US Has Redefined ‘Human Shields’ to Enable Israel’s Slaughter of Gaza Civilians

Truthout March 22, 2024: The civilian death rate from the United States-backed Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip is the highest of any conflict since the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Rather than demand an immediate and permanent ceasefire and withdrawal of Israeli occupation forces from Gaza in return for the release of Israeli hostages, President Joe Biden has vetoed multiple UN Security Council resolutions, rejected calls by progressive members of Congress to condition military aid, and used emergency powers to bypass public and congressional oversight to send additional bombs and missiles… [Full Link]

Israel’s Gaza War: 7 Interviews February 2024

Israel’s Gaza War Lecture & Interviews January 2024

Jan. 24:  Santa Cruz lecture –one of my best and most comprehensive–which examines the U.S. role in Israel/Palestine, both historically and in the present, and what we can learn from it

Discussion with Silvia Morales, director of the Resource Center for Nonviolence about Israel, Palestine, U.S. policy, and the role of peace and human rights activists: Interview for a podcast on U.S. policy towards Israel/Palestine and Morocco/Western Sahara: Part I & Part II.

Short interview for a Singapore television network on Israel’s assassination of a Hamas leader in Lebanon:

Israel’s War on Gaza: 3 TV & Radio interviews October-December 2023

Israel’s War on Gaza: 11 Zunes’ articles published Oct. 7-Dec. 31, 2023

Political Costs of Biden’s Support for Israel’s War Mount
U.S. Attacks on the ICJ are a Declaration of Empire
Biden’s Gaza Failure Could Cost Democrats 2024 Election
Applying International Law to Israel’s War and Hamas’ Attack
Scholars Weigh in on Gaza-Israel Conflict Counterpunch interview of Professors Zunes and international legal scholar Richard Falk [Princeton] on Israel, Gaza, and U.S. policy, 10/13/2023
How U.S. Policy Failures Have Helped Hamas
Hamas, Israel and the U.S. Have Learned Nothing
Biden’s Backing Israel War Crimes Carries on Sordid U.S. Tradition
O Globo, Brazil’s largest newspaper, on Israel’s war on Gaza (Portuguese transcript)
Quoted in Al-Jazeera article on Republicans’ support for military aid for Israeli occupation and terror bombing while opposing aid to Ukraine.
13 House Democrats Call for Immediate Ceasefire in Gaza

More Articles and interviews on the Gaza Crisis

When a Ceasefire is Not Enough

THE WAR BETWEEN Armenia and Azerbaijan this past autumn was an avoidable  tragedy. 

Sojourners Magazine — The disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region has been populated since at least the second  century B.C.E. by Armenians, one of the world’s oldest Christian civilizations. The  Muslim Azeris and others have lived there and in neighboring areas for centuries as  well, and the region was ethnically mixed (albeit majority Armenian) when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Stalin’s divide-and-rule policy for drawing borders made Nagorno-Karabakh a  theoretically “autonomous region” within the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic. As  the Soviet Union was breaking up and Azerbaijani persecution of ethnic Armenians increased, the Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh governments demanded transfer of the region to Armenia.  [FULL LINK]

Abetting the Carnage in Gaza

The November 22 ceasefire between Israeli and Hamas forces is a huge relief for the civilian population on both sides—the primary victims of the conflict. But the Obama administration’s unconscionable decision the previous week to block a ceasefire effort by the UN Security Council not only resulted in additional civilian deaths but also serves as an indication that, despite the president owing his re-election to the hard work of his progressive base, his foreign policy will continue to lean to the right.

The draft resolution blocked by the United States explicitly condemned all acts of terrorism and violence towards civilians, reaffirmed the right of all states to live in peace within secure and recognized borders, and called for an immediate and durable ceasefire. It reiterated that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could only be resolved through peaceful means and called for an immediate resumption of a substantive bilateral negotiating process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

This even-handedness was too much for the Obama administration, however, which promised to prevent the passage of any statement or resolution that didn’t explicitly put the blame for the violence solely on Hamas. The administration’s blockage of any consideration of any other effort made it appear as though President Obama would rather have the slaughter continue.

It is doubtful that many people at the United Nations will take Ambassador Susan Rice seriously again when she complains about Russia and China vetoing UN Security Council resolutions trying to stop the slaughter in Syria after her own blocking of UNSC efforts trying to stop the slaughter in Gaza.

Though Rice has appropriately condemned Palestinians when Islamist radicals fire rockets into Israel, she has also opposed nonviolent forms of resisting the occupation as well, such as rejecting recommendations by the UN’s independent special rapporteur on human rights (who happens to be an American Jew) for a boycott of companies supporting Israel’s illegal colonization of the West Bank as “irresponsible and unacceptable.” The United States has also threatened to block any effort by the Palestine Authority to upgrade its status at the United Nations or raise its concerns about ongoing Israeli violations of international humanitarian law with the International Court of Justice or the UN Human Rights Council.

The administration has also adamantly opposed the use of strategic nonviolent action to help ease the suffering of the people of the Gaza Strip, defending Israel’s attacks on unarmed ships on the high seas seeking to bring relief supplies. It appears that the United States wants the Palestinians to instead simply trust the “peace process”— brokered by world’s primary military, economic, and diplomatic supporter of their occupier—with a right-wing government that rejects the necessary territorial compromise for a viable Palestinian state.

Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai has acknowledged that the goal of the offensive is to “send Gaza back to the middle ages,” but Obama insisted that Israel’s massive assault on the densely populated enclave was simply about “self-defense.” While the rest of the world acknowledged that both sides were wrong, Obama insisted it was all the fault of the weaker party.

More than 25 times as many Palestinian civilians died from Israeli attacks than Israelis died from Palestinian attacks in the recent fighting, yet the Obama administration insisted that only the Israelis had the right to resist. Obama proclaimed that “There’s no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.” Yet he insisted that Palestinians must somehow tolerate much greater destruction without striking back.

Indeed, in response to the outcry at the growing number of civilian casualties from the Israeli bombardment of civilian areas of the Gaza Strip, Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes insisted, “The Israelis are going to make decisions about their own military tactics and operations.” When pressed as to whether the Obama administration would support international efforts to try to prevent an Israeli ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, Rhodes replied, “they’ll make their own decisions about the tactics that they use in that regard.”

Meanwhile, both the U.S. Senate and House passed by unanimous consent resolutions defending Israel’s ongoing war on the Gaza Strip. Unlike the Obama administration’s statements in support of Israel’s attacks, these resolutions failed to call on both sides to exercise restraint and expressed no regret at the resulting casualties. In contrast to similar resolutions four years ago in support of Israel’s deadly Operation Cast Lead, there was nothing in these most recent resolutions calling on the parties to avoid civilian casualties or work towards a durable and sustainable ceasefire. Nor was there any call for the president to try to calm the situation.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) noted how this supposedly “unanimous” vote supporting Israel’s war on Gaza was taken with “no notice, no committee hearing, no discussion and no debate,” adding, “In such a fashion, we achieve unanimity on great matters related to the Middle East.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was no doubt emboldened in launching his recent offensive by the strong support Israel received from the United States four years ago. For example, the U.S. House of Representatives—in a direct challenge to the credibility of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Red Cross, and other reputable humanitarian organizations—passed a resolution in January of 2009 declaring that the Israeli armed forces bore no responsibility for the large numbers of civilian casualties from their assault on the Gaza Strip. The resolution put forward a disturbing reinterpretation of international humanitarian law: that, by allegedly breaking the cease-fire, Hamas was responsible for all subsequent deaths, and that the presence of Hamas officials or militia members in mosques, hospitals, or residential areas made those locations legitimate targets.

The human rights investigations from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the UNHRC, and elsewhere examined Israeli claims that Hamas’ alleged use of “human shields” was responsible for the large number of civilian casualties. While these probes sharply criticized Hamas for at times having men and materiel too close to civilian-populated areas, they were unable to find even one incident of Hamas deliberately holding civilians against their will in an effort to deter Israeli attacks, the legal definition of using human shields. The Obama administration and congressional leaders, however, insisted that they knew more about what happened inside the Gaza Strip than these expert human rights monitors and respected international jurists on the ground. They made similarly dubious claims to justify the most recent wave of Israeli attacks on civilian population centers.

As Amnesty and other human rights groups have observed, however, even if Hamas were using human shields, it would still not justify Israel killing Palestinian civilians. Indeed, if a botched bank robbery resulted in a hostage situation, it would not justify the police killing the bank’s customers and tellers on the grounds that the robbers were using them as human shields.

In February 2009, Amnesty International called for an international arms embargo on both Israel and Hamas to prevent the kind of tragic attacks on civilians in which both sides are currently engaging. As an indication of his lack of support for international humanitarian law, Obama categorically rejected Amnesty’s proposal and instead increased U.S. military aid to Israel to record levels. We saw the tragic results during the most recent wave of attacks. As it did four years earlier, Amnesty International has again called for an international arms embargo on both Israel and Hamas. Once again, however, it appears Obama and Congress will ignore it.

If Obama, as a private citizen, gave a gun to someone whom he knew would likely use it in a crime and a crime was committed with that gun, he could go to jail. He could not get away with saying, “This guy lives in a dangerous neighborhood and I thought he might need it for self-defense.” As president, however, Obama can provide Netanyahu with billions of dollars’ worth of weapons, some of which he knows would likely be targeted in populated neighborhoods resulting in civilian deaths, and never face the consequences.

The latest and most deadly round of fighting began when the fragile truce was broken by the assassination of Hamas military leader Ahmed al-Jabari. The Israeli media has reported that al-Jabari was in the process of negotiating a permanent truce. The Israeli government has had a history of killing Palestinian leaders once they moderate their activism.

And Hamas and other extremist groups have a history of lobbing rockets towards civilian-populated areas inside Israel, which is not only illegal and immoral, but is incredibly stupid in terms of hardening Israeli attitudes even further. Indeed, Hamas’ actions set back the cause of Israeli moderates. And Israel’s actions set back the cause of Palestinian moderates. More salient to those of us in the United States, Obama’s actions hurt both.

The great wish of the early Zionist leader Theodor Herzl was that Israel would be treated like any other state. And there are certainly those who do unfairly single out Israel for criticism. It is just as wrong, however, to unfairly exempt Israel from criticism for its violations of international humanitarian law in its ongoing aerial bombardments of civilian neighborhoods, as the Obama administration has done.

Those of us who supported Obama’s re-election have a special obligation to challenge his unconscionable support for Israel’s attacks against civilian population centers in the Gaza Strip. It was wrong when Bush did it four years ago. And it’s wrong now.

Will the Flotilla Attack Be Our “Kent State” Moment?

The offensive by the Congressional Democratic leadership against the Gaza humanitarian aid flotilla has now moved beyond just rhetorical support for the Israeli attack on the unarmed convoy. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade, has called upon U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute U.S. citizens who were involved or on board the flotilla.

Because the Gaza Strip is currently ruled by Hamas, according the Sherman, any humanitarian aid to the people of that territory is “clearly an effort to give items of value to a terrorist organization,” which is prosecutable under the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. Despite the active support of the humanitarian aid effort by a number of pacifist organizations in the United States and Europe, Sherman insists that the organizers of the flotilla have “clear terrorist ties,” dismissing critical analysis of such charges as part of the ideological agenda of “the liberal media.”

Sherman also announced he would be working with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that the more than 700 non-U.S. citizens who took part in the flotilla would be permanently barred from ever entering the United States. This would include European parliamentarians, Nobel laureates, as well as leading writers, artists, intellectuals, pacifists, and human rights activists, virtually none of whom are in the least bit sympathetic with Hamas or with terrorism.

Given the very real threat of terrorism from Al-Qaeda and other groups against the United States, it is very odd that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic Party leaders would choose — out of 255 Democrats in the House of Representatives — a paranoid right-winger like Sherman to chair the critically important terrorism subcommittee. Rather than focus on the real threats from Al-Qaeda and other dangerous organizations, it appears that Sherman is putting his energy into going after the motley group of Quaker pacifists, left-wing Jews, and other like-minded activists who boarded the ships attempted to bring medicines, school supplies, toys and other humanitarian aid to children of the Gaza Strip.

Indeed, it raises serious questions about whether the Democratic Party Congressional leadership is really concerned about international terrorism or, like the Bush administration, is attempting to use the threat of terrorism as an excuse to suppress nonviolent dissent against the policies of the U.S. government and its rightist allies.

Organizers and endorsers of the flotilla include such reputable American peace groups as Code Pink, Jewish Voice for Peace, Pax Christi, the American Friends Service Committee, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the Resource Center for Nonviolence, War Resisters League, Women in Black and others. Supporters of this nonviolent effort to bring humanitarian aid to the people of the Gaza Strip also include such Israeli groups such as Yesh G’vul, Coalition of Women for Peace, New Profile, and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, among others.

Despite this, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), insists that these groups are “pro-Hamas people.” Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) claims that the organizers of the flotilla have “links to Hamas and reportedly played a role in the attempted Millennium bombing in Los Angeles.” Rep. Ron Klein D-FL) insists that the real agenda of these peace and human rights organizations is “to bolster the terrorist Hamas government in Gaza.” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) argues that Israel’s attack on the unarmed flotilla laden with humanitarian supplies part of an effort to “defend herself against terrorism.”

When prominent Democrats — including the head of an influential House subcommittee concerned with national security — begin implying that leading America and Israeli peace groups are linked to terrorism, it is no longer simply an issue of over-heated rhetoric in support of an allied right-wing government, but a McCarthyistic attack on nonviolent dissent. Indeed, it could only be a matter of time before we see Medea Benjamin, Mitchell Plitnick, and other leading nonviolent activists who have supported the flotilla hauled before Sherman’s subcommittee regarding these alleged ties to terrorism.

In many respects, however, Israel’s attack on the unarmed flotilla last weekend could be a “Kent State moment.” At the time of the 1970 shootings, National Guardsmen and police had been killing African-Americans and Hispanics with some regularity for years. When white middle class students were gunned down on a college campus, however, it woke up a whole new segment of American society, goading them into active resistance. Similarly, while the Israeli military has been killing Arab civilians for years, now that they have attacked European and American peace activists — with the support of Congressional leaders — it has created a whole new dynamic, one I witnessed personally this past Friday evening, at the annual dinner of the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz, California.

Roughly 150 people gathered in the fellowship hall of a local Congregational Church this past Friday evening, including prominent liberal members of the city council and county board of supervisors, area clergy (including a local rabbi), professors, small businesspeople and other community leaders. The main speaker was Nomika Zion, founder of kibbutz Migvan in Sderot, Israel, a community which had suffered from relentless bombardment for many months from Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. Zion — a leader of the Sderot-based peace group Other Voice, which opposed Israel’s war on Gaza — argued that it was the ongoing siege of Gaza which was the biggest threat to the security and called for an end of the Israeli blockade RCNV staffperson and former Santa Cruz mayor Scott Kennedy then called on the city to come together to organize a boat to send relief supplies to Gaza Strip in an effort to end the siege, adding that he would write Rep. Sherman and Attorney General Holder and dare them to investigate and prosecute the hundreds of people in this coastal community who would support such an effort.

Israel’s rightist government and their allies in the U.S. Congress have clearly miscalculated. By claiming that the hundreds of dedicated peace and human rights activists on board those ships — most of whom in no way support Hamas or any terrorist group — as supporters of terrorism, they are mobilizing what could become a major backlash. It is a particularly bad calculation for the Democratic Party, which is going to need the support of the peace and human rights community — a key constituency of the party’s base — going into the mid-term election this fall. There are already plans for additional ships to try to run the blockade, most of which will have active participation from nonviolent activists here in the United States. We’ll see if Rep. Sherman and other Congressional leaders can stop them.

U.S. Support for Israel Mirrors 80s Support for El Salvador Junta

It’s like the 1980s all over again.

During that decade, the Reagan administration – with the support of Congress – sent billions of dollars worth of unconditional military and other support to the right wing-junta in El Salvador, just as the Obama administration is today with the right-wing government in Israel.

When Salvadoran forces massacred 700 civilians in El Mozote, Congressional leaders defended the killings, saying that the U.S-backed operation was “fighting terrorists.” Similarly, when Israel massacred over 700 civilians in the Gaza Strip early last year, Congressional leaders defended the killings for the same reason.

When Amnesty International and other groups investigated the El Mozote killings and found that it was indeed a massacre targeted at civilians by the Salvadoran army, members of Congress denounced these reputable human rights organizations as “biased.” There was a similar reaction when Amnesty and other groups documented similar Israeli war crimes, with Congressional leaders accusing them of “bias.”

Even when the Salvadoran junta murdered international humanitarian aid workers, that right-wing government’s supporters in Washington insisted that the victims were actually allied with terrorists and that they somehow provoked their own deaths. We’re now hearing the same rationalization regarding the attack on the humanitarian aid flotilla in the eastern Mediterranean.

The difference is that, back in the 1980s, members of Congress and the administration who were responsible for such policies were targeted with frequent protests, including sit-ins at Congressional offices and other kinds of nonviolent direct action. Unlike supporters of the El Salvador’s former right-wing government, however, today’s Congressional supporters of Israel’s right-wing government seem to be getting a free ride.

Senators Barbara Boxer, Ron Wyden, Russ Feingold, Barbara Mikulski, and Carl Levin – who led the attack against Justice Goldstone and others who documented Israeli war crimes – are still supported by many so-called “progressives” who apparently believe that, despite these senators’ attacks on basic human rights, they should still get their vote, campaign contributions, and other support. For example, here in California, Code Pink co-founder Jodie Evans and singer/songwriter Bonnie Raitt, who were active in opposition to U.S. policy in Central America during the 1980s, are major contributors to Boxer’s re-election campaign. The willingness to challenge such right-wing Congressional militarists has substantially diminished.

The problem is less a matter of the power of AIPAC and the “pro-Israel lobby” as it is the failure of those on the left to demand a change in Obama administration policy. Progressives must recognize that the lives of Arab civilians are as important as the lives of Central American civilians; that it is just as inexcusable for the United States to support a government that kill passengers and crew on a humanitarian flotilla in international waters as it is to kill nuns, agronomists and other civilians working in the Salvadoran countryside; and that, when it comes to international humanitarian law, the differences between the policies of Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama are not as great as we would like to think.

http://www.fpif.org/blog/us_support_for_israel_mirrors_80s_support_for_el_salvador_junta

Israel’s Latest Violation

Every time Israel’s right-wing government engages in yet another outrageous violation of international legal norms, it is easy to think, “No way are they going to get away with it this time!” And yet, thanks to the White House, Congress and leading American pundits, somehow, they do.

Israel’s attack on an unarmed flotilla of humanitarian aid vessels in the eastern Mediterranean — resulting in more than a dozen fatalities, the wounding of scores of passengers and crew, and the kidnapping of 750 others — has so far not proven any different.

Violation of Maritime Law

The bottom line is that under no circumstances does Israel, or any other country, have the right to board humanitarian aid vessels, guns blazing, in international waters. By most definitions, this is piracy, pure and simple. International maritime law gives the crew of ships attacked in international waters the right to defend themselves. Certainly it would have been better if the largely Turkish crew of the ship where most of the fatalities took place had not fought back. But it was well within their legal right to do so.

Israel’s actions raise a number of questions. Why didn’t the Israelis simply disable the rudders and guide the ships to port? Why did they have to board the ships with the guns blazing — according to eyewitnesses, before some members of the crew picked up their “weapons” of wrenches and poles — unless they intended to kill people?

Read the rest at Foreign Policy in Focus:
http://www.fpif.org/articles/israels_latest_violation