Kevin Rudd would never meet with a member of Hamas, because it is supposed to be a terrorist organisation. Yet there are rumours circulating that on 3 December, our Prime Minister is going to a lunch where the guest of honour will be Israel’s Vice Prime Minister, Silvan Shalom. If this goes ahead, Rudd will send a message that he supports terrorism.
Is this a polemical exaggeration? Actually, no, it’s not. Terrorism isn’t simply a nasty word to show disapproval of Israel’s military assault on Gaza. Terrorism is a substantive concept. Any definition of this concept must include the intentional use of force against civilians to achieve political goals. This is exactly what the Goldsone report into war crimes during the Gaza attack shows Israel is guilty of.
However, despite all the controversy over the report after its release last month, and over its endorsement last week by the UN Human Rights Council, this finding has yet to be widely discussed.
The report has received a great deal of media coverage, yet its actual contents are almost universally unexamined. There has been discussion of whether or not Israel was foolish in refusing to cooperate with Goldstone, and of whether the report is biased or adequately even-handed in its condemnation of Hamas for firing rockets at Israel. There has been extensive discussion of the initial refusal of the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority to support the report at the UN Human Rights Council — a refusal that could have been predicted. Yet the controversies over the report largely steer clear of the substance of its findings against Israel’s behaviour.
So, what does the report actually say about Israel’s attack on Gaza? About half of the report is devoted to it. The broader findings are important, and worth discussing. Yet the finding that Israel is guilty of what amounts to terrorism is an incredible charge, and warrants at least some attention and discussion. How did the UN Fact Finding Mission (henceforth "the Mission") reach this conclusion? And what did they actually say?
Before turning to the discussion of Israel’s military onslaught, I should note that the Mission not only charged Israel with crimes that should properly be considered terrorism. The Mission also explicitly accused Israel of terrorism because of its appalling treatment of Palestinian detainees. As they note, Israel subjected Palestinian detainees to "continuous and systematic abuse, outrages on personal dignity, humiliating and degrading treatment".
The Mission explicitly found that "All of the persons held were civilians" [emphasis added]. This did not affect their treatment, which included "constant death threats and insults", men women and children being "detained in degrading conditions, deprived of food, water and access to sanitary facilities, and exposed to the elements in January without any shelter". Men were "repeatedly made to strip, sometimes naked". A Palestinian was forced to be a human shield for Israeli soldiers "with a gun pressed against his head", whilst another group of eight Palestinian prisoners were shackled inside a bus for a four-hour bus ride, during which they were "continuously beaten, kicked and punched by four or five soldiers on board". (You’ll find that covered in paragraphs 57, 60 and 1147 to 1171. It’s a long report, and there’s plenty in it, so I’ll include these paragraph numbers so you can see for yourself.)
The Mission concludes that Israel "deliberately" subjected all of these civilians to "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment throughout their ordeal in order to terrorize, intimidate and humiliate them (1164)." It goes on (1171): "The rounding-up of large groups of civilians and their prolonged detention under the circumstances described above constitute a collective penalty on those persons in violation of article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and article 50 of the Hague Regulations. Such treatment amounts to measures of intimidation and terrorism, prohibited under article 33 and a grave breach of the Convention that constitutes a war crime." [Emphasis added.]
In the rest of the report, the Mission avoids the use of the word terrorism, except in relation to the blockade on Gaza. The blockade is condemned as a policy of "collective punishment", and arguably a crime of persecution as a form of a crime against humanity (1331-1335). In paragraph 1328, it is noted that the prohibition in Article 33 Fourth Geneva Convention against collective punishment bans "likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism". It is not judged explicitly whether the blockade infringes the prohibition of terrorism.
Israel’s military attacks themselves are not called terrorist. Yet it is hard to imagine a more compelling case to support that label than the evidence compiled and conclusions drawn by the Mission. In what follows I will give only a sample of some of the evidence for some of the Mission’s findings, with longer selections on my blog.
Importantly, the report shows that Israel’s attacks were intentional. According to the Israeli military’s website, "Official data gathered by the Air Force concluded that 99 per cent of the firing that was carried out hit targets accurately". Furthermore, the Israeli Government has only acknowledged one error in its attack, despite the various challenges it has faced from human rights organisations. From this, the Mission concluded that "what was struck was meant to be struck". The destruction in Gaza was due to "deliberate planning and policy decisions throughout the chain of command" (1187-1191).
So what were these deliberate decisions? They include the decision to bomb a mosque specifically when hundreds had gathered inside it for prayers (822-843). There was the decision to fire flechette shells — a weapon by its "nature lacking in discrimination" — at a tent during a condolence ceremony "in the vicinity of a large group of civilians" (881-884). Similarly, Israel was condemned for firing mortars — a weapon "incapable of distinguishing between combatants and civilians" — at a location "filled with civilians" (699).
Israel also bombed, destroying partially or in full "at least 280 schools and kindergartens" (1271). Of the buildings housing operations of the UNRWA relief organisation, 57 "were damaged by shelling or airstrikes, including 36 schools (six serving as emergency shelters), seven health centres, three sanitation offices, two warehouses and five other buildings." Furthermore, 35 UNRWA vehicles, including three armoured vehicles, were damaged (1295-6). Israel also bombed the al-Quds and al-Wafa hospitals with white phosphorous shells (629, 635), among the "48 per cent of Gaza’s 122 health facilities [which]were directly or indirectly hit by shelling" (1255). Unsurprisingly, the Mission found the use of white phosphorous "in such an area [to be]reckless" (649).
Israel also launched a "deliberate and premeditated" attack on the Gazan Wastewater Treatment Plant, striking it "precisely" where it would cause a mass outflow of raw sewage (974). According to the Palestinian Federation of Industries, "324 factories had been destroyed during the Israeli military operations at a cost of 40,000 jobs" (1009). This is on top of various other forms of wanton destruction, such as what the UNDP estimates are 3354 homes completely destroyed in Israel’s attack, and 11,112 partially damaged (1245). Israel also destroyed 19 out of 27 concrete factories in Gaza, "representing 85 per cent of the productive capacity". This includes the only cement packaging plant, first bombed by helicopters, then attacked with bulldozers, tanks, and explosives which had to be placed "inside the building"(1012-1015).
Israel launched "multiple air strikes" on the Namar Wells complex, among the 10 per cent of Gaza’s water wells destroyed in the attacks (1249). There was also "large-scale and systematic destruction of greenhouses" throughout Gaza: "it is estimated that over 30 hectares of greenhouses were demolished" (1021). Partially as a result of this, Gazans now face the complete collapse of their water supply.
Israel destroyed a Gazan flour mill with several missile attacks, ending Gaza’s "sole remaining flour producing capacity" (933). It also sent in tanks and bulldozers to "systematically" destroy the "land, crops, chickens and farm infrastructure" of the Sawafeary chicken farms, killing all of its 31,000 chickens and "systematically flatten[ing]" its coops. Across Gaza "close to 100,000 chickens were killed", and 35 per cent of the egg market was destroyed (954-960).
Why did Israel cause such malicious damage? The destruction of this civilian infrastructure was done for "the specific purpose of denying their use for the sustenance of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip", which was "part of a policy of collective punishment of the civilian population"(1320). This takes place in the context of a "military doctrine that views disproportionate destruction and creating maximum disruption in the lives of many people as a legitimate means to achieve military and political goals" (1213).
There is a well known term for attacking civilians to achieve political goals — that term is "terrorism". The Goldstone Report found that "Statements by political and military leaders prior to and during the military operations in Gaza leave little doubt that disproportionate destruction and violence against civilians were part of a deliberate policy" (1215).
There are various military figures quoted who have outlined or advocated a military policy described by the Mission as one of "massive and deliberate destruction", ever since the last war on Lebanon. For example, Major General (Ret.) Giora Eiland held that the next time Israel attacks Lebanon, it should not target Hezbollah, but should include different targets, such as "the destruction of the national infrastructure and intense suffering among the population" (1192-1199). No less significantly, the Israeli Government declared that it was legitimate to target the "supporting infrastructure" of Hamas (1200 — see also 1209-1212). As the Mission notes, the severity of the blockade from 2007 showed Israel had decided that "effectively the population of Gaza" was the supporting infrastructure that it should target (1211).
The report concludes that Israel, "rather than fighting the Palestinian armed groups operating in Gaza in a targeted way, has chosen to punish the whole Gaza Strip and the population in it with economic, political and military sanctions" (1330). The Mission noted statements by Israeli officials "to the effect that the use of disproportionate force, attacks on civilian population and the destruction of civilian property are legitimate means to achieve Israel’s military and political objectives" (1894). That is, they adopted the means of a terrorist organisation carrying out terrorist acts.
The conclusions about the attack on Gaza are devastating. Israel’s attack on civilian infrastructure "was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy by the Israeli armed forces. It was not carried out because those objects presented a military threat or opportunity, but to make the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population."
It further found that "the operations were carefully planned in all their phases. […] There were almost no mistakes made according to the Government of Israel. It is in these circumstances that the Mission concludes that what occurred in just over three weeks at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 was a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability" (1891-1893).
Israel continues to terrorise the Palestinians in Gaza with its blockade, an ongoing crime against humanity. The military attack was only part of the "continuum" of policy of which the blockade is the centrepiece. As terrible as the massacre was, the war on Gaza’s civilian population continues.
How has our Government responded to all this? During the massacre, Julia Gillard’s contribution was to defend the right of Israel to defend itself. When she visited Israel, she didn’t visit Gaza, nor even mention it. Rudd is matching Howard’s support for the Israeli Government, as it escalates its crimes against the Palestinians. Have they no shame? Or should we just conclude that our Government supports terrorism against Arabs?
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