. . . a letter of summons had been sent [30 June 2016] to former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni from Scotland Yard’s war crimes unit with regard to Livni’s suspected involvement in the commission of war crimes and violations of the Geneva Conventions. This was followed by urgent diplomatic intervention to overrule the attempt to deliver Livni to justice. Ms Livni was granted diplomatic immunity and the summons was cancelled.
On 16 June 2016, the New Zealand Herald published an article by David Shearer, NZ Labour Party Spokesman on Foreign Affairs, entitled Border decisions condemn countries to conflict. The article dealt with the tragic consequences of the Sykes-Picot partitioning of the Middle East and the racist arrogance that lay behind it, as well as the present suffering of the Palestinian people, forced to live as refugees under oppressive and brutal foreign military rule. Shearer’s article reminds us of past wrongs and is a timely appeal for a change in attitude. That appeal was totally lost on Rob Harris, the author of an article published in the Herald four days later, Shearer’s Middle East border analysis falls along simplistic lines.
The Zionist narrative
Harris fantasised about the infamous Franco-British imperialist carve-up of the Middle East, asking: “Are they [Arabs] not capable of fine-tuning Sykes-Picot to reflect the aspirations of locals?” What Harris means to say is ‘get over it’ and learn to accept the chaos created by both past and present foreign interference. He asserts that the Sykes-Picot agreement was “not the main reason” for what he calls “. . . calamities and defeats” and he describes the arbitrary tearing apart of the region as “merely the coat hanger on which many Arabs hung their problems and their helplessness, in order to excuse their inability and backwardness . . .” In reality, Britain and France conspired to share the Middle East, from Northern Iraq to Palestine, drawing borders that ignored local history, culture and economics. This was followed by the Balfour Declaration and the eventual unleashing of Zionist terrorism in Palestine that set in train what has proved to be a never-ending, growing refugee crisis. The creation of Israel facilitated the introduction of nuclear weapons to the Middle East, a tragic erosion of respect for international humanitarian law and an inevitable rise of ever more fanatical ideologies in the region.
It is interesting to note that, while Harris writes of Israel, he fails to mention Palestine. He does, admittedly, refer to Palestinians – but dismissively, by denying their history: “Firstly, remember that the West Bank, like Gaza, was never a Palestinian territory.” Such views, whether expressed through ignorance or ideological commitment, are deeply offensive. Fortunately, international law does recognise the people of Palestine, and the world supports the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
Rob Harris is equally insulting to the Palestinian population in blockaded and traumatised Gaza; he calls the Palestinians there “Gazans”. Gaza is part of Palestine and the people who live there are Palestinian – more than half are refugees from other parts of Palestine. It suits Israel to isolate Gaza – the Zionist state’s relentless blockade has turned the area into a pitiful ghetto. On 26 January this year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, referred to the issue of increasing Palestinian frustration “under the weight of a half century of Occupation”, and on recent violent reactions by some Palestinians, Ban Ki-moon recognised that “. . . as oppressed peoples have demonstrated throughout the ages, it is human nature to react to Occupation”. The Secretary-General went on to say, “continued settlement activities are an affront to the Palestinian people and to the international community.”
Rob Harris asks: “. . . what Israeli leadership in its right mind would allow another Hamas firing point in the West Bank?” From the beginning of this year, up to the end of June, Israel has committed more than 600 Gaza ceasefire violations. Over the same period, there were just five Palestinian ceasefire violations, only two of them involving missiles fired at Israel. The other three were armed acts of Resistance against Israeli Army targets. Israel claims to have withdrawn from Gaza although it continues to make military incursions into the blockaded territory, often with the aim of bulldozing crops and destroying agriculture. Palestinian fishing boats are under fire from Israeli warships almost daily. Not wanting the world to know the extent of its oppression of the Gaza Strip, Israel has refused to allow European Parliament access to Gaza since 2011 and continues to do so – so much for ‘withdrawal’! It claimed that its Operation Protective Edge blitz on Gaza in July 2014, which killed at least 2,200 Palestinians, was carried out to stop rocket fire into Israel from Gaza. In fact, it was Israel that had been violating the ceasefire agreement in order to provoke the Palestinian Resistance. The same sad process continues right up to the present.
Harris claims that the Israeli Occupation is “at a ceasefire line, just as it is on the Golan Heights, and awaits a durable peace.” But Israel has begun to claim sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights. The citing of ‘security’ concerns to justify the annexation is merely a cover to hide the fact that Israel covets Golan’s water and the fertility it affords. According to a BBC article, the Israeli-Occupied Syrian territory provides a third of Israel’s water supply, enabling the Zionist state to use the fertile, volcanic soil to “cultivate vineyards and orchards and to raise cattle”. Tourism is a thriving Israeli enterprise in the Syrian territory, which is now home to Israel’s only ski resort. But there is more than territorial ambition driving Israel’s criminal annexation of the Golan Heights — a WikiLeaks release shows that it has been US policy to violently overthrow the Syrian Government by force and Democrat Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton publicly asserted that, if elected, she would “take the relationship with Israel to the next level,” promising “I would extend an invitation to the Israeli prime minister to come to the United States” in order to “work towards very much strengthening and intensifying our relationship on military matters”.
The US and Israel seek to divide and control the Middle East. Journalist Oded Yinon, who had once worked for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, published an article on Israel’s strategy. According to Israel Shahak’s English translation of that text, the view was that “Lebanon’s total dissolution into five provinces serves as a precedent for the entire Arab world including Egypt, Syria, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula and is already following that track. The dissolution of Syria and Iraq later on into ethnically or religiously unique areas such as in Lebanon, is Israel’s primary target on the Eastern front in the long run, while the dissolution of the military power of those states serves as the primary short term target. Syria will fall apart, in accordance with its ethnic and religious structure, into several states such as in present day Lebanon . . .” and “Every kind of inter-Arab confrontation will assist us in the short run . . .” In an article by Thomas Harrington, Alon Pinkas, the former Israeli Consul General in New York, in September 2013, described the Syrian conflict in the following terms in the New York Times: “This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win – we’ll settle for a tie, . . Let them both bleed, haemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here . . . ”
The arrogant militarism of Western leaders has been revealed anew with the publishing of the long-awaited Chilcot Report. The much-maligned new UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, had been instrumental in setting up the Stop the War Coalition that initially opposed military action in Afghanistan in 2001 and went on to mobilise close to two million people to demonstrate against the Iraq War. At the time, Corbyn said that that those who took the UK to war should pay a political price. Sadly, the politicians, aided by much of the news media, ignore the people who elect them to power and lie to them. The very Chilcot Inquiry itself even, at the outset, was ordered to avoid any apportioning of criminal or civil liabilities.
Destroying Palestinian homes
On 4 July, the United Nations condemned Israel for demolishing Palestinians’ homes and advancing plans to build new houses for Israeli settlers. On 5 July, the United Nations news service published a photograph of a gutted Palestinian home destroyed by the Israeli Army in the middle of the night, along with another. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesperson said in a statement: “This raises legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions, which are compounded by continuing statements of some Israeli ministers calling for the annexation of the West Bank.” Another UN spokesperson reminded the world community that, “Punitive home demolitions are a form of collective punishment which are illegal under international law”, adding: “UNRWA condemns punitive demolitions and reminds Israel, the occupying power, that, under international humanitarian law, it has an obligation to protect the occupied people . . . ”
Accountability and war crimes
As for Palestine, so too for Israel’s neighbours, there will be no hope for peace and stability in the Middle East until Western leaders and news media stop covering for Israel. On 3 July, the BBC reported news from the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz that a letter of summons had been sent to former Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, from Scotland Yard’s war crimes unit with regard to Livni’s suspected involvement in the commission of war crimes and violations of the Geneva Conventions. The British Police were seeking to investigate Livni’s role as Israeli Foreign Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and member of the diplomatic-security cabinet during the 2008 Cast Lead operation in Gaza. A senior, but anonymous, Israeli official in Jerusalem told Haaretz that the Israeli Embassy in London had received the letter on 30 June. This was followed by urgent diplomatic intervention to overrule the attempt to deliver Livni to justice. She was granted diplomatic immunity and the summons was cancelled. Israel has blitzed the Gaza Strip on three occasions – in 2008-2009, 2012 and 2014. About 4,000 Palestinians were killed during those three onslaughts, including 1,400 during the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead massacre. As recently as 1 July this year, a refugee was wounded by gunfire from an Israeli Army position, directed at a UN refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.
On 7 July, in a phone call to Radio New Zealand’s newsdesk, RNZ could not confirm that it had reported news of the Livni summons, even though it did acknowledge that its newswires had informed it of the event. TV One, likewise, did not consider the matter newsworthy and an email to the NZ Herald, asking the newspaper to confirm that it had reported news of the Livni summons produced no response. It seems that the summonsing by the British Police of a UN member state’s former foreign minister over suspected war crimes was not considered newsworthy – or to put it more clearly – it was covered up.
On 28 June, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited an UNRWA-run school in al-Zaytoun, Gaza, where he described Israel’s brutal blockade as “. . . a collective punishment for which there must be accountability.” Because of the support of the US and other Western nations, Israel continues to violate the Fourth Geneva Convention and commit, with utter impunity, the most malevolent inhumanities against defenceless people. “The UN will always be with you”, said the UN Secretary-General but without a demand for accountability on the part of Israel that surely must remain just a dream. Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip “suffocates its people, stifles its economy, and impedes construction”, says Ban Ki-moon, speaking of the need for humanitarian assistance. If the world powers were to put an end to Israel’s criminal behaviour there would be no need for aid. As it is, all such aid continues, inevitably, to be highly vulnerable to continuing air strikes and other Israeli state violence.
Both the UK and Israel have ratified the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which oblige them to seek out and prosecute suspected war criminals, irrespective of the place of commission of the crime or the nationality of the perpetrator. In common with the US and the UK, our news media and politicians ignore the daily acts of Israeli state violence. They may say that they are too commonplace to be considered newsworthy – but where are their consciences? Israel continues to carry out air strikes and frequent raids on UNWRA refugee camps, with absolutely no condemnation. If the UN Charter and human rights are to mean anything, then law-makers and news media alike should face this truth and proclaim it publicly. The UN Security Council has a record of imposing sanctions upon states it considers to be behaving contrary to the UN Charter. Why should Israel remain exempt from such discipline? Along with the imposition of UN Sanctions, Israel’s leaders should be made to understand that the reparations bill Israel will face is mounting. When will New Zealand’s voice at the Security Council be heard in support of Ban Ki-moon and the Geneva Conventions, demanding that Israel be held accountable?