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Haroon Siddique guardian.co.uk, Friday 11 June 2010 17.33 BST
New footage has emerged of the Israeli assault on a convoy of aid ships headed to Gaza in which nine activists were killed. The high-quality film was reportedly recorded by New York-based documentary maker Iara Lee aboard the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship that bore the brunt of the Israeli attacks. Israel attempted to confiscate all footage recorded by participants in the Gaza Freedom flotilla – including taking away mobile phones – but Lee managed to smuggle one hour of video out of the country by hiding it in her underwear, it was reported.The 15 minutes of film posted online shows the moments leading up to and during the Israeli commandos’ assault on the Mavi Marmara.
At one stage, the captain of the boat can be heard over the public address system saying: “Do not show resistance … They are using live ammunition … Be calm, be very calm.” Gunshots can be heard. The film includes footage of an Israeli inflatable boat carrying commandos, and troops can be seen rappelling from a helicopter on to the Mavi Marmara. While they do so, two men on the Marmara can be seen using catapults aimed at the soldiers, who are high above them, although the projectiles they are firing cannot be ascertained. At one point, a passenger on the boat says to the camera: “[The activists] hold two soldiers down here, bleeding and wounded.” One soldier can be seen being carried down the stairs of the vessel. In an interview with Democracy Now, Lee said the soldiers were injured in the commotion. “They got treatment by our passengers,” she said.
A number of passengers are shown in the video receiving medical treatment for wounds, including one man being resuscitated. He does not appear to respond. At the end of the footage a woman can be heard shouting: “We have no guns here, we are civilians taking care of injured people. Don’t use violence, we need help.” Lee described the attack as terrifying. “[The Israelis] came to kill,” she said. “They wanted to take over the ship.” More than 600 pro-Palestinian activists were detained by Israel in the 31 May raids on the aid convoy. There was global condemnation of the assault but Israel claimed its troops acted in self-defence after coming under attack from members of an “extremist” Turkish group.
It announced on Monday it would conduct an internal investigation into the incident, defying pressure for a thorough international inquiry. The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions said any inquiry set up by Israel should include “all video and other records of the incident, including those confiscated from civilians”. Philip Alston said it must be able to interview all key witnesses, including military personnel. “Any inquiry set up by Israel to investigate the Gaza flotilla incident must be given a genuine capacity to find the facts. Without that capacity an inquiry will simply not be considered credible.” Alston said the inquiry must be independent of government, have full legal authority to investigate and make its final report open to the public.
31 May 2010 Last updated at 16:39
At least nine people have been killed after Israeli commandos stormed a convoy of ships carrying aid to the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army says. Armed forces boarded the largest vessel overnight, clashing with some of the 500 people on board. It happened about 40 miles (64 km) out to sea, in internatio nal waters. Israel says its soldiers were shot at and attacked with weapons; the activists say Israeli troops came on board shooting. The activists were attempting to defy a blockade imposed by Israel after the Islamist movement Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007.
There has been widespread condemnation of the violence, with several countries summoning the Israeli ambassadors serving there. UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was “shocked by reports of killings and injuries” and called for a “full investigation” into what happened. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is in Canada, has cancelled a scheduled visit to Washington on Tuesday to return to Israel, officials said. Earlier, he expressed his “full backing” for the military involved in the raid, his office said. The White House said the US “deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained” in the storming of the aid ship. A spokesman said US officials were “currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy”.
The six-ship flotilla, carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid, left the coast of Cyprus on Sunday and had been due to arrive in Gaza on Monday. Israel had repeatedly said the boats would not be allowed to reach Gaza. Israel says its soldiers boarded the lead ship in the early hours but were attacked with axes, knives, bars and at least two guns. “Unfortunately this group were dead-set on confrontation,” Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told the BBC. “Live fire was used against our forces. They initiated the violence, that’s 100% clear,” he said. Organisers of the flotilla said at least 30 people were wounded in the incident. Israel says 10 of its soldiers were injured, one seriously. A leader of Israel’s Islamic Movement, Raed Salah, who was on board, was among those hurt. Contact with activists on the ships was lost after the raids and no first-hand accounts from them have yet emerged. Arafat Shoukri, of the Free Gaza Movement (FGM) which organised the convoy, said those on board one ship had told them by telephone that Israeli helicopters had arrived. Then we started to hear screams, shouting, shooting everywhere,” he said. “We heard some of them shouting ‘we are raising the white flag, stop shooting at us’.” He said Israeli claims that activists had pistols and other weapons were “cheap propaganda”. Audrey Bomse, also of the FGM, told the BBC that the activists were “not going to pose any violent resistance”. By midday Israel had towed three of the six boats to the port of Ashdod and says it will deport the passengers from there.
Turkish TV pictures taken on board the Turkish ship leading the flotilla appeared to show Israeli soldiers fighting to control passengers. The footage showed a number of people, apparently injured, lying on the ground. A woman was seen holding a blood-stained stretcher. Al-Jazeera TV reported from the same ship that Israeli navy forces had opened fire and boarded the vessel, wounding the captain. The Al-Jazeera broadcast ended with a voice shouting in Hebrew, saying: “Everybody shut up!” Israel’s deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said his country “regrets any loss of life and did everything to avoid this outcome”. He accused the convoy of a “premeditated and outrageous provocation”, describing the flotilla as an “armada of hate”. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Israel’s actions, saying it had committed a massacre, while Hamas said Israel had committed a “great crime and a huge violation of international law”. Turkey, whose nationals comprised the majority of those on board, accused Israel of “targeting innocent civilians”. Turkey was Israel’s closest Muslim ally but relations have deteriorated over the past few years. In Turkey, thousands of protesters demonstrated against Israel in Istanbul, while several countries have summoned Israeli ambassadors to seek an explanation as to what happened. Greece has withdrawn from joint military exercises with Israel in protest at the raid on the flotilla. Israel had repeatedly said it would stop the boats, calling the campaign a “provocation intended to delegitimise Israel”. Israel says it allows about 15,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid into Gaza every week. But the UN says this is less than a quarter of what is needed.
From Times Online May 31, 2010 by Judith Evans
Outrage spread around the world this morning as news broke that Israeli forces had attacked a convoy bringing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, killing at least ten people in international waters. Israel says its forces faced resistance from activists armed with knives and metal bars – but the international outcry has continued. Here is the reaction to the violence:
The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “shocked” by the deadly raid. “I condemn this violence,” he told a press conference in Kampala, Uganda, where he is attending a conference on the International Criminal Court (ICC). “It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place,” Mr Ban said. “I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation.” He spoke moments after a speech hailing the “new age of accountability” heralded by the creation of the ICC in 2002, of which Israel is not a member. The United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay also expressed shock. “In the Gaza Strip the blockade keeps undermining human rights on a daily basis … the current situation falls far short of what is necessary for the population to lead normal and dignified lives,” she added.
Turkey is reported to have lost at least nine citizens in the raid after a Turkish ship was the site of the greatest violence between Israeli forces and pro-Palestinian activists. Turkey awoke in shock this morning and tens of thousands gathered to protest in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul. Converging at the Israeli Consulate, protesters marched on the city’s central square chanting slogans such as “Damn Israel!” and “A tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye, revenge, revenge!” More demonstrations took place outside the residence of Israeli Ambassador Gabby Levy in Ankara, the Turkish capital. Until now one of Israel’s few Muslim allies, Turkey immediately withdrew its Ambassador to Israel and cancelled three planned joint military exercises. The Turkish Foreign Ministry warned Israel that bilateral ties could suffer “irreparable consequences”, describing the operation as “unacceptable”. The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would cut short a tour to Latin America to return home today.
A Greek vessel, the Sfendoni, reportedly came under fire along with the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara, which bore the brunt of the violence. Greece cancelled a visit by the Israeli Air Force chief that had been scheduled for tomorrow, cut short a joint Greek-Israeli Air Force exercise, and summoned the Israeli ambassador for an explanation.
Arab and Muslim groups
The head of the Arab League said Arab states must reconsider their dealings with Israel in light of the violence. “Israel’s attack indicates Israel is not ready for peace. Israel attacked the liberty fleet because it feels it is above the law,” Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said in Doha. “There is no benefit in dealing with Israel in this manner and we must re-assess our dealing with Israel,” he said. On behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the Pakistani diplomat Marghoob Saleem Butt said: “We strongly condemn today’s Israeli attacks on the boat convoy carrying humanitarian aid and supplies to the people of occupied Gaza … This is yet another example of Israeli disregard of all international norms and laws,” he told the Human Rights Council. “We demand that Israeli authorities immediately release all the boats and arrested people and take action against those responsible for these attacks and killing,” he added.
Ambassadors from the 27 European Union countries are to hold emergency talks in Brussels today after contacting their Israeli counterparts. The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Baroness Ashton of Upholland said she had called Israel’s top diplomat to express concern. “During the course of this morning I have spoken to Minister [Avigdor] Lieberman, the Foreign Minister of Israel. I expressed my deepest concern about the tragedy that has happened. I said that we needed an inquiry by Israel into the circumstances,” she told reporters. “I have also taken the opportunity to point out, having visited Gaza, the importance of opening the crossings for humanitarian aid to go through to ensure that ordinary people have a better existence than that which I saw.”
Some 28 Britons were on board the flotilla, according to the Palestinian rights group Friends of Al-Aqsa. It is unclear whether any have been injured. The Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “I deplore the loss of life during the interception of the Gaza flotilla. Our embassy is in urgent contact with the Israeli Government. We are asking for more information and urgent access to any UK nationals involved. “We have consistently advised against attempting to access Gaza in this way, because of the risks involved. But at the same time, there is a clear need for Israel to act with restraint and in line with international obligations. It will be important to establish the facts about this incident, and especially whether enough was done to prevent deaths and injuries.” He also called on Israel to lift restrictions on access to Gaza and address concerns over the humanitarian and economic situation in the strip.
The US “deeply regrets” the deaths, the White House said. “The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy,” said the White House spokesman Bill Burton. President Barack Obama and the Israeli President Binyamin Netanyahu are scheduled to meet tomorrow over the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
An Algerian Islamist party, the Movement for Peaceful Society, said it had no news of 32 Algerians travelling on board the ships. “We are without news of the Algerian delegation of 32 members comprising members of parliament, journalists and doctors,” a spokesman told AFP. “Unconfirmed reports speak of two casualties among the Algerians.” The Algerian Government was this morning holding crisis meetings to decide how to respond to the attack.
Two Australian journalists travelling with the convoy, writer Paul McGeough and photographer Kate Geraghty – both of The Sydney Morning Herald – are safe and being processed in an Israeli detention centre, the paper said. The Australian Government has not yet responded formally to the incident.
France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy accused Israel of a “disproportionate use of force” and sent his condolences to the families of the victims. The Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was “deeply shocked”. “Nothing can justify the use of such violence,” he added. “We do not understand the still provisional human toll of such an operation against a humanitarian initiative that had been known about for several days. “The incident happened in an intolerable way in international waters.” France summoned the Israeli ambassador to explain, while an association of Jewish groups in France, CRIF, said it “deeply deplored” the killings.
Despite being one of Israel’s most loyal allies, Germany expressed shock at the events. “Every German Government supports unconditionally Israel’s right to self defence,” said the government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm. But he added that Israeli actions should correspond to what he described as the “basic principle” of proportionality. “A first look does not speak in favour of this basic principle being adhered to.”
Iran, one of Israel’s staunchest enemies, said the killings were “inhuman” and would help bring about an end to the state of Israel. “All these acts indicate the end of the heinous and fake regime and will bring it closer to the end of its existence,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the state broadcaster IRIB. The country called on the world to cut ties with Israel. “The minimum step that the international community should take regarding this horrible crime by the Zionist regime is to fully boycott it and to fully cut diplomatic, economic and political ties with the Zionist regime,” said the Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi.
Italy “deplored” the violence on board the flotilla. Its Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said: “I absolutely deplore… the killing of civilians … an investigation must discover the truth about what happened. We demand a serious and detailed investigation, and I think the EU must be involved so that it is directly informed of the findings.”
Thousands of Palestinian refugees and activists held demonstrations across Lebanon to denounce the raid. Waving Palestinian flags and banners, the demonstrators marched in the 12 refugee camps scattered throughout the country and held a protest in central Beirut demanding that Israel be held to account for its actions. The Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, currently chaired by Lebanon. He said the raid was “a dangerous and crazy step that will exacerbate tensions in the region. Lebanon firmly denounces this attack and calls on the international community, notably major powers… to take action.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Israeli “aggression,” declared three days of mourning across the West Bank and called on the U.N. Security Council and Arab League to hold emergency sessions on the incident. The leader of the the rival Hamas Government in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh condemned the “brutal” attack and called for United Nations intervention. Hamas urged Muslims around the world to “rise up” in protest.
The current holder of the rotating EU presidency, Spain said it “condemns the military action… which has claimed a high number of victims” and considers the raid “totally disproportionate”. It summoned Israel’s ambassador to explain. Spanish media has been reporting that three Spanish citizens were on board the convoy.
With at least ten Swedes on board the flotilla, Sweden summoned the Israeli ambassador to explain the events. The Swedes include the author Henning Mankell, an MP and the controversial Swedish-Israeli artist Dror Feiler, the chairman of the Swedish group Jews for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Sabotage claim as Israeli navy is poised to intercept pro-Palestinian convoy By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem – Sunday, 30 May 2010. A Gaza-bound flotilla’s confrontation with the Israeli navy was delayed yesterday after mystery faults developed simultaneously in two of its boats. The Greek Cypriot government also prevented up to another 30 pro-Palestinian activists – including European parliamentarians – from joining the crafts. The flotilla, now down to five instead of the original eight boats, is carrying 10,000 tons of aid supplies and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists. It prepared to leave Cypriot waters en route to Gaza last night despite warnings by Israel that it would be stopped – by force if necessary – from landing in the besieged territory.
The voyage – the biggest effort yet to break through the three-year blockade of Gaza – had been described by senior Israeli spokesmen as a “cheap political stunt” and “an attempt at violent propaganda against Israel”. But Greta Berlin, one of the flotilla’s organisers, said yesterday that it had been mounted by “intrepid civilians who are doing something [about the siege of Gaza] because their governments don’t”.
Israel has made it clear that its navy is ready to arrest the flotilla’s passengers and hand them over to civilian authorities for deportation or trial if they ignore warnings to turn back or yield control of their vessels to the military. Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, said: “We will not let this flotilla get through. It harms Israeli security.” Meanwhile, in Gaza, the Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh claimed that, either way, the flotilla would bring the end of a blockade imposed when the Islamic faction seized control of the strip after its coalition with Fatah broke down in June 2007. As he toured Gaza City’s fishing harbour, he told around 400 supporters: “If the ships reach Gaza, it’s a victory for Gaza. If they are intercepted and terrorised by the Zionists, it will be a victory for Gaza, too, and they will move again in new ships to break the siege of Gaza.” The Greek Cypriot authorities, under pressure from Israel, refused to allow the boats to dock at its ports. They also prevented passengers who had flown to Cyprus to join the flotilla, including MPs from various European countries, to transfer on to the vessels. Yesterday’s delay came as attempts were made for an alternative embarkation from the Turkish Cypriot port of Famagusta.
Turkey has been the most prominent national supporter of the flotilla, with its Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urging Israel to let the boats through. Israel’s alliance with Ankara was severely strained by the 2008-09 military offensive in Gaza. Meanwhile, two of the movement’s small passenger boats developed mechanical trouble at around 3.30pm on Friday as they neared the Cyprus coast from Crete. Last week, another vessel was delayed leaving Ireland by a propeller fault. While saying Free Gaza was still awaiting details of Friday’s malfunction from the boats’ captains, Ms Berlin said the coincidence of faults developing in all three boats had given rise to speculation of possible sabotage. Claiming that one Israeli official had indicated that the best tactic would be to pick off the boats one by one before they joined the flotilla, she added: “As far as I am concerned, there is a suspicion that this is what was done.” Israel has accused the participants of betraying their claim to be human rights activists by ignoring Hamas’s attacks on Israeli civilians and internal repression within Gaza. Critics of the blockade argue that it has harmed and impoverished the 1.5 million population of Gaza while leaving the rule of Hamas intact, and even entrenched.
Somehow, the Chilcot Inquiry has become like Big Brother. About once a month it pops up as a small item in the news and you think: “Oh blimey, I didn’t realise that was still going on.” Before long, like Big Brother, they’ll come up with stunts to try and revive some interest. So they’ll reintroduce contestants from previous inquiries such as Martin McGuinness and Christine Keeler, or make some witnesses complete a task of finding hidden ping-pong balls in the room or they have to give evidence blindfold. So it might seem these procedures are pointless, in which case it makes no difference that the Israelis have agreed to co-operate with a United Nations inquiry into the episode in which nine people died after the Israeli Defence Force went aboard the Mavi Marmara as it sailed towards Gaza. But it seemed to matter to the Israelis, because until this week they insisted their own inquiry was sufficient, and that was already under way. One fact emerging from this process was that the victims, according to “Sgt S” who shot six of them, “were without a doubt terrorists”. And he produced evidence to back this up, which was: “I could see the murderous rage in their eyes”.
This matches the classic definition of a terrorist according to international law, as someone “with murderous rage in their eyes”, and shows the key witness in any terrorist trial isn’t the forensics expert or explosives analyst but an optician. If they’re trained well enough they can shine a light at the iris and tell whether you’re short-sighted, long-sighted, Hamas or Basque separatist. But there was more. According to the Jersusalem Post the IDF told the inquiry that the group on the boat were “well-trained and likely ex-military” because “each squad of the mercenaries was equipped with a Motorola communication advice, so they could pass information to one another”. A Motorola communication advice? So these so-called peace-activists were armed with mobile phones! It’s a wonder the whole Middle East wasn’t set alight. And to think Motorola and other sinister arms dealers such as Nokia and Orange go round trading in this deadly merchandise quite openly. If the IDF were asked to police a rock festival, at the moment when everyone used their mobiles to take a photo they’d open fire on the whole crowd. Then once 3,000 were dead, Sgt S would say: “Well done, boys, if we hadn’t been so careful that could have turned quite nasty.” One possible difficulty in proving the optically murderous gang’s intent could be that none of them had guns.
But the IDF dealt with that by saying the “mercenaries” preferred to use “bats, metal bars and knives, since opening fire would have made it blatantly clear they were terrorists and not peace activists”. So this was another cunning trick of the terrorists, to disguise the fact they were terrorists by not doing anything terrorist. My neighbour’s much the same; disguising her terrorism by being 74 and spending all day peacefully doing the garden without ever shooting anyone, the evil witch. Even more blatantly, the inquiry was told the group did have guns on board, but “the mercenaries threw their weapons overboard after the commandos took control of the vessel”. Because that’s classic guerrilla training, to carry guns right up until the moment when the enemy arrives, and then throw them away. This is the strategy of all great military thinkers. That’s why Nelson, at the Battle of Trafalgar said: “Men, I see the French, and so let every Englishmen do his duty, and chuck all our weapons in the sea. That’ll teach the bastards.” On and on this goes, with Prime Minister Netanyahu making it clear he agrees with it, himself calling the victims “mercenaries”. Because these mercenaries were trying to get goods such as medicine to an area that’s under a blockade, which is typical mercenary behaviour, except instead of gun-running, they were inhaler-running. But bit by bit Israel is finding it has to answer for itself publicly, and the old excuses are not so easily accepted. From now on they’ll have to put a bit more thought into their bollocks, which has got to be for the good.
30 August 2010 Last updated at 07:59
A senior rabbi from a party within Israel’s coalition government has called for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to “vanish from our world”. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of Shas, spoke out as Middle East talks are poised to begin in Washington. The United States condemned the remarks as “deeply offensive”. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu distanced himself from the comments with a statement saying that his government wanted peace with the Palestinians. The attack on Mr Abbas, delivered in the rabbi’s weekly sermon, also prompted chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat to condemn the remarks as “an incitement to genocide”.
Mr Erakat urged the Israeli government “to do more about peace and stop spreading hatred”, the AFP news agency reported. ‘Regret and condemn’ Rabbi Yosef expressed the wish that “all the nasty people who hate Israel, like Abu Mazen (Abbas), vanish from our world”. He went on to say: “May God strike them down with the plague along with all the nasty Palestinians who persecute Israel.” The remarks come as Mr Netanyahu is due in Washington this week for direct peace talks with Mr Abbas. Rabbi Yosef expressed the wish that “all the nasty people who hate Israel, like Abu Mazen (Abbas), vanish from our world”. He went on to say: “May God strike them down with the plague along with all the nasty Palestinians who persecute Israel.” The remarks come as Mr Netanyahu is due in Washington this week for direct peace talks with Mr Abbas.
Tuesday, 10 April, 2001, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
The spiritual leader of Israel’s ultra-orthodox Shas party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has provoked outrage with a sermon calling for the annihilation of Arabs. “It is forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable,” he was quoted as saying in a sermon delivered on Monday to mark the Jewish festival of Passover. “The Lord shall return the Arabs’ deeds on their own heads, waste their seed and exterminate them”. Rabbi Yosef is one of the most powerful religious figures in Israel, He is known for his outspoken comments and has in the past referred to the Arabs as “vipers”. Through his influence over Shas, Israel’s third largest political party, he is also a significant political figure. As founder and spiritual leader of the political party Shas, Rabbi Yosef is held in almost saintly regard by hundreds of thousands of Jews of Middle Eastern and North African origin. The Palestinian Authority has condemned the sermon as racist and is calling on international organisations to treat the rabbi as a war criminal.
Rabbi Yosef said in his sermon that enemies have tried to hurt the Jewish people from the time of the exodus from Egypt to this day. “A person of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s stature must refrain from acrid remarks such as these” – Israeli Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit. “The Lord shall return the Arabs’ deeds on their own heads, waste their seed and exterminate them, devastate them and vanish them from this world,” he said. Shas spokesman, Yitzhaq Suderi defended the rabbi, saying his remarks referred only to “Arab murderers and terrorists” and not the Arab people as a whole.
‘Stirring up hatred’
Palestinian cabinet minister Hassan Asfur urged international civil institutions and human rights organisations to consider Rabbi Yosef a war criminal in future. The utterances were “a clear call for murder and a political an intellectual terrorism that will lead to military terrorism”, he said in remarks reported on Palestinian radio. He added that no punishment would come from Israel “because its political culture and action are in line with [the rabbi's] racist statements”. Israeli Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit also condemned the sermon, saying: “A person of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s stature must refrain from acrid remarks such as these.” And he added: “I suggest that we not learn from the ways of the Palestinians and speak in verbal blows like these.” Salah Tarif, the only Arab cabinet minister in the Israeli government, also criticized Rabbi Yosef, saying “his remarks add nothing but hatred”.
Published 17:14 29.08.10 Latest update 17:14 29.08.10
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Sunday slammed remarks by the spiritual leader of Israel’s leading ultra-Orthodox party, who said the Palestinians should “perish”, saying that it was paramount to incitement to genocide. Erekat called on the Israeli government to denounce the remarks by Israel’s former chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and to take action against racist remarks by other elected officials. He also criticized Israel for allowing the incident to pass without condemnation. Yosef had said during his weekly Shabbat sermon that the Palestinians, namely Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, should perish from the world. Yosef, a founder of the Shas Party, also described Palestinians as evil, bitter enemies of Israel. “All these evil people should perish from this world … God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians,”
Yosef had said. The 89-year-old is a respected religious scholar but is also known for vitriolic comments about Arabs, secular Jews, liberals, women and gays, among others. “Is this how the Israeli government prepares its public for a peace agreement?” Erekat said, days before Israeli and Palestinian leaders were scheduled to meet in Washington for the launch of renewed direct peace negotiations. “While the PLO is ready to resume negotiations in seriousness and good faith, a member of the Israeli government is calling for our destruction,” Erekat said. “It is an insult to all our efforts to advance the negotiations process.” Erekat called on Israel “do more about peace and stop spreading hatred” and said Yosef’s comments could be placed within the larger context of Israel’s “policy against a Palestinian state” such as settlement expansion, home demolitions, among other things.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday distanced himself from Yosef’s remarks, but stopped short of a condemnation. “Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s remarks do not reflect Netanyahu’s views, nor do they reflect the stance of the Israeli government,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement. “Israel plans to take part in peace negotiations out of a desire to advance toward a peace agreement with the Palestinians that will end the conflict and ensure peace, security and good neighborly relations between the two peoples,” the statement continued. Israeli Arab MK Jamal Zahalka, chair of the Balad Knesset faction, sent a letter to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, demanding that Yosef be investigated and tried for racist incitement and incitement to murder. “Yosef’s comments are especially dangerous because he keeps repeating himself again and again, so he must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” MK Zahalka said.
According to Zahalka, Yosef is not a minor public figure, but a spiritual leader whose religious edicts are adhered to by hundreds of thousands of followers, and his comments can be interpreted as permission to kill Palestinians. Zahalka added, “If, heaven forbid, a Muslim spiritual leader were to make anti-Jewish comments of this sort, he would be arrested immediately.” MK Ahmed Tibi, chair of the United Arab List-Ta’al Knesset faction, also responded to Yosef’s comments, saying that the rabbi “has long since turned into the biggest blasphemer, the evilest purveyor of hatred and killing, which are contrary to all religions.” MK Tibi called upon Yosef to reconsider his call for all evildoers to die, “because without realizing it, he is calling for his own death.” In the past, Israel has accused the Palestinian government of incitement against the Jewish state, including by naming streets after Palestinian militants. The Palestinian Authority has dismissed such allegations, though U.S. President Barack Obama told Abbas earlier this year he needs to do more to halt incitement against Israel.
The Israeli army has admitted that three Palestinian men it killed in Gaza on Sunday were civilians, and not terrorists, as previously claimed. Brig Gen Ayal Eisenberg said one of the men had picked up a grenade launcher abandoned in a field, and Israeli troops mistakenly opened fire, thinking they were about to come under attack. Among those killed were a 91-year-old farm worker and his grandson, aged 17. Rocket fire from G aza has increased in the past week. No casualties resulted. Hours after the general’s statement, at least two Palestinians were wounded in Israeli shelling east of Gaza City, a medic and another witness said. The two were wounded when Israel fired four tank shells near the village of Juhr al-Dik, close to the heavily-guarded border, the witness said. The Israeli army said it had returned fire after militants approached the border and fired a rocket propelled grenade at a patrol.
Sunday’s killings took place near the town of Beit Hanoun in Gaza after Israeli tanks fired across the border at the three victims, witnesses had said. Two of those killed were named as Ibrahim Abu Saeed and his grandson Husam. The third victim, a 20-year-old man, has not been named. At the time, Israeli army radio described the men as “terrorists”, but Gen Ayal Eisenberg now says the soldiers made a mistake. “The civilians killed by our soldiers’ fire… were not involved in any terrorist operation,” he told army radio. “Our soldiers identified a civilian who was picking up an RPG [rocket propelled grenade] and, thinking he was going to fire at them, opened fire” in his direction, he added. The incident occurred shortly after militants in Gaza fired several rockets and mortar rounds across the border into southern Israel. The attacks did not result in any injuries or damage.
Separately, a report published by an Israeli human rights group found that Israeli soldiers who kill Palestinians were rarely punished. The B’Tselem report released on Tuesday said that the military investigated only 22 of 148 cases submitted by the group. No criminal charges were brought in any of the cases, which involved the killing of 288 Palestinian civilians between 2006 and 2009, it said. “This policy permits soldiers and officers to act in violation of the law, encourages a trigger-happy attitude and shows a flagrant disregard for human life,” the report said. One Thai farm worker in Israel has been killed by rocket fire from Gaza in the past 18 months, while scores of Palestinians in Gaza have been killed over the same period.
The attack comes shortly before a key meeting this Sunday in Cairo when Hamas and its political rival Fatah will hold talks on reconciling their differences and creating a single, unified government. It will be the first time the two sides have met at this level since fighting a near civil war more than a year ago. Until now it had appeared both Israel and Hamas, which seized full control of Gaza last summer, had an interest in maintaining the ceasefire. For Israel it has meant an end to the daily barrage of rockets landing in southern towns, particularly Sderot. For Gazans it has meant an end to the regular Israeli military raids that have caused hundreds of casualties, many of them civilian, in the past year. Israel, however, has maintained its economic blockade on the strip, severely limiting imports and preventing all exports from Gaza. Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, had personally approved the Gaza raid, the Associated Press said. The Israeli military concluded that Hamas was likely to want to continue the ceasefire despite the raid, it said. The ceasefire was due to run for six months and it is still unclear whether it will stretch beyond that limit.
When we first came across her in the hospital in the Egyptian town of El-Arish, just over the border from Gaza, she was playing with an inflated surgical glove beneath the covers. The doctors had puffed air into the glove, trying to distract her from the further pain they had to inflict inserting a drip. Samar had been shot in the back at close range. The bullet damaged her spine, and she is unlikely to walk again. bedside, her uncle Hassan told us the family had been ordered out of their home by Israeli soldiers who were shelling the neighbourhood. A tank had parked in front of the house, where around 30 people were taking shelter. The women and children – mother, grandmother and three little girls – came out waving a white flag and then, he said, an Israeli soldier came out of the tank and opened fire on the terrified procession. Samar’s two sisters, aged seven and two, were shot dead. The grandmother was hit in the arm and in the side, but has survived.
One of the most alarming features of the conflict in Gaza is the number of child casualties. More than 400 were killed. Many had shrapnel or blast injuries sustained as the Israeli army battled Hamas militants in Gaza’s densely populated civilian areas. But the head of neurosurgery at the El-Arish hospital, Dr Ahmed Yahia, told me that brain scans made it clear that a number of the child victims had been shot at close range. Samar’s uncle said the soldier who had shot his niece was just 15m (49ft) away. ”How could they not see they were shooting at children?” he asked. When we finally got into Gaza, we tried to investigate further. Finding a house, even with an address, in a neighbourhood that has been bombed into oblivion, where all landmarks have been obliterated and even the locals cannot find their bearings, is not easy. But we eventually met a man who knew Samar’s family and took us to the family house, or what was left of it. The four-storey building has been concertinaed to the ground.
Khalid Abed Rabbu wears on his face all the pain of Israel’s bloody three-week campaign in Gaza. In his hand he carried the teddy bear that had belonged to his daughter, Samar’s six-year-old sister. Its head had been blown off, apparently in the same burst of gunfire that had cut his daughter in half. He described the events of that night almost identically to his brother. There were minor discrepancies, but he too believes his daughters were shot in cold blood. “There were soldiers leaning against the tank eating crisps,” he said. “But then one of them jumped down and walked towards the house with an M16 automatic rifle.” He showed me a photo of his eldest daughter under shrouds in the mortuary. “What has my family done to Israel,” he cried. “What has Samar done to deserve all this pain?” We have put the family’s allegations to the Israelis. So far they have told us that they can not comment on specific cases. Their spokesman said they had made every effort to limit civilian casualties but were fighting a terrorist organisation that often uses the civilian population as cover.
The Israelis say is evidence that on many occasions when civilians were killed their troops had been responding to incoming fire. There are reports of the neighbourhood where the family lived, known as Ezbat Abed Rabbu, had been used by militant fighters in the past. During an incursion in the spring of 2008 the Israelis took over Khalid’s house for two days. But Khalid insists he is not Hamas, he is not a fighter. He said he worked for the Palestinian Authority and is a member of Fatah, Hamas’s political rivals. “There were no fighters here,” he added, picking up crisp bags printed with Hebrew lettering that the soldiers seemed to have left behind. “Do you think soldiers eat crisps sitting on their tanks when there is incoming fire?” Samar’s father and her uncle have not spoken to each other since she left Gaza for treatment in Egypt, yet in separate interviews they told us the three girls were outside the house, in plain view, when they were shot. We toured the part of Jabaliya where the Abed Rabbus lived. In an area that must cover at least a square mile, there are no houses left – no mosques, no factories and no orchards. The entire neighbourhood has been devastated. It may be true that fighters were hiding in the alleys of Jabaliya. It is possible that rockets were being fired from here towards Israel. But for the people who lived here, this is a story of wanton destruction. The world must now decide whether the Israeli action here was justified under the rules of war.
From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Thursday, 22 January, 2009 at 1100 GMT on BBC Radio 4
Some of the worst cases of injured children are being allowed into Egypt through the Rafah crossing for emergency treatment. According to World Health Organization (WHO) figures, more than 300 children have been killed and around 1400 injured in the current conflict. They include four-year-old Samar Abed Rabbu- she is said to have been shot in the back by an Israeli soldier. Her spinal chord has been severed and she will probably never walk again. “I was hit by a bullet,” Samar tells me, clutching her teddy bear. “The Israeli soldiers shot me while I was on the steps with my little sister.”
Samer’s uncle, Hassan Abed Rabbu, has accompanied her to El-Arish hospital, close to the Egypt-Gaza border. Caught in the crossfire? He says the family home in the town of Jabaliya, south of Gaza City, was being shelled and they were ordered to leave by an Israeli patrol. According to Hassan, he shouted at the Israelis in Hebrew telling them that there were children in the house. But as his mother left the house with her three grandchildren, he says the Israelis opened fire from close range, injuring Samar and killing her two sisters. “One was two years old, her corpse was riddled with bullets,” he tells me.
“The older girl was six, her body was severed at the waist by the heavy shooting. Samar was left bleeding on the street for three hours before we could reach her.” In every room along the corridor there is a story of suffering and grief. But what particularly disturbs the Egyptian medics is the number of gunshot wounds they are seeing. Some believe that children are not simply being caught in the crossfire between the advancing Israeli army and the militants returning fire. “When you have a child who has two bullets in his head, how do you explain to me how these bullets came to his head?” asks team leader on the Palestinian ward, Dr Ayman Abdul Hadi. “It is not easy to answer because it is not only one child. There are many children.” Four of the children moved to El-Arish were shot in the head. I was shown the CT scans of Nour Thabit, aged 10, Anas Haref, 9, Nour Sami Shgier, 10 and 14-year-old, Mohz Yosef. All arrived on mechanical ventilators and remain in comas at other hospitals in Egypt.
21 September 2010 – A United Nations monitoring committee said today that Israeli and Palestinian investigations into the deadly conflict in the Gaza Strip that ended early last year have so far been inadequate. In March, the UN Human Rights Council decided to establish a panel of independent experts to “monitor and assess any domestic, legal or other proceedings undertaken by the Government of Israel and the Palestinian side” in light of the allegations raised last year in the report of the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission into the Gaza conflict – known as the Goldstone Report. That report alleged that both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants were guilty of serious human rights violations and breaches of humanitarian law during Operation Cast Lead, which took place from December 2008 to January 2009. “The parties responded, albeit in a different manner, to the call of the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council to meet their obligations to investigate allegations of crimes detailed in the Fact-Finding Mission report,” said Christian Tomuschat, chair of the committee of experts.
“The investigations, however, remain incomplete in some cases or fall significantly short of meeting international standards in others,” he added in a news release. The Committee, which issued its report today, said that while it received no response to its numerous requests for cooperation and access to Israel and the West Bank from the Israeli authorities, it did receive cooperation and assistance from the Palestinian side. “A lack of cooperation from Israel has hampered the Committee’s assessment of investigations into serious violations of war crimes,” Mr. Tomuschat stated. “Israel has published a lot of information on their investigations, but its refusal to cooperate with the Committee made it impossible to assess whether inquiries met international standards.” Despite the lack of cooperation, the Committee was able to draw some conclusions based on official submissions and numerous interviews with military experts and Palestinian witnesses with knowledge of Israeli investigations. “Israel conducted investigations into many incidents, but only four resulted in criminal indictments, one of which led to a conviction for a credit card theft,”
Mr. Tomuschat noted. The Committee found that these inquiries did not cover all allegations made by the Fact-Finding Mission. It found that Israel had not undertaken investigations into high-level decision-makers and had also failed to investigate claims of human rights violations in the West Bank alleged to have occurred at the time of the conflict. As for the Palestinian side, the Committee met with members of the independent Commission set up by the Palestinian Authority to investigate alleged human rights violations committed by public officials in the West Bank. “The Committee concluded that those investigations conformed with international standards. However, the Commission was unable to investigate fully allegations of serious violations of war crimes occurring in Gaza due to difficulties the Commission faced in accessing the Gaza Strip,” the experts stated. The UN Committee was however able to assess the work of two Committees of Inquiry established by Hamas, the de facto authorities in Gaza. The first, made up of Hamas officials, “made no serious effort to address the allegations raised by the Fact-Finding Mission,” it stated. The second body provided information on measures taken to redress violations in Gaza, but failed to substantiate assertions that political prisoners had been released and criminal prosecutions had taken place, the experts added. The UN Committee will present its report to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council on 27 September.
Israel’s military broke international laws during a raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, a UN Human Rights Council investigation says. Its report said the action by commandos, which left nine dead, was “disproportionate” and “betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality”. It said there was clear evidence to support prosecutions against Israel for “wilful killing”. Israel rejected the report as “biased” and “one-sided.” It insists its soldiers acted in self-defence during the 31 May raid. Nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists were killed and many others injured after Israeli commandoes boarded the six-ship convoy as it tried to breach an Israeli naval blockade of Gaza. The convoy’s passengers were detained and later deported by Israel. There was widespread international criticism of Israel’s actions, which severely strained relations with its long-time Muslim ally, Turkey. In a 56-page report, the UN panel of three international lawyers said: “There is clear evidence to support prosecutions of the following crimes within the terms of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention: wilful killing; torture or inhuman treatment; wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health”. The Convention is an international treaty governing the protection of civilians in times of war.
The UN fact-finding mission also said the Israeli blockade of the Palestinian territory was “unlawful” because of a humanitarian crisis there. The panel had interviewed more than 100 witnesses in Britain, Jordan, Switzerland Turkey, but not in Israel. Before the report was released, Israel dismissed the Human Rights Council as being biased, politicised and extremist. After the findings were published, it said the report was “as biased and as one-sided as the body that has produced it”. “Israel… is of the opinion that the flotilla incident is amply and sufficiently investigated as it is,” said the Israeli foreign ministry in a statement. “All additional dealing with this issue is superfluous and unproductive.” The Israeli government has begun its own independent inquiry into the flotilla raid, the Turkel Commission. It has two foreign observers, but critics say its remit is too narrow. There is also a separate UN inquiry – ordered by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon – into the raid. Israel has said it will co-operate with the investigation.
260. The attack on the flotilla must be viewed in the context of the ongoing problems between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority and People. In carrying out its task, the Mission was exposed to the depth of conviction on both sides of the correctness of their respective positions. Similar disasters are likely to reoccur unless there is a dramatic shift in the existing paradigm. It must be remembered that might and strength are enhanced when attended by a sense of justice and fair play. Peace and respect have to be earned not bludgeoned out of any opponent. An unfair victory has never been known to bring lasting peace.
261. The Mission has come to the firm conclusion that a humanitarian crisis existed on the 31 May 2010 in Gaza. The preponderance of evidence from impeccable sources is far too overwhelming to come to a contrary opinion. Any denial that this is so cannot be supported on any rational grounds. One of the consequences flowing from this is that for this reason alone the blockade is unlawful and cannot be sustained in law. This is so regardless of the grounds on which it is sought to justify the legality of the blockade.
262. Certain results flow from this conclusion. Principally, the action of the IDF in intercepting the Mavi Marmara in the circumstances and for the reasons given on the high sea was clearly unlawful. Specifically, the action cannot be justified in the circumstances even under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.
263. Israel seeks to justify the blockade on security grounds. The State of Israel is entitled to peace and security like any other. The firing of rockets and other munitions of war into Israeli territory from Gaza constitutes serious violations of international and international humanitarian law. But action in response which constitutes collective punishment of the civilian population in Gaza is not lawful in the present or any circumstances.
264. The conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel towards the flotilla
passengers was not only disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence. It betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality. Such conduct cannot be justified or condoned on security or any other grounds. It constituted grave violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law.
265. The Mission considers that several violations and offences have been committed. It is not satisfied that, in the time available, it can say that it has been able to compile a comprehensive list of all offences. However, there is clear evidence to support prosecutions of the following crimes within the terms of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention:
- wilful killing;
- torture or inhuman treatment;
- wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health.
The Mission also considers that a series of violations of Israel’s obligations under international human rights law have taken place, including:
- right to life (article 6, ICCPR);
- torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (article 7,
- ICCPR; CAT);
An Israeli doctors’ group has been named as one of the four winners of this year’s Right Livelihood award – dubbed the alternative Nobel prize. Physicians for Human Rights Israel was recognised for operating mobile clinics in occupied Palestinian territories and campaigning for patients’ rights. The Rights Livelihood awards honour the power of grassroots change, the Sweden-based foundation said in a statement. Four recipients will share the 200,000 euro (£172,000; $273,000) prize. The award was founded in 1980 by Swedish-German philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull to recognise work he felt was being ignored by the Nobel Foundation. Other winners of the 2010 awards include Nigerian and Brazilian environmentalists, as well as Nepalese community activists.
The prize will be presented to the four recipients in a ceremony at the Swedish parliament on 6 December, four days before the Nobel Prizes are handed out. Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) was included for its “indomitable spirit” in working for the right to health for all people in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Right Livelihood foundation said in a statement. The Tel Aviv-based group was founded in 1988 at the start of the intifada by Dr Ruchama Marton and Israeli and Palestinian physicians. It provides healthcare to impoverished Palestinians and migrant workers, and lobbies against what it sees as repressive policies of the Israeli government. In a statement, Dr Marton said that the award strengthens the group’s “ongoing struggle against all sources of oppression”. As a result of the blockade of Gaza, hospital facilities are extremely poor, medicines are scarce and dozens of people die each year waiting for permission to be treated in Israel, the UN has said. Although Israel and Egypt have eased the blockade of the Gaza Strip, the movement of Palestinians is still severely restricted. Israel says the restrictions are necessary to pressure militants to stop firing rockets from the Hamas-run territory.
Posted: August 31, 2010 02:58 PM by
With pundits in most capitals already predicting failure for the US-brokered Palestinian-Israeli peace talks to begin on Thursday, it seems only natural to start asking the question: “What’s next?” To get a jumpstart on what surely will be an onslaught of new, competing narratives vying for prominence in the post-peace process era, I headed to Damascus to talk to a man who has predicted the failure of this process from the start. And yet who — against all logic — has never been invited to sit at the negotiating table. Khaled Meshaal, head of Hamas’ political bureau, is an unassuming man who sauntered into our interview room unattended and chatted with me in English while we awaited his staff. The young father of seven — three daughters and four sons, in that order — is grounded, smart and energetic. We met at 1:00 a.m. when I was fading fast, and he was just getting started. There was a lot of ground to cover, but more than anything I wanted to leave the interview knowing what Hamas stood for. The resistance group, I felt, had left people confused in recent years. By moderating their stances and altering their language to accommodate changing realities in the Middle East, Hamas had become a bit blurry at the edges. Do they recognize a two-state solution? Do they reject the peace process outright? What do they think about the role and imperatives of the international community in resolving the longstanding conflict between Palestinians and Israelis? And most importantly for me — how does one today define an organization that has evolved so much since its inception?
Firstly, Hamas is clearly a national liberation movement that has at it roots a “resistance” outlook. It’s focus is the liberation of Palestine from Israeli occupation, and the group’s Islamist character complements rather than competes with Hamas’ political objectives. Secondly, Hamas’ resistance of occupation is at the heart of its strategies — be they efforts to reach out and engage, or to take up arms. The strategy may change with evolving regional and global realities, but the group’s objectives stand firm. In a nutshell: While the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority enables Israel to enjoy a pressure-free occupation, Hamas ensures that Israel’s occupation remains always under pressure. And so we come to this last leg of the US-brokered peace process. Ostensibly, under the internationally-sanctioned land-for-peace formula, a major goal of negotiations is to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. So why then would Hamas not stand fully behind a peace process that sought to accomplish some of its very own goals? And why too would US mediators not invite the participation of a group that won the Palestinian popular vote in their last elections?
Here is what Khaled Meshaal had to say about the prospects and challenges of peace, and where we find ourselves at this moment, on the eve of direct peace talks:
SN: The peace process has been going on for 19 years — what in your view has been the major reason for its failure thus far?
KM: Three reasons. First of all, Israel does not want peace. They talk about peace but they are not ready to pay the price of peace. The second reason is that the Palestinian negotiator does not have strong cards in his hand to push the peace process forward. The third reason is that the international community does not have the capability or the desire to push Israel towards peace.
SN: On Thursday, direct talks begin again between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel — the US has worked hard to bring this about. What are your thoughts on this round, the US’ role and prospects for a breakthrough?
KM: These negotiations are taking place for American and Israeli considerations, calculations and interests only. There are no interests at all for us as Palestinians or Arabs. That’s why the negotiations can only be conducted under American orders, threats and pressure exerted on the PA and some Arab countries.
The negotiations are neither supported nationally nor are they perceived as legitimate by the authoritative Palestinian institutions. They are rejected by most of the Palestinian factions, powers, personalities, elites, and regular people — that is why these “peace talks” are destined for failure. This represents a perfect example of how the US administration deals with the Arab-Israeli conflict — how American policy appears to be based on temporary troubleshooting instead of working toward finding a real and lasting solution.
Consecutive US administrations have adopted this same policy of “managing conflict” instead of “resolving conflict.” This can be useful for American tactical and short-term purposes, but it is very dangerous on the long-term and the strategic levels. This approach will ultimately prove catastrophic for the region.
SN: There is debate about whether Hamas accepts the premise of a two-state solution — your language seems often vague and heavily nuanced. I want to ask if you could clarify, but I am also curious as to whether it is even worth accepting a two-state solution today when there has been so much land confiscation and settlement activity by Israel in the West Bank and East Jerusalem?
KM: Hamas does accept a Palestinian state on the lines of 1967 — and does not accept the two-state solution.
SN: What is the difference between the two?
KM: There is big difference between these two. I am a Palestinian. I am a Palestinian leader. I am concerned with accomplishing what the Palestinian people are looking for — which is to get rid of the occupation, attain liberation and freedom, and establish the Palestinian state on the lines of 1967. Talking about Israel is not relevant to me — I am not concerned about it. It is an occupying state, and I am the victim. I am the victim of the occupation; I am not concerned with giving legitimacy to this occupying country. The international community can deal with this (Israeli) state; I am concerned with the Palestinian people. I am as a Palestinian concerned with establishing the Palestinian state only.
SN: Can you clarify further? As a Palestinian leader of the Resistance you have to give people an idea of what you aspire to — and how you expect to attain it?
KM: For us, the 20 years of experience with these peace negotiations — and the failure of it — very much convinces us today that the legitimate rights of Palestinians will be only be gained by snatching them, not by being gifted with them at the negotiating table. Neither Netanyahu nor any other Israeli leader will ever simply gift us a Palestinian state. The Palestinian Authority has watered down all its demands and is merely asking for a frame of reference to the 1967 borders in negotiations, but Netanyahu has repeatedly refused to accept even this most basic premise for peace. Nor will America or the international community gift us with a state — we have to depend on ourselves and help ourselves.
As a Palestinian leader, I tell my people that the Palestinian state and Palestinian rights will not be accomplished through this peace process — but it will be accomplished by force, and it will be accomplished by resistance. I tell them that through this bitter experience of long negotiations with the Israelis, we got nothing — we could not even get the 1967 solution. I tell them the only option in front of us today is to take this by force and by resistance. And the Palestinian people today realize this — yes, it has a steep price, but there is no other option for the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people tried the peace process option but the result was nothing.
SN: While Hamas has not been a participant in the peace process, many of the Arab nations have pushed for these very negotiations. So then why have they persisted with these talks if most of them think the process is futile?
KM: This bloc (of Arab nations) which has pursued the peace process strategy with Israel is ready to continue with habitual and continuous negotiations without even a single outcome. They will continue with this peace process with Israel because they are not ready to turn to the other option.
SN: And the other option is?
KM: The confrontation of Israel. The other option is resistance — which will gain the strong cards to pressurize Israel. In short, a weak party (this Arab bloc) will adopt a course of action though he knows that he will see no positive outcome, as he does not have his own strength and has no strong cards. At the same time there is also a great pressure on The Resistance from America and Israel in order to prevent our success. If the peace process is blocked without hope, there is no option for the Palestinian people — for the people of the region — but the option of continuing with resistance, even though they realize the pressure that will come, and even though they realize there is a conspiracy against The Resistance.
SN: Well one of these Arab nations that keeps pushing for the peace process is Egypt. Egypt is also a party to the siege of Gaza. And yet Hamas accepts the decision of the Arab League to choose Egypt to mediate reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Why did Hamas accept Egypt as a mediator?
KM: There is no doubt we have differences with Egypt regarding many of its political positions and decisions. But the reasons for Egypt’s mediation of reconciliation talks are different. The first is that Egypt is a major country in the region — it is not easy for other nations to just bypass them on any issue. The second reason goes back to geopolitics and the history between Palestine and Egypt, which make Egypt more vested in the Palestinian issue than virtually any other country.
The third reason is that the reconciliation itself consists of two parties — Hamas and Fatah. No mediator in this reconciliation effort will succeed unless both groups agree to their participation. Fatah simply refuses the intervention of any other Arab country as this will anger Egypt. We in Hamas do not refuse Egypt as the caretaker for the mediation — what is important for us is not whether we have X or Y as the mediator, what is important to us is that reconciliation itself has to be advanced in a correct way. And it was evident in the last round that the main impediment to this reconciliation is American interference.
SN: But then does reconciliation become impossible if Egyptians always cave to US pressure?
KM: Yes, there is an American pressure where Egypt is concerned. Mahmoud Abbas is also acquiescing to that same pressure and this undoubtedly makes the reconciliation more difficult.
SN: Why, in your view, does the West not engage directly with Hamas and make you a partner to the solution? Surely the only path to a comprehensive peace is a solution agreed upon by all major parties to a conflict?
KM: The West is trying — either because it lacks the capability or desire — to get somewhere in the region through pressuring the Palestinian side, and not pressuring the Israeli side. The Americans are still convinced today that if they continue pressuring the Palestinian and Arab negotiators — and not get Israel angry — they can reach some breakthrough through this process. The time is coming when they will reach a dead-end because the Palestinian people will simply not agree to any solution which will not provide for all their legitimate rights.
SN: Well some Palestinians would. It appears that the Palestinian Authority is prepared to strike a deal that does not address the Palestinian refugees’ right of return. But could that be a real solution?
KM: I am talking about a majority of Palestinians — not the few. The Palestinian Authority cannot reach a solution with the Israelis without the approval of the majority. Any rightful representatives of the people will advocate for, and not disregard, the Palestinian people’s ambitions and legitimate rights. In short, the West will discover sooner or later that any solution that will not fulfill the rights of the Palestinian people will not be successful and will not be implemented. In that very particular instance, when they finally decide to respect the desires and ambitions of the Palestinian people, they will decide to engage with the Hamas movement. To clarify… though we are open to them, the key for the success of any solution is not through the West or the Americans — we believe that the key to success will come through pursuing our national rights. The change will be made from within the region — whether America is satisfied or not — because anyone who is awaiting change from the West today will not get any change.
SN: There are rumors that Hamas has been secretly talking to US officials for about two years — is there any truth to this?
KM: We don’t have any interest in concealing official meetings if they take place. Essentially speaking, there are no official or direct talks with the US administration, except for some meetings that happened at the side of some conference in Doha with low-profile individuals, and we do not consider these direct or official talks with the administration. But we do consider some of these meetings as indirect talks — we know very well that some non-US officials we meet with report to the administration. And yes, we have met some former Democrat and Republican officials, and we know that they too report to the administration. We are interested in meeting with the Americans and the West, but we do not beg for these meetings and we are not in a hurry.
Palestinian resistance group Hamas has beaten some unusual odds to survive today: Israel’s unlawful siege of Gaza has crippled the coastal strip’s economy and left Hamas scrambling to govern a restless population living under increasingly desperate conditions. Its officials and members are targeted by Israel and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) for detention, torture and extrajudicial killings. Pro-US Arab leaders undermine it at every turn, partly to satisfy American demands, partly because they fear the widespread popularity of any moderate Islamist resistance group among their own populations. Classified by the US as a “terrorist” organization, Hamas has spent the past year battling armed Salafist extremists who want to enforce Islamic law in the Gaza Strip and who view the Hamas leadership as too weak-willed to challenge Israel’s occupation of Palestine. It is ironic that Hamas today is criticized for being hardline — and liberal too. Militant — and not militant enough. Islamist — and not Islamist enough. Iranian stooges — and US pawns, both. I expected to see some of these contradictions in Khaled Meshaal, head of Hamas’ political bureau, when I interviewed him in Damascus recently. What I discovered instead is that, like a select crop of leaders we are seeing in the Middle East today, Meshaal refuses to be seen through one lens only.
A real challenge for US policymakers with their unidimensional approach to regional politics.The former high school physics teacher convincingly argues that the New Middle East is one where nations need to keep their “options open.” He rejects a regional status-quo where countries stay in “blocs” unthinkingly, and vehemently argues against the notion that Mideast democracy and reform cannot advance unless foreign intervention ends. Meshaal may be more of a geopolitical strategist than suspected, but he also manages to stay infuriatingly “on message” most of the time — never a fun thing when you would love a stray impolitic anecdote. Toward the end of our discussion I asked him about his rumored stash of Dubya jokes, and received nothing but a twinkle in his eye in return, though I could swear he almost caved. But Hamas’ goal to end Israel’s occupation of Palestine is no laughing matter, and Meshaal’s earnest focus reflects the gravity of events in the Mideast today. In Part 1 of the interview seen here, he addresses the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Hamas’ perspective on the recently launched peace talks. This time around, Khaled Meshaal talks about broader regional issues, including the emergence of the “Resistance Bloc,” the New Middle East, relations with Iran, the Ground Zero mosque…and on a more personal note, his relationship with his father:
SN: The “Resistance Bloc” in the Middle East – Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas – how did it come about?
KM: The forming of this bloc is a natural consequence of events in the region – firstly, the presence of Israel and its atrocities against the region, and then the failure of the negotiation process to achieve something substantial. Even when the Arabs compromised and agreed to the borders of 1967, they did not receive a serious response from Israel. Thus, we have this stalemated situation where Israel has a free hand to do whatever it wants – with the world community turning a blind eye – which leads to the response in the street and to the forming of the bloc you have mentioned. So there is a vacuum. There is a fiasco. There is a frustration. There is an increasing fury and anger among the masses. And now, embarrassment at the official level in the region. There is also the emergence of resistance in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan. This resistance keeps standing up to Israel and keeps developing its capabilities – as you can see, they accomplished some successful results in Gaza and in Southern Lebanon. Resistance has therefore become an attractive model for states in the region. This naturally created an environment conducive to the forming of this bloc.
SN: You mention Israel as a key reason for this Resistence Bloc forming in the Middle East. But I believe this “bloc” has more than just four members – it is more of a “Worldview” which includes Qatar, Turkey, maybe Oman, Iraq and others – the one common denominator being “the desire for a state to act in its own self-interest.” Israel may have been a trigger for this Worldview emerging in parts of the Mideast, but how does a country like Qatar for instance get drawn in?
KM: You got this in the same context as I wish to continue. Look at a country like Qatar – it has good relations with the United States, used to have a degree of relations with Israel until the Gaza War, and is considered to be a moderate and liberal state. Qatar’s foreign policy is being formed by the views of its leader, the Emir. The situation in the region created a belief, for a country like Qatar, that if it wants to have a role in the region, it has to open up its options in all directions. The one who keeps himself away from the relevant elements in the region, he won’t be relevant himself. In Qatar you have this leadership – someone who is smart and courageous like the Emir. He understands and realizes full well the aspirations and the mood of his own people and the people of the region. So he adopts those issues and causes which are popular among his constituencies, among those nations – which works well if those issues are already close to his own beliefs and his own interests. Keeping in mind that other Arab countries have for decades been unable to present a successful model that is attractive for others to adopt, this new regional state model has thrived in recent years. These countries – Qatar, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Turkey – share some common elements, but they are not identical to each other. They each have their own modus operandi and interests. Something these nations do share, however, is the self-desire to develop this new trend, but at the same time to remain open – not closed or bound – to enjoying options.
SN: Not dogmatic, as in the past…
KM: …ah yes, not like that. Why should we be dividing ourselves into two blocs – either being against America and the West, or acquiescing 100% to them?
The people in the region, they are looking for leadership to match their own aspirations and ambitions. In a way we need a model where democracy is there, internal reform, successful economy, justice at the social level – and at the same time, there is independence in their political decisions, away from acquiescing to the threats of Israel – and not being a proxy to foreign, American and Western policies. We do not want to wage a war against the world. Or to sever relations with countries. So the nations and the people of the region want a state model based on self respect – without any enmity with the world.
SN: But is it possible to make progress in domestic reforms before foreign interference in the region stops?
KM: My view is that no doubt the foreign intervention is an impediment and has its own negative repercussions. But of course it cannot stop our internal reforms….
SN: It completely stopped the Palestinian democratic process…
KM: The Palestinian situation is different because we are under occupation and don’t have a state. I am talking about stable countries in the region. They have no excuse not to have their own democratic models and reforms — even with foreign intervention — and Turkey is an example of that. Any leadership that genuinely desires to make internal change will do it irrespective of obstacles or foreign intervention. Otherwise if we acquiesce to the notion that the foreign element is the decisive factor in a process for transformation, we will never have democracy, reform, social justice and vibrant economies in this part of the world. In Hamas, we know very well how the intervention of Americans, Israelis and other international actors has had a significant impact on the Palestinian situation — especially if we talk about the control of money and financial assistance. Finances have had a direct impact on Palestinian politics, which is why the Palestinian Authority — Salam Fayyad, Mahmoud Abbas – is very weak. Hamas realizes the impact of this element on us and on the Palestinian situation, but we will not acquiesce to it.
SN: Do you think Hamas’ more conciliatory positions in recent years has “watered down” your organization? Have any of these efforts reaped any rewards for you whatsoever?
KM: The “openness” which you acknowledge yourself, comes neither from changing Hamas’ position nor from acquiescing to external pressures — this openness is part of Hamas’ strategy: On the one hand, we have remained steadfast in our determination to attain the legitimate national rights of our people and to continue the resistance. On the other hand, in politics, we proceed with an open mind. How do we do this? I restrict my battle to Israel only. Our battle is not with the United States of America — nor with the West. Yes, the American policies and some Western policies are hostile to us, but there is still no way that my battle is with them. So I am open – I can talk and I can engage in dialogue with the West and with the Americans. But I will not acquiesce to them. We have confidence in ourselves and independence in our decisions – we will not be a proxy for anybody, and our enemy is only restricted to the occupation – to the Israelis.
SN: Ok, but in all fairness, Hamas once was in large part about armed resistance like Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is still today. There are all these demands on Hamas from the international community today — to accept the Quartet Principles, accepting all the treaties, recognizing Israel, renouncing violence, etc. So your efforts to engage has landed you somewhere between PIJ and Fatah — and not so distinguishable any longer. I know exactly what those two organizations are about — but Hamas…not so much.
KM: You want a very distinctive or explicit answer. Either you adopt this track or that track. What you are suggesting in your question is not what Hamas desires.
Firstly, Hamas did not reduce its level of resistance because we wanted to present some flexibility with the Quartet conditions, or even to satisfy the West. The level of resistance diminished because of very objective field conditions inside Palestine. This goes for Hamas, Islamic Jihad — for everybody. I mean it wasn’t our political decision to downsize the resistance, but it happened because of the significant security pressures in the field — security pressures from both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Secondly, Hamas is not practicing being a “moderate” movement to satisfy the other side or expecting something in return from the West — not at all — it is part of our own personality, our creed, the strategy we believe in. The West will decide to engage with Hamas when they are convinced that they will not achieve anything in the region without engaging with Hamas. And this time is coming.
SN: Israel is helping you a great deal these days, it seems? They are drawing censure from all quarters about their behaviors since the Gaza war, flotilla killings, Mabhouh assassination, settlement activity, destruction of the Bedouin communities in the Negev, etc.
KM: Yes of course, Israel is acting against its own interest. They want more regional hegemony, more power. They commit fatal mistakes against themselves, leaving no future for Israel. Occupation has no future, occupation will never be legitimized. It is only the weak people who live this fallacy, these false dreams — and we are not weak. We are realistic and so we will achieve our ambitions. Yes, today Israel is more powerful than us – the balance of power is not in our favor today. There is a Palestinian and Arab weakness, there is an American bias, there is weakness in the international community’s plans, but nevertheless the Palestinian people will ultimately win.
SN: Your political foe today — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — was also prime minister in 1996 when he ordered your assassination. The attempted killing drew the direct intervention of US President Bill Clinton and Jordan’s King Hussein who forced Netanyahu to provide an antidote for the toxin administered to you by Mossad agents. Politically, Netanyahu is your enemy — but what are your emotions toward this man on a personal level?
KM: I say but the truth, so you must believe me. For me there is nothing personal, there is no single personal feeling toward him — the only feeling I have is regarding his position towards my people. He is my enemy. Not because he tried to assassinate me – but because he is occupying my land. He is killing my people. Other than that dimension of being an enemy, an occupier in my homeland — I don’t have any additional personal feelings about him. I consider myself bigger than this — than having a personal clash with him. The suffering of my people is more important than my own suffering. The most important lesson out of this assassination attempt for me is that every individual has a pre-decided “time” from the almighty Allah, whether he dies in an assassination attempt or in his bed. If anything, this incident has made me more brave. We have a proverb which says “courage will never be a reason to shorten your life, nor would cowardliness be a reason to extend it.”
SN: The war drums are beating against Iran — what are your thoughts on this?
KM: At the Israeli level it’s increasing and worsening, but I believe that it will need some time at the American level. I believe that Israel will need American support to wage a war. The Israelis will not be in need for direct support of the Americans for the war on Lebanon, but they will for a war on Iran.
Israel does not want peace. Israelis — historically speaking — live on wars and battles. The failure of Israel in the last two wars, in Southern Lebanon and in Gaza, reinforces this image in front of the world. They want to save their face, they want to change the history — hence they are preparing for wars.
SN: We are often told that Hezbollah and Hamas take marching orders from Iran, and that Iran plans to use you folks in a proxy war against Israel. So let me ask you this…If Israel launched a military attack against Iran, how would Hamas react?
KM: We are not agents for anybody. We are not tools in the hands of the others. For sure we, Hezbollah, Iran and Syria have many things in common — especially in terms of resistance — but just as certainly, we are not a proxy for anybody, nor do we plan wars in other states. Hamas is not a “superpower” that can intervene to defend Hezbollah or Syria or Iran. Israel and America try to portray this — that we are proxies for each other — but this is very unrealistic.
SN: When you went to Saudi Arabia recently, Saudi Prince Faisal asked you whether you chose Iranians over Arabs….
KM: Correction – he asked whether our relations with Iran were at the expense of our relations with the Arabs and the Palestinian national interest. I told him: “yes, we have relations with Iran and will do so with whomever supports us. We will say thank you to them, but this is not at the expense of our Arab relations.” We are a resistance movement, open to the Arabs, to the Muslims and to all countries in the world, and we are not part of any agenda for regional forces.
SN: A senior member of the Islamic Action Front in Jordan told me that in the first year after the Iranian revolution, 80 books were published on the Shia but that there had only been three, maybe four, such books published in the decades before the revolution. This division between Muslims continues to be exploited by different parties — what can be done to diffuse this situation?
KM: You know the differences between the Sunni and the Shia is very well established historically, and it is still present today. But how to address this situation? Yes, some of the International parties they try to exploit to do as you say: divide and rule. And some parties in the region, official and non-official entities both, yes they want to make it a reason for war between the two worlds — a sectarian battle — between Shia and Sunni.
We, in Hamas, see ourselves — Sunni and Shia — as different sectarian-wise, but all part of one world. So we have to accommodate this difference and be united to confront the foreign enemy.
SN: Have you been reading about the Ground Zero mosque controversy in New York city? What are your thoughts on this very sensitive debate in the United States?
KM: Naturally speaking, America has to be in harmony with its own declared values. It’s not fitting or appropriate for Americans – under the guise of an anti-terrorism war – to fight Muslims by restricting them in their rituals or religious practice. One of your citizenship rights is to practice your religion. If they are American and they are Muslim American, they have the right to build a mosque as part of their citizenship rights.
In short, aside from the political differences, the freedom of practicing religious rituals and having religious freedom — for all religions — should be granted without having disparity or political differences brought into it.
SN: Not too long ago, I was talking to someone from the US Military’s CENTCOM who lamented the fact that there was never very much information available about the “personalities” of the Resistance leadership — he enjoyed the fact that Hezbollah’s foreign relations chief revealed in an earlier interview that he sometimes watches the Oprah Winfrey show with his wife. So I promised I would ask one personal question on his behalf, and it is this: What was your relationship with your father like growing up?
KM: Tell him to meet me and I will explain everything! I am the eldest son of my father. We were 11 children, and being the eldest made it a special relationship. In our culture, when a man or woman becomes a parent, they are nicknamed after their first-born child, and my father was therefore called “Abu Khaled” or “father of Khaled” his whole life. My father fought the British Mandate and the Israeli terror gangs like Stern and Irgun. This is one of the influences that passed from my father to myself — I have taken that spirit of resistance from him. And of course, within part of our Islamic and Arab culture, the deep emotional relationship between father and son — this is also part of it. My father passed on many of his qualities to me — resistance; the practice of religion; courage and resolve; a democratic soul. He was very fair in his approach within the family, inside the home. He used to give us freedom and it has had its own impact on my upbringing. The child that gets such a democratic atmosphere will have more confidence in his or her decisions. Since I was a young boy, my father gave me complete liberty — I have now brought the same policy to my own seven children. My father was also a leader in his tribe, and with the clans and families at a social level. In a way he was a reference for our town on social affairs, so one major part of his personality was to be open to all horizons for the benefit of the family and the town. I was brought up with this environment, and I got this openness from my relationship with him.
29 September 2010 Last updated at 21:22
Jewish activists who sought to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza say they were treated harshly when Israeli forces seized their vessel. Yonatan Shapira, an Israeli air force pilot turned peace activist, said he was shocked with a Taser gun while passively resisting arrest. And a British journalist said he was “ambushed” and “almost strip-searched” by commandos on board the vessel. Israel’s military had said the vessel was seized peacefully on Tuesday. It declined to comment on the activists’ accounts. Earlier this year, Israeli commandos killed nine people in clashes on board a Turkish ship trying to reach Gaza. Israel says its blockade is designed to prevent weapons being smuggled to the militant Hamas movement which runs the territory. Yonatan Shapira, a member of left-wing group Combatants for Peace, said he was treated “brutally” by Israeli soldiers when the ship was intercepted some 20 miles (30km) off the coast of Gaza on Tuesday. “After they boarded, I was standing with my hands around Reuven Moskowitz, the 82-year-old holocaust survivor,” he told BBC News. “We were trying to protect each other and singing: ‘We shall overcome.’ “The Israeli navy captain came closer and pulled out his Taser gun and said: ‘If you don’t let go… it will hurt.’
“We continued to hug and he shot me twice on my right shoulder. It was painful, but not as bad as the third shot. “He moved the life vest I had on, so he could reach closer to my heart and shot me, which made me lose control of my body. It felt like an epileptic attack or something. At that point I couldn’t hold anything and they grabbed me brutally to the boat.” British photo-journalist Vish Vishvanath confirmed that Mr Shapira had been hit by the stun gun. After his deportation to London, Mr Vishvanath said he had been “almost strip-searched” by Israeli special forces, who confiscated all his equipment. “About three commandos ambushed me and took all my camera gear. They confiscated my cell phone because it had a camera on it,” he told the Press Association. He said the activists put up “a lot of resistance”, but that no violence was used. The Irene, dubbed the Jewish Boat for Peace, was carrying what the activists called a symbolic amount of medicine, a water purifying kit and toys.
The Israeli army diverted the boat to the port of Ashdod and said the gifts would be screened and transferred overland to Gaza. All five Israeli activists were questioned and released without charge. Three of the four foreign nationals were deported late on Tuesday. The fourth, a German nurse, would be deported in the next few days, organisers said. Israel and neighbouring Egypt shut down Gaza’s border crossings when an Israeli soldier was captured in June 2006, and tightened the blockade further when the Islamist Hamas movement gained control of Gaza a year later. Israel began allowing consumer goods into Gaza after its May raid on a Turkish aid ship sparked international outrage. Nine activists were killed when Israeli commandos intercepted the ship in international waters. But it still blocks all exports from the territory, imposes a complete naval blockade, and severely restricts the movement of people. Israel says the naval blockade is required to stop arms being smuggled to Hamas, but critics and humanitarian groups say this amounts to collective punishment of the territory’s 1.5 million people.