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US Secretary of State Arrives in Israel as Violence and Colonization Intensify

Israeli activist/journalist Orly Noy and Palestinian American scholar Rashid Khalidi discuss the latest developments.

U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken is in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories amid an alarming rise in violence, with Israel killing at least 35 Palestinians since the beginning of January. The deadliest incident occurred on Thursday, when Israeli forces raided the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, killing 10 people, including two children — the deadliest Israeli raid in the West Bank in two decades. A day later, a Palestinian gunman shot dead seven people in occupied East Jerusalem, targeting worshipers observing the Sabbath. Israelis living in illegal settlements in the West Bank responded by carrying out scores of attacks on Palestinians as the far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, vowed to make it easier for Israelis to get guns. We speak with Israeli activist and journalist Orly Noy, in Jerusalem, and Palestinian American scholar Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University.

TRANSCRIPT

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.

U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken has arrived in Israel as violence escalates in the region. Blinken is expected to meet with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

Israel has killed at least 35 Palestinians since the beginning of the year. The dead include eight children. The deadliest incident occurred on Thursday, when Israeli forces raided the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, killing 10 people, including two children. It was the deadliest Israeli raid in the West Bank in two decades.

A day later, a Palestinian gunman shot dead seven people at a synagogue in an Israeli settlement in occupied East Jerusalem. The shooting targeted worshipers observing the Sabbath. The New York Times says it was the deadliest attack on civilians in Jerusalem since 2008.

After the attack, Israel’s new national security minister, the far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, vowed to make it easier for Israelis to carry guns. Over the weekend, Israelis living in illegal settlements in the West Bank carried out scores of attacks on Palestinians. One Palestinian official decried the settler violence, saying it marked a, quote, “unprecedented increase in the frequency of terror attacks against Palestinian citizens and their property.”

We’re joined now by two guests. Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University. He’s the author of several books, including his latest, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine. He’s joining us from Boston today. And in Jerusalem, we’re joined by Orly Noy, an Israeli political activist and editor of the Hebrew-language news site Local Call. She’s also the chair of B’Tselem’s executive board, the Israeli human rights group.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Professor Rashid Khalidi, why don’t we begin with you? Can you talk about this escalation of violence? Go back to Thursday, what happened in Jenin. Of course, I know you can go back further. And then take it from there.

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, there’s been a wave of Israeli military attacks in the West Bank, largely focused on Jenin but also including Nablus and other localities all over the West Bank. Last year saw the highest number of fatalities in the West Bank in over 15 years. And this year, that record looks to be broken. We have over 30 people killed in the West Bank, about half of them women and children and other civilians, and some of them armed militants. So, this is part of an escalation that’s been going on even before this new extreme Israeli government took office.

And I think it reflects the intensity of the colonization and more intense Israeli control that’s being exerted over the West Bank and occupied Arab East Jerusalem. It’s the response of people to an absolutely intolerable situation, the violence that we’re seeing. And then the Israeli government responds with further home demolitions. Settlers respond with further attacks on Palestinian lives and property. So, we are seeing a situation that has been growing in intensity and in which the Israeli process of taking over, stealing land, taking it over for exclusive use by settlers, has pushed the Palestinians very close to the brink.

Where this is going to go, nobody can say. But the pressure that’s being put on and the absence of any reaction from the international community, the Arab world is terrifying, because nothing seems to be able to stop what — this move to completely incorporate the entire occupied — the entirety of the Occupited Territories into Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: And after the Jenin attack — and let’s remember that the well-known, the world-renowned Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed right outside the Jenin refugee camp as the Israeli forces were engaging in raids. Talk about what happened the next day. Talk about the Palestinian gunman, the attack on the synagogue, and, interestingly, the difference between — I mean, all of this is terrorizing communities, but when the word “terror” is used, and “terrorist,” Professor Khalidi.

RASHID KHALIDI: Yeah, I lost the sound there for a minute. I think what you’re pointing to is the fact that the much more massive number of Palestinian casualties, most of them civilians, are never recognized as the result of Israeli terror, whether it’s settler violence or whether it’s the actions of the Israeli military or the border guards or the police. We are talking about a three-to-one, four-to-one, five-to-one ratio of civilian deaths — many, many more Palestinians killed. We are only told that what the Palestinians do is, quote-unquote, “terror.” What the Israeli government does is in service of, quote-unquote, “security.” And again, this term “security” is one that is used as a bludgeon by Israel to justify not just the murder of civilians, not just attacks on localities like the Jenin refugee camp or the town of Jenin or the city of Nablus, but to justify the continued appropriation, expropriation, theft of Palestinian land for the building of exclusive Israeli — new Israeli settlements. All of this is justified in terms of security.

What it is is colonization. Israel is systematically colonizing occupied Arab East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank. And in so doing, it is employing terror, terror wielded by Israeli settlers, armed Israeli thugs, and by the Israeli military, which invariably protects the settlers. And so, we are talking about use of a term as a bludgeon against the Palestinians in support of this colonization process — one which the United States constantly refutes. We had President Biden talking about the attack on the worshipers outside the synagogue as an attack on civilization. This is the language of colonizers throughout history, in Ireland, in Kenya, in India, in Egypt. Anything that’s done by the occupied, by the colonized to resist is terrorism; what the state does is legal violence. And that’s the way in which this is always being framed, by Israel and by its supporters in the United States, including the U.S. government under President Biden.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Orly Noy, you’re in Jerusalem, not that far from where the attack took place. The Palestinian gunman killed seven Palestinians after the Jenin Israeli raid the day before. Talk about what happened there and about the mass protests this weekend.

ORLY NOY: Yeah. Hi, Amy.

I just want to point out that the shooting in the Jewish settlement of Neve Yaakov in East Jerusalem did not occur in a synagogue. It occurred in a —

AMY GOODMAN: Outside.

ORLY NOY: — street where there happens to be, like many streets, a synagogue. And the Shabbat prayer had been long gone — long finished by the time of the shooting.

Also, with regard — referring to your question about terrorism, it is important to mention that the shooter’s grandfather was murdered by a Jewish settler in 1999, which — and he was never brought to justice. And his second cousin, a 17-year-old boy, was shot dead recently in the Shuafat refugee camp while he was holding a toy gun. And later, Itamar Ben-Gvir actually granted the shooter, the policeman who shot dead this 17-year-old boy, with the certification of excellence.

The protests are not directly related to this new cycle of violence that we’ve been witnessing, but, of course, it’s very much related to the uprise of the most radical far-right government, with clear fascist elements, that we have right now in Israel. I think that there’s some general notion within the Jewish Israeli society that something very dramatic happened, but I think that we are still not seeing the soul searching that this radical shift was supposed to bring about.

Following the general discourse in Israel, you might get the impression that an unidentified object from the sky just suddenly hit the so-called Jewish and democratic state and shifted it from its course, bringing us to the current situation, which is of course not the case. I think what we are seeing now, the rise of the fascist right in the government, is a very natural result, outcome, of the most fundamental nature of Zionism as it has been implemented in the so-called Jewish and democratic state.

If you take the last mass demonstration, for example, in the last Saturday after the shooting, when you have an ex-general standing on the stage admitting that the Supreme Court is the only shield protecting him from bringing him to justice in the ICC — so there is a different understanding of what do Israelis Jews mean when they say, “We are demonstrating now to protect democracy.” Unfortunately, it is still not democracy in East —

AMY GOODMAN: Orly Now, if you can — if you can step back for one minute, for people who aren’t following the politics of Israel that closely? When you talk about these mass protests against Netanyahu’s intervention in the Supreme Court, take it from there. Explain what you mean and what they are protesting about.

ORLY NOY: This new government, again, with clear fascist, undemocratic elements, has a very clear agenda in crushing all the obstacles — the remains of the obstacles that still give Israel some pretense of democracy. Those include free journalism, the free expression of speech, and, of course, the judicial system, which they see as a leftist elite, which, of course, is very far from true. All the Israeli crimes in the West Bank have been approved by the Israeli Supreme Court, and very rarely did the court interfere with any — in order to stop any of those crimes. But right now the attack is on the democracy that the Jewish population has been enjoying in Israel, and they want to eliminate those expressions of freedom in order to dictate a very radical far-right agenda.

AMY GOODMAN: You also mentioned Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister, who awarded the soldier who killed the Palestinian. He himself — right? — was convicted in Israel of inciting racism and hatred against Palestinians or Israeli Arabs.

ORLY NOY: He was actually indicted with being a part of a terrorist organization, which is quite ironic because one of the main articles on their agenda is to exclude the Palestinian Knesset members from the parliament because of so-called being supporters of terrorism. But, actually, the only parliament member right now in the Israeli Knesset that was indicted with supporting a terrorist organization is Itamar Ben-Gvir himself.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Rashid Khalidi, as we speak, Secretary of State Tony Blinken has just left Egypt, where he met with President Sisi, and arrived in Tel Aviv. He’ll be meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, and then tomorrow he’ll be meeting with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Can you talk about the significance of this trip?

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, Blinken is coming to pump more formaldehyde into the decaying corpse of the so-called two-state solution. This is — and also to continue the maintenance of the status quo, which seems to be the objective of every American administration, to allow Israel to continue to do whatever it does to the Palestinians, while occasionally poo-pooing certain excesses.

There has been very little change from the time that the Biden administration came into office in the core policies of the U.S. government, whether that had to do with arming Israel to continue its occupation and colonization of Palestinian land, to the tune of $3.8 billion every year in military sales, in military aid to Israel, or endorsement of the Trump administration’s movement of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or recognition of the annexation by Israel — illegal annexation by Israel of the occupied Golan Heights. None of these Trump-era policies have been changed.

And Blinken’s long-planned trip is essentially intended to further American policies, which also include normalization between a state that is systematically brutalizing Arabs with other Arab governments, most of them undemocratic and unrepresentative of popular feeling in the Arab world, which is intensely pro-Palestinian. So, Blinken’s stated objectives are to maintain the status quo and to push this normalization process.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you also talk about what’s happening right now to the Palestinian gunman’s home, this whole idea of collective punishment? They are —

RASHID KHALIDI: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: — sealing it off. Explain what takes place.

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, what Israel does is to systematically punish not just the perpetrators of attacks but the — sometimes the extended families of perpetrators of attacks. This kind of collective punishment is part of a process of trying to crush the spirit of Palestinian society. You don’t just put the perpetrator of an attack in jail; you interrogate and brutalize and torture members of the family, and then you just seal off and ultimately destroy their home.

This is part of a policy of demolition of Palestinian homes that takes place all over occupied Arab East Jerusalem, that takes place all over the occupied West Bank, in particular in the 60% of the West Bank that forms the so-called Area C under the Oslo Accords. There, Israel systematically destroys homes, that are built without permits, permits which are absolutely unattainable. My brother had the foundations of a house destroyed near Jericho in Area C simply because they didn’t have a permit. You can’t get permits. So, it’s a catch-22 situation. It’s intended to ultimately humiliate and punish Palestinian society. And the demolition of the homes of perpetrators of attacks is just the peak of a process of systematic demolition of homes all over occupied Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

AMY GOODMAN: You had a piece recently in The New York Times, Rashid, headlined “Will the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem Be Built on Confiscated Palestinian Land?” Explain.

RASHID KHALIDI: The United States has submitted plans for the building of an embassy on a plot called the Allenby Barracks. This was land that was originally a British military facility, rented from Palestinian landowners and from Palestinian pious foundations, awqaf. The owners of this property, back when this plan was originally floated in the 1990s, put together research that showed the Palestinian ownership of this land, sent it to the U.S. administration, which at the time Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and her staff acknowledged that this was the case, and the plan was shelved. The Trump administration reactivated this plan, and the Biden administration has gone forward with it.

Today, the district planning commission is looking into the objections, including those filed by lawyers for the families against this, on the grounds that this is Palestinian-owned property. This is something that has been put to the State Department. Secretary of State Blinken and the U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides were sent letters by lawyers for these families. They include my family and many, many other Jerusalem families, including many people who are U.S. citizens, telling the U.S. government that it is about to build or planning to build on property owned by Palestinians, illegally confiscated by Israel, including the property of U.S. citizens. We have yet to — the families and the lawyers for these families have yet to get a response from the State Department to the request —

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me play the response of State Department spokesperson Ned Price, who was asked about whether he had read your New York Times op-ed.

NED PRICE: I did see it, and I appreciate the opportunity to comment on it, primarily because there has been some misinformation or some misimpressions about our plans. To be very clear, we have not decided on which site to pursue. A number of factors, including the history of the various sites that are in contention, will be part of that very site selection process. We are committed, as you know, Said, to keeping the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. The United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. …

We’re currently considering two options for our future embassy facility in Jerusalem. One is the Allenby site, and the second is the Arnona site. But again, no decision has been made on site selection. In accordance with Israeli law, we started the process to amend the town plan for both potential locations. The public comment period for the Allenby site remains open. We also expect to advance the plan for the Arnona site shortly, with a separate comments period to open soon. The reason there is a comment period is so that we can garner a fuller sense of public reaction, public response to sites that may be in contention.

AMY GOODMAN: State Department spokesperson Ned Price. Professor Khalidi, your response?

RASHID KHALIDI: The State Department received full information on the Allenby site in 1998, 25 years ago. And while they may well be studying what to do, they know perfectly well that if they go ahead with the Allenby site, they will be building on the land that belongs to a number of Palestinians, including many American citizens. There are two sites, it’s correct. But the plan submitted by the U.S. government to the district planning commission — the comment period ends today, actually — includes plans for an embassy on the Allenby site. It includes plans for other buildings on the so-called Arnona site. So, we will see.

The lawyers for the families will be holding a panel to discuss this, actually, tomorrow. And we hope that people will tell their congresspeople, will tell the State Department, tell the U.S. government that it should not be building on confiscated Palestinian land, including land that belongs to U.S. citizens, and, more broadly, that this move of the embassy to Jerusalem and this recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital only, in effect, is yet another nail in the coffin of the so-called two-state solution.

Israel’s annexation of occupied Arab East Jerusalem, illegal under international law — and, in fact, which the United States opposed at the time — is one of the major problems between Palestinians and Israelis. Once again, the United States puts its big thumb on the scales in favor of the colonizer as against the victim, the Palestinians, in moving its embassy to Jerusalem. That’s the larger question, as well as the question of why is the United States government recognizing illegal Israeli expropriations of private property of U.S. citizens. Where the private property of U.S. citizens is concerned elsewhere, the U.S. government is normally vigilant in protecting that. This doesn’t seem to be the case where Palestinian Americans are concerned. Obviously, the bigger issue is Jerusalem and moving the embassy in recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Orly Noy, we just have a minute, but if you can talk about the escalating level of settler violence in the West Bank? The Palestinian news agency WAFA reported there was 144 settler attacks on Palestinians Saturday alone. And also, what is understood by Israeli society?

ORLY NOY: Yeah. I think, very briefly, we should mention that 2022 has been the deadliest year for the Palestinians in the West Bank, over 150 casualties, and this is under the so-called change Israeli government, not the current extreme far-right government.

Yes, this is something that occurs. I mean, settler violence is an ongoing thing on daily basis in the West Bank, but after such events like the shooting Friday night, they tend to escalate very severely. I will just mention that in the village of Turmus Ayya in the West Bank, settlers — and this is documented on camera — set fire to a house, which by chance was not inhabited by the family at the moment, uprooting trees, attacking Palestinian farmers. The Israeli public, in general, has no idea, because the mainstream media does not cover it, which creates the reality in which Israeli and also, to a great extent, international public discourse only speak about violence in our area when Jewish Israelis are being targeted.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both so much for being with us. Orly Noy is an Israeli Jewish political activist and editor of the Hebrew-language news site Local Call. She is the chair of the board of B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization. And Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University. We will continue to cover this, of course.

Next up, protests for police accountability continue in Memphis and across the country after the release of the police bodycam footage showing the fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols, the unarmed 29-year-old Black man pulled over in a traffic stop, beaten right next to his home, dying three days later in the hospital. Stay with us.

-break-

AMY GOODMAN: “One for Dallas” by Odd Nosdam. The sound served as the soundtrack for Tyre Nichols’ skateboard practicing video, which our television audience just saw. Others can see it at democracynow.org.

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