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'Are we not equal human beings?' asks Palestinian doctor demanding cease-fire


Israel now says it's in the second phase of its war with the militant group Hamas. It has intensified ground operations in Gaza. This is not a war on a defined battlefield. It's being carried out in civilian areas. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti is based in Ramallah in the West Bank. That's about 60 miles from Gaza. Here is what he's hearing from the 17 medical teams he is in touch with in Gaza.

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: They have very serious shortage of medications and surgical material. And the other day, one of them told me they had to conduct surgical procedures without anesthesia.

KELLY: Barghouti leads a political party called the Palestinian National Initiative. He is also a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and a medical doctor and an activist. Dr. Barghouti first spoke with us a couple of weeks ago. So when he came to the phone today, I asked for an update on what's happening where he is in the West Bank.

BARGHOUTI: What we see in the West Bank is constant attacks by Israeli illegal settlers, who are terrorizing the civilian population and protected by the Israeli army. The West Bank is absolutely cut into pieces. There is 650 Israeli military checkpoints blocking the freedom of movement.

KELLY: In the city of Ramallah, where you are, do things feel normal? Is traffic moving, are shops open, restaurants open - all that?

BARGHOUTI: Yeah, but many medical supplies are short. Scarcity has started to appear. And, of course, people here have just been in a demonstration where people were demonstrating against the huge massacre today in Jabalia Camp in Gaza. Jabalia Camp is a place where - with 120,000 refugees who were already evicted by Israel in 1948. And it's only one squared kilometer. And today they used these huge American bombs, killing and injuring no less than 450 people in one strike. It's making everybody so angry, you know?

KELLY: Yeah. I want to turn us to policy, to what you think should be done. I mentioned we spoke to you earlier this month and you told us, and I will quote you, "Israel would not listen to any country but the United States. The only country that has leverage to tell Israel enough is enough and allow human beings to receive humanitarian aid is the United States." Dr. Barghouti, what do you want to see the U.S. do? What do you want from President Biden and his administration?

BARGHOUTI: First of all, I am sorry to say that, but I have to say, to be honest with you, I think the American president and his state secretary are becoming not only complicit in these war crimes, but even participant in them, because they supply all these weapons to Israel, and they are not allowing a cease-fire. What we want now, immediately, is cease-fire to stop the massacres, to stop the killing of innocent people for the sake of both Palestinians and Israelis.

KELLY: I mean, if President Biden...

BARGHOUTI: Why should this continue?

KELLY: ...And Secretary Blinken were on the line with us, they might argue the U.S. stands for human rights for both Israelis and Palestinians. And that it is ultimately up to Israel to make its own national security decisions.

BARGHOUTI: But I don't believe that because they don't care about human rights of Palestinians if they are watching three war crimes happening at the same time - the war crime of collective punishment against 2.3 million people, the war crime of genocide against civilian population and the war crime of ethnic cleansing. And why don't they accept cease-fire? How many thousands and thousands of Palestinian children should die before Israel accepts a cease-fire? The other day, Netanyahu - yesterday - said something very dangerous. He said that Israel is conducting its second independence war. What does that mean? Israel is independent already. But he means he's conducting the second Nakba against Palestinians, the second catastrophe, trying to ethnically cleanse Gaza and force 2.3 million people out of Gaza into Egypt, becoming refugees again after they have been refugees in 1948.

KELLY: When we spoke to you a couple of weeks ago, you said you still maintain what has been your lifelong vision for nonviolence. Even now? - because I can hear the anger in your voice.

BARGHOUTI: Of course, I will never depart from this belief. I never changed my mind, even when the Israeli army shot me while I was treating an injured person in my white coat as a doctor. And I still carry the 35 shrapnels in my back. But that didn't change my mind or opinion that nonviolence is the best way. And I believe in that, and I practice that. But the violence we see today are just beyond description. Look. I mean, a very simple comparison - the United States gave - and Europe - gave Ukraine 224 billions of dollars of weapons and aid and everything to fight occupation. What about us? They are giving all the money and $14 billion to Israel to occupy us. Are we not equal human beings? Isn't there one international law? Or there is one for Israel and one for the rest of the world? Let me tell you, this American policy is bad for Israelis. I think Netanyahu has become the worst and the biggest provocateur of antisemitism worldwide. Because what he is doing is antagonizing people against Jewish people, and that's something I don't accept.

KELLY: So that is your criticism of policymakers in Israel, in the United States. Just to be clear, your personal vision for nonviolence, this extends to Israelis as well - respect for all human life?

BARGHOUTI: Of course, of course. No doubt about that. Of course. Today I was speaking in a joint conference with one of my best friends, Avi Shlaim, one of the best Israeli historians in the world. And we didn't differ about anything. We have exactly the same views. And you have seen all these noble Jewish people who are demonstrating in the central station in New York and in Washington and in so many places saying one thing - cease-fire, cease-fire, cease-fire. Enough is enough.

KELLY: Dr. Mustafa Barghouti - doctor, activist and member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in the West Bank. We reached him in Ramallah. Dr. Barghouti, thank you.

BARGHOUTI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.