Posts Tagged ‘Israeli war on Gaza’

Tony Blair: Gaza’s Great Betrayer

February 3, 2010

It’s more than a year since Israel launched its immoral attack on Gaza and Palestinians are still living on the verge of a humanitarian disaster. So what has Tony Blair done to further peace in the region? Virtually nothing, argues the historian Avi Shlaim

Tony Blair visiting Gaza, June 2009Tony Blair in June 2009 speaking at a press conference in Gaza calling for a quick reconstruction. Photograph: Hatem Moussa/AP

The savage attack Israel ­unleashed against Gaza on 27 December 2008 was both immoral and unjustified. Immoral in the use of force against civilians for political purposes. Unjustified because Israel had a political alternative to the use of force. The home-made Qassam rockets fired by Hamas militants from Gaza on Israeli towns were only the ­excuse, not the reason for Operation Cast Lead. In June 2008, Egypt had ­brokered a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement. ­Contrary to Israeli propaganda, this was a success: the average number of rockets fired monthly from Gaza dropped from 179 to three. Yet on 4 November Israel violated the ceasefire by launching a raid into Gaza, killing six Hamas fighters. When Hamas ­retaliated, Israel seized the renewed rocket attacks as the ­excuse for launching its insane offensive. If all Israel wanted was to protect its citizens from Qassam rockets, it only needed to ­observe the ceasefire.

Continues >>

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U.S. policy in Gaza remains unchanged

January 22, 2010

by Charles Fromm and Ellen Massey, Inter Press Service News

WASHINGTON, Jan 22, 2010 (IPS) – One year ago Thursday, the last Israeli tanks were lumbering out of the Gaza Strip, ending the 22-day Gaza War and leaving in their wake a decimated landscape and population.

A year later, the humanitarian and security situation in the devastated coastal enclave remains dire, yet the Barack Obama administration continues to overlook the crisis in Gaza, an approach which some experts say is an extension of the previous administration’s policy.

This policy has also done little to alleviate what human rights groups warn is a growing humanitarian crisis, plunging the Gaza Strip further into poverty and insecurity.

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World Council of Churches: Statement on the Gaza war

February 27, 2009

World Council of Churches
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
Bossey, Switzerland
17-20 February 2009
Document No. 12

In the very place where Jesus Christ walked upon the earth, walls now separate families and the children of God – Christian, Muslim and Jew – are imprisoned in a deepening cycle of violence, humiliation and despair.”
Amman Call, WCC International Peace Conference,
June 2007, Jordan

1. The Gaza war during Christmas season took a terrible toll on lives and communities that were already fragile. Bombs, missiles and rockets striking densely populated areas spread an unconscionable sorrow from Gaza to much of the world. Approximately 1400 Palestinians are dead – mostly civilians, children and women – thousands more are wounded, countless thousands are traumatized, and there remains widespread destruction and damage to homes and institutions including church clinics and a hospital. Four civilians are dead in neighboring Israel and 11 soldiers were killed during the fighting and many other people injured.

2. The humanitarian situation in Gaza remains extremely alarming. More than one million people, 80 percent of the population, depend on food aid. Thousands of jobs have been lost. The educational and health systems have broken down due to the blockade that is still being imposed by the Israeli government. Palestinian church leaders, representatives from Action by Churches Together International and other humanitarian aid workers have been denied access to Gaza.

3. Still violence continues and the word peace is rarely spoken. With concerned people in many countries, we speak now to mourn the dead and to cry out with the wounded. The war and the political decisions behind it have deepened an intolerable spiral of despair, violence and deaths.

4. All the lives lost are sacred. Civilians were trapped in the war zone and had no way to escape. All of us who are part of the international community failed in our obligation to stop the killings. Governments failed to fulfill their legal obligations to prevent or remedy the Gaza war under the terms of international law and international humanitarian law. Such failure discredits international law and gives encouragement to those who rely on the use of force.

5. The Gaza war brought people onto the streets in cities around the world while those responsible for the enforcement of international law stood by doing little to nothing. Israel, like any other state, has the right of self defense, but is also bound by humanitarian principles of proportionality and distinction. The imperative to protect human lives is mandatory for all parties involved – including the international community. All have failed in this responsibility. Civilians have suffered on both sides. However, as the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights noted, “the scale of civilian harm resulting from Israeli unlawful conduct was far greater than that of Palestinian unlawful conduct.” Furthermore, given the evidence of possible war crimes, the international community has a “responsibility to protect” the population at grave risk in Gaza because the government responsible for them has failed to do so.

6. What happened in Gaza is not an isolated tragedy. It is to be seen in the context of the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory that began in 1967. In the case of Gaza the last three years have seen siege and collective punishment harden into a stringent 18-month blockade. Without an end to the occupation, the cycle of violence continues.

7. Israel’s future, its well-being and security depend on a just and genuine peace. The same is true for any prospective Palestinian state. Failure to achieve a just and peaceful resolution of the conflict will open the future to more violence and war. Indeed, while world attention was focused on Gaza, the expansion of settlements and violence against Palestinians continued in the rest of Occupied Palestinian Territory.

8. Gaza’s suffering should serve as a reminder to governments to carry out their third state responsibility. International law requires states not to knowingly aid or assist another state in internationally unlawful acts and not to recognize such acts as lawful. They bear indirect responsibility if they assist or recognize such acts, for example, the illegal use of force and violations of laws and rights that take place daily in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

9. Palestinians who take up arms are also accountable under the law for their use of force. We join the international condemnation of the violence perpetrated by members of Hamas and other groups against civilians in Israel and against their own people.

10. Palestinian unity is essential not only for ending the occupation but also for eventually building a viable Palestinian state. Members of the international community bear partial responsibility for policies that divided people and political structures in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It is incumbent on the international community now to actively and responsibly support the reintegration of Palestinian political processes including elections and the reunification of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

11. We extend our solidarity to all Palestinians and Israelis who engage in the peaceful pursuit of national Palestinian independence and non-violent resistance to foreign occupation. Non-violent resistance is a right of people living under occupation. We encourage people of all nationalities, religions and good will to support the non-violent struggle for a comprehensive and just peace.

12. We recall the many WCC policy statements that bear on present challenges, including those addressing the siege of Gaza (2008), the Amman Call to churches (2007), the need to engage with all the elected representatives of the Palestinian people (2006), assessing Israel’s pullback from Gaza and ending economic ties to the occupation (2005), plus regular condemnation of all attacks against civilians and consistent church support for the implementation of UN resolutions as the basis for peace.

Accordingly, the executive committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Bossey, Switzerland, 16-20 February 2009;

A. Commends the many churches, related ministries, international church organizations, regional and national councils of churches, and civil society groups including Jewish and Muslim organizations that responded to the tragedy in Gaza with prayer, advocacy and aid.

B. Invites greater church engagement in joint efforts for peace, including broader participation in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), in the WCC-led World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel, 4-10 June 2009, and in other initiatives of the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum.

C. Calls member churches and related organizations, wherever applicable, to hold their own governments to account for third state responsibilities in the Israel-Palestine conflict under international law.

D. Recommends that member churches and related organizations in a position to do so practice morally responsible investment and purchasing in regard to corporations whose products or services support the occupation of Palestinian territory.

E. Calls for the United Nations to investigate alleged war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law by the parties to the Gaza conflict, including the use of weapons that have indiscriminate effects; and calls for the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1860 which requires inter alia that the government of Israel lift the siege of Gaza.

F. Urges the government of Switzerland as the repository of the Geneva Conventions to convene an international conference of the high contracting parties of the 4th Geneva Convention to investigate armed violations against civilian populations by the parties to the conflict.

G. Supports proposals that churches and governments which funded aid and infrastructure projects in Gaza hold the government of Israel accountable for the destruction it has caused during the war and demand compensation for the same.

H. Calls on the government of Israel to facilitate the on-going work of United Nations agencies in Occupied Palestinian Territory including access for the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights to the populations living under occupation; and also calls on the government of Israel to facilitate unimpeded access to Gaza for humanitarian aid workers, rehabilitation and reconstruction teams, pastoral delegations and clergy of religious congregations there.

I. Affirms Palestinian Christians in their endeavors to promote Palestinian unity, be of service to society, minister to their church members and join civil society in peaceful and non-violent measures to bring the occupation to an end.

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 .

How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe

January 9, 2009

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

A wounded Palestinian policeman gestures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel’s Collective Punishment of Gaza

January 8, 2009

by Professor Marjorie Cohn

Since Israel began its war on Gaza 11 days ago, more than 560 Palestinians – about a quarter of them civilians – have been killed. Some two thousand Gazans, including hundreds of children, have been wounded. Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” marks an escalation of Israel’s two-year blockade of the Gaza Strip which has deprived 1.5 million Palestinians of necessary food, medicine, fuel and other necessities.

Israel is using white phosphorous gas, an illegal chemical weapon that burns to the bone. Dr. Mads Gilbert, a member of a Norwegian triage medical team working in Gaza, has documented Israel’s use of Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME), which cuts its victims to pieces and reportedly causes cancer in survivors. Gilbert, who has worked in several conflict zones, said the situation in Gaza is the worst he has ever seen. Two United Nations schools have been hit by airstrikes, killing at least 30 people. The New York Times reported on Monday that Gazan hospitals are full of civilians, not Hamas fighters.

The targeting of civilians violates the Fourth Geneva Convention. Since the rockets fired from Gaza into Israel cannot distinguish between civilians and military targets, they are illegal. But Israel’s air and ground attack in Gaza violates Geneva in four ways. First, it constitutes collective punishment of the entire population in Gaza for the acts of a few militants. Second, it targets civilians, as evidenced by the large numbers of civilian casualties. Third, it is a disproportionate response to the rockets fired into Israel. Fourth, an occupying power has an obligation to ensure food and medical supplies to the occupied population; Israel’s blockade has created a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Israel’s airstrikes and ground assault on the people of Gaza have little to do with the Gazan rockets, which hadn’t killed any Israelis for a year before Israel’s current military operation. Israel’s leaders are bombing and attacking Gaza in order to gain an advantage in the upcoming Israeli elections in February.

Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni is locked in a tight race with Benyamin Netanyahu, who has criticized Livni for her “soft” treatment of the Palestinians. The Israeli government seeks to do as much damage as possible to Gaza while Bush is still in office. The New York Times cited several Middle East experts who “believe that Israel timed its move against Hamas, which began on Dec. 26, 25 days before Mr. Bush leaves office, with the expectation of such backing in Washington.” Obama, in spite of his unequivocal support for the policies of Israel during the campaign and his deafening silence about the recent casualties, is an unknown quantity.

Israel would be unable to carry out its aggressive policies in Gaza without the support of the United States, which gives Israel $3 billion in U.S. taxpayer money each year. The F-16 bombers and Apache attack helicopters Israel is using on Gaza were bought with U.S. money.

The war on Gaza also violates U.S. law. The Human Rights and Security Assistance Act mandates that the United States cease all military aid to Israel, which has engaged in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights. The Arms Export Control Act prohibits U.S. weapons from being used for any purpose other than inside the borders of a country for self-defense. Targeting schools, police stations and television broadcast centers is not self-defense.

Although Israel’s supreme court ordered the government to allow international media into Gaza to report on the situation there, Israel has refused. But, according to the New York Times, Israel has given “full access to Israeli political and military commentators.” Ethan Bronner, the Times bureau chief in Jerusalem, said, “Israel has never restricted media access like this before, and it should be ashamed . . . It’s betraying the principles by which it claims to live.”

In spite of the one-sided pro-Israel media coverage in the United States, Newsweek said, “Does it make sense for America to support [Israel’s] policy of punishing Hamas by making life unbearable for 1.5 million Gazans by denying aid and economic development? The answer is no.” An editorial in the Los Angeles Times called for “an end to a blockade that amounts to the collective punishment of Palestinians under Hamas rule.” And the New York Times editorialized that “the longer the Israeli incursion. . . the more Hamas’s popularity grows among its supporters.”

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are protesting Israel’s aggression in Gaza. Ten thousand demonstrated in Israel and scores have taken to the streets in Europe, the Middle East and throughout the United States.

A recent Rasmussen Reports poll found that Americans generally “are closely divided over whether the Jewish state should be taking military action against militants in the Gaza strip.” But Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose the Israeli offensive by a 24-point margin (31-55%). Republicans, on the other hand, overwhelmingly support it (62-27%). Nevertheless, Democratic Party leaders have followed Bush in their uncritical support for Israel.

The United States has blocked a ceasefire resolution in the Security Council. In the absence of council action, the General Assembly is empowered to act under the Uniting for Peace Resolution 377. Assembly president Miguel D’Escoto, who has been critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza, said that “the time has come to take firm action if the UN does not want to be rightly accused of complicity by omission.” The Human Rights Council should send a high level fact finding mission to Gaza.

It’s time to call a halt to the violence and bloodshed.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and President of the National Lawyers Guild.  She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and co-author of Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd), which will be published this winter by PoliPointPress.  Her articles are archived at www.marjoriecohn.com (The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer; she is not acting on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild or Thomas Jefferson School of Law)

Israel’s ‘colonial tactics’ decried

January 8, 2009
Al Jazeera, Jan 8, 2009

A majority of Gazans are refugees whose ancestors used to live in what is today Israel [GALLO/GETTY]

Azmi Bishara, an Arab-Israeli analyst and former member of the Israeli parliament, has lashed out at the Israeli media campaign being run alongside its war on Gaza that criminalises the victims and victimises the coloniser.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Tuesday, Bishara said Israel’s war on Gaza was disproportionate and punishes the Palestinian people for  refusing to bow to Israel’s fait-accompli in the strip.

“Usually people are pushed to collective punishment because they want to punish resistance movements or national liberation movements.

“That’s usually what colonial powers did, and that’s what Israel is doing.

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Bishara said the majority of Gazans are refugees, whose ancestors used to live in what is now Israel.”Everybody knows that 75 per cent of the people of Gaza are refugees. Everybody knows that Israel disengaged from Gaza militarily, but occupies it economically and politically and also it besieges Gaza militarily.

“Israel would say, “what would any normal country do if they were threatened by rocket fire? They would act”.

“But Israel is not a normal country, it is an occupying country, a colonial country and the people of Gaza are under siege.”

‘Punishing democracy’

Bishara said that Palestinians are being punished for choosing Hamas in the January 2006 democratic elections and accused Israeli officials for dramatising their lies.

“Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, should be asked, “What would you do if your house is besieged and you can’t feed your child, can’t go to school, and can’t take them to the doctors and physicians when they are ill.

“I consider Hamas rockets a protest shout, they haven’t hurt many, only the few. They are weapons of the poor, used to express their will.

“What brought the war was the siege. When colonial powers have historically gone to occupy countries, siege has always been a weapon. Siege is a military action at the beginning of war.

“When it did not work to break the will of the Palestinian people… Israel realised that the rockets were a response to the siege, and they went to the next phase which was direct military aggression, which is actually now directed against civilians to punish them for their democratic choice.

“What I think will happen is a ceasefire that will mean an end to the siege if the rockets stop. It will happen after the deaths of so many people.”


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