“Gaza Is Running Out of Life”: Human Rights Watch Sounds Alarm on Israel’s Collective Punishment
Written by GRB on 17/10/2023
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Gaza, where the death from Israel’s 10-day bombardment has topped 2,750. The dead include over a thousand Palestinian children. Over 50 Palestinians have also been killed in the occupied West Bank. Over 1 million residents of Gaza have been displaced, including many who fled their homes after Israel ordered the entire northern Gaza Strip to be vacated. More than a thousand people are believed to be trapped under rubble following Israeli airstrikes.
And the humanitarian catastrophe is growing as hospitals are running out of electricity and water due to the Israeli siege. Water has already run out at U.N. shelters across the Gaza Strip. This is Dr. Mohammed Abu Mughaiseeb, deputy medical coordinator in Gaza for Doctors Without Borders.
DR. MOHAMMED ABU MUGHAISEEB: The situation is very difficult. I mean, today we were for two hours searching for drinkable water. Even drinkable water is not available anymore. It’s very difficult. Food, still there is food. No electricity, no pumping of normal water, as well. The hospitals are barely working. I mean, there’s a lot of medical staff who left the hospital with their families because you cannot — I mean, they are not safe, so they need to stay with their families to evacuate, as well. Medication is really decreasing in the private pharmacies, as well. So, I mean, it’s very dangerous. I mean, they are bombing all the day, so, I mean, there is no humanitarian corridor. Today I am in contact with some hospitals, mainly Shifa. Burn unit, there is only one surgeon, one anesthesiologist, no nurses at all in the hospital, in this burn unit especially. They have a lot of shortage or — I mean, we don’t know what will be tomorrow and where we are going.
AMY GOODMAN: Oxfam’s Omar Ghrieb recorded this audio message from Gaza after fleeing the northern Gaza Strip after Israel ordered the area fully evacuated. He described the mass exodus as “Nakba 2.0.”
OMAR GHRIEB: Perhaps yesterday was one of the worst days of my life. We spent years hearing from our grandparents about Nakba and what that was and how they felt. And I think yesterday we had the chance to actually see it with our own eyes when we were all pushed into mass expulsion, to go from north and center Gaza into southern Gaza. And it was really horrible. People spent over 14 hours in an influx of a sea made of people, just walking with their belongings, holding children, holding sick people, holding people with disability, just walking and walking and walking under the sun, begging any passing car to take them, but most cars were full to the brim. It was Nakba 2.0 happening right in front of our eyes, and we are actually a part of it.
I don’t know how and when we reached the south, but people kept coming. The streets were frantically busy. And I saw so many people just taking the streets, like putting their children and their belongings in the street and just sitting there, because most really left aimlessly with nowhere to go and no one to seek refuge to. And on top of that, they talked about a safe humanitarian route, and then they bombed two trucks filled with people. Tens were dead. I saw the bombing place. I don’t know what’s going to happen next.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Oxfam’s Omar Ghrieb speaking from Gaza. Many Palestinians say there’s no place for them to go. This is Um Muhammad Al-Laham, a grandmother, speaking from a hospital in Khan Younis next to her 4-year-old granddaughter, who was the only member of her family to survive after Israel bombed their home.
UM MUHAMMAD AL-LAHAM: [translated] They were sitting inside the house. My sons and his sons and one of their mothers-in-law were at his house. Suddenly, without warning, they bombed the house. Fourteen people were killed. Only this girl, my granddaughter Fulla, survived. I hope she’ll get better and stay safe and heal. May their souls rest in peace. God is the one who gives patience to people. … May God keep me alive to take care of her, and she will be a good person. She is the only person alive from her father’s family, who is martyred, also her brother, sister, mother, grandmother from her mother’s side, her uncles — all of them, 14 people all at once.
AMY GOODMAN: In Israel, family members who have loved ones kidnapped by Hamas held protests over the weekend demanding their safe return. Israel now believes Hamas is holding 199 hostages, a figure that’s higher than previous estimates. This is Avichai Brodetz, a farmer from kibbutz Kfar Aza. His wife and three children were taken captive in Gaza — to Gaza.
AVICHAI BRODETZ: And my kids are over there, along with my wife, I hope in good health. And I want them to come back home in good health. And I came here. This is where decisions are being made in Israel. If I could go to the center of Gaza and do the same thing, I would. And I wish I could go there some day. … We have to stop. I think we got this right now as a sign from God just to stop the bloodshed. And I ask Hamas, which is holding my family — I hope, again, in good health — please stop, and the Israeli government to please stop and just bring the women and children back.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch. He’s joining us from Chicago.
Omar, tell us the latest — it’s so difficult to make contact with people in Gaza right now — what you understand is happening, Israel demanding that the entire population of northern Gaza, which is the main population center, including Gaza City, must move south of Khan Younis, then, though, that we heard that they were bombing Khan Younis. Talk about the situation now.
OMAR SHAKIR: We’re witnessing a situation that’s simply not fathomable for any of us on the outside. We’re talking about a population that has now for days been without electricity, that has been without water, that has been without — for large parts of it, without internet, that’s been without food, that’s been without aid. Hundreds of thousands have left northern Gaza. You know, if they’re lucky, they’ve been able to get to relatives and family homes south of Wadi Gaza, as many do not have that privilege and, you know, are making temporary accommodations. They’re under constant bombardment. We’ve seen some of the more intense bombing of Gaza take place over the last 24 to 48 hours. There have been reports of people killed as they were taking a safe route out of Gaza. The hospitals are operating on generators, which are running out of fuel. People are now resorting to water that’s unfit for human consumption. There are people that have not been able to leave northern Gaza, because you have there Gaza’s main hospital. You have people with disabilities. You have older people. And they’re terrified of what might come ahead. You have Israeli officials who are signaling their intent to commit large-scale atrocities.
So we really have a terrifying situation where people in Gaza are saying their goodbyes to the world. They’re not sure, you know, whether or not they’ll make it to the evening, to tomorrow morning. The humanitarian situation, despite reports, people are not being allowed — have not been allowed to leave via Rafah as of the time we’re speaking. Aid is still not getting in. Electricity is still not getting in. There’s no confirmed reports of even water having come back in. So it’s a really desperate situation.
AMY GOODMAN: Heard that the Secretary of State Antony Blinken had pushed them to turn the water back on, but because the electricity isn’t on, it couldn’t be pumped.
OMAR SHAKIR: Exactly. I mean, in order for water to be provided, you obviously need the electricity to allow the water to be pumped. You also need — you know, the ability for the desalinizational plant to operate, you need electricity. Water infrastructure has been damaged in the airstrikes. And again, the water was only being provided to a certain part of southern Gaza, which is clearly part of the Israeli government’s strategy of trying to empty northern Gaza of its population. There are obviously many other areas in Gaza. So, right now people have no choice but to turn to water which is unfit for human consumption and which carries the risk, for those who drink it, of waterborne illnesses. So, amid everything else, not having water — as the U.N. has said, water is life. And Gaza is running out of life.
AMY GOODMAN: Omar Shakir, in a long Twitter thread you posted on Saturday, you warned Israeli authorities are signaling their intent to commit mass atrocities. You cite a number of Israeli officials making statements suggesting precisely that. Can you document what you’re saying and what they’ve been saying?
OMAR SHAKIR: Absolutely. I mean, we have seen rhetoric from the Israeli government that signals that they hold the entire 2.2 million people of Gaza responsible for the heinous attacks that took place on October 7th. You have the president of Israel, Isaac Herzog, who has said very clearly that the entire nation of Gaza is responsible. He notes that the people there could have risen up to topple the Hamas government. You have statements from Israel’s energy minister, who was responsible for cutting the water, the fuel, the electricity, who has similarly talked about, you know, cutting off the last drop of water and the last battery until they’re defeated. Again, he’s referring — it’s a statement that refers both to Hamas authorities but also to evacuating the entire population. You have statements, of course, from Israel’s defense minister, that’s gotten much attention, about fighting “human animals,” declaring an entire siege on Gaza. You have Israel’s U.N. ambassador that was on CNN a couple of days ago and spoke about how, you know, “Let’s remember that Hamas — you know, that the population of Gaza elected Hamas.” Of course, he neglects to mention that nearly half of Gaza’s population are children who weren’t even alive to vote at the last time there were elections.
All these statements should worry the international community, because they’re not happening in a vacuum. They’re happening as the Israeli government reduces entire neighborhoods and blocks to rubble, as hundreds of children and civilians have been killed in relentless bombardments, 6,000 bombs dropped in a 25-by-7-mile area, I mean, an open-air prison. So these statements aren’t happening in a vacuum. They’re happening amid the most intense bombardment of Gaza we’ve maybe ever seen, in a situation where more than a million people, according to reports, have been displaced from their homes. So, the international community must act to stop this. There is a moment that we can try and stop this, and we must do so before it’s too late.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to play for our audience Israeli President Isaac Herzog claiming no one is innocent in the Gaza Strip, including civilians.
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG: We are working, operating militarily, according to rules of international law, period, unequivocally. It’s an entire nation out there that is responsible. It’s not true, this rhetoric about civilians were not aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up. They could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup d’état. But we are at war. We are at war. We are at war with the other. We are defending our homes. We are protecting our homes. That’s the truth. And then, when a nation protects its home, it fights. And we will fight until we break their backbone.
AMY GOODMAN: “We will fight until we break their backbone.” I want to turn to your post on Saturday, where you wrote, “History teaches us that, when there are clear calls to commit large-scale atrocities by a party capable of doing so & actions taken consistent with those words, they need to be taken seriously & stopped. That’s where we are today in Israel & Palestine. A descent into darkness.” Omar Shakir, if you can take it from there?
OMAR SHAKIR: Yeah, I mean, Present Herzog talked about breaking their back. They have broken the back of the people of Gaza in a way that’s simply unprecedented. The statement that the Israeli government is complying with international law is pure fiction. I mean, we know they’ve cut vital necessities, as we’ve discussed, to the entire civilian population. They have sealed the crossings. We know that they have bombed in a way that, again, has reduced — as has been proudly boasted by the Israeli Air Force on Twitter, of reducing entire neighborhoods and blocks to rubble.
You know, we really need to take note of these statements, because the Israeli government — and again, what’s striking here is that it’s not meeting the sort of pushback that one would expect in a situation like this. I mean, it took days for Europe and the United States even to reiterate basic platitudes about the need to comply with international humanitarian law. You’re not seeing sufficient effort taken to warn of the risks to Gaza’s population. It is a situation that, as we speak, is deteriorating, and not enough is being done to stop it.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about white phosphorus. You tweeted — Human Rights Watch tweeted October 12th, “Israel has used white phosphorus in military operations in Gaza and Lebanon, putting civilians at risk of serious and long-term injuries. White phosphorus causes excruciating burns and can set homes afire. Its use in populated areas is unlawful.” Israel has denied this. What proof do you have of this, Omar Shakir?
OMAR SHAKIR: I mean, Israel also denied it in 2009, when Human Rights Watch documented it, and that turned out to be false, as was disproven by numerous other voices. Human Rights Watch verified this evidence. It’s confirmed. We were able to take video footage that took place both in Lebanon and Gaza, verified that it was recorded when it was taken. We ran these by weapons and munitions experts, who confirmed that it was — you know, that what was shown was white phosphorus. And then we interviewed people who live in the communities where the white phosphorus was dropped in Gaza, near the port area, and their description of what it looked like and smelled like was consistent with the use of white phosphorus.
Amnesty International followed up with their own reporting, where they were able to verify additional areas in which white phosphorus was used. They were able to look at footage that was provided by the Israeli government of some of the weapon systems being used in Gaza, again being able to source that it was white phosphorus that was being carried by those planes.
And, of course, we’re talking about a weapon that is, when dropped in civilian areas, unlawful, because it can burn homes and other structures. It can cause lifelong suffering for the communities that live there. The fact that the Israeli government is using it — and let’s note that they have — even when not used as a weapon, even when white phosphorus is used for signaling or obscuring the army, it can cause harm to civilians. And the Israel army has readily available alternatives that have much of the same effect in terms of signaling or obscuring, without the harm it causes to civilian populations. Its use is [inaudible] —
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Omar Shakir, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, also authored the landmark 2021 Human Rights Watch report titled “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution.”
Coming up, Israeli historian, Holocaust scholar Raz Segal. He says Israel’s assault on Gaza is “a textbook case of genocide.” Back in 30 seconds.