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Israel’s invasion of Gaza was a humanitarian disaster. Roughly 1,417 people were killed in the 22 day war, 926 of them civilians. Of those, 313 were under the age of 18 and 116 were women. The war, aimed at the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza, destroyed 15,000 homes and businesses, seriously damaged another 20,000 homes, destroyed 16 government buildings, and destroyed 20 mosques. The World Health Organization also reported that half of Gaza’s 27 hospitals and 44 clinics were seriously damaged in the invasion. Two clinics were completely destroyed. In addition to delaying treatment to civilians injured during combat, according to Physicians fo Human Rights, Israel also targeted medics, killing 16. During the war, the International Red Cross ceased operations within Gaza after 13 of its ambulances were attacked while transporting victims to hospitals in Egypt. Despite these horrific figures (and thousands of personal accounts), Defense Minister Ehud Barak maintained that the Israeli army is the “most moral in the world.”

Hamas militants in Gaza were also guilty of gross disregard for human life. These militants fired rockets, such as the Kassam, into Israel, with reckless disregard for the damage to property and loss of life these rockets would cause. By the end of the war, 13 Israelis were killed: 3 were civilians killed by rocket fire, 6 were soldiers killed in battle, and the remaining 4 were killed by friendly fire. Throughout the three week war, Hamas militants fired 796 rockets into southern Israel (mostly in Sderot and Ashkelon), damaging an estimated 1,500 homes, 327 vehicles, and damaging 9 schools. Israeli officials have also accused Hamas of using human shields, though no evidence has been provided and human rights groups have found no evidence to support the claims. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called for independent investigations into the conduct of war by both Hamas and Israel.

Though all life is valuable, it is ridiculous to assert that conducting a major ground invasion that results in the destruction of a society and causes the deaths of over 1,400 people is a reasonable and proportionate response to the attacks from a minority of militants using inaccurate shoulder rockets.

In an earlier blog, as the war was being waged, I wrote that “one must remember International Law, which dictates that the aggressor must keep the rule of Proportionality in mind.” The principle of Proportionality, an international law, dictates that “even if there is a clear military target it is not possible to attack it if the risk of civilians or civilian property being harmed is larger than the expected military advantage.” This is also known as the Fourth Geneva Convention. Proportionality should always be a guideline in war, and it clearly was not in this war.

Revelations of civilian abuses over the last week from veterans of the Gaza war have sent the Defense Ministry (still headed by Ehud Barak) into a defensive position. Soldiers came forward late last week with revelations that the Israeli army violated the rules of war and recklessly targeted civilians. One squad leader, quoted in a newsletter by Oranim Academic College in Kiryat Tivon (a pre-military preparatory program), explained the IDF’s (Israeli Defense Forces) procedures for clearing out houses: “When we entered a house, we were supposed to bust down the door and start shooting inside and just go up story by story. Each story, if we identified a person, we shoot them. I asked myself: ‘How is this reasonable?” Another soldier, according to Haaretz, described how a mother and child were killed by a sniper located on a rooftop. They misunderstood an order from an Israeli commander and went left, instead of going right. They paid for that mistake with their life. A soldier, named Aviv, described how an unarmed elderly woman, who was walking down a road, was killed, on command, by a sniper. When asked how this could happen, he remarked: “That’s what is so nice, supposedly, about Gaza: You see a person on a road, walking along a path. He doesn’t have to be with a weapon, you don’t have to identify him with anything and you can just shoot him. With us it was an old woman, on whom I didn’t see any weapon. The order was to take the person out, that woman, the moment you see her.” One soldier, identified only as Moshe, was asked if these kinds of killings are investigated, to which he responded: “The attitude is very simple: It isn’t pleasant to say so, but no one cares at all. We aren’t investigating this. This is what happens during fighting and this is what happens during routine security.”

There were many more stories of wanton disregard for human life. Palestinians are widely regarded in Israeli society as homo sacer. In other words, according to the Roman designation, those who are homo sacer cannot be sacrificed, nor can their killing be considered homicide. They are entities without human rights. So, it becomes easy to kill them, or to destroy their homes and property. Vandalism becomes a medium for expressing this disregard, as evidenced by the fact that some soldiers wrote “Death to Arabs” on the vacated homes of Palestinians, as they threw their furniture out windows and desecrated family pictures. How could they do this? The squad leader (mentioned earlier) explained: “…the atmosphere in general [was that] the lives of Palestinians, let’s say, are something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers, so as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way.” Further revelations have made these attitudes even more worrisome.

A soldier identified as Ram described how Rabbis (like Chaplains in the U.S. army) were assigned to the military in order to provide services to religious soldiers, and to ensure that the kitchens were kosher. However, according to Ram and many others who served in Gaza, the military rabbinate have assumed the role of holy warriors. “The rabbinate brought in a lot of booklets and articles, and … their message was very clear: We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the non-Jews who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land. This was the main message, and the whole sense many soldiers had in this operation was of a religious war,” Ram said. A staff Sergeant echoed this sentiment: “This rabbi comes to us and says the fight is between the children of light and the children of darkness. His message was clear: ‘This is a war against an entire people, not against specific terrorists.’ The whole thing was turned into something very religious and messianic.” The staff Sergeant said that he was uncomfortable about the sermon, but he noticed that other “troops seemed receptive.” This attitude, that Palestinians should be completely removed from Gaza, and that the Gazan invasion was part of that larger effort, was reinforced by the military rabbinate, who indirectly argued that international law should not prevail– instead, using overwhelming force to eliminate civilians was not only acceptable, but necessary in order to minimize the danger to soldiers. The words “Our ancestors did not always fight with a sword and at times preferred to use a bow and arrow from a distance” appeared in some of the texts distributed by the military rabbinate. These religious figures were unabashedly advocating ethnic cleansing.

Though the military rabbinate sound extreme, and they are, they represent only a small faction of Jewish clerics. The problem, according to Rabbi David Hartman, is that this minority is passionate about their belief in “Holy War” (like their Islamic fundamentalist counterparts) and so they are more likely to volunteer for military service, adding, “There’s a vacuum and it gets filled by crackpots.” Hartman said that this extreme nationalistic ideology has “to be fought with a rational religious ideology that takes into account the living reality of two peoples.” This is certainly a belief that needs to be shared by both sides of this conflict.

What always amazes me about the United States is that there is zero room for dialogue on this subject. None. Dissent on this topic is not tolerated. However, in Israel, there is a sharp debate on this very issue. On the left, there are secular pragmatists who believe the occupation and settlements should come to an end; on the right, there are religious fanatics who seek Zionist control over the whole region. There are some moderates, but they tend to be more right-leaning. For example, Ehud Barak and his Labour party are generally regarded as moderate, as is Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party. These parties only seem moderate when compared to Likud, the extreme right-wing party led by Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu. Both Livni and Barak were key figures in the recent invasion of Gaza. Under Netanyahu, more settlements and more war can be expected. For President Barack Obama, this is troubling. He has high hopes of resolving this conflict, which has dogged every President since 1967. He has already sent his Mid-East envoy George Mitchell to the region in order to signal his readiness to engage in the peace process. However, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already publicly rebuked incoming-PM Netanyahu for his assertion that the Palestinians are not yet ready for a state. She has also criticized Israel for its plans to destroy 80 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, saying: “Clearly this kind of activity is unhelpful and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the ‘road map’… It is an issue that we intend to raise with the government of Israel and the government at the municipal level in Jerusalem.” This is a troubling sign for the President, who is willing, but is currently being sucked more and more into the day to day management of the failing economic situation. Added to this domestic crisis is the extreme right-wing stances of the Netanyahu coalition, one that has signaled it will not place a high value on diplomacy.

It may very well be time for an imposed settlement, whether either side likes it or not.


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shaking hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas


Middle-East Envoy George Mitchell talks with President Abbas, as a portrait of Yasser Arafat hangs on the wall behind them


President Obama with President Abbas

Hopefully, this administration will take a more evenhanded approach to this conflict.

We are now at the end of day 12 of the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Remember that the June 1967 war lasted only six days. In that war, Israel was able to defeat Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and a few other Arab states that contributed some troops to the war against Israel. Israel’s quick victory demonstrated to the world, and to the United States in particular, that they were mightier than they were in 1948. The victory not only crushed Arab Nationalism and unity, smashed Nasser’s political relevance, and gained them huge territorial gains, but it also earned them the support of the U.S., who wished to use Israel as a bulwark against any possible Soviet Union incursion into the middle-east. Israel took the Sinai peninsula, the Golan Heights, and they also took control over the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. This war and the ongoing occupation has continued to influence the conflict in the region.

In the last few days, the violence in Gaza has escalated. An Israeli attack on a school in Gaza where the UN was sheltering about 350 civilians has resulted in the deaths of 40 people, injuring dozens more. This has been the third attack on schools in Gaza in the last twelve days. Most of those killed were civilians, according to paramedics, though Israel maintains that Hamas militants were using the school to fire rockets into Israel. Israel Defense Forces spokesman Brig. General Avi Benayahu said, “We face a very delicate situation where the Hamas is using the citizens of Gaza as a protective vest.” The UN will begin investigations into the school bombing. John Ging, director of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said that the UN schools were all “clearly marked” with UN flags and that Israel had been given the global positioning coordinates of all school locations. Ging went on to say that, “We’re demanding full accountability in accordance with international law and the duty of care that the parties to the conflict are obliged to adhere to.” He also denied Israeli assertions that Hamas militants were using the school, saying, “So far we’ve not had violations by militants of our facilities.” He insisted that the UN had vetted all civilians requesting shelter.

So far, nearly 600 civilians have been killed and roughly 2,750 have been wounded in this war. There are conflicting reports over whether or not this Israeli operation was given a green-light from the Bush Administration. Vice President Dick Cheney denied the assertion on CBS’s Face the Nation, saying, “They didn’t seek clearance or approval from us, certainly.” An Israeli website– Debkafile.org— however, reports that Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud received a green-light from Presidet Bush, who approved “Israeli air, sea and ground operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.” According to the site, Bush also promised Olmert that “the US would veto a resolution condemning Israel at the UN Security Council meeting next Monday.” Bush also reportedly assured Olmert that President-elect Barack Obama was being updated regularly on the ongoing conflict. Texas congressman and politcal rabble-rouser Ron Paul has also expressed his belief that the U.S. provided Israel with a green-light: “Israel depends on us; they depend on us economically, they depend on us for their military power and all their weapons and they really got a green light from our administration.” In another setting, he added, “No matter what they do, it is our money, it is our weapons, and they are not going to do it without us approving it.”

There have also been some reports that Israel has made some crossings into southern Lebanon, sparking fears that Israel might extend its war into Lebanon. There’s speculation that this might be a way of provoking Hezbollah, who has already promised retaliation for Israel’s assassination of a Hamas commander, Imad Mughniyeh. It is doubtful, however, that Israel would want to open a second front with Lebanon during the current conflict. Israel is still smarting from its failed attempt to crush Hezbollah, a radical/militant Shiite group in Lebanon with tremendous influence in the region (and backed by Iran), in July 2006. The incursions into southern Lebanon, more than likely, was Israel’s way of warning Hezbollah to stay out of the fray. Hezbollah, for the most part, has been staging protests against Israel’s invasion, Egypt, and the U.S. The July 2006 invasion of Lebanon was also Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s political Waterloo. He is now being forced out of office and elections are being held this February for a replacement.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has again put forward a cease-fire plan, which both men hope Hamas and Israel will take. Though many in the UN applaud this plan, Condoleeza Rice, on behalf of the U.S., has not supported the plan: “We need urgently to conclude a cease-fire that can endure and that can bring real security. This would begin a period of true calm that includes an end to rocket, mortar and other attacks on Israelis and allows for the cessation of Israel’s military offensive,” she said. The current plan, she fears, would lead only to a return to the status-quo. However, after a meeting with Sarkozy, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has announced that Hamas is willing to accept the terms of the truce, saying, “They are ready [to make a deal]. They were ready, they are ready.” The Russian Foreign Ministry has also confirmed that Hamas is willing to agree to a cease-fire, after having met with Hamas’ political leader Khaled Mashaal. According to Mashaal, they would stop the rocket firings if Israel would lift the 18-month blockade that has crippled Gaza’s access to basic neccessities, like food, water, and medical supplies.


Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak meets with Israeli Foreign Minister and PM hopeful Tzipi Livni

However, Egypt, particularly Mubarak, has earned the scorn of Arabs across the region. They view him as someone who has colluded with the enemy at the expense of the Palestinian people. This attitude towards Egypt goes as far back as the U.S. brokered Camp David Accords of 1978, when Egypt and Israel signed a peace agreement. They also are angered by his refusal to open the Egyptian border with Gaza to let refugees out and supplies in. Though he has “slammed” Israel’s invasion of Gaza, he blames the invasion of Israel on the failure of the Hamas government to renew the truce, which expired December 19, 2008. He also criticized groups such as Hezbollah, who, he argues, the “plight of the Palestinian people” for “political capital.” Because Egypt is the only “Arab” (though technically Egypt is in Africa) country to border Gaza, many Arabs feel Egypt has an obligation to protect and support the people of Gaza in this desperate time. They feel that Egypt has failed in that regard.

To complicate matters, the spokesman and deputy chief of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a ten minute taped message blasting Egypt, the U.S., and President-elect Barack Obama. He attacked Mubarak as a “traitor” and a “partner” in the “siege and killing.” “At the time when Israeli planes drop their bombs from the air, he closes the borders with his forces so that the plan of the killing of believers in Gaza is fulfilled,” al-Zawahiri said of Mubarak. Al-Zawahirir also blamed Barack Obama for the conflict in Gaza, adding that the conflict was a “gift.” He labeled the attacks a “crusade against Islam and Muslims” and blasted Obama for his silence and his inaction. Al-Zawahiri also encouraged Muslims everywhere to strike back at the aggressors “everywhere.” The recording was posted on several militant Islamic websites, along with a picture of him holding a gun. Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 mastermind, has not been heard from in quite some time, prompting some in the intelligence community to wonder about his health, or whether or not he is even alive.

Barack Obama, who is adverse to drama, has had to deal with the Blagojevich scandal and the subsequent attempt to appoint Roland Burris to Obama’s vacant senate seat, the stepping down of Bill Richardson as Obama’s Commerce Secretary nominee, Diane Feinstein’s public criticism of Obama’s selection of Leon Panetta to head the CIA, coming up with a stimulus package, determine his policy on cap-and-trade, plan for tax cuts, and now he has to brace himself for the conflict in Gaza. In the taped recording, al-Zawahiri criticized Obama for his efforts to portray himself as “the savior who will come and change American policy” during the U.S. election but is now “killing your brothers and sisters in Gaza without mercy or even pity.” Obama issued a statement in response to al-Zawahiri: ‚ÄúStarting at the beginning of our administration, we are going to engage effectively and consistently to try to resolve the conflicts that exist in the Middle East.” He also added that he was “deeply concerned” about the loss of life in Gaza. Al-Zawahiri is prematurely blaming Obama for the violence in Gaza, a sign that they did expect Obama to be more proactive when it came to the middle-east. It might seem a bit counter-intuitive, but it could be a sign that the war on terror is going to change as Bush leaves office.

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