The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Posts Tagged ‘war crimes

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.

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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.

So… about those war crimes…

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Alleged use of white phosphorus over Gaza

For months since Operation Cast Lead in Gaza people have been crying ‘war crimes’ at Israel and baying for blood, particularly focusing on the use of White Phosphorus in civilian areas. Well now, something of note has actually finally happened! For those of you not yet clued up on the news, I will let Haaretz sum it up for me:

The report, compiled by a commission headed by former war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone, accuses both Israel and the Palestinians of actions amounting to war crimes during the December 27 to January 18 battle in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

On the day after Yom Kippur, the UN Human Rights Council, which appointed Goldstone, will be convening in Geneva for a special session on the report. Foreign Ministry sources said Tuesday that they expect Arab states will begin to prepare a draft resolution which will call for the report to be transferred to the UN Security Council. In a worst-case scenario, the Security Council could decide to transfer the matter to the International Criminal Court. Under such circumstances, the ICC could issue international arrest warrants for senior Israeli officials who were involved in Cast Lead.

Note, “worst-case scenario” which, for those of you have been keenly watching this conflict for some time now, is an extremely unlikely scenario. As we know, the powers that be are usually very reluctant to actually *do* anything about the conflict or intervene in any particularly direct manner. “Arrest warrants for senior Israeli officials” is practically unheard of.

To prevent this relatively unlikely scenario, Israeli PR has gone into overdrive for the second time this year, the first time being directly after Operation Cast Lead which was believed to have damaged Israel’s international reputation (Heaven knows why, probably all those dead and bloodied Palestinian children on Al Jazeera English), it seems with support for Israel among the public abroad slipping, action must be taken!

So basically it’s telethon time in the Knesset. The big boys are going to get on the phone quicksmart, call around all their international Presidential chums (focusing on the Big 5 Security Council permanent members reportedly) and allay their fears of war crimes. Their focus is believed to be the suggestion that supporting this report would somehow set a precedent making it harder for world leaders to deal with terrorists. Good point, I know all the other world leaders need to leave their options open… like for example, killing 1200 civilians in 3 weeks and using lots of white phosphorus on them and whatnot, I mean why not hey?

Also I believe that The Regev has been deployed. All cower in fear.

”]”]The Regev in trademark Its ok, guys pose [Picture credit: Mondoweiss]Shimon Peres has gone on the offensive, claiming that the report “makes a mockery of history” as it “fails to distinguish between the aggressor and a state exercising its right for self defense.” Ehud Barak called it “a prize for terrorism” while Danny Ayalon said that the report “is a cynical attempt at role reversal in blaming Israel for war crimes instead of terrorist organizations.” [Thanks Haaretz]

Most people, myself included, think that little is going to come of this. Do not forget the realist political sphere that we circle around in, people. As mentioned above, the powers that be generally don’t like getting involved directly and are generally comfortable with Hamas being ‘the terrorists’ and Israel being the usually justified but sometimes slightly misguided defenders. Amir Oren for Haaretz says the following:

When the smoke of Goldstone’s report clears, the IDF and the government can emerge from the bunker to find that little damage has been done. Israel’s cooperation is needed in the diplomatic arena.

Mondoweiss is pretty angry. I myself expect little by way of progress on this issue any time soon.

PS. In case you were wondering, Hamas didn’t much like the accusations of war crimes, slamming the report, denying such allegations as using civilians and ambulances for cover. Oh and apparently, Hamas “has no intention of harming civilians”. Umm… lol.

UPDATE: Here is the full text of the report, all 574 pages of it.

Written by alexlobov

September 17, 2009 at 2:37 am