Former US diplomat slams Israel’s ‘illegal land thefts’ amid repression in Gaza and Jerusalem

Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem

After weeks of protests and repression from Israeli authorities, the state launched airstrikes on Gaza on 10 May. Health officials in the occupied territory said on 11 May that the campaign had killed 28 Palestinians — among them 10 children. Rockets from Gaza, meanwhile, reportedly killed two Israelis. The Israeli government has threatened to “increase both the strength and rate of the strikes”. This comes as prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu struggles to retain his power amid an ongoing corruption trial.

On 10 May, Phoenix Media Co-op spoke to retired US colonel, former diplomat, and peace activist Ann Wright. She spoke both about the ongoing manmade humanitarian disaster in Gaza and about the Israeli state’s “illegal land thefts”, which in recent days have sparked protests in Jerusalem.

The “open-air prison” of Gaza

Wright began to engage with Israeli-Palestinian issues in 2009, when she first visited Gaza. This followed Israel’s brutal ‘Operation Cast Lead’, which killed at least 759 civilians (including 318 children). She said:

having been in the US military for 29 years and seen some pretty brutal attacks, I was stunned by the level of destruction and the numbers of people killed.

As part of her 2009 visit, CODEPINK took groups to Israel too. She explained how:

The people that we talked with said there are… little home-made rockets that come out of Gaza, but it’s really no security threat to the State of Israel. But it’s the fact that the Israeli government intends to get every piece of land they can from Palestinians.

She added that the blockade of Gaza:

has made an open-air prison of those two million Palestinians that live in Gaza, where they cannot travel for medical purposes or to go visit family or friends – all of this being… a total violation of human rights, of civil rights.

She also spoke about the Israeli state “using Gaza as a military testing area where they have 24-hour assassin drone surveillance … and at any moment can blow up buildings, blow up cars”; and how “every bit of gas that comes through, every bit of electricity comes through Israel”. In short, she stressed, Israel has “total control over the lives of the people of Gaza”. And she called it “one of the most inhumane situations in the world”.

Land theft in occupied East Jerusalem

Wright then spoke about the ongoing Sheikh Jarrah crisis. As Mondoweiss wrote on 9 May:

Four Palestinian families are dauntlessly protesting their imminent forced expulsion from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem…

In the past week, thousands of mostly young Palestinians protested in the neighborhood and in the rest of Jerusalem, including at Al-Aqsa mosque. These protests have been met with incremental force, as Israeli police used stun grenades, water cannons and skunk water. Protestors have been brutalized and dozens of them have been arrested.

Then, as Al-Jazeera reported, “Israeli forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound [on 10 May] and fired rubber-coated rounds, tear gas, and sound bombs at Palestinian worshippers”, injuring around 200 people.

Wright said:

Sheikh Jarrah, what’s going on there in that neighbourhood, is another instance… [showing] the Israeli government intends to move out Palestinians who have lived there for generations and allow illegal settlers to go in and take the land as they’ve done in many places in the West Bank. Over… 400.000 Israeli settlers live in Palestinian lands in the West Bank. And the… amount of territory that the West Bank now encompasses is getting smaller and smaller and smaller. The maps that you see are just startling – the amount of illegal land thefts that the Israeli government has done.

She also clarified that “the US government has been a willing participant” in the actions of the Israeli state.

Main article image via David Shankbone. Additional contributions by Ed Sykes.

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