One year after the Israeli attack that killed 2,100 civilians and wounded 10,000, Refaat Alareer and Laila el-Haddad say the people of Gaza will not turn on Hamas and submit to the occupation
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
On July 8, 2014, Israel launched another attack on Gaza. This one was called Operation Protective Edge. It should, of course, have been called some kind of attacking edge. But these names are usually the opposite of what they are. In that attack at least 2,131 Palestinians were killed. Over 10,000 were wounded. At least 1,400 of the dead were civilians, including 540 children. 73 Israelis were killed by the small, ineffective rockets. Of course, of the 71 Israelis that were killed, 66 were soldiers. Only four were civilians. 18,000 housing units were totally destroyed or severely damaged by the Israeli attacks. Approximately 108,000 of Gaza’s 1.8 million Palestinians left homeless.
Refaat Alareer lost his brother Mohammed in that attack. He went on to co-edit the book Gaza Unsilenced. He writes in that book:
This was not a war on Hamas as the conventional discourse would have us believe. And it had little to do with tunnels or rockets. Neither was it related to Israel’s security, which was never threatened by children playing on the beach or on rooftops, or in a UN school, all easily identifiable by Israel’s precision-guided munitions. Families crammed in their living rooms in the middle of the night are huddled around a candle to break their day-long fast. Or escaping after a knock on the roof chased from their beds. Were knowingly and purposefully eviscerated in their entirety by the most heavily-armed and highly-financed power in the Middle East.
Now joining us from Gaza to discuss this anniversary is Refaat Alareer. Thanks very much for joining us, Refaat.
REFAAT ALAREER: Thank you, Paul, for having me. Thank you.
JAY: So as I mentioned, Refaat is co-editor of Gaza Unsilenced. He’s also the editor and contributor to Gaza Writes Back. He’s currently completing his Ph.D in English literature, and he’s been teaching world literature and comparative literature in Gaza at the Islamic University of Gaza since 2007.
Also joining us in the studio is Laila El-Haddad. She is the other co-editor of Gaza Unsilenced, the author of Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything In Between, and co-author of the Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey. From 2003-2007 she was in Gaza as a stringer for Al-Jazeera English website, and a regular contributer to the BBC and the Guardian online. And a radio correspondent for Pacifica’s Free Speech Radio News. She’s also the co-director of two documentaries, including the award-winning Tunnel Trade. Thanks very much for joining us.
LAILA EL-HADDAD: Thank you for having us.
JAY: Refaat, please start by explaining a little bit of what the quote I read from you–this was not a war on Hamas. Then who was it a war on?
ALAREER: Every time Israel wages a war on Palestinians, especially in the past eight years, on Palestinians in Gaza, their excuse is, the scarecrow is Hamas, Hamas, Hamas. And we’ve heard this once and again, and every time after every attack, Hamas emerges even more powerful. And Israel destroys hundreds of houses and kills hundreds of Palestinians of innocent, unarmed civilians, most of whom are kids, elderly people, women. People who are killed at schools. They were killed at, at sometimes hospitals. In their own homes. Kids who were playing at Gaza beach were also targeted and killed, and we’ve seen some of those pictures.
So, and seemingly Hamas is not hurt. Because of so many things, but there’s a clear image here, a clear picture. Israel is also trying to harm as many Palestinians as possible. Israel can’t get to Hamas. Cannot get rid of Hamas. So what Israel is doing is killing Palestinians at random. It was systematic, but at the same time it was random because probably Israel believes that the more Palestinians they kill, the more angry Palestinians get, and then the Palestinians themselves want to get rid of Hamas.
But that does not happen, because as Palestinians we see that it’s the occupation that is causing all the pain. It’s the occupation that is causing all the, the suffering here. An end to the occupation would mean an end to all sorts of suffering and conflict in the area.
JAY: Now, of course–Refaat, of course the Israeli argument is that the rockets that are being fired at Israel are being fired from areas where civilians are living, and that’s why they’re doing this. What do you make of that argument?
ALAREER: The argument is absurd, because we’ve seen–let’s assume that sometimes some rockets are fired from civilian areas. What about the so many instances we’ve seen on camera, on picture, where civilians were targeted when no militants were around? Israel usually spreads this kind of disinformation in order to justify the crimes against civilians. As I said in the quote, Israel is financed by Israel. The budget they have for high-tech weapons can tell, can detect, differentiate between civilians and non-civilians. But Israel does not want to use it to do that.
And I’m sure you, you heard or read some of the Breaking the Silence reports. We’ve seen how the Israeli soldiers were targeting Palestinians for the fun of it. How they were just shooting at Palestinians because they wanted to shoot at Palestinians. It wasn’t something, it wasn’t like they claim, a war against Hamas. The Israeli soldiers and their testimonies prove how Israeli commanders, Israeli soldiers, have probably unwritten orders of destroying everything and targeting everybody.
And if we come to talk about the fighters, the Palestinian resistance with the modest, the modestly-armed Palestinian resistance, those fighters are defending themselves. They were defending their people, their houses. And we’ve seen how those people were courageous in battles. How when Israelis invaded the Gaza Strip they stood like real men and they fought Israeli soldiers.
You mentioned that most–probably 95 percent of Israelis killed were soldiers. And I want to tell you that they were killed inside the Gaza Strip. So they were invading the already-occupied Gaza Strip.
JAY: Laila, if you agree with this analysis then what is the Israeli objective? Because this–you know, every couple of years there’s an attack like this.
JAY: And it has the same result. Hamas emerges stronger. The popular opinion actually becomes more defensive of Hamas. In fact, a lot of people are very critical of the Hamas government. When these attacks come, it actually–that criticism becomes secondary. So what is the objective here?
EL-HADDAD: Well, first let me say that it’s–you know, Gaza is not Hamas, right, and Hamas is not Gaza. There’s a, there’s a diverse political spectrum that exists in the Gaza Strip, and I think people fail to recognize that. And before there was Hamas there was Fatah. And they were, you know, the bogeyman, the red herring that Israel used to justify its continuous incursions and attacks against Palestinians in Gaza. And then Hamas emerged, and now they’re just the latest excuse that Israel uses.
But the objective is to really in my opinion punish Palestinians for aberrating from the status quo. For not being willing participants in their own imprisonment and enslavement. And you know, in the Israeli vernacular the term that’s used is mowing the lawn in Gaza. So every few years, you kind of want to trim those unruly, defiant hedges, meaning Palestinians in Gaza who–you know, for whatever reason, should they fire a rocket. Should they protest in some other way.
And by the way, we see this daily, continuous, quiet, nonviolent resistance amongst the overwhelming majority of Palestinians in Gaza. Be it in their continuous replanting of their olive trees that have been uprooted time and again from their farms in the northern Gaza Strip with a buffer zone that Israel has enforced exists, or in their insistence on existing with dignity and with humility, and with tenacity. And putting meals with what little they have in their homes every day. We see this continuous resistance and defiance.
And yet, like I said, Israel wants to trim those hedges, to mow the lawn, to make sure to push back and punish Palestinians, and push hard and remind them that if you do this again, this will be the result. So it’s just in very simple terms collective punishment of the Palestinian population.
JAY: Refaat, what is the effect on people then, in terms of the, you could say psychological consequences of these attacks?
ALAREER: It’s devastating. In Gaza right back in the introduction I said something about people coming together, people getting close to each other, helping each other. And probably Israel saw that, how people refuse to rise against Hamas because again, while Hamas is not Gaza and Gaza is not Hamas, Hamas also is Palestinian. They live among us. They are our brothers and friends and neighbors. And we can’t simply forget the occupation and start fighting with Hamas. Probably most of us have problems with Hamas.
But again, it’s the occupation that is causing most of these problems. So psychologically it is devastating. Israel made sure to devastate and destroy all these bonds that were created in, after the first [war], 2008 and 2009, because Israel in 2014 targeted a lot more people. So many people had their houses destroyed, only because they live in an area where some Palestinian activist or Hamas member lived, because they wanted to punish people for having a particular neighbor. They wanted to punish people for living in a particular area.
I live in Shijaiyah, which was–you’ve seen the picture. It’s horrible. It’s like–the devastation is indescribable. The destruction, the damage Israeli tanks cause. When I first saw the pictures I said to myself and to my friends that these–it’s like they were playing video games.
And again, I go back to the Breaking the Silence reports. The Israeli, the Israeli soldiers said, we were playing–it was like video games. It was like fun. We wanted to target this house only because we wanted to target this house.
JAY: And your brother was killed in the attack.
ALAREER: Exactly. My brother was inside our house. He was in his own flat, in his own room. And again, he couldn’t escape Israeli–and my brother is not wanted. He is a very peaceful–he is a, he is an artist, he is an actor. I wrote about him for the [inaud.] Intifada.
And again, when those talents, when those ordinary people are targeted and the kids are targeted and the universities and the schools–we mentioned this in Gaza Unsilenced, and spoke about how Israel wanted to destroy every means of life, how that infrastructure, how the water, how the farms, how the schools and universities and mosque and every thing. It was like, this shock and awe Israel wanted to send everybody to oblivion. Israel [inaud.] to live in fear, and live in terror, and the result is, again, damaging especially on kids. My kids, I have five kids, three of whom lived through three, three major attacks. Three wars.
And it’s, it’s never been easy on them. When I took them to our house, like, six months ago after, I was like, no, I don’t want to take them. I don’t want to see the, to, to make them see the house destroyed and turned into rubble. And when I took–I had to take them there, because they were seeking closure. Every day they wanted to go back home. And then they had to come to their, the realization that Israel has turned everything they own, the best of time and the best of people into [inaud.]
And again, this damage is not being treated, is not being dealt with. Israel refuses to allow reconstruction. Just as it’s being, is being handed–is not being served–. What–the question is, what do we expect from those people, from those orphans, those kids, the people who lost loved ones? What do we, what, what does Israel expect us to do?
I’m serious, I wonder. Does Israel wait for Palestinians to go approach the, the green line and just throw roses at Israeli watchtowers and Israeli tanks? I also doubt it. If we do this, the Israeli snipers are going to shoot at us.
JAY: Laila, you lost eight family members?
JAY: In the, in the last attack.
EL-HADDAD: I did. They were actually escaping from their house after that knock on the roof strategy that Refaat had described earlier.
JAY: What is the knock on the roof?
EL-HADDAD: So it was supposedly this technique that the Israelis were using in order to demonstrate how civil they were being and how humane in their attacking of Gaza. And what it was is, it would, they would hit or fire a lower-grade missile at the household that they wanted to eventually bomb, and that would sort of serve as a warning. But the problem is, sometimes that warning would only be 10 seconds, or 15 seconds, or there would be no warning at all. Or people didn’t know what it was.
Or–or it would kill people, in the case of my, my cousins. Several of them were killed. And then as they were escaping the rest were targeted, were deliberately targeted, and they were killed on the street as they were escaping.
And you know—yeah.
JAY: Targeted with gunfire?
EL-HADDAD: With a–right. With a missile. With an Israeli helicopter gunship. And in fact, a report by Defense for Children International recently found that Israel was deliberately targeting children. It wasn’t something that people were just imagining or making up. And we heard about the Breaking the Silence reports verifying that as well.
And they are, the Israeli soldiers are given free rein in what’s known as this policy of legal ambiguity. To quote the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, where it’s kind of like don’t ask, don’t tell. Do what you need to do, do what you want to do, and we won’t question you about it. And again, it goes back to punishing the Palestinian population and this long-standing dispossession and continued occupation of the Palestinian people that extends beyond Gaza.
And in the assault, I wanted to add, that we saw it was more than just about attacking or killing as many Palestinians as possible, because obviously that, that is not what happened. It was much more deliberate and systematic attempt to target the Palestinian productive sector and incur as much psychological damage as possible. To be able–so if you notice the things that were destroyed largely were the infrastructure, the water, the sewage systems. The agricultural institutions. The universities, the schools. All to be able to send a message and say it’s not just about, you know, killing Palestinians or mowing the lawn or putting you in your place, but it’s about attacking and killing and destroying your freedoms, and the things that will allow you to sustain and live productive and fruitful lives.
JAY: So you think the objective here is make life so unbearable, unlivable, that people will eventually get, lose their support for Hamas.
EL-HADDAD: Absolutely. In fact, that was the stated goal. And I think there was a report as far back I want to say as–it may have been 2008 or ’09. And there was a, there was a piece in Haaretz, the Israeli periodical, that actually quoted an anonymous source in the Israeli military saying as much. Saying the purpose of, at that point the blockade, and then continuing after the blockade the various attacks, was to do just that. Was to push and punish the Palestinian population so much that they would eventually turn on Hamas.
JAY: Refaat, the rockets that are fired from Gaza into Israel, and–as I ask this question I’m in no way suggesting that the Palestinians don’t have a right to defend themselves with rockets. You know, personally I accept they have such a right.
But they’re so ineffective, and they actually become a rationale for the Israelis to launch these attacks. Do they need a rationale, perhaps not. Maybe they would anyway, or they’d find some other excuse. But given how ineffective the rockets are, is it a wise policy to be firing those rockets versus some kind of more mass mobilization, or something?
ALAREER: That’s actually a very important question, because Israel does not want Palestinians to protest. We see how people are ruthlessly attacked and killed in the West Bank and in Jerusalem for peacefully, nonviolently protesting for example the war, or land grab, or settlement construction, and et cetera. And also, Israel does not want to give Palestinians their rights by peaceful means. We’ve seen how the Palestinian, the PLO has been negotiating with Israel for more than 20 years.
Then we have more settlements, more human rights violations. We have more people sent to prison, more people killed. We have–we virtually have received nothing from Israel in return. And also, Israel does not want Palestinians to use BDS, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, because–again, which is a very nonviolent, very comprehensive, very important pro-Palestinian movement to oblige Israel to give Palestinians equal rights and end the occupations, and basically treat Palestinians as humans. And at the same time, Israel does not want Palestinians to use armed struggle, which is guaranteed by international [law].
So again, what does Israel want Palestinians to do? Seriously again, I’m asking a question, what does Israel want Palestinians to do? And believe me, people who were staying at home, people who were doing virtually nothing, were also targeted and killed. So if you do–damned if you do and damned if you don’t do.
So as Palestinians we refuse to succumb. We refuse to kneel to barbaric occupation, to a colonial power. That’s a very important thing. And we have the right to defend ourselves. We have the right to resist by every effective means available. We have the right to do this. Because it’s natural for, for even animals to, to resist people who invade and people who attack them, people who violate their rights.
So going back to those rockets. In the First Intifada, and I remember quite clearly because it was one of the little boys throwing stones at the armored Israeli jeeps, and the Israeli soldiers would chase Palestinian kids and smash their bones, and send them to prison and find their families. And it was very, very brutal. And because of this brutality, because of this occupation and brutality, Palestinians evolved. They were seeking means in order to try to raise their voice against the occupation and at the same time try to avoid being, being harmed as much as possible. And that’s why so many things were created.
People started using slings, Molotov cocktail. And then later on when Israel in the First Intifada, 2000 and 2001 when Israel again grew even fiercer and fiercer, Palestinians had to resort to weapons. So this came–I’m speaking about the past 15 or 20 years. The Palestinians had to evolve, had to develop.
So in my–in my, my thinking it was due to Israeli brutality that Palestinians sought other means to harm the occupation. And that, the rocket, they could be–in my opinion they could be very important as a means of protest. We understand as Palestinians they’re not going to harm Israel as much as Israeli rockets harm us. But again, if we stop the rockets, if we stop, for example, a popular resistance. If we stop BDS. Israel is still not going to be happy because Israel wants us kneeling, on our knees. Israel wants us to just be occupied, be humiliated, be killed and just say nothing.
So whatever means we use, and whatever method we use to defend ourselves, the occupier is not going to be happy about it.
JAY: Laila, one of those means is this international campaign to boycott and divest, and sanctions. In the United States, in terms of mainstream politics, the Democratic party, Republican party, and the vast majority of all those people elected under those banners all oppose this campaign.
EL-HADDAD: Yeah. Which sort of speaks to Refaat’s point about there is no acceptable means of resistance, at least in the eyes of the mainstream when it comes to Palestinians.
JAY: So what’s–but there is some success in terms of that campaign in the United States right now.
EL-HADDAD: Absolutely. I mean, it’s had the most success in the UK and in Europe. And I think a lot of American circles are following their lead now, in terms of using BDS as a tool to be able to hold Israel accountable when governments fail to do so.
And we were just involved here in Maryland in a date boycott campaign. So the majority of dates that are imported here to the United States are actually Israeli settlement dates. And they’re frequently under the labels of Jordan River, Jordan Valley, or King Solomon. Sort of very, you know, Oriental-sounding or ambiguous names that could be easily confused for something coming from Jordan or from whatever.
And so–in Ramadan, which, the month of fasting which Muslims observe, which we are coincidentally in right now. Many Muslims purchase these dates unknowingly. And so AMP, American Muslims for Palestine, and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation were leading a nationwide Israeli date boycott that had proven I think quite successful. It’s just starting off. But that’s just one example.
But there’s a lot of, you know, local examples as well. I think the top boycottable companies, when it comes to the consumer aspect of the boycott. Of course, you have the academic aspect as well, and then you have a cultural dimension, and then you have the divestment and sanctions. But from the consumer aspect you had Hewlett-Packard, Motorola and Caterpillar are amongst the top three of the boycottable companies. And many successes in terms of the, I think it’s the Presbyterians and the Quakers had decided to divest from several of those companies. And there’s another vote coming up, as well.
So certainly you’re seeing a lot of, you know, small but steady stream of successes. And I think the best indication of those successes, that it’s actually working, is as you’ve mentioned that a lot of the mainstream political parties are afraid, they’re now trying to pass bills and so forth making it illegal or whatever. And that Israel itself and Israeli leaders continuously mention BDS. And there’s actually a law in the Knesset, the Israeli Knesset, that makes it illegal or punishable by law in terms of penalty for Israeli NGOs to be associated with groups that engage in BDS.
JAY: Good. Refaat, thanks very much for joining us from Gaza.
ALAREER: Thank you, Paul. Thanks for having us.
JAY: And thank you, Laila.
EL-HADDAD: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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