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'Complete demolition of everything': Palestinian politician on the violence in Gaza


It's been nearly one week since Hamas launched its attack on Israeli territory, killing more than 1,300 people and kidnapping some 150 others. Israel has responded with airstrikes that have already leveled parts of the Gaza Strip and displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. All of Gaza's border crossings are closed, leaving civilians trapped inside without continuing access to food, water, electricity and fuel. The West Bank is different, and our next guest is there.


Dr. Mustafa Barghouti is a medical doctor and general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party in the occupied West Bank, and he joins us from Ramallah. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.


SHAPIRO: You are geographically not far from Gaza, in the West Bank, but you are a world away in the experience. I mean, it's maybe a 60-mile distance. What are you hearing from people who you know living in Gaza today? Have you been able to reach people?

BARGHOUTI: Yes. We are, of course, following the matter because we have many doctors and nurses who are working there in our organization, Palestinian Medical Relief Society. And what we hear from them is horrifying because the Gaza Strip - the 2.3 million people - are now under total siege by Israel. They are depriving people from water, electricity, food and even medicines. And nobody can get to Gaza. Nothing can be transported to Gaza. We have lots of supplies waiting, even on the Egyptian side, but Israel bombarded the entrance to Palestine. And the passage was bombarded, and Israel made it very clear that they would not allow anything into Gaza.

SHAPIRO: What do the doctors tell you about their medical supplies? Do they have bandages? Do they have medicines? Do they have the basic necessities to treat injured people?

BARGHOUTI: They are saying - they told us that the whole medical system is about to collapse. We received panic calls from patients with kidney problems who are going to die because there is no access to kidney dialysis.

SHAPIRO: Oh, so beyond acute injuries, people with basic medical needs that need ongoing treatment can't get it.

BARGHOUTI: Exactly. And because of so many injuries and so many people shot by Israeli airstrikes, the whole system is collapsing. But - and you have to add to the fact that there is siege - is the fact that Israel is conducting indiscriminate airstrikes. These are not just bombarding, like, certain places or houses or institutions. They're bombarding everything - universities, schools, clinics, hospitals. Many hospitals have already been evacuated because they were bombarded by airstrikes. They are demolishing everything in Gaza down to earth.

SHAPIRO: Can I just ask - you are, as I mentioned, both a medical doctor and a politician, and in a moment I want to ask about your view as a politician. But if you were in Gaza right now as a medical doctor, with such overwhelming need, what would you be doing? What would your approach be?

BARGHOUTI: I think my approach would be to try to help people as much as I can, to help injured people overcome their injuries. You know, helping people survive will be the first goal. The second goal would be to try as much as we can to stay in Gaza and help the people who need us because so many old people, so many children, so many families, so many women are unable to move. And the roads are destroyed. The streets are destroyed. The pipelines are destroyed. The infrastructure is totally destroyed. It's a matter - I mean, it's really awful. And when I talk to our people there, my heart breaks down because...


BARGHOUTI: ...We are distant from them. We don't know how to help them. I was there in Gaza in 2014 when the war broke out, but people tell me it's nothing to be compared with now. It's total and complete demolishing of everything, total and complete cleansing of everything.

SHAPIRO: And so is it a feeling of guilt, anger? I mean, when you have conversations with your neighbors, with your friends, with people who live around you there in Ramallah, what do people say?

BARGHOUTI: Frustration, anger and fear that if the world and especially the United States allows Israel to conduct ethnic cleansing in Gaza - people are feeling the fear that this will come to the West Bank as well - and that this government in Israel, which is the most extreme ever, is capable of doing anything. If they allow - and mind you, I don't justify killing any civilian, whether Israeli or Palestinian. But what's happening now - what is going to happen is the worst crime ever of ethnically cleansing a whole population.

SHAPIRO: Does that change your underlying philosophy? I mean, you've spent your whole life saying nonviolence is the correct approach. To see this happen now - does it fundamentally change the way you view the world?

BARGHOUTI: No. As much as nothing changed my views when a sniper - an Israeli sniper - shot me twice with live ammunitions when I was treating an injured person, this did not change my opinion. I still carry the shrapnels, but I carry in myself the same deep belief in - not only in nonviolence, but in justice as well. And that's why I'm so angry now. I am so angry because I never thought, in my whole life, that I will see, I will witness another act of ethnic cleansing in the 21st century.

And what worries me most is that if this continues, and if the United States allows this to happen, we will end up in a situation where the whole world - the people of the world will stop believing that there is something called international law.

SHAPIRO: Dr. Barghouti, if I may ask about the term ethnic cleansing, which you've used several times - according to the U.N., the term has not legally been defined and is not recognized as a crime under international law. Tell me why you choose to use it in this instance.

BARGHOUTI: Because that's what happened to Palestinians in 1948, what Israel conducted, and I have to say that - 52 massacres against Palestinians and erased to earth - erased completely - 522 communities. Seventy-two percent of the people in Gaza today are refugees who lost their homes and their communities back in 1948 - I mean, their grandfathers and fathers. Now, these are the sons of these refugees who were expelled from their country, and now they are trying to repeat the same thing with the people in Gaza. And ethnic cleansing is our crime, in my opinion.

SHAPIRO: Do you see any potential for talks about humanitarian corridors?

BARGHOUTI: It all - it's all in the hands of the United States now. Israel would not listen to any country but the United States, and the only country that has that leverage to tell Israel enough is enough and allow human beings to receive humanitarian aid is the United States. So it is the responsibility of Mr. Biden and Mr. Blinken.

SHAPIRO: Dr. Mustafa Barghouti is an activist and member of the Palestinian National Initiative, speaking with us from Ramallah in the West Bank. Thank you very much.

BARGHOUTI: Thank you sir. You take care.


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Tinbete Ermyas
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.