January 26, 2009
University of Toronto at Mississauga
01.12.2009 | YouTube.com
(more from this talk on YouTube.com)
Israel’s deadly deeds v. Some angry protesters’ words
Videotape adds to rift in Jewish community
01.15.2009 | The Toronto Star
By Emily Mathieu
…Farber said the recent scenes of “pro-Hamas” demonstrators in Montreal and Toronto shouting slogans against Jews, burning Israel’s flag and waving signs equating the Star of David with a swastika are examples of a “frightening” tide of intolerance flowing unchecked on Canadian streets….
Dan Freeman-Maloy, a York University graduate student, said the group was “in no moral position, as its leaders shamelessly justify ongoing crimes against humanity, to smear those who have the basic human decency to speak out against these horrors.”
He called the tape a diversionary tactic meant to deflect attention away from Israel’s actions in Gaza.
Judy Deutsch, one of eight Jewish Canadian women recently arrested during a peaceful protest at the Israeli consulate in Toronto, said the tape gives a distorted view of the rallies and ignores the viewpoint of Jews opposed to Israel’s action.
“It doesn’t do Jews around the world any good if Israel continues to act with impunity, over and over again, against international law.”
The CLC has sent its tape to police in Toronto and Montreal and the RCMP to check for illegal conduct.
CJC denounces ‘hateful rhetoric’ of protesters
01.12.2009 | The National Post
By Melissa Leong, National Post
The video footage included a clip of youthful demonstrators in Montreal lighting an Israeli flag on fire while chanting “burn, burn, Israel”; also, a woman is seen yelling: “Jewish child, you’re going to f——die. Hamas is coming for you….”
Yesterday, about eight people protested on the sidewalk in front of the hotel arguing that the Canadian Jewish Congress’s press conference detracted from the issue and “demonized the opposition.”
“The real human rights crisis is not a bunch of signs. More than 900 people have been killed so far in Gaza. The CJC is just trying to change the channel,” said Andy Lehrer, a member of the Independent Jewish Voices-Canada.
One-sided reality of combat in Israeli-Palestinian conflict
01.07.2009 | The Irish Times
By Ed O’Loughlin
Despite reports of intense combat, Hamas weapons pose little threat to Israeli forces
YOU COULD be forgiven for thinking that there was a major ground battle going on in the Gaza Strip right now.
“Fierce fighting” vies for headline space with “intense combat”, while Israeli troops and Palestinian fighters swap “heavy exchanges of fire” in “house-to-house clashes”. But experience of Israel’s many previous raids into Gaza in recent years – the Israeli government is blocking independent foreign journalists from witnessing this one – suggests a more one-sided reality.
Unlike the Hizbullah men who fought the Israeli army to a standstill in Lebanon two years ago, Hamas’s gunmen have no modern anti-tank missiles. Their mainly home-made rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) are useless against the heavy armour of the Israeli defence force’s tanks and armoured personnel carriers. The Palestinians have no artillery or precision heavy weapons, and no air defences to counter Israel’s US-supplied fighter bombers and attack helicopters, or the armed robot aircraft which circle constantly overhead. Their automatic rifles would be lethal against unprotected soldiers encountered at short range, but the tactics which Israel has perfected for the Gaza Strip ensure that its soldiers are seldom exposed to effective enemy fire.
In fact, only about a dozen troops have died while participating in numerous deep raids inside Gaza since the IDF’s last major loss in May 2004. Then, 11 troops were killed in two separate incidents involving poorly armoured vehicles since withdrawn from service.
Of the five Israeli soldiers killed so far in the current massive invasion, one was reportedly hit by mortar fire. Three others were killed and 20 wounded when one of their own tanks blasted the Palestinian house in which they were hiding. The fifth was also killed by so-called friendly fire, ie accidental fire from his own side.
The Palestinian death toll from such incursions has been vastly higher: Operation Rainbow, May 2004, killed at least 53 Palestinian militants and civilians; Operation Days of Penitence, October 2004, killed between 104 and 133; Operation Summer Rains, June 2006, 400 plus; Operation Autumn Clouds, November 2006, at least 70; last year an unnamed raid on Jabaliya killed over 100. All these raids and numerous smaller ones were duly reported in the foreign media, condemned as disproportionate by much of the international community and then quietly forgotten. The present Operation Cast Lead (some 630 Palestinians killed, as of last evening, and rapidly rising), is well on course to dwarf them all combined – as evidenced by yesterday’s single incident toll of 42 civilians, killed when an Israeli artillery shell landed near a UN-run school.
In a typical Israeli invasion, small teams of undercover soldiers use the cover of darkness to seize control of civilian homes selected for their fields of fire, taking the residents hostage and building snipers nests to cover the tanks that rapidly join them. In ensuing operations, the tanks and snipers sit back and take a heavy toll of the young Palestinian gunmen who invariably rush to the scene – one of the most under-reported aspects of the Israeli-Palestine conflict is the ineptitude of the martyrdom-loving Palestinians when it comes to basic guerrilla tactics.
While their comrades keep the neighbourhood pinned down, infantrymen typically use civilian hostages as human shields – this is known in the IDF as the “neighbour procedure” – as they go door to door rounding up the menfolk, most of whom are then marched off to Israel to be interrogated and, if suspected of militant links, convicted and jailed. (Torture of suspected terrorists is tolerated by the legal authorities and courts in Israel, and torturers are allowed to defend themselves by asserting that the torture was “necessary”.)
Although greater in extent and in its massive death toll, the present Israeli ground invasion of Gaza seems to have followed the same broad pattern so far, penetrating only the fringes of teeming Gaza City. And just like its smaller predecessors, Operation Cast Lead’s massive Palestinian death toll has proved immensely popular with an Israeli press and public demanding further retaliation for missile fire from Gaza which has killed 20 people in eight years (in the same period Israel has already killed more than 3,500 Gazans, at least 1,500 of them civilians, according to Israeli rights group B’Tselem). On Monday Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that public support for defence minister and former prime minister Ehud Barak was “rising with each missile that pounds Gaza”. Barak and his coalition partner/rival, foreign minister Tzipi Livni, both have hopes of winning the premiership in elections on February 10th.
Unfortunately for the besieged, blockaded, bomb-shocked people of Gaza, February is still a long way off. Meanwhile, Operation Cast Lead shows signs of escalating into something even worse.
Most Israeli government spokesmen and women have so far denied that the aim of the current operation is to eliminate Hamas militarily in the Gaza Strip. But the underlying logic of Israel’s internal political and military intrigues, and of both sides’ stated aims, suggests otherwise. Hamas says it will not renew its previous six-month ceasefire with Israel, which unravelled last month following mutual violations, unless the Jewish state agrees to end its crippling three-year-old economic blockade of the Strip’s desperate population – a demand echoed by human rights groups and local UN agencies.
But Israel says this would legitimise the rule of an Islamic fundamentalist movement which refuses to renounce terrorism and violent resistance, and which itself does not recognise Israel’s legitimacy.
Instead, Israeli leaders said this week that they intend to pound Gaza until Hamas is forced to accept an imposed and unconditional ceasefire, with no requirement on Israel to end the blockade and no international mechanism to ensure that all sides, including Israel, behave in future.
Also on Israel’s wish list is the return to Gaza of its compliant Palestinian client, Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, which remains nominally in charge of the West Bank, where Jewish settlement activity continues unabated, despite having lost Palestine-wide elections in 2006. It was routed from Gaza following its failed US- and Israeli-backed putsch against the elected Hamas government last year.
In company with Egypt, the EU and perhaps the US and allied Arab states, Fatah will then mop up whatever is left of Hamas and police Gaza’s borders and crossings to prevent further smuggling of weapons.
But the chances of Hamas agreeing to what amounts to an unconditional surrender are nil. Instead, its militants have stepped up their own rocket fire into Israel, using new long-range rockets to strike for the first time the major cities of Ashdod and Beersheba. Three Israeli civilians have been killed so far.
The European Union has so far quietly joined with Israel and the US in the diplomatic and economic siege of Gaza. But there is no way it, or anyone else, will take on the job of policing Gaza on Israel’s behalf, a task the mighty Israel defence force failed to carry out. Any Israeli attempt to subdue its entire area, whether by slow starvation, gradual bombardment or rapid ground assault, would cause civilian deaths on a scale never before seen in the lopsided Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The world may not yet be cynical enough to keep looking the other way.
Ed O’Loughlin reported on Gaza for more than five years as Middle East correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age
“The Incendiary IDF”
01.22.2009 | Human Rights Watch
By Kenneth Roth
The Israel Defense Forces use phosphorous shells–and forfeit credibility.
Throughout the recent war in Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) insisted that it took extraordinary care to spare civilians. But it then prevented journalists and human rights monitors from entering Gaza during the conflict to independently verify this claim.
Now that Human Rights Watch and other observers have been let in, it has become clear that hundreds of Palestinian civilians were not the only casualties of the fighting. So was the credibility of the IDF.
Part of the problem was the IDF’s expansive definition of a military target. It attacked a range of civilian facilities, from government offices to police stations, on the theory that they all provided at least indirect support to Hamas militants. But by that theory, Hamas would have been entitled to target virtually any government building in Israel on the ground that its office workers indirectly supported the IDF. That would make a mockery of the distinction between civilians and combatants that lies at the heart of the laws of war, which require direct support to military activity before civilians become legitimate military targets. Behind the unsupportable legal claim seemed to lie a determination to make Gazans suffer for the presence of Hamas–a prohibited purpose for using military force.
The IDF’s credibility probably took the biggest hit on the issue of its use of white phosphorous. A typical artillery shell of white phosphorous releases 116 phosphorus-soaked wedges which, upon contact with oxygen, burn intensely, releasing a distinctive plume of smoke. That smoke can be used legitimately to obscure troop movements, but white phosphorous can be devastating when used in urban areas, igniting civilian structures and causing people horrific burns. Its use by the IDF in densely populated sections of Gaza violated the legal requirement to take all feasible precautions during military operations to avoid harming civilians. It never should have been deployed.
The IDF has tried to defend itself with denial and obfuscation. It first denied using white phosphorous at all. Then, when that proved untenable, it claimed that use was limited to unpopulated areas of Gaza. Neither claim is true. On Jan. 9, 10 and 15, a Human Rights Watch military expert personally observed white phosphorous being fired from an artillery battery and air burst over Gaza City and the Jabalya refugee camp. Its telltale jellyfish-like plume was a dead giveaway, as can be seen from many photographs that are now emerging from Gaza of white phosphorous raining down on civilian areas.
The Times of London also photographed an IDF artillery battery firing white phosphorous shells. The shells are color coded and labeled with the IDF term for white phosphorous–"exploding smoke." They are also marked with the code used by the U.S. manufacturer of white phosphorous–M825A1. Similarly marked and color-coded shells and other evidence of white-phosphorous use have now been recovered from urban areas of Gaza where they fell to earth.
As for obfuscation, the IDF claimed that all weapons it used were "legal," but that begs the critical question of how they were used. The use of white phosphorous is legal in certain circumstances but illegal when deployed in a way that causes unnecessary or indiscriminate harm to civilians. The IDF cited press reports suggesting that the International Committee of the Red Cross supported its position, but in a rare public comment, the ICRC denied that claim.
The IDF’s latest line is that the shells fired in Gaza "contained phosphorus material but were not actual phosphorus shells." That is semantic game-playing. Nothing that indiscriminately burns the way the IDF’s shells did, regardless of name, should be used in densely populated areas.
Awful as it is to have white phosphorous raining down on you, the IDF probably caused more civilian casualties with its use of 155 mm high-explosive artillery shells in Gaza. These weapons can injure civilians from blast and fragmentation over an area with a radius of as much as 300 meters. That’s roughly the equivalent of taking three football fields, lining them end to end and then rotating them around the point of the shell’s impact. In the densely populated residential areas of Gaza, where Human Rights Watch saw these shells used on Jan. 15, they can cause extensive civilian casualties. Such use clearly violates the laws-of-war prohibition of indiscriminate attacks because the shells strike military targets and civilians without distinction.
Such unlawful endangering of civilian life in Gaza cannot be justified by Hamas’ deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on Israeli cities and towns. Illegality by one side to a conflict does not excuse illegality by the other. And as should be obvious, it is hardly in Israel’s interest to degrade international law protecting civilians.
Predictably, the IDF holds Hamas wholly responsible for civilian casualties in Gaza, alleging that Hamas combatants stored weapons in mosques and fought from among civilians. Those allegations may or may not be true. Long experience, as during the 2006 war in Lebanon, shows that we must take such ritual IDF pronouncements with a grain of salt. We will not know exactly how Hamas waged the war until human rights monitors can conclude the on-the-ground investigations that they are only just beginning because of the IDF’s earlier refusal to let them into Gaza.
Israelis seem dismayed that the world has not embraced the justness of its latest war in Gaza. Of course Israel is entitled to defend itself from Hamas’ rocket attacks, but when it does so in violation of its duty to spare civilians, and with so massive a civilian toll, public outrage is entirely predictable. Meanwhile, the IDF does itself no favor when it resorts to censorship, PR techniques and misrepresentation rather than subject its conduct to the open and independent scrutiny that should characterize any military that is genuinely committed to respecting the laws of war.
01.29.2009 | The London Review of Books
By Henry Siegman
Western governments and most of the Western media have accepted a number of Israeli claims justifying the military assault on Gaza: that Hamas consistently violated the six-month truce that Israel observed and then refused to extend it; that Israel therefore had no choice but to destroy Hamas’s capacity to launch missiles into Israeli towns; that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, part of a global jihadi network; and that Israel has acted not only in its own defence but on behalf of an international struggle by Western democracies against this network.
I am not aware of a single major American newspaper, radio station or TV channel whose coverage of the assault on Gaza questions this version of events. Criticism of Israel’s actions, if any (and there has been none from the Bush administration), has focused instead on whether the IDF’s carnage is proportional to the threat it sought to counter, and whether it is taking adequate measures to prevent civilian casualties.
Middle East peacemaking has been smothered in deceptive euphemisms, so let me state bluntly that each of these claims is a lie. Israel, not Hamas, violated the truce: Hamas undertook to stop firing rockets into Israel; in return, Israel was to ease its throttlehold on Gaza. In fact, during the truce, it tightened it further. This was confirmed not only by every neutral international observer and NGO on the scene but by Brigadier General (Res.) Shmuel Zakai, a former commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division. In an interview in Ha’aretz on 22 December, he accused Israel’s government of having made a ‘central error’ during the tahdiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce, by failing ‘to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip . . . When you create a tahdiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues,’ General Zakai said, ‘it is obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahdiyeh, and that their way to achieve this is resumed Qassam fire . . . You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they’re in, and expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing.’
The truce, which began in June last year and was due for renewal in December, required both parties to refrain from violent action against the other. Hamas had to cease its rocket assaults and prevent the firing of rockets by other groups such as Islamic Jihad (even Israel’s intelligence agencies acknowledged this had been implemented with surprising effectiveness), and Israel had to put a stop to its targeted assassinations and military incursions. This understanding was seriously violated on 4 November, when the IDF entered Gaza and killed six members of Hamas. Hamas responded by launching Qassam rockets and Grad missiles. Even so, it offered to extend the truce, but only on condition that Israel ended its blockade. Israel refused. It could have met its obligation to protect its citizens by agreeing to ease the blockade, but it didn’t even try. It cannot be said that Israel launched its assault to protect its citizens from rockets. It did so to protect its right to continue the strangulation of Gaza’s population.
Everyone seems to have forgotten that Hamas declared an end to suicide bombings and rocket fire when it decided to join the Palestinian political process, and largely stuck to it for more than a year. Bush publicly welcomed that decision, citing it as an example of the success of his campaign for democracy in the Middle East. (He had no other success to point to.) When Hamas unexpectedly won the election, Israel and the US immediately sought to delegitimise the result and embraced Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Fatah, who until then had been dismissed by Israel’s leaders as a ‘plucked chicken’. They armed and trained his security forces to overthrow Hamas; and when Hamas – brutally, to be sure – pre-empted this violent attempt to reverse the result of the first honest democratic election in the modern Middle East, Israel and the Bush administration imposed the blockade.
Israel seeks to counter these indisputable facts by maintaining that in withdrawing Israeli settlements from Gaza in 2005, Ariel Sharon gave Hamas the chance to set out on the path to statehood, a chance it refused to take; instead, it transformed Gaza into a launching-pad for firing missiles at Israel’s civilian population. The charge is a lie twice over. First, for all its failings, Hamas brought to Gaza a level of law and order unknown in recent years, and did so without the large sums of money that donors showered on the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. It eliminated the violent gangs and warlords who terrorised Gaza under Fatah’s rule. Non-observant Muslims, Christians and other minorities have more religious freedom under Hamas rule than they would have in Saudi Arabia, for example, or under many other Arab regimes.
The greater lie is that Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza was intended as a prelude to further withdrawals and a peace agreement. This is how Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weisglass, who was also his chief negotiator with the Americans, described the withdrawal from Gaza, in an interview with Ha’aretz in August 2004:
What I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements [i.e. the major settlement blocks on the West Bank] would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns . . . The significance [of the agreement with the US] is the freezing of the political process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And all this with [President Bush’s] authority and permission . . . and the ratification of both houses of Congress.
Do the Israelis and Americans think that Palestinians don’t read the Israeli papers, or that when they saw what was happening on the West Bank they couldn’t figure out for themselves what Sharon was up to?
Israel’s government would like the world to believe that Hamas launched its Qassam rockets because that is what terrorists do and Hamas is a generic terrorist group. In fact, Hamas is no more a ‘terror organisation’ (Israel’s preferred term) than the Zionist movement was during its struggle for a Jewish homeland. In the late 1930s and 1940s, parties within the Zionist movement resorted to terrorist activities for strategic reasons. According to Benny Morris, it was the Irgun that first targeted civilians. He writes in Righteous Victims that an upsurge of Arab terrorism in 1937 ‘triggered a wave of Irgun bombings against Arab crowds and buses, introducing a new dimension to the conflict’. He also documents atrocities committed during the 1948-49 war by the IDF, admitting in a 2004 interview, published in Ha’aretz, that material released by Israel’s Ministry of Defence showed that ‘there were far more Israeli acts of massacre than I had previously thought . . . In the months of April-May 1948, units of the Haganah were given operational orders that stated explicitly that they were to uproot the villagers, expel them, and destroy the villages themselves.’ In a number of Palestinian villages and towns the IDF carried out organised executions of civilians. Asked by Ha’aretz whether he condemned the ethnic cleansing, Morris replied that he did not:
A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population. It was necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads. It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on.
In other words, when Jews target and kill innocent civilians to advance their national struggle, they are patriots. When their adversaries do so, they are terrorists.
It is too easy to describe Hamas simply as a ‘terror organisation’. It is a religious nationalist movement that resorts to terrorism, as the Zionist movement did during its struggle for statehood, in the mistaken belief that it is the only way to end an oppressive occupation and bring about a Palestinian state. While Hamas’s ideology formally calls for that state to be established on the ruins of the state of Israel, this doesn’t determine Hamas’s actual policies today any more than the same declaration in the PLO charter determined Fatah’s actions.
These are not the conclusions of an apologist for Hamas but the opinions of the former head of Mossad and Sharon’s national security adviser, Ephraim Halevy. The Hamas leadership has undergone a change ‘right under our very noses’, Halevy wrote recently in Yedioth Ahronoth, by recognising that ‘its ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future.’ It is now ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state within the temporary borders of 1967. Halevy noted that while Hamas has not said how ‘temporary’ those borders would be, ‘they know that the moment a Palestinian state is established with their co-operation, they will be obligated to change the rules of the game: they will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original ideological goals.’ In an earlier article, Halevy also pointed out the absurdity of linking Hamas to al-Qaida.
In the eyes of al-Qaida, the members of Hamas are perceived as heretics due to their stated desire to participate, even indirectly, in processes of any understandings or agreements with Israel. [The Hamas political bureau chief, Khaled] Mashal’s declaration diametrically contradicts al-Qaida’s approach, and provides Israel with an opportunity, perhaps a historic one, to leverage it for the better.
Why then are Israel’s leaders so determined to destroy Hamas? Because they believe that its leadership, unlike that of Fatah, cannot be intimidated into accepting a peace accord that establishes a Palestinian ‘state’ made up of territorially disconnected entities over which Israel would be able to retain permanent control. Control of the West Bank has been the unwavering objective of Israel’s military, intelligence and political elites since the end of the Six-Day War.[*] They believe that Hamas would not permit such a cantonisation of Palestinian territory, no matter how long the occupation continues. They may be wrong about Abbas and his superannuated cohorts, but they are entirely right about Hamas.
Middle East observers wonder whether Israel’s assault on Hamas will succeed in destroying the organisation or expelling it from Gaza. This is an irrelevant question. If Israel plans to keep control over any future Palestinian entity, it will never find a Palestinian partner, and even if it succeeds in dismantling Hamas, the movement will in time be replaced by a far more radical Palestinian opposition.
If Barack Obama picks a seasoned Middle East envoy who clings to the idea that outsiders should not present their own proposals for a just and sustainable peace agreement, much less press the parties to accept it, but instead leave them to work out their differences, he will assure a future Palestinian resistance far more extreme than Hamas – one likely to be allied with al-Qaida. For the US, Europe and most of the rest of the world, this would be the worst possible outcome. Perhaps some Israelis, including the settler leadership, believe it would serve their purposes, since it would provide the government with a compelling pretext to hold on to all of Palestine. But this is a delusion that would bring about the end of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Anthony Cordesman, one of the most reliable military analysts of the Middle East, and a friend of Israel, argued in a 9 January report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the tactical advantages of continuing the operation in Gaza were outweighed by the strategic cost – and were probably no greater than any gains Israel may have made early in the war in selective strikes on key Hamas facilities. ‘Has Israel somehow blundered into a steadily escalating war without a clear strategic goal, or at least one it can credibly achieve?’ he asks. ‘Will Israel end in empowering an enemy in political terms that it defeated in tactical terms? Will Israel’s actions seriously damage the US position in the region, any hope of peace, as well as moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process? To be blunt, the answer so far seems to be yes.’ Cordesman concludes that ‘any leader can take a tough stand and claim that tactical gains are a meaningful victory. If this is all that Olmert, Livni and Barak have for an answer, then they have disgraced themselves and damaged their country and their friends.’
[*] See my piece in the LRB, 16 August 2007.
Henry Siegman, director of the US Middle East Project in New York, is a visiting research professor at SOAS, University of London. He is a former national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America.