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Israel’s Dahiya Doctrine Undermines Its ‘Collateral Damage’ Claims In Gaza

by on Wednesday, December 30, 2009 at 9:55 am EDT in Middle East, World

It’s been a full year since Israel unleashed ‘Operation Cast Lead’ against the people of Gaza, leaving 1,400 dead (mostly civilians).  Israel and Egypt continue to blockade the 1.5 million inhabitants confined within the war-torn ghetto, restricting the flow of food, fuel, and other essential items, and thus making reconstruction and recovery virtually impossible.

The Guardian reports:

There is no uncontaminated water [in Gaza]; of the 40,000 or so newborn babies, at least half are at immediate risk of nitrate poisoning – incidence of “blue baby syndrome”, methaemoglobinaemia, is exceptionally high; an unprecedented number of people have been exposed to nitrate poisoning over 10 years; in some places the nitrate content in water is 300 times World Health Organisation standards; the agricultural economy is dying from the contamination and salinated water; the underground aquifer is stressed to the point of collapse; and sewage and waste water flows into public spaces and the aquifer.

Israel purposely destroyed Palestinian farmlands with tank bulldozers, wrecking 17% of it, and leaving 30% of it unusable.

Virtually none of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure has been rebuilt since the military escalation a year ago (as building materials have largely been denied entry from Israel’s blockade).  The Irish Times reports that:

Some 15,000 homes were damaged or destroyed during the offensive, displacing 100,000 Palestinians.

The UN estimates 3,450 homes need to be rebuilt, 2,870 homes require major reconstruction, and 52,000 need minor repairs.

The blockade has closed down 98 per cent of Gaza’s industries, while Israel’s offensive destroyed or damaged 700 private businesses, at a cost of $139 million. The war devastated agriculture, electricity and water purification and sanitation plants, health facilities and schools.

John Ging, director of operations in Gaza for UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, told the Guardian at the time of the military incursion, when the IDF repeatedly shelled civilian structures (including UN facilities):

Under international law, installations such as schools, health centres and UN facilities should be protected from attack. Well before the current fighting, the UN had given to the Israeli authorities the GPS co-ordinates of all its installations in Gaza, including Asma elementary school [which was shelled].

Considering that Israel has arguably the most sophisticated weaponry in the world, why were there so many civilian casualties?  Why did so much of the civilian infrastructure get annihilated (including entire residential neighborhoods, farmlands, schools, UN facilities, health facilities, electricity, water purification and sanitation plants)?  These questions lie at the very heart of the Goldstone Report.

A tired rhetorical tactic of Goldstone Report critics (including many of our own U.S. Congressmen) has been to re-frame the argument to a simple justification: “Israel had every right to defend itself against Hamas rocket fire.”

The truth of the matter is the Goldstone Report NEVER EVER criticizes Israel for launching a military operation against Gaza in retaliation of Hamas rocket fire.  In fact, the war crimes attributed to Israel are entirely focused on its deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure (as just described above).

Here’s distinguished South African jurist Richard Goldstone making this point to Bill Moyers:

BILL MOYERS: Let me put down a few basics first. Personally, do you have any doubt about Israel’s right to self-defense?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Absolutely not. And our approach to our mission and in our report the right of Israel to defend its citizens is taken as a given.

BILL MOYERS: So the report in no way challenges Israel’s right to self-defense-

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Not at all. What we look at is how that right was used. We don’t question the right.

[...]

BILL MOYERS: What did you see with your own eyes when you went there?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, I saw the destruction of the only flour-producing factory in Gaza. I saw fields plowed up by Israeli tank bulldozers. I saw chicken farms, for egg production, completely destroyed. Tens of thousands of chickens killed. I met with families who lost their loved ones in homes in which they were seeking shelter from the Israeli ground forces. I had to have the very emotional and difficult interviews with fathers whose little daughters were killed, whose family were killed. One family, over 21 members, killed by Israeli mortars. So, it was a very difficult investigation, which will give me nightmares for the rest of my life. [..]

BILL MOYERS: What makes those acts war crimes, as you say?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, humanitarian law, really fundamentally is what’s known as the “principle of distinction.” It requires all people involved, commanders, troops, all people involved in making war, it requires them to distinguish between civilians and combatants.  [...]

BILL MOYERS: You wrote, quote, the military operation, this military operation in Gaza, was a result of the disrespect for the fundamental principle of ‘distinction’ in international humanitarian law. So in layman’s language, the distinction between what and what?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Between combatants and innocent civilians.

BILL MOYERS: And you’re saying Israel did not do that, in many of these incidents.

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: That’s correct.

BILL MOYERS: Did you find evidence that that is deliberate on their part?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, we did. We found evidence in statements made by present and former political and military leaders, who said, quite openly, that there’s going to be a disproportionate attack. They said that if rockets are going to continue, we’re going to hit back disproportionately. We’re going to punish you for doing it. And that’s not countenanced by the law of war.

BILL MOYERS: So they were doing, on the ground, what they had said earlier they intended to do.

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: That’s correct.

BILL MOYERS: -so there was intention.

Israel’s Deliberate Intent: “The Dahiya Doctrine”

A key lesson taken away from Israel’s 2006 military escalation in Lebanon — where over 1,100 Lebanese civilians were killed, 915,762 displaced (25% of Lebanon’s entire population), and significant civil infrastructure was destroyed — became known to Israeli Officials as “The Dahiya Doctrine”.  Israeli Defense Forces’ Northern Command chief, Maj.-Gen. Eisenkot, described the doctrine to the press while actively serving in a senior command position (also transcribed into the contents of the Goldstone Report):

“What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on,” said Gadi Eisenkot, head of the army’s northern division.  Dahiya was a Hizbullah stronghold that Israel flattened in sustained air raids during a 34-day war with the Shiite group two years ago.

“We will apply disproportionate force on it (village) and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases,” Eisenkot told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

“This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved,” Eisenkot added.

The Goldstone Report quoted Major General (Ret.) Giora Eiland as having revealed (also in October of 2008 — less than two months before the Gaza offensive) that:

In the event of another war with Hizbullah, the target must not be the defeat of Hizbullah but “the elimination of the Lebanese military, the destruction of the national infrastructure and intense suffering among the population… Serious damage to the Republic of Lebanon, the destruction of homes and infrastructure, and the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people are consequences that can influence Hizbollah’s behaviour more than anything else”.

Israeli Leader, Col. (Ret.) Gabriel Siboni, also weeks before the Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, had this to say about Israel’s military plans:

With an outbreak of hostilities, the IDF will need to act immediately, decisively,and with force that is disproportionate to the enemy’s actions and the threat it poses. Such a response aims at inflicting damage and meting out punishment to an extent that will demand long and expensive reconstruction processes. The strike must be carried out as quickly as possible, and must prioritize damaging assets over seeking out each and every launcher. Punishment must be aimed at decision makers and the power elite… In Lebanon, attacks should both aim at Hizbollah’s military capabilities and should target economic interests and the centres of civilian power that support the organization. Moreover, the closer the relationship between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Government, the more the elements of the Lebanese State infrastructure should be targeted. Such a response will create a lasting memory among … Lebanese decision makers, thereby increasing Israeli deterrence and reducing the likelihood of hostilities against Israel for an extended period. At the same time, it will force Syria, Hizbollah, and Lebanon to commit to lengthy and resource-intensive reconstruction programmes…

This approach is applicable to the Gaza Strip as well. There, the IDF will be required to strike hard at Hamas and to refrain from the cat and mouse games of searching for Qassam rocket launchers. The IDF should not be expected to stop the rocket and missile fire against the Israeli home front through attacks on the launchers themselves, but by means of imposing a ceasefire on the enemy

The Goldstone Report adds this paragraph on Israeli intent:

The Mission does not have to consider whether Israeli military officials were directly influenced by these writings. It is able to conclude from a review of the facts on the ground that it witnessed for itself that what is prescribed as the best strategy appears to have been precisely what was put into practice.

The Report concludes that Palestinian civilians and their non-military infrastructure in Gaza were NOT collateral damage in Operation Cast Lead; they were intentionally and deliberately targeted for destruction.

Which begs the question:  if the UN had insisted on forming its own fact finding mission to investigate the war crimes that had been extensively reported in Lebanon, could that undertaking have deterred Israel from pursuing the Dahiya Doctrine in Gaza?  The Israeli government had instead been permitted to appoint its own commission of inquiry, the Winograd Commission — whose findings were blasted by Amnesty International and other human rights groups for completely disregarding Israeli actions that could implicate its officials in war crimes.  The Independent said of the Commission’s findings:

The commission’s statement last night omitted any mention of civilian casualties in Lebanon – for which Israel faced widespread criticism during the war. Instead it contained a strong, if hawkish, message to the Israeli political and military establishment that its only hope of “peace or non-war” is if Israeli society and others in the region believe “Israel has the political and military capabilities… to deter… its neighbours.”

Israel obviously interpreted the Winograd findings along with the international community’s reluctance to pursue war crimes investigations as something of a green light for pursuing the Dahiya Doctrine in Gaza.  Let us hope that the Goldstone Report — which was resoundingly endorsed in October in a UN Human Rights Council Resolution — will help to serve as a deterrent against future crimes against humanity.

Bill Moyers Journal: Why Robert Kuttner’s ‘Party Line’ Mindset Ensures The Status Quo

by on Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 12:03 pm EDT in Healthcare, Politics

On Friday night Bill Moyers hosted a fascinating debate on the Senate’s health care bill between Matt Taibbi, contributing editor for Rolling Stone, and Robert Kuttner, co-editor of the American Prospect.  (The video can be viewed here:  Bill Moyers Journal).  Taibbi and Kuttner both describe the just-passed health care bill as disastrous.  They outline how it is a complete giveaway to the health insurance industry, how it will do nothing to lower costs, and how it will be extremely unpopular to the American public once it’s implemented.

The following highlights some key points in their discussion:

BILL MOYERS: So are you saying that this, what some call a sweetheart deal between the pharmaceutical industry and the White House, done many months ago before this fight really began, was because the drug company money in the Democratic Party?

ROBERT KUTTNER: Well, it’s two things. Part of it was we need to do whatever it takes to get a bill. Never mind whether it’s a really good bill, let’s get a bill passed so we can claim that we solved health insurance. Secondly, let’s get the drug industry and the insurance industry either supporting us or not actively opposing us. So that there was some skirmishing around the details, but the deal going in was that the administration, drug companies, insurance companies are on the same team. Now, that’s one way to get legislation, it’s not a way to transform the health system. Once the White House made this deal with the insurance companies, the public option was never going to be anything more than a fig leaf. And over the summer and the fall, it got whittled down, whittled down, whittled down to almost nothing and now it’s really nothing.

MATT TAIBBI: Yeah, and this was Howard Dean’s point this week was that this individual mandate that’s going to force people to become customers of private health insurance companies, the Democrats are going to end up owning that policy and it’s going to be extremely unpopular and it’s going to be theirs for a generation. It’s going to be an albatross around the neck of this party.

ROBERT KUTTNER: Think about it, the difference between social insurance and an individual mandate is this. Social insurance everybody pays for it through their taxes, so you don’t think of Social Security as a compulsory individual mandate. You think of it as a benefit, as a protection that your government provides. But an individual mandate is an order to you to go out and buy some product from some private profit-making company, that in the case of a lot of moderate income people, you can’t afford to buy. And the shell game here is that the affordable policies are either very high deductibles and co-pays, so you can afford the monthly premiums but then when you get sick, you have to pay a small fortune out of pocket before the coverage kicks in. Or if the coverage is decent, the premiums are unaffordable. And so here’s the government doing the bidding of the private industry coercing people to buy profit-making products that maybe they can’t afford and they call it health reform.

As you can see, everyone is on the same page here — they both HATE this horrible insurance industry giveaway — to be awarded off the backs of struggling Americans. Both believe the bill does more harm than good.

And then Moyers asks them this simple question, and you quickly see where the real debate here will lie:

BILL MOYERS: Yes or no. If you were a senator, would you vote for this Senate health care bill?

MATT TAIBBI: No.

BILL MOYERS: Bob?

ROBERT KUTTNER: Yes.

Did you get that? Robert Kuttner would vote for this Senate health care bill that he had just described as disastrous.  An astounded Moyers confronts Kuttner:

BILL MOYERS: Why? You just said it’s designed to enhance the fortunes of the industry.

ROBERT KUTTNER: Well, it’s so far from what I think is necessary that I don’t think it’s a good bill. But I think if it goes down, just because of the optics of the situation and the way the Republicans have framed this as a make or break moment for President Obama, it will make it easier for the Republicans to take control of Congress in 2010. It will make Obama even more gun-shy about promoting reform. It will create even more political paralysis. It will embolden the republicans to block what this President is trying to do, some of which is good, at every turn. So I would hold my nose and vote for it.  [...]

BILL MOYERS: Aren’t you saying that in order to save the Democratic President and the Democratic Party in 2010 and 2012 you have to have a really rotten health insurance bill?

ROBERT KUTTNER: Well, when you come down to one pivotal moment where a bill is before Congress and the administration has staked the entire presidency on this bill and you’re a progressive Democrat are you going to vote for it or not? Let me put it this way, if I were literally in the position that Joe Lieberman is in and it was up to me to determine whether this bill live or die, I would hold my nose and vote for it even though I have been a fierce critic of the path this administration has taken. [...]

Matt Taibbi gets it absolutely right in this exchange with Kuttner:

ROBERT KUTTNER: I mean, I was making the same criticisms that you were at the time. But now we’re down to a moment of final passage. And maybe my views are very ambivalent. But I would still vote for it because I think the defeat would be absolutely crushing in terms of the way the press played it, in terms of the way it would give encouragement to the far right in this country that we can block this guy if we just fight hard enough, if we just demagogue it.

MATT TAIBBI: But couldn’t that defeat turn into- that crushing defeat, couldn’t that be good for the Democrats? Couldn’t it teach them a lesson that, you know, maybe they have to pursue a different course in the future?

Kuttner’s mindset is precisely why politicians continue to undermine their constituents at every turn.  Politicians believe that their party members and constituents — even those further to the Left (like Kuttner) who routinely criticize their actions — will ultimately hold their noses and walk the party line.  It is exactly why Rahm Emanuel confidently asserted to the Wall Street Journal they need not worry about the Left.  It is why real meaningful change will never occur in Washington, because politicians — a crafty bunch — are banking that Kuttner’s mentality is prevalent amongst their constituency.

Politicians respond to one very simple and primal motivator: FEAR.

  1. FEAR that entrenched interests will stop funding their campaigns, and instead will begin to fund their opponents.
  2. FEAR that their constituency will suddenly turn on them, and vote them out of office.

In a legislative initiative such as health care reform, entrenched interests would have to take a serious hit to their profits in order to stop the needless suffering of the American public.  These companies reap incredible profit from their government-protected monopoly/oligopoly status (no competition), and by denying claims and coverage.  There is no way around this.  Either Obama protects their profits at the expense of the public, or he pushes legislation that harms their profits.

Emanuel and Obama very astutely calculated that entrenched interests would be unforgiving — mercenary, in fact — if their profits were in any way threatened.  But they suspected Kuttner’s ‘party line’ mindset would ultimately prevail amongst their liberal colleagues in the House and in the electorate; that they would ultimately walk the party line, given a two party system where choosing between the lesser of two evils is the name of the game.

This ‘party line’ mindset — exemplified perfectly by Kuttner — is one that not only enables the status quo, it guarantees its perpetuity.  The entrenched interests’ stranglehold over our government will continue as long as people mechanically support whatever policies their party leaders have decided to push, even if it’s something they themselves believe to be disastrous, a giveaway to interest groups, and harmful to Americans.  Kuttner is essentially saying he would support a terrible, harmful policy only for the sake of denying a political victory to the opposition.  That’s the entire crux of his explanation.

Kuttner’s message is exactly the wrong one to be sending to our political representatives.  It plays right into the strategic calculations these politicians make whenever they must choose between pursuing something exceedingly difficult — like meaningful change — or pursuing something far easier, and more predictable — like status quo.  Observing Kuttner’s quick capitulation should help us to better understand why Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama have chosen to serve special interests at the expense of the public interest.  They really only FEAR the special interests, because special interests are the only ones certain to hold them to account.  After all, the Left — as Kuttner demonstrated — would never do anything that might inadvertently help to put a Republican back in power.  Right?

As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently put it:  “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”

Bill Moyers & Glenn Greenwald Discuss Gov’t Secrecy, The Beltway Elite, Afghanistan

by on Friday, October 30, 2009 at 2:19 pm EDT in Afghanistan, Politics, World

My favorite news man, Bill Moyer at PBS, interviews my favorite blogger, Glenn Greenwald at Salon, in a web-exclusive video.  It’s a fascinating discussion that covers a number of different topics.

Part I: Moyers and Greenwald discuss how the Obama Administration has actually embraced Bush-era justifications for secrecy and indefinite detention:

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Part II: Moyers and Greenwald discuss the Washington Beltway Elite — how they operate, and how they view the world from within their bubble:

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Part III: Moyers and Greenwald discuss Afghanistan and President Karzai’s brother — an alleged drug trafficker — who has been receiving millions of dollars by being on the CIA payroll:

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Bill Moyers Interviews Justice Richard Goldstone About Gaza Investigations

by on Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 7:52 pm EDT in Middle East, Politics, World

Here’s a must see for those interested in learning more about the UN Human Rights Council’s investigation into Israel’s military incursion into Gaza, and its controversial findings: namely that both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes. Bill Moyers speaks at length with Justice Richard Goldstone — whom I wrote about last week.  Here’s a few [...]