The inspiration for this blog is an article in today’s Guardian titled “Israel calls partial truce amid outrage at third strike on UN school”.
A third deadly attack on a United Nations school sheltering people fleeing bombardment in Gaza was strongly condemned by both the UN and the US on Sunday, with UN chief, Ban Ki-moon, calling it a “moral outrage and a criminal act” and pleading for an end to “this madness”.
“It was”, said Ban, “yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law, which clearly requires protection by both parties of Palestinian civilians, UN staff and UN premises, among other civilian facilities”. He called for a swift investigation, saying “those responsible [must be] held accountable. It is a moral outrage and a criminal act.
Surely everyone, even non-Americans, knows the expression “three strikes and you’re out”. That’s the way baseball is played. Get it wrong once, no problem. Get it wrong twice, still in there. But stuff up a third time and you are OUT.
But that’s baseball. The moral obscenity that is going on in Gaza now is real life to the nth degree for the Palestinians who have had to live under an illegal foreign occupation since 1967, a crippling siege since 2007 (actually since well before that), and now a third invasion and ruthless bombardment by one of the world’s largest and best-armed militaries.
In an unusually severe statement, the US state department called on Israel to do “more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties.
That’s what passes for an “unusually severe” statement from US authorities, who reserve their real anger for anything that Israel’s victims do. Think of the language that would be used if Hamas had done anything like this. And more than just language. There would be American boots on the ground by now, and the Sixth Fleet offshore.
The Israeli military was investigating the incident, said a spokesman, but preliminary inquiries had shown that its forces were “targeting a number of terrorists on a motorbike near the school, and we did identify a successful hit on a motorbike. We do not target schools. We certainly do not target civilians. We are still reviewing the incident.
Targeting a number of terrorists on a motorbike?! How many is that? One, or two? And they think that justifies an attack on a UN shelter?
As for “still reviewing the incident”, take that as meaning they are still trying to find a way to shift the blame to Hamas, just as they’ve done in earlier incidents and earlier invasions.
If all else fails, they will simply refuse to cooperate with any subsequent investigations, as they have consistently done in the past. By declining to send a negotiating team to the ceasefire talks in Egypt, they are signalling to the world that they really don’t give a shit what anyone thinks, they’ll stop the killing and destruction when they’re good and ready. And as long as there are still people alive in Gaza, they’re not good and ready yet.
When the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict was established in 2009, Israel simply refused to cooperate, and then objected that the resulting Goldstone Report was one-sided and contained factual errors.
If the report focused heavily on Israeli abuses, it was primarily because there was abundant evidence of Israeli war crimes. If there were factual errors, then Israel passed up the chance to correct them. But it didn’t. It simply used these pathetic arguments as an excuse to conduct no meaningful investigations of its own.
It did conduct investigations, but as Geoffrey Robertson points out in his article suggesting recourse by Palestine to the International Criminal Court: “just two [cases] were brought to trial and the only prison sentence – of seven months – was imposed on a soldier for stealing a credit card.” Stealing a credit card! Israel would have us believe that the worst thing they did was to steal a credit card. What a sick joke.
There was another instance of such rigorous Israeli justice last week. An Israeli officer was investigated after shooting a 13 year old Palestinian girl who was recognised by Israeli soldiers as being a frightened child and no threat, and who in any case was walking away from the army post. The commanding officer left his post, pursued the girl, shot her twice in the head and then emptied his magazine into her body. The Israeli army initially claimed that she was shot while walking toward the soldiers with her schoolbag, which they thought might carry a bomb. But recordings of the radio exchange between soldiers on the scene contradicted that, and it was only through the decency of the Israeli soldiers in his command that the officer was finally charged, albeit with only minor offenses. OK, shit happens with the occasional rogue soldier, but unbelievably, the subsequent investigation by the officer responsible for the Gaza strip, Major General Dan Harel, concluded that the captain had “not acted unethically”. One can only wonder what it takes to be recognised as unethical behaviour by the IDF command.
Israel always defends itself against criticism by complaining of a lack of balance, but when the abuses are overwhelmingly committed by one side it is impossible to give equal space to both.
Another typical Israeli tactic is to issue flat denials, as in the case of its use of white phosphorous in 2009, despite photographic evidence making it perfectly obvious that it was being used.
Or it will accuse Hamas of serious violations and then later retract them when no evidence can be produced. In 2009, for instance, Israel accused Hamas of firing rockets from UN schools, but then later acknowledged that that was untrue.
Last week brought another instance of this with the reported capture of an Israeli soldier, which brought forth exclamations of horror at this barbarity, as if capturing a soldier is somehow so much worse than killing him. It also gave Israel a pretext for its massive bombardment of the Rafah district, killing another 50 people or more. That assertion has also now been retracted by Israel, which admitted that Goldin was, after all, killed in combat. Caught out in another lie or, at the very best, another convenient mistake with hugely disproportionate consequences.
Other very disturbing events include 3 separate incidents reported by Human Rights Watch of Israeli soldiers deliberately firing on civilians trying to flee the violence. Somehow all this seems to escape the attention of the American media and government, which refuse to believe suggestions that Israel is anything but the innocent victim who reluctantly has to slaughter Palestinians by the hundreds and thousands.
None of this is to say that Hamas is innocent of wrongdoing, of course. It appears that on three occasions the UN has found rockets stored in its facilities, and that is a serious violation of the UN’s independence that must be investigated when calm is eventually restored. But the overwhelming preponderance of serious violations of the laws of war and of basic human decency have been committed by the Israelis, and no amount of Israeli prevarications can disguise that.
If all this is not yet enough to make you cry, there is another worrying development in the
rapidly unfolding health disaster in Gaza, with overwhelmed medical services on the verge of collapse. It said a third of hospitals, 14 primary healthcare clinics and 29 ambulances had been damaged in the fighting, at least five medical staff had been killed on duty and more than 40% of medical staff were unable to get to places of work. Critical supplies of medicines and other supplies were almost depleted and damage and destruction of power supplies had left hospitals dependent on unreliable generators.
It now appears that after clearing most of Hamas’ tunnels, Israel may be approaching the end of its bombardment. If so, and for that matter even if it is not, Israel should immediately take all possible steps to provide emergency medical supplies to avert another human tragedy. Whatever its complaints against Hamas, whatever its claims that the brutal assault on the population of Gaza was necessary, it cannot now deny that the many innocent civilians are in dire need of medical attention. If Israel fails now to provide urgently needed medical supplies and assistance it will stand condemned yet again in the eyes of the world, and of the law, of gross criminal behaviour. There is nothing Israel can say that can possibly justify a refusal to send these medical supplies and assistance in the volumes appropriate to the situation, and to do so now.
So let’s return to the baseball analogy with which this blog began.
Israel has now, it is virtually certain, attacked UN shelters three times, either deliberately or through gross negligence, as they had been advised numerous times of the facilities’ coordinates. Three strikes but they are not yet out, because in this ball game, Israel owns the playing field, the bats and balls, and the umpire.
But this time they have gone so far that even their American sponsors are feeling awkward and uncomfortable. And not just uncomfortable in the way you’d feel if your dog had pooped on the neighbour’s doorstep again, or stolen the laundry off the line, or impregnated their pedigree bitch with a mongrel pup. Those are uncomfortable moments, to be sure, but after all it’s your dog and you will never abandon it, and you’ll just have to mutter words of apology to your neighbours and wait for it all to blow over, as you’ve done numerous times already.
No, this time it’s nothing like that. This is not a poop-on-the-doorstep sort of moment. This is a your-pitbull-just-ripped-the-face-off-your-neighbour’s-four-year-old-child sort of moment. It really doesn’t matter whether she pulled his ears or took his food. If that was a dog in your town it would be put down immediately. No ifs, ands or buts. It would just happen.
But do you think America will finally admit this? Not a chance. Because in this town, the guy who owns the dog is also the mayor, the police chief, the newspaper editor and the bank manager, and so things aren’t quite so simple any more.
This is time for America and other apologists for Israel to wake up to the monster they have created by shielding Israel from any accountability for its actions over the last 70 years. It is time, and it should happen.
But it won’t.
If anyone doubts that, and kids themselves that now things might be different, and that America will finally put a leash and muzzle on its dog, just google “USS Liberty 1967” and read about the Israeli attempt to sink a US Navy communications ship that strayed too close to Israel during the 1967 Six Day War, threatening to discover Israeli plans to invade Syria as part of its program to grab as much Arab land as possible. It sounds like some bizarre conspiracy theory, and the truth was covered up on the orders of President Johnson. But it all happened, and both the US Chief of Naval Operations Thomas Moorer and the US Secretary of State Dean Rusk, among others, had no doubt that the attack was deliberate. So if a client state and close ally can conduct a deliberate and sustained attack on a clearly marked US ship, killing 34 and wounding 171 of its sailors, and yet avoid any kind of negative repurcussions, then it will take more than just ripping the face off your neighbour’s child to get this dog under control.