can’t see the forest

Israel Declares ‘Ceasefire’

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Citing that its objectives “and more” have been met over the course of its three-week offensive in Gaza, Israel has declared an end to military action in the Gaza strip which is currently thought to have claimed more than 1,000 Palestinian lives in addition to a much smaller number of Israeli casualties.

The BBC reports:

The Israeli prime minister’s announcement came in a televised address following a late-night cabinet meeting.

Israel’s “goals have been achieved, and even more”, Mr Olmert said, with Hamas badly damaged both militarily and in terms of infrastructure.

But the success of the ceasefire depended on Hamas, he said. If militant rocket fire into Israel continued, Israel would return to force, he said.

How Hamas responds remains to be seen.

The group says any ceasefire must involve Israeli troops withdrawing from Gaza and an immediate lifting of the Israeli blockade.

It has been widely speculated that Israel would halt its incursion before the inauguration of a new U.S. President, since it is roundly understood—and of course denied by the Israeli government—that the support of the White House is a crucial factor in such actions. And Israeli officials know all too well that, regardless of whether or not their stated objectives have been achieved, the appeal of Hamas as a retaliatory vehicle for disenfranchised, ravaged Palestinians has been no more than temporarily shaken and, on the long term, probably vastly deepened. In light of that basic reality, one must ask what the real objectives of the assault have been. It is likely that they had little if anything to do with sporadic rocket fire and much more to do with inflicting the maximum amount of pain and suffering while the time was ripe.

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Rockets from the North

Posted in Gaza, Israel, Lebanon, middle east, Palestine, World News by Curtis on 1/8/09

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katyushaReports are surfacing that Katyusha rockets fired from within Lebanon  landed in the Israeli town of Nahariya early on Thursday morning, injuring at least one Israeli. Though no group has yet taken responsibility for the attacks, the Israeli Defence Forces have countered by firing artillery shells over the Lebanese border.

Al-jazeera reports:

Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman, said the Katyusha rockets fell around the town of Nahariya, about 8km south of the Lebanese border, early on Thursday.

The Israeli military fired mortars into southern Lebanon in response to the missile barrage.

Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut, said there had been no immediate claim of responsibility, but Lebanese security forces were confirming that “one or two rockets” had been fired across the border.

At least one Israeli was slightly injured in the attacks, media reports said.

Jacky Rowland, Al Jazeera’s correspondent southern Israel, said analysts were suggesting that the rocket attack could have been carried out by Palestinians in southern Lebanon.

She said the firing of rockets from Lebanon “could mean the opening of a second front” in the war on Gaza.

The Israeli military has been on alert in the north since it intensified the Gaza offensive, which it says is aimed at stopping rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian fighters in the Gaza Strip.

And, according to the BBC:

No group has claimed responsibility for the latest attacks.

But it came a day after the leader of militant group Hezbollah, a strong ally of Hamas, spoke openly about the possibility of a renewed conflict with Israel.

Hassan Nasrallah said Hezbollah had already put its fighters on high alert along the Lebanese-Israeli border.

Northern Israel came under attack from rockets fired by Hezbollah during the brief war with Lebanon in the summer of 2006.

Israel said it had responded to the latest attack from inside Lebanon with a “pinpoint response at the source of fire”.

Reports from inside Lebanon said five Israeli mortar shells fell near the border inside Lebanon, but there were no injuries.

For the sake of human life, one hopes that this does not mark the opening of a whole new front in the conflict against Israeli hegemony. In its “self-defense,” Israel is not likely to show any more restraint in conflict with Lebanese groups than it has exercised in the Gaza raids which have claimed nearly 700 Palestinian lives to date. The events of 2006 doubtless yet burn fresh in the memories of the majority of Lebanese, whose farmland remains strewn with unexploded cluster bomblets of U.S. make.

Two Views Into the Darkness

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I wanted to highlight two articles dealing with the oppression and mutilation of Gaza which have recently appeared in Counterpunch. Each of them has something interesting and powerful to say about the situation there.

palestinian-loss-of-land

I have never traveled to the Middle East, and have in my time met only a handful of Israeli Jews or Arabs, or Palestinians. Yet the events in that beleaguered realm weigh heavily on my mind each day. Wherever my government’s support and therefore my tax money is used to unjustly maim, kill, and otherwise deprecate fellow human beings who strive for only a small part of the comforts I enjoy in the warmth of my den, there my thoughts are turned inexorably.

Why does Israel wreak such havoc on Gaza? The mainstream press is devoid of meaningful answers. Is it because of the sporadic rocket fire on Israeli cities such as Sderot and Ashkelon? Not hardly; even within the context-bleeped framework of Israeli yarn-spinning presented in the media these days, this does not make sense. If Israel merely wished the rocket fire to end, she could find much less bloodthirsty and roundly devastating ways to achieve this than indiscriminately killing Palestinians four hundred-fold and risking the lives of Israeli troops in a potential ground assault. There would be no need to put an economic stranglehold on an entire population for years running, just to stop some rockets. Why, come to think of it, she could simply offer Gaza all that it has asked for: self-determination and a real end to the Israeli occupation.

Does Israel fear Hamas, and truly see no way forward while it operates? No—we can easily imagine that living under the threat of Hamas rockets is a terrible existence for Israelis in the country’s south, to be sure. But this is of no more real concern to the Israeli government than the threat of terrorism at home was to the Bush administration when launching its incursions into Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems to me that the largest threat posed by Hamas is that, for Israel, there will be no way backwards while it exists. Because, unlike the government of Abbas in the West Bank, Hamas has no appetite for the sugar dripping from the forked tongues of Israeli officials who would promise Gazans peace and give them only continued subjugation on terms that Washington and Tel Aviv see fit. Hamas will continue to call international attention to the travesties unfolding in the region, and will not shirk from defending itself against the occupiers, even when unfortunate and deplorable violence remains its only meaningful mode of self-expression among a world community which is all thumbs.

In Jennifer Loewenstein’s piece, “If Hamas Did Not Exist,” the situation is summed up admirably:

Strip away the clichés and the vacuous newspeak blaring out across the servile media and its pathetic corps of voluntary state servants in the Western world and what you will find is the naked desire for hegemony; for power over the weak and dominion over the world’s wealth. Worse yet you will find that the selfishness, the hatred and indifference, the racism and bigotry, the egotism and hedonism that we try so hard to cover up with our sophisticated jargon, our refined academic theories and models actually help to guide our basest and ugliest desires. The callousness with which we in indulge in them all are endemic to our very culture; thriving here like flies on a corpse.

Strip away the current symbols and language of the victims of our selfish and devastating whims and you will find the simple, impassioned and unaffected cries of the downtrodden; of the ‘wretched of the earth’ begging you to cease your cold aggression against their children and their homes; their families and their villages; begging you to leave them alone to have their fish and their bread, their oranges, their olives and their thyme; asking you first politely and then with increasing disbelief why you cannot let them live undisturbed on the land of their ancestors; unexploited, free of the fear of expulsion; of ravishment and devastation; free of permits and roadblocks and checkpoints and crossings; of monstrous concrete walls, guard towers, concrete bunkers, and barbed wire; of tanks and prisons and torture and death. Why is life without these policies and instruments of hell impossible?

The answer is because Israel has no intention of allowing a viable, sovereign Palestinian state on its borders.

What role does the United States play in this terrible conflict which brings such misery to the lives of Palestinians and many Israelis? I haven’t the space or the energy to delve into a complete history of U.S.-Israel relations. But Washington’s support of Israeli hegemony and its persistent ideology of victimhood has been openly voiced at times, and even those whose only knowledge of world events comes from the usual suspects among media outlets are generally aware that Israel operates largely with American military equipment, American diplomatic support, and American tax dollars—a portion of which are directly funneled back into American arms dealers. Ralph Nader, in his “Open Letter to President Bush,” expresses his thoughts on the matter:

Your spokespeople are making much ado about the breaking of the six month truce. Who is the occupier? Who is the most powerful military force? Who controls and blocks the necessities of life? Who has sent raiding missions across the border most often? Who has sent artillery shells and missiles at close range into populated areas? Who has refused the repeated comprehensive peace offerings of the Arab countries issued in 2002 if Israel would agree to return to the 1967 borders and agree to the creation of a small independent Palestinian state possessing just twenty two percent of the original Palestine?

The ‘wildly inaccurate rockets,’ as reporters describe them, coming from Hamas and other groups cannot compare with the modern precision armaments and human damage generated from the Israeli side.

There are no rockets coming from the West Bank into Israel. Yet the Israeli government is still sending raiders into that essentially occupied territory, still further entrenching its colonial outposts, still taking water and land and increasing the checkpoints. This is going on despite a most amenable West Bank leader, Mahmoud Abbas, whom you have met with at the White House and praised repeatedly. Is it all vague words and no real initiatives with you and your emissary Condoleezza Rice?

Peace was possible, but you provided no leadership, preferring instead to comply with all wishes and demands by the Israeli government, even resupplying it with the still active cluster bombs in south Lebanon during the invasion of that country in 2006.

The arguments about who started the latest hostilities go on and on with Israel always blaming the Palestinians to justify all kinds of violence and harsh treatment against innocent civilians.

From the Palestinian standpoint, you would do well to remember the origins of this conflict which was the dispossession of their lands. To afford you some empathy, recall the oft-quoted comment by the founder of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, who told the Zionist leader, Nahum Goldmann:

‘There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz; but was that their [the Palestinians] fault? They only see one thing: We have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?’

Alfred North Whitehead once said: ‘Duty arises out of the power to alter the course of events.’ By that standard, you have shirked mightily your duty over the past eight years to bring peace to both Palestinians and Israelis and more security to a good part of the world.

palestine-boy-tankI hope for the sake of all that the violence and hostility can end. Yes, that is my sincere wish, but it is not my highest hope. My highest hope is that a peace can be achieved without the usual price of humiliation, continued subjugation, and business as usual that has in the past been so carefully tacked on by Israel when dealing with her “attackers.” As history has amply demonstrated, peace at the price of sovereignty and the basic human rights of a people is a peace in name only. One can achieve peace by allowing one’s self to be beaten into submission. Peace is always viscerally preferable to violence, but one must ask: what does it mean?


Reign of Terror in Gaza Intensifies

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Or, “21st Century Colonialism: an Introduction”

Saturday, December 27, a day when many revelers in the west were still feeling too full to take down Christmas decorations and were perhaps solidifying plans for a joyous New Year’s, has been called the bloodiest day in the history of Gaza since the beginning of the Israeli occupation over forty years ago.

Israeli air assaults have killed dozens if not hundreds of Palestinians, and this amid a years-long embargo imposed by Israel which has emaciated the Gazan economy and citizenry on every imaginable level of existence. The embargo followed the free Palestinian election of a Hamas-led government. Israel roundly blames Hamas for sporadic rocket fire against civilian targets in Israel, but collectively punishes 1.5 million Gazans in retribution.

Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, told reporters that Israel is determined to “change realities on the ground.” There are fears that the air strikes may be a prelude to a ground offensive, as Israel has called forth large numbers of reservists. Israel has bombed tunnels which were being used to bring minimal amounts of food and humanitarian supplies into Gaza from Egypt, citing suspicions that weapons were also being imported.

The U.S. government insists that Hamas is responsible for the bloodshed on both sides of the border, much as it once insisted that Native Americans could have avoided much violence and misery had they only been a bit more reasonable.

Unfortunately, violence will only beget more violence. It is my feeling that, while the devastation on both sides is deplorable, Israel is using an iron fist to subjugate those whose lands and sovereignty it has molested, people with a fighting spirit and a sense of self-worth that no machinery of war can conquer—people who have been deliberately put into a position in which guerilla fighting in the face of F-16 jets and U.S. billions is, they feel, their only hope of resistance.

The BBC reports:

Israeli F-16 bombers have pounded key targets across the Gaza Strip, killing at least 225 people, local medics say.

Most of those killed were policemen in the Hamas militant movement, which controls Gaza, but women and children also died, the Gaza officials said.

About 700 others were wounded, as missiles struck security compounds and militant bases, the officials added.

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert said the operation “may take some time”- but he pledged to avoid a humanitarian crisis.

“It’s not going to last a few days,” he said in a televised statement, flanked by Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Israel said it was responding to an escalation in rocket attacks from Gaza and would bomb “as long as necessary”.

Such comments from Israeli officials amply demonstrate that, if there is a Reign of Terror in Palestine today, it is Israel which wears the ugly crown.

Dear World . . . Sincerely, Palestine

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occupation-and-defense

free_palestine

The Heathlander recently posted links to annual reports by various human rights organizations to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review concerning the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The article which includes the links represents the views of Richard Falk, a UN human rights investigator recently relieved of his position because of his “hostile views” toward Israel. The findings of a few of these reports are summarized below.

The State of Israel was founded in 1948, carved chiefly out of what had been colonial possessions of the United Kingdom. While many support the existence of a Jewish homeland, particularly in the wake of the events of the Second World War, fewer agree that these particular lands should have been ceded to the control of relatively new Zionist immigrants rather than to the Palestinian ethnic groups which had resided there for centuries. The Zionist settlers believed that they enjoyed a religious “right of return” to the area according to scripture, a controversial notion which, even where accepted, is not generally held to entail such brutal disregard for the sovereignty and basic human dignity of Palestinians.

Since 1967, Israel has occupied lands which were ceded to the Palestinians under a U.N. agreement, pursuing what many feel are policies of expansion, oppression, and apartheid against Palestinians. Additionally, Israel, which possesses without acknowledgment the sole known nuclear arsenal in the region, continues to threaten other surrounding powers—particularly Iran—which have criticized its occupation of Palestinian lands and cruel treatment of Palestinians. At one point or another, it has occupied lands belonging to all of its Arab neighbors; yet the Israeli government continually represents itself as an innocent victim of anti-Semitic violence, refusing to acknowledge that such violence, while unfortunate and deplorable, represents desperate guerrilla-type self-defense on the part of the disenfranchised Palestinians.

west-bank-wallIn 2006, Hamas, frequently described as an “Islamic militant” or “terrorist” organization due to its sponsorship of guerrilla activities against the Israeli military and some civilians, won free elections in Gaza. Since then Israel has aggressively boycotted the government in Gaza using blockades, military incursions, and other harmful and violent means which amount to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5 million citizens. The West Bank, in contrast, is now presided over by a U.S.-backed government.

The United Nations has, on too many occasions to count, reprimanded Israel and called for an end to these atrocities. Such proceedings are routinely boycotted by Israel, the United States, and sometimes a few other member states, while being overwhelmingly supported by the majority of the international community. The United States provides billions of dollars in financial and military aid to Israel annually, and is characteristically quick to defend Israeli hegemony and expansionism in the region in the name of self-defense.

The following are direct or paraphrased excerpts of just a few of the many 2008 reports to the UNHRC concerning conditions in Palestine. For the full set of reports, visit this page. These documents represent merely the latest additions to a huge book detailing many of the atrocities visited against the Palestinian people according to a pattern of U.S.-sanctioned abuse which stretches back for decades.

(more…)

Israel expels UN human rights investigator for ‘hostile position’ towards Israel

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Richard Falk

Prof. Falk

The New York Times reports that the State of Israel expelled on Monday Richard Falk, a United Nations investigator of human rights in the Palestinian territories, citing his “vehement publications” criticizing Israel for committing gross human rights abuses in its treatment of Palestinians, particularly in Gaza.

Falk, a Princeton professor of international law and the UN Human Rights Council special rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories, has come under scrutiny in Israel for calling the Gaza blockade a “crime against humanity” while offering only “cursory” reprimands to the Palestinian militants who dare attempt to defend themselves against decades of colonialist aggression and oppression in their own homeland.

He has compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to Nazi atrocities and has called for more serious examination of the conspiracy theories surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks. Pointing to discrepancies between the official version of events and other versions, he recently wrote that “only willful ignorance can maintain that the 9/11 narrative should be treated as a closed book.”

In his capacity as a United Nations investigator, Mr. Falk issued a statement this month describing Israel’s embargo on Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, as a crime against humanity, while making only cursory reference to Hamas’s rocket attacks against Israeli civilian centers. Israeli officials expressed outrage.

When his appointment was announced by the Human Rights Council last spring, the Israeli representative said it was “impossible to believe that out of a list of 184 potential candidates,” the members had made “the best possible choice for the post.”

The American and Canadian representatives also expressed concerns about Mr. Falk’s possible bias. The Palestinian representative said it was curious that Israel was “campaigning against a Jewish professor” and called the nomination “a victory for good sense and human rights.” Israel objects to the mandate of the special rapporteur on grounds that it ignores all human rights violations by Palestinians, either against Israelis or against other Palestinians. More specifically, it objects to Mr. Falk.

But Jessica Montell, director of Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, countered that, even if Israel has legitimate concerns about Falk’s objectivity, expelling him in this manner is “an act unbefitting of democracy.”

Israel has shown a marked preference for the Washington-backed government of Mahmoud Abbas, while harshly punishing Palestinians in Gaza for their free election of a Hamas-controlled administration. Yet the Israeli government continues to portray itself as a neutral, objective party, insisting that ad hoc guerrilla attacks against its territory and citizens are acts of aggression rather than protest and defense.

Heedless of copious outcry among the international community and continual denouncement by the United Nations, Israel has occupied Palestinian territory for more than forty years, largely with the support of the United States, the United Kingdom, and other Western governments, claiming a divine right to the land according to religious scripture through the Zionist movement, not to be confused with the faith of Judaism itself.

Crimes against humanity: the misery in Gaza

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Gaza-Israel border

Gaza-Israel border

For a year and a half now, the government of Israel has imposed a blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Despite the sporadic influx of foreign aid—chiefly from the UN—living conditions have steadily deterioriated in Gaza, with UN officials recently referring to them as simply “the worst ever” since the beginning of the illegal Israeli occupation in 1967.

Banks are experiencing cash shortages. There have been dire shortages of food and electricity; whole communities collectively totaling about 1.5 million residents are being punished for the retaliatory violence committed by a few. This, while outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush has the characteristic audacity to congratulate himself on his “bold” record of policy initiatives in the Middle East.

“The Middle East in 2008 is a freer, more hopeful and more promising place than it was in 2001,” Bush recently told reporters in a Washington forum.

Don’t make me barf. That, ladies and gentlemen, is called a g.d. lie.

With the appointment of a Zionist loyalist to the top West Wing position and having copiously fawned to organizations such as AIPAC during his campaign, it appears that President-Elect Barack Obama will be unlikely to meaningfully adjust U.S. policy toward Israel anytime soon.

That’s change you can believe in. Yes, we can.

It is largely through the diplomatic, fiscal, and military support of the U.S. government that Israel continues to occupy the Palestinian territories and brutally oppress their native inhabitants. For example, the UN Human Rights council has condemned the actions of Israel well over a dozen times in the past couple of years; these proceedings are routinely boycotted by Israel and the United States of America, continuing a pattern of diplomatic back-scratching that has persisted for decades as Israel continues to conduct exercises against other regional powers using US technology and logistical support.

This BBC news story highlights the plight of the family of Fazi Abu Gerada, a Gaza City man struggling to feed his family on meager supplies of bread and vegetable oil in a house with no electricity, scarce water, and a leaky roof:

It is dusk, a crescent moon was just visible overhead, and Fauzi has lit a fire. This is for cooking, heat, and light, as the electricity is still off in Gaza City.

Fauzi is 40 years old and has been unemployed since the intifada that started in 2000 prevented him from crossing into Israel to work as a labourer.

His wife and six children all live with him in a single-roomed house, scraping by on food aid from the United Nations and others.

“I have no income to feed my children. Sometimes I cannot even give them bread,” he told me. “We beg some food from here, and some food from there. Our life is begging.”

Looking despairingly at the breeze block and wood shack which was their home, he adds: “Eight people all live in this one room here. The water comes in in the winter but I don’t even have money for a plastic sheet to put on the roof.

“We are suffering. It’s like living underground. Once I thought I’d burn the house down with everybody in it just to escape this misery.”

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