Posts Tagged ‘DM Ehud Barak’

Abbas urges unity against land grabs

September 8, 2009
Morning Star Online, September 7,  2009

Tel Aviv announced on Monday that it has officially approved the construction of 366 new flats for Israeli settlers in illegal West Bank colonies.

And Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said that he intends to approve about 84 more soon.

The first new construction that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish government has approved since taking office in March threatens to derail attempts to get Middle East peace efforts back on track.

Continues >>

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Under the Black Flag: Israeli War Crimes

February 3, 2009

By URI AVNERY | Counterpunch, Feb 2, 2009

A Spanish judge has instituted a judicial inquiry against seven Israeli political and military personalities on suspicion of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The case: the 2002 dropping of a one ton bomb on the home of Hamas leader Salah Shehade. Apart from the intended victim, 14 people, most of them children, were killed.

For those who have forgotten: the then commander of the Israeli Air Force, Dan Halutz, was asked at the time what he feels when he drops a bomb on a residential building. His unforgettable answer: “A slight bump to the wing.” When we in Gush Shalom accused him of a war crime, he demanded that we be put on trial for high treason. He was joined by the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, who accused us of wanting to “turn over Israeli army officers to the enemy”. The Attorney General notified us officially that he did not intend to open an investigation against those responsible for the bombing.

I should be happy, therefore, that at long last somebody is ready to put that action to a judicial test (even if he seems to have been thwarted by political pressure.) But I am sorry that this has happened in Spain, not in Israel.

* * *

ISRAELI TV VIEWERS have lately been exposed to a bizarre sight: army officers appearing with their faces hidden, as usual for criminals when the court prohibits their identification. Pedophiles, for example, or attackers of old women.

On the orders of the military censors, this applies to all officers, from battalion commanders down, who have been involved in the Gaza war. Since the faces of brigade commanders and above are generally known, the order does not apply to them.

Immediately after the cease-fire, the Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, promoted a special law that would give unlimited backing by the state to all officers and soldiers who took part in the Gaza war and who might be accused abroad of war crimes. This seems to confirm the Hebrew adage: “On the head of the thief, the hat is burning”.

* * *

I DO NOT object to trials abroad. The main thing is that war criminals, like pirates, should be brought to justice. It is not so important where they are caught. (This rule was applied by the State of Israel when it abducted Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and hanged him in Israel for heinous crimes committed outside the territory of Israel and, indeed, before the state even existed.)

But as an Israeli patriot, I would prefer suspected Israeli war criminals to be put on trial in Israel. That is necessary for the country, for all decent officers and soldiers of the Israeli army, for the education of future generations of citizens and soldiers.

There is no need to rely on international law alone. There are Israeli laws against war crimes. Enough to mention the immortal phrase coined by Justice Binyamin Halevy, serving as a military judge, in the trial of the border policemen who were responsible for the 1956 massacre in Kafr Kassem, when dozens of children, women and men were mown down for violating a curfew which they did not even know about.

The judge announced that even in wartime, there are orders over which flies “the black flag of illegality”. These are orders which are “manifestly” illegal – that is to say, orders which every normal person can tell are illegal, without having to consult a lawyer.

War criminals dishonor the army whose uniform they wear – whether they are generals or common soldiers. As a combat soldier on the day the Israeli Defense Army was officially created, I am ashamed of them and demand that they be cast out and be put on trial in Israel.

My list of suspects includes politicians, soldiers, rabbis and lawyers.

* * *

THERE IS not the slightest doubt that in the Gaza war, crimes were committed. The question is to what extent and by whom.

Example: the soldiers call on the residents of a house to leave it. A woman and her four children come out, waving white handkerchiefs. It is absolutely clear that they are not armed fighters. A soldier in a near-by tank stands up, points his rifle and shoots them dead at short range. According to testimonies that seem to be beyond doubt, this happened more than once.

Another example: the shelling of the United Nations school full of refugees, from which there was no shooting – as admitted by the army, after the original pretexts were disproved.

These are ”simple” cases. But the spectrum of cases is far wider. A serious judicial investigation has to start right from the top: the politicians and senior officers who decided on the war and confirmed its plans must be investigated about their decisions. In Nuremberg it was laid down that the starting of a war of aggression is a crime.

An objective investigation has to find out whether the decision to start the war was justified, or if there existed another way of stopping the launching of rockets against Israeli territory. Without doubt, no country can or should tolerate the bombing of its towns and villages from beyond the border. But could this be prevented by talking with the Gaza authorities? Was our government’s decision to boycott Hamas, the winner of the democratic Palestinian elections, the real cause of this war? Did the imposition of the blockade on a million and a half Gaza Strip inhabitants contribute to the launching of the Qassams? In brief: were the alternatives considered before it was decided to start a deadly war?

The war plan included a massive attack on the civilian population of the Strip. The real aims of a war can be understood less from the official declarations of its initiators, than from their actions. If in this war some 1300 men, women and children were killed, the great majority of whom were not fighters; if about 5000 people were injured, most of them children; if some 2500 homes were partly or wholly destroyed; if the infrastructure of life was totally demolished – all this clearly could not have happened accidentally. It must have been a part of the war plan.

The things said during the war by politicians and officers make it clear that the plan had at least two aims, which might be considered war crimes: (1) To cause widespread killing and destruction, in order to “fix a price tag”. “to burn into their consciousness”, “to reinforce deterrence”, and most of all – to get the population to rise up against Hamas and overthrow their government. Clearly this affects mainly the civilian population. (2) To avoid casualties to our army at (literally) any price by destroying any building and killing any human being in the area into which our troops were about to move, including destroying homes over the heads of their inhabitants, preventing medical teams from reaching the victims, killing people indiscriminately. In certain cases, inhabitants were warned that they must flee, but this was mainly an alibi-action: there was nowhere to flee to, and often fire was opened on people trying to escape.

An independent court will have to decide whether such a war-plan is in accordance with national and international law, or whether it was ab initio a crime against humanity and a war-crime.

This was a war of a regular army with huge capabilities against a guerrilla force. In such a war, too, not everything is permissible. Arguments like “The Hamas terrorists were hiding within the civilian population” and “They used the population as human shields” may be effective as propaganda but are irrelevant: that is true for every guerrilla war. It must be taken into account when a decision to start such a war is being considered.

In a democratic state, the military takes its orders from the political establishment. Good. But that does not include “manifestly” illegal orders, over which the black flag of illegality is waving. Since the Nuremberg trials, there is no more room for the excuse that “I was only obeying orders”.

Therefore, the personal responsibility of all involved – from the Chief of Staff, the Front Commander and the Division Commander right down to the last soldier – must be examined. From the statements of soldiers one must deduce that many believed that their job was “to kill as many Arabs as possible”. Meaning: no distinction between fighters and non-fighters. That is a completely illegal order, whether given explicitly or by a wink and a nudge. The soldiers understood this to be “the spirit of the commander”.

Continued >>

Another War, Another Defeat

January 19, 2009

The Gaza offensive has succeeded in punishing the Palestinians but not in making Israel more secure.

By John J. Mearsheimer | The American Conservative, January 26, 2009

Israelis and their American supporters claim that Israel learned its lessons well from the disastrous 2006 Lebanon war and has devised a winning strategy for the present war against Hamas. Of course, when a ceasefire comes, Israel will declare victory. Don’t believe it. Israel has foolishly started another war it cannot win.

The campaign in Gaza is said to have two objectives: 1) to put an end to the rockets and mortars that Palestinians have been firing into southern Israel since it withdrew from Gaza in August 2005; 2) to restore Israel’s deterrent, which was said to be diminished by the Lebanon fiasco, by Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, and by its inability to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

But these are not the real goals of Operation Cast Lead. The actual purpose is connected to Israel’s long-term vision of how it intends to live with millions of Palestinians in its midst. It is part of a broader strategic goal: the creation of a “Greater Israel.” Specifically, Israel’s leaders remain determined to control all of what used to be known as Mandate Palestine, which includes Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians would have limited autonomy in a handful of disconnected and economically crippled enclaves, one of which is Gaza. Israel would control the borders around them, movement between them, the air above and the water below them.

The key to achieving this is to inflict massive pain on the Palestinians so that they come to accept the fact that they are a defeated people and that Israel will be largely responsible for controlling their future. This strategy, which was first articulated by Ze’ev Jabotinsky in the 1920s and has heavily influenced Israeli policy since 1948, is commonly referred to as the “Iron Wall.”

What has been happening in Gaza is fully consistent with this strategy.

Let’s begin with Israel’s decision to withdraw from Gaza in 2005. The conventional wisdom is that Israel was serious about making peace with the Palestinians and that its leaders hoped the exit from Gaza would be a major step toward creating a viable Palestinian state. According to the New York Times’ Thomas L. Friedman, Israel was giving the Palestinians an opportunity to “build a decent mini-state there—a Dubai on the Mediterranean,” and if they did so, it would “fundamentally reshape the Israeli debate about whether the Palestinians can be handed most of the West Bank.”

This is pure fiction. Even before Hamas came to power, the Israelis intended to create an open-air prison for the Palestinians in Gaza and inflict great pain on them until they complied with Israel’s wishes. Dov Weisglass, Ariel Sharon’s closest adviser at the time, candidly stated that the disengagement from Gaza was aimed at halting the peace process, not encouraging it. He described the disengagement as “formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” Moreover, he emphasized that the withdrawal “places the Palestinians under tremendous pressure. It forces them into a corner where they hate to be.”

Arnon Soffer, a prominent Israeli demographer who also advised Sharon, elaborated on what that pressure would look like. “When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.”

In January 2006, five months after the Israelis pulled their settlers out of Gaza, Hamas won a decisive victory over Fatah in the Palestinian legislative elections. This meant trouble for Israel’s strategy because Hamas was democratically elected, well organized, not corrupt like Fatah, and unwilling to accept Israel’s existence. Israel responded by ratcheting up economic pressure on the Palestinians, but it did not work. In fact, the situation took another turn for the worse in March 2007, when Fatah and Hamas came together to form a national unity government. Hamas’s stature and political power were growing, and Israel’s divide-and-conquer strategy was unraveling.

To make matters worse, the national unity government began pushing for a long-term ceasefire. The Palestinians would end all missile attacks on Israel if the Israelis would stop arresting and assassinating Palestinians and end their economic stranglehold, opening the border crossings into Gaza.

Israel rejected that offer and with American backing set out to foment a civil war between Fatah and Hamas that would wreck the national unity government and put Fatah in charge. The plan backfired when Hamas drove Fatah out of Gaza, leaving Hamas in charge there and the more pliant Fatah in control of the West Bank. Israel then tightened the screws on the blockade around Gaza, causing even greater hardship and suffering among the Palestinians living there.

Hamas responded by continuing to fire rockets and mortars into Israel, while emphasizing that they still sought a long-term ceasefire, perhaps lasting ten years or more. This was not a noble gesture on Hamas’s part: they sought a ceasefire because the balance of power heavily favored Israel. The Israelis had no interest in a ceasefire and merely intensified the economic pressure on Gaza. But in the late spring of 2008, pressure from Israelis living under the rocket attacks led the government to agree to a six-month ceasefire starting on June 19. That agreement, which formally ended on Dec. 19, immediately preceded the present war, which began on Dec. 27.

The official Israeli position blames Hamas for undermining the ceasefire. This view is widely accepted in the United States, but it is not true. Israeli leaders disliked the ceasefire from the start, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the IDF to begin preparing for the present war while the ceasefire was being negotiated in June 2008. Furthermore, Dan Gillerman, Israel’s former ambassador to the UN, reports that Jerusalem began to prepare the propaganda campaign to sell the present war months before the conflict began. For its part, Hamas drastically reduced the number of missile attacks during the first five months of the ceasefire. A total of two rockets were fired into Israel during September and October, none by Hamas.

How did Israel behave during this same period? It continued arresting and assassinating Palestinians on the West Bank, and it continued the deadly blockade that was slowly strangling Gaza. Then on Nov. 4, as Americans voted for a new president, Israel attacked a tunnel inside Gaza and killed six Palestinians. It was the first major violation of the ceasefire, and the Palestinians—who had been “careful to maintain the ceasefire,” according to Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center—responded by resuming rocket attacks. The calm that had prevailed since June vanished as Israel ratcheted up the blockade and its attacks into Gaza and the Palestinians hurled more rockets at Israel. It is worth noting that not a single Israeli was killed by Palestinian missiles between Nov. 4 and the launching of the war on Dec. 27.

As the violence increased, Hamas made clear that it had no interest in extending the ceasefire beyond Dec. 19, which is hardly surprising, since it had not worked as intended. In mid-December, however, Hamas informed Israel that it was still willing to negotiate a long-term ceasefire if it included an end to the arrests and assassinations as well as the lifting of the blockade. But the Israelis, having used the ceasefire to prepare for war against Hamas, rejected this overture. The bombing of Gaza commenced eight days after the failed ceasefire formally ended.

If Israel wanted to stop missile attacks from Gaza, it could have done so by arranging a long-term ceasefire with Hamas. And if Israel were genuinely interested in creating a viable Palestinian state, it could have worked with the national unity government to implement a meaningful ceasefire and change Hamas’s thinking about a two-state solution. But Israel has a different agenda: it is determined to employ the Iron Wall strategy to get the Palestinians in Gaza to accept their fate as hapless subjects of a Greater Israel.

This brutal policy is clearly reflected in Israel’s conduct of the Gaza War. Israel and its supporters claim that the IDF is going to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties, in some cases taking risks that put Israeli soldiers in jeopardy. Hardly. One reason to doubt these claims is that Israel refuses to allow reporters into the war zone: it does not want the world to see what its soldiers and bombs are doing inside Gaza. At the same time, Israel has launched a massive propaganda campaign to put a positive spin on the horror stories that do emerge.

The best evidence, however, that Israel is deliberately seeking to punish the broader population in Gaza is the death and destruction the IDF has wrought on that small piece of real estate. Israel has killed over 1,000 Palestinians and wounded more than 4,000. Over half of the casualties are civilians, and many are children. The IDF’s opening salvo on Dec. 27 took place as children were leaving school, and one of its primary targets that day was a large group of graduating police cadets, who hardly qualified as terrorists. In what Ehud Barak called “an all-out war against Hamas,” Israel has targeted a university, schools, mosques, homes, apartment buildings, government offices, and even ambulances. A senior Israeli military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, explained the logic behind Israel’s expansive target set: “There are many aspects of Hamas, and we are trying to hit the whole spectrum, because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel.” In other words, everyone is a terrorist and everything is a legitimate target.

Israelis tend to be blunt, and they occasionally say what they are really doing. After the IDF killed 40 Palestinian civilians in a UN school on Jan. 6, Ha’aretz reported that “senior officers admit that the IDF has been using enormous firepower.” One officer explained, “For us, being cautious means being aggressive. From the minute we entered, we’ve acted like we’re at war. That creates enormous damage on the ground … I just hope those who have fled the area of Gaza City in which we are operating will describe the shock.”

One might accept that Israel is waging “a cruel, all-out war against 1.5 million Palestinian civilians,” as Ha’aretz put it in an editorial, but argue that it will eventually achieve its war aims and the rest of the world will quickly forget the horrors inflicted on the people of Gaza.

This is wishful thinking. For starters, Israel is unlikely to stop the rocket fire for any appreciable period of time unless it agrees to open Gaza’s borders and stop arresting and killing Palestinians. Israelis talk about cutting off the supply of rockets and mortars into Gaza, but weapons will continue to come in via secret tunnels and ships that sneak through Israel’s naval blockade. It will also be impossible to police all of the goods sent into Gaza through legitimate channels.

Israel could try to conquer all of Gaza and lock the place down. That would probably stop the rocket attacks if Israel deployed a large enough force. But then the IDF would be bogged down in a costly occupation against a deeply hostile population. They would eventually have to leave, and the rocket fire would resume. And if Israel fails to stop the rocket fire and keep it stopped, as seems likely, its deterrent will be diminished, not strengthened.

More importantly, there is little reason to think that the Israelis can beat Hamas into submission and get the Palestinians to live quietly in a handful of Bantustans inside Greater Israel. Israel has been humiliating, torturing, and killing Palestinians in the Occupied Territories since 1967 and has not come close to cowing them. Indeed, Hamas’s reaction to Israel’s brutality seems to lend credence to Nietzsche’s remark that what does not kill you makes you stronger.

But even if the unexpected happens and the Palestinians cave, Israel would still lose because it will become an apartheid state. As Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently said, Israel will “face a South African-style struggle” if the Palestinians do not get a viable state of their own. “As soon as that happens,” he argued, “the state of Israel is finished.” Yet Olmert has done nothing to stop settlement expansion and create a viable Palestinian state, relying instead on the Iron Wall strategy to deal with the Palestinians.

There is also little chance that people around the world who follow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will soon forget the appalling punishment that Israel is meting out in Gaza. The destruction is just too obvious to miss, and too many people—especially in the Arab and Islamic world—care about the Palestinians’ fate. Moreover, discourse about this longstanding conflict has undergone a sea change in the West in recent years, and many of us who were once wholly sympathetic to Israel now see that the Israelis are the victimizers and the Palestinians are the victims. What is happening in Gaza will accelerate that changing picture of the conflict and long be seen as a dark stain on Israel’s reputation.

The bottom line is that no matter what happens on the battlefield, Israel cannot win its war in Gaza. In fact, it is pursuing a strategy—with lots of help from its so-called friends in the Diaspora—that is placing its long-term future at risk. __________________________________________

John J. Mearsheimer is a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and coauthor of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.

The UN in Israel’s Crosshairs

January 19, 2009

By Rannie Amiri | Counterpunch, January  16 – 18, 2009

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.

Qana, 1996

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.

Jabaliya, 2009

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.

Israelis bombard Gaza Strip UN HQ

January 16, 2009

The Morning Star

(Thursday 15 January 2009)
Israeli air strikes destroying a building in the Gaza Strip.

OBLITERATION: Israeli air strikes destroying a building in the Gaza Strip.

ISRAELI forces bombarded the United Nations headquarters in the Gaza Strip with phosphorus shells on Thursday, as hundreds of refugees cowered inside.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon, who is in Tel Aviv on a mission to end Israel’s devastating offensive, expressed “outrage” over the bombing, which set buildings ablaze and injured at least three people.

Only that morning, the UN compound in Gaza was put to use as a makeshift shelter for hundreds of Gaza City residents seeking sanctuary from the relentless shelling.

Two of the shells hit a UN warehouse housing humanitarian supplies, setting off intense fires.

UN relief operations director John Ging said: “They are phosphorus fires so they are extremely difficult to put out because if you put water on it, it will just generate toxic fumes and do nothing to stop the burning.

“This is going to burn down the entire warehouse. Thousands and thousands of tons of food, medical supplies and other emergency assistance are there,” he warned.

UN spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna said that the UN had given Israel the co-ordinates of the building and that the compound was also clearly marked with UN flags and logos.

Israeli soldiers, backed by tanks and warplanes, pushed into a crowded Gaza City neighbourhood for the first time, sending terrified residents fleeing for cover.

Shells struck the al-Quds Hospital, causing fires that trapped about 400 patients and staff inside the main building.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Five high-rise apartment buildings and a building housing media outlets in Gaza City were also hit, injuring several journalists.

Bullets entered another building housing Associated Press offices and they lodged into the wall of a room where two staffers were working, but no-one was wounded.

The Foreign Press Association, which represents journalists covering Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, demanded a halt to attacks on press buildings.

Over 1,066 Palestinians, including at least 311 children, have been killed and 4,700 have been injured since Tel Aviv kicked off Operation Cast Lead on December 27.

Addressing soldiers at a southern base on Thursday, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak declared that the offensive would continue, but that Israel’s eyes were “also open to the possibility of winding up this operation and consummating Israel’s exceptional accomplishments through diplomacy.”

President Bush Winks at Israel’s Slaughter in Gaza, While Obama and Clinton Are Silent

December 28, 2008

Israel recklessly bombed Gaza on Saturday, killing at least 205 Palestinians and wounding at least 350 more, according to Palestinian health officials.

This wholly disproportionate response to Hamas’s immoral but largely ineffective rocket attacks on Israel is guaranteed to further enflame the Middle East.

Not lost on anyone there will be the Bush Administration’s winking at Israel’s attacks.

White Houses spokesman Gordon Johndroe laid all the blame on Hamas.

“Hamas’s continued rocket attacks into Israel must cease if the violence is to stop,” Johndroe said.

Then even as he gave a perfunctory nod toward safeguarding civilians, he showed no displeasure with Israel going after Hamas: “The United States urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties as it targets Hamas in Gaza,” Johndroe said.

Meanwhile, President-elect Barack Obama and Secretary of State-to-be Hillary Clinton were shamefully silent in the first hours after the attack.

Bush’s reaction, and the non-reaction by Obama and Clinton, underscores the point that Hanan Ashrawi made on Saturday. “Israel has gotten used to not being held accountable and to being a country that is above the law,” said the Palestinian legislator and human rights activist. She called the bombings a “massacre.”

With Washington condoning Israel’s assault, the violence may only get worse.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, “The operation will be deeper and expanded as much as necessary. . . . It won’t be short, and it won’t be easy.”

A Hamas spokesperson vowed revenge and said Hamas “will continue the resistance until the last drop of blood.”

This cycle of violence will get bloodier and bloodier unless and until Washington finally prevails on Israel to make a just settlement with the Palestinians.

Bush did not have the inclination to do so. Neither, it appears, does Obama.

Israel Wraps Up Preparations for Gaza Invasion

December 26, 2008

Olmert Tells Gazans This Is Their Last Chance to Remove Hamas From Power

Antiwar.com, Posted December 25, 2008

Just one day after Israel’s cabinet approved a “substantial and painful” military operation in the Gaza Strip, the military is reporting that it has completed preparations for the invasion, and is just waiting for more pleasant weather to begin its attacks. Though Defense Minister Ehud Barak only promised to make Hamas pay “a heavy price,” anonymous Israeli officials say the operation is likely to begin with a series of air strikes, culminating in a ground invasion.

Military Chief Gen. Ashkenazi promised the Israeli forces would “act with wisdom” in the invasion, and said he would leave “a new secure situation around the Gaza Strip.”

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, meanwhile, warned Gaza’s 1.5 million civilian residents that they would be in danger if they did not stop Hamas from launching missiles. Insisting that Israel’s military operations in Gaza were all “a result of Hamas’ activities,” Olmert said tens of thousands of Gaza children will be put in danger.

He also promised not to let Gaza slip into a humanitarian crisis, vowing to prevent any shortages of food or medicine. The promise is unlikely to carry much weight in the besieged strip, as Israel has spent much of the past month doing everything they can to prevent food and medicine from reaching the strip’s residents.

Related Stories

compiled by Jason Ditz [email the author]

Israel ‘weighing Saudi peace deal’

October 20, 2008
Al Jazeera, Oct 20, 2008

Livni is scrambling to get the necessary numbers to form a coalition government [AFP]

Israel’s defence minister has said the country’s leaders are considering a dormant Saudi plan offering comprehensive peace with the Arab world.

Ehud Barak said it was time to pursue an overall peace deal because there was very little progress in individual negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians.

The peace plan – first mooted by Saudi Arabia in 2002 – offers Israel recognition by its Arab neighbours in return for its withdrawal from lands in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights captured during the 1967 Middle East war.

Barak said he had discussed the plan with Tzipi Livni, the leader of Israel’s Kadima party trying to form a coalition government, and that they were considering a response.

“There is definitely room to introduce a comprehensive Israeli plan to counter the Saudi plan that would be the basis for a discussion on overall regional peace,” he told Israel’s Army Radio.

Barak’s announcement came as Livni sought a two-week extension to form political alliances in a new government, having failed to attract the ultra-orthodox Shas party to join Kadima and Barak’s Labour party in the administration.

Coalition deadline

Livni was elected leader of Kadima last month, taking over from Ehud Olmert who resigned as prime minister in the wake of a corruption scandal but remains in office in a caretaker capacity until a new government is formed.

Livni has already won an initial agreement from Barak, the leader of the Labour party, to join a coalition under her leadership.

But her efforts to attract Shas, which is making a number of demands, have so far proved fruitless.

Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, reporting from Jerusalem, said the Shas party had a strong bargaining position.

The Shas party knows that Livni really needs it in order to become prime minister and form a strong government acceptable to the Israeli public, our correspondent said.

The religious Shas party, which has long billed itself as a party that represents Israel’s poor, has been demanding increased government spending of about $270m on social welfare as a price for joining a Livni-led coalition.

Scramble for numbers

With Labour in her corner, Livni would control 48 of the 120 seats in parliament.

“She could go to the Knesset [to ratify a government] with the seats she already has, but she believes she can do it in the end,” Gil Messing, a Livni spokesman, said.

Without Shas, she could form a minority government relying on precarious support from outside the coalition of left-wing and Arab parties wary of a national election that opinion polls show Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud would win.

Shas’s membership would boost that number to 60, a wafer-thin coalition but enough to stop the opposition from toppling her government in no-confidence votes.

Winning the support of smaller factions, such as the Pensioners party, with seven Knesset members, and the left-wing Meretz, with five, would give Livni a stronger mandate to pursue policies that include peacemaking with the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, some 80 truckloads of food and medical supplies were delayed from reaching the Gaza Strip after dozens of Israelis blocked a crossing on Sunday, demanding their government seal an agreement with Hamas to release Gilad Shalit.

Hamas is demanding the release of 1,400 prisoners in exchange for Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian fighters more than two years ago.


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