Sunday, January 18, 2009

Very many of the facts about the situation of Israel's war on Gaza are hard to come by. This is not just because of the desire of the media to look for image rather than substance. It is also a fact that Israel has done its best to deny the media access to the besieged area. Here from Z Communications is a story that asks questions about the situation and gives answers to the inquiring. It links to a much longer (37 pages) article that covers things not discussed below. Very good if you want to know more than the superficialities of the conflict.
Special Update: Gaza Crisis Q&A by Stephen Shalom:
On December 27, 2008, Israel launched its assault on Gaza: Operation Cast Lead.

ZCom/ZNet has been has been addressing the rapidly worsening conditions by publishing numerous articles each day from diverse international writers. However, by far the most extensive piece so far is the very important Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) by Z's own Stephen Shalom.

Shalom's FAQ is an exhaustive analysis that collects in one place the most frequently asked questions about Israel's war on Gaza, along with succinct answers, including extensive footnotes and sources. All told Shalom includes 34 questions and answers.

Below are five randomly selected questions and their answers to indicate the type of treatment Shalom provides. We also list the 34 questions (without answers) - to show the full range of concerns Shalom addresses. We provide only this summary here, by email, because the total FAQ is too long to send.

You can access the whole FAQ online including all questions, answers, and extensive footnotes and references. You can navigate the FAQ by viewing only questions that interest you in any order you like, by assessing questions grouped by topic, or by simply reading through the whole thing, sequentially which we very highly recommend.

Click here to go straight to the full Q/A:
Brief Sample from Question and Answer on Gaza
By Stephen Shalom

1. Doesn't Israel have the right to defend itself and its population from rocket attacks?

Rockets from Gaza aimed at Israeli civilians violate international law.

But any assessment of whether Israeli military actions constitute lawful self-defense has to take account of the context and the question of proportionality.
The broad context is that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is illegal and unjust and Israel can't claim self-defense when Palestinians struggle by legitimate means to end the occupation. (In the same way, Japanese troops couldn't claim self-defense when they were attacked by guerrillas in occupied China or the occupied Philippines during World War II.)
The proper Israeli response to such Palestinian actions is not "self-defense," but full withdrawal from the occupied territories.
13. How can Israel be accused of terrorism since it doesn't intentionally kill civilians, and views all civilian deaths that it causes as regrettable accidents?
Keep in mind the official U.S. definition of terrorism: "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets."[36]Three points need to be noted here.
First, inflicting pain on civilians for political purposes has long been official Israeli policy. When Hamas kidnapped an Israeli soldier in June 2006, Israel responded by destroying Gaza's only power plant, causing massive suffering.[37] Israeli leaders have openly acknowledged that they intended to cripple Gaza's economy as a way to undermine support for Hamas. (That this is a foolish policy makes it no less immoral. That the governments of the United States, the European Union, and Egypt are complicit in the policy likewise makes it no less immoral.) Gazans have seen poverty and unemployment soar and their health and welfare decline as Israel has closed their borders, cut fuel and power supplies, and denied them their own tax revenues. Human rights groups[38] and United Nations officials[39] have condemned this policy of economic strangulation, deeming it "collective punishment."
When New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman writes that he hopes Israel is pursuing a strategy in Gaza of trying to inflict "heavy pain on Gaza civilians," he is endorsing a policy that is indistinguishable from the above-cited official U.S. government definition of terrorism.[40]
Second, over the years Israel has intentionally killed civilians. Among other instances, it has used lethal fire against demonstrators who posed no serious threat.[41] It has targeted and killed medical personnel and journalists.[42] And now it has targeted and killed civilian police and non-military government personnel in Gaza (as will be discussed below).
Third, even when civilians have not been specifically targeted, Israel has shown reckless disregard for the welfare of civilians, killing many. These are not "unfortunate accidents," but the result of willful, criminal negligence. It is true that in domestic law we distinguish between intentional and unintentional killing, with the former being a much more serious offense than the latter. But domestic law also recognizes that sometimes criminal negligence can be as condemnable as premeditation. As the Palestinian human rights organization Al Haq correctly puts it, "the choice of targeted areas, methods of attack and the number of civilians killed and injured clearly indicate a reckless disregard for civilian life synonymous with intent."[43]
Consider the record before the current Israeli attack on Gaza. According to statistics from the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, from the beginning of the second Intifada on September 29, 2000, until November 30, 2008, 2,990 Palestinians in Gaza were killed by Israeli security forces. Of these, 1,382 were known not to be taking part in hostilities.[44] (During this same seven year period, Palestinian rockets or mortars from Gaza killed a grand total of 22 Israeli civilians.[45]) If these Palestinian rockets constituted terrorism and war crimes -- and they do -- how much greater were the crimes of the Israeli government?
And this is so whether Israeli officials express pro forma regret or instead declare, as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did in March 2002, "The Palestinians must be hit and it must be painful. We must cause them losses, victims, so they feel the heavy price."[46]
19. What were the terms of the June 2008 ceasefire with Israel?
In June 2008, after almost a year of military engagements and Israel's crippling blockade of Gaza, Hamas and Israel agreed to a ceasefire, also called a truce or lull or calm. The two sides would not speak to one another directly and so there was an Egyptian mediated understanding, whose terms were never formally written down. The Associated Press reported the terms as follows:
"The truce takes effect at 6 a.m. Thursday (11 p.m. EDT Wednesday) [June 19].
"All Gaza-Israel violence stops. After three days, Israel eases its blockade on Gaza, allowing more vital supplies in."
A week later, Israel further eases restrictions at cargo crossings.
"In the final stage, talks are conducted about opening the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt and a prisoner exchange to free Cpl. Gilad Schalit, held by Hamas-affiliated groups for two years."[60]
And although Israel tried to claim in December 2008 that the lull was of unlimited duration,[61] everyone (including the Israeli government in June 2008) referred to the lull as scheduled to last for six months, with hopes that it might be extended.[62] Hamas had wanted the lull to apply to both Gaza and the West Bank, but Israel refused.[63]
Various Palestinian armed groups -- though not Hamas -- had reservations about the lull, but they agreed to respect it. Islamic Jihad said, however, that while it would abide by the truce, it considered the West Bank and Gaza indivisible, so it reserved the right to retaliate from Gaza for an attack on its members in the West Bank.
31. Haven't the vast majority of those killed by Israel been, not civilians, but terrorists?
Not by a long shot. Obviously it is difficult to confirm the identity and activity of each person who was killed while the Israeli offensive is going on. This has led some human rights groups and aid agencies to report the number of women and children killed as an absolute minimum of the number of civilians killed. But as they have made clear,[109] this was not meant to suggest that this was the complete count of civilian casualties nor that any adult male killed was automatically a combatant.
As of January 14, the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported 1,013 deaths, of which 40 percent were women and children.[110] The killing of numerous male civilians has been well-documented: in addition to police and government personnel, an anti-Hamas judge (and father of a Human Rights Watch consultant), medical staff, drivers, and many more.[111]
As of January 14, more than 4,500 were reported wounded, half of them women and children.[112] Moreover, many of the wounded will die because of a lack of timely and adequate medical care. Gaza's hospitals are overwhelmed and lack reliable power and sufficient supplies, ambulances are afraid to travel and Israel has blocked access by emergency medical vehicles.[113] According to Human Rights Watch, "Only four critically injured patients have been transferred to Israel since the start of the conflict," in part because Israel demanded financial guarantees for the medical costs of wounded Palestinians. Since the start of the ground campaign on January 3, transfers to Israel ended.[114]
33. Are Israelis unanimous in backing their government policy?
As in the United States, Israelis are often swayed by their government and a compliant media. On January 1, 2009, fewer than a fifth of the population supported advancing to an extensive ground war,[125] but once their leaders launched it, they endorsed it.
A poll published on January 15, showed 82 percent of Israelis don't think Israel has "gone too far" which means that almost the entire Jewish population is backing the war.[126] Almost. There have been many antiwar protests, most often in Arab areas, but sometimes including both Jewish and Palestinian Israelis. A demonstration numbering in the thousands took place in Tel Aviv on January 3.[127] A petition calling for an end to the IDF operation in Gaza and for a renewal of the truce with Hamas was signed by 500 residents of Sderot, the Israeli town bordering Gaza that has been on the receiving end of so many rockets.[128]
But there is no doubt that war-fever is running rampant in Israel. The Central Elections Committee has banned two Israeli Arab parties from running in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Even if the Supreme Court reverses this ruling, it is frightening that in addition to the rightwing parties, the two major government parties, Kadima and Labor, both voted for the ban.[129]
Below are all the FAQ questions.
Again, please go to the site to view whole FAQ online, with answers and sources.
1. Doesn't Israel have the right to defend itself and its population from rocket attacks?
2. While conquests in wars of aggression are clearly illegal, didn't Israel obtain the West Bank and Gaza as the result of a defensive war against an attack waged by neighboring Arab states?
3. Hasn't Israel withdrawn from Gaza, thereby ending its occupation?
4. Regardless of whether the occupation legally continues, didn't Israeli give up its settlements and its military bases in Gaza?
5. Why should Israel have an obligation to open its borders with or transmit electricty or fuel to Gaza? Doesn't it have the sovereign right to close its borders as it wishes?
6. Gaza shares a land border with Egypt. Why is Israel blamed for cutting off Gaza's borders?
7. Didn't Hamas just use the Israeli disengagement from Gaza as an opportunity to launch rockets at Israel without provocation?
8. How did Israel and the West react to Hamas's election victory?
9. How could Hamas be a partner for peace? Didn't they refuse the three U.S.-Israeli conditions: that they recognize Israel, renounce violence, and agree to accept all agreements previously accepted by the Palestinian Authority?
10. Hasn't Hamas refused to ever accept the existence of Israel?
11. Doesn't Hamas support Islamic fundamentalism and anti-Semitism?
12. Is Hamas a terrorist organization?
13. How can Israel be accused of terrorism since it doesn't intentionally kill civilians, and views all civilian deaths that it causes as regrettable accidents?
14. Isn't Hamas's firing of inaccurate rockets a violation of international humanitarian law?
15. Does the fact that Israel has killed civilians justify Palestinian attacks on civilians?
16. Didn't Hamas kidnap an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit?
17. Didn't Hamas launch a military coup against Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in Gaza?
18. Isn't Hamas just a pawn of Iran?
19. What were the terms of the June 2008 ceasefire with Israel?
20. What did the lull terms say about the smuggling in of weapons?
21. What happened during the lull?
22. Wasn't it legitimate for Israeli troops to go into Gaza to destroy a tunnel being used for a planned kidnapping?
23. Why was the lull not extended?
24. Can Hamas be trusted not to break truces and ceasefires?
25. Given the barrage of rockets that was launched from Gaza after the lull ended on December 19, did Israel have any alternative to a military attack?
26. If the cease-fire had been extended, couldn't Hamas have smuggled in rockets of longer and longer range until even Tel Aviv was vulnerable? Doesn't that mean that any new ceasefire would have had to include a provision to prevent weapons smuggling, and hence would have been unacceptable to Hamas?
27. What does it mean to say that Israel should have responded proportionately?
28. Since Hamas places its military assets in civilian areas, thus using the population as human shields, isn't Hamas responsible for all the harm to civilians?
29. Israel calls the homes it is planning to attack and drops leaflets warning civilians to get away from military targets. Doesn't that meet its obligation to protect the civilian population?
30. Has Israel been intentionally targeting civilians in Gaza?
31. Haven't the vast majority of those killed by Israel been, not civilians, but terrorists?
32. Aren't there many things we don't know yet? Shouldn't we reserve judgment until all the facts are in?
33. Are Israelis unanimous in backing their government policy?
34. What has the role of the United States been?

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