Rebuilding Gaza: O’Keefe and survivors of Cast Lead ‘massacre’ join forces in safe-trade project

Stuart Littlewood

Stuart Littlewood, 9 May 2011

No fewer that 29 members of the Samouni family, including many of the women and children, were callously slaughtered by Israeli troops during their assault on the Gaza Strip, known as Operation Cast Lead, some two years ago.

For the benefit of those who have not seen the Goldstone Report, extracts describing events in considerable detail are included in an appendix below. After reading the report it is no surprise that the Israeli regime has pulled out all the stops to discredit Judge Goldstone and his colleagues for daring to reveal the true behaviour of “the most moral army in the world”.

The dispassionate way Goldstone tells it is horrific enough. Other sources say the killing spree was actually much, much worse – nothing less than a cold-blooded massacre.

Having assured us at the time that he “took every precaution to check and double-check” the facts, Goldstone has been under intense pressure to retract. In a bombshell article in the Washington Post last month he writes: “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”

So what does he know now that he didn’t know then? Referring to the mass killing of members of the Samouni family, it seems the shelling “was apparently the consequence of an Israeli commander’s erroneous interpretation of a drone image, and an Israeli officer is under investigation”.

And what are we supposed to draw from this? That it was all a pure accident, no war crime intended, just bad luck on the Samounis?

Yes. Bin the report, the pro-Israel lobby tells the United Nations.

How does that slap in the face play with the family? Showing typical Palestinian resilience, the traumatized survivors are picking themselves up by their own bootstraps. Helped by their friend Ken O’Keefe, they are busy gearing up for the switch Gaza must soon make from aid dependency to paying its way through trade.

While the Gaza government announces that funds are at last available or pledged to commence public works projects such as housing, infrastructure and sanitation, the Samounis’ private venture – if successful – might provide a helpful blueprint for others in rebuilding trade links as the prison door to the outside world is gradually forced open.

”Social enterprise” is one way to go

O’Keefe served as a US marine. Now a peace activist, he is remembered especially for his part in resisting the Israelis’ murderous assault in international waters on the Mavi Marmara, the lead vessel in the Free Gaza flotilla last year.

The economic strangulation of the tiny coastal enclave by Israel’s five-year blockade and the devastation to homes, factories, infrastructure and livelihoods caused by the blitzkrieg of 2008-09 (Operation Cast Lead) and the daily air-strikes ever since, not to mention US and EU sanctions, have caused chronic suffering and despair.

As O’Keefe puts it:

Parents are not only unable to protect their children from Israeli aggression but also incapable of providing even the bare essentials without the aid. Children become both witness and victim of this reality. Many begin to lose respect for their parents, and that in turn causes parents to suffer from diminishing self-respect and depression.

Aid has become institutionalized, he says, and people in Gaza see it as their only means to live. Their dignity has been stolen. Long-term aid is an insidiously destructive weapon, destroying society from within.

At the root of all this is the blockade and the inability to conduct trade.

In an effort to make a worthwhile contribution, O’Keefe and the family have launched a joint “social enterprise” initiative comprising Aloha Palestine CIC (Community Interest Company) and the Samouni Project. Both are EU-registered non-profit companies.

Aloha Palestine is a community interest trading company, while the Samouni Project Mission plans to provide long-term quality education along with community services to over 200 members of the Samouni family as well as residents of surrounding Zeitoun in Gaza. To date the Samouni Project has planted an olive tree orchard, built a playground, procured a classroom/community centre and recruited teaching staff who are now developing the curriculum. Textbooks, computers, art and craft materials, school supplies, science equipment, teaching aids and musical instruments have been collected and are waiting in London. The next task is to deliver all this to Gaza then provide for the running costs of teaching staff and administration amounting to around GBP 2,400 a month.

Aloha Palestine’s function is to transport and deliver these items so that the classroom can be completed and classes begin.

“Doctors and engineers are picking up trash in Gaza today because it is the only job they can find”

Aloha Palestine is assembling an international trade convoy which plans to leave London early in July arriving Gaza three weeks later. Among the drivers are members of the Samouni family. Any attempt to block it, says O’Keefe, will be seen as denying the Samouni community and its children the education they are entitled to.

Besides school equipment, I’m told the cargo will include textiles and building materials, industrial machinery and equipment geared towards economic development and the rebuilding of Gaza. After offloading in Gaza the vehicles will be reloaded with made-in-Palestine products for export.

“Palestinians are more than capable of standing on their own two feet,” says O’Keefe, “but our collective failure to direct our energy at the root of the problem has relegated them to the status of beggars. Doctors and engineers are picking up trash in Gaza today because it is the only job they can find. And they are the lucky ones who at least have a job.

Samouni InterTrade Palestine (SIP) intends to confront the problem head-on and eliminate this injustice by proactive, as opposed to reactive, means. It is a social enterprise collaboration. The nature of a social enterprise is to tackle social problems within business models. Between us we have the wisdom of Palestinian culture, the understanding of the Western market and mindset, we are young and old, we are internet and social media savvy, and we have significant backing from around the globe. Success will create jobs in Egypt, Europe and Palestine.

On 28 April Egypt announced an end to the Egyptian blockade. “We shall cooperate with the post-Mubarak government so as to ensure the economic and human rights of the people of Palestine are finally respected.” Their objective, O’Keefe explains, is to transport people and cargo through the Rafah Crossing to Egypt continuously and without obstruction, as viable trade requires.

They aim to play their part in the rebuilding of Gaza and to see an egalitarian economy develop, turning despair eventually into prosperity. “The stage is set for SIP’s historic mission. The timing couldn’t be better.”

O’Keefe intends to take full advantage of the EU’s 44-member Euro-Mediterranean Partnership which is heavily committed – so it says – to peace, stability and shared prosperity. Israel has benefited handsomely by being rewarded with around 25bn euros of trade a year while maintaining its brutal blockade on Gaza and keeping its occupation jackboot on the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Palestine has barely had a look-in. “As an EU-based company, Aloha Palestine will demand the right to trade with Palestine just as EU companies trade with Israel… We’ll have top attorneys on retainer, prepared to take legal action if necessary,” says O’Keefe.

He is at pains to stress that his venture is all about “Safe Trade”, defined as the commercial exchange of non-hazardous items – in other words, trade that’s transparent and stimulates economic growth while posing no danger to society. “Unlike the free trade that is conducted between Israel, the EU and the United States, there will be no trading of weapons,” he says emphatically.


Appendix

Noting that there was almost no indication of armed resistance by Palestinians in the area at the time, the Goldstone Report observes: “Among the issues of particular concern to the Mission in Zeytoun are the killings of the Samouni family, the mass destruction in the area…”

Here is a flavour of the Goldstone Mission’s findings:

To investigate the attacks on the houses of Ateya and Wa’el al-Samouni, which killed 23 members of the extended al-Samouni family, the Mission visited the site of the incidents. It interviewed five members of the al-Samouni family and several of their neighbours on site. Two members of the extended al-Samouni family, who were eyewitnesses to the incident, Messrs. Wa’el and Saleh al-Samouni, testified at the public hearing in Gaza. The Mission also interviewed PRCS [Palestinian Red Crescent Society] ambulance drivers who went to the area on 4, 7 and 18 January 2009, and obtained copies of PRCS records. The Mission finally reviewed material on this incident submitted to it by TAWTHEQ [Central Commission for Documentation and Pursuit of Israeli War Criminals] as well as by NGOs.

The so-called al-Samouni area is part of Zeytoun, south of Gaza City… It is inhabited by members of the extended al-Samouni family, which gives its name to the area…

Graffiti left by Israeli soldiers in the house of Talal al-Samouni, which were photographed by the Mission, included (a) in Hebrew, under the Star of David: “The Jewish people are alive” and, above a capital “T” [referring to
the army (Tsahal)], “This [the letter T] was written with blood”; (b) on a drawing of a grave, in English and Arabic,
“Arabs 1948-2008 ”; and (c) in English: “You can run but you can not hide”, “Die you all”, “ 1 is down, 999,999 to go”, “Arabs need to die” and “Make war not peace”.

During the morning of 4 January 2009, Israeli soldiers entered many of the houses in
al-Samouni area. One of the first, around 5 a.m., was the house of Ateya Helmi al-Samouni, a 45-year-old man… The soldiers entered Ateya al-Samouni’s house by force, throwing some explosive device, possibly a grenade. In the midst of the smoke, fire and loud noise, Ateya al-Samouni stepped forward, his arms raised, and declared that he was the owner of the house. The soldiers shot him while he was still holding his ID and an Israeli driving licence in his hands. The soldiers then opened gunfire inside the room in which all the approximately 20 family members were gathered. Several were injured, Ahmad, a boy of four, particularly seriously. Soldiers with night vision equipment entered the room and closely inspected each of those present. The soldiers then moved to the next room and set fire to it. The smoke from that room soon started to suffocate the family…

At about 6.30 a.m. the soldiers ordered the family to leave the house. They had to leave Ateya’s body behind but were carrying Ahmad, who was still breathing. The family tried to enter the house of an uncle next door, but were not allowed to do so by the soldiers. The soldiers told them to take the road and leave the area, but a few metres further a different group of soldiers stopped them and ordered the men to undress completely. Faraj al-Samouni, who was carrying the severely injured Ahmad, pleaded with them to be allowed to take the injured to Gaza. The soldiers allegedly replied using abusive language.

[Four year-old Ahmad had been shot twice in the chest.]

At the house of Saleh al-Samouni, the Israeli soldiers knocked on the door and ordered those inside to open it. All the persons inside the house stepped out one by one and Saleh’s father identified each of the family members in Hebrew for the soldiers. According to Saleh al-Samouni, they asked to be allowed to go to Gaza City, but the soldiers refused and instead ordered them to go to Wa’el al-Samouni’s house across the street. The Israeli soldiers also ordered those in other houses to move to Wa’el al-Samouni’s house. As a result, around 100 members of the extended al-Samouni family, the majority women and children, were assembled in that house by noon on 4 January. There was hardly any water and no milk for the babies. Around 5 p.m. on 4 January, one of the women went outside to fetch firewood. There was some flour in the house and she made bread, one piece for each of those present.

In the morning of 5 January, around 6.30 – 7 a.m., Wa’el al-Samouni, Saleh al-Samouni, Hamdi Maher al-Samouni, Muhammad Ibrahim al-Samouni and Iyad al-Samouni, stepped outside the house to collect firewood. Rashad Helmi al-Samouni remained standing next to the door of the house. Saleh al-Samouni has pointed out to the Mission that from where the Israeli soldiers were positioned on the roofs of the houses they could see the men clearly. Suddenly, a projectile struck next to the five men, close to the door of Wa’el’s house and killed Muhammad Ibrahim al-Samouni and, probably, Hamdi Maher al-Samouni. The other men managed to retreat to the house. Within about five minutes, two or three more projectiles had struck the house directly. Saleh and Wa’el al-Samouni stated at the public hearing that these were missiles launched from Apache helicopters… Saleh al-Samouni stated that overall 21 family members were killed and 19 injured in the attack on Wa’el al-Samouni’s house. The dead include Saleh al-Samouni’s father, Talal Helmi al-Samouni, his mother, Rahma Muhammad al-Samouni, and his two-year-old daughter Azza. Three of his sons, aged five, three and less than one year (Mahmoud, Omar and Ahmad), were injured, but survived. Of Wa’el’s immediate family, a daughter and a son (Rezqa, 14, and Fares, 12) were killed, while two smaller children (Abdullah and Muhammad) were injured. The photographs of all the dead victims were shown to the Mission… and displayed at the public hearing in Gaza.

After the shelling of Wa’el al-Samouni’s house, most of those inside decided to leave immediately and walk to Gaza City, leaving behind the dead and some of the wounded. The women waved their scarves. Soldiers, however, ordered the al-Samounis to return to the house. When family members replied that there were many injured among them, the soldiers’ reaction was, according to Saleh al-Samouni, “go back to death”. They decided not to follow this injunction and walked in the direction of Gaza City.

PRCS had made its first attempt to evacuate the injured from the al-Samouni area on 4 January around 4 p.m. after receiving a call from the family of Ateya al-Samouni. PRCS had called ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross], asking it to coordinate its entry into the area with the Israeli armed forces. A PRCS ambulance from al-Quds hospital managed to reach the al-Samouni area… Israeli soldiers on the ground and on the roof of one of the houses directed their guns at it and ordered it to stop. The driver and the nurse were ordered to get out of the vehicle, raise their hands, take off their clothes and lie on the ground. Israeli soldiers then searched them and the vehicle for 5 to 10 minutes. Having found nothing, the soldiers ordered the ambulance team to return to Gaza City, in spite of their pleas to be allowed to pick up some wounded. In his statement to the Mission, the ambulance driver recalled seeing women and children huddling under the staircase in a house, but not being allowed to take them with him

On 7 January, the Israeli armed forces finally authorized ICRC and PRCS to go to the al-Samouni area during the “temporary ceasefire” declared from 1 to 4 p.m. on that day. Three PRCS ambulances, an ICRC car and another car used to transport bodies drove down Salah ad-Din Street from Gaza City until, 1.5 km north of the al-Samouni area, they found it closed by sand mounds. ICRC tried to coordinate with the Israeli armed forces to have the road opened, but they refused and asked the ambulance staff to walk the remaining 1.5 km. Once in the al-Samouni neighbourhood, PRCS looked for survivors in the houses.. in Wa’el al-Samouni’s house they found 15 dead bodies and two seriously injured children. One of the children had a deep wound in the shoulder, which was infected and giving off a foul odour. The children were dehydrated and scared of the PRCS staff member. In a house close by, they found 11 persons in one room, including a dead woman.

The rescue teams had only three hours for the entire operation and the evacuees were physically weak and emotionally very unstable… The rescuers put all the elderly on a cart and pulled it themselves for 1.5 kilometres to the place where they had been forced to leave the ambulances. The dead bodies lying in the street or under the rubble, among them women and children, as well as the dead they had found in the houses had to be left behind. On the way back to the cars, PRCS staff entered one house where they found a man with two broken legs. While they were carrying the man out of the house, the Israeli armed forces started firing at the house… PRCS was not able to return to the area until 18 January.

On 18 January 2009, members of the al-Samouni family were finally able to return to their neighbourhood. They found that Wa’el al-Samouni’s house, as most other houses in the neighbourhood and the small mosque, had been demolished. The Israeli armed forces had destroyed the building on top of the bodies of those who died in the attack. Pictures taken on 18 January show feet and legs sticking out from under the rubble and sand, and rescuers pulling out the bodies of women, men and children. A witness described to the Mission family members taking away the corpses on horse carts, a young man sitting in shock beside the ruins of his house and, above all, the extremely strong smell of death.

The Mission found the foregoing witnesses to be credible and reliable. It has no reason to doubt their testimony.

The Mission received testimony on the death of Iyad al-Samouni from Muhammad Asaad al-Samouni and Fawzi Arafat, as well as from a PRCS staff member. In the night of 3 to 4 January, Iyad al-Samouni, his wife and five children were, together with about 40 other members of their extended family in Asaad al-Samouni’s house, very close to the houses of Wa’el al-Samouni and Ateya al-Samouni (the scenes of the incidents described above). At 1 a.m. on 4 January 2009 they heard noise on the roof. At around 5 a.m. Israeli soldiers walked down the stairs from the roof, knocked on the door and entered the house. They asked for Hamas fighters. The residents replied that there were none. The soldiers then separated women, children and the elderly from the men. The men were forced into a separate room, blindfolded and handcuffed with plastic handcuffs. They were allowed to go to the toilet only after one of the men urinated on himself. The soldiers stationed themselves in the house.

In the morning of 5 January, after the shelling of Wa’el al-Samouni’s house, two of the survivors took refuge in Asaad al-Samouni’s house… The persons assembled in Asaad al-Samouni’s house walked out of the house and down al-Samouni Street to take Salah ad-Din Street in the direction of Gaza City. They had been instructed by the soldiers to walk directly to Gaza City without stopping or diverting from the direct route. The men were still handcuffed and the soldiers had told them that they would be shot if they attempted to remove the handcuffs. On Salah ad-Din Street, just a few metres north of al-Samouni Street and in front of the Juha family house, a single or several of the Israeli soldiers positioned on the roofs of the houses opened fire. Iyad was struck in the leg and fell to the ground. Muhammad Asaad al-Samouni, who was walking immediately behind him, moved to help him, but an Israeli soldier on a rooftop ordered him to walk on. When he saw the red point of a laser beam on his body and understood that an Israeli soldier had taken aim at him, he desisted.

The Israeli soldiers also fired warning shots at Muhammad Asaad al-Samouni’s father to prevent him from assisting Iyad to get back on his feet. Iyad al-Samouni’s wife and children were prevented from helping him by further warning shots. Fawzi Arafat, who was part of another group walking from the al-Samouni neighbourhood to Gaza, told the Mission that he saw Iyad al-Samouni lying on the ground, his hands shackled with white plastic handcuffs, blood pouring from the wounds in his legs, begging for help. Fawzi Arafat stated that he yelled at an Israeli soldier “we want to evacuate the wounded man”. The soldier, however, pointed his gun at Iyad’s wife and children and ordered them to move on without him. Iyad al-Samouni’s family and relatives were forced to abandon him and continue to walk towards Gaza City. At al-Shifa hospital they reported his case and those of the other dead and wounded left behind. Representatives of PRCS told them that the Israeli armed forces were not permitting them to access the area.

PRCS staff member told the Mission that three days later, on 8 January, PRCS was granted permission by the Israeli armed forces through ICRC to evacuate Iyad al-Samouni. The PRCS staff member found him on the ground in Salah ad-Din Street in the place described by his relatives. He was still handcuffed. He had been shot in both legs and had bled to death.

The particular manner in which the conflict affected women was dramatically illustrated for the Mission by the testimony of a woman of the al-Samouni family (see chap. XI). She had three children and was pregnant when her family and her house came under attack. She commented on how the children were scared and crying. She was distressed when recounting how her 10-month-old baby, whom she was carrying in her arms, was hungry but she did not have anything to give him to eat, and how she tried to feed him by chewing on a piece of bread, the only food available, and giving it to him. She also managed to get half a cup of water from an ill functioning tap. There were other babies and older children. She and her sister exposed themselves to danger by going out to search for food for them. Her husband, mother and sister were killed but she managed to survive. Her other son was wounded in the back, and she carried both out of the house.

 

 

Stuart Littlewood

Stuart Littlewood

Stuart Littlewood is an industrial marketing specialist turned writer-photographer. In 2005 he was invited to write and shoot pictures for a book about the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. ‘Radio Free Palestine’ was published in 2007. For details please see www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk.

  • The Author is a regular contributor to RamallahOnline.com. Find more Articles by Stuart Littlewood on RamallahOnline.

Israel’s High Court of Justice Dismisses Petition Filed on Behalf of More Than 1,000 Victims of Operation Cast Lead

PCHR

Palestine Center Human Rights, Ref: 38/2011 Date: 30 April 2011

On Thursday, 28 April 2011, the Israeli High Court of Justice dismissed a petition brought by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), and litigated by Attorneys Michael Sfard and Carmel Pomerantz.

 

The petition was filed on 21 December 2010, by PCHR in relation to more than 1,000 victims of Israel’s 27 December 2008 – 18 January 2009 offensive on the Gaza Strip (Operation ‘Cast Lead’), in order to challenge the 2-year statute of limitations imposed on filing tort (compensation) cases. The petition requested that the High Court of Justice order the State Attorney to refrain from raising a claim under the statute of limitations in future civil suits brought before Israeli courts. According to PCHR, the right of access to the courts demands that the statute of limitations on bringing such civil cases begin to accrue only once Israel’s illegal closure of the Gaza Strip has ceased.

 

PCHR have consistently argued that the statute of limitations, imposed monetary barriers, and the illegal closure of the Gaza Strip, combine to fundamentally deny victims’ legitimate right to an effective judicial remedy. In effect, they contribute to the establishment of an ‘accountability free-zone’ in the Gaza Strip, wherein Israeli forces are free to violate international law without consequence. At issue in this petition is the fundamental – and universally recognized – right to compensation in the event of a violation of international law.

 

Yesterday’s High Court of Justice ruling represents a serious setback for the victims, and their legitimate quest for accountability and redress.

 

Significantly, the Court’s decision to dismiss the petition was procedurally flawed. PCHR had a right to reply to the State’s submission before the Court decided on the matter. The date fixed by the Court for PCHR’s reply is 3 May 2011.

 

PCHR believe that the procedurally flawed dismissal of this case represents an example of the Israeli judiciary’s complicity in the perpetuation of a climate of pervasive impunity, whereby those Israeli officials and soldiers suspected of committing international crimes are shielded from justice, and victims’ legitimate rights to the equal protection of the law are systematically denied. In this context it is noted that the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict concluded that the series of acts that limit Palestinians in the Gaza Strip’s “access to courts of law and effective remedies could amount to persecution, a crime against humanity.”

 

It is imperative that victims’ fundamental human rights be respected and upheld, and that recourse to mechanisms of international justice be supported and encouraged by the international community.

 

Background Information

 

Customary international law recognises all victims’ right to reparation (including compensation) in the event of a violation of international law. However, Palestinian victims from the Gaza Strip are currently faced with a number of significant hurdles which effectively prevent them from accessing justice, in violation of their fundamental rights. Claimants face three principal obstacles:

 

1. Statute of Limitations. Under Israeli law, a complaint for civil damages must be brought within two years of the date of the incident, or the right to compensation is irrevocably lost. As a result of the illegal closure of the Gaza Strip, and the significant number of victims of Operation Cast Lead, this two-year limit means that the victims are often unable to submit their cases within the required time-frame. Prior to 1 August 2002, the statute of limitations was seven years.

 

2. Monetary Barrier. Israeli courts often require claimants to pay a court insurance fee before the case can begin. While this is a discretionary fee applied by the court, in practice, this fee is always applied to Palestinian claimants. The exact value of the fee is not fixed, and it is determined on a case-by-case basis by the court. With respect to claims for damage to property, the fee usually constitutes a percentage of the value of the property being claimed, however, for death or injury there is no informal guideline. In PCHR’s experience this amount is typically set at a minimum of NIS 10,000 (about US $2800); however, it can reach significantly higher amounts. In a recent case brought by PCHR, the claimants were required to pay an insurance fee of NIS 20,000 (US $5,600) for each of the five wrongful deaths claimed. Thus, grave violations equal extremely high monetary barriers to justice. This insurance fee constitutes an insurmountable obstacle to justice. Simply put, claimants from Gaza – crippled by the economic devastation wrought by the occupation and the illegal closure – cannot afford this fee and their cases are being dismissed and closed.

 

3. Physical Barriers. Under Israeli law, in order testimony to be valid, the victim or witness must be present in court to undergo cross-examination. However, since June 2007, despite a letter from the court requesting their presence, the Israeli military authorities have not allowed a single individual to leave Gaza to appear in court. As a result, their cases are dismissed and closed. Further, PCHR’s lawyers – although qualified – cannot enter Israel to represent their clients before the courts. As a result, PCHR is forced to work with and hire lawyers in Israel (at extra cost). However, clients are not allowed to enter Israel to meet with their lawyer, and all requests made by lawyers to enter Gaza – to meet with clients, visit the crime scene, and so on – have been denied. Necessarily, this affects the lawyers’ ability to represent their clients, thereby undermining victims’ right to an effective remedy.

 

The Petition

 

The petition, brought by PCHR and litigated by Attorneys Michael Sfard and Carmel Pomerantz, challenged the two-year statute of limitations. An injunction was sought from the court suspending the two-year statute of limitations period. The petition highlighted a number of barriers to justice created as a result of Israeli policy, including the illegal closure of the Gaza Strip.

 

This petition is brought by PCHR in relation to 1,046 victims of Operation Cast Lead, representing the overwhelming majority of cases prepared in the aftermath of the offensive. These cases cover virtually the entire spectrum of international humanitarian law violations, and among them are the most infamous cases of the offensive, including those of the Samouni, Abu Halima, and Al-Dia families.

 

The policies and practices challenged in this petition serve to comprehensively deny victims’ right to access justice. They perpetuate a climate of pervasive impunity, and effectively contribute to the establishment of an accountability free zone in the Gaza Strip.

 

 

 

 

 

Public Document

**************************************

For more information please call PCHR office in Gaza, Gaza Strip, on +972 8 2824776 – 2825893

PCHR, 29 Omer El Mukhtar St., El Remal, PO Box 1328 Gaza, Gaza Strip. E-mail: pchr@pchrgaza.org, Webpage http://www.pchrgaza.org

 

The Gold and the Stone

Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery, 12 April 2011

THERE IS something tragicomic about the persona of Richard Goldstone.

First there was a veritable storm of fury when the original Goldstone report was issued.

What a fiend! A Jew who claims to be a Zionist and an Israel-lover, who publishes the most abominable slanders about against our valiant soldiers, aiding and abetting the worst anti-Semites around the world! The very prototype of a self-hating Jew! Still worse, a “mosser” – a Jew who turns another Jew over to the evil Goyim, the most detested figure in Jewish folklore.

And now the turnabout. Goldstone, the Jew who has recanted. Goldstone who has publicly confessed that he was wrong all along. That the Israeli army committed no crimes in the 2008-2009 “Cast Lead” Gaza operation, On the contrary, while the Israeli army has conducted honest and meticulous investigations into all the allegations, Hamas has not investigated any of the horrendous crimes it has committed.

Goldstone, the Man of Stone, has become Goldstone, the Man of Gold. A man of conscience! A man to be admired!

It was, of course, Binyamin Netanyahu who had the final word. Goldstone’s recantation, he summarized, has confirmed once again that the IDF is the Most Moral Army in the World.

MY HEART bleeds for Judge Goldstone. From the beginning he was placed in an impossible situation.

The UN commission which appointed him to head the inquiry into the allegations of war crimes committed during the operation was acting on a seemingly logical but actually foolish calculation. Appointing to the job a good Jew, and an avowed Zionist to boot, would disarm, it was thought, any allegation of anti-Israeli bias.

Goldstone and his colleagues undoubtedly did an honest and conscientious job. They sifted the evidence laid before them and arrived at reasonable conclusions on that basis. However, almost all the evidence came from Palestinian and UN sources. The commission could not interrogate the officers and soldiers of the Israeli forces because our government, in a typical and almost routine act of folly, refused to cooperate.

Why? The basic assumption is that all the world is out to get us, not because of anything we do, but because we are Jews. We know we are right, and we know that they are out to prove us wrong. So why cooperate with these bloody anti-Semites and Jewish self-haters?

Today, almost all influential Israelis concede that this was a stupid attitude. But there is no guarantee that our leaders will behave any differently next time, especially since the army is dead set against allowing any soldiers to appear before a non-Israeli forum, or, for that matter, before an Israeli non-military forum either.

BACK TO poor Goldstone. After the publication of his commission’s report, his life became hell.

The full fury of the Jewish ghetto against traitors from its midst was turned on him. Jews objected to his attending his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah. His friends turned away from him, He was ostracized by all the people he valued.

So he searched his soul and found that he had been wrong all along. His findings were one-sided. He would have found differently if he had heard the Israeli side of the story. The Israeli army has conducted honest investigations into the allegations, while the barbarous Hamas has not conducted any investigations at all into their obvious war crimes.

So when was Goldstone wrong? The first or the second time?

The answer is, alas, that he was wrong both times.

THE VERY term “war crimes” is problematic. War itself is a crime, never to be justified unless it is the only way to prevent a bigger crime – as with the war against Adolf Hitler, and now – on an incomparably smaller scale – against Muammar Qaddafi.

The idea of war crimes arose after the horrendous atrocities of the 30-year war, which devastated central Europe. The idea was that it is impossible to prevent brutal actions if they are needed to win a war, but that such actions are illegitimate if they are not needed for this purpose. The principle is not moral, but practical. Killing prisoners and civilians is a war crime, because it serves no effective military purpose, since both sides can do it. So is the wanton destruction of property.

In Israel this principle was embodied in the landmark judgment by Binyamin Halevy after the 1956 Kafr Qasim massacre of innocent farmers, men, women and children. The Judge ruled that a “black flag” flies over “manifestly” illegal orders – orders which even a simple person can see are illegal, without talking to a lawyer. Since then, obeying such orders has been a crime under Israeli law.

THE REAL question about Cast Lead is not whether individual soldiers did commit such crimes. They sure did – any army is composed of all types of human beings, decent youngsters with a moral conscience besides sadists, imbeciles and others suffering from moral insanity. In a war you give all of them arms and a license to kill, and the results can be foreseen. That is one reason why “war is hell”.

The problem with Lebanon War II and Cast Lead is that the basic approach – the same in both cases – makes war crimes as good as inevitable. The planners were no monsters – they just did their job. They superimposed two facts one on the other. The result was inevitable.

One consideration was the requirement to avoid casualties on our side. We have a people’s army, composed of conscripts from all walks of life (like the US army in Vietnam but not in Afghanistan.) Our public opinion judges wars according to the number of (our) soldiers killed and wounded. So the directive to the military planners is: do everything possible so the number of our casualties will be next to nil.

The other fact is the total disregard for the humanity of the other side. Years and years of the occupation have created an army for whom Palestinians, and Arabs in general, are mere objects. Not human enemies, not even human monsters, just objects.

These two mental attitudes lead necessarily to a strategic and tactical doctrine which dictates the application of lethal force to anyone and anything that can possibly menace soldiers advancing in enemy territory – liquidating them in front of the soldiers preferably from afar by artillery and air power.

When the opposition is a resistance movement operating in a densely populated area, the results can almost be calculated mathematically. In Cast Lead, at least 350 Palestinian civilians, among them hundreds of women and children, were killed, together with about 750 enemy fighters. On the Israeli side: altogether 5 (five!) Israeli soldiers were killed by enemy fire (some six more by “friendly fire”).

This result did not contradict the undeclared political aim of the operation. It was to pressure the Gaza Strip population into overthrowing the Hamas government. This result, of course, was not achieved. Rather the opposite.

The logic – and the balance of casualties – of Lebanon War II were about the same, with added huge material destruction of civilian targets.

FOLLOWING THE Goldstone report, our army did indeed conduct quite extensive investigations into individual incidents. The number is impressive, the results are not. Some 150 or so cases were investigated, two soldiers were convicted (one for theft), one officer was indicted for the killing – by mistake – of an entire extended family.

This seems to satisfy Goldstone, who this week gratefully accepted an invitation from the Israeli Minister of the Interior – perhaps the most rabid racist in the entire government, in which racists abound – to visit Israel. (When the conversation was leaked, Goldstone cancelled the matter and stated that the report would not be withdrawn.)

On the other side, Goldstone is aflame with indignation against Hamas, for launching rockets and mortar shells at civilians in Israel and conducting no investigations at all. Isn’t it rather ridiculous: using the same standards for one of the five mightiest armies in the world and a band of irregular and poorly equipped resistance fighters (alias terrorists).?

Terrorism is the weapon of the weak. (“Give me tanks and airplanes, and I promise I won’t plant bombs’” a Palestinian once said.) Since the entire military strategy of Hamas is terrorizing Israeli communities along the border in order to persuade Israel to put an end to the occupation (and, in the case of Gaza, to the ongoing blockade), Goldstone’s indignation seems a bit surprising.

Altogether, Goldstone has now paved the way for another Cast Lead operation which will be far worse.

I expect , however, that he can now pray in any synagogue he chooses.

 

 

 

Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery

 

 

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement. A member of the Irgun as a teenager, Avnery sat in the Knesset from 1965–74 and 1979-81.

Gaza Assault Over, For Now

Palestine Monitor
Editor Palestine Monitor, 11 April 2011
After a cease-fire, “all options are on the table” including targeted killings and Operation Cast Lead II, said Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom.

What many Israelis and Palestinians were calling the beginning of Operation Cast Lead II, has calmed down for now.

However, the Palestinian News Network warns that sources inside the Israeli military have predicted the fight is far from over, expecting violence to escalate soon.

After a direct appeal from Hamas, Israel agreed to a cease-fire. Israeli Foreign Minister called the move a mistake, and his Israeli Beitienu colleague Uzi Landau demanded the army “finish the job” of the 2009 brutal campaign which left 6,000 injured and 1,500 dead in Gaza.

So egregious was it’s violence, Israeli must be investigated by the International Criminal Court for Operation Cast Lead, according to Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

While Israel and newsrooms describe the effectiveness of Iron Dome missile-defense system, the Gazan Health Minister Basem Na’im announced that last Saturday that after four consecutive days of border closures, Gaza has run out of 150 different kinds of medicines. A week old, the closure and air assault continues.

After a week of air, land and naval attacks, 19 Palestinians are dead, 70 injured.

Yesterday, the Arab League asked from Cairo for a UN Security Council-imposed no-fly zone over Gaza. Decrying the collective punishment of the small, densely populated and impoverished coastal land governed by Hamas, the Arab League said a no-fly zone would keep civilian casualties low.

The Israeli missile attacks started a rocket fired from Gaza hit a school bus, critically wounding a teenager. Violence escalated when Palestinian groups fired more than 120 rockets into Israel, so far without wounding any Israelis.

Even before the assaults, despite the so-called lifting of the blockade earlier this year, Gazans’ lives were not significantly changed, according to a pre-bombing March 2011 report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories (OCHA). They still live in abject poverty, pushed by desperate hunger to tunnel to Egypt and work alongside dangerous border zones bristling with security towers, soldiers and remote-controlled machine gun turrets.

 

Besieged Gaza Two Years After Cast Lead

Stephen Lendman

Stephen Lendman, 5 Dec 2010

December 28 was Cast Lead’s second anniversary, a three week onslaught inflicting an appalling human, destructive and environmental toll. The war ended. Regular attacks continued, and Gaza remains suffocating under siege. Yet world leaders are doing nothing to end it or hold Israeli war criminals accountable.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) said “Gaza remains sealed-off from the outside world (after) the single most brutal event in” the occupation’s history, and “impunity for war crimes prevails.”

To date, victims’ rights have been unaddressed. International law remains ignored. Indisputable war crimes were airbrushed from history. Israeli war criminals were shielded from justice. Only three lower-ranking soldier were convicted for war-related offenses. One was for credit card theft, two others for using a nine year old boy as a human shield. Israeli government officials who ordered war, generals and top commanders who planned and implemented it, and other complicit figures were uncharged and unpunished.

World leader silence condoned them. The rule of law was trashed for imperial Israel, including allowing it to slowly suffocate over 1.5 million Gazans. Moreover, a newly released WikiLeaks cable says Israel plans major wars on Gaza and Lebanon. More on them below.

Preventing Gaza’s Reconstruction

On December 21, the Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement asked “Who will rebuild Gaza?” Six months after Israel’s cabinet decision to ease closure, a new Gisha report headlined “Reconstructing the Closure: Will recent changes to the closure policy be enough to build in Gaza,” saying:

“Despite the cabinet’s decision, Israel continues to ban the entrance of steel, gravel and cement, (essential) items which are not considered to be dual-use according to international standards.” Narrow exceptions only were allowed with “burdensome bureaucratic strings attached.”

For most items, Israel bogusly claims Hamas may use construction materials to build bunkers and “enhance its military capability” in other ways. As a result, little rebuilding progress has been made. Gaza remains in ruins, and over 1.5 million Palestinians struggle daily to cope.

For example, from July 6 – December 6, 2010, only 744 truckloads of cement, gravel and steel entered Gaza for international projects. In addition, up to 900 tons of concrete (equaling 36 truckloads), 300 tons of steel, or 250 tons of gravel move through tunnels on any given day. Though way short of enough, whatever’s supplied helps. In contrast, prior to June 2007 (when siege began), over 5,000 truckloads of these materials came in monthly. Israel is determined to suffocate Gazans, committing the equivalent of slow-motion genocide.

Ongoing Gaza Displacement

On December 27, the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights new report headlined, “On-going Displacement: Gaza’s Displaced Two Years after the War,” saying:

Two years after Cast Lead, “tens of thousands of Gaza residents continue to live a life of displacement” because of Israel’s suffocating siege. As a result, they’ve gotten little “meaningful relief (or) their right to adequate housing.”

After Cast Lead ended, UN Under Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, said it’s “absolutely critical that (construction) material(s) be allowed into Gaza on a regular and hopefully free basis.”

For over two years, Israel’s prevented them, collectively punishing tens of thousands of Gazans, unable to rebuild their homes and lives. Gaza’s Ministry of Housing and Public Works said 51,553 homes were destroyed or damaged. Of these, 3,336 were completed demolished and 4,021 sustained major damages.

Most aid Gazans got came from Hamas, the UN Development Program (UNDP), and UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Other agencies also provided materials, equipment and food. Also, families whose homes were totally destroyed got cash. Refugee homeless families received about $5,000 from Hamas and a comparable amount from UNWRA. Others whose properties sustained major damage got about $2,500 from Hamas and another $3,000 from UNWRA.

Non-refugee families were also helped, amounts based on whether their homes were entirely or partially destroyed. Families who lost properties have been most harmed, needing alternate shelter, mostly in leased apartments until their homes are rebuilt.

Based on a random survey from its “home demolitions” database among families whose homes were entirely destroyed, Al Mezan estimates:

– 93.3% of families haven’t gotten rebuilding help so must live elsewhere;

– 13.3% rebuilt their homes;

– 86.6% can’t do it because they didn’t receive enough help;

– 56.6% have rented homes or apartments; of those, 41.2 % (23.3% of the total) get regular assistance, covering their full rent expense; another 35.3% receive only partial help;

– 33.3% get no help for rent;

– 10% live in houses other than their own;

– 6.7% live with relatives or their families;

– 10% live in tents;

– 30% had to move their children to new schools;

– 66.7% said alternative housing doesn’t provide comfort and privacy like their own; and

– 86.7% are dissatisfied with how service providers handled home demolition and destruction problems.

A second survey among families whose homes were partially destroyed showed findings only modestly better, except that:

– 83.3% were living in their own residences, despite damage; and

– 43.3% were dissatisfied with service providers, half the percentage of homeless families.

Overall, however, Gaza remains in crisis, ongoing since June 2007, and exacerbated by Cast Lead destruction, atrocities, regular assaults, little concern by the international community, and no accountability for Israeli war criminals. Occupied Palestine’s history shows sustained justice denied, especially in Gaza under siege.

Another Lebanon and Gaza War?

A disclaimer: nations like Israel and America regularly prepare operational plans for wars that never are fought. Why? So they’re ready in case they are. For example, America’s Afghanistan war began on October 7, 2001, four weeks post-9/11, a conflict that took months to plan.

It’s also true for Israel’s 2006 Lebanon war and Cast Lead. Neither was impromptu following pretexts cited to launch them. They were in place many months in advance as are preparations for all wars. In other words, plans alone don’t automatically mean war. Most often, they don’t. However, given the belligerent history of America and Israel, information suggesting more war can’t be discounted. Too many previous ones were waged so sooner or later expect another.

Juan Cole writes regularly for his Informed Comment site, on January 2 headlining “WikiLeaks: Israel Plans Total War on Lebanon, Gaza,” saying:

Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper “summarized an Israeli military briefing by Israeli Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi” for US congressional members over a year ago, saying:

“The memo on the talks….as well as numerous other documents from the same period, to which Aftenposten has gained access, leave a clear message: The Israeli military is forging ahead at full speed with preparations for a new war in the Middle East.”

Cole emphasized “serious and specific” preparations, not contingency planning. US cables quoted Ashkenazi saying:

“I’m preparing the Israeli army for a major war, since it is easier to scale down to a smaller operation than to do the opposite….In the next war Israel cannot accept any restrictions on warfare in urban areas.”

Neither did Israel’s last two conflicts in 2006 against Lebanon and Cast Lead, under its “Dayiya Doctrine,” named after the Beirut suburb destroyed in summer 2006. It reflected how future wars would be fought as IDF Northern Command head Gabi Eisenkot explained at the time, saying:

“What happened in the Dayiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. We will apply disproportionate force at the heart of the enemy’s weak spot (civilians and non-military targets) and cause great damage and destruction. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages (towns or cities), they are military bases. This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved.”

Cast Lead (like Lebanon 2006) showed that civilians and non-military targets are attacked freely without cause to inflict maximum damage, deaths, injuries and human misery – “Dayiya.”

Whether or not true, Ashkenazi and America’s State Department claim Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah amassed large stockpiles of rockets, threatening Israel. In fact, no nation endangered Israel since the 1973 war, and given its dominant regional strength, none does so now. Other nations’ weapons are purely defensive and no match for Israel, nuclear-armed and dangerous.

Cole observes that Israel “could have a peace treaty with Syria and Lebanon tomorrow by giving back the Golan Heights and the Shebaa Farms….” For decades, Palestinians have also sought peace, but Israel chooses conflict. So does America.

As a result, Cole fears that Washington’s support for Israeli belligerence will incite inevitable blowback, “finally finish(ing) off the (few remaining) civil liberties enshrined in the American Constitution.” Already on life support, they need only a shove to be cut off.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

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