Israeli military no different from Japanese Imperial Army

The United Nations Human Rights Commission recently released a report on Israel’s war in Gaza. The report severely criticizes Israel for documented and verified reports of violations “too numerous to list.”

According to CNN, the report gave an account of how in a town southwest of Gaza City, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers ordered an 11-year-old boy to open Palestinians’ packages, presumably so that the soldiers would not be hurt if they turned out to contain explosives.

They then forced the boy to walk in front of them in the town, it said. When the soldiers came under fire, “the boy remained in front of the group”.

The report cited two alleged incidents from January 3. In one, it said, after a tank round struck near a house, a father and his two sons — both younger than 11 — emerged to look at the damage.

“As they exited their home, IDF soldiers shot and killed them (at the entrance to their house), with the daughter witnessing,” the report said.

In the second, it said, “Israeli soldiers entered a family house in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City. Standing at the doorstep, they asked the male head of the household to come out and shot him dead, without warning, while he was holding his ID, hands raised up in the air, and then started to fire indiscriminately and without warning into the room where the rest of the family was huddled together.

“The eldest son was shouting in vain the word ‘Children’ in Hebrew to warn the soldiers. The shooting did not stop until everyone was lying on the floor. The mother and four of the brothers, aged 2-12 years, had been wounded, one of them, aged 4, fatally.”

In a separate report by Israeli newspaper Haaretz, a group of Israeli soldiers said that Palestinian civilians were killed and Palestinian property intentionally destroyed during Israel’s recent 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip.

In one account, a squad leader from a brigade serving in Gaza described an incident in which he said an elderly Palestinian woman was shot and killed at the orders of a company commander:

“One of our officers, a company commander, saw someone coming on some road — a woman, an old woman. She was walking along pretty far away, but close enough so you could take out someone you saw there. If she were suspicious, not suspicious — I don’t know. In the end, he sent people up to the roof, to take her out with their weapons. From the description of this story, I simply felt it was murder in cold blood.”

According to the Haaretz transcript, the squad leader protested the rules of engagement, which he said allowed soldiers to fire on Palestinian homes without giving residents a warning. After the rules were changed, his soldiers complained that “we should kill everyone there [in the center of Gaza]. Everyone there is a terrorist.”

According to Haaretz, the squad leader went on to say that, “You do not get the impression from the officers that there is any logic to it, but they won’t say anything. To write ‘death to the Arabs’ on the walls, to take family pictures and spit on them, just because you can. I think this is the main thing: To understand how much the IDF has fallen in the realm of ethics, really. It’s what I’ll remember the most.”

All these war crimes remind me of the evils perpetrated by another occupying force – the Japanese Imperial Army during World War Two, and what they did to the Chinese and other Asians in China, Korea and Southeast Asia.

Israel orders ceasefire days before Obama inauguration


Prime Minster Ehud Olmert on Saturday night announced that Israel’s security cabinet has voted in favor of a unilateral cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, which went into effect at 2 A.M. local time (8 am Singapore time).

The announcement comes after three weeks of fighting in the coastal strip, as Israel launched a massive military offensive aimed at halting years of daily rocket fire on its southern communities. Palestinian sources say that more than 1,100 Gazans have been killed since the offensive began on December 27. Three Israeli civilians and 10 Israel Defense Forces have been killed during that period.

I’m relieved to learn that the Israelis have finally decided to call off their brutal assault on Gaza, which medical sources in Gaza City have reported has killed 1,203 people in Gaza and injured more than 5,000 more, many of them Palestinian civilians. 410 children have died.

However while the blitz has ended, the occupation of Gaza has just begun again. After a three week campaign of aggression in response to Hamas rocket attacks, what prospect is there of peaceful negotiations towards a viable two-state solution?

It is interesting to note that this ceasefire comes just two days before the inauguration of US President Barack Obama. Obama, like all US presidents since the 1970s, has declared his unwaivering support for Israel. However, there are subtle differences between his position and that of his predecessor, George Bush. Israel is aware of this. Rather than wait for the Obama administration to apply pressure on them, they have taken the smart step to stop the assault before he takes over the leadership.

I believe that while Obama will do what it takes to defend Israel, he will not necessarily do it the way the Bush hardliners did it. I hope that he will seriously engage the Palestinians (and not only the factions led by President Mahmoud Abbas) with the help of the Middle East Quartet, to negotiate a lasting solution to this long-drawn crisis.

Decades of violence have proven that it does not provide the answer. I’m sure the Palestinians, with the exception of a few factions, are ready for peace. The hardliners (both in the US and Israel) who advocate the use of force as the first and only solution must be sidelined to set the stage for genuine negotiations.

Perspectives on the situation in Gaza

Israeli blogger and former army reserve “AronT”, who blogs at Aron’s Israeli Peace Weblog, claimed that Israelis have long been indoctrinated by three political/military laws which dictate their dealings with Palestinians.

The first is one is: If force doesn’t work, apply more force.

The second law that most Israelis blindly accept is that “in a tough neighborhood, you have to be the toughest, whatever the cost.” This is used to justify any “disproportionate response” to Palestinian attacks.

Finally Aron’s third Israeli political law is: Arab leaders are intractable terrorists out to destroy Israel so there is no one on the other side to talk to.

Aron’s full explanation of his three laws is at this blogpost.

Looking at the situation in Gaza right now, it is hard not to be convinced that these three laws are at play.

Current situation

Let’s have a quick situation report at the time of writing:

Following the end of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between Palestinian faction Hamas and Israel in December, Hamas resumed short range rocket attacks on Israeli towns bordering Gaza. This prompted Israel to launch its most blistering and sustained attack on Gaza since the 1967 Six Day War. As it stands now, there are about 470 Palestinians killed and over 2,000 injured. The UN says that about a quarter of the dead Palestinians are civilians. Four Israelis have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza.

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has just launched a ground offensive into Gaza, with infantry, artillery, engineering and intelligence forces now inside the territory.

On the diplomatic front, the United Nations Security Council has failed to agree on a statement condemning the Israeli attacks, because the US has blocked it, claiming it is unbalanced. The US, Israel’s staunchest ally, is the lone major power in the world overtly supporting Israeli attacks, saying that Israel has a right to defend itself, and that a one-way cease fire that leads to rocket attacks from Hamas is not acceptable.

Meanwhile, the President of the UN General Assembly, who represents all 192 member nations, has called Israeli actions a “monstrosity”.

Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called the Israeli ground operations “an extremely disturbing development” and said “it can only exacerbate the already grave humanitarian situation”.

Reactions from some Singaporeans

While Singaporeans have understandably not taken to the streets to protest, unlike in other major cities like Sydney, New York and Jakarta, I asked two Singaporeans for their views on the current situation. (Note: These are their personal opinions. I make no claims that they are representative of all Singaporeans.)

On whether Israel’s current response is appropriate, lecturer Dr Syed Alwi questioned whether this attack by Israel is aimed at defending itself or for Israeli public consumption prior to elections.

NUS law student Cynthia Tang had this view:

The ferocity of Israel’s response to Hamas in the Gaza Strip must be understood within the conundrum of Israeli domestic politics. Israel’s general elections will be held on 10 February, where the prospect of a return to power of hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party is not low. Hence, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (from the more moderate Kadima Party who had advocated land for peace) feels the pressure to harden his position on Hamas. There was initially a wave of Israeli sentiments towards land for peace (when Ariel Sharon was prime minister and first pushed for it), however the tide on the ground has changed since Olmert took over and failed to deliver the security benefits which would presumably materialise under the land concession and his government’s weak response in the second Lebanon war (in 2006), where the overwhelming deterrence once enjoyed by the almost invincible Israeli military was severely dented.

Israel‘s response has worsened the situation in Gaza as, in addition to the attacks, they have, more damagingly, locked down the Gaza crossings which have completely crippled the Palestinian economy. Such actions only serve to back Hamas and the Palestinian people into a corner, and make an agreement for a ceasefire difficult.

US support for Israel

On the one-sided US support for Israel, Ms Tang was of the view that “US has to support Israel due to its domestic politics. Outside of the Jewish lobby in Washington, the general public opinion in the USA is still very much for Israel.”

She quoted an article in Foreign Affairs magazine, which stated that “widespread gentile (i.e., non-Jewish) support for Israel is one of the most potent political forces in the U.S foreign policy”. She opined that incoming President Barack Obama will be no exception.

Dr Alwi felt that the US’ response has added to its credibility problem in the Muslim world.

I am personally disappointed at Mr Obama’s silence on this matter. He has stated that he does not want to undermine the outgoing administration’s position. However, I believe it is a cop-out to avoid confronting a political hot potato. I’m sure he knows what is right, but is afraid to say it for fear of losing political capital with conservatives and the Jewish lobby.

In fact, I agree with some analysts that Israel has decided to seize the chance to attack Hamas now before January 20, when Mr Obama — who is much more fair minded on the Israeli-Palestinian issue — takes over as President.

Negotiating with Hamas?

Israel has categorically stated that it will not sit at the negotiating table with Hamas, which it brands a terrorist organisation.

Dr Alwi pointed out:

The problem with the word “terrorist”, is that one man’s terrorism is another man’s freedom-fighter. But I do agree that Hamas used to target civilians and this works against her image. Yes, I think Israel has to sit at the negotiating table because just about every other Arab Muslim group has had “terror” in its repertoire. If you do not deal with Hamas then who are you going to deal with? Once again is this because of altruistic moral reasons or is this refusal to deal with Hamas just for the consumption of the Israeli conservative lobby?

Hamas is a poor Muslim response to an organised militant Israel. You are not dealing with sophisticated ideas here. Its a raw response that plays on the Arab Muslim aspirations. Part demagoguery and part Rambo — but mostly poverty! These are people who feed on a sense of hopelessness, American double standards and Islamic rhetoric. I do not like Hamas, but then, the rest are no better.

Ms Tang added:

I have no doubt that Hamas is a terrorist organisation today. At present, the organisation routinely and systematically perpetrates acts of terror against Israel and had vowed itself against the very existence of Israel. However, that does not mean that there is no room for Hamas to gain legitimacy down the road as a political entity.

When Fatah was first founded and led by Yasser Arafat and other members of the Palestinian Diaspora in the 1960s and 1970s, it was one of the chief terrorist groups conducting terrorist attacks against Israel and also provided training to other Islamic militant groups. However, it gained legitimacy in 1993 when the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) renounced terrorism and signed an agreement of mutual recognition with Israel. This is not to say the Fatah re-entered into the mainstream out of the goodness of their heart, but because all political entities are pragmatic and will do the necessary to stay in power. In this case, Fatah did so to become the de facto government in the Palestinian Territories. If Fatah, the original armed nationalist group, could gain legitimacy and re-enter into the mainstream along the way, who is to say that Hamas can’t or will not? Hence, are they a terrorist group now? Yes. But it is an unknown if they will continue to be a terrorist group indefinitely. The key question is how do we incentivise Hamas to see it in their interest to enter into the mainstream, quite akin to Gaddafi’s Libya.

I agree that eventually Israel will need to negotiate with Hamas if it is to find a political solution, as distasteful as it might seem to them. The reality is that Hamas won the popular vote of the Palestinians (partly due to a fatal miscalculation by the US and Fatah).

And not just the PLO, but other political movements which started out with violence took the peaceful, responsible path after coming to power. South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) is another example (although the violence committed by the ANC pales in comparison with that committed by the PLO and Hamas).

It should be pointed out that Hamas, along with all other Arab countries, actually supported the Arab Peace Initiative proposed in 2002 by Saudi Arabia. The Arab Peace Initiative among other things, considers the Arab-Israeli conflict ended and establishes normal relations with Israel in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967.

This is not to defend Hamas, which has, like the IDF, committed dastardly deeds against civilians. But one thing is for sure: Continued eye-for-an-eye violence is not going to bring peace — at least not in this conflict.

Obama courting lobbyists

Barack Obama, who claims to reject Washington lobbyists, three days ago addressed the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — probably the most powerful lobby group in the US.

He pledged to “eliminate” the threat of Iran and do everything in his power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He also promised $30 billion in assistance to Israel over the next decade. To a rousing ovation, he declared he would always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend Israel.

It is certainly a sight to see the future leader of the most powerful nation on earth grovelling at group of lobbyists who represent the narrow interests of a small foreign state.

To be fair to Obama, this is the default position of any American politician who aspires to be elected to high office. John McCain is even more hawkish when it comes to defending Israel and attacking Iran (recall his “Bomb, bomb, Iran” rendition of the Beach Boys’ song).

Fortunately, Obama in his speech signalled his commitment to realising an independent, contiguous Palestinian state at peace with Israel. One could hear a pin drop in the auditorium when he said that. I hope that as president, Obama will honour this commitment.

I support Israel’s right to exist and to defend its borders. But I do not support a US policy that provides unconditional support to Israel while ignoring the plight of Palestinians who are subject to such appalling injustice in their own land.


The East Asian twist in the Middle East nuclear crisis

There’s never a dull moment in Middle East politics. But Israel’s relationship with its Arab neighbours has taken a much more intriguing twist in recent months.

On Sept 6 last year, Israeli F-15 and F-16 warplanes secretly bombed a mysterious target in northeastern Syria. It was not until weeks later that the world got to know about this bombing, and Israel remained mum about it more than 10 days after the news broke.

Initial speculation was that the target was either (1) a cache of arms bound for Hezbollah, a terrorist group committed to the destruction of Israel; (2) a practice run for an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities; or (3) a joint North Korean-Syrian nuclear reactor project.

Syria’s feeble response after its Jewish neighbour’s audacious invasion of its airspace and attack within its borders only increased suspicion that the third scenario — a nuclear facility — was actually in the works. Even Syria’s Arab neighbours were deafeningly silent on the bombing, when one would expect them to be outraged over this attack on their Arab brethren. Judging from the nature of inter-Arab politics, they — Saudi Arabia and Egypt in particular — must have been secretly pleased that Israel removed this threat from their backyard.

The issue was revived again in last Thursday when the US openly accused Syria of building a secret nuclear reactor with North Korea’s help. Some have accused the US of using this as a negotiating ploy with North Korea. Predictably, Syrian diplomats angrily refuted the American claims. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also expressed much unhappiness that the US and Israel did not share their intelligence with it, in order for them to send weapons inspectors to Syria to check out the facility themselves.

I feel the IAEA has the right to feel upset that it was totally sidelined and made irrelevant in this issue. But what else did they expect from Israel?

I am not a diehard supporter of the State of Israel, but I think that the action that Israel took was appropriate and necessary in this case. It already has a disaster waiting to happen with its other neighbour, Iran, and their alleged nuclear programme. It was a good move for them to have nipped Syria’s nuclear programme in the bud, before it opened up another nuclear front for them on their northeast border.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this situation pans out in the coming weeks.

See also:
Shock waves from Syria (Washington Post editorial)
IAEA chief hits out at US, Israel over Syrian reactor claims (CNA)