The self delusion that plagues both sides in this bloody conflict

Israel has never won a war in a built-up city, that's why threats of 'war to the bitter end' are nonsense

During the second Palestinian "intifada", I was sitting in the offices of Hizbollah's Al-Manar television station in Beirut, watching news footage of a militiaman's funeral in Gaza. The television showed hordes of Hamas and PLO gunmen firing thousands of rounds of ammunition into the air to honour their latest "martyr"; and I noticed, just next to me, a Lebanese Hizbollah member – who had taken part in many attacks against the Israelis in what had been Israel's occupation zone in southern Lebanon – shaking his head.

What was he thinking, I asked? "Hamas try to stand up to the Israelis," he replied. "But..." And here he cast his eyes to the ceiling. "They waste bullets. They fire all these bullets into the sky. They should use them to shoot at Israelis."

His point, of course, was that Hamas lacked discipline, the kind of iron, ruthless discipline and security that Hizbollah forged in Lebanon and which the Israeli army was at last forced to acknowledge in southern Lebanon in 2006. Guns are weapons, not playthings for funerals. And Gaza is not southern Lebanon. It would be as well for both sides in this latest bloodbath in Gaza to remember this. Hamas is not Hizbollah. Jerusalem is not Beirut. And Israeli soldiers cannot take revenge for their 2006 defeat in Lebanon by attacking Hamas in Gaza – not even to help Ms Livni in the Israeli elections.

Not that Hizbollah won the "divine victory" it claimed two years ago. Driving the roads of southern Lebanon as the Israelis smashed the country's infrastructure, killed more than a thousand Lebanese – almost all of them civilians – and razed dozens of villages, it didn't feel like a Hizbollah "victory" to me, theological or otherwise. But the Israelis didn't win and the Hizbollah were able to deploy thousands of long-range rockets as well as a missile which set an Israeli warship on fire and almost sank it. Hamas have nothing to match that kind of armoury.

Nor do they have the self-discipline to fight like an army. Hizbollah in Lebanon has managed to purge its region of informers. Hamas – like all the other Palestinian outfits – is infected with spies, some working for the Palestinian Authority, others for the Israelis. Israel has successively murdered one Hamas leader after another – "targeted killing", of course, is their polite phrase – and they couldn't do that without, as the police would say, "inside help". Hizbollah's previous secretary general, Sayed Abbas Moussawi, was assassinated near Jibchit by a missile-firing Israeli helicopter more than a decade ago but the movement hasn't suffered a leader's murder in Lebanon since then. In the 34-day war of 2006, Hizbollah lost about 200 of its men. Hamas lost almost that many in the first day of Israel's air attacks in Gaza – which doesn't say much for Hamas' military precautions.

Israel, however – always swift to announce its imminent destruction of "terrorism" – has never won a war in a built-up city, be it Beirut or Gaza, since its capture of Jerusalem in 1967. And it's important to remember that the Israeli army, famous in song and legend for its supposed "purity of arms" and "elite" units, has proved itself to be a pretty third-rate army over recent years. Not since the 1973 Middle East conflict – 35 years ago – has it won a war. Its 1978 invasion of Lebanon was a failure, its 1982 invasion ended in disaster, propelling Arafat from Beirut but allowing its vicious Phalangist allies into the Sabra and Chatila camps where they committed mass murder. In neither the 1993 bombardment of Lebanon nor the 1996 bombardment of Lebanon – which fizzled out after the massacre of refugees at Qana – nor the 2006 war was its performance anything more than amateur. Indeed, if it wasn't for the fact Arab armies are even more of a rabble than the Israelis, the Israeli state would be genuinely under threat from its neighbours.

One common feature of Middle East wars is the ability of all the antagonists to suffer from massive self-delusion. Israel's promise to "root out terror" – be it of the PLO, Hizbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Iranian or any other kind – has always turned out to be false. "War to the bitter end," the Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, has promised in Gaza. Nonsense. Just like the PLO's boast – and Hamas' boast and Hizbollah's boast – to "liberate" Jerusalem. Eyewash. But the Israelis have usually shown a dangerous propensity to believe their own propaganda. Calling up more than 6,000 reservists and sitting them round the Gaza fence is one thing; sending them into the hovels of Gaza will be quite another. In 2006, Israel claimed it was sending 30,000 troops into Lebanon. In reality, it sent about 3,000 – and the moment they crossed the border, they were faced down by the Hizbollah. In some cases, Israeli soldiers actually ran back to their own frontier.

These are realities. The chances of war, however, may be less easier to calculate. If Israel indefinitely continues its billion dollar blitz on Gaza – and we all know who is paying for that – there will, at some stage, be an individual massacre; a school will be hit, a hospital or a pre-natal clinic or just an apartment packed with civilians. In other words, another Qana. At which point, a familiar story will be told; that Hamas destroyed the school/hospital/pre-natal clinic, that the journalists who report on the slaughter are anti-Semitic, that Israel is under threat, etc. We may even get the same disingenuous parallel with a disastrous RAF raid in the Second World War which both Menachem Begin and Benjamin Netanayahu have used over the past quarter century to justify the killing of civilians.

And Hamas – which never had the courage to admit it killed two Palestinian girls with one of its own rockets last week – will cynically make profit from the grief with announcements of war crimes and "genocide".

At which point, the deeply despised and lame old UN donkey will be clip-clopped onto the scene to rescue the Israeli army and Hamas from this disgusting little war. Of course, saner minds may call all this off before the inevitable disaster. But I doubt it.


“The War Belongs to Olmert – The Victims Belong to Us!”

from Gush Shalom

Here they were again - the “first nighters, those who are ready to get out and demonstrate against a new war in its first hours, when war propaganda pours out of all the media and all the parties, from the extreme Right to Meretz, support the war.

No organization called for the demonstration – but more than a thousand men and women gathered spontaneously in order to protest in front of the Ministry of Defense in Tel-Aviv, only a few hours after the murderous Air Force attack on the Gaza strip started.

They were members of the divers peace organizations, from “Gush shalom” and the “Women’s Coalition for Peace” to the “Anarchists Against the Wall” and Hadash. The police, apparently afraid that the protesters would storm the building in which the Minister and the Army High Command were conducting the war, took special precautions: the elite police commando unit was backed by mounted police. Reserves were hidden in side streets. At the beginning of the demonstration, some of the police confronted the crowd with loaded and pointed guns.

“Barak,Barak, Minister of Defense – How many children have you murdered today?” shouted the protesters, whose slogans were backed up by drums. They were especially incensed by the Meretz Party statement the day before, which justified an attack on Gaza, and shouted: “Meretz, Meretz Party – Again for a War?” In the conversations among the protesters, the latest article of the writer Amos Oz, who has been awarded several peace and literature prizes, was mentioned. The article, which justified the military attack, was published at the head of the first page of the mass-circulation daily Yediot Aharonot.

The protesters marched from the Cinemateque Square to the ministry. On the way, the marchers were attacked by the police elite unit and the mounted policemen. During the demonstration, five protesters were arrested.

A day before the war, Gush Shalom activists took part in a smaller demonstration which took place in the heart of Tel-Aviv, in order to warn against the attack. This action was not reported in any of the Israeli media, except Haaretz, who devoted to it three lines hidden in another news story.


ad in Ha'aretz

This war is inhuman, unnecessary and harmful. Nothing good for Israel will come out of it!

The killing of hundreds of Palestinians and the destruction of the infrastructure of life in the Gaza Strip are abominable acts. Those who hope to reap electoral profits from them are greatly mistaken.

A ground invasion will cause even greater harm, destroy what is left in Gaza and cause many casualties – Israelis and Palestinians, soldiers and civilians.

If, after hard battles, the Israeli army will succeed in conquering the ruins of Gaza, the result will be, at most, to drive Hamas underground and to increase their influence both in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank.

The attack, which has already deepened the hatred, will

AROUSE the entire civilized world against us,

RAISE all over the region a new generation that will hate the State of Israel even more,

INCREASE the impact of Hamas,

UNDERMINE even more the position of peace-seeking Palestinians,

PREVENT Palestinian unity, without which there can be no peace.

On behalf of thousands of Israelis who have demonstrated in the streets of Tel-Aviv within hours after the start of the war, we demand:

  • To stop at once the attack on Gaza!
  • To propose - and to maintain - a cease-fire that will include the end off all violent actions by both sides, a real opening of the border crossings and the termination of the blockade against the population of the Gaza Strip.
  • To start a dialogue with Hamas. Hamas is an integral part of Palestinian society and the Palestinian political system. Without their participation, all negotiations and agreements are meaningless.

[signed] Gush Shalom

P.O.Box 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033 --- info@gush-shalom.org --- www.gush-shalom.org

Large ad published in Haaretz, December 30, 2008

Five sisters killed while they slept

Israel's target was the mosque next door. But the rocket attack claimed the lives of innocent children

by Donald Macintyre and Said Ghazali

The five Palestinian sisters were fast asleep when a night-time Israeli airstrike hit the next-door mosque in Gaza. One of the walls collapsed on to their small asbestos-roofed home and they were all killed in their beds. The eldest sister, Tahrir, was 17 years old, the youngest, Jawaher, just four.

"They grow up day after day and night after night. Within a second, I have lost them," the girls' father, Anwar Balousha, said yesterday. The 37-year-old, along with another three of his children, was himself injured in the attack on the densely populated Jabalya refugee camp.

The funerals of the sisters – Tahrir, 17; Ikram, 15; Samar, 12; Dina eight; and Jawaher, four – were attended by family members and thousands of mourners. But with space running out in the cemetery, the five girls had to be buried in just three graves, one for the eldest and the others forced to share.

Mr Balousha wept down the phone, saying he felt "how a father who lost his five daughters would feel". With recorded readings from the Koran audible in the background, along with occasional explosions in the distance, he added: "It is the will of Allah. We are believers in God."

Amid the pile of rubble that was the Balousha home yesterday, three torn blankets could be seen poking out from the ruins along with a painted blue iron, a broken brown cupboard and a baby's bed.

The Israeli military said it had targeted the next-door mosque because it was a "known gathering place" of Hamas adherents. It said four gunmen were inside it at the time of the attack. The mosque was named Imad Akel after the former leader of the Hamas military wing.

As Israeli strikes continued, the uncle of the dead sisters said the family had been innocent victims. "We are not those who are firing rockets against Israel," Ibrahim Balousha said. "We are just people, human beings and not animals."

The Balousha family had moved out of their house when the Israeli bombing started on Saturday but they had decided to return "to meet their fate" in the words of the dead girls' uncle. He said that three missiles had been used in the airstrike at around 11.20pm on Sunday night and that hundreds of neighbours had arrived to help in the wake of the carnage.

After the funeral, 16-year-old Iman, who was briefly buried in the rubble of the family home but survived, described her unlucky siblings' dying moments. "I told my sisters, you will be martyrs, this is the end."

Her grieving uncle said that Hamas had taken advantage of the funeral to chant slogans including "Vengeance, Vengeance". Shouts of "Bomb Tel Aviv" were also heard. But Ibrahim Balousha said he had given the militant group short shrift. "I told them, this is a funeral and not a rally."

Times were already tough for the family of refugees even before the latest tragedy. The girls' father is unemployed for 11 months of the year, picking up work selling Ka'ak bread around Ramadan. The family depend on food rations from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and a $40 (£27.50) monthly handout. "The story is almost the same for decades," Ibrahim Balousha said: "Intifada and miseries, poverty and catastrophes."

UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness said: "The killing of these young girls is another tragic illustration that this bombardment is exacting a terrible price on innocent civilians. As with the killing of UNRWA students [on Saturday] we hope there will be a thorough and impartial and transparent investigation.

"Most important of all there has to be accountability. We need to know if international law was violated and if so, by whom," he added.

The UN yesterday issued a "conservative" estimate of the number of civilians killed in three days of unprecedentedly fierce aerial bombardment, putting the death toll at 62. It is a deliberately conservative estimate because it excludes all men in the Gaza City area to ensure that it does not accidentally include uniformed personnel.

The Palestinian Centre of Human Rights said that "most" of the more than 300 casualties were civilian but their tally includes Hamas policemen. It also said some bodies had still to be identified because they were so badly disfigured and that its field officers – who aim to chart every Palestinian casualty – are facing "extreme difficulties in visiting some areas, particularly those under multiple bombardment.

The Israeli military insists that it is doing its utmost to prevent civilian casualties but repeatedly points out that Hamas regularly and "cynically and specifically" uses locations in heavily built-up areas.

Why bombing Ashkelon is the most tragic irony

by Robert Fisk

How easy it is to snap off the history of the Palestinians, to delete the narrative of their tragedy, to avoid a grotesque irony about Gaza which – in any other conflict – journalists would be writing about in their first reports: that the original, legal owners of the Israeli land on which Hamas rockets are detonating live in Gaza.

That is why Gaza exists: because the Palestinians who lived in Ashkelon and the fields around it – Askalaan in Arabic – were dispossessed from their lands in 1948 when Israel was created and ended up on the beaches of Gaza. They – or their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren – are among the one and a half million Palestinian refugees crammed into the cesspool of Gaza, 80 per cent of whose families once lived in what is now Israel. This, historically, is the real story: most of the people of Gaza don't come from Gaza.

But watching the news shows, you'd think that history began yesterday, that a bunch of bearded anti-Semitic Islamist lunatics suddenly popped up in the slums of Gaza – a rubbish dump of destitute people of no origin – and began firing missiles into peace-loving, democratic Israel, only to meet with the righteous vengeance of the Israeli air force. The fact that the five sisters killed in Jabalya camp had grandparents who came from the very land whose more recent owners have now bombed them to death simply does not appear in the story.

Both Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres said back in the 1990s that they wished Gaza would just go away, drop into the sea, and you can see why. The existence of Gaza is a permanent reminder of those hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who lost their homes to Israel, who fled or were driven out through fear or Israeli ethnic cleansing 60 years ago, when tidal waves of refugees had washed over Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War and when a bunch of Arabs kicked out of their property didn't worry the world.

Well, the world should worry now. Crammed into the most overpopulated few square miles in the whole world are a dispossessed people who have been living in refuse and sewage and, for the past six months, in hunger and darkness, and who have been sanctioned by us, the West. Gaza was always an insurrectionary place. It took two years for Ariel Sharon's bloody "pacification", starting in 1971, to be completed, and Gaza is not going to be tamed now. 

Alas for the Palestinians, their most powerful political voice – I'm talking about the late Edward Said, not the corrupt Yassir Arafat (and how the Israelis must miss him now) – is silent and their predicament largely unexplained by their deplorable, foolish spokesmen. "It's the most terrifying place I've ever been in," Said once said of Gaza. "It's a horrifyingly sad place because of the desperation and misery of the way people live. I was unprepared for camps that are much worse than anything I saw in South Africa."

Of course, it was left to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to admit that "sometimes also civilians pay the price," an argument she would not make, of course, if the fatality statistics were reversed. Indeed, it was instructive yesterday to hear a member of the American Enterprise Institute – faithfully parroting Israel's arguments – defending the outrageous Palestinian death toll by saying that it was "pointless to play the numbers game". Yet if more than 300 Israelis had been killed – against two dead Palestinians – be sure that the "numbers game" and the disproportionate violence would be all too relevant. The simple fact is that Palestinian deaths matter far less than Israeli deaths. True, we know that 180 of the dead were Hamas members. But what of the rest? If the UN's conservative figure of 57 civilian fatalities is correct, the death toll is still a disgrace.

To find both the US and Britain failing to condemn the Israeli onslaught while blaming Hamas is not surprising. US Middle East policy and Israeli policy are now indistinguishable and Gordon Brown is following the same dog-like devotion to the Bush administration as his predecessor.

As usual, the Arab satraps – largely paid and armed by the West – are silent, preposterously calling for an Arab summit on the crisis which will (if it even takes place), appoint an "action committee" to draw up a report which will never be written. For that is the way with the Arab world and its corrupt rulers. As for Hamas, they will, of course, enjoy the discomfiture of the Arab potentates while cynically waiting for Israel to talk to them. Which they will. Indeed, within a few months, we'll be hearing that Israel and Hamas have been having "secret talks" – just as we once did about Israel and the even more corrupt PLO. But by then, the dead will be long buried and we will be facing the next crisis since the last crisis.

Excerpts from "Top 10 stories on Okinawa 2008"

"That's the price you pay for our protection." - A high-ranking US official referring to the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three American soldiers.

1. Liberty restrictions (the occupiers weak attempt to limit rapes and other violent crimes against Okinawans)

New liberty restrictions and a curfew are enacted Feb. 20 for Okinawa bases, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and Camp Fuji following several alcohol-related incidents involving Americans. All SOFA personnel and their families are restricted to the bases or their off-base homes unless they have letters of exemption from their command. 

U.S. Forces Japan commander Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright orders a "Day of Reflection" for all troops in Japan and forms a special Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Task Force. On March 3 the restrictions on Okinawa are eased, but a 10 p.m. -to-5 a.m. curfew remains in effect and off-base consumption of alcohol is banned. On April 4, the alcohol ban is lifted, but Cinderella Liberty lasts until September.

3. Case of Marine convicted of raping 14-year-old Okinawa girl sparks protests on island (How many others went unreported?)

Marine Staff Sgt. Tyrone Hadnott, 38, is arrested Feb. 10 by Japanese police on suspicion of raping a 14-year-old Okinawa girl. The case sparks protests by Okinawans. U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer, USFJ Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, and Marine Lt. Richard Zilmer, commander of Marine Corps Bases Japan, meet with Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima in Naha to express their concern. All Marines in Japan are ordered to "stand down" for ethics and leadership training. On Feb. 28 Hadnott is released from Japanese custody after the girl drops her criminal complaint. Marines proceed with the investigation and Hadnott is convicted by a court-martial in May and sentenced to 48 months for molesting the teen. He is also dishonorably discharged, ending his 18-year military career.

10. Kadena F-15s resume flights (despite inherent danger to the people of Okinawa)

Kadena Air Base’s F-15 Eagle combat jets resume flight operations Jan. 13 after being grounded since November following the crash of a Missouri National Guard F-15C. An Air Force fleetwide investigation found that nine F-15s had cracks in their fuselage. Two of them were based at Kadena.

Photo: Palestinians carry the wounded to hospital after Israel launched a second day of air strikes on the Gaza Strip

from The Independent

Photo: A relative carries the body of 4-year-old girl Dena Balosha during her funeral in Jabalya refugee camp. She was not a "terrorist".

from The Independent

Photo: Palestinians look at a destroyed Hamas police compound in a densely populated neighborhood

from The Independent

Photo: Smoke rises over the main Gaza security complex

from The Independent

Photo: A Palestinian boy walks past a destroyed al-Shifa mosque

from The Independent

Photo: Smoke rises after an Israel air strike in the populated Gaza Strip

from The Independent

Photo: A Palestinian man looks at a destroyed building of the Islamic University in Gaza City

from The Independent

Photo: Palestinians inspect and clear rubble from a house that was bombed

Israel in 'all-out war against Hamas'

from The Independent

Israeli air strikes flattened bastions of Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip today in the third day of an offensive that has killed more than 325 Palestinians in the deadliest violence in the territory in decades.

"We have an all-out war against Hamas and its kind," Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said in parliament, using a term he has employed in the past to describe a long-term struggle against Israel's Islamist enemies.

Broadening their targets to include the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, Israeli warplanes bombed the Interior Ministry, which supervises 13,000 members of the group's security forces. The building had been evacuated and there were no casualties.

Israel also targeted the homes of at least two top commanders in Hamas's armed wing. The commanders were not at home at the time but several family members were killed.

Hamas, an Islamist movement that took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, defied the Israeli assaults, the fiercest in the coastal enclave since the 1967 Middle East war.

Its forces fired a rocket salvo into the Israeli city of Ashkelon, killing one person, the second such fatality since Israeli bombing began on Saturday.

Israel has said the offensive - launched by a centrist government six weeks before a national election that opinion polls have predicted the right-wing Likud party will win - is aimed at halting rocket attacks that intensified after a six-month ceasefire with Hamas expired on 19 December.

Palestinian medical officials put the Gaza death toll at more than 325 and said more than 700 people have been wounded.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency said at least 57 of the dead were civilians. It based the figure, which an UNRWA spokesman called "conservative", on visits by agency officials to hospitals and medical centres.

The true story behind this war is not the one Israel is telling

by Johann Hari

from The Independent

The world isn't just watching the Israeli government commit a crime in Gaza; we are watching it self-harm. This morning, and tomorrow morning, and every morning until this punishment beating ends, the young people of the Gaza Strip are going to be more filled with hate, and more determined to fight back, with stones or suicide vests or rockets. Israeli leaders have convinced themselves that the harder you beat the Palestinians, the softer they will become. But when this is over, the rage against Israelis will have hardened, and the same old compromises will still be waiting by the roadside of history, untended and unmade.

To understand how frightening it is to be a Gazan this morning, you need to have stood in that small slab of concrete by the Mediterranean and smelled the claustrophobia. The Gaza Strip is smaller than the Isle of Wight but it is crammed with 1.5 million people who can never leave. They live out their lives on top of each other, jobless and hungry, in vast, sagging tower blocks. From the top floor, you can often see the borders of their world: the Mediterranean, and Israeli barbed wire. When bombs begin to fall – as they are doing now with more deadly force than at any time since 1967 – there is nowhere to hide.

There will now be a war over the story of this war. The Israeli government says, "We withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and in return we got Hamas and Qassam rockets being rained on our cities. Sixteen civilians have been murdered. How many more are we supposed to sacrifice?" It is a plausible narrative, and there are shards of truth in it, but it is also filled with holes. If we want to understand the reality and really stop the rockets, we need to rewind a few years and view the run-up to this war dispassionately.

The Israeli government did indeed withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005 – in order to be able to intensify control of the West Bank. Ariel Sharon's senior adviser, Dov Weisglass, was unequivocal about this, explaining: "The disengagement [from Gaza] is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians... this whole package that is called the Palestinian state has been removed from our agenda indefinitely."

Ordinary Palestinians were horrified by this, and by the fetid corruption of their own Fatah leaders, so they voted for Hamas. It certainly wouldn't have been my choice – an Islamist party is antithetical to all my convictions - but we have to be honest. It was a free and democratic election, and it was not a rejection of a two-state solution. The most detailed polling of Palestinians, by the University of Maryland, found that 72 per cent want a two-state solution on the 1967 borders, while fewer than 20 per cent want to reclaim the whole of historic Palestine. So, partly in response to this pressure, Hamas offered Israel a long, long ceasefire and a de facto acceptance of two states, if only Israel would return to its legal borders.

Rather than seize this opportunity and test Hamas's sincerity, the Israeli government reacted by punishing the entire civilian population. It announced that it was blockading the Gaza Strip in order to "pressure" its people to reverse the democratic process. The Israelis surrounded the Strip and refused to let anyone or anything out. They let in a small trickle of food, fuel and medicine – but not enough for survival. Weisglass quipped that the Gazans were being "put on a diet". According to Oxfam, only 137 trucks of food were allowed into Gaza last month to feed 1.5 million people. The United Nations says poverty has reached an "unprecedented level." When I was last in besieged Gaza, I saw hospitals turning away the sick because their machinery and medicine was running out. I met hungry children stumbling around the streets, scavenging for food.

It was in this context – under a collective punishment designed to topple a democracy – that some forces within Gaza did something immoral: they fired Qassam rockets indiscriminately at Israeli cities. These rockets have killed 16 Israeli citizens. This is abhorrent: targeting civilians is always murder. But it is hypocritical for the Israeli government to claim now to speak out for the safety of civilians when it has been terrorising civilians as a matter of state policy.

The American and European governments are responding with a lop-sidedness that ignores these realities. They say that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate while under rocket fire, but they demand that the Palestinians do so under siege in Gaza and violent military occupation in the West Bank.

Before it falls down the memory hole, we should remember that last week, Hamas offered a ceasefire in return for basic and achievable compromises. Don't take my word for it. According to the Israeli press, Yuval Diskin, the current head of the Israeli security service Shin Bet, "told the Israeli cabinet [on 23 December] that Hamas is interested in continuing the truce, but wants to improve its terms." Diskin explained that Hamas was requesting two things: an end to the blockade, and an Israeli ceasefire on the West Bank. The cabinet – high with election fever and eager to appear tough – rejected these terms.

The core of the situation has been starkly laid out by Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad. He says that while Hamas militants – like much of the Israeli right-wing – dream of driving their opponents away, "they have recognised this ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future." Instead, "they are ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state in the temporary borders of 1967." They are aware that this means they "will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original goals" – and towards a long-term peace based on compromise.

The rejectionists on both sides – from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran to Bibi Netanyahu of Israel – would then be marginalised. It is the only path that could yet end in peace but it is the Israeli government that refuses to choose it. Halevy explains: "Israel, for reasons of its own, did not want to turn the ceasefire into the start of a diplomatic process with Hamas."

Why would Israel act this way? The Israeli government wants peace, but only one imposed on its own terms, based on the acceptance of defeat by the Palestinians. It means the Israelis can keep the slabs of the West Bank on "their" side of the wall. It means they keep the largest settlements and control the water supply. And it means a divided Palestine, with responsibility for Gaza hived off to Egypt, and the broken-up West Bank standing alone. Negotiations threaten this vision: they would require Israel to give up more than it wants to. But an imposed peace will be no peace at all: it will not stop the rockets or the rage. For real safety, Israel will have to talk to the people it is blockading and bombing today, and compromise with them.

The sound of Gaza burning should be drowned out by the words of the Israeli writer Larry Derfner. He says: "Israel's war with Gaza has to be the most one-sided on earth... If the point is to end it, or at least begin to end it, the ball is not in Hamas's court – it is in ours."


Israel mounts third day of Gaza raids

by Matt Dickinson

from The Independent

Israeli aircraft attacked Hamas targets in Gaza today, the third day of an offensive that has killed more than 300 Palestinians, many of them civilians.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency said at least 57 of the dead were civilians. It based the figure, which an UNRWA spokesman called "conservative", on visits by agency officials to hospitals and medical centres.

Hamas defied the strongest assault against Palestinian militants in decades by launching a rocket attack on Israel that killed one person, the second such fatality since Saturday.

Most Gazans in the densely populated enclave stayed at home, in rooms away from windows that could shatter in blasts from air strikes on Hamas facilities. Residents of southern Israel ran for shelter at the sound of alarms heralding incoming rockets.

"At no time could we leave the kids unattended. They trembled every time there was a bombing, day and night, and all of us had almost no sleep," said Umm Hassan, a mother of seven.

An Israeli air raid flattened a building in the heart of a residential neighbourhood in Gaza, sending a cloud of dust into the air, shaking nearby dwellings and wounding five people. It was not immediately clear why the structure, which was apparently empty, was targeted.

Israel declared areas around Gaza a "closed military zone", citing the risk from Palestinian rocket fire, and ordering journalists observing a buildup of armoured forces to leave.

"You've got to go," an army spokesman told a Reuters correspondent after she appealed a military police directive to clear out.

Excluding the press could help Israel keep under wraps its preparations for a possible ground assault against Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, following three days of air strikes that have caused chaos, turned some buildings to rubble and left hospitals struggling to cope.

In the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, a rocket launched from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip killed one person.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said the military action, launched after a six-month ceasefire expired, would go on until the population in southern Israel "no longer live in terror and in fear of constant rocket barrages".

Broadening their targets to include the Hamas government, Israeli warplanes bombed the Gaza Interior Ministry today, Palestinian sources said. No immediate word was available on whether there were any casualties.

In what it called a "terrorist" attack, the Israeli military said a Palestinian stabbed three Israelis in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba in the West Bank before he was shot by a passerby and arrested.

One of the wounded Israelis was in serious condition.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum urged Palestinian groups on Sunday to use "all available means, including martyrdom operations" against Israel - a reference to suicide bombings during a Palestinian uprising that erupted in 2000 but has since died down.

The Gaza offensive has enraged Arabs across the Middle East. Protesters burned Israeli and US flags in several places to press for a stronger response from their leaders.

Hamas said 180 of its members had been killed and that the rest of the more than 300 dead included civilians, among them 16 women and some children.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israel was targeting militants but "unfortunately in a war ... sometimes also civilians pay the price". Chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurie said US-backed peace talks with Israel have been put on hold, citing the Gaza offensive. The negotiations over the past year have achieved little visible progress.

The UN Security Council called for a halt to the violence, but US President George W Bush's administration, in its final weeks in office, has put the onus on Hamas to renew the truce.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said during a visit to Turkey that "Israel must stop its killing operations against Palestinians". He called for an immediate ceasefire.

A senior Israeli official dismissed any suggestion that Israel had acted now because it believed a window of opportunity was closing with Bush leaving office and Barack Obama preparing to enter the White House.

"Why should everything be connected to the United States? A far more important date for Israel is February 10," the official said, referring to the upcoming Israeli parliamentary election.

"It wasn't politically sustainable for leaders in Israel to idly stand by and let Hamas continue shooting," the official said.

'For the children, it is like living in hell'

by Jerome Tyler

As explosions echoed in the distance and Israeli aircraft roared overhead, many residents in Gaza City were hunkered down in their houses yesterday, praying the bombs would spare them and worrying about how to feed their families and keep them warm should they survive.

"We still don't dare go outside. Nowhere feels safe," Faysal Shawa, a construction engineer, said by telephone from the house where he lives with his wife and three children. "Gaza is so small that when the Israelis bomb us it feels like they are bombing our own houses. There is a government building about 100 metres from where I live and it has been hit a number of times. My children are completely terrified.

"People in Gaza are used to dealing with hardship, but this time the bombings are absolutely terrifying, and what makes this attack worse is that for the past 18 months we have been living with little electricity, water and food. For the children it is like living in hell.

"This has to stop and it must stop now. Both sides are making the same mistakes again and again and it is the Palestinian people that suffer," Mr Shawa said. At that point, an explosion was heard close to the house and the engineer said he had to end the call to take his children to the cellar.

Gazan hospitals were running out of medical supplies to treat the wounded, and residents who had escaped unscathed were running out of basic foods and fuel.

"It is completely impossible to get any commodities now," said Sameh Habeeb, 23, an aid worker. "There is little electricity, all the bakeries and shops are shut and you cannot get any cooking gas. It's getting cold at night which means those families that don't have any gas will just have to use blankets to keep warm."

Like many Gazans, Sameh Habeeb was adamant that far from diminishing Hamas as a fighting force, the Israeli attack that dealt Palestinians one of their bloodiest days, would simply bolster support for the group among ordinary Palestinians.

"The Israelis seem to have widened their targets. They are clearly trying to destroy Hamas's entire infrastructure but my guess is that Hamas will just wait for the bombing to be over. This will not weaken them."

In defence of Palestine's right to self-determination and peace

from The Independent

I am a rebel and freedom is my cause. I know well that many of you present here today once stood in exactly the same resistance position as I now occupy and from which I must fight.

You once had to convert dreams into reality by your struggle. Therefore you must now share my dream. I think this is exactly why I can ask you now to help, as together we bring out our dream into a bright reality, our common dream for a peaceful future in Palestine's sacred land.

Why therefore should I not dream and hope? For is not revolution the making real of dreams and hopes? So let us work together that my dream may be fulfilled, that I may return with my people out of exile to live in one democratic state where Christian, Jew and Muslim live in justice, equality, fraternity and progress. Is this not a noble dream worthy of my struggle alongside all lovers of freedom everywhere? For the most admirable dimension of this dream is that it is Palestinian, a dream from out of the land of peace, the land of martyrdom and heroism, and the land of history, too.

I call upon Jews to turn away one by one from the illusory promises made by Zionist ideology and Israeli leadership. They offer perpetual bloodshed, endless war, and continuous thralldom.

I appeal to you to accompany our people in its struggle to attain its right to self-determination. This right is consecrated in the United Nations Charter and has been repeatedly confirmed in resolutions adopted by this august body since the drafting of the Charter.

I appeal to you, further, to aid our people's return to its homeland from an involuntary exile imposed upon it by force of arms, by tyranny, by oppression, so that we may regain our property, our land, and thereafter live in our national homeland, free and sovereign, enjoying all the privileges of nationhood. I appeal to you to enable our people to establish national independent sovereignty over its own land. Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. I repeat: do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.

This is an edited extract from the speech given by Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, to the United Nations general assembly on 13 November 1974

Leaders lie, civilians die, and lessons of history are ignored

by Robert Fisk

from The Independent

Hamas's home-made rockets have killed just 20 Israelis in eight years, but a day-long blitz by Israeli aircraft that kills almost 300 Palestinians is just par for the course.

We've got so used to the carnage of the Middle East that we don't care any more – providing we don't offend the Israelis. It's not clear how many of the Gaza dead are civilians, but the response of the Bush administration, not to mention the pusillanimous reaction of Gordon Brown, reaffirm for Arabs what they have known for decades: however they struggle against their antagonists, the West will take Israel's side. As usual, the bloodbath was the fault of the Arabs – who, as we all know, only understand force.

Ever since 1948, we've been hearing this balderdash from the Israelis – just as Arab nationalists and then Arab Islamists have been peddling their own lies: that the Zionist "death wagon" will be overthrown, that all Jerusalem will be "liberated". And always Mr Bush Snr or Mr Clinton or Mr Bush Jnr or Mr Blair or Mr Brown have called upon both sides to exercise "restraint" – as if the Palestinians and the Israelis both have F-18s and Merkava tanks and field artillery. Hamas's home-made rockets have killed just 20 Israelis in eight years, but a day-long blitz by Israeli aircraft that kills almost 300 Palestinians is just par for the course.

The blood-splattering has its own routine. Yes, Hamas provoked Israel's anger, just as Israel provoked Hamas's anger, which was provoked by Israel, which was provoked by Hamas, which ... See what I mean? Hamas fires rockets at Israel, Israel bombs Hamas, Hamas fires more rockets and Israel bombs again and ... Got it? And we demand security for Israel – rightly – but overlook this massive and utterly disproportionate slaughter by Israel. It was Madeleine Albright who once said that Israel was "under siege" – as if Palestinian tanks were in the streets of Tel Aviv.

By last night, the exchange rate stood at 296 Palestinians dead for one dead Israeli. Back in 2006, it was 10 Lebanese dead for one Israeli dead. This weekend was the most inflationary exchange rate in a single day since – the 1973 Middle East War? The 1967 Six Day War? The 1956 Suez War? The 1948 Independence/Nakba War? It's obscene, a gruesome game – which Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, unconsciously admitted when he spoke this weekend to Fox TV. "Our intention is to totally change the rules of the game," Barak said.

Exactly. Only the "rules" of the game don't change. This is a further slippage on the Arab-Israeli exchanges, a percentage slide more awesome than Wall Street's crashing shares, though of not much interest in the US which – let us remember – made the F-18s and the Hellfire missiles which the Bush administration pleads with Israel to use sparingly.

Quite a lot of the dead this weekend appear to have been Hamas members, but what is it supposed to solve? Is Hamas going to say: "Wow, this blitz is awesome – we'd better recognise the state of Israel, fall in line with the Palestinian Authority, lay down our weapons and pray we are taken prisoner and locked up indefinitely and support a new American 'peace process' in the Middle East!" Is that what the Israelis and the Americans and Gordon Brown think Hamas is going to do?

Yes, let's remember Hamas's cynicism, the cynicism of all armed Islamist groups. Their need for Muslim martyrs is as crucial to them as Israel's need to create them. The lesson Israel thinks it is teaching – come to heel or we will crush you – is not the lesson Hamas is learning. Hamas needs violence to emphasise the oppression of the Palestinians – and relies on Israel to provide it. A few rockets into Israel and Israel obliges.

Not a whimper from Tony Blair, the peace envoy to the Middle East who's never been to Gaza in his current incarnation. Not a bloody word.

We hear the usual Israeli line. General Yaakov Amidror, the former head of the Israeli army's "research and assessment division" announced that "no country in the world would allow its citizens to be made the target of rocket attacks without taking vigorous steps to defend them". Quite so. But when the IRA were firing mortars over the border into Northern Ireland, when their guerrillas were crossing from the Republic to attack police stations and Protestants, did Britain unleash the RAF on the Irish Republic? Did the RAF bomb churches and tankers and police stations and zap 300 civilians to teach the Irish a lesson? No, it did not. Because the world would have seen it as criminal behaviour. We didn't want to lower ourselves to the IRA's level.

Yes, Israel deserves security. But these bloodbaths will not bring it. Not since 1948 have air raids protected Israel. Israel has bombed Lebanon thousands of times since 1975 and not one has eliminated "terrorism". So what was the reaction last night? The Israelis threaten ground attacks. Hamas waits for another battle. Our Western politicians crouch in their funk holes. And somewhere to the east – in a cave? a basement? on a mountainside? – a well-known man in a turban smiles.

Israel's Gaza assault reportedly kills 286, wounds over 900

from The Hokkaido Shimbun Press

JERUSALEM, Dec. 28 KYODO -- Israel launched airstrikes on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip for the second successive day on Sunday, leaving 286 people dead over two days and about 900 wounded, according to Palestinian rescue workers and news reports.


Israel continues attacks on Gaza

from the International Herald Tribune, where the reporters think mosques are reasonable military targets.

GAZA: Warplanes pressing one of the deadliest assaults Israel has ever made on Palestinian "militants" dropped bombs and missiles on a top security installation, a mosque, a TV station and dozens of other targets across the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Sunday.

As the campaign to quash rocket barrages from Gaza entered its second day, some 280 Palestinians had been killed and 600 people wounded, a Gaza health official said. Most of the dead were Hamas police officers.

The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said the campaign that began Saturday could last longer than initially anticipated, and on Sunday the Israeli cabinet approved a limited call-up of Israeli military reserves to help in the attacks on the Gaza Strip, Israeli television said.

Israel launched about 250 airstrikes over the first 24 hours, and infantry and armored units were headed early Sunday to the Gaza border for a possible ground invasion.

Militants, unbowed, kept up the pressure on Israel, firing dozens more rockets and mortars at Israeli border communities. Two rockets struck close to the largest city in southern Israel, Ashdod, some 38 kilometers, or 23 miles, from Gaza, reaching deeper into Israel than ever before. The targeting of Ashdod confirmed Israel's concern that Hamas was capable of putting major cities within rocket range. No injuries were reported.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, a fierce rival of Hamas, urged the Islamic militant group to renew a truce with Israel that had collapsed last week.

Streets were empty in Gaza City on Sunday as most residents stayed home, fearing more airstrikes. A few lined up to buy bread outside two bakeries. Schools were shut for a three-day mourning period that the Gaza government declared for the more than 200 who had died in attacks Saturday.

Aircraft struck one of Hamas's main security compounds in Gaza City - a major symbol of the group's authority. Health officials said four people were killed and 25 wounded in the attack.

A column of black smoke towered from the building, and some inmates of the compound's prison fled after the missiles struck. Hamas police officers captured some of them. Minutes after the strike, officers defiantly planted the movement's green flag in the rubble.

"These strikes fuel our popular support, our military power and the firmness of our positions," said Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas legislator. "We will survive, we will move forward, we will not surrender, we will not be shaken."

A number of governments and international officials, including leaders of Russia, Egypt, the European Union and the United Nations, condemned Israel's use of force and also called on Hamas to end the rocket fire. But the Bush administration blamed Hamas for the violence and demanded that it stop firing rockets.

Early Sunday morning in New York, the United Nations Security Council issued a statement expressing concern about the escalation of the conflict and calling on both parties for an immediate end to all violence. The statement came after envoys of the 15-member council met for more than four hours in closed session.

A military operation had been forecast and demanded by Israeli officials for weeks, ever since the rocky cease-fire between Israel and Hamas fully collapsed more than a week ago, leading again to rocket attacks in large numbers against Israel and isolated Israeli operations in Gaza. The Israeli Army says that Palestinian militants have fired more than 300 rockets and mortars at Israeli targets over the past week, and 10 times that number over the past year.

Still, there was a shocking quality to the Saturday attacks, which began in broad daylight as police cadets were graduating, women were shopping at an outdoor market and children were emerging from school.

The center of Gaza City was a scene of chaotic horror, with rubble everywhere, sirens wailing and women shrieking as dozens of mutilated bodies were laid out on the pavement and in the lobby of Shifa Hospital so that family members could identify them. The dead included civilians, including several construction workers and at least two children in school uniforms.

By afternoon, shops were shuttered, funerals began and mourning tents were visible on nearly every major street of this densely populated city.

The leader of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, said in a statement that "Palestine has never witnessed an uglier massacre." Later, in a televised speech, he vowed to fight Israel. "We say in all confidence that even if we are hung on the gallows or they make our blood flow in the streets or they tear our bodies apart, we will bow only before God and we will not abandon Palestine," he said.

In Damascus, Hamas's supreme leader, Khaled Meshal, said in an interview with Al Jazeera television that he was calling for a new Palestinian intifada against Israel, including the resumption of suicide attacks within Israel for the first time since 2005. Hamas, he said, had accepted "all the peaceful options, but without results."

Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister and chairman of the Labor Party, said the military operation in Gaza would expand and deepen as necessary, adding, "There is a time for calm and a time for fighting, and this is the time for fighting."

"We wanted to attack military targets while the terrorists were inside the facilities and before Hamas was able to get its rockets out that were stored in some of the targets," said a top Israeli security official, briefing a group of reporters by telephone on condition of anonymity.

"Right now, we have to hit Hamas hard to stop the launching," he added. "I don't see any other way for Hamas to change its behavior."

Hamas had made it known in recent weeks that it doubted Israel would engage in a major military undertaking because of its coming elections. But in some ways the elections have made it impossible for officials like Barak not to react. The Israeli public has grown anxious and angry over the rocket fire, which while causing no recent deaths and few injuries is deeply disturbing for those living near Gaza.

Israeli officials said that anyone linked to the Hamas security structure or government was fair game because Hamas was a terrorist group that sought Israel's destruction. But with jobs increasingly scarce in Gaza because of an international embargo on Hamas, young men are tempted by the steady work of the police force without necessarily fully accepting the Hamas ideology. One of the biggest tolls on Saturday was at a police cadet graduation ceremony in which 15 people were killed.

Spokesmen for Hamas officials, who have mostly gone underground, called on militants to seek revenge and fight to the last drop of blood. Several compared what was happening to the 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, when Israel reacted to the capture and killing of soldiers along its northern border with air raids, followed by a ground attack. Hezbollah is widely viewed as having withstood those assaults and emerged much stronger politically.

The Arab League initially called an emergency meeting of foreign ministers for Sunday in Cairo, but later postponed it to Wednesday to give ministers time to respond.

The Palestine Liberation Organization, dominated by Abbas's Fatah movement, called a one-day commercial strike throughout the West Bank and urged Palestinians to take to the streets in peaceful protests.

Governments that dislike Hamas, like Egypt's, Jordan's and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, are in a delicate position. They blame Hamas for having taken over Gaza by force 18 months ago after its victory in elections for the Palestinian Parliament, and they oppose its rocket fire on Israeli towns and communities.

But the sight of scores of Palestinians killed by Israeli warplanes outraged their citizens, and anti-Israel demonstrations broke out across the region.

Egypt, worried about possible efforts by Palestinians to enter the country, has set up machine guns along the Gaza border. But on Saturday it temporarily opened the Rafah border crossing in order to allow the wounded to be brought to Egyptian hospitals.

In the West Bank and in some Arab parts of Jerusalem and Israel, Palestinians threw stones, causing injuries.

Hamas is officially committed to Israel's destruction, and after it took over Gaza in 2007, it said it would not recognize Israel, honor previous Palestinian Authority commitments to it or end its violence against Israelis.

Israel, backed by the United States, Europe, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, has sought to isolate Hamas by squeezing Gaza economically, a policy that human rights groups condemn as collective punishment. Israel and Egypt, which control routes into and out of Gaza, have blocked nearly all but humanitarian aid from going in.

The result has been the near death of the Gazan economy. While enough food has gone in to avoid starvation, the level of suffering is very high and getting worse each week, especially in recent weeks as Israel closed the routes entirely for about 10 days in reaction to daily rocket fire.

Opening the routes to commerce was Hamas's main goal in its cease-fire with Israel, just as ending the rocket fire was Israel's central aim. But while rocket firings did go down to 15 to 20 a month from hundreds a month, Israel said it would not permit trade to begin again because the rocket fire had not completely stopped and because Hamas continued to smuggle weapons from Egypt through desert tunnels. Hamas said this was a violation of the agreement, a sign of Israel's real intentions and cause for further rocket fire. On Wednesday alone, some 70 rockets from Gaza hit Israel.

A Congress of Peace Seekers

“Gush Shalom” has acceded to my wish to mark my 85th birthday not with a public celebration, as on my 80th, but with a brain-storming session devoted to the main issues concerning Israel.

At the close of the event, I was given the floor. This is what I said:


I have to admit that I am moved. Throughout my long life I have not been pampered with expressions of affection. I am much more used to manifestations of hate. Therefore, please excuse me if I am a bit embarrassed.

PEOPLE ASK ME: How does it feel to be 85?

Well, it is strange. After all, only yesterday I was 42, the youngest member of the Knesset. I don’t feel any older or wiser than I did then.

85 is (in the old Hebrew way of numbering by letters) PH. PH can mean “poh”, here - and yes, I am here and fully intend to remain here for a while to come - first, because I enjoy it, and second, because I still have some things to finish.

PH can also mean peh, mouth - the mouth that enables me to voice my thoughts. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of the thoughts that are occupying my mind today.

What is special about 85-year-olds in Israel? First of all, we are the generation that founded the state. As such - I feel - we bear an additional responsibility for what is happening here. If our state is not what we imagined it should be - it’s our duty to act to change it.

AND HERE we face a strange paradox. We are partners in a historic success. And we are partners in a dismal failure.

Perhaps only members of my generation can fully grasp the extend of our success in the transformation of the national consciousness.

Many people ask me: where do I draw my optimism from when the situation becomes very bad, when good people are seized by depression and despair? At such moments I remind myself - and remind the people who listen to me - where we started from. I bring this up again and again for those who did not live through it, and those who have forgotten:

On the morrow of that war, the ‘48 war, when some of us said that there exists a Palestinian people and that we must make peace with them, we were a tiny handful here and in the whole world. We were laughed at. There are no Palestinians, we were told. “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people!” Golda Meir was still asserting much later.

Is there anyone today who denies the existence of the Palestinian people?

We argued that in order to achieve peace, a Palestinian state must come into being. They laughed at us. What? Why? There is Jordan. There is Egypt. There are 22 Arab states. That’s enough!

Today it is a world-wide consensus - two states for two peoples.

We said that we must talk with the enemy, and the enemy was then the PLO. Four cabinet ministers demanded that I should be put on trial for high treason when I met with Yasser Arafat in Beirut during the siege. All four of them later met with Arafat, and the State of Israel signed official treaties with the PLO.

True, the treaties were not implemented and did not lead to peace. But the mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, between Israel and the Palestinian people, became a fact. That was a revolution, and it cannot be reversed.

Today we are saying: we must talk with Hamas. Hamas is an integral part of the Palestinian reality. And this idea, too, is gaining ground.

What an uproar we caused when we said that Jerusalem must become the capital of the two states! Today almost everybody knows that this must happen, that it will happen.

I have devoted 60 years of my life to this struggle, and it is still in full swing. But we have defeated the idea of a Greater Israel and put forward the alternative of the two states, which has carried conviction in Israel and throughout the world. So much so, that even those in the successive Israeli governments who strongly oppose the idea are now compelled to pretend to support it in order to attract votes.

Think about this when you feel despair. Look at the whole picture, not only at the nearest small part of it.

BUT AS BIG as our victory is our defeat.

It is enough to look at these coming elections: the three big parties talk almost the same language, and not one of them puts forward a plan for peace.

There are small parties which say good and honest things, but at this juncture we simply need more than that. What is lacking is a major political force that is ready to come to power in order to make peace.

It is quite clear that the results of this coming election will be bad - and the only question is whether they will be just bad, or very bad, or even worse.

Why is this happening? There are many reasons, many pretexts. We criticize - and rightly so - many things, the media, the education system, all our successive governments, the President of the United States, all the world.

But I miss one criticism - the criticism of ourselves.

My father used to tell me: if the situation is bad, the first thing to do is to ask yourself if you are alright. So I am asking: Am I alright? Are we alright?

Yes, we have voiced the right ideas. Our ideas have won. But what have we done to realize these ideas in practice, on the political battlefield?

Politics is a matter of power. What have we done to create a progressive political force in Israel? How did it happen that the Left, the camp of peace and progress, has almost been eradicated from the political map? Why don’t we have political power, why don’t we have, for example, even one newspaper, radio or TV station? How did the Israeli Left lose, in the last generation, all its levers of power?

We in the peace camp include many wonderful men and women, who confront the army every week in the fight against the Wall, who monitor the checkpoints, who refuse to serve in the occupation army, who fight against the occupation in dozens of ways. Many of us, of all ages, take part in these actions.

But while we stand and protest, the settlers rush ahead. Another goat and another dunam (1000 square meters), another hill and another outpost. Sometimes I, too, have the feeling that the dogs bark and the caravan moves on - and I am not content with being the dog. We chase the mosquitoes, but the swamp that produces the mosquitoes gets bigger and bigger.

The swamp is political. Only a political force can drain it. In other words: only a force that can confront the ruling powers, influence the decisions of the government and the Knesset.

That is a historic failure, and we bear the responsibility for it.

IF I may be permitted to voice a birthday wish: the day after the elections I would like us to start thinking about the next elections.

We have to think anew. From the ground up. Examine everything we have done up to now and find out where we went wrong.

Why did we not succeed in convincing enough of the young, of the Oriental Jewish community, of the immigrants from Russia, of the Arab community in Israel, of the moderate religious sector - that there is somebody to talk with, that it is possible to bring about change, that indeed - we can! Why did we not succeed in touching the heart of the young generation that is disgusted by politics - by the politics they know?

What is needed is something completely new, a new act of creation. I would say: we must prepare the ground for an Israeli Obama.

Obama means: to kindle hope where there was no hope before. To demand a change from the foundations up and believe that it is possible to bring about this change. To ignite the enthusiasm of masses of young people for a message that stirs the heart, a message of ending the occupation, of social justice, of caring for the planet. The longing for a different system - secular, just, decent, seeking peace.

The new message must address the mind and the heart, speak to the emotions and not only to the intellect. It must arouse again the idealism that is hiding in many a heart and dare not show its face.

The great obstacle to such an explosion is despair. It is so much easier to despair. So much more comfortable. It doesn’t demand anything. It is easier to say that everything is lost. That they have stolen our state. But pessimism, as is well known, does not give birth to anything, it just leads to internal or external emigration.

I refuse to be pessimistic. In my 85 years I have seen too many unexpected, surprising, amazing, things - both good and bad - for me not to believe in the unexpected. Obama was unexpected, and here it happened before our very eyes. The fall of the Berlin wall was unexpected, and nobody could even have imagined it a moment before it happened. Even the victory of the Greens in the recent municipal election in Tel-Aviv was like that.

I WANT to propose the start of a new endeavor a day after the elections. I would like the best of the intellectuals and the peace activists, the social activists and the fighters for the environment to gather and start thinking together, in order to bring about the Israeli miracle.

Perhaps there should be a grand congress of those who want change, a Sanhedrin of peace and human rights activists, a kind of alternative Knesset.

From the heights of my 85 years I want to call all those to whom our future here is close to the heart, Jews and Arabs, and especially the young, to mobilize for a joint effort to prepare the ground for the big change, for the Other Israel, for a state where it will be fun to live, an Israel we can be proud of.

This is not a game that can be played between existing organizations, but a completely new political creation, that will speak a new language, that will bring a new message.

I believe that this will happen, if not tomorrow then the day after. I wish for myself, and for all of you present in this hall, that we shall see it with our own eyes, that we shall be partners, that we shall be able to say: we have succeeded, we are entrusting the state to good hands.

AND NOW I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all of you, my friends, who have come to mark my birthday with me by exchanging views and debating the issues that are so important to all of us.

Heartfelt thanks to the moderators and the speakers, who have bared the issues for us, to the organizers of this beautiful event, to the members of Gush Shalom who made it possible. Thanks to all of you, who have come from near and afar, and thanks for the good wishes you have showered on me.

I couldn’t imagine a more enjoyable and exciting birthday. Thank you.

The war in Gaza – vicious folly of a bankrupt government (and Amos Oz will soon regret having supported it)

by Gush Shalom

The war in Gaza, the bloodshed, killing, destruction and suffering on both sides of the border, are the vicious folly of a bankrupt government. A government which let itself be dragged by adventurous officers and cheap nationalist demagoguery, dragged into a destructive and unnecessary war which will bring no solution to any problem – neither to the communities of southern Israel under the rain of missiles nor to the terrible poverty and suffering of besieged Gaza. On the day after the war the same problems will remain – with the addition of many bereaved families, wounded people crippled for life, and piles of rubble and destruction.

The escalation towards war could and should have been avoided. It was the State of Israel which broke the truce, in the 'ticking tunnel' raid on the night of the US elections two months ago. Since then the army went on stoking the fires of escalation with calculated raids and killings, whenever the shooting of missiles on Israel decreased.

The cycle of bloodshed could and should be broken. The ceasefire can be restored immediately, and on firmer foundations. It is the right of Israel to demand a complete end to shooting on its territory and citizens – but it must stop all attacks from its side, end completely the siege and starvation of Gaza's million and half inhabitants, and stop interfering with the Palestinians' right to choose their own leaders.

Ehud Barak's declaration that he is stopping the elections campaign in order to concentrate on the Gaza offensive is a joke. The war in Gaza is itself Barak's elections campaign, a cynical attempt to buy votes with the blood and suffering in Netivot and Sderot, Gaza and Beit Hanun. Also so-called peace seekers such as Amos Oz, who give this offensive their support and encouragement, could not afterwards shrug off responsibility.

An Australian Uncle Tom Blames The Victims

The Northern Territory Government has denied reports its policies are causing an increase in the number of Aboriginal people going to prison.

Indigenous people make up more than 80 per cent of the Northern Territory prison population but only 30 per cent of the general population.

The North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency has told Fairfax media that Territory police are targeting Indigenous people for some crimes and says Government is funding more prison cells rather than programs to keep people out of jail.

But Deputy Chief Minister Marion Scrymgour says Northern Territory laws do not discriminate.

"This is not about targeting Aboriginal people, it is offensive for anyone to say that," she said.

"Unfortunately, we do have high levels of violence amongst our Aboriginal people. We need to reduce that. We need to work with them, and hopefully we can reduce that cycle."

Gaza Strip continues to be hit by Israeli airstrikes

Residents of the Gaza Strip are picking up the pieces and searching for survivors, after a series of Israeli airstrikes Saturday that targeted Hamas compounds.

At least 200 are dead, and the strikes are still going on.

The attacks came after Israeli officials warned that airstrikes on the coastal strip could be stepped up in response to days of attacks on southern Israel.

President Bush – who has been keeping a close eye on the violence -- has sided with Israel, and blames Hamas for violating a cease-fire.

Hundreds of activists in Tel Aviv protest IAF strike in Gaza

by Ofri Hani

from Haaretz

Hundreds of left-wing and human rights activists marched in the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday night to protest the massive Israel Air Force offensive in Gaza that left at least 230 dead and hundreds more wounded. 

The protesters marched from Tel Aviv's Cinematheque toward the Defense Ministry offices. Police, some mounted on horseback, surrounded the protesters, arresting five of them. 

According to the protesters, Israel's military action in Gaza does not protect Israeli citizens or provide them security. 

"No one can tell us that slaughtering the citizens of Gaza is meant to protect the citizens of Sderot and Ashkelon," said Matan Kaminer, a student who participated in the march. 

Some protesters complained of extraneous force on the part of horse-mounted police, but overall the march remained non-violent. 

Similar protests took place in Arab villages in the Galilee and in Bedouin villages in the Negev.

Israel attacks Gaza, more than 140 reported killed

Israeli war planes and combat helicopters pounded the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip today, killing at least 140 people and prompting rocket fire from Palestinian militants that killed an Israeli, medics said.

The dead and wounded lay scattered on the ground following the Israeli attacks, which destroyed several Hamas police compounds in the bloodiest day for Palestinians in more than 20 years. Distraught rescuers cried out as they tried to find those still alive and black smoke billowed over Gaza city.

The Israeli military said it had targeted "terrorist infrastructure" and pledged more strikes if necessary, possibly targeting leaders of the Hamas Islamist militant group.

Hamas threatened to unleash "hell" to avenge the dead, including possible suicide bombings, and militants fired rockets into southern Israel soon after the Israeli strikes. Medics said one Israeli was killed and two were moderately wounded.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned as "criminal" the Israeli air campaign and called for the international community to intervene.

Hospital officials in Gaza City said more than 120 people had been killed there, including 40 at a police headquarters where Hamas was hosting a graduation ceremony for new recruits. Among those killed was police chief Tawfiq Jabber.

Another 23 Palestinians were killed in air strikes in Khan Younis and Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, medical officials said. At one site, there was a huge crater in the ground.

Uniformed bodies lay in a pile and the wounded writhed in pain, Reuters television pictures showed. Rescuers carried those showing signs of life to cars and ambulances, while others tried to revive the unconscious.

An Israeli army spokesman said the air force had conducted "a massive operation" against "terrorist infrastructure" following the collapse of a six-month-old, Egyptian-brokered ceasefire just over a week ago.

Gaza militants have fired dozens of makeshift rockets at southern Israel in recent days. The rockets cause damage but few injuries.

Hamas armed wing spokesman Abu Ubaida threatened to unleash "hell" on Israel, saying the Islamist group would "teach the enemy a lesson they will never forget." Hamas said it was considering a new suicide bombing campaign.

An aide to Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Israel was prepared to step up its assault "as required".

Several of the rescuers beat their heads and shouted: "Allahu akbar (God is greatest)." One badly wounded prostrate man was quietly reciting verses from the Koran.

A five-day Israeli offensive in March killed more than 120 people, but today's death toll would be the highest for Palestinians since their 1980s uprising.

Witnesses said the attacks were carried out by warplanes and combat helicopters.

Witnesses also reported seeing Israeli planes bombing sites along Gaza's border with Egypt. Palestinians use hundreds of tunnels under the border to bring in everything from goods to weapons, making them prime Israeli targets.

The air strikes followed a decision by Israeli Prime Minister Edud Olmert's security cabinet to widen reprisals for cross-border Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel. Olmert had warned Hamas, which seized control of the coastal enclave in June 2007, to stop firing rockets or pay a heavy price.

"I will not hesitate to use Israel's might to strike Hamas and (Islamic) Jihad," he told Al Arabiya television, an Arab broadcaster widely watched in Gaza.  


Robert Fisk’s World: How can anyone believe there is 'progress' in the Middle East?

by Robert Fisk

If reporting is, as I suspect, a record of mankind's folly, then the end of 2008 is proving my point. 

Let's kick off with the man who is not going to change the Middle East, Barack Obama, who last week, with infinite predictability, became Time's "person of the year". But buried in a long and immensely tedious interview inside the magazine, Obama devotes just one sentence to the Arab-Israeli conflict: "And seeing if we can build on some of the progress, at least in conversation, that's been made around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be a priority." 

What is this man talking about? "Building on progress?" What progress? On the verge of another civil war between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, with Benjamin Netanyahu a contender for Israeli prime minister, with Israel's monstrous wall and its Jewish colonies still taking more Arab land, and Palestinians still firing rockets at Sderot, and Obama thinks there's "progress" to build on? 

I suspect this nonsensical language comes from the mental mists of his future Secretary of State. "At least in conversation" is pure Hillary Clinton – its meaning totally eludes me – and the giveaway phrase about progress being made "around" the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is even weirder. Of course if Obama had talked about an end to Jewish settlement building on Arab land – the only actual "building" that is going on in the conflict – relations with Hamas as well as the Palestinian Authority, justice for both sides in the conflict, along with security for Palestinians as well as Israelis, then he might actually effect a little change. 

An interesting test of Obama's gumption is going to come scarcely three months after his inauguration when he will have a little promise to honour. Yup, it's that dratted 24 April commemoration of the Armenian genocide when Armenians remember the 1.5 million of their countrymen – citizens of the Ottoman empire slaughtered by the Turks – on the anniversary of the day in 1915 when the first Armenian professors, artists and others were taken off to execution by the Ottoman authorities. 

Bill Clinton promised Armenians he'd call it a "genocide" if they helped to elect him to office. George Bush did the same. So did Obama. The first two broke their word and resorted to "tragedy" rather than "genocide" once they'd got the votes, because they were frightened of all those bellowing Turkish generals, not to mention – in Bush's case – the US military supply routes through Turkey, the "roads and so on" as Robert Gates called them in one of history's more gripping ironies, these being the same "roads and so on" upon which the Armenians were sent on their death marches in 1915. And Mr Gates will be there to remind Obama of this. So I bet you – I absolutely bet on the family cat – that Obama is going to find that "genocide" is "tragedy" by 24 April. 

By chance, I browsed through Turkish Airlines' in-flight magazine while cruising into Istanbul earlier this month and found an article on the historical Turkish region of Harput. "Asia's natural garden", "a popular holiday resort", the article calls Harput, "where churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary rise next to tombs of the ancestors of Mehmet the Conqueror". 

Odd, all those churches, isn't it? And you have to shake your head to remember that Harput was the centre of the Christian Armenian genocide, the city from which Leslie Davis, the brave American consul in Harput, sent back his devastating eyewitness dispatches of the thousands of butchered Armenian men and women whose corpses he saw with his own eyes. But I guess that all would spoil the "natural garden" effect. It's a bit like inviting tourists to the Polish town of Oswiecim – without mentioning that its German name is Auschwitz. 

But these days, we can all rewrite history. Take Nicolas Sarkozy, France's cuddliest ever president, who not only toadies up to Bashar al-Assad of Syria but is now buttering up the sick and awful Algerian head of state Abdelaziz Bouteflika who's just been "modifying" the Algerian constitution to give himself a third term in office. 

There was no parliamentary debate, just a show of hands – 500 out of 529 – and what was Sarko's response? "Better Bouteflika than the Taliban!" I always thought the Taliban operated a bit more to the east – in Afghanistan, where Sarko's lads are busy fighting them – but you never can tell. Not least when exiled former Algerian army officers revealed that undercover soldiers as well as the Algerian Islamists (Sarko's "Taliban") were involved in the brutal village massacres of the 1990s. 

Talking of "undercover", I was amazed to learn of the training system adopted by the Met lads who put Jean Charles de Menezes to death on the Tube. According to former police commander Brian Paddick, the Met's secret rules for "dealing" with suicide bombers were drawn up "with the help of Israeli experts". What? Who were these so-called "experts" advising British policemen how to shoot civilians on the streets of London? The same men who assassinate wanted Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and brazenly kill Palestinian civilians at the same time? The same people who outrageously talk about "targeted killings" when they murder their opponents? Were these the thugs who were advising Lady Cressida Dick and her boys? 

Not that our brave peace envoy, Lord Blair, would have much to say about it. He's the man, remember, whose only proposed trip to Gaza was called off when yet more "Israeli experts" advised him that his life might be in danger. Anyway, he'd still rather be president of Europe, something Sarko wants to award him. That, I suppose, is why Blair wrote such a fawning article in the same issue of Time which made Obama "person" of the year. "There are times when Nicolas Sarkozy resembles a force of nature," Blair grovels. It's all first names, of course. "Nicolas has the hallmark of any true leader"; "Nicolas has adopted..."; "Nicolas recognises"; "Nicolas reaching out...". In all, 15 "Nicolases". Is that the price of the Euro presidency? Or will Blair now tell us he's going to be involved in those "conversations" with Obama to "build on some of the progress" in the Middle East?

PLC deputy: limited supplies entering Gaza insufficient

Gaza / PNN – The Iranian Red Crescent is joining the ranks of those trying to break the siege on the Gaza Strip via sea. A ship will attempt to reach port within two weeks. 

Chairperson of the Popular Committee against the Siege, Jamal Al Khudari, said that the limited amount of food aid allowed through the crossings today was not enough for a few hours.

Friday saw the first lifting of the complete closure on the Strip in 10 days after over a month of nearly daily closure and two years of siege.

Although the Israeli administration and media heavily publicized the partial lifting of the ban on humanitarian aid, the 80 trucks that entered are only half that of what is necessary on a normal day.

Al Khudari says that at least 160 trucks of imports are needed daily in times outside of closure. He reiterated his insistence that the issue of the crossings should not be linked with any others. The Israelis say they are opening and closing the crossings dependent on relations with the Hamas government and the launching of projectiles by the armed resistance.
Also a Palestinian Legislative Council member, Al Khudari asked that the “international community and all concerned parties put pressure on the occupation to compel him to open the crossings and keep it open, with no excuses or arguments for closure.”

International law forbids the Israeli administration from keeping the crossings of the Gaza Strip closed.

Palestinians living within Israeli boundaries, along with Israeli and foreign activists, demonstrated in Tel Aviv today against Israeli practices in the Strip.


Kadena Aero Club Returns To Air Despite Inherent Dangers to Okinawan People

"That's the price you pay for our protection." - A high-ranking US official referring to the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three American soldiers.
by Natasha Lee

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — The Kadena Aero Club was to begin limited flights Friday with increased pilot and safety oversight after concluding an investigation into a mishap involving a pilot error, officials said.

An Air Force investigation into the Oct. 24 incident found the pilot was forced to land in a sugar cane field in Nago City after he failed to refuel the Cessna 172 before leaving Amami Island to return to Kadena Air Base.

No one was seriously injured. However, U.S. government-owned planes belonging to the Aero Club were grounded following the accident amid concern from Okinawa officials and residents.

Under the limited flight operations, qualified Aero Club flight instructors were "to regain proficiency in their core tasks" and will be required to fly with at least one additional instructor, according to a release Wednesday from Kadena’s 18th Wing. 

Student training in designated local training areas — which include airspace around White Beach, and southern and northern parts of Nago Bay — is expected to resume Jan. 10, the release said.

Normal flight operations and cross-country flights — those going more than 50 miles from Kadena — will be reinstated Feb. 1, the release said.

The Aero Club also implemented additional safety measures for pilots, including mandatory aircraft refueling for flights more than 90 minutes from the air base. Other measures to be taken include paying greater attention to fuel-consumption rates, navigation logs and preflight paperwork for all cross-country flights.

Investigation results, released earlier this month, reported the pilot had not properly gauged how much fuel was needed for the round-trip flight from Kadena to Amami Island — failing to consider that fuel burns at different rates depending on altitude, takeoff, climbing and weather conditions.

The plane — also carrying three other Americans — developed engine failure and later caused a temporary power outage in the Makiya district in Nago when it struck several electrical lines during its emergency landing.

The new procedures should help curb future chances for mishaps, 18th Wing spokesman Maj. John Hutcheson told Stars and Stripes.

"This accident was primary pilot error. That being said, we took a hard look at all our Aero Club practices, processes and procedures, and we’re making some improvements where necessary," Hutcheson said.

Officials have identified the pilot only as an Air Force lieutenant colonel. It has not been determined whether Okinawa police — with jurisdiction in the matter — will seek charges against the pilot.

The Air Force has not announced whether it will impose disciplinary action, Hutcheson said.

Nago Deputy Mayor Bunshin Suematsu said he welcomes the new safety measures, but said restricting military-related flights over Nago neighborhoods is the best way to prevent future accidents. 

"We strongly ask the military to avoid flying over residential areas," he said Wednesday in a statement to Stars and Stripes.