LA Jews for Peace and friends make their voices heard in front of the Federal building on the 1 year anniversary of Israel’s Operation “Castlead ”
The Power Of Propaganda
LA Jews for Peace and friends make their voices heard in front of the Federal building on the 1 year anniversary of Israel’s Operation “Castlead ”
The Power Of Propaganda
Ben White, The Electronic Intifada, 28 July 2009
|A Palestinian UN worker inspects debris after an Israeli air strike on a UN school in Gaza where civilians were seeking refuge, 17 January 2009. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)|
This month marked six months since the “official” conclusion to Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip, “Operation Cast Lead.” From 27 December to 18 January, the might of the one of the world’s strongest militaries laid waste to a densely-packed territory of 1.4 million Palestinians without an escape route.
The parallel propaganda battle fought by Israel’s official and unofficial apologists continued after the ceasefire, in a desperate struggle to combat the repeated reports by human rights groups of breaches of international law. This article will look at some of the strategies of this campaign of disinformation, confusion, and lies — and the reality of Israel’s war crimes in the Gaza Strip. Very early on in Operation Cast Lead, the scale of Israel’s attack became apparent. In just the first six days the Israeli Air Force carried out more than 500 sorties against targets in the Gaza Strip. That amounted to an attack from the air roughly every 18 minutes — not counting hundreds of helicopter attacks, tank and navy shelling, and infantry raids. All of this on a territory similar in size to the US city of Seattle.
Israeli soldiers’ accounts of the fighting last winter further undermine the official rationale of the war.
March 26, 2009
The soldier had served as a squad commander during the Israeli army’s invasion of the Gaza Strip last winter. His unit was assigned to advance into Gaza City. His initial orders, he recalled, were that after an armored vehicle broke down the door of a building, his men were to enter, spraying fire: “I call it murdering … going up one floor after another, and anyone we spot, shoot him.” The word from his higher-ups was that anyone who hadn’t fled the neighborhood could be assumed to be a terrorist. The orders fit a pattern: In Gaza, “as you know, they used lots and lots of force and killed lots and lots of people on the way so that we wouldn’t be hurt,” he said.
Before the operation began, he recounted, the orders were softened. The building’s occupants would be given five minutes to leave and be searched on their way out. When he told his squad, some soldiers objected. “Anyone there is a terrorist; that’s a fact,” one said. The squad commander was upset. “It’s pretty frustrating that inside Gaza you’re allowed to do what you want,” he explained at a discussion in February among graduates of the Yitzhak Rabin Academy, a pre-army training course.
A transcript from that gathering, published in an academy newsletter, reached the Israeli media late last week. (The full Hebrew text is here; a Ha’aretz report in English is here.) Predictably, it set off a storm. In contrast to earlier criticism of the Gaza campaign, this time charges of disregard for civilians’ lives came not from Palestinians or the foreign media but from Israeli soldiers. Their testimony challenged the story of the war that is widely accepted in Israel and indicated a change, apparently dictated from above, in the Israel Defense Forces’ rules for fighting.
The soldiers who spoke at the academy hadn’t served together and weren’t talking about a breakdown in a single unit. Instead, they described an atmosphere in which “the lives of Palestinians were, let’s say much less important than the lives of our soldiers,” as one put it. Every civilian was presumed dangerous, a potential suicide bomber. In one segment of the testimony that received wide media attention, a soldier told of marksmen shooting a mother and her two children after they took a wrong turn as they fled their home. (In response, the army hastily announced that the brigade commander had investigated and that the marksmen had only fired warning shots, without harming the mother and children.)
There were counter-instances. A soldier identified as Binyamin (not his real name) described leading a patrol along the fence between Israel and Gaza. If the soldiers saw a Palestinian come within 300 meters of the fence, the orders were to treat him as a potential terrorist: Shoot in the air; if the “suspect” didn’t flee, shoot at his legs; then, if necessary, shoot to kill. But the 300-meter zone included farm land. Binyamin spotted an old man working in the fields. At first, the patrol’s marksman fired over the farmer’s head. The old man, apparently inured to gunfire, didn’t respond. Binyamin and the marksman looked at each other. “We simply understood that neither of us … wanted a farmer on our conscience.” The patrol drove on. Telling the story, Binyamin added, “Anyone who thinks I hurt Israeli security can come talk to me afterward.” His defensive tone suggested that his restraint was an exception to the wider atmosphere during the Gaza fighting.
Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” in Gaza began with an air campaign in late December, followed by the ground invasion in early January. The immediate catalyst was heavy rocket fire from the Hamas-ruled Strip at southern Israeli communities, after a six-month ceasefire between Hamas and Israel ran out. (The actual chain reaction leading to war was more complex, as I wrote at the time.) From the start, Israel deflected charges of causing excessive civilian casualties with several arguments: Palestinian casualty figures were inflated; many of the supposed civilians were really combatants; and by fighting from within urban areas, Hamas had turned the civilian population into human shields. The Israeli army also feared that nearly anyone in Gaza could be a suicide bomber. None of those arguments should be dismissed out of hand. The Palestinians were also engaged in a public-relations battle. Hamas did base itself in urban areas, and it is infamous for its use of suicide bombers.
Most Israelis regarded the war as defensive, and the reports from Gaza have gained little traction in the Israeli domestic arena. The soldiers’ accounts may boost domestic criticism. As one of the soldiers commented, their experience reflected “a change in the rules for ‘purity of arms’” — meaning military ethics — compared to previous Israeli wars. Another soldier explained massive use of firepower as a response to Israel’s heavy casualties in the Second Lebanon War of 2006. “The intent was … to protect soldiers’ lives,” he said.
Any army will seek to minimize its losses. That said, the Israeli army does have a code of ethics that demands a balance between protecting its own forces and avoiding harm to noncombatants. If the code were not simply violated but superseded by new orders this time, a critical question is, who gave the orders — mid-level commanders, the top brass, or the country’s political leaders?
One lesson that generals and politicians, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, may have learned from Lebanon, and from wars elsewhere, is that public support for a war can turn to opposition when the number of fallen soldiers increases. Similarly, direct media coverage from the battlefield can spur political debate. During the Gaza fighting, the Israeli army prevented both local and foreign journalists from entering the Strip.
There is at least one more reason that domestic support for a war can evaporate: failing to achieve the war’s goals. At the outset of the Gaza campaign, Olmert said its purpose was to “change the situation in the south part of our country” — a deliberately modest and ambiguous goal. Other officials spoke of weakening Hamas and restoring Israeli deterrence. While Israel decided to stop the fighting unilaterally in January — just before Barack Obama’s inauguration — it sought a new ceasefire arrangement with Hamas, negotiated indirectly via Egypt. Olmert then injected the additional goal of a prisoner exchange to free captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held in Gaza since 2006.
There’s still no agreed ceasefire in place. Since Israel withdrew from Gaza in January, over 180 rockets have been fired from there at southern Israel, according to the Israel Defense Forces. That’s less than the rate last November and December, as the ceasefire unraveled and expired. But it’s much more than the sporadic launchings when the truce was in place. Arguably, Gaza’s rulers have not been deterred from launching — or from allowing other groups to launch — missiles at Israel. Meanwhile, the talks on a prisoner exchange broke down last week, just before the soldiers’ testimony was published nationally.
This is the familiar arc of a poorly conceived war. At first, it looks like necessary defense. The public rallies around in the adrenaline rush of solving an intolerable problem by force. The critics are few, or foreign, and easily dismissed. As time passes, it becomes more difficult to name what has been gained amid the horror. The moral price reveals itself. Criticism becomes mainstream and respectable and is entirely too late.
Reporting independently from the front lines of war is an increasingly rare engagement for journalists working for major international media outlets. From Iraq to Afghanistan, reporters are increasingly embedded with Western military forces, operating without independence.
When Israeli military forces launched an invasion into the Gaza Strip, international journalists were barred entry into the territory by the Israeli government for the majority of the conflict, despite a ruling from the Israeli Supreme Court that called on the government to allow international reporters into the territory. Major international media outlets, including CNN and the BBC, ended up reporting from hilltops in Israeli-controlled territory kilometres away from the actual conflict.
British journalist Robert Fisk has offered fiercely independent accounts of conflicts throughout the Middle East for decades. Stationed in Beirut, Lebanon, Fisk reports for the UK-based Independent newspaper and is widely read around the world. Fisk spoke with community activist and journalist Stefan Christoff about the media response to the recent war on Gaza.
Stefan Christoff: Historical context is often not included in daily reporting on the Middle East. Could you offer some historical perspectives to the recent war in Gaza?
Robert Fisk: In 1948 when the Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes — 750,000 is the figure widely accepted — those in the north in the Galilee area of what became Israel fled into Lebanon, those in the Jerusalem area fled east toward what we now call the West Bank and those in the south fled into what we now call the Gaza Strip.
For example, in 2000, after the Israelis finished their final withdrawal after 22 years of occupation and went across the border back into Israel, many Palestinians in Lebanon went down to the border and looked across, not because they were looking at northern Israel but because they were looking at the northern part of Palestine as they had known it – some could actually see the villages that their parents or grandparents had come from in 1948.
So there is this whole Diaspora around the state of Israel who can’t go home because their home is on the other side of the border. This reality revolves around the whole issue of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 on the right of return, [which stipulates that] these Palestinian refugees have the right to return to their homes.
Well over half the people living in Gaza are families, either survivors or descendants of Palestinians who lived only 10 or 12 miles into what is today Israel. So when you hear the Israelis say the terrorists are firing rockets into Israel, the Palestinians in Gaza can say in many cases, ‘Well, my grandson is firing a rocket at my town because before 1948 these areas would have been Palestinian property.’
SC: Can you talk about your perceptions of media coverage on the latest war in Gaza?
RF: There were two things that happened. First, the international press allowed for their own humiliation: Israel told the press that they couldn’t go into Gaza and they didn’t really try to, so the press sat outside Gaza and pontificated from two miles away. Israel wanted to keep the international press out of Gaza and they were kept out, that was that.
It is instructive to note that no major Western media outlet had a reporter based inside Gaza who would have been there when it started. Clearly, after the kidnapping of a BBC reporter, who was based in Gaza, it is not surprising that the international news agencies were hesitant to base reporters there. However, it is also instructive to note that it was the Hamas government that had the BBC reporter released, which is not often mentioned now.
SC: So what kind of more widespread effect did the reporters who were left in Gaza have on Western media?
RF: Faced with the fact that the only journalists left inside Gaza were Palestinian reporters, the major networks were forced to hand over their reporting to Palestinian Arabs, who in many cases were refugees inside Gaza. This meant that you had Palestinian reporters on the ground talking about their own people, unencumbered by Western reporters cross-questioning them or trying to put 50 per cent of the story on one side and 50 per cent of the story on the other side.
Al Jazeera came out as the heroes of journalism because they had their international service, their English service and also their Arabic service fully operational from offices inside Gaza. Individual Palestinians working for Western news organizations showed that they could be competent journalists, and the Western journalists who sat outside Gaza looked as pathetic as their reporting on the Middle East is becoming.
Palestinian reporters were telling their own stories, in the case of [the Independent's] Palestinian reporter inside Gaza, his father was killed in an air strike, his father, who was a pro-Palestinian Authority, English-speaking, well-educated judge, was killed in his orchard. So the Independent had on our front page this terrible and tragic story of this innocent man destroyed, atomized into pieces of flesh by an Israeli air strike on his orchard, a story reported by his own son in our newspaper.
So this was the kind of journalism from Palestine that we hadn’t seen in the major [Western] press, so there was an upside to the [international] press being banned from Gaza. However, the work of the international reporters was truly pathetic.
Stefan Christoff is a community organizer and journalist based in Montreal.
As staggering as the statistics detailing Gaza’s destruction may be, they still do not present a complete picture of the unique travesties and tragedies suffered by individuals, families, neighborhoods and villages during Israel’s savage 22-day assault on the tiny territory. Yet, they bear repeating. From the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (www.pcbs.gov.ps) and various NGOs:
In the face of such massive devastation and hardship—and this after the crippling 18-month siege had already reduced Gazato a state of bare subsistence—the behavior and actions of the regime of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak remain as contemptible after the war as they were before.
On Dec. 25, just two days prior to the onset of the vicious aerial bombardment of Gaza, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met with Mubarak in Cairo. It is understood that Egypt gave the green light for the attack in the hope that the ruling (and democratically-elected) Islamist group Hamas would be toppled and the more pliant Fatah faction, led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, would supplant it.
Rafah crossing sealed
The reasons for Mubarak’s animus toward Hamas, and by extension, for his reprehensible decision to keep the vital Rafah border crossing with Gaza closed to humanitarian supplies was explained earlier.
Apologists for the dictator will say the 2005 agreement between Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the European Union (EU) that regulates movement across the border prohibits it from being opened in the absence of PA and EU observers.
It makes no mention, however, of barring critical humanitarian goods from reaching the territory, where conditions were becoming ever more desperate. Additionally, Egypt was a non-signatory to the treaty, which had already expired after one year and was never renewed.
If keeping the Rafah crossing—the only gateway to non-Israeli territory from Gaza—closed before and during the war was not a criminal act, doing so in its aftermath must surely be.
Preventing Gaza’s children from obtaining medical care
Reporting for The National, Jonathan Cook details four cases of children in Gaza who required urgent, life-saving surgery in France, but were denied entry into Egypt via Rafah. As the aunt of the one of the war’s child casualties remarked, “Each morning we arrived at the crossing and the Egyptian soldiers cursed us and told us to go away.”
Doctors accompanying the children were allowed to pass into Egypt, but the ambulances carrying them were not. Their exclusion was attributed to the Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah who did not authorize their exit, stating there was “no more reason to refer any more children for treatment abroad.” Egyptian authorities abided by their ruling, not wanting to create diplomatic trouble.
But that is no excuse.
First, Hamas, democratically elected to power in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, is the legitimate governing authority. Second, the term of Mahmoud Abbas as president of the PA expired on Jan. 9. Finally, emergency medical situations always take precedent over (alleged) bureaucratic considerations. Those in control of the Rafah crossing must be held directly responsible.
Feeding Israeli soldiers, not Gaza’s people
In light of catastrophic circumstances due to lack of basic foodstuffs (75 percent of Gaza’s children are thought to be malnourished and 30 percent are stunted in growth), a recent report by the popular Egyptian weekly Al-Osboa was all the more shocking. It revealed that an Egyptian company was allowed to provide Israel Defense Force soldiers with food during the war while Gazans were starving.
Iranian Red Crescent ship kept offshore
An Iranian ship sent by the country’s Red Crescent Society carrying 2,000 tons of medical supplies and other humanitarian aid for Gaza continues to be anchored 15 miles off Gaza’s shore. It had already been intercepted and prevented by the Israeli navy from reaching Gaza. Now, it awaits permission to dock in the Egyptian port of Al-Areesh to unload its cargo. To date, permission has not been grated.
In light of the above, blistering criticism of the Egyptian regime’s behavior has come from Hezbollah leader Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah:
“[Egypt] told the Arab and Islamic world that the Rafah border was opened and it was not … The opening of the Rafah crossing is crucial to the Palestinian people, the Resistance and the living conditions there … its closure is one of the biggest crimes in history.”
The reply from the Egyptian government was all too predictable:
“Hassan Nasrallah’s criticism of Egypt confirms once more that he is nothing more than an agent of the Iranian regime and takes his orders from Tehran.”
Irrespective of whether Nasrallah takes orders from Tehran or Tokyo, there were no substantive answers to his accusations. Instead, Egypt reverted to parroting tired anti-Iranian rhetoric which increasingly is falling on deaf ears.
Abetting the siege of Gaza, giving sanction to the Israeli onslaught and its crimes against humanity, and afterward, preventing aid from getting into the territory and the injured from getting out, are all egregious offenses.
Just as many call for Olmert, Barak, Livni and the generals and soldiers who participated in this war to be prosecuted for violating international law and committing war crimes, Mubarak’s own complicity makes him equally liable in facing similar charges.
Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on the Middle East. He may be reached at: rbamiri at yahoo dot com.
THOUSANDS of Turks welcomed their prime minister home on Friday with chants of “Turkey is proud of you” after he publicly confronted the Israeli president over the bloody Gaza onslaught.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s intervention at the World Economic Forum in Davos also won praise in Gaza, where Turkish flags fluttered from a ruined mosque.
Mr Erdogan was greeted by a jubilant crowd of more than 5,000 supporters, many waving Turkish and Palestinian flags, who had flooded Istanbul’s airport when his plane from Davos touched down at about 2am.
The dispute about Israel’s offensive against Gaza took place at a panel discussion in Davos on Thursday. Israeli President Shimon Peres launched into a 25-minute defence of Tel Aviv’s attack on the coastal enclave, jabbing his finger repeatedly at Mr Erdogan.
“The tragedy of Gaza is not Israel. It is Hamas. They created a dictatorship, a very dangerous one,” he screamed.
After Mr Peres’s intervention had won applause, Mr Erdogan said: “I find it very sad that people applaud what you have said because many people have been killed.
“Mr Peres, you are older than me. Your voice is too loud,” he said, suggesting that his emotion betrayed a guilty conscience.
The session moderator cut Mr Erdogan off in mid-sentence, prompting the Turkish premier to walk out, declaring that he would never return to Davos.
In the Gaza refugee camp of Jebaliya, Turkish flags decorated the ruins of a local mosque that had been destroyed by Israeli air strikes. On the Egyptian side of the Gaza border, over two dozen lorries loaded with food, medicines and commercial goods remain stranded because Tel Aviv refuses to open the crossings.
The UN launched an emergency appeal on Thursday for $613 million (£440m) to help Palestinians rebuild, but UN officials on the ground warned that this would be useless if Israel continues to bar aid from entering Gaza.
John Ging, the top UN official in Gaza, said: “The ordinary people here in Gaza are not getting enough help and are not getting it quickly enough,” demanding that the border crossings be opened.
“There are thousands of tons of assistance generously donated, sitting in Egypt, Jordan and also in the ports in Israel,” Mr Ging reported, adding: “That aid should be right here, right now, helping the people who need it.”
|Al Jazeera, January 20, 2009|
Palestinians returning to their neighbourhoods have begun to unearth the true scale of destruction left by Israel’s 22-day offensive on the Gaza Strip.
Fragile ceasefires – declared separately by Israel and Palestinian fighters – continued to hold on Tuesday, as Israeli troops pulled back from some key points in Gaza towards the border.
Israeli army radio quoted unnamed military officials as saying that troops would pull out of Gaza by the time Barack Obama, the US president-elect, takes office on Tuesday.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, is also set to survey the destruction in a trip to Gaza during the day.
Estimates for the rebuilding of Gaza’s devastated infrastructure have been put at billions of dollars.
John Holmes, the UN humanitarian chief, says hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency aid supplies will be needed for the people of Gaza.
Although 100,000 people had running water restored in their homes as of Sunday, 400,000 were still without it, Holmes said.
Electricity in Gaza is available for less than half the day and about 100,000 people have been displaced by the war.
Despite the three-week Israeli onslaught that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and destroyed thousands of buildings, Hamas and other Palestinian factions claimed victory in the fighting.
Israel had said the aim of its operations in Gaza was to cripple Hamas’s ability to launch rockets into the south of the country.
But a masked man calling himself Abu Obeida and claiming to be a spokesman for Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, said the group’s rocket-launching capacity had not been diminished, and threatened to renew fighting if Israeli forces did not withdraw.
“They [Israel] say they weakened Hamas. We assure you that what we have lost in this war is nothing compared to what we [still] have,” he said in a televised news conference on Monday.
Abu Obeida vowed that Hamas would replenish its arsenal of rockets and other weapons, in defiance of any Israeli or international efforts to cut off smuggling routes.
“Do whatever you want, bringing in and manufacturing the holy weapons is our mission, and we know how to acquire weapons,” he said.
Meanwhile, scores of bodies have been discovered in the rubble of destroyed buildings since the fighting was halted.
Abed Sharafi, an ambulance driver, said on Monday that he had helped pull out the bodies of 15 children and women from under their house.
“They were so badly decomposed that we couldn’t distinguish boys from girls. Some had been there for 15 days,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Gaza City, said the World Health Organisation was warning of an outbreak of disease with bodies now several weeks old and sewage flowing over many areas because of the destruction to infrastructure.
The deposed Hamas-led government in Gaza estimates that more than 5,000 buildings were completely destroyed and 20,000 damaged or partially destroyed in the fighting.
History will record Israel’s onslaught in Gaza as noteworthy not only for the wide destruction of institutions of state and civil society, but for the deliberate targeting of the United Nations and the refugees it aided and sheltered. And it certainly would not be the first time Israel has done so.
On Jan. 15, in its most brazen act yet, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) shelled the Gaza headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Words Agency (UNRWA), the primary body responsible for feeding and assisting Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip and beyond. At the time of the attack, the compound housed more than 700 civilians seeking shelter from the war and its warehouses stored thousands of pounds of critical, and desperately needed, food and humanitarian supplies.
Even more sinister was the weapon employed: White Phosphorus (WP).
WP is known to cause severe, deep, and difficult to treat burns when it comes in contact with skin. Despite denials by the IDF, there is evidence of its use in Gaza and reports detailing significant burn injuries to civilians as a result. Its use as a weapon is a flagrant violation of international law and the UN’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.
WP bombs and shells are classified as incendiary devices and the structures they hit continue burn for long periods since the fires they cause are not extinguished by conventional means (water, fire extinguishers, etc).
As food, fuel and other supplies went up in flames at the headquarters—a location well-known to the Israelis who were given its precise GPS coordinates—UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness aptly remarked, “What more stark symbolism do you need?”
Indeed, the sordid history and pattern of Israel’s intentional targeting of UN compounds and schools in Lebanon and Gaza is ripe with symbolism, as is the usual flurry of contradictory excuses, apologies and justifications that predictably follow.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak deemed this most recent attack a “grave mistake” while Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said it was justified because missiles were allegedly launched there.
This very same sequence of events has been played out time and time again: a UN facility targeting refugees Israel helped create is shelled, a subsequent apology, excuse, and justification issued (usually that it was being used by ‘militants’), then little to no evidence substantiating the attack presented.
The following all share in this tragic history; where the innocent were massacred, and the assumption that the humanitarian auspices of the UN could protect non-combatants from Israeli shelling, shattered.
The year was 1996 and Israel was only six weeks away from upcoming elections (sound familiar?). Prime Minister Shimon Peres was expecting a stiff challenge from Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu. At the time, Israel was occupying southern Lebanon. Along with its proxy militia, the South Lebanese Army, they continued to fruitlessly battle Hezbollah despite their repeated failure to eradicate the group’s resistance. What Israel really needed to do, and has done prior to all its military adventures, was provoke the enemy enough to elicit a significant response. That response would then be used as pretext for initiating an all-out assault.
It came on March 30 when an Israeli gunship fired on two men, both civilians, working on a water tower in Yater, Lebanon, killing both. Hezbollah retaliated by firing missiles into northern Israel. Then, when a teenager died after a roadside bomb exploded in the village of Barashit and Hezbollah again responded with rockets, Peres had what he needed. Under the pretense of stopping the attacks and protecting the country’s northern border, “Operation Grapes of Wrath” was launched on April 11.
It didn’t take long before Israel committed its first wartime atrocity. On April 18, a UN compound in the southern Lebanese village of Qana, where more than 800 civilians had sought refuge, was shelled. One hundred and six civilians were massacred.
Peres said, “We did not know that several hundred people were concentrated in that camp. It came to us as a bitter surprise.” The military claimed it was due to “incorrect targeting based on erroneous data.” That was hard to believe, however, considering they had long been made aware of the compound’s location. In fact, a UNIFIL soldier filmed a drone and helicopters flying above the facility at the time of the attack. Tired allegations that Hezbollah fighters were using civilians as ‘human shields’ also fell flat.
A UN investigation concluded that: “The pattern of impacts is inconsistent with a normal overshooting of the declared target (the mortar site) … as suggested by the Israeli forces; during the shelling, there was a perceptible shift in the weight of fire from the mortar site to the United Nations compound”; and it was “unlikely that the shelling of the United Nations compound was the result of gross technical and/or procedural errors.”
The investigation conducted by Amnesty International succinctly stated: “The IDF intentionally attacked the UN compound … The IDF have failed to substantiate their claim that the attack was a mistake.”
The shifting explanations and excuses the Israelis had offered were solely for appeasing the international community. They knew their real message had been delivered.
The assault on Gaza, dubbed “Operation Cast Lead” is almost into itsfourth week. It was on Jan. 6, though, that the single largest loss of life since the beginning of the campaign occurred. Not surprisingly, it was another UN facility that was targeted. This time it was the Al-Fakhura girls school located in the Jabaliya refugee camp north of Gaza City. Two-hundred eighty families had taken refuge there, numbering 1,674 people. Most came from the town of Beit Lahiya to the north after being ordered to evacuate by the IDF.
Despite the school flying the distinctive UN flag and its location by GPS coordinates known, Israeli tank shells struck the school, spraying shrapnel inside and outside the building. Forty-six people were killed (including 20 children) and 55 wounded. Paramedics and eyewitnesses reported seeing “limbs and meat” in the street afterward.
As with Qana, the same justifications for the attack—conducted “according to procedures”—were put forth by the Israelis and just as quickly refuted.
It was alleged that Hamas fighters were operating out of the school. John Ging, director of the UNRWA in Gaza vehemently denied this, saying all people taking shelter there had been thoroughly vetted and there were “…no military people inside the school; it is fully controlled.”
The Israelis then decided to release footage of the purported “militant gunfire” coming from the school. But not only did the footage date back to 2007, it was of a different school, in a different city! (and not run by the UN).
It was ultimately acknowledged that no shooting came from there. According to Gunness:
“In briefings senior officers conducted for foreign diplomats, they admitted the shelling to which IDF forces in Jabaliya were responding did not originate from the school” (Haaretz, 11 Jan 2009).
Many different and often contradictory stories have since been issued by the Israelis. As before, the underlining message had been effectively delivered.
Other UN schools – Al-Shouka, Asma
Al-Shouka school in Rafah and Asma primary school in Gaza City were also bombed by the Israelis in “Operation Cast Lead”. At Asma, three cousins were killed among the 400 people housed there who had fled fighting to the north.
So what were the Qana and Jabaliya massacres and the deliberate attack on Gaza’s UN headquarters meant to illustrate?
It is that not only sympathizers, but any civilian located in remote proximity to Israel’s enemies will be targeted. In addition, retribution will not only be exacted against the UN in general for the countless resolutions it has levied against Israel, but against the UNRWA specifically for the body’s assistance and advocacy on behalf of Palestinians. All are extensions of the doctrine of collective punishment, but with a particularly ominous message for civilians:
There is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. There is not an institution or organization on earth that will be able to protect you from us.
Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on the Arab and Islamic worlds. He may be reached at: rbamiri at yahoo dot com.
As Israel entered the third week of its Gaza blitz, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert regaled a crowd in Ashkelon with an astonishing tale.
He had, said Olmert, whistled up George Bush, interrupted him in the middle of a speech and told him to instruct Condi Rice not to vote for a U.N. resolution Condi herself had written. Bush did as told, said Olmert.
The crowd loved it. Here is the background.
After intense negotiations with Britain and France, Secretary of State Rice had persuaded the Security Council to agree on a resolution calling for a cease-fire. But Olmert wanted more time to kill Hamas.
So, here, in Olmert’s words, is what happened next.
“In the night between Thursday and Friday, when the secretary of state wanted to lead the vote on a cease-fire at the Security Council, we did not want her to vote in favor.
“I said, ‘Get me President Bush on the phone.’ They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn’t care. ‘I need to talk to him now.’ He got off the podium and spoke to me.”
According to Olmert, Bush was clueless.
“He said: ‘Listen. I don’t know about it. I didn’t see it. I’m not familiar with the phrasing.’
“I told him the United States could not vote in favor. It cannot vote in favor of such a resolution. He immediately called the secretary of state and told her not to vote in favor.”
The UN diplomatic corps was astonished when the United States abstained on the 14-0 resolution Rice had crafted and claimed her country supported. Arab diplomats say Rice promised them she would vote for it.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, with Rice at the United Nations during the debate on the resolution, said Olmert’s remarks were “just 100 percent, totally, completely untrue.”
But the White House cut Rice off at the knees, saying only that there were “inaccuracies” in the Olmert story. The video does not show Bush interrupting his speech to take any call.
Yet, the substance rings true and is widely believed, and Olmert is happily describing the egg on Rice’s face:
“He [Bush] gave an order to the secretary of state, and she did not vote in favor of it – a resolution she cooked up, phrased, organized and maneuvered for. She was left pretty shamed. …”
With Bush and Rice leaving office in hours, and Olmert in weeks, the story may seem to lack significance.
Yet, public gloating by an Israeli prime minister that he can order a U.S. president off a podium and instruct him to reverse and humiliate his secretary of state may cause even Ehud’s poodle to rise up on its hind legs one day and bite its master.
Taking such liberties with a superpower that, for Israel’s benefit, has shoveled out $150 billion and subordinated its own interests in the Arab and Islamic world would seem a hubristic and stupid thing to do.
And there are straws in the wind that, despite congressional resolutions giving full-throated approval to all that Israel is doing in Gaza, this is becoming a troubled relationship.
Two weeks ago, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in opposing any truce, assured the world there “is no humanitarian crisis in the (Gaza) Strip,” and the humanitarian situation there “is completely as it should be.”
Not so to Hillary Clinton. In her confirmation hearings, the secretary of state-designate, reports the New York Times, “struck a sharper tone toward Israel on violence in the Middle East.”
Clinton “seemed to part from the tone set by the Bush administration in calling attention to what she described as the ‘tragic humanitarian costs’ borne by Palestinians, as well as Israelis.”
More dramatic was a weekend report by the Times‘ David Sanger that the White House had rebuffed Olmert’s request for new U.S. bunker-buster bombs and denied Israel permission to overfly Iraq in any strike on Iran’s nuclear enrichment plant at Natanz.
Sanger described these U.S.-Israeli talks as “tense.”
Repeatedly, Israel has warned that Iran is close to a bomb and threatened to attack unilaterally. Indeed, Israel simulated such an attack in an air exercise of 100 planes that went as far as Greece.
Bush both blocked and vetoed that attack, says Sanger. But he did assure Olmert that America is engaged in the sabotage of Iran’s nuclear program by helping provide Tehran with defective parts.
This would seem a stunning breach of security secrets, but no outrage has been heard from the White House, nor has any charge come that the Times compromised national security.
With Olmert, Rice and Bush departing, and Obama and Hillary taking charge committed to talking to Iran, can the old intimacy survive the new friction and colliding agendas?
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The morgues of Gaza’s hospitals are over-flowing. The bodies in their blood-soaked white shrouds cover the entire floor space of the Shifa hospital morgue. Some are intact, most horribly deformed, limbs twisted into unnatural positions, chest cavities exposed, heads blown off, skulls crushed in. Family members wait outside to identify and claim a brother, husband, father, mother, wife, child. Many of those who wait their turn have lost numerous family members and loved ones.
Blood is everywhere. Hospital orderlies hose down the floors of operating rooms, bloodied bandages lie discarded in corners, and the injured continue to pour in: bodies lacerated by shrapnel, burns, bullet wounds. Medical workers, exhausted and under siege, work day and night and each life saved is seen as a victory over the predominance of death.
The streets of Gaza are eerily silent- the pulsing life and rhythm of markets, children, fishermen walking down to the sea at dawn brutally stilled and replaced by an atmosphere of uncertainty, isolation and fear. The ever-present sounds of surveillance drones, F16s, tanks and Apaches are listened to acutely as residents try to guess where the next deadly strike will be- which house, school, clinic, mosque, governmental building or community centre will be hit next and how to move before it does. That there are no safe places- no refuge for vulnerable human bodies- is felt acutely. It is a devastating awareness for parents- that there is no way to keep their children safe.
As we continue to accompany the ambulances, joining Palestinian paramedics as they risk their lives, daily, to respond to calls from those with no other life-line, our existence becomes temporarily narrowed down and focused on the few precious minutes that make the difference between life and death. With each new call received as we ride in ambulances that careen down broken, silent roads, sirens and lights blaring, there exists a battle of life over death. We have learned the language of the war that the Israelis are waging on the collective captive population of Gaza- to distinguish between the sounds of the weaponry used, the timing between the first missile strikes and the inevitable second- targeting those that rush to tend to and evacuate the wounded, to recognize the signs of the different chemical weapons being used in this onslaught, to overcome the initial vulnerability of recognizing our own mortality.
Though many of the calls received are to pick up bodies, not the wounded, the necessity of affording the dead a dignified burial drives the paramedics to face the deliberate targeting of their colleagues and comrades- thirteen killed while evacuating the wounded, fourteen ambulances destroyed- and to continue to search for the shattered bodies of the dead to bring home to their families.
Last night, while sitting with paramedics in Jabaliya refugee camp, drinking tea and listening to their stories, we received a call to respond to the aftermath of a missile strike. When we arrived at the outskirts of the camp where the attack had taken place the area was filled with clouds of dust, torn electricity lines, slabs of concrete and open water pipes gushing water into the street. Amongst the carnage of severed limbs and blood we pulled out the body of a young man, his chest and face lacerated by shrapnel wounds, but alive- conscious and moaning.
As the ambulance sped him through the cold night we applied pressure to his wounds, the warmth of his blood seeping through the bandages reminder of the life still in him. He opened his eyes in answer to my questions and closed them again as Muhammud, a volunteer paramedic, murmured “ayeesh, nufuss”- live, breathe- over and over to him. He lost consciousness as we arrived at the hospital, received into the arms of friends who carried him into the emergency room. He, Majid, lived and is recovering.
A few minutes later there was another missile strike, this time on a residential house. As we arrived a crowd had rushed to the ruins of the four story home in an attempt to drag survivors out from under the rubble. The family the house belonged to had evacuated the area the day before and the only person in it at the time of the strike was 17 year old Muhammud who had gone back to collect clothes for his family. He was dragged out from under the rubble still breathing- his legs twisted in unnatural directions and with a head wound, but alive. There was no choice but to move him, with the imminence of a possible second strike, and he lay in the ambulance moaning with pain and calling for his mother. We thought he would live, he was conscious though in intense pain and with the rest of the night consumed with call after call to pick up the wounded and the dead, I forgot to check on him. This morning we were called to pick up a body from Shifa hospital to take back to Jabaliya. We carried a body wrapped in a blood-soaked white shroud into the ambulance, and it wasn’t until we were on the road that we realized that it was Muhammud’s body. His brother rode with us, opening the shroud to tenderly kiss Muhammud’s forehead.
This morning we received news that Al-Quds hospital in Gaza City was under siege. We tried unsuccessfully for hours to gain access to the hospital, trying to organize co-ordination to get the ambulances past Israeli tanks and snipers to evacuate the wounded and dead. Hours of unsuccessful attempts later we received a call from the Shujahiya neighborhood, describing a house where there were both dead and wounded patients to pick up. The area was deserted, many families having fled as Israeli tanks and snipers took up position amongst their homes, other silent in the dark, cold confines of their homes, crawling from room to room to avoid sniper fire through their windows.
As we drove slowly around the area, we heard women’s cries for help. We approached their house on foot, followed by the ambulances and as we came to the threshold of their home, they rushed towards us with their children, shaking and crying with shock. At the door of the house the ambulance lights exposed the bodies of four men, lacerated by shrapnel wounds- the skull and brains of one exposed, others whose limbs had been severed off. The four were the husbands and brothers of the women, who had ventured out to search for bread and food for their families. Their bodies were still warm as we struggled to carry them on stretchers over the uneven ground, their blood staining the earth and our clothes. As we prepared to leave the area our torches illuminated the slumped figure of another man, his abdomen and chest shredded by shrapnel. With no space in the other ambulances, and the imminent possibility of sniper fire, we were forced to take his body in the back of the ambulance carrying the women and children. One of the little girls stared at me before coming into my arms and telling me her name- Fidaa’, which means to sacrifice. She stared at the body bag, asking when he would wake up.
Once back at the hospital we received word that the Israeli army had shelled Al Quds hospital, that the ensuing fire risked spreading and that there had been a 20-minute time-frame negotiated to evacuate patients, doctors and residents in the surrounding houses. By the time we got up there in a convoy of ambulances, hundreds of people had gathered. With the shelling of the UNRWA compound and the hospital there was a deep awareness that nowhere in Gaza is safe, or sacred.
We helped evacuate those assembled to near-by hospitals and schools that have been opened to receive the displaced. The scenes were deeply saddening- families, desperate and carrying their children, blankets and bags of their possessions venturing out in the cold night to try to find a corner of a school or hospital to shelter in. The paramedic we were with referred to the displacement of the over 46,000 Gazan Palestinians now on the move as a continuation of the ongoing Nakba of dispossession and exile seen through generation after generation enduring massacre after massacre.
Today’s death toll was over 75, one of the bloodiest days since the start of this carnage. Over 1,110 Palestinians have been killed in the past 21 days. 367 of those have been children. The humanitarian infrastructure of Gaza is on its knees- already devastated by years of comprehensive siege. There has been a deliberate, systematic destruction of all places of refuge. There are no safe places here, for anyone.
And yet, in the face of so much desecration, this community has remained intact. The social solidarity and support between people is inspiring, and the steadfastness of Gaza continues to humble and inspire all those who witness it. Their level of sacrifice demands our collective response- and recognition that demonstrations are not enough. Gaza, Palestine and its people continue to live, breathe, resist and remain intact and this refusal to be broken is a call and challenge to us all.
Caoimhe Butterly is an Irish human rights activist working in Jabaliya and Gaza City as a volunteer with ambulance services and as co-coordinator for the Free Gaza Movement, She can be contacted at email@example.com