Category Archives: Activism, etc.

Palestine: The Return of “Return” (and Jerusalem)

In the lead-up to May 15, a key date in the history of the Palestinians’ ongoing “Nakba” (catastrophe) and the date– 70 years ago, in 1948– of the establishment of the State of Israel, grassroots organizations in Gaza and other parts of Palestine have been engaging in a six-week-long action called “The Great March of Return.” The aim of the action– as described in The Nation by one of its originators, Ahmad Abu Rtemah– has been “to reclaim our right to live in freedom and justice.”

The Great March seems to be being organized in a way similar to the weekly nonviolent mass actions that have been maintained in Bil’in, Nabi Saleh, and some other threatened West Bank villages for many years now. In those villages, each Friday after noon-time prayers, the population gathers to undertake some kind of a nonviolent mass activity– often, with very creative themes, and always designed  to encourage the participation of families and, where possible, sympathetic visitors. In Gaza, the Great March was launched on Friday, March 30, which was the 42nd anniversary of the original “Land Day” protest in the north of what is currently Israel, on March 30, 1976. On that day, Palestinian citizens of Israel held a nonviolent gathering to protest the expropriation by the state of some of their ancestral lands–and six of them were shot dead by the Israeli security forces.

As Palestinians note, the “Nakba” of 1948– that is, the catastrophe inflicted on them by Zionist/Israeli forces’ campaign to seize as much of the Palestinians’ land as they can while expelling Palestinians from it– still continues.

The Great March aims to end and reverse that process and to put firmly back onto the international agenda the Palestinians’ far-too-long-ignored right to return to their ancestral homes inside what is currently Israel.

Already, the Great March has been met with a wildly disproportionate and brutal Israeli response. Prior to its March 30 launch, the Israeli authorities announced they were deploying units of snipers to the already fortified frontier-line with Gaza, and giving them orders to shoot to prevent any Palestinians coming anywhere close to the frontier. That first day, the Israeli snipers shot dead 15 unarmed Palestinian demonstrators and shot 758 other unarmed Palestinians in a way that inflicted serious injury– at least six of whom later died from their wounds. (Figures from the World Health Organization.) On Friday, April 5, the Israelis shot to death eight unarmed demonstrators (including one child and one journalist), and wounded 489.

Today, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel’s public radio that “there are no innocent people in Gaza.”

As Abu Rtemah and other Great March leaders point out, ever since the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 194 on the conflict in Palestine, on December 11, 1948, the UN has been committed to the proposition (stated in Article 11) that,

…the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.

Resolution 194 was adopted, moreover, just one day after the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which clearly states in Article 13(2) that “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Under customary international law, any individual’s civil status– and thus, also this right of return– is unequivocally heritable from one generation to the next: A child born to a refugee from any conflict anywhere around the world carries the same civil status and fundamental rights as her or his parents.

It is not surprising that Gaza’s extremely hard-pressed population of around two million souls is spearheading this new campaign for the Right of Return. The confined space of the Israel-besieged Gaza Strip contains the largest concentration of Palestinian refugees of any part of the world: around 70% of Gaza’s people are refugees from the lands that Israel seized control of in 1948-49, or the descendants of such refugees.

Additionally– and partly because of this high proportion of refugees in Gaza’s population– Gaza has always since 1948 been a key crucible for Palestinian nationalist organizing. It was there, in the 1950s, that the refugees Yasser Arafat (Abu Ammar), Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad), and more youthful Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad) started building the networks that at the end of that decade became the largely secular, pan-Palestinian Fateh movement, which took over the PLO in 1968-69. (And the key demand around which they organized their movement? It was the Return of the refugees of 1948.)

It was also in Gaza that, in the late 1970s and 1980s, the refugee cleric Sheikh Ahmed Yassin started building the networks that in late 1987 became the pan-Palestinian “Islamic Resistance Movement”, Hamas.

It remains to be seen how far the current Great March of Return movement will spread beyond Gaza, though certainly its central tactic of organizing large-scale, public, civilian mass actions has also been seen numerous time in recent years in the West Bank (including in occupied East Jerusalem), among Palestinian citizens inside Israel– and among Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.

What is already clear, though, is the simplicity of the demonstrators’ call that the Palestinians’ long-neglected Right of Return needs to be addressed, though whatever means possible. This reassertion of the importance of the Right of Return is particularly notable since the entire international diplomacy of the post-1967 era was designed to ignore and sweep aside (wherever possible) this issue, or should that prove impossible, then to minimize as much as possible the extent and impact of its implementation. The same has been true since 1967, when Israel occupied East Jerusalem (which includes the historic heart of the city), of the  whole Jerusalem issue.

For 24 years after the Israeli-Arab war of 1967, the international diplomacy on this conflict– which came to be increasingly tightly monopolized by Washington– focused primarily on state-to-state issues between Israel and its neighboring states. The Palestinians didn’t have a state, so their claims and issues were always shunted off into an ever-receding future. It was not until the Israeli-Arab Peace Conference at Madrid in October 1991, that was jointly hosted by the United States and then (then-on-life-support) Soviet Union, that the Palestinians’ claims ever started to be put properly onto the peacemaking agenda. The powers gathered in Madrid agreed that (a) Palestinian claims against Israel would be handled by a joint Jordanian-Palestinian negotiating team, led by Jordan, and (b) the refugee issue would anyway be shunted off to a cumbersome “multilateral” negotiation in which the Palestinian claims to return to their homeland, per Resolution 194, would be diluted by being considered alongside other options like resettlement in place or international relocation for the refugees.

In early 1993, the Israeli government led by Labour Party head Yitzhak Rabin started to negotiate directly with the PLO, culminating in the two sides’ signing in September 1993 of the Oslo Declaration. In Oslo, Israel and the PLO agreed that negotiations over the  refugee issue should be negotiated as part of the promised “final peace treaty” between them; and they committed to concluding the negotiations for that treaty by early 1999. But in 1995 Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli hardliner; and his Labour successor, Shimon Peres, was such an inept leader that he was defeated at the polls the next year by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

The 1999 deadline for completing the final peace treaty negotiations came and went with no treaty in sight.

Later in 1999, Likud was beaten at the polls by Labour, and Labour leader Ehud Barak became Prime Minister. He declared he wanted to conclude the final peace with the PLO as soon as possible, but he was a very arrogant man who badly mishandled his relations with other political forces inside Israel– as well as his attempts at diplomacy with the PLO and with Syria.

In early January 2001, as Barak’s governing coalition was near collapse and hurtling toward a general election, he made an ill-prepared, “last-gasp” attempt to nail down the final peace with the PLO, during talks in the Egyptian resort of Taba. (Pres. Bill Clinton, who just the previous month had made his own proposal on the “final status” issues, was in the very last days of his presidency, and sent officials to Taba.) Taba was a fiasco. The following month, Labour lost the general election to Likud, now led by Ariel Sharon. He promptly ended the peace negotiations– and he and Barak agreed that Israel was not bound by any of the commitments that Barak’s negotiators had proposed or accepted in Taba.

At Taba, the Israeli negotiators had reportedly agreed to a return to Israel of some 100,000 older Palestinian refugees— out of a worldwide population of registered Palestinian refugees that then stood at over four million (now, over five million.) They also agreed to allow some Palestinian jurisdiction over some areas of East Jerusalem. With Sharon’s disavowal of Taba, both those commitments were off the table.

Now, 17 years after Taba, the situation of the Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem (many of whom are also refugees) has become yet more dire, as has that of the Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, and elsewhere.

During those years, the 1.4 million Palestinian refugees of Gaza have– along with their non-refugee neighbors in the Strip– been subjected to a sickeningly tight siege, continual “small-scale” Israeli attacks, and no fewer than three all-out Israeli military assaults against the small, completely enclosed terrain of the Gaza Strip, in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014.

Between them, those three assaults killed over 3,500 Gaza residents, the vast majority of whom were civilians. In those conflicts, the Palestinian resistance forces in Gaza meanwhile killed 78 Israeli soldiers and 13 Israeli civilians.

Regarding Jerusalem, Pres. Trump’s decisions– taken in clear contravention of both international law and 70 years of U.S. government practice– to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on or before May 15 have firmly put the issue of Jerusalem back onto the international agenda.

And there is no “peace process” at all right now, of the kind that from October 1991 until last year kept so many Palestinian political leaders busy. (Or “occupied”, as you might say.)

So the momentum is now firmly with the grassroots organizers of the Great March of Return movement, and with all the grassroots and political organizations that have decided to work with it. In Gaza, this includes all the existing political forces, including Hamas, Fateh, the Popular Front, and others. In other areas, the lineup of support for the Great March has not yet been made clear, but it will probably become clearer over the weeks ahead.

Given the Israeli government’s intransigence and the massive support it seems to enjoy from Jewish Israelis and from Pres. Trump’s Washington, and on the other side the determination, courage, discipline, and creativity of the supporters of the Great March of Return, the casualty toll can be expected to rise.

I’m hoping for more signs of conscience from inside the Jewish Israeli community, of the kind shown by the courageous human-rights organization B’tselem, which has called on Israeli soldiers to refuse to obey the blatantly illegal order to fire on unarmed demonstrators. I’m hoping for strong and effective solidarity actions from all around the world– including decisive actions by the world’s governments to start to hold Israel acountable for these war crimes.

But already, the organizers of the Great March have started to remind the world that the issues of Return and Jerusalem remain firmly on the international agenda, and cannot be wiped off it through any unilateral action by Israel, however brutal.

 

Why does Washington’s imperialist warmaking continue?

(This is v.2 of this blog post. I edited it to try to give a better picture of the casualty tolls in Iraq from the 2003 decision to invade. But those numbers are still really hard to capture. ~HC.)

In the months leading up to March 19, 2003, when Pres. George W. Bush launched an unprovoked and completely optional war of “total regime change” against Iraq, I was proud to take part in several of the broad and spirited antiwar demonstrations and other actions that took place all around the United States and the world.

But we failed to stop Bush from launching his illegal war.

It was 15  years ago this week, on March 19, 2003, that Bush unleashed the war. The negative consequences of that decision– primarily on Iraq and its people, but also on the United States and the integrity of the global order– were massive, and continue to this day. They include (but are not limited to) the following:

  1. The number of those who died directly or indirectly as a result of the invasion of Iraq or the numerous secondary conflicts sparked by the invasion has been estimated at around half a million. Around 4,500 U.S. service-members lost their lives. The numbers of those Iraqi residents wounded or displaced during the 15 years of conflict has been considerably higher. All these casualty figures continue to rise.
  2. The physical infrastructure of Iraq, a country of some 33 million souls, whose schools, hospitals, universities, road system, artistic infrastructure, etc, had already been very badly damaged by 13 years of extremely punitive, US-led sanctions, received considerable additional blows, leading to numerous public-health crises and de-development.
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Syria, the Western “left”, and the Palestinian-rights movement

I’m sorry that I’ve been absent from the blogosphere for so long. There has been a lot to ponder in international affairs. But I’ve been busy for the past 7-plus years publishing other people’s work. I feel very good about what my publishing company, Just World Books, has achieved. But I regret that because I’ve poured so much of my time and attention into the publishing, I’ve had so little time left to do my own writing.

Crucial among my concerns has been the question of how and why so much of the western “left”– a force that played such a strong role in the antiwar and broadly anti-imperialism movement in the lead-up to the Iraq war in 2003– has become so deeply co-opted into the allegedly “liberal/humanitarian” wing of the imperialist movement over the past 14 years.

There is much that I hope to write about this over the coming months. My thinking on the topic still evolves. But it already seems clear to me that a number of processes have been at work:

  1. The erosion of the whole memory/immediacy of the question of imperialism and the need to counter it, as I understood it back when I was young in the UK, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many younger people in the west today think that imperialism/anti-imperialism is “tired old dogma” or whatever. Or, they talk glibly, in re Syria, about “dual imperialisms”– that is, Russian along with US/Western– without any appreciation of the relevance of the history of western imperialism in the M.E. region or the significance of the fact that Russia is in Syria as the invited ally of the legitimate government of Syria wile the US/Saudi/western forces are there to disrupt, hobble, or topple the country’s entire governing system, in the continuation of plans that the Zionists and Americans have pursued for many decades now.

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2017: A crucial year for the Palestine Question

Several people have been noting that next year, 2017, will mark the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Gaza, and Golan. But the imminent arrival of this somber– and truly mind-boggling– anniversary reminds me that 2017 will mark important anniversaries of three other crucial developments in the Palestine Question, too. These are:

  • The centennial (100-year anniversary, no less!) of the Balfour Declaration, the diktat from the British Foreign Secretary that imperial London would support the creation of a “Jewish national home” in Palestine– whatever that meant… but would do so only provided that the “civil and political rights” of the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine would not be adversely affected. (Fat chance!)
  • The 70th anniversary of the UN Partition Plan for Palestine– which gave Israel (along with its conjoined twin, the never-born Palestinian Arab state) the only “birth certificate” it has ever had in international law; and
  • The 30th anniversary of the launching of the First Intifada, which started in Gaza on December 9, 1987, spreading rapidly through the whole of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Make no mistake about it: 50 years of rule by a foreign military is already a terrible travesty, and a crime against the whole Lockean concept that government can only legitimately be exercised “through the consent of the governed.” When the international community most recently codified and regulated the whole concept of rule by “military occupation”, in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (especially the 4th one), it was only ever envisaged that military occupation by a foreign military power would be a temporary, or short-term situation, pending the conclusion of a conflict-resolving final peace treaty.

But for Palestinians and the legitimate indigenous residents of occupied Golan? No. For them, occupation has hardened into a 50-year-old force that because of Israel’s massive (and completely illegal)  policy of moving of large numbers of its own civilians into the West Bank and Syria’s Golan region now looks harder than ever to reverse or displace.

I remember back in early 1987, when pro-peace (or pro-peace-ish) Israelis first started facing up to idea that their occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan was about to hit the 20-year mark. They were nonplussed! “How did this happen!” some of them exclaimed. That was back then, when there was still a fairly large “Peace Now” movement in Israel…

Six months after June 1987, the first intifada broke out. What heady (and painful) days those were for Palestinians. It may be hard to remember now, but traveling among all the cities of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and between those cities and Gaza was still relatively easy to do. Jerusalem was the organizing hub for the whole intifada. Throughout the six years that followed, the occupied territories were abuzz with numerous, very creative forms of nonviolent resistance…

Oslo, and the “return” soon thereafter to the OPT’s of the PLO leadership apparatus, put an end to all of that. Oslo ushered in, in quick order, the severing of Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank by an Israeli ring of steel; and then the progressive quadrillement of the whole of the West Bank– its dividing-up into tiny, mutually impenetrable cantons– by the new Israeli road system that had been specifically allowed by the PLO leadership as part of the Oslo arrangements; and the cutting-off of Gaza which later allowed Israel’s imposition on it of a debilitating, total siege…

At this point, nearly 30 years after 1987, I think the most constructive and realistic way to view “the occupation” is not as a singular step that started in 1967 that was somehow a “deviation” from what “should” have been Israel’s rightful path, but rather as a continuation of the settler-colonial process that started to gain international political traction with Lord Balfour’s declaration of 1917… and then won a serious (and troublingly “colonial”) international imprimatur from the infant United Nations in 1947…and has certainly continued since 1967 with Israel’s increasingly blatant colonization of the West Bank (and Golan.)

So let’s not just look at 1967. Let’s look at 1947, too– the year just 20 years earlier than 1967 when (a) the United Nations voted to give half of Palestine, lock-stock-and-barrel, to its overwhelmingly recently arrived population of Jewish settlers– this, in an era when everywhere else in the world de-colonization was already underway; and (b) the leaders of the Zionist yishuv in Palestine took the Partition Plan as their carte blanche (as Ilan Pappe has so rightly documented) to start launching their program of anti-Palestinian ethnic cleansing in–and soon enough also beyond– the areas the Partition Plan had allotted them. Yes, as Pappe has shown in his work, the Nakba started in November 1947.

And yes, the period of time that Israel has controlled the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan is far, far longer than the earlier period during which it controlled “only” the area within its pre-1967 boundaries (which were already, as we know, considerably broader than what the UN gave to the “Jewish state” in the Partition Plan.)

… And let’s look, too, at 1917, the year that Chaim Weizmann, Lord Rothschild, and other Zionist leaders managed to persuade British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour to issue his infamous declaration, which was later incorporated into all the post-WWI peace agreements– as part of which, by amazing happenstance, Britain emerged with a neo-imperial “Mandate” from the League of Nations to rule over Palestine (and Jordan and Iraq)… just until these countries’ own inhabitants should be “ready” to exercise self-rule, you understand.

1917 came 32 years after the infamous Conference of Berlin,  in which the European powers sat round and solemnly carved up the whole of the African continent amongst themselves, to let each participating power engage in settler colonialism, looting, and rapine within its designated zone, exactly as it wished. But still, by 1917, the tide of global opinion was already starting to turn against settler colonialism and the “rights” of all the world’s peoples were much on the lips of diplomats.

Zionists have often tried to portray their movement as one of “national liberation” from foreign (including British) rule. In truth, though, they have always relied on the patronage of other, much larger, globally powerful states in order to realize their settler-colonial objectives in historic Palestine. That was the case in 1917. It was the case in 1947. It was the case in 1967. And it remains the case, today. Without the support that Washington has lavished on Israel– within its current, expansionist borders– for several decades now, there is no way that Israel could have defied all the norms by which the whole of the rest of the world community has to abide… and could have done so, continuously, for the whole of the past 50 years.

The publishing company that I founded in 2010, Just World Books, has published numerous great books on the Palestine Question. You can see the whole list of our publications here. Now, we are  working on our plans for the books we’ll be publishing later this year, and in 2017. (Stay tuned!) And we’re also, along with our friends, allies, and partners, planning to organize a great series of events around the whole United States in 2017, so that communities everywhere around the country can better understand what is happening in Palestine/Israel. More people in the United States than ever before are now hungry for good information about what’s happening in Palestine, and eager to understand both how the situation got to be where it is today, and what our own country’s role in that has been.

There’s no doubt that 2017 will be a crucial year for broadening the discussion of what’s happening in Palestine/Israel. But we shouldn’t just be looking at 50 years of occupation. We need to look, too, at 100 years of Western-supported Zionist settler-colonialism in Palestine, the 70-year anniversary of the Partition Plan and the Nakba that it sparked, and the 30-year anniversary of the First Intifada. When we look at all these anniversaries and put them into perspective alongside each other, then we can much better understand the state of the Palestine Question today.

 

Israelis, Palestinians, and “feelings”

I have just published a “Chirpstory”– that is, a compilation of tweets– about the event I went to today at the New America Foundation, a Washington DC policy research institution (think tank), at which five panelists and a slightly out-of-her-depth moderator were trying to discuss the situation in Gaza. If you’re interested, you can see the archived video of the whole event, and the bios of all the participants, here. It was pretty interesting.

Here, I just want to add one additional comment, in reaction to some things NAF’s own Lisa Goldman said there about the heartfelt and apparently intractable feelings of “fear” that Israeli people have. (In the context, it was very clear she was speaking about Jewish Israelis.) She acknowledged that the Gaza Palestinians were in currently living in a situation of real danger; but she said people should not forget that Israelis live in a constant state of fear. “Any Israeli you talk to, they will tell you about how terrible it was in 2002 and they could not go and enjoy a pizza because of the fear of suicide bombers,” was one of the things she said.

I found this argument interesting, for a number of reasons. Firstly, she seemed to be equating the fear the Israelis feel with the danger the Palestinians are experiencing. In other words, the “feelings” of 6 million Jewish Israelis are just as important (or more important?) than the actual danger of imminent death that currently stalks 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza. Secondly, she neglected to mention that (gasp!) Palestinians have feelings, too! And one thing all Palestinians in Gaza feel right now– along with many of their close family members and other fellow Palestinians in the West Bank, Israel, and around the world– is very intense fear. Thirdly, she seemed completely stymied by the phenomenon of the Jewish Israelis’ fear. She seemed to be saying– though I need to check the video for the exact quote– something like, “Well, because of those Israeli fears, that means there is nothing we can do.” Finally, making this argument to an audience primarily made up of US Americans, she seemed to consider that her invocation of the “fact” of the apparently intractable fears of the Israelis, on its own, constituted some kind of a reasonable and convincing argument. Very bizarre.

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HRW improves position on Gaza/Israel, calls for suspension of some US arms to Israel

The NYC-based, private, non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch today issued a new statement on the Gaza crisis that goes a good distance toward correcting the serious errors they made in the statement they issued July 9, as I had noted here. Furthermore, today’s report explicitly calls for an end to the supply of all weaponry “to Israel, to Hamas, or to armed groups in the Gaza Strip… that has been documented or credibly alleged to have been used in violation of international humanitarian law, as well as funding or support for such material.” The report notes explicitly that “The US supplies Israel with rotary and fixed wing military aircraft, Hellfire missiles, and other munitions that have been used in illegal airstrikes in Gaza.”

Too bad that HRW, a US-based organization that, as we know, enjoys good ties (and frequently also a revolving door) with the Obama administration, buried that call for the suspension of some US arms supplies to Israel so very, very low. But still, far better to include it in this report, than not. (More details, below.)

The headline/subhead of today’s HRW statement is: “Israel/Palestine: Unlawful Israeli Airstrikes Kill Civilians/ Bombings of Civilian Structures Suggest Illegal Policy.” The headline/subhead of last week’s statement was: “Palestine/Israel: Indiscriminate Palestinian Rocket Attacks/ Israeli Airstrikes on Homes Appear to be Collective Punishment.”

HRW issued the July 9 statement less than 48 hours after Israel launched its current large-scale military assault against Gaza– under the name “Operation Solid Rock”, in Hebrew, or “Protective Edge”, in English. The statement thus constituted, as I had noted, a kneejerk rush to judgment on the rights and wrongs of the way the two sides were fighting, one that did not present any actual evidence to back up the claims it made, but that appeared to emanate much more from the political (i.e., pro-Israeli) predilections or positioning of HRW leaders, and possibly some of its analysts. Even more seriously, the legal analysis in that earlier statement was deeply flawed, since its authors seemed to endorse the arguments made by Israeli leaders that targeting commanders and fighters in Hamas or other Gaza-based resistance groups even while they were hors de combat, for example while eating, resting, or praying with their families at home, was quite okay.

Today’s statement, thankfully, corrects many or most of those dangerous errors that HRW committed last week. It is notable that today’s statement bases its analysis on actual, on-the-ground research in the form of case studies that focused on four of the civilian buildings targeted by the IDF between July 9 and July 11. Of the four, only in one case (the bombing of the Fun Time Cafe on July 11 that killed nine civilians) did the IDF allege that there was “a terrorist” located there. But, as the HRW statement noted, the Israeli military:

presented no evidence that any of those at the café, who had gathered to watch a World Cup match, were participating in military operations, or that the killing of one alleged “terrorist” in a crowded café would justify the expected civilian casualties.

In one of the other cases presented (Bureij refugee camp, July 11, two municipal workers killed), the HRW report said its researchers, “found no evidence of a military objective in the vehicle or in the area at the time.” In another (an unlocated attack on July 9 that killed a pregnant woman and her daughter), the report said that the family lived across the street from an apartment building that apparently was the prime target of the strike, but the surviving family members said they knew of none of the “warnings” that the Israelis said they had issued, or, they did not have time to flee before the attack.

In the fourth case studied, a July 10 strike on a crowded family home in the Khan Younis refugee camp that killed eight people, HRW reports that neighbors told the HRW researcher that one of those killed “was a low-ranking member of the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas.” However, the HRW report says nothing about whether this young man had been engaged in any way in combat when he was killed. The report thus makes the serious error of seeming to endorse the Israeli government’s claim that it is “okay” to target fighters in Palestinian resistance organizations even when they are hors de combat. Here is what the report said about this incident:

The Israeli military said the attack was being investigated. Even if the son was the intended target, the nature of the attack appears indiscriminate and would in any case be disproportionate.

This is actually a very troubling statement. HRW’s own judgment, expressed here, seems to be that if the son was the intended target, then “targeting” him [even though that was not what the Israeli military said they were doing… ] even when he was hors de combat, e.g., home with his family marking Ramadan, would in itself be quite okay: The only problem was that the attack did not do enough to “discriminate” between this valid target and the “civilian” family members all around him, and caused harm to civilians that was “disproportionate” to the military advantage the attack gave to Israel.

This is wrong, wrong, wrong, and woefully misguided. How many times do we have to spell this out? The essential distinction in international law is not between “fighters” and “civilians”– which are the categories used throughout this HRW report– but between “combatants” and “noncombatants”. A fighter who is not currently engaged in either the conduct, the command, or the planning of military operations is not a combatant. He (or she) is hors de combat and is a noncombatant. It is quite illegal to target such an individual.

Now it is true that the Israeli military and the serried ranks of paid hasbaristas (propagandists) who have been trying to justify and defend its actions have tried to claim that the homes targeted by the Israelis contained secret “operations rooms” or “weapons stores” and thus constituted valid targets. But they have presented zero actual evidence of this. (Bystanders and eyewitnesses have also noted that they saw no sign of the kinds of secondary explosions that would have been seen if these homes had had any significant amount of weapons stored in them.)

The lower portion of the HRW report also usefully cites (and links to; in Hebrew) an Israeli news report that “An Israeli military official stated on July 12 that the military has targeted ‘more than 100 homes of commanders of different ranks’ in Gaza.” The HRW report comments on this, quite correctly, that, “Civilian structures such as residential homes become lawful targets only when they are being used for military purposes.” Of course, this strongly contradicts the judgment expressed earlier the Khan Younis case, that “Even if the son was the intended target,” then the main problems with the attack were merely that it “appeared” indiscriminate and was anyway disproportionate. No, HRW, the attack itself was illegal because there was no evidence provided– or even apparently sought by HRW– that the (putative) target was engaged in military activities at the time of the attack.

Down at the bottom of the statement, the four case studies are presented in much more detail. (Good work, HRW. Thanks for doing this.) Regarding the Khan Younis case, the report states baldly that, “Human Rights Watch found no evidence that any of the victims used the Hajj family home to perpetrate attacks.” Therefore, HRW, targeting it was quite illegal. Period. Getting into your arguments about “discrimination” or “proportionality” regarding that attack was extremely misleading.

The “action items” in this HRW report are strong and useful. They are considerably stronger than the action items in the rush-to-judgment report of last week. Here are the actions that today’s report calls for:

The Palestine Liberation Organization should direct President Mahmoud Abbas to seek the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute serious international crimes committed by all parties on Palestinian territory.

Governments that are providing weapons to Israel, to Hamas, or to armed groups in the Gaza Strip should suspend transfers of any materiel that has been documented or credibly alleged to have been used in violation of international humanitarian law, as well as funding or support for such material, Human Rights Watch said. The US supplies Israel with rotary and fixed wing military aircraft, Hellfire missiles, and other munitions that have been used in illegal airstrikes in Gaza.

But I wonder why HRW did not lead the report with this call? Let’s hope they get a lot more active, very soon, in urging a suspension of the supply to Israel of the kinds of US arms that have been used in these truly horrific, inhumane, and quite illegal  acts.

Crunch time for funding G. Porter’s book on Iran!

Hi, everyone! We have just six days to go in our online fundraiser for Gareth Porter’s very important planned book Manufactured Crisis: The Secret History of the Iranian Nuclear Scare. We’ve just topped getting pledges for 2/3 of the $10,000 we need for this.
Can you do anything to help us get the remaining (as of now) $3,303?
As I explained on the main Kickstarter fundraising page there, we need the money because Gareth needs to take 4-5 months out from his (excellent!) daily journalism in order to write the book– and yes, he has bills he needs to continue paying during that time. My publishing house, Just World Books, is run on a shoestring. We simply can’t afford to pay the kind of “advance” that big publishers dole out (or, used to– not so much these days, anyway.) And we don’t have the time it would take to get foundation funding… even if there were any foundations prepared to invest in this hard-hitting, myth-smashing work of Gareth’s.
Our BIG thanks to all JWN readers who’ve contributed so far! (Including those of you who’ve recently increased your pledges at the site, which was very much appreciated.)
If any of you have been sitting on the fence, or saying– “Oh, that looks worthwhile. I must get around to sending them a pledge sometime… “– Well, the time is now. Please do it!
If we don’t reach our $10,000 goal by 8 am EST on December 12, then according to the rules that Kickstarter uses, we don’t get ANYTHING at all. That is, we don’t get any of the $6,697 pledged so far– and we don’t even get the contact details for the 103 fabulous people who’ve made those pledges. So we’d be starting, essentially, back at Square One in our quest for funding for this project, which would set it back by many months.
Our current plan is to have Gareth start his work on the book about now and spend 4-5 months writing it. (He HAS so much material that he’s amassed for it. Now, he just needs to pull it all together into book chapters.) Then, JWB will do our usual excellent and speedy edit and layout on the manuscript… and we’d hope to have the final PDF’s ready by next September; printed copies by October.
We are so ready to get this project rolling.
Please do everything you can to urge your friends and colleagues to chip in, too. Here is a short URL you can use for the fundraising page on Twitter, Facebook, listservs, etc: http://bit.ly/ManufCrisis. And here is the PDF of a flier (leaflet) that you can print out at home and hand out to family, friends, or colleagues.
You can tell them about the super rewards that are offered there at various levels of support. (Hey, no-one has yet signed up for the “Dinner for you and three friends with Gareth, where he’ll talk about his book” option yet!) But in a very real sense, the biggest reward is knowing that by getting this vitally needed project on the road, you’ll be helping to prevent the warmongers and disinformation experts from jerking us all into yet another catastrophic– but oh, so easily avoidable– war.
Thanks for all the help you can give us in getting this fundraiser successfully over the finish line.

Powerful, intimate memoir from Israeli peace activist Miko Peled

The countdown clock is now ticking fast, toward the publication of Miko Peled’s amazing and powerful memoir, The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine. The book traces Miko’s journey from being born, in 1961, into a family that was at the core of the Jewish-Israeli elite to, now, being a visionary and gutsy activist in the cause of equal rights for all in Israel/Palestine, and a rights-based solution to the deadly conflict between the two peoples.
I am so happy that my company, Just World Books, has been able to work with Miko to make this long-planned book a reality. Our editors have been doing a fabulous job, and we should have the first copies in hand in the early days of March. And did I mention that Alice Walker has contributed a wonderful Foreword to it?
As we’ve all been working on the book, I’ve increasingly been reminded of an earlier book that some 20 years ago captured my attention both by the quality of its writing and by the morally gripping content of the tale it told. That was My Traitor’s Heart, by the South African writer Rian Malan. You see Malan, too, like Miko Peled, had grown up in the bosom of the tightknit elite that ruled his country… And in both cases, that government, feeling itself embattled, was committing major rights abuses against large, disenfranchised swathes of the population under its control… And Malan, too, like Miko Peled, spent some time outside the oppressive hothouse/coccoon of the land of his birth and came to the realization that the only future for his country and the national group of which his family was a part was for the ciuntry’s ruling group to learn to share power and to start to deal with all the people whose lives they had been controlling on a basis of equality and mutual respect, rather than continuing an oppressive and increasingly morally deadening reliance on mechanisms of force and control…
If you haven’t read Malan’s amazing book, I urge you to do so. But the tale he tells is now a part of history. The tale that Miko Peled tells, by contrast, has a burning urgency to it! In Israel/Palestine, the oppression continues, on a daily basis; and the unresolved conflict between the two peoples continues to blight the lives of both of them (though very asymmetrically so.)
There are several books out now in the west, in which Jewish citizens of western countries wrestle publicly with some of the anguish they feel over the fact that the Zionist project in which an earlier generation of western Jews invested so many of their– often politically liberal– hopes and dreams has now spawned a government and system that has turned increasingly to the right, and has aligned itself increasingly with the most rightwing and oppressive forces in western society.
There are also a number of works of great scholarship by Jewish-Israeli historians and geographers in which they document the past practices of the Zionist leaders and planners in an unflinching and unvarnished way, laying bare for all to see the ethnic cleansings and other, often still continuing, acts of administrative violence that lie at the heart of all the ‘success’ the Zionist project has claimed until today.
But Miko Peled’s book is the first book I know of that combines the features of being a reflective and very intimate memoir, by an Israeli, of what it felt like for him to grow up in the bosom of the Jewish-Israeli elite in Jerusalem– one grandfather was a signer of Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948; his father was a revered general during the 1967 war; his older sister used when young to frolic at the local poo alongside Benjamin Netanyahu and other children of the world Zionist elite– with having acquired enough perspective from his time outside his country to be able to see its conflicts and dysfunctionalities with new eyes.
Hence, the comparison I make with Rian Malan. Malan’s family, too, had been part of the innermost core of the elite that ruled his country. He had a great-uncle who was the prime minister who wrote the country’s infamous apartheid laws. He had an uncle who was defense minister in the 1980s. And yet, he rebelled… In his case, it was his involvement in the country’s anti-conscription campaign that led him into pro-democratic and pro-rights engagement.
Miko Peled’s story is a not entirely the same, of course. In his case, it was the killing of his beloved niece Smadar, at the hands of a suicide bomber in Jerusalem in 1997 that first propelled his activism. (His activism was nurtured by way of the Bereaved Families Forum, and involvement in a local Israeli-Palestinian dialogue group in Southern California.) Miko came to his activism when he was already significantly more mature than Malan– and therefore, perhaps, the commitment that his activism has required has necessarily had to be deeper. And Miko Peled has been able to draw on considerably more support, in his quest for justice and meaning, from members of his family than, as I recall, Rian Malan was ever able to find…
Miko’s dad, I should add, was indeed a much-decorated in the Israeli military; and in the run-up to the 1967 war he part of a hawkish claque of generals that urged– some say, virtually forced– the country’s civilian government to launch a “pre-emptive” war. But Miko’s dad, Matti Peled, was also, from almost the very moment that that war ended, also himself a peace activist. Indeed, from then until his death in 1995, Matti Peled ran many very real risks for peace, being one of the Jewish-Israeli pioneers of the campaign to open up negotiations with the PLO…
Well obviously, I urge you all to buy Miko’s book— and to tell all your friends about it! You can place your orders here. I honestly think that this book, even more than Rian Malan’s, will be one that can transform the political calculus, and therefore the world.

Quick notes from Penn BDS conference

The conference was an outstanding success! Everyone involved in organizing it– and most of us who spoke at it– have all been extremely busy; so I’m really sorry that we don’t have much more, and richer, reporting on the events out already. But expect more great reporting of the conference to come out over the coming days.
You can see the video of Ali Abunimah’s fabulous keynote address, Saturday night, here. That and Susan Abulhawa’s extremely moving and scrupulously well-documented introductory address were really the two high points of the conference. And just getting together with so many dedicated activists from around the country– many of whom I was able to meet for the first time, after hearing about and admiring their work for years– was the other amazing facet of the gathering.
I had the huge honor to participate in two great panel discussions: one on Saturday on on South Africa and Palestine with David Wildman and Bill Fletcher, Jr.; and one yesterday afternoon, on the media, with Phil Weiss and Max Blumenthal. I also got to sit in on a few of the other sessions– all of them fabulous!– including a great discussion/analysis of the anti-Ahava and anti-Sabra/Tribe campaigns given by key organizers of those campaigns.
One of my main goals in being there was to sell and get more visibility for my company’s books; and that definitely happened to a gratifying extent. It was great to be able to establish those kind of connections for the Just World Books and to tell people both about our existing titles and our upcoming ones!
My sense was that the conference marked an important turning-point for the Palestinian-rights movement here in the United States. As I said at the beginning of yesterday’s panel discussion, I think this was the kind of event that will be remembered 15-20 years into the future, when people will still be saying, “Hey, do you remember the Penn conference back in 2012… ?” Or, too many other people will be forced to reply, “Yes, I was so bummed, I couldn’t get in: They were sold out already!” (And that happened to large numbers of people, I heard.)
Which is why the organizers now need to go the extra mile and get their record of the many amazing discussions at the conference up onto the web and widely available as a resource for everyone around the world, asap.
Hey, and my big thanks to the people from the ADL and the other discourse-suppression organizations for drawing such broad attention to our little conference and helping to make it into such a fabulous, rock-star event!
There was at least one little team from the discourse-suppressors and discourse-twisters that was present at portions of the conference itself in an organized way. That was, as noted by Alex Kane on Mondoweiss, here, an extremely ideological, apparently Canadian-Israeli discourse-twister Martin Himel, who turned up with a camera crew of two younger women claiming to “represent” the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Honestly, I am not sure that anyone from the all-volunteer, all-student conference staff did enough to check the “credentials” presented by the two young women… (Working with the CBC? Really?) Mr. Himel himself apparently did not present any media credentials at all when he registered. But on the Saturday, he tried to trap Ali Abunimah into a sleazy ‘gotcha’ kind of interview, which Ali wrote about here.
After that, the conference organizers told Himel he could participate only like a regular participant but not as media, since he was not credentialed as such; and he could not perform any media functions while there.
But yesterday, first of all his two crew members were trying to haul their camera into one of the closed organizing sessions in the morning… And then there was Himel himself, in the after-lunch session with Sarah Schulman and Max Blumenthal, which was an open session; but there was Himel, working hard to direct the work of his two crew members. At which point he and they were, quite appropriately, told to leave.
As Kane wrote at Mondoweiss, Himel has a substantial history of using and twisting footage of pro-Palestinian-rights events to make it look as if all the participants are anti-Semites, “self-hating Jews”, crazy hate-filled extremists, etc etc.
For my part, I believe the rights movement can only benefit from full and fair disclosure of the truth both about what’s going on in Palestine and about the nature of the movement here in the United States (and also, about the nature of its opponents– some of whom, tragically enough, really are hate-filled crazies.)
On the other hand, I donated the intellectual property embodied in my presentations at the conference, to the conference organizers themselves; and I certainly did not donate it to be used and abused by a discourse twister like Martin Himel. So honestly, I was glad that he and his crew members had been banned from the conference before the panel discussion we held yesterday afternoon.
If Himel or Alan Dershowitz or Daniel Pipes or any of those other discourse twisters would like to sit down with me and debate the substance of the Palestinian-Israeli issue in a fair forum, I would be happy to do that. (Just as Susan Abul-Hawa did a great and calm job interacting with the Dersh at the Boston Book Festival in October 2010.)
So I am certainly not arguing for curtailing anyone’s free-speech rights. But speech has to be honest, grounded in facts, and should aspire always to be truthful. Mr. Himel– just like the sleazy rightwing ‘gotcha’ film-maker James O’Keefe here in the United States– is not interested in honest reporting, an examination of the facts, or a search for truth. That’s why having him lurking around the conference directing his two female subordinates in their filming made that portion of the conference feel so unsafe.
…Anyway, the Himel saga was all a minor, but distasteful, main things that were happening at the conference. I am sure that we’ll get a lot more great reporting of and from the conference available very soon. probably the best places to look for that will be on Mondoweiss, on Electronic Intifada, and via the #pennbds hashtag at Twitter.

Pro-Israeli discourse suppressors desperately try to rebuild their Bar-Lev Line!

It is almost amusing to see the lengths to which the pro-Israeli discourse suppressors here in the United States have been going to try to rebuild the long-crumbled “Bar-Lev Line” with which, over decades past, they sought to protect Israel from being the subject of any free, fair, and fact-based discussion.
The ADL–yes, folks, that is supposed to be the Anti Defamation League– recently described me on their website as “an anti-Israel writer, publisher and the former executive director of the Council for the National Interest, an organization that regularly sends delegations of its supporters to meet with Hamas and Hezbollah representatives in the Middle East… ” How’s that again?
Never mind that in a career spanning 38 years, I spent precisely four months working for CNI… or that, on the one CNI trip I helped organize we spent a lot of time with Israelis of a variety of viewpoints, and even made a special visit to the Knesset… Or that in the course of my career I have extensively interviewed Israeli government ministers, military leaders, and analysts (as the folks from the ‘Anti’-Defamation League might know if they ever, er, actually read any of the many books and articles I have written… )
No, instead of doing any research that might involve, you know, actual facts, they just jumped on this rather seedy (but no doubt well-funded) little defamation bandwagon that a bunch of scared “Israel-right-or-wrong” types have been gunning up…
And they recycle an extremely tired (and fallacious) little piece of defamation that appeared somewhere else not long ago, which completely mischaracterized some thing I said at Georgetown University in late January 2009.
Actually, my own contemporaneous (or very near to contemporaneous) account of that incident can be read on this JWN post, that I published on January 25, 2009.
Here is just the beginning of that blog post:

    One notable thing that happened at our panel discussion on Gaza, at Georgetown University Thursday night, was that a young Israeli student directed a question at me asking why I had said that “all Israelis are stupid”– and also asserting that her country had had “no choice” but to launch the war on Gaza.
    I replied that I had never said “all Israelis” are stupid– though I had certainly pointed out the counter-productive nature, from every point of view, of the decision her country’s government had made to launch the most recent war; and I’d pointed out too, with some sadness, that that decision seemed to have received high levels of support from Jewish Israelis.
    But certainly not from all of them– as I had also pointed out in my main presentation.
    What I’d referred to specifically was this extremely insightful (and courageous) article, published on December 31 in the WaPo by a Jewish Israeli social-work lecturer called Julia Chaitin. Chaitin, by the way, lives in southern Israel so has a deep understanding of the concerns and fears of the people who live there…

So now, this accusation that I had “said that all Israelis are stupid” seems to have gotten a second and third life. With zero evidence being presented by those who make this accusation… Because there is none. Because I never said what they claimed I said! But evidently, that young Israeli woman in question (the original mischaracterizer) must have rushed around spreading her version of what happened… and now, with zero evidence at all, the ‘Anti’-Defamation League and others like these folks (PDF) at “Jewish Philly”, or this “stevebronfman”, have just been echo-chambering this nasty smear all around.
They are truly pathetic. People: You don’t control the discourse any more because in the era of the intertubes you can’t control the discourse any more! Deal with it. Palestinians– like Iraqis, Lebanese people, Syrians, Egyptians, Israelis and everyone on God’s earth, today get to speak about truth of their situations without the heavy hand of the Zionist discourse-suppression organizations (‘Camera’, ‘Flame’, ‘Stand With Us’, etc) being able to suffocate us.
You know, for six years after the Israeli military swept into and occupied the whole of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in 1967, the generals (okay, most of them, but not Gen Matti Peled, as his son Miko reminds us in his great upcoming memoir) thought their control of Sinai was assured by the defensive line of forts, ramparts, and fortifications they had thrown up along the Suez Canal… That was the “Bar-Lev Line”… And imagining themselves quite secure behind it they started building (quite illegally, as always) settlements in different spots in the large Sinai Peninsula…
But in October 1973, it took the Egyptian military just a few hours to fatally breach the Bar-Lev Line in a number of places. This, from Wikipedia today:

    Within the first hour of the war, the Egyptian engineering corps tackled the sand barrier. Seventy engineer groups, each one responsible for opening a single passage, worked from wooden boats. With hoses attached to water pumps, they began attacking the sand obstacle. Many breaches occurred within two to three hours of the onset of operations — according to schedule; engineers at several places, however, experienced unexpected problems… The Third Army, in particular, had difficulty in its sector. There, the clay proved resistant to high-water pressure and, consequently, the engineers experienced delays in their breaching. Engineers in the Second Army completed the erection of their bridges and ferries within nine hours, whereas Third Army needed more than sixteen hours…

So maybe the big BDS conference that I’m participating in, in Philadelphia this weekend, won’t be quite as dramatic as the 1973 war… In many respects, the ramparts of the Zionist discourse-suppression machine have all been weakened and breached repeatedly over the past 10-15 years. Thanks to the intertubes…
And here’s a big shoutout to MuzzleWatch, Mondoweiss, Max Blumenthal, and everyone else who’s made a big difference in all of this!
But over there at the ‘Anti’-Defamation League and in those other discourse suppression networks, I guess leaders and staffers have their own (highly inflated) salaries they need to justify, and fundraising appeals they need to crank up… So there they go, desperately trying to heap more sand into the breaches and recreate the Maginot Line Bar Lev Line of their imagined security.
As I said, the sight would almost be amusing… if it did not also involve a prolongation of this illegally lengthy Israeli occupation of Palestine with all the desperate human suffering that involves.