Killing Gaza 2.0
an interview with Max Blumenthal
On December 14, 2023, Max Blumenthal, author of several books on Palestine/Israel and the editor of Grayzone news, who with Dan Cohen made the film Killing Gaza about the 2014 Israeli attacks on Gaza, spoke at the Community Church of Boston about the current situation. The Jump Cut editors have recast his talk as an interview.
Jump Cut: Can you describe the current situation in Palestine/Israel?
Max Blumenthal: This is my first talk on Gaza since 2015, when I had published my book The 51-day war: Resistance and Ruin in Gaza about “Operation Protective Edge,” the 2014 Israeli attacks on Gaza. Right now, just a few hours ago, Israel broadcast the “Shemah,” which is the Jewish version of the Lord’s prayer, our prayer that we recite daily; they broadcast it with loudspeakers from a mosque that they have seized in Jenin. They vandalized the mosque with the symbols of my faith community. They have erected a massive menorah over the destroyed neighborhood of Shujaiyah, east of Gaza city. They have lit flares for each candle of the holiday menorah in the sky over the city of Khan Yunis which is under assault by their air force.
This is how they are observing the holiday that I, and many of you who are Jewish, observed in a very different way. And it reminds me that the last talk I did on Gaza was at the synagogue on Passover of Rabbi Brant Rosen in Evanston, Illinois, outside Chicago; that’s an anti-Zionist synagogue filled with Jews like me who see Zionism as transforming our religion into a fascist, Nazi-like death cult. This is one reason why we feel so passionately about this issue, and why we see more and more rising to the occasion, coming to the fore, occupying the US Capitol, occupying the streets around America to protest this genocide.
Jump Cut: How does what is happening today relate to what you showed in your film “Killing Gaza”?
Max Blumenthal: It’s bringing so many memories back just to be here. I was in the back looking at a table of Palestinian crafts, and I saw a book there by a young artist named Malak Matar. Matar is an artist whom we interviewed for Killing Gaza, who managed to get out of Gaza and was able to show the world all the culture and sophistication that Gaza has to offer. So many others weren’t able to get out. I think back about all the things I witnessed in Gaza in 2014—being in the rubble, with a family who saw their home that they had worked for their entire lives with multiple levels for each generation just destroyed and reduced to rubble, targeted with missiles. Sometimes I was speaking to a people who had their entire family killed and wiped from the civil registry of Gaza, or speaking to families who witnessed their loved one being killed on camera, like the family of Salem Shamaly who was killed by a sniper.
Being in that environment, actually being under the bombing myself, and feeling what it’s like to have naval shells exploding nearby, to have a drone over your head at night, to hear the missiles strike, to actually experience the terror that people experience day in and day out, and to have the option of leaving when they don’t—that made me so upset. Now I see and hear all of these morally fraudulent media personalities who try to ambush those of us who stand in solidarity with Palestine about October 7. They demand that we condemn October 7, that we condemn Hamas—when none of them condemned a single thing that happened before October 7. If anything, they supported it. Massacre after massacre, over 70 years of an unbearable calvary experienced by Palestinians. And they have never been asked to condemn it, they have never asked a US official or Western official or anyone who presided over this catastrophe to condemn it, and we have to condemn something now? It’s as if history didn’t exist before October 7. They hate context. They call it “what about-ism.”
Jump Cut: Can you give some historical background?
Max Blumenthal: So let’s try to understand why things happen. Between the time I was first in Gaza and now, there were at least two major military escalations which left hundreds of civilians dead, as well as the Great March of Return when Gazan civilians did what Thomas Friedman asked them to do. He said, “If they would just have a peace march and march toward Israel, young Israelis who believe in peace would join them, and they would all march together to Jerusalem and it would change the Jewish Israeli society’s attitude.” Well, they went and did that and what did Israel do? They sent their young people, in uniform, to the frontiers of Gaza and they shot the marchers in the legs, and they shot them in the heart. Yasser Murtaja, a journalist wearing a press vest, was shot in the neck. They killed, they maimed; and they showed what they thought of Gaza attempting unarmed resistance. And they left them with one other option.
Before “Protective Edge,” before 2014, there were four major assaults on the Gaza strip, starting in 2006. The biggest one was “Operation Cast Lead,” 2008-2009. Israel waited until Barack Obama was elected, and they broke a ceasefire, killing over 50 police cadets who had just graduated to be police officers in the Gaza strip, an act of mass cop-killing, and they proceeded to massacre hundreds more civilians. This was a signal event for me that really spurred my commitment to this issue. Then in 2011-2012, “Operation Pillar of Clouds,” there were more massacres and airstrikes as Gaza’s armed factions began to demonstrate their ability to develop some capacity to resist, to hit back. The confrontations were the result of the siege of Gaza arising from Israel’s so-called “disengagement” when it pulled 9,000 fanatical settlers out of the Gaza strip in 2005 with the intention of sealing Gaza off in order to give its military more latitude to operate against Hamas. And what triggered this disengagement? It was the armed actions of Hamas during the second Intifada which made the Israeli position in Gaza untenable.
Jump Cut: How did the siege of Gaza begin?
Max Blumenthal: Israel decided to apply the panopticon model to Gaza. All you need to do to control the entire prison is control the perimeter, which is 2 percent. So they would occupy Gaza from the outside—control its airspace, control all its borders and the sea. And this is also what they were beginning to do in the West Bank with the construction of the apartheid wall, which is not constructed between Israel and the West Bank (there is no Israel per se under international law because it refuses to declare any boundaries). In many cases the wall wraps around villages and cities, which are surrounded by the wall.
The support for Hamas didn’t necessarily come from Islamism, although that’s clearly a part of it, the social services are a part of it—it came from outrage and anger at the occupation and the hardening of the occupation, the construction of these walls and the onset of the full-scale siege of the Gaza strip. So on October 6, 2023, the Gaza strip was under siege under these very conditions that I have described, and it had been under siege for 15 years. Two generations had grown up without ever leaving a small strip of land; they had grown up under five military escalations, five miliary assaults—just imagine that. They had grown up knowing the loss of family members under missile strikes, knowing the loss of their schoolmates, and with a totally different mentality than previous generations that had also suffered under apartheid.
Jump Cut: What was the situation on October 6, the day before Hamas attacked?
Max Blumenthal: Gaza was under siege on October 6; Gaza was also ignored. It had no diplomatic channels even though it had a de facto government. And actually in July 2023, there had been protests because of the dire economic conditions—people demanding some kind of dignity from a government that had no capacity to give it to them because that government was operating under siege. The volcano was going to explode one way or another. And you have hundreds and hundreds of Palestinian hostages in Israeli prisons, including people with family connections in Gaza, including children. I’ve been to the children’s court in the military prison. Children come in in chains, they are not charged with anything, maybe just throwing stones. Many of them were picked up in their beds—teenage boys, female prisoners, people in “administrative detention,” hundreds of them being held without charge.
This is a major issue in the Gaza strip. Even the Prime Minister of the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, was himself a prisoner for much of his life. He had been in prison for killing Palestinian collaborators who had worked with Israeli intelligence and gotten Palestinians killed in the Gaza strip. He was a young militant. In prison he learned Hebrew; he followed studiously the culture and views and politics of Israel, and got to know his jailers very well. His brother was involved in the capture of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was a tank gunner enforcing the siege of Gaza in 2006; the brother was involved in taking Shalit back to Gaza. This elevated Yahya Sinwar in the eyes of Israeli intelligence; from within prison he began negotiating directly with Israeli intelligence for the release of Shalit. In 2011 he negotiated his own release along with 1,026 other Palestinian captives of Israel, Palestinian political prisoners, for one Israeli soldier. So this became the strategic rationale for October 7: to put Palestine back in the center of history, to remove it from the icebox of normalization, to release Palestinian political prisoners, which is such a deep emotional issue in Palestinian society, and to start ending the siege, this interminable siege for which there was no negotiating channel—to establish some channel for negotiating an end to the siege. October 7 was inevitable.
Jump Cut: What do you see as the long-term consequences of the October 7 attacks?
Max Blumenthal: The Israeli army was exposed as a kind of “paper tiger”: a ticktock army of button pushers who hide within bases and inside tanks and who operate behind screens. They are not used to close-quarters combat and are more accustomed to humiliating and beating farmers and small children in the West Bank or defending settlers. That’s where they were at the time on October 7—a large part of the Israeli reserve force was up on the West Bank defending fanatical settlers. Much of Israel’s Gaza division was wiped out by a modestly armed, modestly equipped, moderately trained guerilla army that mostly entered Israeli territory through a multi-billion-dollar fence on cheap Chinese motorbikes. So this was not just a shattering of Israel’s psychological security blanket—it was a political scandal of unprecedented proportions for Israel. Israel’s intelligence military apparatus—which is vaunted, which has this aura within military and intelligence circles within the United States—was exposed, and the “Spy-tech” that Israel markets around the world and is such a big part of its economy was revealed as basically worthless. Hamas’s counterintelligence outmaneuvered Israeli intelligence. Palestine is placed back in the center of history.
If you watched anything of the Doha Forum in Qatar, normalization between the Gulf monarchies and Israel was taken off the table. Diplomatic channels to Gaza were opened, especially over the issue of prisoners. And we have seen many prisoners come out in exchange for some 200 Israeli hostages, including some active-duty soldiers who were taken on October 7. Possibly most significantly, Israel’s borders were at least temporarily changed on October 7 for the first time since 1973. There is no-one in the south—southern Israel is now a closed military zone. You need special permission to go there. People who lived in those kibbutzim, who were brought there as a human wall in the early 1950s to ensure the containment of the population of refugees who had been thrown off their land during the Nakba, they’re not there and they may not come back. The population of northern Israel near southern Lebanon where Hezbollah operates, waging intense skirmishes with the Israeli military right now—they are not there, it is totally depopulated. And the Israeli military leadership believes that they will not be able to restore their de facto borders until they totally destroy any iteration of resistance from the Gaza strip and southern Lebanon. This is one reason why their war has become so genocidal.
Jump Cut: How is Israel justifying its actions?
Max Blumenthal: Israel needed to produce its own narrative about October 7 in order to mobilize its population and to propagandize our population into supporting what they were about to do, which was genocide. So they introduced these kinds of slogans: “The worst killing of Jews since the Holocaust.” This was intended to remove the political context that I just outlined of the October 7 attacks; “beheaded babies”; “Hamas is Isis”; “a woman whose fetus was cut from her womb”; “an entire family tied together and mutilated and then burned alive while Hamas militants ate lunch in the next room.” And Joe Biden in his recent Hanukah ceremony at the White House repeated the lie of beheaded babies again; that was after the White House actually retracted it on his behalf and warned him not to use it. It shows the impact and the effectiveness of Israel’s propaganda campaign around October 7 which, as we’ve been explaining in The Grayzone, is mostly false.
Hamas did kill civilians on October 7, there’s no denying that. But the difference between the reality of what they did and the propaganda that Israel is putting forward is extremely significant. The Israeli propaganda officials and their cut-outs in the US made the determination that they could not just act on the reality alone and that they needed to concoct dramatic stories in order to win international support and maintain the consensus in Israel. They turned to a very shady organization called “Zaka” which was in the southern kibbutz communities on October 11, four days after the military had cleared the communities; and they began speaking to international media. They’re kind of like a rescue organization but they don’t have medical credentials; they’re not real paramedics. They’re orthodox Jewish “volunteers” who often show up on the streets of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem on motorbikes when there’s an accident, wearing their little safety vests. They make sure that the victims get a proper Jewish burial and that their body parts are disposed of properly. So they were sent in droves to these communities where people had been killed to collect the body parts, and then they went straight to international media with elaborate stories, mostly cooked up by one man, Yossi Landau, a so-called “southern commander,” who “confirmed” the “beheaded babies” story and cooked up the story of the fetus ripped from the mother—none of it could be confirmed. Zaka is also at the center of the rape allegations. For Zaka, this is a fundraising opportunity, and they are raking in tens of millions of dollars from the Jewish diaspora, by spinning out elaborate stories and putting themselves at the center of this genocidal Passion play. And so is their competitor, United Hatzalah, an orthodox so-called Jewish rescue organization which is now fundraising on its website for $50 million—its director Eli Beer appeared at a fundraiser in Las Vegas.
And it’s all folded into the rape narrative, which is being spread mostly within liberal Democratic circles because Joe Biden was losing liberal support on this issue, particularly among people under 35. And yet we’ve received no direct testimony—not one, as the New York Times has acknowledged. I found the source of the only photo that has been shown as evidence, and it’s a photo from March 2022 of a dead Kurdish female fighter! That shows you the objectives of this whole commission—their objectives are just to get publicity. They’re not interested in the facts—they’re just interested in shocking people into complying or stepping back while they commit genocide. This is Israel cheapening sexual assault in order to massacre women and children.
Jump Cut: What about the allegations that Israeli forces killed their own citizens?
Max Blumenthal: It’s politically destabilizing for Israel to have over 200 of its citizens captive in the Gaza strip. I was called a “master manipulator” and “conspiracist” by Haaretz for quoting their own reporting in bringing the facts forward in The Grayzone—along with other media outlets like Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss—to American audiences. Today, Haaretz published an article declaring that the issue of the Hannibal Directive [the policy of killing hostages so as to prevent negotiations for prisoner exchanges] on October 7 is “something we need to talk about.” I want Israelis to see how they are being manipulated. The atrocity propaganda is believed by nearly all Israelis. It’s what’s driving the consensus for this assault, “Operation Iron Swords,” whose objective is not the elimination on Hamas—which is impossible because they are politically and ideologically integrated into the population. They are the population. I don’t mean they are human shields—they have a mass constituent base like every anti-colonial resistance movement has ever had. The goal is the elimination of Gaza as a Palestinian entity capable of resisting occupation.
Israel is killing the educated class one by one with targeted assassination. One of the most renowned journalists in the Gaza strip, Wahal Zadoul, was assassinated in his home along with his wife and his son and daughter who hoped to be journalists as well. An Israeli journalist on Channel 2 said the following day, “We didn’t like his reporting.” Medical professionals are being killed. Social media influencers have been killed; and then there’s my friend Dr. Refaat Alareer. He was an exceptional individual who was killed in a targeted strike. At my last talk on Gaza back in 2015 in Chicago I talked about Refaat. I ended my talk by speaking about him because he’s someone who made a deep impression on me. He’s a poet—many of you know his poetry now. He’s writing in English—not even his native tongue. He was a teacher at Islamic University of English literature and his classes were exceptional.
I didn’t meet him in Gaza, I met him during what he called his “Malcolm X moment.” You know when Malcolm X went to Mecca and he prayed alongside people with light skin, Caucasians, he realized the essence of white people was not evil, and he began moving toward orthodox Islam, and moving away from the teachings of Elijah Mohammed based on racial essentialism. It made Malcolm into an anti-imperialist, a force of resistance that was much more dangerous to the US empire than someone who simply divided people along racial lines. I believe Alareer’s book tour with Gaza Writes Back—that was a dangerous moment as well, for the US empire and for Israel’s extension of the US empire. He started to meet anti-Zionist Jews and he started to see their humanity, and began teaching his students Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. And Refaat asked his students which character they identified with more: Othello or Shylock the Jew. One by one his students declared an almost visceral identification with Shylock. And he was the first to teach Hebrew literature at the Islamic University.
Refaat stayed in northern Gaza and received detailed threats from Israeli soldiers and on the Israeli media. On December 6, I sent Refaat a message and never heard back. He had been in a United Nations shelter with his family; he received a phone call telling him they were going to kill him and he said, “If they’re going to kill me here they’re going to kill all these people around me”; so he retired to his sister’s apartment with his nuclear family and was killed in a targeted strike along with them. As we speak, he and his family are under the rubble, unreachable. He was killed for his words.
I want to end with some of Refaat’s last words. His voice was trembling—you can hear the bombs thundering in the distance. He’s speaking to Electronic Intifada. He vowed to resist to the end with the only instrument at his disposal. He said,
“I’m an academic. Probably the toughest thing I have at home is an Expo marker. But if the Israelis invade, if the paratroopers charge us going from door to door to massacre us, I’m going to use that marker to throw it at the Israeli soldiers, even if it’s the last thing that I do. We’re not soldiers, but we have an obligation to pick up where we left off, with what we can. We have to pick up the marker, and throw the marker at the architects of this genocide for the rest of our lives.”