Jeremy Scahill: Gaza “Scorched-Earth Campaign” Is a “Joint U.S.-Israeli Operation”
Written by GRB on 14/12/2023
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.
The United States is becoming increasingly isolated as it continues to oppose calls for a Gaza ceasefire while sending more munitions to Israel. On Tuesday, the United States was one of just 10 nations to vote against a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for a ceasefire. That vote came four days after the U.S. vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution for a ceasefire. This comes as the Biden administration has bypassed Congress to approve the sale of 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition to Israel, the sale valued at more than $106 million.
We’re joined now by the award-winning investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept. His new piece is just out this morning, headlined “Joe Biden Keeps Repeating His False Claim That He Saw Pictures of Beheaded Babies.” But we’re going to begin with your piece just before that, headlined “This Is Not a War Against Hamas.”
Jeremy, you write, “The events of the past week should obliterate any doubt that the war against the Palestinians of Gaza is a joint U.S.-Israeli operation.” Take it from there.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, you know, of course, it’s no secret that for many decades the United States has showered Israel with not just military and intelligence support, but, crucially, political and, I guess you could say, moral cover for the amoral, immoral activities that Israel engages in as it operates its apartheid state in the West Bank and its repeated attacks against the people of Gaza. And, you know, when we want to talk about Hamas and we want to talk about threats that Israel faces, that it says it faces from Gaza, we have to understand that this didn’t begin on October 7th. Yes, the events of October 7th were horrifying, and the facts as they exist, as we know them, are bad enough. And to have Joe Biden repeatedly making comments that are based on completely fictitious photos that he claims to have saw of, you know, 40 babies being beheaded, then we understand that this is part of a propaganda campaign aimed at dehumanizing the population of Gaza and implying very strongly — well, actually, Joe Biden has said that Israel is waging a war against animals. This is all part of a dehumanization campaign, and Joe Biden has elevated some of the most obscene lies that have been told about — not just about Palestinian people, in general, but even about what Hamas did on October 7th. What we know is true is already horrifying enough, so I don’t know what the motive is for Biden to continuously say this.
But to directly answer your question about it being a joint U.S. military operation, for decades the U.S. has done this, but in this particular war, on October 9th, you had the defense secretary, the defense minister of Israel, Yoav Gallant, say that there is going to be — that he had ordered a complete siege of the Gaza Strip. He said, “There will be no electricity. There will be no food, no fuel.” I’m quoting. “Everything is closed. We are fighting human animals, and we are acting accordingly.” This is a genocidal phrase from the minister of defense of the Israeli armed forces on October 9th. At that moment, the United States should have hit pause immediately on any support for Israel and said, “We want to clarify that this is not going to be a war waged against a civilian population.” Not only did the Biden administration not do that, they continued to offer political cover and rushing weapons there and giving support to the most pernicious lies that Israel was telling.
And what we saw in the past days is that on the day that the United States stands alone in the world and vetoes the extraordinary session of United Nations Security Council calling for a humanitarian ceasefire, Antony Blinken informs the Pentagon and Congress that he was circumventing congressional review processes to rush through 13,000 additional tank rounds that are part of a package of 45,000 rounds that the U.S. is slated to give Israel. While he’s doing that, he is in the middle of a PR tour around the world saying the United States cares about Palestinian civilians, cares about Palestinian lives, wants to make sure that innocent people are not being killed. So, you can take the words of the administration, on the one hand, where they portray themselves almost like a kind of friend trying to talk tough to another friend who’s doing something really wrong, and, on the other hand, you can look at their actions, which is full support for a scorched-earth campaign that has killed more than 18,000 people, 7,000 of whom are children, targets being — hospitals being targeted and bombed, children being massacred, sadistic videos emerging of IDF soldiers not just killing and mutilating Palestinian bodies, but also creating propaganda films, like we saw with the stripped-down prisoners.
And one, in particular, Amy, one of the famous incidents that occurred here, is that Israeli forces gathered together dozens of men, stripped them to their underwear, and then, bizarrely, filmed them laying down guns. These are almost completely naked men that somehow still have guns in their hands. And then they filmed them putting them down. And the man who was the main person that they filmed placing a rifle down has been identified as a civilian, not a member of Hamas. But in the video, too, there’s edits where in one cut he has the rifle in his right hand, in the other cut he has the rifle in his left hand. What is clear here is that Israel made a totally sick and twisted propaganda video where they forced Palestinian men at gunpoint to be actors in this propaganda film playing armed Hamas members.
The Biden administration is completely complicit in this. Joe Biden is co-signing pernicious lies about the people of Gaza. He is distorting the already devastating and horrifying facts of October 7th. And he’s keeping the spigot of military and intelligence support open for the Israelis. And by the way, the recent reporting — and you had the author of this on — from +972 Magazine in Israel that talked about “The Gospel,” this AI-fueled assassination program in Israel, and that they sometimes will kill hundreds of Palestinian civilians in pursuit of one alleged Hamas member, much of the intelligence that is being fed to the Israelis is coming from the United States to be used to wage this war. So, yes, this is a joint U.S. operation militarily and politically.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a recent White House press briefing, National Security Council coordinator Admiral John Kirby claiming the U.S. was doing more than any other nation to alleviate suffering in Gaza.
JOHN KIRBY: Tell me, name me one more nation, any other nation, that’s doing as much as the United States to alleviate the pain and suffering of the people of Gaza. You can’t. You just can’t. … And name another nation that is doing more to urge the Israeli counterparts, our Israeli counterparts, to be as cautious and deliberate as they can be in the prosecution of their military operations. You can’t.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s John Kirby. Jeremy, your response?
JEREMY SCAHILL: OK. First of all, the United States has supplied an unending quantity of gasoline for Israel to pour on the fire that it has started in Gaza. It is an absolute obscenity for John Kirby to stand in front of the world and make such an audacious claim that the United States is doing more to help the Palestinian civilians than any other nation on Earth.
But I’ll give you a concrete list of some nation-states that are doing more than the United States. Ireland, which has opposed this from the beginning, has rightly termed what Israel is doing what it is. The government of Spain. The government of Belgium even has spoken out more forcefully than the United States. All of the nations that voted in the General Assembly for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, and the United States and only none other countries voted on Israel’s side, all of those nations are doing more than the United States to try to help the Palestinian people.
You know, you can send Samantha Power on a propaganda visit to bring 36,000 pounds of aid and have all the cameras around filming her talking about it, while at the same time you’re giving Israel 2,000-pound bombs, you’re giving them intelligence used for their scorched-earth campaign, you’re circumventing congressional processes to rush them new tank rounds. No, this is utterly obscene. And John Kirby should be entirely ashamed of himself for his conduct during this entire thing, Amy. The entire thing. John Kirby has been one of the most vicious propagandists for the worst excesses in crimes of the U.S.-backed Israeli scorched-earth campaign in Gaza.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about a New York Times exposé that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention. Israel just canceled a planned trip to Qatar by the head of Mossad to resume hostage negotiations. Well, that’s the latest news. His name is David Barnea. But this comes as the Times has published an exposé headlined “’Buying Quiet’: Inside the Israeli Plan That Propped Up Hamas.” It’s about Israel secretly sending billions of dollars to Hamas over roughly a decade. The piece begins, quote, “Just weeks before Hamas launched the deadly Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, the head of Mossad arrived in Doha, Qatar, for a meeting with Qatari officials. For years, the Qatari government had been sending millions of dollars a month into the Gaza Strip — money that helped prop up the Hamas government there. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel not only tolerated those payments, he [had] encouraged them.” And when the Qatari officials asked David Barnea, the head of Mossad, “Should we stop this?” he said, “No.” Jeremy Scahill, your response?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, what we know is, at least going back to 2012, Netanyahu has embraced this strategy that Hamas should be propped up in Gaza — it probably goes back much before that, but if we want to talk about concrete, provable facts. And in 2019, there’s a quote where Netanyahu is addressing his comrades in the Likud party. This is in 2019, and he said the following, quote, “Anyone who wants to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state has to support bolstering Hamas and transferring money to Hamas.”
So, what’s going on here? Well, Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t want an Israeli [sic] state, and he wants to make sure that no alternative voices —
AMY GOODMAN: A Palestinian state, doesn’t want it.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Sorry, doesn’t want — yes. Well, he also seems to be working very hard in that regard, too, because he’s making it less safe in the world for Jewish people by his actions, and he is — you know, if you read the Israeli press, there’s an increasing amount of criticism that what Netanyahu is doing is actually going to make the citizens of Israel less safe in the world, not more safe.
But what Netanyahu wants to do is make sure that no political forces rise in Gaza or elsewhere in Palestine that can garner more support from the world in pursuit of being recognized as human beings, being recognized as a fully independent nation. And so, of course he wants to keep the money flowing to Hamas. It’s very good for his business, for his agenda. It’s also very good for both the United States and the Israeli war agenda and war industries.
But the other part of this, Amy, is, when we talk about groups like Hamas, beyond the fact that there’s a documented history of Netanyahu, for his own reasons, supporting the flow of money and the grip on power of Hamas, you also have the reality that for 75 years Israel has operated a murderous campaign against the Palestinian people aimed at making sure they will never get an independent homeland. And when you do things, as occurred in 2018 and 2019, like gunning down, repeatedly gunning down, nonviolent protesters who participated in the weekly Friday marches on the Great March of Return, and you had a Haaretz exposé where IDF soldiers confessed that they were in a competition to see how many kneecaps they could shoot of these nonviolent protesters, it’s sickening. When you see how Palestinians are treated when they do what the world or what others say they should do — “Oh, protest nonviolently. Don’t take up arms” — they’re gunned down by Netanyahu’s forces. So, why is there a group like Hamas? Why was there a group like the African National Congress? Why was there a group like the Irish Republican Army? Why would people support vicious entities like Hamas? Well, because they’ve been stripped of every possible other means of resistance by their occupiers, by settler colonialist powers. So, if we want to talk about why is there a Hamas, part of it is people like Netanyahu, and Netanyahu personally supporting the rise of Hamas and sustaining Hamas. And the other part of it is 75 years of history of constantly massacring Palestinians and showing them that nonviolent protest also will not be tolerated.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, we just have a minute, but I want to go to your new piece, out today, headlined “Joe Biden Keeps Repeating His False Claim That He Saw Pictures of Beheaded Babies.” I want to go back to President Biden, October 11th, four days after October 7th, when Hamas attacked Israel, when he was speaking to a group of Jewish community leaders.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I mean, I have been doing this a long time. I never really thought that I would see, have confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children. I never thought I’d ever — anyway.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s President Biden. The White House was forced to walk this back somewhat. But explain what he’s talking about.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas-led attacks on October 7th, when journalists — and at first it was primarily Israeli journalists — went to the scene of some of the kibbutzes where the massacres had taken place, they began to hear stories from Israeli soldiers that there were decapitated babies and babies who were burned alive. And so, i24NEWS in Israel, one of their reporters, we believe, was the first to report this and said that it was based on what Israeli soldiers had told her. And then that starts to spread like wildfire. CNN then picks up the report. CBS also did a report promoting the claim that there were beheaded babies. And then, as much more attention starts getting drawn to it, people start asking the Israeli government, and Netanyahu’s spokesperson then confirms that this happened.
And then, a few hours later, you have Joe Biden standing up and saying that he has personally seen photographs of it. Then, when U.S. reporters started pushing on this and saying, you know, “Is Biden saying that the U.S. has independent evidence of this?” then they had to say, “No, actually, Joe Biden and no one in the administration has seen any photos. He was just referring to the media reporting about it.”
And now the Israeli government doesn’t make this claim at all anymore. In fact, when Netanyahu has appeared alongside U.S. officials, or when Tony Blinken is shown photos by the Israeli government of the aftermath of the horrifying scene at the kibbutzes, he’s never mentioned beheaded babies. Netanyahu has said that they beheaded soldiers.
But what is really perplexing is that the established facts that we already understand are horrifying enough. Why would the most powerful individual in the world find the need to repeatedly — not just once, Amy. He said it in October, he said it in November, and he said it a few days ago. He keeps saying that he has seen photos, and then his advisers have to walk it back. Also, The Washington Post reported that before he first said that, in a meeting with his staffers, they warned him against including that in his speech because they said it’s not verified.
So, what you have here is Joe — this is the one of the most incendiary charges that has been made about those raids led by Hamas on October 7th, this idea of beheaded babies. But if you look at the actual figures that have been released by Israel — and I want to be very precise here, because it’s very, very important. If you look at the actual figures — and I’m going to read this for you, Amy. This is published in mainstream Israeli news outlets. They’ve said approximately 1,200 Israelis or Israeli residents were killed on October 7th: 274 of them were soldiers, 764 were civilians, 57 were police, 38 were local security guards. Among the civilians killed, there was a 9-month-old baby — she was the youngest — Mila Cohen. She was shot — and this is horrifying — she was shot as her mother carried her. Her mother survived, but her father and other relatives were killed. So you had a 9-month-old that was killed. Then you had 12 children between the ages of 1 and 9 years old, and you had 36 children between the ages of 10 and 19 years old.
Where does this story of 40 beheaded babies come from? Well, Israel has walked it back. The reporters have retracted it. Only Joe Biden is out there in the world continuing to insist that he somehow has seen photos of beheaded babies, when not even Benjamin Netanyahu, who absolutely would be screaming it every day if it was true, isn’t going that far.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill, I want to thank you for being with us, senior reporter and correspondent at The Intercept. We’ll link to your pieces.
Coming up, we go to the campus of Haverford College in Pennsylvania to speak with Kinnan Abdalhamid, one of the three Palestinian students shot over Thanksgiving weekend in Burlington. We’ll also speak with the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, a Haverford student organizer calling for a ceasefire. Back in 20 seconds.
AMY GOODMAN: “People Have the Power” by Patti Smith. The singer is recovering after she was taken to the hospital in Italy, but has canceled the rest of her tour. Patti Smith has also called for a Gaza ceasefire.