The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Posts Tagged ‘Gaza

Turkey & NATO are not to be trifled with

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NATO

Turkey has called an emergency meeting of NATO to discuss the attack on the aid flotilla, JPost reports (does anyone else find it funny that this was posted under Arts & Entertainment on JPost?):

NATO called Tuesday for a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation” into Monday’s Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that ended with the deaths of nine activists.

Representatives of the alliance’s 28 nations met on Tuesday to discuss the incident. Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen demanded the immediate release of the detained civilians and ships held by Israel.

Turkey called the emergency meeting, but its representative did not demand that the alliance take collective action against Israel, said a diplomat who attended the talks.

This is important because Turkey could have tried to invoke Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, this is because as mentioned in this interpretation of maritime law, “to attack a foreign flagged vessel in international waters is illegal. It is not piracy, as the Israeli vessels carried a military commission. It is rather an act of illegal warfare.”

NATO’s calls for an impartial investigation follow the UN Security Council’s calls for one earlier in the day.

It should be noted that Turkey also threatened yesterday to send more boats but under the escort of the Turkish Navy. If Turkey were to actually make good on this particular threat then we the stakes would be raised dramatically. Israel would either have to face an embarrassing backdown on their blockade or attack Turkish ships, which would precipitate a full-scale war and an invocation of NATO Article 5. If such a thing were to actually eventuate, NATO, of course, would not participate in an Israeli-Turkish war but its refusal to do so would also deal the organisation a death blow.

There’s a great little analysis of a potential war between Israel and Turkey over on Newshoggers, but, as the writer Dave Anderson himself concludes, such a war makes no sense for anyone right now. Moreover, I’m sure that Obama will talk Turkey out of doing anything even remotely provocative, given how desperately his administration is still trying to grasp at the straws of indirect peace talks.

There are some very interesting thoughts on Turkish-Israeli relations here:

But this attack really puts the Turkish generals in a box. They had been the faction largely driving the Entente. And now the AKP can continue to implement its soft-shoe version of Islamism in Turkey–as the secularists don’t have an ultimate trump card in the military. This has long been a project of the AKP, to chip away at the strength of the generals.

Turkey will probably draw closer to Syria–after all it doesn’t need Israel to pressure Syria to kick out the Kurds as it did back in the late 90s. This benefits Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah. I’d also say much of this is largely a consequence of our invasion of Iraq, too.

So, in this action Israel has done the following: put America and NATO in a very difficult place. It’s emboldened the Islamists in Turkey and weakened the generals in Ankara. It has also forced Turkey closer to Syria.

Quite the strategic win for the Israeli strategic genius, ain’t it?

The author makes a very good point. Turkish-Israeli relations have been pretty messed up since Cast Lead and this is pretty much going to destroy them altogether for a long time. Apart from personal ideology, Erdogan will be under far too much domestic pressure to even consider any positive moves towards Israel. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Israel should beware. Turkey is not to be trifled with.

Bonus: MV Rachel Corrie, an Irish ship, is heading towards Gaza. The Irish Foreign Minister has requested that Israel allow it through the blockade. Israel has said that it will also intercept it. Will it also be raided? Presumably the occupants of the ship, five Irish and five Malaysian nationals are prepared for such an eventuality. Let’s hope there is no violence but watch closely what Israel does. Will it again pre-empt the ships arrival by raiding it in international waters? Will it send commandos again? And will an attack on an Irish vessel precipitate a broadening of the already extensive diplomatic crisis?

Written by alexlobov

June 2, 2010 at 4:04 am

Updates: Aftermath of flotilla attack during the second day

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Israeli forces approach one of six ships bound for Gaza yesterday. Photograph: Pool/Reuters Hat-tip: Guardian

For anyone not yet up to speed, a flotilla of vessels carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza with the aim of lifting the blockade imposed by Israel was intercepted and attacked by Israeli commandos yesterday which resulted in 9-19 deaths (depending on which reports you believe, Israel still has not released an official list of names of those killed). To get up to speed on developments yesterday check out my first and second posts.

More news has come today, kicking off with a marathon UN Security Council meeting called by Turkey with the aim of eliciting an official response from the Council. The bulk of the meeting went on behind closed doors but reportedly it constituted mostly a back-and-forth between the Turkish and American representatives, the latter refusing to allow the Security Council to officially single out Israel for condemnation.

Turkey proposed a statement that would condemn Israel for violating international law, demand a United Nations investigation and demand that Israel prosecute those responsible for the raid and pay compensation to the victims. It also called for the end of the blockade.

The Obama administration refused to endorse a statement that singled out Israel, and proposed a broader condemnation of the violence that would include the assault of the Israeli commandos as they landed on the deck of the ship. [NYT]

Reportedly the Israeli army will be transferring the humanitarian aid found on the boat to Gaza.

Here’s a very interesting piece of news from the excellently-run Al Jazeera English liveblog:

11:37am: His wording is far from conclusive, but the Jerusalem Post seems to think Israel’s deputy defence minister, Manan Vilna’i, hinted that Israel sabotaged some of the ships in the Gaza flotilla.

When asked during an Israel Radio interview whether it might not have been possible to stop the ships in a more sophisticated manner, Vilna’i responded, “Every possibility was considered. The fact is that there were ten less ships in the flotilla than were originally planned.”

Hosni Mubarak has opened the Rafah border and, according to this Arabic source, there are no restrictions on who is allowed to enter and exit. Would be interesting to see some reports on traffic there. Also, the EU and Russia have released a joint statement condemning Israel’s use of force and calling for the Gaza blockade to be lifted. (Hat-tip: AJE liveblog again on both).

The MV Rachel Corrie, another ship that was supposed to be part of the original flotilla but the  departure of which was delayed due to mechanical malfunction has reportedly set off for Gaza and is due to arrive within 48 hours. In a response that can now only be viewed as ominous, the Israeli Navy has stated that it is ‘ready’ to receive her. The ship is a joint Irish/Malaysian vessel.

As far as the mainstream media’s reporting has been, I would like to direct you to WashPo’s fairly extreme piece by Scott Wilson on the Free Gaza Movement. What the hell kind of lead paragraph is this:

Once viewed only as a political nuisance by Israel’s government, the group behind the Gaza aid flotilla has grown since its inception four years ago into a broad international movement that now includes Islamist organizations that Israeli intelligence agencies say pose a security threat to the Jewish state.

Clearly WashPo has missed the memo. Most of the mainstream media is treating this event with a lot more caution. I normally consider the FP a fairly reliable weathervane. I certainly wouldn’t consider it a liberal newspaper and yet it has included condemnation of the attack from Stephen Walt, Mark Lynch and its own editor-in-chief Blake Hounsell, all essentially calling for the blockade to be lifted.

So if the mainstream is not exactly lining up behind Israel, what does that mean for the defenders of this monstrosity. I direct you to the following tweet by Middle East expert (though she can’t see it from her house) Sarah Palin:

Assume u WON’T get straight scoop on Israeli flotilla incident via mainstream media;PLEASE read Krauthammer,Horowitz,et al 2learn other side

Palin has long been a shrill critic of her perceived unfair treatment at the hands of the supposedly pro-liberal mainstream, but what this shows is the increasing radicalisation of the pro-Israel-at-all-costs lobby and the increasingly ridiculous sounding hasbara that is being thrown up to defend the atrocities committed by the State. Witness this tweet from Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon:

Participants on the armada of hate had ties with global Jihad and Al Qaeda and used live weapons against our troops

Apparently tying any Muslim you don’t like to al Qaeda and ‘global Jihad’ hasn’t really worked since the whole thing about how Saddam Hussein didn’t quite have anything to do with 9/11, but clearly Mr. Ayalon and his Islamophobic friends missed that memo. I also like how the activists on the Turkish-flagged vessel used “live weapons” (as opposed to, presumably, dead weapons) against “our troops” (ie. elite commandos who stormed their boat in international waters). Wow? It doesn’t take an undergraduate degree to sort the BS out of that one.

Speaking of the legality of the raid, I’m going to paste this in its entirety, thanks to Mondoweiss and Craig Murray, ex UK Ambassador and one time Foreign Office specialist on maritime law:

“A word on the legal position, which is very plain. To attack a foreign flagged vessel in international waters is illegal. It is not piracy, as the Israeli vessels carried a military commission. It is rather an act of illegal warfare.

Because the incident took place on the high seas does not mean however that international law is the only applicable law. The Law of the Sea is quite plain that, when an incident takes place on a ship on the high seas (outside anybody’s territorial waters) the applicable law is that of the flag state of the ship on which the incident occurred. In legal terms, the Turkish ship was Turkish territory.

There are therefore two clear legal possibilities.

Possibility one is that the Israeli commandos were acting on behalf of the government of Israel in killing the activists on the ships. In that case Israel is in a position of war with Turkey, and the act falls under international jurisdiction as a war crime.

Possibility two is that, if the killings were not authorised Israeli military action, they were acts of murder under Turkish jurisdiction. If Israel does not consider itself in a position of war with Turkey, then it must hand over the commandos involved for trial in Turkey under Turkish law.

In brief, if Israel and Turkey are not at war, then it is Turkish law which is applicable to what happened on the ship. It is for Turkey, not Israel, to carry out any inquiry or investigation into events and to initiate any prosecutions. Israel is obliged to hand over indicted personnel for prosecution.

Meanwhile, Blake Hounsell for FP:

It already has the makings of a huge international fracas that will make the Goldstone Report look like small potatoes by comparison.

and

There’s a huge unwillingness on the Israeli right to face reality — that Israel is fast losing friends and allies in the world, and that this government in Jerusalem has only accelerated the shift. It’s not hard to imagine boycott campaigns gaining momentum, damaging the Israeli economy and isolating the country diplomatically, especially in Europe.

While I’m still skeptical of how much damage exactly boycott campaigns will actually have and whether the ‘friends and allies’ are actually going to be lost (all I’m seeing so far are spirited statements, as usual), I think that Hounsell makes a good general point: the tide does appear to be turning, as evidenced by how increasingly shrill and crazy Israel’s defenders currently sound.

I’m going link some great pieces by Stephen Walt and Arabist at the bottom of this post to save me having to essentially paste them in its entirety (especially Arabist, his post was that good) but here are my thoughts.

If we are to accept the Israeli narrative of events – that the activists on the Flotilla attacked Israeli troops with sticks, knives and deckchairs, thus provoking them to respond and unfortunately kill some of them – as the truth, the argument still has massive, gaping holes.

First of all, the boat was in international waters and Israel had no legal right to storm the boat with commandos, some of the best soldiers in an army considered already to be one of the best in the world. Since the boat was raided by soldiers, the occupants of the boat surely had the right to defend their vessel. The fact that they supposedly did so with a ragtag assortment of improvised weapons and were shot at with automatic weapons as a means of self-defense makes about as much sense as napalming a mosquito. This is pretty much the antithesis of proportionality and anyone who buys this is clearly deluded. Moreover, “the most moral army in the world” and certainly one of its best would surely have been able to manage a situation involving sticks and knives a little better than in such a way that resulted in at least 9 fatalities. Oh yeah, shal I remid you again? Commandos vs. Civilians. Proportional? No. This. Does. Not. Hold. Water.

Also, to those pundits that suggest that Israel’s main mistake was to board the boat in international waters and not in “Israeli territorial waters” appear to be missing the point. The boat was headed for Gaza, not Israel. Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 (and still claims political kudos for doing so). Yes, Gaza is not recognised a state but that doesn’t make Israel’s siege of Gaza legal, nor does it just hand jurisdiction over Gaza’s territorial waters to Israel as a sort of parting gift. It is obviously not that clear cut.

Oh yeah, and the blockade. Need I remind you people how cruel and barbaric it is? No I don’t, because Stephen Walt will (if Glenn Greenwald didn’t in the post I linked last time). One final note to those supposedly hyper-realist defenders of Israel’s rights as a state: stop glorifying the State. There is no good reason why I, as an Australian (or any self-respecting national of any other country), should take Israel’s security any more seriously than the security of the people of Gaza. Right now, the biggest threat to their ‘security’ is not Hamas (as is often claimed by the Zionist lobby) but an Israeli blockade that is causing death by starvation and lack of medical attention, that is robbing the Gazans of the right to rebuild their shattered economy destroyed by air raids and Operation Cast Lead, and that is conducting a crude campaign of national humiliation and collective punishment. Oh, but the activists on the boat constituted a ‘threat to Israeli security’.  Time to wake up.

And here’s that piece of gold by Arabist, read it.

Updates: Aftermath of Flotilla attack

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Palestinians carry a mock coffin draped with a Turkish flag during a protest at Gaza's seaport May 31, 2010, against Israel's interception of Gaza-bound ships. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

UPDATE: Third post with fresh news, analysis and choice links.

First of all, if you haven’t already, check out my previous post on this with the preliminary round-up of events.

I’m not going to continue posting the repeated commentary from the leaders of the international community because they all mostly repeat the same thing ad naseum. For those interested, there is a good roundup in this AFP story and the Al Jazeera & Guardian liveblogs will keep you abreast. Maan has a handy list of the nine (and counting) countries that have summoned Israeli ambassadors for an explanation.

Relevant news is coming thick & fast and it’s difficult to keep up with all of it so I will attempt to post what I think is most important.

Steve Hynd pointed his Twitter followers to UNSC Resolution 1860 that called for a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and also called for humanitarian aid, something that Israel has not been able to adequately provide. All reports from Israeli spokesmen that aid is being delivered on a daily basis are basically nothing but propaganda, aid is being delivered but it’s estimated to be 1/4 of what Gazans actually need to survive.

Speaking of the UN Security Council, Reuters is reporting that a meeting is being convened to discuss the issue.

It is being reported that the French equivalent of AIPAC, Le Crif, has condemned the Israeli attack (French) on the flotilla. I’m not sure how stridently pro-Israel-at-all-costs these people are but that strikes me as interesting. Also, Netanyahu has reportedly cancelled his scheduled visit to the US to begin indirect proximity talks and is flying back to Israel immediately to deal with the fall out.

For those interested in what the US has to say about this, first comments are non-commital as expected:

“The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy,” a White House spokesman said. [AFP]

Over in Britain, much is being made of Nick Clegg’s previously fairly public opposition to Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The question is, will Clegg be gagged by his coalition partners? Reports of protests at 10 Downing Street are already coming. David Milliband, without directly condemning Israel over the Gaza blockade, has voiced his opposition in not so many words.

India’s The Hindu, one of the few newspapers covering this in any detail in India, reports that Syria and Lebanon released a joint statement warning that Israel’s attack on the flotilla could be considered an act of war.

One thing that has been interesting to me throughout this debacle is the reaction of the much-maligned mainstream media. Criticisms over timeliness of reports and their wording notwithstanding, I’ll be looking at some of the personal tweets of celebrity journalists to gauge what’s considered legitimate feeling in the MSM camp. One example, Nick Kristof who has almost 1,000,000 followers on Twitter had this to say:

I didn’t RT early reports of Israeli military assault on #Gaza flotilla, ’cause I thought “Israel wldn’t be that stupid.”

From the Israeli side, most of the claims have been that the activists on board tried to ‘lynch’ and ‘stab’ the commandos who boarded the ship. Haaretz has a piece here. Here’s a quote from the IDF’s website:

During the boarding of the Marmara ship, demonstrators onboard attacked the IDF Naval personnel with live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs. According to reports, two weapons used was grabbed from an IDF soldier. The demonstrators had clearly prepared their weapons in advance for this specific purpose.
As a result of this life-threatening and violent activity, naval forces first employed riot dispersal means, followed by live fire.

According to initial reports, these events resulted in over ten deaths among the demonstrators and numerous injuries. In addition, five naval personnel were injured, some from gunfire and some from various other weapons. Two of the soldiers were seriously wounded and the remainder sustained moderate injuries. All of the injured parties, Israelis and foreigners, are currently being evacuated by helicopter to hospitals in Israel.

It is not clear yet how much of this is hasbara, propaganda and the like and how threatening the people on board were but Glenn Greenwald has an excellent sum-up of the situation at Salon.com. Here are some choice quotes which I will leave you with:

The flotilla attacked by Israel last night was carrying materials such as cement, water purifiers, and other building materials, much of which Israel refuses to let pass into Gaza.  At the end of 2009, a U.N. report found that “insufficient food and medicine is reaching Gazans, producing a further deterioration of the mental and physical health of the entire civilian population since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead against the territory,” and also “blamed the blockade for continued breakdowns of the electricity and sanitation systems due to the Israeli refusal to let spare parts needed for repair get through the crossings.”

It hardly seemed possible for Israel — after its brutal devastation of Gaza and its ongoing blockade — to engage in more heinous and repugnant crimes.  But by attacking a flotilla in international waters carrying humanitarian aid, and slaughtering at least 10 people, Israel has managed to do exactly that.  If Israel’s goal were to provoke as much disgust and contempt for it as possible, it’s hard to imagine how it could be doing a better job.

Marc Lynch has some sobering words about the attitude towards Gaza by successive US administrations:

This crisis — and it is a crisis — is the fairly predictable outcome of the years of neglect of the Gaza situation by the Bush and Obama administrations.  Bush turned a blind eye during the Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008, and then the Obama team chose to focus on renewing peace talks between the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority while continuing to boycott Hamas.  The U.S. only sporadically and weakly paid attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the strategic absurdity and moral obtuseness of the Israeli blockade, or the political implications of the ongoing Hamas-Fatah divide.   Now, on the eve of Obama’s scheduled meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas — the fruits of the “honey offensive” towards Israel — can they be surprised that Gaza is blowing up in their face?

One thing I like about both these pieces is that they maintain the focus on Gaza, Cast Lead and the crippling blockade. If it’s one thing I want you to take away from all this: do not forget to place these events in context. Israel has successively tightened the noose around an impoverished, humiliated and starving population begging for humanitarian aid. This alone constitutes a crime against humanity if there ever was one. The events on the Freedom Flotilla may be another nail in Israel’s coffin when it comes to Global PR but they should rightly point to what caused the boats to set sail in the first place: Israel’s barbaric blockade and the international community’s constant blind eye. Remember these things so that those that died on that boat didn’t die in vain.

Written by alexlobov

June 1, 2010 at 12:46 am

Blood in the water – Israel attacks the Freedom Flotilla

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“]

A random choice from some of the generic reports in the mainstream media right now for background:

Israeli naval forces stormed a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in international waters before dawn on Monday, killing up to 19 pro-Palestinian activists, most of them reportedly Turkish nationals.

The bloody ending to the high-profile mission to deliver supplies to the besieged Gaza Strip plunged Israel into a diplomatic crisis on the eve of talks between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. [The Age]

While most of those dead may well have been Turkish nationals, the flotilla was actually full of people from all over the world, including MPs, NGO representatives and even a Member of Israel’s Knesset. According to AJE the passengers also include people from Algeria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Norway, Palestine, Serbia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

There was a good dealing of complaining on twitter that the mainstream media was ignoring the flotilla while it was still on its way but once the blood started to flow they jumped right on it. It is now making front-page news almost everywhere. Al Jazeera English, once again leading the charge when it comes to reporting about Palestine, has a great live-blog here.

Allegations have been flowing thick and fast about what exactly happened on those boats. According to FreeGaza.org’s blog:

Under darkness of night, Israeli commandoes dropped from a helicopter onto the Turkish passenger ship, Mavi Marmara, and began to shoot the moment their feet hit the deck.

Here is the Israeli version from JPost:

International activists aboard the ships opened fire on IDF soldiers who boarded the ships to prevent them from breaking the Israeli-imposed sea blockade, the IDF said Monday.

According to the IDF, the international activists “prepared a lynch” for the soldiers who boarded the ships at about 2 a.m. Monday morning after calling on them to stop, or follow them to the Ashdod Port several hours earlier.According to the IDF, the international activists “prepared a lynch” for the soldiers who boarded the ships at about 2 a.m. Monday morning after calling on them to stop, or follow them to the Ashdod Port several hours earlier.

The Israeli army also issued a statement on the attack, claiming that the activists on board the ship were armed.

During the intercept of the ships, the demonstrators onboard attacked the IDF Naval personnel with live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs. Additionally one of the weapons used was grabbed from an IDF soldier. The demonstrators had clearly prepared their weapons in advance for this specific purpose.

As a result of this life-threatening and violent activity, naval forces employed riot dispersal means, including live fire. [Hat-tip AJE]

Before I talk about the diplomatic aftermath I would like to first of all throw in my opinion on this, though it’s probably self-evident and those of you that follow this blog will already know it. Israel deserves nothing but condemnation in the strongest possible terms for what it has done here. There was absolutely no good reason for it. At this stage, I do not believe that the activists on the boats were really armed. I believe that they may have tried to defend the ship from being boarded, but consider that it was in international waters at the time, I don’t see what’s illegitimate about that. Boarding a ship in international waters may well constitute an act of piracy thus making self-defense perfectly reasonable.

In any case, pitting a bunch of activists armed only with “knives and sticks” (as reported by someone on Twitter) against Israel’s highly trained commandoes with automatic weapons and missile-laden gunboats seems pretty disproportionate to me. One thing I don’t understand is how there could have been such a comprehensive failure on the part of the IDF to subdue the activists peacefully. Surely one of the most well-trained armies in the world is capable of non-lethal means of arrest?

Some people are claiming that Israel had the right to respond to ‘non-state actors’ breaching its ‘legal blockade’ and violating its ‘authority’. I’ve even heard talk of ‘territorial waters’ (lost that link but whatever). My response to this is that it sounds incredibly weak. My knowledge of international law is hazy but I don’t understand how this blockade is legal in the first place, people in Gaza are clearly starving and it has been condemned left right and center. If state actors are too crippled by realpolitik to do anything about it then kudos to ‘non-state actors’ for taking up the mantle. Moreover, Israel formally disengaged from Gaza as an (illegal) occupying force in 2005. Are they not then Gazan territorial waters that the Israelis are illegally occupying with their blockade? Clearly my knowledge here is hazy so if anyone wants to correct me with links to international statute, please do so.

So to the fallout. I’m not going to provide links on all these because I want to get this post up quickly and a lot has happened in the past few hours. Take my word for it or google it and if you can’t find a source for anything I’ve posted then let me know.

The Turks are pretty angry, there have been reports of 10,000 marching in Istanbul, the Turkish word for Israel was trending way before the #flotilla hashtag hit the top 10 (though there have been allegations that Twitter was blocking the hashtag, this sounds flimsy to me but if it were true it would be a pretty big deal), and this is going to be a major diplomatic incident between the Governments. The Turkish ambassador has reportedly been recalled.

Arab-wise, the Arab League issued condemnation of Israel. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Emir of Qatar was the first to condemn the attack. Lebanon’s PM Saad Hariri called the attack “dangerous and crazy”. The PA’s Saeb Erekat called the attack “a war crime”. Jordan’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Israel’s charge d’affairs and the Egyptians have summoned the ambassador. Moqtada al-Sadr has called for a large anti-Israel demonstration in Baghdad.

Greece has cancelled joint-military exercises with Israel over the attack. Ban Ki Moon has ordered a full investigation and explanation from Israel. There have been plenty of strong words reportedly issuing forth from the EU. Spain, Sweden, Denmark and Norway have recalled ambassadors from Israel.

But this is all just the beginning. Forgive me if I’ve missed any key countries up there and I am still waiting to hear on the official positions of many others such as the US, UK, Russia and Australia. I don’t know where all this talk is going to end up, so far we have seen the usual from the international community: condemnations, some strongly worded and some mild, recalls of ambassadors and the like. This is nothing new. We saw this after the al-Mabhouh assassination.

Whether this will be a watershed moment in the way the world views Israel, only time will tell. If the reaction on Twitter is anything to go by (the first time I’ve seen anything Palestine-related trend first) then hopefully the world may be waking up to the realities of what’s happening in Palestine.

PS. Apart from the AJE liveblog mentioned above, the Guardian also has a pretty comprehensive one here.

UPDATE: Check out Updates in a fresh post here.

UPDATE 2: Third post with news, commentary, analysis and choice links.

Written by alexlobov

May 31, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Posted in Israel, Turkey

Tagged with , , , ,

Suppression of key report on Cast Lead in Israel a democratic failure

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Arab-Israeli MP Haneen Zoubi | Photo credit: The National

Just a quick one today folks. I would like to draw your attention to  something that popped up in The National a few days ago. Arab-Israeli MP Haneen Zoubi is demanding that Haaretz be allowed to publish an investigative report that was suppressed days before Operation Cast Lead was launched on Gaza. Here are the choice bits:

The investigation by Uri Blau, who has been in hiding since December to avoid arrest, concerned Israeli preparations for the impending assault on Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead.

In a highly unusual move, according to reports in the Israeli media, the army ordered the Haaretz newspaper to destroy all copies of an edition that included Mr Blau’s investigation after it had already gone to press and been passed by the military censor. The article was never republished.

She [Zoubi] said publication of the article was important both because Israel had been widely criticised for killing many hundreds of civilians in its three-week assault on Gaza, and because subsequent reports suggested that Israeli commanders sought legal advice months before the operation to manipulate the accepted definitions of international law to make it easier to target civilians.

Shraga Elam, an award-winning Israeli reporter, said Mr Blau’s suppressed article might also have revealed the aims of a widely mentioned but unspecified “third phase” of the Gaza attack, following the initial air strikes and a limited ground invasion, that was not implemented.

Not only has this report been suppressed in Israel, a so-called bastion of free speech and democracy in the Middle East, but it has contributed to greater hostilities between the Haaretz newspaper, a widely respected alternative to more right-leaning newspapers such as the Jerusalem Post and the Yedioth Ahoronoth, and members of the Government and media.

On Monday, an MP with the centrist Kadima Party, Yulia Shamal-Berkovich, called for Haaretz to be closed down, backing a similar demand from fellow MP Michael Ben-Ari, of the right-wing National Union.

She accused Haaretz management of having “chosen to hide” over the case and blamed it for advising Mr Blau to remain abroad. She said the newspaper “must make sure the materials that are in his possession are returned. If Haaretz fails to do so, its newspaper licence should be revoked without delay.”

Another Kadima MP, Yisrael Hasson, a former deputy head of the Shin Bet, this week urged Haaretz readers to boycott the newspaper until Mr Blau was fired. [The National]

So not only has the report been suppressed and its author driven into exile, his career as a journalist in Israel possibly ruined, but MPs are actually calling for the newspaper to be closed down. And these aren’t just crazy right-wing MPs either, but an MP from Kadima, the supposedly centrist party. The overwhelming lack of support for Haaretz, apart from a few journalists, is an indicator of how far away from democracy and free speech Israel as a country has gone. A free press is a cornerstone of a free and democratic nation and Israel is failing the test.

Biggest Israeli strike on Gaza since Cast Lead with more to come?

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Image credit: Reuters

Israel hit Gaza with renewed strikes, the biggest incursion since Operation Cast Lead, and threatened worse yesterday, The Independent reports:

The Israeli military said it had successfully hit four targets across Gaza in the early hours of yesterday morning – two weapons-manufacturing plants and two arms caches.

Eyewitnesses in Gaza said there were at least seven strikes, and a cheese factory, a film studio and metal workshop in the central refugee camp of Nuseirat had been hit. Hospital officials said three Palestinian children had been injured after being hit by flying debris.

While Hamas has disclaimed responsibility for the attack and stated that attacks on Israel are not in its best interests, Israel has maintained that Hamas is responsible as the body governing the Strip (I like how Israel recognises Hamas as a legitimate government but only when it’s convenient to do so). Also, a cheese factory? I wonder if Israel is planning to launch a campaign on cheese akin to their hummus campaign.

Hamas has called for calm, but stopped short of openly condemning the rocket attack that prompted this Israeli action, something they are usually careful about doing. Meanwhile, Israel’s deputy prime minister Silvan Shalom had the following to say:

“We won’t allow frightened children to again be raised in bomb shelters and so, in the end, it will force us to launch another military operation,” he said. [Al Jazeera]

Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha reiterated that Hamas is working to curb rocket attacks against Israel and Ismail Haniyeh has once again asked for international intervention. The US has urged restraint, as has the UK.

While Israel contemplates another massive bombing raid, undoubtedly killing a bunch of women and children in the process, the results of the Dahiya doctrine in Southern Lebanon are still being felt. Nearly four years after the 2006 war that involved Israel dropping more than 4 million cluster bombs (according to the UN) and littering Southern Lebanon with mines, victims are still awaiting prosthetics. Great time to launch another humanitarian crisis.

One optimist is Salam Fayyad who is still talking about declaring a Palestinian state, this time in 2011, and with delicious, almost Obama-esque rhetoric full of hope and such.

“The birth of a Palestinian state will be celebrated as a day of joy by the entire community of nations,” Fayyad told the Haaretz daily.

“The time for this baby to be born will come,” he said, “and we estimate it will come around 2011,” the prime minister said. [Daily Star]

The delicious irony of this ‘day of joy’ celebrated by ‘the entire community of nations’ is probably not lost on the Gazans who are probably soon going to be burying more of their real babies.

Because I like to round off depressing news with proof that the Middle East still pitches up some corkers, here are few bits & pieces:

- Robert Fisk rails against the internet and Ann Coulter, expresses himself with “Aaaaagh!”. Choice quote: “Friends who are currently abandoning the hate-hell of the internet tell me that the only good button is the one called “delete”.” Nice, I’m sure Fisk’s ‘friends’ leaving the interweb in droves will spell its ultimate demise and it will be left for Justin Bieber fans to pick over.

- Speaking of railing, KABOBfest & Abu Muqawama both have a fun go at the perpetual neocon straw men that are still pounding out essays on how “they hate our freedom”. The fact that this crap is still being printed in 2010 is a joke. Sayyid Qutb? Gitouttahere! This time the symbol of the West, flying the flag for our freedoms, is Lady Gaga. Now she’s really made it.

- Speaking of scantily clad objects of desire pop stars who the “Arabs” don’t seem to hate, Nancy Ajram is visiting Abu Dhabi for some humanitarian thingy, as are Sami Yusuf, Hussain al Jassimi, Ehab Tawfik, and the actress Elham Shaheen. Sounds like a party. The race is on to be the Arab world’s Bono.

Details of proposed Olmert/Abbas land swap made public

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Under my umbrella. Ella. Ella. Eh? Eh?

Under my umbrella. Ella. Ella. Eh? Eh?

Haaretz has made public details about the supposed map of a proposal that Ehud Olmert offered Abu Mazen to delineate a prospective Palestinian state. Details of the map and proposal have always previously remained clandestine:

Together, the areas would have involved the transfer of 327 square kilometers of territory from within the Green Line.

Olmert presented his map to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in September of last year. Abbas did not respond, and negotiations ended. In an interview with Haaretz on Tuesday, Abbas said Olmert had presented several drafts of his map.

Olmert wanted to annex 6.3 percent of the West Bank to Israel, areas that are home to 75 percent of the Jewish population of the territories. His proposal would have also involved evacuation of dozens of settlements in the Jordan Valley, in the eastern Samarian hills and in the Hebron region. In return for the annexation to Israel of Ma’aleh Adumim, the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements, Ariel, Beit Aryeh and settlements adjacent to Jerusalem, Olmert proposed the transfer of territory to the Palestinians equivalent to 5.8 percent of the area of the West Bank as well as a safe-passage route from Hebron to the Gaza Strip via a highway that would remain part of the sovereign territory of Israel but where there would be no Israeli presence.

Olmert is currently suggesting that his map provide the basis for the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians. In his talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and foreign statesmen, the former prime minister has said the international community must demand a formal response from Abbas to the Olmert proposal and proceed from there in the talks. Olmert has not presented the detailed map to Netanyahu.

While this can be seen as an admirable effort by Olmert, I’m not sure how feasible it is. I seriously question Olmert’s, Netanyahu’s or anyone else’s ability to get this through the Knesset unscathed and actually deliever this kind of land to the Palestinians. This is what makes Middle Eastern peace such a difficult proposition. The other notable thing is that there is no mention of East Jerusalem or of a Right of Return. While I personally believe the latter is unfeasible and not something the Palestinians can expect to receive, the former, in my opinion, or East Jerusalem being the capital of a Palestinian state, should be a minimum condition to peace or land deals. If the original proposal did not include East Jerusalem then it is perfectly understandable that Abu Mazen didn’t want to sign it, that sort of concession would need a great deal of thought and discussion, if it was to be made.

Goldstone speaks, goes on the defensive

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You would have been under a rock if you hadn’t noticed the veritable storm of controversy surrounding the Goldstone Report since its release. Justice Goldstone himself has not been under said rock, and he’s also noticed the fairly rhetorical manner in which his report is being attacked. His first and foremost challenge to critics: read the bloody thing! The man has a point, the Obama administration has denounced the report in strong words, and assisted Israel with its diplomatic offensive to have the report ignored. Most are assuming that the US will use its veto on the Security Council to make sure the report is not accepted (if Russia or China, both of which have come out in opposition to the report, don’t get there first, though admittedly Russia did back it in the UNHRC).

Lebanon’s Daily Star has a good round-up of the choice quotes from the al-Jazeera interview Justice Goldstone gave:

“I have yet to hear from the [Barack] Obama administration what the flaws in the report that they have identified are,” South African former international war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone told Al-Jazeera television.

“I would be happy to respond to them, if and when I know what they are,” added the jurist…

“I’ve no doubt, many of the critics – the overwhelming majority of critics – have not read the report,” he said, adding that the criticism had become personal. [Daily Star]

You can view the full interview here.

One other thing that struck me about the interview was Goldstone’s continued preambles of “As a Jew…”, it strikes me because it gives an idea of how deeply personal the attacks have been. I’m sure Justice Goldstone and his family have suffered a great deal in these past few weeks, what with their commitment to Israel and Jewishness questioned, as well as their very humanity and ethnic identity denied. I think the criticism from some members of the Zionist lobby has been a fairly nasty piece of work indeed.

Goldstone also wrote a piece that appeared in Jerusalem Post and Guardian’s comment-is-free, in it we have the same entreatments to read the report rather than go into personal attacks, also an interesting bit of rebuttal from him regarding the dismissal of the UNHRC’s recommendation to have the report looked at on the basis that its members have questionable human rights records themselves:

Israel and its courts have always recognised that they are bound by norms of international law that it has formally ratified or that have become binding as customary international law upon all nations. The fact that the United Nations and too many members of the international community have unfairly singled out Israel for condemnation and failed to investigate horrible human rights violations in other countries cannot make Israel immune from the very standards it has accepted as binding upon it.

Indeed, the Human Rights record of its members should not be used to mask the question at hand, if Israel committed war crimes in Gaza then it should be properly investigated and brought to justice for doing so. Questioning the human rights records of members such as Angola, Nigeria and Egypt as a reason to have the Council’s recommendation ignored does more to harm Israel’s reputation. Israel, claiming to be a bastion of democracy and law, should be striving to exceed such expectations, not compare itself to countries with Human Rights records severely blighted already.

All-in-all I find Goldstone’s defense to be adequate, well-reasoned and somewhat alarming. It is not too much to ask that if the report be criticised, then it should be properly read and the sections of the report with which issue is taken to be pointed out. Stonewalling it without even addressing it is not a constructive thing to do.

Written by alexlobov

October 23, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Goldstone Report continues to stir, Third Intifada? Fall of Abbas?

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You will have to forgive me for flogging this Goldstone horse, but to me it seems a horse worthy of flogging.  It seems the first attempts by our Libyan saviour to hold a meeting to discuss the report have failed, though it’s possible the report will be discussed at the next meeting of the UNSC dedicated to The Middle East, which has been bumped up to October 14th. Apparently the report is “not on the agenda” at the meeting but “we have to assume” that our saviour will bring it up. Ah geez. So welcoming, y’all are.

Israel continues to stonewall the report, as it considers recalling it’s ambassador to Sweden in response to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt’s remarks in support of it. Tensions have been inflamed further by Israel’s ambassador to the US Michael Oren’s recent piece for The New Republic, an empassioned appeal against Holocaust denying and the Goldstone report, linking the two in a bizarre and twisted emotionally charged cry that lacks much reason. Here’s a choice excerpt:

The Goldstone Report goes further than Ahmadinejad and the Holocaust deniers by stripping the Jews not only of the ability and the need but of the right to defend themselves. If a country can be pummeled by thousands of rockets and still not be justified in protecting its inhabitants, then at issue is not the methods by which that country survives but whether it can survive at all. But more insidiously, the report does not only hamstring Israel; it portrays the Jews as the deliberate murderers of innocents–as Nazis. And a Nazi state not only lacks the need and right to defend itself; it must rather be destroyed.

Opposition to this well-known craziness has come thick and fast of course. Sullivan’s response is a bit of a garbled rant but he does make the obvious point:

Seriously? No; the issue is whether Israel committed war crimes in its self-defense in Gaza and whether that self-defense was disproportionate to the threat it faced.

Yes, that is indeed the issue, Mr. Oren. Everyone serious, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad notwithstanding, has said many times, the Holocaust was a terrible thing and yes the Israeli state needs to defend itself, but if Mr. Oren thinks he can play the emotion card over the Holocaust to give Israel total impunity over its ‘defensive’ actions, then he isn’t very in tune with today’s political climate. Pretty much just as every Israeli response to this report in the past, it fails to actually address the issues raised by the report and descends into a beleaguered rant. Predictably, in Oren’s latest defense of his controversial piece, he has once again brought up the suggestion that the report could set a precedent and that the US could be put in the dock for civilian deaths in Afghanistan, seirously? Does no one have respect for international law and order around here? Is this a return to the Bush doctrine of unilateralism? Should any military power occupying and conducting a war on foreign soil be allowed to act with impunity of that war is “good” and “just”. Idiocy.

Photograph: Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP

Photograph: Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP

Meanwhile, commentators from all over the place have been declaring the report and the fallout from it a watershed moment in the Middle East and predicting various things from the fall of Abbas, electronic intifada rings his death knell via al Quds al Arabi…

This time, torrents of protest and outrage flowed from almost every direction. It was as if all the suppressed anger and grief about PA collaboration with Israel during the massacres in Gaza last winter suddenly burst through a dam. “The crime at Geneva cannot pass without all those responsible being held accountable,” the widely-read London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi stated in its lead editorial on 8 October. The newspaper called for the removal of Abbas and his associates who betrayed the victims of Israel’s massacres and “saved Israel from the most serious moral, political and legal crisis it has faced since its establishment.”

to the third intifada… heralded by a rather amusingly old-school journo-orientalist article in the Telegraph (“winding alleyways of the old city”, “dozens of muslim men gathered to vent their frustration”, etc.)

and possibly a new Ice Age? Well maybe not the latter.

Ari Shavit for Haaretz contributes some ridiculous and frightening thoughts to the mix, suggesting that Israel “must exercize (sic) force once every few years” to “prevent the region’s deterioration into complete chaos.” Ohhhh I get it now… so Israel has to bomb the living daylights out of Arabs in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank in order to keep the peace! War for peace! Yes it all makes sense now! Who cares that thousands of civilians are dead, it’s for the peace process, man!

These limited demonstrations of power do not achieve a decisive military victory or a breakthrough in the peace process.

Their entire purpose is to stabilize the violent relationship between Israelis and Arabs. Thus they create a temporary, strong-arm balance that subdues the conflict and ensures calm for a few years.

For better or worse, Operation Cast Lead created such a balance. It weakened Hamas and deterred it, at a terrible human cost. It strengthened the moderate Palestinians and enabled them to grow, at an intolerable moral cost.

By “moderate Palestinians”, I assume Shavit is referring to Israel’s favourite house Arab, Abu Mazen, then I don’t think he’s been “strengthened” at all. His legitimacy is at an all time low. In fact, if Shavit thinks that somehow bombing the crap out of Palestinians with the acquiscence of their supposed leadership is supposed to strengthen said leadership then… well… he’s an idiot, really. He goes further to describe the “violent relationship between Israelis and Arabs” as “a strong arm balance”. What balance? Crude rockets against the Middle East’s best military and a crippling blockade is supposed to be a balance? Starving people in abject poverty and denying them power and medicine, a balance? But wait theres more:

The Goldstone report would never have been written without the joint work, joint bias and joint Israel-hatred of all the Goldstoners. Thus the report reflects both the Goldstoners’ holy fury and their complete belief that the Palestinians can do no wrong.

That belief is now endangering not only Israel but calm and stability. In their fanaticism and extremism, Goldstone and the Goldstoners have brought us closer to bloodshed.

The most amusing and scary part of this is that, to Shavit, “bloodshed” is an intifada or a Six-Day War, it’s one which involves significant Israeli casualties. Shavit does not recognise 1400 Palestinians dead during Operation Cast Lead as “bloodshed” because he doesn’t see Palestinians as humans capable of shedding blood that’s worth something. The claim that by analysing Israel’s actions during a war is bad because it will somehow lead to more war is so ridiculous that I wonder why Haaretz printed it. Seriously guys? This is what you could come up with?

Will wrap up this post by suggesting y’all look further at that electronic intifada piece because it has some very interesting thoughts on the bind that Hamas is now in, in terms of figuring out its response to the Goldstone Report and Abu Mazen’s capitulation.

Abbas helps bury the Goldstone Report, then regrets it.

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Muammar Qaddafi - Renewed Champion of the Palestinian cause on the Security Council? Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters
Muammar Qaddafi – Renewed Champion of the Palestinian cause on the Security Council? Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters

In the wake of the Goldstone Report, things were meant to be done! Action was meant to be taken! Perpetrators were meant to be put in the dock and have had various parts of them chopped off! Or something of that order… but surprisingly (I know I know, I’m just as surprised as the rest of you) that hasn’t quite happened. And it’s the usual suspects behind the not happening. We reported earlier that both Israel & the US condemned the report. But surely not the Palestinians right? RIGHT? Wrong.

It seems that Abu Mazen et al., have decided to be the good Israeli/US ‘running dogs’ that they are and help stonewall the report further:

Last week, Abbas withdrew Palestinian support for a vote in the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to have the report sent to the UN General Assembly for possible action. Such a vote would have been a first of many steps toward possible war crimes tribunals.

With the Palestinians out of the picture, the council set the report aside for six months. [Haaretz]

Now you may rightfully ask, has the old fool lost all his marbles? Why would he do something so crazy? I mean, isn’t this a chance for the international community to have a legitimate opportunity to see and assess the horrors that were committed in Gaza? Isn’t this a chance for the Palestinians to have some justice over the, you know, war crimes? Aren’t war crimes bad? If you are asking these questions, my friend, you are not very well versed in Middle Eastern politics. According to Abbas, the reason is as follows:

Abbas’ aides have defended the step, saying the Palestinians needed more time to win international support for the U.N. report. They said deferring action did not mean burying the report. [Haaretz]

The Palestinians, not being happy about this, have been raising hell on the streets:

With every day, there were more protests, marches and statements of condemnations, not only from his Hamas rivals, but also from human rights groups and intellectuals.

In Gaza, public outrage at Abbas reached a new level on Wednesday, when hundreds of posters criticizing the Palestinian president appeared in public areas around Gaza City.

The text on one poster under an Abbas photo read: To the dumps of history, you traitor, Mahmoud Abbas. Another had a big, black X over Abbas’ face. [Haaretz]

Having realised that this self-righteous anger could possibly damage his political prospects, Abu Mazen and his Fatah cohort have taken a few steps back, including admitting they’ve made “a mistake”, trying to lobby the Security Council through this man, naming and shaming countries who block the report (the horror!) and asking other Arab countries to push it through.

Norman Finkelstein seems to think there’s an altogether different reason, namely the Israelis having some audio evidence of the PA same some things that are decidedly not pro-the-Palestinian-cause, like… you know… being excited about the murder of more Palestinian children:

…a series of tapes in which Palestinian Authority officials could be heard urging Israel to continue the operation in Gaza. Israel threatened to reveal the material to media outlets as well as to the UN and this, in turn, resulted in the Palestinian retreat. It was further claimed that the Palestinians were shown footage showing a meeting between Abu Mazen, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and then foreign minister Tzippi Livni. In the course of the meeting, according to the report, Abu Mazen attempted to convince Barak to continue the operation. Barak appeared hesitant whereas Abu Mazen was enthusiastic. In addition, a telephone conversation recording between Abed Al-Rahim, secretary general of the Palestinian Authority and director of Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi’s bureau was presented. The Palestinian senior official can be heard saying that now is the time to bring ground forces into the Jabalya and Shati refugee camps. “The fall of these two camps will bring about the fall of the Hamas regime in Gaza, and will cause them to wave a white flag,” says Abed Al-Rahim. According to the report, Dov Weissglas told Abed Al-Rahim that such a move could result in the deaths of thousands of civilians. “They all voted for Hamas,” says Abed Al-Rahim, “they chose their fate, not us.”

Good point Abed! Gaza’s children are not Palestinian children, they are Hamas children, the spawn of Satan himself. They are either Hamas voters already, Hamas sympathisers or have Hamas tattooed on their backsides from birth. At best they’re collateral damage. Welcome to the ‘politics’ of the Middle East, ladies & gentelmen.

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