Thursday, 1 January 2009

Gaza: It's Terrorism, it's Slaughter. Crime can be reported

WRITTEN BY Pino Cabras - Megachip
Translated by Diego Traversa and Revised by Mary Rizzo for

In the days of the atrocious massacre in Gaza, horror inevitably focuses on the images and the voices of the victims. They are tiny fragments that don’t help complete the picture of the tragedy yet. It’s hard to understand and reflect while such a disaster is underway. Yet, we are required to, in order to reconstruct the facts and the context.

After years of occupation, on September 11th 2005 the Israeli army lowered its flag in Gaza, not before having completed the swift evacuation of the Jewish settlements from the Strip, which was proving to be too a high cost to afford. Military convoys left. It was Ariel Sharon’s unilateral disengagement: there was no political recognition that would regard the Palestinians as peers. The Israelis were saying good-bye, nonetheless, they weren’t actually leaving. The sea and the sky remained totally under Israeli control. And what a control was it!

At sea, the meagre Palestinian marine didn’t even have the right to fish along the coast. No working pier, not even for the trade of some fresh foodstuffs.

In the air, there were countless bombing operations during the last three years. Above all, the jet planes with the Star of David would often fly at supersonic speed, especially at night, in the wanton and continuous act of provoking unbearable noise. A non-stop trauma which didn’t spare children.

On the ground, the entire border with Israel was a sealed, impenetrable barrier. The sliver of an opening at the border with Egypt was not enough to prevent the transformation of this territory into anything than a prison. Once the Karni crossing was definitively sealed, from where the Palestinian imports could enter after having landed at the Israeli harbour of Ashod, located a few chilometres northwards, the Palestinians had to rely on the Egyptian harbours of Port Said or Alexandria, 200 chilometres away the former and 400 the latter, with unsustainable costs for a population already at the end of its own resources.

This was the so-called liberated Gaza. The biggest prison in the world, an entire population (1.5 million) completely locked up. And more than any other prison, one full of innocent people.

When the unilateral “withdrawal” took place in 2005, an unbiased look at the circumstances would have let one understand at once that it wasn’t about a gust of hope but rather the base for a situation that would only get worse. It would be sufficient to go and read again the interview to Haaretz delivered on October 6th 2004 by Dov Weisglass, Sharon’s right hand man, when he stated that the so-called Gaza disengagement plan (which also contemplated building the wall in the West Bank) was nothing but a diversion meant to supply Israel with “the amount of formaldehyde necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians”.

One month later, the father of the homeland and President of the Palestinian National Authority Yasser Arafat died. All the defects of the top brass of Al Fatah’s secular leadership, until then kept together by Arafat’s charisma, were laid bare. These leaders had been embezzling shamelessly and building Palladian-style villas in the midst of the Occupied Territories’ misery while lacking concrete results to offer as achievements of their negotiation, continuously overwhelmed by the Israeli government’s iron fist and melancholically heading for the label of collaborationist with the occupier.

On the other hand, the prestige of the “Islamic Resistance Movement” was growing amongst the population. Its Arabic acronym, “Hamas”, means “zeal, enthusiasm”. Hamas’ leaders used to live with frugality while putting together a network of material solidarity in the middle of all that havoc, a sort of residual yet infinitely more reliable welfare than the disaster the PNA was sinking into.

It’s under these circumstances that Hamas, in January 2006, won the Palestinian elections by 76 seats out of 132, against only 43 seats gained by Al Fatah. A genuine and electorally clean victory, but also a variable regarded as being unacceptable by the calculations of the affected powers. An example of double-standard democracy.

Again Dov Weisglass, in his role of coordinator of a governmental team which included also the army high-ranks and which was entrusted with implementing anti-Hamas operations, commented in this way immediately after the elections about starting an economic clampdown on the PNA: “it’s like putting them on diet: The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won't die.” The audience, among which there was Tzipi Livni, burst out laughing (see Gideon Levy’s “As the Hamas team laughs”, Haaretz February 19th 2006).

After all, Weissglass is witty. In the famous 2004 interview with Haaretz he made clear very well how much formaldehyde was needed to “embalm” the chances of a peace agreement: “we educated the world to understand that there is no one to talk to. And we received a no-one-to-talk-to certificate...The certificate will be revoked only when Palestine becomes like Finland.” Sort of putting off until doomsday, should someone still dare cherish the two-State solution.

The Palestinians from the big prison didn’t turn into Finns. They underwent their “diet” thoroughly, day by day. In spite of a faltering truce, the clampdown got more intense, even less trucks loaded with aid were let in and nothing got out of the camp of concentrated despair.

Gaza has been the most wretched case. But the situation in the West Bank wasn’t that much better. The Israeli government demanded that tens of charity organizations be closed. The cooked-up excuse was that of cutting on any influx of money that might help Hamas. What actually happened instead was the “scorched earth” policy around all the intermediate bodies, all the social organizations within the Palestinian population in order to have the humanitarian emergency handled only by someone else. Possibly by the UN, provided that it wouldn’t be a damned nuisance, just as it was with Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur over the Occupied Territories, a Jew whose entering the Holy Land is by now prohibited on the grounds of his strong criticism of the Israeli occupation.

As usual, when it comes to reporting wars, the leading western media heavily manipulate information. They are colluded with those leaderships who—after 9/11—did all they could in order to trample on international law not founded only on the right of power, to confuse the conceptual cornerstones for the definition of what is “aggression”, “tyranny” or “resistance”, whilst the imperialistic powerful interests make the world economy—by now on the verge of the financial collapse—dependent upon their military priorities. The US is raising no objections against the new wicked action by the Israeli government. But even the European voices are very faint.

When he used to skim through the bulletins noting the victims in the Persian Gulf war of 1991, Ernesto Balducci realized that there were hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis over a few dead Americans: no longer a war codified by rationality and law but sheer slaughter. I think that still today “slaughter” is the best word possible to describe the scenes from Gaza. An unspeakable slaughter. Amongst those accountable, there is the Israeli Defence Minister, former Premier Ehud Barak. He too has excused all this planned savagery in name of the war on terrorism.

In spite of being one of the most exploited terms in politics in recent years, the definition of “terrorism” hasn’t got a univocal interpretation at all. In many occasions, meetings between statesmen have collided with nearly insuperable difficulties when it came to finding a minimal shared definition. If you think rationally about the question, you can detect many nuances depending on the polymorphous definitions of a vague phenomenon. You can hardly discover well-defined cases of terrorism, while you may more often come across words that would certainly fit the description of certain acts of war and espionage that, instead, are covered with some gloss of legality. Forget for a moment the targets usually pointed out by politicians and media, forget the iconography of a suicide-bombing group organizing itself. It’s too simple.

Try instead thinking of some actions carried out through the covering up by armies, States, NGOs, intelligence services, security corporations tied with the espionage world. Much as the covering up by the governments may to some extent be variable, you’ll see that those definitions will come right back like a boomerang.

The first big wave of air attacks in Iraq in 2003 was called “Shock and Awe”. It’s not easy to translate this expression with only two words due to the different meanings it has. The Italian media usually rendered it with “strike and terrorize”, “strike and dismay”, in order to keep the figurative strength of the expression and anyway to get near to the meaning. Yet it’s interesting to lose some of its effect in order to grasp the meaning of another possible translation: “shock and intimidate”. In this way, you can grasp not so much the blind fury of the rough fanatic as the metallic resoluteness of the cold fanatic instilling the “strategy of tension” through a blitzkrieg. How many times do the expressions “State terrorism” and “Terrorist State” occur in the Grozny annihilated by the Russian tanks, in the Lebanon devastated by the Israeli Air Force, in the fights for power in Pakistan, in the memory of the Italian “Years of Lead”? (translator’s note: Years of Lead refers to the period in the 70s when there were frequent terrorist attacks in Italy by forces from the extreme right and extreme left). At any rate, the would-be neo-con Italian paper “Il Foglio” has even this time praised, on the front page, the Israeli-claimed “Shock and Awe” strategy.

So, what is terrorism?

Terrorism isn’t only a matter of terrorists. In a sense, even the Geneva Conventions say it. Albeit while not defining the notion of “terrorism”, the Geneva Conventions of 1949 refer to “measures of terrorism” and “acts of terrorism”. Article 33 of the IV Geneva Convention forbids clearly that the civil population be targeted with “collective punishment, as well as any intimidatory or terroristic measure”. The facts in Gaza represent a glaring case of collective punishment inflicted upon the population. And the ultimatum given to warn them that “we are going to bomb you,” far from meaning “we want to save you, seek refuge,” are indeed intimidating acts and induction of terror. How can one be surprised at the unbiased words pronounced by Richard Falk in 2007, when the siege of Gaza hadn’t still reached the more recent peaks of cruelty? Falk stated: “Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not. The recent developments in Gaza are especially disturbing because they express so vividly a deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty. The suggestion that this pattern of conduct is a holocaust-in-the-making represents a rather desperate appeal to the governments of the world and to international public opinion to act urgently to prevent these current genocidal tendencies from culminating in a collective tragedy”.

Article 4 of the Second Protocol Annex of the Geneva Conventions establishes that against “all persons who do not take a direct part or who have ceased to take part in hostilities […]shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever […]acts of terrorism”. Once again, without going as far as the “theological” definitions of terrorism, just to be clear about it, those of the War on Terrorism, international law has tried to codify well-defined cases in point. In both the provisions of the Geneva Conventions it s stressed that neither single persons nor civil populations as such may be the target of collective punishment that, amongst other things, would induce in them a condition of terror.

This concept is strengthened by the First Protocol Annex where, Article 51, it is established that “The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack” and “acts or threats of violence, the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population, are prohibited”.

Anyone well-versed in humanitarian law who would search for the loophole might try to create confusion, relying on the distinctions between internal policy and foreign policy concerning military operations. Yet the provision occurs again nearly literally in the Second Protocol Annex: qualifying the conflict as an international or internal matter is of little importance.

The slaughter in Gaza is a measure of terrorism. An act of terrorism. Stating that they meant to hit Hamas soldiers is a justification as thin as tissue paper. The poor policemen massacred while swearing in weren’t people that “take a direct part in hostilities”. They were part of a fragile infrastructure for home security. As fragile as the mirage of the low wage—a rare thing in a place where everyone is by now unemployed—that maybe kept them away from the spectre of undernourishment that indeed fell on their fellow countrymen. In any respect, also the dead policemen were civil victims, just as the children dead under the schools’ debris were.

That the target was to destroy any civil dimension of the territory is blatantly proved by the bombing of the university. This can be added to the score of devastations inflicted in the past years on the Palestinian infrastructures. All that remains are bakeries, with no electricity or bread.

In the indecent reports by many papers and TV news programs, the idea is conveyed that the Israeli Air Force’s raids will help destroy the perception by the civil population about Hamas’ usefulness. In short, to lead the people to despair so as to overthrow Hamas. Regarding such a purpose, suffice it to take a glance at the official definition of “terrorism” adopted by the US Department of Defence: “Terrorism is the calculated use of unlawful violence to inculcate fear, intended to coerce or intimidate governments or societies in pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.”

You don’t like it? Do you want FBI’s one? Here is it: “The unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives”.

Are those definitions too American? Let’s get back to Europe then. The Framework Decision on Combating Terrorism, adopted by the European Council on June 13th 2002, defined it as “any terroristic act intentionally committed by one or more individuals against one or more States that may seriously damage a State or an international organisation. It must be intenionally committed with the aim of seriously intimidating a population; or unduly compelling a Government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act; or seriously destabilising or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organisation [(a) attacks upon a person’s life which may cause death;(b) attacks upon the physical integrity of a person; (c) kidnapping or hostage taking; (d) causing extensive destruction to a Government or public facility, a transport system, an infrastructure facility, including an information system, a fixed platform located on the continental shelf, a public place or private property likely to endanger human life or result in major economic loss; (e) seizure of aircraft, ships or other means of public or goods transport; (f) manufacture, possession, acquisition, transport, supply or use of weapons, explosives or of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, as well as research into, and development of, biological and chemical weapons; (g) release of dangerous substances, or causing fires, floods or explosions the effect of which is to endanger human life; (h) interfering with or disrupting the supply of water, power or any other fundamental natural resource the effect of which is to endanger human life; (i) threatening to commit any of the acts listed in (a) to (h)].

Well, let’s give shape to the juridical terms of the subjects, let’s go to the concrete acts. The examples fit the definitions. We are concerned with cases that define such forms of violent and illegal acts that to put in danger the civil population and therefore induce a condition of “terror” that is spread in order to achieve aims of a political nature. We can certainly stick such a definition also to those launching Kassam rockets, which the brazen correspondent from TG1 news program (translator’s note: Italian correspondent Claudio Pagliara, the definition of pro-Israel media bias) defines as “missiles” but which actually are little more than catapults, which bring about certainly tragic, yet strategically unimportant effects. Yet, why not pin this definition on those who have so far used all their tremendous weaponry—other than the atomic bomb—in a disproportionate way?

Does such harsh criticism to the Israeli leadership and its allies mean wanting or aspiring to destroy Israel? No, it’s only about opposing the “normal” and unscrupulous power policy of a contemporary bellicose state. One which—as well as other ones—must not be regarded either holy or wicked but only deemed in the best rational way possible for what it does and plans, for the power it has and for the clash its power engenders. Relativistic perspective needed, also in this case.

Israel’s nation-building process over history hasn’t spared itself unspeakable cruelties and injustices, yet the same applies also to the greater nation-States we all know. France experiencied civil and religious wars and developing its economy at expense of its colonies, the Spain of the “limpieza de la sangre” and of the Conquest, the US of the New Frontier crushing the native people, Russia building an Empire through impressive democides, Germany’s aspiration to rule over the whole world and its huge massacres and genocides, China trampling on minorities’ rights, our Italy itself achieving national unity through bloodshed and where Jesus has more or less stopped at Eboli. (translator’s note: Cristo si รจ fermato ad Eboli is a book by Carlo Levi who recounts his internal exile in southern Italy, with the rural people of the time backwards and oppressed). Behind many national epic deeds there is always a ghastly bloodshed that is supposed to prompt not so much to demonize as to simply recognize crime whenever it shows such devastating capacities. In the case in point, besides peoples’ right to live, besides the Palestinian people’s rights, besides the international law, it’s global peace at stake due to the complex relations of those who contend the Middle East. On the top of which comes the very dangerous, traditional and unilateral views by the Israeli government, once again “pares non recognoscens”, now in a more shaken powder keg.

And, looking at the media’s attitude, what is at stake is the chance to still tell the truth about the barbarities.

To denounce Gaza’s slaughter with as much ability to execrate as was done with Mumbai’s slaughter. Is it allowed?

Opposing, right now, the aggression, not by invisible and belated self-criticism, as was the case with the Georgian aggression against South Ossetia. Is it allowed?

Not letting off awful war crimes, as has been done with Bush who candidly admitted that Iraq’s havoc resulted from forged pretexts. Is it allowed? Can we do it now?

Saying that today Kassam rockets are only a pretext, since even “Haaretz” reports that the attack was planned several months ago. Is it allowed? Unless one is busy doing disinformation, it is.

Translated by Diego Traversa and revised by Mary Rizzo for Tlaxcala.

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