Tuesday, 22 July 2014

This is no Time for Neutrality. Israel's Assault on Palestinian Civilians Must Be Stopped

" The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality". A quote from Joe Wilson’s book, The Politics of Truth.

Palestinian children are persecuted and pulverised in Gaza every day. A plight they have endured for over 50 years of Israeli occupation. Of the estimated 600 Palestinians who have been killed in the recent Israeli onslaught, 75% are civilians and a quarter of those are children (3 Israeli civilians have been killed and they are no more or less worthy of our heart felt sympathy). Their cries for help compete for column inches with their counterparts in Sudan, Syria Ukraine and elsewhere.

So much agony, so many disturbing images of severed little limbs and mangled bodies, but the media rations our exposure. Bite size chunks and palatable sound bites. Nothing to stir us into such a state of incandescent rage that we’d get out of our armchairs and, God [insert whoever or whatever it is you believe here] forbid, protest against the Israeli occupation and oppression of beleaguered Palestinians.

In spite of the media’s patchy at best and misleading at worst coverage of the horrors in Gaza, tens of thousands took to the streets in London on Saturday to demonstrate against Israeli occupation of Gaza and what some describe as a genocidal campaign. Similar demonstrations took place around the globe yet blink and you’ll have missed it. The mainstream media (with some exceptions), not for the first time, is out of step with the public mood but far more crucially, it has lost sight of the truth.

Richard Falk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights points out the hypocrisy of the West when it comes to Israel.

“…instead of condemning such recourse to massive violence as ‘aggression’ that violates the UN Charter and fundamental international law principles, the reaction of Western diplomats and mainstream media has perversely sided with Israel. From the UN Secretary-General to the president of the United States, the main insistence has been that Hamas must stop all rocket attacks while Israel is requested ever so politely to show ‘maximum restraint’.

Ethical journalism is about reporting the context as well as the facts and allowing the truth to speak for itself. The rhetoric is heavily loaded against Palestinians. For example, I came across this in a left leaning newspaper today, “…For more than five years the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas nor Israel appeared ready to stop fighting…”

Why is religion only referenced when it’s Islam and why is it used as code for “terrorist”? If religion is deemed relevant, why not cite both? Why do we never hear the phrase, “Jewish fundamentalist” when reporting on a state that has breached numerous international laws and stands accused of “possible” war crimes and crimes against humanity?

Other common discursive distortions, which serve to obfuscate the truth, are to refer to the occupied territories as “disputed territories” and to portray one of the strongest military powers in the world as the victim of an unfortunate situation whereby “both sides” are equally culpable.

The reputable international organisation, Human Rights Watch, has been investigating Israel’s recent attacks on Gaza. The evidence it has gathered is damning. Despite being an independent source of evidence on the ground, the media has all but ignored its findings. The full report can be found on their website but here are some extracts;

“Human Rights Watch investigated four Israeli strikes during the July military offensive in Gaza that resulted in civilian casualties and either did not attack a legitimate military target or attacked despite the likelihood of civilian casualties being disproportionate to the military gain. Such attacks committed deliberately or recklessly constitute war crimes under the laws of war applicable to all parties. In these cases, the Israeli military has presented no information to show that it was attacking lawful military objectives or acted to minimize civilian casualties.

Israel has wrongly claimed as a matter of policy that civilian members of Hamas or other political groups who do not have a military role are “terrorists” and therefore valid military targets, and has previously carried out hundreds of unlawful attacks on this basis. Israel has also targeted family homes of alleged members of armed groups without showing that the structure was being used for military purposes”.

“A fourth Israeli airstrike, on July 9, killed Amal Abed Ghafour, who was 7-months pregnant, and her 1-year-old daughter, and wounded her husband and 3-year-old son. The family lived across the street from an apartment building that was struck with multiple missiles, according to witnesses. Residents of nearby homes said Israeli forces fired a small non-explosive “warning” missile at the apartment building minutes before the main missile strikes. However, the family did not know of the warning or have time to flee. Israeli officials have not said why they targeted the apartment building.

“For warnings to be effective, civilians need adequate time to leave and go to a place of safety before an attack. In several cases Human Rights Watch investigated, Israel gave warnings, but carried out the attack within five minutes or less. Given that Gaza has no bomb shelters, civilians realistically often have no place to flee.

When reporting on issues pertaining to Human Rights abuses, the press would do well to appraise itself of International Human Rights laws. If they don’t know what constitutes a violation of international law how can it be reported? For example, the International Court of Justice said that, as an occupying military power Israel has an obligation under the 4th Geneva convention, 1949, to protect the rights of civilians under military occupation. So, indiscriminate shelling of Palestinians communities, killing civilians, collective punishments, destruction of water supplies and natural resources and building settlements in occupied territories, would constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

I, like Stephen Hawking, Brian Eno, Mike Leigh, Alice Walker and countless others around the world, am boycotting Israeli goods. It’s my way of demonstrating that, whether it's Jews in the Holocaust, black Africans in Sudan or Palestinians in Gaza, when it comes to the slaughter and suffering of innocent civilians, I am not neutral.

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