Queen Rania of Jordan: What’s happening in Gaza is a war crime

May 11, 2024
Rafah, Gaza. 12th Dec, 2023. Young Palestinians react following Israeli bombardment at Al-Shaboura refugee camp in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday, December 12, 2023. At least 22 people have been reportedly killed, including seven children, in the bombing by Israel in Rafah on Tuesday. Global calls for a ceasefire have been ignored by Israel and the United States, as humanitarian aid operations have collapsed warning of starvation and disease amongst the Gaza population. Image: Alamy/ Ismael Mohamad/UPI Credit: UPI/Alamy Live News

This conflict has killed more children in five months than all the conflicts in the world in the past four years. Children have not been killed at this rate in any other time in history: the highest kill rate since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

Joy Reid: Joining me now is Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan. Your Majesty, thank you so much for being here.

Queen Rania: Thank you, Joy. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Joy Reid: This is a difficult time and circumstance to be talking with you. As of today, 34,000 people have been killed in Gaza. There is the real threat of mass starvation taking place, and as we know, you are not just the Queen of Jordan, you are also a Palestinian woman of Palestinian heritage. So, I would just love for you to reflect for a moment on what’s happening in Gaza as the Queen of Jordan, but also as a Palestinian woman, as a mom.

Queen Rania: Well, you know, I think it’s not just my background, but I think for everyone in the Arab World, we have been quite devastated by what we’ve been seeing in the last seven months. As traumatic and devastating as the events of October 7th had been, we can’t justify the way that this war is being fought. This is not a normal war. Every war is ugly, but this is…humanitarian workers who have seen everything have said they’ve never seen anything like it. The collective punishment of people, the displacement of 1.7 million people from their homes, some people displaced more than once. The fact that out of those 35,000 people killed, 70% are women and children. And this conflict, just to put in perspective, has killed more children in five months than all the conflicts in the world in the past four years. So children have not been killed at this rate in any other time in history, and has had the highest kill rate since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

And so there is outrage in the Arab World and around the world at what we’re seeing. But also, there’s outrage at the world’s apathy, the fact that this is allowed to happen. Rightfully after October 7th, the whole world stood up and condemned those actions, but we’re not seeing the same kind of reaction towards what’s happening today. And we’re seeing people letting Israel violate international law and international humanitarian law without any consequence. And that is creating a sense of disillusionment in the Arab World and a sense of, ‘How come international law is applied selectively? Why are our lives worth less? Do we matter in this world?’ And I think that this is really having a paradigm shift in the way we’re viewing our world order. As terrible as what’s happening in Gaza is, I think the way our world order is today is actually looking exponentially worse.

Joy Reid: Well, let’s talk about some of the reaction, because you did see South Africa bring a case in the International Court of Justice at The Hague against Israel for its conduct of the war. We recently saw Prime Minister Netanyahu make a statement, a video statement, expressing concern that the ICC, also at The Hague, may bring arrest warrants against himself and other members of his government over the conduct of the war. What is your reaction to that? Is that the kind of reaction that you feel is more appropriate to see justice? Do you have faith in it?

Queen Rania: Well, you know, Israeli officials get very upset when they hear the words ‘genocide’ or ‘apartheid,’ and they dismiss them and say that these are big words that people are throwing around. Now, the International Court of Justice is the highest court in the land and they have deemed it plausible that Israel is committing acts of genocide against the Palestinians. And they have since issued provisional orders, asking them to prevent acts of genocide and to provide unhindered aid. Now, it might take years for them to come out with a final ruling, but we cannot wait. People are being killed today. History is being written today. And we’re already very late. And the longer we wait, the larger the stain on our global conscience. And the fact that we’re talking about semantics – Is it a genocide? Isn’t it? – the fact that we’re even debating that should be sending shockwaves in our international community. Who wants to err on the side of a genocide? And those who are attacking the ICJ rulings are actually belittling and dismissing the safeguards that we have in our world to ensure that nations adhere to certain standards of conduct. So yes, I think it’s important the ICC take action, that the ICJ take action, but we don’t want symbolic gestures.

At the end of the day, and we’ve seen a change of tone and language from the US towards Israel, trying to compel Israel to not go to Rafah, for example, or to allow more aid in. But at the end of the day, officials in Israel have shown a reluctance to heed any advice or warnings or counsel from allies. So, we need these measures on the ground to actually say illegal settlements should be stopped, to say that aid should go in, that we are not going to continue to provide offensive weapons that are killing thousands of innocent lives, or the weapons that are provided should be conditional. These actions are very important, and the fact that we’re going to apply diplomatic pressure and stop using our veto to let Israel get away with things that other nations don’t get away with. It’s a very dangerous precedent, when, and this is what people are very upset about, it’s when international law is broken with no consequence, when UN resolutions are ignored or dismissed, what does it mean? What does it mean when international humanitarian law is applied selectively? Or when certain countries are punished for poor human rights records, whereas Israel, which is accused of possibly committing genocide is rewarded with more arms? Where’s the fairness here? And I think this is causing a lot of outrage. And I think we need to just really take a fresh look at the reality of Palestinians and life under occupation for us to really try to find a reasonable and fair way forward.

Joy Reid: Do you believe that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a war criminal?

Queen Rania: It doesn’t matter what I believe. I think what matters is what international law says. So I’ll leave it for the courts to judge. But what I can say…I’m not a legal expert. But what I can say is that what’s happening in Gaza today, is when you deprive people and you hinder the entrance of aid, when you adopt starvation as a weapon of war, that is collective punishment; that is a war crime. When you displace an entire population, that is a war crime. When you use…when you kill indiscriminately, so many civilians.

And the whole argument of human shields, that’s ringing hollow. When you have a patch of land, as small as Gaza, being one of the most densely populated places in the world, and you use an unprecedented number of massive bombs, those 2,000-pound bombs, or the unguided bombs or so-called dumb bombs, how can you not kill civilians? And when you say human shields as well, wherever Hamas leaders are, by default, there’s going to be civilians around them. So are we supposed to think that Israel that is also using AI generated systems to generate the largest number of targets, you know, prioritising quantity over quality, really sort of doing away with all the principles of proportionality and distinction between combatant and civilian….They’ve done away with those principles. Are we supposed to believe that they are trying to avoid innocent civilians? When 80% of the schools have been bombed, 80% of health centres, 60% of houses have been destroyed, was there a Hamas operative under every ambulance, in every clinic, in every schoolyard? Are we supposed to believe that? It’s very clear that Israel has no problem targeting civilians, and that they assign very little value to Palestinian life. And the impulse in Israel, whenever there’s violence against it, is to punish all of the Palestinians for the acts of a few. So, that is collective punishment and that is a war crime.

Joy Reid: We’ve seen a reaction to what we’re seeing on the ground in Gaza around the world. We’ve seen protests around the world. We’ve seen them in the United States on college campuses. There are images in Gaza of children holding up signs thanking students at Columbia University and other universities for their support. But we’ve also seen a massive crackdown on those protests in the United States. What do you make of those protests? Do you think that they will change anything?

Queen Rania: Well look, we can all agree that law and order are extremely important. Nobody wants chaos. And antisemitism is a real thing and it is on the rise, and no student should feel unsafe on their campus. But I think passions are running so high on all sides, that we’re losing sight of what these students are actually protesting. And we are spending so much time talking about how should these protests be handled, rather than looking at what the students are protesting, which is the reality in Gaza. So I haven’t been seeing…I’ve been seeing coverage of the protests, but I haven’t been seeing enough coverage of what they’re protesting. We need to face the realities on the ground of what’s happening in Gaza itself.

Now, at the same time, dismissing these students, as you know, ‘oh, they don’t know what they’re talking about,’ or ‘they need an education,’ or ‘they’re just protesting for the sake of it.’ I think this collective dismissal is not only patronising, I think it’s quite insulting for some of these students who know exactly why they’re out there. And they’ve looked at these issues. There are always bad actors. There are always people who would want to crash the protests and try to hijack the message, but there are also a lot of people who really are standing for something. And for them, this issue has become about social justice. It’s not just about Palestine. They are protesting a discrepancy between a world that they were told should be this way, and the way it actually is. They are saying that, yes, we want you to divest from illegal occupation, but they’re also suggesting that there’s more to the story than we have been led to believe. That it’s this whole narrative that we’ve been taught about Israel always being the victim, and Palestinians, who are the occupied, always being the aggressor, is not entirely accurate. Now, a lot of people are invested in the story. And I think when somebody challenges something that you’ve been invested with for so long, your reaction is to want to challenge that and to defend what you believe in. But I think it pushes you out of your comfort zone, and out of your comfort zone is really where progress happens.

I mean, you mentioned my Palestinian background. And, because of that background, I’m aware of the fact that I might identify with the Palestinian side more. And that’s why every day, I challenge myself to actually put myself in the shoes of an average Israeli, to try to see things from their point of view – a relative of a hostage, or just an average person who’s worried about missiles flying onto them. I try to think of that. All I want is for people to just for once try to put themselves in the shoes of Palestinians.

It’s very difficult to wrap your head around the reality of occupation, and what it’s like to be a Palestinian under Israeli occupation. To know that, day in day out, every aspect of your life is policed, it’s controlled, you’re demeaned. To know that, at any moment, you could get detained or arrested, without just cause, without any semblance of due process, and without any consequence. This is life for Palestinians. Even just the daily commute of a Palestinian will tell you a lot. It’s about checkpoints. It’s about, you know, routine delays. They can’t get from A to B without permits and without searches. It’s about nightly raids, military incursions, lands being confiscated, children being taken from their beds in the middle of the night. You know, Israel is the only country that prosecutes children in military courts. Save the Children have written reports about this, how children are taken usually from their beds at night. They’re arrested without charge. Sometimes the charge is just stone throwing, and that could land you 20 years in prison.

And then, they are subjected to a lot of abuse in the prison system, where they are held under solitary confinement, strip searches, beatings of course, deprived of their medicine, hardly fed… This is the reality of Palestinians, the reality of people living in the West Bank. So, we were told that everything that’s happening today is a retaliation to October 7th. Well, if that’s the case, why are we seeing what’s happening in the West Bank, which is run by not Hamas, but by the Palestinian Authority? 8,000 people have been arrested in the West Bank. Almost 500 people killed, again without due process, 124 of them children. We’re seeing land grabs in the West Bank. We’ve seen the largest land grab in 30 years take place in March – 800 hectares of Palestinian land.

Armed settler attacks are on record high. They’re attacking Palestinian homes, burning crops, attacking their solar panels, water tanks, cars… This is happening every day. And it’s under full view, if not participation, of the army. It’s the army that supplies them with the weapons. And the lines between soldier and settler are so blurred, they might as well not exist. So trying to portray the settler community as a fringe community is not true. Many of the settlers actually will have positions in government and parliament, the judicial system. So, their agenda is inseparable from that at the state.

Joy Reid: So given all of that, I mean, in 1994, when you’re perhaps in university, or maybe just after –

Queen Rania: No, I was married.

Joy Reid: Ok. There was a peace agreement that was negotiated between the King’s father, King Hussein, and Yitzhak Rabin. And it was only the second peace treaty between a country in the Arab World and Israel. And Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated about a year after that. Then he was, of course, followed by the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Given the history, do you believe that, fundamentally, Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace with the Palestinians?

Queen Rania: Well, look, I was around when King Hussein signed the peace treaty with Rabin, and I saw the relationship. It was a relationship of trust between two men who understood that they had to make sacrifices and compromises for a larger vision of peace. I know that they wanted a warm peace. It wasn’t just a strategic peace; they wanted a peace between the two people. And I saw how passionate my father-in-law was about this and we’ve had many conversations about this, and I truly am very inspired by his vision. And he’s the one who once said to me, ‘Rania, you always have to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.’ I’ve never forgotten those words. A simple thing to do – but very rarely are people doing that these days. And that is the door to empathy.

But then what happened after Rabin’s assassination is that, like you said, Prime Minister Netanyahu came in and we gradually saw the politics in Israel shift further and further to the right until, now, there are hardly any peace groups. You know, I used to routinely sit with Palestinian and Israeli peace groups to have these conversations, to keep bridges, because I always thought that was so important.

Joy Reid: Right.

Queen Rania: There isn’t a “left” to talk to anymore. A lot of times, it’s like you’re either talking to the far right or the extreme right. There is the ideological aspect as well, where the ultra-nationalist Jewish population – it’s a deep belief that Palestine is theirs, from the river to the sea. And then you have the politics, where Netanyahu obviously has his own political career to think about. And so I think the future generations are not the priority here, and they were the priority for King Hussein in ‘94.

Joy Reid: What about President Biden? How would you assess how he has handled this situation so far? And what would you want to see the United States do?

Queen Rania: Well, I just want people to understand that, in the eyes of the world, the US is part of this war. They feel that the US is enabling this war. Israeli officials themselves say that, ‘We couldn’t wage this war without the support of the US,’ because you provide the arms and you provide all the assistance, and also you use your veto powers, etc. And so clearly, the US has a lot of leverage over Israel. And for many people, this leverage hasn’t been used as effectively as it could be, even though the unconditional support for Israel has, for many, surpassed any reasonable political calculus.

Now, there has been definitely a change in tone and language from President Biden; we’ve seen that. He is trying to apply pressure. But I think words alone are not sufficient. Because as I said, there’s a great deal of a sense of impunity and I would say belligerence among Israeli officials, where, you know, international law doesn’t have to apply to them.

Joy Reid: But would you say that – you know, there have been protests inside of Israel as well. And so, there does seem to still be a “left” which is very much against this war and also holds Prime Minister Netanyahu responsible for the failures to anticipate the October 7th attack.

Queen Rania: Most of the protests against the war are because they want to free the hostages.

Joy Reid: Absolutely.

Queen Rania: …not because they’re actually against the war. So, I think for many, if you could free the hostages, then you can go and continue the war. And that speaks to just how far Israeli society has gone. You know, there is an omnipresent, deep, almost cultural, anti-Palestinian racism that exists now in Israeli society. So that is as a result of decades of statements by officials, by government, by media, by military individuals: that says that Palestinians are inherently a violent people, that they only understand the language of force, that they are always wrong, and that Israel is always justified in inflicting whatever pain it inflicts on the Palestinians because they have it coming. They deserve it. They don’t suffer like us. They don’t have the same morality as we do. And that’s reflected, by the way, in the statements that we’ve heard from officials right now – I’m not saying it; they’re saying it. They’re saying “human animals.” They’re saying that every single Gazan is a legitimate target. They’re saying that these are children of darkness, that they only understand the laws of the jungle – how can it be okay to be saying that?

Joy Reid: So then given that, as we as we wrap here, are there reasons for hope? Because there’s still talk of a two-state solution, there’s still talk of somehow there being an “after,” when this war is someday finally over? Are there reasons for hope, given the region, given the heat in the region, and given what you’ve said?

Queen Rania: If I have hope, it’s because I believe that the status quo is not sustainable – not for Israelis, not for Palestinians. We cannot go back to the days before the war. That status quo has been broken forever. And it is a status quo that was based on an illegal occupation that fuelled fear and insecurity on both sides. It’s a status quo that has no political horizons, and therefore made the option of violence more attractive. And I know that people roll their eyes when we say two-state solution, because they think it’s not viable.

Joy Reid: Right.

Queen Rania: But I think the fact that we’re where we are today is all the more reason, the greater impetus, for us to have a two-state solution, because what is the alternative for Israelis and for Palestinians? What is the alternative? Are we going to keep going through cycles of violence? Is Israel going to occupy the Palestinians indefinitely?

Joy Reid: Right.

Queen Rania: Are they going to become a pariah state, an apartheid state? Are Palestinians going to be continuously subjugated? Is it just going to be more realities created on the ground? But here’s the thing. When the international community start, and you see officials talking about a two-state solution. This shouldn’t become a chorus line that officials adopt for political face-saving. Because in the past, talk of “peace process” and “peace parameters” and “interim phases of peace” have all been delay tactics, and almost a cover to justify continuously subjugating the Palestinians and creating realities on the ground. So while these peace processes were happening, Palestinians gradually and consistently saw the reality getting worse and worse and worse.

And so here’s another thing I know for sure: Israelis and Palestinians cannot reach an agreement on their own.

Joy Reid: Right

Queen Rania: The international community has to put its weight behind it. And that means that you have to be ready to hold both sides accountable. And having a just peace cannot just be about the stronger side implementing its will over the weaker side, which means that we have to understand the imbalance in power here

Joy Reid: Right.

Queen Rania: Palestinians have less resources, they have less influence, they have less leverage, but they don’t have less rights. Disproportionate power should never result in unequal rights. And we have to remember that the Palestinians are occupied. And the occupied shouldn’t have to be negotiating their freedom with the occupier. And yet, whenever negotiations take place, the departure point is always ‘What will Israel accept? What will Israel agree to?’ Not ‘what’s the minimum they’re required to do by international law?’

So we’ll take, for example, negotiations over land. Territories that were occupied in 1967. Under Resolution 242, those are Palestinian lands. So if Israel returns to ‘67 borders, that is Israel giving back land, not giving up land. And, if we take that as a starting point, and we work on compromises on both sides, then we can find a situation that safeguards Israel’s security and also gives Palestinians statehood. At the end of the day, there’ll be no solution until Palestinians get autonomy, human rights, and statehood… And when I say statehood, I mean a sovereign state.

Joy Reid: Queen Rania, thank you so much. We appreciate you. Thank you.

Queen Rania: Thank you.


Republished from Media Center, May 03, 2024

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