TRNN’s Lia Tarachansky speaks with Gaza blogger Nalan al-Sarraj who is among dozens trapped near the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, and also comments on the renewed wave of protests spreading through the West Bank
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
The brief ceasefire in Gaza has ended. The Palestinian death toll has surpassed 1,500, and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has escalated.
We’re now joined by Lia Tarachansky. She’s an Israeli-Russian journalist with The Real News Network and our Middle East correspondent.
So, Lia, tell us what you know about the situation right now in Gaza. The ceasefire is over. The death toll is rising. And there’s been some reports that Hamas has captured an Israeli soldier. Is that what you have heard? Has that been confirmed on the ground in Israel?
LIA TARACHANSKY, MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Yeah. So at about 8 a.m. today, the ceasefire that was agreed upon yesterday was supposed to go into effect. What ended up happening was around 6 a.m. there was some kind of incident in which two soldiers were killed and supposedly a third was captured. At this point, Hamas has actually issued conflicting reports, the last one of which denies both the sequence of events that Israel was presenting, as well as the fact that they’re responsible for the potential kidnapping.
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Now, we have to take into account here that it serves the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad interest to kidnap the soldier, and it doesn’t serve the Israeli side to admit that a soldier has been kidnapped. In the beginning of the war, there were rumors coming out that another soldier was kidnapped, and Israel denied it until the very, very end, when they finally announced that he’s dead. We don’t know what actually happened to that soldier or his body, but we do know of several incidences that militants fighting–Palestinian militants fighting in the field that are trying to capture Israeli soldiers, either alive or dead, for the simple reason that they can exchange those soldiers for some of the thousands of political prisoners Israel is holding in its jails. So that incident taking place only an hour and a half before the ceasefire was supposed to go into effect effectively negated the ceasefire, which lasted only about an hour.
Israel, of course, responded to that incident, which took place before the ceasefire was supposed to go into effect by bombing Rafah city in the entire south of the Strip. This led to a ton of injuries and deaths, and we’re looking now at a death toll of almost 1,500 people.
NOOR: And, Lia, you just reached Gaza blogger Nalan al Sarraj, who we’ve interviewed several times on The Real News. We’re going to play the harrowing conversation you had with her when she conveys the humanitarian crisis unfolding on the border with Egypt. And so tell us about the conversation you had with her. And then also talk about the growing calls for Egypt to open up that border, ’cause right now Palestinians are totally trapped. They have nowhere to go. There’s no way to escape the shelling and bombardment that the Israelis are carrying out.
TARACHANSKY: Yeah. So Nalan, her mother, and her sister were actually in the south of the Strip. They’re from Gaza City. They were in the south of the Strip when the bombardment began. And so they ran south and tried to flee to Egypt, along with about 70 other people. Among them were seven Norwegians. There was a Bulgarian, several dozen Egyptians and Jordanians. The reason that all these people hold either visas to the United States or second passports is because Palestinians are not allowed through the Rafah Crossing. This is directly against what the foreign minister of Egypt has been claiming. The foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, has been claiming that the Rafah Crossing is open when we know for a fact that it is not. In fact, Palestinians who, for example, have one Egyptian parent and one Gazan parent, they’re not allowed to go through the Rafah Crossing.
Another Egyptian claim is that the Egyptians are letting in tons of aid and are treating the Palestinian wounded, where we’ve seen, at least in the period between 10 and 27 July, they allowed on average only nine wounded out. We’re talking about a war in which right now there’s more than 8,000 injured. Last week, the average of injured being allowed out of the Gaza Strip into Egypt was seven. So a statement was issued by Palestinians and was endorsed by activists, human rights activists, and even some major political organizations, like the ANC. It was issued yesterday. And it called on people all around the world to challenge the Egyptians on their complicity in the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip, calling the closure of the Rafah Crossing condemnable.
So all of this happened yesterday.
Today, Nalan al Sarraj, who is a commentator, a frequent commentator for The Real News, and a friend, her, her mother, and her sister went to the Egyptian border. Her mother is Libyan, so they thought that that would help them leave through the Rafah Crossing. What happened instead is that all 70 of them were prevented from leaving. She called me, and this is the conversation that we had:
NALAN AL SARRAJ, GAZA-BASED BLOGGER, ON TWITTER @NALANSARRAJ: We’re now stuck in between the Palestinian [incompr.] and the Palestinian [inaud.] The border to Egypt is closed; [as far as access to the border (?)], it’s closed. We’re trying to let them make us get in. [They’re trying to get over here (?)] Israel is not letting [the next (?)] [inaud.] back home. So we’re stuck. We can’t even go back home or even enter Egypt. The situation’s very scary. Over here, we’re more than 70 people, mostly women and children. And mostly they have foreign passports, and half of them are Egyptian passports as well. And I can see the smoke and the fire. We can hear the explosions very close to where we are. Israel has declared the location, the Rafah place, as a close area, so we can’t even go anywhere out of the place that we are in right here. They tell us, talk to people, talk to /ˈgruːvjɪks/, talk to our embassy; maybe that will change something, maybe the human rights will come. But we’re afraid that [they’re] not even letting the Red Cross to come over here to help us or get us back to Gaza.
TARACHANSKY: After this conversation, I of course immediately called the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior. I called the Israeli army. I called the U.S. State Department. I called the UN. I called the ICRC. We called the Norwegian embassies. Me and a journalist named Dan Cohen, who works for Mondoweiss, have been on the phone all day trying to get anybody who has any kind of power/leverage in this situation to force or to pressure the Egyptians to open up the Rafah Crossing. The most telling of all of these phone calls–by the way, everybody said, you know, they’ll look into it, we’ll see what we can do, we can’t promise anything.
The Jordanian embassy, at first the guy said, listen, I can’t do anything; call me on Sunday. And I told him, look, this is an emergency; this area is being bombed and they’re trying to leave through the Rafah Crossing; we have to let the Jordanian citizens out, at the very least the Jordanian citizens. And then he pretended that he doesn’t speak any English and hung up on me.
The Egyptian Ministry of Interior hasn’t been answering my phone calls, and their embassy finally told me, well, we’ll look into it on Sunday, which means that Nalan and the other 70 people who were stuck, they can’t go back, they can’t go forward, they’re stuck in an open area with not enough water for three days, they’re now potentially going to be bombed and they don’t know what’s going to happen to them.
NOOR: And there’s bombs falling all around them, from what I understand.
TARACHANSKY: The crossing itself is not being bombed. But after I made all of these phone calls and tried to get a hold of everybody [I was able to get (?)] a hold of, in the afternoon I got a hold of Nalan again, and we had another conversation. And here is a part of that:
AL SARRAJ: Some of the people that are actually from Rafah, they went back to their homes. The officer who was obligated to be in control of the situation, he said that anyone could leave, but assuming your own responsibility; we’re not responsible for anyone. So some people just left because they live closer anyways. And he just said that and he left. And now there is no soldier, no officers, and no one in charge of the situation over here. We’re just civilians, just waiting for our destiny. We don’t know what’s going to happen.
TARACHANSKY: I will continue calling, and as long as I can get a hold of people, I will put pressure on them. We’re Tweeting here, we’re calling, we’re trying to get journalists to cover it. But I can’t promise that they will do anything until Sunday
AL SARRAJ: Oh my god. So what should we do?
TARACHANSKY: Do you have any water?
AL SARRAJ: We brought some with us. But the problem is my phone and my sister’s phone is almost dead. My phone is dead. My mother’s phone is almost dead. We don’t have electricity over here. And we’re in an open area.
Oh my god! Oh my god! There’s breaking news that one of the cars that left this area got bombed in air strikes.
TARACHANSKY: A car that left the area for Egypt?
AL SARRAJ: People that were with us, they chose to leave on their own responsibility, as I told you. So they took one of the cars and they left, and their car was hit just now. They were going back to their home, to Gaza.
TARACHANSKY: So, as you can see in this conversation, people who actually took the Egyptian official’s advice and left the crossing were bombed by the Israeli army. So there is really nowhere that they can go. The international community’s completely silent on this, which makes it complicit in whatever ends up happening to them.
NOOR: And this further flies in the face of what the Israeli government and IDF are saying, because they made a point to emphasize that they warn the citizens of Gaza when they’re going to carry out a strike in a certain area. They drop leaflets to tell people to leave. But what we understand is that there’s really no way, there’s no way to really leave for Palestinians.
TARACHANSKY: Well, look, in the beginning of the war what happened was that everybody on the eastern side of what was once Road 40, or /salahaˈbin/ Street, that runs along the Gaza Strip, everybody east of that road moved to the west. So 200,000 people were displaced. And the army, of course, invaded in this area. So there was very little logic to it. But you can argue that, okay, people can flee to relatives, to friends, to UN schools, to hospitals, to mosques, and anybody who has, let’s say, an apartment and they’re on vacation, if there’s any space, people would just go there and be there just to run away to somewhere. Now we’re looking at a full bombardment of every area of Gaza Strip. There is literally now no point in going anywhere because movement is seen as suspicious by the Israeli army and is very likely to result in bombardment.
NOOR: And Israel has said they’re going to carry out these attacks on what they say are the tunnels that militants are using to enter Israel, and they say they’re not going to stop until these tunnels are destroyed.
TARACHANSKY: They did say that, but you have to look at the whole context. Basically, in the beginning of the war, the Israeli army was saying that they were trying to punish Hamas for kidnapping the three Israeli teenagers who were found dead. There’s still no evidence whatsoever that the Hamas Party or any movement associated with it is responsible for this.
NOOR: And the Israeli government was forced to admit that. It was a police spokesperson that admitted that.
TARACHANSKY: Yeah. Well, we’re still waiting for the full details of that. But, anyway, the people who they say did it, they’ve already destroyed their homes and imprisoned their family members. So the collective punishment has already gone into effect whether or not they’re responsible. So the first language of the cabinet was saying, we have to restore quiet, ’cause, of course, after three weeks of bombing the Gaza Strip, Hamas finally started to retaliate. Then the language changed into, well, we have to stop the rockets. And then a rocket fell very close to the Israeli airport, and that resulted in American and then European airlines stopping their flights to Israel, which cost the Israeli tourist industry billions. They then realized that talking all the time about rockets was actually harming the economy. And then they changed the conversation to tunnels.
The tunnels are nothing new The government knew about the tunnels. They admitted [they’ve known about them (?)]. And a couple of days ago, a senior official of the Israeli army leaked that, well, you know, it’s very important to stop these tunnels, but there’s no way that we can really reach all of the tunnels.
So as we’re sitting here talking, if the alleged kidnapping is confirmed and whoever is responsible for it takes responsibility, the Israeli cabinet, which is convening as we speak, is going to have a very hard time pulling out of this war. And, in fact, in the Israeli public we’re still seeing very strong support for an operation and very little support for a ceasefire. So they have the political right to do it. But at the same time, the international community’s patience is running very short.
NOOR: And speaking of the international community, several Latin American countries have recalled their ambassadors, including Chile, El Salvador, Peru, just on Wednesday, and following Brazil and Ecuador. And Uruguay and Costa Rica are reportedly also considering the same move. Has this made any impact, the growing international condemnation in some countries? But, then again, you’ve had the silence of other countries. Has this made any impact on the ground?
TARACHANSKY: This is a very important point, because actual condemnations just on their own don’t make much difference. I mean, these are very public political moves. But what will matter is the money. So we saw that what quickly changed the Israeli tactics was seeing the airlines, the American and the European airlines stop for just 48 hours. It completely changed the tone of the war. And there’s been a very strong diplomatic behind-the-scenes effort to restore those relationships because of the growing boycott movement and because of the growing condemnation in the United States, Canada, and Europe towards Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians in the last two years. We’ve seen the foreign ministry invest millions in its relations with Africa, Asia, and Latin America. We saw that when various Danish and Dutch banks and corporations pulled their businesses out of Israel. The minister of economy traveled to the Pacific Latin American countries, and then Israel was, for whatever reason, admitted as an observer state in the Pacific Alliance economic partnership.
So what these countries, the BRICS countries and the upcoming economies think of Israel is very important. But what’s more important is: will they put their money where their mouth is? Will they actually make a statement more than just a political one that will force Israel to actually consider the international political price before attacking the Gaza Strip the next time.
NOOR: And finally, Lia, we understand there were massive protests across the West Bank today. Can you tell us a little bit about what happened?
TARACHANSKY: From Tulkarm to Nablus, to Hebron, to Ramallah, there was a day of rage announced today all over East Jerusalem and the West Bank. And we’re getting reports of dozens of people being injured from live ammunition. There’s reports of over 80 injured in Hebron. We just got notice that one person was killed in Tulkarm from Israeli live ammunition trying to repress these protests. And we’re going to see whether at night–most of the protests take place at night–whether they will spill further [up to the midnight prayers (?)].
NOOR: And, finally, what has the role of the Palestinian Authority been in these protests?
TARACHANSKY: Well, we see that these protests either start against the IDF and then spill over to rage against the PA. Or now they even often start against the PA itself. The Palestinian Authority has banned protesting in most of the West Bank throughout the war, a move that is seen by most Palestinians as deplorable. Also, the president of the PA, Mahmoud Abbas’s silence in the first week of the war and refusal to condemn the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip is seen, again, as deplorable by most people. And throughout this war, while the media has been distracted on Gaza, there have been nightly demonstrations in most villages in the West Bank, including villages that don’t have any history of resisting the occupation. We’ve seen massive protest all over the major cities. In one of the protests, in Kalandia, next to Ramallah, there was 160 people shot with live ammunition. We’re seeing massive casualties here. Just last week, six people were killed in these demonstrations. So the West Bank has risen up very strong in solidarity with the Gaza Strip.
And the Palestinian Authority’s response is to instead rely on this collaboration with the Israel army, rely on its appeasement of the Americans and the Israelis, and repress these protests, help in repressing them. And just how much he’s lost the Palestinian street was very evident two days ago when the PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, announced that while Hamas and Israel are both rejecting the ceasefire, he and his government have decided to accept it unilaterally. And the response from the Palestinian street was, well, who asked you? You’re not involved in this war. You’re not involved in condemning this war. You’re not involved in any aspect of it and you’re repressing antiwar demonstrations in the West Bank. So we’re not interested in anything you have to say. And the incident was kind of swept under the rug. But certainly it’s going to have a very strong impact for his political future.
NOOR: Lia Tarachansky, thank you so much for joining us.
TARACHANSKY: Thanks for having me, Jaisal.
NOOR: Go to TheRealNews.com for all of our extensive coverage of Israel’s assault on Gaza.
Thank you so much for joining us.
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