To avoid counting civilian deaths, Obama re-defined “militant” to mean “all military-age males in a strike zone

Virtually every time the U.S. fires a missile from a drone and ends the lives of Muslims, American media outlets dutifully trumpet in headlines that the dead were “militants” — even though those media outlets literally do not have the slightest idea of who was actually killed.

They simply cite always-unnamed “officials” claiming that the dead were “militants.” It’s the most obvious and inexcusable form of rank propaganda: media outlets continuously propagating a vital claim without having the slightest idea if it’s true.

This practice continues even though key Obama officials have been caught lying, a term used advisedly, about how many civilians they’re killing. I’ve written and said many times before that in American media discourse, the definition of “militant” is any human being whose life is extinguished when an American missile or bomb detonates (that term was even used when Anwar Awlaki’s 16-year-old American son, Abdulrahman, was killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen two weeks after a drone killed his father, even though nobody claims the teenager was anything but completely innocent: “Another U.S. Drone Strike Kills Militants in Yemen”).

This morning, the New York Times has a very lengthy and detailed article about President Obama’s counter-Terrorism policies based on interviews with “three dozen of his current and former advisers.” I’m writing separately about the numerous revelations contained in that article, but want specifically to highlight this one vital passage about how the Obama administration determines who is a “militant.” The article explains that Obama’s rhetorical emphasis on avoiding civilian deaths “did not significantly change” the drone program, because Obama himself simply expanded the definition of a “militant” to ensure that it includes virtually everyone killed by his drone strikes. Just read this remarkable passage;

Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.

This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the “single digits” — and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.

But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it “guilt by association” that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties.

“It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” the official said. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”

For the moment, leave the ethical issues to the side that arise from viewing “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants”; that’s nothing less than sociopathic, a term I use advisedly, but I discuss that in the separate, longer piece I’ve written. For now, consider what this means for American media outlets. Any of them which use the term “militants” to describe those killed by U.S. strikes are knowingly disseminating a false and misleading term of propaganda. By “militant,” the Obama administration literally means nothing more than: any military-age male whom we kill, even when we know nothing else about them. They have no idea whether the person killed is really a militant: if they’re male and of a certain age they just call them one in order to whitewash their behavior and propagandize the citizenry (unless conclusive evidence somehow later emerges proving their innocence).

What kind of self-respecting media outlet would be party to this practice? Here’s the New York Times documenting that this is what the term “militant” means when used by government officials. Any media outlet that continues using it while knowing this is explicitly choosing to be an instrument for state propaganda — not that that’s anything new, but this makes this clearer than it’s ever been. More

 

 

The Human Cost of Secret U.S. Drone Strikes in Yemen

 

For more than a decade now, the United States has been using armed drones to secretly kill suspected terrorists in Yemen. The public knows very little about these attacks. Neither the U.S. nor the Yemeni government has systematically disclosed who was killed and why, or whether civilians were among those killed.

Now, working with the Open Society Justice Initiative, researchers from the Yemeni nongovernmental organization Mwatana Organization for Human Rights have spent two years visiting the sites where some of these attacks took place. Their findings are detailed in a new report, Death by Drone: Civilian Harm Caused by U.S. Targeted Killings in Yemen, which gives the world a look at the reality of a counterterrorism strategy that the Obama administration has hailed as a model program.

The findings raise serious concerns over the lawfulness of U.S. drone strikes in Yemen. It also provides credible evidence that U.S. strikes continued to kill civilians even after President Obama said in a May 2013 speech that “before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.” This raises serious questions about the extent to which the United States is complying with its own policy guidelines.

As Yemen sinks further into instability, the report seeks to ensure that the civilian victims of these strikes are not forgotten to new and future crises. And as the United States implements a new drone export policy purporting to be part of a broader effort to shape international standards on drone use, the report warns of the dangers associated with promoting the U.S. model of drone use.

The report, which documents civilian harm caused by nine U.S. airstrikes between May 2012 and April 2014, describes the experiences of civilians directly affected by U.S. drone strikes, individuals whose voices are all too easily forgotten because they are poor and without political influence, and because the drone strikes were conducted in secret, in remote locations far away from the United States.

The report is based on 96 interviews with injured survivors and eyewitnesses of the attacks, relatives of individuals killed or injured in these attacks, local community leaders, doctors and hospital staff who were involved in the treatment of victims, and Yemeni government officials. Where available, Yemeni government statements, photographs and videos of the aftermath of the drone strikes, and medical records corroborated these accounts. An independent munitions expert provided additional analysis.

But, as our report explains, this research was conducted in a context of pervasive U.S. and Yemeni government secrecy concerning the airstrikes. There were also tense security situations in many of the regions where the strikes took place, as well as the fear of reprisals for speaking openly about the strikes.

The testimonies in this report describe desperately poor communities left to fend for themselves amid the devastation caused by U.S. drone strikes. Mothers and fathers who lost their children in drone strikes speak of inconsolable loss. They speak of their children’s bodies charred beyond recognition. Wives speak of losing their breadwinners, and of young children asking where their fathers have gone. The victims of these strikes say that these strikes will not make the United States or Yemen safer, and will only strengthen support for al-Qaeda.

The report also describes the terrorizing effects of U.S. drones on local populations. In many of the incidents documented, local residents had to live with drones continually flying overhead prior to the strikes and have lived in constant fear of another attack since. Some fled their villages for months after the strike, and lost their source of livelihood in the process. Survivors of the attacks continue to have nightmares of being killed in the next strike. Men go to their farms in fear. Children are afraid to go to school.

The civilian victims of U.S. drone strikes in Yemen want justice. They want to know why they were targeted when they had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group. But none of the nine strikes documented in the report have been acknowledged by the U.S. government. Nor are the victims aware of investigations into civilian deaths and injuries caused by U.S. strikes. In most cases, civilians have not received adequate compensation.

In February 2013, then–White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan testified at his Senate confirmation hearing to become CIA director that the United States “need[s] to acknowledge … publicly” mistaken killings “in the interest of transparency.” More recently, the General Counsel for the Department of Defense publicly declared: “Transparency … strengthens our democracy and promotes accountability.”

It is time for the U.S. government to make good on these assurances. It should publicly disclose the May 2013 Presidential Policy Guidance relating to targeted killings as well as the numbers and identities of civilians killed or injured by U.S. airstrikes. It should also conduct effective investigations into unlawful killings and provide prompt and meaningful reparations for civilian harm caused by U.S. strikes. More

 

Teju Cole: Slow violence, cold violence – Teju Cole on East Jerusalem

Not all violence is hot. There’s cold violence too, which takes its time and finally gets its way. Children going to school and coming home are exposed to it. Fathers and mothers listen to politicians on television calling for their extermination. Grandmothers have no expectation that even their aged bodies are safe: any young man may lay a hand on them with no consequence.

The police could arrive at night and drag a family out into the street. Putting a people into deep uncertainty about the fundamentals of life, over years and decades, is a form of cold violence. Through an accumulation of laws rather than by military means, a particular misery is intensified and entrenched. This slow violence, this cold violence, no less than the other kind, ought to be looked at and understood.

Near the slopes of Mount Scopus in East Jerusalem is the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Most of the people who live here are Palestinian Arabs, and the area itself has an ancient history that features both Jews and Arabs. The Palestinians of East Jerusalem are in a special legal category under modern Israeli law. Most of them are not Israeli citizens, nor are they classified the same way as people in Gaza or the West Bank; they are permanent residents. There are old Palestinian families here, but in a neighbourhood like Sheikh Jarrah many of the people are refugees who were settled here after the nakba (“catastrophe”) of 1948. They left their original homes behind, fleeing places such as Haifa and Sarafand al-Amar, and they came to Sheikh Jarrah, which then became their home. Many of them were given houses constructed on a previously uninhabited parcel of land by the Jordanian government and by the UN Relief and Works Agency. East Jerusalem came under Israeli control in 1967, and since then, but at an increasing tempo in recent years, these families are being rendered homeless a second or third time.

There are many things about Palestine that are not easily seen from a distance. The beauty of the land, for instance, is not at all obvious. Scripture and travellers’ reports describe a harsh terrain of stone and rocks, a place in which it is difficult to find water or to shelter from the sun. Why would anyone want this land? But then you visit and you understand the attenuated intensity of what you see. You get the sense that there are no wasted gestures, that this is an economical landscape, and that there is great beauty in this economy. The sky is full of clouds that are like flecks of white paint. The olive trees, the leaves of which have silvered undersides, are like an apparition. And even the stones and rocks speak of history, of deep time, and of the consolation that comes with all old places. This is a land of tombs, mountains and mysterious valleys. All this one can only really see at close range.

Another thing one sees, obscured by distance but vivid up close, is that the Israeli oppression of Palestinian people is not necessarily – or at least not always – as crude as western media can make it seem. It is in fact extremely refined, and involves a dizzying assemblage of laws and bylaws, contracts, ancient documents, force, amendments, customs, religion, conventions and sudden irrational moves, all mixed together and imposed with the greatest care.

The impression this insistence on legality confers, from the Israeli side, is of an infinitely patient due process that will eventually pacify the enemy and guarantee security. The reality, from the Palestinian side, is of a suffocating viciousness. The fate of Palestinian Arabs since the nakba has been to be scattered and oppressed by different means: in the West Bank, in Gaza, inside the 1948 borders, in Jerusalem, in refugee camps abroad, in Jordan, in the distant diaspora. In all these places, Palestinians experience restrictions on their freedom and on their movement. To be Palestinian is to be hemmed in. Much of this is done by brute military force from the Israeli Defence Forces – killing for which no later accounting is possible – or on an individual basis in the secret chambers of the Shin Bet. But a lot of it is done according to Israeli law, argued in and approved by Israeli courts, and technically legal, even when the laws in question are bad laws and in clear contravention of international standards and conventions.

The permanent residency of a Palestinian in East Jerusalem is anything but permanent

The reality is that, as a Palestinian Arab, in order to defend yourself against the persecution you face, not only do you have to be an expert in Israeli law, you also have to be a Jewish Israeli and have the force of the Israeli state as your guarantor. You have to be what you are not, what it is not possible for you to be, in order not to be slowly strangled by the laws arrayed against you. In Israel, there is no pretence that the opposing parties in these cases are equal before the law; or, rather, such a pretence exists, but no one on either side takes it seriously. This has certainly been the reality for the Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah whose homes, built mostly in 1956, inhabited by three or four generations of people, are being taken from them by legal means.

As in other neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem – Har Homa, the Old City, Mount Scopus, Jaffa Gate – there is a policy at work in Sheikh Jarrah. This policy is two-fold. The first is the systematic removal of Palestinian Arabs, either by banishing individuals on the basis of paperwork, or by taking over or destroying their homes by court order. Thousands of people have had their residency revoked on a variety of flimsy pretexts: time spent living abroad, time spent living elsewhere in occupied Palestine, and so on. The permanent residency of a Palestinian in East Jerusalem is anything but permanent, and once it is revoked, is almost impossible to recover.

The second aspect of the policy is the systematic increase of the Jewish populations of these neighbourhoods. This latter goal is driven both by national and municipal legislation (under the official rubric of “demographic balance”) and is sponsored in part by wealthy Zionist activists who, unlike some of their defenders in the western world, are proud to embrace the word “Zionist”. However, it is not the wealthy Zionists who move into these homes or claim these lands: it is ideologically and religiously extreme Israeli Jews, some of whom are poor Jewish immigrants to the state of Israel. And when they move in – when they raise the Israeli flag over a house that, until yesterday, was someone else’s ancestral home, or when they begin new constructions on the rubble of other people’s homes – they act as anyone would who was above the law: callously, unfeelingly, unconcerned about the humiliation of their neighbours. This two-fold policy, of pushing out Palestinian Arabs and filling the land with Israeli Jews, is recognised by all the parties involved. And for such a policy, the term “ethnic cleansing” is not too strong: it is in fact the only accurate description.

Each Palestinian family that is evicted in Sheikh Jarrah is evicted for different reasons. But the fundamental principle at work is usually similar: an activist Jewish organisation makes a claim that the land on which the house was built was in Jewish hands before 1948. There is sometimes paperwork that supports this claim (there is a lot of citation of 19th-century Ottoman land law), and sometimes the paperwork is forged, but the court will hear and, through eccentric interpretations of these old laws, often agree to the claim. The violence this legality contains is precisely that no Israeli court will hear a corresponding claim from a Palestinian family. What Israeli law supports, de facto, is the right of return for Jews into East Jerusalem. What it cannot countenance is the right of return of Palestinians into the innumerable towns, villages and neighbourhoods all over Palestine, from which war, violence and law have expelled them.

History moves at great speed, as does politics, and Zionists understand this. The pressure to continue the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem is already met with pressure from the other side to stop this clear violation of international norms. So Zionist lawyers and lawmakers move with corresponding speed, making new laws, pushing through new interpretations, all in order to ethnically cleanse the land of Palestinian presence. And though Palestinians make their own case and though many young Jews, beginning to wake up to the crimes of their nation, have marched in support of the families evicted or under threat in Sheikh Jarrah – the law and its innovative interpretations evolve at a speed that makes self-defence all but impossible.

This cannot go on. The example of Sheikh Jarrah, the cold violence of it, is echoed all over Palestine. Side by side with this cold violence is, of course, the hot violence that dominates the news: Israel’s periodic wars on Gaza, its blockades on places such as Nablus, the random unanswerable acts of murder in places such as Hebron. In no sane future of humanity should the deaths of hundreds of children continue to be accounted collateral damage, as Israel did in the summer of 2014.

In the world’s assessment of the situation in Palestine, in coming to understand why the Palestinian situation is urgent, the viciousness of law must be taken as seriously as the cruelties of war. As in other instances in which world opinion forced a large-scale systemic oppression to come to an end, we must begin by calling things by their proper names. Israel uses an extremely complex legal and bureaucratic apparatus to dispossess Palestinians of their land, hoping perhaps to forestall accusations of a brutal land grab. No one is fooled by this. Nor is anyone fooled by the accusation, common to many of Israel’s defenders, that any criticism of Israeli policies amounts to antisemitism. The historical suffering of Jewish people is real, but it is no less real than, and does not in any way justify, the present oppression of Palestinians by Israeli Jews.

A neighbourhood like Sheikh Jarrah is an x-ray of Israel at the present moment: a limited view showing a single set of features, but significant to the entire body politic. The case that is being made, and that must continue to be made to all people of conscience, is that Israel’s occupation of Palestine is criminal. This case should also include the argument that the proliferation of bad laws by the legislature and courts of Israel is itself antisemitic in effect, to the extent that they fuel the ancient calumnies against Jewish people. Nothing can justify either antisemitism or the racist persecution of Arabs, and the current use of the law in Israel is a part of the grave ongoing offence to the human dignity of both Palestinians and Jews. More

• Teju Cole’s books include Open City. He is a contributor to Letters to Palestine: Writers Respond to War and Occupation, edited by Vijay Prashad (Verso).

 

 

The ‘Land of the Free’ supports one of the most repressive states in the world

Crimes against humanity in Gaza: is it really a 'buffer zone' – or a bigger plan

The international community and states parties to the United Nations should hang their heads in shame

Late last week, the White House decried Israel’s attack on a UN school in Gaza as “totally unacceptable” and “totally indefensible”, then proceeded to approve $225m in funding for its Iron Dome. On Monday, the US state department went further, calling the airstrikes upon a UN school “disgraceful” – and yet America provides Israel with more than $3.1bn every year, restocking the ability of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) to hit more schools, and to wage total war against an imprisoned people, because of their nationality.

American taxpayers should not be paying for this. And the western world should stop rejecting serious inquiries about Israel’s moral inconsistencies, or allow it to benefit from cognitive dissonance and information overload amid the current crisis in Gaza.

There is a land grab going on. The Israeli prime minister, Binjamin Netanyahu, has shrunk Gaza’s habitable land mass by 44%, with an edict establishing a 3km (1.8-mile) buffer zone, a “no-go” zone for Palestinians – and that’s quite significant, because a good part of Gaza is only 3 to 4 miles wide. Over 250,000 Palestinians within this zone must leave their homes, or be bombed. As their territorial space collapses, 1.8m Gazans now living in 147 square miles will be compressed into 82 square miles.

Gaza’s entire social and physical infrastructure of housing, hospitals, places of worship, more than 130 of its schools, plus markets, water systems, sewer systems and roads are being destroyed. Under constant attack, without access to water, sanitary facilities, food and medical care, Gazans face an IDF-scripted apocalypse.

With Gaza’s land mass shrinking due to Israeli military action, it’s about time someone asked: What is the end game? Three weeks ago, Moshe Feiglin, deputy speaker of the Knesset, called for Gaza to “become part of sovereign Israel and will be populated by Jews. This will also serve to ease the housing crisis in Israel.”

Israel has a housing crisis? After the “no-go” buffer zone is evacuated, there will be 21,951 Palestinians per square mile in Gaza, while Israel’s population density stands at 964 persons per square mile.

Deputy Speaker Feiglin wants the Palestinians in Gaza to lose all of their land. One must not assume that Mr Feiglin or his Likud faction speak for the main government actors like Prime Minister Netanyahu. After all, Knesset politics are complex and divergent. But since Gaza has just lost control of that 44% of its land, it may also be time to ask: does the establishment of that 3km zone represent the unfolding of a larger plan? Is that the end game?

At the very point where an aroused public becomes aghast at the slaughter of Gazans, the western world becomes inured to the violence, hypnotized by the media’s cadence of body counts. The intolerable becomes normalized, and later ignored as old news. Which would seem a perfect time to leave in place the 3km zone – for security purposes, of course – and then advance the proposal that Palestinians crammed into the remaining 56% of Gaza simply … leave.

I assume the IDF acts with deliberation, under orders from the Netanyahu government. And I think the extraordinary and illegal forced relocation of over 250,000 Palestinians from 44% of Gazan land is a crime against humanity under the guise of establishing a “buffer zone” for security purposes.

Look at the region’s maps from recent history. Look at the steady erosion of Palestinian land and the acquisition of land by Israel, and you can understand that the present attack on Gaza is not about solely about Hamas. It’s about land. It isn’t just about Hamas’s rockets. It’s about land. It isn’t just about Hamas’s tunnels. It’s about land. It isn’t about kidnappings. It is about land. It isn’t even about meeting a housing crisis in Israel. It is about grabbing land from the Palestinians in Gaza and the natural resources that go with the land, upon the occasion of Israel’s military invasion of Gaza.

Yes, Hamas’s attacks on Israel are illegal and should be condemned, and those who ordered the attacks should be held accountable under law. All policies and practices which refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist should be condemned. Israel has a right to exist. But Israel’s right to exist is impaired when Israel decides Palestinians have no right to exist on their own land. It’s time for us to stop paying for Israel’s dubious, destructive self-righteousness. And it’s time for the solipsism syndrome afflicting Israel’s leaders to get a day of discussion in the International Criminal Court concerning their attacks on Gaza – and especially their new 3km “buffer zone”. More

 

 

Palestinian landowners have waited too many years for Israeli wheels of justice to turn.

It is impossible to overstate the significance of the High Court of Justice ruling ordering the state to demolish within two years the Amona illegal outpost, which was built on private Palestinian land. After years of evasion, legal tricks, forged documents and unfulfilled pledges, even the High Court came to realize that the state cannot be trusted, not to mention the settlers, to voluntarily agree to return the land they plundered from their owners.

Amona was born in sin in 1997, when a group of settlers established residence in an area that had been earmarked for an archaeological site and a Mekorot Water Company reservoir. Cease and desist orders issued by Civil Administration inspectors in 2004 halted building for four years, but it resumed in force despite new stop-work orders.

In 2006, after the High Court ordered the demolition of Amona’s permanent structures, the settlers made clear that they were not bound by the court’s authority and they turned the “battle for Amona” into a national event in which they violently confronted the police. If there was no alternative to demolition, they would make Amona a “national trauma” that would threaten any future plans to evacuate outposts or settlements.

Even now, after the High Court ruling, the settler leaders are adamant: “We swear today to fight this with all our might,” Amona spokesman Avihai Boaron said. This is nothing but a continuation of the settlers’ common view that the state and its institutions are their servants, and when they do not fulfill their mission they must be fought. Particularly infuriating is the idea that “the left-wing government and the High Court are leading the country”; That is, in the struggle between land theft and the law, the High Court is not only a legal and ideological enemy but it also violates the political reality in which the right wing is in control. That perception is no less distorted and dangerous than the settlers’ position that the theft of Palestinian land is part of the Redemption.

The government of Israel cannot continue to avoid carrying out the High Court’s ruling, according to which “there is no possibility of authorizing the construction, even retroactively,” — a recognition of the tricks the cabinet could try. Two years is sufficient time to find alternative housing, and it would be best not to not wait until the last moment. The Palestinian landowners have waited too many years for the Israeli wheels of justice to turn. They have the right to have their property returned to them, with appropriate compensation. More

 

Israel’s looming gas empire requires a final solution in Gaza

“The destruction which I have seen coming here is beyond description,” said UN secretary-general, Ban Ki Moon, after his October tour of the Gaza Strip.

Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s military incursion into Gaza this past summer, wrought an unprecedented level of devastation on the tiny strip of land inhabited by 1.8 million people. The operation had damaged or destroyed over 100,000 homes, affecting more than 600,000 Palestinians – a third of the population.

Mowing the grass

“Basically the town is unliveable,” said Mayor Mohammed al-Kafarna about Beit Hanoun. “There is no power, water or communications. There are not basics for life.” One major sewage pipe serving nearly half a million people had been severed, sending huge quantities of raw sewage into the sea and on fields.

In 2012, a UN report warned that Gaza “will not be liveable by 2020”. The following year, Israel’s tightening of its blockade prompted Filippo Grande, commissioner-general of the UN Works and Relief Agency (UNWRA), to say that “Gaza is quickly becoming uninhabitable.”

Israel’s massive bombardment of Gaza this summer has fast-tracked that outcome. This is no accident. While Israeli officials will not admit it, this strategic goal can be surmised from the statements of those close to key officials in Netanyahu’s administration. More

Dismantling Gaza

“The only durable solution,” wrote Martin Sherman in the Jerusalem Post during the summer onslaught, “requires dismantling Gaza, humanitarian relocation of the non-belligerent Arab population, and extension of Israeli sovereignty over the region”: a recipe for ethnic cleansing and colonisation. He complained that the elected Israeli government is constrained by an unelected “left-wing” political discourse wedded to “the two-state concept and the land-for-peace doctrine,” both of which must be rejected.

For Sherman, the current strategy of periodically “mowing the grass” – “a new round of fighting every time the Palestinian violence reaches levels Israel finds unacceptable” – must be replaced by a final solution: “The grass needs to be uprooted – once and for all.”

Sherman is no pariah. On the contrary, his ideas increasingly represent the thinking of senior Israeli cabinet officials. As founding director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), an initiative dedicated to laying “the foundations of a new assertive Zionist-compliant paradigm,” Sherman’s platform is endorsed by the following key Israeli leaders: Yaakov Amidror, Israel’s national security adviser until 2013; Uzi Landau, minister of tourism and ex-minister for energy; and Moshe Ya’alon, vice prime minister and incumbent defence minister.

Colonisation

These connections reveal critical elements of Israel’s security strategy. Amidror, for instance, has long advocated that Israel directly occupy Gaza “for many years,” to prevent a situation where “Hamas is strengthened into an entity similar to Hezbollah.”

His successor, Yossi Cohen, who presided with Ya’alon over Operation Protective Edge and who has previously served as deputy head of Shin Bet (Israel’s domestic security agency), told Israeli Army Radio that the operation had successfully created conditions that would facilitate the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) return to power in Gaza at Hamas’ expense. Hamas needed to be “demilitarised”, he said.

Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman agreed: “As long as Hamas controls Gaza, we won’t be able to ensure the safety of Israel's citizens in the South and we won't be able to make a peace agreement.” Earlier during the latest invasion of Gaza, Lieberman recommended that Israel consider re-occupying Gaza to end rocket attacks.

Palestinian statehood: A threat to Israel’s energy hegemony?

Another Sherman endorser, Uzi Landau, who is currently minister of tourism, was minister for energy and water from 2009 to 2013. There he oversaw Israel’s resource policies, especially concerning gas discoveries and export options. In 2011, when the PA was bidding to secure formal UN recognition of Palestinian statehood, Landau told Israeli radio that Israel should unilaterally declare its sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, West Bank settlements, and all of Gaza to head off the bid. He had previously been dispatched by the foreign ministry to Chile, Colombia and Australia to lobby against the PA campaign.

Why would Landau, then energy and water minister, be sent to lobby against Palestinian statehood?

In recent years, Israel had made increasingly significant energy discoveries throwing light on the link. In December 2010, the Texas based energy company Noble energy announced that it had discovered 25 trillion cubic feet of gas in the offshore Leviathan field (downgraded more recently to 17 trillion). This followed the US Geological Survey’s (USGS) assessment earlier in the year of an estimated 122 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable gas in the Levant basin, encompassing the waters of Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus and Gaza. This is “bigger than anything we have assessed in the United States,” said a USGS spokesperson at the time.

Landau’s advisers: Israel’s gas could deplete in decades

The new discoveries would turn Israel into a gas-export powerhouse, with potentially transformative implications across the region. But there were potential pitfalls.

In 2012, the chief scientists of Landau’s energy and water ministry warned the government that Israel did not have sufficient gas resources to sustain both exports and domestic demand. Citing a gap of “100 to 150 billion cubic metres between the demand projections that were presented to the committee and the most recent projections,” they said that Israel’s “gas reserves are likely to last even less than 40 years!”

By 2055, the chief scientists argued, even if Israel chose not to export any gas, it would entirely exhaust its offshore reserves. But if Israel exports significant quantities of gas, and if it turns out that much of its gas turns out to be not commercially extractable, then the breaking point could arrive decades earlier. “The more gas we use now, the sooner we'll need to start importing gas or oil or to find alternative technology.”

Landau and his colleagues obviously took the report seriously enough that, according to Ha'aretz, they excluded the report’s findings from the committee determining Israel’s gas export policy.

Threat of war

Complicating matters further, many of the recently discovered oil and gas resources Israel is claiming for itself are in disputed territorial waters where maritime boundaries are not clearly defined.

In the summer of 2010, Landau said that Israel would “not hesitate to use force” to protect its offshore gas discoveries. He was responding to claims that Leviathan’s deposits extend into Lebanon’s territorial waters.

Similarly, two offshore fields that Israel is already exploiting have been claimed by the Palestinian Authority to extend into Gaza's offshore territory – Mari-B, which is near depletion, and Noa North, both of which are being developed by Noble Energy.

Gaza’s gas: The key to peace?

In March 2014, just a few months before the IDF launched Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, the German Marshall Fund of the United States published a policy brief on Israel’s interests in Gaza’s gas fields by Simon Henderson, director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) in Washington DC. WINEP is notable for its influence amongst US foreign policymakers. Current and former WINEP members have had senior roles in successive US administrations, including Obama's, and its alumni have gone onto serve across various US government agencies on Middle East policy.

Henderon’s policy brief in particular pinpointed the Gaza Marine, where just over 1 trillion cubic feet of gas was discovered by BG Group in 2000. Gaza Marine could supply all of Palestinian power for up to 20 years. Although the election of Hamas in 2006 in Gaza left negotiations over the gas between Israel and the PA at a stalemate, according to Henderson: “In late 2011 and early 2012, there was renewed Israeli interest in devising a way to exploit the natural gas of Gaza Marine.”

International diplomatic interest further increased in 2013, with Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair and US secretary of state John Kerry seeing the Gaza Marine as integral to a potential peace package. In October 2013, Israeli officials conceded that the Israeli government was “very supportive” of the project. All this is corroborated by British Foreign Office files released under Freedom of Information.

Israel’s vision for the Gaza Marine includes a range of options. Apart from boosting PA revenues dramatically, “Using Gaza Marine gas may also reduce the need of Israel to consume its own natural gas to generate electricity for the Palestinians,” observed Henderson. “Such usage will also marginally lower Israel’s dependence on fields controlled by the Noble Energy/Delek group, which currently holds the licenses for the Tamar field and all the other Israeli fields likely to come on stream in the next few years.”

Gaza’s gas, Henderson continued, “would be available for transfer into Israel’s natural gas main network, feeding power stations and petrochemicals across the country.” The gas could also be used for Gaza’s power plant, or even to power the West Bank. In the latter case, “the Gaza Marine natural gas would be fed to an Israel power plant to generate electricity. That electricity would then be supplied to the West Bank.”

Gaza’s gas: The key to exports?

But there is another dimension to the strategic significance of the Gaza Marine: Israel’s gas ambitions. This was alluded to by Ariel Ezrahi, senior energy adviser in Tony Blair’s Office of the Quartet Representative in east Jerusalem, who noted that the biggest obstacle to Israel becoming a regional gas exporter is the opposition of domestic Arab populations in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and elsewhere.

This opposition could, however, be overcome if Israel finds a way to integrate Gaza’s gas into the export equation, so that Arab publics find a way to see gas deals with Israel as acceptable: “… it would be wise for Israel to at least consider the contribution of the Palestinian dimension to these deals,” said Ezrahi. “I think it’s a mistake for Israel to rush into regional agreements without at least considering the Palestinian dimension and how it can contribute to Israeli interests.” Israel should use the Gaza Marine “as an asset as they strive to join the regional power grid, and as a bridge to the Arab world,” by selling Palestinian “gas to various markets,” or promoting a deal with the corporations developing Israel’s “Tamar and Leviathan [fields] that will allow for the sale of cheap gas to the [Palestinian] Authority.”

Hamas: The obstacle

For Israel, the existence of Hamas remains the chief obstacle to any of these scenarios. According to Simon Henderson: “The main challenge to Secretary Kerry’s vision is that the Gaza Marine natural gas field is offshore the Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas, whose authority is not recognised by the PA, which is based in Ramallah. Additionally, the United States regards Hamas as a terrorist organisation and Washington is therefore legally constrained from cooperating with it.”

In other words, from the perspective of Israeli hawks and the entities of the Quartet – the US, EU, UN and Russia – the fundamental obstacle to both the proposed ‘peace package’ and Israel’s interests in becoming a regional energy hegemony, is the continued existence of Hamas in Gaza.

In 2007, incumbent defence minister Ya’alon advised in an influential policy paper that there was only one way to solve this problem: “It is clear that without an overall military operation to uproot Hamas control of Gaza, no drilling work can take place without the consent of the radical Islamic movement.” Ya’alon is yet another Israeli government official who endorses Martin Sherman’s IISS initiative.

Since then, successive Israeli military operations – including Operation Protective Edge – have aimed at degrading Hamas’ power in Gaza by making the entire civilian population of the strip pay the price. Through excessive military action to devastate Gaza’s critical infrastructure until much of the strip is virtually “uninhabitable,” Israel has successfully accelerated this process.

Strangulating Gaza

Under the new ceasefire agreement with Hamas after the operation, Israel had secured even more Draconian powers to enforce its ongoing siege of Gaza. This included a partial military re-occupation by maintaining a 100 metre buffer zone inside Gaza; a joint Israeli, UN and PA committee to supervise the process for goods being permitted into Gaza; tight monitoring of imports of construction materials, as well as their use inside Gaza, to guarantee they would not be used by Hamas to build ‘terror tunnels’ and weapons; and on the table for discussion, Israel’s top priority was to make the total demilitarisation of Gaza a precondition for reconstruction and rehabilitation.

Under this extraordinary scheme, Gaza will be under constant surveillance by Israeli drones, and the PA-UN supervisory committee will submit all details of homes needing rebuilding to an Israeli database for close monitoring and approval.

Against this context, the decision by the EU General Court to remove Hamas from a list of terrorist groups along with the European Parliament’s new resolution recognising “in principle… Palestinian statehood and the two-state solution,” takes on new meaning.

To move forward, what remains of the aborted Kerry-Quartet vision for ‘peace’ encompassing the exploitation of Gaza’s gas, requires Hamas’s military capabilities – already infinitesimal compared to Israeli’s $15.5 billion military budget – to be degraded to the point of being utterly negligible.

The EU’s latest measures appear designed to incentivize the Palestinians and Hamas to comply with this vision of a pliable, demilitarised Gaza as a step toward a ‘two-state’ solution dominated and controlled by Israel: the carrot. Israel’s threat and use of force to smash Gaza into an uninhabitable no-man’s land, in which the US and the EU are complicit through extensive trade and military aid to Israel, is the stick.

 

The injustices being inflicted by Israel on the Palestinians

Via Jonathan Cook, journalist

I did a brief speaking tour of Montreal and Ottawa in the spring during which I met many inspiring individuals finding their own ways to help from afar end the injustices being inflicted by Israel on the Palestinians.

One seminar I participated in was on the Jewish National Fund, a Zionist “charity” whose funds have been used to plant forests to conceal Israel’s eradication of Palestinian villages during and after the 1948 war and which continues to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from areas like the Negev, or Naqab.

It’s great to see that the organisers have put together a powerful short video presentation that shows pictorially what the JNF is really doing with those charitable donations.