Accountability for Israel Essential to Attain Lasting Peace 

Interview with Jehad Abusalim, education & policy associate with American Friends Service Committee's Palestine Activism Program, conducted by Scott Harris

After 11 days of Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocket fire, ended by a tentative ceasefire on May 21, the number of Palestinian deaths in Gaza totaled 248, among them 66 children and 1,900 wounded. Israel reported one Israeli Defense Forces soldier and 12 civilians were killed, including 2 children, along with hundreds of injuries. This is the fifth conflict involving Israeli bombing of Gaza and rockets fired into Israel since the election of the Islamist political party Hamas in 2005.

Gaza, often referred to by Palestinians living there as the world’s largest open-air prison, is just 140 square miles, but home to some 2.1 million people with 8 official refugee camps and 1.2 million registered refugees in 2019. One of the most densely populated territories in the world, the people of Gaza have been subjected to a harsh Israeli blockade that has created shortages of food, medicine, electricity and an unemployment rate of over 41 percent.  The recent conflict has severely damaged Gaza’s already crumbling infrastructure, including the bombing of six hospitals, a cut-off of clean water and the closure of sewage systems.

Between The Lines Scott Harris spoke with Jehad Abusalim, education & policy associate with the American Friends Service Committee’s Palestine Activism Program. Here, Abusalim, originally from Gaza and whose family is still living there, talks about the urgent need to end the demonization and dehumanization of the people of Gaza.

JEHAD ABUSALIM: When we talk about violence in Palestine in general and in Gaza in particular, there is no before or after. After spectacular violence that we see on TV with bombs dropping and people murdered en masse and these scenes that get the attention of the international media, after this spectacular violence — people still experience other forms of violence. The Gaza Strip is a small territory densely populated with 2 million people, the majority of whom are refugees. They live in eight refugee camps in very difficult conditions. The Gaza Strip as a territory cannot afford, does not have the sufficient resources to guarantee the physical material and economic well-being of this large number of people. On top of that, the Gaza Strip has been under blockade for the past 14 years. And when I say blockade, I mean a system, a regime of restrictions imposed by the state of Israel that enforces limitations on imports and exports, that prevents people from being able to move freely.

Thankfully my family wasn’t harmed, but you know, I’m talking here about loss of life. However, you know, I was just talking to my sister and for me, she said something that really like was really hard for me to hear. She said, I am biologically alive, but I am dead from the inside. My sister is 21 years old. She will be 21 in November. She already experienced four wars in the last 10 years. Think about that. Think about the levels of trauma experienced by children, by young people, by everybody. The amounts of bombs that have been dropped, the scale of bombardment, the brutality of the attack has been severe.

So, you know, these military operations, these aggressions that Israel launches, they just intensify already the ongoing process of violence that is being poured on the heads of people in Gaza who have already been living under blockade, who have already been isolated and separated from the rest of the world, who already live on six to eight hours of electricity a day, who don’t have access to clean or fresh water. We’re talking about 96 to 99 percent of Gaza’s water resources are unfit for human consumption. So I really urge your listeners. When we talk about Gaza, we think about Palestine, violence does not begin or stop with this moment of spectacular bombardment. Violence continues, it’s there, it takes many forms and Palestinians experience that on a daily basis.

SCOTT HARRIS: Jehad, I did want to ask you about, the Biden administration was very hesitant to call for a ceasefire. Although a ceasefire is now has been in place and things could break down at any moment. What is it that the United States government, the international community, the United Nations, what can be done to change this horrifying pattern of wars every few years, that kills so many in Gaza, as well as Israel, too.

JEHAD ABUSALIM: There’s so much that needs to be done. I think the priority is to hold Israel accountable, is to stop giving $4 billion of U.S. taxpayer money to the state of Israel, is to stop providing diplomatic and political cover and legal cover for the state of Israel. Israel’s belief is that it can get away with killing civilians with seizing land, with stealing people’s property, because they know that they have this impunity and they know that they have the support of the United States. However, you know, despite all the grim reality that I personally experienced, we have been witnessing really significant changes in the United States. A lot of young people are speaking out, a lot of celebrities and a lot of politicians, and it’s no longer political suicide for American politicians to criticize human rights violations and to work to stop them.

So, I urge your listeners to check out the No Way to Treat a Child campaign, a campaign that tries to advocate for members of Congress to sign on the HR 2590 — remember this number 2590, the bill which calls for conditioning aid to Israel. This is what we can do in the U.S. There’s so much we can do, especially because it’s U.S. taxpayer money that can be redirected to improve education and services. Flint doesn’t have access to good water. Americans, you know, a lot of communities in the United States are in more need for this kind of taxpayer money that goes into supporting this regime of occupation and brutal suppression of Palestinians and their life.

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