Return to Transcripts main page
Interview with Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT); Interview with Brown University Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies Omer Bartov; Interview with Palestinian-American Journalist Laila El-Haddad. Aired 1:00- 2p ET
Aired November 15, 2023 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
Carnage in Gaza cannot continue. That's a new warning from the U.N. as Israeli forces take control of Gaza's largest hospital.
Then, I speak to U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, who says the civilian death toll is already too high.
Plus, the power of words. American Israeli historian Omer Bartov defines genocide.
And Islamophobia in America. Journalist Laila El-Haddad talks to Hari Sreenivasan about the troubling rise in hate crimes.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
After weeks of fierce fighting, Hamas says Israel has gained control of Gaza's main hospital, where thousands of civilians have been sheltering.
Once a vital medical center in Gaza, now many of Al-Shifa's wards look like this, damaged and deserted.
Doctors say the hospital's main building has effectively ceased functioning and that the situation inside is catastrophic. Israel claims to be
conducting a targeted operation against Hamas, a command center underneath the hospital. The medical officials and Hamas have both consistently denied
U.N. Aid Chief Martin Griffiths says he is "appalled by the scenes and that hospitals are not battlegrounds." Nada Bashir brings us the developments at
the Al-Shifa Hospital.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NADA BASHIR, CNN JOURNALIST (voiceover): Weeks of bombardment had already left Gaza's largest hospital in what has been described as a catastrophic
situation. Doctors at Al-Shifa working under impossible circumstances, caring for hundreds of patients as Israel's military incursion moves inside
DR. MOHAMMAD ZAQOUT, DIRECTOR GENERAL OF HOSPITALS IN GAZA (through translator): The occupation soldiers are still on the ground floor. They
are searching employees, civilians, even the injured and patients. Some were stripped and placed in dehumanizing and miserable conditions.
BASHIR (voiceover): Israel's raid on Al-Shifa has been described as precise and targeted, focused, they say, on claims of a Hamas command
center beneath the hospital.
But it is civilians, including medical staff and patients, that have been caught in the center of this unrelenting battle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't look through the windows or doors. We don't know what's happening. We can hear tanks moving within the hospital. We can
hear continuous shooting. You can hear it now. But again, it's a totally scary situation.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, what are these sounds, Doctor? I'm hearing sounds.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's continuous shooting from the tanks.
BASHIR (voiceover): Israeli defense officials say soldiers found concrete evidence that Hamas used Al-Shifa Hospital as what they have described as a
terror headquarters. Though no further details were provided on the nature of this evidence. Both Hamas and health care officials have long denied a
military presence within Al-Shifa. CNN cannot verify either side's claims.
With over a thousand patients and medical staff still inside the hospital, many have expressed alarm over the civilian impact of the Israeli
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, U.N. EMERGENCY RELIEF COORDINATOR: Our concern on the humanitarian side is for the welfare of the patients of that hospital,
which is, of course, in great peril at the moment. We have no fuel to run it. The babies have no incubators, newly born. Some are dead already. We
can't move them out. It's too dangerous.
BASHIR (voiceover): On Wednesday, the Israeli military said their troops had delivered incubators and medical supplies to the Al-Shifa Hospital. CNN
cannot independently verify this claim and has not been able to reach the hospital for confirmation.
However, the director general of Gaza's hospitals has warned that babies at Al-Shifa are in severe danger as conditions in the hospital deteriorate
further. Adding that there is no place to move dozens of incubators outside of the hospital under current circumstances.
?But even as Israel tightens its grip on Al-Shifa, now said to be under the complete control of the Israeli military, according to Hamas, doctors say
they will continue to do whatever they can to save the lives of those wounded in this devastating war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Egypt now says that it's working as quickly as possible to evacuate some of the newborn babies, which who are most at risk. And let's
not forget how many children were kidnapped by Hamas on October 7th, about 30 from inside Israel.
The United States says that it did not give the OK for Israel to launch military operations around Al-Shifa. Well, the terrible situation
developing in the Middle East, we'll probably most likely be on the agenda when U.S. President Joe Biden sits down with China's President Xi Jinping
in San Francisco.
Ahead of the high stakes talks, I've been speaking to U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, who's been warning for weeks about an unacceptable civilian death
toll in Gaza.
Senator Murphy, welcome to the program.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Thanks for having me.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you a few pointed questions about the operation against the Al-Shifa Hospital right now in Gaza. So, the top U.N.
humanitarian official, Martin Griffiths, has said, this carnage cannot be allowed to continue.
Others have weighed in very, very strongly about something that's really beginning to really test everybody's, I guess, tolerance now. Do you
support the Israeli storming of Al-Shifa?
MURPHY: I do. So, let's just back up if we could for a moment. This is the first time that you and I have had the chance to talk about this.
Israel has to destroy Hamas's military capabilities. The world cannot permit Hamas to be able to launch an attack like they did on October 7th.
And war is difficult. It's ugly. Civilians often get hurt, and Hamas makes that much worse, as you know, by embedding themselves and their equipment
and their assets inside civilian buildings, inside hospitals and churches and schools and mosques. So, that's Hamas's decision to use human beings as
What I have said, though, is that the number of civilians being killed right now inside Gaza is unacceptable and it's unsustainable. And in fact,
I think it's contrary to Israel's long-term security objectives because Hamas is going to grow in strength, potentially if the civilian death count
remains this high.
So, I think that Israel has to begin to make different targeting decisions. I will be honest with you. I am not privy to the intel on this specific
asset. But ultimately, the civilian numbers, casualty numbers have been too high and I think Israel has to begin to make different decisions even well
it continues the fight. I don't support a ceasefire. I think Israel should continue the fight against Hamas. I just think the civilian death count has
become too high.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you to clarify? You said just now you don't support a ceasefire, but you do support a short-term cessation of hostilities. In
fact, you came out quite early in this war voicing concerns about civilian deaths.
Can you explain to me what you mean how long? And now, in the intervening, you know, time and you're describing this the civilian casualty toll, do
you think it's time to call for more?
MURPHY: So, I just don't accept the premise that the only two choices here are a ceasefire, which sounds to me like ending the fight against Hamas and
the current level of civilian death. You are talking about civilian casualty counts on a daily basis that are higher than most all other modern
So, to me, you know, two things have to happen. One, yes, I support a humanitarian end. pause in order to set up the ability to get humanitarian
assistance and food and water to the citizens of Gaza. I also think that's the only way that you get the hostages out. But I also just believe there
has to be a change in the strike calculus for Israel. I think there have often been decisions made that had far too high civilian death counts when
looking at the importance of the Hamas asset that you were taking out.
So, I think both of those things have to happen. More surgical strikes, more concern for the impact on civilians and a humanitarian pause, either
several days or a couple hours every day in order to be able to deliver humanitarian relief and get the hostages out of there.
AMANPOUR: So, that's -- you know, that's your view as a U.S. senator and as a friend of Israel. I want to know what you think these same concerns
are doing to your allies in, in the rest of the world. For instance, Jordan, for instance, others. And you probably saw "The Washington Post"
op-ed by King Abdullah, who says that we need to stop this before "we reach our moral breaking point."
Karim Khan, Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, says we are witnessing a pandemic of inhumanity. I've had the French president --
the former French president, telling me that the world used to really think about, you know, peace. And now, the world is actually moving into a
relentless war footing everywhere we look. These are pretty pointed emotional things for these leaders to say.
MURPHY: Well, listen, this is inherently emotional and spiritual. You're talking about large numbers of innocent human beings dying, but this all
began with 1,300 Israelis being brutally murdered by a terrorist organization, a terrorist organization that then retreated to Gaza and used
human beings as shields to try to avoid accountability.
And so, I think it is important to understand the nature of Hamas and to also understand the moral cost to the nation if Hamas -- to the world,
excuse me, if Hamas gets away with this. There has to be accountability for Hamas. And so, I don't support a ceasefire because Hamas has made it
perfectly clear that they will use that ceasefire in order to regroup and carry out similar attacks against Israel, and it's a message to other
terrorist organizations that still may have designs on hidden in the United States that they could get away with future attacks with the same kind of
So, what I believe is that the fight has to continue against Hamas, but the pace of the fight and the decisions regarding targeting have to change as
well to reduce dramatically the number of innocent people who are being killed.
AMANPOUR: A lot of people are saying, you know, this didn't start on October 7th. A lot of people are saying there's not enough of the history
of what's happened, you know, in this whole region that's being told around this terrible crisis that we find ourselves in right now. But certainly, a
lot of people are also saying there needs to be some thought and planning for the day after. For instance, still trying to plan for the two-state
solution, which also King Abdullah called for.
I spoke last night on this program to one of the, you know, previous sort of Israeli Palestinian negotiators. This is Daniel Levy, what he's telling
me about, you know, the possibility of coming back to the peace table after this war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANIEL LEVY, PRESIDENT, U.S./MIDDLE EAST PROJECT: Israel has largely neglected the idea that one does politics with the Palestinians. One does
solution-oriented approaches. And therefore, it's been difficult to get that answer in any kind of clear fashion. Now, I think the most likely
outcome is that Hamas will continue to exist.
Its military capacity may be downgraded. Politically, it is probably stronger than before. There will still be a Hamas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: A, do you agree with that assessment? But B, how do you think one can get around a peace negotiation after this?
MURPHY: So, I hope he's wrong, but part of the reason why I have raised these concerns, and you are right, I was amongst the first in the Senate to
suggest that the civilian death rate was unsustainable, is because I believe that, a casualness about the number of civilians who are dying, the
impact on innocent people inside Gaza, is a gift to Hamas, politically, that it allows them to continue to recruit and grow stronger.
That's exactly what we saw in Afghanistan. When we were too casual, too permissive about the impact of that war on civilians, it allowed the
Taliban to grow and to become strong enough that it ultimately could defeat our efforts there. We don't want a reproduction of that reality inside
Your question is a good one, and there's -- it's a question both for Israel in terms of its overall negotiations about a future Palestinian State and
the future of Gaza itself. Inside Gaza, I do think that Israel has to be thinking right now about what a follow-on governance structure is. I do not
think it's a good idea to have a long-term Israeli military occupation.
And so, whether it's the P.A. or some other group of non-Hamas affiliated political leaders, you've got to have a Palestinian-led governance
structure in order for it to be perceived as legitimate. And it will really be up to the Israeli people as to whether the government that follows the
Netanyahu government is one that is truly invested in a Palestinian State.
It is true, for the last 20 years, there has been a standstill. There sort of was a belief that if you ignored this question that it would just go
away, it's not going away. The Palestinians deserve a state. It's the only way to guarantee the long-term survival of Israel. And my hope is that the
Israeli people will choose when they go to the polls next to elect a government that will get serious about negotiating a future Palestinian
State next to an Israeli State, next to a Jewish state.
AMANPOUR: And in the meantime, President Biden is suffering, you know, from the perception of being too close to what the U.N. is calling this
carnage in the Middle East. Politically, you know, he's suffering amongst even Democrats. And I wonder what you think about that people like Xi
Jinping, who he's meeting with today, are going to say to him, and what you hope, in this case, is the best that can be achieved from this very
important Xi-Biden meeting.
MURPHY: Well, I think it is important for the Biden administration to stand with Israel. I think it's important for us to get an aid package
through to support Israel. I think it's also important for the Biden administration to continue to press for there to be changes in the pace of
this conflict to protect civilians.
But what is also true is that this crisis has once again showed the centrality of American leadership to the extent that Iran has chosen not to
enter this conflict, which was not a foregone conclusion at the beginning, it's because the United States of America and Joe Biden Made clear to Iran
that there could be significant consequences for them if they entered the fight against Israel. It has been American leadership that has stopped this
conflict from spreading.
And so, China hopes and Xi hopes that American influence is fading. That ultimately China will be the most important power in a place like the
Middle East. Israel didn't call the Chinese to come in and try to stop this conflict from spreading. The Gulf allies didn't run to China to try to
figure out a way forward. No, they turned to the United States.
And so, I think Joe Biden walks into this meeting with another reminder to Xi that America still has the strongest system of allies around the world.
So, I do hope that they get a limited set of agreements here, whether it be on climate or fentanyl or defense communication. But I think that this has
been a strong advertisement that America is still the most indispensable nation in the world.
AMANPOUR: And just finally, on domestic politics, because there's a whole brouhaha about whether Biden should run, whether he shouldn't, and why he's
not getting credit for the economy, and you know better than me.
So, help me understand graphs like the one we're putting up now showing inflation down the Producer Price Index actually declining and yet, still
polls consistently finding a complete lack of confidence in the president for handling the economy. This is, you know, amongst the American viewers.
Why is that?
MURPHY: Well, listen, I think there are certain structural deficiencies in the U.S. economy. And so, when, you know, people express a real lack of
happiness with the state of affairs, it's because they're still waiting for a government who will come along and sort of, you know, press the reverse
button on the neoliberal economic order that outsourced all of their jobs to China and vested enormous power in billionaires and monopolistic
companies. Joe Biden has made a big down payment on that conversion, but the rewards have not been received yet in the amount that individuals want.
I don't worry about this polling a lot because when voters go to the polls, when they actually cast ballots, they are overwhelmingly electing
Democrats. They just don't believe that Republicans are responsible grownups any longer who deserve to be in charge of local, state or national
And so, well, the latest polls may cause some consternation, the fact of the matter is that over and over again, as we saw just last week, when
voters actually show up to the ballot box, they're choosing Democrats, and that, I think, will still be the case next fall.
AMANPOUR: Senator Murphy, thank you so much for joining us.
MURPHY: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now, on definitions and terminology. Earlier this month, a team of United Nations experts warned that Palestinians in Gaza are at "grave
risk of genocide." Today, as we see evidence of fresh horrors in Gaza, we look to history to help us understand.
In a documentary series called "Scream Bloody Murder," which first aired on CNN in 2008, I examined the history of the term genocide from its origins
in the Armenian genocide of World War I, and then to the Holocaust.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR (voiceover): His name was Raphael Lemkin. In 1944, he wrote a book about the Nazis. In it, he combined the Greek word genos, for race,
with the Latin word cide, for killing. Genocide, a new word for a crime that he would spend his lifetime trying to prevent.
Lemkin's interest started early, as he wrote in his autobiography.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I started to devour books on the subject. The appeal for the protection of the innocent followed me all my life.
AMANPOUR (voiceover): As a teenager, Lemkin learned through news accounts that the Turkish government was slaughtering its Christian Armenian
citizens. The government claimed it was putting down an Armenian revolt. And over eight years, it killed a million Armenian men, women and children
in massacres and forced marches.
To this day, the Turkish government denies a genocide took place and few of the perpetrators have ever faced justice.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was shocked. Why is the killing of a million a lesser crime than the killing of a single individual?
AMANPOUR (voiceover): Raphael Lemkin made a bold plan. He would create an international law that would punish racial mass murder and prevent it from
ever happening again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR (on camera): Six million were killed in the Holocaust and I have covered modern genocides from Bosnia to Rwanda. It does keep happening
again. So, we turn to my next guest, Omer Bartov, who's an Israeli American historian and a professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Brown
University. And he's joining me now from Rhode Island.
Professor Bartov, welcome to the program. You wrote a really interesting and I think very timely and important article about this very subject in
"The New York Times," which caught my interest.
So, I want to first start by asking you, this is a huge debate now on campuses across America and around the world. What are you hearing from
your students? What are they asking you? What are you telling them about this term?
OMER BARTOV, PROFESSOR OF HOLOCAUST AND GENOCIDE STUDIES, BROWN UNIVERSITY: Well, first of all, thank you for having me. I've been watching you for
many years and admiring your work.
What I hear is a lot of confusion among students and a lot of, I'd say, polarization. People are using the word genocide a lot without quite
knowing what it means. People are horrified by what they see and hear is happening in Israel and in Gaza.
And I've been trying, in fact, to organize all kinds of meetings where we sit and talk and try to understand the history of what is happening, the
roots of it. As a historian, this is what I can do. And how do we find a way to resolve this.
AMANPOUR: One of the things that was really interesting, you know, the sort of the pullout from your article, is what you said, and it's a little
bit like the title of my documentary, "Scream Bloody Murder." You said, you know, from history that it is crucial to warn of the potential for genocide
before it occurs rather than belatedly condemn it after it's taken place.
You say that. I just want to know whether you ever think that it's possible to raise and actually stop it before it takes place.
BARTOV: You know, that's a very good question. But I think that you know as well as I do that there have been many genocides over the 20th century
where there were signs that things might become genocide, and for various reasons, political reasons of perception of all kinds of different opinions
about this, people did not warn sufficiently in advance. And once things happen, it's, first, very difficult to stop them. And then, as we know,
it's very difficult to bring people to account as well.
So, I think that one should always on the side of caution and warn when there's sufficient signs, both in terms of how people speak about a
potentially targeted group and then what sort of actions they are taking before genocide actually begins.
AMANPOUR: So, I want to take specifically the case that -- or you know, the war that we're witnessing right now between Israel and Hamas after what
happened on October 7.
So, first, let me just start in calendar order. Do you believe that Hamas created -- what do you believe? What is the crime that Hamas perpetrated
within the war crimes bracket in Israel on October 7th?
BARTOV: Well, it would seem to be clear that what Hamas carried out was a terrorist action, was a war crime, and I think could easily also be defined
as a crime against humanity.
Additionally, if you think about the Hamas charter and what it has been saying, Hamas wants to replace Israel as a state with an Islamic
Palestinian State. That could be defined also as a genocidal aim. If you accept that, then you might say that that attack on October 7th also had
genocidal aspects to it. It's part of that larger scheme.
AMANPOUR: And what do you make of the killings in Gaza, which so many people are now beginning to talk about it as a genocide against
Palestinians? Can you define for us legally what you see and what you believe is happening?
BARTOV: So, look, first of all, it seems to me from the information we have, and I'm not on the ground, of course, I'm just watching reports from
the United States and on the Israeli media and other media, it appears that there are war crimes happening.
And, you know, war crimes are defined as serious violations of laws and customs of war and international armed conflict against combatants and
civilians. And I think the disproportion in the number of civilians killed is so great that there's probably the case for speaking of war crimes,
possibly also of crimes against humanity, which are extermination or other mass crimes of civilian populations.
For genocide, what you need, according to the U.N. 1948 resolution on the crime of genocide, is to say that it's the intent or to see the intent to
destroy in whole or in part a national, ethical, racial or religious group as such. That is that the violence is intended, is intentional or with the
intention of destroying the group, a particular group as such.
Now, if we think about the case that is going on now, there have been statements by Israeli political leaders, by Israeli military leaders which
have genocidal echoes about flattening of Gaza, removing the population out of Gaza, treating the people there as the bible instructed the Israelites
to treat the Amalek, that is to kill the men, women and babies. So, intent, in fact, has been expressed by Israeli leaders.
Whether this is happening on the ground, I'm not convinced that, right now, there is intentional killing of civilians, but there is totally
disproportionate killing of civilians, disproportionate in a relationship to the military goals declared by Israel itself. So, in that sense, I think
we are close but we're not there yet.
AMANPOUR: So, if we are, to coin your phrase, not there yet, where are we? What is the next level, if you're talking about disproportionate killing,
not yet, you're not prepared to call it genocide yet? I think you've warned that it might become. What is the mechanism? What does -- what needs to
happen for the legal parameters to be extended?
BARTOV: So, you were -- in that clip, you were speaking about the Armenian genocide, and one can also mention the Holocaust. These are genocides that
began with ethnic cleansing. They began with the intent to remove populations from areas that one didn't want these people to live in.
What we are seeing in Gaza right now is the displacement of about a million Palestinian civilians from Northern Gaza to Southern Gaza. The Israeli
military claims is doing it for their own protection from military activities. But in fact, the houses are meanwhile being destroyed.
So, you have no over 2 million people being cramped into southern part of the Gaza Strip without any infrastructure to sustain that. That and
statements which are being made about possibly moving the population entirely out of the Gaza Strip, that can eventuate in genocide.
AMANPOUR: What is it now? Do you think it is ethnic cleansing? Because you said, you know -- I mean, I, as I said, witnessed what happened in Bosnia,
started with the words ethnic cleansing, ended up being genocide in the final prosecution of it. And that was adjudicated at the war crimes
BARTOV: Well, I think we -- unfortunately, we will eventually know. Hopefully, the activities on the ground now can be changed. I was listening
to your previous interview, and I would say, the paradigm of what is happening now has to be changed. I do think that Hamas as a hegemon in Gaza
is no longer possible. One has to remove it as a hegemon in order to move forward.
But if the Israeli political leadership and other states were to speak about the next step that is of changing the relations between Israel and
Palestinians and moving towards some resolution of that conflict, then that could spell a different policy also on the ground.
But as it is now, it's only about destruction, and that will end up, if not in genocide, in any case, in vast crimes against humanity.
AMANPOUR: I'm sorry, I just wanted to ask you, do you think what's happening is ethnic cleansing?
BARTOV: Well, it looks like it because people have been moved in large numbers from one part of the Gaza Strip to another. Their homes have been
destroyed. I don't see how they could come back. And we don't know exactly what the policy of the Israeli government and military is right now, but it
doesn't seem like people will be able to come back to where they came from. That would become ethnic cleansing.
AMANPOUR: You mentioned intent, and you said even though some of these statements have been made, you don't -- you can't tell whether it's the
intent. And obviously, the Israeli officials have said it is not their intention, quite the opposite, to harm or kill civilians.
And when I've asked them very pointedly, despite, you know, an intelligence ministry document about moving Palestinians out of Gaza into the Egypt
Sinai and trying to outsource them to Europe and anywhere else in the world, they said that's not a serious document or it's a preliminary paper
So, I wonder, what you -- the fact that those statements have been made, even though -- do they alone stand? Can they alone be -- you know, be
adjudicated, those statements or not?
BARTOV: I think for -- in order to prove genocide, you need two things. You need to show intent and then you need to show that this intent is
actually being practiced on the ground. It's being implemented. And of course, we don't know exactly what is being implemented and we don't know
exactly what the intentions are.
But I would say that in a larger framework, clearly, the people who are in the Israeli government now, there's some very radical people in government,
people like Ben Gvir and Smotrich, those are people whose goal is to empty the country as much as possible. The country, I mean, mandatory Palestine.
So, it includes the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, to empty it as much as possible of its Palestinian population and to settle it by Jewish settlers.
If you think about it from that point of view, many of those people speak now of the war in Gaza as an opportunity, not as a tragedy, as an
opportunity to finally implement their own political goal. So, as long as these people are in government, the danger of that being ethnic cleansing
or genocide or combination thereof is high because that is the actual political goal.
If they're removed from government and if Hamas is removed from the paradigm, then we can think about a completely different political
AMANPOUR: And finally, I wonder whether you think if it's possible to be losing sight of actually what's going on because of the -- you know, the
semantics over naming issues. You know, and I wonder whether you think using words like genocide and others kind of devalues them. What do you
think is a historian of this topic?
BARTOV: Well, it's true. Genocide -- this is one reason why some scholars actually suggest that we stop using the term because it has become a term
that is used to describe anything we find atrocious. And that's not the way you define genocide. It was supposed to be the crime of all crimes, the
worst crime. But it is defined in a particular way, and it doesn't mean that war crimes or crimes against humanity are any better. They are just
So, I do think when we get into the semantics of it, we may lose sight of what is actually going on on the ground, which is apparently over 11,000
civilians killed with thousands of children on a scale that has never been seen before.
AMANPOUR: Professor Omer Bartov, thank you very much indeed for joining us from Brown University.
And our next guest, Palestinian American journalist Laila El-Haddad, is also concerned about the term genocide and what might be happening.
She is part of a lawsuit that's been filed against the Biden administration, which alleges that it has failed to prevent it. She argues
that the government's reluctance to call for a ceasefire is not only hurting Gazans on the ground, but also Arab and Muslim populations, like in
America, who are subject to heightening Islamophobia. And she's joining Hari Sreenivasan to discuss her experiences in this highly volatile
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks. Laila El-Haddad, thanks so much for joining us.
You along with a group of Palestinian rights activists and residents of Gaza are now in a lawsuit that's filed against the Biden administration for
failing to "prevent an unfolding genocide." Tell us about the lawsuit if you can.
LAILA EL-HADDAD, PALESTINIAN-AMERICAN JOURNALIST: That's right. I'm one of many plaintiffs in this lawsuit against President Biden. Secretary of State
Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin. And it's just one -- for me, it's just one small thing that I'm doing that I promised my family that I owe to
them, both my family members, five direct family members who were killed in an Israeli attack on their home with U.S. provided weapons that I paid for
with my taxes. It's something small that I can do for them as well as for the surviving family members in Gaza City right now to hold my government
to account in failing to prevent this ongoing genocide against my people.
SREENIVASAN: Now, at the time that we were having this conversation, the Biden administration has not responded yet to this lawsuit, but President
Biden has said repeatedly in the past that Israel has a right to defend itself from a terror attack. Why are you saying that the U.S. is failing to
uphold international law?
EL-HADDAD: Well, it's -- the biggest burden, which -- burden of proof, which is proving intent to commit genocide has been proven for us in
numerous statements by Israeli officials themselves. And our government here, the United States, has been abetting that, abetting the unfolding
genocide that has already -- whose intent has already been proven by way of diplomatic cover, by way of $14 billion in aid and by way of rhetoric as
So, you know, we have the military support, the diplomatic support, and so on, the political support. And so, that is what makes this circumstance --
this specific instance, so unique, so different than other, instances where the United States has provided unconditional support for Israel.
SREENIVASAN: Did you have an opportunity to sit down with the Biden administration? I heard that you declined an invitation. Is that right?
EL-HADDAD: That's right. There was two separate. I was asked to participate in a round table with Arab -- members of the Arab-American and
Palestinian-American community in the State Department. I was also asked to participate in a -- later on at the height of the attacks on Gaza at the
White House, which I declined, because frankly, it got to the point where it was feeling performative and not really bearing any real results.
It was just something the administration was doing to be able to allay fears and say, we hear you, we feel you, but they don't. And it's -- the
message has been delivered loud and clear that they've lost our votes in 2024. And these efforts, frankly, are falling flat amongst the Arab and
Palestinian and Muslim communities in the United States.
SREENIVASAN: I know that you met with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in a setting, in a forum, I wonder what were you able to say to him that
you thought might have an effect?
EL-HADDAD: This was very early on in Israel's assault on Gaza. And really, I was hoping to use it as an opportunity to convey to him how I felt as a -
- how we felt as a Palestinian and a Muslim community. I wanted to convey to him -- I promised my cousins and my family in Gaza that I would convey
their reality to him.
My main message was that all we're hearing -- all I'm hearing is that Palestinians are barbarians and baby killers and the unhumans (ph) to which
the law of war did not apply and that my administration was OK with that. That was the message I wanted to convey to him.
And I asked him directly, what's the benchmark? How many Palestinians and how many children and women need to die before you are OK with finally
calling for a ceasefire? And, of course, we discussed the fact that this was not self-defense when 75 percent of the victims have been women and
children. That is not only grossly disproportionate, that's reprehensible to call itself defense and insist that there's no red lines for Israel is
morally repugnant. So, those are really the messages we conveyed. And again, the main ask was the ceasefire.
SREENIVASAN: Why do you think it is that calling for a ceasefire or a halt of hostilities or really however you want to phrase it, because even it
seems the phrasing matters, why has that inherently become a political act or one that admits defeat for one side or the other?
EL-HADDAD: I keep saying that ceasefire has somehow become a dirty word that you see our politicians literally engaging in, you know, verbal
acrobatics just to be able to avoid saying it, right? And the message that we keep getting from them, from different legislators that I've personally
met with and officials, is that, oh, it's going to be bad optics, right? It's going to make it look like, you know, we're caving in
And, you know, Biden even use that word. He said, we, he didn't see -- he didn't say, excuse me, Israel. Does that make, as he's suggesting, that
that the United States is admitting that the United States is complicit in this? Who knows. But the fact remains that they consider a call for a
ceasefire to be bad optics as though somehow Hamas would be winning, that they would be caving.
But the reality is the -- a large number of Israelis themselves are now calling for a ceasefire, coming out and protesting, let alone, you know,
Americans as well, because there's no winners in this. There's no winners in war.
SREENIVASAN: You know, so, I wonder if, look, you're an author, you know the power of words and language. And considering the emphasis you're
putting on the way that the administration is talking about Palestinians and about the conflict, do condemnations matter and does it matter if
President Biden condemns the actions of Israel or if you condemn the actions of Hamas?
EL-HADDAD: I think it sends a strong message, but I think what's more important again is actions, you know, actions to me speak louder than
words. And the actions of our government so far have been subpar to nonexistent.
We've only heard over and over again that your lives as Palestinians simply matter less to us than the lives of Israelis. And again, that messaging has
a direct impact on our communities here in the United States.
SREENIVASAN: So, should Arab-American, Muslim-American organizations be condemning the actions of Hamas if they want the same condemnation back
from the Biden administration towards the actions of Israel? Does -- do those messages matters? I guess what I'm asking.
EL-HADDAD: Our communities have always had to assume the burden of -- before even being asked about their loved ones and their families have
always had to assume the burden of condemnation. We see -- we've seen this happen over and over and over and over again. Not only in 9/11, but long
And I think the question that we need to ask is -- you know, and I should say, and they've always come out and said, none of us condone violence.
Human life is precious. But that's all anyone ever wants to hear from us. They're not interested -- again, they're not interested in our lives, our
people, our rights. They're just hearing -- they're just interested in hearing us condemn over and over --
EL-HADDAD: -- over again, just sort of condition us into condemning. And I think those two things should not be conditional.
SREENIVASAN: Recently, the organization CAIR, C-A-I-R, which stands for the Council on American Islamic Relations, had put out some information
that is quite distressing. I just want to cite a couple of things that they've received more than 1,200 calls for help. This is in the context of
the war that's happening right now, and that's a 216 percent increase over the previous year. Essentially, people are calling into this organization
talking about anti-Arab bias in their lives. And what's your reaction to that? Have you been experiencing this?
EL-HADDAD: Unfortunately, it doesn't surprise me. I have personally experienced this. I, myself -- along with my daughter, I was attending a
rally in Rockville, Maryland last week where -- a very peaceful rally, calling for a cease fire, where directly adjacent to us was a very vocal
vitriolic counter protest that were shouting at us.
And as you can see, I'm very visibly Muslim. Things like animals, barbarians, we're going to take your heads go back home. Murderous Muslims
will kill your brothers. You're not welcome here and on and on. My own daughter experienced this when she was walking in Washington, D.C. a few
weeks ago. She also wears hijab and somebody yelled at her baby murderer.
She has faced significant pushback at her school here in Howard County, Maryland as well in trying to organize something as simple as a walkout to
call for a ceasefire. I've received hate mail in my actual mailbox. Calling on Israel to kill every expletive, I don't want to say, who gives birth --
basically any woman who gives birth to future rats and, threatening words, saying to kill them all.
This has become, unfortunately, the new normal, or I should say abnormal in our lives. We remain vigilant. But the unfortunate reality is at a time
when I should be grieving my family -- and I've lost several family members in Gaza, direct family, as well as dozens of extended family -- I'm having
to look over my back.
And, you know, while it doesn't surprise me, the real problem here again is the way that the administration has gone about this. And it's a direct
result, I would say, of the dehumanizing and racist rhetoric that Israel has been using to justify its massacres in Gaza that then our
administration here has essentially been promoting regurgitating a lot of these lies. And that has a direct impact effect on not only Muslim-
Americans and Palestinians, but as well as Arab-Americans and a lot of people of color as well, who are none of the above.
SREENIVASAN: Why do you think it is that Muslim Americans end up being the targets?
EL-HADDAD: I think the unfortunate reality is that while hate attacks and hate rhetoric of any kind is reprehensible, and I want to say that loud and
clear, it's my feeling that Palestinian, Arab, Muslim lives matter less to this administration and are therefore not highlighted, as much than non-
Palestinian, Arab and Muslim lives.
?I think that a lot of it has to do with othering, right? It's this idea also that, you know, we're not a monolithic group. When I say, we, often
what happens is when you have something, when you have -- when you see something like what happened to Gaza and when you see this dehumanizing
racist rhetoric being rolled out by the Israelis, that then has a direct impact on media coverage and disinformation that is then repeated by our
administration, that has a direct impact on our communities here. And our communities could be Palestinian, Muslim or Christian, it could be Arab,
non-Palestinian, and they could be brown, people of color who aren't even Muslim at all.
I've had a lot of my friends from the South Asian community here in Maryland who are sick and others, who have been at the receiving end of
hate attacks as well. And so, it's this othering, I think, that contributes to this reality that you mentioned.
SREENIVASAN: You were in the United States after 9/11, and it seems that we're -- I'm going over some of those same roads.
EL-HADDAD: That's right. I was here during 9/11. I was actually in Boston and I was a graduate student. And they were terrifying times. I won't lie,
especially, for Muslims who were not U.S. citizens, it was difficult for everyone. But I felt particularly vulnerable as a stateless Palestinian and
was myself detained and threatened with deportation to where I have no idea at some point while I was pregnant with my son in Logan Airport. I'll never
forget those days ever.
And I tell that story to my children over and over to teach them to be resilient, to teach them to speak out, to teach them to seek due process. I
actually filed complaints against the FBI and that bore fruit, to teach them never to give up. And I -- the message I give them, especially my
daughter is the struggle is long and it is real and it is necessary.
So, don't give up and don't get too comfortable because you have to not only speak out on behalf of yourself and your people, but on anyone who is
the victim of a grave injustice and -- of which there are many that our government here has perpetrated. And so, that's, in summary, the message I
give her without victimizing her in any way or giving her this mentality that she's somehow a victim. But to be vigilant and to be alert and to be
vocal and to advocate for herself and for others.
SREENIVASAN: You've called this time period your daughter's 9/11. What do you mean by that?
EL-HADDAD: I think this really hit home for her for the first time, meaning what was happening to Gaza and to her family in Gaza and how that
was directly related to herself here as a young Palestinian, visibly Muslim-American. And so, I call it her coming of age moment in the sense
that she was suddenly in the throes of all of this, at the receiving end of hateful vitriol that was being hurled at her at the receiving end of
intimidating tactics as she was trying to do something as simple as, you know, call for an end to hostilities.
And she couldn't believe that this was happening and I -- you know, I didn't want to tell her, well, welcome to the club, but that's why I call
it her coming of age moment. She suddenly realized this is real and there are real threats and, you know, people will say things to her that are mean
and hateful and try to silence her when she simply tries to speak out in support of freedom and equality for her people.
So, this is the unfortunate reality we live in, but again, it's a moment that I hope she will learn from and, you know, a teachable moment. It's
unfortunate that it had to come in this way. And I don't wish that upon anyone, obviously.
SREENIVASAN: Palestinian author and activist Laila El-Haddad, thanks so much for joining us.
EL-HADDAD: It was my pleasure. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And we cover the troubling rise of antisemitism around the world on this program, of course. And we want to try to use this platform to be a
constructive place of solutions and to show our common and shared humanity. We want to try to get beyond the fear, the hate and the tribalism.
Finally, tonight. New Zealand has chosen its bird of the century after a spirited campaign by an unlikely foreign influencer. Sporting a giant
orange costume, talk show host, John Oliver, led the Puteketeke to victory after finding a loophole that allowed anyone in the world to cast a vote.
He went on late night television to explain what drew this comedian to a lark like this. He says, the weird puking birds with colorful mullets are
so easy to love.
Oliver's efforts smashed voting records and elbowed out the Kiwi, which is New Zealand's national bird from the top spot, which of course ruffled a
few feathers there. The contest aims to raise awareness of threats to New Zealand's native birds. And with fewer than a thousand remaining in the
country, the P?teketeke is a worthy winner. Ad it's got quite a name, brings a smile to your face alone.
And a quick programming note, on Saturday, you can watch the brand new "Amanpour Hour" from 11:00 a.m. on America's East Coast and 5:00 p.m. in
Central Europe. We'll bring you context, conversation, analysis of our world with newsmakers and cultural icons and the best of CNN in the field,
also from my archive. I also take questions about events, shaping our future. So, scan the QR code on your screen or e-mail email@example.com.
"The Amanpour Hour" airs Saturdays, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, 5:00 p.m. Central Europe, only here on CNN.
And that's it. Thanks for watching. Goodbye from London.