This is WMNF News, and I am Blannie Whelan and I’m here with Laura Abu Ghannam, civil and human rights activist and Central Florida coordinator of CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations). Welcome Laura and thank you for being here.
Thank you so much.
BW: The violence and destruction that’s occurring between the Palestinians and Israelis right now has intensified over the last week. Many lives have been lost, hundreds injured, buildings and businesses in ruins. The Israeli government is saying this whole conflict was started over a real estate issue in East Jerusalem, specifically Sheikh Jarrah.
Is that a correct assessment, and if not what is?
That is a very interesting talking point that they have. East Jerusalem, under international law, is part of Palestine. So, there is no real estate dispute because the State of Israel does not have authority to have real estate in East Jerusalem without the authorization of Palestinian Housing in government. So, there is no real estate dispute. This is an occupied force illegally annexing another’s land, trying to take claim of this land in violation of international law, and in violation of humanity, in general. And they give tax breaks to Israelis, and they give tax breaks to Jews all over the world, to move to the settlements that they’re building in Palestinian land. So, this is not a real estate dispute. Because a lot of the people that live in these homes that they’re forcibly, violently just dispossessing and stealing from the Palestinians, they’ve lived in it for generations, even longer than the state of Israel.
So, what is the Israeli government saying that gives them the authority to be able to force people out of their homes? And what is the consequences of that?
They do not have the authority to force people out of their homes. It is a violation of international law. There is no authority of the Israeli government, nor the settlers, to force people out of their homes in Palestine. This is not a real estate dispute. This isn’t a landlord-tenant dispute where they’re being evicted. They keep calling them forced evictions. But there is no eviction. This is literally stealing someone’s home. And they come under annexation, which is also a violation of international law. It’s a racist, white supremacist government that is trying to rid the land of the indigenous people and replace them with their own population, or who they want to be in the population.
They’re getting paid to move into these Palestinian homes. And often times, Palestinians are being forced out of their homes with their belongings still in the home. They’re not even allowed to remove their belongings first.
BW: Can you give us a little bit of history about the formation of the state of Israel?
For most Palestinians, the occupation began with the Balfour Declaration over a hundred years ago, when Britain, being then the occupying force, promised the Palestinian land to the Zionist movement without any consultation with the Palestinian people, and without consultation with indigenous population. And they were the occupied force until the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, following World War Two.
As you had mentioned, there was a proposition to offer different parts of Africa, again, without the consultation of the indigenous people in those areas as well. Even in South America without the consultation of the indigenous people in those areas. And eventually they settled on the land of Palestine to create the state of Israel.
And with the state of Israel in 1948, the world leaders got together and decided this is where we’re going to put you, without any consultation of indigenous population, providing the Zionist movement with military force and therefore creating what’s called a “Nakba” which were coming up on tomorrow. Actually, it’s the 73rd anniversary of the Nakba, catastrophic Palestinian Exodus were hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their land, forced from their homes, taking whatever they could just carry in their arms, and having to move out of what the world leaders of that day, of the United Nations, had carved into be the state of Israel. Because, either they lived under the state of Israel, or they had to move into what would be considered Palestine.
But over the years, what was created between Israel and Palestine, the state of Israel was given 51% of the land, approximately that much, and the state of Palestine was given approximately 48% of the land. However, the Palestinian population was so much greater than the population that they were putting in the state of Israel, the newly created state of Israel. And on top of that, the Palestinian side was given the not-so-good land, whereas all of the great arable land and the land by the sea was given to the state of Israel.
And over the years, because of the occupation and the forest annexations, and the trauma that was committed against the Palestinian people, the ethnic cleansing that was committed against them, there was no unrest until about 1967, which is called the Six-Day War, which is when surrounding Arab countries also got involved to protect the Palestinian people. And following the 6 day war Israel occupied even more territory of Palestine. So, they no longer stayed within what was given to them, which should not have been given to them without the consultation of the indigenous population.
The state of Israel, they wanted to occupy even more land, and annexed parts of Palestine, which is what we consider today in the West Bank, and the Gaza, and also including parts of Syria, the Golan Heights. They occupied these areas and they tried to take control of them, tried to take control of their resources. And, as we’re seeing in the West Bank, especially we’re seeing the continuous building of settlements, of these illegal settlements, because they want to take over the entire area. They want to take over the entire land of Palestine.
So, they’re putting up these illegal settlements and giving tax breaks and incentives to the Jewish population in Israel. And the West, including US citizens, including American citizens, are being paid and given incentives to move to these settlements to create this Jewish majority state, and displacing the hundreds of thousands of indigenous people and Palestinian people.
You have people all over the world standing with the people of Palestine because they recognize this for what it is, ethnic cleansing. They recognized it as genocide. They recognize it as apartheid. They recognize it as, even the least, as an occupation is what it is. But the people that are not in power are know what it is, ethnic cleansing. But then we have the political forces. We have the governmental forces. We have the political leaders just saying it is an occupation. It is a violation of international law. Well, then, what are you going to do about it? You’re the ones that have power especially, here in the United States.
The United States is the number one funder of this occupation of this apartheid, of this ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. Our U.S. tax dollars are going to fund this. We are literally paying this military, this state. We are paying for the state-sponsored violence. We are paying for the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population. And everyone is just turning their heads. Even just yesterday, or the day before, President Biden refused to even recognize the name Palestine. He refused to even recognize what was really going on between Israel and Hezbollah. And that’s what’s scary. Why are you so afraid to call it what it is? What’s the purpose here?
And there’s so many political reasons of why people don’t know what’s happening, or the media doesn’t cover it accurately, or there’s so many biases or political leaders refuse to stand up. But we really need to stop this wave of violating international human rights, violating the people’s right to live in their human dignity for the sake of political power.
BW: Why do you think Americans are so unaware or unconcerned about the condition of the Palestinian people?
I don’t know it they’re concerned. I think that there’s a lot of misinformation out there. I had mentioned there’s so much media bias about what’s happening. This is this isn’t anything new. This is how it’s been reported on for 73 years, or for the 50-plus years since 1967 War, or even since the second uprising of the Palestinian people in 2000. That’s when I was I have my earliest memory of being exposed what was happening. I was 8 years old watching what’s happening on CNN.
The Western outlets are covering it as it’s there they’re fighting terrorists, the Israeli state are fighting terrorists, or they’re fighting insurgents, or whatever it is. But then you have on Al Jazeera, you have the people on the ground that are actually there, living in the West Bank, in Palestine. You have them actually there reporting it. And there is no terrorism. The terrorism is the Israeli State forcing the Palestinian population to give up the right to their land and the right to their home and the right for dignity. And we’re so misinformed by the media here in the west. And again it’s because of political power. It’s because of the Zionist lobby. It’s because who own these media outlets. Who’s the one that’s paying you? I mean a thankfully you are brave enough to actually report on this for how it is, for the actual truth and telling the story.
Cell phones are truly a powerful weapon in today’s day and age. Social media is truly a powerful weapon. Outlets have actually been censoring Palestinian posts about what’s happening. But do not stop posting because we’re seeing a change in, including in our media, because of these posts. Because of the people on the ground in Palestine their posting what’s really happening. They have their video, they have their cell phones on. This is what’s happening I am being forced out of my home. Or they’re showing the Israeli military throwing stun grenades, throwing tear gas, as Palestinians are praying during one of the most religion the holiest month of our year.
Within the past week I’m seeing within the media actually, the way that they’re reporting on it, because of the pressure that the Palestinians themselves with their social media and showing the truth was happening. there’s no denying it in there no way there’s no way to possibly deny what is truly happening now the media is picking it up.
I like to ask you a little bit about the occupied territories. What is it like to live in the occupied areas, particularly Gaza?
So, when we talk about the occupied areas, from an international law standpoint, it’s the West Bank, which includes East Jerusalem and then west. And then we have Gaza and it’s not a large area. It’s probably about close to around the size of Jacksonville Florida with double the population. Gaza is located between the state of Israel and Egypt. So, it’s this little, tiny city. And the way that they’re living is different from the way that people on the West Bank are living. The was that they’re living in Gaza is absolutely atrocious. And it’s horrible and constant violations of human rights and dignity. We call it an open-air prison. because they cannot get out. There’s nowhere for them to go. They’re blocked from Egypt, and they’re blocked from Israel. And they even are blocked from going out into the sea because Israel does not allow them to go into that area. There’s literally nowhere for this population to go.
Right now, the death toll in Gaza has increased over the past couple of days due to the bombings and the airstrikes of the Israeli government. And again, there’s nowhere for them to go. They’re literally having to go from building to building, trying to escape the bombs. And often times they can’t make it, they’re dying, And the political reasons behind these bombing of civilian areas of apartment buildings, a grocery store, its collective punishment. They’re refusing humanitarian aid. They are refusing water. They’re refusing electricity. They’re refusing movement. And so, the people of Gaza that are suffering horrible, horrible conditions.
Children there, I think the stats right now, about 45 to 50 per-cent of the children there are depressed children. And they have no will to live because their homes are being bombed, their schools are being bombed. They don’t have enough food to eat. They don’t have water. They can’t even get a humanitarian aid which used to get funding from the United States of America to provide aid to the people. Last year there was a report that this is unlivable by international reports, meaning there are no compatible homes, there’s no food, there’s no water, there’s no electricity, there’s no medical aid and people are dying.
And then you have the people of the West Bank of these occupied territories of the West Bank. And they have a much larger area of land, but their movement is very restricted as well. It’s very difficult for them to even go from neighboring city to neighboring city. They have to go through these checkpoints, these military checkpoints. And oftentimes, they can be refused to go through these checkpoints. they can be refused the ability to go see their grandfather or their mother that’s literally a mile away. But because there’s a checkpoint between the Israeli government whoever standing on the post and say I’m not going to let you through today and so they’re stuck. What if there’s an emergency?
These settlements that they’re building in the occupied areas they’re built in the most terrible areas of Palestine. Their sewage is purposely being sent down into the valleys of the Palestinian areas to destroy their crops. Where you have settlers, who are literally putting fire to the olive trees and to the farmer’s crop to try to get rid of any kind of essence of Palestine or Palestinians in the area.
We’re talking about Sheikh Jarrah, for instance, the most recent neighborhood of East Jerusalem who is being violently dispossessed of their homes. When this happened, they’re being dispossessed, and they’re homeless. And so, they have to apply for permits to the Israeli government, because this is an occupying force. They apply for permits to build a home. But then the Israeli forces deny them of a permit to build their home. I think, out of all of the permits, only 7% of them are being approved to build these homes. And that’s on their own property. Then they’re being forced to build a home without a permit. Because they’re building a home without a permit, the Israeli State comes and says you’re building this home without a permit and so we’re going to destroy it. So, it’s a constant cycle, and it’s constant, the trauma that these Palestinians are going through. It’s horrifying.
BW: There will be a protest at 5 p.m. in Temple Terrace tomorrow, May 15. Tell us about that.
So, there is a protest tomorrow (Saturday, May 15) at Temple Terrace at the intersection of 56th and Fowler. It’s going to be the commemoration of Nakba, the 73rd anniversary of the Nakba, the Catastrophic Palestinian exodus, as well as support for Sheikh Jarrah, the neighborhood that is currently under siege of these Israeli settlers who are trying to remove them from their homes. As well as all of Palestine who is living under occupation, genocide and ethnic cleansing.
So, please, please urge everyone to come out and show your support for the Palestinian people. If you’re not even sure what’s really happening, come out and speak to someone. Come out and speak to a Palestinian. Come out and learn, and be educated, and hear their stories. Hear stories of Palestinians who grew up there. Hear stories of Palestinians, such as myself, living here. We’re coming out to really show that this has nothing to do with any kind of political issue. We all have to join together to stand up for human dignity and human rights.
BW: Laura Abu Ghannam, thank you so much for coming and doing this interview. I’ve learned so much, and hopefully, people who view this will too. This is WMNF Tampa.