Democracy Now – 7 July 2010

After US Praise for Netanyahu’s “Restraint”, Israeli Journalist Amira Hass Asks Obama to Imagine Life as A Palestinian Under Occupation

Meeting at the White House, President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized the “unbreakable” bond between Israel and the United States. Despite ongoing Israeli settlement expansion, roadblocks, closures and the attack on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla, Obama said he thinks Israel “has shown restraint.” The meeting came on the heels of a decision by the Israeli military prosecutor to take disciplinary and legal action in four separate cases from Israel’s 22-day assault on Gaza last year. Democracy Now! speak to veteran Israeli journalist Amira Hass.

[Rush transcript]

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama hosted talks of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House Tuesday in a push to restart direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials. Obama urged the two sides to resume talks before the partial freeze on building illegal Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank expires in September. At a joint news conference after their meeting Tuesday morning, both Obama and Netanyahu emphasized the unbreakable bond between Israel and the United States and downplayed recent U.S. Israeli tensions over the settlements. In his remarks to the press, President Obama made no mention of settlement expansion or the Israeli commando attack on the humanitarian aid flotilla that killed nine people including a U.S. citizen. He noted that Netanyahu is “Willing to take risks for peace” and praised Israel’s moves to begin easing the blockade of Gaza.

BARACK OBAMA: Let me first of all say that I think the Israeli government working through layers of various governmental entities and jurisdictions have shown restraint over the last seven months that I think has been conducive to the prospects of us getting into direct talks. I think it is very important that the Palestinians not look for excuses for incitement, that they’re not engaging in provocative language, that at the international level they are maintaining a constructive talk as opposed to looking for opportunities to embarrass Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu echoed President of in his optimism about moving forward with direct negotiations but warned that Israel wants a secure peace.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: We don’t want a repeat of the situation where we vacate territories and those are overtaken by Iran’s proxies and used as launching grounds for terrorist attacks, rocket attacks. I think there are solutions that we can adopt—but in order to proceed to the solution, we need to begin negotiations in order to end them. Without proximity talks, I think it’s high time to begin direct talks.

AMY GOODMAN: Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama came on the heels of a decision by the Israeli military prosecutor to take disciplinary and legal action and four separate cases from Israel’s 22-day assault on Gaza last year. One soldier was charged with manslaughter in connection with the deaths of a Palestinian mother and daughter who were shot while waving white flags. The prosecutor also called for criminal investigation into air-strikes on a building into which Israeli troops had ordered 100 members of a single-family. Over two dozen members of the family were killed in the shelling. For more on the U.S. Israeli relations and prospects for peace and accountability, I’m joined on the telephone from Tel Aviv by veteran Israeli journalist Amira Hass, she’s the Ha’aretz correspondent for the occupied Palestinian territories and the only Israeli journalist to have spent several years living in and reporting from Gaza and the West Bank. Amira, welcome to Democracy Now!, your comments on the meeting between Netanyahu and Obama yesterday and what came of it.

AMIRA HASS: Oh, I have no comment, I thought we were talking about something else, I did not even watch it. By the time we know really what happened there—it will take some time before we know really what happened there. I only hope that or I suspect Obama allowed himself to be misled by the sweet talk of Netanyahu. That is my impression, or that is my guess. I am sorry because I—

AMY GOODMAN: Well Amira, let me ask you, President Obama praised Netanyahu for the easing of the blockade. Can you talk about what that means?

AMIRA HASS: Perhaps Obama should ask himself if he would set aside in life of just getting chips and ketchup and Coca-Cola and not being allowed to produce, to create, to export, to send his daughters to university, to have visitors from outside—if this is the life that he thinks are suitable for human beings, then maybe all the Americans who voted for him made a mistake.

AMY GOODMAN: Well explain—

AMIRA HASS: Because the blockade here. Look, everybody talks about food when we come to this blockade. So now Israel is giving some more items of food, allowing the Palestinian merchants to buy some more items of food to get into Gaza and maybe some other stuff, I don’t know. But everything which is connected to raw materials for industry, for producing, anything connected to construction material is very limited. Nothing has changed. So adding ketchup, as somebody told me, does not make people feel that the blockade is over. Maybe now there are more types of shampoo that Israel will allow to enter. But anyway, in the past years, Palestinians have managed to bring in shampoo and some other hygiene products from Egypt through the tunnels. This is not the blockade.

The blockade is about being imprisoned in Gaza. This is the real closure. This is the real siege. And this is not going to change. Only today there was a court hearing of the petition of a Palestinian lawyer, woman lawyer, female lawyer, from Gaza who wants to complete her M.A. Studies at the University and the state does not allow her because they say when it comes to the passage, the movement of human beings, nothing has changed. They still do not allow or they haven’t been allowed anywhere for the past ten or fifteen years but evermore severely, they don’t allow the passage, the movement of people between Gaza and the West Bank except in some rare, very exceptional humanitarian cases. So this remains the same. This remains the same. also, Palestinians cannot export. Israel is talking only about bringing in products, not exporting. So even if Palestinians got raw materials, for example for textiles for furniture, the traditional industry that Gazans excel at, they are not allowed to export them. So they won’t earn a living. So Gaza is a huge prison where people are dependent on charity, some sort of charity. This situation is not going to change now, with Israel’s new measures.

AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass, the meeting yesterday between Netanyahu and Obama came on the heels of the decision by the Israeli military prosecutor to take disciplinary and legal action in four separate cases in the Israeli assault on Gaza last year. Among them, a soldier charged with manslaughter in connection with the deaths of a Palestinian mother and daughter. Can you explain that story?

AMIRA HASS: There’s several—I have spoken to the family, I think it was the—second day or the first morning, the first day of the ground invasion where people understood that they should leave their homes and go from the east of Gaza more to the west, towards the city itself. There was a group of people, 30, 40 people, with children, with women. The whole area is an agricultural area, with scattered house, it is not heavily populated. They left with waving white flags and from a distance, I do not remember how many meters, 60, 70, 100, a tank stopped them then shot the mother and the daughter. The family couldn’t even bury them, they had to flee. They had to flee, they came back a week or 15 days later to recover the corpses. These are the mother and the daughter.

The same unit was in charge of the whole area and I have like many others and human rights field workers, we have researched all the measures of this unit over the area, the destruction of houses, the bombings, shellings, not allowing people to reach—to get rescued by medical teams. This has been the case all over this area and other places, but very strongly in this area, where the Samouni’s, a bit further to the west, the Samouni family, which you also mentioned, are a typical one—one of the most difficult cases of this onslaught. As you said, 29 people were killed. 21 or 22 of whom in the house to which the soldiers themselves ordered them to be in. So the soldiers knew very well there were civilians gathered in the house feeling secure because there were asked to be there. And what is very surprising is it took the army so long, a year and a half, to admit that something-–went wrong there-–even to according to their criteria. Because all the information was valid, was available from the start. From the start the information to at least suspect about what the soldiers were saying. Why wait so long? It seems not by surprise-–not by coincidence the announcement came yesterday just on the eve of Mr. Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama.

AMY GOODMAN: So the Samouni family, 29 killed in that family, the Israeli military told them to go into that house and then they struck the House?


AMY GOODMAN: The story of the Samouni family, the 29 members—

AMIRA HASS: This is just—it is in the same area where the other family, the mother and the daughter were killed. It’s the same unit. We see overall the practices of shooting at civilians from very short range, close range, shooting at people carrying white flags, not allowing rescue teams to arrive to the wounded, not allowing people to rescue their own relatives. Here in the Samouni family, the unique case, the soldiers were talking to the people. They were even talking in Hebrew because all of these people knew the man in the family spoke Hebrew because they were working in Israel for many years. This was-–in that particular case, it was an extreme in the standards of the onslaught on Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Could you also comment on the committee tasked by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate the nine deaths aboard the aid flotilla that was headed to Gaza? The head is going to be Philippe Kirsch, the former president of international criminal court.

AMIRA HASS: When was it published? When was it known? I did not follow it.

AMY GOODMAN: It just recently came out. But this meeting that is happening between Netanyahu and Obama its the first since then. In fact, Netanyahu was supposed to meet with Obama, but Netanyahu left in the midst of—right after the strike to return to Israel when the attack on the flotilla happened.

AMIRA HASS: He left?

AMY GOODMAN: This is the first meeting they’ve had since then. The fallout from that, Amira Hass?

AMIRA HASS: I am sorry, the line—

AMY GOODMAN: The fallout from the attack on the Gaza flotilla. It wasn’t mentioned yesterday, but what you think the fallout has been?

AMIRA HASS: I don’t know.

AMY GOODMAN: In the territories—

AMIRA HASS: Why it has not been mentioned?

AMY GOODMAN: No, what has been the fallout in Israel and Gaza?

AMIRA HASS: Look, right now people think it has calmed down. People are looking for, and politicians are looking for, ways to sort things out with Turkey, especially the military. I think the military cherishes, the relations—old relations with Turkey. I think they want to amend. They came yesterday with a story, some of the corpse posthumous analysis showed that some of the people-–there were some other bullets other than the military bullets. So they still keep to the version that it’s the Israeli soldiers who were attacked. So right now in Israel, the flotilla, people know it was a big political flop and military flop, too. But now you know events are tracing one after the other here. So right now there is not so much talk about the flotilla as there was two weeks ago or three weeks ago.

AMY GOODMAN: Well Amira Hass, I want to thank you for being with us, Ha’aretz correspondent for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, only Israeli journalist to have spent more than a decade living and reporting from Gaza and the West Bank. Thanks for being with us, she talked with us from Tel Aviv. This is Democracy Now!, we’ll be back in a moment.