Interview w/ Tariq Kenney-Shawa of Al-Shabaka
Sunday morning EST, October 15, 2023
As we're conducting this interview, Gaza is being subjected to a relentless air bombardment that has killed over 2,200 people at last count, in addition to an Israeli siege that has cut off water, food, electricity, fuel, etc. At the same time, it feels like Gaza is in limbo waiting for the inevitable Israeli ground invasion. What have you seen/heard in terms of the current conditions in Gaza and people's expectations for what is to come?
What we're seeing on the ground in Gaza is an increasingly dire situation that is unfathomable to the majority of people reading this. Even before the ongoing siege, in periods of what the international community likes to call "calm," the conditions Gazans live under have been unacceptable. Remember, Gazans cannot leave the strip without Israeli permission, which is rarely granted. Gaza's infrastructure has been crippled by repeated Israeli assaults - in 2023 Gazans only got an average of 13 hours of electricity a day. I can go on and on. Now, conditions for Gazans are much worse. Israel has cut off water and electricity, and is preventing food aid and fuel from entering the strip. It's a complete siege that is aimed at the collective punishment of Gaza's entire population. What this means is that hospitals are already well over capacity and are running out of medicine and supplies to treat the bodies that are piling up. And this is only going to get worse over the coming days and weeks, as Israel prepares for a land invasion which usually comes after a period of particularly high intensity bombing aimed at literally paving the way for Israeli tanks.
The Israeli government delivered a "warning"/ultimatum late Thursday that everyone living in northern Gaza should evacuate south within 24 hours. The "24 hours" part has gone away but the evacuation order remains in place and signals that an invasion is coming within days if not hours. Can you give people a sense of what is required to move over 1 million people, many of whom are elderly/infirm/currently in hospital, in such a narrow window of time under these conditions?
Putting aside the fact that ordering this type of population transfer is illegal under international law, since international law is essentially irrelevant anyways, that scale of evacuation is impossible under the current circumstances in Gaza. Remember, the Gaza Strip is already one of the most densely populated places on earth, so effectively squeezing the entire population into just about half of the territory is logistically unfeasible, even if Gaza wasn't currently being bombarded indiscriminately by Israel. Putting the logistical infeasibility aside, those who have tried to evacuate and followed the exact paths they were told would be safe by Israel are being targeted by Israeli air strikes. Just yesterday, Israel struck a convoy of refugees heading south on Salahudin Street, killing at least 70, all of whom were civilians, including women and children. The photos and videos of the strike and its aftermath have been some of the most gruesome I've seen so far.
What are the "humanitarian" implications of ordering people to evacuate northern Gaza when that means putting themselves out in the open in the middle of an aerial bombardment?
Northern Gaza is the most densely populated part of the strip, and it's clear that moving over a million people south is simply unfeasible, especially within 24 hours and under a constant barrage of Israeli air strikes. Relocating a million people and then ensuring they are housed and fed, have access to clean water and electricity anywhere would entail a massive mobilization of resources and dedicated infrastructure that Gaza simply does not have as a result of years of Israeli blockade and repeated military assaults. Without housing, this new wave of refugees will be effectively homeless and out in the open as Israel continues to bomb everything that moves. Israel knows all of this. They are just calling for this "evacuation" as an empty PR gesture and because they know they will start losing Western support as the number of civilians they kill increases.
What happens if/when the Israelis move on southern Gaza, with civilians seemingly having nowhere else to go?
It's important that we recognize that Israel is currently bombarding the entire Gaza Strip, from north to south. There is no safe place in Gaza, there are no bomb shelters, no "civilian safe zones," even roads Israel promised would be safe to use for civilian evacuation are being hit. And this is not new, in each of Israel's assaults from 2008 to today, Israel has purposefully targeted civilian infrastructure and places that were known to be sheltering civilians, such as UN schools and offices and hospitals. Those who are able to make it to southern Gaza are still at risk of being killed in Israeli air or artillery strikes. The focus on the north is because it's looking like that might be where Israel directs the bulk of its ground forces, after which it may aim to reoccupy either the north or the entire strip.
There's been a fair amount of discussion about allowing Gaza's civilian population to evacuate into Egypt. Can you talk about the implications of that idea (in terms of ethnic cleansing, the example of the Nakba, the large presence of already-displaced people inside Gaza, the Egyptian government's unwillingness to accept refugees and/or unsuitability as a host, etc.)?
As of now, there is no option for Gazans to evacuate into Egypt, although it is certainly being discussed. If it does develop into an option, and if Egypt is somehow persuaded to incorporate over a million refugees, Gazans will face a truly horrific decision - either they stay in Gaza, remain in the homes they and their families have lived in their entire lives, and risk being killed or leave and risk never being allowed to return to their ancestral homes. This is a clear repeat of what happened in 1948, when over 750,000 Palestinians fled their homes in the face of rampaging Zionist militias only to be prevented from returning by Israel. This would create a new, even bigger refugee crisis to add to the existing tragedy. Meanwhile, Israel would be getting away with blatant ethnic cleansing with the full backing of the US and the rest of the West.
When you see what's taking place in Gaza and hear rhetoric from Israeli officials and supporters referring to "human animals" in Gaza, blaming the civilian population in Gaza for the actions of Hamas and other militant groups, advocating for collective punishment (i.e., that the population could be spared if Hamas surrenders) and all of that goes largely unquestioned by the US government with its declarations of blanket support for Israel, do you have any reason to think/hope that there will be any check on Israeli actions in Gaza moving forward?
Israelis do not consider Palestinians to be human beings, plain and simple. This is reflected in the statements we're seeing from Israeli leaders unabashedly calling all Palestinians "human animals" and declaring their clear intentions to "wipe Gaza off the face of the map." The extent of this hatred of Palestinians is not immediately understood by the wider international community, but combine this systematic dehumanization with their belief that they alone are God's people and on a divine mission is a recipe for horror. For a long time, I believed that the only thing stopping Israel from exterminating all Palestinians was the international community. But after seeing how readily and eagerly Western governments have thrown their full support behind Israel, I'm not so sure there is anything standing in Israel's way from its most horrific fantasies. The US and the West, Israel's unconditional allies have always allowed Israel to operate with a unique level of impunity that no other country on this planet enjoys - the true special treatment. This will not change now, especially after Hamas's operation which did strike a heavy blow to Israel.
Please offer any thoughts on the media coverage over the past week, particularly in terms of the double standard that seems to apply when describing Israeli and Palestinian suffering, and in terms of the treatment of Israeli and Palestinian voices.
There is nothing new about double standards in press coverage of Palestine - it is something we have been fighting against for literally decades. It's not just double standards and hypocrisy, it's also the systematic exclusion of Palestinian voices that ensures audiences never hear the Palestinian perspective. A couple years ago, Maha Nassar published a study that found that in the New York Times, less than 2 percent of the nearly 2,500 opinion pieces that discussed Palestinians since 1970 were actually written by Palestinians. That exclusion alone leaves a lasting impact on public discourse on this subject. This has been changing over recent years, as the narrative on Palestine shifts and more Palestinians are finding spaces for their voices and perspectives. But the past week has shown that the deep hatred of Palestinians, Muslims, and Arabs as a whole that was cultivated to justify the Iraq War still remains, evidenced by how readily the US public and press has come out to demonize and dehumanize the entire Palestinian people. So I wasn't surprised at all when mainstream media, from MSNBC to CNN, leapt at the opportunity to uncritically share unconfirmed Israeli military talking points, most of which have turned out to be false with further research. I believe that, as more and more Palestinians in Gaza are massacred, this pendulum will begin to swing back, but the damage, the warmongering, and the hate cultivating is already done. It appears America has not learned anything its recent past and is willing to dive right back into the same mistakes again.