Q&A: Will Violence in the Middle East Fuel Further Hate in the U.S.

The Ethnic Media Weekly

By Peter Schurmann

Last Saturday Israel experienced an unprecedented attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas members along its southern border. 

The invasion targeted civilians in areas surrounding Gaza, where 2.3 million Palestinians live in what many describe as apartheid conditions. 

Over 1,000 Israelis have been killed, with women and children among them, while Hamas is believed to hold over 100 Israelis captive. 

In response, Israel is conducting air strikes on targets in Gaza, razing entire neighborhoods while preparing for an imminent ground invasion. 

The death toll as of publication topped 1,500. Jamal Dajani is a Peabody Award-winning journalist and Middle East analyst.

The host of Arab Talk Radio, Dajani, says the violence did not come “out of a vacuum†and that much of the current coverage is eliding this context. He also notes the potential for white supremacists in the US to use violence to further stoke antisemitism and Islamophobia.

How concerned are you that the fighting between Hamas and Israel could spill into a broader, regional conflict?

I am very concerned. It has all the makings, and so far, I haven’t seen any reasonable voices trying to stop the conflict. 

Unfortunately, the US and this administration have given the green light for Israel to continue bombing Gaza. There are some calls for negotiations… but this conflict can drag in other players. 

The US moved its aircraft carrier to the Mediterranean, off the coast of Gaza. This has never happened before, or not since the Lebanon crisis. 

They did this because they were worried about other fronts opening. This can involve the Iranians, it can involve Yemen targeting US bases in the Gulf, which the Houthis threatened to do, and we have an ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. So, there is the potential for a very devastating outcome.

What are you hearing from contacts on the ground in Gaza?

It’s a massacre. I’ve spoken to several people on the ground, both in the West Bank and in Gaza. As of this morning (Wednesday, Oct. 11), there are few people who can communicate because Israel has cut off water and electricity, which means the Internet is affected. So now, I don’t know if, over the next 24 hours, these people will be able to communicate. But it is utter destruction. And this is not the first time this has happened to the people in Gaza. This is the sixth onslaught in which Israel has bombarded Gaza from air, land, and sea. 

And one of these lasted 51 days. Now they are talking about a large campaign, and if Israel decides to go by land, the casualties will be very high on both sides.

Can you give us some of the context? Why is this happening now?

Gaza has been under siege for the past 16 years. It is almost twice the size of Washington DC, with 2.3 million people living there. They cannot leave, they cannot seek employment, or go to university outside the country. And then you have the West Bank with more than 500 checkpoints and almost 700,000 settlements living on appropriated Palestinian land. 

Add to this the fascist government that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assembled with the likes of Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who basically seek to cleanse Palestinians from their homeland. 

So, what is happening now is not happening in a vacuum. The death of civilians on both sides is abhorrent, and no one can say anything but condemn it. But I see little being done to put this into context. Why is this happening today? 

And why does it keep repeating itself? Palestinians are living under apartheid… which Human Rights Watch and Israel’s own human rights organization, B’Tselem, have confirmed. So, if you have people living under apartheid, what do you expect them to do?

Israel was in talks with Saudi Arabia for what might have been a historic accord. What role might this have played in the attacks?

I spoke in an earlier interview about why Hamas may have launched this operation, and this is one of the reasons I have cited. I also cited the recent attacks on Palestinians and on the Al Aqsa Mosque by extremist settlers that we’ve witnessed since this latest extremist Israeli government came to power. 

The other factor to consider is that Hamas may have been seeking to gain credibility with Palestinians because of the Palestinian Authority’s weakness (the government under Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank). 

Finally, Hamas may have been seeking to discredit the Abraham Accords because what is happening now is that Israel and the United States have been seeking to circumvent the Palestinians to make separate peace deals with the UAE, Morocco, and others. 

They can then say, look, we have peace in the Middle East, and we can keep these slaves – basically – under our control, and we can manage this occupation indefinitely. They then can have agreements, economic partnerships, and so forth while the Palestinians continue to suffer.

What do you make of the media coverage of this conflict?

I’ve been seeing, not only from journalists and pundits but also politicians, that they take a story, for example, that Hamas beheaded children. This was debunked by Israeli reporters by the Israeli military, yet they continue to push these stories. 

Israel did not allow in any foreign journalists until they took control, so there were no eyewitnesses to verify these reports. Instead, reporters relied on press releases from the Israeli military, which we know involves a lot of propaganda. 

And I see reports on the BBC, for example, which say Israelis have been killed while Palestinians have died. Well, how did they die? Were they hit by a car? Was it an accident? This was in the same headline.

You were a member of San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission. How concerned are you that the fighting in the Middle East could exacerbate racial/ethnic tensions here in the US?

First, you have to make a distinction. This is not a religious or ethnic conflict, as it has been described in the media. This is a territorial conflict; it is a colonial conflict. When you are driven from your home, as the Palestinians were in 1948, you will see the other side as invaders, no matter their race or religion. 

That said, we’ve been seeing the rise of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in the US for many years and, of course, the rise of white supremacy. During the Trump administration, we witnessed white supremacists chanting, “Jews Won’t Replace Us.†If you look at it statistically, most of the hate crimes and attacks on mosques or synagogues are perpetrated by white supremacists. 

They are opportunists, and my fear is that they will take advantage of any international event, be it in Ukraine or between Palestinians and Israelis, to foment their hatred, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia. 

Trump was recently recorded saying immigrants are poisoning the blood of America. Yet he remains the GOP frontrunner. How do you see this conflict shaping the upcoming elections?

We have a lot of experience with Donald Trump, and by we, I mean us minorities, Muslims, Jews, Latinos, and others. We’ve seen how he looks at us when he wants to ban all Muslims from entering the country, when he wants to build that wall to prevent immigrants from entering.

But look at Nikki Haley, now taking advantage of this conflict, telling Netanyahu to basically wipe Gaza off the map

And it is not only her. It is now being used as a campaign slogan, especially among GOP candidates. These are war mongers competing to say, I am the strongest one.