Israel’s War Against Palestine: Documenting the Military Occupation of Palestinian and Arab Lands


I ACCEPTED with hesitation my United Nations mandate to investigate alleged violations of the laws of war and international human rights during Israel’s three-week war in Gaza last winter. The issue is deeply charged and politically loaded. I accepted because the mandate of the mission was to look at all parties: Israel; Hamas, which controls Gaza; and other armed Palestinian groups. I accepted because my fellow commissioners are professionals committed to an objective, fact-based investigation. But above all, I accepted because I believe deeply in the rule of law and the laws of war, and the principle that in armed conflict civilians should to the greatest extent possible be protected from harm.

[W]hether we like it or not, Hamas is the legitimate representative of at least half of the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. To deny this is to eliminate any chance of peace. You cannot make peace with half a people, and a viable peace must include the extremists.

There’s a name on every bullet, and there’s someone responsible for every crime. The Teflon cloak Israel has wrapped around itself since Operation Cast Lead has been ripped off, once and for all, and now the difficult questions must be faced. It has become superfluous to ask whether war crimes were committed in Gaza, because authoritative and clear-cut answers have already been given. So the follow-up question has to be addressed: Who’s to blame? If war crimes were committed in Gaza, it follows that there are war criminals at large among us. They must be held accountable and punished. This is the harsh conclusion to be drawn from the detailed United Nations report.

IOA Editor: The time to “avert disgrace” was a year ago, before launching the Gaza attack. The Hague is the proper place for states that behave criminally – deservedly, to use Levy’s own language.

There is only thing worse than denial – the admission that the IDF indeed acted as has been described, but that these actions are both normal and appropriate.

The main limitation of the report is it’s all cast in the language of violations of the laws of war. And the fundamental fact about what happened in Gaza is it wasn’t a war. There was no war in Gaza. That’s the main misunderstanding about what happened there.

Jonathan Cook: Israeli peace activists are planning to ratchet up their campaign against groups in the United States that raise money for settlers by highlighting how tax exemptions are helping to fund the expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank. Gush Shalom, a small peace group that advocates Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories, is preparing to send details to the US tax authorities questioning the charitable status of several organisations.

[I]t’s important for me to tell you, my worldview-sharing [Israeli] compatriots, that many settlements have already almost swallowed up all the agricultural lands from villages in their vicinity. No construction freeze will return them to their owners, most of whom have become day laborers, working or unemployed without any kind of social benefits. They and their wives and children don’t go to the expensive shopping malls in Ramallah.

Occupation is not on the Israeli agenda. Not a single Jewish MK in today’s Knesset ran on a ticket calling for an end to the occupation. The media, too, is doing everything it can to blur and suppress this issue. While everyone is busy blurring and deceiving, it’s time to use the one tool Israel has never employed: a referendum – Israel’s first – for or against continuing the occupation, whatever either choice entails.

IOA Editor: Be careful what you wish for?

[A]ny plan, proposal or initiative for peace in Israel-Palestine must be filtered through the following set of critical questions: Will this plan really end the occupation, or is it merely a subtle cover for control? Does this plan offer a just and sustainable peace or merely an imposed and false quiet? Does this plan offer a Palestinian state that is territorially, politically and economically viable, or merely a prison-state? Does this plan genuinely and justly address the refugee issue? And does this plan offer regional security and development?

Jonathan Cook: [T]housands of workers from Gaza had their contracts in Israel terminated without notice by employers in spring 2004, shortly after the government of Ariel Sharon announced it would be “disengaging” from the enclave in summer 2005… “Overnight more than 20,000 workers had their work permits withdrawn and lost their livelihoods,” she said. “They had been paying into the social security system, some of them for decades, but have been denied their legal entitlements, such as severance pay, overtime and holiday allowance.”

The question is not why Norway divested from the defense electronics giant Elbit Systems, but why only now, and why only from that company? [There are] over 40 Israeli and international companies that are involved in solidifying Israel’s occupation, and in which Norway invests, according to data from the “Who Profits” project, run by the Coalition of Women for Peace.

Two cases brought before Israeli courts last week revealed the attitude of the establishment towards Palestinian Arab citizens of the state. One shows how Palestinian citizens are treated as victims of police brutality, and the second shows how they are regularly victimised because of their opposition to injustice.

Of all of the crises that afflict us, the growing democratic deficit may be the most severe. Unless it is reversed, [Arundhati] Roy’s forecast may prove accurate. The conversion of democracy to a performance with the public as mere spectators-hardly a distant possibility-might have truly dire consequences.

We found a growing sense of concern and despair among those who observe, as we did, that settlement expansion is continuing apace, rapidly encroaching into Palestinian villages, hilltops, grazing lands, farming areas and olive groves. There are more than 200 of these settlements in the West Bank.

Q: Some Israelis criticize you for writing the same kinds of stories about abuses over and over again.

A: That’s right. They don’t ask why the abuses continue to happen, they ask why I continue to write about them.

Ben Gurion University students’ democracy lesson following the Neve Gordon Los Angeles Times article and reactions: “we are taught history, but we are forbidden to learn from it. In gender studies, we are taught to identify violent discourse, but we are expected to go on speaking the routine and familiar militaristic language. We are taught to be social workers, but not to identify with exploited cleaning workers. Learning is allowed, but not drawing practical conclusions – especially not in a newspaper, in English, with a large circulation.”

From the most senior military judge down to the lowest private at a checkpoint, hundreds of thousands of perfectly normal Israelis who are not violent at home are partners in the mission of administering, demarcating, restricting and taming the other society while cumulatively damaging its rights, welfare and well-being. This is the norm that is not taken into account here in the statistics on violence and the violent.

If there is any truth in the reports that came out of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Europe – that the United States agreed Israel can go on building in East Jerusalem – the headlines should have read “Obama has pulled out of the Middle East peace process.”

About 7,700 Palestinians are imprisoned in Israel, including about 450 without the benefit of a trial. Most of them are not murderers, although they are all automatically labeled as such here. The demonstrators at Megiddo would do well to realize this. Some of the prisoners are political detainees in the full sense of the word, from members of the Palestinian parliament imprisoned without trial, which is a scandal in and of itself, to those behind bars because of their “affiliation.” Innocent people are among them as well as political activists and nonviolent protesters.

IOA Editor: In this Israeli-centric commentary, Levy calls attention to the status of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Palestinians have finally started to act in a different way. Instead of cursing the occupation, the new strategy is aimed at building up the desired Palestinian state. The idea is to force the Israelis to the negotiating table rather than beg them to come. The way to do that is to work for a state as if there were negotiations. This idea has been brilliantly developed by the Palestinian prime minister.

So let us admit the truth: The occupier deserves to be boycotted. As long as the Israelis pay no price for the occupation, the occupation will not end, and therefore the only way open to the opponents of the occupation is to take concrete means that will make the Israelis understand that the injustice they are perpetrating comes with a price tag.

[Dr. Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University] believes, and so do I, that only when the Israeli society’s well-heeled strata pay a real price for the continuous occupation, will they finally take genuine steps to put an end to it… The vast majority retains its freedom to be indifferent, up to the moment that someone begs the international community for rescue. Then the voices rise from right and left, the indifference disappears, and violence replaces it: Boycott Israeli universities? This strikes at the holy of holies, academic freedom!

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman should have sent a big bouquet to Donald Bostrom, the Swedish photographer and journalist who wrote the article claiming that the Israel Defense Forces harvested organs from dead Palestinians… It has been a long time since such a propaganda asset has fallen into the hands of the friends of the occupation. It has been a long time since such damage has been caused to people seriously attempting to document its horrors.

“There is so much paranoia from the government, the municipality and the courts about Muslims using this mosque again,” said Nuri al-Uqbi, a 67-year-old Bedouin activist in Beersheva. “It was built with money raised from the local Bedouin and we should have the right to pray in it.”

Rather than demand an apology, the Israeli peace camp needs to send Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon a large bouquet of flowers… His statements are straight-from-the-source, first-hand proof of the decisive role the senior military echelon has played in thwarting the peace process.

IOA Editor: True, and very important to recognize. However, what Eldar calls the lack of courage to deal with settlers and fear of “presenting a map which demarcates the state’s permanent borders,” reflect, first and foremost, a lack of commitment to such demarcation.

Historically, right-wing (“Revisionist”) Zionism has viewed Israel’s eastern borders as located somewhere between the Jordan River (“less extreme”) and deep inside Jordan (“more extreme”). So-called “moderate” Labor Zionism, on the other hand, has viewed Israel’s borders with infinite flexibility: initially influenced by the availability of contiguous land and by low Palestinian population density, and ultimately driven by opportunities. For example, the Jordan Valley was first to be included in the future Greater Israel by Labor policy makers, and subsequently settled by Labor-led governments. Future settlements, increasingly deeper in the heartland of the West-Bank, were built as opportunities (often domestic politics) presented themselves – following the old pre-State adage “dunam here and dunam there” (dunam is unit of area approximately equal to 1/4 acre).

The name of this Israeli ethos is “who are you to tell us?” We are destroying Arab East Jerusalem? Who are you to tell us that it is wrong? We killed masses of Palestinians in Gaza? Who are you to tell us anything? We have maintained a brutal dictatorship in the territories for 42 years – longer than any other military occupation of the post-World War II era? Who are you to tell us? We’re allowed. We’re your victims. The past belongs to us. We will do as we please with it.

The blatant attack that Ya’alon has been waging ever since he slammed the door by leaving the Israel Defense Forces has shown acute anti-democratic symptoms. Ya’alon has lashed out at the High Court of Justice in particular and the justice system in general, while expressing scandalous support for illegal settlements, making irresponsible accusations against his colleagues and superiors and stating views that are considered illegitimate even in the right wing.

IOA Editor: We continue focusing on Ya’alon because he is a central figure of Israel’s government and, as described by Haaretz, in many ways he is the government.

[Joe] Stork wrote to Haaretz that rather than deal with the content of the report, Yemini chose to “shoot the messenger… The quotes he attributes to me are more than 30 years old. Most of them I do not recognize, and they are contrary to the views I have been expounding for decades now.” Stork wrote. “I have dedicated much of my adult life to the protection of human rights for all and to fighting the idea that civilians can be attacked for political reasons.”

IOA Editor: Israel Harel is a right-wing Israeli commentator, as is Ben Dror Yemini. Joe Stork is the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division. This attack on HRW and its dedicated staff reflects the opinions of many Israelis who reject any outside criticism of IDF behavior and Israeli actions in the occupied territories.

See IOA coverage of the HRW report.

I am convinced that outside pressure is the only answer. Over the last three decades, Jewish settlers in the occupied territories have dramatically increased their numbers. The myth of the united Jerusalem has led to the creation of an apartheid city where Palestinians aren’t citizens and lack basic services. The Israeli peace camp has gradually dwindled so that today it is almost nonexistent, and Israeli politics are moving more and more to the extreme right.

The decision by Fatah’s Sixth Congress that the movement is sticking to negotiations as a means of achieving independence, statehood and peace is an admission that the use of arms during the second intifada was disastrous. That is a difficult admission for a movement founded on the sanctification of the armed struggle. And despite being tacit, it is a brave admission for Fatah at a time when most Palestinians are convinced that Israel does not want peace.

During the entire period of our rule in the territories, we have destroyed the existing leadership, which led to the rise of more extreme leaders. We destroyed the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat, who had agreed to a two-state solution and was capable of “delivering the goods.” And we brought about Hamas’ seizure of the Gaza Strip. Now we are cultivating the third stage: Al-Qaida.

IOA Editor: This Israeli-centric commentary is rare in its honesty as to who is responsible for where the dialog between Israel and the Palestinians is. For Israel, the more extreme and violent the enemy, the easier it is to ‘prove’ the claim that “there is no one to talk to…” Whether this is brought about via an assassination campaign directed at Palestinian moderates (1980s), the derailing of the meaningful negotiations in Madrid by the introduction of Oslo, the settlement program, the violent crushing of the Intifada and the destruction of Palestinian national infrastructure, or the strangulation of and attack on Gaza – it all serves the same purpose: to crush Palestinian nationhood.

Ezra Nawi’s Appeal

18 August 2009

UPDATED 18 Aug 2009: Ezra Nawi’s sentencing hearing took place on August 16, 2009, and Jewish Voice for Peace was there with over 20,000 of your signatures. The judge will render her sentence on September 21st, 2009.

“I always knew that many people silently supported me, and that if I ever got into trouble they would stand behind me. This moment has come.”

Join Naomi Klein, Neve Gordon, Noam Chomsky and thousands of others and tell Israel not to jail Ezra Nawi, one of Israel’s most courageous human rights activists. His crime? He tried to stop a military bulldozer from destroying the homes of Palestinian Bedouins in the South Hebron region.

Thus the excuses are running out one after another and the naked truth is being revealed: Netanyahu’s promise – “if they give they’ll get, if they don’t give they won’t get” – was based on the assumption that we would continue to be on the receiving end of Palestinian terror, which would release us from the need to allow them to establish an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital. If even U.S. President Barack Obama does not ensure that they get what they deserve, we will all get what we deserve.

He came into office amid much hoopla. The Cairo speech ignited half the globe. Making settlements the top priority gave rise to the hope that, finally, a statesman is sitting in the White House who understands that the root of all evil is the occupation, and that the root of the occupation’s evil is the settlements. From Cairo, it seemed possible to take off. The sky was the limit. Then the administration fell into the trap set by Israel and is showing no signs of recovery.

Fatah has changed over the years. It started as a resistance movement of well-intended members, mostly students and young professionals in the 1950’s and 60’s. The young leadership was motivated by various factors, chief amongst them were the plight of the refugees, the lack of a truly independent Palestinian leadership and the failure of Arab governments to deliver on their promises to liberate Palestine. Resistance was in fact the core of Fatah’s liberation program.

The doctors of the Israel Medical Association have now been enlisted into the ranks of mouth-shutting patriots. The IMA announced this week that it is severing ties with Physicians for Human Rights. The announcement was preceded by a letter from the IMA chairman, Dr. Yoram Blachar, who also serves as president of the World Medical Association. In it, he states that “the outrageous situation is that PHR’s activity serves as fertile ground for anti-Semitism, anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism.”