There was a great deal of coverage of Israel’s most recent assault on Gaza, of the daily atrocities perpetrated on an already vulnerable, besieged civilian population. While governments and the UN sat by in collusion or in impotence, the most highly respected humanitarian and human rights organizations condemned Israel’s flagrant disregard of international law and advocated direct actions such as an immediate ceasefire. Amnesty International called on governments to stop arms shipments. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which usually does not publicly comment on conflicts, accused Israel of failing “to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded” from combat zones and prepared to press charges of war crimes. There is a great deal of information versus disinformation, and critical analysis versus propaganda about Gaza and Israel. In this brief article, I will only touch on a few points and recommend several sources.
Of great concern is the impotence of the international community in face of decades of Israeli impunity. Again, this last January, the UN failed to act, blocked always by the U.S. and now by Canada. Canada cast the sole veto of the UN Human Rights Council’s call for a ceasefire.
There is the failure of international law to pursue investigations, charges, and sanctions. Israel used the same non-conventional weapons in 2006 as in 2009 but nothing was done. Israel has long violated Geneva Conventions through:
the bombing of civilians, including women and children, in violation of Art. 147 and Art. 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (“the Convention”), and in violation of the law of nations.
wanton destruction of property and infrastructure, in violation of Art. 147 of the Convention, including extensive destruction to infrastructure.
the imposition of a siege over 1.5 million people in the Strip leading to starvation, malnutrition, and a shortage of medicines and medical supplies, in violation of Art. 33 and Art. 147 of the Convention.
Willfully causing great suffering and serious injury to body or health, in violation of the Art. 147 of the Convention.
Despite Israel’s attempts to block information about this entire situation, there are a number of reliable and extensive reports from the major human rights NGOs, from the UN, and from journalists.
Articles clarifying the nature of state terrorism have wider applicability to Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. Henry Siegman, former director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America, wrote an article “Israel’s Lies” (London Review of Books 29 January 2009). He details how “Middle East peacemaking has been smothered in deceptive euphemisms” from the beginnings of the State of Israel. I also recommend reading many statements by Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. He is Jewish and is Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University. Israel barred him from entering Gaza just prior to the recent invasion, and actually held him in detention. He writes eloquently about daily life under siege, the historical context, and about the violations of international law.
There is also the incomparable and courageous Gideon Levy who writes for Ha’aretz. He is the ethicist and psychologist of this particular nadir of civilization. Amira Hass, also of Ha’aretz, also writes of the descent into utter deprivation on the Palestinian side, and the descent into brutality and lawlessness in Israel.
It is also essential now to look at the Canadian side. The leaders of both major parties unequivocally support Israel (and on another note they both unequivocally support exploitation of the tar sands!). Canada has a free trade agreement with Israel and Stockwell Day signed a security pact agreement with Israel. Richard Sanders of Coalition Against the Arms Trade has just compiled a list of Canadian military exports to Israel. Also, as I mentioned before, there is much pressure within universities and the media to silence discussion about Israel. Lastly, Canada has been silent about Israel’s nuclear weapons.
There is a substantial library of excellent works on this situation. Of importance to Canadians concerned about world peace is Jonathan Cook’s new book, Israel and the Clash of Civilizations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (2008, Pluto Press). For the particulars of Canada’s collusion with illegal settlement policies in the occupied territories, see Yves Engler’s Canada becomes Israel (The Electronic Intifada, 12 February 2009).