Robert Fisk: A different venue, but the pious claims and promises are the same

Published: 29 November 2007


Haven’t we been here before? Isn’t Annapolis just a repeat of the White House lawn and the Oslo agreement, a series of pious claims and promises in which two weak men, Messrs Abbas and Olmert, even use the same words of Oslo.

“It is time for the cycle of blood, violence and occupation to end,” the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Tuesday. But don’t I remember Yitzhak Rabin saying on the White House lawn that, “it is time for the cycle of blood… to end”?

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Appeal for Lebanon refugee rights

Rights group Amnesty International has condemned Lebanon for what it describes as discrimination against generations of Palestinian refugees in the country. Some 300,000 refugees are denied access to work, education, adequate housing and health care, the report says.

It calls on the government to improve conditions in 12 overcrowded camps that have housed refugees since their flight from what is now Israel in 1948-49.

But the “significant cost” that Lebanon has borne is also acknowledged.

The report says more than half registered refugees live in deteriorating camps lacking basic infrastructure on virtually the same land allocated in 1948, despite a fourfold increase in the registered refugee population.

The pain associated with expulsion and decades living in exile is aggravated by the systematic discrimination they suffer in Lebanon

Amnesty International

Obstacles to peace: Refugees

Pictures: Palestinian camp

In some households, as many as 10 people share one room, and homes are often makeshift huts lacking either ventilation or sanitation.

“The pain associated with their expulsion and the decades of living in exile is being aggravated by the systematic discrimination they suffer in Lebanon,” the report says.

Amnesty carried out research in official and unofficial camps across Lebanon, including Nahr al-Bared camp before residents were forced out by fighting between the Lebanese army and a group of mainly-foreign militants.

Banned professions

The 24-page Amnesty report examines restrictions affecting hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, 60 years after they or their forebears fled the former Palestine.

Entitled Exiled and Suffering: Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, it calls curbs imposed by Lebanon to protect itself from the influx of Palestinians “wholly unjustified” and says they should be lifted at once.

Palestinian children showing Lebanese refugee identity cards

Refugees are denied rights and opportunities afforded to Lebanese

Until recently Lebanon banned Palestinian refugees from employment in 70 professions.

The proscribed list now stands at 20 professions, but the report says the refugees still face obstacles in the job market, leading to high drop-out rates in schools.

A higher proportion of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon live in abject poverty than any other Palestinian refugee community, a situation exacerbated by restrictions on their access to social services, the report says.

“We recognise that the Lebanese authorities and people have accommodated hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees for almost six decades and the significant cost – economically and in other ways – this has imposed on Lebanon,” Amnesty says.

It adds that additional responsibility lies with Israel and the international community to find a durable solution for the plight of Palestinian refugees “that fully protects their human rights including their right of return”.

However, the report says, the Lebanese government has the obligation to immediately end all forms of discrimination against Palestinian refugees and fully respect their human rights.

The Lebanese government has not responded to Amnesty’s recommendations.

BBC News

UK Government report on Lebanon War




“We conclude that the Government’s decision not to call for a mutual and immediate cessation of hostilities early on in the Lebanon war has done significant damage to the UK’s reputation in much of the world. As the Minister [Kim Howells] admitted to us, the option of a dual track diplomatic strategy could have succeeded. We believe that such an approach could have led to reduced casualties amongst both Israeli and Lebanese civilians whilst still working towards a long-term solution to the crisis.”

These words are taken from a report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) published on 25 July 2007 (1). The report, entitled Global Security: The Middle East, is surprisingly critical of recent British foreign policy towards the region, especially with regard to Lebanon but also Palestine. It is also very critical of Israel.

Its criticism of the Government’s failure to call for an immediate ceasefire at the start of Israel’s war on Lebanon is quoted above. It is also critical of the Government’s support for the continued collective punishment of Palestinians by the EU after the formation of the Hamas/Fatah National Unity Government in March 2007. More fundamentally, it recognises that Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine are part of the political fabric and are not going to go away. It recommends that the Government talk to both – which is a radical departure from the Committee’s previous stance.

All-party committee

The FAC is a 14-member all-party committee (8 Labour including its chairman, Mike Gapes, 4 Conservative and 2 Liberal Democrat). In all probability, therefore, the views expressed in this report would be acceptable to the House of Commons as a whole.

The FAC is supposed to scrutinise the Government’s actions in foreign affairs. I have read many of its reports in recent years and none of them would have given the Government any reason for anxiety. This was especially true of its report on The Decision to go to War in Iraq (2), which in July 2003 performed the impossible feat of exonerating the Government for misleading Parliament on the intelligence about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”, even though the Government denied it access to the intelligence about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”. (See my subsequent evidence to the Committee (3) & (4)).

But this FAC report is a different kettle of fish. For the first time in my experience, the FAC has been seriously critical of important foreign policy decisions. And in the course of doing so, the Committee made Kim Howells, the Foreign Office Minister responsible for the Middle East, look very foolish. (Howells was appointed to this post by Blair after the 2005 General Election and was retained by Brown when he succeeded Blair in June 2007).

Of course, the Committee was not reporting on the foreign policy actions of the present Brown government but of the previous Blair government. Criticising a past government, which cannot exact revenge, is easier than criticising the current one. It’s possible that Brown let it be known that criticism of his predecessor’s actions in foreign affairs would not be unwelcome. It may be that he and his new ministerial team in the Foreign Office have a mind to shift ground on the Middle East – if so, being advised to do so by the all-party FAC would be an advantage. The Government is constitutionally obliged to give a formal response to Select Committee reports and reply to questions posed by the Committee. The Government’s response to this report will be worth studying.

In the following, I will examine the FAC’s criticism of foreign policy towards Lebanon and Palestine.

Part I Lebanon

Paragraphs 84 to 120 of the FAC report are concerned with policy towards Lebanon.

“It is tragic that so many innocent lives, Lebanese and Israeli, have been lost over the past weeks. … The hostilities on both sides should cease immediately …” (5)

Those were Prime Minister Blair’s words on 12 August 2006 in a statement after the Security Council passed resolution 1701. He had waited a month to make this call, a month in which “many innocent lives” were lost.

The Foreign Affairs Committee interrogated Kim Howells about this delay on 13 September 2006. Chairman, Mike Gapes, asked him if he still believed “the Government was right not to call for an immediate ceasefire” (6). He replied:

“Yes, I do, Chairman. I was out there in the middle of the conflict and I saw for myself the appalling consequences both of the bombing of Lebanon and the rockets that were being fired into northern Israel. It was very distressing and there were a lot of people, in my view, being killed needlessly and a lot of infrastructure being damaged.”

which, one might have thought, made an irresistible case for the Government calling for an immediate ceasefire. Nevertheless, Howells continued:

“However, I also saw very clearly that the only way that this could be stopped was by a UN resolution, and there had to be some real teeth behind any ceasefire that would occur. I believe that was the right decision. … What we needed was a permanent ceasefire.”

One doesn’t need to be a genius to recognise that it was possible to call for an immediate ceasefire and, at the same time, work for permanent arrangements. This point was put to Howells by Conservative MP, Sir John Stanley:

“Minister, in answer to the Chairman’s initial question you seemed to be taking the view that the calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities and, at the same time, working for a satisfactory UN resolution were two mutually incompatible policies. Surely, a very much better foreign policy position for the British Government would have been to combine the two; to say that we were wanting an immediate cessation of hostilities and, at the same time, working for an effective UN resolution. Has there not been a foreign policy misjudgement in that by not calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities the British Government gave the clear impression that it was actively supporting the Israeli operations against the whole of Lebanon?”

Howells replied categorically:

“I do not agree with you, Sir John, about the possibility for a dual track diplomatic progress at that time.”

However, pressed shortly afterwards by Labour MP, Ken Purchase, who asked:

“A short period of ceasefire, you say, may just have resulted in people rearming. Could I say that in even a day of a ceasefire hundreds of lives would have been saved?”

Howells “appeared to change his mind” (in the words of the FAC report) and said:

“I am not saying … that a dual approach might not have worked. I am not saying that and I am not dismissing that at all. Maybe it would have worked.”

The FAC sets out Howells’ contradictory positions in paragraph 97. I don’t recall the Committee doing such a hatchet job on a Foreign Office minister before.

Bolton tells it as it was

Worse was to follow. In paragraph 100, the FAC says:

“At the time of the conflict, many believed the United States was obstructing calls for an immediate ceasefire to give Israel a chance to defeat overwhelmingly Hezbollah’s militia.”

The FAC then quoted the words of John Bolton, the US Ambassador to the UN in July 2006, in an interview with Ed Stourton in a BBC Radio 4 programme broadcast on 22 March 2007. Stourton asked him if the US had been “deliberately obstructing diplomatic attempts” to bring an end to the war so that “Israel could have its head.” Mr Bolton asked “what’s wrong with that?” and added that he was “damn proud of what we did”. (For details of this revealing conversation, see the BBC press statement about the programme (7)).

The FAC wrote to Kim Howells to ask him about John Bolton’s comments. In his reply, Howells stated (see report, Ev 126):

“The UK was certainly not involved in collusion with either the US or Israel to support the continuation of hostilities or to block a ceasefire. Whilst I cannot speak for the US position [on] this matter, I do not believe they acted differently.”

The FAC commented (paragraph 101):

“There are three possible explanations for this discrepancy. The first is that Mr Bolton misled the BBC journalist by suggesting that the US blocked diplomacy at the UN because it wanted to give Israel the opportunity to destroy Hezbollah when in fact this was not the case. The second is that the US did indeed block attempts to find a quick diplomatic solution to bring about a ceasefire, but that the UK, even though it is a permanent member of the Security Council and a close ally of the US, was not brought into or made aware of this collusion with Israel. The third alternative … is that the UK was in fact brought into, or at least aware of, the efforts to obstruct the diplomatic process. Based on the evidence provided to the Committee, we are unable to rule any of these possibilities out.”

In addition, the FAC asked (paragraph 102) that in its response to the report the Government

“clarify on what date the first draft resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire or cessation of hostilities was presented to members of the Security Council, and what the Government’s response to this draft was.”

Government responses to select committee reports are not known for providing straight answers, but it is difficult to see how the Government can avoid giving straight answers in this case.

(The Security Council had a formal meeting on 14 July 2006 two days after hostilities began and at that meeting a number of states, including France, called for an immediate ceasefire. The French Ambassador to the UN, Jean-Marc De La Sablière, said:

“France, as solemnly stated by President Chirac today, calls upon the parties to immediately cease hostilities, which is the only way to give a chance to mediation efforts.” (8)

Whether by then this sentiment had been expressed in a draft resolution that was presented to members of the Council informally is not known.)

The FAC concluded (paragraph 102) that the Government’s decision not to call for an immediate ceasefire was a mistake:

“We conclude that the Government’s decision not to call for a mutual and immediate cessation of hostilities early on in the Lebanon war has done significant damage to the UK’s reputation in much of the world. As the Minister admitted to us, the option of a dual track diplomatic strategy could have succeeded. We believe that such an approach could have led to reduced casualties amongst both Israeli and Lebanese civilians whilst still working towards a long-term solution to the crisis.”

It is difficult to argue against that. And it’s possible that the Brown Government won’t bother to argue, preferring that the decision not to call for a ceasefire be categorized as a Blairite mistake.

(As far as Blair personally is concerned, it was definitely a mistake since it shortened his stay in 10 Downing Street by at least a year. His failure to call for an immediate ceasefire produced a minor revolt in the Parliamentary Labour Party and, to contain it, he had to announce that he would be stepping down within a year to make way for Brown.)

Israeli action disproportionate

Unusually for a report emanating from the House of Commons, the FAC report is very critical of Israel. Whilst nearly every other state in this world (and the Conservative opposition in Britain) was prepared to use the word “disproportionate” to describe aspects of Israeli military action against Lebanon, Britain wasn’t. The FAC is.

Kim Howells was in Lebanon on 22 July 2006 during the war. While he was there, he strongly criticised Israeli actions, saying:

“I very much hope that the Americans understand what’s happening to Lebanon. The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people. These have not been surgical strikes. And it’s very difficult, I think, to understand the kind of military tactics that have been used. You know, if they’re chasing Hezbollah, then go for Hezbollah. You don’t go for the entire Lebanese nation.” (9)

Despite having said this, Howells refused to characterise Israeli actions as “disproportionate” when interviewed by the FAC on 13 September 2006. By contrast, the FAC itself was prepared to apply the word, especially to Israel’s use of cluster bombs. In paragraph 108, the FAC says:

“… we conclude that elements of Israel’s military action in Lebanon were indiscriminate and disproportionate. In particular, the numerous attacks on UN observers and the dropping of over three and a half million cluster bombs (90% of the total) in the 72 hours after the Security Council passed Resolution 1701 were not acceptable.”

And it goes on to ask the Government to “explicitly state whether it believes that, in the light of information now available, Israel’s use of cluster bombs was proportionate”.

(The Committee wrote to the Israeli Ambassador in London, asking (see report, Ev 136):

“What was the intended military purpose of using a large number of cluster munitions in south Lebanon at a late stage of the war last summer?”

In his reply, the Ambassador failed to deal with the issue of timing.)

The FAC report also criticised Israel for its continued violations of Lebanese sovereignty since the war (paragraph 112) and for its refusal to provide the UN with full information about where it dropped cluster bombs (paragraph 112).

Shi’as under-represented

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the FAC report as regards Lebanon is the understanding shown of the Lebanese political system, and the fact that the Shi’a community is under-represented within the system (paragraphs 89 & 90). The report describes accurately the question at issue between the March 14 coalition, which dominates the present Lebanese Government, and the opposition led by Hezbollah, which withdrew its ministers from the Government last November and has since been engaged in a protest in the centre of Beirut (paragraph 91):

“Hezbollah and its allies have been demanding the creation of what is sometimes referred to as a ‘1/3 +1’ Government. Under this system, they would return to Prime Minister Siniora’s Government, but with enough Cabinet seats to be able to veto proposals within Cabinet. This solution has been bitterly opposed by the ‘March 14’ coalition.”

The Committee ignored Kim Howells’ crude characterisation of the opposition protests as “trying to subvert the democratic process” in Lebanon.

On 30 May 2007, the Security Council passed resolution 1757 to set up an international tribunal to try individuals accused of the murder of Rafik Hariri, overriding the internal political processes of Lebanon (see my article The Security Council interferes in Lebanon – again (10)). Remarkably, the Committee questions this “bypassing of Lebanon’s state institutions” suggesting that this “only serves to undermine them and thus increase the potential for civil conflict” (paragraph 115).

In paragraph 94, the FAC concludes that

“the tribunal process has brought to the surface important questions regarding the under-representation of the Shi’a population in Lebanon’s political system”

and recommends that

“the Government work with its international allies to help the Lebanese parties find consensus on a more representative and democratic political system”.

Talk to Hezbollah

In paragraph 120, the report describes Hezbollah as “undeniably an important element in Lebanon’s politics” (albeit with the qualification that “its influence, along with Iran’s and Syria’s, continues to be a malign one”). The FAC continues:

“We further conclude that, as the movement will realistically only be disarmed through a political process, the Government should encourage Hezbollah to play a part in Lebanon’s mainstream politics. We recommend that the Government should engage directly with moderate Hezbollah Parliamentarians.”

This would be a major change in policy for Britain. In making a case for such a change, the Committee reported (paragraph 119):

“On our visit, we asked a range of Lebanese politicians whether the British Government should engage directly with the group. No one, including bitter opponents of Hezbollah, told us that the current Government approach was the correct one.”

The FAC made Kim Howells look foolish on this issue as well – see paragraph 118. There, he is quoted as voicing the following opinion to the Committee about engagement with Hezbollah:

“I am not going to go out of my way to talk to people who are trying to subvert the democratic process so that they can enhance the standing and position of an extremist Islamist organisation that does not value democracy at all.”

Paragraph 118 continues:

“However, this apparently clear-cut position was muddied somewhat when, in the same evidence session, Dr Howells told the Committee he believed he had met someone who was ‘essentially Hezbollah’.”

Part II Palestine

Paragraphs 10 to 83 of the FAC report are concerned with policy towards Palestine.

The last FAC report that examined policy towards Palestine was Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, published in July 2006 (11). In it, the Committee endorsed unequivocally the Government’s refusal to deal directly with Hamas, saying (paragraph 192):

“We recommend that, until Hamas accepts the existence of Israel and commits itself to both a two-state solution and exclusively peaceful means of achieving its goals, the Government should continue to refuse to deal with it directly.”

What is more, the Committee endorsed the Government’s policy of applying collective punishment to Palestinians because a bare majority of them voted for Hamas in January 2006 (paragraph 197):

“We conclude that the Government was right to refuse to channel its aid through a Palestinian administration led by Hamas … .”

A year later, the Committee has changed its stance dramatically. True, it cannot quite bring itself to accept the legitimacy of the Palestinian Governments formed after the Hamas victory in the elections of January 2006, that is, the Government formed by Hamas on its own in March 2006 (because, pressurised by the US, Fatah refused to join with Hamas in a National Unity Government) and the National Unity Government formed in March 2007 after the Mecca Agreement. Both of these were legitimate governments, having been duly endorsed by the Palestinian Legislative Council in accordance with Article 67 of the Palestinian constitution, aka the Basic Law (unlike the present “government” headed by Salam Fayyad, which hasn’t).

However, the Committee has belatedly come to the conclusion that the establishment of a National Unity Government was a good thing, which should have been established earlier (and without US interference would have been established earlier) and should have been supported by Britain. It concludes (paragraph 41) that

“the unwillingness of the EU to modify the financial boycott of the Palestinian Authority following the Mecca agreement was very damaging”

and (paragraph 50) that

“the decision to boycott Hamas despite the Mecca agreement and the continued suspension of aid to the national unity Government meant that this Government was highly likely to collapse”.

To its credit, the FAC does not repeat the lie broadcast in Britain’s name by the Quartet in a statement on 16 June 2007 (12) that the present “government” was duly established “under Palestinian law”.

It recommends (paragraph 60) that

“the Government urge President Abbas to come to a negotiated settlement with Hamas with a view to re-establishing a national unity Government across the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

And, in a radical departure from its previous stance, it recommends that the Government talk to Hamas (paragraph 60):

“Given the failure of the boycott to deliver results, we recommend that the Government should urgently consider ways of engaging politically with moderate elements within Hamas as a way of encouraging it to meet the three Quartet principles.”

And it recommends that former Prime Minister Blair do likewise (paragraph 67). Since he is a Quartet envoy, that is, essentially a US envoy, it is unlikely that Washington will let him.













(12) See

Robert Fisk: Beirut to Bosnia (documentary film)

I can’t recommend this series more highly. When I saw Fisk speak about his new book in Glasgow (2005) he used clips from it very effectively. While viewing horrible crimes committed against Muslims in the 90’s he asks (paraphrasing) “What have the Muslims got in store for us? Watchout!”

Why have so many Muslims come to hate the West? In this controversial three-part series filmed in Lebanon, Gaza, Israel, Egypt, and Bosnia, Robert Fisk—award-winning Middle East and Balkans correspondent for the London Independent—reports on Muslim unrest as ideology, religion, history, and geography come into conflict. Contains strong imagery. A Discovery Channel Production. 3-part series, 52 minutes each.
The Martyr’s Smile 

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Palestine 2007: Genocide in Gaza, Ethnic Cleansing in the West Bank

With the recent attacks on Gaza I thought this article would be interesting to some. 

Ilan Pappe, The Electronic Intifada, 11 January 2007

A general view of Har Homa settlement, built on the land of West Bank city of Bethlehem, and considered by Israel to be part of ‘Greater Jerusalem’, 29 November 2006. (MaanImages/Magnus Johansson)

On this stage, not so long ago, I claimed that Israel is conducting genocidal policies in the Gaza Strip. I hesitated a lot before using this very charged term and yet decided to adopt it. Indeed, the responses I received, including from some leading human rights activists, indicated a certain unease over the usage of such a term. I was inclined to rethink the term for a while, but came back to employing it today with even stronger conviction: it is the only appropriate way to describe what the Israeli army is doing in the Gaza Strip.

On 28 December 2006, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem published its annual report about the Israeli atrocities in the occupied territories. Israeli forces killed this last year six hundred and sixty citizens. The number of Palestinians killed by Israel last year tripled in comparison to the previous year (around two hundred). According to B’Tselem, the Israelis killed one hundred and forty one children in the last year. Most of the dead are from the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli forces demolished almost 300 houses and slew entire families. This means that since 2000, Israeli forces killed almost four thousand Palestinians, half of them children; more than twenty thousand were wounded.

B’Tselem is a conservative organization, and the numbers may be higher. But the point is not just about the escalating intentional killing, it is about the trend and the strategy. As 2007 commences, Israeli policymakers are facing two very different realities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In the former, they are closer than ever to finishing the construction of their eastern border. Their internal ideological debate is over and their master plan for annexing half of the West Bank is being implemented at an ever-growing speed. The last phase was delayed due to the promises made by Israel, under the Road Map, not to build new settlements. Israel found two ways of circumventing this alleged prohibition. First, it defined a third of the West Bank as Greater Jerusalem, which allowed it to build within this new annexed area towns and community centers. Secondly, it expanded old settlements to such proportions so that there was no need to build new ones. This trend was given an additional push in 2006 (hundreds of caravans were installed to mark the border of the expansions, the planning schemes for the new towns and neighborhoods were finalized and the apartheid bypass roads and highway system completed). In all, the settlements, the army bases, the roads and the wall will allow Israel to annex almost half of the West Bank by 2010. Within these territories there will be a considerable number of Palestinians, against whom the Israeli authorities will continue to implement slow and creeping transfer policies — too boring as a subject for the western media to bother with and too elusive for human rights organizations to make a general point about them. There is no rush; as far as the Israelis are concerned, they have the upper hand there: the daily abusive and dehumanizing mixed mechanisms of army and bureaucracy is as effective as ever in contributing its own share to the dispossession process.

The strategic thinking of Ariel Sharon that this policy is far better than the one offered by the blunt ‘transferists’ or ethnic cleansers, such as Avigdor Liberman’s advocacy, is accepted by everyone in the government, from Labor to Kadima. The petit crimes of state terrorism are also effective as they enable liberal Zionists around the world to softly condemn Israel and yet categorize any genuine criticism on Israel’s criminal policies as anti-Semitism.

On the other hand, there is no clear Israeli strategy as yet for the Gaza Strip; but there is a daily experiment with one. Gaza, in the eyes of the Israelis, is a very different geo-political entity from that of the West Bank. Hamas controls Gaza, while Abu Mazen seems to run the fragmented West Bank with Israeli and American blessing. There is no chunk of land in Gaza that Israel covets and there is no hinterland, like Jordan, to which the Palestinians of Gaza can be expelled. Ethnic cleansing is ineffective here.

The earlier strategy in Gaza was ghettoizing the Palestinians there, but this is not working. The ghettoized community continues to express its will for life by firing primitive missiles into Israel. Ghettoizing or quarantining unwanted communities, even if they were regarded as sub-human or dangerous, never worked in history as a solution. The Jews know it best from their own history. The next stages against such communities in the past were even more horrific and barbaric. It is difficult to tell what the future holds for the Gaza population, ghettoized, quarantined, unwanted and demonized. Will it be a repeat of the ominous historical examples or is a better fate still possible?

Creating the prison and throwing the key to the sea, as UN Special Reporter John Dugard has put it, was an option the Palestinians in Gaza reacted against with force as soon as September 2005. They were determined to show at the very least that they were still part of the West Bank and Palestine. In that month, they launched the first significant, in number and not quality, barrage of missiles into the Western Negev. The shelling was a response to an Israeli campaign of mass arrests of Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists in the Tul Karem area. The Israelis responded with operation ‘First Rain’. It is worth dwelling for a moment on the nature of that operation. It was inspired by the punitive measures inflicted first by colonialist powers, and then by dictatorships, against rebellious imprisoned or banished communities. A frightening show of the oppressor’s power to intimidate preceded all kind of collective and brutal punishments, ending with a large number of dead and wounded among the victims. In ‘First Rain’, supersonic flights were flown over Gaza to terrorize the entire population, succeeded by the heavy bombardment of vast areas from the sea, sky and land. The logic, the Israeli army explained, was to create pressure so as to weaken the Gaza community’s support for the rocket launchers. As was expected, by the Israelis as well, the operation only increased the support for the rocket launchers and gave impetus to their next attempt. The real purpose of that particular operation was experimental. The Israeli generals wished to know how such operations would be received at home, in the region and in the world. And it seems that instantly the answer was ‘very well’; namely, no one took an interest in the scores of dead and hundreds of wounded Palestinians left behind after the ‘First Rain’ subsided.

The bar set continually higher: Palestinians pass by a pool of blood after the Israeli shelling of a residential area in Beit Hanoun in the northern of Gaza Strip in which at least 18 people were killed, 8 November 2006. (MaanImages/Wesam Saleh)

And hence since ‘First Rain’ and until June 2006, all the following operations were similarly modeled. The difference was in their escalation: more firepower, more causalities and more collateral damage and, as to be expected, more Qassam missiles in response. Accompanying measures in 2006 were more sinister means of ensuring the full imprisonment of the people of Gaza through boycott and blockade, with which the EU is still shamefully collaborating.

The capture of Gilad Shalit in June 2006 was irrelevant in the general scheme of things, but nonetheless provided an opportunity for the Israelis to escalate even more the components of the tactical and allegedly punitive missions. After all, there was still no strategy that followed the tactical decision of Ariel Sharon to take out 8,000 settlers whose presence complicated ‘punitive’ missions and whose eviction made him almost a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. Since then, the ‘punitive’ actions continue and become themselves a strategy.

The Israeli army loves drama and therefore also escalated the language. ‘First Rain’ was replaced by ‘Summer Rains’, a general name that was given to the ‘punitive’ operations since June 2006 (in a country where there is no rain in the summer, the only precipitation that one can expect are showers of F-16 bombs and artillery shells hitting people of Gaza).

‘Summer Rains’ brought a novel component: the land invasion into parts of the Gaza Strip. This enabled the army to kill citizens even more effectively and to present it as a result of heavy fighting within dense populated areas, an inevitable result of the circumstances and not of Israeli policies. With the close of summer came operation ‘Autumn Clouds’ which was even more efficient: on 1 November 2006, in less than 48 hours, the Israelis killed seventy civilians; by the end of that month, with additional mini operations accompanying it, almost two hundred were killed, half of them children and women. As one can see from the dates, some of the activity was parallel to the Israeli attacks on Lebanon, making it easier to complete the operations without much external attention, let alone criticism.

From ‘First Rain’ to ‘Autumn Clouds’ one can see escalation in every parameter. The first is the disappearance of the distinction between civilian and non-civilian targets: the senseless killing has turned the population at large to the main target for the army’s operation. The second one is the escalation in the means: employment of every possible killing machines the Israeli army possesses. Thirdly, the escalation is conspicuous in the number of casualties: with each operation, and each future operation, a much larger number of people are likely to be killed and wounded. Finally, and most importantly, the operations become a strategy — the way Israel intends to solve the problem of the Gaza Strip.

A creeping transfer in the West Bank and a measured genocidal policy in the Gaza Strip are the two strategies Israel employs today. From an electoral point of view, the one in Gaza is problematic as it does not reap any tangible results; the West Bank under Abu Mazen is yielding to Israeli pressure and there is no significant force that arrests the Israeli strategy of annexation and dispossession. But Gaza continues to fire back. On the one hand, this would enable the Israeli army to initiate more massive genocidal operations in the future. But there is also the great danger, on the other, that as happened in 1948, the army would demand a more drastic and systematic ‘punitive’ and collateral action against the besieged people of the Gaza Strip.

A source of satisfaction for Israel: Palestinians inspect a burnt vehicle belonging to Colonel Mohammad Ghareeb, the deputy chief of preventive security in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip. The vehicle was burnt during factional clashes between Fatah and Hamas. (MaanImages/Wesam Saleh)

Ironically, the Israeli killing machine has rested lately. Even relatively large number of Qassam missiles, including one or two quite deadly ones, did not stir the army to action. Though the army’s spokesmen say it shows ‘restraint’, it never did in the past and is not likely to do so in the future. The army rests, as its generals are content with the internal killing that rages on in Gaza and does the job for them. They watch with satisfaction the emerging civil war in Gaza, which Israel foments and encourages. From Israel’s point of view it does not really mater how Gaza would eventually be demographically downsized, be it by internal or Israeli slaying. The responsibility of ending the internal fighting lies of course with the Palestinian groups themselves, but the American and Israeli interference, the continued imprisonment, the starvation and strangulation of Gaza are all factors that make such an internal peace process very difficult. But it will take place soon and then with the first early sign that it subsided, the Israeli ‘Summer Rains’ will fall down again on the people of Gaza, wreaking havoc and death.

And one should never tire of stating the inevitable political conclusions from this dismal reality of the year we left behind and in the face of the one that awaits us. There is still no other way of stopping Israel than besides boycott, divestment and sanctions. We should all support it clearly, openly, unconditionally, regardless of what the gurus of our world tell us about the efficiency or raison d’etre of such actions. The UN would not intervene in Gaza as it does in Africa; the Nobel peace laureates would not enlist to its defense as they do for causes in Southeast Asia. The numbers of people killed there are not staggering as far as other calamities are concerned, and it is not a new story — it is dangerously old and troubling. The only soft point of this killing machine is its oxygen lines to ‘western’ civilization and public opinion. It is still possible to puncture them and make it at least more difficult for the Israelis to implement their future strategy of eliminating the Palestinian people either by cleansing them in the West Bank or genociding them in the Gaza Strip.

Ilan Pappe is senior lecturer in the University of Haifa Department of political Science and Chair of the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian Studies in Haifa. His books include, among others, The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (London and New York 1992), The Israel/Palestine Question (London and New York 1999), A History of Modern Palestine (Cambridge 2003), The Modern Middle East (London and New York 2005) and his latest, Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006).

Oxford Union: Israel Lobby Stifling Debate

The motion: This house believes the pro-Israel lobby has successfully stifled Western debate about Israel’s actions. Debaters: Norman Finkelstein, Andrew Cockburn, Martin Indyk, David Aaronovitch

The Oxford Union passed a motion this week blaming a pro-Israeli lobby for limiting the West’s capacity for free debate about the Middle East.

Two-thirds of the student audience voted that “This house believes the pro-Israeli lobby has successfully stifled Western debate about Israel’s actions.”

The debate was organised by Qatar-organization promoting free speech in the Arab world, Doha Debate, whose previous debates on the role of Hizbollah, the importance of Middle East oil and the impact of Iran on global security have earned international recognition.

This event was the group’s first conference outside Qatar, and participants included prominent journalists and academics from the West, including host and former BBC presenter Tim Sebastian.

An Issue Of Justice: Origins Of The Israel/Palestine Conflict – Norman Finkelstein

The best lecture I’ve heard on the creation of Israel and how we’ve arrived at the present day situation. Mostly about the Israel/Palestine conflict but also covers the invasion of Lebanon. Interestingly the title of this blog was inspired by this lecture where Finkelstein advises calling solidarity groups “justice for Palestine” groups.

Informing Finkelstein’s analysis is a universal ethics… He…is following the example set by the great Jewish prophets.” —The Nation
“Norman Finkelstein is one of the most radical and hard-hitting critics of the official Zionist version of the Arab-Israeli conflict and of the historians who support this version…” —Avi Shlaim, St. Anthony’s College, University of Oxford
The facts are not complicated. Finkelstein dispels the ideological fog surrounding this historic conflict.
Finkelstein lays out the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict with clarity and passion, arguing that any other similar conflict would be perfectly understood, yet this one exists beneath a blanket of ideological fog. Finkelstein cuts through the fog with indisputable historical facts, optimistic that the struggle is winnable, and that it is simply an issue of justice.
Norman Finkelstein was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1953. He is the son of two holocaust survivors. He received his doctorate from Princeton University, for a thesis on the theory of Zionism. He is the author of four books, including The Holocaust Industry, his writings have also appeared in many prestigious journals. Currently, he teaches political science at DePaul University in Chicago.