Palestinians have been under attack by the Israeli Defense Forces during the early days of 2008. Emergency workers are shown transporting a wounded patient in Gaza.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
17:23 MECCA TIME, 14:23 GMT
Palestinians killed in Gaza raids
Up to nine Palestinians have been killed and dozens more wounded in Israeli ground and air raids targeting the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory of Gaza.
The dead include a mother and daughter and at least three fighters.
Also on Thursday, Israeli ground forces raided the West Bank town of Nablus, searching for wanted fighters.
In Gaza, Palestinian witnesses and medics said Israeli troops and tanks backed by combat helicopters were operating in the village of Bani Suheila near the southern city of Khan Yunis.
Fighter jets carried out more raids across the Gaza Strip in response to the firing for the first time in months of a rocket towards the Israeli town of Ashkelon, the Israeli army announced.
By Al Jazeera's estimate, the death count from Thursday's Gaza raids was nine, with at least 37 more wounded.
Even as the Israeli operations were continuing, the toll was already grim on the Palestinian side.
In Gaza, brothers Ahmad Fayyad, 20, and Sami Fayyad, 25, both members of the Islamic Jihad group, were killed in a raid on a house which also killed their mother, Karima, 50, and sister Asmaa, 20, medics said.
Separate gun battles with Israeli soldiers left one member of the armed wing of Hamas dead.
Describing some of the raids, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Gaza said: "Israeli helicopters fired at least two missiles at a position manned by the Qassam Brigades to the west of Rafah, wounding four Palestinians.
"Another air raid targeting the Shujaiya neighbourhood of eastern Gaza killed one Palestinian and wounded three others.
"This attack was preceded by Israeli bombing of three houses owned by commanders of al-Quds Brigades, two in Gaza, one in Rafah."
Quoting witnesses agencies also reported that Israeli jets destroyed two houses where fighters were suspected to have been hiding, while a third house was blown up by Israeli ground troops.
Three unidentified bodies were found in the rubble of one of the buildings, medics said.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said ground forces were engaged in heavy exchanges of fire with Palestinian fighters who were hiding in houses, saying civilian casualties were caused because "they were letting militants into their homes".
Later on Thursday, Israeli jets destroyed the home in central Gaza of an Islamic Jihad fighter who was killed in December, causing a massive explosion but no casualties, the spokeswoman said.
Separately, Israeli jets bombed a warehouse in Gaza City belonging to the Islamic Jihad and a building used by Hamas in the south of the territory.
No casualties were reported in either of the strikes.
The army said the air raids came in response to rocket fire against southern Israel, shortly after fighters fired a Grad-type 122mm rocket that struck the outskirts of Ashkelon, without causing casualties.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC), a Damascus-based movement led by Ahmed Jibril, which rarely operates in Gaza, said it fired the rocket.
West Bank incursion
In the Nablus operation, Israeli soldiers in about 70 military jeeps moved into the city centre and surrounded buildings, including the Rafidya hospital, in a hunt for wanted fighters, a Palestinian official said.
Three senior members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, an armed offshoot of Fatah, were arrested and 24 Palestinians wounded during the raid, security sources said.
The West Bank-based government of Salam Fayyad has in recent months deployed hundreds of policemen as part of an ambitious security plan in its power base.
Although it supports the Palestinian prime minister's security plan, Israel has nevertheless reserved the right to operate inside towns and villages in the occupied territory to counter armed activity.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies
MONDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2007
17:29 MECCA TIME, 14:29 GMT
Israeli war tactics criticised
By Jonathan Cook in Nazareth
The Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) has accused the Israeli military of committing a war crime by placing military hardware, including artillery positions, inside Arab towns and villages during the war with Lebanon in July 2006.
The Nazareth-based association last week published a report claiming Arab communities were used as "human shields" by the Israeli military.
The association argues that the danger this posed to the Arab population was far from "theoretical": Arab communities hit by Hezbollah’s retaliatory rockets were overwhelmingly those in which the Israeli army maintained a presence.
A total of 21 Arab Israeli citizens were killed in these strikes.
The report said: "The study found that the Arab towns and villages that suffered the most intensive attacks during the war were ones that were surrounded by military installations, either on a permanent basis or temporarily during the course of the war."
The findings seem to support widespread complaints earlier voiced by Israel’s Arab legislators that their communities were used to deter the Lebanese Shia militia, Hezbollah, from targeting Israeli military positions.
At the time the claims were dismissed by Israeli officials.
'Civilians in danger'
Hostilities between Israel and Lebanon erupted on July 12, 2006 when Hezbollah attacked an Israeli border post, killing three soldiers and capturing two. In response Israel launched a wave of air strikes and a more limited ground invasion.
In addition to 119 Israeli soldiers who died in these operations, the barrage of rockets fired by Hezbollah into northern Israel killed 44 civilians and injured hundreds more. The Shia militia was widely condemned for these attacks.
Hezbollah fired some 660 rockets at 20 Arab communities during the war, confounding expectations from Israeli officials and many observers that the militia would target only Jewish areas.
The main explanation until now has been that Hezbollah fired its rockets randomly into Israel, killing Jews and Arabs indiscriminately.
However, the HRA report, "Civilians in Danger", says that Hezbollah may have targeted the permanent Israeli military bases, including army camps, airfields and weapons factories, located in or near Arab towns.
It also charged that the Israeli government failed to evacuate civilians from the area of fighting, leaving Arab citizens particularly in danger.
Almost no protective measures, such as building public shelters or installing air raid sirens, had been taken in Arab communities, whereas they had been in Jewish communities.
But an Israeli military spokesperson told Al Jazeera the report's claims were unfounded and were designed to create a false representation of events which occurred during the fighting.
He said: "The consideration applied in selecting the location of the [army’s] installations was solely operational and did not reflect any other consideration."
Tarek Ibrahim, a lawyer and the author of the HRA's report, insists that Hezbollah's rockets mostly targeted Arab communities where military installations had been located and in the main avoided those where no such military positions existed.
"Hezbollah claimed on several occasions that its rockets were aimed primarily at military targets in Israel. Our research cannot prove that to be the case but it does give a strong indication that Hezbollah’s claims may be true."
Hezbollah’s Katyusha rockets were not precision-guided but, according to the report, the short distances between Arab communities and Israeli military bases "are within the margin of error of the rockets fired by Hezbollah".
In its recommendations, the Human Rights Association called for the removal of all Israeli military bases from civilian communities.
The report's findings do not come entirely as a surprise. Several Arab politicians warned during the war that the 600,000 Arabs of the Galilee region were being used effectively as "human shields".
In early August 2006, near the end of the war, the most prominent Arab figure, Azmi Bishara, told the Maariv newspaper: "What ordinary citizens are afraid to say, the Arab Knesset members are declaring loudly. Israel turned the Galilee and the Arab villages in particular into human shields by surrounding them with artillery positions and missile batteries."
On a few occasions the Israeli media have also indirectly revealed the fact that military bases are located in Arab communities. A recent article in the daily Haaretz newspaper, for example, reported a fire in an armaments factory in Nazareth, the largest Arab community in Israel.
Ramez Jeraisi, the mayor of Nazareth, where two children were killed by Hezbollah rockets during the war, told Al Jazeera: "Nothing in this report is news to me. We all know there is a military base inside Nazareth … although it is in our city it is not under our jurisdiction so there is nothing we can do to get it moved."
"If we turned to the courts, they would not help either. No one, especially not Arabs, is allowed to question Israel's security needs."
The HRA report avoided dealing with the wider issue of whether the Israeli army used Jewish communities in a similar manner during the war.
Ibrahim said: "In part the reason was that we are an Arab organisation and that directs the focus of our work. But there is also the difficulty that Israeli Jews are unlikely to cooperate with our research."
Nonetheless, the report notes, there is evidence the army based itself in some Jewish communities too. One Hezbollah rocket strike close to the northern border hit Kfar Giladi, a rural cooperative community known as a kibbutz, killing 12 soldiers.
A member of the kibbutz, Uri Eshkoli, recently told the Israeli media: "We deserve a medal of honor for our assistance during the war. We opened our hotel to soldiers and asked for no compensation. Moreover, soldiers stayed in the kibbutz throughout the entire war."
Amatzia Baram, a professor at Haifa University and regular media commentator during the war as the city came under Hezbollah rocket attack, told Al Jazeera: "Given the high concentration of army positions in the north, it would not surprise me to learn that the army used Arab villages for its bases."
"If it did so, then of course that was a bad mistake. Next time there is a war, the army should be mindful of keeping its distance from civilian areas. However, in practice I am sure its locations made zero difference to where Hezbollah fired its rockets."
The report faced several hurdles before publication. A stringent gagging order imposed by the government since the war and a requirement to submit security-related material to the military censor mean significant sections of the report had to be cut.
The report has received minimal coverage in the Hebrew media. Ibrahim said: "Few people inside Israel want to hear that their army and government broke international law in such a flagrant manner."
Source: Al Jazeera
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2007
18:10 MECCA TIME, 15:10 GMT
Election power of the Israel lobby
By Rob Winder
Hillary Clinton is among the strongest supporters of Israel
As US presidential candidates battle it out to become the leader of the world's only superpower there is one subject on which they all, in public at least, agree - the US relationship with Israel.
To leading politicians on both sides of the partisan divide the special relationship is sacrosanct, largely due, critics say, to the power of pro-Israel lobby groups.
Those critics also say that pro-Israeli groups are set to play a major role in the forthcoming election battle, both in terms of funding candidates and by publicly criticising any candidate critical of Israel or the US's relationship with it.
John Mearsheimer, who alongside Stephen Walt is the author of a controversial series of articles and a recent book on the Israel lobby, told Al Jazeera: "Almost all of the major candidates are falling over themselves to demonstrate how deeply committed they are to America's special relationship with Israel.
"Hardly a word of criticism is directed at anything Israel does and that is due to the activities of the lobby."
What is the pro-Israel lobby?
US aid to Israel
- Military aid: 2.25bn
- Economic aid: 237m
- Immigration aid: 40m
- Other: 0.5m
Source: CRS report for US congress, 2006 figures
The lobby is made up of dozens of pro-Israel political action committees that draw a large part of their support from the US Jewish community and provide funding to presidential candidates.
But Christian Zionists, who are among the most vociferous supporters of Israel in the US, also play a major role.
They believe that by strengthening and supporting the state of Israel, they are more likely to bring about the "second coming" of Jesus as prophesied in the Bible.
At the lobby's vanguard is the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), which works mainly in US congress.
It boasts its recent "victories" include the US decision to brand Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organisation, securing US aid to Israel and freezing US aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority in 2006.
Money and power
Defenders of the Israel lobby say that the views of presidential candidates are really a natural reflection of the views of most Americans and that it has little influence over elections.
But money talks in politics and the figures tell a different story.
The Centre for Responsive Politics (CRP), which monitors the role of money in US politics, says pro-Israeli groups and individuals have already donated more than $845,000 to presidential candidates in the 2008 campaign - 70 per cent of it to Democrats.
In the entire 2004 presidential campaign pro-Israel interests contributed at least $6.1 million to federal candidates and parties.
"Money translates into influence in Washington, so generally the interests that spend the most money are going to get the best access and results," says Massie Ritch, communications director at the CRP.
And it is outside of the presidential race and in congress, which holds the purse strings on the key area of aid to Israel, that the lobby makes its financial mark.
Aipac and other groups spent more than $1.5 million on federal lobbying in 2006 and more than $1.25 million in the first half of 2007, meaning that this year could be a record one for the lobby.
The pro-Israel lobby accounts for about one-quarter of all foreign policy lobbying on Capitol Hill, the CRP says.
Arab efforts to put their case across are, in contrast, minimal.
The National Association of Arab-Americans and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee reported spending just $80,000 on federal lobbying in 2006 and $40,000 in the first six months of 2007.
The financial power of the Israel lobby also allows it to provide one-sided information to US politicians not always familiar with the complexities of conflict in the Middle East.
Aipac provides educational trips to congressman and their staff - more trips than any other sponsor, according to the CRP.
"Members of congress and their staffs have been to Tel Aviv more often in recent years than they've been to Chicago," says Ritch.
Aipac's defenders say that this is where the organisation plays an important role, as an information source for politicians - including US presidential candidates.
But critics say that pro-Israel lobby groups go much further-as John Mearsheimer says: "The lobby monitors what the candidates say very closely."
In March, Democratic candidate Barack Obama gave a speech in the key primary state of Iowa where he said: "Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people."
A local Aipac member immediately contacted the media to denounce the comment, describing it as "deeply troubling".
In July Jim Moran, a Democratic congressman who has criticised Aipac in the past, accused the organisation of pushing for war on Iraq.
Seventeen members of congress immediately wrote a letter to Moran condemning him and saying that his remarks
"unfortunately fit the anti-Semitic stereotypes some have used historically used against Jews".
Eric Cantor, the house of representatives Republican deputy chief whip, reportedly went further and was quoted as as saying: "Unfortunately, Jim Moran has made it a habit now to lash out to the American-Jewish community.
"I think his remarks are reprehensible, I think his remarks are anachronistic, and hearken back to the day of Adolf Hitler."
In such a political climate it is easy to see why those seeking a job in the Oval Office are wary of speaking out for any change in the US relationship with Israel or against Aipac.
The charge of anti-Semitism is regularly used by the Israel and lobby and was one of the charges faced by John Mearsheimer.
"We are not anti-Semites and the book is not anti-Semitic," he says.
"Calling critics of Israeli policy or the US-Israel relationship is standard operating procedure for the lobby. It's the standard strategy they use to stifle criticism of Israel and to marginalise those critics."
Beyond the politics of elections, the lobby's critics say that pro-Israeli groups, after pushing for war on Iraq, are now advocating military action against Iran.
"If you look at who is pushing the US to use military force against Iran, the two driving forces are Israel and the Israel lobby," says Mearsheimer.
Jim Moran, in an interview with the Tikkun, a Jewish peace magazine, said US action against Iran is proposed only because it is a threat to Israel.
"No one's suggested that Iran is a potential threat to the United States," he told the magazine, "any more than Iraq could ever have been a threat to the United States."
"In effect, all the same groups and individuals who were pushing for war against Iraq are pushing for war against Iran."
Aipac, however, vehemently denies it is asking for anything other than sanctions.
"Aipac solely advocates sanctions as the best way to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons or the capability to make them," Josh Block, an Aipac spokesman, told Al Jazeera.
Mearsheimer argues that the US needs to normalise its relationship with Israel, treating it more like the UK, Germany or India.
He and other critics, from both inside and outside the Jewish community in the US, argue that Israel also suffers from its privileged position in terms of US aid.
They believe that the Israel lobby's support in the US encourages Israel to act without fear of international sanction.
This has emboldened Israeli leaders to sanction the illegal occupation of Palestinian land, the building of settlements and for the Israeli military to carry out numerous human rights abuses.
"If these presidential candidates were real friends of Israel as they claim to be, they would not only be criticising Israel for its policies in the occupied territories ... they would be arguing that the US put significant pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to reach an agreement on a two-state solution," Mearsheimer told Al Jazeera.
"That's what a real friend would do."
Source: Al Jazeera