2006/12/10

DIRTY PLAY IN GAZA

David Barrett and Merav Pinchasoff

The Gaza Strip, although no longer officially occupied, has continued to be subject to attacks by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) as Israel intensified its military campaign in Gaza following the capture of Corporal Shalit on 25 June. The Strip has been cut off from the outside world for long periods of time and, deprived of aid and funds, has descended into civil turmoil. Since the end of June 2oo6, more than 3oo Palestinians have been killed in Israeli army operations in Gaza and the West Bank, according to Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.

Last month, a team of investigative journalists at the Italian television group RAI reported that Israel had been using a new weapon in the Gaza Strip, similar to Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME). The American version is still in the testing stage and had not been used on the battlefield at that time. It is likely that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) has acquired these weapons, or at least the technology, from the US where DIME is said to be “uniquely suited for Low Collateral Damage.” This means that it results in extreme but concentrated injuries (usually resulting in amputation below the waist).

It is described as having a smaller ‘kill zone’ - 12-25 feet - but the weapon's lethality within that zone has been amplified by new carbon/tungsten micro-shrapnel. It is more precise (just), but kills "better" or more intensively, and seems to leave only tell-tale pock marks and barely perceptible entrance wounds while wreaking havoc with the body's internal organs. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, the weapon was launched from drones in the summer of 2oo6, mostly in July, and led to "abnormally serious" physical injuries. Its use was first noticed by physicians in the Gaza Strip who noted that the pattern of wounds they were treating was unusual, with severed legs that showed signs of severe heat at the point of amputation but no metal shrapnel. The documentary was aired on Italian television last month. The IDF has not commented on the reports except to repeat that "Israel uses no weapons that are not legal under international law" which of course does not exclude DIME-type weapons as international law has not had an opportunity to make a judgment on the newly developed weapon’s legality.

In a separate incident that nonetheless prompted the same response from the IDF spokesperson, Israel has admitted to the use of phosphorus weapons in Lebanon. Again, this was first suspected by doctors treating the unusual chemical burns in Southern Lebanon where Lebanese civilians carried injuries characteristic of attacks with phosphorus, a substance that burns when it comes to contact with air. Elsewhere, corpses were found entirely shrivelled with black-green skin - a phenomenon characteristic of phosphorus injuries. Some believe that phosphorus munitions should be termed Chemical Weapon (CW) because of the way the weapons burn and attack the respiratory system. As a CW, phosphorus would become a clearly illegal weapon. But it is not currently defined as such under international law, despite the outcry following the same Italian investigative journalists’ revelation of its use by American troops in Falluja, Iraq, in 2oo4.

Sadly, given the continued transgression and erosion of the basic human rights of Palestinians within Israel and the occupied territories, these new abuses of power and military prowess over its neighbours and the particularly brutal slaughter of Arab civilians is hardly surprising. It seems that there is no limit to the disregard and wilful malfeasance Israel is prepared to perpetrate on its hated and feared neighbours. To make matters worse, this attitude shows little sign of being reformed as the extreme right-winger Avigdor Lieberman joins the coalition in a final attempt to salvage the Knesset from dissolution. He becomes Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Strategic Threats - primarily those presented by Iran's nuclear ambition, begging the question of what precedents Israel’s recent ‘not illegal’ actions may have provided. Lieberman’s appointment prompted the resignation of Ophir Pines-Paz, Minister of Culture and Sport. Lieberman, himself a West Bank settler has advocated the expulsion of Arabs from the land the Israeli state has and continues to expropriate in contravention of several United Nations (UN) resolutions and international law, which has contributed to his labelling as a fascist in the Israeli media.

As has so often been the case in Israel’s history, there appears to be little ground for anything other than utter despair, which the Palestinians have miraculously resisted over the years in an outstanding display of determination and perseverance. However, their impotence has only highlighted the need for international pressure if any progress is to be made. Israel depends heavily on the US but also on the support of international Jewry who have so far failed to question the worthiness of the Zionist entity, which is fast becoming virtually indistinguishable from an apartheid regime.

Like all truly revolutionary movements, the impetus must first come from within. At the forefront is the emergence of the New Historians’ revisionist account of the origins and causes of the continuing intensification of the Israel-Palestine conflict, which has taken far too long to gain the credibility and prevalence it warrants, and still has some way to go, ironically meeting the greatest resistance from diaspora Jewry, who seem unable to relinquish their perception of the Israeli state as morally superior and having a greater right to be the colonisers of ‘the land without a people’ as their traditional narrative goes. But, thankfully, Israel’s younger generation are less prepared to stand by and watch their leaders perpetrate the crimes and oppression of minorities that Israel was created to save them from, and peace and refusnik movements are emerging with ever stronger and more united voices.

Every Friday since February 2oo5, Palestinians, Israelis and internationals have converged on the West Bank village of Bil‘in to demonstrate against the barrier that Israel is building there, as part of the chain of walls and fences (the Wall) that the Israeli government hopes will be Israel’s unilaterally declared eastern border. This self-styled popular movement which defines itself as non-violent, is among the most effective and sustained protests of any in the occupied territories and Bil‘in has become a symbol of the civil resistance. Unfortunately the reaction of the IDF has not been as peaceful, and tear gas and other weapons including force and firearms have been used to disband these peaceful protests. Settler movements, who have been accused by human rights observers of attacking their poverty stricken Palestinian neighbours, have also provoked clashes. The settlements have long been known to foster racism and support for the oppression of the Palestinians.

These activists in Israel are a rare source of hope for onlookers in the international community. But their task is far from easy. Mandatory conscription for both men and women from the age of seventeen and the climate of fear, together with the aggressively defensive mind-set enforced by the media, makes dissent within Israeli society an understandably difficult choice. Nonetheless, some sections of society and brave individuals have been able to see beyond the bunkers and checkpoints. Some of the more outspoken critics of Israeli policy and action, many of whom are academics, are advocating boycotts as a means of applying economic pressure – broadly seen as the only remaining tool which may be more effective than ‘condemnation’ and ‘outrage’ from the international community. Among these are Ilan Pappe, the Israeli historian who recently spoke at the Liberal Book Fair in Leith organised by Word Power Books, and Jonathan Rosenhead of the London School of Economics, who addressed a conference in Canada last month on the lessons learnt from the motion proposed last year by the Association of University Teachers (AUT) in favour of an academic boycott of Israeli Universities. There is said to be growing support amongst British trade unionists for a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign to be launched against Israel in a bid to halt the increasingly apartheid-like and expansionist regime. Popular support movements around the world were able to isolate the comparable South African regime.

One such motion was put forward at the Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA) Annual General Meeting on 8 November, to force EUSA to break off its contract with Eden Springs on ethical grounds. Eden Springs is an Israeli water company based in the still illegally-occupied Golan Heights, which has recently joined with Danone Group to launch a range of products in Europe. This move once again places Edinburgh at the forefront of the ethical trading debate and will be a reminder to Edinburgh’s students of the commitment they affirmed last year to Palestinian students and welfare.

The debate over ethical claims and human rights issues in Israel/Palestine is ongoing and will be central to any resolution of the conflict. If you would like to contribute or comment on any events or reports regarding Israel and Palestine please write to us at emer_israel.palestine@yahoo.co.uk.

DAVID BARRETT is President of the Edinburgh University Middle East Society and has worked for Al Jazeera in Qatar.
MERAV PINCHASOFF is a member of the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

2 Comments:

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13 December, 2006 04:45  
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13 December, 2006 05:06  

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