Why Do You Call it an Occupation? (with Phyllis Bennis)

In this episode, we call upon Middle East expert Phyllis Bennis to answer our most persistent audience questions stemming from our recent series set in the occupied West Bank. We ask, and she answers, questions like “Why do you call what is happening in this part of the world an occupation? What makes it an occupation and not something else?”

Welcome back to Talking Human Rights and to a special audience Q&A episode featuring our guest, Phyllis Bennis. Phyllis Bennis is an expert on the Middle East, on U.S. foreign policy, and on militarism. Phyllis Bennis is the author and editor of eleven books, including five primers on the Middle East.  Phyllis Bennis is also a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies where she directs the New Internationalism Project, focusing on a range of issues involving the Middle East and United Nations.

We invited Phyllis Bennis here today, because, on the heels of our four-episode series centering on the Palestinian activist Issa Amro, we are getting some audience questions!  Some are asking about the campaign of legal harassment that has been launched against Issa, including his trials before an Israeli military court and before a Palestinian Authority court. Others are asking what people can do to help Issa, and targeted activists like him. We will address all of these questions in subsequent episodes, drawing on a range of experts and their expertise.

But first, we want to address the most persistent question we are getting, which regards the status of the West Bank, where Issa lives and works, and is targeted on a daily basis. That question is, When you talk about the West Bank, why do you keep saying it is under occupation? What makes what is happening there an occupation instead of…something else?



If you would like to dig deeper on the issues we discussed in this episode, and hear more from our guest Phyllis Bennis, we suggest the following resources:

For basics on Israel/Palestine, no matter your level of expertise, check out Phyllis Bennis’ Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer, now in its seventh edition.

For a discussion of the connections and parallels between racial injustice in the U.S., and oppression in Palestine, see Phyllis Bennis’ Why Palestinians Are Mourning George Floyd.

For more on the amputations epidemic resulting from the targeting of non-violent demonstrators in Gaza, see UN reporting here and Phyllis Bennis’ article on the subject here.

Going back in time a bit, we highly recommend listening to this interview, given in 1999 by Phyllis Bennis on the show Democracy Now!, where she reports on the state of Iraqi medical facilities after leading a delegation of Congressional staffers there to assess the impact of almost a decade of U.N. sanctions against the country. She references this trip in our interview, apropos of questions of Palestinian access to medical care in the occupied territories. 


In this Episode...

Heather Roberson Gaston

Talking Human Rights host and creator Heather Roberson Gaston is a writer, adviser, and educator in the field of human rights. She holds an undergraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of California at Berkeley; a Master’s in Human Rights from Columbia University; and a Certificate in the Advanced Study of Central and Eastern Europe from the Harriman Institute, also at Columbia University.

Heather co-authored Macedonia: What Does it Take to Stop a War? a graphic novel based on an early solo research trip to the Balkans as an undergraduate. She is now working on a narrative work exploring the many lives and deaths of the Israeli-Palestinian peace movement, for which she spent the better part of a year living and working in Israel and the West Bank.

Phyllis Bennis

Phyllis Bennis is an expert on the Middle East, U.S. foreign policy, and militarism. She has written and edited eleven books, including five primers on the Middle East. (Her Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer is now in its seventh edition.)

Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies where she leads the New Internationalism Project, focusing on issues involving the Middle East and United Nations.  She is also a fellow of the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute. She sits on the board of Jewish Voice for Peace and works with numerous anti-war and Palestinian rights organizations. She frequently appears on U.S. and international media outlets such as al Jazeera, BBC, NPR, and more.

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