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UN Raporteur Accuses Israel of “Ethnic Cleansing” March 24, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Genocide, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Richard Falk

“The realities on the ground are worsening from the point of view of both international law and from the point of view of the Palestinian people,” Richard Falk, an 82-year-old American who is an emeritus law professor at Princeton University, told reporters.

Richard Falk, United Nations rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories accused Israel last week of “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians. Speaking at a press conference, he said that Israeli policies bore “unacceptable characteristics of colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing.”

“Every increment of enlarging the settlements or every incident of house demolition is a way of worsening the situation confronting the Palestinian people and reducing what prospects they might have as the outcome of supposed peace negotiations,” he added. Falk is an American who is Jewish, is an international law expert and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University in the US.

According to Falk, more than 11,000 Palestinians had lost their right to live in Jerusalem since 1966 due to Israel imposing residence laws favoring Jews. At the same time, the Israeli government was revoking Palestinian residence permits. “The 11,000 is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said, “because many more are faced with possible challenges to their residence rights.”

Falk’s comments lend support to similar statements done in the past regarding Israeli actions towards the Palestinians. In 2006, Ilan Pappé, an Israeli historian and social activist who is a professor with the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, wrote a book called “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.

In that book, Pappé states that the 1948 Palestinian exodus was a planned cleansing of Palestine that was carried out by the Zionist movement leaders, mainly David Ben-Gurion and his associates. The process was carried out through the systematic expulsion of Arabs from about 500 villages, complemented by terrorist attacks executed mainly by members of the Irgun and the Haganah troops acting against the civilian population.

Pappé based his assumptions on the Plan Dalet and on village files as a proof of the planned expulsions. Although the purpose of the plan has been amply debated, it seems that the plan was a set of guidelines whose purpose was to take control of the territory of the Jewish state and to defend its borders and its people, including the Jewish population outside its borders as a precaution against an expected invasion by Arab armies.

Predictably, the book caused an uproar. Benny Morris, an Israeli professor of History in the Middle East Studies department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, wrote, “At best, Ilan Pappé must be one of the world’s sloppiest historians: at worst, one of the most dishonest. In truth, he probably merits a place somewhere between the two.”

Morris himself stated, however, “In retrospect, it is clear that what occurred in 1948 in Palestine was a variety of ethnic cleansing of Arab areas by Jews. It is impossible to say how many of the 700,000 or so Palestinians who became refugees in 1948 were physically expelled, as distinct from simply fleeing a combat zone.”

Not everybody was equally critical of Pappé, though. Stephen Howe, professor of the history of colonialism at Bristol University, said that Pappé’s book was an often compelling mixture of historical argument and politico-moral tract. According to Howe, although Pappé’s book might not be the last word on the events of 1948, it still is “a major intervention in an argument that will, and must, continue.”

And it does continue. In November 2013, more than 50 public figures in Britain wrote a letter opposing an Israeli plan to forcibly remove up to 70,000 Palestinian Bedouins from their historic desert land –an act that critics considered ethnic cleansing. The eviction and destruction of approximately 35 villages in the Negev desert, claims the letter, “will mean the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homes and land, and systematic discrimination and separation.”

Writing in Save Canada Post in 2010, Suzanne Weiss, a Holocaust survivor stated, “I am a survivor of the Jewish Holocaust, the Nazis’ mass murder of Europe’s Jews. The tragic experience of my family and community under Hitler makes me alert to the suffering of other peoples denied their human rights today — including the Palestinians. True, Hitler’s Holocaust was unique. The Palestinians are victims of ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Hitler started with that, but went on to extermination. In my family’s city in Poland, Piotrkow, 99 per cent of the Jews perished. Yet for me, the Israeli government’s actions toward the Palestinians awaken horrific memories of my family’s experiences under Hitlerism: the inhuman walls, the checkpoints, the daily humiliations, killings, diseases, the systematic deprivation. There’s no escaping the fact that Israel has occupied the entire country of Palestine, and taken most of the land, while the Palestinians have been expelled, walled off, and deprived of human rights and human dignity.”

Richard Falk will address the UN Human Rights Council on Monday, March 24.

On Obama’s cancellation of summit with Putin and extradition August 7, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Whistle-blowing, Wikileaks.
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Roger’s note: GOD BLESS AMERICA!
OpEdNews Op Eds 8/7/2013 at 11:16:33, Source: The Guardian

By (about the author)

The US frequently refuses extradition requests where, unlike with Snowden, it involves serious crimes and there is an extradition treaty
Distant relations: President Obama looks grim as Russian president Vladimir Putin stares at the floor during a June 2013 bilateral press conference at the Lough Erne resort near Enniskillen in Northern Ireland

President Obama today canceled a long-scheduled summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in part because the US president is upset that Russia defied his personal directive to hand over Edward Snowden despite the lack of an extradition treaty between the two nations. That means that US media outlets will spend the next 24 hours or so channeling the government’s views (excuse the redundancy) by denouncing the Russian evil of refusing extradition. When doing so, very few, if any, establishment media accounts will mention any of these cases:


New York Times, February 28, 2007
:

NYT

Washington Post, July 19, 2013:

WashPost

The Guardian, September 9, 2012:

Guardian [US refuses Bolivia’s request to extradite its former CIA-supported president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, to stand trial on charges of genocide and other war crimes after de Lozada hires Democratic lobbyists to represent him]

El Paso Times, December 30, 2010:

El Paso

The US constantly refuses requests to extradite — even where (unlike Russia) they have an extradition treaty with the requesting country and even where (unlike Snowden) the request involves actual, serious crimes, such as genocide, kidnapping, and terrorism. Maybe those facts should be part of whatever media commentary there is on Putin’s refusal to extradite Snowden and Obama’s rather extreme reaction to it.

Other mattersFormer Bush-era CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden appeared on CNN this week and confirmed that our reporting on the NSA’s X-Keyscore program was accurate, telling the nation that we should all be grateful for those capabilities.

NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen has a superb essay on the behavior of the US media in NSA stories.

Foreign Policy CEO and Editor David Rothkopf becomes the latest establishment figure to recognize, as he puts it in a quite good column: “I have myself been too slow to recognize that the benefits we have derived from Snowden’s revelations substantially outweigh the costs associated with the breach.”

ssociated with the breach.”UPDATE

Civil rights hero John Lewis, in an interview with the Guardian today, praised Snowden for engaging in “civil disobedience” in the tradition of Thoreau, Gandhi and the Civil Rights movement.

Meanwhile, 150 press freedom and human rights groups from around the world issued a letter demanding that the US cease prosecuting Snowden on the ground that “Snowden’s disclosures have triggered a much-needed public debate about mass surveillance online everywhere” and “thanks to him, we have learned the extent to which our online lives are systematically monitored by governments, without transparency, accountability or safeguards from abuse.”

At a hearing yesterday of the Brazilian Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, at which I testified, senators not only uninformly expressed indignation at indiscriminate NSA spying on their citizens and support for Snowden, but some borrowed Snowden masks worn by college students in attendance and put them on their own face to show support.

Finally, Princeton University international law professor Richard Falk has an Op-Ed today explaining that the granting of asylum to Snowden wasn’t just within Russia’s rights, but was legally compelled.

Maybe Obama can cancel meeting with all of them, too, as punishment (along with Hong Kong, China, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba and Russia as countries who have been threatened). I think it’s becoming increasingly clear here who the rogue and lawless nation is in this case.

 

ABOUT GLENN GREENWALD

For the past 10 years, I was a litigator in NYC specializing in First Amendment challenges, civil rights cases, and corporate and securities fraud matters. I am the author of the New York Times Best-Selling book, more…)

The Latest Gaza Catastrophe November 18, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Genocide, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Media.
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Roger’s note: I refrain from bombarding (no pun intended) my readers with articles on the Israeli government’s US financed and supported war crimes against Palestinian Gaza, which is clearly an act of barbarism and done solely for political reasons (election coming up).  This article will have to do for now.
 
Published on Sunday, November 18, 2012 by Al-Jazeera-English

Many aspects of the current assault on Gaza pass under the radar screens of world conscience.

  by  Richard Falk

The media double standards in the West on the new and tragic Israeli escalation of violence directed at Gaza were epitomised by an absurdly partisan New York Times front page headline: “Rockets Target Jerusalem; Israel girds for Gaza Invasion” (NYT, Nov 16, 2012). Decoded somewhat, the message is this: Hamas is the aggressor, and Israel when and if it launches a ground attack on Gaza must expect itself to be further attacked by rockets. This is a stunningly Orwellian re-phrasing of reality.Israel’s claim that it is in a state of war with Hamas has no legal basis, as it is considered an Occupying Power. (AFP)

The true situation is, of course, quite the opposite: Namely, that the defenseless population of Gaza can be assumed now to be acutely fearful of an all out imminent Israeli assault, while it is also true, without minimising the reality of a threat, that some rockets fired from Gaza fell harmlessly (although with admittedly menacing implications) on the outskirts of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. There is such a gross disproportion in the capacity of the two sides to inflict damage and suffering due to Israeli total military dominance as to make perverse this reversal of concerns to what might befall Israeli society if the attack on Gaza further intensifies.

The reliance by Hamas and the various Gaza militias on indiscriminate, even if wildly inaccurate and generally harmless, rockets is a criminal violation of international humanitarian law, but the low number of casualties caused and the minor damage caused, needs to be assessed in the overall context of massive violence inflicted on the Palestinians. The widespread non-Western perception of the new cycle of violence involving Gaza is that it looks like a repetition of Israeli aggression against Gaza in late 2008, early 2009, that similarly fell between the end of American presidential elections and scheduled Israeli parliamentary elections.

Pointing fingers

There is the usual discussion over where to locate responsibility for the initial act in this renewed upsurge violence. Is it some shots fired from Gaza across the border and aimed at an armoured Israeli jeep or was it the targeted killing by an Israeli missile of Ahmed Jabari, leader of the military wing of Hamas, a few days later? Or some other act by one side or the other? Or is it the continuous violence against the people of Gaza arising from the blockade that has been imposed since mid-2007?

The assassination of Jabari came a few days after an informal truce that had been negotiated through the good offices of Egypt, and quite ironically agreed to by none other than Jabari acting on behalf of Hamas. Killing him was clearly intended as a major provocation, disrupting a carefully negotiated effort to avoid another tit-for-tat sequence of violence of the sort that has periodically taken place during the last several years.

An assassination of such a high profile Palestinian political figure as Jabari is not a spontaneous act. It is based on elaborate surveillance over a long period, and is obviously planned well in advance partly with the hope of avoiding collateral damage, and thus limiting unfavourable publicity. Such an extra-judicial killing, although also part and parcel of the new American ethos of drone warfare, remains an unlawful tactic of conflict, denying adversary political leaders separated from combat any opportunity to defend themselves against accusations, and implies a rejection of any disposition to seek a peaceful resolution of a political conflict. It amounts to the imposition of capital punishment without due process, a denial of elementary rights to confront an accuser.

Putting aside the niceties of law, the Israeli leadership knew exactly what it was doing when it broke the truce and assassinated such a prominent Hamas leader, someone generally thought to be second only to the Gaza prime minister, Ismail Haniya. There have been rumours, and veiled threats, for months that the Netanyahu government plans a major assault of Gaza, and the timing of the ongoing attacks seems to coincide with the dynamics of Israeli internal politics, especially the traditional Israeli practice of shoring up the image of toughness of the existing leadership in Tel Aviv as a way of inducing Israeli citizens to feel fearful, yet protected, before casting their ballots.

Under siege

Beneath the horrific violence, which exposes the utter vulnerability, of all those living as captives in Gaza, which is one of the most crowded and impoverished communities on the planet, is a frightful structure of human abuse that the international community continues to turn its back upon, while preaching elsewhere adherence to the norm of “responsibility to protect” whenever it suits NATO. More than half of the 1.6 million Gazans are refugees living in a total area of just over twice the size of the city of Washington, DC. The population has endured a punitive blockade since mid-2007 that makes daily life intolerable, and Gaza has been harshly occupied ever since 1967.

Israel has tried to fool the world by setting forth its narrative of a good faith withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, which was exploited by Palestinian militants at the time as an opportunity to launch deadly rocket attacks. The counter-narrative, accepted by most independent observers, is that the Israeli removal of troops and settlements was little more than a mere redeployment to the borders of Gaza, with absolute control over what goes in and what leaves, maintaining an open season of a license to kill at will, with no accountability and no adverse consequences, backed without question by the US government.

From an international law point of view, Israel’s purported “disengagement” from Gaza didn’t end its responsibility as an Occupying Power under the Geneva Conventions, and thus its master plan of subjecting the entire population of Gaza to severe forms of collective punishment amounts to a continuing crime against humanity, as well as a flagrant violation of Article 33 of Geneva IV. It is not surprising that so many who have observed the plight of Gaza at close range have described it as “the largest open air prison in the world”.

The Netanyahu government pursues a policy that is best understood from the perspective of settler colonialism. What distinguishes settler colonialism from other forms of colonialism is the resolve of the colonialists not only to exploit and dominate, but to make the land their own and superimpose their own culture on that of indigenous population. In this respect, Israel is well served by the Hamas/Fatah split, and seeks to induce the oppressed Palestinian to give up their identity along with their resistance struggle even to the extent of asking Palestinians in Israel to take an oath of loyalty to Israel as “a Jewish state”.

Actually, unlike the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel has no long-term territorial ambitions in Gaza. Israel’s short-term solution to its so-called “demographic problem” (that is, worries about the increase in the population of Palestinians relative to Jews) could be greatly eased if Egypt would absorb Gaza, or if Gaza would become a permanently separate entity, provided it could be reliably demilitarised. What makes Gaza presently useful to the Israelis is their capacity to manage the level of violence, both as a distraction from other concerns (eg backing down in relation to Iran; accelerated expansion of the settlements) and as a way of convincing their own people that dangerous enemies remain and must be dealt with by the iron fist of Israeli militarism.

No peace

In the background, but not very far removed from the understanding of observers, are two closely related developments. The first is the degree to which the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements has made it unrealistic to suppose that a viable Palestinian state will ever emerge from direct negotiations. The second, underscored by the recent merger of Netanyahu and Lieberman forces, is the extent to which the Israeli governing process has indirectly itself irreversibly embraced the vision of Greater Israel encompassing all of Jerusalem and most of the West Bank.

The fact that world leaders in the West keep repeating the mantra of peace through direct negotiations is either an expression of the grossest incompetence or totally bad faith. At minimum, Washington and the others calling for the resumption of direct negotiations owe it to all of us to explain how it will be possible to establish a Palestinian state within 1967 borders when it means the displacement of most of the 600,000 armed settlers now defended by the Israeli army, and spread throughout occupied Palestine. Such an explanation would also have to show why Israel is being allowed to quietly legalise the 100 or so “outposts”, settlements spread around the West Bank that had been previously unlawful even under Israeli law. Such moves toward legalisation deserve the urgent attention of all those who continue to proclaim their faith in a two-state solution, but instead are ignored.

This brings us back to Gaza and Hamas. The top Hamas leaders have made it abundantly clear over and over again that they are open to permanent peace with Israel if there is a total withdrawal to the 1967 borders (22 percent of historic Palestine) and the arrangement is supported by a referendum of all Palestinians living under occupation.

Israel, with the backing of Washington, takes the position that Hamas as “a terrorist organisation” that must be permanently excluded from the procedures of diplomacy, except of course when it serves Israel’s purposes to negotiate with Hamas. It did this in 2011 when it negotiated the prisoner exchange in which several hundred Palestinians were released from Israeli prisons in exchange for the release of the Israel soldier captive, Gilad Shalit, or when it seems convenient to take advantage of Egyptian mediation to establish temporary ceasefires.

As the celebrated Israeli peace activist and former Knesset member, Uri Avnery, reminds us a cease-fire in Arab culture, hudna in Arabic, is considered to be sanctified by Allah, has tended to be in use and faithfully observed ever since the time of the Crusades. Avnery also reports that up to the time he was assassinated, Jabari was in contact with Gershon Baskin of Israel, seeking to explore prospects for a long-term ceasefire that was reported to Israeli leaders, who unsurprisingly showed no interest.

Waiting for justice

There is a further feature of this renewal of conflict involving attacks on Gaza. Israel sometimes insists that since it is no longer, according to its claims, an occupying power, it is in a state of war with a Hamas governed Gaza. But if this were to be taken as the proper legal description of the relationship between the two sides, then Gaza would have the rights of a combatant, including the option to use proportionate force against Israeli military targets. As earlier argued, such a legal description of the relationship between Israel and Gaza is unacceptable. Gaza remains occupied and essentially helpless, and Israel as occupier has no legal or ethical right to engage in war against the people and government of Gaza, which incidentally was elected in internationally monitored free elections in early 2006.

On the contrary, its overriding obligation as Occupier is to protect the civilian population of Gaza. Even if casualty figures in the present violence are so far low as compared with Operation Cast Lead, the intensity of air and sea strikes against the helpless people of Gaza strikes terror in the hearts and minds of every person living in the Strip, a form of indiscriminate violence against the spirit and mental health of an entire people that cannot be measured in blood and flesh, but by reference to the traumatising fear that has been generated.

We hear many claims in the West as to a supposed decline in international warfare since the collapse of the Soviet Union twenty years ago. Such claims are to some extent a welcome development, but the people of the Middle East have yet to benefit from this trend, least of all the people of Occupied Palestine, and of these, the people of Gaza are suffering the most acutely. This spectacle of one-sided war in which Israel decides how much violence to unleash, and Gaza waits to be struck, firing off militarily meaningless salvos of rockets as a gesture of resistance, represents a shameful breakdown of civilisation values. These rockets do spread fear and cause trauma among Israeli civilians even when no targets are struck, and represent an unacceptable tactic. Yet such unacceptability must be weighed against the unacceptable tactics of an Israel that holds all the cards in the conflict.

It is truly alarming that now even the holiest of cities, Jerusalem, is threatened with attacks, but the continuation of oppressive conditions for the people of Gaza, inevitably leads to increasing levels of frustration, in effect, cries of help that world has ignored at its peril for decades. These are survival screams! To realise this is not to exaggerate! To gain perspective, it is only necessary to read a recent UN Report that concludes that the deterioration of services and conditions will make Gaza uninhabitable by 2020.

Completely aside from the merits of the grievances on the two sides, one side is militarily omnipotent and the other side crouches helplessly in fear. Such a grotesque reality passes under the radar screens of world conscience because of the geopolitical shield behind which Israel is given a free pass to do whatever it wishes. Such a circumstance is morally unendurable, and should be politically unacceptable. It needs to be actively opposed globally by every person, government, and institution of good will.

© 2012 Al-Jazeera

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Richard Falk

Richard Falk is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. An international law and international relations scholar who taught at Princeton University for forty years, since 2002 Falk has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Read more articles by .

Bradley Manning Treatment Reveals Continued Government Complicity in Torture March 26, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Human Rights, Torture.
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Thursday 24 March 2011

by: Marjorie Cohn  |  American Constitution Society | Op-Ed

Bradley Manning Treatment Reveals Continued Government Complicity in Torture
(Photo: Neal Patel / Flickr)

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is facing court-martial for leaking military reports and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, is being held in solitary confinement in Quantico brig in Virginia. Each night, he is forced to strip naked and sleep in a gown made of coarse material. He has been made to stand naked in the morning as other inmates walked by and looked. As journalist Lance Tapley documents in his chapter on torture in the supermax prisons in The United States and Torture, solitary confinement can lead to hallucinations and suicide; it is considered to be torture. Manning’s forced nudity amounts to humiliating and degrading treatment, in violation of U.S. and international law.

Nevertheless, President Barack Obama defended Manning’s treatment, saying, “I’ve actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures . . . are appropriate. They assured me they are.” Obama’s deference is reminiscent of President George W. Bush, who asked “the most senior legal officers in the U.S. government” to review the interrogation techniques. “They assured me they did not constitute torture,” Bush said.

The order for Manning’s nudity apparently followed what he described as a sarcastic comment he made to guards after their repeated harassment of him regarding how he was to salute them. Manning said that if he were intent on strangling himself, he could use his underwear or flip-flops.

“In my 40 years of hospital psychiatric practice, I’ve never heard of something like this,” said Dr. Steven Sharfstein, a former president of the American Psychiatric Association. “In some very unusual circumstances, when people are intensely suicidal, you might put them in a hospital gown. … But it’s very, very unusual to be in that kind of suicide watch for this long a period of time.”

Sharfstein also was concerned that military officials appeared to defy the recommendations of mental health professionals. “He’s been examined by psychiatrists who said he’s not suicidal. … They are making medical judgments in the face of medical evaluations to the contrary,” Sharfstein noted.

After State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley criticized Manning’s conditions of confinement, the White House forced him to resign. Crowley had said the restrictions were “ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid.” It appears that Washington is more intent on sending a message to would-be whistleblowers than on upholding the laws that prohibit torture and abuse.

Torture is commonplace in countries strongly allied with the United States. Vice President Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s intelligence chief, was the lynchpin for Egyptian torture when the CIA sent prisoners to Egypt in its extraordinary rendition program. A former CIA agent observed, “If you want a serious interrogation, you send a prisoner to Jordan. If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria. If you want someone to disappear – never to see them again – you send them to Egypt.” In her chapter in The United States and Torture, New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer cites Egypt as the most common destination for suspects rendered by the United States.

She describes the rendering of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi to Egypt, where he was tortured and made a false confession that Colin Powell cited as he importuned the Security Council to approve the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Al-Libi later recanted his confession.

Although there is general consensus that torture does not work – the subject will say anything to get the torture to stop – what if it did work? Would that justify torturing people into providing information? Philosopher John Lango’s chapter asks whether an extreme emergency can ever trump the absolute prohibition of torture. Lango rejects the nuclear weapon and ticking bomb scenarios as “fantasy” and declares, “Terrorism can never warrant terroristic torment.” He suggests a protocol to the Convention against Torture to fortify the moral prohibition of torture and cruel treatment.

The moral equivalence of torture and “one-sided warfare” is explored in Professor Richard Falk’s provocative chapter. He contrasts the liberal moral outrage at torture with uncritical acceptance of one-sided warfare. Nations, particularly the United States, inflict horrific pain on primarily non-white people in other countries, but suffer no consequences. Falk draws an analogy between the torture victim and the subjects of one-sided warfare – both are under the total control of the perpetrator. He recommends adherence to international humanitarian law and repudiation of “wars of choice.”

In The United States and Torture, an historian, a political scientist, a philosopher, a psychologist, a sociologist, two journalists and eight lawyers detail the complicity of the U.S. government in the torture and cruel treatment of prisoners both at home and abroad, and strategies for accountability. In her compelling preface, Sister Dianna Ortiz describes the unimaginable treatment she endured in 1987 when she was in Guatemala doing missionary work while the United States was supporting the dictatorship there. The first step in changing policy is to understand its history and the motivation behind it. I hope this book will accomplish that goal.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, past president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Cohn edited The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse, a collection of essays. 

Defending Israeli War Crimes May 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Published on Friday, May 29, 2009 by Foreign Policy In Focus by Stephen Zunes

In response to a series of reports by human rights organizations and international legal scholars documenting serious large-scale violations of international humanitarian law by Israeli armed forces in its recent war on the Gaza Strip, 10 U.S. state attorneys general sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defending the Israeli action. It is virtually unprecedented for state attorneys general – whose mandates focus on enforcement of state law – to weigh in on questions regarding the laws of war, particularly in a conflict on the far side of the world. More significantly, their statement runs directly counter to a broad consensus of international legal opinion that recognizes that Israel, as well as Hamas, engaged in war crimes.

The wording of the letter closely parallels arguments by Bush administration officials in support for Israel’s devastating offensive during their final days in office. Having been signed nearly 11 weeks after the end of the fighting and made public only late last month, it may have been part of an effort to undermine tentative efforts by the Obama administration to take a more balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A statement by state attorneys general putting forth a legal rationale for the large-scale killings of civilians is particularly distressing as concerns about civilian casualties from U.S. air and missile strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan has grown.

The attorneys general signing on to the letter included Republicans Rob McKenna of Washington, Mike Cox of Michigan, John Suthers of Colorado, Bill McCollum of Florida, Jon Bruning of Nebraska, and Mark Shurtleff of Utah. Signatories also included such prominent Democrats as Richard Cordray of Ohio, Patrick Lynch of Rhode Island, Jack Conway of Kentucky, and Buddy Caldwell of Louisiana.

Facile Legal Reasoning

The legal rationale put forward in the March 30 letter is extraordinarily facile. For example, they claim that the war waged on the civilian infrastructure of the Gaza Strip was taken in furtherance of Israel’s “right to self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter.” In reality, however, while Article 51 does allow countries the right to resist an armed attack, it doesn’t grant any nation the right to engage in such a disproportionate response. 

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak admitted that the Israeli invasion had been planned for months, back when a six-month cease fire was still in effect. Even when Hamas resumed firing rockets into Israel in December, following a deadly Israeli raid into Gaza the previous month, there were few casualties. Indeed, not a single Israeli had been killed by Hamas rocket attacks for more than half a year prior to Israel launching its war on December 27. During the subsequent three weeks of fighting, Palestinians killed 10 Israelis, three of whom were civilians, while Israeli forces killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority of whom were civilians. 

Incredibly, these attorneys general insist that these mass killings by Israeli forces were “justified and, in our view, met the international legal standards.”

The attorneys general also ignored the fact that Article 33 of the UN Charter explicitly prohibits nations going to war unless they “first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.”  However, Israel – with strong bipartisan U.S. support – had refused to even meet with Hamas to negotiate a long-term ceasefire, which Hamas had offered prior to the breakdown of the six-month lull in return for a lift in the Israeli siege of the enclave.

The letter correctly accuses Hamas, which had lobbed rockets into civilian-populated areas in southwestern Israel, of violating Article 48 of Protocol I to the Geneva Convention of 1948, which states: “Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.”

However, the attorneys general refused to acknowledge that Israel had also violated that same provision on a far grander scale. While virtually every human rights organization, intergovernmental organization, and international legal authority that researched this recent conflict recognizes both Hamas and Israel were guilty of war crimes, these attorneys general still insist that Hamas alone was to blame and that Israel’s actions were perfectly legal.

Ignoring the Facts

Human Rights Watch (HRW) – which has been highly critical of Hamas attacks on civilian areas of Israel as well as repression by the Islamist group of Palestinian opponents within the Gaza Strip – reported during the fighting that in using heavy shelling against heavily-populated civilian areas, “Israel is committing indiscriminate attacks in violation of the laws of war.” In a comprehensive report published in March, HRW noted that “Israel’s repeated firing of white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas of Gaza during its recent military campaign was indiscriminate and is evidence of war crimes.”

Similarly, while Amnesty International also “found evidence of war crimes and other serious violations of international law by all parties to the conflict” and attacks by both sides against civilian areas in which no fighters were present, the attorneys general insisted that the Palestinian side alone was guilty of such illegal actions.

An independent United Nations inquiry documented six major Israeli attacks against UN buildings, including schools in which children were killed, noting that actions by Israeli forces “involved varying degrees of negligence or recklessness with regard to United Nations premises and to the safety of United Nations staff and other civilians within those premises, with consequent deaths, injuries and extensive physical damage and loss of property.” The report concluded that “no military activity was carried out from within the United Nations premises in any of the incidents.”

Without presenting any evidence to the contrary, the attorneys general categorically rejected such findings, insisting that Israel was engaged only in “a limited and directed action against the source of Hamas’s military acts.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) focused on other war crimes, noting how the “Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded,” citing instances in which Israeli forces prevented Red Cross or other medics safe access to assist seriously wounded civilians. The Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights reported with “certainty” that Israel violated international humanitarian law by attacking medics, damaging medical buildings, engaging in indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and delaying medical treatment for the injured. The ICRC declared Israel’s “delay in allowing rescue services access unacceptable.” In addition, Israel rejected pleas by international humanitarian agencies by closing border crossings days at a time, denying access to food, medical supplies, fuel, and water sanitation equipment. Despite this, the attorneys general instead praised Israel for “allowing the entrance of humanitarian aid into Gaza.”

A report by a delegation of prominent U.S. attorneys which visited Gaza Strip soon after the fighting reported that “that Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians during the Gaza offensive.” The Israeli press has reported testimony of Israeli soldiers who killed Palestinian civilians under highly permissive rules of engagement that allowed soldiers to kill any Palestinian in certain areas regardless of whether they were armed, and were ordered to intentionally destroy civilian property. An investigation by the British newspaper The Guardian revealed a series of Israeli missile attacks against clearly distinguishable civilian targets.

United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories Richard Falk, noting Israel’s “unlawful uses of force on a large scale” against Gazan society as a whole, referred to the operation as a “flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, as set forth in the Geneva Conventions.” Falk, an American Jew and emeritus professor at Princeton University who is arguably the country’s preeminent international legal scholar, also noted the illegality of Hamas rocket attacks into Israel, but stressed that Israeli airstrikes “were aimed at civilian areas in one of the most crowded stretches of land in the world.”

Ignoring such evidence, the attorneys general insisted that Israel was directing its artillery, bombings and missile attacks only towards “the source of Hamas’s military attacks” and the Israeli government should therefore not be held responsible for any military action which harmed Palestinian civilians because they did so “unintentionally.”

Defending Mass Killings of Civilians

These attorneys general try to absolve Israel of any responsibility of the hundreds of civilian deaths by accusing Hamas of “using these civilians as human shields.” They provide no evidence for this charge, however, save for a quote from the notoriously right-wing editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.

Independent human rights groups have accused Hamas of less-severe violations of international humanitarian law, such as not taking all necessary steps it should to prevent civilian casualties when it positioned fighters and armaments too close to concentrations of civilians. However, this isn’t the same thing as deliberately using civilians as shields. Furthermore, the nature of urban warfare, particularly in a territory as densely populated as the Gaza Strip, makes the proximity of retreating fighters and their equipment to civilians unavoidable in many cases.

Even if Hamas were using human shields in the legal definition of the term, it still does not absolve Israel from its obligation to avoid civilian casualties. Amnesty International has noted that the Geneva Conventions make it clear that even if one side is shielding itself behind civilians, such a violation “shall not release the Parties to the conflict from their legal obligations with respect to the civilian population and civilians.”

To argue otherwise, as do these attorneys general, is a dangerous legal position for the chief law enforcement official of a state to take, such as ordering their state police to kill innocent people in a hostage situation. By this logic, if a botched bank robbery led the would-be robbers to hold bank employees and customers at gunpoint, these attorneys general could then order state patrolmen to kill the gunmen and hostages alike, defending their action on the grounds that the bad guys were using “human shields.”

Denying Political Reality

It’s not just this flawed legal reasoning that underscores how this initiative by these attorneys general was based not upon a legitimate interpretation of law but for narrow ideological purposes. They reveal their political prejudices in their insistence in the letter to Clinton in claiming that “Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005″ but that the Palestinians failed to establish “a flourishing independent state.” In reality, despite the removal of illegal Israeli settlements and the withdrawal of occupation forces from that crowded urban enclave, Israel has maintained sole control over Gaza Strip’s airspace and territorial waters, thereby prohibiting movement of people and goods by land and sea, as well as largely controlling the Gaza Strip’s border with Egypt. Effectively preventing any exports or imports, except for occasional humanitarian aid, the economy has collapsed and, even prior to the war, the territory was experiencing a serious humanitarian crisis. Since Israel’s “withdrawal,” the Israeli government has also controlled the Gaza Strip’s electricity, water and telecommunications and has periodically engaged in air strikes and armed incursions into the enclave, murdering and kidnapping suspected militants. No people could reasonably be expected to establish “a flourishing independent state” under such circumstances. Furthermore, in maintaining their siege on the enclave, Israel legally remains the occupying power.

The attorneys general go on to accuse Hamas of taking advantage of Israel’s “withdrawal” to “cause a civil war with the Palestinian Authority, leading to a coup d’etat in 2007.” However, while Hamas is indeed guilty of innumerable political intrigues and inexcusable violence towards its Palestinian opponents, this is a gross misrepresentation of recent history: Rather than making war against the Palestinian Authority, Hamas was part of the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, they controlled the legislative branch of government as well as the post of prime minister and most other ministries as a result of winning the plurality of the vote in parliamentary elections in January 2006. The following year, Saudi officials negotiated a power-sharing agreement between Hamas and Fatah, which still controlled the presidency. U.S. officials, however, unsuccessfully encouraged President Mahmoud Abbas to renounce the agreement, dismiss the entire government and abolish parliament.

The Bush administration then began secretly arming Fatah groups to enable them to fight Hamas and pushing Fatah to stage a coup. This is what led Hamas to launch a countercoup by overrunning Fatah offices and taking full control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Alvaro de Soto, former UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, stated in his confidential final report leaked to the press a few weeks before the Hamas takeover that “the Americans clearly encouraged a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas” and “worked to isolate and damage Hamas and build up Fatah with recognition and weaponry.” De Soto also recalled how in the midst of Egyptian efforts to arrange a cease-fire following a flare-up in factional fighting earlier that year, a U.S. official told him that “I like this violence…[I]t means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas.”

Though all this has been well-documented and is widely known in both Israel and Palestine, this bipartisan group of attorneys general has instead sought to defend the Bush administration’s provocative and illegal intervention by putting the entire blame on Hamas.

This letter to the Secretary of State was put together by a right-wing group calling itself the American-Israel Friendship League (AIFL), which boasts that the organization has sent 42 states attorney general to Israel in the past 21 years.  It refers to the letter as “a strong rejoinder to those who have castigated Israel over its role in Gaza and used it in an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish State.”

Dangerous Precedent

The Bush administration strongly supported Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip as an extension of its “war on terror.” It was in the name of this “war on terror” that President George W. Bush shamelessly politicized the U.S. Justice Department to justify spying on nonviolent dissidents at home and the torture of suspects abroad. Now we have a bipartisan group of state attorneys general who have shown themselves similarly willing to politicize their offices by putting forward twisted and perverse interpretations of the law in the name of fighting terrorism. Unless these rogue attorneys general are challenged by elected officials and ordinary citizens in their respective states for their signing on to such a reckless statement, it could mark a dangerous precedent regarding respect for human rights and the rule of law.
© 2009 Foreign Policy In Focus

Stephen Zunes is Middle East editor for Foreign Policy In Focus. He is a professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press, 2003.)

Israel on Trial April 5, 2009

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by George Bisharat

SAN FRANCISCO – Chilling testimony by Israeli soldiers substantiates charges that Israel’s Gaza Strip assault entailed grave violations of international law. The emergence of a predominantly right-wing, nationalist government in Israel suggests that there may be more violations to come. Hamas’s indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli civilians also constituted war crimes, but do not excuse Israel’s transgressions. While Israel disputes some of the soldiers’ accounts, the evidence suggests that Israel committed the following six offenses:

  • Violating its duty to protect the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. Despite Israel’s 2005 “disengagement” from Gaza, the territory remains occupied. Israel unleashed military firepower against a people it is legally bound to protect.
  • Imposing collective punishment in the form of a blockade, in violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In June 2007, after Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip, Israel imposed suffocating restrictions on trade and movement. The blockade — an act of war in customary international law — has helped plunge families into poverty, children into malnutrition, and patients denied access to medical treatment into their graves. People in Gaza thus faced Israel’s winter onslaught in particularly weakened conditions.
  • Deliberately attacking civilian targets. The laws of war permit attacking a civilian object only when it is making an effective contribution to military action and a definite military advantage is gained by its destruction. Yet an Israeli general, Dan Harel, said, “We are hitting not only terrorists and launchers, but also the whole Hamas government and all its wings.” An Israeli military spokeswoman, Maj. Avital Leibovich, avowed that “anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target.”
    Israeli fire destroyed or damaged mosques, hospitals, factories, schools, a key sewage plant, institutions like the parliament, the main ministries, the central prison and police stations, and thousands of houses.
  • Willfully killing civilians without military justification. When civilian institutions are struck, civilians — persons who are not members of the armed forces of a warring party, and are not taking direct part in hostilities — are killed.

    International law authorizes killings of civilians if the objective of the attack is military, and the means are proportional to the advantage gained. Yet proportionality is irrelevant if the targets of attack were not military to begin with. Gaza government employees — traffic policemen, court clerks, secretaries and others — are not combatants merely because Israel considers Hamas, the governing party, a terrorist organization. Many countries do not regard violence against foreign military occupation as terrorism.

    Of 1,434 Palestinians killed in the Gaza invasion, 960 were civilians, including 121 women and 288 children, according to a United Nations special rapporteur, Richard Falk. Israeli military lawyers instructed army commanders that Palestinians who remained in a targeted building after having been warned to leave were “voluntary human shields,” and thus combatants. Israeli gunners “knocked on roofs” — that is, fired first at corners of buildings, before hitting more vulnerable points — to “warn” Palestinian residents to flee.

    With nearly all exits from the densely populated Gaza Strip blocked by Israel, and chaos reigning within it, this was a particularly cruel flaunting of international law. Willful killings of civilians that are not required by military necessity are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and are considered war crimes under the Nuremberg principles.

  • Deliberately employing disproportionate force. Last year, Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, head of Israel’s northern command, speaking on possible future conflicts with neighbors, stated, “We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction.” Such a frank admission of illegal intent can constitute evidence in a criminal prosecution.
  • Illegal use of weapons, including white phosphorus. Israel was finally forced to admit, after initial denials, that it employed white phosphorous in the Gaza Strip, though Israel defended its use as legal. White phosphorous may be legally used as an obscurant, not as a weapon, as it burns deeply and is extremely difficult to extinguish.

Israeli political and military personnel who planned, ordered or executed these possible offenses should face criminal prosecution. The appointment of Richard Goldstone, the former war crimes prosecutor from South Africa, to head a fact-finding team into possible war crimes by both parties to the Gaza conflict is an important step in the right direction. The stature of international law is diminished when a nation violates it with impunity.

George Bisharat is a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law.

Will Israel’s Leaders Be Charged With War Crimes? January 26, 2009

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 Jonathan Cook, AlterNet. Posted January 26, 2009.

Israeli officials are frantically trying to forestall legal actions from abroad

Mounting fear in Israel that the country’s leaders face war crimes charges over their involvement in the recent Gaza offensive pushed officials into a frenzy of activity at the weekend to forestall legal actions abroad.

The urgency was underlined after rumors last week that Belgian authorities might arrest Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, if she attended a summit of European counterparts in Brussels on Wednesday. In an indication of how seriously the matter is judged, Ms Livni’s advisers were on the verge of cancelling her trip when the story was revealed to be a hoax.

Nonetheless, officials are braced for real attempts to arrest senior political and military figures following a warning from the country’s chief law officer, Menachem Mazuz, that Israel will soon face “a wave of international lawsuits”.

In response, the government is setting up a special task force to work on legal defenses, has barred the media from naming or photographing army officers involved in the Gaza attack, and has placed restrictions on overseas visits. Today, ministers were expected to approve an aid package to help soldiers fight warrants abroad for their arrest.

The concern about war crimes trials follows a series of pronouncements by Richard Falk, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the occupied territories and a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University in the United States.

He has accused Israel of gravely violating the laws of war during its three-week offensive, which killed more than 1,300 Gazans, most of them civilians, and wounded thousands more.

There is a well-grounded view that both the initial attacks on Gaza and the tactics being used by Israel are serious violations of the UN charter, the Geneva conventions, international law and international humanitarian law,” he said during the final stages of fighting.

Since they gained entry to the tiny enclave after a ceasefire declared a week ago, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have added their voice. The two human-rights organizations have censured Israel over its failure to distinguish between Palestinian civilians and combatants as well as its use of controversial weapons.

There is incontrovertible evidence, both groups say, that Israel fired white phosphorus shells over Gaza, despite its banned use in civilian areas, setting homes on fire and burning civilians caught under the shower of phosphorus.

Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch, has also lambasted Israel for using high-explosive shells in built-up areas of Gaza, even though the artillery has a blast range of up to 300 meters.

Initial indications suggest that the army may have resorted also to an experimental weapon — dense inert metal explosive, or Dime — that severs limbs and ruptures the internal organs of anyone close to the blast.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, is investigating claims forwarded by Saudi Arabia that depleted uranium shells were used in Gaza.

In addition, human-rights groups have begun documenting instances of the Israeli army’s targeting of civilian buildings, including UN schools, and of soldiers taking Palestinian civilians as human shields.

A senior Israeli official told Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper: “As far as the international arena is concerned, Israel is entering what is probably its darkest era.”

In a further sign of concern, an unnamed government minister was quoted last week as saying: “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” — a reference to the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands that tries war crimes.

Over the past week about 300 human-rights organizations have jointly prepared a 37-page dossier of evidence to be presented to the court.

According to legal experts, it will be difficult to try Israel at the ICC because it is not a signatory to the Rome statute governing the court’s jurisdiction and function. However, an ad hoc tribunal similar to the ones set up to deal with war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia may be an option. The ICC might also try to pursue individual Israeli commanders for war crimes.

A more pressing concern for Israel is that human-rights activists in Europe could use local “universal jurisdiction” legislation to initiate war crimes trials in their domestic courts against Israeli leaders.

Such actions have been launched before, most notably in 2005 when Doron Almog, the former Israeli commander in Gaza, avoided being arrested in the United Kingdom only after he was warned to remain seated in a plane after his arrival at Heathrow airport. Major Gen Almog had overseen the demolition of hundreds of homes in Gaza three years earlier.

In an attempt to make life more difficult for Israeli leaders, anonymous activists in Israel launched a website (www.wanted.org.il) — “outing” those it accused of war crimes, including Ehud Barak, the defence minister, Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, and Ms Livni. It also identified most of the senior military command.

Offering photographs and information about each official’s alleged offence, the site provides contact details for the ICC and tells visitors to alert the court when “the suspect is outside of Israel’s borders”.

To avert the danger of arrests for war crimes, IsraeI hurriedly initiated a series of moves to protect its leaders. A special task force, overseen by the prime minister’s office, will convene in the next few days to start building a defence for army commanders.

The Israeli media suggested experts on international law would seek to compile evidence that Hamas stockpiled weapons in civilian buildings, and that the army went to great efforts to warn residents to flee before bombing areas.

The military censor is excising from media reports all identifying information about senior officers involved in the Gaza operation, and officers who wish to travel abroad will be required first to seek the advice of military officials.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

Chronology: Which Side Violated the Israel-Gaza Ceasefire? January 14, 2009

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The Bush Administration and The New York Times v. Amnesty International

by Howard Friel

Introduction

June 18, 2008

Israel has approved a ceasefire to end months of bitter clashes with the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed. Under the terms of the truce, which is set to begin Thursday (June 19), Israel will ease its blockade on the Gaza Strip. At the same time, talks to release an Israeli soldier [Gilad Shalit] held by Hamas would intensify, an Israeli official said. Hamas, which controls Gaza, says it is confident that all militants will abide by the truce [by not firing rockets into southern Israel]. The agreement is supposed to last six months. (Emphasis added) (“Israel Agrees to Gaza Ceasefire,” BBC, June 18, 2008)

December 28, 2008

“The United States strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the cease-fire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza.” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. (“White House Puts Onus on Hamas to End Escalation of Violence,” New York Times, December 28, 2008)

December 30, 2008

“Israel must defend itself. And Hamas must bear responsibility for ending a six-month cease-fire this month with a barrage of rocket attacks into Israeli territory.” (“War Over Gaza,” New York Times editorial, December 30, 2008)

Ceasefire Chronology: (See November 5 and December 28 Entries Below For Direct References to Breaking the Ceasefire)

July 4, 2008

A humanitarian crisis is engulfing Gaza-not the result of a natural disaster but entirely man-made and avoidable. The tightening of the Israeli blockade since June 2007 has left the population, 1.5 million Palestinians, trapped and with few resources. They are surviving, but only just. Some 80 per cent depend on the trickle of international aid that the Israeli government allows in.

In the first five months of 2008 some 380 Palestinians, more than a third of them unarmed civilians and including more than 60 children, were killed by the Israeli army, almost all of them in the Gaza Strip. In the same period 25 Israelis, 16 of them civilians, were killed by Palestinian armed groups.

A ceasefire between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups came into force on 19 June and at the time of writing it looked uncertain. Israeli officials however, insisted that Gaza’s border remains sealed so long as Hamas does not release the Israeli soldier they are holding. Some 8,500 Palestinians are detained in Israeli jails. Of these, 900 are from the Gaza Strip, all of whom have been denied visits by their families since June 2007.

Palestinian armed groups in Gaza continue to hold an Israeli soldier, who was captured in June 2006, and to deny him access to the International Committee of the Red Cross. (“Gaza Blockage: Collective Punishment,” Amnesty International, July 4, 2008)

August 14, 2008

Some 400 Palestinian students may lose their university places and scholarships unless the Israeli authorities allow them to leave the Gaza Strip before the new academic year, which starts in the next few weeks. The students have enrolled to study subjects including law, sciences, business and medicine.

At least 37 of the students have university places and scholarships in Europe and North America, while hundreds of others are due to travel to universities in countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. Several of these students have been denied permission to leave Gaza since last year. (“Freedom of Movement, Right to Education Denied,” Amnesty International, August 14, 2008)

August 15, 2008

Amnesty International has described as scandalous the Israeli army’s account of firing a tank shell that killed Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana as a “sound” decision. The army reached the conclusion as part of a so-called investigation into the killing of the journalist and three other unarmed civilians, including 2 children, on 16 April 2008.

The army’s so-called investigation lacked any semblance of impartiality and Amnesty International called for an independent and impartial investigation into the killing. The organization said that the army’s conclusion can only reinforce the culture of impunity that has led to so many reckless and disproportionate killings of children and other unarmed civilians by Israeli forces in Gaza.

Fadel Shana worked for Reuters press agency and was in a car clearly marked as Press. He and his colleague left the car, wearing visible Press flak-jackets and he was killed by an Israeli tank he was filming. The tank fired a shell at Shana, which also hit the civilians, including children, and injured his colleague and others around him. (“Army’s So-Called Inquiry into Cameraman’s Killing in Gaza a Scandal,” Amnesty International, August 15, 2008)

August 22, 2008

With the exception of Karima Abu Dalal (who was finally able to leave Gaza through an exceptional arrangement via the border with Egypt after many months’ delay to her treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma) all the critically ill patients named above are still being denied permission to leave Gaza for treatment abroad.

The Israeli authorities are refusing to allow these and hundreds of other patients to leave Gaza to obtain specialized treatment unavailable in Gaza, for undisclosed and unsubstantiated security reasons. Dozens of patients have died in recent months following delays to, or denials of, permits to leave Gaza. (“Further Information on Medical Concern,” Amnesty International, August 22, 2008)

August 27, 2008

With Gaza locked down and cut off from the outside world by a stifling Israeli blockade, 46 peace activists from the world over set sail for Gaza on 22 August to, in their words, “break the siege that Israel has imposed on the civilian population of Gaza…, to express our solidarity with the suffering people of Gaza, and to create a free and regular channel between Gaza and the outside world.”

The blockade imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip over a year ago has left the entire population of 1.5 million Palestinians trapped with dwindling resources and an economy in ruins. Some 80 per cent of the population now depend on the trickle of international aid that the Israeli army allows in. This humanitarian crisis is man-made and entirely avoidable.

The Israeli authorities argue that the blockade on Gaza is in response to Palestinian attacks, especially the indiscriminate rockets fired from Gaza at the nearby Israeli town of Sderot. These and other Palestinian attacks killed 25 Israelis in the first half of this year; in the same period Israeli forces killed 400 Palestinians.

However, the Israeli blockade does not target the Palestinian armed groups responsible for attacks-it collectively punishes the entire population of Gaza.

Though a ceasefire between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups has held in Gaza since 19 June 2008, the Israeli blockade remains in place.  

Israel has banned exports from Gaza altogether and has reduced entry of fuel and goods to a trickle-mostly humanitarian aid, foodstuff and medical supplies. Basic necessities are in short supply or not available at all in Gaza. The shortages have pushed up food prices at a time when people can least afford to pay more. A growing number of Gazans have been pushed into extreme poverty and suffer from malnutrition.

With the ceasefire holding, the suffering in Gaza has fallen off the international news agenda. However, Amnesty International members continue to campaign, calling:

on the Israeli authorities to immediately lift the blockade, allow unhindered passage into Gaza of sufficient quantities of fuel, electricity and other necessities; and allow those who want to leave Gaza to do so, notably patients in need of medical treatment not available in Gaza and students enrolled in universities abroad, and also to allow them later to return; on Palestinian armed groups not to resume rocket and other attacks on Israeli civilians. (“Trapped: Collective Punishment in Gaza,” Amnesty International, August 27, 2008)

August 29, 2008

The Israeli authorities are still denying scores of critically ill patients the authorization they need to leave Gaza for medical treatment that is unavailable in Gaza. Hospitals in Gaza continue to lack vital medical equipment and trained personnel to carry out advanced medical treatment, including many surgical operations and the provision of chemotherapy for cancer patients. Even those patients who are given permission to leave Gaza for treatment are often suffering as a result of delays in receiving exit permits, which contribute to a decline in patient’s health and emotional well-being.

Interrogation by the General Security Service

Over the past year, the denial of permits to seriously ill patients has primarily been based on undisclosed security reasons. Some patients from Gaza testified to Amnesty International that they were openly told in interviews with the Israeli General Security Service (GSS) [Israel’s counterintelligence and internal security service, also known as Shin Bet] at the Erez Crossing point at the northern border with Israel that they would not receive treatment in Israel unless they become informants for the GSS. As Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) describes in a recent report, “patients are detained for interrogation at Erez Crossing, and requested either to provide information or to act as collaborators on a regular basis as a condition for permission to exit Gaza for medical treatment.”

The report provides testimonies that PHR-Israel has received from a number of patients that demonstrate this practice. According to PHR-Israel, rejection or approval of a patient’s request to leave Gaza for treatment almost entirely depends on the GSS who are taking advantage of the vulnerability of patients who have no other means of accessing medical care.

Even patients who already have an exit permit from the authorities to cross into Israel at Erez are being denied permission to leave Gaza after an “unsatisfactory” interrogation. This policy by the GSS of questioning patients in exchange for entry into Israel appears to have become a formal part of the exit procedure for patients and is reportedly discouraging some patients from attempting to leave Gaza in the first place. (“Health Professional Action: Patients From Gaza Are Still Denied Access to Medical Treatment in Israel,” Amnesty International, August 29, 2008)

October 16, 2008

The children named above [ages 5 months, 1.2 years, 1.2 years, 1.5 years, 5 years, and 6 years] suffer from serious heart conditions including congenital heart defects commonly known as holes in the heart. All the children need urgent surgery that cannot be provided in Gaza, which lacks both the necessary medical facilities and specialists. The children were due to be operated on by a team of British heart specialists at Makassad Hospital in East Jerusalem during the week beginning 4 October 2008. They were not able to leave the Gaza Strip because the Israeli authorities refused permissions to their mothers/grandmothers to leave Gaza to accompany them. Soheb Wael Alqasas has already missed six appointments for his surgery in recent months because his mother and grandmother were repeatedly refused permits to accompany him to the hospital in Jerusalem.

A team of Italian heart specialists will be conducting a week of paediatric cardiac surgery at the Makassad Hospital from 6 November. It is imperative that the six children are able to attend the Makassad Hospital in time to undergo surgery by the visiting team of specialists. For this to be possible their relatives must be allowed to travel with them to the hospital in Jerusalem. (“Medical Concern,” Amnesty International, October 16, 2008)

November 5, 2008

A spate of Israeli and Palestinian attacks and counter-attacks in the past 24 hours could spell the end of a five-and-a-half-month ceasefire. This would once again put the civilian populations of Gaza and southern Israel in the line of fire.

The killing of six Palestinian militants in Gaza by Israeli forces in a ground incursion and air strikes on 4 November was followed by a barrage of dozens of Palestinian rockets on nearby towns and villages in the south of Israel. The Palestinian attacks caused no casualties or damage, but there is a real risk that any further armed actions by either side would risk igniting another deadly campaign.

The ceasefire was agreed between Israel and Hamas last June and has been in force since then. It has been the single most important factor in reducing civilian casualties and attacks on civilians to the lowest level since the outbreak of the uprising (intifada) more than eight years ago.

The ceasefire has brought enormous improvements in the quality of life in Sderot and other Israeli villages near Gaza, where before the ceasefire residents lived in fear of the next Palestinian rocket strike. However, nearby in the Gaza Strip the Israeli blockade remains in place and the population has so far seen few dividends from the ceasefire. Since June 2007, the entire population of 1.5 million Palestinians has been trapped in Gaza, with dwindling resources and an economy in ruins. Some 80 percent of the population now depend on the trickle of international aid that the Israeli army allows in. (Emphasis added) (“Gaza Ceasefire at Risk,” Amnesty International, November 5, 2008)

November 14, 2008

The Israeli army has completely blocked the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian aid and medical supplies to the Gaza Strip for more than a week. Very little fuel has been allowed in. Amnesty International urged the Israeli authorities on Friday to allow their immediate passage.

“This latest tightening of the Israeli blockade has made an already dire humanitarian situation markedly worse. It is nothing short of collective punishment on Gaza’s civilian population and it must stop immediately,” said Philip Luther, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

Eighty per cent of the population of Gaza has been dependent on the trickle of humanitarian aid previously allowed into Gaza until Wednesday, 5 November. Industrial fuel, which is donated by the European Union and needed to power Gaza’s power plant, has also been blocked, causing a blackout in large parts of Gaza.   The United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA), the main UN aid agency, which provides humanitarian assistance to close to one million Palestinian refugees in Gaza, announced on Thursday that its supplies had run out.   At the same time, the Israeli authorities have been denying access to Gaza to foreign journalists for a week and a convoy of European diplomats were likewise refused entry on Thursday. “Gaza is cut off from the outside world and Israel is seemingly not keen for the world to see the suffering that its blockade is causing the one and a half million Palestinians who are virtually trapped there,” said Philip Luther.   The breakdown last week of a five-and-a-half-month ceasefire between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in Gaza has generated a renewed wave of violence. The killing of six Palestinian militants in Israeli air strikes and ground attacks on 4 November prompted a barrage of Palestinian rockets on nearby Israeli towns and villages.

Five other Palestinian militants have been killed by Israeli forces in recent days. Palestinian rocket attacks have continued. No Israeli casualties had been reported until earlier today, when one Israeli was lightly wounded by shrapnel in an attack on the Israeli city of Sderot. (“Israeli Army Blocks Deliveries to Gaza,” Amnesty International, November 14, 2008)

November 17, 2008

The impediments faced by Palestinians in Gaza in obtaining access to health care continue to be a cause for serious concern. The Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip has caused a further deterioration in the humanitarian situation, health and sanitation problems, as well as extreme poverty and malnutrition.

With only a few exceptions, the entire population of 1.5 million people are trapped in Gaza. Students are unable to attend university studies and jobs abroad and critically ill patients in need of medical care that is unavailable in local hospitals are often prevented from leaving Gaza. (“Health Professional Action: Crushing the Right to Health,” Amnesty International, November 17, 2008)

November 17, 2008

The Israeli army allowed a limited number of trucks carrying humanitarian assistance into Gaza for the first time in two weeks on Monday. However, the long-term nature of the blockade and restrictions on the flow of goods into Gaza has led to a situation where reserves have long been depleted.

“What is necessary, at a minimum, is for Israel to allow regular and unhindered flow of humanitarian aid, medical supplies and other basic necessities into Gaza,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International researcher on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (“Israeli Army Relaxes Restrictions on Humanitarian Aid to Gaza,” Amnesty International, November 17, 2008)

December 5, 2008

The Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is having ever more serious consequences on its population. In the past month the supply of humanitarian aid and basic necessities to Gaza has been reduced from a trickle to an intermittent drip. The blockade has become tighter than ever since the breakdown of a five-and-a-half-month ceasefire between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants on 5 November.

“The Israeli authorities might be allowing through enough for the survival of Gaza’s population, but this is nowhere near enough for the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza to live with dignity,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s researcher on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

As supplies are being further withheld, most mills have shut down because they have little or no grain. People who have long been deprived of many food items now cannot even find bread at times. Reserves of food have long been depleted and the meagre quantities allowed into Gaza are not even enough to meet the immediate needs. Families never know if they will have food for their children the following day.

When people do have food, they generally have no cooking gas or electricity with which to cook it. Last week, less than 10 per cent of the weekly requirement of cooking gas was allowed into Gaza. (“Gaza Reduced to Bare Survival,” Amnesty International, December 5, 2008)

December 28, 2008

Amnesty International has called on Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups to immediately halt the unlawful attacks carried out as part of the escalation of violence which has caused the death of some 280 Palestinians and one Israeli civilian since December 27.

This is the highest level of Palestinian fatalities and casualties in four decades of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Scores of unarmed civilians, as well as police personnel who were not directly participating in the hostilities, are among the Palestinian victims of the Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip.

“Such disproportionate use of force by Israel is unlawful and risks igniting further violence in the whole region,” said Amnesty International. “The escalation of violence comes at a time when the civilian population already faces a daily struggle for survival due to the Israeli blockade which has prevented even food and medicines from entering Gaza.”

“Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, for their part, share responsibility for the escalation. Their continuous rocket attacks on towns and villages in southern Israel are unlawful and can never be justified,” Amnesty International said.

This latest Israeli onslaught brings the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces this year to some 650, at least a third of whom are unarmed civilians, including 70 children.  In the same period, Palestinian armed groups have killed 25 Israelis, 16 of them civilians, including four children.

The ceasefire effectively ended after six Palestinian militants were killed by Israeli forces in Gaza force on 4 November and a barrage of Palestinians rockets were launched on nearby towns and villages in the south of Israel. (Emphasis added) (“Civilians Must Be Protected in Gaza and Israel,” Amnesty International, December 28, 2008)

Report From Rafah: Doctors Stopped at Borders January 12, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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palisitinian-boy-blindedA Palestinian boy blinded during an airstrike. Injured civilians in Gaza struggle to gain access to supplies and medical care due to Israel’s blockade of the region. (Photo: Reuters)

by: Bill Quigley, t r u t h o u t | Report

 Dr. Nicolas Doussis-Rassias and many other volunteer doctors have been waiting in Rafah, Egypt, for days. Nicolas and the other physicians came to Rafah to go through the border into Gaza to help the 3,000 people wounded by Israeli bombs and heavy weapons. Rafah is a heavily armed Egyptian border crossing into Gaza, a four-hour drive away from Cairo. Sonic booms of highflying jets cut through the stark blue sky. Military drones hover over the border, as the air smells of burning.

    “Three thousand victims of bombs and gunfire would overwhelm the medical system of New York City,” Nicolas said. “Gaza now has no functioning medical system at all. Most of it has no electricity or running water. These people are in crisis – they need medical help, so we are here to help them.”

    But today, instead of helping the thousands of wounded, Nicolas and other doctors are holding up a hand-lettered red and blue banner outside the Egyptian border station saying, “Let the Doctors Through!”

    Why? Doctors of Peace and numerous other doctors from around the world have been prevented from entering Gaza for seven days. They cannot get in to help through Israel or Egypt.

    Nicolas is not an anti-Israeli radical. He is a jolly, 49-year-old Athens doctor. Father of two children, he is the president of an organization of volunteer Greek physicians called Doctors of Peace. These doctors pay their own way and volunteer to help the victims of war and natural disasters. They have helped out in Latin America with victims of Hurricane Mitch, in Sri Lanka with tsunami victims and the victims of wars in Lebanon, Serbia, Turkey and Pakistan.

    But the borders of Gaza are sealed off, preventing basic humanitarian and medical assistance from entering. Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied territories, pointed out the human rights violations of the sealed border: “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.”

    The people of Gaza have been cut off from basic medical and humanitarian resources for a long time by an ongoing blockade by Israel, but everything is much worse in the last few weeks.

    Falk, like many others, also condemned the rocket attacks launched from Gaza against Israel. More than a dozen Israelis have died since the war began, as have more than 800 Gazans. But Falk’s harshest words were reserved for the catastrophic human toll from the Israeli airstrikes and “those counties that have been and remain complicit, either directly or indirectly, in Israel’s violations of international law.”

    Frida Berrigan pointed out, “During the Bush administration Israel has received over $21 billion in U.S. security assistance, including $19 billion in direct military aid. The bulk of Israel’s current arsenal is composed of equipment supplied under U.S. assistance programs. For example, Israel has 226 U.S.-supplied F-16 fighter and attack jets, over 700 M-60 tanks, 6,000 armored personnel carriers, and scores of transport planes, attack helicopters, utility and training aircraft, bombs, and tactical missiles of all kinds.”

    Palestinian medical officials say more than half of the 800 dead and 3,000 wounded are civilians. Denial of humanitarian and medical assistance to civilian casualties is a clear violation of basic human rights.

    The people of Egypt are challenging the denial of medical help for Gaza. Halfway through our drive from Cairo to Rafah, we saw a hundred young Egyptians sitting in the middle of the highway protesting Egypt’s inactions.

    After seven days, the border is starting to open a little. The Egyptian Red Crescent was allowed to deliver supplies to the border today and some of the waiting doctors were allowed in. With great show, two dozen Egyptian ambulances were allowed to enter the border area – only to be parked inside to wait for the injured to make it to the border. Two ambulances left Rafah with patients inside. Doctors of Peace were still not allowed in today. Some physicians, tired from the seven-day blockade, have started to return home. Nicolas is going back to the Rafah border crossing tomorrow to try again. Why? “Because there are 3,000 injured people who need help. I am going to keep trying.”

    ——–

    Bill is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola New Orleans. He is in Egypt as a human rights representative of the National Lawyers Guild, the Society of American Law Professors, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the War Resisters League. Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and Audrey Stewart are also in Egypt and contributed to this article. His email is quigley77@gmail.com.

Who will save Israel from itself? January 12, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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israeli-soldierThe Israeli government’s justifications for the war are being scrutinised [GALLO/GETTY]

Mark LeVine, www.aljazeera.net

January 12, 2009

One by one the justifications given by Israel for its latest war in Gaza are unravelling.

The argument that this is a purely defensive war, launched only after Hamas broke a six-month ceasefire has been challenged, not just by observers in the know such as Jimmy Carter, the former US president who helped facilitate the truce, but by centre-right Israeli intelligence think tanks.

The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, whose December 31 report titled “Six Months of the Lull Arrangement Intelligence Report,” confirmed that the June 19 truce was only “sporadically violated, and then not by Hamas but instead by … “rogue terrorist organisations”.

Instead, “the escalation and erosion of the lull arrangement” occurred after Israel killed six Hamas members on November 4 without provocation and then placed the entire Strip under an even more intensive siege the next day.

According to a joint Tel Aviv University-European University study, this fits a larger pattern in which Israeli violence has been responsible for ending 79 per cent of all lulls in violence since the outbreak of the second intifada, compared with only 8 per cent for Hamas and other Palestinian factions.

Indeed, the Israeli foreign ministry seems to realise that this argument is losing credibility.

During a conference call with half a dozen pro-Israel professors on Thursday, Asaf Shariv, the Consul General of Israel in New York, focused more on the importance of destroying the intricate tunnel system connecting Gaza to the Sinai.

He claimed that such tunnels were “as big as the Holland and Lincoln tunnels,” and offered as proof the “fact” that lions and monkeys had been smuggled through them to a zoo in Gaza. In reality, the lions were two small cubs that were drugged, thrown in sacks, and dragged through a tunnel on their way to a private zoo.

Israel’s self-image

The claim that Hamas will never accept the existence of Israel has proved equally misinformed, as Hamas leaders explicitly announce their intention to do just that in the pages of the Los Angeles Times or to any international leader or journalist who will meet with them.

With each new family, 10, 20 and 30 strong, buried under the rubble of a building in Gaza, the claim that the Israeli forces have gone out of their way to diminish civilian casualties – long a centre-piece of Israel’s image as an enlightened and moral democracy – is falling apart.

Anyone with an internet connection can Google “Gaza humanitarian catastrophe” and find the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Territories and read the thousands of pages of evidence documenting the reality of the current fighting, and the long term siege on Gaza that preceded it.

The Red Cross, normally scrupulous in its unwillingness to single out parties to a conflict for criticism, sharply criticised Israel for preventing medical personnel from reaching wounded Palestinians, some of whom remained trapped for days, slowly starving and dying in the Gazan rubble amidst their dead relatives.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has flatly denied Israeli claims that Palestinian fighters were using the UNRWA school compound bombed on January 6, in which 40 civilians were killed, to launch attacks, and has challenged Israel to prove otherwise.

War crimes admission

Additionally, numerous flippant remarks by senior Israeli politicians and generals, including Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister, refusing to make a distinction between civilian people and institutions and fighters – “Hamas doesn’t … and neither should we” is how Livni puts it – are rightly being seen as admissions of war crimes.

Indeed, in reviewing statements by Israeli military planners leading up to the invasion, it is clear that there was a well thought out decision to go after Gaza’s civilian infrastructure – and with it, civilians.

The following quote from an interview with Major-General Gadi Eisenkot that appeared in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth in October, is telling:

“We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. From our perspective these [the villages] are military bases,” he said.

“This isn’t a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorised.”

Causing “immense damage and destruction” and considering entire villages “military bases” is absolutely prohibited under international law.

Eisenkot’s description of this planning in light of what is now unfolding in Gaza is a clear admission of conspiracy and intent to commit war crimes, and when taken with the comments above, and numerous others, renders any argument by Israel that it has tried to protect civilians and is not engaging in disproportionate force unbelievable.

International laws violated

On the ground, the evidence mounts ever higher that Israel is systematically violating a host of international laws, including but not limited to Article 56 of the IV Hague Convention of 1907, the First Additional Protocol of the Geneva Convention, the Fourth Geneva Convention (more specifically known as the “Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949″, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the principles of Customary International Humanitarian Law.

None of this excuses or legitimises the firing of rockets or mortars by any Palestinian group at Israeli civilians and non-military targets.

As Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur, declared in his most recent statement on Gaza: “It should be pointed out unambiguously that there is no legal (or moral) justification for firing rockets at civilian targets, and that such behavior is a violation of IHR, associated with the right to life, as well as constitutes a war crime.”

By the same logic, however, Israel does not have the right to use such attacks as an excuse to launch an all-out assault on the entire population of Gaza.

In this context, even Israel’s suffering from the constant barrage of rockets is hard to pay due attention to when the numbers of dead and wounded on each side are counted. Any sense of proportion is impossible to sustain with such a calculus.

‘Rogue’ state

Israeli commentators and scholars, self-described “loyal” Zionists who served proudly in the army in wars past, are now publicly describing their country, in the words of Oxford University professor Avi Shlaim, as a “rogue” and gangster” state led by “completely unscrupulous leaders”.

Neve Gordon, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University, has declared that Israel’s actions in Gaza are like “raising animals for slaughter on a farm” and represent a “bizarre new moral element” in warfare.

“The moral voice of restraint has been left behind … Everything is permitted” against Palestinians, writes a disgusted Haaretz columnist, Gideon Levy.

Fellow Haaretz columnist and daughter of Holocaust survivors, Amira Haas writes of her late parents disgust at how Israeli leaders justified Israel’s wars with a “language laundromat” aimed at redefining reality and Israel’s moral compass. “Lucky my parents aren’t alive to see this,” she exclaimed.

Around the world people are beginning to compare Israel’s attack on Gaza, which after the 2005 withdrawal of Israeli forces and settlers was turned literally into the world’s largest prison, to the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Extremist Muslims are using internet forums to collect names and addresses of prominent European Jews with the goal, it seems clear, of assassinating them in retaliation for Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Al-Qaeda is attempting to exploit this crisis to gain a foothold in Gaza and Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria, as well as through attacking Jewish communities globally.

Iran’s defiance of both Israel and its main sponsor, the US, is winning it increasing sympathy with each passing day.

Democratic values eroded

Inside Israel, the violence will continue to erode both democratic values in the Jewish community, and any acceptance of the Jewish state’s legitimacy in the eyes of its Palestinian citizens.

And yet in the US – at least in Washington and in the offices of the mainstream Jewish organisations – the chorus of support for Israel’s war on Gaza continues to sing in tight harmony with official Israeli policy, seemingly deaf to the fact that they have become so out of tune with the reality exploding around them.

At my university, UCI, where last summer Jewish and Muslim students organised a trip together through the occupied territories and Israel so they could see with their own eyes the realities there, old battle lines are being redrawn.

The Anteaters for Israel, the college pro-Israel group at the University of California, Irvine, sent out an urgent email to the community explaining that, “Over the past week, increasing amounts of evidence lead us to believe that Hamas is largely responsible for any alleged humanitarian crisis in Gaza”.

I have no idea who the “us” is that is referred to in the appeal, although I am sure that the membership of that group is shrinking.

Indeed, one of the sad facts of this latest tragedy is that with each claim publicly refuted by facts on the ground, more and more Americans, including Jews, are refusing to trust the assertions of Israeli and American Jewish leaders.

Trap

Even worse, in the Arab/Muslim world, the horrific images pouring out of Gaza daily are allowing preachers and politicians to deploy well-worn yet still dangerous and inciteful stereotypes against Jews as they rally the masses against Israel – and through it – their own governments.

What is most frightening is that the most important of Israel’s so-called friends, the US political establishment and the mainstream Jewish leadership, seem clueless to the devastating trap that Israel has led itself into – in good measure with their indulgence and even help.

It is one that threatens the country’s existence far more than any Qassam rockets, with their 0.4 per cent kill rate; even more than the disastrous 2006 invasion of southern Lebanon, which by weakening Israel’s deterrence capability in some measure made this war inevitable.

First, it is clear that Israel cannot destroy Hamas, it cannot stop the rockets unless it agrees to a truce that will go far to meeting the primary demand of Hamas – an end to the siege.

Merely by surviving (and it surely will survive) Hamas, like Hezbollah in 2006, will have won.

Israel is succeeding in doing little more than creating another generation of Palestinians with hearts filled with rage and a need for revenge.

Second, Israel’s main patron, the US, along with the conservative Arab autocracies and monarchies that are its only allies left in the Muslim world, are losing whatever crumbs of legitimacy they still had with their young and angry populations.

The weaker the US and its axis becomes in the Middle East, the more precarious becomes Israel’s long-term security. Indeed, any chance that the US could convince the Muslim world to pressure Iran to give up its quest for nuclear weapons has been buried in Gaza.

Third, as Israel brutalises Palestinians, it brutalises its own people. You cannot occupy another people and engage in violence against them at this scale without doing even greater damage to your soul.

The high incidence of violent crimes committed by veterans returning from combat duty in Iraq is but one example of how the violence of occupation and war eat away at people’s moral centre.

While in the US only a small fraction of the population participates in war; in Israel, most able-bodied men end up participating.

The effects of the latest violence perpetrated against Palestinians upon the collective Israeli soul is incalculable; the notion that it can survive as an “ethnocracy” – favouring one ethnic group, Jews, yet by and large democratic – is becoming a fiction.

Violence-as-power

Who will save Israel from herself?

Israelis are clearly incapable. Their addiction as a society to the illusion of violence-as-power has reached the level of collective mental illness.

As Haaretz reporter Yossi Melman described it on January 10, “Israel has created an image of itself of a madman that has lost it”.

Not Palestinians, too many of whom have fallen prey to the same condition.

Not the Middle East Quartet, the European Union, the United Nations, or the Arab League, all of whom are utterly powerless to influence Israeli policy.

Not the organised Jewish leadership in the US and Europe, who are even more blind to what is happening than most Israelis, who at least allow internal debate about the wisdom of their government’s policies.

Not the growing progressive Jewish community, which will need years to achieve enough social and political power to challenge the status quo.

And not senior American politicians and policy-makers who are either unwilling to risk alienating American Jewish voters, or have been so brainwashed by the constant barrage of propaganda put out by the “Israel Lobby” that they are incapable of reaching an independent judgment about the conflict.

During the US presidential race, Barack Obama was ridiculed for being a messiah-like figure. The idea does not sound so funny now. It is hard to imagine anyone less saving Israel, the Palestinians, and the world from another four years of mindless violence.

Mark LeVine is a professor of Middle East history at the University of California, Irvine, and is the author of Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam and the soon to be published An Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Al Jazeera.

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