Posts Tagged ‘invasion of Gaza’

Gaza, War Crimes, and the Path to Accountability

January 8, 2010

by Sunera Thobani, Electronic Intifada, Jan 8, 2010

By protecting Israel from accountability for its war crimes in Gaza, the US, UK and Canadian governments are also ensuring their own impunity. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs David Milliband acted swiftly to withdraw the warrant for the arrest of former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, one of the architects of last winter’s Israeli attack on Gaza. A British magistrate issued the warrant under universal jurisdiction laws in response to allegations of war crimes committed by Israel in Gaza. This prompted Brown to phone Livni and assure her she was “welcome” in Britain, and Milliband stated his government’s intention to remove the power of UK magistrates to issue any such future warrants against Israeli politicians.

As foreign minister, Livni used the Israeli-dubbed “Operation Cast Lead” to brand herself as an astute politician who would ride to power on the bodies of dead Palestinians. She became a media darling in the West, and the Gaza attack was to be the ticket to her rise to prime minister. However, although the attack killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and wounded thousands more, Livni’s political ambitions did not materialize quite as planned. Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman out-hawked her, and the Palestinians are still paying the price for the invasion. Gaza remains under a murderous siege, enforced by the Israelis and backed by its Western allies and Egypt.

A number of reasons have been put forward for the British government’s eagerness to protect Israeli politicians from the threat of arrest. These include Britain’s staunch support for the State of Israel since its inception; the organizational strength of Zionist lobbies, and in particular, their ability to impact the outcome of electoral politics; and lastly, the desire to avoid being branded anti-Semitic. While these are certainly important considerations, there is yet another pressing concern that has received little attention. This is a concern shared by the Americans and Canadians, and it speaks directly to the specificity of this particular moment in the so-called War on Terror. Indeed, this concern may well eclipse all other considerations for the moment.

The US, UK and Canadian governments are all embroiled in attempts to immunize themselves from accountability under international law for their own actions in the War on Terror. Protecting Israel from international law has therefore acquired an added urgency, not only in the interests of the Zionist regime, but also in the interests of the US and its two staunchest allies in the War on Terror, Britain and Canada, to remain beyond the reach of international law. In other words, if Israeli politicians can successfully be taken to court under international law for committing war crimes, the precedent would greatly embolden attempts to do likewise with American, British and Canadian politicians in relation to their actions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In September 2009, the UN-mandated Goldstone report on Israel’s invasion was released. Placing the treatment of civilian populations at the heart of the investigation, Judge Richard Goldstone, who was the Prosecutor for the International Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, found Israel’s attack on Gaza (as well as specific actions by Palestinian groups, including Hamas) to amount to war crimes. The Israelis refused to cooperate with the Goldstone mission, unlike the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas. Public hearings were held in Gaza. The Goldstone report called for credible independent internal investigations of Israel’s actions in Gaza which included: the deliberate bombing of civilian sites (including the Palestinian Legislative Council building, a Gaza prison, two hospitals, shelters and houses); the killing of civilian police forces; the use of mortars to hit “armed” Palestinian groups in the vicinity of large numbers of civilians; the destruction of food production factories, of water and sewage treatment facilities; and the direct killing of civilians. All were deemed violations of international law. In the absence of such independent investigations, the report called for the matter to proceed to the International Criminal Court.

In light of Israel’s refusal to cooperate with its mission, the Goldstone report unequivocally stated its “support for reliance on universal jurisdiction” as an avenue for further investigation and action on “grave breaches” of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and to “prevent immunity and promote international accountability.” Israel rejected the report’s findings, accusing Judge Goldstone — a Zionist and strong supporter of Israel — of anti-Israel bias. Other supporters of the report were likewise attacked as being anti-Semitic. The US ambassador to the UN, Dr. Susan Rice, admonished the report’s authors, and the US House of Representatives voted 344 to 36 to call on the Obama Administration to reject it. The Obama Administration has maintained this position and also exerted immense pressure on the Palestinian Authority to withdraw the report from consideration at the General Assembly of the UN. Neither the UK nor Canada supported the Goldstone report.

Many of the acts identified in the Goldstone report as constituting violations of international law are reported to have taken place in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The disproportionate killing of civilians in both countries is being tracked by human rights organizations; civilian sites are regularly reported to have been bombed, and targeted assassinations of “terrorists” are also reported to routinely kill family members of these alleged “terrorists,” as well as other bystanders. Collective punishment also seems to be meted out regularly, and the civilian infrastructure has been demolished in many places. There is also the question of the torture of detainees captured, held or transferred by US, British and Canadian forces. Indeed, some legal scholars have questioned the very legality of both the Afghan and Iraq “wars” and occupations.

As the Guardian reported on 26 November 2009, the UK’s Chilcot Inquiry recently heard that the government of former Prime Minister Tony Blair decided to participate in the American invasion of Iraq a year before it actually took place. Any concern about Saddam Hussein’s alleged amassing of weapons of mass destruction and his ties to al-Qaeda were nothing more than a red herring, and in any event, proved to be the result of falsified intelligence reports. Moreover, on 14 November, the Telegraph reported that British soldiers — men and women — have been dogged since 2003 with allegations of torture and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners in their custody. Noting that 33 allegations of torture, rape and sexual abuse have surfaced about particular incidents, the Telegraph stated that “a pre-action protocol letter has been served on the [Ministry of Defense]” by a lawyer representing Iraqis subjected to this abuse. It also cited British Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell calling for “formal investigations” into the matter.

Meanwhile, Canadians are mired in their own allegations of complicity in the torture of Afghan detainees. Senior diplomat Richard Colvin testified to a parliamentary committee that many of the Afghan detainees captured by Canadian soldiers were innocent civilians who were most likely abused or tortured by the Afghan authorities to whose custody they were delivered. He has further testified that despite his warnings to the Canadian government about this likelihood, no action was taken by the government to avert this possibility. Malalai Joya, the Afghan Member of Parliament who fled the country after being suspended from that body, has substantiated Colvin’s claims. She has also added that many of those tortured and raped were women and children. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported on 26 November that Defense Minister Peter McKay and former Chief of Defense Staff General Rick Hillier both denied Colvin’s allegations. However, if Colvin’s claims are vindicated, it could well be the case that the Canadian government was complicit in the torture and abuse of these detainees under the rules of international law.

If Israel can now be hauled before the International Criminal Court, who might it be next? If Israeli politicians can be arrested by warrants issued under universal jurisdiction, why not officials from the US, Britain and Canada as well? Who knows how quickly and how far things could unravel? If one occupying power could be held liable for war crimes, why not the other occupying powers who may have also engaged in collective punishment, in the destruction of civilian infrastructure, in the torture and killing of civilians? Where might it all end?

In seeking to protect Israel from the Goldstone report and Israeli politicians from the threat of arrest in the UK, the British, American and Canadian governments might well be engaged in a battle to save their own skins in the face of an emboldened legal activism. Gaza may well be the gateway to anti-imperialist accountability in the 21st century.

Sunera Thobani teaches Women’s Studies at the University of British Columbia. She is the author of Exalted Subjects: Studies in the Making of Race and Nation in Canada (University of Toronto Press: 2007). She traveled to Gaza in September 2009 with the Rachel Corrie Foundation Delegation

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One Year After Israeli Invasion of Gaza, World Leaders Fail to Act but Global Citizens Step Forward

December 28, 2009

by Medea Benjamin, CommonDreams.org, Dec 27, 2009

One year ago, the brutal Israeli 22-day invasion of the Gaza Strip shocked the world, leaving some 1,400 people dead, thousands more wounded, as well as hospitals, schools, prisons, UN facilities, factories, agricultural processing plants and some 20,000 homes damaged or destroyed.  As we mark the one-year anniversary of the invasion, the plight of the people of Gaza continues unabated:

  • Despite pledges of money for reconstruction, Israel refuses to allow in the machinery necessary to clear the rubble or the materials needed to rebuild–banning cement, gravel, wood, pipes, glass, steel bars, aluminum and tar. Many who were made homeless during the bombing are still living in tents amidst the onset of another cold winter. Desperate, some are reverting to the ancient techniques of building homes made of mud.
  • Trade depends on an elaborate system of illicit and dangerous tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. The goods brought in are expensive, but they are the lifeline for the 1.5 million people who live under siege. The Israelis periodically bomb the tunnels, the Egyptians inject them with gas, and now, with U.S. technology and funds, Egypt is building a wall descending 70 feet into the ground to seal up the only trade route the inhabitants of Gaza have with the outside world.
  • Recent restrictions on the transfer of gas resources into Gaza have left many without adequate means to cook or provide heating as winter deepens.The Ministry of Health says that several hospitals lack the gas supplies to provide adequate hygiene for their patients. Similar restrictions on the movement of industrial fuel into the Strip have forced Gaza’s sole power plant to drastically limit the amount of electricity.
  • Water and sewage infrastructure has reached a crisis point, with tons of raw sewage pumped daily into the Mediterranean.Amnesty International recently deemed that 90 to 95 person of the water available to Gaza’s inhabitants was unfit for human consumption, and 60 per cent of the Gaza Strip’s residents have only irregular access to water. Repairs to Gaza’s overburdened sewage and water networks are largely prevented by the blockade.
  • The once-steady flow abroad of many hundreds of students a year, often to pursue postgraduate studies in Western universities, has slowed to a trickle. Israel is not even allowing students from Gaza to study in the West Bank.
  • Attempts at hold Israel accountable for crimes committed during the invasion have been thwarted. The September 2009 Goldstone Report recommended that if Israel and Hamas did not investigate and prosecute those who committed war crimes, the case should be referred to the International Criminal Court. But US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, and the U.S. Congress, condemned the report, assuring that it will not be brought before the U.N. Security Council.

In a report released on December 22 called Failing Gaza: No rebuilding, no recovery, no more excuses, a group of 16 humanitarian organizations detailed the ongoing suffering of Gaza’s 1.5 million people from Israel’s invasion and ongoing siege.  “It is not only Israel that has failed the people of Gaza with a blockade that punishes everybody living there for the acts of a few,” said Jeremy Hobbs, Oxfam International Executive Director. “World powers have also failed and even betrayed Gaza’s ordinary citizens.”

While international governments and UN institutions have failed their obligations, global citizens and civil society organizations have stepped forward. The past year has seen the mushrooming of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign aimed at Israel. South African dockworkers refused to offload an Israeli ZIM Lines ship in February; the British bank BlackRock divested from Lev Leviev settlement projects on the occupied Palestinian territory; the Norwegian government pension fund withdrew its investments in the Israeli military contractor Elbit Systems; following the lead of South African, Irish and Scottish trade union federations, Britain’s 6.5-million member labor federation, the Trades Union Congress (TUC), called for a consumer-led boycott and sanctions campaign against Israel, specifically targeting settlement products; and Hampshire College decided to divest from several companies profiting from the Occupation.

Another group making waves is Free Gaza, which has broken the siege by bringing shipments of aid by boat. Sometimes their boats have miraculously managed to sail from Cyprus to Gaza without Israeli interference. On their last effort, however, their boat was illegally intercepted on the high seas by the Israeli Navy.

Viva Palestina, a group led by British MP George Galloway, organized a massive convoy of material aid to Gaza in a month after the attack, using public pressure to force the Egyptian government to let the convoy pass through the Rafah crossing. They sent another caravan of aid in July, and to mark the one year anniversary, Viva Palestina is bringing 210 trucks and 450 activists laden with massive quantities of humanitarian aid. It is unclear whether or not the Egyptian government will let them in.

Another creative initiative is the Gaza Freedom March. Conceived in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, the Gaza Freedom March was designed to mark the one-year anniversary with a massive march to the Israeli border. Some 1,350 international participants from 43 countries are setting out for Gaza via Egypt to join with thousands of local people for the march. On the Israeli side of the border, Israelis and Palestinians will gather to join the call for an end to the siege. While the Egyptian government is refusing give permission for the international delegation to enter Gaza, the group is challenging that decision with thousands of phone calls to Egyptian embassies worldwide. They are also organizing solidarity actions in cities all over the world.

The Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, noting the world community’s failure to help the people of Gaza, cited the Gaza Freedom March and the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign as “the only meaningful current challenge to Israel’s violations of its obligations as the Occupying Power of the Gaza Strip under the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Charter.”

As the year-end brings horrifying memories to the Palestinians in Gaza, we hope they recognize that grassroots groups the world over are not only thinking of them, but actively organizing to lift the siege that makes their lives so difficult.

Medea Benjamin (medea@globalexchange.org) is cofounder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Tony Blair

December 4, 2009

by Matthew Carr, Dissident Voice,  December 3, 2009

At some point in the New Year Tony Blair will appear before the Chilcot Inquiry established by the British government to assess the historical ‘lessons’ of the Iraq war. Few individuals bear more responsibility for the invasion and its calamitous aftermath than Blair. Not only was his single-minded determination crucial in bringing his own country into the war, but his close political relationship with the Bush administration, also helped US hawks present the case for war to a sceptical American public.

The consequences of this intervention are well-known; hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths and four million refugees and internally displaced persons; thousands of British and American soldiers killed or wounded; an Iraqi society devastated by war and counterinsurgency, by criminal and terrorist violence, ethnic cleansing and death squads; a neo-colonial occupation marked by torture and brutality and barely-credible levels of financial corruption and incompetence.

Continues >>

Israeli War Criminal Olmert Welcomed in Australia

November 30, 2009
There is a danger that Australia could become a safe haven for Israeli war criminals.

By Sonja Karkar, The Palestine Chronicle, Nov 29, 2009

The news that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was in Australia and was welcomed by the honourable members of our parliament came as somewhat of a shock. It is one thing to have allowed a man on corruption charges as well as facing war crimes indictments into Australia at all; it is another thing that he was listed as a distinguished guest in Hansard – the official record of parliamentary proceedings – and received a resounding “hear, hear” from our elected representatives.

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Abbas and the Goldstone Report: Our Shame is Complete

October 17, 2009
by Ramzy Baroud, Foreign Policy Journal, Oct 17, 2009

As Israeli bombs fell on the Gaza Strip during its one-sided war between December 27, 2008 and January 18, 2009, millions around the world took to the streets in complete and uncompromising outrage. The level of barbarity in that war, especially as it was conducted against a poor, defenseless and physically trapped nation, united people of every color, race and religion. But among those who seemed utterly unmoved, unreservedly cold were some Palestinian officials in the West Bank.

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How Israel bought off UN’s war crimes probe

October 7, 2009

By Jonathan Cook, Information Clearing House, Oct 6, 2009


Israel celebrated at the weekend its success at the United Nations in forcing the Palestinians to defer demands that the International Criminal Court investigate allegations of war crimes committed by Israel during its winter assault on the Gaza Strip.

The about-turn, following vigorous lobbying from Israel and the United States, appears to have buried the damning report of Judge Richard Goldstone into the fighting, which killed some 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians.

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Report: Israeli Troops Killed Unarmed Gazans Carrying White Flags

August 14, 2009

Military Says Report Unfair, Insists Some Gazans Waved White Flags Illegally

by Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com,  August 13, 2009

The latest in a long line of charges of war crimes by Israeli forces during January’s invasion of the Gaza Strip, a new report by Human Rights Watch cites investigations and reports of eyewitnesses who say Israeli soldiers shot 11 unarmed Palestinians, including five women and four children, who were waving white flags at them.

The report urged the Israeli military to conduct a thorough investigation into the charges, but this appears unlikely as the Israeli military publicly condemned Human Rights Watch for releasing the report. saying that it was unreliable because it included eyewitness accounts and accusing the US-based rights group of unfairly criticizing Israel for an invasion that killed well over 1,000 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians.

The Israeli military also claimed that on occasion Gazans had acted illegally in waving white flags, insisting that this had endangered the civilian population. It did not appear to provide any information to directly dispute the evidence of the particular incident, but merely appeared irked that Human Rights Watch didn’t present it to them before releasing it to the public.

Israel’s own probes into the Gaza War have largely stalled without result, most notably when it abandoned an investigation stemming from the direct public testimony of several of its own soldiers who reported indiscriminate killing of civilians just days after announcing it. The military declared that all the testimony was “hearsay” and that not a single claim was true.

Israel scuppers UN war crimes probe

June 10, 2009

Morning Star Online, Tuesday 09 June 2009

Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza, most of them civilians

Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza, most of them civilians

The UN war crimes probe into Israel’s assault on Gaza is likely to be scuppered by Tel Aviv’s refusal to co-operate, the chief investigator has admitted.

Judge Richard Goldstone (pictured), who led a UN fact-finding team to Israel and Gaza, said the investigation was unlikely to lead to prosecutions.

Israel has refused to co-operate, depriving Mr Goldstone’s team of access to military sources.

The chief barrier remains the lack of a court with clear jurisdiction to hear any resulting cases stemming from the investigation into Israel’s bloody three-week onslaught on Gaza which ended in January.

And Hamas security often accompanied his team during last week’s trip to Gaza, raising questions about witnesses’ ability to testify freely, Mr Goldstone said.

“From a practical political point of view, I wish I could be optimistic,” he said.

Nevertheless, he hoped that his group’s report, due in September, will spur action by other UN bodies and foreign governments.

Mr Goldstone, a South African judge involved in the war crimes trials regarding the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and who was involved in the settlement to end apartheid, refused to comment on the investigation’s content.

But Gazans who had spoken to the team revealed some of their accusations.

Majed Hajjaj said that he had watched Israeli soldiers shoot his mother and sister dead as they fled their home waving white flags.

But he said: “The committee was just like all the others who have come. There are lots of reports written but they’re nothing more than ink on paper.”

The UN team also visited a mosque which witnesses said had been hit by an Israeli missile, killing 16.

Palestinian human rights groups say that more than 1,400 Gazans were killed in the Israeli assault, most of them civilians.

Thirteen Israelis were killed, three of them civilians.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel had made a “clear decision” not to co-operate with Mr Goldstone’s team, alleging anti-Israeli bias by the probe’s sponsor the UN Human Rights Council.

Tel Aviv’s stance meant that Mr Goldstone – who is Jewish and has close ties to Israel – had to enter Gaza via Egypt.

Massacre in slow motion

March 10, 2009

Socialist Worker, March 9, 2009

More than a month after Israel’s assault on Gaza ended, life for Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians continues to be a daily struggle. Israel maintains a suffocating siege that blocks the flow of basic staples, plunging the vast majority of residents into abject poverty.

But a ray of hope has emerged in the form of a growing international struggle–from Canada and the U.S., to Europe and South Africa–to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law and Palestinian human rights. On March 21, justice for Palestine will be a main slogan at an antiwar demonstration in Washington, D.C. organized to mark the sixth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Haidar Eid, a professor of English, political commentator and longtime activist, is a resident of Gaza City and has provided an ongoing eyewitness account and analysis of Israel’s war for SocialistWorker.org. He spoke with Eric Ruder about Israel’s occupation and the Palestinian struggle for justice.

A young boy sits amid the rubble where buildings once stood in Jabalia, a town in the northern Gaza Strip (AFP)A young boy sits amid the rubble where buildings once stood in Jabalia, a town in the northern Gaza Strip (AFP)

THE SHOOTING part of Israel’s war is now over, according to the media. Yet Israel continues air strikes on targets in Gaza every few days. And in addition to the bombings, Israel’s siege remains firmly in place, stopping all manner of critical goods from getting into Gaza. Can you describe conditions now?

THE COURAGEOUS Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has talked about the hermetic siege of Gaza that has been in place for some three years now. Prior to the war, Pappe called this siege “slow-motion genocide,” and he was absolutely right.

Even before the war, more than 350 terminally ill people died because Israel refused to allow them to leave Gaza for essential medical treatment. Israel refused to issue them travel permits to be treated in Egyptian or Jordanian hospitals. I’m talking about people with kidney failure, heart problems, cancer.

The war transformed the slow-motion genocide into real genocide–I don’t know what else to call it. During the war, more 1,440 people were killed.

What else to read

Haidar Eid has written an article titled “Sharpeville 1960, Gaza 2009” that recounts his experiences during Israel’s war and adds his voice to call for an international movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, modeled on the anti-apartheid movement.

The One Democratic State Group has issued “A Call from Gaza” that asks activists and organizations to demand that their governments sever ties with Israel, and calls for Israel’s war criminals to be brought to justice.

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.

We thought that the end of the war would also mean the end of the medieval siege imposed on Gaza. But unfortunately, that hasn’t happened since the end of the Gaza massacre–and I really don’t want to call it the end of the “war,” because the war has continued but in different forms.

Israel failed to achieve any of its three objectives that it declared at the beginning of the war–topping the government of Hamas, putting an end to the launching of rockets, and establishing a new security arrangement in Gaza.

Since they failed at this, they have been trying to achieve politically what they could not militarily–with the help of the U.S., even under the Obama administration, with the complicity of the European Union and with the help of some Arab regimes.

This is why all the proposals to reconstruct the Gaza Strip being discussed at the recent international donors conference at Sharm el Sheik all come with so many strings attached. In fact, these strings make reconstruction impossible.

So when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Tel Aviv and Ramallah, she talked about conditions for reconstruction. Condition number one is for the Hamas government and the resistance groups in general to recognize the state of Israel. Number two is to recognize previously signed agreements between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel, which ultimately means recognizing the state of Israel also.

But there are some big questions that come along with this, which the U.S. and the mainstream media prefer to avoid. In particular, what Israel are the Palestinians supposed to recognize?

Israel is the only member of the UN that does not have recognized borders. Does the apartheid wall represent the border of the state of Israel? Or is it the 1967 border? Recognition of Israel under this situation allows for the ongoing expansion of Israel’s borders.

Number two, Israel is also the only country on the face of the earth that has no constitution. Israel instead has Basic Laws. The first basic law defines Israel as the state of Jews all over the world. You have a theocratic state instead of a state of all of its citizens. This raises the question of what happens to 1.2 million Palestinians who are considered citizens of the state of Israel, but they are not Jews.

Also, what happens to more than 6 million Palestinian refugees living in the diaspora? Not a single agreement by the PLO and Israel, with America as a moderator, mentions the right of return, although UN Resolution 194 calls for the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homeland, to their villages, to the cities and towns from which they were expelled. And Resolution 194 calls for compensation for the injustices they have suffered.

But these are things that Israel wants the Palestinians to concede before talks even begin. As Marx said, history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. Now, we have seen the donors’ conference, and a visit from Hillary Clinton, during which she uttered not one word of sympathy for the plight of Palestinians. This is tragedy and farce.

Palestinians are paying a heavy price. This is the continuation of the genocidal war launched by Israel against Gaza and supported by the international community. And the talks that are supposed to reconstruct are merely further means to carry out Israel’s agenda.

THE U.S. and Israel also call on Hamas to “renounce violence,” but they never recognize the incredible hypocrisy of this demand. Israel consistently uses overwhelming violence against the Palestinians, and the U.S. supplies the weapons that allow Israel to do so.

ABSOLUTELY. WHAT kind of weapons does the resistance movement in Gaza have? Crude homemade rockets, and some Grad rockets smuggled through the tunnels connecting Egypt and Gaza. But now the tunnels can’t be used. Israel has repeatedly bombed them.

Because Israel has enforced its siege of Gaza, these tunnels have also been used to bring essential goods into the Strip. For example, I haven’t been able to drive my car since the war ended, because we can’t receive any gas from Egypt, which had to be smuggled through the tunnels.

We are talking about the fourth-strongest military in the world, with 250 nuclear warheads, F-16s and helicopters, against a largely defenseless population. We are not talking about two equal parties.

According to international law, Israel is illegally occupying the West Bank and Gaza. Israel is illegally prohibiting more than 6 million Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and towns.

What we are calling for–myself as part of Palestinian civil society, as an academic, as an activist–is simply the implementation of UN and Security Council resolutions and international law. Under international law, we are guaranteed a state and the right of return for refugees.

By signing the Oslo Accords in 1993, the official Palestinian leadership made an agreement that violates our rights and international law [by bargaining away these essential national rights]. It has now become a habit for Israel and the U.S. to expect the weaker party, the Palestinians, to give more and more concessions.

One of the biggest mistakes that the Palestinian leadership made was to assume that the U.S. was acting as a fair broker. But in fact, the U.S. has been entirely biased–because of the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., and because I don’t think you can separate the interests of U.S. imperialism and Zionism in the Middle East.

The U.S. attacked and occupied Iraq and committed genocide against Iraq’s civilians. It killed more than 1.5 million Iraqis–because of oil, in pursuit of its interests in the region, and to protect the state of Israel.

The Americans have failed miserably in Iraq. Israel failed miserably in Lebanon in 2006. And then, they tried to target what they consider to be the weakest pocket of resistance in the Middle East, namely Gaza. Fortunately, that failed. Israel tried for 22 days to bring the resistance to its knees, but could not.

That is why they are trying to achieve politically what they failed to militarily.

Continued >>

The new movement against Israel’s apartheid

February 28, 2009

Eric Ruder looks at the new movement taking shape in this country and around the world–for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and its oppression of the Palestinian people.

Some 5,000 people turned out in Los Angeles to demonstrate against Israel's war (David Rapkin | SW)

THE RUTHLESS assault on the 1.5 million Palestinians of Gaza marked a decisive turning point in Israel’s six-decade war of conquest.

In the course of 22 days, Israeli air strikes, artillery shells and invasion forces killed 1,400 Palestinians, injured 5,000 and devastated Gaza’s civilian infrastructure. The onslaught also shattered the illusion that–after more than a decade of a “peace process” that was supposed to establish a Palestinian state–Israel has any intention of letting Palestinians realize their aspirations for self-determination.

The ferocity of Israel’s offensive, the enormous loss of civilian life (more than 90 percent of those killed and wounded were civilians) and the unanimous support for the carnage across the Israeli political spectrum shocked the world. Hundreds of millions of people watched in horror as the images of devastation and reports of civilians burned by white phosphorous bombs or buried in the rubble of their former homes filled evening news broadcasts.

But the assault on Gaza has also brought a change of another sort. It stirred a commitment among people around the world that the time has come to do something about the intolerable conditions facing Palestinians.

Labor unions, student groups and other organizations have responded to the renewed calls from Palestinians for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) to put pressure on Israel to end its apartheid policies toward the Palestinian population, both within the state of Israel itself and under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.

What you can do

If you want to learn more about the growing struggle against Israeli apartheid, see the Global BDS Movement Web site and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott Web site.

Union activists considering ways to bring up the issue in their own locals will find handy materials at the Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario Web site.

Haidar Eid has written an article titled “Sharpeville 1960, Gaza 2009” that recounts his experiences during Israel’s war and adds his voice to call for an international movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, modeled on the anti-apartheid movement.

The One Democratic State Group has issued “A Call from Gaza” that asks activists and organizations to demand that their governments sever ties with Israel, and calls for Israel’s war criminals to be brought to justice.

In Britain, student groups at two dozen universities organized sit-ins and building occupations to demand that their educational institutions condemn Israel’s war crimes, cancel speaking events or honorary titles for Israeli officials, donate surplus supplies such as computers and books to Palestinian schools, and grant scholarships to students from Gaza.

In South Africa, dockworkers refused to unload a ship carrying Israeli goods. The action had a special symbolic significance, given the inspiring example of the South African struggle that overturned apartheid in 1994. As the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) stated in a February 4 press release:

Coming weeks after the massive Israeli massacre in Gaza, this distinguished expression by SATAWU [the union of South Africa’s dockworkers] of effective solidarity with the Palestinian people in general, and with Gaza in particular, sets a historic precedent that reminds us of the first such action during the apartheid era taken by Danish dock workers in 1963, when they decided not to offload ships carrying South African products, triggering a similar boycott in Sweden, England and elsewhere.”

Dockworkers in Greece threatened to block a ship carrying weapons to Israel during the Gaza offensive, and in late January, the Maritime Union of Australia endorsed the call for a BDS campaign, and pledged to boycott all Israeli vessels, as well as all vessels bearing goods arriving from or going to Israel.

In the U.S., a wave of student occupations is taking shape, starting with the University of Rochester and New York University, and others in the planning stages.

In Canada, the Ontario division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents some 200,000 government and other public-sector workers, passed a motion calling for an academic boycott of Israel and an end to any research or investments that could benefit the Israeli army. British and French academics have likewise issued statements calling for a boycott of Israel.

Thus, despite the trauma inflicted during the Gaza offensive, the emerging BDS movement has given a renewed sense of optimism to millions of Palestinians who have felt for years that the world shrugged as they faced daily threats to their existence. As the BNC continued:

If Gaza today has become the test of our universal morality and our common humanity, the fast-spreading BDS movement around the world has passed the test with flying colors. In fact, worldwide support for BDS against Israel in reaction to its war crimes…has shown that international civil society fully recognizes that Israel must be held accountable before international law and must pay a heavy price for its atrocities and ongoing willful destruction of Palestinian society.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

NEVERTHELESS, SOME people raise objections about whether a BDS campaign is justified or effective–or both. Does it make sense to describe Israel as an apartheid state, they ask–and in any case, will a BDS campaign have the desired effect?

While some who raise such considerations would defend Israel no matter how blatant its injustices, others have honest questions about such issues, which deserve careful answers, especially considering that so many people are just learning about the Palestinian struggle.

Though Israelis generally recoil at any comparison of Israel and South Africa, the shared pattern of racist discrimination and control is unmistakable.

“Apartheid was an extension of the colonial project to dispossess people of their land,” said South African cabinet minister Ronnie Kasrils during a visit to Jerusalem. “That is exactly what has happened in Israel and the Occupied Territories–the use of force and the law to take the land. That is what apartheid and Israel have in common.”

Kasrils should know what he is talking about. He is one of a handful of Jews who was active as guerilla fighters in the African National Congress during the anti-apartheid struggle.

Even a few prominent Israeli politicians draw the connection between Israeli and South African apartheid.

“The Intifada is the Palestinian people’s war of national liberation,” wrote former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair in 2002 in Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper, referring to the Palestinian uprising of that year. “We enthusiastically chose to become a colonialist society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the Occupied Territories, engaging in theft and finding justification for all these activities…We established an apartheid regime.”

Indeed, Palestinians today endure the Israeli equivalent of the pass laws of South Africa’s white minority regime. In East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Palestinians must spend hours waiting to pass through checkpoints to travel distances that should take minutes–all while suffering humiliation and abuse at the hands of Israeli soldiers. Then there are the house demolitions, the strangulation of the economy and the constant threat of worse, in the form of targeted assassinations or violence from Jewish settlers.

“The similarities between the situation of East Jerusalemites and Black South Africans is very great in respect of their residency rights,” says John Dugard, a professor of international law who helped construct South Africa’s human rights law in the post-apartheid era, and now serves as the UN’s chief human rights monitor in the West Bank and Gaza. “East Jerusalem has territorial classification that has the same sort of consequences as race classification had in South Africa in respect of who you can marry, where you can live, where you can go to school or hospital.”

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BUT EVEN if Israel can be accurately called an apartheid state, won’t a BDS campaign–and especially a cultural, academic and sports boycott–make impossible precisely the kind of exchange necessary to end Israeli apartheid?

As Haider Eid, a resident of Gaza, a professor of English literature, and a member of the steering committee of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, explains:

The same argument was used against the academic, cultural and sports boycott of South Africa.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan talked about ‘constructive engagement’ as a way to defend their diplomatic ties with South Africa. Some academics and athletes echoed these same arguments. But they forget that they are making an abnormal situation into a normal one. The international community had to make it clear to the white racists of South Africa that what they were doing was unacceptable.

I have no problem with the exchange of academic ideas. But I myself am an academic. I have been invited to five conferences over the last year, but I have not been allowed by the Israelis to leave Gaza. Why should there be such preoccupation about the freedom of exchange of ideas with Israeli institutions when Israel itself denies such exchange to Palestinians in all spheres of life?

Also, it’s important to point out that we are only talking here of boycotting institutions, not individual academics, and we are in favor of exchange with Israeli academics who object to Israel’s occupation, who support the right of return of the more than 6 million Palestinian refugees scattered throughout the region and so on. Israeli academic institutions, on the other hand, have unfortunately supported the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, supported the dispossession of Palestinian refugees since 1948, and have not raised their voices against the latest massacre in Gaza.

An international campaign of the sort that was essential to the eventual victory of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa is just as essential–if not more so–in the case of Israel because of the blanket support Israel receives from the U.S., the European Union and the United Nations Security Council.

The U.S., for example, gives billions of dollars annually–in the form of both military and economic aid–to Israel, and this support is crucial to Israel’s ability to continue its policy of territorial expansion and repression of Palestinians.

Likewise, the European Union in recent years has expanded, rather than reduced, its economic ties with Israel, a development that no doubt encouraged Israeli leaders to carry out the recent Gaza massacre without fear that such conduct might jeopardize their economic and political standing in the world.

The United Nations regularly reaffirms resolutions stipulating that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and calling on Israel to accept the return of Palestinian refugees. But when it comes to enforcing its resolutions, the UN, which is beholden to world powers such as the U.S., won’t take any action to compel Israel to live up to its obligations under international law. As Eid explains:

We’ve lost faith in governments, in the United Nations, and the rest of the so-called international community. We’ve said our only hope is with civil society organizations, unions and solidarity movements–and this is what is happening right now.

We don’t want people just to react to the Gaza massacre for a couple of months, and then forget about it. We want this to continue. Israel is under fire now from civil society organizations. This is a historical moment, and we must seize it.


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