Israel War Crimes: Israel's barrier to progress
- Israel's barrier to progress
Far from protecting anyone, the controversial separation wall can only give a false sense of security
Seth Freedman guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 22 July 2009 09.00 BST
In many parts of the West Bank, Israel's much-vaunted separation wall is conspicuous by its absence; Ha'aretz reports that only around 60% of the barrier has been completed will come as no surprise to those who spend time in the area around the project's proposed route.
In places such as the South Hebron Hills, the only obstacles separating thousands of Palestinians from Israeli communities are sporadic flying checkpoints thrown up by the army, or flimsy, unguarded wire fences ostensibly keeping the terrorist hordes at bay. If mainstream Israeli thinking is to be believed, the "security" wall is vital for the safety of Israel's citizens, the implication being that scores of would-be bombers are daily banging their heads against a concrete wall as they try desperately to reach Israeli cities to unleash carnage on unsuspecting women and children.
However, the facts simply don't add up. If 40% percent of a mosquito net was removed, the remaining mesh would have no protective effect, since the insects would simply sail through the hole and get on with their blood-sucking task unimpeded. Yet, according to the Israeli authorities, that is not the case when it comes to the separation wall, and millions of Israelis are all too eager to swallow the lie in order to achieve a deceptive peace of mind.
At the end of a trip to Nablus, I was shown first-hand how simple it is to circumnavigate the wall and checkpoints and enter Israel entirely at will, and without encountering a single soldier or slab of wall. If it was that easy for me by day, it would be even easier for a militant by cover of darkness, and the same is true throughout the porous perimeter across the West Bank.
Travelling unchecked to and from Bethlehem, Bet Jalla and other towns to the immediate south of Jerusalem is child's play for determined tourist or terrorist alike, yet statistics have shown a marked decrease in suicide attacks – suggesting that something other than the non-existent barrier is preventing such atrocities taking place around the clock.
Some believe that Hamas are responsible for the reduction in bombings, having never rescinded their declared hudna on suicide attacks shortly after coming to power. Others believe that the Palestinians realised that suicide bombings were a failed policy, in that they simply gave Israel justification for further land-grabs and heightened security measures in response to the attacks.
One activist to whom I spoke commented that the Shin Bet's network of informants was in fact the most effective tool Israel had in preventing suicide bombings, noting that the massive unemployment rate in the West Bank drove more and more Palestinians to desperate measures, such as collaboration, in order to supplement their meagre incomes.
Whether the near-cessation of suicide attacks is down to a policy of ceasefire or an increase in informers tipping off the Israeli authorities, the wall itself has very little effect on the statistics. If anything, it increases the likelihood of renewed violence against Israeli citizens in the long term, thanks to its crippling impact on life for Palestinians affected by the route of the barrier, and their belief that their situation is unlikely to ever improve.
In the meantime, many settlers are up in arms about the route of the wall, claiming that they have been "abandoned" behind the barrier by the Israeli authorities. They claim that they have no protection from attacks at the hands of Palestinian militants, despite the army maintaining a presence wherever Jewish settlers set up shop in the West Bank.
The defence minister Ehud Barak is "determined to complete the security fence, despite the delays", according to reports, although legal challenges and diplomatic pressure appear to have put paid to any major construction efforts for the foreseeable future. Settlements, as well as the infrastructure supporting their existence, are too hot a topic at present for the Israeli authorities simply to take unilateral decisions about where to place the wall or how to fence in those communities currently bereft of barricades.
Instead of burying their heads in the sand and pretending that all is well in terms of Israelis' security as a result of an incomplete wall, Israel's leaders ought to be worried about the consequences of continuing their policies of intransigence towards the Palestinians. The cyclical nature of the conflict means that the relative calm of today is by no means guaranteed to continue into the future.
Stifling the Palestinians of the means to provide for their families, whether by denying them freedom of movement or by brazenly taking their land from under their noses, ensures another generation will grow up resenting Israel and eventually resorting to violence as a way of expressing their rage.
Despite such tactics not being in the best interests of the Palestinian people, the fact that they have seen no progress even when they put down their arms means that the dam will inevitably burst again soon. When it does, the inefficacy of Israel's half-built wall will be plain for all to see, as too will the half-hearted measures at rapprochement which have hampered peace efforts for years and decades gone by.
Israel uses Hitler picture to sell its settlement expansion
Foreign minister orders diplomats to circulate photo ahead of discussions with President Obama's envoy
By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem
Saturday, 25 July 2009
Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's foreign minister, has triggered fresh controversy by urging diplomats abroad to use a 1941 photograph of a Palestinian religious leader meeting Hitler to counter protests against a planned Jewish settlement in Arab East Jerusalem.
The hard right Mr Lieberman ordered the circulation to Israeli embassies of copies of the notorious wartime photograph of Hitler meeting the then Mufti of Jerusalem, an overt sympathiser with the Nazis who helped them raise an SS division in Bosnia. The move has alarmed some experienced Israeli diplomats who believe it will be counterproductive. It came after the US State Department expressed its disapproval to Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador in Washington, over plans to build at least 20 apartments for Jewish settlers at the site of the old Shepherd's Hotel building in the inner East Jerusalem district of Sheikh Jarrah.
The building was once used as a headquarters of the Mufti, a member of the one of the most prominent Palestinian families in Jerusalem. The Palestinian nationalist Faisal al-Husseini, grand nephew of the Mufti, was a frequent interlocutor and strong advocate of peace moves with Israel in his later years until his death in 2001.
The plans for the Shepherd's Hotel site have highlighted a continuing rift between much of the international community and Israel over the latter's continued settlement building in East Jerusalem. The site was bought in the 1980s by a company controlled by Irving Moskowitz, a major benefactor of of right wing settler groups.
While the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is deep in negotiations with US officials over the settlement freeze in the West Bank being demanded by President Obama, he made it clear this week he will not be deterred from sanctioning continued building for Jews in East Jerusalem. Israel's sovereignty over the whole of the city "cannot be challenged", he said.
Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem – unlike the West Bank which it did not seek to annex – after the 1967 Six-Day War and officially regards the city as the undivided capital of Israel. But most Western governments do not recognise the annexation and back the Palestinians' call for East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.
One Israeli official in Jerusalem said of Mr Lieberman's move: "If the issue here is sovereignty over Jerusalem then passing on a historical photograph like this completely misses the point... It has nothing to do with it."
The Foreign Ministry confined itself to repeating Mr Lieberman's explanation that the photograph had been sent out so that "the facts are known".
George Mitchell, President Obama's Middle East Envoy is due to meet Mr Netanyahu to discuss the settlement freeze issue early next week. One Israeli official has predicted that the Prime Minister would go further than previous governments in ordering a moratorium on West Bank settlement building. The US has demanded a freeze to help kick-start peace negotiations with the moderate Palestinian leadership in Ramallah. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he will not accept Mr Netanyhau's invitation to talks without it.
But when it comes to East Jerusalem, Mr Netanyahu has made it clear he will follow previous governments – including that of his predecessor Ehud Olmert – by continuing to allow building there. Ahead of tomorrow's Cabinet meeting, he insisted that "residents of Jerusalem may purchase apartments in all parts of the city". He added: "In recent years hundreds of apartments in Jewish neighbourhoods and in the western part of the city have been purchased by – or rented to – Arab residents and we did not interfere... This is the policy of an open city, an undivided city that has no separation according to religion or national affiliation."
Amid protests from other governments, the French foreign ministry summoned Israel's ambassador Daniel Shek this week to re-state its opposition to settlement building, including in east Jerusalem. Some Palestinian Jerusalem residents have rented apartments in some Jewish settlements in outer East Jerusalem. A prominent anti-settlement Israeli lawyer Daniel Seidemann said this week that most land in West Jerusalem was state land which precludes those other than Israeli citizens – a category which includes Arab citizens of Israel – from purchasing property on it. Most Palestinian Jerusalemites are legal residents but not Israeli citizens. While Palestinian ID holders are not precluded from buying property on private land in West Jerusalem, Mr Seidemann did not know of any who had; this was for "social cultural and economic reasons".
The Mufti and the Fuhrer: A meeting of like minds
As the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem at the outbreak of the Second World War, Mohammad Amin al-Husayni was a powerful Nazi sympathiser – and an assassination target for the Allies. The moment that ensured his permanent notoriety came in 1941, when he was pictured with Adolf Hitler in Berlin. Al-Husayni was there to lobby Adolf Hitler for a declaration in favour of Arab nationalism and against a Jewish homeland. Hitler refused the request for tactical reasons, but the Mufti later recollected that he had sworn "the suppression of the Jewish national homeland is part of my battle". Few now dispute that he was an anti-Semite; whether he is still relevant is debatable. After he died, the hotel at the centre of the current dispute was bought by an American-Jewish millionaire.
Israel needs the truth about Cast Lead
Those who care about Israel's values and future want to know what happened last winter in Gaza. Only the guilty do not
Oded Na'aman guardian.co.uk, Friday 17 July 2009 11.30 BST
Earlier this week, Breaking the Silence, an organisation of Israeli veterans, released a book of soldiers' testimonies from the Cast Lead operation in the Gaza Strip. The public debate that this publication has provoked in Israel and that Dan Kosky is attempting to stir in his Guardian piece revolves around the methodology Breaking the Silence employed in collecting the data. The actual issues that arise in the testimonies – ammunition and rules of engagement, policy on house demolitions, treatment of civilian population, the tactics that were used – are neither explicitly denied nor confirmed. Instead, the army's spokesman decided to cast the testimonies as utterly unreliable, thereby avoiding the need to address their content.
First, it should be stated that our organisation does not claim to present a full and detailed portrait of the events of Operation Cast Lead. Breaking the Silence claims only to present the personal, firsthand stories of some 30 soldiers who participated in the attack. This is not all one can hope for but it is certainly more than has been made available to the Israeli public through any official channels.
Second, with regard to methodology, Breaking the Silence verifies all of its information by cross-referencing the testimonies it collects. The material that is eventually published has been confirmed by a number of testimonies, from several different points of view. Breaking the Silence also made it clear that the personal details of the soldiers quoted in the collection, and the exact location of the incidents described in the testimonies, would readily be made available to any official and independent investigation of the events, as long as the identity of the testifiers did not become public.
Finally, it is somewhat difficult to provide the accusations that Breaking the Silence has conducted a biased investigation with a dignified reply, when the only official investigation of the events of Operation Cast Lead has been conducted by an organisation whose involvement in the operation is anything but minor – the IDF.
But even if Kosky and the IDF's spokesman have reservations about the reliability of the testimonies, why should they want to avoid addressing their content? If the testimonies were so poorly assembled, it should not be difficult to present facts that refute them one by one. What better way is there to expose their "half-bakedness"? In light of their claims, it is Kosky's and the IDF's insistence on not discussing the details of the testimonies that raises suspicion. How can proud Israelis, who care about their army and soldiers, who believe in the legitimacy of their country's actions and conduct, dismiss the opportunity, offered to them by the very soldiers they sent to war, to learn more about what was done there in their names?
If there is a slight chance that you, your father, your brother, your partner or your child, were sent to (among other things) kill innocent people in dangerous actions that did not contribute to the safety of your family, society or country, wouldn't you like to look into it? Wouldn't you like to know what is it exactly the army charged with defending you and your freedom is doing in your name? If your answer is "no", it is because you suspect there is some uncomfortable truth that might be revealed. After all, if you are confident of the legitimacy of your army's actions, you should not be reluctant to learn more. If you reject the opportunity to learn more about those you trust with your life, you surrender your freedom to those you secretly know are likely to abuse it.
This self-weakening, self-defeating attitude is adopted by those who claim to "defend Israel" by undermining the credibility of the new testimonies from Operation Cast Lead. Those who care about Israel, the values it aspires to stand for and its future, want to know what happened last winter in the Gaza Strip. Only the guilty turn their eyes away from their actions while filling the air with cries of their innocence.
Gambling with peace: how US bingo dollars are funding Israeli settlements
• California charity 'a barrier to West Bank resolution'
• Millionaire's foundation must be curbed, critics say
Chris McGreal guardian.co.uk, Sunday 19 July 2009 21.21 BST
For the winning punters chancing their luck at Hawaiian Gardens' charity bingo hall in the heart of one of California's poorest towns, the big prize is $500. The losers walk away with little more than an assurance that their dollars are destined for a good cause.
But the real winners and losers live many thousands of miles away, where the profits from the nightly ritual of numbers-calling fund what critics describe as a form of ethnic cleansing by extremist organisations.
Each dollar spent on bingo by the mostly Latino residents of Hawaiian Gardens, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, helps fund Jewish settlements on Palestinian land in some of the most sensitive areas of occupied East Jerusalem, particularly the Muslim quarter of the old city, and West Bank towns such as Hebron where the Israeli military has forced Arabs out of their properties in their thousands.
Over the past 20 years, the bingo hall has funnelled tens of millions of dollars in to what its opponents — including rabbis serving the Hawaiian Gardens area — describe as an ideologically-driven strategy to grab land for Israel, as well as contributing to influential American groups and thinktanks backing Israel's more hawkish governments.
But the bingo operation, owned by an American Jewish doctor and millionaire, Irving Moskowitz, has taken on added significance in recent weeks as President Barack Obama has laid down a marker to Israel in demanding an end to settlement construction, which the White House regards as a major obstacle to peace. "Moskowitz is taking millions from the poorest town in California and sending it to the settlements," said Haim Dov Beliak, a rabbi serving Hawaiian Gardens and one of the Jewish religious leaders in California who have campaigned to block the flow of funds to the settlers.
"The money Moskowitz puts in to the settlements has changed the game. Moskowitz has helped build a hardcore of the settler movement that may number 50-70,000.
"He's not paying for all of it but he puts the money up front for the vanguards that get things off the ground. That ties Israel's hands. That ties the hands of the Obama administration. If the administration wants to be serious about stopping the settlers it has to begin in Hawaiian Gardens."
Moskowitz is an 80-year-old retired doctor and orthodox Jewish millionaire who built a fortune buying and selling hospitals. In 1988 he also bought the faltering bingo hall in Hawaiian Gardens which, under California law, can only be run as not-for-profit operation so Moskowitz brought it under the wing of a charitable foundation he had established in his own name.
The foundation, which did not respond to requests for an interview, bills the bingo operation as of great benefit to the local community through donations to a number of groups, such as the Hawaiian Gardens food bank, as well as scholarships. It has also given money for disaster relief in Central America, Kosovo and parts of the US.
But tax returns show that the bulk of the donations go to what the foundation describes as "charitable support" to an array of organisations in Israel.
"The loss of many of Dr Moskowitz's relatives during the Holocaust strengthened his conviction that Israel must be maintained as a safe haven for Jewish people from all over the world. In Israel, the Foundation supports a wide array of religious, educational, cultural and emergency services organisations," the foundation says on its website.
What it does not say is that the focus of the donations is a number of Jewish organisations intent on claiming Palestinian territory for Israel and ensuring that occupied East Jerusalem remains in the Jewish state's hands.
Beliak calculates that the foundation has given Jewish settlers well over £100m, beginning with the construction 20 years ago of 133 houses on land confiscated from Palestinians by the Israeli government.
Beliak helped launch the Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens & Jerusalem to stop the flow of money from the bingo hall to the settlements. Its investigations of tax records show that the Moskowitz Foundation's donations include grants to Beit Hadassah, a militant Jewish settlement in the heart of the West Bank city of Hebron.
Thousands of Arabs have been forced from their homes and businesses around Beit Hadassah ostensibly for their own security after an American-born settler Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinians nearby in 1994. Goldstein was himself shot dead and his grave is regarded as a shrine by some settlers. Moskowitz has made excuses for Goldstein's actions by blaming Palestinians for pushing him too far.
The foundation has also given more than £3.5m to Ateret Cohanim, a right wing group that houses Jews in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem's old city. In other parts of East Jerusalem, Moskowitz has funded Jewish colonies situated to box in or cut off Palestinian neighbourhoods that fits in with a broader government strategy to ensure total Israeli control over the city.
"What Moskowitz pioneered was trying to break up the continuity of the Arab population centres in Jerusalem," said Beliak. "The consequences are radically different from just mom and pop buying a little piece of land. These are political statements and facts on the ground, and every [US] administration has allowed him to do this."
Among the most contentious of the organisations backed by Moskowitz is the City of David Foundation in the heart of an Arab neighbourhood of Jerusalem, where about 1,500 Palestinians are facing expulsion ostensibly in the name of archaeological preservation of a site where the organisation says King David established a city 3,000 years ago.
Four years ago, the City of David Foundation director, Doron Spielman, told the Guardian that "the goal of our organisation is to increase the presence of Jews in the neighbourhood as much as possible … We cannot trust that if this is an Arab neighbourhood, Jews will be safe here".
To that end Palestinians have been driven from their homes, sometimes at gunpoint, while others are fighting in the courts to cling on to their properties.
Moskowitz has made no secret of his hostility toward the Palestinians. He opposed the Oslo peace accords, likening them to the appeasement of the Nazis. In 1996 he told the Los Angeles Times that peace talks represented a "slide toward concessions, surrender, and Israeli suicide".
He was also an outspoken opponent of Ariel Sharon's removal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza strip four years ago and provided the settlers with funds to fight the pullout.
Now Moskowitz is building a much bigger bingo hall in Hawaiian Gardens which will increase the flow of cash.
Beliak is particularly angered that the fundraising takes place without interference from the American authorities. In contrast, he says, Muslim charities which raise money to help Palestinians have been targeted for investigation, shut down and some of their administrators jailed because providing welfare to Gaza indirectly helps Hamas.
"After 2001 there was a whole discourse about how supposedly Muslims [in America] used these charitable donations to support violence.
"There was never ever in the US anything substantially that made that case. But here they did have a case where somebody was using money to support settlers, money that fosters extremism and violence, and they completely ignored it," said Beliak.
Israel defies US on settlements
The Israeli prime minister had defied US demands to suspend a settlement construction project in East Jerusalem, sparking what Washington calls "intense" negotiations between the allies.
Binyamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that he would not take orders on where Jews can live and reiterated the claim that a united Jerusalem is Israel's capital, which most of the world does not recognise.
"We cannot accept the fact that Jews wouldn't be entitled to live and buy anywhere in Jerusalem," Netanyahu declared, calling Israeli sovereignty over the entire city "indisputable".
Israeli officials said on Sunday that Michael Oren, the country's ambassador to Washington, had been summoned to the US state department and told that a project in the disputed section of the city should be abandoned.
According to the Israeli Army Radio, the US demanded that planning approval for the project, which is being developed by an American millionaire, be revoked.
Netanyahu's response places renewed focus on the strained ties between the allies over the settlements issue.
Speaking on a visit to India on Sunday, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said Washington was trying to reach an agreement with Israel on settlements.
"The negotiations are intense. They are ongoing," she said.
Granted by the Jerusalem municipality earlier this month, the planning approval for the controversial project allows the construction of 20 apartments plus a three-level underground parking lot that will replace the Shepherd hotel.
The old hotel lies in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where settlement building is illegal under international law.
Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, said: "If the Israeli prime minister continues with settlement activities, he will undermine the efforts to revive the peace process."
Most international powers consider Jewish neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem to be settlements and an obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.
Settlements have emerged as a major sticking point in relations between Israel and the administration of Barack Obama, the US president.
Although Netanyahu recently yielded to US pressure to conditionally endorse the establishment of a Palestinian state, he has consistently resisted US demands for a total freeze on settlement expansion.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Akiva Eldar, the chief political columnist for Israeli newspaper Haaretz, said the dispute was an example of how settlement building had become a publicly acknowledged obstacle to the peace process.
"I think the high profile that both Israel and the United States, as well as the Arab countries and particularly the Palestinians, have put on the settlements is offering a good potential for a head-on collision," he said.
"According to the official Israeli position, it's not illegal and even the United States, for many years, and even now, is not making a point of the legal issues, they're just saying it's not helpful ... but no country, not even the United States, has recognised [Israel's] annexation of East Jerusalem."
Israel annexed East Jerusalem and declared the whole city its capital after the 1967 Middle East war.
Ziad al-Hammouri, the director of the Jerusalem Centre for Social and Economic Rights that provides legal assistance to Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, told Al Jazeera "what's happening in Jerusalem today ... is illegal".
"East Jerusalem is a part of the occupied territories which has to be given back and form part of a Palestinian state."
Israeli soldiers reveal the brutal truth of Gaza attack
Troops' testimonies disclose loose rules of engagement and use of civilians as human shields. Palestinian houses were systematically destroyed by 'insane artillery firepower'
By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Israeli troops were repeatedly encouraged by officers to prioritise their own safety over that of Palestinian civilians when they embarked on the ground invasion of Gaza in January, according to the first direct testimonies of soldiers who served in the operation.
The picture that emerges from the testimonies, which have been seen by The Independent, is one of massive fire power to cover advances and rules of engagement that were calculated to ensure, in the words attributed to one battalion commander, that "not a hair will fall of a soldier of mine. I am not willing to allow a soldier of mine to risk himself by hesitating. If you are not sure, shoot."
The first eye-witness accounts of the war by serving Israeli reservists and conscripts describes the Israeli use of Palestinian civilians as "human shields". They detail the killing of at least two civilians, the vandalism, looting and wholesale destruction of Palestinian houses, the use of deadly white phosphorus, bellicose religious advice from army rabbis and what another battalion commander described to his troops as "insane firepower with artillery and air force". The reports amount to the most formidable challenge by Israelis since the Gaza war to the military's own considered view that it conducted the operation according to international law and made "an enormous effort to focus its fire only against the terrorists whilst doing the utmost to avoid harming uninvolved civilians".
They are contained in testimonies from about 30 soldiers that were collected by Breaking the Silence, an army veterans organisation that seeks to "expose the Israeli public to the routine situations of everyday life in the occupied territories". Although the organisation has collected hundreds of testimonies from ex-soldiers before, this is the first time that it has done so from serving soldiers so soon after the events they describe.
They tell how:
* Unprecedentedly loose rules of engagement were put in place to protect Israeli troops. One soldier said his brigade commander and other officers made it clear that "any movement must entail gunfire". He added: "I don't remember if the brigade commander said this or someone else. I' m not sure. No one is supposed to be there. If you see any signs of movement at all, you shoot. These, essentially, were the rules of engagement. Shoot if you like if you are afraid or you see someone, shoot." Another soldier said his battalion commander had said the operation was not "a limited confrontation such as in Hebron, and not to hesitate if we suspected someone nor feel bad about destruction because it is all done for the safety of our own soldiers... if we see something suspect and shoot, better hit an innocent than hesitate to target an enemy". One soldier said the "awareness of each soldier going in is simply... a light finger on the trigger. You see something
and you're not quite sure? You shoot".
* Houses were systematically demolished. Despite official accounts that homes were only destroyed for strictly "operational" reasons, one reservist, a veteran of the conflict in Gaza since before 2005, said "I never knew such fire power" used by tanks and helicopters for the "constant destruction" of houses. The soldier said that some houses had been destroyed for normal operational reasons, such as because they had been booby trapped or used by militants to fire from, or had contained tunnel openings. But he said others were destroyed for the "day after" – to make a "very large" area "sterile", to allow better "firing capacity, good visibility and control" once the operation was over. This meant, demolishing houses "not implicated in any way, whose single sin is that it is situated on a hill in the Gaza strip" .
* A civilian man between 50 and 60 who was unarmed but carrying a torch was shot dead after the unit's commander ordered his soldiers not to fire warning shots but to hold their fire until he was 50m away. The soldier said the company commander announced over the radio after the incident: "Here's an opener for tonight". The soldier said that the commander was challenged over why he had not authorised deterrent fire when the man was further away: "He didn't agree and couldn't give a damn, and finally the guys felt that even if they could take this up with the higher echelons it wouldn't be effective." Another soldier said his unit commander shot dead an old man hiding with his family under the stairs of a house. While the soldier said that the killing of the man was a mistake, it had happened as the unit entered the house using live fire.
* Palestinian human shields – or "johnnies" as they were termed by soldiers on the ground – were suborned to enter surrounded houses ahead of troops, including houses known to contain armed militants. One account corroborates the story of one such human shield that was exposed in The Independent, that of Majdi Abed Rabbo in Jabalya in northern Gaza, who was ordered three times to enter a house to report on the condition of three armed Hamas militants inside.
* Military rabbis prepared troops for battle. One soldier said an army rabbi had "aimed at inspiring the men with courage, cruelty aggressiveness, expressions as 'no pity. God protects you. Everything you do is sanctified'... there were specific scenarios discussed... but from the context it was pretty obvious he came to tell us how aggressive and determined we need to be, that we must win because this is a holy war". Leaflets distributed at military synagogues had stated that "the Palestinians are like the Philistines of old, newcomers who do not belong in the land, aliens planted on the soil which should clearly return to us".
* Mortars – rarely if ever used in Gaza before – were widely deployed. They included 120mm mortars of the sort that killed up to 40 civilians outside the UN el-Fakhoura school in Jabalya which was being used as a shelter, and in a nearby house. One soldier explained that while "with light arms you've got an 80 per cent chance of hitting the target with your first shot, with mortars it is much less". Another said: "I finally understood. We were firing at launcher crews in open spaces. But it didn't take much to aim at schools, hospitals and such. So I see I'm firing literally into a built-up area. I don't know to what degree it was still inhabited because the army made considerable attempts to get people to leave. But I understand that... [tails off]."
The testimonies appear to reinforce evidence from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and journalists who visited battle zones just after the war in January that white phosphorus was used for purposes other than "marking", "range-finding" and "smoke screening". Those purposes included to ignite homes suspected of being booby trapped.
Houses that troops occupied were vandalised. One testimony stated: "One of the soldiers... opened the child's bag... he took out notebooks and ripped them. One guy smashed cupboards for kicks out of boredom. There were guys arguing with the platoon commander before we left the house why he wouldn't let them smash the picture hanging there..." A reservist soldier said that there was a "big difference between the way we treated the contents of the house and the way the regulars did. The regulars wouldn't take care even of the most basic sanitary stuff like going to the toilet, basic hygiene. I mean you could see that they had defecated anywhere and left the stuff lying round".
A spokeswoman for the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), Lieutenant-Colonel Avital Leibovitz, sought to challenge the motives and credibility of the report. She said "more than a dozen" military police investigations were under way into incidents that took place during Operation Cast Lead. While the IDF continued to operate according to "uncompromising ethical values", it was ready to investigate allegations of misconduct but not on the basis of anonymous testimonies which she could not be sure were from soldiers.
The Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard said the report showed that the Gaza operation violated the "number one principle in international laws of war": that of distinguishing between the civilian population and combatants.
Yehuda Shaul, a founder of Breaking the Silence, said the group had names and details for all the testimonies – all of which had been taped – and that anonymity was to protect the testifiers from any disciplinary or criminal proceedings. The army already knew the name of at least one, he said.
Gaza invasion: Witnesses on the front line
On military briefings ahead of the invasion
"We talked about practical matters... but the basic approach to war was very brutal, that was my impression... He said something along the lines of 'don't let morality become an issue. That will come up later'. He had this strange language: 'Leave the nightmares and horrors that will come up for later, now just shoot'... The basic approach was that there were no chances taken. If you face an area that is hidden by a building, you take down the building. Questions such as 'who lives in the building?' are not asked."
On problems with identifying targets for bombing
"It got to the point where we would try to report to field intelligence about a figure sticking out its head or a rocket being launched, and the girl [at field intelligence] would ask, 'Is it near this or that house?' We'd look at the aerial photo and say, 'Yes, but the house is no longer there'. 'Wait, is it facing a square?' 'No more square.'... Later I went in to the look-out war-room and asked how things worked, and the girl-soldiers there, the look-outs, resented the fact that they had no way to direct the planes, because all their reference points were razed... It's highly possible that now the pilot will bomb the wrong house."
On the rules of engagement
"[The Brigade commander] went so far as to say this was war and in war, no consideration of civilians was to be taken. You shoot anyone you see. I'm paraphrasing here, not literally quoting, but the gist of the matter was very clear."
On the rabbinate's role in the conflict
"The rabbi said we are actually conducting the war of 'the sons of light' against 'the sons of darkness'. This is in fact a statement with highly messianic language... It turns the other side as a generality into 'sons of darkness' while we become 'sons of light'. There is no differentiation which we would expect to find between civilians and others. Here is one people fighting another people, with all the messianic implications. But that's the point: this is also religious propaganda. In other words, the army is not a revival meeting. They do not put on a uniform in order to be Judaized."
On soldiers' responsibility
"Anything we did there, we'd answer ourselves: there's no other choice, but this is how we shirk our responsibility. You bring yourself to this kind of deterministic situation, a moment that I have not chosen, where I no longer have any responsibility for my own actions. Even if your choice is the right one, you must admit you chose it. You have to admit you chose to go into Gaza. As soon as you did, you've brought people into a moral twilight zone, you've forced them to handle dilemmas and part of that confrontation failed. As soon as you say 'there is no other choice', you're shirking your responsibility. Then you don't need to investigate, to look into things."
* Breaking The Silence - full testimonies..
Israel troops speak out on Gaza war
Some troops fighting in Israel's war on Gaza were urged by their commanders to shoot first rather than worry about killing civilians, a document from an Israeli activist group shows.
Published on Wednesday, the document also gives an insight into Israel's policy of house demolitions and its use of white phosphorus during its 22-day campaign.
"Better hit an innocent than hesitate to target an enemy," one soldier is recorded as saying, speaking about instructions given to him in advance of the operation, which ran from December 27 to January 18.
Another interpreted the orders given to him as: "If you're not sure, kill ... In urban warfare, anyone is your enemy. No innocents."
Under such conditions, it is possible the Israelis feared attacks by suicide bombers.
"There were lots of suicide bomber alerts at the time, all the time," said one of the unnamed soldiers whose testimony was recorded in the document..
The Israeli military has rejected the criticisms levelled against it, saying in a statement the they were "based on hearsay".
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Lieutenant-Colonel Avital Leibovich, an Israeli army spokesperson, criticised the document for not containing "facts", such as the names or ranks of the soldiers or dates on which the testimonies were recorded.
She also defended the Israeli army's conduct during its Gaza campaign.
"We did many things in order to try to save lives of the population, such as half a million leaflets were dropped from the air, numerous phone calls to terrorists' homes were made, we used the local media to warn the public and so on and so forth," she said.
Some of the soldiers' testimonies in the report record the use of white phosphorous, a controversial weapon that can cause chemical burns.
One soldier said that his unit had received an order to "ignite" an area.
"The way to do that was to actually fire phosphorus shells from above," he said.
"What the phosphorus does is to let out an umbrella of fire over the target and naturally that ignites the whole house."
The results of a white phosphorus bombardment were "upsetting" another soldier said, "because in training you learn that white phosphorus is not used, and you're taught that it's not humane".
International law permits the use of white phosphorus as an "obscurant" to cover troop movements and prevent enemies from using certain guided weapons.
Soldiers also described a "Neighbour Procedure" in which civilians were forced to enter suspect buildings ahead of troops.
They cited cases of civilians advancing in front of a soldier resting his rifle on their shoulder.
An earlier report by rights-group Amnesty International accused Israel of "breaching laws of war" and accused it of putting children and other civilians in harm's way "by forcing them to remain in or near houses which they took over and used as military positions".
Israel has consistently said its troops had respected international law during its war on Gaza, in which over 1,300 Palestinians were killed, many of them children.
Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians were also killed in the fighting.
The UN says that Gaza, six months after fighting ended, is just beginning to clear 600,000 tonnes of rubble.
The soldiers' testimonies published by Breaking the Silence come soon after a UN team investigating possible war crimes in Gaza ended a week-long fact finding mission in the Strip.
The four-member team entered from Egypt after Israel failed to grant visas, despite repeated requests by the UN.
Israel accuses the UN branch carrying out the mission of bias against it.
An inquiry by the Israeli military into its own conduct during the war found no evidence of war crimes being committed.
The families driven apart by Israel's red tape
New regulations are making it increasingly difficult for Palestinians from Gaza to see their relatives in the West Bank
By Donald Macintyre
Friday, 10 July 2009
The frequent claims by Gaza's 1.5 million residents that they live in a "big prison" have become a cliché. But they have been given fresh force by new Israeli procedures that make it virtually impossible for Palestinians to leave Gaza even to reunite with their spouses and children in the West Bank.
The Israeli government has recently eased movement within the West Bank for Palestinians. But a new and classified Israeli government document reveals that already heavy restrictions on Palestinian movement from Gaza to the West Bank have been tightened further. The document came to light after a Supreme Court challenge by the Israeli human rights organisation HaMoked.
It says the Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai "established that in every case involving the settlement of Gaza residents in the Judaea and Samaria area [West Bank] one should adopt the most restrictive policy... [and he] clarified that a family relationship in and of itself does not qualify as a humanitarian reason that would justify settlement by Gaza residents [in the West Bank]".
HaMoked and another human rights organisation, Gisha, are convinced that security has nothing to do with a policy which they say undermines a two-state solution by "deepening and formalising" the separation between the two territories. While the military say the Gazans are among thousands living "illegally" in the West Bank, Gisha and HaMoked say the policy directly violates provisions in the 16-year-old Oslo accords to treat the West Bank and Gaza as a "single territorial unit" and ignores the "basic" rights of Palestinian civilians to live in either.
The criteria impose an – unspecified – quota on Gazans allowed to leave and mean that even a child with one dead parent cannot join the other in the West Bank if he has another relative in Gaza to look after him. Joel Greenberg, spokesman for HaMoked, calls it "a one-way ticket to an area Israel is well rid of, unlike the West Bank, where it has territorial claims".
A request for comment to Mr Vilnai's spokeswoman was eventually passed on to the Office for Co-ordination of Government Activities in the Territories. While declining to comment on the policy, it said that Samir Abu Yusef along with Kawkab and Nisrin Jilo [see right] had been barred from leaving Gaza for "security reasons". But Gisha said that no security allegations had ever been made against the three in their dealings with the military on their behalf. Sari Bashi, Gisha's director, added: "Where there are security allegations, that is the first, second, and only thing they mention."
Jamal Bardawil: 'I've never seen my son'
Jamal Bardawil supports his wife Hadil and their two children, Sami, almost two, and Isra, almost three, by working as an electrician from his sister's house in the West Bank. But he has never seen Sami, who, his mother says, calls the telephone "Baba"– daddy.
Mr Bardawil has signed a document undertaking not to return to the West Bank, so he can go back to Gaza. But yesterday he said he had reconsidered and is seeking instead a permit to allow him to visit his family and return to his job in the West Bank.
The Israeli human rights group HaMoked is looking into petitioning the Supreme Court for a ruling that he can do so, having failed to secure one to relocate his family. Unlike those who have been deported to Gaza, Mr Bardawil can at least stay in his mother's house, where his wife is living. But it is small consolation.
"There is no opportunity to work in Gaza," he says. "It's like a prison. I'll have nothing to do there. I'll get coupons and support from the UN [refugee agency] until they open the crossings." He claims the Israeli stance is that "we will pressure him until we defeat him psychologically and he will decide to go to Gaza."
Samir abu Yusef: 'If I became an informer, I'd be allowed to go back'
Until his world fell apart two years ago, Samir abu Yusef was doing well. Having left Gaza in 1994 amid the optimism generated by the Oslo accords to spend three years at an industrial training centre in Jericho, he had settled in Qalqilya, was married to a local woman, Kawther, and had four children, his own carpentry business and a house of his own.
It was coming home on 10 February 2007, after slipping into Israel on a job, that it all ended. Passing through the Jajuliya checkpoint on his way back to the city, he was told by border police to produce his ID card. A few hours later he was in the back of a military jeep speeding to the Erez crossing into Gaza. He has not seen his family – or had a day's work – since.
Arrested, Mr Abu Yusef begged to be allowed to go home. He says an intelligence agent told him that if he collaborated with Israeli security forces he could rejoin his family.
"He said: 'I don't want big things, just little ones like who's thieving and so on.'. But I knew this would only be the beginning. I refused." Even after he returned to his brothers' crowded home in Nusseirat refugee camp, Shin Bet kept calling him, inviting him to be an informer. "If I said yes I would be able to go back," he says.
His brother Qassem, 40, a member of the Fatah-dominated PA security forces who are still being paid from Ramallah, is – humiliatingly – his sole source of support.. He says of Samir, his younger brother: "Sometimes we hear him crying at night." Describing how he took a call from his nine-year old son Bassem's school after the Gaza war started in January, Samir Abu Yusef says: "The head said the students should pray for the martyrs in Gaza. Bassem started crying and saying that his father was a martyr." The school asked Mr Abu Yusef to reassure him by telephone that he was still alive.
Meanwhile, his wife Kawther, 32, with two elderly parents to look after, depends on donations from neighbours and is facing unpaid bills and a debt of more than £1,500 at the couple's Qaliqilya home. Pointing out that he was fully supporting his family when he was still in the West Bank, Mr Abu Yusef says: "I want to appeal personally to [Middle East Quartet envoy] Tony Blair to help me get back home. I am not trying to live in Tel Aviv or Haifa. I just want to go back to Qalqilya."
Kawther Abu Yusef adds: "The Israelis don't want people in the West Bank; they want them in Gaza. They are using Gaza as a dumping place.!
Nisrin Jilo: 'They only know my voice'
Recently Nisrin Jilo dreamt that "I was playing with my children and they were sitting on my lap. I woke up but I wanted to get back to sleep so I could go back to the dream."
In reality Nisrin, 27, hasn't seen her children Wadi'ya, now four, and Rouand, 12, since she was summarily deported two years to Gaza after being stopped at an Israeli checkpoint outside the West Bank city of Qalqilya two years ago. Her offence: carrying a Palestinian ID showing her as a Gaza resident. Very poor, and having moved from house to house to lodge with various relatives in Gaza over the past two years, she can only afford to telephone the children twice a week. "They only know me from the phone," says Nisrin. "They don't know my face, only my voice."
Nisrin has no idea if or when she will ever see her children again. Although her family is originally from Gaza, her parents moved to the West Bank 14 years ago. Separated from her husband but happy amidst her extended family, Nisrin, along with her mother, Kawkab, and a young sister Fide, 15, travelled back that fateful day by taxi from a visit to a sick married sister in the East Jerusalem suburb of Aram.
On the return journey they arrived at the Jajuliya checkpoint. They were told they were going back to Gaza. "I said: 'We live in Qalqilya. My family own a house there. My mother and I pay our bills to the municipality.' I was crying because they were deporting me from my children. But they said they had orders from high. They put us in a jeep and took us to [the] Erez [crossing into Gaza]."
For Kawkab Jilo, 45, the deportation was equally traumatic. For while she is a grandmother, her three youngest children are all under 16. Mrs Jilo wept as she described a recent conversation with her youngest daughter, Sabrin, 11, who after good progress in school, has now failed her year-end exams. "She told me 'don't be angry I failed. I always think of you. When you get back I will pass'."
Back in Qalqilya, Sabrin's sister Suha, 15, explains that even when her mother phones from Gaza, "If we have a problem at a school I will not tell my mother because she is in Gaza and she will just worry. We don't have a person who tells what is right and what is wrong."
Could Nisrin bring the family, including her sick father, to a poverty-stricken and war-ravaged Gaza? She is incredulous. "We are 25 in Qalqilya and just three women here. Shall we bring the whole family because of three? We have nothing here."
* Ben Lynfield reported from the West Bank.
Israel's wall still deepening the divide
Five years ago the international court of justice ruled that Israel's separation wall should be demolished. But it is still growing
Ben White guardian.co.uk, Thursday 9 July 2009 08.00 BST
Five years ago today, the international court of justice in The Hague published its advisory opinion on Israel's separation wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The keenly awaited verdict, requested by the UN's general assembly, was clear: Israel's wall is illegal, it must be removed and adequate compensation paid.
The wall's illegality, and Israel's obligation to dismantle the structure and pay damages for the consequences of the wall thus far, were all agreed by the judges by a margin of 14-1. (The ICJ also accepted the use of the term "wall", since "other expressions" are "no more accurate".) There was also confirmation that Israel's settlements were "a flagrant violation" of the convention, established "in breach of international law" (contrast this with the mealy-mouthed nitpicking over outposts and "freezes" by Barack Obama and Binyamin Netanyahu). Overall, the court found that the route of the wall threatened to create "de facto annexation", with the wall itself described as severely impeding "the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination".
At the time, the ICJ decision was hailed by Palestinians and dismissed by the Israeli government. As Yasser Arafat described it as a "victory for the Palestinian people", a spokesman for the then prime minister Ariel Sharon, Raanan Gissin, opined that "after all the rancour dies, this resolution will find its place in the garbage can of history".
Both the US and UK had opposed the entire process, on the odd grounds that the UN's main judicial body for settling legal disputes was not "the appropriate forum to resolve what is a political issue". In the words of Jack Straw, it was better not to "embroil" the ICJ "in a heavily political bilateral dispute".
This opposition was rare – later that same month, the general assembly voted by 150 to six in support of the ICJ opinion. The decision was also welcomed by the likes of Oxfam and Amnesty International, with Oxfam's director adding that the ruling was a "step in the right direction" but needed "further action" by the international community.
But meaningful "further action" was not forthcoming, and Israel pressed on with the wall. Five years on, the wall loops around the West Bank and cuts through East Jerusalem, isolating Palestinian communities and devastating lives, and has become an integral part of Israel's apartheid regime in the territories. About two-thirds of the 700km+ route, featuring a 8m-high wall, electric fences, sniper towers and "buffer zones" up to 100m wide, is completed or under construction. Of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, 8.5% will be on the "wrong" side of the wall. In terms of size as well as significance, this would be comparable to the UK losing Greater London and south-east England.
For Israel to consolidate its hold on the illegal colonies in the OPT, many Palestinians find themselves hemmed in and surrounded by the wall's contortions (pdf). About 35,000 Palestinians with West Bank IDs are to be caught between the wall and the Green Line – if you add (pdf) the East Jerusalem Palestinians in the same position, this figure increases to about 260,000.
These are the bare facts five years on from the ICJ opinion. Israel has ignored the judges' decision, but that's not a surprise.. However, has the Palestinian leadership sufficiently exploited the opinion? Speaking to Palestinians involved in monitoring the wall's progress, or in directly resisting it on the ground, there is a feeling that Palestinian diplomats have not done as much with the ICJ result as they could have.
Palestinians in communities directly affected by the wall continue to put up resistance, sometimes at their cost of their lives: 18 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces during anti-wall protests, the youngest victim a 10-year-old boy. While they fight for survival, the wall has also played a key role in changing the big picture, delineating the borders of the Palestinian enclaves Israel will grant "statehood".
In 1994, the then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin said that "we have to decide on separation as a philosophy". However, this is not separation on equal terms – the following year Rabin also made it clear that the Palestinian "entity" would be "less than a state". There is a term for unequal separation in international law – apartheid (I will talk about this tonight). The wall urgently needs dismantling; but it is only one part of a bigger whole.
McKinney released, returning to United States
By RHONDA COOK, LARRY HARTSTEIN
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Sunday, July 05, 2009
Cynthia McKinney’s mom said she’s learned that her daughter is on the way home.
Leola McKinney said a friend who contacted the U.S. Embassy in Israel reported that the former congresswoman was released from Israeli custody and taken to Ben Gurion International Airport.
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• DeKalb County news “We finally got word that she was released,” Leola McKinney said late Sunday afternoon. “We don’t know what time she is supposed to fly out. All we know is that they took her to the airport.
“I would be more relieved when I know she’s on the flight,” Leola McKinney added. “But I am relieved that she’s away from there.”
McKinney had been in custody since Tuesday, when she and 20 others were swept up by the Israeli Navy while allegedly trying to sail through a navy blockade. The group says it was attempting to deliver humanitarian supplies to Gaza.
McKinney and the rest of her group could have been released soon after they were taken into custody but they refused to sign a document admitting they violated Israel’s blockade, according to McKinney’s parents. The group was due to appear in an Israeli court Sunday.
Leola McKinney said she had no information about the court hearing.
Leola McKinney said she had not spoken with her daughter since shortly after she was taken into custody.
Cynthia McKinney and other members of the “Free Gaza Movement ” left Cyprus Tuesday on the Greek-registered ship Arion.
Their ship was stopped when they tried to pass through the Israeli Navy’s security blockade at Ashdod. The group was taken into custody and their ship was seized. Israel officials promised to deliver by ground all of the humanitarian supplies that were on the boat.
Family, friends and supporters say Cynthia McKinney believed she was in international waters and was free to pass.
“The Israelis hijacked us because we wanted to give crayons to the children of Gaza,” Cynthia McKinney said in a recorded statement delivered via telephone and posted on the internet site YouTube [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkPvzSZRuDo].
The office of the Consulate General of Israel in Atlanta said in a statement released Friday, “According to Israeli law Ms. McKinney and her fellow crew members were suggested to sign a form acknowledging their deportation… Since Ms. McKinney has refused to do so, she is expected to appear before an Israeli judge on Sunday, July 5, and afterwards be returned home as soon as possible.”
Civil rights leader the Rev. Joseph Lowery, head of the Atlanta-based Coalition for the People’s Agenda, said he and others have spoken by phone with the Consulate General of Israel.
“Whatever happened, there was no harm done,” Lowery said. “She was not carrying munitions, but medicine. We hope Israel will show compassion and release her and let her go on to deliver the much-needed medicine to the Gaza Strip. … If she were carrying guns, that would be a different thing. [But] she was carrying humanitarian aid.”
Israeli officials blame McKinney and her group for the controversy, saying they were looking for confrontation to attract publicity. The officials note that Palestinian Authority and the rest of the international community had agreed to the off-shore blockade to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza. Gaza is controlled by Hamas, which is classified by the U.S. and European Union as a terrorist organization.
Leola McKinney said the trip would have received no “publicity if they had been allowed to deliver supplies to Gaza. They [Israel] made an issue out of it by taking the boat and escorting them into Israel.”
Billy McKinney, Cynthia McKinney’s father and a former state legislator, said his daughter was only trying to show “the devastation in Gaza… Anybody who has a humanitarian spirit would not want to see those people live in those conditions.”