Sunday, July 27, 2014

Our Media v. Reality



Illustration: An illustrated comment on US versions of the crash in Ukraine.  Colin Powell claimed to have been lied to or coerced into testifying at the UN that Saddam Hussein has weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.  He didn't, and everyone knew he didn't.  George Jr. wanted to purge his Oedipal conflicts by killing Saddam, and nothing else mattered.  This is so true that, if the 9/11 attacks did not happen through Osama, they would have been manufactured anyway by the administration.  This is what makes conspiracy theories about the attacks so plausible. 

This is our time to discuss the media coverage of both the Gaza conflict and Ukraine.  Having said that, the urge simply Is not that strong anymore.  Surely, anyone who visits the site regularly knows how it operates.  No corporate entity is going to support honest coverage of all issues, and there is not much money to be made in telling the truth about Israel or Russia.  Ukraine has been taken over by a right wing phalanx of ideologues who tell their people that they will henceforth be free.  Its government attacks and bombards town in the East regularly.  No matter what numbers you see about people wanting to keep Ukraine united, even in the East, you can note hundreds of thousands crossing the border to the safety of Russia. 

Russia has a long history of being surrounded by enemies and we are doing our best, breaking our word on solemn promises and assurances, to recreate that state of affairs today.  The Warsaw Pact was dissolved, but NATO, for which there is no excuse, is expanding to surround Russia again.  Ukraine was the point where Putin called a halt to the expansion.   The only surprise today is that he did not invade and annex the territory east of Kiev and make it part of the Russian Federation.   He saved Obama from making the mistake of invading Syria and there will be absolutely no substantial support against Russia from Europe, no matter who our President was. 

He was, however, unable to save us from other mistakes such as Libya.  If certain implausible members of congress really want to investigate Benghazi, the focus should be on why we invaded in the first place.  If you look at Libya today, you will notice that we shut down our embassy in Tripoli -- the country is in chaos since Gaddafi is no longer there to run it.   Obama did manage to assassinate Bin Laden and we can see what a better world we live in now as a result. 


Katrina vanden Heuvel: With 100,000+ Displaced, Why Is U.S. Ignoring Ukraine’s Civil War?

A high-level rebel commander has confirmed for the first time that pro-Russian separatists had an anti-aircraft missile of the kind the United States says was used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, killing all 298 on board. He blamed Ukrainian authorities for provoking the strike, saying they deliberately launched airstrikes in the area, even though they knew the missile system was in place and rebels would fight back. Meanwhile, the area near the Russian border continues to see heavy fighting between government forces and Russian-backed separatists. On Wednesday, two Ukrainian fighter jets were shot down not far from where the Malaysian airliner was hit. "The tragedy of the downing of the plane occurred in the context of this virtually unreported civil war," says Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, who has reported on Russia for decades. "Americans have been done a disservice by one-sided media coverage [of the conflict]." Vanden Heuvel notes more than 110,000 refugees from eastern Ukraine have fled to Russia, and 56,000 are internally displaced in Ukraine.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn to Ukraine, where on Wednesday a rebel leader confirmed for the first time pro-Russian separatists had an anti-aircraft missile of the kind the United States [says] was used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. The high-level commander blamed Ukrainian authorities for provoking the strike that killed all 298 on board. He said Kiev had deliberately launched airstrikes in the area even though it knew the BUK missile system was in place and rebels would fight back.
ALEXANDER KHODAKOVSKY: [translated] They provoked the usage of the BUK missile system, for example, by starting to attack the object that they don’t need at all, Saur Mogila, that hadn’t been attacked by planes for a week before that. And on that day, they pushed so hard. And at the moment of attack, at the moment of the civilian plane flying, they were attacking Saur Mogila. So even if there was aBUK missile system, and even if it has been used, Ukraine did everything for the civilian plane to be shot down.
AMY GOODMAN: This comes as two Ukrainian fighter jets were shot down in eastern Ukraine Wednesday, not far from where the Malaysian airliner was hit. The area near the Russian border continues to see heavy fighting between government forces and Russian-backed separatists. Also on Wednesday, lawmakers in Ukraine’s Parliament broke into a fistfight after a decree passed that would enlist male citizens under 50 to combat Russian forces on the border.
And coffins carrying 40 of the 193 Dutch victims on the downed flight arrived in the Netherlands, as the government declared a day of national mourning. Crowds gathered on bridges along the 65-mile route to throw flowers onto the convoy of hearses.
For more, we’re joined by Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation. She has reported on Russia for decades and blogs at, is also a columnist for the Her latest column is headlined "Downing of Flight 17 Should Trigger Talks, Not More Violence."
Talk about the latest, what people understand about Ukraine, what you feel is being missed.
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: I think the big story that has gone unreported in the kind of one-sided media narrative that Americans have been given in these last months is the unreported war in the southeast of Ukraine. The Nation published astory a few weeks ago called "The Silence of [American] Hawks [About] Kiev’s Atrocities," and we’re seeing in the downing of the plane—the tragedy of the downing of the plane occurred in the context of this virtually unreported civil war. Today, there are stories that Kiev has used four Grad rockets—these are missile launcher rockets—in Luhansk. The OSCE, the Organization [for] Security and Co-operation in Europe, is alleging civilian deaths in these parts. So I think, Amy, it’s the context that is needed. My column—
AMY GOODMAN: How many people have died in this war?
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: You know, they’re reporting—I have figures here. They’re reporting 250 people have been killed in Luhansk, one of the major cities in the eastern part of Ukraine, 800 injured since the war began; 432, including 36 women, six children, died in Donetsk since April; 110,000 refugees from southeastern Ukraine have fled to Russia. There are 56,000 displaced people in Ukraine.
AMY GOODMAN: Would you call this a civil war?
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: I would call this a civil war. And the tragedy, Amy, is that Ukraine has been a deeply divided country through time—language, religion, part of the country pro-Russian, ethnically Russian. This did not need to become a military civil war. There was the possibility—and this is what I tried to address in the column—in the wake of this tragedy of the downing of the plane. There should be a renewed effort, not to trigger more violence, but to trigger ceasefire, to trigger talks that could end the humanitarian catastrophe I’m describing in the southeast of Ukraine.
And another unreported story, Amy, is that there were ceasefire talks in June with Russia, France, Germany, Ukraine, the United States and Kiev. Poroshenko, the president, pulled out after two days. The United States acceded, if not supported or egged on, that decision, and the military offensive began anew. There must be an end to the violence.
And think just commonsense common sense. Ukraine, if it is to recover, if it is to emerge as a financially stable country with some elements of democracy, needs to be a bridge between East and West, between Russia and the West. The IMF, just months after agreeing to a $17 billion loan program, just yesterday acknowledged what is known, which is that there is a terribly sharp economic downturn in Ukraine. The costs of rebuilding this country are going to be enormous. And the oligarchs, Amy, the oligarchical control of this country, I think remains unreported, as well. You know, the protesters, the good protesters in Maidan, in the square, in last year, so much of their protest was about oligarchical kleptocracy. And that grip on the country remains.
So I think it’s a very—I think Americans have been done a disservice by the one-sided media coverage. I will say, and I hope in this case that The Nation's coverage, others' coverage—Robert Parry has been doing interesting coverage—has pushed The New York Times and The Washington Post, for example, in these last days to cover the civilian casualties and the assaults on cities like Donetsk, which has become a virtual ghost town.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the U.S. role?
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: The U.S. role—I don’t understand the U.S. role, to be honest. I mean, it is not in the national security interest of the United States to make Ukraine a Cold War proxy, but it is becoming that. This is a regional civil war that has been internationalized. John Kerry often sounds like he’s the secretary of war, not the secretary of state. We have allied ourselves, tethered ourselves to the Kiev government in a way that may make it very difficult to find a way beyond a new Cold War, if not a hot war. And, Amy, a Cold War will warp both countries’ politics and international relations. I’m thinking of Russia and the United States. And think of what this has done in terms of diverting our attention and resources from the real security, the real threats, the real possibilities of providing and building a new world.
So I think America—it’s also unreported, underreported, you know, America sent advisers to Ukraine to embed with its military. America has put forward a package of night goggles and other military equipment. John Brennan, the head of the CIA—finally reported—headed off to Kiev. So, but I don’t—it is not in the U.S.'s interest. It is not in the world's interest. It is not in Ukraine’s interest. Yet, there is not a peep out of Congress. There is not a peep. And the media is so one-sided that we are not having a debate that is also deserving of America’s people. The wisdom, though, of America’s people, the disconnect we see between the Beltway establishment, the elite and the media elite, is very telling. America’s people are not interested in sending weapons. They weren’t interested in sending weapons to Syria. They’re not interested in sending weapons to Ukraine. They’re not interested in a war.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] We are being called on to use our influence with the separatists in southeastern Ukraine. Of course we will do everything in our power, but that is not nearly enough. Ultimately, there is a need to call on the authorities in Kiev to respect basic norms of decency and, at least for a short time, implement a ceasefire for the investigation.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Vladimir Putin. Can you talk about Putin’s role and then how the U.S. actions compare to Europe—I mean, and the Dutch, in particular?
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: That’s, I think, very important. I think the Dutch—and I have family in Holland. And I think the Dutch, in the way they have grieved in this tragic moment, are a model of dignity and a model of saying, "We’re not going to rush to judgment or use this as a political game, that is a disservice that did not honor those we have lost," as opposed to the United States, I have to say, where John Kerry, Secretary of State Kerry, rushed quickly, as did Samantha Power, someone whose work I admire but who’s supremely unsuited to be our ambassador to the United Nations at this moment. They rushed to judgment and said Russia played a role. And now the intelligence community is saying, "We don’t know. This was a mistake. We don’t know who actually played a role."
On sanctions, the United States, again, has led the way. The European Community, much of it, the key member being Germany here and France, have resisted. There is a tendency in this country to say it’s because of their trading ties. I think that’s true, but I think it underestimates the fact that they have in their DNA a history that understands that to have a sullen, angry Russia on their border is not in anyone’s interest.
On Putin, where do I begin? Putin is an authoritarian leader. On the other hand—he has done repressive things in his country, things I abhor, in terms of gay rights, in terms of women’s rights. It will become more repressive if this goes on in the way it is. The hawks of both sides always become more powerful when this happens. But Putin has a politics in his country, just as we have in ours. He has a right wing, a nationalist right wing, which has been pushing him to be far more assertive. I have friends, journalists who report on the right in Russia, and the right has been in a fury in these last weeks. "Our people," and again, that’s very complicated because Russia should not say "our people," but pro-Russian, ethnic Russians in Ukraine being bombarded and pounded, and where is Putin?
I do think Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov—again, not reported—have been calling for a ceasefire since April. The other day, Tuesday, in his speech, Putin said that he would do what he could to restrain the rebels. I think there are no question there are ties, but there is no question that what we’ve seen emerge in southeastern Ukraine, whenever you have a war like this, a civil war, the good guys don’t often emerge. I’m not talking, obviously, about the civilians who have been under assault, but you have the Rambos of Russia, those who fought in Chechnya or in Afghanistan. But Putin cannot do everything, but he can restrain these forces, some of them, but in the context of a real ceasefire, real negotiations, and in the context of the United States not playing games, as it has since the end of the first Cold War in expanding its economic, political and other influence to the doors of Russia, and the whole NATOquestion, Amy, again unreported.
Last November, when this whole EU offer triggered, in many ways, this conflict, what was unreported was there was a clause in that which was a kind of secret entry door for Ukraine to enter NATO. This is a Russian red line. There’s no reason, first of all, that we should have NATO in these times. It’s a military alliance. It’s not a tea party—that used to have more, different resonance. But anyway, so I think Putin is as—listen, the media in this country has so demonized Putin. As I said, he is an authoritarian. But I hate to quote—I will quote someone I know we have very mixed feelings about: Henry Kissinger. Putin—he has said, "Demonizing Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for not having a policy." And I think we need a policy, America needs a policy, not an attitude, as it engages Russia.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Katrina vanden Heuvel, I want to thank you for being with us, editor and publisher of The Nation. We will link to her column, "Downing of Flight 17 Should Trigger Talks, Not More Violence."

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.
FRIDAY, JULY 18, 2014

Stephen Cohen: Downed Malaysian Plane Raises Risk of War Between Russia and the West

A Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 298 people has exploded and crashed in eastern Ukraine, killing everyone on board. U.S. and Ukrainian officials say the Boeing 777 was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, but it is unclear who fired the missile. The plane was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with passengers from at least 10 countries on board, including 173 Dutch nationals, 44 Malaysians and 27 Australians. As many as 100 of the world’s leading AIDSresearchers and advocates were reportedly on the plane en route to a conference in Australia, including the pioneering researcher and former president of the International AIDS Society, Joep Lange. Both sides in Ukraine’s conflict are blaming each other for downing the plane. We speak with Professor Stephen Cohen on what this incident could mean for the region. His most article for The Nation magazine is "The Silence of American Hawks About Kiev’s Atrocities."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 298 people has exploded and crashed in eastern Ukraine, killing everyone on board. U.S. and Ukrainian officials say the Boeing 777 was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, but it’s unclear who fired the missile. The plane was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with passengers from at least 10 countries on board, including 173 Dutch nationals, 44 Malaysians and 27 Australians. As many as 100 of the world’s leading AIDS researchers and advocates were reportedly on the plane en route to a conference in Australia, including the pioneering researcher and former president of the International AIDS Society, Joep Lange. Both sides in Ukraine’s conflict are blaming each other for downing the plane. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak vowed to launch a full investigation into what happened.
PRIME MINISTER NAJIB RAZAK: We must, and we will, find out precisely what happened to this flight. No stone will be left unturned. If it transpires that the plane was indeed shot down, we insist that the perpetrators must swiftly be brought to justice.
AMY GOODMAN: After the plane crashed, Russian media quoted witnesses saying they saw the plane being hit by what looked like a rocket. There have been several other recent disputes over planes being attacked over eastern Ukraine. On Thursday, Ukrainian officials blamed the Russian air force for shooting down one of its ground attack jets and a transport plane earlier in the week.
Over the past few days, Western governments have expressed growing concern that Russia is amping up its military support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. The United States strengthened its economic sanctions against Russia this week, but the European Union has so far declined to follow suit.
For more, we’re joined by Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University. His most recent piece forThe Nation is headlined, "The Silence of American Hawks About Kiev’s Atrocities." His book, Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War, is out in paperback.
Professor Cohen, welcome to Democracy Now! What do you think we should understand about what has taken place?
STEPHEN COHEN: The horror of it all, to quote Conrad, watching your reports on Gaza, knowing what I know but what’s not being reported in the mainstream media about what’s been going on in eastern Ukraine cities—these cities have been pounded by Kiev—and now this. "Emeritus," as you call me, means old. I’ve seen this before. One function of cold war is innocent victims. The people who died, nearly 300, from many countries, are the first victims, nonresidential victims, of the new Cold War. This crash, this shootdown, will make everything worse, no matter who did it.
There are several theoretical possibilities. I am not a conspiracy buff, but we know in the history of the Cold War, there are provocations, people who want to make things worse. So, in Moscow, and not only in Moscow, there are theories that somebody wanted this to happen. I just can’t believe anybody would do it, but you can’t rule anything out.
The other possibility is, because the Ukrainian government itself has a capability to shoot down planes. By the way, the Ukrainian government shot down a Russian passenger jet, I think in 2001. It was flying from Tel Aviv to Siberia. It was an accident. Competence is always a factor when you have these weapons.
Another possibility is that the rebels—we call them separatists, but they weren’t separatists in the beginning, they just wanted home rule in Ukraine—that they had the capability. But there’s a debate, because this plane was flying at commercial levels, normally beyond the reach of what they can carry on their shoulders.
There’s the possibility that the Russians aided and abetted them, possibly from Russian territory, but I rule that out because, in the end, when you don’t know who has committed a crime, the first question a professional investigator asks is, "Did anybody have a motive?" and the Russians certainly had no motive here. This is horrible for Putin and for the Russian position.
That’s what we know so far. Maybe we’ll know more. We may never know who did this.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the Obama administration has expanded U.S. sanctions on Russia in the latest round of a standoff over Ukraine. Speaking at the White House, President Obama said Russia has failed to drop military support for pro-Russian separatists.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Given its continued provocations in Ukraine, today I have approved a new set of sanctions on some of Russia’s largest companies and financial institutions. Along with our allies, with whom I have been coordinating closely the last several days and weeks, I have repeatedly made it clear that Russia must halt the flow of weapons and fighters across the border into Ukraine, that Russia must urge separatists to release their hostages and support a ceasefire, that Russia needs to pursue internationally mediated talks and agree to meaningful monitors on the border.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Your response?
STEPHEN COHEN: Sanctions are beside the point. Obviously they’ll cause economic pain, possibly equally to Europe, which doesn’t want them, didn’t want them. Major American corporations took out ads in major American newspapers before Obama did this, asking Obama not to do it. When you resort to sanctions, it means you have no policy. You have an attitude. And the anti-Putin attitude in Washington is driving American policy.
Let me mention, because I think it’s relevant to what you’re covering here, your very, very powerful segments before I came on today about what’s going on in Gaza, the pounding of these cities, the defenselessness of ordinary people. The same thing has been happening in East Ukrainian cities—bombing, shelling, mortaring by the Kiev government—whatever we think of that government. But that government is backed 150 percent by the White House. Every day, the White House and the State Department approve of what Kiev’s been doing. We don’t know how many innocent civilians, women and children, have died. We know there’s probably several hundred thousand refugees that have run from these cities. The cities are Donetsk, Luhansk, Kramatorsk, Slovyansk—a whole series of cities whose names are not familiar to Americans. The fact is, Americans know nothing about this. We know something about what’s happening in Gaza, and there’s a division of opinion in the United States: The Israelis should do this, the Israelis should not do this. But we know there are victims: We see them. Sometimes the mainstream media yanks a reporter, as you just showed, who shows it too vividly, because it offends the perception of what’s right or wrong. But we are not shown anything about what’s happened in these Ukrainian cities, these eastern Ukrainian cities.
Why is that important? Because this airliner, this shootdown, took place in that context. The American media says it must have been the bad guys—that is, the rebels—because they’ve shot down other airplanes. This is true, but the airplanes they’ve been shooting down are Ukraine’s military warplanes that have come to bomb the women and children of these cities. We don’t know that.
AMY GOODMAN: There have been several discussions—in the corporate media, it was said that this plane might have had a sort of unusual path, had gone further south, and that they thought it was a Ukrainian military plane.
AMY GOODMAN: Also, in terms of the black boxes, that Ukrainian officials andNTSB cannot get there because it’s rebel-held territory, and that the rebels might have taken the black boxes.
STEPHEN COHEN: Well, the rebels have said they’re going to turn them over to Moscow, and Moscow will not conceal them. I mean, Moscow is going to play openness, so far as we know. But what’s preposterous, of course, is the prime minister of Malaysia coming out and telling us that Malaysia will uncover this mystery, when it still can’t find its missing airliner. This is just absolutely preposterous. But you’re right, the investigation is going to be politicized. Will we ever know?
Let me make the point again, though, because you hearkened back to it: This is a war zone. It’s a war zone. It’s been a war zone, an air war zone, for at least a month. Americans don’t know that. I hear you’ve shown it. But that’s—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, that’s one of the reasons that—well, what I wanted to ask you is, because of what’s been going on in Syria, in Iraq, and now with the Israeli attacks on Gaza, it’s almost as if what’s going on in Ukraine has receded in the consciousness of the media here in this country, even though it’s conceivably much more dangerous and has more long-term impact on the United States.
STEPHEN COHEN: I don’t want to prioritize death—I mean, whose death is worse or not so worse. But the reality is, if you’re going to ask an historian, that the conflict in the Middle East, including Iraq, is going to affect regional politics, but the conflict in Ukraine is going to affect global politics, because we are now in a new Cold War with Russia. We have been for several months. One aspect of cold war is civilian deaths. We’ve had these shootdowns. We had them in the old Cold War. This is going to get worse. It also brings us closer to war between Russia and the West, NATO and the United States. So, if you’re going to ask which is more important—Russians have a saying that, which is worse? And the answer is, both are worse. They’re all worse. But if you’re going to ask which is going to have impact for our grandchildren, it’s what’s going on in Ukraine now.
AMY GOODMAN: We only have 30 seconds, but Obama announcing stricter sanctions against Russia, how significant is this? It was a day before the downing of the plane.
STEPHEN COHEN: I’ll repeat what I said before: By resorting to sanctions, Obama reminds us he has no policy toward Ukraine or Russia other than to blame Putin. That’s not a policy; that’s an attitude.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics, New York University and Princeton University. We’ll link to his piece in The Nation. His latest book, just out in paperback, Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War.
That does it for our show. I’ll be speaking at the Mark Twain House & Museum inHartford, Connecticut, Monday, July 21st, at 7:00, and then on July 26th on Martha’s Vineyard. That’s Saturday, 7:00 p.m., Katharine Cornell Auditorium in Vineyard Haven. Check our website at

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Zionist Warcrimes v. Gaza


Illustration: You all remember Latuff?

Zionist war crimes continue as politician B.S. in Cairo.

            There has not been time to address the media blackout of reality in Gaza, much less to address the lies about Ukraine.  Perhaps tomorrow, but Putin is quite capable of taking care of himself.  When Saudi Arabia bought weapons from him, they demanded that he abandon support for Assad.  He replied that with a push of a button he could eliminate Saudi Arabia and the topic was abandoned.

            We have seen the Zionists, Israel, attack the UN refuges in Gaza.  All this time, we are assured that Israel uses "precision" strikes.  To any one, "precision", eg. "exact" means that the target you hit is the one you are aiming for.  This concept seems too abstract for American media to grasp.  If our media will nt cover Ukraine correctly, why would we expect accuracy given the AIPAC or Zionist lobby's pressure?  We can't.

            The UN target in Gaza: a couple dozen were killed and over 200 injured in the "precision" strike.  The exact GPS coordinates were given to the IDF by the UN before the slaughter.  All else is mere double-talk. 

            The talks in Cairo now are for show.  No people would accept the presence of foreign troops within their borders.  Additionally, they want to keep blowing up tunnels during the "ceasefire".  The tunnels were the only avenue for materials to rebuild Gaza after a previous conflict.  

            Also blacked out are the Israeli citizens renouncing their citizenship in protest and the large groups of thousands of Jews in New York and elsewhere demonstration with shouts of "Not in our name."  Have you seen any of that on the news?  I thought not.

            At the last moment, it was announced that Israel has rejected the Cease-Fire.  The Kerry announced that they hadn't, they simply rejected the language.  Kerry actually looks a bit peeved.

            Again, here is more of the truth.  Perhaps tomorrow we will address Ukraine:

FRIDAY, JULY 25, 2014

Sharif Abdel Kouddous: In Gaza, Unrelenting Israeli Assault Causes "Grave Humanitarian Crisis"

Amidst talk of a potential ceasefire, the Palestinian death toll has passed 815 in Israel’s relentless bombings of the Gaza Strip. On Thursday, at least 16 civilians died and more than 200 were wounded when a United Nations shelter was bombed in the Gazan area of Beit Hanoun. Palestinian officials have blamed Israeli tank shelling, while Israel has suggested militant rockets were at fault. Reporting from Gaza City, Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous describes visiting the morgue where bodies are being taken, as well as a children’s hospital in northern Gaza that was severely damaged Thursday in a nearby air strike. "If the ceasefire falls apart, then we can only imagine that an escalation of the ground offensive — that’s what Israel has declared — will be in the cards," Kouddous says. "We are looking at a very grave humanitarian crisis."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: The Palestinian death toll from Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip has passed 815 as new attacks kill more civilians and spark the largest West Bank protests in decades. On Thursday, at least 16 civilians died and over 200 were wounded when a United Nations shelter was bombed in the Gazan area of Beit Hanoun. Palestinian officials have blamed Israeli tank shelling, while Israel has suggested militant rockets were at fault. The U.N. has declined to directly accuse Israel but suggested Israeli shelling is responsible. Two Palestinians were killed Thursday night near the Qalandia checkpoint in the West Bank, and more than 200 were wounded when Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition at thousands of protesters who marched from Ramallah toward Jerusalem. More protests are happening in the West Bank today.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry remains in Egypt, where ceasefire talks are underway. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reports Kerry has drafted a new ceasefire proposal and is waiting to hear back from Hamas via the Qatari and Turkish governments. Hamas has demanded the lifting of the seven-year blockade of Gaza as a condition for a ceasefire.
For more, we go directly to Gaza City, where we’re joined by Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous.
Sharif, can you talk about what’s happened since we last spoke 24 hours ago?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, right after I spoke to you, news broke of that shelling of the U.N. school in Beit Hanoun, which is in the north of Gaza. And we rushed to the hospital in Beit Lahia, the biggest hospital in the north, where the dead and wounded were being brought. Really heart-wrenching scenes, many women and children being brought in on stretchers, wounded. I met one man, a 21-year-old by the name of Hussein Shinbari, who had lost his mother, his three siblings, all under the age of 18, and his father’s second wife.
And multiple witnesses said that they had sought shelter in this U.N. school and that they thought they were safe there and that they were told to gather around 1:30 or 2:00 p.m. in the schoolyard to be taken to another school because there was some clashes in the area and shelling in the area. And at some point, multiple explosions hit the schoolyard. The Israeli military has alleged that it—initially alleged that it may have been an errant Hamas rocket, but the fact that there were multiple explosions in the same area belie that claim. And the Israeli military later acknowledged last night that it did fire into the area in response to hostile fire.
In the morgue of the hospital, I saw at least one baby—she must have been no more than one or one-and-a-half years old—who was killed.
And so, this was somewhere where, you know, some of the poorest people from Beit Hanoun had gone. They don’t have money to go anywhere else. They don’t have relatives to stay with. And this was a place of refuge that they had sought, and they came under this attack. And as you mentioned, 16 were killed and over 200 injured.
Also, late last night—well, not late, during around sunset time, there was a very large airstrike on a house in the Tuffah neighborhood of northern Gaza, of northern Gaza City. And the force of the blast severely damaged a children’s hospital, the Muhammad al-Durrah Children’s Hospital, that was just tens of yards away. I visited this morning. The ICU unit was completely destroyed inside, all the windows blown out. The window frames were toppled over cribs. One child, the director of the hospital told me, was two-and-a-half years old and was being intubated at the time of the attack. And the doctor was blown back by the force of the blast. Glass flew all over the baby, and the baby was killed.
So, this is continuing as we speak. There’s still the sound of drones in the air. There’s heavy shelling across the border area with Israel. And as these negotiations for a ceasefire continue, the bloodshed is also continuing.
AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, the issue of this ceasefire, can you talk about what you’re hearing so far? Secretary of State Kerry is in Cairo right now. What people are saying in Gaza City?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, the Israeli Security Cabinet is scheduled to convene at 3:00 p.m., which is right now, to discuss the proposal for the ceasefire. One of the main elements of this ceasefire is—well, it’s a proposal to halt hostilities for a week, under which negotiations will continue. One of the conditions of it is that Israeli troops remain in Gaza and continue to search and destroy tunnels. This is Israel’s main objective, its declared objective, in this war. And so, this is causing a lot of rejection by many of the Palestinians that I’ve spoken to here. To them, it sounds like they just want Hamas to lay down its arms while Israel continues its military campaign. So we’ll have to see. There’s been indications from Khaled Meshaal, Hamas leader, that he’s open to some kind of humanitarian truce. But they have held out for their main condition for a ceasefire, which is that the seven-year siege of Gaza is lifted.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us more stories of the people that you have met, and particularly what the hospital is like?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, any hospital you go to in Gaza, you will see many children wounded. You will see many innocent civilians who have been caught up in this bloodshed. It’s almost difficult not to see dead people in Gaza over the last few days. And really, the number of children that you see wounded, the number of children that I’ve seen killed has been really astonishing.
And yesterday also, there was a much fiercer campaign and attack in, as I mentioned yesterday, in Khan Younis, in Khuzaa, where Israeli troops moved in. And this is near the border in southern Israel. And people described a nightmarish ordeal of 24 hours trying to get out; of moving from house to house seeking shelter and each house being shelled; of Israeli troops knocking on doors and taunting the men to come outside; of arresting men from their homes; of people trying to escape tank fire, walking with—holding white flags in the air, with their hands in the air like prisoners of war. And these are clearly civilians—women and children and men. Men took off their T-shirts and put their hands in the air to walk out.
And there’s many dead and wounded being left behind. I was just at the Shifa Hospital right now, and they are still bringing bodies in from the Shejaiya neighborhood, which was attacked by the Israeli military with a lot of indiscriminate tank shell fire on Sunday. And these bodies are decomposing, and they’re still being brought in. So we’re looking at a very grave humanitarian crisis.
AMY GOODMAN: The power—the issue of power and the power plant bombed?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right, Gaza’s only power plant was struck by three shells a couple of days ago, that provides about 30 percent of electricity to the Gaza Strip. Gazans now get about four hours of power a day. And power also severely affects water supply, for the pumps to pump water to the 1.8 [million] Palestinians. About 1.2 [million] Palestinians have no clean access to water in Gaza. I spoke to the head of the water utility here, who said that on average right now Palestinians get three hours of water every three days. So, you can imagine what that’s like for many people. When they do get water, they have to fill up bottles and jerrycans. And many people haven’t showered for days. It affects sanitation issues. And these are very basic human rights. And the very heavy displacement that has happened, over 150,000 people being displaced, has only exacerbated these problems.
AMY GOODMAN: And the effect of the mass protest in the West Bank, the largest protest that has been seen there in years, on the people of Gaza? Did word get through?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Word did get through, and people here have expressed joy at the act of solidarity that was shown in the West Bank, that people are rising up and supporting their cause. And we’ll have to wait and see where this takes us. Will this ceasefire come into effect? And if it does, it’s only scheduled to be into effect on Sunday. And if we look at the past military campaigns on Gaza by Israel, it usually ramps up its violence as a ceasefire approaches. So I think, in many scenarios, we’re going to see a ramping up of violence going into Sunday. If the ceasefire falls apart, then we can only imagine that an escalation of the ground offensive—that’s what Israel has declared—will be on the cards.
AMY GOODMAN: Sharif Abdel Kouddous, thank you for joining us—stay safe—reporting to us from Gaza City. When we come back, we go to the spokesperson for the United Nations organization that runs the school that was just shelled, killing 16 people, wounding hundreds. Stay with us.

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FRIDAY, JULY 25, 2014

"No Safe Place": After Deadly Attack on Gaza School, U.N. Warns 150,000 Seeking Shelter are at Risk

At least 16 people were killed and more than 200 injured Thursday when a school used as a United Nations shelter came under fire in Gaza. Palestinian families displaced by the assault had reportedly gathered to move to a safer area when the school was hit. Palestinian officials have blamed Israeli tank shelling, while Israel has suggested militant rockets were at fault. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has declined to directly accuse Israel, but says it gave the school’s coordinates to the Israeli army numerous times. "Within Gaza, there is no safe place," says Christopher Gunness, UNRWA spokesperson. "If the parties to this conflict have shown themselves callous enough to be able to hit a clearly designated, clearly marked U.N. compound where hundreds of people have come to take sanctuary, we cannot guarantee anymore the safety of our installations." Gunness says the number of people now seeking shelter amidst the violence has swelled to 150,000.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, at least 16 people were killed, more than 200 injured, when a U.N.-run school used as a shelter came under fire in Gaza. Palestinian families were in the school in Beit Hanoun fleeing Israel’s offensive against Hamas militants. The director of UNRWA operations in Gaza, Robert Turner, said the coordinates of the school had been given to the Israeli army numerous times.
ROBERT TURNER: This school was a designated emergency shelter, which meant that we had given the Israeli authorities, the IDF, the coordinates of this school on 12 separate occasions, most recently 10:56 this morning. They were fully aware that this was a shelter. We knew that the situation in Beit Hanoun was deteriorating from a security standpoint. So over the course of the day, we had been trying to coordinate a window, a period during which we could withdraw our staff, and any displaced people who choose to go to a safer location would be able to leave. We were never conferred that window, that time period.
AMY GOODMAN: That was the director of UNRWA operations in Gaza, Robert Turner. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the shelling of the school in Gaza Thursday.
SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON: I was shocked and appalled by what has happened in the Beit Hanoun UNRWA school. It’s totally unacceptable. I have condemned it strongly. We are now at the 16th day, and tomorrow will be 17th day. During those days, Secretary Kerry and I and many world leaders have been working tirelessly to bring this unacceptable, intolerable situation to an end as soon as possible. We have not yet reached there.
AMY GOODMAN: That was U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. To talk more about this attack, we’re joined by Christopher Gunness, the spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, for Palestine Refugees.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!
CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: Describe what you understand happened.
CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: Well, we made the—we gave the GPS coordinates, the precise GPS coordinates of a U.N.-designated school—it had a blue U.N. flag on the top of it—to the Israeli army over a period of hours. We appealed to them, we begged them, we pleaded with them to allow a humanitarian pause, a window of opportunity, so that women, children, men, civilians, the sick, the elderly, babies, the dying could be let out of the conflict zone. We appealed desperately. We explained the situation at the school. But no answer came back that was positive. In the end, we could not do that civilian evacuation, and the consequences of that were absolutely tragic. The carnage, the pitiless carnage that you saw on your screens yesterday, was the result.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what it is—who was in there? How many refugees had taken shelter in this school?
CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: Well, let me break some news here. The number of people sheltering with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza has now gone over 150,000. That’s fast approaching 10 percent of the population in Gaza. These are desperate, traumatized people who had fled from their homes in response to the dramatically escalating Israeli ground offensive. They are in areas in schools where buildings were meant to accommodate a thousand students or so a day coming in in the morning, leaving in the afternoon. They’re now overrun with people who are staying there 24/7, some for the 17th day.
There’s a desperate need for sanitation, for water. Don’t forget that because of the blockade of Gaza, 95 percent of the water is undrinkable. So, in these designated shelters, you turn on the water, turn on the taps, and salt water comes out. So we have to truck in every single liter of water to 150,000 people. That’s just the water. There’s food, as well, that we need to bring in, mattresses, sanitation equipment—all sorts of things that people staying in these shelters—frankly, in a war zone—desperately need.
And now it seems that there is nowhere safe in Gaza. We’ve been hit, and it seems that every single one of our over 80 shelters, all 150,000 of those individual lives taking shelter with us, are today at risk.
AMY GOODMAN: And the Israeli military saying that perhaps this was a Hamas rocket that hit the UNRWA shelter?
CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: Well, Qassam rockets are notoriously inaccurate. So the idea that within a few minutes a group of Qassam rockets could hit roughly the same area seems beyond miraculous. But if that’s what the Israeli army and military spokesman and others, like Mr. Regev, were saying, that’s fine. But, you know, it’s perhaps useful to ask them why it is that weapons, when they fly into Israel, it’s said that they’re completely inaccurate; apparently they can all land in roughly the same space within a matter of minutes yesterday in Beit Hanoun. I think that needs some kind of unpacking.
AMY GOODMAN: And why people come to this school, the Palestinians? Who were these Palestinians who came to the school in Beit Hanoun?
CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: These are ordinary residents of the areas around Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza. That area had been particularly affected by the Israeli ground incursion, so—offensive. So these are people who had been traumatically and dramatically affected. They had left their homes. Many of these are refugees already, dispossessed, stateless people. And they fled their homes, many of them under fire, grabbing their children, grabbing whatever possessions they could take as they ran. These are deeply scarred people. There are scars you can see and scars you can’t see. And I fear that the scars you can’t see are considerably deeper than the scars you can. And, you know, let us be mindful of the appalling scars we saw yesterday.
AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, UNRWA issued a press release saying rockets had been discovered for the second time in one of its schools. According to the press release, the vacant school is situated between two other UNRWA schools that currently each accommodate something like 1,500 refugees, internally displaced persons. The release also said that because staff were immediately evacuated, the number of rockets could not be confirmed. Can you clarify, Christopher Gunness?
CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: Absolutely. What happened was we discovered that there was a cache of rockets. Now these are notoriously unstable devices, so we immediately evacuated the school, and we put a guard on the gate. What happened—and we began consultations, by the way, to find international experts that would be capable of making these weapons safe. What happened was, overnight, a group of refugees attempted to flee and break into the school. So we, of course, had to go back into the school. And at that point, we discovered that the weapons had gone missing. We notified all the relevant parties. We notified, in particular, the office of the secretary-general. There has now been a major review. The secretary-general has ordered that U.N. Security and the United Nations Mines Action Service are involved. So there’s now a root-and-branch review of exactly what happened. There are international experts on the way.
And, of course, the hope is that we don’t have a situation where militant groups are able to go into mutual U.N. compounds and hide these weapons. We came out very strongly in condemning them. We have been very clear that this is a flagrant violation of the neutrality of U.N. premises. And we’ve called on those groups or groups or militants—we’ve demanded that this should never happen again. It is imperative that the parties, that all warring parties to this conflict, respect the sanctity of civilian life, the inviolability of United Nations property and compounds, and that there is respect under and according to international humanitarian law for the protection of international workers, because if that is not respected, look at the appalling, pitiless consequences that we saw yesterday—that callous attack, that callous shelling, should I say. We’re not saying who did it, but we want an investigation. We need to find out irrefutably who was responsible.
AMY GOODMAN: To be clear, that U.N. school yesterday that was attacked, where 16 people were killed, hundreds wounded, was not the one you’re talking about where there were rockets inside.
CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: No, Amy, absolutely right. The places where the weapons caches have been found were schools which had been closed down for the summer. These schools were regularly inspected by UNRWA, and it was in the course of these regular inspections that the weapons were discovered. These were not places where refugees had taken shelter. And to be clear, there is absolutely no evidence that there were rockets in the school that was hit yesterday or indeed that there were militants in the school firing rockets. And indeed, throughout the last conflict, Cast Lead, in 2008, 2009, or should I say the one before last, although Israeli spokespeople made accusations that there were militants in UNRWAcompounds, not a jot of evidence was ever produced to substantiate these false and very damaging allegations against the United Nations.
AMY GOODMAN: Other schools during this conflict, other U.N. schools that are serving as shelters for hundreds, for thousands of people, have they been hit?
CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: They have. In the last week, there have been three direct hits by incoming Israeli air fire onto two of our installations, our schools, where in one case about a thousand displaced people were taking shelter. Five people were injured. In another place, 300 people were taking shelter, and one small girl was injured. And by the way, Amy, when we went back to investigate that, we cleared a two-hour window in which a clearly marked U.N. vehicle could go back. We cleared that with the Israeli army. When we were there, there was further incoming fire, and one of my colleagues nearly lost his life. This highlights the need for the parties to abide by their obligations under international law.
AMY GOODMAN: What are you hearing of a ceasefire? And what do you think needs to happen, Christopher Gunness?
CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: We are a humanitarian organization, and we don’t have a seat at that ceasefire talks. What we do is deal with and we mitigate the effects of the failure of the politicians and the peacemakers. We pray that there will not be failure. We are hearing what you are hearing, that Eid will bring with it perhaps some kind of cessation of hostilities. I have no special information on that. But I can tell you that the 150,000 people taking shelter in our schools, all of them potentially victims of what we saw in Beit Hanoun yesterday, are trembling, are fearful, are traumatized and are desperately hoping that that ceasefire will indeed hold.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you tell Palestinian refugees who are leaving their homes, who are told, instructed by the Israeli military, with calls, with pamphlets that are dropped—where do you tell them to go, if they’re bombed when they go to the designated shelters?
CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: It’s up to individuals to make their own autonomous choices. It sounds irresponsible, but frankly, we can’t say. For a start, Gaza has a fence around it. It’s unique in the annals of contemporary warfare in being a conflict which has a fence around it, so there is nowhere to run. But even within Gaza, there is no safe place. If the parties to this conflict have shown themselves callous enough to be able to hit a clearly designated, clearly marked U.N. compound, where hundreds of people have come to take safe sanctuary, we cannot guarantee anymore the safety, the safe sanctuary of our installations. It is utterly appalling that in a war zone today, with so many United Nations-assisted beneficiaries, so many U.N.-designated safe shelters, that this sort of thing is happening. It is appalling. It is condemnable. And it has to stop. Enough civilians, enough women, enough children, enough young men who are not involved in the conflict, the elderly, the sick, the dying—they have suffered enough. Enough is enough.
AMY GOODMAN: And your response to the Israeli military saying they’re engaged in precision bombings; Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields?
CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: Well, if precision bombing has led to a situation where the majority of those killed are civilians, one has to ask just how precise those precision bombings are.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us, Christopher Gunness, spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, known as UNRWA. This is Democracy Now!,,The War and Peace Report. An UNRWA facility, a shelter, has been hit in the last 24 hours, 16 Palestinians killed, hundreds wounded.

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FRIDAY, JULY 25, 2014

Turning Point? Largest West Bank Protest in Decades Raises Spectre of a 3rd Intifada

Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip has triggered the largest West Bank protest in years, with more than 15,000 people marching Thursday from Ramallah toward Jerusalem. Two Palestinians were killed and more than 200 were wounded when Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition. We go to the West Bank to speak with journalist Amira Hass, Ha’aretz correspondent for the occupied Palestinian territories. "There were whole families, and women and men, traditional and modern, and middle-class and workers. Everybody went very determined to show that this is enough," Hass says.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the West Bank, which saw the largest protest in years Thursday night. Up to 50,000 people were said to have marched from Ramallah towards Jerusalem. Two Palestinians were killed and over 200 were wounded when Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition. More protests are happening in the West Bank today.
For more, we are joined on the telephone from Ramallah by Amira Hass, theHa’aretz correspondent for the occupied Palestinian territories, the only Israeli Jewish journalist to have spent decades living in and reporting from Gaza and the West Bank.
Amira, describe the protest last night.
AMIRA HASS: It was less than 50,000, but it was really high-spirited. Everybody felt that there is a big change now happening. Everybody who—the people who went, there were whole families, and women and men, and traditional and modern, and more upper—middle-class and workers. Everybody went, very determined to show, not so much to the Israelis, I think, but to the Palestinian Authority, that this is enough, that their unforgivable silence, especially during the first week, and their inability to say that this is the people that is being murdered in Gaza, and it’s not a dispute between Hamas and Fatah, that this has to be stopped. This is how I see it. Of course it was also a message to the Israelis.
And today, as you said, there are demonstrations all over. I just returned from a very silent, very—not depressed, but stressed funeral of the guy who was killed in that yesterday. It’s a kid that’s 17 years old from Qalandia refugee camp. And people feel that there is—it is a turning point. That’s for sure. That’s a turning point in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, there are demonstrations. In Jerusalem, youngsters, I heard, forced their way to al-Aqsa, because they are not allowed to get into prayers into al-Aqsa, so they forced their way through the police checkpoint. So things—certainly things are changing, and things are changing because people also are so shocked by what is happening to their people in Gaza, and they are unable to do a thing for them.
AMY GOODMAN: What was the Israeli military response to the protest, Amira?
AMIRA HASS: I went a bit late. I mean, I wasn’t, of course—I wouldn’t have gone to near the checkpoint, but I know that, OK, youngsters reached the checkpoint rather early, when the demonstrations started some three or four kilometers to the north. And they started with clashes, but they were—as a friend told me, there was no danger to the life of the soldiers, but the soldiers immediately started shooting live ammunition and a bit rubber-coated metal bullets. So kids—when I was walking towards the place, I’ve already heard several ambulances going back and forth, carrying people who were injured.
And later on, I was in the hospital, because a friend—a child of a friend of mine was wounded. But also I would have gone there anyway. And all people who were injured, most of them were injured in the legs. And you saw youngsters limping and then being taken care of. Those who were less serious went to other hospitals, and those who were more serious were operated on.
I know of a young woman who is—who maybe she was there near the checkpoint, very near, and she was hit, and she might lose her leg. There is another woman—women participated. Many women were also near the checkpoint, very near the checkpoint, and were probably targeted because it was not—it was shooting by snipers. So this was the response of the army.
Later on, I understand that there was some—one of those stupid shooting to the air from the part of some Palestinians. We don’t know who. And this gave the army an excuse to say that, oh, the people they shot, they started the shooting, which is of course false.
AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass, you have been covering the territories for decades. The word of a ceasefire coming through, with Secretary of State Kerry in Cairo, what are your thoughts on what it means? And what is Hamas calling for, and the Palestinian people, as well?
AMIRA HASS: You know, the truth is that I didn’t even follow it in the last few days, this, because it’s impossible to follow everything, and I try to be in contact with my friends in Gaza to get—to hear from them what is happening, and then to write. So I leave these political things a bit aside, especially in the last two, three days.
But in general, some things are evolving in the sense of the discourse of Palestinians about what demands should be. And it’s very interesting because the demands of Hamas started now after several years in power. They started to reconnect with the West Bank. And this is the big change. Probably they did it because they understood that Egypt is not—I mean, they have lost all of these relations with Egypt after the putsch against the Muslim Brothers. And this was one of their big mistakes, as I see, during—after they were victorious in the elections in 2006, strengthened their hold on Gaza, played into this fantasy that Gaza can be a separate entity and a state or a mini—or a quasi-state, and they can run like a government, actually repeating the mistakes of the PA before and now, and thus enhancing this disconnection between Gaza and the West Bank, the disconnection mostly of the communities of the—[no audio]
AMIRA HASS: And the PA did the same thing—yeah. The PA did the same thing. So what is happening now, their discourse is: They demand to lift this closure and reconnect also with the West Bank. This is a big change.
AMY GOODMAN: And when you say "lift the closure," lift the siege, the blockade, explain what exactly that is.
AMIRA HASS: Gaza is not under siege since seven years only. I mean, Gaza has been under very severe terms of restrictions of movement and a disconnection from the world actually since the beginning of the ’90s. This is also something that people tend to forget, and I am always very angry about that. And Hamas made some kind of a political monopoly about it, saying that the closure started when they came to power. Yes, it intensified, but it started much earlier, because [no audio] to disconnect Gaza and the West Bank.
So now Hamas, still, when they talk about lifting the closure, they cannot really imagine opening to the West Bank, the [no audio] opening the borders for raw material, the passages to having raw material enter in Gaza, to have some economical life, and to have some connection to the world through Gaza—through Rafah. But other people, what they understand is that—and people in Gaza, what they understand, they want to go back and live and be Palestinians in this country and go back to the West Bank and have the connections with the West Bank. So this is a discourse developing or coming back to the fore.
We don’t know. I mean, this is the main—you know, like the Israeli minister of what’s so-called defense said just recently—he said, "Oh, yeah, I don’t mind that Abbas’ people will be guarding the Rafah checkpoint, but I will never let Abbas go back and rule Gaza," which means we don’t want Gaza and the West Bank be one unit. We don’t want it. I mean, the Israelis, the Israeli government doesn’t want it, and hasn’t wanted it since the beginning of the ’90s.
So, will this develop into a political discourse and political analysis, political strategy, that changes this? I cannot tell. It’s too early, because one of the things that we see missing is really—not a leadership, but a group which has the confidence of the people and that can organize and can lead now all this upsurge of anger and disgust with what is happening in Gaza and people who are fed up with this occupation. So, there is no group now, no reliable group, that can lead this and strategize this phenomenon. And this is what’s worrying me.
AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass, I want to thank you for being with us, Ha’aretzcorrespondent for the occupied Palestinian territories. She’s speaking to us from Ramallah, where a mass protest took place just last night and are expected to continue today. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go back to Gaza City to speak to a doctor from al-Shifa Hospital about what’s been happening inside the hospital walls. Stay with us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.
FRIDAY, JULY 25, 2014

Doctor: After "Losing Everything," Gazans Cling to Hope That Conflict Will End Crippling Siege

We are joined from Gaza City by Dr. Belal Dabour of Shifa Hospital, the largest in Gaza. Dabour describes how Shifa has been stretched beyond capacity since the Israeli military assault began on July 8, struggling to treat thousands of victims amidst frequent power cuts and outdated equipment. He also discusses the hopes of his Gazan patients that the current conflict will bring an end to Israel’s eight-year siege. "After eight years, life has become intolerable," Dabour says. "People have no hope. They feel that the horizon for any prosperous future is [impossible] until the siege is lifted."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to Gaza City to talk to Dr. Belal Dabour. Dr. Dabour works at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip. It has only 11 beds in the emergency room and six operating theaters, which have been stretched beyond capacity since the Israeli military assault began on July 8th. Shifa medical staff have been struggling to treat thousands of injured despite frequent power cuts and often outdated equipment. Dr. Belal Dabour recently wrote a piecefor The Electronic Intifada headlined "The Boy Who Clung to the Paramedic: The Story Behind the Photo."
Welcome to Democracy Now! Why don’t we start off on the effects of the Beit Hanoun U.N. school, that was a shelter, being shelled, 16 people killed, hundreds wounded? Have you seen any of those who were wounded at Shifa, Dr. Dabour?
DR. BELAL DABOUR: Yeah, this accident happened—this attack happened while it was my day off. However, the medical sources confirmed the death of 16 civilians. This is not the first attack of the kind. This is the attack number four in just four days which targeted U.N.-run school. And also these four days, about three attacks targeted hospitals and medical centers. Sixteen people died. That only just few, because yesterday more than 100 were killed.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Dabour, can you talk about, overall, the situation in Gaza and how you’re operating at the hospital?
DR. BELAL DABOUR: The Shifa Hospital is the largest hospital in Gaza Strip. It’s the hospital with the specialty centers. Doctors there are striving to deal with the cases. The staff has been divided into three teams, each team taking 24-hour shifts and then resting for about 48 hours, depending on the situation. Twenty-four/seven for 19 days now, there are casualties and bodies arriving at the hospital. The staff are stretched. The situation is very bad.
Let me speak about the night—last Sunday morning, when the Shejaiya massacre took place. Let me describe the scene at the operation room, for starting. At the operation room, six rooms were operating at the same time. The whole blood bank was moved to the theater, to the hole. There was a worker with this big bag of blood bags and the plasma, and just sitting there and distributing blood bags to the theaters, from number one to number six. And this continued all day long. A lot of people died inside the theater, in addition to the 60 people already whose bodies have been taken from the scene and the dozens others that are estimated to be stranded under the rubble. This is the Sunday.
However, my latest shift was two days ago, and I ended my shift Thursday morning. And from 3:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m., we received about five bodies in just five hours, in just one hospital. And also we received more than three dozen injuries, a lot of them children and one whole family. This is the situation. And the biggest problem is that it’s not getting any better. Day by day, it’s getting worse and worse. The numbers are including, and the medical supplies are shortening, the shortages increasing as we speak now.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Belal Dabour, can you tell us about the photo of the little boy clinging to the paramedic that has gone viral?
DR. BELAL DABOUR: Yeah. This boy was actually lucky, for two things. First of all, his injuries could have been very serious. He could have died immediately. But for some miraculous thing, he did not. Second of all, there was a photographer at the time, and he captured the right photo and in the right time. However, up until 12:00 a.m. yesterday, more than 200 children have been killed in just those 18 days, and more than 1,400 children have been wounded. Those were not very lucky to be caught on camera, and those of them who were caught on camera were not very lucky, by the dynamics of social media, to make their photos go viral. I just want to stress the point that this photo, it might be forgotten with time; however, this boy was lucky: At least some people will remember him for some time. But there are thousands. The misery of thousands is not being reported. The world is not hearing about them. They are just numbers. And we are not numbers.
This boy, as I wrote in my piece, he came to the hospital injured with massive shrapnels. He was agitated. He was caught up in a state somehow in the middle between being awake and asleep, because he was sleeping safely in his home, and suddenly his home was targeted. So, maybe he was in a dream or something, so he was like in the middle of hallucination, not completely aware of his surroundings. And that’s probably the reason why he kept screaming, "Bring my father! I want my father!" And that’s why he kept clinging to the paramedic and refused to let go. However, in order to save his life, we had to sedate him with some drug, and the doctors immediately operated on him. And just about this area, there was a shrapnel this big that has penetrated his neck about one or two centimeters away from a big vessel in this area. He was very lucky that this vessel was not hit.
I believe he survived. With all of the flow of casualties, I could not know neither his name or if he was united with his father or what was the fate of the rest of his family. I only saw three other of his brothers. Two of them are just below three years, and the other a teenager. Those should be fine now. But what happened to the rest of the family? Are they under the rubble? Or if they are uninjured, why they were not—why didn’t we see them at the emergency room? I am not aware. But maybe this is for the best, because a little mystery—people tend to like mystery. Some mystery to the story might make it stick in the memories for a little bit longer, before he gets forgotten with the massive amount of people killed here and the increasing numbers.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Belal Dabour, you are a doctor, but you are also a Palestinian living in Gaza right now. Can you describe your daily life?
DR. BELAL DABOUR: Our daily life is basically just sitting at the house waiting for the next to come. My area is now swarming with people who are taking shelter from the North Gaza. I live somehow closer to the west side of Gaza City. In my house, now there are currently three families, three uncles who evacuated from the north. This situation is the same for all of my neighbors. Therefore, you can find some life in the streets; however, from my house and to the east, the life is paralyzed. Only ambulances can pass through the streets. All aspect of life are paralyzed, of course. And in addition, this is in addition to the problems with electricity. Yesterday only 24 hours—only one hour per 24 hours, we had power supply; today, little less than three hours. And also, this is affecting the sewage pumping, and this is affecting the water supply. This situation is not in my area; it is in the whole of Gaza Strip.
Now I’m speaking, and behind me there are artillery shells falling on the area of al-Zeitoun, and to the right, the Shejaiya area is also, where the massacre happened, it’s still being bombarded at the moment. I’m speaking to you and hearing shells with my left ear. This continuous shelling has been nonstop for more than one week now. It started last Thursday, and now we are on Friday, so for eight days there are explosions nonstopping for 24/7.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the feeling of the Palestinian people in Gaza when the Israeli military says, if the rocket fire—if the Hamas rocket fire will stop, the thousands of rockets that are coming from Gaza, that they would begin to talk about a ceasefire? Is there support for the Hamas rockets stopping, Dr. Dabour?
DR. BELAL DABOUR: The Israeli side always try to sell the theory that this is a conflict between two states. However, we are not talking about a war between two states. We are talking about Gaza Strip, an area under occupation until now that is being besieged and bombed. And we are talking about Israel, a massive force with a extensive army and sophisticated weaponry, targeting such enclaved area, not only targeting them, but for eight years people have been deprived from all means to live. So, if you look at the situation this way, you will find that anything that comes from Gaza is a form of resistance, whether you agree with it or not. And this is what the people are saying.
Two days ago, when Khaled Meshaal, senior Hamas officer, he spoke and said that there will be no ceasefire unless there is lifting of the siege, I was at Shifa Hospital, and beside me were the families of the people who were injured—at the surgery department—who were injured from the Shejaiya massacre. And they kept screaming at Meshaal. They said that if he accepts, or if Hamas accepts that a ceasefire shall be achieved with no lifting of the siege, they will all start to be the enemies of Hamas, because they have lost everything, and they have no hope, so at least those sacrifices should not go to waste, should not go without the lifting of the siege. This is the minimum that the people have been asking. This is not what Hamas say. And if your correspondents just make a few interviews at the streets, I suspect that anyone will say otherwise.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you explain just the effect of this siege, what it is? In the United States, it is not as clear, when you talk about the siege, what the siege of Gaza means. When Israeli officials are interviewed, like, for example, Mark Regev, the spokesperson for the prime minister, when someone says Gaza being occupied, he says, "No, we left Gaza many years ago."
DR. BELAL DABOUR: Well, he can say whatever he says, but the United Nations still treats Gaza as an occupied strip. By the siege of Gaza, your guest before me said that Gaza has been besieged for decades now. And this is true. But for the previous eight years, the siege has taken the forms—have taken many forms. For four years, until 2010, the siege meant that there was absolutely no movement outside of Gaza Strip and that there were shortages of electricity, shortages—Israel denied entry of medicines, denied entry of most types of food. Israel used to calculate how much calories each person in Gaza should allow, and that calculation was about 2,100 calories per person. And this was published in Ha’aretz.
However, now the siege is taking another smarter form. For example, now we can get whatever medicines we want, speaking about the health sector. But they put a ban on the unity government. They put a ban on the movement of finances to the Gazan banks. They also crush the economy so that internal revenues are now up to zero. And then they say, "You can have whatever medicines you want." So the siege is continuous for eight years, but it’s taken many forms. However, one common manifestation of this siege is that now, after eight years, life has become intolerable, and people have no—they have no hope, and they feel that the horizon for any prosper futures for themselves or for the future is not seen, at least now, until the siege is lifted.
AMY GOODMAN: And if there is a ceasefire—you have, what, more than 2,600 homes that have been destroyed, thousands more that have been damaged. What happens if there’s a ceasefire?
DR. BELAL DABOUR: Yeah, let me tell you about the war in 2008. About 5,000 houses were completely destroyed. Those houses remained unbuilt, unreconstructed for about two years, until the tunnels solved some of the problem. Some construction materials started coming in through the tunnels. And then, after the tunnels started working and we started getting some construction materials, Israel allowed some other construction materials to get into Gaza through UNRWA. So for two years, people were staying at their relatives or at whatever shelter they could provide. This tragedy now, if the siege is not lifted, it shall be repeated again, and for God knows how long. It might continue forever until the siege is lifted, because now even the tunnels that were used to find temporary solution are gone by now.
AMY GOODMAN: You have a final comment, Dr. Belal Dabour. I’m seeing a tweet that’s coming right from the AP office where you are standing, overlooking Gaza City, that says large parts of Gaza City are now being shelled by artillery. Your final comment?
DR. BELAL DABOUR: My comment is that, as a doctor, if this situation was an illness, I would prescribe this medicine. As Dr. Mads Gilbert said, the best medicine is first, number one, stop the assault immediately; and, number two, stop the siege; and, number three, lift the occupation. But the most important now is for these massacres to stop, and number two is for the siege to be lifted, to allow the thousands of houses and the hospitals and the centers that were hit in this war, in addition to the previous inhumane circumstances, to allow them to be lifted at least. And then we can discuss number three, the lifting of the occupation. But number one, stop the killing immediately.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Belal Dabour, I thank you for being with us. I see that just behind your head there is smoke coming up. If you step—just shift aside, we will see what is directly behind you. That’s right. Dr. Belal Dabour, please stay safe—works at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. His piece at The Electronic Intifada called "The Boy Who Clung to the Paramedic: The Story Behind the Photo."
That does it for the show. I’ll be speaking on Real Time with Bill Maher tonight onHBO, 10:00 Eastern Standard Time. Tomorrow night, I’ll be speaking on Martha’s Vineyard. Check our website at

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