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A human rights lawyer on Israel and Gaza violence


As we've been reporting today, Hamas militants in Gaza launched a surprise attack on Israel this morning, and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that his country is now at war with Hamas. Zaha Hassan is a human rights lawyer and fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Middle East program and joins us now to help give some understanding of what we're seeing. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ZAHA HASSAN: Thank you, Scott.

DETROW: Devastating scenes happening in Israel and Gaza. Hundreds have been killed, and things are shaping up to continue. This is the latest example of a pattern of violence that has been unfolding. And the size and the scale are what stands out. What are you expecting to see in the coming days?

HASSAN: I mean, I think it's going to get a lot worse, and I don't expect it to wrap up very quickly. And that's, you know, because we have promises from the prime minister of Israel that there's going to be a very heavy response on Gaza. And we know from past experience what that tends to look like. We already have tanks getting prepared to roll into Gaza. We still have Palestinian fighters out in Israeli cities that are neighboring Gaza. But we know that Israel's philosophy of combat in situations like this is to directly go after civilians and civilian infrastructure to deter future attacks. So I think we're going to see a very heavy civilian toll moving forward.

DETROW: And I want to specifically ask about that. In his address tonight, the prime minister said, quote, "to the residents of Gaza, leave now because we will operate forcefully everywhere." What do you make of that statement, especially given the track record that you're talking about?

HASSAN: Well, you know, where should they go is my first question. Where should people living in Gaza go? They are under a blockade and a siege that has been going on for 16 years. There is nowhere for people in Gaza to flee when they are attacked. They have no shelters that we see in Israel. So when he talks about getting out of the way, I think he knows they don't have anywhere to go.

So you know, the responsibility, though, is on the Israeli occupying army to protect Palestinian civilians. They are under obligation. Having a 56-year military occupation, they also know what international humanitarian law says about this. So they have a duty to protect Palestinians even if they, you know, are responding against militants and the militant attacks against civilians inside Israel.

DETROW: We're talking about an escalation that we have not seen at this level in many, many years. It's very clear it's going to get worse based on what people like the prime minister are saying. In about a minute - we've got about a minute left. I'll just flag that. But what are some of your top specific concerns about the coming days? What will you be focusing on and looking for?

HASSAN: Well, first of all, I'm - you know, I'm going to be looking at the U.S. actions and interventions here. Now, President Biden spoke today, and he talked about Israel's right to self-defense. But, you know, self-defense doesn't operate in a vacuum. Again, there's an issue of a military occupation, and an end of occupation is really the priority here. So I hope to see the U.N. Security Council tomorrow addressing how do we get to end of occupation?

DETROW: That's Zaha Hassan, a human rights lawyer from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Middle East program. Thank you so much for speaking with us this afternoon.

HASSAN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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