The territory of Gaza is once again drawing international attention to an escalation of violence that has already left more than 5,000 dead, including 1,400 Israelis and around 4,600 Palestinians, according to local authorities. O Commerce Newspaper interviewed the president of the Israeli Federation of Rio Grande do Sul (Firs), Márcio Chachamovich to find out his essment of the situation. The federation has represented the state’s Jewish community since 1904, and Chachamovich comments on his perception of regional destabilization and military responses.
Marcio Chachamovich – In my perception, Hamas’ terrorist act was more about returning to the scene, the political scene, because Israel had already been making agreements with Arab countries like Saudi Arabia. I believe this was one of several reasons. Other than the fact that it is a terrorist group, what they did has no explanation. Murdering the civilian population, children, the elderly, has no justification. I cannot use terror as a political form, I cannot use murder of the civilian population as a way to demand something.
JC – Israel is surrounded by countries that differ from its policies. How does this dynamic occur, is there a regional risk?
Chachamovich – No, but, until then, the relationship between neighbors was protocol, there were no problems in the surrounding area. It was exactly this act by Hamas that generated uncertainty and insecurity.
JC – What could this conflict mean for the internal politics of the Israeli government?
Chachamovich – I believe that, whenever there is an institutional rupture, or an external threat, this ends up affecting the government in power. As Hamas’ act caused many deaths and the overwhelming majority of them were civilians, children and women, I believe this could have some impact. But, in reality, we don’t have to think about that right now, now it’s time to try to rescue the victims kidnapped by Hamas who we hope are alive. This is a first step, the second step is to try to return to the normality that existed in the region. Always remembering that Hamas, as the terrorist group that it is, if at any point they want peace, they have to abandon their weapons and sit at the table. Without this, there is no way to have normality in the region. It is not possible for a terrorist group to invade a country, the only democracy in the Middle East, do what it did and not suffer any type of consequences. Even Hamas ends up doing harm to its own people. The Palestinians suffer at the hands of Hamas and I am absolutely certain that it does not represent the Palestinian population, not in Gaza or anywhere in the world.
JC – What was the Israeli government’s relationship with the inhabitants of Gaza before October 7th?
Chachamovich – Thousands of Palestinians cross the border every day to go to work in Israel, so it was a completely peaceful relationship. From one moment to the next, a terrorist group decides to literally spread terror in the region and end up destabilizing and generating everything that is happening. In fact, what Israel is doing now is nothing more than a retaliation, a defense mechanism. Israel is only counterattacking because it was attacked, if Hamas hadn’t carried out the terrorist attack and killed thousands of people, Israel certainly wouldn’t have done anything at all.
JC – It was announced by the government that there would be a brutal response to the attacks. What could this mean for the population living in Gaza? And in relation to the total siege, what does it mean and what is the difference with how it was before? Was there a partial siege?
Chachamovich – What there was was a border. People traveled, crossed borders every day for us to work. So there is no siege, as people like to say.
JC – Could you comment on the accusations of the use of strong weapons against the civilian population, such as the use of white phosphorus – considered a war crime – and attacks in hospital areas?
Chachamovich – Yes, a terrorist attack too, the murder of children and the elderly is also a war crime. But, in relation to these two accusations, I think an investigation needs to be carried out, especially because there are several versions and the narratives often end up being reversed. In the case of the hospital, for example, we don’t know yet, there are two versions, who is right? Only an impartial investigation will be able to tell. Both in relation to the attack at the hospital and any other. We cannot buy a narrative as being true, I can only be aware of what I am saying by knowing all the versions, not just one.
JC – How do you see the difference in international support for the sides, both governmental and popular, through protests?
Chachamovich – From what I have seen in the media, all civilized countries have condemned Hamas’ terrorist act. Regarding the marches in favor of the Palestinian population, I understand that they are completely legitimate. I think that the Palestinian population of the world has every right to protest, including against Hamas. Because what has become very clear is that the war being fought today is not against the Palestinian people, it is against the terrorist group Hamas. I think the demonstrations that come in favor of the Palestinian population are completely legitimate, but I would like to see these demonstrations also condemn Hamas, because if the Palestinian population does not condemn it, they will automatically be endorsing what happened – and I am absolutely certain that this is not the case. This is the thinking of the Palestinian population nor of the leaders. Hamas today imposes a dictatorship on Gaza. The Palestinian population is, in fact, hostage to Hamas.
JC – How do you see the Brazilian position in relation to what is happening? What do you believe Brazil’s role is as president of the rotating chair of the UN Security Council?
Chachamovich – Firstly, Brazil should consider Hamas a terrorist group, as it still does not recognize it. Regarding its position in the Security Council, I think that Brazil is a country that already has a history of pacifism, of non-violence, and it could help in a non-biased way and, I repeat, condemning the terrorist act without conditions. We cannot reverse the narratives, there was a terrorist act and that’s it. We have to be very clear about this. The consequences of the terrorist acts were Israel’s retaliation. If there had been no terrorist attack, there would have been no retaliation. I cannot justify it by saying that it was a desperate act of the oppressed against the oppressors. It was a terrorist act because they attacked the civilian population with the sole aim of killing people. This is very clear, I can’t see it any other way. And I also can’t understand how some people try to justify, or relativize or contextualize what happened. Terrorism is unjustifiable, I cannot use terrorism as political currency, nor can I use the victims who were kidnapped as bargaining chips. These are human lives that are in the hands of terrorists, the people who died had absolutely nothing to do with what happened.
JC – The last balance in relation to deaths was around 1,400 Israeli deaths and more than 4,000 Palestinians, how do you see this difference?
Chachamovich – Israel’s retaliation caused deaths, but those responsible for the deaths in Gaza are Hamas, they are the ones who generated this confrontation. If they loved their people, they would not have done this because they would have known that Israel would report back. Israel only attacked because it was attacked, so this issue of proportionality is very relative. If I know that my enemy is stronger than me, I will not attack him. Didn’t Hamas think of this? It’s obvious he thought, obviously he knew there would be retaliation. So this death toll has to be placed on Hamas’ shoulders.
JC – And in relation to the historical issue between Israel and Palestine, how do you see it leading to what is happening today?
Chachamovich – This issue dates back to the creation of the state of Israel, when the Arabs did not accept partition. There have been a series of conflicts, and all these conflicts generate instability, meaning that people end up being unable to reach peace. Peace will only come when people on both sides lay down their weapons. Now, what cannot happen is one side puts down its weapons and the other doesn’t.
JC – How do you evaluate the coverage of the conflict in the media?
Chachamovich – It varies a lot from vehicle to vehicle. What I usually say is that when there is retaliation from Israel, the narrative changes. Israel becomes the aggressor. I understand that, some vehicles don’t consider why this or that happened. I cannot want to condemn Israel for wanting to do what it is doing, for defending its people, its territory. I don’t know of any country in the world that receives 5,000 rockets and does nothing.
JC – The UN released a report in one of its agencies that, like other organizations, accused Israel of practicing apartheid in the territory – this statement was reinforced by the deputy secretary-general at the time, Rima Khalaf. What could you comment on these statements?
Chachamovich – I personally don’t agree, I believe it is a democratic country that respects everyone, makes no distinctions. There is no segregation like there was in South Africa, so in my understanding this position is more political.
JC – Some organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, and residents of the region have sometimes described Gaza as an open-air prison. What could you comment on this?
Chachamovich – I also don’t particularly agree with this narrative, there is no way to consider Gaza a prison, this statement seems to me to have more of a political connotation. So much so that Palestinians can move from one side to the other. Everyone who has work or is going to use services has access. It is not a prison where people are segregated and cannot leave. There are other exits, such as the border with Egypt. It has now been closed, it seems that they have now partially opened it for foreigners to leave. But the Egyptian government controls it, not Israel. Israel’s was open even before the conflict.