Sanders: ‘You can’t just be concerned about Israel’s needs. You have to be concerned about the needs of all of the people of the region.’

Think Progress reports: Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke out on Sunday against Israel’s military response during the 2014 war with Gaza, calling the country’s actions “disproportionate.”

Sanders, who is the first Jewish candidate in U.S. history to win a major presidential primary, discussed the seven-week armed conflict between Israeli and Gazan forces during a taped interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“Was Israel’s response disproportionate? I think it was,” Sanders said. The 2014 conflict, which was sparked after Hamas forces in Gaza launched rockets into southern Israel, resulted in the deaths of more than 2,130 Palestinians — 70 percent of whom were civilians, according to the United Nations. Israel, which lost 65 soldiers and 3 civilians in the fighting, claims only 50 percent of Palestinians killed were civilians. [Continue reading…]


The ‘forensic architects’ investigating Gaza


‘Empty words’: Donors fail to deliver pledged Gaza aid

Al Jazeera: Just a quarter of the $3.5bn in aid pledged to rebuild Gaza in the wake of last summer’s devastating war has been delivered, according to a new report.

The report from the Association of International Development Agencies, released on Monday, found that only 26.8 percent ($945m) of the money pledged by donors at the Cairo conference six months ago has been released, and reconstruction and recovery have barely started in the besieged coastal enclave.

“The promising speeches at the donor conference have turned into empty words,” said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam, which was among the report’s signatories.

“There has been little rebuilding, no permanent ceasefire agreement and no plan to end the blockade. The international community is walking with eyes wide open into the next avoidable conflict, by upholding the status quo they themselves said must change.”


Blogging for old media

News this week that eBay founder Pierre Morad Omidyar is ready to invest $250 million in a new media venture, should have come as unsettling news to staff at the Washington Post.

Jay Rosen says Omidyar “was one of the people approached by the Washington Post Company about buying the Post,” and since Amazon’s Jeffrey Bezos paid $250 million for the Post, it doesn’t sound like he outbid Omidyar. On the contrary, it sounds more like Omidyar felt like if he was going to spend that amount of money, it would be better spent creating a new organization than taking over an old institution.

Technology journalist David Kirkpatrick, describes the Post’s buyer like this: “Bezos is like a trickster. He’s like a very calculating, secretive genius.” Chances are, he views his purchase as a technologist and entrepreneur would: the acquisition of a platform and a strong brand. The bits inside that structure — traditionally known as journalists — must all be aware that they are each expendable.

So what’s a lowly blogger inside the newspaper going to do when afraid that he might seen get trimmed off like a piece of fat? Take new risks and try and stand out? Or curry favor inside the organization by flattering his superiors?

There is a social and journalistic taboo around speculating about motives. After all, since motives are inherently private, such speculation can easily be refuted — even if it happens to be accurate. Still, assessing motives is something that human beings do all the time, even if discretion usually dictates that those assessments, like the motives themselves, also remain concealed. Once in a while, though, it’s worth breaking the taboo.

On Wednesday, the Post’s associate editor and columnist, David Ignatius, revealed this:

The Turkish-Israeli relationship became so poisonous early last year that the Turkish government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is said to have disclosed to Iranian intelligence the identities of up to 10 Iranians who had been meeting inside Turkey with their Mossad case officers.

Opinion writers like Ignatius revel in their occasional ability to break news, since it underlines their privileged access to high-level sources. At the same time, they have a habit of making themselves a mouthpiece for such sources. Ignatius, for instance, has been branded as “the CIA’s spokesman at The Washington Post.”

On Thursday, Max Fisher, the Post’s foreign affairs blogger, took the opportunity to give Ignatius’s column an extra boost and suggested that it might have helped resolve an enduring mystery: why it had taken the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, almost three years to apologize to Turkey for the deadly attack on the Mavi Marmara in 2010.

That refusal to apologize is now “much more understandable” — at least in Fisher’s mind — now that (thanks to Ignatius) we know about Turkey’s “effort to slap the Israelis” by outing their Iranian intelligence assets.

Under the headline, “Now we know why Netanyahu wouldn’t apologize for the Gaza flotilla raid,” Fisher is nevertheless forced to concede that this “explanation” explains virtually nothing: “This does not explain, of course, why Netanyahu wouldn’t have apologized between the initial 2010 raid and this reported 2012 spy outing.”

Indeed. On the other hand, Netanyahu’s unwillingness to apologize may in fact answer what Fisher regards as a remaining mystery: “Why did the Turkish government out these Israeli spies?” Urrmmm… how about because the Israelis wouldn’t apologize for killing nine Turkish citizens. (Note, Turkey now denies the outing ever occurred and says Ignatius’s story is a smear campaign.)

Now if Fisher really wanted to dig into the bad blood between Turkey and Israel, he might want to make a less complimentary reference to Ignatius and look back at the 2009 row at Davos which the columnist seriously mishandled.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan took exception to a thundering address delivered by Israeli president Shimon Peres who claimed that the IDF’s conduct, while slaughtering hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza, was above reproach. Ignatius tried to hush Erdogan by insisting that everyone would rather get to dinner, after which the Turkish prime minister famously stormed off the stage.

Fisher wants to point out that “many developments in international relations happen in secret,” as indeed they do, and that only later are some of these mysteries unraveled by sage-like columnists.

But in this case, the columnist was no sage and the most important developments were highly visible.


Video: The cost of Israel’s war on Gaza


Just war moral philosophy and the 2008–09 Israeli campaign in Gaza

In a 37-page article for the journal International Security, Jerome Slater writes: Scholars and policymakers regard the Israeli-Palestinian conºict as one of the most serious and intractable conflicts in today’s world. In particular, there continues to be fierce controversy over the most recent large-scale Israeli military action in that conflict: the three-week attack on Gaza that began on December 27, 2008. Operation Cast Lead, as Israelis call the attack, was justified by Israel and its supporters as a legitimate use of force in self-defense, the purpose of which was to end Hamas’s terrorist attacks on Israel’s civilian population. Even critics of Cast Lead have mostly accepted this argument—despite condemning Israel’s methods and, especially, its indiscriminate attacks on Gaza’s civilian infrastructure and sometimes direct attacks on noncombatants. In particular, most of the leading investigations of Cast Lead, including those by the Goldstone Commission, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and B’Tselem (Israel’s leading human rights organization) did not seek to refute the self-defense argument, even as they concluded that Israel had been guilty of war crimes because of the manner in which it conducted the attack on Gaza.

The argument of this article, however, is not only that the Israeli methods were morally (and, in most cases, legally) wrong,1 but that the very purpose of Cast Lead cannot be justified as one of self-defense. Rather, I argue that Cast Lead was a moral catastrophe, a wholesale violation of the just war philosophy that has guided Western thought on war and morality for more than 2,000 years. In addition, with regard to the history of Israeli military strategies, Cast
Lead was hardly unprecedented, because it must be understood in the context of Israel’s “iron wall” strategy, which from the outset has included deliberate attacks on civilians or their economy, institutions, and infrastructures. [Continue reading…]


Gaza massacre: IDF investigates itself — discovers it’s innocent

Haaretz reports: Israel’s military prosecution announced Tuesday that no legal steps will be taken against those responsible for the killing of 21 members of the Samouni family during the 2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

A letter was received by the human rights group B’Tselem from Major Dorit Tuval, Deputy Military Advocate for Operational Matters. Tuval said that the case has been closed after the investigation has found that the attack on the civilians, “who did not take part in the fighting,” and their killing were not done knowingly and directly, or out of haste and negligence “in a manner that would indicate criminal responsibility.”

B’Tselem activists condemned the decision and called for an alternative investigatory body to probe such incidents.

On the morning of January 4, Givati commanders ordered the dozens of members of the extended Samouni family to leave the three-story house (the home of Talal Samouni), which they then turned into their outpost. The soldiers told them to gather in the one-story home of Wail Samouni, on the other side of the road and about 30 meters southeast. The Samounis took the fact that the soldiers themselves concentrated the family in one building, and saw that there were infants, children, women, elderly people and unarmed men, as insurance that they would not be harmed.

Despite the intense firing heard all around them that entire evening, the family’s fears were mitigated by the proximity of the soldiers who had assembled them into the one home. Several of the Samouni men even left the house on Monday morning (January 5) to collect wood for a fire, hoping to bake pita and heat up tea.

They also called out to a relative who had remained in his home, a few meters east of them, and suggested he join them because their house was safe.

In conversations with Haaretz, the Samouni men explained how they felt safe due to the proximity of the IDF soldiers and due to the fact that the soldiers who gathered them in the house saw that they are all civilians.

According to testimonies given to Haaretz and Breaking the Silence by soldiers who took part in the attack, then-Givati Brigade commander Col. Ilan Malka concluded from UAV images of the house that armed Palestinians were inside.

He then ordered an aerial strike on the house, killing one person on the spot. When the casualties went back inside the house, another missile was shot on the house and 20 more people were killed, including three babies and six children between the ages of 5 to 16. Some 40 people were wounded.

Some of the casualties were trapped in the destroyed house, among the bodies, for three days, until the IDF allowed rescue services to arrive at the house and evacuate the bodies.

Attorney Yael Stein of B’Tselem said in response, “It cannot be that in a well-managed system no person will be found guilty of the army operation that led to the killing of 21 people who were not involved in combat, and resided in a structure on the instructions of the army – even if the attack was not done purposefully,” she said.

“The manner in which the army rids itself of responsibility in this case… again illustrates the need for an investigatory body outside of the army.”


Video: Humanitarian crisis continues in Gaza


Fears over justice for Gaza victims

A “dangerous” statement by the office of International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor that it cannot consider allegations of crimes committed during the 2008-9 Gaza conflict means Palestinian and Israeli victims seem likely to be denied justice, Amnesty International said.

The Office of the Prosecutor today said that it cannot consider allegations of crimes committed during the conflict unless the relevant UN bodies or ICC states parties determine that the Palestinian Authority is a state.

“This dangerous decision opens the ICC to accusations of political bias and is inconsistent with the independence of the ICC. It also breaches the Rome Statute which clearly states that such matters should be considered by the institution’s judges,” said Marek Marczyński, Head of Amnesty International’s International Justice campaign.

“For the past three years, the prosecutor has been considering the question of whether the Palestinian Authority is a “state” that comes under the jurisdiction of the ICC and whether the ICC can investigate crimes committed during the 2008-9 conflict in Gaza and southern Israel.”

“Now, despite Amnesty International’s calls and a very clear requirement in the ICC’s statute that the judges should decide on such matters, the Prosecutor has erroneously dodged the question, passing it to other political bodies.”

“Amnesty International once again calls on the Prosecutor to follow the procedures established by the Rome Statute by passing the matter to the judges, rather than frustrating efforts to bring justice to Palestinian and Israeli victims of the Gaza conflict.”


One family in Gaza

Jen Marlowe writes: Just months after the Israeli assault that killed 1,390 Palestinians, I visited Gaza. Among dozens of painful stories I heard, one family stood out. I spent several days with Kamal and Wafaa Awajah, playing with their children, sleeping in the tent they were living in, and filming their story.

Wafaa described the execution of their son, Ibrahim. As she spoke, her children played on the rubble of their destroyed home. Kamal talked about struggling to help his kids heal from trauma.

What compelled me to tell the Awajah family’s story? I was moved not only by their tragedy but by the love for their children in Wafaa and Kamal’s every word.

Palestinians in Gaza are depicted either as violent terrorists or as helpless victims. The Awajah family challenges both portrayals. Through one family’s story, the larger tragedy of Gaza is exposed, and the courage and resilience of its people shines through.


The voice of democracy frightens Israel

The creation of a Jewish state, right from the moment of its conception, was never compatible with the development of democracy.

Democracy rests on the recognition of the political rights and power of dēmos, the people, and in as much as it allows for any kind of discrimination it does so by empowering the under-privileged. The idea that there could be such as thing as a Jewish democracy which helps preserve the Jewish character of the state at the expense of the interests of non-Jewish minorities is an insult to the idea of democracy.

Even so, since this is a contradiction that doesn’t seem to trouble most Jewish Israelis the most immediate democratic threat to Israel does not come from inside its borders — it comes from Egypt.

A year ago, if in response to an attack emanating from inside Egypt’s borders Israel had “retaliated” by launching attacks on Gaza, it would have been confident that it’s military action would have received a fairly muted response from the Mubarak regime. Demonstrations on the streets of Cairo would have done little to damage Egypt’s cordial relations with Israel.

Now everything has changed. Thus on Monday, even while rockets were still be fired at Israel from Gaza the Netanyahu cabinet voted to refrain from any action that could lead to an all-out war against Hamas. Gone is some of the hubris that fueled Israel’s 2009 war on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead.

Why? Israel can no longer be guided by its confidence that it can punish the population of Gaza with total impunity. Now its calculus must take into consideration the mood of 80 million Egyptians who can do much more than just shout on the streets — they can influence the policies of their own government. That power is still muted by military rule, but everything Israel does to alienate Egypt now has much greater potential to define and sour future Israeli-Egyptian relations.

After the Eilat attacks last week, Israel was swift to launch what Netanyahu described as retaliatory air strikes against the leaders of the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza, even though the Israeli Defense Forces’ spokesperson later denied that the IDF believes the PRC was responsible.

One way of interpreting Israel’s strikes on Gaza is to see them as opportunistic and providing a timely distraction from Israel’s own protest movement.

At the same time, Netanyahu’s choice to hit Gaza may have had as much to do with Israel’s wariness about challenging Egypt.

One of the assumptions enshrined in the Camp David Accords was that the demilitarization of Sinai was in Israel’s security interests, but that is no longer the case. Since the fall of Mubarak, militants in the peninsula have taken advantage of the security vacuum, launching multiple rocket attacks, and now, evidence suggests, attacking Israelis outside Eilat.

Before he then pointed the finger at Gaza, Israeli minister of defense Ehud Barak last week acknowledged: “The attacks demonstrate the weakening of Egypt’s control over the Sinai peninsula and the expansion of terrorist activity there.”

Even so, Israel’s political leaders share the same fear of acts of terrorism that politicians do everywhere — that such acts risk making the state look impotent. To have responded to the attacks by saying that Israel would engage in intense diplomatic dialogue with Egypt in order to improve security would not have been enough, yet neither could Israel afford to disregard Egyptian sovereignty by pursuing militants across the border.

The only muscle-flexing alternative was to strike Gaza. But even with its show of force, Israel now feels constrained.

What emerged most clearly from Netanyahu’s and Barak’s statements to the cabinet was that Israel lacks the international legitimacy needed for a large-scale operation in Gaza. The diplomatic crisis with Egypt [following the deaths of three Egyptian policemen killed by Israelis during the Eilat attacks] further constrains Israel’s freedom of action.

“The prime minister thinks it would be wrong to race into a total war in Gaza right now,” one of Netanyahu’s advisors said. “We are preparing to respond if the fire continues, but Israel will not be dragged into places it doesn’t want to be.”

Several Netanyahu aides detailed the constraints on Israeli military action, most of which are diplomatic.

“There’s a sensitive situation in the Middle East, which is one big boiling pot; there’s the international arena; there’s the Palestinian move in the Untied Nations in September,” when the Palestinians hope to obtain UN recognition as a state, one advisor enumerated. “We have to pick our way carefully.”

For Israel, the regional expansion of democracy is clearly problematic. No longer can it take comfort in the deals it once made with a small handful of autocratic allies. Arab populations whose views could all too easily be ignored in the past, now have new power to make themselves heard and the voice of democracy frightens Israel.


The magical realism of body counts

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes:

A gypsy named Melquiades who died many years ago in Singapore returned to live with the family of Colonel Aureliano Buendia in Macondo, because he could no longer bear the tedium of death. These are the kinds of characters that populate Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magnificent work One Hundred Years of Solitude. Today they also seem to occupy the tribal badlands of Pakistan’s north-western frontier.

On June 3, when Ilyas Kashmiri was killed in a US drone strike, he had already been dead for over a year. In September 2009, the CIA claimed that it killed Kashmiri along with two other senior Taliban leaders in North Waziristan. But the lure of the limelight was seemingly irresistible even in death, because on October 9, Kashmiri returned to give an interview to the late Syed Saleem Shahzad of Asia Times Online.

Baitullah Mehsud, the former commander of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also rose from the dead many times. On at least 16 occasions, Mehsud was in the gun-sights when CIA drones loosed their Hellfire missiles. Yet, until August 2009, he proved unable to settle into the afterlife. Mullah Sangeen also experienced at least two resurrections.

Death is clearly not what it used to be.

Or perhaps the people who were killed in the other attacks were not Kashmiri, Sangeen or Mehsud. Indeed, the attack on a funeral procession on June 23, 2009, which killed Sangeen was supposedly aimed at the TTP chief. It killed 83 people who certainly were not who they were supposed to be.

These are not isolated events. At the end of 2009, the Pakistani daily Dawn calculated that, of the 708 people killed in 44 drone attacks that year, only 5 were known militants. Earlier that year, The News, Pakistan’s other major English-language daily, had calculated that between January 14, 2006, and April 8, 2009, 60 drone attacks killed 701 people – of whom only 14 were known militants.

The US has come a long way since July 2001 when it rebuked the Israeli government for its policy of “targeted assassination”, which it said were really “extrajudicial killings”. In September of that year, CIA director George Tenet confessed that it would be a “terrible mistake” for someone in his position to fire a weapon such as the predator drone. By 2009, such qualms were obsolete. Indeed, the new CIA director Leon Panetta declared predator drones “the only game in town”. The catalyst was 9/11 – and lifting the ban on extrajudicial killings was just one of the many illegal policies it licensed.