Posts Tagged ‘targeting civilians’

Israeli troops slaughter 19 aid activists to Gaza

May 31, 2010

Israeli commandoes have stormed a flotilla of ships carrying activists and aid supplies to the blockaded Palestinian enclave of Gaza, killing as many as 16 [latest number: 19] of those on board.

By Richard Spencer, Middle East Correspondent and Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem
Telegraph/UK, May 31, 2010

Link to this video

Fighting broke out between the activists and the masked Israeli troops, who rappelled on to deck from helicopters before dawn.

A spokeswoman for the flotilla, Greta Berlin, said she had been told ten people had been killed and dozens wounded, accusing Israeli troops of indiscriminately shooting at “unarmed civilians”. But an Israeli radio station said that between 14 and 16 were dead in a continuing operation.

“How could the Israeli military attack civilians like this?” Ms Berlin said. “Do they think that because they can attack Palestinians indiscriminately they can attack anyone?

“We have two other boats. This is not going to stop us.”

The Israeli government’s handling of the confrontation was under intense international pressure even as it continued. The Israeli ambassador to Turkey, the base of one of the human rights organisation which organised the flotilla, was summoned by the foreign ministry in Anakara, as the Israeli consulate in Istanbul came under attack.

One Israeli minister issued immediate words of regret. “The images are certainly not pleasant. I can only voice regret at all the fatalities,” Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, the trade and industry minister, told army radio.

But he added that the commandoes had been attacked with batons and activists had sought to take their weapons off them.

Israeli military sources said four of its men had been injured, one stabbed, and that they had been shot at.

“The flotilla’s participants were not innocent and used violence against the soldiers. They were waiting for the forces’ arrival,” they were quoted by a news website as saying.

The flotilla had set sail on Sunday from northern, or Turkish, Cyprus. Six boats were led by the Mavi Marmara, which carried 600 activists from around the world, including Mairead Corrigan Maguire, the Northern Ireland peace protester who won a Nobel Prize in 1976.

It came under almost immediate monitoring from Israeli drones and the navy, with two vessels flanking it in international waters. The flotilla, which had been warned that it would not be allowed to reach Gaza, attempted to slow and change course, hoping to prevent a confrontation until daylight, when the Israeli military action could be better filmed.

But in the early hours of this morning local time commandoes boarded from helicopters.

The activists were not carrying guns, but television footage shown by al-Jazeera and Turkish television channels show hand-to-hand fighting, with activists wearing life-jackets striking commandoes with sticks.

The Israeli army said its troops were assaulted with axes and knives.

The television footage did not show firing but shots could be heard in the background. One man was shown lying unconscious on the deck, while another man was helped away.

A woman wearing hijab, the Muslim headscarf, was seen carrying a stretcher covered in blood.

The al-Jazeera broadcast stopped with a voice shouting in Hebrew: “Everyone shut up”.

Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza after the strip was taken over by the militant group Hamas in 2007. It has allowed some food and medical supplies through, but has prevented large-scale rebuilding following the bombardment and invasion of 2008-9.

The flotilla is the latest in a series of attempts by activists to break through the blockade. The boats were carrying food and building supplies.

Activists said at least two of the other boats, one Greek and one Turkish, had been boarded from Israeli naval vessels. Activists said two of the other boats in the flotilla were American-flagged.

The confrontation took place in international waters 80 miles off the Gaza coast.

It was attacked by the head of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh.

“We call on the Secretary-General of the U.N., Ban Ki-moon, to shoulder his responsibilities to protect the safety of the solidarity groups who were on board these ships and to secure their way to Gaza,” he said.

Turkish television meanwhile showed hundreds of protesters trying to storm the Israeli consulate in Istanbul. The incident will be particularly damaging for Israel’s relations with what had been seen as its closest ally in the Muslim world.

“By targeting civilians, Israel has once again shown its disregard for human life and peaceful initiatives,” a Turkish foreign ministry statement said. “We strongly condemn these inhumane practices of Israel.

“This deplorable incident, which took place in open seas and constitutes a fragrant breach of international law, may lead to irreparable consequences in our bilateral relations.”

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Crime and accountability in Gaza

February 26, 2009

Toufic Haddad, The Electronic Intifada, 24 February 2009

Will Israel be held accountable for its destruction in Gaza? (Matthew Cassel)

Now that the smoke has at least temporarily cleared from Gaza’s skies, credible human rights reports have filtered in describing the utter devastation that took place throughout the course of Israel’s 22 day assault “Operation Cast Lead.” The figures are truly shocking. According to statistics by the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, at least 1,285 Palestinians were killed, of which 895 were civilians, including 280 children and 111 women. Another 167 of the dead were civil police officers, most of whom were killed on the first day of the bombing when they were graduating from a training course. More than 2,400 houses were completely destroyed, as were 28 public civilian facilities, (including ministries, municipalities, governorates, fishing harbors and the Palestinian Legislative Council building), 29 educational institutions, 30 mosques, 10 charitable societies, 60 police stations and 121 industrial and commercial workshops.

Casualty statistics by Palestinian military groups appear to corroborate the number of civilians killed versus militants. According to their respective Arabic-language websites, Hamas lost 48 fighters, Islamic Jihad, 34, the Popular Resistance Committees, 17, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, one. It is not known how many fighters Fatah lost, though their participation in the resistance was certainly less than that of Hamas, which clearly led the Palestinian side. These reports should also be considered credible because it is highly unlikely a group would suppress its casualty figures given that their fighters’ deaths are perceived as acts of martyrdom, for which the faction proudly advertises its sacrifices. Family members of dead fighters would also not accept any other classification. We can safely assume therefore that the remaining killed militants were Fatah members, former or current security force personnel, or individuals who took up arms when the fighting erupted.

Information from Israeli sources has also surfaced regarding different aspects of the planning and functioning of the Israeli military during the campaign. It is now known for example that the idea to bomb the closing ceremony of a Gaza police training course was planned and internally criticized within the Israel army months before the attack. According to the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz correspondent Barak Regev, “A military source involved in the planning of the attack, in which dozens of Hamas policemen were killed, says that while military intelligence officers were sure the operation should be carried out and pressed for its approval, the [Israeli army’s] international law division and the military advocate general were undecided.” Israel went ahead with the bombing anyway, killing dozens of civil police officers whose limp dismembered bodies were captured in chilling images broadcast the first day of Israel’s campaign.

It was also revealed by Haaretz that “Israel used text messages, dropped flyers from the air and made a quarter of a million telephone calls to warn Gaza residents.” Given that 50 percent of Gaza’s residents are below the age of 16 and are unlikely to have independent telephone lines, a quarter million telephone calls covers a considerable portion of Gaza’s households. This is a backhanded acknowledgment of the fact that almost everybody in Gaza was threatened in Israel’s campaign.

Israeli politicians also appear aware of the devastation they have wrought in Gaza, and the war crimes charges they are likely to face because of their targeting of the civilian population. One minister told Israeli military correspondent Amos Harel “When the scale of the damage in Gaza becomes clear, I will no longer take a vacation in Amsterdam, only at the international court in The Hague.” According to Harel, “It was not clear whether he was trying to make a joke or not.”

How is one to approach the existence of indisputable evidence showing that Palestinian civilians were a deliberate target in Israel’s campaign? This is not the case of “collateral damage,” nor is this the case of one of the most sophisticated and powerful armies operating in one of the most densely populated areas of the world.

The technicalities of the legal cases pressing for war crimes charges should be left to qualified lawyers and human rights workers. Indeed the process is well on its way, with one petition already filed in Belgium. The Israeli government is also set to approve a bill that will grant aid to officers who do face suits for alleged war crimes. The military censor has already issued orders to the press not to reveal the identities of officers involved in the Gaza campaign.

As these debates begin, it’s important to stress three points. First, the policy of targeting civilians in Gaza was nothing new. The medieval siege which was clamped on Gaza since the Hamas victory in the 2006 elections preventing access to fuels, foods and medical supplies, was part and parcel of the same policy directed at the civilian population. Adding the military dimension whereby Israeli army personnel sitting in bunkers in Tel Aviv bomb civilian areas with unmanned drones, is only a difference of degree, not principle.

Second, it is important to point out the modus operandi used in Gaza was entirely predictable, based on how Israeli and American military analysts and journalists were openly discussing the results of Israel’s failed campaign in Lebanon in 2006. For example, Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, visited Israel after the July 2006 war and interviewed its military personnel to assess its setbacks. His subsequent recommendations for correcting Israel’s tactics in future confrontations read like a blueprint for what Israel was doing to Gaza. “From Israel’s viewpoint you have to use force even more against civilian targets,” Cordesman explains. “You have to attack deep. You have to step up the intensity of combat and you have to be less careful and less restrained.”

Cordesman’s conclusions derived from his belief that Israel’s “deterrence” had suffered serious erosion throughout the course of the second Palestinian intifada and especially during the July 2006 war. In the latter case, the support provided by the Lebanese civilian population to Hizballah was seen as instrumental in the movement’s ability to embed itself locally before and during the war. This enabled it to build up a formidable civilian and military infrastructure, and importantly, to deprive Israel of sufficient intelligence regarding its activities. As The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman explained, deliberately attacking civilians was necessary in order “to educate” them not to allow Hizballah to operate from their areas. If they don’t learn the lesson, their areas would be bombed again. Israel also tried to teach Palestinians a lesson in Gaza again, though its students are still just as unlikely to get the point.

That this military doctrine could have been identified, criticized and stopped before it was allowed to be put into action one more destructive time, leads to the third and final point. A military strategy that overtly embraces tactics aimed at bludgeoning a civilian population into submission, could not stand on its own were it not for a deeper more sinister logic which has prepared the acceptance of such crimes in advance — both vis-a-vis the international community and domestically within Israel. Here there are many culprits, and even more accomplices. But it suffices to say that the dehumanization of Palestinians in general, and those in Gaza in particular, reached unconscionable levels in years past.

During the first Palestinian intifada, the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin famously wished that “Gaza would just sink into the sea.” During the second intifada, Israeli chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon defined the Palestinians as a threat akin to “cancer” which Israel was applying “chemotherapy” to, but one day might be forced to use “amputation.” He also emphasized that Israel’s strategy towards the Palestinians needed to “burn into consciousness” their own defeat as a people.

After the January 2006 election of Hamas, and particularly after the Islamic movement’s take over of Gaza as it sought to pre-empt a US-sponsored coup against it, the rhetoric against the Palestinians of Gaza was ramped up to feverish pitches. Gaza became “Hamastan, Hizballahstan and al-Qaedastan” wrapped into one, according to Ya’alon, with Iran at Israel’s southern doorstep. The people of Gaza were to be put “on a diet,” according to Dov Weissglas, an adviser to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, “but not to make them die of hunger.”

The list of dehumanizing quotations is long and demeaning. If these ideas were restricted to the confines of Israeli military and political circles, while they would remain reprehensible, they could at least be contained. The problem is that they have been allowed to flourish throughout the US beneath the much broader discursive umbrella of the “War on Terror.” Principled opposition to the farce of this “war” has virtually been non-existent within the Republican and Democratic parties. All we heard during last year’s election campaign was how one party was going to fight it better than the other. No mainstream media organization has also dared to expose the “War on Terror” as a tool to implement American imperial ambitions, despite the acknowledgement by the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, that invasion of Iraq was about oil.

All of a sudden the Palestinian question, whose basis is rooted in a classic anti-colonial nationalist struggle having to do with fighting an occupation for freedom and self-determination, is transformed into a pathogen which must be eradicated. How easy is it to forget that substantial numbers of countries throughout the world today only achieved independence after bitter armed struggles against occupation and their colonial masters. How convenient to elide that Europe itself had to believe in and organize an armed resistance to occupation when Nazism covered more than half of its landmass.

The transformation of the Palestinian struggle from its colonial birth, to its modern day public execution broadcast on CNN is facilitated through an insipid daily process whereby Palestinians, and people who look and sound like them — non-English speaking Arabs and Muslims — are constantly imagined and reproduced through a litany of military experts, commentators, Hollywood movies, drama series and even video games. The goal is to divide, stereotype and dehumanize at all cost, because providing nuance, history and context is the cardinal sin of the current corporate media age. America and Israel need terror to end now. Arabs and Palestinians need to accept their fate as subhuman entities, who become the object by which other countries erect their deterrence, as though it were a question of national virility.

Gaza never had a chance. It has always been the slum of slums, with its million and a half residents crammed into a plot of land with no real means of sustaining itself. After 60 years of dispossession, and 41 years of military occupation, who was really listening to the residents of its eight refugee camps, 40 percent of whom are unemployed, 80 percent of whom live on UN handouts? Who needs to ask these questions anyway? Palestinians know they have Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni looking after their best interests. During the war, she openly declared that what was happening in Gaza was good for the Palestinians.

Serious questions of accountability lie embedded in how Israel was allowed to deliberately target Gaza’s civilian population. The world’s ability — or inability — to address these questions leaves a stark dichotomy difficult to avoid: either the world upholds a moral stance that civilians are an illegitimate target in war, by which account Israel’s political and military leaders must be tried and sentenced for their crimes. Or the world allows this principle to be violated, as it was in Gaza, and accepts the consequences of a world in which power and violence definitively determine right from wrong.

Toufic Haddad is a Palestinian-American journalist based in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. He is also the co-author of Between the Lines: Israel, the Palestinians and the US “War on Terror” with Israeli author Tikva Honig Parnass, published by Haymarket Books, 2007. He can be reached at tawfiq_haddad AT yahoo DOT com.


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