Sunday, 25 January 2009

Gaza: Israel is Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity, And Guilty of War Crimes Many Times Over

Read here full article in The Independent, UK by Raymond Whitaker and Donald Macintyre

President Barack Obama must turn the page on US's relationship with Israel.

The US's "Special Relationship" with Israel is destroying the image of the United States internationally and it endangers the security and safety of ALL American citizens around the world.

President Barack Obama should not be another line of hypocritical Presidents of the past, when it comes to Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

President Obama, without any fear of or favour to, the Israeli and Jewish Lobby in the US, should, in no uncertain terms, make Israel face the international community on charges of crimes against humanity and for war crimes against the Palestinians.

Otherwise, his campaign call for CHANGE and HOPE for Americans and for the rest of the world, is just another nonsensical crap from a Presidential candidate.

The world noted clearly the irony that President Obama appointed an American who is also an Israeli citizen to be his Chief of Staff (read here: Rahm Emanuel), who happened to be the son of a Zionist terrorist.
(Rahm's father, Benjamin, was a member of the Irgun, the Zionist terrorist organization that coined a new word as they blew up hotels, train stations, and other buildings in Palestine in the 1930s and 40s. Read here for more)

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Malaysian Unplug

Related Article:

Israeli Massacre in Gaza - Timelines and Key Maps, from BBC
News

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Did Israel commit war crimes during 22 days and nights of aerial assault, rocket launches and ground fighting in Gaza?

In one sense the question is academic, because Israel will not recognise the conflict as an international one. It has not signed the 1977 Geneva protocol designed to apply to the victims of internal conflicts.

But international lawyers say general principles can be drawn from the laws of war, which may have been violated in several ways.

The main issues are these:

Proportionality

Up to 10 times as many Palestinians were killed as Israelis. The Palestinian Ministry of Health says 1,314 Palestinians were killed, of whom 412 were children or teenagers under 18, and 110 were women. On the Israeli side, there were 13 deaths between 27 December and 17 January, of whom three were civilians killed by rockets fired from Gaza. Of the 10 soldiers killed, four were lost to "friendly fire".

Even if the Palestinian figure is disputed, it is clear that the death toll was massively higher for Palestinians than Israelis. Proportionality is not simply a matter of numbers, however. There will also be a debate over whether the destruction wrought by Israel's huge land, sea and air arsenal was proportionate to the threat posed by Hamas militants to civilians – itself also a violation of international humanitarian law.

With foreign journalists barred from Gaza by Israel throughout the war, it is especially hard to come by hard information on the exact circumstances in which all civilian casualties were caused.

But unofficial comment from senior military officers in the Israeli media have suggested that a deliberate choice was made to put the protection of its soldiers first, and that of civilians second.

If true, it appears to have been successful, but even if it wasn't, the "collateral damage" inflicted on civilians appears to have significantly exceeded the norms even of previous Israeli operations in Gaza, suggesting looser rules of engagement for military operations.

The head of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, pointed out that there was an "expansive" definition of military targets, to include civilian government offices, police stations and the parliament building, on the grounds they at least indirectly helped Hamas.

Firing into urban areas

Israeli forces did not penetrate into the heart of Gaza City or Khan Yunis. But many of the areas where they deployed their forces were heavily built up.

Probably the most lethal incident was the 6 January mortar attack that hit the UN school being used as a shelter for hundreds who had fled their homes in the northern Gaza town of Jabalya. It killed 30 straight away, and an estimated 13 more died from their critical injuries in subsequent days.

Israel's initial claim in this and several other incidents was that it was responding to fire from Hamas. The militants could be at fault for "locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas", in the words of the Geneva Conventions. But the conventions also forbid any attack expected to cause death or injury to civilians "which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated" – a rule Israel is accused of breaking several times.

Though it fortunately caused no deaths and only two injuries, the incident in which shells containing phosphorus hit the UN Relief and Works Agency headquarters – where many were also sheltering – was almost as high profile. Not only did they set fire to food and medical supply warehouses, they landed as the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, was holding meetings with Israeli leaders.

UN chiefs vigorously denied Israeli suggestions made in the media, though apparently not to the UN itself, that Hamas gunmen had been sheltering in UN premises.

In the first case Chris Gunness, UNRWA's chief spokesman, revealed that diplomats had been told by the Israeli authorities that Hamas was not operating from the school. And in the second, Mr Ban said that Israel's Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, had acknowledged a "grave mistake".

White phosphorus

White phosphorus – which can cause horrific injuries, and is heavily restricted in international law – is now widely accepted to have been used by Israel in this war at several locations.

Dating originally from the First World War, white phosphorus and its distinctive plumes of white smoke can legally be used to mark objectives, spread smoke for concealment or set fire to military targets, but not in civilian areas. Israel first denied using it at all, then claimed it was being used only in uninhabited areas, and then last week announced an investigation into its use.

A high school student Mahmoud al-Jamal, 18, was lucky to have been hit by phosphorus shelling during the third week of the war.

By the time he reached the care of Gaza City's Shifa hospital, unconscious and severely burned in his left arm, legs and chest, the head of the burns unit, Dr Nafez abu Shaban knew the only hope of saving him lay with surgery. Shifa had no experience of it before 27 December, but "by the last week of the war we knew that we had to get the patient to the operating room and excise all the burnt tissue".

Mahmoud was running from the heavy fighting between Hamas gunmen and Israeli forces in the southern Gaza city district of Tel Al Hawa when a shell dropped in front of him. "I could feel my whole body burning," he said. "I fell and asked someone next to me to help. But he was dead. Then I fainted."

Part of his body was still smouldering when he was being anaesthetised in theatre. "A piece extracted itself from his body and burned the anaesthetist on his chest," said Dr Shaban. Mahmoud will live; unconfirmed estimates are that dozens of others burned by phosphorus have not survived.

Dime bombs and other unusual weapons

While the vast majority of Palestinians were killed by conventional weapons, a Norwegian doctor, Erik Fosse, said injuries he had seen in Gaza were consistent with the use of Dime (dense inert metal explosive) bombs. "It was as if [patients] had stepped on a mine, but there was no shrapnel in the wounds," he said.

A UN convention, which Israel has signed, prohibits "the use of any weapon the primary effect of which is to injure by fragments which in the human body escape detection by X-rays". This could apply to Dime bombs, but by their nature it is extremely difficult to prove they have been used.

Amnesty International last week called on Israel to give details of weapons beside phosphorus it had used in Gaza, so that medics could better treat the injuries they inflict. Donatella Rovera of Amnesty, currently on a munitions fact-finding mission to Gaza, said doctors were encountering "new and unexplained injuries, including charred and sharply severed limbs" after air strikes.

The UK human rights agency also quoted Dr Subhi Skeik of Shifa hospital's surgery department as saying: "We have many cases of amputations and vascular reconstructions where patients would be expected to recover in the normal way. But to our surprise, many of them died an hour or two after operation. It is dramatic."

Dr Shaban of Shifa's burns unit said surgical colleagues had encountered bloodless amputations of limbs after attacks during the war, and that some Egyptian and Jordanian doctors with experience in Lebanon and Iraq had suggested that Dime bombs could be responsible. But both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch's weapons expert Mark Galasco, who is also in Gaza, are highly cautious about speculating on the possibility of Dime, not least because of the difficulty of finding provable traces of it.

Israel has always insisted that its weaponry – including controversial flechette darts, which have been used in Gaza before and have been found so far in two northern Gaza locations this time – is legal. There is no outright ban on Dime bombs, flechettes or even white phosphorus. It is the time and the manner in which they are used that can be illegal.

Targeting of civilians

Israel has continued to contrast what it says are its strenuous efforts to avoid civilian casualties with Hamas's undoubtedly deliberate targeting of civilians with Qassam rockets. There have, however, been several cases in which Palestinian civilians were hit while taking shelter. In other incidents, people in Gaza said they were fired on while seeking to flee to safety, in some cases waving white flags.

In the most widely publicised case, the UN says 80 members of the Samouni family were sheltering in a warehouse hit by missiles early on 5 January, killing 29. Several survivors said they had been ordered by the army to go there the previous day.

Meanwhile, Khaled Abed Rabbo said a single soldier shot three of his young daughters from a tank, killing two, as they obeyed orders to flee their home on the outer edge of Jabalya. He suggested it was a deliberate act, The army is investigating, but reaffirms that "the IDF does not target civilians".

Yesterday Mr Rabbo's mother Suad, 54, who was shot in the arm and abdomen at the same time, corroborated his account. She said she, her daughter and her seven-year-old granddaughter were all carrying white flags when they were shot. She did not see the soldier who fired, but insisted there were no Palestinian fighters in the vicinity.

Humanitarian aid

While basic humanitarian supplies, including medicine, continued to flow into Gaza from Israel during the war, the UN and other agencies complained more than once that there were severe problems in distributing food and other aid within Gaza because of continuing security problems.

These were compounded when a driver contracted by UNRWA was shot dead near the Erez crossing as he prepared to load food, ready for moving it south during a three-hour humanitarian pause.

There were also several complaints from the Red Cross and Israeli human rights agencies that medics and rescue services were prevented from reaching the wounded and dead. Four weak and terrified children from the Samouni family were finally found by the Red Cross, two days after the attack that killed 29 other family members.

After the ground attack started, one convoy, consisting of an ICRC truck and a Palestinian Ministry of Health truck, both carrying medical supplies for hospitals in southern Gaza, and 13 ambulances carrying intensive care patients to Egyptian hospitals, had to turn back after the ICRC driver was shot and injured near a military checkpoint in the centre of the strip.

Fuel shortages and power cuts continued to deprive about a million Gazans of electricity at any one time. Sewage and water supplies were badly hit, because pumps could not operate.

RELATED ARTICLE

From Financial Times

Saudis call for US rethink on Arab-Israeli rift

Read here article by Roula Khalaf

A prominent member of the Saudi royal family is warning the Obama administration that failure to radically alter US attitudes towards the Arab-Israeli conflict would threaten the kingdom's "special relationship" with the US and could force Riyadh to abandon its own support for a peaceful resolution of the dispute.

In an article in today's Financial Times, Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi intelligence chief and former ambassador to Washington, says that, if the US wants to continue playing a leadership role in the Middle East and maintain its strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer, it "will have to drastically revise its policies vis a vis Israel and Palestine".

Writing days after the end of Israel's three-week Gaza offensive, he says the Bush administration, which supported the onslaught, has left a "sickening legacy in the region".

And while Saudi Arabia has so far resisted Iranian calls to lead a "jihad" against Israel, "eventually the kingdom will not be able to prevent its citizens from joining the worldwide revolt against Israel".

The prince holds no official position in the Saudi government at this time but his views reflect the mounting frustrations within the al-Saud royal family, and the apparent need to exert immediate pressure on the Obama administration for a more even-handed Middle East policy.

President Barack Obama has signalled a readiness to work for peace between Arabs and Israelis and called Palestinian, Israeli, Jordanian and Egyptian leaders on his first day in office in an effort to help consolidate Gaza's fragile ceasefire.

Last week King Abdullah warned that the Arab peace initiative that he had sponsored in 2002 - offering Israel normal relations with the whole Arab world if it withdrew from all lands occupied in 1967 - was still on the table, but would not remain forever.

The statement came after weeks of turmoil in the Arab world as the images of Gaza fuelled widespread outrage, embarrassing Saudi Arabia and other states that have been committed to peace negotiations yet have little to show for their efforts.

The pressure intensified when Mahmoud AhmadiNejad, the Iranian president, wrote to King Abdullah, asking him to take action to end the Israeli offensive.

In his FT article, Prince Turki calls on Mr Obama to address the "disaster" in Gaza and its "causes" and condemn Israel's "atrocities" against Palestinians, not only Hamas's firing of rockets at Israel. He appeals to the president to "strongly promote" the Arab peace initiative.

The prince's article recalls the letters that King Abdullah, as crown prince, sent to George W. Bush in 2001, warning that the kingdom would review relations with the US unless the administration adopted a forceful push for Middle East peace.

The letters rang alarm bells in Washington but were soon overshadowed by the September 11 attacks, which were waged by a group of Saudis.

It was only after Riyadh launched its own campaign against terrorism two years later and started addressing the root causes of radicalism that ties with the US improved again.

President Obama Didn't Get It on Gaza

Read here article by Robert Fisk in Independent UK "So far, Obama's missed the point on Gaza..."

It would have helped if Obama had the courage to talk about what everyone in the Middle East was talking about. No, it wasn't the US withdrawal from Iraq. They knew about that.

They expected the beginning of the end of Guantanamo and the probable appointment of George Mitchell as a Middle East envoy was the least that was expected. Of course, Obama did refer to "slaughtered innocents", but these were not quite the "slaughtered innocents" the Arabs had in mind.

There was the phone call yesterday to Mahmoud Abbas.

Maybe Obama thinks he's the leader of the Palestinians, but as every Arab knows, except perhaps Mr Abbas, he is the leader of a ghost government, a near-corpse only kept alive with the blood transfusion of international support and the "full partnership" Obama has apparently offered him, whatever "full" means.

And it was no surprise to anyone that Obama also made the obligatory call to the Israelis.

But for the people of the Middle East, the absence of the word "Gaza" – indeed, the word "Israel" as well – was the dark shadow over Obama's inaugural address.

Didn't he care? Was he frightened?

Did Obama's young speech-writer not realise that talking about black rights – why a black man's father might not have been served in a restaurant 60 years ago – would concentrate Arab minds on the fate of a people who gained the vote only three years ago but were then punished because they voted for the wrong people?

It wasn't a question of the elephant in the china shop. It was the sheer amount of corpses heaped up on the floor of the china shop.

Sure, it's easy to be cynical. Arab rhetoric has something in common with Obama's clich├ęs: "hard work and honesty, courage and fair play ... loyalty and patriotism".

But however much distance the new President put between himself and the vicious regime he was replacing, 9/11 still hung like a cloud over New York. We had to remember "the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke".

Indeed, for Arabs, the "our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred" was pure Bush; the one reference to "terror", the old Bush and Israeli fear word, was a worrying sign that the new White House still hasn't got the message.

Hence we had Obama, apparently talking about Islamist groups such as the Taliban who were "slaughtering innocents" but who "cannot outlast us". As for those in the speech who are corrupt and who "silence dissent", presumably intended to be the Iranian government, most Arabs would associate this habit with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt (who also, of course, received a phone call from Obama yesterday), King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and a host of other autocrats and head-choppers who are supposed to be America's friends in the Middle East.

Hanan Ashrawi got it right.

The changes in the Middle East – justice for the Palestinians, security for the Palestinians as well as for the Israelis, an end to the illegal building of settlements for Jews and Jews only on Arab land, an end to all violence, not just the Arab variety – had to be "immediate" she said, at once.

But if the gentle George Mitchell's appointment was meant to answer this demand, the inaugural speech, a real "B-minus" in the Middle East, did not.

The friendly message to Muslims, "a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect", simply did not address the pictures of the Gaza bloodbath at which the world has been staring in outrage.

Yes, the Arabs and many other Muslim nations, and, of course, most of the world, can rejoice that the awful Bush has gone. So, too, Guantanamo. But will Bush's torturers and Rumsfeld's torturers be punished? Or quietly promoted to a job where they don't have to use water and cloths, and listen to men screaming?

Sure, give the man a chance. Maybe George Mitchell will talk to Hamas – he's just the man to try – but what will the old failures such as Denis Ross have to say, and Rahm Emanuel and, indeed, Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton?

More a sermon than an Obama inaugural, even the Palestinians in Damascus spotted the absence of those two words: Palestine and Israel.

So hot to touch they were, and on a freezing Washington day, Obama wasn't even wearing gloves.

THE REAL REASON FOR ISRAEL'S BLOODLETTING IN GAZA

FROM ROBERT FISK: Read here for more

Robert Fisk (born 12 July 1946 in Maidstone, Kent) is an English journalist and author. He is the Middle East correspondent of the UK newspaper The Independent, has spent more than 30 years living in and reporting from the region, and won awards for his work. Read here for more on profile of Robert Fisk .

"...Here's reader Jack Hyde tipping me off about a possible (real) reason behind Israel's bloodletting in Gaza.

He encloses a paper by University of Ottawa economist Michel Chossudovsky who says that "the military intervention of the Gaza Strip by Israeli Forces bears a direct relation to the control and ownership of strategic offshore gas reserves".

It's not exactly The Plot. But it's something that Obama and his lads and lasses may need to study in the next few days.

For according to Chossudovsky, British Gas and its partner, the Athens-based Consolidated Contractors International Company – owned, apparently, by two Lebanese families – were granted 25-year oil and exploration rights off the Gaza coast by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority in 1999. About 60 per cent of reserves along the Gaza-Israel coastline belong to "Palestine" (wherever that is these days).

But since the Hamas election victory in 2006 and its coup in Gaza in 2007, the Hamas government has been by-passed, even though poor old "President" Mahmoud Abbas, marooned in the West Bank, can only glimpse the Mediterranean from a hill near Jenin.

Many negotiations later – and after Israeli "defence" officials claimed that the Palestinians could be paid only in goods and chattels for their gas rather than cash which might go to the dreaded Hamas – there was a proposed agreement under which Palestinian gas from Gaza wells would be channelled via undersea pipelines to the Israeli port of Ashkelon, thus transferring the control of gas sales to Israel.

British Gas withdrew from these talks in December 2007.

But in June of 2008 – when, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Israel began its invasion plans for Gaza – Israel suddenly asked British Gas to resume talks. And, so says Chossudovsky, negotiations began again for the purchase of natural gas from the Gaza offshore fields.

Israeli tanks have now driven out of the Gaza Strip, but Israeli naval vessels still control the coast and there's an obvious question: if the Israelis can continue to violate international law by seizing Palestinian land in the West Bank, why cannot they seize the sovereignty of Palestinian gas fields off Gaza?

If Israel can annex Jerusalem, why not annex Gaza's maritime areas?

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