The Great March of Return, a peaceful Palestinian protest movement that began at the border between Gaza and Israel in the spring of 2017, has become an ongoing massacre in which Israel commits brazen war crimes as the world looks on. This human rights crisis is captured by filmmakers Abby Martin and Mike Prysner in their donation-funded documentary “Gaza Fights for Freedom,” which features footage by Palestinian journalists.
“One of the largest humanitarian crises in the world [is] manufactured,” Martin tells Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer in the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence” while discussing the conflict in Gaza. “We’re not talking about Haiti, we’re not talking about Yemen. We’re talking about an area that’s been cordoned off, besieged, with 2.2 million people. Seventy-five percent of them are refugees that were ethnically cleansed from lands that they can see, beyond this artificial barrier that’s been imposed on them by their occupiers.”
Prysner, who became familiar with the horrors of occupation as a U.S. soldier in Iraq, brought a unique perspective to the film Scheer describes as powerful mandatory viewing.
“I was radicalized as a young 19-year-old soldier in Iraq who very quickly felt terrible about the things I was doing as an occupying soldier,” Prysner explains. “And when I went to Palestine—I went to Gaza in 2009, I went to the West Bank in 2017—I got to be on the other side of it—to be in the car with some 19-year-old [Israeli soldier] staring down a machine gun at our vehicle. [I saw] that it was the same level of brutal, humiliating occupation [imposed on Iraq].”
Despite the ongoing conflict being framed as increasingly hopeless, especially given the rise of the far right in both Israel and the U.S., there is substantial reason to hope a resolution is within reach. As the three journalists point out, there’s a high-profile Jewish-American whose election in 2020 as U.S. president could bring lasting peace to the Middle East.
“Bernie Sanders has the best position on Palestine,” Martin tells Scheer. “And he actually shares the position that Hamas does: Withdraw the settlements to the 1967 borders. And their new charter actually unequivocally denounces anti-Semitism, and makes it very clear that the fight is against political Zionism. This is a shared sentiment from progressive Jewish organizations worldwide. So people might be surprised to learn that the peace could happen actually tomorrow if Bernie Sanders [and] Hamas get together, and they both agree on this notion!”
In the media player above, listen to Scheer, Martin and Prysner discuss the Gaza protests and Americans’ role in both the devastation and possible restoration of Palestinian freedom. You can also read the transcript of this episode below the credits.
Natasha Hakimi Zapata
Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case, Abby Martin and Mike Prysner of The Empire Files. And I must say, it’s interesting that we have people in their mid-thirties who are really explosive, interesting journalists. It’s nice to not just have the old guys. But interested in a subject that has really haunted us ever since the end of World War II, which is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It’s surfaced once again in Congress; there was actually, John Lewis joined some of the new, more liberal members of Congress calling for some rights for the Palestinians. And the reason I wanted to talk to you, I went to the premier of your movie, Gaza Fights for Freedom. And there was a premiere here in Los Angeles, the movie is now coming out, and you’re going to make it available online. But this must have been a thankless task. I know it was hard, you couldn’t get into Gaza, you had been on the West Bank. The film footage is from Palestinian journalists.
Abby Martin: Correct.
RS: Right, and then you folks edited it. And it’s a provocative film, because it basically says, ah, you know, these are Israeli war crimes, killing civilians and so forth. So why Gaza, why does it continue, what’s it all about?
AM: Sure. Well, being in the West Bank, it was pretty shocking to see the militarization firsthand, and to see kind of an area that’s under extreme martial law. I think that people forget about the fact that the West Bank is under illegal military occupation. We’re talking about, you can’t hold up a Palestinian flag, you can’t convene in groups of five or more. So that’s what we’re dealing with there. But of course we know that Gaza is an entirely different situation altogether, one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world–manufactured, Bob; we have to take that into account. We’re not talking about Haiti, we’re not talking about Yemen. We’re talking about an area that’s been cordoned off, besieged, with 2.2 million people. Seventy-five percent of them are refugees that were ethnically cleansed from lands that they can see, beyond this artificial barrier that’s been imposed on them by their occupiers. So it’s a dire situation, the fact that this is a manufactured crisis and, you know, the fact that we’re talking about so many millions of people that are without water. That are without basic necessities: electricity; you know, they can’t get cancer treatment. So that’s the context of the Great March, that’s what we need to understand, why thousands of people are risking life and limb in an act of civil disobedience. And that’s why we decided to engage with this issue, and when we were in the West Bank, we were devastated that we couldn’t get into Gaza. This is, you know, again, we’re paying $10 million per day with American tax dollars to sponsor this kind of rogue apartheid state. And so we wanted to get in; we were denied, blanketly, by the Israeli government. They called us propagandists, not journalists. They also said that we were Iranian agents, which I was confused, because we were working for Telesur, and I thought that we were Venezuelan agents. [Laughs] Or Russian agents. So that was–that was the–that was what we were told by the Israeli government. So we decided to work with a group, a council of journalists within Gaza. They asked us, can you make an Empire Files episode about the situation, because the media was not covering it any differently, as you know, Bob. I mean, you know, the wars in the past–2009, 2012, 2014–thousands of Palestinian civilians died, especially in 2014; we’re talking about 500 children, 2,200 Palestinians. But it always has been kind of obfuscated and clouded with the both-sides narrative, the rockets being fired. It’s confusing for people. But this is why they enlisted on this mass civil disobedience, tens of thousands of people going out–peacefully resisting, holding flags with their bared chest facing down a fortified military–to send a message to the world that they are peaceful. The organizer of the Great March, Ahmed Abu Artema, clearly illustrates that this was a peaceful action, kind of akin to an Occupy Wall Street encampment, that they wanted to set up these tents and call attention to their plight as refugees, and get help from the international community. So that’s what we worked with these journalists in Palestine for. And when we saw the footage, Bob–as you know, having seen the premier–we couldn’t just make an episode about it. I mean, this was footage that was so cinematic and epic that we knew that we had to make a feature-length film. And do the story justice, and also do justice for the people who risked their life, every Friday, going out and getting this insane footage showing what the truth of the matter is. And that’s–there are no militants, there’s no weapons being used. These are peaceful people in the tens of thousands that are being mowed down by Israeli snipers. And so the film, we decided to focus on, you know, not only the egregious, blatant war crimes being committed, but also these protected categories in the Geneva Conventions. Because it’s so far beyond even just, you know, killing civilians. I mean, this is direct targeting of press, medics, children, and disabled. And it’s really incomparable to, I think, any other conflict or war zone in the rest of the world. And you know, as we know, there’s just complete and total impunity for this client state of the U.S. empire.
RS: Well, let me bring Mike Prysner in, who’s your colleague here. And your experience with this region really first came as a soldier, right? You deployed in, what, 2003?
Mike Prysner: Mm-hmm.
RS: To Iraq. And you were part of the force to bring freedom–
MP: That’s right. [Laughter]
RS: –to this region. And the experience turned you into an anti-war veteran activist, in a way, as well as a journalist. And what is the connection between this battle over the Palestinian occupation and Israel, and the larger issue of the Mideast and peace?
MP: For sure. I mean, I think one of the–from a zoomed-out view, I mean, they’re connected, right? I mean, the U.S. is the only reason that Israel is able to commit war crimes, exist as a military apartheid state. It’s because of the backing of the U.S. empire, the extreme military support; you know, its UN veto power at the UN Security Council. And so it’s all–it’s covered, it’s made possible by the United States, but it’s for a specific purpose, and for that same purpose that brought us into Iraq: the United States wanting to reshape this entire region, as what was long a bastion of anti-imperialism and nationalism and anti-colonial revolutions, to turn it back into the colonial-type vestige. And so the same reason that the United States wanted to invade and overthrow Iraq, invade and overthrow Iran, all these countries in the region–using Israel as its attack dog in the region to carry out that same policy against Lebanon, against other neighbors. That’s kind of the united interest that U.S. imperialism has with the Israeli state. Of course they’re not always their congruent interests; they’re not always the exact same interests in the region between the Israeli government and the U.S. But it’s the overall, at that same policy. And so everything, every reason that the U.S went to Iraq, it all has to do with why they are giving this unfettered support for the Israeli state. For me personally, I mean, coming to this issue, as you said, I was radicalized as a young, you know, 19-year-old soldier in Iraq who very quickly felt terrible about the things I was doing as an occupying soldier. And when I went to Palestine–I went to Gaza in 2009, I went to the West Bank in 2017–and I got to be on the other side of it, right? I mean, be in the cars with, like, some 19-year-old kid staring down a machine gun at our vehicle. You know, it was this surreal kind of understanding the kind of–[inaudible question] Israeli soldier, right. So, like, I was flipped, my position of having been an occupier, occupying soldier in my youth, to then being in Palestine and seeing that it was like that same level of brutal, humiliating occupation. And one of the other things too is, I mean, the reason I was so moved by this footage from Gaza, and why I think this story is so important–because it’s kind of undeniable war crimes. And I think that it would be war crimes even if there were armed clashes, right? So under Geneva Convention, if you’re in a–if the Israeli soldiers were in a battle with Hamas militants at the border, right, and they shot a Hamas militant and a Hamas medic, uniformed medic, was going to try to save that soldier’s life–it’s a war crime to shoot that medic, under Geneva Convention. And so even if there were, like, these clashes, as the Israeli government says, these would still be war crimes: shooting of journalists, shooting of medics, shooting of children, shooting of people in wheelchairs. They’d be war crimes in an armed battle. But the fact that this is not an armed battle, that it’s medics who are going to save unarmed protesters who were shot for no reason, and then being gunned down–it’s just like a level of criminality that I, I was not expecting to see, you know, through our footage, but did. And so that was kind of our impetus to turn this into a–
RS: Well, let me just say, the power of your film, Gaza Fights for Freedom, is it–you can’t any longer think of it as other than a David-Goliath idea, with the Palestinians being David. And, ah–ironically. [Laughter] And they’re actually using slingshots to throw stones and so forth. And the Israelis really using very sophisticated equipment. And the film centers around a medic who was killed, and a compelling story. And what hit me, though, in a very personal way–I happened to have been in Gaza at the end of the Six-Day War. And you know, you can think of these historical things in countries; you know, bad stuff happens, lots of people get hurt, there are terrible wars and so forth. But I kept thinking, how did this happen with Gaza and the West Bank, which after all had been occupied territory, not by Israel but by Arab nations? That’s often forgotten. How–I mean, the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank did not wage the Six-Day War. They did not attack Israel. There were not troops. Right? Gaza had been occupied by Egypt; Israel gets along quite well with Egypt, it’s made its separate peace. The West Bank was occupied by Jordan; Israel gets along with Jordan, and so forth. And the small area of the Golan Heights was occupied by Syria; that’s been off and on again, but it’s been stable. So you have these people called Palestinians who actually have never had an army, have not been able to invade, have not been able to fight. So I want to begin, taking you back to Iraq, there’s a certain cynicism in this whole thing, including the Arab nations–which, after all, keep proclaiming their interest in these Palestinian people, but have basically abandoned them. Saudi Arabia doesn’t really care. They’re more interested in killing people in Yemen. The Egyptian military is more interested in controlling its own population, or the Muslim brotherhood, or something. So you have this weird theater, almost–horrible, right–where somehow Israel’s security is thought to be dependent upon crushing what are basically people who don’t represent a security threat. Is that not really sort of the key to this whole thing?
MP: Sure. I mean, the threat–the threat they pose is existing as a people. I mean, I think from the very outset of the establishment of Israel in 1948, I mean, the famous quote from Ben Gurion, the first prime minister, was “We must expel the Arabs and take their places.” I mean, this was the–this was the plan. But the establishment of the state along the lines in 1948 wasn’t meant to be the final state. I mean, they saw all of that land as belonging to this new Jewish state. And so that’s why, like, you know, the framing of this is not, you know, two people who are side-by-side who are just always in conflict. It’s an ongoing process, right? I mean, we know the West Bank is constantly being gobbled up by more and more settlements, which is a continuous thing to where now it’s just, Palestinian territory is just so speckled across what many people think is the West Bank, but it’s predominantly settlements and such now. And so, you know, Gaza was of course undergoing that same thing; as you know, Gaza was occupied until 2005, until they were essentially kicked out by resistance in Gaza. And so it was never intended, this kind of situation now of Gaza being blockaded while they’re colonizing the West Bank. They always intended to go back, back to the West Bank. I mean, back to Gaza and take the rest of Gaza.
RS: Yeah. I’ve done a number of these shows. I’ve even interviewed Tom Dine, who was once head of AIPAC. I recently interviewed Susie Linfield, who’s written a book criticizing the left for its not supporting Israel more. And I’ve interviewed people who are Palestinian journalists, and others. So it’s an ongoing saga. But I’m trying to get at some core issue here, because people listening to this, they’re going to–you know, on one side they’re going to say, well come on, who are you going to negotiate with? Who are you going to make peace with? And they have a view of an Arab mass, an Arab mass that threatens tiny little Israel. That’s sort of always been the argument, right? But what your film shows is really something different. It shows that at a time when, and during a whole long history, really, where Israel–certainly since the Six-Day War, which is now, you know, a half a century–has been able to get along quite well with these big, Sunni Arab governments, right, that were supposedly the enemy, that has air force and troops and things. And what your movie shows is that this threat to Israel is not from this massive Arab population and countries, but rather something that looks like Occupy Wall Street.
RS: Now, I mean, I just want to get this visually. People should watch the movie to get this. We’re talking about, really, people who are trapped in a very small area, a very large population, denied construction material, denied water, denied even the ability to do commerce or so forth. And they are prevented, really–because people always say, well, why pick up the gun? Why not do peaceful protest? They are basically doing peaceful protest.
AM: Well, that’s what Ahmed says, the organizer of the march–who’s a poet, by the way, beautiful poet, and he was inspired by just seeing birds flying freely into the occupied lands that he was forbidden. And he said, people ask me all the time, why–where’s the Palestinian Gandhi? And he said, there’s 200 of them–they’re all dead. There were 200 Palestinian Gandhis going to the fence with bared chests, and they were mowed down by snipers. So this kind of notion, this ethnocentrism from Westerners and Americans, who you know, who basically tell them, why don’t you do this? Why are you going up to the fence? You know what’s going to happen to you. Why don’t you do more peaceful actions? They are! They are. We’re talking about a law that goes back to the foundation of Israel. One of the first laws enacted was to shoot to kill infiltrators. Meaning those refugees who were violently expelled, anyone who attempted to come back to the homes that the UN resolution authorized them to–164, which is what the, you know, the crux of this issue really is–they were shot on sight. And so that kind of gives a little bit more context to this whole notion that, you know, the shoot-to-kill, no-go zone in Gaza. That this is–this is back from the foundation of Israel, still being implemented today within Gaza.
RS: Well, there–well, OK. But the reason that Israel under Netanyahu–it’s a very interesting moment to actually be considered as–because you have an American president who’s closer to the right-wing government that controls Israel than we’ve ever seen. In fact this, you know, it’s interesting, because we talk about foreign interference in our election. And clearly, the one government that interfered in our election in a very open way was the Israeli government of Netanyahu. He came to Congress, he undermined Barack Obama’s key foreign policy achievement, which was developing some kind of peaceful understanding with Iran about getting, or preventing the getting of nuclear weapons. And on the eve of an election, basically condemned this. And he’s been rewarded by an American president, Donald Trump, being very supportive not only of moving the embassy and really, basically, undermining the possibility of kind of a two-state solution and serious negotiation, but also demonizing Iran and making Iran the major threat in the Middle East when there has not been an Iranian claim to the land of Israel. Iran has not been a major player in this, you know. It has elsewhere, but not there. And I want to just push this discussion a little further. Because you know, you have a lot of strong feeling, the film reflects that, and so forth. But the cop-out generally is people say, that’s all very well and good, Abby, you know, that you’re saying the Israelis always wanted this and so forth–no, they wanted security, they had a right to security, there was World War II, there needed to be a home for Jewish people. And one of the reasons I feel very, was very depressed by your movie, is I actually believed that about many Israelis at the beginning, and having been there at the time of the Six-Day War. And I interviewed Moshe Dayan, I interviewed Ya’alon, I interviewed a lot–and don’t forget, you know, I think 70 percent of the Israeli officer force had come out of the kibbutz, which was only three percent of the population. And there was a great deal of leftist idealism to these people. And the one thing that I heard over and over, being in the West Bank in Gaza back then, was–and I remember Dayan saying this to me, and he was an Arabic speaker–he said, if you come back 10 years from now and we are still here occupying, it will be the end of the Israeli idea. OK? And there’s a movie, a very powerful documentary called The Gatekeepers, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it. These are the Shin Bet, head of Shin Bet, the organization that controls the West Bank and Gaza. It’s the Mossad domestically in Israel. And they all talk very honestly in that documentary, an Israeli documentary, about you cannot be an occupier and not deform your own effort at nation-building. OK. Now, it seems that for a lot of people this has been lost. I mean, people who support Israel. And it is basically the $64 question about any imperial venture. It’s about America’s imperial venture, going back to the destruction of Native Americans: Can you be an empire and a democratic republic in the same moment? And the answer clearly is no. And I think the power of your movie–I know I’m editorializing here, but for me–was, hey, these are the peaceful demonstrators. Yes, they can throw rocks and they can do this, but they are basically the peaceful demonstrators, being mowed down systematically by snipers, right? And that the world has, that critics have been asking for.
AM: Right, yeah.
RS: These are not people seizing an airplane, right? They’re not blowing, driving planes into the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. No, they came from Saudi Arabia. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. They weren’t Palestinians, OK. So this is not terrorism. This is people doing, again, what you know, OK, is some more boisterous demonstrations, maybe. And Occupy is a good example. And so how come–what has been the reaction to your movie? Because I think that’s the salient point. With the use of the video from Palestinian filmmakers–that’s really the strength of it–they’re on the ground, they’re showing it; is the argument that they’re distorting? That these are not real pictures?
AM: Well, I was going to–back to your point–the answer is no, no one has said that, and if they did it would be kind of an egregious, bald-faced lie. I mean, but again, as we know, the media likes to say that they’re getting killed because they’re throwing themselves in front of the bullets, Bob. So they will go to very, you know, far lengths to basically excuse the systematic war crimes that we’ve documented.
RS: You’ve actually talked to someone–you people are media people, you’re savvy. I don’t mean to make light, because we’re talking about people being slaughtered, and it’s not a light matter. But–but seriously. People have watched your film, and they say the people being shot by these sophisticated snipers, using sophisticated weaponry, that they’re accidental casualty, collateral damage?
MP: It’s the human shields argument, just as in the Gaza War. I mean, this is the main–because there was quite a deal of mainstream media coverage about the march after the two major days where, like, you know, 60 people killed in one day by snipers, and all shot in the head or torso. Like, direct killings. You know, one guy had no legs and was in a wheelchair. You know, like someone was standing there smoking. I mean, like, not in incidents where there’s people rushing the fence, and it’s snipers in the haze, the fog of war, not knowing where they’re shooting. I mean, it was like very calculated. And that, as you saw in the film, that’s what it shows: kind of calmness, people celebrating, hanging out, people throwing rocks every so often, punctuated by every 10 minutes a shot firing and someone going down. And so, but yes, I mean, when it got a lot of mainstream coverage, when so many unarmed peaceful protesters were killed in a single day, a horrifying number, all of the Israeli propaganda machine was all over all the mainstream press saying these are Hamas human shields. That Hamas is there sending them to get shot because then casualties help the public-relations war. That then they get to say, oh, Israel is committing war crimes, and to use it to put pressure on Israel. So the official line from the Israeli state and military and all of their defenders–like, the main argument being used against the film is that this is Hamas sending people to be shot. Which still doesn’t justify–you know, they shot like dozens of children. I mean, dozens of children have been killed by Israeli snipers, like kids. And so they’re saying, well, Hamas is sending them out to be shot. But even if they were, which is not true–say some Hamas militant put a gun to a kid and said walk to the fence. How does that even justify shooting a child still? You know what I mean, so.
AM: Yeah, I think that you mentioned something that’s really important, and it’s kind of this symbiotic relationship between the Trump administration and the Netanyahu cabinet as it stands today. Because while there might have been, you know, the leftist orientation of the kibbutzes and the manifestation of how Israel was formed originally, now it has kind of turned more fascistically. It is becoming more right-wing every year, and right now we’re seeing the most entrenched right-wing government, the most fascist government that we’ve ever seen in Israel today. And this whole kind of dissolving of the administration, and attempting to form a coalition–it’s not because there’s some left-wing insurgency or trying to hold Netanyahu accountable. It’s more that, you know, who’s going to win in the end? Is it going to be the kind of Orthodox, religious group, or is it going to be the more just secular group? They’re both terrible kind of right-wing figures who want to annex, officially, the rest of the West Bank, and they officially declared that they are not interested in a Palestinian state. So it is interesting that the Western media, and also every single democratic contender, still kind of toy with this idea that there’s a two-state solution to be had, and they just have strong criticism for the, quote, right-wing in Israel. And you know, Bob, I think that polls really elucidate very clearly what the situation is. We’re talking about 93 percent of Jewish Israelis support, you know, the bombing massacre in Gaza. Over 75 percent of them support the shoot to kill policy of unarmed protesters. Eighty-five percent, actually, worse than I thought. That’s the kind of society that we’re talking about. I don’t know how much hope there can be from within a society that is that entrenched militaristically with the indoctrination of that kind of colonial attitude. I mean, you kind of have to be comfortable with the ongoing ethnic cleansing and perpetual occupation of a people. And I could just speak from experience, you know, traveling around the West Bank, talking to hundreds of Palestinians. Not one Palestinian incited violence to us, not one Palestinian said anything about hurting Jews or Israelis at all. They just said, we just want to live in peace. We just want this to be over. We want to cohabit–we want to cohabitate with equal rights. Compare that to when we walked into Jerusalem. Within the first 20 minutes: Are you Arab? We did man-on-the-streets, and you can see this all on Empire Files. It was devastating. I mean, seriously, we did not cherry-pick these people; they’re all stripes, all different backgrounds, and every single one incited violent hatred, genocidal rhetoric, said bomb Arabs, kill them all. I mean, it was stunning. And I think that that kind of contrast has flipped on its head, and Israel deflects, you know, what they do to Palestinians to just kind of blanket this excuse that this will be done to them if they allow Palestinians to thrive and have equal rights. And we shouldn’t just live in fear of Palestinians having equal rights. There’s no way to justify what’s going on today.
RS: Right. But they’re not going to get the mass exodus. And the numbers argue–I mean, yes, if you don’t have a two-state solution, and I do think that things have gone so far, it’s really difficult to imagine a viable Palestinian state. I mean, it’s so fragmented now. But then the question is, if you don’t have–what do you do? I mean, it’s not as if, first of all, these other Arab countries, or the Arab countries, are so eager to have a massive influx of refugees. And you know, this is something to really think about, the human rights aspect of it will be very visible. And I want to connect that with American politics. The fact of the matter is, Trump has exposed a lot of ugliness in the American empire. I mean, that’s one reason why some people don’t like him. I mean, he showed–the scab has been taken off of the wound. And he has, I think, been an incredible embarrassment for people on the more progressive side, or more mainstream side, in his support of Israel. And his condemnation of his critics now–he’s got this, the four congresspeople, young, who have challenged him, and now the Democratic Party has backed them and called the attacks on them racist–well, two of them are Muslim. They have picked up some support for once, for the democrats saying something about Palestinian rights. And you have this weird situation where Trump is making, being–he’s accusing the democrats of being anti-Israel. Right? Well, what is the response going to be? Because they have actually given Israel a blank check, most of them, certainly Schumer and others. And so you do have an interesting dynamic for both of these reasons, maybe a suggestion of some hope that this issue might get resolved in a different way. One is the embarrassment of Trump’s embrace of Netanyahu, and what that represents. And secondly, his smearing the democrats as being anti-Israel. Now, he knows what he’s doing; he knows in Florida that might play well, you know; we don’t know. You know, but it’s an interesting thing. And the reason I’m asking for the feedback you’ve been getting to this film, the irony always in American politics is that a disproportionate number of people who defend the rights of Palestinians, and bring up the human rights thing, happen to be Jewish. OK? I don’t have precise statistics to back that up, but assuredly, as I consider myself to be one of–you know, my mother was Jewish, and I certainly think it’s my obligation to have a universal human rights position–I know I’m not alone. And if you look at any–in fact, even Bernie Sanders, the–
AM: Well, I was just going to say–
RS: –Jewish person who came closest to being president, has raised this question.
MP: The best position.
AM: Bernie Sanders has the best position on Palestine. And he actually shares the position that Hamas does, actually: withdraw the settlements to the 1967 borders. And their new charter actually unequivocally denounces anti-Semitism, and makes it very clear that the fight is against political Zionism. This is a shared sentiment from progressive Jewish organizations worldwide. So people might be surprised to learn that the peace could happen actually tomorrow. Bernie Sanders, Hamas get together, and they both agree on this notion! But it is, to your point, it is fascinating that, you know, the Jewish contender is the one who has the best position, and everyone else kind of has these mealy-mouthed approaches. Again, talking about a two-state solution that is no longer being entertained and has not been for decades in Israel. But you know, the white supremacist kind of shared sentiment between the Trump administration and Netanyahu is something that’s very disturbing, too, and I think making it more difficult for progressives to defend what’s going on. Because how can you actually come to terms with that? That Trump is embracing wholeheartedly Netanyahu, that Netanyahu is using Trump’s imagery with these giant blown-up posters, you know, opening this huge new town in the Golan Heights unoccupied–
MP: Trump Heights.
AM: Trump Heights. So I think people, you know, they might understand that it’s a little bit harder to explain.
MP: Yeah, and you know, it’s interesting that these attacks on Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, AOC, coming from the Trump administration, they really started with their defense of Palestine. But I think it’s, so it shows a kind of establishment reaction to daring speak in favor of Palestinian rights, or to criticize in any way the Israeli government. But it’s representative of a new thing in this country that I think is very encouraging. I mean, I’ve been involved in the movement toward Palestinian rights for a little more than a decade, and I’ve never seen it understood in the way that it is now, discussed in the way that it is now, kind of in the popular consciousness as it is now. And so I’m incredibly optimistic just by kind of seeing the public consciousness shift in a way that it hasn’t before. But of course this is coupled with the opposite, also, under Trump. And I think it goes back to what you were saying before about kind of the difference in relationship, right? I mean, under Obama, there was obviously some kind of tense struggle between Netanyahu and the Obama government. And this goes back to that thing of, they have congruent interests, but not the same interests, right? The U.S. empire, U.S. foreign policy interests, are that they have this loyal attack dog in the region, so they can bomb the Syrian army when the U.S. doesn’t want to, or whatever, you know, act as this bastion of U.S. force in the region. But that’s not Israel’s interest, to just be its attack dog. Israel’s interest is to take all the land of Palestine. That’s what their entire mission is right now, that’s what their entire–the reason for the occupation, the reason for the settlements, all these new laws–they want to take all the land. And so this has been–
RS: Woah, woah, woah, let me interrupt. [Laughter] No, because I don’t believe that. It depends what you think what Israel is. I mean, but I think that very few American supporters of Israel would argue that. They would like to see normalcy. They would like to see trade. And I can’t speak for the Israeli population, because I’m not, I have not been covering this issue. But I can tell you, at the time of the Six-Day War, that was a majority opinion. The slogan of two states was deeply felt, and the Labor Party, which was then dominant, believed that. There were also, everybody forgets there was a significant Palestinian population living in Israel. And much of that population supported Israel in its war with Egypt and other Arab governments. I remember this very clearly. Ibrahim Shabat, the mayor of Nazareth, for instance, had given blood to the Israeli army. Now, you could say that’s false consciousness; you can, or whatever you want. But the fact is, there was a belief. And Israel was, you know, a democratic socialist country in considerable measure. And that is one reason why the American Jewish community has been able to support it. It seemed a center of enlightenment. And the boycott movement–which is really critically important, and raised by a few of the congresspeople you’re talking about, and actually had John Lewis join them in this–it cuts to the heart of that. Because the boycott movement says, no. We’re talking about South Africa here. We’re talking about racism. We’re talking about oppression of a whole people. And I think it’s a real question, if support of Israel in the United States is dependent upon some variant of right-wing, born-again Christians, who think it’s good to have this war because the second coming of Christ will come with the misery of people living in Israel–you know, this is a Biblical prophecy–that’s not going to cut it for long. And you really have to ask whether Trump and Trumpism is a gift to Israel, or it’s a subversive–not that it’s intended to be–an enormous embarrassment.
AM: I mean, I will just say that I think a lot has changed since Oslo. Definitely a lot has changed since the ‘67 war. But you look at what the Labor Party says today in the Knesset, and they–they don’t even say that the occupation should end. I mean they actually, you know, for their official policy are not calling to end the siege of Gaza, are not calling to end the occupation. So we have to understand that there actually is no party in the Knesset that is calling for what is right and just, as an actual solution to this crisis.
MP: Or even a two-state solution at all, like any kind. I mean, they’re officially–they’re all officially opposed to it.
MP: Whereas the Palestinians would accept that. And that’s why it’s interesting that even the other candidates–
RS: Well–I know–we, we’re going to run out of time here. And I–the power of this film is it reminds us that there are these ordinary people called Palestinians, and they are being killed for expressing their basic human rights. When we get to the politics, you know, it’s very easy for people to whip it around, so–and I just have to point out, you know, Hamas was at one point welcomed by the Israeli government–
MP: Oh, yes.
RS: –as an alternative to the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Maybe they still welcome it, because it can be so unattractive. And you know, but I think that the core of this is one could make a moral argument–you don’t have to accept it–that the state of Israel was justified by what had happened in World War II, and the whole history of anti-Semitism. One could argue it didn’t have to be there, or should have been done different ways. But one could make a moral argument. And that the Jewish people could not trust any of the other nations to protect them, because after all, there had been this horrible genocide; that is not to be questioned, OK. However, we’re now–and your movie really brings that to the fore–we’re talking about a very different world situation, where you manage to, as a society, the United States sells a lot of weapons to Saudi Arabia, that has a very stark view of theocracy and religious arrogance and so forth. You know, and gets along with Egypt, and gets along with all these other governments. And you have this collection of people–what are they? Are they the sacrificial lambs to the failure of the world? You know, it’s, ah–I do want to recommend that people–that’s why I’m doing this. I think people should–how do they get to see Gaza Fights for Freedom?
AM: You can check out GazaFightsForFreedom.com. You can sign up to get on our mailing list and get notifications of screenings across the country, around the world. And also it’s going up online at the end of July on Vimeo. We’re putting up clips on YouTube, so stay tuned for that. GazaFightsForFreedom.com. And I will just say that, you know, the entire film was based on donations, and we are, you know, we built the entire film on donations from people, so.
RS: Yeah, and I don’t think that should be lost. Because while, you know, I do have a different sensibility than the two of you have suggested. Then again, I’m twice your age, or more than twice your age; I’m talking to two people who are in their mid-thirties, they seem like–I don’t know, I don’t want to–[Laughter] What’s the opposite of ageist? [Laughter] I don’t want to dismiss–no, because you’ve been on the ground, you’ve been in the West Bank, you’ve made a movie based on footage–I have to underscore this. This footage was shot by Palestinian videographers who risked their lives. And I don’t think there’s any question about the human rights aspect of it. That basically, the people in Gaza have every reason to feel desperate, cut off, abandoned, as do people in the West Bank. They are doing what critics of terrorism have said, don’t blow up innocents on airplanes and don’t blow up buildings elsewhere, but engage in basically peaceful demonstrations. And you see in this film–and I think the record supports it–they are picked off by snipers, who often in the snatches of conversation are quite cynical. And I was going to ask you, by the way, in terms of Iraq, ah, that is what happened–it’s interesting, just somewhat, shouldn’t say unrelated–but one of the great revelations of Chelsea Manning, then Bradley Manning, was the deliberate sniper attacks on ordinary Iraqis and on journalists covering their activity, right? Everybody forgets; they think it had to do with embarrassing the democratic candidate in the last election. No! The charges against Chelsea Manning, and through that Julian Assange, are about the release of footage of sniping against civilians. In that case not even demonstrating, going about their business, right, in 2010.
RS: Right, and as a former Iraq soldier and so forth, you know that sniping was a reality, and the intimidation of a population. And the power of this film, Gaza Fights for Freedom, is whatever you think about this whole history, and the legitimacy of establishing the state of Israel, the fact of the matter is now you have an inconvenient truth, to use Al Gore’s title. You have an inconvenient truth. You have millions of people who are living in this area who did not attack Israel at the time of the Six-Day War. That is clear, OK? Whether–whatever the origins of that war, the claim of Israel was not that we were shot by Palestinians. There were no Palestinian units or anything else, you know. This was a war that had to do with Egypt, had to do with Jordan, had to do with Syria and Saudi Arabia, and so forth, that helped finance it. And yet, you have these people trapped in history. And then you say, well, what should they do? And they have basically been ignored. Some folks say let’s boycott, you know, artists going, and don’t go there and so forth, it’s South Africa. That, your film makes clear, cannot be denied. And I really, we haven’t talked about the power of this film, so let me just editorialize here. One thing the film does is it shows that there’s such a thing as Palestinian women, right. [Laughter] They’re not hidden behind, you know, the facial cover or so forth; they’re bold, they’re strong, and they’re martyrs, actually, in this film. That is a revelation to many people. I know when I left the theater, your premier in downtown L.A., that was what hit me more than anything else. You know, these are people who want to eat, they want to breathe, they want to raise their children, and they are in these demonstrations. And they have been demonized. And the inconvenient truth is, they’re going to stay. They’re not going away. This is, they’re not going to be driven out. And are you willing, are you going to slaughter them, as you are doing? And what is the avenue? And we know when you don’t give people an avenue, a peaceful–that’s what these demonstrations are. So let’s not lose sight. Gaza Fights for Freedom is not the celebration of military units or Gaza snipers. It’s a celebration of, often, women. Obvious civilians, just going out there and saying we can’t take it anymore, we can’t be trapped in this holding pen of a prison that is Gaza, you know. And then the question is, what will be the response? And let’s end on a positive note. Hopefully, given the fact that Trump is so identified with this right-wing government of Israel, and given the fact that at least Bernie Sanders and a few other democrats are willing to raise this question, let’s hope that there will at least be a debate, you know? Because we know Trump is going to raise it; he’s going to attack the democrats for being anti-Israel. What will the democrat response be for the next year and a half that we debate this? Will they say, no, we want to kill more? Or we want to be more aggressive, or we’re more pro-Netanyahu? Or will there be–and this will come up, you know. Hopefully the people who conduct these debates will raise questions. Where do the democrats stand? Are they to the right of Trump? Are they to the left? What is their position, right? This could–maybe it’s a way to end this show. That this should be, really, the big issue in this election.
AM: I think that, ah, the BDS situation, the conversation is completely radicalizing people. I think the Ilhan Omar attacks, this kind of unified attack from both the democratic establishment and the republican establishment shows you how big the threat is. The fact that during the government shutdown, I mean, this was one of the first bipartisan pieces of legislation that Chuck Schumer tried to push through, was an anti-BDS measure. Can you imagine? I mean, while the government was shut down, that’s what they’re concerned with, Bob. So I think that people are understanding the situation more and more, despite what Congress is doing. And the fact that we have four young, freshman congresswomen who–you know, people of color pushing this issue. Pro-Palestinian, pushing–they’re fighting back. They’re not cowering in these attacks. As much as this fascist, brownshirt base is shouting, you know, go home, send her back, they are stepping up and doubling down on these efforts. And it’s inspiring millions of people, Bob. And I think that Bernie Sanders’ campaign is also inspiring millions of people. I am extremely optimistic about this situation, the fact that 10 years ago it was considered taboo to bring up Palestinian rights in conjunction with the anti-war movement. Now, if you are progressive except for Palestine, you are not progressive. And so I think that people, the political consciousness is just exploding on this issue. Look no further than Ireland passing BDS resolutions from their government. It all comes down to coalescing, mobilizing an anti-war movement that is pressuring the U.S. empire to end this forever impunity for its colonial states.
RS: Well, let me just–let’s just end on one point. One of the four is herself one of 14 children of a Palestinian family. And so it’s–this is a group that’s been basically not visible to us.
RS: And suddenly we have a member of Congress–do you want to just say something about that, because it’s really quite, you know–who’s experienced tragedy.
AM: It’s incredible.
MP: It’s a big deal. I mean, because of the main–the thing that’s been the denial of existence of Palestinian people and land, for–from the Israeli right, and for the belief that there should, there’s a right to the land that Palestinians are on. And so to have someone in Congress who is a–I mean, all Palestinians are refugees in some form or another. So, yeah, I mean, it’s an important development. And, yeah. Oh, Rashida Tlaib, Rashida Tlaib, the congresswoman. So yeah, you know, it’s very important to have that representation there, and of course she’s going to influence others just by her mere existence.
RS: No, and also, to ask this person to drop it? You can’t drop, you were one of 14 Palestinian children. How do you drop it? It’s like asking a Jewish person, forget the Holocaust. How do you drop it? You don’t drop it. She would be denying everything about her experience.
MP: That’s right, and I think that’s part of the power of the Great March, also, the reason that it’s kind of entered the public consciousness in a different way. It’s because in the past, when there were so-called wars between Israel and Gaza and things like that, you know, there’s that way to create the perspective that, oh, it’s just people fighting. Hamas is shooting rockets and shooting Israelis, they’re fighting back, whatever. But the march has shown that even when you abandon all forms of armed struggle, even though it’s legitimate to have armed struggle against an occupying power, that even in the face of that, anyone with a–that you’ll still be gunned down in the same way. And anyone with a conscience watching–I mean, anyone, no person could imagine shooting down an unarmed child or a person in a wheelchair. Anyone with a conscience who’s not infected by extreme racism couldn’t imagine doing that to someone. And so when people see this now, and can see representation in Congress of these people that are being massacred, to see the march and see what’s happening to them, no one with a conscience can deny that it’s a terrible and horrible crime. And so I think that’s one of the main accomplishments of it, and one of the things we tried to portray in the film.
RS: Well, and so people can check out the film, Gaza Fights for Freedom. Thank you, Abby Martin and Mike Prysner. And that’s it for this edition of Scheer Intelligence. Our engineers in Santa Monica are Kat Yore and Mario Diaz. At KCRW, Josh Scheer is the producer of Scheer Intelligence. And here at USC, Sebastian Grubaugh has been the engineer. And thanks to the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism for providing these facilities. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.