AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. Facing potential corruption charges, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the case against him is full of holes.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Translator): After I read the recommendation report, I can say it is biased, extreme, full of holes, like Swiss cheese.
AARON MATÉ: The news that Israeli police have recommended bribery charges against Netanyahu has dominated headlines and threatened his political future, but as all of this unfolds, the crisis in the Gaza Strip remains ignored. On the same day as the Netanyahu corruption news broke, several major groups reported that 54 Palestinians died last year after Israel delayed or denied their request to leave the Gaza Strip for medical treatment. Israel approved just over half of all medical permit requests from Gaza in 2017, its lowest rate on record. The Israeli blockade of Gaza, coupled with the recent cut in US funding to Palestinian refugees, prompted a UN official to warn of what he called an epidemic deterioration.
SPEAKER: If you think of all of the constraints and sense of deprivation that faces the community, you have what our colleagues in the health sector in the Gaza Strip call an epidemic deterioration of psychosocial conditions.
AARON MATÉ: Joining me now from the Gaza Strip is Max Blumenthal, bestselling author, senior editor of the GrayZone Project here at The Real News. Max, welcome. You are in the Gaza Strip just as this news about charges against Netanyahu have broken over corruption. You’re visiting there, I believe, for the first time since the 2014 attack on Gaza that Netanyahu oversaw. I’m just wondering your thoughts on this news of potential charges against him in light of what you’re witnessing in Gaza right now.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, I guess it’s impossible to address the charges or the police recommendation that Netanyahu be indicted in light of anything in Gaza. I guess, the first point I would make is that when the indictment recommendation came, and it’s just that, a recommendation, I was watching, I was scanning through Arabic media channels. It wasn’t even on the Arabic news channels. It wasn’t even mentioned there. It wasn’t in the news. No one was talking about it here in Gaza and when I would bring it up to people, they would say, “We want Netanyahu indicted for slaughtering our friends and families in 2014, not for accepting champagne and cigars from oligarchs who he was attempting to provide tax breaks for.” It’s treated with a collective shrug here.
I spoke to Jamal Zahalka last week, who is a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset. He said getting Netanyahu on corruption charges and breach of trust is like nailing Al Capone for tax evasion. Basically, it evades the real issue of occupation, apartheid, and I guess you could call it disproportionate force against the civilian population of Gaza. So, that’s really the reaction from here.
The reaction in Israel is entirely different. To put it as succinctly as possible, none of this means that Netanyahu’s government will fall. His government appears to be fairly stable because there’s no clear successor to him. There’s no politician who is nearly as popular as he is, even though he is maybe not that popular by historic standards for Israeli prime ministers. It’s up to to the attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, to decide whether Netanyahu should actually go to trial, should be indicted.
Mandelblit has ambitions to serve on the Israeli Supreme Court. So, he’s in a really politically tough situation. There have been protests for 60 weeks in the major cities of Israel, particularly Tel Aviv, which is the heart of the metropolitan, liberal, Ashkenazi elite of Israel. I wouldn’t say elite, but Ashkenazi middle class, but that traditionally doesn’t like the Likud Party. If you talk to the man in the street, Netanyahu still commands a good amount of support. Israel is a Likud state, and so I don’t think we’re looking at the downfall of Netanyahu right now.
AARON MATÉ: You’re back in Gaza after having visited there just following the Israeli attack in the summer of 2014. I believe, this is your first time back. What’s your impression upon visiting it now?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Let me make just two quick points about the Netanyahu indictment that I found interesting, which is that one of the billionaires who was trying to curry favor with Netanyahu actually went initially to John Kerry and the former US ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, Dan Shapiro for favors on fixing his visa. There are interesting components to the evidence here.
Also, there’s an interesting side story, which is that Sheldon Adelson and Netanyahu are now adversaries or enemies because according to the evidence that police here in Israel have reviewed, Netanyahu cut a deal with the owner of Yedioth Ahronoth, another major Israeli newspaper, his name is Arnon Mozes, to reduce the circulation of Adelson’s newspaper, Israel Hayom, which used to support Netanyahu. Sheldon Adelson, who’s also one of Trump’s big benefactors, is now refusing to defend Netanyahu, and appears to be dead set on revenge. This is going to play out in an interesting way, but again, it’s an internal issue within Israel.
The Gaza Strip is a place that I wasn’t sure I would ever see again. Seeing it in what’s considered normal times, which is that interregnum between the regular wars that Israel has waged on this besieged coastal enclave, is new for me. I was here for the last week of the 51-day war on Gaza and for a week afterwards. I wrote a book about it, but I hadn’t seen daily life in Gaza. Now I’m here to witness the economic war being waged on Gaza from all sides.
The economic situation in the Gaza Strip has never been worse. Salaries for workers have been reduced from just over 50% of their normal rate to 25% by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, which is seeking to force the hand of Hamas, the party that rules the Gaza Strip, on reconciliation. They’ve been unable to agree on the terms of reconciliation, so the Palestinian Authority controls the borders of Gaza, but nothing inside.
You talk to public workers here, as I have, and they’ll tell you that they don’t even know who they’re working for at this point, whether it’s the PA or Hamas. They say they feel like they’re dealing with a foreign government. There is a sense of total abandonment here, a sense that factionalism within the Palestinian polity has left people in a state of complete isolation.
That’s leaving out the fact that Israel’s siege has just deliberately de-developed the Strip over the last 10 years. Truck deliveries of basic goods to Gaza are reduced to 50% of their normal level. That’s because the buying power of people in the Gaza Strip has dropped dramatically. Electricity is reduced to four hours every day, or four hours every 12 hours. The only reason I’m able to speak to you now is because there’s a generator at this hotel, but where I just was tonight, the lights just went off, and everybody had just decided to go home.
The electricity problem has led to a sewage crisis. There’s always been a problem with sewage in Gaza. The sanitation system is overstretched because of Israel’s wars, because of the failure to, the inability to replace certain parts, because Israel considers certain pipes to be dual-use items that could be military use. Now, it’s nearly impossible for the Gaza water authorities to treat the sewage at even a modest level, and so record amounts of sewage are pouring out into the sea. I went down to one of the pipes where it pours out of, and the smell was just overpowering.
Then it flows back into the streets. It’s reached a level where there are not just waterborne diseases but airborne diseases because the sewage is in the air. People are finding it dangerous to even stand near the beach on certain days. In the summer, I was told that the waste just simply flows out into the sea, and just creates this gigantic puddle of human waste and all kinds of materials that you just wouldn’t want to be in contact with.
You mentioned at the top of this broadcast, at the top of this interview that there’s a record denial of permits to leave the Gaza Strip. And that means that over 50 people were documented to have died as a result of their failure to receive medical permits. 40 of them were cancer patients. I met the wife of one today, and she said that her husband had actually worked as a chef or as a cook at Tel Aviv University for 25 years. He was a man in his 60s who had liver cancer. He needed an operation that he couldn’t get inside the Gaza Strip. He needed it in Jerusalem, and they just denied him a permit for no reason. His family was forced to just simply watch him die before their eyes. This is happening, it happened to children here. It’s happened to women. It’s happening to people who have absolutely no capacity to serve in any armed faction.
And meanwhile, in Israel, you have the defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, openly denying on the record that there is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, which means that he’s not going to even address the situation. Privately, however, and this has been reported, the Israeli army chiefs fear that the situation’s gotten so out of hand here, it could lead to some kind of escalation, a military escalation, but nothing’s happening. We don’t really see anything happening.
The only reason that fuel is coming into the Gaza Strip this coming week to keep the lights on is because of an emergency donation from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. When I ask people, “Why did they donate this?” Nobody even knows why. Nobody knows why any country is supporting Gaza, or why Egypt is taking such a harsh line against it. I met a young man tonight who told me that his family lives in the UAE, and he simply got trapped in the Gaza Strip after Sisi came into power in Egypt. He had just finished college. He had intended to leave through the Rafah Crossing, and it closed for over 500 days, and he’s been trapped here ever since. He simply can’t leave. He’s lived much of his life outside of here. So, the situation is just unbelievable. I constantly talk about the resilience of people in Gaza, but I just don’t know how much more any human could possibly take.
AARON MATÉ: Yeah, Max. You know, one thing I know about the Gaza Strip is that beach you were talking about on the Mediterranean Sea. That’s one of the few places in Gaza that have provided some measure of relief to people. They can go there and relax, and go in the sea, but that sewage situation you’re talking about, that seems to be impossible now, right?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah. I mean, you can’t go to the sea. You can’t go to the east beyond the buffer zone because you’ll get shot by a remote-controlled machine gun controlled by Israeli soldiers. You’re basically trapped. You’re trapped to the south by Egypt. You’re trapped on all sides. Of course, Israel controls the airspace. The walls are just closing in on Gaza, and then meanwhile the internal situation politically and economically has never been worse. There’s no clear path out of it. There’s no path out of this situation. No one sees a strategy or a means for alleviating this crisis. I guess, you could call it a catastrophe on top of another catastrophe.
AARON MATÉ: We’ll leave it there. Max Blumenthal, bestselling author, senior editor of the GrayZone Project here at The Real News, speaking to us from the Gaza Strip. Max, thank you.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Thanks for having me.
AARON MATÉ: Thank you for joining us on The Real News.