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Dennis Bernstein: Noted Documentary Filmmaker, John Pilger, is somebody who knows a great deal about the Gaza Strip, and about the extreme conditions Palestinians there have been forced to endure under a Brutal Israeli Occupation. Pilger has actually made two films about it with the same name, twenty-five years apart: “Palestine is Still the Issue.” Pilger, a London based Australian journalist, is a widely respected, Emmy award winning documentarian. His articles regularly appear world-wide in newspapers such as the Guardian of London, the Independent, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times.
JP: Thank you Dennis.
DB: You know a great deal about the situation. You’ve made not one film, Palestine is the Issue, but two. Let me get your initial response to we’re continuing to hear reports of massive bombing and injury, and death to civilian life, to children.
JP: Well, the first thing is the….we should be disgusted. That is a normal, human response, to this. And the second is that we ought not to be surprised, but we should understand this has nothing to do with Hamas, or rockets. It is an ongoing assault on the Palestinian people. And especially the people of Gaza, which began a very long time ago and the plan is to effectively get rid of them as an entity. And I’m not exaggerating, it’s often difficult to reach back to the history in times like this, but it’s very important that we contextualize it.
The infamous Plan D that was executed in the late 1940s just before Israel came into being was to expel the population of Palestine; to get rid of them. And 369 villages were attacked, the people thrown out, the record is there. Historical record is very clear, Israeli historians, Benny Morris through, have documented this, the Hebrew archives have thrown it up.
The sum of it is that we see a form of genocide under way in Palestine. And this is the later stage. And what your listeners should be in no doubt about is that although Israelis are doing the bombing, it’s really the United States that is really pushing the buttons. Because it’s only Israelis who are flying, the American planes. Those are American planes supplied for this very exercise, and if you look at the response of President Obama you understand that this is, in effect, an American/Israeli assault on a people who live in effectively in an open prison.
The United Nations special reporter, Richard Falk has likened their situation to the Warsaw Ghetto. When in Warsaw and Poland the Jewish Ghetto there rose up against the Nazis, who were crushed. These days fascism is not a word easily used, nor should it be. But we have as close to a fascist state in Israel, and those historic parallels that Faulk draws, actually to be correct. So we’re seeing an historical process at work here, and it is up to the rest of the world to recognize that, and do something about it.
DB: John, you’ve, as I mentioned in the introduction made not one film but two films with almost the same name, about twenty-five years apart. And that’s Palestine is the Issue…why did you…
JP: Palestine is Still the Issue…
DB: And tell us about what that means, and why you did two films and what it means that they could almost have the same name twenty-five years apart.
JP: Well, the first film was in the late seventies and the second film was in about 2003. When I came, I’d been reporting the middle east and Palestine for quite a considerable time and when I came to make the second documentary what struck me, looking at the first documentary years before that nothing had changed that the title still applied, Palestine is Still the Issue.
It is the single issue in the middle east, because it is an issue of the most fundamental justice. It is, as I just explained, it is an issue of people fighting for their lives, literally, against an enemy that is an anachronism. Israel is….as the world was decolonizing, that is, the old empires were shedding their colonies. That’s not to say a new empire wasn’t arising, the U.S. empire. But the old colonies were being given at least a normal independence.
Against this historical tide, a new colony rose, and that’s Israel. It’s an utter anachronism. It is not in any way, in any sense, at peace with its region. It’s at war with its region. In fact, its raison d’etre is war with its region. If it were to come to peace with its region then almost its reason for existing would stop. And this centers on the oppression and expulsion of Palestinians. The theft of their land, the theft of their resources, these are all facts. They’re not opinions, they’re facts. And they have been on the historical record for a long time. To almost everybody in the middle east, even in some of the more odious regimes, governed by some of the more odious regimes such as in the gulf, ordinary people regard Palestine as still the issue.
This center of turmoil and war, and a flashpoint, a permanent flashpoint in the world, would lose that volatile and very dangerous status when the Palestinians were given the fundamental justice to which they have a right. And it’s Israel and the United States backed by Europe, but basically Israel and the United States that stands in that way. And that’s why to ordinary people in the streets from Tehran to Cairo, and Damascus to Beirut, Palestine is still the issue. And it should be the issue in Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and London and wherever.
DB: One gets the feeling, John Pilger, the Israelis now, in conjunction with the United States, are using the Gaza strip as a testing ground for the latest kind of weaponry, technology, jamming equipment. The drones are covering the Gaza strip now, they are flying low. One has the sense that they are testing weapons here and equipment for larger wars.
JP: Yes, well, that has always been the case, of course. These kind of aggressive wars, going right back, have always been laboratories. The infamous example is Vietnam, or even before that Korea when napalm was tested. And phosphorous bombs were tested later on. And now we have these high tech weapons exemplified by the drones. What better to test them on a people you wish to extinguish? And you are quite right to describe it that way. It is as much experimental as anything else. It certainly has no, absolutely nothing to do with a few tin pop rockets fired out of the prison, the open air prison, into Israel.
So, yes, it is an experiment, but it is an American experiment. It is an American/Israeli experiment. And those who voted in President Obama, recently, might reflect on that. No president has been more enthusiastic in his support for this project than Obama. From the time after he was voted in, in 2008, before he was inaugurated, when he gave his approval for what was known as Operation Cast Lead, which killed 1,400 people in Gaza, to the present day.
So there lies the political problem. This is not happening, as far as the United States is concerned, as a consequence of some dictator-looking figure in the White House. If anything, we’ve had to put up with the very benign images of Obama and his family and entourage for quite a long time. It is happening under a so-called liberal president. Netanyahu is a fascist, there is no question about that, but he is America’s fascist. And I cannot emphasize that enough.
All this would be resolved if there was an honest broker in the form of a great power, that helped to broker a regional peace or at least gave it support to regional peace, or at the very least did nothing. Certainly did not give,….supply the weaponry, and the logistics, and all the rest of it for one side to do what it is doing. All this would be resolved if that honest broker in the form of the United States existed. But that is a fantasy.
DB: Now you used a word “genocide”….some have used ethnic cleansing, apartheid. The Israelis, many in the U.S. call that hyperbole. But when you say that, the things that I think about is that this is perhaps the most environmentally devastated piece of land in the world. Ninety percent of the drinking water has been poisoned. There is structural damage that make it impossible for children to grow up healthy. Are those the things, I assume it’s not hyperbole for you, are those the things that you think about when you think about genocide and ethnic cleansing? It’s not just war.
JP: It’s not. I’ve reported genocide. I’ve reported genocide in Cambodia and I’ve reported it in East Timor. It is a fact. And I think all those Americans, Jewish Americans in whose name Israel claims to act must consider this. There is a responsibility there. They must consider this. I think it’s gone so far beyond the situation where any of us can stand back anymore. We’ve had a great deal of energy expended over what’s to be done about Syria. Well, that’s a very nasty regime in Syria and it’s a very nasty civil war in Syria. But really the issue here is what to be done about a state that is propped up and I mean propped up, because its economy is in shambles, by the United States. That is an extension of the United States. That’s something I would have thought that American citizens ought to reflect on, especially those in whose name Israel claims to speak.
DB: Now, we’ve both talked a lot about the nature of western and U.S. journalism. I’ve been watching it non-stopped for the last couple of days, and I’ve seen them be biased before, in this context, but I have never seen it so bad. Where they cannot….you, it seems like western journalists, U.S. journalists know better than to mention the name of a children, or of a child or a family, that was wiped out by the Israeli military. We hear tears on the Israeli side from the fear of being hurt, but the slaughter and the suffering of Palestinians and the children….half the people in the Gaza strip, if not more, are under 18, are children. We don’t hear about it.
JP: Yeah. These are very barbaric times, Dennis. And the media accurately reflects that. It’s because it is part of the barbarism. In a way we should probably stop the historical parallels there, because these are almost uniquely barbaric times. We have facades of democracies, circuses claiming to be elections. We have people who are very nice to their children, and who are journalists and who write and broadcast this propaganda. These are barbaric times and the media is, and has always been, an extension of established power.
Established power in the United States and Europe is siding with the most lawless state on earth. I mean, that’s again, a fact. You total up the number of international, security council resolutions, general assembly resolutions that this state has willfully ignored; it is an utterly lawless state. It is a colonial anachronism. And it is causing great suffering to the people of a particular part of the middle east, the Palestinians. Now, if we contort our intellect and moral sensibility enough, I suppose you could come around to seeing it in a sort of a strange way. But the truth of it is this is a barbaric situation. The media that as you describe, ignores the suffering of Palestinians, Palestinian children is itself barbaric.
DB: You know, you mentioned Richard Falk, Princeton emeritus professor, the investigator for the United Nations on human rights violations in the occupied territories as it is put, in terms of his mandate; when I interviewed him four years about the bloody slaughter then, he began to refer to this kind of attack, on what many people called the largest open air prison in the world, it becomes a new kind of war crime. Because people who have already been refugees, one, two, three and four times over don’t even have the right to flee, or not the right but the possibility. So it is sort of a hammer and an anvil operation.
JP: Yes. Yes. Having been in Gaza I can assure you that it is a very small place, it’s a long sliver of land, it’s so congested, so densely populated, that there is no where to go. There is the sea, but you’re not allowed to go beyond a certain limit. The Israelis will attack you if you do that. The other way, you can’t go the other way. You can’t go and join your compatriots in the rest of Palestine, that’s not allowed.
I’m astonished that Palestinians have retained their humanity, in the way they have. They’re…I won’t say resilience because I don’t know how you can keep on being resilient, frankly. But they certainly, …they care for each other. And their anger is what is being done to the children. And most of the children in Palestine now are traumatized, most of them. As you rightly mentioned half of them are under seventeen or eighteen, or something. I think it’s lower than that actually, half the population.
I’ve been in clinics run by some very fine Palestinian organizations that try to treat these traumatized children and looked at all these kids draw pictures of war and horror, and people being killed, and bodies being dismembered. When the Israelis are not bombing them, blowing them up with their American weaponry they are forever flying over them making aerial sounds that drive people crazy, that prevent people from sleeping, that cause children to bed wet night after night. A kind of imposed traumas that none of us living elsewhere would regard as anything, if it happened to our own families, as barbaric. And that’s why Richard Faulk’s likening of the situation in Gaza, and that’s not exact of course, with the Warsaw ghetto, it’s appropriate.
DB: And, of course, the Warsaw ghetto fighters all fought hard, most died. But they died with some dignity. And one has the sense, that these bottle rockets that are being sent over to Israel are an expression of that dignity and that unwillingness to, after all these years, take it. Give up. They won’t give up.
JP: Well, yeah. If you are going to defend yourself…I mean the fighters in the Warsaw ghetto were amazing in what they achieved. Simply amazing. I wouldn’t want to draw exact parallels there because apart from these shoddy rockets, all the Palestinians have is small arms and they know they can’t win militarily. And they know that any attempt to try and force a confrontation, a direct confrontation with Israel would lead to huge blood shed amongst their own people.
You know, this is a time when the propaganda of the media tells us “Something must be done about Syria,”…..”Something must be done about Iran.” All the west’s demons must be dealt with. We have the absurd situation of an invasion or a war approaching against Iran over nuclear weapons it does not possess. Which the combined agencies of, intelligence agencies of the United States, confirm it does not possess. And yet the one nuclear power in the middle east which has something like 500 thermo nuclear warheads, which is Israel, is simply off the agenda. Are we in a sort of intellectual and moral madhouse? It would appear so.
DB: And the impression, of course, conveyed by the main stream press both with Palestine and with Iran is that the Israelis are bending over backwards to show restraint.
JP: Well, you know, recognizing the sources of propaganda is the first thing. I mean it’s the converse of information being power. Real information is power for people. The other side of that is recognizing the source of lies. And I think large numbers of people in western countries recognize that the so-called main stream media is a source of, is the sort of ventriloquist of power. A power that is causing great grief in the world. I do believe, I’ve always felt as a journalist the public has been way ahead of the media.
Sometimes that’s difficult because television is still a very powerful medium. And as you’ve described the sheer bias of television in the United States means that not even the names of people, of whole families annihilated or most of the families annihilated can be mentioned. You know, what is being stolen here is not just simply Palestine, yet again, but our own consciousness. If we allow this, then there is something of us that goes. That’s really at stake here.
DB: That’s a poignant point to leave it on.
Dennis Bernstein is the host of Flashpoints Radio on Pacifica Radio.
John Pilger is a film-maker and investigative journalist. He is the author of Freedom Next Time.