USCPR Policy Director Josh Ruebner appears on i24 News to debate Dan Arbell from the Brookings Institute’s Center for Middle East Policy as Israel unleashes a wave of violence on Palestinians participating in the Great Return March and the US officially moves its embassy to occupied territory in Jerusalem.
MICHELLE MAKORI, I24 NEWS: …Josh Reubner is the Policy Director for the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. Gentlemen, good to have you with us. And Josh, I’d like to start with you. Josh, so we understand that the Palestinians are upset. But this is not a march or a peaceful protest, we have 40,000 Palestinians violently rioting, throwing rocks, molotov cocktails, pipe bombs, launching firebomb kites towards Israel. Hamas has provided them with the maps on how to get to the nearest civilian communities across the border. So what are their intentions, should they get through the border? If Israel didn’t stop them, and would let them through, what is their goal?
JOSH REUBNER: Well I think that Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip have been very clear about what the intentions of this protest are, and that is to exercise Palestinians’ long-denied, basic, elemental human right to return to the homes and the lands from which they were exiled by Israel upon its creation in 1948. Israel demolished more than four-
MM: But Josh, you’re not answering my question. What is – Josh, you’re not answering my question.
JR: I am answering your question. More than 70% –
MM: What is the idea with getting beyond the border, what do they hope to accomplish?
JR: To exercise their right of return to the homes and the lands from which they were expelled by Israel in 1948. More than 70% of the population of Palestinians in Gaza are refugees, people who were displaced forcibly by Israel from their homes in 1948, and despite the fact that Israel agreed to implement the Palestinian refugees’ right of return when it became a member of the UN in 1949, here we are seventy years later, Palestinians are still denied by Israel their most basic, elemental, fundamental human right of return to their homes and their properties. That’s what this protest is about.
MM: So, exercise their so-called – exercise their so-called “right of return,” does that mean to take away the properties from the Israelis living there?
JR: It’s not the “so-called right,” it’s a right –
MM: Dan let’s bring you in, this is not a picket march, this is not Israel –
JR: It’s not a “so-called right,” it’s a right that’s enshrined in international law, in UN resolutions.
MM: – let’s give Dan a chance here. Dan, this is not a picket march, this is not Israel suppressing free speech, these are not peaceful protests. So what is Israel supposed to be doing in this situation? What do you think the correct Israeli response should be?
DAN ARBELL, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: I think that Israel’s doing what any normal country would do to defend its border from infiltrations of people that are not innocent bystanders or coming in. Some of them are terrorists, some are encouraged by Hamas to infiltrate, to create havoc within Israel. So I think that Israel’s responding and defending its borders, defending its citizens, that’s first and foremost. I think Israel’s in a position here – it’s a very problematic situation. Hamas is oppressing its own citizens, is using cynically its citizens, sending them to the borders, paying them money to go to the Israel-Gaza border, leaving Israel very few choices here. So Israel can perhaps at times act with more restraint, but there’s not a whole lot it can do. It has acted with restraint in different cases, but when people actually climb your fence and cross – try to cross the border, then it’s left with very few options.
MM: Josh, Hamas is encouraging these Palestinians to cross the fence and to infiltrate the civilian communities. Hamas is urging people to rush the fence, telling them that it had been breached, incorrectly. They’re sending women and they’re sending children into what is undoubtedly a violent situation. Does Hamas deserve some of the blame at least in your opinion for inciting this violence?
JR: Well let’s be very clear, Hamas had nothing to do with organizing these protests. This is a coalition of popular Palestinian civil society organizations on the ground –
MM: Hamas had – Hamas has been the organizers of these protests, that’s factually inaccurate.
JR: I think it’s interesting that you don’t interrupt your other guest at all, but you consistently interrupt me before I can even get a full sentence out.
MM: I’m just making fact checks here. Go on.
JR: So let’s be very clear. There is no border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. As you know, there is an armistice line. Borders are between sovereign countries. Gaza is not a sovereign country, it is an occupied and illegally besieged and blockaded territory that’s a small part of historic Palestine. Now Palestinians under international law don’t have –
DA: Occupied by who, Josh? Who occupies Gaza? There is no occupier in Gaza.
JR: Israel doesn’t – Israel is the occupying power of the Gaza Strip, as even the US State Department recognizes, and the entire international community, because Israel has effective control over the borders and airspace and seas of the Gaza Strip, and it’s –
MM: But it has withdrawn from Gaza.
JR: – it’s withdrawn from within the Gaza Strip, but its blockade from without the Gaza Strip clearly shows that it maintains effective control over the territory, and under international law it is the occupying power. Now Israel has occupied –
MM: But Josh – Josh you’re not answering the question. Does Hamas have some role, do you think that Hamas has some role at least in these deaths of women and children by encouraging them to go in there telling them that the situation is different than what it is. Do you think Hamas does have some responsibility here, that was the original question.
JR: I think the onus and the responsibility lies directly on Israeli military forces which in contravention of international law have issued shoot-to-kill, live-fire orders against unarmed protesters. The responsibility for these deaths belongs to the Israeli military forces, which even according to your own reports have shot down people a majority of whom are unarmed protesters.
MM: Dan what’s your response to this? The White House is saying that Hamas has been inciting violence for years, well before the US Embassy move. Hamas is calling for the return of all of “Palestine.” What is Hamas’s responsibility in this?
DA: Hamas bears 100% responsibility of the situation right now on the ground. For weeks it has been building up towards May 14th and May 15th to have these days designated as days of riots, of attempts to infiltrate and cross the border, Hamas is holding its own citizens hostage and is forcing them, some paying and some forcing them to rush to the fence clearly Hamas is out of control, is acting in a very vicious way against its own citizens. Very unfortunate as the situation of the citizens of Gaza is tragic, and they do need assistance, and they do need to alleviate their conditions. However Hamas is not enabling its own citizens to do so. Hamas has a $260 million military budget per year, very few of its dollars go for the benefit, for infrastructure, for the benefits of the citizens of Gaza. So Hamas bears full responsibility for this situation, and unfortunately as long as Hamas controls Gaza, I don’t see anything changing.
MM: Alright Dan Arbell, Josh Reubner, we appreciate your insight, thank you both for joining us.