In the deadliest conflict between Israel and Hamas since 2014, Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 213 Palestinians, including 61 children and 36 women, with more than 1,400 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier, have been killed by rockets fired from Gaza by Hamas into Israel.
While Egyptian diplomats were attempting to negotiate a ceasefire, the Biden administration blocked the UN Security Council three times from issuing a joint statement calling for an immediate end to hostilities. Hours after President Biden said he would support a ceasefire on May 17, dozens of Israeli jets launched more than 100 missiles into the densely populated Gaza Strip.
The violence is not limited to Gaza. As Jewish nationalists and Palestinians engaged in running street battles in Jerusalem, protests were mounted against the forced removal of 13 Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem and Israeli police attacked Palestinians at Al Aqsa Mosque. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Josh Ruebner, adjunct lecturer of Justice and Peace Studies at Georgetown University. Here, he examines the underlying causes of the current violence in Israel/Palestine, and the Biden administration’s response to the crisis.
JOSH RUEBNER: Well, the most recent spark for this conflagration that we’re seeing right now was the result of Israel trying to forcibly expel Palestinian families from their homes in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, which is in Jerusalem. And there are also major, major plans to ethnically cleanse — through the demolition of Palestinian homes — a huge neighborhood called Silwan, also in Jerusalem. Between these expulsions and these home demolitions, Israel’s planning to ethnically cleanse almost 2,000 Palestinians from Jerusalem. So there was massive, massive Palestinian protest against these attempts to ethically cleanse East Jerusalem of their indigenous Palestinian inhabitants. This took place during the holy month of Ramadan and as Palestinians attempted to pray in Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, as you mentioned, they were met by force with rubber bullets, with tear gas canisters, with stun grenades that were all shot into the mosque by Israeli police in a very extremely inflammatory and provocative move.
Can you imagine if there were a Muslim army that invaded a Jewish synagogue and shot at worshippers during a holy day? It would be unconscionable. So all this brutality, all of this violence, all of this attempt at ethnically cleansing Palestinians from Jerusalem happened before there was any Hamas rocket that was fired at Israel.
And by the way, Hamas gave Israel warning that you better stop what you’re doing in Jerusalem or else we’re going to fire rockets. And Israel decided, “Well, we don’t care. We want an escalation.” And, after the rockets were fired, Israel began its much, much more devastating assault on the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 200 Palestinians in just one week, including entire families that have been obliterated. And the difference between the Hamas rockets — well, there are many differences — but one difference between Hamas rockets and the weapons that Israel is firing from attack helicopter gunships, from fighter jets, from drones is that we in the United States are paying for these weapons for Israel to kill Palestinian civilians.
It’s our taxpayer dollars in the form of $3.8 billion every year that is going to obliterate Palestinian homes. Entire apartment buildings that we’ve seen targeted for destruction by Israel. Entire Palestinian families that have been wiped out have been killed by fighter jets that are firing what are called joint direct attack munitions or J-DAMs for short and the Biden administration actually put forward a “sale.” It’s not a sale. We’re giving Israel the weapons with our tax dollars — a “sale” of $735 million for more of these weapons as Israel is using them in violation of U.S. law, in violation of international law, to commit these atrocities against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. This is a difference. We are not arming Hamas. We’re sanctioning Hamas. We are sanctioning the Palestinians in so many ways through U.S. law. Yet, we give Israel the weapons to perpetrate these massacres against Palestinians that we’re seeing today. Every single person in this country should be outraged by that fact, that our taxpayer dollars are responsible directly for the killing of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank today.
SCOTT HARRIS: There’s been a lot of discussion and hope for a negotiated ceasefire. However, the Biden administration has remained fairly silent over this past week of conflict. And my understanding is that the United States under Joe Biden has blocked a call for such at ceasefire from the United Nations Security Council. Your view on that, Josh?
JOSH RUEBNER: Well, that’s exactly right. The Biden administration has been actively working to prevent the UN Security Council from meeting to pass a resolution to impose a ceasefire. And no, the Biden administration has not been silent at all. The Biden administration has been incredibly vocal in providing Israel with the green light that it needs and that it wants to go forward with these atrocities. The Biden administration has given Israel carte blanche justification by saying that everything that Israel is doing is entitled to it under the principle of self-defense while not allowing Palestinian people to have a right of self-defense. How can the right of self-defense be selective? How can we say to a people who are under a settler-colonial apartheid regime under military occupation, living under a blockade in the Gaza Strip for the last 15 years, that they don’t have a right for self-defense? Who is the aggressor and who is the victim here?
So the Biden administration, not only by trying to provide these additional weapons, but by giving Israel the green light, by saying, what Israel is doing is self-defense has put its thumb on the scale, has given Israel the green light and the go-ahead to attack Palestinians so ferociously.
And just before we came on air, I did see something on social media that finally, finally, finally, after all of this pressure, after Palestinians have been demonstrating and getting shot and killed for demonstrating — after tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people took to the street in the United States over the past weekend to protest — that finally, finally, finally, after all of this killing, the Biden administration now is supposedly supporting the ceasefire. Where was the Biden administration when it could have spoken out and stopped these Israeli atrocities against Palestinians BEFORE the first firing of a Palestinian rocket? It’s this U.S. complicity, this U.S. blank check that is responsible for this conflagration that we’re seeing.
Josh Ruebner is author of Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace. For more information, visit Josh Ruebner’s website at joshruebner.com.