Local Time

Saturday, December 16, 2006

SHOCK NEWS: Blair To Spread Peace In The Middle East

27sep06

“From 9/11 until now I have said again and again.If we want our values to be the ones that govern global change, we have to show that they are fair, just and delivered with an even hand.From now until I leave office I will dedicate myself, with the same commitment I have given to Northern Ireland , to advancing peace between Israel and Palestine.I may not succeed.But I will try because peace in the Middle East is a defeat for terrorism.
We must never again let Lebanon become the battleground for a conflict that neither Israeli or Lebanese people wanted though it was they who paid the price for it.
Peace in Lebanon is a defeat for terrorism.”

So said Tony Blair yesterday in his big farewell speech at the Labour Party conference in Manchester. If he’s being serious when he says he will dedicate the next few months to working towards peace in the Middle East, all I can say is that I feel sorry for the Middle East.

Actually, that’s not quite true; if Blair really was being sincere, and he really does intend to spend his last few months in office solving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, then that’s great, amazing and desperately needed. But the trouble is, when Tony Blair talks about being “fair”, “just”, what he really means is conspiring with the US to block a resolution calling for an “immediate” ceasefire early on in the Lebanon conflict. When Blair talks about imparting “values” with an “even hand”, what he really means is allowing US planes carrying bombs and missiles to Israel to re-fuel at British airports. That’s right; Blair helped arm the aggressor before the war was even over, and he now has the nerve to talk about and bringing “peace” to the Middle East with an “even hand”.

Mr. Blair was right to say that neither the Israeli people nor the Lebanese people wanted the war. But he could have added, ‘The Israeli and US governments did, and we supported them’.

But let’s, for a second, pleasantly delude ourselves and imagine that Blair was being sincere. What would that look like? How would he do it?

Well, on Sept. 21st, the 1.8 million strong Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) unanimously approved a resolution dealing with the Middle East. Let’s have a look at what they decided (note: the resolution also addresses Afghanistan and Iraq, but for the purposes of this article I’ll focus on what it had to say regarding Israel):

“Noting:

1. The merciless killing of civilians in particular children in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine.

2. The imprisonment of Iraqis, Palestinians and others by the U.S. administration and its allies.

3. These attacks are backed by the advanced capitalist economies in particular the U.S which arms and funds the Israel army.

Resolve:

1. The U.S. must withdraw all its forces unconditionally from Iraq and Afghanistan so that their people can determine their own future under the supervision of the United Nations.

2. Our government should impose sanctions against Israel until the aggression on Palestine and Lebanon is stopped.

3. We should step up the campaign for the release of Palestinians, Iraqis and other nations across the globe held by the U.S. and Israel.

4. COSATU members must boycott Israeli goods and demonstrations must be held at the embassies of Israel and the United States in South Africa.

5. The government must end with immediate affect the diplomatic ties with Israel including recalling the ambassador.

6. To strengthen the coalition against the wars in the Middle East.

7. Pledge our solidarity and support to the struggle of the Palestinian people for freedom and condemn in the strongest terms:

a. the war crimes that are currently being perpetrated against the people of Palestine and Lebanon;

b. the wanton destruction of life-sustaining infra-structure in Palestine and Lebanon;

c. the deliberate impotence of international agencies and either the silent complicity and/or the active support of most governments in these acts of terror;

d. the current and ongoing shipment of armaments from the US to Israel; and

e. the detention of almost 10 000 Lebanese and Palestinian people including women and children.

8. Demand that:

a. Israel immediately cease its aerial bombardments and military attacks on Palestinian territories and Lebanon.

b. Israel abides by the provisions of the international humanitarian law and human rights law, and refrains from imposing collective punishment on Palestinian civilians.

c. The international community holds Israel legally accountable for all crimes committed against civilian populations.

d. The international community implements diplomatic and trade sanctions against the State of Israel with immediate effect.

e. The international community holds Israel responsible for the compensation and reparation for the loss of life in Lebanon and Palestine.

f. The EU stop the severe sanctions imposed by Europe on the Palestinian Authority as a penalty for exercising their democratic right and electing a government of their choice.

g. The United Nations implements the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on Israel’s Apartheid Wall.”

So, essentially, it can be summarised to: we recognise that Israel has broken the law, and we are going to attempt to put pressure on them to start abiding by it again.

Can you even imagine a mainstream Western politician formulating such a policy, expressing such thoughts? Can you imagine Tony Blair doing so? Doesn’t the fact that you can’t make you sick? The sad truth is, no mainstream Western politician would dare do something so radical as to accept that criminality is wrong, and then go about pressuring the criminal to stop committing crimes - at least, not when the criminal in question is a major US/UK ally. Christ - we haven’t even got around to recognising the fact that Israel did commit war crimes in Lebanon and Gaza.

So ignore the flowery rhetoric and the proclamations of good intent. Take a look at the facts, and what you will find is that Blair, throughout his premiership, displayed a complete disrespect for the rule of law, a cold indifference to human life and a willingness to support terror that, sadly, is all too familiar (because, of course, we shouldn’t fall into the cult of personality created by the media: the problem is not just Tony Blair and it is not just George W. Bush; it is systemic).

Take a look behind the apparently sincere and passionate speeches, and take a look at the situation in Lebanon and Gaza now. Bear in mind that the US/UK, thanks to their actions and inaction during the war and thanks to their virtually unconditional support for Israel, are heavily complicit in all of this.

- Today, a 14 year-old girl was killed by an IAF missile strike, and seven other children were wounded. The IAF targeted the house of a weapons dealer. They contacted him 15 minutes beforehand to get out, and he did. The missile struck, the house was levelled and there were no major injuries. Then, as people started to gather round to have a look, a second missile struck, killing the child. This sort of thing happens daily, always justified by Israel’s ’security needs’. IDF soldiers go around “arresting” Palestinian “militants” (for some reason, the media always accepts Israel’s branding on trust) at will, shooting people (some militants, some civilians), levelling houses with missile strikes…all justified by Israel’s need for ’security’.

- It could take between 8 and 14 months to repair the Gaza power station, bombed by Israeli jets in June, and to restore electricity to the region. The Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem, had this to say:

“In the early morning hours of 28 June 2006, following the abduction of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the Israeli Air Force attacked the only electrical power plant operating in the Gaza Strip. Six missiles were fired at the power plant’s six transformers. Two of the missiles missed their target, so two more missiles were fired a few minutes later, destroying the remaining transformers…

As a result of the lack of electricity, the level of medical services provided by clinics and hospitals has declined significantly; most of the urban population receive only two or three hours of water a day; the sewage system is on the verge of collapse; many inhabitants’ mobility has been severely restricted as a result of non-functioning elevators; and the lack of refrigeration has exposed many to the danger of food-poisoning. Small businesses reliant on a regular power supply have been badly affected. The hardship involved in living without a steady flow of electricity is exacerbated by the deep economic crisis afflicting the Gaza Strip…

Aiming attacks at civilian objects is forbidden under International Humanitarian Law and is considered a war crime. The power plant bombed by Israel is a purely civilian object and bombing it did nothing to impede the ability of Palestinian organizations to fire rockets into Israeli territory…

Even if Israel reached the highly questionable conclusion that disrupting the supply of electricity in Gaza might provide the Israeli army with a “definite military advantage,” under the principal of proportionality, Israel was legally required to choose the action that would prove least harmful to the population. Accordingly, Israel could have reduced the supply of electricity that the Israel Electric Corporation – which is the primary provider of electricity for the Gaza Strip – sells to the Palestinian Authority. However, in the wake of the company’s objection to this alternative, which was likely to harm its commercial interests, the decision-makers within the Israeli government and army opted for the more harmful option.”

- There are up to a million unexploded cluster bomblets scattered over south Lebanon, according to U.N agencies. It will take an estimated 12-15 months to clear them up, and in the meantime they pose an enormous threat to people wishing to return to their homes after the war. According to the UNHCR, around 200,000 Lebanese remain displaced, thanks to either the destruction of their houses or due to the unexploded bomblets. Either way, it looks like they have a long wait ahead of them, as the UNHCR’s Arjun Jain explained:

“Displacement which we would have expected to end much more quickly is going to continue for many, many more months to come… We expect that instead of the displacement ending so people can return to their homes in 12 months or so now it could take up to 24 months”.

We should not forget that Israel fired 90% of the cluster bombs in the last 72 hours of the conflict, when it was clear to all sides that a ceasefire would be reached soon. The UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland described Israel’s use of cluster bombs as “completely immoral”.

You would think that now, at least, Israel would be doing its best to help the UN forces and the Lebanese Army clear up the bomblets (they’ve cleared up 40,000 so far), wouldn’t you? Well, you’d be wrong. Chris Clark, manager of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre in Lebanon, said the information Israel provided to help with cluster bomb removal was “useless”, adding:

“We have asked for grid references for [cluster bomb] strikes…We have not received them so far.”

- An Israeli military court has ordered the release of the Palestinian Deputy PM, due to a lack of evidence against him. He was “arrested” (read: abducted) on August 19, and detained by Israel along with 64 other members of Hamas, including seven Cabinet Ministers. Now, we have confirmation of what we already knew - it wasn’t an “arrest”, because they had no evidence with which to charge him. There should be an investigation and an official apology, but don’t hold your breath.

- UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories John Dugard released a report yesterday strongly criticising Israel for the situation in Gaza. He said:

“Israel has turned the Gaza Strip into a prison for Palestinians and have thrown away the key…in other countries this process might be described as ethnic cleansing…life in Gaza has turned to be intolerable, appalling and tragic…If … The international community cannot … take some action, it must not be surprised if the people of the planet disbelieve that they are seriously committed to the promotion of human rights…Israel violates international law as expounded by the Security Council and the International Court of Justice and goes unpunished. But the Palestinian people are punished for having democratically elected a regime unacceptable to Israel, the US and the EU.”

To read the full report, go here and click ‘A/HRC/2/5′ (currently top). I strongly recommend you read it to get a true idea of the situation in Gaza and the West Bank.

The report was met with the usual moronic dismissal by the US and Israel. Despite the fact that it is Mr. Dugard’s explicit brief to investigate Israeli human rights violations, Israel envoy Itzhak Levanon noted:

“This report is characterised by errors of omission as well as distortions of both fact and law”.

Thus, the ‘omissions’ he was referring to, presumably Qassams, were not “errors”. The fact that all Israel can do when confronted with its own atrocities is point to the perceived crimes of others is very depressing.
And so on and so on. There is one thing that characterises all of the above - an Israeli disregard for international law and opinion, and an Israeli willingness to rely on violence to get its way. The support of the US is largely responsible for both of these ‘personality flaws’. The sad fact is that Israel can disregard international law and opinion, because it enjoys the unconditional support of the world’s veto-wielding superpower, and Israel can rely on force to perpetuate the occupation because, thanks to US (and, to a lesser extent, UK) military and financial assistance, it is the region’s military superpower.

So ignore Tony Blair’s professed desire to bring peace to the Middle East. He, just like his predecessors and just like Gordon Brown after him, will never put any weight on Israel to conform to the law. To expect him to do so is absurd - he is, after all, himself a war criminal. That doesn’t mean we should despair, it means that we cannot at the moment rely on our political “representatives” to stand up for what’s right. We, the public in a democracy, have the power to make them stand up for what’s right. Whenever Tony Blair pretends to want peace, the public must shout him down and demand real action. Whenever Condoleeza Rice pushes for sanctions against Syria, the public must shout her down and demand sanctions against Israel. For at the moment, all of us have the blood of innocent Lebanese and Palestinians on our hands.

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