Free Palestine, break ties with apartheid Israel

January 23, 2009

"Perhaps one day we will understand how wrong our actions in this region have been from time immemorial."

This is how journalist for Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, David Grossman, summed up Israel's oppression of Palestine on January 20, two days into the unstable ceasefire that followed the 22-day war on Gaza.

Even the January 19 Time magazine ran a cover story entitled "Why Israel Can't Win".

People all over the world have been shocked by Israel's cruelty in its war on a trapped and besieged people.

With a death toll still rising as more bodies are pulled from under rubble and with hospitals lacking supplies needed to treat the injured due to Israel's blockade on the Palestinian territory, the numbers dead as a result of Israel's 22-day straight bombardment exceeds 1300, including more than 400 children. Less than 100 of the dead are believed to be resistance fighters.

Homes, public buildings (including the parliament) and vital industries now lie as rubble.

Despite its unilateral January 18 ceasefire, Israeli troops continue to surround Gaza and a January 21 Al Jazeera report stated that Israeli ships remained in Gazan territorial waters.

Reporting from Gaza, Al Jazeera journalist Ayman Mohyeldin stated: "There is a 600-metre buffer zone which the Israeli army uses as a no-go, meaning that anyone who owns farmland in the area and tries to access it is often fired upon to try to deter them from approaching any closer."

Hamas, which leads the Palestinian Authority government in Gaza after winning elections in 2006 and defeating a 2007 US-backed coup by forces loyal to West Bank-based Fatah PA president, responded by announcing a ceasefire of its own that gave Israel one week to withdraw all its troops from Gaza.

If Israeli troops remained, Hamas stated it would resume fighting to liberate the territory.

The January 23 Sydney Morning Herald reported: "The war is not over in Gaza. From 7am yesterday, the sounds of heavy shelling from Israeli gunboats stationed off the Gaza coast reverberated around the city.

"Gunfire and explosions could also be heard. By 9am ambulance sirens joined the chorus."

After 22 days of slaughter, Israel failed to achieve its stated aims. Not only is Hamas still in power, the SMH article reported that the smugglers' tunnels, that Israel claims are used to smuggle weapons but are also used to bring in food and other necessities in order to get around the blockade, appear to still be operating.

Also, the article reported that rockets have continued to be fired from Gaza into Israel.

For his part, United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki Moon described Israel's assault on Gaza assault as "shocking and alarming", according to a January 20 report in the British Guardian.

"This is heartbreaking, the scenes that I have seen. I am not able to describe how I am feeling seeing this site of the bombing of the United Nations compound."

Standing in front of still-smoking humanitarian food aid in a UN warehouse hit by Israeli fire on January 16, he stated: "This was an outrageous and totally unacceptable attack against the United Nations."

In the midst of this wanton destruction, calls for charges of war crimes to be brought against Israel's leaders are growing louder.

The Arab Commission for Human Rights is among 300 human rights groups submitting a 37-page dossier to the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court (ICC) to request action against Israeli war crimes. The ICC is able to adjudicate on war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed after 2002.

While Israel is not a member of the ICC, the court is still able to prosecute individuals. The governments of Venezuela and Bolivia have offered to take the case to the ICC. States can take the case one step further by issuing charges against offending nations.

Bolivian government official Sacha Llorenti told AFP on January 17 that it was seeking to gain support for regional governments to present a joint bid to bring those responsible for Israel's carnage to justice.

Aid organisations have also joined the call, while Amnesty International is demanding action against Israel's use of white phosphorous against civilian populations.

"Such extensive use of this weapon in Gaza's densely populated residential neighborhoods is inherently indiscriminate", Donatella Rovera, a Middle East researcher with Amnesty International, said in a statement.

"Its repeated use in this manner, despite evidence of its indiscriminate effects and its toll on civilians, is a war crime."

Israeli anti-war activists have established a Hebrew language website, , that details the human rights violations committed by Israeli officials and calls on the ICC to pursue criminal charges.

The bloodshed and destruction associated with Israel's oppression of Palestinians and denial of their national rights is increasingly being seen as indefensible.

As Yonotan Shapira, a former Israeli air force captain, told BBC News on January 6 when asked about his opinion on the latest Israeli offensive: "I can sum that up in two words, war crime. My government is now engaging in a massive war crime killing hundreds of innocents …"

Shapira noted that thousands of Israelis "are demonstrating right now in the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem". People "from all kind of background and parts of society", he said, are "completely ashamed and against this crazy assault".

Two female reservists refused to deployed to Gaza during the campaign of slaughter on conscientious grounds and were sentenced to 14 days in prison on January 19.

The Guardian reported on January 17 that a group of Israeli academics had called on foreign governments to impose sanctions on Israel over its crimes, pointing out that more than 500 Israeli citizens had signed on to a statement demanding sanctions.

While majority opinion within Israel has remained with the government, a January 20 IPS article reported that 'the Israeli government is stepping up efforts to suppress dissent and crush resistance in the streets. Police have been videotaping the demonstrations and subsequently arresting protesters in large numbers.

"According to Israeli police reports, at least 763 Israeli citizens, the majority of them Palestinian and 244 under 18 years old, have been arrested, imprisoned or detained for participating in such demonstrations. Most have been held and then released, but at least 30 of those arrested over the past three weeks are still being held in prison."

Millions of people from around the world took to the streets in opposition to Israel's war in the largest display of global solidarity with Palestine yet. Hundreds of thousands right across the Arab world took action.

Even the sporting fields have not been immune, as revealed during a Euro Cup basketball game in Turkey between Turk Telekom and Israeli team Bnei Hasharon.

Thousands rallied outside the stadium, according to a January 6 Associated Press report.

Despite only 500 fans being admitted into the stadium under harsh police interrogation, once inside, the crowd quickly unfurled smuggled-in Palestinian flags and chanted "Israeli murderers, get out of Palestine!".

As players took to the court, shoes were thrown onto the arena before fans clashed with security guards in an attempt to invade the court.

After 90 minutes, with the teams in their changing rooms, all fans were either arrested or dragged from the arena. The Israeli team accepted a forfeit.

There have also been significant protests inside the US, including from many Jewish people determined that Israel's crimes do not occur in their name. However, in the lead-up to President Barack Obama's inauguration, only five Congresspeople (out of 535) refused to support a resolution in favour of Israel's war.

Democratic Congressperson Dennis Kucinich, who opposed the motion, argued that the supplying of arms by the US to Israel constitutes a breech of the Arms Export Control Act 1976, a little-applied law that restricts US arms from being used in wars of aggression.

The gap between popular opinion opposing Israel's crimes globally and that of Western governments and pro-West Arab regimes stands more exposed than ever.

The West is still attempting to promote the collaborationist regime in the West Bank headed by Abbas as an alternative to the Hamas-led Gaza government, despite the fact that Abbas is increasingly rejected by Palestinians regardless of factional alignment, with support for a strategy of resisting Israel growing stronger.

Abbas has also authorised the repression of rallies in solidarity with Gaza that have occurred in the West Bank.

At an Arab Economic Summit on January 19, Abbas proposed a "national unity" government that would hold "simultaneous presidential and legislative elections".

Such a proposal merely reflects Abbas's own weak position and is aimed at buying Israel time by placing demands first and foremost on the Gazan government at a time when Israel's near-total siege, backed by Western governments, is causing a humanitarian crisis and urgently needs to be lifted if more civilians are not to die.

Israel has near-total control over the lives of Palestinians. Any Palestinian decision can be overruled by Israel.

When Hamas won 2006 PA elections, Israel and its Western allies refused to recognise the result, placing sanctions on the Hamas-led PA government and backing Fatah's 2007 coup that took control of the West Bank but was repelled in Gaza.

What is really at stake is not the threat of homemade rockets, but the threat to the maintenance of Israel as an apartheid state, run by and for one section of the population over all others.

The real threat, as revealed by Israeli officials in moments of frankness, is the "demographic threat" represented by a growing Palestinian population in both Israel and occupied West Bank and Gaza, which potentially threatens the maintenance of an exclusively Jewish state — which was established through the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Like apartheid in South Africa, a state based on superiority for one ethnic group or religion is inherently unstable and forced to resort to the most brutal violence to survive.

Lasting peace requires democracy and equality — a state for all who live in the area, regardless of their religion or race.

The campaign to isolate Israel diplomatically and economically over their war crimes, as well as to have Israeli leaders brought to justice for their actions, is an essential part of the campaign for justice for the Palestinians, more than a million of whom cannot return to their homeland claimed by Israel.

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