Saturday, January 10, 2009

Want to End the Violence in Gaza? Boycott Israel.

By Naomi Klein, The Nation

January 09, 2009 "Alternet" -- - It's time. Long past time. The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa.

In July 2005 a huge coalition of Palestinian groups laid out plans to do just that. They called on "people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era." The campaign Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions -- BDS for short -- was born.

Every day that Israel pounds Gaza brings more converts to the BDS cause, and talk of cease-fires is doing little to slow the momentum. Support is even emerging among Israeli Jews. In the midst of the assault roughly 500 Israelis, dozens of them well-known artists and scholars, sent a letter to foreign ambassadors stationed in Israel. It calls for "the adoption of immediate restrictive measures and sanctions" and draws a clear parallel with the anti-apartheid struggle. "The boycott on South Africa was effective, but Israel is handled with kid gloves.… This international backing must stop."

Yet even in the face of these clear calls, many of us still can't go there. The reasons are complex, emotional and understandable. And they simply aren't good enough. Economic sanctions are the most effective tools in the nonviolent arsenal. Surrendering them verges on active complicity. Here are the top four objections to the BDS strategy, followed by counterarguments.

1. Punitive measures will alienate rather than persuade Israelis. The world has tried what used to be called "constructive engagement." It has failed utterly. Since 2006 Israel has been steadily escalating its criminality: expanding settlements, launching an outrageous war against Lebanon and imposing collective punishment on Gaza through the brutal blockade. Despite this escalation, Israel has not faced punitive measures -- quite the opposite. The weapons and $3 billion in annual aid that the US sends to Israel is only the beginning. Throughout this key period, Israel has enjoyed a dramatic improvement in its diplomatic, cultural and trade relations with a variety of other allies. For instance, in 2007 Israel became the first non–Latin American country to sign a free-trade deal with Mercosur. In the first nine months of 2008, Israeli exports to Canada went up 45 percent. A new trade deal with the European Union is set to double Israel's exports of processed food. And on December 8, European ministers "upgraded" the EU-Israel Association Agreement, a reward long sought by Jerusalem.

It is in this context that Israeli leaders started their latest war: confident they would face no meaningful costs. It is remarkable that over seven days of wartime trading, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange's flagship index actually went up 10.7 percent. When carrots don't work, sticks are needed.

2. Israel is not South Africa. Of course it isn't. The relevance of the South African model is that it proves that BDS tactics can be effective when weaker measures (protests, petitions, back-room lobbying) have failed. And there are indeed deeply distressing echoes of South African apartheid in the occupied territories: the color-coded IDs and travel permits, the bulldozed homes and forced displacement, the settler-only roads. Ronnie Kasrils, a prominent South African politician, said that the architecture of segregation that he saw in the West Bank and Gaza was "infinitely worse than apartheid." That was in 2007, before Israel began its full-scale war against the open-air prison that is Gaza.

3. Why single out Israel when the United States, Britain and other Western countries do the same things in Iraq and Afghanistan? Boycott is not a dogma; it is a tactic. The reason the BDS strategy should be tried against Israel is practical: in a country so small and trade-dependent, it could actually work.

4. Boycotts sever communication; we need more dialogue, not less. This one I'll answer with a personal story. For eight years, my books have been published in Israel by a commercial house called Babel. But when I published The Shock Doctrine, I wanted to respect the boycott. On the advice of BDS activists, including the wonderful writer John Berger, I contacted a small publisher called Andalus. Andalus is an activist press, deeply involved in the anti-occupation movement and the only Israeli publisher devoted exclusively to translating Arabic writing into Hebrew. We drafted a contract that guarantees that all proceeds go to Andalus's work, and none to me. In other words, I am boycotting the Israeli economy but not Israelis.

Coming up with our modest publishing plan required dozens of phone calls, e-mails and instant messages, stretching from Tel Aviv to Ramallah to Paris to Toronto to Gaza City. My point is this: as soon as you start implementing a boycott strategy, dialogue increases dramatically. And why wouldn't it? Building a movement requires endless communicating, as many in the anti-apartheid struggle well recall. The argument that supporting boycotts will cut us off from one another is particularly specious given the array of cheap information technologies at our fingertips. We are drowning in ways to rant at one another across national boundaries. No boycott can stop us.

Just about now, many a proud Zionist is gearing up for major point-scoring: don't I know that many of those very high-tech toys come from Israeli research parks, world leaders in infotech? True enough, but not all of them. Several days into Israel's Gaza assault, Richard Ramsey, the managing director of a British telecom specializing in voice-over-internet services, sent an email to the Israeli tech firm MobileMax. "As a result of the Israeli government action in the last few days we will no longer be in a position to consider doing business with yourself or any other Israeli company."

Ramsey says that his decision wasn't political; he just didn't want to lose customers. "We can't afford to lose any of our clients," he explains, "so it was purely commercially defensive."

It was this kind of cold business calculation that led many companies to pull out of South Africa two decades ago. And it's precisely the kind of calculation that is our most realistic hope of bringing justice, so long denied, to Palestine.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Bloodbath In Gaza

Separating the Truth from the Hype

By Mike Whitney

"Bandits with planes ...
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children’s blood." poem by Pablo Neruda

January 06, 2009 "Information Clearinghouse" -- In a rare moment of honesty, the New York Times divulged the real motive behind the bombardment and invasion of Gaza. In Ethan Bronner's article, "Israel Weighs Goal: Ending Hamas Rule, Rocket fire, or Both", Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon said, "We need to reach a situation in which we do not allow Hamas to govern. That is the most important thing. If the war ends in a draw, as expected, and Israel refrains from reoccupying Gaza, Hamas will gain diplomatic recognition...No matter what you call it, Hamas will obtain legitimacy.”

According to the Times: "In addition, any truce would probably include an increase in commercial traffic from Israel and Egypt into Gaza, which is Hamas’s central demand: to end the economic boycott and border closing it has been facing. To build up the Gaza economy under Hamas, Israeli leaders say, would be to build up Hamas. Yet withholding the commerce would continue to leave 1.5 million Gazans living in despair." (Israel Weighs Goal: Ending Hamas Rule, Rocket fire, or Both; Ethan Bronner)

If Israel wants to prevent Hamas from "obtaining legitimacy," than the real objective of the invasion is to either severely undermine or topple the regime. All the talk about the qassam rockets and the so-called "Hamas infrastructure", (the new phrase that is supposed to indicate a threat to Israeli security) is merely a diversion. What really worries Israel is the prospect that Obama will "sit down with his enemies"--as he promised during the presidential campaign--and conduct talks with Hamas. That would put the ball in Israel's court and force them to make concessions. But Israel does not want to make concessions. They would rather start a war and change the facts on the ground so they can head-off any attempt by Obama to restart peace process.

Just days ago, Obama advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, said in a televised interview, that the last eight years proves that resolving the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is critical to US interests in the region. He added that the recent fighting shows that the two parties cannot achieve peace without US involvement. Brzezinski's comments suggest that, at the very least, the Obama camp is considering low-level (secret?) talks with Hamas representatives. Every day that Hamas abstains from violence; its legitimacy as a political party grows and the prospect of direct negotiations becomes more likely. This is Israel's worst nightmare, not because Hamas constitutes a real threat to Israeli security, but because Israel wants to install its own puppet regime and unilaterally impose its own terms for a final settlement. Neither Ehud Olmert or any of the candidates for prime minister have any intention of getting bogged down in another 8 years of fruitless banter like Oslo where plans for settlement expansion had to be concealed behind an elaborate public relations smokescreen. No way. The Israeli leadership would rather skip the pretense altogether and pursue their territorial aims openly as they have under Bush. And the goal is the same as always; to integrate the occupied territories into Greater Israel and leave the Palestinians trapped in bantustans. Negotiations just make that harder.

Ariel Sharon's senior advisor, Dov Weisglass, clarified Israel's position three years ago when he admitted, "The disengagement [from Gaza] is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians... this whole package that is called the Palestinian state has been removed from our agenda indefinitely." "Formaldehyde"; that says it all. The point of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was to silence critics and to make it appear as though the Palestinians had achieved some type of statehood. It was a complete sham. Sharon believed that disengagement would stop foreign leaders from badgering him to sit down with the Palestinians and work out a mutually-acceptable agreement. He never expected that elections would throw a wrench in his plans and raise the credibility of Hamas to the extent that it has today. In the last two years, Hamas hasn't launched one suicide mission in Israel, which shows that it has abandoned the armed struggle and can be trusted to negotiate on its people's behalf. That scares Israel, which is why they initiated hostilities. Now, they need to seal the deal by either removing Hamas before Obama is sworn in or face pressure from the new administration for dialogue. Meanwhile, Israeli troop movements indicate that a plan may be in place to divide Gaza into three parts, thus making it impossible for Hamas to rule.

The UK Guardian confirms that the invasion was really about regime change not rockets or Hamas infrastructure.

According to the Guardian: "A couple of days into the assault on Gaza, Israel's ambassador to the UN, Gabriela Shalev, said it would continue for 'as long as it takes to dismantle Hamas completely'. Infuriated Israeli officials in Jerusalem warned her that such statements could set back the diplomatic offensive.

Dan Gillerman, Israel's ambassador to the UN until a few months ago, was brought in by the Foreign Ministry to help lead the diplomatic and PR campaign. He said that the diplomatic and political groundwork has been under way for months.

"This was something that was planned long ahead," he said. "I was recruited by the foreign minister to coordinate Israel's efforts and I have never seen all parts of a very complex machinery - whether it is the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the prime minister's office, the police or the army - work in such co-ordination, being effective in sending out the message."
In briefings in Jerusalem and London, Brussels and New York, the same core messages were repeated: that Israel had no choice but to attack in response to the barrage of Hamas rockets; that the coming attack would be on "the infrastructure of terror" in Gaza and the targets principally Hamas fighters; that civilians would die, but it was because Hamas hides its fighters and weapons factories among ordinary people.

Hand in hand went a strategy to remove the issue of occupation from discussion." (UK Guardian, "Why Israel went to war in Gaza")

The invasion was mapped out months ago, right down to the bullet points that were passed out to friends in the media. Nothing was left to chance. That said, the public relations campaign was on full display over the weekend when Israeli ground troops and armored divisions swept into Gaza unopposed. CNN had a coterie of ardent Zionists on hand to justify the invasion in a carefully scripted analysis of developments. Retired Brigadier Gen. David Grange accompanied the blatantly pro-Israel Wolf Blitzer saying that the IDF had been "lured" into Gaza by Hamas so that Hamas could execute its plan for "urban warfare". Utter nonsense. Grange implied that the subsequent slaughter of civilians was the work of Hamas, not Israel. Even by CNN's abysmal standards, this is new low.

The media has worked in concert with the IDF throughout, spinning a rationale from whole cloth and cheerleading from every available soapbox. But recent polls show that the public has remained skeptical. Anti-Israel protests have sprung up in capitals across the world, and support for Israel is at its nadir. . Many people are simply shocked to see the most advanced, technological weaponry in the world being used in densely populated areas where collateral damage is bound to be heavy. It just makes Israel look like a bully while the media looks like an enabler. So far, the war has been a public relations catastrophe. Over 500 Palestinians have been killed and 2,400 wounded in a debacle of Biblical proportions. Every day, new photographs circulate on the internet showing the carnage produced by the steady bombardment. On Monday, the IDF killed two more Palestinian families, in two separate incidents. The mother, father and eight children were killed when their house was bombed by an American made F-16 early Monday morning. Another family in the Shati refugee camp, west of Gaza City, was butchered when their home was struck by a shell from an Israeli ship off the coast. The civilian toll continues to balloon with no end in sight.

Here's how one Gaza resident summed up the bombing in an interview with an AP journalist: "The Israeli forces attack everywhere. They have gone crazy. The Gaza Strip is just going to die ... it's going to die. We were sleeping. Suddenly we heard a bomb. We woke up and we didn't know where to go. We couldn't see through the dust. We called to each other. We thought our house had been hit, not the street. What can I say? You saw it with your own eyes. What is our guilt? Are we terrorists? I don't carry a gun, neither does my girl. What does Israel want? There's no medicine. No drinks, no water, no gas. We are suffering from hunger. They attack us. Can it be worse than this?" All of Gaza has been traumatized.

The "invasion"--which is a word none of the Israeli-centric media dares to use--(Israel "entered" Gaza) is the equivalent of rampaging through a concentration camp. (similar to the massacre at Sabra and Shatilla) Still, newspapers, like The New York Times, provide cover for the attack by referring to Hamas "bases" within Gaza. In truth, there are no bases nor military installations of any kind. It's just more lies. They have no army, no navy, and no air force. The only threat that Gaza poses to Israel is its people's unshakable commitment to end the occupation.

On CNN, Alan Dershowitz and other prominent Zionists defend the invasion in their most polished, lawyerly prose, but the public remains unconvinced. What observers are seeing on the internet is the broken bodies of children pulled from the rubble of their homes and the terrifying explosions in a city that languishes in complete darkness. Nothing Dershowitz says can match the imagery splattered minute by minute on the screen. Israel has bombed mosques, ambulances, bridges, tunnels, even a terrorist girls dormitory. Since when is a girl's dormitory part of "Hamas infrastructure"? Five sisters and their mother were blow apart as they sat peacefully in their own living room. Does Dershowitz really believe he can elicit sympathy for the perpetrators of these crimes? American support for Israel is being tested; and that support is quickly eroding.

War is a blunt instrument for achieving one's political objectives, and the costs can be enormous for winner and loser alike. If Israel manages to incite Hamas to the point where they deploy suicide bombers to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem then, perhaps, attitudes will shift in Israel's favor. It is impossible to predict. But, clearly, retaliation with suicide missions would be the worst possible strategy for Hamas at this point. Israel has lost the moral high-ground, but one suicide bomber can change all that in a flash. Besides, the bombings alienate the people who sympathize with the Palestinian cause and make it harder for them to be openly supportive. The only people who benefit from suicide missions are the right-wing fanatics within the Israeli political establishment. Every Israeli civilian that's killed just strengthens the Likudniks and their ilk.


The media has made a big issue of the fact that Hamas ended its ceasefire with Israel just days before the bombardment of Gaza. But as Johann Hari points out in his article "The True Story Behind this War Is Not The One Israel Is Telling" Hamas offered to maintain the ceasefire if Israel agreed to lift the blockade.

According to Hari:

"The core of the situation has been starkly laid out by Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad. He says that while Hamas militants – like much of the Israeli right-wing – dream of driving their opponents away, "they have recognized this ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future." Instead, "they are ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state in the temporary borders of 1967." They are aware that this means they "will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original goals" – and towards a long-term peace based on compromise.....Halevy explains: "Israel, for reasons of its own, did not want to turn the ceasefire into the start of a diplomatic process with Hamas."

Why would Israel act this way? The Israeli government wants peace, but only one imposed on its own terms, based on the acceptance of defeat by the Palestinians. It means the Israelis can keep the slabs of the West Bank on "their" side of the wall. It means they keep the largest settlements and control the water supply. And it means a divided Palestine, with responsibility for Gaza hived off to Egypt, and the broken-up West Bank standing alone. Negotiations threaten this vision: they would require Israel to give up more than it wants to. But an imposed peace will be no peace at all: it will not stop the rockets or the rage. For real safety, Israel will have to talk to the people it is blockading and bombing today, and compromise with them. (Johann Hari, "The True Story Behind this War Is Not The One Israel Is Telling")

Hari's article further confirms our basic thesis that the aggression in Gaza has nothing to do with terrorism, security, or Hamas infrastructure. In fact, Hamas appears to be ready to settle for much less than they originally hoped for. In this particular case, all they wanted was a promise from Israel to end the blockade, but Israel refused. Collective punishment of Palestinians has become a habit, like smoking or taking drugs. Israel can do what it wants. If it decides to cut off the food and medicine to 1.5 million people or bomb them into oblivion; no one can stop them. The UN and Washington just roll over and play dead. Why should they negotiate; they can do whatever they want. The world is their apple.

ISMAIL HANIYEH: "We do not wish to throw the Jews into the sea".

"Oh...who will stop the windmills in my head?
Who will remove the knives from my heart?
Who will kill my poor children...?
In order that they do not...grow up in the red
furnished apartments..." ("Ending" by Amal Dunqul; translated by Angry Arab News Service)

On Monday, Israeli warplanes bombed the offices of a man who has helped to save the lives of more Jews than anyone in the Knesset. That man is Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Haniyeh has supported the ban on suicide missions which has lasted for more than two years despite the blockade of food, medicine, fuel, and electrical power to the Gaza Strip and despite the daily bombings, incursions, arrests, assassinations and countless other humiliations associated with occupation. Hundreds of Israeli civilians are alive today because Haniyeh and his Hams colleagues abandoned the armed struggle and entered politics.

On Friday, Israeli spokeswoman, Major Avital Leibovich, announced that "Hamas leaders were also marked men. We have defined legitimate targets as any Hamas-affiliated target." That means that Haniyeh is now on Israel's hit list.

In a February 2006 interview with the Washington Post, Haniyeh dispelled many of the lies circulating in the western media about Hamas. He said that he wanted to see an end the "vicious cycle of violence" and vehemently denied the claim that "Hamas is committed to destroying Israel". He said, "We do not have any feelings of animosity toward Jews. We do not wish to throw them into the sea. All we seek is to be given our land back, not to harm anybody....We are not war seekers nor are we war initiators. We are not lovers of blood. We are oppressed people with rights."

The Washington Post: "Would Hamas recognize Israel if it were to withdraw to the '67 borders?"

Haniyeh: "If Israel withdraws to the '67 borders, then we will establish peace in stages... We will establish a situation of stability and calm which will bring safety for our people."

The Washington Post: "Do you recognize Israel's right to exist?"

Haniyeh: "The answer is to let Israel say it will recognize a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, release the prisoners and recognize the rights of the refugees to return to Israel. Hamas will have a position if this occurs."

The Washington Post: "Will you recognize Israel?"

Haniyeh: "If Israel declares that it will give the Palestinian people a state and give them back all their rights, then we are ready to recognize them."

Haniyeh's answers are straightforward and rational. He asked for nothing that isn't already required under existing United Nations resolutions; a return to the 1967 borders, basic human rights, and settlement of the final status issues. An agreement could be facilitated tomorrow if Israel was willing to conform to international law. Instead, Israel has chosen to invade Gaza. For 60 years it has employed the same failed strategy.

Haniyeh again:

"Israel's unilateral movements of the past year will not lead to peace. These acts -- the temporary withdrawal of forces from Gaza, the walling off of the West Bank -- are not strides toward resolution but empty, symbolic acts that fail to address the underlying conflict. Israel's nearly complete control over the lives of Palestinians is never in doubt, as confirmed by the humanitarian and economic suffering of the Palestinians since the January elections."

"We want what Americans enjoy -- democratic rights, economic sovereignty and justice. We thought our pride in conducting the fairest elections in the Arab world might resonate with the United States and its citizens. Instead, our new government was met from the very beginning by acts of explicit, declared sabotage by the White House. Now this aggression continues against 3.9 million civilians living in the world's largest prison camps. America's complacency in the face of these war crimes is, as usual, embedded in the coded rhetorical green light: "Israel has a right to defend itself."

Haniyeh's efforts for reconciliation are doomed. Israel will not bargain or compromise. The Israeli state is driven by an ideology which requires continuous expansion and subjugation. There's nothing Haniyeh can do to change that. The answer to the present crisis lies within Zionism itself, the philosophical underpinning of Jewish nationalism.

In his recent article, "Israel's Righteous Fury and its Victims in Gaza", Ilan Pappe, the chair in the Department of History at the University of Exeter, explains Zionism in terms of its effect on Israeli policy vis a vis the invasion of Gaza:

"There are no boundaries to the hypocrisy that a righteous fury produces. The discourse of the generals and the politicians is moving erratically between self-compliments of the humanity the army displays in its "surgical" operations on the one hand, and the need to destroy Gaza for once and for all, in a humane way of course, on the other.

This righteous fury is a constant phenomenon in the Israeli, and before that Zionist, dispossession of Palestine. Every act whether it was ethnic cleansing, occupation, massacre or destruction was always portrayed as morally just and as a pure act of self-defense reluctantly perpetrated by Israel in its war against the worst kind of human beings. In his excellent volume The Returns of Zionism: Myths, Politics and Scholarship in Israel, Gabi Piterberg explores the ideological origins and historical progression of this righteous fury. Today in Israel, from Left to Right, from Likud to Kadima, from the academia to the media, one can hear this righteous fury of a state that is more busy than any other state in the world in destroying and dispossessing an indigenous population.

It is crucial to explore the ideological origins of this attitude and derive the necessary political conclusions form its prevalence. This righteous fury shields the society and politicians in Israel from any external rebuke or criticism. But far worse, it is translated always into destructive policies against the Palestinians. With no internal mechanism of criticism and no external pressure, every Palestinian becomes a potential target of this fury. Given the firepower of the Jewish state it can inevitably only end in more massive killings, massacres and ethnic cleansing.

The self-righteousness is a powerful act of self-denial and justification. It explains why the Israeli Jewish society would not be moved by words of wisdom, logical persuasion or diplomatic dialogue. And if one does not want to endorse violence as the means of opposing it, there is only one way forward: challenging head-on this righteousness as an evil ideology meant to cover human atrocities. Another name for this ideology is Zionism and an international rebuke for Zionism, not just for particular Israeli policies, is the only way of countering this self-righteousness."
("Israel's Righteous Fury and its Victims in Gaza", Ilan Pappe)

It wouldn't make a bit of difference if Hamas surrendered tomorrow and handed-over all its weapons to Israel, because the problem isn't Hamas; it's Zionism, the deeply-flawed ideology which leads to bombing children in their homes while clinging to victim-hood. Ideas have consequences. Gaza proves it.

Gaza Children Found With Mothers’ Corpses

The New York Times
January 8, 2009

PARIS — The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday it had discovered “shocking” scenes — including small children next to their mothers’ corpses — when its representatives gained access for the first time to parts of Gaza battered by Israeli shelling. It accused Israel of failing to meet obligations to care for the wounded in areas of combat.

In response, the Israeli military did not comment directly on the allegation. In a statement, it accused Hamas, its foe in Gaza, of deliberately using “Palestinian civilians as human shields” and said the Israeli Army “works in close cooperation with international aid organizations during the fighting so that civilians can be provided with assistance.”

The Israeli military “in no way intentionally targets civilians and has demonstrated its willingness to abort operations to save civilian lives and to risk injury in order to assist innocent civilians,” the statement said, promising that “any serious allegation” would “need to be investigated properly, once such a complaint is received formally, within the constraints of the current military operation.”

In an unusually blunt criticism, the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross said it had been seeking access to shell-damaged areas in Zeitoun in the east of Gaza City since Saturday but the Israeli authorities granted permission only on Wednesday — the first day that Israel allowed a three-hour lull in the attacks on Gaza on humanitarian grounds.

The statement said a team of four Palestine Red Crescent ambulances accompanied by Red Cross representatives made its way to Zeitoun Wednesday where it “found four small children next to their dead mothers in one of the houses. They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up. In all, there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses.”

In another house, the statement said, the rescue team “found 15 other survivors of this attack including several wounded. In yet another house, they found an additional three corpses. Israeli soldiers posted at a military position some 80 meters away from this house ordered the rescue team to leave the area which they refused to do. There were several other positions of the Israeli Defense Forces nearby as well as two tanks.”

Because of berms built by Israeli forces, the ambulances could not enter the area so “the children and the wounded had to be taken to the ambulances on a donkey cart,” the statement said.

The statement quoted Pierre Wettach, an International Red Cross representative for Israel and the Palestinian areas, as calling the incident “shocking.”

“The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestine Red Crescent to assist the wounded,” he was quoted as saying.

The statement said the international Red Cross “believes that in this instance the Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded. It considers the delay in allowing rescue services access unacceptable.”

An Unnecessary War

By Jimmy Carter

January 08, 2009 "Washington Post" -- - I know from personal involvement that the devastating invasion of Gaza by Israel could easily have been avoided.

After visiting Sderot last April and seeing the serious psychological damage caused by the rockets that had fallen in that area, my wife, Rosalynn, and I declared their launching from Gaza to be inexcusable and an act of terrorism. Although casualties were rare (three deaths in seven years), the town was traumatized by the unpredictable explosions. About 3,000 residents had moved to other communities, and the streets, playgrounds and shopping centers were almost empty. Mayor Eli Moyal assembled a group of citizens in his office to meet us and complained that the government of Israel was not stopping the rockets, either through diplomacy or military action.

Knowing that we would soon be seeing Hamas leaders from Gaza and also in Damascus, we promised to assess prospects for a cease-fire. From Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who was negotiating between the Israelis and Hamas, we learned that there was a fundamental difference between the two sides. Hamas wanted a comprehensive cease-fire in both the West Bank and Gaza, and the Israelis refused to discuss anything other than Gaza.

We knew that the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza were being starved, as the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food had found that acute malnutrition in Gaza was on the same scale as in the poorest nations in the southern Sahara, with more than half of all Palestinian families eating only one meal a day.

Palestinian leaders from Gaza were noncommittal on all issues, claiming that rockets were the only way to respond to their imprisonment and to dramatize their humanitarian plight. The top Hamas leaders in Damascus, however, agreed to consider a cease-fire in Gaza only, provided Israel would not attack Gaza and would permit normal humanitarian supplies to be delivered to Palestinian citizens.

After extended discussions with those from Gaza, these Hamas leaders also agreed to accept any peace agreement that might be negotiated between the Israelis and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who also heads the PLO, provided it was approved by a majority vote of Palestinians in a referendum or by an elected unity government.

Since we were only observers, and not negotiators, we relayed this information to the Egyptians, and they pursued the cease-fire proposal. After about a month, the Egyptians and Hamas informed us that all military action by both sides and all rocket firing would stop on June 19, for a period of six months, and that humanitarian supplies would be restored to the normal level that had existed before Israel's withdrawal in 2005 (about 700 trucks daily).

We were unable to confirm this in Jerusalem because of Israel's unwillingness to admit to any negotiations with Hamas, but rocket firing was soon stopped and there was an increase in supplies of food, water, medicine and fuel. Yet the increase was to an average of about 20 percent of normal levels. And this fragile truce was partially broken on Nov. 4, when Israel launched an attack in Gaza to destroy a defensive tunnel being dug by Hamas inside the wall that encloses Gaza.

On another visit to Syria in mid-December, I made an effort for the impending six-month deadline to be extended. It was clear that the preeminent issue was opening the crossings into Gaza. Representatives from the Carter Center visited Jerusalem, met with Israeli officials and asked if this was possible in exchange for a cessation of rocket fire. The Israeli government informally proposed that 15 percent of normal supplies might be possible if Hamas first stopped all rocket fire for 48 hours. This was unacceptable to Hamas, and hostilities erupted.

After 12 days of "combat," the Israeli Defense Forces reported that more than 1,000 targets were shelled or bombed. During that time, Israel rejected international efforts to obtain a cease-fire, with full support from Washington. Seventeen mosques, the American International School, many private homes and much of the basic infrastructure of the small but heavily populated area have been destroyed. This includes the systems that provide water, electricity and sanitation. Heavy civilian casualties are being reported by courageous medical volunteers from many nations, as the fortunate ones operate on the wounded by light from diesel-powered generators.

The hope is that when further hostilities are no longer productive, Israel, Hamas and the United States will accept another cease-fire, at which time the rockets will again stop and an adequate level of humanitarian supplies will be permitted to the surviving Palestinians, with the publicized agreement monitored by the international community. The next possible step: a permanent and comprehensive peace.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Red Cross Reports Grisly Find in Gaza

Israel Accused of Blocking Aid to Wounded

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 8, 2009; Page A01

JERUSALEM, Jan. 8 -- The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that it had found at least 15 bodies and several children -- emaciated but alive -- in a row of shattered houses in the Gaza Strip and accused the Israeli military of preventing ambulances from reaching the site for four days.

Red Cross officials said rescue crews had received specific reports of casualties in the houses and had been trying since Saturday to send ambulances to the area, located in Zaytoun, a neighborhood south of Gaza City. They said the Israeli military did not grant permission until Wednesday afternoon.

In an unusual public statement issued by its Geneva headquarters, the Red Cross called the episode "unacceptable" and said the Israeli military had "failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded."

When rescue workers from the Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent arrived at the site, they found 12 corpses lying on mattresses in one home, along with four young children lying next to their dead mothers, the Red Cross said. The children were too weak to stand and were rushed to a hospital, the agency said.

A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces declined to comment early Thursday on the specific allegations made by the Red Cross but said in a statement that the military "has demonstrated its willingness to abort operations to save civilian lives and to risk injury in order to assist innocent civilians."

"Any serious allegations made against the IDF's conduct will need to be investigated properly, once such a complaint is received formally," the statement added.

The deaths came to light as Israel continued a military offensive against the Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Early Thursday, Israeli officials reported a number of explosions in northern Israel and said they were caused by rockets fired from southern Lebanon.

An Israeli military spokesman said that several rockets had been fired from Lebanon about 7:30 a.m. and that they had landed in western Galilee. One man was lightly wounded. The spokesman said the military returned fire into southern Lebanon, targeting the rocket-launching site.

Officials in Galilee said the rockets -- the first fired into Israel from southern Lebanon since the end of the 2006 war with the Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah -- landed around the city of Nahariya.

There was no immediate comment from within Lebanon. Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah has threatened Israel with retaliation for its offensive in Gaza.

In the Zaytoun incident, the Red Cross said its workers evacuated 18 wounded survivors from the houses in donkey carts. They said ambulances could not reach the site because of earthen barriers erected around the neighborhood by the Israeli military. Red Cross officials said that Israeli soldiers posted nearby tried to chase rescue workers away from the site but that the rescuers refused to leave.

This is a shocking incident," Pierre Wettach, the Red Cross's head of delegation for Israel and the Palestinian territories, said in a statement. "The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestine Red Crescent to assist the wounded."

The Geneva Conventions provide that parties to a conflict "at all times" should "without delay" take "all possible measures to search for and collect the wounded and sick, to protect them against pillage and ill-treatment, to ensure their adequate care, and to search for the dead and prevent their being despoiled." The conventions also say that wounded "shall not willfully be left without medical assistance and care."

The Red Cross said it was able to remove only three of the bodies and had received reports of other casualties in the neighborhood. The agency said that it was trying to return to the site but that negotiations with the Israeli military to guarantee safe passage were ongoing.

Palestinian journalists confirmed that large numbers of wounded survivors, including children, had arrived at Red Cross hospitals in Gaza from Zaytoun on Wednesday. Other details could not be independently corroborated; the Israeli military has barred foreign journalists from entering Gaza.

There have been other reports of wounded Gazans who have been forced to wait many hours or even days for ambulances since the Israeli offensive began Dec. 27, including several in the Zaytoun neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Israel said Wednesday it was in "fundamental agreement" with a cease-fire proposal offered by Egypt and France, but fighting continued in the Gaza Strip as diplomats from more than a dozen countries haggled over details in a bid to stop the conflict.

Israeli officials said they would send emissaries to Egypt on Thursday to hold talks on a potential truce proposed by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Parallel diplomatic efforts were underway in New York at the United Nations. But many sticking points remained. The French-Egyptian proposal calls for an immediate cease-fire, followed by talks on securing Gaza's borders and ending an economic blockade that Israel has imposed since June 2007, when Hamas expelled rival Fatah forces from Gaza to seize sole control of the strip.

U.S. officials have supported the French-Egyptian effort but said the basic issues that led to the conflict need to be resolved upfront. "It has to be a cease-fire that will not allow a return to the status quo," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.

Israel has vowed to continue its 12-day military campaign until it is satisfied that Hamas will be unable to rearm itself by smuggling weaponry through cross-border tunnels from Egypt. Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets, most of them crude and unguided, into southern Israel since a six-month truce between the group and Israel expired Dec. 19.

The Netherlands, Denmark and Turkey said Wednesday they would be willing to contribute to an international force that would patrol the Gaza-Egypt border to prevent smuggling. Israeli officials said they wanted to ensure that any such force would have the authority to stop arms trafficking.

Hamas officials, who have been involved separately in negotiations with Egypt, reacted coolly to the cease-fire plan.

Ahmed Youssef, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said the group would not stop firing rockets into southern Israel until the Israeli military withdrew from the Palestinian territory and ended the economic blockade, which has left Gaza's 1.5 million people dependent on smugglers and relief organizations for their basic needs. About 25 rockets landed in southern Israel on Wednesday, wounding two people, the Israeli military said.

The Israeli military observed a three-hour cessation in the fighting Wednesday afternoon to allow relief agencies to deliver about 80 truckloads of emergency supplies. The lull in the violence also gave besieged Gaza residents an opportunity to emerge briefly from their homes and seek food, fuel and medical care.

Gazan medical officials said the pause in fighting led to a drop in casualties compared with other days since Israel launched its ground offensive Saturday. Twenty-nine Palestinians were reported killed Wednesday, bringing the toll to more than 680 since the fighting began, Palestinian health officials said. U.N. officials estimate that about one-third of those killed have been women and children, including three youngsters killed Wednesday when a shell struck a car.

Seven Israeli soldiers and three civilians have died in the conflict. Four of the soldiers were killed by errant shells fired by Israeli forces.

Holocaust Denied

The lying silence of those who know

By John Pilger

January 08, 2009 "Information Clearinghouse" -- -"When the truth is replaced by silence," the Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko said, "the silence is a lie." It may appear the silence is broken on Gaza. The cocoons of murdered children, wrapped in green, together with boxes containing their dismembered parents and the cries of grief and rage of everyone in that death camp by the sea, can be viewed on al-Jazeera and YouTube, even glimpsed on the BBC. But Russia's incorrigible poet was not referring to the ephemeral we call news; he was asking why those who knew the why never spoke it and so denied it. Among the Anglo-American intelligentsia, this is especially striking. It is they who hold the keys to the great storehouses of knowledge: the historiographies and archives that lead us to the why.

They know that the horror now raining on Gaza has little to do with Hamas or, absurdly, "Israel's right to exist." They know the opposite to be true: that Palestine's right to exist was canceled 61 years ago and the expulsion and, if necessary, extinction of the indigenous people was planned and executed by the founders of Israel. They know, for example, that the infamous "Plan D" resulted in the murderous depopulation of 369 Palestinian towns and villages by the Haganah (Jewish army) and that massacre upon massacre of Palestinian civilians in such places as Deir Yassin, al-Dawayima, Eilaboun, Jish, Ramle and Lydda are referred to in official records as "ethnic cleansing." Arriving at a scene of this carnage, David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, was asked by a general, Yigal Allon, "What shall we do with the Arabs?" Ben-Gurion, reported the Israeli historian Benny Morris, "made a dismissive, energetic gesture with his hand and said, ‘Expel them'. The order to expel an entire population "without attention to age" was signed by Yitzhak Rabin, a future prime minister promoted by the world's most efficient propaganda as a peacemaker. The terrible irony of this was addressed only in passing, such as when the Mapan Party co-leader Meir Ya'ari noted "how easily" Israel's leaders spoke of how it was "possible and permissible to take women, children and old men and to fill the roads with them because such is the imperative of strategy … who remembers who used this means against our people during the [Second World] war … we are appalled."

Every subsequent "war" Israel has waged has had the same objective: the expulsion of the native people and the theft of more and more land. The lie of David and Goliath, of perennial victim, reached its apogee in 1967 when the propaganda became a righteous fury that claimed the Arab states had struck first. Since then, mostly Jewish truth-tellers such as Avi Schlaim, Noam Chomsky, the late Tanya Reinhart, Neve Gordon, Tom Segev, Yuri Avnery, Ilan Pappe and Norman Finklestein have dispatched this and other myths and revealed a state shorn of the humane traditions of Judaism, whose unrelenting militarism is the sum of an expansionist, lawless and racist ideology called zionism. "It seems," wrote the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe on 2 January, "that even the most horrendous crimes, such as the genocide in Gaza, are treated as desperate events, unconnected to anything that happened in the past and not associated with any ideology or system … Very much as the apartheid ideology explained the oppressive policies of the South African government, this ideology – in its most consensual and simplistic variety – has allowed all the Israeli governments in the past and the present to dehumanize the Palestinians wherever they are and strive to destroy them. The means altered from period to period, from location to location, as did the narrative covering up these atrocities. But there is a clear pattern [of genocide]."

In Gaza, the enforced starvation and denial of humanitarian aid, the piracy of life-giving resources such as fuel and water, the denial of medicines and treatment, the systematic destruction of infrastructure and the killing and maiming of the civilian population, 50 per cent of whom are children, meet the international standard of the Genocide Convention. "Is it an irresponsible overstatement," asked Richard Falk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and international law authority at Princeton University, "to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not."

In describing a "holocaust-in-the making," Falk was alluding to the Nazis' establishment of Jewish ghettos in Poland. For one month in 1943, the captive Polish Jews led by Mordechaj Anielewiz fought off the German army and the SS, but their resistance was finally crushed and the Nazis exacted their final revenge. Falk is also a Jew. Today's holocaust-in-the-making, which began with Ben-Gurion's Plan D, is in its final stages. The difference today is that it is a joint US-Israeli project. The F-16 jet fighters, the 250-pound "smart" GBU-39 bombs supplied on the eve of the attack on Gaza, having been approved by a Congress dominated by the Democratic Party, plus the annual $2.4 billion in war-making "aid," give Washington de facto control. It beggars belief that President-elect Obama was not informed. Outspoken on Russia's war in Georgia and the terrorism in Mumbai, Obama's silence on Palestine marks his approval, which is to be expected, given his obsequiousness to the Tel Aviv regime and its lobbyists during the presidential campaign and his appointment of Zionists as his secretary of state, chief of staff and principal Middle East advisers. When Aretha Franklin sings "Think," her wonderful 1960s anthem to freedom, at Obama's inauguration on 21 January, I trust someone with the brave heart of Muntadar al-Zaidi, the shoe-thrower, will shout: "Gaza!"

The asymmetry of conquest and terror is clear. Plan D is now "Operation Cast Lead," which is the unfinished "Operation Justified Vengeance." The latter was launched by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2001 when, with Bush's approval, he used F-16s against Palestinian towns and villages for the first time. In the same year, the authoritative Jane's Foreign Report disclosed that the Blair government had given Israel the "green light" to attack the West Bank after it was shown Israel's secret designs for a bloodbath. It was typical of New Labor Party's enduring, cringing complicity in Palestine's agony. However, the 2001 Israeli plan, reported Jane's, needed the "trigger" of a suicide bombing which would cause "numerous deaths and injuries [because] the 'revenge' factor is crucial." This would "motivate Israeli soldiers to demolish the Palestinians." What alarmed Sharon and the author of the plan, General Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli Chief of Staff, was a secret agreement between Yasser Arafat and Hamas to ban suicide attacks. On 23 November, 2001, Israeli agents assassinated the Hamas leader, Mahmud Abu Hunud, and got their "trigger"; the suicide attacks resumed in response to his killing.

Something uncannily similar happened on 5 November last, when Israeli special forces attacked Gaza, killing six people. Once again, they got their propaganda "trigger." A ceasefire initiated and sustained by the Hamas government – which had imprisoned its violators – was shattered by the Israeli attack and homemade rockets were fired into what used to be Palestine before its Arab occupants were "cleansed." The On 23 December, Hamas offered to renew the ceasefire, but Israel's charade was such that its all-out assault on Gaza had been planned six months earlier, according to the Israeli daily Ha'aretz.

Behind this sordid game is the "Dagan Plan," named after General Meir Dagan, who served with Sharon in his bloody invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Now head of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence organization, Dagan is the author of a "solution" that has seen the imprisonment of Palestinians behind a ghetto wall snaking across the West Bank and in Gaza, effectively a concentration camp. The establishment of a quisling government in Ramallah under Mohammed Abbas is Dagan's achievement, together with a hasbara (propaganda) campaign relayed through a mostly supine, if intimidated western media, notably in America, that says Hamas is a terrorist organization devoted to Israel's destruction and to "blame" for the massacres and siege of its own people over two generations, long before its creation. "We have never had it so good," said the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Gideon Meir in 2006. "The hasbara effort is a well-oiled machine." In fact, Hamas's real threat is its example as the Arab world's only democratically elected government, drawing its popularity from its resistance to the Palestinians' oppressor and tormentor. This was demonstrated when Hamas foiled a CIA coup in 2007, an event ordained in the western media as "Hamas's seizure of power." Likewise, Hamas is never described as a government, let alone democratic. Neither is its proposal of a ten-year truce as a historic recognition of the "reality" of Israel and support for a two-state solution with just one condition: that the Israelis obey international law and end their illegal occupation beyond the 1967 borders. As every annual vote in the UN General Assembly demonstrates, 99 per cent of humanity concurs. On 4 January, the president of the General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto, described the Israeli attack on Gaza as a "monstrosity."

When the monstrosity is done and the people of Gaza are even more stricken, the Dagan Plan foresees what Sharon called a "1948-style solution" – the destruction of all Palestinian leadership and authority followed by mass expulsions into smaller and smaller "cantonments" and perhaps finally into Jordan. This demolition of institutional and educational life in Gaza is designed to produce, wrote Karma Nabulsi, a Palestinian exile in Britain, "a Hobbesian vision of an anarchic society: truncated, violent, powerless, destroyed, cowed … Look to the Iraq of today: that is what [Sharon] had in store for us, and he has nearly achieved it."

Dr. Dahlia Wasfi is an American writer on Palestine. She has a Jewish mother and an Iraqi Muslim father. "Holocaust denial is anti-Semitic," she wrote on 31 December. "But I'm not talking about World War Two, Mahmoud Ahmedinijad (the president of Iran) or Ashkenazi Jews. What I'm referring to is the holocaust we are all witnessing and responsible for in Gaza today and in Palestine over the past 60 years … Since Arabs are Semites, US-Israeli policy doesn't get more anti-Semitic than this." She quoted Rachel Corrie, the young American who went to Palestine to defend Palestinians and was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer. "I am in the midst of a genocide," wrote Corrie, "which I am also indirectly supporting and for which my government is largely responsible."

Reading the words of both, I am struck by the use of "responsibility." Breaking the lie of silence is not an esoteric abstraction but an urgent responsibility that falls to those with the privilege of a platform. With the BBC cowed, so too is much of journalism, merely allowing vigorous debate within unmovable invisible boundaries, ever fearful of the smear of anti-Semitism. The unreported news, meanwhile, is that the death toll in Gaza is the equivalent of 18,000 dead in Britain. Imagine, if you can.

Then there are the academics, the deans and teachers and researchers. Why are they silent as they watch a university bombed and hear the Association of University Teachers in Gaza plea for help? Are British universities now, as Terry Eagleton believes, no more than "intellectual Tescos, churning out a commodity known as graduates rather than greengroceries"?

Then there are the writers. In the dark year of 1939, the Third Writers' Congress was held at Carnegie Hall in New York and the likes of Thomas Mann and Albert Einstein sent messages and spoke up to ensure the lie of silence was broken. By one account, 3,500 jammed the auditorium and a thousand were turned away. Today, this mighty voice of realism and morality is said to be obsolete; the literary review pages affect an ironic hauteur of irrelevance; false symbolism is all. As for the readers, their moral and political imagination is to be pacified, not primed. The anti-Muslim Martin Amis expressed this well in Visiting Mrs. Nabokov: "The dominance of the self is not a flaw, it is an evolutionary characteristic; it is just how things are."

If that is how things are, we are diminished as a civilized society. For what happens in Gaza is the defining moment of our time, which either grants the impunity of war criminals the immunity of our silence, while we contort our own intellect and morality, or gives us the power to speak out. For the moment I prefer my own memory of Gaza: of the people's courage and resistance and their "luminous humanity," as Karma Nabulsi put it. On my last trip there, I was rewarded with a spectacle of Palestinian flags fluttering in unlikely places. It was dusk and children had done this. No one told them to do it. They made flagpoles out of sticks tied together, and a few of them climbed on to a wall and held the flag between them, some silently, others crying out. They do this every day when they know foreigners are leaving, believing the world will not forget them.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Have Bush and the Neocons Ruined it for the Israelis?

By: Juan Cole
Monday, Jan. 5, 2009

The Israeli propaganda blitz around their attack on Gaza has been greeted with uncharacteristic skepticism by the American public and even by some of the mainstream US press. Even the Jewish American community is uneasy about this one, in a way perhaps unparalleled since the 1982 Israeli attack on Lebanon and siege of Beirut. Jews for Peace in Los Angeles are actively protesting the Gaza atrocities, and newspaper articles from around the US on local protests held this weekend often mention mixed Arab-American and Jewish-American rallies.

If it is true that Americans are greeting Israeli talking points with more criticism this time, is it because we have been intensively exposed for the past 8 years to precisely this sort of mental manipulation by Bush-Cheney and their stable of Neoconservatives?

Let's take some of the basic techniques of propaganda practiced by Bush and compare them to those deployed by the Israeli leadership in the past 8 days. MORE...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

In the US, Gaza is a different war

By Habib Battah

Al Jazeera
January 06, 2009

The mainstream US media has been careful to balance images of Gazan suffering with those of Israelis, leading to accusations it is not reflecting the unequal death toll

The images of two women on the front page of an edition of The Washington Post last week illustrates how mainstream US media has been reporting Israel's war on Gaza.

On the left was a Palestinian mother who had lost five children. On the right was a nearly equally sized picture of an Israeli woman who was distressed by the fighting, according to the caption.

As the Palestinian woman cradled the dead body of one child, another infant son, his face blackened and disfigured with bruises, cried beside her.

The Israeli woman did not appear to be wounded in any way but also wept.

Arab frustration

To understand the frustration often felt in the Arab world over US media coverage, one only needs to imagine the same front page had the situation been reversed.

If an Israeli woman had lost five daughters in a Palestinian attack, would The Washington Post run an equally sized photograph of a relatively unharmed Palestinian woman, who was merely distraught over Israeli missile fire?

When the front page photographs of the two women were published on December 30, over 350 Palestinians had reportedly been killed compared to just four Israelis.

What if 350 Israelis had been killed and only four Palestinians - would the newspaper have run the stories side by side as if equal in news value?

Like many major news organisations in the US, The Washington Post has chosen to cover the conflict from a perspective that reflects the US government's relationship with Israel. This means prioritising Israel's version of events while underplaying the views of Palestinian groups.

For example, the newspaper's lead article on Tuesday, which was published above the mothers' photographs, quotes Israeli military and civilian sources nine times before quoting a single Palestinian. The first seven paragraphs explain Israel's military strategy. The ninth paragraph describes the anxiety among Israelis, spending evenings in bomb shelters. Ordinary Palestinians, who generally have no access to bomb shelters, do not make an appearance until the 23rd paragraph.

To balance this top story, The Washington Post published another article on the bottom half of the front page about the Palestinian mother and her children. But would the paper have ever considered balancing a story about a massive attack on Israelis with an in-depth lead piece on the strategy of Palestinian militants?

Context stripped

Major US television channels also adopted the equal time approach, despite the reality that Palestinian casualties exceeded Israeli ones by a hundred fold. However, such comparisons were rare because the scripts read by American correspondents often excluded the overall Palestinian death count.

By stripping the context, American viewers may have easily assumed a level playing field, rather than a case of disproportionate force.

Take the opening lines of a report filed by NBC's Martin Fletcher on December 30: "In Gaza two little girls were taking out the rubbish and killed by an Israeli rocket - while in Israel, a woman had been driving home and was killed by a Hamas rocket. No let up today on either side on the fourth day of this battle."

Omitted from the report was the overall Palestinian death toll, dropped continuously in subsequent reports filed by NBC correspondents over the next several days.

When number of deaths did appear - sometimes as a graphic at the bottom of the screen - it was identified as the number of "people killed" rather than being attributed specifically to Palestinians.

No wonder the overwhelmingly asymmetrical bombardment of Gaza has been framed vaguely as "rising tensions in the Middle East" by news anchors.

With the lack of context, the power dynamic on the ground becomes unclear.

ABC news, for example, regularly introduced events in Gaza as "Mideast Violence". And Like NBC, reporters excluded the Palestinian death toll.

On December 31, when Palestinian deaths stood at almost 400, ABC correspondent Simon McGergor-Wood began a video package by describing damage to an Israeli school by Hamas rockets.

The reporter's script can be paraphrased as follows: Israel wanted a sustainable ceasefire; Israel needed to prevent Hamas from rearming; Hamas targets were hit; Israel was sending in aid and letting the injured out; Israel was doing "everything they can to alleviate the humanitarian crisis". And with that McGregor-Wood signed off.

Palestinian perspective missing

There was no parallel telling of the Palestinian perspective, and no mention of any damages to Palestinian lives, although news agencies that day had reported five Palestinians dead.

For the ABC correspondent, it seemed the Palestinian deaths contained less news value than damage to Israeli buildings. His narration of events, meanwhile, amounted to no less than a parroting of the official Israeli line.

In fact, the Israeli government view typically went unchallenged on major US networks.

Interviews with Israeli spokesmen and ambassadors were not juxtaposed with the voices of Palestinian leaders. Prominent American news anchors frequently adopted the Israeli viewpoint. In talk show discussions, instead of debating events on the ground, the pundits often reinforced each other's views.

Such an episode occurred on a December 30 broadcast of the MSNBC show, Morning Joe, during which host Joe Scarborough repeatedly insisted that Israel should not be judged.

Israel was defending itself just as the US had done throughout history. "How many people did we kill in Germany?" Scarborough posed.

The blame rested on the Palestinians, he concluded, connecting the Gaza attacks to the Camp David negotiations of 2000. "They gave the Palestinians everything they could ask for, and they walked away from the table," he said repeatedly.

Although this view was challenged once by Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former US official, who appeared briefly on the show, subsequent guests agreed incessantly with Scarborough's characterisation of the Palestinians as negligent, if not criminal in nature.

According to guest Dan Bartlett, a former White House counsel, the Palestinian leadership had made it "very clear" that they were uninterested in peace talks.

Another guest, NBC anchor David Gregory, began by noting that Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian president, "could not be trusted", according to Bill Clinton, the former US president.

Gregory then added that Hamas had "undercut the peace process" and actually welcomed the attacks.

"The reality is that Hamas wanted this, they didn't want the ceasefire," he said.

Columnist Margaret Carlson also joined the show, agreeing in principal that Hamas should be "crushed" but voicing concern over the cost of such action.

Thus the debate was not whether Israel was justified, but rather what Israel should do next. The Palestinian human tragedy received little to no attention.

Victim's perspective

Arab audiences saw a different picture altogether. Rather than mulling Israel's dilemma, the Arab news networks captured the air assault in chilling detail from the perspective of its victims. The divide in coverage was staggering.

For US networks, the bombing of Gaza has largely been limited to two-minute video packages or five minute talk show segments. This has usually meant a few snippets of jumbled video: explosions from a distance and a momentary glance at victims; barely enough time to remember a face, let alone a personality. Victims were rarely interviewed.

The availability of time and space, American broadcast executives might argue, were mitigating factors.

On MSNBC for example, Gaza competed for air time last week with stories about the economy, such as a hike in liquor sales, or celebrity news, such as speculation over the publishing of photographs of Sarah Palin's new grandchild.

On Arab TV, however, Gaza has been the only story.

For hours on end, live images from the streets of Gaza are beamed into Arab households.

Unlike the correspondents from ABC and NBC, who have filed their reports exclusively from Israeli cities, Arab crews are inside Gaza, with many correspondents native Gazans themselves.

The images they capture are often broadcast unedited, and over the last week, a grizzly news gathering routine has been established.

The cycle begins with rooftop-mounted cameras, capturing the air raids live. After moments of quiet, thunderous bombing commences and plumes of smoke rise over the skyline. Then, anguish on the streets. Panicked civilians run for cover as ambulances careen through narrow alleys. Rescue workers hurriedly pick through the rubble, often pulling out mangled bodies. Fathers with tears of rage hold dead children up to the cameras, vowing revenge. The wounded are carried out in stretchers, gushing with blood.

Later, local journalists visit the hospitals and more gruesome images, more dead children are broadcast. Doctors wrap up the tiny bodies and carry them into overflowing morgues. The survivors speak to reporters. Their distraught voices are heard around the region; the outflow of misery and destruction is constant.

Palestinian voices

The coverage extends beyond Gaza. Unlike the US networks, which are often limited to one or two correspondents in Israel, major Arab television channels maintain correspondents and bureaus throughout the region. As angry protests take place on a near daily basis, the crews are there to capture the action live.

Even in Israel, Arab reporters are employed, and Israeli politicians are regularly interviewed. But so are members of Hamas and the other Palestinian factions.

The inclusion of Palestinian voices is not unique to Arab media. On a number of international broadcasts, including BBC World and CNN International, Palestinian leaders and Gazans in particular are regularly heard. And the Palestinian death toll has been provided every day, in most broadcasts and by most correspondents on the ground. Reports are also filed from Arab capitals.

On some level, the relatively small American broadcasting output can be attributed to a general trend in downsizing foreign reporting. But had a bloodbath on this scale happened in Israel, would the networks not have sent in reinforcements?

For now, the Israeli viewpoint seems slated to continue to dominate Gaza coverage. The latest narrative comes from the White House, which has called for a "durable" ceasefire, preventing Hamas terrorists from launching more rockets.

Naturally the soundbites are parroted by US broadcasters throughout the day and then reinforced by pundits, fearing the dangerous Hamas.

Arab channels, however, see a different outcome. Many have begun referring to Hamas, once controversial, as simply "the Palestinian resistance".

While American analysts map out Israel's strategy, Arab broadcasters are drawing their own maps, plotting the expanding range of Hamas rockets, and predicting a strengthened hand for opposition to Israel, rather than a weakened one.


by Judith Moriarty

What do we know of Gaza? Basically nothing. The little news that we receive from this area is censored and one-sided. According to Robert Fisk - 'Gaza exists because the Palestinians who lived in Ashkelon and the fields around it were dispossessed from their lands in 1948 when Israel was created. They, their children and grandchildren are among the one and a half Palestinian crammed into the refugees crammed into the cesspool of Gaza. 80% of these people once lived in what is now Israel. Watching the news, you'd think that a bunch of bearded anti-Semitic Islamic lunatics suddenly popped up in the slums of Gaza - a rubbish heap of destitute people of NO origin - and began firing homemade rockets into 'peace- loving, democratic Israel.'