In this episode we turn to the conflict in Israel-Palestine and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We’re joined by Dr. Ofer Cassif, a member of the Israeli Knesset with the Hadash-Ta’al coalition. He calls for an end to the occupation through peaceful means because he believes that the security of Israelis and Palestinians is interconnected and mutually dependent.
One day after our interview, Dr. Cassif was punished by the Knesset with a 45 day ban from participating in Knesset sessions due to his critical interviews with international media and comments condemning the State of Israel for the crisis in Gaza.
Stephanie: Greetings everybody and welcome to another episode of Nonviolence Radio. I’m your host, Stephanie Van Hook and I’m here with my co-host Michael Nagler. And we’re from the Metta Center for Nonviolence.
In this episode we turn to the conflict in Israel-Palestine and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We’re joined by Dr. Ofer Cassif. He’s a member of the Israeli Knesset and he’s with the Hadash-Ta’al coalition. He calls for an end to the occupation through peaceful means because he believes that the security of Israelis and Palestinians is interconnected and mutually dependent. Let’s hear from Dr. Cassif.
Ofer: My name is Ofer Cassif. I’m a member of the Knesset with Hadash-Ta’al, which is a coalition of two parties or two movements. Hadash, which I’m a member, stands for Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, which its basis is mainly the communist party of Israel, of which I’m a member for about 35 years. And I’m a member of the Knesset for almost five years.
I used to be a professor mainly at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and also in the college just by Gaza Strip, in which people were attacked, killed, kidnapped. My PhD is in political philosophy from the London School of Economics. I also had my post-doc in Columbia University in New York. And then – that’s me. That’s it, more or less.
Stephanie: We want to thank you for your time today and also just offer our sincere empathy and condolences about what’s taking place right now where you live. We want to make sure that you are not a voice in the wilderness for your message.
Ofer: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. It’s very helpful and heartwarming.
Stephanie: Well, I was completely moved by your interview on Democracy Now! Especially when you said the part of “No violence from Hamas justifies the violence from Israel. And none of the violence from Israel justifies the violence from Hamas.” I feel like if humanity understood that concept, we would be in a completely different place politically, internationally, and as human beings.
Ofer: First of all, you know, one of the things that I also mentioned in other interviews, I don’t remember if in this specific interview you mentioned. I mean, I’ve done a ton of interviews, unfortunately, given the circumstances.
But in many interviews I quoted Mahatma Gandhi who said, “An eye for an eye means that everybody turns blind.” And I don’t want anyone to be blind. If we continue this metaphor, our eyes must be open in order to reach a solution everywhere.
I just loathe any violence against innocent civilians. For me, what Hamas did was a massacre of innocent civilians. First and foremost, it is, to say the least, morally disgraceful and, of course, rejectable, rejected. But also, personally, you know, I lost so many acquaintances and friends in this massacre. Including one – a very good friend, originally from Minnesota, by the way. Who was an activist against the siege on Gaza and against the occupation, against violence.
And she sent me an email message just, I guess, not too long before she was murdered with her husband in her house, in a kibbutz. She sent me a WhatsApp message saying that she hears them outside, the Hamas bigots, the Hamas terrorists, killers. And she was never so afraid.
And unfortunately, not too long afterwards, she was killed with her husband. And there are so many other acquaintances and friends that I lost because first of all, about 40 years ago, I lived in one of the kibbuzim in the area that was invaded and people were killed there. Some of them I still don’t know how many because some bodies still haven’t been identified. We don’t know who was killed and who was kidnapped.
I was also, for a long time, more than ten years, I was a professor at the college nearby. Of which many workers were kidnapped and killed with their families. One of them, it was a very – someone I worked with for quite a long time, was killed with her family. And many anti-occupation and activists were in the area that were kidnapped or killed.
So, this is, for me, it’s also a very personal issue. But I insist, always – I’ve always insisted in, not to conflate or involve the personal with the moral, because sometimes that may cause you to go astray. And I will try – and I try, I don’t say that I always succeed. I’m a human being, I guess. Although, some of my enemies don’t think so. But at least it’s agreed that biologically I am. So, sometimes, of course, I fail. But I’ve always been trying to stick to my beliefs. So, in that issue as well, I try not to involve the personal with the moral.
What Hamas did is morally despicable, and they should be rejected by any human being. That was a massacre. No less than that. A slaughter of children, of elderly, of women, of men. And that can never be accepted, to say the least.
At the same time as you quoted me before, I totally object the assault on Gaza morally and politically. Morally, because those who are killed and assaulted – killed, massacred as well, are primarily innocent civilians. The last time I heard about the victims in Gaza, which is more than 3000, more than 70% were innocent civilians.
Nothing can justify such an assault, such a massacre. I must also say that one of the things that really makes me sick is that what Israel is doing now is nothing to do with the security of the Israelis, let alone Palestinians, of course. But everything around revenge. Everybody knows, including the Israeli government, including the morons among them – and there are a lot many of them – all of them know that this assault on Gaza will not deliver any security for neither of the parties involves. Quite the contrary.
But still, they want to do it because they seek revenge. Because they act out of their guts full of hatred, just like the Hamas did, by the way. And not because any reasonable – if anything can be regarded as reasonable when someone is assaulted – not out of any reasonable long plan. And that’s what really makes me sick, literally.
And I spoke to friends of mine, people I know on both sides of the – let’s call it, border. I talked to some people in Gaza. I talked to some people, of course, in the south of Israel. And I spoke to people who object to both massacres. I talked to Palestinians who totally oppose the slaughter that Hamas did in the south of Israel. And I spoke to Israeli victims as well, survivors who lost their loved ones, who still stick to the views that violence cannot bring but more violence.
I talked to, if you know, if you remember, Izzeldin Abuelaish, who is a doctor. Who in 2009, in another assault of Israel on Gaza, lost in one missile, three of his daughters and a niece. And thereafter, two years later, in 2011, he published a book. A very, you know, emotional book. And the title of the book is, not accidently, is I Shall Not Hate.
So, I spoke to him two days ago. In the current assault in Gaza, 25 members of his family were killed. In addition to the three daughters, and niece, he lost 14 years ago. And he still said that he shall never hate. And that he’ll continue with the struggle for peace and peaceful solution for both peoples of the region. That’s my example. That’s my ideal person.
Unfortunately, I am viciously attacked by Israelis right-wingers, including death threats for my view. Not because – they try to accuse me in justifying the massacre Hamas, carried out. They tried to accuse me of saying that Hamas bears no guilt for what they did. Which is, of course, a sheer lie.
They simply cannot tolerate, and they wouldn’t like to accept that I, and everyone else, can show sympathy and empathy for the innocent people in Gaza. At the same time that one shows sympathy and care for the people of Israel. It’s not a contradiction.
Once someone refers to any kind of a confrontation as a zero-sum game, that means that if one wins, the other one necessarily loses. That’s exactly the practice of the “eye for an eye” that Mahatma Gandhi warned against.
So, If I just make a paraphrase of what my friend Dr. Abuelaish said, that he shall never hate, I will say that I shall never give up. Because everybody knows that there’s no violent solution to this confrontation. The only solution to this situation, to the dire ongoing suffering of Palestinians and Israelis, is a peace – for a peaceful solution.
That means that the occupation must be ended. That’s the core and the seed of the violence. Now, I do not say that all Palestinians or Israelis – will perhaps, with the current situation – that most of them are interested in that. But that’s our role, to encourage them and to try to convince them. Now both are full of anger. But anger doesn’t lead to anywhere.
That’s why people are so, you know, fearful of what – of the activity that I and my friends are trying to present. They’re afraid of that. They are afraid that if someone speaks against violence and for peace, it legitimizes the other side, even if it’s violent. No, that’s not the issue. That’s not the issue at all.
My friends and I are interested in the wellbeing of everybody. I would say everybody in the world. But for our discussion, in the area. And I saw – I don’t know if you know, if you happen to see it because I’m not sure it was translated. It should be. A couple of days ago, a very young woman, 19-years-old, from Kibbutz Be’eri where there was a terrible slaughter. She lost many friends, peers, and others.
It was broadcasted on a Facebook video with her. In which she said two very important things. 19-years-old woman. I wish our leaders, everywhere, would have listened to her and adopted, and endorsed her unbelievably smart and brave stance. And she said, among other things, two main things. The gist of her video was as follows: First, as long as the people of Gaza are not free or cannot live in peace and security, neither will we be able to live in peace and security. This is what she said, after she lost peers and others.
The other thing she said, which is, for me, it’s more than bravery. It’s something that I find it very hard even to find the words to describe. She said – and I try to quote almost word by word. She said, “We were rescued from the area in south of Israel. People saved us and took us from the slaughter. And we are now resorting, or we found a safe haven in a hotel by the Dead Sea. But the people of Gaza have nowhere to go. And I’m thinking about them.” That’s what she said. 19-years-old woman that lost so many peers and acquaintances and friends in the kibbutz. People she knew since she was born. She was so amazingly impressive in saying that, after all she’s suffered from and still does.
Saying such a thing, that she thinks about the people of Gaza that have no place to run and hide where she and her friends are safe now. I think that that’s the most humane thing that one could imagine. I wish myself to be able to endorse her views and her words.
But let’s start by focusing the governments to do that. Unfortunately, I’m so angry at the Biden administration. That has the power to stop it. Had the power to prevent it. If the Biden administration, months ago, if not years ago, would have put some more pressure on the Israeli government to start serious negotiations towards ending the occupation and reaching a peaceful agreement.
That must include, of course, the total independence of the Palestinian people in their own independent sovereign state besides Israel. Had Biden done that, everything could be prevented. And now, instead of using this terrible, disgraceful, massacre by Hamas, to put an end to the terrible bloodshed, and move further forward to peace – instead of that, they send more arms to the area, preparing to a worse war that eventually is going to harm everyone because that war will not stop there.
And not in the region, we are on the brink of a serious risk of Third World War. It is preventable. It’s not too late for the Biden administration – and I hope that my voice be heard by someone close to him.
I beg that international community, with tears – literally. I beg the international community, the UN, the EU, the Biden administration. Instead of sending more arms, you have the power to force the Palestinians and Israelis to reach a just, peace solution that will prevent the blood of everybody – the Israelis, Palestinians, and others. It’s in your hands. But you don’t do that. You use your hands to pull a trigger instead of signing a treaty.
That reminds me of the famous play, ‘All My Sons” by Arthur Miller. I remember that in one scene of this play someone says – I think it was after they discovered the son was killed – someone said that it was very, very good if the finger that pulls the trigger was not invented, or something like that.
So, I say the same. Especially to Biden. Instead of using your finger to pull the trigger, metaphorically speaking, use it to hold a pen and sign a Just Peace Accord. You can do it. You can do it!
Now, I must say that I’m very disappointed by some others who are regarded – justly or unjustly. I spoke with this, within the Democratic Party. I sent a letter to Senator Bernie Sanders many months ago asking him to do whatever he can to stop the pogroms that have been carried against Palestinians for months now in the West Bank.
For those who are not very familiar with the reality, the West Bank is occupied by Israel. And the situation of the Palestinians there – and I’m talking about pastoral communities, peaceful ones. Their situation has never been worse because they have been suffering from a daily, and recently hourly, pogroms by settlers who go there under the auspices of the Israeli occupation army. They assault those Palestinian pastures. Including old people, children, women, etc.
They torture, you know, the fields, they cut the trees. They prevent the sheep from going out. They also shoot them. They mock them. They humiliate them. And it was very clear that everything was going to erupt.
In addition, of course, the ongoing 16-year siege on Gaza which turned Gaza into a huge prison. It was very clear. The writing was on the wall, unfortunately, written in blood. And I warned the government of Israel. I wrote ten letters, formal letters in addition to other appeals to the Minister of Defense, the Israeli Minister of Defense, to put an end to the pogroms first and foremost because those are, of course, to say the least, are immoral, are criminal.
But also because I warned that those would lead to a terrible explosion that everybody is going to pay by blood. Up to now, I haven’t got even one reply from the minister. Not even a laconic one. Nothing. I appealed, almost helplessly, to Bernie Sanders six or seven months ago. And I urged him to assist to prevent what was written on the wall. And I haven’t got any reply at all up to now. Shame on you.
Not on you, my friends, of course. You know what I mean. Shame on you, Senator Sanders. Shame on you, Minister Gallant. That could have been prevented. And I just beg everyone to do whatever is possible. Everything possible to prevent the next one, because the next one is just beyond the corner. And we must do everything to prevent that.
Unfortunately, it seems that no one is really interested. When, perhaps, someone is going to be interested among those leaders, perhaps when it’s too late. I hope not.
Michael: Well, thank you so much. I know that everything you said came from the heart. Let me ask you some questions. Where is Yesh Gvul? Where is the Israeli peace movement in all of this?
Ofer: You know, currently there’s a – wouldn’t call it a division, but it’s not easy in the peace movement. Let’s begin with that. The peace movement in Israel has got – has been weakened in the last eight years. If I go back to the beginning of the century, I put a huge amount of responsibility for the problematic situation of the peace movement on Ehud Barak. Because once Ehud Barak was the prime minister said there’s no problem, which was a lie, which was a sham, it actually caused a huge harm to the peace movement. Not to mention, of course, there’s a responsibility for the massacre that occurred in Israel in October 2000.
But look, the vast majority of leftists in Israel, the vast majority of Palestinian citizens in Israel, voted for Barak in the 1999 elections because then it changed thereafter. But in those elections in 1999, there was a direct vote for the prime minister alongside for the Knesset.
And Barak won, if I remember correctly, in a knockout, especially thanks to the Arab vote and to the leftist vote. And he caused a huge disappointment in his activity and behavior and management. First and foremost, as I said, because of the October events. And secondly, because he said there was no problem.
That caused two things. First, it eliminated a huge amount of the Arab citizens from the system. And then you can see the result, the consequences up till now, the percentages of voters among the Arab citizens in the elections are very, very low because we are still carrying the consequence of this behavior of Barak’s.
And secondly, it caused a sort of crisis within the peace movement, that still, the consequences are with us. So, the peace movement in Israel does exist. It’s very brave. Perhaps more than ever because now it’s much more – even I would say not only hard, but it’s even sometimes dangerous. Like myself and others, activists, peace activists are sometimes beaten. And they’re beaten not only by police and army demonstrations, either in the occupied territories or within Israel. It doesn’t matter at the moment.
They are also attacked by right-wing – right-wingers, you know. And this is totally legitimated at the moment, given the incitement, the ongoing incitement by Netanyahu and his thugs. It’s now totally legitimate to look at peace activists and peace lovers as traitors, as fifth column, as people who are doomed to be attacked if not killed.
Just a few days ago – I don’t know if it was published in the states, a friend of mine who happens to be an ultra-Orthodox Jew who is very, very leftist and very peace activist. His name is Israel Frey. He lives in Bnei Brak, which is immensely ultra-Orthodox.
He was attacked in his home by a mob. He was attacked. People outside – I think there were 300 people outside of his home. Not just shouting, throwing stuff, but also shooting – how do you call this? [Bomb-fires], you know, at his home.
You know why? Because what? It was a specific thing. You know what Kaddish is? Kaddish is a prayer, a Jewish prayer for the dead.
Michael: [Yisgadal v’yiskadash sh’mei rabbaw]
Ofer: Yes, exactly. So, he came back to the Kaddish prayer for the victims of the violence, and included those who were butchered by Hamas, but those who were killed by Israel too. Because of that, his home was attacked by a mob. Because he expressed sympathy. Not for Hamas terrorists, for innocent civilians in Gaza. So, he was attacked.
And I tried to call him, and he couldn’t – he couldn’t speak. It was late at night there. And he couldn’t speak. Our conversation was, you know, it was hanged up. And people called the police. The police arrived, I would say, not early enough. They took him from his home and accompanied him. They didn’t give him shelter. And they didn’t protect him. They just took him to his car and left him there.
And he had to run away from the mob and seek refuge in Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. And he couldn’t get out of the hospital all night long because the mob was expecting him and the police wasn’t there. The police – the police, the Israeli police doesn’t exist anymore. It is a private fascist militia of Ben-Gvir, the fascist, racist minister.
And because of that, the police doesn’t actually do its role. It doesn’t function as a police, but as a private fascist militia. That was only one example out of many. It’s not that the police doesn’t defend the peace lovers and the peace activists. Sometimes it joins the thugs that attack them.
That happened a few days ago in a demonstration in Tel Aviv where people, peace lovers who protested the assault on Gaza. They were attacked by people in the street, by just people who passed by, you know, bystanders. And the police didn’t help. And they allow those attackers to go away with – no one was arrested.
A few hours before they arrested peace lovers that demonstrated. They were arrested. People who right now in Israel, people, especially Arab citizens who write or express in the social media, just expressed sympathy for the people of Gaza. Not for Hamas, and of course, not support for Hamas terrorists. Just expressed sympathy for the people of Gaza, the innocent ones. Just expressed opposition to war. They are arrested because of that, or at the minimum, called upon for interrogation. People are suspended from their work. At the university, I know one person who was suspended from the [Technion]. And others are suspended because they only express sympathy for the innocent people of Gaza.
So, it’s very difficult to be a peace activist. And the peace movement is in a deep problem now because those people that the peace movement consists of, and the vicious attack under the auspices of the police and the judicial system. Sometimes, as I said, by cooperation of police.
But, you know, in the Bible it said – I don’t remember the exact quote. But when the people of Israel were in Egypt, it was said to the pharaoh, that the stronger the people of Israel are assaulted, the stronger they will be. Something like that. That’s the gist, of course, of the proverb. But I don’t remember the exact one, the language. I remember in Hebrew, but not in English.
So, anyway, it’s very difficult. We need support from the international community. And again, sorry for saying that. But I’m so disappointed and angry by the behavior of the democratic administration in the states.
We do need your assistance, the civil – you know, the civil society, if not the government. But we shall overcome, as the song goes.
Michael: We shall overcome.
Stephanie: You are listening to Nonviolence Radio and we’re speaking with Dr. Ofer Cassif from the Israeli Knesset about the current crisis in Israel-Palestine. Let’s return to that interview.
Michael: What do you think is the next step, Dr. Cassif? Where do we start to get out of all this? It’s a very dark picture at the moment. What do we do next? What do we do as American citizens? What about the international community?
Ofer: First of all, you know, it’s too early to know. I’m not trying to be a prophet. So, I won’t say that I know what’s going to happen. In the short term, I’m very pessimistic, unfortunately. In the short term, I think more people are going to pay with their lives. Obviously, especially, in the Palestinian occupied territories, in Gaza, that is bombarded. In the West Bank, the Palestinians are still have been attacked and killed in pogroms by settlers and by the occupation forces.
And of course, Israel, because I’m afraid that the Israelis are going to be attacked as well. As I said before, I want everybody to live in peace and security. I have to repeat it, unfortunately, because people – every time that I say something in favor of, you know, express sympathy for the Palestinians, immediately I’m accused as if I don’t care about the Israelis or the Jews, which is, of course, a terrible lie. I care about each and every individual.
As I said, in the short run, I’m very pessimistic. I’m terrified that this local war is going to spread. Because if it goes on one stage or another, I’m afraid that others are going to join the war that may be Hezbollah in Lebanon. That may be Iran. That may be Syria. Hopefully not. But the danger is there. It’s not a coincidence that the United States sent so many battleships, etc., to the region.
So, I’m very afraid of a regional war, not just a local one, which will very easily and quickly may spread into a large-scale war that may be even, as I said before, a Third World War.
Now, I’m saying that now. Not in order to cast pessimism on anyone, but only to tell everybody that that can be prevented because we are still not there. But in order to prevent it, something must be done. And as long as the leaders of different countries or states don’t do that, it’s our role and moral obligation to force them to do so.
I think the citizens of the United States – and I know there are so many millions of Americans who are really peace lovers, given their religious beliefs or given the humanism. The history of the United States is full of people, like those who fought against the slavery, for instance. Quakers, for instance. You know, people like Martin Luther King. We have so many people to learn from. And I know there are millions, disciples of those people. Speak up. Speak up.
And I beg you to do another thing. When you express sympathy for the Palestinian people, also express sympathy for the Israelis. Because there’s a symbiosis there. Morally and realistically and practically. Express sympathy for all those who are suffering, for all those who are assaulted. Israelis and Palestinians alike. Go to the streets.
Repeat the one million parade Martin Luther King did 60 years ago. You can do that. I promise to join you. It’s in your power. I really believe that the main power now – and I’m talking, you know, realpolitik. I’m not talking now, you know, idealism. Although, I do consider myself as one.
But realistically, I think that the people of the United States, if they go to the streets in parades, with force. And it’s not a coincidence that I refer to an example, the one million parade of Martin Luther King’s. You can do that. If one million people go to the Pentagon, for instance. Go to the streets of D.C. If more than one million people all over the states go to the streets and shout together at Biden’s administration, at congressman and senators, “Stop the bloodshed,” you will succeed. But alas, that hasn’t happened yet.
Stephanie: I think that there’s so much disinformation out there. And there’s such a strong commitment to violence all over the world, especially in terms of politics and vengeance and revenge. That’s why when we’re thinking of this conflict, we realize when people are talking about what’s the cause of it? And we can talk about the occupation. We can talk about different forms of violence. What if we said that the cause of this is our commitment to violence on all sides.
Ofer: You know much better than me what is the public discourse, you know, in your place. And what people are ready to listen to and whatnot. So, I cannot say anything better than you. Quite the contrary.
But if we talk in principle, I think people should understand that simply, it doesn’t matter who’s guilty with this because that is with the past. We cannot bring back the days that have already passed.
But we can take care of the future. And I think that’s the best – that’s the main message. That in order to make a future where it’s better for everyone – and as I said before, I’m committed, and I know you too. For everyone, Jews, and Muslims, and Christians and others – Palestinians, Israelis, Americans, Frenchmen. It doesn’t matter. We are committed to humanity. That’s how I consider myself. Some people may add that not only to humanity, but to any living creature, which I can totally respect.
So, that commitment may be, should be, in regard to the future. Because very often I hear from people – and, by the way, all over the place. Not in one specific community or nation or whatever.
So many times, more often than not, I hear people are talking “the dead commanded us to do this. The dead commanded us to do that.” Excuse me, I don’t give a you-know-what about the dead. They are not coming back. And even those that do believe that the dead are coming back, they are not coming back at the moment.
Our obligation must be to those who are living. We cannot bury them alive. We should bury the dead. Not alive. So, we must talk about the future. The message should be, whoever is guilty in the terrible massacres that occurred, much more important is to prevent the current one and the next one. I think that should be the message.
I want to believe that most human beings will be ready to pay attention to such a message.
Stephanie: And in terms of nonviolent activism or peace actions in Israel-Palestine, as you described, it’s extremely dangerous to show any other opinion because people are trying to create a unified voice in terms of retribution right now. So, you understand that this is going to be risky behavior. Maybe protests and going out in the street aren’t the right strategy at this moment. Maybe its, you know, more disbursed actions, more –
Ofer: I was talking specifically about the United States, Europe, and some other places, I don’t know if it’s dangerous there. I know, and I lament it, that for instance, it is now legally forbidden to demonstrate in Germany, in France against the war. That’s crazy. It’s illegal to demonstrate against war. Are you mad? That’s the main thing that we should do, to demonstrate against war. Any war. That’s just simply lunatic.
And it comes from people who are supposed to be more, a lot more moderate. The government of France is, at the moment, not in the hands of Le Pen. Macron is not supposed to be a bigot, but he acts as if he was. Same about Germany. So, that’s, you know, that’s crazy.
Now if I concentrate in what’s going on in Israel, despite the danger, you know, and I just salute my companions in Israel that still go to the streets. I’m not in Israel at the moment. I’m in South America. Not because I ran away. It should be emphasized, I participated in a seminar in Mexico before the massacre and the war began. And I was just stuck there. So, I’m in exile to some extent.
But I salute my friends, my comrades, my companions that don’t give up and still, you know, goes to the streets. Even today they went to the street to demonstrate with all the danger against the war. And by the way, they’ve taken double danger – or three-fold danger. They know they take the risk of being beaten and attacked by Rightists.
They take the danger and risk of being beaten, assaulted, and arrested by the police, which, as I said, tend to be a private militia of the fascist government, in general. And the fascist, racist minister of so-called national security in particular. But they also take the risk of being missiled by Hamas.
A few days ago, in the middle of a demonstration, Hamas shot missiles on Tel Aviv, and they had to find a shelter, to run for shelter. But they still go to the streets. They go in the streets, I salute them. They must hear your voice supporting them. It’s very, very encouraging.
But as I said, everywhere that this is possible, legally, and not too risky. I have no right to demand anyone to take the risk. But wherever it’s not risky, go to the streets and do something. And as far as I know, correct me if I’m wrong, in the United States, it’s still legal and possible to flood the streets with millions of people demonstrating for peace and against violence in the Middle East. So, I hope you can do that and will do that.
Stephanie: I have a couple more questions. I just would like to get your opinion. Somebody recently sent us some interview with Ali Abunimah. He’s from an organization called Electronic Intifada, who was retelling the story of the terrorist attacks that Hamas. This was a victory for the Hamas military. It was a military maneuver. And it showed that there’s still a lot of support for Hamas as engaging in these kinds of “strategic military actions.”
He said attacking – he called them, “So-called civilians. So-called civilians.” And I just would love to hear how you would respond to these kinds of framings of the issue.
Ofer: I think that if someone refers to butchering children and women, and generally, innocent civilians as a military victory, I think that person – it doesn’t matter from where he comes, should be ashamed, to say the least. I cannot see such a person as a partner to my struggle. That’s a shame. That’s a disgrace.
And “so-called innocent civilians”? Babies were butchered. So-called innocent civilians. Just imagine if someone in Israel would have said the same? And people do say the same. My reaction to both is the same. You are both criminal thugs.
Stephanie: I appreciate hearing your opinion on that because I think that here on the Left in the United States, in particular, there’s a sense that the right thing to do is to justify Hamas’ violence in some way.
Ofer: That’s what they said before. I mean, that’s not a zero-sum game. People must understand it. Either everybody loses or everybody wins. That’s the only thing, you know? If the violence continues, everybody is going to lose. It’s told that the Palestinians are the primary victims because they are powerless or the weakest side. But the Israelis are losing too and are going to lose more. So, everybody is going to lose. That goes back to our starting point – the “eye for an eye” warning of Gandhi’s.
And if there’s peace, everybody wins. I think that’s the only message that should, you know, the bottom line.
Michael: There has been a nonviolent movement on both sides. We’ve spoken with Palestinians, in villages like At-Tuwani, and in Bethlehem, and many, many Israelis who are committed to nonviolence. Are they visible while this is going on?
Ofer: I’m not there at the moment, so I don’t know how visible they are. Of course, there’s a strong nonviolent code, or strategy or belief. I don’t know at the moment how much they’re heard. First, as I said before, because it’s dangerous. Even when a nonviolent activist, for instance, in Israel, is going to post a post in Facebook saying, “Let’s end the war for the sake of everybody’s life,” that one maybe arrested on the spot.
So, I don’t know how visible they are at the moment. But they exist, that’s for sure. Both sides. And should exist.
Stephanie: Just one day after the interview that Dr. Cassif conducted with us at Nonviolence Radio we received word from his assistant that the Knesset issued a 45-day ban from Knesset sessions because of his conducting a foreign media interviews in which they say he accuses the Israeli government of committing a massacre in Gaza.
His response is the following: “The ethics committee’s decision is another nail in the coffin of freedom of political expression in Israel. In each of my interviews, I strongly and blatantly condemned of and expressed my deep disgust at the criminal massacres by Hamas. My political statements against the occupation and war are not statements against the state of Israel since peace and justice also serve it and its citizens. All Israelis are severely harmed by the everlasting bloodshed and the narrowing of the democratic space.
The Israeli government is indeed carrying out a massacre in Gaza and wished for war and violence to pursue its policy. My statements are legal and legitimate political ones. My punishment is a form of political persecution. The “government of atrocities” is bringing a disaster upon both the people of Israel and the Palestinian people. And now also conducts a McCarthyism style hunting campaign against critical voices within the Israeli society.
Even in these difficult days, I will not be silent and will continue to fight for the principles, for the realization of which I was elected, peace, equality, and justice for all.”
Again, those are the comments by Knesset member Cassif in response to being banned from Knesset sessions by the ethics committee for 45 days. The ban was decided after a series of critical interviews with foreign media in which Dr. Cassif accused the Israeli government of committing a massacre in Gaza.
You’ve been listening to Nonviolence Radio. I’m Stephanie Van Hook. I’m here with Michael Nagler. We want to thank our guest Dr. Ofer Cassif for joining us today. We want to thank our mother station, KWMR, to all the stations across Pacifica who help support and syndicate the show.
Thank you very much to Matt Watrous, Annie Hewitt, Sophia Pechaty, and especially to our friend Bryan Farrell over at Waging Nonviolence as well who helps to syndicate the show. Thank you so much. Everybody, you can find the show at NonviolenceRadio.org. And if you want to learn more about nonviolence, go to MettaCenter.org.
And until the next time, everybody, please take care of one another.
Music – “Hate is Too Heavy” by Gary Nicholson