Jan. 15, 2009

Israeli denials and explanations can no longer stand on their own


This is now the only description that should be afforded to Israeli denials and explanations of the reported atrocities committed by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) - now practically a daily occurrence in Gaza. It should no longer be acceptable for any member of the news media to include the statements of Israeli public relations personnel without including a qualifier as to the level of credibility that the statements should be afforded.

"The Israeli forces were attacked from there, and their response was severe." This was the statement made by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to United Nations (UN) chief Ban Ki Moon in response to Israel's shelling of the main UN compound in Gaza.

IDF forces had come under fire from forces inside the school. This was the original explanation given for Israel's shelling of a UN school that had been sheltering refugees - forty three people were killed. The explanation changed after the UN's relief director in Gaza denied the initial charge: now, the Israelis were returning fire on a target "in the vicinity of the school". It is not currently clear which of the two versions the Israelis will settle on.

Reports by the BBC and human rights group B'tselem describing a Palestinian woman being shot in the head while waiving a white flag: "without foundation", according to the IDF. Multiple reports that prove Israel is using white phosphorus in civilian areas in contravention of the Geneva Convention: Israel insists "we're not using any weapons that are banned under international law.”

It should now be clear to anyone who allows themselves honest and logical reflection that Israel has one automatic communications response that is to be employed when the IDF engages in activities that result in the death of civilians or non-combatants, denial. This denial can take any number of forms, usually blaming the events on "the enemy", questioning the innocence of the victims, or denying the incident outright. Should the first statement of denial fall apart under scrutiny, then a new sequence of events shall be introduced to counter the statements of the other witnesses.

Some of these events would require intricate conspiracies between seemingly unrelated parties in order for the IDF's versions to be plausible. In recent reports, it would appear that both the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are working alongside Hamas in order to foil Israel.

For those still in denial about Israel's policy of denial - allow me to introduce you to Lasse Schmidt, a journalist, and a human rights worker with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), who was working in the West Bank in 2003. On April 4th of that year, Schmidt was acting as an observer to a group of Palestinian youth who were throwing stones at Israeli armour. At one point, an Israeli armoured personnel carrier (APC) unleashed a short burst of heavy machine gun rounds at a wall three meters to Schmidt's right. The resulting pieces of stone and shrapnel caused very minor wounds to his back and legs - he required no medical attention.

The following day, Schmidt ran into a reporter for the French news agency APF, and during the course of their conversation, he related the details of the previous day's incident. About an hour after that conversation, he was shocked to hear of an APF story concerning a Danish peace activist who had been injured by Israeli fire that very morning, April 5th.

A few hours later, and Schmidt was reading an Israeli press release in response to the APF story. The Israelis confirmed that, indeed a Danish citizen had been injured earlier that very day, "but it maintained that he had been caught in crossfire between Palestinian militants and Israeli soldiers and most likely was hit by a Palestinian bullet."

In the same article, Schmidt goes on to describe the shooting of three other peace activists and / or journalists who all, the Israelis initially insisted, were caught in a crossfire and likely hit by a Palestinian bullet. In each of these cases, the Israeli denials were later shown to be questionable to the extreme (in one case), or completely false (in the other two). Schmidt's record of the events is highly recommended material for reading.

Israel's policy of denial has been in play for one reason - because it worked. By and large, the corporate media was willing to accept the offerings from Israel's spin machine with few questioning the obvious deficiencies. Now, there are hopeful signs that a public, served by alternative sources of news, and a new generation of news outlets soured by Israel's increasingly heavy hand, may be coming together to form a true conspiracy against the Israeli PR machine.

Jan. 6, 2009

More Rockets Please. Examining Israel's Ceasefire Violation

At the time of this writing, the people of Gaza are nearing the end of the second day of the Israeli ground operations. The current death toll of more than 500 Palestinians and the 2600 wounded during the previous week of bombing is sure to increase. When the inevitable objections to Israel's violence are raised, then of course we will hear about the rockets and mortars that are falling on Israel's southern border - yet very few of us will ever hear that those rockets had virtually stopped falling months before this violence erupted. We will also not hear that Israel's actions clearly indicated that they were not interested in ending the rocket attacks against their citizens in Sderot and the other towns of the Western Negev if it meant losing their ability to fully dominate a Hamas controlled Gaza.

When the ceasefire agreement was signed in June – the Israeli leadership knew very well that Hamas would not be able to end the rocket and mortar attacks with the wave of a hand. Hamas is not solely responsible for the attacks, the rockets are also being fired by rival groups such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and even Hamas’s arch rival Fatah.

So when Hamas succeeded in reducing the number of attacks after the June agreement, from 518 in April and 355 in May, to 12 in July and 11 in August, Israel should have seen this for what it was, a sign that Hamas was acting effectively, and in good faith. Instead, the Israeli government used the remaining attacks as an excuse for maintaining only sporadic shipments of humanitarian goods, never coming anywhere close to allowing for the commercial goods that the agreement called for, nor moving toward permitting the European border observers to travel to the Egypt-Gaza border to facilitate its opening.

It would appear that Israel was aiming to maintain the steady tightening of the economic stranglehold on the residents of Gaza for the purpose of achieving their stated objective of eroding support for Hamas. The ceasefire, like their well publicized border openings, only appears to have been serving the purpose of improving Israel’s image through their public relations campaigns – while they pursued their policy of crushing Hamas in Gaza.

The trend, as it appeared at the end of October, was unmistakable to anybody qualified to assess it - including Israeli policy analysts - Hamas was on the verge of bringing the rocket and mortar attacks to an end. According to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel had been subject to a total of 1 rocket and 3 mortar attacks in September, and 1 rocket and 1 mortar attack in October.

So, when Israel supposedly received reports of a tunnel being built a few hundred meters from its border, it had a number of factors to consider. Chief among these should have been the safety of its citizens. The ceasefire was clearly moving toward fruition, despite Israel’s slow pace on opening the borders. It is difficult to imagine how Israeli policy makers could have come to the conclusion that the ceasefire agreement would withstand the violation of Gaza’s sovereignty by armed Israeli soldiers.

They knew the tunnel was there - and this knowledge neutralized the threat. If they were so sure of the “imminence” of this attempt to abduct a member of their armed services, they could have set up an ambush on their side of the border. They could have reinforced the ground around that area of the border wall to make tunnelling impossible. They could have made contact with Hamas in order to alert them to their knowledge of this tunnel while questioning Hamas’s commitment to the ceasefire. Instead, they invaded Gaza, and in the process, they destroyed any possibility of Hamas maintaining the support necessary for upholding the ceasefire, either inside, or outside of the organization.

Israeli policy makers knew they were retreating from the brink of peace. If they did not know, then they are guilty of gross incompetence which has resulted in the deaths of Israeli civilians, Israeli soldiers, and residents of Gaza. Israeli policy makers knew this would be the result, and they did not care - at least not enough to risk the possibility that metal would cease to fall on their towns and villages. The inevitable outcome of such a situation would have been a call from inside and outside the country for Israel to adhere to their end of the ceasefire and to end the economic stranglehold on Gaza. This in turn would have strengthened Hamas’s position within Gaza and the West Bank, putting the Israeli leadership’s objective of toppling Hamas in Gaza out of reach. The people of Gaza would have their democratically elected representatives speaking for them and acting in their interests, instead of the docile Fatah that had seized power in the West Bank along with the assistance of Israel and the West. One can hope that the people of Gaza can somehow avoid the Israeli objective of an imposed Fatah dictatorship - and at the same time, that they recognize the fear that the threat of a peaceful expression of their will posed to those who oppress them.