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“Killing People Around the Clock”: Dr. Mustafa Barghouti & Muhammad Shehada on 6 Months of War on Gaza

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Israel’s war on Gaza hit the six-month mark on Sunday, a grim milestone. Over 33,100 Palestinians have been killed, including 14,000 children. Nearly 76,000 have been injured, and tens of thousands are missing. About 1.7 million people have been displaced, and the United Nations is warning that famine is imminent. Meanwhile, Palestinians are returning to Khan Younis after the Israeli military announced it had withdrawn its ground troops from the area four months after invading it, leaving Gaza’s second-largest city almost unrecognizable, with much of it turned to rubble. Israel is also still vowing to invade Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, which is sheltering more than half of Gaza’s population. Speaking from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian physician and politician Dr. Mustafa Barghouti says growing outrage against Israel, including among some Western leaders, is largely due to regular people who have been protesting in solidarity with Palestinians. “We have to thank the people of these countries,” says Barghouti. We also speak with writer Muhammad Shehada, chief of communications at Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor and a columnist at The Forward. He says the last six months have exposed the Israeli military’s “complete disregard for human life,” with routine evidence of summary executions, torture and other crimes that rarely get reported in corporate Western media. “They’re not even trying to hide it,” says Shehada.

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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.

Palestinians in Gaza have been making their way into Khan Younis today, a day after the Israeli military announced it had withdrawn its ground troops from the area. Israel first invaded Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-largest city, in December. Four months later, the city is almost unrecognizable. Scores of buildings are destroyed or damaged. Streets have been bulldozed. Piles of rubble have replaced where schools and shops once stood. The withdrawal brought Israeli troop levels in Gaza to one of the lowest since the war began, yet Israel is still vowing to invade Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, which is sheltering some 1.4 million people — more than half of Gaza’s population.

Meanwhile, talks over a ceasefire and the release of hostages are continuing in Cairo, but there are conflicting reports on how much progress has been made.

This all comes as Israel’s war on Gaza hit the six-month mark on Sunday, a grim milestone. Over 33,100 Palestinians have been killed, including over 14,000 children. Nearly 76,000 people have been injured. Tens of thousands are missing. About 1.7 million people have been displaced. The United Nations is warning that famine is imminent.

To mark the six months of the war, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote on social media platform X, quote, “The deaths and grievous injuries of thousands of children in Gaza will remain a stain on all of humanity. This assault on present and future generations must end. The denial of basic needs — food, fuel, sanitation, shelter, security and healthcare — is inhumane and intolerable,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, the International Court of Justice began two days of hearings today to consider Nicaragua’s request that emergency measures be imposed on Germany over its support for Israel’s war on Gaza. Nicaragua is accusing Germany of facilitating the commission of genocide in Gaza.

For more, we’re joined by two guests. Muhammad Shehada is with us, a writer and analyst from Gaza, chief of communications at Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, a columnist at The Forward newspaper, a Jewish weekly in New York. He’s joining us from Copenhagen. And joining us from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank is Dr. Mustafa Barghouti. He’s a Palestinian physician, activist and politician, who serves as general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Dr. Barghouti, we want to start with you in Ramallah. Can you explain what you understand has happened in Gaza at this point, the six-month mark, and also the significance of Israeli troops pulling out of southern Gaza but saying they are doing that in preparation for an assault on Rafah?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Well, I think you have a combination of two factors here. The first one is that Israel has created a terrible devastation of all of Gaza Strip. We thought that the destruction in the north of Gaza and in Gaza City was the biggest, but now we discover that the destruction they’ve caused in Khan Younis is even bigger. Probably more than 80% of all homes and houses have been destroyed, partially or completely. They are trying to make Gaza uninhabitable. They’ve destroyed totally the infrastructure. More than 405 schools and universities have been destroyed. Thirty-three hospitals our of 36 have been completely damaged. And they have been killing people around the clock. We are talking, in six months, actually, the number of people killed is no less than 40,000 people, if we include 7,000 who are still missing under the rubble and who have no chance of being alive, in addition to, as you said, to more than 76,000 people. To make it clear to people, this is more than 5% of the population of Gaza Strip. And if that had happened proportionally in the United States of America, you would be talking about more than 12 million people killed or injured in six months. It’s a horrible devastation. I mean, the suffering of children, in particular, hurts, breaks my heart, when you know that 1,000 children have lost their limbs. As one child asked his father — he’s 5 years old, and he lost both of his hands, and he was asking his father, “Father, will my hands grow again when I grow up?” This is the kind of severity of what’s happening there.

But that’s one side of the issue. The other side of the issue is that Israel has failed drastically in achieving any of their goals. Their goal, their main goal, was ethnic cleansing of Gaza. The heroic Palestinian population remained in Gaza, did not leave. Seven hundred thousand people still are in Gaza City and in the north, regardless of the bombardment, of the killing, of everything. And people do not want to leave their homeland again, as has happened in 1948. But also Israel has failed in destroying the resistance. They have failed in bringing back the Israeli prisoners by force. And they have failed to impose their control in the area. And that’s why, practically, wherever their tanks remain, they are subjected to also resistance from the Palestinian side. That’s why they are withdrawing, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to come back. The risk of what they are doing is that they’re taking back their tanks and their infantry and allowing the airstrikes to continue in the most possibly severe way, which is very devastating, because people in Gaza have nothing to defend themselves with against the airstrikes.

Also, it is clear that Netanyahu is maneuvering. He is pressured severely by the whole world now to stop this terrible genocide. But he wants to continue because his own political survival depends on the continuation of this war. He knows very well that once the war stops, he will be investigated for his failure on the 7th of October, his failure in this war, and he will be, of course, tried for four cases of corruption, each of which could take him to prison. So he wants even to expand the war if he can.

But the reality is that Israel is killing Palestinians now in three ways. It is killing Palestinians with bombardment. They have used more than 70,000 tons of explosives. By the way, about 30,000 of that was given by the United States of America. It is like 30 kilograms of explosives for each man, woman and child in Gaza. It is more than the double — more than double the explosive power of the two nuclear bombs that were thrown on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the Second World War. But that’s not all. They use bombardment to kill people. They use hunger to kill people. We have 700,000 people practically starving in the north of Gaza. And they use diseases. We have now up — we have 35 medical teams from Palestinian Medical Relief Society working now in Gaza, and they report to us that about 1 million people in Gaza today are sick with different diseases, skin diseases, infections. And there are certain epidemics that already started. We have an outbreak of infectious hepatitis. We anticipate more outbreaks of epidemics, because children have not received vaccinations for more than 184 days.

It’s a devastating situation, but that’s why the whole world must stand up now with Palestinians and tell Israel, “Enough is enough, and genocide must stop, and it will not stop unless there is immediate and complete and permanent ceasefire.”

AMY GOODMAN: So, what do you think is happening with the pullout of the troops? Ben-Gvir said on X today, the security minister, “If the prime minister decides to end the war without a broad attack on Rafah in order to defeat Hamas, he will not have a mandate to continue serving as prime minister.” Of course, the extremist Ben-Gvir and — if they pull out of the government coalition, Netanyahu will no longer be the prime minister, if Ben-Gvir and Smotrich do that.

But also, you have the conversation that Netanyahu had with President Biden. Of course, we don’t know everything they’ve said. There’s been massive protest in the United States demanding that Biden demand an immediate ceasefire, end arms sales to Israel. This latest news: 40 Democratic members of Congress, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have written Biden urging him to halt news arms transfers to Israel, following Israel’s killing of seven aid workers from the World Central Kitchen, this horrific attack that took place this week. But it must also be galling to politicians — to Palestinians that it took this, this horrific act this week, to call attention to the, what, close to 200 other humanitarian workers who are Palestinian who were killed, 400 medical staff — overall, of course, over 33,000, if not much more, Palestinians killed in Gaza over this six months. But this international attack, since there were people from Australia, Britain, Poland, the United States, Canada, all killed together, put enormous pressure on President Biden. What do you think the U.S. is doing, and what does it need to do, Dr. Barghouti?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Well, first of all, Smotrich and Ben-Gvir are not extremists. They are fascists. And this whole Israeli government does have now a fascist nature. If you look at what they are doing to our prisoners in jail or what they are doing to the people of Gaza or even the West Bank, where more than 460 people have been killed also, it’s a fascist approach. And these guys want Netanyahu to continue the war. And he wants to continue the war.

But if we have to thank anybody for the increasing solidarity with the Palestinian people and the change in the political situation also in the United States, we have to thank the people of these countries, the people of the United States, the people of Europe, the people of many, many countries in the world, who are now in an actual uprising in support of Palestinian people and against this terrible genocide that has exceeded anything before. And I think this public pressure is the main reason why Biden had to change his position, because he knows very well that he will lose elections if he continues like that. I think the vast majority — you know the figures better than me, but I think the vast majority, the majority of the American public, now are against the policy of Biden when it comes to supporting Israel in this terrible genocide.

And unfortunately, if the United States wanted, they don’t need to waste time. They can immediately force Israel to stop this war. Netanyahu and his fascist government and the Israeli government cannot continue this war without American supplies of weapons, of bombs — which continue, by the way, up ’til now — and the planes and the political support in the United Nations Security Council and in other places.

Now the United States government itself is under pressure because also of another factor, which is the fact that ICJ, International Court of Justice, will most probably decide that what’s happening and what happened is genocide. They say it’s a “plausible genocide.” This will hold the United States also responsible for committing a war crime.

So, I think all these factors are there, but we need even more pressure. And I really salute all the American honest and noble people, including the American Jewish people, who are demonstrating against this terrible genocide and preserving the human values of humanity and pressuring Biden. They should continue this pressure, because Netanyahu did not give up, and he is still trying to maneuver. He will try to make the negotiations in Cairo fail and use that as a justification for a new attack on Rafah. We know they are preparing for a new attack on Rafah. We know that Netanyahu even tries to escalate in the north and have a military confrontation with Iran and with Lebanon, if he can. And that explains why he went and attacked a consulate, a diplomatic consulate of Iran, violating every norm of international law. So, in reality, we are facing here a group of aggressors who would like to continue this war and even expand it, who are very angry at their failure. And by the way, I think part of the American administration anger at Netanyahu is that they really gave him so much time, six months, beyond any expectations, and he still failed to fulfill his military goals and failed to achieve what he promised he would do.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Muhammad Shehada into this conversation, writer and analyst, communications chief at Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor. Double the explosive power of the bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been used on Gaza. I wanted to ask what these six months have meant for your family and friends in Gaza — you are from there — and about a report that you all put out, a report that Euro-Med Monitor put out, about killing starving Palestinians, targeting aid trucks, etc.

MUHAMMAD SHEHADA: Well, basically, by now, every single person I know in Gaza was exposed to the scene of decomposing bodies. And virtually everyone I know heard the noises of their neighbors, friends down from underneath the rubble, and they couldn’t do anything about it. It’s even too dangerous to try to rescue people. And everybody I know, at least almost everyone in my family, had their homes bombed. It expands to my circle of friends. At my work with Euro-Med Monitor, we lost at least five team members. One of our team members found his mother executed at Al-Shifa Hospital. He saw her decomposing body lying there on the ground.

And it’s not just the mass killing that is the problem. It’s the deliberate, intentional targeting of civilians, the disregard, complete disregard, for human life that we’re seeing on full display, and the cruelty of the killing itself. We see bodies flattened by Israeli tanks, turned into — literally turned into mush, crushed by Israeli tanks and armored vehicles. We see people hacked into pieces by Israeli missiles and shells. And we see people having their arms bound, their eyes blindfolded, and then executed, especially at Al-Shifa Hospital. So, the nature of the cruelty of the killing is very striking in that sense, especially that it’s very open — they’re not even trying to hide it — and that it’s incredibly underreported on. It doesn’t make it to any mainstream media, basically.

The other dimension that we see there is the people, the amount of people, the hidden iceberg of about 70,000 to 80,000 people who have been maimed or burned severely or wounded critically, without basically any appropriate medical treatment or the possibility to go out of Gaza and seek medical treatment. At the moment, it’s only very, very meager, very minor numbers of people that are allowed outside Gaza to get medical treatment. And hospitals in Gaza, the majority of them, have been fully compromised by Israel surgically, one after the other, in broad daylight, without any sort of condemnation from the U.S. or the European Union.

We see also the mass destruction, as you alluded, twice the amount of bombs that were used in Hiroshima, as an estimate that it’s about 70,000 tons of bombs that were dropped on Gaza. And we recently see Israeli officials admitting in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, saying that “We could have achieved the same military objectives with about 10% of the damage,” but, quote, “cruelty was the point.” There’s an attempt to make a message here. There’s also the unethical, extremely insane use of artificial intelligence in targeting people.

There is also the very bizarre notion that the Israeli soldiers or Israeli troops, commanders, they set up virtual, quote, “extermination areas” in Gaza. Any person that crosses that area or happens to be in that area is executed on the spot or detained and tortured at the Sde Teiman Israeli military base, where thousands of Palestinians are being held at that black spot, away from any sort of legal purview, without being charged or put on trial. And they are subjected to daily torture in every sense of the word, in the most unimaginable ways possible. They’re being electrocuted, burned with cigarettes, urinated upon, spat upon. They have their arms and legs tied at all times. They are forced to squat down and sit blindfolded, tied again, arms and legs, for weeks. They are sleep deprived. If they try to sleep or speak to one another, they get beaten up by soldiers immediately. And we recently saw a report from Israeli doctors last week, in Haaretz again. A doctor, one dissenting doctor, wrote a letter to Israeli ministers warning that “we’re all complicit” in grave violations of the law, because Israeli Palestinian detainees, who are even political hostages at this point — they’re mass arrested as a bargaining chip, therefore political prisoners or hostages — they had — some of them are routinely, quote, “having their legs amputated” from wounds of being handcuffed, both arms and legs, for weeks and weeks and months.

And then there is the last dimension of the engineered, systematic starvation throughout Gaza, but most prominently and most severely in the north, where, as Dr. Mustafa said earlier, we have about half a million to 700,000 people stuck in the north of Gaza, refusing to leave. Israel is continuing a process of ethnic cleansing in the north up until now. They continue to drop leaflets on people, telling them to move south if they want food, if they want safety, although the south is just as ravaged and compromised and devastated as the north. And we see Israel not just preventing aid from going to the north, but targeting anybody — literally anybody — that tries to secure the aid trucks coming through, prevent looting and ensure fair distribution. Around the time that Israel invaded Al-Shifa, in fact, one of the reasons why they invaded Al-Shifa is the civil government in Gaza was operating from there after virtually all government facilities around the north of Gaza were destroyed and razed. They had only Al-Shifa to operate from there, because there was electricity and access to people, and they can organize from there an emergency committee that can be in charge of securing the delivery of aid and its fair distribution. It worked out on the 16th and 17th of March very well. That was the first time since the war started, in about 170 days at the time, that aid made it all the way to Jabaliya and was distributed to people without any destruction, without any looting, without any chaos. The day after, on Monday, that’s when Israel started invading Al-Shifa and assassinated, targeted assassinations against key figures that were responsible for securing the aid.

So, we see this very deliberate, very engineered starvation process of people in northern Gaza to ethnically cleanse it and force them out, but also to sustain chaos in the entirety of the Gaza Strip, to sustain the loss of civil order and to bring about a societal collapse, in whole or in part, to push it to the deepest conscience of people in Gaza, to the deepest of their minds, the idea of leaving, that it should be their only ticket to survival, to achieve the Israeli goal of population transfer, what they refer to as “thinning the population.” They call it “voluntary migration,” but in fact it’s ethnic cleansing. And we see that process still on full display. And we see a very systematic, deliberate, conscious effort to make Gaza uninhabitable for decades to come.

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