IDF trainer: ‘No need to resuscitate Palestinians’

An IDF medic was surprised to hear two new orders given by his superiors: only Jews are worthy of resuscitation, and that attackers who pose no threat should be shot dead.

New orders in the Israeli army? D., a medic in the infantry, was surprised last week to find out during training for an operation in the occupied territories that at least two orders typically given to soldiers have been refreshed.

“During the refresher course the instructor, who works as a medic on the base, told us that the orders of the IDF are not to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to people we do not know. When asked about it he said that it basically means that we do not need to resuscitate Palestinians,” says D., who took part in the course at the Lakhish base in southern Israel. D. has since then left for duty in the West Bank.

“It sounds strange but he repeated it twice, so I have no doubt that that was what he meant. I was very surprised by the order not to resuscitate anyone who needs it. Since then I have come to understand that Magen David Adom (Israel’s national emergency medical, disaster and ambulance service) came up with the order regarding mouth-to-mouth resuscitation several years ago. The emphasis on the Palestinians was probably the instructor “thinking ahead.” I assume that he goes these trainings all the time. That’s worrying.”

Furthermore over the course of the week, D. participated in a refresher on the rules of engagement, where he said he was given permission to kill people who pose no threat. “They told us that the order regarding someone who stabs, ditches the knife and begins running is shoot to kill. The company commander said he doesn’t want anyone like that “to see a judge.”

Did anyone protest or critique these orders?

“The company seemed very bitter over the rules of engagement. The company commander almost apologized every time he forbade. So when he finally gave us permission to shoot an unarmed terrorist, most of the company was okay with that.”

It was only two weeks ago that Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich gave a similar order to Israeli Police in the wake of the vehicular attack in Sheikh Jarrah. Two days later police shot Kheir Hamdan to death in Kafr Kanna.

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A policy such as this would be in contravention of International Humanitarian Law and Geneva Conventions.

The International Committee of the Red Cross states; Without renewed commitment from governments to address growing social inequities and other sources of instability in the region, any quest for peace and prosperity will remain elusive. As a neutral and independent humanitarian organisation, the ICRC can only remind the parties to these conflicts that without respecting the basic tenets of international humanitarian law (IHL) in these testing times, it is most unlikely that the various communities will find their way toward reconciliation or be prepared to share the burden of a just peace after decades of conflict. Considering that the customary core of that law is older than the state- based system itself, the specific nature and extraordinary significance of IHL in today’s armed conflicts provide a legitimacy beyond the current international system. Far from being outdated, humanitarian law is very much a contemporary and future-oriented body of law. Turning specifically to the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the particular challenges facing humanitarian action there cannot be tackled without an honest look at certain Israeli policies that have become key features of the occupation. Israel has exercised ‘actual authority’ 1 over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for almost half a century, making its presence in these areas one of the longest sustained military occupations in modern history. While the shape and degree of this military occupation have varied, Israel has continuously maintained effective control over the territories it occupied as a result of the Six Day War in 1967, and over the Palestinian population living there. The constant pressure that Israeli occupation has imposed on the Palestinian population has had a profound impact on both the Palestinian and theIsraeli economies, cultures, andsocieties.Beyondtherecurringexcessesof armed violence, the ensuing grief among the people affected, and the trauma among the broader community, the lack of progress on issues of major humanitarian concern further illustrates the inability of a generation of decision-makers to find constructive ways to bring concrete improvements to the lives of millions of Palestinians. See: Challenges to international humanitarian law: Israel’s occupation policy Download PDF

 

Why is a Colorado firm selling apartments in Israel’s illegal settlements?

The Colorado-based real estate firm RE/MAX is profiting from Israel’s relentless theft of Palestinian land.

Palestinians protesting Illegal settlements

Active in the Israeli market since 1995, RE/MAX sells and rents houses and apartments in colonies reserved exclusively for Jews in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Much of that work is coordinated in an office that the Israeli subsidiary of RE/MAX runs in Maale Adumim, a major settlement in the West Bank.

A United Nations report published last year suggested that the firm’s parent company in the US could be “held accountable” for assisting Israel’s crimes. RE/MAX International, which is headquartered in Denver, “has constant interaction and influence” over its franchises around the world. The company also provides “brand name affiliation,” training and other services, according to Richard Falk, the report’s author, who was then the UN special rapporteur for the West Bank and Gaza.

“Closet space” for settlers

On its website, RE/MAX offers properties in a number of settlement colonies in East Jerusalem, which has been under Israeli occupation since 1967. A four-room apartment with “lots of closet space” can be rented for 4,400 shekels ($1,100) per month. Among the apartment’s attractions listed by RE/MAX are proximity to the light rail system which links Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem to the city center.

Screen grab from RE/MAX Israel’s website

Such settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids an occupying power from transfering its civilian population into a territory that it occupies.

Proespective settlers with a larger budget were recently offered what RE/MAX describes as “a beautiful old Arab house” in the Abu Tor neighborhood for 7 million shekels ($1.8 million).

Posing as a prospective buyer, an Electronic Intifada reporter phoned Orly Raz, a RE/MAX agent for East Jerusalem. Raz said that “we have just sold everything” that the firm was handling in Abu Tor.

Claiming that he would be moving to Jerusalem in early 2015, the reporter enquired if there would be any legal difficulties in buying a house or an apartment that previously belonged to Palestinians. “You don’t have to worry about these things,” Raz replied. “All our properties legally belong to Jewish owners. They didn’t take them from anyone.”

“Of course, if you are worried about the ‘67 border line, this is not a good area to buy property,” she added.

“Check very carefully”

Raz then asked: “Are you Jewish?” When the reporter responded that he was not, she said: “You have to check the properties — if their owners say they can sell an apartment to non-Jewish people.” She added, however, that such conditions are not mentioned on the firm’s website.

When the reporter feigned surprise that a real estate firm might discriminate based on religion or ethnicity, Raz said: “I’m just saying this is an issue to check very carefully.”

Ateret Cohanim, a Zionist organization, has been known to buy Palestinian homes in Abu Tor, so that they can be passed on to Israeli settlers.

Abu Tor has also witnessed considerable brutality by Israeli forces against its Palestinian residents lately. In late October, Israeli police officers broke into a house of a Palestinian living in Abu Tor, shooting him dead.

And in the first week of November, two Palestinian buildings were demolished in Abu Tor at the instruction of the Israeli authorities.

RE/MAX has enjoyed fawning coverage in the Israeli press. In 2004, the newspaper Haaretz published a profile of Bernard Raskin, the chief executive of RE/MAX Israel. Zimbabwean-born Raskin claimed that his firm had become a leading player in the Israeli property market because its competitors had “no professionalism.”

During a 2013 real estate conference in South Africa, Raskin noted that the Israeli economy has not suffered as severely as many others during the recession of recent years. One problem he identified was that “there is generally a shortage of stock.”

He added, however, that “more and more building is taking place outside of Tel Aviv, where property is expensive.”

Money from crime

The Israeli authorities have ensured that RE/MAX will have new business, thanks to the ongoing expansion of Jewish-only settlements in East Jerusalem and the wider West Bank. Earlier this month, the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem municipality announced that it had rubber-stamped the construction of new housing units in Ramot, a settlement in East Jerusalem. RE/MAX is already active in Ramot.

Although the US government says it is opposed to the construction of Israeli settlements, it has refused to impose sanctions on Israel. Because of that refusal, RE/MAX can continue turning violations of international law into a money-making opportunity.

The Colorado headquarters of RE/MAX International did not respond to requests for comment.

While the company’s Israeli operations may have some autonomy, RE/MAX International cannot claim that these matters have nothing to do with it. As the UN made clear in its aforementioned 2013 report, RE/MAX wields considerable influence over its franchises around the world.

The Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement has succeeded in putting the spotlight on how corporations like Veolia and G4S aid the Israeli occupation. Given that RE/MAX is so directly involved in the settlements that are central to that occupation, there is a strong case for putting the firm under the same kind of pressure. More

 

Israel’s very own history of eugenics

This hour-long documentary, the Ringworm Children, raises so many disturbing questions about Israel and its relationship with the US that one hardly knows where to begin.

In the 1950s, waves of new immigrants swept into Israel. To the dismay of the country’s Ashkenazi leaders (those originating from Europe and the US), the great majority were from Arab countries. Levi Eshkol, a later prime minister, expressed a common sentiment when he called them “human rubbish”. Israel, deprived of “good-quality” Jews, was being forced to bring to its shores Arab Jews, seen as just as primitive and dirty as the Palestinians whom Israel had recently succeeded in ethnically cleansing.

Into this deeply racist atmosphere stepped Dr Chaim Sheba, a eugenicist, who believed that the Arabs Jews were bringing along with them diseases that threatened the Ashkenazi Jews. His obsession was ringworm, an innocuous childhood disease that affects the scalp. He went to the US, collected old military X-ray equipment and zapped tens of thousands of these children’s heads with potentially lethal doses of radiation. The survivors tell of their horrifying experiences during and after the treatment, and of the brothers and sisters they lost at a young age.

But this isn’t just a history lesson exploring an unusual aspect of Israel’s racist underpinnings. The documentary exposes a massive cover-up by the state: many of the children’s medical files – long thought to have been lost – were actually held by one of the doctors involved. Even after this disclosure, the state has continued to refuse the victims access to the files, despite the fact that such access may be vital in helping them receive the correct life-saving treatment, as well as proper compensation.

The final shocking twist is the discovery that all these experiments cost the equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars in today’s terms – in fact, more than Israel’s entire annual budget at the time. How could Israel have afforded it?

The documentary suggests persuasively that the US, with its own long fascination with eugenics, most likely sub-contracted these experiments to Israel as a way to bypass the increasing domestic legal impediments it faced. The US presumably footed the huge bill.

There are a couple of troubling omissions in the documentary itself. The first is that Dr Sheba did not carry out these experiments on Arab Jews only. He also exposed many Palestinian children in Israel to the same huge doses, for the same racist reasons.

The other is that Dr Sheba is still venerated to this day in Israel and has one of the country’s most famous hospitals, the Chaim Sheba Medical Center, named after him. As the documentary makes clear, there was plenty of evidence by the 1950s of the extremely dangerous effects of radiation on humans. What Dr Sheba did was a form of genocide. That he is still honoured in Israel is, to my mind, no different from Germany naming a hospital in Berlin the Josef Mengele Medical Center.

But keeping Dr Sheba’s reputation unblemished is, I suspect, important to those who wish to prevent other, even more unseemly skeletons being unearthed over this affair.

(UPDATE BELOW)

The documentary, from 2003, is in five 10-min parts: More

UPDATE:

I often talk about “hasbara” (what Israelis translate as “explanation” but really means “propaganda”) but rarely have I found an example of it quite as blatant as the entry on the Ringworm Affair on Wikipedia. By the look of it, this entry has been written by an Israeli government hasbara team. One can almost hear the indignation in the text dismissing the documentary’s claims. But interestingly there is no attempt to refute the two accusations at the heart of the film: that the medical files are still being withheld from the victims, and that the sum needed for the experiments was astronomical and way beyond Israel’s means. So who paid for them and why?

 

Replacing the peace process with a civil rights struggle

What would happen if Israeli progressives and their supporters demanded an end to the military court system, or called for freedom of movement for Palestinians? The answer: a lot.

The two-state solution has long become a means (to solving the problem of the occupation) to an end. As I wrote here in the past, this change has had severe consequences as far as the Israeli political opposition is concerned. Those range from a de-facto acceptance of the status quo to a political alliance with the Right and support for all the latest rounds of violence. The excuses are always the same – that we are on the road to the two-state solution and “this is the only game in town.”

The truth is that we aren’t on the road to two states or to one state. We are deep in the status-quo solution. Israel directly controls the lives of some 4 million Palestinians (and indirectly almost two more million in Gaza), and only a minority of them have the rights of full citizens, and even then only formally. The debate over the correct term for this state of affairs (‘occupation’ or ‘apartheid’ or ‘status quo’) is not half as important as recognizing this reality itself, which is stable, institutionalized and not going to change in the foreseeable future.

As a matter of fact, a final status agreement seems as far off as I can remember. The two-state solution is highly unlikely to take place in the coming years, and there is no way of knowing what the more distant future holds. Regional events along with internal developments in Israeli society serve those who oppose an agreement. The occupation empowers those who support it.

The common wisdom in Israel today is that every territory that is evacuated will eventually become another hub for Middle Eastern anarchy. The security establishment believes that only the IDF can prevent forces such as Islamic State from crossing the Jordan River. Israel would also like to make sure that Hamas doesn’t take over the West Bank. In other words, even if a Palestinian “state” is formed, it won’t have even the minimal degree of independence. No credible Palestinian leadership can be expected to agree to that.

I also don’t see any form of international pressure that would force the two-state solution on Israel. Much of the international community is clearly unhappy with Israel’s policies of the last decade, but this is nowhere near the mobilization against South Africa in the 1980s or, more recently, Iran. In both cases the tipping point was the U.S. decision to support and impose sanctions. And while the U.S. might end up distancing itself from Jerusalem, it will continue to use its power to prevent sanctions against it. The EU is also unlikely to expend its measures beyond some steps against the settlements. So there is truly no end in sight.

Facing this new reality, Israeli progressives that supported the peace process are turning to one of a few options: There are those who join the Right in maintaining the status quo; those who continue to believe that some recent events – the war, the ceasefire, American elections, the lack of American elections, etc. – opened a “window of opportunity for peace;” while in fact there is no window, not even a crack. And there are also those who are crying, not without some perverse pleasure, that “all is lost.”

On a more positive note, I believe there is renewed recognition in Israel of the dominance of the occupation on all other political problems, in the long-term threat it presents before Israeli society. I used to hear people say that the Left should focus on social issues and leave the Palestinian problem aside, but not anymore. You even see conservatives voicing some concern over the failure to solve the Palestinian issue. In other words, there is some new recognition of the problem, but there is no political strategy to accompany it among progressives, except for continuing to bang one’s head against the peace process wall.

***

The solution is to replace the diplomatic process with a civil rights struggle, to break the occupation into pieces, and deal with each one of them: The fact that Palestinians do not enjoy freedom of movement. The fact that they have been tried in military courts for almost half a century. The limits on their freedom of speech and their right to freely assemble. The lack of proper detainee rights (including minors). The disrespect for their property rights, and, of course, their lack of political rights.

A civil rights struggle doesn’t necessarily mean a single-state solution, nor two states. Civilian rights for Palestinians can lead to any final status agreement. As I wrote here last week, there is little point in debating solutions right now.

A civil rights struggle is not a new idea, and many Palestinians have been engaging in it for a long time. But Israeli progressives and peaceniks have always placed it second only to the diplomatic process. In other words, instead of the Palestinian state becoming a means for the fulfillment of Palestinian rights, it was made the only desired political object; those rights no longer bared value once they were separated from the idea of statehood – as if because the Palestinians have no state they don’t deserve freedom of movement or a fair trial. Thus, progressives find themselves justifying an authoritarian regime in Ramallah in the name of Palestinians rights, and many other absurdities.

On a tactical level, a civil rights struggle opens the door for Arab-Jewish cooperation on both sides of the Green Line, and leaves aside the questions of statehood and historical narratives that people love to debate. Instead, it focuses on the lives of real people under occupation.

The equal rights of all men and women is such a simple and broadly accepted notion that it’s easy to explain and for everyone to understand. Israelis have adopted all sorts of revisionist readings of the conflict in recent years; for example the idea that the territories aren’t occupied because they were never claimed by any other state. But the most important problem with the occupation is the millions of people held under a military regime for decades, and not just the legal status of the land.

The target of a civil rights struggle is not the settlers, or any other Israeli community, but the state and its practices. It might not make progressives more popular with the Israeli public, but it could make their work more effective.

What could such a struggle look like? It should raise specific political demands that touch the basic liberties and rights of human beings; such as the right to a fair trial, to equality before the law, and to political representation.

The military court system is a good place to start. Military tribunals could be accepted in very specific contexts and for a limited period of time. They aren’t meant – nor could they be used – to run the lives of a civilian population for decades, as Israel does.

There is no way to justify military commanders ruling over civilian issues for half a century, the way they do in the West Bank. There is no way to justify administrative detentions. What prevents a “pro-peace” party or organization – say, Meretz or Labor or J Street – from right now demanding an end to the military court system, regardless of diplomatic developments? The fact that such an idea is not even debated demonstrates the degree to which even the “pro-peace” camp has adopted the mentality of the occupation.

What about freedom of movement? The Palestinians are held like Israel’s prisoners, not only in the West Bank but also in Gaza. It takes a permit from a military commander to allow a Palestinian to visit his or her family in Jordan. Why not demand turning this policy on its head, right now, and have the security authorities state who they forbid from traveling, and allow everybody else free passage? Surely this is a reasonable enough request?

Human rights groups have been monitoring and discussing these issues for decades, but they have yet to enter progressive politics, which is still chained to the endless peace process. Imagine what would happen if mobilization by the international community around Israeli relations with the PA or its settlement policies was directed at the rights of Palestinians.

To some this might seem like back-door annexation by Israel – an idea that most Israelis and Palestinians still oppose. But the fact of the matter is that de-facto annexation has already taken place, only without allowing the civilian population their basic human and civil rights. Recent cries over the appropriation of some 1,000 acres of land by Israel sound hollow compared to the massive human rights violations that have been taking place for decades. I actually believe that even if Israel was to hand the Palestinians full voting rights in the Knesset tomorrow we could end up with some version of a two-state solution or a confederative model, because both people here are interested in national sovereignty.

Make no mistake: Keeping the Palestinians without rights is not some temporary holding pattern on the way to a final status solution (or peace). For Israel, this is the solution. And giving Palestinians their rights will not postpone an agreement – quite the opposite. It would force Israelis to really think about the kind of future they want, alongside the Palestinians. More

 

Hamas does not equal ISIL, no matter what Israel says

An image speaks a thousand words – and that is presumably what Israel’s supporters hoped for with their latest ad in the New York Times.

Two photographs are presented side by side. One, titled ISIL, is the now-iconic image of a kneeling James Foley, guarded by a black-hooded executioner, awaiting his terrible fate. The other, titled Hamas, is a scene from Gaza, where a similarly masked killer stands over two victims, who cower in fear.

A headline stating “This is the face of radical Islam” tries, like the images, to equate the two organisations.

We have heard this line before from Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who tweeted “Hamas is ISIL” after the video of Foley’s beheading aired. In a recent speech he called Hamas and ISIL, “tentacles of a violent Islamist terrorism”.

Mr Netanyahu’s depiction of Hamas and ISIL as “branches of the same poisonous tree” is a travesty of the truth. The two have entirely different – in fact, opposed – political projects.

Members of Hamas may disagree on that state’s territorial limits but even the most ambitious expect no more than the historic borders of a Palestine that existed decades ago. ISIL, by contrast, aims to sweep away Palestine and every other Arab state.

That is the key to interpreting the very different, if equally brutal, events depicted in the two images.

ISIL killed Foley, dressed in Guantanamo-style orange jumpsuit, purely as spectacle – a graphic message to the world of its menacing intent. Hamas’s cruelty was directed at those in Gaza who collaborate with Israel, undermining hope of liberation from Israel’s occupation.

ISIL’s 20,000 foot soldiers have taken over large chunks of Iraq and Syria in a murderous and uncompromising campaign against anyone who rejects not only Islam but their specific interpretation of it.

According to reports last week, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal joined Mr Abbas in demanding the most diminutive Palestinian state possible, inside the 1967 borders.

Mr Netanyahu, meanwhile, refuses to negotiate with either Hamas or the Palestinian Authority (PA) of Mahmoud Abbas.

In casting Hamas as ISIL, Mr Netanyahu has tarred all Palestinians as bloodthirsty Islamic extremists. And here we reach Israel’s true goal in equating the two groups.

Mr Netanyahu’s comparison has a recent parallel. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks on the US, Ariel Sharon made a similar equivalence between Al Qaeda and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Israel’s intelligence officials even called the destruction of the Twin Towers a “Hanukkah miracle”, a view echoed by Mr Netanyahu years later. All understood that 9/11 reframed the Oslo-inspired debate about the Palestinians needing statehood to one about an evil axis of Middle East terror.

Sharon revelled in calling Arafat the head of an “infrastructure of terror”, justifying Israel’s crushing the uprising of the second intifada.

Similarly, Mr Netanyahu’s efforts are designed to discredit all – not just the Islamic variety of – Palestinian resistance to Israel’s occupation. He hopes to be the silent partner to Barack Obama’s new coalition against ISIL.

Aaron David Miller, an adviser to several US administrations on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, warned in Foreign Policy last week that the rise of ISIL would pose a serious setback to Palestinian hopes of statehood – a point underscored by the far greater concerns about ISIL than the Palestinians’ plight expressed by Arab League delegates at this week’s meeting in Cairo.

How Mr Netanyahu plans to follow Sharon in exploiting this opportunity was demonstrated last week, when Israeli intelligence revealed a supposed Hamas plot to launch a coup against the PA.

The interrogation of Hamas officials, however, showed only that they had prepared for the possibility of the PA’s rule ending in the West Bank, either through its collapse under Israeli pressure or through a disillusioned Mr Abbas handing over the keys to Israel.

But talk of Hamas coups has melded with other, even wilder stories, such as the claims last week from foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman that ISIL cells had formed in the West Bank and inside Israel. Defence minister Moshe Yaalon underscored this narrative by hurriedly classifying ISIL as a “proscribed” organisation.

All this fear-mongering is designed both to undermine the Palestinian unity government between Hamas and Fatah, and to sanction Israel’s behaviours by painting a picture, as after 9/11, of an Israel on the front line of a war against global terror.

“Israel’s demands for a continued Israeli presence [in the West Bank] and a lengthy withdrawal period will only harden further,” wrote Mr Miller.

In reality, Israel should share common cause with Palestinian leaders, from Fatah and Hamas, against ISIL. But, as ever, Mr Netanyahu will forgo his country’s long-term interests for a short-term gain in his relentless war to keep the Palestinians stateless. More

Jonathan Cook is an independent journalist based in Nazareth

 

Shock and awe in Gaza

How the media and human rights groups cover for Israeli war crimes

Counterpunch magazine – Vol 21, No 7, August 2014

Jonathan Cook

On July 8, as Israel officially launched its most recent attack on Gaza, the BBC published an online report noting that some of the graphic images trending on social media were not in fact the result of the latest air and sea strikes battering the Palestinians’ besieged coastal enclave. Its analysis “found that some [images] date as far back as 2009 and others are from conflicts in Syria and Iraq.”

The implication, amplified by pro-Israeli websites, was that social media activists were trying to deceive the watching world into believing that Gaza was suffering a greater onslaught than was really the case. This was more “Pallywood”, as Israel’s supporters like to deride the increasing visual documentation of Israeli war crimes in an age of smartphone cameras.

Probably unthinkingly, the Huffington Post echoed these sentiments, arguing that the BBC report suggested “images shared across social media purportedly showing death and destruction caused by Israel in Gaza were fake.” But in truth, the images covered in the report were not “fake” in any meaningful sense of the word.

The misattributed explosions and crushed bodies showed the real suffering of Palestinians in Gaza during earlier Israeli attacks—Operations Cast Lead of winter 2008-09 and Pillar of Defence four years later—or of victims caught in recent fighting in Syria and Iraq.

Nor were the solidarity activists who shared these images resorting to them because there was a dearth of horrifying visual evidence from Israel’s latest bombardment of Gaza.

It was simply that Gaza’s “shock and awe” destruction by an almost invisible Israeli aerial presence, and the effects on Palestinian bodies of missile blasts and collapsing homes, looked much as it did in 2008 and 2012. The names of the operations may change—Israel dubbed this latest one “Protective Edge” in English, avoiding a literal translation of the more menacing Hebrew title “Solid Cliff”—but the toll on civilian lives were inevitably the same.

The images, however misattributed, were a far more honest record of Israel’s latest orgiastic bout of slaughter in Gaza than the media’s obfuscatory references to an ongoing “cycle of violence”.

Israel’s missing arsenal

There was a rich irony to the BBC, which has done so much to veil the realities of Israel’s ritual war-making, criticising social media users. To take just one example of many, the corporation’s diplomatic correspondent, Jonathan Marcus, promised in an online article to explain “What weapons are being used in the Israel-Gaza conflict”.

At length he enumerated the kinds of rockets in Hamas’ hands and their range. But what of Israel’s massive offensive arsenal? This was the extent of his disclosure: “The full panoply of Israeli air power has been used in a steadily escalating series of attacks against rocket launch sites, weapons stores, and the command elements of Hamas and other groups.” Note there was no mention, despite documentation, of strikes on civilians.

He then quickly switched to Israel’s “defensive” weapons. “As important in determining Israel’s strategic outlook as its offensive operations is the reliance that it places on missile defence—the Iron Dome system—to defend its civilian population.” The rest of the article continued in the same vein.

Marcus could hardly have done a better job of promoting the idea of the Palestinians as aggressors and Israelis as the victims had he been paid to do so by Israel’s ministry of hasbara (propaganda). The article concealed the fact that by the time of its publication, on July 10, dozens of Palestinians, including many children, had been killed by Israel’s “defensive” operation.

Meanwhile, Hamas’ fearsome arsenal had by this time killed precisely no Israelis—and barely any had been harmed, excepting the reports of numerous Israeli victims of “anxiety”, many of them presumably provoked by reports like Marcus’. (During these operations no one has the time or resources to record the vast number of Palestinians in Gaza suffering from anxiety.)

As the explosions and disfigured bodies from Gaza blurred into an almost indistinguishable collage of suffering for social media activists, I too watched the coverage and analysis of the past weeks’ events with a weary sense of deja vu.

When Hamas was not being presented as the aggressor, forcing Israel to “respond” and “retaliate”, it was apparently a military leviathan. With its lightly armed cadres and the off-the-back-of-a-truck rockets, Hamas “exchanged fire” and “traded blows” with one of the most powerful armies in the world. A headline on yet another “balanced” BBC story declared: “Israel under renewed Hamas attack”.

Dissembling by media

The dissembling, as ever, reached its apeothosis in the US media. The New York Times, for example, offered headlines that stripped Israeli atrocities of their horrific import while invariably removing Israel from the scene entirely. A missile strike on July 10 that wiped out a family of nine Palestinians watching the World Cup was titled “Missile at beachside Gaza cafe finds patrons poised for World Cup”, as if the missile itself took the decision to “find” them.

Similarly, when four children were hit by a missile on July 16, as they played football on a beach in full view of international correspondents in a hotel nearby, the Times editors changed an already weak headline—“Four young boys killed playing on a Gaza beach”—to the downright mendacious: “Boys Drawn to Gaza Beach, and Into Center of Mideast Strife”. No blast, no deaths or injuries and, of course, no Israeli responsibility in sight. All of it whitewashed with that weasel word “strife”.

And what was the seemingly innocuous word “drawn” supposed to convey? Did it not hint that the boys had gone somewhere forbidden; that, in short, it was their fault for being in the wrong place, as though in Gaza there was a right place to be under the rain of Israeli missiles? Or maybe the Times editors hoped we would infer that they had been lured there by a more sinister, local hand.

Interventions by US media organisations were not restricted to word games. NBC’s experienced Gaza reporter Ayman Mohyeldin, who has been the most even-handed of the US correspondents, was told by studio executives he was being pulled from Gaza because of “security” concerns. The decision happened the same day he landed possibly the biggest scoop of his career: he had been playing ball with the boys moments before they were slaughtered. He never got to file his horrifying exclusive.

Strangely, however, Gaza was safe enough for Richard Engel, NBC’s correspondent in Tel Aviv, who immediately took Mohyeldin’s place in the tiny enclave. A storm of protest from viewers forced NBC to relent a few days later, allowing him back as inexplicably as they had required him to leave.

Diana Magnay also felt the long arm of the executives at CNN. During a live link located on a hill in Israel overlooking the Gaza Strip on July 17, the CNN correspondent had talked to anchor Wolf Blitzer as a missile slammed into Gaza behind her. As the explosion lit up the night sky, loud cheers could be heard just off-camera. A visibly discomfited Magnay was forced to explain as delicately as she could that crowds of Israelis came to watch and celebrate Gaza’s suffering.

A short time later she tweeted behind-the-scenes information. The mob had threatened her and her crew if they broadcast “a word wrong”. She described them, not ungenerously, as “scum”. Her tweet survived 10 minutes, suggesting just how closely US correspondents were being policed by station executives. Shortly afterwards, CNN announced that she had been reassigned to Moscow, apparently the US media’s equivalent of a Siberian re-education camp.

But the treatment of Mohyeldin and Magnay doubtless served a larger purpose, reminding the US media corps of the limits of acceptable discourse when it comes to Israel.

Abductions set the scene

For much of the media, the starting-point for the latest “escalation” was the abduction on June 12 of three Israeli teenagers while hitch-hiking from a seminary located in a notoriously violent settler enclave in the Palestinian city of Hebron. For nearly three weeks, Israeli troops scoured the West Bank, raiding thousands of homes and making hundreds of arrests, on the pretext of searching for the youths. Their bodies were eventually found in a shallow grave near Hebron, on June 30.

(In turn, though largely ignored by the media, the inciting cause of the abductions was most likely the execution by Israeli soldiers of two unarmed Palestinian youths taking part in a protest on May 15, Nakba Day, near Ramallah. The moment of the boys’ deaths was caught on film from various angles, showing they had posed no threat to the soldiers stationed nearby. Israel again suggested that the video evidence—some of it provided by CNN—was faked.)

Opportunistic as ever, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, imposed a gag order on reporting a phone call made to the emergency services by one of the Israeli youths shortly after the abduction. Gunshots can be heard. The abandoned car, found the next day, had eight bullet holes and the teenagers’ blood on it. In short, Israeli officials knew from the outset that the three youngsters were dead.

Israel also quickly determined who they thought were the suspects: two or three young men from Hebron, who went underground almost immediately afterwards. They were from a family loosely affiliated with Hamas but also with a history of being, in the words of one Israeli analyst, “trouble-makers”. This tenuous link appears to have been the sole evidence for Netanyahu’s strident and oft-repeated claim that Hamas had ordered the abductions and that it alone would be held accountable—first in the West Bank, then in Gaza.

Mass raids across the West Bank, dubbed Operation Brother’s Keeper, rounded up hundreds of Hamas activists, most of them with no ties to the movement’s military wing. Netanyahu had good reason to wish to exploit the teenagers’ deaths as a way to eradicate Hamas’ infrastructure—from charities to newspapers—in the West Bank and turn the screws on the Islamic group in Gaza.

Scuppering Palestinian unity

After the collapse in late April of the US-imposed peace talks—for which Israel, unusually, had taken most blame—the endlessly accommodating Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas had partially reversed course, launching initiatives without Netanyahu and Washington’s prior approval.

It had applied to join a handful of international bodies, hinting that it might go so far as to join the International Criminal Court in the Hague, thereby exposing Israel to possible war crimes trials. Equally significantly, Abbas’ Fatah party, which dominates the West Bank, had signed a reconciliation agreement with Hamas, its chief political rival in Gaza, after seven years of bitter discord. The two groups set up a unity government of technocrats in early June and promised to arrange national elections for the first time since 2006.

Israel’s assault on Hamas in the West Bank—and, by stepping aside, the PA’s security forces’ implicit assent—were the first prong in Netanyahu’s plan to undermine the unity government. The attack on Gaza the second.

But the Israeli public’s thirst for revenge—stoked by incitement from the prime minister down—was not slaked by the ransacking of the West Bank. Israeli mobs patrolled the streets of Jerusalem seeking out Palestinians to attack. One group went a step further: on July 2, they grabbed a 16-year-old boy, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, close to his home in the Shuafat neighbourhood, and drove off with him to a forest. On the way, they beat him and made him drink flammable liquid. At their destination, they set him on fire.

Red Cross urges release

Into this medley of deceptions and bad faith stepped the guardians of our moral scruples: the international human rights organisations. They are beholden to the system of international humanitarian law that is supposed to govern the relations between states, and offer guidance in circumstances of war and occupation. Our politicians and media may not be trusted, but surely these exponents of an ethical global order can be.

The foundational statutes of international law—the Geneva Conventions—are upheld by the Swiss-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It has been given the responsbility—at least by those states that have signed the conventions, which is the vast majority—to interpret and enforce as best it can their provisions on behalf of the victims of armed conflict.

Its role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been notoriously difficult, given that Israel signed the conventions early on but has refused to accept that their provisions apply in the occupied Palestinian territories.

To the causal observer, an ICRC statement issued on June 15 appeared routine. It expressed concern for the three Israeli teenagers abducted three days earlier and called for their “immediate and unconditional release”, noting that international law prohibits abductions and the taking of hostages. The ICRC also offered to act as a “neutral intermediary” to achieve the youths’ release.

But in practice, the statement was an exceptional departure from the ICRC’s customary behaviour, at least towards Palestinians.

In the wake of the three youths’ abduction, as already noted, Israel launched a wave of raids in the West Bank, effectively kidnapping anyone with the faintest connection to Hamas, including journalists, charity workers, students and politicians. Within days, dozens of Palestinians had been seized and transferred out of Palestinian territory into Israel, in violation of international law. Soon the number would reach more than 500. Most were held without charge or access to lawyers.

These prisoners joined thousands of others in Israel’s jails, including some 200 inmates held without charge. Many of them were in the midst of a protracted hunger strike that was endangering their lives.

Further, Israel had in its jails a similar number of Palestinian children—all illegally held in Israel—who were rarely able to see their families. As groups like Defence for Children International had observed, these children were routinely abused. They were often seized from their beds in the middle of the night, and then once in detention subjected to torture and solitary confinement. What did the ICRC have to say about their condition? Had it called for their immediate release or offered to act as mediator?

Asked about this by Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada, an ICRC spokeswoman said: “ICRC doesn’t usually call for the release of detainees in general. We monitor their condition and if we have any concerns we discuss with the authorities issues regarding their treatment.”

That fitted with the kinds of statements more usually associated with the ICRC. Relating to Israel’s rampage through the West Bank and its mass arrests, ICRC tweeted dryly on June 18: “Military operations in the West Bank and Gaza: ICRC steps up its activities.” Regarding the hunger-strikers, the ICRC’s concern amounted to nothing more than a supremely disinterested humanitarianism. On June 17, the Red Cross offered a typical update: “We visited 27 hungerstrikers so far this week in Assaf Harofe, Poriya, Tel Hashomer and Wolfson hospitals.”

Secret prison comes to light

The ICRC’s traditional justification for such studied detachment was explained to me back in 2003, when I investigated a secret prison in Israel, known as Facility 1391.

The role of 1391 was to disappear Arab prisoners that were not covered by Israel’s responsibilities as an occupying power. Many of the inmates were from Lebanon, seized by Israel during its long occupation of the country that ended in 2000. It was Israel’s Abu Ghraib, and as in its Iraqi counterpart torture was common.

During my research I was told that the ICRC were aware of the prison. When I called the office in Jerusalem to find out what they knew, a spokesman refused to say anything on record. In fact, he refused to say anything apart from confirming that they knew of the prison’s existence and location, although he claimed they had not had any access.

The ICRC’s justification to me for refusing to speak further or to criticize Israel for what amounted to a gross violation of international law was that they believed it was essential to maintain a position of “absolute political neutrality”. I was told it was in the vital interests of the Palestinian prison population that the ICRC keep Israel’s trust so that Red Cross access would not be withdrawn.

But the principle of “absolute political neutrality” that was so crucial to the ICRC back in 2003—and has directed their policy for decades, given their almost complete silence on Israel’s belligerent occupation—had been jettisoned with shocking alacrity in defending the rights of the three Israeli teenagers. Did the ICRC not also owe “absolute political neutrality” towards the Palestinians?

Power-friendly humanitarians

The truth is that the ICRC’s role in safeguarding international humanitarian law is subject to its careful assessment of where power resides in the international system. Making an enemy of Israel is extremely risky for an organization that relies on the support of major western powers. Making an enemy of the Palestinian people, a nation-in-waiting that needs every scrap of help it can get from the international community, is cost-free. Moral scruples can go hang.

That was also presumably why Navi Pillay, the United Nations’ respected high commissioner for human rights, adopted the stale language of diplomacy rather than an expression of moral outrage over the attack on Gaza. An anaemic statement issued on July 11 carefully avoided identifying Israel’s actions as war crimes, as they clearly were.

Instead Pillay noted that the reports of civilian casualties “raise serious doubt about whether the Israeli strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law”. It was a familar soundtrack of muted disapproval, one that for decades has endorsed international inertia.

Human Rights Watch, based in New York, performed no better. It issued a statement on the fighting on July 9 that was barely distinguishable from press releases published by the organisation during Israel’s operations in 2009 and 2012.

I have had run-ins with HRW before, not least in 2006 when I took issue with its lead researcher Peter Bouckaert. In the immediate wake of Israel’s attack on Lebanon that year, Bouckaert opined to the New York Times:

I mean, it’s perfectly clear that Hezbollah is directly targeting civilians, and that their aim is to kill Israeli civilians. We don’t accuse the Israeli army of deliberately trying to kill civilians. Our accusation, clearly stated in the report, is that the Israeli army is not taking the necessary precautions to distinguish between civilian and military targets.

This seemed a grossly presumptious statement, as I observed at the time. Bouckaert made his claims, even though Israel’s precision strikes had killed many hundreds of Lebanese, a majority of them again civilians, while Hizbullah rocket attacks had killed only small numbers of Israelis, a majority of them soldiers. This is what I wrote:

How does Bouckaert know that Israel’s failure to distinguish between civilian and military targets was simply a technical failure, a failure to take precautions, and not intentional? Was he or another HRW researcher sitting in one of the military bunkers in northern Israel when army planners pressed the button to unleash the missiles from their spy drones? Was he sitting alongside the air force pilots as they circled over Lebanon dropping their US-made bombs or tens of thousands of “cluster munitions”, tiny land mines that are now sprinkled over a vast area of south Lebanon? Did he have intimate conversations with the Israeli chiefs of staff about their war strategy? …

He has no more idea than you or me what Israel’s military planners and its politicians decided was necessary to achieve their war goals. In fact, he does not even know what those goals were.

In bed with the State Dept

In its July 9 statement, HRW trod the same ground, beginning: “Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel appear to be indiscriminate or targeted at civilian population centers, which are war crimes.” Meanwhile, the Israeli offensive was characterised in the following terms: “Israeli attacks targeting homes may amount to prohibited collective punishment.”

So for HRW, Palestinian rocket attacks that had at that stage killed no one were “war crimes”, while Israel’s massive assualt on Gaza, which quickly led to the deaths of dozens of Palestinians, many of them women and children, was simply “collective punishment”. Both were violations of international law, of course. Put another way, both were war crimes. But, as so often before in this conflict, HRW could only find the courage to articulate the accusation when it referred to Palestinians.

Similarly, in an outrageous mangling of international law, the statement also suggested that Hamas leaders were legitimate military targets even when not involved in combat. Israel, on this reckoning, was entitled to strike Hamas figures even as they slept or ate in their family homes. The problem was that, were such an interpretation to be consistently applied by HRW, it would sanction Hamas to target any home in Israel where a family member serves in the armed forces or is a reservist—that is, most Israeli homes.

As Helena Cobban, a Middle East expert, noted of a subsequent report by HRW, published on July 16, that made the same error:

How many times do we have to spell this out? The essential distinction in international law is not between ‘fighters’ and ‘civilians’—which are the categories used throughout this HRW report—but between “combatants” and “noncombatants”. A fighter who is not currently engaged in either the conduct, the command, or the planning of military operations is not a combatant. …It is quite illegal to target such an individual.

Dragging their heels

HRW’s July 16 report was at least an improvement on its earlier one, not least because it included actual case studies in Gaza, in which the evidence of war crimes was indisputable. But this is a pattern too: groups like HRW wade in at the beginning of an Israeli attack with equivocations, only finding their moral backbone later on, as the mounting evidence of Israeli war crimes starts to discomfort the international community. HRW does not lead the opposition to war crimes, as it should; it merely provides the excuse to seek a way out, but only after nearly everyone is agreed that it is time to bring things to an end.

In short, HRW is not the voice of a global moral conscience; it is an organisation keen to keep its access to, and credibility with, policy elites. That is hardly surprising given that HRW, while styling itself as “one of the world’s leading independent [human rights] organizations”, has a virtual revolving door policy with the foreign policy establishment, especially the US state department.

The cosy ties between the US administration and HRW have become so glaring that it prompted a recent letter of complaint signed by more than 100 public figures, including Nobel peace prize laureates Adolfo Perez Esquivel and Mairead Maguire, and the former UN Assistant Secretary General Hans von Sponeck.

They noted that HRW’s recently departed Washington advocacy director, Tom Malinowski, was a former special assistant to President Bill Clinton, and speechwriter to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Last year, he left HRW to become an assistant to the current Secretary of State, John Kerry. But not before he had used his role at HRW to justify “under limited circumstances” the legitimacy of extraordinary renditions—the kidnapping and smuggling of individuals to torture sites out of official US oversight.

Meanwhile, the vice-chair of HRW’s board of directors is Susan Manilow, who describes herself as “a longtime friend to Bill Clinton”. Also, HRW’s Americas’ advisory committee includes Myles Frechette, a former US ambassador to Colombia, and Michael Shifter, a former director for the US government-funded National Endowment for Democracy. A recent member of the committee was Miguel Diaz, a CIA analyst in the 1990s who now works at the State Department.

Similarly, Suzanne Nossel, an exponent of pre-emptive war, left her senior position at HRW in the late 2000s to join the State Department. She later went on to join another leading human rights group, Amnesty International USA, this time as its executive director.

The rest of HRW’s board may not be so tainted by direct political connections, but most are hardly champions of the common man either. A significant number are millionaires who made their fortunes in the financial industries.

This incestuous relationship between the elite policy-makers and the elite human rights community is endemic. Consider Unicef, the humanitarian children’s fund of the UN. It has been virtually silent on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite masses of evidence of systematic abuse of children by Israel. Local watchdogs have tried to raise a cry about Israel’s imprisonment and torture of children, and about the blockade of Gaza that has led to widespread and chronic malunitrition. Unicef has uttered barely a word in support.

Might that have anything to do with the fact that Anthony Lake is its executive director? That is the same Lake who served as National Security Advisor to Bill Clinton in the 1990s; and the same Clinton who has repeatedly declared his fealty to Israel.

International human rights monitors have adopted a bland, risk-averse “humanitarianism” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a way to avoid engaging with the conflict’s more profound, and urgent, political dimensions. Like the media and the politicians, the great fear of international human rights groups is running foul of the Israel lobby.

Shaping the elite discourse

Nonetheless, Israel is in difficulty. It is gradually losing the battle for public opinion. Grandly, Israel calls this development “delegitimization”, but in truth it simply a growing popular awareness of the realities of Israeli occupation, fueled by the more plentiful opportunities for the public to bypass official sources of information.

The task of Israel’s lobbyists is to slow down this awakening as much as possible and to insulate policy-makers from its effects. That is the stated mission, for example, of Britain’s fledgling pro-Israel media lobby, known as BICOM or the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre. BICOM is a product of Israel’s concern at the increasingly globalized nature of English-language media.

For decades, the Israel lobby focused its work almost exclusively on the United States, expecting its super-power patron to keep it out of diplomatic, military and financial trouble. It developed a political lobby—AIPAC, or the American Israel Public Affairs Committee—that worked to intimidate the US Congress and, alongside it, the White House. No US president, certainly not one up for re-election, dares turn down an invitation to speak at AIPAC’s annual conference.

Less visible but just as important are Israel’s lobbying organisations targeting the US media. The best known, the Anti-Defamation League, is led by Abraham Foxman, whose own bigotry should have discounted him from the job were the ADL really interested in defamation. But Foxman is an arch-exponent of defamation as long as it is directed at Israel’s opponents.

In early July, for example, he wrote a commentary for the Huffington Post berating Palestinians for a culture “that espouses pure hatred of Israelis, and often Jews, regardless of their actions, and is wholly uninterested in living at peace with its neighbors”.

But the ADL has two other major allies in its campaign of intimidation of the US media: Honest Reporting and Camera, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting. The latter has a journalists’ “hall of shame” on its website that documents its run-ins with most of the major journalists who have covered the region for US audiences.

I should disclose that I have a small place of honor there too for my brief flirtation with the International Herald Tribune after it was taken over by the New York Times. My two entries for supposed “inaccuracy” pale next to the current 33 listings for Jodi Rudoren, the New York Times’ correspondent. Her appearances reflect neither a documented failure of accuracy (or rather, not in the way the lobby claims) nor a pro-Palestinian bias in her reporting. In fact, Rudoren has been almost as much of an Israel partisan as her predecessor, Ethan Bronner.

Rather, Camera’s relentless campaign against Rudoren is a measure of the New York Times’ critical role in shaping elite opinion. The lobbyists’ goal is either to hound her into submission—to encourage her to self-censor more effectively than she already does—or to pressure her editors into moving her elsewhere, on the assumption that her replacement will find their room for journalistic integrity even further circumscribed.

Breach in the dam

With the US Congress and media bullied into submission, Israel was largely able to shape elite opinion in the US. But a breach in the dam has grown over the past two decades. With the rise of the internet and social media, Americans enjoy access to a much more diverse media than they once did, including to liberal—at least by US standards—publications in Britain such as the BBC and the Guardian.

Israel’s lobbyists identified this danger early on, shortly after the outbreak of the second intifada in late 2000. Soon Israel had started to replicate the US lobby in Britain, creating BICOM in 2002. It and other Israel lobby groups have over the years battered the BBC into submission, turning it into another mouthpiece for Israeli propaganda.

The extent of the corporation’s capitulation became impossible to ignore in early 2009, when it refused for the first time in its history to broadcast adverts for the disaster emergencies committee’s appeal, because the selected charitable cause was Gaza, which had just been laid waste by Israeli bombing. Even British politicians lambasted the BBC for its craven decision.

The lessons learnt by BICOM were no doubt derived from the lobby’s long experience in the US. In 2010 BICOM staff joined Israeli strategists in drafting a paper called “Winning the Battle of the Narrative”. In it, they made the following observation:

The political elites in Europe and in the US are much more tolerant towards Israel’s policies then [sic] the wider public in those same countries; however, the public’s mood and the media’s coverage (especially in the UK) determine the government’s leeway to pursue a pro-Israeli foreign policy agenda.

Jonathan Cummings, the former director of BICOM’s Israel office, noted the same year that British media were influencing elites outside the UK, presumably a reference to the US. “With media outlets like the BBC, the Guardian, and the Financial Times playing an increasingly significant part in framing the issue well beyond its own borders, British attitudes carry far.”

He suggested that pro-Israel lobbyists should therefore reinvigorate their efforts to “create barriers to delegitimisation, insulating policy-making environments” from public opinion.

This activity is effective. It is the reason why the policymakers, the media and the most influential international human rights organisations still consistently fail to convey the shocking reality of what Israel is doing on the ground to Palestinians. It is why public opinion is still rarely reflected in foreign policy decisions affecting Israel.

This assault on Gaza, like the earlier ones, will leave hundreds of Palestinians dead, a majority of them civilians. It will end neither the siege nor the resistance to it. It will outrage public opinion around the globe. But our elites will carry on giving Israel financial, military and diplomatic cover, as they have now done for more than six decades. More