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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Obama's Emerging Policies on Israel, Iraq and the Economic Crisis By NOAM CHOMSKY

Press TV: Professor Chomsky, let us start with Pakistan. The White House is not commenting on the killings of people [in cross-border drone attacks from Afghanistan into Pakistan]. Richard Holbrooke, someone whom you've written about in the context of Yugoslavia, is the man [President Barack] Obama has chosen to solve the situation.
Chomsky: It was pretty clear that Obama would accept the Bush doctrine that the United States can bomb Pakistan freely, and there have been many cases which are quite serious. There has been for example a great deal of chaos and fighting in Bajaur province, which is a adjacent to Afghanistan and tribal leaders- others there- have traced it to the bombing of a madrassa school which killed 80 to 95 people, which I don't think was even reported in the United states, it was reported in the Pakistani press of course.

The author of the article reporting it, a well-known nuclear physicist, Pervez Hoodbhoy pointed out at the time that this kind of massacre will of course engender terror and reactions, which will even threaten the state of Pakistan. And that has been what is happening. We are now seeing more of it.

The first message of the Pakistani government to General [David] Petraeus, the American General when he took command of the region was that they did not want any more bombings in Pakistan. Actually, the first message to the new Obama administration by President [Hamid] Karzai of Afghanistan was the same, that he wanted no more bombings. He also said that he wants a timetable for the withdrawal of the foreign troops, US and other troops, from Afghanistan. That was of course just ignored.

Press TV: Some people are expressing optimism about George Mitchell's position as Middle East envoy. [And there’s] Richard Holbrooke. We have talked to the former Bosnian foreign minister here, who seemed to imply that he may even have had a role in the say-so for the Srebrenica massacre, and of course, Dennis Ross is being talked about as an envoy for Iran.

Chomsky: Holbrooke has a pretty awful record, not so much in Yugoslavia, but earlier. For example, in the Indonesian atrocities in East Timor, where he was the official in charge…George Mitchell is, of the various appointments that have been made, the most decent, let's say. He has a pretty decent record. He achieved something in Northern Ireland, but of course, in that case there was an objective.

The objective was that the British would put an end to the resort to violence in response to IRA terror and would attend to the legitimate grievances that were the source of the terror. He did manage that, Britain did pay attention to the grievances, and the terror stopped -- so that was successful. But there is no such outcome sketched in the Middle East, specially the Israel-Palestine problem. I mean, there is a solution, a straightforward solution very similar to the British one. Israel could stop its US-backed crimes in the occupied territories and then presumably the reaction to them would stop. But that's not on the agenda.

In fact, President Obama just had a press conference, which was quite interesting in that respect. He praised the parabolic peace initiative, the Saudi initiative endorsed by the Arab League, and said it had constructive elements. It called for the normalization of relation with Israel, and he called on the Arab states to proceed with those "constructive elements," namely the normalization of relations. But that is a gross falsification of the Arab League initiative. The Arab League initiative called for accepting a two-state settlement on the international border, which has been a long-standing international consensus and said if that can be achieved then Arab states can normalize relations with Israel. Obama skipped the first part, the crucial part, the core of the resolution, because that imposes an obligation on the United States. The United States has stood alone for over thirty years in blocking this international consensus. By now it has totally isolated the US and Israel.

Europe and now a lot of other countries have accepted it. Hamas has accepted it for years, the Palestinian Authority of course, [also]; the Arab League now for many years [has accepted it]. The US and Israel block it, not just in words, but in actions constantly. [This is] happening every day in the occupied territories and also in the siege of Gaza and other atrocities. So when he skips, that is purposeful. That entails that the US is not going to join the world in seeking to implement a diplomatic settlement, and if that is the case, Mitchell's mission is vacuous.

Press TV: Obama did say that the border should be opened. Should we see any change in policy there?

Chomsky: He did say that, but he did not mention the fact that it was in the context of a lot other demands. And Israel will also say, sure the borders should be opened but he still refuses to speak to the elected government (i.e. Hamas), quite different from Mitchell in Northern Ireland. It means Palestinians will have to be punished for voting in a free election, the way the US did not want them to, and Obama endorsed the Condoleezza Rice-Tzipi Livni agreement to close the Egyptian-Gaza order, which is quite an act of imperial arrogance. It is not their border, and in fact, Egypt strongly objected to that. But Obama continued. He says we have to make sure that no arms are smuggled through the tunnels into the Gaza Strip. But he said nothing about the vast dispatch of far more lethal arms to Israel. In fact, right in the middle of the Gaza attack, December 31, the Pentagon announced that it was commissioning a German ship to send 3,000 tons of war material to Israel. That did not work out, because the government of Greece prevented it but it was supposed to go through Greece but it could all go through somewhere else. This is right in the middle of the attack on Gaza.

Actually there were very little reporting, very few inquiries. The Pentagon responded in an interesting way. They said, well this material won't be used for the attack on Gaza. In fact they knew that Israel had plans to stop the attack right before the inauguration, so that Obama would not have to say anything about it. But the Pentagon said that this material is being used for pre-positioning for US forces. In other words, this has been going for a long time, but this is extending and reinforcing the role of Israel as a US military base on the edge of the major oil-producing regions of the world. If they are ever asked why they are doing it, they will say for defense or stability, but it is just a base for further aggressive action.

Press TV: Robert Gates and Admiral [Mike] Mullen have been talking about the 16-month timeline for withdrawal from Iraq is just one of the options, a slight difference from what Obama has been saying in the campaign. And, Hillary Clinton famously said she was prepared to obliterate all of Iran and kill 70 million citizens. On Iraq and Iran what do you see as changes?

Chomsky: What happened in Iraq is extremely interesting and important. The few correspondents with real experience and who know something have understood it. Patrick Cockburn, Jonathan Steele and one or two others. What has happened is that there was a remarkable campaign of non-violent resistance in Iraq, which compelled the United States, step-by-step, to back away from its programs and its goals. They compelled the US occupying forces to allow an election, which the US did not want and tried to evade in all sorts of ways. Then they went on from there to force the United States to accept at least formally a status of forces agreement which, if the Obama administration lives up to it, will abandon most of the US war aims. It will eliminate the huge permanent military bases that the US has built in Iraq. It will mean the US will not control decisions over how the oil resources will be accessed and used. And in fact just every war aim is gone.

Of course there is a question of whether the US will live up to it and what you are reporting is among the serious indications that they are trying to evade living up to it. But what happened there is really significant, and a real credit to the people of Iraq, who have suffered miserably. I mean, the country has been absolutely destroyed, but they did manage to get the US to back away formally from its major war aims.

In the case of Iran, Obama's statements have not been as inflammatory as Clinton's, but they amount to pretty much the same thing. He said all options are open. Well, what does all options mean? Presumably that includes nuclear war, you know, that is an option. There is no indication that he is willing to take the steps, say, that the American population wants. An overwhelming majority of the American population for years has been in favor, has agreed with the Non-Aligned Movement, that Iran should have the rights granted to the signers of the non-proliferation treaty, in fact to develop nuclear energy. It should not have the right to develop nuclear weapons, and more interestingly about the same percentages, about 75 to 80 per cent, call for the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the region, which would include Iran, Israel, and any US forces deployment there, within all kinds of verifications and so on. That could eliminate probably one of the major sources of the conflict. There is no indication that the Obama administration has any thought of doing anything about this.

Press TV: Just finally Professor Chomsky, the US economy is dominating the news and the lives of all Americans and arguably the people around the world. [There’s ] the $ 825 billion dollar package. How do you think the Obama people are going to handle this?

Chomsky: Nobody really knows. What is happening with the economy is not well understood. It is based on extremely opaque financial manipulations, which are quite hard to decode. I mean, the general process is understood, but whether the $800 billion, or probably larger government stimulus, will overcome this crisis, is not known. The first $350 billion have already been spent -- that is the so-called part bailout but that went into the pockets of banks. They were supposed to start lending freely, but they just decided not to do it. They would rather enrich themselves, restore their own capital, and take over other banks -- mergers and acquisition and so on.

Whether the next stimulus will have an effect depends very much on how it is handled, whether it is monitored, so that it is used for constructive purposes. [It relies] also on factors that are just not known, like how deep this crisis is going to be.

It is a worldwide crisis and it is very serious. It is striking that the ways that Western countries are approaching the crisis [entirely contradict] the model that they enforce on the Third World when there is a crisis. So when Indonesia has a crisis, [or] Argentina and everyone else, they are supposed to raise interest rates very high and privatize the economy, and cut down on public spending, measures like that. In the West, it is the exact opposite: lower interest rates to zero, move towards nationalization if necessary, pour money into the economy, have huge debts. That is exactly the opposite of how the Third World is supposed to pay off its debts. That this seems to pass without comment is remarkable.

An Interview with Press TV-published in CounterPunch January28, 2009.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Come on down for your Freedom Medals by John Pilger

John Pilger

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger writes that "as deserving as Tony Blair is of his George W. Bush Freedom Medal, others cry out for a place in his company".
Following Israel's assault on Gaza, he offers two additional nominees.

On 13 January, George W. Bush presented “presidential freedom medals”, said to be America’s highest recognition of devotion to freedom and peace. Among the recipients were Tony Blair, the epic liar who, with Bush, bears responsibility for the physical, social and cultural destruction of an entire nation; John Howard, the former prime minister of Australia and minor American vassal who led the most openly racist government in his country’s modern era; and Alvaro Uribe, the president of Colombia, whose government, according the latest study of that murderous state, is “responsible for than 90 per cent of all cases of torture”.

As satire was made redundant when Henry Kissinger and Rupert Murdoch were honoured for their contributions to the betterment of humanity, Bush’s ceremony was, at least, telling of a system of which he and his freshly-minted successor are products. Although more spectacular in its choreographed histrionics, Barack Obama’s inauguration carried the same Orwellian message of inverted truth: of ruthlessness of criminal power, if not unending war. The continuity between the two administrations has been as seamless as the transfer of the odious Bono’s allegiance, symbolised by President Obama’s oath-taking on the steps of Congress – where, only days earlier, the House of Representatives, dominated by the new president’s party, the Democrats, voted 390-5 to back Israel’s massacres in Gaza. The supply of American weapons used in the massacres was authorised previously by such a margin. These included the Hellfire missile which sucks the air out of lungs, ruptures livers and amputates arms and legs without the necessity of shrapnel: a “major advance”, according to the specialist literature. As a senator, then president-elect, Obama raised no objection to these state-of-the-art [sic] weapons being rushed to Israel – worth $22 billion in 2008 – in time for the long-planned assault on Gaza’s fenced and helpless population. This is understandable; it is how the system works. On no other issue does Congress and the president, Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, give such absolute support. By comparison, the German Reichstag in the 1930s was a treasure of democratic and principled debate.

This is not to say presidents and members of Congress fail to recognise the Israel “lobbyists” in their midst as thugs and political blackmailers, though they never say in public, and indeed disport themselves at Zionist fund-raisers and on paid-for trips to the object of their ardour. But they fear them. As eyes welled on 20 January for the first African-American president, who remembered Cynthia McKinney, the courageous African-American Congresswoman, the first to be elected from Georgia, who spoke out for the Palestinians and was duly driven from office by a Zionist smear campaign? For their part, the Israelis’ current, phoney “unilateral ceasefire” in Gaza is designed not to embarrass, not yet, its new man in the White House, whose single acknowledgement of the “suffering” of the Palestinians has been long eclipsed by his loyalty oaths to Tel Aviv (even promising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which not even Bush did) and his appointment of probably the most pro-Zionist administration for a generation.

As deserving as Blair, Howard and Uribe are of the Bush Freedom Medal, others cry out for a place in their company. With the assault on Gaza a defining moment of truth and lies, principle and cowardice, peace and war, justice and injustice, I have two nominees. My first is the government and society of Israel. (I checked; the Freedom Medal can be awarded collectively). “Few of us,” wrote Arthur Miller, “can easily surrender our belief that society must somehow make sense. The thought that the State has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied.”

The bleak irony of this should be clear to all in Israel, yet its denial has emboldened a militarist, racist cult that uses every epithet against the Palestinians that was once directed at Jews, with the exception of extermination – and even that is not entirely excluded, as the deputy defence minister, Matan Vilinai, noted last year with his threat of a shoa (holocaust).

In 1948, the year Israel’s right to exist was granted and Palestine’s annulled, Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt and other leading Jews in the United States warned the administration not to get involved with fascists like Menachem Begin who described the Palestinians in the way the Nazis used untermenchen – as “animals on two legs”. He became prime minister of Israel. This fascism, which was not often flouted openly, was the harbinger of Likud and Kadima. These are today “mainstream” political parties, whose influence, in the treatment of the Palestinians, covers a national “consensus” that is the source of the terror in Palestine: the brutal dispossessions and perfidious controls, the humiliation and cruelty by statute. The mirror of this is domestic violence at home. Conscripted soldiers return from their “war” on Palestinian women and children and make war on their own. Young whites drafted into South Africa’s apartheid army did the same. Inhumanity on such a scale cannot be buried indefinitely. When Desmond Tutu described his experience in Palestine and Israel as “worse than apartheid”, he pointed out that not even in white supremacist South Africa were there the equivalent of “Jews only” roads.
Uri Avnery, one of Israel’s bravest dissidents, says his country’s leaders suffer from “moral insanity”: a prerequisite, I should add, for the award of a Bush Freedom Medal.

My other nominee for a Bush Freedom Medal is that amorphous group known as western journalism, which has always made much of its freedom and impartiality. Listen to the way Israeli “spokespersons” and ambassadors are interviewed. How respectfully their official lies are received; how minimally they are challenged. They are one of us, you see: calm and western-sounding, even blonde, female and attractive. The frightened, jabbering voice on the line from Gaza is not one of us. That is the subliminal message. Listen to newsreaders use only the pejoratives for the Palestinians: words like “militants” for resisters to invasion, many of them heroes, a word never used, and “conflict” for massacre. Mark the timeless propaganda that suggests there are two equal powers fighting a “war”, not a stricken people, attacked and starved by the world’s fourth largest military power which ensures they have no places of refuge. And note the omissions - the BBC does not preface its reports with the warning that a foreign power controls its reporters’ movements, as it did in Serbia and Argentina, neither does it explain why it shows but glimpses of the extraordinary coverage of al-Jazeera from within Gaza.

There are the ubiquitous myths, too: that Israel has suffered terribly from thousands of missiles fired from Gaza. In truth, the first homemade Qassam rocket was fired across the Israeli border in October 2001, and the first fatality occurred in June 2004. Some 24 Israelis had been killed in this way, compared with 5000 Palestinians killed, more than half of them in Gaza, at least a third of them children. Now imagine if the 1.5 million Gazans had been Jewish, or Kosovar refugees. “The only honorable course for Europe and America is to use military force to try to protect the people of Kosovo...”, declared the Guardian on 23 March, 1999. Inexplicably, the Guardian has yet to call for such “an honorable course” to protect the people of Gaza.

Such is the rule of acceptable victims and unacceptable victims. When reporters break this rule they are accused of “anti-Israel bias” and worse, and their life is made a misery by a hyperactive cyber-army that drafts complaints, provides generic material and coaches people all over the world on how to smear as “anti-Jewish” work they have not seen. These vociferous campaigns are complemented by anonymous death threats, which I and others have experienced. Their latest tactic is malicious hacking into websites. But that is desperate, since the times are changing.

Across the world, people once indifferent to the arcane “conflict” in the Middle East, now ask the question the BBC and CNN rarely ask: Why does Israel have a right to exist, but Palestine does not? They ask, too, why do the lawless enjoy such immunity in the pristine world of balance and objectivity? The perfectly-spoken Israeli “spokesman” represents the most lawless regime on earth, exotic tyrannies included, according to a tally of United Nations resolutions defied and Geneva Conventions defiled. In France, 80 organisations are working to bring war crimes indictments against Israel’s leaders. On 15 January, the fine Israeli reporter, Gideon Levy, wrote in Ha’aretz that Israeli generals “will not be the only ones to hide in El Al planes lest they are arrested [overseas]”.

One day, other journalists and their editors and producers may be called upon to not only explain why they did not tell the truth about these criminals but even to stand in the dock with them. No Bush Freedom Medal is worth that.

22 Jan 2009

If the Hamas rockets are so lethal, why doesn't Israel swap an F-16 for some? by Mark Steel

Mark Steel

The worrying part about whether the ceasefire in Gaza can hold together will be whether the international community can stop the flow of arms to the terrorists. Because Israel's getting their planes and tanks and missiles from somewhere and until this supply is cut off there's every chance it could start up again.

The disregard for life from these terrorists and their supporters is shocking. For example Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, wrote that the purpose of the Israeli attack must be to "inflict a heavy death toll and heavy pain on the Gaza population".

Replace "Gaza" with "western", and that could have been written by al-Qa'ida. Maybe this is the problem: the Israelis are writing their policies by downloading statements from an Islamic Jihad website and just changing the place names. Also, if the Israelis think the Hamas rockets are as lethal as they say, why don't they swap their F-16 fighters and Apachehelicopters for a few of them?

These things are capable of terrorising a whole nation for years apparently, yet the Israelis have neglected to buy any, wasting their money on gunboats and stuff. Given that their annual arms budget is $7.2bn plus $2.2 bn in "aid", they'd save enough to buy a selection of banks in every country in the world.

The military advantages would be enormous because the Israelis' complaint about Hamas is the use of tunnels to smuggle arms. But if Israel gave Hamas a few planes and tanks and helicopters, they could probably be persuaded to shut down those tunnels that seem to be the cause of such bad feeling.

Whatever you say about Israel, at least it moves its weapons about legally – except for when it secretly built a nuclear arsenal against an array of international agreements. But they did it above ground and not in a tunnel and that's the main thing.

Watching the reports from Gaza, another reason why the ceasefire may break down becomes apparent. The Israelis might claim that their satellite pictures now show Palestinians in possession of huge mounds of rubble – lethal if thrown over the border. Luckily these weapons are easy to spot. Most of them are next to women howling, "Look what they've done to my house," but perhaps the airforce should bomb them again – just in case. The Israelis say they fear Hamas will once again break the ceasefire by sending over those rockets. But the whole point of the operation was to make that impossible. Because they must have asked themselves the question, "If we slaughter 1,300 people, including 300 children, is that likely to make people: A. less cross or B. more cross?" And presumably they concluded it will make them much less likely to grow up full of hatred and determination to retaliate. Perhaps they saw medical research that shows when someone is suffering from anxiety and bouts of irascible ill-tempered behaviour, the best treatment is to pen them in with no food or medicine and then kill some of them, and that calms them down a treat.

Another way to allay their worries about Hamas breaking the ceasefire is to read the report from their government's own Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre. This states that during the ceasefire "Hamas did not take part in any rocket fire and sometimes prevented other organisations from attacking." Still, with all that's been going on I suppose they haven't had time for reading.

Despite all this there might be one cheery sign, which is that never before have so many people seen through the Israeli government's excuses for handing out mass destruction. The demonstrations in support of Palestinians have been bigger than ever before, and even the United Nations and the Wall Street Journal have suggestedIsrael has committed war crimes. One poll in America suggested that 60 per cent of people opposed the bombardment, and the change of opinion reached the point that an Israeli diplomat has admitted that "The harm to civilians in Gaza is causing us huge damage."

Maybe, best of all, was genetics expert Steven Rose who appeared on Radio 4's Today programme to talk about a new study that's located "morality spots", the part of the brain that deals with our morality. Asked how we could know whether this was true, he said in a marvellously posh academic Radio 4 voice "Well we could test the brains of the Israeli cabinet and see if they've got no morality spots whatsoever."

And the most immoral part of all is the perfectly cynical timing, as if three weeks ago Bush shouted: "Last orders please. Any last bombing, before time's up? Come along now, haven't you got homes to demolish?"

First published in The Independent on 21st January 2009

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I’ve always been a fan of George Bush, on the simple grounds that the American empire needs taking down several notches and George Jr has been the right man for the job. It was always odd to listen to liberals and leftists howling about Bush’s poor showing, how he’d reduced America’s standing in the family of nations. Did the Goths fret at the manifest weakness of the Emperor Honorius and lament the lack of a robust or intelligent Roman commander?

On Bush’s Jr’s fitful watch Latin America edged nervously out of Uncle Sam’s shadow. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia boldly assert their independence and thumb their noses at Uncle Sam. Twenty years earlier, and even when Bush Sr sat in the Oval Office, the “strong leadership” craved by Americans of all political stripes would have seen Chavez and Morales briskly toppled, their estimable reforms swiftly aborted and the kleptocrats handed back the keys to the presidential office by the CIA and their local right-wing allies.

Barely a month went by in Bush Jr’s second term but that some liberal or left pundit would predict a US attack on Iran. Lurid scenarios were drawn of the US and its local ally, Israel, unleashing the bombing sorties to Iran’s nuclear complex. It turns out that the Israeli high command made numerous requests for clearance for its planes to overfly Iraq on their way to Iran, but were adamantly nixed by George Jr.

Jr’s greatest single trumph in reducing America’s standing was his insistence that the assembly elections in Iraq go forward as planned, in December of 2005. Bush Sr., it will be recalled, shrank from finishing off Saddam Hussein in 1991 because it would most likely have meant the Shia would take power, to the great benefit of Iran. When the invasion of 2003 did topple Saddam, seasoned counselors advised Bush Jr to suspend the elections the Ayatollah Sistani had insisted upon, for exactly the same reason.

But the 43rd president obstinately rejected these counsels, saying that he’d promised Iraqis the gift of democracy and nothing would deflect him from this course. The elections took place on December 15, 2005, in a mortal blow for U.S. objectives in Iraq and a larger disaster for it in the entire region.

Was this doggedly incompetent saboteur of empire an “accident” of history, born of hanging chads in Florida in 2000 and the ruthless competence of James Baker in outmaneuvering Al Gore’s efforts to claim the White House amid the Forida recounts?

Blame first his mother, Barbara Bush, an unpleasant creature who never forgave George Sr for dragging her from behind the lace curtains of respectability in Connecticut to West Texas where she endured the miseries of a frontier wife, helpmeet to a failed wildcatter. She let her hair go white, grieved for the daughter that died and snarled at the lads while her faithless husband gadded about the world. It was Barbara who gave George his petty, mean-spirited vindictiveness and George Sr who passed on the relentless philistinism. Blame Laura who took in hand the lay-about cokehead of the Houston years and nudged him into politics.

But no one ever took Jr seriously as a contender on the national scene until Republicans, aghast at the prospect that John McCain might seize the nomination in 2000, seized on Bush as the man who would save them from this fate. They scarcely dared dream that he might actually become president. That required the campaign skills of Al Gore, looming over the barely articulate Bush in so loutish a display of arrogant ill-manners in that first debate that Americans gallantly rallied to Bush’s cause.

Somewhere in late 2003 blaming everything on Bush became a national pastime and alibi. He took the hit for fifty years of venal failure by the city fathers of New Orleans and the legislators of Louisiana to protect their city. He’s even had to shoulder the blame for the Wall Street meltdown and the subprime crisis, for which Congressional legislators and overseers can far more justly be held responsible.

Blessed blunder dogged his every step, and where he scanted on some necessary incompetence Dick Cheney was at his elbow to ensure disaster was not averted. Bush made so half hearted an effort to “reform” Social Security – the last defense of older Americans – that Wall Street, the instigator of the “reform”, remembered with profound nostalgia the man, Bill Clinton, who was well on the way to destroying Social Security without even a yap of alarm from the watchdogs, until the Lewinsky scandal forced him to abort the mission.

Bush leaves America a poorer but in some ways a better place, more conscious of its blessings. Just as it took bad King John to force the drafting of the Magna Carta, on Bush’s watch Americans have learned, amidst the threat of losing them, that they have constitutional protections. A commander in chief who made Jerry Ford sound like Demosthenes has given them a fresh sensitivity to language, even the dream that they might have a president who can speak in whole sentences.

Bush passed his final White House years in morose seclusion, despised by all, obeyed by none – a welcome rebuke to the concept of “unitary power” and an omnipotent executive.

Now Obama proclaims his mission of renewing America, always a sinister prospect. We’re heading back in to the high country of moral uplift, and dispiriting talk of America’s “mission”. I live in hopes of an acrid manuscript from Laura Bush, blaming everything on Dick Cheney.

Eyewitness in Gaza

I wish that everyone entering Washington DC next Tuesday would be compelled to read Caoimhe Butterly’s eyewitness report from Gaza, published here on this site this weekend. It makes me proud to be an Irishman than this courageous woman finally managed to enter Gaza, help the inhabitants amid their frightful sufferings and relay her account of Israel’s war crimes to the outside world. Butterly passed the report to Bill Quigley, familiar to CounterPunchers for his regular reports to New Orleans. Bill and Kathy Kelley – a friend of Caoimhe - have also been sending us their reports. Incidentally, our CounterPunch book by Harry Browne, Hammered, about the Catholic Worker action against the US plane at Shannon, and subsequent triumphant acquittal by a Dublin jury, features both Butterly and Kelly.

Talking of war crimes by the Israelis, clearly their bombing Thursday of UN and Red Crescent warehouses indicates an accelerating effort to starve the Palestinians to into surrender, meaning death right now, particularly for the young and old.

On The Threshold of the Age of Obama

So far as the progressive Obama base is concerned, it’s been one bitter pill after another, starting with Rahm Emanuel (the only man in the Illinois congressional delegation to vote Yes to the war on Iraq), moving on to Hillary Clinton (another Yes on the war), Robert Gates, and the whole economic team. There was a brief ray of hope when Larry Summers didn’t return to Treasury. Then he bobbed up as director of Obama’s economic recovery team, formally known as the National Economic Council, based in the White House.

Contrast these desolate choices with what the progressives were given in the dawn of Clinton time. He didn’t turn out to be much good, but Wisconsin Rep. Les Aspin, at the time he was nominated as secretary of defense, certainly had a reputation as a Pentagon critic. Environmentalists were exuberant when Bruce Babbitt, former head of the League of Conservation Voters, was given the Department of the Interior. It’s true that Babbit did not match such expectations, but when he was nominated, the mining and cattle lobbies were mad with fury. At HUD there was Henry Cisneros, always in trouble but fairly progressive; at Labor – Robert Reich; at Agriculture – Mike Espy and EPA – Carol Browner. As surgeon general, in contrast to Obama’s pick of a TV doctor and serf of the drug industry, we got Jocelyn Elders, a radical black woman who spoke her mind and was finally axed by Clinton for being honest about sex ed. We got Lani Guinier at the Justice Department, a terrific choice swiftly betrayed by the man who picked her, Bill Clinton. As number 2 at Health and Human Services, there was Peter Edelman, one of only three people in the Clinton administration who resigned over the onslaughts on the welfare system five years later.

Of course, as now, big business kept its mitts firmly on the essential levers: Treasury, the Fed.
What is Obama’s progressive base getting by way of reward? The pickings are very slim. The whole raison d’etre of Obama’s campaign in the primary phase – the period when the progressive constituency has to be allured – was to turn the page not only on Bush time but on Clinton time, to move on. So… so you’ll find the rest of this unsparing, and important assessment in the latest issue of our newsletter, now available to subscribers. You’ll also find part one of Paul Craig Roberts’ three-part Guide to Economics in the 21st Century. And you’ll find Alexander Cockburn’s TransAmerica Diary and in it, at long last, homage to a conspiracy even he believes in – the Secrets of Jekyll Island.

Alexander Cockburn can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com
CounterPunch Diary Weekend EditionJanuary 16-18, 2009
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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Socialist Alliance statement _Gaza protests must continue until criminal Israeli siege ends

For 22 days the Israel armed forces bombed, shelled and strafed the suburbs, villages and camps of Gaza before unilaterally declaring a cease-fire on January 18.

The death toll has already exceeded 1300, including more than 400 children—an entirely predictable result of the precision bombings of buildings where people had fled for their safety and of the use of such horror weapons as white phosphorous.

Israel’s military occupation of Gaza is the intensification of its a year-and-a-half of near total siege, itself an act of war directed at all the people of Gaza. Even before the Israel assault the siege was causing a dreadful humanitarian disaster.

But this cease-fire is not an end to Israel’s war. It is not a genuine ceasefire while the siege continues and while Israeli troops are still in Gaza.

The war and the slaughter will not end because the people of Gaza will continue to fight on in whatever ways they can. The latest massacre is not a stand-alone event, but a continuation of the ongoing Israeli oppression of Palestinian people, which started over 60 years ago. Two thirds (one million) of the Gaza population are refugees from the 1948 ethnic cleansing (“Al Nakba”), still living in refugee camps and waiting for a just solution”.

They know that Hamas is their legitimate, freely elected representative. Indeed this “terrorist organisation” happens to be one of the very few elected government in the Middle East. Palestinians in Gaza are being punished by Israel for voting for Hamas and for exercising their right to self-defence against the Israeli seige.

The will of the Palestinian people to resist can only have been strengthened by the massive outpouring of global solidarity over the past three weeks. People from around the world, including tens of thousands inside Israel itself, have taken to the streets in protests that have grown bigger as the war has continued. Because of this vast and unprecedented solidarity response, the Zionist state is already paying a very large political price for its military advances.
The Socialist Alliance believes that the solidarity campaign with Gaza must look for all possible ways to isolate Israel. A campaign to boycott companies with economic ties to Israel is already underway, with Israeli anti-war activists calling for the placing of sanctions on the country.
The Socialist Alliance repeats its call on the Rudd government to break ties with Israel over its war crimes, following the example of the Bolivian and Venezuelan governments. It must also recognise Hamas as the legitimate government of Gaza, and remove it from the Attorney-General’s list of terrorist organisations.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions should a follow its New Zealand counterpart, at the very least demanding that the federal government revoke the credentials of the Israeli ambassador, cut contacts with Israeli military and intelligence officials, ban goods manufactured in the Occupied Territories, ensure that the government does not make use of Israeli products or services in its procurement provisions, and end working holiday schemes for young Israelis.
Moreover, the burgeoning movement for justice for Palestinians needs to grow in its diversity and unity. All who want to see Israel’s military occupation ended and its criminal siege lifted must be able to stand together with equal right of participation in the movement.

This particularly applies to Australia’s Muslim communities, the victims since the Howard years of the worst campaigns of vilification and scapegoating.

In this way all supporters of freedom for Palestine will help build a movement powerful enough to make ongoing support for Israel too high a political price for the Rudd government to pay. In turn, the Israeli regime, increasingly deprived of the backing of its powerful friends in the US, UK and Australia, will have to retreat.

The strength of the movement against Israeli aggression against Gaza lies in its unity and determination to keep protesting until the Israeli military withdraws and the siege is lifted. The Socialist Alliance calls on its members and supporters to redouble efforts to strengthen solidarity with the suffering but unbowed Palestinian people.

19 January 2009

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The plot against Gaza By Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook

Israel has justified its assault on Gaza as entirely defensive, intended only to stop Hamas firing rockets on Israel’s southern communities. Although that line has been repeated unwaveringly by officials since Israel launched its attack on 27 December, it bears no basis to reality. Rather, this is a war against the Palestinians of Gaza, and less directly those in the West Bank, designed primarily to crush their political rights and their hopes of statehood.

The most glaring evidence contradicting the Israeli casus belli is the six-month ceasefire between Hamas and Israel that preceded the invasion. True, Hamas began firing its rockets as soon as the truce came to an end on 19 December, but Israel had offered plenty of provocation. Not least it broke the ceasefire by staging a raid into Gaza on 4 November that killed six Hamas members. Even more significantly, it maintained and tightened a blockade during the ceasefire period that was starving Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants of food, medicine and fuel. Hamas had expected the blockade lifted in return for an end to the rockets.

A few days before Israel’s attack on Gaza, Yuval Diskin, the head of Israel’s domestic security service, the Shin Bet, noted Hamas’ commitment to the ceasefire and its motives in restarting the rocket fire. “Make no mistake, Hamas is interested in maintaining the truce,” he told the cabinet. “It seeks to improve its conditions – a removal of the blockade, receiving a commitment from Israel that it won’t attack and extending the lull to the Judea and Samaria area [the West Bank].” In other words, had Israel wanted calm, it could have avoided invading Gaza simply by renegotiating the truce on more reasonable terms.

Israel, however, had little interest in avoiding a confrontation with Hamas, as events since the Islamic group’s takeover of Gaza in early 2006 show.

It is widely agreed among the Israeli leadership that Hamas represents a severe threat to Israel’s ambition to crush the Palestinians’ long-standing demands for a state in the West Bank and Gaza. Unike Fatah, its chief Palestinian political rival, Hamas has refused to collude with the Israeli occupation and has instead continued its resistance operations. Although Hamas officially wants the return of all the lands the Palestinians were dispossessed of in 1948, at the establishment of Israel, it has shown signs of increasing pragmatism since its election victory, as Diskin’s comments above highlight. Hamas leaders have repeatedly suggested that a long-term, possibly indefinite, truce with Israel is possible. Such a truce would amount to recognition of Israel and remove most of the obstacles to the partition of historic Palestine into two states: a Jewish state and a Palestinian one.

Rather than engaging with Hamas and cultivating its moderate wing, Israel has been preparing for an “all-out war”, as Ehud Barak, the defence minister, has referred to the current offensive. In fact, Barak began preparing the attack on Gaza at least six months ago, as he has admitted, and probably much earlier.

Barak and the military stayed their hand in Gaza chiefly while other strategies were tested. The most significant was an approach espoused in the immediate wake of Hamas’ victory in 2006. Dov Weisglass, former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s fixer in Washington, gave it clearest expression. Israel’s policy, he said, would be “like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die.”

John Wolfensohn, envoy to the Quartet of the United States, the United Nations, Europe and Russia through most of 2005, has pointed out that the US and Israel reneged on understandings controlling the border crossings into Gaza from the moment of Israel’s disengagement in summer 2005. In an interview with the Israeli media, he attributed the rapid destruction of the Gazan economy to this policy. However, while the blockade began when Fatah was still in charge of the tiny enclave, Weisglass’ “diet” was designed to intensify the suffering of Gaza’s civilians. The rationale was that, by starving them, they could be both reduced to abject poverty and encouraged to rise up and overthrow Hamas.

But it seems the Israeli army was far from convinced a “diet” would produce the desired result and started devising a more aggressive strategy. It was voiced last year by Israel’s deputy defence minister, Matan Vilnai. He observed that, if Hamas continued firing rockets into Israel (in an attempt, though he failed to mention it, to break the blockade), the Palestinians “will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.” The Hebrew word “Shoah” has come to refer exclusively to the Holocaust.

Though his disturbing comment was quickly disowned, Vilnai is no maverick. He is a former major general in the army who maintains close ties to the senior command. He is also a friend of his boss, Ehud Barak, the Labor leader and Israel’s most decorated soldier. The reference to the “shoah” offered a brief clue to the reasoning behind a series of policies he and Barak began unveiling from summer 2007.

It was then that hopes of engineering an uprising against Hamas faded. The diet regime had patently failed, as had a Fatah coup attempt underwritten by the United States. Hamas struck a pre-emptive blow against Fatah, forcing its leaders to flee to the West Bank. In retaliation the Israeli government declared Gaza a “hostile entity”. Barak and Vilnai used Gaza’s new status as the pretext for expanding the blockade of food and medicines to include electricity, a policy that was progressively tightened. At the same time they argued that Israel should consider cutting off “all responsibility” for Gaza. The intenton of Barak’s blockade, however, was different from the Weisglass version. It was designed to soften up Gazan society, including Hamas fighters, for Israel’s coming invasion.

Far from being threatened by the intensifying blockade, Hamas turned it to its advantage. Although Israel controls two of the land borders and patrols the coast, there is fourth short land border shared with Egypt, close by the town of Rafah. There Gaza’s entrepreneurs developed a network of smuggling tunnels that were soon commandeered by Hamas. The tunnels ensured both that basic supplies continued to get through, and that Hamas armed itself for the attack it expected from Israel.

From March 2008 Barak and Vilnai began pushing their military strategy harder. New political formulations agreed by the government suggested the whole population of Gaza were to be considered complicit in Hamas actions, and therefore liable for retaliatory military action. In the words of the daily Jerusalem Post newspaper, Israeli policymakers took the view that “it would be pointless for Israel to topple Hamas because the population [of Gaza] is Hamas”.

At this point, Barak and Vilnai announced they were working on a way to justify in law the army directing artillery fire and air strikes at civilian neighbourhoods of Gaza, as has been occurring throughout the current Gaza campaign. Vilnai, meanwhile, proposed declaring areas of the tiny enclave “combat zones” in which the army would have free rein and from which civilians would be expected to flee – again a tactic that has been implemented over the past two weeks.

Although Israel is determined to crush Hamas politically and militarily, so far it has been loathe to topple it. Israel withdrew from Gaza precisely because the demographic, military and economic costs of directly policing its refugee camps were considered too high. It will not be easily dragged back in.

Other options are either unpalatable or unfeasible. A Fatah government riding in on the back of Israeli tanks would lack legitimacy, and no regime at all – anarchy – risks loosing forces more implacably opposed to a Jewish state than Hamas, including al-Qaeda. Placing Gaza under a peacekeeping force faces other hurdles: not least, the question of which countries would be prepared to take on such a dangerous burden.

Instead Israel is planning to resort to its favourite diplomatic manoeuvre: unilateralism. It wants a solution that passes over the heads of Hamas and the Palestinians. Or as Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister, put it: “There is no intention here of creating a diplomatic agreement with Hamas. We need diplomatic agreements against Hamas.” The formula being sought for a ceasefire will face stiff opposition from Israel unless it helps achieve several goals.

Israel’s first is to seal off Gaza properly this time. Egypt, although profoundly uncomfortable at having an Islamic group ruling next door, is under too much domestic pressure to crack down on the tunnelling. Israel therefore wants to bring in American and European experts to do the job. They will ensure that the blockade cannot be broken and that Hamas cannot rearm. At best, Hamas can hope to limp on as nominal ruler of Gaza, on Israeli sufferance.

The second goal has been well articulated by the Harvard scholar Sara Roy, who has been arguing for some time that Israel is, in her words, “de-developing” Gaza. The blockade has been integral to achieving that objective, and is the reason Israel wants it strengthened. In the longer term, she believes, Gazans will come to be “seen merely as a humanitarian problem, beggars who have no political identity and therefore can have no political claims.”

In addition, Gazans living close to the enclave’s northern and southern borders may be progressively “herded” into central Gaza – as envisioned in Vilnai’s plan last year. That process may already be under way, with recent Israeli leafletting campaigns warning inhabitants of these areas to flee. Israel wants to empty both the Rafah area, so that it can monitor more easily any attempts at tunnelling, and the northern part because this is the location of the rocket launches that are hitting major Israeli cities such as Ashkelon and Ashdod and may one day reach Tel Aviv.

The third and related goal is, as Barak and Vilnai proposed more than a year ago, to cut off all Israeli responsibility for Gaza -- though not oversight of what is allowed in. Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian analyst, believes that in this scenario Israel will insist that humanitarian supplies into Gaza pass only through the Egyptian crossing, thereby also undercutting Hamas’ role. Already Israel is preparing to hand over responsibility for supplying Gaza’s electricity to Egypt – a special plant is under construction close by in the Sinai.

Slowly, the hope is, Gaza’s physical and political separation from the West Bank will be cemented, with the enclave effectively being seen as a province of Egypt. Its inhabitants will lose their connection to the wider Palestinian people and eventually Cairo may grow bold enough to crack down on Hamas as brutally as it does its own Islamists.

The regime of Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, meanwhile, will be further isolated and weakened, improving Israel’s chances of forcing it to sign a deal annexing East Jerusalem and large swaths of the West Bank on which the Jewish settlements sit.

The fourth goal relates to wider regional issues. The chief obstacle to the implementation of Israel’s plan is the growing power of Iran and its possible pursuit of nuclear weapons. Israel’s official concern – that Tehran wants to attack Israel – is simple mischief-making. Rather Israel is worried that, if Iran becomes a regional superpower, Israeli diktats in the Middle East and in Washington will not go unchallenged.

In particular, a strong Iran will be able to aid Hizbullah and Hamas, and further fan the flames of popular Arab sentiment in favour of a just settlement for the Palestinians. That could threaten Israel’s plans for the annexation of much of the West Bank, and possibly win the Palestinians statehood. None of this can be allowed to pass by Israel.

It is therefore seeking to isolate Tehran, severing all ties between it and Hamas, just as it earlier tried – and failed – to do the same between Iran and Hizbullah. It wants the Palestinians beholden instead to the “moderate” block in the Arab world, meaning the Sunni dictatorships like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia that in turn depend on Washington for their security.

The prospects of Israel achieving all or even some of these goals seems improbable. Too often Israeli meddling in its neighbours affairs has ended in unintended consequences, or “blowback”. It is a lesson Israel has been all too slow to learn.

Jonathan Cook lives in Nazareth, Israel. His latest book is “Disappearing Palestine” (Zed, 2008).

Przekroj Magazine (Warsaw) 16 January 2009

Israeli Attack Injures 1.5 Million Gazans. Using Israel's "Shock Standard" By JONATHAN COOK


This week the death toll in Gaza passed the 1,000 mark, after nearly three weeks of Israeli air and ground attacks. But surprisingly, no one has reported an even more appalling statistic: that there are some 1.5 million injured Palestinians in Gaza. How is is possible that such an astounding figure could have passed the world’s media by?

The reason apparently is that they have been relying on the highly unreliable statistics provided by official Palestinian sources. It appears that the Palestinian health ministry only records as wounded those Gazans who need to stay in hospital because of the severity of their injuries.

That means they only count the more than 4,500 Gazans who have suffered injuries such as severe burns from exploding Israeli phosphorus shells; shrapnel wounds from artillery rounds; broken or lost limbs from aerial bombardment; bullet wounds; physical trauma from falling building debris; and so on.

But in fact there is another, far more reasonable standard for assessing those injured, one that provides the far higher total of 1.5 million Gazans – or every surviving Palestinian in Gaza. The measure I am referring to is the one employed by Israel.

Here is an example of its use. In September 2007, the international media reported that 69 Israeli soldiers had been wounded when Palestinian militants fired a rocket into the Zikim army base near the Gaza Strip. The rocket struck a tent where the soldiers were sleeping.

It is worth noting the details of the attack. Israeli officials related that, of the 69 wounded, 11 had moderate or severe injuries and one was critically injured. A few more had light wounds. The rest, probably 50 or more, were injured in the sense that they were suffering from shock.

So, if we apply the same standard to Gaza, that would mean 1.5 million Gazans have been wounded. Or is there still some doubt about whether the weeks of bombardment of Gaza, one of the most densely populated places on earth, have left the entire civilian population in a deep, and possibly permanent, state of shock?

Combatants, Women and Children

Talking of Gaza’s civilians, where did they all go? Israel’s so-called “war” on Gaza must be the first example in human history of a conflict where there are apparently no civilians. Or, at least, that is the impression being created by the world’s leading international bodies, from the World Health Organisation to the United Nations. Instead they refer to a new category of “women and children”.

Thus, those 1,000-plus dead Gazans are broken down into percentages defined in terms of “women and children” and the rest. The earliest figures stated that about 25 per cent of Gaza’s dead were “women and children”, and that has steadily climbed close to the 50 per cent mark since Israel’s ground invasion got under way.

The implication – one with which Israel is presumably delighted – is that the rest are Palestinian fighters, or “terrorists” as Israel would prefer us to call them. It also suggests that every man in Gaza over the age of 16 is being defined as a non-civilian – as a combatant and, again by implication, as a terrorist. In short, all Gaza’s men are legitimate targets for Israeli attack.

This is not very far from the position recently attributed to Israeli policymakers by the daily Jerusalem Post. The newspaper reported that officials had come to the view that “it would be pointless for Israel to topple Hamas because the population [of Gaza] is Hamas”.

On this thinking, Israel is at war with every single man, woman and child in Gaza, which is very much how it looks. Maybe we should be glad that the category of “women and children” is still being recognized – at least, for now.

Myths about the Blockade

The myths about the blockade of Gaza are so legion it is almost impossible to disentangle them. But let’s try tackling a few.

The first is that the blockade was a necessary response to the election of Hamas.

Tell that to John Wolfensohn, special envoy to the Quartet, comprising the US, UN, Europe and Russia, from May 2005. His job was to oversee the disengagement. Wolfensohn was succeeded by the far less principled Tony Blair, the former British prime minister.

In an interview with the Haaretz newspaper in 2007, Wolfensohn explained why he had resigned a year into his job, in April 2006. Shortly after the disengagement in summer 2005, he said, Israel and the US had violated the understandings made to ensure the border crossings into Gaza remained open after the Jewish settlers left. “Every aspect of that agreement was abrogated,” he said.

The economy collapsed as a result, as Gaza’s farmers saw their produce rot at the crossings, and unemployment and disillusionment among Gazans rocketed. “Instead of hope, the Palestinians saw that they were put back in prison. And with 50 per cent unemployment, you would have conflict.”

It was the closure of the crossings that Wolfensohn believes partly explains Hamas’ success in the subsequent elections, in early 2006. So, according to Wolfensohn, Israel’s blockade pre-existed Hamas’ rise to power and began when Fatah were still the rulers of Gaza.

The second myth is that the blockade was an attempt, if a futile one, to get Hamas to recognize Israel’s “right to exist”.

Tell that to Dov Weisglass, former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s fixer in Washington. It was he who suggested the true goal of the blockade, which Israel intensified immediately following Hamas’ electoral triumph. The policy would be “like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die.”

In short, according to Weisglass, Israeli policy in Gaza was “collective punishment” inflicted on the civilian population for choosing Hamas – a policy that, should it need pointing out, is a grave violation of international law and a war crime.

The hope, it seems, was that Gazans would, as they sank into abject poverty, manage to summon up the energy to overthrow Hamas. It didn’t happen.

The third myth is that the blockade was designed to put pressure on Hamas to end the rocket fire into Israel.

Tell that to Ehud Barak, the defence minister, and Matan Vilnai, his deputy. This pair were plotting an invasion of Gaza throughout the six-month ceasefire with Hamas, and in fact much earlier.

In truth, they ignored every diplomatic overture from Hamas, including offers of indefinite truces, while they invested their energies in the coming ground invasion. In particular they worked on plans, noted in the Israeli media back in spring 2008, to “level” Gaza’s civilian neighbourhoods and create “combat zones” from which civilians could be expelled.

One aspect of the blockade that seems to have been overlooked is the way it has been used to “soften up” Gaza, and Hamas, before Israel’s attack. For three years Gaza’s population has been denied food, medicines and fuel.

Every general knows it is easier to fight an army – or militia – that is cold, tired and hungry. Could there be a better description of the Hamas fighters, as well as those “women and children”, currently facing Israel’s tanks and warplanes?

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest book is “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jkcook.net/

Counterpunch January 16 2009

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Joe Strummer Tribute- COMMANDANTE JOE by Attila the Stockbroker

I guess in quite a lot of ways I grew up just like you
A bolshy kid who didn't think the way they told him to
You kicked over the statues, a roots rock rebel star
Who knew that punk was more than just the sound of a guitar
And I'll always remember that night at the Rainbow
When you wrote a soundtrack for my life, Commandante Joe.

So many bands back then were like too many bands today
A bunch of blokes who made a noise with bugger all to say
The Clash were always out in front, you put the rest to shame
Your words were calls to action, your music was a flame
You were our common Dante, and you raised an inferno
And you wrote a soundtrack for my life, Commandante Joe.

Reggae in the Palais
Midnight till six!
Rockin' Reds in Brockwell Park!
Sten guns in Knightsbridge!
Up and down the Westway
In and out the lights!
Clash City Rockers!
Know Your Rights!
I guess in quite a lot of ways I grew up just like you
A bolshy kid who didn't think the way they told him to
Like you I always knew that words and music held the key
As you did for so many, you showed the way to me
Although I never met you I'm so sad to see you go
'Cos you wrote a soundtrack for my life, Commandante Joe.

Lyrics to a song, performed by Barnstormer, in memory of Joe Strummer 1952-2002

Menzies and Churchill at War-Conservative PR? by John/Togs Tognolini

Menzies and Churchill

Screen Australia Making History Production
and 360 Degree Films.

Broadcasted on the ABC and DVD sales through ABC Shops.

Producer John Moore

Writers John Moore, Mick Cummins, Steve Jordell

Director Steve Jordell

Executive Producers Mark Hamlyn, Alex West

Duration 55 minutes

Robert Menzies played by Matthew King
Winston Churchill played by Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell

I really didn’t know what to expect with Menzies and Churchill at War. I normally keep my temper, but this was painful with Menzies being presented as a “..man of peace.” I felt like throwing something at the tv.

This was the Australian prime minister who sent our military to the Vietnam, and Korea Wars. This was the man who allowed, sorry, begged the British government to test their atomic bombs on Australian soil at Maralinga and the Monte Bello Islands. There’s quite a list I could write about what wrong with this “doco” on Menzies but a here’s few things Menzies and Churchill at War should have included.

This was the man who at the outbreak of World War One resigned his officers commission from the Melbourne University Regiment and campaigned for conscription which was defeated at two referendums in 1916 and 1917.

In 1928, Menzies gave up his law practice to enter parliament as a member of the Victorian Legislative Council, representing the Nationalist Party of Australia. His candidacy was nearly defeated when a group of ex-servicemen attacked him in the press for not having enlisted and served in WW1.

Menzies was the man who was pro-fascist in the 1930s. He told Australians that they would have a different view of Adolf Hitler if they were seated in front of German fireplaces.

Menzies was the Attorney General who persecuted Egon Kisch when he visited Australia as a delegate to an anti-fascist conference in 1934. Kisch was a Czechoslovakan writer and journalist, who wrote in German. His journalism was widely read for his opposition to Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime. Menzies, and the Conservative Lyons government he was a member of repeatedly refused Kisch entry because of his previous exclusion from the Britain.

Under the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, visitors could be refused entry if they failed a dictation test in any European language. This law was used to enforce the White Australia Policy by ensuring that potential Asian immigrants were given an impossibly hard test. Kisch was one of the very few Europeans to be given the test; he passed the test in various languages but finally failed when he was tested in Scottish Gaelic. The officer who tested him on the ship, grew up in northern Scotland, even he didn’t have a good grasp of Scottish Gaelic himself.

Kisch decided to jump the five meters from the deck of his ship onto the wharf in Melbourne, breaking his leg. This dramatic action mobilised a lot of Australians to support Kisch. The High Court found that Scottish Gaelic was not within the fair meaning of the Act, and overturned Kisch's convictions for being an illegal immigrant.

It was Menzies again who attacked Port Kembla’s wharfies in 1938 for refusing to load pig iron on Japanese ship.

The Pig-Iron Song by Clem Parkinson written in 1964 best sums up this episode.

Did you ever stop to wonder why the fellows on the jobRefer to Robert Menzies by the nickname Pig-Iron Bob?

It's a fascinating tale though it happened long agoIt's a part of our tradition every worker ought to know


We wouldn't load pig-iron for the fascists of JapanDespite intimidation we refused to lift the ban

With democracy at stake the struggle must be wonWe had to beat the menace of the fascist Rising Sun

It was 1937 and aggressive JapaneseAttacked the Chinese people tried to bring them to their knees

Poorly armed and ill equipped the peasants bravely foughtWhile Australian watersiders rallied round to lend support

Attorney General Menzies said the ship would have to sail"If the men refuse to load it we will throw them into jail"

But our unity was strong - we were solid to a man

And we wouldn't load pig-iron for the fascists of Japan

For the Judas politicians we would pay a heavy price

The jungles of New Guinea saw a costly sacrifice

There's a lesson to be learned that we've got to understand

Peace can only be secured when the people lend a hand

Again not surprisingly Clem’s song didn’t get a run in Menzies and Churchill at War
Menzies and Churchill at War was half the story of why Menzies went to London to call on Churchill to reinforce the British base at Singapore from the growing Japanese military threat. Who supported them going into China and sold them pig iron in the first place? As the son of two World War Veterans, my father served in Churchill’s 1941 repeat of Gallipoli-Greece and Crete, involving Australian and New Zealand soldiers that Menzies supported. That’s touched on in Menzies and Churchill at War in a limited way.

To me it’s a poor history, more like slick PR exercise dressed up to glorify a Liberal party icon. After all he was a Judas politician and the Liberals don’t have a monopoly on that.

Not Fit To Print By Irfan Yusuf

If you didn't know that civilians were being killed in Gaza, and think that all criticism of Israel is simply about hating Jews, it may be that you've just read a Paul Sheehan article

At the time of writing this, Israeli shells have hit a UN Compound and Gaza City's Media Centre. Gaza hospitals are about to run out of power and medicines. The death toll in Gaza has reached 1078, with more than 5000 injured and tens of thousands internally displaced. Hamas rockets are still being fired into southern Israel.
Israeli spin doctors continue to use the neoconservative rhetoric, claiming to be at the forefront of the West's "war on terror". But the reality is that the wheels are falling off this paradigm. On the eve of the inauguration of America's first African-American president, British Foreign Secretary David Milibrand has rejected the Bush doctrine as self-defeating:

"The idea of a 'war on terror' gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda ... The more we lump terrorist groups together and draw the battle lines as a simple binary struggle between moderates and extremists, or good and evil, the more we play into the hands of those seeking to unify groups with little in common."

But while the rest of the world (apart from Israel) may turn its back on terror tunnel vision, Paul Sheehan seems happy to provide an "analysis" of the Israel/Palestine conflict that relies on it completely. Sheehan's column is based on his visit to Israel last November, before the most recent bombardment commenced. Almost a quarter (170 out of 939 words) in Sheehan's column is "[b]ased on briefings I received from the Israeli Government".

Of course, Sheehan is entitled to agree with (if not repeat almost word-for-word) the line of one side to this conflict. Sheehan is also entitled to fill his columns with as much of this kind of content as he wishes. His piece is opinion, not reportage.

And we, as media consumers, are entitled to call a spade a spade, to express our own opinions. So in expressing my own opinion, I cannot help but ask this question: Did Sheehan completely fall for the well-oiled Israeli PR machine's spin when he visited them last November? After seeing the way this Media Watch story hung a question mark over Sheehan's fact-checking rigor I would not be surprised.

If not, how else could Sheehan have reached the ridiculous conclusion that support for Palestinian human rights and opposition to the current Israeli bombardment is necessarily about hating and/or blaming the world's entire Jewish population? Must criticism of Israel necessarily involve sentiments Sheehan describes as "Kill Jews. Dirty People. Sub-human. Mass murderers. Greedy."?

Sheehan paints all critics of Israel, Jewish or otherwise, with the same brush based purely on reports of what some people and their placards said at a protest in Melbourne, along with a BBC report of what a "young man with an Australian accent" said at a rally in Beirut. So a few people at a few rallies reflects the sentiments of millions of people across the globe, many of whom despise Hamas, want a ceasefire and abhor the loss of civilian life.

Using Sheehan's logic, surely the persons in this video taken by Max Blumenthal must necessarily reflect the feelings of every one of the much smaller number of people who support Israel's continued bombardment.

Using Sheehan's logic a bit further, Australian federal MP Julia Irwin surely feels the way she does because she thinks that all Jews as greedy. Sara Dowse, the Jewish author of a novel about three generations of Jewish women, regards Jews as sub-human. Readers of Sheehan's article will now realise that Amira Hass, Israeli journalist and daughter of Holocaust survivors, just wants to kill Jews. And they'll understand that activists from the Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem are just a bunch of anti-Semites.

But as (relatively conservative) UK sociologist Frank Furedi wrote in The Australian recently: "I have always criticised the tendency of some Zionist commentators to dismiss all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. Such a defensive knee-jerk reaction simply avoids confronting the issues and undermines the possibility of dialogue."

Sheehan claims such alleged anti-Jewish sentiment is "carried by the spread of Islamic fundamentalism". I have no doubt a fair few Muslim theocrats are deeply anti-Semitic. Certainly the literature of groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir does contain grossly anti-Semitic references, something their Australian spokesman Wassim Doureihi had trouble explaining away when grilled by Radio National's Mark Colvin some years back.

Sheehan claims Gaza had become a second Iran, its Government implementing Sharia law. His evidence is that a senior deceased Palestinian leader had 4 wives and 14 children. Back in 2005, King Mswata III had 10 wives and 3 fiancées. Does this make Swaziland a super-Sharia state?

Sheehan insists one cannot generalise about a group whose population of 13 million makes up hardly 0.2 per cent of the world's population. I agree. But I wonder on what basis Sheehan feels comfortable making generalisations about the sentiments and attitudes of 1.2 billion Muslims who make up 20 per cent of the world's population? Or does Sheehan subscribe to Rupert Murdoch's theory that Muslims share certain genetic defects?

Of course, when Sheehan points the finger at others for allegedly being racist and making generalisations about groups, he should be sure that it isn't just his own fingers pointing back at him. Last April, Sheehan wrote a column referring to "Tongan morons" and claiming that Goulburn jail "is dominated by Aborigines, Pacific Islanders and Lebanese Muslims". Shakira Hussein refers to one piece penned by Sheehan in 1995 in which he claimed that a race war in the US involving blacks against whites had cost 25 million lives.

Paul Sheehan doesn't once mention civilian deaths in Gaza. Sheehan's column has about as much nuance as a Corey Worthington interview. I'd love to see him try to get such a ridiculous piece published in an Israeli newspaper.

New Matilda.Com

Leave World War II Out of Gaza By Robert Fisk

Robert Fisk

Exaggeration always gets my goat. I started to hate it back in the 1970s when the Provisional IRA claimed that Long Kesh internment camp was “worse than Belsen”. It wasn’t as if there was anything nice about Long Kesh – or the Maze prison as it was later politely dubbed – but it simply wasn’t as bad as Belsen. And now we’re off again. Passing through Paris this week, I found pro-Palestinian demonstrators carrying signs which read “Gaza, it’s Guernica” and “Gaza-sur-Glane”.

Guernica, as we all know, was the Basque city razed by the Luftwaffe in 1937 and Oradour-sur-Glane the French village whose occupants were murdered by the SS in 1944. Israel’s savagery in Gaza has also been compared to a “genocide” and – of course – a “holocaust”. The French Union of Islamic Organisations called it “a genocide without precedent” – which does take the biscuit when even the Pope’s “minister for peace and justice” has compared Gaza to “a big concentration camp”.

Before I state the obvious, I only wish the French Union of Islamic Organisations would call the Armenian genocide a genocide – it doesn’t have the courage to do so, does it, because that would be offensive to the Turks and, well, the million and a half Armenians massacred in 1915 happened to be, er, Christians.

Mind you, that didn’t stop George Bush from dropping the word from his vocabulary lest he, too, should offend the Turkish generals whose airbases America needs for its continuing campaign in Iraq. And even Israel doesn’t use the word “genocide” about the Armenians lest it loses its only Muslim ally in the Middle East. Strange, isn’t it? When there’s a real genocide – of Armenians – we don’t like to use the word. But when there is no genocide, everyone wants to get in on the act.

Yes, I know what all these people are trying to do: make a direct connection between Israel and Hitler’s Germany. And in several radio interviews this past week, I’ve heard a good deal of condemnation about such comparisons. How do Holocaust survivors in Israel feel about being called Nazis? How can anyone compare the Israeli army to the Wehrmacht? Merely to make such a parallel is an act of anti-Semitism.

Having come under fire from the Israeli army on many occasions, I’m not sure that’s necessarily true. I’ve never understood why strafing the roads of northern France in 1940 was a war crime while strafing the roads of southern Lebanon is not a war crime. The massacre of up to 1,700 Palestinians in the Sabra and Chatila camps – perpetrated by Israel’s Lebanese Phalangist allies while Israeli soldiers watched and did nothing – falls pretty much into the Second World War bracket. Israel’s own estimate of the dead – a paltry 460 – was only nine fewer than the Nazi massacre at the Czech village of Lidice in 1942 when almost 300 women and children were also sent to Ravensbrück (a real concentration camp). Lidice was destroyed in revenge for the murder by Allied agents of Reinhard Heydrich. The Palestinians were slaughtered after Ariel Sharon told the world – untruthfully – that a Palestinian had murdered the Lebanese Phalangist leader Bashir Gemayel.

Indeed, it was the courageous Professor Yeshayahu Leibovitz of the Hebrew University (and editor of the Encyclopaedia Hebraica) who wrote that the Sabra and Chatila massacre “was done by us. The Phalangists are our mercenaries, exactly as the Ukrainians and the Croatians and the Slovakians were the mercenaries of Hitler, who organised them as soldiers to do the work for him. Even so have we organised the assassins of Lebanon in order to murder the Palestinians”. Remarks like these were greeted by Israel’s then minister of interior and religious affairs, Yosef Burg, with the imperishable words: “Christians killed Muslims – how are the Jews guilty?”

I have long raged against any comparisons with the Second World War – whether of the Arafat-is-Hitler variety once deployed by Menachem Begin or of the anti-war-demonstrators-are-1930s-appeasers, most recently used by George Bush and Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara. And pro-Palestinian marchers should think twice before they start waffling about genocide when the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem once shook Hitler’s hand and said – in Berlin on 2 November 1943, to be precise – “The Germans know how to get rid of the Jews ... They have definitely solved the Jewish problem.” The Grand Mufti, it need hardly be added, was a Palestinian. He lies today in a shabby grave about two miles from my Beirut home.

No, the real reason why “Gaza-Genocide” is a dangerous parallel is because it is not true. Gaza’s one and a half million refugees are treated outrageously enough, but they are not being herded into gas chambers or forced on death marches. That the Israeli army is a rabble is not in question – though I was amused to read one of Newsweek’s regular correspondents calling it “splendid” last week – but that does not mean they are all war criminals. The issue, surely, is that war crimes do appear to have been committed in Gaza. Firing at UN schools is a criminal act. It breaks every International Red Cross protocol. There is no excuse for the killing of so many women and children.

I should add that I had a sneaking sympathy for the Syrian foreign minister who this week asked why a whole international tribunal has been set up in the Hague to investigate the murder of one man – Lebanese ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri – while no such tribunal is set up to investigate the deaths of more than 1,000 Palestinians.

I should add, however, that the Hague tribunal may well be pointing the finger at Syria and I would still like to see a tribunal set up into the Syrian massacre at Hama in 1982 when thousands of civilians were shot at the hands of Rifaat al-Assad’s special forces. The aforesaid Rifaat, I should add, today lives safely within the European Union. And how about a trial for the Israeli artillerymen who massacred 106 civilians – more than half of them children – at the UN base at Qana in 1996?

What this is really about is international law. It’s about accountability. It’s about justice – something the Palestinians have never received – and it’s about bringing criminals to trial. Arab war criminals, Israeli war criminals – the whole lot. And don’t say it cannot be done. Wasn’t that the message behind the Yugoslav tribunal? Didn’t some of the murderers get their just deserts? Just leave the Second World War out of it.

Posted on Jan 16, 2009Posted on Jan 16, 2009 Truthdig:Drilling Beneath the Headlines Editor’s note: This article was originally printed in The Independent.

Israel bars Arab parties from election by Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook
NAZARETH, ISRAEL The only three Arab parties represented in the Israeli parliament vowed yesterday to fight a decision by the Central Elections Committee to bar them from running in next month’s general election.

In an unprecedented move signalling a further breakdown in Jewish-Arab relations inside Israel, all the main Jewish parties voted on Monday for the blanket disqualification. Several committee members equated the Arab parties’ vocal support for the Gazan people with support for terrorism.

The decision follows the arrest of at least 600 Arab demonstrators since the outbreak of the Gaza offensive and the interrogation by the secret police of dozens of Arab community leaders. The three parties – the National Democratic Assembly, the United Arab List and the Renewal Movement – have seven legislators out of a total of 120 in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.

The elections committee barred all three from putting up candidates for the Feb 10 election on the grounds that they had violated a 2002 law by refusing to recognise Israel as a Jewish state and by supporting a terrorist organisation.

Ahmed Tibi, the leader of Renewal, denounced the decision as “a political trial led by a group of fascists and racists who are willing to see the Knesset without Arabs and want to see the country without Arabs”.

A petition against the disqualification will be heard by a panel of Supreme Court justices this week.

Hassan Jabareen, the director of the Adalah legal rights group, which represents the Arab parties, noted that the disqualification motion had been introduced by far right-wing parties.

Such parties include Yisrael Beiteinu, which campaigns for the country’s 1.2 million-strong Arab minority to be stripped of citizenship.

“It is absurd that the committee is backing a motion from racist parties in the Knesset to exclude the Arab parties whose platform is that Israel must be made into a proper democracy treating all its citizens equally.”

The elections committee is composed of representatives from all the major parties. Although it has voted for disqualification of Arab candidates before, it is the first time both that the left-wing Labor Party has backed such a motion and that all the Arab parties have been included in the ban.

Mr Jabareen accused the right-wing parties of exploiting the war atmosphere. Labor’s secretary general, Eitan Cabel, called his party’s conduct in voting for the disqualification “patriotic”.

All the Arab parties have harshly criticised the attack on Gaza. This week Mr Tibi described Israeli actions as “genocide”, while Ibrahim Sarsour, of the United Arab List, said Israel was seeking to “eliminate the Palestinian cause”.

In the past, Arab Knesset members have also upset their Jewish colleagues by travelling to neighbouring Arab states, defying a change in the law to prevent such visits.

Following the vote on the ban, Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, suggested his party had additional goals: “The next battle is making [the National Democratic Assembly] illegal because it is a terrorist organisation whose objective is harming the state of Israel.”

Mr Lieberman and other legislators have been hounding the NDA for years, chiefly because it is led by Azmi Bishara, an outspoken proponent of equal rights for Arab citizens. Israeli secret police forced Mr Bishara into exile two years ago, accusing him of treason after the 2006 Lebanon war.

During the 2003 election, when the committee barred the NDA and Mr Tibi from running, the decision was overturned by a majority of the Supreme Court. But few of the justices from that hearing are still on the bench.

“There are reasons to be fearful,” Mr Jabareen said. “The Supreme Court is also susceptible to the current war atmosphere and its authority has been greatly eroded over the past year. It has been forced on to the defensive over claims from the Right that its decisions support the Left.”

If the ban is upheld, some Arab representation in the Knesset is likely to continue. The joint Arab and Jewish Communist Party is allowed to stand, and the three major Jewish parties include one or two Arab candidates on their lists, though not always in electable positions.

Meanwhile, Israeli police admitted they arrested about 600 people involved in protests against the Gaza offensive, some of them for stone-throwing. Adalah lawyers said more than 200 people, most of them Arab, were still in jail.

“We’re talking about mass arrests,” said Abeer Baker, adding that Israel was exploiting a 30-day window before an indictment had to be filed to hold suspects without producing evidence.

In addition, the Shin Bet, Israel’s secretive domestic security service, has called in dozens of Arab leaders for interrogation. Ameer Makhoul, head of the Ittijah organisation, which promotes Arab causes in Israel, was detained last week. He said a security official who interrogated him threatened to jail him over demonstrations he helped to organise in support of Gaza.

“The officer called me a rebel threatening the security of the state during time of war and said he would be happy to transfer me to Gaza,” Mr Makhoul said.

Haaretz, a leftist Israeli daily newspaper, has called the interrogations “intimidation tactics to prevent legitimate protest”.

The National January 14. 2009

Wounded Veterans Treated as an Afterthought by Dahr Jamail, MARFA, Texas

“But the [George W.] Bush administration was never seriously interested in helping veterans. The sorry state of care for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans is not an accident. It’s on purpose.”

Journalist Aaron Glantz makes this stunning statement in his recently released book, “The War Comes Home: Washington’s Battle Against America’s Veterans” (UC Press).

And his controversial claim is backed up by an extremely well-researched overview of the dismal state of care provided by the government for this new generation of war veterans.

Glantz, an IPS correspondent who has been covering the U.S. occupation of Iraq for years, including several months of reportage from inside Iraq, provides a devastating overview of the plight of war veterans.

From reporting on Bush administration funding cuts to the Veterans Administration (VA), to how key Republican senators like John McCain consistently vote against veteran’s benefits and supporting legislation, “The War Comes Home” makes the case.

Glantz documents what happens when veterans from the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan return home with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), their battles with the Pentagon and VA to obtain benefits, and the psychological, mental, and physical toll this is taking on the hundreds of thousands of veterans, making “The War Comes Home” a must read for anyone wanting a clear understanding of what these occupations are truly costing those in the military.

The story of Patrick Resta, an Iraq war veteran, brings the reader into the world of a returning veteran. Resta’s wife Melissa tells Glantz that upon Patrick’s return from Iraq, “Over the course of just two or three weeks, I started to notice that if I came into a room, he would just leave,” she said, “If I said something to him, he would just snap. He didn’t want to talk to me, he didn’t want to talk to really anybody, and when I confronted him with us having problems I would get let into.”

Patrick ended up going to the VA, where he was diagnosed with PTSD. By March 2008, Glantz points out, Patrick joined over 130,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans as having been diagnosed with a psychological illness by the VA’s mental health services.

While he still suffers from his illness, Patrick has gone on to make progress with the help he deserved from the VA. His story is, however, a best-case scenario.

Glantz goes on to reveal that a recent Army study that found that 18 percent of troops — out of 1,800,000 who have been to Iraq — likely suffer at least some brain damage from improvised explosive devices.

“This means as many as 320,000 potential TBI [Traumatic Brain Injury] patients,” Glantz writes. TBI symptoms include headaches, memory loss, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and balance problems.

Due to medical advances, today in Iraq 15 out of every 16 seriously wounded service members survive injuries that in previous wars would have been fatal. Yet when these veterans come home in dire need of support, they often find it lacking.

Gerald Cassidy is a case in point. After serving in Bosnia and New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, Cassidy volunteered to serve in Iraq. Narrowly escaping a roadside bomb while on a convoy, Cassidy was given no medical attention and kept on his duties of conducting home raids, escorting convoys, and guarding the perimetre of his camp.

Back in the United States, Cassidy was given a medical evaluation and diagnosed with PTSD. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, and assigned to one of the Army’s newly created Wounded Warrior Transition Units, where injured soldiers are each supposed to be assigned a doctor, nurse care manager, and a squad leader to manage their treatment.

Five months after his return to the U.S., Cassidy was found dead in his room at Fort Knox.

Cassidy’s mother, Kay, told Glantz, “He died from lack of care. He came back from Iraq, and the Army killed him.”

Glantz reveals how Cassidy’s family went on to investigate the death, finding that their son had been lucky to have one doctor appointment and one psychiatrist appointment per month.

In addition, Kay Cassidy told of her son being left alone in his third-floor room, where he sat unattended playing video computer games. Once, he passed out in his room alone and woke up several hours later laying in a pool of blood from his nose or mouth. In another incident, her son had fainted and collapsed into a wall while walking.

“They let a young man who had passed out in his room in a pool of blood, who had passed out and hit a wall, they let a young man like that live in a dormitory room all by himself, and when he didn’t show up for [daily] roll call nobody went up to check on him for at least two and a half days,” Kay raged to Glantz, “It’s criminal negligence.”

Cassidy’s family continues to wait for answers from both the military and the U.S. government, and is one of dozens of tragedies outlined in the book that show the true cost of failed U.S. policy.

The average wait for a veteran to get an appointment at the VA is six months. Eighteen veterans — from all wars — per day are committing suicide. One thousand veterans per month, who are technically under the care of the VA, are attempting suicide.

“The War Comes Home” pulls no punches. It is a searing indictment of the total, willful failure of the Bush administration to properly care for the men and women of the military it willingly put in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan.

IPS asked the author what he hoped might come as a result of the book.

“I hope the public gains a broader understanding of what it’s like to come home from a war — of the disconnection between those who have only experienced war on television and those who’ve seen it up close,” Glantz explained.

“I feel like we are in an important historical moment, where the incoming administration either dramatically improves conditions for veterans returning home, or we face a repeat of the shameful treatment that followed the Vietnam War. Suicides among Iraq war veterans have already begun to multiply and Iraq War veterans are living homeless on the street…I want the book to play a role in ensuring that these problems are addressed.”

January 16th, 2009 | Inter Press Service

Friday, January 16, 2009

Is Israel Using Experimental Weapons in Gaza? By JONATHAN COOK Nazareth.

Jonathan Cook

Concerns about Israel’s use of non-conventional and experimental weapons in the Gaza Strip are growing, with evasive comments from spokesmen and reluctance to allow independent journalists inside the tiny enclave only fuelling speculation.

The most prominent controversy is over the use of shells containing white phosphorus, which causes horrific burns when it comes into contact with skin. Under international law, phosphorus is allowed as a smokescreen to protect soldiers but treated as a chemical weapon when used against civilians.

The Israeli army maintains that it is using only weapons authorised in international law, though human rights groups have severely criticised Israel for firing phosphorus shells over densely populated areas of Gaza.

But there might be other unconventional weapons Israel is using out of sight of the watching world.

One such munition may be Dime, or dense inert metal explosive, a weapon recently developed by the US army to create a powerful and lethal blast over a small area.

The munition is supposed to still be in the development stage and is not yet regulated. There are fears, however, that Israel may have received a green light from the US military to treat Gaza as a testing ground.

“We have seen Gaza used as a laboratory for testing what I call weapons from hell,” said David Halpin, a retired British surgeon and trauma specialist who has visited Gaza on several occasions to investigate unusual injuries suffered by Gazans.

“I fear the thinking in Israel is that it is in its interests to create as much mutilation as possible to terrorise the civilian population in the hope they will turn against Hamas.”

Gaza’s doctors, including one of the few foreigners there, Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian specialist in emergency medicine working at Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City, report that many of the injuries they see are consistent with the use of Dime.

Wounds from the weapon are said to be distinctive. Those exposed to the blast have severed or melted limbs, or internal ruptures, especially to soft tissue such as the abdomen, that often lead to death.

There is said to be no shrapnel apart from a fine “dusting” of minute metal particles on damaged organs visible when autopsies are carried out. Survivors of a Dime blast are at increased risk of developing cancer, according to research carried out in the United States.

Traditional munitions, by contrast, cause large wounds wherever shrapnel penetrates the body.

“The power of the explosion dissipates very quickly and the strength does not travel long, maybe 10 metres, but those humans who are hit by this explosion, this pressure wave, are cut in pieces,” Dr Gilbert said in a recent interview.

This is not the first time concerns about Israel’s use of Dime have surfaced in Gaza. Doctors there reported strange injuries they could not treat, and from which patients died unexpectedly days later, during a prolonged wave of Israeli air strikes in 2006.

A subsequent Italian investigation found Israel was using a prototype weapon similar to Dime. Samples from victims in Gaza showed concentrations of unusual metals in their bodies.

Yitzhak Ben-Israel, the former head of the Israeli military’s weapons development programme, appeared familiar with the weapon, telling Italian TV that the short radius of the explosion helped avoid injuries to bystanders, allowing “the striking of very small targets”.

Israeli denials about using weapons banned by international law would not cover Dime because it is not yet officially licensed.

It will be difficult to investigate claims that non-conventional weapons have been used in Gaza until a ceasefire is agreed, but previous inquiries have shown that Israel resorts to such munitions.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has recorded numerous occasions when the Israeli army has fired flechette shells, both in Lebanon and Gaza. The shell releases thousands of tiny metal darts that cause horrible injuries to anyone out in the open.

A Reuters cameraman, Fadel Shana, filmed the firing of such a shell from an Israeli tank in Gaza in April, moments before its flechettes killed him.

Miri Weingarten, a spokeswoman for Physicians for Human Rights, said they were watching out for use of a new flechette-type weapon the Israeli army has developed called kalanit (anemone). An anti-personnel munition, the shell sends out hundreds of small discs.

Israel appears to have used a range of controversial weapons during its attack on Lebanon in 2006. After initial denials, an Israeli government minister admitted that the army had fired phosphorus shells, and the Israeli media widely reported millions of cluster bombs being dropped over south Lebanon.

There are also suspicions that Israel may have used uranium-based warheads. A subsequent inquiry by a British newspaper found elevated levels of radiation at two Israeli missile craters.

Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for B’Tselem, said her organisation had not yet been able to confirm which weapons were being used in Gaza in the current attacks. She added, however, that Israel’s denials about using non-conventional munitions should not be relied on.

“It is true, as the army spokespeople say, that weapons such as phosphorus and flechette shells are not expressly prohibited. But our view is that such weapons, which do not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, cannot be used legally in a densely populated area like Gaza.”

Reports this month revealed that the United States has been organising massive shipments of arms to Israel, though a Pentagon spokesman denied they were for use in Gaza.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest book is “Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

from CounterPunch 12-1-09