This is the full transcript of our interview with Max Blumenthal. To listen to the audio, click here. This transcript has been edited for…
This is the full transcript of our interview with Max Blumenthal. To listen to the audio, click here.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
GREENWALD: This is Glenn Greenwald with The Intercept, and my guest today is Max Blumenthal, who, among other things, is the author of a brand new book entitled The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza. Hey Max, thanks so much for taking the time to chat.
BLUMENTHAL: Great to be on with you, Glenn.
GREENWALD: Yeah, you too. So, the reason I wanted to talk to you isn’t just because you have this very powerful, but, to be perfectly honest, very kind of harrowing and depressing account of the Israeli attack on Gaza. It’s also because it is the one-year anniversary of that war.
And I wanted to begin by asking you this: My perception of the Israeli attack on Gaza, what the Israeli military calls “Operation Protective Edge,” is that the way that it was perceived and talked about and reported around the world was fundamentally different than prior Israeli attacks on Gaza, to the point where I think it actually changed perceptions of both Israel and Gaza in fairly fundamental ways.
And I wanted to begin by asking whether or not you agree with that, and whether you do or you don’t talk about how you think this latest war affected public opinion around the world about Israel, the occupation, and its relationship to Gazans.
BLUMENTHAL: I think that’s right, and there are two major factors in why that took place, and why we saw a real shift.
I think Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 promoted a real shift in opinion within the political left in the U.S. But during that war, we saw the Israeli government, the government press office which hands out credentials to journalists, bar all journalists from entering the Gaza Strip. And so journalists weren’t able, except for the Palestinian journalists who were living in the Gaza Strip, to actually witness the violence up close. And this is disproportionate violence targeting civilians in a way we had never seen before in the Gaza Strip.
This time, during Operation Protective Edge, unlike Cast Lead, we saw the Israeli government issue unprecedented amounts of credentials to journalists, including myself. And when the war began, as journalists were clustered around the Al Deira hotel in Gaza’s sea port, the Israeli navy, which has maintained this siege for six or seven years, about three kilometers out at sea, began lobbing a series of artillery shells at four boys who were affiliated with the main fishing family who are huge in the fishing industry in Gaza City, the Bakr boys. They were playing hide-and-go-seek on the beach in front of journalists who were hanging out at this hotel where most of the journalists stay whenever there’s a war, and their bodies were torn to shreds.
A friend of mine, Lazar Simeonov, was one of the journalists who rushed out of his apartment and caught these harrowing images on film of these really slender, small boys, with their bodies shredded apart, being carried to ambulances. And the intimacy of the violence shook these journalists who had always kind of reported on this as a conflict, and not as a disproportionate assault, or settler-colonial conquest. And I think they really saw what people on the Gaza Strip had been going through, and how the violence was affecting families, women, and children.
And this is the other factor: This war that Israel waged on the Gaza Strip this time was waged with unlimited violence. I mean, the full malevolent capacity of the Israeli military was brought down on the Gaza Strip. The AP found that over 850 people were killed at home, mostly at night, in their beds. And that nearly 90 percent of them were civilians. People being killed with 2,000-pound fragmentation bombs falling on apartment blocks containing over 30 or 40 people. Most of them were from single-family units. So, 89 families were wiped out of the civil registry during Operation Protective Edge.
And so journalists would come upon these scenes of entire families shredded to pieces the day after the attack. I spoke to one journalist when I was waiting for my credentials in Ramallah. He had just come out of Gaza. He had covered Iraq, he had covered Syria, and he said he had never seen anything like the carnage in the Gaza Strip when he arrived at the al-Batsh house. It’s a family called al-Batsh. The head of the household was the police chief in Gaza City. The Israeli military concluded he was a military target, targeted his family. I think 20 members of this family were killed, and this journalist said that he found fingers on the ground, arms dangling from trees, freshly charred flesh in the rubble.
So the journalist corps, the international media corps, was radicalized to a substantial degree by this attack. And Glenn, you did a really important job exposing NBC’s removal of Ayman Mohyeldin who was one of those journalists on the scene for the massacre of the Bakr boys and the killing of Salem Shammaly, this 19-year-old guy who was looking for his family in the rubble of Shuja’iyya and was executed on-camera by an Israeli sniper. Ayman was mysteriously removed – he was basically big-footed by Richard Engel.
So I think this was an important moment for online and independent media in pressuring the mainstream media to report more accurately on how disproportionate the Israeli violence on Gaza was. That this was, in fact, a massacre that took place over the course of 51 days.
GREENWALD: I mean, you cite a lot of evidence that actually comes from the IDF’s own estimate about the massive firepower they brought down on Gazans.
They fired tens of thousands of tank shells, artillery shells, mortars, missiles, bombs, I mean, massive firepower by any estimate. And I want to talk in a little bit about just the general steps that the Israelis took, if any, to avoid civilian casualties, because, of course, defenders of the Israeli government will say, “Look, in every conflict, civilians die, and it’s unfortunate, you know, the Israelis take more steps to protect civilians than other armies, including Hamas,” and I want to talk about those guidelines and those principles in a minute.
But the thing that struck me most about your book, and I think some people might be surprised by this, is it’s really free of any polemics. There’s no inflammatory tone. It seems to me that because you were on the ground in Gaza and you spent so much time talking to people who lived there, who were victims of the attack, that you felt like you wanted to get out of the way and let those stories speak for themselves. And you react as a reader in a much more visceral way than if you read a U.N. study or an AP report saying 900 women and children have been killed.
To really hear the stories in a straightforward, very factual way, really affects you as the reader. And I think that’s what makes your book more worth reading than anything else. But I wanted to ask you, personally, can you describe a little bit the odyssey of hearing and seeing the human suffering that was left by this Israeli attack?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, as you know, Glenn, I wrote a book, Goliath, about the Israel/Palestine crisis, tracing it back to its roots in 1947-1948, the Nakba, and bringing it to the present, outlining the sort of psychological character of Jewish-Israeli society and tracing the rise of the right wing government, so I’ve been covering this for a while. I mean, that book took me five years to write.
I had been unable to get into the Gaza Strip while working on that book. No matter how hard I tried. I waited for a month in Egypt to get in. And this war presented me with the first opportunity to get into the Gaza Strip. And for all I knew about the Israel-Palestine crisis, I was not prepared to come in to such intimate contact with so much human destruction. And to really come to grips with the fact that the Gaza Strip is an open-air prison, and it’s not hyperbolic to say so. We’re not just saying this for rhetorical effect.
In order to enter Gaza, you pass through the Erez terminal with your government press office credential, which means you’re one of very few people who can get in or get out. And you wander down a long corridor, which is a cage, and then you arrive at a metal door at a concrete wall. The metal door opens, it shuts behind you, and you’re inside what is effectively a walled-off ghetto.
You look down this endless wall, to your right, and you see a remote-controlled machine gun perched on the wall. That’s the spot and strike system, which is operated by an all-female unit of Israeli soldiers in the Negev Desert, tens of kilometers away, by remote. And what they do is, they watch the buffer zone — this 300-[meter] area that Palestinians are forbidden from entering inside the Gaza Strip. And anyone who enters who they determine to be a “terrorist,” they eliminate with the push of a joystick button from a remote-controlled machine gun. It’s just that dystopian.
Then after you arrive at the passport control area in the Gaza Strip, which has been blown up by the Israeli military, you see tank treads that have torn up the road. And beyond that is Beit Hanoun. Beit Hanoun has been completely wiped off the face of the earth. Almost every building has been destroyed. And it’s not until you reach Gaza City in the soft heart of the Gaza Strip that you see actual urban areas that are still intact and functional.
When I arrived it was August 13th or 14th and it was the beginning of the first extended cease-fire, when families were returning from these squalid U.N. schools where they had been sheltering. This segment of Gazan society which consists of about 100,000 homeless people that are now referred to in Gaza as the “rubble people.” They decided it was better to just set up tents in front of the ruins of their homes in all of the border regions of Gaza, than to be in these shelters, because Israel kept attacking the shelters while they slept in the courtyards of these schools. Dozens of people were being killed in U.N. shelters.
So I got to interview people. I got unfettered access to people as they were just hanging around in the ruins of their homes. I got to hear the stories of their flight from Israeli assaults as artillery shells and missiles were raining down on their neighborhoods. I got to hear them describe to me the killings of their family members. This was what took place over the course of five days of this extended cease-fire.
What shook me the most was how well I was treated in the rubble. How after interviewing families who would tell me about witnessing their neighbors being destroyed by a missile, that they would beseech me to have lunch with them. I didn’t even know where the lunch would come from. They would chase me down after denouncing my government and insisting that the Obama administration was no better than Netanyahu, and hand me sweets, and tell me that they see a clear difference between the American people and the American government. I mean, that kind of treatment showed me how impeccable the character of these people was, even as they were facing their own immiseration and ruin.
That was kind of deceptive, because I started to adjust, in a weird way, to being in the rubble with these people. Then the bombing started again, and then I had to deal with the terror of night after night of bombings, and naval shelling throughout the day, and drones swooping closely overhead, searching for targets. And I became shell-shocked. So I couldn’t have even imagined going through 51 days of that, especially as a child under the age of seven.
We have to recognize that the Gaza Strip is a ghetto of children. The majority of the people in the Gaza strip are under age 18, and a substantial percentage of those under 18 are under the age of seven, which means they have known nothing in their lives but these three atrocious wars, which have left almost 20 percent of the entire area of the Gaza Strip in ruins.
What’s on those children’s mind? What kind of lives can they have? Can they ever be normal as they go through life without therapy, without relief, without recourse and without justice, with continuous traumatic stress disorder? I can’t even imagine that as I sit here in Los Angeles, talking to you, what they’re going through.
GREENWALD: As you said, you were there for a small part of it, and yet were obviously very affected, if not traumatized, by it, as an adult, who has a life elsewhere that you get to go back to. There’s so many vignettes and stories and anecdotes that you convey, all of which are meaningful in their own right, and I want to encourage people to read the book and really get a sense for them.
But I want to ask you about one in particular that stayed with me, which is the story about the use of one family, essentially as human shields. Ironically, that’s always the claim made about Hamas, that that’s what they do. But this was a case where literally, in kind of a movie-type way, Israeli soldiers used a family as actual human shields. Talk about that story, and what you did to learn about it.
BLUMENTHAL: I documented several cases of people in the Gaza Strip being used as human shields during the war. And they were used by Israeli soldiers. In many cases, kidnapped. And the family you’re referring to are called the Wahadan family of Beit Hanoun, which is this northern city in the Gaza Strip, which is adjacent to the Erez Border Crossing, which was destroyed.
Now, Beit Hanoun was one of the cities the Israeli military leafletted, meaning leaflets were dropped on the city telling people, essentially, their homes were going to be destroyed, the Israeli military was coming, and they should leave — somewhere. Of course, there’s nowhere really to flee when you’re living under siege. But most of the people in the Gaza Strip left either before the Israeli ground invasion began or during the ground invasion.
The Wahadan family was trapped. They lived right on the edge of the border area, so I can understand how they could be trapped. The Israeli military only has to travel a few hundred meters to get to their home.
They were kept, I think, between July 19 and July 26, in their home, under orders from Israeli soldiers who were operating in the area and using their home as a base of operations. This was a four-story home. The women, children, and the older men were kept on the first floor. The military-aged males were separated and taken back to an Israeli prison for interrogation and possible torture. So they were there for seven days. This was, I think, during Ramadan. So fasting, with very little access to water.
And then, on the 26th, I believe, when the Israeli military saw a possible humanitarian cease-fire coming, air strikes were ordered on this area in Beit Hanoun. The family was ordered to stay inside by the soldiers. They were told, if you leave, we’ll kill you. And there’s video of this. The entire neighborhood was destroyed by an artillery barrage in one hour. The Wahadan family was one of those families that was wiped out. They were wiped out after being used as human shields by Israeli soldiers and held in their home.
I arrived three weeks later. I met a man who was the neighbor of the Wahadan family, named Abdul Rahman. He was 56 years old. His home was basically a sandwich in which all of his belongings were crushed in-between. I just saw his living room kind of squeezing out. His apiary where he kept his bees had been crushed. Bees were buzzing everywhere. He told me his orange trees had been bulldozed five years before by the Israeli military. He had been reduced to nothing, and he sat me down and explained what had happened with the Wahadan family.
And behind him, there were young men in the ruins of the Wahadan family home, still looking for Ghena Wahadan, who was two years old, and her aunt, Baghdad, 52 years old, whose bodies had not yet been recovered. Some of the few surviving members of this family had come and picked out the limbs of the rest of the family members, and I think there were 10 in total who had been killed.
And so I sat there on a plastic chair, surrounded by destroyed homes, while Abdul Rahman and his friends inscribed the names of the family members, and basically drew a family tree in my notebook, with the ages of these family members. And I thought of the 800,000 olive trees that had been uprooted by the Israeli military since 1967, and the olive tree is, of course, a symbol of Palestine. And now I’m thinking of these 89 family trees that have been uprooted, and I’m trying to piece one together.
I reported on this massacre of this family used as human shields, and later it was confirmed by an NGO called Defense of Children International, who tracked down the surviving family members and confirmed that this had taken place.
The question we have to ask is, who gave the orders? Because the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has determined that the Israeli military implemented an open-fire policy that targeted families. Who within the Israeli military gave these orders from an air-conditioned office at the HaKirya Defense Ministry command center in central Tel-Aviv? Because that person is a criminal, and they should be hounded and prosecuted for this crime and so many others that I’ve been able to essentially confirm.
GREENWALD: Let me ask you about your role and doing this reporting and this kind of advocacy. I think it’s fair to say that you’ve become one of the most steadfast and, one might say, kind of extreme Jewish voices probably in the world, criticizing Israeli aggression and Israeli occupation. And it was far from obvious that would be your destiny.
I think people are interested, and I know I am, in the path that led you to where you are. What are the formative experiences? I think you’ve become more passionate, more entrenched about it as you do more work. Can you talk about why that is, and what the path is that you took to get to this point?
BLUMENTHAL: In a way, it’s easy to talk about my work and to talk about my journalism. It’s difficult to talk about myself. Many people know that my family’s been involved with the Clintons, and been in Washington for a long time. I grew up in Washington, in that world. So, many people probably wonder how I got to where I am, and why I’m not pursuing a more traditional path within the confines of beltway liberalism, or beltway progressivism, whatever you want to call it, which would possibly be more comfortable. Although I don’t know if—
GREENWALD: I think we can say it would certainly be more comfortable.
BLUMENTHAL: OK, well — I don’t want to go there.
GREENWALD: —which is why I think people are interested. I’m not asking you to psychoanalyze yourself. I think we all have experiences, things that move us to focus on what we focus on. I’m interested in what were the formative experiences that led you to view this issue in this way?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, I’ll do my best. You know, I’m part of the generation that went through 9/11, the Bush era, but also, the generation of American Jews that went through the Second Intifada, the second assault on Lebanon, and then Operation Cast Lead, the assault on the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009, and it was formative for me in a way that goes well beyond Israel/Palestine.
As a Jew growing up in Washington, DC, in a middle- or upper-class family, in a place like Washington, especially, Zionism calls on you. There’s really nowhere to hide, especially within my family. My family’s not particularly Zionist, but I was sent to a Hebrew school where there was an Israeli flag next to the bimah, the podium where the rabbi stood. Next to the Israeli flag was a U.N. flag draped in black, in protest of the now-defunct U.N. resolution correctly declaring Zionism to be a form of racism. Which already had planted the seeds of doubt in my mind as a fourth grader.
Zionism had been kind of accepted within the Jewish community in Washington, and within the Jewish establishment to the point where it was scarcely even questioned. During the peace process, the acceptance of Zionism was consolidated because Israel was seen as kind-of a liberal project that sincerely wanted peace.
So the Second Intifada was on the way. It was the year 2000 and I decided to go on the Birthright Israel trip. This is a free trip for American Jews, and Jews across the Diaspora, which centers Jewish identity within the state of Israel by sending you on a free trip to Israel for 10 days. And I just thought, you know, free trip, could be cool, I don’t know what to expect here.
The funders of this trip, who include Sheldon Adelson, the right-wing Republican warlord who’s a close friend of Benjamin Netanyahu, Michael Steinhardt, the hedge funder, Charles Bronfman, they aim to establish a lifelong connection between American Jews who are young and the state of Israel.
In a way, it worked with me, because so many questions were implanted in my consciousness. Why did we have to be surrounded by Israeli soldiers with weapons all the time? Why were we instructed not to interact with Palestinians? Why were we encouraged so aggressively to mate and engage in promiscuous sexuality? Why was Jewish life centered so far away from The United States, which was where my Jewish experience took place?
All of these questions were roiling in my mind when I returned and the Second Intifada erupted and I watched the Israeli military destroy the refugee camp of Jenin. And it was then that I started questioning what the occupation was about, what Zionism was about, why I hadn’t been told the truth.
I remember protesting on an e-mail list that some Birthrighters were on and receiving a phone call from one of the rabbis who had escorted us on the trip, who was from Chabad, a radical, right-wing, Messianic cult that had actually been involved in guiding me on my first trip to Israel. And he started defending the Israeli destruction of the Education Ministry in Ramallah. The burning of books! This is the way I saw it. So it was completely unacceptable to me, but I didn’t have a way of framing it or understanding a way out of Zionism beyond the current parameters of the situation, which had always been framed in terms of the peace process and a two-state solution.
I didn’t have a Palestinian friend until 2007 who could explain from an authentic Palestinian perspective what it was like to go through this situation. So it was a long process for me. I know it’s been a long process for many other Jews. But as someone who grew up in the liberal Democratic establishment, there was another process taking place, which was kind of seeing how empty our politics was. I witnessed the second invasion of Lebanon, which destroyed a large part of Beirut, and watched our government call it the birth pangs of a new Middle East. It was really the episiotomy of a new Middle East.
And then Operation Cast Lead starts taking place. All of my colleagues at The Nation magazine were in love with Barack Obama. The Nation had kind of become a “My Barrack Obama” page. And Barrack Obama was being briefed on this assault, and he was saying nothing as 1,400 people, mostly civilians, were killed and besieged.
I remember meeting Al Franken who had been elected to the Senate and seeing him go to a rally with Norm Coleman, his opponent, to support the war. Seeing the Democratic establishment fall in line with the Republicans and the Israel lobby to support an assault on a besieged people.
Barack Obama was elected and the Democrats won the Senate, and I remember winding up in Washington at a party hosted by Norman Lear. It was a victory party. Everyone was proclaiming themselves a “new American” or a “born-again American,” and they had all these different archetypes come up on stage. The cowboy, the urban African-American, the cosmopolitan person. “I’m a born-again American.” Obama was going to renew us all.
This assault was taking place and I was watching it closely because, for the first time, I had access to Al Jazeera’s live feed. Ayman Mohyeldin was reporting it from the border of Gaza. And I remember looking around at this ridiculous party and seeing the Black-Eyed Peas on stage, that ridiculously over-marketed corporate rap band, and thinking, this is a masquerade. Our politics are completely empty, and Barack Obama is not going to change this situation one bit. If anything, it’s going to worsen under his hand. I have to do something different.
And it was really then that I decided to step out of the box and use the privilege I have as a Jewish American with a very connected family, and I embarked on this project to write Goliath, which basically consisted of me taking the royalties that I made from my first book, Republican Gomorrah, to finance all these trips to Israel, Palestine.
I made contact with the radical left elements in Israel, these Jewish Israelis who are basically besieged within their own society. I made contact with the Palestinians waging a kind of unarmed popular struggle in the West Bank villages against the occupation. These people became my friends and my closest comrades and my eyes and ears on the ground.
Once these people come into your life, their experiences become your own. You just change as a person. So here I am, five or six years later, I’m completely changed. There’s no going back, and I know that I’m routinely demonized to the point where Republican Jews call me an anti-Semite.
But I’m not going to be able to stop, because covering this situation and advocating on behalf of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which I think is the only tactic we have right now to intervene in this emergency situation, and going beyond my role as a journalist, and being an advocate, is part of my identity. It’s part of who I am, and sometimes I lose sight of how I became this way. I think, in a lot of ways, like a lot of other younger people, and particularly younger Jewish-Americans, I’m a product of failed politics in Washington. I’m hoping to provide some kind of alternative to it.
GREENWALD: What makes the book so powerful is the fact that you don’t feel compelled to suppress the personal passion that you have, and I think that’s what makes it not just human, but really compelling. I think it’s worthwhile to thing about the personal journey, because it is inextricably linked with how we view things.
I really encourage everybody, including people who think they understand what happened in Gaza, to read the book. Even if you do understand it, you’ll understand it on a different level.
Obviously, defenders of Israel, no matter what you say, no matter how harrowing the accounts are, will just reflexively do what they’re trained to do, which is to blame everything on Hamas, and say it’s because of Hamas’s tactics that Israelis end up killing civilians. You know the drill, everybody knows that.
GREENWALD: Talk about how the tactics of Hamas in confronting Israel have evolved in the last decade, especially with regard to their military wing, the al-Qassam brigades, and whether they changed what they’ve been doing.
And as I said at the beginning, here we are, a year later after this hideous, criminal war. Like prior Israeli attacks on Gaza, I don’t think anyone thinks it’s going to resolve very much for Israel. I wanted to ask you what you think the Israeli motive is. Whether it be military or political or strategic.
You talk in your book about this term “politicide,” which was coined by this Hebrew University sociologist to define the Israeli conflict with the Palestinians generally. Is that what this is about?
BLUMENTHAL: Well let me address the first question, which is really important, and it’s a question I don’t get enough.
This book, The 51 Day War, isn’t just an account of the atrocities that were committed in the Gaza Strip. It contains a lot of military history, and what I wanted to do was offer an analysis of the evolution of the armed resistance factions in the Gaza Strip, especially the al-Qassam brigades, which is the military wing of Hamas, and really represents the grass roots of the Gaza Strip.
There is a consensus inside Gaza in support of the al-Qassam brigades, while the people in the Gaza Strip are deeply divided on Hamas’s political wing, and it’s possible that Hamas has never had less support than right now. So how did this take place?
We think of Hamas and the al-Qassam brigades, we associate them, as Americans, with suicide bombings. This was a tactic that came into force after Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish fanatic who actually came from Brooklyn, massacred 29 Palestinian worshippers in Hebron. It was then that Yahya Ayyash, who helped found, along with his assassinated colleague, the al-Qassam brigades, decided to launch a series of suicide bombings that tormented Israeli society.
The reason Ayyash was doing this was not only to avenge Israeli violence, but because the al-Qassam brigades had no capacity to confront the Israeli military directly. Under occupation, it was difficult to get weapons. The best they had were homemade weapons. Actually, the al-Qassam brigades started with only one gun.
Ayyash was assassinated during a cease-fire that the al-Qassam brigades were keeping, which led to another wave of suicide bombings, and attacks on civilian soft targets in Israel along with massacres on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Salah Shehadeh, who was the head of the al-Qassam brigades, was assassinated in his apartment block by the Israeli Air Force, along with pretty much everyone else in the apartment block.
And this all eventually led to the disengagement from the Gaza Strip when the Israeli military pulled out its settlements and its military bases and then placed the Gaza Strip under siege. This is the backdrop for the current disproportionate assaults we keep seeing every few years on the Gaza Strip. Within Gaza, it enabled the al-Qassam brigades to start importing through the tunnels that it maintains in Rafah bordering Egypt, heavier weapons, and to start a process of militarization.
The al-Qassam brigades began developing its own drones. They were able to develop longer-range rockets that could reach Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv for the first time, and to start aiming the rockets towards military installations, something that hasn’t really taken place yet. Collaboration began with Hezbollah, the Lebanese guerrilla force that drove the Israeli military out of Southern Lebanon and defeated it in the second invasion of Lebanon.
So tactics were developed, customized towards confronting the Israeli style of fighting. We saw these tactics on display in the battle of Shuja’iyya, when the Israeli military initially invaded east of Gaza City and got a bloody nose from, basically, young men who had come out of their homes to fight under the command of Mohammed Deif, the commander of the al-Qassam brigades.
Al-Qassam dropped the tactic of suicide bombing and attacking soft Israeli targets, and decided to fight the Israeli military directly. This required the establishment of a sophisticated tunnel network underneath the Gaza Strip to mount ambushes and to stage infiltration into Israeli territory.
Now this is important. Many people have seen the attack on the Nahal Oz Israeli military base by an al-Qassam ambush team that had infiltrated into Israeli territory across to Nahal Oz, where there is a kibbutz of Israeli civilians and an Israeli military base which is used to attack Gaza.
This team of Qassam commandos was wearing Israeli uniforms, I think, with Go Pro cameras attached to their helmets. They chose not to attack the civilians in the kibbutz. They could have killed dozens of civilians, but that’s not where the orders were. The orders were to attack soldiers.
They burst into the military base, killed every soldier they confronted, losing only one man, and then ran back into the tunnel, back to the Gaza Strip, and this operation, the video of it, was deeply inspiring to young Palestinians who had only seen, throughout their lives, video of Palestinians being humiliated by Israeli soldiers.
That was the psychological importance of this operation. And beyond that, it showed that the Gaza Strip’s armed factions were capable of confronting one of the most powerful militaries in the world and humiliating it. In the battle of Shuja’iyya nearly 30 Israeli soldiers were killed, and 100 wounded. The reason that Shuja’iyya was destroyed was because the Israeli military had to retreat in terror and then blanket the entire area with artillery shells.
So, the development of the al-Qassam brigades is one of the untold stories of this war. If we look at the casualty total of Israeli citizens, we see that about 72 Israeli citizens died. Sixty-seven of them were combat soldiers, which is evidence that soldiers and not civilians were targeted.
Mohammed Deif, the commander of the al-Qassam brigades, and his spokesman, Abu Ubaida, both explicitly declared they were targeting Israeli soldiers, and not civilians. They mocked the Israeli military as cowards for attacking civilians in the Gaza Strip.
Why was this ignored by our press and our media? Because it complicates the narrative of the war on terror, which holds that non-state actors are the terrorists, and states like Israel are fighting terror. In fact, what the Israeli military had implemented was a doctrine of state terror called the Dahiya Doctrine.
This goes to your second question. The Dahiya Doctrine is named after a neighborhood that was wiped off the map in southern Beirut by the Israeli military in the second invasion of Lebanon in 2006. An Israeli journalist named Yaron London interviewed the northern commander of the Israeli military at the time who is now the chief of staff of the entire Israeli military. His name is Gadi Eizenkot. And London summarized what Eizenkot told him about this attack in Lebanon and what would happen in the future. He said, from now on, all people in Lebanon are Hassan Nasrallah, the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, and everyone in the Gaza Strip is Khalid Mishal, who is the head of Hamas’s politburo.
In other words, the Israeli military will make no distinction between civilians and combatants. In fact, they will deliberately target civilians in order to demoralize them into turning against the resistance factions that they’ve chosen to support.
That’s been the operating doctrine of the Israeli military since 2006 in the Gaza Strip. But then if you look at the bigger picture, and try to understand what the Gaza Strip is, the Gaza Strip is a warehouse for the surplus humanity that cannot be a part of the self-proclaimed Jewish state.
Seventy-two to 80 percent of the people on the Gaza Strip are refugees from what is now Israel. They have legitimate claims to homes and property inside Israel, and they cannot be allowed to return, because they will contaminate the ethnic purity of the Jewish State. The Jewish State must maintain a demographic threshold of 70 percent Jews to 30 percent non-Jews, so these refugees have to be warehoused permanently in the Gaza Strip.
When people are warehoused, as we’ve seen in prison riots, they tend to resist, and they tend to support militant factions that wage resistance and that organize resistance and that import arms and that find ways to attack the oppressor. That’s why Hamas exists. That’s why the people in the Gaza Strip support the al-Qassam brigades. As long as this scenario in which there is an ethnocratic state that aims to guard its ethnic purity through violent demographic manipulation and brutal social engineering, we will continue to see these wars.
So the real backdrop for this war is 1948, when people were turned into refugees. To put it more simply, and even crudely, if the 1.8 million residents of the Gaza Strip were Jews, the walls would come down tomorrow, and the crisis would end. That’s why they are being occupied and besieged.
GREENWALD: Your answers were fascinating, and I hope that people see that it’s just a sample of what’s in the book. I think there is a huge difference, and I know this from my own work, between thinking of things abstractly and seeing them up close and speaking to people affected by them. The book is fantastic; I hope everyone will read it. I appreciate you taking so much time to talk about it, Max.
BLUMENTHAL: I appreciate the work you’re doing, Glenn, and I appreciate you giving me a platform here, because it’s not easy to talk about this, as you know, in U.S. media. You’re one of the people who hasn’t shied away from doing it, so you really have my respect.
GREENWALD: It’s definitely mutual, Max. Thanks so much.
BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, take care.