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A Palestinian view of Hamas' attack on Israel, one of the worst in Israel's history


Israel is preparing for a ground invasion a week after Hamas militants overran several cities and towns in southern Israel. Hundreds of people, including children, were killed at a desert concert, in their homes, out on their streets. Others were taken hostage, their exact whereabouts still unknown. That attack, one of the worst in Israel's history, triggered a punishing response from Israel's military. First came a relentless wave of bombardments on Gaza, where Hamas is based.


FADEL: Then a complete siege of the Palestinian territory, cutting off basic necessities.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Until now, we don't have water, we don't have food, we don't have anything to live.

FADEL: Now the people of Gaza - many of them already homeless, wounded or grieving lost loved ones - are facing a ground invasion with no way out. The territory has been sealed shut. The attack on Israel came fast, and its response was equally swift and severe. But this war has been a long time coming, says Hanan Ashrawi. She's a leading figure in Palestinian politics and a former peace negotiator. And she says what's happening between Israel and Hamas is a game changer.

HANAN ASHRAWI: The whole dynamic has shifted. No. 1, the Israeli army, that always boasts that it is invincible, that it is in control of everything - the high-tech wired fences and so on, the overground-underground defenses, the fact that they assumed that they have managed to subdue and subjugate Gaza and Hamas and all the resistance fighters - that these were totally debunked. Now, it's also different because now for two or three years, the extremist, racist coalition government in Israel has been pushing things beyond endurance. It unleashed violence everywhere.

And so they are implementing an agenda in which they are trying to make life, as they said, miserable and intolerable for the Palestinians so we will leave. And this kind of policy has been practiced on the ground in terms of home demolitions, expansion of settlements and land theft, while Gaza is also under siege. So the occupation is generating, again, a dynamic of violence, and that people who are constantly oppressed are not going to accept this state of oppression.

FADEL: How do you view the Hamas attacks that - you know, these horrific images that have been coming out - that have killed so many civilians inside Israel. And now we're seeing these horrific images out of Gaza, with so many civilians killed. How do you view the attacks that started this all?

ASHRAWI: It's like prisoners breaking out of their prison. You oppress people beyond endurance. This is the kind - these are the kinds of images that we have seen where the Palestinians have been on the receiving end, you know, the killing of civilians, the terror and so on. I think that it's very tragic what is happening, but it didn't come out of the blue because the Israelis have been brutally oppressing the Palestinians systematically. And Hamas has been telling them, stop it. Everybody has been telling them, stop it.

And ultimately, when you are arrogant and when you feel that you can do anything and get away with it - because Israel has been acting with full impunity - then this type of arrogance breeds complacency, where you feel you don't have to in any way listen to your victim or even to international law and the international community.

FADEL: I think a lot of people were shocked not by the attack itself, but the fact that civilians were killed inside Israel. Did that - the images of that type of killing, did that shock you?

ASHRAWI: Yeah. Well, this has been happening to Palestinians all the time and we didn't hear any moral outrage. Palestinians have been killed and terrorized in their own homes. They've been abducted from their own homes. And the shock, I think, for the West is that it's happening to Israelis.

But the fact that it has been systematically happening to Palestinians since the creation of the state of Israel, it doesn't evoke shock and horror because people get desensitized. And, you know, it's OK for Palestinians to get killed, but we are horrified that Israelis are getting killed. Frankly, I certainly don't want to see any civilian killed. Now, the Israelis immediately came out with all these statements that - baby beheadings and burnings and rape and pillage. This isn't true. Have you seen any images? I haven't seen any.

FADEL: There are images, not of beheadings of babies, like many claimed, including President Biden. But after we spoke to Ashrawi, the Israeli prime minister's office released to the public some disturbing pictures they say were of babies killed in the Hamas attack. Among them was a little body so burned it wasn't recognizable and an infant bloodied and dead.

We've seen evidence of civilians being killed in their homes, of homes that were burned, of children being taken. Those are verified images.

ASHRAWI: So I mean, in war, you do get different images. But you cannot use this to malign a whole nation. There's a predisposition, and it's a racist predisposition to judge Palestinians, to label them. These are, you know, vicious, inhuman, human animals and so on. It - to me, that was extremely painful, a major smear campaign against the Palestinians as a whole. And to justify what is going on in Gaza, which is close to genocide, this is unacceptable, especially by people who are in position to take decisions.

FADEL: I don't know if it's too early when people are still dying right now, but all this bloodshed, when you look at the future, where does it lead?

ASHRAWI: There is no chance, there is no way that more killing will produce results. This has been tried since the creation of Israel, you know, displacement-replacement paradigm of we will get rid of the Palestinians or they will acquiesce or we will defeat them. We're not going to disappear and we're not going to surrender. People want to live on their own land and dignity and freedom, so the more bloodshed there is, the worse the situation is.

Generation after generation, they're destroying the chances of peace. They're creating a dynamic not only of violence, but of revenge. And you're creating a situation of tremendous instability. And it is being aided and abetted by the Americans and the Europeans, who are pouring money and weapons into Israel, enabling Israel to do more of the same of failed policies that have made peace all that much more difficult, if not impossible, to attain.

FADEL: That was Hanan Ashrawi, a former Palestinian peace negotiator based in Ramallah.

(SOUNDBITE OF NOAH ROSEN'S "PSICOTICO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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