Middle East Round Up For January 30

Published: Thu 1 Feb 2007 11:03 AM
Middle East Round Up: Weekly Review For January 30
Middle East News Service
INTRODUCTION (by the Daily Briefing’s Wayne Sanderson): In his regular review of events in the Middle East, Sol Salbe looks at the tragic death of ten-year-old Abir Aramin from the West Bank town of Anata, the controversial use of cluster bombs in civilian areas, and recommends an article of which he says "it is unlikely that you’ll encounter a better snapshot of the current political situation of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict".
Middle East round-up
Middle East review for January 30
By Sol Salbe
The best news for Israelis during the last week came from Melbourne, Australia. Their rising tennis star, Shahar Peer, reached the quarter finals of the Australian Open. There was so much fuss made about her that cartoonist Daniella London-Dekel had PM Olmert announcing that he found the perfect replacement for Chief-of-Staff. (The incumbent, Dan Halutz, resigned before he was pushed as a result of the Lebanon war.) “We’ve selected a true winner, a person who demonstrated a fighting spirit through tough campaigns, one capable of rebuilding trust…”
The rest of the news, however, was far more depressing for both Israelis and Palestinians. One particularly sad case was that of young West Bank girl. Ynetnews covered the more recent developments. “Ten-year-old Abir Aramin from the West Bank town of Anata was killed in the middle of January. This is the only piece of information that the girl's family and the police agree on.” Initially it was reported that the girl was killed by a rubber bullet. The police than change its mind and suggested it could have been the impact of a stun grenade or even a stone thrown by a Palestinian demonstrator. The family, familiar with the way Israel deals with the death of innocent Palestinians, were wise enough to hire their own Israeli pathologist. They picked someone who had previously acted for an IDF soldier accused of killing a British volunteer. Dr Chen Kugel determined that Abir was after all killed by rubber bullet.
But what made the story interesting, and so moving (as if a death of 10-year old is not moving enough) was the fact that Abir was the “daughter of”. The Independent's Donald McIntyre explains: “Abir has an unusual father. Bassam Aramin, 39, had been an active Fatah militant in his youth, ready to kill for the Palestinian cause, and jailed for seven years for attempting to do so. Yet today he is energetic in Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and closely associated with the Peres Centre's Jewish-Arab sports programmes. Last April, Mr Aramin helped to found ‘Combatants for Peace’ - a unique organisation of former Israeli soldiers and ex-Palestinian gunmen who have renounced violence and are devoted to the cause of ending the occupation by peaceful methods alone. A mere 10 months later, Mr Aramin has had his beliefs tested to the outer limit, by a grief he could never imagine.”
Haaretz's Gideon Levy interviewed Aramin. In fact it is more of a brief introduction by Levy followed by a monologue. It is the best item I could recommend. Read it and weep at this truly brave man who is still committed to peace after his own horrific experience.
An unhappy anniversary
Late January marks the anniversary of Hamas accession to power. SBS television featured an in-depth news item marking a year of Hamas in power. While the analysts interviewed made some valid points it was clear that the newsroom was walking on eggshells. No such restrictions apply to the Israeli media. Haaretz's Zvi Bar’el, a veteran Arab and Palestinian affairs observer does not mince words. As far as he is concerned Israel’s sanctions have not achieved any of their desired aims. On the contrary the influence of Syria and Iran on Hamas increased.
But Bar’el also points out that the sanctions were not meant to work, the last thing Israel wants is to Hamas to become “reasonable” in the eyes of the West (and Israel’s own population.) He has got a good turn of phrase in describing it:
“But unlike other sanction regimes, Israel is setting conditions but not promising anything in return. Thus, even if Haniyeh starts wearing a skullcap and Khaled Meshal begins humming Hatikva [Israeli national anthem – Sol S], and even if Abbas makes it mandatory to teach the heroic story of Masada in Palestinian schools, Israel does not want and is unable to propose a diplomatic alternative that would lead to the establishment of an independent and democratic Palestinian state. It does not want to - because any such proposal would mean a withdrawal from most of the territories and the dismantling of most of the settlements.”
No item is ever a “must read” but it is unlikely that you’ll encounter a better snapshot of the current political situation of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.
Haaretz also provided some different fare. Too often do I encounter people who do not understand Israeli society. They included both strong supporters and opponents of Israel, and those who hold every point of view in between. One can have a very good grasp of politics, be familiar with both Palestinian and Israeli mainstream narratives and even know the conflict’s history rather well and one could still draw the wrong conclusion from one’s premises if one does not understand the way Israeli society ticks. The worst thing for an Israeli is to be described as a freier (sucker). “Don't be a freier' is practically the 11th commandment of the Israeli" wrote Haaretz's Benny Ziffer in 2006. It may seem superficially irrelevant, but reading Shahar Ilan’s article is a very good investment of time (short article –plenty of insight), regardless of what political position you hold. [Incidentally, Shahar (Dawn) is both a male and female name – this one has a beard.]
It still pays to read Hebrew
Sometime the essence of the story does make it to the Australian media. Israel’s use of cluster bombs may have violated its agreements with the United States. The Age for example mentioned the key fact that cluster bombs have caused 30 deaths and 180 injuries among civilians since the end of the war, according to the United Nation's Mine Action Service.
The New York Times report which covered these developments had additional information: “Israel gave the State Department a dozen-page report late last year in which it acknowledged firing thousands of American cluster munitions into southern Lebanon but denied violating agreements that prohibit their use in civilian areas, the officials said. The cluster munitions included artillery shells, rockets and bombs dropped from aircraft, many of which had been sold to Israel years ago, one official said. Before firing at rocket sites in towns and villages, the Israeli report said, the Israeli military dropped leaflets warning civilians of the attacks. The report, which has not previously been disclosed, also noted that many of the villages were deserted because civilians had fled the fighting, the officials said.”
The report continued: “Israel’s Channel 2 television reported in December that the military’s judge advocate general was gathering evidence for possible criminal charges against military officers who might have ordered cluster bombs fired into populated areas. Israel has told the State Department that it originally tried targeted strikes against Hezbollah, but those proved ineffective.”
The Hebrew Haaretz which based its report on the New York Times added more from its reporter Meron Rapoport, who broke the original story about the use of the bombs. Two weeks before the end of the war when the IDF realised that the chances of actually hitting the short-range rocket launchers were very small indeed It was decided to use the cluster bombs.
This kind of munitions was regarded was problematic because of the way the bomblets get distributed over a wide area. The majority of the authorities on international law believe that it should not be used because of the high risk of hitting civilians.
Rapoport continued: “It is not know as yet who in the IDF made the decision to use cluster bombs. The matter is being investigated currently by an investigating committee headed by major-general Gershon HaCohen which has not completed its work. But it is clear that that use was massive. In less than a fortnight four million bomblets were fired on Lebanon mainly in MLRS rockets. (There are 655 bomblets inside each rocket.) This is an identical number to that used by the Americans in Iraq during the entire war and over an area several hundredfold times larger.
“The aim, as an officer in the rocket units explained to Haaretz was to cover large areas of south Lebanon with cluster bombs in order to prevent the Hezbollah fighters from entering them.”
Advanced notice: I hope to sooner or later cover Jimmy Carter controversial book “Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. In the meantime you can listen to the man himself speaking on Radio National. This interview can be heard by clicking on this link and then clicking the arrow next to the listing 8.05: Jimmy Carter.
[The independent Middle East News Service concentrates on providing alternative information chiefly from Israeli sources. It is sponsored by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the AJDS. These are expressed in its own statements]

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