Saturday, January 31, 2009

Black Flag

by Uri Avnery

A SPANISH JUDGE has instituted a judicial inquiry against seven Israeli political and military personalities on suspicion of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The case: the 2002 dropping of a one ton bomb on the home of Hamas leader Salah Shehade. Apart from the intended victim, 14 people, most of them children, were killed.

For those who have forgotten: the then commander of the Israeli Air Force, Dan Halutz, was asked at the time what he feels when he drops a bomb on a residential building. His unforgettable answer: “A slight bump to the wing.” When we in Gush Shalom accused him of a war crime, he demanded that we be put on trial for high treason. He was joined by the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, who accused us of wanting to “turn over Israeli army officers to the enemy”. The Attorney General notified us officially that he did not intend to open an investigation against those responsible for the bombing.

I should be happy, therefore, that at long last somebody is ready to put that action to a judicial test (even if he seems to have been thwarted by political pressure.) But I am sorry that this has happened in Spain, not in Israel.

ISRAELI TV VIEWERS have lately been exposed to a bizarre sight: army officers appearing with their faces hidden, as usual for criminals when the court prohibits their identification. Pedophiles, for example, or attackers of old women.

On the orders of the military censors, this applies to all officers, from battalion commanders down, who have been involved in the Gaza war. Since the faces of brigade commanders and above are generally known, the order does not apply to them.

Immediately after the cease-fire, the Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, promoted a special law that would give unlimited backing by the state to all officers and soldiers who took part in the Gaza war and who might be accused abroad of war crimes. This seems to confirm the Hebrew adage: “On the head of the thief, the hat is burning”.

I DO NOT object to trials abroad. The main thing is that war criminals, like pirates, should be brought to justice. It is not so important where they are caught. (This rule was applied by the State of Israel when it abducted Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and hanged him in Israel for heinous crimes committed outside the territory of Israel and, indeed, before the state even existed.)

But as an Israeli patriot, I would prefer suspected Israeli war criminals to be put on trial in Israel. That is necessary for the country, for all decent officers and soldiers of the Israeli army, for the education of future generations of citizens and soldiers.

There is no need to rely on international law alone. There are Israeli laws against war crimes. Enough to mention the immortal phrase coined by Justice Binyamin Halevy, serving as a military judge, in the trial of the border policemen who were responsible for the 1956 massacre in Kafr Kassem, when dozens of children, women and men were mown down for violating a curfew which they did not even know about.

The judge announced that even in wartime, there are orders over which flies “the black flag of illegality”. These are orders which are “manifestly” illegal – that is to say, orders which every normal person can tell are illegal, without having to consult a lawyer.

War criminals dishonor the army whose uniform they wear – whether they are generals or common soldiers. As a combat soldier on the day the Israeli Defense Army was officially created, I am ashamed of them and demand that they be cast out and be put on trial in Israel.

My list of suspects includes politicians, soldiers, rabbis and lawyers.

THERE IS not the slightest doubt that in the Gaza war, crimes were committed. The question is to what extent and by whom.

Example: the soldiers call on the residents of a house to leave it. A woman and her four children come out, waving white handkerchiefs. It is absolutely clear that they are not armed fighters. A soldier in a near-by tank stands up, points his rifle and shoots them dead at short range. According to testimonies that seem to be beyond doubt, this happened more than once.

Another example: the shelling of the United Nations school full of refugees, from which there was no shooting – as admitted by the army, after the original pretexts were disproved.

These are ”simple” cases. But the spectrum of cases is far wider. A serious judicial investigation has to start right from the top: the politicians and senior officers who decided on the war and confirmed its plans must be investigated about their decisions. In Nuremberg it was laid down that the starting of a war of aggression is a crime.

An objective investigation has to find out whether the decision to start the war was justified, or if there existed another way of stopping the launching of rockets against Israeli territory. Without doubt, no country can or should tolerate the bombing of its towns and villages from beyond the border. But could this be prevented by talking with the Gaza authorities? Was our government’s decision to boycott Hamas, the winner of the democratic Palestinian elections, the real cause of this war? Did the imposition of the blockade on a million and a half Gaza Strip inhabitants contribute to the launching of the Qassams? In brief: were the alternatives considered before it was decided to start a deadly war?

The war plan included a massive attack on the civilian population of the Strip. The real aims of a war can be understood less from the official declarations of its initiators, than from their actions. If in this war some 1300 men, women and children were killed, the great majority of whom were not fighters; if about 5000 people were injured, most of them children; if some 2500 homes were partly or wholly destroyed; if the infrastructure of life was totally demolished – all this clearly could not have happened accidentally. It must have been a part of the war plan.

The things said during the war by politicians and officers make it clear that the plan had at least two aims, which might be considered war crimes: (1) To cause widespread killing and destruction, in order to “fix a price tag”. “to burn into their consciousness”, “to reinforce deterrence”, and most of all – to get the population to rise up against Hamas and overthrow their government. Clearly this affects mainly the civilian population. (2) To avoid casualties to our army at (literally) any price by destroying any building and killing any human being in the area into which our troops were about to move, including destroying homes over the heads of their inhabitants, preventing medical teams from reaching the victims, killing people indiscriminately. In certain cases, inhabitants were warned that they must flee, but this was mainly an alibi-action: there was nowhere to flee to, and often fire was opened on people trying to escape.

An independent court will have to decide whether such a war-plan is in accordance with national and international law, or whether it was ab initio a crime against humanity and a war-crime.

This was a war of a regular army with huge capabilities against a guerrilla force. In such a war, too, not everything is permissible. Arguments like “The Hamas terrorists were hiding within the civilian population” and “They used the population as human shields” may be effective as propaganda but are irrelevant: that is true for every guerrilla war. It must be taken into account when a decision to start such a war is being considered.

In a democratic state, the military takes its orders from the political establishment. Good. But that does not include “manifestly” illegal orders, over which the black flag of illegality is waving. Since the Nuremberg trials, there is no more room for the excuse that “I was only obeying orders”.

Therefore, the personal responsibility of all involved - from the Chief of Staff, the Front Commander and the Division Commander right down to the last soldier - must be examined. From the statements of soldiers one must deduce that many believed that their job was “to kill as many Arabs as possible”. Meaning: no distinction between fighters and non-fighters. That is a completely illegal order, whether given explicitly or by a wink and a nudge. The soldiers understood this to be “the spirit of the commander”.

AMONG THOSE suspected of war crimes, the rabbis have a place of honor.

Those who incite to war crimes and call upon soldiers, directly or indirectly, to commit war crimes may be guilty of a war crime themselves.

When one speaks of “rabbis”, one thinks of old men with long white beards and big hats, who give tongue to venerable wisdom. But the rabbis who accompanied the troops are a very different species.

In the last decades, the state-financed religious educational system has churned out “rabbis” who are more like medieval Christian priests than the Jewish sages of Poland or Morocco. This system indoctrinates its pupils with a violent tribal cult, totally ethnocentric, which sees in the whole of world history nothing but an endless story of Jewish victimhood. This is a religion of a Chosen People, indifferent to others, a religion without compassion for anyone who is not Jewish, which glorifies the God-decreed genocide described in the Biblical book of Joshua.

The products of this education are now the “rabbis” who instruct the religious youths. With their encouragement, a systematic effort has been made to take over the Israeli army from within. Kippa-wearing officers have replaced the Kibbutzniks, who not so long ago were dominant in the army. Many of the lower and middle-ranking officers now belong to this group.

The most outstanding example is the “Chief Army Rabbi”, Colonel Avichai Ronsky, who has declared that his job is to reinforce the “fighting spirit” of the soldiers. He is a man of the extreme right, not far from the spirit of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose party was outlawed in Israel for its fascist ideology. Under the auspices of the army rabbinate, religious-fascist brochures of the ultra-right “rabbis” were distributed to the soldiers.

This material includes political incitement, such as the statement that the Jewish religion prohibits “giving up even one millimeter of Eretz Israel”, that the Palestinians, like the Biblical Philistines (from whom the name Palestine derives), are a foreign people who invaded the country, and that any compromise (such as indicated in the official government program) is a mortal sin. The distribution of political propaganda violates, of course, army law.

The rabbis openly called upon the soldiers to be cruel and merciless towards the Arabs. To treat them mercifully, they stated, is a “terrible, awful immorality”. When such material is distributed to religious soldiers going into war, it is easy to see why things happened the way they did.

THE PLANNERS of this war knew that the shadow of war crimes was hovering over the planned operation. Witness: the Attorney General (whose official title is “Legal Advisor to the Government”) was a partner to the planning. This week the Chief Army Attorney, Colonel Avichai Mandelblut, disclosed that his officers were attached throughout the war to all the commanders, from the Chief of Staff down to the Division Commander.

All this together leads to the inescapable conclusion that the legal advisors bear direct responsibility for the decisions taken and implemented, from the massacre of the civilian police recruits at their graduating ceremony to the shelling of the UN installations. Every attorney who was a partner to the deliberations before an order was given is responsible for its consequences, unless he can prove that he objected to it.

The Chief Army Attorney, who is supposed to give the army professional and objective advice, speaks about “the monstrous enemy” and tries to justify the actions of the army by saying that it was fighting against “an unbridled enemy, who declared that he ‘loves death’ and finds shelter behind the backs of women and children”. Such language is, perhaps, pardonable in a pep-talk of a war-drunk combat commander, like the battalion chief who ordered his soldiers to commit suicide rather than be captured, but totally unacceptable when it comes from the chief legal officer of the army.

WE MUST pursue all the legal processes in Israel and call for an independent investigation and the indictment of suspected perpetrators. We must demand this even if the chances of it happening are slim indeed.

If these efforts fail, nobody will be able to object to trials abroad, either in an international court or in the courts of those nations that respect human rights and international law.

Until then, the black flag will still be waving.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Russian Prime Minister Putin's keynote speech at the Davos World Economic Forum

The following text is a transcript of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's speech at the opening ceremony of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Good afternoon, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to thank the forum's organisers for this opportunity to share my thoughts on global economic developments and to share our plans and proposals.

The world is now facing the first truly global economic crisis, which is continuing to develop at an unprecedented pace.

The current situation is often compared to the Great Depression of the late 1920s and the early 1930s. True, there are some similarities.

However, there are also some basic differences. The crisis has affected everyone at this time of globalisation. Regardless of their political or economic system, all nations have found themselves in the same boat.

There is a certain concept, called the perfect storm, which denotes a situation when Nature's forces converge in one point of the ocean and increase their destructive potential many times over. It appears that the present-day crisis resembles such a perfect storm.

Responsible and knowledgeable people must prepare for it. Nevertheless, it always flares up unexpectedly.

The current situation is no exception either. Although the crisis was simply hanging in the air, the majority strove to get their share of the pie, be it one dollar or a billion, and did not want to notice the rising wave.

In the last few months, virtually every speech on this subject started with criticism of the United States. But I will do nothing of the kind.

I just want to remind you that, just a year ago, American delegates speaking from this rostrum emphasised the US economy's fundamental stability and its cloudless prospects. Today, investment banks, the pride of Wall Street, have virtually ceased to exist. In just 12 months, they have posted losses exceeding the profits they made in the last 25 years. This example alone reflects the real situation better than any criticism.

The time for enlightenment has come. We must calmly, and without gloating, assess the root causes of this situation and try to peek into the future.

In our opinion, the crisis was brought about by a combination of several factors.

The existing financial system has failed. Substandard regulation has contributed to the crisis, failing to duly heed tremendous risks.

Add to this colossal disproportions that have accumulated over the last few years. This primarily concerns disproportions between the scale of financial operations and the fundamental value of assets, as well as those between the increased burden on international loans and the sources of their collateral.

The entire economic growth system, where one regional centre prints money without respite and consumes material wealth, while another regional centre manufactures inexpensive goods and saves money printed by other governments, has suffered a major setback.

I would like to add that this system has left entire regions, including Europe, on the outskirts of global economic processes and has prevented them from adopting key economic and financial decisions.

Moreover, generated prosperity was distributed extremely unevenly among various population strata. This applies to differences between social strata in certain countries, including highly developed ones. And it equally applies to gaps between countries and regions.

A considerable share of the world's population still cannot afford comfortable housing, education and quality health care. Even a global recovery posted in the last few years has failed to radically change this situation.

And, finally, this crisis was brought about by excessive expectations. Corporate appetites with regard to constantly growing demand swelled unjustifiably. The race between stock market indices and capitalisation began to overshadow rising labour productivity and real-life corporate effectiveness.

Unfortunately, excessive expectations were not only typical of the business community. They set the pace for rapidly growing personal consumption standards, primarily in the industrial world. We must openly admit that such growth was not backed by a real potential. This amounted to unearned wealth, a loan that will have to be repaid by future generations.

This pyramid of expectations would have collapsed sooner or later. In fact, this is happening right before our eyes.

* * *

Esteemed colleagues, one is sorely tempted to make simple and popular decisions in times of crisis. However, we could face far greater complications if we merely treat the symptoms of the disease.

Naturally, all national governments and business leaders must take resolute actions. Nevertheless, it is important to avoid making decisions, even in such force majeure circumstances, that we will regret in the future.

This is why I would first like to mention specific measures which should be avoided and which will not be implemented by Russia.

We must not revert to isolationism and unrestrained economic egotism. The leaders of the world's largest economies agreed during the November 2008 G20 summit not to create barriers hindering global trade and capital flows. Russia shares these principles.

Although additional protectionism will prove inevitable during the crisis, all of us must display a sense of proportion.

Excessive intervention in economic activity and blind faith in the state's omnipotence is another possible mistake.

True, the state's increased role in times of crisis is a natural reaction to market setbacks. Instead of streamlining market mechanisms, some are tempted to expand state economic intervention to the greatest possible extent.

The concentration of surplus assets in the hands of the state is a negative aspect of anti-crisis measures in virtually every nation.

In the 20th century, the Soviet Union made the state's role absolute. In the long run, this made the Soviet economy totally uncompetitive. This lesson cost us dearly. I am sure nobody wants to see it repeated.

Nor should we turn a blind eye to the fact that the spirit of free enterprise, including the principle of personal responsibility of businesspeople, investors and shareholders for their decisions, is being eroded in the last few months. There is no reason to believe that we can achieve better results by shifting responsibility onto the state.

And one more point: anti-crisis measures should not escalate into financial populism and a refusal to implement responsible macroeconomic policies. The unjustified swelling of the budgetary deficit and the accumulation of public debts are just as destructive as adventurous stock-jobbing.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen, unfortunately, we have so far failed to comprehend the true scale of the ongoing crisis. But one thing is obvious: the extent of the recession and its scale will largely depend on specific high-precision measures, due to be charted by governments and business communities and on our coordinated and professional efforts.

In our opinion, we must first atone for the past and open our cards, so to speak.

This means we must assess the real situation and write off all hopeless debts and "bad" assets.

True, this will be an extremely painful and unpleasant process. Far from everyone can accept such measures, fearing for their capitalisation, bonuses or reputation. However, we would "conserve" and prolong the crisis, unless we clean up our balance sheets. I believe financial authorities must work out the required mechanism for writing off debts that corresponds to today's needs.

Second. Apart from cleaning up our balance sheets, it is high time we got rid of virtual money, exaggerated reports and dubious ratings. We must not harbour any illusions while assessing the state of the global economy and the real corporate standing, even if such assessments are made by major auditors and analysts.

In effect, our proposal implies that the audit, accounting and ratings system reform must be based on a reversion to the fundamental asset value concept. In other words, assessments of each individual business must be based on its ability to generate added value, rather than on subjective concepts. In our opinion, the economy of the future must become an economy of real values. How to achieve this is not so clear-cut. Let us think about it together.

Third. Excessive dependence on a single reserve currency is dangerous for the global economy. Consequently, it would be sensible to encourage the objective process of creating several strong reserve currencies in the future. It is high time we launched a detailed discussion of methods to facilitate a smooth and irreversible switchover to the new model.

Fourth. Most nations convert their international reserves into foreign currencies and must therefore be convinced that they are reliable. Those issuing reserve and accounting currencies are objectively interested in their use by other states.

This highlights mutual interests and interdependence.

Consequently, it is important that reserve currency issuers must implement more open monetary policies. Moreover, these nations must pledge to abide by internationally recognised rules of macroeconomic and financial discipline. In our opinion, this demand is not excessive.

At the same time, the global financial system is not the only element in need of reforms. We are facing a much broader range of problems.

This means that a system based on cooperation between several major centres must replace the obsolete unipolar world concept.

We must strengthen the system of global regulators based on international law and a system of multilateral agreements in order to prevent chaos and unpredictability in such a multipolar world. Consequently, it is very important that we reassess the role of leading international organisations and institutions.

I am convinced that we can build a more equitable and efficient global economic system. But it is impossible to create a detailed plan at this event today.

It is clear, however, that every nation must have guaranteed access to vital resources, new technology and development sources. What we need is guarantees that could minimise risks of recurring crises.

Naturally, we must continue to discuss all these issues, including at the G20 meeting in London, which will take place in April.

* * *

Our decisions should match the present-day situation and heed the requirements of a new post-crisis world.

The global economy could face trite energy-resource shortages and the threat of thwarted future growth while overcoming the crisis.

Three years ago, at a summit of the Group of Eight, we raised the issue of global energy security. We called for the shared responsibility of suppliers, consumers and transit countries. I think it is time to launch truly effective mechanisms ensuring such responsibility.

The only way to ensure truly global energy security is to form interdependence, including a swap of assets, without any discrimination or dual standards. It is such interdependence that generates real mutual responsibility.

Unfortunately, the existing Energy Charter has failed to become a working instrument able to regulate emerging problems.

I propose we start laying down a new international legal framework for energy security. Implementation of our initiative could play a political role comparable to the treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community. That is to say, consumers and producers would finally be bound into a real single energy partnership based on clear-cut legal foundations.

Every one of us realises that sharp and unpredictable fluctuations of energy prices are a colossal destabilising factor in the global economy. Today's landslide fall of prices will lead to a growth in the consumption of resources.

On the one hand, investments in energy saving and alternative sources of energy will be curtailed. On the other, less money will be invested in oil production, which will result in its inevitable downturn. Which, in the final analysis, will escalate into another fit of uncontrolled price growth and a new crisis.

It is necessary to return to a balanced price based on an equilibrium between supply and demand, to strip pricing of a speculative element generated by many derivative financial instruments.

To guarantee the transit of energy resources remains a challenge. There are two ways of tackling it, and both must be used.

The first is to go over to generally recognised market principles of fixing tariffs on transit services. They can be recorded in international legal documents.

The second is to develop and diversify the routes of energy transportation. We have been working long and hard along these lines.

In the past few years alone, we have implemented such projects as the Yamal-Europe and Blue Stream gas pipelines. Experience has proved their urgency and relevance.

I am convinced that such projects as South Stream and North Stream are equally needed for Europe's energy security. Their total estimated capacity is something like 85 billion cubic meters of gas a year.

Gazprom, together with its partners – Shell, Mitsui and Mitsubishi – will soon launch capacities for liquefying and transporting natural gas produced in the Sakhalin area. And that is also Russia's contribution to global energy security.

We are developing the infrastructure of our oil pipelines. The first section of the Baltic Pipeline System (BPS) has already been completed. BPS-1 supplies up to 75 million tonnes of oil a year. It does this direct to consumers – via our ports on the Baltic Sea. Transit risks are completely eliminated in this way. Work is currently under way to design and build BPS-2 (its throughput capacity is 50 million tonnes of oil a year.

We intend to build transport infrastructure in all directions. The first stage of the pipeline system Eastern Siberia – Pacific Ocean is in the final stage. Its terminal point will be a new oil port in Kozmina Bay and an oil refinery in the Vladivostok area. In the future a gas pipeline will be laid parallel to the oil pipeline, towards the Pacific and China.

* * *

Addressing you here today, I cannot but mention the effects of the global crisis on the Russian economy. We have also been seriously affected.

However, unlike many other countries, we have accumulated large reserves. They expand our possibilities for confidently passing through the period of global instability.

The crisis has made the problems we had more evident. They concern the excessive emphasis on raw materials in exports and the economy in general and a weak financial market. The need to develop a number of fundamental market institutions, above all of a competitive environment, has become more acute.

We were aware of these problems and sought to address them gradually. The crisis is only making us move more actively towards the declared priorities, without changing the strategy itself, which is to effect a qualitative renewal of Russia in the next 10 to 12 years.

Our anti-crisis policy is aimed at supporting domestic demand, providing social guarantees for the population, and creating new jobs. Like many countries, we have reduced production taxes, leaving money in the economy. We have optimised state spending.

But, I repeat, along with measures of prompt response, we are also working to create a platform for post-crisis development.

We are convinced that those who will create attractive conditions for global investment already now and will be able to preserve and strengthen sources of strategically meaningful resources will become leaders of the restoration of the global economy.

This is why among our priorities we have the creation of a favourable business environment and development of competition; the establishment of a stable loan system resting on sufficient internal resources; and implementation of transport and other infrastructure projects.

Russia is already one of the major exporters of a number of food commodities. And our contribution to ensuring global food security will only increase.

We are also going to actively develop the innovation sectors of the economy. Above all, those in which Russia has a competitive edge – space, nuclear energy, aviation. In these areas, we are already actively establishing cooperative ties with other countries. A promising area for joint efforts could be the sphere of energy saving. We see higher energy efficiency as one of the key factors for energy security and future development.

We will continue reforms in our energy industry. Adoption of a new system of internal pricing based on economically justified tariffs. This is important, including for encouraging energy saving. We will continue our policy of openness to foreign investments.

I believe that the 21st century economy is an economy of people not of factories. The intellectual factor has become increasingly important in the economy. That is why we are planning to focus on providing additional opportunities for people to realise their potential.

We are already a highly educated nation. But we need for Russian citizens to obtain the highest quality and most up-to-date education, and such professional skills that will be widely in demand in today's world. Therefore, we will be pro-active in promoting educational programmes in leading specialities.

We will expand student exchange programmes, arrange training for our students at the leading foreign colleges and universities and with the most advanced companies. We will also create such conditions that the best researchers and professors – regardless of their citizenship – will want to come and work in Russia.

History has given Russia a unique chance. Events urgently require that we reorganise our economy and update our social sphere. We do not intend to pass up this chance. Our country must emerge from the crisis renewed, stronger and more competitive.

* * *

Separately, I would like to comment on problems that go beyond the purely economic agenda, but nevertheless are very topical in present-day conditions.

Unfortunately, we are increasingly hearing the argument that the build-up of military spending could solve today's social and economic problems. The logic is simple enough. Additional military allocations create new jobs.

At a glance, this sounds like a good way of fighting the crisis and unemployment. This policy might even be quite effective in the short term. But in the longer run, militarisation won't solve the problem but will rather quell it temporarily. What it will do is squeeze huge financial and other resources from the economy instead of finding better and wiser uses for them.

My conviction is that reasonable restraint in military spending, especially coupled with efforts to enhance global stability and security, will certainly bring significant economic dividends.

I hope that this viewpoint will eventually dominate globally. On our part, we are geared to intensive work on discussing further disarmament.

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the economic crisis could aggravate the current negative trends in global politics.

The world has lately come to face an unheard-of surge of violence and other aggressive actions, such as Georgia's adventurous sortie in the Caucasus, recent terrorist attacks in India, and escalation of violence in Gaza Strip. Although not apparently linked directly, these developments still have common features.

First of all, I am referring to the existing international organisations' inability to provide any constructive solutions to regional conflicts, or any effective proposals for interethnic and interstate settlement. Multilateral political mechanisms have proved as ineffective as global financial and economic regulators.

Frankly speaking, we all know that provoking military and political instability, regional and other conflicts is a helpful means of distracting the public from growing social and economic problems. Such attempts cannot be ruled out, unfortunately.

To prevent this scenario, we need to improve the system of international relations, making it more effective, safe and stable.

There are a lot of important issues on the global agenda in which most countries have shared interests. These include anti-crisis policies, joint efforts to reform international financial institutions, to improve regulatory mechanisms, ensure energy security and mitigate the global food crisis, which is an extremely pressing issue today.

Russia is willing to contribute to dealing with international priority issues. We expect all our partners in Europe, Asia and America, including the new US administration, to show interest in further constructive cooperation in dealing with all these issues and more. We wish the new team success.


Ladies and gentlemen, the international community is facing a host of extremely complicated problems, which might seem overpowering at times. But, a journey of thousand miles begins with a single step, as the proverb goes.

We must seek foothold relying on the moral values that have ensured the progress of our civilisation. Integrity and hard work, responsibility and self-confidence will eventually lead us to success.

We should not despair. This crisis can and must be fought, also by pooling our intellectual, moral and material resources.

This kind of consolidation of effort is impossible without mutual trust, not only between business operators, but primarily between nations.

Therefore, finding this mutual trust is a key goal we should concentrate on now.

Trust and solidarity are key to overcoming the current problems and avoiding more shocks, to reaching prosperity and welfare in this new century.

Thank you.

source: Wall Street Journal online

Israel officials face war crimes investigation in Spain

Ha'aretz reports: A Spanish judge has opened a probe of seven current or former Israeli officials over a 2002 bombing in Gaza that killed a Hamas militant and 14 other people, including nine children.

Judge Fernando Andreu said the attack by Israel, which targeted militant Salah Shehadeh in a densely populated civilian area, might constitute a crime against humanity.

The judge is acting under a doctrine that allows prosecution in Spain of such an offense or crimes like terrorism or genocide even if they are alleged to have been committed in another country.

Andreu announced the probe in a writ issued Thursday. The people named in the suit include Dan Halutz, former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff and Israel Air Force commander at the time, as well as Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, then defense minister and now the minister of infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Israel is preparing for a wave of lawsuits by pro-Palestinian organizations overseas against Israelis involved in the latest Gaza fighting, claiming they were responsible for war crimes due to the harsh results stemming from the IDF's actions against Palestinian civilians and their property.

Senior Israeli ministers have expressed serious fears during following the war about the possibility that Israel will be pressed to agree to an international investigation of the losses among non-combatants during Operation Cast Lead; or alternately, that Israelis will be faced with personal suits, such as happened to Israeli officers who were accused of war crimes in Britain for their actions during the second intifada.

Israelis abduct more civilians in the occupied West Bank

Press TV reports: Israeli troops have abducted 8 Palestinian civilians during a raid on a village near the northern West Bank city of Jenin, witnesses say.

The eight Palestinian civilians where kidnapped on Wednesday by Israeli troops in the village of Zboba near Jenin.

Villagers told local media that Israeli troops invaded their village and conducted house to house search for a number of hours. Soldiers forced a curfew on the village and did not allow people to leave their homes, International Middle East Media Center reported.

During the search Israeli soldiers forced families outside their home and ransacked belongs, International Middle East Media Center reported.

Troops left later in the morning taking the eight men to unknown locations.

The Israeli army regularly arrests Palestinians during overnight operations in the West Bank towns despite a valid security agreement with the Palestinian National Authority.

Israel has not halted its arrest of the Palestinians in the West Bank that is controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA), while it justifies its massacre in the Gaza Strip as fighting against Hamas.

More than 11,500 Palestinians, including women and children, are imprisoned by Israel, suffering under harsh conditions in the Israeli detention facilities.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Amazing! Israeli spokesman claims that Hamas used phosphorus weapons

Watch this amazing interview of Israeli spokesman Mark Regev by Channel Four:

Clearly - Mr. Regev has no idea of the damage his efforts are doing to the reputation of his country. But then, there is no such thing as an intelligent racist, and since most Israelis are racists....

Friday, January 23, 2009

Iranian students offer $1.5m reward for Mubarak execution

The Guardian reports: Radical Iranian students have angered Egypt by offering a $1.5m (£1m) reward for the execution of its president, Hosni Mubarak, after accusing him of failing to oppose Israel's bombardment of Gaza.

The bounty has been put up by the Students' Justice-Seeking movement, which last week staged a sit-in at Tehran's Mehrabad airport demanding to be sent to Gaza as pro-Palestinian volunteers.

The group has labelled Mubarak an "international terrorist" and accuses him of collaborating with Israel by failing to open the Egypt-Gaza frontier at Rafah for humanitarian purposes. It also alleges that the Egyptian government has allowed Israeli planes to use the country's airspace to carry out raids.

Organisers distributed posters showing Mubarak with a fake bullet-hole in his forehead and scissor marks through his neck. The posters carry a proclamation in English offering a "$1,500,000 award for executing Mubarak" and an Arabic message from the Qur'an declaring: "Accursed, they will be seized wherever found and slain with a slaughter."

Iran's foreign ministry has dismissed the offer as not reflecting government policy after Egyptian officials called for its organisers to be prosecuted.

The students responded by increasing the reward from the original $1m sum. Money will be raised, they say, from the distribution of a documentary celebrating the 1981 assassination of Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat, who was killed by Islamists outraged by his signing the Camp David peace accords with Israel. Some students have also volunteered to sell their kidneys.

The issue threatens to further complicate attempts at restoring Iran-Egypt relations. Tehran severed diplomatic ties after Egypt sheltered the shah when he was toppled in the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Recent efforts to renew links have foundered partly on Egypt's insistence that Iran rename a street in Tehran honouring Sadat's assassin, Khaled Islambouli.

Israel braces for war crime charges

Press TV reports: Israel prepares to respond to possible war crimes charges after its soldiers admitted to having used chemical weapons against Gazans.

Israeli government sources revealed on Friday that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had tasked an inter-ministerial team to clear Tel Aviv of possible war crimes charges relating to its three-week-long assault on Gaza.

Israeli Justice Minister Daniel Friedman will spearhead the efforts to coordinate a legal defense for civilians and the military amid world condemnation of Tel Aviv's war on Gaza.

Israel moved close to being prosecuted for war crimes after Norwegian found traces of depleted uranium in Gaza victims, suggesting that Israel used the illegal weapons in its war on the densely-populated territory.

The UN nuclear watchdog said on Wednesday that it would open an investigation into Israel's alleged use of depleted uranium weapons, which are listed as 'illegal weapons of mass destruction' in the Geneva Convention.

The case for Israeli war crimes became stronger on Thursday when the Israeli military admitted that it pounded the Palestinian coast with at least twenty phosphorus bombs during the offensive.

White phosphorus, classified as a 'chemical weapon' by the US intelligence, is a highly-incendiary substance that bursts into all-consuming flames that cannot be extinguished with water, burning flesh to the bone and often leading to death.

Under the Geneva Treaty of 1980, the use of white phosphorous as a weapon is prohibited.

Human rights group Amnesty International has also touched on the issue, saying that Tel Aviv used white phosphorus munitions "indiscriminately and illegally" in overcrowded areas of Gaza.

"The repeated use [of White Phosphorus] in this manner, despite evidence of its indiscriminate effects and its toll on civilians, is a war crime," said Donatella Rovera of the Amnesty International.

Eight Israeli human rights groups have also called for an investigation into the offensive -- which has left some 1,340 people dead and thousands of others hospitalized.

UN special rapporteur for the Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, meanwhile, said Thursday that there is more than enough evidence that Israel committed war crimes in the strip.

According to Falk, the crimes committed in Gaza are clearly reminiscent of "the worst kind of international memories of the Warsaw Ghetto", which included the starvation and murder of Polish Jews by Nazi Germany in World War II.

Israel launched its Operation Cast Lead on December 27 to allegedly defend its territories from Hamas rockets, which were fired in retaliation for Israel's defiance of a ceasefire that had previously been in place.

The UN Charter and international law, however, does not give Israel the legal foundation for claiming self-defense in the case of the Gazans.

IDF censor bans naming officers involved in Gaza op

Ha'aretz reports: The Military Censor is applying strict restrictions preventing the media from identifying officers who participated in the Gaza Strip fighting and information about them that may be used in legal proceedings against them abroad. There is growing concern at the Defense Ministry and the Ministry of Justice that Israeli officers will be singled out in a massive wave of suits for alleged human rights violations.

The new instructions from the military censor to the media were prepared in consultation with Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and his military counterpart, Brigadier General Avihai Mandelblit. Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi was also involved in the decisions on this matter.

In recent days the censor has forbidden publishing the full names and photographs of officers from the level of battalion commander down. It is assumed that the identity of brigade commanders has already been made known. The censor also forbids any reports tying a particular officer of such battlefield command rank (lieutenant to lieutenant colonel) to destruction inflicted in a particular area.

There is particular concern at the Defense Ministry that interviews in the press by officers describing the destruction of homes or harm to civilians in areas where they commanded forces could become "self-incriminating" evidence, used by human rights groups and political groups seeking to bring suits against IDF officers.

The new regulations were finalized earlier this week, tightening censorship rules that had allowed more detailed reporting, as well as revealing the identities of officers. Two days ago, an unofficial report was received on a suit allegedly brought in the Netherlands against the commander of one of the brigades, following the release of his identity to the media. Israel's ambassador to the Netherlands has been unable to confirm that such a suit had been filed.

Moreover, it is known that a number of organizations have begun preparing a "target list" of officers - names of officers involved in the fighting and where they fought, in an effort to establish evidence that will allow legal proceedings to begin.

The commander of the Gaza Division, Brigadier Eyal Eisenberg, when asked Thursday whether he was concerned that legal steps would be taken against him and his officers abroad, said that "the state is supposed to provide security to its citizens. The operation [in Gaza] came after eight years of suffering thousands of Qassam rockets in the Negev. I think we embarked on a just war and I stand behind the troops."

Norman Finkelstein interviewed by Russian TV

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

So who won the war in Gaza?

Following the unilateral ceasefires of the Israelis and Hamas, it appears that the war in Gaza is over, at least for a (probably short) while, and this begs the question: who won? Predictably, both sides claim victory. Most pundits seem to lean towards saying that Israel won a victory, but not a complete one. Some say that Hamas fought better than expected and that it deserves high praise for not letting the Israelis into the urban areas of Gaza. I think that there are at least two very different levels in which what happened in Gaza needs to be appraised, a tactical one and a strategic one.


One the tactical level, the reality is that we still do not know what really happened. Yes, we know that the Israelis report very few casualties and that Hamas claims that Israelis figures under-report the real casualties. I personally do not believe that the Israelis figures are fake, Israel is just not the kind of society where this can be done, at least not in meaningful numbers. So I accept the Israeli figures and they are very low: 13. In contrast, there have been 1300+ Palestinians killed (and another 5300+ wounded). That's a 1:100 kill ratio. What does this figure show? Only one thing:

The Israelis never really fought Hamas on the ground.

In fact, reporters on the ground repeatedly reported the following: the Israelis moved in at night and back out at daybreak. This bizarre tactic could only have one goal: to put pressure on Hamas without really engaging it. No real commander would ever give up all the ground his forces took in bloody combats at night each morning only to repeat the very same attack the next evening. Unless, of course, no "bloody combat" ever took place. So let me restate this here:

The Israelis never really fought Hamas on the ground.

So all that talk about the Israelis or Hamas having shown excellent combat skills is nonsense. The only 'combat' which took place was the Israelis shooting at Gaza from afar (air, sea, artillery, etc.) and the Palestinians hunkering down and trying to avoid the incoming fire. Only in that narrow sense did both sides perform rather well: the Israelis inflicted an immense wave of terror and suffering on the entire population of Gaza while the Palestinians managed to survive and fight to the very last day. The fact is that this entire war was a war of nerves. The Israelis wanted to "shock and awe" the Palestinians into submission and the fact is that they failed: Hamas is still defiant and in control of Gaza. Was breaking down Hamas really an Israeli objective? Probably not, not even the Israelis are that dumb. Did the Israelis really think they would get Shalit out? Again, probably not. So what was their objective?

1) Showing the Palestinians that the Israelis are still the ruthless killers they have always been and thereby restoring not their "deterrence capability" but their *terrorism capability*. This objective was clearly met: the Israelis have clearly proven to themselves, the Palestinians and the rest of the world that they are the ultimate terrorist state, the unrepentant Ueber-terrorist on the planet.

2) Showing the rest of the world that they have only contempt and hatred for what is otherwise known as "norms of civilized behavior" and international law in general. This explains the repeated attacks on ambulances, the shelling of mosques, schools, universities, UN compounds, etc. This objective was also clearly met: nobody in his right mind can seriously doubt that the Israelis have anything but hateful contempt for any legal or moral norm of civilized behavior.

3) The attack on Gaza was also a collective exercise in psychotherapy. After being abjectly humiliated by about 1000 Hezbollah operators in 2006, Olmert, the IDF and the Israeli general public badly needed to restore their self-image as the "superior race" in the Middle-East. That objective was also brilliantly met: what better than the kill ratio of 1:100 can restore the self image of a hate filled racist and convince him of his superiority?

Again, all these objectives were met and, what is crucial, were met without committing the huge mistake of actually trying to engage the Palestinian resistance on the ground. That is, I would argue, the biggest Israeli success: not having done something amazingly dumb. Hamas is not the party which initiated this war so one cannot really speak of "Hamas objectives" in this war. If anybody still thinks that Hamas was the party which started this war by firing Qassam rockets into Sderot, let me remind you here that it was Israel which committed the fist act of war by imposing a total blockade on Gaza (a blockade is legally an act of war). Still, by keeping the IDF confined to the non urbanized area of Gaza Hamas clearly succeeded in maintaining its deterrent capability. Bottom line: Hamas did not loose, nor did it accept some kind of idiotic "peace plan" offered by outside parties. Still, Hamas completely failed at inflicting any meaningful damage on the Israelis.

This is how I would score the tactical performance of the parties:

Israel: B+
Hamas: B-


True to themselves, the Israelis achieved somewhat of a tactical success at the price of a strategic disaster. Operation Cast Lead undoubtedly made things immensely worse for Israel in almost every imaginable aspect:

1) Even before the war on Gaza Israel was the most hated country on earth (which, considering that this is the last openly racist country on the planet, should surprise nobody). Now this hatred has increased by an order of magnitude. This is particularly noticeable among the Left and Left-leaning parties and movement.

2) The war on Gaza was also highly damaging to all the allies of Israel. For example, Mubarak, Sarkozy, Abbas and many others were gradually becoming desperate to find some kind of way to stop the war because their otherwise sycophantic attitude towards the "Jewish state" put them in an extremely difficult position with their own public opinion. Even in the USA and Turkey the disgust with Israel reached new heights. Sure, the war has now stopped, at least for a while, but nobody seriously doubts that all these politicians owe their power to the support of the US Empire and Zionist Lobby rather than to the fact that they represent the policies desired by their public opinions.

3) To make thing worse for Israel, I predict that there will now be a wave of legal attempts to bring the Israeli government and army officials to trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, etc. Sure, the Zionist lobbies and their ironclad control of most Western governments and of all the corporate press will mostly protect Israeli officials from such legal actions, but since the Zionist lobbies do *not* control all the courts worldwide, not even in the USA, the embarrassment generated by the constant cat and mouse game played between human right activists and Israeli officials will be immense. After all, it is hard to constantly speak about being "the only democracy in the Middle-East" and "sharing Western values" while constantly dodging international arrest warrants for war crimes and genocide.

4) There is no doubt possible that the war on Gaza made any possibility for a so-called "two state solution" even more remote than before. As Olmert (correctly) explained in 2007, if the "two state solution" fails Israel will be faced with an Apartheid like struggle. This is now exactly the dynamic which is taking place. All the tactical efforts of Israel (the Wall, the blockade and war on Gaza, the reneging on all the accords and pledges, etc.) have achieved only one thing: they have made a two state solution impossible. That leaves the Israelis only two options: either expel of kill the vast majority of Palestinians or live with them in one state. The former not being possible, the latter is inevitable and that, in turns, means giving up the sick dream nightmare of the ethnically pure "Jewish state".

5) In contrast to Israel, Hamas has achieved a huge strategic victory in this war. For the first time the Palestinians themselves managed to survive and ride out a full scale Israeli assault. Hamas itself, in stark contrast to Fatah, has proven that it is a real resistance movement. Sure, Hamas is not Hezbollah, not by a long long shot, but Hamas is not Fatah or the bad old PLO either. The Hamas leadership which has a long history of rather myopic decisions has this time managed to stay firm and it has immensely increased its worldwide prestige. There is still plenty of things which are wrong with Hamas, but it would be unfair and unreasonable to expect Hamas to grow into a Hezbollah like force overnight. Politics is the science of the possible and once the Israelis attacked Gaza there is very little the Hamas foot soldiers or leaders could have done much better than what they actually did.

This is how I would score the strategic performance of the parties:

Israel: F
Hamas: A-

In conclusion I want to point out one area in which Hamas performance can only be called absolutely disastrous: public relations. Hamas still does not have a real website to present its information in English in a systematic and timely fashion. During this war, Hamieh, Meshaal and other Hamas officials made statements which were never translated in full or published on the web. The Ezzedine al Qassam brigades have a forum, but it is run by incompetent people who instead of providing timely and relevant information basically are content to have people chat about this and that. Even worse, Hamas provided grossly misleading information about IDF soliders made prisoners, about destroyed Merkavas, and killed Israeli soldiers. All this painfully reminds me of Saddam's Minister of Information "comical Ali" (Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf). The sad fact is that Ha'aretz provided far more interesting and correct information that any and all the pro-Hamas outlets out there. In terms of public information Hamas deserves a shameful F for its absolutely inadequate performance.

That's pretty much sums up my impressions about this war. Since we simply don't know much about what really happened I am not insisting that any of the above is correct. I might have overlooked or misunderstood a lot so, please, drop by and let me know what you think. There are plenty among you, my readers, which know much more than I do about all this and I ask you to please share your insights with me and the rest of us.

The Saker

PS: I have just seen an article by Gideon Levy in Ha'aretz who, to my surprise, pretty much seems to agree with most of my analysis of this war though, of course, he casts his views in softer terms. Check it out, it makes, I think, for a rather good reading.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Europe ’s winter of discontent: the Russian-Ukrainian gas war

This will appear in the next issue of Al-Ahram Weekly

More tricks and hot air from across the Atlantic leave Europeans in the cold, notes Eric Walberg

A hurried resolution to the Ukraine-Russia gas war was reached during a visit to Moscow by Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko to meet with her Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin this week. Ukraine finally agreed to pay higher European prices for Russian gas from 2010, after a 20 per cent discount in 2009.

This accord came in the wake of sharp criticism of Ukraine by European leaders and Putin's first official visit to Germany as prime minister, where he presented a more ambitious long term solution to the unending troubles with Ukraine that have left European countries without winter fuel more than once. His proposal involves leading European energy companies forming a consortium with Russia ’s Gazprom to ensure that Russian supplies reach their destination. “Trust has been damaged,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the talks, without specifying who was to blame. “We hope this idea of a consortium has a chance in succeeding.”

In Soviet days, there was never a reliability problem in dealing with Moscow , so what’s the problem now that we are all one big, happy, capitalist family? Quite simply, Ukraine refuses to pay market prices for its own gas imports from Russia, and even stopped paying its gas debt, preferring to steal Europe ’s gas as it transits Ukrainian territory and create a reserve for its own use, a strange and shortsighted policy to say the least. Whereas in the past, world price fluctuations among the “free nations” were of little concern to Soviet planners, Russian politicians today very sensibly want to extract every last kopeck from trade partners. They certainly will not put up with blatant theft and nonpayment of debts.

But Ukraine is the West’s “friend” and would-be member of NATO, while Russia is now the West’s “enemy”. Still, theft is theft, and the EU is beginning to sour on its eastern friend. Talks on a new association agreement with the Ukraine and on energy cooperation are now on hold. “This is about their credibility in terms of their entire relationship,” said an EU official. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso warned with uncharacteristic bluntness, “If Ukraine wants to be closer to the EU, it should not create any problems for gas to come to the EU.”

Ukraine ’s bonanza of gas transit fees could disappear as well. Putin raised with Merkel the issue of Gazprom’s NordStream pipeline, being built with German energy companies Wintershall and Ruhrgas which would allow Russia to send gas directly to Europe under the Baltic Sea as part of its policy of diversifying its export routes. At present 80 per cent of Gazprom’s exports — supplying a quarter of Europe ’s gas — must transit Ukraine. The best remedy against theft is to avoid dealing with the thief.

But in the meantime, EU and Russian officials are still pressuring Ukraine for an acceptable way to monitor gas supplies. Russia wants a 50 per cent share in the Ukrainian portion of the pipeline, as it has with a similar pipeline network through Belarus, which would put an end to the pilfering, but Ukraine refuses. Thus Putin's idea of a compromise international consortium, with Russia ’s involvement, to manage the pipeline, a proposal quickly approved of by Merkel. She has an election coming and Ukraine ’s defiant anti-Russian stance — and its shenanigans — do not impress potential voters, however much they may please Washington .

Hardest hit in early January were Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bosnia, Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia during an especially cold winter spell. But the fractious 27-member EU, with its latest additions — the Polands and Croatias — is not amenable to making big deals with Russia in the common interest. Anti-Russian rhetoric is a big vote-getter for the new guys on the block, and it is no surprise Putin chooses to bypass the toothless EU and speak to Germany directly.

The factors leading up to the gas war are well known. On 2 October, the Russian and Ukrainian prime ministers agreed to switch to market prices in the business between their gas companies — Gazprom and Nafotgaz — with the Russian side allowed to sell directly to end users in Ukraine. In late November Kiev stopped payment of pending debts, making a new gas deal for 2009 impossible. Russia has been heavily subsidising Ukraine, buying from Central Asian producers at $375 per 1,000 cubic meters and selling to Ukraine at $179.5. It has been more than generous in easing Ukraine ’s transition to market prices, accepting a gradual increase to $250 for the 2009 contract. Based on 2008 sales, Gazprom lost $12 billion by selling gas at a subsidised price to Ukraine and had to ask for a bailout from the Russian government.

With no contract for 2009 in place, Moscow was forced to cut off the gas supplies to Ukraine on 1 January. Ukraine retaliated by refusing to allow the transit of Russian gas to Europe and using gas destined for the European market to create a gas reserve of its own at no cost, enough to last six months even if Russia cuts off all supplies.

Ukraine pleads its coffers are bare, which is no doubt true. Its industrial production sharply declined in November and GDP is forecast to contract by 10 per cent in 2009. It just accepted a $16.4 billion loan from the IMF. Chief Economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development Erik Berglof recently warned that the IMF package might not suffice: “Ukraine is heading toward a twin currency and banking sector crisis that could well bring down most of the economies of Eastern Europe .” However, the IMF, no friend of Russia, also argues that Ukraine could easily solve its debt by transferring partial ownership of the pipeline to Gazprom, the obvious solution, which Merkel surely approves of as well. Russia is a reliable partner as both she and the IMF know perfectly well, but justifiably balks at being robbed by an ungrateful neighbour.

The missing link in this tedious and unnecessary “crisis” is the meeting Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko had with US officials in mid-December, where he signed a strategic partnership agreement that included a clause on energy cooperation. Ukraine ’s refusal to pay its debts or negotiate joint control of the pipeline with Russia were no doubt part of this agreement. This trail of events was not lost on the Russians. Medvedev openly blamed the US for the shutoff, saying Ukraine ’s actions were directed from Washington . Editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Politics Fedor Lukyanov said, “ Ukraine chose a tactic of deliberately creating a crisis through its rejection of talks and agreement, with the expectation that ultimately any major disruption of gas deliveries to Europe would hurt Gazprom’s reputation as a reliable energy partner. Everything that has happened after 31 December seems to me a delaying tactic. We are losing not a mere propaganda war but a real gas war. It is not accidental that countries that have excellent relations with Russia such as Greece, Hungary and Bulgaria, which are among our main European partners, are experiencing the worst difficulties.”

Yushchenko has played the anti-Russian card to the hilt since his suspicious “Orange Revolution”, financed by US government-funded “nongovernmental” organisations, amid accusations that he was poisoned by KGB (excuse me, FSB) agents. He has presided over a Wild West “democracy” since then, which has little to show for itself beside his failed attempt to push a divided Ukraine into NATO and his disastrous support of Georgia’s mini-war last summer, for which he provided some rusty tanks, a scandal which is still smoldering. According to a recent poll conducted by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, 84 per cent of Ukrainians feel that things are going seriously wrong in their country, with 49 per cent calling it “critical and explosive”. Analysts do not rule out Ukraine sliding toward authoritarian rule.

Like the war in South Ossetia last summer, this latest “crisis” has “Made in the USA” written all over it, like the US-approved invasion of South Ossetia by Georgia, a trap set by the Cheneyites to snare both the Russians and the new administration in Washington. They even concluded a last-minute security pact with Georgia on 9 January which will most probably lead to a permanent US military presence in the Caucasus. The Kremlin has so far been cautiously optimistic about a fresh start to US-Russia relations under Obama, but he has his own Russophobe advisers, Robert Gates and Zbigniew Brzezinski, so the omens are poor for a turn-around.

Just as the US used the Georgian war to depict Russia as expansionist, and to push its unpopular missile defence project on Europe, it appears to have a hand in this made-to-measure energy crisis, yet another link in its latest Cold War, which is almost sure to proceed despite the cosmetic change of power in Washington this week. US media did its part, with the Washington Post exhorting the Europeans to “grasp the real message of this cold week”, as “Mr Putin’s regime plainly intends to use Europe ’s dependence on Russian energy to advance an imperialist and anti-Western geopolitical agenda.”


Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly. You can reach him at

Iranian Journalist Interviews Gilad Atzmon

Bring justice to the Israeli criminals, today!

Interview by: Kourosh Ziabari published at Palestine Think Tank

Gilad Atzmon is unique in his stance, unprecedented in his voice and unequivocal in his statements. As an Israel-born jazz musician and anti-Zionist activist, he propagates and chants his anti-Israeli contemplations explicitly and once he finds the opportunity.

As a musician who plays soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones, clarinet, sol, zurna and flute, Atzmon has won several international awards so far, including the BBC Jazz Award 2003, and is considered as one of the most prosperous artists of his rank.

In the position of an anti-Zionist activist, despite being Israeli originally, Gilad Atzmon incessantly denounces his belonging to the Jewish state and proclaims that he merely was born there and no more, which was perceptibly out of his knack and election, and that he feels no sympathy, compassion or nostalgia toward the occupying state of Israel.

During the past years, he has written a stack of articles and given a batch of lectures, performs regularly to condemn the historical belligerence of Israel in the occupied territories of Palestine and currently is lobbying dynamically by traveling to different countries so as to augment the cognition of public opinions about the massacre of Gaza and the butchery of innocent civilians, children and women in the strip.

In his recent trip to Greece, which he departed for a few days ago, Atzmon conducted quite a lot of interviews and appeared on a number of TV, Radio programs so as to express his sharp censure of Israeli genocides in Gaza. He believes that the people of Greece are hopefully much more knowledgeable, well-informed and that's why they have made great efforts to convey their sympathy and patronage to the people in Gaza.

Following is the full text of an exclusive interview with Gilad Atzmon in which a variety of topics related to the ongoing slaughter of Gaza, Israeli crimes against humanity and the necessity of holding a trial for the Israeli officials in a just and objective international court is discussed:

Kourosh Ziabari: First, I would like to ask your opinion about the ongoing conflict of Gaza which some named "the most catastrophic battle" in the last decade. What's your idea about the carnage of civilians, children, women and infants in Gaza?

Gilad Atzmon: What we see in Gaza is holocaust denial in its making. The Jewish state exercises hardcore barbarism. Yet, the world keeps silent. Once again we are confronted with the realization that giving a mandate for a national home for the Jewish people has been demonstrated to be a grave lethal mistake. The only question is how to dismantle this monstrous suicidal hawkish creature without turning our planet into a fireball.

Kourosh Ziabari: You criticize the Israeli state so sharply; nevertheless, you may have noted that the Israeli media and statesmen simply stick a label of "traitor" to each of the Israeli citizens, journalists, professors or rhetoricians who uses to blame the Jewish state for its butcheries and onslaughts. How do you solve this?

Gilad Atzmon: To start with, it is not such a bad thing to be a ‘traitor’ in a murderous state. However, I do not regard myself as an Israeli. I was born there but I haven’t lived or visited there for many years. Once I realized that I was residing on stolen land as an oppressor I packed my saxes and left. To a certain extent, I can be regarded as a 'proud self hating Jew'. I am full of shame of myself and those who were my co-nationals. I talk about my shame; I write about it and compose music trying to deal with it.

Kourosh Ziabari: Israeli officials claim that they are just seeking retaliation by attacking the bases of Hamas, merely killing the individuals of army and military. In the other side, they disallow the entrance of journalists and media correspondents into the occupied Gaza Strip and ban them from broadcasting the reality. How can they justify this contradiction? Why they don't allow the journalists into Gaza if they are righteous about their pretensions?

Gilad Atzmon: I do not think that Israelis are concerned at all with contradictions or logical discrepancies. Israelis are not concerned at all with their image either.

I will try to elaborate. Israel is now the largest Jewish Ghetto ever. The Jewish Ghetto is basically a place where Jews can celebrate their symptoms collectively among themselves, without being shy about what they say, think or feel. Israel has already surrounded itself with gigantic walls just to give segregation a real significant meaning. And yet, the Israeli Jewish Ghetto is very different from the East European one. While in the European Ghetto the Jews were intimidated by their surrounding reality, in the Israeli Ghetto the Jews intimidate others. They insist that the entire Middle East must be kept in a state of constant anxiety.

The Ghetto mentality is a very helpful analytic tool. It helps us, for instance, to grasp why Prime Minister Olmert allowed himself to brag in public about humiliating President Bush and Secretary of State Rice. In the Ghetto Jews feel safe, they can speak their mind while being pretty sure that nothing would leak out to the Goyim. In the Ghetto only one logic applies, the Jewish logic.

However, in the 1950’s PM Ben Gurion adopted the Jewish Ghetto framework into an Israeli political mantra which he eloquently articulated as follows: "It doesn't matter what the Goyim say, the only thing that matters is what the Jews do". Seemingly, the Jewish Ghetto mantra à la Ben Gurion succeeded in separating the Israelis from the rest of humanity. But it goes further, as we see in Gaza and in any Israeli conflict; it detaches the Hebraic paradigm from any notion of humanist ethics.

This very philosophy is translated easily into Israeli lethal military pragmatism. ‘It obviously doesn't really matter what the UN or world’s media thinks, all that matters is what the IDF does’.

Now, I will try to address the foreign Journalist topic. Israeli military leaders knew in advance that Gaza was about to become a bloodbath for Palestinian civilians. They obviously knew in advance the weaponry they were about to employ. The last thing they needed was foreign journalists reporting to their media outlets about a massacre in Gaza. World media and the ‘right to know’ is not an Israeli interest. In the Jewish Ghetto state, all that matters is what the IDF is doing.

The Israelis wanted to finish their job first, to kill many Palestinians, to destroy Gaza and to dismantle its infrastructure so they retrieve their power of deterrence which they have lost many years ago. Journalists reporting from Gaza could simply stand in the way.

Kourosh Ziabari: given such an intricate description, what's the main reason, in your view, for Israel blocking the humanitarian aid ships heading to Gaza? Is there something wrong with the admittance of foods, medicine and first aid to a multitude of people who do not have the least access to the outside world?

Gilad Atzmon: The answer is almost etymological. Talking about ‘Humanitarian effort’ presumes a deep familiarity with the notion of humanism. Since Israelis have zero commitment to ethics or universal humanism, we cannot expect them to succumb to any humanitarian effort or humanist issue. In the last few days, Israel bombarded hospitals, schools, refugee centers and UN aid distribution centers. We better admit it: the Jewish state is a boiling criminal setting with no comparison. We cannot and should not expect them to follow a humanist call. We should instead anticipate Israel to perform as embodiment of the ultimate evil, and sadly, I must say, they indeed never disappoint here.

Kourosh Ziabari: The employment of white phosphorus in the bombs that the Israeli army unleashes on the heads of civilians and their houses in Gaza seems to be an evident violation of international regulations and the Geneva Convention, significantly. Is there any way of recompensing these war crimes?

Gilad Atzmon: I am not a legal expert so cannot address this question properly. However, it is very interesting to note that in spite of large worldwide condemnation of Israel for using white phosphorus bombs, the Israeli army didn’t stop employing this tactic, and it's not the first time they've used unconventional weapons against civilians in the face of international outrage. Every day we see those lethal bombs bursting over civilian targets. Once again we see that it doesn’t matter at all what the Goyim say, all that matters is what the Jews do, i.e., kill Palestinian civilians. I would further add that the Israelis lament in continuation about "potential" weapons of mass destruction that other nations might have, it seems to be pathetic while possessing an obscene arsenal of nuclear warheads themselves. If they have no regard for international law, why would they care what world opinion is?

Kourosh Ziabari: Provisionally, even if the war ends now and Israel withdraws from the occupied territories, the result of fatal conflict is more than 1300 dead people and 70% of the infrastructure, buildings, public places has been destroyed. How the real justice could be administered about Israel and its crimes against humanity?

Gilad Atzmon: Again, I am not a legal expert. Yet I do not hold my breath. However, my subject of study is Jewish and Israeli identity. I am interested in the metaphysics of the Israeli genocidal inclination. I am elaborating on the Identity that can inflict so much pain and carnage on innocent civilians. I am interested in the banality of evil as exposed by Israel’s ultimate barbarism and the Jewish institutional support of that evil around the world. I believe that once we start to realize what we are up against, we may know how to fight it. I honestly do not believe in international tribunals. A general widely accepted acknowledgment that the Jewish state is nothing but crude barbarism seems to me far more effective.

Kourosh Ziabari: For the last question, what's your message, as an Israeli artist, to the people of Palestine; those mothers who have lost their children or those traumatized children who undergo the aftershocks of losing their parents?

Gilad Atzmon: My Dearest brothers and sisters. It is heartbreaking to watch the death and carnage inflicted on you by the Jewish state. We all see what you are going through and we all know that justice is on your side. I beg you not to lose hope. Evil always comes to an end and Israeli evil is no different. Israel will come to an end though we may have to do something to bring this end about.

However, one thing is rather clear. The so called ‘liberal’ west failed to save you, sadly enough; the Arab states failed to join your struggle yet. As sad as it may be, as much as justice is on your side, you are alone here confronted with the ultimate evil.

Israel has many bombs in its arsenal. But you Palestinian brothers and sisters have a few things they do not have: Justice is in your side, humanity is in your streets, you have the spirit and you have the ultimate bomb, namely the demographic one.

Palestine is the land, Israel is a state;
States come and go, land stays forever.
Long live Palestine

Monday, January 19, 2009

"Unilateral People" by Gilad Atzmon

Unilateral People

They withdraw unilaterally
They ceasefire unilaterally
They invade unilaterally
They win unilaterally
They destroy unilaterally
They massacre unilaterally
They bathe in blood unilaterally
They spread white phosphorus unilaterally
They kill women and children unilaterally
They drop bombs unilaterally
They live on stolen land unilaterally
They support their homicidal leaders unilaterally
They love their ‘Jewish Only State’ unilaterally
Their democracy is unilateral
They love themselves unilaterally
They are the unilateral people.
Living behind walls of concrete, hatred and arrogance
They are still united and lateral failing to love their neighbours

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hamas to Fight On if Israel Ceases Fire Unilaterally

Al-Manar reports: This unilateral ceasefire does not foresee a withdrawal" by the Israeli army,” Hamas’s representative in Lebanon Oussama Hamdan said Saturday. He stressed the resistance group will fight on if Israel orders a unilateral ceasefire in Gaza. "As long as it remains in Gaza, resistance and confrontation will continue," he said.

Speaking at a conference in Beirut, also attended by European representatives supporting the Palestinians, Hamdan added that Israel's proposal for a unilateral ceasefire, which was to be put to a vote of the security cabinet later on Saturday, was an "attempt to derail the Egyptian plan" for a reciprocal truce. “The different initiatives for a ceasefire were aimed at getting the Palestinians to concede things "which the enemy failed to achieve through the fighting,” he said.

Hamas would only agree to a ceasefire if the conditions set by the organization are met. "I would like to suggest to all the mediators to focus in their initiatives on halting the offensive and lifting the blockade and not to touch anything else."

He called on regional elements to stand by the resistance and warned Israel that “if we don't hear what we want, we'll return to the fighting arena."

'Don't suggest that we surrender because we haven't been defeated and we won't be defeated. Our determination grows stronger every day, because our debt to the martyrs whose blood has been spilled is bigger. We shall continue fighting, so don't suggest that we surrender,” Hamdan stressed.

The senior Hamas official called on the Palestinian people to continue the struggle and addressed resistance fighters in Gaza.

"Just like the resistance was victorious in Lebanon in 2006, you will win in January 2009."

"There are elements in the region which believe that the enemy treats them as a partner. They don’t understand that the enemy treats them like servants or like an improved image of the ancient slaves, but this is the 21st century," he said signaling several leaders dubbed by the US as so called ‘moderate Arabs.’

He also criticized Mahmoud Abbas, whose term as PA leader ended in January 9, for not showing up at the Arab summit in Qatar.

Hamdan stressed that Israel's leaders should be put on trial for committing war crimes in the Gaza Strip. He told the Europeans that "the Zionist entity enjoys a special status in the European Union."

He also congratulated the presidents of Venezuela and Bolivia for severing their diplomatic ties with Israel, and ridiculed Arab leaders who he said were letting Israel act without disturbances.