On this week’s “On Contact,” Chris Hedges discusses the disputes between the Palestinians and Israelis with Palestinian political activist Dr. Sami Al-Arian. Hedges argues that nearly all the words and phrases used by the Democrats, Republicans and the talking heads on the media to describe the unrest inside Israel and the heaviest Israeli assault against the Palestinians since the 2014 attacks on Gaza, which lasted 51 days and killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children, are a lie. Israel, by employing its military machine against an occupied population that does not have mechanized units, an air force, navy, drones, missiles, heavy artillery and command-and-control, not to mention a U.S. commitment in 2018 to provide a $38 billion defense aid package for Israel over the next decade, is not exercising “the right to defend itself.” It is carrying out mass murder. It is a war crime. Israel has made it clear they are ready to destroy and kill as wantonly now as they were in 2014. Israel’s defense minister Benny Gantz, who was the chief of staff during the murderous assault on Gaza in 2014, has vowed that if Hamas, in his words, “does not stop the violence, the strike of 2021 will be harder and more painful than that of 2014.”
Read the full transcript below.
Chris Hedges: Nearly all the words and phrases used by the Democrats, Republicans and the talking heads in the media to describe the unrest inside Israel and the heaviest Israeli assault against the Palestinians since the 2014 attacks on Gaza, which lasted 51 days and killed more than 2200 Palestinians including 551 children, are a lie. Israel, by employing its military machine against an occupied population that does not have mechanized units, an air force, navy, missiles, heavy artillery and command and control, not to mention a US commitment to provide $38 billion dollars in defense-aid to Israel over the next decade, is not exercising the right to defend itself. It is carrying out mass murder. It is a war crime. Israel has made it clear it is ready to destroy and kill as wantonly now as it was in 2014. Israel’s Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, who was the Chief of Staff during the murderous assault on Gaza in 2014 has vowed that if Hamas in his words “does not stop the violence, the strike of 2021 will be harder and more painful than that of 2014”. These current attacks have already targeted residential high-rises, including the obliteration of a dozen international and local news agencies, government buildings, roads, public facilities, agricultural lands, two schools and a mosque. Joining me to discuss the conflict is the Palestinian political activist Dr Sami Al-Arian, Director of the Center for Islamic and Global Affairs (CIGA) in Istanbul. So Sami, let’s talk about what’s happening. There is a kind of pattern where the Israelis will call it “mowing the lawn” where the Palestinians erupt, Israel uses draconian overwhelming force to inflict heavy civilian casualties – and we should add destroy infrastructure which is then not repaired, making life even more difficult especially in places in Gaza. Is this a repetition of that pattern?
Dr Sami Al-Arian: First it’s great to be with you, Chris. Well, we have to put what’s happening today in the Occupied Territories – particularly in Gaza and Jerusalem – in the context. This thing didn’t happen in a vacuum. Didn’t happen just overnight. For several weeks the Israelis have been trying to evict Palestinians from their homes that they lived (in) for over fifty years, in the suburb (Sheikh Jarrah) in Jerusalem, very close to the Al-Aqsa mosque. And then in addition in the holiest month of the year for Muslims in Jerusalem, where thousands – tens of thousands go and pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest shrines in Islam and in the history of the Islamic world, and they tried to impose new restrictions on people going into Al-Aqsa mosque and praying, and then they (Israelis) were trying to impose a demonstration in what they call “Jerusalem Day” by bringing thousands of settlers inside Al-Haram; inside the holiest shrine while people are praying. And when Palestinians resisted that and they refused and rejected these assaults, then they (IDF) came in force, fully equipped in military-style invasions and they bombed, you know, using tear gas and using clubs and using rubber bullets on hundreds of Palestinians in a way to intimidate them. And in the words of the Police Chief “in order to ascertain who is dominant” – who is in charge here, so it was all intimidations, and with the attempt to judaize Jerusalem in the Occupied Territories in Jerusalem – tried to evict Palestinians, there was of course an outrage and a response, and that response escalated to what we are seeing today in Gaza, including obviously the bombing of major areas, all residential, in Gaza, and the response by the resistance groups by sending rockets across the Palestinian areas that were occupied in 1948.
CH: But how is this different from 2014, if it is, because there is this belief within the Israeli military that you pound the Palestinians especially in Gaza, into submission. They’re quiet for a while, they rise up, you pound them again. The wholesale violence is quite massive. On the day that the Trump administration moved the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, again a violation of International Law, I think there were sixty Palestinians shot dead in protest on that very day and not a word from the (US) administration. Are we just seeing the pattern or is this new?
SA: No it’s a pattern certainly. It’s happened in 2008-2009, 2012, 2014, and now we’re seeing it today as well. And of course, this theory of “mowing the lawn” or “getting a haircut” has been popularized by this famous saying of the Israeli General, in which they think that whenever the resistance movements get strength in terms of their ability to strike at Israel, they have to come and pound them and to teach them a lesson. But I think this time around, there was also a massive response from the other side; hundreds of rockets rained on Israeli cities as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and all areas in between; Ashdod, Ashkelon, and the many settlements around Gaza, so it’s not – it’s not a free ride as it used to be, and we remember – you remember you covered the 1982 Lebanon invasion of Israel and how the Lebanese were able to deter Israel. Today it doesn’t dare to strike at Lebanon because of the resistance in South Lebanon, and now the strength of Hezbollah, and I think what’s happening is similar. Obviously with a vast difference that Gaza is much closer and much weaker, but at the same time, today there are more rockets and a more devastating impact of the use of these rockets than it used to be in 2014. And I think as long as this wound continues to bleed and as long as occupation continues, these kind of clashes are inevitable. And I don’t think – I think the Palestinians have taught the Israelis the lesson that regardless of the pounding, regardless of the suffering, they insist on resisting and restoring their rights. And I don’t think they (Israelis) are going to succeed. In fact, today, you can see with this massive militarized state where they enumerated the power they have, the military they’ve got, the assistance they have, the diplomatic cover they got from the United States, yet they are today still suffering. I mean (there is) this massive balance of power difference between the Palestinians and Israelis and yet they still have to have fighting. The Palestinians have most of the suffering for sure, but I think they are also teaching the Israelis a lesson that when people are determined to resist and determined to get back their rights, they don’t give up, and eventually they will get them back.
CH: There are two things that struck me is different from 2014. One, obviously the range of the rockets that Hamas is firing. They’re also firing them in very large bursts which allows them not to be shot down in Israel’s Iron Dome project. The other thing of course is the unrest inside Israel among Israeli Palestinians in Lod and other places, which did take place during the intifadas, but I’d like you to speak about that unrest inside the borders of Israel proper.
SA: I think that’s a major development in the conflict what Israel wanted to do for a long time and they were successful some of these times, is to divide the Palestinians into those who were occupied in 1948 by what is called behind the Green Line, and the Palestinians in the West Bank in Jerusalem, in Gaza, and of course in the diaspora. And so you have five different communities and they are not united and they’re not able to resist and then they can deal with each faction, with each community, separately. What we see today is a major shift in that policy that the Palestinians inside the Green Line, in the 1948 areas, have erupted and have become part of resisting that colonial settler project called Israel today. And what we see today, I think has shaken the Israeli political establishment and I believe that there will be consequences for this. Palestinians now see themselves as one people resisting this project that is trying to depopulate them, expel them from the land, take their lands away, steal it basically like what’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah. It’s stealing their property and their position. And I think that is going to have major consequences and I think it puts the international community on notice, particularly people in the United States. I think people have seen now all the rules. All the different narratives that they use against the Palestinians have now been exposed and covered and people see Israel for what it is; it’s a settler colonialist project in the heart of the Arab world, in Palestine, where they were trying to expel the Palestinians, replace people, and put someone else in their place. And that hasn’t succeeded because simply, the Jews of the world today, the overwhelming majority have not adhered to this call of Zionism, so they stopped at 6 million where the Jews, probably about 16 million around the world, and Palestinians, refuse to leave. Even though 700,000 of them were kicked out in 1948, their descendants today number about seven million. Yet you also have the people, the Palestinian people inside Palestine proper, inside all of Historic Palestine, are more today than the Jews themselves. That’s a major problem for Israel. What are you going to do with these people? I mean either they will have to incorporate them in which the nature of the Zionist project will dissolve or they will have to impose an apartheid-type regime, not only on Palestinians under occupation but also throughout because laws that are passed in the Knesset, which is the Israeli Parliament, are designed to give advantage – privileges to Jews rather than Arabs, so even if you’re a citizen of the country, you’re not treated the same. And this kind of a system is a bygone era, this is what we used to fight back, you know in the last century, particularly in the ‘80s against apartheid South Africa and that’s what’s being what’s happening today in Israel, they try to cover it and they try to make it sound that this is the only democracy in the Middle East, but I think people know better now, particularly the youth. We see this total rejection of this state today across the globe. The only holding country right now probably would be the United States and not even the whole United States, just these political elites that are trying to argue what Israel has been arguing since its foundation, that it’s a democracy, but that’s a mockery of what’s actually happening on the ground.
CH: Great. When we come back we’ll continue our conversation about the dispute between the Palestinians and the Israelis with the Palestinian political activist, Dr Sami Al-Arian.
CH: Welcome back to On Contact, we continue our conversation about the disputes between the Palestinians and the Israelis with the Palestinian activist Dr Sami Al-Arian. So Sami, I want to talk about a couple things. I want to focus on this very rightwing shift within the Israeli society, something that I witnessed. I first went to Israel, lived in Jerusalem in the late ‘80s. It’s a very different country (now). But before we talk about that, the Biden administration has been completely tone deaf. There is no daylight between the kinds of statements that Nancy Pelosi or the Secretary of State (Antony Blinken) are making about what’s happening – especially in Gaza – and the far-right of the Republican Party. Did that surprise you?
SA: Not at all, I mean, I’ve lived in the United States for four decades, I’ve seen the stranglehold that Zionist organizations, particularly its lobby groups, have on politicians. I experienced that firsthand when I was lobbying against the use of secret evidence in Congress within the administration so we understand all that. Yet, we see today that there is a crack – major crack in that support. Yes, the old is – you know, Biden, Pelosi and others are still hostages basically to the Israeli lobby but there are many other politicians within Congress, you know, much fewer in the Senate, but also across the United States, where this Israeli narrative has been exposed and rejected. And we see even within the Jewish communities a massive resistance to the Israeli narrative; to this call that Israel is a democracy defending itself. This is no longer really – no longer people believe this if they have any kind of an objective reading of what’s actually happening on the ground. What they are doing is simply supporting an apartheid-like regime and history tells us that this is not going to continue because people would know better, particularly now with the – there is no monopoly of information anymore. When I came to United States and this is 1975 and beyond, there were only thirty minutes of news at 6:30pm, you know, ABC, NBC and CBS. That is no longer the case. People are getting their information now from everywhere 24-7, and I don’t think you can hide what Israel is doing to the Palestinians anymore. And if people would like to be on the side of repression, on the side of colonial settlers, on the side of people who actually target and murder children, then be it, but one day or another they have to be called into account, and that’s what’s going to happen. I mean we see today that even people within Congress – that was unheard of – will come on the halls of Congress, in the will of the Congress and criticize Israeli behavior and call on the administration to be evenhanded or at least to call a spade a spade and to talk about the casualties and the killing of children by Israel – by American bombs, I mean that makes America culpable in what’s going on. It’s part of the problem, not part of the solution. And I think at one point or another, the United States would be held to account and they would come and correct that particular position. On the issue of the Israeli right, yes, this has been going on since 1977, slowly but surely. And now for the past fifteen years or so, we see that the Israeli right has now a total control of the Israeli body politic. The only difference is that within themselves, it’s either the right or the extreme right or the ultra right. There is no center anymore. There is no left anymore. And that’s why they cannot form a government because everybody is competing within that camp to become the next prime minister. Now they had four elections, and they’re probably going to end up with a fifth one because they can’t decide who would be leading the Israeli right, and the Israeli – this road towards establishing Greater Israel, but I think they will have the surprise is that – you know, thinking that they have already settled the conflict and the Palestinians have given up and I think we’re back now to square one, where they see that there are all the different fault lines within that society. Not only they can’t form a government, but they also cannot even have the Palestinians being totally dominated in a way that they can impose their will. They can’t impose their will anymore and I think the resistance is going to increase, not decrease, and I think within even the Israeli society today, there has been a determined response of the Palestinians and also the world – the global support that is coming slowly against the practices of the Israeli army and the Israeli government towards the rights of the Palestinians.
CH: What has shocked me – I first moved to Jerusalem in 1988, I knew Yitzhak Rabin, covered him; he was of course assassinated by a far-right settler – is the way these rightwing settlers – what is about a half million of whom now live in occupied territory? – have really seized control, along with the most retrograde elements; the former Kach party which was outlawed but has been resurrected in Otzma Yehudit, and then you have these rightwing soccer hooligans and the Lehava movement which calls for the total expulsion of all Palestinians inside Israel, in the occupied territories, to neighboring Arab states. These have moved to the center of political power, which was unthinkable before Rabin’s assassination. And then of course we’ve now had eleven years of this with Bibi Netanyahu, close ally of Trump, has built relationships with other rightwing governments in Brazil and Hungary and Poland and everywhere else. But I think that shift, that political shift is important to note because when I lived in Israel, the peace movement – whatever its faults – was vibrant, and it’s been extinguished virtually, and that makes Israel in many ways a different country. Can you address that?
SA: Absolutely, I mean what you see today is a manifestation obviously of twelve years of an attempt to impose Israeli will on Palestinians and work towards Greater Israel by bringing through a flawed process called Oslo; settlements throughout the years. When Oslo was signed back in 1993/94 there were hardly 150,000 settlers inside the Occupied Territories, particularly the West Bank and Jerusalem. Today they number over 800,000, including in East Jerusalem, which makes any kind of political settlement impossible. Now, keep in mind that much of these settler movements have been financed directly by US extremists, Jewish extremists, particularly, you know, Sheldon Adelson who died few months ago, who was actually the chief financier of these settlements around Jerusalem. Today the problems in Sheikh Jarrah, which is a district in Jerusalem, the claim that these buildings belong to a settler movement; these movements are being financed by extreme movements within the United States, and you know, getting even tax-free status. So, the US has been part and parcel of this problem. The extremist-right has been at the center of this and also the extremists in the United States, you know, those who have actually financed both the lobbying in the US as well as the settlement movement in Palestine/Israel. Now, in terms of Israeli policies they are singing the same tune of Netanyahu and his rightwing groups. Netanyahu has been in power now for twelve years and he is quoted in 2001 right before he became a prime minister, is that his main task is going to be to delay, derail and make sure that the peace process is never going – does never succeed because his aim, and that’s his quote; it’s on the internet, anybody can Google it and hear him saying that in Hebrew, but there are also, there is an English translation which says that he will make damn sure that there will be no settlement and that Israel will retain the properties in the West Bank, in Jerusalem and throughout. And now the fruition of this, if you want to see the blueprint of how Netanyahu thinks, all what you have to do is go and read the so-called Deal of the Century – steal of the century I call it – in which they were trying to impose their will on the Palestinians by creating pockets of cantons, in the language of South African apartheid, for Palestinians, with tunnels and bridges and undergrounds in which Israel will have sovereignty throughout the Palestinian territories, which is basically the total domination of one group over the other; the classical definition of what a colonialist-settler project is, that’s what they are offering and the Palestinians refuse and resist, and that’s going to continue, that’s not going to stop. And when the United States stops funding these attempts to impose a racial hierarchy in terms of Jewish supremacy, the way white supremacists are trying to impose their will in the United States over other races like Blacks and Latinos and others, this is what we are confronted with and this is what the struggle is all about. And I think history is on the side of those who fight for justice and fight for equality. I can’t imagine that when the people in the United States get all the facts, that they will side with Jewish supremacists, or Zionists, or Israelis who are trying to impose their will and take all the land from the river to the sea. I think the end result is going to be to the dismantlement of such a system, the ending of racial hierarchy, the ending of a settler-colonial project, and eventually – that’s going to take a lot of suffering, a lot of blood, a lot of victims, but that’s the nature of sacrifices. I mean we weep for every child when they die and for every man and woman when they are injured and when they are being targeted, but there is no other recourse. I mean, the world has failed us, has betrayed the Palestinians for twenty-eight years. They told the Palestinians ‘Come recognize Israel and within five years you’re going to have your rights in the West Bank and Gaza’. Twenty-eight years later and it’s even worse than it’s ever been. So I think the Palestinians no longer believe in such flawed processes. The United States has to step up to the plate. It is as much responsible to the suffering of the Palestinians as Israelis are because they are enabling them to do what they want. They are financing them. They are giving them all the ammunitions. Every bullet that Palestinians were shot of was made in the United States, every plane was made in the United States, every bomb was financed and imported and paid for and delivered to Israel by the United States, and the United States has to come to realize that it is part of the problem and unless they do a major correction, it’s going to continue to suffer in this part of the world. People do not hate America because of their democracy or because of their freedom, people abhor the policies of the United States because it is not just. They try to punish the Palestinians so that they can please the Israelis.
CH: I remember being in Gaza after a bombing strike and picking up fragments from a bomb and a piece of it had ‘Made in Dayton, Ohio’. I think that you would agree that the moment the United States pulls the plug – that’s why I support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) – that colonial settler project is not viable. Is that correct?
SA: Absolutely. Absolutely right. I think it’s a major part, you know, if Israel loses the support of the United States that would be the end of a project called apartheid Israel. We’re going to have a new phase, a new era, in which you could actually finally find peace in the Middle East because then Israel – Israel that we know today, as an aggressive, apartheid, racist, settler-colonial state will no longer be the case and I think that’s when you actually see a major difference, but that’s a big if because it needs a lot of struggle not only against that system in Palestine, but also within the United States, and that puts a lot of focus on the movements now coming in the US to ask for equality and to ask for the end of the support of America to Israel, whether it is through BDS or other means, but the goal is clear and the goal is to end apartheid in Palestine/Israel and to also call for the full restoration of Palestinian rights after so much suffering.
CH: Great, thank you. That was Palestinian political activist Dr Sami Al-Arian.