An Interview with Sameh Habeeb

Interview with Sameh Habeeb, photojournalist and resident of Gaza
This is a transcript of an interview conducted by Alex Whisson from Friends of Palestine WA and his two colleagues at RTR FM on late on Tuesday night, 13th January 2009. I’ve tagged a whole bunch of you because i think it’s important that you get a chance to hear a direct voice from Gaza itself.

We’re speaking now with Sameh Habeeb, who is a photojournalist and humanitarian worker currently living in Gaza City. Sameh, may I start by asking what is the situation exactly where you are now?

Well, the situation where I am now is very bad, specifically in the east part of Gaza City. All over the Gaza Strip we have escalation of the Israeli bombing. Already we have 47 Palestinians killed since the early hours of this morning. The daylight of Gaza is not very different from the dark. Extensive Israeli air raids, extensive Israeli shells are being ridden down in many areas of the Gaza Strip. In {name of area inaudible] there was a very big escalation in which 11 persons were killed in that area due to Israeli bombing. Most of them are civilians and one of them is a 75-year-old man and at the moment you are speaking to me I could easily hear the sound of the Israeli shelling.

Now at the moment I will try to open my window so you can hear some of the bombing outside. It’s very dark since we don’t have electricity. It’s very hazardous at the moment.

Around 13 Palestinian fighters were killed today and the situation is very, very bad as I told you and we don’t know what will be happening soon. Also in [name of area inaudible] three or four bodies were found today of people killed before Sunday. One of the bodies was in a bad situation and he was a very old man, around 92-years-old.

In terms of humanitarian needs we don’t have enough water, we don’t have enough power, we don’t have gas, we don’t have basic supplies a person needs to go on with his life.

Sir, why do you think that Israel is terrorising the people of Gaza in such a brutal fashion?

Well, Israel is not targeting the militants as it has announced at the start of this military operation. Israel is clearly targeting the civilians and this is so clear. What we have seen on the ground, what we have seen in the hospitals, on the street and in the destroyed buildings is that mostly those who were killed are civilians.

We are speaking about around 1000 people killed and in a few hours it will be 1000. You know, around 400 of them are children and around 150 are women. So what kind of military operation is that? They [the government of Israel] are saying they want to bring safety for the Israeli citizens but they won’t do. It is good to bring safety for the Israeli people, it is good to bring security for the Israeli people. But by killing Palestinians? You know Alex around only 14 Israelis were killed by these rockets [fired by the resistance]. So what kind of rockets [are being fired out of Gaza]? They are not rockets. They are small, home-made by some militants. They are not rockets. But Israel is enlarging and exaggerating about that [the threat from these rockets]. They are saying, oh well, we are under Palestinian attack. [They are] making Palestinian people like Saddam or like Iran. In fact we are not. We are simply people. We do not have the basics of our life so how will we be able to defeat a country with an air force, with a ground force? It is a complete lie. We are under occupation and it’s a small kind of resistance being operated by the Palestinians.

May I ask you how you feel about the silence and complicity of the Egyptian regime, the Jordanian regime and all the other dictatorships throughout the Arab world?

Well we are totally not satisfied with the Arabic stance and position. The Arabs are being [distracted] by their differences. Everyone is away [distanced] from his Arab neighbour. And they [the Arab nations] are not working on ending this war. Egypt and Jordan are working but not enough. We need all our countries to go at this moment and not to wait more. I don’t know what they are working on at this moment! Israel is massacring and killing the civilians here and I have seen this by my eyes. I have seen many children dying in the hospitals due to lack of medicine and the Arab countries, I don’t know what they are working on at this moment. So they are part of this war. They are part of this war.

The American government as always is supporting Israel uncritically and the Australian government has fallen into line behind Washington. What can people do in Australia to pressure their government and to pressure the Israelis to stop this madness?

Well, the Australian people are very good friends and I was following what has happened in Australia. Many protests happened there and more than 5000 people [at one of them]. And even more participated [around the country] and this is very good. We need Jews who participated in these protests to go against the wishes of the politicians. To say no [to the actions of the Israeli govcrnment]. We need you to pressure Israel, to go to the Israeli embassy, to make demonstrations. In Australia I don’t want to see the same stance as John Howard. Because John Howard was following totally George Bush. I don’t know what kind of stance [your Prime Minister] is having at this moment but I need the people to show him in order to keep calm and peace here for the people who are being killed, for the children, to follow up the news and see what is happening. Children are being killed by phosphorous bombs, by depleted uranium and it’s a really cruel war agains the Palestinian civilians not the militants.

We can tell you unfortunately that the government which replaced John Howard is fully backing Israel and we are doing everything we can to put pressure on the government to shift its position. Mr Habeeb, you’re a photojournalist by profession. May I ask how difficult it’s been to take photos of the suffering of your own people at this horrible time?

Well, it’s very difficult to take photos at the moment. It’s very hazardous even to go outside in the night. If you go outside in the night you will be a target for the Israeli air force because it targets everything movable in the night. In the daylight you could do it [take photos] but it’s very difficult. And especially these days [when] we do not have power, we do not have internet. Even if you would be able to take some photos, you would not be able to upload them to send them out. So we are being blacked out by this war. We don’t have only a war of tanks and a war of missiles. We have a media war, we have a propaganda war. [Israel] is saying we are the terrorists, but in fact we are not. We are the victims and Israel is the victimiser.

On the subject of war crimes I understand that reports have emerged the Israelis are illegally using white phosphorous as an incendiary device against civilians, against personnel. Have you seen any evidence of this war crime?

Human Rights Watch is saying this, all international organisations are saying Israel that is perpetuating war crimes against civilians! And this is so bad. If this would happen in Darfur, we would see the United Nations [saying] we have to do something against the Sudanese President Omar Bashir. But now, why not bring the Israeli President and Prime Minister to justice? Why were 400 children killed? Why only focus on one thing [Darfur]? Why [doesn’t the head] of the United Nations investigation committee for Darfur come now and say we have to charge the Israeli leaders and bring them to the court for [crimes committed against] those who were killed here in the Gaza Strip. Israel is using banned weapons and this is so clear if you go to the footage on the TV and you see the phosphorous bombs being bombed on the people here. Gaza is a very densely populated area including hundreds of thousands of civilians who have nothing to do with this cruel and brutal war.

Do you think that it’s possible that Israel will continue the occupation of Gaza for some time?

Well who’s to say that Israel has left Gaza before? It was a lie in 2005 that Israel withdrew from Gaza and demolished its settlements. They pulled out of Gaza and encircled Gaza and now they are reaching back into Gaza. And after the war is finished, they will go around [encircle] Gaza, they will control everything, and they will be opening and closing the crossings as they want. They will not give us our freedom. Gaza was never a free town or a free city! It was always under Israeli occupation.

Sir, we’ve read reports in recent hours that Israeli troops have penetrated deep inside Gaza City itself and you mentioned earlier that you could hear the bombing outside the window of your house. How far have Israeli troops penetrated inside the city and what do you think will happen next sir?

I live in the eastern part of Gaza City. I can tell you that no Israeli soldiers are in Gaza City itself. They are still on the borders of Gaza City. They are being faced by a big amount of fighting and fire by the Palestinian militants. They are still on the borders [and none of their soldiers] was able to get into Gaza City. And if they were to get in to the Gaza City, for sure there would be thousands of people dying because [it] is a densely populated area.

How strong and determined is the resistance and how much popular support is there for the resistance forces in Gaza?

Well yes I’ve met many people who are in charge of these things and the resistance and managed to make interviews with them for some newspapers. I tell you the militants and fighters are more determined than ever to go on despite the terrible risk to fight against this big army and big country with an air force, with a ground force, with tanks, F-16’s and Apaches but they are still adamant because they have the will, they have the strength, they think that they are under occupation, they think the only way to free your country [is by resisting] and they are adamant to go on that track.

How do you explain the relative silence of your brothers and sisters in the West Bank and how do you feel about the complicity of Mahmoud Abbas in the Israeli attacks on Gaza?

Yeah you’re right the West Bank is under the control of President Abbas and he’s in charge of negotiations with Israel and he’s running and operating the steps of the Road Map and part of this road map is to have no kind of resistance at all and this is what we have seen in the West Bank. In the West Bank we did have resistance but [now] we only have negotiations. But I guess Israel was not good enough for Mr Abbas because it did not give him peace despite the calm he gave them in the West Bank.

How dangerous is right now for you to go outside where you are? You mentioned earlier that there are bombings going on. How dangerous is it right now to go outside?

Nowhere is safe. You know I was outside trying to handle some news, some work but I had to quickly get back to my house afraid of what’s happening, afraid of the drones, the drones hit everywhere and I could not stay outside for long. I had to quickly slip into my house which is not safe by the way! My house was hit two times, my cousin’s house was hit two times by the artillery shells, but we are safe thank God and it was a miracle to be safe.

Sir, may I say again on behalf of all three of us in the studio that it’s been an enormous privilege for you to speak to us in an obviously extremely dangerous and difficult situation. We wish you and your family all the best. We hope you remain safe and we hope that eventually the resistance in Palestine will be victorious.

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