Never Again!

In commemoration of what happened in Gaza two years ago today, as Operation Cast Lead was launched in unprecedented ferocity at about 11:30 am on 27 December 2008.

This should never happen again — but, many already feel another operation is in the air…

Haaretz is reporting that Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai just said, yesterday, during a tour of some of the Israeli communities around the Gaza perimeter where projectiles fired from Gaza have hit recently, that “Gaza is like an abscess, a problematic boil”.  This is reported here.

The IDF Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi said in Tel Aviv today that “Two years after Operation Cast Lead, the situation in the Gaza Strip is different and calmer. Yet, sadly, from time to time, rockets and mortar shells are fired at the Israeli home front … The IDF holds the Hamas terrorist organization solely responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip. We hope that the security situation in the south does not deteriorate, however the IDF is preparing for any scenario”. This was reported in the Jerusalem Post here

On 21 December, the JPost’s Yaakov Katz reported that “IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.- Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi called the situation in Gaza “fragile and explosive.” Sources in the Southern Command told The Jerusalem Post that Hamas would likely prevent rocket fire deep into the Israeli home front, but continue targeting towns and IDF positions along the border. ‘We have no guarantee that the situation won’t deteriorate if a rocket causes a large number of casualties’, Ashkenazi said during one of his final briefings to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Ashkenazi also revealed that two weeks ago an advanced Russian-made Kornet anti-tank missile – one of the most sophisticated in the world – hit an Israeli Merkava tank and succeeded in penetrating its hull. As a result, the IDF has decided to deploy Battalion 9 of the 401st Armored Brigade along the Gaza border, since its tanks are equipped with the new Trophy active-protection anti-tank missile defense system … Ashkenazi said that a total of 60 Palestinian terrorists [sic] had been killed inside the Gaza Strip over the past few months in 112 Israeli attacks … Ashkenazi said the man calling the shots in Gaza was not Ismail Haniyah, the Hamas prime minister, but Ahmed Jabari, commander of Hamas’s military wing. ‘We see Hamas as the responsible party in the Gaza Strip, and therefore even if it is not Hamas that fires into Israel, the IDF’s attacks are carried out against Hamas’, said Israel’s top soldier. Although Ashkenazi told MKs that the Iron Dome counterrocket defense system would become operational in the coming year, he cautioned against exaggerated hopes regarding the coverage it provides. ‘It is not perfect’, said the IDF chief”. This report is posted here.

Among the very first casualties on the opening day of Operation Cast Lead, two years ago today, were some 100 – 250 persons [estimates vary] at a Police graduation ceremony in Gaza City. Israel still maintains that these graduates, unarmed but in uniform, were a legitimate target — though this position appears to be in direct contradiction to principles laid out in the Fourth Geneva Conventions.

[Last year, it was not possible to commemorate the first anniversary of the launch of such ferocious destruction either properly or appropriately, because of the shocking news of an IDF operation in and around Nablus early that morning, in which three Palestinians who were suspected of shooting a Jewish settler from the nearby settlement of Shavrei Shimron were themselves summarily killed in pre-dawn raids by Israeli soldiers, as we reported at the time, here.]

This is a commemorative reposting of the Gaza Song, which we first posted last May, in the hours before the Israeli Naval assault at sea on the Freedom Flotilla, which resulted in the deaths of 9 men on board the Mavi Marmara (this large passenger ship returned to Turkey only yesterday, after detention in Israel and then extensive repairs in a “Mediterranean port”).

The Gaza Song was written and is performed by Los Angeles musician Michael Heart — he released the song in February 2009, just after Israel’s unprecedented 22-day Operation Cast Lead which broke out two years ago today [27 December 2008] and lasted 22 days, until just hours before the inauguration ceremony for U.S. President Barack Obama on 18 January 2009.

Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard, who has just filed a case based on behalf of some 500 Gazan victims killed during Operation Cast Lead — because the two year statue of limitations for filing civil claims was about to expire — wrote this in an article published a year ago [on the first anniversary of Operation Cast Lead] on the Coteret website: “Looking back, Operation Cast Lead was a turning point in the way Israeli society expresses its values. There, in besieged Gaza Strip, we exposed ourselves to a crystal-clear, shameless, and unmasked truth that we had thus far avoided by using repression and self-deceit methods that became more complex and clever with every war and operation we waged. Like that macho man who grew tired of pretending he was politically correct and angrily yelled at his wife to go back to the kitchen, we came out of the closet. We are who we are and we are proud of it! For three weeks, during Operation Cast Lead, we sent fighter jets to drop bombs on one of the world’s most densely populated areas. We aimed our guns at clearly civilian targets. We used [white?] phosphorous bombs. We deliberately and systematically demolished thousands of private houses and public buildings, and all the while we maintained a tight siege on the Gaza Strip, preventing civilians who wanted to from fleeing the war zone. We did not erect a temporary refugee camp for them. We did not create a humanitarian no-mans’-land corridor for them. We did not spare hospitals, food repositories, or even UN aid agencies’ buildings. At the same time, we did not express fake regret. We did not argue we made tragic mistakes. We did not even take wounded children to Israeli hospitals”…

Continue reading Never Again!

This is what war does — who wants more?

“I don’t remember a white flag…” – Testimony from the soldier, S., a member of the IDF’s Givati Brigade, who shot at a group of Gazan civilians fleeing the war that had suddenly erupted near the home they had been sheltering it, as reported in Haaretz today.

A woman, head of a family, died on the spot.

The Haaretz report, today, does not say who she was, or where she was killed — perhaps it may be reported later on Israeli TV (see below), perhaps not.

Equality of respect for victims in this conflict is rare to the point of non-existence. The Haaretz story is like the maps of this place: just as, in order to understand the geography and history here, you need to have one map with the Israeli place names next to one with Arabic place names, you likewise need to look at this account and then open other internet pages or pull out other documents prepared by Israeli human rights groups and by the UN, in order to find out who the woman was, and to learn from survivors what was happening to her and to them at the time.

According to details of information collected by Human Rights Watch, it seems that this woman may have been Ibtisam al-Qanu’, 40, mother of seven children, killed in ‘Atatra [in northern Gaza] as an IDF bulldozer [a D-9?] was demolishing the house that also under fire as it was sheltering her and 39 other members of her family.

Haaretz reports today that “The evidence collected in the case, as well as exclusive interviews with S. and other soldiers indicted over Cast Lead, will be broadcast on television tonight on Ilana Dayan’s program ‘Uvda’ (‘Fact’ ), which airs at 9 P.M. on Channel 2. Based on evidence collected thus far, it seems the incident raises much larger questions than merely who fired and at what”.

Continue reading This is what war does — who wants more?

Just before lunar eclipse, as winter solstice begins, IDF retaliates for retaliatory Gaza rocket fire

Just before the extremely unusual coincidence of the total lunar eclipse last night as the winter solstice begins [this happened the last time over 400 years ago, while the next one will be in 2094 according to NASA, and big changes are predicted], the Israeli Air Force launched airstrikes against various targets in Gaza to retaliate for a recent increase in rocket fire on Israel from Gaza. So far, three Palestinian injuries from these attacks have been reported.

The firing from Gaza was in retaliation for the near-daily attrition of Israeli strikes on Palestinian workers trying to collect rocks and rubble in northern Gaza, and also on Palestinian fishermen working close to shore off the Gaza coast [a 15-year old Gazan drowned during an Israeli Navy attack on the boat he was working in on Sunday], and on farmers and protestors approaching Israel’s unilaterally-declared no-go zone inside the eastern land perimeter of the Gaza Strip. Severe restrictions have been imposed on Gaza’s perimeter and maritime space during and after the large-scale Israeli military operation two years ago, Operation Cast Lead.

UPDATE: the IDF reported that with these attacks (overnight 20-21 December), “For the First Time Since Cast Lead, IDF Strikes Hamas Targets in the Gaza Strip”…[see here.!

Israeli military information has complained, significantly, that the recent firing from Gaza involved “military-use projectiles” (not the previous home-made low-grade stuff).

In the past, Israeli officials have noted that various small organizations which were not Hamas had done the firing, although Israel holds Hamas untimately responsible on the grounds that it “controls” the internal authority in Gaza Strip.

This time, the distinction has not been made.

Continue reading Just before lunar eclipse, as winter solstice begins, IDF retaliates for retaliatory Gaza rocket fire

Israel's Naval Blockade

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent around a fuller explanation of Israel’s current maritime blockade of Gaza.

The Israeli government and military have been extraordinarily closemouthed about this blockade. It has been difficult even to get information that it still was in effect (it was officially announced on 3-4 January 2009, as the ground phase of Operation Cast Lead got underway).

Military officials have indicated, rather casually, that it extends 20 miles out to sea, and is identical to what is Gaza’s maritime space, as agreed in the Oslo Accords and defined by an official map drawn up in 1994, which can be viewed on the MFA website here.

It has been unclear if that was still the exact area covered by the Israeli naval blockade — the IDF informed the Freedom Flotilla yesterday that the no-go zone had been extended from 20 to 48, 60, or 68 miles, depending on the report. This notice was given just hours before the Israeli military launched an attack on the Freedom Flotilla that, yes, did say it was heading to Gaza to break the Israeli blockade. (The Free Gaza movement said the same thing, months before the naval blockade was declared).

Among the things that are still unclear about Israel’s naval blockade are: exactly where and when it was published, and the exact current dimensions of the zone.

Here is what the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent around tonight:

“1. A maritime blockade is in effect off the coast of Gaza. Such blockade has been imposed, as Israel is currently in a state of armed conflict with the Hamas regime that controls Gaza, which has repeatedly bombed civilian targets in Israel with weapons that have been smuggled into Gaza via the sea.

“2. Maritime blockades are a legitimate and recognized measure under international law that may be implemented as part of an armed conflict at sea.

“3. A blockade may be imposed at sea, including in international waters, so long as it does not bar access to the ports and coasts of neutral states.

“4. The naval manuals of several western countries, including the US and England recognize the maritime blockade as an effective naval measure and set forth the various criteria that make a blockade valid, including the requirement of give due notice of the existence of the blockade.

“5. In this vein, it should be noted that Israel publicized the existence of the blockade and the precise coordinates of such by means of the accepted international professional maritime channels. Israel also provided appropriate notification to the affected governments and to the organizers of the Gaza protest flotilla. Moreover, in real time, the ships participating in the protest flotilla were warned repeatedly that a maritime blockade is in effect.

“6. Here, it should be noted that under customary law, knowledge of the blockade may be presumed once a blockade has been declared and appropriate notification has been granted, as above.

“7. Under international maritime law, when a maritime blockade is in effect, no boats can enter the blockaded area. That includes both civilian and enemy vessels.

“8. A state may take action to enforce a blockade. Any vessel that violates or attempts to violate a maritime blockade may be captured or even attacked under international law. The US Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations sets forth that a vessel is considered to be in attempt to breach a blockade from the time the vessel leaves its port with the intention of evading the blockade.

“9. Here we should note that the protesters indicated their clear intention to violate the blockade by means of written and oral statements. Moreover, the route of these vessels indicated their clear intention to violate the blockade in violation of international law. [n.b. – this last phrase, “in violation of international law”, could be debated.]

“10. Given the protesters explicit intention to violate the naval blockade, Israel exercised its right under international law to enforce the blockade. It should be noted that prior to undertaking enforcement measures, explicit warnings were relayed directly to the captains of the vessels, expressing Israel’s intent to exercise its right to enforce the blockade.

“11. Israel had attempted to take control of the vessels participating in the flotilla by peaceful means and in an orderly fashion in order to enforce the blockade. Given the large number of vessels participating in the flotilla, an operational decision was made to undertake measures to enforce the blockade a certain distance from the area of the blockade.

“12. Israeli personnel attempting to enforce the blockade were met with violence by the protesters and acted in self defense to fend off such attacks”.

This legal backgrounder from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs is posted on their website, here.

There are very loosely-sourced reports that Turkey will send the next humanitarian flotilla via sea to Gaza accompanied by Turkish military escorts. There were rumors that this was what they were going to do this time — but they didn’t…

Naomi Chazan summarily dropped as columnist by Jerusalem Post – because of Goldstone report?

In a spiraling controversy that centers on official Israeli opposition to the Goldstone report cataloging violations of international humanitarian law during the massive IDF offensive in Gaza last winter, Naomi Chazan has just been informed that her weekly columns will no longer be published by the Jerusalem Post.

Will Haaretz immediately make her an offer?

Continue reading Naomi Chazan summarily dropped as columnist by Jerusalem Post – because of Goldstone report?

Gaza: One year after Israel + Hamas enter separate unilateral cease-fires

One year after two separate cease-fires (Israel’s, and Hamas’) ended 22 terrible days of an IDF military operation supposedly directed against Hamas, where are things? How is the situation?

Worse than ever.

Continue reading Gaza: One year after Israel + Hamas enter separate unilateral cease-fires

"We didn't know he was a journalist" + "There was no security concern" — so why detention pending deporation?

This story gets better and better [do I have to say, “irony alert“?].

“There was no security concern”, an Israeli official said about the detention since Tuesday in difficult and uncertain conditions of an American journalist who is awaiting a deportation hearing on Sunday — and the deportation that was carried out already of his girlfriend.

So, these actions must be a form of disciplinary measure…

Continue reading "We didn't know he was a journalist" + "There was no security concern" — so why detention pending deporation?

Report: IDF response to Goldstone almost ready

The Jerusalem Post’s well-informed Defense correspondent, Yaakov Katz, has reported that “The IDF is close to completing a comprehensive report that will respond to the accusations that were leveled at the military by the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, more commonly known as the Goldstone Report. Work on the report began immediately following Operation Cast Lead but picked up speed several months ago with the appointment of Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yuval Halamish, a former senior intelligence officer, to compose the report and coordinate between the different IDF branches that have been conducting investigations into Goldstone’s claims that Israel perpetrated war crimes against the people of Gaza. IDF sources said that Halamish – together with Southern Command, the Air Force, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and the Military Advocate-General – were close to completing the report following which it would be released to the public. Last month, The Jerusalem Post reported that the Southern Command had completed a review of 36 cases of alleged war crimes that Judge Richard Goldstone had accused it of perpetrating and found that 30 of then were ‘baseless accusations’. The six remaining cases were discovered to be based on true events and were caused by operational errors and mistakes … One of Halamish’s first tasks was to oversee the ongoing 28 Military Police investigations and ensure that they were moving along swiftly…
Continue reading Report: IDF response to Goldstone almost ready

Israeli officials present spectrum of views on independent investigation of Gaza war

Israeli officials seem to be taking a range of views on the question of establishing an independent Israeli commission to look into last winter’s war on Gaza.

The IDF’s Operation Cast Lead (27 December to 18 January), was primarily justified as necessary to stop rocket, mortar, and missile fire from Gaza onto surrounding Israeli communities (the range was expanded during the war to up to 60 km). In some instances, Israeli officials said that it was necessary to end Hamas rule in Gaza.

Haaretz is reporting that “Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor thinks Israel should establish its own independent committee to investigate Israel Defense Forces activity in the Gaza Strip during last winter’s Operation Cast Lead. ‘I have faith in the army and it is my duty to protect it, its commanders and its soldiers – and the most effective tool for this is serious self-examination’, Meridor said in a recent interview with Haaretz. ‘A state that examines itself [protects itself from] harassment. Today, with the development of international law, one of the best means of defense is for a state to investigate itself … The commission of inquiry that I hope will be established must examine the Goldstone report’s claims, even if it is a biased report, and its mandate from the outset was to examine Israel’s crimes, and one of the committee’s members stated prior to the investigation that Israel commits war crimes’, said Meridor, who also serves as minister of intelligence and atomic energy. ‘But the threat is serious and a commission of inquiry should be established, also to examine the suitability of the rules of war to the new type of war that has been imposed on us’ … As for Meridor’s recent return to politics, he attributed the move to the Second Lebanon War. ‘I saw how a government of intelligent people, some of whom I know very well personally, weren’t asking the elementary questions when sending the nation to war’, he said. ‘Going to war is the hardest decision a government can make. You don’t go to war unless all other options have been exhausted. You don’t go to war because you’re right, but because you know where you want to get to’.”  This article is posted on Haaretz’s website, here.

Israeli officialdom, however, appears to be divided — though mainly over tactics.  Like Meridor, some senior Israeli officials are reportedly speaking out in favor of an independent Israeli investigation.  Some “mainstream” (as opposed to “left-wing”) Israeli experts in international law, and some Israeli legal figures agree.  However, as reported in recent days, the explanation given in some cases is that the independent investigations should be just to comply with the bottom-line recommendation contained in the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Goldstone report — namely, that Israel and Hamas must each establish internal investigations within six months, or be referred to the UN Security Council. Some say this is required for “better PR”.

Continue reading Israeli officials present spectrum of views on independent investigation of Gaza war

Gaza and more

For those who follow what is happening in and to Gaza, there is an interesting article in the Jerusalem Post that reported “Reeling from four damning reports in one week from human rights organizations about the IDF’s conduct in Operation Cast Lead, the sense among senior defense officials is that the ‘legal front’ against Israel is growing at an alarming rate”. This article can be read in full here

As we reported yesterday here, the IDF appears to have blinked, and in a statement issued by its Spokespersons’ Unit it said Thursday that “In addition to the investigations ordered by the Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the IDF is currently looking into complaints that were received from various sources – private lawyers, human rights organizations (including Amnesty) and media outlets (both domestic and international) – that raise different questions regarding the way in which the IDF operated during Operation Cast Lead. In certain cases, the Chief Military Advocate has already ordered the opening of a criminal investigation“.

That is important, and good But is it too late? There has been too much appallingly irresponsible disregard for other people here.

Maan News Agency reported recently that Israeli Intelligence forces have said that there has been a marked increase in “fake medical papers and documents being submitted to Israeli border officials by Palestinians in Gaza. The permits allow the patients to enter Israel … Israeli authorities, who claim most of the patients are ‘not sick’, and only want to enter the area to find work in Israel or the West Bank”.

Is that surprising?

Continue reading Gaza and more