Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Frank Barat, Russell Tribunal on Palestine

Talk Nation Radio Special for April 7, 2010
Frank Barat, Russell Tribunal on Palestine, Accountability Special: Israel, the EU, the USA, War Crimes Violations in Palestine

TRT: 29:29
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This is the first of our series on accountability, global efforts to prevent war crimes and repressive policies in a decade of war and occupation in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. Stephane Hessel welcomed Russell Tribunal on Palestine members to session. Stephane Hessell fought with the French Army and the Resistance during World War II. He was imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald, and after the war he served as a French and UN diplomat. In 2006 he was named a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor: "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine seeks to Reaffirm the Primacy of International Law as the basis for settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which has been ongoing for many years. The occupation of their land is the main obstacle to to the recognition of the legal rights of the Palestinian people and consequently to a just and lasting peace in the Middle East."

Ken Coates was an organizer and co chair of the first Russell Tribunal, on Vietnam. He is a British politician, anti nuclear activist and writer as well as the chair of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation. Here he described the impact of that first tribunal. According to Coates, Bertrand Russell had pointed out that while they lacked force majeure, legal standing to enforce their findings on war crimes in Vietnam, they nevertheless had an advantage. They were completely free to document violations of international law and convey them to the people of the world, educating, and stimulating work toward accountability. In the same way, The Russell Tribunal on Palestine has released its findings to the world, they are open source and available online in video and text here in French andhere in English.

This Week's Clips: Justice Richard Goldstone, Yale University, New Haven, CT, February 2, 2010, Ken Coates, Russell Tribunal,Stephane Hessell, Russell Tribunal, Prof. Mazin B. Qumsiyeh, Palestinian and international protesters stand on one side of razor wire, Israeli soldiers/police on the other. The protesters are peaceful, yet as the protest winds down and people begin moving off they shoot concussion grenades which make an enormous sound. Professor's car windshield smashed.

The March 2010 Russell Tribunal on Palestine is also intended to reinforce other efforts, both official and non official, toward holding Israel (and its partners) to the same standards of International law that other countries must adhere to. Israel has demanded that the laws be changed to accommodate them, according to the UN's investigation team leader on Gaza, Judge Richard Goldstone. At a speech at Yale University, February 2, 2010, he said Israel is trying to have laws on proportionality changed, these have to do with the rationale for attacks that kill civilians. Justice Richard Goldstone is former Chief Prosecutor of the UN International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and later inquiry into Kosovo.

The Israeli rights group B'Tselem documented 3 Israeli civilians killed by Qassem rockets during the Gaza war, six members of the security forces, and four soldiers who were killed by Israeli friendly fire. They found 1,387 Palestinian deaths, the majority of them, 773, non combatants, but 248 were police men who were also not engaging in hostilities. They said 36 were unknown. The Palestinian Human Rights organization said 1,434 Palestinians died, 1199 of them civilians, with 235 of them combatants. Between 5,000 and 5500 Palestinians were wounded. Their report in PDF format here

According to Frank Barat, coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, the tribunal's work moves on from Barcelona to London where they are taking up the question of corporate accountability, corporations in the USA and EU that supply weapons to Israel. We will provide an update on that portion of the tribunal's efforts in upcoming programs. We will provide their written findings on our web site shortly.

Background/Update Accountability
The Israel--Palestinian Conflict:

Various rights groups report over 1,400 Palestinians were killed in Operation Cast Lead, the majority of them civilians, 5300 were wounded. The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem reported 3 Israeli civilians killed by Qassem rockets during the Gaza war. Six members of the security forces, and four soldiers who were killed by Israeli friendly fire.

For decades, MidEast peace talks have taken a back seat as rhetoric about 'security' has dominated world reporting on Israel and Palestine. As a result of the emphasis on security, Israel has not been held accountable for illegal settlement construction in the West Bank and lately East Jerusalem.

After the Gaza war, US peace activists increased efforts to get Washington and the new Obama administration to make US aid, especially military aid to Israel, contingent on ending the blockade of Gaza.

March 2010 presented an ideal opportunity. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had embarrassed the visiting Vice President, Joe Biden, a staunch supporter of Israel, by announcing 1,600 new settlements would be constructed in Arab, East Jerusalem. The old city, Jerusalem, was to be shared in a corpus separatum by Jews and Palestinians under the original partition orders 181 that created the State of Israel.

President Obama did say the US is officially opposed to the settlements, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked on daylight between the US and Israel on them, but there was not much agreement in general behind the scenes according to journalist Laura Rozen, writing for Politico. She said a source told her there really was no crisis and media reports on that had been wrong. She also learned, Dan Sharpiro, the National Security Council's Middle East, Senior Director, said cutting US aid was not even on the table.

Haaretz Exclusive: 'Despite row, U.S. and Israel sign massive arms deal', By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent, March 25, 2010. 'As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington this week absorbing the full wrath of the Obama administration, the Pentagon and Israel's defense establishment were in the process of sealing a large arms deal'.

'According to the deal, Israel will purchase three new Hercules C-130J airplanes. The deal for the three planes designed by Lockheed Martin, is worth roughly a quarter billion dollars. Each aircraft costs $70 million'.

(Smith cont) When a 'sale' to Israel is really a gift from American Taxpayers to Israel:

Even as media reports suggested tensions between the US and Israel, the Pentagon and Israel's defense establishment were finalizing major weapons deals. Contracts may have been signed when Netanyahu was in Washington in March, ostensibly to present his argument for continuing with 1,600 illegal settlements in occupied Jerusalem.

The conversation likely turned to the delivery to Israel of three new Hercules C-130J aircraft. The price tag for each plane is $70 million, but the money won't necessarily help the US economy. The planes are to be paid for with U.S. Foreign Assistance Funds. London's Rolls Royce builds the C-130s, with some manufacturing done in Indiana.

Also pending is a 2009 request from Israel for 25 F-35 warplanes, at $80 million a piece. They could be delivered by 2015 if not sooner, and are advanced F-25 fighter jets. Lockheed Martin makes them under joint contract with UTC, United Technologies, of Connecticut.

The contracts have energized Connecticut's defense industry, where UTC has been embroiled in labor union and worker disputes over lay offs and plant closings. UTC has been criticized for moving more and more of its production abroad.

In an April meeting with peace activists worried about the Israeli occupation of Palestine and new settlements, Congressman Joe Courtney, a 2nd District Democrat, said he realized that the trips former 2nd District Congressman (D-2nd dist) Sam Gejdenson made to Israel, had split the Democratic vote, contributing to a 2006 loss to Republican Rob Simmons. (See article in The Jewish Ledger for interesting background.)

Rep. Courtney defended his 2010 trip saying it would be funded by the US State Department, not taxpayers. He explained that UTC, has offices in Israel in addition to China. The trip will also involve efforts to help the Connecticut Casino industry set up tourism to Connecticut casinos, he said.

One by one peace activists urged him not to go and pointed out that the trip sends the wrong signal to Israel at a time when there has been no accountability for the Gaza War, or illegal settlement construction. Courtney disappointed activists in the state when he voted in support of H. Res. 867, 'Calling on the President and the Secretary of State to oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration of the "Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict" in multilateral fora'. (See Justice Goldstone's response to the resolution here and Congressman Baird speaks out in defense of resolution here. Baird on HR 867: ‘This is about whether it is right to restrict the movements and hopes of more than 1 million people every single day’ By Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss, November 3, 2000)

(Full Disclosure, I was at the meeting in Storrs, CT with Rep. Joe Courtney, and offered my opinion against his trip to Israel. My views are based on reporting about the MidEast that I've done in Connecticut since 1991. The Congressman graciously agreed to accept two texts I offered to give him, the first is by Palestinian legislator Dr. Hannan Ashrawi, This Side of Peace: A Personal Account (Paperback) and the second is by Prof. Mazin B. Qumsiyeh, Sharing the Land of Caanan, 2004, Pluto Press. Those books will hopefully be received by Congressman Courtney in the next week.

Finally, having watched the violence conducted against Israel over the years since my father worked on this issue, when I was in High School during the 1970s, I can't help but share a sense of despair about the fact that members of U.S. Congress would take a vote on a UN investigation into possible war crimes of Israeli and Hamas leaders in Gaza. The fact that members of Congress took it upon themselves to vote on a good faith United Nations investigation conducted under the leadership of the distinguished, Justice Richard Goldstone, reflects a lack of understanding about the importance of international legal constraints designed to protect civilians in war zones.

The Obama administration's failure overall to pressure Israel to come to the table for talks is of even more concern. The President, Vice President, and Secretary of State, said the US is against Israeli plans for 1,600 more settlements in East Jerusalem. America's failure to push Israel on the settlements, thereby encouraging peace talks, is a grim reminder of the reasons this crisis has gone on so long.

Hanan Ashrawi, page 118, This Side of Peace," after Israeli government officials say she and her fellow Palestinian representative, Faisal, are not to be part of official negotiations because, "the Israeli delegation must not be subjected to Palestinians carrying Jerusalem identity cards."

James Baker: "We will continue to meet with you. Everybody will know who is leading and directing the negotiations, but the Israelis cannot be forced to meet with people they find unacceptable."

Hanan Ashrwwi: "We're kosher enough for you but not for the Israelis? We have to take all the risks and undertake all the responsibility, and then self-negate?"

James Baker: "You will officially be invited to the White House to meet with President Bush".

Hanan Ashrawi: "We don't want consolation prizes, and we're not interested in ego gratification. The real issue is the status of Jerusalem. According to international law and your own policies Jerusalem is occupied territory. What you're asking us to do is illegal."

James Baker: "It's only temporary. Right now, you may have a Palestinian residing in Jordan from a prominent Jerusalem family on the Jordanian part of the joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation in order to finesse the issue of Jerusalem. The Letter of assurance will state that clearly and we will reiterate our policy on Jerusalem."

Hanan Ashrawi: "The convolution is quite tortuous and unsatisfactory. The Baker suit is a worse fit than we thought. But in effect, you're willing to distort the law and your policy to appease Shamir. Even West Jerusalem by law is not Israeli; according to U.N. Resolution 181 of 1947, all of Jerusalem is a corpus separatum."
Baker hit the ceiling.

James Baker: "You're pulling out a forty-five-year-old resolution now and telling me it's valid?"

Hanan Ashrawi: "Of course. That resolution created the state of Israel. All countries, including the United States, abide by its provision on Jerusalem. Why else do you think no single state has moved its embassy even to West Jerusalem, but kept them in Tel Aviv?" --Baker turned to Dennis Ross for verification. "Is that true?" --Dennis hemmed and hawed but had to admit the truth.

Hanan Ashrawi: "We also think that what you're asking us to do is illegal. According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, a people under occupation cannot be made to sign an agreement with their occupier that would prejudice their rights and land. The PLO is the only legal body empowered to negotiate, and to sign, and Israel--as belligerent occupant--is obliged to talk to them and not to us."
Baker desperately tried to control his temper, but we could almost see wisps of smoke begin to rise. "After seven months you've decided that the whole thing is illegal! The PLO is out for now. We have suspended our dialogue with them and Israel won't talk to them. You're all we have and you may not even mention the PLO in any way, shape, or form. Are you in or out?"

Hanan Ashrawi: "We can't tell you now. We have to get the decision from the PLO. What about the flag? If there are any flags, we should have ours as well." I could almost sympathize with Baker's frustration and exasperation.

James Baker: "No, no, no. No PLO, no flags whatsoever!"

Hanan Ashrawi: "Do we get to chose the Israeli delegation, since they're choosing ours by categories of acceptable and unacceptable Palestinians? To us a settler is an unacceptable Israeli who's living on land stolen from us. Any Israeli who has been involved in the torture or killing of any Palestinian is also unacceptable."

James Baker: "You cannot do that. There are no preconditions. Shamir has told us that his delegation will walk out if there are any PLO members or Jerusalemites on your side. You may walk out if there are Israelis you don't want to sit with, but you'll have to bear the consequences. We can't afford to have them walk out, and you can't afford to walk out."

And so the "peace talks" have gone interminably over years of frustration, death, and occupation. Israel is clearly in the top position, and throughout her book Ashrawi shows how they manipulated events surrounding the talks so that there could be no advantage for Palestinians or a fair agreement. Let me suggest that any member of Congress who voted against allowing the UN to investigate both sides in the Gaza War for war crimes, read books like that of Hanan Ashrawi and also Mazin B. Qumsiyeh. You can read his book in full here, and again I'd challenge members of Congress to read it in full. When Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before AIPAC, in March, he claimed a ring found by the Western Wall and loaned to him by an Israeli ministry was evidence that Jews had been building Jerusalem for 3,000 years. He said the ring had the name "Netanyahu" on it, and that it also had the name of other Israeli leaders. What was he driving at? He's mentioned this ring, and other antiquities before, as have other Israelis arguing in favor of expanding Israel, expelling Palestinians from Jerusalem, and taking firm control of holy sites the UN General Assembly designated to be shared by people of all faiths. Israelis are digging under the Al Aqsa Mosque right now, hoping to find some piece of "evidence" to be used in the argument that the mosque site should be controlled permanently and legally by Israel.

Their arguments and plans depend heavily on ignoring centuries of scholarly research about the Holy Land, and especially Jerusalem. Hopefully, the White House and members of Congress will take Netanyahu's statement about his "ring" as their cue to research the history of all of the various peoples that have inhabited this hauntingly beautiful yet troubled land. It is well worth learning about and could help prevent further war.

Mazin B. Qumsiyeh: (Chapter 2, Sharing the Land of Canaan)

Chapter 2. People and the Land
Sharing the Land of Canaan

"The land of Canaan was never "a land without a people for a people without a land" as was articulated by some early Zionists. To understand the conflict and thus begin to articulate a solution we must begin by understanding these people and their origins. The understanding of people also helps us understand their inter-connectedness, that is intentionally or unintentionally hidden which keeps us segregated and thinking tribally. The evolution of these civilizations and their relationships to each other and to outside forces reveal that many perceptions and views of this history currently expressed for political purposes simply have no basis in fact. Understanding the history of the people and the land of Canaan is key to shaping a future of peace for all its current and displaced inhabitants. For example, a simple examination of history shows that Canaanitic groups developed the first alphabet and evolved related language from the original Western Semitic language of Old Aramaic and Syriac to the new and thriving languages of Arabic and Hebrew. This organic connection is easily forgotten and many times dismissed by those who have a stake in maintaining that there is a clash of Arabic and Hebrew cultures and civilizations".

Palestinian History:

"Palestinians are the endogenous people of the Southern Land of Canaan and the Western Part of the Fertile Crescent, the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan. Key milestones in human civilization occurred in this Land of Canaan: animal and plant domestication, development of the alphabet, and development of laws and religions".

Key historical periods:

5000-1500 BC: "Canaanites develop agricultural communities and city-states from cave dwellers hunters and gatherers. Phoenician Canaanites develop commerce and shipping around the Mediterranean.

1500 BC-500 BC: Palestine is an amalgam of small kingdoms and tribal ruling groups representing multi-religious communities of Canaanites (Jebusites, Amurites, Nebateans, Hebrews, Phoenicians, Philistines). Predominant languages are Aramaic (most dominant, Arabic and Hebrew
scripts evolving from Aramaic in Palestine) and Phoenician.

500 BC-765 AD: Palestine remains an amalgam of small tribes and religions but now ruled by empires (Assyrian, Persian, Egyptian, Byzantine, Roman). Christianity develops under the Roman Empire in Palestine and becomes the predominant religion among the natives by 300 AD (some Jews and others

765 AD-1919 AD: Natives largely convert to Islam but large segments of the population (some 15-20%) remain Christians and native Jews represent 2-3%. All speak and adopt the dominant Arabic language (itself evolved from Aramaic).

1516: Palestine becomes a province of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

1845: British Empire and some sympathetic Jews embark on a program for Ashkenazi (European) Jewish colonization in Palestine, with the aim of establishing a Jewish state/homeland (political ideology called Zionism). First Zionist settlement established 1880. First Zionist Congress in Switzerland held 1897.

British and French secretly agree to divide the Arab world while publicly claiming support for independence and self-determination.

1917: French and British Empires issue proclamations in support of Zionism (Jules/Balfour Declarations).

After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in WWI, Britain occupies Palestine and lobbies for a "Mandate" from the League of Nations to rule Palestine and implement Zionist program (contrary to the League's charter which supported self-determination). 1920s and early 1930s: Palestine under rule of Zionist British commissioner Herbert Samuel arms underground Zionist forces buttressed by British troops. Non-violent Palestinian resistance IS suppressed by lethal force. "Inter-religious" violence is also initiated, claiming the lives of innocents of all religions.

1936-1939: Palestinian uprising against British rule and Zionist Colonization is crushed violently. Most leaders of the liberation movement are killed or deposed.

1947: In 1919 population is 94% Muslim and Christian, 6% Jewish. By 1947 it is 68% Muslim and Christian and 32% Jewish. Native Jews are opposed to Zionism. UN Partition Resolution 181 pushed for by the US is adopted recommending partition. Natives of all religions reject UNGA 181 because it
violates UN Charter's fundamental premise of self-determination of peoples and because of the inherent unfairness of giving sovereignty and rule to Zionists over 55% of the land when Jews represent only 32% of the population and own less than 7% of the land (most were new immigrants).

1947-1949: UNGA 181 is a recommendation that was never implemented. Zionist forces, well equipped by the British begin a process of removing non-Jews in November 1947. Half the Palestinian refugees were ethnically cleansed before May 1948 when Britain withdrew its forces and Israel declared its independence. Between Winter 1947 and Summer 1949, over 530 Palestinian towns and villages are completely destroyed and their residents fled and/or expelled (70% of the native Palestinian Christian and Muslims become refugees). To Palestinians, this is Al-Nakba-" the catastrophe" of loss of their homes and lands. Aida Refugee Camp near Bethlehem is one of dozens of refugee camps in the Middle East where these villagers end up.

1948: December 11, UN passes Resolution 194 reaffirming international law -- including Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- that Palestinian refugees must be allowed to return to their homes and lands and be compensated for losses.

1949: May 11, Israel admitted to UN?its second application--after agreeing to relevant UN resolutions (including 181 and 194).

1967: "Six Day War": Israeli forces (IDF) attack and occupy parts of Palestine they did not occupy before (West Bank including East Jerusalem and Bethlehem and Gaza, 22% of Palestine). They also occupy the Syrian Golan Heights and Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. The international community unanimously regards these occupations AS illegal and demands an Israeli withdrawal (e.g. UN Security Council resolution 242). Contrary to International Law (Geneva Conventions), Israel instead embarks on a new phase of colonial
settlement activity including near Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem.

1987-1993: Large scale non-violent uprising--intifada--suppressed brutally by the Israeli occupation army.

1991-2000: Oslo Process initiated, facilitates further violation of Geneva Conventions and institutionalization of Israeli control over Palestinians ("bantustanization" of Palestinian population centers via closures, checkpoints, Jewish-only bypass roads, de-development of Palestinian economy)

"Al-Aqsa" intifada begins; Israeli army respond brutally. Thus far, nearly 4000 Palestinians (800 Children) and nearly 1000 Israelis (nearly 100 Children) have been killed. Every human rights organization reporting on this has condemned Israeli army and settlers for wide scale targeting of Palestinian civilians and other human rights abuses (also condemned suicide bombings by some Palestinian groups).

2004: The International Court of Justice rules that Israeli settlements/colonies in the occupied areas (including Jerusalem) are illegal and that the Wall Israel is building on Palestinian land is also illegal. This decision is supported by over 160 countries.

Today: 9 million Palestinians worldwide, nearly 2/3rd of whom are refugees and displaced persons. Meanwhile the US government sends $3-5 billion of our taxes every year to Israel. The US also vetoed 35 UN Security Council resolutions that attempted to bring peace based on International Law and Human Rights. The "Road Map" advocated by the US is 2218 words but lacks these four words: International Law, Human Rights". (Quotation from Chapter 2 of, "Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle," by Mazin B. Qumsiyeh (Pluto: 2004)


Federal Contracts/Spending to Connecticut under Sam Gejdenson, Rob Simmons, Joe Courtney, here.

The UN Mine Action Team recovered 340 unexploded Israeli bombs and shells, including 84 white phosphorous shells, in Gaza. Much of the weaponry including the white phosphorus was provided by the USA. The unexploded bombs have killed ten Gazans in the year since the war.

Israeli has been termed, the "new Silicon Valley" due to the scale of new technical companies now doing business in places like Tel Aviv. Israeli companies in Israel such as RADA Electronic Industries Ltd., build navigational parts for aerial drones and other weapons.

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