Prof Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at the Columbia University. This is the full text of the interview parts of which were used in the story on Gaza in the latest print edition.
Is the Israel's ongoing military action on Gaza justified? What is the motive behind it?
Israel provoked this bloodshed by its massive arrest campaign of over 500 Hamas supporters in the West Bank and the killing of several unarmed civilians there after the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli settlers. Israel's security services knew they were dead from the beginning, and knew this was the act of a rogue cell, NOT ordered by Hamas, but its government cynically hid these facts in service of a hysterical propaganda campaign to justify an attack on Gaza. When Hamas did not rise to the bait, and exerted efforts to halt the firing of rockets by smaller groups in Gaza, Israel escalated by killing several Hamas militants, provoking the desired response of rockets fired at Israel.
Israel's aim in all of this was to keep the Palestinians weak, divided and under control, which is an overriding objective for a government that intends to maintain permanent control of all the occupied territories, as Netanyahu himself revealed in an interview two weeks ago. This objective was endangered by the beginnings of an inter-Palestinian reconciliation, and the formation of a national unity government, accepted by the US and the EU. Once the operation started, Israel discovered that Hamas had greater rocket capabilities and a more extensive tunnel system than it had suspected, thus leading to an extensive ground campaign that shows no signs of ending.
Hamas' original aim in reconciliation with Fateh was to escape its domestic weakness and regional isolation. Once the Israeli attack on Gaza began, Hamas and its allies were determined to not once more accept a cease fire, as in 2009 and 2012, without a guaranteed end of Israel's and Egypt's crippling siege and blockade of the Gaza Strip. This has now become the position of the entire Palestinian national movement, including the PLO and Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah. Palestinian reconciliation, instead of taking place on Fateh's terms, is now happening in line with those of Hamas.
Can Israel go on killing innocent civilians in the name of dealing with Hamas militants?
Under international law, due care must be taken to avoid civilian casualties in attacking military targets, and there must be proportionality in the use of force. Either Israel's weapons are totally inaccurate, or it is not respecting either of these rules in its attacks on the Gaza Strip, as is evidenced by the fact that 80% of the nearly 750 Palestinians killed and over 4000 wounded so far are civilians.
Is Israel becoming a rogue state and is the international community totally powerless to rein it in?
The Palestinians seem united on achieving a lifting of the siege of Gaza as part of any long-term cease fire agreement: Hamas has just offered a truce for a 10-year period, but on condition of ending the blockade of Gaza. Israel has not accepted this condition, and its military seems determined to continue the operation for a week or two longer to permit capture and destruction of more of the Hamas tunnel network. Much depends on how much longer the US and EU will permit Israel to kill and maim large numbers of Palestinian civilians in the course of this campaign. By parroting deceitful Israeli talking points about "self-defence" and "human shields," they— US and its allies— make themselves complicit in what may well amount to war crimes. Until they are willing to end Israel's impunity and allow the UN to stop this carnage, it will continue.
Why has the liberal Israeli/Jewish voice been so silent during this operation of Tel Aviv? Has that voice been lost?
That voice can be heard in Israel through media like the site 972 and in the columns of Haaretz, and in the US from a broad range of individuals and groups like Jewish Voice for Peace. It is drowned out by the chorus of voices in the US, Europe and Israel of those who have accepted a false narrative that Ignores occupation, colonial rule, and the daily oppression and killing of Palestinians as the true starting point of the violence, and who sadly appear to consider only Israeli lives as worthy of consideration.