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Ariel Sharon: Serial war criminal, mass murderer January 13, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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The true legacy of a virulent anti-Arab racist

JANUARY 12, 2014

Ariel Sharon: mass murderer

“Ariel Sharon: Israeli Hawk Who Sought Peace on His Terms, Dies at 85,” read the headline in the January 12 issue of the New York Times. The Washington Post called Sharon “a monumental figure in Israel’s modern history” who “sought to become the architect of a peaceful future,” accompanied by a most kindly and grandfatherly photo. USA Today: “controversial and iconic.” And on and on in all the U.S. corporate media.

Most of the world knows better, and none know better than the Palestinian and Lebanese people, thousands of whom were victims of this serial war criminal. Sharon’s career was built on massacres–from Qibya in 1953, to Sabra and Shatila in 1982, to Jenin in 2002.

A virulent anti-Arab racist, Sharon had a long and bloody history of murder and repression against the Palestinian people. In the early 1950s, he commanded Unit 101, a special forces company that carried out massacres against Palestinian exiles in Gaza and Jordan.

Despite having conquered 78 percent of Palestine in the 1948 war, Israel’s leaders were far from satisfied.  As has been extensively documented by many Israeli as well as Palestinian historians, Israel sought to provoke a “Second Round” in the early 1950s, in order to take over the West Bank, then under Jordanian rule, Gaza, and more.

A main Israeli tactic was called “retaliation.” In response to recently expelled Palestinians coming across the borders back into their homeland from Gaza and the West Bank, the Israeli army (IDF) would carry out large-scale attacks and massacres.

For diplomatic and public relations purposes, it was extremely important to Israel to be seen as victim rather than aggressor. This remains true down to the present.

“Retaliation” was really provocation; the intent was to get Jordan or Egypt to react militarily to the massacres, which could then be used by Israel as a pretext for a new war of conquest.

On Oct. 14, 1953, Unit 101, led by Sharon, attacked Qibya, a small, undefended village inside the West Bank, and massacred 69 people, many of them burned alive inside their homes. Unit 101 suffered no casualties. It was an atrocity sanctioned at the top and carried out for political ends.

The Qibya raid drew worldwide condemnation, and Jordan, much militarily weaker than Israel, did not respond as the Israeli leaders had hoped. The conquest of the West Bank and Gaza would have to wait until 1967.

Sabra  and Shatila massacres

Following the 1967 war of conquest, Sharon was the military governor of Gaza, renowned for extreme brutality in carrying out a policy of systematic torture and assassination of Palestinians resisting occupation.
Sharon is most notorious for the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the massacres of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. As Israel’s defense minister, Sharon organized and led, with full U.S. backing, the massive assault on Lebanon. For three months in the summer of 1982, Israeli bombers, supplied by the U.S., relentlessly pounded Beirut and other cities and towns, killing more than 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians. Lebanon had no air defense system.

The stated objective of the invasion was to drive the Palestine Liberation Organization out of Lebanon. There are more than 400,000 Palestinian refugees–those driven from their homeland to make way for the state of Israel in 1948 and their descendants–living in Lebanon. Altogether, more than seven million Palestinians today live in exile.

After three months of bombing, the central PLO leadership agreed to evacuate its fighters from Lebanon. As part of the cease-fire agreement requiring them to leave, the remaining Palestinian civilian population was to be placed under international protection.

Sharon, however, publicly stated that 2,000 “terrorists” remained in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in West Beirut. In reality, those remaining in the camps were almost all children, women and elderly men. Virtually all of the young men had been evacuated.

Israeli tanks surrounded the camps in violation of the cease-fire agreement. Then, on Sept. 16, 1982, with the full knowledge and consent of Sharon and the Israeli occupiers then in control of the area, Lebanese Phalangist militias were allowed to enter Sabra and Shatila in west Beirut.

The fascist Phalange—open admirers of Adolf Hitler who took their name from Franco’s party in Spain—were Israel’s closest allies in Lebanon. The Phalangists wore Israeli-supplied uniforms and carried Israeli-supplied weapons.
For three days, they rampaged through the Palestinian camps, torturing, raping and murdering. Many of the victims were disemboweled or decapitated. No one was spared—neither the very old nor the very young. By the end, more than 1,900 Palestinian children, women and men lay dead.

Though overwhelming evidence showed that Sharon and other Israeli commanders had sent the fascists into the undefended camps, a 1983 Israeli court of inquiry found Sharon only “indirectly responsible” for the massacre. One might think that even “indirect” responsibility for the butchering of nearly two thousand people would mean at least an end to the guilty individual’s political career. But not in apartheid Israel.
While Sharon was forced to resign from the Israeli cabinet following the court of inquiry, he continued to be a key political actor and came back as a cabinet minister in the 1990s.

Al-Aqsa Intifada and Sharon’s election as prime minister

On September 28, 2000, Sharon staged another famous provocation, “visiting” the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, an important Muslim holy site. While proclaiming his “right” to travel anywhere in Jerusalem, the hated killer did not venture out alone. Instead, he was accompanied by 1,500 armed police. Even so, hundreds of Palestinians fought back, marking the start of the Al-Aqsa intifada or uprising, which would continue for many years.

Five months later, in February 2001, Sharon was elected prime minister. In March 2002, the Israeli military carried out a massive operation in the West Bank and Gaza seeking to suppress the intifada. Among the most brutal attacks was one on the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank. Over several days, using militarized bulldozers along with heavy weapons, the Israel military demolished much of the camp, burying many people alive.

The same year, Sharon began building the apartheid wall through the West Bank confiscating still more Palestinian land.

Sharon: The imaginary “peacemaker”

The false claim that Sharon turned into a “man of peace” hinges on his decision to withdraw military bases and the small, non-viable Israeli settlements from inside Gaza. And while Palestinians in Gaza welcomed the withdrawal, Israel continued to keep Gaza surrounded and blockaded.

Sharon’s decision to withdraw from Gaza, while denounced by some fascist settlers, was based on a determination to secure even more control of the West Bank
In a July 21, 2000 interview with the Jerusalem Post, several months before he became prime minister, Sharon called for Israel to “retain greater Jerusalem, united and undivided…under full Israeli sovereignty.” This refers to the Palestinian Old City and all of the surrounding areas that Israel illegally annexed after the 1967 war.

“Israel will retain under its full control sufficiently wide security zones—in both the East and West. The Jordan Valley, in its broadest sense, as defined by the Allon Plan, will be the eastern security zone of Israel.”
Sharon called for large areas of the illegally occupied West Bank to be annexed. “Jewish towns, villages and communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, as well as access roads leading to them…will remain under full Israeli control,” Sharon continued. “Judea and Samaria” is the Israeli settlers’ name for the West Bank.

“Israel does not accept under any circumstances the Palestinian demand for the right to return. Israel bears no moral responsibility for the refugees’ predicament.”

“As a vital existential need, Israel must continue to control the underground fresh water aquifers in western Samaria [the West Bank]…The Palestinians are obligated to prevent contamination of Israel’s water resources.”

The Palestinian “state” that Sharon proposed was one that would be unlike any other country in the world. It would not control its own resources including water, or its airspace, or even its own borders, and would be a defenseless entity smack up against one of the world’s most highly militarized states.

False headlines notwithstanding, Sharon will go down in history not as any kind of imagined peacemaker, but instead as the blood-stained and racist mass murderer that he was.

Content may be reprinted with credit to LiberationNews.org.

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General Wesley Clark: Reveals the PLAN September 18, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Roger’s note: Count ’em, folks, seven countries. Libya, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia,  Sudan,  and finishing up with the grand prize: Iran. The video above is part of a discussion retired General Wesley Clark (Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO from 1997 to 2000)  had with Democracy Now’s host Amy Goodman, way back in the good old George Bush days. 

You may remember that for a short while back in 2004 Clark was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.  With his radical assessment of U.S. interventionist policy in the Middle East, it is not surprising he was not able to gather the kind of financial support needed to run a successful campaign.  For the 2008 Democratic nomination, he endorsed Hillary Clinton.  Ironically, in a longer speech (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuVVml5Dp2s), which covers some of the same ground about the Middle East, Clark suggests that electing Democrats is the only way to stop the PLAN for regime change in the seven countries.  He proved to be quite a bit less prescient on that point, given that Obama has done a great torch in carrying the neocon Bush torch, even if a few countries have to be skipped on the way to Iran.   Not to mention his endorsement of neocon super-hawkm Ms. Clinton.  Nevertheless, Clark’s commentary on the current Syria situation continues to refer to the Snow White America and the Seven Dwarf nations scenario (http://whowhatwhy.com/2013/08/31/classic-why-real-reason-for-syria-war-plans-from-gen-wesley-clark/) .  But, who is listening?

International Attention Focused on Berkeley Divestment Vote April 14, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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(Roger’s note: as a former elected member of the ASUC Executive Committee (1961 -1962), a precursor to the current Senate, I take special pleasure in posting this item on my blog.  The main argument for the apologists of Israeli apartheid, that it is unfair to single out Israel as a violator of human rights, is specious.  When addressing a particular political problem, one is not obligated to include all others.  Of course there are other governments worthy of condemnation (none more than the government of the United States of America); but the genocidal policies of past and present Israeli governments with respect to the Palestinian peoples, and particularly the Gaza massacre, represent major violations that neither can nor should not be ignored.)

Published on Wednesday, April 14, 2010 by The Daily California (UC Berkeley)by Allie Bidwell

International attention will descend on the ASUC Senate meeting tonight as senators consider upholding the passage of a controversial bill urging the student government and the University of California to divest from two companies that have provided war supplies to the Israeli military.

[Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. In a recent letter to the UC Berkeley community, Tutu, who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts opposing apartheid in South Africa-said he endorsed the bill and urged senators to uphold the original vote, which he compared to similar efforts at UC Berkeley to divest from South Africa in the 1980s. (Wikimedia)]
Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. In a recent letter to the UC Berkeley community, Tutu, who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts opposing apartheid in South Africa-said he endorsed the bill and urged senators to uphold the original vote, which he compared to similar efforts at UC Berkeley to divest from South Africa in the 1980s. (Wikimedia)

The bill names two companies-United Technologies and General Electric-as supplying Israel with the technology necessary to attack civilian populations in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The bill originally passed the senate March 17 by a 16-4 vote following about six hours of discussion. A two-thirds majority, or 14 votes, is needed in order to override the veto. 

Senators have received more than 13,000 e-mails, roughly split between both sides of the controversy.

Prominent figures including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, activist Naomi Klein and leftist MIT professor Noam Chomsky have spoken in support of overriding ASUC President Will Smelko’s March 24 veto of the bill. Local and national pro-Israel groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)-an influential Washington, D.C. lobby organization-Berkeley Hillel and the Anti-Defamation League have each stated the bill is divisive and unfairly targets Israel.

Supporters of the bill say divesting from the two companies would make a powerful statement against Israeli actions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which supporters have compared to apartheid-era South Africa.

In a recent letter to the UC Berkeley community, Tutu, who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts opposing apartheid in South Africa-said he endorsed the bill and urged senators to uphold the original vote, which he compared to similar efforts at UC Berkeley to divest from South Africa in the 1980s.

He said in an e-mail Tuesday that he had a message for ASUC senators.

“I salute you for wanting to take a moral stand,” he said in the e-mail. “(Your predecessors) changed the moral climate in the U.S. and the consequence was the Anti-Apartheid legislation, which helped to dismantle apartheid non-violently. Today is your turn. Will you look back on this day with pride or with shame?”

Wayne Firestone, national president of Hillel-a Jewish campus organization-released a statement last month condemning the bill. The statement stated that the bill is “one-sided, divisive and undermines the pursuit of peace” and ignores human rights violations of other countries.

“The ASUC bill will not contribute a whit to the advancement of peace in the Middle East and will only serve to divide the Berkeley community,” Firestone said in the statement.

Pro-Israel activist organization J Street U, joined 18 other organizations-including Berkeley Hillel, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federation of the East Bay, the Jewish National Fund and StandWithUs/SF Voice for Israel-in crafting an April 5 letter to UC Berkeley Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer stating that they felt the bill was dishonest and misleading.

Among concerns listed in the letter was that the bill “unfairly targets” Israel while marginalizing Jewish students on campus who support Israel.

“Though it states that the ‘ASUC resolution should not be considered taking sides in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict,’ the exclusive focus on Israel suggests otherwise,” the letter states.

Critics of the bill have said senators cannot make a proper judgement of an issue as complicated as the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Student Action Senator Parth Bhatt, who voted against the bill, said he felt the ASUC should not take a stance on such an issue because it marginalizes one community on campus.

“I don’t think the ASUC should put any student in that position,” Bhatt said. “The conflict is very complex and something I don’t think our senators know enough about to vote on.”

But CalSERVE Senator Ariel Boone said she supported the bill because she felt compelled to defend human rights.

“I went to Israel and had a really interesting time with Berkeley Hillel in January, and I have Holocaust survivors among my family,” Boone said in an e-mail. “I have never felt so uniquely qualified to speak on an issue.”

AIPAC has recently stated the need for a strategy to combat anti-Israel sentiments on U.S. university campuses.

“How are we going to beat back the anti-Israel divestment resolution at Berkeley?” said Jonathan Kessler, leadership development director for AIPAC, at a recent conference of the lobbying group. “We’re going to make sure that pro-Israel students take over the student government and reverse the vote. This is how AIPAC operates in our nation’s capitol. This is how AIPAC must operate on our nation’s campuses.”

But according to spokesperson Josh Block, the group did not take a position in the recent ASUC election.

“We don’t rate or endorse candidates,” Block said in an e-mail. “Of course we would always, publicly and consistently encourage pro-Israel students to be active in civic and political life.”

Read statements in opposition and in support of the divestment bill:

Naomi Klein

Noam Chomsky

Desmond Tutu

Hillel

Letter to Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost of UC Berkeley George Breslauer

AIPAC Video

© 2010 The Daily Californian

Obama and Israel’s Military: Still Arm-in-Arm March 5, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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 Stephen Zunes | March 4, 2009

Foreign Policy in Focus, http://www.fpif.org

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama Tilts Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama’s Defense of Israeli Attacks on Civilians

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

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

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

Not Good for Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Betraying His Constituency

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

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

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

 

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

Israel’s war on Gaza shows need for a total uprooting February 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Peace, Revolution, War.
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NEWS & LETTERS, February – March 2009

www.newsandletters.org (Marxist Humanist)

 

 

 

by Gerry Emmett

 

The tentative “cease-fire,” already interrupted by grenade, mortar and missle strikes, between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, of Jan. 18 following 22 days of war, was ushered in with a scene of pure modern horror. Palestinian doctor Izz el-Deen Aboul Aish, who works at an Israeli hospital and has reported on Gaza for Israeli television, announced live on the air that his home had just been bombed by Israeli warplanes. Three of his daughters were killed, and two seriously injured. Dr. Aboul Aish said truthfully, “All that was ever fired out of our house was love, hugs and acts of peace, nothing else, ever.”

Shocked viewers caught an unexpected look at the barbarity of the Gaza war as the Israeli news anchor broke down into tears along with the Palestinian doctor. A Gazan described the experience of life under attack this way: “In my home we can’t get basic needs. There is no safe place we can go. We cannot communicate with our relatives or friends–networks are down as missiles rain on our homes, mosques, and even hospitals…”

CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY

As Palestinians began to dig out thousands of destroyed buildings, the horrific toll of innocent life from weeks of air and ground war became even clearer. As of this writing, of 1,259 Palestinians dead, well over half are civilians. Many are children. An estimated 4,100 homes were destroyed, along with 1,500 factories and workshops.

There were also attacks upon buildings housing emergency humanitarian aid, like the UN Relief and Works Agency. “International law unequivocally forbids attacks against personnel, installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance mission,” said UNRWA spokesman Malcolm Smart. “Deliberate attacks on humanitarian assistance facilities or personnel may constitute a war crime.”

All this could hardly have been otherwise, fighting in crowded Gaza. It could not have been otherwise considering the cynical effort by Israel’s government to use its battle with Hamas to make some statements.

One statement was directed to Israeli voters by the current ruling Labor-Kadima coalition. Israeli peace protestors were quick to point out the timing of the war in relation to the February national elections, naming it the “6-Seat War,” the number of Knesset seats that the Labor Party expects to pick up. It likely won’t have stopped the right-wing Netanyahu of Likud from being elected Prime Minister.

The other statement was directed to Iran, the biggest regional supporter of Hamas. It was meant to say that Israel had “learned the lessons” of its destructive war in Lebanon in 2006, which was claimed as a “victory” by Iran’s Lebanese client Hezbollah–if hardly by the suffering people of southern Lebanon or Beirut. Thus even greater destruction was visited upon Gaza.

What the Israeli government hasn’t learned, though, is the futility of its attempts to control the Palestinians, or to crush their desire for self-determination. In this, Israel shows itself as one more state-capitalist power wedded to its ignoble imperial ambitions.

The U. S. government has shown nothing but complicity in this regard. This is true of both the outgoing Bush regime and the incoming Obama administration, with his appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Certainly Israel wouldn’t have proceeded without an understanding with the U.S. The careful timing of the war around the U.S. election shows this, with one Israeli government figure claiming that the cease-fire was implemented to avoid embarrassing Barack Obama in his first days in office. Future U.S. policy is unclear–though Obama’s first phone call to a foreign leader went to Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority.

Now, despite the cease-fire, thousands of Israeli troops remain poised to re-enter Gaza, and Hamas retains the ability to launch rocket strikes into Israel if it so chooses. The blockade of Gaza continues.

Much of the situation in Gaza is inexplicable without looking at the various rivalries that involve many parties besides Israel and the Palestinians. This includes the continuing struggle between the fundamentalist Hamas and Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority and West Bank. Even while under attack by Israel, Hamas put some of its military effort into attacking Fatah members–they succeeded in killing and maiming many more of them than they did Israeli soldiers, at least 80-100 according to witnesses.

This helps to explain the otherwise incredible fact that in the face of Israel’s largest military incursion in decades there was no military unity among Palestinians. Only the marginal PFLP (General Command), a tool of the Syrian state, launched a single, random rocket from Lebanon that blew up the kitchen of a retirement home in northern Israel.

REGIONAL RIVALRIES

There was no unity among the Arab states, either, owing to regional rivalries between Hamas’ Iranian patrons and the equally reactionary fundamentalist rulers of Saudi Arabia. While there was a lot of rhetoric from Hezbollah, they are constrained by the opposition of the Lebanese people to any new war with Israel.

The conflict between Egypt and Hamas is also significant. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and that fundamentalist group is seen as a threat to the Mubarak regime in Egypt. Egypt has aided Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and as much as anyone, it was the Egyptian government that gave Israel the green light to attack.

The Syrian-based leadership of Hamas distinguished itself by opposing any cease-fire and being ready, from the safety of Damascus, to fight to the last Palestinian. Even Hamas’ Gaza leadership couldn’t stomach this. To indicate how deep the lack of principle runs here, it is instructive to note that Hamas’ leader, Khaled Mashaal, accepts the hospitality and support of the same Syrian Baathist government that massacred 2,000 imprisoned Islamists in 1982. It also destroyed the city of Hama killing 20,000 civilians, in the course of repressing its own Muslim Brotherhood.

This should illuminate his callous willingness to sacrifice the people of Gaza. In this Mashaal is certainly within hailing distance of the Sharon of 1982 and the Sabra and Shatila massacres. It is only the other side of Hamas’ reactionary fantasy of destroying Israel which doesn’t shrink from referencing the Protocols of Zion–counter-revolutionary forgeries of the czarist secret police and “Black Hundreds” pogromists.[1]

The devastation wrought by the war should also help lay to rest the myth of Hamas as a “good government” alternative to the undeniable corruption of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. Their launching of hundreds of rockets into Israel, sometimes killing civilians, which became the stated justification for Israel’s attack, is barbarous and nihilistic. In the end Hamas may have hoped to duplicate Hezbollah’s experience in 2006, but 2009 is not 2006 and they greatly overreached.

Although there have been declarations of “victory” and rallies, in the words of one Gazan: “We can’t talk about real victory because there were thousands of martyrs and we didn’t liberate anything. It’s no time for a parade.”

OPPOSITION TO WAR

As against the horrors of this war, there were also many protests and important efforts at solidarity. The Free Gaza Movement attempted to deliver medical aid by boat, but was prevented from docking and rammed by an Israeli navy vessel. International aid, including ambulances, medicine and food, was also sent from European trade unions to the General Federation of Palestinian Trade Unions, which put out a call for such support. The war-weariness among Gazans was well expressed by one Palestinian woman who confronted a Hamas member passing out leaflets: “Why are you handing out paper instead of bread?”

The Israeli peace movement was in the street from the first hours declaring, “This is not our war!” Adam Keller of The Other Israel wrote, “At record speed, a rendezvous for protest was suggested by the Coalition of Women for Peace and quickly taken up by Hadash, Gush Shalom, the anarchists, Tarabut and also the Meretz grassroots network. The message spread among all by word of mouth and phone and email and Facebook: ‘Stop the War!'” The voices of past refuseniks and the Shministim made their opposition known.

It is vital to hear these voices of opposition (see “Woman as Reason”). Even more, the war’s regional aspect highlights the importance of all the new forces of revolution rising in the Middle East. There are new militant voices, from striking textile workers in Egypt, many of them women, to the new struggles of workers and women in Iraq represented by groups like the Iraqi Freedom Congress, and the simmering discontent among all sectors of the population in Iran with the oppressive theocracy there.

Mired in corruption and scandal, and hard hit by the 80% collapse in oil prices brought on by capitalist crisis, almost the only “legitimacy” the Iranian regime can cling to is its sponsorship of the “resistance” of Hezbollah and Hamas. Lebanon’s Shi’a and the Palestinians of Gaza have paid a high price for this sponsorship, in having their genuine freedom struggles shackled to Iran’s counter-revolution.[2]

PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION

In addition to the cost in human lives, Israel’s war has deflected attention from the brave new struggles in the region. It has the effect of sucking the oxygen from the very air of thought. Not only in the Middle East. This is a moment when every big imperialist power, the U.S., Russia, China, as well as a regional power like Iran, is confronted with the most serious capitalist crisis in decades.

It isn’t a coincidence that the Iranian regime has intensified repression of late, including closing down Shirin Ebadi’s Center for Defenders of Human Rights and fomenting attacks on her office and home, and closing the newspaper Kargozaran for publishing an article critical of Hamas. What Iran’s rulers really fear is that despite their best efforts the Iranian people will eventually rise up and throw them out as they did the Shah.

In this regard, it is also vital that the new forces of revolution become rooted in a philosophy of revolution that can help them avoid the kind of halfway houses and outright disasters that have destroyed past freedom movements. To this end News and Letters Committees published Marxist-Humanist Writings on the Middle East (2003) containing Raya Dunayevskaya’s writings on the dialectics of revolution and counter-revolution across the region, in Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.

Dunayevskaya addressed this burning question for Middle Eastern revolutionaries in many ways, as in 1976’s “Lebanon: The test not only of the PLO but the whole Left.” Here she criticized revolutionaries who were pulled into the orbit of reactionary state powers, ushering in decades of civil war and occupation in Lebanon: “This does not mean that we give up the struggle for self-determination, Palestinian especially. It is that we do not narrow our vision of the revolutionary struggle for a totally different world, on truly new Humanist foundations, the first necessity of which is the unity of philosophy and revolution.”[3]

Bringing about this unity of philosophy and revolution remains the task. News and Letters Committees has held to this principle since our founding in 1955: “The necessity for a new society is clear from the working people’s opposition to war. That opposition is based upon a vision of a new society in which they, to a man, woman and child, control their own lives. Any opposition to war, which is based on less than this, must end in capitulation to the warmongers.”[4]

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Israel’s war on the people of Gaza is not a local anomaly, it is the expression of the degeneracy of crisis-ridden state-capitalism. The absolute opposite of that is not any narrow nationalism or religion-infused drive for power, but the total uprooting of racist, sexist capitalist society in all countries and the creation of totally new human relations.

NOTES:

1. “What more could [right-wing Zionism] have wished for than that the Israeli opponents of their own rulers–the Israeli Left engaged in class struggles and in fights against their country’s foreign policy, especially to Israel’s non-recognition of the Palestinians as a national entity entitled to self-determination–should suddenly pause in their struggles, with worry over whether at the other end of the spectrum lurks that perennial manifestation of degeneracy, anti-Semitism?” (“The UN resolution on Zionism–and the ideological obfuscation also on the Left,” Raya Dunayevskaya, Weekly Political Letter, Jan. 24, 1976.)

2. The Iranian Marxist Mansoor Hekmat described this relation: “The problem is still fundamentally the Palestinian question. Just as this confrontation strengthens the reactionary religious factions in Israel and gives them much more power–disproportionate to their actual minor weight in people’s culture and beliefs, it also adds to the lifespan of political Islam…” (Porsesh, A Quarterly Journal of Politics, Society and Culture, Number 3, Winter 2001.)

3. “Lebanon: the test not only of the PLO but the whole Left,” Raya Dunayevskaya, Weekly Political Letter, August, 1976 .

4. From the “Preamble” to the News and Letters’ Committees’ Constitution, 1955.

 

A Choice Between Peace and Peril February 23, 2009

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Posted on Feb 23, 2009, www.truthout.com
AP photo / Hasan Sarbakhshian

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at a ceremony in Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz.

By Chris Hedges

Bibi Netanyahu’s assumption of power in Israel sets the stage for a huge campaign by the Israeli government, and its well-oiled lobby groups in Washington, to push us into a war with Iran.

Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, according to U.S. and European intelligence agencies. But reality rarely impedes on politics. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, along with Netanyahu, all talk as if Iran is on the brink of dropping the big one on the Jewish state.

Netanyahu on Friday named Iran as Israel’s main threat after he was called to form a new government following the Feb. 20 elections.

“Iran is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon and constitutes the gravest threat to our existence since the war of independence,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony at President Shimon Peres’ official residence. “The terrorist forces of Iran threaten us from the north,” the presumptive prime minister said in reference to Lebanon and Syria, where Israel says Tehran supplies arms to Hezbollah and Hamas. “For decades, Israel has not faced such formidable challenges.”

Netanyahu, whose arrogance is as outsized as his bellicosity, knows that for all his threats and chest thumping, Israel is incapable of attacking Iranian targets alone. Israel cannot fly its attack aircraft over Iraqi air space into Iran without U.S. permission, something George W. Bush refused to grant, fearing massive retaliatory strikes by Iran on American bases in Iraq. Israel’s air force is not big enough to neutralize the multiple targets, from radar stations to missile batteries to Revolutionary Guard units to bunkers housing Iran’s Soviet- and Chinese-made fighter jets and bombers, and also hit suspected nuclear targets. The only route to a war with Tehran for the Israeli military is through Washington.

Netanyahu’s resolve to strike Iran means that we will soon hear a lot about the danger posed by Iran—full-page ads in American newspapers from Israel lobby groups have appeared in the past few days. Allowing this rhetoric to cloud reality, as we did during the buildup to the war with Iraq, would shut down the best chance for stability in the Middle East—a negotiated settlement with Iran. This may not finally stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, but a stable relationship with Iran would do more to protect Israel and our interests in the Middle East than massive airstrikes and a war that would bleed into Iraq and Lebanon and see Iranian missiles launched against Israeli cities.

“If you go into a problem with a mistaken assumption, you come out with a bad policy,” said Sam Gardner, a retired colonel of the U.S. Air Force who has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College, Air War College and Naval War College, and who opposes the Israeli campaign to strike Iran.

Iran’s nuclear program is currently monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran had amassed about 2,227 pounds of low-enriched, or reactor-grade, nuclear fuel by late January, according to the latest updates from the arms control watchdog for the United Nations. To produce the 55 pounds of highly enriched, or weapons-grade, uranium needed for an atomic warhead, Iran would need 2,205 to 3,748 pounds of low-enriched uranium. It apparently has this amount—which is why Netanyahu refers to Iran as “an existential threat” to the Israeli state. But Iran has made no move to enrich the uranium and until it does cannot be accused of having a nuclear weapons program. Iran also does not have enough high-speed centrifuges at its facility in Natanz to further refine the uranium, according to the United Nations.

Iran has turned to its old nemesis Russia for assistance as Israel has become more strident. The work on the Bushehr nuclear reactor will soon be assisted by 3,000 Russian technicians. And Russia has promised to sell the S-300 missile to Iran to boost that nation’s air defense systems. The Russian Federation Security Council and the State Council’s new national security strategy statement says that the primary focus of the struggle over the next decade will be on hydrocarbons. The Middle East and Central Asia are mentioned specifically. In these areas, according to the document, the struggle could develop into a military confrontation. And, while the document does not mention the United States, there is no other rival military force in the region that can match the Russian machine. The more we push Iran the more Iran flees into the arms of the Russians and the closer we come to a new Cold War struggle for control of diminishing natural resources. Iranian officials have barred inspections of facilities producing centrifuge parts, a move which worries arms control specialists. Iran may be planning to build an undeclared centrifuge facility separate from Natanz. Iran has also barred inspectors from its heavy-water reactor near Arak, an action that has concerned inspectors who hope to examine the site for possible telltale “clandestine” features that could be used in a weapons program. These signs would indicate that Iran could begin a nuclear weapons program. But as of now there is no such program. We should stop speaking as if one exists.

The destruction of Iraq as a unified state has left Iran the power broker in the Middle East. This was the result of our handiwork and the misguided militarism of Israeli politicians such as Netanyahu. Iran, like it or not, holds the power to decide the outcome of several conflicts that are vital to American security. It has enormous influence with Hamas and Hezbollah and can accelerate or diminish the conflict between Israel and these groups. It and the U.S. are now the major outside forces in Iraq. The Shiite-led Baghdad government consults closely with Iran and for this reason has told the Iranian resistance group the MEK that it has 60 days to leave Iraqi territory and may see its leaders arrested and tried for war crimes. Once American forces leave Iraq, it is Iran, more than any other nation, that will determine the future of any Iraqi government. And, finally, Iran has for centuries been embroiled in the affairs of Afghanistan. It alone has the influence to stabilize the conflict, one that increasingly threatens to spill over into Pakistan. Afghan politicians have sharply criticized the Iranian government for deporting more than 30,000 Afghans who had fled to Iran since October. Many, unable to find work or return to their villages, have signed up to fight for the Taliban, according to U.S. intelligence reports.

Iran has endured our covert support for armed militant groups from the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO) to the Free Life Party of Kurdistan to the repugnant Jundullah, also known as the Army of God, a Sunni fundamentalist group that operates with U.S. support out of Pakistan. Jundullah has carried out a series of bombings and ambushes inside Iran. The militant group has a habit of beheading Iranians it captures, including a recent group of 16 Iranian police officials, and filming and distributing the executions. Iran has coped with nearly three decades of sanctions imposed by Washington. The U.S. support for the militant groups and the sanctions, meant to help change the regime in Tehran, have failed.

There is a lot riding on whom President Obama names as his special envoy to Iran. If, as expected, it is Dennis Ross, a former official of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, we will be in deep trouble. Ross, who is expected to be placed in charge of the Iranian portfolio this week, is a vocal supporter of Israel’s call for increased pressure on Iran. He is distrusted, even despised, in the Muslim world and especially in Tehran. With good reason, he is not viewed as an impartial broker.

Ross has called for more draconian sanctions against Iran, something Russia or the five companies that provide Iran’s refined petroleum products are not likely to support. (The companies include the Swiss firm Vitol, the French giant Total and the Indian firm Reliance.) Ross backs the covert support for proxy groups and, I would assume, the alleged clandestine campaign by Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists. Mossad is rumored to be behind the death of Ardeshire Hassanpour, a top nuclear scientist at Iran’s Isfahan uranium plant, who died in mysterious circumstances from reported “gas poisoning” in 2007, according to the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. “Other recent deaths of important figures in the procurement and enrichment process in Iran and Europe have been the result of Israeli ‘hits,’ intended to deprive Tehran of key technical skills at the head of the program, according to the analysts,” the paper reported.

It remains unmentioned that Israel, which refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—signed by Iran—is in possession of 200 to 300 nuclear warheads, perhaps the single most important factor in the Middle East nuclear arms race.

“For the US to shape a peaceful relationship with Iran will be difficult under any circumstances,” Stephen Kinzer, author of “All the Shah’s Men,” wrote recently. “If the American negotiating team is led by Ross or another conventional thinker tied to dogmas of the past, it will be impossible.”

Obama has an opportunity to radically alter the course we have charted in the Middle East. The key will be his administration’s relationship with Iran. If he gives in to the Israel lobby, if he empowers Ross, if he defines Iran as the enemy before he begins to attempt a negotiated peace, he could ignite a fuse that will see our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan evolve into a regional conflagration. This may be the most important decision of his presidency. Let’s pray he does not blow it.

Worse than an Earthquake: Peace Activist Kathy Kelly on the Destruction in Gaza January 27, 2009

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www.democracynow.org

January 27, 2009

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama has dispatched George Mitchell on his first trip as Middle East envoy. Mitchell is set to begin in Egypt today, followed by Israel, the occupied West Bank, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Speaking at the White House, Obama said Mitchell will be charged with bringing about “genuine progress.”

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The charge that Senator Mitchell has is to engage vigorously and consistently in order for us to achieve genuine progress. And when I say “progress,” not just photo-ops, but progress that is concretely felt by people on the ground, so that people feel more secure in their lives, so that they feel that the hopes and dreams and aspirations of their children can be met. That is going to be our task. It is not something that we’re going to be able to do overnight, but I am absolutely confident that if the United States is engaged in a consistent way and an early—in early fashion, that we can make genuine progress.

    Now, understand that Senator Mitchell is going to be fully empowered by me and fully empowered by Secretary Clinton. So when he speaks, he will be speaking for us. And I’m hopeful that during this initial trip, one of the earliest initiatives that we have taken diplomatically, that not only is he able to communicate effectively how urgent we consider the issue, but that we’re also going to be able to listen and to learn and to find out what various players in the region are thinking. And more immediately, we hope that Senator Mitchell will be able to give us some ideas in terms of how we can solidify the ceasefire, ensure Israel’s security, also ensure that Palestinians in Gaza are able to get the basic necessities they need and that they can see a pathway towards long-term development that will be so critical in order for us to achieve a lasting peace.

 

AMY GOODMAN: George Mitchell has no immediate plans to visit the Gaza Strip, site of the three-week-long US-backed attack that killed more than 1,300 people, injured more than 5,000. A State Department spokesperson said Mitchell might make it to Gaza.

Well, my next guest has just returned from Gaza. She witnessed the Israeli attack. Kathy Kelly is executive director of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, veteran peace activist, founder of Voices in the Wilderness, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times. She joins us in our firehouse studio.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Kathy.

KATHY KELLY: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: How long were you in Gaza, and how did you get in?

KATHY KELLY: We were there, Audrey Stewart and I, for a total of six days, and we had entered after going back up to Cairo and getting an official-stamped letter. You had to swear before the United States embassy in Cairo that you were going in on your own responsibility.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you see? Where did you go?

KATHY KELLY: We went to Rafah, and we were very fortunate. A family that had fled from their own home and was living in a home that was lent to them in-laws invited us to stay with them. And we were immediately outside the area where people were told to evacuate. And so, we timed it. Every eleven minutes, there would be a huge bomb thudding down on the neighborhood. This was very close to where the tunnel industry had been in full activity prior to the December 27th attacks.

And so, we heard many of the bombs falling, we heard Apache helicopters firing, and then traveled with young people, students, up to Gaza City after the ceasefire was in place and the roads had been cleared and could see just how stunned the students were at the extent of the devastation. And then, from there, we visited inside the hospital, the burn unit, in a major—Shifa Hospital in Gaza, and then went up to Beit Lahiya and Audrey over to Tufa to further see the extent of the damage.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking with doctors in the hospital, seeing patients, what struck you most?

KATHY KELLY: The doctors said that the majority of their patients were non-military. They were civilians, grandmothers, teenagers, children. They were shaking with rage, honestly, because the world had watched for twenty-two days while this affliction just went on and on. They talked about patients lying on the floor, dying before their eyes, because they couldn’t open up operating rooms, they didn’t have enough materials to try to save all of the people who were coming in desperate need.

They said they had never seen injuries like this before, doctors with fifteen, twenty, thirty years of practice, particularly with regard to the burns. They’ve now, they believe, proven that white phosphorus was used. They had sent one patient’s tissue out for a biopsy in Egypt, and elements of white phosphorus were found in the tissue. And what actually kills people, when the white phosphorus, which is poisonous, goes into the circulatory system, is that the liver can’t process it. And two of their patients died of cardiac arrest after being transported to Egypt.

They also told about the way that surgeons had to work as teams—a vascular surgeon, a neurosurgeon, an orthopedic surgeon—trying desperately to save lives. And the extent of the wounds that each patient came in with, they said, was nothing like they had ever experienced before.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Kathy Kelly, about this brewing controversy in Britain. Two of Britain’s major broadcasters, the BBC and Sky, are continuing to come under criticism for refusing to air a charity appeal for the victims of the Israel attack on Gaza. The appeal was put together by the Disasters Emergency Committee, or DEC, which includes thirteen of Britain’s main charities. The DEC asked broadcasters to air the three-minute appeal during primetime on Monday, seeking donations for Palestinians affected by the conflict. The appeal aired on many British channels last night, but the BBC and Sky refused. This is an excerpt of the appeal.

    DEC APPEAL: The children of Gaza are suffering. Many are struggling to survive, homeless and in need of food and water. Today, this is not about the rights and wrongs of the conflict. The hospitals have been overwhelmed with the number of casualties and need more resources to treat them. This is why the DEC has launched this appeal.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Again, the BBC has come under broad criticism for its decision not to air the appeal. This is Caroline Thomson, chief operating officer for the BBC.

    CAROLINE THOMSON: It is a matter of a big national, international controversy. There is a big debate about the rights and wrongs of the war and the causes and so on, and we would want that to have stabilized and the situation on the ground to have stabilized before we could reconsider and feel it was something we could do.

 

AMY GOODMAN: And here is what the BBC’s director-general Mark Thompson had to say.

    MARK THOMPSON: We believe that the BBC’s reputation of impartiality is so important and so integral to the BBC’s reputation and its trustworthiness here and around the world that it’s very important that we adhere strictly to our principles.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Again, the charities behind the appeal include the Red Cross, Oxfam, Save the Children and Christian Aid. Kathy Kelly, your response?

KATHY KELLY: Well, many of those charities had even prior to the December 27th attacks issued a scathing report showing how the economic war, the state of siege that had been imposed on Gaza, was something that was in violation of international law. I think that these charities have had on-the-ground experiences, and they should certainly be listened to.

Surely, the humanitarian is political. That’s just a reality that we should all accept. But I think that the journalistic integrity would be most respected if in fact there would be clear reporting on the ways that these assaults, the Israeli assaults on a civilian population, 50 percent of whom are children, violated international law and any standards of human decency and, I believe, should be examined under the questions of genocide.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel said that they would stop during that attack if Hamas stopped launching the rockets. What was the response of Palestinians inside? Has Hamas increased in popularity or decreased?

KATHY KELLY: It’s difficult to answer that question. I, myself, sensed that when people heard the word “victory,” that gave people pause. I mean, you couldn’t look at the extent of the damage and devastation and the amount of time it will take to repair and speak of victory, if in fact you are going to live in that situation for a long time. But I think that the rage that was felt in every conversation that I heard, in terms of the international community allowing this devastation to go on for twenty-two days without stepping in, was a cause of ongoing chagrin. Now, how that will affect Hamas’s political standing, it’s difficult to say.

AMY GOODMAN: How did this compare to your experience of other conflict situations? I mean, you’re famous, Kathy, for traveling the world to conflict zones. You were in Iraq before the invasion and during. You were in Lebanon in 2006.

KATHY KELLY: You know, in Iraq, when people were trapped under the economic sanctions, it seemed as though there was nothing that average, ordinary people could do except be punished again and again and again.

I was impressed by the tunnel industry. In the town of Rafah, which is bisected by the border, people have found a way to deal with the state of siege that was imposed on them imposing collective punishment. And they created a network of tunnels so that—actually, the first day that people could kind of basically come out after the bombing had ended, the stalls in Rafah were pretty stacked with goods. And I thought, well, how did they ever get there? And people just said, “The tunnels.” And so, I think where there’s tremendous need, people don’t like the idea of burrowing underground in order to get food and water and benzene and needed goods, but I think that there’s a great survival ethos that is—

AMY GOODMAN: Israel said the tunnels are used for weapons smuggling, and Tzipi Livni came to the US in the amidst of the attacks to get the US to vow they would stop this weapons smuggling.

KATHY KELLY: But oughtn’t we just use that as a segue into understanding the extent of the United States weapon delivery to the Israeli government? I mean, the planes that were flying overhead were using aviation fuel given free of charge by the United States taxpayers. The drones that are flying overhead doing surveillance represent state-of-the-art modern technology. The amount of money the United States gives annually, $2.6 billion, to Israel—this is a delivery that doesn’t even require any kind of smuggling, because the world has said, yes, the United States and Israel can collaborate, and they can beat up on Palestinian people, pounding them into the ground as much as they want, and there will be complicity.

AMY GOODMAN: What about George Mitchell going to Israel now, going to the occupied West Bank, but at least at this point they’ve not announced plans for him to go to Gaza?

KATHY KELLY: He has such an opportunity to make tracks out of the comfort of offices and salons in Tel Aviv and go to Gaza. Ban Ki-moon did it. My hope is that he would go and stay for several days, that he would make a thorough tour of the Gaza Strip. And I hope that everybody in the United States who’s tuned into his travel will encourage him to avail himself of what is a crucial opportunity to state his own desire to listen, as the President has instructed him to do. He should be listening to the mothers, to the children, to the doctors, to the people who are trying to now rebuild after a fierce and horrible assault.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you leave Gaza?

KATHY KELLY: You know, the electricity was sporadic. The internet connections were not so available. We felt we had a story to tell, and so we decided—it was a difficult decision to make. We decided, though, that it might be best to leave. But also, the people giving us hospitality, I think, were a bit worried that they were becoming too high-profile. I’ll have to acknowledge that people are afraid of what the Hamas authorities might think of what they’re doing in housing two Westerners, and, you know, shepherding them around the area was perhaps, with students, beginning to become worrisome.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask what you think of your fellow Chicagoan who has just become President of the United States, Barack Obama, who says he will double the force, for example, in Afghanistan, though has vowed to draw down troops in Iraq.

KATHY KELLY: This is a grave disappointment. I think we can still hold out hope in the reports that he said once, maybe four years ago, that his leading lights were the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi. But I think that the pressure that he has buckled under, in terms of adhering to the demands of people who are weapon makers and war makers, is a pressure that won’t bring security to his fellow citizens in the United States or to the world. I hope he’ll step away from US exceptionalism and see the United States as part of the family of nations, not as a nation that has an indispensable role in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: I’ll never forget, not that I was there in Iraq when you were, right before the invasion, but the scene described—I think we talked to you around then—of you holding a protest outside the US embassy right before the attack and the journalists surrounding you, almost attacking you, for what you were doing. Can you explain that scene? They were calling you a collaborator with Saddam Hussein for protesting the imminent attack.

KATHY KELLY: I have a pretty vivid memory of that day, as well. We were in front of the United Nations compound, and we had a big sign that said “No blank check for war.” And Jeremy and others—Jeremy Scahill—had gone over to the prison just prior to that where people had been released by Saddam Hussein. And I remember John Burns, in particular. He was so angry with—

AMY GOODMAN: John Burns of the New York Times?

KATHY KELLY: Yeah—with my belief that in fact, you know, we had a prison-industrial complex in the United States that perhaps should bear scrutiny and attention and that maybe what Saddam had done might be something that the United States could consider, as well. But I have to say that after the war, after John Burns was kind of stuck in the Palestine Hotel in a staircase, at some point, at some risk to his own life, he pulled me over while he was with another group of reporters, and he said, “This is the person to go to if you want to hear the humanitarian story in Iraq.” So, you know, I should probably add that part, too.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you saying he was, in a sense, apologizing to you?

KATHY KELLY: Oh, that might be a stretch. But at any rate, it didn’t seem to be a relationship fraught by conflict.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was the anger that was being expressed to you right before the invasion? I mean, these reporters were supposed to be covering your point of view, but they were arguing with you.

KATHY KELLY: Well, I think that the reporters were very, very angry at Saddam Hussein’s regime, in part because they would be bounced out every ten days and have to pay enormous amounts of money, which all went—in order to come back into the country every ten days. And that went to the Ministry of Tourism. Well, believe me, there was no tourism in Baghdad before the war. So, in a sense, it went right into the pockets of the Mahabharat, the secret service agency that was hounding them and tracking their every step. They were very, very angry, and I think they had a right to be. Saddam Hussein’s regime was ruthless and horrible.

But it wasn’t fair to say that we were the silent servants of Saddam Hussein. We were trying to say that you don’t punish children; children couldn’t be held accountable for that government. And John Burns deemed the demonstration we had as a demonstration that Saddam Hussein loved to see, but we saw the headline that he used as a headline that George Bush loved to see. And these kinds of—

AMY GOODMAN: And what was that?

KATHY KELLY: Oh, it was a headline, exactly that, saying that it was a demonstration Saddam loved to see.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, with Barack Obama now the President of the United States, are you strategizing differently? You are one of the most well known international peace activists.

KATHY KELLY: I think if we take a wait-and-see attitude, that could quickly morph into inertia. And so, I think it’s just as imperative and as much of a responsibility for adults in the United States to keep trying to identify the grave dangers that exist as we continue to pour resources into military projects. And I think we should continue to say, “Abandon these military projects.” They don’t bring us security. And at a time when there are so many environmental concerns, when the financial collapses of so many industries are affecting people, we should be taking that money that we’ve given to the Defense Department and putting it into things that really ensure security and then continuing to demand that President Obama pay attention to these kinds of vital concerns.

We camped outside his home for nineteen days in Arctic temperatures in Chicago—I left in the middle to go to Gaza—what we called Camp Hope. And we did want to be respectful of the neighbors of the Obama family, of all the many people who are feeling great congratulatory happiness. But I think that we have to recognize where—well, that President Obama has now become the chief arms exporter in the world. He’s in charge of the most massive killing machine in the world. And it’s our responsibility to continue to hold forth those visions of another way without extending the arm of imperial menace and might all over the world—instead, to be extending a hand of friendship and to share resources as best we can.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy Kelly, I want to thank you for being with us. Kathy Kelly is executive director of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a veteran peace activist, founder of Voices in the Wilderness. She has just returned from Gaza. She lives in Chicago, when she’s ever home.

With Gaza, Journalists Fail Again January 26, 2009

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Jan 26, 2009, www.truthdig.com

AP photo / Sebastian Scheiner

A rainbow, as if projected by the American media, is seen over the northern Gaza Strip, from the Israel-Gaza Border.

 

By Chris Hedges

The assault on Gaza exposed not only Israel’s callous disregard for international law but the gutlessness of the American press. There were no major newspapers, television networks or radio stations that challenged Israel’s fabricated version of events that led to the Gaza attack or the daily lies Israel used to justify the unjustifiable. Nearly all reporters were, as during the buildup to the Iraq war, pliant stenographers and echo chambers. If we as journalists have a product to sell, it is credibility. Take that credibility away and we become little more than propagandists and advertisers. By refusing to expose lies we destroy, in the end, ourselves. 

All governments lie in wartime. Israel is no exception. Israel waged an effective war of black propaganda. It lied craftily with its glib, well-rehearsed government spokespeople, its ban on all foreign press in Gaza and its confiscation of cell phones and cameras from its own soldiers lest the reality of the attack inadvertently seep out. It was the Arabic network al-Jazeera, along with a handful of local reporters in Gaza, which upheld the honor of our trade, that of giving a voice to those who without our presence would have no voice, that of countering the amplified lies of the powerful with the faint cries and pain of the oppressed. But these examples of journalistic integrity were too few and barely heard by us.

We retreated, as usual, into the moral void of American journalism, the void of balance and objectivity. The ridiculous notion of being unbiased, outside of the flow of human existence, impervious to grief or pain or anger or injustice, allows reporters to coolly give truth and lies equal space and airtime. Balance and objectivity are the antidote to facing unpleasant truths, a way of avoidance, a way to placate the powerful. We record the fury of a Palestinian who has lost his child in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza but make sure to mention Israel’s “security needs,” include statements by Israeli officials who insist there was firing from the home or the mosque or the school and of course note Israel’s right to defend itself. We do this throughout the Middle East. We record the human toll in Iraq, caused by our occupation, but remind everyone that “Saddam killed his own people.” We write about the deaths of families in Afghanistan during an airstrike but never forget to mention that the Taliban “oppresses women.” Their crimes cancel out our crimes. It becomes a moral void. And above all we never forget to mention the “war on terror.” We ask how and who but never, never do we ask why. As long as we speak in the cold, dead language of those in power, the language that says a lie is as valid as a fact, the language where one version of history is as good as another, we are part of the problem, not the solution.

  “Bombs and rockets are flying between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza, and once again, The Times is caught in a familiar crossfire, accused from all sides of unfair and inaccurate coverage,” New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt breezily began in writing his assessment of the paper’s coverage, going on to conclude “though the most vociferous supporters of Israel and the Palestinians do not agree, I think The Times, largely barred from the battlefield and reporting amid the chaos of war, has tried its best to do a fair, balanced and complete job—and has largely succeeded.”

The cliché that Israel had a right to defend itself from Hamas rocket attacks—that bombs and rockets were “flying between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza”—was accepted in the press as an undisputed truth. It became the starting point for every hollow discussion of the Israeli attack. It left pundits and columnists chattering about “proportionality,” not legality. Israel was in open violation of international law, specifically Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which calls on an occupying power to respect the safety of occupied civilians. But you would not know this from the press reports. The use of attack aircraft and naval ships, part of the world’s fourth-largest military power, to level densely packed slums of people who were hungry, without power and often water, people surrounded on all sides by the Israeli army, was fatuously described as a war. The news coverage held up the absurd notion that a few Hamas fighters with light weapons and no organization were a counterforce to F-16 fighter jets, tank battalions, thousands of Israeli soldiers, armored personnel carriers, naval ships and Apache attack helicopters. It fit the Israeli narrative. It may have been balanced and objective. But it was not true.

The Hamas rockets are crude, often made from old pipes, and largely ineffectual. The first homemade Qassam rocket was fired across the Israeli border in October 2001. It was not until June 2004 that Israel suffered its first fatality. There are 24 Israelis who have been killed by Hamas rocket fire, compared with 5,000 Palestinian dead, more than half of them in Gaza, at least a third of them children. This does not absolve Hamas from firing rockets at civilian areas, which is a war crime, but it does raise questions about the story line swallowed without reflection by the press. I covered the Kosovo Albanians’ desperate attempts to resist the Serbs, which resulted in a handful of Serb casualties, but no one ever described the lopsided Serbian butchery in Kosovo as a war. It was called genocide, and it led to NATO intervention to halt it.

It was Israel, not Hamas, which violated the truce established last June. This was never made clear in any of the press reports. Hamas agreed to halt rocket fire into Gaza in exchange for an Israeli promise to ease the draconian siege that made the shipment of vital material and food into Gaza nearly impossible. And once the agreement was reached, the Hamas rocket fire ended. Israel, however, never upheld its end of the agreement. It increased the severity of the siege. U.N. agencies complained. International relief organizations condemned the Israeli blockade. And there were even rumblings inside Israel. Shmuel Zakai, an Israeli brigadier general who resigned as commander of the Israel Defense Forces’ Gaza Division and was forcibly discharged from the military amid allegations that he leaked information to the media, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Dec. 22 that the Israeli government had made a “central error” during the tahdiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce, by failing “to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip. … [W]hen you create a tahdiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues,” Zakai said, “it is obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahdiyeh, and that their way to achieve this is resumed Qassam fire. … You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they’re in, and expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing.”

Israel, we know from papers such as Haaretz, started planning this assault last March. The Israeli army deliberately broke the truce when it carried out an attack on Nov. 4 that killed six Hamas fighters. It timed the attack, the heavy air and naval bombardment and the invasion of Gaza to coincide with the waning weeks of the Bush administration. Israel knew it would be given carte blanche by the White House. Hamas responded to the Nov. 4 provocation in the way Israel anticipated. It fired Qassam rockets and Grad missiles into Israel to retaliate. But even then Hamas offered to extend the truce if Israel would lift the blockade. Israel refused. Operation Cast Lead was unleashed.

Henry Siegman, the director of the U.S./Middle East Project at the Council of Foreign Relations, noted correctly that Israel “could have met its obligation to protect its citizens by agreeing to ease the blockade, but it didn’t even try. It cannot be said that Israel launched its assault to protect its citizens from rockets. It did so to protect its right to continue the strangulation of Gaza’s population.”

There were a few flashes of integrity in the American press. The Wall Street Journal ran a thoughtful piece, “How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas,” on Jan. 24 that was unusual in view of the acceptance in U.S. press coverage that Hamas is nothing more than an Islamo-fascist organization that understands only violence. And some journalists from news organizations such as the BBC did a good job once they were finally permitted to enter Gaza. Jimmy Carter wrote an Op-Ed article in The Washington Post detailing his and the Carter Center’s efforts to prevent the conflict. This article was an important refutation of the Israeli argument, although it was ignored by the rest of the media. But these were isolated cases. The publishers, news executives and editors largely accepted without any real protest Israel’s ban on coverage and allowed Israeli officials to fill their news pages and airtime with fabrications and distortions. And this made the war crimes carried out by the Israeli army easier to commit and prolong.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is acutely aware of Israel’s violations of international law, has already begun to reassure his commanders that they will be protected from war crimes prosecution.

“The commanders and soldiers that were sent on the task in Gaza should know that they are safe from any tribunal and that the State of Israel will assist them in this issue and protect them as they protected us with their bodies during the military operation in Gaza,” he said.

Israel’s brutal military tactics, despite the lack of coverage in the American press, have come under intense international scrutiny. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, blame the high civilian death toll on indiscriminate firing and shelling, as well as the use of white phosphorus shells in civilian areas. Israel has admitted using white phosphorus in Gaza but insists the chemical, used for smoke screens and to mark spots to be shelled or bombed, was not used directly against civilians.

Hamas is an unsavory organization. It has made life miserable for many in Gaza and carried out a series of death-squad-style executions of alleged opponents. But Hamas, elected to power in 2006, also brought effective civil control to Gaza. Gaza, ruled by warring factions, warlords, clans, kidnapping rings and criminal gangs, had descended into chaos under Mahmoud Abbas’ corrupt Fatah-led government. Hamas, once it assumed power, halted suicide bombing attacks on Israel. It ended rocket fire into Israel for almost a year. It upheld its agreement with Israel. Hamas’ willingness to negotiate with Israel, albeit through Egyptian intermediaries, led al-Qaida, which has been working to make inroads among the Palestinians, to condemn the Hamas leadership as collaborators.

Israel and the United States carried out an abortive and desperate attempt to overthrow Hamas by arming and backing a Fatah putsch in June 2007. They wanted to install the pliant Abbas in power. Hamas resisted, often with violent brutality, and expelled Abbas and the Fatah leadership from Gaza to the West Bank. Israel has now decided to do the dirty job itself. It will not work. Israel broke and discredited Yasser Arafat and Fatah in much the same manner. Abbas and Fatah have no authority or credibility left. Abbas is seen by most Palestinians as a pliant Israeli stooge. Israel is now destroying Hamas. Radical Islamic groups, such as al-Qaida, far more violent and irrational, stand poised to replace Hamas. And Israel will one day look wistfully at Hamas just as it does now at Fatah. But by then, with Israel surrounded by radical Islamic regimes in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and even Jordan, as well as fighting a homegrown al-Qaida movement among the Palestinians, it may be too late.

The Israeli government bears the responsibility for its crimes. But by giving credibility to the lies and false narratives Israel uses to justify wholesale slaughter we empower not only Israel’s willful self-destruction but our own. The press, as happened during the buildup to the Iraq war, was again feckless and gutless. It bent to the will of the powerful. It abandoned its sacred contract with its readers, listeners and viewers to always tell the truth. It chattered about nothing. It obscured the facts. It did this while hundreds of women and children were torn to shreds by iron fragmentation bombs in a flagrant violation of international law. And as it failed it lauded itself for doing “a fair, balanced and complete job.”

Chris Hedges’ Truthdig column appears Mondays. He is a veteran journalist and the former New York Times Mideast bureau chief.

Tom Friedman Offers a Perfect Definition of ‘Terrorism’ January 14, 2009

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by Glenn Greenwald

Tom Friedman, one of the nation’s leading propagandists for the Iraq War and a vigorous supporter of all of Israel’s wars, has a column today in The New York Times explaining and praising the Israeli attack on Gaza. For the sake of robust and diverse debate (for which our Liberal Media is so well known), Friedman’s column today appears alongside an Op-Ed from The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, one of the nation’s leading (and most deceitful) propagandists for the Iraq War and a vigorous supporter of all of Israel’s wars, who explains that Hamas is incorrigibly hateful and radical and cannot be negotiated with. One can hardly imagine a more compelling exhibit demonstrating the complete lack of accountability in the “journalism” profession — at least for those who are loyal establishment spokespeople who reflexively cheer on wars — than a leading Op-Ed page presenting these two war advocates, of all people, as experts, of all things, on the joys and glories of the latest Middle East war.

In any event, Friedman’s column today is uncharacteristically and refreshingly honest. He explains that the 2006 Israeli invasion and bombing of Lebanon was, contrary to conventional wisdom, a great success. To make this case, Friedman acknowledges that the deaths of innocent Lebanese civilians was not an unfortunate and undesirable by-product of that war, but rather, was a vital aspect of the Israeli strategy — the centerpiece, actually, of teaching Lebanese civilians a lesson they would not soon forget:

Israel’s counterstrategy was to use its Air Force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians – the families and employers of the militants – to restrain Hezbollah in the future.

Israel’s military was not focused on the morning after the war in Lebanon – when Hezbollah declared victory and the Israeli press declared defeat. It was focused on the morning after the morning after, when all the real business happens in the Middle East. That’s when Lebanese civilians, in anguish, said to Hezbollah: “What were you thinking? Look what destruction you have visited on your own community! For what? For whom?”

Friedman says that he is “unsure” whether the current Israeli attack on Gaza is similiarly designed to teach Palestinians the same lesson by inflicting “heavy pain” on civilians, but he hopes it is:

In Gaza, I still can’t tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to “educate” Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims.

The war strategy which Friedman is heralding — what he explicitly describes with euphemism-free candor as “exacting enough pain on civilians” in order to teach them a lesson — is about as definitive of a war crime as it gets. It also happens to be the classic, textbook definition of “terrorism.” Here is how the U.S. Department of State defined “terrorism” in its 2001 publication, Patterns of Global Terrorism:

No one definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance. For the purposes of this report, however, we have chosen the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d). That statute contains the following definitions:

The term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant (1) targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. . . .

(1) For purposes of this definition, the term “noncombatant” is interpreted to include, in addition to civilians, military personnel who at the time of the incident are unarmed and/or not on duty.

Other than the fact that Friedman is advocating these actions for an actual state rather than a “subnational group,” can anyone identify any differences between (a) what Friedman approvingly claims was done to the Lebanese and what he advocates be done to Palestinians and (b) what the State Department formally defines as “terrorism”? I doubt anyone can. Isn’t Friedman’s “logic” exactly the rationale used by Al Qaeda: we’re going to inflict “civilian pain” on Americans so that they stop supporting their government’s domination of our land and so their government thinks twice about bombing more Muslim countries? It’s also exactly the same “logic” that fuels the rockets from Hezbollah and Hamas into Israel.

It should be emphasized that the mere fact that Tom Friedman claims that this is Israel’s motivation isn’t proof that it is. The sociopathic lust of a single war cheerleader can’t fairly be projected onto those who are actually prosecuting the war. But one can’t help noticing that this “teach-them-a-lesson” justification for civilian deaths in Gaza appears with some frequency among its advocates, at least among a certain strain of super-warrior, Israel-centric Americans — e.g.: Marty “do not fuck with the Jews” Peretz and Michael “to wipe out a man’s entire family, it’s hard to imagine that doesn’t give his colleagues at least a moment’s pause” Goldfarb — who love to cheer on Middle East wars from a safe and sheltered distance.

Some opponents of the Israeli war actually agree with Friedman about the likely goals of the attack on Gaza. Writing last week in The New York Times, Columbia Professor Rashid Khalidi noted:

This war on the people of Gaza isn’t really about rockets. Nor is it about “restoring Israel’s deterrence,” as the Israeli press might have you believe. Far more revealing are the words of Moshe Yaalon, then the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, in 2002: “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.”

This AP article yesterday described how “terrified residents ran for cover Tuesday in a densely populated neighborhood of Gaza City as Israeli troops backed by tanks thrust deeper into the city.” It reported that “an Israeli warplane fired a missile at the former Gaza city hall, used as a court building in recent years . . . . The 1910 structure was destroyed and many stores in the market around it were badly damaged.” And it quoted an Israeli military officer as follows: “Soldiers shoot at anything suspicious, use lots of firepower, and blast holes through walls to move around.”

The efficacy of Friedman’s desired strategy of inflicting pain on Palestinian civilians in order to change their thinking and behavior is unclear. The lack of clarity is due principally to the fact that Israel is still blocking journalists from entering Gaza. But this Sunday’s New York Times article — reporting on unconfirmed claims that Israel was using white phosphorus on the civilian population (a claim the IDF expressly refused to deny) — contains this anecdotal evidence that The Friedman Strategy is actually quite counter-productive:

Still, white phosphorus can cause injury, and a growing number of Gazans report being hurt by it, including in Beit Lahiya, Khan Yunis, and in eastern and southwestern Gaza City. When exposed to air, it ignites, experts say, and if packed into an artillery shell, it can rain down flaming chemicals that cling to anything they touch.

Luay Suboh, 10, from Beit Lahiya, lost his eyesight and some skin on his face Saturday when, his mother said, a fiery substance clung to him as he darted home from a shelter where his family was staying to pick up clothes.

The substance smelled like burned trash, said Ms. Jaawanah, the mother who fled her home in Zeitoun, who had experienced it too. She had no affection for Hamas, but her sufferings were changing that. “Do you think I’m against them firing rockets now?” she asked, referring to Hamas. “No. I was against it before. Not anymore.”

It’s far easier to imagine a population subjected to this treatment becoming increasingly radicalized and belligerent rather than submissive and compliant, as Friedman intends. But while the efficacy of The Friedman Strategy is unclear, the fact that it is a perfect distillation of a “war crime” and “terrorism” is not unclear at all.

One might ordinarily find it surprising that our elite opinion-makers are so openly and explicitly advocating war crimes and terrorism (“inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large” and “‘educate’ Hamas by inflicting heavy pain on the Gaza population”). But when one considers that most of this, in the U.S., is coming from the very people who applied the same “suck-on-this” reasoning to justify the destruction of Iraq, and even more so, when one considers that our highest political officials are now so openlyeven proudlyacknowledging their own war crimes, while our political and media elites desperately (and almost unanimously) engage in every possible maneuver to protect them from any consequences from that, Friedman’s explicit advocacy of these sorts of things is a perfectly natural thing to see.

Spiegel Online Interview with Boutros Boutros-Ghali January 14, 2009

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The Israeli military strike in Gaza will have “unforeseeable consequences” for the region, warns former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, he discusses the short-sightedness of Israeli politicians, Egypt’s role and his muted hopes for peace.

 

A Palestinian man looks at a destroyed Hamas security compound after an Israeli air strike in Gaza City.
AP

A Palestinian man looks at a destroyed Hamas security compound after an Israeli air strike in Gaza City.

 

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Has Israel’s current offensive against the Gaza Strip put a final end to the Middle East peace process?

Boutros-Ghali: We will know very soon. But it is already clear at this point that Israel’s attack on Gaza has been a catastrophe. This military operation has given a boost to fundamentalists not only in Palestine, but also in every other Arab country. I have a hard time believing that Israel hasn’t noticed this. In their attack on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, the Israelis must have learned the lesson that actions like these only strengthen the position of the integrists. During that period, Hezbollah increased its influence and grew to become the strongest political forces in Lebanon.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But couldn’t Lebanon be considered a special case?

 

Boutros-Ghali: No. The war in Gaza strengthens the position of radical Islamists in the entire Arab world in the same way that the war against Hezbollah did two years did. Moreover, it also weakens the position of Abu Masin (Mahmoud Abbas), the president of the Palestinian Authority, as well as the moderate parties in Arab countries and Israel who have been calling for dialogue and genuine peace negotiations. 

SPIEGEL ONLINE: That sounds very pessimistic. Hopes for peace can’t just disappear overnight.

Boutros-Ghali: Today, I would prefer to defer that judgment to God.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you truly unable to see any silver lining on the horizon?

Boutros-Ghali: A genuine improvement in the general situation will probably only be seen by future generations. If I were to paint a rosy picture, I wouldn’t be telling the truth.

 

ABOUT BOUTROS BOUTROS-GHALI

DPA

Boutros Boutros- Ghali, 86, served as the secretary- general of the United Nations from 1992 to 1996. Boutros- Ghali also served in several Egyptian governments in posts that included the minister of state for foreign affairs. He was the architect of the 1979 Israel- Egypt Peace Treaty.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why do you have such a negative view of the future — especially you, who have earned a reputation for being a person of hope in stormy times? Right after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when no one wanted to believe in the possibility of peace, you helped former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to sign a peace accord with Israel at Camp David, a pact which continues to be honored to this day. 

Boutros-Ghali: It is different this time. The current decision-makers in Israel, who ordered this attack on Gaza, haven’t thought about the future. That was a mistake of momentous consequence.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What has led you to this conclusion?

Boutros-Ghali: Israel has a habit of closing its eyes to hard facts. In geographical terms, the Gaza Strip represents almost exactly 2 percent of the total area of Palestine. There is no getting around the fact that this area would have to be greatly expanded as part of the scope of a genuine peace agreement. An additional fact on the ground, which the Israelis prefer to forget about, is the 1.3 million Arab Palestinians who remained in their villages and cities when the state of Israel was founded in 1948 and who make up about one-fifth of Israel’s current population. By around 2060, the Palestinians will account for roughly half — if not more — of the inhabitants of Israel and the areas occupied by Israel.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: According to that theory, this demographic development will put an end to the dream of having a state with a majority Jewish population, something which greatly concerns the Israelis. But does it have any bearing on the current conflict?

Boutros-Ghali: The growing imbalance between Jews and Arabs in the area controlled by Israel is of decisive importance for the near future of the Jewish state. Already today, you can see that the Zionist idea of having a purely Jewish state is not going to work out and that this (demographic) development renders the idea no longer tenable. The fuse is already lit. Emigration from Israel is already on the rise — and not just in the wake of crisis situations. More and more parents are losing faith in the future and want to spare their children from having to live a life marked by constant fear and a lack of peace. But Israel’s current leadership appears to be solely motivated by a concern for election tactics. Given the scale of the damage that has already been done, that is irresponsible.

 

PHOTO GALLERY: THE BLOODY WAR AGAINST HAMAS

Click on a picture to launch the image gallery (19 Photos)

 

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Israel wants to put an end — once and for all — to the rocket attacks carried out by Islamist militants.

Boutros-Ghali: What the military is currently doing is causing a hundred times more damage and will have unforeseeable consequences for the entire region as well as, of course, for the Israelis.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamist hardliners — not to mention Arab nationalists — have been accusing Egypt of abandoning the Palestinians. Is that a correct accusation?

Boutros-Ghali: Egypt’s borders are open day and night to all Palestinians who are sick or have been wounded. Egypt is sending all sorts of aid into the Gaza Strip.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Still, Hamas is calling on Cairo to open its borders to all Palestinians.

Boutros-Ghali: Humanitarian aid, food, medicine, teams of doctors, fuel supplies, treatment for the wounded and ill in Egyptian hospitals — all of that is already being offered. But there is no doubt that having borders that were completely open and no longer controlled would lead to the infiltration of armed terrorists. Memories of the bloody attacks on tourist hotels in Sharm al-Sheikh and other Sinai vacation destinations are still fresh in our minds.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Some have demanded that the Egyptians withdraw from their peace agreement with Israel.

Boutros-Ghali: Calls like that are senseless. Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel has helped all Arabs. What other Arab country besides Egypt can have credible contacts with Israel and negotiate the opening of borders and an incremental lifting of the blockade? Calling off the peace with Israel would have terrifying consequences for all Arabs and the Israelis; our children and grandchildren would curse us.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Will US President-elect Barack Obama do something decisive to bring an end to the conflict in the Middle East?

Boutros-Ghali: The Americans are completely preoccupied with the global financial and economic crisis. The new administration will devote 50 percent of its activities to these issues. Likewise, American engagement will also be called for in other global crises in Latin America, Africa and Asia as well as perhaps in conflicts in Somalia, East Africa, eastern Congo, India, Pakistan and the Caucasus.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: And in the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well?

Boutros-Ghali: Not much has changed in the United States since my term as secretary-general of the United Nations. The American public is not particularly interested in the Arab world, and the pressure exerted by the Jewish lobby is as strong as ever. However, it is unfortunately the case that Israel only responds to pressure if it is coming out of Washington. Given the current disaster in Gaza and the absolute split between Palestinian camps into that of the Islamist Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority, which continues to be open to negotiations, Washington will do nothing over the next three or four years to facilitate the resumption of peace negotiations. Events in Gaza have set us all back by years. Unfortunately, to hope that the Europeans might play an effective role is just wishful thinking.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is the Arab world already so divided that it can’t muster itself into a strong, united position?

Boutros-Ghali: Working together, the Arabs put a good peace plan on the table that envisioned recognizing Israeli sovereignty within the pre-1967 borders in return for an independent Palestinian state within these borders. Israel made the mistake of ignoring this offer.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What do you foresee as happening in 2009?

 

Boutros-Ghali: I anticipate across-the-board changes for the worse for all countries in the Middle East. In the Arab world, religious extremists will become even more popular, particularly given the fact that over half the population is made up of easily influenced teenagers. In Israel, the extremists who are set on continued violence will gain ground. The extremes are getting more extreme; and, in the short term, all-or-nothing politicians will be viewed as heroes. But the innocent masses will suffer more than they did before. 

SPIEGEL ONLINE: As a former secretary-general of the United Nations, what conclusion have you drawn about this conflict, which you once tried to solve?

Boutros-Ghali: For the foreseeable future, I don’t see an era promising happiness. It’s true that the curse of the colonial era disappeared half a century ago, and the Cold War is behind us. Millions of people expected a world that was better, more socially just and marked by technological progress. However, the unfortunate result has been that the age-old ills of mankind — growing social disparity, inflammatory national and religious ideologies, cultures closing themselves off to outsiders — have once again foiled these hopes. It is a shame that I will surely not live to see the dawning of a truly better world.

Interview conducted by Volkhard Windfuhr. Translated from the German by Josh Ward.