Sunday, January 11, 2009

Re: Israel_Gaza Today. We Are Either Brothers And Sisters In Humanity Or Predatory Animals.

Straightening Out Cyber Space Communications Re: Israel_Gaza Today.  We Are Either Brothers And Sisters In Humanity Or Predatory Animals.



"The action I am taking is no more than a radical measure to hasten the explosion of truth and justice. I have but one passion: to enlighten those who have been kept in the dark, in the name of humanity which has suffered so much and is entitled to happiness. My fiery protest is simply the cry of my very soul. Let them dare, then, to bring me before a court of law and let the enquiry take place in broad daylight!"

- Emile Zola, J'accuse! (1898) –


I took but a few hours break for personal business and pleasure today and when I returned to the “Resurrected Beast Machine My Mail Box was inundated with references and links, many scrambled, broken or simply mangled that made reference to the writings of Robert Fisk and Fintan O’Toole regarding the War In Gaza.  In an effort to provide coherent working linkages this post is provided.  I offer up more of Mr. Fisk’s writings for your reading and even linkage to negative commentary as regards Mr. O’Toole’s remarks.  The divide in the Isles exists as it does here.  However, the discourse is more Civil and conversational in nature and certainly more thoughtful than the FOX diatribes and American Media “There is only one side to the story.


I have to tell you that I did not sleep well last night…the result of mounting frustrating, the Gaza War being only the latest splash of gasoline on my mental fire.  I know many are not pleased with my observations of human nature and where it is leading us in my perspective.  In 1961, much younger I wrote a research piece entitled: “The Evolution Of A Democracy Into A Dictatorship: A Formula For The Failure Of The United States.”  My University instructor awarded me an “A” and his own multi-page commentary that initiated a year-long dialog.   He could not accept the fact that America could ever become as docile, compliant, impotent and ineffectual in the protection of our rights and the integrity of our system of Government and laws.  We we’re after all on the very edge of the 60s explosion and the visceral grip of what was about to happen had already enveloped us.


Obviously I could not foresee 9/11 as the catalyst, the accelerant of the process, it has indeed provided the final ingredient in a succession of components and events to cause the collapse of this nation.  Only the worsening of the financial is necessary for a true catastrophic event to occur in our history.  I have read and reread my own early work and I would not change a word and I stand by my conclusions.


We will soon face and resolve issues or they will dissolve in blood, fire and steel in the streets.  There are matters that cannot be delayed in resolution and address for another decade as a matter of “a necessity born of economic collapse”.


But let me digress yet another few moments in a core issue discussion of great concern to me.  This portion of the conversation is not dependent upon ones view of the origins of our species, the origins of our common humanity, be your outlook that of the scientific community that we emerged/evolved from a great caldron of primordial chemical brewing, or that we are the creation of  a divine being, and perhaps my words that follow should fall more heavily on the shoulders and consciences of the latter who embrace that faith-based notion and some variant of Adam and Eve.


Having said that and dismissed the substance of that endless debate and all other such debates that begin with the words “I Believe” and crash inherently into the words: “I do not believe”; the concern I would speak to is in part the manifestation of that conflict and so many other conflicts that diminish all humanity and provide convenient excuse for slaughtering each other without reservation but with righteous validation and vindication!


All human kind emanates from a common shared point in the world’s existence, the same primordial DNA or shared genetic content brewed up by a divine creator.  The choice is yours.  The fact is the same!


Liken humanity to a giant growing ball of twine that began somewhere in the deep mists of time gone, with a single thread, and with each replication of that thread and with each new wrapping the ball has grown and grown and unless we do something spectacularly stupid, and we are capable of such things, the ball will continue to grow in size and complexity, given we do not incinerate it as we reduce our blue orb in space to a burned out post nuclear holocaust char coal briquette floating cold and lifeless in space leaving little trace of our existent but the sounds of this race echoing thorough the universal and our own fashioned last big bang.


We are all relatives.  We are all bound together in the great ball of twine as brothers and sisters in a common humanity, a common human condition and life experience.  My fundamental, first level concern is that after all of our time on this planet we have not grasped and acted upon that reality.  We neither perceive each other, nor do we treat one another as brothers and sisters in a common family of humanity.


We permit differences, which we define, of skin color, language, beliefs/religion, sexual orientation, flags, the color of uniforms, the words of National Anthems, borders, intelligent levels, aptitudes abilities and appetites, greed personal ambitions and arrogance and so much more….to divide us to the point of the justification of killing, slaughtering one another in some insane drive to have everyone subjugated to someone’s idea(s) of what is best and right for everyone in every way.  We all know that path leads not to freedom, liberty or democracy and certainly not to toleration acceptance and peace.


Yet we persist in cultivating the divide with the righteous certainty that dictates, vindicates validates and justifies our horrific destruction of one another. 


This is not an uplifting testimony to the greatness of our species, our race, our religions our family, our nations or anything else; it is a portrait of an immature animalistic predatory species.


Please do attempt to throw out the great achievements of our species as given witness by our edifices and technology, though impressive as cultural achievements; they may be a reflections our civilization, not a measure or indicator of our “civility”.


There is a core problem with concept of who and what we are, with our level of development and civilization.  They do not match up.  How can we claim greatness as a species when act as, and permit the most barbarian slaughter of innocents on this planet that contradicts any acknowledgement of, acceptance of, sincere commitment to the commonality of all humanity, choosing instead state sanctioned criminality and bestiality either by action or our profound silence?


No other species on this planet consciously sets about the murderous slaughter and Genocide of its family members…only man.


We have so many labels for people who somehow are lesser members of the species, the poor, hungry, homeless, helpless, aged, infrm or mind or body who we consign to the scrap heap of the society save for occasional lip service of recognition that it is a terrible condition that society….that means someone else…is not aiding them.  As our economis system crumbles around us maybe the smug and hypocrites will come to understand better the old adage that: “there but for fortune go you or I.”   It will be a rude awakening to the degree that man’s inhumanity to his fellow man can be imposed.


The Great Ball of Twine has more than a few threads and wraps that are fouled with the awful stench of rotting blood. They need cut away.  The voices of government and of Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples need to teach doctrines of peace, toleration, acceptance, accommodation unity and cooperation as a world community of human beings not doctrines of absolute judgment and division for those are the teachings of hate, marder and bigotry, the doctrines of dictatorship not democracy.


We have genius enough to understand that fact, now if we only had the willingness to accept those facts and act upon them in a consistent manner.


I know this world is beset with all manner of divisions and malaise that we perceive at best as being dealt with in a piece meal bite at a time approach, but there is still the matter of self-examination that is required if we are truly to begin approaching the acceptance of the fact that we are all of one thread all brothers and sisters in humanity and that when we either elect to, or permit the killing of another we are no better than, no more advanced or civil than CAIN!


But let us return to the matters of today and the killing fields and actions of our imperfect brothers and sisters!!!  This is a composite of today’s emails that provoked the preparation of this post and I hope it is complete enough to furnish sufficient insight  into what our English and Irish brothers and sisters are saying and thinking. 

Robert Fisk’s World: “Wherever I go, I hear the same tired Middle East comparisons

On both sides of the Atlantic the experience has been weirdly repetitive.”



And “Fintan O'Toole, The Irish Times's resident philosopher-in-chief, to speak the unspeakable.


"When does the mandate of victimhood expire?" he asked. "At what point does the Nazi genocide of Europe's Jews cease to excuse the state of Israel from the demands of international law and of common humanity?"



Robert Fisk: Why Bombing Ashkelon Is The Most Tragic Irony


How easy it is to snap off the history of the Palestinians, to delete the narrative of their tragedy, to avoid a grotesque irony about Gaza which – in any other conflict – journalists would be writing about in their first reports: that the original, legal owners of the Israeli land on which Hamas rockets are detonating live in Gaza.

That is why Gaza exists: because the Palestinians who lived in Ashkelon and the fields around it – Askalaan in Arabic – were dispossessed from their lands in 1948 when Israel was created and ended up on the beaches of Gaza. They – or their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren – are among the one and a half million Palestinian refugees crammed into the cesspool of Gaza, 80 per cent of whose families once lived in what is now Israel. This, historically, is the real story: most of the people of Gaza don't come from Gaza.

But watching the news shows, you'd think that history began yesterday, that a bunch of bearded anti-Semitic Islamist lunatics suddenly popped up in the slums of Gaza – a rubbish dump of destitute people of no origin – and began firing missiles into peace-loving, democratic Israel, only to meet with the righteous vengeance of the Israeli air force. The fact that the five sisters killed in Jabalya camp had grandparents who came from the very land whose more recent owners have now bombed them to death simply does not appear in the story.

Both Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres said back in the 1990s that they wished Gaza would just go away, drop into the sea, and you can see why. The existence of Gaza is a permanent reminder of those hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who lost their homes to Israel, who fled or were driven out through fear or Israeli ethnic cleansing 60 years ago, when tidal waves of refugees had washed over Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War and when a bunch of Arabs kicked out of their property didn't worry the world.

Well, the world should worry now. Crammed into the most overpopulated few square miles in the whole world are a dispossessed people who have been living in refuse and sewage and, for the past six months, in hunger and darkness, and who have been sanctioned by us, the West. Gaza was always an insurrectionary place. It took two years for Ariel Sharon's bloody "pacification", starting in 1971, to be completed, and Gaza is not going to be tamed now.

Alas for the Palestinians, their most powerful political voice – I'm talking about the late Edward Said, not the corrupt Yassir Arafat (and how the Israelis must miss him now) – is silent and their predicament largely unexplained by their deplorable, foolish spokesmen. "It's the most terrifying place I've ever been in," Said once said of Gaza. "It's a horrifyingly sad place because of the desperation and misery of the way people live. I was unprepared for camps that are much worse than anything I saw in South Africa."

Of course, it was left to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to admit that "sometimes also civilians pay the price," an argument she would not make, of course, if the fatality statistics were reversed. Indeed, it was instructive yesterday to hear a member of the American Enterprise Institute – faithfully parroting Israel's arguments – defending the outrageous Palestinian death toll by saying that it was "pointless to play the numbers game". Yet if more than 300 Israelis had been killed – against two dead Palestinians – be sure that the "numbers game" and the disproportionate violence would be all too relevant. The simple fact is that Palestinian deaths matter far less than Israeli deaths. True, we know that 180 of the dead were Hamas members. But what of the rest? If the UN's conservative figure of 57 civilian fatalities is correct, the death toll is still a disgrace.

To find both the US and Britain failing to condemn the Israeli onslaught while blaming Hamas is not surprising. US Middle East policy and Israeli policy are now indistinguishable and Gordon Brown is following the same dog-like devotion to the Bush administration as his predecessor.

As usual, the Arab satraps – largely paid and armed by the West – are silent, preposterously calling for an Arab summit on the crisis which will (if it even takes place), appoint an "action committee" to draw up a report which will never be written. For that is the way with the Arab world and its corrupt rulers. As for Hamas, they will, of course, enjoy the discomfiture of the Arab potentates while cynically waiting for Israel to talk to them. Which they will. Indeed, within a few months, we'll be hearing that Israel and Hamas have been having "secret talks" – just as we once did about Israel and the even more corrupt PLO. But by then, the dead will be long buried and we will be facing the next crisis since the last crisis.


Robert Fisk: The Self Delusion That Plagues Both Sides In This Bloody Conflict


Israel has never won a war in a built-up city, that's why threats of 'war to the bitter end' are nonsense.

During the second Palestinian "intifada", I was sitting in the offices of Hizbollah's Al-Manar television station in Beirut, watching news footage of a militiaman's funeral in Gaza. The television showed hordes of Hamas and PLO gunmen firing thousands of rounds of ammunition into the air to honour their latest "martyr"; and I noticed, just next to me, a Lebanese Hizbollah member – who had taken part in many attacks against the Israelis in what had been Israel's occupation zone in southern Lebanon – shaking his head.

What was he thinking, I asked? "Hamas try to stand up to the Israelis," he replied. "But..." And here he cast his eyes to the ceiling. "They waste bullets. They fire all these bullets into the sky. They should use them to shoot at Israelis."

His point, of course, was that Hamas lacked discipline, the kind of iron, ruthless discipline and security that Hizbollah forged in Lebanon and which the Israeli army was at last forced to acknowledge in southern Lebanon in 2006. Guns are weapons, not playthings for funerals. And Gaza is not southern Lebanon. It would be as well for both sides in this latest bloodbath in Gaza to remember this. Hamas is not Hizbollah. Jerusalem is not Beirut. And Israeli soldiers cannot take revenge for their 2006 defeat in Lebanon by attacking Hamas in Gaza – not even to help Ms Livni in the Israeli elections.

Not that Hizbollah won the "divine victory" it claimed two years ago. Driving the roads of southern Lebanon as the Israelis smashed the country's infrastructure, killed more than a thousand Lebanese – almost all of them civilians – and razed dozens of villages, it didn't feel like a Hizbollah "victory" to me, theological or otherwise. But the Israelis didn't win and the Hizbollah were able to deploy thousands of long-range rockets as well as a missile which set an Israeli warship on fire and almost sank it. Hamas have nothing to match that kind of armoury.

Nor do they have the self-discipline to fight like an army. Hizbollah in Lebanon has managed to purge its region of informers. Hamas – like all the other Palestinian outfits – is infected with spies, some working for the Palestinian Authority, others for the Israelis. Israel has successively murdered one Hamas leader after another – "targeted killing", of course, is their polite phrase – and they couldn't do that without, as the police would say, "inside help". Hizbollah's previous secretary general, Sayed Abbas Moussawi, was assassinated near Jibchit by a missile-firing Israeli helicopter more than a decade ago but the movement hasn't suffered a leader's murder in Lebanon since then. In the 34-day war of 2006, Hizbollah lost about 200 of its men. Hamas lost almost that many in the first day of Israel's air attacks in Gaza – which doesn't say much for Hamas' military precautions.

Israel, however – always swift to announce its imminent destruction of "terrorism" – has never won a war in a built-up city, be it Beirut or Gaza, since its capture of Jerusalem in 1967. And it's important to remember that the Israeli army, famous in song and legend for its supposed "purity of arms" and "elite" units, has proved itself to be a pretty third-rate army over recent years. Not since the 1973 Middle East conflict – 35 years ago – has it won a war. Its 1978 invasion of Lebanon was a failure, its 1982 invasion ended in disaster, propelling Arafat from Beirut but allowing its vicious Phalangist allies into the Sabra and Chatila camps where they committed mass murder. In neither the 1993 bombardment of Lebanon nor the 1996 bombardment of Lebanon – which fizzled out after the massacre of refugees at Qana – nor the 2006 war was its performance anything more than amateur. Indeed, if it wasn't for the fact Arab armies are even more of a rabble than the Israelis, the Israeli state would be genuinely under threat from its neighbours.

One common feature of Middle East wars is the ability of all the antagonists to suffer from massive self-delusion. Israel's promise to "root out terror" – be it of the PLO, Hizbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Iranian or any other kind – has always turned out to be false. "War to the bitter end," the Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, has promised in Gaza. Nonsense. Just like the PLO's boast – and Hamas' boast and Hizbollah's boast – to "liberate" Jerusalem. Eyewash. But the Israelis have usually shown a dangerous propensity to believe their own propaganda. Calling up more than 6,000 reservists and sitting them round the Gaza fence is one thing; sending them into the hovels of Gaza will be quite another. In 2006, Israel claimed it was sending 30,000 troops into Lebanon. In reality, it sent about 3,000 – and the moment they crossed the border, they were faced down by the Hizbollah. In some cases, Israeli soldiers actually ran back to their own frontier.

These are realities. The chances of war, however, may be less easier to calculate. If Israel indefinitely continues its billion dollar blitz on Gaza – and we all know who is paying for that – there will, at some stage, be an individual massacre; a school will be hit, a hospital or a pre-natal clinic or just an apartment packed with civilians. In other words, another Qana. At which point, a familiar story will be told; that Hamas destroyed the school/hospital/pre-natal clinic, that the journalists who report on the slaughter are anti-Semitic, that Israel is under threat, etc. We may even get the same disingenuous parallel with a disastrous RAF raid in the Second World War which both Menachem Begin and Benjamin Netanayahu have used over the past quarter century to justify the killing of civilians.

And Hamas – which never had the courage to admit it killed two Palestinian girls with one of its own rockets last week – will cynically make profit from the grief with announcements of war crimes and "genocide".

At which point, the deeply despised and lame old UN donkey will be clip-clopped onto the scene to rescue the Israeli army and Hamas from this disgusting little war. Of course, saner minds may call all this off before the inevitable disaster. But I doubt it.


Robert Fisk’s World: Wherever I Go, I Hear The Same Tired Middle East Comparisons

On Both Sides Of The Atlantic The Experience Has Been Weirdly Repetitive


It all depends where you live. That was the geography of Israel's propaganda, designed to demonstrate that we softies – we little baby-coddling liberals living in our secure Western homes – don't realise the horror of 12 (now 20) Israeli deaths in 10 years and thousands of rockets and the unimaginable trauma and stress of living near Gaza. Forget the 600 Palestinian dead; travelling on both sides of the Atlantic these past couple of weeks has been an instructive – not to say weirdly repetitive – experience.

Here's how it goes. I was in Toronto when I opened the right-wing National Post and found Lorne Gunter trying to explain to readers what it felt like to come under Palestinian rocket attack. "Suppose you lived in the Toronto suburb of Don Mills," writes Gunter, "and people from the suburb of Scarborough – about 10 kilometres away – were firing as many as 100 rockets a day into your yard, your kid's school, the strip mall down the street and your dentist's office..."

Getting the message? It just so happens, of course, that the people of Scarborough are underprivileged, often new immigrants – many from Afghanistan – while the people of Don Mills are largely middle class with a fair number of Muslims. Nothing like digging a knife into Canada's multicultural society to show how Israel is all too justified in smashing back at the Palestinians.

Now a trip down Montreal way and a glance at the French-language newspaper La Presse two days later. And sure enough, there's an article signed by 16 pro-Israeli writers, economists and academics who are trying to explain what it feels like to come under Palestinian rocket attack. "Imagine for a moment that the children of Longueuil live day and night in terror, that businesses, shops, hospitals, schools are the targets of terrorists located in Brossard." Longueuil, it should be added, is a community of blacks and Muslim immigrants, Afghans, Iranians. But who are the "terrorists" in Brossard?

Two days later and I am in Dublin. I open The Irish Times to find a letter from the local Israeli ambassador, trying to explain to the people of the Irish Republic what it feels like to come under Palestinian rocket attack. Know what's coming? Of course you do. "What would you do," Zion Evrony asks readers, "if Dublin were subjected to a bombardment of 8,000 rockets and mortars..." And so it goes on and on and on. Needless to say, I'm waiting for the same writers to ask how we'd feel if we lived in Don Mills or Brossard or Dublin and came under sustained attack from supersonic aircraft and Merkava tanks and thousands of troops whose shells and bombs tore 40 women and children to pieces outside a school, shredded whole families in their beds and who, after nearly a week, had killed almost 200 civilians out of 600 fatalities.

In Ireland, my favourite journalistic justification for this bloodbath came from my old mate Kevin Myers. "The death toll from Gaza is, of course, shocking, dreadful, unspeakable," he mourned. "Though it does not compare with the death toll amongst Israelis if Hamas had its way." Get it? The massacre in Gaza is justified because Hamas would have done the same if they could, even though they didn't do it because they couldn't. It took Fintan O'Toole, The Irish Times's resident philosopher-in-chief, to speak the unspeakable. "When does the mandate of victimhood expire?" he asked. "At what point does the Nazi genocide of Europe's Jews cease to excuse the state of Israel from the demands of international law and of common humanity?"

I had an interesting time giving the Tip O'Neill peace lecture in Derry when one of the audience asked, as did a member of the Trinity College Dublin Historical Society a day later, whether the Northern Ireland Good Friday peace agreement – or, indeed, any aspect of the recent Irish conflict – contained lessons for the Middle East. I suggested that local peace agreements didn't travel well and that the idea advanced by John Hume (my host in Derry) – that it was all about compromise – didn't work since the Israeli seizure of Arab land in the West Bank had more in common with the 17th-century Irish Catholic dispossession than sectarianism in Belfast.

What I do suspect, however, is that the split and near civil war between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority has a lot in common with the division between the Irish Free State and anti-treaty forces that led to the 1922-3 Irish civil war; that Hamas's refusal to recognise Israel – and the enemies of Michael Collins who refused to recognise the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the border with Northern Ireland – are tragedies that have a lot in common, Israel now playing the role of Britain, urging the pro-treaty men (Mahmoud Abbas) to destroy the anti-treaty men (Hamas).

I ended the week in one of those BBC World Service discussions in which a guy from The Jerusalem Post, a man from al-Jazeera, a British academic and Fisk danced the usual steps around the catastrophe in Gaza. The moment I mentioned that 600 Palestinian dead for 20 Israeli dead around Gaza in 10 years was grotesque, pro-Israeli listeners condemned me for suggesting (which I did not) that only 20 Israelis had been killed in all of Israel in 10 years. Of course, hundreds of Israelis outside Gaza have died in that time – but so have thousands of Palestinians.

My favourite moment came when I pointed out that journalists should be on the side of those who suffer. If we were reporting the 18th-century slave trade, I said, we wouldn't give equal time to the slave ship captain in our dispatches. If we were reporting the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp, we wouldn't give equal time to the SS spokesman. At which point a journalist from the Jewish Telegraph in Prague responded that "the IDF are not Hitler". Of course not. But who said they were?


Robert Fisk: Leaders Lie, Civilians Die, And Lessons Of History Are Ignored


We've got so used to the carnage of the Middle East that we don't care any more – providing we don't offend the Israelis. It's not clear how many of the Gaza dead are civilians, but the response of the Bush administration, not to mention the pusillanimous reaction of Gordon Brown, reaffirm for Arabs what they have known for decades: however they struggle against their antagonists, the West will take Israel's side. As usual, the bloodbath was the fault of the Arabs – who, as we all know, only understand force.

Ever since 1948, we've been hearing this balderdash from the Israelis – just as Arab nationalists and then Arab Islamists have been peddling their own lies: that the Zionist "death wagon" will be overthrown, that all Jerusalem will be "liberated". And always Mr Bush Snr or Mr Clinton or Mr Bush Jnr or Mr Blair or Mr Brown have called upon both sides to exercise "restraint" – as if the Palestinians and the Israelis both have F-18s and Merkava tanks and field artillery. Hamas's home-made rockets have killed just 20 Israelis in eight years, but a day-long blitz by Israeli aircraft that kills almost 300 Palestinians is just par for the course.

The blood-splattering has its own routine. Yes, Hamas provoked Israel's anger, just as Israel provoked Hamas's anger, which was provoked by Israel, which was provoked by Hamas, which ... See what I mean? Hamas fires rockets at Israel, Israel bombs Hamas, Hamas fires more rockets and Israel bombs again and ... Got it? And we demand security for Israel – rightly – but overlook this massive and utterly disproportionate slaughter by Israel. It was Madeleine Albright who once said that Israel was "under siege" – as if Palestinian tanks were in the streets of Tel Aviv.

By last night, the exchange rate stood at 296 Palestinians dead for one dead Israeli. Back in 2006, it was 10 Lebanese dead for one Israeli dead. This weekend was the most inflationary exchange rate in a single day since – the 1973 Middle East War? The 1967 Six Day War? The 1956 Suez War? The 1948 Independence/Nakba War? It's obscene, a gruesome game – which Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, unconsciously admitted when he spoke this weekend to Fox TV. "Our intention is to totally change the rules of the game," Barak said.

Exactly. Only the "rules" of the game don't change. This is a further slippage on the Arab-Israeli exchanges, a percentage slide more awesome than Wall Street's crashing shares, though of not much interest in the US which – let us remember – made the F-18s and the Hellfire missiles which the Bush administration pleads with Israel to use sparingly.

Quite a lot of the dead this weekend appear to have been Hamas members, but what is it supposed to solve? Is Hamas going to say: "Wow, this blitz is awesome – we'd better recognise the state of Israel, fall in line with the Palestinian Authority, lay down our weapons and pray we are taken prisoner and locked up indefinitely and support a new American 'peace process' in the Middle East!" Is that what the Israelis and the Americans and Gordon Brown think Hamas is going to do?

Yes, let's remember Hamas's cynicism, the cynicism of all armed Islamist groups. Their need for Muslim martyrs is as crucial to them as Israel's need to create them. The lesson Israel thinks it is teaching – come to heel or we will crush you – is not the lesson Hamas is learning. Hamas needs violence to emphasise the oppression of the Palestinians – and relies on Israel to provide it. A few rockets into Israel and Israel obliges.

Not a whimper from Tony Blair, the peace envoy to the Middle East who's never been to Gaza in his current incarnation. Not a bloody word.

We hear the usual Israeli line. General Yaakov Amidror, the former head of the Israeli army's "research and assessment division" announced that "no country in the world would allow its citizens to be made the target of rocket attacks without taking vigorous steps to defend them". Quite so. But when the IRA were firing mortars over the border into Northern Ireland, when their guerrillas were crossing from the Republic to attack police stations and Protestants, did Britain unleash the RAF on the Irish Republic? Did the RAF bomb churches and tankers and police stations and zap 300 civilians to teach the Irish a lesson? No, it did not. Because the world would have seen it as criminal behaviour. We didn't want to lower ourselves to the IRA's level.

Yes, Israel deserves security. But these bloodbaths will not bring it. Not since 1948 have air raids protected Israel. Israel has bombed Lebanon thousands of times since 1975 and not one has eliminated "terrorism". So what was the reaction last night? The Israelis threaten ground attacks. Hamas waits for another battle. Our Western politicians crouch in their funk holes. And somewhere to the east – in a cave? a basement? on a mountainside? – a well-known man in a turban smiles.


Robert Fisk: Why Do They Hate The West So Much, We Will Ask


So once again, Israel has opened the gates of hell to the Palestinians. Forty civilian refugees dead in a United Nations school, three more in another. Not bad for a night's work in Gaza by the army that believes in "purity of arms". But why should we be surprised?

Have we forgotten the 17,500 dead – almost all civilians, most of them children and women – in Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon; the 1,700 Palestinian civilian dead in the Sabra-Chatila massacre; the 1996 Qana massacre of 106 Lebanese civilian refugees, more than half of them children, at a UN base; the massacre of the Marwahin refugees who were ordered from their homes by the Israelis in 2006 then slaughtered by an Israeli helicopter crew; the 1,000 dead of that same 2006 bombardment and Lebanese invasion, almost all of them civilians?

What is amazing is that so many Western leaders, so many presidents and prime ministers and, I fear, so many editors and journalists, bought the old lie; that Israelis take such great care to avoid civilian casualties. "Israel makes every possible effort to avoid civilian casualties," yet another Israeli ambassador said only hours before the Gaza massacre. And every president and prime minister who repeated this mendacity as an excuse to avoid a ceasefire has the blood of last night's butchery on their hands. Had George Bush had the courage to demand an immediate ceasefire 48 hours earlier, those 40 civilians, the old and the women and children, would be alive.

What happened was not just shameful. It was a disgrace. Would war crime be too strong a description? For that is what we would call this atrocity if it had been committed by Hamas. So a war crime, I'm afraid, it was. After covering so many mass murders by the armies of the Middle East – by Syrian troops, by Iraqi troops, by Iranian troops, by Israeli troops – I suppose cynicism should be my reaction. But Israel claims it is fighting our war against "international terror". The Israelis claim they are fighting in Gaza for us, for our Western ideals, for our security, for our safety, by our standards. And so we are also complicit in the savagery now being visited upon Gaza.

I've reported the excuses the Israeli army has served up in the past for these outrages. Since they may well be reheated in the coming hours, here are some of them: that the Palestinians killed their own refugees, that the Palestinians dug up bodies from cemeteries and planted them in the ruins, that ultimately the Palestinians are to blame because they supported an armed faction, or because armed Palestinians deliberately used the innocent refugees as cover.

The Sabra and Chatila massacre was committed by Israel's right-wing Lebanese Phalangist allies while Israeli troops, as Israel's own commission of inquiry revealed, watched for 48 hours and did nothing. When Israel was blamed, Menachem Begin's government accused the world of a blood libel. After Israeli artillery had fired shells into the UN base at Qana in 1996, the Israelis claimed that Hizbollah gunmen were also sheltering in the base. It was a lie. The more than 1,000 dead of 2006 – a war started when Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers on the border – were simply dismissed as the responsibility of the Hizbollah. Israel claimed the bodies of children killed in a second Qana massacre may have been taken from a graveyard. It was another lie. The Marwahin massacre was never excused. The people of the village were ordered to flee, obeyed Israeli orders and were then attacked by an Israeli gunship. The refugees took their children and stood them around the truck in which they were travelling so that Israeli pilots would see they were innocents. Then the Israeli helicopter mowed them down at close range. Only two survived, by playing dead. Israel didn't even apologise.

Twelve years earlier, another Israeli helicopter attacked an ambulance carrying civilians from a neighbouring village – again after they were ordered to leave by Israel – and killed three children and two women. The Israelis claimed that a Hizbollah fighter was in the ambulance. It was untrue. I covered all these atrocities, I investigated them all, talked to the survivors. So did a number of my colleagues. Our fate, of course, was that most slanderous of libels: we were accused of being anti-Semitic.

And I write the following without the slightest doubt: we'll hear all these scandalous fabrications again. We'll have the Hamas-to-blame lie – heaven knows, there is enough to blame them for without adding this crime – and we may well have the bodies-from-the-cemetery lie and we'll almost certainly have the Hamas-was-in-the-UN-school lie and we will very definitely have the anti-Semitism lie. And our leaders will huff and puff and remind the world that Hamas originally broke the ceasefire. It didn't. Israel broke it, first on 4 November when its bombardment killed six Palestinians in Gaza and again on 17 November when another bombardment killed four more Palestinians.

Yes, Israelis deserve security. Twenty Israelis dead in 10 years around Gaza is a grim figure indeed. But 600 Palestinians dead in just over a week, thousands over the years since 1948 – when the Israeli massacre at Deir Yassin helped to kick-start the flight of Palestinians from that part of Palestine that was to become Israel – is on a quite different scale. This recalls not a normal Middle East bloodletting but an atrocity on the level of the Balkan wars of the 1990s. And of course, when an Arab bestirs himself with unrestrained fury and takes out his incendiary, blind anger on the West, we will say it has nothing to do with us. Why do they hate us, we will ask? But let us not say we do not know the answer.


Robert Fisk’s World: Arabs Have To Rely On Britain And Israel For Their History

There Is No Public Record Office In The Arab World, No National Archive


In Damascus, a massive statue of the late President Hafez al-Assad sits on a mighty iron chair outside the 22,000sq m Assad Library, a giant book open in his right hand.

Behind him lie the archives of his dictatorship. But not a single state paper is open to the people of Syria. There are no archives from the foreign ministry or the interior ministry or the defense ministry. There is no 30-year rule – for none is necessary. The rule is forever. There is no Public Record Office in the Arab world, no scholars waiting outside the National Archives.

It is the same in Cairo, in Riyadh, in Beirut and in Tripoli. Dictatorships and caliphates do not give away their secrets. The only country in the Middle East where you can burrow through the files is called Israel – and good for the Israelis. But the result is obvious. While Israeli scholars have been able to deconstruct the traditional story of little Israel – proving that there were no Arab radio stations calling for the Palestinians to leave their land, that the Arabs were indeed ethnically cleansed from their towns and villages by Irgun and the Hagana – there is no Arab scholar who can balance the books by drawing on the archives of his own history. They must go to the National Archives in London to read General Cunningham's dispatches from 1948 Palestine, or quote from Israeli books. The record stops there. Aside from the self-serving biographies of Arab dictators and generals, that's it. Even Walid Khalidi's huge tome on the destroyed villages of Palestine relies heavily on the work of Israeli historian Benny Morris.

Slowly, though, a little bag of history is being filled across the region. If we can't read the private papers of the leaders of the lamentable Arab Liberation Army of 1948, we can still hear the personal testimony of the Palestinian survivors. Rosemarie Esber, for example, has put her degrees from London and Johns Hopkins universities to good use by interviewing – in Jordan and Lebanon -- 126 Palestinian men and women who lost their homes and lands in 1948 and 1949. Her soon to be published work (Under the Cover of War) helps to balance documentation and diaries by one side with verbal recollection on the other. The book does not spare the Arabs – least of all the Arab atrocities or the Iraqi volunteers who turned up to fight for Palestine but didn't even know their geography – yet the suffering of those who fled is all too evident.

Here, for example, is Abu Mohamed from the village of Saqiya, east of Tel Aviv, describing what happened on 25 April, 1948: "Jews entered the village and started shooting women, men, and old people. They arrested girls, and we still don't know what happened to them. They came from the settlement that was near the village... They used Bren guns. Then armoured vehicles entered the centre of the village. Fourteen were killed that day... Two women could not run so they were killed in the village... The villagers ran together in the direction of al-Lid (Lod, the site of Ben Gurion airport in modern-today Israel). After that families started to leave separately... We left everything in the village... We thought it would be a short trip and we would come back."

In Lebanon, too, there is a flourishing market in books based on diaries and personal archives. Among the most intriguing is A Face in the Crowd: The Secret Papers of Emir Farid Chehab, 1942-1972, the private documents of Lebanon's post-Second World War intelligence boss. Apart from proving that Lebanese-Syrian relations could be as awful in the 1940s as they could be in the 1990s, he was an assiduous spy, nurturing his agents in Jordan in 1956 to find out why the young King Hussein had fired the British commander of the Arab Legion, Glubb Pasha. "Glubb was a spendthrift, tightly controlled the army's finances and secret expenses, and refused to share relevant information with Arab commanders and officers," a still unknown informant writes to Chehab on 11 March, 1956. "His interference (extended to) ... control over various ministries' telephone lines... A telephone employee in Amman admitted to me that even the Palace's and Prime Ministry's communication networks were under the army's surveillance. A secret communiqué addressed by Glubb to all British heads of army units was recently discovered; it said that in case of an Israeli attack they should retreat and not resist. The free officers took this communiqué up to the King."

So goodbye Glubb Pasha. But did this also, perhaps, have something to do with the equally secret Operation Cordage, first highlighted by Keith Kyle in his excellent book on Suez and even more rigorously investigated by Eric Grove of Salford University. "Cordage" was Britain's plan for defending its Jordanian ally from Israeli attack if Israel assaulted Egypt. The plan, according to Grove, included "an air campaign carried out by (RAF) Venoms based at Amman and Mafraq in Jordan to knock out the Israeli Air Force in 72 hours... A fighter wing of swept-wing aircraft (Sabres or Hunters) would be provided from Germany to operate from Cyprus..." A parachute brigade group would be flown to Jordan to defend British air bases and then – along with Glubb's Arab Legion – to defend Amman against the Israelis. It was at the end of February 1956 that Hussein dismissed Glubb; which, as Grove diplomatically puts it, "created problems". So how much did Glubb know about Operation Musketeer?

What really created "problems", of course, was Britain's own secret plan to attack Egypt, along with France and Israel after which Operation Musketeer – the Suez aggression – took over from Operation Cordage, and Britain's potential Israeli enemies suddenly became their secret allies. But of course, all this comes from British files. Alas, it will be many years before we know what is in the book that the iron Assad is reading outside his library in Damascus.


Robert Fisk’s World: One Missing Word Sowed The Seeds Of Catastrophe

No One In 1967 Thought The Arab-Israeli Conflict Would Still Be In Progress 41 Years Later


A nit-picker this week. And given the fact that we're all remembering human rights, the Palestinians come to mind since they have precious few of them, and the Israelis because they have the luxury of a lot of them.

And Lord Blair, since he'll be communing with God next week, might also reflect that he still – to his shame – hasn't visited Gaza. But the nit-picking has got to be our old friend United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. This, you'll recall, was supposed to be the resolution that would guide all future peace efforts in the Middle East; Oslo was supposed to have been founded on it and all sorts of other processes and summits and road maps.

It was passed in November 1967, after Israel had occupied Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Sinai and Golan, and it emphasises "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war" and calls for "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict".

Readers who know the problem here will be joined by those who will immediately pick it up. The Israelis say that they are not required to withdraw from all the territories – because the word "all" is missing and since the definite article "the" is missing before the word "territories", its up to Israel to decide which bits of the occupied territories it gives up and which bits it keeps.

Hence Israel can say it gave up Sinai in accordance with 242 but is going to keep East Jerusalem and much of the West Bank for its settlers. Golan depends on negotiations with Syria. And Gaza? Well, 242 doesn't say anything about imprisoning one and a half million civilians because they voted for the wrong people. No one in 1967 dreamed that the Israeli-Arab conflict would still be in ferocious progress 41 years later. And as an Independent reader pointed out a couple of years ago, the Security Council clearly never intended the absence of a definite article to give Israel an excuse to stay in the West Bank. Alas, our reader was wrong.

I've been going back through my files on 242 and discovered a most elucidating paper by John McHugo, who was a visiting fellow at the Scottish Centre for International Law at Edinburgh University. He points out that pro-Israeli lawyers have been saying for some years that "Resolution 242 unanimously called for withdrawal from 'territories' rather than withdrawal from 'all the territories'. Its choice of words was deliberate... they signify that withdrawal if required from some but not all the territories".

McHugo is, so far as I know, the only man to re-examine the actual UN debates on 242 and they make very unhappy reading. The French and Spanish versions of the text actually use the definite article. But the Brits – apparently following a bit of strong-arm tactics from the Americans – did not use "the". Lord Caradon, our man at the UN, insisted on putting in the phrase about the "inadmissability of the acquisition of territory by war" in order to stop the Israelis claiming that they could cherry-pick which lands to return and which to hand on to. Britain accepted Jordan's rule over the West Back – the PLO were still shunned as super-terrorists at the time – but it did no good. Abba Eban, Israel's man on the East River, did his best to persuade Caradon to delete both "the" and the bit about the inadmissability of territory through war. He won the first battle, but not the second.

That great American statesman George Ball was to recount how, when the Arabs negotiated over 242 in early November of 1967 – at the Waldorf Astoria (these guys knew how to pick the swankiest hotels for political betrayal) – the US ambassador to the UN, Arthur Goldberg, told King Hussein that America "could not guarantee that everything would be returned by Israel". The Arabs distrusted Goldberg because he was known to be pro-Zionist, but Hussein was much comforted when US Secretary of State Dean Rusk assured him in Washington that the US "did not approve of Israeli retention of the West Bank". Hussein was further encouraged when he met President Johnson who told him that Israeli withdrawal might take place in "six months". Goldberg further boosted his confidence. "Don't worry. They're on board," he said of the Israelis. Ho ho.

It's intriguing to note that several other nations at the UN were troubled by the absence of "the". The Indian delegate, for example, pointed out that the resolution referred to "all the territories – I repeat all the territories – occupied by Israel..." while the Soviet Union (which knew all about occupying other people's countries) stated that "we understand the decision to mean the withdrawal of Israeli forces from all, and we repeat, all territories belonging to Arab states and seized by Israel...". President Johnson rebuffed the Soviets and bluntly refused to put the word "all" in the resolution. Bulgaria, not surprisingly, said much the same as the Soviets. Brazil expressed reservations – rightly so – about "the clarity of the wording". The Argentinians "would have preferred a clearer text". In other words, the future tragedy was spotted at the time. But we did nothing. The Americans had stitched it up and the Brits went along with it. The Arabs were not happy but foolishly – and typically – relied on Caradon's assurances that "all" the territories was what 242 meant, even if it didn't say so. Israel still fought hard to get rid of the "inadmissability" bit, even when it had got "the" out.

Ye gods! Talk about sewing the seeds of future catastrophe. Well, Colin Powell, when he was George W Bush's secretary of state, gutlessly told US diplomats to call the West Bank "disputed" rather than "occupied" – which suited the Israelis just fine although, as McHugo pointed out, the Israelis might like to consider what would happen if the Arabs talked about those bits of Israel which were not included in the original UN partition plan as "disputed" as well. Besides, George W's infamous letter to Ariel Sharon, saying he could, in effect, keep large bits of the West Bank, set the seal on Johnson's deception.

McHugo mischievously adds that a mandatory warning in a city that says "dogs must be kept on the lead near ponds in the park" clearly means that "all" dogs and "all" ponds are intended. These days, of course, we use walls to keep dogs out. Palestinians, too.



Robert Fisk’s World: How Can Anyone Believe There Is 'Progress' In The Middle East?


A test of Obama’s gumption will come scarcely three months after his inauguration

If reporting is, as I suspect, a record of mankind's folly, then the end of 2008 is proving my point.

Let's kick off with the man who is not going to change the Middle East, Barack Obama, who last week, with infinite predictability, became Time's "person of the year". But buried in a long and immensely tedious interview inside the magazine, Obama devotes just one sentence to the Arab-Israeli conflict: "And seeing if we can build on some of the progress, at least in conversation, that's been made around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be a priority."

What is this man talking about? "Building on progress?" What progress? On the verge of another civil war between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, with Benjamin Netanyahu a contender for Israeli prime minister, with Israel's monstrous wall and its Jewish colonies still taking more Arab land, and Palestinians still firing rockets at Sderot, and Obama thinks there's "progress" to build on?

I suspect this nonsensical language comes from the mental mists of his future Secretary of State. "At least in conversation" is pure Hillary Clinton – its meaning totally eludes me – and the giveaway phrase about progress being made "around" the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is even weirder. Of course if Obama had talked about an end to Jewish settlement building on Arab land – the only actual "building" that is going on in the conflict – relations with Hamas as well as the Palestinian Authority, justice for both sides in the conflict, along with security for Palestinians as well as Israelis, then he might actually effect a little change.

An interesting test of Obama's gumption is going to come scarcely three months after his inauguration when he will have a little promise to honour. Yup, it's that dratted 24 April commemoration of the Armenian genocide when Armenians remember the 1.5 million of their countrymen – citizens of the Ottoman empire slaughtered by the Turks – on the anniversary of the day in 1915 when the first Armenian professors, artists and others were taken off to execution by the Ottoman authorities.

Bill Clinton promised Armenians he'd call it a "genocide" if they helped to elect him to office. George Bush did the same. So did Obama. The first two broke their word and resorted to "tragedy" rather than "genocide" once they'd got the votes, because they were frightened of all those bellowing Turkish generals, not to mention – in Bush's case – the US military supply routes through Turkey, the "roads and so on" as Robert Gates called them in one of history's more gripping ironies, these being the same "roads and so on" upon which the Armenians were sent on their death marches in 1915. And Mr Gates will be there to remind Obama of this. So I bet you – I absolutely bet on the family cat – that Obama is going to find that "genocide" is "tragedy" by 24 April.

By chance, I browsed through Turkish Airlines' in-flight magazine while cruising into Istanbul earlier this month and found an article on the historical Turkish region of Harput. "Asia's natural garden", "a popular holiday resort", the article calls Harput, "where churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary rise next to tombs of the ancestors of Mehmet the Conqueror".

Odd, all those churches, isn't it? And you have to shake your head to remember that Harput was the centre of the Christian Armenian genocide, the city from which Leslie Davis, the brave American consul in Harput, sent back his devastating eyewitness dispatches of the thousands of butchered Armenian men and women whose corpses he saw with his own eyes. But I guess that all would spoil the "natural garden" effect. It's a bit like inviting tourists to the Polish town of Oswiecim – without mentioning that its German name is Auschwitz.

But these days, we can all rewrite history. Take Nicolas Sarkozy, France's cuddliest ever president, who not only toadies up to Bashar al-Assad of Syria but is now buttering up the sick and awful Algerian head of state Abdelaziz Bouteflika who's just been "modifying" the Algerian constitution to give himself a third term in office.

There was no parliamentary debate, just a show of hands – 500 out of 529 – and what was Sarko's response? "Better Bouteflika than the Taliban!" I always thought the Taliban operated a bit more to the east – in Afghanistan, where Sarko's lads are busy fighting them – but you never can tell. Not least when exiled former Algerian army officers revealed that undercover soldiers as well as the Algerian Islamists (Sarko's "Taliban") were involved in the brutal village massacres of the 1990s.

Talking of "undercover", I was amazed to learn of the training system adopted by the Met lads who put Jean Charles de Menezes to death on the Tube. According to former police commander Brian Paddick, the Met's secret rules for "dealing" with suicide bombers were drawn up "with the help of Israeli experts". What? Who were these so-called "experts" advising British policemen how to shoot civilians on the streets of London? The same men who assassinate wanted Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and brazenly kill Palestinian civilians at the same time? The same people who outrageously talk about "targeted killings" when they murder their opponents? Were these the thugs who were advising Lady Cressida Dick and her boys?

Not that our brave peace envoy, Lord Blair, would have much to say about it. He's the man, remember, whose only proposed trip to Gaza was called off when yet more "Israeli experts" advised him that his life might be in danger. Anyway, he'd still rather be president of Europe, something Sarko wants to award him. That, I suppose, is why Blair wrote such a fawning article in the same issue of Time which made Obama "person" of the year. "There are times when Nicolas Sarkozy resembles a force of nature," Blair grovels. It's all first names, of course. "Nicolas has the hallmark of any true leader"; "Nicolas has adopted..."; "Nicolas recognises"; "Nicolas reaching out...". In all, 15 "Nicolases". Is that the price of the Euro presidency? Or will Blair now tell us he's going to be involved in those "conversations" with Obama to "build on some of the progress" in the Middle East?


Robert Fisk: Bring In The Peacekeepers? It's Not As Easy As It Sounds 


Do I hear the braying of the UN donkey in Gaza? On his Middle East tour, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, may well be mentioning that well-known Eeyore figure on the East River, always so willing to send its peacekeepers on Mission Impossible. The Palestinians have been trying to internationalise their conflict with the Israelis ever since Yasser Arafat pleaded for UN forces to protect the Palestinians after the failure of the Oslo agreement.

Always the Israelis have refused. The very odd observer force which the EU installed in Hebron after Baruch Golstein had massacred Palestinians at the mosque – its patrols regularly interrupted by the Jewish settlers of this very odd city – simply faded away. And the United Nations Relief and Works Agency has been throwing tents and food and school classes at the slums of Palestinian refugee camps for generations. Can it be that yet another Israeli failure in Gaza will change the dynamics of "peacekeeping" in the Middle East, that at last the ghost of Arafat will watch the "internationalisation" of the Israeli-Palestinian war?

The cliché, in both senses of the word – both the tired phrase and the matrix for any future UN force – is, of course, UNIFIL, the so-called United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. It arrived in southern Lebanon in 1978 after Israel's hopeless "Operation Litani", which was supposed to "destroy" the Palestinian guerrilla forces north of the Israeli border. The UN mandate insisted that the Israelis retreat to their international frontier – which they refused to do – eventually leaving the UN with an Israeli occupation force to the south of them and Palestinian units with bases inside the UN force and to the north of them.

When Israel staged another hopeless invasion in 1982 – like its unrealistic Hamas operation in Gaza as well as the 1978 Lebanon invasion, it was supposed to "destroy" their Palestinian enemies – the UN found itself operating entirely within an Israeli occupation zone, even allowing Israel's intelligence officers to travel through UN checkpoints to arrest or assassinate members of the latest Lebanese militia to oppose the occupation in the south.

Only when Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, 22 years after the UN's first arrival, did the peacekeeping force – now largely from poorer African and Asian countries – operate independently, albeit with Hizbollah now installed in their midst. The 2006 Israeli-Hizbollah war ended with a larger UN force in southern Lebanon, this time commanded by Nato generals who patrolled an area free of Hizbollah weapons – but only because Hizballah's newer long-range rockets could be fired from north of the UN's area of operations.

The UN force, it should be added, was constantly abused by Israel. It was accused of being "pro-Palestinian" (whatever that is), in league with "terrorists" (it was never explained how), weak, anti-Israeli and – of course – anti-Semitic. Israelis even accused a local UN Fijian commander of spreading Aids. So could there be yet another UN force in the region? Originally, there was a UN observer force on the Lebanese-Israeli border.

It arrived in 1948 and still exists – unarmed, on the frontier to this day, within the UNIFIL zone – and this, in reality, could be the framework of a new UN force in Palestine. In other words, an unarmed observer group rather than a peacekeeping force, which could add an international voice to ceasefire violations between Israel and Hamas. But be sure, the Palestinians would then ask for the same institution to be placed on the West Bank-Israeli border – and therein lies the problem for both Israel and the UN.

For which "frontier" would the UN then patrol? The UN border of the 1940s, the pre-1967 ceasefire lines – in which a pre-annexed East Jerusalem belonged to the Arabs – or the post-1967 border in which Israel claimed "annexed" Jerusalem, or the massive walled "frontier" which now bites deeply into yet more Palestinian territory – illegally in international law? And would the UN also have to "observe" the equally illegal Jewish settlements built on Arab land within the West Bank?

Gaza sounds an easy option. The UN could place some international troops around Gaza. But it would only be a matter of time before they would be required around the West Bank. That would be a Palestinian dream – and, for those Israelis who wish to continue their expansion into Palestinian land – a nightmare.




What is Israel afraid of? Using the old "enclosed military area" excuse to prevent coverage of its occupation of Palestinian land has been going on for years. But the last time Israel played this game – in Jenin in 2000 – it was a disaster. Prevented from seeing the truth with their own eyes, reporters quoted Palestinians who claimed there had been a massacre by Israeli soldiers – and Israel spent years denying it. In fact, there was a massacre, but not on the scale that it was originally reported.

Now the Israeli army is trying the same doomed tactic again. Ban the press. Keep the cameras out. By yesterday morning, only hours after the Israeli army went clanking into Gaza to kill more Hamas members – and, of course, more civilians – Hamas was reporting the capture of two Israeli soldiers. Reporters on the ground could have sorted out the truth or the lie about that. But without a single Western journalist in Gaza, the Israelis were left to tell the world that they didn't know if the story was true.

On the other hand, the Israelis are so ruthless that the reasons for the ban on journalism may be quite easily explained: that so many Israeli soldiers are going to kill so many innocents – more than three score by last night, and that's only the ones we know about – that images of the slaughter would be too much to tolerate. Not that the Palestinians have done much to help. The kidnapping by a Palestinian mafia family of the BBC's man in Gaza – finally released by Hamas, although that's not being recalled right now – put paid to any permanent Western television presence in Gaza months ago. Yet the results are the same.

Back in 1980, the Soviet Union threw every Western journalist out of Afghanistan. Those of us who had been reporting the Russian invasion and its brutal aftermath could not re-enter the country – except with the mujahedin guerrillas. I received a letter from Charles Douglas-Hume, who was editor of the The Times – for which I then worked – making an important observation. "Now that we have no regular coverage from Afghanistan," he noted on 26 March that year, "I would be grateful if you could make sure that we do not miss any opportunity for reporting on reliable accounts of what is going on in that country. We must not let events in Afghanistan vanish from the paper simply because we have no correspondent there."

That the Israelis should use an old Soviet tactic to blind the world's vision of war may not be surprising. But the result is that Palestinian voices – as opposed to those of Western reporters – are now dominating the airwaves. The men and women who are under air and artillery attack by the Israelis are now telling their own story on television and radio and in the papers as they have never been able to tell it before, without the artificial "balance", which so much television journalism imposes on live reporting. Perhaps this will become a new form of coverage – letting the participants tell their own story. The flip side, of course, is that there is no Westerner in Gaza to cross-question Hamas's devious account of events: another victory for the Palestinian militia, handed to them on a plate by the Israelis.

But there is also a darker side. Israel's version of events has been given so much credence by the dying Bush administration that the ban on journalists entering Gaza may simply be of little importance to the Israeli army. By the time we investigate, whatever they are trying to hide will have been overtaken by another crisis in which they can claim to be in the "front line" in the "war on terror".


Israel must be held to account over Gaza action


OPINION: WHEN DOES the mandate of victimhood expire? At what point does the Nazi genocide of Europe's Jews cease to excuse the state of Israel from the demands of international law and of common humanity?

At the point, surely, when that special pleading dishonours the memory of the Holocaust itself and excusing Israel involves the hollowing out of both reason and morality. The words that emerged from Auschwitz - "Never Again" - are the most powerful protection we have from moral hypocrisy, from racism, and from the twisted language that defends the indefensible.

It is a great historic tragedy that those words must now be spoken against the Jewish state.

Nothing compares to Nazism, and the extreme caution that must always be used in drawing analogies with that murderous regime has to apply a hundredfold when Israel is discussed. Whatever the outward similarities, the Gaza Strip is not the Warsaw ghetto.

Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, however deplorable, is not remotely comparable to the systematic policy of extermination implemented by Hitler. The extreme defensiveness of Israeli attitudes is fundamentally different to the extreme aggressiveness of Nazi Germany.

There are, however, two respects in which Israel's current behaviour demonstrates attitudes that overlap with the Nazi mentality. The first of these is the notion of collective punishment. It has long been a staple principle of international law, at least since the Hague convention of 1907, that collective punishment of a population is a crime. The fourth Geneva convention of 1949, written with Nazi atrocities specifically in mind, says that "No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited." Israel has consistently flouted these laws. Since 1967, almost 18,000 houses have been demolished in the occupied Palestinian territories by the Israeli armed forces, sometimes citing "administrative" or "operational" necessities, but often quite explicitly to punish the family of someone suspected of being a terrorist. But the treatment of Gaza since Hamas won the (largely free) elections there three years ago has taken the practice of collective punishment against a whole population to a new level.

Gaza is among the most heavily built-up areas in the world. Of the population of around 1.5 million, well over half are children. Even if one were to take the extreme (and unlawful) line that the adults of Gaza deserve collective punishment because they voted for a Hamas administration in a democratic election, that leaves at least 750,000 people living in Gaza who have no responsibility whatever for Hamas's crimes.

Yet, even before the bombing, Israel has consciously and systematically punished these children for the perceived sins of their government.

Israel deliberately destroyed the business infrastructure in a territory where half the adult population was already officially unemployed. Since the beginning of November, it has tightly limited food supplies to an area in which the vast majority of children are fed by international relief agencies. It blocked the importation of medicines, parts for water and sanitation systems, fertiliser, and plastic sheeting.

It cut the supply of diesel to Gaza's only power station. None of this has any conceivable military justification. It has been, quite simply and brutally, the collective punishment of the population carried out in a way that is calculated to hurt the most vulnerable most severely.

The second aspect of Israel's policy that has overlapped with the Nazi mentality is its profound racism. In Israel's case, of course, the racism is not explicit, and it would be vehemently denied by all but the lunatic fringe of the country's political system. But it exists very clearly in the flagrant disproportion of Israel's response to Hamas's crimes.

Hamas's campaign of firing rockets indiscriminately into towns and villages in southern Israel is a terrorist crime. It is clearly wrong under international law either to target non-combatants in a conflict or to be recklessly indifferent to civilian casualties. But Israel's response to this terrorism is not merely criminal in exactly the same sense. It adds a further dimension of depravity by playing a game of revenge in which one Israeli life is worth at least 20 Palestinian lives.

Between 2002 and the start of the bombing campaign last week, 16 Israeli civilians had been killed by Hamas rockets fired from Gaza. In retaliation, Israeli bombing raids, shelling and ground operations have killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians.

In this brutal calculus, the basic assumption is the superiority of Israeli lives over the lives of the Palestinians for whom Israel, as the occupying power is legally and morally responsible.

We collude with this logic if we continue to treat Israeli violence as a special case. Israel needs to be told that it cannot use collective punishment and racist devaluing of the lives of others and still be a respected, law-bound state. The one person who can deliver that message is Barack Obama, whose government funds Israel to the tune of $3 billion a year. Whether he has the courage to speak will tell us a lot about the nature of his upcoming presidency.


The Need For Equality Of Suffering And Of Coverage

By Eoghan Harris

Sunday January 11 2009

Last week, a montage formed in my mind, made up of the three main media stories: public sector pay, Tony Gregory's politics, and the Israeli incursion into Gaza. By the end of the week they had merged into one black media mountain, biased against good authority and in favour of bad politics.

Good authority is about challenging the comfortable consensus. Bad politics is a seamless robe woven from the same consensus. By bad politics I mean parroting politically correct positions. By seamless robe I mean that a pundit who is wrong on one major moral issue is likely to be wrong on more than one. By consensus I mean the weak way politicians, commentators and academics seek shelter under the same roof.

Let me start with public sector pay. Until recently, few commentators had the courage to call for root and branch reform. Stephen Collins in the Irish Times did so consistently. But even after the recession revealed itself, red in tooth and claw, RTE News and Current Affairs refused -- as I recorded here recently -- to give the story any serious coverage.

Far from subjecting public sector pay to severe scrutiny, highly-paid RTE presenters call on critical commentators to pack it in. Last Sunday, Joe Duffy warned his Mail readers about a "head of steam building up from the commentariat blaming those who work for the State for our financial woes". And he piously added: "There's no benefit to be gained from advocating equality of suffering for workers."

Actually, equality of suffering is the whole point. In a boom we shrug our shoulders if shoved aside by an SUV. In a recession we want to shove back. From now on, private sector workers will rightly require a flatter economy with no great divides between public and private sector workers. And since there is no way of increasing private sector pay, the public sector must help close the gap.

If Duffy still doubts that the gap is deeply divisive, all he has to do is consult Constantin Gurdgiev in his own paper. Gurdgiev pointed out (days before the Dell news) that, this coming year, private sector workers will see their income shrink by up to 15 per cent.

And while private sector workers suffer, what sacrifices will public sector workers make? None. "Nobody will seriously ask any of them to raise their productivity (on average about 30 per cent below that of the private sector) or to take a significant cut in their pay (about 40 per cent above private sector)."

Last Monday, Dan White in the Evening Herald drove the point home. "With public sector pay now averaging more than 20pc above the private sector, even before public sector employees' bullet-proof pensions are taken into account, what we need are across-the-board public sector pay cuts. If that causes the public sector trade unions to walk away from the so-called "social partnership" in a huff, then so much the better."

At least RTE presenters look after their own jobs. Not so TV3 presenter Vincent Browne who looks after the whole public sector. Last Monday, when Professor Brendan Lucey of TCD said he was prepared to take a pay cut, Browne brushed him aside.

Last Thursday, Browne did the same to Dr Bill Tormey, a public sector consultant.

As soon as Dr Tormey courageously called for cuts in public-sector pay. Browne instantly diverted attention from the core issue by demanding to know how much Tormey earned -- a question he did not put to the other two on the panel -- and then moved away from the core issue of public-sector pay cuts.

Furthermore, Browne never seems comfortable with criticism of RTE. You would never think he works for TV3, a small, private television company competing with the public sector colossus of RTE. Indeed, Browne has such a crush on his old flame that I often wish he and RTE would rent a room, or at least a studio.

* * *

Let me now turn to the late Tony Gregory. Here I find it easy to conform with the Irish custom of not criticising the dead. Mr Gregory was a good man and a good public representative. But the President and the Taoiseach's presence at his funeral mass glossed over some problematical aspects of his politics in two areas.

According to his Irish Times obituary: "In 1984, he (Gregory) said he had no misgivings about the then Concerned Parents Against Drugs movement." If so he was seriously out of step with many on the left, not least Barry Desmond, who challenged the vigilante behaviour of the CPAD and was targeted by them in retaliation.

It was common knowledge that the CPAD vigilantes were infiltrated by IRA gunmen. In May 1996, a small-time dealer, Josie Dwyer, who was wasted by Aids and only weighed seven stone, was beaten to a pulp with iron bars and lump hammers. After massive IRA intimidation, only two men were convicted. One of those who escaped conviction was later arrested after an armed Real IRA robbery and later still was convicted of murdering his wife.

The President and Taoiseach were also told at his funeral that Gregory's "political hero" wasSeamus Costello, founder of the INLA. According to the University of Ulster's aptly named CAIN project, the INLA was responsible for 113 deaths, including two members of An Garda Siochana and 10 of its own members.

In turning up for Mr Gregory's funeral but not for Conor Cruise O'Brien's, Official Irelandseemed to reject revisionists and showed respect for republican socialists. Bad choice. Far too many starry eyes under the starry plough.

Finally, let me turn to Fintan O'Toole's polemic against Israeli military actions in Gaza, in last Tuesday's Irish Times. After a cursory attempt to protect his posterior by proclaiming he was not going to compare Israel with Nazi Germany, O'Toole went on write: "There are, however, two respects in which Israel's current behaviour demonstrates attitudes that overlap with the Nazi mentality."

In a robust reply last Friday, the Israeli ambassador, Zion Evrony, accused O'Toole of "trying to insulate himself in advance from the charge of equating Israel with Nazi Germany. But in a transparent display of intellectual dishonesty he then proceeded to do just that".

At least the Irish Times sometimes lets us hear both sides. The rest of the media, ranging from newspapers to RTE News, is far too fond of inflaming our passions with footage of alleged atrocities featuring the corpses of little children, shorn of any subtext seeking to ask if Hamas bears any responsibility for these little bodies.

Particularly praiseworthy is the work done by Liam McAuley, letters editor of the Irish Times. Although in my view his choice of correspondence leans a little to the anti-Israeli side, he would probably argue this is a true reflection of public opinion. But what matters is that he chooses letters which seem to listen to each other, creating the effect of an engaged dialogue rather than a series of stand-alone denunciations.

The result is that right now, as the polemics roar like rockets, the letters page of the Irish Times is a calm oasis where both sides can have their say in peace.


Maybe world's silence would allow both sides to talk


The Great War For Civilization: The Conquest Of The Middle East.


Qassam rockets have a range of 3 to 10 kilometers (2 to 6 mi). Most of Israel remains out of range. However, over time the range of the weapons used has increased. In the transition from Qassam 1 through to Qassam 3 the range went from 3 to 10 kilometers and the explosive payload went from 0.5 kilograms (1 lb) to 10 kilograms (4 lb), and this is expected to rise in the future.


The attacks are rarely fatal (<0.4% mortality).


An Unnecessary War By Jimmy Carter

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