The United Nations Human Rights Council announced last week the formation of a commission to investigate the most recent Israeli attack on Gaza, Operation Protective Edge. The panel will be headed by William Schabas, a Canadian professor of international law. The UN has said that the panel will be investigating human rights violations and potential war crimes. Whilst Israel has described the panel as a “kangaroo court”, Hamas has welcomed the setup of the commission. Hamas’ spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said, “Hamas welcomes the decision to form an investigation committee into the war crimes committed by the occupation [Israel] against Gaza and it urges that it begin work as soon as possible.”
The commission has already met with some controversy though with the appointment of its leading lawyer William Schabas. Schabas has been described by some critics as anti-Israel. An advert run in the New York Times describes him as not only anti-Israel but a “friend of Ahmadinejad”. It seems the most irking thing about his appointment was Schabas’ former involvement in the Russell Tribunal on Palestine which concluded that Israel has committed well documented violations of international law. Schabas countered the argument that he is anti-Israel by citing that he has been on the board of the Israel Law Review.
This in turn has raised some concerns; one leading lawyer, Francis A Boyle a former legal adviser to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation told MEMO that Schabas’ appointment could be of concern to the Palestinians given his role on the Israel Law Review Board. Either way Schabas’ appointment is causing waves and his role in the Commission will almost certainly be under inspection. Boyle’s concerns however were not limited to the experts involved, he went on to say that “will be an exercise an (sic) damage control and damage limitation on behalf of Israel and very well could be used to hurt the Palestinians.”
The commissions’ findings might be hard to predict, but one thing that has been widely commented on during the assault on Gaza has been the disproportionate action by Israel. Killing almost 2,000 civilians and injuring nearly 10,000 the effect on the Gaza Strip would be intolerable by any standards. And with the Strip facing its third war in six years, it has come under increasing humanitarian strain, having barely had a chance to recover before being hit again.
With even members of the British government such as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg saying “is difficult to deny that Israel’s military action appears disproportionate and, combined with the Gaza blockade, is resulting in the collective suffering of the Palestinian people”, it is clear that the Gazans have had to pay a heavy price as a result of Israel’s actions. Over the last six years this heavy price has been a burden without any justice for the Palestinian people.
After Operation Cast Lead a UN Fact Finding Mission was established to investigate the events that had taken place in Gaza. The Goldstone Report essentially accused Israel of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Israel rejected the findings of the report and though the report received a great deal of international backing its findings were not implemented. During that fact finding mission Israel refused to engage with the UN Fact Finding team. Almost immediately after the UN’s announcement that they would be establishing this most recent commission Israel dismissed it as being biased against Israel.
If recent history is anything to go by, it is not surprising that there are some concerns from leading experts that this commission could face difficulties during its investigation. Leading international law expert, John Dugard told the Middle East Monitor that though he had full confidence in the mission he hoped that Israel would co-operate but he “fear(ed) that it would not”. Dugard also raised concerns about Egypt’s role, ” I hope Egypt will allow the Mission access to Gaza as it did with both Arab League Fact Finding Mission and Human Rights Council Mission in 2009″. He also went on to say the he hoped European states would keep an open mind but noted that this was “too much to expect of the USA”.
It’s not just Israel’s reaction and response to the mission that observers will be monitoring. The UKs position during the conflicts in Gaza has come under intense scrutiny. After the Goldstone report, the UK’s response to it was heavily criticised. With Israel forcefully lobbying UN members to vote against the Goldstone report, the UK chose not to vote. Despite increasing pressure from MPs in the UK, the then Labour government took the decision not to vote either way on the report – although it did not officially abstain from voting.
This time around the UK’s action will be even more closely watched, especially as leading politicians take a strong stance against Israel’s actions. One top politician, Baroness Warsi resigned over the UK’s policy on Gaza. Lord David Steele, a former leader of the Liberal Democrats, expressed his support for the commission when he told MEMO “I just hope that more international attention will be paid to this report than was the case with the Goldstone report.”
The National Lawyers Guild also welcomed the commission and told MEMO that they were pleased that the UNHRC had launched an investigation into Israel’s “criminal behaviour”. But they too echoed concerns about the history of the Goldstone report itself saying, “we expect that any objective investigation would – like the Goldstone Report -condemn the Israeli assault and recommend prosecution of its military and political leaders.”
“We further expect that Israel, shielded by the United States, would once again ignore the report. To end Israel’s impunity its leaders must be investigated and prosecuted in the International Criminal Court for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, alongside US leaders who aided and abetted them. We are sending a letter to that effect to the ICC Prosecutor.”
Calling for the International Criminal Court to investigate will in itself prove to be difficult. Reports on Monday suggested that the ICC was under pressure not to open an investigation into war crimes in Gaza as a result of pressure from the US. These reports argue that Fatou Bensouda, ICC chief prosecutor, will not put forward an investigation unless the Palestinians submit a new request. A former request from 2009 will not be accepted.
If the ICC does investigate this would push this commission’s results much further than the Goldstone report. Hina Jilani, one of the members of the Goldstone fact finding mission, told MEMO that “mechanisms for accountability were created at the international level to ensure the respect for the rule of law, when it is evident that national governments are either unwilling or unable to hold genuine accountability. If the international community shies away from the use of these mechanisms, it becomes complicit in the denial of justice to the victims.”
Commenting on the commission Jilani said, “the newly established Commission of Inquiry on Gaza established by the Human Rights Council at its Special Session on 23 July 2014 is certainly welcome. However, its efforts can only be fruitful if accountability of those responsible for any violations they find, is ensured. That would not be possible unless the international community has an unequivocal resolve to end impunity as well as tolerance for any acts that violate international law, especially those causing deliberate harm to civilians at times of war.”
Leading UN figures have already raised concerns, the UN Secretary –General Ban Ki-moon said that Israel had been guilty of violations of international law and Navi Pillay UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that Israel had deliberately defied international law. Jilani said that “no one must be allowed to sabotage or divert efforts towards peace. Nor must these be de-linked from imperatives of accountability and justice. The rule of law must prevail and impunity for international crimes and gross violations of international law must end. The 2009 report of the Gaza Fact Finding Mission had observed that, “justice and respect for the rule of law are the indispensable basis for peace.”
US activists blocked an Israeli cargo ship from unloading at a California port for the third day in a row in protest of the recent Israeli assault on Gaza, organizers of the action reported late Monday.
The vessel, owned and operated by Israeli company Zim Shipping Services, has been trying to unload Israeli cargo in the port of Oakland since Saturday.
Thousands of protesters prevented the ship from unloading on Saturday, with the cooperation of dock workers who refused to unload the boat.
The ship has failed to unload its cargo despite attempting various tactics, including delaying its arrival time until the early morning hours. About a dozen activists continued to hold off the ship early Monday morning, according to activist sources.
One activist who spoke to Al Jazeera said the organizers were thinking of making the block a regular action, as Israeli ships arrive in the port every Saturday.
The blockade is supported by the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen Unions, a group which also stood against the South African apartheid regime in 1984.
Part I – The Liberal Ideal
Liberalism, framed as a socio-political ideal, argues that human beings are good and social progress achievable. It is a “glass half-full” outlook. Within this paradigm all individuals, not just members of a specific religion, race or nationality, should have political and civil rights. Here also neither the state nor the law is an end in itself. They are instruments for the creation and maintainance of a environment meant to promote freedom while minimizing social inequalities. Holding this ideal does not preclude identifying with a particular ethnic or religious group. It does, however, preclude any claim of exclusive rights for such groups to the detriment of others.
Within the Western environment many Jews held to this liberal ideal. They saw it as in their interest to work toward an environment of universally applied political and civil rights while minimizing social inequality. For instance, by the mid-twentieth century in the United States, many Jewish organizations were allied with African Americans in their struggle for civil rights and equality. However, this proved to be a complex alliance and it ultimately broke down. Its demise marked a waning of organized American Jewish liberal activism. What had happened?
Part of the answer became apparent after the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. At that time many civil rights leaders in the U.S. noticed that Israel was not, after all, a very liberal society. It was designed exclusively for one group and discriminated against those who were not members of that group. When this became a subject of concern and debate within the civil rights community, many Jewish organizations broke with the movement and its struggle. How about Jewish liberal individuals? They were now confronted with one of three choices: (1) retain a principled adherence to the liberal ideal and cease their uncritical support of the Zionist state, (2) renounce the liberal ideal and continue their whole-hearted support for illiberal Israel, or (3) become quiet in public while fretting in private about the evolving racist nature of Israel. It seems many of them took the third option.
Part II – An Old Dilemma
Given this history it is simply wrong to think of the present dilemma faced by Jewish liberals over Israeli behavior as something new. So-called liberal Zionists such as Peter Beinart, Amos Oz, Ari Shavit and Jonathan Freedland have certainly known for decades that the notion of civil and political rights for Jews and non-Jews equally was not an aim of the Zionist movement and therefore stood little chance of shaping the behavior of the Israeli state. Yet here we are, following three massive invasions of Gaza and its inhumane blockade, repeated massacres of Palestinian civilians going back at least as far as Israel’s “war of independence,” decades of continuous land theft and illegal settlement, and more than sixty years of an Israeli-inspired police state environment on the West Bank, confronting a suddenly newsworthy liberal Zionist dilemma.
One argument given to explain this belated display of liberal Zionist angst is that only recently have such individuals decided that the two-state solution is in real jeopardy. As this argument goes, as long as a two-state solution was possible, liberal Zionists could hope for the realization of both Jewish and Palestinian political and civil rights within their respective two states. But this explanation is misleading. It is incorrect to think of the two-state solution as only recently at death’s door. In truth, if this solution was ever alive and possible (which is questionable), it was killed off the moment Menachem Begin lied to President Jimmy Carter about the granting of progressive “autonomy” to the Palestinians. That was 1979. That otherwise quite knowledgeable Zionists as those mentioned above did not know this is hard to believe.
So why is this liberal dilemma an issue now? A more accurate answer might lie with changing public opinion. It has only been in the last ten years or so that the Zionist storyline on the Israeli-Palestine conflict has lost its monopoly. In that same time frame the boycott movement has also become a worldwide affair. As Israel’s illiberal character becomes more public, option 3 noted above becomes harder to maintain. As Jonathan Freedman tells us in his New York Review of Books article, “The Liberal Zionists,” these folks are now attacked from all sides. The Zionist movement is, if you will, circling their wagons and no longer finds liberal complaints tolerable, even in private. They want everyone out there saluting the Israeli flag.
The Israeli author and columnist Ari Shavit shows us where these extreme nationalist pressures will likely lead those still trying to square the circle of liberalism and Zionism. In his recent book My Promised Land he writes, “The choice is stark, either reject Zionism [the Zionist State of Israel] because of Lydda [an example of the massacre of civilians by Israeli forces], or accept Zionism [the Zionist state] along with Lydda. … If need be, I will stand by the damned. Because I know that if it wasn’t for them, the state of Israel would not have been born. … They did the dirty, filthy work that enables my people, myself, my daughter and my sons to live.” So much for the liberal ideal.
Part III – Facing Contradiction
In truth the term “liberal Zionist” has never made much sense. The only way to explain its survival is to consider the survival of the Zionist storyline itself – the story of Israel as a democracy upholding the Western model in the Middle East. As long as one believed that this was true, one could dismiss Israeli brutality as just occasional slippage from progressive political and civil principles supposedly underlying the state. Within this context, there could be liberal Zionists privately decrying occasional Israeli bad behavior. But the Zionist storyline was not true. We never were dealing with just occasional slippage but rather with the inherent brutality of a state with policies and practices designed to bring about racist ends (a nation exclusively for one group) – while conjuring up a remarkably durable cover story that it was, after all, a liberal democracy. The Israeli right, as well as the Palestinians, always knew the cover story was a sham. Now, with the recent Gaza slaughter, much of the rest of the world does too. That public unveiling, along with the Zionist demands for uncritical loyalty, leaves the liberals in a wholly untenable situation.
You simply cannot adhere to the principle of universal civil and political rights and, at the same time, support a Zionist state. To do so is to involve oneself in a contradiction. The liberals are being forced to face this fact. And, as this happens, they will have to make a real choice: cease being Zionist or cease adhering to the liberal ideal. I suspect that, along with Ari Shavit, most of them will decide to “stand with the damned.”
Operation Protective Edge was not merely a military assault on a primarily civilian population. As in its previous “operations” (Cast Lead in 2008-9 and Pillar of Defense in 2012), it was also part of an ongoing assault on international humanitarian law (IHL) by a highly coordinated team of Israeli lawyers, military officers, PR people and politicians, led by (no less) a philosopher of ethics. It is an effort not only to get Israel off the hook for massive violations of human rights and international law, but to help other governments overcome similar constraints when they embark as well on “asymmetrical warfare,” “counterinsurgency” and “counter-terrorism” against peoples resisting domination. It is a campaign that Israel calls “lawfare” and had better be taken seriously by us all.
The urgency of this campaign has been underscored by a series of notable legal setbacks and challenges Israel has incurred over the past decade or so, beginning with the indictment of Ariel Sharon in 2001 by a Belgian court over his involvement in the Sabra and Shatila massacres, for which he escaped trial. In the wake of Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, when Sharon’s government oversaw the demolition of hundreds of Palestinian homes in the West Bank, the utter destruction of virtually all the infrastructure of Palestinian cities, the death of 497 Palestinians and the arrest of 7000 people, Israel was accused of war crimes, but succeeded in foiling a UN investigation.
In 2004, at the request of the General Assembly, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that Israel’s construction of the wall inside Palestinian territory is “contrary to international law” and must be dismantled. The ruling was upheld almost unanimously by the UN General Assembly, with only Israel, the US, Australia and a few Pacific atolls dissenting – though, again, it lacked any means of enforcement. In the second Lebanon War in 2006, after destroying the Dahiya neighborhood in Beirut, the Hizbollah “stronghold,” Israel announced its “Dahiya Doctrine.” Declared Gadi Eisenkott, head of the IDF’s Northern Command,
What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006, “will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on…. We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases.… This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved.”
And it was applied again. The Goldstone Report on Operation Cast Lead concluded that
The tactics used by Israeli military armed forces in the Gaza offensive [of 2008-2009] are consistent with previous practices, most recently during the Lebanon war in 2006. A concept known as the Dahiya doctrine emerged then, involving the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations.
The Dahiya Doctrine violates two cardinal principles of IHL: The Principle of Distinction and the Principle of Disproportionality. The Principle of Distinction, embodied in the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their two Additional Protocols of 1977, lays down a hard-and-fast rule: civilians cannot be targeted by armies. On the contrary, they must be protected; violence to life and person is strictly prohibited, as are “outrages upon personal dignity.” The Principle of Proportionality, also embodied in the 1977 Protocols to the Fourth Geneva Conventions considers it a war crime to intentionally attack a military objective in the knowledge that the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage. “The presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come within the definition of civilians,” says Protocol I, Article 50 (3), “does not deprive the population of its civilian character.”
Not only were these principles violated yet again in the current round of fighting – and the Israeli government, aware of this, has carefully prepared its defense before the UN Human Rights Council’s international committee of inquiry as well as before the International Criminal Court, should the Palestinian Authority turn to it – but an additional doctrine of intentional disproportionality has also been declared and perpetrated: the Hannibal Doctrine. This states that when an Israeli soldier is captured, rescuing him becomes the main mission, no matter how many civilians are killed or injured, how much damage is caused, or even if the captured soldier himself is killed or wounded by “friendly” fire. When, then, it was believed (falsely, it turned out) that an IDF soldier had been captured by Hamas in the Rafah area, the entire urban area came under massive Israeli artillery fire and air strikes, in which hundreds of buildings were destroyed and at least 130 people killed.
Violations of the Principles of Distinction and Disproportionality constitute grave breaches of international law – and we can only imagine what states would do if they were eliminated from the legal code or significantly watered down. But this is precisely what Israel aims to do. Using the Palestinians as their guinea pigs in a bold and aggressive strategy of “fixing” international law, it wants to create new categories of combatants – “non-legitimate actors” such as “terrorists,” “insurgents” and “non-state actors,” together with the civilian population that supports them – so that anyone resisting state oppression can no longer claim protection. This is especially relevant when, as British General Rupert Smith tells us, modern warfare is rapidly moving away from the traditional inter-state model to what he calls a “new paradigm” – “war amongst the people” – in which “We fight amongst the people, not on the battlefield.” A more popular term used by military people, “asymmetrical warfare,” is perhaps more honest and revealing, since it highlights the vast power differential that exists between states and their militaries and the relative weakness of the non-state forces confronting them.
But “the people,” those pesky “non-state actors,” also have rights. Back in 1960, the UN General Assembly’s Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples endorsed the right of peoples to self-determination and, by extension, their right to resist, even by armed force, “alien subjugation, domination and exploitation.” The push-back by governments over the years, and certainly since 9/11, led by the US and Israel, has been to delegitimize the right of non-state actors to resist oppression. Thus, when Obama or the EU uphold Israel’s right to defend itself, they do not include as part of that right that of an occupied people to defend itself. Indeed, non-state actors are cast as “terrorists” (the category into which Israel dumps all insurgents, revolutionaries and, by extension, any protesters threatening the powers-that-be), thus deprived of any legitimacy as “a side” to a conflict with whom negotiations are possible. When they seek the protection of international law, as did the people of Gaza, and take steps to hold state actors accountable for their illegal actions, they are engaging in what Israel defines as “lawfare”: when “terrorists” employ international law as a weapon against democracies. Israel’s campaign against lawfare attempts to cast non-state actors as the villains, of course, but “lawfare’ best describes Israel’s own efforts to bend IHL to its needs – a kind of asymmetrical lawfare to remove all constraints on states in their attempts to pursue wars against peoples.
Israel’s lawfare campaign is led by two Israeli figures. One is Asa Kasher, a professor of philosophy and “practical ethics” at Tel Aviv University, the author of the Israeli army’s Code of Conduct. Indeed, attaching a professional ethicist to the IDF provides the basis for Israel’s oft-stated claim to have the “most moral army in the world.” The second figure is Major General Amos Yadlin, former head of the IDF’s National Defense College, under whose auspices Kasher and his “team” formulated the Code of Conduct, and today the head of Military Intelligence.
It is completely appropriate and understandable that Israel should be leading the campaign to remove the protections enjoyed by non-combatant civilians, Kasher vigorously asserts. “The decisive question,” he says,
is how enlightened countries conduct themselves. We in Israel are in a key position in the development of law in this field because we are on the front lines in the fight against terrorism. This is gradually being recognized both in the Israeli legal system and abroad…. What we are doing is becoming the law. These are concepts that are not purely legal, but also contain strong ethical elements.
The Geneva Conventions are based on hundreds of years of tradition of the fair rules of combat. They were appropriate for classic warfare, where one army fought another. But in our time the whole business of rules of fair combat has been pushed aside. There are international efforts underway to revise the rules to accommodate the war against terrorism. According to the new provisions, there is still a distinction between who can and cannot be hit, but not in the blatant approach which existed in the past. The concept of proportionality has also changed….
I am not optimistic enough to assume that the world will soon acknowledge Israel’s lead in developing customary international law. My hope is that our doctrine, give or take some amendments, will in this fashion be incorporated into customary international law in order to regulate warfare and limit its calamities.
In order to provide a philosophical basis for undermining the Principles of Distinction and Proportionality, Kasher and Yadlin put forward a “new doctrine of military ethics” based on their version of a “Just War Doctrine of Fighting Terror.” Basically they privilege states in their conflicts with non-state actors by giving them the authority to deem an adversary “terrorist,” a term lacking any agreed-upon definition in IHL, thereby depriving it of any legal protection. They define an “act of terror,”
as an act, carried out by individuals or organizations, not on behalf of any state, for the purpose of killing or otherwise injuring persons, insofar as they are members of a particular population, in order to instill fear among the members of that population (‘terrorize’ them), so as to cause them to change the nature of the related regime or of the related government or of policies implemented by related institutions, whether for political or ideological (including religious) reasons.
If we remove the words “not on behalf of any state,” this definition of a terrorist act conforms precisely to Israel’s Dahiya Doctrine. According to Major General Giora Eiland, attacks against Israel will be deterred by harming “the civilian population to such an extent that it will bring pressure to bear on the enemy combatants.” Reducing a popular struggle to a series of discrete acts, moreover, makes it possible to label an entire resistance movement “terrorist” purely on the basis of one or more particular acts, with no regard to its situation or the justness of its cause. Once this is done, it is easy to criminalize non-state resistance, since terrorism is, in Kasher’s words, “utterly immoral.”
Israel’s attempts to have the Iranian Revolutionary Guards declared a “terror organization,” even though it is an agent of a state, shows the tendentiousness of Kasher’s and Yadlin’s philosophical definitions, since it does not fit into their very own “state/non-state” dichotomy. What, then, would prevent the international community from naming the IDF and various covert Israeli agencies such as the Mossad or the Shin Bet (the General Security Services) as “terror organizations”? The Goldstone Report itself concluded that Israel’s offensive against Gaza during Operation Cast Lead was “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population.”
Having de-legitimized state-defined “acts of terrorism,” Kasher and Yadlin then go on to further legitimize state actions such as those taken by Israel against Hizbollah, Hamas or, indeed, all Palestinian resistance, by invoking “self-defense” – again, a claim which, according to Just War Theory and Article 51 of the UN Charter, only a state can make. In order to do so, they begin the narrative of events leading up to the attacks on Gaza with the discreet acts that the “terrorist” organization had done by launching rockets on Israel without any regard whatsoever for 47 years of occupation, 25 years of closure, seven years of a self-described regime of semi-starvation and the attacks on Hamas that preceded the rocket fire – or, for that matter, the right of Palestinians to resist “alien subjugation, domination and exploitation.”
Kasher and Yadlin also imply that states cannot engage in terrorism – only because they are states which have a “legitimate monopoly” over the use of force. In fact, the non-state “terrorism from below” which so concerns them pales in scale when compared to “terrorism from above,” State Terrorism. In his book Death By Government, R.J. Rummel points out that over the course of the 20th century about 170,000 innocent civilians were killed by non-state actors, a significant figure to be sure. But, he adds,
during the first eighty-eight years of this [20th] century, almost 170 million men, women and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed or worked to death; buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed or killed in any other of the myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens and foreigners. The dead could conceivably be nearly 360 million people.
And that, written in 1994, does not include Zaire, Bosnia, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, Saddam Hussein’s reign, the impact of UN sanctions on the Iraqi civilian population and other state-sponsored murders that occurred after Rummel compiled his figures. It also does not account for all the forms of State Terrorism that do not result in death: torture, imprisonment, repression, house demolitions, induced starvation, intimidation and all the rest.
“We do not deny,” Kasher concedes, “that a state can act for the purpose of killing persons in order to terrorize a population with the goal of achieving some political or ideological goal.” However, he adds,
when such acts are performed on behalf of a state, or by some of its overt or covert agencies or proxies, we apply to the ensuing conflict moral, ethical and legal principles that are commonly held to pertain to ordinary international conflicts between states or similar political entities. In such a context, a state that killed numerous citizens of another state in order to terrorize its citizenry would be guilty of what is commonly regarded as a war crime [italics added].
Kasher’s caveat – “a state that killed numerous citizens of another state in order to terrorize its citizenry” – does not relate at all to a state that terrorizes its own citizens, and lets Israel off the hook, since the terrorized population of Gaza are not citizens of another state.
Israel’s strategy of lawfare rests on repeating illegal acts while continuing to justify them with “new military ethics.” “If you do something for long enough,” says Colonel (res.) Daniel Reisner, former head of the IDF’s Legal Department, “the world will accept it. The whole of international law is now based on the notion that an act that is forbidden today becomes permissible if executed by enough countries…. International law progresses through violations. We invented the targeted assassinations thesis [that extra-judicial killings are permitted when it is necessary to stop a certain operation against the citizens of Israel and when the role played by the target is crucial to the operation] and we had to push it. Eight years later it is in the center of the bounds of legality.” “The more often Western states apply principles that originated in Israel to their own non-traditional conflicts in places like Afghanistan and Iraq,” says Kasher, “then the greater the chance these principles have of becoming a valuable part of international law.”
A few years ago (2005) the The Jerusalem Post published a revealing interview with an Israeli “expert in international law” who, choosing to remain anonymous, explained:
International law is the language of the world and it’s more or less the yardstick by which we measure ourselves today. It’s the lingua franca of international organizations. So you have to play the game if you want to be a member of the world community. And the game works like this. As long as you claim you are working within international law and you come up with a reasonable argument as to why what you are doing is within the context of international law, you’re fine. That’s how it goes. This is a very cynical view of how the world works. So, even if you’re being inventive, or even if you’re being a bit radical, as long as you can explain it in that context, most countries will not say you’re a war criminal.
This, again, is serious stuff. Just as Israel exports its occupation – its weaponry and tactics of suppression – to such willing customers as US and European militaries, security agencies and police forces, so, too, does it export its legal expertise in manipulating IHL and its effective PR/hasbara techniques. Gaza itself represents little more than a testing ground for these varied instruments of suppression. It is the globalization of Gaza that is a key Israeli export. Exports, however, need local agents to package the product and create a market for it in the local economy. Thus, B’nai Brith in the US spawned “The Lawfare Project” under the slogan “Protecting Against the Politicization of Human Rights”, whose main strategy is to enlist prominent legal experts to delegitimize attempts to hold Israel accountable for its crimes under IHL.
Globalizing Gaza in both military and legal terms raises the slogan “we are all Palestinians” from one of political solidarity to literal accuracy. Its corollary also highlights a key element of international politics of which we must be keenly aware: our governments are all Israel.
Jeff Halper is the head of The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at: email@example.com.
On the night of the July 27, the first day of the Muslim Eid-Al-Fitr festival following the fasting month of Ramadan, the Israeli air force dropped three bombs on Al-Hurani’s carpentry workshop. Each of the three bombs had an explosive force of 250 pounds.
Al-Hurani pointed towards the charred left overs of the tables, armchairs and beds, “all designed according to the desires of each individual customer, processed with the best woods and decorated with passion, as our customers expect from us,” he told Ma’an.
The carpentry of the Al-Hurani family is well-known across the northern Gaza Strip city of Jabaliya, and is respected throughout the Gaza Strip for its precise designs. In addition to family members, Al-Hurani employed 25 workers in his workshop before the Israeli assault.
“Due to the total destruction of our plant everyone had to be dismissed immediately and I do not know how to feed my family anymore. We don’t know how to move on from here,” he said.
The family possesses no savings for the construction of a new workshop and they believe there is no hope for obtaining any kind of compensation for the estimated $450,000 in damages they have suffered.
Abu Eida, one of the largest construction companies in the Gaza Strip, is headquartered in the industrial area east of Jabaliya that the air force also dropped several 250 pound bombs on Aug. 2.
Abed Rabou Abu Eida, CEO of the construction company, told Ma’an he was not aware of the exact number of bombs being dropped.
An on-site inspection of the premises, however, revealed the extent of the destruction: Three large buildings, which had all been reinforced by concrete, the warehouse containing cement and bricks, as well as the construction machinery have all been flattened.
Abu Eida estimates the cost of the total damage to be around $7.5 million. As a result of the attack, he had to dismiss all of his 70 permanent workers because the company could no longer operate. Hundreds of part-time workers that deal with Abu-Eida on a sporadic basis are also out of work.
“In 2008 and 2012 the factory premises were already completely destroyed by the Israeli air force and our company has not received any kind of compensation, due to the law passed in 2007,” Abu Eida said, referring to an Israeli law that defined Gaza as enemy territory and thus its residents ineligible for compensation through civil suits.
“This time we have no more money to rebuild our company a third time.”
At the end of Abu Khayr street in the Jabaliya industrial area sits the Al-Fayoumi family farm. The farm once owned 150 cows and sold milk twice a day to dairy factories.
130 of the cows were killed in their stables during the Israeli bombing on Aug. 2, according to workers on the farm.
During a visit to the ruined courtyard on August 13, workers were still trying to collect and burn the remaining corpses. The terrible smell of the semi-decomposed carcasses of cattle lay side by side with charred hens when Ma’an visited.
A swarm of flies covered the corpses, trying to get its share.
“Where can the Al-Fayoumis get new cows from?” asked a worker who did not want to give his name. “The borders to Gaza are closed and the smuggling tunnels destroyed.”
Wael Al-Wadia, owner of the Saraio candy factory in the same area, showed Ma’an the remains of his completely ruined factory buildings, where ice cream, biscuits, and cakes were once made.
“I had 100 workers on permanent contracts. 100 workers who have fed 100 families and now have no income,” al-Wadia said. The factory produced five tons of sweets on a daily basis, he said. Now, everything is gone.
Al-Qadia estimated that it would cost him $7 million to purchase the same equipment again, which he had initially brought to Gaza from Italy.
“We have made the best biscuits in the Gaza Strip. Every market in Gaza sold our products. Our biscuits were as good as the Biscotti’s from Italy,” he told Ma’an.
But it was not only factories, hospitals, schools, farms, agricultural land, and the famous orange groves of Beit Hanoun that were bombed during the worst of the Israeli assault between July 6 and Aug. 3.
Gaza’s sole power station, its largest mosques, and the building of the popular TV station Al-Quds were also hit, while tens of thousands of private homes were destroyed or severely damaged.
Muhsen Abu Ramadan, Director of the Arab Center for Agricultural Economic Development in Gaza, told Ma’an that the damage to the besieged coastal enclave’s economy, however, predates the recent Israeli assault.
“The economic crisis began long before the aggression, and is a result of the eight years lasting blockade of Gaza,” he said.
Abu Ramadan estimates that even before the beginning of the Israeli attacks in July, 40 percent of the labor force was unemployed, 30 percent lived below the poverty line, 57 percent were at risk of malnutrition, and 70 percent received food parcels from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East or other organizations.
“These numbers have increased dramatically since the bombings,” said Abu Ramadan.
He also said that Israeli army completely destroyed 220 factories in the campaign, while hundreds more suffered partial damage.
Abu Ramadan estimates the cost of destruction of agricultural land at around $200 million and the amount of the total costs to the economy at several billion dollars.
“Gaza would need five years to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure,” he said.
But given the current economic conditions caused by the occupation and the blockade of Gaza, he estimated that reconstruction will take at least ten years.
“We have the right to import building materials and this right must be given to us immediately, especially with the help of the international community. Otherwise, we will not be able to rebuild our destroyed houses and factories,” Abu Ramadan added.
Tens of thousands have joined the ranks of the unemployed since the imposition of the harsh Israeli blockade in 2007, and given the scale of the damage suffered during the massive Israeli assault, of those who were still employed in industry and agriculture in July it is unlikely that more than a few thousand are still working in either sector. A few thousand out of 1.8 million people.
“Israel is not only attacking civilians and their homes, but also systematically destroyed the economy of the Gaza Strip in order to make people dependent on emergency aid,” Abu Ramadan argued.
“Now that almost the entire economy is destroyed, people can no longer work, thus cutting their purchasing power dramatically. Now youth want to emigrate at even younger ages than before. Due to the emigration of young skilled workers the economy is becoming even weaker.”
“Israel has managed to transform a functioning economy into a third world country through eight years of embargo and three assaults in five years. Without ending the embargo, it is impossible to break out of this vicious cycle ourselves,” Abu Ramadan added.
Martin Lejeune is a German journalist based in Gaza. Follow him on twitter
Occupied Palestine – Yesterday at approximately 5:30 PM in the old city in al-Khalil (Hebron) settlers from the illegal settlement of Beit Hadassah threw rocks and water at Palestinians living on Shalala Street. This is a regular occurrence for Palestinian families living close to illegal settlements in al-Khalil. The majority of the time the Israeli military watches from a distance and does not do anything to intervene in the violence and property damage.
One Palestinian, a 35-year old man, documented the stone throwing only to be detained and then arrested by the Israeli military. The man was taken through a yellow gate to an area from which Palestinians are restricted, where the soldiers pushed him around.
The soldiers threw several stun grenades at Palestinians and internationals standing behind the yellow gate who were trying to document what was happening through holes of the gate.
Two internationals walked through the checkpoint at the Ibrahimi mosque and down Shuhada street in attempt to find the Palestinian. A group of ten soldiers and an army jeep stood with two Palestinian men, the man who had been arrested was in handcuffs. A nearby soldier told the internationals that neither of the men was arrested but they were only bringing the handcuffed man in for questioning, to gather evidence about the settlers who threw stones. After approximately five minutes the solders blindfolded the Palestinian and started walking with him to a nearby army base, Beit Romano. When internationals asked why the man was being blindfolded an Israeli soldier stated, “Because I want to.”
The man was released earlier this morning.
The Israeli cargo ship ‘Zim’ was set to dock in the Oakland port, on Saturday morning. But activists have claimed credit for an announced delay in the ship’s docking, and are planning to stop the ship wherever it tries to dock.
The U.S. activists are following the lead of trade unionists in South Africa, who successfully blocked Israeli ships from docking on several occasions, to protest Israeli aggression against Palestinians and call for a just and lasting peace.
Activists in Oakland, California are gathering Saturday to carry out direct action to stop the ship from being able to dock at the port. And, activists in Seattle, WA and Vancouver, BC are also planning to blockade scheduled stops in those ports.
The actions could potentially cost Israeli exporters millions of dollars, if their goods are unable to reach their ports of destination. The exact products on board the Zim are unknown, but they are likely to include Sodastream, a do-it-yourself soda-making device that is manufactured in an Israeli settlement on illegally-seized Palestinian land, Ahava dead sea salts, which are seized from Palestinian land in violation of the Dead Sea Agreement, and Osem brand food products, some of which are manufactured and packaged in Israeli settlements on illegally-seized Palestinian land, in the West Bank.
In their organizing materials, protesters say, “Palestine is calling us to action! Palestinian laborers [and the] Palestinian General Federation Trade Union have called on workers around the world to refuse to handle Israeli goods.”
They say that their “Block the Boat” actions are in response to a call by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, which calls for people around the world to “educate and build awareness among the labor movements of the U.S., and urge them to condemn the Israeli aggression and to boycott Israel.”
The Oakland action ran into some complications when the local branch of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, or ILWU, was unable to take a public stand in favor of the action – reportedly because of an active negotiation between the union and management. But individual union members are supporting the action, and are part of Saturday’s blockade.
One of the organizers of the event, Reem Assil of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, told reporters, “Symbolically, for Oakland we can say, ‘Not in our name!’ We’re not going to be complicit and an accomplice to the ongoing genocide and massacres going on.”
In 2010, Oakland activists successfully turned back an Israeli ship, while protesting the Israeli siege on Gaza. But that ship was later able to dock in Los Angeles. This time, activists are coordinating via social media and contact lists to ensure that protesters prepared for direct action will be on hand to meet the ship in Los Angeles, Seattle, or Vancouver, BC if it decides to re-route.
The protesters are calling for an end to the Israeli siege on Gaza, and an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Their demands are in sync with the Palestinian core demands, which include equal rights for Palestinian people, the return of Palestinian refugees to their former homes in what is now Israel, and the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prison camps.
While Israel partisans in the US and some others (often former Israel partisans) sometimes claim that the US-Israel “special relationship” is driven by the US, Israeli writers are more honest. Most recently, retired Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas writes on Ynet* (emphasis added):
Apart from Israel’s ability to defend itself, there never was – and probably will never be – a more important strategic asset to the country than its relationship with the United States. Since its founding – and especially since the end of the 60s and the start of the 70s – these ties have provided Israel a superpower to lean on, a supporting pillar of military deterrence, and a force-multiplier in the international arena.
The United States has not only vetoed more than 50 anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nation’s Security Council, it has also provided military aid totaling more than $140 billion, as well as access to American weapon systems and advanced ammunition. But the US has also garnered a reputation as an almost-automatic defender of Israel – its layer of protection from international isolation.
The relationship between the two countries has often been defined as “special”, “extraordinary”, and an “unshakeable alliance.” Since the 80s, Israel has often pushed to define itself as a “strategic asset” for the United States and, though Americans have never used the phrase themselves, they have not denied it.**
But on this matter there is some confusion in Israel borne of an exaggerated sense of self-importance. The strategic asset in this equation is the US for Israel, not the other way around.
* Ynetnews, according to its website, “is part of the prominent Yedioth Media Group, which publishes Yedioth Ahronoth – Israel’s most widely-read daily newspaper – as well as several popular magazines and dozens of local publications.”
** Actually many American experts have denied that Israel is a strategic asset – see, for example, The National Summit to Reassess the US-Israel Special Relationship.
Since Israel’s creation in 1948, Israeli political and military leaders have demonstrated a pattern of repeatedly violating ceasefires with their enemies in order to gain military advantage, for territorial aggrandizement, or to provoke their opponents into carrying out acts of violence that Israel can then exploit politically and/or use to justify military operations already planned.
The following fact sheet provides a brief overview of some of the most high profile and consequential ceasefire violations committed by the Israeli military over the past six decades.
2012 – On November 14, two days after Palestinian factions in Gaza agree to a truce following several days of violence, Israel assassinates the leader of Hamas’ military wing, Ahmed Jabari, threatening to escalate the violence once again after a week in which at least six Palestinian civilians are killed and dozens more wounded in Israeli attacks.
2012 – On March 9, Israel violates an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire and assassinates the head of the Gaza-based Popular Resistance Committees, sparking another round of violence in which at least two dozen Palestinians are killed, including at least four civilians, and scores more wounded. As usual, Israel claims it is acting in self-defense, against an imminent attack being planned by the PRC, while providing no evidence to substantiate the allegation. Following the assassination, Israeli journalist Zvi Bar’el writes in the Haaretz newspaper:
“It is hard to understand what basis there is for the assertion that Israel is not striving to escalate the situation. One could assume that an armed response by the Popular Resistance Committees or Islamic Jihad to Israel’s targeted assassination was taken into account. But did anyone weigh the possibility that the violent reaction could lead to a greater number of Israeli casualties than any terrorist attack that Zuhair al-Qaisi, the secretary-general of the Popular Resistance Committees, could have carried out? “In the absence of a clear answer to that question, one may assume that those who decided to assassinate al-Qaisi once again relied on the ‘measured response’ strategy, in which an Israeli strike draws a reaction, which draws an Israeli counter-reaction.”
Just over two months prior, on the third anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, Israeli army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz tells Israel’s Army Radio that Israel will need to attack Gaza again soon to restore its power of “deterrence,” and that the assault must be “swift and painful,” concluding, “We will act when the conditions are right.”
2011 – On October 29, Israel breaks a truce that has maintained calm for two months, killing five Islamic Jihad members in Gaza, including a senior commander. The following day, Egypt brokers another truce that Israel proceeds to immediately violate, killing another four IJ members. In the violence, a total of nine Palestinians and one Israeli are killed.
2008 – In November, Israel violates a ceasefire with Hamas and other Gaza-based militant groups that has been in place since June, launching an operation that kills six Hamas members. Militant groups respond by launching rockets into southern Israel, which Israel shortly thereafter uses to justify Operation Cast Lead, its devastating military assault on Gaza beginning on December 27. Over the next three weeks, the Israeli military kills approximately 1400 Palestinians, most of them civilians, including more than 300 children. A UN Human Rights Council Fact Finding Mission led by South African jurist Richard Goldstone subsequently concludes that both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the fighting, a judgment shared by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
2002 – On July 23, hours before a widely reported ceasefire declared by Hamas and other Palestinian groups is scheduled to come into effect, Israel bombs an apartment building in the middle of the night in the densely populated Gaza Strip in order to assassinate Hamas leader Salah Shehada. Fourteen civilians, including nine children, are also killed in the attack, and 50 others wounded, leading to a scuttling of the ceasefire and a continuation of violence.
2002 – On January 14, Israel assassinates Raed Karmi, a militant leader in the Fatah party, following a ceasefire agreed to by all Palestinian militant groups the previous month, leading to its cancellation. Later in January, the first suicide bombing by the Fatah linked Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade takes place.
2001 – On November 23, Israel assassinates senior Hamas militant, Mahmoud Abu Hanoud. At the time, Hamas was adhering to an agreement made with PLO head Yasser Arafat not to attack targets inside of Israel. Following the killing, respected Israeli military correspondent of the right-leaning Yediot Ahronot newspaper, Alex Fishman, writes in a front-page story: “We again find ourselves preparing with dread for a new mass terrorist attack within the Green Line [Israel's pre-1967 border]… Whoever gave a green light to this act of liquidation knew full well that he is thereby shattering in one blow the gentleman’s agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority; under that agreement, Hamas was to avoid in the near future suicide bombings inside the Green Line…” A week later, Hamas responds with bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa.
2001 – On July 25, as Israeli and Palestinian Authority security officials meet to shore up a six-week-old ceasefire, Israel assassinates a senior Hamas member in Nablus. Nine days later, Hamas responds with a suicide bombing in a Jerusalem pizzeria.
1988 – In April, Israel assassinates senior PLO leader Khalil al-Wazir in Tunisia, even as the Reagan administration is trying to organize an international conference to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The US State Department condemns the murder as an “act of political assassination.” In ensuing protests in the occupied territories, a further seven Palestinians are gunned down by Israeli forces.
1982 – Following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in June, and after PLO fighters depart Beirut under the terms of a US-brokered ceasefire, Israel violates the terms of the agreement and moves its armed forces into the western part of the city, where the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila are located. Shortly thereafter, Israeli soldiers surround the camps and send in their local Christian Phalangist allies – even though the long and bloody history between Palestinians and Phalangists in Lebanon is well known to the Israelis, and despite the fact that the Phalangists’ leader, Bashir Gemayel, has just been assassinated and Palestinians are rumored (incorrectly) to be responsible. Over the next three days, between 800 and 3500 Palestinian refugees, mostly women and children left behind by the PLO fighters, are butchered by the Phalangists as Israeli soldiers look on. In the wake of the massacre, an Israeli commission of inquiry, the Kahan Commission, deems that Israeli Defense Minister (and future Prime Minister) Ariel Sharon bears “personal responsibility” for the slaughter.
1981-2 – Under Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel repeatedly violates a nine-month-old UN-brokered ceasefire with the PLO in Lebanon in an effort to provoke a response that will justify a large-scale invasion of the country that Sharon has been long planning. When PLO restraint fails to provide Sharon with an adequate pretext, he uses the attempted assassination of Israel’s ambassador to England to justify a massive invasion aimed at destroying the PLO – despite the fact that Israeli intelligence officials believe the PLO has nothing to do with the assassination attempt. In the ensuing invasion, more than 17,000 Lebanese are killed.
1973 – Following a ceasefire agreement arranged by the US and the Soviet Union to end the Yom Kippur War, Israel violates the agreement with a “green light” from US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. According to declassified US documents, Kissinger tells the Israelis they can take a “slightly longer” time to adhere to the truce. As a result, Israel launches an attack and surrounds the Egyptian Third Army, causing a major diplomatic crisis between the US and Soviets that pushes the two superpowers to the brink of nuclear war, with the Soviets threatening to intervene to save their Egyptian allies and the US issuing a Defcon III nuclear alert.
1967 – Israel violates the 1949 Armistice Agreement, launching a surprise attack against Egypt and Syria. Despite claims Israel is acting in self-defense against an impending attack from Egypt, Israeli leaders are well aware that Egypt poses no serious threat. Yitzhak Rabin, Chief of the General Staff of the Israeli army during the war, says in a 1968 interview that “I do not believe that Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent into Sinai on May 14 would not have been enough to unleash an offensive against Israel. He knew it and we knew it.” And former Prime Minister Menachem Begin later admits that “Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches did not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”
1956 – Colluding with Britain and France, Israel violates the 1949 Armistice Agreement by invading Egypt and occupying the Sinai Peninsula. Israel only agrees to withdraw following pressure from US President Dwight Eisenhower.
1949 – Immediately after the UN-brokered Armistice Agreement between Israel and its neighbors goes into effect, the armed forces of the newly-created Israeli state begin violating the truce with encroachments into designated demilitarized zones and military attacks that claim numerous civilian casualties.
Occupied Palestine – The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) is placing a call out for volunteers to join us in the West Bank now, and for the olive harvest beginning in October.
We need solidarity activists to support the Palestinian popular struggle by joining protests and demonstrations, to document and report on the crimes committed by both the Israeli military and the colonial settlers living on Palestinian land throughout the West Bank, and to stand alongside Palestinian communities as they face occupation and apartheid.
ISM is also sending an urgent call for volunteers to join the 2014 olive harvest campaign, beginning in October.
ISM volunteers join Palestinian farming communities each year to harvest olives in areas where Palestinians face settler and military violence while working their land. Palestinian communities state that the presence of international volunteers reduces the risk of extreme violence from Israeli settlers and the Israeli army. Your presence can make a big difference.
The olive tree is a Palestinian national symbol, and the Israeli military systematically prevents agricultural fruition in order to make life for Palestinians more difficult. The Israeli occupation provides a platform for Palestinian rights to be violated in an array of ways; the attack on agriculture is at the forefront.
Already documented this year, and to list a few cases; the trees have suffered settler sewage runoff, sabotaging fires, and being cut down. Olive trees comprise of an essential 14% of the Palestinian agricultural economy.
We support Palestinians’ assertion of their right to earn their livelihoods and be present on their lands. International solidarity activists engage in non-violent intervention and documentation and practical support, which enables many families to pick their olives.
The campaign will begin in October and will last around 6-8 weeks. We ask that volunteers start arriving at the end of September, so that we will be prepared when the harvest begins. Usually we require a two week commitment from volunteers, however during the olive harvest a one week commitment is sufficient. All volunteers must attend a two-day training before they join ISM, trainings run on Wednesdays and Thursdays as long as the trainers are available. Please see the join ISM page or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
An Israeli court has banned the broadcast of Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem that listed the names of Palestinian children killed during Israel’s month-long offensive in the Gaza Strip.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court rejected B’Tselem’s appeal to overturn a decision by the Israel Broadcast Authority to ban a broadcast produced by the NGO, saying it is of political nature.
The broadcast listed the names of children killed in the war in the besieged enclave.
“The hidden objective of the broadcast… is to get the public to make the government stop the (Israeli army operation) in Gaza, due to civilian deaths and children in particular,” the judges’ decision read, adding, “The broadcast is clearly not meant for informative purposes only,” it added.
Israel launched the latest war against the coastal enclave on July 8, killing at least 1,962 Palestinians, including 470 children, and wounding at least 10,100 others.
On Wednesday, Israel and the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas agreed to extend a temporary truce in Gaza for five more days as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators continued talks to reach a long-term deal in the Egyptian capital Cairo.
On Thursday, Khalil al-Haya, a senior member of the Hamas delegation at the talks, said any deal with the Israel regime must include Palestinian’s demand to end the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Israel launched the latest war against the blockaded Gaza Strip on July 8. Nearly 1,962 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have so far lost their lives and at least 10,100 have been injured in the Israeli war.