Friday, January 16, 2009

Attacks Are Inhuman, Peace Activists Tell Olmert, Barak/Israel and The United States: Up In Arms

Published on Thursday, January 15, 2009 by The Sydney Morning Herald

Attacks Are Inhuman, Peace Activists Tell Olmert, Barak

by Jason Koutsoukis

Despite graphic images of the carnage in Gaza being shown around Israel and the high number of Palestinian casualties, public support for the war remains high.

[Israeli left-wing activists protest outside President Shimon Peres' residence in Jerusalem. Israel's offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip has caused unprecedented suffering to civilian residents of the Palestinian territory, local human rights groups said on Wednesday. (AFP/Gali Tibbon)]Israeli left-wing activists protest outside President Shimon Peres' residence in Jerusalem. Israel's offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip has caused unprecedented suffering to civilian residents of the Palestinian territory, local human rights groups said on Wednesday. (AFP/Gali Tibbon)

A poll commissioned by the liberal daily newspaper Haaretz yesterday found 82 per cent of people surveyed believe that Israel has not gone too far with its use of military force during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

The war in Gaza also appears to have gone some way towards rebuilding public confidence in the military following the perceived failures of Israel's 2006 war in Lebanon, with 78 per cent of people judging the war a success.

But not all Israelis are in favour of the war.

On Wednesday a coalition of nine Israeli human rights groups convened to urge an immediate halt to the fighting in the Gaza Strip which they said was on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe.

In an open letter to the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert. and the Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, the groups said a commission of inquiry would be needed after the conflict ended to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes.

Michael Sfard, a lawyer with the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din that was a part of Wednesday's press conference, told the Herald it was time Israelis looked into the mirror.

"I think we have become so used to violence that when the sort of things that are happening in Gaza are shown, people don't care any more," Mr Sfard said.

"Several years ago, the killing of 15 Hamas militants by the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] caused a major moral revision here within Israel.

"Now [there have been] 1000 people killed in Gaza, many of them children, and there is very little national debate about whether this is right or wrong."

The groups, which also included Amnesty International, B'Tselem, Gisha, and Physicians for Human Rights, also presented six cases in which they say IDF troops fired on medical personnel, killing 12 people.

They said there have been 15 hits on medical facilities during the conflict, including clinics and medical storage facilities.

"I care about humanity, and what is happening here is inhuman," said Professor Zvi Bentwich, the head of the Centre for Tropical Diseases and AIDS at Ben Gurion University.

"There is no sense whatsoever of proportionality, it's a dreadful and callous disregard for human life," Professor Bentwich said.

Copyright © 2009. The Sydney Morning Herald


Published on Thursday, January 15, 2009 by Foreign Policy in Focus

Israel and The United States: Up In Arms

by Frida Berrigan

In answering questions before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton acknowledged what she called the "tragic humanitarian costs of conflict in the Middle East, and the pain and suffering of Palestinian and Israeli civilians." She continued by saying that "we cannot give up on peace."

As the bombardment of Gaza enters its third week and the civilian death toll continues to rise, Clinton's remarks offer a thin ray of hope that the next president will deviate from the long-set pattern of U.S.-Israeli relations.

The Bush administration has been unwilling to use the considerable U.S. influence - as Israel's major military and political backer - to dissuade the government in Tel Aviv from its pattern of claiming self-defense while perpetrating collective punishment, human rights violations, and massively disproportionate attacks that harm and kill civilians.

If the next administration is making a genuine commitment to "a just and lasting peace that brings real security to Israel, normal and positive relations with its neighbors; independence, economic progress and security to the Palestinians in their own state" - as Hillary Clinton described the vision for the future - they will have their work cut out for them.

Arms Package

That work begins with a reevaluation of the financial and military commitment the United States made to Israel. During the Bush administration, Israel received over $21 billion in U.S. security assistance, including $19 billion in direct military aid under the Pentagon's Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program. Through the FMF program, Israel remains the single largest recipient of U.S. military aid each year, which they use to purchase U.S. weapons.

The bulk of Israel's current arsenal is composed of equipment supplied under U.S. assistance programs. For example, Israel has 226 U.S.-supplied F-16 fighter and attack jets, over 700 M-60 tanks, 6,000 armored personnel carriers, and scores of transport planes, attack helicopters, utility and training aircraft, bombs, and tactical missiles of all kinds.

Hardware continues to flow in, despite the fact the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) requires nations receiving U.S. arms to certify the weapons are used for internal security and legitimate self-defense, and that their use doesn't lead to an escalation of conflict. During 2008 alone, the United States made over $22 billion in new arms sales offers to Israel, including a proposed deal for as many as 75 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, worth up to $15.2 billion; nine heavy transport aircraft, worth up to $1.9 billion; four Littoral Combat Ships and related equipment, worth as much as $1.9 billion; and up to $1.3 billion in gasoline and jet aviation fuel.

One lone congressman - Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) - raised concerns about Israel's possible violations of the AECA. He hasn't had a response from the State Department. What use are our laws if they are not followed?

The last time the United States cut off military aid and weapons transfers to Israel was in 1981. During Israel's incursion into Lebanon, the Reagan administration cut off U.S. military aid and arms deliveries for 10 weeks while it investigated whether Israel was using weapons for "defensive purposes," as required under U.S. law.

The United States lifted the ban after Secretary of State Alexander Haig suggested that one could "argue until eternity" about whether a given use of force was offensive or defensive.

Since then, the United States has investigated Israel's use of U.S.-origin weapons in relationship to the AECA a few times, most notably in 2006, when Israel let loose on southern Lebanon with millions of cluster bomblets. The State Department Office of Defense Trade Controls investigated the situation, and informed Congress with preliminary findings indicating Israel may have violated agreements by using cluster bombs against civilian-populated areas. According to a January 2008 Congressional Research Service report [1], Israel denied violating agreements, saying that it had acted in self-defense, and a final determination wasn't made.

The issue was dropped and weapons transfers continued.

An Obama Alternative?

Those who seek peace in the Middle East, who refuse to "give up" on it, must insist that the United States stop funding and fueling the war.

What can Obama do differently? Enforce the AECA in a uniform and dispassionate way. Given the close political and military ties between the United States and Israel, Haig's observation is a cover for inaction, and worse. While the finer points of offense and defense are being argued "until eternity," U.S.-origin weapons are killing women and children.

© 2009 Foreign Policy in Focus

Frida Berrigan [2] is a Senior Program Associate at the New America Foundation's Arms and Security Initiative [3] (ASI). She is a columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus [4] and a contributing editor at In These Times. The recently released Weapons at War 2008: Beyond the Bush Legacy [5], co-authored by Berrigan and William D. Hartung, is an examination of U.S. weapons sales and military aid to developing nations, conflict zones, and nations where human rights are not safeguarded. 

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


No comments: