VIDEO: What future for ‘Greater Israel’?

What future for the “Greater Land of Israel”?

Six decades after its founding, Israel has grown into one of the world’s top 20 industrial states, with GNP (General National Product) superior to all its neighbours combined.


With an estimated 200 nuclear warheads, and one of the most advanced air forces in the world, Israel promotes itself as the Middle East’s most powerful military and one of the world’s five leading arms exporters.

Priding itself on being a Western-type democracy; Israel has always sought close relations with empires and superpowers, underlining its estrangement within its own region.

Thanks to decades of preferential treatment by Western superpowers, Israel has had its cake and eaten it too. It has occupied, annexed and exploited Palestinian and Arab lands with impunity, and at the same time received over $100bn as the West’s foremost ally in the Middle East. Israel’s control over the Occupied Territories has radicalised its own society and identity as much as it has deformed that of the Palestinians. And yet, despite all, Israel’s borders remain undrawn, its capital unrecognised, its Jewishness unaccepted, and its security in question.

Part II

Today, after two failed wars in Lebanon and Gaza and a deadlocked peace process, Israel’s moment of truth has come …

A radical right-wing coalition government in Israel is determined to press ahead with the expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem and Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.

Palestinians refuse to accept anything less than a total freeze on all settlements but they are divided on the best way forward – diplomacy or resistance.

The all-powerful US is powerless. Since the election of Barack Obama, the US president, and Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, relations have become stifled.

Is Israel still a strategic asset? Was it ever? Or is it a strategic burden? Obama staked his presidency on a breakthrough, but his efforts have stumbled at the first hurdle.

The United Nations continue to issue toothless resolutions with no impact on the ground. Is it left to the European Union to make the running with yet another vague overture?

The diplomatic vacuum leads to more unilateral policies and a radicalisation of both sides that could escalate the conflict even further. So how can the international community end an illegal occupation that has lasted for four decades? Is a two state solution still possible, or one state or no state!

This episode of Empire airs from Wednesday, December 23, at the following times GMT: Wednesday: 1900; Thursday: 0300, 1400; Friday: 0600.

WANTED: Israeli war crime ministers! + Israel’s culture of impunity

Israel’s culture of impunity

A Spanish court attempted to open a criminal investigation under international law into the killing of a Hamas leader in Gaza City. But the Spanish government backed off under US and Israeli pressure. Israel won’t investigate. Who can?
by Sharon Weill

An Israeli Air Force plane dropped a one-tonne bomb on the al-Daraj district of Gaza City, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, around midnight on 22 July 2002. It was meant to kill Salah Shehadeh, the former military leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, who was at home with his family. It succeeded; Shehadeh and 14 civilians, most of them children, were killed, 150 people were injured, many severely. Nearby houses were damaged or destroyed.

In Madrid on 29 January this year, Judge Fernando Andreu Merelles decided, on the basis of universal jurisdiction (1), to open a criminal investigation against seven Israeli political and military officials for allegedly committing a war crime (2). The court claimed that the facts pointed even to crimes against humanity, and so lawyers said they would do their utmost to demonstrate that the bombing was part of a policy of systematic attacks against a civilian population.

The Spanish proceedings had been initiated by six Palestinian victims since it was “impossible to bring the relevant prosecution before the Israeli judicial authorities”. In August 2008 the court asked Israel for information on judicial proceedings; this January it ruled that “the facts can and must be investigated by the Spanish jurisdiction… since no response whatsoever has been received to the request made by this Court… nor is there any evidence that any proceedings have been brought to investigate the facts” (3).

Just as this ruling was made, Israel sent a 400-page file claiming that proceedings were under way in Israel and that the Spanish court should desist. However, even if the Shehadeh affair has been reviewed by legal authorities in Israel including the High Court of Justice (HCJ), no decision has been taken as to whether to initiate criminal proceedings. In September 2002, the pacifist movement Yesh Gvul requested the military advocate general, and then the state advocate general, to open a criminal investigation against those who had planned and executed the operation. An internal investigation within the army found that the collateral damage was the result of an intelligence failure and had not been anticipated by the decision-makers. The attorney general adopted this version of the facts, ruling out a criminal investigation.
Implicit recognition

Yesh Gvul and five Israeli authors then filed a petition to the HCJ demanding that it review the authorities’ decision not to open a criminal investigation. The petition, on 30 September 2003, ended: “There is no intention to disguise the fact that appellants are guided by the desire that the investigation and indictment (if evidence is found) remain within the confines of the State of Israel. The High Court of Justice is the last stop of the law enforcement train before it crosses the borders of the State of Israel and we find ourselves giving the nations of the world the justification to conduct criminal proceedings… according to international law.”

A petition questioning the legality of the targeted killings policy had been pending before the same court since January 2002: the HCJ decided to suspend the Shehadeh petition. On 14 December 2006 it ruled that the policy could not be defined as legal or illegal, and should be determined on a case-by-case basis on the principle of proportionality. Judge Aharon Barak, then HCJ president, emphasised the difficulty of establishing the principle: “Take the usual case of a combatant, or of a terrorist sniper shooting at soldiers or civilians from his porch. Shooting at him is proportionate even if as a result, an innocent civilian neighbour or passer-by is harmed. That is not the case if the building is bombed from the air and scores of its residents and passers-by are harmed.”

By using facts similar to the elimination of Shehadeh, Barak was implicitly acknowledging that a war crime had been committed. After this decision, the HCJ recommended that the Shehadeh affair be examined by an independent body (rather than by the court). On 23 January 2008 the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert appointed a commission of inquiry with three members: two former generals and an ex-security services officer. The structure, nature and mandate of the commission were determined by the state – the very body whose actions were to be investigated. The commission was to function as a military inquiry: all the procedure, testimonies and final report remain confidential and inadmissible before a court of law, and the commission can only provide non-binding recommendations to the army. It has yet to complete its mandate.

The Spanish public prosecutor submitted a request, on 2 April, for the Spanish court to decline competence over the case since parallel proceedings had been taking place in Israel: but Israel would only have the priority if it were willing and able to prosecute. On 4 May the Spanish court rejected the prosecutor’s request to decline competence. The Spanish court found that the Israeli prosecution authorities’ endorsements of an internal military probe, and the fact that the commission of inquiry had been appointed by the prime minister, meant that the case was neither independent nor impartial.

Politicised reactions in Israel show how states perceive the separation of powers doctrine in reaction to accountability for international crimes. The procedure in Spain was described in the media as a “cynical attempt by the Palestinian plaintiffs to exploit the Spanish judicial system to advance a political agenda against Israel”, using diplomatic channels. Ehud Barak, leader of the Labour Party, said: “I intend to appeal to the Spanish foreign minister, the Spanish minister of defence and, if need be, the Spanish prime minister, who is a colleague of mine in the Socialist International, to override the decision” (4).

Under political pressure from Israel, China and the US, the Spanish Congress agreed to amend the law on universal jurisdiction, limiting it to cases with Spanish victims, or suspects present on Spanish soil. On 30 June the Court of Appeal ordered the closure of the investigation.

This is not the first such case. In 2003 Belgium was bullied into changing its law and procedure, following Israeli and US pressure about complaints brought against the former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and ex-US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld. (The US threatened Belgium with moving Nato headquarters out of Brussels.) Since then, victims have been unable to initiate any judicial investigation; that is now the prerogative solely of the prosecution, which normally reflects government policy. This is a major obstacle to accountability under international law.
Unwilling or unable

Israeli state practice demonstrates the existence of a culture of impunity. According to the Israeli non-governmental organisation Yesh Din, criminal prosecutions are conducted only in exceptional cases – soldiers who act wrongly on their own account – and military inquiries are used to avoid criminal investigation (5). In 2003 the human rights organisation B’tselem filed a petition that challenged the policy not to open criminal investigations in cases in which bystanding Palestinians were killed by the Israeli army. The petition is still pending.

Israel is well aware of the possibility of accountability abroad: it did not allow the publication of photos or names of soldiers in Operation Cast Lead (the Gaza war). Officers who travel abroad have first to get approval for their trip. Israel has even declared it will pay all legal expenses for trials abroad.

Yet awareness in Israel of the possibility of being held accountable abroad does not seem to influence the treatment of war crimes allegations, as was demonstrated by the Shehadeh case, or recent war crimes committed in Gaza. If Israel does not change its practice of impunity, this indicates its unwillingness, or inability, to prosecute war crimes allegations. If Israel is not able to prosecute its own war criminals and if the International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction, the only way to get justice is through the exercise of universal jurisdiction, an obligation for all states set in the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

Ref: Le Monde

Will Israel be brought to book? (justice for the western supported colonialists?)

The evidence of war crimes in Gaza is a challenge to universal justice: will western-backed perpetrators ever stand trial?

Evidence of the scale of Israel’s war crimes in its January onslaught on Gaza is becoming unanswerable. Clancy Chassay’s three films investigating allegations against Israeli forces in the Gaza strip, released by the Guardian today, include important new accounts of the flagrant breaches of the laws of war that marked the three-week campaign – now estimated to have left at least 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 13 Israelis dead.

The films provide compelling testimony of Israel’s use of Palestinian teenagers as human shields; the targeting of hospitals, clinics and medical workers, including with phosphorus bombs; and attacks on civilians, including women and children – sometimes waving white flags – from hunter-killer drones whose targeting systems are so powerful they can identify the colour of a person’s clothes.

Naturally, the Israeli occupation forces’ spokesperson insists to Chassay that they make every effort to avoid killing civilians and denies using human shields or targeting medical workers – while at the same time explaining that medics in war zones “take the risk upon themselves”. By banning journalists from entering Gaza during its punitive devastation of the strip, the Israeli government avoided independent investigations of the stream of war crimes accusations while the attack was going on.

But now journalists and human rights organisations are back inside, doing the painstaking work, the question is whether Israel’s government and military commanders will be held to account for what they unleashed on the Palestinians of Gaza – or whether, like their US and British sponsors in Iraq and Afghanistan, they can carry out war crimes with impunity.

It’s not as if Clancy’s reports are unique or uncorroborated by other evidence. Last week, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that a group of Israelis soldiers had admitted intentionally shooting dead an unarmed Palestinian mother and her two children, as well as an elderly Palestinian woman, in Gaza in January. As one explained: “The lives of Palestinians, let’s say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way“.

They also tally with testimony of other Israeli soldiers from the Givati Shaked battalion, which operated in the Gaza city suburb of Zeitoun, that they were told to “fire on anything that moves”. The result was that one family, the Samunis, reported losing 29 members after soldiers forced them into a building that subsequently came under fire – seven bleeding to death while denied medical care for nearly three days. The Helw and Abu Zohar families said they saw members shot while emerging from their homes carrying white flags. “There was definitely a message being sent“, one soldier who took part in the destruction of Zeitoun told the Times.

Or take the case of Majdi Abed Rabbo – a Palestinian linked to Fatah and no friend of Hamas – who described to the Independent how he was repeatedly used as a human shield by Israeli soldiers confronting armed Hamas fighters in a burned-out building in Jabalya in the Gaza strip. The fact of Israeli forces’ use of human shields is hard to gainsay, not least since there are unambiguous photographs of several cases from the West Bank in 2007, as shown in Chassay’s film.

Last week Human Rights Watch wrote to European Union foreign ministers calling for an international inquiry into war crimes in Gaza. In the case of Israel, the organisation cited the siege of Gaza as a form of collective punishment; the use of artillery and white phosphorus in densely populated civilian areas, including schools; the shooting of civilians holding white flags; attacks on civilian targets; and “wanton destruction of civilian property”.


Israel and others also accuse Hamas of war crimes. But while both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have echoed that charge, particularly in relation to the indiscriminate rocketing of towns such as Sderot, an exhaustive investigation by Human Rights Watch has found no evidence, for example, of Hamas using human shields in the clearly defined legal sense of coercion to protect fighters in combat. And as Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights, argued recently, any attempt to view the two sides as “equally responsible” is an absurdity: one is a lightly-armed militia, effectively operating underground in occupied territory – the other the most powerful army in the region, able to pinpoint and pulverise targets with some of the most sophisticated weaponry in the world.

There is of course no chance that the UN security council will authorise the kind of International Criminal Court war crimes indictment now faced by Sudan’s leaders over Darfur. Any such move would certainly be vetoed by the US and its allies. And Israel’s own courts have had no trouble in the past batting away serious legal challenges to its army’s atrocities in the occupied territories. But the use of universal jurisdiction in countries such as Spain or even Britain is making Israeli commanders increasingly jumpy about travelling abroad.

With such powerful evidence of violations of the rules of war now emerging from the rubble of Gaza, the test must be this: is the developing system of international accountability for war crimes only going to apply to the west’s enemies – or can the western powers and their closest allies also be brought to book?

Ref: Guaridan