Lebanon, Palestine: Provoking War
By Stephen Lendman
Perhaps suggesting a larger-scale planned offensive, recent violent Israeli outbreaks struck Gaza, the West Bank, and Israeli/Lebanon border, the first there since the summer 2006 war.
Like Cast Lead, it was Israeli aggression - violent, lawless and unrelenting, a scorched-earth blitzkrieg, inflicting vast destruction, causing billions in damage, killing over 1,000 Lebanese, injuring thousands more, and displacing around a million others (about one-fourth of the country's four million population), including over 300,000 children fleeing north for their lives. In the end, Hezbollah handed Israel a humiliating defeat. Perhaps revenge is planned.
On August 4, Ma'an News reported that Israeli and Lebanese troops clashed - exchanging fire, killing four Lebanese citizens, including three soldiers. One Israeli soldier was killed. Reports said violence erupted after Israeli soldiers crossed the border, then tried uprooting a tree to install a surveillance camera and equipment, a chain of events leaving five dead. An IDF spokesman said soldiers hadn't entered Lebanon, but were between the UN-administered Blue Line and Israel's border fence.
Lebanese accounts had Israeli soldiers in the area, removing trees to install surveillance equipment. Israel called it "routine maintenance." Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri condemned what he called Israeli violation of Lebanese sovereignty. Lebanon's parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, wants a complaint against Israel filed with the UN Security Council. Israel may file its own in response, its Foreign Ministry saying "Israel sees the firing on an IDF force which acted in coordination with UNIFEL (Blue Helmets) in the border region in the last hours a blunt violation of Security Resolution 1701."
Hariri wants the UN to demand Israel implement Resolution 1701, calling for demilitarization of the area within the Blue Line where UNIFEL troops are stationed. Throughout its history, Israel has spurned all UN resolutions criticizing its policies and actions.
On August 3, Haaretz writer Jack Khoury headlined, "(Hassan) Nasrallah: Hezbollah will respond if Israel attacks Lebanon's army," saying:
In a speech marking four years since the end of the 2006 war, Hezbollah's leader said:
"I say honestly, that in any place where the Lebanese army will be assaulted and there's a presence for the resistance, and it is capable, the resistance will not stand silent, or quiet or restrained....Israel's aggression against Lebanon has not stopped, and what happened today only proves that. Since the ceasefire and until today, Israel has blatantly violated (the UN Security Council resolution) more than 7,000 times, and no one has lifted a finger, not even the Security Council."
He also praised Lebanon's army and said Hezbollah was on highest alert during the incident. "I was personally in contact with (Hezbollah) commanders in the area, and I asked them not to act before receiving a direct order. We announced that we would not initiate any activity as long as we did not receive authorization from the highest command of the Lebanese army."
On August 5, Haaretz writer Gideon Levy headlined, "Only we're allowed," saying:
"After Tuesday's border clash, Israel will continue to ignore UNIFEL and the Lebanese army....Those bastards, the Lebanese, changed the rules. Scandalous. Word is, they have a brigade commander who's determined to protect his country's sovereignty. Scandalous."
Levy explained that in Gaza a "fence is a fence." Getting near it is enough to get shot and killed. In the West Bank, nearly the entire Separation Wall ignores the Green Line. Palestinians are forbidden to cross.
In Lebanon, it's different. Israel makes its own rules, ignoring "fences," crossing the border illegally, invading Lebanese air space, at times aggressively. Until 2000, Israeli forces occupied South Lebanon for 18 years, its so-called "security zone." Today, all Palestine is occupied since 1967.
"We're allowed" to be there. Palestinians "aren't allowed" to resist. "We're allowed" to enter Lebanon. "They're forbidden" from reacting. Try it, and "Lebanon must learn a lesson, and we will teach it. And what about us? We don't have any lessons to learn. We'll continue to ignore UNIFEL," UN resolutions, the rule of law, "the Lebanese Army and its new brigade commander, who has the nerve to think that his job is to protect his country's sovereignty." Scandalous.
Israeli Provocations in Gaza
Six days of Israeli air strikes left several dead and dozens wounded. In addition, IDF shellfire killed one Palestinian and wounded two or more others. The attacks are the latest provocations occurring regularly without warning.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) reported the air strikes, one against Hamas member 'Isa al-Batran from the al-Boreij refugee camp, another against Gaza City's runway, targeting security vehicles near the presidential compound. Neighboring homes and buildings were damaged. Residents were terrified. At the same time, tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border were attacked, ones providing essential supplies prohibited under siege. No casualties were reported.
The next day, a missile killed Izziddin al-Qassam Brigade member 'Isa Abdul Hadi al-Batran in Central Gaza, the attack destroying area residential structures. Earlier assassination attempts failed, the latest taking his life, his wife and five children.
Near Erez crossing with no provocation, Israeli snipers shot three workers, collecting materials from rubble stockpiles. Israel maintains a 67 square km Gazan agricultural area "no-go zone," regularly shooting Palestinians who enter, including farmers on their own land.
PCHR called the attacks "part of a series of the Israeli war crimes committed which reflect (its) disregard for the lives of Palestinians."
On August 2, a massive explosion rocked Gaza's Deir al-Balah refugee camp injuring 58, including 13 children and nine women, one suffering a miscarriage as a result. It also destroyed seven houses and damaged 30 others.
The Izziddin al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas' armed wing) issued an August 3 press release saying:
"We confirm that what happened resulted from a Zionist security operation intended to assassinate field leaders in the" Brigades.
Eyewitnesses said bombs placed in a house belonging to senior Hamas official Alaa al-Danaf exploded, initial reports saying Israeli missile strikes caused it. Al-Danaf wasn't killed.
On August 4, in a series of daily attacks, an Israeli air strike killed one Palestinian and wounded another east of Khan Younis in Gaza. Nearby residents are reminded of last winter's Cast Lead, again seeing dead, wounded, destruction, and scattered debris, part of Israel's campaign to traumatize them.
PCHR launched a "serious and comprehensive investigation" to determine what happened in Deir al-Balah - whether stored bombs exploded, sabotage occurred, or other factors were involved. Israeli involvement is always suspected, especially since days of air strikes preceded it, regular attacks against Gazan civilians, leaving dead and wounded behind.
Preceding the latest attacks, Haaretz reported rockets fired at Israel's southern port city of Eilat. No casualties were reported. Another struck Aqaba, Jordan, killing one civilian and wounding four others. Israel blamed Hamas, but Jordanian security forces said they came from Egypt's Sinai or southern Jordan, not Gaza, Hamas strongly denying involvement.
Since Cast Lead ended in January 2009, Hamas maintained a unilateral ceasefire, Israel violating theirs repeatedly, recent air and ground attacks the latest provocations, countered by Palestinian resistance factions (unaffiliated with Hamas), firing one or more Grad-type rockets, hitting an area in Ashkelon, Israel. No deaths or injuries were reported.
On August 1, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights condemned the Israeli attacks, warned of new escalation, and asked the international community to intervene "to ensure that civilians and their property are protected in the occupied Palestinian territory."
Regular West Bank Incursions and Repression
In late July, PCHR reported the following:
-- Israel continued to impose free movement restrictions throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including access to the city; currently 630 permanent manned and unmanned checkpoints are maintained as well as 60 - 80 "flying" (temporary) ones erected every week;
-- Separation Wall construction continues, nearly all on confiscated Palestinian land, around 12% of the West Bank when completed;
-- at least 65% of the main roads leading to 18 Palestinian communities are closed or fully controlled by Israeli forces;
-- around 500 km of restricted roads cross the West Bank; one-third or more of the Territory, including East Jerusalem, is inaccessible to Palestinians without very hard to get permits;
-- peaceful demonstrators are regularly assaulted, injured, arrested, and at times killed;
-- in one week, Israeli forces conducted 25 incursions into West Bank communities, and five others in Gaza; WB ones included al-Mazra'a al-Gharbiya village near Ramallah; 'Anata village near Jerusalem; Jayous village near Qaqlilya; the al-Fawar refugee camp near Hebron; 'Allar and Baqa al-Sharqiya villages near Tulkarm; Dura, Ethna, Bani Na'im, Sa'ir, Nouba, and Beit Oula villages near Hebron; the town of Salfit; al-Shawawra village near Bethlehem; al-Zawia village near Salfit; 'Anabta and Kufor al-Labad villages near Tulkarm; the city of Tulkarm; the city of Qalqilya; Shwaika suburb near Tulkarm; Jalbourn and Deir Abu Da'if villages near Jenin; and on August 5 the Al-Frahen area near Khan Younis in central Gaza with bulldozers and tanks, firing on farmers and other civilians; no injuries were reported;
-- in all of them, excessive force was used; streets were patrolled; homes invaded and searched; contents damaged or destroyed; arrests made; and civilians shot; one death was reported, others wounded, what happens regularly throughout the Territories in violation of international law, what Israel hasn't recognized, respected, or obeyed for over six decades, targeting protected persons and citizens they're supposed to safeguard.
Why PCHR and other human rights organizations want Fourth Geneva's High Contracting Parties (HCPs) to fulfill "their legal and moral responsibility (to) ensure Israel's respect for Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, (and) take effective steps" to demand compliance, what must and will happen with or without HCP help, pressure building to assure it, but not soon or easily.
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.
Israeli security forces destroyed a Bedouin village this week for the second time in a matter of days, leaving 300 inhabitants homeless again after they and dozens of Jewish and Arab volunteers had begun rebuilding the 45 homes.
Human rights groups warned that these appeared to be the opening shots in a long-threatened campaign by the Israeli government to begin mass forced removals of tens of thousands of Bedouin from their ancestral lands in the southern Negev.
The High Follow-Up Committee, the main political body for Israel’s Arab minority, vowed this week to help rebuild the village for a second time and said it would call on the UN to investigate Israel’s treatment of the Bedouin.
Al Araqib village, which is a few kilometres north of the Negev’s main city Beersheva, has become a symbol of the struggle by about 90,000 Bedouin to win recognition for dozens of communities the government claims are built on state land.
In a test case before the Israeli courts, an inhabitant of al Araqib has been presenting documents and expert testimony to show his ancestors owned and lived on the village’s lands many decades before Israel’s establishment in 1948. The judge is expected to rule within months.
“Tearing down an entire village and leaving its inhabitants homeless without exhausting all other options for settling longstanding land claims is outrageous,” said Joe Stork, the deputy Middle East director of Human Rights Watch.
A force of 1,500 police, including a special riot squad wearing black balaclavas, entered the village early on Wednesday to pull down a dozen wooden shacks and a half-built concrete home. The local Aturi tribe had been in the process of rebuilding the village after it was razed by bulldozers a week earlier.
The Israeli forces also uprooted 850 olive trees, said Ortal Tzabar, a spokeswoman for the government’s Land Administration.
Yesterday Adalah, a legal group for Israel’s 1.3 million Arab citizens, demanded a criminal investigation into what it called “police brutality” during both demolition operations.
Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer, said assaults on villagers, confiscation of their property and the security forces’ decision to cover their faces and not wear identity tags were all designed to “instil fear” in the residents.
Taleb a-Sanaa, a Bedouin member of the Israeli parliament who was left unconscious on Wednesday after police dragged him from a tent in which he was staging a protest, warned that the government was risking “an uprising in the Negev”.
Six village leaders were arrested shortly afterwards when they refused to sign a paper committing not to return to al Araqib.
Awad Abu Freih, a village spokesman, said they remained defiant. “The authorities want to break our connection to this land so it can be turned over to Jews. They can keep destroying, but we will continue rebuilding. We will not leave.”
The first demolition of the village, late last month, came shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned his cabinet that the growth of the country’s Arab minority, already a fifth of the population, posed a “palpable threat” to the state’s Jewishness.
“The effect could be that different elements will demand national rights within Israel – for example, in the Negev – if we allow for a region without a Jewish majority.”
Last month the government announced a $50 million assistance programme to encourage army personnel to relocate to Jewish communities in the Negev.
The Bedouin’s increasing assertiveness about their indigenous status, which is backed by international groups, has led to a backlash from officials, who regularly refer to the Bedouin as “squatters” and “invaders” of state land.
Nili Baruch of Bimkom, an Israeli planning rights group, said a master plan currently being approved for the metropolitan area of Beersheva required “more house demolitions and more forced removals of the Bedouin population”, such as occurred at al-Araqib.
In addition, she said, the authorities had approved a special operation known as “Hot Wind” to carry out the demolitions.
The government’s conflict with the Bedouin dates back to Israel’s founding, when most of the Negev’s population were driven out of the new state.
With the highest birth rate in Israel, the surviving tribes have grown rapidly and now number 180,000, more than a quarter of the Negev’s population despite waves of state-sponsored Jewish migration.
Israel has refused to recognise most of the Bedouin’s traditional communities and insists they move into seven deprived townships built by the government several decades ago. Only about half have done so, with the rest insisting on their right to continue with their pastoral way of life.
Al-Araqib has become a particular point of friction because most of the Aturi moved into a nearby township, Rahat, in the 1970s, after their lands had been declared a closed military zone.
But faced with severe overcrowding in Rahat and no new land for expansion, many young families began moving back to al-Araqib a decade ago.
Like 45 other unrecognised villages, al Araqib is denied all services, including water and electricity, and its buildings are illegal.
A recent government commission found that tens of thousands of Bedouin buildings are subject to demolition orders, though until now individual buildings have been targeted, not whole communities.
Last month the Beersheva planning committee approved a scheme to recognise 13 Bedouin villages and force the other inhabitants into the townships.
In that plan, al Araqib’s lands are designated for a “peace forest” – funded by an international Zionist organisation, the Jewish National Fund – a move Mr Abu Freih said was designed to prevent the villagers’ return.
Ms Baruch said the authorities were demanding the inhabitants move to Rahat, even though no homes were provided for them.
Mr Abu Freih said other parts of the tribe’s lands nearby had been secretly settled by Jews in 2004. In a night-time operation JNF and government officials set up caravans that subsequently became an exclusively Jewish known as Givat Bar.
From 2002, Israel began a policy of annually spraying herbicide on al-Araqib’s crops, in an attempt to move them off the land, until the supreme court deemed the practice illegal in 2007.
- Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net. (A version of this article originally appeared in The National -www.thenational.ae - published in Abu Dhabi.)
Report, The Electronic Intifada, 5 August 2010
Bulldozers returned to the village of al-Araqib in the northern Negev on Wednesday, 4 August, and demolished approximately ten new structures residents and supporters had built a week after Israeli forces completely destroyed the village on 27 July.
Hundreds of Bedouin Palestinians, who hold Israeli citizenship, were made homeless last week after Israeli police, supported by bulldozers, helicopters and busloads of cheering Israeli civilians, razed the entire village to the ground. Investigative journalist Max Blumenthal revealed that not only were Israeli civilians brought in busloads to inspirit the destruction of al-Araqib on 27 July, but Israeli youth were employed by a private security outsourcing firm to physically assist in the ethnic cleansing project itself ("A Tale of Two Summer Camps and One Dark Future, 3 August 2010).
In the days following the destruction of al-Araqib, local community organizations, including the Higher Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, brought building supplies and materials and had rebuilt several homes. On Wednesday, a unit of the Israeli Lands Administration alongside dozens of riot police invaded the village and destroyed the new structures.
Member of Knesset (Israel's parliament) Talab al-Sana (Balad), who is Bedouin, was amongst protesters who attempted to prevent the demolition of one of the new buildings. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, al-Sana was injured and fainted during clashes between the Israeli police and unarmed demonstrators in the village. Several people, including Knesset member Iman Udah from the Hadash party, were also injured and arrested ("Police clash with Bedouin attempting to rebuild razed village," 4 August 2010).
Haaretz reported yesterday that the al-Araqib popular committee stated that "all attempts to uproot the residents of the village will fail in the end," and that it "deepens the crisis of distrust between the [Israeli] state and its Bedouin citizens."
The Jewish National Fund (JNF) plans to build a forest on the land of al-Araqib. The majority of villagers still live in tents on their land, and the Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported that locals said they will keep rebuilding their homes. The JNF, a para-state institution, has worked since before the establishment of the State of Israel to erase and appropriate Palestinian land.
According to researcher Hazem Jamjoum, "the JNF is the central pillar of Israel's regime over land. As a Zionist 'national' agency unburdened by restrictions on whether or not it treats citizens equally, the state has systematically subcontracted the JNF for the implementation of demographically engineering the land in the country in favor of the Jewish community, or what Israeli officials have called 'Judaization'" ("Challenging the Jewish National Fund," 21 July 2010).
On Tuesday, 3 August, Israeli forces invaded and demolished several other smaller Bedouin villages in the Negev. The Palestine Information Center (PIC) reported that the villages of Qasr al-Sirr, Abu Salb and Rakhma were invaded by Israeli bulldozers and homes were destroyed. PIC reported that Israeli police forces assaulted a physically disabled man as he tried to stop the demolition of his home ("Israeli army raids villages in Negev, demolishes dozens of homes," 3 August 2010).
Settlement building continues apace
Meanwhile, the Israeli settlement-monitoring organization Peace Now released a report this week that documents at least 462 violations of the Israeli government's "moratorium" on settlement construction, which began in November 2009 and is set to expire next month ("Eight months into the settlement freeze"). Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated that he will not extend the moratorium period, and as The Electronic Intifada reported earlier, settler groups have already begun planning accelerated settlement construction to begin the day after the moratorium ends.
Using evidence of aerial photographs, Peace Now says in its report that "there is almost no freeze or even a visible slowdown, despite the fact that legal construction starts have been frozen for eight months. It also means that the government of Israel is not enforcing the moratorium."
The organization remarked that approximately 600 new housing units have begun to be constructed during the moratorium period, including 223 "permanent structures" and 167 trailer-caravans.
"On the eve of the freeze," states Peace Now's report, "the Israeli government approved some 492 housing units to be started during the freeze (and an additional 112 units that were granted during the freeze in Beitar Illit). Only 141 of those exceptions have begun to be built, and therefore according to Peace Now's count, at least 462 new housing units have been built illegally in violation of the freeze. Within these 462 units, 31 caravans and seven permanent structures have been built in outposts and not only do they violate the settlement freeze but they violate the Laws of Planning and Construction."
Peace Now director Yariv Oppenheimer told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Tuesday that the Netanyahu government was responsible for not successfully enforcing the moratorium policy. "In some places the government doesn't know about it and in some places it is trying to ignore it," he said.
Additionally, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) released a report on Tuesday stating that approximately 517,774 Jewish settlers live in illegal settlement colonies inside the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem. PCBS found that "the number of settlers who live in Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories increased by more than 40 times during the period of 1972 to 2009." PCBS says that there are currently 144 settlements in the occupied West Bank, including 26 in the Jerusalem governorate ("Statistical Report About Israeli Settlements in Palestinian Territory 2009," 3 August 2010).
Destruction of Muslim graves
Meanwhile, Ma'an reported on 4 August that bulldozers in West Jerusalem resumed destroying Muslim graves in the Mamilla cemetery, which has been a sacred burial ground for Muslims since the seventh century. The Al-Aqsa Foundation for Waqf and Heritage told Ma'an that it condemns the destruction of 15 graves on Wednesday morning "by Israeli workers who started overturning the cemetery" ("Foundation: Israel bulldozes 15 graves in Jerusalem cemetery"). The Alternative Information Center, based in Jerusalem, added that Israeli police accompanied the bulldozers during the demolition operations ("Israel destroys 15 more Mamilla graves," 4 August 2010).
The Mamilla cemetery is being demolished for the building of a "Museum of Tolerance" by the Simon Wiesenthal Center on the site. Descendants of individuals buried in the historic Muslim cemetery, in addition to local prominent Palestinian families and international human rights organizations, have filed petitions of protest and official complaints to the United Nations Human Rights commissions and to UNESCO, urging the international bodies to intervene.