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  July 28, 2014

Despite Growing International Condemnation, No End to Gaza Violence in Sight

As the death toll in Gaza passes 1,000 Lia Tarachansky and Phyllis Bennis respond to a poll which found 86% of Israelis reject a ceasefire, while a growing number of Americans want the Israeli offensive to stop
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Lia Tarachansky is an Israeli-Russian journalist and documentary filmmaker who previously reported for The Real News Network on Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Born in the Soviet Union, Tarachansky grew up in a settlement in the occupied West Bank. She is the director of On the Side of the Road, a documentary on Israel's biggest taboo - the events of 1948 when the state was created. Tarachansky previously worked as a Newsroom Producer in The Real News' Washington D.C. and Toronto Headquarters, and her work appeared on BBC, Al Jazeera, USA Today, Canadian Dimension Magazine and others.

Phyllis Bennis 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 Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer, Before and After: US Foreign Policy and the September 11 Crisis, Ending the US War in Afghanistan: A Primer and Understanding the US-Iran Crisis: A Primer. Her most recent book is Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer.


JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

On Monday, deadly explosions slammed a major hospital in the Gaza Strip. Israel is denying any responsibility for the blast, which killed at least seven children who were playing in the street. In Israel, officials and media reports said at least five militants from Gaza managed to cross into Israel. They're saying it probably happened through an infiltration tunnel originating in Eastern Gaza. This is all happening as talks of a ceasefire have led to nowhere.

Now joining us to discuss all this are our two guests. Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. She's also the author of many books, including Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.

And also joining us from Israel is Lia Tarachansky. She is our Middle East correspondent reporting on Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Thank you both for joining us.


DESVARIEUX: Lia, let's start off with you, since you're there on the ground, to give us a sense of the death toll. It's not just a matter of a numbers game here, but it's really important for our viewers to understand the proportionality of these killings. Can you just give us an update on both sides? How many civilian deaths are we talking about?

LIA TARACHANSKY, MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT, TRNN: Yeah. So the death toll in the Gaza Strip is about 1,150 people. Of them, 82 percent are civilians, according to UN numbers. On the Israeli side, with the recent attack that happened today, the death toll is 59. Out of those, 88 percent are soldiers in combat, so only 12 percent of the Israeli casualties are civilian.

DESVARIEUX: And, Lia, there was actually a cabinet meeting held today there in Israel. Can you just give us an update on what transpired?

TARACHANSKY: Sure. I mean, you have to look--during this war there's been cabinet meetings almost every day. And when you look at the language of what they're talking about there, you have to remember that a year ago the biggest threat to Israel was Iran, according to the cabinet. Six months ago it was the Arab spring. And then Hamas and Fatah formed a unity. And now Hamas is the biggest threat of challenging Israel.

The language when we started this war was that the biggest aim of this war is to restore quiet, whatever that means. Then the aim turned into blowing such a strong blow to the Hamas that they are on their knees. Then it was about the rockets. And now the language is that they're targeting the tunnels. Today's cabinet meeting, the result that came out of it is that this operation is not going to end until Israel closes all of the tunnels between the Gaza and Israeli border. But how long that will take nobody knows. The only thing that the cabinet said is that they need at least a week. So we know now that Israel is not going to sign on to anything for at least a week.

Also today, in the Israeli daily Haaretz, there was a classified U.S. document that was leaked revealing that while Obama in his phone conversation with Netanyahu said that it's very important to bring the PA and Mahmoud Abbas into the fold, the classified document that was leaked doesn't say anything about Mahmoud Abbas, and also it only says the three points that a ceasefire would include the end of actual firing on both sides, and that these two sides will then meet in Cairo to discuss some kind of future negotiations, the opposite of what Hamas is demanding.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. And, Phyllis, the UN on Sunday, the UN Security Council, they decided to actually call for a ceasefire. But, obviously, we don't have one. Why didn't it work?

BENNIS: Well, there's a couple of reasons. The broad reason is that the Security Council right now, because of the U.S. veto and threat of veto, is rather paralyzed, is not in a position to enforce anything against Israel, because the U.S. won't allow it. The technical reason is that the decision that they made at midnight or so on Sunday night was not to pass a resolution at all, but simply to issue what's known as a presidential statement, which is a statement reflecting the unanimous views of the council members but that has no authority, no enforcement, no force of international law. It's what they do when the U.S. vetoes or someone else vetoes (mostly it's the U.S.) or threatens to veto and they don't want the U.S. to have to get up publicly and say, we are hereby vetoing a call for a ceasefire.

DESVARIEUX: Well, there's no ceasefire. The fighting is still continuing. And as I mentioned in the introduction, a major hospital was hit. Lia, can you just give us a sense of what it's like for folks on the ground there? What are you hearing about the humanitarian relief effort?

TARACHANSKY: Sure. I mean, I just got a text message from a friend in Gaza. She says that Gaza is under heavy attack. Al-Zeitoun area is being randomly attacked by all Israeli really military means, including naval, aerial, and tank shells. Multiple other areas in Gaza City are being attacked as well. And the talks are that Israel will be targeting the tall buildings in the city. She says that within one minute she heard more than seven explosions. Al-Zeitoun is going to probably be the next Shuja'iyya, she says.

Now, the actual hard numbers on what is being attacked and how are important. I think it's important to also say that the hospital that was attacked today was not a single incident. This is the fourth hospital that Israel has bombed. There's also 12 clinics that were damaged or destroyed and three treatment centers. So this is a pattern. We're also seeing that 80 different UN facilities were bombed during this attack.

Now, if we look at these numbers and what it actually means for the civilians on the ground, you know, outside of the war, on a regular day, the Gaza Strip, being under siege, already experiences very severe fuel and electricity shortages. The average Gaza civilian has access to about eight hours of electricity a day. During this war, the numbers amount to about three to four hours a day. And you have to think about not just, you know, plugging in your cell phone, but hospitals are desperately dependent on electricity. And when electricity is off about 20, 21 hours a day, those hospitals have to rely on generators, which of course require fuel, which Gaza doesn't have because of the war. So when the generators go out, which happens often, anyone who is dependent on electricity dies. We saw this week that three babies born prematurely died because they couldn't deliver them the oxygen in the incubators. There's all kinds of other effects. For example, doctors are reporting, according to journalist Jesse Rosenfeld, who's on the field in Gaza--in the field, that there's an increase in 15 to 20 percent of premature births. So there's all kinds of effects of this war that are beyond just the hard numbers.

Here in Israel, on the other hand, there is an increase in the number of rockets from the south. Today we heard rockets all the way as high up north as Haifa. But regular life more or less continues. We are not under siege. Most Israelis continue to live their normal life. And even though the economy has shrunk significantly--more than 15 percent--most Israelis don't really live with this war, which might explain why the recent poll shows that more than 86 percent of Jewish Israelis are opposed to a ceasefire.

DESVARIEUX: Yeah. I mean, Phyllis, you just heard Lia describe some of the conditions there in Gaza. You can't help but think, why hasn't the international community really come out and expressed outrage over this? What's your take?

BENNIS: Well, I think the international community has come out and is continuing to come out and express outrage, because I consider the international community to be people more than governments, and people are on the streets in capitals around the world demanding a ceasefire, demanding an end to the siege. People, unlike governments, understand that a simple ceasefire in place, leaving all of what Lia was just talking about, these horrific conditions on the ground in Gaza, as if they were acceptable if we're not bombing them, that that's not going to work, that it needs to be a ceasefire grounded in opening the crossings, allowing Gaza to breathe.

The problem is there's not enough governments that are prepared to challenge the United States on this. I think that there is a huge gap between the U.S. government position and public opinion even here in the United States, when recent polls, they're changing a lot. I mean, they're still showing support for Israel, but not nearly at the level that we have historically seen in this country. It's now kind of a 50/50 split between those who say that they support what Israel's doing and those who oppose it. A majority say that Israel is using too much force. That's new in this country, but it's having no impact yet on the U.S. policy.

We're hearing even from Secretary Kerry and the remarks that he made when he didn't know he was on a live mic, when he indicated that--in a very sarcastic way--that this is not something that is a very narrow, "pinpoint" strike--that was his language, this is some kind of "pinpoint" strike, when he didn't know he was on record. On the record, he comes back and supports the Obama administration position, the congressional position, in which we've seen the Senate vote 100 to zero to support a completely one-sided resolution condemning Hamas and holding Israel absolutely blameless, saying that Israel has the right to do whatever it's doing, we stand with Israel, we stand with Israel. And it was a voice vote. Not a single member of the Senate either stood aside or voted no. We're seeing the potential for another vote like that in the House on Resolution 107, which has a similar one-sided resolution. Interestingly, so far they only have about 65 cosponsors, which for an AIPAC-sponsored resolution is relatively small. But it still is a huge disconnect. And I think the challenge to those of us in this country now is to transform that shift in public discourse into a real shift in policy.

DESVARIEUX: Phyllis Bennis and Lia Tarachansky, thank you both for joining us.

BENNIS: Thank you.


DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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