From New York, Palestinian-American professor Rashid Khalidi, author of the book “Palestine, One Hundred Years of Colonialism and Resistance”, analyses how this weekend’s extreme violence between Hamas and Israel will lead to “a paradigm shift”. Colonial powers will no longer believe they can force people to live in the conditions to which Israel has subjected the Palestinian people without expecting reprisals from the oppressed, Khalidi says. “This idea has been shattered after the terrible events of the last two and a half days,” Khalidi argues. He describes the blockade of Gaza as “a pressure cooker that had to explode”. In answer to the escalating conflict, the US assured that Israel would have “whatever it needs to defend itself”, pledging more military aid and ammunition to a country that is already the largest annual recipient of US military funds. At the same time, the Biden administration ordered the transfer of warships to Israel. Khalidi points out that the US “finances this occupation, finances this violence” and requests Biden to calm the situation rather than escalate it. “You can’t make peace over the dead bodies of the Palestinian population,” he said.
Interview on Monday 9 October 2023, subtitled in English:
Transcript of the interview
Amy Goodman: -This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the war and peace news. I’m Amy Goodman.
Israel has ordered a total siege of Gaza after Hamas broke the blockade of the Gaza Strip on October 7th to carry out an unprecedented series of air, land and sea attacks against Israel. At least 1,300 people have been killed in the last three days, including more than 800 in Israel and more than 500 in Gaza.
We have just spoken to guests from Gaza and Jerusalem. Joining us now from New York is Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, author of several books, including “Palestine: One Hundred Years of Colonialism and Resistance”.
Professor Khalidi, thank you for being with us. We heard the voices of Orly Noy in Jerusalem; Raji Sourani, a human rights lawyer in Gaza, as we heard the impact of a live attack; and Ofer Cassif, a member of Israel’s parliament. Can you respond to what has happened and what seems to be about to take place? There is Israeli military equipment and tanks on their way to Gaza now.
Rashid Khalidi: -I fear that the horrendous scenes of civilian casualties, in Israel and, increasingly, in Palestine, are just the beginning of what will be a horrible, horrible, horrible massacre in Gaza. The desire for revenge after the killing of a very large number – hundreds, apparently – of innocent Israeli civilians is going to lead to a horrible massacre in Gaza of probably many, many more people than we can imagine. I agree with what Raji said, of course, my friend Raji, who I hope is right. And I agree with what Orly said and with what Ofer Cassif said. War crimes do not justify other war crimes. And we are about to see appalling war crimes.
But I think there are two things that need to be added. This has to be put in context. And the context is not just the occupation. The context is settlement colonialism and apartheid. The people of Gaza, the refugees in Gaza, originate from the areas where Hamas fighters have been directing attacks in the last few days. These were Palestinian towns and villages in 1948. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine led to the encirclement of what are now 2.4 million people in Gaza. Today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the United States. These are the indigenous peoples in the parts of southern Israel that Hamas fighters have attacked in recent days. That is the first point.
The second thing is that I think we are about to see a paradigm shift. The idea that you can lock up 5 million people, put them behind walls, tighten the siege on them, only allow in a trickle of some food, a little water and a little electricity, that idea has exploded as a result of the terrible events of the last two and a half days. This cannot go on. It is not just a question of the occupation. We have to recognise that you cannot treat a whole people the way Israel, not just under this neo-fascist government but under all previous governments, has treated them. You cannot expel three quarters of a million people in 1948 and not expect the return of the oppressed. You cannot commit daily acts of violence against Palestinians – one Palestinian has been killed every day this year, in fact a little more – in the occupied territories of the West Bank; you cannot do that and expect that it will not bring a reaction. The reaction will be violent. The reaction can sometimes include things that are indisputably war crimes.
But that kind of pressure that has been put on an entire people for more than three quarters of a century will necessarily and inevitably produce a violent reaction. The Palestinians are in a pressure cooker and the Hamas military commander enumerated the conditions they face: he spoke of what the Israelis are doing in Jerusalem, trying to take over the Al-Aqsa mosque and turn it into a Jewish prayer site; what they are doing in the occupied West Bank territories in terms of the effective annexation to Israel of more and more Palestinian land; the application of Israeli laws to Israelis and of military laws to Palestinians – apartheid, two legal systems in one place; the imprisonment of 5. 000 Palestinians and the administrative detention of hundreds and, finally, the siege of Gaza.
When Gallant, Yoav Gallant, the [Israeli] defence minister, announced that the supply of fuel, food, water and electricity to Gaza would be cut off, he called its inhabitants “human animals”. These are 2.4 million people who are being treated as if they were animals. They are not Hamas fighters. As Raji said, fighters are one thing. Hamas is one thing. Hamas has imposed itself on the people of Gaza. And it is the people of Gaza who are going to suffer. As in every one of these wars that Israel has fought in Gaza, almost all the casualties will be civilians. This will be the fifth or sixth attack on Gaza. And I am very much afraid that Raji is right: we are going to see unprecedented massacres.
But I think we have to understand that this may be the end of an era in which people in Washington and in Arab capitals assume that you can fly over Palestine, ignore it and pretend that we’re in a new Middle East of peace, while a whole people live under this kind of incredible oppression, in a pressure cooker. That had to blow up.
-Talk about what’s happening now. We have the Republicans attacking Biden and saying it’s his support for Iran and the deal struck to unfreeze $6 billion in Iranian assets that has facilitated this happening; The Wall Street Journal saying Iran is behind this, the White House contradicting him, with Blinken claiming they have no evidence on this at this point. What does it all mean? And also, Hezbollah’s activity on the Lebanese border and its incursion this weekend.
-The possibility of a wider conflict should terrify everyone. And rather than mobilising aircraft carriers, the US should be trying to defuse the situation. Instead, I think they are blindly continuing the policies they have pursued in the past. You don’t send gifts, as President Biden has done, to an apartheid government that is taking steps to basically destroy the protections that the Israeli constitution provides to Israeli Jews and to annex the West Bank. And that is what this government has been doing. That is what previous governments have done. We fund this occupation. We financed this violence. There are American weapons being used today, right now, in Gaza to kill innocent civilians in violation of US law. And American politicians speak impudently as if they live on another planet.
However, I believe that the situation has changed, and although American politicians still live in Never Never Land, as far as Palestine is concerned, reality is going to set in sooner or later. There is a widespread feeling of disgust throughout the Arab world against what Israel is doing in Palestine. The authoritarian, dictatorial, absolute monarchies are trying to ignore that, to ignore the feelings of their own people, the views of their own people. And that is not going to work. You cannot achieve peace over the dead bodies of Palestinians. That is not peace. That is the peace of the dead. And the kind of repression that is being exercised on a daily basis, the theft of land, the expansion of settlements and so on is necessarily and inevitably going to provoke a reaction. So, if people living in Washington D.C. and in their own alternative reality believe that this is possible, sooner or later I think that reality is going to take hold. But you can’t do this forever.
-National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said just 10 days ago that the Middle East has been very calm, allowing the US to focus on other parts of the world. “Very calm,” he said. What can you comment on that – do you think what led to this attack by Hamas fighters on Saturday has anything to do with Saudi Arabia and Israel normalising relations at the behest of the US?
-I don’t doubt that that was a factor. I think the basic factor is that people can’t go on living in these circumstances. And Hamas has basically acted in an enormously brutal way against civilians, which is indisputably a war crime. But it has acted in that way to break that whole paradigm. I think people are looking very carefully at what has happened in places that have normalised their relations with Israel.
The other thing that should be highlighted, and I think Orly mentioned this, is the massive intelligence failure on the part of US intelligence and especially on the part of Israeli intelligence. They had no idea this was going to happen. They moved three battalions from the Gaza front to the West Bank to protect settler attacks on Palestinians, leaving the villages on the southern border of the Gaza Strip defenceless without the people who could have defended them from Hamas attack. This was one of the great misguided operations in modern military history, and it is something that will be taught. War crimes aside, it will be taught in military academies for many years to come. This is on a par with the 1973 war in terms of the deception and the total misconception of the Israelis, who thought they could treat Gaza this way forever and that the Palestinians were just going to accept it.
-And, Rashid Khalidi…
-Thinking that they could… -I’m sorry, go on.
-This story was just reported by the Times of Israel, and by the Associated Press: Egyptian intelligence repeatedly warned Israel that Hamas was planning something big, but they ignored the warnings, a Cairo intelligence official says.
-Your take on this, in the last 30 seconds?
-It’s very similar to what happened before the 1973 war, when Israel was receiving intelligence information warning that the Syrian and Egyptian armies were planning a big attack. And the conception – “concepsia”, in Hebrew – that these people would never do such a thing, that they are not capable of it, plus the arrogance involved in ignoring those intelligence reports both in 1973 and in 2023 are among the things that led to this catastrophic outcome, which I think is going to change a lot of things in the Middle East in the months and years to come.
-Rashid Khalidi, I want to thank you for joining us. Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University. His latest book is entitled “Palestine: One Hundred Years of Colonialism and Resistance”. Raji Sourani of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza, a well-known human rights lawyer, who spoke to us from Gaza as bombs exploded around him. Ofer Cassif, member of the Israeli Knesset. And Orly Noy, president of B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organisation. So much for our programme. I’m Amy Goodman. Thank you for joining us.