USCPR Policy Director Josh Ruebner appeared on the Arab Voices Radio Talk Show on Houston’s KPFT Radio to discuss the ongoing Palestinian Nakba, the Great Return March, the PLO’s referral to the ICC Chief Prosecutor on Israeli crimes, and the Trump administration’s move of the US embassy to Jerusalem. Listen below.
SAID: Welcome back to Arab Voices on Houston’s Pacifica Radio, listener-sponsored, commercial-free, KPFD 90.1 FM, with livestreaming, podcasting and online archives of previous shows at both kpfd.org and arabvoices.net. This is Said, Executive Producer and host of Arab Voices. Joining us now live via phone from Washington DC is Josh Ruebner. He is Policy Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. He’s a former analyst in Middle East Affairs at Congressional Research Service, a federal government agency providing members of congress with policy analysis. He holds a graduate degree in International Affairs from Johns Hopkins University’s School for Advanced International Studies in Washington DC. He is also the author of “Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace.” Josh, welcome back to Arab Voices.
JOSH RUEBNER: Thank you so much for having me, Saeed.
S: Thanks, it’s good to have you again on the show. Josh, what is your reaction to what we have witnessed over the past two months since March 30, Israel killed 112 Palestinians and injured more than 13,000.
JR: I think what we’ve seen is Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip take the initiative and demand peacefully, non-violently and to assert their rights and their fundamental basic right to return to the homes and the lands from which they were expelled by Israel 70 years ago upon its founding. As you probably know, more than 2/3rds of Palestinians who live in the Gaza Strip are not indigenous to the Gaza Strip but are refugees from what became Israel, and Israel – even though when it joined the United Nations in 1949 agreed to allow for the return of Palestinian refugees, here we are 70 years later, this most basic, elemental, fundamental human right of Palestinian refugees has not yet been realized. So at the core of this is a demand by Palestinians, especially in the Gaza Strip but not limited to just the Gaza Strip, to have their human rights recognized. We saw the fierce and brutal repression on the part of Israel to that attempt by Palestinians to assert their fundamental human rights.
S: The severity of what has happened over the past few months specifically, as you mentioned those are civilians in occupied territories peacefully marching: nobody was carrying any guns, not a single Israeli occupation soldier was injured, not a single Israeli occupation soldier was killed, and those Israeli soldiers surrounding Gaza, they just start firing every time they see somebody there trying to protest peacefully. Israeli soldiers seen on videos recording even themselves cheering and laughing after they are shooting Palestinians and the Palestinians get injured or killed! It is astonishing and outrageous, and the world – well there has been outrage in other countries, but here Nikki Haley is defending that.
JR: Well I’m not surprised that Nikki Haley has been defending it, because the Trump administration have been the most vehement defenders of Israel in the history of all of US policy towards this issue. It’s not only that the Trump administration is so adamantly pro-Israel, but that it’s aligning itself with the most hardcore pro-settler, pro-messianic elements within Israeli society, as is evidenced by the fact that you have the US Ambassador to Israel, who himself has funded Israeli settlements in the West Bank, recently taking a picture in an Israeli city showing a rebuilt third temple over the place of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. This type of incitement, this type of demagoguery on the part of the Trump administration is really I think crystallizing in people’s minds the alliance between Trump and Netanyahu. Conversely what this is doing is this is actually freeing up liberal public opinion and Democrats in Congress to be more assertive, because they are seeing that Israel has become a right-wing issue in the American political spectrum, and they now feel free to differentiate themselves from the Republicans and from the Trump administration on this issue, much moreso than they could’ve done under President Obama.
S: You know you mentioned the US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who actually tonight in an interview with an Israeli TV station said that the Trump administration is going to reveal the so-called “deal of the century” or whatever they are going to end up calling it, and that Israel has the right to accept it, modify it or whatever it wants to do with it. However, he said “but we also are warning the Palestinians they will pay a high price if they don’t come and negotiate, if they don’t come back to the table.” What kind of negotiations do they expect, I mean the Palestinians – there are no talks now between them and the Palestinians, which I think a lot of people know the US was never ever a peace broker to begin with. Everybody knew that except maybe the Palestinian Authority that continues to say “the US is no longer, is no longer – ” as if it ever has been a true peace broker.
S: So the credibility of the US here is really defunct completely. It never was really for peace.
JR: You know Said, I actually find David Friedman’s comments to be refreshing. Refreshing in the sense that they are blunt, they are bold, and they are stating what is clearly a fact about US policy that is a continuation from the Ford administration all the way up to today. When we had President Obama and his administration in place, they made perfunctory statements about supporting Palestinian statehood, about ending Israeli settlement expansion, all the while the Obama administration ramped up coordination and cooperation between the United States and Israel to an unprecedented degree, as was evidenced by the fact that he signed a deal on his way out of the White House to give Israel $38 billion in additional weapons over the coming decade. It’s always been the case as you mentioned that the United States has coordinated its so-called “peace process” positions with Israel, and this dates all the way back to the Ford Administration when there was actually a letter agreeing between President Ford and at the time the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, that the United States would always pre-coordinate its positions with Israel. That’s the way that these so-called negotiations have happened throughout the decades, and especially over the past 25 years of the Oslo so-called “peace process.” The United States has always coordinated with Israel on its positions, and always tried to force the Palestinians to accept whatever formula they came up with. So I very much appreciate the frankness with which David Friedman speaks, because he’s only uttering a truth which was not uttered publicly before, but which was the reality and the centerpiece of US policy on this issue.
S: That makes a lot of sense. I always say on this show that what happens on the ground matters the most, so despite the so-called “peace process” or peace talks or whatever they had, what Israel does on the ground on a daily basis is astonishing. The theft of Palestinian lands, the expansion of the Israeli colonies, 750,000 Israeli colonizers living inside the Occupied Palestinian Territories, more than tripled from what the number was when the peace talks started in the early 1990s. That speaks volumes. Even during the honeymoon between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the ’90s, Israel was still building and expanding the Israeli colonies. So it’s very clear and obvious that Israel does not want peace.
JR: I agree, and they certainly don’t want a Palestinian state in any meaningful sense of the word. The current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made that abundantly clear last Israeli election in 2015 when he said that “under my watch, there will never be a Palestinian state.” Israel has acted over the course of the past 25 years of so-called “peace process” negotiations to ensure the eventuality of a Palestinian state from coming into being would not be possible, because of this colonization of Palestinian land. I think that we’re at a historical juncture right now, I think we’re at a tipping point of sorts where everyone, whether they want to admit it or not publicly, everyone understands that this whole two-state paradigm and framework for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue is a concept whose time has come and passed. The reality is that Israel will never allow for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, and the question is how much longer will the international community and the United States in particular enable Israel’s ongoing apartheid separate-and-unequal control over all of historic Palestine? That’s what the situation has been for the past 70 years, and is the reality that more and more people are growing to recognize today.
S: That is correct, and in addition to all of that, even the Palestinians who live – we talk about historic Palestine, earlier before your segment the first thirty minutes was about the Nakba and the 70 years and so on, and I was highlighting that we’re talking about the 22%, what’s left of historic Palestine. But the other 78% [of the territory], that population, 20% of it is actually Palestinians who live under Israeli territories that are controlled by Israel, and Israel declared itself a state on that land. They are being discriminated against day in and day out, there are laws that discriminate against Palestinians, against Arabs who carry Israeli citizenship. Many argue that Israel is against two states, will never accept two states; it doesn’t look like Israel would accept one state either, they just don’t want Palestinians there period. They discriminate against them wherever they are, no matter what their nationality is, whether they carry the Israeli passport or the Palestinian passport.
JR: That’s very true, and we saw evidence of exactly how this worked over the past few days when Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrated in Jerusalem against the opening of the US Embassy, demonstrated in Haifa which is supposedly this model of coexistence between Israeli Jews and Palestinian citizens of Israel, and we saw how Palestinian citizens of Israel were treated with the utmost brutality by the Israeli police. Kneecaps were broken on purpose, people were pushed and shoved and kicked and arrested, just for exercising their freedom of expression to protest in what Israel says is a so-called “democracy,” but we see dozens of laws on the books in Israel that purposefully discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel, solely on the basis of their religion and their national origin, because Israel never was a democracy. It was set up in 1948 as an exclusivist Jewish state, as a state which self-admittedly put the interests of its Jewish Israeli citizens above those of the indigenous Palestinian population who then found themselves citizens in that state that was created over the ruins of their society, those few who were lucky enough not to be ethnically cleansed by Israel in 1948.
S: You mentioned the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, which going back to your point earlier, the US foreign policy has always been as such. We know the embassy there was – the ruling that it needs to be moved to Jerusalem, but every president had paused that, had stopped it until Trump, because as you mentioned him and Friedman and others are blunt, they say it, they don’t hide things, and they want to do and continue to do what the US said it will do but paused some of them. So how serious is that, moving the embassy to Jerusalem?
JR: I think it’s very serious. It’s the Trump administration giving a green light for Israel to continue its policies of ethnic cleansing within Jerusalem. East Jerusalem is not an entity that is distinct from the West Bank, it’s part of the West Bank under international law. Just as Israel has colonized the West Bank, so too has it colonized East Jerusalem, has built a wall through parts of the city that have cut off Palestinians from the heart of their city. What the embassy opening in Jerusalem signifies is not only the fact that the United States has dispensed with any notion that it is an honest broker in so-called “peace process” negotiations, not only has it unilaterally backed Israel’s exclusivist claims to control all of the city that’s holy to three major faith groups and is seen as the capital of their country by both Palestinians and Israeli Jews, but its also greenlighted this ongoing drive by Israel to depopulate Jerusalem of its indigenous Palestinian population. We see this through home demolitions, we see this through the revocation of residency papers for Palestinians in Jerusalem, it’s a slow-moving but nevertheless relentless process of ethnic cleansing that has characterized Israel’s rule over East Jerusalem for the past 50 years, and it should be noted that this very neighborhood where the United States has opened its embassy actually used to be a Palestinian neighborhood before Israel was established in 1948. Palestinians were driven out and ethnically cleansed of that portion of Jerusalem where the embassy now sits today.
S: Again I want to mention what you said a few minutes ago, because it’s about Jerusalem also. I think it is astonishing that there’s extreme outrage in the Palestinian Territories, not just in Jerusalem, over this, again the picture that surfaced yesterday where the US Ambassador David Friedman was photographed again yesterday receiving a poster depicting an aerial image of occupied East Jerusalem in which Al’Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock have been erased and replaced by a simulation of the Jewish Third Temple. He is smiling and laughing as he is receiving that. It is, as the Palestinians call it, a despicable act. I mean how much worse could it get? Might as well call it the United States of Israel!
JR: It could get a lot worse, if these plans and these ideas that some people have to demolish and destroy Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem and replace them with a rebuilt Jewish temple, if those plans and ideas actually come to fruition. What’s incredibly scary is that a lot of the pastors and reverends who were invited to this US Embassy opening in Jerusalem by David Friedman actually hold these views, and believe that this type of event, the destruction of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple, will bring about the return of Jesus and cataclysmic events and armageddon and the end of times. It’s very very worrying, it’s beyond worrying, it’s outright frightening that people who hold these views – including by the way the Vice President of the United States Mike Pence, who is a sincere and devout believer in Christian Zionism – it’s frightening that these people have their hands on the levers of power and could actually bring about what they hope to do.
S: You’re talking about John Hagee, the pastor, the founder of Christians United for Israel, who delivered the benediction at the ceremony at the embassy relocation. It is astonishing, it is unfortunately a long long way to go. We know the United Nations is a defunct organization when it comes to enforcing any rules of the land, any laws and international norms and all that stuff, what is your reaction to yesterday’s Palestinian filing with the ICC, with the International Criminal Court calling for an investigation into the Israeli war crimes, and will that make any difference?
JR: Well this is not the first time that Palestine has submitted a complaint to the International Criminal Court. In fact there is a preliminary investigation under way into some of the accusations in the new filing already, including Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2014, Israel’s settlement-building in the West Bank, all of these things are currently being investigated by the ICC. Whether this new additional filing will have more impact, I don’t know. My guess would be that it is not going to have more of an impact, and I personally don’t believe that Israel is going to be brought to trial any time soon in the ICC. I think there have been tremendous pressures leveraged against the ICC, both by the Obama administration and the Trump administration, to try to kill off any accountability mechanisms and measures that the ICC might take against Israel. Just as the United States always protects Israel in any diplomatic venue, whether it was trying to kill off the Goldstone Report in response to Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2008 and 2009, whether it was trying to kill off the UN’s Human Rights Council investigating Israel’s attack on the flotilla of international humanitarian ships trying to break the blockade of Gaza, this is another one of the continuities of US policy. So when we see Nikki Haley voting in the United Nations to preclude the possibility of a security council investigation into Israel’s actions, she’s actually not doing anything any different than Samantha Powers did when she was ambassador under President Obama, but again just being more blunt and more theatrical about it in terms of her walking out and refusing to even listen to the Palestinian perspective.
S: You mentioned the flotillas that are going to Gaza, the flotillas are sailing now, and that is happening as we speak as a matter of fact, Freedom Flotilla, they are sending ships to Gaza to try to break the siege there. I want to mention one more, I think when we talked about the pastors at the US Embassy, Robert Jeffries I think was the other one who was speaking there at the opening ceremony, who is also very well-known for his anti-Palestinian, anti-Muslim, and really unbelievable remarks. For the US to bring somebody like that to speak at that event speaks volumes of their views, bluntly.
JR: It was really astounding, I mean not only is he an Islamophobe but he’s also on the record as saying not only Muslims but Jews and Hindus and atheists cannot be saved, cannot reach Heaven. He believes that only Christians can receive the benefits of Heaven. He opens the embassy with a prayer in the name of Jesus, which really calls into question fundamental distinctions between whether the United States and its government under this Trump administration even supports any longer the notion of separation of church and state. How the United States government can invite someone to pray on behalf of Jesus at the opening of an embassy is just astounding, and a huge slap in the face to really everyone who holds Jerusalem holy for multiple faiths.
S: Josh unfortunately we’re almost nearing the end of the show now, but in the next minute or so, what can people here in the United States do to make a difference for this?
JR: If you go to our website, which is uscpr.org, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, you can go to uscpr.org/accountability and demand that Members of Congress hold Israel accountable for the atrocities that it committed over the last several weeks in the Gaza Strip. We have laws on the books in the United States that are supposed to prevent foreign militaries from using US weapons to commit human rights abuses against civilians. There are clear penalties and sanctions involved for violating those laws. In other words, a country that commits human rights abuses with US weapons is not eligible to receive more of them. Yet Israel receives almost $4 billion a year in weapons, and we do have evidence from Amnesty International that US weapons were indeed used by Israeli snipers in this attack on Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip, so you can go to our website and demand that Members of Congress hold Israel accountable for violating these laws.
S: That’s including the United States Arms Export Control Act. So the website again is uscpr.org, and that’s for the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and we already have a link to that on our website arabvoices.net. The only time I have left is to thank our guest this evening, Josh Ruebner, Policy Director for the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and author also. Josh we greatly appreciate your time this evening, thank you so much.
JR: Thank you so much for having me Said.
S: Thanks, we appreciate it.