Saturday, November 18, 2006

UN calls for peace, but who will tell Israel to stop?

CATERPILLAR D9s at work in Occupied Palestine. Caterpillar boss is due in London next week.

AMID renewed killing of Palestinians and warnings of a human catastrophe,the United Nations General Assembly has called on Israel to cease military operations in the Gaza Strip. The resolution, with an addition calling on the Palestinian Authority to take action to curb violence, was passed by a vote of 156 to 7 after an emergency session on Friday.

It came a week after Palestinians buried 18 civilians, including children, killed when Israeli tanks bombarded homes in Beit Hanoun. Since June there have been more than 250 fatalities in Gaza caused by Israeli action, including more than 150 civilians. About 60 children were killed. At least 1,000 people were wounded, including about 340 children. (estimate based on figures from Physicians for Human Rights for period up to 27 October).

On November 5 the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) stated, "Israeli occupying forces have deliberately attacked and targeted unarmed civilians as well as PRCS ambulances and medical teams. On November 3, 2006, Israeli forces targeted and killed two members of PRCS medical teams, while they were attempting to evacuate a victim killed by Israeli fire in Beit Lahia area."

UN agencies and aid charities have warned of a catastrophe already hitting the sick and the poor as a result of funds and essential supplies being blocked, as well as the destruction of civilian infrastructure.

Israel's UN ambassador Don Gillerman told Friday's session that Palestinians had turned the Gaza AStrip into "a base for terrorism against Israel". The United States, Israel and Australia, together with four Pacific Island states, voted against the resolution, despite the added clause calling on Palestinians to cease armed actions.

Leaving aside the debatable morality of equating actions by oppressor and oppressed, occupier and occupied, the "even-handed" approach required to persuade European states to endorse the resolution ignores two material inequalities. One, the inbalance between home-made rockets fired by small Palestinian groups, doing little damage to Israel, and Israel's massive military machine. Two, the fact that Israeli actions are carried out by the state and its army, whereas Israel and its allies have done everything to prevent Palestinians establishing a state,and made sure the Palestinian Authority did not even have the means to curb dissident guerrilla groups.

Nevertheless, Islamic Jihad has said it is considering halting its rocket attacks on Israel following a request from Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president. Abbas met leaders of the group on Friday, and urged them to halt the attacks. "Abbas said the truce is a national necessity," said Khedr Habib, an Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza.
"We said the truce must be mutual ... and part of a national consensus." The Palestinian president hopes that agreement among factions will strengthen his hand to negotiate with Israel.

But with continued backing from the United States, and European Union governments looking the other way, need Israel take any notice of UN resolutions? By backing Israel's actions in witholding funds from the Palestinian Authority, and cutting aid since the Palestinians elected Hamas, the Western powers have taken sanctions against the victims, not the aggressor! The Bush administration even forbade co-operation on health, scientific and environmental projects, which could have repercussions outside the Middle East, if bird flu is not stopped.

During the Israeli war in Lebanon we saw the US and British governments co-operating to rush munitions to Israel, including "bunker-busting" munitions which destroyed a shelter, killing civilians, and cluster bombs which Israeli officers say were scatterd like confetti. Israel enjoys trade privileges in the European Union, and seems exempt from British licence limits on military supplies. Doctors in Gaza hospitals are struggling to cope with injuries caused by new chemical and other weapons, while short of even basic drugs and equipment

Accusing the "international community" of "silence and indolence", Italian MEP Luisa Morgantini,chair of the European Parliament's Development Committee, has called on the EU to lift sanctions on Palestine, review its trade ties with Israel, and stop military collaboration. Speaking after far right-winger Avigdor Lieberman, an open advocate of "ethnic cleansing" had joined the Israeli government, the Rifondazione Communista MEP urged that an EU force be sent to protect Gaza civilians.

Rather than wait for governments to take action, citizens can make themselves heard, and take various actions.

Palestinian rights law society Al-Haq has announced that it is cooperating with solicitor Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers firm (PIL) to secure the implementation of the July 2004 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion that found Israel's construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to be contrary to international law. On 15 November 2006, PIL lodged a complaint against the UK government in the High Court in London on behalf of Palestinians suffering as a result of the construction of the Wall, which carves out swathes of territory, separating farmers from their land and villages from nearby towns.

PIL argued that the UK government's granting of export licences for the sale of weapons to Israel breaches both its own "Consolidated Criteria," as well as principles of international law reflected in the ICJ Advisory Opinion. It argued that the UK government should immediately review the legality and rationality of its arms trade with Israel, in light of clear recent evidence that arms related products from UK based companies are implicated in violations of international humanitarian law carried out by Israeli forces against Palestinians in the OPT. When reviewing
its actions, the UK government must take full account of its legal obligations as reflected in
the ICJ Advisory Opinion.

Al-Haq believes that the action taken by PIL provides hope for the Palestinian people by bringing attention to the lack of respect for
international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. By holding the UK accountable for its failure to meet its obligations as a third-party state, Al-Haq hopes that the UK and other states will become more
mindful of their own international legal obligations with regard to violations carried out in the territories.

On Wednesday, 22 November, Mike Baunton, CBE, Vice-President of the Caterpillar company, which has supplied armoured bulldozers used in destrying Palestinian homes and olive groves, is due to attend a function organised by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IME) at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane, in London's West End.

Palestine Solidarity and Boycott Israel campaigners will be there to meet him.

Caterpillar holds the sole contract for the supply of the military D9 bulldozers to the Israeli army. Since the murder on March 16, 2003 of peace activist Rachel Corrrie as she tried to halt a bulldozer destroying a family's home, there has been an international campaign focussed against Caterpillar. The company now says it no longer supplies the D9 to Israel, but has not said whether it still provides spare parts for the Israeli army's existing D9s.

The IME dinner is being held in the ballroom of the Grosvenor House Hotel, closest to the Park Lane entrance. Protestors will gather outside from 5.30pm. Nearest tubes are Marble Arch and Bond Street.

As Tony Blair now speaks about the importance of 'making progress on
Israel and Palestine'. November 29 is the international day of action for Palestine, and this year campaigners for Palestinian rights and a just peace will lobby MPs on Wedesday, November 29, demanding that the UK stop military supplies to Israel, stop starving the Palestinians, restore aid to the Palestinian Authority, and respect Palestinian democracy and rights.

The lobby has been called by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Council for the Advancement of Arab British Understanding(CAABU), and is supported by, among others, Jews For Justice For Palestinians, Pax Christi, Friends of Al Aqsa, War on Want, and the Jewish Socialists' Group.

All supporters of the Palestinian people who can take part are urged to join the lobby, and to contact your MP ahead to make an appointment to see them so it wll be effective.

Lobbyists will meet in the House of Commons briefing room W1 from 3 to 6pm, before seeing their MPs.. The lobby will be followed by a meeting in Committee room 12, Westminster Palace at 7pm with Dr Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian General Delegate to the UK, Jeff Halper ICAHD, Barry Camfield Asst. General Secretary TGWU, Phyllis Starkey MP, Richard Burden MP, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, Secretary General Muslim Council of Britain, Betty Hunter General Secretary PSC, Gerald Kaufman MP and Colin Breed MP.



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