In heavily populated Gaza scores of civilians have been killed or injured in the latest attacks by Israeli forces. Human rights activists report from its largest hospital that some of the injuries are “consistent with the use of white phosphorous”.
RT spoke with two human rights activists, Adie Mormech and Joe Catron, who have witnessed the mounting civilian casualties at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza following the first day of Israel’s military operation “Pillar of Defense”.
‘People completely exposed to the fourth most powerful military in the world’
RT: We’re now joined live from embattled Gaza by human rights activist Adie Mormech. Thank you for coming on. Israeli officials are hailing the operation as a “successful series of pinpoint strikes with minimal collateral damage.” Does that sound right to you?
Adie Mormech: I’ve just come back from Shifa hospital, and every single ambulance that comes in every 10 minutes was elderly or children coming into the hospital. I saw a girl arrive early on and she didn’t have a hand, just pulled out of the ambulance. It is the civilians who are the majority of the injured that are coming in to Shifa. We’ve just spent time in the intensive care unit, there was a little girl that arrived, she was just one year old, Hanin Tafish, and she was not showing any signs of life. Her little body was being moved around and then about an hour afterwards we heard that she too had passed away. This was after another airstrike. There are so many children and men and women that are being killed, being injured, and this is a massive, massive crime against a defenseless population. We’ve seen it before during operation Cast Lead, they killed 330 children and 1,400 adults, what’s going to happen now? How on earth have we allowed this to take place again, this kind of carnage is developing, now there’ll be more blood and we know that Israel does not hesitate for one second about killing lots and lots of civilians. These are crimes against humanity and war crimes as the United Nations report exposed in the previous attacks on Gaza.
RT: Russia says Israel is using disproportionate level of force against in its relations with the Palestinians. But it must also be mentioned there’re two sides to this and both sides are using weapons. What is being done by Hamas to protect civilians? Are people able to reach bomb shelters in time and get the medicine they need?
AM: How on earth can there be any bomb shelters in Gaza, Gaza is one of the most tightly packed places in the world, one of the most crowded places on the planet. How on earth can there be enough bomb shelters? People are completely exposed to the fourth most powerful military in the world. The bombs are raining down on them, it is an attack on a defenseless population, over the half the population are children. There’s 130 injured now and the toll is rising…13 killed, the toll is rising. And we’re expecting more and more, Israel has said it will increase the attacks. There’s a bomb now, just heard it in the background, we’ve just heard the sound of it. Every 10 minutes there’s ambulance arriving… I just think it’s time for everybody to look at this situation!
RT: Hamas has vowed to unleash „hell” on Israel in response – will the movement be able to deliver on its threat?
AM: I think that for now as long as Israel keeps pummelling Gaza and killing so many civilians, so many people, I’d imagine there will be a response from the Hamas government. There’s a continuity to the narrative, that is, forgetting the chronology of this, forgetting the incredibly advanced weaponry that is being unleashed on Palestinian civilians and forgetting the entire context, the fact that Palestinians have been living under siege for five years, not giving them any chance of development. Many people have died from not having access to medical [help] abroad. And it’s really time everybody stood up and said what Desmond Tutu said, that this is worse than apartheid in South Africa. And take to the streets, mobilize, because if the governments are going to typically buy the party line in this disease of supporting Israel no matter what, despite the horrific carnage I’m seeing everywhere – if you would dare come and look at the hospital, and meet the families that are now weeping every morning for that loss of life, you would see yourself that this is despicable. And you can see the numbers, the value of Palestinian life versus an Israeli life as it is presented in the West, because the casualties are so much higher on the Palestinian side. Let alone the collective punishment, which is against the Geneva Convention’s article 33, of the entire population, most of whom are children. It’s an absolutely obscene, disgraceful attack on a civilian population, and there’re so many people who are losing their lives. And the whole take, and the true scenes of tragedy should send messages to the rest of the world to say if governments don’t do anything, the people have to take to the streets, the people have to isolate and boycott Israel, the people have to say “no more, no more” until finally the governments listen.
‘Some of the injuries consistent with the use of white phosphorous’
RT: Fifteen people are said to have been killed in Gaza already – what about other casualties? We understand you’ve just returned from one of the hospitals there – how bad is it?
Joe Catron: I and a number of internationals here visited Al-Shifa, the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip this morning and the casualties there are mounting as you know and many are horrendous. I saw one example, a one-year old girl had been injured during Israel’s bombing of Seitun, I’ve been told, although I’ve not yet had time to confirm, that she died shortly after we left. It’s worth remembering, I think, that this current exchange of hostilities began a week ago with Israel’s killing of a 13 year old boy who was playing football during an incursion into the Gaza Strip. It continued to escalate with another incursion on Saturday in which two more boys playing football as well as two young men who came to rescue them after the bombing were killed. So this is escalation continues to demonstrate Israel’s wanton disregard for civilian life as its most prominent feature.
RT: Israel warned civilians to keep away from Hamas sites – which are all targets for the IDF. Do people actually know where the militants are located? And will they be able to evacuate in time?
JC: Well, the militants have civilian lives, just like everybody else. They ride in cars, live in neighborhoods and Israel is using that as an excuse to target civilian areas under the pretext that there may be a militant living there. Late last night I witnessed what I’m pretty sure was the use of white phosphorous in a civilian neighborhood, Talahawa, and I’m sure if you ask an Israeli army spokesperson about it, he will tell you there was a militant there. Well, maybe there was, what do I know, but these are civilian areas populated almost exclusively by civilians that Israel is targeting. And the mounting casualties here reflect that, I think.
RT: During the previous Gaza operation four years ago, Israel was accused of using white phosphorous against civilians – which is considered a war crime – is there evidence to suggest that’s happening now?
JC: I spoke to the director of Al-Shifa hospital who indicated to me that he thought some of the injuries he had seen passing through the emergency room were consistent with the use of white phosphorous, he also talked of the high number of casualties being reported at hospitals across Gaza. He said the situation was being aggravated by the lack of essential medicines and medical supplies caused by Israel’s ongoing siege of the territory. It’s not simply a matter of the massive death toll and injuries horrific as that would be bad enough in itself, it’s also a lack of basic necessities needed to treat them, so its disaster here, a manmade disaster in more ways than one.
RT: Tel Aviv and its Western allies argue that Hamas is responsible for the crisis, by launching all those rockets into Israel in the past days – what’s your response to that?
JC: I don’t think so. When the Israeli side speaks of peace talks what they generally mean is Palestinians sacrificing their rights, which they are universally acknowledged to have under international law. The right to self-determination in their occupied territories, the right of return for refugees ethnically cleansed in 1948 who incidentally are two thirds of the Gaza Strip population and the right to equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel. These are all things that are completely beyond the bounds of consideration for the Israeli mainstream today and Israel is of course moving further in that direction with the merger of the parties of Liebermann and Netanyahu. We don’t see them moving any closer to a position where they would consider fulfilling their basic obligations and that’s what’s at stake here, the basic obligations that Israel has and the basic rights the Palestinians are guaranteed by international law, UN resolutions, international court of justice decisions etc.