The Propaganda Machine
THE ABSURD TIMES
Illustration: THE FLAG
The Absurd Times
The title has more to do with alliteration than insight.
Having said that, our western media is so infiltrated that an honest or accurate statement on the situation is hard to find. To hear the exact same event discussed in Arabic (a Semitic language, like Sanscrit) and a Indo-European language such as English is like hearing accounts of two different situations. It certainly lends credence to the philosophical question of whether a situation exists if there is no observer.
It also lends authority to the political statement that “No American politician has ever lost an election for supporting Israel, no matter what.” While we are stuck with this mess, there is no reason why we should remain ignorant of reality, at least the reality from the perspective of most of the world’s population, although not its leaders.
Here, then, is a presentation of an even-handed approach:
As hospitals in Gaza are overwhelmed by those killed and wounded in Israel’s massive bombing campaign, we go to Gaza City to speak with Palestinian academic and writer Refaat Alareer about conditions inside the besieged territory. Israel announced Monday it was completely cutting off all food, fuel and electricity to Gaza amid airstrikes of unprecedented intensity, launched in response to Saturday’s surprise attack by Hamas militants on southern Israel. Hamas has threatened to begin killing hostages if civilians inside Gaza are targeted without warning. “No one is safe. No place is safe. Israel is bombing everywhere,” says Alareer, who describes his own children as “shaking out of fear” amid the assault. “Why is this happening? Because we refuse to live under occupation. We refuse to live in total submission. We want freedom.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Hospitals in Gaza are being overwhelmed as Israel continues a massive bombing campaign in response to Saturday’s surprise attack by Hamas militants on southern Israel. The death toll inside Israel has surpassed 900. Meanwhile, authorities in Gaza say at least 770 Palestinians, including 140 children, have been killed so far in Gaza. Israel is also reporting the bodies of 1,500 members of Hamas have been found inside Israel.
On Monday, Israel announced a complete siege of Gaza, pledging to block electricity, food and fuel from entering the territory, which has been under an Israeli blockade for 16 years. Hamas responded by threatening to begin killing hostages seized in southern Israel.
At the United Nations, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said, quote, “The imposition of sieges that endanger the lives of civilians by depriving them of goods essential for their survival is prohibited under international humanitarian law,” unquote. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres also condemned the Israeli siege.
SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: I’m deeply distressed by today’s announcement that Israel will initiate a complete siege of the Gaza Strip, nothing allowed in, no electricity, food or fuel. The humanitarian situation in Gaza was extremely dire before these hostilities. Now it will only deteriorate exponentially. Medical equipment, food, fuel and other humanitarian supplies are desperately needed, along with access for humanitarian personnel. Relief and entry of essential supplies into Gaza must be facilitated, and the U.N. will continue efforts to provide aid to respond to these needs. And I urge all sides and the relevant parties to allow United Nations access to deliver urgent humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians trapped and helpless in the Gaza Strip. And I appeal to the international community to mobilize immediate humanitarian support for these efforts.
AMY GOODMAN: The U.N. Palestinian refugee agency reports Israeli bombings have damaged 18 of its buildings in Gaza, including four schools and eight healthcare facilities. According to the U.N., more than 187,000 residents of Gaza have been displaced. Numerous residential buildings have been hit in the Israeli attack.
AHMED SHAMALAKH: [translated] The Shamalakh family has been entirely wiped out. The entire family, 14 people, all under the rubble. We got out 12 people, and still the rest are under the rubble. We cannot get them out. Israeli forces hit the building without warning. They did not ask us to evacuate. They did not say anything. Suddenly we heard the airstrike, and we ran to the building. We found out that it collapsed entirely.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, more details are emerging of the horror that took place Saturday in southern Israel during the unprecedented surprise Hamas attack. More than a hundred bodies have been retrieved from Be’eri, an Israeli kibbutz near Gaza. That’s about 10% of the kibbutz’s total population. A number of residents from there remain unaccounted for, including the well-known 74-year-old Canadian Israeli peace activist Vivian Silver, who is a member of Women Wage Peace and a former board member of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. Her son, Yonatan Zeigen, fears she has been taken hostage by Hamas. He spoke to ABC News.
YONATAN ZEIGEN: I think this is exactly what she was working to prevent, all kind of war. You know, it’s not completely surprising, although it’s very overwhelming, that we got to this point. These two people have been in a state of war for so long that this is the outcome. And this is what she was working to try to prevent. And I was raised on those values and on those aspirations.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Gaza, where we’re joined by Refaat Alareer. He’s a Palestinian academic and activist, the editor of the book Gaza Writes Back, co-editor of Gaza Unsilenced. In 2021, he wrote an op-ed in The New York Times headlined “My Child Asks, 'Can Israel Destroy Our Building If the Power Is Out?'”
That was two years ago, Refaat. Describe what’s happening right now in Gaza.
REFAAT ALAREER: Thank you, Amy, for having me, and thank you for this coverage.
What’s happening is what Israel has always worked to achieve. Israeli leaders and officials are speaking about sending Gaza to the Stone Ages. Israeli officials are speaking about destroying Gaza. They are focusing on damage and destruction rather than precision. We speak about whole blocks destroyed, all government buildings, 20 U.N. facilities, including schools and clinics, all the roads, all the infrastructures. All the roads leading to the major hospitals, especially the one in the heart of Gaza City, were destroyed. So, Israel bombs Palestinian families as they sleep, as they stay in the safety, so to speak, of their home, and then bombs the ways that lead help and aid and ambulances to these areas, and then bombs the ambulances that try to help those people. That’s why we have about 800 Palestinian casualties. We speak about more than 400 children, women and elderly people. Most of them were killed in the safety of their homes without any prior warning — not that any warning would justify this Israeli brutality. Israeli war criminals are speaking about Second World War level of destruction against the Gaza Strip.
What is happening in Gaza is complete and utter extermination of the non-Jewish population in occupied Palestine. As you mentioned, Israel ordered a medieval hermetic siege from air and sea. Israel has also just bombed the only way out through Egypt, the Rafah crossing. The only way out is for — what’s happening, what we are foreseeing is slow starvation, slow genocide. Maybe Israel is going to push us all into the sea.
And I think what is making it even more difficult than before is that the whole world, not even lip service — all American and European countries and politicians are rushing to pledge allegiance to Israel and to Netanyahu. American politicians, American presidential hopefuls are literally calling for genocide. American mainstream media is not pushing back against Israeli officials calling for the collateral damage of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza.
Why is this happening? Because we refuse to live under occupation. We refuse to live in total submission. We want freedom. We want this occupation to end. This is not a state of war, as one of your guests just mentioned. This is a state of occupation that started over 75 years, that started with the British Empire giving Palestine to the Zionist movement in 1917.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Refaat, you mentioned Gaza’s border with Egypt. What has been the response of the Egyptian government to that border crossing, which, as we understand, was also bombed by Israel, as well?
REFAAT ALAREER: I’m not following closely, because we barely have any electricity or internet. But what I heard is that the Rafah border is now closed, so people cannot leave. And also, when we talk about people leaving, very few people in Gaza have visas or passports that would allow them to leave. I’m reading a report just now that Israel is even warning to strike any aid coming from the Egyptian side into Gaza. So, with no food, no electricity and no water, we can only expect what Israel has been working to achieve, what Israel and Israeli officials and politicians are promising now.
Some are calling for striking Gaza with a nuclear bomb. Can you imagine that? And many other Israeli officials are using Nazi discourse and Nazi language, talking about Palestinians as savages and animals that need to be exterminated and that Gaza needs to be turned into a parking lot. This is what we are dealing with. We are dealing with a systematic, structural, colonial attempt to annihilate and exterminate the Palestinians, with the aid and support of the West and American tax money. America is sending $8 billion. This is really insane. America is also sending warships and bombs and bullets for Israel to kill more and more Palestinians.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what are you asking for people in other parts of the world and other governments to do?
REFAAT ALAREER: I think the governments are not only complicit for giving the green light, they are participating actively. The shameful statement from France, Italy, U.K. and Germany and America the other night was a hideous attempt to justify Israeli massacres and genocide taking place in Gaza. We have no hope in these countries. We have no hope in these governments, at least now.
The only hope we have is in the growing popular support in America, in the movements of — the movements, the human rights and the rights movements in America and across Europe, to take to the streets to pressure their politicians into putting an end to this dark, dark episode of not only the history of the Middle East, but also the history of humanity. If people are asking how was the Holocaust allowed and other genocides in Africa and across the world, now you can see this live on TV, live on social media. Palestinians’ whole blocks destroyed, hospitals, schools, businesses. We are speaking about thousands and thousands of housing units destroyed by Israel. So, my message to the free people of the world is to move to pressure, to mobilize and to take to the streets.
AMY GOODMAN: Refaat Alareer, you are the father of six. How old are your children? And can you describe what it’s like to live there right now? Now, Israel says that it has 1,500 dead Hamas fighters. That’s outside of Gaza. The number inside Gaza is nearing 800. Describe the bombing strikes now. This is before Israel does what it’s threatening to do, which is lay complete siege. They’ve said they’ve cut off electricity, they’ve cut off gas, food, etc., but actually ground troops moving in.
REFAAT ALAREER: Like I said, this has been systematically happening for over seven decades. It was the noose around Gaza’s neck was tightened 15 years ago, and it’s being tightened even further now. The situation is unspeakable. You can’t describe what’s happening in words. We speak about thousands, hundreds and thousands of Israeli bombs and shells targeting all areas of the Gaza Strip. The kids can’t sleep. The kids can’t eat. The kids can’t even speak. Most of the time they’re just mute, silent, shaking out of fear, sometimes whimpering because of how close the bombs are wherever you are in Gaza. And again, the houses shake every time there is a bomb around. And this is happening again all over Gaza Strip.
Israel is telling people, is pushing people forcibly to leave out of their homes and urging them to go to certain places, like the city center or the U.N. places, shelters, and then Israel bombs the roads leading to these areas and bombs these crowded areas. Yesterday, there was a massacre. Israel killed about 60 Palestinians in Jabaliya refugee camp in a local market where there is a U.N. school, people taking shelter there. So, whether it is my kids or any Palestinian kid or any Palestinian, no one is safe. No place is safe. Israel is bombing everywhere.
Israel is lying. And that’s something — thank you for highlighting this — that Israel sometimes, once every 100 times, 1,000 times, it sends a message warning 10 minutes before and asks, for example, a huge building of 50 housing units to leave. And you can’t take anything with you if you have only this limited time to leave. And when people leave, wherever they go, they will be chased and hunted down by the bombs. These are, again, barbaric, and these are an extension to Israeli attempts to exterminate Palestinians, whether in Gaza, in Jerusalem or in the West Bank.
AMY GOODMAN: Refaat, let me ask you about that. You say Israel gives a warning, and now Hamas is saying if they don’t get that warning before a building is bombed, they will kill one hostage for each one of those bombings. Can you talk about how much support there is for Hamas within Gaza, the government of Gaza?
REFAAT ALAREER: Amy, I’m sorry. Who translated that message for you? The message was clear. It was a threat. And it clearly stated, with the bare minimum of humanity, that Israel sends a warning before it bombs a family home. And when we speak about homes in Gaza and in Palestine, in Gaza, we speak about houses that have like five or six or even seven housing units, flats, where three generations live in the same place. That’s why Israel exterminated more than 30 families. Most of the family members were killed because it bombs without sending a message. The message from Hamas was clear: Send a warning before you bomb, meaning don’t bomb Palestinian homes with the kids and the women and the elderly and the young people inside.
So this is what’s going on. And people in Gaza want to be safe. We don’t want to be killed. And it seems that this is a desperate call for mediators to interfere, stop this. And it’s already — it already happened that Israel — and I was saying this the other day, that Israel seems to be bent to kill Israeli captives, Israeli soldiers held in Gaza, more than they are interested in killing Palestinian fighters and Palestinian children, because Israel does not want to negotiate, does not want to release the almost 5,000 Palestinian — political Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. So, the idea about the framing of this is incorrect, is inaccurate. And at the same time —
AMY GOODMAN: Refaat, I do want to clarify what you said. You said that Hamas has threatened to kill a hostage if Israel doesn’t warn that it is going to bomb a residential home.
REFAAT ALAREER: Exactly. Is that much to ask? I don’t think this is much to ask. And I think this is more of a desperate call to save both Palestinian children and families and at the same time the Israeli soldiers kept in Gaza.
Now, what’s happening here is that Israel is sending disinformation and fabrication all over the internet, on social media, and many mainstream media agencies and outlets are swallowing and repeating these military lies against Palestinians to demonize the Palestinians. And that’s why we see so many Americans, sadly, especially officials and politicians, presidential hopefuls, calling for genocide against Palestinians, because there is misinformation. But at the same time, they think that if they do this, if they say this, it’s going to bring them more money from the Israeli lobby in Washington, D.C.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Refaat, you’ve told the BBC recently that the scenes right now in Gaza are, quote, “exactly like the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.” Could you elaborate on that?
REFAAT ALAREER: If you have seen the pictures from Gaza, we speak about complete devastation and destruction to universities, to schools, to mosques, to businesses, to clinics, to roads, infrastructure, to water lines. I googled this morning Warsaw Ghetto pictures, and I got pictures I couldn’t differentiate. Somebody tweeted four pictures and asked to tell which one is from Gaza and which one is from the Warsaw Ghetto. They are remarkably the same, because the perpetrator is almost using the same strategies against a minority, against the oppressed people, the battered people, the besieged people, whether it was in the Warsaw Ghetto, the Jews in Warsaw Ghetto in the past or the Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the Gaza Strip. So, the similarity is uncanny.
Israel, Israeli officials using Nazi language discourse to — even there was a tweet from the Jewish Congress that says the number of Jews that died on Saturday is more than the number of Jews that died on any given day during the Holocaust. And this is not Holocaust revisionism. It’s Holocaust denial, because this is objectively and statistically incorrect completely and utterly. The Zionist movement, the Israeli government is willing to abuse and engage in Holocaust denialism in order to justify what’s going to happen — what is happening and what’s going to happen in Gaza in the coming hours and days. I think this is dangerous, and this has to be stopped. The similarities between Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto should be a waking-up call to all free people around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Refaat Alareer, we want to thank you for being with us, Palestinian academic, activist, editor of the book Gaza Writes Back, co-editor of Gaza Unsilenced, speaking to us from Gaza City.
Israel has mobilized some 300,000 army reservists as it ramps up its war on Gaza following a devastating surprise attack by Hamas militants on Saturday that killed hundreds inside Israel, including many civilians. Journalist Haggai Matar of +972 Magazine says that while the violence shocked Israelis, the unending military occupation and apartheid set the stage for this weekend’s events. “There is no military solution. These recurring attacks on Gaza bring nothing but death and destruction, and no hope for any of us,” says Matar, a conscientious objector who refused service in the Israel Defense Forces.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
Israel is continuing its bombardment of Gaza City, has extended its mobilization of reservists. For more, we’re joined by Haggai Matar, an Israeli journalist and activist who serves as the executive director of +972 Magazine. That’s the area code of Israel and the Occupied Territories. Haggai Matar is a conscientious objector who refused to serve in the Israeli army. His new piece is headlined “Gaza’s shock attack has terrified Israelis. It should also unveil the context.”
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Haggai. As we speak to you in Tel Aviv, tell us the context that you feel is so important.
HAGGAI MATAR: Thank you, Amy.
I think when I wrote that piece already on Saturday, the shock was just in its initial phases. We had not yet learned the entire scope of the horror of the atrocities in the south of Israel, the hundreds of people who were massacred in their homes and at a music festival, just entire communities decimated. Those stories were just seeping through gradually, and the shock of that tragedy, that atrocity, was just beginning to land.
And what I felt important to say, while also recognizing this collective shock and the dreadfulness of this attack, was also to understand the history of this, how we, as Israelis, for many years have become — have developed a sense of immunity, that in the context of Gaza wars, for example, Israel could bomb Gaza, as it is doing now, and wipe out entire families, destroy entire neighborhoods, not be held accountable, and when Gazans throw rockets back, almost all of them are intercepted by the Iron Dome. So the casualty rate between Israelis and Palestinians in these past wars over the past decade or so has been one to 100, one to 200 or so. Just now, actually, there were air sirens here in Tel Aviv, and I didn’t move from my desk, because I know there’s Iron Dome, and I feel pretty safe. That feeling of safety was cracked and went away with one whiff of that attack on Saturday. But it was important for me to remind Israelis and people abroad that that feeling of defenselessness is one that Palestinians have experienced for the past few decades, definitely people in Gaza who have been attacked routinely by Israel.
So, when we think about how we understand the Hamas attack, without justifying it, but also recognizing that it is not unprovoked or unilateral, on the one hand, and also as we think about the next steps, we need to understand there is no military solution. These recurring attacks on Gaza bring nothing but death and destruction, and no hope for any of us.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Haggai, about this issue that’s been raised that this was an unprovoked or unilateral attack, you’ve written that, quote, “The Israeli army is routinely raiding into Palestinian cities and refugee camps. The far-right government is giving settlers an entirely free hand to set up new illegal outposts and launch pogroms on Palestinian towns and villages, with soldiers accompanying the settlers and killing or maiming Palestinians trying to defend their homes.” Could you talk about how the Palestinians have experienced this new right-wing government, especially this extreme right-wing government in Israel in their daily lives?
HAGGAI MATAR: Sure. So, I think, first of all, for context for that, as well, we need to remember: Nothing about what this government is doing is entirely new — the attacks on Gaza, the settlement expansion, the attacks on Palestinian communities in the West Bank. None of this is unprecedented. This far-right government is only taking things one step further, which, you know, needs to be contextualized, but also we need to recognize the places where these things are getting worse.
And we are definitely seeing, since the election of this government, a much freer hand for settlers to do basically whatever they want in the West Bank. There’s absolutely no guard rail, no limitations on what settlers can do. If they want to attack Palestinian communities and set their houses ablaze, they will have soldiers accompanying them and [inaudible]. If they want to set up new outposts on private Palestinian land, they can do that. If they want to go into the middle of Nablus to pray in the middle of one of the biggest Palestinian cities in the West Bank, they can do that, and soldiers will accompany them and protect them.
So, what Palestinians are feeling, very much related to what I was saying before, is being defenseless, because the Palestinian police is not allowed and does not offer them defense, and when they try to defend themselves, soldiers would shoot them to death. So, that is the reality that Palestinians have been feeling for a very long time, and increasingly over the past few months.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this whole issue of how the United States and other countries, major countries in the world have essentially ignored the unresolved Palestinian-Israeli question now for years, hoping to negotiate just with the governments of the region and not deal with the central issue, what do you — how do you think that this has played a role in the desperate attacks now of Hamas into Israel?
HAGGAI MATAR: I think it is very much connected, as we’re talking about the tools Palestinians have for resistance and the bargaining chips they can bring with them to the negotiating table. Palestinians never had too much to offer. Basically, they’re asking Israel, rightly, to leave their territory, to have an independent state. But all they can offer in return is the lack of violence, so peace. And they used to have this other bargaining chip, which is, if you make peace with us, you will get as a bonus the entire Arab world, the entire Muslim world, that was committed, at least outspokenly committed, to supporting Palestinians and not normalizing relations with Israel.
Ever since the Abraham Accords, championed by President Trump, in 2020, 2021, and now with the normalization deal that is being brokered by President Biden with Saudi Arabia, Palestinians are seeing those last bargaining chips just slipping away. Netanyahu has always said, “We can have peace with the Arab world without Palestinians. We can just go over their heads.” And Arab nations and countries and governments and the U.S. government, in brokering this, have proved Netanyahu right. So, Palestinians, without those abilities, are seeing fewer and fewer options to claim their just cause against Israeli apartheid.
I don’t think that justifies massacring hundreds of people in their homes and destroying entire communities of civilians. But at the same time, I understand the context in which Palestinians are feeling more and more desperate and pushed to the point of doing these things.
AMY GOODMAN: Haggai Matar, you were a conscientious objector in the Israeli military. You refused to serve. Can you talk about overall Israeli reaction right now? And are Israelis concerned about the total siege of and possible ground invasion of Gaza, which the U.N., by the way, the siege, has called illegal?
HAGGAI MATAR: No, not at all. It’s actually deeply troubling to see how much rejoicing there is in the siege, in the attacks. We’re seeing people, even people associated with the center and with the left, talking. Haaretz journalists, for example — not all of them, obviously, but some — have said this is a time to cause great damage to Gaza, this is a time to extract many deaths in Gaza. So, it is very, very troubling and painful to see how, out of a very understandable feeling that I myself also share of shock, of defenselessness, of the tragedy of the massacres in the south, people are taking that and translating that into saying the only answer is revenge. I think it is a very dark mirror to look at when you understand that these same atrocities committed by Hamas came out of that feeling of anger, anguish and dread of Israeli attacks. And now, as a response to those atrocities, Israelis are supporting their own atrocities again against Gaza. And this seems like a dead end, almost literally, for both of us.
AMY GOODMAN: Haggai Matar, Israeli journalist, activist, executive director of +972 Magazine, Israeli Jewish conscientious objector. He refused to serve in the Israeli army.
Next up, to Palestinian journalist and writer Mohammed El-Kurd. Back with him in 20 seconds.
To look at what Israel’s war on Palestinians after the Hamas attack could mean for the broader Middle East, we end today’s show with Shibley Telhami, professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland, senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy, co-editor of the book The One State Reality: What Is Israel/Palestine?
Professor Telhami, thank you so much for being with this. You’re the Anwar Sadat professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland, a Palestinian American professor. I’m going to start with that same question: what President Biden has said so far and what you want to hear him say right now? As we speak, the United Nations has called Israel’s siege, total blockade of Gaza, illegal. You know, the defense minister is saying no food, medicine, electricity, water coming into Gaza. Your response?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Well, you know, I know in the first day of the Hamas attack, President Biden called the Israeli prime minister and gave him full empathy and support, and he said, “Full stop, we’re behind you.” That’s understandable in that moment. That was a moment of incredible vulnerability in Israel, people helplessly watching what was happening to their loved ones. And it was also a paradigm shift actually taking place at the same time about the nature of their superiority in that context, about the role of their army, the role of their security. So it was understandable that he would show affinity with them, to assure them — really the public more than the government — to say, “We stand with you.” Fine.
But he has to go beyond that. Targeting civilians and recklessly endangering them is unacceptable. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Palestinian victims or Israeli victims or any victims. There is no cause that justifies reckless endangerment of civilians. And, you know, we know in times of war like this, when emotions are really, really high, we understand that people have been there, can understand how hearts harden. There’s demonization. There’s an urge for vengeance. And if the president of the United States, the one who has the most influence from the outside on this issue, doesn’t stand up for the moral principle that ought to be central here, it is a problem. That’s something that a political leader must do in time of crisis like this.
And I would even go a little further than that. You know, it’s one thing to say you support Israel, another thing to be trusting and giving unlimited support for whatever they do. We know this is the most extreme Israeli government we’ve had perhaps in history. We know that some of them are calling for some outrageous outcomes in the Israeli-Palestinian situation. They have failed their own people. They couldn’t defend against Hamas in their own communities, took them several days to — and it might not be over yet. The Israeli public is asking questons of whether they can trust the government, whether they can trust the military, whether they can trust the intelligence. Can we trust them to do the sort of things that they might want to do that implicate us in the end, not just in terms of support, but the consequences that might happen that can draw the U.S. in? So I think I would want the president of the United States to be very clear about the moral issue, as well as the idea that the United States has some interests it’s going to have to look after.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor, I wanted to ask you, in terms of this vow of the Israeli government to eliminate Hamas completely and to do whatever is necessary to take control of Gaza, the long-term implications of this? First of all, there are 2.2 million people in Gaza. The ability of the Israeli army to continue to occupy and control that territory is really — it’s far-fetched, not to mention that there are another 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank and 2 million Palestinians and Arabs within Israel itself. We’re talking about the impact on those populations and the rest of the Arab world of a long assault and occupation of Gaza. Your expectation of what this could lead to?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Well, first of all, let’s start with the concept. It is dealt with as if it’s a security problem emanating from one party, when in fact this is a deep political problem. There is no military solution, even if you destroy people and kill more people. Israel has a destructive power that is incredible. I mean, we’re seeing some of that now. But that never in the past has solved the problem, and it won’t again. It might postpone it a little bit more, but it’s going to erupt in some form or another, even aside from the humanitarian disaster. So, no, there is no solution, even if you — separate from the obvious and immediate and central humanitarian issue, there is no political solution that could come out of destroying Hamas. Israel would then be left with another area of anarchy.
And also, by the way, as this progresses, we can’t be sure that Hezbollah is not going to be drawn in. Hezbollah doesn’t want to go in, in my opinion, right now into the fight, for a variety of reasons of its own interests. But we see the pressure. And as the pressure increases, that could draw Hezbollah in. And then you have an expanded war both that would be troublesome for Israel but also for Lebanon.
So, no, I don’t think there is a military solution to this problem. This is not a military challenge. This is not a deterrence challenge. This is a political problem, and the occupation has to be addressed. And I would expect at some point the president isn’t going to say that today. He’s not going to make that link. But in the end, there is — we have to find a path to end the occupation.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us. We want to continue this discussion and post it at democracynow.org. University of Maryland professor of peace and development, Shibley Telhami, senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, for another edition of Democracy Now!
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
We are speaking to Shibley Telhami, Part 2 of our conversation, professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland, also a senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy, co-editor of the book The One State Reality: What Is Israel/Palestine?
Professor Telhami, this Hamas surprise attack took place right as the U.S. was negotiating the normalization of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Do you think that played a role? And do you think that is not going to happen at this point? Explain the significance of it.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Well, I don’t think it played a direct role in the sense that Hamas is trying to prevent that from happening. But I think what happened is they — Hamas is a political entity, too, and they’re trying to reap benefits, and especially against the Palestinian Authority. And they’re reading the despair, not just in Gaza, but also in the West Bank, I think — the, you know, 56 years of occupation, a right-wing Israeli government, increasing settler violence. I was there last week. I was in Israel and the West Bank last week, and the despair is really tremendous. That despair is partly related to the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel, in the sense that Palestinians had hoped that either the Biden administration, after Trump, would try to get on a path toward ending the occupation, or the Arab governments would weigh in to, you know, help them a little bit. And there was obviously complete, you know, resignation that no one in the world is coming to their aid just as they’re facing a lot more encroachment from the settlers. And so, in that sense, that’s the kind of thing that Hamas is trying to capture. So, in that sense, yes.
And for that matter, this attack has reshuffled the deck. It put the Palestinian issue front and center in the Arab world, and really even internationally, obviously, but especially in the Arab world. And the Saudis, you know, the government obviously has its own strategic interests, like any government. It wanted to pursue those, and those didn’t coincide necessarily with Palestinian interests. But the public opinion cares about this issue deeply. And now with this, you know, war in progress, their public is going to care more and going to be drawn into it. And for one thing, also it’s going to preoccupy the Israelis, and it’s going to preoccupy the United States. So, in that sense, it really does put it off at least for a while, even if it doesn’t, you know, dramatically change the strategic calculus.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor, you — in our previous conversation, you referred to the importance of Hezbollah in this situation. Hezbollah has, by all accounts, a much more extensive fighting capacity than does Hamas in the Gaza Strip. What would be the implications of Hezbollah deciding to get involved in solidarity with what is going on in the Gaza Strip?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Look, I hope they don’t get involved. I mean, honestly, no one needs war. No one needs civilians being killed. That’s what’s going to happen, as we’ve witnessed both in the Hamas attack and now in Gaza. It is heartbreaking. No one wants to see death and destruction. We shouldn’t wish that. We should wish for ending of this fighting and a path forward to peace that both Israelis and Palestinians and everyone in the world needs.
But if they do, there is no question that they have a much greater capacity than Hamas. They’re much more effective. They’ve obviously been supported by Iran dramatically. They have weapons that are probably more accurate, that likely can reach any part of Israel. Their rockets are said to be far more sophisticated. And they’ve been planning this for a long time, in case the — you know, everybody’s been expecting another round of fighting at some point between Hezbollah and Israel. Obviously, Israel has a huge amount of power that it could bring to bear. And, of course, the most in Lebanon who will suffer will be Lebanese civilians and the state and the infrastructure. No one should wish that on Lebanon, either, and no one should wish that on anyone.
But nonetheless, even if Hezbollah’s own calculus is not to enter right now, I think they want to be in a position to call their own shots. They’ve been very careful. And this is not the moment. They have faced a lot of problems inside. Their calculus is much more closely connected to Iran than Hamas. They have to think about this. But you could see how easily someone could be dragged into it. We’ve already seen flare-up. They’re testing each other, sending signals to each other, Israel and Hezbollah. But in the end, if it happens, we have a much larger war on our hands.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about Iran. Of course, the Republicans, especially their presidential candidates, are seizing on the deal that Biden made to release the $6 billion of frozen Iranian assets that Qatar is holding right now, and they’re saying this is Biden’s fault. Can you talk about the role of Iran with Hamas, with Hezbollah, and what its interests are here?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Yeah, I mean, there’s no question that Iran helps Hamas, militarily and intelligence, and undoubtedly. You know, they both admit it. It’s open. It’s not something secretive. And how much of it? Probably quite a lot. That’s a different story from saying Iran is calling the shots, as might be the case in some cases with Hezbollah, where they have a very close, cooperative relationship. Hamas’s decision, in my opinion, was — it was improbable that it was tied to anything instigated by Iran directly, or that it was in some shape or form related to what transpired in the prison releases that took place with the Biden administration. Hamas is making its own decisions.
Obviously, Iran is going to be supportive of them. I don’t even know that this is actually an opportune moment for Iran, if it was going to be on behalf of Iran, in part because I think, in general, they want their allies, to the extent that they are going to help them, if there is a war between Israel and Iran, which no one is expecting at the moment. But also I think they were hoping that the prisoner exchange would lead to another step in the nuclear deal between between Iran and the U.S. And now that’s not on the table anymore. This actually delays it, makes it harder. So I don’t think that’s the case.
Obviously, you’re going to have people exploiting this, to connect Iran more deeply into it. The U.S. has already said there is no evidence that Iran has something to do with this decision of Hamas. But we are in a political season where there’s so much going on that is completely related to our political season. That’s what we see here, obviously, people exploiting that. And, of course, in Israel, you’re going to have more finger-pointing, as well, in order to distract from the failure of the Israeli government and the failure of intelligence. And that’s going to be something, obviously, Israelis don’t want to deal with now. They’ll deal with it at some point — they usually do — after the crisis is over. But I think there’s a lot of that finger-pointing taking place that’s political.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor Telhami, I wanted to ask you about another key player that has really had a low profile in all of this, the Palestinian Authority. Over the past year, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed in raids into the West Bank by Israeli forces. But has the Palestinian Authority effectively lost its [inaudible] as the spokesperson of the Palestinian people?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Well, I mean, they haven’t in the international community, because the international community needs them. They need to speak to someone. They’re obviously not going to speak to Hamas, especially after this. And in any case, Hamas is characterized a terrorist organization by the U.S. and many other governments, in addition to Israel. That’s not going to happen. So the Palestinian Authority is the address, and it’s going to remain the address for the Arab countries, for the international community, for the U.N., for the U.S.
But from the point of view of the public, it has lost its authority a long time ago. I think, you know, talking to people just last week, I mean, people who are anti-Hamas, people who don’t want to see violence, people who are, you know, more wanting to see a political movement that’s constructive, they look at it more as subcontractor of Israeli security. They know that it can’t defend them. It hasn’t been able to defend them against, let’s say, the settler attacks. And this attack by Hamas, in many ways, marginalizes even more — marginalizes them even more. And I think that was, you know, something that probably Hamas calculated as something gaining the upper hand over the Authority even more.
AMY GOODMAN: You are a professor at University of Maryland, Palestinian American. Your family is from not the Occupied Territories. Can you — first of all, how are they? And can you talk about the significance of that perspective that you bring to your work and this perspective?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: I grew up inside the state of Israel in Haifa area. I still have loved ones there. And the advantage that you see is, of course, the humanity that you get out. I mean, to me, the demonization is the biggest thing in a war. You tend to demonize the other side very deeply. I think what you need to understand, and everybody needs to understand, that like Israelis and Palestinians and Americans and Egyptians and Afghanis, you know, people are very mixed. And there are people who are very offended about what Israel does in the West Bank and Gaza very deeply. Obviously, the system is the system. The politics is the politics. But it’s really the humanity, I think, which has become to me as the center point. To me, I don’t — I cannot see civilians hurt, whether they’re Jewish or Arab, whether they’re American or Afghani or Iraqi. And I think that’s something that we all need to take. It’s something that we all need to work to prevent. We need to — we need to sober up. We need to prevent our hearts from getting hardened. I think these are moments that harden the hearts. That’s the worst thing in the human condition. And that’s why I think political leaders need to grow above that. Political leaders need to speak with moral authority. And we need to see that from President Biden.
AMY GOODMAN: Shibley Telhami, we want to thank you so much for being with us, professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland, also senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy, co-editor of the book The One State Reality: What Is Israel/Palestine? I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. Thanks so much for joining us.
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