GAZA: IMPEDING ASSISTANCE: CHALLENGES TO MEETING THE HUMANITARIAN NEEDS OF PALESTINIANS

SPECIAL FOCUS
May 2010

IMPEDING ASSISTANCE: CHALLENGES TO MEETING THE HUMANITARIAN NEEDS OF PALESTINIANS

This Special Focus draws attention to the range of measures currently impeding the humanitarian community’s ability to provide assistance to vulnerable Palestinians. The delivery of principled humanitarian assistance requires an operating environment that is conducive to the regular and continued deployment of staff and supplies, and managed in accordance with the principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence. In the occupied Palestinian territory, however, the humanitarian community is facing a number of obstacles to the movement of staff and goods and other restrictions impacting day-to-day operations that limit its ability to efficiently and effectively respond to existing needs.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

“When the delivery of humanitarian access is restricted, lives are lost and misery prolonged needlessly.”1
John Holmes, UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator

The delivery of principled humanitarian assistance requires an operating environment that is conducive to the regular and continued deployment of staff and supplies, and managed in accordance with the humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence. In the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), however, the humanitarian community is facing a number of obstacles to the movement of staff and goods and other restrictions impacting day-to-day operations that impede the provision of humanitarian aid to vulnerable Palestinians.

The current humanitarian operation in the oPt is one of the largest in the world; at the time of its launching in November 2009, the oPt Consolidated Appeal (CAP) for 2010 ranked fifth out of 12 appeals globally, in terms of requested assistance. Through the oPt CAP, UN agencies and international and national NGOs2 requested over US$ 660 million for 2010. This support is intended to help mitigate the worst impacts of on-going conflict on the most vulnerable Palestinians, who continue to face a human dignity crisis, characterized by the erosion of livelihoods and the continued denial of basic human rights; nearly 40 percent of the Palestinian population is food-insecure and unemployment levels in the West Bank and Gaza Strip remain high.3

The humanitarian operations outlined in the oPt’s CAP occur within the context of a prolonged Israeli military occupation in which policies to alter the status and character of the territory continue to be pursued contrary to international law. The situation in the Gaza Strip, in particular, presents severe impediments to humanitarian operations. Sweeping import restrictions imposed by Israel since June 2007 have either prevented the implementation of planned humanitarian projects or resulted in significant delays. For example, UNRWA reports that it has had 24 construction and infrastructure projects, totaling some US$ 109 million in donor funds, frozen as a result of the blockade. Among the affected projects are schools, health facilities, housing units, and sewage infrastructure. Additionally, the ‘no contact’ policy of some donors, prohibiting contact with the Hamas authorities, continues to affect some humanitarian organizations, while Hamas’s requests for compliance with its administrative procedures from UN agencies and NGOs have intensified. This ‘two-way’ tension is narrowing the operational independence of some organizations and, at times, restricts on-going humanitarian operations.

In the West Bank, humanitarian organizations face ongoing restrictions on movement and access. Policies include a permit regime required for staff from the West Bank to enter East Jerusalem, and continued access difficulties stemming from the deployment of hundreds of closure obstacles, among others. In particular, agencies mandated with service provision are limited in doing so in Area C, due to the restrictive planning regime applied by Israel and restrictions to obtaining building permits and difficulties accessing certain areas.

The humanitarian community’s primary concern with the measures outlined in this report is that they impede its ability to meet the needs of vulnerable Palestinians whose livelihoods have been reduced or destroyed by years of continued occupation, conflict and the denial of basic human rights.4 More than ever, immediate steps are required to reverse this trend.

A complete lifting of Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip and improved Palestinian access to land and resources in the West Bank and external markets are just a few examples of measures that could significantly improve Palestinian livelihoods through a reduction in unemployment and poverty. Israel’s modest relaxation in recent months of some import restrictions, which have allowed for the entry to Gaza of a number of much needed, previously-restricted items, including glass, wood, and aluminum, among others, have been welcome improvements.

In addition, all parties to the conflict must abide by their international legal obligations to ensure the smooth passage of humanitarian relief and personnel, and that the humanitarian community is able to carry out its work effectively and efficiently. Additionally, there is a need for donor countries to strongly advocate for an improvement in the humanitarian situation and respect for humanitarian operations in their bilateral relations with the authorities concerned. Another necessary step is that relevant donor countries and affected humanitarian organizations re-evaluate their position vis-à-vis the ‘no contact’ policy, where humanitarian operations are concerned, as well as related funding restrictions. Finally, the humanitarian community needs financial support for initiatives designed to resolve or overcome access issues and other restrictions on humanitarian operations.

Endnotes
1Quoted in “OCHA on Message: Humanitarian Access,” April 2010. Original quote from an August 2009 op-ed.
2The humanitarian strategy under-pinning the 2010 CAP is supported by 236 projects, comprising 147 from the NGO community and 89 from UN agencies.

3For additional details on the parameters of the human dignity crisis, see OCHA oPt, “Locked In: The humanitarian impact of two years of blockade on the Gaza Strip,” August 2009 and the oPt Consolidated Appeal for 2010.

4While the report draws attention to some of the specific ways in which the population is impacted, this subject is treated more fully in other OCHA oPt reports, so a detailed impact analysis is not included here. See, for example, regular OCHA oPt reports, “Protection of Civilians Weekly Report” and the monthly “Humanitarian Monitor.” For the impact of specific restrictions, see OCHA oPt Special Focus reports, such as “Locked In”, August 2009, and “Restricting Space: The planning and zoning regime applied by Israel in Area C of the West Bank,” December 2009.

REF: http://unispal.un.org/

ISRAELI APARTHIED: The Future of Palestine By John J. Mearsheimer

The following is an excerpt from the The Hisham Sharabi Memorial Lecture delivered by Professor John Mearsheimer at the Palestine Center in Washington D.C. on April 29, 2010.

The Future of Palestine: Righteous Jews vs. the New Afrikaners

…There is going to be a Greater Israel between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.  In fact, I would argue that it already exists.  But who will live there and what kind of political system will it have?

It is not going to be a democratic bi-national state, at least in the near future. An overwhelming majority of Israel’s Jews have no interest in living in a state that would be dominated by the Palestinians.  And that includes young Israeli Jews, many of whom hold clearly racist views toward the Palestinians in their midst. Furthermore, few of Israel’s supporters in the United States are interested in this outcome, at least at this point in time.  Most Palestinians, of course, would accept a democratic bi-national state without hesitation if it could be achieved quickly.  But that is not going to happen, although as I will argue shortly, it is likely to come to pass down the road.

Then there is ethnic cleansing, which would certainly mean that Greater Israel would have a Jewish majority.  But that murderous strategy seems unlikely, because it would do enormous damage to Israel’s moral fabric, its relationship with Jews in the Diaspora, and to its international standing.  Israel and its supporters would be treated harshly by history, and it would poison relations with Israel’s neighbors for years to come.  No genuine friend of Israel could support this policy, which would clearly be a crime against humanity. It also seems unlikely, because most of the 5.5 million Palestinians living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean would put up fierce resistance if Israel tried to expel them from their homes.


Nevertheless, there is reason to worry that Israelis might adopt this solution as the demographic balance shifts against them and they fear for the survival of the Jewish state.
Given the right circumstances – say a war involving Israel that is accompanied by serious Palestinian unrest – Israeli leaders might conclude that they can expel massive numbers of Palestinians from Greater Israel and depend on the lobby to protect them from international criticism and especially from sanctions.

We should not underestimate Israel’s willingness to employ such a horrific strategy if the opportunity presents itself.  It is apparent from public opinion surveys and everyday discourse that many Israelis hold racist views of Palestinians and the Gaza massacre makes clear that they have few qualms about killing Palestinian civilians. It is difficult to disagree with Jimmy Carter’s comment earlier this year that “the citizens of Palestine are treated more like animals than like human beings.” A century of conflict and four decades of occupation will do that to a people.

Furthermore, a substantial number of Israeli Jews – some 40 percent or more – believe that the Arab citizens of Israel should be “encouraged” to leave by the government. Indeed, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni has said that if there is a two-state solution, she expected Israel’s Palestinian citizens to leave and settle in the new Palestinian state.  And then there is the recent military order issued by the IDF that is aimed at “preventing infiltration” into the West Bank.  In fact, it enables Israel to deport tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank should it choose to do so. And, of course, the Israelis engaged in a massive cleansing of the Palestinians in 1948 and again in 1967.  Still, I do not believe Israel will resort to this horrible course of action.

The most likely outcome in the absence of a two-state solution is that Greater Israel will become a full-fledged apartheid state. As anyone who has spent time in the Occupied Territories knows, it is already an incipient apartheid state with separate laws, separate roads, and separate housing for Israelis and Palestinians, who are essentially confined to impoverished enclaves that they can leave and enter only with great difficulty.

Israelis and their American supporters invariably bristle at the comparison to white rule in South Africa, but that is their future if they create a Greater Israel while denying full political rights to an Arab population that will soon outnumber the Jewish population in the entirety of the land.  Indeed, two former Israeli prime ministers have made this very point.  Ehud Olmert, who was Netanyahu’s predecessor, said in late November 2007 that if “the two-state solution collapses,” Israel will “face a South-African-style struggle.” He went so far as to argue that, “as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.” Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is now Israel’s defense minister, said in early February of this year that, “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic.  If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”

Other Israelis, as well as Jimmy Carter and Bishop Desmond Tutu, have warned that if Israel does not pull out of the Occupied Territories it will become an apartheid state like white-ruled South Africa.  But if I am right, the occupation is not going to end and there will not be a two-state solution.  That means Israel will complete its transformation into a full-blown apartheid state over the next decade.

In the long run, however, Israel will not be able to maintain itself as an apartheid state.  Like racist South Africa, it will eventually evolve into a democratic bi-national state whose politics will be dominated by the more numerous Palestinians.  Of course, this means that Israel faces a bleak future as a Jewish state.  Let me explain why.

For starters, the discrimination and repression that is the essence of apartheid will be increasingly visible to people all around the world.  Israel and its supporters have been able to do a good job of keeping the mainstream media in the United States from telling the truth about what Israel is doing to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.  But the Internet is a game changer.  It not only makes it easy for the opponents of apartheid to get the real story out to the world, but it also allows Americans to learn the story that the New York Times and the Washington Post have been hiding from them.  Over time, this situation may even force these two media institutions to cover the story more accurately themselves.

The growing visibility of this issue is not just a function of the Internet.  It is also due to the fact that the plight of the Palestinians matters greatly to people all across the Arab and Islamic world, and they constantly raise the issue with Westerners. It also matters very much to the influential human rights community, which is naturally going to be critical of Israel’s harsh treatment of the Palestinians.  It is not surprising that hardline Israelis and their American supporters are now waging a vicious smear campaign against those human rights organizations that criticize Israel.

The main problem that Israel’s defenders face, however, is that it is impossible to defend apartheid, because it is antithetical to core Western values. How does one make a moral case for apartheid, especially in the United States, where democracy is venerated and segregation and racism are routinely condemned? It is hard to imagine the United States having a special relationship with an apartheid state.  Indeed, it is hard to imagine the United States having much sympathy for one.  It is much easier to imagine the United States strongly opposing that racist state’s political system and working hard to change it. Of course, many other countries around the globe would follow suit.  This is surely why former Prime Minister Olmert said that going down the apartheid road would be suicidal for Israel.

Apartheid is not only morally reprehensible, but it also guarantees that Israel will remain a strategic liability for the United States…

I believe that most of the Jews in the great ambivalent middle will not defend apartheid Israel but will either keep quiet or side with the righteous Jews against the new Afrikaners, who will become increasingly marginalized over time.  And once that happens, the lobby will be unable to provide cover for Israel’s racist policies toward the Palestinians in the way it has in the past.

Professor Mearsheimer is the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science and the co-director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago.  Dr. Mearsheimer has written extensively about security issues and international politics more generally.

He has published four books: Conventional Deterrence (1983), which won the Edgar S. Furniss, Jr., Book Award; Liddell Hart and the Weight of History (1988); The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (2001), which won the Joseph Lepgold Book Prize; and The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy (with Stephen M. Walt, 2007).

Ref: Al Jazeera

Zionism Laid Bare

The essential point of M. Shahid Alam’s book, Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism, comes clear upon opening the book to the inscription in the frontispiece.  From the Persian poet and philosopher Rumi, the quote reads, “You have the light, but you have no humanity.  Seek humanity, for that is the goal.” Alam, professor of economics at Northeastern University in Boston and a CounterPunch contributor, follows this with an explicit statement of his aims in the first paragraph of the preface.  Asking and answering the obvious question, “Why is an economist writing a book on the geopolitics of Zionism?” he says that he “could have written a book about the economics of Zionism, the Israeli economy, or the economy of the West Bank and Gaza, but how would any of that have helped me to understand the cold logic and the deep passions that have driven Zionism?”

Until recent years, the notion that Zionism was a benign, indeed a humanitarian, political movement designed for the noble purpose of creating a homeland and refuge for the world’s stateless, persecuted Jews was a virtually universal assumption.  In the last few years, particularly since the start of the al-Aqsa intifada in 2000, as Israel’s harsh oppression of the Palestinians has become more widely known, a great many Israelis and friends of Israel have begun to distance themselves from and criticize Israel’s occupation policies, but they remain strong Zionists and have been at pains to propound the view that Zionism began well and has only lately been corrupted by the occupation. Alam demonstrates clearly, through voluminous evidence and a carefully argued analysis, that Zionism was never benign, never good—that from the very beginning, it operated according to a “cold logic” and, per Rumi, had “no humanity.”  Except perhaps for Jews, which is where Israel’s and Zionism’s exceptionalism comes in.

Alam argues convincingly that Zionism was a coldly cynical movement from its beginnings in the nineteenth century.  Not only did the founders of Zionism know that the land on which they set their sights was not an empty land, but they set out specifically to establish an “exclusionary colonialism” that had no room for the Palestinians who lived there or for any non-Jews, and they did this in ways that justified, and induced the West to accept, the displacement of the Palestinian population that stood in their way.  With a simple wisdom that still escapes most analysts of Israel and Zionism, Alam writes that a “homeless nationalism,” as Zionism was for more than half a century until the state of Israel was established in 1948, “of necessity is a charter for conquest and—if it is exclusionary—for ethnic cleansing.”

How has Zionism been able to put itself forward as exceptional and get away with it, winning Western support for the establishment of an exclusionary state and in the process for the deliberate dispossession of the native population? Alam lays out three principal ways by which Zionism has framed its claims of exceptionalism in order to justify itself and gain world, particularly Western, support.  First, the Jewish assumption of chosenness rests on the notion that Jews have a divine right to the land, a mandate granted by God to the Jewish people and only to them.  This divine election gives the homeless, long-persecuted Jews the historical and legal basis by which to nullify the rights of Palestinians not so divinely mandated and ultimately to expel them from the land.  Second, Israel’s often remarkable achievements in state-building have won Western support and provided a further justification for the displacement of “inferior” Palestinians by “superior” Jews.  Finally, Zionism has put Jews forward as having a uniquely tragic history and as a uniquely vulnerable country, giving Israel a special rationale for protecting itself against supposedly unique threats to its existence and in consequence for ignoring the dictates of international law.  Against the Jews’ tragedy, whatever pain Palestinians may feel at being displaced appears minor.

The ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians that came as the result of Zionism’s need for an exclusivist homeland was no unfortunate consequence, and indeed had long been foreseen by Zionist thinkers and the Western leaders who supported them.  Alam quotes early Zionists, including Theodore Herzl, who talked repeatedly of persuading the Palestinians “to trek,” or “fold their tents,” or “silently steal away.”  In later years, the Zionists spoke of forcible “transfer” of the Palestinians. In the 1930s, David Ben-Gurion expressed his strong support for compulsory transfer, crowing that “Jewish power” was growing to the point that the Jewish community in Palestine would soon be strong enough to carry out ethnic cleansing on a large scale (as it ultimately did).  In fact, the Zionists knew from the start that there would be no persuading the Palestinians simply to leave voluntarily and that violent conquest would be necessary to implant the Zionist state.

The British knew this as well.  Zionist supporter Winston Churchill wrote as early as 1919 that the Zionists “take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to suit their convenience.” In a blunt affirmation of the calculated nature of Zionist plans and Western support for them, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, like Churchill another early supporter and also author of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which promised British support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, wrote that Zionism “is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”  It would be hard to find a more blatant one-sided falsity.

Alam traces in detail the progression of Zionist planning, beginning with the deliberate creation in the nineteenth century of an ethnic identity for Jews who shared only a religion and had none of the attributes of nationhood—neither a land, nor a common language or culture, nor arguably a common gene pool. Here Alam covers briefly the ground trod in detail by Israeli historian Shlomo Sand, whose book The Invention of the Jewish People, appearing in English just months before Alam’s book, shattered the myths surrounding Zionism’s claim to nationhood and to an exclusive right to Palestine.  But Alam goes further, describing the Zionist campaign to create a surrogate “mother country” that, in the absence of a Jewish nation, would sponsor the Zionists’ colonization of Palestine and support its national project.  Having gained British support for its enterprise, Zionism then set about building a rationale for displacing the Palestinian Arabs who were native to Palestine (who, incidentally, did indeed possess the attributes of a nation but lay in the path of a growing Jewish, Western-supported military machine).  Zionist propaganda then and later deliberately spread the notion that Palestinians were not “a people,” had no attachment to the land and no national aspirations, and in the face of the Jews’ supposedly divine mandate, of Israel’s “miraculous” accomplishments, and of the Jews’ monumental suffering in the Holocaust, the dispossession of the Palestinians was made to appear to a disinterested West as nothing more than a minor misfortune.

Addressing what he calls the “destabilizing logic” of Zionism, Alam builds the argument that Zionism thrives on, and indeed can survive only in the midst of, conflict. In the first instance, Alam shows, Zionism actually embraced the European anti-Semitic charge that Jews were an alien people.  This was the natural result of promoting the idea that Jews actually belonged in Palestine in a nation of their own, and in addition, spreading fear of anti-Semitism proved to be an effective way to attract Jews not swayed by the arguments of Zionism (who made up the majority of Jews in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) to the Zionist cause.  Early Zionist leaders talked frankly of anti-Semitism as a means of teaching many educated and assimilated Jews “the way back to their people” and of forcing an allegiance to Zionism.  Anti-Semitism remains in many ways the cement that holds Zionism together, keeping both Israeli Jews and diaspora Jews in thrall to Israel as their supposedly only salvation from another Holocaust.

In the same vein, Alam contends, Zionists realized that in order to succeed in their colonial enterprise and maintain the support of the West, they would have to create an adversary common to both the West and the Jews.  Only a Jewish state waging wars in the Middle East could “energize the West’s crusader mentality, its evangelical zeal, its dreams of end times, its imperial ambitions.” Arabs were the initial and enduring enemy, and Zionists and Israel have continued to provoke Arab antagonism and direct it toward radicalism, to steer Arab anger against the United States, to provoke the Arabs into wars against Israel, and to manufacture stories of virulent Arab anti-Semitism—all specifically in order to sustain Jewish and Western solidarity with Israel.  More recently, Islam itself has become the common enemy, an adversary fashioned so that what Alam calls the “Jewish-Gentile partnership” can be justified and intensified.  Focusing on Arab and Muslim hostility, always portrayed as motivated by irrational hatred rather than by opposition to Israeli and U.S. policies, allows Zionists to divert attention from their own expropriation of Palestinian land and dispossession of Palestinians and allows them to characterize Israeli actions as self-defense against anti-Semitic Arab and Muslim resistance.

Alam treats the Zionist/Israel lobby as a vital cog in the machine that built and sustains the Jewish state.  Indeed, Theodore Herzl was the original Zionist lobbyist.  During the eight years between the launch of the Zionist movement at Basel in 1897 and his death, Herzl had meetings with a remarkable array of power brokers in Europe and the Middle East, including the Ottoman sultan, Kaiser Wilhelm II, King Victor Emanuel III of Italy, Pope Pius X, the noted British imperialist Lord Cromer and the British colonial secretary of the day, and the Russian ministers of interior and finance, as well as a long list of dukes, ambassadors, and lesser ministers.  One historian used the term “miraculous” to describe Herzl’s ability to secure audiences with the powerful who could help Zionism.

Zionist lobbyists continued to work as assiduously, with results as “miraculous,” throughout the twentieth century, gaining influence over civil society and ultimately over policymakers and, most importantly, shaping the public discourse that determines all thinking about Israel and its neighbors.  As Alam notes, “since their earliest days, the Zionists have created the organizations, allies, networks, and ideas that would translate into media, congressional, and presidential support for the Zionist project.”  An increasing proportion of the activists who lead major elements of civil society, such as the labor and civil rights movements, are Jews, and these movements have as a natural consequence come to embrace Zionist aims.  Christian fundamentalists, who in the last few decades have provided massive support to Israel and its expansionist policies, grew in the first instance because they were “energized by every Zionist success on the ground” and have continued to expand with a considerable lobbying push from the Zionists.

Alam’s conclusion—a direct argument against those who contend that the lobby has only limited influence: “It makes little sense,” in view of the pervasiveness of Zionist influence over civil society and political discourse, “to maintain that the pro-Israeli positions of mainstream American organizations . . . emerged independently of the activism of the American Jewish community.”  In its early days, Zionism grew only because Herzl and his colleagues employed heavy lobbying in the European centers of power; Jewish dispersion across the Western world—and Jewish influence in the economies, the film industries, the media, and academia in key Western countries—are what enabled the Zionist movement to survive and thrive in the dark years of the early twentieth century; and Zionist lobbying and molding of public discourse are what has maintained Israel’s favored place in the hearts and minds of Americans and the policy councils of America’s politicians.

This is a critically important book.  It enhances and expands on the groundbreaking message of Shlomo Sand’s work.  If Sand shows that Jews were not “a people” until Zionism created them as such, Alam shows this also and goes well beyond to show how Zionism and its manufactured “nation” went about dispossessing and replacing the Palestinians and winning all-important Western support for Israel and its now 60-year-old “exclusionary colonialism.”

Ref: counterpunch

Kathleen Christison is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and the Wound of Dispossession and co-author, with Bill Christison, of Palestine in Pieces: Graphic Perspectives on the Israeli Occupation, published last summer by Pluto Press.  She can be reached at kb.christison@earthlink.net.

Varieties of Compassion: Haiti — Gaza

Akiva Eldar wrote an article entitled “Israel’s compassion in Haiti can’t hide our ugly face in Gaza” (Haaretz, January 18, 2010) in which he explains the contradiction in the public relations campaign conducted by Israel’s rulers in rescuing and treating victims of the earthquake in Haiti and the their utter indifference in relation to the suffering of the people of Gaza whose children, women and elderly die on a daily basis because of the lack of medicine and the destruction of hospitals and because Israeli authorities prevent food and medicine from entering Gaza.

Larry Derfner wrote in Jerusalem Post (20/01/2010) about the aid which Israel’s rulers hasten to send to Haiti now and which they sent to Rwanda years ago – with great efficiency – while many Israelis feel shame over the actions of their government in Gaza.  He wonders about the causes of the discrepancy between Israel’s efficiency in rescue and treatment actions in  disaster areas across the world and its shameful disregard of the disasters caused by successive Israeli governments against Palestinian civilians.

Catherine Philip wrote an analysis (Sunday Times, January 21, 2010) explaining that the Israeli government took advantage of the disaster in Haiti to conduct a public relations campaign to cover up the disgraceful Israeli crimes described in the Goldstone report on the Israeli war on Gaza.  She concludes that the earthquake was a natural disaster, while the collapse of the health system in Gaza and the hunger and destruction in Gaza were imposed by Israel and its allies on Gazan civilians.

The life of  unarmed Palestinian civilians in Gaza and the rest of Palestine has become  public relations material.  The life of Palestinians has no significance for Israel except in as much as it affects its interests and image in the West.  That is why they are preventing reporters, politicians, diplomats and human rights activists from going to Gaza so that they do not expose the disgraceful conditions under the blockade, and in order to be able to promote their lies about their concern for saving human life somewhere in the world.

Helping the victims of disasters has become now an occasion for launching public relations campaigns or achieving hidden political and military objectives.  People still fall victim to earthquakes, disasters, occupation, oppression and terrorism.  They also fall victim to campaigns which use their tragedy to achieve other purposes which have nothing to do with the value, importance, sanctity and dignity of human life.

After the Swedish journalist Donald Bostrom wrote about the Israeli army killing Palestinian youth in order to steal their organs, there were other media reports about Israelis stealing Ukrainian children for the same purpose.  Once again there are documented reports from Haiti that organs are being stolen by Israelis without international justice intervening to put an end to such criminal practices against vulnerable people.

The United States took advantage of the chaos in Haiti to tighten its control over the island.  Thus, we can see that the disaster in Haiti provided an opportunity to other parties to make a move on the public relations level or on the political and military level in order to turn facts on their head and project a glossy image of the causes of human suffering in different parts of the world.

We should also note the lack of Arab initiative, not only in terms of aid and rescue, but also in terms of standing up to the attempts of our enemies to bury the suffering of the Palestinian people and hide it from the eyes of the media and public opinion.  They use the Haiti disaster to cover up their crimes and blunt the impact of the Goldstone report and obstruct the launch of an international campaign in support of the Palestinian people.

The discrepancy in the Israeli official position towards the victims of the disaster in Haiti, on the one hand, and the victims of the blockade on Gaza and the war on Palestine for the past sixty years, on the other, should be highlighted and explained, particularly that Israel hastens to the assistance of any disaster-hit country – from Rwanda to Haiti – to cover up the great disaster which it caused and still causing to  people who used to live safely and peacefully on their land.

The suffering of the people of Haiti is the result of a natural disaster, while the increased suffering of the people of Gaza in its latest phase is a direct consequence of a hateful and racist shelling with phosphoric bombs and the destruction of schools, hospitals and houses.  In the same vein, the suffering of the residents of the Salwan and Jarrah neighborhoods is the result of a racist settler colonialism which sees only Jews in humanity.  It is implemented by Israeli powers which believe in racist supremacy and religious fanaticism.

So far, no language has been able to describe this conflict and convey its nature to the minds and hearts of people all over the world.  Disaster is being used as a commodity in public relations campaigns.  If this is evidence of anything, it is evidence of a declining level of the feeling of responsibility and the distortion which has characterized political processes in recent years.

Hence, the tragedy becomes greater and the suffering longer because of the difficulty of conveying the real picture of what is happening to people all over the world.  Even allowing concerned people to see what is happening becomes subject to bargaining as a result of the meticulous calculations of the political objectives of what is being done.

Thus American officials as well as, the media speak about the duties of the Palestinians and the Israelis towards the peace process, forgetful of the fact that the Palestinians are prisoners of a racist occupation and subject to collective punishment and genocide, while others are involved in propaganda campaigns to prevent the achievement of justice and the realization of the legitimate aspirations of innocent people who simply want to live in freedom and dignity. Next time you hear or read “both sides” or hear an obligation related to “Palestinians and Israelis” by Western officials beware of the deliberate confusion planned between the killer “Israelis” and the victims “Palestinians”.

What each and every one of us can do is to stand for human integrity and dismiss all the propaganda designed and marketed by the enemies of justice and sacred human rights.

REf:Counterpunch

Bouthaina Shaaban is Political and Media Advisor at the Syrian Presidency, and former Minister of Expatriates. She is also a writer and professor at Damascus University since 1985. She has been the spokesperson for Syria and was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. She can be reached through nizar_kabibo@yahoo.com

Israeli organ theft: Articles Which Threaten Israeli Security

The investigative report written by Swedish journalist Donald Boström and published in Sweden’s largest newspaper Aftonbladet about Israeli occupation forces killing Palestinians with the objective of stealing their organs raised a political and media storm in Israel meant to cover up a horrible crime perpetrated for years under the full gaze of the ‘free’ world.

These criminal acts began in 1992 when Palestinians started to witness a sharp rise in the number of young Palestinians disappearing and of bodies of Palestinians killed by occupation forces being returned with organs like hearts, kidneys, livers and eyes missing.

“I was in the area at the time, working on a book”, Boström writes. “On several occasions I was approached by UN staff concerned about the developments. The persons contacting me said that organ theft definitely occurred but that they were prevented from doing anything about it…. I traveled around interviewing a great number of Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza – meeting parents who told of how their sons had been deprived of organs before being killed. One example that I encountered on this eerie trip was the young stone-thrower Bilal Ahmed Ghanam”.

Bilal, 19, was one of 133 Palestinians killed in various ways that year; 69 of them went through postmortem examination. Boström describes in detail how Israeli occupation soldiers targeted Bilal, a leader of the stone-throwing children, at midnight on May 13, 1992, shot him first in the chest and he was subsequently shot with one bullet in each leg. Two soldiers then shot Bilal in the stomach. Finally, they grabbed him by his feet, dragged him, then loaded him in a jeep and drove him to the outskirts of the village, where a military helicopter waited. He was flown to an unknown destination. Five days later he came back, dead and wrapped in green hospital fabric.

It was clear that Bilal’s body was slit from his abdomen up to his chin. The families and relatives of Khaled from Nablus, the mother of Raed from Jenin and the uncles of Mahmood and Nafez from Gaza, all talked to Boström about their children who had all disappeared for a number of days only to return at night, dead and autopsied.

Investigations in New Jersey, have proved that Rabbi Levy-Izhak (Isaac Rosenbaum) from Brooklyn and other rabbis have run for years Soprano-like networks to sell the kidneys of Palestinian martyrs in the US black market. Patients in the United States paid up to US$ 160,000 per kidney. In 2003, a medical conference showed that Israel is the only country in the world in which the medical profession does not condemn stealing human organs and does not act against those involved in such a crime. On the contrary, and as was revealed by a Dagens Nyheter report on December 5, 2003 and the Aftonbladet report of August 17, 2009, prominent doctors in major Israeli hospitals steal and transplant organs routinely.

When asked about the number of bodies sold by rabbi Rosenbaum, he answers proudly, “we are talking about a very large number,” and that his company has worked in this field “for a long period of time”. Francis Delmonici, professor of transplant surgery at Harvard University confirms that organ trafficking is widespread in Israel and believes that there is sufficient evidence to ask the International Criminal Court to investigate Israeli crimes.

Israeli media has turned the results shown by Aftonbladet’s investigative report into a diplomatic crisis between Sweden and Israel instead of demanding an end to this atrocious crime and bringing those corrupt criminals to justice. Headlines highlighted that the Swedish prime minister refused to apologize and that Donald Boström refused to withdraw the report despite the fact that he received death threats. The question, however, is what should the Swedish prime minister apologize for? Israel, not Sweden, is accused of killing young people, stealing and trafficking in their organs; and it is Israel which should be put on trial.

They behaved in the same way with Mary Robinson and others who defended the rights of the Palestinians. They raised a media storm about president Obama awarding her the Medal of Freedom because she took a courageous stand in support of justice in Palestine. They behaved in the same way towards the author of this article because she wrote a column in Asharq al-Awsat newspaper in which she lauded Robinson’s courage in defense of human rights. Jerusalem Post published an article against me on August 17, 2009 which is full of incitement and accusations which aim at creating negative preconceived ideas about the author.

The question here is why the Jerusalem Post article ignored mentioning the Swedish foreign minister Anna Maria Lindh who I mentioned with Mary Robinson in my article, and who also took honorable stances in support of justice in Palestine, was arrested several times by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank and was then assassinated in ambiguous circumstances.

This means that official circles in Israel divert attention from an atrocious crime committed against unarmed civilian Palestinians for over sixty years to a mere article which causes a diplomatic standoff. The same circles instruct the Jerusalem Post to attack my article which calls for honoring honest leaders of the world, like Mary Robinson, for defending justice.

Has the world read about how Israel interrogates Palestinian women prisoners after stripping them naked in order to humiliate them? Is writing about them and defending their dignity a form of anti-Semitism and hostility towards Israel and the United States? And why do Israeli media implicate the United States in such crimes?

Despite the ferocious official Israeli campaign to silent free and honest individuals, the circle of those who believe in justice and freedom is getting wider. These are not only politicians, academics and journalists who are targeted by Israeli death or defamation squads who assassinate or muzzle them; they are the vanguard of a global movement to liberate the Palestinian people from this ugly barbarianism. The great thing is that they come from all religions and nationalities; and they will be remembered by history as the first to dare carry the torch of supporting freedom and justice for Palestinians. And surely, no one will remember those who fabricate charges and wage cheap propaganda against human beings, human rights, human dignity and freedom.

FOOTNOTES IN GAZA!

Sacco makes a forgotten and bloody crime in a refugee camp from 1956 that left 111 Palestinians dead the basis for Footnotes in Gaza – a 400-page behemoth telling the history of Gaza from that moment to the present day. He immersed himself in the daily life of squalid Rafah, scene of the massacre and notorious place for bitter conflict, and tells the story through everyday Palestinians; fugitives, schoolchildren, widows and sheikhs.

“I heard torture stories that were unusually harsh, but I decided not to use those kinds of stories, and instead something less shocking, something more of an “everyman” experience. I think it’s the “everyman experience” that people can relate to. It’s harder to imagine; harder to put yourself in the picture of someone who is being humiliated.’

Read more about Sacco
Eyeless in Gaza

Colleagues laughed when a young journalist in Palestine announced his intention to tell the story of that region though cartoons. Twenty years later, Joe Sacco is one of the world’s leading exponents of the graphic novel form…

Ref: Guardian

Read about the israeli “reaction” to grasp how real Sacco´s work is.

Graphic novel on IDF ‘massacres’ in Gaza set to hit bookstores

The American-Maltese artist’s latest book, “Footnotes in Gaza,” chronicles two episodes in 1956 in which a U.N. report filed Dec. 15, 1956 says a total of 386 civilians were shot dead by Israeli soldiers – events Sacco said have been “virtually airbrushed from history because they have been ignored by the mainstream media.”

Israeli historians dispute these figures.

“It’s a big exaggeration,” said Meir Pail, a leading Israeli military historian and leftist politician. “There was never a killing of such a degree. Nobody was murdered. I was there. I don’t know of any massacre.”
Sacco’s passion for the Palestinian cause has opened him up to accusations of bias.

Ref: Haaretz


FOCUS: OPINION What Goldstone says about the US

Opponents of the Goldstone report might well be hoping that after its lopsided condemnation in the US House of Representatives and successful relegation back to the UN’s Human Rights Commission, the report will become little more than an historical footnote in a decades-long conflict.

This might in fact occur, given the imbalance of power between the contending sides. But historians can do a great deal with footnotes.

When the glare of history is finally shone upon the whole affair, it might well turn out that the reasons for such vehement opposition from US politicians, and only tepid (at best) support for it among other major powers, have far more to do with their own geostrategic interests than with protecting Israel.

Back story

The report, written by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, has caused uproar in Israel and the US for its alleged bias against Israel and avoidance of serious criticism of Hamas. The condemnation, House Resolution 867, passed by a 344-36 vote.

Before the vote on the resolution, Goldstone sent a letter to members of Congress refuting most of the allegations contained in it. But his rebuttal did not lead to substantive changes in the report’s accusations and apparently had no effect on the vote.

Given the way in which opposition to the report unfolded it would be easy to conclude that this is merely another case of the vaunted Israel lobby shutting down any debate over Israel’s actions in the Occupied Territories.

Yet while Israel’s supporters no doubt took the lead in pushing the resolution, there is a back story to this drama that has likely played an equally, if not more important, role in the firestorm it has generated.

Why would the House go so far out of its way to stamp out even the consideration of war crimes accusations against Israel? And why would Barack Obama, the US president, have pressured Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, not to push the report in the UN when he had to know that such actions would cost Abbas most of his little remaining credibility among Palestinians?

Accessory to war crimes

There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, if Israel is guilty of committing systematic war crimes across Gaza and the West Bank, then the US, which supported, funded and armed Israel during the war, is an accessory to those crimes.

Goldstone explains in no uncertain terms that Gaza was not an aberration in terms of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Rather, it marked not only a continuation of Israel’s behaviour during the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, but “highlights a common thread of the interaction between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians which emerged clearly also in many cases discussed in other parts of the report”.

It referenced “continuous and systematic abuse, outrages on personal dignity, humiliating and degrading treatment contrary to fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and human rights law”.

“The Mission concludes that the treatment of these civilians constitutes the infliction of a collective penalty on those persons and amounts to measures of intimidation and terror. Such acts are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and constitute a war crime,” the report says.

Put simply, if there is blood on Israel’s hands, than it is has dripped all over America’s shirt.

Israel could not and would not have engaged in the level of wholesale destruction of Gaza painstakingly catalogued in the report without the support of the outgoing Bush administration, and acquiescence of the incoming Obama administration.

Israeli narrative challenged

Not only that, but on the same day the report was released the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel’s military leadership is preparing the country for yet another invasion of Gaza in the near future.

Goldstone’s report accuses Israel of using collective punishment in Gaza [EPA]
It is not clear how much of Gaza is left to be destroyed, but the report’s detailed discussion of Israel’s attacks on innumerable homes, mosques, schools, hospitals and other civilian facilities show what lengths Israel will go to to punish Gazans, and Palestinians more broadly.

There is also the larger context of the peace negotiations. If Israel can be guilty of humanitarian crimes at this level, then it puts the entire Israeli narrative about the occupation – that it is ultimately about preserving the country’s security – into question.

In fact, the report declares precisely this, in paragraph 1674, when it argues that the Gaza invasion “cannot be understood and assessed in isolation from developments prior and subsequent to it. The operation fits into a continuum of policies aimed at pursuing Israel’s political objectives with regard to Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian Territory as a whole”.

Almost everyone outside the US, including in Israel, understands that the occupation has always been about settlement, not security, since Israel could have militarily occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 indefinitely without establishing a single settlement, and could withdraw from all its settlements tomorrow and maintain a military occupation until it felt secure enough to turn the territory over to Palestinians.

As famed general Moshe Dayan once put it, the settlements in the Occupied Territories are essential “not because they can ensure security better than the army, but because without them we cannot keep the army in those territories. Without them the IDF would be a foreign army ruling a foreign population”.

But the US remains heavily invested in maintaining this security narrative; both because it is the core of the strategic alliance between the two countries with all the military, strategic and financial implications that come with it, and because, as with the Gaza invasion, the settlement enterprise could never have proceeded without US support, or at least acquiescence.

This dynamic continues to operate today, as the same day House Resolution 867 was passed, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, explained that the US preferred to return to peace talks even without a settlement freeze, despite the fact that not stopping settlement construction during negotiations has been deemed by former senior Israeli negotiators such as Moshe Ben Ami and Yossi Beilin as among the single biggest factors dooming the Oslo peace process.

The Obama administration refuses even to push the parameters painstakingly set by his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, before leaving office, to which both Israelis and Palestinians were very close to agreeing.

Alarming precedent

One has to wonder whether the US Middle East policy-making establishment, which is dominated by defence and security interests, is even interested in bringing about a speedy resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Beyond what the Goldstone report says about America’s role in Israel’s actions, the report holds a mirror up to US actions in its ‘war on terror’. In so doing it paints for US policy-makers and politicians a more frightening picture of a future in which all countries are held accountable for their actions.

Here it becomes clear that, as it has been for four decades, Israel is both the spear and the shield for the projection – and protection – of US power in the Middle East. It engages in activities the US cannot do openly, and it acts as the first line of defence when US interests might be attacked diplomatically.

In going after Israel, the report, however unintended, is going after the US, which has committed many of the same crimes (of which Israel is accused) in its occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and perhaps through its drone attacks, in Pakistan and other countries. This is the report’s true danger, and why – from the US perspective – its accusations against Israel cannot stand.

Specifically, the idea of treating a Western-allied state, Israel, and a resistance movement, Hamas, as equally capable of committing war crimes and being held accountable for them, sets an alarming precedent for the US as its engagement in Iraq stretches on indefinitely and deepens in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Why not hold the US (or Pakistan, China, Russia, or India for that matter) to the same standards as we hold the Taliban, al-Qaeda, or opposition movements in Kashmir, Chechnya or Tibet? None of these powers would allow this to happen.

Universal jurisdiction

Moreover, the report condemns the “Dahiya doctrine,” which involved the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations.

Although claiming to work hard to protect civilians in the countries it is occupying, one of the primary complaints against the US by citizens of Afghanistan or Iraq is the frequent killing of civilians and destruction of infrastructure, particularly if it could be deemed to be “supporting infrastructure” for “terrorists”.

And when such abuses are committed, paragraph 121 of the report reminds the world that “international human rights law and humanitarian law require states to investigate and, if appropriate, prosecute allegations of serious violations by military personnel”.

This is an indirect stab at the US judicial system, which has so far failed to hold anyone but a few low-level soldiers accountable for the numerous abuses committed by the US in Iraq and the ‘war on terror’ more broadly.

Perhaps the most dangerous suggestion in this regard is the report’s call for applying “universal jurisdiction” to the conflict.

As paragraph 127 states: “In the context of increasing unwillingness on the part of Israel to open criminal investigations that comply with international standards, the mission supports the reliance on universal jurisdiction as an avenue for states to investigate violations of the grave breach [of the] provisions of the Geneva Conventions.”

There is no power that wants its officials or military and security personnel subject to prosecution by other countries.

Uncritical victimology

In this regard, it is not coincidental that the same day resolution 867 was passed an Italian court convicted 23 former CIA agents of participating in the illegal rendition of an Italian imam, who claims he was subsequently tortured in captivity.

Have US policy interests in the Middle East impacted their rejection of the report? [AFP]
In June, the Italian newspaper il Giornale published an interview with Robert Seldon Lady, the CIA’s Milan station chief, in which he admitted, “Of course it was an illegal operation. But that’s our job. We’re at war against terrorism”.

This is a crucial statement, for it reveals that the US establishment believes that in a ‘war on terror’, there are no legal limits to what it can do. And if Israel is condemned for the same attitude, this would vitiate America’s ability to take whatever actions it desires, however illegal, to pursue its interests.

Obama might not take such actions, but his successors might. And if another major terrorist attack were to occur on US soil, there is little doubt that the gloves would once again come off, whether Obama wanted to keep them on or not.

In such a situation, the psychology of uncritical victimology that characterised post-9/11 America will be crucial to enabling such policies to be (re)put in place.

As the report quotes an Israeli professor (paragraph 1703): “Israeli society’s problem is that because of the conflict, Israeli society feels itself to be a victim and to a large extent that’s justified and it’s very difficult for Israeli society to move and to feel that it can also see the other side and to understand that the other side is also a victim.” This problem is equally difficult for Americans to overcome.

Report’s historical imprint

Among the final coincidences accompanying the passage of resolution 867 was its release the day after Clinton held a high-profile meeting in Morocco to champion the country’s recent official promotion of democracy.

But in her celebration of the Moroccan example she neglected to mention that press freedoms, the core of any democratic system, are suffering increasing restrictions in the country. Freedom of speech or challenging the country’s political-economic elite remains heavily circumscribed, especially when it comes from the country’s principal Islamically motivated opposition movement.

Of course, Clinton cannot push too hard for democracy in the Muslim world; democratically-elected governments would not tolerate many of the US’ core policies in the region, from uncritical support for Israel to its own military and economic alliances and activities.

The day after her Morocco meeting, Clinton was in Egypt, meeting once again with the Egypt’s autocratic leader, Hosni Mubarak, with not a word about democracy.

Against such policy interests, it might well be that the Goldstone report will be relegated to history without being acted upon.

What few of its opponents understand is just how big an imprint this most exhaustive study of the Israeli occupation will leave.

It might not help Palestinians and Israelis achieve peace today, but future historians will likely look upon it as a crucial document in exposing the realities of the American dominated Middle Eastern system for the world to see.

Ref:Aljazeera

Mark LeVine is currently Visiting Professor at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University, Sweden. His most recent books include Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989 (Zed Books, 2009) and Reapproaching Borders: New Perspectives on the Study of Israel-Palestine (Rowman Littlefield, 2008).

 

Also read. ‘Might not right for Israel’

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