Monday, December 03, 2012 

Ah, consistency.

Is there even the slightest logic to the coalition's policy on Israel-Palestine?  Last week William Hague, his mojo restored, stood up in the Commons and outlined how we would be abstaining on the recognition vote at the UN unless the Palestinians provided us with "assurances".  Requested "assurances" were duly not provided, and so we abstained while a mere 138 voted in favour, including some of our major European allies.

Israel has since responded in the only way she knows how, by declaring that a further 3,000 new homes will be built, illegally, on the occupied West Bank.  As a result, Foreign Office minister Alastair Burt summoned the Israeli ambassador to let him know our deep displeasure.  Here's a thought: considering that one of the assurances we required from the Palestinians was that they drop preconditions to talks, their only one being that the Israelis declare a halt to all settlement building in the occupied territories, wouldn't it have made sense to vote in favour of their first step towards statehood when the threatened Israeli response was to, err, accelerate settlement building even further?  Just who is it here that's in breach of international law?  When are we finally going to recognise that there isn't going to be a negotiated peace when Israel has no intention of evacuating the West Bank settlements, the presence of which make a Palestinian state unviable?  When, in short, are we going to start treating Israel as the rogue state it is?

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012 

I'd like to give William Hague a few assurances as well.

How times change.  In Tony Blair's dog days, his refusal to push for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hizbullah-Lebanon war was in contrast to the stance of David Cameron's newly detoxified Conservative party, with William Hague denouncing the destruction of much of southern Lebanon as "disproportionate".  To begin with, it looked as though the Conservatives allied with the Liberal Democrats would continue with this more critical stance on Israel now they were in power: Cameron, visiting Turkey in the aftermath of the raid on the Gaza flotilla, described the impoverished and cut-off territory as a "prison camp".

It couldn't last.  After Hague decided that Hamas had "principal responsibility" for the week long slaughter fest in Gaza, ignoring entirely the timeline of events leading up to the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabar, and how this was by no means the first time Israel has launched an attack on the Palestinians with an election fact approaching, we now have the truly pitiful decision to abstain on the application for non-member observer status at the UN.  In the first place, to demand assurances from the Palestinian Authority in itself shows the disparity between what we ask of Israel, whom we merely chastise when they steal the identities of British citizens to kill a minor Hamas figure, and the recognised representatives of a people we helped put in this mess.

It's also that at least the first of the "assurances" demanded is so outrageous.  Just what exactly is the point of requiring the PA to return to peace talks without conditions when it's so abundantly clear that Israel is not prepared to make even the slightest of concessions, even as a gesture of goodwill?  If there is ever going to be a negotiated peace and a two-state solution, then the building of settlements in the occupied West Bank has to end.  It really is that simple.  Requesting that the PA set aside this most basic of requirements, one which it has to be remembered the Obama administration also demanded from the Israelis and was ignored over is ridiculous.

Indeed, this refusal by the Israelis to put even a temporary halt to settlement building is exactly what led to the process at the UN from the PA in the first place: they recognised, sadly, that the talks were going nowhere due to consistent Israeli intransigence, often backed by the US.  The Palestine papers revealed that Condoleezza Rice told them they would never have a state if they didn't accept that the settlements of Ariel and Ma'ale Adumim would remain Israeli territory, regardless of the illegality of both under international law.  The PA by contrast offered what even Tzipi Livni recognised was the "biggest Jerusalem in history", and yet was still rebuffed.

Easier to understand is Hague's second required "assurance", that should the PA gain non-member observer status they won't attempt to pursue Israel at the International Criminal Court.  Just as we were embarrassed by the attempt to have Livni arrested when she visited the UK, so we would be forever in the US's bad books should their true foremost ally find itself in trouble at the ICC.  The US of course refused to join lest its own overseas adventures come under scrutiny, leading Israel to make the same decision despite initially signing the Rome statute, most "moral military" on the planet or otherwise.

Hague's claim then that the PA's attempt to gain recognition could set back the peace process is a nonsense.  There is no peace process to be set back, for the reason that the situation on the ground has changed, both in Israel and Palestine.  Never has it been so clear that Israel's aim is to make the establishment of a viable Palestinian state impossible, such is the continued colonisation of the West Bank and the near to completion construction of the wall separating the occupied territory from Israel.  Anything less than something approaching the 1967 borders will be unacceptable to the Palestinian people, and Israel has no intention of repeating the evacuation of Gaza, even if it were to lead to peace.  At the same time, the PA has become almost an irrelevance, weakened both by Israel's emasculation of the West Bank and the rise of Hamas.  Rightly or not, the Palestinian and the Arab street see the resistance of Hamas as achieving results, while the PA's recognition of Israel has led to 20 years of unrelenting occupation.

If anything, the reluctance of some western states to support the Palestinian bid is likely to further weaken the PA and so the merest chance of a return to negotiations than it being the other way around.  They have after all tried renouncing violence, recognising Israel, face-to-face talks under successive American administrations, and applying for full recognition from the UN Security Council, all so far for nowt.  Non-member observer status would provide a moment of respite.  By not supporting even this slight move towards statehood for Palestine, it just further highlights the utter hypocrisy of our support for some liberation movements while stymieing the baby steps of others.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012 

Already looking forward to the next.

The news coming through this evening that a ceasefire has been agreed between Israel and Hamas is undoubtedly welcome.  Any halt to the violence, however short-lived, is to be applauded.  In practice however, the agreement brokered by Egypt has done little more than return us to the situation prior to the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari last Wednesday.  While in theory the deal calls for the opening of the crossings into Gaza, the implementation of the lifting of the economic blockade of the strip is only to be discussed after 24 hours of "de-escalation", more than suggesting that as has happened before, further progress is highly unlikely.  Dubious as it always was that Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak would have countenanced any loosening of the blockade when the whole point of "Operation Pillar of Defense" was to show themselves as strong, decisive military leaders before a waiting electorate, the deal seems to have merely set up the next assault on a terrorised territory and its imprisoned people.

The deal seems to have achieved little for Hamas either.  Once again, their infrastructure in Gaza has been either destroyed or substantially damaged, and the people that both support and oppose them have suffered terribly in the process.  They may have shown they've acquired longer range missiles, yet the ability to fire rockets at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem serves little purpose when they either fail to hit their targets (if there is one in the first place) or are intercepted by the Iron Dome defence system.  The initial sounding of raid alarms in those cities might have a psychological effect in the short term and lead a few Israelis to wonder whether they really are being wisely led by their politicians, especially seeing as it was only after the assault on Gaza began that the Fajr-5s were fired, but it's liable to be fleeting in the extreme.

Also overstated has been the impact of the Arab spring.  Apart from visits to Gaza by the Egyptian prime minister, the Turkish foreign minister and a slight increase in the number of (newly elected) politicians denouncing Israel in no uncertain terms, hardly anything has really changed.  Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have picked up where Mubarak left off, acting as intermediaries for ceasefire deals while refusing to open the crossing into Gaza that would have let some of the population escape the bombing.  When the far-right Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman praises Mohamed Morsi for his role, then it's clear that while the faces have changed the same old alliances remain.

Nor have our leaders altered their tune one iota.  Who knows whether behind the scenes pressure was put on Netanyahu not to launch a ground offensive as his predecessors did; what we do know is that there's been barely a word of public criticism for how the offensive was conducted.  Israel has once again got away with targeting ambulances, journalists, and targets that simply can't be in any way construed as connected with Hamas, while the deaths of innocents alongside alleged militants are no longer even "collateral damage", rather "operational failures".  


Look at the difference when it comes to an attack within Israel: the explosion on the bus in Tel Aviv happened directly outside the building where the IDF has been conducting its media operations from.  For all we know, the person who apparently threw the bomb onto the bus may well have been specifically targeting someone who works there and had just left the building.  Instantly however, both the wider media and politicians referred to it as a terrorist attack.  If that's a terrorist attack, and it's a description I wouldn't demur from, then what was the extra-judicial killing of Ahmed al-Jabari, a man who Israel had long worked with to contain the situation in Gaza, an attack that also killed innocent bystanders?

As so often in the past, this difference in approach is then reinforced by reporting that at worst actively dehumanises the Palestinians.  Jodi Rudoren's report for the New York Times of the Dalu family's funerals seemed determined to emphasise these apparent differences: they don't so much mourn as accept their fate, such is the "culture of martyrdom that pervades this place", nor are they "overcome with emotion nor fed up, perhaps because the current casualty count pales in comparison to the 1,400 lost four years ago".  Rudoren's inference seems clear: only when so many are killed does their numbness and anger get overwhelmed by sadness.  In posts on her Facebook page, Rudoren went further, saying the reaction from some of those who had lost relatives was "ho-hum".  Even the usually excellent Jeremy Bowen made similar references on his 10 O'Clock News broadcast last night.

It's true that some of the most hardline figures in Gaza do put martyrdom and resistance above everything else, and this is always going to be most evident when the international media are around.  That this is anything approaching universal however is utter nonsense, as countless photographs from Gaza show.  Whether it's the death of family members or the loss of their home, Palestinians, amazingly, do have emotions.  Cut them and they bleed.  


Remarkably, it's also the case as was shown during Operation Cast Lead that a minority of Israelis positively delight in the bombing of Gaza, when hundreds travelled to a hill overlooking the territory to get a better view of the assault.  We don't though tend to hear about how Israel has a militaristic culture, and that Arabs are too often treated as second-class citizens, as the former would be a generalisation much too far which would only ever feature, if at all, in a comment piece.  Rudoren it should be noted later clarified her comments after she was criticised by the Mondoweiss blog, but her piece in the Times has not been altered to reflect that.  Where she was right is this is a conflict that no one in the world actually wants to seem to solve, and today's events have not taken us closer to any sort of resolution.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012 

Neither one thing nor the other.

I realise it's a motif I've been over-dependent on recently, but such has been the scale of bullshit of late that it's been difficult not to feel like we've been mysteriously plunged into a parallel universe.  A couple of months back David Cameron appeared before the UN general assembly, and reaching for the most emotive imagery he could muster, he said the UN had been stained by the blood of children killed in Syria.  Not, you'll note, that China and Russia had the deaths of protesters on their consciences through their blocking of security council resolutions, but that the UN itself was in some way responsible for the impasse.  As for our own role, we naturally couldn't be blamed for having abused the doctrine of the responsibility to protect in Libya, overthrowing Gaddafi when the UN resolution which authorised the no-fly zone called for a ceasefire between the two sides, and so setting Russia and China dead against any repeat.

The use of language similar to Cameron's could of course never be countenanced in relation to Israel.  It doesn't matter how many minors are accidentally killed, or even deliberately targeted, of which there have been 1,338 since September 2000 in both the West Bank and Gaza, their blood simply isn't worth as much.  The closest our politicians have ever come to denouncing Israeli tactics is debating whether or not reducing much of Lebanon and Gaza to rubble is "disproportionate".  Those with exceptional memories might recall that during the Israel-Lebanon-Hizbullah war William Hague went so far as to use the D word, much to the outrage of Stephen Pollard.  Once in power, the Tories have returned to type, with Hague declaring Hamas "bears principal responsibility" for the latest murderous assault on an tiny, impoverished, cut-off territory.

Imagine my lack of surprise then when Hague stood up in the Commons today and announced that we would recognise the newly formed National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the "sole legitimate representative" of the Syrian people.  This is a group formed out of the ashes of the Syrian National Council, the previous attempt by exiles to rally support for the Syrian opposition, and one which had next to no support from within Syria itself, reminiscent of the exile groups which had a major hand in pushing for the invasion of Iraq.  Despite claims that this new formation is more representative and appealing to those actually fighting Assad's forces, rebels in Aleppo have already rejected its imposition on them.

Our vote of confidence in the national coalition is also in spite of how its leader, described almost universally as a moderate in our press, has some views that would doubtless sit comfortably with the more fundamentalist fighters.  Angry Arab notes that Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, in a series of posts on his blog, variously describes one of Saddam Hussein's positives as he "terrified the Jews" (amongst other anti-Semitic remarks), Shiites as "rejectionists" and Facebook as a possible US-Israeli intelligence ploy.  He also believes masturbation causes TB, and praises Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Egyptian cleric the Tories took such a disliking to when Ken Livingstone brought him to London.

Isn't this almost irrelevant when the most important thing is to get rid of Assad?  Well yes, but clearly we have different standards when it comes to the Palestinians.  By any measure Hamas has far more popular support than this latest Syrian concoction, and yet we refuse to recognise it and its right to defend the people of Gaza against Israeli aggression.  Leaving aside Hamas, William Hague also made clear today that the government is yet to make its mind up as to whether support the move by the Palestinian Authority to apply for recognition at the UN general assembly.  If we won't even support the move by the Fatah leadership when we supposedly still want two states, why pursue such similarly futile gestures when it comes to Syria?

It's fairly apparent that despite the whisperings in the ear of Nick Robinson we have little to no intention of arming the Syrian opposition, let alone going further and actively intervening.  The most we seem willing to provide is communications equipment, and frankly, that's one thing the Syrian fighters on the ground seem to have plenty of.  I'm incidentally all for the arming of the Syrian opposition if the anti-aircraft missiles the rebels are desperate for head straight afterwards to Gaza to be used in self-defence against fighter jets, but not if they're soon being used to target passenger planes, something al-Qaida has previous in.

Our position is ultimately neither one thing nor the other.  We support the Saudis in wanting to maintain the Sunni domination of the Middle East while weakening Iran, not so much as mentioning the unpleasantness in Qatif, Bahrain or indeed in Jordan, and yet we leave the actual arming of those pursuing what has turned into a sectarian war in Syria to other people.  This peeves the Saudis and Qataris, and also peeves those like me who see the hypocrisy in our position of wanting a free Middle East except in those places where we always have and always will support despots.  Meanwhile, we ignore those who've yearned for their own state for over 60 years, while recognising a group which was created last Tuesday and has no real support whatsoever as the "sole legitimate representative" of the Syrian people.  Once upon a time, we were colonalists.  Now we simply act as though we still are.

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Monday, November 19, 2012 

The cynicism of a terrorist state, exacerbated by the uselessness of the media.


There seems to be only one constant when it comes to Israel and Palestine: media coverage becomes more and more unbalanced.  Every separate assault by the Israelis on Gaza is treated as though it occurs in a vacuum, and is only launched with great reluctance in response to rocket fire from the territory Israel so bravely disengaged from.  At the end of last week the BBC news website made it look as though it was Hamas attacking Israel, and not the other way round.  There is very little, if any examination of the difference between the missiles launched from Gaza by resistance groups, often home-made, antiquated and weak, and the finest weaponry money can buy as used by the Israelis, and yet these attacks are reported as though they are all but identical.

Away from the accounts provided by sites such as Electronic Intifada, which notes this latest outbreak of violence effectively began when a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was killed by the IDF while he was playing football, sparking a wave of retaliatory rocket attacks, the most honest piece to feature in a British newspaper was in the Graun, written by the deputy head of Hamas's political bureau.  This is how skewed reporting on Gaza has become: while the IDF tweets incessantly and Israeli politicians and spokesmen use almost the exact same formulations as they did four years previous, all of which is lapped up by the mainstream media and barely questioned, those associated with Hamas, a supposed terrorist organisation dedicated to the destruction of Israel, are the ones telling the closest to the truth.

We shouldn't be in the slightest bit surprised then at the specific targeting of buildings used by Hamas's TV station (as well as foreign journalists) to try and get their side of the story across.  One such strike today killed three members of Islamic Jihad, with the IDF tweeting soon after that the men were hiding there and "not to be interviewed".  How they knew all of this is anyone's guess; what's clear is that their intelligence isn't always so good, as shown by yesterday's strike on the home of the Dalou family.  Believing that a Hamas target was inside the house, the IDF apparently wasn't aware or more likely didn't care that a strike on him would also kill innocents.  As it was, 10 members of the Dalou family were massacred, including 4 children.  The target wasn't among them.

Then again, in the eyes of Israeli politicians, the IDF and indeed much of the media, there is no such thing as an innocent Gazan citizen.  Anyone and anything can be targeted as long as they can be linked with Hamas, however tenuously.  Buildings struck are Hamas buildings; schools are Hamas-run, as are hospitals.  During Operation Cast Lead, the wholesale murder of police officers was justified on the basis they were Hamas police officers, and the argument has since been taken to its logical conclusion.  Israel is of course perfectly prepared to make long-standing agreements with Hamas, whereby Hamas pledges to do the best it can to keep rocket fire from other militant groups to a minimum in return for a cessation of air strikes, but when it's election time and there are votes to be won from an ever more hardline public, Hamas once again becomes the implacable genocidal foe that must be put out of commission once and for all.

It's this murderous cynicism that sickens more than anything.  It's not just Palestinians whose lives are put in the balance by this most vile form of electioneering, although they are overwhelming those most at risk; it's the Israelis in the path of the rockets who face uncertainty too.  As pathetic as the rockets fired from Gaza mostly are, 3 Israelis were killed directly as a consequence of the policies pursued by Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, believing that they can succeed where Kadima failed before.  They are backed to the hilt by our own leaders, who while condemning the bloodshed in Syria and say something must be done about Assad wring their hands over the carnage in Gaza, putting the blame almost wholly on Hamas.  In the US, one of the senators urging the arming of the Syrian rebels threatened Egypt with the cutting off of aid if they "kept inciting violence between the Israelis and Palestinians".   This same man would like the Islamists in Syria to get their hands on modern anti-air missiles, weapons which would almost inevitably find their way straight afterwards to Gaza.

As little as possible then is explained, lest it alter the narrative that Israel is the victim rather than the aggressor.  Electoral cynicism is skirted over, as is the blockade of Gaza that prevents civilians from escaping from what is effectively a free fire zone.  At least in Syria those in the firing line between rebels and the regime can for the most part escape should they choose; those in Gaza have no such option, unless they have a medical complaint so urgent that even the Israelis can't refuse them access to hospitals outside of the Strip.  The history of the occupation, the Oslo accords, the setting up of the Palestinian authority and the lack of progress ever since, overwhelmingly the result of Israeli intransigence, goes by unmentioned.  That the settlements in the West Bank continue to be expanded, with ever more Palestinian land seized and cut off isn't relevant.  Palestinian resistance is condemned, whether it's through rockets or stone throwing, while the attempt to gain statehood through the UN is blocked.  Despite all this injustice, the Palestinian cause only grows stronger, and the strength and belief of the people remains undimmed.  They will one day have a state, and one day Israel's crimes will be brought to account.  That day cannot come soon enough.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012 

Meanwhile, in bizarro world...

The UK is considering whether to officially recognise the Palestinian opposition, sources say.

Foreign Secretary William Hague is to meet leaders of Hamas and Fatah in London on Friday to discuss the "grave and worsening" situation in Gaza.

Although high profile US figures such as John McCain have long been calling for the arming of the Palestinians, up until now Britain has only offered "non-military" aid to the opposition.  According to BBC political editor Nick Robinson, David Cameron believes the bloody conflict in Gaza is reaching what one of his advisers calls "the something must be done stage" - the moment when the public will demand action to save the lives of ordinary Gazans unable to escape from the blockaded strip.

This new tone was reflected in a statement from William Hague:

"Israel bears principal responsibility for the current crisis.  It is crystal clear this is merely the latest shamefully cynical move by politicians desperate to show themselves as the toughest on the Palestinians ahead of an election, just as Operation Cast Lead was four years ago.  The extra-judicial killing of Ahmed al-Jabari shows the depths to which Israel is prepared to sink - killing a man who had long worked with them towards keeping the peace, and then posting a video of the attack on the internet.

"As has happened before, Israel broke a truce it signed up to, only to then claim to the world at large that rocket fire from Gaza had forced their hand.  Whilst we condemn the launching of missiles from Gaza that are impossible to aim accurately, we recognise that the bombing of the territory makes an already difficult life there intolerable.  Palestinians have the right to live without fear of attack from Israel.  The deaths of innocent children are especially difficult to take - as the father of 11-month old Omar al-Masharawi asked, what had his son possibly done to deserve his fate?

"We have long supported a two-state solution, but it is becoming increasingly clear that Israel is not prepared to be a partner for peace.  Ignoring international law, it continues to build settlements in the West Bank, and has made life ever more difficult for ordinary Palestinians.  Much as we support an urgent resumption of negotiations, we have little faith they would be successful.  As such, we are considering whether the time has come to arm the Palestinian opposition so they can adequately defend themselves."

Asked for a response, the Israeli government gave the exact same statement as it has after past attacks on Gaza:

"Terrorists human shields Hamas terrorists rocket fire terrorists deliberately target terrorists other side will have to pay intolerable nothing to do with election terrorists Hamas human shields escalation that will exact a price terrorists."

Bashar al-Assad is understandably delighted at all this.

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Friday, August 20, 2010 

New entries in the Oxford Dictionary of English.

prosor n. To present an issue as fantastically simple when it is anything but. Also to put all the onus on the other side when in a dispute. "You know Gaza mate? All Hamas has to do is stop firing rockets and Israel will end the blockade. Simples". "That's a load of prosor, Ron. During the ceasefire prior to the December-January 2008-2009 war, which Israel broke, a grand total of 15 missiles were launched into Israel from Gaza, none of which it was accepted were fired by Hamas. The Israeli reward for this all but end to missile fire was to allow an extra 20 trucks into Gaza a day, while increasing the fuel supply from 55MW to 65MW. Does that sound anything like an end to the blockade?"

Ron Prosor n. prop. rhyming slang. "Have you seen the article by the Israeli ambassador in the Guardian? What a Ron Prosor."

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Monday, June 07, 2010 

There is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza strip.

Just something quick. Via Craig Murray, the incredibly arbitrary list of what has and what hasn't been allowed through the Israeli/Egyptian blockade of Gaza in the last month, based on the partial information Gisha has been able to compile (PDF):

This is of course the same territory which the Israelis claim isn't suffering from a humanitarian catastrophe. If it isn't, it's thanks to the tunnels if not run by then certainly controlled by Hamas, forcing the population into the group's hands, just the sort of tactic guaranteed to make them reject the militants and which is illustrative of so much Israeli policy.

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Monday, May 31, 2010 

The suicide of Israel.

I can't really put it much better than Flying Rodent already has, yet it's still worth dwelling on for a moment longer. Commentators like Melanie Phillips ("'Peace convoy'? This was an Islamist terror ambush" is her verdict) often write about the "suicide of the West", despairing of our apparent submission to Islamic extremists, our loss of faith in our Judeo-Christian heritage, and also, of course, our moral decadence. What though, is Israel's latest act of belligerence but yet further proof of the suicidal idiocy of the country's political and ruling class?

The only conclusion that can be reached is that Israel seems to imagine that it no longer needs allies, that it no longer needs friends, except for those that can be relied upon to repeatedly defend the indefensible, for which see the above. It's true that the country has acted this way in the past, such as when it attacked the USS Liberty, but that was during the Six Day War, or when it destroyed a Libyan passenger airline that had gone off course, but then no one cares about the Libyans and that was put down as another in Israel's long line of military "mistakes". The boarding of the Mavi Marmara is however the third such act of apparently shocking stupidity in 18 months: first the murderous assault on Gaza, having provoked Hamas into breaching a ceasefire which the Israelis openly admitted they had broken first, apparently purely for electoral benefit; next the almost comically inept if successful assassination of very minor player Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, earning rebukes and diplomatic expulsions from countries which didn't take kindly to Mossad yet again forging and stealing the passports of their civilians; and now a mindbogglingly foolish assault on a peace flotilla trying to deliver aid to the impoverished and long-suffering open-air prison which is the tiny strip of land known as Gaza.

It doesn't really matter whose side of the story is the most accurate, although it's instructive that the videos released by the IDF of the commandos coming aboard the Mavi Marmara show nothing of the arrival of the helicopters that delivered them, or of the boats involved in surrounding the vessels, when the people on the boats and indeed an al-Jazeera reporter on board one claimed that they were first fired upon. All the people around the world will see is the Israelis intercepting boats with an entirely peaceful purpose out in international waters, which means they were committing an act of piracy simply by attempting to get on board. And honestly, how did they think they were going to react to commandos apparently storming their vessel? Welcome them with open arms and sit down to discuss the rights and wrongs of the siege of Gaza? It's almost as if they were actively hoping that they were going to be mobbed, record it for the world to see and then claim that their motives were far from benign after all. It seems they weren't counting on the response being so unequivocal, but again it's notable that the worst that seems to have happened to those who went on board is that one suffered "serious head injuries" after he was thrown over a rail. Accounts still differ but at least 9 on the other side are known to have been killed. Again, that all communications with the vessels were successfully severed shortly after the assault began is instructive of how the Israelis only wanted their side of the attack to be seen.

As if relations between Turkey and Israel were not stretched as they were, the only Muslim country with which Israel has anything approaching diplomatic friendship with, they've now attacked a ship carrying the Turkish flag and also it seems killed mainly Turks. After royally pissing off the Americans earlier in the year by snubbing Joe Biden during a visit to the country, they've now once again showed how they can't be relied upon to act with anything even approaching civility towards those with honourable intentions, even if they disagree profusely with them on their methods and overriding philosophy. After first responding with the usual amount of biliousness and demagoguery we've come to expect from the Israeli government PR machine, that Benjamin Netanyahu has "expressed regret", as the prime ministers of Israel always do after they've committed yet another outrage, perhaps suggests that they've realised that they've gone too far this time. The Guardian today reports that the US has been making secret overtures to Hamas, over the heads of the Israelis, fed up with impasse between Israel and Fatah. After helping to create Hamas, Israel has strained every sinew to not recognise the Islamic faction; through its apparent determination to lose friends and alienate everyone, including its closest ally, it might yet be forced to deal with those who continue to refuse to so much as recognise the Jewish state. And if they are, they will only have themselves to blame.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010 

The Gaza protest prosecutions and assorted thoughts.

The dropping of the prosecution case against Jake Smith, charged with two counts of violent disorder after taking part in the protests outside the Israeli embassy in January of last year, only hints at the potential mendacity of the Metropolitan police and the collusion of the Crown Prosecution Service in the out of all proportion criminal crackdown on those alleged to have taken part in the confrontation late into the Saturday evening. Smith's lawyers happened by chance to find footage of their client being beaten by riot police on YouTube, video which the police denied they had until the very last working day before his trial, when they suddenly discovered they had a full seven and a half hours of footage from the day which might be of use to Smith's defence.

Quite why the police decided to arrest Smith after the event is unclear from the footage, especially when there are almost certainly others who on the day took part in far worse confrontations with the police. Smith is clearly seen pushing the barriers to protect himself from the riot police, being bated by other protesters. Despite this attempt at blocking the police from being able to get to him, when the police next charge the protesters Smith is seen by hit by at least one officer with both a riot shield and a baton, despite posing no apparent threat to the officers. This all happened after the "kettle" had been put into place, preventing any of the protesters from being able to leave; Smith it seems was trapped and not involved with the group of other protesters who were set on confrontation. Perhaps he was picked on because he, unlike some of the others, was positively identified or gave accurate information to the police when the protesters were finally allowed to leave, albeit only after they were photographed and their details were demanded.

Smith is undoubtedly one of the lucky ones: others who took part in the protests that day have been given custodial sentences for the heinous crimes of throwing sticks (broken parts of the many placards) or empty plastic bottles in the general direction of the Israeli embassy, the police often claiming that they were thrown at them. The police presumably felt threatened by these flimsy bits of balsa wood coming towards them, being fully equipped in riot gear as they were and therefore completely unable to defend themselves.

As you might recall, I was on the protest and march that day, although I left before the "kettle" was put in place outside the embassy. What was clear then and is even more apparent now is that there was a fundamental lack of preparation by both sides. Both the Stop the War Coalition and the police themselves were not expecting the sheer number of people who turned out, and as a direct result from the moment the march itself started there were small groups who had turned up looking for trouble who were out of control, as shown by the video which featured a group all but rampaging along at the very front of the march (which I can't incidentally find at the moment). Much of the trouble which occurred later could have been prevented if they had either been arrested then or separated away from the rest of the march. The confrontation which I did personally witness outside the North Gate into Kensington Gardens, where eggs and paint were thrown at police officers who were not yet in riot gear was probably far more frightening for those in uniform than it was those who were deployed later, and yet probably because there were no specific FIT officers there from what I could see monitoring the crowd, none of those who attacked them, almost certainly unprovoked, are likely to have been prosecuted.

I can far more understand the reactions and fighting which occurred in Kensington High Street, outside the embassy's main gates as even while I was there it was becoming difficult to move, a crush developing, a direct result of the police shutting off all the other roads and leaving only one exit, which to get to you had to push past everyone else. Even then though the mood for the most part was jovial, apart from the few idiots at the very front who were pushing the barriers towards the police who were guarding the embassy's gates. Undoubtedly why some who at this point threw items towards the embassy have since been picked up was because a FIT team was set-up on the roof of a building to the right of the embassy's gates, filming the entire protest.

Once the riot police had fully moved in, kettling those remaining and not letting anyone leave even if they had done nothing except continue to peacefully protest, it's not surprising that sticks or worse was thrown at them; for Judge John Denniss, who has been passing sentences on those brought before the court for what have mainly been trivial offences, many of whom have pleaded guilty after being advised that they would receive either community sentences or fines, to then claim that he's doing so to "deter others" is ridiculous. Firstly because those who were determined to cause trouble from the outset will not be deterred from doing so, just as there is a minority of police officers who enjoy such occasions as an opportunity to hit people have not been deterred by the pathetic response from the Met to G20 protests, and secondly because those trapped in the "kettles" are always going to express their discontent, potentially in a physical way when the police themselves are acting in a completely unreasonable and violent manner, as shown in the video featuring Jake Smith.

Equally clear is that the police take protesters taking them on in such a way as a personal affront: there is no other explanation for the early morning raids on the family homes which some who took part in the demonstration have suffered. These are ostensibly justified on the grounds that they are most likely to find those they're looking for by calling early in the morning, but handcuffing the entire family and taking computers and mobile phones for evidence is out of all proportion to the offences allegedly committed. Even if it isn't intended, these are the tactics of humiliation and act as far more of a warning to those potentially willing to protest than any sentence a judge could give. While there is some hyperbole involved, there is the danger that this only encourages the view amongst Muslims already inclined towards a radical viewpoint that the British state is determined that they not be allowed to put their point across, and with that the path to full radicalisation follows. What shouldn't be obscured by all this is that despite the battles, the day's protests was angry, inclusive but overwhelmingly peaceful, unlike the target of the protests which were at the time, according to the United Nations, committing war crimes. Protests are messy, but they are also cathartic, and the police, CPS and the courts would do well to recognise that. The alternative is unthinkable.

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Monday, March 02, 2009 

From Gaza to Fallujah.

Nice to see that when he isn't being paid incredible amounts for speeches and other assorted things Tony Blair does occasionally have time for his other line of work, as Middle East peace envoy for the Quartet. Yesterday he finally found the time to visit Gaza, as well as Sderot, as everyone now has to so as not to be accused of sickening bias. He said that anyone visiting would be appalled by the destruction, which is something of an understatement.

That said, only around 1,300 Palestinians died as a result of the Gaza war, compared to the over 150,000 estimated to have died as a result of Blair's final war of his own choosing, Iraq. Somehow I can't quite see Blair choosing to visit say Fallujah, of his own volition, any time soon.

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Monday, January 26, 2009 

Objectivity is a lie which the DEC appeal proves.


Watching the DEC's appeal for aid donations, it's apparent why both the BBC and Sky refused to show it: it puts their own reporting to shame. In three short minutes it clearly and astutely summarises how the Palestinians in Gaza were living even before the 22-day onslaught began, without making so much as a political point throughout. It does however at the same time evocatively suggest that someone, ultimately, is responsible for this very man-made disaster, and that, without a shadow of doubt, is Israel, not Hamas.

Objectivity is, and always has been, a lie. There is no such thing as complete impartiality; there is however trying to be as neutral as you possibly can be. When a state is pounding a tiny, cut-off piece of territory where half the population are classified as children, to be completely impartial is a nonsense, just as when the response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans was so woeful as to be useless the reporters there noticeably became angrier at the richest nation on Earth abandoning some of its poorest citizens to their fate. That quite possibly marked the true turning point in the Bush presidency. Likewise, that the BBC (we can safely disregard Sky's decision, as Murdoch has made clear in the past that if he could he'd turn Sky News into a British version of Fox he would) somehow thinks that broadcasting an appeal for help for Gaza would damage its impartiality when its own reporters have reported on the devastation and its obvious causes is equivalent to someone who leads you on all night then slams the door in your face after taking you home. It's a snub, and a completely petty one at that. The BBC may as well, as others have done, equate all Palestinians, or all Gazans, as Hamas, and therefore not worthy of aid or trusted enough not to spend it on weapons. Its own behaviour has breached its impartiality far more than screening the ad would have done.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009 

The Palestinians of Gaza - not human enough, obviously.

This is shocking:

The BBC has refused to broadcast a national humanitarian appeal for Gaza, leaving aid agencies with a potential shortfall of millions of pounds in donations.

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an umbrella organisation for 13 aid charities, launched its appealtoday saying the devastation in Gaza was “so huge that British aid agencies were compelled to act”.

But the BBC made a rare breach of an agreement dating back to 1963 when it announced it would not give free airtime to the appeal. Other broadcasters then followed suit. Previously, broadcasters have agreed on the video and script to be used with the DEC, with each station choosing a presenter to front the appeal, shown after primetime news bulletins.

The BBC said it was not the first time broadcasters had refused to show a DEC appeal.

The corporation said it had been concerned about the difficulties of getting aid through to victims in a volatile situation. The BBC, which has faced criticism in the past over alleged bias in its coverage of the Middle East, said it did not want to risk public confidence in its impartiality.

The DEC’s chief executive, Brendan Gormley, said the decision could have a big impact on its appeal. “We are used to our appeal getting into every household and offering a safe and necessary way for people to respond. This time we will have to work a lot harder because we won’t have the free airtime or the powerful impact of appearing on every TV and radio station.”

...

A BBC spokesperson said: “Along with other broadcasters, the BBC has decided not to broadcast the DEC’s public appeal to raise funds for Gaza. The BBC decision was made because of question marks about the delivery of aid in a volatile situation and also to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in the BBC’s impartiality in the context of an ongoing news story. However, the BBC will of course continue to report the humanitarian story in Gaza.”


In other words, the BBC have given in to those just waiting to grasp at the slightest hint of bias before they'd even had a chance to. It wasn't as if this was just going to be on the BBC; the other channels would have carried it as well. They've in effect decided that the Palestinians of Gaza are not as human or as equal as those who have been victims of natural disasters; it seems it would take something far worse than the man-made carnage Israel visited upon Gaza for the impoverished and hungry citizens of a tiny, cut off piece of land to be treated the same as everyone else.

I didn't think that the BBC's coverage of the assault on Gaza was that bad, or certainly not as terrible as some of those on the fringes of the left thought, judging by there being another protest outside the BBC this Saturday before the march heads to Downing Street. You get the feeling that if the BBC doesn't change its minds about this tomorrow that they'll be a hell of a lot more there than there otherwise would have been.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009 

War crimes and the second revenge of Hamas.


It's always morbidly amusing the way that Israel announces it's investigating what may or may not have happened during its latest military escapade to have unfortunately resulted in the premature evacuation of souls. The reality is that it knows full well in almost all of the cases exactly what happened without any need to investigate further - hence the very quick indeed discovery that at least 200 white phosphorus shells were fired into Gaza over the 3-week period, with the likewise by no means whatsoever doubtful claim that 180 of them hit their target, which was naturally either Hamas fighters or rocket launchers. 20 of these shells, again if we are to believe the Israelis, seem to have either gone missing or been potentially used for purposes other than targeting of the "enemy", with apparently conclusive evidence that at least three hit the UNRWA's compound, destroying the food and medicine in their warehouses.

The use of white phosphorus, which international law explicitly states has to be used with great caution around civilians, seems to only be the tip of the iceberg of the breaching of the Geneva conventions in Gaza. Numerous stories of children being shot dead by Israeli troops are beginning to emerge, as are reports of the summary demolition of houses that had dared to get in the way of the IDF's advance, regardless of whether or not they had any civilians in them. It's little wonder that the media were until Friday when Egypt began letting in some journalists from their side of the border deliberately kept out - the Western, more respected media would have been forced into broadcasting the same reports which al-Jazeera and the other outlets with Palestinians on the ground carried, potentially further raising the anger and putting more pressure on politicians to demand an end to the conflict.

As could have been predicted, the tunnels which Israel were trying to destroy are already back up and running, if indeed they had been closed during the bombardment itself. The troops may now have withdrawn back to the border, but the crossings into Gaza remain closed; even with more aid now being allowed in, the tunnels will still be helping to keep the impoverished and cut-off citizens off the territory from suffering too badly from the shortages. With the food, livestock and cigarettes will doubtless also come the rockets, the other part of the justification for the murderous assault on the territory.

At the beginning of the week it looked as if this could have been a decisive blow against Hamas, and yesterday's puerile victory rallies were a sign of weakness, not strength, but the hours are already beginning to show the events in a different light. Negotiation with Hamas looks more and more unavoidable, especially as Obama is apparently living up to his pledge to talk to Iran without pre-conditions. When Israel assassinted Sheikh Yassin, the almost blind, disabled spiritual leader of Hamas in a truly cowardly Hellfire missile strike, the organisation had its revenge in their victory in the elections. Their revenge this time round may well turn out to be that "Operation Cast Lead" has not even began to destroy them - but instead left them as the de facto Palestinian group to which both Israel and the US will eventually have to deal with.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009 

Ceasefire, weekend links and an extended worst tabloid article of the weekend.

As expected, Israel has announced a "unilateral" ceasefire. The thinking behind this is clear: never again will Israel accept a humiliating peace like that two years ago in Lebanon, making deals and coming out looking the loser. Instead they'll hold their head up high, having done what any other country under 8 years of rocket fire would, treating civilians with silk gloves and Hamas with an iron first. What's more, if Hamas then breaches this kind ceasefire, they'll be the ones betraying their own citizens when Israel has to respond.

The cynicism of this is obvious. This was always a war of Israel's choosing, and now it's ended it in the same way. It leaves Gaza devastated, 1,200 of its citizens killed and over 5,000 injured, and Israel has to all intents and purposes completely got away with it. It's thumbed its nose at the UN, mocked world opinion and made the world's media seethe, even while they reported all of the Israeli government's open propaganda and treated it as gospel. The siege seems unlikely to be lifted, Gaza's tunnels which helped those trapped in the territory to live have been destroyed, and all the funding to rebuild will once again have to come from international donors. How much more does it have to take before we declare Israel to be a rogue state, which is what it has quite clearly become?

On that thought, we may as well keep the theme and go with other comment on Israel and Gaza. A piece a couple of days old but still superb is Flying Rodent's channelling of the spirit of Ehud Olmert, Back Towards the Locus reports on a local protest, while Robert Fisk, Deborah Orr and DD Guttenplan on his reluctance to join last Saturday's march provide the MSM comment.

Elsewhere, Mr E, the Heresiarch and Jennie Rigg all mourn John Mortimer, Derek Draper rather ruins any pretence that LabourList is anything other than a stitch-up by his attitude towards Tim, the Bleeding Heart Show comments on the Tories' Low Carbon Economy green paper and Laurie Penny relates another meeting with our glorious Work and Pensions minister, James Purnell. In the papers, there's little of note other than Matthew Parris on speaking out before it's too late, and Howard Jacobson ruminating on the difference between a silly lad and a murderous racist.

As for the worst tabloid piece of the weekend, we truly are spoilt for choice. There's the Mail's charming description of the murder trial of Meredith Kercher, which it calls the "Foxy Knoxy show" on its front page, despite Kercher's own parents' attempts to have the trial held behind closed doors to prevent sensitive evidence being published and to retain their dead daughter's dignity. It seems remarkable the difference between the Mail's attitudes to trials in this country, which it seems hardly likely to have described in such terms even if someone as supposedly "glamourous" as the always referred to by nickname Amanda Knox was in the dock, and ones taking place abroad. It's almost as if it seems to imagine that because it's happening in Italy that Kercher's parents either have no feelings or inclination to see what the media at home is saying, let alone what Kercher's friends think about the way the media has reported her death.

The Mail though is notorious for not caring about things like intruding into grief. Any paper that was would surely have not published today's truly revolting comment by Amanda Platell, who of out all the other things she could have written about chose to focus her main energy on the tragic death of Rachel Ward, who died of hypothermia after apparently falling into a river. According to Platell, rather than this being a tragic accident, it's instead indicative "of the lives of many middle-class young women". Variously, her death seems to have been down to the following facts: firstly, that she was middle class, and therefore should have known better than to have been taking part in such working class pursuits as going on a skiing holiday and drinking whilst on it; secondly, that her friends abandoned her when she decided to go back to where she was staying on her own, therefore it's their fault too; and finally, that it's actually neither her own fault nor her friends' fault, but rather the fault of equality:

Sadly, in a world where women have fought for generations for equality, where they insist on their independence, where drunkenness and debauchery are actively encouraged, you can’t really blame a young man for failing to act chivalrously.

Yes, Rachel’s death was tragedy — but it was an accident waiting to happen.


There you are then girls - you weren't fighting for equal rights, you were in fact fighting for the right to die alone in a freezing river, because Amanda Platell says so. What a despicable cunt.

Amazingly, that isn't the worst tabloid piece of the weekend. Peter Hitchens has a reasonable effort too, claiming that "poverty is a lie the left uses to destroy the middle class". Good, but no cigar. No, the award must instead go to Julie Burchill, who writes a quite wonderful defence of George W. Bush in the Sun. Strangely, in her case for what a brilliant president he's been, the words "Iraq", "Afghanistan", "Abu Ghraib", "Guantanamo", "rendition" and many others which you can fill in yourselves don't make an appearance. No, instead Burchill concentrates on how he brilliant he's been for Africa (half-true, he has massively increased aid but also insisted on abstinence programmes to deal with AIDS), how brilliant he's been for black people, thanks to his promotion of first Colin Powell (who was ignored and sidelined and so enamoured with the Republicans that he endorsed Obama) and then Condoleezza Rice, doing so much that apparently without those two Obama couldn't have won the presidency, and finally how he signed "the Worker, Retiree and Employer Act which allows the rollover of pensions from a dead gay person to a partner without tax consequences — as has always been the case for straights". No mention of how he opposes gay marriage and how when asked whether he thought homosexuality was a choice answered that "he didn't know". With friends like Julie, who exactly needs enemies?

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Friday, January 16, 2009 

An end in sight?



If it wasn't for all the reports informing us that Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni wanted a ceasefire long ago, honestly, really, you could cynically imagine that from the very beginning there was a plan for the Israeli assault on Gaza. We already know that even prior to the six-month ceasefire with Hamas which even the Israelis admit they were first to breach, Israel was planning for the attack on Gaza which has filled so many with horror over the past three weeks. Why not then that the plan was to start the assault on the 27th of December, while the West is still caught up in its own post-Christmas feculence, blame it on Hamas ending the truce by goading them to fire barrages of rockets into Israel, and then spend the three weeks leading up to Obama's inauguration trying your hardest to annihilate Hamas and force them into a humiliating further ceasefire, ensuring that no longer can they smuggle weapons while also hopefully keeping up the siege?

Things haven't of course gone entirely to plan. Israel perhaps didn't plan on the ferocity of the response from Europe and other countries around the world, but it's managed to get by regardless. It perhaps hasn't done as much damage to Hamas as it would have liked, but it's probably destroyed the vast majority of the tunnels, killed two of their senior leaders, and Hamas hasn't put up anywhere near the sort of fight which Hizbullah managed in Lebanon in 2006, although whether this is because, as we've seen, the Israeli plan this time round has been overwhelming force and taking no prisoners, but regardless, it must still be tremendously pleased with the very low civilian and military casualties, especially when compared to the 1,100 Palestinians killed and over 5,000 injured. Where it has triumphed beyond doubt is with the United States in the very last days of the Bush administration. Not only did Olmert successfully intervene with Bush to stop Condi Rice from ending her monstrous period as secretary of state by voting for a security council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, but they've got just the sort of agreement they want which binds the US to help with the monitoring of the Egypt-Gaza border, and all without apparently so much as consulting the incoming administration. Not a bad last day's work by any means.

Where this leaves Israel's standing in the world at large remains to be seen. The anger which the attack on an impoverished, prison like tiny territory has inspired not just on the streets of the Arab world but on western Europe's as well is quite possibly unprecedented in recent times. There were riots in Oslo, huge demonstrations in all of the major capital cities and dozens of the smaller ones as well, and also, sadly and frighteningly, a rise in anti-Semitic attacks. That was always to be expected when there are individuals that cannot differentiate between a people and a state, just as some cannot between Muslims and terrorists, but nonetheless all such violence, abuse and vandalism has to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Smashing Starbucks' windows, let alone attacking a synagogue, is not going to change one thing in Gaza, let alone Israel, quite the reverse. Likewise, the overreaction of those who want to deflect attention from the carnage in Gaza has been as self-serving as always: witness Harry's Place, perennial defenders of Israeli aggression who have been vocal in their denouncing of protesters linking Israel to the Nazis, comparing the tiny number of smashed windows to... the Nazis and especially Kristallnacht, a photoshopped site banner conflating the two explicitly. Not only is this ahistorical in the extreme, it also demeans and debases the real suffering which those who lived in Nazi Germany during that period went through. A state organised and executed pogrom and an idiot with a brick shutting down a single bourgeois coffee shop from hell for a day are incomparable.

It's easy to see why some have been so quick to change the subject from Gaza itself to those on protests though; even the majority of them must recognise just how indefensible the attack on Gaza has been. Never before has the Zionist trick of screaming anti-Semitism at those criticising Israel been shown up to be so shallow and futile, Elizabeth Wurtzel's attempt to do just that on CiF completely monstered. For all Israel's attempts to win the PR battle, their single decision not to allow journalists into the Gaza strip itself produced a vacuum that could be filled only by the Palestinians on the ground themselves, the likes of al-Jazeera and the other Arab media profiting, the images of the hundreds of children injured filling the screens and newspapers every day now for nigh on 3 weeks.

It will however be the savagery of the Israeli assault which will live long in the memory. Most people might have given them the benefit of the doubt if they'd only managed to hit the one UN building, and believed the story of there being fire from within the compound; when you hit another school where people are sheltering and then finally hit the UNRWA headquarters itself, apparently with phosphorus shells which quickly turn the aid and food stored there into an inferno, it starts to look like it's either deliberate or that the IDF doesn't care what it hits. It's not just the phosphorus shells, which when used as a weapon as they apparently have been are illegal under international law, but also the apparent use of one of the newer discoveries in the world of armaments, DIME, or Dense Inert Metal Explosives. These bombs have the advantage of being more accurate and covering only a small radius, but the downside of completely eviscerating those that they come into contact with. Whether the Israelis are definitively using these weapons or not is difficult to know for sure, but the injuries that some of the doctors in Gaza have been seeing, where limbs have been effectively ripped off without suffering the shrapnel wounds associated with conventional shelling suggests that this might well be the case. Gaza may well be a testing lab for new weapons, being tried on a human and overwhelming civilian population. This is without considering the hospital that was hit, ambulances which have been targeted, the paramedics that have been killed trying to save others and the estimated $1.4 billion damage done to the infrastructure of the territory, not to mention the accusations of war crimes from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the demands for investigations into them by the UN and other governments.

What Israel will have achieved at the end of all this is difficult to know for sure. It probably won't save the Labour-Kadima coalition from being defeated, even if the spilling of Palestinian blood, which always seems to a vote-winner, has been taken to extremes. It might be able to win a "victory", by stopping the weapon smuggling into Gaza, not lifting the siege, declaring a unilateral ceasefire so they look like the good guys after all, and even turn a few Gazan minds against Hamas once the dust has settled and they see the devastation and decide that the sacrifice may not have been worth it. That however seems unlikely. In the worst case scenario for Israel, it could well end up having the opposite effect, showing the world that the real aggressors are not the terrorists of Hamas but those that don't apologise for killing hundreds of children, inspiring boycotts and continued protests, showing that Hamas are going to have to be dealt with if a peace settlement is ever going to be reached, and further establishing the spirit of resistance in a people that have been resisting now for over 60 years. Furthermore, they look set to have to deal with an Obama administration that at the moment is suggesting that it is willing to negotiate with Hamas, and that is also likely to be far tougher on Israel than the Bush administration has ever been, even if that isn't saying much. It's unwise to suggest that this might be one of the last gasps of a nation that has tried to enforce peace without a settlement and has failed, and one of the first of a nation that will have to do the opposite if it is ever to have complete security, but we can live in hope. Whatever happens, those killed in this latest senseless conflict will most certainly not be forgotten.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009 

Over 1,000 dead and still they go and watch.



Israel should be proud: it took the IDF exactly a month to kill nearly 1,000 people in Lebanon during the 2006 war with Hizbullah; this time it has taken them only 18 days. Lebanon however had a population of roughly 4 million; Gaza has a population of 1.25 million. All while the IDF has been pummelling Gaza, Israelis have been travelling to Parash Hill, near Sderot, to have an overview of what their military is inflicting on a population that it first sealed off, then attempted to starve, and is now finally trying to bomb into submission. We've already seen smiles and laughter, stories of picnics and ghouls saying that more could be done, now we have a CNN reporter smiling and laughing with two women as they discuss the carnage going on only miles from where they're sitting. There's the others openly celebrating as they look through binoculars as the air strikes rain down and the phosphorous lights up the sky. And then there's the mealy-mouthed others, those who've had their own homes hit by Palestinian rockets, offering insincere concern for the innocents that might also be suffering in Gaza, the ones whose homes will be unrepairable and the others that will never recover from their injuries.

The reports continue to come in of suspected atrocities, of deliberate targeting of civilians. The Times speaks to a soldier that says everything is being treated as hostile, that this is the most "aggressive line" that has ever been taken with the Palestinians, that even he is shocked by the devastation that they are discovering and which Israel has tried as hard as possible to stop being glimpsed by too many Western eyes. The BBC reports that women responding to an Israeli call to leave, additionally carrying white flags, were shot and one was killed, while others trying to find water were similarly shot and apparently killed. From a less reputable source is an even more shocking, upsetting story, of an 92-year-old man injured on the first day of the Israeli bombardment, only reached today, found decomposing with a white flag in his hand. If substantiated, it is such accounts that remain on people's minds for years to come.

So brutal has the assault on Gaza been that even those supposedly on the Israeli left, such as Yossi Alpher, co-editor of Bitter Lemons, are left looking for comparisons which play down the carnage which has been unleashed. Alpher alighted upon the final battle for Fallujah in Iraq at the end of 2004, where similar accusations of war crimes were made, but which reflects better on the IDF as there were suggestions that up to 6,000 civilians were killed, out of an insurgent force estimated at being between 3,000 and 6,000. Israel claims there are around 20,000 Hamas fighters in Gaza. Alpher fails to mention that even if it did calm Fallujah somewhat, all that it achieved was a dispersal of the insurgency from the city into Anbar province itself, with it only eventually being tackled by the rise of the Awakening programme, when the tribal sheikhs tired of the tyranny and bloodshed brought by their alliance with the likes of al-Qaida in Iraq. Furthermore, there's a rather larger inconvenient fact which Alpher strangely omitted from his analogy: the US army allowed a large majority of the population of Fallujah to flee the city before the attack. In Gaza no one has been allowed to leave, except for those holding foreign passports who wanted to, and the very few that have been transferred to Egyptian hospitals for treatment. If we accept the Israeli figures of 20,000 Hamas fighters, and add another 10,000 to account for the militants of Islamic Jihad and other groups, that leaves 995,000 civilians directly in the line of fire, with hardly anywhere to run to, far above the numbers that were left in Fallujah to face the US military at its most destructive.

As alluded to yesterday, it is indeed telling that it's Iraq that Israelis are pointing towards, for it's quite true that the war on Iraq now has even less justification than Israel's assault on Gaza. They talked of the "shock and awe" of the initial "surprise" attacks on the police and Hamas security officials, and doubtless they would like Hamas to be seen as the Islamic State of Iraq is in that country. You could at least however see the motives for attacking Iraq, whether it was to remove the supposed threat from WMD, to overthrow a tyrant that had been subjugating his people for decades, or to gain control of the country's oil, as being either somewhat noble or at the very least either defensible or achievable, as indeed the initial removal of Saddam Hussein was. The same cannot be said for the attack on Gaza. It won't stop the rocket fire without agreeing to the lifting of the siege, it won't turn the people of Gaza against Hamas, and it probably won't help either Ehud Barak or Tzipi Livni to win the election and keep the Labour/Kadima coalition in power. Just as we are now horrified by the spilling of blood in Iraq, it has to be hoped that eventually both sides in the conflict on Gaza will come to feel the same nausea, and reject the hate that both sides push. Before that though, the killing has to first stop.

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