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Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine
UK architects, planners and other construction industry professionals campaigning for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.


Israel's atrocities in Gaza prompt unprecedented political fallout

by Ben White    8 August 2014    Middle East Monitor

Smoke rises after an explosion in the northern Gaza Strip July 27, 2014.

'Now with the evidence of new war crimes there for all to see, Israel's isolation will only increase, and, despite the predictable backlash, Palestine solidarity campaigning will take a significant step forward.'

"Carnage" in Gaza – "the killing of children and the slaughter of civilians". Not the words of a Palestinian spokesperson but rather French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. Australia's FM Julie Bishop condemned what she called "shocking" and "indefensible" incidents, with "hundreds of innocent people" killed.

Just two examples of how Israel's strongest allies have criticised the conduct of 'Operation Protective Edge' in unprecedentedly harsh terms. In the UK specifically, there has been an undeniable sea-change in the way that self-declared 'friends' of Israel have drawn a red line – adding their voices of criticism to more vociferous condemnation heard at numerous, large-scale demonstrations.

More on this in a moment. For now let us recap the devastation visited upon the Gaza Strip where, in the words of Human Rights Watch, Israel has killed "very large numbers of civilians" with "advanced weapons". In the most recent update, Gaza's Ministry of Health reported a death toll of 1,893 Palestinians, including 430 children. In one single F-16 strikeon July 30, 19 children were killed. A further 9,805 Palestinians have been wounded, including almost 3,000 children. At least 122 families have lost three or more family members in the same attack, killing a total of 652 civilians in those strikes alone.

Many of the wounded are suffering from serious burns, or face life-long disabilities (physical as well as mental). In a fenced-in, blockaded territory, Israel's attacks displaced almost 30 percent of the population. Israel has destroyed or severely damaged more than 10,000 housing units - many more have sustained less serious damage.

Shops, mosques, government buildings, all lie in ruins – the power plant is out of action, and134 factories were destroyed. A low-end estimate cost of the damage is $5 billion. The health sector is in a state of emergency, while Amnesty International yesterday released evidence of the Israeli military conducting "deliberate attacks against hospitals and health professionals". Nor were journalists immune: 13 Palestinian media workers were killed during the course of the attack.

The evidence of atrocities is mounting. One of the defining horrors of this attack has beenthe targeting of family homes – close to 1,000 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged by Israeli airstrikes. Reporting on the issue, the Associated Press said that the Israeli military did not respond to repeated requests "to explain in detail why even one of [the homes] was targeted".

Earlier on in the operation, Israeli NGO B'Tselem noted how the Israel military itself had "acknowledged" conducting attacks that were "illegally aimed at homes that were not military targets". A senior officer, commenting on the bombing of a senior al-Qassam Brigades figure's house, said: "You call it a home, we call it a command centre and a military post for all intents and purposes".

As Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard put it, the Israeli military's "combat doctrine...redefines what constitutes a legitimate target for attack" so that it includes "houses belonging to Hamas commanders and operatives" (it should be noted homes have also been hit lacking even this 'link').

Another example of Israel's war crimes – the intense and indiscriminate attack on Rafah on August 1, when the Israeli military killed an estimated 130 Palestinians, mostly civilians, after soldier Hadar Goldin was feared captured. Haaretz referred to "dozens of innocents killed" in a "massive use of force" – another item reported "the demolition of houses with bulldozers and very aggressive artillery, aerial and tank fire". The Givati brigade responsibleis commanded by Ofer Winter, who had told his soldiers prior to the ground invasion they were "engaged in a war to 'wipe out' an 'enemy who defames' God."

Then there is the devastation of Shuja'iyya, when IDF officers boasted of "taking off the gloves" and tanks received orders "to open fire at anything that moved". A brutal attack which, in the words of Israeli analyst Ron Ben-Yishai, was the very "essence of the deterrence" sought by Israel in its battering of Gaza. In Khuza'a, Israeli forces fired on and killed fleeing civilians, with a "furious assault" that left "whole streets flattened" and "its nine pieces". And so it goes on.

A report in Haaretz a week ago said that more than 30,000 artillery shells had landed in Gaza, in addition to the then-4,000 "targets" struck by airstrikes. It is vital to recall, when considering the bigger picture of Israel's military operations, that the army's own legal advice strips civilians of their protected status, in what has been described as "a 'targeted assassination' of the principles of international law".

Meanwhile, Israel is preparing for the anticipated legal ramifications of its war crimes – a reasonable expectation given the calls already made by the likes of Amnesty Internationalfor an arms embargo, as well as the UN Human Rights Commission inquiry.

According to the Israeli media, for domestic consumption officials describe the damage done to Gaza "as the main deterrent" – but "play down this claim in the international arena", as they are "aware the destruction will have serious political ramifications". On July 10, a military source claimed that when "Gaza residents see the great damage to the Strip", it "will speak for itself".

The Israeli military has already established a team "in case the army is accused of war crimes" consisting of senior army officials, as well as representatives of the Foreign and Defense Ministries. Their remit also includes "organizing a diplomatic and public relations offensive".

They will have their work cut out. In recent weeks, Israel's image has taken a battering in Britain. The public has taken a clear stand on what it thinks of the Gaza attack, while politicians and pundits from both the Right and centre-left have condemned the killing of Palestinian civilians. Palestine has shaped the domestic political agenda in a way perhaps never seen before.

'Tory war over Gaza', ran a front page headline in The Times, in the aftermath of Sayeeda Warsi's resignation. A self-defined pro-Israel Conservative MP spoke out against the "swift, and terrible, elimination of so many Palestinian lives, homes, hospitals and schools". Newspapers have focused on the arms trade, as campaigners and senior politicians alike call for an embargo.

From celebrity tweets to Jon Snow's emotional broadcasts – this summer would appear to be a watershed moment in how Israel is perceived, and treated, in the UK. No wonder that the Israeli embassy has almost begged for help in its embattled propaganda drive, while the country's defenders issue desperate-sounding "choose which side you are on"-style pleas.

Take a step back from the summer's bloodshed and remember where things stood in the spring. An intransigent Israeli government was winning few friends abroad, as the US-led peace process died on its feet. Israeli settlements in the West Bank were increasingly the target of mainstream anger and boycotts, as a growing chorus warned that Israeli colonisation policies had made a Palestinian state impossible. BDS campaigns were growing, in trade unions, faith communities, and on campuses.

Israel already stood charged with systematic violations of international law, apartheid, and institutionalised discrimination, even before the barbaric attack on the Gaza Strip. Now with the evidence of new war crimes there for all to see, Israel's isolation will only increase, and, despite the predictable backlash, Palestine solidarity campaigning will take a significant step forward.


Torn between state and people, one Arab Israeli feels strain of Gaza war

by Leora Eren Frucht     9 August 2014         Haaretz   

Raed Abu Raya is shocked by close friends' Facebook posts advocating killing all Gazans.

Abu Raya

Raed Abu Raya, an Israeli Arab from Jaljulya, carefully balances his sentiments between Israel and Gaza, where he has family. Photo by Moti Milrod

One morning during Operation Protective Edge, a worker wanted to leave his Tel Aviv office early to visit his soldier son at his base down south near the Gaza border. “He refused to tell me why he needed to leave his job at 10 in the morning,” recalls the employee’s boss. “He was afraid I would say no if I knew the truth,” says Raed Abu Raya, “because I’m Arab.”

For Abu Raya, a senior manager in the financial sector, that was just one incident among many that intensified his sense of being torn apart while his state was at war with his people.

Once the fighting ends — it resurged after a three-day cease-fire ended Friday — the damage to Abu Raya’s sense of belonging will take a long while to heal.

Aboraya guessed what his employee was up to when he overheard him talking on the phone with his wife. “’You want to visit your son at his base? Go ahead,’ I told him," says Abu Raya. "But I felt the irony of the situation very sharply. On the one hand, I wanted to show consideration toward a worker, but at the same time I was aware that his son may be contributing to the destruction of Gaza, where I have relatives.”

Affluent and educated, Abu Raya is a strong example of those among Israel’s 1.8-million-strong Arab minority who have integrated into society. The 48-year-old father of three holds a prestigious job with one of the country’s largest financial institutions, is a firm believer in coexistence, and is a practicing Muslim with a strong attachment to his faith. He lives in Jaljulya, an Arab village of 9,000 sandwiched between several Jewish communities. He works out regularly at a gym in Kfar Saba.

He and his wife take vacations abroad, often with close Jewish friends. But the latest conflict has torn him — and possibly some of those relationships — apart.

Not long after returning from a trip to Paris with a Jewish friend, he was alarmed to see that the friend had written on his Facebook page that “all Gazans deserve to die.”

Another close friend posted on Facebook that the Israel Defense Forces should flood the tunnels and drown everyone in Gaza. “This is a friend who calls me his brother," Abu Raya says. "What am I supposed to say to him next time we meet?"

Abu Raya has distant relatives in Gaza. “They don’t know where their children are," he says. "They say the house collapsed and they still don’t know who managed to escape before it was bombed.”

He himself is one of 10 children of a Bedouin farmer from the Negev and his Jaljulya-born wife. Neither of his parents knew how to read or write, but they encouraged their children to seek an education and all have at least one undergraduate degree. The parents also encouraged them to always have a job “because you never know when they can take everything away from you,” as was the case with his father’s land in the Negev, which Israel confiscated in 1948.

Abu Raya has lived through many conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians, he says, running through a list, from the second intifada to the current clash in Gaza. But he says none have pulled his identity in so many directions as this latest one.

On one recent day during Operation Protective Edge, he turned on the TV — as he does every day as soon as he comes home from work — and frantically flipped among three stations that in many respects reflect the different facets of his identity. Palestine TV was showing dead and bloodied children being pulled out from the rubble of Gaza; Israel’s Channel 10 was airing a discussion on the role of the Israeli media during wartime, and CNN had its regular programming. “Between them I think I can get a balanced picture of what’s going on,” he said, clutching the remote and appearing dazed.

In his job, he helps Israeli Jews by aiding small businesses in the south, offering them relaxed conditions for loans — something he says he fought for. “I want this country to prosper," Abu Raya says. "It’s my state, too.”

He used to speak freely about his political views — he supports a two-state solution since “both peoples are here to stay” — but these days he keeps his opinions to himself. “There is such a climate of intolerance that if you say anything other than ‘let the IDF win,’ you are asking for trouble and possibly even endangering yourself,” he says.

In fact he constantly checks under his car to make sure no one has left a bomb there. A few months ago dozens of cars on his street were defaced in a price-tag attack, so-called because the extremist Jews who carry them out threaten that the Arabs will pay a price. The police have yet to arrest any suspects in connection with those attacks.

“Now there is even more hatred everywhere,” he notes. “I’m afraid of what this war has unleashed.”

Whenever he goes to the mall in Kfar Saba, he drops off his wife, who wears a hijab, and then drives around the block a few times before parking to ensure that no one associates the car with Muslims. “I don’t want to be marked,” he says.

Through it all, Abu Raya says he still believes passionately in coexistence. He’s just not sure many others do. He hopes that now that local-council heads, school principals and those in leadership positions will initiate desperately needed programs to bring Israeli Arabs and Jews together.

He himself was considering joining his colleagues in a work-sponsored visit to Auschwitz later this year, but now he is not so sure: “I am ready to confront the pain of the other, but I don’t think the other side is prepared to even see my own people’s pain."