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June 27, 2010

Israel’s Dubious Investigation of Flotilla Attack

by Stephen Zunes

Few decisions of the Obama administration have outraged the peace and human rights community as much as its successful efforts to block an international inquiry into May’s Israeli aid flotilla attack.

Instead, supported by leading Republican and Democratic members of Congress, the Obama administration has thrown its weight behind an investigative committee handpicked by right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to examine the incident.

The three-member panel is not a full committee of inquiry as defined under Israeli law, so it does not have subpoena power or the ability to question Israeli soldiers. Nor can it compel anyone in the military to provide evidence.

All the committee members can do is request documents and “summaries of operational investigations” that have already been conducted by the Israeli military itself.

The committee would not have the authority to even request testimony or other evidence “in regard to military personnel and personnel from the other security forces.”

They would not be able to interview any soldiers or officers individually or even see their testimony or statements, instead relying only on “summaries” and other documents of internal military inquiries. These are generally done by officers who have no training in such inquiries on possible violations of international law.

At most, the conclusions the panel gets will be lessons learned rather than any kind of investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing.
Israel’s Claims

“Israel claims the panel is independent, but insists that it accept the military’s version of events,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Given the Israel’s military poor record of investigating itself in past cases of possible wrongful death, it is hard to have confidence that the panel’s dependence on the Israeli military will lead to the truth.”

There are also questions regarding the committee’s makeup. None of the three members has any experience in this sort of inquiry. The committee is led by the conservative former Israeli Supreme Court Chief Justice Jacob Turkel, who has attacked credible international inquiries into Israeli violations of international humanitarian law.

A second member is Amos Horev, a reserve Israeli major general and major figure in the Israeli military industrial complex.

The third member is Shabtai Rosen, a 93-year-old law professor who was involved in the cover-up of the 1953 massacre in the village of Qibya when Israeli forces crossed into Jordanian territory, destroying 41 buildings (including the school) and killing 60 villagers.

The Obama administration and other supporters of Netanyahu have emphasized the presence of two foreign observes, Canadian Brigadier General Kenneth Watkin and Northern Ireland’s pro-British Unionist Party leader David Trimble.

The news media has emphasized that Trimble won a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the Good Friday peace accord. What they have largely failed to mention is that Trimble was also one of the key players — along with right-wing former Bush UN ambassador John Bolton and the conservative former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar — in a group organized late last month known as “Friends of Israel.”

The initiative was launched, according to Trimble and the other sponsors, because of their concern about “the onslaught of radical Islamism” and outrage over the “unprecedented delegitimization campaign against Israel, driven by the enemies of the Jewish state and perversely assumed by numerous international authorities.”

Watkin has been implicated in a scandal, arising from the disappearance and torture of several detainees arrested by the Canadian Forces and turned over to Afghan security services. When called to speak before the Canadian House of Commons, he refused to answer questions about his role in authorizing the transfers despite knowledge of the likelihood of torture and other maltreatment of the prisoners.

International Response

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon noted how Netanyahu’s panel was “not sufficient enough to have international credibility.” The leading Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz, in its analysis of the probe, editorialized, “The government’s efforts to avoid a thorough and credible investigation of the flotilla affair seem more and more like a farce.”

By contrast, the Obama White House issued a statement praising the formation of the committee as an “important step forward,” insisting that “the structure and terms of reference of Israel’s proposed independent public commission can meet the standard of a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation,” as called for by the UN Security Council. U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Alejandro Wolff insisted, “We are convinced and support an Israeli investigation…and have every confidence that Israel can conduct a credible and impartial and transparent, prompt investigation internally.”

Congressional Democrats have defended the Obama’s decision to cover-up for the incident and prevent a credible investigation. Even though Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented the failure of the Netanyahu government to investigate possible war crimes by its armed forces, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) recently insisted that “the Israeli government…has a very good record of holding the Israeli government to account,” and that “the Israeli government has a better record of legitimate self-criticism than almost any other government in the world.”

Turning the consensus of international human rights organizations on its head, Frank argues that the only a group “commissioned by the Israeli government” would have credibility, while “clearly no inquiry chartered by the U.N. would have the credibility.”

Other congressional Democrats have insisted that the right-wing Israeli government of Benyamin Netanyahu be entrusted with the investigation, including Brad Ellsworth (D-IN), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), Rep. Sestak (D-PA), and Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

All this comes in spite of a recent public opinion poll shows a clear majority of Americans — including 65 percent of Democrats — favor an international inquiry over allowing Israel alone to investigate the circumstances of the attack.

It appears, then, that the Obama administration and its allies in Congress are committed to burying the truth and preventing Israel’s right-wing government from any culpability for its attack.

Quid Pro Quo?

At the same time, however, the Obama administration’s acceptance of this whitewash might have been an explicit quid pro quo: The United States would defend the suppression of the truth in the Israeli attack in return for Israel substantially loosening the blockade of humanitarian goods. If true, this maneuver would be yet another case of Obama provoking the outrage of the left wing of his party in order to pursue a behind-the-scenes deal he believes will advance the greater good. Some analysts, like Marc Lynch, make a compelling case that such a trade-off is worthwhile, in terms of easing an enormous level of human suffering as a result of the four-year old-siege.

While tactically defensible, such a quid pro quo is strategically questionable. Given the Israeli government’s history of reneging on its various international commitments, there are questions as to how comprehensive this lifting of the blockade actually may be and how long it will last. It would also mark yet another bad precedent of the United States effectively granting an ally a license to get away with violating international humanitarian law and other illegal activities, thereby further weakening the international legal protection of civilians.

The apparent weakening of the blockade is cause for cautious optimism. But global civil society must continue to pressure governments to ensure that Israel — no more or less than any other country — be held accountable for its violations of international legal norms.

Stephen Zunes, a Foreign Policy In Focus analyst, is a professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco.

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Jesse Rosenfeld: media coverage of Gaza Flotilla massacre, parts 1&2

June 21, 2010 at the Beit Zatoun House, Toronto

While the 3-year-old siege of Gaza has been brought into dramatic focus of late, the 12-year embargo of Iraq that crippled the economy and wrought havoc on civil society continues in another form, post-invasion. At the same time, the ongoing war in Afghanistan has taken a terrible toll on its beleaguered population.

The massive $1 billion security and military presence in Toronto this month for the G20 will protect the very world leaders who are overseeing wars and occupations that have cost trillions of dollars, and countless innocent lives. Independent media has a crucial role to play in exposing the reality of war and daily life in Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan… Severe restrictions on visas and mobility for foreign and domestic journalists, as well as threats from government and paramilitary forces, hamper efforts to report reality on the ground.

rabble.ca blogger Derrick O’Keefe, New Internationalist co-editor and author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone, Hadani Ditmars, and Carmelle Wolfson and Jesse Rosenfeld of The Daily Nuisance discuss opportunities for breaking the siege of indifference and reporting from occupied lands.

Palestine:
As settlements expand across Jerusalem and Israel’s military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza intensifies, Palestinians are on the edge of a new popular revolt. Israel continues its crippling siege of Gaza, paving way for the brutal attack on a humanitarian aid mission into the Strip that took place this month.

Palestinian citizens of Israel are also feeling the pressure as urban renewal and gentrification is used as a pretext to force them out of their historic cities, while the government passes laws to criminalize public discussion of their identity and history. Meanwhile repression against Palestinians and Israeli solidarity activists continues, as does the Palestinian Authority collaboration with Israel.

Behind the regular headlines of tense relations between Israel and the US over settlements The Daily Nuisance http://www.thedailynuisance.com is exposing the on the ground reality and impact on those living in Israel/Palestine through photography, video, print, news, analysis and opinion.

While international mainstream news filters out and misinterprets local voices, TDN uses English to present local perspectives to an International audience. The editorial collective is comprised of Palestinian, leftwing Israeli and international journalists and media makers.

Jesse Rosenfeld
Jesse is a Canadian print and video journalist based out of Ramallah and Tel Aviv-Jaffa since 2007. He is the print editor of The Daily Nuisance and has written from the Middle East for The Guardian, The Nation, The National (Abu Dhabi English language newspaper), Haaretz English, The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, NOW Magazine, Z Net and Electronic Intifada. He has also blogged forAllvoices.com, Mondoweiss and produced video content for The Daily Beast and The Real News.
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Sponsored by the New Internationalist, rabble.ca, The Daily Nuisance and Canadian Peace Alliance
Video Production: Anita Krajnc

Goldstone missed the cut

by boulos on June 27, 2010 ·

When Israel announced the formation of an independent commission to investigate the Flotilla debacle, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs issued a statement welcoming the news and noting that

“the structure and terms of reference of Israel’s proposed independent public commission can meet the standard of a prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent investigation.”

In the time since then, it has emerged that Amos Horev, one of the three Israeli panel members, helped castrate an Arab in the mid-1940s who had been accused of attempting to rape a Jewish woman. The act of castration inspired a popular song in Hebrew.

It has also emerged (thanks to Richard Silverstein) that another member of the panel, Shabtai Rosenne, helped David Ben-Gurion brainstorm lies which would cover up the Israeli military’s massacre at Qibya, in which Ariel Sharon led a force that murdered 60 Palestinian civilians, an act that outraged the world in 1953.

Richard Goldstone was subjected to the most savage obloquy for his work as a judge under the Apartheid South African regime.

If he had personally castrated a Black South African or helped cook up lies to exculpate the South African government for the Sharpeville massacre, maybe he would have been treated a little more gently?

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Israel should be thankful it didn’t make it to the World Cup

An Israeli presence at this greatest of global sporting spectacles would have been guaranteed to attract an unrelenting wave of protests, PR stunts and bad publicity.

By Daniel Levy

As the World Cup progresses, Israelis might consider sending thank-you bouquets to the national soccer teams of Switzerland and Greece, who knocked Israel out at the qualifying stage.

Of course, it would be nice to wrap ourselves in blue and white, and cheer on the likes of Yossi, Guy and Ben. But on this occasion, one should probably be thankful that we didn’t make it.

There were large demonstrations in Cape Town last week following the Mavi Marmara incident. An Israeli presence at this greatest of global sporting spectacles would have been guaranteed to attract an unrelenting wave of protests, PR stunts and bad publicity.

In the days since Operation Sky Winds, Israel has been able to get a glimpse of the future and into the abyss that awaits if we continue on our current course. It is a future replete with both insecurity and the indignity of global opprobrium and sanctions.

Palestine has now irrefutably become a global cause. That is certainly inconvenient for Israel and maybe unfair.

Popular consumer, labor union, and cultural boycotts are gathering new momentum. Israel’s predicament will not be rectified by better PR or a new foreign minister; it has become structural and therefore far more worrying.

The logic of the kind of unarmed resistance represented by flotillas to Gaza is to shine a light on the wrongdoings of an offending party. Ideally, one will succeed in appealing to the better nature, to the humanity, of the offending party (Israel), and its behavior (in this case, the blockade on Gaza) will be corrected. If not, then one may seek to shame that party in the court of global public opinion. Any over-reaction or additional offensive behavior will only serve to strengthen the case of the light-shiner and “prove” the original premise of wrongdoing.

In this instance, Israel’s leadership played its role with Lionel Messi-like perfection.

In short, the game is up. This is not defeatism – it’s an acknowledgment of a reality that, by ignoring, causes Israel to imperil itself. It cannot be reversed by a good YouTube video or by cloning President Peres. An occupation that just entered its 44th year and entails denying basic rights to millions of Palestinians can no longer be sanitized. As long as Israel maintains that occupation, the costs will become increasingly burdensome.

Having lost the world, Israel’s focus turns in on itself. The country’s leadership has to work harder to keep its own public on board for the occupation project. This requires a growing suppression of dissent, further ostracizing Israel’s Palestinian minority, and ever-more aggressive appeals to Jewish national pride. Democratic norms are thereby eroded, further feeding the tarnishing of Israel’s image. This is the vicious cycle in which Israel is embroiled.

It is true that there will almost certainly always be unjustified prejudice toward Israel. Whatever it does, some people will always be out to get us. But prejudice is not what motivates the vast majority of those mobilizing in solidarity with the Palestinians. The occupation is the oxygen of their campaign, and the vast majority seek an end to it – not to Israel itself. An Israel that fails to appreciate this and which sustains the occupation is the single most proximate cause of its own delegitimization.

It is still in our power, however, to change all of this. We can genuinely end the 1967 occupation and live up to our declared democratic ideals.

But if Israel does not take the lead, then let us at least hope that our remaining friends in the world will step forward with their own proposals and that we in turn will have the wisdom to say yes to them.

Enjoy the World Cup, and let’s look forward to Israel’s qualification in 2014 being all about soccer and blissfully devoid of politics.

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Children of Gaza, 2,3,4,5

Why the Freedom Flotilla : children of Gaza

Israeli Blood Diamonds protest 23-06-2010.wmv

Every year, consumers the world over unwittingly spend billions of dollars on diamonds crafted in Israel, thereby helping to fund one of the world’s most protracted and contentious conflicts. Most people are unaware that Israel is one of the world’s leading producers of cut and polished diamonds.

As diamonds are normally not hallmarked, consumers cannot distinguish an Israeli diamond from one crafted in India, Belgium, South Africa or elsewhere. The global diamond industry and aligned governments, including the EU, have hoodwinked consumers into believing the diamond trade has been cleansed of diamonds that fund human rights abuses, but the facts are startlingly different.

In July 2000, the global diamond industry set up the World Diamond Council (WDC). The WDC was established as a response to public outrage about the use of diamonds to fund bloody conflicts in western African countries and it includes representatives from the World Federation of Diamond Bourses and the International Diamond Manufacturers Association.

The council’s ultimate mandate is “the development, implementation and oversight of a tracking system for the export and import of rough diamonds to prevent the exploitation of diamonds for illicit purposes such as war and inhumane acts.” Significantly, the WDC limits its concern about human rights violations to those funded by rough diamonds only. Israel currently chairs the Kimberly Process.

The notion of self-regulation by any industry that is intrinsically linked to the violations it purports to want to eliminate is something that neither governments nor the general public should tolerate. It is impossible for the public to have confidence in the diamond industry’s attempt to self-regulate as long as it facilitates the trade in diamonds crafted in Israel, which, if the Kimberly Process applied the same standards to all diamonds, would rightly be classified as blood diamonds and treated accordingly.

The diamond industry is a major pillar of the Israeli economy. No other developed country is so heavily dependent on a single luxury commodity and the goodwill of individual consumers globally. Anything that threatens the carefully-nurtured image of diamonds as objects of desire, romance and purity could have serious consequences for the Israel diamond industry and the country’s ability to continue funding its illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories, the construction of illegal colonies and other associated criminal activities that render it the pariah of the modern age.

The international BDS campaign needs to focus global attention on the diamond trade that facilitates Israel’s ongoing crimes against the Palestinian people and its neighbors in the region. The high-value end of the diamond industry is the main artery of the Israeli economy, accounting for more than 30 percent of Israel’s total manufacturing exports worth nearly $20 billion in 2008 (“Trade Performance HS: Exports of Israel” accessed 25 March 2010). By comparison, the budget for Israel’s Ministry of Defense was $16 billion in 2008. http://electronicintifada.net/v2/arti…

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