Amira Hass, Haaretz
"Neither the armed men, nor the weapons smuggled through the tunnels, are a strategic threat to Israel. But the danger posed by the armed men and the tunnels is so exaggerated, that the statistics of destruction and death sown by Israel in Rafah go largely ignored - in Israel. In Rafah, on the other hand, it feeds the conclusion reached by a religious lawyer: "Everyone in Israel -opposition, left, Labour - bears responsibility for what their government is doing."
Amira Hass, Haaretz
The recent furor over the Abu Ghraib prison scandal notwithstanding, the fact is that most of our erst-while political and religious leaders continue to relentlessly look the other way at the many war crimes that are now being committed on an almost daily basis by the two US-backed armies of occupation in the Middle East, Israel's troops in Gaza and the West Bank, and the US troops in Iraq.
Despite our current deficit of courageous leadership, it is simply not morally acceptable for ordinary Americans and Israelis who supply all the arms and troops and foot all the bills for this misbehavior to dodge this issue. It is our moral blind spot, and we must work hard to see through it. Let's start with this week's ugly events in Gaza and Ramadi.
GOLIATH IN GAZA
The preciptating event for the recent upsurge in Gaza violence was last week's sudden decision by the Israeli Army to enter southern Gaza with the largest incursion in years. That unprovoked incursion into this dense urban areas cost the Israelis dearly -- two of its tanks were destroyed and at least 13 IDF soldiers died.
Evidently, that only made the Israeli Army madder than ever to teach the Palestinians one of their unending lessons. So, just as the US was, oddly enough, trying to "sell" Sharon's new plan to withdraw from Gaza to our European allies, Sharon was ordering the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to plunge in even deeper, take off the gloves, search for tunnels, and blow up houses.
Earlier this week, Amnesty International issued a detailed report explaining precisely why the resulting "collective punishment" -- especially the mass destruction of Palestinian houses, which left hundreds of families homeless -- was nothing less than a blatant war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention, not justified in any way by Israel's own purported security needs.
That report had little effect on the Israelis. Indeed, it was followed the very next day by the deaths of 20 Palestianians, the highest one-day death toll since 2001, including at least 7 children under the age of 16. There were also scores of wounded. And this was followed by 10 more Palestinians killed on May 19, as the IDF turned its modern tanks and helicopter gun ships and missiles on a crowd of 3000 largely unarmed protesters -- or, in Israel's version of the facts, on the houses all around them.
The European Union condemned the attack as "completely disproportionate," stating that it showed "a reckless disregard for human life. " Ireland's Foreign Minister, speaking on behalf of the EU, said that "The killing of children does not serve any legitimate cause and degrades any purpose which it purports to advance." The UN Commission on Human Right's special rapporteur, the noted South African international law professor John Dugard, condemned the attack as a clear war crime. The UK's Tony Blair, otherwise our loyal ally in the Iraq War, for once pulled a way from the tepid US position, condemning Israel's behavior in no uncertain terms as "unacceptable and wrong."
But President Bush, fresh from a rousing campaign speech before a leading pro-Israel lobbying group, only managed the rather toothless request that Israel "respect innocent life."
Leading Democrtats were, if anything, even more timid. Senator Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senator Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that the US should veto the UN resolution. Nothing at all was heard on the subject from the cautious and inscrutable John Kerry. Earlier this week, however, South Carolina Senator Ernest Hollings, who is retiring from the US Senate this year and can now afford to say what he likes, did issue a surprisingly candid appraisal of Ariel Sharon's untoward influence over US foreign policy.
Still, at this point, with most of the key American lapdogs still in thrall, the shameless Sharoniks are continuing the incursion. Countering the usual policy of never apologizing for anything, one Israeli general did say that the IDF was "sorry that civilians got hit," and that it "doesn't aim at civilians" -- even though it fired live tank shells dangerously close to a crowd of 3000 people. No apology was issued for firing from gunships into the crowd. The IDF claimed that there were "armed men" among the protestors, and that this justified firing on the entire group. Israel's UN spokesman Dan Gillerman also claimed that there was, in effect, no other way to contain the weapons that were allegedly flowing into Gaza from Egypt -- a claim that leading Israeli journalists quickly discounted. Soon after the UN resolution was passed, three more Palestinians were killed in Rafah by yet another Israeli missile.
Apparently some Israelis really must believe, as Sharon himself reportedly shouted to the Labor Party's Shimon Peres during a heated Cabinet debate back in 2001, "Don't worry about America. We control America."
GOLEM IN IRAQ
Meanwhile, as if the US needed another human rights fiasco in Iraq right now, the US military today stands accused of having wiped out an entire forty-person wedding party at Makr al-Deeb, near the Syrian border town of Qaim, on Tuesday night. The US claims that it took "hostile fire" from the area. But the villagers reported that they had only been firing celebratory shots in the air, as is customary at weddings in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The locals' version rings true. After all, this is hardly the first such wedding party that the US has mistakenly shot up or blown to smithereens.
In September 2003, US troops in Falluja killed a 14-year old boy and shot six other people at a wedding party, when they mistakenly thought celebratory gunfire was directed at them.
On December 29, 2001, the US bombed another wedding in the village of Qalai Niazi in eastern Afghanistan, "vaporizing" at least 62 to 107 wedding guests, according to the UN.
In early May 2002, Britain’s Royal Marines and Australian troops called in US bombers on yet another Afghan wedding party, when they again mistook celebratory AK-47 shots for hostile fire.
No wonder the latest polls from Iraq show that 88 percent of Iraqis regard the US troops as "occupiers," more than half want the US troops to leave the country now, and Moqtada al-Sadr, the young radical Shia cleric whose been fighting US troops for the last month, is now the second most influential figure in the country -- second only to 70-year old Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Needless to say, all this does not bode well for the "transition" that is supposed to take place in just 40 days.
Even in the case of Israel's recent behavior in Gaza, the episodes described above were probably not "intentional" in the narrow sense of the word. But in some ways that makes things even worse.
To "intend" to kill an enemy, you actually have to recognize his existence, at least for an instant. In the case of the gross negligence described above, it is almost as if the IDF and the US military have lost the ability to perceive Arabs as people.
Nor were these isolated episodes. In Israel's case, the record of careless behavior stretches back decades, as many leading Israeli historians have themselves documented. Of course it has been reciprocated on the other side. But the endless Hatfield-McCoy arguments about who is "to blame" are childish. The real issue is, who will be courageous enough to break the cycle? At the end of the day, most of the so-called "tough" guys have turned out to be moral cowards.
In the case of the US troops in Iraq, "Israelification" of battlefield conduct is relatively new. It has involved the systematic destruction of civilian housing, the use of tanks, bombs, and gunships in civilian areas, various forms of collective punishment (including the loss of employment for political opponents), mass detentions without trial, and rough treatment during interrogations.
As the US has learned the hard way, all these clever tactics have produced precisely the same results in US-occupied Arab territories that they have produced in Israeli-occupied territories -- overwhelming hostility to continued occupation, and an increasingly- militant national resistance movement.
It is high time for Americans to stand up and say -- to Kerry, Bush, and all the other "leaders" who have somehow lost their powers of speech on these matters -- that enough is enough, and that the only way to peace is to put these poisonous, self-defeating occupations behind us.