Category Archives: terror

Before two states

Cross-posted on Engage.

In two weeks Sudan will become two states. Its last ever president, Omar Al-Bashir will continue to dodge an arrest warrant for crimes against humanity issued by the International Criminal Court. Tonight China (not an ICC signatory) is his host.

Meanwhile the disputed oil-rich border territory of Abyei represents an economic reason for north-south conflict. Yesterday the South Kordufan village of Kurchi was reported to have been strafed with rockets from Khartoum in the north, killing 16 including a three-year-old and a baby, and seriously injuring 32. This is one of many ongoing attacks, and the number of internally displaced people is currently estimated at around 80,000. Today the UNSC voted to deploy 4000 Ethiopian peace-keeping troops.

There is more to the Abyei conflict than oil. Khartoum is targeting people on ethnic and political grounds, but there are some who defy these categories. A Sudan analyst interviewed on BBC Radio 4′s The World Tonight views the conflict as between those who want to impose Khartoum’s sharia law and those – Nuba SPLA, a northern opposition group of Muslims and Christians together – who are fighting for basic economic and social rights in a pluralistic, religiously tolerant society, resisting the fundamentalist policies of Khartoum.

The analyst also expressed deep regret at the “depressingly little” international attention paid to this conflict:

“This struggle is particularly important because it is offering one of the few alternatives to division between north and south, between Christian and Muslim, or black and Arab, so the lack of international support is really shocking at this stage, even if we put aside the immediate suffering of innocent people.”

Sudan will split on 9th July.

Prisoners of Hamas

Human Rights Watch posts a letter to Hamas from Amnesty, B’Tselem, Gisha, Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Gaza and others as the imprisonment of snatched 24 year old French-Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, without trial or access to his family approaches its 5th anniversary.

We hear much less about 26 year old Mohamed Abu Muailek, member of a Fatah unit who refused to fire rockets into Israel from the Gaza strip. This unfortunate and courageous man is a dissident on the terms of both Fatah and Hamas, and is unlikely to become a bargaining chip in any negotiations for prisoners’ release:

“They will say that I am a collaborator, and I don’t care much…because these are the basics of a real Muslim: to tell the truth and be a peaceful man—whether it kills him or gives him more life.”

Or BBC journalist Paul Martin, who went to testify on Abu Muailek’s behalf when he was eventually arrested as he feared. Martin himself was arrested on the spot and imprisoned for 26 days threatened with a death sentence. Abu Muailek’s trial is set to conclude in July. Collaboration is one of the most shameful crimes you could be charged with in Gaza. He is held incommunicado, is reported to have been tortured, faces possible execution, and Amnesty are following his case with concern.

Paul Martin’s film, Rocket Man Under Fire, is below. I recommend watching it in full. It is claustrophobic and its perspective of the containment of Gaza as something which, as well as effectively imprisoning all Gazans, also enables Hamas’ net to close around dissidents, is rare and valuable.

As Paul Martin observes, the Arab Spring has not reached Gaza. The only visitors who need not be afraid there are those who do not challenge Hamas.

Gaza’s religious hardliners

I don’t need to remind most Green readers about the effects of the blockade of Gaza on life in Gaza. Gisha’s Freedom of Information request to the Israeli government has revealed more about this policy. B’Tselem has been testifying before Israel’s Turkel Commission to investigate May’s Gaza flotilla incident.

“Punishing a million and a half persons because some of them voted for Hamas is not legitimate. At any rate, the siege policy has not achieved its declared purpose: toppling the Hamas government and bring about the release of Gilad Shalit. There is, in fact, evidence that the opposite is true: in the absence of controlled foreign trade via Israel, a Hamas-controlled economy of smuggling via tunnels has developed, through which many kinds of goods are brought into Gaza, including weapons. Both the injustice and the futility of the siege policy are exemplified by the fact that, following international pressure in the wake of the flotilla incident, the government of Israel immediately announced that it would ease restrictions on entry of previously prohibited materials, including items that had been defined as potentially dangerous to state security.”

What we hear less about, because it complicates the dominant stories about Palestinians as barely-surviving victims of Israel alone, is this kind of thing about Gaza City’s Crazy Water Park from Guardian correspondent Harriet Sherwood. Despite its popularity and political correctness – in Gaza this means sex segregation, with only girls aged below 12 permitted to swim – it became the target of religious hardliners with tacit government support.

“The theme park, on the fringes of Gaza City, had suffered a previous arson attack on 20 August during Ramadan, following false rumours that it was hosting mixed-gender parties, and had to close for three days because of the damage.

Then, on 5 September, the Hamas attorney-general ordered the resort’s closure for another three weeks. “We were informed there was an unlicensed water whirl,” said Ala’aeddin al-Araj, one of the park’s five investors. “But it was not the real reason, because there are about 20,000 unlicensed water whirls in the Gaza Strip.”

On 19 September came the biggest attack. Despite the lockdown that Hamas security forces have on Gaza City, a large group of gunmen moved unhindered through checkpoints and, according to Araj, spent considerable time setting fires at the resort. “It was well organised,” he said. “We know the attack took place under government eyes.””

Most people accept that the isolation of Gaza (as distinct from other possible enactments of security, which most of us who purport to care should take the trouble to understand better) exacerbates the problem of religious extremism. Palestinian Centre for Human Rights representative Hamdi Shaqqura:

“The broader picture of isolation in Gaza – international sanctions and closure – is a recipe for extremism to flourish,” said Shaqqura. “We are gradually moving to a monolithic society as interpreted by the ruling party. Their ideology flourishes in poverty and isolation. You can see the impact of this clearly.”

The Green Party has policy on liberating and emancipating Palestinians from Israelis but not from other Palestinians – in other words, building Palestinian civil society. And despite its avid interest in Palestinians, Green Party policy doesn’t acknowledge the threat posed by religious hardliners to women and regional minority groups such as Jews at all.

See also Playing Politics: Gaza’s Summer Camps.

The kind of thing Caroline Lucas should have said about Mumbai

Terrorism is the attempt to advance political objectives by killing, maiming and terrifying innocent people. Terrorists instrumentalise people like you and me, deliberately harming us and using our deaths, injuries and fright to force change. We should try to comprehend terror, never justify terror. Terrorists should never  be permitted, still less encouraged, to view themselves as heroes on the ropes. Terrorists should view themselves, at best, as murderers who had to cauterise part of their conscience and humanity to commit their acts.

Caught this on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme yesterday (0836, Monday 17 Aug 09) and because its response to Miliband’s apology for terror was good, thought I’d try to capture it for posterity before it disappears from Listen Again.

Synopsis:

“Shadow foreign secretary William Hague has condemned the Foreign Secretary David Miliband for saying there are circumstances in which acts of terrorism are “justifiable” and “effective”. Mr Miliband was speaking on Radio Four about the anti-apartheid activist, Joe Slovo. Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell and terrorism expert Andy Hull examine the foreign secretary’s comments.”

Transcript:

“JH: “Menzies Campbell, there are two questsions. Is he philosophically right when he says that terrorism is justifiable, and should he have said it as foreign Secretary?”

MC: “Well let’s take the second of these first. If I may say so I think William Hague’s quite right indeed quite reticent in describing the Foreign Secretary’s remarks as ill-judged. The timing of this! We’ve got 9,000 men and women in Afghanistan – what are they doing, they’re fighting against terrorism among other things. And to give any kind of succour to the notion that terrorism is a legitimate activity seems to me to fly in the face of that commitment. But of course as far as the first of these things is concerned, I would say no. Why – because I am someone of a liberal persuasion who is committed to peaceful change, and if you consider that terrorism almost certainly involves innocent people, it is rarely successful – how many instances can you point to of people being able to bomb their way to the negotiating table – and of course it hardens attitudes – you’ve only got to look at Israel to see how the attitudes of the Israel public have hardened – why – because of terrorism.”

JH: So in absolutely no circumstances – I dunno – the Hitler bomb plot, you would say that that was out of what should be considered.

MC: What I say is that the use of violence for political ends is unacceptable.

JH: Ah. That’s pretty clear. Andy Hull?

AH: You can’t kill your way to justice. I think however legitimate your grievance, terrorism is not a legitimate tactic.

JH: Not in any circumstances at all.

AH: No, I don’t think we should seek to justify terrorism. But I do think it’s important to comprehend it. I think if you take the current neo-jihadi Islamist threat that we face, I think that with all the best cops and all the best spooks we’re not going to be able to arrest or spy our way out of the problem. Which means we’re going to need to get to a place where people no longer want to blow us up, and in order to do that I think we’re going to have to try to understand what makes a bomber tick.

JH: And where do you stand on the wisdom or otherwise of a Foreign Secretary saying something of this kind?

AH: Well I think it was unwise because I think it’s wrong. I think, as I say, that however legitimate your grievance terrorism is not a legitimate tactic. And it isn’t effective either. It wasn’t bombs in Pretoria that ended apartheid and it wasn’t bullets in Belfast that ended the troubles. Al Quaeda bombs won’t bring about a global Caliphate.

MC: I agree with all of that. If you look at South Africa, for example, what it was was economic reality. De Klerk realised the economic future of South Africa was not going to be in any way sustainable if there was the continuing political divide. If you look at the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, their terrorism has not proved fruitful, and if you look at the Basque separatists in Spain, they have not achieved any of their political objectives by the use of terrorism.

JH: Can you, Andy Hull, point to any examples where the use of terrorism has been effective, putting aside any moral judgement one may make about whether it was right or wrong?

AH: No. It’s always the politics in the end that has the effects. But I do think that what we need in this country is a grown-up political debate that understands that you can understand terrorism without endorsing it. And I think that moral outrage about terrorism is understandable but we do need to get beyond it.

JH: Is there a danger, since you mention moral outrage, that moral outrage about a remark like that of the Foreign Secretary, stifles genuine debate – that there’s something we ought to be talking about here, but aren’t?

AH: Yeah, absolutely. I think that there is a danger that that moral outrage stifles productive debate, and I think it’s a shame. We saw it previously with some comments that Jenny Tonge made about Palestine. I think it’s important that we have an honest, open, grown-up debate about these issues, and that does mean that it’s reasonable to seek to understand the motivations of terrorist bombers.”

In Caroline Lucas’ response to Mumbai I missed this kind of genuine will to comprehend terror. Caroline Lucas blamed Mumbai on Israel and called this “looking at some of the root causes”. She politicises her ‘understanding’ to fit a well-known and pre-existing agenda; she extends this ‘understanding’ to some and not others. Compare her ‘understanding’ to Andy Hull’s and it quickly becomes clear why Andy Hull is heard respectfully when he calls on us to understand the motivations of terrorists, but Caroline Lucas provokes outrage.

Andy Hull wants to understand.

Update: on openDemocracy from a couple of years back, a different question is addressed: does terrorism work. Of course, even it if did work, not everything that works is good.

Human Rights Watch – rockets from Gaza amount to war crimes

Human Rights Watch, whose contribution to documenting human rights violations in Israel and the occupied territories is hugely valuable, have released a 31-page report, Rockets From Gaza, of their investigation into the role of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups in Gaza since November 2008.

The report documents the missiles from Gaza which jeopardised and terrorised the 800,000 Israeli citizens who lived within their range, and finds armed groups to have intentionally targeted Israeli civilians, in violation of international law.

The executive summary is informative; as well as providing an overview of the death and damage resulting from the attacks (including to Gazan families), there is a restatement of ethos:

“The purpose of the laws of war is not to create parity between parties to a conflict, or to assess their violations in light of their relevant capacities, but to minimize the harm to the civilian population.  Violations of the laws of war are not measured in the number of civilian casualties, but whether each side is taking all feasible precautions to minimize civilian loss.  Using unsophisticated weapons does not justify failure to respect the laws of war, nor does an adversary’s use of sophisticated weapons provide a pass to its opponents to ignore those laws. Disparities in military capability, however measured, are irrelevant. The taking of civilian life can be minimized only if both parties recognize their legal obligations to abide by the laws of war however sophisticated the weaponry at their disposal.

Human Rights Watch is committed to documenting the worst violations of the laws of war committed by all sides to conflict. It is to promote the principle that civilians may never be the object of attack, regardless of the relative strength of the attacker, that Human Rights Watch has published this report.

The laws of war require parties to a conflict to investigate and take appropriate punitive action against individuals within their control who are implicated in war crimes.  Hamas authorities have failed to take any action against Hamas commanders and fighters responsible for unlawful rocket attacks against Israel.  Hamas has reportedly taken violent steps to prevent other armed groups from firing rockets.  On March 10, the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported the alleged torture by Hamas police of 10 members of Saraya al-Quds, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad.[3] The paper reported that Hamas police detained the 10 men, from Khan Yunis, and tortured them to coerce them to sign pledges that they would not fire rockets at Israel.”

Recommendations follow.

Read the report.

Update:

Besides the BBC, is there any reporting organisation which hasn’t abandoned itself to partisanship on Israel and Palestine?

There are questions to ask about the integrity of Human Rights Watch because of how it raises money.

“An on-line Wall Street Journal op-ed posted two days ago alleged that Human Rights Watch officials went trolling for dollars in Saudi Arabia, and that the organization’s senior Middle East official, Sarah Leah Whitson, attempted to extract money from potential Saudi donors by bragging about the group’s “battles” with the “pro-Israel pressure groups.”

This is a serious allegation, and one I found difficult to believe, because Human Rights Watch has always been moderately careful about the optics of its fundraising efforts. The group’s credibility, of course, rests on its neutrality; playing traditional enemies off each other as a way to collect money from one (or both) sides in a conflict seems beyond the pale. (Let’s put aside for now the queasy-making image of a human rights organization venturing into one of the world’s most anti-democratic societies to criticize one of the Middle East’s most democratic states.)”

Human Rights Watch has since published a report about gunning down of white-flag-waving Palestinians. It was edited by Joe Stork, reported in Commentary to be vehemently anti-Israel, an inaccurate reporter and – far more seriously and untrustworthily for a human rights activist – a supporter of Palestinian terror against Israelis and (from the comments) a diminisher of human rights abuses against Iraqis under Saddam. It would be good to be able to trust HRW reports. It’s discredit if they employ biased editors, and it’s a shame that only the political right seems to be motivated to do homework on these authors. I suppose, from now on, we have to do this too.

The Rockets From Gaza report was authored by a researcher called Bill Van Esveld, based in HRW’s Middle East and North Africa section, where Joe Stork is also based (Esveld also co-authored the white flag report). I can’t see any signs of bias against Palestinians at all.

In the Huffington Post, he writes:

“Hamas’ attacks on civilians violate international law, but those violations are no excuse for a blockade that, as Israeli officials have implicitly acknowledged, amounts to collective punishment. “There is no justification for demanding we allow residents of Gaza to live normal lives while shells and rockets are fired from their streets and courtyards” at Israeli communities, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on January 23, 2008.

After two years of looking the other way, the international community, and especially the United States, should be pressing not only Hamas to end its unlawful attacks on Israeli civilians but also Israel to end its unlawful punishment of 1.5 million Gazans.”

In comment to the BBC:

“HRW’s Bill Van Esveld said last Thursday that a Newsweek report quoted in a recent Israeli Foreign Ministry briefing was “as clear evidence of human shielding [by Hamas] as you’re going to get”.

Journalist Rod Nordland wrote on 20 January: “Suddenly there was a terrific whoosh, louder even than a bomb explosion. It was another of Hamas’ homemade Qassam rockets being launched into Israel – and the mobile launch-pad was smack in the middle of the four [apartment] buildings, where every apartment was full.”

But Mr Van Esveld said he was only aware of evidence of “three or four” such cases, and had seen more evidence of the use of human shields by Israeli troops than by Palestinian militants.”

No more time, but there is no reason to suppose an anti-Palestinian agenda on the part of Van Esveld. Stork’s anti-Israel, pro-terror opinions on the other hand, disredit him.

I fear, given the pursuit of Saudi funds, that HRW will be giving disproportionate focus to exposing the abuses of Saudi’s enemies.

I have frequently drawn on HRW reports and it is unbelievably dispiriting to be writing this update. Greens Engage is more concerned with Israel than (Black) Engage, because we hope that Green international policy makers, currently faced with Green Party anti-Israel bias, will be looking. We try to view Israel as critically and fairly as any other country might expect. How can we do this if deprived of basic facts we can trust?

Update 2: it gets worse for Human Rights Watch. Bias is a particularly disgusting thing in an organisation which purports to stand for human rights. There should never be a good reason for the subject of a negative report to turn round and say “They have it in for us”. But HRW have provided precisely that reason by eagerly publishing allegations based on such flimsy evidence that investigative journalists became interested in the editor, and discovered a past which should have ruled him out of publishing on this subject.

Lest the perhaps-murdered and their families, who should be at the centre of the publicity for the report, are lost in the fallout of Joe Stork’s bias, I would say that it would be good if anybody involved in combat or policing were issued with their own black box, or some way of recording their actions. I can see all kinds of problems with this, but in the end they are small fry problems if you view them in the light of a situation in which men and women in a citizen army (with, it follows, a proportion of bad soldiers) are sent to find and kill enemy combatants in heavily populated areas. To be honest, I would trust Israelis to know what to do with this kind of evidence more than I would trust an organisation like Human Rights Watch and its low standards of evidence. This is not to write off HRW. It’s a salutory reminder not to trust any organisation unreservedly, to search the web for critical responses to such reports before quoting them, and to keep in mind that there may be vested interests at work in writing, crediting and discrediting such a report. Some people want to frame Israel. Some people want to defend Israel’s reputation. Some people want the truth. I hope this blog is concerned with the latter, limited only by time and other resources.

So to end, an analysis of the Rockets From Gaza report from the JTA (discovered by searching for links to the report pages – there wasn’t anything else of substance).


Huge failed bomb attack in the northern Israeli city of Haifa

Not foiled – failed.

See the BBC and Ha’aretz

“Security forces were called to the parking lot after the mall’s security guards heard a small explosion coming from the direction of a Subaru parked in a parking lot adjacent to the shopping center at around 8 P.M. on Saturday. Sappers said part of the device had gone off prematurely and another had failed to detonate.

“It’s important to note that the car was parked in the outer car park and not underground, which means it was not checked by mall security,” a police officer said.

Tatiana Daminovitch, an eye witness, said “at first the shoppers were nonchalant, some of them thought that it was a drill, and therefore the evacuation was delayed a bit.”

The commander of the Coastal District said following the incident that the police, together with the shopping center’s management, will examine the security protocols relating to the security of the mall. “We will assess the situation in this mall and in additional malls in order to gain insight into how to better secure them in the future. Without a doubt this was a large bomb that could have cost a lot of lives and damage,” he said.”

I suppose this highlights one faint silver lining. During the Second Intifada (currently suppressed by the checkpoints and security barrier) few Israelis would have assumed that an explosion was a drill.

It must be rather radicalising being blown up, or threatened with being blown up, day to day. For Palestinians and Israelis.