The world needs to understand that Hamas is “a brutal terrorist organization, [and] that it’s only starting with Israel,” Sawsan Hasson says.
According to Hasson, head of public diplomacy at the Embassy of Israel in Washington, Hamas’ leaders have been quite vocal that they plan to carry out similar acts of violence against the United States and Americans.
The Daily Signal spoke with Hasson at the Israeli Embassy after a screening of a 45-minute film containing raw footage of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. It was Hasson’s third time watching the film, but she was still visibly shaken.
The embassy official says she and all of the people of Israel have a very clear message for America, and it’s a call to bring the hostages “back home now.”
Hasson joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to explain what Israel’s key objective in the war is, and what’s known about the hostage negotiations.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: It’s my pleasure today to be joined by Sawsan Hasson. She serves as the head of public diplomacy for the Embassy of Israel. And … at the embassy in Washington, D.C., we have just watched a really hard film to watch that contains incredibly graphic images and video of what happened on Oct. 7 when Hamas attacked Israel. It’s hard to know what to say after seeing those images. How are you processing what has happened in your country on Oct. 7?
Sawsan Hasson: I would start by saying, oh my God. This is the third time that I watched the film. Until now, we had, unfortunately, several screenings. And I’m saying unfortunately because no one should see this, no one should be in this. And I’m feeling that I’m still shaking. I feel like I still need to take a breath, to have a drop of water, and to relax and to breathe, because my heart is beating so hard. And I believe that everyone who was here today at this screening feels the same.
And it’s us here, thousands of miles away from Israel. So only imagine what happened to the people there, to the victims who suffered this brutality, to the children who have seen their parents being killed, to the elderly who were kidnapped. And to people who were having their normal morning of Saturday, praying at the same day when we had Sukkot holiday, having their usual breakfast in the morning, meeting with their families. And in a second, being in such a brutal and barbaric way killed, raped, burned alive.
I can’t even imagine what people are going through in Israel. I know what I’m going through.
Allen: Do you know any of those who were killed or taken hostage on Oct. 7?
Hasson: My husband knows several of them. There’s so many sad stories. And I met several family members who visited Washington and more who were coming to visit us. We are in direct touch as an embassy with them. We’re all dedicated, each diplomat here at the embassy, to be with them and to help them to bring their family members, their dear beloved people back home.
Allen: When you talk with them, what are the family members of the hostages, family members who have lost loved ones, what are they saying to you? And are they speaking about what they would like to see from America?
Hasson: They have a very, one strong message: Bring them back home now. This is what they expect everyone to do, including our best and strongest ally, United States.
Allen: How is the process going, as far as working with the United States? How have you seen that relationship over the past five weeks play out between Israel and America? What are the things that you think President [Joe] Biden is doing well? What are areas that you think we can do better?
Hasson: United States was there for us from the first moment. The support, the strong statements that came out from President Biden and his administration are very valuable and precious to us and to our existence in the Middle East. The support we have got in order to give a clear message to our enemies, and on the top of them is Iran: Don’t. Don’t think to interfere in this, don’t get involved. Don’t escalate the situation. And that we stand with Israel.
They are very, very important and strong messages. And we see that the whole civilized world is standing with us. They do realize that it’s not a war of the state of Israel. This is a brutal terrorist organization, that it’s only starting with Israel. And we should win this war that did not start. It’s a strategic win for United States and our other allies in the Western community.
Allen: What do you mean when you say, “For Hamas, it only starts with Israel”?
Hasson: The leaders were quite vocal that we’re starting only with Israelis and will continue to United States, to Americans. In fact, there were a lot, more than 40 foreign citizens who were killed or kidnapped in this war by Hamas terrorists. And this is absolutely like al-Qaeda or ISIS. It starts in one point and if it’s not being controlled immediately and demolished, it will continue to reach each one of us.
Allen: I think many people in America have been a little bit surprised from what we’ve seen, in regards to pro-Hamas support, and specifically young people coming out in support of Palestine and on college campuses. What do you think they’re not understanding about the whole picture, about this situation, and the relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians?
Hasson: I will ask them a simple question, “Do you know what you are repeating in the Israelis? Do you know what you’re saying? You are eliminating a whole state, a state of Israel, which was established 75 years back by a U.N. decision that was done in the Security Council and in the U.N. member states. We are a part of an international community. Is this what you are, citizens of United States, of the free world calling for, to eliminate a whole democratic state? Because you are responding and repeating statements coming out from Hamas, from a terrorist organization, that we just were witnessing what they have done by their own records. Is this who you are?”
I don’t believe these are Americans and who are educated in the United States on freedom and liberty and human dignity values. This is not true. I want you to go and search. Search what you are rallying for.
We don’t have any problem with the Palestinians. We have never had a problem with the Palestinians. We’re having problem with terrorist organizations, which is controlling the whole Gaza Strip and using your own money, the American money that was sent for aids. And the European money that was sent for them, for education, for health, for agriculture, and for culture being used to dig tunnels, to be used by the terrorists to kill Israelis, Americans, and others.
“Is this what you’re rallying for?” This is my simple question to them.
Allen: Amid even seeing pro-Palestine protests here in Washington, D.C., have you had any concerns for your own safety working here at the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C.?
Hasson: We had a rally here in front of the embassy a few weeks ago. I was at the embassy that night and I’ve seen what they were calling for. There were people who covered their head, their faces calling for a third intifada, calling for Palestine from the river to the sea, which is elimination of the state of Israel, calling for Shaheed suicide bombers.
Believe me, none of us would like to be in such kind of a situation, especially that we know that when they call for that, they do it. And they did it already.
We had several cases around United States of antisemitic and anti-Israeli aggressive acts. And this is going through the whole community. People are supporting, they need to understand, they’re supporting terrorism, they’re supporting crimes by doing so.
And this makes me worried, worried to see this huge increase of antisemitism and antisemitic incidents here in the United States supported by people who should have believed in liberal and freedom values. And attacking others only because of their ethnicity or only because of religious reasons.
Allen: So, of course, in response to Hamas’ attack on Israel, Israel, on Oct. 7, declared war on Hamas. What is the end goal?
Hasson: The end goal is to destroy Hamas capabilities to be a threat for the Israeli citizens. We have our duty to protect our own people. This is our goal. We do not want to take control over Gaza Strip. We left it back in 2005. We have nothing to do there and we don’t want to be there.
We want to protect the Palestinians, the innocent citizens. This is why we called them to go to the south in order to find a shelter, because Hamas is using them as human shields. We want to have that area controlled by a civilized power. And this is what we are calling for. We do not want to stay there. We want to leave the moment we finish our mission to destroy Hamas.
Allen: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the exact same thing. He’s made that very clear that the Israeli government doesn’t want to control, doesn’t want to rule the Gaza Strip. I’ve heard other news outlets, though, discussing, “Well, then, who would step in and rule that area?” Are there thoughts on what that would look like moving forward? Who would be in control? If Hamas is eliminated, who would control the Gaza Strip and rule?
Hasson: So, we are in touch on this issue with United States, with the European countries. Palestinian authority should be a mechanism that provides safety and security for the Palestinians and the Israelis. And I believe that a solution and suggestion would come. This is something that is being discussed in the high strategic levels. But it is definitely clear that it cannot be ruled by Hamas.
Allen: What is your message to the American people? What do we need to be aware of and thinking about in the coming days, weeks, and months, as we continue to hear reports about what’s happening both in Israel and in Gaza?
Hasson: I have actually three messages. The first one, I stand with Israel means I stand with United States. The second one, bring them back home now. All the Americans, all the Israeli hostages, and the other foreigners, they should come back home now with no conditions. And the third one, we all stand together against antisemitism.
Allen: I want to ask one quick follow-up question related to your second message with the hostages. Do we have any sense on how negotiations are going and who are the players who are leading those hostage negotiations, and if any progress is being made at all?
Hasson: We read a lot about it in the news. I would say only one message, we want them back home now.
Allen: Thank you for your time today.
Hasson: Thank you.
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