President Biden is in Israel as part of a four-day trip to the Middle East, where he reaffirmed his support for Israel despite growing disapproval among members of the Democratic Party over the state’s brutal treatment of Palestinians. The Biden administration faces criticism over plans to build a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on land that was illegally confiscated by Israel from Palestinians in 1948, as well as the State Department’s whitewashed investigation of Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing, which multiple other independent investigations have determined was caused by an Israeli bullet. “By not engaging in dismantling the structures of discrimination and oppression … that Israel maintains, the United States is in fact supporting those structures,” says historian Rashid Khalidi, whose family is among the Palestinians whose seized lands are set to be used for the embassy.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Biden arrived in Israel Wednesday to begin a four day visit that also includes a stop in Saudi Arabia. Israel’s interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid held a red carpet ceremony as Biden landed in Tel Aviv, giving him what The New York Times called a “rapturous welcome,” calling him “our brother Joseph.” Meanwhile, Biden vowed to deepen Israel’s ties with the U.S.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Now, as president, I’m proud to say that our relationship with the state of Israel is deeper and stronger, in my view, than it’s ever been. And with this visit, we’re strengthening our connections even further. We have reaffirmed the unshakable commitment of the United States to Israel’s security, including partnering with Israel on the most cutting-edge defense systems in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Today President Biden met with Prime Minister Lapid about Iran’s nuclear program and the war in Ukraine. The U.S. and Israel are expected to announce a joint declaration building on past calls to take military action to halt Iran’s nuclear program.
Biden and Lapid will also participate in the first-ever — they just did — the first-ever I2U2 virtual summit. “I2U2” stands for India, Israel, the UAEUnited States. That’s along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Emirati President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Biden will visit the West Bank and meet with President Mahmoud Abdul Basar on Friday. Ahead of Biden’s trip, activists hung banners in Bethlehem that read, “Mr. President, this is apartheid.” This is Kareem Jubran with the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
KAREEM JUBRAN: [translated] This campaign by B’Tselem, which involves hanging banners reading, “Mr. President, this is apartheid,” identifies Israel as a country of apartheid. We hold the American government responsible for the support of the Israeli apartheid regime. As a democratic country, the United States of America should press for an end of this system.
AMY GOODMAN: Biden’s first visit to the Middle East as president is also aimed at normalizing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. On Friday, Biden will fly to Saudi Arabia for talks with Saudi officials, which we’ll discuss more later in the broadcast.
First, the Biden administration must cancel plans to build an American embassy in Jerusalem. The move comes after a Palestinian legal team revealed that the proposed diplomatic compound would be built on land Israel illegally confiscated from Palestinians in 1948. Historical documents were made public by the Palestinian legal group Adalah ahead of Biden’s trip to Israel and the occupied West Bank.
For more, we’re joined by Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian American professor who’s a descendant of some of the owners of these properties. Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said professor of modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, is the author of several books, including his most recent. The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine. He’s joining us from near Aix-en-Provence in France.
Professor Khalidi, Welcome Back Democracy Now! Why don’t we start there, around this issue of the proposed U.S. embassy, already very controversial, being built in Jerusalem, and the property that it is proposed to be built on?
RASHID KHALIDI: Right. As you know, Adalah, a Palestinian civil rights legal organization, has created a series of documents that show the ownership of our family as well as a number other families who have owned this land since before 1948. The U.S. government actively infringes on the property rights and property rights of the legitimate owners, who are U.S citizens, by planning to build on our property as well as the property of all these families. So, that, in a nutshell, is what’s going on. This is something that wouldn’t happen anywhere else in the world, if a regime illegitimately seized the property of U.S. citizens.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Could you explain why this land was chosen? What are the families requesting, including yours?
RASHID KHALIDI: Right. It is now empty, and has been since 1948, when it was used as the headquarters of British military in Palestine. In those days, it was known as the Allenby Barracks. And until 1948, when the British military occupied it — and, in fact, even after that — Britain paid all of the owners rent. Members of my family — my uncle Walid, my cousin Ikram — were receiving rent from the British government for this property well into the 1950s. So, this is a — it’s a large tract. It’s more than seven acres. It has multiple owners, including my family.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re actually showing the deeds. These are your words. And what was the response from the United States?
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, it’s interesting. These are items Adalah found in Israeli archives. They are rental agreements between British Ministry of War and different owners of different families. And so they’re proof that this was property that was owned by these — by our family and these other families right up to 1948. And, indeed, as I said, I was talking with one of my cousins. She said that her father was getting rent from the British well into his 50s. This was our property. It was rented to us by the British and other families.
What the families want is very simple. We demand that the United States stop building an embassy on our land. This is our land. It’s not the property of the state of Israel to give or rent or lease to the United States.
This has been discussed before. This was a plan that the Israeli government had in place back in 1990. In 1999, I wrote to Secretary of State Albright on behalf the owners of this property. In fact, I provided the U.S. government evidence of our collective ownership of this property. And we asked at that time that they — first of all, they not do this, and we asked for a meeting, which of course we never got. However, we did receive a reply from the State Department after many months. It stated that they understood our request and had filed the information. This is our property, so our government knows. And if they don’t, they should know, because I wrote them a letter on behalf of the families back in October 1999. And we sent — we didn’t send this new information. Adalah has discovered new information. We sent the information we had at that time in 1999. And the plan stopped dead at that point — whether because of our intervention or for some other reason, I really don’t know.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Professor Khalidi is now there. Do you expect the question of the U.S. Embassy to come up — the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem to come up at all?
RASHID KHALIDI: It should appear on at least two levels. The United States has placed the U.S. Embassy at Jerusalem, in violation of resolutions of United Nations. It voted for Jerusalem to be an International City and that nothing be done in Jerusalem that could jeopardize its final status. By building an American embassy in Jerusalem, the United States is breaking its own policies. In addition, they are violating the property rights of U.S citizens by doing so.
So, we demand that they not do this first. And we’re — obviously, Adalah will be going forward on behalf of the various families to try and make Israel obey its own laws, which say that if owners of so-called absentee property — that’s basically stolen property. Let’s use the correct term. The legal term in Israel is “absentee property.” There are members of my family living, you know, a kilometer away, so how are they absentees? In any case, the Israeli government must follow its own laws and the custodian of the absentee property (so-called), must return the property to its rightful owners. I don’t expect that to happen, but I hope that during this visit the president will be confronted, hopefully by a journalist or someone else, with the fact that the U.S. is about to build on land that belongs to U.S. citizens, among others.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Professor Khalidi, Biden is expected to meet Palestinians tomorrow, possibly just Mahmoud Abbas, but he’s expected not to revive peace discussions as previous presidents have done. Could you expand on this? What do we know of what’s likely to be the focus of discussions tomorrow, Friday?
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, I think that what the president is supposed to do, according to the news reports I’ve seen, is to throw a few charity bones to the Palestinians. This administration’s policy is to provide security and freedom for both Israelis as well as Palestinians. This policy is actually for Israel only, but not for Palestinians. By not engaging in dismantling the structures of discrimination and oppression — which someone rightly called apartheid — that Israel maintains, the United States is in fact supporting those structures.
In other words, the United States supports a discriminatory, racist regime by not launching peace talks. This gives Israelis the right of access to the beach at any time they wish, but West Bank residents need to obtain Israel’s permission. So Palestinians in their own country are arrested — my brother’s son-in-law was arrested the other day simply for trying to go to the beach in his own country. Why? He didn’t have a permit from Israel. That’s the kind of racism, that’s the kind of discrimination, which the president, by not opening up all of these political issues, is in fact supporting, with our tax dollars, with American diplomatic support, with American weapons.
I hope that these issues will be discussed with the president. Those are the really important issues — equality for Palestinians and Israelis, equality of security, equality in terms of freedom and rights. And that’s what we don’t have right now. We have a systemic, legalized inequalities; a racist, discriminatory system.