Cutting through the bullshit.

Friday 30 January 2009

Land rights when?

The ABC reported today

The [Northern] Territory Government and [Larrakia Aboriginal] traditional owners have reached an in-principle agreement over 65,000 hectares of land on the Cox Peninsula, ending the longest-running land claim in Australia's history.

The claim was first lodged in 1979.

Actually, according to a chronology by David Parsons published in the Indigenous law bulletin in 1998, what happened on 20 March 1979 was a

consolidated claim for entire area lodged by the Northern Land Council. The claim includes various islands and reefs to the west of the Cox Peninsula, Bynoe Harbour, Port Patterson, and the Cox Peninsula itself. This consolidated claim is what became known as the 'Kenbi Land Claim'. The original claimants, 7 named members of the Danggalaba clan, are replaced by 3 groups of Larrakia and Wagaitj people.

The first formal Larrakia land rights claim for the Cox Peninsula and adjoining islands dates to 23 September 1976.

On 22 December 1978, Parsons writes,

the Administrator of the NT makes regulations under the Town Planning Act (NT), which were notified in the Gazette of 29 December 1978. By these regulations the NT Government declares Cox Peninsula a portion of the town of Darwin (the expansion of the town from 142.4 km2 to 4,350 km2 makes it about 3 times the size of Greater London). The townships of Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs are similarly expanded. Section 3 of the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act excludes 'land within a town' from claims under the Act.

The expansion of all the significant population centres in the NT well beyond any possible need provides an inkling of how desperately the NT government and the business interests were to prevent Indigenous people from securing rights to any of their land. When I write, ‘significant’ by the way, I use the term rather loosely – Darwin’s population of about 120,000 is four times that of the next largest town, Alice Springs. Katherine’s population is under 10,000, and Tennant Creek’s about 3000.

While Mandora, the nearest point to Darwin on the Cox Peninsula is just a 15 minute ferry ride from Darwin, it’s 138km by road.

Google Earth image

And after all that, the Larrakia will only be getting 52,000 of their 65,000 hectare claim declared Aboriginal land. Not only that, it’s not over yet, as the Commonwealth Government still has to seal the deal, and who knows how long that will take. I don’t believe it would be the first time a land claim has dragged on so long that none of the claimants live to see it settled.

Sympathy for the Devil

Four days after Israel tanks rolled into the Gaza strip, the Pew Research Centre for People and the Press conducted a poll of 1503 Americans, asking, ‘In the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, which side do you sympathize with more, Israel or the Palestinians?’. Their principal finding was that 49% sympathised more with Israel, and 11% with the Palestinians. Another 5% volunteered that they didn’t sympathise with either side, and 15% with both, while a remarkable 20% didn’t know. Since Pew did not offer ‘Neither’ and ‘Both’ as response options, but only recorded them when respondents insisted, some, possibly all, of those who ‘Don’t know’ may actually have sympathised with both or neither.

As always, there are problems with the question, although in my view they are far from the most egregious I’ve seen in recent opinion polls. It suggests that there is some kind of parity between ‘Israel’ and ‘the Palestinians’, without actually presupposing or even implying it. Indeed, by naming the country in the case of Israel, and the group of people in the case of the Palestinians, there is almost a hint that there may be some difference, at least in status, but I’m dubious that respondents would have been terribly sensitive to the distinction, except insofar as they might think that being an actual country confers some special legitimacy on Israel. What I suspect would have influenced their answers most is a warm visceral reaction to ‘Israel’ and a corresponding aversion to its perceived enemies. I doubt many respondents would have interpreted ‘the Palestinians’ as incorporating those with Israeli citizenship or in the diaspora.

Now people who read blogs like this are well aware that there was nothing defensive about ‘Operation Cast Lead’, but I’m not entirely confident the same can be said about those who rely on the mainstream media for ‘information’. Since virtually every article about Gaza incorporates a compulsory reference to Israel’s wish to end rocket attacks, casting Israel in the role of victim, I find it surprising that there wasn’t even more support for Israel. But even given the propaganda environment, even for those who firmly believe the hasbarists’ claims about the lengths the IOF went to in avoiding civilian casualties, it’s appalling that only 11% found it in their hearts to sympathise with the mangled orphans on their television screens.

The Pew report, which uncharacteristically omitted to mention the ‘margin of error’, compares the results of the 7-11 January poll with polling results for six European countries from April-May 2007, during the period of the Hamas-Fatah unity ‘government’ in the West Bank and Gaza, concluding that there was ‘more support for the Palestinians than the Israelis’. Under such different conditions, the comparison isn’t really valid. But it seems likely that support for Palestinians in Europe would be higher now than it was in 2007, before the abortive June Fatah coup in Gaza. What they found then was that in Britain, France, Italy, Spain, and Sweden, there was a significant margin of support for the Palestinians over the Israelis, while in Germany more supported Israel. Half of those polled in Italy volunteered, ‘Neither’. Overall, among the six countries, 22% supported Israel, 27% the Palestinians, and 32% volunteered ‘Neither’.

I remain very sceptical of self identification as an indicator of political orientation, but there is a clear correlation between orientation, as measured by Pew, and sympathy to Israel over the Palestinians. Sixty percent of ‘Conservative’ respondents, 50% of ‘Moderates’, and 33% of ‘Liberals’ sympathised more with Israel, while 8% of Conservatives, 11% of Moderates, and 21% of Liberals sympathised with the Palestinians. In every group, there was significantly higher support for Israel than for the Palestinians,

Overall, sympathy for Israel over the Palestinians in the US has increased by 9 percentage points since a poll conducted just prior to the destruction of the World Trade Centre in September 2001, but declined from 52% in August 2006, immediately after Israel’s depredation of Lebanon. It would have been interesting to see the movements in sympathy for the Palestinians over time, but Pew doesn’t report them.

Meanwhile, for the first time, a group of US academics have launched a campaign for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel. Eight days into the initiative, it appears that only 52 have endorsed the call for

1) Refraining from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions that do not vocally oppose Israeli state policies against Palestine;

2) Advocating a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions;

3) Promoting divestment and disinvestment from Israel by international academic institutions;

4) Working toward the condemnation of Israeli policies by pressing for resolutions to be adopted by academic, professional and cultural associations and organizations;

5) Supporting Palestinian academic and cultural institutions directly without requiring them to partner with Israeli counterparts as an explicit or implicit condition for such support.

As I’ve written before, I think it weakens the initiative considerably to exempt institutions that ‘vocally oppose Israeli state policies against Palestine’, because it ‘would put them in the invidious position of taking action to undermine their colleagues without being willing to accept the consequences themselves’. Furthermore, while a selective boycott like this may provide an incentive for universities to express vocal opposition, while sectors outside academia remain untouched. Still, you have to start somewhere, and I certainly encourage any American academics who happen to read this to sign on by emailing the campaign at ‘uscom4acbi [at]’.

In contrast, when Alan Dershowitz called on ‘Academic and Professional Colleagues From Around The World’ in June 2007 to endorse this statement

"We are academics, scholars, researchers and professionals of differing religious and political perspectives. We all agree that singling out Israelis for an academic boycott is wrong. To show our solidarity with our Israeli academics in this matter, we, the undersigned, hereby declare ourselves to be Israeli academics for purposes of any academic boycott. We will regard ourselves as Israeli academics and decline to participate in any activity from which Israeli academics are excluded. "

4568, including some who were themselves Israeli or affiliated with Israeli institutions, responded within the first 11 days or so. Although the petition was relaunched last May, it, too, has now closed. The total now stands at 12,113, well short of their goal of 20,000 signatories, but still rather intimidating. I hope that the USACBI initiative will soon overtake Dershowitz’s, but I’m not holding my breath.

In another encouraging recent development, a Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) delegates meeting in Western Australia on Tuesday adopted the following resolutions, among others:

1. This delegates’ meeting of the WA branch of the MUA [hereafter this meeting] calls on the Rudd government to denounce the latest Israeli aggression against Gaza, and to cut all economic, diplomatic, cultural and political ties with the Israeli state until this aggression and the Israeli siege of Gaza ends.

4. We will participate fully in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign when it is initiated and support actions related thereof when they are called by either Friends of Palestine WA or other interested parties (including other trade unions). We call on the ACTU and Unions WA to join us in supporting the BDS campaign and specific actions related thereof

5. In furtherance of resolution 4, this meeting recommends State Conference adopt a position of boycotting all Israeli-registered vessels, and all vessels known to be carrying either goods destined for Israel or goods sourced from Israel. [Hat tip to Amy Thomas]

There’s not a great deal of trade between Israel and Australia, but what there is would almost certainly pass through Western Australian ports. While these resolutions are just a first step to the MUA actually blacking Israeli goods, it’s hard to exaggerate the move’s significance as a gesture. If wharfies in Europe and the US were to follow the WA MUA delegates’ lead, they could cripple the Israeli economy. Which just goes to show, when push comes to shove, it’s the ordinary working people who can really make a difference.

Monday 26 January 2009

Natural adherence

Although I’ve often criticised Uri Avnery in the past, you can’t help admiring the guy. He’s 85 and still writing a weekly column and still active in the Israeli peace movement, such as it is.

Still, in his piece this week, where he optimistically envisages an ‘abyss’ opening between the Obama regime and whatever government eventuates in next month’s Israeli election, one paragraph just leapt off the page.

Where are the American Jews? The overwhelming majority of them voted for Obama. They will be between the hammer and the anvil – between their government and their natural adherence to Israel. It is reasonable to assume that this will exert pressure from below on the “leaders” of American Jewry, who have incidentally never been elected by anyone, and on organizations like AIPAC. The sturdy stick, on which Israeli leaders are used to lean in times of trouble, may prove to be a broken reed.

The assumption that American Jews, who have never shown much interest in bringing their ‘leaders’ to heel, are now suddenly going to ‘exert pressure’ on officials who are not and never have been accountable to anybody in part precisely because nobody has ever elected them, and that they’re going to do this on the basis that they voted overwhelmingly for Obama, is decidedly not reasonable.

But you get used to that kind of pollyannaism.

What sticks out like dogs’ balls is not the imagined conflict ‘between their government and their natural adherence to Israel’ but the concept of a ‘natural adherence’. It’s not in doubt that a significant majority of American Jews have some kind of adherence to Israel. The American Jewish Committee’s 2008 Survey of American Jewish Opinion reveals that the proportion claiming to feel ‘Very close’ or ‘Fairly close’ to Israel had only declined slightly from 70% in December 2007 to 67% in mid September 2008, while the proportion who feel ‘Fairly distant’ or ‘Very distant’ rose by two percentage points to 23%.

But what’s so natural about that? He can’t be suggesting that American Jews are inherently hardwired to adhere to the Zionist state. After all, the 23% who feel distant from Israel suggests that it couldn’t be natural in that sense. So he must mean that there’s something about Israel’s Jewishness that attracts American Jews’ adherence, because they are Jews. But there’s nothing intrinsically attractive to American Jews, or anybody anywhere, about an explicitly imperialist endeavour to establish a racist ethnocracy on the basis of a campaign of terrorism and ethnic cleansing. Indeed, many American Jews are quite adamantly opposed to racism, ethnocracy, terrorism, and ethnic cleansing. There’s nothing in the least natural about adherence to Israel – it’s drummed into American Jews from their first day at Hebrew School, if not from infancy.

Since I’ve raised the AJC survey, I might as well provide a little more detail. Back in December 2007, I posted an analysis of the 2007 iteration. Unsurprisingly, the release of the report last September went right by me even though it was the first item in the AJC’s 3 October News update. Better late than never.

The 2008 Survey, carried out in mid September, once again by polling firm Synovate, only asked 15 questions, less than half the 38 asked in 2007, and with a focus on the US presidential election – three (20%) specifically asked about candidates. The sample in 2008 was also nearly 9% smaller than the 1000 ‘self-identifying Jewish respondents’ surveyed in 2007, although they claim the same 3 percentage point margin of error.

Bearing the margin of error in mind, as well as my critique of the question in ‘Who pays the piper’, in 2008, the proportion describing themselves as ‘Extremely liberal’, ‘Liberal’, or ‘Slightly liberal’ increased by a probably insignificant one percentage point, from 43% to 44%, while those claiming to be ‘Extremely conservative, ‘Conservative’, or ‘Slightly conservative’ correspondingly declined from 24% to 23%. It’s not clear where the thousands of hasbara-addled fanatics shrieking for blood on the streets of New York, or the dozens of protesters who blockaded the Israeli consulate in San Francisco and Los Angeles, would place themselves on the AJC’s political spectrum.

Thirty-eight percent ‘think there will come a time when Israel and its Arab neighbors will be able to settle their differences and live in peace’, one percentage point more than in 2007, while the proportion who don’t think so also rose by the same amount to 56%. More significantly, 22% now ‘think that Israel can achieve peace with a Hamas-led Palestinian government’, five percentage points more than the previous year, with 68% disagreeing, compared with 74% in 2007. But that was in September, long before Israel’s very existence came under mortal threat again when Hamas inexplicably started launching Qassam rockets in November.

Perhaps the most telling among the fifteen questions asks whether respondents support or oppose ‘...the United States taking military action against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons?’. Those opposed declined significantly by ten percentage points to 47% while the proportion supporting a war on Iran has risen from 35% in 2007 to 42%. Since only 23% said they were ‘Conservative’, at least 12% of the American Jews who have swallowed the line about Iran developing nuclear weapons and accepted the US’s role as cop of the world must have been ‘Liberals’ or ‘Moderates’.

J Street, the ‘liberal’ Jewish lobby, commissioned an internet survey of ‘800 self-identified adult American Jews’ that was designed by Gerstein | Agne Strategic Communications and conducted by YouGovPolimetrix between 29 June and 3 July last year. If Synovate asks leading questions that beg all kinds of assumptions, Gerstein | Agne have certainly outdone them. Each of the 91 questions are so long and complex that it’s hard to make any sense out of National Survey of American Jews, even if you believe that respondents followed the questions. One question (Q51), however, although not collecting the same concept as the AJC survey’s, may provide a comparative measure.

A plurality of 48% said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate enunciating the following position:

America must do everything it can to protect Israel's security. This means militarily attacking Iran if they pursue a nuclear weapons program, supporting an Israeli pre-emptive strike against Iran, cutting off aid to the Palestinians if their schools allow textbooks that don't recognize Israel, and letting the Palestinians know where we stand on Jerusalem by moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

J Street’s analysis alleges, ‘Instead of holding the hawkish or hard line positions often expressed by many established Jewish organizations and leaders, American Jews overwhelmingly favor assertive peace efforts’. When nearly half of US Jews admit that that kind of bellicose rhetoric would draw them to a congressional candidate, I’d come to quite a different conclusion. As for the 41% who said they’d be less likely to vote for such a candidate, there’s no way of knowing whether they oppose attacking Iran, disagree about the extent of American protection of ‘Israel’s security’, object to dictating the content of foreign textbooks, or any of a range of other combinations of assertions and implications contained in the statement.

I haven’t seen any polling of US Jews since 27 December, but in a Rasmussen telephone survey of ‘1,000 Likely Voters’ – not just Jews – on 9-10 January, more than two weeks into the slaughter, 56% blamed ‘the Palestinians’ for ‘the current situation’, as Rasmussen so delicately put it. A plurality of 45% said Israel should ‘have taken military action against the Palestinians’ in preference to trying ‘to find a diplomatic solution’.

Change we can believe in

I was planning to post excerpts from Mark Steele’s column in Wednesday’s Independent. But when I went to retrieve the URL, guess what

Sorry but we haven't been able to serve the page you requested - please try again

Well, I have tried again, and again. As there’s no problem loading other content on the site, I surmise this column has been removed, probably for reasons that won’t be hard to fathom. So here it is in full for your delectation.

Mark Steel: Now we've all seen through the Israeli government's excuses

If the Hamas rockets are so lethal, why doesn't Israel swap an F-16 for some?

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The worrying part about whether the ceasefire in Gaza can hold together will be whether the international community can stop the flow of arms to the terrorists. Because Israel's getting their planes and tanks and missiles from somewhere and until this supply is cut off there's every chance it could start up again.

The disregard for life from these terrorists and their supporters is shocking. For example Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, wrote that the purpose of the Israeli attack must be to "inflict a heavy death toll and heavy pain on the Gaza population".

Replace "Gaza" with "western", and that could have been written by al-Qa'ida. Maybe this is the problem: the Israelis are writing their policies by downloading statements from an Islamic Jihad website and just changing the place names. Also, if the Israelis think the Hamas rockets are as lethal as they say, why don't they swap their F-16 fighters and Apache helicopters for a few of them?

These things are capable of terrorising a whole nation for years apparently, yet the Israelis have neglected to buy any, wasting their money on gunboats and stuff. Given that their annual arms budget is $7.2bn plus $2.2 bn in "aid", they'd save enough to buy a selection of banks in every country in the world.

The military advantages would be enormous because the Israelis' complaint about Hamas is the use of tunnels to smuggle arms. But if Israel gave Hamas a few planes and tanks and helicopters, they could probably be persuaded to shut down those tunnels that seem to be the cause of such bad feeling.

Whatever you say about Israel, at least it moves its weapons about legally – except for when it secretly built a nuclear arsenal against an array of international agreements. But they did it above ground and not in a tunnel and that's the main thing. [Note: I’m not sure most of the Dimona nuclear facility is in fact above ground. Part of it is. EH]

Watching the reports from Gaza, another reason why the ceasefire may break down becomes apparent. The Israelis might claim that their satellite pictures now show Palestinians in possession of huge mounds of rubble – lethal if thrown over the border. Luckily these weapons are easy to spot. Most of them are next to women howling, "Look what they've done to my house," but perhaps the airforce should bomb them again – just in case. The Israelis say they fear Hamas will once again break the ceasefire by sending over those rockets. But the whole point of the operation was to make that impossible. Because they must have asked themselves the question, "If we slaughter 1,300 people, including 300 children, is that likely to make people: A. less cross or B. more cross?" And presumably they concluded it will make them much less likely to grow up full of hatred and determination to retaliate. Perhaps they saw medical research that shows when someone is suffering from anxiety and bouts of irascible ill-tempered behaviour, the best treatment is to pen them in with no food or medicine and then kill some of them, and that calms them down a treat.

Another way to allay their worries about Hamas breaking the ceasefire is to read the report from their government's own Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre. This states that during the ceasefire "Hamas did not take part in any rocket fire and sometimes prevented other organisations from attacking." Still, with all that's been going on I suppose they haven't had time for reading.

Despite all this there might be one cheery sign, which is that never before have so many people seen through the Israeli government's excuses for handing out mass destruction. The demonstrations in support of Palestinians have been bigger than ever before, and even the United Nations and the Wall Street Journal have suggested Israel has committed war crimes. One poll in America suggested that 60 per cent of people opposed the bombardment, and the change of opinion reached the point that an Israeli diplomat has admitted that "The harm to civilians in Gaza is causing us huge damage."

Maybe, best of all, was genetics expert Steven Rose who appeared on Radio 4's Today programme to talk about a new study that's located "morality spots", the part of the brain that deals with our morality. [Gary Olson on the ‘mirror neuron system’ alleged to hardwire human beings for empathy. EH] Asked how we could know whether this was true, he said in a marvellously posh academic Radio 4 voice "Well we could test the brains of the Israeli cabinet and see if they've got no morality spots whatsoever."

And the most immoral part of all is the perfectly cynical timing, as if three weeks ago Bush shouted: "Last orders please. Any last bombing, before time's up? Come along now, haven't you got homes to demolish?"

Back in the States, President Obama has wasted no time clarifying his position on the slaughter in Gaza. Over at Jews sans frontiers, Gabriel has already deconstructed Obama’s remarks.

Let me be clear: America is committed to Israel's security. And we will always support Israel's right to defend itself against legitimate threats…Hamas must meet clear conditions: recognize Israel's right to exist; renounce violence; and abide by past agreements…the United States and our partners will support a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime, so that Hamas cannot rearm…

Or, as Joseph Massad put it on Electronic Intifada on Tuesday,

…while Israel has the right to defend itself, its victims have no similar right to defend themselves. In fact, the logic is even more sinister than this and can be elucidated as follows: Israel has the right to oppress the Palestinians and does so to defend itself, but were the Palestinians to defend themselves against Israel's oppression, which they do not have a right to do, Israel will then have the right to defend itself against their illegitimate defense of themselves against its legitimate oppression of them, which it carries out anyway in order to defend itself legitimately.

Obama continued,

Now is the time for Arab states to act on the initiative's promise by supporting the Palestinian government under President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, taking steps towards normalizing relations with Israel, and by standing up to extremism that threatens us all.

That would be the same President Abbas whose term expired a fortnight ago, and the same Salam Fayyad who abu Mazen himself appointed to the position after Israel abducted and incarcerated many of the elected Palestinian Legislative Council members and Abbas dissolved the ‘unity government’ that Hamas had agreed to form in spite of winning the January 2006 election outright.

That election, by the way, is often described as ‘free and fair’. I beg to differ. There is no such thing as a fair election under military occupation – voters are always conscious of and sensitive to the Damoclean sword of looming unspoken but well understood consequences of electing the wrong candidates. Even if it were possible, the restrictions placed on the movement of candidates, the harassment many of them suffered, the influx of US funds for Abbas to distribute to his supporters…ensured that in this case, the election was anything but fair, even if observers detected no widespread fraud on the day. What surprised me, and I think just about everyone, was that with the deck stacked so comprehensively against them, Hamas still managed to secure a decisive majority of seats. Aside from the fact that there is no Palestinian state and therefore no ‘Palestinian government’, by identifying the Presidential overstayer who usurped the elected Council and his illegally appointed PM as the ‘government’, President Obama signals his attitude to democracy, even to the democratic trappings of elections and terms of office.

The United States will fully support an international donor's conference to seek short-term humanitarian assistance and long-term reconstruction for the Palestinian economy. This assistance will be provided to and guided by the Palestinian Authority.

As many have written, one of the expected outcomes of Israel’s slaughter and demolition of Gaza is to transform Gaza from a political to a humanitarian issue, reducing the Palestinians to objects of pity and recipients of charity, at Israel’s pleasure, of course. An ancillary objective may well have been to ensure that Hamas is to have no role in reconstruction. Since much of Hamas’s popularity and street cred arises specifically from its provision of services that the Fatah led PA was too corrupt to manage, that could be a comparatively effective tactic for undermining Hamas. But short of keeping troops within Gaza, it’s hard to imagine how they intend to exclude Hamas.

The BBC’s refusal to broadcast, in accordance with an arrangement in place for over four decades, an appeal for donations from the Disasters Emergency Committee, a consortium of 13 British charities, is despicable. Far be it from me to discourage individuals and organisations from making donations, but it does seem a bit rich that after all the destruction Israel has perpetrated against the people and infrastructure of Gaza, infrastructure largely built with donations from The International Community in the first place, it’s back down to us to pay for the damage Israel quite deliberately carried out. But then, it’s typically the losers who end up forced to pay war reparations, and since Israel killed 100 times as many Palestinians, and 300 times as many civilians, as Palestinians killed Israelis, I suppose Israel must be the winner. So we have to clean up after them.

Some actually perceive this as a loss for Israel. In conflicts between adversaries of such unequal capacity for destruction, for the underdog, survival is victory. Furthermore, Hamas’s steadfastness in the face of Israel’s onslaught is likely to buy them a lot of support in Gaza and beyond.

The outpouring of rage around the world in response to Israel’s most recent spate of atrocities, the occupation of eight British universities, the demonstrations against the BBC, and now the occupation of the BBC’s Glasgow office, are all encouraging signs. Venezuela and Bolivia have expelled their Israeli ambassadors; Israel is girding its loins for the anticipated spate of war crimes prosecutions; NATO member Turkey’s PM, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has called for Israel’s expulsion from the UN, notwithstanding Turkey’s military ties with the Jewish state since the Fifties; calls for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions are gaining more traction than ever; cogent comparisons to the Warsaw Ghetto are becoming commonplace. Even the bourgeois media have displayed some of the carnage.

And yet, in my little backwater here, the Palestine solidarity group decided to cancel the rally we had planned and announced for last Friday, on the grounds that Israel had declared a ‘unilateral ceasefire’. In yesterday’s New York Times, Ethan Bronner, writing of the first day back at

Jabaliya refugee camp’s middle school, couldn’t resist slipping in, ‘…Israel’s 23-day war aimed at stopping Hamas’s rockets’. An AFP report yesterday insists on making the same point, ‘The Israeli offensive, aimed at stemming rocket and mortar fire from the territory…’ In other words, they are still casting the whole adventure as a case of Israel exercising its ‘right to self defense’ and must assume that they can divert their audiences from understanding that Israel is the aggressor.

Despite Obama’s embarrassing genuflection to Aipac, his support for Israel’s attack, and his current insistence on excluding Hamas, Uri Avnery is optimistic. He perceives ‘between Israel and the United States a gap has opened this week, a narrow gap, almost invisible – but it may widen into an abyss…While the US has made a giant jump to the left, Israel is about to jump even further to the right.’

I’m optimistic, too. Literally millions of Americans decided to ignore Obama’s record and explicit policies, and placing their own interpretation on his promise of hope and change, poured heart and soul into getting him into the White House. Their expectations are high, and utterly unrealistic. Since at least last August, he has proclaimed his intention to attack Pakistan, ‘If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will.’ True to his word,and wasting no time, on Friday, US drones struck two targets in Pakistan, slaughtering twenty. True to his word, he has announced the closure of the Guantánamo Bay torture centre, although it’s not due to happen for another year, and even then, the inmates are just to be incarcerated elsewhere. As Eli Stephens points out, he has not undertaken to withdraw US forces who have been occupying that part of Cuba since 1903.

Obama’s most ardent supporters believe he was serious about the hope and change – the reactionary policies were just part of his remarkably successful marketing campaign. Sooner or later, they are going to realise that he meant everything he said about policy and the hope and change were the window dressing. There is a real danger that their disappointment will lead to despair and demoralization. But my hope is that they’ll get good and pissed off. Then we may really see some change we can believe in.

Thursday 22 January 2009

'Subliminal xenophobic behaviour'

In a comment on ‘No Turkish coffee’, two posts down, Ablokeimet alerted me to potentially confusing wording. When I wrote,

Australia’s Retailers’ Association has enthusiastically embraced a call from Brisbane radio 4BC shock jock, ex cop Michael Smith, to ban covered women from shops, banks and post offices.

I made the unwarranted assumption that there was just the one lobbyist representing shopkeepers in Australia. Apparently I am not the only one to fall into this trap. On 14 December, the ABC made the same mistake and had to issue a clarification.

It transpires that Scott Driscoll’s outfit, QRTSA – The Retailers Association, the one that endorsed Michael Smith’s call to ban the hijab from shops, is the rebadged Queensland Retail Traders & Shopkeepers Association. The QRTSA went national, opening offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Adelaide early in 2008.

Nor are the The Retailers Association and the Australian Retailers Association the only ones claiming to represent Australian retailers on a national basis. According to, the list includes:

  • ARA – Australian Retailers Association.
  • ANRA – Australian National Retailers Association.
  • NRA – National Retailers [sic – should be Retail]Association.
  • NARGA – National Association of Retail Grocers of Australia.
  • NIRA – National Independent Retailers Association.
  • MGA – Master Grocers Australia.
  • FCA – Franchise Council of Australia

Anyway, the Australian Retailers Association put out a press release on 16 January distancing themselves from Driscoll. Richard Evans, Executive Director of the ARA, is quoted as saying,

… Mr Driscoll's comments are extreme and harking back to a day when xenophobia was rife and serves to create a culture of angst, anger and mistrust…No one who takes the rich culture of modern Australia seriously would diminish themselves by suggesting cultural or custom clothing is a security risk. This is subliminal xenophobic behaviour and it saddens to have someone from a respected Queensland retail organisation not realise the consequences of such lazy speech.

My apologies to the ARA and anyone who thought they were the ones who had taken this racist stand.

Sunday 18 January 2009

Louder than words

A few images from Norman Finkelstein's evocative photomontage. [Hat tip to Eli Stephens.]

No Turkish coffee

Australia’s Retailers’ Association has enthusiastically embraced a call from Brisbane radio 4BC shock jock, ex cop Michael Smith, to ban covered women from shops, banks and post offices.

According to Robyn Ironside in the Courier-Mail,

Smith called for Muslim women who wear an Islamic hijab in public to be fined for offensive behaviour.

He made the remarks on-air and on the 4BC website, saying: "Any reasonable person would find this offensive."
Of course, this has nothing to do with targeting Muslim women.
"Retailers should not have to fear any form of retribution or backlash for requiring the removal of any obscuring headwear, including hijabs, as a condition of entry," [Association executive director, Scott] Driscoll said.

"This is about ensuring a more safe and secure retail environment for all and being able to readily identify any and all perpetrators of armed hold-ups or shop theft."
All he’s doing is saying that if you are a women who thinks her religion requires women to cover their heads in public, you should not be able to deposit money in a bank or buy a postage stamp, but if you’re a man who thinks his religion requires women to cover their heads in public, you should.

Meanwhile, over the Tasman, Mustafa Tekinkaya, the Turkish born proprietor of the Mevlana café in Invercargill has come under fire for expelling two Israeli women, reports Will Hine in New Zealand’s Southland Times.

‘Everyone is going on about racism. This has nothing to do with racism. This is all about the killing of innocent children,’ Tekinkaya is quoted as saying. ‘He said he would not serve anyone from Israel until it stopped killing innocent babies and women in the Gaza Strip.’ His wife and business partner, Joanne, added, ‘Those dead women and children don't have a voice. No one's sticking up for them. Innocent women and children are being punished, so how can we be quiet and stand by and support that...?’

Laudable sentiments, no doubt. And yet, what have Natalie Bennie, who apparently lives near Invercargill, and her sister Tamara Shefa, visiting from Israel, have to do with the slaughter in Gaza? In my view, nobody gets to decide who their parents are or where they are born, and we are therefore not culpable for the crimes of our ancestors or the state that claims our allegiance. Bennie and Shefa may be among the most rabid supporters of the massacre, or they may not. They may even have made the error of discussing their views while in the Mevlana. But I for one would take great exception if some petty bourgeois interrogated my nationality or my political views before agreeing to sell me a cup of coffee, or ejected me because they disagreed with me.

The Israeli ambassador Yuval Rotem, based in Canberra, Ambassador Rotem said the New Zealand ‘government needed to make a declaration or statement giving the "red light" to such actions’.

Far be it from me to agree with an Israeli diplomat, but he’s right about that.

When he describes Tekinkaya’s views as ‘anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish sentiment’, however, he crosses the line. Tekinkaya has said nothing remotely anti-Semitic. By inferring from his objection to the Gaza massacre that Tekinkaya displays ‘anti-Jewish sentiment’, he buys into the anti-Semitic trope so popular among Israeli spokepersons, that to criticise Israel is to be an anti-Semite, which tars all Jews with the Zionist brush.

Echoing His Excellency, Natalie Bennie, who lodged a complaint with the NZ Human Rights Commission, claimed ‘It was very anti-semitic behaviour…He might as well have put a sign outside his shop saying `No Jews Allowed'.’

The Anti Defamation League, the EU Monitoring Commission, and the US State Department will doubtless be howling before long about the unprecedented increase in anti-Semitic incidents in New Zealand.

Some ceasefire!

The long awaited ceasefire has just come into effect. Reuters/AFP reports that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced, ‘At two o'clock in the morning we will stop fire…’

Welcome news indeed. ‘But,’ he went on, ‘we will continue to be deployed in Gaza and its surroundings’. Somehow, I don’t see all those soldiers doffing their Kevlar, putting on their tuxedos, and going out to enjoy the opera. They’ll still be swaggering around, fully armed, ensuring that whatever quiet may prevail, there will be no peace for the suffering Gazans. ‘…the Israeli army will regard itself as free to respond with force.’

Olmert nailed the real reason Israel has decided to stop shooting for the nonce, if that even happens. ‘We have reached all the goals of the war, and beyond.’ Clearly, they could never have considered a ceasefire while there remains any prospect of Palestinian self defence.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum pointed out, ‘A unilateral ceasefire does not mean ending the [Israeli] aggression and ending the siege…These constitute acts of war and so this will not mean an end to resistance…The Zionist enemy must stop all its aggression, completely withdraw from the Gaza Strip, lift the blockade, and open the crossings.’

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said, ‘This should be the first step leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza’. But, ‘Any durable solution must include the reopening of the [Gaza border] crossings and the prevention of illicit trafficking in arms’.

And that’s the main thing, ensuring that the Palestinians locked down within the tiny Gaza Strip have no means to defend themselves when Israel next decides to violate a ceasefire agreement. ‘Britain, France and Germany offered to join an international effort to prevent arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip.’ The reports don’t quote Olmert or anyone undertaking to lift the siege, nor an international effort to open the borders and keep them open.

The movement to end the carnage in Gaza has quite explicitly demanded withdrawal of invading forces and ending Israeli restrictions on movement in and out of Gaza. We’ve seen how Israel honours its agreements, including significantly, the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access. It’s crucial that we maintain the pressure until Gaza is free of the IOF and people and goods move freely. At least.

Criminals walk free

Yesterday Eli Stephens at Left I on the news made this insightful observation,

…imagine an admittedly improbable circumstance - a Hamas rocket firing squad has managed to infiltrate Sderot, and fires their rocket from in front of a school or hospital in Sderot. Do you really think for one second that the Israelis would fire on those people, knowing that the dozen or so civilians they would be killing at the sam time would be Israelis rather than Palestinians? Of course they wouldn't. Because they value Israeli lives, while to them, the lives of innocent Palestinians are worth nothing. That's genocide.
I don’t agree that evidence of a racist approach to targeting noncombatants alone demonstrates genocidal intent. ‘But in a non-legal sense, "genocide" involves the killing of people because of their religion or nationality. Which is precisely what is going on in Gaza right now,’ Eli writes. Again, genocide does typically involve such killing, what makes it genocidal is the intent.

But then, that’s hardly at issue. For reference, here’s the definition from Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which Israel has ratified [emphasis added].
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Israel claims, and will doubtless continue to claim, that it never targets civilians. And by and large the world’s ‘leaders’ will echo them. But it’s got to the point now where even the media are forced to question this, if only sporadically, when the IOF guides its precision guided weaponry pretty consistently at hospitals, schools, and private homes and fully a third of those killed are kids. When they can no longer sustain the illusion that that’s all just unfortunate but unavoidable collateral damage, they will resort to the worn out casuistry, ‘But the Palestinians didn’t exist as a distinct “national, ethnical, racial or religious group” until we came’. Even if the sophists of the hasbara establishment could prove such a thing, they are one now.

In fact, even before the ‘outbreak of hostilities’ whose consequences we are now witnessing with horror and rage, the siege of Gaza certainly qualifies as ‘Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part’.

Eli also observes that ‘international law is pretty much of a joke anyway. War crimes trials are reserved for the weak and the defeated, while far bigger war criminals walk free.’ This is not only empirically the case, but actually inherent in the nature of international law. Consider a scenario where the long sought Security Council veto wielded by the US, UK, France, Russia and China is abolished and a resolution was passed under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter calling, for instance, on the US to cease its aggression against Iraq. A UN force would need to be assembled capable of taking on and defeating the US military. Even if all other member states contributed to the force, it would be a big ask, if not downright impossible. But since it is inconceivable that countries embroiled in military alliances with the US or dependent upon the US economically or politically would participate, is is simply out of the question. Ultimately, international law is only enforceable against the weak, as Eli says, and therefore can only serve as some kind of moral guidance for states. As you’ve probably noticed, states have never exhibited a proclivity to act in accordance with the kinds of moral principles that sometimes guide individual human beings’ actions.

So despite the incontrovertible evidence that confronts us every minute that Israel is in breach of its obligations under the Convention, I’m not expecting to see Tzipi Livni et al. in the dock at the Hague any time soon.

In another penetrating insight I came across yesterday, Jonathan Cook writes,
In September 2007, the international media reported that 69 Israeli soldiers had been wounded when Palestinian militants fired a rocket into the Zikim army base near the Gaza Strip. The rocket struck a tent where the soldiers were sleeping.

It is worth noting the details of the attack. Israeli officials related that, of the 69 wounded, 11 had moderate or severe injuries and one was critically injured. A few more had light wounds. The rest, probably 50 or more, were injured in the sense that they were suffering from shock.

So, if we apply the same standard to Gaza, that would mean 1.5 million Gazans have been wounded. Or is there still some doubt about whether the weeks of bombardment of Gaza, one of the most densely populated places on earth, have left the entire civilian population in a deep, and possibly permanent, state of shock?
I’m not holding my breath for the mainstream media to start reporting 1.5 million casualties. The press is not sensitive to accusations of double standards and racism. After all, they are the paragon of professional, objective, dispassionate reporting.

Another thing I finally got around to reading yesterday was the 7 January MERIP report, ‘Birth Pangs of a New Palestine’ by Mouin Rabbani.

Saturday 17 January 2009

Win now

After three solid weeks of bombing, shelling, strafing, sniping and what have you, the Israeli Occupation Force has only managed to dispatch 410 terrorist children. How is the Jewish and democratic state going to survive if the IOF allows hundreds of thousands of them to reach maturity?

Don’t you want to see more smiling, satisfied, triumphant Israeli boys and girls like these?

Hat tip to Gabriel at Jews sans frontières

Here’s how you can help.

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Modern office design

Dr Vinesh Oommen from the Queensland University of Technology's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation has ‘reviewed a global pool of research into the effect of modern office design, concluding the switch to open-plan has led to lower productivity and higher worker stress’.

"The evidence we found was absolutely shocking…In 90 per cent of the research, the outcome of working in an open-plan office was seen as negative, with open-plan offices causing high levels of stress, conflict, high blood pressure, and a high staff turnover. The high level of noise causes employees to lose concentration, leading to low productivity …

Why would employers subject their most precious asset to such perils, even sacrificing the holy grail of productivity?

Dr Oommen sums it up nicely.

employers are always looking for ways to cut costs, and using open-plan designs can save 20 per cent on construction.

Have your cake

By this time, I think it’s safe to assume that it’s common knowledge that what shattered the ceasefire Egypt brokered in June was not Qassams raining on Sderot, but Israel’s 4 November attack on Gaza, which killed six. Just coincidentally, that was the day of the historic US presidential election. As Jim Lobe and Ali Gharib reported on IPS 7 January

While the major U.S. news wire Associated Press (AP) reported that the attack, in which six members of Hamas's military wing were killed by Israeli ground forces, threatened the ceasefire, its report was carried by only a handful of small newspapers around the country.
The Nov 4 raid -- and the escalation that followed -- also went unreported by the major U.S. network and cable television new programmes, according to a search of the Nexis database for all English-language news coverage between Nov. 4 and 7.
Although I have not managed to find the text of the ceasefire document, if there ever was one, or even a summary of its terms, it’s hard to imagine that it countenanced attacks like Israel’s on 4 November. So it seems a trifle understated to assert that it ‘threatened the ceasefire’.
Lobe and Gharib quote Stephen Zunes, ‘an expert on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at the University of San Francisco’, in much the same vein, ‘It was a huge, huge provocation, and it now appears to me that it was actually intended to get Hamas to break off the ceasefire’.
In his now famous letter to US Secretary of State Dr Condoleezza Rice, Congressman Dennis Kucinich wrote,
I believe that Israel’s most recent attacks neither further internal security nor do they constitute “legitimate” acts of self-defense. They do, however, “increase the possibility of an outbreak or escalation of conflict,” because they are a vastly disproportionate response to the provocation, and because the Palestinian population is suffering from those military attacks in numbers far exceeding Israeli losses in life and property.

In reality, the slaughter Israel is perpetrating in Gaza is not a disproportionate response to the provocation. It is the provocation. As if to underscore Israel’s attitude to the truce, on the day the bombing started, Barak Ravid reported in Ha’aretz, ‘Sources in the defense establishment said Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for the operation over six months ago, even as Israel was beginning to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with Hamas.’
Nor is this the first time that Israel has decided to interrupt a period of ‘calm’. In the Huffington Post on Tuesday, Nancy Kanwisher, Johannes Haushofer, & Anat Biletzki, discussing their study of ‘conflict pauses’, write,
We defined "conflict pauses" as periods of one or more days when no one is killed on either side, and we asked which side kills first after conflict pauses of different durations. As shown in Figure 2, this analysis shows that it is overwhelmingly Israel that kills first after a pause in the conflict: 79% of all conflict pauses were interrupted when Israel killed a Palestinian, while only 8% were interrupted by Palestinian attacks (the remaining 13% were interrupted by both sides on the same day). In addition, we found that this pattern -- in which Israel is more likely than Palestine to kill first after a conflict pause -- becomes more pronounced for longer conflict pauses. Indeed, of the 25 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than a week, Israel unilaterally interrupted 24, or 96%, and it unilaterally interrupted 100% of the 14 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than 9 days.
My understanding is that the terms of the tahadiyeh required Israel to lift its siege. That it declined to do so suggests that the ceasefire was effectively unilateral on the part of Hamas in the first place. Of course, there are claims that Hamas was also in violation. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni addressing a press conference in Sderot on 31 December said,
Now, one of the elements of the truce declared six months ago was full cessation of the smuggling of weapons through these tunnels. Unfortunately, Hamas did not do that, and violated this agreement.
Here is the text of the agreement according to the Working Group on the Middle East Peace Process blog [hat tip to Kathy Kelly]:
Ceasefire Understanding between Hamas and Israel as Mediated by Egypt
  1. Mutual agreement to cease all military activities by the start of “zero hour” on Thursday, June 19, at 6:00AM.
  2. Duration of ceasefire is six months according to agreement concluded among the national parties under Egyptian auspices.
  3. Ceasefire will be implemented under national consensus and under the Egyptian auspices.
  4. After seventy two hours from the start of the ceasefire, the crossing points will be opened to allow 30% more goods to enter the Gaza strip.
  5. Ten days after that (i.e., 13 days after ceasefire begins), all crossings would be open between Gaza and Israel, and Israel will allow the transfer of all goods that were banned or restricted to go into Gaza.
Note that it does not mention 'smuggling of weapons'. Indeed, 'all goods that were banned or restricted' implicitly permits it.
Clearly, there was no impediment under the terms of the agreement to Israel, already boasting the fourth most powerful military apparatus on the planet, from replenishing their own munitions. Indeed, according to a Reuters report carried today in Ha’aretz,
…the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command (MSC) said the ship was to carry 325 standard 20-foot containers of what is listed as "ammunition" on two separate journeys from the Greek port of Astakos to the Israeli port of Ashdod in mid-to-late January.
In the wake of the UN Security Council Resolution 1860 (cf. Jews sans frontières), calling for an ‘immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire’, the US is shipping arms to Israel in the midst of its gruesome attack on the Gaza Strip, just as it did as Israel was reducing much of Lebanon to rubble in 2006. But there is nothing to worry about, because according to the doubtless trustworthy Air Force Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, ‘The delivery of ammunition is to a pre-positioned U.S. munitions stockpile in Israel in accordance with a congressionally authorised 1990 agreement between the U.S. and Israel…This previously scheduled shipment is routine and not in support of the current situation in Gaza.’ Thankfully, the Greek government has prevented this from proceeding, for the time being.
Doubtless with a view to minimising civilian casualties, ‘In September, the U.S. Congress approved the sale of 1,000 bunker-buster missiles to Israel. The GPS-guided GBU-39 is said to be one of the most accurate bombs in the world’, Reuters further reports.
The way the media have been reporting on this, you’d think it went without saying why Israel is entitled to exploit a ceasefire to prepare for its next onslaught and Hamas is not. And I suppose it does. After all, Hamas is among the 42 groups on the US State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTO). Israel is not.
Section 140(d)(2) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1988 and 1989 defines "terrorism" as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents."
So that neatly gets Israel off the hook, whatever they do, however motivated. Similarly, echoing what has become a commonplace, ‘The [US] House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution Friday "recognizing Israel's right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza"…The bill, which was sponsored by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, passed by a vote of 390 to 5’, according to CNN. I have seen nothing from Pelosi or any of the others asserting this right that suggests that they have even considered the possibility that Hamas might be entitled to exercise such a right.
Although widely treated as such, Israel’s right to defend itself may not be such a trivial issue. As the Zionist colonial project is inherently racist and imperialist, and therefore indefensible, I’d argue that it does not. But surely it does have the right and obligation to protect its citizens. One way it could go about this might be to eschew provocations like the 4 November attack. Another would be to refrain from subjecting Palestinians to a suffocating siege. Or it could treat the occupied population with the consideration required by the Fourth Geneva Convention, or its own Palestinian citizens with the full rights of citizens. Or the Israeli government could provide for the wellbeing of the one third of Israeli children who go to bed hungry every night, according to the charities that claim to be trying to feed them. Or it could deploy the billions it extorted from Germany as Holocaust reparations to provide a dignified senescence for the tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors currently living in abject poverty there…
Another commonplace that keeps coming up is that while Hamas deliberately targets civilians, while using Palestinian civilians as human shields, Israel is always conscientious to a fault not to harm non-combatants. On 2 January, infamous Harvard Law Professor Alan M Dershowitz, for instance, wrote in the Wall Street Journal,
Hamas has fired thousands of rockets designed to kill civilians into southern Israel… the terrorists exploit the morality of democracies…Israel would never fire at a home with civilians in it…These despicable tactics -- targeting Israeli civilians while hiding behind Palestinian civilians -- can only work against moral democracies that care deeply about minimizing civilian casualties…
With 1000 GPS-guided GBU-39 bunker busters, ‘one of the most accurate bombs in the world’, at its disposal, along with all the latest high tech ‘smart’ weapons, you’d think that the Israeli military could manage at least to kill more combatants than civilians. But now that the UN’s early estimate that ‘at least 25%’ of the dead – that is, women and children – were non-combatants, has been superseded by more accurate appraisals, it transpires that they comprise most of the killed and injured. There are all kinds of speculations about how the IDF manage to miss so often. Their Code of ethics prescribes
Purity of Arms - The IDF servicemen and women will use their weapons and force only for the purpose of their mission, only to the necessary extent and will maintain their humanity even during combat. IDF soldiers will not use their weapons and force to harm human beings who are not combatants or prisoners of war, and will do all in their power to avoid causing harm to their lives, bodies, dignity and property.
Israel’s apologists opine that Hamas places non-combatants in the line of fire by using civilian facilities for military purposes. But that can’t be right because the IDF ‘will not use their weapons and force to harm human beings who are not combatants’. It could be that they’re not really sure how to use those smart weapons, or have poor aim. But by far the most plausible explanation is that the targeting of civilians is deliberate. The vacillating pretexts they’ve come up with for bombing UNWRA’s Fakhura and Asma schools where refugees were sheltering on Tuesday and eventual admission to UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness ‘that the attack on the UN site was unintentional’, strongly suggest that they think they have something to hide.
Dr Rice seems unconcerned about this. After all, to avoid slaughtering non-combatants ‘is very difficult in circumstances like Gaza, which is a very densely populated area…I might note it's also an area in which Hamas participates in activities like human shields, using buildings that are not designated as military buildings to hide their fighters. So it's hard’.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was more forthright at her Sderot press conference, admitting,
During this operation, Israel had a list of targets that are related directly to Hamas. We are talking about headquarters, we are talking about the places in which they gather; we are talking about the places where they manufacture missiles and we are talking about all of the places that are connected to Hamas as a government, not legitimate, but a government as a terrorist organization. All of these attacks are directly targeted at places that we know are part of Hamas…[emphasis added]
In other words, the objective is not just to remove ‘the infrastructure of terror’, but any infrastructure that Hamas currently controls, and if civilians get in the way, so be it.
The accusation that Hamas deliberately targets Israeli civilians is also problematical. Since the Qassam and other rockets in their armoury are not guided, it seems preposterous to suggest they are targeting anything in particular. Unless, of course, Sderot, and now Ashkelon and other nearby cities, are free of military targets. As Jonathan Cook pointed out during the assault on Lebanon in 2006, Israel doesn’t permit the locations of its military facilities, including arms factories, to be divulged. So for all we know, there may be legitimate military targets in or near Sderot, and that is where Gazans firing rockets hope they will land.
Use of weapons that can’t be aimed accurately does raise the question of whether they ought to be used at all. After all, as Chomsky and others argue, and I concur, actions that predictably harm civilians are morally equivalent to those that deliberately do so. But the only evidence we have that Qassam rockets predictably harm civilians is the hasbara establishment’s assertion that they deliberately target civilians, which is itself implausible. So I am not convinced that the few Israeli victims of Qassams were in fact predictable. Furthermore, I am not prepared to condemn Palestinians for resisting Israeli oppression, not to mention military assaults, using the only weapons at their disposal. That said, while I understand the impulse to retaliate, rocketing and suicide bombing Israeli targets of any kind has proven just as ineffective as nonviolent forms of resistance, and counterproductive to boot.
Furthermore, last February, there was a kerfuffle over the threat to sack Palestinian filmmaker, Nizar Hassam, from his post as a lecturer at Sderot’s Sapir College on the grounds that he had asked a student to come to class out of uniform and unarmed. The most recent information I’ve managed to find on this issue was a 7 March 2008 letter from Mervat Hatem, president of the Middle East Studies Association of North America to Dr. Ze’ev Tsahor, President of Sapir College, deploring the ad hoc procedures deployed in disciplining Hassan. At that point, Tsahor seemed to think Hassan’s sacking was imminent but I don’t know whether he was ultimately sacked or not. What is not in doubt is that armed and uniformed Israeli soldiers are lurking around Israeli academic institutions. Does that make the universities legitimate military targets? Or is it just a case of soldiers hiding behind noncombatants? Of course, the reservist in question was either off duty or AWOL, it might be objected. But then, when Israel dropped a one tonne bomb on Nizar Rayyan’s house on New Year’s Day, killing him along with his four wives and eleven children, surely he must have been off duty, too. Every time there’s a suicide bombing, the media shriek in unison how despicable, dastardly, and cowardly the terrorists are to target civilians like that. Anyone who’s been to Israel knows that armed and uniformed soldiers travel on public transport and frequent pizza parlours and felafel stalls. When Israeli soldiers eat a slice of pizza or catch the bus home for the weekend, they are noncombatants. When a ‘Hamas gunman’ does so, he’s hiding behind civilians.
Anyway, Israeli universities are not reticent about how much they contribute to training officers and developing military technology. The December 2008 University of Haifa Newsletter, for instance, boasts of its naval officers training course. By the standards Israel is applying in selecting targets in Gaza, that would make it perfectly legitimate to lob a rocket or two at Haifa University. Unless, that is, it’s argued that it’s ok for the University of Haifa because they’re training official, registered cadets for service in a legitimate navy of a recognised state, while the Islamic University and the Police Academy are just training terrorists. How do we know they’re terrorists? They work for the Hamas administration – ‘the infrastructure of terror’.
Getting back to IDF ethics, Dershowitz asserts, ‘It [Israel] goes to enormous lengths to reduce the number of civilian casualties -- even to the point of foregoing legitimate targets that are too close to civilians.’ (And see Franklin Lamb’s two Counterpunch articles.)
Writing in the erstwhile liberal magazines The new republic and Dissent, Michael Walzer, authority on ‘just war theory’ and professor emeritus at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton NJ, where Einstein used to work, reckons that in judging ‘proportionality’, you have to ask, ‘Is the attacking army acting in concrete ways to minimise the risks they impose on civilians? Are they taking risks themselves for that purpose?’ [Hat tip to the pseudonymous troll posting on the Alef list for the Walzer and Dershowitz articles.]
Jonathan Cook answers in Counterpunch on 9 January,
Criticism by international watchdog groups over the increasing death toll in Gaza mounted this week as the first legal actions inside Israel were launched accusing the army of intentionally harming the enclave’s civilian population.
The petitions – over attacks on medical personnel and the shelling of United Nations schools in Gaza – follow statements by senior Israeli commanders that they have been using heavy firepower to protect soldiers during their advance on built-up areas. “We are very violent,” one told Israeli media. [emphasis added]
And that’s apart from the hospitals, the ambulances, barring the Red Cross…the whole litany of atrocities that Israel is perpetrating day after day. ‘all in their power to avoid causing harm to their lives, bodies, dignity and property’, indeed!
Even if it happens to be the case that Hamas deliberately targets, or predictably harms, Israeli noncombatants, it is indisputable that Israel routinely does so, along with other forms of collective punishment, like the siege of Gaza, the checkpoints, house demolitions, and so forth. The rationale is, ‘If we make their lives sufficiently miserable, they will overthrow Hamas’. Perhaps Hamas has simply borrowed a leaf out Israel’s book. Maybe they imagine that if they make life in Sderot uncomfortable enough, Israelis will rise up and overthrow their terrorist government. [Hat tip to Mark Marshall for the graphic]
In a similar vein, you see comments on blogs and elsewhere suggesting that civilians in Gaza deserve their fate because they elected ‘the terrorists’ in 2006. Those killing Israeli civilians might equally claim that they merit their fate because they elected an acknowledged war criminal, Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister. Some of his predecessors were also known terrorists, like former Irgun member Yitzchak Shamir. Menachem Begin, also of the Irgun, was one of the authors of the July 1946 bombing of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, a terrorist act that killed 91 and that Israelis celebrated by erecting a plaque in July 2006. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of those dancing in the streets of New York on 11 January in celebration of the carnage in Gaza were among those who took such umbrage at the callousness of Palestinians who were purported to have done so when the World Trade Center came down.
The double standards the apologists for Israel apply are not just completely over the top, but utterly transparent. Seriously, I’d be embarrassed to be so hypocritical, particularly with such deplorable motives. Imagine, trying to justify this slaughter!