Al Jazeera’s Marwan Bishara on IDF Killing AJ Journalist, the 3 Hostages & U.S. Support for Israel
Written by GRB on 19/12/2023
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
Israel is intensifying its attacks across Gaza as pressure grows on Israel to support another ceasefire. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports the head of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, has met with the prime minister of Qatar and CIA chief William Burns in Poland. Talks between the Mossad and Qatar also took place this weekend in Norway. Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has arrived in Tel Aviv for talks.
This comes as Israel continues to carry out attacks across Gaza, targeting hospitals, schools and refugee camps. Authorities in Gaza say an Israeli attack on the Jabaliya refugee camp killed 110 people on Saturday. Israel has also raided the Kamal Adwan Hospital, where doctors say Israeli bulldozers crushed Palestinians to death, including wounded patients who were living in tents in the hospital’s courtyard. Israel has also attacked Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis.
The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing growing calls to secure the release of the remaining Israeli hostages in Gaza, after Israeli forces mistakenly shot dead three Israeli hostages who managed to escape captivity in northern Gaza. The three men, who were all shirtless, were shot as they cried for help in Hebrew while holding up a white flag.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to attack Palestinian journalists. On Friday, Al Jazeera journalist Samer Abudaqa was killed after an Israeli drone struck a U.N. school in Khan Younis where displaced Palestinians were being sheltered. In a statement, Al Jazeera said, quote, “Following Samer’s injury, he was left to bleed to death for over five hours, as Israeli forces prevented ambulances and rescue workers from reaching him, denying the much-needed emergency treatment,” unquote. This is Ibrahim Qanan, a reporter for Al-Ghad in Gaza.
IBRAHIM QANAN: [translated] This is a horrific crime, a direct target. The first missile hit Samer, and he tried to crawl for 200 meters, but the Israeli warplanes hit him again and directly, so he became a martyr, and his body was cut into pieces. This is a crime, day and night, against journalists and against the media outlets who are working to reveal the Israeli occupation crimes in Gaza Strip.
AMY GOODMAN: Al Jazeera says it will ask the International Criminal Court to investigate the killing of Samer Abudaqqa. He was working with his colleague Wael Dahdouh, the head of Al Jazeera in Gaza, who was injured in the same drone strike. They were reporting from the school together. Wael was able to walk to a hospital, dazed, to receive medical attention. He already had lost his wife, son, daughter and grandson in an earlier Israeli attack.
We begin today’s show with Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, longtime Palestinian journalist and author. His books include Palestine/Israel: Peace or Apartheid: Prospects for Resolving the Conflict. He’s joining us from the studios of Al Jazeera in Doha.
We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Marwan. We welcome you back. If you can start off, since you’re there at Al Jazeera, by talking about the International Criminal Court complaint that Al Jazeera has filed after the death of a beloved cameraman who’s worked with so many Al Jazeera journalists there, was working with the head of Al Jazeera in Gaza at the time, with Wael Dahdouh? Talk about what happened to him and just what it’s like to walk the halls of Al Jazeera right now, as I watched Al Jazeera over the weekend, every hour the tributes to him, the video, the photos of him, his colleagues remembering him, his family crying out for him.
MARWAN BISHARA: Well, as you know, this is not the first time we go through this. We’ve gone through it a number of times already, mourning our colleagues, the death of our colleagues and the death of their families. They are our family, and their families are also our extended family. And that’s just been going on for too long. We’ve covered too many wars. I personally have been in since the First Gaza Wqar back in 2008, 2009. We’ve gone through four wars like that. And only a couple years ago, one of our colleagues, as you know, Shireen Abu Akleh, was killed in the Jenin refugee camp. So this is all too close to home.
I mean, you know, every day we live the tragedy of the death of several hundreds in Gaza the past 10 weeks. But when it comes to our very own, I guess it’s human nature, right? You just can’t ignore it, can’t go on without being preoccupied with it and preoccupied with the feelings of those loved ones, that continue to endure the bombings, the inhumane bombings that we’re seeing in Gaza and the rest of Palestine. So it’s a somber atmosphere, but people here just, I guess, plow ahead — there’s no other option — as countless people die and countless families suffer without shelter, without medical treatment, even without food. It’s just the tragedy that we just have to live through every day and report on every day.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about that issue of food. You have this new Human Rights Watch report that’s out that’s accusing Israel of using starvation as a weapon of war, saying, “Israeli forces are deliberately blocking the delivery of water, food, and fuel, while willfully impeding humanitarian assistance, apparently razing agricultural areas, and depriving the civilian population of objects indispensable to their survival.” This is Carl Skau, the deputy executive director of the U.N. World Food Programme, speaking to reporters last week in New York after a recent visit to Gaza.
CARL SKAU: What we found there was that half of the population are starving. The grim reality is also that nine out of 10 people are not eating enough, are not eating every day, and don’t know where the next meal is going to come from. … We are ready to deliver to another million people within a couple of weeks, should the conditions allow. And let me reiterate that caveat, that should those conditions allow, which would be opening of more crossings and a humanitarian ceasefire to be able to reach people across the strip.
AMY GOODMAN: The deputy executive director of the U.N. World Food Programme. He says nine out of 10 people are not eating enough in Gaza. I mean, in the past, with all of Gaza’s problems, hunger was not one of them. Can you talk about the significance of this, and also this latest news? I mean, even as we’re broadcasting, these attacks on one hospital after another. I mean, Abudaqa and Wael Dahdouh were covering the strike on the U.N. school in Khan Younis when Abudaqa was killed.
MARWAN BISHARA: Yes, absolutely. Just as a reminder to your viewers, there was also a report by Oxfam on October 23rd — that’s also just two weeks after the war started in Gaza, or on Gaza — where it also spoke about the weaponization of hunger, because this has actually been going on since day one, since October 8, when defense minister — so-called defense minister, minister of war, Yoav Gallant, if you remember, made his infamous threat by saying, “We’re going to cut their food, their fuel, their electricity,” basically denying the Palestinians of every basic need. It’s part of the collective punishment that Israel decided from day one to impose on the Palestinians, which of course is a war crime.
But that’s been the nature of the war, because right after he said that he’s going to deny the Palestinians in Gaza all of this, he said they are “human animals.” This was basically an intent for genocide, because right after he did make those infamous declarations, the president of Israel, Mr. Herzog, also came out with his statements about the fact, to his view, there are no innocents in Gaza. No innocents in Gaza. And that was followed by the prime minister, Netanyahu, who said something about an analogy with some biblical times, comparing the Palestinians to the Amalek, and hence basically saying that Israel will go after their families, their parents, the children, even the infants and their families. So we have the three leading Israeli officials basically admitting in public, once and again, [inaudible] collective punishment against Palestinians in general in Gaza.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Marwan, if you can talk about what’s happening, the increasing isolation of Israel, and the United States supporting Israel? You have yet another vote today in the U.N. Security Council around a ceasefire. You have the British and German foreign ministers calling for a ceasefire, further isolating the U.S., which blocked a ceasefire at the U.N. Security Council. Lloyd Austin is in Tel Aviv meeting with the Israeli leadership. If you can shed light on — you know, Netanyahu, after the killing of the three Israeli hostages, held a news conference. He is under enormous pressure right now to put the hostages at the top. You’ve got negotiations going on, apparently, in Norway between the Qatari and Mossad officials, and now William Burns, head of central intelligence, is in Poland to meet with the Qatari officials. Talk about all that’s happening right now, Netanyahu not wanting to end this war right now. And there is a question about, since he’s facing one criminal trial after another himself, whether, once this ends and there’s a real evaluation done, he could end up in jail himself, so putting that off.
MARWAN BISHARA: Well, OK, so let’s try quickly to dissect all of these very complicated issues. Let me just start by a quick — not going to call it “correction,” but just, you know, shed a light on the German, British position. They have not called for an immediate ceasefire. They called for a sustained ceasefire, which is the opposite of an immediate ceasefire, because, basically, they said it’s not anything that we think of that will happen anytime in the near future, when they mention “sustained,” which means the circumstances have to be suitable, which is basically very close to the American position. Unfortunately, the European clients of the United States, for the time being, remain so, clients of the United States, following in the footsteps of the United States, basically to the displeasure of the majority of their public opinion, also like that of the public opinion of the United States, apparently.
But clearly the Biden administration wants to beautify the genocide in Gaza. I think they’re being embarrassed, because the reports coming out of Gaza, the images, the suffering and all of that, is reaching American public and the Western public in general. And they need to, you know, give the impression that they’re doing something, hence they’re sending these envoys to the region and writing articles and so on and so forth, to at least prove that they are trying to do something, while, in fact, in reality, the United States continue to subsidize this war, manage this war, because we see Lloyd Austin sitting along with Yoav and the rest of the Israeli generals. And they also, of course, as we know, sent the two aircraft carriers and the nuclear submarines to the area, hence shielding Israel, not just militarily, but also at the United Nations, committing $14 billion to Israel’s war effort. So, all in all, the United States continue to unconditionally support Israel, while claiming to distance itself from the intensive phase of the war, claiming that they want to phase out to something different. Right? So, that’s what we have for the time being.
But the fact of the matter is that, until today, 10 weeks later, the United States has yet to condemn Israel in public, its war crimes in Gaza, yet to distance themselves from those war crimes that have been reported once and again that are taking place in Gaza. All what they’re saying is that Israel should try to minimize, because too many Palestinians have died over the past 10 weeks. And now when they talk about the phaseout — and here, this is a very, very interesting fact that we see — they’re saying Israel should perhaps target Hamas fighters, Hamas tunnels, and assassinate their leaders. That’s what they’re saying. So, it begs the question: If this is the way to fight Hamas, why did they go on and destroy Gaza, leading to tens of thousands of casualties the past 10 weeks? There is clearly another way to fight this war, which is going after Hamas, not going after Gazans. But from the beginning, Amy — and this is, again, very important to underline — is the fact that Gaza has been the target of this war, not Hamas. And if you look at the statistics, Gazans — the journalists, the doctors, the nurses, the teachers, the academics, the children — have been the main victims of this war. Hamas fighters, Hamas militants have been the collateral damage in this war. For the past 10 weeks, it was Gaza that’s being decimated, its civil infrastructure being decimated. It’s been a war on hospitals, on schools, on mosques and, yes, a war on children. And yet it was unconditionally supported by the United States and other Western powers. And we haven’t heard a single retraction for that support. And it’s still being shielded at the United Nations. Hundred and fifty-three members called for an immediate ceasefire, and what did the United States do? Voted against it. Thirty members of the U.N. Security Council voted for an immediate ceasefire. Britain abstained. The United States vetoed the resolution. The United States and Britain, until today, they sit isolated in the international community.
So, when President Biden tells a small group of people in Washington that Israel is perhaps losing the public support, what public support? What international public support? A majority in America, to my knowledge, ask for a ceasefire. A majority of the [inaudible] out are the Biden administration and his lackeys in London and Berlin. The rest of the international community, including the absolute majority of everyone in this region, wants a ceasefire.
And just quickly to cap that, we just interviewed a number of people in Gaza, in the streets in Gaza, asked them, “What do you think about Lloyd Austin coming to the area?” They said something to the fact, “Oh my god, this means we’re going to be bombed again and again the next few days,” because think about that. Since Biden landed in the middle of October, every time an American official showed up in Israel, Israel had intensified the bombings. After Biden came, the land invasion started. And every visit by Blinken or Sullivan or Lloyd Austin, we have seen an intensification of the bombings of the civilian infrastructure of Gaza, of the residential buildings in Gaza. That’s been the case. That’s been the reality. There’s no other interpretations of it.
So, the diagram, the process, if you will, shows unconditional American support, despite the various acrobatic verbal diarrhea that comes out of Western capital about, “Well, we’re not very happy about too many Palestinians dying.” Well, how many is enough exactly for them to stop Israel from continuing? Because Israel couldn’t launch this war, couldn’t sustain this war, couldn’t survive in the region like this without American support. In fact, Prime Minister Netanyahu says that “We will win this war with the support of the United States.” So, imagine: A country that calls itself the most important power in the Middle East is incapable of defeating a small guerrilla group that’s been under siege for the past 17 years, and it requires the deployment of aircraft carriers and the financial and military power of the world’s superpower. And yet, until today, it still insists it’s not even done with half of the job, because despite the tens of thousands of casualties, despite the death of more than 7,000 children, only a fraction — a fraction — of Hamas fighters have been killed in this war. It all goes to tell you that the endgame and the military objectives, none of them have been reached, despite the genocide that continues to unravel in Palestine.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Netanyahu holds this news conference on Saturday after the killing of the three Israeli hostages in Gaza, and he says, “We have to intensify the war to make Hamas release the hostages.” What is your response to this? Clearly at odds with even Israeli public opinion. And the idea that these three men, who were killed by Israeli forces, Netanyahu saying that his own forces violated the rules of war, was this any different or any surprise than the thousands — the way thousands of Palestinians have been treated, many also holding up a white flag? The surprise here is that these hostages were not treated differently than Palestinians.
MARWAN BISHARA: Absolutely, shirtless, white flag and shouting in Hebrew, and yet they were murdered by their own, which tells you, according now to a good number of Israelis speaking out, that there are no rules of engagements. It’s crap. It’s humbug. There are no rules of engagement in Gaza. You shoot whatever moves in Gaza. And, yes, it’s odd, because the Israelis have been doing exactly that since day one.
Now, as you said, it’s also odd, his arguments about the captives, because this is the most ridiculous arguments of all arguments. We’ve known from the beginning that they said the aim of the war is first to defeat Hamas, second to release the captives. And they kind of connected both by saying, “If we intensify the war, Hamas will be pressured to release the captives.” It never did. So they had to resort to diplomacy, asking the Qataris, the Egyptians and the Americans to help. And they did. And through diplomacy, they were able to release some of the hostages. And then they went back to war the day after. Now they want to try it again.
Well, the news is that Hamas will no longer accept humanitarian pauses. Hamas now insists on permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from Gaza. Otherwise, what incentive does Hamas have in order to release any more of the, especially military, captives that it has in Gaza? Because if the Israelis, with the support of the United States, are going to continue the bombings the next day, and they insist that the war objective is to kill Hamas fighters, there is zero incentives why they would release anyone.
So, today, we are in the Netanyahu logic. And the Netanyahu logic is neither in the interests of Israel or the United States. And Biden knows that. Apparently, he got a file from Israel, through his intelligence agencies, that says something to the fact, according to Haaretz, the Israeli mainstream paper, that Netanyahu has a vested — has a personal vested interest in prolonging the war, because he, you know, as a political-criminal-indicted-on-corruption-charges-cum-war-criminal, he has a vested interest to prolong the war as much as he can in order to improve his chances for reelection. In fact, he just put in the military fatigue and started making his populist slogans, the ones that we know them, saying that only he can prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state, that only he can stand up to the United States, and hence the Israelis need to elect him again. So, Netanyahu, as a person, the military establishment, as well, have vested interest to continue with this war.
AMY GOODMAN: Marwan Bishara, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, speaking to us from Doha, Qatar, born in Nazareth, in the occupied West Bank. Thanks so much for being with us.
Coming up, Nina Lakhani, the senior climate justice reporter of The Guardian. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “March of Ash Wednesday” by Carlos Lyra, who just passed away. The Brazilian musician died at the age of 90.