Israel aimed to ‘cleanse’ Gaza neighbourhoods in 2008 invasion – Telegraph

Israel’s controversial invasion of Gaza deliberately aimed to “cleanse” Palestinian neighbourhoods, former soldiers have alleged, in claims that will reignite the debate over the legality of the three week military campaign.

Israeli missile strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, 2008

Palestinian firefighters try to assist after an Israeli missile strike in Rafah on the site of a security compound used by the Islamic group Hamas in the Gaza Strip in 2008 Photo: AP

Israel invaded Gaza at the end of 2008 in a bid to halt rocket attacks from the territory it ceded in 2005. It says it focused on military targets controlled by Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, and bitterly countered a 2009 United Nations report that stated civilians had been deliberately targeted.

But in startling interviews with Israeli filmmaker Nurit Kedar, former soldiers have for the first time allowed themselves to be named while blaming their commanders for encouraging a “disproportionate” response to Hamas’s rockets. They said their commanders used to “psych up” soldiers before an operation so they were ready to shoot indiscriminately.

One soldier says he was told to shell every house in a neighbourhood. Richard Goldstone’s report for the UN alleged that war crimes had been committed by both sides, but highlighted the moral and legal severity of the Israel’s attacks.

Israel has said its operational orders during the war emphasised “proportionality” and “humanity”. The importance of minimising harm to civilians was made clear to soldiers, it said at the time. By the end of the 22-day operation some 1,400 Palestinians had been killed and large areas of Gaza razed. Ten Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians also died.

In a report to be shown on Channel 4 News on Monday, Ohad, a 24-year-old tank commander, remembers being told the night before the operation that the entry into Gaza was to be “disproportionate”. Once into Gaza, he said his orders were unambiguous: “The order was very clear that if a car came within 200 metres of me I could simply shoot at it. Shoot a shell at it.”

He added: “We needed to cleanse the neighbourhoods, the buildings, the area. It sounds really terrible to say ‘cleanse’, but those were the orders….I don’t want to make a mistake with the words.”

Shay, a 30-year-old who was in the Elite Combat Unit, says he was disgusted by the behaviour of some conscripts in the Israeli army. He described taking over from the them the house of a wealthy Palestinian family. Conscripts, he said, had already defecated all over the bathroom. Family photos had been scrawled over. Graffiti on the walls read: “Long live Israel.”

Last year, the UN criticised Israel and Hamas for failing adequately to investigate the findings of its report. The Israeli embassy said yesterday: “Over 12,000 rockets and shells rained down on Israeli civilians from Gaza forcing the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] to carry out a military operation. Unlike much of the region, the open society within Israel allows for all allegations such as these to be aired and investigated. Israel has already authorised over 100 separate investigations into the operation, five broader investigations, and close to 50 criminal investigations are also taking place. Our judicial process is renowned across the world for its independence.”

For the full report, watch Channel 4 News at 7pm on Monday.

Israel aimed to ‘cleanse’ Gaza neighbourhoods in 2008 invasion – Telegraph.


‘Gaza war part of the occupation agenda’

Tue Dec 28, 2010 10:45AM
Interview with Ralph Schoenman, author of Hidden History of Zionism

The Israeli military’s Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi says his forces are ready for a new war on the besieged Gaza Strip.

The following is the transcript of Press TV’s interview with Ralph Schoenman, author of Hidden History of Zionism on the development:

Press TV: Tell us what you make of the recent comments by General Ashkenazi?

Schoenman: I want to point out that this declaration by Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi comes on the second anniversary of the Israeli genocidal assault upon Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead. But this statement comes at a very specific context, namely, a ceremony of welcome for the Chief of Defense Staff of Italy General Vincenzo Camporini.

The Italian chief was received by Chief of Staff Ashkenazi and he is scheduled to meet with Israeli military and security forces, and Camporini not only stated that he was there in respect to Gaza, but he has recently returned from Lebanon, where he had also noted the prospects of a new war and he stated that Italy is present in the Middle East and it is dealing with important issues of stability. He referenced to the Italian forces in Afghanistan and the so-called war on terror. So, this is a NATO alliance with Israel on the anniversary of the assault upon the people of Gaza.

It should be noted that today an open letter from Gaza was released by the Palestinian Movement representing all of its major organizations, Omar Barghouti (a founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)) has sent out a letter which I was a recipient among so many others, declaring that the movement for the boycott of Israel centering around the massacre of Gaza is stepping up its effort in the light of this new, belligerent dangerous declarations by Ashkenazi and NATO representatives, the Italian chief of defense …

Press TV: In an interview with BBC, General Ashkenazi has said that there would be another war with Gaza, but has doubted about the time of such attack. Is Israeli high-handedness with Gaza only based on events or is it based on a master plan?

Schoenman: I think it is part of the general posture of the United States and its allies for the dislocation of the entire people in the Middle East and it is not unrelated to this unrelenting campaign against Iran and the prospects of a new war. That is very much underlined by the declarations of Camporini alongside of Ashkenazi.

It should be noted that the Palestinian movement has taken clear note of this new menace in the declaration they issued today to all solidarity groups and international organizations to demand an end to the siege; to protect civilian lives and property; to resist preparations for a new war and to demand immediate reparations and compensations with the devastations carried out by the Israeli occupation forces in Gaza. This is not just an idle declaration by Ashkenazi; this is a new warning of further escalation on the part of the Zionist state.

Press TV: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he would never accept the right of return to their homeland of the Palestinian refugees. What is the basis for such restriction?

Schoenman: You should bear in mind that the so-called refusal of the right of return for the Palestinian people is not just Netanyahu’s position, it is that of the entire Zionist apparatus, including the so-called Labor Zionists and of course the position of the United States as well and all of those who are engaged in the so-called peace process which has been indicated that it has nothing to do with peace and it is really about pacification of the Palestinian people.

The notion that those who have been massacred and expelled from their land with their homes and their property and their businesses seized from them; their orange groves, their olive groves their stone quarries and all of the resources of their country basically ravaged and confiscated by the Zionist apparatus and those people have no rights to their own patrimony and return to the land from which they were expelled, massacred, and the survivors expelled is of course an outrage which flies in the face of every understanding of democratic entitlement and makes a mockery of the notion of sovereignty. This is a colonial settler movement; a genocidal movement and from its inception it took the position that there were no Palestinians in this place. The operation proceeded on the basis of a land without the people for people without a land.

That has all the genocidal content that is unfolded in the past 140 years, so that the notion that the people who have been destroyed and expelled are not entitled to return to their country is central to the intent, which is not merely to prevent the return of those who have been removed, but to remove those who still remain.


Related Stories:

PressTV – ‘Gaza war part of the occupation agenda’.


But the tragedy does not end with those who were killed. Along with thousands permanently injured, there is the incalculable psychological cost of children growing up without parents, of parents burying their children, and the mental trauma that Israel’s offensive and the ongoing siege has done to almost everyone in Gaza. There are the as yet unknown consequences of subjecting Gaza’s 700,000 children to a toxic water supply for years on end.

The Gaza massacre and the struggle for justice
Ali Abunimah

27 December 2008: Israel began its deadly three-week assault on Gaza. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

The Gaza massacre, which Israel launched two years ago today, did not end on 18 January 2009, but continues. It was not only a massacre of human bodies, but of the truth and of justice. Only our actions can help bring it to an end.The UN-commissioned Goldstone Report documented evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in an attack aimed at the very “foundations of civilian life in Gaza” — schools, industrial infrastructure, water, sanitation, flour mills, mosques, universities, police stations, government ministries, agriculture and thousands of homes. Yet like so many other inquiries documenting Israeli crimes, the Goldstone Report sits gathering dust as the United States, the European Union, the Palestinian Authority and certain Arab governments colluded to ensure it would not translate into action. 


Israel launched the attack, after breaking the ceasefire it had negotiated with Hamas the previous June, under the bogus pretext of stopping rocket firing from Gaza


During those horrifying weeks from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009, Israel’s merciless bombardment killed 1,417 people according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza. 

They were infants like Farah Ammar al-Helu, one-year-old, killed in al-Zaytoun. They were schoolgirls or schoolboys, like Islam Khalil Abu Amsha, 12, of Shajaiyeh and Mahmoud Khaled al-Mashharawi, 13, of al-Daraj. They were elders like Kamla Ali al-Attar, 82 of Beit Lahiya and Madallah Ahmed Abu Rukba, 81, of Jabaliya; They were fathers and husbands like Dr. Ehab Jasir al-Shaer. They were police officers like Younis Muhammad al-Ghandour, aged 24. They were ambulance drivers and civil defense workers. They were homemakers, school teachers, farmers, sanitation workers and builders. And yes, some of them were fighters, battling as any other people would to defend their communities with light and primitive weapons against Israel’s onslaught using the most advanced weaponry the United States and European Union could provide.


The names of the dead fill 100 pages, but nothing can fill the void they left in their families and communities (“The Dead in the course of the Israeli recent military offensive on the Gaza strip between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009,” [PDF] Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 18 March 2009). 


These were not the first to die in Israeli massacres and they have not been the last. Dozens of people have been killed since the end of Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead,” the latest Salameh Abu Hashish last week, a 20-year old shepherd shot by Israeli occupation forces as he tended his animals in northern Gaza. 

But the tragedy does not end with those who were killed. Along with thousands permanently injured, there is the incalculable psychological cost of children growing up without parents, of parents burying their children, and the mental trauma that Israel’s offensive and the ongoing siege has done to almost everyone in Gaza. There are the as yet unknown consequences of subjecting Gaza’s 700,000 children to a toxic water supply for years on end.


The siege robs 1.5 million people not just of basic goods, reconstruction supplies (virtually nothing has been rebuilt in Gaza), and access to medical care but of their basic rights and freedoms to travel, to study, to be part of the world. It robs promising young people of their ambitions and futures. It deprives the planet of all that they would have been able to create and offer. By cutting Gaza off from the outside world, Israel hopes to make us forget that the those inside are human. 


Two years after the crime, Gaza remains a giant prison for a population whose unforgivable sin in the eyes of Israel and its allies is to be refugees from lands that Israel took by ethnic cleansing


Israel’s violence against Gaza, like its violence against Palestinians everywhere, is the logical outcome of the racism that forms the inseparable core of Zionist ideology and practice: Palestinians are merely a nuisance, like brush or rocks to be cleared away in Zionism’s relentless conquest of the land. This is what all Palestinians are struggling against, as an open letter today from dozens of civil society organizations in Gaza reminds us: 

“We Palestinians of Gaza want to live at liberty to meet Palestinian friends or family from Tulkarem, Jerusalem or Nazareth; we want to have the right to travel and move freely. We want to live without fear of another bombing campaign that leaves hundreds of our children dead and many more injured or with cancers from the contamination of Israel’s white phosphorous and chemical warfare. We want to live without the humiliations at Israeli checkpoints or the indignity of not providing for our families because of the unemployment brought about by the economic control and the illegal siege. We are calling for an end to the racism that underpins all this oppression.”

Those of us who live outside Gaza can look to the people there for inspiration and strength; even after all this deliberate cruelty, they have not surrendered. But we cannot expect them to bear this burden alone or ignore the appalling cost Israel’s unrelenting persecution has on the minds and bodies of people in Gaza or on society itself. We must also heed their calls to action.


One year ago, I joined more than a thousand people from dozens of countries on the Gaza Freedom March in an attempt to reach Gaza to commemorate the first anniversary of the massacre. We found our way blocked by the Egyptian government which remains complicit, with US backing, in the Israeli siege. And although we did not reach Gaza, other convoys before, and after, such as Viva Palestina did, only after severe obstruction and limitations by Egypt


Yesterday, the Mavi Marmara returned to Istanbul where it was met dockside by thousands of people. In May the ship was part of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla which set out to break the siege by sea, only to be attacked and hijacked in international waters by Israeli commandos who killed nine people and injured dozens. Even that massacre has not deterred more people from seeking to break the siege; the Asian Convoy to Gaza is on its way, and several other efforts are being planned. 


We may look at all these initiatives and say that despite their enormous cost — including in human lives — the siege remains unbroken, as world governments — the so-called “international community” — continue to ensure Israeli impunity. Two years later, Gaza remains in rubble, and Israel keeps the population always on the edge of a deliberately-induced humanitarian catastrophe while allowing just enough supplies to appease international opinion. It would be easy to be discouraged. 

However, we must remember that the Palestinian people in Gaza are not objects of an isolated humanitarian cause, but partners in the struggle for justice and freedom throughout Palestine. Breaking the siege of Gaza would be a milestone on that march.

Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament and a passenger on the Mavi Marmara explained last October in an interview with The Electronic Intifada that Israeli society and government do not view their conflict with the Palestinians as one that must be resolved by providing justice and equality to victims, but merely as a “security” problem. Zoabi observed that the vast majority of Israelis believe Israel has largely “solved” the security problem: in the West Bank with the apartheid wall and “security coordination” between Israeli occupation forces and the collaborationist Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and in Gaza with the siege.


Israeli society, Zoabi concluded, “doesn’t feel the need for peace. They don’t perceive occupation as a problem. They don’t perceive the siege as a problem. They don’t perceive oppressing the Palestinians as a problem, and they don’t pay the price of occupation or the price of [the] siege [of Gaza].” 

Thus the convoys and flotillas are an essential part of a larger effort to make Israel understand that it does have a problem and it can never be treated as a normal state until it ends its oppression and occupation of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and fully respects the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinian refugees. And even if governments continue to stand by and do nothing, global civil society is showing the way with these efforts to break the siege, and with the broader Palestinian-led campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

Amid all the suffering, Palestinians have not celebrated many victories in the two years since the Gaza massacre. But there are signs that things are moving in the right direction. Israel begs for US-endorsed “peace negotiations” precisely because it knows that while the “peace process” provides cover for its ongoing crimes, it will never be required to give up anything or grant any rights to Palestinians in such a “process.”


Yet Israel is mobilizing all its resources to fight the global movement for justice, especially BDS, that has gained so much momentum since the Gaza massacre. There can be no greater confirmation that this movement brings justice within our grasp. Our memorial to all the victims must not be just an annual commemoration, but the work we do every day to make the ranks of this movement grow.