Sunday, December 27, 2009

Gaza ceasefire in jeopardy as six Palestinians are shot.

What the Hell is Netanyahu up to?

Israeli troops yesterday shot dead six Palestinians in two separate incidents, as evidence emerged that an increasingly fragile ceasefire between armed groups loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement and Israel appeared to be in danger of breaking down.

The shootings, the most serious violence in months, came a day before today's first anniversary of the outbreak of Israel's war against Gaza in which almost 1,400 Palestinians died – and as allegations have emerged from Israeli human rights campaigners who opposed the war that they are facing concerted attempts to silence them.

Three of the Palestinians were killed in an airstrike just inside the Gaza border. According to Israeli officials they had been scouting the area for a possible infiltration operation, but according to Hamas officials and medics they had been searching for scrap metal to salvage.

More serious in its implications, however, was the shooting dead of three members of Fatah's armed wing – the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades – in a raid on the northern West Bank city of Nablus, apparently in retaliation for the shooting of an Israeli driving near the settlement at Shavei Shomron. Relatives who witnessed the Nablus shootings said soldiers fired at two of the men without warning. An Israeli army spokesman, Major Peter Lerner, said troops fired after the three men failed to respond to calls to surrender.

These attacks come at a time when Obama is hoping to kick start the peace process and they have been attacked by Abbas as an attempt to derail the peace process.
An aide to Abbas described the killings as a "grave Israeli escalation" which showed "Israel is not interested in peace and is trying to explode the situation".
These attacks come at the same time as Israeli human rights groups are complaining about the way the Israeli government are treating them since they spoke out against the invasion of Gaza.

In its annual report, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel states: "Instead of taking an honest look at its reflection, Israeli society and its institutions chose to smash the mirror."

Although much attention has been focused on the continuing plight of Gaza's residents, still suffering under a prolonged Israeli economic siege that has prevented rebuilding of the war-damaged coastal strip, there has been less focus on the treatment of those Israelis who campaigned against the war and for the ending of the blockade.

"There has been a huge change in the way the government treats those who dissent," says Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer representing several human rights groups. This process, he adds, has accelerated in the year since the attacks in Gaza: "The gloves have come off."

Sari Bashi, director of human rights group Gisha, says Israeli campaigners in this field "know that red lines were crossed in Gaza, that the Israeli military relaxed its restraints on the use of force and that terrible violations were taking place". But she accuses the Israeli government of using a "shoot-the-messenger" tactic to deal with such concerns.

"Instead of addressing credible claims of human rights violations, there have been attempts to undermine the legitimacy of anyone trying to raise awareness," she says.

The Israeli army have complained that groups such as Breaking The Silence have received funding from the EU, as well as from Britain, Spain and the Netherlands, and are claiming that accepting such funding amounts to Breaking the Silence serving "foreign interests".

One doesn't know where to begin to address such an hypocrisy. The Israeli government receives huge amounts of money from the US, some of which it redirects to US politicians who will vote in favour of Israel in the US Senate. Is Israel now against such funding by foreigners? Would she agree to make such funding illegal, or would she like this rule only to apply to funding which comes to Israeli protest groups which protest against Israel's actions?

This year, Knesset members initiated a draft law that would require Israeli civil society organisations to state their funding sources in every document and every media interview. But Bashi points out that such financing is already transparent. "We report our sources of funding to three separate organisations and on our website," she says.

Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, says the concern is over whether groups defined as non-governmental organisations should receive contributions from overseas governments. "No one has in any way inhibited their activities," he said of human rights groups in Israel. He described the complaints of de-legitimisation as "attempts to create a bogeyman".

So, Israeli civil society organisations are to be held to a much higher standard than the Israeli government itself. It's an almost classic case of attack the messenger, rather than challenge the message. "Let's talk about who is funding these groups rather than listen to what the soldiers they have recruited have to say. But don't for God's sake ask where we get our money from or what we use it for."

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