Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author. His reporting on the brutalities of illegal Israeli occupation has set the standard for real reporting on the issue. Blumenthal has also reported on every aspect of the Israeli/US propaganda machine that works 24/7 to sustain the Israeli occupation.
Blumenthal’s articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, and The Nation Magazine. He also co-hosts the podcast Moderate Rebels.
Dennis Bernstein spoke with Max Blumenthal on April 19th.
Dennis Bernstein: I understand you were in the Gaza Strip recently. You were there just before the latest slaughter along the border fence [on March 30]?
Max Blumenthal: I was there just weeks before the Great March of Return, when Israeli snipers began shooting regular people in Gaza who marched to the border wall to protest their open-air imprisonment. Preparations were just starting for that march.
I got the chance to interview the wife of a man who had been refused an exit permit to get treatment for cancer. He was forced to basically sit on his deathbed when he had a condition that could have been treated in the West Bank. He was one of scores of people documented by the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in the Gaza Strip who were refused exit permits and were forced to die.
Some are wondering why people would rush the border and risk their own lives by walking into the teeth of Israeli snipers. You have to understand that every family in Gaza has a story like this.
DB: You tweeted a very disturbing video of Israeli soldiers shooting from behind this electric fence. One of the shots shows them shooting and laughing.
MB: The video was released by Breaking the Silence, a group of former and current Israeli soldiers who have confessed to crimes they have committed in the field. They obtained this video, which was taken through a sniper’s scope, showing a sniper shooting an unarmed man and then laughing and cheering about how much they enjoyed doing that.
It really speaks to the perspective of average Israelis regarding people in the Gaza Strip. They just don’t see them as human, especially younger Israelis who haven’t interacted with Palestinians since the Gaza Strip was sealed off in 2006. Israelis interact with them simply as snipers or drone operators and only a small minority of the Jewish Israeli public sees them as human.
There were some protests in Tel Aviv against the massacres that just occurred and one of the leaders of that protest, Tamar Sandberg, who is from a left-wing nationalist party called Meretz, was brutally demonized in mainstream Israeli media. A lot of Israelis who do have questions about what is happening tend to self-censor because the consequences are so high.
DB: What is happening there between the protesters and the sharpshooters demonstrates what current Israeli policy is. How would you characterize the policy now? Is the situation worse than it was five years ago?
MB: The situation has been the same from 1948 to today. We can refer to it as “demographic engineering.” Imagine if the United States officially declared itself a white Christian state. And there were perhaps millions of people in the United States who were not white and Christian. They would have to be warehoused and their population would have to be limited somehow so that they would not compromise the ethnic integrity of the white Christian state.
That is Israel, the Jewish state, where most people in historic Palestine were not Jewish and were forced out of Israel in 1948, 750,000 of them. Thirty to forty percent were forced into the Gaza Strip. Seventy to eighty percent of the people in the Gaza Strip are refugees or descended from refugees. They cannot return to Israel, simply because they are not Jewish. Israel won’t be a Jewish state if they return there and have families. So Israel must contain them by any means.
In 2006 Israel imposed a siege on the Gaza Strip, which meant that food and goods would be allowed in but only enough to keep people alive, not enough that they could thrive. This was to put pressure on the population to submit. The population has refused to submit. They have tried various means, including military means, to resist. Now they are using Gandhian unarmed protest, which American liberals have called for for years. It has been very effective from a public relations standpoint, but it hasn’t changed Israel’s policy at all. Israel is still maintaining its demographic borders through force. The logic behind that is not security, it is demographic maintenance.
DB: So the strategy is to make it impossible to survive and so the only thing you want to do is either hide or leave.
MB: Or simply stay in your hole. In East Jerusalem, where Israel actually seeks to take over, the policy is to force people to leave. They have a law called the “Center of Life Policy,” where people who are Palestinian have to continually prove that they live there. And if, for example, Palestinians spend too much time in the West Bank, they lose their residency.
There is another law to keep people from Gaza and the West Bank out of Jerusalem and out of Israel, where 20% of the population are Palestinians. That’s called the Citizenship and Entry Law. It blocks people who have residency in Gaza or the West Bank from marrying people who are citizens of Israel. The point is to prevent a growth of the Palestinian population within Israel.
There are a whole set of laws aimed at demographic engineering which people don’t really know about in the West, but which represent the foundation of apartheid. They are absolutely undemocratic.
DB: Some of the people who fought against apartheid in South Africa say that the situation is worse now for Palestinians. I have to think of that stage in the movement when Gandhi went to South Africa during the resistance to the pass laws. People had decided that they were going to put their bodies on the line.
MB: This has been going on for years and years in the West Bank against the separation wall. But you have to understand that across the Palestinian population there is a deep desire to engage in this kind of resistance. In the Gaza Strip people have been trying to do these protests every Friday against the wall and the siege. Now, for the first time, Hamas simply let them.
In the past, Hamas had actually been breaking up some of these protests to keep the border stable and to show that it was a good governor. This is an expression of the authentic desire of the Palestinian people to resist, to show its face for the first time. The Israeli military apparatus is deeply worried. They have actually advocated assassinating leaders of the protest.
DB: How about assassinating people who are marked clearly as journalists?
MB: We lost Yaser Murtaja, a founder of one of Gaza’s most important press agencies, iMedia. These are some of the bravest journalists in the world, who get the shots that Western journalists can’t get. Murtaja was widely respected outside Gaza though he had never been able to leave.
After he was shot on site by an Israeli sniper, in the stomach below his vest that was marked “press,” Israel came out and labeled him a Hamas spy with absolutely zero evidence. And The Washington Post reprinted that allegation in a headline. Why would The Washington Post give any credence to that, even as just an allegation?
DB: You have written that “US policy on Israel/Palestine is almost entirely controlled by two elements in Washington, the pro-Israeli lobby and the arms industry.
MB: The pro-Israel lobby is the second most powerful lobby in Washington, after the NRA. It is responsible for funding campaigns on both sides of the aisle down to the state level. A lot of the politicians without a strong donor base can easily make a few pro-Israel statements and pledge to sign on to whatever AIPAC wants them to do, and money will start flowing in through various family foundations and donors. Kamala Harris is a perfect example. She shows up at AIPAC and makes a series of ridiculously pandering statements about how she used to raise money for Israel as a little kid.
Then you have the arms industry, who Trump holds up as job creators, especially in the swing states. A lot of those jobs come from US loans to Israel, which now total $4 billion a year. Those loans go straight back into Texas, Colorado, Ohio to pay for the weapons that are shipped to Israel.
Israel actually has a tacit agreement with the United States not to produce any major weapons platforms of its own. The US will punish Israel if they attempt to produce their own jets. Israel must buy US F-15’s and F-16’s. They must buy from US companies to receive US loans. So basically the arms industry and its lobbying apparatus are pushing for these multi-billion dollar loan packages to Israel along with the Israel lobby. And where do the weapons fall? They fall on apartment blocks in the Gaza Strip, and could be falling on Lebanon pretty soon.
DB: You were just in the Gaza Strip. Could you describe what daily life is like now for the people there?
MB: The issue isn’t that there isn’t enough food. I was there on Valentine’s day and there were all these huge teddy bears there for sale with balloons, the same as here. But no one can afford to buy them. There is food in the restaurants but no one can afford to eat there, apart from the fortunate few. But even the upper class is suffering. The middle class has been winnowed out. Every young person with an education wants to leave.
I was able to visit a few friends who were stuck there. I met a guy there when we were watching a soccer match and he told me that his family is all in Dubai and he came into the Gaza Strip to visit other family. The gates shut behind him and he has been stuck in Gaza for two years and doesn’t know how to get out to reunite with his family. This is a situation which is really unique in the world. People are trapped inside and the walls are not lifting.
What impressed me very much was the stoicism of people there, the willingness to cope with the situation and not to cower before one of the world’s most powerful militaries, backed by the world’s lone superpower.
DB: Is the Trump administration noticeably worse, for example, with its movement of the embassy to Jerusalem? Or is it just business as usual?
MB: No, I am actually impressed with how much worse Trump has been able to make things on the ground. He has very clearly demonstrated a level of sadism toward Palestinians that no other president has. It has a lot to do with his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
The administration has substantially reduced funding for the UN Relief Works Agency, which is in charge of Palestinian refugees, about 70% of the population in Gaza. UNRWA runs first-class schools which give students a first-class secular education. People in Gaza rely substantially on food aid from UNRWA and that is not coming at the same level. So suffering has increased under Trump and Kushner, whose family is deeply connected to the pro-Israel lobby.
I spoke to an UNRWA source who has been in meetings with Trump and Kushner and he told me that the generals are even afraid of Jared Kushner. They understand that destabilizing the situation for Palestinian refugees will destabilize the Middle East as a whole and mean trouble for US national security. But there is nothing they can do because they can’t get access to Trump without going through Kushner. You have this guy whose only qualification is marrying Ivanka, who doesn’t even have a security clearance, and he is dictating policy on Israel/Palestine. It is a terrifying scenario.