As the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu and US administration of Donald Trump mark the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, the Israeli military killed over fifty Palestinian protesters and wounded over a thousand. In this interview, Noura Erakat speaks to the United Kingdom’s LBC radio about the immediate events of the day and the much broader context that led to it.
Interviewer: We’ll come to your calls in a moment but let's talk to Dr. Noura Erakat, assistant professor at George Mason University in the US and a human rights attorney. Noura thank you very much indeed for talking to us, and what’s your reaction to the events of today? Do you think there’s any justification for the moving of the embassy?
Noura Erakat: Thank you for having me. My initial reaction is absolute exhaustion at the fact that Palestinians—day in and day out—are engaged in nonviolent protest in order to remain on their land for their human rights, for their dignity, and the only moments we turn our attention to them are during these spectacles when they appear as shadows of US/Israeli relations. There is something horribly troubling about the fact that we cannot allow Palestinians to tell their own stories and make nary a struggle for freedom except when it appears as some other media cycle which is why we only come to see them when they are being massacred in great numbers and we turn our attention away from them when it’s no longer part of this media cycle. We are seventy years ongoing of this same cyclical story and in order to break that cycle we need to take an unequivocal and brave stance that everybody deserves freedom, everybody deserves equality. We have learned these lessons in numerous world wars. It is so unfortunate, Palestinians continue to pay the price for lessons we don’t learn.
I: But these protests today have not been peaceful, have they? I’m just watching pictures of my television screen at the moment of people throwing molotov cocktails, petrol bombs over the fence towards the Israeli armed forces. They’re clearly going to react to that, aren’t they?
NE: Ian, with all due respect there is a buffer zone between Israel and the Gaza Strip which has been completely sealed for the past decade. All of those points of ingress and egress are sealed and controlled by Israel. There is a buffer zone that Palestinians cannot enter and they are shot to kill if they enter into it. If you throw a molotov cocktail, it’s going to land in the buffer zone. And let’s imagine that it lands over the border, how did that merit a lethal response? Why are 54 Palestinians killed when there has been no threat to Israeli civilian lives or any of their military installations? Under the laws of war, that is disproportionate use of force. Under any moral code, it is just abominable. So no, the response should not be that. The response should be one where Israel patrols, as it does, the border that’s been protected. This is not excusable and I think it’s irresponsible to label this as violent.
I: Well, when I see people throwing molotov cocktails I don’t see how you can describe is as peaceful but I’ll leave that one to one side.
NE: Why don’t you tell me how to describe it as meritting lethal use of force? That’s fine.
I: Well I didn’t say that. You described it as a peaceful protest and I’m just pointing out that it’s not peaceful, that’s all I’m saying.
NE: You know when Edward Said, the renowned comparative literature scholar threw a stone from the south of Lebanon over the border into North Palestine/Israel, he was labeled as a terrorist for throwing a stone. Our imagination of what we describe as violence is stretched to the limit here. When Israel is using lethal force in response, it really is perplexing for them to look at Palestinians who are not threatening anybody when at most this is a symbol of their desperation. But go ahead I apologize.
I: Not at all. In terms of the wider context and the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem, do you think there is an expectation on the Trump administrations part that other countries will follow this? I think Guatemala and Paraguay are the only two countries that have said that they will so far. I find it almost inconceivable that any European country would, in which case it’s just been a gesture, hasn’t it?
NE: No I think it’s more than a gesture. I think that the international community has become so fatigued on this question. I would really appreciate it if it just went away. If Palestinians today said that we accept to live under perpetual domination as second-class citizens in an apartheid regime, the international community would not say “No, that is immoral, that is abominable.” They would say “Finally, we don’t have to worry about this anymore.” The US has been the sole broker on this issue since 1993, that’s two and a half decades of a failed peace process. The international community knows this full well and has failed to take action to create any sort of alternative. So while the US’s gesture is illegal under international law, while it is immoral, while it has enraged the EU and otherwise; there is a lack of vision, there is a lack of political will to create an alternative. And this could steadily create a new status quo that enters us into an apartheid regime, the consequences of which are horrible for everybody: Jews, Palestinians, Americans, the international community alike.
I: Noura, thank you very much. That’s our talk with Noura Erakat, assistant professor at George Mason University.