Thursday, September 27, 2007

Standing at Baruch Goldstein's grave: Breaking the Silence with Shovrim Shtika

A visit to Hebron:

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in probably in the one place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, I never thought I would ever be. But here I was standing at the graveside of the murder Baruch Goldstein in the illegal Israeli colony of Kiryat Arba, in the Palestinian Hebron hills. Goldstein, an American-Israeli doctor, illegal settler and devote Zionist follower of the racist religious fanatic Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1994 murdered 29 Palestinian men, women and children and wounded another 150, while they were at prayer in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. It was his murderous act during the holy Jewish festival of Purim and the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, that triggered the first Palestinian suicide bombing against Israeli citizens.

So how did I get to be in the one place I never thought I would visit in the beautiful country that I have come to love? The visit to Goldstein’s grave was the first stop in a tour organised by Shovrim Shtika (Breaking the Silence), a group of ex- Israeli soldiers, many of whom served in Hebron. Shovrim Shtika, which formed in 2004 and which aims to “break the silence” about what actually happens in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and to lift the veil on the activities of the “most moral army in the world”.

Myself, my two housemates and another friend joined 45 other Israeli citizens and internationals on the twice monthly tour earlier that morning in Jerusalem. We were greeted warmly by Mikhael, former Israeli army commander who was wearing a yarmulke. For the next 40 minutes, as we drove to Hebron along the settler highways, Mikhael gave us a thumb nail sketch of the history of the holy land, Zionist colonisation, Palestinian resistance, as well as the religious significance of Hebron to Jews, Muslims and Christians. As we speed along the settler highway, I recalled how different and easy this journey was compared to my first trip to Hebron in 2004. In 2004, we had travelled from Haris to a demonstration just south of Hebron city. A journey that should have taken an hour and half was strung out to more than 5 hours. During the marathon journey (a regular occurrence for Palestinians), we were stopped at 8 checkpoints and we had no choice but to change vehicles 6 times, due to road blocks that prevented Palestinian vehicles from travelling extended distances. How different it was this time, sitting in an air condition Israeli number plated bus, hurtling down the settler freeway.

As we entered the illegal Israeli colony of Kiryat Arba, Mikhael explained Hebron is the only place in the OPT that has illegal Israeli settlements located in the centre of a Palestinian city. Mikael went on to explain how since 1997, Hebron has been divided into to two sectors, know as H1 and H2. Approximately 160,000 Palestinian residents live in H1, while around 40,000 live in H2. Also living in H2 are around 600 illegal Israeli settlers. H1 is supposedly under the control of the Palestinian Authority, while H2 – including Al Shuhada St and the Old City and Palestinian markets (Casbah or Souq area) - is under the control of the Israeli military. The reality, however, is that the Israeli military also control H1 and the illegal settlers are the real ones in control of H2, not the Israeli military or police.

Due to the location of the illegal settlers inside the city boundaries, the situation for Palestinian residents in both H1 and H2 is particularly horrendous as they are constantly under violent attack from the illegal Israeli settlers. According to the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem “Over the years, settlers in the city have routinely abused the city's Palestinian residents, sometimes using extreme violence. Throughout the second intifada, settlers have committed physical assaults, including beatings, at times with clubs, stone throwing, and hurling of refuse, sand, water, chlorine, and empty bottles. Settlers have destroyed shops and doors, committed thefts, and chopped down fruit trees. Settlers have also been involved in gunfire, attempts to run people over, poisoning of a water well, breaking into homes, spilling of hot liquid on the face of a Palestinian, and the killing of a young Palestinian girl”.

B’Tselem notes that neither Israeli police nor soldiers do anything to protect Palestinians from illegal settler attacks and as a result, are in effect, sanctioning the violence of the illegal settlers. In addition, both Israeli police and soldiers are responsible for excessive violence against Palestinians carrying out arbitrary house searches, seize of Palestinian homes for observation points (often for years on end), detention, humiliation and beating of Palestinians. Both Israeli security forces and settler violence is designed, as B’Tselem notes, to force “a quite transfer” of Palestinian residents out of the old city.

I found it not a little disturbing as we made our way to the mass murder’s grave which was located in the park celebrating the life of another racist advocate of Palestinian and Arab genocide, Meir Kahane (the leader of the Kach movement which Goldstein was a member). More than anything else in Hebron and perhaps in the whole the occupied Palestinian territories, Goldstein’s grave represents clearly the racism of Zionist ideology. In the aftermath of his murderous act, Goldstein was and continues to be held up as a hero to be emulated by many illegal Israeli settlers and other Zionists. In the weeks and years after his death, a shrine had been erected around his grave celebrating him and the murder of 29 Palestinian men, women and children. The tiled shrine remained in existence for 6 years until 2000 when the Israeli government under intense pressure, finally forcibly dismantled it.

From where we stood near the murder’s grave, we could down into the hills and streets of Hebron city, where we would soon be visiting. From where we stood, the city looks so peaceful but for those of us who had been to Hebron before, including the former Israeli soldiers leading us, we knew we were about to enter a place which was, for the Palestinian residents who lived there, a veritable hell on earth.

When we reached the Tomb of the Patriarchs, which is sacred to all three faiths and where Goldstein carried out his massacre, we alighted from the bus. From here we would spend the next few hours on foot walking through the streets of Hebron city. Mikhael and Yehuda, the founder of Breaking the Silence, led us up Shuhada St, the main thoroughfare which ran though the city.

Anywhere else in the world, the main street of a city would be teeming with pedestrians, cars, shops and shop keepers hawking their wares. But the street in front of us was deathly silent. Except for an occasional army jeep or car belonging to an illegal Israeli settler passing by; the street was devoid of life. Mikhael explained to us that during the first three years of the intifada, the Israeli military imposed a round-the-clock curfew on the Palestinians in the city center of Hebron for more than a year (377 days in total), including a consecutive period of 182 days, with short breaks to obtain provisions.

Although, now not under around-the-clock closure, Israeli military restrictions are still severe with the many streets in Hebron city, including Shuhada St, being no-go zones for Palestinians residents. The Israeli military had created what B’Tselem calls a “contiguous strip of land in the City Center along which the movement of Palestinian vehicles is forbidden. The middle of the strip contains many sections of road that the army forbids even Palestinian pedestrians to use. The strip blocks the main north-south traffic artery in the city, and therefore affects the entire city”.

In 2000, in complete disregard for international law, the Israeli military forcible closed all Palestinian shops along the H2 section of Shuhada St and sealed the entrances of the Palestinians houses which opened on to the street, by soldering (welding) the doors closed. The purpose of the shop closures and the soldering (welding) of the residential doors were to ensure that only the illegal settlers had access to Shuhada St.

As we walked up the streets, we could see Palestinian children playing in caged balconies above us. The cages around every Palestinian balcony and window were to prevent the illegal settlers from throwing stones or rubbish at the Palestinian residents. As we stood outside the home of one family, we could hear them going about their daily routine inside. We could hear children playing and the parents busily doing household chores. As we stood there, looking at the bronzed lumps of solder which prevent the family inside from every being able to open the door to greet us, Mikhael told us how what we saw here had a profound effect on him as a soldier.

“What opened my eyes”, he said, “was that the people living in the house behind me have not been able to walk on the streets for years, but I as a Jew, I have the privilege to do that”.

As we stood outside the welded door, Mikhael asked us to image what it must be like for the Palestinian family we could not see. As he spoke, I no longer was standing with our group, instead, in my mind I was traversing the roofs of the houses behind us. Imagine, he said, to leave this house, the family must do so by the roof tops. It may not seem that arduous, he said, but imagine.

Imagine having to carry your groceries or one of the huge heavy gas bottles that all Palestinian homes used for cooking. Imagine having to carry that over the tiles of the roofs, the guttering and up and down make shift stairs made of rubble and brick.

Imagine, he said, if you were old and/or sick. Imagine trying to get to hospital. Imagine, he said, if your loved one had died and you must carry that person on your back, out of the house, across the roofs. Imagine, he said, to live your life like that every day.

Video: The Rooftops of Hebron

And as I visualised and put his words into images, how could I not want to cry and shout out at the injustice and the inhumanity and immorality of forcing another human being to live that way. But I bit down on my words and swallowed them whole

As our journey continued through out the day, this reaction was to take hold of me again and again – when we visited the once thriving meat and whole sale markets, now desolate, which had been destroyed by the illegal settlers and now lay in rubble, when we witnessed the illegal invasion of Palestinian homes and shops by the settlers and when we visited the homes of Palestinian families living under siege below the illegal Israeli colony of Tel Rumeida in the centre of Hebron city.

“There are lives at the end of this story”, said Mikhael. “People are caged because of me and every Israeli should see this and claim responsibility”, he said.

As we walked around the markets, we could see what looked like empty closed Palestinian shops, but upon further inspection we realised that in fact there were illegal Israeli settler families living in the shops. Yehuda, who guided us during this section of our tour, explained that the settler would keep the fronts of the shops in tact, while breaking into the shops from behind and quietly establishing residence in them. He explained while the Israeli army had finally moved to evict some illegal families from the market area a few weeks ago (after they had been there for over 5 years), this was pretty much a staged drama, as hundreds of other settler families remained illegal in Palestinian homes and residences. The IOF and the Israeli state, he explained, were quite aware of the settler’s illegal actions but nothing to prevent the settlers from continuing such actions.

Soon we were standing outside of Beit Hadassah, the first of the illegal Israeli settlements to be established in Hebron city itself. Here it was Silvana’s turn to guide us. A tiny blonde international human rights activist who works with Breaking the Silence, she explained to us the role of the international peace teams, such as the Christian Peace Makers, the Ecumenical Accompaniers and the International Solidarity Movement, who work in Hebron.

Silvana explained that the one of the main role of the international teams was to accompany Palestinian school children to and from schools and to try and prevent both settler adults and settler children from attacking the Palestinian school children.

She went onto tell with chilling factuality, how one day when she was standing duty at the bottom of the stairs that the children must walk down, a settler youth attacked her from behind with a brick. The youth hit her with such force that he not only knocked her unconscious but also severely fractured her skull. Hearing Silvana’s story, I recalled how when I was in Palestine last time, two members of the Christian Peacemaker teams were attacked by an armed group of illegal settlers wielding chains, steel pipes and guns. Kim Lamberty, a CPTer from the US had her leg and arm broken, while her team mate Chris Brown had his lung punctured and his skull fractured. They were not the first or the last peace activists to be brutalised by the illegal settlers.

Video: Settler children attacking Palestinian school girls and their teachers

Silvana, along with Mikhael and Yehuda, explained that attacks by both settler adults and children were not uncommon, as under the age of 12 years, Israeli children can not be held responsible criminally for their actions. As a result, settler adults often would encourage and direct their children to attack Palestinian children and adults. Yehuda and Mikhael explained that soldiers did nothing to stop the settler children in their attacks because the role of the IOF was to protect the illegal settlers, not to protect the Palestinians the settler youth were attacking.

When we reached the section of Shuhada Street, where the Israeli checkpoint between H1 and H2 was established, we could hear the hustle and bustle of the Palestinian community on the otherside. While H1 was only a few metres away, it in reality was in fact a different world compared to the one we were standing in. Not far from this checkpoint was the illegal settlement of Tel Rumeida, which was located directly in the heart of Hebron city.

Before walking to the streets that marked the beginning of Tel Rumeida, Mikhael and Yehuda introduced us to Hisham, a tall Palestinian man in his mid 40s, who welcomed us warmly into his home. As he showed us around his garden, he explained that the settlers above him regularly dumped their rubbish and threw rocks at his family. He explained the derelict washing machine in his garden was courtesy of settler neighbours, who had thrown it down deliberately one day when he was in the garden, narrowly missing him at the time. Like many other Palestinians, his family home had been shot at by the illegal settlers and it had been invaded and its contents destroyed. The illegal settlers had also cut the electricity, the phone line, and the water pipes, ensure that at times his family would have to go for months without water or electricity.

The worst times, however, Hisham explained was when his father died and when his wife was about to give birth to his son. When his father died, the illegal settlers and the IOF would not allow an ambulance to come to the house. So he had to carry the body of his deceased father several miles on his back, through fields and checkpoints. A harrowing journey for anyone in a time of grief.

Later that same year, Hisham was forced to carry his wife who was about to give birth to the hospital. When he reached the checkpoint, however, the Israeli soldiers on duty refused to let him pass, despite the fact he had medical documentation. Instead they told Hisham to take his wife back to his house and “let her die there”. Several hours later, they attempted the journey again. This time a new commander was on duty when Hisham and his wife reached the checkpoint. This solider was more compassionate and let them through, however, it still took Hisham 3 hours on foot to get his wife to hospital and to the medical attention she needed.

Before we left the house, Hisham and Mikhael screened a series of videos taken by Palestinian residents and human rights workers. One showed young settler girls, aged abut 12 years attacking terrified Palestinian school children and pushing a 70 year old human rights worker to the ground. Another showed a settler woman taunting and threatening a Palestinian family caged in their own home, calling the women “sharmouta” (whore) The video of the settler woman was screened across Israel, bring home for one of the first time the viciousness that Palestinians in Hebron have to endure on a daily basis.

Illegal settler woman attacking Palestinian family who are forced to live in a cage.

The final video was of the 2003 settler rampage, which saw hundreds
of settlers break into Palestinian homes, destroy them and attack the families inside. Just watching the video sent shivers down me not only as the terror of the family filming the settler actions was palpable but also because of the joyful singing and dancing of the settlers as they carried out their bloody rampage.

Upon reaching Tel Rumeida, the IOF refused to allow us to enter the colony, saying that there were new arbitrary laws in place which prevented us from doing so. As we walked around Tel Rumeida colony, Yehuda and Mikhael, who had avoided throughout most of the trip making the journey about themselves and their Break the Silence colleagues, gave us an insight into the minds of Israeli soldiers serving in Hebron and how they came to form Breaking the Silence. Yehuda told us how when he first arrived in Hebron as a grenade machine gunner, he was shocked to be ordered to fire indiscriminately into Palestinian civilian areas. A grenade machine gun, he explained has a kill range of 8 metres and an injury range of 16 metres, it was not an accurate weapon, so often you would have to fire it 5 or 6 times before you could get an accurate fix on your target. This meant, he said, that often they would hit Palestinian houses, schools and hospitals.

Yehuda went onto explain, how despite his initial shock, within a week he had grown comfortable with the morality of firing into civilian residential areas. After he finished his service, he and a number of his comrades realised that they all shared such a common experience and that they could not speak with their family or friends about what they had seen or done in Hebron and how they had all so quickly succumbed to be part of a campaign to terrorise and collectively punish a whole Palestinian city in the name of “security”.

Shovim Shtika, he said, was formed so that they could “break the silent agreement between Israeli soldiers and Israeli civil society that ‘we know something is going on but we don't want to know’”. They wanted to “tell our daily life, so that other Israelis would understand what happened in the occupied territories” and how they “had become part of it”.

Collecting photos that they had taken, the ex-soldiers decided to prepare a photo exhibition, which was to send shock waves through Israeli society. In 2005, when the soldiers first put their exhibition one display at a college in Tel Aviv, it was raided by the Israeli government and the military police. The soldiers were detained and interrogated for more than 7 hours. This, however, did not deter them and the soldiers have sought to repeat their exhibition throughout Israel, the West Bank and internationally. They have continued to speak out, collect testimonies from other soldiers serving in the OPT and to “break the silence” to expose what the “most moral army in the world” is really doing in the OPT and to the Palestinian people.

As we made our way back to the bus and I looked over the Hebron hills towards where early that day I had stood beside Goldstein’s grave, I tried to take in all that I had seen this day. As I stood there, the words of Malcolm X came to my mind, that you did not need anything else except the truth as “truth is on the side of the oppressed”.

In Hebron, as in every other place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the truth is that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people is brutal, cruel, violent and racist. It is only in raising our voices and speaking the truth about the brutality and racism of the Israeli occupation, like the ex-soldiers of Shrovim Shitka, that we break the silence. In Hebron, as in every other place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the truth is on the side of the Palestinian people and that its the duty of all of use who believe in freedom, justice and equality to raise our voices against the brutal and Israeli occupation and demand freedom, justice and equality for Palestine and the Palestinian people.

Video: (30 mins) Israeli soldiers talk about Breaking the Silence

To read the testimonies of the soldiers from Shovim Shtika and what really happens in the OPT:

To hear testimonies of soldiers from Shovim Shtika

Saturday, September 15, 2007

War Crimes: From Sabra and Shatila to Gaza

16 September, 2007

Today marks 25 years. Twenty-five years since 3500 unarmed men, women and children were brutalised and massacred in cold blood in Lebanon in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. The massacre was carried out over three days in 1982 from September 16 to September 18 by the rightwing Lebanese Christian milita, the Phlangists, under the direction of the Israeli Defence Force headed by Ariel Sharon.

In the wake of the Nakba (the catastrophe) - the 1948 partition of their homeland - and the subsequent invasion and occupation of what was left of it in 1967, Palestinian refugees fled in fear of their lives to safety in Lebanon. It was in the refugees camps that Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) grew up, as the Palestinians - dispossessed, forgotten and abandoned by the world -no longer were content to remain silent. Instead, like so many other “un-people”, they began to fight back and demand not only the restoration of their homeland but justice and Al Awada (return).

In 1982, supposedly in retaliation for the attempted assassination of the Israeli ambassador in London, Israel invade Lebanon. The assassination attempt, however, was not carried out by Arafat’s PLO but by a rival militant group. Israel, who wanted to oust the PLO from Lebanon, used the attempted assassination to launch an invasion supposedly in the name of destroying the PLO. On 6 June 1982, Israel began its invasion and occupation of Lebanon, sending in more than 60,000 troops.

On September 14, Bashir Gemayel, the President of Lebanon and leader of Kataeb - the right-wing Christian nationalist party, known as the Phalange - was assassinated. The assassination was carried out by a member of the Syrian Nationalist Party, however, Israel’s Defense Minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, decided to use the assassination attempt to make a push to occupy West Beirut.

On September 15, the Israeli occupying force surrounded the twin refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, with the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) command stationing itself in a number of highrise buildings, allowing them a panoramic view of the two camps for the next three days. From September 15 through to September 16, Israel carried out non-stop shelling of the two camps, which was home to 20,000 unarmed Palestinian refugees. On the afternoon of September 16, 150 Christian Phalangists, trained by and under the direction and control of the Israeli forces, entered the camps. The Israeli military cordoned off the camps ensuring no-one could escape. For the next 40 hours, with the full knowledge and cooperation of the Israel military, the Phalangist forces tortured, brutalised, raped and massacred the unarmed inhabitants of Sabra and Shatila.

On September 18, the first western journalists were able enter the camps. They saw first hand the tortured and mutilated bodies of the refugees. Robert Fisk, one of the first foreign journalists to enter Sabra and Shatila wrote that what he and his fellow journalists found what could only described as “a war crime”

In his book, Pity the Nation, Fisk recalled that:

“Jenkins and Tveit [fellow journalists] were so overwhelmed by what we found in Chatila that at first we were unable to register our own shock. Bill Foley of AP had come with us. All he could say as he walked round was "Jesus Christ" over and over again. We might have accepted evidence of a few murders; even dozens of bodies, killed in the heat of combat. But there were women lying in houses with their skirts torn up to their waists and their legs wide apart, children with their throats cut, rows of young men shot in the back after being lined up at an execution wall. There were babies - blackened babies because they had been slaughtered more than 24-hours earlier and their small bodies were already in a state of decomposition - tossed into rubbish heaps alongside discarded US army ration tins, Israeli army equipment and empty bottles of whiskey”.

Fisk went on to recounted how:

“Down a laneway to our right, no more than 50 yards from the entrance, there lay a pile of corpses. There were more than a dozen of them, young men whose arms and legs had been wrapped around each other in the agony of death. All had been shot point-blank range through the cheek, the bullet tearing away a line of flesh up to the ear and entering the brain. Some had vivid crimson or black scars down the left side of their throats. One had been castrated, his trousers torn open and a settlement of flies throbbing over his torn intestines”.

“The eyes of these young men were all open. The youngest was only 12 or 13 years old. They were dressed in jeans and coloured shirts, the material absurdly tight over their flesh now that their bodies had begun to bloat in the heat. They had not been robbed. On one blackened wrist a Swiss watch recorded the correct time, the second hand still ticking round uselessly, expending the last energies of its dead owner”.

“On the other side of the main road, up a track through the debris, we found the bodies of five women and several children. The women were middle-aged and their corpses lay draped over a pile of rubble. One lay on her back, her dress torn open and the head of a little girl emerging from behind her. The girl had short dark curly hair, her eyes were staring at us and there was a frown on her face. She was dead”.

“Another child lay on the roadway like a discarded doll, her white dress stained with mud and dust. She could have been no more than three years old. The back of her head had been blown away by a bullet fired into her brain. One of the women also held a tiny baby to her body. The bullet that had passed into her breast had killed the baby too. Someone had slit open the woman's stomach, cutting sideways and then upwards, perhaps trying to kill her unborn child. Her eyes were wide open, her dark face frozen in horror”.

According to Israeli journalist, Amnon Kapeliouk, in his investigative article, Sabra and Shatila: an inquiry into a massacre, in the days after the massacre, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Lebanese officials had counted and buried at 762 bodies in state graves and that 1200 other bodies were claimed by their families and buried in private graves. However, Kapeliouk noted that “there are three other categories of victims which must be added to the 2000 bodies recovered, buried and cremated after the massacre”.

These included (1) those who had been buried by the Phalangists in mass graves, which the Lebanese authorities prevented anyone from unearthing; (2) others who were buried in the ruins of 200 destroyed houses and whose bodies were unable to be recovered “because of the advance decomposition of the corpses” and; (3) up to 2000 other camp inhabitants had been taken alive to an unknown destination, many never to return (many of their bodies were later found on roadsides leading to the south of Lebanon). According to Kapeliouk, “if all these categories were added together, the number of victims reaches approximately 3000 people. Between 3,000-3,500 men, women and children were massacred within 48 hours between September 16 and 18, 1982”.

The massacre shocked the world. Israel’s Prime Minister Menachim Begin was forced to resign. In December 1982, the UN declared the massacre to be an act of genocide (despite the fact that all Western democracies abstained on the vote). An Israeli judicial commission found that the Israeli military had abandon its duty of care and that Ariel Sharon was “personally responsible” for the massacre. However, neither Sharon or any member of the Israeli military or the Christian Phalange were every punished for the war crimes they facilitated and carried out. In 2001, the Butcher of Sabra and Shatila, Ariel Sharon became the Prime Minister of Israel.

In Pity the Nation, Robert Fisk asked in relation to Sabra and Shatila, “When does a killing become an outrage? When does an atrocity become a massacre? Or, put another way, how many killings make a massacre? Thirty? A hundred? Three hundred? When is a massacre not a massacre? When the figures are too low? Or when the massacre is carried out by Israel’s friends rather than Israel's enemies?

In response to his own rhetorical questions, Fisk wrote that he suspected that the only reason that there was “debate” around whether or not Sabra and Shatila was a “massacre” was because “in Beirut, the victims were Palestinians”. Fisk noted that, however, “If Syrian troops had crossed into Israel, surrounded a Kibbutz and allowed their Palestinian allies to slaughter the Jewish inhabitants, no Western news agency would waste its time afterwards arguing about whether or not it should be called a massacre”.

Twenty-five years after Sabra and Shatila, Fisk’s observation continues to ring true. The Palestinian people, in the eyes of the western media and many so-called “western democracies”, continue to remain what British historian Mark Curtis calls a “un-people”. According to Curtis, “un-people” are those whose lives are deemed worthless and/or expendable. They are “the modern day equivalent of the ‘savages’ of colonial days, who could be mown down by British guns in virtual secrecy, or else in circumstances where the perpetrators were hailed as the upholders of civilisation”.

The concept of Un-people is central, notes Australian journalist and filmmaker, John Pilger, to the way the Palestinians (and Arabs and Muslim) are viewed by the Western world and how their plight and the war crimes against them are ignored by a silent media and international community.

As an occupied people, the Palestinian people should be protected by 149 articles of the Fourth Geneva Convention - a convention that Israel is a signatory too. However, since 1967, Israel has repeatedly violated every single one of these articles by indiscriminately shelling Palestinian civilian residential areas (using warplanes, tanks and machine guns), by using Palestinian civilians as human shields during military operations, by transferring sections of the Israeli civilian population into the occupied territories (ie. illegal settlers), by forcibly deporting and transferring sections of the Palestinian population - both in and out of the Palestinian occupied territories, by building illegal settlements, by carrying out arbitrary arrests and detention, by jailing Palestinians without trail, by refusing to allow Palestinian civilians to access medical and educational facilities, by carrying out extra-judicial executions, by restricting the freedom of movement of Palestinians via checkpoints, road blocks, curfews and closures.

In 2006 alone, Israel was accused repeatedly by international and Israeli human rights monitoring groups of violating the Fourth Geneva Convention and committing war crimes. In June 2006, Israel began– once again – bombarding the Gaza Strip as part of Operation Summer Rain. According to Amnesty International, deliberate attacks by Israeli forces against civilian property and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip violated international humanitarian law and constitute war crimes. On June 9, Israel’s bombing of civilian areas resulted in 7 members of the Ghalia family, including 5 children and their parents, being killed as they picnicked on the beach in Gaza. Over the next three months, Israel would continue to bombard the Gaza, killing more than 200 Palestinian civilians - a quarter of them children.

In November, after a brief lull, Israel began bombing the Gaza again as part of their Autumn Clouds military operation. In the first 48 hours, Israeli’s occupation forces killed 70 Palestinian civilians. On November 8, Israel shelled the Palestinian city of Beit Hanoun, killing 18 civilians, including 7 children - all from the Athamna family. Fifty other civilians were wounded. B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories accused Israel of carrying out a war crime. By the end of November, as part of Autumn Clouds, Israel had killed more than 200 Palestinians; half of those killed were women and children.

In August 2007, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) noted that since the beginning of the Al Aqsa intifada in September 2000, more than 3354 unarmed Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank and Gaza. According to the PCHR, of those killed, 23% or 788 were children. During the same period, PCHR noting that 24,350 Palestinian civilians were wounded by the IOF.

There has been little outcry or outrage, however, by the world media who salivate at every facet of Paris Hilton or Britney Spear’s inane lives. There was little outcry or condemnation from the leaders of the so-called “free world”, as the Israeli Zionist state systematically violated (and continues to violate) the Fourth Geneva Convention and uses state terrorism to kill thousands of unarmed civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Why? Because in Gaza, as in Beirut, the victims were Palestinian – a “un-people” whose lives are expendable and not as worthy as other human beings. From Sabra and Shatila to Gaza and the West Bank today, the Israeli state and its occupation forces have continued to violate the political, civil, economic, social, cultural and human rights of the Palestinian people with impunity. They have been encouraged in this by the leaders of the “free world” who have looked on in silence, turning a blind eye to the war crimes being carried out by the Israeli state.

Despite the odds, the repression and Israel’s state terror, however, the Palestinian people refuse to be a “un-people” or to give up their struggle. Why? Because in the words of the late Palestinian academic, Edward Said, “it is a just cause, a noble ideal, a moral quest for equality and human rights”

On the anniversary of Sabra and Shatila, we remember the dead. But we also remember the living and stand in solidarity with their struggle for justice and equality and to end the brutal Israeli occupation.

Sabra and Shatila: inquiry into a massacre by Amnon Kapeliouk can be read at: