m wondering if you can talk about what’s happening with the government right now, how — that Netanyahu, to say the least, has a conflict of interest. If he is forced out of government, he could end up in prison. You now have Benny Gantz meeting with Vice President Harris and Tony Blinken in Washington, D.C., part of the war cabinet, former defense minister. Do you see the government falling apart?

NETA HEIMAN MINA: I don’t know if the government will fall apart. But I want to first say, before I answer your question, that we need to remember that Hamas started this attack. The 7th of October, Hamas attacked Israel, killed 1,400 people, take 254 hostages from their beds with their pajamas. We need to remember this. And the situation in Gaza now, it’s as well as the — it’s the Hamas — Hamas make it. Hamas doesn’t care the Israeli people, and it doesn’t care the Gaza people. I think they care the Gaza people less than the Israeli care, and for sure less the American care.

I don’t know if the government will fall apart. There is a problem. Our prime minister, bringing back the hostages is not in his first priority. His first priority is to stay prime minister and that the government won’t fall apart. And he has a very difficult situation with Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, that if it will be a deal that they said that they will need to stop the war and to release the Palestinian prisoners, he will have a problem with his government.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to Eman Abdelhadi. If you can respond to what Neta has said? And also, we just got this news: According to CBS News, five people were killed Friday by an airdrop package when at least one parachute failed to properly deploy and the parcel fell on them. The video is circulating now. We have just 30 seconds.

EMAN ABDELHADI: Hamas was reacting to a 16-year siege. I’m not promoting what they did on October 7th. But to say that this whole issue started on October 7th is to ignore the fact that a Palestinian was killed every single day in 2023, leading up to October 7th. So, without addressing the root causes of October 7th, without addressing the violence of keeping 2 million people under siege for 17 years without freedom of movement — 

AMY GOODMAN: Ten seconds.

EMAN ABDELHADI: — then we’re not going to get anywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: Eman Abdelhadi, I want to thank you for being with us, assistant professor at the University of Chicago, Palestinian Egyptian American, and Israeli Neta Heiman Mina, member of the Israeli chapter of Women Wage Peace. Her mother was just freed from Gaza in November.

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