Posts Tagged ‘Gaza invasion’

The Goldstone report and its ramifications for Palestinian politics

October 15, 2009
by Ghassan Khatib, Media Monitors Network, Oct 14, 2009

“Resuming a new phase of the peace process without proper preparation and adherence to specific terms of reference such as the roadmap, will only result in a repetition of the Annapolis process and its outcome, failure. The peace camps in Israel and Palestine had different expectations from this American administration.”

The findings and recommendations of the Goldstone report were shocking to Israelis. They were furious at the warrant for Ehud Barak’s arrest in London as a result of a court case brought by the families of the many victims of Israel’s Gaza offensive. But the decision to support the deferral of a vote on the report in the UN’s Human Rights Council has caused an earthquake in Palestinian politics.

Continues >>

Those Dastardly Anti-Semites?

September 21, 2009

The whole operation was based on the assumption that it was possible to overthrow the Hamas government in Gaza by causing intolerable suffering to the civilian population. The damage to civilians was not ‘collateral’, whether avoidable or unavoidable, but a central feature of the operation itself, notes Uri Avnery.

By Uri Avnery, Information Clearing House, Sep 19, 2009

IS THERE no limit to the wiles of those dastardly anti-Semites?

Now they have decided to slander the Jews with another blood libel. Not the old accusation of slaughtering Christian children to use their blood for baking Passover matzoth, as in the past, but of the mass slaughter of women and children in Gaza.

And who did they put at the head of the commission which was charged with this task? Neither a British Holocaust-denier nor a German neo-Nazi, nor even an Iranian fanatic, but of all people a Jewish judge who bears the very Jewish name Goldstone (originally Goldstein, of course). And not just a Jew with a Jewish name, but a Zionist, whose daughter, Nicole, is an enthusiastic Zionist who once “made Aliyah” and speaks fluent Hebrew. And not just a Jewish Zionist, but a South African who opposed apartheid and was appointed to the country’s Constitutional Court when that system was abolished.

Continued >>

High Court rejects Gaza war crimes case

July 28, 2009
Morning Star Online/UK, Monday 27 July 2009
A Palestinian boy holds up a Hamas flag on a destroyed house in Jebaliya, northern Gaza

A Palestinian boy holds up a Hamas flag on a destroyed house in Jebaliya, northern Gaza

The High Court has thrown out a legal bid by a Palestinian human rights group to hold the British government to account for its “complicity” in Israeli war crimes in Gaza.

Ramallah-based Al-Haq accused the government of failing in its international legal obligations to stop “aid and trade” with Israel, including supplying arms, following Israeli incursions into Gaza in December and January which led to the deaths of 1,400 Palestinians.

Continued >>

Israeli soldiers reveal the brutal truth of Gaza attack

July 15, 2009

Troops’ testimonies disclose loose rules of engagement and use of civilians as human shields. Palestinian houses were systematically destroyed by ‘insane artillery firepower’

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem

The Independent/UK, Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Children at houses in Gaza which were destroyed during Israel's 22-day offensive

Children at houses in Gaza which were destroyed during Israel’s 22-day offensive

Israeli troops were repeatedly encouraged by officers to prioritise their own safety over that of Palestinian civilians when they embarked on the ground invasion of Gaza in January, according to the first direct testimonies of soldiers who served in the operation.

The picture that emerges from the testimonies, which have been seen by The Independent, is one of massive fire power to cover advances and rules of engagement that were calculated to ensure, in the words attributed to one battalion commander, that “not a hair will fall of a soldier of mine. I am not willing to allow a soldier of mine to risk himself by hesitating. If you are not sure, shoot.”

The first eye-witness accounts of the war by serving Israeli reservists and conscripts describes the Israeli use of Palestinian civilians as “human shields”. They detail the killing of at least two civilians, the vandalism, looting and wholesale destruction of Palestinian houses, the use of deadly white phosphorus, bellicose religious advice from army rabbis and what another battalion commander described to his troops as “insane firepower with artillery and air force”. The reports amount to the most formidable challenge by Israelis since the Gaza war to the military’s own considered view that it conducted the operation according to international law and made “an enormous effort to focus its fire only against the terrorists whilst doing the utmost to avoid harming uninvolved civilians”.

They are contained in testimonies from about 30 soldiers that were collected by Breaking the Silence, an army veterans organisation that seeks to “expose the Israeli public to the routine situations of everyday life in the occupied territories”. Although the organisation has collected hundreds of testimonies from ex-soldiers before, this is the first time that it has done so from serving soldiers so soon after the events they describe.

They tell how:

* Unprecedentedly loose rules of engagement were put in place to protect Israeli troops. One soldier said his brigade commander and other officers made it clear that “any movement must entail gunfire”. He added: “I don’t remember if the brigade commander said this or someone else. I’ m not sure. No one is supposed to be there. If you see any signs of movement at all, you shoot. These, essentially, were the rules of engagement. Shoot if you like if you are afraid or you see someone, shoot.” Another soldier said his battalion commander had said the operation was not “a limited confrontation such as in Hebron, and not to hesitate if we suspected someone nor feel bad about destruction because it is all done for the safety of our own soldiers… if we see something suspect and shoot, better hit an innocent than hesitate to target an enemy”. One soldier said the “awareness of each soldier going in is simply… a light finger on the trigger. You see something and you’re not quite sure? You shoot”.

* Houses were systematically demolished. Despite official accounts that homes were only destroyed for strictly “operational” reasons, one reservist, a veteran of the conflict in Gaza since before 2005, said “I never knew such fire power” used by tanks and helicopters for the “constant destruction” of houses. The soldier said that some houses had been destroyed for normal operational reasons, such as because they had been booby trapped or used by militants to fire from, or had contained tunnel openings. But he said others were destroyed for the “day after” – to make a “very large” area “sterile”, to allow better “firing capacity, good visibility and control” once the operation was over. This meant, demolishing houses “not implicated in any way, whose single sin is that it is situated on a hill in the Gaza strip” .

* A civilian man between 50 and 60 who was unarmed but carrying a torch was shot dead after the unit’s commander ordered his soldiers not to fire warning shots but to hold their fire until he was 50m away. The soldier said the company commander announced over the radio after the incident: “Here’s an opener for tonight”. The soldier said that the commander was challenged over why he had not authorised deterrent fire when the man was further away: “He didn’t agree and couldn’t give a damn, and finally the guys felt that even if they could take this up with the higher echelons it wouldn’t be effective.” Another soldier said his unit commander shot dead an old man hiding with his family under the stairs of a house. While the soldier said that the killing of the man was a mistake, it had happened as the unit entered the house using live fire.

* Palestinian human shields – or “johnnies” as they were termed by soldiers on the ground – were suborned to enter surrounded houses ahead of troops, including houses known to contain armed militants. One account corroborates the story of one such human shield that was exposed in The Independent, that of Majdi Abed Rabbo in Jabalya in northern Gaza, who was ordered three times to enter a house to report on the condition of three armed Hamas militants inside.

* Military rabbis prepared troops for battle. One soldier said an army rabbi had “aimed at inspiring the men with courage, cruelty aggressiveness, expressions as ‘no pity. God protects you. Everything you do is sanctified’… there were specific scenarios discussed… but from the context it was pretty obvious he came to tell us how aggressive and determined we need to be, that we must win because this is a holy war”. Leaflets distributed at military synagogues had stated that “the Palestinians are like the Philistines of old, newcomers who do not belong in the land, aliens planted on the soil which should clearly return to us”.

* Mortars – rarely if ever used in Gaza before – were widely deployed. They included 120mm mortars of the sort that killed up to 40 civilians outside the UN el-Fakhoura school in Jabalya which was being used as a shelter, and in a nearby house. One soldier explained that while “with light arms you’ve got an 80 per cent chance of hitting the target with your first shot, with mortars it is much less”. Another said: “I finally understood. We were firing at launcher crews in open spaces. But it didn’t take much to aim at schools, hospitals and such. So I see I’m firing literally into a built-up area. I don’t know to what degree it was still inhabited because the army made considerable attempts to get people to leave. But I understand that… [tails off].”

The testimonies appear to reinforce evidence from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and journalists who visited battle zones just after the war in January that white phosphorus was used for purposes other than “marking”, “range-finding” and “smoke screening”. Those purposes included to ignite homes suspected of being booby trapped.

Houses that troops occupied were vandalised. One testimony stated: “One of the soldiers… opened the child’s bag… he took out notebooks and ripped them. One guy smashed cupboards for kicks out of boredom. There were guys arguing with the platoon commander before we left the house why he wouldn’t let them smash the picture hanging there…” A reservist soldier said that there was a “big difference between the way we treated the contents of the house and the way the regulars did. The regulars wouldn’t take care even of the most basic sanitary stuff like going to the toilet, basic hygiene. I mean you could see that they had defecated anywhere and left the stuff lying round”.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), Lieutenant-Colonel Avital Leibovitz, sought to challenge the motives and credibility of the report. She said “more than a dozen” military police investigations were under way into incidents that took place during Operation Cast Lead. While the IDF continued to operate according to “uncompromising ethical values”, it was ready to investigate allegations of misconduct but not on the basis of anonymous testimonies which she could not be sure were from soldiers.

The Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard said the report showed that the Gaza operation violated the “number one principle in international laws of war”: that of distinguishing between the civilian population and combatants.

Yehuda Shaul, a founder of Breaking the Silence, said the group had names and details for all the testimonies – all of which had been taped – and that anonymity was to protect the testifiers from any disciplinary or criminal proceedings. The army already knew the name of at least one, he said.

Gaza invasion: Witnesses on the front line

On military briefings ahead of the invasion

“We talked about practical matters… but the basic approach to war was very brutal, that was my impression… He said something along the lines of ‘don’t let morality become an issue. That will come up later’. He had this strange language: ‘Leave the nightmares and horrors that will come up for later, now just shoot’… The basic approach was that there were no chances taken. If you face an area that is hidden by a building, you take down the building. Questions such as ‘who lives in the building?’ are not asked.”

On problems with identifying targets for bombing

“It got to the point where we would try to report to field intelligence about a figure sticking out its head or a rocket being launched, and the girl [at field intelligence] would ask, ‘Is it near this or that house?’ We’d look at the aerial photo and say, ‘Yes, but the house is no longer there’. ‘Wait, is it facing a square?’ ‘No more square.’… Later I went in to the look-out war-room and asked how things worked, and the girl-soldiers there, the look-outs, resented the fact that they had no way to direct the planes, because all their reference points were razed… It’s highly possible that now the pilot will bomb the wrong house.”

On the rules of engagement

“[The Brigade commander] went so far as to say this was war and in war, no consideration of civilians was to be taken. You shoot anyone you see. I’m paraphrasing here, not literally quoting, but the gist of the matter was very clear.”

On the rabbinate’s role in the conflict

“The rabbi said we are actually conducting the war of ‘the sons of light’ against ‘the sons of darkness’. This is in fact a statement with highly messianic language… It turns the other side as a generality into ‘sons of darkness’ while we become ‘sons of light’. There is no differentiation which we would expect to find between civilians and others. Here is one people fighting another people, with all the messianic implications. But that’s the point: this is also religious propaganda. In other words, the army is not a revival meeting. They do not put on a uniform in order to be Judaized.”

On soldiers’ responsibility

“Anything we did there, we’d answer ourselves: there’s no other choice, but this is how we shirk our responsibility. You bring yourself to this kind of deterministic situation, a moment that I have not chosen, where I no longer have any responsibility for my own actions. Even if your choice is the right one, you must admit you chose it. You have to admit you chose to go into Gaza. As soon as you did, you’ve brought people into a moral twilight zone, you’ve forced them to handle dilemmas and part of that confrontation failed. As soon as you say ‘there is no other choice’, you’re shirking your responsibility. Then you don’t need to investigate, to look into things.”

* Breaking The Silence

Victims of Israel’s Gaza invasion give evidence to UN mission

June 29, 2009

By Donald Macintyre in Gaza City | The Independent/UK,  June 29, 2009

Harrowing testimony by bereaved victims of Israel’s military onslaught on Gaza was heard yesterday in the first public session in Gaza City of a UN factfinding mission led by a prominent South African judge.

Israel has refused to co-operate with the enquiry, and Judge Richard Goldstone’s team was obliged to enter Gaza through the Egyptian border post in Rafah. It had also hoped to travel to southern Israel to hear testimony from Israeli victims of rocket attacks from Gaza but says it will now do so in Geneva next month. Israeli witnesses may be flown to Geneva to give evidence at UN expense as the team is barred from Israel.

Judge Goldstone, a Jew and an eminent lawyer on the board of Human Rights Watch, is also a former governor of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He said: “The purpose of the public hearings in Gaza and Geneva is to show the faces and broadcast the voices of victims – all of the victims.”

He told witnesses at the start of the hearing that the judges knew “it is not easy, and how painful it is” to tell their stories.

Moteeh Silawi, an imam from Jablaya, graphically described leading his blind father, aged 91, across scattered body parts after 17 worshippers were killed by flying shrapnel from an explosion just outside its door during evening prayers on 3 January. Mr Silawi, who lost three brothers and two nephews, including a four year old, said: “I saw bloodshed in the mosque. Can you imagine such a shock? I never thought it would be possible [for] a house of God, a house of worship, to be targeted by missiles.”

The team heard evidence from the Deeb family which lost 11 of its members, including five children, in the same series of mortar rounds that killed up to 40 people on 6 January near al-Fakhoura UN School in Jabalya, which was being used as a shelter. They also heard from Wael Samouni who survived an attack that killed 29 of his extended family on 5 January after they had taken shelter in his warehouse in Zeitoun.

Covering up Israel’s Gaza crimes with UN help

May 14, 2009

Hasan Abu Nimah, The Electronic Intifada, 13 May 2009

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meets with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the UN in New York, 6 May 2009. (Eskinder Debebe/UN Photo)

In my last article, I considered how UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon might handle the inquiry into Israeli attacks on UN facilities in the occupied Gaza Strip last winter. I hoped for the best but feared the worst given press reports that Ban had been told by the United States not to publish the report in full lest that harm the “peace process.”

Unfortunately, the worst fears were fully justified as Ban published and sent to the Security Council only a 27-page summary of the 184-page document submitted to him by a board of inquiry led by a former head of Amnesty International.

Moreover, Ban rejected a key recommendation that there be a full independent investigation into numerous killings and injuries caused to UN personnel and Palestinian civilians during the Israeli assault.

The board issued the recommendation because its own mandate was specifically limited to examining just nine incidents (Israel launched thousands of land, sea and air attacks on the Gaza Strip over 22 days). The board noted that “it was not within its scope or capacity to reach conclusions on all aspects of these incidents relevant to assessment of the responsibility of the parties in accordance with the rules and principles of international humanitarian law.”

These limitations meant that the board was “unable to investigate fully all circumstances related to the deaths and injuries” during several incidents including an attack in the immediate vicinity of school run by UNRWA — the UN agency for Palestine refugees — in Jabaliya in which dozens of people were killed, and another incident on 27 December which killed nine students from UNRWA’s Gaza Training Center immediately across the road from the main UN compound in Gaza City. Other incidents mentioned included ones in which white phosphorus shells fell on UN schools and facilities and densely populated urban areas.

Now here is the crucial part, included in recommendation 11 in the published summary: “where civilians have been killed and there are allegations of violations of international humanitarian law, there should be thorough investigations, full investigations, and, where required, accountability.” Such investigations, the summary states, should be carried out by an “impartial inquiry mandated, and adequately resourced, to investigate allegations of violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza and southern Israel by the [Israeli army] and by Hamas and other Palestinian militants.”

The board of inquiry corroborated the already existing masses of evidence collected by local and international human rights organizations, eyewitness accounts from UN and other humanitarian personnel, and the legal examination by the distinguished (but vilified by Israel and the US) UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, Richard Falk.

And yet none of this death and destruction, not the use of white phosphorus in flagrant violation of international law, not even against the UN (if that is all the secretary-general cares about) merited any further examination.

In his 4 May letter to the Security Council accompanying the summary, Ban wrote, “I do not plan any further inquiry,” adding perhaps as an excuse that “the government of Israel has agreed to meet with United Nations Secretariat officials to address the Board’s recommendations, in as far as they related to Israel.”

Israel, however, made its position very clear in a foreign ministry statement: “Israel rejects the criticism in the committee’s summary report, and determines that in both spirit and language, the report is tendentious, patently biased and ignores the facts.” Israel accused the board of inquiry of preferring the claims of Hamas, “a murderous terror organization and by doing so has misled the world.” Would Israeli representatives say anything different when they meet the secretary-general’s staff?

Ban could even have called Israel’s bluff and said that since Israel did not view the current report as sufficiently thorough, he would indeed order a full, impartial inquiry as recommended.

But the reality is that Ban has learned all the “right” lessons from the past. In 1996, then UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali published — against American “advice” — a UN report that demolished Israeli claims that its shelling on 18 April that year of the UN peacekeeping base in Qana, Lebanon, killing 106 people, was an accident. Boutros-Ghali effectively paid with his job as the Clinton Administration vetoed his bid for a second term. In 2002, after the Israeli army destroyed much of Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, the Security Council ordered then Secretary-General Kofi Annan to carry out an investigation. But Israel refused to allow the inquiry team into the country, and so Annan, rather than going back to the Security Council to ask for its support in carrying out his mandate, simply told the investigation team to disband and go home.

Ban is taking things even further. He apparently created the board of inquiry not in order to find out the truth, but only as a political exercise to cover himself from the charge of total inaction. But the board of inquiry members did take their mandate very seriously and honestly. By rejecting their call for accountability, Ban has in effect rejected and betrayed his own mandate to uphold the UN Charter and international humanitarian law.

And on what grounds did the secretary-general decide to publish only 27 pages? Most likely the rest of the report was not only damning to Israel, but would have exposed his decision to block further investigation as even more nakedly cynical.

It is especially puzzling since Ban himself had described the board of inquiry as “independent.” In response to allegations he had “watered down” the document, he stated: “I do not have any authority to edit or change any wording” of its “conclusion and recommendations.”

He did much more than that: he withheld 85 percent of the report! It may be true that the report is just an “internal document and is not for public release” as Ban wrote in his letter, and that the inquiry “is not a judicial body or court of law.”

But the Security Council — the UN’s most authoritative body — is not the public, and it ought at least to be able to see it even if the public cannot. Of course it is very likely that by some means or another some members of the council do have the full report, and it is likely that Israel has it as well, otherwise how did the pressures on the secretary-general not to publish it originate in the first place?

The UN Charter places on the secretary-general the responsibility to inform the Security Council of grave breaches of the charter so that it can act. Ban is actually hiding evidence of grave breaches in order to spare the Security Council the embarrassment of having to act against Israel which remains as ever the special case enjoying full impunity.

In the absence of any credible explanation for stopping even the 15 members of the Security Council from officially seeing the full report the presumption must be that Ban is engaging in a cover-up to protect Israel and therefore his own job. Equally puzzling is the acquiescence of the Security Council to this scandal. It is known that Ban’s action has been prompted, or fully approved by three permanent members. Why did the 12 others keep quiet?

In Gaza, there are numerous, credible and mounting allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including testimonies published in the Israeli media from Israeli soldiers themselves. The ongoing blockade preventing the movement of basic supplies and people in and out of an occupied territory is a prima facie breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Unlike other alleged war crimes in other parts of the world, the evidence is all there requiring little effort to find, including numerous statements from Israeli leaders showing that they had the motivation and intent to harm civilians as an act of punishment or revenge.

Yet once again, when it comes to Israel, UN officials actively collude in protecting the perpetrators. How could an investigation of an aggression which involved severe war crimes, deliberate attacks on civilians, destruction of civilian infrastructure, usage of banned weapons, attacks on UN installations, siege and deprivation be quietly shelved upon the discretion of the secretary-general alone?

The answer may be simple, but alarmingly revealing; the office of the secretary -general carries with it so much prestige, privilege and material reward, it seems not many can resist the temptation of holding on to the job at any price even if that price is paid in innocent people’s blood. The hunger for a second term requires so much obsequiousness and opportunism that the holder of this position becomes a burden rather than an asset, an obstacle to the UN functioning effectively.

It is not only Palestinians who are the victims of such outrageous and immoral actions, but the last vestiges of credibility of the UN itself. I hold — as do most Palestinians — enormous admiration and respect for the work of UNRWA and its personnel who remained under Israeli bombardment in Gaza risking their lives along with the communities they serve. These UN personnel also deserve better; they too are betrayed by the cowardice of those above them.

Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations. This essay first appeared in The Jordan and is republished with the author’s permission.

Avi Shlaim: The newspeak of Israeli propagandists

January 26, 2009

What Uri Dromi says about Hamas is pure and poisonous Israeli propaganda (This Hamas hallucination, 23 January). In every respect his article is almost the exact opposite of the truth. Dromi claims that: “The Orwellian mindset of the organisation is as much a barrier to peace as the rockets it fires.” But it is the newspeak of Israeli propagandists like Dromi that is truly Orwellian.

Over the last four weeks the powerful Israeli propaganda machine has been churning out lie after lie about Hamas in order to excuse its own inexcusable onslaught. Israel stopped journalists going into Gaza, preventing any independent reporting on the war crimes its forces were committing. Truth is usually the first casualty in war. Gaza was not even a war in the conventional sense of the word; it was one-sided carnage.

Here are some of the facts Dromi ignores or wilfully misrepresents. First, Hamas is the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people, not the corrupt regime led by Mahmoud Abbas. Second, Hamas spokesmen have repeatedly declared their readiness for a long-term ceasefire. Khalid Mish’al recently did so on these pages (Comment, 6 January). Third, Hamas has a solid record of observing ceasefires, while Israel has a consistent record of sabotaging them. Fourth, even during the ceasefire Israel did not lift its economic blockade of the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza, a form of collective punishment forbidden by international law. Fifth, the offensive unleashed in Gaza was illegal, immoral and unnecessary. If all Israel wanted was to stop rocket attacks from Gaza, all it had to do was to observe the ceasefire brokered by Egypt in June 2008.

Professor Avi Shlaim

Israel accused of war crimes over 12-hour assault on Gaza village

January 18, 2009

White flags ignored and houses bulldozed with families inside, claim residents

Israel stands accused of perpetrating a series of war crimes during a sustained 12-hour assault on a village in southern Gaza last week in which 14 people died.

In testimony collected from residents of the village of Khuza’a by the Observer, it is claimed that Israeli soldiers entering the village:

• attempted to bulldoze houses with civilians inside;

• killed civilians trying to escape under the protection of white flags;

• opened fire on an ambulance attempting to reach the wounded;

• used indiscriminate force in a civilian area and fired white phosphorus shells.

If the allegations are upheld, all the incidents would constitute breaches of the Geneva conventions.

The denunciations over what happened in Khuza’a follow repeated claims of possible human rights violations from the Red Cross, the UN and human rights organisations.

The Israeli army announced yesterday that it was investigating “at the highest level” five other attacks against civilians in Gaza, involving two UN facilities and a hospital. It added that in all cases initial investigations suggested soldiers were responding to fire. “These claims of war crimes are not supported by the slightest piece of evidence,” said Yigal Palmor, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman.

Concern over what occurred in the village of Khuza’a in the early hours of Tuesday was first raised by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. Although an Israeli military spokesman said he had “no information that this alleged incident took place”, witness statements collected by the Observer are consistent and match testimony gathered by B’Tselem.

There is also strong visible evidence that Khuza’a came under a sustained attack from tanks and bulldozers that smashed some buildings to pieces.

Pictures taken by photographer Bruno Stevens in the aftermath show heavy damage – and still burning phosphorus. “What I can tell you is that many, many houses were shelled and that they used white phosphorus,” said Stevens yesterday, one of the first western journalists to get into Gaza. “It appears to have been indiscriminate.” Stevens added that homes near the village that had not been hit by shell fire had been set on fire.

The village of Khuza’a is around 500 metres from the border with Israel. According to B’Tselem, its field researcher in Gaza was contacted last Tuesday by resident Munir Shafik al-Najar, who said that Israeli bulldozers had begun destroying homes at 2.30am.

When Rawhiya al-Najar, aged 50, stepped out of her house waving a white flag, so that the rest of the family could leave the house, she was allegedly shot by Israeli soldiers nearby.

The second alleged incident was on Tuesday afternoon, when Israeli troops ordered 30 residents to leave their homes and walk to a school in the village centre. After travelling 20 metres, troops fired on the group, allegedly killing three.

Further detailed accounts of what occurred were supplied in interviews given to a Palestinian researcher who has been working for the Observer, following the decision by Israel to ban foreign media from the Gaza Strip. Iman al-Najar, 29, said she watched as bulldozers started to destroy neighbours’ homes and saw terrified villagers flee from their houses as masonry collapsed.

“By 6am the tanks and bulldozers had reached our house,” Iman recalled. “We went on the roofs and tried to show we were civilians with white flags. Everyone was carrying a white flag. We told them we are civilians. We don’t have any weapons. The soldiers started to destroy the houses even if the people were in them.” Describing the death of Rawhiya, Iman says they were ordered by Israeli soldiers to move to the centre of the town. As they did, Israeli troops opened fire. Rawhiya was at the front of the group, says Iman.

Marwan Abu Raeda, 40, a paramedic working for the Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, said: “At 8am we received a phone call from Khuza’a. They told us about the injured woman. I went immediately. I was 60 or 70 metres away from the injured woman when the Israeli forces started to shoot at me.” As he drove into another street, he came under fire again. Twelve hours later, when Rawhiya was finally reached, she was dead.

Iman said she ended up in an area of rubble where a large group of people had sought cover in a deep hole among the debris of demolished houses. It is then, she says, that bulldozers began to push the rubble from each side. “They wanted to bury us alive,” she said.

Chronicle of a Suicide Foretold: The Case of Israel

January 17, 2009
Immanuel Wallerstein, Commentary No. 249, Jan. 15, 2009

The state of Israel proclaimed its independence at midnight on May 15, 1948. The United Nations had voted to establish two states in what had been Palestine under British rule. The city of Jerusalem was supposed to be an international zone under U.N. jurisdiction. The U.N. resolution had wide support, and specifically that of the United States and the Soviet Union. The Arab states all voted against it.

In the sixty years of its existence, the state of Israel has depended for its survival and expansion on an overall strategy that combined three elements: macho militarism, geopolitical alliances, and public relations. The macho militarism (what current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert calls the “iron fist”) was made possible by the nationalist fervor of Jewish Israelis, and eventually (although not initially) by the very strong support of Jewish communities elsewhere in the world.

Geopolitically, Israel first forged an alliance with the Soviet Union (which was brief but crucial), then with France (which lasted a longer time and allowed Israel to become a nuclear power), and finally (and most importantly) with the United States. These allies, who were also patrons, offered most importantly military support through the provision of weapons. But they also offered diplomatic/political support, and in the case of the United States considerable economic support.

The public relations was aimed at obtaining sympathetic support from a wide swath of world public opinion, based in the early years on a portrait of Israel as a pioneering David against a retrograde Goliath, and in the last forty years on guilt and compassion over the massive Nazi extermination of European Jewry during the Second World War.

All these elements of Israeli strategy worked well from 1948 to the 1980s. Indeed, they were increasingly more effective. But somewhere in the 1980s, the use of each of the three tactics began to be counterproductive. Israel has now entered into a phase of the precipitate decline of its strategy. It may be too late for Israel to pursue any alternative strategy, in which case it will have committed geopolitical suicide. Let us trace how the three elements in the strategy interacted, first during the successful upward swing, then during the slow decline of Israel’s power.

For the first twenty-five years of its existence, Israel engaged in four wars with Arab states. The first was the 1948-1949 war to establish the Jewish state. The Israeli declaration of an independent state was not matched by a Palestinian declaration to establish a state. Rather, a number of Arab governments declared war on Israel. Israel was initially in military difficulty. However, the Israeli military were far better trained than those of the Arab countries, with the exception of Transjordan. And, crucially, they obtained arms from Czechoslovakia, acting as the agent of the Soviet Union.

By the time of the truce in 1949, the discipline of the Israeli forces combined with the Czech arms enabled the Israelis to win considerable territory not included in the partition proposals of the United Nations, including west Jerusalem. The other areas were incorporated by the surrounding Arab states. A large number of Palestinian Arabs left or were forced to leave areas under the control of the Israelis and became refugees in neighboring Arab countries, where their descendants still largely live today. The land they had owned was taken by Jewish Israelis.

The Soviet Union soon dropped Israel. This was probably primarily because its leaders quickly became afraid of the impact of the creation of the state on the attitudes of Soviet Jewry, who seemed overly enthusiastic and hence potentially subversive from Stalin’s point of view. Israel in turn dropped any sympathy for the socialist camp in the Cold War, and made clear its fervent desire to be considered a full-fledged member of the Western world, politically and culturally.

France at this time was faced with national liberation movements in its three North African colonies, and saw in Israel a useful ally. This was especially true after the Algerians launched their war of independence in 1954. France began to help Israel arm itself. In particular, France, which was developing its own nuclear weapons (against U.S. wishes), helped Israel do the same. In 1956, Israel joined France and Great Britain in a war against Egypt. Unfortunately for Israel, this war was launched against U.S. opposition, and the United States forced all three powers to end it.

After Algeria became independent in 1962, France lost interest in the Israeli connection, which now interfered with its attempts to renew closer relations with the three now independent North African states. It was at this point that the United States and Israel turned to each other to forge close links. In 1967, war broke out again between Egypt and Israel, and other Arab states joined Egypt. In this so-called Six Day War, the United States for the first time gave military weapons to Israel.

The 1967 Israeli victory changed the basic situation in many respects. Israel had won the war handily, occupying all those parts of the British mandate of Palestine that it had occupied before, plus Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Syria’s Golan Heights. Juridically, there was now a state of Israel plus Israel’s occupied territories. Israel began a policy of establishing

Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

The Israeli victory transformed the attitude of world Jewry, which now overcame whatever reservations it had had about the creation of the state of Israel. They took great pride in its accomplishments and began to undertake major political campaigns in the United States and western Europe to secure political support for Israel. The image of a pioneering Israel with emphasis on the virtues of the kibbutz was abandoned in favor of an emphasis on the Holocaust as the basic justification for world support of Israel.

In 1973, the Arab states sought to redress the military situation in the so-called Yom Kippur war. This time again, Israel won the war, with U.S. arms support. The 1973 war marked the end of the central role of the Arab states. Israel could continue to try to get recognition from Arab states, and it did succeed eventually with both Egypt and Jordan, but it was now too late for this to be a way to secure Israel’s existence.

As of this point, there emerged a serious Palestinian Arab political movement, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which was now the key opponent of Israel, the one with whom Israel needed to come to terms. For a long time, Israel refused to deal with the PLO and its leader Yasser Arafat, preferring the iron fist. And at first, it was militarily successful.

The limits of the iron fist policy were made evident by the first intifada, a spontaneous uprising of Palestinian Arabs inside the occupied territories, which began in 1987 and lasted six years. The basic achievement of the intifada was twofold. It forced the Israelis and the United States to talk to the PLO, a long process that led to the so-called Oslo Accords of 1993, which provided for the creation of the Palestinian Authority in part of the occupied territories.

The Oslo Accords in the long run were geopolitically less important than the impact of the intifada on world public opinion. For the first time, the David-Goliath image began to be inverted. For the first time, there began to be serious support in the Western world for the so-called two-state solution. For the first time, there began to be serious criticism of Israel’s iron fist and its practices vis-à-vis the Arab Palestinians. Had Israel been serious about a two-state solution based on the so-called Green Line – the line of division at the end of the 1948-1949 war – it probably would have achieved a settlement.

Israel however was always one step behind. When it could have negotiated with Nasser, it wouldn’t. When it could have negotiated with Arafat, it wouldn’t. When Arafat died and was succeeded by the ineffectual Mahmoud Abbas, the more militant Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006. Israel refused to talk to Hamas.

Now, Israel has invaded Gaza, seeking to destroy Hamas. If it succeeds, what organization will come next? If, as is more probable, it fails to destroy Hamas, is a two-state solution now possible? Both Palestinian and world public opinion is moving towards the one-state solution. And this is of course the end of the Zionist project.

The three-element strategy of Israel is decomposing. The iron fist no longer succeeds, much as it didn’t for George Bush in Iraq. Will the United States link remain firm? I doubt it. And will world public opinion continue to look sympathetically on Israel? It seems not. Can Israel now switch to an alternative strategy, of negotiating with the militant representatives of the Arab Palestinians, as an integral constituent of the Middle East, and not as an outpost of Europe? It seems quite late for that, quite possibly too late. Hence, the chronicle of a suicide foretold.

Israel rains fire on Gaza with phosphorus shells

January 5, 2009

December 5, 2008

Artillery shells explode above Gaza City

(Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli artillery shells explode with a chemical agent designed to create smokescreen for ground forces

Image :1 of 5

Opinion: Michael Lerner | Brown calls for ceasefire | Europe split on response | Comment: James Bone | Israel splits Gaza | Doctors overwhelmed | Analysis: Colonel Lior Lotan | Leading article

Israel is believed to be using controversial white phosphorus shells to screen its assault on the heavily populated Gaza Strip yesterday. The weapon, used by British and US forces in Iraq, can cause horrific burns but is not illegal if used as a smokescreen.

As the Israeli army stormed to the edges of Gaza City and the Palestinian death toll topped 500, the tell-tale shells could be seen spreading tentacles of thick white smoke to cover the troops’ advance. “These explosions are fantastic looking, and produce a great deal of smoke that blinds the enemy so that our forces can move in,” said one Israeli security expert. Burning blobs of phosphorus would cause severe injuries to anyone caught beneath them and force would-be snipers or operators of remote-controlled booby traps to take cover. Israel admitted using white phosphorus during its 2006 war with Lebanon.

The use of the weapon in the Gaza Strip, one of the world’s mostly densely population areas, is likely to ignite yet more controversy over Israel’s offensive, in which more than 2,300 Palestinians have been wounded.

The Geneva Treaty of 1980 stipulates that white phosphorus should not be used as a weapon of war in civilian areas, but there is no blanket ban under international law on its use as a smokescreen or for illumination. However, Charles Heyman, a military expert and former major in the British Army, said: “If white phosphorus was deliberately fired at a crowd of people someone would end up in The Hague. White phosphorus is also a terror weapon. The descending blobs of phosphorus will burn when in contact with skin.”

The Israeli military last night denied using phosphorus, but refused to say what had been deployed. “Israel uses munitions that are allowed for under international law,” said Captain Ishai David, spokesman for the Israel Defence Forces. “We are pressing ahead with the second stage of operations, entering troops in the Gaza Strip to seize areas from which rockets are being launched into Israel.”

The civilian toll in the first 24 hours of the ground offensive — launched after a week of bombardment from air, land and sea— was at least 64 dead. Among those killed were five members of a family who died when an Israeli tank shell hit their car and a paramedic who died when a tank blasted his ambulance. Doctors at Gaza City’s main hospital said many women and children were among the dead and wounded.

The Israeli army also suffered its first fatality of the offensive when one of its soldiers was killed by mortar fire. More than 30 soldiers were wounded by mortars, mines and sniper fire.

Israel has brushed aside calls for a ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid into the besieged territory, where medical supplies are running short.

With increasingly angry anti-Israeli protests spreading around the world, Gordon Brown described the violence in Gaza as “a dangerous moment”.

White phosphorus: the smoke-screen chemical that can burn to the bone

— White phosphorus bursts into a deep-yellow flame when it is exposed to oxygen, producing a thick white smoke

— It is used as a smokescreen or for incendiary devices, but can also be deployed as an anti-personnel flame compound capable of causing potentially fatal burns

— Phosphorus burns are almost always second or third-degree because the particles do not stop burning on contact with skin until they have entirely disappeared — it is not unknown for them to reach the bone

— Geneva conventions ban the use of phosphorus as an offensive weapon against civilians, but its use as a smokescreen is not prohibited by international law

— Israel previously used white phosphorus during its war with Lebanon in 2006

— It has been used frequently by British and US forces in recent wars, notably during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Its use was criticised widely

— White phosphorus has the slang name “Willy Pete”, which dates from the First World War. It was commonly used in the Vietnam era

Source: Times archives

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