Leaders in Israel and Gaza have reportedly reached a ceasefire agreement after an intense three days of fighting left 25 Palestinians and four Israelis dead. Palestinian authorities said the dead in Gaza included two pregnant women, a 14-month-old girl and a 12-year-old boy. The latest round of violence began on Friday. According to The Washington Post, Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinian protesters taking part in the weekly Great March of Return which began 13 months ago. Palestinians then reportedly shot and wounded two Israeli soldiers near the border. In response, Israel carried out an airstrike on a refugee camp killing two Palestinian militants. The heaviest combat took place on Saturday and Sunday as militants in Gaza fired about 700 rockets into Israel while Israel launched airstrikes on over 350 targets inside Gaza. The weekend has been described as the heaviest combat in the region since the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza. Residents in Gaza fear the ceasefire will not last. We go to Gaza City to speak with Raji Sourani, award-winning human rights lawyer and the director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. We also speak with Jehad Abusalim, a scholar and policy analyst from Gaza who works for the American Friends Service Committee’s Gaza Unlocked Campaign.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
Leaders in Israel and Gaza have reportedly reached a ceasefire agreement after an intense three days of fighting that left 25 Palestinians and four Israelis dead. Palestinian authorities said the dead in Gaza included two pregnant women, a 14-month-old girl, and a 12-year-old boy. The latest round of violence began on Friday. According to The Washington Post, Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinian protesters taking part in the weekly Great March of Return, which began 13 months ago. Palestinians then reportedly shot and wounded two Israeli soldiers near the border.
In response, Israel carried out an airstrike on a refugee camp, killing two Palestinian militants. The heaviest combat took place Saturday and Sunday as militants in Gaza fired about 700 rockets into Israel while Israel launched airstrikes on over 350 targets inside Gaza. The weekend has been described as the heaviest combat in the region since the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza. Residents there fear the ceasefire will not last.
MAHMOUD AL-WEHDI: [translated] This truce will be the same as the previous ones. Each time, there is a truce for a week or two, and then they are back to fighting again. This is how it has been throughout the history of the Palestinian people. We are suffering from the fight — airstrikes that target civilians, they strike residential buildings, and we are left with our clothes we are wearing. There was no time to take personal stuff.
AMY GOODMAN: The violence comes at a time when Israel is facing accusations it has reneged on an agreement to ease the devastating 12-year blockade on Gaza. In late March, Israel and Hamas agreed to a deal brokered by Egypt for Israel to expand the fishing zone for Palestinians off the coast of Gaza, but Israel shrank the fishing zone last week. The Israeli rights group Gisha described the move as an act of collective punishment.
To talk about the crisis in Gaza, we go to Gaza City where we are joined by Raji Sourani, an award-winning human rights lawyer. He is the director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza and a member of the executive board of the International Federation for Human Rights. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1991. He was also twice named an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience. I know there will be a delay between my questions and Raji Sourani’s response, so I hope folks will bear with us as he speaks to us from Gaza City where a ceasefire has just gone into effect which allowed Raji Sourani to even make it to the studio. Raji Sourani, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you describe this latest escalation of violence, what you understand took place?
RAJI SOURANI: Thank you, thank you being with you. Yes, the situation in Gaza in the last three days was rather mission impossible to move anywhere in Gaza, and it was no singular place is safe haven in Gaza. The Israelis bombed everywhere from south to north. And basically, and as usual, in the eye of the storm were the civilians and the civilian targets. That’s why the situation was very tense. And of course [inaudible] resistance in Gaza, I mean, retaliated with hundreds of rockets against Israel.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain, when Israel says that it hit 350 military targets, what those targets are?
RAJI SOURANI: That’s nonsense, because a bunch of Hamas and jihad activist who has been killed by the Israelis. The rest — the overwhelming majority of those who has been killed or injured are entirely civilians, civilian people, including two pregnant women, children and many other civilians. There is entire family in northern part of Gaza erased. I mean, they don’t exist anymore — father, mother and their children. Same thing happened in the middle area.
So basically, Israel knocked down many of towers in Gaza, where it’s entirely residential areas for very, very ordinary people. And that’s why there is hundreds, if not thousands, of people are in the street right now after their towers and apartments has been destroyed. Gaza is one of the most heavily populated area on Earth, and the density of population incredible. And Israel was like elephant in the garden bombing, shooting everywhere.
AMY GOODMAN: On Sunday evening, President Trump tweeted, “Once again, Israel faces a barrage of deadly rocket attacks by terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. We support Israel 100% in its defense of its citizens,” he said. Trump continued, “To the Gazan people — these terrorist acts against Israel will bring you nothing but more misery. END the violence and work towards peace — it can happen!” Raji Sourani, your response?
RAJI SOURANI: Well, I think Mr. Trump is the last one who should speak about peace and who should speak about terrorism. And I think what he is doing against Palestinian people, against Palestinians, goes against international law, international humanitarian law. It is evil and unacceptable by all meanings and standards. I don’t want to dig deep into history. I don’t want to go back to a year ago when he promised Israel of having Jerusalem as its capital, which is totally illegal and unacceptable by not Palestinians, but by international community and by international law. When his security advisor threatened — threatened — the International Criminal Court prosecutors and judges and they gave a promise that they will hold accountable any of them who take any decisions against U.S. or Israel for the war crimes they are doing, and he expired their visas and promised to freeze their accounts and take even further procedure against them.
He is not the one who can talk about terrorism. He is doing, effectively, rule of jungle, not the rule of law. And if he’s talking precisely about Gaza and what had happened here, Israel do war crimes, crimes against humanity for the last 20 years or so. They are doing it in the daylight. It’s not we the Palestinian who are saying that; it’s the Palestinian-Israeli international human rights organizations, and it’s the U.N. bodies including Human Rights Council and the U.N. Commission of Inquiry who says Israel do war crimes. And they are safe, and they are doing it once and again, because they feel they are immune. Israel and its leaders feeling fully immune because the American administration, especially the Trump administration, will provide them with full legal, political immunities. They have a free hand. They are doing these things in the daylight, they practice rule of jungle, and they are not held accountable at all.
AMY GOODMAN: On Sunday, Congressmember Ilhan Omar tweeted, “How many more protesters must be shot, rockets must be fired, and little kids must be killed until the endless cycle of violence ends? The status quo of occupation and humanitarian crisis in Gaza is unsustainable. Only real justice can bring about security and lasting peace,” said Congressmember Ilhan Omar.
Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the daughter of the former Vice President Dick Cheney, attacked Omar, tweeting back, “1. Hamas controls Gaza. 2. Hamas is firing rockets at civilians in Israel. 3. @IlhanMN is defending Hamas. Real question is how many times will @IlhanMN rush to the defense of terrorists?” Raji Sourani, can you talk about the role of Islamic Jihad and Hamas and also the Great March of Return that has gone on for more than a year every Friday after prayers?
RAJI SOURANI: Almost a month ago, the Commission of Inquiry, which was formed by the U.N. Human Rights Council, concluded its report, and they said in a clear-cut and unequivocal way, Palestinians do have the right of freedom of expression. Palestinians do have the right to have their demonstrations. Nobody have the right to tell them where to do it, whether on the border or in Gaza. These demonstrations for one full year in five designated areas provided for these peaceful demonstrations were entirely peaceful and no evidence whatsoever after a full, thorough investigation by the Commission of Inquiry showed that there was any level of violence has been practiced. Not a single Israeli soldier life has been threatened, and no Israeli soldier was injured or killed in these five designated area where peaceful demonstration took place.
But the Commission of Inquiry and all the human rights organizations — Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, FIDH, EuroMed, Human Rights Network, Palestinian-Israeli — that the Israeli did war crimes, crimes against humanity, by snipers, who saw surely the bodies, faces [inaudible] of the children they killed, of the women they killed, of the nurses, of the handicapped, of the old and young people who were demonstrating hundreds of meters away from these Israeli soldiers where they didn’t pose any sort of threat. So Israel wanted this. Israel wanted to kill and shoot at children, nurses, women, the civilians who demonstrated for one year, almost, to say one thing — we cannot tolerate this criminal, illegal, inhuman siege, which considered by international law, by international humanitarian law, by Geneva Conventions, and by the International Criminal Court — it’s a crime against humanity. Cannot be tolerated.
They suffocated us. Thirteen years, we are unable to move in or out of Gaza. Gaza turned to be the biggest man-made disaster. Due to that, we cannot treat our water. We cannot treat our sewage. We cannot treat our electricity. Israel said 13 years ago, “We will send Gaza to the Middle Ages.” And they effectively did. People of Gaza are disconnected from the outside world. We have 90% of the population under poverty line, 85% of the population shifted to be receiving rations from UNRWA and other charities. There are 65% unpaid or unemployed. This is the biggest man-made disaster. And it is not because we are so. We have one of the highest percent of university graduates in the world. We have no illiteracy. We have a skilled working class. We have very strong business community. But Israel wanted to send us to the Middle Ages, and effectively they did. They said that once and again.
Hamas and jihad Islamic, they are part of us, part of the Palestinian political spectrum. They are part of the resistance against the occupation. After 70 years of Nakba, more than 50 years of occupation, and 25 years of Oslo Accords, nobody — nobody — talking about end of the occupation. Occupation a crime of aggression. And the Israeli occupation is not holy. This is a crime and should end. Palestinians deserve dignity and freedom. Israel, instead of that, they are taking Jerusalem — Jerusalem, they ruled it out, and it’s theirs de facto and de jure after serious ethnic cleansing for Palestinians in Jerusalem and process of Judaisation. So they ruled out Jerusalem, and Jerusalem now de facto and de jure not negotiable. West Bank — 70% of it, the Israeli laws are applied in it, in the settlements. And what’s left — I mean, almost 30 percent and not a single Israeli leader in the last elections said that there will be a Palestinian state in the west of Jordanian River. It’s vice versa. All of them said, “No Palestinian state.”
Regarding Gaza, Gaza — it’s like animal farm after this criminal, illegal, inhuman siege and suffocation and three wars launched in five years. And after all these measures against the Palestinian civilians, the Palestinian civilians, they are in the eye of the storm, and they are the target by Israel. If they are targeting Hamas or jihad or Fatah or PFLP, we as human rights organizations have nothing to do with that because they are part of the resistance. They have rules of engagements to deal with. But when we are talking, we are talking about bold, clear-cut war crimes, crimes against humanity happening against Palestinian civilians. And they are the ones who are in the eye of the storm, and that is why Israel doing something ugly, bad, when they do the policy of rule of jungle against the Palestinian civilians.
AMY GOODMAN: Raji Sourani, we have to break, but we’re going to come back to this discussion. Award-winning human rights lawyer, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, on the executive board of the International Federation for Human Rights, received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1991 in Washington, D.C. He is speaking to us from Gaza city. Stay with us.