Israel employs legal principle of collective punishment used by Nazi Germany

In an editorial, Haaretz says: Over the past few months, Israel has adopted the principle known in German as sippenhaft – meaning a family’s shared responsibility for a crime committed by one of its members. Its origins lie in ancient times, when an offender’s entire tribe would be punished for his crimes. In the modern era, this principle was characteristic of totalitarian regimes, when the relatives of “enemies of the state” were punished by exile, imprisonment or execution. Today, this method is common in North Korea.

The Netanyahu government’s response to shooting, knifing and car-ramming attacks is based on the same principle: The family that “supports and assists” the terrorist, as Netanyahu put it, is as guilty of terror as the offender. That is why house demolitions have been renewed. According to figures by the nonprofit B’Tselem, 31 Palestinian homes have been demolished whose relatives were involved in attacks, with other demolitions planned. That is also why Israel is holding the bodies of attackers from East Jerusalem and punishing their families by delaying burials. Israeli advocates of sippenhaft argue that it’s the only way to deter the Palestinians, citing cases in which families gave up suspects as proof that the method works. To them, the deportation of families to Gaza seems the ultimate weapon against lone-wolf attacks.

But the Palestinians are not the only ones who’ll pay the price for punishing the families; Israel will, too. Because a state that adopts the legal methods and laws of totalitarian states begins to look like those countries, even if it calls itself “the only democracy in the Middle East.” [Continue reading…]


How Israel teaches its citizens all the wrong lessons

William Saletan writes: Across Israel, anger at Arabs is building. In the wake of a horrific Palestinian terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue — and concurrent with violent protests by Palestinians — several assaults by Jews against Arabs have been reported. Arab workers are reporting a rise in job discrimination. In a poll published Thursday, 58 percent of Jews endorsed a decision by the mayor of Ashkelon, a major city, to bar Arab citizens of Israel from working near young schoolchildren.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says these discriminatory outbursts and policies are wrong. “We must not generalize about an entire public due to a small and violent minority,” he asserts. But Netanyahu teaches this kind of prejudice every day, by demolishing the homes of the families of suspected terrorists.

Israel has employed this policy, off and on, for decades. It’s rooted in old military laws and based on the idea that it deters prospective terrorists. The government doesn’t have to show that the family members who live in the house — grandparents, children, cousins — are guilty or even suspected of any crime. And the policy applies only to Arabs, not to Jews.

The first lesson this policy teaches Israelis is that it’s legitimate to inflict suffering on innocent people in order to discourage terrorism. [Continue reading…]


Gaza: Families bombed at home

B’Tselem: During the fighting in Gaza, dozens of residences were bombed while residents were at home. The following infographic lists members of families killed in their homes in 59 incidents of bombing or shelling. In these incidents, 458 people were killed, including 108 women under the age of 60, 214 minors, and 18 people over the age of 60. Mouse over the houses for more details. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: At least 59 Palestinian families suffered multiple casualties over four weeks of Israeli bombardment in Gaza, according to data collated by the Guardian. The youngest casualty was 10-day old Hala Abu Madi, who died on 2 August; the oldest was Abdel al-Masri, aged 97, who was killed on 3 August.

The figures are based on data from three independent Palestinian human rights organisations – the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) and Al Mezan, both based in Gaza, and the West Bank-based Al-Haq; the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem; and the UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

However, it is almost certainly an incomplete picture. Systematic identification of bodies and logging of data have been hampered by the sheer scale of the casualties in Gaza – about 2,000 killed in total, and 10,000 wounded – types of injuries, and the need for swift burial.

Among families in which four or more people died, 479 people were killed in total, including 212 children under the age of 18, and 15 people aged 60 and over. The deadliest day was 30 July, when 95 members of 10 families were killed. On 20 July, 65 members of 10 families died, and on 21 July, 71 members of six families were killed.

The Guardian has interviewed six families who suffered multiple casualties. In each case, relatives say there was no warning of attack, and all deny any connection with militant organisations in Gaza.

However, in many cases there may have been a military target among the dead. But the number of women and children killed in such attacks has led human rights organisations and international observers to question whether Israel’s use of force was proportionate and in keeping with the obligation under international law to protect civilians in war.

Hamdi Shaqqura, of the PCHR, said: “What has been significant about this onslaught is the deliberate attacks on families – whole families have been smashed under the rubble. We have documented 134 families, in which two or more members have been hit by Israeli forces – a total of 750 people. [Continue reading…]


Israel’s vice crushing Palestinians


Why I’m on the brink of burning my Israeli passport

Ayelet Shaked -- "Angel of Death"

Ayelet Shaked — “Angel of Death”

Mira Bar Hillel writes: She is young. She is pretty. She is a university graduate and a computer engineer. She is also an Israeli Parliamentarian – and the reason why I am on the brink of burning my Israeli passport. Because behind that wide-eyed innocent face lurks the Angel of Death.

Ayelet Shaked represents the far-right Jewish Home party in the Knesset. This means she is well to the right of Benyamin Netanyahu, just in case you thought such a thing was not possible.

On Monday she quoted this on her Facebook page: “Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”

A week earlier, just before 17-year-old Mohammed Abu Khudair was snatched and burned alive, Shaked wrote: “This is not a war against terror, and not a war against extremists, and not even a war against the Palestinian Authority. The reality is that this is a war between two people. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people. Why? Ask them, they started it.”

So even before the boy died horribly she declared him to be the enemy, and afterwards, without any apparent hint of guilt or remorse, she was calling for the deaths of innocent women and their unborn babies. [Continue reading…]


WikiLeaks: Israel told US it would keep Gaza near collapse

Reuters reports:

Israel told U.S. officials in 2008 it would keep Gaza’s economy “on the brink of collapse” while avoiding a humanitarian crisis, according to U.S. diplomatic cables published by a Norwegian daily on Wednesday.

Three cables cited by the Aftenposten newspaper, which has said it has all 250,000 U.S. cables leaked to WikiLeaks, showed that Israel kept the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv briefed on its internationally criticized blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The territory, home to 1.3 million Palestinians, is run by the Islamist Hamas group, which is shunned by the West over its refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence or accept existing interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deals.

“As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to (U.S. embassy economic officers) on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge,” one of the cables read.

Israel wanted the coastal territory’s economy “functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis,” according to the November 3, 2008 cable.


The UN and Red Cross agree: the siege of Gaza is unsustainable — it must end

Although President Obama acknowledges that the situation in Gaza is “unsustainable”, he refuses to draw the obvious conclusion and insist that Israel’s siege must end. But if it can’t continue, it must end, right?

The International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN are happy to adopt Obama’s term (unsustainable) but are less willing to equivocate. Indeed, the Red Cross has gone even further and accuses Israel of breaking international law through its use of collective punishment.

As the ICRC has stressed repeatedly, the dire situation in Gaza cannot be resolved by providing humanitarian aid. The closure imposed on the Gaza Strip is about to enter its fourth year, choking off any real possibility of economic development. Gazans continue to suffer from unemployment, poverty and warfare, while the quality of Gaza’s health care system has reached an all-time low.

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.

“The closure is having a devastating impact on the 1.5 million people living in Gaza”, said Béatrice Mégevand-Roggo, the ICRC’s head of operations for the Middle East. “That is why we are urging Israel to put an end to this closure and call upon all those who have an influence on the situation, including Hamas, to do their utmost to help Gaza’s civilian population. Israel’s right to deal with its legitimate security concerns must be balanced against the Palestinians’ right to live normal, dignified lives.”

The international community has to do its part to ensure that repeated appeals by States and international organizations to lift the closure are finally heeded.

Likewise, the UN is pushing for the blockade not merely to be “eased” or — to use Tony Blair’s language — made “softer” (suggestive of a more compassionate collective punishment?). No, the siege must end.

[T]he UN said Tuesday that an international consensus has emerged demanding that Israel lift the blockade of Gaza Strip and replace it with a “different and more positive strategy.”

“The flotilla crisis is the latest symptom of a failed policy,” said Robert Serry, the UN special envoy for Middle East peace process.

“The situation in Gaza is unsustainable and the current policy is unacceptable and counter-productive, and requires a different, more positive strategy,” Serry said during a UN Security Council session on the Middle East.

The closure and blockade of the Gaza Strip needs to come to an end,” he said. “There is now a welcome international consensus on Gaza.”


Israel ready to soften economic warfare against Gaza

Haaretz reports that Benjamin Netanyahu is looking for global support to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza — economic warfare has suddenly gone out of style. But the new expressions of concern for the well-being of the 1.5 million Palestinians incarcerated in Gaza — let them have snack food and soda — sounds about as humane as Marie Antoinette’s “let the eat cake.”

Israel said on Friday it wants to enlist global support to improve the flow of civilian goods to the blockaded Gaza Strip, while seeing to it that weapons do not reach the Hamas-ruled territory.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under rising pressure to ease Israel’s three-year siege on Gaza since a deadly raid on a Turkish-backed aid ship destined for the enclave last month, held talks on the issue with Middle East envoy Tony Blair.

“The aim of the meeting was to recruit international support behind the principle that weapons and military supportive material will not reach Gaza or Hamas, while humanitarian and civilian goods may reach the area and its residents via additional means,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

Israel further eased restrictions on goods to Gaza this week by announcing it would permit additional food items such as snack foods and carbonated beverages to be imported via Israeli-controlled crossings, starting next week.


Israel’s security cannot come at any price

Ben Saul, who teaches the law of armed conflict at The University of Sydney, writes:

Israel’s response to the Gaza flotilla is another unfortunate example of Israel clothing its conduct in the language of international law while flouting it in practice. If you believe Israeli government spokesmen, Israel is metabolically incapable of violating international law, placing it alongside Saddam Hussein’s Information Minister in self-awareness.

Israel claims that paragraph 67(a) of the San Remo Manual on Armed Conflicts at Sea justified the Israeli operation against the flotilla. (The San Remo Manual is an authoritative statement of international law applicable to armed conflicts at sea.)

Paragraph 67(a) only permits attacks on the merchant vessels of neutral countries where they “are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search or capture”.

Israel argues that it gave due warnings, which were not heeded.

What Israel conveniently omits to mention is that the San Remo Manual also contains rules governing the lawfulness of the blockade itself, and there can be no authority under international law to enforce a blockade which is unlawful. Paragraph 102 of the Manual prohibits a blockade if “the damage to the civilian population is, or may be expected to be, excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the blockade”.


EU calls for immediate end to Israel’s siege on Gaza

(Click the image above to watch livestream video from the Freedom Flotilla.)

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Friday called for an immediate end to Israel’s Gaza blockade, as an aid flotilla prepared to set sail for the enclave despite the embargo.

“The continued policy of closure is unacceptable and politically counterproductive,” she said in a statement.

“We would like to reiterate the EU’s call for an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza.”

In spite of this appeal, the government of Cyprus has taken the extraordinary step of preventing members of the European parliament from joining the Freedom Flotilla.

Cypriot authorities prevented pro-Palestinian activists, including 30 MPs from nine European countries, from leaving the island yesterday to join a flotilla in international waters, which is on its way to blockaded Gaza.

In addition to issuing an edict banning ships headed for Gaza to set sail from the island’s ports, or dock on the island on their way back, the authorities yesterday forbade any small vessels from leaving Cyprus in case they were on their way to the flotilla of eight ships carrying around 700 peace activists, and 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid.

The government denied it bowed to pressure from Israel to put the ban in place.

The European Union guarantees the right of freedom of movement of its citizens within the territory of its member states. Cyprus has been a member of the EU since 2004.

A Tweet @freegazaorg said at about 11AM Eastern:

Twenty have left from Famaghusta, Northern Cyprus, four German MPs, one Swedish MP, all the passengers from Challenger 1. Hedy [Epstein] not going.

Meanwhile, Haaretz reports:

The Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh said Saturday that if Israel behaved like pirates and attacked the international Freedom Flotilla carrying 10,000 tons of aid meant for Gaza, then the Palestinians will have won.

“The flotilla’s message is clear and it will reach the entire world,” Haniyeh said Saturday morning during a press conference held at the Gaza port where the ships were expected to dock.

“The meaning of the flotilla is that the entire world opposes the siege on the Gaza Strip, and if Israel behaves like pirates and sea-terrorists – we will win,” he added.


Obama’s Middle East mess

Obama’s Middle East mess

As Abbas falls, have no doubt that he got pushed by an inept administration that similarly gets weak-kneed whenever it feels pressure from either the Israel lobby or the Israeli government.

Yesterday, State Department spokesman, Ian Kelly, was asked: “What role specifically did the United States play in pressuring the Palestinian Authority to make that decision [to shelve the Goldstone report]?

Kelly, squirming like an eel, responded:

Well, I don’t know if I would accept your characterization of pressuring. I think that we recognized that we had serious concerns with the recommendations and some of the allegations. We felt very strongly that while these investigations should be investigated and addressed, that we thought on the one hand that Israel had the kind of institutions that could address these allegations. And of course, we urged Israel to address these very serious allegations.

But I think we had a broader concern that we didn’t want the report to distract us from our ultimate goal, which was to address the root causes of the tragic events of last January, and that’s the lack of a regional and lasting peace between the two parties – between the Israelis and the Palestinians. So we were concerned that we stay focused on that ultimate goal.

And we are not saying that the allegations in the report – we’re not saying that they should be ignored. We simply do not want the report itself to become any kind of impediment to this ultimate goal. We appreciate the seriousness with which the Palestinians approach this very, very difficult issue, and we respect this decision to defer discussion of the report to a later date for the reasons that I just stated – that we want to make sure that we stay focused on the ultimate goal here.

(Goldstone discussion begins at 6 minutes 55 seconds.)

What kind of tortured logic is this? On the one hand war crimes committed in Gaza are somehow extraneous to an understanding of the root causes of the conflict, yet the root cause of the conflict is conflict itself?

The administration needs to make up its mind: Either this conflict is all about violence, in which case Israeli violence can’t be ruled out of the equation. Or, the violence is merely symptomatic of underlying political injustices and a natural outcome of addressing those injustices will be a long sought peace. Take your pick.

Of course, the true sentiment that few American officials are crass enough to utter, yet apparently everyone believes, is that when Israelis kill hundreds of Palestinians they really don’t intend to kill any (“we shoot and we cry”), yet when Palestinians kill a dozen Israelis they merely fall short of accomplishing their genocidal intentions.

* * *

After taking stabs at solving the Middle East conflict, engaging Iran, bringing about global nuclear disarmament, healing the rift between Muslims and the West, shoring up the global financial system, tackling climate change and reforming America’s health care system, there are strong indications that Obama came into office intoxicated by his image as a world savior.

Even so, his cool created the impression that he might actually be impervious to the influence of adulation, but even though some of us thought he had risen above the massive projections that were being imposed on him, the evidence is that to some extent he got sucked into the myth that had been created around him.

To see Obama now as either a tragic figure or as the victim of circumstances essentially absolves him of responsibility for his own actions.

I don’t think it’s premature to be conducting an autopsy on Obama’s Middle East initiative and the first question to ask is this: Did he manage to cross the most minimal threshold for a defensible approach? That is, can he claim at least to have done no harm?

Unfortunately, the harm appears grossly evident and it hinges on his choice to raise expectations across the region and then allow those expectations to founder. Expectations dashed are much more destructive than expectations never formed. (George Bush never disappointed anyone because no one took his promises seriously. In office and life he mastered the art of setting a low bar.)

So, could Obama have entered the situation differently and put himself in a better position to at least live up to the Hippocratic oath (which, incidentally, all politicians should be forced to take)?

He could have acknowledged that he had on his plate more than any human president could address (“sorry folks, I’m not the Messiah”) and he could in his first days in office have said something like this:

“The Middle East conflict is a wound to which no easy remedy can be applied. I do not come into office claiming to have any greater powers than all of my predecessors who struggled with limited success to deal with this issue.

“I do know this, however: setting aside the many intractable political issues, there is right now a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We haven’t had time to assess the scope of this crisis but having appointed George Mitchell as my Middle East peace envoy, I’ve asked him to put the crisis in Gaza at the top of his agenda. In the next few days he will be visiting the area to assess which needs must most urgently addressed.”

At that point, the Israel Lobby’s wheels would have started spinning frantically. But how do you conduct a campaign focused on preventing Mitchell going to Gaza and addressing a humanitarian crisis?

No doubt, phones in the White House and the State Department would have been ringing off the hook as Abe Foxman and other Jewish community leaders and Israeli officials objected, saying that such a move would not be “helpful”. But seriously, how do you conduct a public campaign whose direct aim is to prevent help reaching tens of thousands of people whose homes had been flattened?

What happened in reality? Obama and Mitchell made the choice of staying out of Gaza. Neither of them had a gun pointed at his head.

Obama had the opportunity to craft a policy that grew modestly and organically from the facts on the ground. A combination of fear, arrogance and perhaps lack of political imagination, led him to pass up that opportunity.


Abbas may reverse Goldstone report stance

Abbas may reverse Goldstone report stance

Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas was on Tuesday “seriously studying” the possibility of asking that a UN Gaza war report be passed on to the Security Council, a senior official said.

“President Abbas is seriously studying the possibility of asking the Arab and Islamic bloc to officially take the Goldstone report to international bodies, including the UN General Assembly and the Security Council,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said in a phone call from Amman.

The move appeared to mark a change in position, as the Palestinian delegation on Friday backed a move at the UN Human Rights Council to defer a vote on whether the report should be passed on. [continued…]

Israel vs. human rights

In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vigorously took up the country’s latest strategy for responding to allegations of human rights abuses: kill the messenger. He denounced a recent report by the UN’s Human Rights Council that had accused Israel of possible crimes against humanity during its assault on Gaza last winter, calling it a “travesty,” a “farce” and a “perversion.” The Hamas terrorists Israel was up against had committed acts akin in history only to the Nazi blitz of British civilians during World War II, Netanyahu asserted. Indeed, in denying a nation’s right to resist attack, the report sought to undermine Israel’s “legitimacy.”

The head of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, Judge Richard Goldstone, was “upset” by the speech. “It is disingenuous, to put it lightly, what Netanyahu said,” he told The Nation. “The idea that this is aimed at delegitimating the state of Israel–that is the last thing I would want to do.” Goldstone, a Jew and a Zionist, said that Israel’s leaders were behaving contemptuously, “ignoring the specific allegations and simply launching a broadside.” [continued…]

Thousands call on Turkey to protect Al-Aqsa mosque from Israel

Turkish civil society organizations and thousands of people on Monday protested Israeli invasion of Al-Aqsa Mosque and other Jewish provocations in Taksim Square, calling on Turkey to act against the destruction policy.

Started at 17 pm, people from different disticts of Istanbul attended the protest, as well as people from different cities.

Gathered in Taksim Square walked through Galatasaray High School on Istiklal Street, protesters shouted slogans in solidarity with Palestinians to condemn Israeli actions.

The group then burned the Israeli flags. [continued…]