John Oliver condemns Israeli attacks on Gaza Strip: 'One side is suffering much more'

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A man gesturing in a suit
John Oliver speaks during the "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" panel during the 2018 HBO Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Beverly Hills. (Richard Shotwell / Associated Press)

During Sunday's episode of "Last Week Tonight," John Oliver addressed the ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip and discouraged the tendency to take "both sides" when discussing Israelis and Palestinians because "one side is suffering much more."

"If I may quote the riskiest thing you could possibly say on a first date, let's talk about Israel, because the biggest news of the week has obviously been this," Oliver began his late-night program, where he joined the ranks of other celebrities — including the Hadid sisters and actor Riz Ahmed — in supporting the Palestinians.

"There is a lot to unpack there, from the horror of the situation ... to the use of the phrase ’tit-for-tat war' in a conflict where ... one side has suffered over 10 times the casualties — something which speaks to both the severe power imbalance at play here and how that often gets obscured by how we choose to talk about it," he said.

Shortly before Sunday's installment of "Last Week Tonight" aired, Israeli airstrikes killed 10 family members in a refugee camp and, after giving occupants an hour's notice, destroyed the Jalaa building in Gaza, which housed media outlets the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, as well as apartment residents.

Israel's attack on the Jalaa building is among the latest developments in a recent struggle that has left more than 145 Palestinians dead in Gaza — including 41 children and 23 women — and eight dead on the Israeli side, including a 5-year-old child.

Last week, the Hamas militant group barraged Israel with rockets, the majority of which were blocked by an advanced antimissile defense system in Israel, which has responded by assaulting Palestinians in blockaded Gaza with deadly airstrikes.

The violence broke out after Israeli police fired stun grenades and a water cannon at Palestinians in the city. Palestinian protests there had been focused on the violent police raid of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and the threatened expulsion of dozens of Palestinian families from the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood by Jewish settlers.

"It is true that militants from Palestinian groups like Hamas fired over 1,000 rockets toward Israel this week, and that is reprehensible, but ... the majority of those rockets thankfully didn't reach their targets for a very clear reason," Oliver said.

"While most of the rockets aimed toward Israeli citizens this week were intercepted, Israel's airstrikes were not. They hit their targets, including a ... 13-story office and apartment building. And while Israel insisted there were military targets in that building, and they destroyed it as humanely as possible — even warning people to evacuate beforehand — for the record, destroying a civilian residence sure seems like a war crime, regardless of whether you send a courtesy 'Heads up' text."

Oliver also touched on Sheik Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem where Jewish settlers have threatened to forcibly remove dozens of Palestinian families from their homes. In recent days, widespread protests to #SaveSheikJarrah and #FreePalestine from Israeli occupation have been held in the United States and abroad.

"Sanitized terms like 'evictions' or 'property disputes,'" Oliver said, are accurate "only on a very superficial level, in that one day you live somewhere, the next day you don't, and that change wasn't your choice. But it doesn't tell the whole story. It's like running a headline that says, 'Matt Gaetz reaches out to Florida youth.' Sure, not inaccurate, but it's missing some pretty crucial details about the exact nature of that interaction."

While elaborating on Israel's "indefensible" governance of the Palestinians — which he classified as a form of apartheid — Oliver also criticized the United States' long-standing support of Israel. On Wednesday, President Biden said that "Israel has a right to defend itself" from the Hamas rockets, in line with similar stances taken by past U.S. presidents.

"Multiple children have been killed this week — eight in a single strike just yesterday — and the U.S. is heavily implicated here, not just by serving as Israel's diplomatic shield at the U.N. but by constantly refusing to criticize the indefensible," Oliver said.

"Look, there is a real tendency, particularly in America, to both-sides this situation. And I'm not saying that there aren't some areas where that's warranted, but it's important to recognize there are also areas where it's simply not. Both sides are firing rockets, but one side has one of the most advanced militaries in the world. Both sides are suffering heartbreaking casualties, but one side is suffering them exponentially."

Oliver concluded his segment by calling on the United States to "seriously consider changing its long-held position" on Israel and the Palestinians.

"Hamas doesn't represent all Palestinians, just as what Israel is doing right now doesn't represent all Israelis — or indeed Jewish people. Lots is complicated here. But some things are pretty simple. One side is suffering much more," Oliver said. "For decades, the backbone of America's policy in the Middle East has been that America is an unwavering friend to Israel ... but at the end of the day, I would hope that a real friend would tell me when I'm being an a—, and definitely when I'm committing a f— war crime."

Oliver is far from the only celebrity to voice his support for besieged Palestinians in Gaza over the past week. Many Hollywood luminaries — including Ahmed, Gigi and Bella Hadid, Mark Ruffalo, Indya Moore and Halsey — have advocated for Palestinians on social media.

Supermodel Bella Hadid, who is of Palestinian descent, was spotted Saturday in New York City among protesters demanding human rights for Palestinians. Israel later accused Hadid on Twitter of "advocating for the elimination of the Jewish State."

"I stand with my Palestinian brothers and sisters," Bella Hadid wrote Saturday on Instagram. "I will protect and support you as best as I can. I LOVE YOU. I feel for you. And I cry for you. I wish I could take away your pain. ... To the Tetas and jidos that have built homes for their families , that they will never be able to live in again. I see you. I hear you. I cry for you. And I am in pain for you."

Others, including "The Big Bang Theory" alum Mayim Bialik and "Wonder Woman" star Gal Gadot, have defended Israel. Wednesday on Twitter, Gadot released a statement arguing that "Israel deserves to live as a free and safe nation," as do "our neighbors," without naming Palestinians directly.

"This is a vicious cycle that has been going on for far too long," Gadot wrote. "Israel deserves to live as a free and safe nation, Our neighbors deserve the same. I pray for the victims and their families, I pray for this unimaginable hostility to end, I pray for our leaders to find the solution so we could live side by side in peace."

Remarks from the "Justice League" actress, who is Israeli and previously served a mandatory stint in the Israel Defense Forces, were met with a swift backlash.

"This should've just stayed at the back of your brain," one person tweeted. "It's not a war when one country is the aggressor, tearing down homes, killing innocent people. It's not a war when one country is an apartheid state. Your country is committing genocide. That's what's up."

Associated Press reporters Ares Akram and Lee Keath contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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