Saturday, February 23

Closures and Checkpoints

Closed Military Area bisecting Palestinian farms: After being prevented from entering Qalqilya by the IDF, Jennifer and Daniel tried to find some high ground in one of the neighboring villages with the hope of getting a better look at the wall surrounding the town. Eventually they came to this fence laying at the edge of an olive grove. It was a closed military area as designated by the IDF. There was a series of 4 gates and on either side barbed wire and electric fence stretched for as far as the eye could see. The sign on the gate indicated that it is opened only 3 times a day: from 7-7:20am; from 1-1:20pm; and from 4:40-5:00pm.

Photographs by Jennifer Lemire and Daniel Moss for Grassroots International

Saturday, February 16

Assassination as a Deterrent against Terror

Emotions in Hezbollah are running high following the assassination of Imad Mughniya, a militant, terrorist leader responsible for the murder of innocent Americans, Israelis and French as well as members of the Jewish community of Buenos Aires in Argentina.

“Mughniyah has been implicated in many terrorist attacks in the 1980s and 1990s, primarily against American and Israeli targets. These include the April 18, 1983 bombing of the United States embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, which killed 63 people including 17 Americans. He was later blamed for the October 23, 1983 simultaneous truck bombings against French paratroopers and the U.S. Marine barracks. The attacks killed 58 French soldiers and 241 Marines. On September 20, 1984, he attacked the US embassy annex building. The United States indicted him (and his collaborator, Hassan Izz al-Din) for the June 14, 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847, which resulted in the death of U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem.[10] He was also linked to numerous kidnappings of Westerners in Beirut through the 1980s, most notably that of Terry Anderson, and William Francis Buckley, who was the CIA station chief in Beirut. Some of these individuals were later killed, such as Buckley, who had been brutally beaten beforehand.[11] The remainder was released at various times until the last one, Terry Anderson who was released in 1991.” (From Wikipedia.)

The assassination of Mughniya could have been an Israeli Mossad operation. A hunch tells me that there may have been a number of non-Israeli agencies involved. The possibility that Lebanese anti-Hezbollah groups sought revenge for Hariri’s murder cannot be ruled out. Perhaps it is a coincidence that the assassination of Mughniya took place close to the third anniversary of Hariri’s murder. After all, the US, France and Argentina (maybe even Lebanon) all wish to see this man destroyed. Naturally, Hezbollah’s leader Sheik Nasrallah delivered a rabble rousing, demagogic speech filled with hatred for Israel and threatening its destruction. He also hinted directly that he will hit Israeli targets abroad and Israel’s northern border will come under attack. He accused Israel of the assassination. However, people have forgotten that this firebrand hid deep in a bunker whenever he felt that his life was threatened by Israel. Only occasionally does he come up for air in order to rabble rouse and rally his supporters to the cause of Israel’s destruction.

The wisdom of political assassination as a deterrent against terror is of questionable value. The western democracies have always maintained the presumption of innocence until proof of guilt. After all, this is the basis of the rule of law and the right of all suspects to a fair trial within a reasonable time in an International Court of Law in the case of terrorist crimes of an international nature. Would it not have been preferable to have captured this suspect and given him a fair trial as was done in the case of the notorious Iraqi dictator, Sadam Hussein? This would have involved tremendous time consuming intelligence gathering. Political assassination has not deterred terror in the past. There will always be other dangerous extremists waiting in the wings to take over.

Eventually the truth will be known about the perpetrator of the assassination of Mughniya. Meanwhile the police responsible for the safety of Israeli and US personnel security are on high alert worldwide. This will not deter extremist firebrands from murdering innocent people.

Gaza is living a similar situation. Assassination of Hamas leaders would only create further cycles of violence as other radical Hamas leaders replace those who were killed. There is no shortage of such extremists in Gaza and their motivation is rekindled after each assassination. This would result in further escalation of violence. The financial sources pouring into Gaza to retaliate for Israeli pin-point assassinations would increase.

According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR)'s Weekly Report, during the week of 7 - 13 February 2008, 10 Palestinians were killed and 40 were injured by the Israeli military. Among the ten victims killed included a school teacher and 3 brothers. Of those injured, most were civilians -- 9 women and 8 children. In addition, Israeli forces abducted 82 Palestinian civilians. Obviously the constant cycle of violence between the two sides has to be curtailed. The Qassam rocket fire into Sderot and southern Israel must stop as well as the retaliations resulting in the death and injuries to both sides. After all, it is the innocent Palestinians and Israelis who are victims of this violence.

Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist in theory, in practice it does despite its rhetoric. Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh of the Hamas movement expressed willingness to reach "a state of calm" in the region, saying that any offer or initiative to achieve this "will be considered by his government". He would not have suggested a tahdia” – a period of unlimited calm which could extend over a couple of years. In order to reach that stage, there must be dialogue. No harm has ever occurred when parties to a conflict engage in dialogue. The solution to this problem can only be political.

The problem lies in lack of trust on both sides. If there is a desire for calm by a Hamas leader, this means that recognition is just round the corner. The problem is that this respite from violence could be used as a period for Hamas and its allies to re-arm and to proceed with renewal of terrorist acts in the future. Failure by international observers in the past, to prevent re-arming does not mean that they must be discarded altogether in the future. The inspectors are not given adequate powers to be effective in curtailing violence.

Another severe drawback is the division of Palestine into two entities – Gaza ruled by Hamas and the West Bank ruled by Fatah. If an agreement were to be reached there would have to be coordination between these two entities. Presently, this is lacking. The West Bank is full of Jewish settlements considered part of Israel. The legality of these settlements is questionable. This severe problem really lays the foundation for Israel eventually becoming a binational state or confederation of states for both Palestinians and Israelis. The journalist, Daniel Gavron, wrote an articleIsrael has won!” in the International Herald Tribune where he mentioned similar ideas.

Assassination is not a viable alternative for a political solution. It only perpetuates violence, hate and distrust on all sides.

Friday, February 8

Collective Punishment under the Occupation

The Palestinians are accusing Israel of “collective punishment”. This is true in many cases. However, the reverse is also true. Palestinians are also carrying out “collective punishment” against Israelis. One has to see the havoc in Sderot with the Qassam rockets being fired. Recently two suicide bombers made their way into Dimona. One blew himself up, killing one women and seriously injuring 11 people. One terrorist was shot in the head and killed by a policeman. Surely, suicide terror acts are also a form of “collective punishment” against innocent people. Collective punishment is a method used by both Israelis and Palestinians against each other, thus prolonging a cycle of violence that does not end.

Collective punishment is the punishment of specific people because of criminal or violent behaviour of one or more individuals or groups associated with the specific people or group. The punished group may often have no direct association with the other individuals or groups, or direct control over their actions. During wartime, atrocities are committed, and are a violation of the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions. Historically, occupying powers have used collective punishment to retaliate against and deter attacks on their forces by resistance movements (e.g. by destroying whole villages where attacks have taken place). If one were to apply this definition to what is happening in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is obvious that both sides are guilty. The holding of prisoners-of-war like Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier, kidnapped by Hamas and being held indefinitely is illegal and is a violation of human rights. Even Palestinian prisoners are allowed visits by their families or even their lawyers. Gilad Shalit is denied this.

The Palestinians claim that the terrorist violence is a result of frustration and hopelessness because of the occupation with a feeling of nothing to lose and possibly something to gain. A Palestinian friend asked me why so many Palestinians are ruthlessly killed by the Israeli soldiers while Israeli casualties are relatively few despite the heavy Qassam rocket fire into Sderot. I replied that Sderot residents are well disciplined and that the moment there is a siren warning of Qassam rocket fire, the residents have about 15 seconds to go into the bomb shelters. This is a big factor in saving lives; Israelis are well drilled into heeding siren warnings. The Palestinians do not have the same facilities to ensure their safety from Israeli attack. Apart from that, the weapons used by Israeli soldiers are far more accurate, efficient and deadly. This explains the high casualty rate suffered by the Palestinians. Hamas and Fatah never bothered to protect their citizens from Israeli attacks and retaliations. There are no bomb shelters or security rooms, where Palestinians could take their children and hide until the danger passes.

The tragic cycle of violence shows no sign of ending. Hamas is continuing to monopolize on Palestinian suffering in order to create a situation whereby peace between Israelis and Palestinians will never be achieved. The situation in Gaza is tragic. The West Bank does not fair much better and it is a matter of time before Hamas gains the upper hand there as well. President Mahmoud Abbas has no control over Gaza and it is doubtful if he has much control over the West Bank. The Annapolis understandings have been forgotten and President Bush’s idea of achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians before leaving office will not occur.

Many innocent Palestinians are under tremendous stress because of the situation. Unemployment is rife and those who are fortunate to have employment have to go through humiliating check posts manned by Israeli Army personnel even when they get employment in their own Palestinian areas. A twenty minute journey within the occupied territories can take two to three hours. All the Israeli promises of removing check posts within the occupied territories have not been kept. The excuse is security. Even within the Palestinian territories, Palestinians are unable to reach their places of work without being stopped and checked in a humiliating fashion. The delays are long and tedious. This also creates an atmosphere of hate for Israel.

Both Palestinians and Israelis see themselves as victims of each other. Hamas rides on the wave of Palestinian suffering. It does not intend to cease terror activity. The reason is the occupation and this includes the whole of Israel since its establishment in 1948. There is no indication that Hamas will change its hard-line attitude towards coming to terms with Israel’s existence. It uses the Palestinians in a cynical way, prolonging their suffering and encouraging terror against Israelis.

Arab columnists condemn Hamas for bringing suffering on the Palestinians

Several Arab commentators have fiercely criticized Hamas for its conduct in Gaza (see a review of these articles on MEMRI - Special Dispatch 1829, dated 29 January 2008). Al-Arabiya TV Director Abd'al Al-Rahman Al-Rashed condemns Israel, but then he says: “What is the point of these rocket attacks… that increase the suffering of 1.5 million Palestinians, but do not cause Israel any military harm or induce it to make political concessions? Hamas rocket attacks amount to a suicide operation that sacrifices the security of all the residents of Gaza ….” (Al-Sharq al-Aswat, 21 January 2008). Palestinian journalist Nadia Ilabouni is highly critical of Israel, but she then writes: “What the Palestinians need is for Hamas to show some responsibility – even a little….. Before begging for compassion from the world, we had better have some compassion for ourselves, and protect ourselves from the tyranny and control of those who trade in blood – those who are not committed to the Palestinian cause, but are serving the agendas of external forces that have nothing to do with Palestinian interests… “(Al-Sharq Al-Awsat 23 January 2008) [Beyond Images comment: the latter comment is almost certainly a reference to Iran]

The breaching of the security fence in Gaza was a result of the immense pressure that has built up within Gaza itself. An independent Palestinian state alongside Israel is becoming more and more of a fantasy. In practice, there are two Palestinian entities, Gaza and the West Bank. The Gaza strip has no Jewish settlers as they were evacuated in August 2005. An independent Palestinian state can only be achieved when all Jewish settlements in the West Bank are evacuated. There is no other place for a Palestinian state (or maybe there is according to Hamas, which states that the whole of Israel is occupied Palestinian land and has to be replaced by a Palestinian state). Right wing cynics in Israel say that the Palestinian state is Jordan as 80% of Jordanians are Palestinians. The Jewish settlement policies of the previous governments of Israel has actually laid the foundations of a future binational state as the West Bank (the so-called future Palestinian state) is populated with Jewish settlements. Evacuating these settlements the way that the Gaza strip was evacuated does not seem possible. This being the case, the establishment of a Palestinian state can never become a reality.

The use of military force to stop Hamas terror attacks will not work. It will result in tremendous loss of innocent lives on both sides. It may result in a temporary lull in terrorist activity, but the hate will continue and this will result in renewed violence against Israel. The cycle of violence can only be stopped by negotiations for a political solution – and, if Hamas wills it, then Israel must negotiate with them. There are no other options. The military option is not a long term solution. Terrorist attacks and Israeli retaliation will prolong “collective punishment”. The innocent on both sides will suffer in the end. This cycle of bloodshed has already proved pointless. The Palestinians gain nothing by firing Qassam rockets, but Israel is not helping itself with its extensive operations in the Strip. As I write more Qassam rockets were fired from Gaza into Sderot. Two Sderot residents, brothers aged eight and 19, were seriously wounded Saturday evening when a Qassam rocket struck the backyard of a home in the city.

The two were rushed to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon with the 8-year-old suffering serious wounds to the lower extremities.

The attack on innocent civilians, whether Palestinian or Israeli, ought to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. The collective punishment weapon is being used by both sides and no side will win. Hamas’s firing of Qassam rockets is a pointless tactic that will achieve nothing. It will only bring strong Israeli retaliatory actions that will increase Palestinian suffering.

Israel has now decided to cut back electricity to Gaza. Now that the border between Gaza and Egypt is more or less open, weapon smuggling from this point will increase and so will the influence of Iran and its financial backing. The electricity cuts will prolong the suffering of innocent Palestinians and it will not stop the Qassam rockets. A political solution is now more urgent than ever before.

“Stop this Madness!

Stop Making Life

In Sderot and Gaza


Talk with Hamas!

Cease Fire!!!”

Gush Shalom