ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.
Deaths in the Gaza Strip now total 265, most of them civilians, and the first IDF soldier has died as Israel began its new ground invasion into the Gaza Strip. Israeli officials are saying that the purpose of the invasion is to deal with tunnels dug by Hamas along the border with Israel. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated, quote,
“I urge Israel to do far more to stop civilian casualties. There can be no military solution to this conflict.”
Meanwhile, Jordan has called for a UN Security Council emergency meeting, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is warning that the operation could widen.
Now joining us to give her analysis of the situation is Phyllis Bennis. Phyllis is a fellow and the director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. She is the author of many books, including Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.
Thanks for joining us, Phyllis.
So, Phyllis, let’s get your response to the news that Israel is launching a new ground invasion into Gaza.
PHYLLIS BENNIS, FELLOW, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: This was the escalation that everyone was expecting. It came in the middle of the night. It’s been a dramatic escalation in the air war in particular, as well as the ground invasion. From what we understand, the troops, the Israeli troops are remaining relatively close to the edges of Gaza. They have not gone completely to take over the Strip yet. But the bombing from the air and from the sea, from Israeli naval ships, has intensified dramatically overnight. I think 20 or so children were killed. The numbers are just enormous, the casualties from this attack. Another hospital has been attacked. People have had to be moved out of UNRWA schools where they had tried to take shelter, because those schools appear to be targeted, and they’re having to be moved by the United Nations into other shelters. Basically Gaza has nowhere to run.
The Israelis have made a great deal of propaganda value out of the fact that they notify people, sometimes with flyers and with cell phone, very frightening cell phone messages, calling people by name and saying, your house is going to be bombed, you have five minutes to get out, and they have time to only grab their children and run out the door before their entire house and everything in it is blown up, blown to smithereens. The other kind of message they have been using is what the Palestinians have been calling the “knock on the roof”, which are small bombs dropped on the roof of a building as a, quote, warning, and followed by the massive bombs that destroy a building altogether.
This is what was done yesterday at the Al Raffah hospital, which is the only rehabilitation clinic in the Gaza Strip. There were 17 patients that could not be moved. They were almost all comatose. They’re all paralyzed, many of them on the ventilators, dependent on electricity, on medicines. And they had the bombs dropped on their roof. This was clear evidence that this was not a mistake of what the target was. This was a deliberate targeting of that hospital. The bombs were dropped on the roof as a message, and a call came in: we’re giving you an hour. They said, we can’t get people out of that time. They managed to get the 17 patients out to a smaller clinic, not really able to manage the kind of care they need, but out of the building. And all but one floor of that hospital has now been destroyed. It’s clear war crimes that are being committed.
WORONCZUK: And what has the U.S. administration been doing about this over the past ten days? I think the most that I tend to hear is that they say that Israel has the right to defend itself and that they find the deaths of Gazan civilians regretful.
BENNIS: Yes, that’s what they say. What they do has been to add a third of a billion dollars more to the $3.1 billion in military aid that the U.S. already gives Israelis this year. This was just approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee a day or two ago. This is to help Israel further work on its missile defense system, etc., etc. So it’s simply escalating the military aids, making its endorsement, its uncritical endorsement of what Israel is doing in Gaza a reality, so that the U.S. complicity has been, shall we say, brought up to speed, brought up to date.
WORONCZUK: Okay. And I want to turn to an op-ed that was published in The Jerusalem Post this morning. Its author is Gilad Sharon, who is the son of former prime minister Ariel Sharon. Let me read an exerpt to you. In it he says,
“THE DESIRE to prevent harm to innocent civilians in Gaza will ultimately lead to harming the truly innocent: the residents of southern Israel. The residents of Gaza are not innocent, they elected Hamas. The Gazans aren’t hostages; they chose this freely, and must live with the consequences.”
Later he goes on to say,
“We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima—the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.”
I mean, a really—just a sober reading of that just sounds like it’s just a call for genocide. Do you think that this is representative of, like, the actual debate that’s taking place right now in Israel?
BENNIS: I think the debate is over. I think this is a reflection of the actual public opinion widespread throughout Israel. Recent polls have indicated 91 percent support for what the Israelis, what the military is doing in Gaza. And even this kind of, as you say, direct call to genocide is not coming simply from some fringe elements that are easy to dismiss. This is coming from the highest levels. This is a dramatic escalation of the kind of rhetoric that we’ve been hearing.
There was a member of the Knesset a few days ago who gave a major speech in which he said that Hamas is not our enemy, the people of Gaza are our enemy—very similar to the young Sharon’s view in this Jerusalem Post op-ed. And she said—she was asked about killing women, and she said, yes, women too, because otherwise they will continue to give birth to what she called “little snakes”. “Little snakes” was her term for Palestinian babies. It was so reminiscent of the kind of language that was heard in the United States during the wars of genocide against Native Americans, when Indians were considered vermin. And there was a famous statement from one of the generals, who was asked, what about the children? And he said, “nits make lice”—kill the children, too. This is the same language that we’re hearing in Israel now, and it has become very, very mainstream.
The efforts by some in the Israeli establishment to claim that, among other things, the horrific murder of the young Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem, now last week—it’s almost been dwarfed by so many other crimes, but that one was a particularly horrific crime because of the way he was tortured to death. And there were calls from Israel saying, this does not represent us, this is not what Israelis do, Jews don’t do this. Well, it turns out Israelis and Jews do exactly this, do exactly this. And the notion that this is somehow a fringe element that can be dismissed or can be disregarded or we can somehow distance ourselves from it simply doesn’t match the reality of where political opinions are right now inside Israel.
WORONCZUK: Okay. And now let me give you the big question, which is: what do you think is possible, or what can be done right now to bring an end to violence, and what needs to be done for there to be a longstanding, more permanent ceasefire?
BENNIS: Hamas has made very clear what its demands are. They’re actually surprisingly modest. I was expecting more difficult demands, if you will. Essentially, all they’re actually asking for is an end to the already illegal eight-year-long blockade of Gaza, meaning that the openings between Gaza and Israel, and particularly Gaza and Egypt, be opened; and number two, the release of prisoners, narrowly defined to only those prisoners who had been released in the big prisoner exchange two years ago and who were rearrested in the last several weeks in the massive raids across the West Bank, in which over 800 Palestinians were arrested, about 28 of them Parliamentarians, and about 50 of them people who had been released from prison in that prisoner exchange and were now picked up again, no charges brought, not charged with anything, but simply being held in prison. So they’re asking that those prisoners be released and an opening of the Rafah Crossing to Egypt. Those are very, very small demands.
What I’m afraid of, what we’re going to see again, as we did the other night when we saw that sort of fake call for a ceasefire, which I think was very clearly designed by Israeli collaboration with Egypt, along with Tony Blair and some from the U.S. that were involved in planning it, initiating a call for a ceasefire, knowing that the Palestinians could not accept it because it didn’t match any of their very small demands, but it made Israel look very good—we said there was a cease-fire, we stopped firing for six hours; what more do they want? Well, what they want is an end to the illegal siege, not a return to what it was the day before this massive bombardment began, and the release of prisoners who never should have been arrested in the first place—very small demands.
What has to happen to make that possible is massive pressure on Israel. Now, we know that’s not going to come from the United States. So one of the key questions is Europe. Europe has already in recent months been escalating—very, very slowly, very, very gradually, very hesitantly, but nonetheless escalating their pressure on Israel. They have engaged in a number of efforts to deny access to European funding to institutions in the occupied territories, for instance. There needs to be enormous pressure on Europe, which is already coming from organizations across Europe, to escalate in a far more urgent, far more serious way their pressure on Israel, with real threats of boycotts and divestment from Israeli companies, from investments in Israel, and trade arrangements. There has got to be an end to this free trade agreement between Israel and the European Union.
That doesn’t mean we should let the United States off the hook, the pressure on the Obama administration and on Congress, which is passing resolution after resolution using this language that you mentioned earlier—we stand with Israel, Israel has the right to defend itself, Palestinians have no rights, Palestinians must only be suppressed, all of the rights belong to Israel. And this is coming again and again from every committee in town, here on the Hill. But we’re not expecting that to lead to serious pressure on Israel. So there’s got to be continuing pressure to end the military aid, let alone the escalating military aid, and pressure globally. There is a global movement underway right now to escalate on every government to stop buying weapons from Israel, to end the arms trade with Israel and in fact impose an arms embargo, something that was called for at United Nations many years ago. There’s calls for all of this. The question is political will. It’s not hard to figure out what has to happen. The problem is what countries are going to be prepared to stand up to the United States and make it real.
WORONCZUK: Okay. Phyllis Bennis from the Institute for Policy Studies, thanks for joining us.
BENNIS: Thank you.
WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.