Facts About the Fighting
While the fighting in Israel and occupied Palestine continues, the U.S. press is busy heralding the verbal ceasefire agreement Bill Clinton announced last week. But will the two sides be able to stick to the hazy and vague terms of the agreement? Yassar Arafat has lost most of his credibility with the Palestinian people and Ehud Barak faces a dissolving government. Barak has been courting Likud and other hard-line, conservatives parties in a desperate attempt to maintain a majority coalition.
Meanwhile, there’s a number of important facts that have been widely reported in the foreign press, but not here in the U.S. They include: Three weeks ago, when the fighting first erupted, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously (with the U.S. abstaining) to condemn Ariel Sharon’s actions and the brutality of the Israeli military. The resolution also called for a speedy and objective investigation of the violence (with no action on this so far). The Israeli government and U.S. propagandists have responded by saying that the U.N. is controlled by “Arabs.” This includes France, Britain, Australia, Canada, and a whole host of other U.S. allies (including Germany, which has its own internal problems of discrimination against Muslim immigrants).
The U.N. offered to broker a ceasefire. Again, Israel objected, preferring to have only U.S. negotiators at the table (during the peace talks earlier this year, U.S. negotiators sided 100% with Israeli demands). However, last week’s ceasefire was hammered out not by Clinton alone, but with the help of U.N Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the king of Jordan, and a number of diplomats from the European Union. Last week two major, international human rights organizations condemned the Israeli military’s role in the recent violence. Amnesty International sent Elizabeth Hodgkin and Dr. Steven Males, a former British police officer experienced in “riot control,” to Israel to document and examine the violence from October 4-13. They concluded that the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) used “military methods–that is to say of eliminating an enemy, rather than policing methods of serving the community and preserving lives.”
The IDF is required by law to fire live ammunition only when fired upon, and then only at the person or persons who fired at them. Hodgkins told the press that at the site of at least one demonstration in Ramallah, examination of a wall showed that the IDF had not fired at the sniper who had shot at them, but instead fired indiscriminately at a crowd of demonstrators.
The other organization to condemn the IDF was Human Rights Watch, which documented “repeated excessive use of lethal force against unarmed Palestinian demonstrators, who posed no imminent danger of death or serious injury to security forces or to others.” The IDF is required by Israeli law to respond to rock-throwers with the use of tear gas and rubber-coated bullets, which must be fired from a range no closer than 40 meters (rubber bullets can be fatal at close range). The IDF’s own spokesmen have admitted that rubber-coated bullets have been fired at Palestinians at much closer ranges.
Also, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNHCR) sent an investigator to the Palestinian territories. Giorgio Giacomelli reported that close to 100% of the dead are Palestinians, one-third of whom are children. An estimated 2,000 to 3,700 Palestinians have been wounded; 40% of those are under the age of 18. He laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of the IDF and its commanders, who “appear to have indiscriminately used excessive force in cases where there was no imminent threat to their lives.” Said Giacomelli: “It is worthy of note that the number of deaths caused by Israeli forces so far approximate the number killed in the first four months of the Intifada, in 1987-88.” It’s only been three weeks since the fighting began.
IDF units have openly disobeyed orders from the Israeli government and even upper-level military officers. Many units, including the one that launched a missile at Yasser Arafat’s home, are currently acting on their own initiative. So far none have been sanctioned for breach of discipline. And finally, the one important point that never appears in the U.S. press is this: the Palestinians live in squalid conditions that are getting worse every day, while Israeli settlers continue to seize more of their land and appropriate more and more of their fresh water resources. The Oslo accords gave the Palestinians hope that the land seizures would end, that they could piece together a sovereign state, that martial law would become a thing of the past, and that the Israeli military would stop killing them. Instead, the reverse has happened: more land seizures, more deaths, and proposal that would create a “Palestinian Bantustan” (in the words of one former U.S. diplomat). This is what the peace process has brought them. Are we truly surprised that their teenage sons are in the streets throwing stones and screaming for justice?