December 16, 2012

EDITOR: Ubu Roi rules OK…

In the hysteria taking Israel over before the elections, everything is possible, as long as nothing really changes… Anyone can join just about anyone to form yet another ridiculous and feckless party, as long as they all agree on everything which counts. As long as they are all Zionists, as long as they all accept the inequalities of Israeli capitalism, as long as they embrace the occupation, support the mindless and criminal wars, as long as they agree that Palestine shall never be free – they can have all the arguments in the world. After all, they live in the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’, don’t they?

And so the band wagon of Israeli blindness shoots ahead, with all having a good time, making sure no one wakes up. Ubu will still be king in January, and his sidekick, the stocky bouncer will still call the shots, and they will make sure nothing important changes, either in Jerusalem or in Washington. Isn’t democracy fun?

In the meantime, they can kill, maim, destroy and have total immunity. Democracy is fun.

International criminal court is a lever for Palestinians on Israeli settlements: Guardian

The UN vote for Palestinian statehood puts ICC action in the frame. Israel’s fear of prosecution may help Obama restart talks

Palestinians celebrate in Ramallah after UN vote

Palestinians celebrate in Ramallah after UN vote Photograph: Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images

When Israel‘s routine hostility toward Gaza once again flared into full-on battle last month, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic party leader in the US Congress, sent out a tweet:

That was pretty much the sentiment of just about everyone in the US political establishment, from the president to the unanimous support in both houses of Congress for a resolution giving unconditional backing for Israel’s bombing of Gaza.

So, it was with the solid opposition to the Palestinian request for recognition of a state at the United NationsSusan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, may have looked isolated in casting the only vote by a major power against Palestinian statehood, but Washington’s political establishment was fully behind her.

On one issue, however, America’s vehemently pro-Israel politicians are much more muted – and it may reveal to Palestinians a chink in Israel’s armour in the US. The prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, decided to punish the Palestinians for the UN vote by announcing the expansion of existing Jewish settlements and advancing a plan, known as E1, to link Jerusalem with one of the biggest Israeli colonies in the West Bank, Maale Adumim. That would eat significantly into any Palestinian state and, more importantly, further seal off occupied East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, as part of the long term Israeli strategy to claim the entire city.

Netanyahu argued that the Palestinians going to the UN was a threat to peace. Almost everyone else regarded the settlement announcement as a far bigger blow to an agreement to end the conflict.

The White House finally spoke up: Barack Obama criticised the E1 plan as “especially damaging”. Congress did not rush to condemn him. Even the pro-Israel lobby, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) did not thrust itself to the forefront of defending Israel. And Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, last year called the settlements “illegitimate”.

Now, the Palestinians are floating the prospect of going to theInternational Criminal Court (ICC) over the settlements. It would be a smart move – if they can resist the inevitable pressure from the west not to do it.

In all the wrangling over recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN, there was much hand-wringing in western capitals over the Palestinians gaining access to the ICC. And the Israelis are more fearful of the court than they let on publicly.

The US and the British tried to get the Palestinians to renounce the right to accede to the ICC, on the grounds it would complicate a nonexistent peace process. However, it is hard to imagine that Washington and London were not also worried about the implications if the court moved on from accusing African despots and warlords to charging soldiers and officials of a close ally, armed by the west, with war crimes in Gaza.

But now, the Palestinians have raised the prospect of a different ICC action, over the settlements, following the E1 announcement. The Palestinian foreign minister, Riad Malki, said this week that if Israel pushes ahead with the settlement construction, his government will look to the court for redress.

“Then we would be able to prosecute Israel for all the war crimes it perpetrated against our people in the past, especially the construction of settlements,” he told Voice of Palestine radio. “It all depends on whether Israel would continue with its settlement plan.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said much the same during a visit to Turkey. Israel’s colonies in the West Bank are a clear breach ofinternational law under Article 49 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which bans on an occupying power from moving its civilian population onto occupied territory – a clause included, in large part, because of Nazi attempts to colonise areas of occupied Poland by planting Germans there.

Israel’s defence is that the West Bank is not strictly occupied territory because it does not belong to another state. But the UN vote has arguably changed that. Israel has also tried to say the settlements fall under the conventions’ allowance of construction as a military necessity. But it’s hard to make a case for defence when the Israeli government’s policy is to funnel Jewish immigrant families into the settlements and to give tax breaks to encourage people to move to them.

In any case, the United Nations security council, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Court of Justice and the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions all say the Israeli colonies are a breach of Article 49. No government other than Israel, not even the US, regards the settlements as legal.

The Israelis are nervous about legal action. They call it “lawfare”. It is potentially effective because taking on the Jewish settlements does not threaten Israel’s right to exist. It is not violent. It is not terrorism. And there’s not many governments going to rush to Israel’s defence.

A legal fight at the ICC would lay bare the annexation and dispossession behind Israel’s settlement strategy – the theft of land from Palestinians, the practice which sees Jewish colonies enjoy unlimited cheap water, while nearby Arab villages are subject to rationing and higher charges, the policy that says a Jewish immigrant from Russia has a greater claim to the land than a Palestinian born on it. And that’s without even getting into the broader scheme to claim as much territory as possible for Israel and leave a rump Palestinian state.

Israel’s settlement policy has been to act piecemeal and count on the rest of the world not having the stamina for a fight – successfully, as it turns out. What it does not want to have to do is defend the settlements in their entirety before an international court, with the risk of being ruled a rogue state in breach of the laws of war.

There’s also a domestic concern. An ICC case might even prompt a more robust debate in Israel where opinion polls show there is no great support for the settlements. If the ICC were to declare the settlements illegal, it would raise other interesting possibilities for Palestinian legal action. Would foreign banks still be prepared to transfer the millions of dollars donated by Americans to settlement construction, or to buy property in the occupied territories, if they knew it was a breach of international law?

Europe is already moving in that direction. European Union foreign ministers said this week that agreements with Israel do not apply to Jewish settlements in the occupied territories – a move Israel fears is laying the groundwork for economic measures, such as the labelling of exports originating in the colonies. The EU said all of its agreements with Israel “must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 – namely, the Golan Heights; the West Bank, including east Jerusalem; and the Gaza Strip.”

The EU is also talking about banning violent settlers, responsible for a string of attacks on Palestinians, who are not prosecuted by the Israeli authorities, from within its borders.

An ICC ruling in favour of the Palestinians might have another effect. When Obama first came to power four years ago, he attempted to strong-arm Netanyahu into taking an agreement with the Palestinians seriously. The president began by demanding a total freeze on settlement construction. The Israeli prime minister out-manoeuvred and humiliated Obama, and carried on as before.

If the US president wants to revisit the fight now he’s been re-elected, it would not do any harm to have the ICC hovering in the background.

Demanding equality – how is that illegal?: Al Jazeera English

Ronnie Barkan
Ronnie Barkan 
Ronnie Barkan is an Israeli human rights activist, conscientious objector and co-founder of Boycott from Within, a group of Israeli citizens and residents which supports the Palestinian call for BDS.
If the anti-boycott law is ever put to the test, the first cases may provide an even greater boost to the BDS movement.
Last Modified: 14 Dec 2012 10:17

A number of European countries are expressing outrage with Israel’s latest decision to build a new settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories in the politically and geographically sensitive E-1 area [EPA]
Israeli NGOs have appealed to the Supreme Court of Israel to strike down the July 2011 law for its violations of freedom of speech, freedom of opinion, political expression and the right to organise. The hearing in the West Jerusalem court took place last Wednesday, on December 5, and the court’s decision will be published in the coming days. There is lot of skepticism regarding a sensible outcome among boycott activists.From the moral perspective, the Israeli Supreme Court is a significant vehicle of Israeli occupation and apartheid. It is this court which consistently refuses to deal with Israeli violations of international law while at the same time allowing for the continuation of the ethnic cleansing process both within the Occupied Palestinian Territories and in Israel proper.This process of driving away the native people of the land, which started by sheer force during the creation of the state, is nowadays being carried out by legal means and under the guise of the law. Such is the situation in occupied East Jerusalem and in the unrecognised villages of the Naqab (Negev) desert.The court has also repeatedly defended the illegal siege of Gaza and the criminal policies which are responsible for counting the caloric intake of the civilians of Gaza, and the fact that 95 per cent of Gaza’s water is not fit for human consumption.Consequently, appealing to a court that has legalised torture and euphemisms in the past – making Israel the only country in the world to have legalised the practice – is not to be taken lightly.On the practical level, the appeal may very well have the opposite effect than the one intended. As has happened in the past, the court may invalidate certain clauses of the law while reaffirming the rest; therefore stamping a revised version of the law with a seal of approval.

Affected by Israeli policies

Most importantly, speaking as an Israeli-Jewish boycott activist who is working to end Israeli apartheid, the law actually serves our struggle. There is a long list of discriminatory laws against non-Jews in Israel or those affected by Israeli policies.

Follow the latest developments in the ongoing conflict 

Many of these laws were passed during the early days of the state following the forced ethnic cleansing that was meant to create an artificial Jewish majority on that land. Such racist laws were put in place to maintain, as well as institutionalise, that crime.

Then came the military occupation of 1967 which introduced a whole slew of repressive military laws aimed specifically against the Palestinians under occupation. Military tribunals, with a whopping 99.7 per cent conviction rate, still stand to this day.

In that sense, the anti-boycott law is nothing out of the ordinary. It is only different in one respect – that the target audience includes the privileged group under Israeli apartheid.

That is why the anti-boycott law received such a backlash when it was legislated last year, with harsh criticism coming from even staunch Israel defenders like AIPAC. That day, Boycott from Within, a group of Israeli citizens which endorses and supports the Palestinian BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) call, issued a statement titled “We Will Not Be Silent”.

In the statement, we reiterate our commitment to the struggle for the three fundamental rights of the Palestinians – right of return, equal rights within Israel and freedom from occupation – as well as to holding Israel accountable for its actions.

The law is in fact a sign of success showing the effectiveness of the BDS movement, a Palestinian-led campaign which has managed to gain worldwide recognition and has become a global awareness movement, taking inspiration from the successful global anti-apartheid struggle directed against the South African regime.

Such acts of legislation by the Israeli regime only serve to expose the true face of the “Jewish-Democratic” state while garnering support from the global community as well as from world-renowned figures.

Rather than detail the technicalities of the anti-boycott law, it is far better to clarify the character of the state that legislates such laws. It is not an “anti-democratic” or an “anti-constitutional” law as many would like us to believe, for the simple reason that the state is not a democracy and has no constitution.

The state, in fact, at its very core, is opposed to democratic values such as equality and the rights of minorities. A constitution would not serve as it opposes respecting the rights of all. For that purpose, the state defines me as belonging to the “Jewish” nationality, seeking to give privileges to a select ethnic group over those disenfranchised. If there existed an “Israeli” nationality it would, in theory, not be possible to legally differentiate between citizens.

Given Israeli violations of international law, the absolute disrespect of universally recognised human rights and the public outcry against such violations from people all over the world, the question emerges of how governments can carry on with business as usual toward Israel.

Israeli anti-boycott legislation

The Israeli anti-boycott legislation, which is meant to stifle any attempt to hold it accountable for its violations of international law, is a serious matter. Consequently, it is worrisome that several European governments have recently attempted to protect Israel from holding it legally accountable by conditioning their vote at the UN on denying recourse for Palestinians in front of the International Criminal Court, where they may have access to the protection of international law.

“Rather than detail the technicalities of the anti-boycott law, it is far better to clarify the character of the state that legislates such laws.”

Since then, however, we are now hearing new voices emerging from a number of European countries. They are expressing outrage with Israel’s latest decision to build a new settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories in the politically and geographically sensitive E-1 area.

Such voices, which may be the first signs of change, threaten to recall ambassadors in Israel and even mention the possibility of sanctioning or freezing previous trade agreements with Israel.

Such policy actions would mean more than mere criticism of Israeli expansionism. One example of the ongoing complicity of all EU member states can be found in the EU-Israel Association Agreement itself, which carries a binding clause, article 2 of the agreement, stating that: “Relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, …and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement”.

The legally binding nature of this clause is thoroughly explained in a report by Professor Takis Tridimas claiming that the European governments are obligated to freeze the agreement according to EC laws and regulations, in addition to their other obligations imposed by international law.

Roger Waters, who acted on the jury of the fourth Russell Tribunal on Palestine, recently addressed the UN General Assembly to discuss the findings of the tribunal which concluded that Israel is guilty of a long list of violations of international law, including that of the crime of apartheid.

Waters also discussed the necessity of a change taking place among international bodies, including the UN itself, in order for such organisations to maintain their legitimacy and be able to sincerely represent the will of the people.

If the anti-boycott law is ever put to the test, the first cases may provide an even greater boost to the BDS movement. It will then be incumbent upon the governments of the world to realise what many of their citizens long ago understood – that it is not only legitimate to get on board the BDS train, but it is also expected of them to stand shoulder to shoulder with those of us who are struggling for equality, freedom and justice for all.

Ronnie Barkan is an Israeli human rights activist, conscientious objector and co-founder of Boycott from Within, a group of Israeli citizens and residents which supports the Palestinian call for BDS. In 2010, he represented the Palestinian Popular Struggle Coordination Committee at the European Parliament, promoting the rights of human rights defenders as well as stressing the importance of holding Israel accountable for its actions. 

Follow him on Twitter: @ronnie_barkan

Lieberman resignation signals shift in Israeli politics: Guardian

Outspoken foreign minister seen as emblematic of harshest aspects of Israel’s domestic and foreign policy concerns

Avigdor Lieberman and Binyamin Netanyahu

Avigdor Lieberman, left, with Binyamin Netanyahu. The ­foreign affairs role will reportedly be temporarily subsumed into the prime minister’s office. Photograph: EPA

The resignation of Israel‘s ultra-nationalist and belligerent foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, indicted this week on charges of fraud and breach of trust, signals a significant shift in the politics of the country’s right.

As Israel has swung ever further rightwards in the 12 years since the outbreak of the second intifada and collapse of the peace process, Lieberman has come to be seen as emblematic of some of the harshest aspects of Israeli domestic and foreign policy concerns, not least for his suggestion that Israeli Arabs be transferred out of the country by redrawing its border in exchange for the surrender of Israeli settlement blocs on the West Bank.

From the outset he has been a controversial figure prone to making inflammatory statements. In 1998, Lieberman reportedly suggested Israel could bomb the Aswan high dam and flood Egypt. At various times he has called for the expulsion of Israel’s Arab population, the “execution” of Arab MPs who met with leaders of Hamas, and proposed an oath of loyalty from Israeli citizens without which they would not receive the right to vote or social services.

The announcement of his resignation, a day after the decision to prosecute him by Israel’s attorney general, comes only a month before elections that the new coalition party formed by Lieberman and the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, had been expected to win easily. That outcome has been thrown into disarray. In the interim period the foreign affairs role will reportedly be subsumed into Netanyahu’s office.

Israel’s justice ministry announced on Thursday it would charge Lieberman over alleged irregularities tied to the promotion of an Israeli diplomat who had leaked to him privileged information about a police investigation into his activities. His resignation comes despite the fact Lieberman apparently believes the remaining charges were not serious enough for him to stand down.

On Thursday, in the immediate aftermath of the prosecution announcement, Lieberman insisted he would remain. The prospect of being forced to stand down by a high court ruling appears to have persuaded him to change his mind. He will, however, still stand as an MP in January’s elections and retain his number two place on the joint Likud-Beiteinu list, which would, if he were cleared, enable him to choose one of the top three offices – the foreign ministry, the treasury or the defence ministry. More serious allegations, including money-laundering and bribery, were dropped.

Born in Moldova, Lieberman emigrated to Israel where he quickly emerged as a deeply controversial nationalist politician who embraced a dangerously populist rhetoric. Only this week Lieberman, with typical hyperbole, accused the international community, and Europe in particular, of being willing to “sacrifice” Israel, as Europe “sacrificed Czechoslovakia in 1938″ to “radical Islam”. “My sense,” he told an audience that included diplomats, “is that all the promises and commitments to Israel’s security are mere words. When push comes to shove, many key leaders would be willing to sacrifice Israel without batting an eyelid in order to appease the radical Islamist militants and ensure quiet for themselves.”

Emigrating to Israel in 1978 Lieberman worked briefly as a bouncer in a nightclub, joining Netanyahu’s Likud party early on and becoming Netanyahu’s chief of staff when he was elected prime minister in 1996. He was thrust to real prominence, however, when he formed his own party, Yisrael Beiteinu, or Our Home is Israel, which has wide support among Russian emigrants to the country.

Although the electoral coalition between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu had seemed like a shoo-in after the recent Israeli assault on Gaza, support had slipped even before the announcement of the decision to prosecute Lieberman and his resignation. The unanswered question is what impact his resignation will have on that trend.

Especially problematic for Netanyahu’s coalition is the fact that Lieberman is regarded as Yisrael Beiteinu’s most visible and important electoral asset, suggesting it would be damaged if he is sidelined for the remainder of the campaign.

A poll for the media group that owns the Jerusalem Post suggests the party would win seven seats fewer than in the present government, not least because of a widespread perception that Israel’s international position has worsened in the past four years. It also suggests that far from the electorate moving back towards the centre, the biggest beneficiary would be other rightwing parties.

Crucially for the Israeli prime minister, Lieberman was regarded as a reliable and close ally in the war party in the Israeli cabinet over Iran and its nuclear programme.

His resignation, in many respects, was unavoidable. In 2009 Lieberman promised in the Knesset that he would stand down immediately if he was indicted, a promise other parties appeared determined to hold him to this week.

Israel-Gaza: Why did Israel do it?

The success or failure of the onslaught on Gaza can only be judged against the operation’s aims, writes Israeli socialist Moshé Machover. This is an edited version of a talk given to the December 8 CPGB aggregate

Iron Dome in action

In the last issue of the Weekly Worker there was an article by Tony Greenstein1 about the Israeli onslaught on Gaza called “Operation Pillar of Defence” in the international press.

But this is not the name that has been given to it in Israel itself. There the onslaught on Gaza was referred to as “Operation Pillar of Cloud”. Those of you who know your Old Testament well will realise that this is a reference to the time when the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, eventually to conquer the holy land. Jehovah appeared before them during the day as a pillar of cloud (and during the night as a pillar of fire). So the term was obviously used as a propagandist appeal to the Israeli public. But to appeal to the international public it was better to represent it as the “pillar of defence” – which is the one thing that it was not about.

Tony describes the operation as a failure, but he does not state what the aims of the operation were to be. A failure to do what? I happened to arrive in Israel just the day after the ceasefire was signed – it was a short visit commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first issue of Matzpen, the journal of the Socialist Organisation in Israel that came to be known by the same name. While I was there, and also in many comments afterwards, I heard any number of reasons given why Israel went through with this operation. They may all be right: after all, when a country goes to war it is normally an over-determined act, and there are several considerations.

If you want a detailed exposition of the whole background and details of the events then I recommend the ‘Gaza quiz’, composed by Stephen Shalom.2 It is a very informative document, which tests you on your knowledge of events, so I will not go into the details of the background here, except for a few salient points that throw light on the whole thing.

As I say, there were several considerations for the offensive, but one thing is quite clear: that it was a move planned some time in advance. It was not a reaction to some rockets landing in Israel from Gaza, which in any case had been provoked by Israel in the first place. But to see that it was planned a long time in advance we should note that this operation was preceded by the Israeli bombardment of the Yarmouk arms factory in Sudan about a month before, which was briefly in the news.3 The explanation at the time – quite correctly – was that this was a military exercise: the factory in Sudan is roughly the same distance away as that between Israel and the main nuclear facilities in Iran, so Israel was actually testing its ability to take them out.

Israel itself hinted at the time that it targeted the Yarmouk facility because it was manufacturing missiles for Hamas in Gaza. I think that this is correct and that it was also a reason for the bombing – Israel wanted to prevent Hamas from renewing its arsenal, so it could not effectively counter the forthcoming Israeli attack.

Hamas uses two types of rockets – both unguided, both not very effective; they are more or less pointed in the general direction of Israel and land very randomly. One is the home-made, locally manufactured, short-range Qassam rockets, which are little more than fireworks. They can cause quite a fright if they land near you, but the more serious weapon that Hamas has acquired is the Fajr-5 missile, which is of Iranian origin and probably assembled in Sudan, amongst other places. There are several ways of getting materials into Gaza, but the most important one is through the underground tunnels in the Sinai.

Election boost

So what was the attack on Gaza really all about? I think that the most obvious explanation is that it was an electoral move by the Netanyahu government. This explanation is corroborated by the fact that it happened around the same time before the election as Operation Cast Lead did in the last electoral cycle. That attack on Gaza was launched four years ago, two months before the anticipated Israeli general elections in 2009. And this present operation was launched two months before the January 22 2013 general elections, which Netanyahu called before he was compelled to. It was clearly synchronised.

Both Cast Lead and “Pillar of Defence” were presented to the Israeli public as defensive moves. Of course, Israel carries out many low-level provocations – the assassination of Hamas leaders, killing of civilians, use of drones – but these fall below the radar of the international and Israeli domestic press: perhaps they know about them, but in any event they barely report them. Then, when a certain point is reached, Hamas or some other Islamic group is provoked into retaliating and fires rockets at Israel, which is then loudly trumpeted as a pretext for Israeli military action – it works every time. The international media – even those that are not so uncritically pro-Israel like The Guardian – whilst perhaps condemning the ferocity of the attacks, nevertheless say that they are defensive moves in response to Hamas provocations. They may be dubbed an ‘overreaction’, but that is still a form of reaction, as opposed to the reality: attacks carried out as an Israel initiative.

How much of an initiative it was this time can be judged by the information that came out later. The immediate trigger for the last volley of rockets from Gaza into Israel was the assassination of Ahmed Jabari, a commander of the military wing of Hamas.

Now this in itself is provocative enough: Hamas has to respond simply to cover itself in front of its own supporters. But it is actually worse than this, as explained by Gershon Baskin of the Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information – a sort of moderate, centre-ground organisation. Baskin had been instrumental in mediating – unofficially, of his own accord, but with the knowledge of the Israeli government – and he had been busy immediately before the onslaught trying to arrange a long-term ceasefire with Hamas. And who was his interlocutor? It was Jabari. The Hamas commander was shown holding in his hands the text for the proposed agreement, to which he was actually favourable.

It was just at the point that a ceasefire was being agreed that Israel assassinated Jabari – not only as a provocation, but in fact to preventit being implemented. Its terms were supposedly more favourable to Israel than the agreed ceasefire later mediated by the Egyptian president, Mohamed Mursi. Jabari was assassinated in order to clear the way for an attack.

All this had been pre-planned to take place two months before the election. If you look at what happened before the 2009 election, you can see how it all came to be arranged. The Israeli public and even the international public will accept this ‘defensive response’, which, of course, increases support for the government. It also shifts the centre of Israeli public opinion to the right. Last time, the pre-election attack on Gaza was actually initiated by the Kadima government led by Ehud Olmert, which also involved Ehud Barak, and in the event Kadima did in fact win the largest number of votes.

No party has ever won an outright majority under the strictly proportional representation system (which is one good thing I can say about Israel!). The whole country is one constituency and normally the party that gains the biggest number of seats is entrusted by the president to form a coalition government. However, because Kadima did not cover its right flank, there was increased support for the more rightwing Likud. Despite coming second, Likud ended up forming the government, because the shifts in party votes meant that Kadima could not establish a coalition with the right in the way that Likud could.

So last time Kadima failed to get back into office despite Operation Cast Lead, but this time prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has secured his right flank. There are parties even further to the right than Likud, not least Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) led by former nightclub bouncer Avigdor Lieberman. He was promoted very quickly to foreign minister as part of the coalition led by Netanyahu, who had arranged the merger of Likud with Yisrael Beiteinu.

All opinion polls now predict that this amalgamated party will win by far the largest number of votes in the forthcoming elections. Whether the attack will have succeeded in these terms we shall only know on January 23 – I suspect it will.

‘Lawn-mowing’

But other important reasons for the attack on Gaza have been pointed out. In the first place, it has been described by Israeli commentators as an exercise in “lawn-mowing”. Lawn-mowing is something that has to be done periodically to keep the grass at an acceptable level. Israel was acting to destroy the Hamas arms caches and rockets in the Gaza strip – useful not only as a lawn-mowing operation, but also in the event of Israel instigating a war against Iran: it wants to avoid the possibility of a missile attack from Gaza if there were a military engagement with Iran, which is what would probably happen if and when Israel did attack the Islamic Republic. That partial destruction of the Yarmouk facility in Sudan also fits in with this explanation.

The ceasefire mediated by Egypt was agreed when it seemed that the caches of weapons had been depleted, although they will no doubt be replenished. One way or another, Hamas will continue to manufacture its home-made Qassam rockets and, somehow, find a way of obtaining more advanced rockets from abroad. Then in a few years time, assuming nothing major happens in the Middle East, you can expect more of the same.

The general consensus in Israel is that the Mursi-mediated ceasefire is a temporary thing. It is not at all seen as a long-term arrangement; nothing fundamental has changed. Israel has mowed the lawn and depleted Hamas’s military caches.

Another reason for this operation taking place is the Arab spring, and especially the changes in Egypt. Israel was actually testing the position of the new Muslim Brotherhood regime. Most people agree that Mursi actually came out of this stronger – his standing was enhanced and his prestige increased, when the ceasefire agreement was signed in Cairo, with Mursi flanked by Hillary Clinton – a sign of American approval. And, as Israel is a junior partner of the United States, it has no reason to regret Mursi’s increased prestige.

However, one complication is that the whole episode has also increased the standing of Hamas – an unintended but necessary consequence, since it proved it could survive the attack. At the same time, it reduced the prestige of the Israeli stooge, Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation regime in the West Bank. That led to a toning down of American opposition to Abbas going to the United Nations and obtaining the status of non-member observer for Palestine.

Israel resisted this move in the UN, but the US toned down its opposition and allowed the UK to abstain – there was vacillation on the part of foreign secretary William Hague. Before the operation he was against Palestine obtaining non-member observer status, as was Germany as well, actually. In the event, the UK and Germany abstained. Particularly in the case of Germany this came as a nasty, unexpected surprise to the Israeli government, because Germany was expected, as usual, to vote with the US. In the end the only EU county to do so was the Czech Republic. The only other states of any consequence to vote with the US and Israel were Canada and Colombia – the rest are countries like Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.

Field testing

But I have not finished enumerating the reasons for Israel conducting this operation. An important one, in my opinion, was to test the new Israeli missile defence system, Iron Dome. Unlike its previous anti-missile system that was mainly American-produced, this new, cheaper Rafael system is produced in Israel, with American assistance. The military wanted to test it in field conditions. It is possible to conduct a controlled test – firing a rocket into the air for the system to shoot down – but that is not so realistic. A proper test requires field combat conditions. The reports leaked to the press say that it was 85% efficient in preventing rockets landing in Israel, and no doubt it will be further improved. This is something else that is important for Israel, should it go to war with Iran.

All these reasons for the operation are connected – it was not carried out just for electoral reasons or just to test Egypt or just for lawn-mowing, but also to test an important element of Israeli arms in case Tel Aviv gets the green light from America to attack Iran. Israel by itself, I think it is agreed, is not able to go it alone in attacking Iran – this is why it did not attack prior to the US presidential elections. The Israeli military establishment is mostly against an attack on Iran if it has to go it alone; the Israeli intelligence establishment is also against it, as too is the Israeli public. And the US has made it clear that if Israel acts independently it will not have US support.

As I wrote in an article published in the Weekly Worker earlier this year,4 Netanyahu also has political plans in case a war breaks out, quite apart from the actual conflict with Iran. He may want to use such a war as a smokescreen for major ethnic-cleansing in the West Bank. So winning or losing against Iran is not the only consideration.

But finally, and also very importantly, Israel is one of the major arms manufacturers and exporters of the world. Not as important as the US or Britain, but not far behind. And Israel is very interested in selling Iron Dome, but in order to sell something one needs to demonstrate it. Again, demonstrating it in the field is much more impressive than simply inviting foreign military officers to watch the system shoot down a missile that has been fired overhead for that purpose. So this is also a consideration, as pointed out by the Israeli left economist, Shir Hever.5 Arms are one of the most important export sectors for Israel, along with diamonds and high technology.

So whether this entire operation has been a success or not depends on many criteria. What exactly do you think Israel wanted to achieve? As I have explained, there are many reasons, some of which can only be judged as to their success or failure in the future. In one respect, Israel lost a little bit, in that it was compelled to accept the recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state. Whether Abbas will use this new status, as Israel fears he will, by going to the International Criminal Court and accusing Israel of violations and war crimes, remains to be seen – I doubt this, as there will be strong pressure against it.

Notes

1. ‘Israel annexes more land’, December 6.

2. www.zcommunications.org/gaza-quiz-by-stephen-r-shalom.

3. The Guardian October 25.

4. ‘Netanyahu’s war wish’, February 9.

5. ‘The privatisation of Israeli war’:http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=9191.

Violence against migrants in Israel reaches record high in 2012: Haaretz

ACRI annual report also coins 2012 as ‘an end to an era of spontaneous protests.’

Dec.16, 2012

African migrants

African migrants being deported from Israel. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The year 2012 saw a record high in violence against refugees and asylum-seekers in Israel, the annual report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel revealed on Sunday. The report also recorded higher restrictions against the right to assemble over the course of the year.

The report called 2012 “a year of record of incitement and violence,” against refugees or asylum seekers, particularly from African countries. The report documents numerous violent incidents, including firebombs hurled at homes and kindergartens in Tel Aviv, apartments set on fire in Jerusalem, refugees being stabbed, violent demonstrations in various neighborhoods, attacks of different kinds, and humiliation.

This year saw a new anti-infiltration law implemented, rulling that any labor seekers from Africa who enter Israel illegally from Egypt can be imprisoned for three years – and in some cases for an unlimited time – without the benefit of a trial. The law also permits administrative detention for an unlimited timeframe.

With respect to the right to assemble, the ACRI reported that 2012 saw the “end to an era of spontaneous protests,” as new protocols were instated in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that permit protesting in public spaces only after official permission is granted. According to the new regulations, tents may not be erected and protests must not be held in public spaces without such prior permission.

“There is no affordable housing and water has become a luxury, but large social protests are no longer permitted in public spaces and the High Court is no longer accessible,” the report says, “Privatization is penetrating the police and courts. In Arab and Bedouin villages houses continue to be destroyed, and African migrants are still being chased incessantly. The occupation and discriminatory regime continue.”

The report’s discussion of increased protests and animosity toward migrants was highlighted when a Tel Aviv demonstration held in May calling for the deportation of African migrants turned violent.

Some 1,000 people took part in the protest in Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood, where demonstrators cried: “The people want the Sudanese deported” and “Infiltrators, get out of our home.”

During the protest, demonstrators attacked African passersby while others lit garbage cans on fire and smashed car windows. Another group stopped a shuttle taxi and searched for migrant workers among the passengers, while banging on the windows.

After the protest, hundreds of people assembled in the main street of the neighborhood. Several protesters smashed the windows of a grocery store that served the migrant workers community, and broke the windows of a barber shop and looted it.

Police arrested 17 people during that protest, with some of them detained as they were beating Sudanese migrants.

 

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