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Writer says Palestinian lives are undervalued

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Five weeks into the war between Israel and Hamas, the humanitarian situation in Gaza is growing increasingly dire. Shelter, food, fuel and water are all in critically short supply as the Israeli military pushes further into the Palestinian territory, and hundreds of thousands of people try to flee the fighting. Conditions at Gaza hospitals are especially bleak, with some forced to close because of a lack of power amid heavy bombing. Meanwhile, pressure continues to mount around the world on Israel to declare a cease-fire for humanitarian reasons. There have been marches in London, Paris and elsewhere this weekend demanding a pause in order to save lives, but writer Arwa Mahdawi worries those calls will fall on deaf ears. She's a U.S.-based columnist for The Guardian, and her latest piece is titled, "Is It Too Much To Ask People To View Palestinians As Humans? Apparently So." Arwa Mahdawi, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ARWA MAHDAWI: Hi. Thank you for having me.

DETROW: This column started off pretty direct and blunt. Your first sentence is, I don't want to ever hear Western democracies lecture the rest of the world on human rights ever again. Why is that?

MAHDAWI: I mean, just look at what's unfolding, the horror that is unfolding in Gaza at the moment. You know, we have 1.7 million Gazans have been displaced, over 11,000 Palestinians dead, over 5,000 children dead. The U.S. government not only seems to have no empathy at all for what's happening to Palestinians, you have people in Congress saying, turn Gaza into a parking lot. And the only person getting censored in Congress is Rashida Tlaib.

DETROW: You've been particularly critical of the Biden administration and its approach here. This is national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaking on CNN earlier today about the situation with hospitals in particular.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAKE SULLIVAN: The bottom line for the United States is that we do not want to see firefights in a hospital. We do not want to see innocent patients who are sick or wounded be injured or killed in the crossfire.

DETROW: Why isn't that line of argument enough for you?

MAHDAWI: It's not enough for the U.S. to say we do not want to see. The U.S. can pick up the phone and tell Israel to stop this. This is being done with U.S. taxpayer money. The U.S. government isn't just allowing this to happen. It's actively cheering it on, and it could stop it at any moment. This is why so many of us are so incensed - because not only is this horror unfolding, we're all complicit because our taxpayer dollars are paying for this.

DETROW: Yeah. I could feel the anger radiating as I read your column, and I can hear, talking to you, just how upset all of this makes you - obviously, what's directly happening, but the way it's being talked about in the media, the way it's being responded to by leaders around the world.

MAHDAWI: Yeah. I mean, I don't feel welcome in America anymore. I've lived in America for over 10 years. I don't feel welcome going back to London. I feel that, you know, how dare the Biden administration say that Palestinians are lying about the death toll? I mean...

DETROW: You're referring to something he said late last month. He was asked about the death toll in Gaza in a press conference, and this is how the president responded.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: I'm sure innocents have been killed, and it's the price of waging a war. But I have no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using.

DETROW: And since, the White House has said it's clear that thousands have been killed, but that moment really struck you.

MAHDAWI: I mean, yes. When Biden stands up and says that, what he's saying isn't just I don't believe Palestinians. He says, I don't believe Palestinians are worthy of being believed.

DETROW: And there's other ways that just the talking about and phrasing about the death toll here has really indicated to you that there's broader questions that it brings up. And, of course, you know, 1,200 Israelis were killed on October 7. And since, the latest figure from health officials in Gaza is over 11,000 Palestinians in the more than a month of bombardment and invasion since then.

MAHDAWI: And, you know, what's more horrific is that anybody calling for a cease-fire gets smeared. You know, a cease-fire is the very least that should be happening right now.

DETROW: As you wrote about, as we have seen over and over again, we have seen many Palestinian leaders and advocates be pressed in interviews to publicly condemn Hamas. And in your piece, you offer that condemnation. But then you say, you, quote, "ask that the absolute condemnation goes both ways." Can you explain what you're asking for there?

MAHDAWI: You know, it's always Palestinians are asked to condemn, condemn, condemn violence. Meanwhile, I never hear Israeli commentators being asked to condemn the occupation, to condemn the killing of Palestinians. I mean, I think, you know, what frustrates me is that the media attention is only ever when Israelis get killed. Like, the violence did not start on October 7. And obviously, what happened on October 7 was horrific, and I will condemn that. But I do ask that the condemnation goes both ways, and it does not happen.

DETROW: This clearly cuts very, very deep for you. Is there anything else that you've been thinking about over the past few weeks that you'd like to add?

MAHDAWI: I think that people talk about the conflict being complex, but human rights, human dignity - you know, that is not complex. Anyone who has been to the occupied territory, anyone who has seen how Palestinians have to live, will realize that that's not complex. That is unfair.

DETROW: That is Guardian columnist Arwa Mahdawi. Thank you so much for speaking to us.

MAHDAWI: Thank you very much. Bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
William Troop
William Troop is a supervising editor at All Things Considered. He works closely with everyone on the ATC team to plan, produce and edit shows 7 days a week. During his 30+ years in public radio, he has worked at NPR, at member station WAMU in Washington, and at The World, the international news program produced at station GBH in Boston. Troop was born in Mexico, to Mexican and Nicaraguan parents. He spent most of his childhood in Italy, where he picked up a passion for soccer that he still nurtures today. He speaks Spanish and Italian fluently, and is always curious to learn just how interconnected we all are.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.

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