Last Updated September 7, 2015
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.