Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A few Gaza footnotes

Updated After this, I have to leave this issue aside for a while. I need to regain my ethical balance. By that I don't mean that I've been unfair or "unbalanced" - more precisely, any more "unbalanced" than the facts dictated - but that I need to step away from the anger and worse, the stomach-churning, spirit-destroying conviction that our new Change-ident isn't going to change a goddam thing on this and will be every bit as much an Israeli sycophant as those who preceded him. So I guess "balance" isn't the right word. It's my ethical composure I need to regain. I need to think about some other things. But before I do, the footnotes:

- On Monday, Amnesty International formally accused Israel of war crimes for its use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas. White phosphorus ignites on contact with air. Its use is legal under international law if the purpose is to use the smoke produced as an "obscurant" to hide troop movements. However, it is still an incendiary which causes severe burns on contact with skin, so the idea is that it would be used in open ground - not in packed neighborhoods.

AI is not the first to make the charge, but what makes this significant is that it's
made on the basis of an on-the-ground study by a British weapons expert following the ceasefire put into force by Israel and Hamas on Sunday.

Weapons expert Chris Cobb-Smith, who visited Gaza as part of a four-person Amnesty team, said he had found widespread evidence of the use of the incendiary material.
Israel, which at first denied using white phosphorus, later changed its story to the bland assertion that all its weapons complied with international law - which is rather slippery, since the issue here is not the weapon but how it was used.

On the lighter side, the IDF said it would investigate itself on the matter. I'm on tenterhooks waiting to see how that one will come out.

- In a Tuesday article about the aftermath of the assault, the Middle East Times gave some examples of materials Israel had banned from going into Gaza, incidentally showing how brutal the economic blockade is.
Previously Israel banned cement, steel and cash, saying Hamas used them for bunkers, rockets and militia salaries.

Israel also banned spare parts for water and sewage treatment plants, as well as medical equipment and spare parts needed for Gaza's overburdened hospitals, arguing that these did not fall under the category of humanitarian aid.
It appears that to Israel's way of thinking, there is very little which is humanitarian aid. I have to admit that until now it never would have occurred to me that, for example, medical equipment would fall outside that range.

- Speaking of definitions, Israel's definition of a military target is as broad as its definition of humanitarian aid is narrow. The New York Times had this yesterday:
“The civilian infrastructure provides the administrative, logistical, human resources and funding structure, which supports Hamas’s entire military effort,” said Capt. Benjamin Rutland, a spokesman for the Israeli military.
I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before, but even so it bears repeating: This reminds me of how in the Gulf War the US systematically destroyed Iraq's civilian infrastructure on the grounds that roads, bridges, telephone switiching stations, railroads, and so on were all military targets because they could "help Iraq's military," a definition which makes it hard to think of anything that's not a military target. Israel has clearly adopted that lesson.

- At the outbreak of the carnage, the New York Times said yesterday,
hundreds of Israeli Arabs were detained; some were “preventative arrests” based on intelligence, a police spokesman said.
Don't worry, I'm sure they all deserved to be taken. You can't be too careful.

- The Independent (UK) carried a follow-up to the story of the Samouni family, who I mentioned on January 10. I was particularly struck by the account of one of the survivors returning to two adjacent houses owned by the clan. The homes were
ransacked and scarcely habitable, with furnishing and electrical appliances tossed out of the window, gaping holes in the wall made for firing positions, furniture smashed, clothes piled on the floor, pages of family Korans torn out and remains of soldiers' rations littered in many rooms.

Stars of David and graffiti in Hebrew and English proclaiming "Arabs need 2 die", "no Arabs in the State of Israel" and "One down and 999,999 to go" had been scrawled on walls. A drawing of a gravestone bore the inscription "Arabs 1948 to 2009".

But the two houses were at least still standing.
Fourteen neighboring houses had been flattened by bulldozers.

The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) adds some more details, including the reminder that
[t]he United Nations commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, has already said Israel should be investigated for what happened in Zeitoun on January 4 and 5.
We'll see if anything comes of that.

- Also from the Herald comes an analysis by the paper's chief correspondent, Paul McGeough, published this past Saturday. It's too long to easily summarize here, but there are two bits I want to excerpt. First is this:
At $US1.4 billion ($2.08 billion), the first estimate of the cost of damage caused by more than 2300 Israeli air strikes alone seems too low. In an interview with The Times in London, an Israeli officer who was in Gaza described the damage as unimaginable: "It doesn't look like we have been there for [just] a few weeks. It looks destroyed, demolished, like we were bombing it for years."
The other is this:
Israel is diminished in the eyes of the world. Speaking of the hundreds of dead children in Gaza, a Tel Aviv-based ambassador was quoted as telling Israel: "Your action is brutal … I don't know how to explain these things to myself, never mind to my government."

At the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, a senior official indicated this ambassador was not alone. Acknowledging the overwhelming negativity of dispatches from embassies in Israel even before the onslaught to come - when foreign media finally gets into ravaged Gaza - the official groaned: "You see the reports in the morning and you feel ill."
The rest bears reading.

- Reuters reported on Monday on how the IDF literally destroyed an entire neighborhood - houses, citrus orchards, olive groves, and all.
They pounded it with bombs, blasted it with tanks, then bulldozed the trees and gardens
because it had the misfortune to sit on a ridge overlooking Gaza City and the Israelis wanted it as a firing platform.

- Writing an op-ed in the Washington Times (of all places) a week ago, Professor Randall Kuhn of the Global Health Affairs Program at the University of Denver eviscerates the "what would you do if rockets were fired at you" argument by extending the analogy to cover both sides of the equation.
Think about what would happen[, he begins,] if San Diego expelled most of its Hispanic, African American, Asian American, and Native American population, about 48 percent of the total, and forcibly relocated them to Tijuana? Not just immigrants, but even those who have lived in this country for many generations. Not just the unemployed or the criminals or the America haters, but the school teachers, the small business owners, the soldiers, even the baseball players.
The rest is at the link.

Okay, that's it. Barring some breakthrough, no more Gaza news for a little while. It's something I need to do.

Updated with the editorial cartoon by Rex Babin of the Sacramento Bee and the link to the AI statement.

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