Posts Tagged ‘death toll in Gaza’

Gaza Children: A Gloomy Future

March 25, 2009

By Yousef Al-Helou – Gaza City

04gaza_children_ruins_bucket.jpg
uruknet.info, March 24, 2009

The devastation left by the Israeli war on beseiged Gaza means youngsters now make a living by sifting through piles of rubble. Children as young as five collect metal and plastic to sell to scrap dealers. So poor are the families they come from that they miss school in order to provide minimal support for their brothers and sisters. Missing school for even a day before the recent massacres was considered a shame, not going at all due to desperation is in danger of becoming a norm.

Saeed Dardonah, is 14- years old, his family house was destroyed by F16 rockets, during Israel’s 3-week offensive. “Look at my hands’, she says showing me the palms that are dusty and covered in cuts ‘I have been looking for copper wires and plastic amongst the rubble of our destroyed house and neighbourhood. I sell what I collect for 6 shekels ($1.50) per kilogram. I have left school to support my family” he said.

Saeed was sitting on the dusty ground next to his devastated house in Ezbet abed Rabboh northern Gaza. His small hands coated with a layer of black dust. He sits with his brother Nael around fire, one he lit himself in order to melt plastic coating copper wires before selling them on to a local scrap merchant. The fumes from such fires are known to release chemical toxins. But there is little time to wonder about the long term consequences of rifling through rubble coated with phosphorous, or breathing in dust that may be radioactive when there is no milk at home for the youngest sibling.

On my way back to Gaza city, I see children scrabbling through rubbish bins; human rodents, forced to live on the detritus of war. This scene is another new post- Gaza onslaught phenomenon.

“Finding old scrap metal, shoes, dirty clothing and plastic has become harder as the residents have no money to buy new products and are then reluctant to throw out even their unusable things” the youngsters told me.

Sultan and Saber abu Khader, aged 13 and 15 have had the responsibility for their families survival thrust upon them. At an age when they should be playing football or studying for exams they express in deadened tones the certainty that they have no future.

“I wish the border crossings would open and the siege lifted, I want to have a decent life and a job,” Sultan said.

At their age such pessimism despite the never ending round of attacks and sieges Israel has perpetuated on the region, was until now rare. Yet for half a decade the unemployment level across the Gaza strip has been rising catastrophically.

Today hundreds of thousands of able bodied adult men are suffering the indignity of unemployment. Not by choice, never by choice, for here in Palestine men are proud to work, their large families rely totally on what they can provide. Yet since 2007, 95 per cent of Gaza’s factories have been forced to close due to the siege. Border closures, have meant building projects have ceased, crops cannot be exported, seeds cannot be imported. Farmers are shot at by Israeli snipers when they attempt to tend their fields. It is estimated that 35,000 chickens were slaughtered by Israeli’s aerial and ground attacks in December and January. Recent statistics show that unemployment increased to more than 70 per cent in 2008/9.

Meanwhile, Gaza’s population is one thing above all else- youthful. More than fifty five per cent of the population are under the age of 17. It is safe to say they are not enjoying the rights of their peers in the West: The right to a good standard education, enjoyed in safety; the right to live free from poverty or attack; the right to leave your country of birth and to return to it unhindered, and so on. The most widely understood definition of a concentration camp is this: a penal camp where political prisoners or prisoners of war are confined (usually under harsh conditions); a situation characterized by crowding and extremely harsh conditions. Right now in the Gaza Strip then, 800,000 children are living in the world’s largest concentration camp. A concentration camp created by Israel, approved by Europe and decimated by US-made military weapons.

Israel waged war on Gaza on December 27, 2008. More than 1400 civilians, including more than 400 children were killed. This came after a two year continuous siege which crippled the already impoverished costal enclave. Humanitarian aid is consistently prevented from entering either Eretz crossing or the Rafah border point (policed by Egypt).

– Yousef Al-Helou, a freelance journalist based in Gaza City, you can reach him on ydamadan@hotmail.com.

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Galloway: Widening the struggle

January 18, 2009
(Friday 16 January 2009)

GEORGE GALLOWAY argues that the time has come to step up the struggle to achieve justice for Palestinians.

As I write, the death toll in Gaza is approaching 1,000, nearly 400 of them confirmed as children. I dread to think what the figure will be by the time you read this.

What is happening in Palestine is murder on a mass scale, perpetrated by one of the most powerful states in the world with the backing of US, Britain and its allies. I say what is happening in Palestine for a significant reason – Gaza is part of Palestine.

No-one should fall for the subtle tricks in the mainstream media which has so badly let us down and mangled the truth. I can think of no better time for the Morning Star to expand in print and online.

The corporate media gives the impression that there is this strange place called Gaza full of people called “militants” and “ruled” by Hamas.

But this is an attack on Palestine – all of Palestine and every Palestinian. Do not let them demonise the Gaza Strip or split it politically from the West Bank. There have been no rockets fired from the West Bank, but Israel has still killed 25 Palestinians there in recent months.

The attack on Gaza has already called forth a huge feeling of solidarity in Britain and the world. It has united Muslim and non-Muslim in huge demonstrations and other events. Now, it has to become a mass movement of practical and political solidarity.

We must not allow the Muslim community to feel intimidated by the kinds of Islamophobic smears they’ve faced that claim that any among them who raises the plight of the Palestinians is somehow an “extremist” or supporter of terrorism.

Nor should we allow the public mood and incipient movement to be derailed by a concerted attempt to smear it as anti-semitic. Among the loudest voices calling for isolating Israel are those of Jews.

I have just left the House of Commons chamber, where Gerald Kaufman has made one of the greatest speeches that I’ve heard there. He said that his grandmother had been shot in her bed by the nazis. She had not died so that her death could be used to justify the atrocities in Gaza, he said.

Leaders of the Catholic church have called Gaza a gigantic “concentration camp.” The highest United Nations officials are calling for an investigation into the war crimes in blowing up schools, universities and callously inflicting suffering on civilians.

The Labour government’s response to the onslaught on Gaza has been a disgrace. For three days it refused to call for any cessation of hostilities. Now it calls for a ceasefire, but on Israel’s terms, which mean the annihilation of the legitimate Palestinian resistance.

Remember this – Israel broke the ceasefire on November 4 when it attacked Hamas, the government of the Palestinian authority which was elected by the Palestinian people in the only democratic vote in the Arab world.

These are basic arguments which must be popularised throughout the movement. Matters are at a turning point. In my estimation, the dynamic that was apparent within the Stop the War movement in 2002 has resurfaced.

We’re not yet on the vast scale of February 15 2003, but the movement is on an upswing. There are other differences too.

There is, in my view, a higher understanding of the nature of zionism and of imperialism. There is also a greater sense of strategic debate in the movement.

That is why I want to end this column with some thoughts about how we might go forward:

Public protests are important. They keep our movement visible and, believe me, the pictures reach Palestine.

Pressure must be brought to bear on every elected representative and everyone in public life in Britain to speak out firmly for the Palestinian people and for official action against Israel, which UN officials want investigated for war crimes.

No person of conscience bought South African goods during apartheid. Today, Israel, its produce and manufactured goods should also be shunned. The call to boycott Israel is growing and Jewish supporters of the Palestinians are among the most vocal. Where does your MP or councillor stand?

It is time to flood the people of Palestine with practical aid. I am pulling together other individuals and groups to organise a convoy from Britain to Gaza led by fire engines donated by the Fire Brigades Union. Your mosque, community group, trade union, church, etc can sponsor it or provide a lorry, two drivers, costs and fill it with things which the people of Gaza need.

Through these steps, we can build political support for Palestine here and get aid over there. And, whenever you are called upon to vote in elections in Britain, remember to ask those who want your support: “What did you do when the bombs fell on the people of Gaza?”

The call for an aid convoy from Britain to Gaza is meeting with huge enthusiasm – Stop the War, the British Muslim Initiative and many others are coming on board.

I hope that it can provide a political focus to spur on a vast aid effort and a movement of political solidarity.

In the 1930s, working-class people across Europe rallied to aid the people of republican Spain, who faced the bombing of towns and the massacre of civilians by the forces of jackbooted General Franco.

The cry then was “Aidez l’Espagne!” The call today should be: “Viva Palestina!”

George Galloway is Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow.

Demands grow for Gaza war crimes investigation

January 13, 2009

Gaza conflict, day 17: Israeli reservists join the fighting and Sderot residents send their children back to school, while conditions deteriorate in Gaza Link to this video

Israel is facing growing demands from senior UN officials and human rights groups for an international war crimes investigation in Gaza over allegations such as the “reckless and indiscriminate” shelling of residential areas and use of Palestinian families as human shields by soldiers.

With the death toll from the 17-day Israeli assault on Gaza climbing above 900, pressure is increasing for an independent inquiry into specific incidents, such as the shelling of a UN school turned refugee centre where about 40 people died, as well as the question of whether the military tactics used by Israel systematically breached humanitarian law.

The UN’s senior human rights body approved a resolution yesterday condemning the Israeli offensive for “massive violations of human rights”. A senior UN source said the body’s humanitarian agencies were compiling evidence of war crimes and passing it on to the “highest levels” to be used as seen fit.

Some human rights activists allege that the Israeli leadership gave an order to keep military casualties low no matter what cost to civilians. That strategy has directly contributed to one of the bloodiest Israeli assaults on the Palestinian territories, they say.

John Ging, head of the UN Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza, said: “It’s about accountability [over] the issue of the appropriateness of the force used, the proportionality of the force used and the whole issue of duty of care of civilians.

“We don’t want to join any chorus of passing judgment but there should be an investigation of any and every incident where there are concerns there might have been violations in international law.”

The Israeli military are accused of:

• Using powerful shells in civilian areas which the army knew would cause large numbers of innocent casualties;

• Using banned weapons such as phosphorus bombs;

• Holding Palestinian families as human shields;

• Attacking medical facilities, including the killing of 12 ambulance men in marked vehicles;

• Killing large numbers of police who had no military role.

Israeli military actions prompted an unusual public rebuke from the International Red Cross after the army moved a Palestinian family into a building and shelled it, killing 30. The surviving children clung to the bodies of their dead mothers for four days while the army blocked rescuers from reaching the wounded.

Human Rights Watch has called on the UN security council to set up a commission of inquiry into alleged war crimes.

Two leading Israeli human rights organisations have separately written to the country’s attorney general demanding he investigate the allegations.

But critics remain sceptical that any such inquiry will take place, given that Israel has previously blocked similar attempts with the backing of the US.

Amnesty International says hitting residential streets with shells that send blast and shrapnel over a wide area constitutes “prima facie evidence of war crimes”.

“There has been reckless and disproportionate and in some cases indiscriminate use of force,” said Donatella Rovera, an Amnesty investigator in Israel. “There has been the use of weaponry that shouldn’t be used in densely populated areas because it’s known that it will cause civilian fatalities and casualties.

“They have extremely sophisticated missiles that can be guided to a moving car and they choose to use other weapons or decide to drop a bomb on a house knowing that there were women and children inside. These are very, very clear breaches of international law.”

Israel’s most prominent human rights organisation, B’Tselem, has written to the attorney general in Jerusalem, Meni Mazuz, asking him to investigate suspected crimes including how the military selects its targets and the killing of scores of policemen at a passing out parade.

“Many of the targets seem not to have been legitimate military targets as specified by international humanitarian law,” said Sarit Michaeli of B’Tselem.

Rovera has also collected evidence that the Israeli army holds Palestinian families prisoner in their own homes as human shields. “It’s standard practice for Israeli soldiers to go into a house, lock up the family in a room on the ground floor and use the rest of the house as a military base, as a sniper’s position. That is the absolute textbook case of human shields.

“It has been practised by the Israeli army for many years and they are doing it again in Gaza now,” she said.

While there are growing calls for an international investigation, the form it would take is less clear. The UN’s human rights council has the authority to investigate allegations of war crimes but Israel has blocked its previous attempts to do so. The UN security council could order an investigation, and even set up a war crimes tribunal, but that is likely to be vetoed by the US and probably Britain.

The international criminal court has no jurisdiction because Israel is not a signatory. The UN security council could refer the matter to the court but is unlikely to.

Benjamin Rutland, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said an international investigation of the army’s actions was not justified. “We have international lawyers at every level of the command whose job it is to authorise targeting decisions, rules of engagement … We don’t think we have breached international law in any of these instances,” he said.

Gaza Resolution One-Sided and Unwise

January 11, 2009

Re. Ron Paul | Antiwar.com, 2009

Editor’s note: The following is Rep. Ron Paul’s statement on H. Res. 34, “Recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza, reaffirming the United States’ strong support for Israel, and supporting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”

Madame Speaker, I strongly oppose H. Res. 34, which was rushed to the floor with almost no prior notice and without consideration by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The resolution clearly takes one side in a conflict that has nothing to do with the United States or U.S. interests. I am concerned that the weapons currently being used by Israel against the Palestinians in Gaza are made in America and paid for by American taxpayers. What will adopting this resolution do to the perception of the United States in the Muslim and Arab world? What kind of blowback might we see from this? What moral responsibility do we have for the violence in Israel and Gaza after having provided so much military support to one side?

As an opponent of all violence, I am appalled by the practice of lobbing homemade rockets into Israel from Gaza. I am only grateful that, because of the primitive nature of these weapons, there have been so few casualties among innocent Israelis. But I am also appalled by the long-standing Israeli blockade of Gaza – a cruel act of war – and the tremendous loss of life that has resulted from the latest Israeli attack that started last month.

There are now an estimated 700 dead Palestinians, most of whom are civilians. Many innocent children are among the dead. While the shooting of rockets into Israel is inexcusable, the violent actions of some people in Gaza does not justify killing Palestinians on this scale. Such collective punishment is immoral. At the very least, the U.S. Congress should not be loudly proclaiming its support for the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza.

Madame Speaker, this resolution will do nothing to reduce the fighting and bloodshed in the Middle East. The resolution in fact will lead the U.S. to become further involved in this conflict, promising “vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” Is it really in the interest of the United States to guarantee the survival of any foreign country? I believe it would be better to focus on the security and survival of the United States, the Constitution of which my colleagues and I swore to defend just this week at the beginning of the 111th Congress. I urge my colleagues to reject this resolution.

How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe

January 9, 2009

Oxford professor of international relations Avi Shlaim served in the Israeli army and has never questioned the state’s legitimacy. But its merciless assault on Gaza has led him to devastating conclusions

A wounded Palestinian policeman gestures

A wounded Palestinian policeman gestures while lying on the ground outside Hamas police headquarters following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

The only way to make sense of Israel’s senseless war in Gaza is through understanding the historical context. Establishing the state of Israel in May 1948 involved a monumental injustice to the Palestinians. British officials bitterly resented American partisanship on behalf of the infant state. On 2 June 1948, Sir John Troutbeck wrote to the foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, that the Americans were responsible for the creation of a gangster state headed by “an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders”. I used to think that this judgment was too harsh but Israel’s vicious assault on the people of Gaza, and the Bush administration’s complicity in this assault, have reopened the question.

I write as someone who served loyally in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s and who has never questioned the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders. What I utterly reject is the Zionist colonial project beyond the Green Line. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the June 1967 war had very little to do with security and everything to do with territorial expansionism. The aim was to establish Greater Israel through permanent political, economic and military control over the Palestinian territories. And the result has been one of the most prolonged and brutal military occupations of modern times.

Four decades of Israeli control did incalculable damage to the economy of the Gaza Strip. With a large population of 1948 refugees crammed into a tiny strip of land, with no infrastructure or natural resources, Gaza’s prospects were never bright. Gaza, however, is not simply a case of economic under-development but a uniquely cruel case of deliberate de-development. To use the Biblical phrase, Israel turned the people of Gaza into the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, into a source of cheap labour and a captive market for Israeli goods. The development of local industry was actively impeded so as to make it impossible for the Palestinians to end their subordination to Israel and to establish the economic underpinnings essential for real political independence.

Gaza is a classic case of colonial exploitation in the post-colonial era. Jewish settlements in occupied territories are immoral, illegal and an insurmountable obstacle to peace. They are at once the instrument of exploitation and the symbol of the hated occupation. In Gaza, the Jewish settlers numbered only 8,000 in 2005 compared with 1.4 million local residents. Yet the settlers controlled 25% of the territory, 40% of the arable land and the lion’s share of the scarce water resources. Cheek by jowl with these foreign intruders, the majority of the local population lived in abject poverty and unimaginable misery. Eighty per cent of them still subsist on less than $2 a day. The living conditions in the strip remain an affront to civilised values, a powerful precipitant to resistance and a fertile breeding ground for political extremism.

In August 2005 a Likud government headed by Ariel Sharon staged a unilateral Israeli pullout from Gaza, withdrawing all 8,000 settlers and destroying the houses and farms they had left behind. Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement, conducted an effective campaign to drive the Israelis out of Gaza. The withdrawal was a humiliation for the Israeli Defence Forces. To the world, Sharon presented the withdrawal from Gaza as a contribution to peace based on a two-state solution. But in the year after, another 12,000 Israelis settled on the West Bank, further reducing the scope for an independent Palestinian state. Land-grabbing and peace-making are simply incompatible. Israel had a choice and it chose land over peace.

The real purpose behind the move was to redraw unilaterally the borders of Greater Israel by incorporating the main settlement blocs on the West Bank to the state of Israel. Withdrawal from Gaza was thus not a prelude to a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority but a prelude to further Zionist expansion on the West Bank. It was a unilateral Israeli move undertaken in what was seen, mistakenly in my view, as an Israeli national interest. Anchored in a fundamental rejection of the Palestinian national identity, the withdrawal from Gaza was part of a long-term effort to deny the Palestinian people any independent political existence on their land.

Israel’s settlers were withdrawn but Israeli soldiers continued to control all access to the Gaza Strip by land, sea and air. Gaza was converted overnight into an open-air prison. From this point on, the Israeli air force enjoyed unrestricted freedom to drop bombs, to make sonic booms by flying low and breaking the sound barrier, and to terrorise the hapless inhabitants of this prison.

Israel likes to portray itself as an island of democracy in a sea of authoritarianism. Yet Israel has never in its entire history done anything to promote democracy on the Arab side and has done a great deal to undermine it. Israel has a long history of secret collaboration with reactionary Arab regimes to suppress Palestinian nationalism. Despite all the handicaps, the Palestinian people succeeded in building the only genuine democracy in the Arab world with the possible exception of Lebanon. In January 2006, free and fair elections for the Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority brought to power a Hamas-led government. Israel, however, refused to recognise the democratically elected government, claiming that Hamas is purely and simply a terrorist organisation.

America and the EU shamelessly joined Israel in ostracising and demonising the Hamas government and in trying to bring it down by withholding tax revenues and foreign aid. A surreal situation thus developed with a significant part of the international community imposing economic sanctions not against the occupier but against the occupied, not against the oppressor but against the oppressed.

As so often in the tragic history of Palestine, the victims were blamed for their own misfortunes. Israel’s propaganda machine persistently purveyed the notion that the Palestinians are terrorists, that they reject coexistence with the Jewish state, that their nationalism is little more than antisemitism, that Hamas is just a bunch of religious fanatics and that Islam is incompatible with democracy. But the simple truth is that the Palestinian people are a normal people with normal aspirations. They are no better but they are no worse than any other national group. What they aspire to, above all, is a piece of land to call their own on which to live in freedom and dignity.

Like other radical movements, Hamas began to moderate its political programme following its rise to power. From the ideological rejectionism of its charter, it began to move towards pragmatic accommodation of a two-state solution. In March 2007, Hamas and Fatah formed a national unity government that was ready to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with Israel. Israel, however, refused to negotiate with a government that included Hamas.

It continued to play the old game of divide and rule between rival Palestinian factions. In the late 1980s, Israel had supported the nascent Hamas in order to weaken Fatah, the secular nationalist movement led by Yasser Arafat. Now Israel began to encourage the corrupt and pliant Fatah leaders to overthrow their religious political rivals and recapture power. Aggressive American neoconservatives participated in the sinister plot to instigate a Palestinian civil war. Their meddling was a major factor in the collapse of the national unity government and in driving Hamas to seize power in Gaza in June 2007 to pre-empt a Fatah coup.

The war unleashed by Israel on Gaza on 27 December was the culmination of a series of clashes and confrontations with the Hamas government. In a broader sense, however, it is a war between Israel and the Palestinian people, because the people had elected the party to power. The declared aim of the war is to weaken Hamas and to intensify the pressure until its leaders agree to a new ceasefire on Israel’s terms. The undeclared aim is to ensure that the Palestinians in Gaza are seen by the world simply as a humanitarian problem and thus to derail their struggle for independence and statehood.

The timing of the war was determined by political expediency. A general election is scheduled for 10 February and, in the lead-up to the election, all the main contenders are looking for an opportunity to prove their toughness. The army top brass had been champing at the bit to deliver a crushing blow to Hamas in order to remove the stain left on their reputation by the failure of the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon in July 2006. Israel’s cynical leaders could also count on apathy and impotence of the pro-western Arab regimes and on blind support from President Bush in the twilight of his term in the White House. Bush readily obliged by putting all the blame for the crisis on Hamas, vetoing proposals at the UN Security Council for an immediate ceasefire and issuing Israel with a free pass to mount a ground invasion of Gaza.

As always, mighty Israel claims to be the victim of Palestinian aggression but the sheer asymmetry of power between the two sides leaves little room for doubt as to who is the real victim. This is indeed a conflict between David and Goliath but the Biblical image has been inverted – a small and defenceless Palestinian David faces a heavily armed, merciless and overbearing Israeli Goliath. The resort to brute military force is accompanied, as always, by the shrill rhetoric of victimhood and a farrago of self-pity overlaid with self-righteousness. In Hebrew this is known as the syndrome of bokhim ve-yorim, “crying and shooting”.

To be sure, Hamas is not an entirely innocent party in this conflict. Denied the fruit of its electoral victory and confronted with an unscrupulous adversary, it has resorted to the weapon of the weak – terror. Militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad kept launching Qassam rocket attacks against Israeli settlements near the border with Gaza until Egypt brokered a six-month ceasefire last June. The damage caused by these primitive rockets is minimal but the psychological impact is immense, prompting the public to demand protection from its government. Under the circumstances, Israel had the right to act in self-defence but its response to the pinpricks of rocket attacks was totally disproportionate. The figures speak for themselves. In the three years after the withdrawal from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. On the other hand, in 2005-7 alone, the IDF killed 1,290 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children.

Whatever the numbers, killing civilians is wrong. This rule applies to Israel as much as it does to Hamas, but Israel’s entire record is one of unbridled and unremitting brutality towards the inhabitants of Gaza. Israel also maintained the blockade of Gaza after the ceasefire came into force which, in the view of the Hamas leaders, amounted to a violation of the agreement. During the ceasefire, Israel prevented any exports from leaving the strip in clear violation of a 2005 accord, leading to a sharp drop in employment opportunities. Officially, 49.1% of the population is unemployed. At the same time, Israel restricted drastically the number of trucks carrying food, fuel, cooking-gas canisters, spare parts for water and sanitation plants, and medical supplies to Gaza. It is difficult to see how starving and freezing the civilians of Gaza could protect the people on the Israeli side of the border. But even if it did, it would still be immoral, a form of collective punishment that is strictly forbidden by international humanitarian law.

The brutality of Israel’s soldiers is fully matched by the mendacity of its spokesmen. Eight months before launching the current war on Gaza, Israel established a National Information Directorate. The core messages of this directorate to the media are that Hamas broke the ceasefire agreements; that Israel’s objective is the defence of its population; and that Israel’s forces are taking the utmost care not to hurt innocent civilians. Israel’s spin doctors have been remarkably successful in getting this message across. But, in essence, their propaganda is a pack of lies.

A wide gap separates the reality of Israel’s actions from the rhetoric of its spokesmen. It was not Hamas but the IDF that broke the ceasefire. It di d so by a raid into Gaza on 4 November that killed six Hamas men. Israel’s objective is not just the defence of its population but the eventual overthrow of the Hamas government in Gaza by turning the people against their rulers. And far from taking care to spare civilians, Israel is guilty of indiscriminate bombing and of a three-year-old blockade that has brought the inhabitants of Gaza, now 1.5 million, to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.

The Biblical injunction of an eye for an eye is savage enough. But Israel’s insane offensive against Gaza seems to follow the logic of an eye for an eyelash. After eight days of bombing, with a death toll of more than 400 Palestinians and four Israelis, the gung-ho cabinet ordered a land invasion of Gaza the consequences of which are incalculable.

No amount of military escalation can buy Israel immunity from rocket attacks from the military wing of Hamas. Despite all the death and destruction that Israel has inflicted on them, they kept up their resistance and they kept firing their rockets. This is a movement that glorifies victimhood and martyrdom. There is simply no military solution to the conflict between the two communities. The problem with Israel’s concept of security is that it denies even the most elementary security to the other community. The only way for Israel to achieve security is not through shooting but through talks with Hamas, which has repeatedly declared its readiness to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with the Jewish state within its pre-1967 borders for 20, 30, or even 50 years. Israel has rejected this offer for the same reason it spurned the Arab League peace plan of 2002, which is still on the table: it involves concessions and compromises.

This brief review of Israel’s record over the past four decades makes it difficult to resist the conclusion that it has become a rogue state with “an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders”. A rogue state habitually violates international law, possesses weapons of mass destruction and practises terrorism – the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. Israel fulfils all of these three criteria; the cap fits and it must wear it. Israel’s real aim is not peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighbours but military domination. It keeps compounding the mistakes of the past with new and more disastrous ones. Politicians, like everyone else, are of course free to repeat the lies and mistakes of the past. But it is not mandatory to do so.

• Avi Shlaim is a professor of international relations at the University of Oxford and the author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World and of Lion of Jordan: King Hussein’s Life in War and Peace.

US Senate supports Israel’s Gaza invasion

January 9, 2009

WASHINGTON, Jan 8 (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate voiced strong support on Thursday for Israel’s battle against Hamas militants in Gaza, while urging a ceasefire that would prevent Hamas from launching any more rockets into Israel.

The chamber agreed on a voice vote to the non-binding resolution co-sponsored by Democratic and Republican party leaders in the chamber.

“When we pass this resolution, the United States Senate will strengthen our historic bond with the state of Israel, by reaffirming Israel’s inalienable right to defend against attacks from Gaza, as well as our support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said before the vote.

Noting that Israel was bent on halting Hamas rocket fire into its southern towns, Reid said: “I ask any of my colleagues to imagine that happening here in the United States. Rockets and mortars coming from Toronto in Canada, into Buffalo New York. How would we as a country react?”

Co-sponsor and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican said before the vote: “The Israelis … are responding exactly the same way we would.”

The House was expected to pass a similar resolution.

The Senate resolution encourages President George W. Bush “to work actively to support a durable, enforceable and sustainable ceasefire in Gaza as soon as possible that prevents Hamas from retaining or rebuilding the capability to launch rockets or mortars against Israel,” Reid said.

It also expresses an “unwavering” commitment to Israel’s welfare and recognizes its right to act in self defense to protect citizens against acts of terrorism, he said. “It allows for the long-term improvement of daily living conditions of the ordinary people of Gaza,” he said.

Palestinians faced even grimmer conditions in Gaza on Thursday after a U.N. aid agency halted work, saying its staff was at risk from Israeli forces after two drivers were killed.

The reported Palestinian death toll in the 13-day-old conflict topped 700. At least 11 Israelis have been killed, eight of them soldiers, including four hit by “friendly fire.”

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, editing by Philip Barbara)

Israeli savagery in Gaza

January 5, 2009

Eric Ruder reports on Israel’s savage invasion into one of the most densely populated places on earth.

Israeli tanks mass on border before ground invasion of Gaza (Rafael Ben-Ari | Chameleons Eye)Israeli tanks mass on border before ground invasion of Gaza (Rafael Ben-Ari | Chameleons Eye)

THE ISRAELI military stormed into Gaza January 3 with thousands of troops, tanks, armored personnel carriers and bulldozers, inflicting a new round of death and suffering on Gaza’s population.

“This will not be easy, and it will not be short,” said Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Israeli television as the ground invasion began. Major Gen. Yoav Galant, a top commander of Israel’s ground forces, told reporters that the aim of the operation was to “send Gaza decades into the past” and inflict “the maximum number of enemy casualties.”

The latest surge of Israel’s violence pushed the death toll among Palestinians to more than 500 and the injured to more than 2,500 as the weekend came to an end. More than one in three people in Gaza has no access to water and electricity, and sewage flows in the streets.

After a week of punishing air strikes and then heavy artillery barrages, Gaza’s residents live in a state of constant fear. As Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera’s Gaza correspondent, reported:

The Israeli military continues to pound targets everywhere in the territory. On the eighth day of attacks, people here are very much terrorized by what is going on. The Israeli military is engaging in very aggressive psychological warfare.

They have been dropping leaflets warning Palestinians that they have to flee their homes, and warning that anyone who lives in an area that could be a possible target that their home will be targeted as well. So that is causing a ripple effect of fear, but the question is where do 1.5 million Palestinians trapped in Gaza go?

What you can do

Protests against Israel’s assault on Gaza have already taken place in cities around the country, with more planned for the coming days. Contact local organizers for details where you live.

For updates on the current situation, plus commentary and analysis on the background to the war, read the Electronic Intifada Web site. Electronic Intifada Executive Director Ali Abunimah’s “Gaza massacres must spur us to action” is a good starting point for further reading.

You can also find updated coverage on conditions in Gaza and the efforts of activists to stand up to the Israeli war at the Free Gaza Web site.

Between the Lines: Readings on Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S. “War on Terror,” by Tikva Honig-Parnass and Toufic Haddad, documents the apartheid-like conditions that Palestinians live under today.

For background on Israel’s war and the Palestinian struggle for freedom, read The Struggle for Palestine, a collection of essays edited by Lance Selfa on the history of the occupation and Palestinian resistance.

Despite the scale of the human suffering, the U.S. government–predictably enough–blocked a proposed United Nations Security Council statement that expressed concern at the escalating violence between Israel and Hamas, and called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, according to the Associated Press.

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WITH THEIR incursion, Israeli forces encircled Gaza City and effectively sliced the territory into northern and southern halves. But rather than enter Gaza’s population centers, Israeli troops remained poised on the outskirts, sending columns of troops and tanks to seize strategic hilltops above urban areas–putting them in the position of the military equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel.

At the opening of the ground offensive January 4, the New York Times faithfully reported the assertion by Israeli Defense Ministry spokesperson Shlomo Dror that “Hamas can stop it whenever it wants,” by stopping its rocket fire.

This idea–that Hamas provoked Israel into attacking Gaza, and therefore bears primary responsibility for the bloodshed–serves as the primary justification for the Israeli military’s war crimes. But it was Israel that broke the truce with Hamas–back on November 5, with an attack that killed six Palestinians. Until that point, the Palestinians had scrupulously abided by the 5-month-old truce, only firing rockets after Israel attacked.

But Israel has never needed the excuse of Palestinian attacks to unleash violence. As Ilan Pappe, part of a school of “new historians” in Israel that has challenged many of the central myths of the country’s founding, wrote:

There are no boundaries to the hypocrisy that a righteous fury produces. The discourse of the generals and the politicians is moving erratically between self-compliments of the humanity the army displays in its “surgical” operations on the one hand, and the need to destroy Gaza for once and for all, in a humane way, of course, on the other.

This righteous fury is a constant phenomenon in the Israeli, and before that Zionist, dispossession of Palestine. Every act–whether it was ethnic cleansing, occupation, massacre or destruction–was always portrayed as morally just and as a pure act of self-defense, reluctantly perpetrated by Israel in its war against the worst kind of human beings…

Today in Israel, from left to right, from [the conservative party] Likud to [the centrist party] Kadima, from academia to the media, one can hear this righteous fury of a state that is more busy than any other state in the world in destroying and dispossessing an indigenous population.

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AS THE superpower of the Middle East, Israel has used its massive military superiority to physically annihilate the civilian and government infrastructure of Gaza. But it still faces a thorny problem. “Though Israel has struck at hundreds of targets across the Gaza Strip, it has yet to seriously injure Hamas’s fighting force,” according to the Christian Science Monitor.

This is the same problem that every conventional military power pitted against a resistance movement must contend with–from the French forces occupying Algeria in the 1950s, to the U.S. in Vietnam in the 1960s, to the American occupiers in Iraq today.

“One of the most important things in this conflict between state and non=state actors is what is the meaning of victory,” said Eitan Azani, a former Israeli colonel at the Institute for Counter Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. “A lot of people from [Hamas] dying? A collapse? Or most of the operational capability destroyed? This is up for debate. We are in a very complicated situation.”

The harder Israel tries to pound Gaza’s residents into submission from afar, the more fierce becomes support for the Hamas resistance fighters that Israel is seeking to isolate. But if Israeli troops attempt to fight Hamas militants at close quarters, conventional military superiority would be transformed from an advantage into a weakness–tanks and troops would become targets for a resistance that can choose when and where to strike, and then slip away.

In the words of Israeli-based journalist Jonathan Cook:

Gaza, as Israelis know only too well, is one mammoth refugee camp. Its narrow alleys, incapable of being negotiated by Merkava tanks, will force Israeli soldiers out into the open. Gaza, in the Israeli imagination, is a death trap.

Similarly, no one has forgotten the heavy toll on Israeli soldiers during the ground war [against Lebanon] with Hezbollah in 2006. In a country such as Israel, with a citizen army, the public has become positively phobic of a war in which large numbers of its sons will be placed in the firing line.

That fear is only heightened by reports in the Israeli media that Hamas is praying for the chance to engage Israel’s army in serious combat. The decision to sacrifice many soldiers in Gaza is not one [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak, leader of the Labor Party, will take lightly with an election in six weeks.

This dilemma has caused anxiety within the Israeli establishment about how to avoid the defeat the Israeli military suffered in 2006 when a month-long assault on Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon failed to achieve any of its strategic objectives, while Israeli troops were killed, injured and captured.

In this sense, despite the overwhelming force that Israel is using, it’s too soon to say that it has won. “The main risk for Israel is that it will drag out into a full occupation of the Gaza Strip,” worried Shlomo Brom, former director of the Israeli army’s planning division. “If we have very few casualties in this operation, it may lead some to ask why don’t we topple Hamas?”

Meanwhile, around the world, there has been an outpouring of solidarity for the people of Gaza–from Palestinians living in Israel, who staged a huge demonstration over the weekend; to Arab citizens around the Middle East; to supporters of Palestinian rights in Europe and the U.S.

This is critical to bringing pressure to bear on Israel–and its chief backer, the U.S.

Building this pressure will require patient explanation and sustained campaigning against the central justifications offered by Israel for its war of terror against the people of Gaza. It’s Israel, not Hamas, that can end this conflict at any time. When Israel ends its occupation of the Palestinian homeland, then the resistance will end.

As Ilan Pappe put it:

Despite the predictable accusation of anti-Semitism and what have you, it is time to associate in the public mind the Zionist ideology with the by-now familiar historical landmarks of the land: the ethnic cleansing of 1948, the oppression of the Palestinians in Israel during the days of the military rule, the brutal occupation of the West Bank and now the massacre of Gaza.

Very much as the apartheid ideology explained the oppressive policies of the South African government, this ideology–in its most consensual and simplistic variety–allowed all the Israeli governments in the past and the present to dehumanize the Palestinians wherever they are and strive to destroy them…

By connecting the Zionist ideology and the policies of the past with the present atrocities, we will be able to provide a clear and logical explanation for the campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions. Challenging by nonviolent means a self-righteous ideological state that allows itself, aided by a mute world, to dispossess and destroy the indigenous people of Palestine is a just and moral cause.


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