With thousands of Israeli and Palestinian civilians slaughtered in the past week alone, with the total blackout and bombing of civilians in Gaza happening this very moment, with Israeli government officials speaking in openly genocidal terms, and with US warships moving into the Mediterranean Sea, the permanent war between occupier and occupied has boiled over into a terrifying, new, and even more violent phase—and no one knows exactly what will happen next. In this urgent, unscheduled episode of The Marc Steiner Show—the first installment of an ongoing series of conversations we will have from Israel, the occupied territories, and Gaza as the situation develops—we take you to the heart of the war that’s taking place in Palestine and Israel. We speak with journalist and Palestine news director for Mondoweiss Yumna Patel from Bethlehem about the events of the past week, and Tareq S. Hajjaj, Mondoweiss’ Gaza correspondent, sends an update on the relentless bombing of Gaza.
Studio Production: David Hebden, Cameron Granadino
Post-Production: David Hebden
Marc Steiner: Welcome to The Marc Steiner Show here on The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner. It’s great to have you all with us.
We’re going to the heart of the war that’s taking place in Palestine and Israel. This will be the first in a series of conversations we have from Israel, the occupied territories, and Gaza. That is, if we can get through to Gaza, given Israel’s blocking all communications coming from the Gaza Strip.
This war is one that could change history. The occupation is now 55 years old. People in Gaza live in an open prison. And the attacks that took place when Hamas crossed the border, tearing down the border fence, catching Israel off guard and slaughtering Israelis at a concert and in Israeli towns has created a paradigm shift. 1,200 people have been killed in Israel, 300 taken captive by Hamas. Now, Israel’s attacks, their air attacks on Gaza, have killed at least 1,100 people, wounding at least 326 children and close to 6,000 other people wounded. We know we now have not only the occupation, but an openly far-right government in Israel.
And our conversation today is with Yumna Patel, who is the Palestine news director for Mondoweiss. Here’s our conversation today with Yumna Patel.
I’m really curious how you would describe, it’s almost an absurd question, but how would you describe the tenor of the moment? You are in the West Bank, you’re in the occupied territories in West Bank and Bethlehem, and most of the violence is taking place in the Gaza Strip, and the parts of Israel that are near Gaza. Right?
Yumna Patel: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Marc Steiner: But the reverberations of fear, anxiety of the turmoil must be spilling over. Talk a bit about what your sense of things are.
Yumna Patel: Yeah. Absolutely. Things are extremely tense, you could say, on the ground here speaking. Obviously, the reality in the West Bank looks very different to how it looks in Gaza right now.
But just to give a little bit of context of what’s happening in the West Bank, the Israeli military announced a full closure of the West Bank, I believe it was on Sunday. A two-week closure. So right now, everyone in the West Bank is locked into their locality depending on what city or town or village they’re in because Israel has shut down all of the checkpoints and closed off the entrances and exits to a lot of the villages. There was mass panic. People didn’t really know how long these closures were going to be for, so people are rushing to buy food and get fuel in their cars.
At the same time, there have been increased confrontations and protests and demonstrations across the West Bank. I think the latest death toll that we have in the West Bank since Saturday is 26. So 26 people have been killed, including at least four children in the West Bank, mostly during confrontations and the Israeli suppression of protests.
And at the same time, so there’s a lot of soldier violence. I was talking to a friend yesterday, he lives in a village outside of Bethlehem that’s been totally closed off. He managed to get to Bethlehem on a motorcycle that he drove through the mountains trying to navigate around these closures and checkpoints just so he could get to Bethlehem to get some things for his wife and his baby. But he was saying that someone had tried to leave the village through the front entrance that had been closed off by Israeli forces, and that person was shot by the Israeli military. And so things are definitely tense and also picking up.
People, obviously, are outraged and frustrated by the Israeli airstrikes and Gaza and constantly being inundated with these images of entire neighborhoods and buildings being leveled to the ground. So it’s definitely not quiet in the West Bank or Jerusalem, not on the front of confronting Israeli soldiers or also Israeli settlers.
We just got a report in, I think, around an hour ago that a group of armed Israeli settlers attacked a village, the village of Qusra outside of Nablus, and three Palestinians were killed, allegedly, by Israeli settler gunfire.
And so there’s this… Not even anticipation. Palestinians also know that Israeli settler attacks and these revenge attacks, they’re already happening, but they’re definitely going to be increased. So people are wary, especially people in the villages and in rural areas that are in close proximity to settlements and on these front lines.
Marc Steiner: I imagine. I can just feel the tension, even though I’m not there. But a couple of things you said, let me start with the settlers. So the settler attacks that are taking place, that took place that you know about, they are you’re thinking because the settlers are trying to settle the score about what happened at the music festival where all those people were killed and kidnapped? What do you think is behind that? Because it’s nothing new. Settlers are doing this all the time.
Yumna Patel: Right. Yeah. Exactly. So I think there’s definitely an element of settling the score, not necessarily related to one specific event over the past couple days, but what happened has had huge impacts on Israel, Israeli society, Israeli government, etc. And of course, when stuff like this happens that only fuels the flames of ideological violence in Israel. And like you said, we know that settler violence against Palestinians has been ongoing, but especially they’ve been increasing over the past two years.
And you and I have discussed this on your show before, the increase in settler attacks, particularly in the West Bank, and these pogroms, basically, that settlers go on, these rampages in Palestinian towns trying to set entire towns on fire. And so there’s definitely an element of revenge and settling the score, you could say.
But also this is just a continuation or an extension of what we’ve already been seeing over the past two years with this severe increase in settler violence that is being egged on by the right-wing fascists that are in the Israeli government.
And just yesterday, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister and the head of the Jewish Power Party, who we know is himself a far-right, ideological settler, announced that he was purchasing 10,000 rifles to distribute to Jewish citizens in the occupied West Bank and in towns in Israel in “mixed Jewish-Arab cities.” And so this is also a part of Ben-Gvir’s long-held plans to establish an Israeli national guard, which rights groups have warned is essentially the establishment of his own private militia, where basically he’s essentially deputizing Israeli settlers and armed Israeli civilians and deploying them in Palestinian towns, villages, and primarily Palestinian areas inside Israel as well.
And so that coupled with the fact that we already have violent settlers means that things are going to get a lot, lot worse. And I don’t think the attack on Qusra today is going to be the last attack that we see of its kind in the next few days and weeks.
Marc Steiner: It seems to me, from everything I’ve read and things I’ve been watching and following the Twitter from people across Israel and the occupied territories, that what just occurred with Hamas coming into Israel, killing all those Israelis is this insane retaliation by Israel dropping bombs on Gaza, killing we don’t know how many people. Could be thousands of Palestinians who have been killed in these raids, women and children as well, noncombatants. It feels as if, it seems as if this is a huge turning point. Something shifted here, both, I think, in the minds of Israelis and Palestinians and the political situation. Do you sense that? Do you sense that something massive has just happened that it changes the paradigm?
Yumna Patel: Yeah. Absolutely. We’ve spoken to a lot of Palestinian political analysts over the past couple of days who have basically said what happened on Saturday when Hamas launched what they’ve called the operation Al-Aqsa Flood, which the group said was in response to the ongoing Israeli violence in the West Bank and attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. That was completely unprecedented and it totally caught Israel off guard.
And the number of casualties that we’ve seen is extremely, extremely high. I think so far around 1,200 Israelis have been killed according to Israeli numbers. And just to put that into perspective, I think throughout the course of the entire second Intifada, which happened over the course of a few years, there were around 1,000 Israeli casualties.
And so this has been a huge moment for Israel. For the Israeli government, it’s been a catastrophe, a security, military catastrophe that has basically brought down this veil that Israel and Israeli society have always regarded as this impenetrable security force. So because of that, we’ve seen immense response from Israel.
And we know this is not the first time that Israel has bombed Gaza. Certainly, I think this is the third or fourth time just in the past couple of years. But this time we are seeing extreme genocidal rhetoric from Israeli government officials calling Gazans human animals, saying that Hamas needs to be wiped out and obliterated, and using this language to pave the way, essentially, for huge crimes and a genocide to be committed in Gaza.
And so I think there is absolutely a shift happening. This is a huge moment where the consequences or the ramifications are playing out in real time.
Marc Steiner: I’m really curious what you hear on the ground among Palestinians about what is happening this moment about… And also politically, because it’s also not as if the Palestinians are a unified political body. They may be unified in the sense of wanting to end the occupation and having not Israel dominate their lives and have freedom. But there’s also a lot of internal political turmoil inside the Palestinian world and movement. So give me a sense of what people are seeing and how all this is affecting that.
Yumna Patel: Yeah… I’m trying to find this article that we published on Mondoweiss by a Palestinian author because I think it sums up perfectly the way that Palestinians are feeling. So this is an article by Hiba Jamal, and it’s titled “Despite what you think, Palestinians are not celebrating death.”
And she says, “Palestinians do not rejoice over death but at the idea that we have a chance for freedom. I do not rejoice over death. I rejoice over the possibility to live.[…] We do not look at the news and rejoice over the number of Israelis killed. We do not salivate at the sight of blood-drenched bodies.[…] The “joy” that you might be seeing is the idea that, for the first time in history, we might have a chance to reclaim our land. We might have a chance to end the occupation, to open Gaza’s borders, to visit our family without reprisal, and to escape from torturous prisons – This time without a spoon in our hand.”
And that is a reference to the prison break by a number of Palestinian prisoners. I believe it was in 2021 that they dug out of an Israeli prison with spoons.
Marc Steiner: I remember that. Yes.
Yumna Patel: So I think that is the perfect summation of how Palestinians are feeling. And there’s been a lot of this talk in the mainstream Western media about, oh, look at these Palestinians. They’re these violent, bloodthirsty people. They’re celebrating the killing of innocent Israeli civilians, and I don’t think that’s the case. As Hiba put it, people aren’t celebrating death. But what they witnessed over the weekend was something that people did not imagine to be possible, that Gaza’s could break out of their prison.
And so the images I know in the West Bank Palestinians saw of Palestinian bulldozers tearing down parts of the Israeli border fence around Gaza, this was something that was just absolutely unimaginable. And so for Palestinians, this has bit across the board – And across different political factions, by the way. I’ve spoken to friends of various leftist and even leftist political factions and people affiliated with Fatah, which is the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority here in the West Bank. Overall, people are just, they’re shocked by what happened because they never dreamed it to be possible, basically, that Palestinians would somehow break out of Gaza.
And so people are definitely scared. People are mourning the loss of lives as well. People know that the days ahead are not going to be easy. I’ve been speaking to friends and family in the West Bank who are saying this is reminding them of the time leading up to the Intifadas with the closures and the increased restrictions and the rhetoric that Israeli politicians and the US and the Western media are using. It feels like the world is gearing up for this huge genocide or this huge attack against the Palestinians and using what happened over the weekend as justification for that.
But despite everything, I think Palestinians are seeing this as a… It’s unfathomable, I think, for a lot of people.
Marc Steiner: It also seems as if, as I said earlier, everything I’ve been reading and watching via Twitter and other places, that this is a major turning point. Something has shifted. Between calling for death and destruction of Palestinians, the rhetoric of the Israeli right that’s in power, what you just described and what just happened with Hamas coming through the border fence and making that kind of attack, to the absolute destruction taking place in Gaza now, to the tensions where you live in the occupied West Bank. It seems like something politically, profoundly, has shifted.
Yumna Patel: I think the biggest shift that the world is seeing is that Israel, the US, and the world largely thought that it could essentially keep 2 million people caged up in a prison without consequence for decades on end and bomb them every couple of years to keep them complacent. And what this past weekend has shown is that that is not a viable policy, it’s just not viable. And Palestinians reject the situation that they have been made to live under in Gaza.
And I think that is the biggest shift, is the world has become so accustomed to the way that Israel deals with the Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, as just this security concern where you can mow the lawn every couple years and then keep people caged in and throw them crumbs in the form of some work permits and maybe some humanitarian aid and keep them locked up in this cage while maintaining these systems of apartheid and occupation. But this past weekend just shattered all of those notions.
Marc Steiner: And one of the things I’ve been reading in places like Mondoweiss and +972 is that the beginning of the operational Al-Aqsa Flood, that was the attack on Israel from Gaza, the response that you talked about with the Israeli defense chief, you wanted hell, you will get hell, calling Palestinians human animals. And some people are saying that Israel is blocking any kind of news from Gaza because a massacre is taking place or will take place as these troops go in. Have you heard anything at all in terms of what is going on at this moment in Gaza?
Yumna Patel: Yeah. So the way that you’re framing that is absolutely true. In terms of what is happening in Gaza right now, I will pull up some of our latest. We were able to get some snippets of news from Tarek. But basically Tarek says that Israel’s plan is to cut off the Gaza Strip from internet and electricity so that the world can’t see the destruction it is causing in Gaza. It has succeeded, because now there are horrific massacres in Rafah, Karama, Western and Eastern Shuja’iyya. And just now, a few minutes ago, we saw what seemed to be white phosphorus bombs being used in Western Gaza.
Nobody knows what to expect or when it will end, but they’re anticipating a very long war. The city of Gaza has already been completely transformed. All of the streets are destroyed. All of the tall buildings have been destroyed. The universities have been destroyed. The telecommunications have been destroyed. Even the streets have been targeted to prevent ambulances from reaching the hospital, especially the main roads that lead to Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s central hospital. The missiles have created huge craters in the ground to prevent ambulances from moving.
Now Israel is targeting the homes of journalists. Already, the homes of two journalists who entered occupied Palestine on the first day of the war to report on the situation were targeted. [Foreign language] house was bombed and completely wiped out. And that is a journalist who entered into Israeli territory over the weekend when the breaches in the separation wall and fence happened. He went into Israel from Gaza and was providing on-the-ground reporting of what was happening in some of these Israeli towns and kibbutzim. And his house was bombed by Israel and completely wiped out.
And Tarek says, meanwhile, human catastrophes are taking place at the UNRWA schools, where people have fled to hide from the Israeli missiles and airstrikes. None of them have food or water or even milk for their children.
Still the war has seen the greatest amount of popular support for the Palestinian resistance to date. Even people that don’t support Hamas or their actions are standing by the group because they saw on the first day how Hamas broke down the border fence, and they felt that for the first time they are actually doing something to liberate Palestine.
And so those are words directly from Tarek. And personally, I’ve spoken to Tarek, and he says that Tarek has lived through six or seven wars at this point in his life, and he said what he’s seen over the past few days is anything that he’s witnessed before. And we’ve seen a lot of this, the same sentiments being shared by Palestinians and journalists across Gaza who are saying these are not targeted airstrikes, not that they ever have been in the past, but there is this wanton disregard for anything, and Israel is just bombing everywhere indiscriminately, and entire neighborhoods are being leveled to the ground.
And so the level of sheer destruction is, I think it’s difficult for me to imagine, I’m sure it’s impossible for people outside of Gaza to imagine. But everyone in Gaza who has lived through multiple, multiple Israeli offensives, including in 2014 when more than 2,000 Palestinians were killed over the course of more than a month, are saying that this is the worst they’ve ever seen.
Marc Steiner: I’m sorry. I’m just almost speechless. There’s one thing on my mind I always wanted to raise with you. What happened to me when this happened was that there were people I know of and have interviewed in the past whose kids were killed at that music festival, who were left-wing Israelis who were activists, and my friends and the Palestinians here I know have lost family and had brothers and sisters and parents killed in Gaza just now. It is just so overwhelming. And to think what might happen here, the destruction of two people who can’t seem to come together, that Israel will not allow people to come together to create a place where people can just live.
I’m stuttering because [laughs] I’ve been working at this since 1967. And watching this now, it’s like all the hope that existed for a short period in the late ’60s and early ’70s has literally exploded and gone. And the future looks really dark, especially for the Palestinian people.
Yumna Patel: Yeah. On a human level, no one likes to see people being killed, and civilians especially. And I think what you said is really important. And you corrected yourself. You said the two people haven’t been able to come together, and then you said Israel hasn’t allowed them to come together.
Marc Steiner: Right.
Yumna Patel: To find a way to just live.
And throughout all of this, what I keep coming back to is an interview that I did with a Palestinian man in Jenin in January of this year. And I think I was on your show when things were happening in Jenin as well. And this was a man who had been arrested. He had spent decades as a political prisoner in Israel. His brother was an armed resistance fighter in Jenin. He was killed during the second Intifada. And I spoke to this man after his house had been totally bombed out by the Israeli military and his nephew had been arrested. So this is the son of his brother who had been killed 20 years prior.
And what he said was, it resonated then and I think it resonates now more than ever, and he said that until the Palestinian people are allowed to live in dignity and have freedom and self-determination and the rights of all other free people around the world, then the Israeli people and the Palestinian people will not have peace, safety, and security until that happens. And I think that statement more than anything reigns true today. And like you said, there’s been a paradigm shift.
And anything that the past weekend has shown us is that you cannot keep people caged up and oppressed and under systems of violent occupation and apartheid and expect them to take it and expect them to accept it and to live with that. And the violent reality that has been created by Israel’s occupation and apartheid is the root cause of everything that we’re seeing. And until the apartheid systems are broken down, until the occupation is ended, until Palestinians achieve freedom and liberation and dignity, then we’re going to continue to see a lot of what we have been seeing over the past few days.
Marc Steiner: Yumna Patel, we’re going to stay in touch. I’m going to stay in touch. I’ll email as much as I can and stay in touch with you. And I want you to stay safe. I hope Tarek and his family are safe and they stay safe in all of this. And I really appreciate your journalism, what you’ve done, what you bring to the table, and your bravery for being in the midst of it all. I really do mean that. And Yumna Patel, Palestine news director from Mondoweiss, just please stay safe, and I’m going to stay in touch and hope we can talk very soon and continue this dialogue.
Yumna Patel: Thank you.
Marc Steiner: Thank you very much.
Yumna Patel: Thanks, Marc. Appreciate it.
Marc Steiner: And I want to thank you all for joining us today. And thanks to Cameron Granandino for running the show, David Hebdon for editing and getting us on the air, and the tireless Kayla Rivara behind the scenes. And everyone here at The Real News for making this show possible. And please let me know what you thought about what you heard today, what you’d like us to cover. Just write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get right back to you. And you also should check out Mondoweiss at mondoweiss.net. That’s M-O-N-D-O-W-E-I-S-S.net for the coverage they have of Israel and Palestine.
So for Cameron Granadino and Kayla Rivara and the crew here at The Real News, I’m Marc Steiner. Stay involved, keep listening, and take care.