Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Israel ordered to let international media into Gaza

Go to Original
By Toni O'Loughlin

Israel's supreme court today ordered the government to allow the international media into Gaza to report on the effect of the air strikes on Palestinians.

Over the past two months, foreign journalists and representatives have increasingly been restricted from entering Gaza.

Israel has closed the border completely since it began bombing the besieged Palestinian territory on Saturday.

However, the supreme court told the government it must allow up to 12 journalists to enter whenever it opens the Erez crossing, a passenger gateway, for humanitarian reasons.

The Foreign Press Association (FPA), which represents foreign journalists and began a legal battle to open the crossing to the media last month, said it had been "left with no other choice" than to accept what is a limited victory.

"The state's prohibition on journalists violates two fundamental rights – the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press," the FPA's lawyer, Gilead Sher, said.

"There are several countries in this world, such as North Korea, Zimbabwe and Burma, that ban press coverage in conflict zones. Israel is a democracy with a free liberal press and it should stay so, even in times of crisis and danger."

The government has until 10am tomorrow to respond to the court ruling as it faces growing pressure to open the crossing with increasing numbers of journalists flying in to cover the conflict.

"We want to be able to see foreign correspondents enter Gaza to report," Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said.

"It would facilitate better coverage of what's going on in Gaza. Hamas, due to its control over civil society, is able to manipulate and exploit the situation to its own benefit." For the past 18 months, Israel has imposed an increasingly tough blockade on Gaza with the stated aim of weakening Hamas's control on the territory.

In early November, it again tightened the closure, banning the international media for several days at a time.

Israel began closing the Erez crossing – through which journalists, foreign dignitaries and humanitarian aid workers walk into Gaza – when its six-month ceasefire with Hamas began unravelling after November 4.

For the first four months, each side turned a blind eye to the other's transgressions, but on November 4 Israel destroyed a tunnel, claiming Hamas was in the process of launching an attempt to kidnap a soldier.

Hamas retaliated, firing 46 rockets at neighbouring Israeli towns the following day and six more on November 6, the day Israel shut Erez to journalists, saying the rocket fire was too dangerous.

Nevertheless, it opened the crossing to journalists for several hours last Friday, the day before it began bombing Gaza.

More economic pain seen in 2009, but some hope too

Go to Original
By Kim Coghill and Claudia Parsons

Many investors said good riddance on Wednesday to one of the worst years on record and prayed that government rescue plans will pull the global economy out of its fierce tailspin later in the new year.

More pain is expected in the near-term as bleak economic reports roll in, flagging more bankruptcies, bad debts and layoffs through at least early 2009, and more sleepless nights for everyone from central bankers to consumers struggling to pay off mortgages and credit card bills.

The biggest financial crisis in 80 years, sparked by a U.S. mortgage meltdown, made this year one of the worst ever for investors as recession stalked the global economy.

"It has been a shocking year, hardly anything was spared in the market carnage," said Michael Heffernan, senior client adviser and strategist at Austock Group in Australia.

The slump wiped out nearly $14 trillion in market value, according to the benchmark MSCI world index of larger companies.

"If there's any optimism, it's on the basis that stock markets recover in recessions," said Justin Urquhart Stewart, director at Seven Investment Management.

"Now we have the real recession, rather than the phony recession. Last year we were so optimistic, that we were fooling ourselves. It's now gone too far the other way. We've discounted a huge amount of bad news."

Full-year losses on major world stock indexes ranged from 31 percent in London to 65 percent in Shanghai.


The crisis of 2008 has radically changed the financial landscape, bringing down U.S. investment banks Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, saddling other banks with huge losses and freezing the credit system that keeps world business humming.

Victims of the crisis are still piling up, with announcements almost daily of fresh company losses, more layoffs, and slumping prices for assets from cars to homes.

LyondellBasell, the world's third-largest petrochemical firm, said it is considering filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as it tries to restructure debt.

Next Monday, members of the U.S. House Financial Services committee will take their first close look at the alleged $50 billion fraud by Wall Street financier Bernard Madoff, whose burned investors ranged from bearish "Dr. Doom" economist Henry Kaufman to actor Kevin Bacon.

Madoff faced a deadline on Wednesday to tell regulators how much he is worth and where his money and other assets are.

Oil surged to $44.60 a barrel on Wednesday but was still down 54 percent in 2008, hit by the economic slowdown. Oil has plummeted since a high in July above $147.

Gold was one of the few commodities to end higher on the year as economic turmoil burnished its lure as a haven for investors scampering away from risk.

Economic reports on Wednesday were mixed.

A larger than expected fall in new U.S. jobless claims reported on Wednesday was attributed to seasonal factors. A yearlong U.S. recession has already destroyed 2.7 million jobs, pushing unemployment up to 6.7 percent, with many economists expecting it to rise above 8 percent in 2009.

Separate reports on business activity in New York City and Milwaukee showed no sign of recovery, while 30-year fixed mortgage rates eased for the ninth week as official efforts to bolster the housing market appeared to gain traction.


With central banks cutting interest rates and governments pumping money into the system, some see better signs for 2009.

"I think we'll move ahead a bit in the new year and then stabilize for a while. Global policymakers are doing their utmost to ensure the recession doesn't degenerate into a deflationary malaise," said Mike Lenhoff, chief strategist at Brewin Dolphin.

World governments have started pumping more than $1 trillion into their economies, and more is expected in 2009.

In the latest bailout, the International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday it had agreed on a $2.5 billion emergency loan package with Belarus.

The U.S. Federal Reserve on Tuesday built on efforts to cut mortgage costs, setting a goal of buying $500 billion of mortgage-backed securities by mid-2009.

China's central bank reaffirmed on Wednesday that it would implement a moderately loose monetary policy as it seeks to reinvigorate its once fast-growing economy. [nLV504083]

Indonesia's president promised further fiscal stimulus to help Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

Global credit markets are showing signs of improvement, but banks remain reluctant to lend.

Government stimulus plans, corporate bailouts and rate cuts take time to be felt and their benefits are hotly debated. Nonetheless, mounting job losses are raising fears of social unrest in some countries, and piling pressure on governments to act quickly, even if it means huge deficits and debts.

Investors are now looking to January, when Barack Obama will be sworn in as U.S. president on January 20. He is expected to unveil a government spending programme which sources say could range from $675 billion to $775 billion over two years.

The new year will also mark attempts by policymakers to overhaul outdated regulatory systems to avert future crises.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said the government had to battle the financial crisis without the tools needed to do the job, the Financial Times reported.

"We're dealing with something that is really historic and we haven't had a playbook," he said.

Israel Rejects Truce Calls, Presses on With Gaza Offensive

Go to Original

Israel on Wednesday rejected world calls for a truce and vowed to push on with its deadly Gaza offensive, as warplanes pounded Hamas targets for a fifth day and the Islamists shot back with rockets.
"The cabinet decided to continue with the military operation," a senior government official told AFP after a six-hour meeting of the country's security cabinet.

As Israel's Gaza offensive continues Palestinian civilians are dying amid the rubble, while survivors struggle just to find food. (AFPTV)"We did not launch the Gaza operation only to end it with the same rocket firing that we had at its start," he quoted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as saying.

"If the conditions are ripe and we think that they might offer a solution that will guarantee a better security reality in the south then we would weigh the issue. We are not there yet."

Amid mushrooming protests around the globe , world diplomats have been scrambling to find a way to halt one of Israel's deadliest-ever offensives on Gaza that has so far killed at least 390 Palestinians.

Hamas for its part blasted international truce proposals as unbalanced, with spokesman Fawzi Barhum saying they "put the executioner and the victim on equal footing."

"All Arab and international intervention must focus on stopping the aggression, lifting the blockade and opening all border crossings," he said.

Israel has warned that what Defence Minister Ehud Barak has called an "all-out war" on Hamas could last for weeks, and has for days massed tanks and personnel on the border of the territory, warning of a ground incursion.

"Our ground forces are still deployed around the Gaza Strip and are ready to go in if given the order," an army spokeswoman told AFP on Wednesday.

Israel also gave the green light for the call-up of 2,500 reservists, in addition to the more than 6,500 authorised earlier in the week.

Israeli jets continued to hammer Hamas targets throughout Gaza, carrying out dozens of strikes overnight and on Wednesday against Hamas government offices, weapons storage facilities and tunnels used to smuggle contraband, the military said.

Since it was launched on Saturday, the Israeli offensive has killed at least 390 people, including 42 children, and wounded more than 1,900 others, according to Gaza medics.

At least 25 percent of those killed have been civilians, the United Nations said.

But the massive Israeli bombardment has failed to stop the rocket fire, with militants firing more than 30 rockets alone on Wednesday morning, causing damage and light wounds.

Since late on Tuesday, Hamas's armed wing sent five rockets slamming around the desert town of Beersheva some 40 kilometres (24 miles) from the Gaza border -- the deepest its projectiles have reached inside Israel yet.

Since the start of the Israeli onslaught, Gaza militants have fired more than 250 rockets into Israel, killing three civilians and one soldier and wounding several dozen people.

Hamas has also threatened to carry out suicide attacks inside Israel for the first time since January 2005.

As protests were held in countries from the United States to Iran, diplomatic efforts gathered pace to stop the violence.

On Wednesday the prime minister of Israel's top Muslim ally Turkey condemned the offensive as "ruthless" and again called for a halt before the "dangerous developments" lead to "irreversible developments in the region."

"The attacks on Gaza should stop immediately and a permanent ceasefire should be urgently secured to prevent irreversible developments in the region," Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Ankara as he began a regional tour for talks on the crisis.

The Arab League met in Cairo in emergency session, and its chief Amr Mussa called for Hamas and the rival Fatah faction of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to hold an "immediate" reconciliation meeting.

The bombardment has raised concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, a tiny, aid-dependent territory of 1.5 million which Israel has virtually sealed off since Hamas seized power in June 2007.

"Gaza's hospitals are facing their largest ever trauma caseloads under some of the most adverse conditions imaginable," said UN humanitarian coordinator Maxwell Gaylard.

Israel opened one of its crossings into Gaza again on Wednesday, allowing more than 100 truckloads of goods to pass, the army said. A total of 179 truckloads and 10 ambulances have been delivered since Gaza bombardment began, it said.

Protesters Worldwide Keep up Pressure Over Gaza

Go to Original

Protesters denouncing Israel's deadly bombardment of the Gaza Strip returned to the streets in demonstrations around the world to keep up the pressure for an end to the violence.

Protesters take part in a rally against Israel's air offensive in Gaza Strip, in front of the Israel embassy in Tokyo December 30, 2008. About 200 protesters participated in the rally criticizing Israel. The banner reads, "Stop air assault on Gaza."(Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Japan)As Israel, under increasing diplomatic pressure, mulled a proposed 48-hour truce and the death toll from its onslaught rose to at least 373 Palestinians, the protesters made their voices heard again.

In France, more than 7,000 protesters marched in a dozen cities across the country to denounce the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip , which continued for the fourth day running Tuesday.

In Paris, around 3,500 people according to police -- 5,000 according to the organisers -- marched towards the French foreign ministry on the Quai D'Orsay by the River Seine, shouting slogans and carrying banners denouncing Israel.

Police said another 700 marched in the western city of Nantes, while demonstrations in at least a dozen cities and towns across the country each attracted hundreds of protesters.

In London, between 200 and 300 demonstrators protested peacefully outside the Israeli embassy, after the two previous days' rallies had descended into violence.

This demonstration was smaller than on Sunday and Monday, when scuffles erupted between police and protesters against Israel's air raids, leading to a total of 17 arrests over the two days.

Iranian demonstrators stormed the British diplomatic compound in Tehran Tuesday evening to protest London's stance towards the Israeli onslaught, state news agency IRNA reported.

"A large group of people and students entered the Gholhak gardens, which are occupied by the British embassy to protest at Britain's policies in supporting the Zionist regime and put up the Palestinian flag there," IRNA said.

A media officer at the British embassy in Tehran confirmed the report.

In Washington, between 2,500 and 5,000 people protested outside the US State Department chanting slogans like "Stop the Killing, Stop the War, Stop the Genocide of Palestinians" and with some carrying banners saying "Stop US Aid to Israel".

In Los Angeles, around 500 protesters and pro-Israel activists faced off peacefully near the Israeli Consulate.

At a separate demonstration attended by around 100 protesters in Westwood, actor Mike Farrell, a star of the hit 1970s television series "MASH", said he was "one of those people horrified by Israel's over-response."

"Not that I'm in favor of Hamas by any means, because firing rockets into Israel is not the way these things get resolved in a productive way," he said.

In Tunis, hundreds of lawyers and trade unionists joined opposition activists to defy a police ban and protest the bombing of Gaza, several sources reported.

As some protesters shouted slogans denouncing the lack of response from Arab countries in general and Egypt in particular, police headed off the demonstration as it headed towards the courthouse, said witnesses.

Tunisia's government has already condemned the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Saudi Arabia's interior ministry denied a report by Shiite news website that hundreds had demonstrated Monday afternoon in heavily Shiite Al Qatif, just west of Dammam, leading to several arrests.

Shiite news website reported that police had fired rubber bullets to break up the demonstrations Monday afternoon, which were attended by hundreds of people. But an interior ministry spokesman told AFP there had been no such demonstration.

Demonstrators in the Yemeni port city of Aden briefly broke into the Egyptian consulate to protest Cairo's response to the Israeli offensive, a security official said.

The protesters, mostly students from the university of Aden, "vandalized furniture before they were removed peacefully from the building," the official said, asking not to be identified.

Egypt has come in for strong criticism from Islamists and their sympathizers around the Muslim world for not fully opening its border with Gaza in the face of Israel's devastating air blitz.

In Algeria, about 100 people staged a protest in the capital Algiers after a call from politicians and editors of writers' and artists' magazines. They observed a minute's silence in memory of the dead.

In Panama City, around 200 people protested outside the Israeli embassy to condemn Israel's attacks on the Gaza Strip.

In the Bulgarian capital Sofia, about 200 protesters called on the Bulgarian government to support the peace efforts. Demonstrators carried pro-Palestinian banners and others denouncing Israel.

Earlier Tuesday, about 200 people carrying flowers and candles offered a one-minute prayer in front of the Israeli embassy, with a Buddhist monk ringing a bell for the souls of the victims.

"This is nothing but a bloodbath," organiser Hiroshi Taniyama told demonstrators, who included Arabs living in Japan.

Gaza: the logic of colonial power

Go to Original
By Nir Rosen

I have spent most of the Bush administration’s tenure reporting from Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia and other conflicts. I have been published by most major publications. I have been interviewed by most major networks and I have even testified before the senate foreign relations committee. The Bush administration began its tenure with Palestinians being massacred and it ends with Israel committing one of its largest massacres yet in a 60-year history of occupying Palestinian land. Bush’s final visit to the country he chose to occupy ended with an educated secular Shiite Iraqi throwing his shoes at him, expressing the feelings of the entire Arab world save its dictators who have imprudently attached themselves to a hated American regime.

Once again, the Israelis bomb the starving and imprisoned population of Gaza. The world watches the plight of 1.5 million Gazans live on TV and online; the western media largely justify the Israeli action. Even some Arab outlets try to equate the Palestinian resistance with the might of the Israeli military machine. And none of this is a surprise. The Israelis just concluded a round-the-world public relations campaign to gather support for their assault, even gaining the collaboration of Arab states like Egypt.

The international community is directly guilty for this latest massacre. Will it remain immune from the wrath of a desperate people? So far, there have been large demonstrations in Lebanon, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Iraq. The people of the Arab world will not forget. The Palestinians will not forget. "All that you have done to our people is registered in our notebooks," as the poet Mahmoud Darwish said.

I have often been asked by policy analysts, policy-makers and those stuck with implementing those policies for my advice on what I think America should do to promote peace or win hearts and minds in the Muslim world. It too often feels futile, because such a revolution in American policy would be required that only a true revolution in the American government could bring about the needed changes. An American journal once asked me to contribute an essay to a discussion on whether terrorism or attacks against civilians could ever be justified. My answer was that an American journal should not be asking whether attacks on civilians can ever be justified. This is a question for the weak, for the Native Americans in the past, for the Jews in Nazi Germany, for the Palestinians today, to ask themselves.

Terrorism is a normative term and not a descriptive concept. An empty word that means everything and nothing, it is used to describe what the Other does, not what we do. The powerful – whether Israel, America, Russia or China – will always describe their victims’ struggle as terrorism, but the destruction of Chechnya, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the slow slaughter of the remaining Palestinians, the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan – with the tens of thousands of civilians it has killed … these will never earn the title of terrorism, though civilians were the target and terrorising them was the purpose.

Counterinsurgency, now popular again among in the Pentagon, is another way of saying the suppression of national liberation struggles. Terror and intimidation are as essential to it as is winning hearts and minds.

Normative rules are determined by power relations. Those with power determine what is legal and illegal. They besiege the weak in legal prohibitions to prevent the weak from resisting. For the weak to resist is illegal by definition. Concepts like terrorism are invented and used normatively as if a neutral court had produced them, instead of the oppressors. The danger in this excessive use of legality actually undermines legality, diminishing the credibility of international institutions such as the United Nations. It becomes apparent that the powerful, those who make the rules, insist on legality merely to preserve the power relations that serve them or to maintain their occupation and colonialism.

Attacking civilians is the last, most desperate and basic method of resistance when confronting overwhelming odds and imminent eradication. The Palestinians do not attack Israeli civilians with the expectation that they will destroy Israel. The land of Palestine is being stolen day after day; the Palestinian people is being eradicated day after day. As a result, they respond in whatever way they can to apply pressure on Israel. Colonial powers use civilians strategically, settling them to claim land and dispossess the native population, be they Indians in North America or Palestinians in what is now Israel and the Occupied Territories. When the native population sees that there is an irreversible dynamic that is taking away their land and identity with the support of an overwhelming power, then they are forced to resort to whatever methods of resistance they can.

Not long ago, 19-year-old Qassem al-Mughrabi, a Palestinian man from Jerusalem drove his car into a group of soldiers at an intersection. "The terrorist", as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz called him, was shot and killed. In two separate incidents last July, Palestinians from Jerusalem also used vehicles to attack Israelis. The attackers were not part of an organisation. Although those Palestinian men were also killed, senior Israeli officials called for their homes to be demolished. In a separate incident, Haaretz reported that a Palestinian woman blinded an Israeli soldier in one eye when she threw acid n his face. "The terrorist was arrested by security forces," the paper said. An occupied citizen attacks an occupying soldier, and she is the terrorist?

In September, Bush spoke at the United Nations. No cause could justify the deliberate taking of human life, he said. Yet the US has killed thousands of civilians in airstrikes on populated areas. When you drop bombs on populated areas knowing there will be some "collateral" civilian damage, but accepting it as worth it, then it is deliberate. When you impose sanctions, as the US did on Saddam era Iraq, that kill hundreds of thousands, and then say their deaths were worth it, as secretary of state Albright did, then you are deliberately killing people for a political goal. When you seek to "shock and awe", as president Bush did, when he bombed Iraq, you are engaging in terrorism.

Just as the traditional American cowboy film presented white Americans under siege, with Indians as the aggressors, which was the opposite of reality, so, too, have Palestinians become the aggressors and not the victims. Beginning in 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were deliberately cleansed and expelled from their homes, and hundreds of their villages were destroyed, and their land was settled by colonists, who went on to deny their very existence and wage a 60-year war against the remaining natives and the national liberation movements the Palestinians established around the world. Every day, more of Palestine is stolen, more Palestinians are killed. To call oneself an Israeli Zionist is to engage in the dispossession of entire people. It is not that, qua Palestinians, they have the right to use any means necessary, it is because they are weak. The weak have much less power than the strong, and can do much less damage. The Palestinians would not have ever bombed cafes or used home-made missiles if they had tanks and airplanes. It is only in the current context that their actions are justified, and there are obvious limits.

It is impossible to make a universal ethical claim or establish a Kantian principle justifying any act to resist colonialism or domination by overwhelming power. And there are other questions I have trouble answering. Can an Iraqi be justified in attacking the United States? After all, his country was attacked without provocation, and destroyed, with millions of refugees created, hundreds of thousands of dead. And this, after 12 years of bombings and sanctions, which killed many and destroyed the lives of many others.

I could argue that all Americans are benefiting from their country’s exploits without having to pay the price, and that, in today’s world, the imperial machine is not merely the military but a military-civilian network. And I could also say that Americans elected the Bush administration twice and elected representatives who did nothing to stop the war, and the American people themselves did nothing. From the perspective of an American, or an Israeli, or other powerful aggressors, if you are strong, everything you do is justifiable, and nothing the weak do is legitimate. It’s merely a question of what side you choose: the side of the strong or the side of the weak.

Israel and its allies in the west and in Arab regimes such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have managed to corrupt the PLO leadership, to suborn them with the promise of power at the expense of liberty for their people, creating a first – a liberation movement that collaborated with the occupier. Israeli elections are coming up and, as usual, these elections are accompanied by war to bolster the candidates. You cannot be prime minister of Israel without enough Arab blood on your hands. An Israeli general has threatened to set Gaza back decades, just as they threatened to set Lebanon back decades in 2006. As if strangling Gaza and denying its people fuel, power or food had not set it back decades already.

The democratically elected Hamas government was targeted for destruction from the day it won the elections in 2006. The world told the Palestinians that they cannot have democracy, as if the goal was to radicalise them further and as if that would not have a consequence. Israel claims it is targeting Hamas’s military forces. This is not true. It is targeting Palestinian police forces and killing them, including some such as the chief of police, Tawfiq Jaber, who was actually a former Fatah official who stayed on in his post after Hamas took control of Gaza. What will happen to a society with no security forces? What do the Israelis expect to happen when forces more radical than Hamas gain power?

A Zionist Israel is not a viable long-term project and Israeli settlements, land expropriation and separation barriers have long since made a two state solution impossible. There can be only one state in historic Palestine. In coming decades, Israelis will be confronted with two options. Will they peacefully transition towards an equal society, where Palestinians are given the same rights, à la post-apartheid South Africa? Or will they continue to view democracy as a threat? If so, one of the peoples will be forced to leave. Colonialism has only worked when most of the natives have been exterminated. But often, as in occupied Algeria, it is the settlers who flee. Eventually, the Palestinians will not be willing to compromise and seek one state for both people. Does the world want to further radicalise them?

Do not be deceived: the persistence of the Palestine problem is the main motive for every anti-American militant in the Arab world and beyond. But now the Bush administration has added Iraq and Afghanistan as additional grievances. America has lost its influence on the Arab masses, even if it can still apply pressure on Arab regimes. But reformists and elites in the Arab world want nothing to do with America.

A failed American administration departs, the promise of a Palestinian state a lie, as more Palestinians are murdered. A new president comes to power, but the people of the Middle East have too much bitter experience of US administrations to have any hope for change. President-elect Obama, Vice President-elect Biden and incoming secretary of state Hillary Clinton have not demonstrated that their view of the Middle East is at all different from previous administrations. As the world prepares to celebrate a new year, how long before it is once again made to feel the pain of those whose oppression it either ignores or supports?

Israel’s lie machine working flat out to dodge “killer” question

Go to Original
By Stuart Littlewood

While the murderous assault on Gaza continues, I notice there’s a briefing document on the website of the Israeli Embassy in London which has a lie in every line. The West’s mainstream media repeat them, and even the most senior TV and radio interviewers don’t bother to challenge them.

The document is a transcript of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s statement to the Israeli press dated 27 December 2008 – a day that will live in infamy. It is a perfect example of the falsehoods used to dupe not only us Westerners but Israel’s own people. The statement shows how the regime’s view of itself is constructed on a web of dishonesty and self-delusion.

For example:

  • "Israeli citizens have been under the threat of daily attack from Gaza for years."
    Palestinians have been under harsh Israeli occupation for 60 years.

  • "Only this week hundreds of missiles and mortars shells were fired at Israeli civilian communities."
    Only one in 500 Qassam rockets causes a fatality. How many thousands of Israeli bombs, missiles, rockets, grenades and tank-shells have been blasted into the crowded city and towns of the Gaza Strip by Israel’s high-tech weaponry?

  • "Until now we have shown restraint. But today there is no other option than a military operation."
    The only legitimate option for Israel is to end the occupation and withdraw behind its 1967 border, as required under international law and UN resolutiosn. Israel has been killing Palestinians at the rate of 8 to 1 since 2000, and children at the rate of nearly 12 to 1 (B’Tselem figures). This is somebody’s idea of restraint?

  • "We need to protect our citizens from attack through a military response against the terror infrastructure in Gaza."
    Self-defence is not a right exclusive to Israel. Palestinians have an equal right to protect their citizens from the terror tactics of Israel.

  • "Israel left Gaza in order to create an opportunity for peace."
    Israel never left Gaza. It still occupies Gaza’s airspace and coastal waters and controls all entrances and exits.

  • "In return, the Hamas terror organization took control of Gaza and is using its citizens as cover while it deliberately targets Israeli communities and denies any chance for peace."
Hamas was voted into power as the legitimate government of Palestine. Israel chose not to accept the people’s choice, which amounted to a denial of their human rights, and immediately set about obliterating it.

  • "We have tried everything to reach calm without using force. We agreed to a truce through Egypt that was violated by Hamas, which continued to target Israel, hold Gilad Shalit and build up its arms."
    Try talking. The Israelis’ ongoing siege and economic blockade, begun shortly after Hamas was elected early in 2006, was never going to generate calm. And why is Shalit considered more important than the 9,000 Palestinians abducted and held prisoner by Israel? As soon as a Hamas government was formed Israeli troops arrested eight Hamas ministers and 20 other parliamentarians, making the work of government impossible.

  • "Israel continues to act to prevent humanitarian crisis and to minimize harm to Palestinian civilians."
    Every agency operating in Gaza has warned of the deepening humanitarian crisis and protested about the starvation and suffering, especially of children many of whom show evidence of stunted growth.

  • "The responsibility for harm to civilians lies with Hamas."
    Not according to the Fourth Geneva Convention.

  • "Hamas is a terrorist organization, supported by Iran, that does not represent the legitimate national interests of the Palestinian people but a radical Islamist agenda that seeks to deny peace for the peoples of this region."
    Hamas was the popular choice of Palestinians at the last election. It is entitled under international law to take up arms against an illegal occupier and invader. If it is supported by Iran, so what? Israel receives mega-support from the US. When it comes to terror, it is Israel’s conduct which fits the US definition of terrorism so perfectly – see Bush’s Executive Order 13224, Section 3.

  • "While confronting Hamas, Israel continues to believe in the two-state solution and remains committed to negotiations with the legitimate Palestinian Authority in the context of the peace process, launched at Annapolis."
    Israel is busy establishing irreversible facts on the ground that make a viable Palestinian state impossible. As everyone knows, the regime has reneged on the peace process and carries on building illegal settlements and the illegal Wall, and demolishing Palestinian homes. Months ago Hamas accepted a Palestinian state based on internationally recognized (pre-1967) borders, in accordance with UN resolutions, with full sovereignty and its capital in Jerusalem, but this has been ignored. Hamas also offered a 10-year truce, also ignored. Earlier, Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization recognized the State of Israel in the Oslo agreement but what good did it do? Today’s US-backed, Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority is not representative of the Palestinian people.

  • "Israel expects the support and understanding of the international community, as it confronts terror, and advances the interest of all those who wish the forces of peace and co existence to determine the agenda of this region." 
Israel, next to the US, is the biggest purveyor of terror in the region and only advances its own interests. It may get the support of Israel lobby stooges in other Western governments but is rapidly earning the contempt of everybody else.

From a statement dated 22 December 2008:

  • "Hamas, backed by Iran, has regularly stated its desire to see the complete destruction of Israel."
    Israel is itself a leading destroyer and currently engaged in trying to wipe out Hamas and the Gazans. Iran’s President Ahmadinajad quoted the late Ayatollah Khomeini as saying that "this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time" – fair comment considering that Jerusalem, with Bethlehem, was designated an “international city” under the UN Partition Plan. Israeli propaganda twisted the Iranian’s words to read “Israel must be wiped off the map”. Zionist sources and the manifestos of Israeli political parties have made it clear for a long time that Israel plans to wipe Palestine off the map, and every act and lie is directed towards that end.

  • "Our fight is not with the people of Gaza; it is with the extremists of Hamas."
    Then why does the Israeli navy harass and fire on peaceable Gazan fishermen who are well within their own territorial waters? Why does Israel prevent Palestinian students from taking up places at foreign universities and block hospital spares, medicines, foodstuffs and foreign medics from entering Gaza? Why has the Israeli navy just rammed a mercy vessel in international waters taking doctors and medicines to Gaza? Latest air strikes have hit the Islamic University and the Ministry of Education. These are direct attacks on Gazan civil society and its infrastructure.

  • "Hamas started this conflict, and it bears responsibility for any harm to civilians on either side."
    The conflict, started by Jewish terrorists, has been going on for 60 years, decades before Hamas came into being.

  • "Israel’s only responsibility is to protect Israeli citizens."
    As the occupying power Israel has a duty to see that the people of the occupied territories come to no harm.

  • "Just as Israel seeks to defend its civilian population, Hamas seeks to kill them."
    This reads far better the other way round: “Just as Hamas seeks to defend its civilian population, Israel seeks to kill them.”

  • "Rocket attacks have continued for years and are now a daily occurrence. How long does the international community expect Israel will wait before defending itself against them?"
    The rocket attacks will end when Israel ends the occupation and stops terrorizing its neighbours.

  • "In the south of Israel, Israeli citizens live with air raid sirens sounding every day – sometimes every hour. Their situation is intolerable."
    Not half as intolerable as it is for the Gazans, who live in constant fear of air raids and re-invasion and are constantly under surveillance by armed drones which can fire missiles under computer control from an armchair in Israeli headquarters.

  • "For years, the international community has turned a blind eye to this onslaught. Only when Israel seeks to stop the rockets do they take notice."
    For years the international community has turned a blind eye to Israel’s violations of international law and human rights, which is why the problem remains unsolved.

  • "Hamas is not only the enemy of Israel – it is the enemy of every Palestinian who believes in peace."
    Israelis just can’t come to terms with the Palestinians’ democratic choice and are bent on obliterating it.

  • "It is Hamas’ attacks – not Israel’s reactions – that destroy every opportunity we have for peace."
    The world has managed to work out by now that Israel doesn’t want peace until it has stolen all the land and water it needs to expand its racist state into a “Greater Israel". It is well on the way to achieving this and won’t be thwarted.

  • "Palestinian militants targeted by Israel are not just the enemies of the Israeli people; they are criminals under international law, and enemies of peace."
    Israel is in no position to preach international law.

  • "What is collective punishment? ’Collective punishment’ is a city – schools, hospitals, homes – civilians being bombarded every single day by rockets and mortars."
    Collective punishment is keeping a whole population bottled up under siege and blocking supplies and exports, smashing their infrastructure, wrecking their economy and starving their children. Trying to equate Sderot with what’s happening in the Gaza Strip is idiotic.

  • "Today’s Middle East is divided between extremists and pragmatists. Hamas, backed by Iran, belongs to the extremists, who must be defeated for the sake of the future of the Middle East... Israel’s primary goal is peace."
    Israel’s primary goal is the expansion of Israel by making the occupation of the West Bank permanent and bringing the Gazans to their knees.

The core issue in this struggle is the illegality of Israel’s brutal occupation. Israel goes to great lengths to avoid and suppress all mention of it and play-acts the pathetic victim. As the official statements (above) show, the strategy is to frame and define the situation in Israel’s own terms regardless of the truth. It uses advanced propaganda skills, and the elaborate Israel lobby network, to persuade Western politicians and media to accept Israel’s version of events (and even use Israel’s biased language) and not question its motives.

In political public relations terms it works wonderfully well. The loony leaders of my own government happily spread the poison and don’t seem interested in halting Israeli aggression and the vaporizing, dismembering and crushing of Gaza’s population. In human PR terms it is a disaster.

I have been listening to the BBC’s senior interviewers these last few days. None has had the gumption to ask Israeli spokesmen the only question that matters – the “killer” question on which hangs the key to peace: WHEN IS ISRAEL GOING TO END ITS OCCUPATION AND RETURN TO THE PALESTINIANS THEIR LANDS AND FREEDOM?

Israel’s warped self-justification for murder

Go to Original
By Paul J. Balles

Israel brazenly lies, saying that Hamas broke the cease-fire when it was Israel that broke the cease-fire in November.

In Haaretz, Zvi Barel writes: "Six months ago Israel asked and received a cease-fire from Hamas. It unilaterally violated it when it blew up a tunnel, while still asking Egypt to get the Islamic group to hold its fire."

Israel continues its propaganda, claiming that its attack on Gaza is in self-defence.

The Huffington Post reports, "A mother whose three school-age children were killed, and are piled one on top of the other in the morgue, screams and then cries, screams again and then is silent."


The New York Times reported: "At Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, women wailed as they searched for relatives among bodies that lay strewn on the hospital floor."


While the world is busy attempting to assess the damage from the financial crisis, Israel decides that it's a fitting time to massacre 350 and injure another 1500 in Gaza.


In its propaganda dissemination, Israelis have been getting instruction on how to paint Israel as angels and Hamas as devils. What makes Hamas Beelzebubs? They have sent 1000 rockets into Israel, killing four Israelis altogether.


The Israeli navy attacked and rammed a humanitarian boat in international waters off the coast of Gaza, preventing it from delivering desperately needed medical supplies and treatment.


Eva Bartlett (Canadian), International Solidarity Movement, reported from inside Gaza on 27 December: "Israeli missiles tore through a children's playground and busy market in Diyar Balah. We saw the aftermath – many were injured and some reportedly killed.”


Ewa Jasiewicz (Polish and British), Free Gaza Movement, observed: "The morgue at the Shifa Hospital has no more room for dead bodies, so bodies and body parts are strewn all over the hospital."


Sharon Lock (Australian), International Solidarity Movement, writing from Gaza: "This massacre is not going to bring security for the State of Israel or allow it to be part of the Middle East. Now calls of revenge are everywhere."


Jenny Linnel (British), International Solidarity Movement, reporting from Gaza: "In front of our house we found the bodies of two little girls under a car, completely burnt. They were coming home from school."


Nora Barrows-Friedman, Flashpoints Radio, says: "The people [in Gaza] are filled with panic and terror – and this comes after a prolonged siege that deprives them of needed food, medicine, clean water, electricity – the basics of life."


Laila El-Haddad, a mother from Gaza, writes: "My father just called to inform me he was OK – after warplanes bombed the Islamic University there, considered to be the Strip's premier academic institution." They also bombed a mosque. Why would the Israeli Air Force bomb a place of learning and one of prayer?


Justin Alexander, writing for the Economist, notes: “"Israel's past military responses to the rocket threat, although massively disproportionate, have ... been largely ineffective. It demolished buildings and levelled large areas of farmland in the northern part of Gaza to reduce the cover available for rocket crews. It fired over 14,000 artillery shells in 2006, killing 59 Palestinian civilians in the process, in what was framed as a preventive tactic to make it more difficult for rocket crews to operate.”


Haaretz ran an article by Gideon Levy reporting: “Within the span of a few hours on a Saturday [27 December] afternoon, the IDF sowed death and destruction on a scale that the Qassam rockets never approached in all their years, and Operation 'Cast Lead' is only in its infancy."

Self-defence? Not on your life! Or death!

‘Civilians Are Paying the Price in Gaza’

Go to Original
By Haider Rizvi

International aid groups, including several United Nations agencies, are warning of a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza if Israel does not stop its military action there immediately.

"The consequences of [further] military action by Israel would be disastrous," said Jeremy Hobbs, director of Oxfam International, a London-based aid organisation that is providing food and water for Palestinians affected by the Israeli blockade.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza depend on Oxfam and other international aid agencies for the basics of life -- clean water, food and sanitation. Before the recent Israeli bombing campaign, Gaza had been cut off from the outside world for 19 months.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is also expressing similar concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The group says hospitals are "overwhelmed and unable to cope with the scale and type of injuries that keep coming in."

More than 300 Palestinians are reported to have been killed -- and nearly 1,000 wounded -- since the Israeli air force began bombing Gaza Saturday.

"Our first priority is to get more medical supplies to the hospitals right away," said ICRC’s Pierre Wettach. "It is therefore essential that this urgent humanitarian assistance is allowed to enter Gaza."

Before the recent attacks on Gaza, aid organisations had repeatedly stressed that the Israeli blockade of Gaza was hindering their efforts to reach out to Palestinians who were in dire need of food and medicines.

Currently, nearly half of the population in Gaza does not have enough food to meet its basic needs. A majority of the population are refugees who were driven out of their homes by the Israeli occupation in 1948.

In a statement, Oxfam and other aid agencies -- including CARE International, Medico, and Diakonia -- said the Israeli aerial assaults on Gaza had further complicated their relief efforts in the territory and noted that it was causing more suffering to the innocent.

"The blockade is illegal and constitutes collective punishment of ordinary men, women, and children," said Diakonia’s Christoffer Sjoholm, who, although critical of Palestinian rocket attacks, condemned Israel’s plans to carry out further attacks on Gaza.

Oxfam says it wants world leaders to push the Israelis to open all crossing points into Gaza so food, water and medical supplies can pass through and provide immediate relief to affected citizens.

On Monday, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) expressed deep concerns about the impact of the Israeli aerial attacks and demanded that the Jewish state must allow the humanitarian supplies to enter.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also called for Israel to take such actions.

"The frightening nature of what is happening on the ground, in particular, its effects on children who are more than half of the population, troubles me greatly," Ban said. "I have continuously stressed the need for strict observance of international humanitarian law."

According to the U.N., last Sunday about 60 truck loads of supplies were allowed to enter Gaza. However, U.N. Chief for Relief Operations John Holms has warned that the increasing death toll could create an overwhelming affect on humanitarian efforts.

A statement released Tuesday by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates that many more deaths are likely as hospitals in Gaza are lacking sufficient medical supplies.

"The ability of the hospitals to cope with a problem of this magnitude, if the situation continued unchanged, will result in surge in preventable death," a UNICEF spokesperson said in a statement. "Civilians are paying the price for a long blockade."

In addition to other U.N. agencies and independent aid organisations, UNICEF is currently trying to persuade the Israeli authorities to allow safe passage for the supply of medical and food items.

In recent days, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has repeatedly expressed its concern over the Israeli efforts to stop aid supplies. The agency stresses that days and weeks before the current military action the blockade was already hurting some 1.5 million people.

In a statement, UNRWA’s head Karen Abu-Zayad said she was horrified by the current situation in Gaza and wanted the Israeli government to heed calls for ceasing its bombardment of Gaza.

Meanwhile, a U.N. spokesperson told reporters in New York that the Middle East Quartet -- comprised of the U.N., the European Union, Russia, and U.S. - - held a teleconference Tuesday to discuss the situation in Gaza. During that teleconference the Quartet, called for an "immediate ceasefire".

Stressing that the Quartet statement is not yet official, Marie Okabe, Ban’s deputy spokesperson, said that, the Quartet has "called on all parties to address the serious humanitarian and economic needs in Gaza and to take necessary measures to ensure the continuous provision of humanitarian supplies."

Financial Crisis Sends Tuition Costs Sky-High as Colleges Face Crunch

Go to Original
By Pedro de la Torre III

Students are often the last ones given a seat at the budget table when times are good, and the first to be put on the table when bearish economies (or the desire to give tax breaks to millionaires) necessitate painful budget cuts. Certainly, this was the case in the so-called "raid on student aid" in 2006, and is part of the reason that a recent report awarded every state in the country, except for California, an "F" when it comes to college affordability.

Economic turmoil is taking a serious toll on college and state government budgets, and most students are already feeling the pinch of austerity. Not everyone is suffering equally, however: low and middle income students are particularly vulnerable in the current economic environment.

States across the country are getting hit hard by shrinking tax revenue, and are finding themselves in the red for the upcoming year. That means that they will, or already are, under pressure to slash college budgets, and possibly even trim state student aid programs. The cuts to higher education will, in turn harm public colleges which will need to turn to other sources of revenue.

These alternate sources of revenue will be much more limited than in the past, however, and this spells trouble for students at both public and private colleges. Endowments are taking at beating as the stock market, real estate market, and other markets plummet. The near-frozen credit markets are causing cash-flow problems at some schools.

That leaves one major source of funding for colleges and universities: get students to make up the difference. While a few colleges have temporarily frozen tuition, most colleges will be looking for ways to pass the buck onto students or their families. Colleges are trying a combination of tuition hikes, enrollment cuts, and diminished student aid and services.

There are always a large number of students that find a gap between the amount of federal aid they are awarded and the full cost of attendance. If a school does not step in and fill the gap with its own funds, that student may just have to find a different, cheaper school, or forgo higher education altogether.

This gap can be the intended consequence of a calculated strategy. Many schools use student aid and tuition discounts to maximize the number of (wealthy or dangerously indebted) students paying higher portions of the tuition bill. It is called "financial aid leveraging." The Atlantic once explained how it works very well:

Take a $20,000 scholarship -- the full tuition for a needy student at some schools. Break it into four scholarships of $5,000 each for wealthier students who would probably go elsewhere without the discounts but will pay the outstanding tuition if they can be lured to your school. Over four years the school will reap an extra $240,000, which can be used to buy more rich students -- or gifted students who will improve the school’s profile and thus its desirability and revenue.

In other words, wealthy students tend to receive larger student aid packages on average from their schools than low income students do. Additionally, many colleges will be under more pressure to drop "need-blind" policies, where schools do not consider financial need as part of the admission process,, and "full-need" policies, where schools guarantee that all students will have their financial needs met. Both tend to benefit low-income students. Tufts University, for example, told the New York Times that they may no longer be able to afford to be need-blind policies.

This comes at a time when competition for admission and financial aid is high. Both the number of students applying for financial aid and the average amount of documented financial need is increasing. This means that low and middle income students, who usually do not have the benefit of SAT prep course, tutors, private schools, and other advantages, will have a harder time getting admitted this year. Utimately admitted students will be competing with many others for a slice of the same student aid pie.

Last year, some of the wealthiest schools in the country announced relatively generous student aid programs that will help students better afford tuition. This is largely in response to congressional and media pressure on unspent endowment income and high tuition rates. The bad news is, of course, that most colleges are not as well-endowed as Harvard, Stanford, and Yale. Most schools will not be in a position to increase student aid without help from state budgets or a large and well-performing endowment, and neither is likely until the economy recovers.

At the state level, governors and state legislators are facing tough decisions when it comes to the state budget. Governors and state legislators may be tempted to favor the programs that are most popular with voters, and may have to decide which state student aid programs flat line, cut, or eliminate altogether. Unfortunately, voters are often more supportive of student aid programs that favor middle class and wealthy families.

These programs, such as Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship, guarantee a substantial amount of grant aid to students that have "earned" it through their individual efforts, as demonstrated by their GPA, SAT, or ACT scores. Unfortunately, these programs tend to disproportionally favor the same students that already attend college at high rates -- young people from relatively wealthy and privileged backgrounds.

There are some hopeful signs, however. There are now many more supporters of making college more affordable in both Congress and the incoming administration. After record youth turnout at the polls, most are expecting that they will be advocates of investing, or at least not divesting, from higher education. But without strong, fast action at the federal level combined with a reprioritization of education spending and need-based financial aid on the state and institutional levels, a college education could fall out of reach of many qualified low and middle income families.

Israel's Actions Are Irrational, No Matter How Much U.S. Politicians Try to Cast Them As Normal

Go to Original
By Wallace Shawn

Jews, historically, have been irrationally feared, hated and killed. Given that background, it’s not surprising that the irrationality which surrounded them for so long, the fire of irrationality in which they were almost extinguished, has jumped across and taken hold of the soul of many Jews and indeed dominates the thinking of today’s Israeli leaders and their American supporters.

Recent history shows that the Jews, as a people, have found few friends who are honest and true. During World War II, when Hitler’s anti-Semitism was responsible for the murdering of the millions of Jews, the world and the United States expressed their own anti-Semitism by refusing to house and welcome the tortured race, preferring instead to let it be exterminated if need be. After the war, the world felt it owed the Jews something -- but then showed its lack of true regard for the tormented group by "giving" them a piece of land populated and surrounded by another people -- an act of European imperialism carried out exactly at the moment when non-European peoples all over the world were finally concluding that European imperialism was completely unacceptable and had to be resisted. And now we have the spectacle of American politicians encouraging and financing Israeli policies which will ultimately lead to more disaster and destruction for Jews.

It is not rational to believe that the Palestinians in the occupied territories will be terrorized by force and violence, by cruelty, by starvation or by slaughter into a docile acceptance of the Israeli occupation. There is no evidence that that could possibly happen and mountains of evidence to the contrary.

Many right-wing Israelis and American Jews clearly believe that Jews have always had enemies and always will have enemies -- and who can be shocked that certain Jews might think that? To these individuals, a Palestinian throwing stones at an Israeli soldier, even if his life has perhaps been destroyed by the Israeli occupation, is simply part of an eternal mob of anti-Semites, a mob made up principally of people to whom the Jews have done no harm at all, as they did no harm to Hitler. The logical consequence of this view of the world is that in the face of such massive and eternal opposition, Jews are morally justified in taking any measures they can think of to protect themselves. They are involved in one long eternal war, and a few hundred Palestinians killed today must be measured against many millions of Jews who were killed in the past. The agony the Israelis might inflict on a Palestinian family today must be seen in the perspective of Jewish families in agony all over the world in the past.

It is irrational for the Israeli leaders to imagine that the Palestinians will understand this particular point of view -- will understand why Jews might find it appropriate, let us say, to retaliate for the death of one Jew by killing a hundred Palestinians. If a Palestinian killed a hundred Jews to retaliate for the killing of one Palestinian -- for that matter, if a Thai killed a hundred Cambodians to retaliate for the killing of one Thai -- which, from the point of view of the Israeli leaders, would of course be unjust, that would be racist, as if one Palestinian or one Thai were worth a hundred Israelis or a hundred Cambodians. But if a Jew does it, it’s not unjust and it’s not racist, because it’s part of an eternal struggle in which the Jews have lost and lost and lost -- they’ve already lost more people than there are Palestinians. Well, it’s not surprising that certain Jews would feel this way, but no Palestinian will ever share that feeling or be willing to accept it. What the Palestinians see is an implacable and heartless enemy, one that considers itself un-bound by any rules or principles, an enemy that can’t be reasoned with but can only be feared, hated and, if possible, killed.

As poor and oppressed people around the world are very well aware of the events in the occupied territories, and as they strongly identify with the Palestinian struggle and point of view, the future of the Jews looks increasingly dim.

Consequently it is disgraceful and vile and no favor to the Jews for American politicians -- for narrow, short-term political advantage, for narrow, short-term global-strategic reasons and, yes, also in expiation of the residual guilt they feel over what happened to the Jews in the past -- to pander to the irrationality of the most irrational Jews.

Actions based on irrational premises inevitably fail in their purposes -- they fail, and if the premises don’t change, then the actions are inevitably repeated, in forms which are more and more grotesque. It is unbearable to think that the new American administration would begin with more American dollars being poured into what is unjustifiable. It is also unbearable to think that among the first words we would hear from our new, clearly rational president would be preposterous sentences trying to persuade us that Israeli policies which seem to be appalling are actually quite normal and acceptable. Certainly nothing our new president could do would be of greater value to the world -- and greater value to the Jews -- than to abruptly end the sickeningly patronizing habit of supporting an irrationality which was born in tragedy and will end in more tragedy.

Israel Is Foolishly Breeding the Next Generation of Islamic Militants in Gaza

Go to Original
By Chris Hedges

Can anyone who is following the Israeli air attacks on Gaza-the buildings blown to rubble, the children killed on their way to school, the long rows of mutilated corpses, the wailing mothers and wives, the crowds of terrified Palestinians not knowing where to flee, the hospitals so overburdened and out of supplies they cannot treat the wounded, and our studied, callous indifference to this widespread human suffering-wonder why we are hated?

Our self-righteous celebration of ourselves and our supposed virtue is as false as that of Israel. We have become monsters, militarized bullies, heartless and savage. We are a party to human slaughter, a flagrant war crime, and do nothing. We forget that the innocents who suffer and die in Gaza are a reflection of ourselves, of how we might have been should fate and time and geography have made the circumstances of our birth different. We forget that we are all absurd and vulnerable creatures. We all have the capacity to fear and hate and love. "Expose thyself to what wretches feel," King Lear said, entering the mud and straw hovel of Poor Tom, "and show the heavens more just."

Privilege and power, especially military power, is a dangerous narcotic. Violence destroys those who bear the brunt of its force, but also those who try to use it to become gods. Over 350 Palestinians have been killed, many of them civilians, and over 1,000 have been wounded since the air attacks began on Saturday. Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, said Israel is engaged in a "war to the bitter end" against Hamas in Gaza. A war? Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely crowded refugee camps and slums, to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command and control, no army, and calls it a war. It is not a war. It is murder.

The U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian taerritory, former Princeton University law professor Richard Falk, has labeled what Israel is doing to the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza "a crime against humanity." Falk, who is Jewish, has condemned the collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza as "a flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention." He has asked for "the International Criminal Court to investigate the situation, and determine whether the Israeli civilian leaders and military commanders responsible for the Gaza siege should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international criminal law."

Falk’s unflinching honesty has enraged Israel. He was banned from entering the country on Dec. 14 during his attempt to visit Gaza and the West Bank.

"After being denied entry I was put in a holding room with about 20 others experiencing entry problems," he said. "At this point I was treated not as a U.N. representative, but as some sort of security threat, subjected to an inch-by-inch body search, and the most meticulous luggage inspection I have ever witnessed. I was separated from my two U.N. companions, who were allowed to enter Israel. At this point I was taken to the airport detention facility a mile or so away, required to put all my bags and cell phone in a room, taken to a locked, tiny room that had five other detainees, smelled of urine and filth, and was an unwelcome invitation to claustrophobia. I spent the next 15 hours so confined, which amounted to a cram course on the miseries of prison life, including dirty sheets, inedible food, and either lights that were too bright or darkness controlled from the guard office."

The foreign press has been, like Falk, barred by Israel from entering Gaza to report on the destruction.

Israel’s stated aim of halting homemade rockets fired from Gaza into Israel remains unfulfilled. Gaza militants have fired more than 100 rockets and mortars into Israel, killing four people and wounding nearly two dozen more, since Israel unleashed its air assault. Israel has threatened to launch a ground assault and has called up 6,500 army reservists. It has massed tanks on the Gaza border and declared the area a closed military zone.

The rocket attacks by Hamas are, as Falk points out, also criminal violations of international law. But as Falk notes, "… such Palestinian behavior does not legalize Israel’s imposition of a collective punishment of a life- and health-threatening character on the people of Gaza, and should not distract the U.N. or international society from discharging their fundamental moral and legal duty to render protection to the Palestinian people."

"It is an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe that each day poses the entire 1.5 million Gazans to an unspeakable ordeal, to a struggle to survive in terms of their health," Falk has said of the ongoing Israeli blockade of Gaza. "This is an increasingly precarious condition. A recent study reports that 46 percent of all Gazan children suffer from acute anemia. There are reports that the sonic booms associated with Israeli overflights have caused widespread deafness, especially among children. Gazan children need thousands of hearing aids. Malnutrition is extremely high in a number of different dimensions and affects 75 percent of Gazans. There are widespread mental disorders, especially among young people without the will to live. Over 50 percent of Gazan children under the age of 12 have been found to have no will to live."

Before the air assaults, Gaza spent 12 hours a day without power, which can be a death sentence to the severely ill in hospitals. Most of Gaza is now without power. There are few drugs and little medicine, including no cancer or cystic fibrosis medication. Hospitals have generators but often lack fuel. Medical equipment, including one of Gaza’s three CT scanners, has been destroyed by power surges and fluctuations. Medical staff cannot control the temperature of incubators for newborns. And Israel has revoked most exit visas, meaning some of those who need specialized care, including cancer patients and those in need of kidney dialysis, have died. Of the 230 Gazans estimated to have died last year because they were denied proper medical care, several spent their final hours at Israeli crossing points where they were refused entry into Israel. The statistics gathered on children-half of Gaza’s population is under the age of 17-are increasingly grim. About 45 percent of children in Gaza have iron deficiency from a lack of fruit and vegetables, and 18 percent have stunted growth.

"It is macabre," Falk said of the blockade. "I don’t know of anything that exactly fits this situation. People have been referring to the Warsaw ghetto as the nearest analog in modern times."

"There is no structure of an occupation that endured for decades and involved this kind of oppressive circumstances," the rapporteur added. "The magnitude, the deliberateness, the violations of international humanitarian law, the impact on the health, lives and survival and the overall conditions warrant the characterization of a crime against humanity. This occupation is the direct intention by the Israeli military and civilian authorities. They are responsible and should be held accountable."

The point of the Israeli attack, ostensibly, is to break Hamas, the radical Islamic group that was elected to power in 2007. But Hamas has repeatedly proposed long-term truces with Israel and offered to negotiate a permanent truce. During the last cease-fire, established through Egyptian intermediaries in July, Hamas upheld the truce although Israel refused to ease the blockade. It was Israel that, on Nov. 4, initiated an armed attack that violated the truce and killed six Palestinians. It was only then that Hamas resumed firing rockets at Israel.

"This is a crime of survival," Falk said of the rocket attacks by Palestinians. "Israel has put the Gazans in a set of circumstances where they either have to accept whatever is imposed on them or resist in any way available to them. That is a horrible dilemma to impose upon a people. This does not alleviate the Palestinians, and Gazans in particular, for accountability for doing these acts involving rocket fire, but it also imposes some responsibility on Israel for creating these circumstances."

Israel seeks to break the will of the Palestinians to resist. The Israeli government has demonstrated little interest in diplomacy or a peaceful solution. The rapid expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank is an effort to thwart the possibility of a two-state solution by gobbling up vast tracts of Palestinian real estate. Israel also appears to want to thrust the impoverished Gaza Strip onto Egypt. Dozens of tunnels had been the principal means for food and goods, connecting Gaza to Egypt. Israel had permitted the tunnels to operate, most likely as part of an effort to further cut Gaza off from Israel. This ended, however, on Sunday when Israeli fighter jets bombed over 40 tunnels along Gaza’s border with Egypt. The Israeli military said that the tunnels, on the Gaza side of the border, were used for smuggling weapons, explosives and fugitives. Egypt has sealed its border and refused to let distraught Palestinians enter its territory.

"Israel, all along, has not been prepared to enter into diplomatic process that gives the Palestinians a viable state," Falk said. "They [the Israelis] feel time is on their side. They feel they can create enough facts on the ground so people will come to the conclusion a viable state cannot emerge."

The use of terror and hunger to break a hostile population is one of the oldest forms of warfare. I watched the Bosnian Serbs employ the same tactic in Sarajevo. Those who orchestrate such sieges do not grasp the terrible rage born of long humiliation, indiscriminate violence and abuse. A father or a mother whose child dies because of a lack of vaccines or proper medical care does not forget. A boy whose ill grandmother dies while detained at an Israel checkpoint does not forget. A family that loses a child in an airstrike does not forget. All who endure humiliation, abuse and the murder of family members do not forget. This rage becomes a virus within those who, eventually, stumble out into the daylight. Is it any wonder that 71 percent of children interviewed at a school in Gaza recently said they wanted to be a "martyr"?

The Israelis in Gaza, like the American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, are foolishly breeding the next generation of militants and Islamic radicals. Jihadists, enraged by the injustices done by Israel and the United States, seek to carry out reciprocal acts of savagery, even at the cost of their own lives. The violence unleashed on Palestinian children will, one day, be the violence unleashed on Israeli children. This is the tragedy of Gaza. This is the tragedy of Israel.

The Bizarre Life and Angry Times of Bill O'Reilly

Go to Original
By John Dolan

Reviewed: "A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity" by Bill O’ Reilly (Broadway, 2008).

In this slight, self-indulgent memoir, Bill O’Reilly tells us how he got so "bold" and "fresh." A humble man, he attributes his success to his own innate greatness, with honorable mention going to his solidly rock-headed upbringing in Levittown, N.Y. For all his generous praise of Levittown, O’Reilly is very clear that most of the credit should go to himself: "Looking back, the reason I have succeeded in life is that I relied on myself."

This typical piece of self-congratulation comes in a bizarre 10-page digression about Hurricane Katrina, in which O’Reilly contrasts his bold, fresh childhood in Levittown 50 years ago with the disastrous government-dependency of those New Orleans residents who spoiled Bush’s presidency by getting themselves drowned: "If I had lived in New Orleans, I would have gotten in my car and driven the hell out of there as soon as the national weather service gave warning." In case the reader missed the point, Bill says that the dead in New Orleans were "either too dumb, too lazy, too mentally challenged, or too unlucky to have provided themselves with basic protections."

Stupid and callous as that may sound, it’s the sort of proclamation that helped O’Reilly "succeed in life." In fact, this sort of non sequitur is the most powerful rhetorical device in O’Reilly’s part of the ideological spectrum. O’Reilly’s real function is to say out loud, on television, this sort of thing -- and get away with it. His fans don’t argue; they hate argument or discussion on principle. They simply glory in the fact that O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh have found a way to blurt out their long-nursed spite on national TV and get away with it -- in fact, "succeed in life" by doing it. So, the raw boasting that characterizes this book is something that O’Reilly’s nameless fans can share, knowing that O’Reilly’s success, such as it is, represents the fact that their long-choked spite has at last found its voice.

O’Reilly’s notorious catchphrase, "Shut up!" isn’t by any means a mere eruption of bad temper; it’s his ideology. His version of conservatism, which he calls "traditionalism," emphasizes silent obedience. He proudly recalls learning the habit of not discussing important matters as a child: "My folks knew what was happening in the world, but did not feel compelled to comment."

The traditionalist view is simple dualism, as O’Reilly explains it: "You either fight active evil, or you accept it." Of course, without the possibility of real discussion, you might wonder how the traditionalist decides whether a particular cultural phenomenon is evil. O’Reilly’s view is, again, proudly rock-headed: "My view of evil, like just about everything else about me, is simple and straightforward." To demonstrate that distinguishing good from evil is actually a piece of cake, O’Reilly offers the reader examples from five current controversies. The most interesting question in the O’Reilly Catechism is No. 4: "Terrorists around the world are responsible for killing and injuring thousands of human beings. Are all terrorists evil?"

What makes this question interesting is that in another chapter of his memoir, O’Reilly boasts (and it is a boast) that he worked in El Salvador in 1981. That was a very bloody year in El Salvador, and much of the blood was spilled by U.S.-trained-and-sponsored units of the Salvadoran army. Many of the liberal quibblers O’Reilly deplores said that those massacres made America complicit in terrorist violence.

In this context, it’s surprising to find O’Reilly actually bragging that he went on assignment to the scene of the most notorious of these massacres: "When the CBS News bureau chief asked for volunteers to check out an alleged massacre in the dangerous Morazan Territory, a mountainous region bordering Nicaragua, I willingly went."

This story is a brief aside in O’Reilly’s long account of all the brave things he’s done in his life. El Salvador gets a couple of paragraphs, whereas his story about quarterbacking the second-string football team against the first-stringers gets four pages of tedious detail. In O’Reilly’s picture of the world, that "alleged" massacre is nothing but a bar boast, another claim to alpha-male status.

Unfortunately, this was no "alleged" massacre. This was the El Mozote massacre, one of the most horrific slaughters of civilians in this hemisphere. For three days in December 1981, the U.S.-trained Atlcalatl Battalion of the El Salvadoran army surrounded the village of El Mozote and its surrounding hamlets, and raped, tortured and killed at least 1,000 villagers suspected of sympathy for the Marxist FMLN.

If O’Reilly really went to El Mozote after the massacre, he saw not an "alleged" abuse but raw "evil," if that term has any meaning at all. O’Reilly helpfully supplies a definition of evil in his catechism on terrorism: "murdering innocent women and children is the most cowardly act on earth." Of those killed at El Mozote by American proxies, the vast majority were women and children. Mark Danner’s detailed account of the slaughter in the New Yorker describes the moment when some soldiers balked, briefly, at the prospect of killing all the children:

"Well, we’ve killed all the old men and women," one [soldier] said. "But there’s still a lot of kids down there. You know, a lot of those kids are really good-looking, really cute. I wouldn’t want to kill all of them. Maybe we can keep some of them, you know -- take them with us."

"What are you talking about?" another soldier answered roughly. "We have to finish everyone; you know that. That’s the colonel’s order. This is an operativo de tierra arrasada here" -- a scorched-earth operation -- "and we have to kill the kids as well, or we’ll get it ourselves."

"Listen, I don’t want to kill kids," the first soldier said.

"Look," another said. "We have orders to finish everyone, and we have to complete our orders. That’s it."

At about this time, up on the hill known as El Pinalito, Capt. Salazar was shrugging off a guide’s timid plea for the children’s lives. "If we don’t kill them now," he said angrily, "they’ll just grow up to be guerrillas. We have to take care of the job now."

By any standards, even O’Reilly’s, this was pure evil. O’Reilly was there. He saw it face to face. And it made no impression on him at all, for the childish, contemptible reason that this particular slaughter of women and children was committed by people on the team he happened to support. So much for the O’Reilly theory of morality. He has none, and more importantly, he doesn’t want to know.

That’s the key to O’Reilly and his audience: they don’t want to know, they don’t want to argue, they want you to shut up: "We in America waste far too much time endlessly discussing stupid stuff." When these people meet something new, they run away like the sullen cowards they are. That’s the simple story of the biggest cultural collision in O’Reilly’s life: the Levittown boy fascist running head-on into the ’60s. O’Reilly, born in 1949, was of the generation that came of age during the most intense point of the hippie era. I was curious about how he would handle this part of his life, because I’ve always wondered what right-wingers did during the ’60s. How did a young authoritarian dweeb like Ken Starr cope with the spectacle of Woodstock? What did the young Rush Limbaugh do after Kent State? Where was Tom Clancy during Watergate?

O’Reilly’s memoir offers one important answer to this question: many of them, including O’Reilly himself, hunkered down in small Catholic colleges in the East and Midwest. O’Reilly went to Marist College, where, he boasts, "even as the liberated late ’60s blew across campus, I still went to church." O’Reilly says with pride that he followed his father’s advice on navigating those dangerous waters: "Stick with Elvis." They learned nothing, tried nothing, went into estivation like the mud turtles they are. They didn’t argue, they endured and waited for the right moment to wriggle up to the surface again.

O’Reilly used his "bold, fresh" personality to wangle a job with CBS, quit in a dispute over uncredited news footage, and worked out his frustrations by writing a novel, Those Who Trespass, in which a wronged TV reporter with a "bold, fresh" personality not unlike Bill’s murders all the network bigwigs who have gotten in his way. Again we see O’Reilly’s trademark mental habits: a preference for simple, direct action over "stupid" discussion, and a remarkably flexible definition of "evil" when it involves extreme violence.

When Roger Ailes was putting together his new Fox Network, he was smart enough to know how many sullen-majority types out there were desperate for a bold, fresh voice articulating their spite, and O’Reilly was on his way to stardom.

Of the many unpleasant aspects of this story, the one I found most personally distasteful, was the way O’Reilly splashes vast quantities of corny Irish-American schmaltz over ever boastful anecdote. Even his title is Ould Sod kitsch; it seems a nun charged with teaching the young know-nothing O’Reilly called him "a bold fresh piece of humanity." The exaggeratedly Irish diction is basic here, all of a piece with the dust-jacket photo showing little Bill in his First Communion pose.

Every American ethnic group cherishes a kitschy caricature of itself, and O’Reilly is not the sort of squeamish aesthete to balk at such cheap ingredients when it’s time to cough up another book. The only consolation I could find, wincing at every sentimental story here, is the thought of another media player raised in the New York Irish-Catholic tradition who set a far better example of moralizing: Bill Maher paying a huge price for saying, after 9/11, that the hijackers, whatever else they were, were not "cowards." That’s Irish Catholic moralism at its best: quixotic, personally disastrous, unpopular, rigorous, and undeniably true. If we must embrace some version of these lame ethnic stereotypes, I’ll take Maher’s any day as an example of what a "no spin zone" should look like.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Freedom of the press as a foreign concept

Go to Original

A Mexican reporter who wrote about drug violence in his homeland is being held in custody by none other than the U.S. government and its immigration service.

Yes, we reporters might get stuck covering the late shift or -- egad! -- a parade. When disaster strikes or a source calls back on deadline, the nights can be long. Newspaper layoffs and hard economic times can cast a pall over just about everything we do.

But those concerns seem a piffle every time I read dispatches from around the world about journalists who, fighting for the story, also must fight for their lives.

The day before Christmas, an international group condemned the protracted torture of a journalist in Pakistan. And militant Maoists ransacked the offices of an opposition newspaper in Nepal. Its crime? Using acronyms for two of the militant groups without distinguishing between them.

A couple of days later, news arrived that Zimbabwean journalist and human rights activist Jestina Mukoko had been accused of plotting to overthrow the government. Mukoko -- already in custody for challenging Robert Mugabe, the thug who runs her country -- could face death.

Sadly, real press freedom remains elusive even closer to home, as revealed by another story just over our southern border.

Two days before Christmas, a 15-year-old Mexican boy held a news conference in El Paso to detail how his reporter father had been held -- without charges -- for six months. The perpetrators were not shadowy foreign agents or some sketchy dictator, but the United States government and its immigration service.

The story grows out of the drug violence that has beset Mexico and left more than 5,300 people dead this year. Since 2000, 44 journalists have been killed in Mexico, many of them targeted for writing about the drug gangs that dominate the country.

The military crackdown on the drug lords has created its own problems. And that's what brought reporter Emilio Gutierrez Soto of El Diario del Noroeste into the story.

In 2005, he wrote that some soldiers were drunk when they raided a hotel in northern Chihuahua state. Other stories reported alleged thievery by the military. Last spring, a squad of soldiers and their commanding officer invited Gutierrez to a restaurant in his hometown of Ascension. They told him he would pay with his life if he continued. They ordered him not to tell anyone about the meeting.

Gutierrez, 46, promptly wrote another story, in which he recounted the alleged death threat. A few nights later, he said, a pounding on the door awoke him and his son.

Some 50 soldiers, wearing masks, ripped through the house, claiming they were looking for drugs and illegal weapons, he said.

The soldiers didn't find anything and left, Gutierrez said. After, a friend of one of the soldiers warned him that the next visit would be the last.

Gutierrez, the sole supporter of his son, decided he could not wait. On June 15, the reporter and his boy crossed the Rio Grande and into the land of the 1st Amendment, turning themselves in to immigration officials and pleading for asylum.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials took father and son into custody and sent them to a detention center in El Paso.

The U.S. has rejected asylum requests from several other Mexican journalists who said they feared for their safety. But Gutierrez said he believed he could prove he had a real and credible fear for his personal safety in his home country.

The bitter irony -- according to his lawyer, Carlos Spector -- is that by presenting himself as an "arriving alien," the reporter was not entitled to the judicial hearing that an illegal crosser would have received.

ICE's request to postpone his hearing until March means that Gutierrez will have waited nine months to plead his case.

So he sits and waits, missing his freedom and his son (who was released to family friends in the U.S. after a couple of months in custody). He wonders how he can make a new start, if he gets the chance.

"I am not a criminal," the reporter said in a telephone interview last week. "I am a journalist."

U.S. officials, Spector said, have called Gutierrez a "threat to the community" but offered no evidence. "They can't even come up with a rationale," Spector said. "They don't even try."

An ICE spokeswoman declined to comment, citing Gutierrez's privacy and the pending hearing.

Spector theorizes that the U.S. government is loath to offer relief to a journalist who has raised doubts about the Mexican military's conduct. That would embarrass an ally and trading partner.

Even if he could be released back to Mexico, Gutierrez said, he would not want to go, fearful about his safety and of leaving his son behind. "I love my country, but I can't go," he said. "Because if I do, I'm going to die."

Another El Diario reporter was shot to death last month outside his home in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso. An online newspaper editor at the funeral received a cellphone call: "You will be next."

Reporters Without Borders, an international nonprofit that advocates for journalists, has spearheaded attempts to win Gutierrez's release. The Catholic bishop of El Paso last week lent his voice to the campaign.

It would be nice to believe our government is trying only to protect us. But it's hard to imagine what's taking so long to decide Gutierrez's fate -- or what would warrant holding a reporter for so long, without the chance to plead for his freedom.

In the meantime, the U.S. government has pledged that it wants to help Mexico win its war on drugs and corruption.

A good way to start would be to protect the journalists who have risked their lives to help the public understand a sad, sad state of affairs.

Israel's 'all-out war' in Gaza targets Hamas militants at home

Go to Original
By Dion Nissenbaum and Ahmed Abu Hamda

The Israeli military extended its air campaign in the Gaza Strip on Monday, and the nation's defense minister warned that the country is in "an all-out war" with its Hamas adversaries, who control the Palestinian territory.

The three-day death toll in Gaza climbed to 345 with more than 1,400 injured, and Gaza doctors said they were running out of blood, bandages and other supplies.

Israel's air strikes failed, however, to prevent the deadliest day of Gaza rocket and mortar fire to hit the country.

Gaza militants fired dozens of crude rockets and killed three Israelis in three separate attacks. Israeli officials said that a relatively sophisticated rocket killed one Israeli in Ashdod, Israel's southern port city about 20 miles north of the Gaza border. A mortar strike near the Gaza border killed a second Israeli, and a rocket fired at the coastal city of Ashkelon killed an Arab-Israeli construction worker.

It was the highest death toll from Gaza rockets and mortars in a single day. Until Monday, Palestinian rocket fire had killed eight Israelis in the past two years. Since Israel launched the air strikes on Saturday, four Israelis have been killed in attacks from Gaza.

As Israeli tanks, artillery batteries and troops stepped up preparations for a possible ground offensive, Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced that the attacks wouldn't end until the military had delivered a "severe blow" to Hamas.

"We are in an all-out war against Hamas," Barak told a special session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

In three days of air strikes, Israel has hit scores of Gaza targets and created a climate of fear among the 1.5 million Palestinians who live in the densely populated Mediterranean coastal strip.

Gaza families were sleeping in stairwells and corridors in hopes of avoiding the Israeli air strikes, which have targeted Gaza City's largest university, as well as mosques that Israel claimed were being used to store weapons, build rockets or hide militants. Israel announced Monday that it would also attack private residences if they're used to house militants.

"The IDF will continue to act against anyone who harbors terror in their residence, provides shelter to terrorists and their activities, and forces their children and spouses to act as human shields," the Israeli military said in a statement.

In messages that have left many Palestinians rattled, Israel has been placing calls to Gaza residents to personally warn them that their homes, or adjacent buildings, were targets.

Among those trapped in their homes was Wafa Kannan, a 27-year-old Gaza City resident who's been camping out in a narrow apartment corridor with her mother and two brothers since the strikes began on Saturday.

Over the weekend, Kannan's mother received a recorded call on her cell phone from the Israeli military. When she heard who was calling, she hung up. Minutes later, the same call came to the landline in her apartment warning her to leave if she was storing weapons.

In an apartment building across the street from Kannan and her family live four brothers who are Hamas militants. Israeli intelligence called the Hamas members to warn them that they were targets, Kannan said.

Leaders at the local mosque urged neighbors to converge on the apartment building and act as human shields, she added. No one heeded the call, however, so the Hamas militants fled.

While many families have fled the neighborhood, Kannan said that she and her family don't think there's anywhere to hide from the Israeli strikes.

"You are not safe anywhere in Gaza," Kannan said in a telephone interview from Gaza. "If it's dangerous in our house, it's dangerous in other houses too."

The Israeli military said that it was trying to minimize civilian casualties and noted that Hamas itself has acknowledged that most of those killed were members of its security forces.

On Monday, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that about a third of those killed as of Sunday afternoon — about 90 Palestinians — were civilians.

Israel also allowed 63 truckloads of aid and 1,000 units of blood into Gaza to replenish dangerously low supplies.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Monday for an immediate cease-fire, but neither Hamas nor Israel showed any signs of working towards a political compromise.

Israeli government leaders made it clear that they want to contain the rocket fire from Gaza, but have yet to explain when or how this conflict will come to an end.

"The strategy today is to hit Hamas, and to hit Hamas hard," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "We believe that will create a new reality, a new security environment in which a quarter million Israelis no longer have to live in fear of rocket attacks."

Regev said that Israel wasn't actively looking to topple Hamas, the Islamist militant group that seized control of the Gaza Strip in a June 2006 military showdown with fighters loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

"We have not articulated regime change as a strategic goal," Regev said of Hamas, which was founded in part to destroy Israel.

The internal Palestinian rift has deepened in the past 18 months, and Abbas pointedly blamed Hamas over the weekend for bringing the Israeli attacks on itself by not agreeing to renew a six-month cease-fire that brought temporary and relative calm to the area until it expired earlier this month.

In apparent preparation for sending in troops, Israel Monday declared large swaths of its border with Gaza "closed military zones" that prohibit journalists and others from entering.

Last month, Israel shut its main border crossing with Gaza to all-but-essential medical cases.

As it did during the first phase of Israel's 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Israeli public has rallied behind the air strikes. Polls show growing Israeli support for the attacks on Hamas.

That backing could plummet, however, if Israel embarks on a ground offensive that ends with heavy casualties and no clear-cut victory as the one in Lebanon did.

"I don't think Israel is looking for a political solution," said Yossi Kuperwasser, the brigadier general who served as head of the Israeli military's intelligence branch during the 2006 war. "Israel is looking for a situation where Hamas, because of its own considerations, decides not to shoot."