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Gaza-based blogger Nalan al Sarraj and TRNN’s Lia Tarachansky report on the mood of the people in Gaza and Israel as Israeli ground troops join the attack

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

On Thursday, Israel launched a ground invasion along with the air attack on Gaza. They say they’re targeting tunnels that link Gaza to Israel that were used by a Hamas force to invade Israel– invasion, I guess, is the word coming out of the official statements of Israel. A small few people of Hamas entered those tunnels and were stopped by the Israeli Defense Forces. At any rate, Israeli ground troops have now entered the fray in Gaza.

And now joining us to talk about all of this, first of all, joining us from Gaza, is Nalan al Sarraj. She’s a Gaza-based blogger.

And also joining us from Israel is Lia Tarachansky. She’s an Israeli-Canadian journalist. She’s our Real News correspondent in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Thank you both for joining us.

Nalan, tell us what’s happening there today. What are you observing? What’s the mood there?

NALAN AL SARRAJ, GAZA-BASED BLOGGER, ON TWITTER @NALANSARRAJ: I’m standing in my balcony right now, which is very dangerous, but I’m trying to see what’s happening to my people in my city. There’s fire in multiple places a little bit further from my area, which is kind of rare at night, because usually my area has been targeted multiple times at night. They’re basically targeting in north and east. I got some calls from some friends in the east having to evacuate. As you can see from my balcony, smoke and fire and the sky is going colors yellow and red. It’s going crazy. It’s very terrifying. I can hear the explosions near and far. For the last couple of hours it was crazy. So the battleships were going crazy for the last couple of hours as well. So it’s not only by airplanes like F-16s and Apaches. And also battleships have been used heavily. Tonight, just in this, then 15 minutes, I heard more than 20 hits, multiple places as well.

JAY: This is artillery fire from the battleships.

AL SARRAJ: Yes, yes. And I got some friends in north. They’re evacuating. And it’s very scary over there. The ground invasion started and everybody’s so scared. And we don’t know where to go. This is the huge problem. And we don’t know what to do as well. It’s scary.

JAY: What kind of buildings or housing was targeted in your area? What have you seen?

AL SARRAJ: For example, two days ago the building next to mine was targeted. And it was crazy. There was injuries and fire and smoke and children screaming everywhere.

What kind of them? They’re basically civilians. Today at the couple of hours of the truce, I went to the hospital just to support the people, my brothers and sisters who have been injured through these massacres, and mostly they’re injured. And I talked to a couple of doctors to understand more what’s happening, and they say more than 50 percent of the injuries are women and children and most of the injuries are civilians. So they’re targeting homes, their targeting–they’re destroying homes and dreams and of lot of hope that we tried to build through all these years.

JAY: The house that was targeted next to you, why was it targeted?

AL SARRAJ: I don’t know, actually, but a couple of people just talking that maybe people who lives over there, they have some relations with Hamas. But this also doesn’t make any sense, because you’re talking about Gaza Strip, where people have different point-of-views and different parties that they support. So just having some relations with Hamas doesn’t mean that you should be targeted or your house be destroyed, because more than 50 percent or 60 percent people over here, they support Hamas. So they’ve been legally elected. So what’s the plan next? Are you are you just going to target buildings? Because I’m just talking about the building next to me, because where I live, it’s a very crowded area. So if their goal is to target buildings like this and areas like this and it’s nowhere next to a safe or–there’s no logical excuse for this.

JAY: Right. Nalan, in the area where you live, are there any rockets being fired from there?

AL SARRAJ: Rockets being fired?

JAY: Yeah, to Israel from anywhere in the area where you’ve seen the Israelis bombing?

AL SARRAJ: I can’t really know. Mostly when this happens–it’s rarely, I guess, comparing to the explosions that I hear from the other side. So you can’t really know, especially in nights, because Israel focuses on freaking us out and not letting us sleep, I guess. So, comparing the explosions and rockets, it doesn’t make any sense.

JAY: And what’s been the impact on people of the death of the four young cousins, the four children on the beach?

AL SARRAJ: Oh my God, this is the most heartbreaking story, even though there’s a lot of heartbreaking stories as well, like homes and families, a total family being killed. But those children, I actually met one of the children that were playing with them today at the hospital from the /bʌkər/ family, and, oh my God, I was so close to crying in front of him, but I was trying to stay strong, and I’m telling him, don’t surrender, just pray for them, they’re in a better place.

But believe me, what’s happening over here is killing all the dreams for the children over here. I’m actually worried that one day my children would be dead in this brutal way. It’s nothing related to humanity. There is no excuse for all what they’re doing, not only for the four children. But in their case it was the most horrible situation, because all what they’re doing was that they wanted to play, and I don’t think Israel likes that anymore.

JAY: Right. Lia, the death of the four young boys on the beach has broken through international media, even The New York Times had a big photograph of the children just after they were killed. What impact has it had, if any, in Israel?

LIA TARACHANSKY, MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Almost none, Paul. What we see here in, in fact, is that the only discussion that happens about the killing of these four boys is that it makes Israel look bad. We haven’t seen any actual deploring on behalf of, like, the public or a politician on any kind of level that would make a difference. And what we’re hearing again and again in the Israel press and in the Army radio and from the government is that if civilians are killed, they’re killed because Hamas is using them as a human shield.

Now, to add to something to Nalan’s point from earlier, during the last ground operation, in Operation Cast Lead, one of the first big killings was a police station in inside the Gaza Strip. Dozens of police officers who were just graduating that day were killed. Now, the government explained it as they are Hamas. But Hamas is the government in the Gaza Strip, which means anybody who works in the governments is a member of Hamas by default. So this argument basically says that anyone who has a civil job in the government is a legitimate target.

Now, here in Israel, tomorrow they’re going to demolish the homes of the two people that they’re accusing of killing the three settlers who were killed, the three teenagers who were kidnapped that started this whole escalation. Meanwhile, they haven’t yet presented any evidence that these two people are actually responsible for the kidnapping and killing of these teenagers, but they’re already going and demolishing their houses tomorrow. This is another example of how it doesn’t matter what the excuse is, it doesn’t matter what the evidence is; they’re going to go and punish them.

Meanwhile, the six Israelis who kidnapped in revenge a Palestinian teenager, their houses are not going to be demolished, of course.

JAY: Now, in terms of the overall mood there, you witnessed a protest and a counter protest. Describe what you saw.

TARACHANSKY: So, today the Israeli organization Breaking the Silence, which is a group of veterans of the Israeli army who record anonymous testimonies of soldiers talking about the daily occupation and the daily violations of human rights, just describing what they’ve done in their Army–they’ve collective thousands of testimonies over the years. And about once a month lately, they’ve have been in the middle of Tel Aviv, Habima Square, a place that has a very strong history of protests, and today they were just inviting soldiers, veterans, to read their own testimonies of violations of human rights from their time in the army. About 1,000 people came to support them and for just to protest the war. Not everyone is a clear supporter of Breaking the Silence. But, anyway, there were about 1,000 people there, and they were chanting, no, no, fascism will not past pass, and Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies, and not in my name, end the killing.

Now, there’s an Israeli rapper, a hip-hop artist named the Shadow /paˈtɪn/, who has been inciting against left-wing activists for weeks, and on Saturday, when there was another antiwar demonstration in Tel Aviv, he called his supporters, who are known to be very right-wing, to come and beat up those activists. So they came, the protesters, against them. And when the sirens for rockets started, the police disappeared and they beat a lot of them. Two of them ended up in the hospital. At today’s demonstration, when it was clear that they’re going to come out in numbers again, there was a lot of police the place, and actually managed to stop the violence from taking place. And there was about 500 of them.

JAY: And what was the slogans they were shouting?

TARACHANSKY: So this group of neofascists are followers of Rabbi Kahane, who was a rabbi here, a former member of Parliament, who believe that all the Palestinians should either be expelled or gotten rid of. And so they were chanting, death to Arabs, we want to burn down your villages, Muhammad is dead, we want to burn down your villages, Mohammed is dead. So I filmed some of it, and you can see in the coming clip that they’re yelling “Mohammed is dead” and “death to Arabs”.

JAY: Okay. Here, we’re going to roll the clip now.


JAY: Okay. Yeah. Carry on, Lia.

TARACHANSKY: And this is a clip of the antiwar demonstration. People are yelling “not in my name”.


JAY: Okay. Nalan, let’s go back to the mood in Gaza. I mean, what do you think is the objective of the Israelis here? They’re not–it doesn’t seem like they have any seriousness about actually reoccupying Gaza. The ground invasions, so far, at least, they say are targeting these tunnels. So the bombings, which have mostly killed civilians–I don’t know the exact number now. I believe we’re over 200, are we not? What do you think is their objective here?

AL SARRAJ: My point of view from all these years: I think Israel needs Hamas to stay in Gaza Strip so they can tell the world that we have a Muslim terrorist party over here next to us, our neighbors, and we’re so terrified and we’re so in danger, so we need you to support us all the time, we need you to be our side. And what’s happening over here in this operation is the actual proof for what I’m saying. So they’re killing more than 200 people, civilians, there are more than thousands of injuries, and nobody is breaking the silence, nobody is doing anything for us. And why? Because Israel has one reason that there is Hamas in Gaza strip. And with them breaking all the laws with them breaking all the human rights, nobody is trying to stop them, because this is the main reason, this is the only ally they have, and everybody’s believing them. So I think if Israel wanted to stop Hamas from being in Gaza Strip, they could just do it in one night. They have the strongest army, right? But they don’t need that. They just want to terrorize us. They want to keep us to remember that Israel is always going to be there, Israel’s–the occupation. Israel will never let us have peace. And all of that because you have Hamas, when actually, after what happened recently with Hamas and Fatah, the unity, and Hamas been backing down a little bit on the government system and giving a lot of cooperations with the situation over here.

So Israel has no reason to do what they’re doing over here. But I think with all their forces, they just want to kill over here. They want to keep us in this blockade. They want to kill our dreams. They want us just to stay where–.

JAY: But the argument the Israelis are giving is that it’s because of Hamas rockets being fired and that they have to stop. And you can hear even some, you know, relatively progressive Israelis saying that no country would allow itself to have these rockets fired upon itself without retaliating. What is, do you think, most people’s opinion of the firing of the rockets in Gaza?

AL SARRAJ: First of all, the Palestinians have been resisting since forever. We will never forget that Israel is an occupation. It’s not a country to us. It’s an occupation. So we will be resisting in all the ways, in all the means that we can afford. If you’ve been holding your own son dead or in pieces in your own arms, would you forget it? Would you just let it go because Israel wants you to let it go? I don’t think so. What’s happening over here is massacres. Children are losing their families, their homes. You know, your home in one second is destroyed, with all the memories and all your years, is destroyed. How could you just get over it and just stop resisting just because Israel wants that?

It’s–the rockets compared to what Israel is doing is nothing. They’re using the most massive and heavy weapons in the world on civilians. So how is this even make sense just because we’re resisting in multiple ways, not only with rockets? We’re resisting with social media, we’re resisting with media, we’re resisting with just trying to be alive. This is the way that the we will stay resisting. So this will never–that will never end. This is our way and this is our method in life as Palestinians. We will never surrender for the occupation. So whatever they’re saying compared to what they’re actually doing is lies. If they really want peace and if they really want to negotiate in actual conditions and actual life standards, they will never be killing us till now. And should understand that. We’ll stay resistant until our last breaths, because we believe this is our land and we have to fight for the people who’ve died all these years for this land and the actual principles for a human being to have freedom.

JAY: Lia, there’s a breaking report here about just what’s going on on the ground in Gaza. What is it?

TARACHANSKY: This very moment, the cabinet was asked to send another 18,000 reservists to the south of the Gaza Strip. The spokesperson of the IDF, Colonel Moti Almoz, spoke to the press, saying that large ground forces are currently accompanying a massive operation by the Israeli air and naval forces. They’re going to be taking over large swaths of land in the Gaza Strip, and they’re acting against the tunnels and other targets, meaning that he’s opening the door to any target that will come. The Israeli chief of staff of the army, Benny Gantz, also said that they’re requesting that the civilians in the Gaza Strip evacuate.

JAY: Nalan, they’re suggesting civilians evacuate in the Gaza Strip. Where are you supposed to go?

AL SARRAJ: I have no clue where to go. And actually I have some friends in south and east. They’re evacuating right now. I got some calls, and some friends are just so freaking out. We don’t know where they could go. Or even us, if the ground invasion would go further than the south and east, I don’t know where to go. We have no clue.

JAY: Okay. Nalan, Lia, thanks very much for joining us.

TARACHANSKY: Thanks for having us.

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

AL SARRAJ: Thank you. Thank you so much. Lia, stay safe.


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Nalan al Sarraj is a Gaza-based blogger. She can be found on Twitter @NalanSarraj.

Lia Tarachansky is a journalist and filmmaker at Naretiv Productions. She is a former Israel/Palestine correspondent for The Real News Network, where she produced short, documentary-style reports exploring the context behind the news. She has directed several documentaries that tackle different aspects of social justice struggles in Israel/Palestine.