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Report from Rafah: Israel Seizes Border Crossing, Blocking Humanitarian Aid, as Ceasefire Talks Continue

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In Rafah, we speak with Gaza-based journalist Akram al-Satarri about Israel tightening restrictions on humanitarian aid, refusing a ceasefire deal and planning to invade the city where over a million Palestinians are sheltering. Israel’s military seized control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing with Egypt, blocking humanitarian aid from entering the besieged territory, and trapping Palestinians under heavy Israeli bombardment. This comes after Israel also closed the Karem Abu Salem crossing in southern Gaza this weekend after a Hamas attack killed four Israeli soldiers. “Israel is not allowing the entry of the humanitarian aid to Gaza, which is perceived as a lifeline,” says al-Satarri, who reports Palestinians are “in despair” as Israel orders a third of Rafah’s population to move ahead of their invasion. “They understand that more destruction, more devastation, more death and deprivation is coming for them.” Al-Satarri also speaks about Israel banning Al Jazeera, one of the only international outlets with reporters in Gaza. “I think they want to silence Al Jazeera and they want to silence all the free media for the sake of preventing any further exposure of the things that are happening on the ground.”

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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, with Juan González.

As the Israeli military strikes Rafah in southern Gaza after Hamas agreed Monday to a ceasefire proposal, we go now to Rafah for an update on the situation there, including access to humanitarian aid. The White House said Monday a ceasefire does not have to be in place for a pier off of Gaza to be operational to bring in aid, but the pier’s construction was temporarily paused last week due to bad weather. Israel seized the Rafah crossing on Gaza’s border with Egypt overnight. This comes after Israel also closed the Karem Abu Salem crossing in southern Gaza this weekend after a Hamas attack killed four Israeli soldiers.

For more, we’re joined by Akram al-Satarri, the Gaza-based journalist, joining from Rafah in southern Gaza near the Kuwaiti Hospital.

Akram, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what’s happening on the ground right now? What does it mean that Israeli tanks have moved in, that they’ve seized the crossing with Egypt? And how are people responding?

AKRAM AL-SATARRI: Well, as a matter fact, to start with, that means a lifeline has just been blocked. That means the movement of people who are traveling out of Gaza and people who are returning to Gaza has already been blocked. That means the patients who are in need to medical care and are transferred somewhere outside of Gaza are denied that access. That means the general population in southern Gaza and northern Gaza alike are deprived from the food supplies that were delivered — and were even slow before this last development took place — and that people are talking, and irately they have been saying that Israel has been successful in two major military fronts yesterday. The major front, number one, is that they control the Rafah border, which is a civilian facility that is in charge of facilitating the entry and departure of people into and outside of Gaza. And number one, that the Israeli army succeeded in destroying the “I love you, Gaza” banner, which means they have been out and about to destroy anything that has to do with life or love in the Gaza Strip.

People are extremely worried. They understand that they will be greatly affected by that operation. And they understand, as well, that Israel has been playing that card for the sake of consolidating its position when it comes to the negotiations that are still underway between Hamas and between Israel, which is propelled indirectly by Egypt and Qatar and with the supervision and support also of the American administration. The people in Gaza are afraid of the collective punishment that has been going on in Gaza north, and they see this move as a replication of the very same collective punishment techniques followed by the Israeli occupation forces, as they describe them, for the sake of just negotiating over the fate of people, weaponizing the food that people are entitled to as a human, weaponizing the healthcare and health supplies that are entitled to people as humans, and also weaponizing the shelter that has been destroyed.

Yesterday, one-third of Rafah population was asked to leave their homes and head either to the very west of Rafah or to Khan Younis and the Gaza central area. Tens of thousands of people are moving. Tens of thousands of people are still moving. And they are in despair, and they understand that more destruction, more devastation, more death and deprivation is coming for them. So, this is the overall atmosphere in Gaza. People are afraid. People are skeptical about the real intention of the Israeli army or for the Israeli political level to engage in negotiation. And they understand that they have been doing all they have been doing for the sake of undermining the possibility of living a decent life in Gaza and for the sake of just pushing towards an ultimate objective and goal of the transfer of people of Gaza after rendering Gaza uninhabitable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Akram, I wanted to ask you — all of this comes as Israel banned over the weekend Al Jazeera from reporting in the country and raided Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau. So many reporters, and Al Jazeera reporters, have been killed since this war started. Do you fear that this is an attempt to stamp out any reporting from Gaza just before this new potential invasion of Rafah?

AKRAM AL-SATARRI: In general, the Israeli army and the Israeli political level are so fed up with the performance of all different media outlets. But the irony when it comes to Al Jazeera is that they have been talking about the freedom of expression, and now they are just banning Al Jazeera from transmitting the news bulletins from their — what they call their soil.

They have killed so far 149 journalists. And they have been chasing different news outlets, including some of the review of the materials and of the news bulletins that are provided by reporters on the ground, and then going after those reporters that might be providing some different narrative than the narrative that they want to see on the ground, that they want to see reported to the people and to the public. So, the situation is extremely catastrophic.

And I think they want to silence Al Jazeera, and they want to silence all the free media for the sake of preventing any further exposure of the things that are happening on the ground, those things that include wiping out of whole families, destruction of very critical plants and facilities that are intended to purify the water, that is going for the people who need them, and that’s why people are suffering from severe health symptoms and problems, including upper respiratory systems, digestive systems and all different type of health issues. Israeli government proved by its performance that they have been after the freedom of expression and that they’re willing to take an extra mile when it comes to banning that voice from going out for people. And by banning Al Jazeera, they are supporting the analysis that they have been fighting against freedom of expression at all different fronts and levels.

AMY GOODMAN: Akram al-Satarri, the issue of aid coming through? You have the World Food Programme saying — that’s Cindy McCain saying that the north is in “full-blown famine.” Then you have the U.N. saying Israel is denying access to the southern Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing as aid groups warn of impending catastrophe amidst chaotic scenes of families fleeing with no safe option for shelter. Can you talk about the aid situation right now as the closing of another border, and how people are getting aid at this point?

AKRAM AL-SATARRI: Well, the aid has been extremely slow for the last few weeks or so. People are affected, and people are struggling for the sake of stockpiling, if that is the right expression. The right expression is to get any kind of food that they can serve their families on a daily basis. And the ones who were seeing that ground operation coming, who were hopeful that they would stockpile some of the food for the sake of just using it when they move from Rafah, because they were foreseeing a scenario within which the very same almost famine in the Gaza north would be replicated in the Gaza south, now with the very slow entry of the food, they could not store anything, and the blockade now that has been imposed on the Gaza south, which is a blockade by the literal meaning of the word. Now Israel is controlling the Rafah border. Israel is controlling the area of Kerem Shalom. Israel is not allowing the entry of the humanitarian aid to Gaza, which is perceived as a lifeline for the people of Gaza, who lost their livelihoods, who lost their shelters, who lost their dears, who lost almost everything. But they are still willing to live, and they need that food to live. Now this food is going to be denied. They are going to be denied access to that food. And that is likely to aggravate the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in the Gaza Strip.

They fear, that has been voiced by the UNRWA, by the World Food Programme, by the United Nations Development Programme, by the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which is a U.N. organization that is in charge of observing the situation and supervising and reporting about the situation — technically, all the international organizations have been working about such a move that is likely to have a catastrophic impact on the life of Gazans.

This catastrophic impact has already started last night. When the Rafah crossing was stormed, Kerem Shalom was stormed, people entered the area, were trying to get anything that they can get, anything they can put their hands on. Now no food supplies whatsoever that are coming from the Rafah crossing or from the Kerem Shalom. That is likely to affect people. Today it is affecting people. And it will affect them in a much worse manner as time elapses, because Israel would stay in that area, and then they would resort to some nominal measures to show the world that they have been allowing food aid into Gaza. Gaza needs 1,000 trucks of food aid, of food supplies every day. Gaza has been receiving, in the very first days of the crisis, five trucks, six trucks, 10 trucks, 30 trucks. And Gaza, in the recent days, before the Passover, was receiving around 230 trucks, still below the minimum. But now there’s nothing, not even the minimum or nothing else. And Gaza is likely to continue suffering. And I think that is going to bring about more hunger, more starvation and more death and suffering.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Akram, I wanted to ask you — you’re aware of these massive protests of students across the United States and Europe and other parts of the Western world in support of the Palestinians. Has news and information about these protests reached the people in Gaza? And are they heartened, by some degree, by the support of the young people in these countries?

AKRAM AL-SATARRI: Palestinians have been extremely grateful following the news about those major protests in all different, like, American universities in support of people of Palestine. Palestinians have been very grateful for the Jewish voices for justice and peace, who have been galvanizing people into action. They have been following the news about the people who have been the culprit of that ongoing — they see it as an uprising, and they call it “intifada,” after the name of the intifada, the uprising, that started in 1987, and they are grateful. They are hopeful. And they are extremely positive about that.

And they hope that this kind of activism is going to lead the American — to prompt the American government to reconsider its positions from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and from the Gaza crisis. They are hopeful that this dynamic movement all over the United States is going to also line up more people in support of the Palestinian cause and in support of the right of the people of Palestine to live a dignified life. They want a ceasefire. And they think that this kind of action is leading and is paving the way to a ceasefire by pushing the American administration and by opening the eyes of the public.

So, it has the component of educating. It has the importance of advocating. It has also the operating level, where they have been talking the talk, walking the walk, extending the helping hand, changing the dynamics in the hope something positive would happen.

And personally, I see many positive things happening in the United States, thanks to the efforts of the university students, thanks to the efforts of the humanitarian community, and thanks to the efforts of the Jewish voices who have been there in support of Palestine and in support of humanity and justice.

That is the perception of the Gazans of the things that are happening. Gazans are amazed. Gazans are grateful. Gazans are hopeful that this kind of action would continue and would lead to something bigger and more positive and sustainable, including the sustainable ceasefire.

AMY GOODMAN: Akram al-Satarri, we thank you so much for being with us, Gaza-based journalist, joining from Rafah in southern Gaza.

Next up, Gaza solidarity encampments continue. We speak with a Dartmouth professor who was body-slammed to the ground, former chair of Jewish studies at Dartmouth. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Hind’s Hall” by Macklemore. The song just came out, announced that all proceeds from the song go to UNRWA.

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