Israel has been committing war crimes in Palestine since its very inception. Ethnic cleansing, massacres, forced evictions, destruction of farms and homes, illegal occupation of land, colonisation of occupied territories, denial of human rights to those under occupation, denial of basic facilities to those under occupation, illegal seizure of land and property, collective punishment of the entire population … the list goes on and on, and has been well documented ever since 1948.
What is new is not the perpetration of these heinous crimes against Palestinian civilians by the Israeli state, but the increasing inability of Israel’s imperialist protectors, mainly the US, but also Britain and to some extent the EU, to shield the country from criticism internationally and to come up with a rhetoric that satisfies the populations of those countries.
Despite banning journalists from Gaza during its most recent bloody assault on the Palestinian people, Israel has been unable to keep the evidence of its latest war crimes a secret. There is simply too much evidence, and the Palestinian people’s heroism has inspired too much sympathy and support over the last 20 years, to be ignored.
Under the barrage of evidence, more and more impeccable bourgeois sources have been forced to document just some of the crimes committed in the most recent 22-day assault on Gaza. The most comprehensive of these investigations in the British press has been in the Guardian, whose coverage online includes three short films showing evidence of particular war crimes, as defined under international law.
The first film documents the use of armed drones against unarmed civilians. The film shows that the rockets fired from such drones are not indiscriminate; those pulling the trigger and firing deadly missiles from their control towers in Israel can see in great detail the people they are firing at – down to the clothes they are wearing and what they are carrying.
This high-tech weaponry leaves very little room for cases of ‘collateral damage’ or ‘mistaken identity’, particularly in such cases as the one described, where a family – parents and four of their children – were assassinated by a rocket while drinking tea in the courtyard of their home. The family in question were not armed. No armed men were nearby. The advanced weapons system deployed against them left the bodies of women and children in pieces for their remaining family members to find.
According to Major Chris Cobb-Smith, a British munitions expert working for Amnesty International, the charity has uncovered 48 killings of civilians by armed drones, but believes there to be many, many more: “This is almost endemic out there. It isn’t just the odd occasion.” (Quoted in ‘Cut to pieces: the family drinking tea in the courtyard’, short film by Clancy Chassay, guardian.co.uk, 23 March 2009)
Israel’s only response to the allegations against it has been a written statement from its army that “The IDF’s use of weapons conforms to international law.” But all actions by the drones are recorded on film and stored in the army’s archive, which means that Israel must have the evidence to refute charges of civilian murders if the charges are spurious. Clearly, they are not.
Meanwhile, further videos show the use of young boys as human shields by the IDF in house-to-house searches and demolitions (something already clearly documented by damning photos taken in the West Bank in 2007), and the deliberate targeting of medical personnel and facilities.
During the 22-day siege, 16 medics were killed and another 22 wounded by Israel. One hospital at least was shelled with white phosphorous, forcing all those inside to flee under fire. Fifteen out of Gaza’s 27 hospitals were bombed, while a further 44 clinics were damaged and two destroyed completely. Ambulances and their crews were repeatedly targeted by precision missiles fired from tanks and helicopters, despite the fact that the optics on such weaponry is sophisticated enough to give the soldiers firing a clear view of their target’s clothes. Palestinian medics wear high-visibility jackets at all times, and their vehicles are clearly and distinctively marked.
Whilst denying that it targeted medical staff, the IDF’s response to these charges was to state that “in light of the difficult reality of warfare in the Gaza strip, carried out in urban and densely populated areas, medics who operate in the area take the risk upon themselves”. (Quoted in ‘Under attack: medics die trying to help casualties’, short film by Clancy Chassay, guardian.co.uk, 23 March 2009)
Meanwhile, an Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, has printed details of a conversation between Israeli soldiers in which the participants admit to knowingly killing unarmed civilians, including women and children. (See ‘Shooting and crying’ by Amos Harel, Haaretz.com, 20 March 2009)
And a representative of Israeli pressure group Breaking the Silence says that its own preliminary investigations point to systemic perpetration of war crimes by the IDF. Group member Mikhael Manekin, a former Israeli soldier, told the Observer: “We are not talking about some units being more aggressive than others, but underlying policy. So much so that we are talking to soldiers who said that they were having to restrain the orders given.” He went on to describe how soldiers had reported their units being specifically warned by officers not to discuss what they had seen and done in Gaza.
UN Human Rights Council member, Richard Falk, has said that the assault on Gaza appears to be a “war crime of the greatest magnitude” and called on the UN to investigate, while Amir Marmor, a 33-year-old military reservist, was reported in the New York Times as saying that “Shoot and don’t worry about the consequences” was the message given to troops by their commanders before the attack began. Speaking of his own commander, Marmor said: “His whole demeanour was extremely gung-ho … He said that in this operation, we are not taking any chances. Morality aside, we have to do our job. We will cry about it later.”
An investigation by reporter Uri Blau, published in Haaretz, underlines how complete the dehumanisation of Palestinians has become amongst Israeli soldiery generally, with many combat troops ordering t-shirts that celebrate the killing of women and children. One shirt designed for infantry snipers carries the slogan “Better use Durex” next to a picture of a dead Palestinian baby, with his weeping mother and a teddy bear beside him. A t-shirt designed for the Givati Brigade’s Shaked battalion shows a pregnant woman with a bull’s-eye on her belly, and the slogan, “1 shot, 2 kills”. (Quotes and information above taken from ‘Gaza war crime claims gather pace as more troops speak out’ by Peter Beaumont, The Observer, 22 March 2009)
In the face of this mounting evidence, the Israeli people as a whole have simply gone into collective denial. Government and army spokespeople repeat ad nauseam the myth that their army is the ‘most moral in the world’, and that those criticising it are ‘supporters of terrorism’ and ‘anti-semitic’, while the Israeli electorate (those who are allowed to vote, that is) have recently elected a government of even more openly fascistic politicians than it had before, having acquiesced in the forcible suppression of all Arab parties during the proceedings, thus, apparently, proving their claim to be ‘the Middle East’s only democracy’.
Israel claimed to have gone to war to stop ‘Hamas’ from firing Qassam rockets into ‘southern Israel’ (although in fact, Sderot, the main town under attack, is illegally occupied and ethnically cleansed Palestinian territory, from which the native inhabitants were expelled to Gaza in 1948). Actually, it went to war to try to oust the democratically-elected Hamas government and undermine support for the latter in Gaza, while also sending a message to Palestinians that their lives would continue to be made unliveable until such time as they either submit to Israeli diktat or leave the country altogether.
Yet despite killing more than 1,400 people, more than half of whom were civilians, and 430 of whom were children, Israel has achieved nothing except the strengthening of the Palestinian resistance, the further legitimising of Palestine’s elected government, and the almost complete isolation of itself.
In a bid to try to save some shred of credibility for Israel, the zionists’ imperialist backers in Britain and North America have made concerted attacks upon solidarity movements in the West. Back in January, the BBC raised a storm of outrage when it refused to air the Disaster Emergency Committee’s video appeal aimed at raising funds for the bombed out civilians of Gaza on grounds of undermining its ‘impartiality’. Caryl Churchill’s 10-minute play, Seven Jewish Children, was likewise turned down by the Controller of BBC Radio 4, and has caused an inevitable furore in zionist circles for its ‘anti-semitic’ (ie, somewhat questioning of Israeli zionist) content.
And when the Viva Palestina aid convoy set off from Britain in February, loaded with vital goods for the people of Gaza, the British state’s response was to seize trucks and people trying to join the convoy in a much-publicised ‘anti-terror’ raid, which, of course, got far more coverage in the media than any other aspect of the historic mission. Following this high-profile operation, donations to the convoy dropped by 80 percent. Smear job done, those arrested were later released without charge.
Now, having successfully traversed three continents and delivered their aid and messages of solidarity to the people of Gaza, the leaders of this heroic convoy continue to be attacked by those most complicit with Israel’s crimes.
Secretary of state Hazel Blears, for example, has written (apparently without irony) to the Muslim Council of Britain demanding the resignation of its deputy general secretary, Dr Daud Abdullah (who just happens to have been a member of the convoy), because he has signed a “public declaration of support for Hamas” (the democratically elected government of Palestine), and is therefore guilty of calling for “direct support for acts of violence in the Middle East and beyond”!
The Charity Commission in Britain announced on 23 March its plan to launch a statutory investigation into the legitimacy of Viva Palestina, for no other reason than that various papers it asked for had not been received within a few days of them being requested. Interestingly, the commission made its announcement just as George Galloway MP, the charity’s main figurehead and spokesperson, was arriving in North America for a speaking tour.
And now Galloway himself has been barred from entering Canada, where he was due to report to sold-out meetings around the country on the experiences of the convoy – banned because, having given aid to Hamas for the people of Palestine, he has now become a person who “funds, supports or engages in terrorism”, according to those currently interpreting Canadian immigration law. And this in the same month that the world’s best-known war criminal, George W Bush, was given the red-carpet treatment in Calgary, Alberta (Canada’s third-largest city), when he arrived for a speaking engagement that earned him some $400-a-plate to talk about his eight years in the White House.
All the dirty tricks in the world, however, will not succeed in providing a fig leaf for the criminal Israeli state or its barbarous war machine. All they will do is to further expose in the eyes of the people of Britain and North America the complicity of the US, Canadian and British ruling classes in the ongoing slaughter and persecution of the Palestinian people.
Meanwhile, let British workers take inspiration from the members of the Viva Palestina convoy, from the decommissioners who sabotaged the war effort at Raytheon in Derry and EDO MBM in Brighton, and from the students whose occupations have succeeded in breaking links between their universities and Israeli corporations. Collectively, we do have the power to stop the Israeli war machine, which is funded and armed by Washington and Westminster. Not only do we have the power, we have the responsibility to do so if we are not to become complicit in these crimes.