Monday, September 21

The War in Gaza and Goldstone Report

The Goldstone Report has come out on Operation Cast Lead - the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) military operation against Hamas terrorists in Gaza. The report damned Israel and certainly not with faint praise.

The severity of this report against IDF human rights abuses and the horrific destruction of infrastructure and the killing of innocent civilians are indisputable in Gaza. In a military operation of this nature this is expected. The report accuses Israel of war crimes. What was also expected is Israel's condemnation of the report and this has caused a flurry of diplomatic activity seeking worldwide support for the IDF and justification for the wanton destruction and carnage in Gaza.

Despite irrefutable proof of the use of white phosphorous against innocent people, IDF remains in denial.

A large proportion of the blame for the Goldstone Report findings must be laid on Israel. Israel refused to cooperate and refused the commission investigators entry into Israel. Much damage was caused to homes in towns in southern Israel but relatively few deaths and injuries. Perhaps an explanation for this was the discipline of the citizens who sought shelter in security rooms when sirens were sounded every time there was Qassam rocket fire targeting Israel. The Palestinians, on the other hand, had no recourse whatsoever to any protection from Israeli military activity. As stated in the Goldstone Report many were even used as human shields by Hamas during the hostilities.

The Israeli government made up its mind that the UN sponsored commission was biased. One of the world's most eminent judges, Richard Goldstone, a South African Jew, whose positive connections to Israel is well-known, cannot be called unfair or biased in his own right. He even stated that he regrets that Israel's attitude towards the investigation was negative and uncooperative. This had influenced the commission's findings.

What went wrong? Israel's attitude towards the investigations was negative. Israel had prejudiced the investigation by not cooperating even though it was invited to participate.

In an investigation of any kind a law court accepts evidence from all sides - the defense’s witnesses as well as the prosecution's witnesses before the judge weighs out the evidence and decrees a ruling. The judge arrives at a ruling based on the evidence presented to him. However, if there is insufficient evidence presented from the one side, the ruling is based on the evidence made available from the other side and conclusions are drawn as well as judgment. Judgment is passed if there is overwhelming evidence to justify it.

Israel refused to cooperate with the Goldstone Commission stating that it was biased from the start. The reason for this is that Israel regards UN sponsored commissions as being automatically prejudiced to Israel. Israel therefore felt that it was under no obligation to cooperate with any UN body focusing on the Gaza operation.

Judge Goldstone even expressed his great disappointment with Israel for denying the investigators entry into Israel to investigate what happened in Sderot and other areas affected by Hamas terrorist Qassam rocket fire.

Why did Israel not cooperate in this by allowing victims of Hamas terror to give evidence to the Goldstone commission? This resulted in most of the evidence coming from Gaza which the Palestinians, who had suffered from the merciless IDF actions, had supplied. The commission had carte blanche there. The massive destruction of buildings and 1300 Palestinians killed was emphasized to the commission. Apart from that, there was no lack of Palestinian witnesses willing to give evidence.

On the Israeli side there was an uncomfortable silence and lack of information as well as cooperation. A grave mistake was made and this was evident in the result of the Goldstone Report. This report was the result of the evidence made available and that Israel refused to cooperate.

Surely had Israel cooperated, the report would have been less damning of Israel. The often quoted epithet that "Israel has the most humane army in the world" does not wash down anymore in international forums nor does the justification of “unavoidable collateral damage” because of Hamas gunmen hiding themselves amongst the civilian population. The automatic Israeli reaction to the report shows shallowness, lack of knowledge and self-righteousness that is a similar reaction to a criminal in denial after having been found guilty of a heinous crime despite the irrefutable evidence made available in court to prove his guilt.

Now the "fun" begins as the Netanyahu-Lieberman Government sends its diplomats scurrying all over the world in a desperate bid to justify Israel's action and to refute the Goldstone Report findings.

This could have been avoided and it is doubtful if this intensive diplomatic activity will change attitudes.

The reason for Operation Cast Lead is well known. The motive was to end the Hamas firing of Qassam rockets into Israeli towns. Hamas was warned to cease their terrorist acts against Israel or else they will pay a heavy price. The warning went unheeded.

It must be noted that the unilateral Israeli disengagement from Gaza without any agreement was a massive error on Israel's side. There was no attempt by the Palestinian rulers in Gaza to build residential areas or develop the area vacated by the settlers. Instead it became a haven for Hamas terrorists to fire Qassam rockets into Israel. The Goldstone Report did not make much mention of this.

The purpose of the Goldstone Report was to investigate human rights violations and not to seek justification for it as Israel would have desired.

Another question that arises is whether Hamas will also be held accountable for the deaths of Israeli civilians and damage caused by their Qassams any less than Israel.

According to an article by Justice Richard Goldstone published in International Herald Tribune (18th Sept 2009), the Goldstone Report findings was concerned with the suffering of civilians because of hostilities of the war. Surely this is applicable to both sides - the IDF and Hamas terrorists who both stand accused of human rights abuses of both Israeli and Palestinians.

Both sides ought to be brought to the International Court of Justice at The Hague for accountability. The excuse that Hamas is not accountable is unacceptable! It was elected to rule Gaza by a majority in elections. Its human rights record even towards its own people is poor.

Hamas has broken every rule on human rights. The holding of Gilad Shalit in captivity without a chance of release or communication with his family is a severe violation of the Geneva Convention rules. It should also be part of the Goldstone Report as well which is so concerned with human rights abuses in war time. Operation Cast Lead was also launched as a response for the release of Gilad Shalit. The campaign failed and with it any hope of an early release.

This highly emotionally charged issue of the Goldstone Report resulted in severe criticism from Israel and as mentioned earlier in this article it was expected.

However, if one examines the report in its entirety without sentiment and in straight legalistic terms, it is a reasonable finding despite the immense difficulties involved in its compilation and lack of Israeli cooperation.

Friday, September 18

Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan

This year the Ramadan Fast and Rosh Hashanah fall over the same period. Ramadan preceded Rosh Hashanah and ends on Rosh Hashanah.

For both Jews and Moslems it is the season of introspection and a period of resolutions and betterment as well as purification of one's being.

The message coming from both the Jewish and Moslem perspective should be one of reconciliation and an end to hostilities and hate. Islam has many similarities to Judaism and shares similar values. The dietary laws of Islam are derived from Judaism with some differences. It is a great tragedy that the two peoples whose destinies are so closely linked are unable to make peace.

Family relationships are important to both faiths as well as relations with immediate neighbours

The significance of the message of peace and goodwill that are the basis of both Ramadan and Rosh Hashanah are very often overlooked by both peoples. Each side justifies its hostility towards the other and even finds justification for that hostility.

Unfortunately, there are those who misinterpret Islam and find justification for the most heinous terrorist acts in the name of Islam. There is Al Qaeda that has carried mega-terrorist acts over the years as well as splinter groups affiliated to that notorious terrorist organization.

The US has just commemorated the 11th September World Trade Centre tragedy. Since then there have been numerous acts of terror directed against "the infidels”, non-Moslems, irrespective of their race colour, or creed, just because they represent Western cultures which are anathema to Al Qaeda and their ilk.

Splinter terrorist organizations affiliated to Al Qaeda are still in the shadows waiting for an opportunity to attack and kill innocent people, who in their eyes represent Israeli interests or US.

It is not based or even connected with the Israeli occupation but rather a total disdain for the West generally. Proof of this is not hard to find. What is the connection between the Madrid bombings, London bombings or the Fiji bombings with the Palestinians?

On the Israeli side, there are also hard core extremists who have established illegal settlements in occupied territories and have received support from the Israeli Government over the years.

As the Jewish New Year commences and Ramadan exits with the celebration of Id El Fitr, let us both, Jews and Moslems, work together to rebuild a new Middle East - a Middle East that will cease to be an area of hostility. This is the message of both Islam and Judaism.

Let our resolutions be those of the paths of peace ensuring a bright future for all the peoples of the Middle East.

Let us put an end to violence and cease justification for violence no matter from whichever side it comes.

In this spirit of brotherhood, coexistence, an end to the occupation, achievement of justice and peace, we wish both Jews and Moslems - Shana Tovah and Ramadan Mubarak.

Saturday, September 12

Sand in the Eyes

The US under President Obama has demanded a freeze in building settlements in the occupied West Bank. This was done in order to create an atmosphere for peace negotiations and the building of confidence between Israel and the Palestinians.

One must bear in mind that if there is no settlement freeze it means that Israel desires to continue the occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands. Nobody builds houses with the intention of demolishing them afterwards.

However, Israel's Government decided that it would authorize the construction of hundreds of new housing units in West Bank settlements before the building freeze of six to nine months takes place, if at all.

Surely the right wing government of Israel is behaving in an irresponsible manner. Netanyahu is not interested in settlement freezes as his priority is to please the Feiglins and Bogey Ya'alons in his party in the hope of preventing his coalition from splitting.

It seems as if the Netanyahu government is throwing sand in the eyes of the world. The US has convinced the Arab world that in exchange for a settlement freeze they would offer confidence-building measures to Israel such as opening of trade offices; overfly rights of Israeli planes heading for Asia and even the encouraging of tourism between Israel and the Arab states. Surely these steps should be considered a price worth paying rather than building settlements in the occupied West Bank for marginal right wing gains detrimental to Israel's peace interests and its standing in the world.

If is obvious that if Israel does not abide by Obama's insistence on a settlement freeze, Israel's relationship with the US will suffer.

According to a Haaretz report (7th Sept 2009), the US has said that many Arab states have pledged to make gestures to Israel, including normalization, if there is a settlement freeze.

The continued building and expansion of settlements in the West Bank will illustrate that Israel intends to remain an occupying power in the West Bank. Ehud Barak, Israel's Defense Minister, has signed permits to construct 500 new houses in West Bank settlements and will issue more permits following that. It is clear that Israel is involved in a race against time. Netanyahu knows that the more they can build on Palestinian land, the less they will return for the establishment of a future Palestinian state.

Many West Bank settlements were approved while under construction. In fact they were in existence before approval.Ehud Barak, the Defense Minister, is no less to blame for this situation. His Labor Party is part of the right wing coalition and a senior participant in right wing settler motivated decisions on land grabs from the Palestinians.

Benjamin Netanyahu made the decision on illegal housing units to be built on six settlements. The intention is to keep these settlements even after a future agreement with the Palestinians is reached.

This will strengthen the extremists such as Hamas and weaken the Fatah controlled Palestinians Authority in the West Bank. It will further illustrate that Israel is not interested in negotiations for a peace agreement and thus play into their hands.

According to a survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Survey and Policy Research found that support for President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah over Hamas and its leader, Ismail Haniyeh is growing in both the West Bank and Gaza. It will be a great pity if this trend is halted because of Israel's illegal settlement policies.

It is difficult to understand the logic behind the desire not to freeze settlements in the West Bank. Israel has much to gain in world stature if it performs these simple gestures to show its willingness to end the conflict and move towards the creation of a Palestinian state.

Israel's rulers are not interested in freezing settlements or ceasing to establish new settlements. They will pay superficial lip service to it while at the same time the business of prolonging the occupation will go on unabated. Surely this illustrates a policy of deception!

After more lives will be lost in another intifada for the sake of selling out to the illegal settlers (many of whom are religious fanatic zealots), it may be left to future generations of both Israelis and Palestinians to sort out the mess.

Israel's current leadership wants peace while at the same time carrying on the building of settlements at the cost of usurping Palestinian lands. This is unacceptable and immoral!

Throwing sand in the eyes of the US and the EU is going to lower Israel's status and credibility in the world. A settlement freeze will be given approval for world consumption while in practice it will not occur.

The message of the building permits

The government of Israel
Is full of
Tricksters and swindlers
Who do not dream
Of making peace –

That is the clear message
To all those in the world
Who still entertained
Any doubts.

The 450 building permits
Will not, of course,
Satisfy the settlers
Who have never enough.

Gush Shalom

Ad in Haaretz, Sep. 11, 2009

Saturday, September 5

Racism in Israel

The new school term has commenced with the end of the sizzling summer holidays. Most kids are returning to their lessons. A sizeable number in Petah Tikva will not be returning to school. They are the Ethiopian children. The reason - their skin colour! They have been banned from the private religious orthodox schools.

Despite threats by the Ministry of Education to halt funds to these schools for their blatant racism, no solution has been found. Presumably these religious schools stick to the Tanachic ruling that black people (Hamites) are destined to be slaves in the literal sense because of the curse of Ham, one of the sons of Noah. In other words, they are not recognized as Jews because of their skin colour and their origin as one of the tribes of Cush. There is no other explanation.

It is a shame that Israel has many streams of education. The ultra-Orthodox stream is private with subsidies coming from the state. Their education is narrow and does not really equip students for competing in the secular world with the most basic skills. Their graduates are the perpetual Yeshiva students condemned to a life bordering on poverty and existence from charities in their quest for perpetual study.

Surely an attempt should be made to enroll the Ethiopian children into secular schools rather than partisan religious schools who do not want them in any case. Who says that Ethiopians must go to racist religious schools whose human values are poor if not non-existent?

Racism in society is despicable and ought to be condemned. Israel is losing its values. It starts with hatred of Arabs and those who do not conform to “Zionist” values. The racist society then turns inward and seeks out those who have physical features that are different (skin colour) even including Jews of Ethiopian origin.

The education standards in schools have dropped in Israel. No doubt it will drop even further as private religious stream education becomes more prevalent. This continues and will continue as the Netanyahu government sells out to ultra-Orthodox bigotry in education. It is translated into money to keep their unholy alliance with the ultra-Orthodox Torah Judaism and Shas Parties. This perpetuates the racial hatred of those not identifying themselves with ultra-Orthodox thinking.

A society that loses its values in education becomes less tolerant to those who are different. The government should adopt an education policy that is translated into encouraging unity amongst the people. This means schools that integrate all its pupils, irrespective of race colour or creed should be given increased subsidies from the state. Arab and Jewish kids should receive the same education in the same schools. When it comes to religious instruction, the various religious groups could attend classes within the school framework conducted by their respective religious leaders who are members of the school staff.

This would encourage a common patriotic identity irrespective of race, colour or creed. It would also increase tolerance between pupils of different faiths. Racial as well as religious prejudice would be minimized substantially.

Problematic subjects such as the Zionist narrative of the history of Israel and the Arab narrative of the Naqba (catastrophe) could be taught on an equal basis to both Arab and Jewish pupils with sensitivity for the feelings of both sides and the lessons that both sides receive from the various narratives. If this would be done professionally it would create a common patriotism that both Jews and Arabs can share from a very young age. It would also save a lot of state money which is squandered on sectarian schools catering for various religious groups with values that are chauvinistic at best and downright racist at worst as witnessed in various ultra-Orthodox schools in Petah Tikva against Ethiopian pupils.

It is not only in the sphere of education that racism occurs but also in state attitudes towards foreign workers. Care-givers from the Philippines, agricultural workers, domestic workers and those in the building trade are hounded by the Oz Unit of the police force after their permits have expired. These people have been exploited; many have had their personal freedom curtailed while working here.

The exploitation is a result of the need to employ people to do jobs that Israelis are not prepared to do. In the “good old days”, Palestinian workers used to do all the menial cheap labour. Since the intifada this has ceased and reliance is now on foreign workers for a short period under contract.

It may be argued that exploitation of foreign workers is not necessarily racism. This is true up to a point, however, one cannot avoid asking the question that had the workers been Jewish, the Law of Return would apply and expulsion would not be considered an option once their contract has expired. Foreign workers interact with the population of the country in which they live even bonding with Israelis. There have even been cases of intermarriage. This, of course, creates problems with the Rabbinate and the situation of either “convert or leave” is created.