The dystopian images coming out of Gaza, as Israel continues its scorched-earth campaign, show horrific destruction and the killing of civilians. Over the weekend, Israel escalated bombardments in Gaza, raising the death toll to over 5,000 with more than 62 percent of fatalities being women and children, according to the latest U.N. reports. There is a growing concern Israel’s war on Gaza will draw other nations into the conflict, including Lebanon, Iran, Egypt, and Turkey. This week on Intercepted, Jeremy Scahill and Murtaza Hussain are joined by Yousef Munayyer, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and the head of the Palestine/Israel program at the Arab Center Washington D.C. They discuss the institutional support for war against Palestine, the shutting down of pro-Palestinian voices, and the broader regional and political implications of an intensification of the war.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
Welcome to Intercepted. I’m Jeremy Scahill.
Murtaza Hussain: And I’m Murtaza Hussain.
JS: Now, Maz, I mean, just watching the coverage of the bombing of Gaza is … It’s really horrifying. And I was gathered with some friends this weekend, including people that work very intensely on the Palestine issue, and they were asking me — because of my coverage of the War on Terror, and Yugoslavia, and other things — if I had seen something like this.
It just got me thinking of the U.S. war in Iraq. I mean, you did have scorched earth bombing that took place, certainly during Shock and Awe. And then, much later, in the war against ISIS, you had the leveling of Mosul and other cities. But looking at the imagery coming out of Gaza … You know, one former Israeli official actually did make a comparison to Dresden. I mean, what we’re seeing is a Chechnya-style leveling of the ground, or it is from other-era U.S. wars.
You look at that, and you then put that together with the fact that the people that are being targeted here, that are being killed in the largest numbers, that are being punished, are overwhelmingly young people, overwhelmingly civilians. And then to watch the most powerful leader in the world, Joe Biden, actively cheering it on, it really jars you as… Well, I’ll say it: just as an American, it feels shameful.
MH: It’s very shocking because, for a number of years, we’ve seen U.S. officials criticize Russian actions in wartime, the Syrian government, other adversaries. And yet, they’re cosigning actually arming the exact same tactics — perhaps even more untargeted and more aggressive — in Israel right now, or by the Israeli military.
So it kind of undermines a lot of the liberal internationalism and the messaging that U.S. officials normally take. We’re seeing play out, day by day in front of us, some of the worst atrocities we’ve seen from any military in many, many years. And the argument made that, well, you know, Israel is taking revenge and, it’s a very emotional time, and it was a very traumatic incident that they suffered, and this is an expected response to that, it really doesn’t carry a lot of weight, because it’s actually incentivizing continuing the same cycle of violence and revenge and hatred that, ostensibly, U.S. diplomacy is supposed to be there to stop. And to see the U. S. officials actually arming it, and arming the same mass destruction of an urban area — Gaza city — that they’ve condemned in other contexts, is really quite jarring, and really undermines any sense of credibility the U.S. will have in the region and beyond.
JS: You also have, already, so many disputed assertions, with Israel making assertions about what happened to its civilians. And then Joe Biden, talking himself into a corner, where he made statements saying that certain very graphic images had been verified, and then they had to walk that back. We have the ongoing discussion about the bombing of the hospital, but the fact is that Israel — and the United States, for that matter — have, on numerous occasions, bombed hospitals; I mean, Israel has repeatedly bombed hospitals in Gaza.
But this issue, now, also, where there’s a policing, an intensification of the policing of speech and perspective on Palestine that … This has always been the case, but it seems more intense now, Maz, it really seems like there is only one acceptable line, and that is that you stand with Israel.
MH: Yeah, that’s right. It actually does underline to me the level of conformity that exists in the media and beyond on certain issues, and certainly reminds myself and many others of the years after 9/11, where there really was an enforced one line on certain issues. And, in retrospect, we found that that gave cover to a lot of lies, disastrous lies for the United States, or it allowed certain untrue narratives to not go checked. I do hope that now there’s a bit more resistance, in the sense that people have experienced that before, there are other institutions and so forth.
But really, as you said, Jeremy, for a lot of powerful institutions in the media and beyond, they’re capable of enforcing ideological conformity on certain issues, and certainly Israel-Palestine is one of the most extreme issues that we see that happening [with] time and time again and, perhaps, more so than ever right now.
JS: Palestinian aid groups and on-the-ground organizations are saying that the death toll is above 5,000 people now in Palestine, and roughly half of those are believed to be children. It’s only going to get worse. I mean, this death toll is going to skyrocket, especially as you then have Israel poised to move in on the ground, and the bombing is not letting up.
It’s just important to remind people that just shy of one-and-a-half million people have already had to flee Gaza; this is half the population. And I encourage people who haven’t followed this to actually go online and look at a map, look at the area that we’re talking about, and imagine that your loved ones were trapped in this open air prison that is now being bombed.
Where would you be telling your loved ones to go? Yelling at them “condemn Hamas” is not going to save the lives of ordinary people that asked for none of this, that have been born and raised, and lived under this collective punishment their whole lives. People should really look at a map and then ask, where do you expect these people to go? Where do you expect them to go?
MH: Yeah, and they’ve already been pushed in that small corner over years and years, generations of further cleansing. We might see the culmination of that process happening right in front of us now.
JS: Yeah. Well, joining us now to discuss all of this and the latest developments is Yousef Munayyer. He is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, and he’s the head of the Palestine/Israel Program at the Arab Center in Washington, D.C.
Yousef, thank you very much for your work, and for being with us here on Intercepted.
Yousef Munayyer: Yeah, thanks for having me.
JS: I just want to start by asking you what Israel’s endgame is here for what we’re seeing. From your analysis and study of not just the past 75-plus years of Israeli policy, but also what we know about Netanyahu and his gift, really, at exploiting any moment to push his agenda further.
But just, Yousef, lay out what you see as Netanyahu’s moment here, and what he ultimately is going to try to achieve.
YM: Look, the Israelis are in a place now where they feel that they have tremendous support to do things that was not thought possible to do to Gaza and with Gaza ever before. The government senses that from their own public, and they also sense that from the international community, particularly their strongest allies in the West. They have long viewed Gaza as a problem that they wish never existed, and this is not something that is limited to Netanyahu.
In fact, in 1992, Yitzhak Rabin — who, of course, became well known for the Oslo Accords and became a Nobel Peace Laureate — said at the time that, I wish I could wake up and see Gaza just sink into the sea. When you follow Israeli discourse, you sometimes hear voices that will say, we can talk about, perhaps, some kind of solution with the West Bank, as long as Gaza is excluded.
The two million people that live in the Gaza Strip are seen as a problem to Israel in many different ways, politically, and also from a security perspective. From the Israeli perspective, they want to be able to end any security risks coming from Gaza, and the civilian population obviously complicates that.
And I think they have long taken advantage of opportunities during war to alter demographic realities; this is a theme throughout the history of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Most significantly, of course, in 1948, when the vast majority of the native inhabitants of Palestine were forced from their homes and never allowed to return.
And now you are hearing conversation among Israeli officials — both political and military, currently serving and former — about changing the realities in Gaza in ways that would amount to mass depopulation at minimum. So, you hear things like, there are large spaces in Sinai where the civilians can go to, there can be tent cities for these people there. We will eliminate everything, said the defense minister of Israel, there’s going to be complete destruction. The emphasis is on damage, not accuracy. The state of Israel has no choice but to make Gaza a place that is temporarily or permanently impossible to live in. Right now, there is one goal: Nakba, a Nakba that will overshadow that of 1948, and we will change the face of reality in the Gaza Strip for decades from now.
So, I think one of the reasons that the Israelis are not saying what their endgame is, is because it’s very likely that the endgame that they have in mind for Gaza is not one that they feel that they can articulate at this time that would be well received by the international community. By all accounts, even if one takes this sort of concern about security at face value, what the Israelis are describing, what we understand is going to happen to Gaza, particularly the northern half of Gaza, it’s hard to imagine how it will be a livable space when they are done with it, which is going to amount to de facto forced displacement of, at minimum, over a million people. This is what the endgame is.
There’s talk about shrinking the Gaza Strip down to half its size if they’re unable to force people out to Sinai. We are looking at a really massive moment in the history of this relationship that is as significant as anything we’ve seen since 1948.
MH: Yousef, can you tell us a bit about what was going on in Gaza in the years leading up to this outbreak of violence? World attention has shifted back since the Hamas attack and subsequent Israeli retaliation, but can you tell us what in the years prior had been happening that had led up to this?
YM: Yeah, and this is sort of the problem, right? We’ve seen these horrific bombardments of Gaza in the past, and world attention tends to go to Gaza in these moments, especially when Israeli lives are put at risk.
But then, people sort of turn away. The reality of violence and oppression against the people in Gaza, though, does not turn off when people turn off their cameras. And the situation in Gaza for the last decade and a half has been one of siege and blockade, to varying degrees, that have deprived the 2.2 million people that live in the Gaza Strip from the very basics that people need. And this, also, is something that predates Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007.
In fact, the Israelis have never lived up to the agreements that they made around movement and access from 2004, about the number of trucks that would be allowed in and out of Gaza to help sustain the economy at a basic level, and help sustain life at a basic level. And so, when there aren’t these horrific episodes of violence, there is a steady drumbeat of oppression and violence against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip imposed by these policies of collective punishment and siege.
And so, this has been the situation, of course, in Gaza for the last 15 years or so. In the 38 years prior to that, there was a land-based Israeli military occupation in the Gaza Strip, as there is in the West Bank today. And, before that, of course, all of that was layered on top of a preexisting humanitarian and human rights crisis, because the vast majority of people who live in the Gaza Strip are not from Gaza City; they’re from the towns and villages outside of Gaza, and they were forced to move there in the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and have never been permitted to return to their homes.
Suffice it to say, this, of course, did not start on October 7th or in the last couple of years, but the genesis of this all dates back many decades.
JS: Yousef, what about the narrative that we’re experiencing, where the comparisons are that this is Israel’s 9/11? And Biden has talked about how it’s not just 9/11, because of the size of Israel relative to the United States. It’s like more than a dozen 9/11s.
And there’s been a real intensification of the policing of speech around Palestine. There’s been a slew of high profile cancellations of artists and authors and others, not just in the United States, but in Germany, and elsewhere, there’s been a real crackdown on demonstrations that are trying to raise awareness of the plight of the people of Gaza. And sort of hovering above this is the narrative, incredibly graphic, horrifying narrative of what took place in those hours after the fences and other structures were breached by Hamas, and others, then ran across.
But what I wanted to ask you is about Hamas’s position on this. And Hamas’ spokespeople in Qatar and elsewhere have implied that Hamas wanted nothing to do with the killing or targeting of civilians, and that these were other actors, either ordinary people whose passions overwhelmed them, or that there were other factions that took advantage of the fact that Hamas conducted this strike. I wanted to hear your analysis of how Hamas has played its hand since October 7th.
I mean, obviously the people paying the hugest price for all of this are ordinary Palestinians. And what we’re seeing is… I wish I could say it’s shocking, but knowing this history, it’s not shocking. It’s a horrifying series of nonstop war crimes that we’re witnessing.
But the inciting incident for this from the perspective of Israel is the raids by Hamas, and I just wanted to get your sense of how Hamas is talking about this and portraying it, given the other narrative that we hear coming out of Israel, and the focus on the massacre of civilians.
YM: You note that this has been described as Israel’s 9/11, or bigger than that, given the proportion of those who have been lost and the size of the population in Israel. It makes you think about how many 9/11s, or multiples of 9/11 are taking place in Gaza right now, where you have a dramatically higher death count of civilians — and children in particular — among a much smaller population. There is no one I know in Gaza now who hasn’t lost family members, if they are still on this earth. It is mass destruction that is taking place in Gaza.
In terms of Hamas, there’s a lot to say here. I think that you need to put this in the perspective of, not just what they’ve been saying about this event, series of events, but also what they have been saying ahead of this, and for a long time. Obviously, they are committed to armed resistance. They have talked in the past about distinguishing between civilians and military targets, but we know, also, the reality is, that’s not what transpires.
I think their bigger message is — and this is a message that I think they have aimed at Israel and the Israeli public — is that there is no way to go back to a status quo where you can rely on military and security to keep the situation in Gaza, where 2.2 million people live under some horrific conditions and a siege, and think that that can go on without any costs. I think that has been their overall message. I think, obviously, it has unleashed a series of further horrors on the region.
At the same time, I don’t think that there is a military solution to this, unless we address the core issues here through some sort of political process that takes away the incentives for actors like Hamas, and for people who are supportive of such ideologies. We’re going to end up with larger and larger piles of dead bodies over time and no fundamental change in the situation.
MH: Yousef, you mentioned that the status quo that existed before was actually quite favorable to Israel in many ways, and actually unprecedentedly favorable, in some sense, in the grand context of the conflict. And, despite the fact that Hamas and the Israeli government are obviously enemies in some sense, they had a symbiotic relationship as well.
Can you talk about the preexisting status quo, how it worked for Israel? And, when you describe it being broken by this event, what might we expect in the future, given Israel’s possibilities or ability to navigate this new situation?
YM: You have to remember that Israel has had a wide range of relationships with different Palestinian actors. It has sought to manipulate and instrumentalize different ones over time to suit its own purposes. And this all takes place within the context of a massive power imbalance between Israel and the Palestinians, whatever group that we’re talking about, whether it’s Hamas in Gaza, or the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
The Israeli government certainly would not say that it’s friends with Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, but the reality is that they collaborate quite significantly on security, and there’s a sort of modus vivendi that exists that suits the interests of both parties, to a degree.
Something similar was in place in Gaza. And, in fact. Israeli policy for a very long time with Hamas in Gaza, and with Gaza in particular before Hamas as well, was to use the opportunity of keeping Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank separated, to stall any pressure to advance a political process. And this is something that predates Netanyahu’s current government, it predates Netanyahu’s return to the premiership in Israel in 2009, and goes back, really, to the decision of Ariel Sharon to pull the settlers and the ground troops out of Gaza in the mid-2000s.
At that time, the rationale, which was explained by one of his key advisors in an interview to Haaretz was that the disengagement — which is what they called it — was formaldehyde for the peace process. These are the words that they chose to use. That, with the situation being what it is in Gaza inevitably, we will be able to continue to point to Gaza and say, how do you want us to move towards a Palestinian state when this is what we get?
And so, you know, they found a way to instrumentalize Hamas. I think many people in Israel will say that that was a catastrophic error. But, nonetheless, they sought a relationship with Hamas that they wanted to manipulate in the direction of their own interests. And, for a number of years, it obviously worked, to an extent. They were able to stave off any international pressure to make some sort of process move forward with Palestinians or provide some concessions.
In the interim, of course, they expanded settlements in the West Bank, Israeli politics moved further and further to the right, and nobody even talks about an independent Palestinian state anymore. The vision of Ariel Sharon’s advisors at the time came to fruition in this policy.
Of course, the idea that that was sustainable, I think, was never true, and we learned how catastrophic the risks were, I think, in the last several weeks of maintaining this policy.
JS: The United States, of course, right now is governed by Joe Biden as the Commander in Chief, and Joe Biden has been in politics longer than any American politician.
And going back to his earliest days in the U.S. Senate in 1973, he really made a conscious effort to earn himself a reputation as, like, Israel’s man in Washington. I mean, he’s been extremely close to successive Israeli governments. And, in fact, I’ve done reporting on this back earlier in his career, he shocked, even, some Israeli officials with how radical his positions were, including on the killing of civilians in Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. And I don’t think that anyone who has paid attention to Joe Biden’s political career and his position on Israel was shocked at how he responded to these events, but he is making his case, and he’s making it clear and public, that he entirely supports Netanyahu’s government right now, and Netanyahu’s actions toward Gaza.
You see a trickle of some aid trucks that are getting in, but it’s a pittance, compared to what, actually, is needed. And then, on the flip side, you have Biden making the public argument for more weapons and more aid to Israel. And he said, publicly, on October 19th:
President Joe Biden: That’s why tomorrow I’m going to send to Congress an urgent budget request to fund America’s national security needs, to support our critical partners, including Israel and Ukraine. It’s a smart investment that’s going to pay dividends for American security for generations.
JS: I wanted, Yousef, to get your sense of Biden’s position on this, the message that it’s sending to the broader Arab world that is watching this very carefully. And people, many people are just one contact removed from knowing people who’ve been killed in Gaza. I mean, I have several friends whose family members were killed. I think anybody who is either from the region or spends time in the region knows people that are either dead or in the snipers’ scope right now.
But Yousef, [please provide] your sense of this moment, and the fact that Joe Biden — given who he is — is president, and what he’s doing.
YM: So, I think there’s a couple different ways to think about this. In many ways, the Biden administration, their messaging has basically sent a clear signal that they don’t care about the views or perspectives of anyone in the region other than the Israelis, and they sent that in a number of different ways. And that has, in fact, been the message and signal of the Biden administration to the region for some time, now.
The American allies in the region, in the Arab world — the Jordanians, the Egyptians, the Saudis — with whom the Americans were negotiating some major agreements in the weeks just before all of this started happening have been telling the Biden administration, and have been telling the United States, if you don’t address the root causes of this issue, there is going to be an explosion in the region. And I think it’s important to remember that the United States has been trying to move these countries in a direction of taking major political risks to normalize their relations with Israel. And these countries are aware of these risks in ways that the United States simply is not, because it’s their publics that are going to be up in arms when something like this takes place.
And I think a lot of these American allies, even, feel betrayed, because they were warning about these things, and they were neglected. The Biden administration’s message now is not that much different than what it’s been towards their world, which is, essentially, we don’t care about you, right? We don’t care about your views or perspective. I think that it’s consistent with what it’s been in the past in many ways, and that’s part of the reason why we’re hearing it now.
I think another part of the reason why we’re hearing it now is because there are, actually, American interests at stake, which are not the same as Israeli interests. And that involves American citizens who are in Gaza right now, both who are held captive by Hamas and those who are Palestinians under Israeli bombardment, that the United States has to have some degree of concern for. But, more than that, we are very much on the brink of, perhaps, a major regional war that can shake the entire security architecture that successive American administrations have tried to maintain in the Middle East for decades. And there are American aircraft carriers in the region, there are American soldiers and bases throughout the region, all of which, if this spins out of control, are going to come under direct threat.
And so, I think part of the explanation behind the Biden administration’s messaging right now is that they are trying to think about ways in which they can try to modify Israeli decision making and behavior in these crucial moments. And they likely calculated that without this message of unwavering support — essentially echoing whatever it is that the Israelis want to hear — that they will have less leverage over trying to shape Israeli behavior in the crucial moments that will determine whether or not this becomes a much bigger regional conflagration that more directly impacts American interests. Which, let’s be clear, at the end of the day, are not necessarily about American values, but about American imperial interests in the region, and these are still of great concern to decision makers here in Washington.
And this touches on, [as] you noted, Ukraine. This touches on not just the region in the Middle East but, really, the entire global map, because it has implications for American power, it has implications for American reputation, and American credibility, in Europe, in East Asia, and so on. So, I think this is being viewed through this lens, and not through the lens of what Arabs think, or the future of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but from the perspective of Washington about, really, their global security position.
MH: Yousef, there’s been some dissent inside the State Department in recent days, which is quite interesting and unprecedented in some ways. Last week, a senior State Department official resigned from his post, citing the U.S. government’s ongoing provision of lethal arms to Israel.
In [the] letter — which I’ll quote in part — he said, quote, “I cannot work in support of a set of major policy decisions, including rushing more arms to one side of the conflict that I believe to be shortsighted, destructive, unjust, and contradictory to the very values that we publicly espouse.”
I wanted to get your take on, perhaps, the evolving perception of Israel’s role in the region and the U.S. position in sort of acting as a patron to Israel in the conflict, and how you see this, perhaps, evolving. And, more to the point, how may it affect Israel in the future, if it’s seeing a slow and gradual bleeding away of U.S. support that kind of takes away the blank check it’s had to act as it has in the last few decades?
YM: I think one of the things that was most interesting about the resignation of the State Department official … And, from everything we are hearing, the dissent within the State Department is much bigger than just the one official that we know has resigned so far. There’s a lot more dissent over the direction of U.S. policy in this moment, and people within the State Department’s bureaucracy feel that they have very little control over shaping what can be cataclysmic events. And so, this is, of course, a huge problem for American policymaking.
But what I thought was interesting about what this individual who resigned had to say, beyond just his letter, was that he has been working on regulating American arms transfers to Israel. And this is something that has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years because of Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians. And there are laws on America’s books, which govern the ways in which American arms should be used, and how the American government is supposed to oversee and hold accountable people who abuse these criteria. And he has been, basically, calling out instances of abuse, which have been shut down and ignored by superiors.
And I think that this is scandalous. It’s something that demands a congressional investigation into why people who are demanding that there be proper enforcement of American law are being silenced and marginalized within the American government. And, given all of that in the years leading up to this, to see this massive gift of additional Israeli weapons, knowing how little oversight there is going to be, how little accountability there is going to be, and in a moment where we’re seeing massive war crimes being perpetuated in Gaza, it’s not surprising to me that this individual and many others felt it’s impossible, morally, to continue in the positions that they were in.
JS: What are the prospects for a wider war?
You have, on the one hand — and right out of the gates after these raids into Israel — you had media and, to an extent, governments campaigning to try to put Iran on the table as being the sort of puppet master behind all of this. You always have the risk of Hezbollah and Israel in a military conflict and, now, that’s quite acute, and there have been some missiles that have actually gone into Lebanon, to lethal consequence.
You had the Israelis striking near the Rafah border crossing multiple times, you have General Sisi in Egypt, whose country is in dire economic straits, who is also struggling to make sure that his iron grip on power stays ironclad.
You then have Jordan in particular, but other Arab countries rightly see themselves as in a precarious situation with their own populations. In fact, General Sisi made some moves recently that were sort of counter to his general politics, but it was clear that he’s aware of where the public opinion is on the street.
Your thoughts, though, on this possibility that you have Lebanon and Iran pulled into this, you have Egypt, with its own unstable situation, perhaps making a deal to take in some people from Gaza. And then you have Turkey lingering in the background, increasingly seeking to become a major regional player that bridges Europe and the Middle East.
It’s a lot to unpack there, Yousef, but what I really am trying to zero in on is your view of the potential impacts this is going to have throughout that region, and with several of these governments I mentioned.
YM: It’s impossible to put a precise number on it, but I am extremely concerned about the likelihood of a massive regional conflagration. And, I think, with every day that this continues, we get closer to that. If you have an Israeli ground invasion into Gaza — which seems almost inevitable at this point, given everything that we’re hearing, and the kind of cover the Israelis are getting — I think we get even closer to that at that point.
You’ve seen the exchanges of fire between Israel and Hezbollah already. You’ve seen missiles launched from Yemen that, apparently, the Americans have intercepted. This, I think, just highlights the extent to which, once these kinds of events get started, they get very, very, very hard to control. And the more actors that are involved — and there are many, with their fingers on the trigger as we speak — the greater chance there is for miscalculation, and for things spiraling to a point where it’s no longer containable, so we are looking at a powder keg that’s been primed for a very, very long time.
And, as you noted, this is not just about the different belligerents that could get involved, but also about the security of a lot of these regimes who have been, of course, maintaining relations with Israel, despite the fact that their publics are sympathetic to Palestinians and opposed to what the Israeli government is doing, who are now seeing masses of people in the streets in numbers that we have not seen since the Arab Spring.
You know, the Egyptian government banned protests in Egypt for years, and the first time that Egyptians are back in Tahrir Square now, is in an Egyptian government-sanctioned protest, because they know that they can’t hold these people back. And so, the government is now in the position of actually cheerleading these protests, because they know they can’t afford to be seen as opposing them in this moment.
So, again, the entire American-built security infrastructure in the region is shaking in this moment, and it could be even worse by the time people hear this conversation. What is so amazing to me is that ten days before October 7th the American National Security Advisor was talking about how the Middle East is more peaceful and stable than it’s ever been, and how he has to spend less time worrying about conflicts in the region than any National Security Advisor before him.
It’s stunning. It was a degree of hubris and national security malpractice to think that, by ignoring this issue, all the concerns that stem from it go away, and there needs to be a major conversation in the United States about how this was allowed to happen. And all of this is because of a tiny strip of land that the world has forgot. That the entire region is shaking now, and that shaking has global implications for every spot in the world where the United States has security interests.
So, I’m very concerned, to put it mildly, about this becoming a much bigger regional war, and I think there needs to be some really hard questions asked about how you don’t see this coming, despite all the warning signs, despite all the people who are telling you that ignoring the Palestinian issue is something that’s going to come with tremendous costs.
MH: Yousef, the Israeli military and intelligence services have this aura — or had this aura — of invincibility around them, which I think is purposely cultivated, in a way. But I think the recent events have shed light on a profound weakness, perhaps, due to Netanyahu’s misgovernance or whatever.
But the October 7th attack showed a level of ineptitude on the Israeli part, which was quite stunning. And if, in the event that there is this broader regional conflagration, and other countries are involved, to what degree might the U.S. be pressured to get directly involved as well, too?
Because, obviously, the American public is very tired of wars in the Middle East, and U.S. casualties, and so forth. But, given a situation where Israel is overwhelmed with conflicts on its borders, and the U.S. is based there, might the U.S. feel pressured to get involved? And what are the limits on that happening, politically, as well?
YM: This is the billion-dollar question that everybody in the region is asking. It’s not about what the next move is, or maybe even the move after that, but what’s the third move? Nobody really knows, at this time. That’s why the chance of miscalculation is so high.
When you mentioned the aura of invincibility, I think this is really important because, throughout the region, there was this sense — and this is not the first time — that Israel was, in many ways, an invincible military power. In recent years, they’ve become one of the largest, if not the largest, per capita arms exporter in the world. They’re making deals with governments all over the place, they’re building relationships in Europe, in India, in the Arab world, in Africa. And it seemed like there was almost nothing that could stop or even hold up this Israeli advance and hegemony.
This is not the first time that there’s been this sense of Israeli invincibility in the region. In fact, after 1967, when the Israelis defeated multiple Arab state armies within six days, there was this similar sense of invincibility. And the events of the last several days reminded me of a moment in 1968, which is infamous among Palestinians, and is known as the Battle of Karameh.
Karameh is this village that’s just across the Jordan River where there was a battle between Palestinian factions and Jordanian regulars and the Israeli military in 1968. And there was significant damage done to the Israeli side. And, while this is a footnote in history for many people, the impact that it had on the mobilization of Palestinians and others throughout the region, because it pierced this aura of invincibility, led to numerous militant factions growing and developing after that point, and having their ranks swell. That is a very real outcome here.
Also, you have to keep in mind that the Israelis have not won a land war since 1967. And, at that time, they weren’t responding; it was a preemptive strike, right? Now, they’re in a situation where they’ve been dealt a massive blow by a non-state actor in the tiny besieged Gaza Strip, and they require American aircraft carriers to help hold off a second non-state actor.
So, from the perspective of the psychological impact on this, it’s really quite devastating for this Israeli idea of security that has been propped up and sold to an Israeli public by their leaders for years. That, by force of arms, we can protect ourselves in this region.
And I think one of the things that happened after the 1973 war was a realization that force of arms can only provide so much security, that a political agreement with adversaries is the only way to get to a broader peace and stability. Now, I think we’re probably a long way off from that, given everything that’s taken place, but I think the psychological impact of what has happened on Israeli society will be profound.
JS: I think this also really has put into sharp focus the grave hypocrisy on the part of the United States in particular. That you can have Joe Biden standing up and making the declarations of support that he’s made for Israel at a time when he and others in his administration are relentlessly attacking Vladimir Putin for conducting the same types of operations in Ukraine. And we have this really, dramatically, playing out on the world stage right now.
In fact, there’s some very cleverly edited videos of Anthony Blinken and other U.S. officials where people have just replaced the word “Ukraine” with the word “Gaza,” and/or the word “Russia” with the word “Israel.” And when you watch these videos of U.S. officials for a moment, you allow yourself to believe that they were actually allowing the truth to be true about Palestine and what’s happening. It’s actually, I think, a good exercise at this moment, to understand how this plays in many regions and areas of the world.
I wanted to ask you, though, about how this plays in the 2024 election. There have been a number of stories that have been popping up — I think we’re going to see more of them — about Arab Americans and their view of Joe Biden. And I think it’s also important for people to remember, too, that George W. Bush got historic Arab American support when he was running for president. And part of the reason for that — I mean, some of it has to do with social values that permeate all classes, religions, etc., in America — but part of it also had to do with the sense that the eight years of Clinton was a disaster for the Palestinians.
You did have this historical support for Republican candidates, it’s not just been a slam dunk, “Oh, OK, well, Arab Americans support the Democrats.” That’s not true, it’s very close. But it does seem now like you’re starting to see more stories about Arab Americans saying they’re not going to vote for Biden. And I wonder, given the carnival of insanity that we have on the other side with Donald Trump and his race, Yousef, for the Republican nomination, how you see this issue impacting the election.
Because, from where I’m sitting, it seems like there’s an extremely unified power structure in the United States that cuts across the Democratic and Republican lines, but you do have, at the outskirts of both parties, some diversity of opinion on this. But, in general, the marching orders are being followed on Israel-Palestine again. But how [does] this affect the 2024 race?
YM: We are still a year out from the election and, with the pace things are going right now, a lot can happen between now and then.
JS: Yeah, I’m more asking how you see the discourse right now, and what you’re hearing from people on that issue.
YM: I think I generally agree with you, that I think that this is going to be devastating for Arab and Muslim support for Joe Biden, to the extent that there was Arab and Muslim support for Joe Biden going into the 2024 election. And I think, honestly, it will also get worse over time as this continues to happen.
You know, one of the things you mentioned about George Bush, it wasn’t just about the sort of pro-Israel policies of the Clinton administration. But George Bush actually, prior to the election in 2000 — which now, thinking about the policies of the War on Terror that followed, almost seems crazy in retrospect — spoke in a debate ahead of the election about the dangers of secret evidence laws being used in terrorism trials that target people like Arab Americans and Muslim Americans in the United States.
And so, it was not just about the foreign policy issues, but also the sort of domestic policy issues that impact the community here in the United States, which people are also concerned about. And I see this from so many people now, in reacting to what they’ve seen from the Biden administration over the last few weeks: the quickness with which the dehumanization of Palestinians and, by extension, Arabs and Muslims, was promoted by American officials in the aftermath of these events, and repeated by American media on blast is something that made many of us in the community realize that all of the post-9/11 lessons about Islamophobia, about the targeting of the community, about backlash, etc., etc., didn’t really have much of an impact. Including among the party that was supposed to be about inclusion, and bringing these voices in, and a broad base, and welcoming in immigrants and people of color, and etc., etc.
And, for many of us, hearing the kind of things that we were hearing from American officials, this idea that Hamas was equivalent to ISIS, and this idea that there’s no legitimate Palestinian grievances, and the only humanization we were hearing was of Israelis, we recognized in our bones exactly what this meant, and we knew that our communities were at direct risk.
And, frankly, there were many people who were telling the Biden administration about the dangers of this, before a six-year-old Palestinian child was stabbed to death in Chicago by somebody who was listening to all of this and decided to take it upon himself to “kill all the Muslims,” as he said, when he went on his murderous rampage.
So, there’s a deep, deep sense of betrayal in the community, not just over the foreign policy, but over the fact that there is no concern at all that seems to be directed at their interests and their safety in a moment like this. We’ll see how things evolve from here, but I think that the impact is going to be very, very significant.
And this idea, by the way, that some people trot out there that, well, the alternative is Donald Trump … That might be the case, but not everybody does the math the same way. And when you’re talking about what many people see as a genocide taking place, they don’t want to be affiliated or supportive of anybody who’s allowed that to happen. And, whatever the alternatives are, I can see many people sitting out the election altogether.
An election, by the way, that’s going to be decided, surely, by a very, very small margin, as it always is, by maybe 10,000 voters in a couple of states. It’s not something to take lightly.
MH: As a last question, just thinking ahead to the day after this conflict, and with the caveat that we don’t know the full extent to which it’s going to expand by the end of it: what are the political pathways forward after a war like this comes to an end?
Obviously, the two-state solution has been mooted for many years, undermined by various parties, most directly by the Israeli government in recent years. But, also, a one-state solution, a binational state, seems to be impacted in some way by the level of mutual trauma and polarization that has taken place in the last few weeks, and is likely to continue in the weeks ahead and months ahead. Thinking about a future where, ultimately, both Israelis and Palestinians are still going to be in this territory, what are realistic or possible ways we can look forward on a political horizon to this conflict, when the crisis seems unavoidable, when the violence finally dies down?
YM: It’s certainly hard to imagine that in this moment, and I hope that the violence dies down as quickly as possible. And I hope that the conversation can shift immediately afterwards to addressing the core issues through a process that doesn’t involve violence, so that we don’t have to just see this over and over again.
I think, in reality, whenever the war on Gaza ends, as I said earlier, Israeli society is going to be impacted in profound ways. And it’s hard to imagine after what took place that Israel is ever going to allow anybody other than Israel to control the entirety of the territory. I just don’t see it. I think they’re going to be more insistent — and this is probably the lesson that they are going to take from these events and the disengagement — that the mistake that they made was leaving Gaza on the ground and allowing anyone else to try to build up military capacity there.
And so, I think, one of the immediate implications of this for the years to come is a deeper one-state reality between the river and the sea. And I think that there’s going to be a long period of time before there is any political process and, in that period of time, there’s going to be an entrenchment of that one-state reality. A continued expansion of settlements and domination of the entire territory by Israeli control. Whatever political solution is going to emerge is going to emerge from that reality.
And so, while I don’t think we are closer to some sort of one-state democratic solution today, I also think we’re further away from separation than we’ve ever been, and we’re likely to only move further away from separation than we’ve ever been. So, at some point, there has to be an awakening built out of this reality, that says there has to be an alternative to this. And if there can’t be separation, what can that alternative be?
And there are going to be some Israelis that say the alternative is further ethnic cleansing and genocide. “Kick them all out to Egypt and Jordan.” But those voices may end up being the more dominant and powerful ones in Israel in the years to come. I can only hope that there are alternative voices, and that the international community will help to create alternative voices, and the incentives for alternative voices in Israel as well, that we’ll seek a different solution of actually living in justice and equality with Palestinians, instead of trying to erase them from their land.
JS: Yousef, thank you very much for being with us on Intercepted today.
YM: Thanks for having me, guys.
JS: That was Youssef Munayyer. He’s a Palestinian citizen of Israel, and the head of the Palestine/Israel program at the Arab Center in Washington, D.C.
And that does it for this episode of Intercepted.
MH: Intercepted is a production of The Intercept. José Olivares is the lead producer. Our supervising producer is Laura Flynn. Roger Hodge is Editor-in-Chief of The Intercept. William Stanton mixed our show. Legal review by David Bralow. And this episode was transcribed by Leonardo Faierman. Our theme music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky.
JS: If you want to support our work, you can go to theintercept.com/join. Your donation, no matter what the size, makes a real difference. And, if you haven’t already, please subscribe to Intercepted. And definitely do leave us a rating or a review wherever you find our podcasts, it helps other listeners to find us as well.
Thank you so much for joining us. Until next time, I’m Jeremy Scahill.
MH: And I’m Murtaza Hussain.