Amnesty International’s Deborah Hyams talks about being blocked from carrying out an independent investigation of the most recent assault on Gaza, and author Vijay Prashad discusses the latest developments in the Palestinian liberation struggle
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
At the time of this broadcast, the truce between Hamas and Israel has almost expired. It’s currently unclear if it will be extended or if fighting will resume. Both sides are reportedly sticking to their demands.
In related news, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported that since July 7, Israel has used a number of, quote, “bureaucratic excuses to prevent the human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch from entering the Gaza Strip. Both organizations are seeking to investigate competing claims of who was responsible for civilian deaths in the month-long conflict that’s taken the lives of over 2,000 Palestinians and more than 60 Israelis.
I reached Deborah Hyams, a researcher with Amnesty International from London, one of the teams who was prevented from entering Gaza.
DEBORAH HYAMS, RESEARCHER, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Well, we’re very upset that we haven’t been able to get access to the Gaza Strip so far. We’re still urgently seeking that access from the Israeli authorities. We continue to press them and continue to hopefully resolve these issues as soon as possible. We have also various governments which have been raising the issue on our behalf.
I would say that in fact one of the hardest things to verify without being on the ground is verifying how–you know, there are certain strikes or certain attacks where it’s disputed whether there were people killed, and it is a minority of the deaths in Gaza that we’re talking about here, but it’s an important category, an important subset, where Israel claims that they were killed by, essentially, local rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups, and Palestinians are claiming that they were killed by Israeli strikes, Israeli munitions. And those types of cases that are disputed are the ones where it’s really essential for independent experts to be on the ground. And there’s no substitute for that. So for that and many other reasons I would think that it’s in the interests of all parties to facilitate the urgent entrance of our investigators and researchers and munitions experts.
NOOR: We’re now joined by Vijay Prashad. He’s joining us from Northampton, Massachusetts. His most recent book is The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South.
Thank you so much for joining us, Vijay.
So, Vijay, the ceasefire is going to expire any moment now at the time of this recording. Israel says it’s committed to disarming Hamas. Hamas says it wants the blockade of Gaza lifted. Is there any end in sight to this ongoing cycle of violence?
PRASHAD: Well, look, they are very far apart in terms of what they need from a general ceasefire negotiation.
Israel’s demand is very hard to actually verify. You know, what do they mean by Hamas has to demilitarize? It’s very difficult to verify the complete demilitarization of a guerrilla force. So it’s going to be hard for Israel to take satisfaction from the negotiation.
On the other side, Hamas has asked for–in fact, the entire Palestinian community and the United Nations have asked for the blockade to be ended, and Israel is reticent to end the blockade, because it argues that ending the blockade is tantamount to allowing Hamas to militarize.
In other words, the core demands from each side are contradictory. Israel’s demand of demilitarizing Hamas means retaining the blockade. And the number-one point on the Palestinian and UN side is to ask for the blockade to be ended. So I don’t see–without very strong international pressure on Israel, I don’t see any way for a genuine ceasefire to take hold.
NOOR: And before the interview, we were talking about a demand from the Palestinian Authority to put the Gaza Strip and Palestine, I guess, under international protection. Can you tell us a little bit about this? ‘Cause I’m sure most of our viewers have not heard about it.
PRASHAD: This is very interesting. On July 13, the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mr.. Mahmoud Abbas, wrote a letter to Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, asking them–and the exact phrase is “place Palestine under an international protection system administered by the UN”. Place Palestine under international protection. I mean, I called the UN secretary-general’s office, I reached out to Mr. Serry, who’s the envoy for the United Nations for Israel and Palestine, I reached out to the Department of Political Affairs at the United Nations, and each of them has said that, yes, on July 13 this letter was sent, yes, they are studying the implications of this letter, and they don’t quite know what it means.
What it means to me is that the Palestinian leadership is essentially at a dead end. It has very few options on the world stage to deal with what has is happening to Palestine vis-à-vis the Israeli occupation. And having run out of options, run out of the ability to trust the so-called quartet and the honest brokers, it has now moved to the United Nations asking for international protection. This is really such a new demand, it is in fact so unusual that the lawyers at the UN are studying the demand to understand what are the implications if the United Nations indeed takes over international protection of the Palestinians. This is different from the 2005 obligation of member states to responsibility to protect any member state or civilian who is under threat of life. You know, this is not a so-called R2P request. This is a request that the United Nations as a body give international protection to Palestine. To my mind, this is unprecedented, and it really demonstrates the desperation of the Palestinian leadership.
NOOR: And, finally, it’s worth bringing up again, but what role does America and U.S. citizens play or could they play in bringing about a just solution to this conflict?
PRASHAD: You know, this is a very important question, Jaisal. It’s true that in Oakland, American citizens went and stopped or slowed down the passage of an Israeli ship. It’s true that there is a vibrant and lively BDS (boycott, divest, and sanctions) campaign. These things are true.
What’s not true is that the level of outrage about the human rights violations hasn’t seeped into the public, and therefore has made very little impact on the political class. I mean, consider we began this with somebody from Amnesty saying that their team was not permitted to go and investigate what’s happening on the ground. I spoke to a senior UN official in Gaza who told me that the evidence of war crimes is being erased daily. In other words, if investigators are not on the ground, the facts on the ground will not demonstrate the war crimes that the UN officials know were committed. There is a reason that the UN Human Rights Council decided to have a vote and to set up a commission of inquiry. Unless that commission of inquiry begins to do its work now, by the time it gets into Gaza, evidence of war crimes will not be so clear, because, after all, this is a congested area and people don’t want to live around just rubble and broken-down buildings. They’re going to start fashioning livable spaces. And as they do that, the actual evidence of the atrocity is going to be erased. So it’s essential that people in the United States, whatever their opinion about Israel or Palestine, speak out in favor of an investigation of how this war has been conducted, allow human rights investigators to enter, allow the UN panel to enter.
In 2009, when the UN impaneled the Goldstone Commission, Israel refused to cooperate with that UN body. The Goldstone Commission had to do its investigation with Israelis by telephone. That kind of scandal should not be allowed to be replicated now. Israel is a member state of the UN. It should respect the mandate of UN bodies.
NOOR: Vijay Prashad, thank you so much for joining us.
PRASHAD: Thank you.
NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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