Voices From Israel And The Gaza Strip

A streak of light appears as Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, on May 16, 2021. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP) (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images)

As conflict escalates in Israel and the Palestinian territories, it seems voices from the region are lacking in American coverage. I wanted to change that by presenting conversations with people from the Gaza Strip and Tel Aviv, the two areas at the center of the violence. 

These conversations with Hind Khoudary, a journalist who was born and raised in the Gaza Strip, and Mairav Zonszein, a Tel Aviv-based analyst for the Crisis Group, are presented in full with only some light edits for clarity (as well as notes and links for context).

First up, Ms. Khoudary … 

The Uprising: Right now you’re coming to us from Istanbul, and I think that’s a perfect way to open this conversation. Tell me a bit about — as someone who is from Gaza and grew up there — why you’re not able to get there now and what that’s been like for you.

Hind Khoudary: First of all, I feel very paralyzed and numb that I am not in Gaza and I am not covering what’s going on in Gaza. I have been reporting the past couple of years from Gaza. I did coverage for the Great March of Return and the several aggressions on the Gaza Strip. I’m not allowed to go back to Gaza because Gaza has only two borders. One is controlled by the Israeli government, which doesn’t have access to any Palestinians. The second one is controlled by Egypt, and Egypt is not very friendly with the Palestinians and we all know that. We have a long history with Rafat Crossing and the border and, unfortunately, it’s closed now and I can’t go back. Going back is not easy. I have to coordinate. I need three or four traveling days to go back to Gaza. 

This was already difficult pre-COVID, right?  And that’s sort of compounded the situation?

Before I left Gaza, I paid $800 to leave to just reach the Egyptian hall. I say it because that’s what happened and we all pay money to leave and this is how we leave. We pay bribes, because everyone is using our suffering for their own benefit. … We do pay money and we do need a lot to leave. Since the occupation — I call it the Egyptian-Israeli Blockade because it is, a fifteen year blockade — leaving the Gaza Strip is more of a dream for the Palestinians. And now, my dream is to go back to Gaza right now, helping my colleagues, being there for my family, and my friends, and being there. I don’t want to be outside when this is happening to my country and my family because I know how it feels and I don’t want them to feel bad on their own. I don’t want to watch just like people are watching because I believe that being there and being all together and all the family together helps a lot because no one is safe, because we don’t have what do they call them? What do they call the thing they hide in when there’s strikes?

Bomb shelters?

We don’t have shelters. I saw a tweet from an Israeli settler who wrote that, ‘My children and wife are terrified. We’re in the shelters now, and I don’t know when this will end, and we’re very scared.’ You’re in shelters and you’re scared? People in Gaza don’t have anywhere to hide. They don’t even have a place called a shelter. They don’t have a safe place. People are losing their homes. Buildings are being attacked. Yesterday, 80 families were displaced. They were homeless in the streets. No place to go. Today, all my friends and colleagues lost their offices because a 14 story was attacked by at least six airstrikes. My grandma lives on the same street. It was a miracle to make her out of the house. My friend lives next door. She was crying, video-calling me. … 

What’s happening is totally unacceptable. I don’t care about your religion. I don’t care about your political views. I don’t care about your color. Palestinians and the Palestinian cause is a human aspect. If you’re a human, if you’re a human being that has human being feelings, you would know what’s going on. But listening to news media agencies and not listening to the Palestinians is a crime. You’re committing a crime against human international law. At least ten or fifteen children have been killed in less than 72 hours. My husband’s cousin was pregnant, she had a baby inside of her. She was four months pregnant and she was killed yesterday with her baby. Her other child is missing. her other daughter, they didn’t even find her body to bury her today. 

What’s going on is not acceptable if any person is a human being. I’m a journalist OK? And I report but I can’t ever control my feelings when it comes to Palestine and what we are living because all of these people are very close to my heart and I lived this. I was hearing these airstrikes. I was very scared someone would call me and tell me leave your house, we’re bombing it. 

I covered the Great March of Return. I know how it feels to smell tear gas canisters, to see people shattered into bodies and blood. I know how it feels, but what makes it different this time is that I’m not there. I can’t be there. I’m just remembering everything and it’s all going in front of my eyes and I’m not there. That’s what’s making me numb and paralyzed, that I am not there. I am trying my best. I am trying to cover anything. I’m trying to help. … I’m trying to do my best but we are not seeing anyone condemned. Why won’t the U.S., seriously, why won’t you condemn the killing of nine Palestinian children? What would this ever effect? Will it affect your ego? Will it affect your place in the U.S. presidential Congress or whatever. I don’t care. I don’t care if you’re a president. I don’t care if you’re a Congress member. If you don’t have any human feelings towards any human being, this means that you are not in the right position to be in those positions. 

I want to interject here for one minute just to give some context. Earlier this week, I believe it was Monday, Ned Price, a State Department spokesperson was very specifically asked by a journalist, ‘Do you condemn the killing of children?’ He did not. He did not directly answer the question, so I think that’s at least some of what you’re referring to here. 

And we see that. We see what they say. We see every person who did not stand in solidarity with us. We see. We know who stands with us and we know who is refusing to stand with us. When you don’t condemn the killing of children — I don’t know if they even have the ability to speak or not — what’s going on is a crime. … They target houses. They target residential buildings and they target children. … Why would you do that? Why would you target women and children, and even men and boys? Why are you torturing us psychologically?

Editor’s Note: The Uprising reached out to spokespeople for the Israeli Army and the Israeli Prime Minister to ask about the accusation they are “targeting” children and whether they know how many children have been killed in airstrikes. The Israeli officials did not respond. According to informational materials posted by the Israeli Army in recent days, fighters in the Gaza strip affiliated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad “deliberately place rocket launchers and military sites within densely populated civilian areas.” 

I think you’re touching on something really important here. There are people who have grown up in Gaza and have basically spent their entire life living this conflict. I want to ask you, how is your family? Is everyone safe? And for them and for you, I know you’ve talked about your own trauma from covering these attacks, what did you experience growing up and what is the effect on someone who grows up under armed guard with the possibility of airstrikes and essentially dealing with that while walled off with no easy way out?

I was born in 1995, and I was only ten years old when the Israeli blockade started on the Gaza Strip. I grew up under blockade, which means four hours of electricity, zero freedom of movement. It was very normal, the sound of hearing Israeli airstrikes. Not being able to go in and out and seeing my brothers studying abroad and everything. But at the same time, my family tried to provide me with good proper education. I studied at the American International School in Gaza. … In 2008, the school was completely destroyed. We lost our school. It was my best place. It was the most beautiful place. It was the only thing that gave me this education and gave me this English. … I was provided with this good education because my father was an engineer. … My family was always trying to give us this good education, but my father, at the end, he couldn’t do anything and we had to travel abroad. I was deprived from seeing my father for more than five years, because there was the blockade. He was not allowed to go in and out and everything. … I had to study in the university in Gaza, which is like nothing I wanted to study. 

And then I was like, OK, I love storytelling, and I love writing, and I have good English, why not start writing like very small paragraphs. So, then I wrote a very small paragraph on my Facebook and it got like fifty shares. And then I started working as a volunteer and translating for foreigners in and out of Gaza. Then, I started doing fixing, and then I started writing, and then I started reporting. I started reporting every single thing I went through all of these years; water, electricity, pollution, occupation, Palestinian general division, being deprived of education. 

What’s going on in Gaza is not like something that happened now or yesterday. No, it’s been happening since the day we were born, but it’s being escalated. That’s what’s really going on. 

You’re talking about being a fixer, which is essentially when US news outlets cover situations — particularly in conflict zones in the Middle East — they will actually rely on someone such as yourself, a local reporter to do a lot of the translations. I know you’ve worked for Al Jazeera, you’ve worked for Amnesty International. Tell me about some of the organizations you’ve worked for and what you see in international media conversation about Gaza. 

In my mind, a big reason I wanted to have this conversation is that our discourse is totally lacking in voices from within the country. We’re just seeing these sort of disjointed clips. What do you think has been good and bad in the coverage and what are some of the outlets you have experience with?

Actually to be honest, I don’t want to mention the outlet itself. I will let you know a couple of things. Amnesty’s coverage for the Palestinians is amazing. They have always been covering a lot of what is going on. … To be honest, I caused them a lot of trouble on social media because I am Palestinian and I am Palestinian which is like two Palestinians after each other. Everyone knows. I am sure you know because you are smiling as I say this. 

I did cause them a lot of problems and they were like, ‘OK, Hind, you’re causing a lot of problems.’ And I was like, ‘I’m sorry but I can’t. I can’t.’ I am being Palestinian and I am always like, despite working as a reporter, I am Palestinian. I will always refuse to work with the New York Times. Never. I would never work with New York Times. If they wanted to pay me like thousands of dollars per piece, like never. I don’t work with the Pro-Israeli organizations and I am against every Palestinian that is working with these news outlets and I know them. 

I love Middle East Eye’s coverage. … Sheikh Jarrah has been reported by a person from Sheikh Jarrah. … English is not our first language. We know we’re not native speakers. We totally respect that. But you are editors and where are the Palestinians from your reporting? 

If you’re not reporting the killing of nine Palestinian children, you have to close your news outlet right now. … Nothing is on the side of the Palestinians and you are not willing to even cover what’s wrong with Palestine. And when they come to cover Palestine they cover it with misleading headlines. 

This is totally unacceptable. And as a Palestinian reporter, I refuse every person who’s working with these news outlets. … I am a fact checker in a platform called Misbar and, whatever it is, we are never biased. There is not need to play with the headlines and play with the facts because we are a very important cause to report about. 

Editor’s Note: Misbar is owned by Baaz Inc., an Arab social media company operated by the government of Jordan. After this conversation with Khoudary, her internet connection broke down and we were cut short.   

The following conversation is with Mairav Zonszein, an Israeli journalist who currently works as an analyst for The Crisis Group.

The Uprising: So, where are you and how are you doing?

Mairav Zonszein: I’m fine. I’m in Tel Aviv. 

I’ll give you the rundown of what I am thinking here. In my mind, American coverage really seems to be lacking voices — particularly from Gaza. I’m trying to fix that. It’s a little hard to reach people, but I spoke to one woman, Hind Khoudary, she’s worked in Gaza for Al Jazeera, for Amnesty, for a couple different organizations. She’s currently based in Istanbul and, before our connection went out, we had a good conversation about some stuff that she’s feeling and thinking about all this and I kind of wanted to mix in an Israeli voice just to have symmetry and also because you guys are going through it as well. 

So, I would love to just chat with you for a couple of minutes about what you’re dealing with and also the political landscape over there. So, I have followed you for a while on Twitter, but tell me a bit about your background. 

I work for Crisis Group now. I’ve been a journalist for a long time. I took this role recently. It’s kind of a little bit of a different hat. Crisis Group is a conflict prevention group, and I do field reporting. I’m an analyst for them. 

I’m very curious about the political aspect. I know there’s been recent elections over there and this recent wave of violence certainly seems like an escalation. How are you seeing Israelis react to this on the ground? Are they united behind the government right now? It’s not necessarily playing well here. How is it playing over there? 

That’s always kind of a difficult question to answer, Israeli public opinion. Basically, the Palestinians never factor into mainstream Israeli life. It’s something that didn’t come up at all in the elections. It’s not an issue. 

What we’re seeing now is all of that notion of the last — especially the Trump years — like the notion that you can just wipe the Palestinians out of the equation and just continue on with brazen policies and think that somehow everything’s going to be fine is blowing up in Israeli faces right now. 

Sadly and ironically, Israel coronavirus-wise, it completely doesn’t exist here. There’s almost no cases. You know, it’s like the only country in the world where people are going to shows with hundreds of people indoors and, yet, all of a sudden they’re all in bomb shelters and schools across the country are shut down. So this is like a real wakeup call for Israelis. It’s different from the previous rounds in Gaza because it’s spreading across different cities across Israel. So it’s different and it’s a real wakeup call. 

But for the most part, Israeli are behind the government. I think the consensus is, for the most part, that Hamas is winning this round and they need to exact a very heavy price. And certainly the people who live down South who are constantly suffering from this stuff, they want some kind of answer. It’s like a weird combination where Israelis don’t really care until it touches them and then they want the army to react very strongly. But then you also have people who are actually in policy positions who are saying very clearly that Israel has no exit strategy in Gaza. So, it’s like, they want this to stop, they want to feel secure, but they also know that the politicians don’t know what the hell they’re doing. 

Obviously, with Iron Dome, the casualties are asymmetric and we’re seeing heavier casualties on the Palestinian side. Is there any Israeli anger over that or is it just sort of overshadowed by the threat to them.

It’s not really a factor. There’s a very small number of Israelis who are leftists who, you know, constantly remind [everyone] that there’s people in Gaza being killed. There are some alternative news sites who make it a headline but the mainstream Israeli news doesn’t really — it doesn’t give you the numbers of dead in Gaza on a regular basis and it’s not really factoring in. 

How much danger are Israelis in now? I know we’re in a post-Iron Dome world but this must be scary for people?

I mean, yeah. I gave birth during the Gaza 2014 offensive, and I was very traumatized by the situation but I was fine. The Iron Dome is very, very effective. 

This time around, the amount of rockets that hit Tel Aviv yesterday and Beersheva as well were much bigger in amount and in timing. I think it overwhelmed the system to an extent. There was just a couple that hit directly and those are the ones that caused the fatalities and the injuries. So, that’s like a new development it seems. I’m not like a weapons expert so I don’t know, but it seems like they were able to fire many, many more and, in that sense, the Iron Dome is not as effective. But considering how many they fired, it’s still very, very effective and I think most Israelis feel quite secured by that. Some of them don’t even go into shelters, they look in the sky and they watch the interceptions. But it also depends on where they live. If you live in the center, it’s very different than if you live in the south. 

The civil unrest within Arab quarters and the fighting in the streets seems to really be a new feature of this. What are you seeing there and do you think that really could lead to a bigger conflict here?

That part of this story is kind of the newer part of the story. I hate to say it like this, but it’s kind of the chickens coming home to roost. This is a product of decades of Israeli state policy in discrimination in housing, and rights, and being negligent of crime and rising poverty. And in some ways, the same exact issues that you have in East Jerusalem where you’re having Palestinians being kicked out of their houses to make room for Jews or you’re not allowing Palestinians to build homes, but you’re allowing Jews to build homes. It’s the same thing that is happening inside 1948 Israel. It’s really the same state mechanisms. It’s the same state policy of trying to change the demographic balance and trying to prioritize Jewish rights over Palestinian rights and it’s starting to boil over in these places. 

So, it’s kind of a convergence of various factors. It’s not really directly related to Al Aqsa or to Gaza, but the Al Aqsa issue has kind of rallied people together. It’s, again, it’s like a reminder that you can fragment Palestinians, you can give some of them citizenship, some of them residency, some of them under occupation … you can do all that stuff, but at the end of the day, they’re still one people and what happens in one place will affect them in another place. Israel has tried to compartmentalize and fragment this issue, but Palestinians are mobilizing and they’re kind of showing that’s just not going to work. So, that’s what I am feeling right now in this moment. 

You are a conflict prevention expert now. We’ve had reporting [in the U.S.] that President Biden has gotten [the Israeli government] to postpone the eviction of Sheikh Jarrah. What role do you think America has to play here and do you think at this point there is a way to prevent this from becoming a wider conflict?

Well, first, I’d be very careful to attribute this to Biden. I would attribute it first and foremost to the mobilization of Palestinians on the ground, for years. There’s also Israelis, a small group of them have been protesting these evictions for over a decade. So, this is really attributed more to them than to Biden. But yes, I think Biden did step in now and make the right comments about what’s happening there.

Are you asking me whether I think the U.S. can do anything about it? 

I mean, the U.S. or anyone right? I know we tend to think of this in America-centric ways, but speaking in terms of conflict prevention, is there a way to fix this? I know that’s a stupid, giant question.

You know we forget, but American foreign policy on Israel under Republican presidents used to be a lot more carrot and stick oriented, like very basic not accepting a lot of the things that Israel does that have entrenched this conflict. Biden has a lot of things he can do and he has a lot of leverage. He obviously doesn’t have the political will or the interest necessarily. If the U.S. is continuing to provide unconditional aid and not even trying through the already existing channels to show more accountability and transparency for how that aid is used, then this is going to continue. 

I mean there are many, many avenues that could be pursued in order to change it. It can’t happen overnight because this is decades in the making, but it certainly could start with a recognition that, first of all, the occupation and settlements are a core driver of this conflict. 

Biden hasn’t even reversed any of the major things that Trump did. He hasn’t reversed the embassy. Even if he’s not going to move it back, he could at least recognize East Jerusalem as the future Palestinian state capital. He hasn’t even done that. 

So, you know, there’s a lot that could be done. Like so many people warned, no matter how much you try to get away from the conflict and the Middle East, it will come back and bite you. 

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