The ICC has now been called on to include the Gaza strikes in its war crimes investigation

Palestinians inspect their destroyed houses following overnight Israeli air strikes in town of Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, in May 2021

The air strikes which destroyed four high-rise buildings in Gaza in May violated international law and could amount to Israeli war crimes, Human Rights Watch (HRW) revealed today.

Between May 11 and 15, Israeli forces attacked the Hanadi, al-Jawhara, al-Shorouk and al-Jalaa towers in the densely populated al-Rimal neighbourhood of Gaza City.

Israel said that the buildings were used by Hamas for military purposes, and in all cases, it ordered occupants to evacuate before the structures were destroyed in what it says was a step to avoid civilian casualties.

The Human Rights Watch report stated that the Israeli authorities provided no evidence to support their allegations that members of Palestinian groups involved in military operations had a current or long-term presence in any of the towers at the time they were attacked.

HRW added that even if there were such a presence, the attacks appeared to cause foreseeably disproportionate harm to civilian property, which is in breach of international humanitarian law.

Among the targets was the 12-story al-Jalaa building, which housed the local offices of America’s Associated Press. AP has called on Israel to make public the evidence it used to justify the demolition of the al-Jalaa building. Israel has said Hamas terrorists were using the building for a sophisticated effort aimed at disrupting Israel’s Iron Dome rocket-defense system, but refused to share its intelligence, saying it did not want to reveal its sources of information.

The economy in Gaza has already been devasted by the 14-year Israeli closure of Gaza and the Egyptian border with restrictions on the entry of goods broadly deemed to be “dual-use” including to construction materials and certain medical equipment.

Between May and August, Human Rights Watch interviewed 18 Palestinians who were witnesses and victims of the attacks on the towers, including residents, business owners, employees and those in affected neighbouring structures. It said it also reviewed video footage and photos after the attacks, as well as statements by Israeli and Palestinian officials and terror groups.

It found that further long-term economic damage has been done by the latest attacks, extending beyond the immediate destruction of the buildings. Many jobs were lost with the closure of their companies and many families were displaced. The attacks caused serious, lasting harm for countless Palestinians who lived, worked, shopped, or benefited from businesses based there. These included;

  • 10 ground-floor stores that sold accessories, clothing, and embroidery.
  • Magic Pizza, which employed about a dozen people:
  • several offices
  • the Elaine Center women’s clothing shop.
  • a new photography studio, Studio Wateen Photographer, which had been set due to open.

HRW has called on the International Criminal Court to include the recent Gaza war in its ongoing investigation into possible war crimes by Israel and Palestinian terror groups. Israel does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction and says it is capable of investigating any possible wrongdoing by its army. It says the ICC probe is unfair and politically motivated.

 

 

 

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Some don the cloak of religion to justify the use of violence   

The writer has, from time to time, heard people say angrily and emphatically that religion is the cause of wars. Her unconvincing response that it is merely used as a pretext carries no weight.

Paul Wilkinson has come to her aid by reviewing a book by Canon Robin Gill, Emeritus Professor of Applied Theology at the University of Kent, Killing in the Name of God (2018).

Robin Gill explores religiously inspired violence drawing on research into public attitudes on the topic in his book. He goes to the heart of the issue – the specific religious texts that are hijacked to legitimise violence – and argues that read rightly they can be ‘defused’.

In its foreword, Nick Spencer (Theos) says: “It is about the people — some of them extremely nasty — who claim to follow a religion and use it for violent ends; and the economic, political, and nationalist causes with which it is often inextricably linked”.

Paul Wilkinson reviewed the book and gave some information about the range of answers which came from the 2042 British adults interviewed by ComRes:

  • Only 8% think religions are inherently violent,
  • 47% think that the world would be a more peaceful place if no one was religious,
  • 61% of people think that the teachings of religions are essentially peaceful,
  • 67% (‘nearly two-thirds’) think that most religious violence is really about other things, such as politics, socio-economic issues, or Western foreign policy,
  • 70% think that most of the wars in world history have been caused by religions and
  • 81% agreed that religious extremists, not religions themselves, are violent.

ComRes’ full data tables may be seen here.

Robin Gill says the polling about ‘religion and violence’ is complex and unclear in part because people recognise that ‘religion and violence’ is invariably about ‘religion and violence and. . .’ when the ‘and’ is followed by issues of loyalty, ethics, ethnicity, politics, textual interpretation, geography, economics, or any other number of factors.”

In a commentary published with the survey, he points out that any rise in violence ascribed to religion “pales into insignificance” when compared with the numbers killed in state, civil, and ethnic wars over recent decades, and that some of the most brutal and homicidal political leaders in the 20th century were avowedly anti-religious.

The heart of the issue — the religious texts hijacked to legitimise violence

Noting that the holy scriptures of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and other faiths have texts that appear to justify violence, Canon Gill (left) argues that “by reading these texts in context, a more peaceful (consistent with the rest of the scriptures) and representative message is discernible.

“Jews and Christians have long contextualised some of the more violent verses in Deuteronomy and the Gospels. Some Muslim scholars are also now attempting to do something similar, especially with the ninth chapter of the Qur’an, which appears especially to motivate some Islamist extremists to act violently.”

As violence rocked Israel and Palestine in May, Muslim and Christian Palestinians stood together in solidarity.

Archbishop Theodosios of Sebastia speaks during a solidarity visit to Sheikh Jarrah. 

Robin Gill calls for a “new ecumenism”, based on mutual understanding rather than doctrinal agreement, between leaders of the three Abrahamic faiths. “While some theologians have already begun this task, at a local level, rabbis, imams, and priests/ministers have also increasingly witnessed together against acts of religiously inspired violence”.

 

 

 

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Learn the lessons of Afghanistan

2020: in Afghanistan’s Takhar Province air strike hits mosque where Afghan fighters were thought to be hiding, 12 children killed

This week the fall of Kabul has thrown into relief the disastrous consequences of the “war on terror.” As Ben Chacko (below left) concludes: “It vindicates the peace movement’s contention that armed intervention is not capable of delivering the outcomes claimed for it”.  He writes:

“The failure of ‘humanitarian intervention’ to spread anything but chaos and bloodshed, demonstrated already in the catastrophes of Iraq and Libya, is clearer than ever in the ruins of the 20-year occupation of Afghanistan”.

After observing that the total collapse of the Afghan government within a few weeks of US withdrawal makes it clear that the ousted regime rested on nothing but Western military might, he adds: “The catastrophe in Kabul passes a damning verdict on the foreign policy consensus of the last two decades.”

Citing the bombed weddings to the blood money and the evidence of war crimes like the murder of an unarmed Afghan farmer by an Australian SAS trooper, captured on video released last November, for once he understates: “The occupying powers had no moral superiority”.

The writer is not hardy enough to watch the video showing the Australian SAS soldier shooting and killing unarmed man at close range in Afghanistan last year– Australia’s ABC News

Ben continues: “US President Joe Biden now admits that democracy and nation-building was never the reason for the war . . . and the emptiness of the war propaganda spouted by MPs, newspaper columnists and TV anchors every time a new conflict is in the offing has been exposed”.

Channel 4 News selected Jeremy Corbyn (opposite, speaking at latest rally) to appear with Defence Select Committee chair Tobias Ellwood and the interviews – a series of questions posed by Matt Frei – may be seen, heard and read by following the link. Corbyn’s conclusion:

Britain must reassess the role of our foreign policy and aim to supprt human rights without occupation and invasion.

At present, Ben notes, Labour is trying to rehabilitate Blair and military interventionism, while vying with the Tories in ratcheting up the new cold war against China. He believes that the independent foreign policy that Corbyn sketched out in 2017 – in which we do not follow Washington to war but promote peace and co-operation – looks more pressing than ever. He ends: “Nobody who supports sending warships to the Chinese coasts or playing chicken with Russia in the Black Sea has learned the lessons of Afghanistan.

“The political space, opened up by the Corbyn leadership in which Labour made the case for peace, must be held and extended”.

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Comment: Diana Schumacher

I totally agree. Historically no-one has ever really won a war against Afghanistan, although 9/11 provided such horror that it engendered the feeling that” something must be done, and be seen to be done”.

The Afghans are a very proud tribal people and it is quite clear that bombs are not going to solve the problem of the terrorist factions.

I agree with Corbyn in that we should decouple our foreign policy from that of the U.S., but it is somewhat difficult when we have their bases and missiles stationed here.

Unfortunately the U.K has not yet accepted that it is no longer a great colonial power responsible for policing the world. Part of this is, of course, the job of the U.N. which is ,alas, no longer NOT United.]

Stop Press:

Just received: the analysis made by MAW President Prof Paul Rogers of this and the other failed wars pursued by the US and its allies since 2001 in his Guardian article here.

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Arms trading countries drive migration and disavow the consequences

A local lifeboat at Dungeness in Kent brings in a group of refugees picked-up in the Channel

On the 70th anniversary of the UN’s Refugee Convention, the Transnational Institute (TNI) has published Smoking Guns – a forensic analysis  of open-source intelligence on the link between arms sales and displacement, turning a general argument into one about specific weapons.

From the Caucasus to Central Africa, they illustrate the journey made by weapons and military equipment from the assembly line in Europe to the homes that they destroy and the people they displace.

Europe is creating refugees through its arms trade

Nathan Akehurst gives two examples: “In January 2018, T-129s were deployed into the region around Afrin in north-east Syria. Local sources noted the shelling of a poultry farm which hosted people who had fled fighting elsewhere, reportedly killing two adults and five children. Within days, sources were reporting thousands on the move, soon rising to nearly 100,000 according to the UN agency OCHA.

“In a second operation in October 2019 involving heavy air power including the 129s, around 70,000 people were displaced”.

He points out that the government has broken its own rules to allow British businesses to service and fuel Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen which has claimed a quarter of a million lives and displaced millions more. An expanded role for the industry is seen in Britain’s ambitious Defence Review.

The Transnational Institute (TNI) was founded in 1974 in Amsterdam, Netherlands, as the international programme of the Washington DC-based Institute for Policy Studies. It summarises its report:

It is possible to methodically trace arms, military equipment and technology, from the point of origin and export to where these were eventually used, and document their devastating impact on the local population. The report confirms beyond any reasonable doubt that European arms are directly used not to defend populations or to enhance local or regional security as is often claimed, but to destabilise entire countries and regions.

Detailed information is given about European arms used in military operations that led to destabilisation and resulting forced displacement and migration.

By the end of 2020, 82.4 million people worldwide had been forcibly displaced from their homes, 48 million relocating internally and 34.4 million fleeing their countries of origin, often to neighbouring countries, to seek asylum, protection and a dignified life. Case studies are given.

The reports concludes that ever-increasing number of forcibly displaced persons is directly linked to the expanding arms trade which is also winning contracts to militarise borders in order to contain migrants and keep them out. Profits are made first through the sale of arms that are instrumental in causing it and secondly, in militarising migrant routes and borders.

If the EU and its member states genuinely want to address what they perceive as a “migration crisis”, they must

  • curb arms exports,
  • improve accountability mechanisms,
  • and end the unbridled lobbying efforts of arms companies in the corridors of power in Brussels and other European capitals.

Europe must stop placing economic interests above human need, reassess its understanding of migration and recognise that European arms provoke forced displacement and migration.

Does the Transnational Institute (TNI) – an international programme of the Washington DC-based Institute for Policy Studies – intend to publish a parallel report showing the displacement caused by America’s extensive arms trading?

 

 

 

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Britain should end foreign military adventures forthwith and address its social, economic and environmental challenges

Many voices are urging governments to stop spending billions of dollars on weapons and protect citizens from the real threats they face.

One of these voices, Professor Denise Garcia, wrote in the journal Nature last year: “Despite threats to human existence from climate change, biodiversity loss and a pandemic that’s devastating economies and paralysing societies, countries still spend recklessly on destructive weapons . . . “

The UK supports US airstrikes in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. The Saudi-led coalition appears to be responsible for 67% of reported civilian casualties in the war in Yemen. Since the conflict began, 1,372 children have been killed and 916 injured by airstrikes there.

Between 2015 and 2020, at least 3,153 children have died in Yemen and 5,660 children have been injured, according to a report by UNICEF.

Instead of these assisting in these massacres, Britain should be addressing the real threats to human existence.

 

See Professor Garcia on redirecting military budgets to tackle climate change and pandemics

 

 

 

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Saudis move to improve relations with Syria and Iran: Israel & Palestine next?

Journalist, politics and history lecturer, Matthew Ayton (right), previously based in the occupied Palestinian territories and now in Beirut, reports that Saudi Arabia is close to reaching an agreement on diplomatic normalisation with President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

He points out that recent interventions by Russia and Iran have coincided with a perception that the new Biden administration wants to leave the Middle East. The Saudi-Syrian dialogue follows other meetings:

  • a recent Russian-facilitated meeting was held between representatives of the Israeli and Syrian governments, at which Iran’s military presence was discussed,
  • talks with Saudi Arabia were held in April in an effort to reduce tensions between the two countries and across the region – confirmed by Iran’s foreign ministry
  • and Syria dispatched its first ministerial delegation in 10 years to Riyadh, led by the Minister of Tourism Rami Martini.

According to an official, speaking off the record, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman instructed his team to reassure Syria that he does not want regime change against Bashar, and that Syria, as a brotherly Arab nation, should naturally be close to Saudi Arabia”.

The Saudis and UAE [United Arab Emirates] want Assad to pressure the Iranians to reduce their build-up of strategic military assets such as the missile storage and production bases.

Citizens all over the world held rallies in May (see video) to support Palestinians amidst the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence since the 2014 war in Gaza.

Protest banners were laid on the road near Downing Street on June 12, 2021 two days before Parliament is to debate a petition to introduce sanctions against Israel, which received more than 380,000 signatures, above the 100,000 threshold required.

At the end of May Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation members reject and condemn continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and the building of settlements, demolishing of Palestinian properties, evacuating and forcefully displacing Palestinians from their homes.

Will they discuss the future with the new Israeli government?

 

 

 

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Will the US be Israel’s cheerleader – sowing the seeds of further violence – or the prime mover in an equitable peace process?

As President elect, Joe Biden promised to place “constant pressure” on Israel to resolve its conflicts (US Council for Foreign Relations’ website).

  • He urged Israel to stop settlement activity in the occupied territories,
  • to provide more aid to Gaza
  • and stated that he does not support Israeli government plans to annex the West Bank

The Financial Times editorial board sees the prospect of Palestinians no longer living under occupation, of Gaza is no longer being akin to an open-air prison and of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship no longer facing discrimination – ending the decades-long cycle of uneasy calm followed by bloodshed.

They emphasise that the actions of militant Palestinians do not excuse the US turning a blind eye to Israel’s creeping colonisation of occupied territories and abuse of Palestinians’ rights.

The board points out that – as Israel’s main ally – the US has a moral obligation to hold the Jewish state to account and use its leverage to end maltreatment of Palestinians, including:

  • evictions,
  • settlement expansion
  • the harassment occupied Palestinians endure from Israeli security forces
  • and from Jewish settlers.

This would lay the foundations on which an equitable peace process could be conducted, eventually achieving a just settlement.

The FT editorial stresses that failure to lay these foundations serves the interests of groups such as Hamas, that capitalise on Israel’s abuses to bolster their support and justify their militancy, while muting moderate voices.

The decision by the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas to cancel what would have been the first Palestinian election in 16 years was motivated by self-preservation. Washington should press for elections to give Palestinians the chance to elect a more representative leadership and present a credible negotiating partner to engage with Washington and others.

The editorial ends: “Biden, who has described himself as a Zionist, must stay engaged with the crisis. To do nothing would be to sow the seeds of the next inevitable bout of violence — be it in the occupied territories, inside Israel, or both. The US has a choice: appear ever more to be Israel’s cheerleader as the conflict simmers, or be the serious and objective player it should be”.

 

 

 

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Young Arab-Israelis: a new generation of independent activists

International affairs editor David Gardner reports that – though the Israeli political elite had assumed it had domesticated Palestinians by colonising their land – they are now being confronted with an uprising across Greater Israel, as Arab Israelis make common cause with their brethren under occupation.

Israel has been fighting a Palestinian revolt on three fronts: against Hamas, which controls Gaza and fired over 4,000 rockets at Israeli cities and towns during the recent conflict; against Palestinians with Israeli nationality, now in vicious communal strife with their Jewish neighbours; and against Palestinians across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

And now, young Arabs – using social media to inform and organise – and successfully evading ‘tech giants’ attempts at censorship, have struck a chord internationally.

Creative Palestinian youth discuss how to use social media

Simon Kerr describes a new generation of Palestinian activists emerging within Israel as well as the occupied territories, independent of Fatah, the traditional nationalists and Islamist Hamas.

Kerr instances one young man, “Enraged and cognisant of the power of social media, he grabbed his phone and joined the hundreds of Palestinian protesters in his village, Kufr Ain, filming the clashes with Israeli soldiers and posting it on video app TikTok”.

As its leadership emerges, Kerr predicts that it will demand real elections, which have not been held in the occupied territories since 2006. These would bury a Fatah led by Mahmoud Abbas, the discredited Palestinian leader who has limited powers and has just postponed polls again.

Provocations in Jerusalem and its holy sites by Netanyahu’s extremist allies sparked the latest eruption and the “moribund peace process”, with its incremental dispossession of the Palestinians and creeping annexation, has led Palestinians to  coalesce on three fronts, as well as in the diaspora.

The May 18 general strike of Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem and, to a degree, in a Gaza devastated by Israeli bombardment, was a significant moment. Some observers say nothing like it has been seen since before the birth of Israel and the 1936 Arab Revolt.

In the US, Jewish and Arab voices are saying enough is enough:

  • The US under Joe Biden is edging close to retrieving the 2015 nuclear restraint deal.
  • Saudi Arabia is seriously engaging with Iran on a modus vivendi,
  • The pragmatic United Arab Emirates is pulling back from conflicts in the region from Yemen to Libya.
  • Egypt, nominally at peace with Israel since 1979 and heavily dependent on the Gulf since the military coup of 2013, is brokering the Gaza ceasefire.

Gardner believes that having rejected a two-state solution — an independent Palestine alongside Israel — Israel’s politicians face having to manage a de facto single state with roughly equal Arab and Jewish populations, but at present with such disparity of rights that it is described by critics as an apartheid state.

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STRIKE ACTION HIGHLIGHTS ISRAEL’S DEPENDENCY ON PALESTINIAN WORKERS

Haaretz, the respected Israeli newspaper, reports that on18th May, commercial centres across the West Bank were deserted and shops in the ancient markets of Jerusalem’s Old City, tightly shuttered.

Many Palestinian citizens of Israel, 20% of Israel’s population, withheld their labour in a show of unity against Israel’s policy of fragmentation.

In Beit Shemesh, which is experiencing a construction boom, all the cranes were silent. One crane operator said that many operators are Arabs who were striking, and added, “If we would all fight that way for workers’ rights maybe we would achieve something.”

The Transportation Ministry said 910 drivers, some 10% of all bus drivers, didn’t show up for work on Tuesday. Spokesman Ron Ratner said nearly 300 journeys had to be cancelled.

Bethany Rielly quoted the comment by Fairouz Sharqawi, the director of Grassroots Al-Quds, that Israel had been counting on the young generation becoming less politically aware and dropping the struggle for liberation. But Palestinian youth had been leading protests in East Jerusalem and across the country. He concluded: “I think the young generation is showing us all that they are more committed than other parts of our people.”

 

 

 

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Joint Israeli Jewish and Arab rallies for peace

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On Thursday evening, Standing Together (for peace, equality, and social justice, in order to build power and transform Israeli society) organized demonstrations to protest about inter-communal violence and the conflict with Gaza, at more than 25 locations around the country, including Jerusalem, Lod, Haifa and Beersheba.

As Knesset member Ayman Odeh, leader of the Hadash coalition, told a joint Jewish and Arab demonstration in Tel Aviv this weekend:

“The struggle is not of one people against another, nor of one religion against another. This struggle is a political one, between those who want occupation and supremacy and those who want peace and equality.”

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The Jerusalem Post reports that several groups of Jewish and Arab mayors and municipal leaders have met and appealed for calm, while coexistence groups have called for a halt to inter-communal violence.

“Hatred is a sword that will turn on us. We will eradicate it and we will not let an extremist and violent minority drag all of us into a situation that none of us want.”

Events and initiatives are being staged around the country involving Arab and Jewish citizens in an effort to restore belief in the possibility of coexistence and tolerance among Israel’s different ethnic communities.

  • On Wednesday Arab and Jewish municipal leaders from the Jezreel Valley, Shfaram, Ramat Yishai, Beit Zarzir, Bir al-Mahsour, Yafia and other locations met to express solidarity and protest about the recent violence between Jews and Arabs.
  • On Thursday, another group of municipal leaders from a group of Jewish and Arab towns gathered to call for calm, including the Mayor of Rosh Ayin, Shalom Ben Moshe, Chairman of Oranit Municipal Council, Nir Bartal, Mayor of Kafr Qassem, Adel Badir, Chairman of the Jaljulyia Municipal Council, Darwish Raabi, and head of the Kafr Bara Municipal Council, Mohammed Asi, Ynet.

“We have all been outraged by the terrible scenes, we have all been outraged by the lynchings, by the fatal shooting in Lod, the attacks in the streets, and the arson. The residents of this region have enjoyed years of neighborly relations, cooperation and partnership. This is the present and this is our future. We call to preserve these relations with all vigilance,” the leaders stated.

Arthur Goodman, Diplomatic and Parliamentary Officer Jews for Justice for Palestinians based in London, recommends that EU or US should suspend concessions to Israeli exports & prevent an intifada | Political Concern