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Scholar Warns Biden’s “Israel-First Approach” Will Have Lasting Consequences

It’s as if his lines are scripted by the Israeli Defense Ministry, says Palestinian American historian Rashid Khalidi.

President Biden is in Israel to show more support for its relentless assault on the Gaza Strip, which has reduced much of the territory to rubble, killed at least 3,300 Palestinians and displaced more than a million people. Israel also continues to maintain a complete siege, refusing to let in food, water, fuel, medicines and other necessities. Meanwhile, international outrage is growing over a massive explosion at the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital that killed hundreds of people on Tuesday. Palestinian authorities say it was an Israeli airstrike, while Israel has claimed a failed rocket launch by Gaza militants caused the blast. “Whoever was responsible, the result will be enormous, enormous anger at the United States for its support of Israel, as well as a further increase in this enormous death toll inside Gaza,” says Palestinian American historian Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Palestinian officials are accusing Israel of killing over 500 people in an airstrike on a hospital in Gaza City, where thousands of civilians had sought refuge. Israel is denying responsibility, claiming the explosion was caused by a failed rocket fired by the militant group Islamic Jihad. Palestinian officials have blasted Israel’s claim, pointing out Israel, the military, had already hit the hospital just days before.

As we continue to look at Israel’s war on Gaza, we’re joined by Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University, a renowned Palestinian American scholar. He’s the author of a number of books, including his latest, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine. Professor Khalidi’s new piece for The New York Times is headlined “The U.S. Should Think Twice About Israel’s Plans for Gaza.”

We’re going to go to that in just a minute, Rashid, what the U.S. should be thinking about right now. But if you can begin by responding to these developments of the last 24 hours, with the explosion at Al-Ahli Hospital, and the significance of this?

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, it’s obviously had an enormous significance. It led to the cancellation of a summit that was planned for Amman with President Biden. The Arab participants all pulled out after this atrocity.

I think it’s also led to increased anger all over the Arab world. There are demonstrations in at least eight or nine Arab capitals as a result of this. There was already rage at American — blanket American support for Israel. And I think this has increased that.

I think that it is very hard to believe, given that Israel has threatened hospitals and schools in the past, and it’s hit hospitals and schools in the past, and that the kinds of weapons used by Islamic Jihad and Hamas have very limited warheads, that this could have been, as the Israelis claim, a misfire. As you reported, a piece of video that they put up turns out to have been dated from a period after the attack on this hospital. In any case, whoever was responsible, the result will be enormous, enormous anger at the United States for its support of Israel, as well as a further increase in this enormous death toll inside Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, the Palestinian legislator and medical doctor himself, said they actually had, in a very short period of time, a number of explanations of what happened. At first they didn’t say this. They said that Hamas was operating underneath the hospital. Then they said they were using Palestinians as human shields, sort of to explain what had happened. Then they came up with this. Now, I wanted to ask you — you know, we had on Sharif Abdel Kouddous, whose award-winning documentary, The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, won the George Polk Award for that, documenting what Israel said about the murder of this Palestinian American journalist. They first said she was killed by a Palestinian gunman —


AMY GOODMAN: — then said evidence was inconclusive. Then, after enormous pressure and multiple investigations by many news outlets and human rights groups, they said they likely killed her, but not intentional and caught in crossfire — something that was disproven by human rights group after a forensic architecture study of the whole thing —


AMY GOODMAN: — showing it was an Israeli sniper, Professor Khalidi.

RASHID KHALIDI: I mean, Israel has an enormously successful public relations machine. It took them, I think, 45 minutes to put out this specific cover story on this one, and it was immediately knocked down, as I think you already reported, when it turned out that the piece of film that they produced actually dated 40 minutes after the attack on the hospital.

AMY GOODMAN: The New York Times pointed that out, the timestamp.


AMY GOODMAN: And then they actually retracted the video from X, from Twitter.

RASHID KHALIDI: Precisely, precisely. I mean, they have a well-oiled machine to manufacture cover stories for everything they do. They have been warning hospitals that they are targets since just after this attack, the initial attack out of Gaza on the 7th of October. They hit this hospital the other day, as you just reported. They hit a school today. If you read the Israeli press, you have senior Israeli generals and retired generals talking about places like hospitals and schools as targets, because they claim there are Hamas bunkers beneath them. So it’s hard not to accept that this was an Israeli airstrike or an Israeli bombardment.

And in any case, I think here perception is reality. Given that Israel has dropped 6,000 bombs, at least, on the Gaza Strip in the last 11 days, it’s very hard to believe that — it will be very hard at least for people in the Middle East, who know how Israel systematically lies about what it does in military operations, to believe that this was anybody else than Israel. And I think that’s the important fact to retain. People in Palestine, people in the Arab world, people in everywhere except in the American, Western European media bubble are going to chalk this up to Israel’s attack on Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about your piece, “The U.S. Should Think Twice About Israel’s Plans for Gaza.” Explain what you see unfolding now, and respond to President Biden sitting down with the prime minister, Netanyahu, today and saying the other team did it, attacking the hospital, and go on from there.

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, I mean, the president has bonded the United States to Israel at the hip, since very soon after this horrible escalation started. And in so doing, he has made the United States responsible, in the eyes of the world, for everything. And this is the latest example of that. He’s basically read from an Israeli teleprompter, as he seems to do routinely when anything relating to the Middle East comes up. It’s almost as if his lines are scripted in Tel Aviv at the Israeli Defense Ministry, where their disinformation headquarters are located.

And he has, I think, put the United States in a position that I am not entirely sure anybody in his administration realizes. The United States is going to be vilified not just in the Middle East as a result of its unlimited support for Israel. What we are seeing now is only the beginning. The munitions that are being sent, the aircraft carriers that have been sent to the eastern Mediterranean, the huge bill that they’re going to put before Congress for — I’ve seen a figure of $100 billion — is going to cement in people’s minds the idea that the United States and Israel are one, which means that whatever happens in Gaza, going forward, in terms of people being killed, innocent civilians being killed, in terms of population being expelled — basically, we’re talking about ethnic cleansing of northern Gaza — and, heaven forbid, people actually being forced out of Gaza into Egypt, which is still a possibility, even though the Egyptians have resisted — all of these things will be put down not just to Israel, but to the United States. And I don’t think they fully realize — or if they do, they haven’t anything about it — that this is what the president has — this is where the president has put the United States, for whatever reason. Electoral reasons, his own personal sympathy for Israel, it really doesn’t matter. We are now in a situation where the United States, in my view, has put itself in a more precarious position in the Middle East than it has any time since the 1967 War.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what’s happening on the northern border, on the Israel-Lebanon border, and Hezbollah and the back-and-forth rocket fire that’s going on there and what this could signify.

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, I mean, the most apocalyptic scenario, which I hope and pray does not come about, would be a full-scale war on the northern border between Hezbollah and Israel. That has the potential to draw many other actors in and turn into an even wider war than that, possibly, heaven forbid, involving Syria and Iran, and then, indeed, perhaps the United States. That would be a real apocalyptic scenario. I have a sense that the United States, Iran and Hezbollah and Israel are all reluctant to go too far down that path. Any one of them might do something that could provoke that kind of escalation.

But the real problem is unintended consequences of actions that are out of control. Whatever Israel or Hezbollah or Iran or the United States may want, there may be actions that will precipitate a rapid escalation. And that would — I mean, the situation is appalling as it is. It really would be infinitely worse, the devastation of Lebanon that would follow, the involvement of — communities in northern Israel would be devastated, as well. But the possibility of that growing even wider is, to me, terrifying.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about who Biden hears. I mean, on the one hand, you have Jordan canceling the summit. He was going to meet with the king, with the Egyptian President Sisi and with Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, who turned around as soon as the bombing happened, and said he wouldn’t participate. Then Jordan canceled. Now the U.S. is saying they canceled it mutually. But what exactly this means? So, the only image is President Biden hugging Israeli President Herzog and the prime minister, Netanyahu, at the airport when he arrived. But even at home, State Department officials afraid to raise the issue of Palestinian deaths. HuffPo had a very interesting piece, “’On Thin Ice’: Some Biden Administration Staffers Feel Stifled Discussing Horrors in Gaza.” And they talk about a call made by — made by the head — let me see if I can find this — a call with Muslim staffers where they were told to talk about their concerns. And they talked about being afraid of being fired, of being blacklisted, if they dared raise the actual concern they have about what’s happening and what the death toll could be and the position that President Biden is taking right now.

RASHID KHALIDI: We are moving into a McCarthyite era where expression of sympathy for Palestinians is equated with terrorism, and maybe met with police state tactics. Students are being visited by the FBI. I’m not in the least surprised that the government is sending the FBI to talk to student activists, is clamping down on its own employees who dare to express humanitarian sentiments. You are required now to utter a mantra in which you exclusively talk about Israeli suffering. And if you do not do that, you are branded and doxed, and so on and so forth. That’s happening in the academic — in academia, in universities. It’s happening in companies. And it’s, I am sure, happening within the federal government. I have no information about that.

But that is in line with the administration’s position, which is that this is a one-sided affair, in which on the one side is absolute evil, something which, according to administration spokesmen, is worse than ISIS, Da’ish. And with that kind of Manichaean point of view, clearly, anyone who expresses any dissent, you know, you are supporting absolute evil if you talk about anything but the unlimited suffering of Israelis. Now, the suffering of Israelis is unquestionable, but that that should be the only obsession of the president and his men and women puts the United States in a position where, maybe in the sound bubble of the United States, the so-called Western world, it’s comfortable, but with the rest of the world, that will not wash, including countries that are not particularly supportive of Palestine, countries like India, China and so forth. Those are countries that — and other parts of the world, I think — see things in the very same way. So, I don’t know that these people understand the degree to which they are harming this country by this kind of blind, one-sided, Israel-first approach.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you, Rashid Khalidi, if you were president, if you were President Biden, what would you do right now?

RASHID KHALIDI: What would I do right now? I would immediately call for a ceasefire. I would make sure that the hostages were released immediately. It is unconscionable that they be held. That would require a negotiation between Israel and Hamas about what the terms for that release would be. I would insist on that. It is absolutely urgent those people be gotten out. Most of those are innocent civilians, certainly the civilians amongst them, or many of them are innocent civilians.

The second thing I would do would be to say to Israel, “Look, there is this Palestine question. It’s been the problem for 75 years. If you don’t address it, the United States will not be willing to offer unlimited support.” And addressing it means talking about the Palestinian self-determination, talking about ending the occupation, talking about rolling back settlements, not limiting the unlimited expansion of settlements. I mean, there’s a whole set of things without which you will never have a resolution of this. And so I would work towards a lasting resolution of a struggle that’s been going on, as I say in the book, for more than a hundred years, instead of yet another Band-Aid, yet another attempt to stabilize the status quo, which is massively unfavorable to the Palestinians and which will only lead to more suffering for everybody concerned. That is an idealistic position perhaps, but I don’t think that anybody who has any sense of how this is likely to develop would say anything different, frankly.

AMY GOODMAN: Rashid Khalidi, we want to thank you for being with us, Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University, author of a number of books, including The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine. We’ll link to your New York Times op-ed, “The U.S. Should Think Twice About Israel’s Plans for Gaza.”

Coming up, we speak with the United Nations special rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Back in 30 seconds.