Saturday, December 30, 2006

Podcast: A Conversation with Suheir Hammad

Hello and I wish you all a Happy New Year. The newest podcast of Crossing The Line: Life In Occupied Palestine is now up. Take a glance and download to your computer or find it on I-tunes. Just click here to check out the amazing Suheir Hammad.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Back to the politics of gimmicks

By Hasan Abu Nimah

The Jordan Times
27 December 2006

Finally the long awaited meeting between Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman
Mahmoud Abbas has taken place. Hastily planned, it came as
a surprise, grabbing headlines that suggested renewed

While the media try to analyse it in conventional terms,
as to whether it advances the "peace process," in reality
it was a show designed to shore up Abbas in his battle to
usurp power from the democratically elected Hamas
authority. As such, it represents the "soft" component of
a two-pronged Western strategy that includes political and
military support for Abbas.

There has been a lot of talk among Abbas' Western sponsors
about the need to take measures to "strengthen" him
against Hamas. US funds are being used to arm and train
Abbas' so-called "presidential guard", a militia
accountable only to him. This militia is an ugly reminder
of Saddam's Republican Guards, which often made people
wonder why any president should need an entire army to
protect him, especially from his own people.

EU and US officials have also reportedly visited the "Badr
Brigade" training camps in Jordan. This unit is planned to
be moved to Gaza, with Israeli approval, to boost Abbas'
potential to impose his will through violence.

Of course, all these measures, even if they strengthen
Abbas on the ground and increase the risk of Palestinian
civil war, rob him even further of legitimacy and expose
him as a Western quisling in the eyes of his people; hence
the need for a political show to make him appear of use to
the Palestinian people.

This is where the Abbas-Olmert meeting came in.

Absolutely intransigent on substance, the meeting
represented the maximum Israel was willing to give
superficially. The event was stripped of any official
status by holding it over dinner at Olmert's residence in
Jerusalem, although it did produce pictures of Olmert
ostentatiously planting kisses on the cheeks of his

The meeting was meant to improve Abbas' staggering
position, by demonstrating that he can go places and do
deals that the boycotted Hamas leadership cannot, but it
exposed his weakness and vulnerability even more.

Some Israeli commentators suggested it would secure
"confidence building measures", but it will quickly become
clear that it produced, at best, only hollow promises to
which prohibitive conditions were, as usual, firmly
attached, and no measures.

Olmert agreed to release to Abbas some $100 million of the
$600 million of the Palestinian people's tax money
illegally seized and impounded by Israel since last
January. But the money will not be paid until a mechanism
is devised whereby funds do not end up in the hands of the
Hamas "terrorists." That is a comfortable excuse for
indefinite delay. Of course this money ought to be
released to the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of
Finance, where it can be used to meet the needs of the
people and can be properly accounted for. Instead, if
Israel releases any of it, it will disappear into the
unaccountable hands of the rival shadow government made up
of the Palestinian Authority's "institution of the
presidency." like so many hundreds of millions before it.
And once a mechanism is discovered or invented to release
the seized money without going to the "terrorists", why
only limit the amount to one hundred million? Should not
the entire amount be released then?

Olmert also made the promise to ease a few checkpoints in
the West Bank, something that US Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice had been urging since her last visit to
the region. This is the mentality that believes that
briefly and temporarily relieving the excruciating pain of
Israel's brutal military tyranny in the occupied
territories will accrue to the credit of Abbas as an
"achievement" to be celebrated by the Palestinian people.
Such gimmicks cannot disguise the apartheid reality Israel
is imposing with an iron fist.

Who is going to decide which are the unnecessary
roadblocks to be removed, or if ever any will be removed
at all, or if removed today, they will not be reinstalled
the day after on the basis of renewed security
requirements? Did the Palestinians not experience such
games with the pretended "removal" of the unauthorised
posts -- settlements -- and the staged scuffles between the
settlers and the Israeli soldiers for the benefit of the
invited media?

The hollowness of the meeting did not stop Abbas' Fateh
entourage from overblowing it as evidence of the imminence
of revived "peace negotiations". Such pointless activity
is all that is left to justify their existence on the

Many continue to believe that solving the Arab-Israeli
conflict, as prescribed by the Baker-Hamilton report among
others, requires bypassing Hamas or removing it from the
equation. The excuse for this is that Hamas refuses to
accept reasonable conditions and the "language" of the
"international community" (which means in practice Israel,
the United States, the United Kingdom and the European
Union, and ignores the vast majority of states that
continue to vote in the UN General Assembly in support of
fundamental Palestinian rights that this handful of powers
deny and oppose).

Abbas, by contrast, who was the "international
community's" choice to lead the Palestinians following the
death of Arafat, is supposed to be the one who can
deliver. But after two years in office, Abbas is as
hopeless as ever, on the verge of launching a war against
his own people and completely dependent on foreign
backing. Neither he nor those who back him ever mention
fundamental Palestinian rights and demands.

Israel continues to expand its racist colonies and
apartheid wall on occupied land, relentlessly pursues the
ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem, and escalates its violence
against any and all who try to resist, peacefully or

With these realities off the agenda, there is renewed talk
in Washington of declaring a Palestinian state without any
borders in 2007. That way, Abbas can appear to have made a
great breakthrough on the path to full independence,
President George Bush and perhaps British Prime Minister
Tony Blair can claim it as part of their legacies, and
Israel can rid itself of political responsibility for the
Palestinians without giving up any control or changing any
of its practices.

Such empty schemes and gimmicks can lead nowhere. Neither
recycling old ideas nor recycling failed leaders will
bring the region closer to peace. What is urgently needed
is more seriousness and, indeed, courage in dealing with
this historic conflict and with a situation fast

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Ali Abunimah, The Wall Street Journal, 26 December 2006

President Carter has done what few American politicians
have dared to do: speak frankly about the Israel-Palestine
conflict. He has done this nation, and the cause of peace,
an enormous service by focusing attention on what he calls
"the abominable oppression and persecution in the occupied
Palestinian territories, with a rigid system of required
passes and strict segregation between Palestine's citizens
and Jewish settlers in the West Bank."

The 39th president of the United States, the most
successful Arab- Israeli peace negotiator to date, has
braved a storm of criticism, including the insinuation
from the pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League that his
arguments are anti-Semitic.

Mr. Carter has tried to mollify critics by suggesting that
his is not a commentary on Israeli policy inside Israel's
own borders, as compared with the West Bank, Gaza Strip
and East Jerusalem -- territories Israel occupied in 1967.
He told NPR, "I know that Israel is a wonderful democracy
with equal treatment of all citizens whether Arab or Jew.
And so I very carefully avoided talking about anything
inside Israel."

Given the pressure he has faced, it may be understandable
that Mr. Carter says this, but he is wrong. In addition to
nearly four million Palestinians living under Israeli rule
in the occupied territories, another one million live
inside Israel's pre-1967 borders. These Palestinians are
descendants of those who were not forced out or did not
flee when Israel was created in 1948.

They have nominal Israeli citizenship, and unlike blacks
in apartheid South Africa, they do vote for the country's
parliament. Yet this is where any sense of equality ends.
In Israel's history, no Arab-led party has ever been asked
to join a coalition government. And, among scores of
Jewish ministers, there has only ever been one Arab
minister, of junior rank.

Discrimination against non-Jewish citizens both informal
and legalized is systematic. Non-Jewish children attend
separate schools and live in areas that receive a fraction
of the funding of their Jewish counterparts. The results
can be seen in the much poorer educational attainment,
economic, health and life outcomes of Palestinian citizens
of Israel. Much of the land of the country, controlled by
the quasi-governmental Jewish National Fund, cannot be
leased or sold to non-Jews. This is similar in effect to
the restrictive covenants that in many U.S. cities once
kept nonwhites out of certain neighborhoods.

A 2003 law stipulates that an Israeli citizen may bring a
non- citizen spouse to live in Israel from anywhere in the
world, excluding a Palestinian from the occupied
territories. A civil rights leader in Israel likened it to
the American anti-miscegenation measures from the 1950s,
when mixed race couples had to leave the state of Virginia
to marry legally.

For Palestinians, the most blatant form of discrimination
is Israel's "Law of Return," that allows a Jewish person
from any country to settle in Israel. Meanwhile, family
members of Palestinian citizens of Israel, living in
exile, sometimes in refugee camps just a few miles outside
Israel's borders, are not permitted to set foot in the

The rise of Avigdor Lieberman, the new deputy prime
minister, who openly advocates stripping Palestinians in
Israel of citizenship and transferring them outside the
state, reflects increasingly extremist politics. In
response to growing discrimination, leaders of
Palestinians inside Israel recently issued a report, "The
Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel." It
calls for Israel to become a state where all citizens and
communities have equal rights, regardless of religion.
Many Israeli commentators reacted angrily, calling the
initiative an attempt to dismantle Israel as a "Jewish
state." However, even if Mr. Carter's recommendations are
implemented, and Israel withdraws from the territories
occupied in 1967, the struggle over the legitimacy of a
state that privileges one ethno- religious group at the
expense of another will not disappear.

As other divided societies, like South Africa, Northern
Ireland and indeed our own are painfully learning, only
equal rights and esteem for all the people, in the
diversity of their identities, can bring lasting peace.
This is an even harder discussion than the one President
Carter has courageously launched, but ultimately it is one
we must confront if peace is to come to Israel-Palestine.


Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and
author of "One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the
Israeli-Palestinian Impasse" (Metropolitan Books, 2006).

Friday, December 22, 2006

New Podcast available!

Hello and good Friday to one and all! The latest podcast from Crossing The Line is available to download here.

Tune in to hear Rania Masri, Mumia Abu Jamal, and Scott Burgwin. Let me know your thoughs and comments. All the best to everyone for a peaceful holidays and prosperous New Year!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Do America and Israel want the Middle East engulfed by civil war?

By Jonathan Cook

The Electronic Initfada
19 December 2006

The era of the Middle East strongman, propped up by and
enforcing Western policy, appears well and truly over. His
power is being replaced with rule by civil war, apparently
now the American administration's favoured model across
the region.

Fratricidal fighting is threatening to engulf, or already
engulfing, the occupied Palestinian territories, Lebanon
and Iraq. Both Syria and Iran could soon be next, torn
apart by attacks Israel is reportedly planning on behalf
of the US. The reverberations would likely consume the

Western politicians like to portray civil war as a
consequence of the West's failure to intervene more
effectively in the Middle East. Were we more engaged in
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or more aggressive in
opposing Syrian manipulations in Lebanon, or more hands-on
in Iraq, the sectarian fighting could be prevented. The
implication being, of course, that, without the West's
benevolent guidance, Arab societies are incapable of
dragging themselves out of their primal state of

But in fact, each of these breakdowns of social order
appears to have been engineered either by the United
States or by Israel. In Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq,
sectarian difference is less important than a clash of
political ideologies and interests as rival factions
disagree about whether to submit to, or resist, American
and Israeli interference. Where the factions derive their
funding and legitimacy from -- increasingly a choice
between the US or Iran -- seems to determine where they
stand in this confrontation.

Palestine is in ferment because ordinary Palestinians are
torn between their democratic wish to see Israeli
occupation resisted -- in free elections they showed they
believed Hamas the party best placed to realise that goal
-- and the basic need to put food on the table for their
families. The combined Israeli and international economic
siege of the Hamas government, and the Palestinian
population, has made a bitter internal struggle for
control of resources inevitable.

Lebanon is falling apart because the Lebanese are divided:
some believe that the country's future lies with
attracting Western capital and welcoming Washington's
embrace, while others regard America's interest as cover
for Israel realising its long-standing design to turn
Lebanon into a vassal state, with or without a military
occupation. Which side the Lebanese choose in the current
stand-off reflects their judgment of how plausible are
claims of Western and Israeli benevolence.

And the slaughter in Iraq is not simply the result of
lawlessness -- as is commonly portrayed -- but also about
rival groups, the nebulous "insurgents", employing various
brutal and conflicting strategies: trying to oust the
Anglo-American occupiers and punish local Iraqis suspected
of collaborating with them; extracting benefits from the
puppet Iraqi regime; and jockeying for positions of
influence before the inevitable grand American exit.

All of these outcomes in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq could
have been foreseen -- and almost certainly were. More than
that, it looks increasingly like the growing tensions and
carnage were planned. Rather than an absence of Western
intervention being the problem, the violence and
fragmentation of these societies seems to be precisely the
goal of the intervention.

Evidence has emerged in Britain that suggests such was the
case in Iraq. Testimony given by a senior British official
to the 2004 Butler inquiry investigating intelligence
blunders in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq was
belatedly published last week, after attempts by the
Foreign Office to hush it up.

Carne Ross, a diplomat who helped to negotiate several UN
security council resolutions on Iraq, told the inquiry
that British and US officials knew very well that Saddam
Hussein had no WMDs and that bringing him down would lead
to chaos.

"I remember on several occasions the UK team stating this
view in terms during our discussions with the US (who
agreed)," he said, adding: "At the same time, we would
frequently argue, when the US raised the subject, that
'regime change' was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds
that Iraq would collapse into chaos."

The obvious question, then, is why would the US want and
intend civil war raging across the Middle East, apparently
threatening strategic interests like oil supplies and the
security of a key regional ally, Israel?

Until the presidency of Bush Jnr, the American doctrine in
the Middle East had been to install or support strongmen,
containing them or replacing them when they fell out of
favour. So why the dramatic and, at least ostensibly,
incomprehensible shift in policy?

Why allow Yasser Arafat's isolation and humiliation in the
occupied territories, followed by Mahmoud Abbas's, when
both could have easily been cultivated as strongmen had
they been given the tools they were implicitly promised by
the Oslo process: a state, the pomp of office and the
coercive means to impose their will on rival groups like
Hamas? With almost nothing to show for years of
concessions to Israel, both looked to the Palestinian
public more like lapdogs rather than rottweilers.

Why make a sudden and unnecessary fuss about Syria's
interference in Lebanon, an interference that the West
originally encouraged as a way to keep the lid on
sectarian violence? Why oust Damascus from the scene and
then promote a "Cedar Revolution" that pandered to the
interests of only one section of Lebanese society and
continued to ignore the concerns of the largest and most
dissatisfied community, the Shia? What possible outcome
could there be but simmering resentment and the threat of

And why invade Iraq on the hollow pretext of locating WMDs
and then dislodge its dictator, Saddam Hussein, who for
decades had been armed and supported by the US and had
very effectively, if ruthlessly, held Iraq together? Again
from Carne's testimony, it is clear that no one in the
intelligence community believed Saddam really posed a
threat to the West. Even if he needed "containing" or
possibly replacing, as Bush's predecessors appeared to
believe, why did the president decide simply to overthrow
him, leaving a power void at Iraq's heart?

The answer appears to be related to the rise of the
neocons, who finally grasped power with the election of
President Bush. Israel's most popular news website, Ynet,
recently observed of the neocons: "Many are Jews who share
a love for Israel."

The neocons' vision of American global supremacy is
intimately tied to, and dependent on, Israel's regional
supremacy. It is not so much that the neocons choose to
promote Israel's interests above those of America as that
they see the two nations' interests as inseparable and

Although usually identified with the Israeli right, the
neocons' political alliance with the Likud mainly reflects
their support for adopting belligerent means to achieve
their policy goals rather than the goals themselves.

The consistent aim of Israeli policy over decades, from
the left and right, has been to acquire more territory at
the expense of its neighbours and entrench its regional
supremacy through "divide and rule", particularly of its
weakest neighbours such as the Palestinians and the
Lebanese. It has always abominated Arab nationalism,
especially of the Baathist variety in Iraq and Syria,
because it appeared immune to Israeli intrigues.

For many years Israel favoured the same traditional
colonial approach the West used in the Middle East, where
Britain, France and later the US supported autocratic
leaders, usually from minority populations, to rule over
the majority in the new states they had created, whether
Christians in Lebanon, Alawites in Syria, Sunnis in Iraq,
or Hashemites in Jordan. The majority was thereby
weakened, and the minority forced to become dependent on
colonial favours to maintain its privileged position.

Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, for example, was
similarly designed to anoint a Christian strongman and US
stooge, Bashir Gemayel, as a compliant president who would
agree to an anti-Syrian alliance with Israel.

But decades of controlling and oppressing Palestinian
society allowed Israel to develop a different approach to
divide and rule: what might be termed organised chaos, or
the "discord" model, one that came to dominate first its
thinking and later that of the neocons.

During its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel
preferred discord to a strongman, aware that a
pre-requisite of the latter would be the creation of a
Palestinian state and its furnishing with a well-armed
security force. Neither option was ever seriously

Only briefly under international pressure was Israel
forced to relent and partially adopt the strongman model
by allowing the return of Yasser Arafat from exile. But
Israel's reticence in giving Arafat the means to assert
his rule and suppress his rivals, such as Hamas, led
inevitably to conflict between the Palestinian president
and Israel that ended in the second intifada and the
readoption of the discord model.

This latter approach exploits the fault lines in
Palestinian society to exacerbate tensions and violence.
Initially Israel achieved this by promoting rivalry
between regional and clan leaders who were forced to
compete for Israel's patronage. Later Israel encouraged
the emergence of Islamic extremism, especially in the form
of Hamas, as a counterweight to the growing popularity of
the secular nationalism of Arafat's Fatah party.

Israel's discord model is now reaching its apotheosis:
low-level and permanent civil war between the old guard of
Fatah and the upstarts of Hamas. This kind of Palestinian
in-fighting usefully depletes the society's energies and
its ability to organise against the real enemy: Israel and
its enduring occupation.

The neocons, it appears, have been impressed with this
model and wanted to export it to other Middle Eastern
states. Under Bush they sold it to the White House as the
solution to the problems of Iraq and Lebanon, and
ultimately of Iran and Syria too.

The provoking of civil war certainly seemed to be the goal
of Israel's assault on Lebanon over the summer. The attack
failed, as even Israelis admit, because Lebanese society
rallied behind Hizbullah's impressive show of resistance
rather than, as was hoped, turning on the Shia militia.

Last week the Israeli website Ynet interviewed Meyrav
Wurmser, an Israeli citizen and co-founder of MEMRI, a
service translating Arab leaders' speeches that is widely
suspected of having ties with Israel's security services.
She is also the wife of David Wurmser, a senior neocon
adviser to Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Meyrav Wurmser revealed that the American Administration
had publicly dragged its feet during Israel's assault on
Lebanon because it was waiting for Israel to expand its
attack to Syria.

"The anger [in the White House] is over the fact that
Israel did not fight against the Syrians ... The neocons
are responsible for the fact that Israel got a lot of time
and space ... They believed that Israel should be allowed
to win. A great part of it was the thought that Israel
should fight against the real enemy, the one backing
Hizbullah. It was obvious that it is impossible to fight
directly against Iran, but the thought was that its
[Iran's] strategic and important ally [Syria] should be

Wurmser continued: "It is difficult for Iran to export its
Shiite revolution without joining Syria, which is the last
nationalistic Arab country. If Israel had hit Syria, it
would have been such a harsh blow for Iran that it would
have weakened it and [changed] the strategic map in the
Middle East."

Neocons talk a great deal about changing maps in the
Middle East. Like Israel's dismemberment of the occupied
territories into ever-smaller ghettos, Iraq is being
severed into feuding mini-states. Civil war, it is hoped,
will redirect Iraqis' energies away from resistance to the
US occupation and into more negative outcomes.

Similar fates appear to be awaiting Iran and Syria, at
least if the neocons, despite their waning influence,
manage to realise their vision in Bush's last two years.

The reason is that a chaotic and feuding Middle East,
although it would be a disaster in the view of most
informed observers, appears to be greatly desired by
Israel and its neocon allies. They believe that the whole
Middle East can be run successfully the way Israel has run
its Palestinian populations inside the occupied
territories, where religious and secular divisions have
been accentuated, and inside Israel itself, where for many
decades Arab citizens were "de-Palestinianised" and turned
into identity-starved and quiescent Muslims, Christians,
Druze and Bedouin.

That conclusion may look foolhardy, but then again so does
the White House's view that it is engaged in a "clash of
civilisations" which it can win with a "war on terror".

All states are capable of acting in an irrational or
self-destructive manner, but Israel and its supporters may
be more vulnerable to this failing than most. That is
because Israelis' perception of their region and their
future has been grossly distorted by the official state
ideology, Zionism, with its belief in Israel's inalienable
right to preserve itself as an ethnic state; its confused
messianic assumptions, strange for a secular ideology,
about Jews returning to a land promised by God; and its
contempt for, and refusal to understand, everything Arab
or Muslim.

If we expect rational behaviour from Israel or its neocon
allies, more fool us.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in
Nazareth, Israel. His book, Blood and Religion: The
Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State, is published
by Pluto Press.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Human rights groups reject West Bank travel ban

By Amira Hass

19 December 2006

International organizations in the territories are still
reviewing the implications of a ban prohibiting Israelis
to give rides to Palestinians within the West Bank. The
order was issued by GOC Central Command Yair Naveh.

Officials from a few organizations, most of them United
Nations groups, told Haaretz that the issue was under
legal review. The order, dated November 19, is scheduled
to take effect on January 19, 2007. In a letter sent to
the international organizations, the Israeli human rights
group Yesh Din - whose volunteers help Palestinians file
complaints against settlers - asked the foreign groups to
tell Israeli security authorities they would not comply
with the directive, by which they must obtain permits to
drive Palestinians.

In the meantime, security authorities promised
UN-affiliated groups that the order did not apply to them,
and they would not be required to obtain permits. The
groups asked for the promise to be put in writing.

The order explicitly includes resident foreign nationals
in the ban. The order states: "An Israeli will not
transport in an Israeli vehicle within the area a person
who is not Israeli, except in accordance with a permit
given to him or given to the person who is not Israeli."
It clearly states that for this purpose, "Israeli" means
"a person registered in the Population Registry ...
including anyone given a visa and license to reside in

A member of one of the organizations told Haaretz the
groups were aware of the threat to the rights promised to
their employees and that some recognized the possibility
that the authorities could at some point require the
groups to apply for permits - despite the verbal promise.

Anders Fange, head of United Nations Relief and Works
Agency activities in the West Bank, told Haaretz that
irrespective of the military waiver, "my personal opinion
is that the UN is obligated to oppose any order that can
be seen as a violation of human rights or international
humanitarian law. If it turns out that the law does not
meet with international norms, we will bring it up before
the Israeli authorities."

Michael Sfard, Yesh Din's attorney, wrote the
international organizations that the order was in clear
violation of international human rights law.

He drew attention to the fact that even if the foreign
nationals working for the organization are immune to
prosecution for violating the order, any Palestinians they
transport will not enjoy immunity.

Several Israeli organizations, including the Association
for Civil Rights in Israel, Machsom Watch and Yesh Din,
have already announced their intention to ignore the order
and say they will not apply for permits.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

New podcast!

For those of you who still click on to this page I thank you for your comments and support. Now I have some news for you that hopefully will have you coming back, but in a bit of a different way. I have launched a podcast entitled CROSSING THE LINE: LIFE IN OCCUPIED PALESTINE . The new site is here at this address. Every week, I'll bring you interviews, news updates, and personal stories of those that know what is happening on the ground in Palestine, and not the blather that the Israeli military and US corporate media spew out all the time.

The podcast airs every Friday. It is only a 30 minute show for now, but I hope to increase it to an hour by the beginning of next year. If you like what you hear, then tell your friends to check it out. You can also download it from itunes as well.

This blog will still be up and I'll post news, commentaries and the like as often as I can, but for the moment, I am concentrating on the podcasts. thanks to all of you who sent well wishes for the show!


Friday, December 15, 2006

Israel court backs targeted kills

BBC News
14 December 2006

Israel's Supreme Court has rejected an attempt to declare
that the policy of targeted killings of Palestinian
militants is illegal.

The court noted that not every killing complied with
international law, but said the legality of operations
should be assessed on a "case by case basis".

The ruling came in response to a petition from two human
rights groups.

In recent years, Israeli operations have targeted many
suspected militants and left dozens of civilians dead.

The practise of targeted killings dates back to the start
of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000

Controversial tactic

The term is used by Israeli officials who argue that the
tactic is a way of killing militants who are about to
carry out an attack or are behind such attacks.

However, Israel has targeted political leaders, and
civilians have often been killed in the attacks.

The tactic is seen by many human rights groups and by some
members of the international community, including Britain
and the European Union, as contrary to international law.

Key Palestinian figures, such as Hamas founder Sheikh
Ahmed Yassin, have been killed in targeted killings.

The operations often involve air strikes, which use
intelligence from agents on the ground to target houses or
cars where suspects are believed to be.

Civilian casualties

The court rejected a total ban saying: "We cannot
determine in advance that all targeted killings are
contrary to international law."

"At the same time, it is not possible that all such
liquidations are in line with international law. The
legality of all targeted killings must be examined on a
case by case basis."

According to human rights group B'Tselem, 339 Palestinians
have died in targeted killings since September 2000, of
whom 210 were suspected militants and 129 were bystanders.

The court said that caution was needed to prevent civilian

"Innocent civilians should not be targeted," it said.
"Intelligence on the (targeted) person's identity must be
carefully verified."

The court also allowed for the possibility of compensation
claims from civilians.

The two human rights groups, the Public Committee Against
Torture in Israel and the Palestinian Society for the
Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, filed the
suit in 2002 but a ruling has been repeatedly delayed.

Monday, December 04, 2006

"Israel needs a wake up call": An interview with Ilan Pappe

A tenuous ceasefire is holding in the Gaza Strip after almost five months of a heavy dose of “Operation Summer Rain” by the Israeli military.

The showers of missiles, aerial bombardment, military incursions into populated areas over the course of the five month ‘rain’ storm have left more than 457 people, a quarter of them children dead, and well over 1,00 injured.

As the Middle East quartet of the United States, Russia, EU and Israel stranglehold the Palestinian population by withholding monies needed to pay over 165,000 civil employees since march of this year, one wonders what is to become of this ongoing circle of despair and violence.

Since the summer rains began, many in the Israeli peace camp have remained silent about the ongoing crisis happening in Gaza and The West Bank. However, one voice remains constant in Israeli circles and continues to speak out despite opposition to the contrary. Professor Ilan Pappe is a professor of history at Haifa University. He has written numerous articles on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and has openly and continuously called for academic as well as cultural boycotts of Israel.

These pronouncements have made Professor. Pappe a scion in the eyes of the Israeli government and public, but he continues to move forward in the hope of reconciliation and justice for Palestinians.

I spoke with Professor Pappe about the current situation in Israel/Palestine via phone on December 1st, from his home in Haifa.

Christopher Brown: Ilan Pappe, Ehud Olmert recently appointed Avigdor Lieberman as deputy Prime Minister. A man who some consider a “fascist” in light of his views towards Arabs, and Palestinians in particular. Yet, the World press has barely said anything about his rants; for instance, that all Arabs should be expelled from the territories, and Arab Knesset members be executed for having any contact with the Hamas led government.

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, has every word recorded for all to hear, regarding the Holocaust being a hoax, the destruction of Israel and the like; you’re response?

Ilan Pappe: I think you’ve put your finger on two very important issues. The first one is the ideology that Avigdor Lieberman subscribes to that is an ethnic cleansing ideology: Someone who believes that the only way to solving the problems in Israel/Palestine is by expelling the Palestinians from Israel and any territory Israel covets.

I think the problem with Avigdor Lieberman is not his own views but the fact that he reflects what most Israeli Jews think and definitely what most of his colleagues in the Olmert government think but don’t dare to say, or don’t think its desirable to say for tactical reasons. But I do think that we should be worried about Lieberman, not as an extreme fascist but rather as a person who represents the mood of Israel in 2006.

The second point is the double standard, the hypocrisy that you pointed to: Where you compared rightly to the utterances of Ahmadinejad are being repeated and how similar, and worse generalizations and attitudes by Israelis are not heard at all. And I think the reason has to do with the very peculiar standing that Israel has among the western world. Not in the eyes of civil society, I think that Israel in most people that live today in the west is a country that violates human rights, civil rights, and both its ideology and polices are not acceptable. But the governments are still very supportive of the State because the world is lead by an American president and a group of people who have a certain point of view, almost a religious point of view, in which such ideas like that of Lieberman fit well.

There’s not that much difference between Israeli policy and U.S. policy in Iraq. And I think as long as America is the super-power in the world and Israel is its closest ally, we will continue to see this double standard in the attitudes in governments and in the mainstream media.

CB: 61 Irish academics wrote a public letter in September calling for a moratorium on EU aid to Israeli universities, until Israel abides by international law and basic human rights and norms. In addition, A Canadian teachers union has also called for academic boycotts. Is this an effective way to pressure the Israeli government to address the occupation in a way that brings about justice for the Palestinians?

IP: It is an effective way if it’s not only an academic boycott. An academic boycott is only one component in what one cold call a cultural boycott on Israel. Because it will be very hard in this globalized world we live in to bring about economic sanctions, which would have been the most effective in forcing a change in Israeli policy.

The second best, and more feasible, is to send a message to Israel from the societies at large that its policies are unacceptable. That as long as it continues to do what it does it cannot be accepted into what it wants to do. It cannot be in the community of civilized nations.

I think there is both a symbolic and a very political significance to a coordinated reaction by societies in the west for a message, a clear message, that is conveyed in the way of a boycott of divestment or any other symbolic act which says that; there is a price tag attached to the policies that you pursue and as long as you pursue these policies, you are not welcomed here. Not as individuals, you are not welcomed here if you represent a certain ideology; a certain State; and especially if you appear as an official representative of this State. We are not inventing the wheel of course. The cultural boycott was a very crucial component in the action against Apartheid in South Africa. It was very effective and useful according to people who lived there.

The most important thing to remember about such actions is that they are nonviolent. One has to show that the Palestinians, and the Palestinians have to discover it themselves, that there are nonviolent possibilities in pursuing the struggle against Israeli occupation. Because if they are nonviolent, who could blame the Palestinians for using every desperate means at their disposal to try and stop one of the cruelest and most oppressive occupations in modern times?

CB: What of those [like the Israeli lobby groups] who would say that proposing a cultural and academic boycott is furthering anti-Semitism. How do you respond to that?

IP: Three points are important in this connection. The first one should highlight the fact that many progressive and liberal Jews both in the United States and in Europe are involved in the cultural boycott action. In fact in the name of their Jewish identity, heritage, their understanding of Jewish values, they stood alongside those demonstrators against the violations of human rights in the southern United States, in South America, in South Africa, and in Southeast Asia, they see no difference when it comes to Israel/Palestine. In fact, in this case even though it’s a Jewish State that violates human rights, does not change their position. Whoever is the violator, they should stand against them.

The second is; the Israelis are over-using the anti-Semitic accusation against anyone who criticizes them, not only those who call for a boycott, even the mildest criticism of Israel is depicted here as an act of anti-Semitism. I think with a good educational network, one could disseminate the views that this is an Israeli tactic that has very little to do with real or actualized upsurges of anti-Semitic feelings, which definitely still prevail in some parts of the world, and maybe one or two known anti-Semites have joined the wagon, but that doesn’t prove anything. The fact is that Israel wants to be immune from any criticism. And the shield it uses is always anti-Semitism.

Thirdly, and most important, one should differentiate between Zionism and Judaism. By now we can see after 60 years what are the implementations of the Zionist ideology on the ground from the Palestinian point of view.

This ideology may have done some good things for Jews around the world, but it is definitely something that does not allow the Palestinians to live in peace or even to live at all on their homeland; and this is Zionism. It has some connection to Judaism, but its not about Judaism its about a certain colonial ideology that still, in the 21st century, ascribed to by a State which is an unfinished project. The State of Israel has not been built properly. As you know we don’t even have final borders.

And I think it’s very important to educate people that this is not a Jewish question that we are dealing with, we are dealing with a certain relic of the colonial period that is still allowed to continue in a post-colonial situation. And as long as it continues, as it does, complicates the relationship between The Western world and the Arab world and The Muslim world.

CB: On November 7th the Democratic Party won elections that will allow them to control the Congress of the United States. The Democrats have been critical of the Bush administration’s policies regarding the handling of the Iraq war. But, the party has reiterated that the relationship between the U.S. and Israel would not change. Is this policy the best course of action for both countries, much less the Palestinians?

IP: Well, the results of the mid-term elections are good news from many aspects for the American public. But I don’t think [the elections] bring any good news to this part of the world. In other words, I don’t think that the shift in the balance of power in both houses would change American policy towards Palestine. It may change, and it should change of course, American policy in Iraq. But I think the Democratic Party is as committed to protect Israel, at the expense of the Palestinians, as was the Republican administration. So I don’t think that in the foreseeable future that we are going to see any fundamental change in American policy towards Israel.

You as whether it should, of course it should. It should because if it is loyal to the new perspective it brings to American politics: The idea that Americans should have some inhibitions in international behavior; that the use of force in Iraq was wrong; and that there is a problem with the American image and standing in the world; if indeed this is the message of the Democrats into American politics, then I think they should pay attention to fact that the Americans standing and position in the world is not only affected not only by the invasion of Iraq, but also for the unconditional support that America gives to Israel at the expense of the Palestinians.

I think that they should realize that only in a change in the attitude towards Israel and a much more honest brokerage in the conflict can really bring constructive change in the relationship between the United States and the Arab world and the Muslim world are, after all, one quarter of the world’s population.

CB: Peace Now (an Israeli Peace organization), has found that approximately 40% of settlements, including long-standing communities, are built on private Palestinian land and not on state-owned land. Peace Now came across this information from a source inside the Civil Administration who wanted to expose the wide-scale violations of private Palestinian property rights by the government and the settlers. Do you believe that there are more in the government who disagree with the treatment of the Palestinians and are willing to speak out?

IP: Maybe there are more but I believe that this is not enough. I mean this kind of criticism by Peace Now about the piece of information that they leaked to us is very important. But don’t forget for one moment any square inch that has been taken by Israel is an illegal occupation, not only the 40% that was private land.

It may be a starker violation but the whole Israeli presence there is a violation of human rights and civil rights. What is needed is much more than this kind of criticism. The problem in Israel is between Peace Now [Avigdor] Lieberman, contrary to what people are saying, there isn’t that much of an ideological distance. It’s a tactical question of how best to insure a Jewish state with a vast demographic majority is not exclusive.

Lieberman says, lets take any territory we need and achieve that goal by downsizing the number of Arabs living there. Peace Now says; no lets take less land and downsize the land rather than the population and then we can have the coveted exclusive supremacist State. Both positions are morally and politically wrong and unacceptable because at the end of the day you have 20% to 30% of Palestinians even in the smallest state that Peace Now covets and Peace Now is not willing to see them as equal citizens.

And people, even in Peace Now, would put the idea of a Jewish State above any other failure, democratic or liberal. So I think that even if I would have found in the government, or the administration people who want a cleaner mode of occupation, a more legitimized occupation, I would of course welcome it. But I’m warning we’ve been there before. These people have even been in government and they didn’t make any change because the reason for the ongoing conflict between Israel/Palestine is not because Israel occupies parts of The West Bank and Gaza and is not willing to give them back. The reason we have the conflict is the Zionist ideology. This is where it starts and this is where it ends. As long as the vast majority of Jews in Israel subscribes this ideology in its present interpretation, I’m afraid we will not see peace and reconciliation coming to this land.

CB: Finally, Ilan Pappe, what can people who hope for the security of both the Israelis and Palestinians do?

IP: Well I think everybody has his/her role to play, especially people who care, either those that belong to Israel/Palestine or care about Israel/Palestine. I think the Palestinians have their role of resistance; the progressive forces inside Israel continue to try and educated and change the point of view of their compatriots.

But society outside has to play the same role as the anti-apartheid movement played in the west during the heyday of apartheid. We need a strong lobby inside the western world, especially in the United States, but also in Europe that would send a very clear message to Israel; that these polices and ideologies are not acceptable, especially if you want to be part of the democratic world and we need you to change your policy; the ideological nature of the State and have a much more democratic society on the ground.

Israel needs a wake up call. Israelis don’t know that this is what the world thinks about them and I think that civil societies around the world can be the alarm clock for them, and they should be the alarm clock.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The checkpoint generation

By Amira Hass

29 November 2006

For nearly a month now, a young Palestinian has been
hospitalized at Beilinson Hospital; soldiers shot him at a
checkpoint in northern Nablus on Saturday, November 4.
Haitem Yassin, 25, is conscious now, but he is still
hooked up to a respirator. In recent days, he has been
suffering from a high fever, apparently caused by an
infection in his abdomen, which was wounded in the
shooting. His family is still waiting for a report from
the hospital about the number or type of bullets that
caused the serious injury.

At the Samaria Brigade, they are still investigating what
happened that day at the fortified and isolated Asira
al-Shmaliya checkpoint, through which only the inhabitants
of several villages are permitted passage. However,
according to testimonies taken by a researcher for
B'Tselem - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights
in the Occupied Territories, it emerges that Yassin had
irritated the soldiers. He dared to suggest to them that
their demand of women to feel their own bodies to carry
out a "security check" was inappropriate. So annoying was
he that a soldier shoved him.

Yassin, who had returned from overseas a few months
earlier, had apparently not yet internalized the fact that
it is dangerous to remind a soldier that a Palestinian is
a human being. When the soldier shoved, Yassin shoved
back. The soldier, according to the testimonies, started
to scream and curse and hit. He quickly received
reinforcement from two other soldiers, who fired into the
air and at the ground. Even though Yassin fell to the
ground after the shooting, the soldiers, relate the
witnesses, threw him onto a concrete block, handcuffed him
and kicked him. They also kicked him in the head,
according to the testimonies, and beat him with their

In a village in the Nablus area, S., another young
Palestinian, is recovering from the trauma he suffered
from a harsh beating at the hands of a soldier at the Jit
checkpoint, midway between Nablus and Qalqilya. The office
of the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman has stated that it
was the young man who had shoved and hit a soldier who
told him to return to his vehicle, whereas the soldier
only fended him off, but the testimony of S. is completely
different. He, like many others on that day, November 9,
had got out of his vehicle while on the way to the Jewish
settlement where he works, in order to find out why, just
when everyone was hurrying to work, the line of cars at
the checkpoint wasn't moving.

According to one taxi driver, the soldiers announced that
the cars would not be able to go through until noon. S.,
according to his own testimony, intended to return to his
vehicle when the soldier approached him and looked as
though he was going to hit him with his rifle. S. grabbed
the rifle and pushed it aside. This apparently really
bothered the soldier, who grabbed him, pulled him away
from the rest of the people, flung him to the ground, and
proceeded to him in all parts of his body. Including his

Other soldiers, at the Beit Iba checkpoint west of Nablus,
also got annoyed: At a student who felt he was suffocating
among the mass of people who flocked to the checkpoint on
October 9, and who felt the only way he could get some air
was to climb a pole. When he refused to obey the soldiers'
orders to come down, because there was no room and no air,
they fell upon him and beat him with a rifle. According to
the testimony of a friend, who spoke to an activist from
Machsom Watch, the soldiers also broke his glasses and
punished him: They detained him in "solitary confinement,"
in a kind of punishment cell into which the soldiers and
the commanders throw Palestinians who "misbehave." The
cell is intended for security suspects, but all too often
people who dare to argue with the soldiers are thrown in
there, or held in another sort of punishment cell at other

In tens of thousands of homes in the West Bank live
others, who may have not ended up in the hospital, but who
every day accumulate harsh impressions of the nature and
behavior of almost the only Israelis whom they encounter -
the soldiers at the checkpoints. The non-Palestinians who
pass through the checkpoints can also reach a similar
conclusion - that most of the soldiers stationed at them
are crude, arrogant, boastful and definitely hardhearted.
All too often it appears that the soldiers intentionally
cause the line of cars and people to dawdle at a
checkpoint for a very long time. All too often they are
seen laughing and grinning at the sight of the hundreds of
people jostling and crowding in the slow line behind the
narrow inspection turnstile.

The Palestinians are not interested in, and do not need to
be interested in, the explanations that Israel will give:
It's a difficult mission; the soldiers are afraid; maybe
someone will come bearing an explosive belt; they're
young, still children; they're defending the homeland; if
they weren't posted at checkpoints in the middle of the
West Bank, suicide terrorists would be free to enter

The truth is that even the soldiers' parents should not be
interested in these explanations. They should, however, be
very worried about their country sending their sons and
daughters on an apartheid mission: to restrict Palestinian
mobility within the occupied territory, to narrow the
Palestinian expanse in order to enable Jews to move freely
within that same occupied territory and in order to
increase their expanse within it. In order to carry out
this mission in full, facing the natives, the soldiers
must feel and act like "superiors."

Would HRW Have Attacked Martin Luther King, Too?

Palestinians Are Being Denied the Right of Non-Violent Resistance?


in Nazareth

If one thing offers a terrifying glimpse of where the experiment in human despair that is Gaza under Israeli siege is leading, it is the news that a Palestinian woman in her sixties -- a grandmother -- chose last week to strap on a suicide belt and explode herself next to a group of Israeli soldiers invading her refugee camp.

Despite the "Man bites dog" news value of the story, most of the Israeli media played down the incident. Not surprisingly: it is difficult to portray Fatma al-Najar as a crazed fanatic bent only the destruction of Israel.

It is equally difficult not to pause and wonder at the reasons for her suicide mission: according to her family, one of her grandsons was killed by the Israeli army, another is in a wheelchair after his leg had to be amputated, and her house had been demolished.

Or not to think of the years of trauma she and her family have suffered living in a open-air prison under brutal occupation, and now, since the "disengagement", the agonising months of grinding poverty, slow starvation, repeated aerial bombardments, and the loss of essentials like water and electricity.

Or not to ponder at what it must have been like for her to spend every day under a cloud of fear, to be powerless against a largely unseen and malign force, and to never know when death and mutilation might strike her or her loved ones.

Or not to imagine that she had been longing for the moment when the soldiers who have been destroying her family's lives might show themselves briefly, coming close enough that she could see and touch them, and wreak her revenge.

Yet Western observers, and the organisations that should represent the very best of their Enlightenment values, seem incapable of understanding what might drive a grandmother to become a suicide bomber. Their empathy fails them, and so does their humanity.

Just at the moment Fatma was choosing death and resistance over powerlessness and victimhood -- and at a time when Gaza is struggling through one of the most oppressive and ugly periods of Israeli occupation in nearly four decades -- Human Rights Watch published its lastest statement on the conflict. It is document that shames the organisation, complacent Western societies and Fatma's memory.

In its press release "Civilians Must Not Be Used to Shield Homes Against Military Attacks", which was widely reported by the international media, HRW lambasts armed Palestinian groups for calling on civilians to surround homes that have been targeted for air strikes by the Israeli military.

Noting almost as an afterthought that more than 1,500 Palestinians have been made homeless from house demolitions in the past few months, and that 105 houses have been destroyed from the air, the press release denounces Palestinian attempts at non-violent and collective action to halt the Israel attacks. HRW refers in particular to three incidents.

On November 3, Hamas appealed to women to surround a mosque in Beit Hanoun where Palestinian men had sought shelter from the Israeli army. Israeli soldiers opened fire on the women, killing two and injuring at least 10.

And last week on two separate occasions, crowds of supporters gathered around the houses of men accused of being militants by Israel who had received phone messages from the Israeli security forces warning that their families' homes were about to be bombed.

In language that would have made George Orwell shudder, one of the world's leading organisations for the protection of human rights ignored the continuing violation of the Palestinians' right to security and a roof over their heads and argued instead: "There is no excuse for calling [Palestinian] civilians to the scene of a planned [Israeli] attack. Whether or not the home is a legitimate military target, knowingly asking civilians to stand in harm's way is unlawful."

There is good reason to believe that this reading of international law is wrong, if not Kafkaesque. Popular and peaceful resistance to the oppressive policies of occupying powers and autocratic rulers, in India and South Africa for example, has always been, by its very nature, a risky venture in which civilians are liable to be killed or injured. Responsibility for those deaths must fall on those doing the oppressing, not those resisting, particularly when they are employing non-violent means. On HRW's interpretation, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela would be war criminals.

HRW also applies a series of terrible double standards in this press release.

It refuses Palestinians the right to protect homes from attack, labelling these civilians "human shields", even while admitting that most of the homes are not legitimate military targets, and yet it has not said a word about the common practice in Israel of building weapons factories and army bases inside or next to communities, thereby forcing Israeli civilians to become human shields for the army.

And HRW prefers to highlight a supposed violation of international law by the Palestinians -- their choice to act as "human shields" -- and to demand that the practice end immediately, while ignoring the very real and continuing violation of international law committed by Israel in undertaking punitive house demolitions against Palestinian families.

But let us ignore even these important issues and assume that HRW is technically correct that such Palestinian actions do violate international law. Nonetheless, HRW is still failing us and mocking its mandate, because it has lost sight of the three principles that must guide the vision of a human rights organisation: a sense of priorities, proper context and common sense.

Priorities: Every day HRW has to choose which of the many abuses of international law taking place around the world it highlights. It manages to record only a tiny fraction of them. The assumption of many outsiders may be that it focuses on only the most egregious examples. That would be wrong.

The simple truth is that the worse a state's track record on human rights, the easier ride it gets, relatively speaking, from human rights organisations. That is both because, if abuses are repeated often enough, they become so commonplace as to go unremarked, and because, if the abuses are wide-ranging and systematic, only a small number of the offences will be noted.

Israel, unlike the Palestinians, benefits in both these respects. After four decades of reporting on Israel's occupation of the Palestinians, HRW has covered all of Israel's many human rights-abusing practices at least once before. The result is that after a while most violations get ignored. Why issue another report on house demolitions or "targeted assassinations", even though they are occurring all the time? And, how to record the individual violations of tens of thousands of Palestinians' rights every day at checkpoints? One report on the checkpoints once every few years has to suffice instead.

In Israel's case, there is an added reluctance on the part of organisations like HRW to tackle the extent and nature of Israel's trampling of Palestinian rights. Constant press releases denouncing Israel would provoke accusations, as they do already, that Israel is being singled out -- and with it, the implication that anti-Semitism lies behind the special treatment.

So HRW chooses instead to equivocate. It ignores most Israeli violations and highlights every Palestinian infraction, however minor. This way it makes a pact with the devil: it achieves the balance that protects it from criticism but only by sacrificing the principles of equity and justice.

In its press release, for example, HRW treats the recent appeal to Palestinians to exercise their right to protect their neighbours, and to act in soldarity with non-violent resistance to occupation, as no different from the dozens of known violations committed by the Israeli army of abducting Palestinian civilians as human shields to protect its troops.

Women vounteering to surround a mosque become the equivalent of the notorious incident in January 2003 when 21-year-old Samer Sharif was handcuffed to the hood of an army Jeep and driven towards stone-throwing youngsters in Nablus as Israeli soldiers fired their guns from behind his head.

According to HRW's approach to international law, the two incidents are comparable.

Context: The actions of Palestinians occur in a context in which all of their rights are already under the control of their occupier, Israel, and can be violated at its whim. This means that it is problematic, from a human rights perspective, to place the weight of culpability on the Palestinians without laying far greater weight at the same time on the situation to which the Palestinians are reacting.

Here is an example. HRW and other human rights organisations have taken the Palestinians to task for the extra-judicial killings of those suspected of collaborating with the Israeli security forces.

Although it is blindingly obvious that the lynching of an alleged collaborator is a violation of that person's fundamental right to life, HRW's position of simply blaming the Palestinians for this practice raises two critical problems.

First, it fudges the issue of accountability.

In the case of a "targeted assassination", Israel's version of extra-judicial killing, we have an address to hold accountable: the apparatus of a state in the forms of the Israeli army which carried out the murder and the Israeli politicians who approved it. (These officials are also responsible for the bystanders who are invariably killed along with the target.)

But unless it can be shown that the lynchings are planned and coordinated at a high level, a human rights organisation cannot apply the same standards by which it judges a state to a crowd of Palestinians, people gripped by anger and the thirst for revenge. The two are not equivalent and cannot be held to account in the same way. Palestinians carrying out a lynching are commiting a crime punishable under ordinary domestic law; while the Israeli army carrying out a "targeted assassination" is commiting state terrorism, which must be tried in the court of world opinion.

Second, HRW's position ignores the context in which the lynching takes place.

The Palestinian resistance to occupation has failed to realise its goals mainly because of Israel's extensive network of collaborators, individuals who have usually been terrorised by threats to themselves or their family and/or by torture into "co-operating" with Israel's occupation forces.

The great majority of planned attacks are foiled because one member of the team is collaborating with Israel. He or she not only sabotages the attack but often also gives Israel the information it needs to kill the leaders of the resistance (as well as bystanders). Collaborators, though common in the West Bank and Gaza, are much despised -- and for good reason. They make the goal of national liberation impossible.

Palestinians have been struggling to find ways to make collaboration less appealing. When the Israeli army is threatening to jail your son, or refusing a permit for your wife to receive the hospital treatment she needs, you may agree to do terrible things. Armed groups and many ordinary Palestinians countenance the lynchings because they are seen as a counterweight to Israel's own powerful techniques of intimidation -- a deterrence, even if a largely unsuccessful one.

In issuing a report on the extra-judicial killing of Palestinian collaborators, therefore, groups like HRW have a duty to highlight first and with much greater emphasis the responsibility of Israel and its decades-long occupation for the lynchings, as the context in which Palestinians are forced to mimic the barbarity of those oppressing them to stand any chance of defeating them.

The press release denouncing the Palestinians for choosing collectively and peacefully to resist house demolitions, while not concentrating on the violations committed by Israel in destroying the houses and using military forms of intimidation and punishment against civilians, is a travesty for this very same reason.

Common sense: And finally human rights organisations must never abandon common sense, the connecting thread of our humanity, when making judgments about where their priorities lie.

In the past few months Gaza has sunk into a humanitarian disaster engineered by Israel and the international community. What has been HRW's response? It is worth examining its most recent reports, those on the front page of the Mideast section of its website last week, when the latest press release was issued. Four stories relate to Israel and Palestine.

Three criticise Palestinian militants and the wider society in various ways: for encouraging the use of "human shields", for firing home-made rockets into Israel, and for failing to protect women from domestic violence. One report mildly rebukes Israel, urging the government to ensure that the army properly investigates the reasons for the shelling that killed 19 Palestinian inhabitants of Beit Hanoun.

This shameful imbalance, both in the number of reports being issued against each party and in terms of the failure to hold accountable the side committing the far greater abuses of human rights, has become the HRW's standard procedure in Israel-Palestine.

But in its latest release, on human shields, HRW plumbs new depths, stripping Palestinians of the right to organise non-violent forms of resistance and seek new ways of showing solidarity in the face of illegal occupation. In short, HRW treats the people of Gaza as mere rats in a laboratory -- the Israeli army's view of them -- to be experimented on at will.

HRW's priorities in Israel-Palestine prove it has lost its moral bearings.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the author of the forthcoming "Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State" published by Pluto Press, and available in the United States from the University of Michigan Press. His website is