Tag Archives: gaza

Despite Ambiguity in International Law, Palestinians are Winning the ‘Legitimacy War’

‘International law’ remains one of the most discussed terms in the context of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It is almost always present, whether the discussion pertains to the Israeli wars and siege on Gaza, the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank or the encroaching apartheid throughout Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Despite the importance and relevance of the term, however, it rarely translates into anything tangible. The Israeli siege on Gaza, for example, has continued, unabated, for nearly 14 years, without international law serving as a protector of Palestinian civilians against Israeli violations of human rights. More recently, on September 13, the Israeli government approved 1,000 illegal settlement units in the West Bank, in stark violation of international law. It is likely that Israel will go ahead with it, anyway.

With regard to violating international law, Israel is in a unique category of its own, for Israel’s behavior is always governed by its military strength and the backing of its Western allies.

To gain more insight into the relationship between international law, conflict resolution and accountability, I spoke with Professor Richard Falk, one of the world’s leading experts on international law and former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights.

Of particular relevance to our discussion are the current Palestinian efforts at pursuing international action to hold alleged individual Israeli war criminals accountable at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The fact that the Court has agreed to investigate alleged war crimes in occupied Palestine has generated an angry response from Israel and unprecedented sanctions from Washington, targeting ICC judges and staff, including Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.

I asked Professor Falk about the ‘limited scope’ of the ICC investigation, as the Court will only be looking into Israeli war crimes, thus, for now, excluding crimes against humanity, among other illegal practices that should be applicable in the case of Israel.

“The scope of the investigation is something that is ill-defined, so it is a matter of political discretion,” Professor. Falk said, adding that “the Court takes a position that needs to be cautious about delimiting its jurisdiction and, therefore, it tries to narrow the scope of what it is prepared to investigate.”

“I don’t agree with this view  …  but it does represent the fact that the ICC, like the UN itself, is subject to immense geopolitical pressure,” Falk told me. Still, the seasoned international law expert described the ICC investigation as a “breakthrough”.

“It’s a breakthrough even to consider the investigation, let alone the indictment and the prosecution of either Israelis or Americans that was put on the agenda of the ICC, which led to a pushback by these governments  … Israel has denounced the Court as if it is improper to examine any State that claims the matter of geopolitical impunity. So you have a core denial of the rule of law.”

Undeniably, this breakthrough and the advanced position of international institutions regarding the illegitimacy of the Israeli occupation are the outcome of the insistent effort put in by Professor Falk and other champions of international law throughout the years. In fact, the relentless attempts aimed at silencing Falk — and others like him — were carried out so that their criticism of Israel’s violations did not, eventually, lead to such dreaded investigations, like that of the ICC.

“There are very militant Zionist-oriented NGOs, like UN Watch, that engage in defamatory kinds of activities and use all their resources and energy to persuade people, including the UN Secretary-General, to criticize me and urge my dismissal or some type of sanctions,” Falk reflected on the challenges he faced during his term at the UN between 2008-14.

Fortunately, but also tellingly, “in the end, the role of Special Rapporteur was respected  … and there was so much support for my activity, including foreign ministries and also from outside the Islamic world. I felt that it was an important kind of presence to maintain.”

“The Zionist groups were, of course, very frustrated and they didn’t try to respond to my reports on the violations of human rights in the Occupied Territory; instead, they concentrated on defaming and smearing the messenger rather than addressing the message,” Falk said, identifying the very essence of the strategy used by pro-Israel groups, whether at the UN or elsewhere.

I also asked Professor Falk about the term ‘Israeli occupation’ as, in my limited understanding, the term has been devised by the Geneva Conventions — and previous international definitions — to regulate a transitional period during which an Occupying Power is in charge of the welfare and well-being of the civilian population living in an Occupied Territory.

“International law is quite ambiguous about the duration of a military occupation and Israel has made a kind of specious argument that the Geneva Conventions and the normal law governing belligerent occupation doesn’t apply here, because this is disputed sovereignty rather than a case where another country has been occupied,” Falk said.

Coupled with US-western support and vetoes at the Security Council, Israel has historically exploited this ambiguity to entrench — instead of ending — its occupation of Palestine.

Since international law “doesn’t provide an endpoint to the Occupation, the most effective way of challenging it from an international law perspective is that Israel has committed so many fundamental breaches of the obligations of an Occupying Power — the establishment of the settlements, the incremental annexation, the integration of Jerusalem into the sovereign State of Israel..”

“They are all fundamental violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention and they represent an effort to make the end of Occupation not possible in the sense that it was meant: turning the society back to the civilian population that is occupied,” Falk continued, describing this situation as a “serious flaw, legally and politically.”

“But is there a reason for optimism?” I asked Professor Falk, whose energy and tireless work continue to define this indefatigable warrior of human rights.

“As colonialism and oppression lost their acceptance as forms of legitimate political behavior, the political balance shifted and the perseverance of national struggles turned out to be more formidable than the weaponry at the disposal of the colonial powers,” Falk said.

According to Professor Falk, history is clearly on the side of Palestinians, who are already “winning the legitimacy war”.

The post Despite Ambiguity in International Law, Palestinians are Winning the ‘Legitimacy War’ first appeared on Dissident Voice.

In Lieu of a Liberation Strategy: Palestinian Elections Are Designed to Buy Time

It is abundantly clear that Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, has underestimated the seriousness of the challenges facing Palestine and the Palestinians.

The rushed agreement between his party, Fatah and Hamas in Istanbul on September 24, and the Palestinian leader’s speech at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly the following day, indicate that the Palestinian leadership insists on operating within the stifling confines of the Oslo accords and the dead-end road of the ‘peace process’.

Abbas has spent most of his political career mastering an intricate balancing act, one that would allow him to remain the favored leader of Palestinians — to the West — while legitimizing his rule among ordinary Palestinians through a system of political patronage — itself subsidized by US-led international funders.

The outcome worked well for Abbas and a clique of Palestinians who became rich because of their ties to Abbas’ Authority, but bode terribly for the Palestinian people.

For a quarter of a century, particularly since the establishment of the PA in 1994, the Palestinian cause has subsisted in its darkest and most demoralizing periods, one that is defined by extreme Israeli violence, rapid expansion of the illegal Jewish settlements, unhindered corruption among Palestine’s political elite and unprecedented disunity among Palestinians everywhere.

The PA’s scheme would have continued longer were it not for US President Donald Trump’s decision to disengage from his predecessors’ previous strategies in the Middle East — foremost among them, the fruitless ‘peace process’.

However, it was not the Trump administration that opted for an American retreat from the Middle East, in general, and Palestine, in particular. Trump merely accelerated what was becoming the new American foreign policy doctrine. During the two terms of former President Barack Obama, Palestine featured fleetingly in US calculations: in the early months, and again, when the ‘lame duck’ administration refrained, in December 2016, from vetoing UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israel’s illegal Jewish settlements.

For many years, the ‘peace process’ existed nominally. On the ground, the Oslo accords were transformed to that of technical security and financial arrangements between the PA’s upper echelon and the Israeli government.

When, in February 2019, Washington decided to cease its financial assistance to the Palestinian leadership, Abbas and the PA understood this decision as a political declaration that Washington and Tel Aviv no longer saw their ‘moderate’ Palestinian allies as assets.

Bewildered by the abrupt American policy shift, Abbas sought alternatives. Instead of offering an unconditional apology to the Palestinian people for his leadership’s corruption,  his personal failures, the factionalism and the squandered opportunities to unify Palestinians around a new national liberation strategy — one fueled by popular resistance and global solidarity — Abbas continued with the same old discourse, unhindered.

At his UN speech on Friday, Abbas insisted on referencing the peace process calling, again, for an international peace conference, among other fantasies.  Abbas’ references are both outdated and unfeasible, for Washington is now turning to a new phase, one that is predicated on the complete disregard of international law and the de facto acceptance of Israel’s colonialism and occupation.

Aside from appealing to Western sensibilities, another crucial element in the PA’s new balancing act is to reinvent itself among ordinary Palestinians who, for decades, have felt abandoned and leaderless.

In his UN speech, Abbas labored to rebrand himself to these two different target audiences. “We will continue creating life and hope under the flag of national unity and democracy,” he said, adding “We will remain faithful to peace, justice, human and national dignity under all circumstances.”

In fact, Abbas has neither committed to democracy nor to Palestinian unity. He is currently unelected as his presidential mandate expired in 2009, and never in his 15-year rule did he earnestly opt for inclusion or unity among his people.

The latest episode of the ‘unity’ saga took place in Istanbul on September 24. Despite the triumphant speeches afterwards, this too, seemed like a mere self-serving exercise.

The expeditious declaration that rivals Fatah and Hamas are finally ready for democratic elections, is a cunning but, ultimately, futile initiative. The agreement will buy Abbas time to promote himself as a political moderate, although free and democratic elections can never be held under occupation.

It is doubtful that any kind of elections, free or otherwise, is possible. Following the agreement, Fatah representative at the talks, Azzam al-Ahmad, declared that “without Jerusalem, there will be no elections.” In other words, “there will be no elections.”

During Palestine’s first elections in 1996, Israel barred Jerusalemites from participating, merely agreeing to very limited votes in areas located on the outskirts of the city, and only through the post office. It is unthinkable that Israel will allow for a mass Palestinian vote in Jerusalem now that Washington has fully recognized the city as Israel’s capital.

What about Palestinians living in Areas B and C, which are, more or less, under total Israeli military control? Will they be included in the vote? What about Palestinians trapped behind the Israeli apartheid wall in the West Bank? In the ‘firing zones’? Or those isolated in small pockets in the Jordan Valley, etc.?

Democratic elections are ideal under circumstances where a nation has true sovereignty, legal and political jurisdiction, and territorial control. The PA has none of this.

Moreover, insisting on elections, which, even if possible, will merely lead to the overhaul of the Palestinian Authority, is equivalent to sustaining the many illusions of Oslo and its adjoining ‘peace process’.

While Oslo failed Palestinians entirely, it was useful for Israel as it brought to an unceremonious end the entire Palestinian national liberation project, in favor of a ‘state-building’ program that had no tangible basis in reality. If serious in its intentions, the Palestinian leadership must demolish, not sustain the status quo.

Even successful elections within the Oslo framework would further divert Palestinian energies from their liberation project in favor of another political dead end, that will only protect the ‘gains’ of Palestine’s ruling elites, while selling more false hope that the coveted peace is still at hand to ordinary Palestinians.

The post In Lieu of a Liberation Strategy: Palestinian Elections Are Designed to Buy Time first appeared on Dissident Voice.

We Are the Children of Gaza: The Poet, the Fashionista and the Footballer 

The inevitable has finally happened, and the coronavirus pandemic is now ravaging the besieged Gaza Strip. On August 24, a total lockdown was imposed by the Gaza authorities following the discovery of several COVID-19 cases outside designated quarantine areas. Since then, over 1,000 cases have been identified and ten people have died. Experts estimate the number to be significantly higher.

Businesses, mosques, schools, cafes and virtually everything else is now under lockdown. The local government, alongside the UN Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, and together with many volunteers, are desperately working to keep Gaza functioning and to limit the spread of the pandemic, despite limited and ever-shrinking resources.

Gaza’s crisis is multifaceted. The Israeli siege, combined with the massive destruction from the previous war, has left Gaza in the throes of a major humanitarian disaster. With electricity outages reaching up to twenty hours per day and with fuel supplies running low, Gaza was barely functioning, to begin with.

COVID-19 has exacerbated an already dire situation.

While, often, the voices of adults — whether officials, international workers, intellectuals, and even ordinary people — get heard, the children’s voices often are neglected. The children of Gaza have been the main victims of the Strip’s many adversities in recent years. Falling victim to the ravages of wars and, being the most vulnerable, to malnutrition and health crises, Gaza’s children are truly suffering. Their cries for help, however, are often muted or unheard.

To give a platform, however limited, to the voices of some of Gaza’s most defenseless, we reached out to several families in Gaza, seeking permission for their children to reflect, in their own way, on the current lockdown, their lives under siege and the seemingly perpetual war. We also asked the children to talk about their hobbies and their hopes and dreams for the future.

This is what they had to say.

Malak Judah, 9 – Gaza City

My name is Malak Judah. I am nine years old. I live in the city of Gaza. I began my hobby of singing and reciting poetry at the age of three. I have many video clips in which I sing and recite poetry. All the poetry that I write and recite speaks of Palestine only, and our longing to go back to our homeland.

I joined the Great March of Return from the very start (March 2018). I used to go there with my family to recite poetry and sing while standing on the main podium, only 700 meters (approx. 2,300 feet) from the fence that separates Gaza and our occupied towns in Palestine. But every time we did this, the Zionist occupation forces would fire live bullets and teargas at us. I inhaled teargas many times and, every time I did, I would almost suffocate.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-iYdLQGkvQ

I have tried to sing about other subjects aside from Palestine but I cannot because, since I came to this earth, all that I see and hear is related to the occupation policies and the oppression of our people … They keep cutting off the electricity and our water is unfit for human consumption – and, even then, it is not always available. Every few years, there is a new Zionist aggression on Gaza. This is why my poetry is always about the difficult life that we are living through.

I dream of traveling and participating in international festivals, but because of the closure policies and the hardship of leaving, I have never been outside Gaza. Now the situation is even more critical, especially after the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. I miss my school, my teachers and the morning announcements. We have no idea when we will go back to school. It feels as if we are living through another Israeli war on Gaza.

My wish is for Palestine to be liberated so that we can go to our hometown.

Razan Zidan, 9 – Khan Younis

My name is Razan Zidan. I am nine years old. I dream of being a fashion designer so that I can design beautiful clothes for my family and all the children of Palestine to wear.  When I grow up, I want to give them gifts and beautiful toys, to bring happiness to their hearts.

I have many fears. I hate the coronavirus. Because of it, I cannot see my friends. I miss playing with them and I miss my school, too. I am also afraid of wars. They scare me very, very much. I hate the sound made by warplanes and the sound of shelling. I am afraid of watching the news. When there is an electric outage, I go to sleep immediately so I am not very scared of the dark.

But I also love many things. I love to draw and I love colors. I love roses and beautiful clothes and I love to spend time with my family.

I love Palestine very much. It is my homeland. But the occupation is vile. My father keeps saying that “the world will be beautiful when the occupation is gone”. And that is all I want. For the world to be beautiful.

My grandfather has told me that we lived in a beautiful town called Bashsheet. It is our original town and it is located by the sea. I asked him why it was given that strange name. He said because Prophet Sheet was buried there. He said that it is a wonderful and beautiful town and famous for its very delicious oranges. I want to see my town and how beautiful it is. I wish to be able to go back with my family to Bashsheet.

I hope that, one day, my dream — and the dream of all of my friends — comes true, where Palestine exists without Israeli occupation.

Musa Abu Jazar, 12 – Rafah

My name is Musa Salah Abu Jazar. I am twelve years old. I live in the city of Rafah. I am a refugee and my original village is Sarafand Al-Amar. I was born mute — I cannot talk and I cannot hear. When I was little, my mother took sign language courses so she can communicate with me.

I suffer very much because most people in my society do not understand me as they do not know sign language. I call on all people to learn sign language so that they can understand me and understand all mute people, everywhere.

Despite my hearing disability, I always try to overcome all the obstacles I face. At school, I am always the top student in the class and I get the highest grades. I go to school on my bike, several kilometers each way. My hobbies are playing football, riding my bike and photography. I play football with the neighborhood kids. A few months ago, I joined a football academy so that I could improve my skills, but when the coronavirus stopped everything in Gaza and the whole world, it became very difficult for me to practice. I cannot go to my school any more or even ride my bike.

In Gaza, we have two enemies: the coronavirus and the Israeli occupation. The occupation is preventing us from enjoying any of our basic rights and our hobbies. The thing that scares me the most is when electricity is out for many hours. I dream of becoming a famous professional football player. I also want to become a very good photographer. I wish to have a good camera so that I can record my struggle and the suffering of all of the Gaza children, so the whole world may know that we have been deprived of all of our rights.

The post We Are the Children of Gaza: The Poet, the Fashionista and the Footballer  first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Palestinians Are Not Numbers

Palestine can never be truly understood through numbers, because numbers are dehumanizing, impersonal, and, when necessary, can also be contrived to mean something else entirely. Numbers are not meant to tell the story of the human condition, nor should they ever serve as a substitute for emotions.

Indeed, the stories of life, death — and everything in-between — cannot be truly and fully appreciated through charts, figures and numbers.  The latter, although useful for many purposes, is a mere numerical depository of data. Anguish, joy, aspirations, defiance, courage, loss, collective struggle, and so on, however, can only be genuinely expressed through the people who lived through these experiences.

Numbers, for example, tell us that over 2,200 Palestinians were killed during the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip between July 8 and August 27, 2014, over 500 of them being children. Over 17,000 homes were completely destroyed, and thousands of other buildings, including hospitals, schools and factories were either destroyed or severely damaged during the Israeli strikes.

This is all true, the kind of truth that is summarized into a neat infographic, updated occasionally in case, inevitably, some of the critically wounded eventually lose their lives.

But a single chart, or a thousand, can never truly describe the actual terror felt by a million children who feared for their lives during those horrific days; or transport us to a bedroom where a family of ten huddled in the dark, praying for God’s mercy as the earth shook, concrete collapsed and glass shattered all around them; or convey the anguish of a mother holding the lifeless body of her child.

It is easy — and justifiable — to hold the media accountable for the dehumanization of the Palestinians or, sometimes, ignoring them altogether. However, if blame must be apportioned, then others too, including those who consider themselves ‘pro-Palestine’, must reconsider their own position. We are all, to an extent, collectively guilty of seeing Palestinians as sheer victims, hapless, passive, intellectually stunted and ill-fated people, desperate to be ‘saved.’

When numbers monopolize the limelight in a people’s narrative, they do more damage than merely reduce complex human beings to data; they erase the living, too. Regarding Palestine, Palestinians are rarely engaged as equals; they persist at the receiving end of charity, political expectations and unsolicited instructions on what to say and how to resist. They are often the fodder for political bargains by factions or governments but, rarely, the initiative takers and the shapers of their own political discourse.

The Palestinian political discourse has, for years, vacillated between one constructed around the subject of victimhood — which is often satisfied by numbers of dead and wounded — and another pertaining to the elusive Fatah-Hamas unity. The former only surfaces whenever Israel decides to bomb Gaza under any convenient pretext at the time, and the latter was a response to western accusations that Palestinian political elites are too fractured to constitute a potential ‘peace partner’ for Israeli right-wing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Many around the world can only understand — or relate to — Palestinians through their victimization or factional affiliation – which, themselves, carry subsidiary meanings relevant to ‘terrorism’, ‘radicalism’, among others.

The reality is, however, often different from reductionist political and media discourses. Palestinians are not just numbers. They are not spectators either, in a political game that insists on marginalizing them. Soon after the 2014 war, a group of Palestinian youth, together with supporters from around the world, launched an important initiative that aimed to liberate the Palestinian discourse, at least in Gaza, from the confines of numbers and other belittling interpretations.

‘We Are Not Numbers’ was launched in early 2015. The group’s ‘About Us’ page reads: “numbers don’t convey  … the daily personal struggles and triumphs, the tears and the laughter, the aspirations that are so universal that if it weren’t for the context, they would immediately resonate with virtually everyone.”

Recently, I spoke to several members of the group, including the Gaza Project Manager, Issam Adwan. It was, indeed, inspiring to hear young, articulate and profoundly resolute Palestinians speaking a language that transcends all the stereotypical discourses on Palestine. They were neither victims nor factional, and were hardly consumed by the pathological need to satisfy western demands and expectations.

“We have talents – we are writers, we are novelists, we are poets, and we have so much potential that the world knows little about,” Adwan told me.

Khalid Dader, one of the Organization’s nearly 60 active writers and bloggers in Gaza, contends with the designation that they are ‘storytellers.’ “We don’t tell stories, rather stories tell us  … stories make us,” he told me. For Dader, it is not about numbers or words, but the lives that are lived, and the legacies that often go untold.

Somaia Abu Nada wants the world to know her uncle, because “he was a person with a family and people who loved him.” He was killed in the 2008 Israeli war on Gaza, and his death has profoundly impacted his family and community. Over 1,300 people were also killed in that war. Each one of them was someone’s uncle, aunt, son, daughter, husband or wife. None of them was just a number.

“‘We Are Not Numbers’ made me realize how necessary our voices are,” Mohammed Rafik told me. This assertion cannot be overstated. So many speak on behalf of Palestinians but rarely do Palestinians speak for themselves. “These are unprecedented times of fear, when our land appears to be broken and sad,” Rafik said, “but we never abandon our sense of community.”

Adwan reminded us of Arundhati Roy’s famous quote, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

It was refreshing to talk to Palestinians who are taking the decisive step of declaring that they are not numbers, because it is only through this realization and resolve that Palestinian youth can challenge all of us and assert their own collective identity as a people.

Indeed, Palestinians do have a voice, and a strong, resonating one at that. 

The post Palestinians Are Not Numbers first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The ‘Desaparecidos’ of Palestine: Gantz Escalates Israel’s War on the Dead 

On September 2, the Israeli government approved a proposal that allows the military to indefinitely withhold the bodies of Palestinians who have been killed by the Israeli army. The proposal was made by the country’s Defense Minister, Benny Gantz.

Gantz is the main political rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also serves the role of the ‘alternate Prime Minister.’ If Netanyahu does not renege on the coalition government agreement he signed with Gantz’s Blue and White Party last April, Gantz will take the helm of Israel’s leadership, starting November 2021.

Since his official induction to the tumultuous world of Israeli politics, Gantz, supposedly a ‘centrist’, has adopted hawkish stances against Palestinians, especially those in Gaza. This way, he hopes to widen his appeal to Israeli voters, the majority of whom have migrated en-masse to the Right.

But Gantz’s latest ‘achievement’, that of denying dead Palestinians a proper burial, is not entirely a novel idea. In fact, in Israel, bargaining with corpses has been the modus operandi for decades.

According to the Defense Minister’s logic, the withholding of bodies will serve as a ‘deterrent against terror attacks.’ However, judging by the fact that the practice has been in use for many years, there is no proof that Palestinians were ever discouraged from resisting Israel’s military occupation due to such strategies.

The new policy, according to Israeli officials, is different from the previous practices. While in the past, Israel has only kept the bodies of alleged ‘Palestinian attackers’ who belonged to ‘terror groups’, the latest decision by the Israeli government would extend the rule to apply to all Palestinians, even those who have no political affiliations.

Aside from Gantz’s attempt at shoring up his hawkish credentials, the military man-turned politician wants to improve his chances in the on and off, indirect negotiations between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza. Israel believes that there are four soldiers who are currently being held in Gaza, including the bodies of two soldiers who were killed during the devastating Israeli war on the besieged Strip in July 2014. Hamas has maintained that two of the four soldiers – Hadar Goldin and Shaul Aaron – are, in fact, still alive and in custody.

For years, low-level talks between Hamas and Israel have aimed at securing a deal that would see an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners freed in exchange for the detained Israelis. By withholding yet more Palestinian bodies, Tel Aviv hopes to strengthen its position in future talks.

The reality, however, is quite different. The Israeli army has not been returning the bodies of Palestinians who are accused of attacking Israeli soldiers for months, which includes all Palestinians, regardless of their purported political affiliations.

Undoubtedly, withholding corpses as a political strategy is illegal under international law. Article 130 of the Fourth Geneva Convention clearly states that persons who are killed during armed conflicts should be “honorably buried … according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged.”

The Israeli Supreme Court, however, which quite often rules contrary to international law, resolved on September 9, 2019 – exactly one year before the Israeli cabinet’s decision – that the army has the right to continue with the practice of withholding the bodies of dead Palestinians.

While Israel is not the first country to use the dead as a bargaining chip, the practice in Israel has lasted as long as the conflict itself, and has been utilized in myriad ways with the intention of humiliating, collectively punishing and bargaining with Palestinians.

During Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ (1976-1983), tens of thousands of Argentinians ‘disappeared’. Students, intellectuals, trade unionists and thousands of other dissidents were killed by the country’s regime in an unprecedented genocide. The bodies of most of these victims were never recovered. However, the practice largely ceased following the collapse of the military junta in 1983.

Similar ordeals have been inflicted by other countries in many parts of the world. In Israel however, the practice is not linked to a specific military regime or a particular leader. The ‘desaparecidos’ of Palestine span several generations.

To this day, Israel maintains what is known as the ‘cemeteries of numbers’. Salwa Hammad, a coordinator for the Palestinian National Campaign to Retrieve Martyrs, estimates that there are six such cemeteries in Israel, although Israeli authorities refuse to divulge more details regarding the nature of these cemeteries, or exactly how many Palestinian bodies are buried there.

The Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center estimates that 255 Palestinian bodies are buried in these cemeteries, 52 of them being ‘detained’ there by Israeli authorities since 2016.

In the ‘cemeteries of numbers’, Palestinians are known, not by name, but by a number, one that only Israel can cross-reference to the actual individual who is buried there. In 2011, the body of Hafez Abu Zant was released after being held in one of these cemeteries for 35 years, Bernama news agency reported.

According to Hammad, “If the remains are in a ‘cemetery of numbers’, we get it back in a black bag – some bones, some soil and maybe their clothes.”

Following the Israeli cabinet’s approval of his proposal, Gantz bragged about his ability to apply “an extensive policy of deterrence since entering office”. The truth is that Gantz is merely posturing and taking credit for a protracted Israeli policy that has been applied by all previous governments, regardless of their political orientations.

If Gantz is truly convinced that holding dead Palestinian bodies — while maintaining the Israeli military occupation — will bring about whatever skewed definition of peace and security he has in mind, he is sadly mistaken.

Such policies have proven a complete failure. While Palestinian families are absolutely devastated by this hideous practice, the detention of corpses has never quelled a rebellion, neither in Argentina nor in Palestine. 

The post The ‘Desaparecidos’ of Palestine: Gantz Escalates Israel’s War on the Dead  first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Dying to Fish”: How Israeli Piracy Destroyed Gaza’s Once Thriving Fishing Industry

On August 16, the Israeli navy declared the Gaza sea a closed military zone. A few days later, a group of Gaza fishermen decided to take their chances by fishing within a mere two or three nautical miles off the Gaza shore. No sooner had they cast their nets, Israeli navy bullets began whizzing all around them.

Soon after the incident, I spoke with one of these fishermen. His name is Fathi.

“My wife, my eight children and I, we all live off fishing. The Israeli navy shot at us today and asked us to leave the sea. I had to return to my family empty-handed, without any fish to sell and nothing to give to my children,” Fathi told me.

This fisherman’s story is typical. According to the Israeli rights group B’tselem, “about 95% of fishermen in Gaza live below the poverty line”.

Gaza’s fishermen are true heroes. Against numerous odds, they brave the sea every day to ensure the survival of their families.

In this scenario, the Israeli navy represents modern-day pirates opening fire at these Palestinian men — and, in some cases, women — sinking their boats sometimes and driving them back to the shore. In Gaza, this has been the routine for almost 13 years.

As soon as Israel declared the complete closure of Gaza’s fishing zone it prevented  thousands of fishermen from providing for their families, thus destroying yet another sector in Gaza’s decimated economy.

The Israeli military justified its action as a retaliatory measure against Palestinian protesters who have reportedly launched incendiary balloons into Israel in recent days. The Israeli decision, therefore, may seem rational according to the poor standards of mainstream journalism. A slight probe into the subject, however, reveals another dimension to the story.

Palestinian protesters have, in fact, released incendiary balloons into Israel which, reportedly, cause fires in some agricultural areas adjacent to occupied Gaza. However, the act itself has been a desperate cry for attention.

Gaza is almost completely out of fuel. The Strip’s only power generator was officially shut down on August 18. The Karem Abu Salem Crossing, which allows barely limited supplies to reach Gaza through Israel, has also been closed by an Israeli military order.  The sea, Gaza’s last resort, has, recently, turned into a one-sided war between the Israeli navy and Gaza’s shrinking population of fishermen. All of this has inflicted severe damage to a region that has already endured tremendous suffering.

Gaza’s once healthy fishing sector has been almost obliterated as a result of the Israeli siege. In 2000, for example, the Gaza fishing industry had over 10,000 registered fishermen. Gradually, the number has dwindled to 3,700, although many of them are fishermen by name only — as they can no longer access the sea, repair their damaged boats or afford new ones.

Those who remain committed to the profession do so because it is, literally, their last means of survival — if they do not fish, their families do not eat. The story of Gaza’s fishermen is also the story of the Gaza siege. No other profession has been as directly linked to Gaza’s woes as that of fishing.

When the Oslo Accord was signed between the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993, Palestinians were told that one of the many fruits of peace would be the expansion of Gaza’s fishing zone — up to 20 nautical miles (approximately 37 km), precisely.

Like the rest of Oslo’s broken promises, the fishing agreement was never honored, either. Instead, up to 2006, the Israeli military allowed Gazans to fish within a zone that never exceeded 12 nautical miles.  In 2007, when Israel imposed its ongoing siege on Gaza, the fishing zone was reduced even further, first to six nautical miles and, eventually, to three.

Following each Israeli war or violent conflagration in Gaza, the fishing zone is shut down completely. It is reopened after each truce, accompanied by more empty promises that the fishing zone will be expanded several nautical miles in order to improve the livelihood of the fishermen.

After the Egyptian negotiated truce that followed a brief but deadly Israeli campaign in November 2019, the fishing zone was expanded, again, to reach 15 nautical miles, the largest range in many years.

However, this respite was short-lived. In no time, the Israeli navy was sinking boats, firing at fishermen and pushing them back into the original small spaces in which they operated.

While Israel has redeployed its forces to the outskirts of Gaza in 2005, under international law it is still considered an Occupying Power, obligated to ensure the welfare and the rights of the occupied Palestinians living there. Of course, Israel has never honored international law, neither in Gaza, nor anywhere else in occupied Palestine.

In February 2018, Isma’il Abu Ryalah was killed by the Israeli navy while fishing in his small boat five nautical miles off the Gaza shore. Predictably, no Israeli was ever held accountable for Abu Ryalah’s murder. Soon after the incident, desperation — but also courage — prompted thousands of Gaza fishermen back to the sea, despite the impending danger posed by modern-day pirates masquerading as an army.

Netanyahu vs Gantz: Gaza Escalation as Reflection of Israel’s Political Rivalry

Only recently, the Palestinian group, Hamas, and Israel seemed close to reaching a prisoner exchange agreement, where Hamas would release several Israeli soldiers held in Gaza while Israel would set free an unspecified number of Palestinian detainees held in Israeli prisons.

Instead of the much-anticipated announcement of some kind of a deal, on August 10, Israeli bombs began falling on the besieged Strip and incendiary balloons, originating in Gaza, made their way to the Israeli side of the fence.

So, what happened?

The answer lies largely – though not entirely – in Israel, specifically in the political conflict between Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing political camp, on the one hand, and their government’s coalition partners, led by Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, on the other.

The discord between Netanyahu and Gantz is concentrated on a fierce budget conflict currently underway in the Knesset, which has little to do with government spending or fiscal responsibilities.

Gantz, who is supposed to serve his term as Prime Minister, starting November 2021, believes that Netanyahu plans on passing a one-year budget to disrupt the coalition agreement and to call for new elections before the leadership swap takes place. Therefore, Gantz insists on extending the budget coverage to two years, to avoid any possible betrayal by Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Netanyahu’s plot, which was revealed by the daily newspaper Haaretz on July 29, is not entirely motivated by the Israeli leader’s love for power, but by his mistrust of Gantz’s own motives. If Gantz becomes the country’s Prime Minister, he is likely to appoint new judges who are sympathetic towards his Blue and White and, thus, eager to indict Netanyahu in his ongoing corruption trial.

For both Netanyahu and Gantz, this is, perhaps, the most crucial fight of their political careers: the former fighting for his freedom, the latter fighting for survival.

One issue, however, is acceptable to both leaders: the understanding that military strength will always garner greater support from the Israeli public, especially if another election becomes inevitable. A successive, fourth election is likely to take place if the budget battle is not resolved.

As a military showdown in South Lebanon becomes unattainable due to the massive explosion that rocked Beirut on August 4, the two Israeli leaders have turned their attention to Gaza. Moving quickly, as if on the campaign trail, Gantz and Netanyahu are busy making their case to Israelis living in the southern towns bordering the Gaza Strip.

Gantz paid the leaders of these communities a visit on August 19. He was joined by a carefully selected delegation of top Israeli government and military officials, including Agriculture Minister, Alon Schuster and Gaza Division Commander, Brig.-Gen. Nimrod Aloni, who joined via video conference.

Aside from the customary threats of targeting anyone in Gaza who dares threaten Israeli security, Gantz has engaged in election campaign type of self-promotion. “We have changed the equation in Gaza. Since I entered office, there has been a response to every breach in our security,” Gantz said, emphasizing his own achievements, as opposed to those of the coalition government – thus denying Netanyahu any credit.

Netanyahu, on the other hand, has threatened harsh retaliation against Gaza if Hamas does not prevent protesters from releasing incendiary balloons. “We have adopted a policy under which a fire is treated as a rocket,” he told the mayors of southern towns on August 18.

Netanyahu is keeping the Gaza war option open, in case it becomes his only recourse. Gantz, as Defense Minister and Netanyahu’s rival is, however, enjoying greater political space to maneuver. From August 10, he has ordered his military to bomb Gaza every night. With every bomb dropped on Gaza, Gantz’s credibility among Israeli voters, especially in the south, increases slightly.

If the current conflagration leads to an all-out war, it will be the entire coalition government – including Netanyahu and his Likud party – that will bear responsibility for its potential disastrous consequences. This places Gantz in a powerful position.

The current military showdown in Gaza is not entirely the outcome of Israel’s own political fight. Gaza society is currently at a breaking point.

The truce between Gaza groups and Israel, which was reached through Egyptian mediation in November 2019, amounted to nothing. Despite much assurance that besieged Gazans would receive badly needed respite, the situation has, instead, reached an unprecedented, unbearable phase: Gaza’s only power generator has run out of fuel and is no longer in operation; the Strip’s tiny fishing zone of barely three nautical miles was declared a closed military zone by Israel on August 16; the Karem Abu Salem Crossing, through which meager supplies enter Gaza through Israel, is officially shut down.

The 13-year-old Israeli siege on Gaza is currently at its worst possible manifestation, with little room for the Gaza population to even express their outrage at their miserable plight.

In December 2019, the Hamas authorities decided to limit the frequency of protests, known as Gaza’s March of Return, which had taken place almost daily, starting March 2018.

Over 300 Palestinians were killed by Israeli snipers during the protests. Despite the high death toll and the relative failure to ignite international uproar against the siege, the non-violent protests permitted ordinary Palestinians to vent, to organize and to take initiative.

The current growing frustration in Gaza has compelled Hamas to open up a space for protesters to return to the fence in the hope that it pushes the subject of the siege back to the news agenda.

The incendiary balloons, which have ignited the ire of the Israeli military recently, are one of several Palestinian messages that Gazans refuse to accept that the protracted siege is now their permanent reality.

While Egyptian mediation may eventually offer Palestinians a temporary fix and avoid an all-out war, Israeli violence in Gaza, under the current political arrangement, will not cease.

Certainly, for as long as Israeli leaders continue to see a war on Gaza as a political opportunity and a platform for their own electoral games, the siege will carry on, relentlessly.

The Likud Conspiracy: Israel in the Throes of a Major Political Crisis

Protests against Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, have raged on for weeks, turning violent sometimes. Israelis are furious at their government’s mediocre response to the coronavirus pandemic, especially as COVID-19 disease is experiencing a massive surge throughout the country.

Netanyahu warned protesters, thousands of whom have been rallying outside his residence in Jerusalem, against “anarchy (and) violence”. Scenes of utter chaos and violent arrests have been a daily occurrence in a country that is already in the throes of a political crisis, largely, if not exclusively, linked to the Prime Minister himself.

Desperate to create any distractions from his many woes at home, Netanyahu has been pushing for a confrontation with the Lebanese resistance group, Hezbollah. But that, too, has failed, as Israeli media has denied earlier claims that a violent confrontation was reported at the Israel/Lebanon border.

Hezbollah insists that it would be the group, not Netanyahu, that will determine the time and place for its response to Israel’s recent killing of Hezbollah’s influential member, Ali Kamel Mohsen.

Mohsen was killed in an Israeli aerial raid targeting the vicinity of the Damascus International Airport, likely another desperate attempt by Netanyahu to deflect attention from his troubled coalition government and his corruption trial to an issue that often unifies most Israelis.

The turmoil in Israel is not just about an obstinate, divisive leader who is manipulating public opinion, the media and the various political groups to remain in power and to avoid legal accountability for his corruption.

The Disunited Coalition 

Israel is suffering a crisis of political legitimacy, one that goes beyond the embattled Netanyahu, and his coalition with the head of the Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) centrist party, Benny Gantz.

The political marriage between Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Kahol Lavan last April was fundamentally odd and unexpected. The announcement that Gantz — who endured three general elections in less than a year to finally oust Netanyahu — was uniting with his archenemy has devastated the anti-Netanyahu political camp, forcing Gantz’s partners, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, to abandon him.

But the new coalition government between the right and center became dysfunctional immediately after it was formed. Israel’s political marriage of convenience is likely to end in an ugly divorce.

The war between Netanyahu and his main coalition partner is now manifest in every aspect of Israel’s political life:  in the Knesset (parliament), in media headlines and on the streets.

When the new government assumed its duties after one of the most tumultuous years in Israel’s political history, the mood, at least immediately, was somewhat calm; both Netanyahu and Gantz seemed united in their desire to illegally annex nearly a third of the occupied Palestinian West Bank. Israel’s right wing camp was delighted; the center tagged along.

However, the international response to the annexation scheme forced Netanyahu to rethink his July 1 deadline. Now that annexation has been postponed indefinitely, Netanyahu is being denied a major political card that could have helped him replenish his fading popularity among Israelis, at a time when he desperately needs it.

On July 19, Netanyahu’s corruption trial resumed. Although the Prime Minister did not attend the opening session personally, his image — that of a strong commanding figure — was tarnished, nonetheless.

Gantz, who already agreed to the annexation plan, was too clever to fully associate himself with the risky political endeavor. That task was left to Netanyahu who knew the risks affiliated with a failed political scheme, but with no option except to follow through with it.

Awaiting the right opportunity to pounce on his beleaguered ‘partner’, Gantz found his chance in a report published by the Israeli daily newspaper, Haaretz.

The Budget Conspiracy 

On July 22, Haaretz reported that, “Netanyahu decided to not pass the budget for 2020 and to call a general election to take place on November 18,” to avoid the possibility of being forced to “handing over the keys to Defense Minister and Kahol Lavan Chairman, Benny Gantz” so that he, Netanyahu, may “attend legal proceedings” related to his corruption trial.

According to this claim, Netanyahu only agreed to swap the Prime Minister seat with Gantz come November 2021 just to buy time and to avoid a fourth election that would leave him vulnerable to an electoral defeat and to a corruption trial without a political safety net.

Despite the risk of yet another election, Netanyahu is keen to wrestle the Justice Ministry from Kahol Lavan’s hands, because whoever controls the Justice Ministry controls Netanyahu’s fate in Israeli courts. Leaving Gantz with such a powerful card is neither an option for the Likud nor for Netanyahu.

Hence, the Likud is insisting that the budget agreement can only last for one year, while Kahol Lavan is adamant that it must cover a period of two years. The Likud conspiracy, as revealed in Israeli media, suggests that the Likud Finance Minister, Israel Katz, plans to use the next budget negotiations as the reason to dismantle the right-center coalition and demand another election, thus denying Gantz his chance to serve his term as a prime minister, per the unity government agreement.

Crisis of a Fake Democracy

However, the crisis is larger than the dispute between Netanyahu and Gantz. While Israel has long prided itself on being “the only democracy in the Middle East”, the truth is that Israeli ‘democracy’ was, from the start, fraudulent, in that it catered to Israeli Jews and discriminated against everyone else.

In recent years, however, institutionalized racism and apartheid in Israel were no longer masked by clever political discourses.  Netanyahu, in particular, has led the charge of making Israel the right-wing, chauvinistic, racist haven that it is today.

The fact that Netanyahu recently became Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister, elected repeatedly by Israel’s Jewish citizens, indicates that the Israeli leader is but a reflection of the larger ailments that have afflicted Israeli society as a whole.

Reducing the discussion to Netanyahu’s many failures might be convenient, but the demonstrable truth is that corrupt leaders can only exist in corrupt and unhealthy political systems. Israel is now the perfect example of that truism.

Reversal

Another Mother for Peace (Poster Credit: Lorraine Schneider, 1966)

With survival at stake, can weapon makers change course?

Today, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the atomic attack on Hiroshima, should be a day for quiet introspection. I recall a summer morning following the U.S. 2003 “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq when the segment of the Chicago River flowing past the headquarters of the world’s second largest defense contractor, Boeing, turned the rich, red color of blood.  At the water’s edge, Chicago activists, long accustomed to the river being dyed green on St. Patrick’s Day turned the river red to symbolize the bloodshed caused by Boeing products. On the bridge outside of Boeing’s entrance, activists held placards urging Boeing to stop making weapons.

This summer, orders for Boeing’s commercial jets have cratered during the pandemic, but the company’s revenue from weapon-making contracts remains steady. David Calhoun, Boeing’s CEO, recently expressed confidence the U.S. government will support defense industries no matter who occupies the Oval Office. Both presidential candidates appear “globally oriented,” he said, “and interested in the defense of our country.”

Investors should ask how Boeing’s contract to deliver 1,000 SLAM- ER weapons (Standoff Land Attack Missiles-Expanded Response) to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “defends” the United States.

Here are excerpts from Jeffrey Stern’s account of a missile’s impact on the town of Arhab in a remote area of Yemen. In this case, the missile was manufactured by Raytheon:

Now, as Fahd walked into the hut, a weapon about the length of a compact car was wobbling gracelessly down through the air toward him, losing altitude and unspooling an arming wire that connected it to the jet until, once it had extended a few feet, the wire ran out and ripped from the bomb.

Then it was as if the weapon woke up. A thermal battery was activated. Three fins on the rear extended all the way and locked in place. The bomb stabilized in the air. A guidance-control unit on the nose locked onto a laser reflection — invisible to the naked eye but meaningful to the bomb — sparkling on the rocks Fahd walked over.

At the well, at the moment of impact, a series of events happened almost instantaneously. The nose of the weapon hit rock, tripping a fuse in its tail section that detonated the equivalent of 200 pounds of TNT. When a bomb like this explodes, the shell fractures into several thousand pieces, becoming a jigsaw puzzle of steel shards flying through the air at up to eight times the speed of sound. Steel moving that fast doesn’t just kill people; it rearranges them. It removes appendages from torsos; it disassembles bodies and redistributes their parts.

Fahd had just stepped into the stone shelter and registered only a sudden brightness. He heard nothing. He was picked up, pierced with shrapnel, spun around and then slammed into the back wall, both of his arms shattering — the explosion so forceful that it excised seconds from his memory. Metal had bit into leg, trunk, jaw, eye; one piece entered his back and exited his chest, leaving a hole that air and liquid began to fill, collapsing his lungs. By the time he woke up, crumpled against stone, he was suffocating. Somehow he had survived, but he was killing himself with every breath, and he was bleeding badly. But he wasn’t even aware of any of these things, because his brain had been taken over by pain that seemed to come from another world.

In 2019, the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen observed “the continued supply of weapons to parties involved in Yemen perpetuates the conflict and the suffering of the population.”

These experts say “the conduct of hostilities by the parties to the conflict, including by airstrikes and shelling, may amount to serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

A year and a half ago, were it not for a presidential veto, both houses of the U.S. Congress would have enacted a law banning weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

Another end-user of Boeing’s weapons is the Israeli Defense Force.

The company has provided Israel with AH-64 Apache helicopters, F-15 fighter jetsHellfire missiles (produced with Lockheed Martin), MK-84 2000-lb bombs, MK-82 500-lb bombs, and Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) kits that turn bombs into “smart” GPS-equipped guided bombs. Boeing’s Harpoon sea-to-sea missile system is installed on the upgraded 4.5 Sa’ar missile ships of the Israeli Navy.

Apache helicopters, Hellfire and Harpoon missiles, JDAM guiding systems, and Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) munitions have been used repeatedly in Israeli attacks on densely populated civilian areas, resulting in thousands of civilian casualties in Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza. The human rights community, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, and United Nations commissions, ruled these attacks to be human rights violations and at times war crimes.

I lived with a family in Gaza during the final days of the 2009 “Operation Cast Lead” bombing. Abu Yusuf, Umm Yusuf, and their two small children, Yusuf and Shahid, welcomed Audrey Stewart and me to stay with them. Once every 11 minutes from 11 p.m. – 1:00 a.m. and again from 3:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m., we heard an ear-splitting blast. Normally, I wouldn’t have known the difference between the sound of a Hellfire Missile exploding and that of a 500 lb. bomb dropped from an F-15, but soon I could tell the difference. Little Yusuf and Shahid taught us to distinguish one gut-wrenching sound from the other. They had been cringing under the bombs for 18 days and nights.

I don’t see how the sale of weapons to governments which use them against civilian populations, against people like Fahad, in Arhab or Abu Yusuf and his family in Gaza, defends people in the U.S.

Boeing’s vast resources for scientific know-how, skillful engineering, and creative innovation could, however, help defend the U.S. against the greatest threat we  now face, environmental climate catastrophe. Writing for The New York Review of Books, Bill McKibben predicts “a century of crises, many of them more dangerous than what we’re living through right now.” The main question, he says, is whether human beings can hold the alarming rise in temperature “to a point where we can at great expense and suffering, deal with those crises coherently, or whether they will overwhelm the coping abilities of our civilization.”

“A rise of one degree doesn’t sound like an extraordinary change,” McKibben writes, “but it is: each second, the carbon and methane we’ve emitted trap heat equivalent to the explosion of three Hiroshima-sized bombs.”

Boeing’s engineers, scientists, designers and marketers could help turn the tide of human actions destroying our earth. Their expertise could truly “defend” people.

There’s a lesson to be learned from the river flowing outside of Boeing’s headquarters. It actually flows backwards. Long ago, brilliant engineers designed a way for the river to reverse its course. In doing so, they saved Chicago from sewage contamination of its drinking water supply – Lake Michigan. This action was hailed as one of the great engineering wonders of the world.

The City’s sewers discharged human and industrial wastes directly to its rivers, which in turn flowed into the lake. A particularly heavy rainstorm in 1885 caused sewage to be flushed into the lake beyond the clean water intakes. The resulting typhoid, cholera, and dysentery epidemics killed an estimated 12 percent of Chicago’s 750,000 residents, and raised a public outcry to find a permanent solution to the city’s water supply and sewage disposal crisis.”

The Sanitary and Ship Canal was constructed at an estimated cost of over $70,000,000. After its completion, in 1900, waterborne disease rates quickly and dramatically improved, and its water supply system was soon regarded as being one of the safest in the world. With its water source made safe and dependable by the canals, Chicago and the region grew and prospered rapidly.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to dye the Chicago River red or green. We need to protect the river and all wildlife dependent on it. But, we must continually confront Boeing and other weapon manufacturers, and insist they not destroy lives, homes and infrastructures in other lands. We must urge Boeing, like the river, to reverse course and participate, with dignity and humility, in the pursuit of human survival.

List of Israeli Targets Leaked: Tel Aviv Fears the Worst in ICC Investigation of War Crimes

When International Court of Justice (ICC) Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, confirmed last December that the Court has ample evidence to pursue a war crimes investigation in occupied Palestine, the Israeli government responded with the usual rhetoric, accusing the international community of bias and insisting on Israel’s ‘right to defend itself.’

Beneath the platitudes and typical Israeli discourse, the Israeli government knew too well that an ICC investigation into war crimes in Palestine could be quite costly. An investigation, in itself, represents an indictment of sorts. If Israeli individuals were to be indicted for war crimes, that is a different story, as it becomes a legal obligation of ICC members to apprehend the criminals and hand them over to the Court.

Israel remained publicly composed, even after Bensouda, last April, elaborated on her December decision with a 60-page legal report, titled: “Situation in the State of Palestine: Prosecution Response to the Observations of Amici Curiae, Legal Representatives of Victims, and States.”

In the report, the ICC addressed many of the questions, doubts and reports submitted or raised in the four months that followed her earlier decision. Countries such as Germany and Austria, among others, had used their position as amici curiae — ‘friends of the court’ — to question the ICC jurisdiction and the status of Palestine as a country.

Bensouda insisted that “the Prosecutor is satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to initiate an investigation into the situation in Palestine under article 53(1) of the Rome Statute, and that the scope of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction comprises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza (“Occupied Palestinian Territory”).”

However, Bensouda did not provide definitive timelines to the investigation; instead, she requested that the ICC’S Pre-Trial Chamber “confirm the scope of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction in Palestine,” an additional step that is hardly required since the State of Palestine, a signatory of the Rome Statute, is the one that actually referred the case directly to the Prosecutor’s office.

The April report, in particular, was the wake-up call for Tel Aviv. Between the initial decision in December till the release of the latter report, Israel lobbied on many fronts, enlisting the help of ICC members and recruiting its greatest benefactor, Washington – which is not an ICC member – to bully the Court so it may reverse its decision.

On May 15, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, warned the ICC against pursuing the investigation, targeting Bensouda, in particular, for her decision to hold war criminals in Palestine accountable.

The US slapped unprecedented sanctions against the ICC on June 11, with President Donald Trump issuing an ‘executive order’ that authorizes the freezing of assets and a travel ban against ICC officials and their families. The order also allows for the punishing of other individuals or entities that assist the ICC in its investigation.

Washington’s decision to carry out punitive measures against the very Court that was established for the sole purpose of holding war criminals accountable is both outrageous and abhorrent. It also exposes Washington’s hypocrisy — the country that claims to defend human rights is attempting to prevent legal accountability by those who have violated human rights.

Upon its failure to halt the ICC legal procedures regarding its investigation of war crimes, Israel began to prepare for the worst. On July 15, Israeli daily newspaper, Haaretz, reported about a ‘secret list’ that was drawn up by the Israeli government. The list includes “between 200 and 300 officials”, ranging from politicians to military and intelligence officials, who are subject to arrest abroad, should the ICC officially open the war crimes investigation.

Names begin at the top of the Israeli political pyramid, among them Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his current coalition partner, Benny Gantz.

The sheer number of Israeli officials on the list is indicative of the scope of the ICC’s investigation, and somehow is a self-indictment, as the names include former Israeli Defense Ministers — Moshe Ya’alon, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett; current and former army chiefs of staffs — Aviv Kochavi, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot and current and former heads of internal intelligence, the Shin Bet — Nadav Argaman and Yoram Cohen.

Respected international human rights organizations have already, repeatedly, accused all these individuals of serious human rights abuses during Israel’s lethal wars on the besieged Gaza Strip, starting with the so-called ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in 2008-9.

But the list is far more extensive, as it covers “people in much more junior positions, including lower-ranking military officers and, perhaps, even officials involved in issuing various types of permits to settlements and settlement outposts.”

Israel, thus, fully appreciates the fact that the international community still insists that the construction of illegal colonies in occupied Palestine, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the transfer of Israeli citizens to occupied land are all inadmissible under international law and tantamount to war crimes. Netanyahu must be disappointed to learn that all of Washington’s concessions to Israel under Trump’s presidency have failed to alter the position of the international community and the applicability of international law in any way.

Furthermore, it would not be an exaggeration to argue that Tel Aviv’s postponement of its plan to illegally annex nearly a third of the West Bank is directly linked to the ICC’s investigation, for the annexation would have completely thwarted Israel’s friends’ efforts aimed at preventing the investigation from ever taking place.

While the whole world, especially Palestinians, Arabs and their allies, still anxiously await the final decision by the Pre-Trial Chamber, Israel will continue its overt and covert campaign to intimidate the ICC and any other entity that aims to expose Israeli war crimes and to try Israeli war criminals.

Washington, too, will continue to strive to ensure Netanyahu, Gantz, and the “200 to 300” other Israeli officials never see their day in court.

However, the fact that a “secret list” exists is an indication that Tel Aviv understands that this era is different and that international law, which has failed Palestinians for over 70 years, may for once deliver, however small, a measure of justice.