Israel’s military on Friday ordered 1.1 million civilians in the northern Gaza Strip to evacuate “southwards” in just 24 hours, a demand that aid groups say will cause untold human suffering. The ultimatum comes ahead of an expected ground invasion of the besieged coastal enclave, where authorities say 1,537 people have been killed since Israel began devastating airstrikes in retaliation for a Hamas attack in which militants killed 1,300 people and took some 150 hostages. Hamas says the intense Israeli bombardment that has pulverized much of Gaza also killed 13 hostages. Meanwhile, Israel continues to maintain a total blockade of the territory, blocking food, water, fuel and medicine from reaching those trapped inside. For more on the crisis and mounting human toll, we speak with Gaza writer Muhammad Shehada, who condemns the international community and mainstream media for its complicity in Israel’s destruction of Gaza. “These things are unimaginable horrors that are inflicted on Gaza right now with no one intervening to stop it,” he says. “This is pure madness.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Gaza, where Israel last night ordered the evacuation within 24 hours of all Palestinians living in the northern Gaza Strip — some 1.1 million people within 24 hours. The United Nations has condemned the order, saying it’s, quote, “impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences,” unquote.
Much of Gaza is already in the dark, as Israel has cut off energy, food and water supplies. The seven-day Israeli bombardment has killed at least 1,500 Palestinians. Israel declared war after Saturday’s surprise brutal attack by Hamas militants on Israel, where the death toll has reached 1,300. Israel is now amassing tanks on the border of Gaza ahead of what appears to be an imminent ground invasion.
Some 400,000 Palestinians had already been displaced prior to Israel’s evacuation order last night. Some groups have announced plans to defy Israel’s order. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said, quote, “Despite the occupation’s threats to shell; the decision has been made. We did and will not leave. Our medics will carry on their humanitarian duties. We won’t leave people face death alone,” unquote.
Many in Gaza fear Israel’s evacuation order is the start of a second Nakba. Seventy-five years ago, in 1948, some 700,000 Palestinians fled from or were violently expelled from their homes upon Israel’s founding in 1948. Much of Gaza’s population are refugees from families displaced 75 year ago.
We begin today’s show with Muhammad Shehada, a writer and analyst from Gaza, chief of communications at Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, columnist at The Forward newspaper, a Jewish weekly in New York. He’s joining us from Copenhagen.
Muhammad, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you describe what’s happening on the ground? And first respond to this order from the Israeli government that half the population of Gaza, 1.1 million people, must leave the north and head south, and they gave them 24 hours last night to do it.
MUHAMMAD SHEHADA: Yes. Thanks, Amy.
I’ve been through at least six Israeli military operations, or even more. This is like nothing I’ve ever seen in my entire life and nothing like Gaza has ever seen, in terms of magnitude, scale, level of destruction and death. Entire neighborhoods are totally unrecognizable.
With the evacuation orders, it’s basically plain and very obvious forcible transfers. And its most important thing about it is that it’s unimplementable. If you know Gaza geographically and physically and the devastation of infrastructure there, you would know that most roads are broken. There is vast electricity, internet outages. People are not getting any news. At the same time, the area that Israel wants people to go out of is the most densely populated part of Gaza and the area with the most safe shelters, these U.N. schools — although not very safe, because Israel bombed a lot of them over the last six days, but it’s the area with the most U.N. schools. It’s the area with the most hospitals. And right now you have over 7,000 Palestinians wounded in al-Shifa Hospital and other hospitals around Gaza, around the area that Israel wants them to evacuate from. So, by the mere act of evacuation, many people are going to lose their lives.
The other issue is that there are not enough houses, not enough spaces or shelter in the south of Gaza that Israel wants to push people towards to be in. The only realistic outcome of this is that we’re going have people just literally baking in the sun in 30 degrees Celsius temperature, about 85 degrees Fahrenheit, daily, in the sun, in the street, without any access to hospitals, any access to food or water, let alone the sheer terror of Palestinians experiencing a second Nakba. Many people there are saying, “We’re not leaving our homes.” The Palestinian Red Crescent said, “We refuse to evacuate, because we’re not going to let our people face death alone.”
At the same time, I’m aware that there is some pressure from European officials on the Israeli government discreetly to sort of backtrack this decision, but they are telling me, quite obviously, that it’s unlikely they would have much influence on Israel without the U.S. coming on board. And until now, the Biden administration hasn’t made its mind up about an event that’s way, way more horrendous than the Palestinian Nakba. We’re talking almost about double the amount of Palestinians that were displaced in 1948 just gone in 24 hours.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ve been trying to reach guests in Gaza and were not able to make any connection at this point. Muhammad Shehada, if you could explain more the conditions on the ground? And the significance, as I listened last night to the general director of the Palestine Red Crescent Society say, “How do we move people out of hospitals with this short amount of time, not to mention more than a million people?”
MUHAMMAD SHEHADA: Yes. So, before the evacuation orders, almost everyone I know in Gaza, they say, “Our knees cannot lift us up.” They haven’t had any sleep for more than two to three hours a night, punctuated by constant military airstrikes, because Israel dropped, up until yesterday, about 6,000 bombs on Gaza in six days. That’s about a bomb every one-and-a-half minutes. Every single neighborhood in Gaza was damaged, every single street, area. All the famous sites are completely gone, pulverized.
At the same time, I talked — the last time I talked to people was this morning. I talked to at least two to three people, and I lost them as I was talking with him on the line, because of airstrikes or running out of electricity and internet. Israel bombed Gaza’s main telecommunication company on the third or fourth day of this escalation, bombed it completely, leading to outages in vast areas of Gaza. And the last time I talked to someone, the last one I spoke to is a Gazan Irish citizen. He holds Irish citizenship, European. And he was telling me basically this: “I only have few liters of water in my home, for a family of six. I don’t know where am I going to go. I have a few batteries, and they’re running out of power.” And he doesn’t know if he’s going to stay alive.
Most people I know in Gaza are uploading — literally, uploading their wills and last words to their social media accounts and begging for forgiveness from anyone that they’ve ever wronged or done anything to, and saying, “Please forgive us, and we forgive you, as well.” This is what it has come down to.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett exploded at a Sky News anchor, Kamali Melbourne, during an interview Thursday, after Melbourne pressed Bennett on Israel’s attacks on Palestinian civilians. Here’s a portion of the exchange.
KAMALI MELBOURNE: What about those Palestinians in hospital who are on life support and babies in incubators, whose life support and incubator will have to be turned off because the Israelis have cut the power to Gaza?
NAFTALI BENNETT: Are you seriously keep on asking me about Palestinian civilians? What’s — what’s wrong with you? Have you not seen what happened? We’re fighting Nazis. We don’t target them. Now, the world can come and bring them anything they want, if you want to bring them electricity. I’m not going to feed electricity or water to my enemies. If anyone else wants, that’s fine. We’re not responsible for them.
KAMALI MELBOURNE: But this is the point —
NAFTALI BENNETT: But you keep on —
KAMALI MELBOURNE: This is the point —
NAFTALI BENNETT: You — I want to tell you —
KAMALI MELBOURNE: No, no, Mr. Bennett, this is the point.
NAFTALI BENNETT: No. No, listen.
KAMALI MELBOURNE: Listen.
NAFTALI BENNETT: You listen to me right now.
KAMALI MELBOURNE: No, you’re raising your voice. And we’re trying —
NAFTALI BENNETT: I’ve heard you enough.
KAMALI MELBOURNE: No, no, I understand. We’re trying to have a conversation here.
NAFTALI BENNETT: I’ve heard a lot of you.
KAMALI MELBOURNE: Listen, this is my program.
NAFTALI BENNETT: No, you’re not having a —
KAMALI MELBOURNE: This is my show.
NAFTALI BENNETT: And that’s exactly —
KAMALI MELBOURNE: And I am asking the questions. You’re raising your voice.
NAFTALI BENNETT: But it’s my country.
KAMALI MELBOURNE: And I’ve asked you. And we’ve already —
NAFTALI BENNETT: And when people — when people —
KAMALI MELBOURNE: We’ve already — stop, please.
NAFTALI BENNETT: When people —
KAMALI MELBOURNE: And let me finish. We’ve already distinguished —
NAFTALI BENNETT: Shame on you, Mister.
KAMALI MELBOURNE: — between Hamas —
NAFTALI BENNETT: I want to tell you, you — shame on you.
KAMALI MELBOURNE: You’re trying to speak over me.
NAFTALI BENNETT: Because we are not —
KAMALI MELBOURNE: No, no.
NAFTALI BENNETT: Shame on you.
KAMALI MELBOURNE: It’s nothing about shame.
NAFTALI BENNETT: I am the — I was the prime minister.
KAMALI MELBOURNE: We’re trying to have a conversation —
NAFTALI BENNETT: There is absolutely shame.
KAMALI MELBOURNE: — about a very serious situation here.
NAFTALI BENNETT: Because when you just jump —
KAMALI MELBOURNE: And you are refusing to address it.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Sky News anchor Melbourne challenging the former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who said to him, “You’re daring to ask me about Palestinian civilians?” Muhammad Shehada, your response?
MUHAMMAD SHEHADA: Well, I’m afraid that this is now becoming a mainstream sentiment in Israel — and not just in Israel, amongst official European and American leaders, and in the media, as well. If you’ve been looking at what Israeli politicians are saying, about two days ago, an Israeli lawmaker, senior one in the ruling coalition, Limor Son Har-Melech, she wrote on Twitter, saying, quote, “There are no innocents in Gaza. Flatten Gaza,” quite literally, very openly. Now we have the architect, the godfather of the Israeli judicial coup, or judicial overhaul, Simcha Rothman, he is now saying that the main goal of this operation is that a Jewish kid can walk freely in Gaza alone, if there would be a Gaza at all. So this sentiment is shared widely.
But what I find most striking are two things. Number one, European diplomats in the Occupied Territories are telling me that their leaders, their bosses, their foreign ministries, for the last at least five to six days, were not bringing Gaza up to their Israeli counterparts at all. That’s the same with the U.S. government. They’re not bringing what’s Israel’s conduct in Gaza at all, aside from the issue of the humanitarian corridor. This might change now with the forcible transfer of 1.1 million people. But at the same time, this level of complicitness, I’ve never seen before.
And it’s the same with mainstream media. I’ve seen circulation of allegations, that were completely debunked, of extreme, horrendous atrocities, like mass rapes and decapitation of babies, being taken at face value by virtually all the mainstream media, circulating immediately and without the slightest work of journalistic integrity or investigation, although it was later debunked. And at the same time, when we have Human Rights Watch coming out yesterday and saying, “We have solid evidence of Israel using phosphorus munition on Gaza’s civilian populations” — that’s a chemical incendiary weapon that burns on immediate and ignites on immediate impact with oxygen, and it burns flesh and bone, and it cannot be turned off, and the toxic fumes of it can be lethal and can cause respiratory — permanent respiratory damage. Human Rights Watch says Israel is using it. This is a war crime. And virtually not a single mainstream media is picking up and reporting on this.
So, it’s unimaginable, the level of complicitness that I see in this round of escalation. Nobody is calling for deescalation or ceasefire, not even a humanitarian ceasefire, although they did that in the last major war on Gaza, 2014. That was the United Nations and the U.S. We had a humanitarian ceasefire for 72 hours. But this time there is not even any talk about it, not even a thought for it. And that, I find most frightening.
I get a lot of questions from my colleagues, family and people I love in Gaza, asking, “Are we going to stay alive?” One of my friends, she says, “I just gave birth about a month ago. My baby is clinging to me. I’m afraid if he’s going to die from a heart attack from the airstrikes and fear and terror,” at the same time that she’s afraid that her husband might get killed or taken away from her if there’s a ground invasion, at the same time that she’s afraid that she’s going to end up permanently a refugee in the Sinai desert. These things are unimaginable horrors that are inflicted on Gaza right now with no one intervening to stop it. This is pure madness.
AMY GOODMAN: On CNN last night, a former military Israeli analyst said, “Our goal isn’t turning Gaza City into a parking lot. Our goal is to turn Gaza into a Hamas-less region.” Muhammad Shehada, if you can respond, in this last answer?
MUHAMMAD SHEHADA: Yeah, exactly. As I said, Israeli leaders, politicians and members of the ruling coalition are openly admitting that the goal is flattening Gaza. Simcha Rothman, as I said, he is the architect, the chief architect, of the Israeli judicial overhaul. He is one of the top lawmakers in the Israeli ruling coalition. And he is saying openly the goal is that a Jewish Israeli kid can walk in and out freely, if there would be a Gaza at all. He is admitting it very openly.
And I’ve seen the sentiment not just from Israeli politicians, but from Israeli media, as well, from Israeli pundits, analysts and commentators. Voices of reason in Israel are now becoming a shunned minority. Many of them are afraid to speak up, because now the atmosphere is so hostile, so polarized and toxic and dehumanizing for people in Gaza that whenever Gaza is brought up, the only thing that’s brought up with it is Nazis. Can you imagine if any person in Gaza would refer to Israel as such, how many condemnations would be poured on their heads immediately?
AMY GOODMAN: Muhammad Shehada, I want to thank you so much for being with us, usually based in Palestine, in Gaza, a writer and analyst, chief of communications at Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, columnist for The Forward newspaper, a Jewish weekly here in New York.
The stakes have never been higher (and our need for your support has never been greater).
For over two decades, Truthout’s journalists have worked tirelessly to give our readers the news they need to understand and take action in an increasingly complex world. At a time when we should be reaching even more people, big tech has suppressed independent news in their algorithms and drastically reduced our traffic. Less traffic this year has meant a sharp decline in donations.
The fact that you’re reading this message gives us hope for Truthout’s future and the future of democracy. As we cover the news of today and look to the near and distant future we need your help to keep our journalists writing.
Please do what you can today to help us keep working for the coming months and beyond.