Cutting through the bullshit.

Wednesday 14 January 2009

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!

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