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Jul
02

From Reuters

Palestineorientale-big

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Amnesty International said on Thursday Israel inflicted “wanton destruction” in the Gaza Strip in attacks that often targeted Palestinian civilians during an offensive in December and January in the Hamas-run enclave.

The London-based rights group, in a 117-page report on the 22 days of fighting, also criticized the Islamist movement Hamas for rocket attacks on Israel, which it called “war crimes.”

Among other conclusions, Amnesty said it found no evidence to support Israeli claims that Gaza guerrillas deliberately used civilians as “human shields,” but it did, however, cite evidence that Israeli troops put children and other civilians in harm’s way by forcing them to remain in homes taken over by soldiers.

Amnesty International said some 1,400 Palestinians were killed in Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, including 300 children and hundreds of innocent civilians, a figure broadly in line with those from the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza and the independent Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

The Israeli military put the Palestinian death toll at 1,166 of whom 295 were civilians. Thirteen Israelis were killed, including three civilians, during the offensive Israel launched with the declared aim of curtailing cross-border rocket attacks.

Accusing Israel of “breaching laws of war,” Amnesty said: “Much of the destruction was wanton and deliberate, and was carried out in a manner and circumstances which indicated that it could not be justified on grounds of military necessity.”

Commenting on Amnesty’s allegations, the Israeli military said it operated in accordance with international law. It said the report ignored “efforts made by the Israel Defense Forces to minimize, as much as possible, harm to non-combatants.”

“In many cases, the Israel Defense Forces exercised measures of caution, including warning the civilian population before an attack,” the military said. “The Israel Defense Forces directed its attack only against military targets.”

A Hamas spokesman said the Amnesty report did not place enough emphasis on “crimes committed by Israel.”

“This report equates between the aggressor and the victim and ignores international laws that guarantee resistance against occupation,” the spokesman said.

U.N. INQUIRY

Israel and Hamas have both rejected accusations of war crimes during the Gaza fighting. Israel has refused to cooperate with a United Nations inquiry that is now gathering evidence, accusing the investigators of prejudice against it.

Amnesty said although rockets fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip rarely cause casualties, their use was “indiscriminate and hence unlawful under international law.” The rockets often sow fear and panic.

It also accused Hamas and other armed groups of endangering the lives of the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza by firing rockets and locating military equipment near homes.

The report however dismissed Israeli claims that Hamas had used Palestinian civilians as “human shields.”

Amnesty said it found no evidence that “Hamas or other armed groups forced residents to stay in or around buildings used by fighters, or that fighters prevented residents from leaving buildings or areas which had been commandeered by militants.”  Continued…

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Jul
02

From Alternet

The museum argues, among other things, that war, famine and natural disasters are to blame on belief in evolution.

For a group of paleontologists, a tour of the Creation Museum seemed like a great tongue-in-cheek way to cap off a serious conference.

But while there were a few laughs and some clowning for the camera, most left more offended than amused by the frightening way in which evolution — and their life’s work — was attacked.

“It’s sort of a monument to scientific illiteracy, isn’t it?” said Jerry Lipps, professor of geology, paleontology and evolution at University of California, Berkeley.

“Like Sunday school with statues… this is a special brand of religion here. I don’t think even most mainstream Christians would believe in this interpretation of Earth’s history.”

The 27 million dollar, 70,000-square-foot (6,500-square-metre) museum which has been dubbed a “creationist Disneyland” has attracted 715,000 visitors since it opened in mid-2007 with a vow to “bring the pages of the Bible to life.”

Its presents a literal interpretation of the Bible and argues that believing otherwise leads to moral relativism and the destruction of social values.

Creationism is a theory not supported by most mainstream Christian churches.

Lisa Park of the University of Akron cried at one point as she walked a hallway full of flashing images of war, famine and natural disasters which the museum blames on belief in evolution.

“I think it’s very bad science and even worse theology — and the theology is far more offensive to me,” said Park, a professor of paleontology who is an elder in the Presbyterian Church.

“I think there’s a lot of focus on fear, and I don’t think that’s a very Christian message… I find it a malicious manipulation of the public.”

Phil Jardine posed for a picture below a towering, toothy dinosaur display.

The museum argues that the fossil record has been misinterpreted and that Tyrannosaurus rex was a vegetarian before Adam and Eve bit into that sin-inducing apple.

Jardine, a palaeobiologist graduate student from the University of Birmingham, was having fun on the tour, but told a reporter that he was disturbed by the museum’s cartoonish portrayal of scientists and teachers.

“I feel very sorry for teachers when the children who come here start guessing if what they’re being taught is wrong,” Jardine said.

Arnie Miller, a palentologist at the University of Cincinnati who was chairman of the convention, said he hoped the tour would introduce the scientists to “the lay of the land” and show them firsthand what’s being put forth in a place that has elicited vehement criticism from the scientific community.

“I think in some cases, people were surprised by the physical quality of the exhibits, but needless to say, they were unhappy with things that are inaccurately portrayed,” he said.

“And there was a feeling of unhappiness, too, about the extent to which mainstream scientists and evolutionists are demonized — that if you don’t accept the Answers in Genesis vision of the history of Earth and life, you’re contributing to the ills of society and of the church.”

Daryl Domning, professor of anatomy at Howard University, held his chin and shook his head at several points during the tour.

“This bothers me as a scientist and as a Christian, because it’s just as much a distortion and misrepresentation of Christianity as it is of science,” he said.

“It’s not your old-time religion by any means.”

Jun
29
Jun
17

From Reuters

By Emma Graham-Harrison

 

BEIJING, June 17 (Reuters) – Climate change is making some of the poorest people in China even more destitute and undermining the development that has been a cornerstone of Communist rule, academics and campaigners said on Wednesday.

 

The most poverty-stricken parts of the country are often also the most vulnerable to changing weather patterns, and farmers in these places are already feeling the pinch from floods and drought, a report from Greenpeace and aid group Oxfam said.

 

“The distribution of poor communities correlates very strongly to that of ecologically fragile areas,” prominent economist Hu Angang said in an introduction to the report which looks in detail at three communities which are already badly hit.

 

One county in southwestern Sichuan is grappling with an increase in torrential rains which have destroyed homes by undermining their foundations and damaged fields.

 

A second case study looks at a poor corner of southeastern Guangdong province that is troubled by a rise in droughts and flooding — because when rain does come it is much heavier — causing crop failure, damage to roads and other problems.

 

In northwestern Gansu, a third county is suffering from intensified drought that has forced some 34,000 people to leave their homes and left thousands more with limited drinking water.

 

“The impact of climate change on poor communities is a new phenomenon, a new challenge, in man’s fight against poverty,” economist Hu said.

 

The impact on people in areas like these, already grappling with problems like remote location and limited resources, may make it harder for Beijing to continue lifting ordinary Chinese citizens out of poverty, the report said.

 

“Environmental degradation, drought and increased disaster risk and incidence mean that in the future we will have to deal with more and more people falling back into poverty,” it said.

 

And the government will need to accelerate a shift away from the energy and resource-intensive development that powered much of the poverty reduction of the last three decades, but creates large amounts of the emissions that are perpetuating poverty.

 

Increased spending on cutting emissions and adapting to global warming could be at least partially offset in savings on disaster relief and reconstruction after events like flooding.

 

“The whole country’s economic development has felt the impact of rising disaster-related costs, which have become the main cause for certain groups becoming trapped by long-term recurring poverty,” the report said.

Jun
17

From Reuters

settlements

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is negotiating a deal with Washington under which Israeli building in existing Jewish settlements could go forward in certain cases, Israeli and Western officials said on Tuesday.

In talks with U.S. President Barack Obama‘s Middle East envoy, Netanyahu has asserted that his government does not have the legal authority to stop building in cases in which tenders for new structures have already been awarded or when homes under construction have already been purchased.

“I’m confident that we will be able to reach an agreement in the near future that will enable us to put the settlement issue aside and to move forward to what I regard as far more substantive issues in the peace process,” Michael Oren, Israel’s newly appointed ambassador to Washington, told Reuters.

Under pressure from Obama, Netanyahu this week publicly accepted for the first time the internationally backed goal of Palestinian statehood, but set a series of pre-conditions that were rejected by the Palestinians.

Netanyahu has refused to accept Obama’s direct call for a full settlement freeze in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, defending building in existing blocs to accommodate growing Jewish settler families, known as “natural growth.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded a halt to all building, including natural growth, as a condition for resuming stalled peace negotiations with Israel.

“It’s not about tenders. It’s not about technicalities. Any kind of settlement activity undermines the two-state solution,” said senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. “I don’t think the Americans will buy this.”

“CREATIVE” PROPOSALS

Oren, in an interview in Jerusalem, said he could not provide details about what an agreement with Washington would entail. He said “creative” proposals have been presented by both the Netanyahu and Obama administrations to narrow differences, and asserted Israel’s ability to halt all building was limited.

“This is a country of law, and citizens of the state of Israel have rights under that law,” Oren said. “If a person has purchased a house, if a person has taken out a contract for building a house, if a corporation is involved in a construction activity, the Israeli government does not have a right under Israeli law to stop them.”

“If it tries to, they will appeal to the (Israeli) supreme court and, my guess is, the supreme court will view in favor of those appellants,” Oren added.

U.S. officials in the region had no immediate comment but a senior Western official said some in Washington were “sympathetic” to Netanyahu’s position. A full settlement freeze could break up the prime minister’s right-leaning coalition.

In an interview with Israel Radio, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman cited “understanding” among U.S. and European leaders about Israel’s “basic demand to allow at least natural growth” in settlements.

But British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in a telephone conversation with Netanyahu, called for a “complete freeze” in line with a 2003 U.S.-backed peace “road map,” his office said.

In an interview with U.S. television, Netanyahu said he would meet Obama’s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, during a visit to Europe next week to discuss settlements, and that he hoped to find “a common position.”  Continued…

Jun
17

From WHO

Half of 1.27 million people who die in road traffic crashes every year are pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists, finds new WHO study.

15 JUNE 2009 | GENEVA/NEW YORK — The first global assessment of road safety finds that almost half of the estimated 1.27 million people who die in road traffic crashes every year are pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists. While progress has been made towards protecting people in cars, the needs of these vulnerable groups of road users are not being met.

The Global status report on road safety published today provides the first worldwide analysis of how well countries are implementing a number of effective road safety measures. These include limiting speed, reducing drink-driving, and increasing the use of seatbelts, child restraints and motorcycle helmets. Funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the report presents information from 178 countries, accounting for over 98% of the world’s population. It uses a standardized method that allows comparisons between countries to be made.

“We found that in many countries, the laws necessary to protect people are either not in place or are not comprehensive. And even when there is adequate legislation, most countries report that their enforcement is low,” said WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. “We are not giving sufficient attention to the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists many of whom end up in clinics and hospitals. We must do better if we are to halt or reverse the rise in road traffic injuries, disability and deaths.”

“Traffic crashes are a leading cause of death, particularly among young people 5 to 44 years of age,” said Mr Michael R. Bloomberg. “For the first time, we have solid data to hold us accountable and to target our efforts. Road safety must be part of all transport planning efforts, particularly at this moment of focus on infrastructure improvements and road building by many countries around the globe.”

Road traffic death rates increasing

While road traffic death rates in many high-income countries have stabilized or declined in recent decades, research suggests road deaths are increasing in most regions of the world and that if trends continue unabated, they will rise to an estimated 2.4 million a year by 2030. In addition, road crashes cause between 20 million and 50 million non-fatal injuries every year and are an important cause of disability. In many countries support services for road traffic victims are inadequate. These avoidable injuries also overload already stretched health-care systems in many countries.

The report documents numbers of registered motorized vehicles in each country and action being taken to invest in public transport and encourage non-motorized travel such as walking and cycling. Vehicle manufacturing standards and requirements for road safety audits were also reported, as well as the existence of formal pre-hospital care systems, including emergency telephone numbers.

Accurate statistics are crucial for understanding the state of road safety and measuring the impact of efforts to improve it. The report found that underreporting of deaths occurs in many countries, and that few countries have completely reliable data on road traffic injuries. The highest death rates are seen in the Eastern Mediterranean and African regions. The lowest rates are among high-income countries, such as the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Other highlights of the report include:

  • Less than a third of countries meet basic criteria for reducing speed in urban areas.
  • Less than half of countries use the recommended blood alcohol concentration limit of 0.05 grams per decilitre as a measure to reduce drink-driving.
  • While helmet laws exist in more than 90% of countries, only 40% have a law that covers both riders and passengers while also requiring that helmets meet a specified standard.
  • Only 57% of countries have laws that require all car occupants to wear seat-belts. This figure is only 38% in low-income countries.
  • Half of all countries do not have laws requiring the use of child restraints (e.g., child seats and booster seats). This figure masks considerable variation, with relevant laws in 90% of high-income countries but only 20% of low-income countries.
  • Only 15% of countries have comprehensive laws which address all five of these risk factors.
  • Where laws on these risk factors are in place they are often inadequately enforced, particularly in low-income countries. For example, only 9% of countries rate their enforcement of speed limits as over 7 on a scale of 0 to 10, while the corresponding figure for enforcement of seat-belt laws is 19%.

“More than 90% of the world’s road deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries, while these countries only have 48% of the world’s vehicles,” said Dr Etienne Krug, Director of WHO’s Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability. “Our roads are particularly unsafe for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists who, without the protective shell of a car around them, are more vulnerable. These road users need to be given increased attention. Measures such as building sidewalks, raised crossings and separate lanes for two wheelers; reducing drink-driving and excessive speed; increasing the use of helmets and improving trauma care are some of the interventions that could save hundreds of thousands of lives every year.”

The report also shows that road traffic injuries remain very relevant in high-income countries. “Even the top performers globally are often stagnating and still have considerable room for improvement in achieving a truly safe road transport system,” Dr Krug said.

For further information contact:

Laura Sminkey
WHO Geneva
Telephone: +41 22 791 4547
Mobile: +41 79 249 3520
E-mail: sminkeyl@who.int

Jun
16

From Reuters

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s keynote speech on Middle East peace this week received massive support from the Israeli public but they do not think it will further its aim, a poll showed on Tuesday. The survey, published in the Haaretz daily, showed that 71 percent of respondents said they supported Netanyahu’s agreement to endorse a Palestinian state and said it would help ease international pressure on Israel. In his speech, Netanyahu said he would endorse the establishment of such a state but only if Israel received prior international guarantees that the new nation would have no army and only if Palestinians recognised Israel as a Jewish state. Palestinians voiced dismay on Monday over Netanyahu’s terms and his failure to halt Jewish settlement expansion but he won guarded approval in Washington and Brussels for at least accepting Palestinian statehood. It was a departure from his previous public refusal — since taking office in March — to back a state for Palestinians. But despite the support, 67 percent of those polled said the words would not help the peace process with the Palestinians and 70 percent said they could not envisage the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state “in the coming years”. “The findings of the poll are clear: When Netanyahu deals with security policy without scaremongering, the public places support in him,” the accompanying article said. Netanyahu’s speech came in answer to U.S. President Barack Obama’s address to the Arab world earlier this in which he called on Israel to shift his position on Palestinian statehood and freeze all settlement building in the occupied West Bank. Obama said he saw “positive movement” in Netanyahu’s speech and again urged Israel to halt settlement construction. “Both sides are going to have to move in some politically difficult ways in order to achieve what is going to be in the long-term interests of the Israelis and the Palestinians and the international community,” Obama said on Monday. About half of the respondents said the speech would help improve Israel’s image abroad — 52 percent — although 34 percent said it would not help. Palestinians said they were disappointed by Netanyahu’s demand that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state while 20 percent of the population are Arab, and by his failure to commit to halt Jewish settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said Netanyahu had “failed to meet the expectations of the international community” and did not commit to obligations outlined in a 2003 U.S.-sponsored “road map” for peace, he said. Netanyahu told the American CBS network on Monday that Israelis could not accept a halt to natural growth in the settlements, although new settlements would not be built. “I said … that we would not build new settlements, that we won’t expropriate additional land for the existing settlements,” Netanyahu said. (Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)

Jun
15

From The Economist

graph_top

The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India and China meet to discuss the economy, and other news

• LEADERS of Brazil, Russia, India and China, known collectively as the BRIC countries, will gather for their first official summit in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on Tuesday June 16th. China and India have continued to grow reasonably quickly despite the global downturn, and although Brazil is in recession many expect it to recover soon. Of the four economies Russia, which is heavily dependent on oil exports, has been the worst affected. The leaders may discuss long-term plans to find an alternative to the dollar as a global currency. Another possible topic for consideration is trade in commodities: China and India are heavy importers of many commodities such as oil; Russia and Brazil are big exporters of raw materials.

For background, see article

• IT IS a busy week for those keen on reform of financial regulation. On Wednesday June 17th Tim Geithner, the treasury secretary, and Barack Obama, are expected to announce reforms to America’s regulatory system, with many expecting the creation of a new body to oversee other regulators. In Britain, too, the chancellor of the exchequer, Alistair Darling, will give a speech on financial reform, on Wednesday. Later in the week leaders of the European Union will discuss the same subject at a summit.

• CONGRESSIONAL leaders are expected to attend a meeting at the White House on Wednesday June 17th to discuss prospects for immigration reform in America. President Barack Obama and Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, are keen to pass a reform bill by the end of the year that would deal with the 12m or so migrants who are in America without papers. Opponents of such reform argue that it would amount to granting an amnesty to illegal aliens and would encourage others, but bringing such workers out of the shadows could boost tax collection, lessen abuse of workers and spur growth.

For background, see article

• GREENLANDERS take another step towards full independence from Denmark on Sunday June 21st, the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. The 56,000 residents will be granted an expanded version of home rule, after a referendum in 2008 showed more than 75% support for the territory taking over responsibility for police, justice and security. In time Greenland, which has been ruled by Denmark since the 18th century and which continues to receive hefty subsidies, is expected to claim status as an independent country. Its large deposits of minerals, including oil and precious stones, could make the sparsely populated land particularly rich.

Jun
15

Israel blamed its earlier wars on the threat to its security, even that against Lebanon in 1982. However, its assault on Gaza was not justified and there are international calls for an investigation. But is there the political will to make Israel account for its war crimes?

by Richard Falk

For the first time since the establishment of Israel in 1948 the government is facing serious allegations of war crimes from respected public figures throughout the world. Even the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, normally so cautious about offending sovereign states – especially those aligned with its most influential member, the United States – has joined the call for an investigation and potential accountability. To grasp the significance of these developments it is necessary to explain what made the 22 days of attacks in Gaza stand shockingly apart from the many prior recourses to force by Israel to uphold its security and strategic interests.

In my view, what made the Gaza attacks launched on 27 December different from the main wars fought by Israel over the years was that the weapons and tactics used devastated an essentially defenceless civilian population. The one-sidedness of the encounter was so stark, as signalled by the relative casualties on both sides (more than 100 to 1; 1300-plus Palestinians killed compared with 13 Israelis, and several of these by friendly fire), that most commentators refrained from attaching the label “war”.

The Israelis and their friends talk of “retaliation” and “the right of Israel to defend itself”. Critics described the attacks as a “massacre” or relied on the language of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In the past Israeli uses of force were often widely condemned, especially by Arab governments, including charges that the UN Charter was being violated, but there was an implicit acknowledgement that Israel was using force in a war mode. War crimes charges (to the extent they were made) came only from radical governments and the extreme left.

The early Israeli wars were fought against Arab neighbours which were quite literally challenging Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state. The outbreaks of force were of an inter-governmental nature; and even when Israel exhibited its military superiority in the June 1967 six day war, it was treated within the framework of normal world politics, and though it may have been unlawful, it was not criminal.

But from the 1982 Lebanon war this started to change. The main target then was the presence of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in southern Lebanon. But the war is now mainly remembered for its ending, with the slaughter of hundreds of unarmed Palestinian civilians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Although this atrocity was the work of a Lebanese Christian militia, Israeli acquiescence, control and complicity were clearly part of the picture. Still, this was an incident which, though alarming, was not the whole of the military operation, which Israel justified as necessary due to the Lebanese government’s inability to prevent its territory from being used to threaten Israeli security.

The legacy of the 1982 war was Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon and the formation of Hizbullah in reaction, mounting an armed resistance that finally led to a shamefaced Israeli withdrawal in 1998. This set the stage for the 2006 Lebanon war in which the announced adversary was Hizbullah, and the combat zone inevitably merged portions of the Lebanese civilian population with the military campaign undertaken to destroy Hizbullah. Such a use of hi-tech Israeli force against Hizbullah raised the issue of fighting against a hostile society with no equivalent means of defending itself rather than against an enemy state. It also raised questions about whether reliance on a military option was even relevant to Israel’s political goals, as Hizbullah emerged from the war stronger, and the only real result was to damage the reputation of the IDF as a fighting force and to leave southern Lebanon devastated.

The Gaza operation brought these concerns to the fore as it dramatised this shift away from fighting states to struggles against armed resistance movements, and with a related shift from the language of “war” to “criminality”. In one important respect, Israel managed to skew perceptions and discourse by getting the media and diplomats to focus the basic international criminal law question on whether or not Israeli use of force was “disproportionate”.

This way of describing Israeli recourse to force ignores the foundational issue: were the attacks in any legal sense “defensive” in character in the first place? An inquiry into the surrounding circumstances shows an absence of any kind of defensive necessity: a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that had been in effect since 19 July 2008 had succeeded in reducing cross-border violence virtually to zero; Hamas consistently offered to extend the ceasefire, even to a longer period of ten years; the breakdown of the ceasefire is not primarily the result of Hamas rocket fire, but came about mainly as a result of an Israeli air attack on 4 November that killed six Hamas fighters in Gaza.

Disproportionate force?

In other words, there were no grounds for claiming the right of self-defence as Israel was not the object of a Hamas attack, and diplomatic alternatives to force existed and seemed credible, and their good-faith reliance was legally obligatory. On this basis the focus of legal debate should not be upon whether Israeli force was disproportionate. Of course it was. The focus should be on whether the Israeli attacks were a prohibited, non-defensive use of force under the UN charter, amounting to an act of aggression, and as such constituting a crime against peace. At Nuremberg after the second world war, surviving Nazi leaders were charged with this crime, which was described in the judgment as “the supreme crime” encompassing the others.

The Gaza form of encounter almost by necessity blurs the line between war and crime, and when it occurs in a confined, densely populated area such as Gaza, necessarily intermingles the resistance fighters with the civilian population. It also induces the resistance effort to rely on criminal targeting of civilians as it has no military capacity directly to oppose state violence. In this respect, the Israeli attacks on Gaza and the Hamas resistance crossed the line between lawful combat and war crimes.

These two sides should not be viewed as equally responsible for the recent events. Israel initiated the Gaza campaign without adequate legal foundation or just cause, and was responsible for causing the overwhelming proportion of devastation and the entirety of civilian suffering. Israeli reliance on a military approach to defeat or punish Gaza was intrinsically “criminal”, and as such demonstrative of both violations of the law of war and the commission of crimes against humanity.

There is another element that strengthens the allegation of aggression. The population of Gaza had been subjected to a punitive blockade for 18 months when Israel launched its attacks. This blockade was widely, and correctly, viewed as collective punishment in a form that violated Articles 33 and 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention governing the conduct of an occupying power in relation to the civilian population living under occupation. This policy was itself condemned as a crime against humanity, as well as a grave breach of international humanitarian law.

It also had resulted in serious nutritional deficiencies and widespread mental disorders on the part of the entire Gaza population, leaving it particularly vulnerable to the sort of “shock and awe” attack mounted by Israel from land, air and sea. This vulnerability was reinforced by Israel’s unwillingness to allow Gaza civilians to seek safety while the tiny Strip was under such intense combat pressure. Two hundred non-Palestinian wives were allowed to leave, which underscored the criminality of locking children, women, the sick, elderly and disabled into the war zone, and showed its ethnically discriminatory character. This appears to be the first time in wartime conditions that a civilian population was denied the possibility of becoming refugees.

In addition to these big picture issues, there are a variety of alleged war crimes associated with Israeli battlefield practices. These charges, based on evidence collected by human rights groups, include IDF firing at a variety of civilian targets, instances where Israeli military personnel denied medical aid to wounded Palestinians, and others where ambulances were prevented from reaching their destinations. There are also documented claims of 20 occasions on which Israeli soldiers were seen firing at women and children carrying white flags. And there are various allegations associated with the use of phosphorus bombs in residential areas of Gaza, as well as legal complaints about the use of a new cruel weapon, known as DIME, that explodes with such force that it rips body parts to pieces.

These war crimes concerns can only be resolved by factual clarifications as to whether a basis exists for possible prosecution of the perpetrators, and commanders and political leaders to the extent that criminal tactics and weaponry were authorised as matters of Israeli policy. In this vein too are the Israeli claims relating to rockets fired at civilian targets and to Hamas militants using “human shields” and deliberately attacking from non-military targets.

Even without further investigation, it is not too soon to raise questions about individual accountability for war crimes. The most serious allegations relate to the pre-existing blockade, the intrinsic criminality and non-defensiveness of the attack itself; and the official policies (eg confinement of civilian population in the war zone) have been acknowledged. The charges against Hamas require further investigation and legal assessment before it is appropriate to discuss possible arrangements for imposing accountability.

A question immediately arises as to whether talk of Israeli war crimes is nothing more than talk. Are there any prospects that the allegations will be followed up with effective procedures to establish accountability? There are a variety of potentially usable mechanisms to impose accountability, but will any of these be available in practice? This issue has been already raised by the Israeli government at the highest levels in the form of official commitments to shield Israeli soldiers from facing war crimes charges.

The most obvious path to address the broader questions of criminal accountability would be to invoke the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court established in 2002. Although the prosecutor has been asked to investigate the possibility of such a proceeding, it is highly unlikely to lead anywhere since Israel is not a member and, by most assessments, Palestine is not yet a state or party to the statute of the ICC. Belatedly, and somewhat surprisingly, the Palestinian Authority sought, after the 19 January ceasefire, to adhere to the Rome Treaty establishing the ICC. But even if its membership is accepted, which is unlikely, the date of adherence would probably rule out legal action based on prior events such as the Gaza military operation. And it is certain that Israel would not cooperate with the ICC with respect to evidence, witnesses or defendants, and this would make it very difficult to proceed even if the other hurdles could be overcome.

The next most obvious possibility would be to follow the path chosen in the 1990s by the UN Security Council, establishing ad hoc international criminal tribunals, as was done to address the crimes associated with the break-up of former Yugoslavia and with the Rwanda massacres of 1994. This path seems blocked in relation to Israel as the US, and likely other European permanent members, would veto any such proposal. In theory, the General Assembly could exercise parallel authority, as human rights are within its purview and it is authorised by Article 22 of the UN charter to “establish such subsidiary organs as it deems necessary for the performance of its function”. In 1950 it acted on this basis to establish the UN Administrative Tribunal, mandated to resolve employment disputes with UN staff members.

The geopolitical realities that exist within the UN make this an unlikely course of action (although it is under investigation). At present there does not seem to be sufficient inter-governmental political will to embark on such a controversial path, but civil society pressure may yet make this a plausible option, especially if Israel persists in maintaining its criminally unlawful blockade of Gaza, resisting widespread calls, including by President Obama, to open the crossings from Israel. Even in the unlikely event that it is established, such a tribunal could not function effectively without a high degree of cooperation with the government of the country whose leaders and soldiers are being accused. Unlike former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Israel’s political leadership would certainly do its best to obstruct the activities of any international body charged with prosecuting Israeli war crimes.

Claims of universal jurisdiction

Perhaps the most plausible governmental path would be reliance on claims of universal jurisdiction (1) associated with the authority of national courts to prosecute certain categories of war crimes, depending on national legislation. Such legislation exists in varying forms in more than 12 countries, including Spain, Belgium, France, Germany, Britain and the US. Spain has already indicted several leading Israeli military officers, although there is political pressure on the Spanish government to alter its criminal law to disallow such an undertaking in the absence of those accused.

This path to criminal accountability was taken in 1998 when a Spanish high court indicted the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, and he was later detained in Britain where the legal duty to extradite was finally upheld on rather narrow grounds by a majority of the Law Lords, the highest court in the country. Pinochet was not extradited however, but returned to Chile on grounds of unfitness to stand trial, and died in Chile while criminal proceedings against him were under way.

Whether universal jurisdiction provides a practical means of responding to the war crimes charges arising out of the Gaza experience is doubtful. National procedures are likely to be swayed by political pressures, as were German courts, which a year ago declined to proceed against Donald Rumsfeld on torture charges despite a strong evidentiary basis and the near certainty that he would not be prosecuted in the US, which as his home state had the legally acknowledged prior jurisdictional claim. Also, universal jurisdictional proceedings are quite random, depending on either the cooperation of other governments by way of extradition or the happenchance of finding a potential defendant within the territory of the prosecuting state.

It is possible that a high profile proceeding could occur, and this would give great attention to the war crimes issue, and so universal jurisdiction is probably the most promising approach to Israeli accountability despite formidable obstacles. Even if no conviction results (and none exists for comparable allegations), the mere threat of detention and possible prosecution is likely to inhibit the travel plans of individuals likely to be detained on war crime charges; and has some political relevance with respect to the international reputation of a government.

There is, of course, the theoretical possibility that prosecutions, at least for battlefield practices such as shooting surrendering civilians, would be undertaken in Israeli criminal courts. Respected Israeli human rights organisations, including B’Tselem, are gathering evidence for such legal actions and advance the argument that an Israeli initiative has the national benefit of undermining the international calls for legal action.

This Israeli initiative, even if nothing follows in the way of legal action, as seems almost certain due to political constraints, has significance. It will lend credence to the controversial international contentions that criminal indictment and prosecution of Israeli political and military leaders and war crimes perpetrators should take place in some legal venue. If politics blocks legal action in Israel, then the implementation of international criminal law depends on taking whatever action is possible in either an international tribunal or foreign national courts, and if this proves impossible, then by convening a non-governmental civil society tribunal with symbolic legal authority.

What seems reasonably clear is that despite the clamour for war crimes investigations and accountability, the political will is lacking to proceed against Israel at the inter-governmental level, whether within the UN or outside. The realities of geopolitics are built around double standards when it comes to war crimes. It is one thing to proceed against Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic, but quite another to go against George W Bush or Ehud Olmert. Ever since the Nuremberg trials after the second world war, there exists impunity for those who act on behalf of powerful, undefeated states and nothing is likely to challenge this fact of international life in the near future, thus tarnishing the status of international law as a vehicle for global justice that is consistent in its enforcement efforts. When it comes to international criminal law, there continues to exist impunity for the strong and victorious, and potential accountability for the weak or defeated.

It does seem likely that civil society initiatives will lead to the establishment of one or more tribunals operating without the benefit of governmental authorisation. Such tribunals became prominent in the Vietnam war when Bertrand Russell took the lead in establishing the Russell Tribunal. Since then the Permanent Peoples Tribunal based in Rome has organised more than 20 sessions on a variety of international topics that neither the UN nor governments will touch.

In 2005 the World Tribunal on Iraq, held in Istanbul, heard evidence from 54 witnesses, and its jury, presided over by the Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, issued a Declaration of Conscience that condemned the US and Britain for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and named names of leaders in both countries who should be held criminally accountable.

The tribunal compiled an impressive documentary record as to criminal charges, and received considerable media attention, at least in the Middle East. Such an undertaking is attacked or ignored by the media because it is one-sided, and lacking in legal weight, but in the absence of formal action on accountability, such informal initiatives fill a legal vacuum, at least symbolically, and give legitimacy to non-violent anti-war undertakings.

The legitimacy war

In the end, the haunting question is whether the war crimes concerns raised by Israel’s behaviour in Gaza matters, and if so, how. I believe it matters greatly in what might be called “the second war” – the legitimacy war that often ends up shaping the political outcome more than battlefield results. The US won every battle in the Vietnam war and lost the war; the same with France in Indochina and Algeria, and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Shah of Iran collapsed, as did the apartheid regime in South Africa, because of defeats in the legitimacy war.

It is my view that this surfacing of criminal charges against Israel during and after its attacks on Gaza resulted in major gains on the legitimacy front for the Palestinians. The widespread popular perceptions of Israeli criminality, especially the sense of waging war against a defenceless population with modern weaponry, has prompted people around the world to propose boycotts, divestments and sanctions. This mobilisation exerts pressure on governments and corporations to desist from relations with Israel, and is reminiscent of the worldwide anti-apartheid campaign that did so much to alter the political landscape in South Africa. Winning the legitimacy war is no guarantee that Palestinian self-determination will be achieved in the coming years. But it does change the political equation in ways that are not fully discernable at this time.

The global setup provides a legal framework capable of imposing international criminal law, but it will not be implemented unless the political will is present. Israel is likely to be insulated from formal judicial initiatives addressing war crimes charges, but will face the fallout arising from the credibility that these charges possess for world public opinion. This fallout is reshaping the underlying Israel/Palestine struggle, and giving far greater salience to the legitimacy war (fought on a global political battlefield) than was previously the case.

Jun
15

From Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – CIA director Leon Panetta says it’s almost as if former vice president Dick Cheney would like to see another attack on the United States to prove he is right in criticizing President Barack Obama for abandoning the “harsh interrogation” of terrorism suspects.

“I think he smells some blood in the water on the national security issue,” Panetta said in an interview published in The New Yorker magazine’s June 22 issue.

“It’s almost, a little bit, gallows politics. When you read behind it, it’s almost as if he’s wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point.”

Cheney, who was a key advocate in the Bush administration of controversial interrogation methods such as waterboarding, has become as a leading Republican critic of Obama’s ban on harsh interrogations and his plan to shut the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In a blistering May 21 speech, Cheney said Obama’s reversal of Bush-era policies were “unwise in the extreme” that would make the American people less safe.

Panetta called Cheney’s actions “dangerous politics.”

He told The New Yorker he had favored the creation of an independent truth commission to look into the detainee polices of former President George W. Bush. But the idea died in April when Obama decided such a panel could be seen as politically vindictive.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Alan Elsner)