Posts Tagged ‘Israel Defense Forces’

Israeli Army Violated Nuremberg Principles During Operation ‘Cast Lead’

October 16, 2009

By Cesar Chelala, Information Clearing House, Oct 15, 2009

In what can be considered a sad paradox of history, an analysis of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) actions during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza shows that the IDF violated several of the Nuremberg Principles, as well as the principles of the Geneva Conventions.

The Nuremberg Principles are a set of guidelines established after World War II to try Nazi Party members. They were established to determine what constitutes a war crime. The Geneva Conventions consist of four treaties and three additional protocols that establish the standards in international law for humanitarian treatment of the victims of war.

According to Nuremberg Principle I, “Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefore and liable to punishment.” As detailed in the “Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict,” also known as the “Goldstone Report,” several crimes against unarmed civilians were committed by the IDF during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

Continued >>

Report: IDF, U.S. military to simulate Iran missile strike on Israel

September 21, 2009

By Haaretz Service, Haaretz/Israel, Sep 20, 2009

The Israel Defense Forces and the U.S. military will soon hold a training exercise in which they will simulate missile attacks on Israel from Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza, the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported Sunday.

The exercise will be carried out as part of the ongoing maneuvers between Israel and the United States, the London-based paper said, which will reportedly be the broadest-ever this year.

According to the paper, the drill is also part of U.S. President Barack Obama’s new missile defense plan, under which the Pentagon will initially deploy ships with missile interceptors instead of stationing missile defense systems in Eastern Europe.

Continued >>

UN: Israel ‘deliberately’ attacked Gaza civilians

September 16, 2009

Middle East Online, Sep 16, 2009


‘Violations of humanitarian law and human rights law’

‘Strong evidence’ of Israeli ‘willful killing’, torture, extensive destruction of property in Gaza.

UNITED NATIONS – A UN report Tuesday accused both Israel and the Palestinians of committing “war crimes” in the Gaza Strip, but particularly slammed Israel’s use of disproportionate force in the conflict.

The damning report found Israel violated international humanitarian law during its assault on the Gaza Strip eight months ago.

The four-member probe panel “concluded that actions amounting to war crimes and possibly in some respect crimes against humanity were committed by the Israel Defense Forces,” the head of the UN probe, former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone, told reporters.

Rocket firing by Palestinian resistance groups also amounted to war crimes “and may amount to crimes against humanity,” a seven-page summary said.

But only four paragraphs of the summary were devoted to Palestinian violations, and Goldstone, appointed in April to lead a broadened human rights probe into the Gaza violence, was more sharply critical of Israel.

Continues >>

Breaking the Silence on Gaza

July 21, 2009
by César Chelala | CommonDreams.org, July 20, 2009

A new set of revelations by soldiers who participated in the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) operation in Gaza offers a disturbing picture of the actions carried out in that territory. Testimony regarding their conduct in Gaza by Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli soldiers, confirms previous denunciations by human rights organizations and signals that urgent attention must be paid to the economic and medical needs of a repeatedly abused civilian population.

Operation “Cast Lead” was initiated December 27, 2008 and ended January 18, 2009. Over 1400 Palestinians were killed, 900 of them civilians (65%), including 300 hundred children (22%). Extensive areas of Gaza were razed to the ground and thousands of people were left homeless, even months after the operation ended. The economy of Gaza was all but destroyed.

Full article

Israel’s Crimes, America’s Silence

June 21, 2009

By John Dugard | The Nation, June 21, 2009

President Obama’s recent speech to the Muslim World failed to address allegations that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza. Palestinians and people throughout the region were shocked at the firepower Israel brought to bear against Gaza’s civilians and do not want Palestinians’ ongoing misery to be further ignored. Many were surely waiting to hear from President Obama that the way to peace does not lie through the devastation of civilian life and infrastructure in Gaza.

To date, too little mention has been made of investigations that show there is sufficient evidence to bring charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Israel’s political and military leadership for their actions in Gaza. Recently, two comprehensive independent reports have been published on Gaza, and earlier this month a mission mandated by the UN Human Rights Council, and chaired by South African Richard Goldstone, visited Gaza to conduct a further investigation into Israel’s offensive.

On May 4 the United Nations published the findings of an investigation into attacks carried out by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on UN premises in Gaza. Led by Ian Martin, formerly head of Amnesty International, this investigation found Israel responsible for wrongfully killing and injuring Palestinians on UN premises and destroying property amounting to over $10 million in value. Although this investigation did not address the question of individual criminal responsibility, it is clear that the identified wrongful acts by Israel constituted serious war crimes.

On May 7 the Arab League published the 254-page report of an Independent Fact Finding Committee (IFFC) it had established to examine the legal implications of Israel’s Gaza offensive. This committee, comprising six experts in international law, criminal law and forensic medicine from non-Arab countries, visited Gaza in February. We concluded that the IDF had committed serious war crimes and crimes against humanity.

As the committee`s chairman, I spent five days in Gaza along with the other experts. Our views were deeply influenced by interviews we conducted with victims and by the evidence of destruction of property. We were particularly disturbed by the accounts of cold-blooded killings of civilians committed by some members of the IDF and the Israeli military’s use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas. The devastation was appalling and raised profound doubts in my mind as to the veracity of Israeli officials who claimed this was not a war against the Palestinian people.

The IFFC found that the IDF, in killing some 1,400 Palestinians (at least 850 of whom were civilians), wounding over 5,000 and destroying over 3,000 homes and other buildings, had failed to discriminate between civilian and military targets, terrorized civilians, destroyed property in a wanton manner not justified by military necessity and attacked hospitals and ambulances. It also found that the systematic and widespread killing, injuring and terrorizing of the civilian population of Gaza constituted a crime against humanity.

The IFFC investigated the question whether the IDF was responsible for committing the ‘crime of crimes’ — genocide. Here we concluded that although the evidence pointed in this direction, Israel lacked the intention to destroy the people of Gaza, which must be proved for the crime of genocide. Instead, the IFFC found that the purpose of the offensive was collective punishment aimed at reducing the population to a state of submission. However, the IFFC did not discount the possibility that individual soldiers had acted with the required genocidal intent.

Israel’s argument that it acted in self-defense was rejected, inter alia, on the basis of evidence that Israel’s action was premeditated and not an immediate response to rockets fired by militants and was, moreover, disproportionate. The IFFC found that the IDF’s own internal investigation into allegations of irregularities, which exonerated the IDF, was unconvincing because it was not conducted by an independent body and failed to consider Palestinian evidence.

The IFFC also examined the actions of Palestinian militants who fired rockets indiscriminately into southern Israel. We concluded that these actions constituted war crimes and that those responsible committed the war crimes of indiscriminate attacks on civilians and the killing, wounding and terrorization of civilians.

The past twenty years have brought important developments in international law in respect to accountability for international crimes. Yet Israel has possibly secured impunity for itself by failing to become a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Nevertheless, its actions may still be judged by the court of public opinion.

A bold Obama speech on Gaza would have ensured that the public is on notice that it’s not business as usual in Washington. Even American allies, such as Israel, should have to answer evidence of serious international crimes. In this way, some measure of accountability may be achieved. With an active American push, a new view of the United States may begin to take shape after eight years of disregard for international and domestic law.

About John Dugard
John Dugard is a professor of law, a former UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the chairman of the Independent Fact Finding Committee on Gaza. more…

Gaza, remember?

April 24, 2009

By Gideon Levy | Haaretz (Israel), April 23, 2009

Alyan Abu-Aun is lying in his tent, his crutches beside him. He smokes cigarettes and stares into the tiny tent’s empty space. His young son sits on his lap. Ten people are crammed into the tent, about the size of a small room. It has been their home for three months. Nothing remains of their previous home, which the Israel Defense Forces shelled during Operation Cast Lead. They are refugees for a second time; Abu-Aun’s mother still remembers her home in Sumsum, a town that once stood near Ashkelon.

Abu-Aun, 53, was wounded while trying to flee when his home in the Gaza town of Beit Lahia was bombed. He has been on crutches ever since. His wife gave birth during the height of the war, and now the baby is with them in the cold tent. The tent was sent flying during the storm that devoured the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, so the family had to put it back up. They receive water only occasionally in a container, and a tiny tin shack serves as a bathroom for the 100 families in this new refugee camp, ‘Camp Gaza,’ in Beit Lahia’s Al-Atatra neighborhood.

Abu-Aun sounded particularly bitter this past weekend; the Red Cross refused his family a bigger tent. He has also had enough of eating beans.

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For three months, the Abu-Aun family and thousands of others have been living in five tent encampments built after the war. They have not begun clearing away the ruins of their homes, let alone build new ones. Thousands live in the shadow of the ruins of their homes, thousands in tents, thousands crowded together with their relatives, tens of thousands who are newly homeless and whom the world has lost interest in. After the conference of donor countries, which convened to great fanfare in Sharm el-Sheikh a month and a half ago, which included 75 countries and agreed to transfer $1 billion to rebuild Gaza, nothing happened.

Gaza is besieged. There are no building materials. Israel and the world are setting conditions, the Palestinians are incapable of forming a unity government, as is needed, the money and concrete are nowhere to be seen and the Abu-Aun family continues to live in a tent. Even the $900 million promised by the United States is stuck in the cash register. It’s doubtful whether it will ever be taken out. America’s word.

It’s exactly three months since the much-talked-about war, and Gaza is once again forgotten. Israel has never taken an interest in the welfare of its victims. Now the world has forgotten, too. Two weeks with hardly a Qassam rocket has taken Gaza completely off the agenda. If the Gazans don’t hurry up and resume firing, nobody will take an interest in their welfare again. Although not new, this is an especially grievous and saddening message liable to spark the next cycle of violence. And then it will be certain they won’t get aid because they will be shooting.

Somebody must assume responsibility for the fate of the Abu-Aun family and other victims like them. If they had been injured in an earthquake, the world probably would have helped them recover long ago. Even Israel would have quickly dispatched aid convoys from ZAKA, Magen David Adom, even the IDF. But the Abu-Aun family was not injured by a natural disaster, but by hands and flesh and blood, made in Israel, and not for the first time. The response: no compensation, no aid, no rehabilitation. Israel and the world are too preoccupied to rebuild Gaza. They have become speechless. Gaza, remember?

From the ruins of the Abu-Aun family sprouts a new desperation. It will be more bitter than its predecessor. A decent family of eight has been destroyed, physically and psychologically, and the world stands aloof. We should not expect Israel to compensate its victims or rebuild the ruins it caused, even though this would clearly be in its interest, not to mention its moral obligation, a topic not even talked about.

The world once again has to clean up Israel’s mess. But Israel is setting more and more political conditions for providing emergency humanitarian aid; empty excuses to leave Gaza in ruins and not offer aid that Gaza deserves and desperately needs. Gaza has once again been left to its own devices, the Abu-Aun family has been left in its tent, and when the hostilities resume we will be told once again about the cruelty and brutality of … the Palestinians.

Gazans: IDF used us as ‘human shields’ during offensive

February 21, 2009

By Amira Hass | Haaretz, Israel, Feb 20, 2009
GAZA – The question “Who is it?” was answered with: “The Israel Defense Forces.” Majdi Abed Rabbo, 39, who is a Palestinian Authority (Ramallah) employee and a member of its intelligence apparatus, went down to open the door. Standing there was the son of his neighbors, Mahmoud Daher, and behind him a soldier whose rifle was jammed into Daher’s back. The soldier pushed Daher aside and aimed the rifle at Abed Rabbo.

“He ordered me to pull down my pants. I pulled them down. He demanded that I raise my shirt. I raised it. That I turn around. I turned around,” Abed Rabbo related. And then the room filled up with soldiers. “Twelve, or something like that.”

This was in the morning of Monday, January 5, 2009, about 40 hours after the start of the Israeli ground offensive in Gaza.

The soldiers had already taken over Daher’s house on Sunday evening, located in I’zbet Abed Rabbo, an eastern neighborhood of Jabaliya city. First they gathered the family on the ground floor. Gunfire rang out around the house. Then they moved the family up to the first floor. The family wondered why the soldiers had taken them upstairs, to the cold, uncomfortable room – parents, children, two infants and an elderly mother. But they could not refuse, and they did not yet know that the move upstairs brought them closer to the range of fire. Only later did they learn about the three fighters from Iz al-Din al-Qassam, Hamas’ military wing, positioned in the empty house to the northeast of them. The regular occupants of the house, owned by their neighbor Abu Hatem, had long since gone abroad. Abed Rabbo’s tall house stood next to Abu Hatem’s narrow, empty one.

At about 7 A.M. on Monday, the soldiers took Shafiq Daher – a 53-year-old financial manager who gets his salary from the PA in Ramallah – as well as Mahmoud and two other sons from their home, and then separated them from each other.

The soldiers took the elder Daher to the house of his neighbor to the east, Jaber Zeydan. The door had already been broken, and the neighbors were huddled in one room. The search here, as in the four other homes Daher was forced to enter that day, was conducted in the same way: He entered first, with the soldiers behind him. One soldier placed his rifle on Daher’s right shoulder, and pressed down on his left shoulder. The members of the Zeydan family were taken into the adjacent house, owned by Tawfiq Katari. The hands of all the men, including boys of 14 and 16, were tied, some behind the back, some in front.

Protecting soldiers

The soldiers also took over Katari’s house on Sunday night, January 4. The Kataris, too, were rounded up and taken to the ground floor. There was shooting all around. The soldiers took up positions on one of the upper floors and turned the northeast window, close to the Abu Hatem home, into a firing position. “There was one nice soldier who told us that where we were sitting was dangerous and moved us next to an inner wall,” one of the women related.

At about 9 A.M. on Monday, the soldiers took Katari’s son Jamal from the house. During the next four days Jamal accompanied the soldiers and performed several tasks. He was made to enter what he estimates were 10 houses, going in first and calling on the occupants to come downstairs. He preceded the huge army bulldozer that forced its way through the neighborhood, ripping up the streets. “I am afraid the soldiers will shoot me,” he told a soldier, who replied: “Don’t be afraid.”

In the meantime, that same Monday morning, Shafiq Daher, too, was continuing his mission of protecting Israel Defense Forces soldiers. The second house he was made to check was also empty. It belonged to the Al-Ajarmi family. Daher did not know that his two oldest sons were accompanying other groups of soldiers, and were being forced to smash holes in the walls of houses using sledgehammers. Nor did he know that at that very moment, a soldier was jamming his rifle into the back of his third son, standing at the door of Abed Rabbo’s home.

Abed Rabbo himself, after being forced to smash a hole in the wall that separated his roof from his neighbors’ roof and to accompany the soldiers inside, was made to enter several houses near the mosque, break into a car and then go into the Zeydan house. He was then taken to the Katari family’s home, where he met Shafiq Daher and told him that his son was all right. At about 2 P.M., a soldier took him outside, pointed to the Abu Hatem house and said, according to Abed Rabbo’s testimony: “There were armed people in that house. We killed them. Take off their clothes and take their weapons.” At first he refused and said that was not his job. “Obey orders,” he was told.

Dead or alive?

Abbed Rabbo went to the Abu Hatem house, shouting in Arabic that he was the owner. In the house, he found three very much alive members of Iz al-Din al-Qassam. They told him to leave and threatened him not to come back, “because we will shoot you.” He returned to the soldiers, who made him undress and turn around, and then told them that the three were alive. The officer on hand asked to see his ID card and discovered that Abed Rabbo was a member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ intelligence. He was handcuffed and moved aside. He heard shooting. Then he was again sent to check the Abu Hatem house, after being told the three militants were now dead; he found one wounded and the others “all right.” One of them said: “Tell the officer that if he is a man, he can come up here himself.”

The soldiers didn’t like what they heard. One of them cursed, said Abed Rabbo, who was handcuffed again and made to wait. It began to grow dark when he heard a helicopter approaching, followed by the sound of a missile exploding. One of the soldiers said: Now we have killed them, with a missile. Come over here. Abed Rabbo complied and saw, with horror, that the missile had struck his house.

He told the soldier that the missile had missed. “Are you majnoun [nuts]?” the soldier asked him. “No,” Abed Rabbo replied. “The missile hit my house.”

There was a huge mess: Water was bursting out of pipes, pieces of concrete were lying all over. And all around the shooting continued unabated, interspersed with the sounds of many explosions and helicopters flying overhead.

At about midnight, between Monday and Tuesday, Abed Rabbo was forced to go for a third time, to ascertain whether the three Hamas militants were dead. The soldiers lit the way for him. He found two of the gunmen, still alive, but buried under the rubble; the third was still holding his weapon. Abed Rabbo returned to the soldiers, stripped down again and repeated that the three were alive.

“Are you majnoun?” they demanded.

“No, I am not majnoun, I am telling you what I saw,” he replied. Hungry, thirsty and with a throbbing headache, Abbed Rabbo was taken back to the Katari house.

At 6:30 A.M. he was brought out, in front of what was once his house. Soldiers brought a megaphone, he recalled later, and started to shout: “Ya, armed people, you have 15 minutes to turn yourselves in. Come down, remove your clothes, the Red Cross is here, the journalists are here, we will treat the wounded men.”

The soldiers then sent a dog into the house. One of the Hamas fighters shot and killed it. The soldiers again started calling on them to come out. There was no reply. “And then a bulldozer arrived and started to demolish my house, right before my eyes.” Abed Rabbo was sent into the Katari house as the bulldozer started to wreck Abu Hatem’s house. He heard sporadic gunfire shots. When he emerged, two hours later, he found two of the armed men “sprawled on the demolished concrete, dead.” He did not see the third man.

“What kind of army is this, which can’t break into one house where there are armed men?” Abed Rabbo asked himself.

The IDF responds

Haaretz spoke with eight residents of I’zbet Abed Rabbo neighborhood, who testified that they were made to accompany IDF soldiers on missions involving breaking into and searching houses – not to mention the family members who remained in the houses the army took over, which were used as firing positions. The eight estimated that about 20 local people were made to carry out “escort and protection” missions of various kinds, as described here, between January 5 and January 12.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit stated in response: “The IDF is a moral army and its soldiers operate according to the spirit and values of the IDF, and we suggest a thorough examination of the allegations of Palestinian elements with vested interests. The IDF troops were instructed unequivocally not to make use of the civilian population within the combat framework for any purpose whatsoever, certainly not as ‘human shields.’

“Following an examination with the commanders of the forces that were in the area in question, no evidence was found of the cases mentioned. Anyone who tries to accuse the IDF of actions of this kind creates a mistaken and misleading impression of the IDF and its fighters, who operate according to moral criteria and international law.”

Israel’s Dirty War in Gaza and Complicity of Her Allies

February 20, 2009

Marc Herbermann | uruknet.info, Feb 19, 2009

‘How did the current mess in the Gaza Strip begin?’

In recent years, life had become more and more unbearable in the area which once was called Palestine. Palestinians today, under a Jewish state that allows them no autonomy, suffer from miserable living conditions in a land that was theirs more than 60 years ago.

Jews, separated by huge concrete walls from the Palestine population, are scared of continuous rocket fire and the notion of being a victim of another devastating suicide attack. And now, Palestinians, expelled from their former homeland, crammed and trapped in a ghetto in the Gaza Strip, are the victims of a criminal military campaign.

Let’s get it right; we should respect people’s wish to live in peace, no matter in which country they live, whether they are Jews, Muslims or Buddhists. The brutal murder of civilians is a crime, the summary execution of people that are not involved in military operations and the deliberate shelling of U.N. buildings, convoys, hospitals, media installations and mosques are war crimes.

Over a period of 22 days, covered by the complicit apathy of the U.S., which is leading a disgraceful war in Iraq which it started illegally, the Israeli military operation in Gaza had claimed over 1300, at least half of them are civilians.

Thousands are wounded and traumatized. The attacks were meant to destroy the “infrastructure of terror,” yet they are ruining the social and cultural infrastructure of a community that has already been suffering under a harsh blockade Egypt and Israel imposed nearly 18 months ago.

Similarities between the current onslaught and the Lebanon War are evident. More than two years ago, Israel concocted a casus belli to attack Lebanon, half the size of Israel, with overwhelming air power, in utter contempt for civilian life and international institutions. Remember the deadly bombing of the apartment building in Qana and the destruction of the U.N. post that killed four U.N. observers.

And yet this small, relatively prosperous land, Lebanon, has nearly 30 times the landmass of the Gaza Strip, where desperate population is hiding and trembling between shattered walls, waiting for the next fatal blow, unable to sleep, drink clean water, eat or seek refuge in mosques or hospitals.

Even clearly marked international buildings are intentionally shelled. More than 40 people died after an Israeli attack on a U.N. school in the Jabalya refugee camp, where there were no fighters. In the Shifa and other hospitals, the situation is disastrous.

The recent mass executions by the Israel Defense Forces (IDFs) were not meant to destroy a well equipped enemy, as Israeli commanders suggest, but they knocked down an impoverished population administrated by Hamas, a political organization with a militant ideology, which was elected democratically in January 2006.

What are the underlying reasons for Israel’s assault on Gaza? Mark Regev, spokesman for the prime minister of Israel, repeatedly claims that the IDFs want to stop the firing of rockets, which fly out of the Gaza Strip everyday, flying deeper and deeper into the south of Israel.

If so, why is the best equipped army in the Middle East, which receives billions of dollars in military aid and uses the latest weapons from its American ally (including precision-guided munitions, phosphor bombs and depleted uranium shells) incapable of preventing these crude, homemade, and mainly inaccurate rockets from firing?

The IDFs, therefore, seem to pursue other aims: restoring their prestige, damaged by the Lebanon war, by demonstrating their strength regardless of civilian causalities.

More likely, the hidden agenda of this operation is aimed at removing Hamas from the Gaza Strip and finally, as the Canadian economist Michel Chossudovsky puts it, terrorizing and expelling the Palestinians from their land.

How did the current mess in the Gaza Strip begin? The standard narration ¯ shared by mainstream media outlets and declared by the Israeli government, George W. Bush, his biased German colleague, Angela Merkel, and the French President Nicolas Sarkozy ¯ blames Hamas alone.

Yet the EU presidency conceded that “even the undisputable right of the state to defend itself does not allow actions which largely affect civilians.” United Nations Security Council Resolution 1860, intended to resolve the 2008-09 Israel-Gaza conflict, has yet to bear fruit.

But who really broke the last ceasefire? According to various sources in Western newspapers and magazines such as The Guardian, The Economist and the U.S. News and World Report, the truth is that Israeli commandos killed six Hamas fighters during a raid on a tunnel they suspected was being dug for the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers at the beginning of November.

According to The Guardian, “Hamas responded by firing a wave of rockets into southern Israel.” Israeli newspaper Haaretz claims that operation “Cast Lead” had been prepared six month earlier and, coupled with a carefully staged disinformation campaign, even as Israel was beginning to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with Hamas.

– Marc Herbermann, full-time instructor at Dongduk Women’s University in Seoul, works occasionally as a journalist and lectured on methods of political science at the University of Trier. This article was contributed to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact the author at: herbermann@gmx.de .

Amira Hass: Palestinian doctor killed by IDF while treating Gaza wounded

February 15, 2009

Amira Haas | Haaretz, Israel,

Click here for more articles by Amira Hass

A 28-year-old Palestinian doctor in the Gaza refugee camp of Jabalya was killed by Israel Defense Forces fire this week while on his way to remove casualties from a building being targeted by Israeli missiles, according to the Mizan human rights group in Gaza.

His death raises the death toll of medical personnel killed by the IDF to seven since December 27, human rights groups said. In addition, three hospitals and four health clinics were damaged by gunfire in the last few days, Palestinian sources said.

Dr. Issa Salah, a member of the Palestinian civil defense services, and his team reached the building where the casualties were located around 4:30 P.M. Monday, a few minutes after it was hit by a missile fired by an Israeli helicopter.

The residents ran out, having learned that the first such missile is a warning to residents to evacuate the building, before additional missiles demolish it.

But not everyone made it in time; an 18-year-old girl was killed and four residents, including two children, were wounded in the second missile strike.

Salah was killed, and one of his colleagues wounded, in the third missile strike, while on their way to remove the woman and the four residents from the site and get them medical treatment.

Meanwhile, the dead woman’s 23-year-old sister and another woman, 20, were killed in continued Israeli shelling of the building.

Five others were wounded.

Salah’s death underscores the difficulty Palestinians face in removing casualties from the scene.

As of last night, Palestinian sources said, Palestinian rescue forces have so far been unable to coordinate the evacuation of casualties with the IDF in at least four locations, where the IDF has encountered resistance: Jabalya and the Gaza City neighborhoods of Sajaiyeh, Tufah and Zeitun.

Related articles:

· Amira Hass / Gazans doing their best to avoid becoming death statistics

· Human Rights Watch: IDF phosphorous bombs in Gaza violate int’l law

· Life in the Gaza war zone

· Hamas executes collaborators and restricts Fatah movement

Apartheid in my name

February 15, 2009

Kyle Matzpen (not his real name) describes what it was like to be in Israel during the slaughter of Gaza.

Palestinians wait behind barbed wire at the checkpoint at Rafah

JUDAISM EQUALS Zionism–so I have been taught since my early days in Hebrew school. To be against one is to be against both, so if you disagree with the tenets of Zionism or the actions of Israel in the slightest, then you’re an anti-Semite–or in my case, a self-hating Jew.

But underneath this name-calling by Zionists lies a demand for unquestioning conformity from Jews in support of Israel in perpetuity, despite whatever that means for others. Otherwise, you’re not a Jew.

At least that’s what my family told me after they found out my “Free Palestine” political beliefs. I wouldn’t say what happened next was necessarily “forced” on me–“coerced” is probably a closer term–but before I knew it, I was signed up to Taglit-Birthright Israel to connect to my “people’s roots,” and maybe get some sense knocked into me.

To give a fuller idea what Birthright is exactly, I’ll quote one of its founders, a South African and current president of Hillel (a national college-level Jewish youth group), Avraham Infeld, who spoke to a crowd of us Birthrighteers on my last night in Israel. He said he had aimed through Birthright to “create a world where every Jewish child is born with a ticket to Israel tied to his umbilical cord.”

Despite the fact that I’ve never been there, and have no immediate family in Israel, I get a free 10-day, all-expenses-paid trip there, and could even emigrate there with little fuss if I so wished. All because I am Jewish. At the same time, Palestinians whose families up to 1947 had hundreds of years of roots in this land are forever barred from returning. This sense of racial nationalism and entitlement highlighted just about everything I saw and heard in Israel.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

BEFORE THE in-flight movies started on the flight from JFK to Tel Aviv, they played a 30-minute video intro to Israeli tourist attractions. It was a roaring epic of music and montage shots of deserts, wildlife, mountains. And, overall, the theme of the land, the importance of the land, who should get the land, making the land bloom.

A shot of Jerusalem cuts to a clip of two Ibexes fighting over a chunk of cliff rock, then a cut to a pan-shot of acres of irrigated farm. The subliminal symbolism was unnerving.

We landed in Tel-Aviv on January 2. On January 3, our bus of about 40 college kids was on its way for some sightseeing in Jerusalem when a person next to me asked one of the American tour guides about the chances of the ground invasion of Gaza happening while we were in Israel. The tour guide smiled and said, “I think the chances are pretty good.” He sounded pumped.

That night, we came to a place in East Jerusalem called Ammunition Hill. Ammunition Hill is the site of a major battle in what is called by the tour guides the “Reunification of Jerusalem”–in other words, when Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, liberating the land from its inhabitants.

Today, it’s a memorial with the Jordanian trench works from the battle fully restored. This came in handy, as one of the Israeli tour guides had us reenact in the trenches, step by step, the entire battle of Ammunition Hill.

This is where you came under heavy fire from a Jordanian pillbox. Three of us played dead. This is where you throw your grenades into the Jordanian pillbox.

When we arrived back at our hotel that night, we learned that while we were playing Israel Defense Forces (IDF) make-believe and shooting at invisible Jordanians, the ground invasion in the slaughter of Gaza had begun.

Suffice it to say, we were purposely kept out of the loop about what was happening at every step of the way. News about the IDF attacking UN-run shelters and food aid hubs, or the widespread use of the white phosphorus chemical weapons, I only heard after coming back. But information about Israeli casualties–they made sure that sunk in.

On the day after the ground invasion began, they took us for a tour of the Israel Defense Forces national cemetery, proving once again that the trip organizers had a morbid sense of irony. The constant noise of F-16s going supersonic and Blackhawk helicopters flying low overhead made an oddly poignant background noise as we viewed the graves of the likes of Levi Eshkol and Theodore Herzl.

I looked at the rows upon rows of graves of children my age, and thought about what life was like for them. They pump these children up to their eyes with nationalism, religious pride and a contrived Israeli-origin history, written by the victors, and they send them off to kill Muslims.

And if, God forbid, they die in battle against other children, they will be buried in a cemetery among heroes and prime ministers, so that even smaller children can come here on class field trips, put stones on their graves and think of how glorious it must be to die in battle. And if for some reason an Israeli child wants no part of this cycle, there must be something wrong with them.

The mandatory draft has created an Israeli society that is entirely militarized. Newspapers had full-page articles just on the type of gear that the Special Ops were using in Gaza. Everywhere, there were IDF T-shirts, T-shirts proclaiming that “Masada Will Never Fall Again” and Israeli flags. People seemed naturally more aggressive on every level. Just imagine it’s like living in the movie 300, minus the slow motion, and with an uber-emphasis on the “stronghold of civilization against the dirty barbarian hordes” concept.

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THE AMOUNT of racism I heard on the trip, from both my fellow Birthrighteers and the actual American and Israeli tour guides, was mind-boggling.

For example, a tour guide informed us as our bus was driving on a Jewish-only access highway through the West Bank that Palestinians “went to the bathroom in the street and bred like rabbits.”

One afternoon, they took us to the Israeli-Lebanese border to get a better view of “the enemy.” From our vantage point next to a rather plush Israeli suburban town–which wouldn’t look out of place in Orange County–we were assured by our tour guide that somewhere in those bombed-out buildings in Lebanon, Hezbollah was waiting to kill us. The tour guide then taught us about the dangers of Islam. He said, “To me, ‘radical Islam’ is a misnomer since 80 percent of imams preach Jihad. Just saying.”

I would find out after returning that, oddly enough, at the same time that this lecture was happening, a UN-controlled school in Gaza that was being used to distribute aid was being shelled, killing 40 civilians.

The next day, they took us on a lovely Jeep tour through the Golan Heights to learn about its strategic importance for Israel. Over here are bombed-out Syrian pillboxes, bunkers and rusted-out Syrian tanks. Here is an abandoned Syrian town, now in Israeli territory, and right over there, just over the border and less than a mile away, is the new Syrian town, so the people there can actually see every day where they used to live.

As the slaughter in Gaza was intensifying, and bits of information began floating in to us by rumor, the trip organizers found it necessary to intensify our propaganda education with “structured discussions” and a lecture from an IDF lieutenant colonel. We were told candidly that the siege was not, at its core, a response to the rocket attacks, but was an attempt to wipe out Hamas–to “squash out the cockroaches.”

To quote the lieutenant colonel, “We gave them [the Gazans] democracy, and the land, and opened up the borders to goods and services, and what do they do to repay us? They voted for Hamas. They failed our test…I don’t understand what they mean by ‘innocent bystanders’ in Gaza, because they all voted for Hamas.”

On the charge that the 100-to-1 Palestinian-Israeli casualty ratio in the Gazan slaughter might be ever-so-slightly asymmetric, the lieutenant colonel gave what was possibly the most interesting statement of the entire trip. He reversed the David and Goliath analogy, saying:

Look at Goliath, he’s well trained, well armored, huge, nothing can beat him, you’d think. But then along comes this tiny religious fanatic, David, with a slingshot. Goliath thinks nothing of him, so all David has to do is stay just out of Goliath’s reach and hit him in his weak spot, and Goliath comes tumbling down.

This is a lesson for Israel–no matter how better armed we may think we are, we must never underestimate out foes and never let them out of our reach, or else we’ll go the way of Goliath.

Indeed.

While we were bobbing in the Dead Sea, a fellow Birthrighteer told me–in the language of racism, accentuated by curses–that Palestinians and Muslims in general would “kill me twice, once for being Jewish, a second time for being an American.”

Which was kind of weird since not a week earlier, I was at a protest in New York City against the bombing of Gaza among 2,000 people, 80 percent of them Muslim or Arab, holding up a sign saying “Jew for a Free Palestine”–and nobody stabbed me. In fact, I was well welcomed. Go figure.

While I was climbing Masada and touring Tel Aviv, protests all over the world were erupting against Israel’s barbarism in Gaza. I was privileged to witness one particular news broadcast while in Tiberius. I couldn’t understand a word that was said, but it was clearly a protest of the attack on Gaza put on by maybe 30 Israeli college kids.

They were being heckled, pushed and spat upon by passersby, and I realized two things: Firstly, that if they were in college, that would mean they were all veterans of the IDF, and secondly, that they had every ounce of my respect.

Zionism attempts to portray itself as the sole political representative of the Jewish people, for it is only then that it can whitewash the genocidal crimes of Israel by saying they are what’s required to protect all Jews everywhere. This claim of hegemony is a lie.

Though still a minority, the numbers of fellow Jewish Anti-Zionists are growing. They are people who wish to epitomize the best in Jewish history, and stay on the side of the oppressed. They deny the racist concept that the life of an Israeli is somehow more precious than the life of a Palestinian.

Israel is a sort of utopia–modern towns defended by young men and women with Uzis, all held together by a strong sense of community. I can understand why it is tempting to some Jews. But it is a utopia for some, not for all, built on the oppression of others, and those groups are defined in purely racial terms. Israel is the world’s largest and most aggressive gated community.

When speaking to the socialists of the Jewish Bund, the Russian revolutionary Lenin said that is was wrong to “legitimize Jewish isolation by propagating the idea of a Jewish ‘nation.'” The task was “not to segregate nations, but unite the workers of all nations. Our banner does not carry the slogan ‘national culture,’ but ‘international culture.'”

Peace is simply impossible as long as Israel defines itself at its core as a Jewish exclusive state, and the chauvinistic and racist tenets of Zionism remain its guiding philosophy. Only one state–one secular state, with equal rights for all and the right of return for all Palestinian refugees–can solve this. Nothing more, nothing less.


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