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CAIR: Violence in Israel Comes After Years of Oppressive Policies

Fire and smoke rise following an Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Oct. 8, 2023.
Fire and smoke rise following an Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Oct. 8, 2023.

Israel’s defense minister has ordered a “complete siege” of the Gaza strip and a cutoff of water supplies, food and electricity two days after Hamas militants launched surprise attacks that left hundreds of people Israel dead or kidnapped. Israeli counterstrikes on Gaza have since killed hundreds of Palestinians. VOA’s Carol Van Dam spoke with Robert McCaw, government affairs director of CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, about how the violence will end.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

VOA: How does this conflict end?

CAIR Government Affairs Director Robert McCaw: While all reasonable people do want this violence to stop, and every human life has value — whether it's Palestinian or Israeli — but the only way to permanently stop this violence is to end the occupation. Because I believe, similar to Ukraine, Americans and the international community would like to side with the oppressed, not the oppressor.

The international community's refusal to hold the radical far-right Israeli apartheid government accountable for escalating human rights abuses and theft of Palestinian land has only emboldened more abuses. And you know, led to this violence. It had not happened in a vacuum but had been led up to this point.

VOA: As you point out, Palestinian-Israeli relations have deteriorated even further after the hard right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took over. So, give us a little glimpse of what has led up to this point and what led up to this attack.

McCaw: The Israeli government has used American taxpayer dollars to murder Palestinian American journalists in the last year, leave a beaten and gagged elderly Palestinian for dead, expanded illegal settlements, and enabled wanton settler violence, which, by the way, targeted American Palestinians taking shelter calling on the U.S. government for protection, which they did not get. We've also seen the desecration of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the killings of hundreds of Palestinians, including many children every year. We've also seen that Gaza, since Hamas was elected [in 2006], it's been an open-air prison where its borders have been closed and Israel controls access to water, electricity and medical aid.

VOA: And as you know water and electricity and other kinds of emergency supplies have been cut off now by Israel to Gaza, do you have any inside contacts of how things are today in Gaza?

McCaw: It's very hard in America to get a clear picture of what is happening. You know, we're relying on Palestinian Americans in contact with their relatives to let us know. But closing off the electricity to Gaza is part of a plan to silence voices in Gaza so that the world doesn't know what is going on. This violence needs to end, though. The indiscriminate and violent bombing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza is only going to lead to a tragic loss of life and create new barriers to a lasting solution. Again, I think what's happening in Gaza is a dire situation and that this is kind of a last solution and it's a tragic and violent and deadly one. But here we are now. We have to figure out how, as peacemakers, we can address the core roots and concerns of this violence to make sure that this never happens again.

VOA: You allude to other attacks that were carried out by Israeli forces on Palestinians, but this was clearly a Hamas attack on Israelis inside Israel. Does your group condemn the attack that happened on Saturday?

McCaw: Again, every human life has value, whether it's Palestinian or Israeli. We condemn any violence against civilians. Somehow, though, the world has neglected to address the core concerns of the people of Gaza for 17 years. They would rather have peace with no solution. They would rather further the status quo. Even our own president has turned a blind eye to the two-state solution and just let Israel further its settlements without any solution in sight.