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Palestinians ask nations to press Israel to end reprisal attacks on civilians

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As we have been reporting, more than 400 Palestinians are now dead as Israel retaliates for a massive attack by Hamas fighters on Southern Israel this weekend. Those attacks killed more than 700 Israelis. Now, Israel's defense minister, Yoav Gallant, says that Gaza will be under a, quote, "complete closure," unquote. According to a statement from the Israeli Defense Ministry, that means no electricity, food or fuel will be delivered to Gaza. Palestinians are asking the international community to press Israel to end its reprisal attacks on civilians. Diana Buttu is an attorney who has been an adviser and participant in past peace talks between Israel and Palestinians. She's also served as a spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization, and she's with us now from Haifa, Israel. Ms. Buttu, thank you so much for joining us at this difficult moment.

DIANA BUTTU: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: This is my first opportunity to speak with you, so I just wanted to ask what your thoughts were when you learned of the attacks Saturday.

BUTTU: I was actually both surprised and then not shocked. I was surprised at the scale of it, particularly given that I was somebody who lived in the Gaza Strip, and I know just how controlled life is within the Gaza Strip. But then also, not surprised that it happened, because this is sadly the natural consequence of 56 years of denial of freedom and the daily punishment that is meted out against Palestinians because they've lived under this very brutal military occupation now for 56 years.

MARTIN: Say more about that. What do you mean? Why do you say it's the natural consequence of 56 years of military occupation? Why is this the natural consequence right now?

BUTTU: Well, when you live for all of these years with a boot on your neck, you're going to do whatever it takes to get that boot off of your neck. And for Palestinians, what we lived through each and every day is violence. And to somehow undermine that or to ignore that is the height of dehumanization. I think it's very important for people to understand that as Palestinians, we wake up to violence and we go to bed with Israeli violence. Just before what - the events of Saturday, we had 255 Palestinians killed in the West Bank alone, including 47 children. And these deaths don't get reported. These attacks don't get reported. And they get largely ignored by the world and quite frankly, supported by the Israeli government. It's the height of dehumanization to somehow look at events as though they began on Saturday, rather than to look backwards and see what Israel has been doing to Palestinians for all of these decades.

MARTIN: So let me be clear that you are not a spokesperson for Hamas, which is the governing...

BUTTU: No.

MARTIN: ...Authority of Gaza right now. I just want to be very clear about that so people understand what I'm asking you.

BUTTU: No, I'm not.

MARTIN: But I still have to ask, what was the strategic purpose of this? Israel has a track record of meeting attacks like this with overwhelming force. That is happening now. And I also have to point out that this is against the backdrop of huge protests in Israel against its own - of Israeli citizens, against their own government for months now. And those kinds of protests are very unlikely to continue in the wake of an external attack like this. So the question is how - what is the strategic purpose of this, and how do these attacks - how does Hamas' attack benefit the people of Gaza?

BUTTU: Look, I think the - I think you're looking at it through the wrong lens. The strategic purpose is freedom. And Palestinians want their freedom. And if you look at the protest movement that has happened in Israel over the course of the past 10 months, throughout none of those protests has anybody been talking about freedom for Palestinians or the occupation specifically. Quite the contrary. There are settlers who are going out and protesting these judicial reforms and so on. They're not at all talking about Palestinian freedom, they're just talking about internal measures. So rather than looking at - through the lens of what's the strategic purpose of Palestinians doing this, I think we should be asking the question is - why has Israel continued to occupy Palestinians now for 56 years? What is the strategic purpose of that?

And I can tell you that the way that they view Palestinians is that their security is only going to come if Palestinians are made to feel unsafe. That is not a workable formula. And I would certainly hope that now that the world would wake up and see that this is not a workable formula. And rather than rush to be sending Israel, a country that is a nuclear power, rather than sending it more weapons to perpetrate more crimes against Palestinians, that people would step back and say, how do we actually end this? And we should end it by ending the occupation.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, we called you because obviously we want your perspective. So I'd like to ask, what do you think your role is at a time like this as a former peace negotiator? What do you think your highest responsibility is at this moment?

BUTTU: My highest responsibility now is to make sure that my family is safe. I'm not involved in politics any longer. And so my goal at this point is to make sure that my family is safe, particularly given that we've seen that there are many Israelis that are going out and now calling for attacks to be perpetrated against Palestinians inside Israel.

MARTIN: And how can you do that? How can you keep your family safe?

BUTTU: I can't. That's the scary thing. I can't.

MARTIN: That's Diana Buttu. She's a former spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization and a former peace negotiator on behalf of Palestinians. She's also an attorney. Ms. Buttu, thank you for speaking with us.

BUTTU: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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