Professor Jeremy Salt teaches political science at Ankara, Turkey’s Bilkent University. He’s also the author of The Unmaking of the Middle East: A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands. On January 9, 2009, during Israel’s war on Gaza, he wrote “A Message to the brave Israeli Airmen,” asking:
What’s it like, firing missiles at people you can’t see?
Does that help, that you cannot see who you are killing?
Does it ease your conscience that you are not deliberately targeting civilians, when, in fact, you are under Israel’s Dahiya Doctrine to use enough “disproportionate force (to inflict) damage and met(e) out punishment” against civilian infrastructure, “economic interests and the centers of civilian power,” willfully slaughtering noncombatant men, women and children;
How does this sit on your conscience?
Do you sleep well at night or do you have nightmares of the women and children you killed in their homes, in their beds, in their kitchens and living rooms, in their schools and mosques?
Do you really believe they threaten your security — farmers in their fields, mothers with their children, teachers in classrooms, imams in mosques, children at play, the elderly, frail or disabled?
Do you ever question what you’ve done and why? Have you no shame, no sense of decency, no idea of the difference between right and wrong? Will you follow orders blindly and do it again and again, mindless about crimes of war and against humanity you, your superiors, and government officials are accountable for under fundamental international law?
“Brave” Israeli airmen, soldiers, sailors, and other security force personnel have acted lawlessly for decades, including committing appalling human rights crimes — a snapshot of some victims follows.
Persecuting Mazin Qumsiyeh
Qumsiyeh teaches and does research at Bethlehem and Birzeit Universities in the West Bank. Earlier he taught at Yale, Duke, and the University of Tennessee. Interested mainly in media activism and public education, he’s been a board, steering, and executive committee member of numerous activist organizations, and is President of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People and coordinator of the Popular Committee against the Apartheid Wall and Settlements in Beit Sahour. His most recent book is titled, “Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment.”
On the morning of May 6, Qumsiyeh and three others were arrested, handcuffed, and taken to an unknown destination. He explained what happened.
In Al-Wallaja, his “ten hour ordeal” began at 8:30AM. The village is near the Green line. Israel’s Separation Wall route will encircle it. It’s already lost much of its land. Residents fear losing the rest, so to prevent it they resist.
Israeli bulldozers have demolished numerous homes. Heroic villagers inspired others, “including Internationals and Israelis to join them in their popular resistance…. Today’s started as we came through the woods and sat in front of the bulldozer.”
“As the soldiers gathered their forces around us, you could feel (them) preparing themselves for attack. We remained calm and peaceful. They dragged us one by one forcefully from the bulldozed lands. They picked the four of us for arrest for no obvious reason” — Qumsiyeh, two Palestinian brothers, and a Canadian activist.
They beat, clubbed, rifle-butted, and pepper-sprayed the two brothers. All four were then taken to a military checkpoint, told to sit and wait, then ordered “to sign a paper claiming… we were not beaten or mistreated.”
They refused, then taken to “the investigation offices near Qubbit Raheel (Rachel’s tomb), (and) locked up in a metal container.” Hours later, they were interrogated individually, asked, but refused, to sign other papers. Painfully handcuffed, they were returned to the container.
Next on to Talpiot police station to be fingerprinted and photographed. “It was now nearly 5:30 and we were starving…. Finally they br(ought) us some bread, each a slice of cheese and a small packet of jam.” Together they were “dragged in front of a new investigator who asked us to sign a release form that says we are told to stay away from the wall… for 15 days and if we don’t we will (each) have to pay” about $1,200. They signed, were released, but not given their ID cards. Later they got them. “Life goes on in the land of Apartheid. Stay tuned.”
As coordinator of the Popular Committee against the Apartheid Wall and Settlements in Beit Sahour, Qumsiyeh leads Palestinian grassroots resistance against “Israeli occupation and colonization” as well as “stopping and dismantling” what the International Court of Justice (ICJ) called illegal, ordering the Wall’s demolition and for Israel “to make reparation for all damage caused by the construction… including in and around East Jerusalem.”
As the “main national grassroots body mobilizing and organizing resistance against” the Wall, the Campaign “coordinates the work of 54 popular committees in communities” targeted for (or now being) destroyed by its construction.
Strategies against it include raising awareness internationally; national and community resistance; mobilizing solidarity among affected communities, the Arab world, civil society, and unions; calling for global boycott, divestment and sanctions; and enlisting international popular support for justice.
Attacking Disabled Palestinians in Gaza
Besides the occupation, siege, regular incursions, and overall reign of terror against 1.5 million people, Israel targets the disabled, explained by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in a December 2009 report titled, “Israeli Attacks on Palestinian Disabled Persons in the Gaza Strip,” from September 1, 2003-November 30 2009.
It covers willful assaults against disabled civilians, and others incapacitated by attacks. Of most concern was Operation Cast Lead’s 23-day assault from December 27, 2008-January 18, 2009, inflicting massive numbers of deaths and injuries, as well as widespread destruction, mostly against civilians, their homes, mosques, businesses, factories, farms, schools, and hospitals — clear non-military targets. The siege’s effect on health, education, and other vital services was also addressed.
During the reporting period, 31 disabled Palestinians were killed, including four women, and six children. Another 600 sustained permanent disabilities, mostly physical. In addition, because of inadequate or unavailable food, medicines, medical equipment, fuel, clean water, sanitation, and the ability to leave or enter freely, the negative impact has been enormous.
“At the same time, foreign medical and technical personnel have not been able to enter (Gaza) to help the disabled and provide them with necessary medical and rehabilitation services.” As for the overall effect of the siege, the longer it continues the more harm it inflicts on those least able to cope. Precisely Israel’s strategic aim — to strangle and smother all Gazans, the elderly, infirm and disabled the most vulnerable.
Amnesty International (AI) on Israeli War Crimes
In its 2010 annual report, AI accused Western nations of shielding Israel from accountability during the Gaza war and for nearly three years of siege, depriving the population of vital essentials to survive and endure. At the same time, it praised the Goldstone Commission for heroically telling the truth.
In documenting Israeli crimes of war and against humanity, AI said:
“Among other things, (Israel) carried out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians, targeted and killed medical staff, used Palestinian civilians as ‘human shields,’ and indiscriminately (used) white phosphorous (and other illegal weapons) over densely populated residential areas.” As a result, the toll was devastating.
In response, the US State Department downplayed the accusations, saying it “supports the need for accountability for any violations that may have occurred in relation to the Gaza conflict by any party,” ignoring Israel’s premeditated aggression, willfully attacking civilians and committing horrendous war crimes.
AI also condemned America’s human rights abuses, saying:
In the counter-terrorism context, accountability for past human rights violations by the USA remains largely absent, particularly in relation to the CIA programme (sic) of secret detention. In litigation, the US administration continues to block remedy for victims of such human rights violations. 181 detainees remain in Guantanamo despite President Obama’s commitment to close the detention facility by January 2010. A new Manual for Military Commissions released by the Pentagon in April confirmed that even if a detainee is (uncharged or) acquitted by a military commission, the US administration reserves the right to continue to hold them in indefinite detention.
Obama Administration’s Brazen Lawlessness
The latest example comes from a just revealed September 2009 secret directive about expanded covert military activity in the Middle East, Central Asia, the Horn of Africa or anywhere in the world to counter alleged threats. In other words, the Obama administration reserves the right to send US forces anywhere clandestinely, with or without host nation approval, to “penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy” designated targets by state terrorism, war, or any other means on the pretext of defending national security — a justification only scoundrels would invoke.
Italian New Weapons Research Committee (NWRC) Accuses Israel of Contaminating Gaza Soil
In its May 11 press release, NWRC (a group of independent scientists and doctors) said Israel’s 2006 and 2009 bombings left a high concentration of toxic/carcinogenic metals residue in soil and human tissue, likely to cause tumors, fertility problems, and serious harm to newborns, including deformities and genetic mutations.
Of particular concern were “wounds provoked by weapons that did not leave fragments in the bodies of the victims, a peculiarity that was pointed out repeatedly by doctors in Gaza. This shows that experimental weapons, whose effects are still to be assessed, were used.”
Some elements found are carcinogenic, including mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, nickel and uranium (from weapons with depleted uranium). Others are potentially carcinogenic, including cobalt and vanadium, and still more are fetotoxic (harmful to fetuses), including aluminum, copper, barium, lead, and manganese. All of them in high enough amounts produce genetic mutations as well as pathogenic effects on human respiratory organs, kidneys, skin, neurological development, and other bodily functions.
The combination of environmental contamination, direct wounds or inhalations, aggravated by dire living conditions, presents a serious risk to large numbers of people, worsened by repeated armed incursions. According to Paola Manduca, NWRC’s spokesperson: “Our study indicates an anomalous presence of toxic elements in the soil (and human tissue). It is essential to intervene at once to limit the effects of the contamination on people, animals and cultivations.”
Thus far, Israeli-Western collaborators still prevent 1.5 million Gazans from getting the critical help they need, while Moshe Kantor, president the European Jewish Congress, equated NWRC’s research to “ancient blood libels against the Jewish people, when rumors were spread about Jews poisoning wells. Today we are seeing a recurrence of all the worst excesses of anti-Semitism and diatribes that we perhaps naively thought had remained in the Dark Ages.”
The pro-Israeli NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg called the accusations “designed to stigmatize Israel and erase the context of mass terror, (similar to other) false or unverifiable claims.” These are typical responses from rogues and their defenders caught red-handed.
But clear evidence they deny can’t be hidden. Nor can the growing disenchantment of young American Jews, a phenomenon Steven Rosenthal discussed in his 2001 book Irreconcilable Differences: The Waning of the American Jewish Love Affair with Israel, citing policies that transformed the relationship from uncritical “Israelotry” to disapproval and distress. The 1982 Lebanon invasion, repressive occupation, Intifada, regular incursions, and greater concern about home-grown issues shattered American Jewish unanimity, diluting Israel’s next generation support.
On May 10, 2009, The Forward and Brandeis University Professor, Jonathan D. Sarna, asked why, noting “a critical difference between support for Israel in the past and today. For much of the 20th century, the Israel of American Jews — the Zion that they imagined in their minds, wrote about and worked to realize — was a mythical Zion, a utopian extension of the American dream.”
They imagined a “social commonwealth,” an “outpost of democracy, spreading America’s ideals eastward in a Jewish refuge where freedom, liberty and social justice would someday reign supreme.” Utopias, of course, are illusions, now dispelled to reveal “unlovliest warts.” Today, bloom is off the rose, unsurprising given convincing reasons to remove it.
A Final Comment
On May 26, Nobel Peace Laureate, Mairead Maguire, paid “Tribute to the People of Gaza,” saying:
“I never cease to be amazed at the power of the human spirit to survive…. In a triumph of hope over adversity and tremendous suffering, love still abides…. Gaza’s people have suffered an Israeli occupation for over 40 years,” enduring wars and current medieval-type siege.
Lives have been shattered, crops destroyed, soil poisoned, and sustainability comprised, so “Where is the hope? Where is the love in the midst of such suffering and injustice?” In the will to survive; in growing worldwide solidarity; in the “Freedom Flotilla” defying the blockade to deliver aid, Maguire on it, “inspired by the people of Gaza whose courage, love and joy in welcoming us, even in the midst of such suffering gives us all hope. They represent the best of humanity,” no amount of Israeli repression can extinguish, nor their redoubtable “nonviolent struggle for human dignity, and freedom.”