Cutting through the bullshit.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Map reading

Versions of this graphic have been circulating for years, but now it seems to have gone viral on Facebook. Does that make it a 'meme'? Whatever it is, it turns up on my newsfeed every day or two as if it were some astonishing new revelation, and largely from people who ought to know better.

I hate it.

Palestinians have never enjoyed political control over any part of Palestine as this unfortunate graphic suggests. Not under Ottoman rule or the British Mandate ('1946'); not under the abortive and downright bizarre UN partition plan ('1947'); definitely not under Jordanian and Egyptian rule ('1967'); and absolutely not under Israeli occupation ('2010'). Furthermore, the graphic is consistent with the Oslo conceit that 'Palestinian' means those in 'Palestine', excluding, as always, the Israeli and diaspora Palestinians.

The first panel purports to depict 'Palestinian land' and 'Jewish land'. Since all the land in 1946 was under the control of the British Mandatory authorities, the only thing it could be showing is land ownership. That's inconsistent with the other three panels which clearly intend to show some form of political control.

The second panel depicts the outlines of the partition plan the UN General Assembly proposed in Resolution181, coincidentally, 65 years ago tomorrow. This is actually the most useful panel insofar as it shows just how outlandish the configuration of the Jewish state and the Arab state were to have been, with the Arab state intersecting the Jewish state at two points. What it doesn't show, of course, is that
  • UNGAR181 is just a request to the Security Council to implement its recommendations.
  • There was an alternative and much more sensible proposal for a binational state under consideration at the time.
  • The plan allocated some 55% of the land area to the Jewish state, even though only about 30% of the total population was Jewish.
  • About 45% of the population of the Jewish state would have been non Jews.
  • Of the 57 countries then comprising The International Community, 33 voted in favour and 13 against, while 10 abstained and one was absent.
  • The indigenous Palestinian population were never even consulted about how they felt about giving part of their land to European colonists.
  • The plan was never implemented.
The Jewish partition is labelled 'Israel' and the Arab partition 'Palestine', although obviously, there was no 'Israel' in 1947 and there is still no Palestine. In the interests of pedantry, I note that the legend identifies the white area as 'Israel [sic] land' in this and the next two panels.

In the third panel, labelled '1967', shows the traditional outlines of what has come to be known euphemistically as 'Israel proper', that is, within the armistice lines drawn in 1949. If it purports to depict the situation prior to 6 June, then the areas labelled 'Palestine', i.e. the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, were occupied by Jordan and Egypt, respectively and were in no sense under Palestinian control. If after, then those areas were occupied by Israel and should probably be shown in white. Whoever compiled the graphic plainly intends to insinuate that these are the areas that were allegedly to be allocated to the future Palestinian state under the Oslo accords 27 years later. It's not just anachronistic. It also invites the viewer to buy into the idea that these are the areas over which Palestine was someday supposed to be entitled to exercise control. In other words, it assumes a two state 'solution', with all that that entails.

The last map shows the enclaves of 'Area A' in the West Bank that Oslo allocated to the administration of the Palestine Authority (PA) that have gradually been isolated from one another by Jewish only 'bypass roads' and other Israeli incursions. The nature of PA administration is to act as a surrogate for direct Israeli military control. By heading the graphic 'Palestinian loss of land' suggests that the areas marked 'Palestine' are actually controlled by the quisling PA.

At the same time, it depicts the Gaza Strip as mostly 'Palestinian land', with white patches showing the Israeli settlements that were abandoned five years earlier.

What's really sad about the graphic is that it could have been a useful resource if labelled accurately. The last panel, in particular, shows the probable contours of the future Palestinian state that always exists just over the horizon and that will, if it should ever eventuate, satisfy demands for a two state 'solution' once and for all. The interminable 'negotiations' towards this end will resume as soon as the intransigent PA abandons unreasonable 'preconditions' not that Israel withdraw to the Green Line depicted in the '1967' panel, but simply stop gobbling up more and more of the West Bank while the negotiations proceed. It goes without saying that Israeli preconditions - which preclude any discussion of the entitlement of those expelled in 1948 and their descendants to return; of Palestinian sovereignty over any part of the greatly expanded and officially annexed area of greater Jerusalem or 'the large settlement blocs'; of Palestinian control of their borders, airspace, electromagnetic spectrum or aquifers; or of any military force to defend 'Palestine' from their friendly neighbour – offer no impediment to negotiation.

Friday 23 November 2012

Self defence

Responding to a question from Margaret Talev of Bloomberg News at a Bangkok press conference on 18 November. President Obama said,

...there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians. And we will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself.

In his call to Prime Minister Netanyahu on 21 November, he

...reiterated his commitment to Israel’s security.
The President made clear that no country can be expected to tolerate rocket attacks against civilians...reiterating that Israel maintains the right to defend itself.
The President said that the United States would use the opportunity offered by a ceasefire to intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs, especially the issue of the smuggling of weapons and explosives into Gaza.
The President said that he was committed to seeking additional funding for Iron Dome and other US-Israel missile defense programs.

Furthermore, according to Ha'aretz's Barak Ravid, 'A senior diplomatic source said that if Israel identifies preparations for an attack from the Gaza Strip, it reserves the right to self-defense and will act to thwart it.'

The blogosphere has rightly lampooned the man who regularly orders missiles to rain down on Pakistan and Yemen for his unfortunate remark about what 'no country on earth would tolerate'.

But seriously, Gaza is not a country and all its residents are stateless, principally refugees of the 1948 Nakba and their descendants. So, unlike Israel, they clearly have no right to defend themselves. They have no right to arm themselves in a vain attempt to deter Israeli attacks. Unlike Israel, about whose security needs Obama is so solicitous, they will not receive funding for missile defence; they cannot import the latest high tech or low tech military gadgetry; they will not even be allowed to smuggle weapons. And if they detect Israeli preparations to attack them, as well they might, since Israel makes no attempt to disguise its intentions, nobody, least of all Obama, will countenance an attempt to thwart them.

The people of Gaza are not just stateless, they are Arabs, terrorists by definition. If they harm Israeli troops in combat, it is terrorism. If Israeli ordnance dismembers an infant, it's unfortunate collateral damage at best.

Even the most blatant, unrepentant hypocrite would blush to enunciate such transparently racist double standards. But as I never seem to tire of repeating, embarrassing a politician with accusations of hypocrisy is like embarrassing a dog with accusations that he licks his own balls.

Holding my breath

When Israel entered into the 'Agreement of Understanding For a Ceasefire in the Gaza Strip' at 2100 local time on 21 November, just about 30 hours ago, it undertook 'Opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods and refraining from restricting residents' free movements and targeting residents in border areas and procedures of implementation shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire'. [Full text appended below for reference] 

Searching high and low has revealed no mention in the media of any progress towards this objective so far. Maybe the media are just a bit sluggish. Maybe they're waiting for some announcement to report. Maybe the parties have decided to wait until morning, their time, to commence 'dealing with' implementing these crucial undertakings.

What's certain is that there can be no peace while Israel persists in caging Gaza's 1 644 293 people in their 365 sq km concentration camp and enforcing the siege. We can only hope that in the coming hours and days, we will see free movement of Gaza Strip residents to the West Bank and the rest of the world; unrestrained passage of imports and exports; the end of the naval blockade that prevents access to Gaza's Mediterranean gas reserves and fisheries; dismantling of the remote-controlled, watchtower-mounted machine guns; free access to the agricultural and other land in Israel's 'buffer zone', which extends up to 1500 metres into the narrow enclave, 12km across at its widest point; and opening of Gaza's airport and sea port.

I'm not holding my breath.

1: (no title given for this section)
  1. Israel should stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip land, sea and air including incursions and targeting of individuals.
  2. All Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel including rocket attacks and all attacks along the border.
  3. Opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods and refraining from restricting residents' free movements and targeting residents in border areas and procedures of implementation shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire.
  4. Other matters as may be requested shall be addressed.

2: Implementation mechanisms:
  1. Setting up the zero hour for the ceasefire understanding to enter into effect.
  2. Egypt shall receive assurances from each party that the party commits to what was agreed upon.
  3. Each party shall commit itself not to perform any acts that would breach this understanding. In case of any observations Egypt as the sponsor of this understanding shall be informed to follow up.

Taking aim

On 15 November, the BBC reported Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu asserting during a news conference,

There is no moral symmetry between Israel and the terrorists in Gaza. Hamas deliberately targets our children and they deliberately place their rockets next to their children. Now despite this reality - and it's a difficult reality - Israel will continue to do everything its power to avoid civilian casualties.

In the context of Israel's 2006 attack on Lebanon and the December 2008-January 2009 'Operation Cast Lead', I've already articulated my views on the issue of targeting noncombatants and using them as human shields. I have nothing new to say about the latter, but the time has come to examine the fate of civilians in Israel's latest assault on the densely packed Gaza Strip, 'Operation Pillar of Cloud (or Defence)'.

When it comes to counting casualties, everybody has an axe to grind. High numbers of casualties and high proportions of noncombatant casualties are evidence of the enemy's iniquity and provide perfect grist for the propaganda mill. So for the purpose of this analysis, I'm just going to take each 'side' at its word about their own casualties.

According to the Israeli Ministry ofForeign Affairs website, in the course of Operation Pillar of Cloud, between 14 and 21 November, there were a total of 245 Israeli casualties: '6 killed (4 civilians and 2 soldiers), 8 in critical condition, 9 in moderate condition and 222 lightly injured (figures of wounded include 20 soldiers)'. 

Meanwhile, according to the PalestineCentre for Human Rights, there were a total of 1156 Palestinian casualties: 'Palestinian Deaths Rise to 156, Including 103 Civilians, and 1,000 Others, Including 971 Civilians, Wounded'

The absolute numbers are significant in and of themselves and it's therefore worth noting that in carefully targeting some 1500 'terrorist sites', Israel managed to inflict 1074 civilian casualties. Israeli sources claim that 1344 rockets were launched from Gaza, 429 of which were successfully intercepted by Iron Dome batteries. And these caused a total of 223 noncombatant casualties.

So one way of looking at it is that the vicious Hamas terrorists, who deliberately aimed mainly primitive, unguided rockets, at civilians, achieved a hit rate of 16.6%. In contrast, exercising the greatest care to avoid hitting noncombatants with their sophisticated, precision weapons, Israeli forces hit civilians 71.6% of the time.

Examined proportionally, 91% of the Israeli casualties were civilians, while 93% of the Palestinians killed and injured were noncombatants.

At the end of August, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics estimated the total population of Israel at 7 928 500, while the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics estimated the population of the Gaza Strip for an unstated date in 2012 at 1 644 293. So the casualty rate among Israelis was 31 per million (0.003%) and among the population of Gaza the rate was 703 per million (0.07%).

Judging by the numbers, then, the notoriously competent and well equipped IDF, guided by their cherished principle of 'Purity of arms', are awfully bad shots. Either that or Bibi is full of shit.

Saturday 17 November 2012

A balancing act

With 'Operation Pillar of Cloud' underway, can 'Operation Pillar of Fire' be far behind?

By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. Exodus 13:21-22.

The blogosphere is already full of incisive accounts and analysis of the bourgeois media's fabled balanced reportage, including Lenin, MediaLens, Asa Winstanley, Ali Abunimah, Maureen Clare Murphy, as well as of the cynical domestic political machinations that seem to have dictated the timing of the onslaught.

So I intend to take another slant on the question of balance.

In an article on the ABC's Drum yesterday, Alison Pert, who 'lectures in international law and the use of force at the University of Sydney' undertook to unravel 'this murky area of international law' regarding the assassination of Hamas military chief Ahmad al-Jabari. On the one hand,

the International Court of Justice, when considering the legality of the security barrier that Israel was (and is) building around the occupied territories,...clearly stated, albeit controversially, that the right of self-defence in international law is only open to a state defending itself against an attack from another state. It pointed out that the occupied territories, of which Gaza is a part, are exactly that - territory occupied by Israel and not another state.

Consequently Israel cannot use self-defence against attacks from the Gaza strip as a legal argument to justify its actions.

But on the other,

Israel argues that it has the right in international law to defend itself against terrorism: since 2001 some 13,000 rockets have landed in Israel, killing over a thousand Israelis and wounding thousands more, and a million more citizens live under the constant threat of rocket attack.

Parenthetically, it seems that numeracy is not a skill required of international law lecturers, because in reality, between 2001 and 15 November 2012, 7882 rockets fired from Gaza landed in Israel. But who wants to split hairs? If you add in the 4890 mortar shells, it comes to nearly 13 000. That said, it's hard to see how the 61 Israelis killed over the period suddenly became 'over a thousand' or the 1719 injured became 'thousands more'.

Not that it is of any conceivable interest, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – occupied Palestinian territories (OCHAOPT) casualties database, between 1 January 2001 and 21 July 2012, 2998 in Gaza were killed and 4399 injured by Israeli fire, primarily by missiles, artillery and tank shells. I still haven't found a source that might reveal how many projectiles Israel actually lobbed into one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, but then, why would anybody want to know that?

The figures for Israeli casualties don't disaggregate civilian from combatant casualties, but the OCHA figures are explicitly related to 'Protection of civilians'. But that hardly matters because it transpires that the reason the International Court of Justice opinion Pert refers to is considered controversial is, for one thing, that the International Committee of the Red Cross has issued Interpretive guidanceon the notion of direct participation in hostilities underinternational humanitarian law by Dr Nils Melzer (also author of Targeted Killing in International Law (Oxford University Press, 2008)), which recommends

Civilians lose protection against direct attack for the duration of each specific act amounting to direct participation in hostilities .

In order to qualify as direct participation in hostilities, a specific act must meet the following cumulative criteria:
1. The act must be likely to adversely affect the military operations or military capacity of a party to an armed conflict or, alternatively, to inflict death, injury, or destruction on persons or objects protected against direct attack (threshold of harm), and
2. there must be a direct causal link between the act and the harm likely to result either from that act, or from a coordinated military operation of which that act constitutes an integral part (direct causation), and
3. the act must be specifically designed to directly cause the required threshold of harm in support of a party to the conflict and to the detriment of another (belligerent nexus).

...individuals whose continuous function involves the preparation, execution, or command of acts or operations amounting to direct participation in hostilities are assuming a continuous combat function. [my emphasis]

Now you might think that on the basis of these recommendations, Palestinians would be justified in targeting, say, Benny Gantz, Israel's Chief of General Staff, ensconced in HaKirya, in the heart of Tel Aviv, or indeed, 'Defence' Minister, Ehud Barak. But no. According to the ICRC, 'Continuous combat function requires lasting integration into an organized armed group acting as the armed forces of a non-State party to an armed conflict.' [my emphasis] Gotcha!


The Israeli Supreme Court agrees with the "unlawful combatant" view of terrorists, and the US appears to take the same approach in relation to the killing of Osama bin Laden and other senior Al Qaeda figures.

Pert concludes that because Israel and the ICRC's expert on justifying 'targeted assassination' disagree with the ICJ opinion, 'With the law so unclear in this area, perhaps it tilts in Israel's favour on this occasion.'

She is of course in good company. AsaKasher, respected professor of philosophy and linguistics at Tel Aviv University, believes that even 'a terrorist's neighbour' is not entitled to the protection traditionally accorded to noncombatants where there is any prospect of danger to 'a citizen in uniform'. 

On Wednesday, Mark C. Toner, Deputy Spokesperson of the US Department of State, issued a press statement.

We strongly condemn the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel, and we regret the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence. There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel. We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately. We support Israel’s right to defend itself, and we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties.

And just yesterday, Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard said,

The Government condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip and calls on Hamas to cease these immediately.

Australia supports Israel’s right to defend itself against these indiscriminate attacks. Such attacks on Israel’s civilian population are utterly unacceptable.

Were it not so frightening, it would be hilarious that venal politicians, philosophers, experts in International Law™ and the responsible, objective media parade around taking so dispassionate a stance as to defend 'Israel’s right to defend itself' and condemn 'Hamas's avowed purpose to destroy Israel' while keeping shtum on Palestinians' right to defend themselves and Israel's absolutely explicit commitment to eradicate Hamas. But what's really terrifying is that anybody takes them seriously.