Posts Tagged ‘rocket attacks’

American Jewish groups must speak up over Gaza

April 20, 2009

It is a sensitive subject, but the movement for Gaza accountability needs full Jewish participation

Richard Silverstein

guardian.co.uk, Monday 20 April 2009 09.00 BS

    When Israeli forces left Gaza in January, they left behind 1,400 Palestinian dead, 4,000 homes destroyed, universities and government buildings flattened, and tens of thousands homeless. The Israeli and world press documented IDF atrocities including the indiscriminate use of white phosphorus in densely populated urban areas, the assault on United Nations humanitarian facilities, the shelling of civilian homes, and the shooting in cold blood of unarmed civilians.

    Israeli human rights groups have called for war crimes investigations of IDF actions. In the last few weeks, on-the-ground reports supported by eyewitness testimony have become available. They paint an even more damning picture. The attacks on UN facilities spurred the Palestinian Authority to call for a security council investigation. Officials announced they are investigating whether the international body has jurisdiction, but it seems likely that US opposition will doom such an avenue of redress.

    The UN human rights council has just appointed a distinguished jurist, Richard Goldstone, to head an investigation of both IDF and Palestinian actions in Gaza. The council made a wise choice in Goldstone, who served as chief prosecutor of the international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda: he has an impeccable record in his field and can be expected to issue a fair, balanced and thorough report.

    Last week, Judge Balthazar Garzon announced the investigation of six Bush-era officials for devising a scheme that justified torture of terror suspects. With this development, it became clear there was a new method to hold violators accountable for their alleged crimes, and I am certain activists are already preparing dossiers for submission. Earlier this month, an international assemblage of individuals announced the formation of the Russell tribunal on Palestine. Modelled on the Russell tribunal on war crimes in Vietnam, and named after philosopher and peace campaigner Bertrand Russell, it aims to bring to bear international law as a force for adjudicating and resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The tribunal will hear a legal case prepared by volunteer experts from around the world. A jury of respected individuals will hear evidence from both sides and announce its finding of guilt or innocence to the world.

    There is one important consideration that should encourage Israel to participate. If it truly believes Palestinian rocket attacks constitute war crimes, then it should vigorously make this point. The tribunal has already taken pains to point out that this is a part of its mandate: “Do the means of resistance used by the Palestinians violate international law?” However, I would imagine that Israel will not participate.

    While Israel’s savage assault against Hezbollah in Lebanon during the 2006 war generated an uproar, one wonders whether the massacres that occurred in Gaza crossed a moral threshhold. Can an effort to end Israeli impunity have real impact, both in terms of influencing world opinion and of impacting on Israeli behaviour? Israel has become an expert at wearing down its opponents, honing such skills during 40 years of occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The question is: what, if anything, can the peace community do differently this time?

    Each time the world witnesses another humanitarian tragedy resulting from Israeli military action, the outcry is louder. For example, the UN has never before entertained the possibility of investigating Israeli war crimes. The EU has informally made known that it intends to freeze a planned upgrade in relations with Israel and cancel of visit of Israel’s prime minister as an indirect result. American universities such as Hampshire College and church denominations such as the Presbyterians contemplate ever more seriously the issue of divestment. Gaza crossed a red line. Now, new methods of protest and new means of ensuring accountability must be devised.

    Horrors such as the Gaza war also breathe new life into movements like the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions initiative. Recently, Naomi Klein and Rabbi Arthur Waskow engaged in a provocative debate at In These Times about BDS. The Gaza war made Klein a believer. Recently, Rabbi Brant Rosen wrote words that many in the American Jewish community might find heretical, that BDS could be a legitimate expression “of a weaker, dispossessed, disempowered people”.

    There can be no doubt that horrors such as Gaza serve as moral ice-breakers in the psyche of diaspora Jews. Ideas that hitherto might have been taboo or “anti-Israel” become suddenly legitimate. As Israel drifts farther to the right, American Jews are challenged to respond morally. In this context, the forbidden becomes acceptable. Boycotts, divestment, sactions and war crimes investigations now appear tools through which to try to draw Israel back from the brink.

    No major American-Jewish peace group has called for a Gaza war crimes investigation. It is a sensitive subject among diaspora Jews. But if Israeli human rights organisations can make such a call, there is no reason why Americans should be afraid to do so. The movement for Gaza accountability needs full Jewish participation.

    My motivation in writing this is not to avenge the deaths of innocent Palestinians. Nor is it for pure justice. It is rather to bring Israel back from the brink. Like one of the slogans of the Israeli military during the Gaza war – “baal habayit hishtageya” (“the boss has lost it”) – Israel’s policy has verged on madness. Nor has it achieved its objective of pacifying Gaza or toppling Hamas. And isn’t one of the definitions of madness to repeat a behaviour even after it has failed, with the conviction that it will succeed the next time? When you see a loved one or family member descending into self-destruction, you reach out and help. My goal is to turn Israel away from the path of madness.

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    Obama and Israel’s Military: Still Arm-in-Arm

    March 9, 2009

    Stephen Zunes | Foreign Policy In Focus, March 9, 2009

    In the wake of Israel’s massive assault on heavily populated civilian areas of the Gaza Strip earlier this year, Amnesty International called for the United States to suspend military aid to Israel on human rights grounds. Amnesty has also called for the United Nations to impose a mandatory arms embargo on both Hamas and the Israeli government. Unfortunately, it appears that President Barack Obama won’t be heeding Amnesty’s call.

    During the fighting in January, Amnesty documented Israeli forces engaging in “direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects in Gaza, and attacks which were disproportionate or indiscriminate.” The leader of Amnesty International’s fact-finding mission to the Gaza Strip and southern Israel noted how “Israeli forces used white phosphorus and other weapons supplied by the USA to carry out serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes.” Amnesty also reported finding fragments of U.S.-made munitions “littering school playgrounds, in hospitals and in people’s homes.”

    Malcolm Smart, who serves as Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East, observed in a press release that “to a large extent, Israel’s military offensive in Gaza was carried out with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the USA and paid for with U.S. taxpayers’ money.” The release also noted how before the conflict, which raged for three weeks from late December into January, the United States had “been aware of the pattern of repeated misuse of [its] weapons.”

    Amnesty has similarly condemned Hamas rocket attacks into civilian-populated areas of southern Israel as war crimes. And while acknowledging that aid to Hamas was substantially smaller, far less sophisticated, and far less lethal — and appeared to have been procured through clandestine sources — Amnesty called on Iran and other countries to take concrete steps to insure that weapons and weapon components not get into the hands of Palestinian militias.

    During the fighting in early January, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization initially called for a suspension of U.S. military aid until there was no longer a substantial risk of additional human rights violations. The Bush administration summarily rejected this proposal. Amnesty subsequently appealed to the Obama administration. “As the major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and of human rights,” said Malcolm Smart. “The Obama administration should immediately suspend U.S. military aid to Israel.”

    Obama’s refusal to accept Amnesty’s call for the suspension of military assistance was a blow to human rights activists. The most Obama might do to express his displeasure toward controversial Israeli policies like the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied territories would be to reject a planned increase in military aid for the next fiscal year and slightly reduce economic aid and/or loan guarantees. However, in a notable departure from previous administrations, Obama made no mention of any military aid to Israel in his outline of the FY 2010 budget, announced last week. This notable absence may indicate that pressure from human rights activists and others concerned about massive U.S. military aid to Israel is now strong enough that the White House feels a need to downplay the assistance rather than emphasize it.

    Obama Tilts Right

    Currently, Obama is on record supporting sending up to $30 billion in unconditional military aid to Israel over the next 10 years. Such a total would represent a 25% increase in the already large-scale arms shipments to Israeli forces under the Bush administration.

    Obama has thus far failed to realize that the problem in the Middle East is that there are too many deadly weapons in the region, not too few. Instead of simply wanting Israel to have an adequate deterrent against potential military threats, Obama insists the United States should guarantee that Israel maintain a qualitative military advantage. Thanks to this overwhelming advantage over its neighbors, Israeli forces were able to launch devastating wars against Israel’s Palestinian and Lebanese neighbors in recent years.

    If Israel were in a strategically vulnerable situation, Obama’s hard-line position might be understandable. But Israel already has vastly superior conventional military capabilities relative to any combination of armed forces in the region, not to mention a nuclear deterrent.

    However, Obama has failed to even acknowledge Israel’s nuclear arsenal of at least 200-300 weapons, which has been documented for decades. When Hearst reporter Helen Thomas asked at his first press conference if he could name any Middle Eastern countries that possess nuclear weapons, he didn’t even try to answer the question. Presumably, Obama knows Israel has these weapons and is located in the Middle East. However, acknowledging Israel’s arsenal could complicate his planned arms transfers since it would place Israel in violation of the 1976 Symington Amendment, which restricts U.S. military support for governments which develop nuclear weapons.

    Another major obstacle to Amnesty’s calls for suspending military assistance is Congress. Republican leaders like Representatives John Boehner (OH) and Eric Cantor (VA) have long rejected calls by human rights groups to link U.S. military aid to adherence to internationally recognized human rights standards. But so have such Democratic leaders, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who are outspoken supporters of unconditional military aid to Israel. Even progressive Democratic Representative Barney Frank (MA), at a press conference on February 24 pushing his proposal to reduce military spending by 25%, dismissed a question regarding conditioning Israel’s military aid package to human rights concerns.

    Indeed, in an apparent effort to support their militaristic agenda and to discredit reputable human rights groups that documented systematic Israeli attacks against non-military targets, these congressional leaders and an overwhelming bipartisan majority of their colleagues have gone on record praising “Israel’s longstanding commitment to minimizing civilian loss and…efforts to prevent civilian casualties.” Although Obama remained silent while Israel was engaged in war crimes against the civilian population of Gaza, Pelosi and other congressional leaders rushed to Israel’s defense in the face of international condemnation.

    Obama’s Defense of Israeli Attacks on Civilians

    Following the 2006 conflict between Israeli armed forces and the Hezbollah militia, in which both sides committed war crimes by engaging in attacks against populated civilian areas, then-Senator Obama defended Israel’s actions and criticized Hezbollah, even though Israel was actually responsible for far more civilian deaths. In an apparent attempt to justify Israeli bombing of civilian population centers, Obama claimed Hezbollah had used “innocent people as shields.”

    This charge directly challenged a series of reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. These reports found that while Hezbollah did have some military equipment close to some civilian areas, the Lebanese Islamist militia had not forced civilians to remain in or around military targets in order to deter Israel from attacking those targets. I sent Obama spokesperson Ben LaBolt a copy of an exhaustive 249-page Human Rights Watch report that didn’t find a single case — out of 600 civilian deaths investigated — of Hezbollah using human shields. I asked him if Obama had any empirical evidence that countered these findings.

    In response, LaBolt provided me with a copy of a short report from a right-wing Israeli think tank with close ties to the Israeli government headed by the former head of the Israeli intelligence service. The report appeared to use exclusively Israeli government sources, in contrast to the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports, which were based upon forensic evidence as well as multiple verified eyewitness accounts by both Lebanese living in the areas under attack as well as experienced monitors (unaffiliated with any government or political organization) on the ground. Despite several follow-up emails asking for more credible sources, LaBolt never got back to me.

    Not Good for Israel

    The militaristic stance by Congress and the Obama administration is hardly doing Israel a favor. Indeed, U.S. military assistance to Israel has nothing to do with Israel’s legitimate security needs. Rather than commencing during the country’s first 20 years of existence, when Israel was most vulnerable strategically, major U.S. military and economic aid didn’t even begin until after the 1967 War, when Israel proved itself to be far stronger than any combination of Arab armies and after Israeli occupation forces became the rulers of a large Palestinian population.

    If all U.S. aid to Israel were immediately halted, Israel wouldn’t be under a significantly greater military threat than it is today for many years. Israel has both a major domestic arms industry and an existing military force far more capable and powerful than any conceivable combination of opposing forces.

    Under Obama, U.S. military aid to Israel will likely continue be higher than it was back in the 1970s, when Egypt’s massive and well-equipped armed forces threatened war, Syria’s military rapidly expanded with advanced Soviet weaponry, armed factions of the PLO launched terrorist attacks into Israel, Jordan still claimed the West Bank and stationed large numbers of troops along its border and demarcation line with Israel, and Iraq embarked on a vast program of militarization. Why does the Obama administration believe that Israel needs more military aid today than it did back then? Since that time, Israel has maintained a longstanding peace treaty with Egypt and a large demilitarized and internationally monitored buffer zone. Syria’s armed forces were weakened by the collapse of their former Soviet patron and its government has been calling for a resumption of peace talks. The PLO is cooperating closely with Israeli security. Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel with full normalized relations. And two major wars and a decade of strict international sanctions have devastated Iraq’s armed forces, which is in any case now under close U.S. supervision.

    Obama has pledged continued military aid to Israel a full decade into the future not in terms of how that country’s strategic situation may evolve, but in terms of a fixed-dollar amount. If his real interest were to provide adequate support for Israeli defense, he wouldn’t promise $30 billion in additional military aid. He would simply pledge to maintain adequate military assistance to maintain Israel’s security needs, which would presumably decline if the peace process moves forward. However, Israel’s actual defense needs don’t appear to be the issue.

    According to late Israeli major general and Knesset member Matti Peled, — who once served as the IDF’s chief procurement officer, such fixed amounts are arrived at “out of thin air.” In addition, every major arms transfer to Israel creates a new demand by Arab states — most of which can pay hard currency through petrodollars — for additional U.S. weapons to challenge Israel. Indeed, Israel announced its acceptance of a proposed Middle Eastern arms freeze in 1991, but the U.S. government, eager to defend the profits of U.S. arms merchants, effectively blocked it. Prior to the breakdown in the peace process in 2001, 78 senators wrote President Bill Clinton insisting that the United States send additional military aid to Israel on the grounds of massive arms procurement by Arab states, neglecting to note that 80% of those arms transfers were of U.S. origin. Were they really concerned about Israeli security, they would have voted to block these arms transfers to the Gulf monarchies and other Arab dictatorships.

    The resulting arms race has been a bonanza for U.S. arms manufacturers. The right-wing “pro-Israel” political action committees certainly wield substantial clout with their contributions to congressional candidates supportive of large-scale military and economic aid to Israel. But the Aerospace Industry Association and other influential military interests that promote massive arms transfers to the Middle East and elsewhere are even more influential, contributing several times what the “pro-Israel” PACs contribute.

    The huge amount of U.S. aid to the Israeli government hasn’t been as beneficial to Israel as many would suspect. U.S. military aid to Israel is, in fact, simply a credit line to American arms manufacturers, and actually ends up costing Israel two to three times that amount in operator training, staffing, maintenance, and other related costs. The overall impact is to increase Israeli military dependency on the United States — and amass record profits for U.S. arms merchants.

    The U.S. Arms Export Control Act requires a cutoff of military aid to recipient countries if they’re found to be using American weapons for purposes other than internal security or legitimate self-defense and/or their use could “increase the possibility of an outbreak or escalation of conflict.” This might explain Obama’s refusal to acknowledge Israel’s disproportionate use of force and high number of civilian casualties.

    Betraying His Constituency

    The $30 billion in taxpayer funds to support Israeli militarism isn’t a huge amount of money compared with what has already been wasted in the Iraq War, bailouts for big banks, and various Pentagon boondoggles. Still, this money could more profitably go toward needs at home, such as health care, education, housing, and public transportation.

    It’s therefore profoundly disappointing that there has been so little public opposition to Obama’s dismissal of Amnesty International’s calls to suspend aid to Israel. Some activists I contacted appear to have fallen into a fatalistic view that the “Zionist lobby” is too powerful to challenge and that Obama is nothing but a helpless pawn of powerful Jewish interests. Not only does this simplistic perspective border on anti-Semitism, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Any right-wing militaristic lobby will appear all-powerful if there isn’t a concerted effort from the left to challenge it.

    Obama’s supporters must demand that he live up to his promise to change the mindset in Washington that has contributed to such death and destruction in the Middle East. The new administration must heed calls by Amnesty International and other human rights groups to condition military aid to Israel and all other countries that don’t adhere to basic principles of international humanitarian law.

    Stephen Zunes, a Foreign Policy in Focus senior analyst, is a professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco.

    A war to crush the Palestinians

    January 17, 2009

    Eric Ruder argues that Israel’s rhetoric about Hamas “terrorism” is a pretext for an attempt to crush the Palestinian national movement.

    After two weeks, Israel's assault on Gaza had claimed nearly 1,000 lives

    TO U.S. politicians and mainstream media commentators, the justification for the massacre in Gaza is simple and unquestioned–that Israel is responding to Palestinian “terrorism” in the form of rocket attacks aimed at southern Israel.

    “Israel has no choice but to take military action,” said former Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, in a phrase repeated by politicians across the political spectrum. For the Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared, “I think this terrorist organization, Hamas, has got to be put away.”

    In U.S. politics, these two arguments–that Israel had no choice but to defend itself, and that it faces a terrorist assault–are sufficient to excuse even the most senseless killing of Palestinian civilians and wanton destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure by Israeli forces.

    But like so much that passes for fact in the U.S. discussion about the Israel-Palestine conflict, these arguments obscure all the essential dynamics of Israel’s war on the Palestinian people.

    First, Hamas scrupulously observed a cease-fire from the summer of 2008 until Israel launched a raid November 4 that killed six Hamas members. The attack took place as the U.S. and international media focused its attention on the election of Barack Obama. Only after Israel broke this most recent cease-fire did Hamas militants fire rockets at Israel.

    And as Palestinian activist and author Ali Abunimah has pointed out:

    There are no rockets launched at Israel from the West Bank, and yet Israel’s attacks, killings, land theft, settler pogroms and kidnappings never ceased for one single day during the truce. The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah has acceded to all of Israel’s demands, even assembling “security forces” to fight the resistance on Israel’s behalf. None of that has spared a single Palestinian or her property or livelihood from Israel’s relentless violent colonization.

    Since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, Palestinian rocket fire has killed 11 Israelis. During the same period, Israel killed at least 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza, including 223 children.

    And during the so-called truce that began last summer, Israel continued its suffocating siege of Gaza, imposing shortages of electricity, food and medical supplies that led to countless deaths, not to mention exacerbating the already inhuman levels of grinding poverty, unemployment and despair.

    The inescapable conclusion is that Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza are the excuse for, not the cause of, the Israeli offensive that began on December 27.

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    THIS BEGS an obvious question: What are the real reasons for Israel’s attack?

    For one, Israel chose this moment with an exquisite sense of timing. According to Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper, planning for the offensive began six months ago.

    The attack was launched between the Christmas and New Year holidays when most Western governments are on hiatus. Further, the Bush administration–an ardent supporter of Israel’s aggression, no matter how bloody–could be expected to be quiet in its twilight while Barack Obama conveniently can conveniently hide behind the excuse that “there’s only one president at a time” (despite his high-profile involvement in setting economic policy in response to the unraveling economy).

    At the most basic level, Israel hopes that the military defeat of Hamas will finally give it total and unchallenged control over the flow of goods into and out of Gaza, specifically by destroying the network of tunnels that connect Gaza to Egypt at the Rafah border crossing.

    While it is true that these tunnels are used to provide Hamas with military equipment, what the corporate media fails to point out is that the tunnels now provide the vast majority of essential humanitarian supplies–goods that Israel has blocked at the border crossings it controls. As journalist Jonathan Cook wrote:

    Israel believes the current invasion will have achieved nothing unless this time it regains absolute control of the Rafah border, undercutting Hamas’s claims to be running the Strip. The “mechanism” therefore requires that technical responsibility is lifted from Egyptian shoulders.

    According to the Israeli plan, it will pass to the Americans, whose expertise will be called on to stop the tunneling and prevent Hamas from rebuilding its arsenal after the invasion comes to an end. Israel may additionally seek the involvement of international forces to diffuse the censure the Arab publics are likely to direct at Egypt as a result.

    Israel also aims to further destroy Hamas’ institutional means to govern Gaza in order to weaken Hamas’ overall political strength and to create terms for a new cease-fire even more favorable to Israel. This is a longstanding goal of Israel’s political leadership, which it has pursued by a variety of means.

    As Avi Shlaim, an Israeli professor of international relations at Oxford University, wrote:

    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 recognize the democratically elected government, claiming that Hamas is purely and simply a terrorist organization.

    America and the [European Union] shamelessly joined Israel in ostracizing and demonizing 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.

    Then, Israel turned to more aggressive measures, working with the CIA to deliver guns and money to stoke a Palestinian civil war that Israel hoped would end in the overthrow of Hamas rule by the now fully tamed Fatah faction of Mahmoud Abbas, the current PA president.

    But the plan didn’t work out, according to David Rose, who unearthed the details of the operation in an April 2008 Vanity Fair article. He wrote:

    [T]he secret plan backfired, resulting in a further setback for American foreign policy under Bush. Instead of driving its enemies out of power, the U.S.-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of Gaza.

    Some sources call the scheme “Iran-contra 2.0,” recalling that [Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott] Abrams [who was key to the implementation of the Gaza gambit] was convicted (and later pardoned) for withholding information from Congress during the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal under President Ronald Reagan.

    There are echoes of other past misadventures as well: the CIA’s 1953 ouster of an elected prime minister in Iran, which set the stage for the 1979 Islamic revolution there; the aborted 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, which gave Fidel Castro an excuse to solidify his hold on Cuba; and the contemporary tragedy in Iraq.

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    THE IRONY, of course, is that for decades Israel sought to undermine, divide and destroy the Palestinian national movement as embodied in the Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Israel abetted the growth of Hamas as a means to that end.

    As Middle East commentator Stephen Zunes wrote:

    Israel initially encouraged the rise of the Palestinian Islamist movement as a counter to the Palestine Liberation Organization, the secular coalition composed of Fatah and various leftist and other nationalist movements.

    Beginning in the early 1980s, with generous funding from the U.S.-backed family dictatorship in Saudi Arabia, the antecedents of Hamas began to emerge through the establishment of schools, health care clinics, social service organizations and other entities that stressed an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam, which up to that point had not been very common among the Palestinian population.

    The hope was that if people spent more time praying in mosques, they would be less prone to enlist in left-wing nationalist movements challenging the Israeli occupation.

    By the early 1990s, even Israel’s wink-and-nod at the growth of Hamas did little to persuade most Palestinians, who were not particularly religious, to abandon their commitment to the PLO, the historic representative of the Palestinian national movement.

    It wasn’t until the 1993 “peace process,” by which Yasser Arafat and the PLO were transformed from resistance fighters into the willing accomplices of Israel’s drive to put the West Bank under Israeli hegemony while isolating Gaza, that Hamas began to overtake Fatah’s popularity.

    “At the time of the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the PLO in 1993, polls showed that Hamas had the support of only 15 percent of the Palestinian community,” writes Zunes. “Support for Hamas grew, however, as promises of a viable Palestinian state faded as Israel continued to expand its colonization drive on the West Bank without apparent U.S. objections, doubling the amount of settlers over the next dozen years.”

    In addition to suppressing the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, Israel aims to accomplish a larger regional goal with the assault on Gaza–namely, to re-establish the deterrent effect of having the most powerful military force in the Middle East. Ever since its humiliating defeat by Hezbollah in the Israeli assault on Lebanon in 2006, Israel has been looking for an opportunity to demonstrate overwhelming power.

    Thus, the widespread civilian casualties and destruction of Hamas’ political institutions are purposefully designed to send a message to Iran, Hezbollah and other regional foes that the price of opposing of Israel should not be underestimated.

    “The Israeli army needs to address the problem created to its deterrence in 2006,” Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, told Agence France Presse. “The army has to change its image among its enemies that it is afraid to use ground forces…It does not necessarily need to be a large-scale invasion, maybe just special units or localized incursions, but the army needs boots on the ground.”

    Finally, Israel’s assault on Gaza is the latest attempt to put into practice the Bush administration blueprint for domination of the Middle East by the U.S. and its junior partner Israel. According to Columbia University professor Joseph Massad:

    The U.S. has seen this as an opportune moment to fully integrate Israel in the region, so much so that it signaled to its Gulf allies to make proposals for a new regional alliance that includes Israel in its midst. The Bahraini foreign minister suggested a few weeks ago that Israel join the Arab League. Many such proposals have already been made in the past few months welcoming the colonial settlement to the regional alliance against Iran.

    Against this U.S.-backed Israeli drive to further colonial domination, Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation is legitimate and just–and protected under international law. No one should be fooled by U.S.-Israeli attempts to use the “war on terror” to excuse their imperial aims.

    Israel’s War Crimes

    December 30, 2008

    By Richard Falk

    The Nation, December 29, 2008

    Text Size

    Editor’s Note: This statement was issued December 27 in response to Israel’s attack in Gaza by Professor Richard Falk, United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in the Occupied Territories and a longtime member of The Nation‘s editorial board.

    The Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip represent severe and massive violations of international humanitarian law as defined in the Geneva Conventions, both in regard to the obligations of an Occupying Power and in the requirements of the laws of war.


    » More

    • Israel’s War Crimes

      Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

      Richard Falk: Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza are severe and massive violations of international law–and nations that have supplied weapons and supported Israel’s siege of Gaza are complicit in the crimes.

    • Richard Falk: The sick man of Europe gets a jolt of life, but will it last?

    • Questionable Verdict

      Iraq

      Richard Falk: Even the most naive American voter cannot be expected to see the morally, legally and politically questionable death sentence given to Saddam Hussein a milestone in the Bush Administration’s illegal war in Iraq. As the milestones pile up, so do the bodies.

    Those violations include:
    Collective punishment: The entire 1.5 million people who live in the crowded Gaza Strip are being punished for the actions of a few militants.

    Targeting civilians: The airstrikes were aimed at civilian areas in one of the most crowded stretches of land in the world, certainly the most densely populated area of the Middle East.

    Disproportionate military response: The airstrikes have not only destroyed every police and security office of Gaza’s elected government, but have killed and injured hundreds of civilians; at least one strike reportedly hit groups of students attempting to find transportation home from the university.

    Earlier Israeli actions, specifically the complete sealing off of entry and exit to and from the Gaza Strip, have led to severe shortages of medicine and fuel (as well as food), resulting in the inability of ambulances to respond to the injured, the inability of hospitals to adequately provide medicine or necessary equipment for the injured, and the inability of Gaza’s besieged doctors and other medical workers to sufficiently treat the victims.

    Certainly the rocket attacks against civilian targets in Israel are unlawful. But that illegality does not give rise to any Israeli right, neither as the Occupying Power nor as a sovereign state, to violate international humanitarian law and commit war crimes or crimes against humanity in its response. I note that Israel’s escalating military assaults have not made Israeli civilians safer; to the contrary, the one Israeli killed today after the upsurge of Israeli violence is the first in over a year.

    Israel has also ignored recent Hamas diplomatic initiatives to re-establish the truce or ceasefire since its expiration on 26 December.

    The Israeli airstrikes today, and the catastrophic human toll that they caused, challenge those countries that have been and remain complicit, either directly or indirectly, in Israel’s violations of international law. That complicity includes those countries knowingly providing the military equipment including warplanes and missiles used in these illegal attacks, as well as those countries who have supported and participated in the siege of Gaza that itself has caused a humanitarian catastrophe.

    I remind all Member States of the United Nations that the UN continues to be bound to an independent obligation to protect any civilian population facing massive violations of international humanitarian law–regardless of what country may be responsible for those violations. I call on all Member States, as well as officials and every relevant organ of the United Nations system, to move on an emergency basis not only to condemn Israel’s serious violations, but to develop new approaches to providing real protection for the Palestinian people.

    About Richard Falk

    Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law and practice at Princeton University, is the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur in the Occupied Territories and a member of The Nation editorial board. He is the author of many books, including The Costs of War: International Law, the UN, and World Order After Iraq. more…

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