Yesterday Max Blumenthal reported on Israel’s arrest in East Jerusalem of relatives of Tariq Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian-American boy who was beaten in Jerusalem two weeks ago. The arrests came up during yesterday’s State Department briefing, by Jen Psaki, who said the U.S. was “deeply concerned” about the detention of family members without charge.
This dialogue begins at about 56:00
Matt Lee: And lastly, are you aware of reports that family members of the boy who was killed, the Palestinian teenager who was killed and apparently set on fire, who was the cousin of the American citizen who was beaten up, that they have been detained by Israelis? And if you are aware, do you have anything to say about this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are aware. Our Consulate General in Jerusalem has been following this incident closely. We understand that several family members were arrested without charges and placed in detention. As you know, by – as you know, we were shocked by the treatment of Tariq and strongly condemned any excessive use of force. We are deeply concerned about this latest development and reports and are closely tracking them on the ground.
QUESTION: Can I ask: What is the cause of your deep concern about these detentions?
MS. PSAKI: The arrests of family members without charges and the placement of them in detention, and certainly the backdrop here is of the treatment of their family member.
QUESTION: But – no, no. But have you – I mean, it is possible, is it not, that the Israelis have good reason to arrest these people. Right?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there were no charges filed.
QUESTION: Okay. So that’s the reason for your – have you made your deep concern clear directly to the Israelis?
MS. PSAKI: That is a good question. I’m happy to check on that. I know there – I believe we have, but let me make absolutely sure.
QUESTION: But not at the – it didn’t come up in the conversation between Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Netanyahu, right? It would be —
MS. PSAKI: Let me double-check for you, Matt, and just make sure.
QUESTION: Do you know – and do you have any details about when this happened?
MS. PSAKI: It was over the last couple of days. I don’t have a specific day for you, but we can get that as well.
QUESTION: Do you have a specific number of how many members of the family?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more information, but we can ascertain to get that.
QUESTION: All right. And then —
QUESTION: Jen —
QUESTION: — hold on a second – then can I ask: Why has the U.S. taken such – the Consulate General taken such a particular interest in this? Are any of them Americans? I – the cousin was, clearly, but is there some kind of U.S. – other than your – just your basic interest in human rights and rule of law, due process, et cetera, is there some kind of special American interest in this family?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware, though I can check on this with the group of questions that any of them are American citizens. We’ll check. But obviously we were deeply shocked by the treatment of their young family member. And certainly we’ve taken an interest in —
QUESTION: The one who was an American?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
MS. PSAKI: We’ve taken an interest in this case and certainly the treatment of family members would be of interest to our team on the ground.
QUESTION: So is it a – so the interest lies in the fact that these are relatives of the American citizen who was beaten up, or the interest lies because these are relatives of the Palestinian teenager who was killed?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I don’t want to pick one or the other. I think, Matt, that obviously we’ve seen the suffering that this family has gone through. Many of our officials have been able to get to know the family members, and certainly we’ve taken an interest.
QUESTION: See, I mean – following on that very point, I mean, most Palestinians that are arrested by the Israelis are arrested without charges. In fact, they languish year after year under administrative detention for a very, very long time. So why this particular case?
MS. PSAKI: I think I just answered that question, Said. Do you have another question?
QUESTION: I have plenty, but —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: — I think I’ll refrain.
The briefing was also interesting for discussion of Turkish P.M. Erdogan’s statement that Israel is conducting “genocide” against Palestinians in Gaza. And a reporter asking whether the killings of 300 Palestinians, many of them civilians, isn’t a genocide. At 1 hour in.
QUESTION: And today, Prime Minister Erdogan, while talking about the situation in Gaza, he said that Israel is applying state terror as well as undertaking a genocide in Gaza, is his quote. Do you have any view on – would you agree to this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, we believe his statements are offensive and wrong, and of course, this kind of provocative rhetoric is unhelpful and distracts from urgent efforts to bring about a ceasefire.
QUESTION: Is there a figure that would constitute a genocide? Is there a figure? How many people have to die before something can be termed a genocide – civilians?
MS. PSAKI: There’s a range of definitions, Said, but I don’t have any more information available for you.
QUESTION: Okay. Is the death of 300 Palestinians thus far in Gaza, most of them civilians, does that constitute a genocide in your view?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe we’ve called it that. It’s horrific that there have been losses of that many civilian lives.
QUESTION: But independent of the circumstances that are ongoing, would the death of, let’s say, 200 civilians or 150 civilians constitute genocide?
MS. PSAKI: I appreciate your line of questioning. I’m sure we can connect you with an expert on this particular issue, Said.
QUESTION: I don’t believe that you appreciate his line of questioning. I think that you —
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, I always appreciate Said.
QUESTION: Can I – just back on the Prime Minister Erdogan comments, these are pretty strong and, you said, offensive and wrong comments. Do you know if the – anyone from the Administration plans to take this up with either him or with Foreign Minister Davutoglu?
MS. PSAKI: I can certainly check and see if there – if that’s already happened or if there’s a plan otherwise.
QUESTION: Because it would seem to me Turkey is a NATO ally, it’s a country that the government has some relationship with Hamas, and I’m just wondering if you think that they – the Turks, given the comments of the prime minister, have forfeited a role to play in potentially negotiating a ceasefire, if they are showing so much – if their leader is coming out with comments that you find offensive and wrong about your ally, Israel.
MS. PSAKI: No. I think our view and what we’re continuing to convey to any country in the region, including Turkey, is that the most productive role they can play is supporting the Egyptian ceasefire proposal. When there are concerns we have about comments made or actions taken, even when it is a NATO ally, we certainly don’t hesitate to make those concerns known.
QUESTION: So you would say, then, that these comments mean that Turkey or the Government of Turkey is an obstacle rather than a – is an obstacle to peace or to a ceasefire rather than an active participant?
MS. PSAKI: I think I will leave it as I stated, that they’re unhelpful, but again, there’s a role that many countries can play in the region.
QUESTION: But you don’t think that they have forfeited their interest by coming —
MS. PSAKI: No, I don’t.
QUESTION: Just one more on Prime Minister Erdogan’s strong —
MS. PSAKI: We’ll go to you next, Said. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Speaking of Prime Minister Erdogan’s strong language, he also talk about there is a crusader movement – today, just a couple hours ago, he said that there’s a crusader against Islam being assembled by the West. And my question is: Does the U.S. play any kind of role in this crusade – new crusader against Islam – was stated by the prime minister again?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not even sure what that’s a reference to or what he meant by those comments, so —
QUESTION: Reference is again Gaza. What’s happening in Gaza according to Prime Minister Erdogan is a new crusader movement against Islam.
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s safe to say that is not an effort the U.S. is undergoing. No.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you, just to follow up on – back when – before this latest flare-up, whether what Israel is doing today is – falls under collective punishment.
MS. PSAKI: I think —
QUESTION: Would you agree that it falls under collective punishment?
MS. PSAKI: The President of the United States just spoke to this, Said. I don’t think I have anything more to add to it.