Tag Archives: Gaza

Israel/Gaza, Leo McKinstry and his lunatic extremist violent ideology

There is nothing special about the Daily Express’ Leo McKinstry. He is one of many journalists who will go to any length to defend Israel’s actions, however brutal, disproportionate or unjustified they may be. In his latest Daily Express column, a little unpicking highlights the extremist ideology that sits behind his words that allows for such unwavering support of a massacre of innocent Palestinians.

express
This is not the first time Hynd’s Blog has taken issue with Leo McKinstry’s writing. Back in 2012 my friend and social commentator Eugene Grant wittily quipped that if there was a fit for work test for journalists, McKinstry would surely fail it for his coverage of the debate around benefit claimants.

Fast forward two years and I have once again had the misfortune of stumbling across one of his deeply misleading diatribes. This time the case in point is the Gaza/Israel conflict – a subject that lends itself all too easily to hyperbole, hatred and crass generalisations.

Within a few paragraphs McKinstry throws out a paragraph that, although must be saluted for its invariably inventive alliteration, must also be picked apart:

“In practice denouncing the Jewish state means siding with the malevolent, murderous forces of jihadism, a stance that not only represents a complete inversion of morality but a ­suicidal disdain for the interests of western civilisation.”

Three words in and we have a problem…’denouncing’. No mainstream politician in the UK has denounced Israel. In fact the opposite, politicians have gone out of their way, even when criticising Israel’s actions, to reiterate that they are ‘friends of Israel’ – whatever that actually means.

But, even if you do ‘denounce Israel’, as some people (but not the politicians McKinstry is referring to) do, then how this then leads people to inevitably ‘siding with the malevolent, murderous forces of jihadism’ is a mystery that remains sadly locked in the inner depths of the editorial room of the Daily Express.

The vast majority of human rights organisations that are then invariably are used and quoted by the politicians McKinstry is so desperate to attack, go to great lengths to highlight human rights violations by both the Israeli actors and Palestinian ones.

Criticising one side’s human rights abuses does not act to excuse the others. This complex moral concept is, I will admit, a difficult one to grasp when smashing your fingers in fury at your keyboard.

But all this is just the tip of iceberg. Next, McKinstry offers us a journalistic lesson in the importance of context stating:

“The present conflict was started by Hamas firing rockets at Israeli civilians and since the beginning of July more than 2,800 of these ­missiles have been launched.”

That’s right, he actually says that this ‘conflict was started by’. In true playground philosophising McKinstry throws out the perpetual eight year old’s defence of ‘he started it’. Some might consider the origins of this modern conflict to stem from deep rooted differences, understandings of history, claims of land, hurt and loss through generations of war dead….but nope, McKinstry assures us it was ‘started by’ Hamas firing rockets.

Now might be a good time to remember that Hamas only officially came into existence in the late 1980’s, some 20 years after the start of the military occupation of Gaza that still, technically, exists today.

This is not to say that Hamas is not partially to blame for the present conflict, far from it. All that is being addressed here is this bonkers assertion that Hamas could solely be blamed for ‘starting the conflict’ like McKinstry suggests.

Britain would not tolerate an ­aerial assault without striking back so why should Israel?

Putting aside my own pacifist leanings for one second to glance over at what most mainstream politicians and commentators are saying…we can see that most people are not saying that Israel can’t or shouldn’t defend itself, only that it should do this in line with International Humanitarian Law. This in short says things like, try not to kill civilians, don’t bomb schools and mosques etc. Not big asks, but apparently too big for the Israeli Defence Force to comply with as the list of alleged war crimes now runs longer than one McKinstry’s titillating tabloid tirades.

But, Israel’s actions are justified by the morally bankrupt McKinstry as he implies that if Israel didn’t kill civilians, keep an entire population under a harsh military occupation and repeatedly commit war crimes then a global Islamic jihad would come and impact us all…

Instead of traducing Israel western politicians and the media should face up to the terrifying global threat of fundamentalist Islam, of which Hamas is a key part. We see that threat all over the world from the turmoil in Libya to the kidnapping of girls in Nigeria, from the stoning of women in Afghanistan to the savage persecution of Christians in Iraq.

Some really concerning issues he raises, but once again, in McKinstry’s eyes we only have 2 choices to address these issues:

  • traducing Israel western politicians or
  • facing up to the terrifying global threat of fundamentalist Islam

Remember, there is no either or here. It is one or the other. You choose.

And once again, let’s not get bogged down in the specific geo-political circumstances that might have given rise to very different factions of radical Islam that now manifest themselves in violence in different parts of world…why would we want to do that…let’s instead use a term that I honestly don’t think McKinstry knows the meaning of ‘Jihad’ and suggest they are all the same.

Of course, there is an irony here. These violent forms of radical Islam are, at least in part, a reaction of blinkered extremists and reactionaries who are unable to deal with the multicultural societies the modern era has ushered in. It doesn’t take much to spot that this description fits comfortably with someone else this blog post addresses…

But that’s unfair I hear you cry, many Islamists are violent in their small minded idiocy. Well, stick with me, we haven’t got to McKinstry’s finale yet…

In a comically dire reinforcement of his extremist ideology used throughout his article that justifies any action, however brutal, by Israel, McKinstry goes onto say:

“Only by defeating terrorists can peace be achieved.”

Violence you see dear reader, is the only solution to violence. We must go to war to prevent war.

The logic of a lunatic fanatic that looks to justify Israel’s action no matter how horrific they are.

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Politics

Breaking: British Senior Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Officer resigns over government policy on Gaza

warsi
Baroness Warsi the [former] Senior Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Minister for Faith and Communities at the Department for Communities and Local Government has resigned over her government’s policy regarding Gaza.

Baroness Warsi was appointed Senior Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Minister for Faith and Communities at the Department for Communities and Local Government in September 2012. She was previously Chairman of the Conservative Party and Minister without Portfolio.

Although a relatively minor figure to resign from the cabinet, this will further highlight the diametric opposite positions of the government and the official opposition on the Israel/Gaza conflict. Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition, has been vocal in his attacks on the Prime Minister highlighting his ‘inexplicable silence‘.

For more follow The Guardian’s live coverage.

UPDATE:

Seconds after publishing this, top Labour figures have started tweeting their support for Warsi and pushing the ‘inexplicable silence’ line…

UPDATE 2:

Here is a copy of Warsi’s resignation letter:

Warsi letter

Leave a comment

Filed under Human rights, Middle East, Politics

7 points on International Humanitarian Law and the Gaza/Israel conflict

ICRC logo
Before reading these 7 points on International Humanitarian Law (IHL) please remember that IHL is not ‘best practice’ in a war zone, nor a reflection of my aspirations. It is merely a set of legal minimum standards that warring parties must abide by, nothing more, nothing less. 

1. Hamas’ rockets attacks are often, by their very nature, violations of IHL.

The rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups such as the military wing of Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad are often Russian-designed “Grad” rockets. These are widely considered to be so inaccurate that they are incapable of being targeted enough to distinguish between military and civilians. Combine this with the fact that they often launched toward highly populated areas means that they are often, by their very nature, violations of IHL.

2. Neither Israel nor Hamas are prohibited by IHL in fighting in Gaza but the density of the civilian population and infrastructure does impose extra responsibilities on them.

IHL demands that all parties in the conflict “take all feasible precautions” of loss of civilian life and damage to civilian objects (houses, hospitals, mosques etc – I will come onto this more later). Fighting in such an area undeniably makes it harder for the warring factions to distinguish between civilian and military targets but it does nothing to reduce the obligation of the parties to make these checks. Where there is doubt, the assumption has to be that it is civilian and thus protected.

In the Gaza/Israel example, Hamas has a responsibility to ensure that it avoids locating potential military targets in close vicinity to civilians. It also prohibits the use of human shields – something which has been seen in previous conflicts but so far there has been no confirmed evidence that this has happened in the latest fighting.

However, even if Hamas is keeping weapons within civilian areas or buildings, this does not remove any of the obligations imposed on Israel under IHL to take into account the risk to civilians when seeking out these otherwise legitimate military targets.

3. Although Israel normally sends warnings while Hamas doesn’t, this doesn’t impact on their responsibilities to civilian populations.

Israel has widely publicised in this latest round of fighting that it sends ‘knock on the roof’ explosions as warnings that larger attacks are soon to be happening while Hamas rarely if ever sends warning of rocket fire.

IHL requires that warring parties give “effective advance warning” of attacks that may effect civilian populations. Because of the density of the civilian population in Gaza this means in practice that virtually all attacks should have such warnings. The idea is that the warnings would allow for civilians populations to leave the area.

However, if the civilian population refuses to leave, they are still protected persons under IHL. In short, even after delivering an effective warning, Israel must still take all measures to ensure civilian life is protected.

4. It is not just people who are protected but also civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and yes, even the homes of Hamas officials.

Israel has openly stated that in this latest round of fighting they have targeted the homes of Hamas officials. While IHL allows for the targeting of military leaders who are ‘in action’ it does not allow for the targeting of leaders at any time. Attacking the home of a Hamas official who was not present at the time would be an unlawful attack on a civilian object that if carried out intentionally would constitute a war crime.

Something similar applies for schools or religious buildings such as Mosques. However, if any of the above are being used for military purposes, such as a military headquarters or an arms store, then they become legitimate military targets.

The exception to this simple ‘it’s civilian unless you show it is being used for a military purpose’ rule are medical facilities that hold a special place status under IHL.

Like all the above they are considered civilian targets unless they are used for a military purpose. However, Israel then has a further obligation of showing that they were being used to cause them actual harm before they can become a legitimate target.

5. Collective punishment is a war crime

Undertaking actions that aim to punish a population as a whole for things that they have not personally done is a war crime.

6. Why the is no Israeli or Palestinian being dragged to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for these violations of IHL?

The ICC has a mandate to investigate, charge, and try people suspected of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed after July 1, 2002.

Quite a few Israelis and Palestinians fit this description. However, the court can only exercise jurisdiction over these crimes if: The crimes occurred in the territory of a state that is a party to the ICC treaty; The person accused of the crimes is a citizen of a state that is a party to the ICC treaty; A country that is not a state to the ICC treaty accepts the court’s authority for the crimes in question by submitting a formal declaration to the court; or The UN Security Council refers the situation to the ICC prosecutor.

At the time of writing neither Israel nor Palestine are a party to the Rome Statute, the treaty establishing the ICC. Israel has signed the statute but not ratified it. Palestine submitted a declaration in 2009 to accept the courts mandate but this was rejected at the time over the ambiguous nature of whether or not it was/is a state. Since then, Palestine has been voted in to the UN has a non-voting member state (confirming in the eyes of the international community that it is a state). However, since that has happened Palestine has not sought the court’s jurisdiction or signed and ratified the Rome Statute.

Thus, in short, the court’s jurisdiction does not cover Israel/Gaza.

7. There are lots of people and organisations who have written, researched and published on this issue that are a lot better sources than me. 

And I suggest you read them. For more on IHL, human rights and the Gaza/Israel conflict:

Leave a comment

Filed under Human rights, Middle East

Children in war zones – how do we respond?

I co-authored an article for the International Children’s edition of ehospice looking at the impact that war has on children and what the response should be from the palliative care community. I thought I would share it here as it explores some interesting subjects around how the medical community responds to disasters…

“Jon Snow of Channel 4 news appeals to everyone to raise their voices against the war raging in Gaza and talks about the adverse effect this war is having on children and young people. This article asks what the palliative care response should be to the increasing death toll of children in war zones around the world.

In recent days reports have emerged from Gaza of the growing child death rate and the devastating impact this is having on families, friends and the community in the Gaza strip. One such report was that of Channel 4’s Jon Snow. His impassioned account of what he has witnessed during his recent trip to Gaza makes for difficult viewing.

At times clearly moved by what he has experienced, Snow reports on the impact that the bombing is having on children saying:

“Those people who live in Gaza are young. The average age is 17. That means that a quarter of a million is under the age of 10 years,”

He goes on to explain that when a densely populated area such as that of Gaza is targeted, it is inevitable that some of the civilians killed will be children. In the most recent upsurge of violence Snow’s report estimates that 1310 children have been wounded and 166 killed, with these numbers rising every day.

The long-term and short impact this is having on children and their families is almost impossible to quantify.

It is of course not just in Gaza that children are suffering.

From Ukraine to Syria, from the Central African Republic to South Sudan we are increasingly seeing how children are being affected by war. Not only in the death statistics but also through the exposure to the brutality of war we can see the devastating impact on children’s lives that will be felt for a generation to come.

The palliative care response
“How do we respond as a palliative care community to these distressing reports?” asks Joan Marston, CEO of the International Children’s Palliative Care Network. “Where there is so much suffering, what are we as the “experts” on death and dying doing to help those in regions that are difficult to reach; and how do we provide and justify palliative care when there are so many other conflicting needs that must be met?”….

Read the full article on ehospice

Leave a comment

Filed under Health, Middle East, War

Gaza: a week of conflict and violations of International Humanitarian Law

Gaza*Photo: The Guardian.

The on-going Israeli military operation in Gaza is now over a week old. In this week, 172 people have been killed according to Palestinian officials. The UN estimates that 77% of those killed are civilians. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge in UN facilities within the Gaza strip.

In the same time period nearly 1,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza according to Israeli sources.

It is civilians who are dying in the Gaza strip. It is also civilians who are living in near constant fear of rocket attacks across the south and west of Israel. These attacks that the last week has seen once again constitute a clear violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) from both ‘sides’.

At the heart of IHL is the principle of distinction:

“The parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants. Attacks may only be directed against combatants. Attacks must not be directed against civilians.”

This principle of distinction not only applies to people but also property.

Throughout the last week we have seen multiple examples of the IDF openly saying that it targets the houses of activists involved in armed Palestinian groups. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem highlighted the case Kaware’a family home which was bombed on the 8th July. The bombing saw the roof collapse killing eight people, six of them children. Another 28 people were injured.

This house was owned by Ahmad Kaware’a and his sons. The oldest of which is active in the military wing of Hamas. Even if no harm came of civilians in this attack, it is still unlawful as the house does not constitute a military target.

The UN have been very clear on the subject saying:

“The targeting of civilian homes is a violation of international humanitarian law unless the homes are being used for military purposes. In case of doubt, buildings ordinarily used for civilian purposes, such as homes, are presumed not to be legitimate military targets”

The last week has also seen an increase in the number of rockets fired from within Gaza towards the south and west of Israel. Armed groups within Gaza including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have continued to fire rockets either indiscriminately or with the specific aim of targeting civilians. Although no deaths have been reported from over 1000 rockets launched, by definition these rocket attacks are a violation of the principle of the distinction.

While some violations of IHL are new, many are much older than the recent media attention. For example, Israel’s policy of blockading Gaza is one that the ICRC has described as collective punishment which is in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under IHL.

Because Gaza is considered as occupied territory under IHL, Israel has a legal obligation to ensure the basic needs of Gazans are met. The blockade does the opposite impacting on food security, health provision, education and almost every other aspect of life.

In the last couple of days Oxfam has sent out another emergency appeal as the already bleak humanitarian situation deteriorates further. As an occupying power, Israel has a clear responsibility to the citizens of Gaza that it is too often neglecting.

Once again violence in this troubled region is leaving civilians on the front line of the conflict. IHL has at its heart the intention to protect civilians at times of conflict. For this to happen, both Israel and armed Palestinian groups need to respect these very basic standards.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Human rights, Middle East

As Gaza is bombed why do I keep looking for the odd good news story?

Gaza

Palestinians in Gaza City survey the rubble of a house targeted in an Israeli air strike

Reports have cumulated overnight suggesting that at least 25 Palestinians have been killed and 70 injured as Israel launched at least 160 strikes on the Gaza strip.

The death toll – primarily made up of civilians – has continued to rise as Israel amasses troops on the border readying for a potential ground invasion. Militants within Gaza continue to fire rockets into Israel with at least 140 launched on Tuesday alone but thankfully, so far, with no casualties.

This violence in the south and west of Israel and in the occupied Gaza strip has also resulted in an upsurge of violence in the Occupied West Bank with reports coming in of clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli Defence Force.

Amidst this escalating violence many, myself included, look on with a growing desperation for any positive development to hold onto. It is perhaps because of this that I have seen this photo, and the accompanying story, posted on my social media feeds almost as much as the photos of the devastation occurring in the Gaza strip.

The uncle of the slain Israeli teenager Naftali Fraenkel offers his condolences to Hussein Abu Khdeir, whose 16-year-old son Mohammed was murdered last week by Jewish extremists.

The uncle of the slain Israeli teenager Naftali Fraenkel offers his condolences to Hussein Abu Khdeir, whose 16-year-old son Mohammed was murdered last week by Jewish extremists.

This story of mutual loss and grief holds resonance with so many because not only does it deal with death – something which connects us all – but also because it shows the shared humanity in a conflict that too often removes any sense of such commonality.

It is an important story that I hope more people read**.

This said, it also made me reflect how people (once again, myself included) use the Israel/Palestine conflict to project their own values. I want Israelis and Palestinians to focus on their shared humanity more than everything that divides them. I want this so much that perhaps at times I convince myself that this view is shared amongst Israelis and Palestinians more than it perhaps is.

How often do you hear commentators use a variation of the phrase ‘the vast majority just want peace’ with nothing to back this claim up?

Obviously in the broad sense of the word ‘peace’, I am sure this is true, but how many people want a realistic collection of the characteristics that are needed to establish peace? I am not sure to be honest. Probably not as many as I would like.

To counter this I grasp onto the minority who conform to my pre-existing perspective in hope that it validates my own views and my own vision for potential peace in the region. I suspect this is one compelling reason why the above photo has gone viral with many left-wing friends – it supports a world view that validates their own.

Perhaps the biggest challenge that I face then is the task of facing up to the fact that lots of people in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories don’t think like I do. Lots of Palestinians don’t want to accept a neighbouring state of Israel, a lot of Israelis don’t want to share Jerusalem with a future Palestinian state etc etc…*

While I am entitled to my views, as you are yours, I also have to accept the fact that we probably won’t be the ones who ultimately bring about peace. This has to come from within Israeli and Palestinian society (although I think we outsiders can help lay the foundations).

I was acutely aware of this during my time in the West Bank and Israel in 2012 and tried as much as possible to report the words of the people I met and to only offer a human rights framework for their words to help readers contextualise what they were saying. Inevitably though I at times failed and led interviews into the direction I wanted them to go rather than really listening 100% to what they wanted to say.

Equally I noticed on a number of occasions that some Palestinians I was interviewing would self-conform, either out of a sub-conscious desire to please or through strategy, and use peace/human rights language that sat comfortably in my articles but did not necessarily reflect the militaristic rhetoric that I heard in the coffee shops and in the fields when I wasn’t conducting formal interviews.

Since moving away from both Israel and the occupied territories it has become harder for me to put the emphasis on listening to what Palestinians and Israelis have to say on the subject rather than just projecting my own thoughts purely because I am not having daily interactions with them. This is one of the reasons I have been writing much less on the conflict in the last year or so.

All of this said I still think it is important that the international community (that includes you and me) keeps highlighting what is happening and calling for justice and accountability. I also believe that we have a role to play. The most powerful things I think we can do is to highlight the grass-roots efforts to bring about a non-violent end to the occupation. This in my mind includes the powerful story of the Fraenkel and Khdeir mourning families coming together to offer each other support.

The challenge though is how we do this without losing sight of the reality of normal people’s opinions that might sit less comfortably with our own (my own) liberal human rights dominated perspective whilst we cherry pick the few good news stories that make ourselves feel better?

 

*I am not saying these are the characteristics needed for peace, but they are examples of characteristics many feel are needed for peace and that many people in Israel/Palestine oppose. 

** UPDATE Since publishing this article it has emerged that the photo and the recent story I linked to on Huffington Post are not the same. The photo is from 2013. More here. The story however in the Huffington Post, to the best of my knowledge, is true though.

10 Comments

Filed under Human rights, Middle East, Social comment

One year on from Gaza/Israel conflict, no investigations, no justice.

One year after the upsurge in fighting in Gaza neither side has conducted sufficient, impartial and independent investigations into alleged violations of International Humanitarian Law says Amnesty International.

On 21 November 2012, 13-year-old Mahmoud was killed by a missile fired by an Israeli drone fired in the al-Manara area of Gaza City.
The human rights group, Amnesty International, has today accused both the Israeli authorities and Hamas of failing to investigate documented reports of serious human rights violations.

Amnesty highlighted the case of 13 year old Mahmoud who died in an Israeli drone strike. Mahmoud was one of at least 30 children to die during the 8 days of fighting. Mahmoud was of course also one of 70 or so civilians to die in that 8 day period.

Failing to distinguish between civilian and combatant is a violation of International Humanitarian Law. The nature of Mahmoud’s death is one of 65 incidents Amnesty are calling on the Israeli authorities to investigate.

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, reported on Operation Pillar of Defence and highlighted that Israeli forces made considerable efforts to avoid civilian casualties but that on a number of occasions “the military may have acted unlawfully”.

Amnesty International however in their annual report go further commenting that:

“The Israeli air force carried out bomb and missile strikes on residential areas, including strikes that were disproportionate and caused heavy civilian casualties. Other strikes damaged or destroyed civilian property, media facilities, government buildings and police stations. In most cases, Israel did not present evidence that these specific sites had been used for military purposes.”

Specifically, Amnesty has called for investigations into 65 cases of “alleged misconduct” by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during Operation “Pillar of Defense”.

In their latest statement, Amnesty has also condemned Hamas for their “indiscriminate” use of rockets. During the conflict it is thought that as many as 1,500 rockets and mortars were fired into Israel in the 8 day period.

The case of David Amsalem who lost his 24 year old son to a rocket strike was highlighted to illustrate the fact that Hamas’ arsenal, by its very nature, cannot distinguish between civilian and combatant – something which in itself is a violation of International Humanitarian Law.

The conflict left more than 165 Palestinians (more than 30 children and some 70 other civilians) and 6 Israelis (including 4 children) dead.

Neither side has launched sufficient, impartial and independent investigations into these alleged violations of International Humanitarian Law leaving thousands morning with no access to justice and reinforcing a sense of impunity on both sides.

Leave a comment

Filed under Human rights, Middle East, War

A response to Guido Fawkes question, ‘Why Not Holiday In Gaza?’

The rabidly reactionary and yet remarkably well read blogger Guido Fawkes (aka Paul Staines) dipped below even his usual standards today when he published a blog entitled, “Why Not Holiday In Gaza This Year.”

The blog opened saying:

‘The IDF are good at lot of things, not least social media. This week they are releasing new images of ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and just how bad the conditions are in the “open prison camp”.’

It then showed this collage of photos:

The blog, whilst rightly criticising some of Hamas’ discriminatory (and frankly horrific) policies makes appalling light of a truly horrific situation.

Take the term ‘open prison camp’ for example. It has been used to describe the on-going crippling blockade of Gaza. These restrictions have contributed towards 80% of those living in Gaza being reliant on humanitarian aid.

Oxfam explains:

“Because of the blockade on Gaza, people are sealed in to a small strip of land and unable to flee. Our partners working in Gaza have stressed that it is not safe to move around in Gaza right now”

This blockade, according to the International Red Cross is punishing the population of Gaza for the actions of the few which constitutes one of many violations of International Humanitarian Law committed by Israel. They state:

“The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.”

I tried to pick Paul up on some of this tweeting:

When Paul responded saying:

It was clear that he was either ignorant of the nature and severity of the blockade or, and perhaps more likely, trolling.

As such, my suggestion to Paul would be this: fly to Tel Aviv (for you can’t fly to anywhere in the Occupied Palestinian Territories), tell immigration you are planning a beach holiday in Gaza, then let us know what your experience of the following 12 hours is.

This might serve as the basis for a follow up blog, on your “Why not holiday in Gaza?” article.

If that doesn’t help, you could always read the UN’s July 2013 up-date on the restrictions in Gaza.

 

UPDATE: It looks like some of the photos used are not even of Gaza. Awkward. 

2 Comments

Filed under Human rights, Media, Middle East, War

Both Israel and Hamas have shown a disregard for civilian life and International Humanitarian Law

It is very very scary…you never know where they will send the rockets, where they will attack. Each day I feel as though they will attack my house”. Asmaa Alghoul – Gaza.

Emblem-255x300International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is the very basic standard used to govern armed conflicts. They are a set of rules which seek to protect those not participating in the conflict. Both Hamas and Israel have violated these basic standards in the recent up-surge in fighting. Everyone concerned needs to be condemning this – not taking sides.

The recent civilian death toll in Gaza has, once again, spiralled. At the time of writing at least 158 have died. The UN estimates, at least 103 were civilians.

Right from the start of the latest bout of violence, human rights groups have started to collect the evidence they need to illustrate that both Hamas and Israel have undertaken ‘indiscriminate’ attacks.

While IHL allows for civilian casualties, it leaves a duty on warring parties to show they have made a distinction between combatants and civilians. Israel has been accused of failing to do this on a number occasions.

By these same standards, Hamas’ rocket attacks are, almost by definition, violations of IHL. If the targets fired at by Hamas are civilian then they are clearly violating the principle of ‘civilian immunity’ – a basic tenant of IHL. Regardless though of the chosen target, the indiscriminate nature of Hamas’ arsenal means that they consistently fail the distinction test inherent within IHL.

This is not to say it is balanced war between two equal parties – it is clearly not in terms of military capability or geo-politics. Gaza’s borders are closed and so Hamas use any arsenal they can get their hands on while Israel has one of the best funded and high tech militaries in the world.

It is however to say that parties from both sides have violated the most basic standards set out to govern armed conflict and that this should be condemned.

Sadly though, this lack of regard for IHL and civilian life is nothing new – for either side. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has a history of failing to meet the very basic standards laid down in IHL. In 2006, the IDF’s use of cluster bombs in Lebanon or their 2009 use of white phosphorus during operation Cast Lead, failed to meet the basic standard of distinction required by IHL.

In the latest up-surge of violence, Israel has insisted that it is only using ‘targeted’ strikes. Sadly we know now this is not to be the case. These ‘targeted’ strikes include the homes of Hamas officials, which are also the homes of civilians – thus they have failed to distinguish between combatant and civilian. A combatant’s home which is inhabited by civilians is not a ‘military target’ – it’s a civilian’s home!

There have also been examples of Israel targeting civilian targets. On the 19th and 20th November Israel bombed a media centre that killed two journalists (who are considered under IHL to be civilian). Thus, targeting of this media centre was a violation of the civilian immunity principle within IHL. Intentionally targeting journalists can be a war crime.

In addition to all of this there are examples of what Israel refers to as ‘mistakes’. For example the deaths of 10 members of the al-Dalou family when they struck the wrong house due to ‘bad intelligence’.

Of course, Hamas also has a dark history when held up to the scrutinizing light of IHL. The use of suicide bombers for example is a clear violation of IHL not to mention morally repugnant.

In the latest up-surge of violence, the on-going use of rocket attacks, as stated before, is a clear violation of IHL. Hamas shows no willing to acknowledge this. Already we have seen the impact that this can have; three Israelis were killed by a rocket attack on the 15th November.

IHL is not a nice set of laws – by its definition it allows for fighting and killing. It allows for example for Palestinians to resist the military occupation that they under (although this is one of the protocols that Israel has refused to sign).

Instead however of condemning those parties who fail to meet these crass basic standards. Too often people feel they need to take sides as the injustice of these attacks shines through. On one side you have Israel’s supporters who paint the government’s actions as ‘self-defence’ against an on-going terrorist attacks. On the other you have Palestinian supporters who paint Palestinians an oppressed people being forced into a basic form of self-defence.

Any objective mind can see that there is element of truth in both of these statements.

As I said before though, this is not say it is a balanced conflict against two equal sides. Indeed, these violations of IHL can only be analytically understood in the context of 45 years of military occupation and the regional hostilities.

The answer? I have no idea – if I did I wouldn’t be writing this, I would be picking up my Nobel Peace Prize. All that I am arguing here is that IHL provides a much better starting point to approach the conflict than partisan side taking.

For more on how IHL affects the Gaza/Israel conflict see http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/11/20/q-hostilities-between-israel-and-hamas

4 Comments

Filed under Human rights, Middle East, Politics, War

The UK has turned its back on victims of war crimes

This article was written for Social Justice First.

White phosphorous used by the Israeli military at a UN school in Gaza. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP

“We saw streets and alleyways littered with evidence of the use of white phosphorus, including still-burning wedges and the remnants of the shells and canisters fired by the Israeli army” Chris Cobb-Smith, a British weapons expert who visited Gaza.

“Commanders ordered their subordinates to shoot civilians and ‘hors de combat’ fighters, and to torture and mistreat detainees. Orders were often enforced at gunpoint and anyone hesitating to comply risked arrest or summary execution” UN report on war crimes in Syria.

These quotes are from two wars and describe two different accusations of war crimes.  Britain’s response to these atrocities should deeply worry us all.Last month Cameron all but offered Assad a safe passage out of Syria. Rightly there was outrage. Amnesty International commented that, “Instead of talking about immunity deals for President Assad, David Cameron should be supporting efforts to ensure that he faces justice, ideally at the International Criminal Court at The Hague”. They rightly then drew attention to the mass indiscriminate bombings that Assad had overseen – actions that constitute a war crime.

The arrogance that Cameron showed on that occasion was alarming. He believed that his idea of getting Assad out of the country at any cost was somehow superior to that of International Law. That he could bring peace where established human rights mechanisms couldn’t.

This was the first time I had heard this government leave its staunch “we support international law” line that it hides its inactions behind. Sadly it looks as though it wasn’t a one off. The Foreign Office on Monday night implied that the UK is prepared to back a Palestinian statehood bid at the UN if, and only if, Abbas pledges not to pursue Israel for the war crimes it has committed.

Can anyone tell me, since when has the UK started to hand out impunity for war crimes in return for entering into peace talks?

I can’t believe that these two incidents are not connected and I fear that they are signals for what is to come from the FCO.

The consequences of Cameron’s words

The UK is saying is that Abbas should not pursue justice for the victims of Israel’s 2009 “indiscriminate and reckless” use of white phosphorus. In contrast, Human Rights Watch said that senior leaders should be held to account as civilians “needlessly suffered and died”.

Equally, it is saying that Abbas should not follow up the evidence that suggests Israel used indiscriminate attacks in the latest up-surge of fighting in Gaza.

The UK has asked Abbas not to apply for membership of either the International Criminal Court(ICC) or the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The first being a body that aims to offer accountability by bringing to justice those who have committed the worse crimes – namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The latter is a pre-judicial body that aims to settle legal disputes between states based on international law.

The Foreign Secretary needs to be asked why it is he thinks Palestine should be a state – but should not have access to these bodies!

Clearly the UK is acting in this way for some reason – perhaps trying to compromise with a hard-line US position for example. Or perhaps they are hoping to avoid Israel annexing settlements in the West Bank. But, this is a price too far.

Once you start to compromise on these internationally agreed standards – standards that Israel has signed up to – then you stand at the top of a very slippery slope!

What we need is for the UK to be making clear and bold statements calling for all those accused of war crimes to be held to account through the established bodies – regardless of who the perpetrators are!

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

As Gaza burns Londoners take to the streets

Hundreds of miles away, families are huddled up inside their houses fearing the next explosion. Across the south of Israel and throughout Gaza, civilians are suffering the anxiety of a war that they cannot escape.  The second day of fighting in Gaza has left a mounting death toll and an unknown number of people with life changing injuries.

This bloodshed seems a long way away from the Israeli embassy in north London. It is though, ultimately why around 1000 people gathered here on a cold November night.

As I approach the planned protest I am met first by a sea of blue and white – mainly in the form of the Israeli flags but also Union Jacks. A few hundred people had gathered to offer support for Israel. I quickly have two leaflets thrust into my hand; one entitled “Defending Israel from Terror” and the other urging me to donate to “Rocket Aid”.

I dither on the pavement as I read the leaflets. Some of the language on the leaflets attracts my attention. The first leaflet states “Operation Pillar of Defence is aimed at removing the threat to Israeli citizens. No innocent civilians will be targeted” and I think about how this aspiration seems to so routinely not be lived up to. Amnesty International has stated that two Israeli airstrikes in the last week alone have failed to distinguish between civilian and military targets and as such constitute a violation of International Humanitarian Law.

My attention though shifts to a woman who is draped in an Israeli flag handing a small child a leaflet whilst saying, “it’s important everyone knows the truth”. I decide that now was not the time to discuss the philosophy of ‘truth’. Instead I start a conversation.

It would be fair to say that we don’t always see eye to eye on every issue. At times though we find common ground, “Israel’s external security threat is not to be underestimated” she says. At times though we had to agree to disagree, “I don’t know what more Israel could be doing to get peace”. I offer her a list. At times I am left speechless by some of her analogies – the bombing of Gaza, she said is like having children “you talk to them and you talk to them but sometimes you just lose your rag”. I bit my lip.

Despite at times finding her views unpalatable, she was friendly and engaging and our conversation attracted other around us. A young Londoner called Harry was hanging around the edge of the protest and soon we were having a good conversation. Harry is a 17 year old student who wants to study International Relations and oozes confidence and intelligence.

I asked Harry why he was there and he responded passionately about schooling and how he thought that every kid should have access to it without being scared of rocket attacks. Indeed, Harry who has family in Israel had none of the anger or angst that can sometimes be found in these situations and I believed him when he said “I’m also here for the Palestinians, I’m here because I want them to be free from Hamas, a terrorist government”.

As I worked my way through the crowd trying to make my way to the much larger “pro-Palestine” demonstration I briefly met a man whose son had gone and joined the IDF, a spokesman for the ZF and a young girl of about 6 who “just wanted there to be peace”- a diverse crowd.

All the time though I kept being distracted by snippets of less guarded conversations in the crowd. “Fuck human rights” “Those Arabs, they would kill each of us if we turned our backs” “Why do Arabs always smell like they’ve shit themselves”. I couldn’t help but to be appalled and I wondered what someone like Harry would have made of some of these comments.

As I made my way through the lines of police between the protests, one stopped me and asked, “Are you one of them?” I gave an oddly constrained answer as if under interrogation and said “I was looking to get into the Palestine demonstration”. To seek clarification the officer asked “Are you Jewish”? I answered honestly, “no”. This seemed to be enough to let me walk freely between the demonstrations.

Once through I was met with the swaying force of 1,000 people all shouting and chanting. There were Socialist Worker Party banners everywhere.  Almost immediately someone approached me and said “solidarity brother” and held out his fist. I replicated and we did, what I thought to be, a slightly awkward fist tap (like a high five but with your fist clenched). He looked at me smiled and said, “Yeah fuck the Jews man” and walked off.

With no sense of irony he turned and immediately started talking to a group of Jews who are anti-Zionist and can often be seen on ‘pro-Palestinian’ demonstrations. Language is used and abused but I still found the flippancy in which he muttered the phrase “fuck the Jews” to be deeply disturbing.

A wee scuffle broke out at one point between a young activist called Joe and a portly policeman. I approached Joe afterwards and asked what the problem was. Angrily at first he said, “They won’t let me confront them…the fascist scum. The EDL are down there and these pigs won’t let me through”. He looks through the policeman who is still hovering over us and says, “The Zionists are standing side by side with the fucking EDL”.

I asked around and indeed even went back to check, and couldn’t see any sign that the EDL had been at either demonstration.

All around me the crowd is loud. They chant in slogans that have been used for as long as the occupation and the mass of people seem to move with a collective pulse. The atmosphere is intense and the police numbers grow around the edges of the swelling crowd.

A young man with a scarf around his face sees me making notes and winds his way up to me. He tells me above the ambient noise that he is Indian and this is the reason why he has come here today. “I am here for myself because my country was occupied for hundreds of years. I’m here standing up for myself but also for the Palestinians – the oppressed”.

I ask him if he thinks it will work, if this demonstration will make any difference and he responds simply, “we have to try”. Even though he has a scarf over his face I can see his cheeks lifting and some wrinkles appear in the corner of his eyes. He exudes a sense of optimism.

Just as I finish speaking to him a small fight breaks out and two protestors are taken away by the police whilst chanting defiantly “Free free Palestine, from the river to the sea, free free Palestine”. The whole evening feels electric as if at any moment it could spill over.

After a gradual decline though, the cold takes most people back to their warm houses. Only a handful of anarchists and activist are left. One proclaims proudly “I’m only leaving in handcuffs” to which a policeman responds “did you bring any with you”?

As I arrived back to the warm of my south London flat, I turn on my computer and I am virtually reminded of the reason why we had all trekked across London on this cold November night. The Palestinian news agency, Ma’an News has on its front page a story that is grimly entitled “Teen brothers among 3 killed in Israeli airstrike”.

It states, “An Israeli airstrike killed three Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday evening…bringing the death toll to 19 on the second day of fighting.”

No amount of goodwill on either side will bring back the dead and only the Israeli government and Hamas have the power to stop further bloodshed. Let’s hope the leadership was listening to some of the moderate voices out on the streets of north London  on this chilly November evening.

8 Comments

Filed under Human rights, Middle East, Politics, War

Rockets and war crimes cannot break the Israeli peace movement

At the time of writing, 80 rockets have been launched from Gaza since last night – all aimed at the south of Israel.

The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) spokesman on twitter pointed out earlier that these rockets are not always intercepted.

The latest series of attacks have caused at least 5 injuries. Towns across the south of Israel are, once again, living in fear that a rocket could hit at any moment.

These attacks, due to their indiscriminate nature are a violation of International Humanitarian Law as they fail to distinguish between civilian and combatant. Amnesty International has accused Hamas, who regularly claim responsibility for these rocket attacks, of War Crimes.

These most recent attacks reminded me of my visit to Sderot earlier this year. Sderot is an Israeli town less than a kilometer from the Gaza border with a population of just 24,000 people. Life in Sderot is dictated by the near constant danger of rocket attacks.

Every house in Sderot has a built in ‘safe room’. I was told residents have just 14 seconds to get to it should they hear the warning siren. A physical impossibility for many such as Sderot’s elderly residents.

Town planners have ensured that there are always bomb shelters close by out in the streets. Every bus stop is built to double up as a bomb shelter. As a result, residents of Sderot are never far from shelter nor the reminder that they live in a constant danger.

Nearly all of Sderot’s residents have been affected by rocket attacks. 13 people have been killed in the small town in the last decade alone. The most recent was 35 year old Shir-El Friedman who was killed on the 9th May 2008.

Despite this terrifying reality, I met some within this small community that are actively looking to reach out to those living in Gaza.

I met a representative from ‘Other Voice‘ – a group of Israelis, mainly based in Sderot, who are working to end the circle of violence both in Gaza and Sderot. Their website states:

The Palestinians are also suffering. They, like us, strive for a quiet and peaceful life and for a better future. We believe that only by working together can we reach a long lasting solution. Therefore, our group is in ongoing contact with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who believe, as we do, in non-violence and mutual respect that will bring about the much anticipated change”.

To meet Israelis living with this constant threat of attack but who were looking to create dialogue rather than conflict was truly inspiring. Too often, across both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, I witnessed the exact opposite happening.

The most difficult question I am left with, is that I don’t know how I would respond if I lived under such constant fear! This however only exaggerates my admiration for those like the members of Other Voice.

6 Comments

Filed under Human rights, Middle East, War