Saturday, October 31

Disturbances in Jerusalem

A Palestinian youth marks a V sign during clashes with Israeli policemen in the Arab neighborhood of Ras Al Amud in east Jerusalem, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2009. Israeli forces stormed the Jerusalem's holiest shrine, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, Sunday, firing stun grenades to disperse hundreds of Palestinian protesters who

were pelting them with stones. ((AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

There seems to be certain regularity in the occurrence of disturbances in Jerusalem. There are periods of calm followed by violent conflagration between Jew and Moslem extremists. Both sides claim what they regard as their legitimate rights in Jerusalem. Both sides blame each other for the disturbances. Who really is to blame?

It is difficult say with absolute conviction. Both parties are moving towards extremist positions. The Moslems are goaded on by their radical religious leaders (many of whom are adopting anti-Jewish Hamas positions) also coupled with fears of the "Judaization of Jerusalem”. This can be seen on the ground as right-wing Yesha rabbis - the spokesmen of the settler movements - goad the faithful to pray on the Temple Mount. This is intended as a provocation to the Moslem community "to show who is boss".

It would be worthwhile to see what is happening in Jerusalem and to ask ourselves whether it is a provocation. According to a Haaretz Editorial of 26th October 2009, certain facts are indisputable. Mention is made of archaeological digs; the construction of Jewish neighborhoods and Jewish housing in and around the Old City; the purchase of property and condemning of public parks with the intention of using land to build Jewish residential neighborhoods seem to be part of a deliberate policy pursued by the Israeli Government..

The issue of Jerusalem is a highly emotional issue. Both sides lack the sensitivity to deal with this issue effectively so that both sides could live side by side in harmony, each side being pragmatic towards the other. Both sides have a religious stake in Jerusalem and yet no side really has the monopoly on Jerusalem.

Logic requires a tremendous amount of pragmatism and moderation in order to prevent religious violence which could have wide ranging repercussions. This could ignite the whole Middle East which would benefit nobody.

Jerusalem will always remain a divided city. The demographic make up of Jerusalem and its immediate surroundings is not conducive to uniting the city under Israeli rule. Western Jerusalem (or Jewish Jerusalem) prior to the Six Day War of June 1967, has a Jewish majority and this is indisputable. Eastern Jerusalem captured in the Six Day War is mostly Arab. Israel's control of Eastern Jerusalem will always be a contentious issue. Trust between Israelis and Palestinians have reached a new low not that it ever had any highs.

Jerusalem is like a dormant volcano. It can remain quiet for a period. Unlike a dormant volcano whose eruptions are more or less predictable, Jerusalem is not. The use of force to prevent violence is not going to work. The burning embers will always remain only to ignite at the slightest provocation.

The Jerusalem issue remains a hot potato with both Palestinians and Israelis laying claim to it. The forces of reason are not much felt here and while the one side encroaches on the interests of the other there will always be a conflict of interests.

Jerusalem is a holy city that is important to the three monotheistic faiths - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In this fact also lies the solution. Perhaps Jerusalem should not be under the rule of any sovereign nation but declared an international city under the rule of representatives of the three monotheistic faiths, each faith having jurisdiction over the holy sites peculiar to their respective faiths.

Maybe Jerusalem should have a separate status. It could be the capital of Israel and Palestine, with both peoples having their legislative assemblies there. Naturally there will be areas of cooperation between both peoples in the day to day running of Jerusalem for the benefit of both. Jerusalem should have a special status and be an open city accessible to all worshippers.

Jerusalem could be divided into boroughs that are determined by the demographic nature of the city. This could be done so that the interests of all residents are safeguarded. In order to end the periodic cycle of violence in Jerusalem between Jews and Palestinians, new and imaginative approaches need to be investigated.

Both sides need to change their ideas and seek ways of cooperation. Projects focusing on peace education and emphasize the equal claims of both Israelis and Palestinians to Jerusalem. Neither side is going to disappear at the expense of the other. It is not an easy task because of the tragic histories of both sides resulting in a total lack of trust.

This is a conflict where both sides are right, as Amos Oz, the well-known Israeli writer, aptly describes it.

Dialogue between the two sides must be initiated. One must always remember that what is happening in Jerusalem is determines the future of the Palestinian - Israeli conflict that affects the whole Middle East.

Saturday, October 24

The Goldstone Report and Self-examination

The Goldstone Report has caused reverberations throughout Israel as well as in the Diaspora. As expected, the report is viewed as being biased with a positive tilt towards the Palestinian side.

The accusations against Israel committing war crimes against the Palestinians are unfair in as far as Israel's intentions are concerned. These intentions were to neutralize Hamas terrorist activity against Israel's citizens. There is no doubt that innocent Palestinians had suffered many losses - fatalities, injury and destruction of property.

Much of this was due to the cruel use of innocent Palestinians as human shields behind which Hamas terrorists hid. This was achieved by Hamas force and threats to annihilate Palestinian families who do not provide shelter for Hamas terrorists. Verification of Israel’s claims that it had avoided injuring innocent Palestinians needs clarification.

Hamas and its terrorist allied groups are irregular militants who do not abide by any Geneva Convention Laws of warfare. Their cruel practices and manipulations paid dividends as far as the Goldstone Report findings are concerned. The UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) had interviewed Palestinian witnesses and based its findings on their statements.

There were no Israeli witnesses and this was a severe tactical error on Israel's part. Israel never allowed UN investigators to interview victims of Qassam missiles. The reason being, according to Israel's view, that the UN investigators are biased against Israel and therefore had no right to come to Israel to investigate victims of Qassam missiles and Hamas terror as it would have no influence on the outcome of the report in their (Israel's) view. This attitude is open to debate.

At least, if Israel would have been more accommodating, testimony of Israeli witnesses could have been placed on record, even if the UNHRC was biased towards Israel. The testimony would have been documented as evidence from the Israeli side. The Netanyahu coalition surely exhibited shortsightedness in this regard.

The detailed accounts of reputed crimes against Palestinians committed by the IDF are questionable. The possibility of the tragedies suffered by innocent Palestinians could be because of Hamas hostile activity against Israel's citizens over the past 8 years. It is always easy for an uninvolved party to pass judgment on so-called human rights abuses or war crimes. The question that one is tempted to ask is how would any sovereign country react against terrorists who threaten its population at every opportunity? Did the US treat the Iraqis with kid gloves when their soldiers were threatened on Iraqi soil or for that matter the Afghanis?

Always lurking in the background is Israel's credibility. Israel is an occupying power no matter how one views it. This is certainly a factor. It weakens Israel's standing amongst the world of nations. While there is talk of freezing settlement activity in order to create an atmosphere more conducive to peace negotiations, Israel has been expanding settlements and even building new ones. Surely if Israel was serious in accepting the two-state solution as PM Netanyahu had stated recently, albeit with severe limitations, then gestures of freezing settlement activity would be a move in the right direction.

On the other hand, Hamas is very intransigent irrespective of whether Israel is an occupying power or not.

There has been unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005, and Hamas is in control there. Hamas showed no signs of improving the situation for their citizens. All they did was instill hate for Israel, demonizing the Jewish people and moving closer to the destructive Hezbollah-Iranian camp. They encouraged terrorism against Israeli citizens and did not show any inclination to become part of a peace process or a desire for responsible government which is the least they owe their people.

The Goldstone Report did not denigrate Hamas for the initiation of the Gaza War for which it was responsible but only stated in passing its minuscule responsibility for war crimes committed.

In conclusion, the Goldstone Report stated that Israel committed war crimes against the Palestinians while Hamas is let off rather lightly.

The recommendations of the Goldstone Report are that both parties to the conflict institute a commission of enquiry on the allegations of committing war crimes. Israel is prepared to do this but not Hamas. Hamas-ruled Gaza is not a sovereign state where the rule of law prevails. Hamas glorifies terrorist activities against innocent Israelis and its policies clearly support the non-recognition of Israel and its total destruction. How can the Goldstone Report even recommend that Hamas institute an enquiry into war crimes that it had committed? It will never happen. Does this mean that Hamas will land up in the International Court of Justice accused of war crimes? This is most unlikely. Hamas does not represent a state. There is no rule of law in Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Opponents of the Hamas regime are tortured and even murdered. How can this evil band of terrorists be held accountable for anything? The Goldstone Report glibly overlooked Hamas responsibility for the Gaza War and intense suffering of the Palestinians for which it was clearly responsible.

This has placed the eminent Judge, Richard Goldstone, in the ingenious situation of being a protégé of Hamas which was certainly not his intention. It seems as if he was manipulated by the UNHRC

Human Rights Watch insisted that Hamas should launch a "credible investigation" into serious violations by its fighters during Operation Cast Lead. Even if this were an option, Hamas would say that Israel is responsible for war crimes against Palestinians and this would automatically absolve Hamas from any responsibility for war crimes against the Palestinians. There is no way that Hamas, with their band of terrorists and potential suicide bombers will institute a commission of enquiry into war crimes against both Israelis and Palestinians especially the former.


Some ministers want
A sham investigation,
Without defining responsibility
And without uncovering
The army’s actions.
That will not reduce
The pressure.

What is needed is a
State investigation committee,
Headed by a Superior Court judge,
To hear testimonies
From soldiers and Gaza residents,
In public and in the presence
Of international observers.

For the Israeli government
That is the lesser evil.

Ad published in Haaretz, October 23, 2009

Saturday, October 10

The Goldstone Report - Is it fair?

So much has been written about the Goldstone Report. The Israeli leadership has criticized it for being unfair, while the Palestinian leadership has commended it.

The report findings as a response to what occurred during Operation Cast Lead was not strong in its condemnation of Hamas for their terrorist acts against the citizens of Israel over the last eight years of the firing of Qassam missiles into Israeli towns in the south.

The intentions of Hamas terrorists were clear - to maim and kill as many innocent men, women and children as possible. Eight thousand Qassam rockets were fired over an eight year period to achieve this object. The damage to property was great but injuries and death to Israeli citizens was relatively low. This could be explained for two reasons:

  1. The inaccuracy of the Qassam rocket which is primitive.
  2. The discipline of the citizens vulnerable to the rocket attacks made their way to security rooms when siren warnings were sounded.

It could have ended very differently had the citizens not been well drilled during rocket attacks. This is in contrast to the Palestinians in Gaza who have no protection against Israel Air Force bombardment.

Excesses against the Palestinians did occur resulting in heavy injuries and loss of innocent lives. Israel had made use of white phosphorus in their military activity which had caused untold suffering of innocent Palestinians. The question is whether it was necessary to use white phosphorus against the Palestinians. This needs to be investigated. This does not mean that Hamas is exonerated from perpetrating war crimes. Israel's big mistake was not allowing the HRC to investigate and interview those living in Sderot and surrounding towns so that Hamas terror against Israeli citizens could have been ascertained.

The Goldstone Report relied heavily on Palestinian witnesses whose credibility was questionable. There were hardly any Israeli witnesses to counteract which unfortunately did not give a full and unbiased picture of the Goldstone Report.

Despite all the weaknesses inherent in the report due to inaccurate assessments, Israel must be held accountable for the suffering of innocent civilians during Operation Cast Lead. Having said this, Hamas must be blamed for the initiation of the operation and for its results. They had provoked the attack on Gaza by their terrorist activities against innocent Israelis in Sderot and surrounding towns.

Which country on earth would tolerate the firing of 8000 Qassam missiles on its civilian population during a period of eight years? The US knew how to retaliate in Iraq and Afghanistan after the massive Al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on 11th September 2001. How many innocent civilians were killed as a result - not to mention the massive collateral damage to infrastructure?

The fact that Israel refused to cooperate with the HRC (Human Rights Committee) resulted in lack of witnesses giving evidence on Israel's side. Perhaps this would have resulted in a more balanced report.

Hamas has demonized Israel over the years. Its Islamic clergy have gone on record for the most vicious anti Semitic incitement against Jews and Israel. This of course adds legitimacy to terrorist acts against the Jewish people in their eyes. Hamas and its allied terrorist groups are to be blamed for the initiation of Operation Cast Lead. This was retaliatory action to protect Israel's citizens from Hamas terror.

The Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands does weaken Israel's credibility. Israel is viewed as the strong victor oppressing the weak Palestinians. They are also viewed as colonialists because of its settlement policies whereby Palestinian lands are taken from Palestinians for the establishment of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. These illegal activities weaken Israel's position and the world views Israel as an occupying power.

The Goldstone Report does make mention of accountability by both Israel and Hamas and that both sides should initiate a commission of enquiry for their accountability as far as war crimes are concerned. In a way this is very unrealistic. Hamas, with its attitude towards Israel, would never do that as they justify the murder of Jews as an honour. Apart from that, they are bunch of murderous gangsters with no mercy towards Israelis or Palestinians who oppose their regime.

Hamas even shot Fatah supporters in the legs in Gaza. To whom are they accountable? What is to the kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit? He has been in captivity for over 3 years now without any contact with his family. The Geneva Convention does not apply to them so they have the liberty to do as they wish with captured prisoners-of-war. The Goldstone Report states in mild terms Hamas responsibility for human rights abuses. Is this naivety on the part of Judge Goldstone or perhaps he has been manipulated by the HRC and the UN? Hamas will never allow an investigation of war crimes either internal or external. They justify every act of terror that they have perpetrated as their "legitimate fight against Israel's existence" not just the occupation.

The Goldstone Report has emphasized Israel's responsibility for war crimes against the Palestinians while Hamas seems to be held less responsible for war crimes and was not condemned as soundly as Israel.

The fairness of the report is questionable taking into account the circumstances that provoked Israel into taking military action against the Hamas terrorists who also used their own people as human shields to maximize the Palestinian suffering in order to blame Israel. This ruse seemed to have worked to their advantage.

The Goldstone Report may have come to the correct conclusions as far as human abuses are concerned but the emphasis on Israel as being the main culprit of human rights abuses is unfair. The actual blame for the initiation of Operation Cast Lead must be laid on the doorstep of Hamas.