Matt Katz: I'm Matt Katz, a reporter at WNYC in for Tanzina this week. This is The Takeaway. We begin in the Middle East.
Riyad al-Malki: "Each time Israel hears a foreign leader speak of its right to defend itself it is further emboldened to continue murdering entire families in their sleep."
Gilad Erdan: "If you choose to avoid condemning Hamas, it will strengthen the radical terror group which aims to overthrow the Palestinian Authority and whose charter explicitly called for wiping Israel off the map."
Matt Katz: Sunday marked another deadly day in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The violence has been raging for more than a week now, and so far in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military has killed close to 200 people, including 58 children. Israel has also destroyed a number of tall buildings in Gaza City. Over the weekend it leveled the building where the offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera were located.
Israel argues that its airstrikes in Gaza are a defense against rockets fired by Hamas into Israeli neighborhoods. Palestinian militants have so far launched more than 3,000 rockets into Israel, according to the Associated Press. At least 10 people have been killed in Israel, including one child, but compared to the violence inflicted on the Palestinians by Israel, the toll has been disproportionate. On CBS on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there isn't a clear end in sight to this conflict.
Benjamin Netanyahu: "We're not going to just let them get away with it. Neither would you. I mean, just imagine what would have happened if you had 2,900 rockets fired on Washington and New York and others. I think you would understand our position. I think you do actually."
Matt Katz: Joining me now is Vice News reporter, Hind Hassan. Welcome back to The Takeaway, Hind.
Hind Hassan: Hi. Thank you.
Matt Katz: Also with us is Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Aaron, thanks for coming back on the show.
Aaron David Miller: Pleasure, Matt.
Matt Katz: Hind, you've been reporting from East Jerusalem, can you just tell us what you're seeing on the ground right now?
Hind Hassan: Right. We've been here for almost three weeks, actually, we came before it escalated to the level that it's escalated now. From the moment we arrived, we went to an area called Damascus Gate, which is near-- It's an entry point into the Al-Aqsa compounds and into the Old City.
During Ramadan, which is when we arrived, a lot of Palestinians would go there and they would gather. It's a spot where a lot of people socialize during this month, and Palestinians are allowed to travel from different areas of Palestinian territory to go there during this month, which they're not allowed to do in other months. It's a very important time for the Palestinians in the region.
What happened was Israeli police tried to limit access into the Al-Aqsa compounds and into the ground outside Damascus Gate where Palestinians gather, and that, obviously, upset and angered and distressed Palestinians, protests began, and then there was a lot of police violence in response.
From the minute we got there, we saw police using stun grenades. We saw police using water cannons and skunk water, which has a really foul smell and can linger for days. We saw people being arrested, a number of them told us that they were children 15 years old, and the scenes were pretty shocking when we arrived.
Then there were also things happening in different areas of East Jerusalem as well. For example, in Sheikh Jarrah which is a neighborhood where there are Palestinian families who moved there after they were displaced by Israel in 1956, they are under threat from losing their homes because the Israeli courts are currently deciding whether to allow them to appeal to stay in their homes, as it is considered by settler organizations to belong to Jewish people.
This has also led to protests and again police aggression against Palestinians. All of this added together and accumulated and led to the situation that we have now. At the moment in East Jerusalem where I am, it feels surrealic, like very surreal and calm compared to what's happening in Gaza, for example, and that is because Hamas doesn't fire rockets really into East Jerusalem, and also Israel doesn't bomb East Jerusalem.
We're in a safe place and desperate as journalists to get into Gaza because we want to speak to the people and witness what's happening, but the crossing into Gaza is currently closed by Israel. They're currently not allowing human rights organizations or medics, emergency workers and journalists to cross the areas crossing into Gaza. At the moment, we're waiting with bated breath as to when the ceasefire will happen, and when we'll be able to go in.
Matt Katz: Aaron, I highlighted in the intro the rocket attacks by Hamas into Israel, there's Israeli airstrikes into Gaza, Hind has just told us about the violence in Jerusalem. Can you tell us what's different about this particular conflict compared to various skirmishes we've seen between these two sides over the decades, and maybe then also, what's familiar about it?
Aaron David Miller: I don't want to trivialize this. People are dying disproportionately, there's an asymmetry of casualties here, and there are reasons for that. It has a feel, to some degree, of a wash, rinse, and repeat cycle of 2008/2009, 2012, and, of course, 2014, in which the confrontation ran for 50 days. 67 Israeli soldiers were killed, six Israeli civilians, and depending on the stats, anywhere from 2,200 to 2,300 Palestinians, large numbers of Hamas fighters, but large numbers of civilians.
Right now, I think you've got a certain ebb and flow to these conflicts, and they usually come to an end, not as a consequence of external pressure, but when the two major protagonists, the IDF and the government of Israel and Hamas decide that, A, they've accomplished everything they were going to, and B, there's a risk, in essence, of losing the gains that they have achieved. We have not yet reached that point, tragically. It really is a tragedy.
The thing that makes this different, in addition to the multi-front nature of this as Hind reported, you have serious escalation or have had serious escalation in Jerusalem. You've got, of course, the Israeli-Hamas mini confrontation, some would call it, deservedly, a war, but it's the third element that strikes me as what's new, and that is the unprecedented communal violence within Israel, between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs.
I do not believe being looked just across the last 70 plus years, that there's any precedent for what we've seen in half a dozen or more mixed Arab and Jewish communities in cities where you have a degree of frustration on the part of Palestinian citizens of Israel, pulled by their Muslim Arab identities as a consequence of identification with what's happening in Jerusalem, Al Aqsa Mosque and the Sheikh Jarrah evictions, pulled by their desire to end their affinity, however different their circumstances are with their co-religionists, and across the green line, the Palestinians, under Israeli occupation.
Finally, most intriguingly, pulled by their identity as Israeli citizens, caught on one hand between the desire to integrate in Israeli society and yet suffering a degree of economic and social discrimination. It's stunning, at the same time, this horrible communal violence has taken place, exploited by criminal elements, and by angry mobs of both Jews and Arabs.
You have, for the first time in Israel's political history, the possibility, even now, of a smaller Arab party, the United Arab List headed by Mansour Abbas, actually negotiating with Zionist parties to actually join an Israeli government.
In fact, before the Hamas escalation, what they call The Change Coalition, the opposition to Benjamin Netanyahu, which spans left, right, and center, were very, very, very close to forming a government that would have included, for the first time, an Israeli Arab party, or probably supporting the government from the outside, but it's the communal piece of this that is new plus the intensity of the exchanges between the IDF and Hamas.
Matt Katz: Hind, where does this go? You've had the possibility, on one hand, of there being, as Aaron said, of government coalition involving Arab Israelis, Palestinians, by identity, who are citizens of Israel, and yet this neighborhood, this area, these communities are both intertwined, and at war at the same time, is there a sense of how close the ceasefire could be, whether that's even plausible politically at this point? Hind, what happens here?
Hind Hassan: That's what, absolutely, what my colleague has just said. That is exactly the sense and the feeling and the conversation that is currently taking place, and in East Jerusalem where we are amongst everyone that we're talking to and especially Palestinians, and there are Palestinian journalists that we've spoken to who seem incredibly moved by what is happening now and really shocked because, unfortunately, with this conflict, there tends to be a lot of fatigue externally.
You find that when you try and talk to somebody about this conflict and say to them what's happening is important, people roll their eyes and go, "Oh, Israel-Palestine, that's always going on." It really does feel different for people what they're witnessing in terms of this anti-communal violence.
We went to Yasa to witness a solidarity protest that was taking place there, and there were so many Palestinians from the area that had come out. The protest was very, very peaceful, but then we also have had in different places, we've spoken to people about what is happening in the evening, and that sense of frustration that Palestinians are feeling that has come out as a result of so many different issues coming to the fore all at the same time.
The visions of the world watching as Israeli police and forces storm Al Aqsa during the holiest days of Ramadan. The Sheikh Jarrah potential imminent forcible displacement of Palestinians who live there and the images on social media that is coming out of police aggression and police violence. It really put to the front these double standards that Palestinians say they have in how they're being treated by Israel and the Israeli court system as well.
In terms of a ceasefire, we're in constant contact with people who are inside Gaza with our colleagues inside Gaza. Honestly, in the first few days, there were rumors all over the place about, "There's potentially a ceasefire tonight. There's potentially a ceasefire tomorrow. There's going to be a ceasefire soon," and we've just not seen it happen.
From the conversations that we're having, the sense of dismay, frustration, anger, and hurt from people inside Gaza who don't understand what's left to destroy. They're seeing neighborhoods that they say, they tell us, are civilians who live there.
One of the journalists that we're working with, his entire street, al-Wehda Street, has had blocks all destroyed, and he was sending us some of the most gut-wrenching voice notes during that night of attacks. We did not know if he would survive. That's how scary it is for them right now. That's what he was saying to us on his voice notes. When I asked him, I said, "Is there anything I can do?" His response was, "Stop the war now."
We're hearing that the Israeli military has so-called goals that it wants to complete and that it's nearing the end of completion of those goals, and so potentially, there could be a ceasefire in the coming days. The people in Gaza, they're losing more hope as the days go along because these rumors and conversations based on different nations that have come to negotiate, keep coming in and out, and by the evening they're still being bombed.
Matt Katz: As Hind mentioned, there's these negotiations with various parties involved, officials from the US and Egypt have been trying to negotiate a ceasefire. UN Security Council met yesterday but didn't take any action. You've been in rooms like this before, Aaron. What are these negotiations like? Do you have a sense of what they're talking about and where they might see a path to ending this thing?
Aaron David Miller: At the end of this, the real tragedy here is that as a consequence of all of this death and destruction, it's highly unlikely that anything positive is going to emerge. That's certainly the case with the last four rounds, three rounds of Israeli-Hamas confrontation. The Israelis and Hamas have been indirectly negotiating a long-term ceasefire interim agreement, the opening of Gaza in exchange for quiet. That has come to naught.
The broader Israeli-Palestinian issue is so fundamentally broken by the toxic politics on both sides, the profound mistrust and lack of confidence, and the spectacularly Grand Canyon-like gaps, which exist between Israelis and Palestinians on the core issues, refugees, border, security, and of course, Jerusalem.
Donald Trump argued that he had taken Jerusalem off the table. The fact is, if you look at the last month, you see that Jerusalem has become the table. That I think is the poignancy here. That in the end, we're going to be left with further and further away from any pathway to negotiate anything remotely resembling a conflict-ending agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.
Woody Allen said that 90% of life, I think he said is showing up. The reality is in a negotiation, 90% of success is showing up at the right time, and the fact is not until the two major protagonists believe, A, that they've accomplished everything they want to do, and B, that they risk losing what they've accomplished will a ceasefire, probably delivered by Egypt, almost certainly delivered by Egypt would ensue.
I must say, as far as the Biden administration is concerned, they've low prioritized the middle East I would argue, understandably, given the fact that Biden confronts the greatest challenge of national recovery of any American president, probably since Franklin Roosevelt.
Biden would argue to you that there's no single foreign policy issue out there anywhere in the world that poses a greater danger and threat to his presidency and the future of the American Republic than the four or five interlock crises that we face at the moment. That view that I, Biden, want to be a transformational president at home because of the crises that now exist, and a smart but cautious risk-averse president abroad has forced him to pick his foreign policy spots very, very carefully.
The Middle East is not one of them. His main priority there is not this issue. Frankly, I'm sure if you caught him in an honest moment, he'd say, "Make this thing go away." It's Iran that he's worried about, because you think this confrontation is bad? The prospects of an Iranian-Israeli confrontation over the nuclear issue, which could involve the United States, would be far more destructive and deadlier.
He is in no hurry to jump into this thing. The danger, however, and there's a certain amount of indifference on Biden's part here that concerns me. The real danger here in this drift is that you could end up with a mass casualty event. In 1996 in Grapes of Wrath operation on Israelis and Hezbollah were going at it, an error in Israeli artillery shell slammed into a UN compound at Qana, 100 people were killed.
You get a Hamas rocket that willfully and intentionally-- They're looking for a spectacular way to end this Hamas. You get one of those mass casualty events on Hamas's part against Israel or alternatively, an Israeli drone strike or an artillery shell causes large number of casualties, it could paradoxically set the stage for an end, but at that moment, both sides are going to feel the need for even more retribution.
That's why it's critically important to bring this to an end now, and that is going to require, on both sides, a degree of pressure that has not yet been deployed either on Israel by Washington, or on Hamas on the part of its supporters in the Arab world.
Matt Katz: Aaron David Miller is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Hind Hassan is a reporter for Vice News. Hind, be safe out there. Aaron, thanks so much for this context. Appreciate you both.
Hind Hassan: Thank you.
Aaron David Miller: Thanks, Matt.
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