Saturday, January 10, 2009

Bloody typical

Congress backs Israel war crimes:

Both houses of Congress lined up in near-unanimous support of Israel’s war on Gaza. Yesterday, the Senate passed their version of the resolution without a single dissenting vote.

Today’s vote in the House produced only 5 “No” votes: Ron Paul (R-TX), Dennis Kuchinich (D-OH), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Nick Rahall (D-WV), and Gwen Moore (D-WI). 22 voted “present” and 16 didn’t vote. See how your Congressmember voted.

The resolution is totally one-sided, blaming only the Palestinians.

So, where's the change?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Even in the WSJ,

Israel's actions against the Gazan civilians is being characterized as criminal:

But on June 19, 2008, Hamas and Israel commenced a six-month truce. Neither side complied perfectly. Israel refused to substantially ease the suffocating siege of Gaza imposed in June 2007. Hamas permitted sporadic rocket fire -- typically after Israel killed or seized Hamas members in the West Bank, where the truce did not apply. Either one or no Israelis were killed (reports differ) by rockets in the half year leading up to the current attack.

Israel then broke the truce on Nov. 4, raiding the Gaza Strip and killing a Palestinian. Hamas retaliated with rocket fire; Israel then killed five more Palestinians. In the following days, Hamas continued rocket fire -- yet still no Israelis died. Israel cannot claim self-defense against this escalation, because it was provoked by Israel's own violation.

An armed attack that is not justified by self-defense is a war of aggression. Under the Nuremberg Principles affirmed by U.N. Resolution 95, aggression is a crime against peace.

Israel has also failed to adequately discriminate between military and nonmilitary targets. Israel's American-made F-16s and Apache helicopters have destroyed mosques, the education and justice ministries, a university, prisons, courts and police stations. These institutions were part of Gaza's civilian infrastructure. And when nonmilitary institutions are targeted, civilians die. Many killed in the last week were young police recruits with no military roles. Civilian employees in the Hamas-led government deserve the protections of international law like all others.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


The number of kids in Gaza killed so far by the Israeli military. The number of wounded is 1080, and rising. The International Red Cross is not amused:

Israel today came under fierce criticism from humanitarian groups for delaying access to the injured during its offensive in Gaza as fresh fighting killed at least 11 people, taking the death toll over 700.

The unusually strong condemnation coincided with a UN announcement that it was suspending its operations in the territory in response to what it said were Israeli attacks.

The International Committee of the Red Cross accused Israel of "unacceptable" delays in letting rescue workers reach three homes in Gaza City that had been hit by shelling.

The group said the Israeli army refused rescuers permission to reach the site in the Zaytun neighbourhood for four days. Once Red Cross teams reached the area yesterday, they found four small children next to their dead mothers at one home. They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up. In all, there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses.

In another house, a rescue team found 15 survivors, including several wounded. In yet another home, rescuers found three bodies. Israeli soldiers posted at a military position nearby ordered the rescue team to leave the area, which it refused to do.

"This is a shocking incident," said Pierre Wettach, the Red Cross's head for the region. "The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestine Red Crescent to assist the wounded."

The ICRC said the children and wounded had to be taken to the ambulances on a donkey cart because Israeli forces had erected large earth walls, making it impossible to bring ambulances into the neighbourhood. The Red Cross said it brought out 18 wounded and 12 others who were extremely exhausted, as well as two bodies.

Diplomatic efforts continued yesterday, with senior Israeli officials travelling to Cairo for Egyptian-brokered talks on a proposed ceasefire, but Hamas spokesmen reiterated that they have major reservations about the plan.

Since yesterday , Israel has observed a daily, three-hour halt in operations to allow humanitarian evacuations and aid deliveries throughout Gaza, but aid groups said such lulls were insufficient to alleviate the suffering of civilians trapped by almost two weeks of fighting.

In its statement, the ICRC demanded that the Israeli military grant it and ambulances safe passage and access immediately to search for any other wounded. The ICRC has still not received confirmation from the Israeli authorities that this will be allowed.

Other groups such as Médecins Sans Frontières have also criticised Israel for blocking access to people injured during the crisis. Jessica Pourraz, a field coordinator for the group, yesterday urged Israel to respect the "humanitarian space" and allow access to those in need of medical help.

Israel has also come under strong criticism from the UN, which said it was halting all aid shipments into Gaza, citing attacks on UN staff and buildings.

The announcement came shortly after the driver of a UN truck was shot and killed by tank fire near an Israeli border as he was about to pick up an aid shipment. The UN said the delivery had been coordinated with Israel and that the vehicle carried a UN flag and insignia. Earlier this week, at least 40 people were killed when two UN schools were hit by Israeli gunfire.

Ugly doesn't even begin to describe it.

I don't want to say I told you so, but

I told you so. The Pope of Hope is, as I was saying last year, merely another proponent of neoliberal orthodoxy.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

More news of the obvious

Push abstinence only "education" instead of legitimate sex education, reduce or eliminate access to successful forms of birth control, and sure enough teen pregnancy rates rise:
The Centers for Disease Control released a new report today that found that Mississippi “now has the nation’s highest teen pregnancy rate, displacing Texas and New Mexico for that lamentable title.” The report found that in 2006, the Mississippi teen pregnancy rate was over 60 percent higher than the national average and increased 13 percent since the year before.

While the new report does not explain why the state’s teen pregnancy rate is increasing, one reason may be the poor quality of its sex ed programs. As the Sexuality Information and Education Center explains, Mississippi focuses heavily on abstinence education and teachers are prohibited from demonstrating how to use contraceptives:

Mississippi schools are not required to teach sexuality education or sexually transmitted disease (STD)/HIV education. If schools choose to teach either or both forms of education, they must stress abstinence-until-marriage, including “the likely negative psychological and physical effects of not abstaining.” […]

If the school board authorizes the teaching of contraception, state law dictates that the failure rates and risks of each contraceptive method must be included and “in no case shall the instruction or program include any demonstration of how condoms or other contraceptives are applied.

A reporter for ABC News’s Jackson, MS affiliate explained, “The Mississippi Department of Human Services says abstinence is the only birth control that is 100 percent effective. And that’s the only message teens need to hear.” Unfortunately, numerous studies show that abstinence-only education is not effective. As one study found:

Teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do, according to a study released today.

Further, a review by the House Oversight Committee found that “80% of the abstinence-only curricula…contain false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health.”

Pregnant teens in Mississippi face few options. Access to facilities that provide abortions in that state is extremely limited. Indeed, because of an unusually effective anti-choice campaign in the legislature, only a single abortion clinic remains open in the state.

The report also found that the teen pregnancy rate is rising fastest in Alaska, where Gov. Sarah Palin (R) is a strong proponent of abstinence-only sex ed.
If the objective is prevention of unplanned teen pregnancies, the abstinence only approach has been an abysmal failure, and those states that have pushed the approach the most have reaped the bitter fruit of going in that direction. If, on the other hand, the objective is to "punish" evil, unchaste young women with pregnancy based on a view of women tied to an Augustinian* belief regarding "Original Sin" that has haunted our culture since the early Medieval period - a view by the way that perceives women as objects of fear and revulsion - then abstinence-only education, along with cutting off access to effective birth control methods has been a howling success. My guess is that punishment is the main objective.

* You can get a feel for the Augustinian concept of Original Sin in which sex is viewed as inherently corrupt, from Arthur Silber's blog. Augustine's conceptualization seems to have built on the work of other earlier Christian theological writings going back easily to Tertullian (whose views of women places the onus of all the evils of the world squarely on the alleged corruptible nature of women since Eve) and St. Paul who privileged celibacy as the ideal, and sexuality as sinful. Personally, that's not a worldview I would ever want to pass on to my children.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The one year in review worth looking at

I wasn't particularly sentimental about last year. It sucked. Good riddance. That said, I have found one look back that seems worth the bother, thanks to the blogger who ran Survival Acres - who left behind an epilogue and perhaps magnum opus that aptly summarizes what has passed, the Zeitgeist of the present, and some possible futures.

H/t Mickey Z.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Cluster Bombs and White Phosphorus: Will the Atrocities Never Cease

Among other bits of news coming out of the site of the latest massacre of Palestinians are 1) the Israeli military is using cluster bombs, and 2) that the Israeli military is dropping white phosophorus on Gaza's civilians. Some tidbits:
(Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. The Newshoggers has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this material nor is The Newshoggers endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

The image above is the London Times, as "Israeli artillery shells explode with a chemical agent designed to create smokescreen for ground forces." But last night the same picture was simply captioned as an artillery shell exploding over Gaza and other similiar images at AFP/Getty are similiarly captioned. One wonders why Murdoch's flagship newspaper decided to change the caption.

In two of those AFP/Getty images, here and here, you can clearly see impact explosions and fires begun by those impacts. Those are not chemical smoke shells. An ex-military officer friend tells me that the shells seen exploding in all these pictures are DPICM or Cluster Munition rounds. Identical cluster munitions were used in Lebanon by the IDF during the 2006 conflict and by both the UK and US during the invasion of Iraq. It's likely that the IDF are using US-made M483A1 DPICM artillery-delivered shells.

At the end of May, 111 nations including most NATO allies signed a treaty banning their stockpiling and use. neither the US nor Israel agreed to become signators. Although cluster bombs are not explicitly forbidden by the Geneva Law, the rules of war prohibit the use of inherently indiscriminate weapons or weapons that are incapable of being used in a manner that complies with the obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants. Those who use them in civilian areas therefore open themselves to charges of war crimes.

The impact of such indiscriminate tactics is immediate:
Eric Fosse, a Norwegian doctor there, said Hamas fighters were a small minority of the casualties brought in.

"This hospital has been filled up with patients," he added. This morning they [Israeli forces] bombed the fruit market. There were a large number of casualties.

"We became like a field hospital. There were two patients at a time in the operating rooms and we were operating on other people in the corridors. Some were dying before we could get to them."

Moawya Hasanian, the head of al-Shifa's emergency and ambulance department, said the hospital had taken in 33 dead and 137 wounded by lunchtime on Sunday.
Among those killed was an paramedic after his ambulance was hit by Israeli fire. Three of his colleagues were wounded.

"Only three of the dead are from Hamas, the rest are civilians," Hasanian said. "There are many children under 18. There are many in critical condition. We are working under pressure. It's not easy to work with bombs and air strikes everywhere. It's not easy for ambulances to move."
Which makes Israeli claims of there being no humanitarian crisis in Gaza ludicrous.
John Ging, the head of the UN relief agency in Gaza, described the situation there as "inhuman".

"We have a catastrophe unfolding in Gaza for the civilian population," he said. "The people of Gaza City and the north now have no water. That comes on top of having no electricity. They're trapped, they're traumatised, they're terrorised by this situation.

"They're in their homes. They're not safe. They're being killed and injured in large numbers, and they have no end in sight. The inhumanity of this situation, the lack of action to bring this to an end, is bewildering to them."

The UN has been particularly angered at the contention of the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Ging also accused Israel of a campaign of destroying public buildings vital to the administration and governance of Gaza.

"The whole infrastructure of the future state of Palestine is being destroyed," he said. "Blowing up the parliament building. That's the parliament of Palestine. That's not a Hamas building. The president's compound is for the president of Palestine. Schools, mosques."
"When there was a siege, we kept taking about a catastrophe," said Hatem Shurrab, 24, of Gaza City. "But then the airstrikes started, and now we don't even know what word to use. There's no word in the dictionary that can describe the situation we are in."
Update: I've had another email from a colleague who says that the pictured shell bursts could be White Phosphorus rounds. That too, of course, would be an arguable violation of the Geneva Conventions, given that in the two AFP/Getty pictures linked there are clear explosions on the ground linked to the shellburst's numerous smoke trails.

Update3: Haaretz confirms the IDF's use of cluster bombs but says they're being used over "open areas". Gaza is a lot smaller than Rhode island and cluster bombs have a pattern as big as a football field.

Update 4. The pictures definitely show white phosphorus rounds bursting over built-up civilian areas and causing fires. A nasty weapon in such circumstances.

White phosphorus bombs and shells are incendiary devices, but can also be used as an offensive anti-personnel flame compound capable of causing serious burns or death...White phosphorus weapons are controversial today because of their potential use against civilians. While the Chemical Weapons Convention does not designate WP as a chemical weapon, various unofficial groups consider it to be one. In recent years, the United States, Israel, Russia, and Argentina have used white phosphorus in combat.

...Incandescent particles of WP cast off by a WP weapon's initial explosion can produce extensive, deep (second and third degree), burns. Phosphorus burns carry a greater risk of mortality than other forms of burns due to the absorption of phosphorus into the body through the burned area, resulting in liver, heart and kidney damage, and in some cases multi-organ failure.[23] These weapons are particularly dangerous to exposed people because white phosphorus continues to burn unless deprived of oxygen or until it is completely consumed.
While I think of historical parallels, one that comes immediately to mind is that of the US government's use of such weapons against the civilians of such cities as Fallujah. In fact, I believe it is now time to reprise something I wrote in late 2005:
The use of such weapons as white phosphorus and MK77 against civilians in Fallujah by US forces has recently resurfaced in the news, as we noted a couple days ago. This is something the US military even admits to doing. There is understandably some confusion as to what to call white phosphorous (is it a chemical weapon or is it an incendiary or does it really matter) and also some confusion as to what restrictions exist with regard to international law regarding these weapons. I'd like to set aside all that for a while, and remind the reader of a couple larger issues.
  1. The firebombing of Fallujah killed and maimed an enormous number of people - many of whom were civilians, including many who were kids. A number of us find the comparison to the firebombing of Guernica to be an apt one. It was a human rights catastrophe.
  2. However one might wish to classify white phosphorous, the bottom line is that the stuff melts the skin off of children - and adults for that matter.
I thought Hunter put it sufficiently bluntly:
I think we need to take a step back from the newest Fallujah revelations. There's been a lot of confusion over what is or isn't a "chemical weapon" vs. an "incendiary"; what aspects of the Geneva conventions the United States is or is not signatory to; and whether or not the United States is still bound by rules of warfare that they are not direct signatories to.

Allow me to try to clear things up, if I can.

First, I think it should be a stated goal of United States policy to not melt the skin off of children.

As a natural corollary to this goal, I think the United States should avoid dropping munitions on civilian neighborhoods which, as a side effect, melt the skin off of children. You can call them "chemical weapons" if you must, or far more preferably by the more proper name of "incendiaries". The munitions may or may not precisely melt the skin off of children by setting them on fire; they do melt the skin off of children, however, through robust oxidation of said skin on said children, which is indeed colloquially known as "burning". But let's try to avoid, for now, the debate over the scientific phenomenon of exactly how the skin is melted, burned, or caramelized off of the aforementioned children. I feel quite confident that others have put more thought into the matter of how to melt the skin off of children than I have, and will trust their judgment on the matter.

Now, I know that we may be melting the skin off of children in order to give them freedom, or to prevent Saddam Hussein from possibly melting the skins off of those children at some future date. These are good and noble things to bring children, especially the ones who have not been killed by melting their skin.


And I know it is true, there is some confusion over whether the United States was a signatory to the Do Not Melt The Skin Off Of Children part of the Geneva conventions, and whether or not that means we are permitted to melt the skin off of children, or merely are silent on the whole issue of melting the skin off of children.

But all that aside, there are very good reasons, even in a time of war, not to melt the skin off of children.
  • First, because the insurgency will inevitably be hardened by tales of American forces melting the skin off of children.
  • Second, because the civilian population will harbor considerable resentment towards Americans for melting the skin off of their children.

And, unless Saddam Hussein had a brigade or two consisting of six year olds, we can presume that children, like perhaps nine tenths or more of their immediate families, are civilians.

[...] is certainly true that the whole child-melting decision, pro or con, should be treated with some gravity, and perhaps methods of combat which do not melt the skin off of children should be considered.
Because melting the skin off of children, as it turns out, is a very good way to turn the opinion of the American population against a war in general:

So in conclusion, I am going to come out, to the continuing consternation of Rush Limbaugh and pro-war supporters everywhere, as being anti-children-melting, as a matter of general policy.

The images that came out of Fallujah (see here for example) in the aftermath of last November's raid as was true of the images out of Vietnam were disturbing to say the least. I look at the pictures of the casualties and keep thinking that these were someone's kids, spouses, in-laws, friends, neighbors, etc. I can imagine being horrified if they had been my kids or family. I can only imagine what their survivors must have thought and felt. As luck would have it, I and my loved ones are here and not there.

As a general rule of thumb, I think it's safe to say that any chemical (or incendiary or whatever the hell you wish to call it) that can burn or melt the flesh off of living human beings should not be used on those human beings. Leaders who come to view the use of such weapons against civilians as acceptable, who have come to view the consequences of using such weapons as acceptable, have clearly lost their moral compass. Those who are willing to make excuses for those leaders' decision to melt the skin off of other human beings are no better. In my value system there is no acceptable reason for melting peoples' skin off. Period.
It bears repeating: any chemical that can burn or melt the flesh off of living human beings should not be used on those human beings. It equally bears repeating that leaders of any government who use such weapons or who support those governments who use such weapons have either lost their moral compass or never had a moral compass to begin with. When the Holocaust happened, those who perpetrated it came to be viewed as monsters; although I would not quite go that far (to cut to the chase, I'm just a bit too familiar with research that grew out of Milgram's infamous obedience experiments to easily make internal attributions of antisocial behaviors), it certainly seems noncontroversial to label their actions and their consequences as monstrous. What Israel is doing is monstrous. That our leaders in the US support the Israeli government and continue to provide the funding that enables its government to continue to perpetrate a war of genocide against the Palestinians is monstrous. Period.

Warsaw Ghetto and Gaza Parallels

Livni has also asserted that Israel's values are shared by the "free world" and by unfree Arab regimes that are allies of the "free world." We can add, that her values are also shared by Saudi-funded neoliberal Arab intellectuals and by the leadership of the Palestinian Collaborationist Authority ensconced in the Green Zone of Ramallah. The civilized values of Israel are not unlike those espoused by the US in its ongoing wars against Arabs and Muslims, and are very much like European colonial values during the high age of colonialism and beyond. Livni and the Israeli leadership speak of human rights, democracy, peace, and justice as universal while applying them only to Jews and denying them especially to Palestinians. This is hardly an Israeli ruse. Let us remember the undying words of Frantz Fanon in this regard: "leave this Europe where they never tire of talking of man, yet murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of every one of their own streets, in all the corners of the globe."

On the Palestinian front, the term of chief Palestinian collaborator and coup leader Mahmoud Abbas ends on 9 January. Israel hopes to extend his collaborationist rule as head of the PCA it set up through the Oslo agreement in 1993. As Palestinians are murdered and injured in the thousands, world powers are cheering on. This is hardly a new development. It happens often in the context of other populations being murdered by allies of the US and Europe, and it even happened during World War II as the Nazi genocide was proceeding. On 19 April 1943, Britain and the US met in Bermuda, presumably to discuss the situation of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. That was also the day when the Nazis had launched their war against the remaining Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto but were met with unexpected courageous resistance. Little came out of the Bermuda Conference and the ongoing war against the Warsaw Ghetto proceeded uninterrupted. The Jewish resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto executed Jewish collaborators with the Nazis and bravely faced up to the Nazi army with what little weapons it had before being massacred. Their uprising was always inspirational to the Palestinians. In the heyday of the PLO as a symbol of Palestinian liberation, the organization would lay flower wreathes at the Warsaw Ghetto monument to honor these fallen Jewish heroes.

Szmul Zygielbojm was the leader of the Jewish socialist party, the Bund, in Poland and was part of the resistance against the Nazi invasion in 1939. He would later become a hostage held by the Nazis but would later be released and made a member of the Jewish council or judenrat, the Nazi equivalent of the Israeli-created Palestinian Collaborationist Authority, and which was charged with building a Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. Zygielbojm opposed the Nazi order and fled to Belgium, France, the US, and in 1942 ended up in London where he joined the Polish government in exile. On 12 May 1943, after he received word that the resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto was finally crushed and many of its fighters killed, Zygielbojm turned on the gas in his London flat and committed suicide in protest against the indifference and inaction of the Allies to the plight of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. He also felt that he had no right to live after his comrades were killed resisting the Nazis. In his suicide letter, Zygielbojm insisted that while the Nazis were responsible for the murder of the Polish Jews, the Allies, through their inaction, were also guilty:
The latest news that has reached us from Poland makes it clear beyond any doubt that the Germans are now murdering the last remnants of the Jews in Poland with unbridled cruelty. Behind the walls of the ghetto the last act of this tragedy is now being played out.

The responsibility for the crime of the murder of the whole Jewish nationality in Poland rests first of all on those who are carrying it out, but indirectly it falls also upon the whole of humanity, on the peoples of the Allied nations and on their governments, who up to this day have not taken any real steps to halt this crime. By looking on passively upon this murder of defenseless millions, tortured children, women and men they have become partners to the responsibility ...

I cannot continue to live and to be silent while the remnants of Polish Jewry, whose representative I am, are being murdered. My comrades in the Warsaw ghetto fell with arms in their hands in the last heroic battle. I was not permitted to fall like them, together with them, but I belong with them, to their mass grave.

By my death, I wish to give expression to my most profound protest against the inaction in which the world watches and permits the destruction of the Jewish people ...
The Palestinian Collaborationist Authority that runs the judenrat set up by Oslo has never even attempted to resist Israeli orders. Not one member of the top leadership decided to resign and not serve. Mahmoud Abbas, having provided so many dishonorable services to Israel, lacks Zygielbojm's integrity and noble principles and would never follow in Zygielbojm's footsteps.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian people will resist the invading Israelis with all their might and against astronomical odds. The Palestinian people, like Zygielbojm before them, understand very well that Abbas, his clique, the Arab regimes, the US and Europe are all culpable in their slaughter as much as Israel is. In the case of Zygielbojm, he blamed world powers for their indifference and inaction, in the Palestinian case, world and regional powers are co-conspirators and active partners in crime.

The crushing of the Gaza Ghetto Uprising and the slaughter of its defenseless population will be relatively an easy task for the giant Israeli military machine and Israel's sadistic political leadership. It is dealing with the aftermath of a strengthened Palestinian determination to continue to resist Israel that will prove much more difficult for Israel and its Arab allies to deal with. While the thousands of dead and injured Palestinians are the main victims of this latest Israeli terrorist war, the major political loser in all this will be Abbas and his clique of collaborators. The test for Palestinian resistance now is to continue to refuse to grant Israel the right to conquer populations, to steal their land, to destroy their livelihoods, to imprison them in ghettos, and to starve them without being resisted.
Nerdified link.