Bearing Witness

UN says Israel should face war-crimes trial over Gaza

Report also censures Hamas but accuses Israelis of punishing entire population of the Palestinian Strip

Israel targeted “the people of Gaza as a whole” in the three-week military operation which is estimated to have killed more than 1,300 Palestinians at the beginning of this year, according to a UN-commissioned report published yesterday.

 A UN fact-finding mission led by the Jewish South African former Supreme Court Judge Richard Goldstone said Israel should face prosecution by the International Criminal Court, unless it opened fully independent investigations of what the report said were repeated violations of international law, “possible war crimes and crimes against humanity” during the operation.

Using by far the strongest language of any of the numerous reports criticising Operation Cast Lead, the UN mission, which interviewed victims, witnesses and others in Gaza and Geneva this summer, says that while Israel had portrayed the war as self-defence in response to Hamas rocket attacks, it “considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole”.

“In this respect the operations were in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population for its resilience and for its apparent support for Hamas, and possibly with the intent of forcing a change in such support,” the report said. It added that some Israelis should carry “individual criminal responsibility.”

The 575-page document presented to yesterday’s session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva was swiftly denounced by Israel. The foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the UN mission had “dealt a huge blow to governments seeking to defend their citizens from terror”, and that its conclusions were “so disconnected with realities on the ground that one cannot but wonder on which planet was the Gaza Strip they visited”.

The Gaza war began on 27 December 2008 and ended on 18 January 2009.

The UN report found that the statements of military and political leaders in Israel before and during the operation indicated the use of “disproportionate force”, aimed not only at the enemy but also at the “supporting infrastructure”. The mission adds: “In practice this appears to have meant the civilian population.”

The mission also had harsh conclusions about Hamas and other armed groups, acknowledging that rocket and mortar attacks have caused terror in southern Israel, and saying that where launched into civilians areas, they would “constitute war crimes” and “may amount to crimes against humanity”.

It also condemned the extrajudicial killings, detention and ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees by the Hamas regime in Gaza – as well as by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank – and called for the release on humanitarian grounds of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli corporal abducted by Gaza militants in June 2006.

While the Israeli government refused to co-operate with the inquiry – or allow the UN team into Israel – on the ground that the team would be “one-sided”, Cpl Shalit’s father, Noam, was among those Israeli citizens who flew to Geneva to give evidence.

That said, the much greater part of the report – and its strongest language – is reserved for Israel’s conduct during the operation. Apart from the unprecedented death toll, the report says that “the destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a systematic policy by the Israeli armed forces”. The purpose was “to make the daily process of living and dignified living more difficult for the civilian population”.

The report also says that vandalism of houses by some soldiers and “the graffiti on the walls, the obscenities and often racist slogans constituted an overall image of humiliation and dehumanisation of the Palestinian population”. Hospitals and ambulances were “targeted by Israeli attacks.”

Amid a detailed examination of most of the major incidents of the war – albeit an examinations carried out five months after the incidents took place – it says that:

* The first bombing attack on Day One of the operation when children were going home from school “appears to have been calculated to cause the greatest disruption and widespread panic”.

* The deaths of 22 members of the Samouni family sheltering in a warehouse were among ones “owing to Israeli fire intentionally directed at them”, in clear breach of the Geneva Convention.

* The firing of white phosphorus shells at the UN Relief and Works Agency compound was “compounded by reckless regard of the consequences”, and the use of high explosive artillery at the al-Quds hospitals were violations of Articles 18 and 19 of the Geneva Convention. It says that warnings issued by Israel to the civilian population “cannot be considered as sufficiently effective” under the Convention.

* On the attack in the vicinity of the al-Fakhoura school, where at least 35 Palestinians were killed, Israeli forces launched an attack where a “reasonable commander” would have considered military advantage was outweighed by the risk to civilian life. The civilians had their right to life violated as under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). And while some of the 99 policemen killed in incidents surveyed by the team may have been members of armed groups, others who were not also had their right to life violated.

 * The inquiry team also says that a number of Palestinians were used as human shields – itself a violation of the ICCPR – including Majdi Abed Rabbo, whose complaints about being so used were first aired in The Independent. The report asserts that the use of human shields constitutes a “war crime under the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court.”

* This article was written by Donald Macintyre for The Independent and was first published on Wednesday, 16 September 2009.

September 17, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Tel Aviv Party Party Stops Here

This column by Naomi Klein was first published in The Nation www.thenation.com

When I heard the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was holding a celebratory “spotlight” on Tel Aviv, I felt ashamed of Toronto, the city where I live. I thought immediately of Mona Al Shawa, a Palestinian women’s rights activist I met on a recent trip to Gaza. “We had more hope during the attacks,” she told me. “At least then we believed things would change.”

Al Shawa explained that while Israeli bombs rained down last December and January, Gazans were glued to their TVs. What they saw, in addition to the carnage, was a world rising up in outrage: global protests, as many as 100,000 on the streets of London, a group of Jewish women in Toronto occupying the Israeli Consulate. “People called it war crimes,” Al Shawa recalled. “We felt we were not alone in the world.” If Gazans could just survive, it seemed that their suffering could be the catalyst for change. But today, Al Shawa said, that hope is a bitter memory.

The international outrage has evaporated. Gaza has vanished from the news. And it seems that all those deaths-as many as 1,400-were not enough to bring justice. Indeed, Israel is refusing to cooperate even with a UN fact-finding mission headed by respected South African judge Richard Goldstone.

Last spring, while Goldstone’s mission was in Gaza gathering devastating testimony, the Toronto International Film Festival was making the final selections for its Tel Aviv spotlight, timed for the Israeli city’s hundredth birthday. There are many who would have us believe that there is no connection between Israel’s desire to avoid scrutiny for its actions in the occupied territories and the glittering Toronto premieres. I am sure that Cameron Bailey, TIFF’s co-director, believes that himself. He is wrong.

For more than a year, Israeli diplomats have been talking openly about their new strategy to counter growing global anger at Israel’s defiance of international law. It’s no longer enough, they argue, just to invoke Sderot every time someone raises Gaza. The task is also to change the subject to more pleasant topics: film, arts, gay rights-things that underline commonalities between Israel and places like Paris, New York and Toronto.

After the Gaza attack, as the protests rose, this strategy went into high gear. “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits,” Arye Mekel, deputy director-general for cultural affairs for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, told the New York Times. “This way, you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.” And hip, cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, which has been celebrating its centennial with Israeli-sponsored “beach parties” in New York, Vienna and Copenhagen all summer long, is the best ambassador of all.

Toronto got an early taste of this new cultural mission. A year ago, Amir Gissin, Israeli consul-general in Toronto, explained that the “Brand Israel” campaign would include, according to a report in the Canadian Jewish News, “a major Israeli presence at next year’s Toronto International Film Festival, with numerous Israeli, Hollywood and Canadian entertainment luminaries on hand.” Gissin pledged, “I’m confident everything we plan to do will happen.” Indeed it has. Let’s be clear: no one is claiming the Israeli government is secretly running TIFF’s Tel Aviv spotlight, whispering in Bailey’s ear about which films to program. The point is that the festival’s decision to give Israel pride of place, holding up Tel Aviv as a “young, dynamic city that, like Toronto, celebrates its diversity,” matches Israel’s stated propaganda goals to a T.

Gal Uchovsky, one of the directors in the spotlight, is quoted in the festival catalog saying that Tel Aviv is “a haven [Israelis] can run away to when they want to forget about wars and the burdens of daily life.” Partly in response, Udi Aloni, the wonderful Israeli filmmaker whose film Local Angel premiered at TIFF, sent a video message to the festival, challenging its programmers to resist political escapism and instead “go to the places where it’s hard to go.” It’s ironic that TIFF’s Tel Aviv programming is being called a spotlight, because celebrating that city in isolation – without looking at Gaza, without looking at what is on the other side of the towering concrete walls, barbed wire and checkpoints – actually obscures far more than it illuminates.

There are some wonderful Israeli films included in the program. They deserve to be shown as a regular part of the festival, liberated from this highly politicized frame. It was in this context that a small group of filmmakers, writers and activists, of which I was a part, drafted The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration Under Occupation. It has been signed by the likes of Danny Glover, Viggo Mortensen, Howard Zinn, Alice Walker, Jane Fonda, Eve Ensler, Ken Loach and more than a thousand others. Among them is revered Palestinian director Elia Suleiman, as well as many Israeli filmmakers.

The counterattacks-spearheaded by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the extremist Jewish Defense League – have been at once predictable and inventive. The most frequently repeated claim is that the letter’s signatories are censors, calling for a boycott of the festival. In fact, many of the signatories have much-anticipated films at this year’s festival, and we are not boycotting it: we are objecting to the Tel Aviv spotlight portion of it. More inventive has been the assertion that by declining to celebrate Tel Aviv as just another cool metropolis, we are questioning the city’s “right to exist.” (The Republican actor Jon Voight even accused Jane Fonda of “aiding and abetting those who seek the destruction of Israel.”) The letter does no such thing.

It is, instead, a simple message of solidarity, one that says: We don’t feel like partying with Israel this year. It is also a small way of saying to Mona Al Shawa and millions of other Palestinians living under occupation and siege that we have not forgotten them.

September 14, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Israel says shooting of unarmed American activist a justifiable act of war

The Israeli military has declared the shooting of an unarmed American peace activist an act of war. The activist, Tristan Anderson, was critically injured when Israeli soldiers fired a tear gas canister directly at his head in March. Anderson was taking part in a weekly non-violent protest against Israel’s separation wall in the West Bank village of Nilin. The Israeli military says Anderson was involved in a hostile act, which would absolve the military of any liability for his injuries. Michael Sfard, an attorney for Anderson’s family, said, If [an] unarmed civilian demonstration is classified by Israel as an act of war, then clearly Israel admits that it is at war with civilians.

Link to footage of the incident on youtube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjVcluwdCC8

At least their admitting it now, as in my opinion Israel has been at war with civilians since the massacre at Deir Yassin in 1948. For more on Deir Yassin go to http://www.deiryassin.org/  

August 26, 2009 Posted by | My Thoughts | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The real Israel-Palestine story is in the West Bank

Israel’s targeting of civilian resistance to the separation wall proves the two-state solution is now just a meaningless slogan.

It is quite likely that you have not heard of the most important developments this week in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the West Bank, while it has been “occupation as normal”, there have been some events that together should be overshadowing Gaza, Gilad Shalit and Avigdor Lieberman.

First, there have been a large number of Israeli raids on Palestinian villages, with dozens of Palestinians abducted. These kinds of raids are, of course, commonplace for the occupied West Bank, but in recent days it appears the Israeli military has targeted sites of particularly strong Palestinian civil resistance to the separation wall.

For three consecutive days this week, Israeli forces invaded Jayyous, a village battling for survival as their agricultural land is lost to the wall and neighbouring Jewish colony. The soldiers occupied homes, detained residents, blocked off access roads, vandalised property, beat protestors, and raised the Israeli flag at the top of several buildings.

Jayyous is one of the Palestinian villages in the West Bank that has been non-violently resisting the separation wall for several years now. It was clear to the villagers that this latest assault was an attempt to intimidate the protest movement.

Also earlier this week, Israel tightened still further the restrictions on Palestinian movement and residency rights in East Jerusalem, closing the remaining passage in the wall in the Ar-Ram neighbourhood of the city. This means that tens of thousands of Palestinians are now cut off from the city and those with the right permit will now have to enter the city by first heading north and using the Qalandiya checkpoint.

Finally – and this time, there was some modest media coverage – it was revealed that the Efrat settlement near Bethlehem would be expanded by the appropriation of around 420 acres land as “state land”. According to Efrat’s mayor, the plan is to triple the number of residents in the colony.

Looked at together, these events in the West Bank are of far more significance than issues being afforded a lot of attention currently, such as the truce talks with Hamas, or the discussions about a possible prisoner-exchange deal. Hamas itself has become such a focus, whether by those who urge talks and cooption or those who advocate the group’s total destruction, that the wider context is forgotten.

Hamas is not the beginning or the end of this conflict, a movement that has been around for just the last third of Israel’s 60 years. The Hamas Charter is not a Palestinian national manifesto, and nor is it even particularly central to today’s organisation. Before Hamas existed, Israel was colonising the occupied territories, and maintaining an ethnic exclusivist regime; if Hamas disappeared tomorrow, Israeli colonisation certainly would not.

Recognising what is happening in the West Bank also contextualises the discussion about Israel’s domestic politics, and the ongoing question about the makeup of a ruling coalition. For the Palestinians, it does not make much difference who is eventually sitting around the Israeli cabinet table, since there is a consensus among the parties on one thing: a firm rejectionist stance with regards to Palestinian self-determination and sovereignty.

During the coverage of the Israeli elections, while it was clear that Palestinians mostly did not care which of the candidates for PM won, the reason for this apathy was not explained. Labor, Likud and Kadima alike, Israeli governments without fail have continued or intensified the colonisation of the occupied territories, entrenching Israel’s separate-and-unequal rule, a reality belied by the false “dove”/”hawk” dichotomy.

Which brings us to the third reason why news from the West Bank is more significant than the Gaza truce talks or the Netanyahu-Livni rivalry – it is a further reminder that the two-state solution has completed its progression from worthy (and often disingenuous) aim to meaningless slogan, concealing Israel’s absorption of all Palestine/Israel and confinement of the Palestinians into enclaves.

The fact that the West Bank reality means the end of the two-state paradigm has started to be picked up by mainstream, liberal commentators in the US, in the wake of the Israeli elections. Juan Cole, the history professor and blogger, recently pointed out that there are now only three options left for Palestine/Israel: “apartheid”, “expulsion”, or “one state”.

The path of the wall, and the number of Palestinians it directly and indirectly affects, continues to make a mockery of any plan for Palestinian statehood. Jayyous is just one example of the way in which the Israeli-planned, fenced-in Palestinian “state-lets” are at odds with the stated intention of the quartet and so many others, of two viable states, “side by side”. As the World Bank pointed out (pdf), land colonisation is not conducive to economic prosperity or basic independence.

In occupied East Jerusalem meanwhile, Israel has continued its process of Judaisation, enforced through bureaucracy and bulldozers. The latest tightening of the noose in Ar-Ram is one example of where Palestinian Jerusalemites are at risk of losing their residency status, victims of what is politely known as the “demographic battle”.

It is impossible to imagine Palestinians accepting a “state” shaped by the contours of Israel’s wall, disconnected not only from East Jerusalem but even from parts of itself. Yet this is the essence of the “solution” being advanced by Israeli leaders across party lines. For a real sense of where the conflict is heading, look to the West Bank, not just Gaza.

This article was written by Ben White for the Guardian and was first published on Friday 20th February 2009.

August 24, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Israeli soldiers admit ‘shoot first’ policy in Gaza offensive

Anonymous testimonies collated by Breaking the Silence also contain allegations that Palestinians were used as human shields.

Israeli soldiers who served in the Gaza Strip during the offensive of December and January have spoken out about being ordered to shoot without hesitation, destroying houses and mosques with a general disregard for Palestinian lives.

In testimony that will fuel international and Arab demands for war crime investigations, 30 combat soldiers report that the army’s priority was to minimise its own casualties to maintain Israeli public support for the three-week Operation Cast Lead.

One specific allegation is that Palestinians were used by the army as “human shields” despite a 2005 Israeli high court ruling outlawing the practice. “Not much was said about the issue of innocent civilians,” a soldier said. “There was no need to use weapons like mortars or phosphorous,” said another. “I have the feeling that the army was looking for the opportunity to show off its strength.”

The 54 anonymous testimonies were collated by Breaking the Silence, a group that collects information on human rights abuses by the Israeli military. Many of the soldiers are still doing their compulsory national service.

Palestinians counted 1,400 dead but Israel put the death toll at 1,166 and estimated 295 fatalities were civilians. Ten soldiers and three Israeli civilians were killed.

Israel launched the attack after the expiry of a ceasefire designed to halt rocket fire from Gaza and crush the Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the coastal strip.

Witnesses described the destruction of hundreds of houses and many mosques without military reason, the firing of phosphorous shells into inhabited areas, the killing of innocents and the indiscriminate destruction of property.

Soldiers describe a “neighbour procedure” in which Palestinian civilians were forced to enter suspect buildings ahead of troops. They cite cases of civilians advancing in front of a soldier resting his rifle on the civilian’s shoulder.

“We did not get instructions to shoot at anything that moved,” said one soldier. “But we were generally instructed: if you feel threatened, shoot. They kept repeating to us that this is war and in war opening fire is not restricted.”

Many testimonies are in line with claims by Amnesty International and other human rights organisations that Israeli actions were indiscriminate and disproportionate.

Another soldier testified: “You feel like a stupid little kid with a magnifying glass looking at ants, burning them. A 20-year-old kid should not have to do these kinds of things to other people.”

The testimonies “expose significant gaps between the official army version of events and what really happened on the ground”, Breaking the Silence said.

* This article was written by Ian Black, the Middle East editor for the Guardian newspaper and was first published on Wednesday 15 July.

August 12, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , | Leave a comment

Taking over Jerusalem

A couple of months ago I spent a fortnight in Palestine with the International Solidarity Movement – activists who help Palestinians non-violently resist Israeli oppression. The most pressing of many issues during my stay was the attempts by an Israeli settler company, Nahalat Shimon, backed by the Israeli courts, to cleanse East Jerusalem of its Arab population, focusing its efforts at that time on the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

I spent a week sleeping on a floor in the house of the Hanoun family – a husband and wife and their three children. Longer-term activists were sleeping there as well, ready to document their inevitable eviction. Well, last Saturday at 5.30am the Israeli border police did come and forceably evict them (so forceably that the son Rami had to be taken to hospital). The activists were arrested, as were protesters who subsequently took to the streets. The Hanouns were offered a tent by the Red Cross.

Sheikh Jarrah is in a valley down from the American Colony hotel where Tony Blair stays in a luxury suite when visiting Jerusalem as the Quartet’s “Peace Envoy”. When you look out of the Hanouns’ window, you can see Blair’s hotel 30 metres away; Blair can probably see the Hanouns’ house during his morning swim. He has said nothing.

The most disturbing fact about Israel’s eviction programme is that when you look around East Jerusalem and the surrounding area there are considerable plots of land without homes. If they wanted to build new illegal settlements without kicking out Palestinians in the area they could do so. The targeting of Sheikh Jarrah and other areas is actually a process of racial purification, the transformation of East Jerusalem into a unified Jewish Jerusalem.

The Hanoun family have been the victims of terror for decades as they have fought off Israel’s attempts to take their homes. Maher Hanoun’s father was a refugee from the nakba (or “the catastophe”, as Palestinians call the founding of Israel in 1948). The Jordanian government gave them the property in 1956 as compensation and transferred the ownership to them in 1962. Maher was born in 1958 so has spent his whole life, and bought up all his children, in his home.

As in other parts of East Jerusalem, Maher was offered payment if he would go quietly. He refused. “This is my home,” he said to me. “I would never respect myself if I sold my home for money. They want to build a settlement on our hearts, on our dreams.”

Across the way, there is a makeshift tent where a 62-year-old woman now lives after settlers took over her house. Initially they only took two parts of her house so she was literally living next to them. Then she was kicked out. Her husband had a heart attack when their house was violently repossessed with the help of more than 50 soldiers (on the night of Barack Obama’s US election victory). After spending some time in hospital, her husband had another attack two weeks later and died. The family again refused money to leave their homes. “I don’t have a life now,” she said from her tent. “With my husband and house gone, there is no life. I just hope with the help of God that this occupation will stop and we can return to our homes.”

I don’t know what happened to this women in the eviction on Saturday night, but one report I read said even her tent had been destroyed.

The one good thing about the Netanyahu-Lieberman administration is that they are much more honest about their colonisation programme than their “centrist” predecessors. The Netanyahu administration is now willing to get rid of some “outposts”, in return for continued expansion in East Jerusalem and “natural growth” in existing settlements throughout the West Bank. That was the policy negotiated by Ehud Olmert and George Bush before the Annapolis conference in 2007. Netanyahu is just more honest in saying that it obviates the possibility of a Palestinian state.

Maher agrees: “I can’t see how we can have a capital if there is no land, no houses, no people,” he said.

The next stop in this attempt to cleanse the putative future capital of Palestine of its indigenous population is the Bustan area of Silwan which sits in the valley down from the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall. When I first arrived in Israel I went on the City of David tour, which functions as a three-hour Israeli propaganda extravaganza (dressed up as an archeological experience). King David in Biblical lore is said to have been the first Jewish leader to settle the land in Jerusalem and his son King Solomon is said to have built the First Temple in 960 BC.

In 2005, some archeological finds purported to provide evidence that the lore was true. Now, the Israeli government wants to turn the homes of the people of Silwan into an archaeological theme park. Eighty-eight houses are due for demolition, home to about 1,500 Palestinians.

* This article was writen by Matt Kennard and first published in the Guardian news paper on  Wednesday 5 August 2009.

August 6, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tell me again. Who are the aggressors?

An article produced by the Gaza Defence Committee.

There are Israeli apologists demanding that others ought to read up on history. It is they who ought to do the reading.

In his Complete Diaries, Vol.II, Page 711, Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, says that the area of the Jewish state stretches: “From the Brook of Egypt to the Euphrates”.

Rabbi Fischmann, member of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, declared in his testimony to the U.N. Special Committee of Enquiry on July 9, 1947: “The Promised Land extends from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates. It includes parts of Syria and Lebanon.”

1938

“Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves … politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves… The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country.” –David Ben Gurion, quoted on pp 91-2 of Chomsky’s “Fateful Triangle”, which appears in Simha Flapan’s “Zionism and the Palestinians pp 141-2 citing a 1938 speech.

1947

According to former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of Likud, terrorism can be justified in the service of (Zionist but not Palestinian) national struggle: “Neither Jewish morality nor Jewish tradition can be used to deny the morality of terror used as a means of war…. We are very far from any moral hesitations when concerned with national struggle. First and foremost, terror is part of the political war appropriate for the circumstances of today.” – Hazit (Aug.1943, Journal of Lehi, the terrorist organization Shamir led before Israel’s independence

1967

“Let us approach them [the Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories] and say that we have no solution, that they shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wants to can leave — and we will see where this process leads. In five years we may have 200,000 less people – and that is a matter of enormous importance.” Moshe Dayan September 1967

“Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.” General Moshe Dayan, Former Israeli Defense Minister

Before [the Palestinians] very eyes we are possessing the land and the villages where they, and their ancestors, have lived… We are the generation of colonizers, and without the steel helmet and the gun barrel we cannot plant a tree and build a home. – Famous Israeli Army Commander Moshe Dayan

1969

” Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushua in the place of Tal Al-Shuman. There is not a single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.” Moshe Dayan Date: 4 April 1969

1983

When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle. – Israeli Army Chief of Staff Raphael Eitan, 1983

2002

“We enthusiastically chose to become a colonial society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the occupied territories, engaging in theft and finding justification for all these activities. Passionately desiring to keep the occupied territories, we developed two judicial systems: one – progressive, liberal – in Israel; and the other – cruel, injurious – in the occupied territories. In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture. That oppressive regime exists to this day. Michael Ben-Yair Article/book #: 3837 Title: The war’s seventh day

There can be only one victor in a war; the only alternative to complete resignation was to do what Israel is doing. And what is that? It is assuring that the Palestianians (in the words of Moshe Yaalon, Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces in 2002) “are made to understand, in the deepest recesses of their consciousness, that they are a defeated people.” The more relentless the assault, and indeed the more civilians you legitimately kill, the deeper the recesses of consciousness that you are able to penetrate.

“It’s not a matter of what is true that counts but a matter of what is perceived to be true.” — Henry Kissinger

As of 1946 the Arab owned land in Palestine was 94 percent, arab population 65 percent with the Arabs owning almost all of the cultivated land. The 35 percent of Jewish population owned the remaining six percent of the land. Today the Palestinians are crammed into less than 10 percent of their country.

Tell me again. Who are the aggressors?

June 16, 2009 Posted by | My Thoughts | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t believe the hype

My time in the Middle East has only reinforced my beliefs that there is a double standard when it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, not to mention a fair amount of  miss information. This double standard is evident in both media reports and international political responses to the situation and are most clearly evident in reports and responses to the Oslo peace process and 2006 and 2009 invasions of Gaza.

In 2006 after an Israeli solider was “kidnapped” by Hamas, Israel was given cart blanch by the media and foreign governments to address the situation as it saw fit – under the auspice of security. However every night Palestinians live with Israeli incursions and arrests, yet Hamas  are given no means of recourse by the media or foreign governments. Even the language used to describe the same activity – Hamas “kidnaps” Israeli’s and Israel “arrests” Palestinian “suspects”, lets not forget that Hamas is also a democratically elected government. 

A democratic government that Israel and America has stated aims to overthrow, their justification for this is that Hamas does not recognise Israel’s right to exist – pointing to the Hamas charter and ignoring the fact that Hamas has repeatedly called for negotiations on a long term cease fire and a two state settlement. An offer ignored over and over again by Israel and the United States.

When Hamas kill civilians, they are labeled terrorists – and rightly so, as any targeting of civilians is in my book terrorism. Compared to when Israel kills civilians, it’s labeled an accident and justified by security concerns. Who has the  more advanced military and therefor should be less likely to make mistakes ? And who really has security concerns ? Considering a 2007 United Nations report by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [OCHA] reported that since the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000 until the end of July 2007 at least 5 848 people have been killed as a consequence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of those 5848 deaths, 4228 where Palestinians, 1024 where Israeli’s and 63 where foreign citizens. Meaning Palestinians are dying at a rate of over four to one compared to Israeli’s.

In 2008 Israel’s blockade of Gaza – a form of collective punishment outlawed under international humanitarian law – kills  around 300 Gazains as a result of a lack of access to medical treatment, again Hamas are given no means of recourse. However Hamas rockets kill three Israeli’s and the international community again sees this as justification for killing over 1000 Palestinians and injuring many more.

Unfortunately the Australian governments response to the 2009 invasion of Gaza showed this double standard at it’s clearest. While condeming Hamas rocket attacks that had killed three Israeli’s, they only expressed concern over the Israeli military action – which at that stage had killed around 750 Palestinians. What happened to equality ? A human life is a human life, no matter what side of the apartheid wall you live on.

The media so often portray Israel as the innocent victims of this conflict and the Palestinians the terrorist aggressors, personally I have found the opposite. I have heard on several occasions Israeli’s speak positively about Palestinian deaths. While during my time in Nablus and the occupied terrirories I never heard Palestinians speak positively of Israeli deaths. I did though hear many people in Nablus and the occupied territories express their understanding of Hamas actions and in many ways I can see their point of view. Israel as the creator of the extreme situation, must accept some of the responsibility for the extreme behaviour that this situation creates.

Even the reporting on the failed Oslo peace process shows these double standards. It was widely reported that the Palestinians walked away from a generous Israeli offer of self determination, East Jerusalem, all of the West Bank and Gaza. This was not the case, what was on offer at Camp David was 10 small Palestinian enclaves- not connected to one another. In addition to this Israel would still control the population registers of these enclaves – determining who can live where and who can travel and when. Plus the Israeli’s would maintain control of the water, maintaining the current distribution ratio – where in the West bank 20% of the water goes to the Palestinians who make up 80% of the population. In addition to this Israel would still control the air space above the enclaves, fertile farming land was to be swapped for arid desert, Israel would still control Jerusalem and there would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees – called for by several UN security council resolutions. Does not sound so generous to me and I certainly would not call it self determination, even one of the Israeli negotiating team, at Camp David, latter stated that if he where “Palestinian he would not have accepted the deal”.  Also take into consideration the fact that the whole way through, the so called “peace process”, Israel had expanded settlement construction in contradiction to it’s obligation under the Oslo agreement – settler numbers in the West bank doubled to nearly 500 000 during the peace process.

Even the conditions placed on the Palestinians by the international community, namely the US, to restart negotiations about a two-sate solution show this double standard. The Palestinians have to recognise Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence and accept the road map to peace – three conditions that are not placed on Israel. Israel definitely does not except Palestine’s right to exist, the 2006 and 2009 invasion of Gaza clearly show they have not renounced violence and the fact they continue to expand their settlements in the West Bank show they do not accept the conditions of the road map to peace.

The Palestinian refugees are so often the forgotten victims of this conflict, they have in some cases been refugees for over 50 years and as we know from our experience in Australia the physiological effects of refugee status can be dramatic. The effects of living in fear and limbo, of family separation,  of lack of access to rights and services are quite well documented in Australia after only several years, Palestinians have been living like this for  generations, and again are given no means of recourse through international institutions or the media.

So with all this evidence of misinformation and double standards, the question has to be – why ? Who benefits from this miss information and double standards ?

January 25, 2009 Posted by | My Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No words left

Palestinians are at a loss to describe this latest catastrophe. International civil society must act now.

“I will play music and celebrate what the Israeli air force is doing.” Those chilling words were spoken on al-Jazeera on Saturday by Ofer Shmerling, an Israeli civil defence official in the Sderot area adjacent to the Gaza Strip. For days Israeli planes have bombed Gaza. Almost 300 Palestinians have been killed and a thousand injured, the majority civilians, including women and children. Israel claims most of the dead were Hamas “terrorists”. In fact, the targets were police stations in dense residential areas, and the dead included many police officers and other civilians. Under international law, police officers are civilians, and targeting them is no less a war crime than aiming at other civilians.

Palestinians are at a loss to describe this new catastrophe. Is it our 9/11, or is it a taste of the “bigger shoah” Matan Vilnai, the deputy defence minister, threatened in February, after the last round of mass killings?

Israel says it is acting in “retaliation” for rockets fired with increasing intensity ever since a six-month truce expired on 19 December. But the bombs dropped on Gaza are only a variation in Israel’s method of killing Palestinians. In recent months they died mostly silent deaths, the elderly and sick especially, deprived of food, cancer treatments and other medicines by an Israeli blockade that targeted 1.5 million people – mostly refugees and children – caged into the Gaza Strip. The orders of Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, to hold back medicine were just as lethal and illegal as those to send in the warplanes.

Ehud Olmert, Israel’s prime minister, pleaded that Israel wanted “quiet” – a continuation of the truce – while Hamas chose “terror”, forcing him to act. But what is Israel’s idea of a truce? It is very simple: Palestinians have the right to remain silent while Israel starves them, kills them and continues to violently colonise their land.

As John Ging, the head of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, said in November: “The people of Gaza did not benefit; they did not have any restoration of a dignified existence … at the UN, our supplies were also restricted during the period of the ceasefire, to the point where we were left in a very vulnerable and precarious position and with a few days of closure we ran out of food.”

That is an Israeli truce. Any act of resistance including the peaceful protests against the apartheid wall in the West Bank is always met by Israeli bullets and bombs. There are no rockets launched at Israel from the West Bank, and yet Israel’s extrajudicial killings, land theft, settler pogroms and kidnappings never stopped for a day during the truce. The western-backed Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas has acceded to all Israel’s demands. Under the proud eye of United States military advisors, Abbas has assembled “security forces” to fight the resistance on Israel’s behalf. None of that has spared a single Palestinian in the West Bank from Israel’s relentless colonisation.

The Israeli media report that the attack on Gaza was long planned. If so, the timing in the final days of the Bush administration may indicate an Israeli effort to take advantage of a moment when there might be even less criticism than usual.

Israel is no doubt emboldened by the complicity of the European Union, which this month voted again to upgrade its ties with Israel despite condemnation from its own officials and those of the UN for the “collective punishment” being visited on Gaza. Tacit Arab regime support, and the fact that predicted uprisings in the Arab street never materialised, were also factors.

But there is a qualitative shift with the latest horror: as much as Arab anger has been directed at Israel, it has also focused intensely on Arab regimes – especially Egypt’s – seen as colluding with the Israeli attack. Contempt for these regimes and their leaders is being expressed more openly than ever. Yet these are the illegitimate regimes western politicians continue to insist are their “moderate” allies.

Diplomatic fronts, such as the US-dominated Quartet, continue to treat occupier and occupied, coloniser and colonised, first-world high-tech army and near-starving refugee population, as if they are on the same footing. Hope is fading that the incoming administration of Barack Obama is going to make any fundamental change to US policies that are hopelessly biased towards Israel.

In Europe and the Middle East, the gap between leaders and led could not be greater when it comes to Israel. Official complicity and support for Israel contrast with popular outrage at war crimes carried out against occupied people and refugees with impunity.

With governments and international institutions failing to do their jobs, the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee – representing hundreds of organisations – has renewed its call on international civil society to intensify its support for the sanctions campaign modelled on the successful anti-apartheid movement.

Now is the time to channel our raw emotions into a long-term effort to make sure we do not wake up to “another Gaza” ever again.

* This article was  taken from the Gaurdian website @ www.guardian.co.uk and was written by Ali Abunimah, Ali is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.

January 3, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Occupation 101

I have just finished watching the documentary “Occupation 101” and can not recommend it highly enough. It provides a window into the realities of the current situation in the West Bank and Gaza strip like no other documentary I have ever seen. While also giving a honest histroical account of the causes of the current conflict, to often ignored by the main stream media. Here is a synopsis of the documentary taken from website www.occupation101.com   

A thought-provoking and powerful documentary film on the current and historical root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unlike any other film ever produced on the conflict — ‘Occupation 101’ presents a comprehensive analysis of the facts and hidden truths surrounding the never ending controversy and dispels many of its long-perceived myths and misconceptions.

The film also details life under Israeli military rule, the role of the United States in the conflict, and the major obstacles that stand in the way of a lasting and viable peace. The roots of the conflict are explained through first-hand on-the-ground experiences from leading Middle East scholars, peace activists, journalists, religious leaders and humanitarian workers whose voices have too often been suppressed by media outlets.

The film covers a wide range of topics — which include — the first wave of Jewish immigration from Europe in the 1880’s, the 1920 tensions, the 1948 war, the 1967 war, the first Intifada of 1987, the Oslo Peace Process, Settlement expansion, the role of the United States Government, the second Intifada of 2000, the separation barrier and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, as well as many heart wrenching testimonials from victims of this tragedy.

* It is the most powerful documentary film I have ever seen on the occupation of Palestinian  and I emplore you to watch it !

November 28, 2008 Posted by | Media, My Thoughts | , , , , , , | Leave a comment