May 11, 2021
Israeli airstrikes in Gaza have killed at least 26 Palestinians, including nine children, as tension in the region has escalated sharply. Hundreds were also injured by Israeli forces Monday when they stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam. Hamas responded by firing hundreds of rockets into Israel, which reportedly caused dozens of injuries but no deaths. The tension in Jerusalem has been mounting for weeks as Palestinians have been organizing to block Israel from forcibly evicting dozens of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood to give their homes to Jewish settlers. The United Nations has described the planned eviction as a possible war crime. Raji Sourani, award-winning human rights lawyer and director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, says Israel’s latest assault is compounding the suffering of people in the besieged territory. “We have the occupation. We have the blockade for the last 14 years, which paralyzed our entire lives. We have the pandemic, and now we have this fourth war against Gaza,” he says. We also speak with Orly Noy, an Israeli political activist and editor of the Hebrew-language news site Local Call, who says the latest outbreak of fighting is likely to help Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cling to power. “Israeli politics is now in a very strange phase,” Noy says. “Extreme right-wingers are controlling both sides of the Israeli map.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
Hamas responded by firing hundreds of rockets into Israel. No deaths were reported, but police said over two dozen people were injured. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh warned rocket attacks will continue until Israel stops, quote, “all scenes of terrorism and aggression in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque,” unquote.
The tension in Jerusalem has been mounting for weeks as Palestinians have been protesting Israel’s plans to forcibly evict dozens of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem to give their homes to Jewish settlers. A court hearing on the evictions scheduled for Monday was postponed. The United Nations has described the planned eviction as a possible war crime.
In Gaza, families have started to bury the dead after Monday’s airstrikes. Survivors described the airstrikes killing young children.
REFAT AL MASRI: [translated] What happened here is we were sitting outside the house waiting for iftar, the breaking of the fast. An 8-month-old child was killed. Mohammad, who was getting married in five days after Eid, was killed. How is this the children’s fault? Girls between the ages of 7 and 9 have been killed. How is this their fault? We were just sitting outside the house waiting for the call to prayer.
AMY GOODMAN: Israeli Knesset member Ahmad Tibi blamed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the violent escalation, which comes as Netanyahu is fighting for his political life.
AHMAD TIBI: There is escalation. Somebody is responsible for this escalation. His name is Benjamin Netanyahu and Amir Ohana, minister of interior security affairs. They are interested in this escalation by the Israeli police. And we are here, as members of the Joint List, to stand with the Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, in Sheikh Jarrah and in Al-Aqsa Mosque. East Jerusalem is an occupied city. And the march today is celebrating the occupation.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by two guests. Orly Noy is in Jerusalem, an Israeli political activist and editor of the Hebrew-language news site Local Call, a member of B’Tselem’s executive board. And joining us from Gaza City, Raji Sourani, award-winning human rights lawyer, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza. He’s the 2013 Right Livelihood Award laureate. He’s on the executive board of the International Federation for Human Rights, received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1991. He was also twice named an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.
Raji Sourani, let’s go to you first in Gaza. The latest numbers we have, 26 people, Palestinians, have been killed, among them a number of children. Can you describe the scene on the ground?
RAJI SOURANI: Thank you, Amy.
It’s very hard. It’s very tough. It’s bloody. It’s bleak, a black situation. In less than 24 hours, I mean, this harvest of lives and injuries and destruction, it’s unprecedented. And this remind us just in what had happened 2014, 2012 and 2008. But this time, I mean, it seems it’s much more tougher than it has been before. Israel, I mean, dominate entirely Gaza, and they are bombing. They didn’t stop since yesterday ’til this moment. And every moment, I mean, this situation deteriorates more, escalate more. And we are having more killings, more injuries, more civilian targets bombed.
And the eye of the storm, unfortunately, as usual, are the civilians and the civilian targets. And that’s very worries, as if Gaza just need that. We have the occupation. We have the blockade for the last 14 years, which paralyzed our entire life. We have the pandemic. And now, I mean, we have this fourth war against Gaza on civilians, civilian targets in the eye of the storm.
Once and again, Israel do flagrantly violate international law, international humanitarian law, which is there to protect civilians at a time of war. They didn’t respect that, neither in Gaza nor in Jerusalem or in Sheikh Jarrah or in any Palestinian territories. This is real, a new brand of apartheid, unprecedented, much, much worse than South Africa used to do.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Raji Sourani, I wanted to ask you: What, from your perspective, prompted this latest round of attacks? Clearly, over the last four years during the Trump administration, there was an effort by the United States to sort of further marginalize the Palestinian question and the Palestinian — the Israeli occupation. What, in your perspective, led to this new round of attacks by Israel?
RAJI SOURANI: Well, I mean, this is a very right-wing government, and Prime Minister Netanyahu competing how he can beat the most right extremist, I mean, in Israel. And that’s why he’s investing and trying his best to suppress, oppress more and more Palestinians and to do what he is doing right now.
And the Trump administration gave him a wonderful gift. They gave him blessing for the settlements policy in the West Bank to cement this apartheid regime of Israel in Jerusalem and West Bank. They enhanced the ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem towards Palestinians. And Trump gave his executive order by recognizing Jerusalem as the eternal united capital of Israel, unlike any other American administration before.
Of course, I mean, Netanyahu felt, with that, he has absolute and a free hand towards that, especially — I mean, he is in the peak of the elections, where his position is shaking, and he tried to prove more and more that he is a real national and he is the one who believes in Eretz Yisrael from the river to the sea, Palestinians with no existence. We don’t exist for him. That’s why he wants to clean Jerusalem from Palestinians. And that’s why when Gaza stood in solidarity as part of the Palestinian people with Jerusalem, he just jumped to that, and he began this orchestrated campaign of bombing, destruction and killing once again.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the evictions that have been proposed in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, the United Nations has described the planned evictions as a possible war crime. And now we have the Israeli Supreme Court postponing at least a decision on it. Could you talk about the importance of this particular neighborhood as representative of the continuing seizure of land by the Israeli settlers?
RAJI SOURANI: Well, Israel Judaized Jerusalem, East Jerusalem. They’re ethnically cleansing, I mean, the Palestinians from there. They are taking it over, day after day, by forcing people to leave, by imposing pressure, by expansion, by building this apartheid wall, that the most important court on Earth said it’s null and void and should be abolished.
Sheikh Jarrah is a good example, I mean, for that. They want to take it over, its stones, its sands, its trees, a Palestinian genuine part of Jerusalem. And the people in it, I mean, they were refugees. I mean, they came in 1948 to this after Israel forced them to leave, after the atrocities they made against them. And they came to this part, and they settled, and they are existing there. They don’t want them to exist there. Israel — and I want to remind everybody that entire East Jerusalem and Occupied Territories, this is not by Palestinians; it’s by Palestinians, by U.N. and the whole world, including the American administration used to call it as such, ’til the Trump administration.
Now with what they are doing, they want to force people to leave, using the name of the High Court. What is the High Court in Israel? The High Court in Israel and the courts in Israel, regarding Palestinians, they are racist. They are schizophrenic. And they are there to provide full legal cover for organized, systemic crimes perpetrated against the Palestinian people. They’re just giving, I mean, this legal cover for what Israel — they don’t apply international law. They don’t apply international humanitarian law. For them, this is with nonexistence. What they recognize, one thing only: They recognize the right of the Israeli Jews, those who are considered holy blood, holy soils, holy land. Others, I mean, we are with nonexistence.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to that video that has gone viral on social media of the Sheikh Jarrah resident, Muna El-Kurd, confronting an Israeli settler who had been living in her family’s home for 12 years.
MUNA EL-KURD: Jacob, you know this is not your house.
JACOB: Yes, but if I go, you don’t go back. So what’s the problem? Why are you yelling at me? I didn’t do this. I didn’t do this.
MUNA EL-KURD: But you —
JACOB: It’s easy to yell at me, but I didn’t do this.
MUNA EL-KURD: You are stealing my house.
JACOB: And if I don’t steal it, someone else is going to steal it.
MUNA EL-KURD: No, no one is allowed to steal it.
AMY GOODMAN: We spoke to Muna El-Kurd’s twin brother, Mohammed El-Kurd, yesterday. They are resisting the forcing out of the Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah. I wanted to bring Orly Noy into the conversation, the Israeli political activist, editor of the Hebrew-language news site Local Call, member of the B’Tselem executive board. You are in Jerusalem. Explain what is happening there and the escalation. The way the U.S. media, following the Israel government media, often refers to this is Hamas is shooting rockets into Israel. Give us the context before this happened.
ORLY NOY: Yeah, well, we should — I will get in a minute to the context of this last round of escalation, but before doing that, we need to look at the broader context of the inherent and institutionalized violence against the Palestinians, which is a constant. There is a constant war, at different levels, that Israel is embarking upon against the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.
First, we need to remember that the Palestinians in Jerusalem, which make about 40% of the city’s population, are not citizens of Israel. And they are, as far as Israel is concerned, sort of temporary residents of the city. It means that their houses are constantly under the threat of demolition, being taken over by settlers. It means that they are basically subjected to a different set of law. And this is part of the apartheid nature of the Palestinian reality everywhere in Jerusalem. So, this is the broader context.
The latest round of escalation actually started with the very arbitrary and outrageous decision by the Jerusalem police to ban the Palestinians from gathering at the end of the fast during Ramadan on the wide steps outside Damascus Gate, which is one of the main gathering centers of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, certainly in the month of Ramadan, which, you know, should be those festive evenings after the breaking of the fast, which always happened in Damascus Gate. And I think that the police knew very well that this will not go unprotested, without protest. And surely enough, the Palestinians did protest, which only gave the Jerusalem police an excuse to treat them with extreme brutality. And I was there night after night. The amount — I cannot even begin to describe what war zone, an actual war zone, the police created because of Palestinians protesting against this arbitrary, senseless, provocative decision.
And, of course, when you add to that the threat of the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, which, by the way, are not for the first time — Palestinians have been constantly being evicted from not only Sheikh Jarrah, but also from Silwan and from other sensitive areas in the historic Holy Basin of the Old City and from the Muslim Quarter of the Old City itself. So, all of that sort of, as was very much expected from the first moment, exploded into the situation that we are witnessing right now.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Orly Noy, could you talk about how Netanyahu is hoping to benefit from this instability, and his own problems that he is facing in terms of being able to form a new government and the repeated elections in Israel, how this plays into his political interests?
ORLY NOY: Yes. After Netanyahu exhausted the time that was given to him to try and establish a government and failed to do so, his main goal became to prevent his political rivals from succeeding in forming a new government. Now, the Israeli politics is now in a very strange phase, in which extreme right-wingers are controlling both sides of the Israeli map, which is the pro-Netanyahu camp and the anti-Netanyahu camp. But the situation in the anti-Netanyahu camp, which now has the mandate to try and form a government, is such that it needs for extreme right-wingers, like Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar, to collaborate in some way with left, central-left parties, such as Labor Party, Meretz, and with the silent collaboration or cooperation of the Joint List.
The sure way for Netanyahu to prevent that cooperation between both political sides in the anti-Netanyahu camp is to provoke them, the situation, the reality, into a war, which — in which case it would be much more difficult, because the Bennett people, the right-wing people, Sa’ar, Bennett, etc., they need to be accountable to their bases of voters. They want to escalate the situation. They want stronger attacks on Gaza, more violence against Palestinians, both inside and outside 48 territories, which is something, of course, that would make the cooperation with the left, central-left side of the political map almost impossible to achieve.
AMY GOODMAN: And at the same time, the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is on trial for corruption. As we wrap up, Raji Sourani, we just got word from Haaretz that it looks like two Israelis were just killed in Ashkelon. That’s where the Hamas rockets are falling. And you have the 26 Palestinians, a number of them children, in Gaza, as a result of the Israeli attacks. And finally, the response of the United States: Secretary of State Tony Blinken said Hamas needs to end the rocket attacks immediately, and added “all sides need to deescalate.” What do you think has to happen now? And specifically, what are you demanding of the U.S. government?
RAJI SOURANI: To have an end for this bloody, prolonged military occupation. That’s the issue. I mean, we cannot live with that. We cannot allow this to happen. I mean, I cannot understand or digest how international community, seeing these war crimes, the crimes against humanity, happening once and again, once and again — all international human rights organizations know and realize what’s going on. This is a new brand of apartheid. There is need to have an end for this conflict. It’s a time — sorry — to have something simple apply in this part of the world: rule of law. Make accountability. All what we need, peace. No one on Earth in need for peace more than the suppressed and the oppressed. We suffered a lot as the Palestinian people, but we’re still having strong feeling toward justice. We want peace based on international law, international humanitarian law. What we need, simple thing, end of the occupation. What we need, end of this aggression.
Israel should be held accountable, and U.S. can deliver. It’s enough, what the American administration did for Israel, providing them full political immunity against the crimes they are doing once and again against Palestinians. ICC, as well, will be one of the places where these Israeli war criminals will be held against all the crimes they committed against the Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Territories, against the ethnic cleansing, against the settlements policy, against the atrocities, I mean, they are making, day and night.
AMY GOODMAN: Raji Sourani, I want to thank you very much for being with us, a human rights lawyer, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza. Please be safe. And Orly Noy, Israeli political activist, editor of the Hebrew-language news site Local Call, also a member of the human rights group B’Tselem’s executive board.
Published at www.democracynow.org