Tag Archives: Operation Cast Lead

‘The Palestine Cables’: Obama administration killed off independent U.N. investigation into Israeli war crimes in Gaza

This post, part of the “Palestine Cables” feature I write, originally appeared in Mondoweiss:

It was a shocking event in a twenty-two day assault filled with them:  the Israeli military shelled a United Nations compound in Gaza City January 15, where humanitarian aid like fuel and water pumping stations were stationed as well as hundreds of Palestinians displaced by the Israeli bombardment.  John Ging, the Gaza Director of Operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) described the scene on Democracy Now!

This morning, there were three rounds of white phosphorus which landed in our compound in Gaza. That set ablaze the main warehouse and the big workshop we have there for vehicles. At the time, there were 700, also, people displaced from the fighting. There were full fuel tankers there. The Israeli army have been given all the coordinates of all our facilities, including this one. They also knew that there were fuel tankers laden with fuel in the compound, and they would have known that there were hundreds of people who had taken refuge.

It was one of a number of incidents during “Operation Cast Lead” where the Israeli military attacked United Nations facilities.  But the possibility of an further inquiry that would investigate violations of international law during these attacks was killed following intense U.S. lobbying, according to newly published State Department cables released by WikiLeaks and reported on by Foreign Policy‘s Colum Lynch.  The efforts by the Obama administration to scuttle any investigation is similar to their efforts on the Goldstone report, and shows in detail how the U.S. uses its muscle in international forums to protect Israel.

A report was published in May 2009 on nine incidents where U.N. facilities were attacked by Israel.  The full report was never published, although a summary of the U.N. report stated that the “Government of Israel is responsible for the deaths and injuries that occurred within the United Nations premises” in seven of the nine incidents investigated.

A number of recommendations were made for further follow-up, which included seeking compensation from Israel and seeking public statements from Israel that allegations of Palestinian fighters firing from within UNRWA facilities were unfounded.  The most controversial recommendation included in the report was the call for an “impartial inquiry” into violations of international humanitarian law.  But the possibility of that inquiry was quashed in the cover letter to the summary of the report, written by Ki-Moon.  “As for the Board’s recommendations numbers 10 and 11 [which called for further inquiries], which relate to matters that did not largely fall within the Board of Inquiry’s Terms of Reference, I do not plan any further Inquiry,” Ki-Moon wrote.

And despite Moon’s insistence at a press conference that the work of the board of inquiry was “completely independent,” State Department cables tell a much different story of U.S. pressure on Moon to kill off the possibility of an independent investigation.

Lynch reports:

The most controversial part of the probe involved recommendations by Martin that the U.N. conduct a far-reaching investigation into violations of international humanitarian law by Israeli forces, Hamas, and other Palestinian militants. On May 4, 2009, the day before Martin’s findings were presented to the media, Rice caught wind of the recommendations and phoned Ban to complain that the inquiry had gone beyond the scope of its mandate by recommending a sweeping investigation.

“Given that those recommendations were outside the scope of the Board’s terms of reference, she asked that those two recommendations not be included in the summary of the report that would be transmitted to the membership,” according to an account contained in the May 4 cable. Ban initially resisted. “The Secretary-General said he was constrained in what he could do since the Board of Inquiry is independent; it was their report and recommendations and he could not alter them, he said,” according to the cable.

But Rice persisted, insisting in a subsequent call that Ban should at least “make clear in his cover letter when he transmits the summary to the Security Council that those recommendations exceeded the scope of the terms of reference and no further action is needed.” Ban offered no initial promise. She subsequently drove the point home again, underlining the “importance of having a strong cover letter that made clear that no further action was needed and would close out this issue.”

Ban began to relent, assuring Rice that “his staff was working with an Israeli delegation on the text of the cover letter.”

After completing the cover letter, Ban phoned back Rice to report that he believed “they had arrived at a satisfactory cover letter. Rice thanked the Secretary-General for his exceptional efforts on such a sensitive issue.”

At the following day’s news conference, Ban flat-out rejected Martin’s recommendation for an investigation. While underscoring the board’s independent nature, he made it clear that “it is not my intention to establish any further inquiry.” Although he acknowledged publicly that he had consulted with Israel on the findings, he did not say it had been involved in the preparation of the cover letter killing off the call for an investigation. Instead, he only made a request to the Israelis to pay the U.N. more than $11 million in financial compensation for the damage done to U.N. facilities.

Is another ‘Cast Lead’ in the offing?

Are we witnessing the stirrings of a new, large-scale Israeli military operation?  Haaretz today reports that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Wednesday that the Israel Defense Forces would continue to use ‘firm determination and assaults’ on Gaza…[Netanyahu said:] ‘It could take the form of exchanges of fire, it could continue for a particular length of time.'”

Indeed, the stars seem to be aligning for another brutal Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip two years after “Operation Cast Lead” killed some 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians, and completely destroyed 3,000 homes in what Judge Richard Goldstone termed a “deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population.”

Eerie parallels between the period leading up to “Cast Lead” and the situation now exist, and there’s nothing to stop Israel from launching another assault, given that the United States has sent the world the message that Israeli war crimes will go unpunished.

First, the parallels.  In the months leading up to the 2008-09 assault on Gaza, a tenuous truce held between Hamas and Israel as Hamas stopped firing rockets at Israeli communities and attempted to reign in other armed groups in Gaza from doing so.  An August 2008 WikiLeaks cable that describes a visit by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to Egypt reports:

Regarding the Tahdiya [“calm” in Arabic], Hacham said Barak stressed that while it was not permanent, for the time being it was holding. There have been a number of violations of the ceasefire on the Gaza side, but Palestinian factions other than Hamas were responsible. Hacham said the Israelis assess that Hamas is making a serious effort to convince the other factions not to launch rockets or mortars. Israel remains concerned by Hamas’ ongoing efforts to use the Tahdiya to increase their strength, and at some point, military action will have to be put back on the table. The Israelis reluctantly admit that the Tahdiya has served to further consolidate Hamas’ grip on Gaza, but it has brought a large measure of peace and quiet to Israeli communities near Gaza.

Despite this “peace,” Israel decisively broke the truce on November 4, 2008 when they raided Gaza and killed six members of Hamas, leading to an increase in Hamas and other armed groups’ rocket attacks on Israel.  According to a January 2009 report by investigative journalist Gareth Porter, Israel rejected a Hamas ceasefire offer in December 2008.

After the assault ended in January 2009, a tenuous lull, punctuated by sporadic violence on the Gaza-Israel border, has held.  In January 2011, Hamas again attempted to reign in other armed groups from firing at Israeli communities.

But now this lull seems to be breaking down.  The Israeli daily Haaretz reports on what has occurred in the last week:

The current tensions began exactly a week ago when Israel launched an air attack on a Hamas base in the ruins of the settlement of Netzarim, killing two Hamas men. That attack came in response to a Qassam fired from Gaza that landed in an open area. Hamas then responded with a barrage of 50 mortars on communities south of the Gaza Strip.

Israeli attacks on Gaza over the last few days have left eight people dead, including five civilians, and another twelve civilians have been wounded.  The air strikes came after Hamas offered a truce--events that bear a striking resemblance to what occurred in the run-up to “Operation Cast Lead.”

What makes a renewed assault seem more possible is the fact that strident warnings are coming from Israeli leaders.  Tzipi Livni, the head of the opposition party Kadima and who was the foreign minister during the 08-09 Gaza assault, recently said that “the right way to contend with [the recent rocket attacks] is through force, as Israel did during Operation Cast Lead and after it.”  Both the Vice Premier and and the culture minister have voiced similar warnings.

The frightening warnings and attacks on Gazan civilians could stop if the international community would pressure Israel.  But what’s to stop Israel if they have U.S.-guaranteed impunity?  The Goldstone report recommended that proceedings against Israelis and Palestinians who committed war crimes occur if domestic systems do not uphold international law.  No high-level officials, on the Palestinian or Israeli side, have been held accountable.  The U.S. has ensured that Israeli leaders who committed war crimes will get off free.

A promise of law is that the deterrent effect of punishment may prevent future crimes.  That promise goes out the window if there is no punishment–exactly what happened after the publication of the Goldstone report.




The Egyptian intifada and what it may mean for Israel/Palestine

The Egyptian uprising against the Mubarak regime is historic and important in its own right.  But it may also lead to significant changes in the region that could be positive for the Palestinian cause.  Israel is worried about a reliable ally being toppled next door.

The Mubarak dictatorship is a core pillar of the U.S./Israeli order in the Middle East, an order that completely ignores the wishes and aspirations of people on the ground.  The U.S. and Israel are scared of the new order that is to come.

As As’ad Abu Khalil notes at his blog, “the Israeli strategy in the Middle East has been firmly set on the continuity of the Sadat-Mubarak dictatorship.”  Israel’s peace agreement with Egypt in 1979 removed a military threat to Israel and secured millions of U.S. dollars and military support for the Egyptian dictatorship.  The Mubarak regime got carte blanche for its repressive rule.

Currently, there is extensive cooperation between Egypt and Israel.  Cables obtained by WikiLeaks, and published by Counterpunch, reveal that the Israeli military coordinated bombing runs with the Egyptian military during the 2008-09 assault on Gaza and closed the Rafah border when told in advance that Israel’s ground invasion was to begin.  WikiLeaks’ documents shed further light on Egypt currently building a wall meant to choke off smuggling tunnels into the Gaza Strip.

The fall of the Mubarak regime, which is what the youth revolt currently sweeping Egypt is calling for, could mean a number of things related to the siege of Gaza, continued efforts to crush Hamas and the political situation Israel finds itself in.

All told, what happens in Egypt will not stay in Egypt.  It will have ripple effects across the Middle East, and especially in Israel/Palestine.


‘The Palestine Cables’: WikiLeaks exposes Egypt, PA cooperation with Israel during Gaza assault

This is the fifth installment of my column on WikiLeaks and Israel/Palestine at Mondoweiss.  You can read all the installments here.

The left-wing publication Counterpunch has obtained eleven U.S.-authored cables “accessed” from WikiLeaks that deal solely with “Operation Cast Lead,” the 2008-09 Israeli assault on Gaza.  Kathleen Christison, a former CIA analyst and co-author of Palestine in Pieces, has the scoop:

Though the cables often simply rehash Israeli press reporting, providing little new insight into Israel’s attack or the planning behind it, they show with pitiless clarity the U.S. government to be little more than a handmaiden and amanuensis of the Israeli military machine.

The State Department cables also reveal for the first time that while Israel waged a devastating assault on the Gaza Strip, eventually killing an estimated 1,400 Palestinians, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority (PA) were actively working with Israel.  Previous cables from WikiLeaks revealed that Israel had “consulted” with Egypt and the PA prior to the beginning of “Cast Lead.”  The PA denied the allegations then.

A December 29, 2008 cable from the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv reports (in bold on the Counterpunch page on the leaks):

At 16:00 on December 28, the IDF bombed the Phiadelphi corridor along the Gaza-Egypt border, destroying 39-40 smuggling tunnels. No Egyptian border guards were harmed. IDF contacts have repeatedly told DATT that the targeting of the tunnels was coordinated with Egypt, and that they had passed the coordinates of the attack points to the Egyptians to enable them to ensure the safety of their border forces.

A January 4, 2009 cable from Cairo notes:

As of 1500 hrs. local on January 4, Egyptian military contacts said Egypt closed the Rafah border crossing on January 4 after the Israelis gave advanced warning of their ground invasion and additional air strikes on the smuggling tunnels along the Gaza-Rafah border

One December 30, 2008 cable from Jerusalem details the contacts made between the PA and Israel regarding protests against the assault in the West Bank:

PA commanders complained about IDF use of live ammunition, responsible for three Palestinian fatalities in December 27-28 protests. MG [Thiab Mustafa] Ali [the commander of the Palestinian security forces] said IDF commanders told them live ammunition is the last resort when dealing with Palestinian demonstrators, and IDF rules of engagement only authorize it when the lives of IDF soldiers or Israeli citizens are at immediate risk

Despite the “complaints,” the next section of the Dec. 30 cable notes that “both sides” agreed to “increase coordination”:

PA commanders said they told IDF officers that President Abbas and PM Fayyad both directed them to avoid situations that could develop into confrontations with the IDF. The security chiefs said Abbas and Fayyad passed a message to all Palestinian factions, at a PLO Executive Committee meeting on December 29, that only peaceful marches away from flashpoints would be permitted. PA commanders noted they have no control on over B/C areas such as Qalandiya and Nil’in, and would need IDF approval to move PA forces to those areas to prevent clashes between protesters and the IDF…

PA commanders said their IDF counterparts agreed to expedite coordination and movement requests and exchange information on possible disturbances, as both sides have an interest in preventing West Bank violence. They said both sides also agreed not to leak substantive discussions about the meeting to the press, given the sensitivity of security coordination in a time of Palestinian outrage over events in Gaza.

The new leak of what Al Jazeera is calling the “Palestine Papers” are likely to confirm the WikiLeaks revelations by publishing “details of the PA’s security cooperation with Israel” over the next few days.

WikiLeaks Revelations About Israel/Palestine Counters Conventional Media Narrative

As Peter Hart of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting notes, “WikiLeaks document dumps are largely what media want to make of them,” and the major U.S. newspapers have so far played up the WikiLeaks revelations about Iran and various Israeli and Arab officials’ alarm over Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.

The headlines on two New York Times articles read:  “Around the World, Distress Over Iran,” and “Iran Is Fortified With North Korean Aid.”  The Washington Post, whose overall coverage of the classified diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks has been lacking, has a piece titled, “Netanyahu says WikiLeaks cables show Arab states share Israeli concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.”

But that’s not all the latest documents from WikiLeaks show about politics in the Middle East.  Other leaked cables that have so far been ignored by mainstream media concern Israel’s perception of the Palestinian Authority (PA)–perceptions that undermine the conventional narrative on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and relations.

The conventional narrative, which closely follows establishment discourse on Israel-Palestine, is that Israel and the Palestinians are engaged or have been engaged in “peace talks” with the goal of bringing about a Palestinian state in the near future.  The Palestinian Authority and Israel are in conflict with each other over issues such as building settlements in the West Bank.  While these talks go on, the West Bank is enjoying an unprecedented period of economic prosperity and a stable governing entity that can bring about a Palestinian state.  Articles about this diplomatic tango dominate U.S. media coverage of the region because that’s what elites in the U.S., Israel and Palestine are engaged in (see, for example, here, here, and here from the New York Times).  In sum, mainstream media coverage is much more about the “process” than the “peace” when it comes to discussing the so-called “peace process.”

If media would report on them, the diplomatic discussions that have been revealed by WikiLeaks add much needed context to understanding the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

You wouldn’t know it from reading major U.S. papers, but the Palestinian Authority essentially functions as a subcontractor for the Israeli occupation, and WikiLeaks confirms this fact further.  For instance, the PA’s security forces have been used to drive Hamas, the Islamist movement that was democratically elected in 2006 and controls the Gaza Strip, underground, as Hamas opposes (violently in some cases) engaging Israel in “peace talks.”  In the immediate run-up to PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s direct talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the PA cracked down harshly on Palestinian dissidents who opposed the resumption of negotiations with Israel.

From a number of WikiLeaks documents, we learn that Israel is quite happy with the PA, though worried about its long-term political viability, and even attempted to coordinate the brutal 2008-09 assault on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip with the PA.

In one cable from 2009, Amos Gilad, an Israeli defense ministry official, is quoted as saying “that Israeli-PA security and economic cooperation in the West Bank continues to improve as Jenin and Nablus flourish, and described Palestinian security forces as the ‘good guys.’”  Another cable from 2007 quotes Netanyahu as candidly saying that the “entire Palestinian economy [is] based on graft and patronage,” which runs contrary to the rosy descriptions of the West Bank economy Americans routinely hear from the likes of Thomas Friedman.

But don’t expect media to report on this.  It would prove that “peace talks” and the diplomatic tango that accompanies them, which is all the media reports on, is a facade.

Coalition of Human Rights Groups Call Israel’s Gaza Bluff

A large, international coalition of human rights groups released a report (embedded above) yesterday examining the ongoing and illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip and whether anything has changed post-“Freedom Flotilla.”  The answer is that not much has changed.

In the aftermath of Israel’s illegal attack on the Gaza-bound “Freedom Flotilla,” international attention was focused on the situation in Gaza.  In early July, responding to international pressure, the Israeli government announced an “easing” of the blockade.  The “easing” measures included promises of the allowance of more consumer products into Gaza and allowing the entry of construction materials for projects approved by the Palestinian Authority (which has no power in Gaza).  This new report has a handy chart looking at the promises made post-flotilla and how they match up to reality.

The report indicates that Gaza remains in dire straits, with an economy strangled to death, a lack of construction materials to build homes and schools that were destroyed by the 2008-09 Israeli assault, and a population “locked in” with no way to freely enter and exit the Gaza Strip as they please.

The human rights coalition concludes the publication with an urgent call to the international community:

The international community must do its part to ensure that its repeated appeals to end the blockade are finally heeded.

1) Launch a new, concerted diplomatic initiative for an immediate, unconditional and complete lifting of the blockade, including:
• allowing movement of people including humanitarian staff into and out of Gaza;
• allowing exports from Gaza;
• allowing entry of construction materials including those for the private sector;
• allowing entry of raw materials;
• expanding operations of the crossings;
• lifting restrictions on fuel imports;
• ensuring access to Gaza’s agricultural land and fishing grounds and the protection of civilians in these areas.

2) Convene a meeting of the UN Security Council to review the implementation of Resolution 1860 which emphasises “the need to ensure sustained and regular flow of goods and people through the Gaza crossings” and calls for “tangible steps towards intra-Palestinian reconciliation.” Further action necessary for its implementation should be considered.

3) Plan a visit to Gaza as part of every high-level visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

4) State explicitly that the ongoing blockade is illegal under international law.

5) Support genuine investigations into, and accountability for, violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law committed by all parties, including the Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups as a way to prevent future violations.

Someone Should Tell Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: WikiLeaks Docs Show Israel’s Happiness with Palestinian Authority

There isn’t anything earth shattering (yet) that was revealed by the latest batch of WikiLeaks documents regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but that doesn’t mean they are meaningless.

Numerous leaked cables have given insight into how Israel views its negotiating partner, the Palestinian Authority (PA), which controls the West Bank. Some members of Congress should especially read the cables, like incoming House Foreign Relations Committee chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, whose hysteria over the United States’ funding of the PA doesn’t bear much relation to the reality of how the PA operates.

According to the newly released documents from WikiLeaks, before assuming the prime minister’s office in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly said that he wanted to “strengthen” the PA during his term. Amos Gilad, an Israeli defense ministry official, “noted that Israeli-PA security and economic cooperation in the West Bank continues to improve as Jenin and Nablus flourish, and described Palestinian security forces as the ‘good guys,’” and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak attempted to coordinate the 2008-09 Israeli assault on Gaza with the PA.

All of these add up to one assessment: the PA exists to serve the Israeli occupation, and Israel is quite happy with how it’s doing. Instead of Israel’s footprint being all over the West Bank, they now have a subcontractor to do the dirty work of cracking down on dissent, making sure Hamas is weak and building an economy an “entire Palestinian economy…based on graft and patronage,” as Netanyahu candidly put it in a leaked cable from 2007.

Ros-Lehtinen doesn’t seem to understand this fact. Recently, in response to the Obama administration announcing $150 million more in aid to the PA, she said, “It is deeply disturbing that the Administration is continuing to bail out the Palestinian leadership when they continue to fail to meet their commitments…including dismantling the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure, combating corruption, stopping anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement, and recognizing Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”

It’s probably just red meat for a large Jewish constituency in her Florida district. But that doesn’t change the fact that the statement is just smoke and mirrors that obscures the fact that the PA is a junior partner in the occupation.