Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Gaza's day of carnage - 40 dead as Israelis bomb two UN schools.

Israel yesterday bombed two schools, which they knew the UN were using as refugee centres, killing more than forty people, including an entire family of seven young children.

The UN protested at a "complete absence of accountability" for the escalating number of civilian deaths in Gaza, saying "the rule of the gun" had taken over. Doctors in Gaza said more than 40 people died, including children, in what appears to be the biggest single loss of life of the campaign when Israeli bombs hit al-Fakhora school, in Jabaliya refugee camp, while it was packed with hundreds of people who had fled the fighting.

Most of those killed were in the school playground and in the street, and the dead and injured lay in pools of blood.

The UN was particularly incensed over targeting of the schools, because Israeli forces knew they were packed with families as they had ordered them to get out of their homes with leaflet drops and loudspeakers. It said it had identified the schools as refugee centres to the Israeli military and provided GPS coordinates.

Israel accused Hamas of using civilians as cover, and said the Islamist group could stop the assault on Gaza by ending its rocket attacks on Israel.

I watched Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, on Newsnight last night offer no apology for Israel's latest action, nor did he deny that they knew they were attacking schools, but rather he sought to put the blame on Hamas fighters who he said were firing from within the school compound. A UN spokesman denied that this was the case, although he did admit that there had been clashes between the IDF and Hamas in the area.

There have now been more than 640 Palestinians killed since this operation began. The head of the UN Palestinian refugee agency, John Ging, lambasted Israel's behaviour after he visited a hospital.
Earlier in the day, Ging visited Gaza's hospital and was shocked at the scale of civilian casualties. "What you have in this hospital is the consequences of political failure and the complete absence of any accountability for actions that are being taken. It's the rule of the gun now, and it has to stop," he said.
Even the Americans appear shocked:
The White House offered its first hint of concern at Israel's actions by calling on it to avoid civilian deaths. The president-elect, Barack Obama, broke his silence by saying he was "deeply concerned" about civilian casualties on both sides. He said he would have "plenty to say" about the crisis after his swearing in.
It reminds me of the Israeli shelling of the UN compound in Qana, Lebanon, in 1996, when more than 100 people lost their lives. The difference is that on that occasion Israel expressed regret, which was not on display last night during Regev's interview with Paxman.

Israel are displaying a shocking indifference to the amount of civilian casualties their actions are producing, continuing with their mantra that they go to "extraordinary lengths" to target only terrorists; a claim which was undermined yesterday when they killed four of their own troops with tank fire.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for an immediate end to fighting, but he will be ignored as long as Bush refuses to do anything to stop this carnage, and the Israeli offer to open a humanitarian corridor in Gaza is simply too little, too late.

The disgust at Israel's actions have even caused Nick Clegg, the leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats, to call for Britain and the EU to stop selling arms to Israel.

Brown must also halt Britain's arms exports to Israel, and persuade our EU counterparts to do the same. The government's own figures show Britain is selling more and more weapons to Israel, despite the questions about the country's use of force. In 2007, our government approved £6m of arms exports. In 2008, it licensed sales 12 times as fast: £20m in the first three months alone.

There is a strong case that, given the Gaza conflict, any military exports contravene EU licensing criteria. Reports, though denied, that Israel is using illegal cluster munitions and white phosphorus should heighten our caution. I want an immediate suspension of all arms exports from the EU, but if that cannot be secured, Brown must act unilaterally.

It really says a lot that the leader of a major British political party would go as far as Clegg has done and make this call. He is to be applauded for having the moral courage to speak out, a courage that Brown - like Blair before him - has notably lacked.

The silence from politicians during this carnage has been shocking, and I include Barack Obama amongst them. His recent comments, condemning civilian casualties "on both sides" appears to have been issued from some Alice in Wonderland landscape where there is some kind of numerical equivalence between the losses on both sides.

There is not. What we are witnessing is a shockingly large amount of civilian casualties on the side of the Palestinians and, if Regev's appearance on Newsnight is any indication of the Israeli position, an utter lack of apology from Israel for the price this conflict is inflicting on the innocent civilians of Gaza.

Robert Fisk:

What is amazing is that so many Western leaders, so many presidents and prime ministers and, I fear, so many editors and journalists, bought the old lie; that Israelis take such great care to avoid civilian casualties. "Israel makes every possible effort to avoid civilian casualties," yet another Israeli ambassador said only hours before the Gaza massacre. And every president and prime minister who repeated this mendacity as an excuse to avoid a ceasefire has the blood of last night's butchery on their hands. Had George Bush had the courage to demand an immediate ceasefire 48 hours earlier, those 40 civilians, the old and the women and children, would be alive.

What happened was not just shameful. It was a disgrace. Would war crime be too strong a description? For that is what we would call this atrocity if it had been committed by Hamas. So a war crime, I'm afraid, it was.

Politicians are, by their very nature, a mostly spineless bunch; but it is only when an outrage of this scale is greeted with their measured phrases and diplomatic tones that one realises just how out of touch with the rest of us they really are.


Here Dick Morris argues that Israel always manipulates the level of violence as an election approaches and states that Livni wants "a nice little war" to help "the doves" defeat Netanyahu.

Click title for full article.

Related Articles:

There wouldn't have been Gaza rockets without the blockade.


Jeff said...

There seems to be clear inconsistencies regarding the voices from Israel that are often heard on news channels vis-a-vis those which await adequate attention.

It seems that some channels oversubscribe a few well known spokespersons of Israel who mostly cycle and recycle known arguements and hence offer little or no new perspective. On the contrary other credible voices coming out of Israel are under-represented if not overlooked.

When the news channels would take a step to highlight some alternative perspectives.

One among many examples is Oxford professor of international relations Avi Shlaim served in the Israeli army and has never questioned the state's legitimacy. But its merciless assault on Gaza has led him to say this:

The brutality of Israel's soldiers is fully matched by the mendacity of its spokesmen. Eight months before launching the current war on Gaza, Israel established a National Information Directorate. The core messages of this directorate to the media are that Hamas broke the ceasefire agreements; that Israel's objective is the defence of its population; and that Israel's forces are taking the utmost care not to hurt innocent civilians. Israel's spin doctors have been remarkably successful in getting this message across. But, in essence, their propaganda is a pack of lies.

"A wide gap separates the reality of Israel's actions from the rhetoric of its spokesmen. It was not Hamas but the IDF that broke the ceasefire. It di d so by a raid into Gaza on 4 November that killed six Hamas men.... Israel is guilty of indiscriminate bombing and of a three-year-old blockade that has brought the inhabitants of Gaza, now 1.5 million, to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe."

News channels lazily rely on far too few Israeli sources and do not represent the diversity of opinion on the conflict in Gaza. Many feel ingnated over the media's failure
to raise the convention of proportional force with Israel spokespersons like Mark Regev and Avil Leibovich appearig in almost every new bulletin daily these days.

This is Professor Shalim comments on the proportionality arguement:

"The Biblical injunction of an eye for an eye is savage enough. But Israel's insane offensive against Gaza seems to follow the logic of an eye for an eyelash."

Kel said...

Thanks for that Jeff. I read Avi Shlaim's article the other day and, as you say, it would be useful to have more voices like that heard on the news broadcasts, but we always get the same spokespersons spouting the same Hasbara.

andalus said...

further to the shameful mark regev proformance on newsnight we now have the israeli goverment chaning their story and saying that their was NO hamas fire from the school at all. Which begs the question why it was delibertly attacked in the first place..

andalus said...

Sorry forgot the link

You can watch the video of the interview that came from BBC News 24 with the UNRWA spokesperson here:

Kel said...

Thanks for that Andalus. I wrote later on about the fact that Israel changed their claim which, as you say, brings up the question of why did Israel attack that school if, by their own admission, there was no rocket fire emanating from it?

Although I note that both Israel and Unwra say that there was fighting in the area. But still, they knew it was a school - housing refugees - and that firing at it would kill children.