The Gaza Offensive and the Laws of War | 5 Parts

The Palestine Center held a talk by Zahir Janmohamed of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa section on 15 January 2009. He spoke about Israel and Hamas, and international law.

YouTube – The Gaza Offensive and the Laws of War pt. 1 of 5.

No place is safe for Gazans

Mosques, hospitals, schools and homes have been hit as the Israeli air raids in Gaza City become more intense.

Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, reporting from Gaza on the 20th day of the war, says there is no place of refuge left for Gazans in the densely populated territory.

YouTube – No place is safe for Gazans – 15 Dec 09.

ei: It was like “The Day After”

Dr. Asad Abu Sharekh writing from Gaza City, occupied Gaza Strip, Live from Palestine, 15 January 2009

Buildings reduced to rubble following Israeli strikes, Gaza City, 14 January 2009. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)

The Electronic Intifada correspondent Rami Almeghari obtained the following testimony from Dr. Asad Abu Sharekh in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City, which is receiving the brunt of Israel’s military force, via telephone with the assistance of

Since last night from about 8pm until a little while ago, there have been heavy battles in Tal al-Hawa.

They were hitting from the sea, from the air. Tanks were shooting. There were thick clouds of white phosphorus filling the area and filling up houses.

They bombed the Red Crescent building and many cars in the street were destroyed. An apartment near me was hit and burned and one on the other side.

A number of tall buildings were hit. All the windows and doors are broken and shattered. There were maybe 10 bombs falling every minute.

It was like in that film The Day After [a 1983 movie depicting life immediately after a nuclear war].

Israel used all its weapons. Apaches, F-16s, every F they have. Tanks seemed to be coming from every direction, even from the direction of the sea.

There was very fierce, legendary resistance throughout the night. Very fierce and courageous fighting by the resistance which might be unexpected given their meager means.

[sound of explosion]

There you see! That was a bomb dropped by an F-16, and the whole building just shook.

What happened yesterday is unprecedented in any Arab-Israeli war … because Israel is using white phosphorus, a banned weapon.

[sound of explosion]

The building just shook again!

What we do is pray and call on God to save us because there are no shelters and no way you can leave your home. There’s no electricity, no food.

[sound of explosions]

The bombs have struck homes and apartment buildings. There are no journalists here — a media blackout so no one can see what is going on. And there is international complicity, Arab complicity. No let us say Arab treachery.

Israel wants to destroy us — you heard Avigdor Lieberman [Israeli politician] calling on Israel to use a nuclear bomb on Gaza. And the deputy defense minister [Matan Vilnai] threatened a “bigger holocaust.”

We ask the world to stop this aggression that has been going on since the war of 1948, and to bring to justice the perpetrators. In this war 96-97 percent of the injured are civilians. They have killed people, animals, trees, everything.

Related Links

ei: It was like “The Day After”.

ei: Thousand deaths do not put off EU

David Cronin, The Electronic Intifada, 15 January 2009

BRUSSELS (IPS) – Senior European Union figures have signaled that they could push ahead with plans to strengthen formal ties with Israel, even though more than 1,000 have now been killed by the bombardment of Gaza.

Two conflicting statements about EU-Israeli relations were delivered 14 January, as the number of Palestinians, about one-third of them children, killed in Gaza continued to climb.

Ramiro Cibrian-Uzal, the European Commission’s envoy in Jerusalem, claimed that a proposed “upgrading” in relations with Israel cannot “proceed business as usual.” Yet his statement was soon contradicted by Karel Schwarzenberg, foreign minister of the Czech Republic, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

Schwarzenberg noted that EU governments agreed in June last year to intensify efforts to build a stronger alliance with Israel. This decision could only be revised by those governments, he said, adding: “It can’t be changed at the word of a very respected representative of the European Union in Jerusalem.”

The June decision paves the way for Israel to be offered a “privileged partnership” with the Union, allowing it to become integrated into the single market on which the EU has been based, and to take part in a wide variety of other programs.

Schwarzenberg, who described himself as a “lifelong friend of Israel,” though “not too happy with what it’s doing at the moment,” was speaking to members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Many MEPs demanded a robust response from the EU to the carnage in Gaza.

Chris Davies, a British Liberal who visited the war zone last weekend, said that the Israeli army “has turned Gaza into hell” with its relentless attacks using US-made F-16 jets, or “21st century killing machines” as he described them.

“We have made allowances for Israel we have not made for any other country,” he said. “On no occasion has the European Union ever backed up its criticism of the treatment of the Palestinians with any kind of action.”

Such inaction has “given the green light to Israel” for attacks. “We don’t plan to condemn Israel,” he added. “We plan to reward it.”

Israel’s relations, both economic and diplomatic, with the EU are based on an association agreement that entered into force in 2000. Article 2 of that agreement commits both sides to respecting fundamental human rights.

Before the offensive against Gaza began in late December voluminous evidence had been compiled by many organizations of human rights abuses by Israeli forces in the occupied territories and in the conduct of its 2006 war in Lebanon. Still, the EU has never invoked Article 2 to impose trade or other sanctions on Israel.

Helene Flautre, a French Green MEP, said that the EU’s weak stance against Israel is undermining the basic values of respect for fundamental rights on which all of the Union’s activities nominally pivot. “If we proceed with business as usual, we’re burying the European project,” she said. “We’re burying human rights.”

Some parliamentarians have spoken out in favor of Israel’s actions. Although nearly all of the victims of the war so far have been Palestinian, a minority of MEPs maintained that Israel was merely defending itself against Hamas’s firing of Qassam rockets on Israeli towns. Jim Allister, a representative of Northern Ireland, argued that Israel was resorting to “necessary retaliatory action” and suggested that reports of Palestinian suffering could be regarded as propaganda.

“When after Israel hits back — after much forbearance — they [Hamas] cry victim, I say: ‘The answer lies in your own hands; stop shelling Israel,'” he said.

Many other MEPs insisted, however, that the massive scale of Israeli onslaught could not be compared to the crude nature of Hamas’s attacks.

Kathy Sinnott, an Irish member, noted that trade between EU and Israel was worth 25.7 billion euros (33.9 billion dollars) in 2007. Urging that economic sanctions be imposed on Israel, she said: “If we do anything less, we become accessories to slaughter.”

Luisa Morgantini, a left-wing Italian MEP and a long-standing advocate of Palestinian rights, said: “It is not just people who are dying. Human rights are dying. Europe’s dream that these will be universally respected is dying.”

Spanish Conservative Jose Ignacio Salafranca said that the war is “strengthening radicals against the moderates,” and argued that no military solution to the Middle East conflict is possible. “You can win all the battles in a war but lose the most important battle, which is the battle for peace,” he added.

Hannes Swoboda, an Austrian Socialist, said that the EU had been wrong to refuse to deal with Hamas after its unexpected victory in Palestinian legislative elections held in 2006. This had contributed to the failure of the coalition that Hamas formed with its rival Fatah, according to Swoboda.

“We helped the unity government to be destroyed,” he said. “We played a part in that and that was a mistake. I don’t like Hamas; it is a terrorist organization. But why did people vote for Hamas? Because they saw it as the last opportunity for their survival.”

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2009). Total or partial publication, retransmission or sale forbidden. Jim Lobe in Washington contributed to this article.

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ei: Thousand deaths do not put off EU.

ei: Israel bombs UN agency headquarters in Gaza City

Interview, The Electronic Intifada, 15 January 2009

The Electronic Intifada interviewed Sami Mushasha, spokesperson for the UN agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) following Israel’s bombing of its quarters today.

The Electronic Intifada: Can you describe the extent of the damage suffered by UNRWA in the bombing of the headquarters today and exactly where the site is that was bombed?

Sami Mushasha: The UNRWA headquarters are in the al-Rimal district in the center of Gaza City. The location is well known to the Israeli authorities as is the fact that they enjoy UN immunity. The damage is great. Although we do not know the exact extent yet, we have lost many trucks, cars and food aid supplies.

We are trying to put out the fires and hopefully, God willing, we will be able to restore things as soon as possible.

Early reports say that three people were injured but we do not know if they were refugees [taking shelter there] or UNRWA personnel.

EI: Today’s bombing of the UNRWA office was the third time a UN institution was hit in two weeks. What is your response to this bombing?

SM: This is not the first, second, or even third time. In fact there have been about six or seven bombings of UNRWA sites and the latest is the bombing of the UNRWA headquarters. This is our main site which has our main offices and warehouses.

It was targeted when there were about 750 women, children and men — all civilians [taking shelter there]. There is no safe place, not for UNRWA or for those who use its services.

We had previously received guarantees relating to the freedom of movement and safe corridors for delivering aid, but these have not been respected. This is a very dangerous signal for those who seek UNRWA’s assistance.

At this moment we are trying to put out the fire [from the bombing], but it has already destroyed much of the food supplies that we were able to bring into Gaza.

We were barely able to put out fire near the fuel storage tanks before they could explode. This all impacts very negatively on our ability to protect civilians.

This underscores once more the UN’s call for an immediate ceasefire so that we can provide assistance to an area that has suffered a catastrophe, to say the very least.

EI: There has been talk of suspending UNRWA services in Gaza. Is this true?

SM: We have not suspended services but most of our trucks are inside the UNRWA site that was bombed and we are unable to move them to Karem Abu Salem [Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel] so that they can receive aid supplies and distribute them.

So a suspension has effectively been imposed on us, but we want to restore services as soon as we are able.

This testimony was obtained by The Electronic Intifada correspondent in Gaza Rami Almeghari with technical assistance from

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Palestine : Art, Music & Culture: “We will continue to sing”: DAM’s Suhell Nafar interviewed (17 December 2010)
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ei: Israel bombs UN agency headquarters in Gaza City.

‘All the time we hear the Israeli war machine’

January 15th, 2009 

Martin Fletcher article-interview Najwa Sheikh Ahmed Times in London

Najwa Sheikh Ahmed, 36, lives in the Gaza Strip with her husband Taher, and their four young children – Mustafa, 8, Ahmed, 7, Salma 2 and Mohammed, five months. Here she talks about her family’s daily battle for survival in Nusierat Camp:

Day 19 of the Israeli war against Gaza, and it seems like life has stopped. We can’t go to work.

Our children can’t go to school. It’s not safe to go to the markets. Nothing is normal any more. All the time we hear the Israel war machine. There are always F16s and Apache helicopters in the sky… Each night we go to sleep not knowing if we will see tomorrow.

We used to live in our flat near the beach. We could see the sea and the waves. It was a source of peace. But after the war started and Israeli warships started firing shells at Gaza our kids refused to stay there any more … Mustafa would start to shake and ask questions – ‘What if they hit our house? What if they kill us?’. Ahmed freezes. He turns pale and stops talking and takes ages to complete each word. Salma cries and screams.

Ten days ago we moved to my in-laws’ home two kilometres away because it is on the ground floor of a building and surrounded by other houses and narrow alleyways and we thought it would be safer.

We found one of my sisters-in-law already there with her four children because their house at al-Buraij camp was damaged by the shelling of a nearby mosque. So there are three families – seven adults and 11 young children – crowded into a house with two rooms, a bathroom and a kitchen that is so tiny there is only space for two people. We have to queue for the bathroom. For the first three days we had no water.

The house gets no sun. Our husbands go out but the mothers and children stay indoors except during the three-hour truce each day when we rush out to get food and anything else we need, but even then we can hear shelling. Sometimes we go back to check on the flat. On our last visit Ahmed took out all his toys. When I asked him why, he said: ‘I want to remember everything that I have. I want to keep everything in my mind’. It breaks my heart to leave again. One day we found a family from another camp trying to move into the building because they thought it was safer. Nobody knows where to go any more.

Even if you can find flour for bread, it is too expensive now … The price of everything is triple what it was. There is no meat, no chicken. We live off potatoes and other vegetables grown in Gaza. When you ask my children what they want most they say a banana or an apple but those are things they can only dream of. Most people here depend on aid from outside Gaza but little is reaching us. The clinics are open but there are very few medicines.

Sometimes we get electricity four hours a day, sometimes not at all. Sometimes we get electricity but no water, sometimes water but no electricity. We have learnt to cook on wood. The telephones don’t work. I cannot communicate with my own relatives and friends and fear for their safety. Everyone swaps stories about the war and people killed or homes destroyed.We worry a lot about our children. They don’t talk about their favourite toys or games or television shows. In the street they play Israelis and Palestinians and shoot at each other. Their friends tell them stories about Israeli planes dropping white stuff that explodes when you pick it up. A few days ago Mustafa rushed home to say Israeli tanks were outside the camp and asking whether the soldiers would start killing the families and their children – I tried to calm him but I was so terrified I couldn’t speak. At night the children dream of being shot or killed by Israelis. Salma has started wetting herself again.

We try to keep the children occupied. We play games or put on music for dancing to stop the noise of the war. We tell them stories, or make them tell us stories to forget about the violence but sometimes they start telling us about the Israelis so we stop them. They’ve lost their childhood, and I don’t think they’ll ever be able to get it back or forget what they’ve seen.

The nights are the worst. Allah created the nights so people can sleep, and rest their bodies and souls, but the continuous bombing, the sound of the warplanes, our fears and worries do not let us sleep. The destruction, the families buried under rubble, the children killed in their homes that we hear about on the television or radio become our nightmares.

Sometimes the explosions wake the children up. We tell them they’re safe. We tell them the explosions are far away in Gaza City even if they’re not. But the sound of the artillery shells is soft compared to the F16s. When you hear them in the sky you know there will be a big hit. In seconds there is a big bang that stays in our ears and a blast of hot air. The windows crack, the walls shake and we feel that it is the end of our lives. Two nights ago a missile hit a house near by and you can’t imagine how loud the noise was. Our walls shook and the windows were blown open. The kids started screaming.

We all sleep in one room on the floor – nowadays in Gaza we joke that husbands and wives live like brothers and sisters. Sometimes I wake up in the night and look at my children. I want to see them grow up. I want Mustafa and Ahmed to grow into nice handsome men and to choose them wives and to see their children born. I want to see Salma become a beautiful lady, and to have mother-and-daughter talks. It’s very difficult to think that at any moment I could lose one of them or they could lose their mother.

I want to live a normal and peaceful life with them but I don’t even know if we will survive to see the morning.

January 15, 2009 From Najwa Sheikh Ahmed, Nusierat Camp, Gaza Strip. Najwa Sheikh’s blog:

Bush & Israel -The Slow Destruction of Palestine

January 15th, 2009 

Mike Cowie

Yes, ‘n’ how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head,
Pretending he just doesn’t see?
–Bob Dylan, “Blowin’ In The Wind”

What’s going on in Gaza right now is so incredibly tragic and unjust, not to mention unbelievably brutal and barbaric.

But I’m not here to discuss how it is we came to this horrific situation. No, that has been written about much more eloquently by others, people such as Avi Shlaim, an Oxford professor of international relations and an Israeli himself. I’d strongly recommend that everyone read his recent piece, “How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe.” It’s a definite must-read for anyone wanting to really understand this conflict and the whole long, sordid tale of Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinian people.

A sample:

“The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the June 1967 war had very little to do with security and everything to do with territorial expansionism. The aim was to establish Greater Israel through permanent political, economic and military control over the Palestinian territories. And the result has been one of the most prolonged and brutal military occupations of modern times.”

To further understand the terrible reality of this occupation I’d highly recommend that everyone also read Jennifer Loewenstein’s recent piece, “If Hamas Did Not Exist: Israel Has No Intention of Granting a Palestinian State.

So, no, I’m not here to write about the historical causes that led to the rise of Hamas, or Israel’s shameful treatment of the Palestinian people over the past 60 years, or the especially cruel treatment the people of Gaza have been forced to endure over the past three years.

Nor am I here to discuss the American media’s apparent indifference to the suffering of the Palestinian people and its blind unthinking support for Israel, no matter how horrific that country’s actions may be.

What I am here to talk about, however, is how over the past eight years America’s Middle East policy, under the wretched leadership of George W. Bush, has become so completely indefensible and morally bankrupt. Furthermore, I’d also like to express my — and most of the world’s — deep hope for a significant change in American policy once Barack Obama comes to power later this month.

It certainly can’t get any worse

American policy has always been unequivocally pro-Israel, with a callous and shocking disregard for the fate of the Palestinian people, but the fact is no American administration before this one has ever taken such an extremely one-sided position.

Not Nixon, not Reagan, not Bush The Elder, and definitely not Clinton — no one has ever taken such an immoral, unprincipled, black and white approach to the whole Middle East conflict before.

I mean, seriously, the Bush administration’s position is about as fair and balanced as Dick Cheney is lovable . . . or as George W. Bush is eloquent . . . or as Donald Rumsfeld is humble.

In other words, it’s about as fair and balanced as FOX News.

From the moment Bush took power in 2001 and right on up until the present, Israel has been free to do pretty much whatever it pleases, including a) breaking whatever international laws it so chooses; b) using as much disproportionate and brutal force as it so desires; and c) dishing out whatever forms of collective punishment it so sees fit — all in an attempt to break the Palestinians’ will by putting them through as much suffering and humiliation as possible.

And, through it all, America has sat back and watched, only speaking out in order to declare the Israelis “victims of terror” who have done only that which was needed in order to protect themselves — the reality (of who’s actually terrorizing whom) be damned. No matter how crushing the Palestinians’ oppression, Israel has constantly had America’s 100 percent backing . . . and $3 billion in aid each year.

Like victims of terror everywhere

It’s always funny to see the oppressors claiming to be the victims, especially when they’re the ones with ALL the power and military might. You know, like those poor Russians in Chechnya, those horribly downtrodden Chinese in Tibet, and those tragically oppressed whites in South Africa during the apartheid years. And let’s not forget those poor Germans who suffered so many dreadful attacks from so many terrifying terrorist groups (resistance fighters, partisans, rebels, what have you) all across Europe during WWII.

Seriously, is anyone so simple-minded and gullible as to see Israel as the victim of anything? Even the mindless pro-Israel propagandists must stop themselves every once in a while and laugh at how ridiculous their message has become.

Complete loss of credibility

Much has been made of how the invasion of Iraq, the continuing cancer that is known as the Guantanamo Bay gulag, and the Bush Regime’s open use of torture — among other things — have all led to a massive growth in anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East and elsewhere. But the truth is that Bush’s black and white approach to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict has had as much to do with America’s lack of standing in the Arab and Muslim world as anything else.

The illegal land grab that is the wall running through Palestine, cutting the West Bank in half; the open-air prison camp that is the Gaza Strip; the ten thousand Palestinians being held in other Israeli prisons; the continuing enlargement and expansion of the illegal settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank; the collective punishment that’s dished out in all its varied forms (such as the demolition of hundreds of homes each year and the daily harassment that takes place at the numerous checkpoints throughout the West Bank); and now the massive destruction and mass slaughter going on in the Gaza Strip. None of this has been condemned in any way over the past eight years by Washington. In fact, to hear the Bush Regime explain it, the Palestinians should be thankful to live under such kind, benevolent rulers.

From Warsaw to Gaza: Troublemaking terrorists terrorizing

And, really, like those involved in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising before them, how dare these terrorists from Gaza rise up against their oppressors? Can’t they just accept their fate and stop causing so much trouble? Can’t they just forget all this crap about human dignity, self-respect, self-defense, etc.? Can’t they just give up the whole resistance thing and be a bit more like the Welsh?

A monster of their own making . . . exactly as intended

But, to be serious, I’m not here to defend Hamas and their fundamentalist streak of Islam; however, the truth is that severe and long-term oppression almost always leads to the radicalization of those being oppressed — and few people on earth have suffered such prolonged and horrific oppression and loss of dignity as the people of Gaza.

When you come right down to it, for all intents and purposes Hamas was created by Israel. As I’ve said for years now, the classic strategy that Israel has so clearly followed over the past decade or more has been one of divide and rule. Nothing suits the hardliners in Israel more than the growth of Hamas. Pragmatic leaders such as those in Fatah simply cannot be demonized in the same way as the radicalized Islamists of Hamas.

And, again, let me stress that I’m no fan of Hamas, but Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections fair and square and no true believer in democracy can simply turn around and call them “terrorists” as some sort of excuse to ignore those results. No matter how much anyone — myself included — might despise fundamentalists of any stripe, the fact is they won the elections and they are the elected representatives of the Palestinian people.

Israel itself has elected terrorists such as Menachem Begin to power, not to mention war criminals such as Ariel Sharon. And fanatical racist parties that call for the expulsion of all Palestinians from Palestine have joined governing coalitions in the country over the years. But never do you hear anything from America about shunning Israel over any of this. The hypocrisy is beyond belief.

Current slaughter

As for the lead up to the current killing spree going on in Gaza — you know, the one where hundreds of civilians have been killed so far, including close to 250 children — I’ll let Avi Shlaim, the Oxford professor, take it from here:

“The figures speak for themselves. In the three years after the withdrawal from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. On the other hand, in 2005-2007 alone, the IDF [Israeli Defense Force] killed 1,290 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children.

“Whatever the numbers, killing civilians is wrong. This rule applies to Israel as much as it does to Hamas, but Israel’s entire record is one of unbridled and unremitting brutality towards the inhabitants of Gaza. Israel also maintained the blockade of Gaza after the ceasefire came into force which, in the view of the Hamas leaders, amounted to a violation of the agreement. During the ceasefire, Israel prevented any exports from leaving the strip in clear violation of a 2005 accord, leading to a sharp drop in employment opportunities. Officially, 49.1% of the population is unemployed. At the same time, Israel restricted drastically the number of trucks carrying food, fuel, cooking-gas canisters, spare parts for water and sanitation plants, and medical supplies to Gaza. It is difficult to see how starving and freezing the civilians of Gaza could protect the people on the Israeli side of the border. But even if it did, it would still be immoral, a form of collective punishment that is strictly forbidden by international humanitarian law.”

As for the tactics, Shlaim continues, “Far from taking care to spare civilians, Israel is guilty of indiscriminate bombing and of a three-year-old blockade that has brought the inhabitants of Gaza, now 1.5 million, to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.”

So, blockaded and embargoed, shunned, humiliated and starved, with their children killed in the hundreds, the Palestinians of Gaza fight back by firing a few primitive rockets into Israel — and, according to Bush, it’s all their own fault. If only they could be more civilized like the Israelis then there wouldn’t be any problem at all.

Ah, the subtle nuance.

Waiting for the Hope-And-Change guy to give us some real hope and change

Much has been made of the timing of this attack on Gaza, with Israel striking now to crush the Prison Camp Revolt before their cheerleaders in the White House leave office on January 20.

I just hope that, once he finally comes to power, Barack Obama, despite all of his black and white pro-Israel rhetoric during the election campaign, will take a very different approach — if not an outright fair and balanced approach to the conflict, at the very least a more traditional, less blatant pro-Israeli position, one which at least encompasses a few shades of grey.

And, so, there you have it, as the destruction of Gaza and the radicalization of a once secular and progressive people continues, Bush cheers it all on and the world waits hopefully for a more fair approach by America under Obama.

My personal hope would be for the rest of the world to stand up for the Palestinians, but the reality is that Israel simply laughs off criticism from all others. Only America, with its billions of dollars in handouts to Israel each year and its continued support at the U.N., has any real leverage in trying to bring about some true justice to the situation.

Let’s just hope Obama’s fear of the pro-Israel lobby won’t stop him from doing the right thing. After all, there’s really no other place on earth where America still so openly backs such flagrant oppression and horrific crimes against humanity. The days of America backing the likes of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and all those other fascist regimes throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia (“our fascists”) are long gone. So why continue supporting the appalling oppression of the Palestinian people in their own land?

Come on Obama, you can do the right thing!

Yes you can!

What can you do?

As for all of us, I say that until this brutal occupation ends we all heed Naomi Klein’s call for an economic boycott of Israel, like the one that helped bring down the similarly evil apartheid regime in South Africa.

And don’t let anyone try to label such a boycott as “anti-Semitic.” Like Naomi Klein, Avi Shlaim, Jennifer Loewenstein, Noam Chomsky, and many of my own personal friends, tens of thousands of other justice-seeking Jews out there are as sickened by this oppression as everyone else. It simply has to end.

Mike Cowie is a 41-year-old writer, originally from Victoria, b.c. He’s spent 15 years living, travelling and working overseas, but now lives with his wife and son just outside of Vancouver. Aside from his website, MikesAndDislikes, he’s presently also writing a book about a three-year backpacking trip across Asia, from Hong Kong to Istanbul.


Photo illustration:

Israel is a multi-dimensional occupier: John Feffer

January 15th, 2009 

Interview by: Kourosh Ziabari

John Feffer is a renowned American journalist, anti-war advocate and currently serving as the co-director of “Foreign Policy in Focus” journal at the Institute for Policy Studies.

He is the author of book “Power Trip: U.S. Unilateralism and Global Strategy After September 11” which he calls the first book-length critique of this fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy to consolidate and extend U.S. global control.

In most of his articles, John Feffer examines the current affairs and Middle East issues from an innovative viewpoint and beyond the prevalent stereotypes of mainstream media.

In an exclusive interview with Tehran Times, Feffer condemned the Israeli incursion into Gaza strip harshly and called for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories.

What follows is the excerpt of lengthy interview with the American author and journalist in which we’ve tried to preserve the most pivotal and essential parts and eliminate the rest due to the space shortage.

Mr. Feffer, we would like you to first comment on the ongoing crisis in Gaza and the surging amount of dead civilians which has surpassed 910 last night. What’s your opinion on the military campaign of Israel?

The crisis in Gaza is a tragedy; there is no question about that. The people of Gaza are being punished for choosing Hamas in a free and fair election. Imagine if the people of the United States were similarly punished after choosing George W. Bush, not once but twice!

Israel is guilty of the usual sin of powerful nations. It believes that it can change reality on the ground with military force. Whatever short-term victories it might achieve through the barrel of a gun, however, Israel is making future relations with Palestinians ever more toxic.

What’s your analysis about the outlandish silence of UN, European governments and international community toward the Gaza onslaught?

Well, there hasn’t been total silence. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 1860, which calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, Israeli troop withdrawal, and sustained delivery of humanitarian assistance. European governments have generally pushed for a ceasefire. Human Rights Watch has made several appeals on behalf of specific residents of Gaza as well as calls for investigating Israel’s humanitarian abuses and, for example, the use of white phosphorus during the current conflict. In general, I’d say that the tone of the international community minus the United States has been increasingly critical of Israel. I think it’s also important to acknowledge the growing number of protests in Europe, Asia, and of course throughout the Middle East. 30,000 people protested recently in Brussels. Thousands have protested in Hong Kong and Indonesia.

But they conservatively try to keep a low profile and soften their tones while criticizing the Zionist Regime, implying that they are afraid of Israel or something!

It’s always been interesting that some of the harshest criticism of Israel comes from Israelis. For instance, Avi Shlaim, an Israeli professor, recently wrote a piece in The Guardian calling Gaza “a classic case of colonial exploitation in the post-colonial era.” He’s an Oxford professor who served in the Israeli army and now has come to the conclusion that Israel is a “rogue state.”

When it comes to criticism of Iran, Syria or Palestine, we have to remember that many people consider Israel to be part of Europe, not the Middle East. So, Israelis and Israel are treated as something “civilized” while the rest of the region remains “barbaric.” Anti-Arab sentiment and, sadly, many people mistakenly include the Persians of Iran in this category, is very strong in the world today.

If we look at the pro-Israeli opinion pieces, they are often from people like John Bolton or Michael Gerson who support Israel from political or religious convictions.

So, do you believe that there is a pro-Israeli bias in the western media?

When it comes to the journalistic frame, in other words, Israel has automatically a positive place. Arab countries and Iran simply don’t have a place in this Western narrative that journalists by and large follow. They are the “others” who at best play supportive roles and at worst are the faceless hordes who must be defeated in order to bring Christianity or democracy or free markets to the unenlightened.
I would say that there is a pro-Israeli bias in U.S. media. But journalists in Europe and particularly in England such as John Pilger, Robert Fisk etc are not pro-Israeli, and I am detecting a change even here in the United States in the coverage of Gaza. We’ll see how this Israeli movie “Waltz With Bashir” does over here in changing public opinion.

It is a documentary film by an Israeli film director who served in the army. It is about the Christian Phalangist massacre of 2,000 Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982, which was aided and abetted by the Israeli army. The movie recently won top honors at the National Society of Film Critics here in the U.S.

What do you think about the unconditional supports and aids which the US government purveys to Israel even in the event that Israel commits such a batch of widespread war crimes?

The biggest problem, of course, is the military support that the United States provides. US provided Israel, during the Bush administration with $21 billion in security assistance. And these are not exactly defensive weapons systems. According to the Arms and Security Initiative, this includes: “226 U.S.-supplied F-16 fighter and attack jets, over 700 M-60 tanks, 6,000 armored personnel carriers, and scores of transport planes, attack helicopters, utility and training aircraft, bombs, and tactical missiles of all kinds.”

Even though Israel often doesn’t listen to the United States, Washington still has considerable leverage. If we decide to freeze or reduce military assistance, Israel will listen.

We have to remember that the United States, too, has engaged in war crimes in Vietnam, in Iraq. Israel has been a prime supporter of U.S. military actions abroad. It has been a key supporter at the UN. That is what allies do for each other: look the other way when war crimes occur.

So, what’s the solution to end the disastrous situation in Palestine? How to deal with the unyielding bloodshed being carried out by the occupying authority of Israel?

We have to push hard for a ceasefire, a withdrawal of Israeli troops, and for a lifting of the siege.

But we also have to get the larger political settlement back on the table. This would involve an immediate end to Israeli settlement expansion and an end to the checkpoints and walls that have shut down everyday life in the West Bank.

Actually, There are various types of occupation. Israel is occupying Gaza through war. It is occupying the West Bank through settlements. But it acts as an occupying authority in other ways; Pumping out water from under Palestinian territory, controlling commerce, interfering in Palestinian politics. There is also the question of Palestinians’ right of return to Israel itself as well as the resolution of claims from the “Nakba” or the day of catastrophe which Palestinians stick as an epithet to the day of Israel’s emergence. This would be the difference between the United States as an occupying authority in Iraq and an occupying force in America itself, having displaced Native Americans. For the United States, the occupations are divided by space and time. For Israel and Palestine, the occupations overlap.

Testimony 2 – Gaza Ambulance Drivers Risk Life and Limb to Evacuate Civilians to Safety

January 15th, 2009 


Palestinian paramedics are risking their lives to rescue the dead, maimed
and injured across Gaza

“We are working twenty four hours a day – we only sleep when there is no Israeli shelling. The rest of the time it is our duty to stay at our work – I have not been to my home for days now, and I can’t believe the situation we are facing. Ninety percent of the injured victims we try to rescue have already lost legs or arms, or both.”

Khalid Yusef Abu Sa’ada lives in Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, and works as an ambulance driver at the Al Awda hospital in neighbouring Jabaliya town, risking his life to evacuate dead, maimed and injured victims of attacks by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF).

“I was driving my ambulance in Beit Lahia a few days ago, when the Israelis shelled us” he says. “They fired one shell at us, and two minutes later they fired another. I was with two paramedics – The Israeli shells killed one of them, Arafa Abdul Dayem, and the other man, Ala Sarhan, was badly injured. He can’t work because now he is in hospital, paralysed.” This was not the first time Khalid Sa’ada and his colleagues had been attacked by the IOF whilst trying to rescue injured civilians. “A few days ago we were trying to rescue a boy who had been injured in Beit Lahia, when the Israelis bombed us” he says. “The bomb struck just as we were evacuating the patient into our ambulance – the force of the explosion ripped the boy’s head off.”


According to Khalid Sa’ada, Al Awda hospital has two ambulances, and both of them have been destroyed by IOF during their massive ongoing military operation in Gaza. He says he is now driving an ambulance donated to the hospital by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS).

Since the IOF unleashed Operation Cast Lead on December 27, approximately 983 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 673 civilians, of whom approximately 225 are children. At least seven Palestinian medical personnel are amongst the dead, killed by IOF whilst on duty rescuing the dead and injured. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) has investigated IOF killings of medical personnel during this ongoing IOF military operation. Its findings indicate that IOF have been deliberately targeting medical personnel during this ongoing military operation.

On 31 December, 2008, paramedic Mohammed Abu Hasera, age 21, was killed in Jabal Alrees east of Gaza city when IOF bombed an ambulance belonging to the Palestinian Ministry of Heath whilst he was inside it. His colleague, Dr Ehab Al Madhoun, was also severely injured, and subsequently died of his injuries in hospital. On 4 January, 2009 paramedics Yasser Shubeir, Anas Naim and Rafat Adbul Aal were killed together in the Tal Al Hawa district of Gaza city whilst trying to evacuate injured civilians. They had arrived in Tal Al Hawa by ambulance, and when IOF bombed the ambulance, the three paramedics attempted to rescue the injured on foot, pushing their medical trolleys in front of them. They were shelled by the IOF, and all three men were killed instantly. Paramedic Arafa Abdul Dayem was killed the same day, whilst on duty in Beit Lahia.

The latest IOF victim from the Gaza medical profession died in Jabaliya on 12 January. Thirty-two year old doctor Eysa Saleh was on duty with the Medical Security Services when he was called to the Al Bama building, a residential block in Al Zarqa St, Jabaliya town. As he and his colleague, twenty five year old Ahmed Abu Fuul, were attempting to evacuate a dead body to an ambulance waiting on the street below, they were targeted by an IOF artillery shell that took Dr Saleh’s head off. His colleague, Ahmed, was hospitalized with back and head injuries after being struck by Dr Saleh’s severed head.

International Humanitarian Law explicitly prohibits attacks on medical institutions, and medical personnel. The Fourth Geneva Convention states that all “personnel engaged in the search for, removal and transporting of and caring for wounded and sick civilians … shall be respected and protected” (Article 20). Under no circumstances may medical personnel engaged in their legitimate duties be the object of an attack. The direct targeting of medical personnel constitutes a war crime.

Doctors, paramedics, ambulance drivers and other medical staff in Gaza are exhausted, and completely overwhelmed by the scale of deaths and injuries they are facing day and night, struggling to treat even those with the most horrific and critical injuries, whilst on the frontline themselves.

“We know there are still many people we cannot reach, because some areas are too dangerous, and our ambulances are being deliberately targeted by the Israelis” says Khalid Sa’ada, who speaks calmly, like a man who has already seen the worst. But despite the risks to their lives, every day he and his exhausted, dedicated colleagues continue working, and witnessing the bloody carnage of indiscriminate Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians.

“Yesterday, at about ten o’clock in the morning, we were in Tal Il Zaatar in Jabliya” he says. “As I was driving, I saw a man walking down the street ahead. One moment later this man was struck by a missile that tore his body in two in front of our eyes. The situation here in Gaza is unbelievable – but we are still doing the best we can – because, as I told you, this is our duty.”


The Twelve Editorial Rules for Middle East Reporting

January 15th, 2009 


1) In the Middle East it is always the Arabs who attack first and always Israel that is defending themselves. This defense is called a reprisal.

2) The Arabs, Palestinian or Lebanese have no right to kill civilians. That is called “terrorism.”

3) Israel has the right to kill civilians. That is called “legitimate defense.”

4) When Israel kills civilians en masse, the western powers claim that it is more measured. This is called “reaction of the international community.”

5) The Palestinians and the Lebanese have no right to capture soldiers of Israel inside military installations with sentries and combat posts. This is called, “Kidnapping of defenseless people.”

6) Israel has the right to kidnap anytime and anywhere as many Lebanese and Palestinians as they want. Currently there are more than 10 thousand, 300 of whom are children and a thousand are women. No proof of guilt is needed. Israel has the right to keep kidnapped prisoners indefinitely, even if they are authorities democratically elected by the Palestinians. This is called [taking] “terrorist prisoners.”


7) When the word Hezbollah is mentioned, it is compulsory in the same sentence to contain the words “supported and financed by Syria and by Iran.”

8) When you mention “Israel” it is forbidden to make any mention of the words “supported and financed by the U.S.” This may give the impression that the conflict is uneven and that Israel’s existence is not in danger.

9) When referring to Israel, expressions that are prohibited: “Occupied Territories,” “UN resolutions,” “Violations of human rights” or “Geneva Convention.”

10) Both the Palestinians and the Lebanese are always “cowardly,” they are hidden among the civilian population, which does not want them. If they sleep in their homes, with their families, that gives them the name of “cowards.“ Israel has a right to destroy with bombs and missiles the neighborhoods where they are sleeping. This is called a “precision surgical operation.”

11) The Israelis speak better English, French, Spanish or Portuguese than the Arabs. Therefore they and those who support them must be interviewed more and have more opportunities than the Arabs to explain the present Rules of the Editorial Staff (from 1 to 10) to the general public. That is called “journalistic neutrality.”

12) All those who are not in accordance with the Rules of Writing above are “highly dangerous anti-Semitic terrorists.”

(Text French, anonymous, sent by a reader of the Carta Maior blog)