Although the facts, the law, and admissions by Israeli government officials all pointed otherwise, during the July-August 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza, the Israeli government was successful in promoting its self-defense claim with western news media and in persuading certain U.S. politicians that Israel was implementing its right to defend itself.
Claims of “self-defense” against Hamas rocket fire were invoked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Barack Obama, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and the United States Senate, and not only as justification for the Israeli assault. “Self-defense” against the rockets also served to deflect allegations that Israeli forces committed war crimes by targeting civilians and civilian property in Gaza.
Public relations campaigns based on self-defense have been critical to Israeli officials avoiding accountability after each of the six major assaults on Gaza since Israel withdrew its settlers from Gaza in 2005. Notwithstanding the reports of war crimes committed by Israeli forces, the remarkable success of those self-defense based public relations campaigns continued to provide Israeli officials with impunity: the freedom to strike militarily again.
That impunity may come to an end if the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) decides to open an investigation into the situation in Palestine and prosecutions follow. However, immediately after the Prosecutor announced that she was launching a “preliminary examination” on January 16, 2015, Netanyahu launched a multi-pronged “public diplomacy campaign to discredit the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) recent decision to start an inquiry into what the Palestinians call Israeli ‘war crimes’ in the disputed territories.” The public diplomacy campaign is based entirely on Israel’s claim that it acted in self-defense. The Israeli campaign also included a threat to disregard the decision of the court, a threat to the funding of the court, and the announcement that Israel was freezing transfer of more than $100 million a month in taxes Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority in retaliation for the State of Palestine joining the ICC and requesting the ICC inquiry.
A new 63 page report, “Neither facts nor law support Israel’s self-defense claim regarding its 2014 assault on Gaza,” submitted to the ICC Prosecutor on behalf of the Palestine Subcommittee of the National Lawyers Guild (“the ICC submission”), uses both authoritative contemporaneous Israeli and Palestinian reports and newly released reports and documents to demonstrate that Israeli claims of “self-defense” for its 2014 attack on Gaza are unsupported in both fact and law. The ICC submission notes that the unusual strategy implemented by Israeli officials to publically discredit the court inquiry demonstrated a distinct departure from the traditional method of respectfully presenting evidence and persuasive arguments to the court.
The facts don’t fit Israel’s self-defense claim
Among the material considered in the ICC submission is the 277 page Israeli government report, “The 2014 Gaza Conflict: Factual and Legal Aspects” that was released by the Israeli government on June 14, 2015. Although the Israeli government report builds its case around self-defense, to its credit, the Israeli government report openly acknowledges that Israeli military forces (a) had been striking Gaza during 2013 and early 2014, (b) had launched a massive attack on the West Bank in mid-June 2014, and (c) had launched an aerial strike on a tunnel in Gaza on July 5, 2014. However, the Israeli government report omits mention that all these dates were before the night of July 7, 2014, the date a contemporaneous report from an authoritative Israeli source said “For the first time since Operation Pillar of Defense [November 21, 2012], Hamas participated in and claimed responsibility for rocket fire” (emphasis in the original). The contemporaneous report was issued by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC), a private Israeli think tank that the Washington Post says “has close ties with the country’s military leadership.”
While the Israeli government report acknowledged the aerial strike on the tunnel in Gaza, it omitted mention of the extent of Israeli attacks on Gaza during the night before Hamas participated and claimed responsibility for its first rocket fire since 2012: The contemporaneous ITIC July 2 – July 8, 2014 weekly report states that on July 7 “approximately 50 terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip were struck,” by Israeli forces, including strikes that killed six Hamas members in the tunnel.
The Israeli government report states:
On July 7, 2014, after more than 60 rockets and mortars were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip on a single day, the Government of Israel was left with no choice but to initiate a concerted aerial operation against Hamas and other terrorist organisations in order adequately to defend Israel’s civilian population.
Thus, the Israeli government report claims that the government was acting to defend Israel’s civilian population notwithstanding the fact that it had just admitted to an Israeli government attack that preceded the Hamas rocket fire on July 7. The attack on the tunnel that the ITIC reported killed the six Hamas members.
In a minute by minute timeline of events that day, the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz reported the Israeli attacks that began during the night of July 6 and continued in the early morning hours of July 7 that showed that the Israeli attack on the tunnel preceded the Hamas rockets:
at 2:24 a.m. on July 7:
Hamas reports an additional four militants died in a second Israeli air strike in Gaza, bringing Sunday night’s death total to six. This is the biggest single Israeli hit against Hamas since 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense.
at 9:37 p.m. on July 7 Ha’aretz reported:
Hamas claims responsibility for the rockets fired at Ashdod, Ofakim, Ashkelon and Netivot. Some 20 rockets exploded in open areas in the last hour.
Thus, an authoritative contemporaneous Israeli report acknowledged the fact that Hamas started firing its rockets some 20 hours after Israeli forces launched the attack on Gaza and killed the six Hamas members.
The Israeli government report couches the more than 60 rockets launched at Israel on the night of July 7 as giving the government of Israel no choice but to escalate aerial operations. But the report fails to mention that Israel actually had a choice as to whether or not to launch its prior lethal attack on the night of July 6 and the early morning hours of July 7. By omitting mention of the timing and the lethal effects of its attack on the tunnel, the Israeli government report avoids recognizing that its killing of the six Hamas members provoked the Hamas rocket fire.
While the Israeli government report mentions strikes on Gaza during 2013 and 2014, it omits mention of the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli attacks during 2013 and the increased rate of such killing during the first three months of 2014.
According to a report issued by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, “PCHR Annual Report 2013:”
The number of Palestinians who were killed by Israeli forces was 46 victims in circumstances where no threats were posed to the lives of Israeli soldiers. Five of these victims died of wounds they had sustained in previous years. Of the total number of victims, there were 41 civilians, 33 of whom were in the West Bank and eight in the Gaza Strip, including six children, two women; and five non-civilians, including one in the West Bank and the other four in the Gaza Strip. In 2013, 496 Palestinians sustained various wounds, 430 of them in the West Bank and 66 in the Gaza Strip, including 142 children and 10 women.
An escalation of Israeli violence against Palestinians in early 2014 compared to the rate for the entire year 2013 is evident from PCHR’s “Report on the Human Rights Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, 1st Quarter of 2014.”Among the violations presented in the report, 20 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during the first three months of 2014, including 11 civilians of whom two were children; 259 were wounded, of whom 255 were civilians, including 53 children. “The majority of these Palestinians, 198, were wounded during peaceful protests and clashes with Israeli forces.”
Nor does the Israeli government report mention any of the lethal Israeli government attacks on the West Bank and Gaza in the days and weeks before three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed on the West Bank on June 12, 2014:
* Israeli forces shot 9 teenagers demonstrating on the West Bank on May 15, killing two.
* Israeli forces wounded nine Palestinian civilians, including a child during the week of June 5 to June 11.
* Israeli forces launched an extrajudicial execution on June 11 in Gaza that killed one and wounded three.
Nor does the Israeli government report describe the extent of casualties inflicted by the June 13 to June 30 military offensive on the West Bank, Operation Brothers Keeper, in which Israeli forces killed 11 Palestinians and wounded 51, according to the contemporaneous weekly reports issued by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.
In addition, the Israeli government’s 277 page report omits mention of admissions by Prime Minister Netanyahu of other military and political purposes for its assault on the West Bank, described in a contemporaneous report in the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot, on June 15, 2014: to capture Hamas members (some of whom the Israeli government had previously released in a prisoner exchange and some of whom were Parliamentarians in the new Palestinian unity government), create “severe repercussions,” and punish the Palestinian Authority and Hamas for forming a unity government. Importantly, although he accused “Hamas people” of carrying out the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers, Netanyahu made no mention of stopping rocket fire. The non-mention of rocket fire by Netanyahu is consistent with the ITIC report of no rocket fire at that time.
Similarly, after describing the Israeli operations that caused Hamas to pay a “heavy price” on the West Bank, as shown in a video of his speech at the US Ambassador’s residence in Tel Aviv on July 4, Netanyahu acknowledged that “in Gaza we hit dozens of Hamas activists and destroyed outposts and facilities that served Hamas terrorists.” Thus Netanyahu himself acknowledged major Israeli military operations in Gaza preceding the launching of Hamas rockets on July 7.
Facilitating the Israeli and U.S. government campaign to pin responsibility on Hamas and support an Israeli self-defense claim, certain western news media, including the New York Times, published an incorrect timeline. The timeline published by the New York Times dated the start of the war to July 8, the first full day of Hamas rocket barrages, and more than a day after Israeli forces had escalated their aerial attack on Gaza killing the six Hamas members. The Times timeline simply omits mention of the lethal Israeli attacks on the night of July 6 and early morning hours on July 7 that Ha’aretz said preceded the Hamas barrage of rockets on the night of July 7. The New York Times timeline also omits mention of the 24 days of “Operation Bring Back Our Brothers,” that began on June 13, the June 11 extra-judicial execution of a Hamas member in Gaza, the June 13 attack on the “terrorist facility and a weapons storehouse in the southern Gaza Strip,” and the killing of the two Palestinian teenagers and wounding of seven other Palestinians who were demonstrating on May 15. The New York Times timeline also omits mention of the lethal Israeli attacks in 2013 and the escalation of those attacks in early 2014 that the Israeli government report admitted under the euphemism “targeted efforts to prevent future attacks.”
The law doesn’t fit Israel’s self-defense claim
Not just facts and admissions stand in the way of Israel’s self-defense claim. In a 2004 decision rejecting Israel’s self-defense claim for the wall, a relatively passive structure crossing occupied Palestinian territory, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) held that, under the UN Charter, self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter is inapplicable to measures taken by an occupying power within occupied territory. While the ICJ recognized Israel’s right and its duty to protect its citizens, it said “The measures taken are bound nonetheless to remain in conformity with applicable international law.” While the Israeli government report includes mention of a law review article that relies on an ICJ holding favorable to an Israeli position on another issue, the Israeli government report omits mention of the directly on point ICJ case regarding applicability of self-defense to Israel as occupying power in Gaza.
But even if Israel could overcome the facts showing that Israeli forces initiated the combat, and even if Israel was not the occupying power in Gaza and did not have to address the law regarding self-defense for an occupying power presented in the ICJ decision, Israel’s claim to self-defense would still be invalidated if its assault extended beyond what was necessary and proportionate to deal with an armed attack it was purportedly facing, as more fully described in the ICC submission.
Necessity was contradicted by the data provided by the ITIC showing that Israel had been wildly successful at stopping and/or preventing rocket fire by agreeing to and at least partially observing a ceasefire, while Israel consistently dialed up rocket fire with each of its major assaults on Gaza since 2006. By contrast, as shown in the ICC submission, hundreds of times more rockets were falling on Israel during each day of each of the major assaults on Gaza than were falling in the periods before Israeli forces attacked or after the assault ended with a new ceasefire.
Necessity was also contradicted by an article in the May 2013 Jerusalem Post, “IDF source: Hamas working to stop Gaza rockets,” quoting the IDF General who commands the army’s Gaza Division who said that Hamas had been policing other groups in Gaza “to thwart rocket attacks from the strip.” The Hamas observance of the ceasefire and its policing of other groups to prevent rocket fire demonstrated an effective alternative to an Israeli assault. The Israeli attacks on the West Bank and Gaza during the period between June 13 and the early morning hours of July 7, 2014 put that ceasefire and that Hamas policing of other groups at risk. Israel could have more effectively protected its citizens from rocket fire by continuing to at least partially observe the successful cease-fire in place before Israel escalated its assaults on the West Bank and Gaza. So the necessity for the escalation on June 13 and the further escalation on July 7 to protect Israeli citizens from rocket fire has not been shown.
The necessity and proportionality requirements for a self-defense claim were also contradicted by evidence that actions by Israeli forces during the assault on Gaza went outside the laws of war by directly targeting Palestinian civilians and Palestinian civilian property. The proportionality requirement was further contradicted by evidence of widespread Israeli attacks that harmed civilians or civilian property disproportionate to the military advantage Israeli forces received from the attacks. The evidence for such war crimes cited in the ICC submission comes from reports of investigations conducted by the UN Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry (June 22, 2015); the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Lawyers for Palestinian for Human Rights (LPHR), and Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) (June 26, 2015); the UN Human Rights Council (December 26, 2014); Defense for Children International Palestine (April 2015); Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) (January 20, 2015); Al-Haq (August 19, 2014); the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) (September 4, 2014); Breaking the Silence (May 3, 2015); The Guardian (May 4, 2015); The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) (March 27, 2015), and contemporaneous and periodic reports issued by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.
Along with support from top U.S. officials, the enormously successful public relations campaigns based on claimed self-defense that Israeli officials mounted during and after each of the Israeli assaults on Gaza allowed Israel to avoid accountability, maintain impunity, and launch subsequent attacks. In view of that successful record, the effectiveness of Israel’s “public diplomacy campaign to discredit the ICC inquiry” based on the same self-defense claims should not be underestimated. Widespread recognition that Israel’s self-defense claim is deeply flawed is needed to counter the intense pressure Israeli officials and their allies are exerting on the ICC so the court may resist that pressure and base its decisions strictly on the facts and law.
James Marc Leas is a patent attorney and a past co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild Palestine Subcommittee. He collected evidence in Gaza immediately after Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012 as part of a 20 member delegation from the U.S. and Europe and authored or co-authored four articles for Counterpunch describing findings, including Why the Self-Defense Doctrine Doesn’t Legitimize Israel’s Assault on Gaza. He also participated in the February 2009 National Lawyers Guild delegation to Gaza immediately after Operation Cast Lead and contributed to its report, “Onslaught: Israel’s Attack on Gaza and the Rule of Law.”
Here are excerpts from a 2007 report from award winning journalist Seymour Hersh. His report, published in the New Yorker under the heading “The Redirection,” outlines in clear language that the conspiracy to topple the governments of Syria and Iran, specifically by sponsoring terrorist groups as mercenaries against them, was conceived and initiated during the Bush years, and began to take shape in earnest in 2007.
In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy. The “redirection,” as some inside the White House have called the new strategy, has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.
The new American policy, in its broad outlines, has been discussed publicly. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that there is “a new strategic alignment in the Middle East,” separating “reformers” and “extremists”; she pointed to the Sunni states as centers of moderation, and said that Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah were “on the other side of that divide.” (Syria’s Sunni majority is dominated by the Alawi sect.) Iran and Syria, she said, “have made their choice and their choice is to destabilize.”
Some of the core tactics of the redirection are not public, however. The clandestine operations have been kept secret, in some cases, by leaving the execution or the funding to the Saudis, or by finding other ways to work around the normal congressional appropriations process, current and former officials close to the Administration said.
The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic embrace, largely because both countries see Iran as an existential threat. They have been involved in direct talks, and the Saudis, who believe that greater stability in Israel and Palestine will give Iran less leverage in the region, have become more involved in Arab-Israeli negotiations.
The new strategy “is a major shift in American policy—it’s a sea change,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. The Sunni states “were petrified of a Shiite resurgence, and there was growing resentment with our gambling on the moderate Shiites in Iraq,” he said. “We cannot reverse the Shiite gain in Iraq, but we can contain it.”
This time, the U.S. government consultant told me, Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that “they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was ‘We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.’ It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at—Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.”
In the past year, the Saudis, the Israelis, and the Bush Administration have developed a series of informal understandings about their new strategic direction. At least four main elements were involved, the U.S. government consultant told me. First, Israel would be assured that its security was paramount and that Washington and Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states shared its concern about Iran.
Second, the Saudis would urge Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian party that has received support from Iran, to curtail its anti-Israeli aggression and to begin serious talks about sharing leadership with Fatah, the more secular Palestinian group. (In February, the Saudis brokered a deal at Mecca between the two factions. However, Israel and the U.S. have expressed dissatisfaction with the terms.)
The third component was that the Bush Administration would work directly with Sunni nations to counteract Shiite ascendance in the region.
Fourth, the Saudi government, with Washington’s approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashir Assad, of Syria. The Israelis believe that putting such pressure on the Assad government will make it more conciliatory and open to negotiations. Syria is a major conduit of arms to Hezbollah.
It has no nukes, no navy, no air–force, no tanks, no phosphor bombs, no subs, no guided missiles, no exits, nowhere to run… its people are terrorised, blockaded and exhausted... their homes are rubble… unemployment is the highest in the world and 73% suffer food insecurity… but suddenly:
Gaza is ‘a recurring threat to peace’!
This blame-it-on-Gaza bombshell came in the middle of a House of Lords debate on the political situation in the Gaza Strip yesterday.
‘Hasbara’ stooges present their propaganda ‘facts’
Lord Davies of Stamford, formerly the MP Quentin Davies, stood up:
My Lords, there are five salient facts that ought to come out of any debate about Gaza…. One is that Gaza is clearly a most unpleasant place to live: it is extremely poor and very violent. It is poor partially because of the blockades that have been imposed by both its neighbours, Egypt and Israel, for reasons that may be very understandable.
The second salient fact that has come out and which is certainly recognised all over the world is that Gaza in its present state is a recurring threat to peace in the region. Rockets are continually fired at Israel. After some years, the Israelis inevitably lose their patience…. and intervene militarily. There is nasty military action, obviously with a lot of fatalities.
Obviously. And the casualties (including over 578 children killed and 1,000 permanently disabled) are all on one side. It would be helpful to say why rockets are fired at Israel. But do carry on with your fascinating analysis, noble Lord.
Those two facts are pretty well known. There are three facts about Gaza that are not so well known and which ought to be better known. One is that it is a very nasty, savage tyranny…. Hamas imposes its power by regular use of torture and execution of political opponents: so-called collaborators with the Israelis and so forth.
By mentioning torture, his Lordship reminds me of the grim reports we keep getting about Israel torturing Palestinian child prisoners.
The fourth point that ought to be much better known is one I tried to bring out a few weeks ago at Questions, when I asked the Minister whether Hamas could bring to an end, any day it wanted, the blockade imposed by Israel, simply by accepting the quartet conditions. These, as the House knows, are: the giving up of violence, the recognition of the state of Israel and the acceptance of existing accords, including the Oslo accord. The answer I got was yes, the Hamas regime could, any day it wants, get rid of these blockades. It chooses not to do so.
Israel too could do all of those things but chooses not to. It could, if it had the sense, end its illegal occupation but chooses not to. And why would Palestinians recognise Israel when Israel has said repeatedly that it opposes a Palestinian state? His Lordship’s mention of the Oslo accord, I imagine, is a reference to the then prime minister Ehud Barak’s “generous” offer to the Palestinians. In an earlier speech Lord Davies said that Yasser Arafat, at the Camp David meeting, refused to consider an offer which would have resulted in 97% of the West Bank being handed over to a Palestinian state.
The offer was not what it seemed and the noble Lord was repeating a hasbara propaganda myth. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip, seized by Israel in 1967 and occupied ever since, comprise just 22% of pre-partition Palestine. When the Palestinians signed the Oslo Agreement in 1993 they agreed to accept the measly 22% and recognise Israel within ‘Green Line’ borders (i.e. the 1949 Armistice Line established after the Arab-Israeli War and recognised internationally as the border). Conceding 78% of the land that was originally theirs was an astonishing compromise but not enough for greedy Barak. He demanded the inclusion of 69 Israeli settlements within Palestine’s 22% remnant.
It was plain to see on the map that these settlement blocs would create impossible obstacles to Palestinian life which was already severely disrupted. Barak also insisted the Palestinian territories be placed under “Temporary Israeli Control”, meaning Israeli military and administrative control indefinitely. His generous offer also gave Israel control over all the border crossings of the new Palestinian State. What nation in the world would accept that? The map was never shown publicly, and propaganda spin concealed how preposterous Barak’s offer was.
The following year, at Taba, Barak produced a revised map but it was withdrawn after his election defeat. The facts are well documented by organisations such as Israel’s Gush Shalom, which his Lordship might find enlightening.
Gaza ‘the most subsidised community on earth’
Lord Davies concluded his amazing insights:
The fifth point, which certainly is not as well known as it ought to be — because it affects the pockets of every taxpayer in this country, apart from anything else — is that this mixture of unpleasantness, tyranny, threat to world peace and denial is being actively subsidised by the international community to the tune of many billions of dollars a year…. this is probably the most subsidised community anywhere on God’s earth. The European Union makes much the biggest contribution to these subsidies, at about €1.6 billion, and the second largest contributor is Qatar, at about $1 billion.
If we are going to go on subsidising the Hamas regime as we do, we have to ask ourselves whether we should introduce an element of conditionality into our relationships with Hamas.
As everyone (except his Lordship) knows, it’s the Israeli occupation that is being subsidised. And Israel is repeatedly destroying infrastructure built with British taxpayers’ money. Left in peace and free to trade with the rest of the world the Palestinians would prosper.
To think that Lord Davies was once a Government defence minister… It’s no surprise to discover that he voted for the Iraq war and travelled to Israel and Palestine in 2008, expenses paid by Labour Friends of Israel and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Or that, as reported in The Mirror, he claimed £10,000 of taxpayers’ money for repairs to window frames at his “second home” – an 18th century mansion.
He had earlier claimed £20,700 expenses (later amended to £5,376) for repairs to a “bell tower”.
You’d think that the human condition in the Holy Land, and especially Gaza after Israel’s horrific 50-day onslaught last summer, would bother our senior holy men. But apparently not. Twenty-six Church of England bishops sit in the House of Lords. Only the Bishop of Chester spoke up, thankfully injecting some much needed common sense:
In Gaza the World Bank estimates the per capita income to be 30% lower today than 20 years ago. The contrast just gets greater over time, which sets up a huge instability. I understand all the arguments for a two-state solution…. but will two states so closely linked geographically and yet on such divergent paths easily exist side by side?
What I cannot understand from the Israeli perspective is the settlement programme. It is acknowledged on practically all sides outside Israel that it is both illegal and ill judged. In a certain way it is a parallel to the political mistakes in South Africa, where the South Africans simply dug themselves in and could not see the misjudgment.
How are we to go forward? We have to work with Hamas…. working with it must be the future, difficult though that may be.
More ministerial wisdom
As if Lord Davies’ contribution wasn’t dreadful enough, Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office) closed the debate with some silly pokes at Hamas.
We have assessed that Hamas is seeking to rebuild militant infrastructure, including the tunnel network, in Gaza, and we are deeply concerned at reports of militant groups rearming.
What does she expect when the international community still fails to act and Israel continues its raids?
We will recognise the state of Palestine, where Palestinians currently live, only if and when Hamas get to the position whereby it can recognise the right of Israel to exist.
Israel has never defined its borders because it is bent on territorial expansion. The 56% of mandate Palestine allocated to Israel by UN Partition in 1947 was immediately expanded to 78% by Israeli military aggression. The rest of Palestine was taken over in 1967 and remains under the Israeli jackboot. So exactly what are Hamas supposed to ‘recognise’? They have already said they’ll accept a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 Green Line borders, which is exactly in accord with international law.
Our policy on Hamas remains clear: it must renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept previously signed agreements. Hamas must make credible movement towards these conditions, which still remain the benchmark against which its intentions should be judged.
Why? There is no parallel requirement on Israel.
The UK is deeply concerned by the terrible human cost to both sides of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as underlined by the findings of the report. We strongly condemn the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and other militant groups in the Gaza Strip.
Again, no parallel condemnation of Israel’s murderous bombardment of Palestinian civilians.
We therefore welcome the fact that Israel is conducting its own internal investigations into specific incidents. Where there is evidence of wrongdoing those responsible must be held accountable.
Don’t hold your breath, Baroness.
The United Kingdom has been one of the largest donors to Gaza since last summer, providing more than £17 million in emergency assistance. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, that none of our aid goes to Hamas. It goes via the United Nations relief agency and the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism…. The UK pledged an additional £20 million…. We have now delivered 80% of that pledge, with more to come shortly.
The British taxpayer, yet again, picks up the tab for the wreckage left behind by Israeli war crimes. It’s a paltry sum considering the Israelis caused damage estimated at $6 billion. If it wasn’t for the rotten windows of Lord Davies’ mansion and his crumbling bell tower, we could afford to give more.
Three of the four boats in the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla have turned back as the flagship Marianne was intercepted by the Israeli military and rerouted to Ashdod port. If Israel was a democracy it would grant this boat safe passage to Gaza.
These activists are peaceful people sailing in international waters, and are attempting to bring aid, and to donate a fishing boat to the people of Gaza, who are at the mercy of one of the most ruthless and sophisticated armed forces in the world. An attempt to stop them while they are in international waters, itself constitutes a breach of international law. Israel commits war crimes which are acknowledged by the United Nations and many human rights organizations. Let’s consider who the real terrorists in this scenario are. It isn’t the people struggling to have a decent quality of life in the most densely populated piece of land in the world. The idea that Palestinians could present a threat to such a powerful state as Israel is simply ludicrous. Israel holds the political, military, and economic power and controls the information narrative.
We should never forget when thinking about the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, that when Israeli forces stormed the Mavi Marmara in 2010, in an act of piracy, they killed nine people with one person later dying from injuries. The authorities have acted as if no crime was ever committed and as if Israel has nothing to answer for. That is state-sponsored violence with complete impunity.
Our boat is the last to set sail. However, we were told Sunday that our boat for now remains in Athens, and is not moving. At the moment, that’s all I can say.
For this reason, at the time of writing, we are preparing to deviate from the original plan and are making alternate plans to reach our ultimate destination. I would like to be specific at this point but cannot say much more than I already have. What I can say however, is that everyone here is motivated by a drive to highlight what is happening in Gaza through peaceful means.
We are being labeled as trouble makers and as agitators who are trying to make trouble for Israel, which of course is always presented as being guilty of nothing.
Past and present parliamentarians from different nations, aid workers, scholars, and journalists do not paint a picture of terrorists. Actually they have a track record of working against terrorists, many of them working in areas of conflict in the past with people who have had their lives torn apart by war.
They say, as they do when anyone tries to reach Gaza that the act in itself is an act of terrorism because the government in Gaza is run by Hamas. Hamas – who were elected and who represent the people.
Whatever one might think of Hamas is irrelevant, unless of course you happen to live in Palestine. Hamas did not bomb hundreds of innocent people last summer including hundreds of children.
The act of trying to prevent some fishing boats being delivered to people who are trapped and who have no freedom of movement is a monstrous one. These activists are unarmed and are 100 percent not a threat to Israel; they are pretty selfless human beings who simply care. If Israel was a democracy it would grant these activists safe passage. Israel however fulfills none of its obligations to the people of Palestine, and so it’s no surprise that it refuses to acknowledge the humanitarian crisis it has created.
What is wrong with equal rights for everyone under a system which treats everyone the same? If it was good enough for South Africa then surely it’s good enough for the rest of the world.
The FF3 coalition is a peaceful campaign absolutely maintaining a policy of nonviolence. It seems pretty clear though at this stage as if Israel is determined to allow no aid through to Gaza, and will continue to act as judge, jury, and executioner towards anyone that dare question or disagree with the colonial settler state.
I hope the brave souls who are on the vessels already at sea make it and that no harm comes to any of them. They do not deserve to have their names dragged through the dirt by a largely ignorant liberal press, and it’s an utter disgrace that many are happy to highlight a humanitarian crisis elsewhere in the world, while Palestine gets pushed to the side-lines. If FF3 serves to highlight any of this then the campaign will have been worth it.
Richard Sudan, is a London based writer, political activist, and performance poet. Follow him on Twitter.
The New York Times has had plenty to say about the infamous tunnels built from Gaza into Israel, providing us with photos, articles, videos and frequent talk of “terrorist attacks.” The presence of the tunnels, Times editors said, justified the bloody ground invasion of the strip last summer.
Today we find little mention of these threatening tunnels in a story by Jodi Rudoren about the just-released United Nations Human Rights Council report on the attacks. She tells us that the report “extensively discussed the tunnels militants had used to infiltrate Israeli territory,” but that is the end of it. [Note: this was expanded in later versions of the article.]
The report by the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict had this to say about the tunnels: “The commission observes that during the period under examination, the tunnels were used only to conduct attacks directed at IDF positions in Israel in the vicinity of the Green Line, which are legitimate military targets.”
It seems that the Times has scant interest in telling readers that tunnels were used for legitimate purposes. The discussions Rudoren mentions have little to say except that Israelis were scared by the tunnel reports; the final tally shows that not a single civilian was harmed because of them.
The Times, however, bought into the hype of the Israeli government and army. At the beginning of the ground invasion, it ran an editorial claiming that troops were in Gaza to stop rockets and “terrorist attacks via underground tunnels” even though the newspaper had yet to report even one such assault.
The absence of civilian casualties or even of a single attack, however, did not stop the Times from publishing three articles (here, here and here), two of them with Rudoren’s byline, and two videos (here and here), which focused on the tunnels, all of this in addition to the editorial.
It later followed up with a piece about Hezbollah tunnels reportedly running from Lebanon into northern Israel. Again, the Hezbollah story has only Israeli fear to report and no hard evidence of either tunnels or their use in attacks.
The UN report notes such Israeli anxieties in its Concluding Observations: “The increased level of fear among Israeli civilians resulting from the use of the tunnels was palpable.” This is the full extent of damage from the notorious “terror tunnels”—they frightened people.
When the Israeli army and government eagerly played up this supposed evidence of Palestinian “terrorist” intentions, The New York Times (and the United States government) followed suit, citing the tunnels as justification for the invasion. With so much hysteria emanating from the media and officialdom, it is no wonder Israeli civilians were expressing fear.
With its alarmist focus on the Gaza-Israel tunnels, the Times played the role of propagandist for Israel. Now, with the UN report, it could place the issue in a more valid perspective, but Rudoren’s piece suggests that the newspaper would rather avoid the facts in favor of a false Israeli narrative.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry has produced a 50-second cartoon mocking foreign reporting on Gaza, urging people to see that “terrorism rules” there. Apart from arguably lacking comedic value, the clip was slammed as being in poor taste by international media.
The animated short shows a blond, presumably American reporter in Gaza talking about how it’s a modern society where “ordinary people” are just trying to live their lives – “no terrorists here.” As the reporter’s praise for the locals continues, Hamas member can be seen in the back launching rockets.
The underground tunnels Hamas is building are seen by the reporter as “a fascinating attempt by Hamas to build a subway system… which will bring Gaza’s transportation system into the 21st century.”
This continues until a female reporter places a pair of glasses on the male reporter’s face so he could “see the reality of life under Hamas rule,” causing him to faint in shock.
The cartoon culminates with the woman’s upbeat, receptionist-like tone as she declares: “Open your eyes. Terrorism rules Gaza.”
The Foreign Press Association (FPA) has struck out at the decision to produce the cartoon in a statement, insisting that this is not what Israel needs if it wants to be taken seriously by the international community.
“The Foreign Press Association is surprised and alarmed by the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s decision to produce a cartoon mocking the foreign media’s coverage of last year’s war in Gaza,” the statement reads.
“At a time when Israel has serious issues to deal with in Iran and Syria, it is disconcerting that the ministry would spend its time producing a 50-second video that attempts to ridicule journalists reporting on a conflict in which 2,100 Palestinians and 72 Israelis were killed.
“Israel’s diplomatic corps wants to be taken seriously in the world. Posting misleading and poorly conceived videos on YouTube is inappropriate, unhelpful and undermines the ministry, which says it respects the foreign press and its freedom to work in Gaza,” the FPA said.
Israel’s Foreign Press Association is a nonprofit representing about 500 international journalists reporting from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government has denied UN human rights envoy Makarim Wibisono entry into Gaza for a second year in a row, just as a UN report on the war last year is about to be made public.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon believes Israel is within its rights to deny entry, as it “cooperates with all the international commissions and all rapporteurs, except when the mandate handed to them is anti-Israeli and Israel has no chance to make itself heard.”
Wibisono is attached to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which is about to release its findings from an investigation into alleged war crimes Israel may have committed during last year’s war in Gaza.
RAMALLAH – An attendee of the 15th Fatah Revolutionary Council conference led by President Mahmoud Abbas told Ma’an Tuesday that the council will form an entirely new unity cabinet rather than pursuing efforts to reform the existing government.
Abbas announced that the government would resign within the next 24 hours, several senior Fatah officials attending the conference told AFP, with the new government formation expected to be carried out in a matter of several days.
The announcement comes as Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have struggled to maintain a unity government pieced together in June 2014.
The move materialized after the Fatah-led PLO and Hamas announced a national unity deal a few months prior intended to end seven years of political division between the largest two Palestinian parties.
The division between Fatah and Hamas began in 2006, when Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections.
In the following year, clashes erupted between Fatah and Hamas, leaving Hamas in control of the Strip and Fatah in control of parts of the occupied West Bank.
While last year’s reconciliation aimed to pave the way for a general election by the end of 2014, an Israeli arrest campaign in the West Bank during early summer as well as a war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip in July-August derailed the timeline.
Hamas has since blasted the Fatah-led PA in the West Bank for failing to follow through on promises to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Deputy head of Hamas Ismail Haniyeh said earlier this month that there had been no humanitarian or economic progress in the coastal enclave since the national consensus government was formed a year ago, referring to swathes of the strip that remain devastated from last summer’s war, as well the nearly one year that has passed since Gaza’s civil servants have received salaries.
Prime Minister Hamdallah pledged during a March visit to Gaza that Palestinian factions would “work fast” to find solutions to crises in Gaza, however the visit largely deteriorated into factional fighting.
The failure of the unity government to address the needs of Gazans was addressed by the Revolutionary Council’s secretary general who told AFP prior to Tuesday’s meeting that the government would step down within 24 hours over its inability to act in the Gaza Strip.
“The government will resign in the next 24 hours because this one is weak and there is no chance that Hamas will allow it to work in Gaza,” said secretary-general Amin Maqbul.
But Ihab Bseiso, spokesman for the consensus government, told AFP he was unaware of the matter.
“We had a meeting today and we didn’t discuss this issue,” he said
As elections haven’t been held in the Palestinian territories since 2006, Tuesday’s decision to dissolve and reform the government is the latest of Abbas’ attempts to create a functioning unity government, in light of a year of setbacks.
Recent polls suggest that there has been a rise in Hamas’s popularity in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Arabi21 reported yesterday.
Head of the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, Dr Khalil Shikaki, who conducted the poll, said that 39 per cent of the respondents in Gaza would vote for Hamas if elections were held, compared to 32 per cent a year ago.
Meanwhile, 32 per cent of the respondents in the occupied West Bank, where there are tens of illegal Israeli settlements, would vote for Hamas, compared to 27 per cent three months ago.
The poll, which was conducted earlier this month, showed a decline in the popularity of Fatah, the movement headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. It showed that 36 per cent of respondents would vote for Fatah, compared to 41 per cent three months ago.
At the same time, the poll showed that the evaluation of Abbas’s performance has decreased from 50 per cent to 44 per cent following the announcement of the unity government last year.
Speaking to journalists, Shikaki said that the residents of the Gaza Strip are feeling depressed more than ever before. “About 50 per cent of the residents are thinking of emigrating,” he said.
The Gaza Strip has suffered following three destructive Israeli offensives since 2008, in addition to an eight-year siege. The most recent offensive took place last summer and reconstruction efforts have been stifled by Israel’s unwillingness to allow construction materials in to the Strip.
Israel placed Gaza under siege after Hamas won an overwhelming majority in parliamentary elections in 2006.
The New York Times has turned its sights on Gaza today with a page 1 article highlighting the miseries of life in the beleaguered enclave. The difficulties, we learn, have little to do with Israeli attacks and its crippling blockade: They are the fault of Hamas.
The article by Diaa Hadid and Majd el Waheidi, “Gazans’ Hopes for Rebuilding After War Give Way to Deeper Despair,” takes aim at the Islamist group in the lead paragraph, quoting an angry shopkeeper who resents a recent tax hike. The man is “enraged,” the story tells us, and he blames the government in charge.
This is where the Times wants to direct our attention: away from Israeli culpability for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and directly onto the Palestinians themselves. Meanwhile, the paper has been silent as Israeli gunboats and snipers have frequently attacked fishermen and farmers, violating the terms of the August 2014 ceasefire.
Israel has blockaded the Gaza Strip since 2007 and made three sustained assaults on the enclave since then, inflicting more death and destruction on the population each time. But the Times article has only this to say: “Israel places severe restrictions on the import of building materials, saying they have been used to build tunnels to conduct attacks on Israel.”
In the first three months of this year Israel killed one Palestinian and wounded 16 in Gaza, carried out at least six military incursions into the strip and shot at Palestinians, by land and sea, at least 67 times. Since then the attacks have continued almost without pause.
The Times ignores nearly all of this, even as Israel levels farmland and sprays food crops, and the newspaper fails to report other developments, such as a long term ceasefire offer made by Hamas earlier this year through Qatar and Turkey or the launch of a flotilla now on its way to Gaza from Scandinavia, the third such attempt to break the siege.
But now, when Hamas has instituted an unpopular increase in import fees, the Times sees fit to send a reporter to Gaza, intending as usual to demonize the Islamist party. It seems, however, that the evidence hoped for was scanty: The entire story contains only this one example of blaming Hamas.
This does not deter the Times, however. This lone sample is played to the hilt, laid out in the opening paragraph. Close readers may notice this; others will let it color their perceptions of the entire article.
The Palestinian Authority also comes in for blame. We find one Gaza resident who says the rival to Hamas has “an interest in leaving Gaza like this.” Others mention the impasse between Hamas and the PA, but Israeli responsibility gets little mention.
The story goes on to devote two paragraphs to the Egyptian closure of Rafah crossing and Egypt’s destruction of smuggling tunnels. No more is said about Israel’s role except to mention the debris from the last summer’s conflict.
We don’t hear that Israel destroyed thousands of homes and businesses in 2014, along with crops, wells and the electrical plant, and left more than 2,000 dead. Nor do we hear anything about the context of the blockade—the fact that it is has been in place for nearly eight years and its effect on families torn by separation, patients in need of medical care and basic supplies of food and medicine.
No doubt Hadid heard from many despairing residents of Gaza who direct their anger at Israel (and the United States), but we find not a single quote to this effect. She most certainly heard about the attacks on fishermen and farmers, but none of this made its way into the story.
This is just as Israel wants it. As a recent article in the Israeli 972 Magazine notes, “These incidents — in which the Israeli army infiltrates the Gaza Strip, shoots at fishermen, confiscates their boats and fires at farmers near the border zone — they are part of daily life in the besieged Gaza Strip. They are the everyday aspects of living in a giant prison controlled by Israel. But we barely hear about them.”
The author of the 972 piece, Haggai Matar, emphasized the blackout in the Hebrew media: Israelis are not to be aware of the oppression of Gaza; they are only to hear of the occasional rocket, the hyped up discovery of a “terror tunnel” and the failings of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
Here in the United States, away from Israeli censors, the Times has chosen to comply with this news embargo. In our newspaper of record nothing is to be said about the shooting of unarmed Gazans and the constant attacks on their welfare. Israel’s reputation comes first; the ethics of journalism and the reader’s right to be informed come far behind.
Here set out in black and white in the Israeli media is a moral conundrum that western politicians, diplomats and international human rights organisations are resolutely failing to address – and one I have been highlighting since 2006.
It was then that Israel implemented for the first time its Dahiya doctrine – turning Lebanon back to the Stone Age. It launched an horrific assault that wrecked Lebanon’s infrastructure, killed 1,300 Lebanese – most of them, as ever in Israel’s wars, civilians – and made refugees of more than a million inhabitants of the country’s south. The exercise has been repeated in Gaza on a regular basis ever since.
Last month the New York Times kindly published an Israeli press release masquerading as a news report that the Israeli army had photographic evidence that Hizbollah was moving its military bases into villages all over south Lebanon. The evidence was paltry to say the least. And the New York Times, quite bafflingly, said it had not been able to “independently verify” the information, as though it lacked reporters in Lebanon who could visit the sites named by its correspondent in far-away Tel Aviv.
The clear implication of the story was that, when the next war with Lebanon arrives, as the Israeli army keeps promising is just around the corner, Israel will be able to blame Hizbollah when its attacks kill mostly civilians.
As Israel’s Haaretz newspaper pointed out – possibly inadvertently – in a headline, the New York Times was doing Israel’s propaganda work for it: “Israel’s secret weapon in the war against Hezbollah: The New York Times”.
Although the NYT’s propaganda role was noted by several observers, no one seemed to make the point that, if Hizbollah is only now moving its bases into these villages, how can one make sense of the prominent justification for the high civilian death toll in Lebanon in 2006? Then Israel argued – and was backed by the UN and others – that the civilian deaths were a result of Hizbollah’s “cowardly blending” with the civilian population by firing rockets from built-up areas, though no evidence was produced at the time.
Look at what Amos Harel, Haaretz’s military correspondent, writes now:
The [New York] Times reports that Hezbollah, as part of the lessons it drew in the Second Lebanon War, in 2006, moved its “nature reserves” – its military outposts in the south – from open farmland into the heart of the Shi’ite villages that lie close to the border with Israel. That in itself is old news.
Tell that to Jan Egeland, who was the United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs at the time (and later joined Human Rights Watch), as well as all those who echoed his accusation against Hizbollah of “cowardly blending”.
There is another, even more vital point unnoticed by most observers but highlighted in Harel’s report for Haaretz. One of the problems for those at the receiving end of these savage Israeli attacks has been: how to respond. Or rather: how to respond within the confines of international law. While Israel has been doing most of the killing, western politicians, diplomats and human rights groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been more exercised by the efforts of Hizbollah and Hamas to retaliate in kind.
The international law argument supposedly goes something like this: Israel has the right to defend itself and so long as it is aiming for military targets with its precision armaments and acts proportionately then it is within its rights to launch attacks, whether civilians are killed or not.
The argument’s flip side goes like this: However terrible the suffering endured by their respective populations under this barrage, Hizbollah and Hamas have no right to respond with their imprecise rockets, whether they are aiming for a military target or not, because they cannot be sure their rockets will not hit civilians. In short, anything they fire over the border is a war crime by definition.
If that sounds problematic to you, check out my own public engagement with Sarah Leah Whitson of HRW back in 2006 debating this very issue.
The problem when dealing with asymmetrical confrontations is that traditional interpretations of international law are rigged to the advantage of the stronger, better-armed side.
So how does the Israeli army feel about Hizbollah’s efforts to improve its rockets to avoid this international law problem. Haaretz’s Harel explains what his military contacts have been telling him:
Israel is apparently deeply concerned by Hezbollah’s effort to improve the accuracy of its rockets. The organization has in its possession vast numbers of missiles and rockets – 130,000, according to the latest estimates – but upgrading its capability is dependent on improving the weapons’ accuracy, which would enable Hezbollah to strike effectively at specific targets, including air force-base runways and power stations.
In other words, Israel is “deeply concerned” that Hizbollah might soon be able to operate within the terms of international law as laid down by official arbiters like the UN and HRW.
How is Hizbollah trying to upgrade its rockets? Its allies, Iran and Syria’s Bashar Assad, are trying to deliver more sophisticated weapons to it through Syrian territory. How does Israel feel about this? Harel reports: “Israel is upset at the smuggling of weapons by the Assad regime in Syria to Hezbollah.” In fact, we know Israel is “upset” because it keeps violating Syria’s sovereign air space to launch attacks in Syria to stop convoys it claims are transporting such weapons reaching Hizbollah. It is similarly blockading Gaza to make sure upgraded, precise weapons do not get into Hamas’ hands.
So who will be to blame when Israel gets the next war with Lebanon or Gaza it wants and Hizbollah or Hamas respond by firing their imprecise rockets in retaliation? When Israeli civilians die under those rockets, will Hizbollah and Hamas be responsible or will it be Israel’s fault?
We will doubtless hear the answer from the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and the New York Times soon.
Amnesty International has issued four reports on the Israeli massacre in Gaza in 2014.1 Given the scale of the destruction and the number of fatalities, any attempt to document the crimes committed should be welcomed. However, these reports are problematic, and raise questions about the organisation itself, including why the reports were ever written at all.2 They also raise questions about the broader human rights industry that are worth considering.
July 2014 marked the onset of the Israeli massacre in Gaza (I will dispense with the Israeli sugar-coated “operation” name). The Israeli army trained for this attack for several months before finding a pretext to attack the Gaza Strip, shattering an existing ceasefire; this was the third such post-“disengagement” (2004) attack, and possibly the worst so far. At least 2,215 people were killed and 10,000+ wounded, most of them civilians. The scale of destruction was staggering: tens of thousands of houses were rendered uninhabitable; several high-rise buildings were struck by huge American-supplied bombs; schools and hospitals were targeted; 61 mosques were totally destroyed; water purification and sewage treatment plants were damaged; Gaza’s main flour mill was bombed; and all chicken farms in the territory were ravaged. There was incalculable devastation.3
Israeli control over Gaza has been in place for decades, with violence escalating over time, and the Palestinians there have been under siege for the past eight years. The Israelis have placed Gaza “on a diet”,4 permitting only a trickle of strictly controlled goods to cross the border, enough to keep the population above starvation levels. The whole Gaza Strip is surrounded on all sides, blocked off from the outside world: military bulldozers raze border areas, snipers injure farmers, and warships menace or destroy fishing boats with gunfire. Periodically, the Israelis engage in what they term “mowing the lawn” massacres and large scale destruction. It is this history that must serve as the foundation of any report that attempts to describe both the intent of the participating parties and the relative consequences.
Context-challenged – by design
The ongoing crimes perpetrated against Gaza are chronic and, indeed, systematic. Arnon Soffer, one of Israel’s Dr Strangelove types and “intellectual father of the wall”, had this to say about the enclave:
Q (Ruthie Blum): Will Israel be prepared to fight this war?
Arnon Soffer: […] Instead of entering Gaza, the way we did last week, we will tell the Palestinians that if a single missile is fired over the fence, we will fire 10 in response. And women and children will be killed, and houses will be destroyed. After the fifth such incident, Palestinian mothers won’t allow their husbands to shoot Kassams, because they will know what’s waiting for them. Second of all, when 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.5
To determine the reasons behind Israeli actions, one only has to read what such Dr Strangeloves say; it is no secret. The aim is to create miserable conditions to drive the Palestinians off their land, warehouse the population in an open air prison called Gaza, and to repress any Palestinian resistance disproportionately. Israelis have to “kill and kill and kill, all day”. Such pathological reasoning puts Israeli actions into perspective; they are major crimes, possibly genocidal. Recognition of such crimes has some consequences.
First, the nature of the crimes requires their recognition as crimes against humanity, arguably one of the most serious crimes under international law. Second, Israeli crimes put the violence of the Palestinian resistance into perspective; Palestinians have a legitimate right to defend themselves against the occupying power. Third, the long history of violence perpetrated against the Palestinians, and the resulting power imbalance, suggests that one should be in solidarity with the victim, not the aggressor.
Amnesty, though, refuses to acknowledge the serious nature of Israeli crimes, by using an intellectually bankrupt subterfuge. It insists that as a rights-based organisation it cannot refer to historical context; doing so would be considered “political”, in its warped jargon. An examination of what Amnesty considers as “background” in its reports confirms that there is virtually no reference to relevant history or context, such as the prior Israeli attacks on Gaza, who initiated those attacks, the Goldstone Report, and so on. Hey presto! Now there is no need to mention serious crimes. It also doesn’t recognise the nature of the Palestinian resistance, and their right to self-defence. Nowhere does Amnesty International acknowledge that Palestinians are entitled to defend themselves against Israel’s military occupation. Finally, the rights group cannot express solidarity with the victim because, hey, “both sides” are victims!
At this point, once Amnesty has chosen to ignore the serious Israeli crimes, it takes on the Mother Teresa role of sitting on the fence castigating “both sides” for non-compliance with international humanitarian law that determines the rules of war. Thus, Amnesty criticises Israel not for the transgression of attacking Gaza, but for utilising excessive force or targeting civilians. The group’s favourite term to describe such events is “disproportionate”. This is problematic because it suggests that there is no problem with the nature of the action, just with the means or scale of it. While Amnesty bleats that a one-ton bomb in a refugee camp is disproportionate, it would seem that using a 100kg bomb would be acceptable. Another favoured term is “conflict”, a state of affairs where both sides are at fault, both are at once victims and transgressors.
Notice that while Amnesty avoids recognising major crimes by using its rights-based framework, it suddenly changes its hat, and takes on a very legalistic approach to criticise the violence perpetrated by the Palestinians. It manages then to list the full panoply of international humanitarian law which it deems to be applicable.
The key thing to watch in the upcoming International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation of the 2014 massacre will be whether the court will copy the Amnesty approach. Any investigation that doesn’t focus on the cause of the violence and who initiated it will result in another fraud, and no pixel of justice.
Criminalising Palestinian resistance
Amnesty dispenses with the Palestinians’ right to defend themselves by stating that the rockets fired from Gaza are “indiscriminate”, and proceeds to call their use a war crime. Palestinian resistance groups are also told not to hide in heavily populated areas, not to execute collaborators, and so on. While Palestinians are told that their resistance amounts to war crimes, the Israelis aren’t told that their attacks are criminal per se; for them, it is only a matter of scale.
The “Unlawful and deadly rocket and Mortar Attacks…” report condemns repeatedly Palestinian rocket firing with inaccurate weapons, deems these “indiscriminate”, and ipso facto war crimes. Amnesty confuses the term “inaccurate” with “indiscriminate”. Examining the table below suggests that Israel killed proportionately far more civilians, albeit with more accurate weapons. It is quite possible to target indiscriminately with precision munitions. There is also a possibility, which Amnesty International appears to disregard, that the Israeli military targeted civilians intentionally. Indeed, it is likely that Israeli drones targeted children intentionally. A report by Defence for Children International states: “As a matter of policy, Israel deliberately and indiscriminately targeted the very spaces where children are supposed to feel most secure.”6
Regardless of the accuracy of the weapons, the key issue is one of intent. Amnesty dwells on an explosion at the Shati refugee camp on 28 July. On the basis of one field worker’s testimony, Israeli-supplied evidence and an unnamed “independent munitions expert”,7 the organisation concludes that:
Amnesty International has received no substantive response to its inquiries about this incident from the Palestinian authorities. An independent and impartial investigation is needed, and both the Palestinian and Israeli authorities must co-operate fully. The attack appears to have violated international humanitarian law in several ways, as the evidence indicates that it was an indiscriminate attack using a prohibited weapon which may well have been fired from a residential area within the Gaza Strip and may have been intended to strike civilians in Israel. If the projectile is confirmed to be a Palestinian rocket, those who fired it and those who commanded them must be investigated for responsibility for war crimes.
Mother Teresa certainly provides enough comic material; an occasional joke makes it easier to read a dull report. The evidence for the provenance of this missile is taken at face value although it is supplied by Israel, but, of course, it requires an “investigation”; Amnesty is suggesting that both Israel and the Palestinians should investigate this incident. If the Palestinian resistance was responsible for this explosion, then it was caused by a misfire; thus, there was no intention to cause the consequent deaths. Suggesting that this amounts to a war crime is rather absurd, but the title of the section advertising the report on the Amnesty International website suggests a motive for harping on about this incident: “Palestinian armed groups killed civilians on both sides in attacks amounting to war crimes”. This conveys a rather warped and negative view of the Palestinian resistance – they kill civilians on both sides – and it suggests that it is not possible to be in solidarity with them.
Tyranny of reasons
After any Israeli attack, the pro-Israel propagandists offer a rationale about why a given target was struck. They claim that there were Palestinian militants firing rockets from hospitals, schools, mosques, the power plant and other civilian buildings. At a stroke, such locations are legitimised as Israeli targets whether or not the propaganda statements are true. What is disconcerting in the two reports on Israeli crimes is that Amnesty International imputes reasons for the targeting of buildings or families.
One finds, for example, statements such as:
- Amnesty International believes this attack was targeting one individual.
- The apparent target was a member of a military group, targeted at a time when he was at home with his family.
- The fighters who were the apparent targets could have been targeted at a different time or in a different manner that was less likely to cause excessive harm to civilians and destruction of civilian objects.
- The apparent target of Israel’s attack was Ahmad Sahmoud, a member of the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ armed wing. […] Surviving family members and neighbours denied this.
Amnesty parrots the rationales provided by the Israeli military; one only needs to look at the footnotes of its reports to check the veracity of this claim. And Amnesty discounts the intentional bombing of buildings to create misery among the Palestinian middle class and demoralise a key sector of society; and that destroying the power plant amounts to collective punishment. But don’t worry, Mother T will always check with the Israeli military to determine why something was targeted.
AI is not an anti-war organisation
One would expect a human rights organisation to be intrinsically opposed to war, but Amnesty International is a cheerleader of so-called humanitarian intervention, and even “humanitarian bombing”.8 Despite such a predisposition, it was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize, yet another questionable recipient of a prize meant to be given only to those actively opposed to wars. Today, one wonders if AI is going to jump on the R2P (Right to Protect) neocon bandwagon. A consequence of its “not-anti-war” stance is that it doesn’t criticise wars conducted by the United States, Britain or Israel; it is only the excesses that merit Amnesty’s occasional lame rebuke, often prefaced with the term “disproportionate” or “alleged”. This stance is evident in its latest reports; here the premise is that the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip was legitimate, but it is the conduct of “both sides” that is the object of the reports’ criticism.
Can’t see the wood for the trees
Amnesty International is a small organisation with insufficient resources to conduct a proper report on the massacre in Gaza last year. Given the fact that it didn’t have direct access to Gaza approved by Israel, it chose to focus on two aspects of the Israeli attack: the targeting of entire families and the destruction of landmark buildings. Within these two categories it chose to focus on a handful of examples of each. The main problem is that Amnesty harps on about a few cases to the exclusion of the totality; it can’t see the wood for the trees. There is no mention of some of the most significant total figures, say, of the number of hospitals and schools destroyed, the tonnage of bombs dropped on Gaza,9 the tens of thousands of artillery shells used, and so on. The seriousness of the crime is lost by dwelling on a subset of a subset of the crimes committed. Amnesty isolates a few examples, describes them in some detail, and then suggests that unless there were military reasons for the attacks, then there should be an “investigation”. Oh yes, and it has sent some polite letters to the Israeli authorities requesting some comment, but the Israelis have been rather unresponsive. Quite possibly the likes of Netanyahu, Ya’alon, Ganz and their colleagues are too busy rolling on the floor laughing.
Given such a warped framework one would expect symmetry in the way that the attacks are described, but no. While Amnesty provides the total number of rockets fired by the Palestinian resistance, it gives no similar numbers of the tens of thousands of Israeli artillery shells fired, nor the total tonnage of bombs dropped on Gaza. The Israeli military propagandists were all too happy to provide detailed statistics about the Palestinian rockets, and Amnesty does not seem to express any misgivings about using this data. It is also clear that Mother T didn’t ask the propagandists to supply statistics on the lethal Israeli tonnage dropped on Gaza.
Methodology and evidence
Every report contains a methodology section admitting to the fact that AI didn’t have direct access to Gaza. All of its research was done on the Israeli side, and by two Palestinian fieldworkers in the besieged and occupied territory. The inability to enter Gaza possibly explains the reliance on many Israeli military statements, blogs and the foreign ministry about the Palestinian rocket attacks. One can verify all the footnotes to find a significant number of official Israeli statements to provide so-called evidence. It is rather jarring to find Amnesty relying on information provided by the offensive military forces to implicate Palestinian resistance in war crimes. How appropriate is it to use “Hamas’ Violations of the Law” issued by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or “Declassified Report Exposes Hamas Human Shield Policy” issued by the Israeli military?
It is also jarring to find Amnesty referring to Israeli claims that rockets were fired from schools, hospitals and the electricity power plant. This information was provided as a justification for Israel’s destruction of such sites, but in the report Amnesty uses it to wag its finger at the Palestinian resistance.10
Amnesty International’s access to Israeli victims of Palestinian rockets produced emotional statements by the victims, and complied with Israeli propaganda needs. Israeli PR was keen to take journalists or visiting politicians to the border towns to show the rocket damage, and Amnesty seems to have been pleased to tag along. At the same time, Israel prevented any Amnesty access to Gaza; clearly, any information coming out of the territory would not be compliant with Israeli PR requirements. Thus, why send any researchers to the Israeli border area?
Execution of collaborators – who will be criticised?
Amnesty has announced the publication of a forthcoming report on the execution of collaborators, and one can only speculate on its contents. It is odd that while AI is not opposed to wars it is opposed to the death sentence; it is opposed to some deaths, but silent about others. Couple this stance with an unwillingness to recognise the Palestinian right to self-defence and, consequently, AI will inevitably deem the execution of Palestinians who collaborate with Israel as abhorrent.
There are many collaborators in the West Bank and they are evident at all levels of society, even in the so-called Palestinian Authority. The PA has even committed itself to their protection. Collaboration with Israel in the West Bank is thus a relatively low-risk activity. In Gaza there are also collaborators, who are used to infiltrate and inform on the armed resistance groups, and also to sow black propaganda. During the 2014 massacre, collaborators were instrumental in pinpointing the location of the resistance and its leadership. In most countries, treason and espionage in time of war merits execution, but it is doubtful that Amnesty International will accept this, and will instead urge a judicial process with no death sentence.
The key aspect of the forthcoming report will be whether the organisation deems the Israeli use of collaborators as an abhorrent practice. Israel not only uses collaborators to gather information, but they are also meant to fragment Palestinian society, and to sow discord. With a society already under massive stress due to economic hardship and military repression, collaborators are a pernicious means to break morale and undermine Palestinian resilience. Will Amnesty criticise Israel’s use of collaborators, or will its report merely castigate Hamas for the way it deals with collaborators?
Why were these reports written at all?
All Amnesty International reports follow the same formula: a brief overview, a methodology section about data sources, some emotional quotations by the victims, a section on accountability, and then some recommendations. They are trite, barely readable and certainly not very useful either for legal purposes or to educate its volunteers. So why are these reports published and who actually reads them? Amnesty would like to be known as one of the leading human rights organisations and it must be seen as reporting on major human rights violations and crimes. Its volunteers must be given the impression that the organisation cares for some of the wholesale atrocities, and not merely the retail crime or violation.
The timing of the publication of one report (“Unlawful and deadly: Rocket and mortar attacks…”) is rather curious. The report dealing with the Palestinian rockets was published a few days before the Palestinian accession to the International Criminal Court. A coincidence? While some Palestinians are gearing up to prosecute Israel for war crimes and crimes against humanity, a leading human rights organisation publishes a report which goes on about Palestinians being guilty of war crimes. Amnesty has published reports in the past that were exploited for propaganda purposes; the Iraqis throwing-the-babies-out-of-the-incubators propaganda hoax, for example.11 Those reports were published just in time to provide a justification for war.
Impotence by design
All the reports contain a list of recommendations for Israelis, Palestinians and other states. One is struck by the impotence of the recommendations. The group urges Israel to cooperate with the UN commission of inquiry; allow human rights organisations access to Gaza; pay reparations to some victims; and ensure that the Israeli military operates within some legal limits. Given that Israel can more or less do as it pleases in any case – ignoring commissions of inquiry, proclaiming loudly that it will engage in disproportionate attacks (that is, the Dahiya doctrine), and that it refuses to compensate any Palestinian victim of its previous massacres – all these recommendations ring hollow.
Amnesty urges Palestinians to address their grievances via the ICC. It is curious that while international law apparently provides the Palestinians with no protection whatsoever, they are urged to jump through international legal hoops. It is also questionable to suggest a legal framework meant for interstate conflict when dealing with a non-state dispossessed native population. Of course, Amnesty fails to mention that Israel has avoided and ignored international law with the complicity and assistance of the United States.
Finally, Amnesty International requests other governments to assist the commission of inquiry and to assist in the prosecution of war criminals. It remains to be seen whether the commission of inquiry will actually publish a report that has some teeth. The group also urges other countries to stop supplying weapons to “both sides”. There is no mention of the fact that the US resupplied Israel with weapons during last year’s massacre in Gaza. It is very unlikely that the US or Britain will stop arming Israel; as such, Amnesty’s recommendations are ineffective rhetoric.
Amnesty trumpets that it has 7 million supporters world-wide;12 a few months ago this number was 3 million; two years ago it was 400,000, and a few more years ago it was 200,000. One should marvel at this explosive growth. If the organisation really can tap into the support of even a fraction of these volunteers, then it can urge them to do something that has tangible results; it could, for example, ask its members and supporters to boycott Israeli products or products made by western companies complicit in Israeli crimes. Such action would be far more effective than the meaningless recommendations that are ignored regularly by Israel and its western backers. Alas, it is difficult to conceive that Amnesty will issue a call for a boycott to its ever expanding army of supporters. It is difficult for Mother T to change her stripes.
The human rights industry
There are thousands of so-called human rights organisations. Anyone can set up such a group, and thereby specify a narrow focus for the NGO, determine the parameters within which it will operate – even define who is human – and then the new organisation can chime in with press releases, host wine and cheese receptions, bestow prizes, lobby politicians, launch investigations and castigate the enemy du jour. Bono, Geldof and Angelina might even hop along and sit on the NGO’s board. The human rights framework is elastic and can be moulded to fit legitimate purposes, but it can also be manipulated for propaganda purposes. The history of some of the largest human rights organisations shows that they were created originally with the propaganda element foremost in mind.13 This suggests that NGO output, such as Amnesty’s reports, for example, merit scrutiny not so much for what they say, but for what they omit. In the Palestinian context, a simple test on the merits of a so-called human rights organisation is whether it challenges state power, calls for accountability and the prosecution of war criminals, and urges its supporters to do something more than write out cheques or very formal and polite letters to governments engaged in criminal acts.
Another test for the merits of a human rights NGO is whether it is in solidarity with the victims of violence, and whether victims are treated differently depending on their support or demonisation by “the west”. In Amnesty’s case, consider that on the one hand it provides long lists of “prisoners of conscience” pertaining to prisoners held in Cuba, Syria, etc., but on the other hand it explicitly does not make such a list of Palestinian prisoners available. We have no means of knowing how many Palestinian political prisoners Amnesty actually cares about, and whether its volunteers engage in letter writing campaigns on their behalf. One thing is certain, though, that while the majority of Cuban political prisoners are considered prisoners of conscience, only a tiny fraction of the Palestinian political prisoners have been given such status. In reality, of course, Mother Teresa doesn’t give a hoot about political prisoners who might have been involved in violence, so Palestinians are just a stone’s throw away from being ignored by Amnesty International. Some victims are more meritorious than others.
In trying to justify the organisation’s double standard, Malcolm Smart, Amnesty’s Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme, stated:
“By its nature, the Israeli administrative detention system is a secretive process, in that the grounds for detention are not specified in detail to the detainee or his/her legal representative; inevitably, this makes it especially difficult for the detainee to challenge the order for, by example, contesting the grounds on which the detention was made. In the same way, it makes it difficult or impossible for Amnesty International to make a conclusive determination in many cases whether a particular administrative detainee can be considered a prisoner of conscience or not.”15
It thus provides yet more comic material. AI admits that Israeli military courts can determine who can be considered a Palestinian prisoner of conscience. The only thing that those courts need to do is to keep their proceedings secret or not reveal “evidence”. Alternatively, they can simply imprison the victims without trial or declare that they are members of a “banned” organisation16 and then the Israelis won’t have to reply to those pesky polite letters written by AI volunteers. Once again, double standards in the treatment of victims raise questions about the nature of any human rights NGO.
Human rights is denatured justice
Pushing for the observance of human rights doesn’t necessarily imply that one will obtain justice. The human rights agenda merely softens the edges of the status quo. As Amnesty’s position on the Israeli attacks on Gaza illustrates, pushing human rights can actually be incompatible with obtaining justice. Human rights are a bastardised, neutered and debased form of justice. The application and effectiveness of international law is bad enough, but a pick and choose legal framework with no enforcement is even worse. If one seeks justice, then it is best to avoid the human rights discourse; above all, it is best to avoid human rights organisations.
Palestinians should be wary of Mother Teresas peddling human rights snake oil. In exchange for giving up their resistance and complying with Amnesty’s neutered norms, they are unlikely to obtain any justice. One should be wary of human rights groups that don’t push for justice, play the role of Israel’s lawyer, and are bereft of solidarity with the victims. When the likes of Amnesty International come wagging their finger, it is best to keep the old blunderbuss near to hand.
- Nabeel Abraham, et al.; International Human Rights Organizations and the Palestine Question, Middle East Report (MERIP), Vol. 18, No. 1, January-February 1988, pp. 12 – 20.
- Dennis Bernstein and Francis Boyle, Amnesty on Jenin: an interview, CAQ, Summer 2002, pp. 9 – 12, 27.
- Paul de Rooij, AI: Say It Isn’t So, CounterPunch, 31 Oct. 2002
- Paul de Rooij, Amnesty International: The Case of a Rape Foretold, CounterPunch, 26 November 2003
- Paul de Rooij, Double Standards and Curious Silences / Amnesty International: A False Beacon, CounterPunch, 13 October 2004.
- PIWP database: list of articles on the politics of human rights
- Families Under the Rubble: Israeli Attacks on Inhabited Homes (MDE 15/032/2014), 5 November 2014.
“Nothing is immune”: Israel’s destruction of landmark buildings in Gaza (MDE 15/029/2014), 9 December 2014.
Unlawful and deadly: Rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict (MDE 21/1178/2015), 26 March 2015.
The fourth report about the execution of collaborators has not been published yet.
- I distinguish between Amnesty International, the international organization, and its well intentioned letter-writing volunteers.
- Possibly the best overview of the Gaza Massacre 2014 is Al Haq’s Divide and Conquer; http://alhaq.org/publications/publications-index/item/divide-and-conquer
- Statement made in 2006 by Dov Weisglas, one of Israel’s Dr. Strangeloves and close confidant of Ariel Sharon. Source: http://www.corkpsc.org/db.php?qid=1013
- Ruthie Blum interviews Arnon Soffer, ONE on ONE: It’s the demography, stupid, Jerusalem Post, 10 May 2004
- Ali Abunimah , Israel “directly targeted” children in drone strikes on Gaza, says rights group, Electronic Intifada, 17 April 2015.
- Amnesty loves to trot out military experts and dwell on the type of weapons used. First, there is an issue about the military expert, and who they are. What is the ethics about showing up in Gaza with a military person who might still be in the armed forces of, say, the UK? One can hardly expect them to be “independent”. And why dwell on the type of munitions if their use is already criminal to begin with? Focusing on the type of weapon deflects attention from the damage and the victims – that should be the emphasis.
- Alexander Cockburn, “How the US State Dept. Recruited Human Rights Groups to Cheer On the Bombing Raids: Those Incubator Babies, Once More?”, CounterPunch newsletter, April 1-15, 1999.
- While AI reports the total number of Palestinian rockets fired, there is no equivalent number to the totals used by the Israeli military. That number would be of interest because it would indicate the scale of the crimes committed. Tens of thousands of artillery shells were used, requiring them to be restocked by the United States in the middle of the offensive.
- The UN report on the Israeli attacks against schools lists several incidents where the Israelis falsely accused the Palestinians of firing on these schools. Such evidence should reduce the credibility of Israeli statements. See, e.g., Ali Abunimah, UN finds Israel killed dozens at Gaza schools but ducks call for accountability, Electronic Intifada, 28 April 2015.
- In the lead up to the 1991 invasion of Kuwait/Iraq, Amnesty issued a report on the so-called babies out of incubators story. President Bush Senior showcased the report on the eve of the attack, and used it for its full propaganda potential. When it was pointed out to Amnesty that they were pushing a propaganda hoax, it doubled its estimate of the number of children dumped from the incubators. To this day, the organisation has never apologised for playing a role in selling an American war.
- See: https://www.amnesty.org/en/who-we-are/ And notice that in the page after title page of Amnesty International’s reports the number of supporters increases from one report to the next.
- Kirsten Sellars, The Rise and Rise of Human Rights, Sutton Publishing, 29 April 2002. Herein she discusses the origin of Human Rights Watch.
- Malcolm Smart, Letter: Amnesty International’s Prisoner of Conscience lists and the reason for double standards, 9 August 2010 http://www.corkpsc.org/db.php?aid=133223.
- Another technique to rule out sympathetic treatment of Palestinians is to suggest that they are members of a banned organisation. NB: it is Israel which does the banning. Any organisation seeking liberation or to confront the Israeli dispossession or violence is deemed by the Israelis to be a “terrorist organisation”. Currently, Amnesty plays along with this charade, and also ignores Palestinians belonging to “political” organisations.