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Are we at the tipping point for action on the climate emergency?
Are we at the tipping point for climate action?
In 2016, when we started our campaign
calling on the Australian parliament to declare a climate emergency, we
had no idea how far and how fast the idea would spread. Within a year
we had the support of 20,000 individuals and 55 groups. Scientists, journalists and politicians from across the political spectrum had spoken out.
In 2017, Darebin Council
became the first council in the world to declare a climate emergency.
They wrote a Climate Emergency Plan and in 2018 held a Climate Emergency
Conference. The Climate Mobilization in the United States and the
Extinction Rebellion campaign in the United Kingdom have been putting pressure on local municipalities to
follow in Darebin's footsteps and they
are making fast progress.
became the third city in the UK to declare a Climate Emergency, after
Bristol and Manchester, with Totnes and Stroud following soon after. The
London emergency transition program will include retrofitting
buildings, creating a national electricity system that runs without
creating greenhouse gas emissions, and electrifying the transportation
There are now 21 councils and cities
that have declared a climate emergency and eight of these declarations
were in the last two weeks! In the United States, The Climate
Mobilization succeeded in having emergency climate action and a World
War two-scale mobilisation written into the platform of the Democratic Party. Newly elected Democrats including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (in the picture) are pushing hard for a Green New Deal.
In mid 2018, we launched a booklet, 'Don't mention the emergency?'
and we have now distributed over 1000 copies to politicians,
scientists, journalists and community campaigners. It explains how to
talk about the climate science and the need for emergency action in ways
that move people to take action.
Campaigns all around the world are using the online
version and we are starting to hear more use of emergency language from
leaders and commentators. The picture below shows school students
delivering a copy to local Labor candidate Kate Thwaites.
need your help to print more booklets in time to distribute them to
politicians and opinion leaders before the federal election in 2019.
Please donate here
to help the emergency message reach more of those who need to hear it.
We need $3000 to print another 700 copies. Listen to the author of the
booklet, Jane Morton, explain our need for your help here.
School Strike for Climate
One person can make a difference. In August 2018, 15 year old Greta Thunberg (pictured below) began a school strike calling on the Swedish Parliament for emergency climate action. She says,
"I have Asperger's syndrome, and to me, almost everything is black or
white. I think in many ways that we autistic are the normal ones and the
rest of the people are pretty strange. They keep saying that climate
change is an existential threat and the most important issue of all. And
yet they just carry on like before. If the emissions have to stop then
we must stop the emissions. To me, that is black or white. There are no
grey areas when it comes to survival. Either we go on as a civilization
or we don’t. We have to change."
months school students in many countries around the world were
following Greta's example. In Australia, tens of thousands of school
students took to the streets on 30 November, defying Prime Minister Scott Morrison's call for"more learning in schools and less activism".
What an amazing and uplifting sight it was to see students out in
force. Students fully understand how serious the problem is and that
time is running out to preserve a safe climate. The students' strike,
and its widespread media coverage, has been a great morale boost for
climate activists. It has put the climate emergency front and centre of
the coming Australian federal election.
The Extinction Rebellion is spreading
While school students are striking, their parents and grandparents
are signing up to risk arrest as part of the Extinction Rebellion (XR).
This movement recognises the climate emergency as an existential threat
to humans as well as vulnerable ecosystems. Even if all nations honour
their Paris emissions reduction commitments, we are still on track for three to five degrees Celsius
of warming by the end of the century, and at those temperatures, most
people on earth would die. That's why we need to "rebel for life".
On 31 October, Greta Thunberg
and journalist, George Monbiot were in London with thousands of
campaigners calling on the UK parliament to declare a climate emergency.
When the government failed to act by the deadline, the Extinction
Rebellion began a series of escalating acts
of disruptive civil disobedience, commencing with a protest that closed
down much of the centre of London for several hours on 17 November. They have also staged sit-ins at the BBC and government offices and glued their hands to office windows to put pressure on the government to act. They have the support of hundreds of eminent people including a former archbishop.
There are over 35 countries working on launching their own rebellions
in mid-April 2019. If you would like updates from the international
campaign, sign up here. If you are interested in being part of the Australian rebellion, sign up here.
New data base
We hope you like our new format newsletter and are happy to continue
receiving occasional updates from the Australian campaign to declare a
climate emergency. If you received this after unsubscribing, our very
sincere apologies. We have recently consolidated a number of Excel
spreadsheets into this Action Network data base. From now on we will be
able to keep better track of those who subscribe and unsubscribe.
Sent via Action Network, a free online toolset anyone can use to organize. Click here to sign up and get started building an email list and creating online actions today.
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PRESTON, MELBOURNE IN 2018 Document dated 25 December 2018
When we bought our
house in Preston, in Melbourne, Victoria, the type of house was
called a villa unit in 2000, and we moved in in January and February
2001 from Sydney and Newcastle.
We are unit 2 of two
units and unit 1 is the front one, nearest the street along the
driveway which is common property.
It didn’t take us
long to discover that unit 1 was public housing, in other words it
belonged to the Victorian Department of Housing. It was not
administered by them and was managed by an organisation called “North
East Housing. It was controlled under a scheme called “Transitional
Housing” and was supposed to mean that tenants were placed there
until more suitable accommodation could be found for them, supposedly
for about 1 year from placement.
We soon discovered
that this did not mean what it said and some tenants were there much
longer, which was both good and bad.
For the purpose of
this document, the current tenants fall under the word “bad”, not
only bad, but shocking!
We estimate that the
current tenant is the 13th since we moved in on 27 January
2001, and to date have been in unit 1 for 2 years and two months.
In that time she has
been appallingly rude to us using the worst of language and
threatening us in several ways, to the extent that we have spoken to
the police because Haven, Home Safe have not responded to our
requests that this family be moved out as soon as possible.
We suspected that
her problem may be homophobia and we felt she was linking that to
paedophilia because she has 3 little boys, one now aged about 3 and
the other two seem to be about 7 years old.
It all came to a
head on the afternoon of 15 December 2018 as the following details
We have complained
about the driveway being cluttered with the children’s toys –
bicycles, scooters, large netball balls and other paraphernalia. We
have not complained about the children playing with them, our
complaint is that when the children are not playing with them, they
are left lying in the driveway and being an obstruction to those of
us who use the driveway every day.
On this day at
1.30pm two friends came to pick us up to go shopping. One of these
friends is a man in his late 80s and he uses a walker aid and walks
with difficulty. He is also legally blind as he has Macular
Degeneration, and therefore has to be helped with his walking
wherever he goes. The driveway was cluttered as usual and the other
friend, who is not incapacitated kicked one of the items out of the
way to help the person with the walker make his way through along the
driveway to unit 2, our unit.
We got ready to go
shopping and were walking down the driveway to the street when the
tenant came to one of the windows of unit 1 and screeched at one of
our friends, “GO FUCK YOURSELVES YOU POOFTERS!”.
There was other
abuse as well, such as “Haven laughs at you, they think you are a
joke” (judging by the responses we have had from Housing, this
seems to be true!!!), but we have reached the stage where this
behaviour can not be tolerated any longer.
If the tenant is not
removed in the very near future, we will be considering an
intervention order on advice from the police. We will also be
considering retaining a lawyer to bring a damages claim against both
the Housing Minister and HHS for the stress, inconvenience and cost
caused by the tenants despite repeated requests for their removal,
over a lengthy period of time.
Abu Yussef Abu Dahuk is 60 years old. But of course he looks around
75 or 80, because he is a Bedouin and lives under a corrugated iron roof
and sheets tied together with string, and because he owns just 120
goats which belong to his 17 children. And because the Israeli cops and
soldiers a couple of hundred feet away are ready to demolish his little
slum and drive him away.
The Palestinian had two wives – the first died 18 years ago, and the
second serves us the usual scalding hot tea on this scalding hot morning
– and has been expelled from his grazing lands three times; first from
Tel Arad near the Israeli town of Beersheva and then again after the
1967 Israeli occupation of the West Bank; and then in 1974. Now the
Israeli High Court of Justice – and yes, let justice indeed be its name –
has decided that the 180 members of the Bedouin Jahalin tribe should be
dispossessed once more. They must be moved to an area in Abu Dis not
far, as the residents point out, to a garbage dump. Not that you can be
dispossessed of rags and a mud school or bits of rusting metal that prop
up a plastic roof over shacks.
But it’s not that simple. We all know – the Israelis know, the EU
which has given €315,000 to Khan al-Ahmar knows, and the Palestinians
know – that this is no chance demolition. Just over the hills to the
north peep the red rooftops of the Kfar Adumim Jewish colony, and the
destruction of Khan al-Ahmar will give its Israeli inhabitants room to
move – high court permitting, needless to say – down to the highway and
thus destroy the last of the Palestinian villages beside the road to
Jerusalem. Another circle of Israeli concrete around the city will be
Abu Yussef Abu Dahuk knows all too well what this means. “The
settlement continues to be built and so they must move us out. Now we
are not allowed to cross the valley behind us with our goats or the
settlers will take our goats. We are not allowed to build proper homes
and so we have to use these metal structures. The settlers can build a
villa, with electricity and a water source and a garden – and for us in
the winter, we can build nothing. We put plastic on top of the metal to
stop the water falling on us when we are sleeping.”
But I think Abu Yussef Abu Dahuk may not be sleeping in Khan al-Ahmar
much longer. The Palestinian Authority has done little for the Bedouins
here and the arrival of two van loads of Palestinian activists with
their flags and cameras and feeble but naturally much publicised
attempts to block the highway seemed far too theatrical, ritualised and –
dare one say so? – cynical, to be of much help to the 180 Bedouins.
The Israeli policemen and policewomen and the soldiers are trying to
keep the main road, the famous Trans-Samaria Highway, open but the phone
cameras are poised above them – more cameras than cops, I observed –
and then the plain clothes cops arrive with their own cameras and
everyone is filming everyone else. The only figures who remain out of
focus are the old shepherds and their children who mostly stay behind
the front-line ditch on the north side of the highway.
We’ve watched this stage-play so many times that it has, like so much
of the West Bank, become normal. Legal (thanks to the High Court),
familiar, usual, timed to the minute – two news agency reporters
cheerfully agreed to leave at the same time so that neither can scoop
the other if the cops moved in — and utterly outrageous. But the police
don’t move. They shepherd a few shepherds off the road and sigh with
irritation at the shouts of “Free Palestine”, but the Israeli bulldozer
which ominously turned up retreats from the wadi and grinds off up the
The European parliament has been much exercised about Khan al-Ahmar,
warning that the Israelis would be committing a war crime if they
demolished the herding village whose goats now wander among the
demonstrators. By a 320 to 227 vote, it approved a Strasbourg resolution
which demanded Israeli compensation for financial losses incurred by
the EU in the little plot of land.
Ten EU states are providing
humanitarian assistance in Khan al-Ahmar, including a primary school,
and the parliament’s resolution says that if the demolition and the
forcible transfer of its residents takes place, this “would constitute a
grave breach of international law”. In other words, a “war crime” under
the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Correctly, if a little late in the day, Federica Mogherini, the EU’s
head of foreign policy, told parliamentarians that the destruction of
Khan al-Ahmar “would also be a blow against the viability of the State
of Palestine and against the very possibility of a two-state solution.”
She noted that it’s almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain
building permits in the West Bank’s Area C, thus placing the Israeli
claim that the shepherds’ shacks had been constructed illegally in its
own grim context. Area C is under total Israeli occupation and – so the
Jewish settlers say – must be annexed at once. “C” comprises 60 per cent
of the West Bank. Why on earth would the Israelis encourage anyone to
stay in the land of the ever-expanding Jewish colonies?
Abu Yussef Abu Dahuk talks – of course, of course – about the Balfour
Declaration and the curse of its false promise to protect the
non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine more than a hundred years ago.
Sitting in his pitiful shack, I and my colleagues dutifully apologise
for the long dead British foreign secretary. “You created this problem,”
the proud but soon-to-be homeless Bedouin says softly. “You know that
if they finally move us to Jordan, that will create only more conflict
among those communities there. You don’t need to apologise for Balfour –
it’s like water that has leaked from a pipe. You need to put pressure
on the ‘spoiled kid’ [Israel] to stop doing what he is doing. We held
out the hands of peace [in Oslo] 25 years ago, and still we are not
getting anything back.”
He used to get more food, medicine and help from the United Nations
Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, he says, before the
Americans announced that they would stop funding it. “Now we get
nothing.” And so – how many times do we come up with this insulting
question? – I ask Abu Yussef Abu Dahuk if he will ever live in a
Palestinian state? “For me, I don’t think so. In my life, I don’t think
so. It’s already 25 years since Oslo was signed and nothing has
Maybe if the leaders were changed, something would happen… We
are an honest people – we are not politicians. But life has taught us a
lot of things.”
Mogherini should surely come and talk to this man. For who can
believe in a Palestinian state today, let alone “a blow against its
viability” as a future state? Its viability is as secure as the plastic
sheet over this poor man’s head, its existence a myth whose reality
exists only in Strasbourg. Even the goats know that.
Donald Trump is devoted to his bottom line and to a belief in his own greatness. Beyond that, he has no fixed convictions.
He does have instincts and attitudes, however. Some of them are less
odious, at least in theory, than the fixed convictions of neoliberal and
liberal imperialist Democrats. Most are worse; and, because the Donald
is “special,” nearly all of them are in a state of constant flux.
The more permanent ones have mainly to do with keeping brown and black people, and women of all hues, down and in their place.
The general idea is to maintain patriarchy and, above all, to make
America white again – or rather, since it still is mighty white, as
white as it used to be.
Trump doesn’t much care for Muslims or Hispanics. He is happy to deal
with them, though – if they are rich and far away and if there is some
percentage in it for him. Otherwise, like many of his supporters, he
holds them in contempt and wishes them ill.
Whenever he can, he harms them as well – often with gratuitous cruelty.
He seems to hold Palestinians in especially low regard. This comes
from working with and living among real estate moguls like himself and
the politicians, lawyers, accountants, and other shady characters who
serve their interests.
Many of them, the Jewish ones especially, do
have fixed, anti-Palestinian convictions. In our time and place, this
goes with being of a certain age.
Were we living in a healthier political environment, the kind that
existed before the Democratic Party gave itself over to
corporate-friendly identity politics, I’d call aging members of the
tribe for whom Israel is everything and Palestinians are nothing “elders
of Zion.” A quip like that is ahistorical but on point and, in a
snarky way, even funny.
However, it is no longer kosher to joke around in ways like that. The
problem is not just that the dominant tone in politics nowadays is
humorless and self-absorbed. It is also that on the surface, politics
has come to have little to do with how the class struggle is going, or
with who is doing what to whom, or with where societal benefits and
burdens are going.
That was all so sixties and seventies. Politics today is about not offending peoples’ identities.
Overwrought identity politics does address the interests of subaltern
groups in positive ways. However, the situation is more complicated
Black and brown people and victims of patriarchal attitudes are
asserting themselves – boldly and to good effect. But, despite how
things may appear, the class struggle has not gone missing.
Quite to the contrary, American politics today is about what it has
always been about: furthering the interests of still mostly white, still
mostly male, titans of commerce, industry, and finance. It is about
securing their power and wealth, and the capitalist system that makes
their good fortune possible, from hostile political contestation.
To that end, it helps that identity politics is all, or nearly all, there is.
And so, the action nowadays, at least on the surface, is on what
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) called “trifles… a word, a smile … and any
other sign of undervalue…” Democrats, and Republicans too, have seen to
This is why nowadays only the foolhardy dare say anything that could
be construed as hurtful by those who have forgotten what they ought to
have learned in nursery school — that “sticks and stones can break my
bones, but names can never hurt me.”
Jokes about classic anti-Semitic tracts, like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, are therefore best left unmade.
But what the hell! “Elders,” straight out of central casting, who
have shaped the Donald’s “thinking,” deserve all the disparagement and
all the ridicule they get.
For all I know, there are Jewish Trump cronies who are religious or,
what comes to the same thing, observant; they may even pray three times a
day, keep kosher, and abstain from work on Jewish holidays and on the
Sabbath. It is a good bet, though, that, if there are people in Trump’s
life who fit that description, that, even for them, Zionism, Jewish
nationalism, matters more than Judaism, the Jewish religion.
Were the Prophetic tradition still alive, there would be religious
Jews now calling Zionism a false idol. Instead, there are religious
(observant) Jews who see it as the fulfillment of Judaism, and therefore
as a suitable replacement for it.
Since it emerged in the late nineteenth century, Zionism has come in
many versions — some liberal, some not. The kinds Trump knows are
virulently rightwing. It comes with the territory.
His cronies, and their co-thinkers in Israel and around the world,
want Palestine ethnically cleansed of Palestinians – to make room for
the Herrenvolk,and to guarantee that no “population bomb” will
ever jeopardize the Jewish character of what Benjamin Netanyahu, in
defiance of logic and history, calls “the nation state of the Jewish
Trump’s presidency has been a godsend for Zionists like that.
It would give our Commander-in-Chief too much credit to say that he
has policy objectives in mind. But some of the people he has empowered
do. They want to give rightwing Israelis whatever they want, and
otherwise to do all they can for them.
Trump put his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a not-too-bright graduate of
a Zionist day school and the gzillionaire son of a felonious Trump-like
New Jersey real estate mogul, in charge of Middle East diplomacy. He
made a Trump Organization lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, an “Assistant to
the President and Special Representative for International
Negotiations.” His bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman, is his Ambassador
to Israel. All three are in way over their heads; and all three are
Trump also appointed Nikki Haley his Ambassador to the United Nations
and John Bolton his National Security Advisor. Haley might as well be
angling for the title “Whore of AIPAC.” Bolton is arguably the most
execrable neocon in creation. This is just the tip of the iceberg; the
rot goes all the way down.
And so, the Trump administration moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv
to Jerusalem, and cut the entire U.S. aid budget to UNRWA, the UN
agency that has been addressing the needs of Palestinian refugees,
victims of U.S. backed Israeli ethnic cleansing, since 1949.
Who knows what his rationale for that bit of gratuitous cruelty might
be? Perhaps he wants to be able to say that the humanitarian disasters
he causes are bigger than the ones Netanyahu can boast of.
The nicest thing to say about these and other, less spectacularly
egregious anti-Palestinian Team Trump initiatives is that they have
delivered the coup de graceto the long defunct “two state
solution,” and to the pretense that the United States is an “honest
broker” with whom Palestinians can deal.
It would be fair to say too that Trump has all but given the keys to
the White House to Netanyahu and to even more noxious Israeli
politicians farther to his right.
With the House and Senate in the pocket of the Israel lobby, this has
always been the course of least resistance for American presidents,
especially in recent decades, as Christian Zionists have become a mighty
Those benighted souls are hell bent (literally) on bringing on the
End Times – and, with it, the conversion or eternal damnation of each
and every Jew. Jewish Zionists with a modicum of self-respect would
therefore tell them t0 go to hell.
But because they realize how important Christian Zionists can be for
keeping the Republican Party on board, they pander to them shamelessly.
The Trump administration does too.
Thus, under Trump, American policy towards Israel and Palestine has
become worse, but not qualitatively different than it used to be. This
is par for the course; Trump makes everything worse, while nothing
fundamental ever changes.
Before Trump, there used to be at least a pretense of evenhandedness,
and, when pushed too hard, American presidents would sometimes timidly,
but decisively, show the Israelis who is boss.
In principle, this has never been hard to do because Israel, as we
know it, could not survive for long without massive American support,
and because the vaunted Israel lobby – the Jewish, not the Christian,
part of it — has always been a Paper Tiger.
It is too bad that the American political class and the media that
reflect its thinking have never been able to wrap their heads around
that simple fact. Many in the media are Zionists too. Many are simply
But with liberal Zionism in its death throes, thanks largely to the
evolution of Israeli politics and society in the Netanyahu era, this
could soon change.
Liberal Zionism is, after all, a contradictory project; a liberal
state is a state of its citizens, not of a particular religious or
ethnic group, especially one scattered around the world with no real
connection to the land, the language, or, religion apart, the culture of
the country with which they are supposed to identify.
Even so, liberal Zionism was once a flourishing ideology, grounded in
the realities of Israeli society. Israel could never become quite what
it claimed to be – “Jewish and democratic” – but it did become a
functioning liberal democracy for the roughly eighty percent of its
population that is Jewish.
For the other twenty percent, it was a flawed, but not entirely
failed, democracy; not much to boast of, but not bad for the region
Had a Palestinian state been established alongside Israel, as was
supposed to happen after Oslo, the liberal Zionist idea might even now
However, successive Israeli governments kept that from happening,
even while nominally endorsing the idea of a Palestinian state.
What they were really doing was buying time for the settlement
movement to grow in power and extent. They were establishing “facts on
Even so, Oslo’s failure was not entirely Israel’s fault; Palestinian
leaders deserve blame too. However, Israel is by far the more culpable
party – if only because it has always held nearly all the cards.
Liberal Zionism is among the casualties of Israeli intransigence, and
of the sheer inhumanity of “the only democracy in the Middle East” and
“the most moral army in the world.”
It was hanging by a thread a decade ago. But now that the occupation
of the West Bank has been going on for more than half a century, and now
that the government of Israel has turned Gaza into an open-air prison
and waged three savage wars against its basically unarmed population,
liberal Zionism has become a dead letter.
But this is not the only reason why so many younger American Jews are
uninterested in or embarrassed by the state that is supposed to be
theirs by “birthright.”
The passage of time is a factor too. Even apart from Israel’s
violations of international law and the brutality of the occupation
regime it has installed, younger American Jews would still be drifting
away from the Zionist sympathies of their parents and grandparents.
Too bad that the American political class and its counterparts in
other Western countries have no appetite for taking this plain fact into
Therefore, now as in the past, Israel gets more or less what it wants from the United States; it seldom even has to ask.
The tail wags the dog, but sometimes the dog does try to set the
situation straight. At first, Obama sorely wanted to do the right thing,
but, in the end, he didn’t have the backbone. Bush 41 pushed back a
little in 1991, when Yitzhak Shamir all but forced him to make America
less abject again. And there were other, even lamer, attempts over the
past half-century at putting the dog, not the tail, in charge.
Even so, Eisenhower was the only real exception to the rule. When
necessary, as it was during the Suez crisis, he was not shy about making
it clear to the Israelis who the boss really is.
But that was more than seven decades ago. Now we have Trump – a
president who shamelessly gives the ethnocratic settler state all that
it wants – and then some.
And yet the conventional wisdom has it that Trump and his people are
working on, dare I say, a “final solution” to “the Palestine Question.”
They even parrot the risible Trump-Netanyahu contention that
Palestinians are at fault for not being “a partner for peace.”
It isn’t just nasty, over-the-hill Jewish men, and Jared Kushner, who
are the problem; it isn’t even them plus the Bible thumpers in the
It is also the much ballyhooed MBS, Mohammad bin Salman, and the
entire ruling cohort in Saudi Arabia, the most retrograde state in the
world. And it is the leaders of smaller and slightly less noxious
feudal regimes in the Persian Gulf, along with others in the Sunni
Muslim world who are, in varying degrees, in thrall to Saudi money.
Thus the injustice that the Trump administration exacerbates is an
abomination of regional, if not quite global, dimensions, in which the
Palestinian people are up against have some of the world’s most malign
and most powerful forces, and in which their friends, such as they are,
are unable or unwilling to do much of anything to help them.
Undoutedly, MBS is an even worse moral monster than Trump – witness
what the Saudis have done and continue to do to the people of
Yemen. But, for Palestinians, Trump’s afflictions are the cruelest of
Not only has he cut off the U.S. contribution to UN efforts to
provide vital life services to Palestinian refugees – in other words, to
mitigate some of the worst consequences of U.S. backed Israeli ethnic
cleansing – but now, probably at John Bolton’s direction, he is closing
down the PLO’s diplomatic mission in Washington, and cutting off all
U.S. aid to Palestinians period.
He is also moving against Palestine solidarity activists. Indeed,
it seems that this is what the latest flurry of anti-Palestinian Trump
machinations is all about.
At the direction of the Israeli government, the Israel lobby in the
United States and other countries is now taking full aim at the large
and growing Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Modeled on forms of struggle developed against Apartheid South
Africa, BDS was called into being by civil society forces in Occupied
Palestine and abroad in 2005. Despite the best efforts of Israel and
its supporters around the world, it has been growing mightily,
especially in recent years.
In Netanyahu’s eyes, this amounts to an “existential threat.” But,
because BDS is non-violent, and because it does not physically threaten
Israeli Jews, what can he say against it that could possibly move anyone
who is not a willfully blind Zionist ideologue?
The answer: that BDS is anti-Semitic.
The charge is manifestly illogical and ahistorical, but there is
nothing else that could serve the purpose, and Zionists nowadays need
what American football fans call “a Hail Mary pass.”
It was to combat the specter of BDS that the Trump administration,
with the support of pro-Israel legislators in Congress, has now adopted
the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of
anti-Semitism, according to which saying that Zionism is racist or
likening Israeli policies to Nazi policies is deemed anti-Semitic.
Partly on the basis of the IHRA definition, Kenneth Marcus, a
longtime Israel advocate who heads the Office of Civil Rights in the
Trump – Betsy DeVos Education Department is now reopening a case that
the Obama administration dismissed in which the Zionist Organization of
America (ZOA) and others accused Palestinian solidarity activists of
anti-Semitism for an incident that occurred at Rutgers University in
The offending activists are supposed to have discriminated against
Jewish students by charging a fee to attend an event on the Nakba after
scores of pro-Israel students arrived to protest and presumably disrupt
The ZOA then filed a Title VI complaint saying that the pro-Israel
students experienced a hostile environment because they are Jews. In
fact, the organizers of the event requested a fee from everyone to cover
not just the costs of the venue, but also increased security costs
stemming from the presence of the protestors.
The alleged smoking gun was an email from an organizer saying that
“150 Zionists” had shown up at the event. Marcus claims “Zionists”
His letter to the ZOA reopening the case said: “The visual perception
of ‘150 Zionists’ referenced in the email could have been rooted in a
perception of Jewish ancestry or ethnic characteristics common to the
groups.” The argument then was that in cases such as this, “Zionist” is
code for “Jewish.”
Since, according to the IHRA definition, if you deny the right of
Jews to self-determination in historic Palestine or apply a “double
standard” to Israel’s actions and those of other nations or compare
Israeli policies to Nazi policies, you are an anti-Semite. QED.
This is plainly indefensible conceptually; it is also a subterfuge –
cut from the same cloth as charges leveled against Jeremy Corbyn and
others in the British Labor Party.
The UK has an Israel lobby too, but there is more to the anti-Corbyn
smear campaign in Britain than that; there is a specter haunting the
ruling class and its allies.
It is not the specter of communism that Marx and Engels had in mind in The Communist Manifesto(1847),
nor even the specter of as much socialism as the British enjoyed in the
pre-Thatcher era. The fear is that, before long, Corbyn, a genuine
socialist and internationalist, will become Prime Minister – putting the
UK back onto a progressive track for the first time in decades.
Elections are not imminent, but neither is it a sure thing that they
can be put off for long. And while a Labor victory is far from assured,
it is not impossible.
For one thing, the Conservative Party in the UK is a rotting hulk —
though, in its favor, unlike our GOP, it is merely retrograde and, not
withstanding the presence of its many miscreants, not also the party of
anyone as viciously awful as Donald Trump. Still there is little doubt
that quite a few Brits would be happy to see the back of it.
For another, while the UK electoral system is flawed and
undemocratic, it is less so than its U.S. counterpart. The Labor
Party’s parliamentary wing is as bad, or nearly as bad, as our
Democrats, but Labor is also a membership party with a rank-and-file
solidly behind Corbyn, the party leader. Thanks to him, it is now, by
far, the largest party in the UK, and one of the largest in Europe.
To be sure, what ultimately matters is not how many members a party
has; it is how many votes it gets. The growth in Labor Party membership
may have more to do with the extent of popular discontent with the
status quo than with the course of future elections. Even so, the power
elites are worried.
There is little evidence, so far, that, in these scoundrel times,
those elites, in alliance with UK Zionist organizations and with the
support of the Israeli government, are getting much traction, outside
media circles, by charging one of the most principled anti-racist – and
anti-anti-Semitic – politicians in the world with anti-Semitism.
Still, it is a dangerous game that they are playing in much the way
that the Trump administration’s unabashed adoption of rightwing Zionist
policies and propaganda is dangerous. Not only are such machinations
immoral and stupid; they are also “bad for the Jews.”
For the most part, anti-Semites still avoid calling themselves what
they are; the word “anti-Semite,” like the word “racist” still has bad
connotations. How much, if at all, this affects real world
anti-Semitism and racism is debatable, but even if it doesn’t affect it
much, it does serve a worthwhile purpose.
Hypocrisy always does; it is, as the saying goes, the compliment vice
pays to virtue. It helps maintain a state of affairs in which, in
theory if not in practice, anti-Semitism, along with other forms of
racism, is delegitimized.
But how long can that way of thinking be maintained when the word is
illogically and relentlessly applied to positions to which
right-thinking, morally decent people of all faiths and ethnicities are
The question answers itself.
Not to belabor the obvious, but to be clear: one can be critical of
Israel without being anti-Zionist; even the IHRA definition concedes
that. In the United States and other Western countries, there are
probably more Zionists critical of Israel, and also critics who have no
position on Zionism, than there are anti-Zionists.
Even more obviously, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are not just
logically distinct, but also historically and, even today, for some of
the most extreme Orthodox Jews, theologically at odds.
Before the Nazis took power in Germany, and indeed even until the end
of World War II, most American Jews were non- or anti-Zionist – not
because they were “self-hating,” but because they were true to Jewish
It is only slightly less obvious that when anti-Zionism and
anti-Semitism do shade off into one another, that incidents are rare and
that they mainly occur within poorly off subaltern immigrant Muslim
communities in Western countries. If there is a problem, that is where
The far Right in Europe and North America loves Israel; and the
Israeli far Right loves them back. The endemic anti-Semitism of
rightwing political movements in our time can survive in this mutual
admiration society, but it is dampened somewhat, especially when trumped
by the hardcore Right’s blatant Islamophobia.
It is telling, though, that, in the circumstances, it is anti-Semitism and Zionism, not anti-Zionism, that run together.
This is not the only thing that proponents of the anti-BDS smear
campaign prefer not to acknowledge. They also take care not to point
out that the expressions of anti-Semitic attitudes that they do dwell on
have little, if any, connection either to classical anti-Semitism or to
Bona fide anti-Semitism is a descendant of Christian anti-Judaism; it
is not a Muslim thing. Muslims and Jews have had a very different and
generally more amicable relationship.
To be sure, Muslims have never treated Jews, or members of any
non-Muslim religious community, as full-fledged equals. But they have
nearly always treated the “people of the book” decently and with
However, nowadays, fine points such as these are deliberately
overlooked. For a state not acting at all like the “light unto the
nations” that it purports to be, a state that long ago exhausted all the
moral capital it could squeeze out of the Holocaust, these are all just
The Israeli propaganda machine, like Trump’s mind, latches on to
whatever works. Lately, with boycotts, divestment, and perhaps some day
even sanctions looming, it is pushing all the buttons.
But the buttons aren’t working like before. For most people alive
today, the Holocaust is not a living memory. And except for those who
think, as many older Zionists do, that Jews can only be safe in a Jewish
state, its relevance is obscure. It was, after all, the work of
Europeans, not Palestinians; and it took place before the state of
Israel even existed.
Nevertheless, except for the force of arms and the acquiescence of
American and other Western governments, it is all that Zionists, the
kind that want historic Palestine ethnically cleansed of Palestinians,
have going for them.
Therefore now, with significant parts of world – and Jewish – public
opinion coming around to the conclusion that enough is enough,
apologists for Israel are becoming desperate.
Too bad that they just don’t get it: that their desperation is doing Jews around the world, and in Israel too, no favors.
As old as war itself, collective
punishment has long been the most damning and destructive weapon
of all. Not satisfied with engaging combatants alone and directly,
historically, it has fueled state reprisal against families,
communities and entire populations in a drive to “win” a given
conflict, military or otherwise, at all costs.
With roots that trace, literally, to the start of time, reprisal
has evolved as modern warfare became more proficient and popular
resistance more prevalent. Nowhere has collective punishment proved
more evident and efficient than it has in the West where it has long
run the gamut from civil sanctions, to population displacement, to
political penalty, to imprisonment, to outright slaughter. Of late,
it has grown more subtle, yet no less pernicious, through state
censorship that seeks to control the narrative of the day.
In the American Civil War, during his “march to the sea”,
General Sherman ordered his troops, when faced with any resistance
from guerillas, to “enforce
devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of
such hostility.” In doing so, his troops targeted
non-combatants causing more than one-hundred million dollars in
property damage. Today that destruction would be valued at more than
one-and half billion dollars.
The strategy known as “hard
war” was defined by widespread destruction of civilian
supplies, infrastructure and property, which disrupted the South’s
economy and transportation networks. Foragers, known as “bummers“,
seized food from local farms for the Army while they destroyed
railroads, manufacturing and agricultural infrastructure in the
As troops marched through Georgia, they took whatever horses,
mules and wagons, owned by civilians, for military use. In leaving
Atlanta, all buildings and structures that might have had a military
“value”, including rail depots, roundhouses, arsenals and storage
areas, were disassembled and burned. Although monitored, the
“controlled” fires resulted in heavy damage, if not widespread
destruction, to civilian homes located throughout Atlanta.
earth” policy was not new and was to continue after the Civil
War as military forces targeted non-combatants in particular
indigenous communities as an essential part of an early European
Thus, in 1863, after a small group of miners were killed, the US
military laid the blame at a band of nearby “defiant” Shoshone
Indians. During the four hour onslaught that followed, 200 soldiers
killed several hundred Shoshone, including at least 90 women,
children and infants. They were shot, stabbed and battered to death.
Others were driven into the icy river to drown or to freeze.
In 1864, following an unsolved murder of a settler family not far
from a reservation at Sand Creek Colorado, the territorial governor
called on citizens to “kill and destroy . . . hostile natives.”
Seeking the “chastisement” of the Indians, a military raid
According to one soldier, “… hundreds
of women and children were coming towards us, and getting on
their knees for mercy, only to be shot and have their brains beat
out.” Of the 200 defenseless Cheyenne and Arapaho that were
murdered, all but 60 were women and children. The dead, women and men
alike, were scalped… with their ears and genitals cut out.
Dance has always played an essential role in religious practice
and ceremony among indigenous communities in North America. Following
the civil war, traditional Native dance was increasingly viewed as a
threat to white “settlers” as they moved further west.
Seeing religious practice as a potential flashpoint for an Indian
uprising, the U.S. and Canadian governments passed laws banning
cultural and religious rituals… including all forms of traditional
dance. That ban was to lead to the massacre at Wounded Knee, South
Early one December morning in 1890, a large contingent of heavily
armed soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry surrounded several hundred
Lakota Sioux at a makeshift camp along the banks of Wounded Knee
Creek where some were practicing the Ghost Dance… a new and
spreading ritual seen as a bridge between the living and the spirits
of the dead… to bring unity to natives throughout the region.
Sent to arrest the native participants for their Ghost Dance, a
gunshot unleashed a barrage of fire… including a military
machine gun… that slaughtered several hundred Lakota men,
women and children caught in crossfire as they fled to find safety in
a nearby ravine.
Half a century later on the eve of the surrender of Germany a
series of bombing
raids were carried out on the city of Dresden by 800 American and
British aircraft. Known as the “Florence of the Elbe,”
Dresden was a medieval city renowned for its artistic and
architectural treasures. It played no role whatsoever in
war-production and had no major industry.
The two days of bombing, which involved 3,400 tons of explosives,
unleashed a veritable firestorm which continued burning for days.
When the fire ended, the streets were littered with charred corpses…
including many children. Although the exact number of those, mostly
civilians, killed remains unknown it is estimated that upwards of
135,000 lost their lives and were buried in mass graves… many
within the eight square miles of the city that lay in ruins. While
various rationales have been raised, the consensus is the attack was
simply a mission to collectively punish the Germans and weaken their
Six months later, on August 6, 1945, an American B-29 bomber
dropped the world’s first deployed atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
The explosion wiped out 90 percent of the city and immediately killed
80,000 people. Three days later, a second B-29 dropped another A-bomb
killing an estimated 40,000 people. Tens of thousands more would
later die of radiation exposure in and around both cities. Already
defeated before the use of the atom bombs, Japan’s Emperor
surrendered a week later citing the mass destruction and punishment
wrought by “a new and most cruel bomb.”
As shown by its participation in the firebombing of Dresden,
historically the British have embraced collective punishment, using
it often during its once long reign as the world’s leading colonial
power. In response to the Boston Tea Party, Britain’s
Parliament enacted the “Intolerable
Acts” . The Acts closed the Port of Boston, revoked the
Massachusetts Charter and, thus, home rule, moved trials of rebels
outside North America and required the colonies to quarter the King’s
troops, thereby, imposing mass punishment upon much of the colonies
for the acts of a few.
During the Second
Boer War of 1899-1902, the British rounded up more than a hundred
thousand of the Boer civilian population, mostly women and children,
and detained them in camps. Overcrowded, with little nourishment, and
prone to outbreaks of disease, some twenty-seven thousand Boers and
an unknown number of black Africans died.
In April of 1919, peaceful protestors
defied a government ban and demonstrated against British Colonial
rule in India. Trapped inside a walled off garden, they were fired
upon by Gurkha soldiers who kept shooting until they ran out of
ammunition. After 10 minutes, the firing stopped… leaving upwards
of a thousand protestors dead and another 1,100 injured.
Although precise figures are unknown, it is estimated between 12
and 29 million Indians died
of starvation, while under the control of the British
Empire… as millions of tons of wheat were exported to Britain even
while famine raged throughout India.
In 1943, up to four million Bengalis
starved to death when Winston Churchill diverted food to British
soldiers and countries such as Greece while a deadly famine swept
through Bengal. When asked about the famine Churchill
said: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly
religion. The famine was their own fault for breeding like rabbits.”
In 1956, in
Cyprus, Britain evicted families from their homes and closed
shops in neighborhoods where British soldiers and police had been
attacked, purportedly to obtain information about the attackers.
During the so-called Mau Mau uprisings
in “British” Kenya, Kikuyu tenants who lost their land to white
settlers were detained, en masse, in camps known as “British
gulags” where many suffered from torture and sexual assault. It is
estimated that during 1951-1960 between 20k and 100k Kikuyu lost
In 1935-36, Italian troops carried out mass
reprisals following their invasion and occupation of Ethiopia.
Fascists used mustard gas against civilian communities, bombed Red
Cross hospitals and ambulances, destroyed monasteries and shot
“witch-doctors” who foretold the end of Italian rule. Following a
partisan grenade attack that wounded the Italian viceroy, some 19,000
civilians were murdered in Addis Ababa during a three day rampage
carried out by local fascist militias, colonial troops and Italian
soldiers. Victims were shot, hanged, burned to death, beaten with
clubs and shovels and drowned… being thrown down wells or into the
The German Punishment
During World War II, collective punishment was very much the norm
as German and Japanese troops engaged in targeted reprisals against
persons and communities as revenge for the acts of the few or for
purposes of population control.
Following attacks by the Serbian resistance in October of 1941
German soldiers raided
the town of Kragujevac in Yugoslavia seizing some ten-thousand
civilians… including high school students while in class. Beginning
the next day, they were executed in groups of four hundred at a time.
When the massacre ended over 5,000 civilians, including women and
children, were dead.
To understand where collective punishment would eventually lead,
at the hands of Nazi Germany, one must look to its activity well
before World War II. Thus, in the early 1930’s, it began to target
its civil population by virtue of nothing more than their trade
union and political activities and beliefs or religion.
Soon after the election of May 2, 1933, the SA
(Nazi paramilitary) and SS
(initially Hitler’s bodyguards) began to attack all forms of
political opposition… beginning with raids
on trade unions offices whose leaders were arrested and
imprisoned. Later that year, they raided offices of political
opposition parties… destroying equipment, confiscating funds and
arresting their leaders. By the middle of that year, Nazis had banned
all opposition parties.
In May 1933, the first book
burnings under the Nazis occurred outside of the University of
Berlin with university students leading the torch lit parade. In
1817, over 100 years earlier, students had initiated book burning
with the goal of unifying the patchwork Germany of the time. Among
the first works thrown into the fire in 1933 were those of Sigmund
Freud’s. In what was clearly prophetic, German Jewish poet Heinrich
Heine had written, one-hundred years earlier, “any people that burn
books, will one day burn people.”
As Hitler consolidated power, thousands of communists, socialists,
church leaders and anyone else who might oppose the Nazis were
rounded up. Initially, these prisoners were held in local prisons and
police stations. There were so many prisoners that makeshift
buildings were converted to house them. Eventually, the Nazis
solution to the inefficiency of the buildings was found in
establishing large, purpose-built camps to hold these prisoners.
These they called concentration camps. The first
camp was established on 1 April 1933 at Dachau.
Between 1933 and the end of the war, some dozen years later, many
thousands of people resisted the Nazis using both violent and
non-violent means. Among the earliest opponents were Communists,
Socialists, and trade union leaders. As punishment against this
movement thousands were executed including German theologians such as
Bonhoeffer who opposed the regime.
As millions of Jews, Communists, Socialists, Gypsies, gays and
political opposition were murdered in concentration camps throughout
Germany and Europe, resistance continued to grow in Nazi-occupied
areas outside of Germany.
In France, Denmark, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia,
Greece and Poland, guerrilla fighters engaged in anti-Nazi sabotage.
After Czech agents assassinated Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi
governor of Bohemia and Moravia, the Nazis shot all of the men in the
Czech village of Lidice
none of whom had any involvement in the assassination.
Warsaw was, perhaps, the most legendary of all uprisings by an
urban population in German-occupied territory. On April19, 1943
an armed revolt
was begun by a group of Warsaw ghetto dwellers.The Jewish Fighter
led the insurgency and battled, for a month, using weapons smuggled
into the ghetto. The Nazis responded by bringing in tanks and machine
guns. In massive collective punishment, the Nazis burned blocks of
buildings and destroyed the ghetto in its entirety. Ultimately, many
of the 60,000 remaining residents, most of whom had nothing to do
with the uprising, were executed or lost their lives as buildings
were bombed or set aflame.
Beginning long before the onset of World War II, during the
War, Japan made widespread use of biological and chemical weapons,
created in the infamous Unit
731 labs, in their drive to reduce and control China’s
population through weapons of mass destruction.
From 1931 through 1945, Japan employed thousands of biological
and chemical weapons throughout China. The provinces of Hunan,
Jiangsu, Jilin, Kwangtung and Zhejiang were among those targeted. The
attacks in Zhejiang offer a chilling view of Japan’s use of
biological or germ warfare as a weapon of collective punishment
against a civil population.
On October 4, 1940, a Japanese airplane dropped plague-infected
fleas (causing bubonic and other plagues) over Quzhou, a small
town in western Zhejiang Province. Within days the first victims
Within a year more than a two- thousand others perished.
In September of 1941 the plague was carried to another village
causing the death of one thousand more civilians. In 1942 Japan
unleashed a series of anthrax
and glanders (a rare infectious disease) attackson villages
throughout Zhejiang leading to the painful deaths of three thousand
displacement has also been a mainstay of collective punishment.
Though the world map has frequently been reconfigured to reflect
changing political winds, two displacements, in particular, provide
insight into how political priorities and retribution have directed
the forced movement of people in contravention of international law.
In 1944, Stalin deported
the entire population of the North Caucasus… more than half a
million people from the republics of Ingushetia, Chechnya, and North
Ossetia… to the Soviet republics of Central Asia based on an
assumption they were “collaborating” with the Nazis.
The gun-point displacement used crowded cattle-cars which simply
dropped victims in a barren wilderness with no means of survival. In
an earlier displacement it is estimated that beginning in 1941 more
than three-million Russian Poles and Latvians, Lithuanians and
Estonians were deported
to Siberia and the Central Asian republics. It is estimated almost
half of them died of diseases and malnutrition.
As “reparations” after the war the allies forcibly expelled
million German speaking civilians from their homes in
Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Poland removing
them to the rubble of Allied-occupied Germany. Most of them
were women, the elderly and children.
Along the way perhaps half a million died due to starvation,
disease, attacks and executions. Tens of thousands of others perished
in forced labor camps. Many of these had been concentration camps
which remained in operations for years after the cessation of
The Israeli Punishment
Collective punishment is the alluring call of the desperate
tyrant. It is a shameless group stab that targets communities when a
despot’s aim, at the few, falls short of their coveted mark. To
them, how much easier it is to break a people’s step by spreading
anguish among all… the young, the old, those waiting to take their
Collective punishment comes in many shapes. Some short, explosive
and deadly. Others the kind that hang heavy like an amorphous throb
that just never seems to go away… an ache always there to remind
that there’s something about your race, religion or heritage that
panics tyranny. And, then, there is the kind that confronts every
breath you take, every step you make… day in and out… generation
after generation. The sort that demands you walk or run off into the
past and never return to a future that is yours to claim. No
tomorrow. No vision. No voice. No hope.
That is the collective punishment begun by European Zionists
decades before the United Nations ripped Palestine from Palestine…
when they unleashed a spree of death, dispossession and destruction
that has continued unabated for more than ninety years. No modern
collective punishment has been as long, as public or as perversely
Though the Nakba
began on May 14, 1948, it unfolded decades before when Balfour
issued an open invitation to terrorists such as the Irgun,
Lehi (the Stern
Gang) to commence a deadly colonial project that came to know no
For years, Palestinians were targeted in their homes, businesses,
and marketplaces for no reason but their easy mark. Men, women and
children were butchered by bombs or slain by shots… not as armed
opposition but as civilians swept up in a pogrom of collective
No one can erase the terrorist blast of the King
David Hotel by the Irgun in1946 that took ninety-one lives
including some four dozen Palestinians. Nor can the massacres at Deir
Yassin and Ein
al-Zeitun by the Irgun or Lehi in April and May of 1948, be
apologized away as the unfortunate loss from competitive battle.
Hundreds of executed civilians, many tethered and shot, others
mutilated and raped, is not warfare but collective punishment of the
worst kind… the type designed to spread mass terror through a
despicable feed upon the most vulnerable in two defenseless, age-old,
If these were to be the explosive benchmarks of early shared
punishment, for more than a decade before, thousands of Palestinians
were murdered or injured in a rampage of non-stop terrorism that
determined life and death by little more than mere happenstance.
Crowded Souqs (marketplaces) in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Haifa were a
particular favorite for collective punishment as bombs exploded…
some hidden on donkeys or under fruit stands, others tossed into
crowds of shoppers from passing vehicles. Many were shot and killed
in random drive-bys. Small lodges, town halls, political
headquarters, cinemas and trains were the scene of repeated carnage
caused by explosives or ambush. More than once, the Damascus Gate of
the Old City was attacked by barrel bombs or strafed by gun fire. In
Jaffa, more than one hundred homes were burned to the ground as part
of a coordinated bombing attack. And in a precursor of what was to
come, soon, en masse, on the night of December 31, 1947- January 1,
1948, the village
of Balad al-Shaykh was attacked by paramilitary forces that
proceeded to blow up homes and execute 70 Palestinians as retaliation
for an earlier battle elsewhere between Zionist and Palestinian
With the establishment of Israel, over night, collective
punishment took on a new, more odious, meaning as mass displacement
became a prime weapon of choice throughout Palestine. Fearing
advancing Israeli troops or another Deir Yassin massacre by marauding
militias, some eight hundred thousand Palestinians fled, or were
expelled, from their age-old homes, to become stateless refugees
strewn throughout the Middle East.
In the days that followed, between 400 and 600 Palestinian
villages were sacked… reduced to little more than rubble. As
panic spread, Israeli troops patrolled urban centers using vans and
loudspeakers to order terrified inhabitants to evacuate
their homes.As mass flight took hold it became clear to international
observers and journalists, alike, that cleansing Palestine of its
civil population had become a formal Israeli policy. Not long
thereafter, a series of laws were passed by Israel which prevented
Palestinians from returning to their homes.
It sealed the fate of millions of Palestinians who 70 years later
continue to suffer from an unprecedented formalized state policy of
mass collective punishment and exile.
“The IDF began to attack
civilian targets, including population centers, with the goal of
causing the residents to understand the price of escalation and
placing Hamas in a problematic situation.”
With these words, a recent newspaper article in the
Hebrew-language version of Haaretz confirmed what informed observers
had long known: that Israel sees itself above international law in
its use of collective punishment as an essential element of its drive
to complete its goal of ethnic cleansing throughout Palestine.
To understand the contemporary reality of collective punishment in
Palestine, for context one need only look back some thirteen years to
the electoral victory of Hamas in Gaza. In the years since, the
Israeli government has targeted its two million civilians for direct
and unremitting punishment for little more than their electoral will
and political determination. Parallel to this attack has been a
simultaneous one, of a different nature, on the Palestinian civil
population throughout the Occupied West Bank.
Even before the on-going bloodbath in the Great
Return March, few can deny Israel’s frequent use of collective
punishment on non-combatants in the Gaza strip. Predictably, each
time, it has blamed “terrorists” within the civil society itself
for the “unfortunate” and substantial casualties and widespread
destruction of infrastructure, buildings and homes that ensued.
On January 3, 2009, Israel began a ground
offensive in Gaza. When it ended some two weeks later more than
eight-hundred civilians lay dead, including those who lost their
lives seeking shelter in U.N. compounds that were targeted by Israel.
In one such attack 43 were killed by an Israeli shelling on January
In what was to become the rai·son d’être of
future assaults, Israel destroyed homes, university and apartment
buildings, schools, factories and infrastructure describing them as
part of the Hamas “support network.” Damage estimated in excess
of $3 billion further strained the already dire humanitarian
situation in Gaza leaving 46,000 displaced persons in UNRWA shelters.
Less than three years later, on November 14, 2012, Israel once
Gaza using planes, mortar fire and tanks throughout the embattled
enclave. According to a reportby the UNHCR, during the onslaught 174
Palestinians were killed including 33 children, 13 women and three
journalists by air strikes on their cars. Hundreds of others were
wounded, among them at least 88 under the age of five. On November
19, 2012, an Israeli airstrike killed ten members of the Dalu
family, including five children and two neighbors.
In what can only be described as an all-out attack on civil
society, Al Mezan, reported
that, in just one week, the Israeli army destroyed 124 homes and
damaged more than 2000 others while targeting numerous residential
communities and apartment blocks.
When the attack
ended, 52 places of worship, 25 NGO’s, 97 schools, 15 health
institutions, 14 journalist offices and 16 government buildings lay
in ruins. Fifteen factories and 192 trade shops, twelve water wells
and large agricultural tracts were damaged or destroyed… as was the
main bridge connecting Gaza City with the rest of the enclave.
Israel undertook its most recent coordinated military assault on Gaza
as it once again targeted its two millions civilians with massive
disproportionate force. According to a United
Nations report “the scale of the devastation was unprecedented…
tallying more than 6,000 airstrikes, 14,500 tank shells and 45,000
artillery shells unleashed between July 7 and Aug. 26.”
Many of these explosive devices, in particular artillery and
mortars, were used in densely populated areas and designed to have a
“wide-area” impact to ensure that anyone or anything within the
contact area would likely be killed, injured or damaged due to their
explosive power and imprecision. By design the haphazard use of these
weapons destroyed entire neighborhoods.
When the carnage ended, 2310 Palestinians were killed… the
majority of them civilians including 551 children and 299 women. More
than 11,000 others were wounded, a third of them children, with over
1,000 left permanently disabled. Many of the killed or maimed had
sought refuge in various shelters including U.N. schools which were
hit despite the fact their coordinates had been provided to Israel in
advance of the attack.
The collective punishment unleashed on Gaza during the attack of
2014 was meant to cause lasting devastation on a civil community
already overwhelmed by poverty and still reeling from the last
assault on its infrastructure just a few years earlier.
During the 50 day attack, Israel struck more than 5,200 targets
including thousands of homes that were destroyed or severely damaged.
Hundreds of factories, dairy farms (with livestock) and orange groves
were destroyed, as were the lone power station and major sewage pipe
in Gaza, serving 500,000 residents.138 schools and 10 out of 26
hospitals were damaged or destroyed along with 203 mosques and two of
Gaza’s three Christian churches.
For those in need of a painful primer on what explosive collective
punishment looks and feels like today, these deadly mass attacks upon
the civil society, indeed life, of Gaza leave nothing to the
imagination. Each assault caused substantial casualties among non
combatants and crippled essential infrastructure and support services
for the health, welfare and safety of some two million men, women and
Make no mistake about it, carpet bombing is not an isolated
military misstep. It is a determined, strategic call. Repeat targeted
attacks upon residential neighborhoods and schools, shelters and
hospitals by “wide area” impact weapons are not intended to
minimize civilian suffer but, rather, to serve as triggers for
horrific collective punishment.
Yet, military assault is but one deadly adjunct to a systematic
choke upon Gaza, now in its thirteenth year of Israeli occupation,
that has denied its civil population sufficient food, water,
clothing, medicines, fuel, shelter, bedding, hospital equipment and
freedom of movement. Recognized as guaranteed humanitarian
rights, these are not mere commodities of privilege or luxuries of
life. To be sure, their absence is the core distinction between
victims of collective punishment and those who impose it.
Completely surrounded by walls and fences, years of Israeli
attacks and a suffocating embargo on produce and supplies have left
Gaza reeling from an absence of an infrastructure capable of meeting
the needs of its people. Whether its electricity, clean water,
healthcare, or sewage treatment and waste management, it is
undergoing a humanitarian crisis now entering its second decade.
In Gaza, abject poverty is rampant. At 41.1 percent, the
unemployment rate is the highest in the world. Its youth unemployment
is 64 percent.
Although thousands of homes damaged or destroyed during Israel’s
attacks remain in need of repair, the construction sector is idle.
More than a hundred thousand live in cramped shelters or remain
homeless. Sixty per cent of Gaza lives under the poverty line.
According to UNICEF a third of Gaza’s children suffer from chronic
malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies that can stunt
development and affect overall health.
According to the WHO, power cuts and fuel shortages have created
constant crises for Gaza’s 14 public hospitals; threatening the
closure of essential health services leaving thousands of people
without access to life-saving medical care. For well over a year
electricity for Gaza has dropped to a total of just three
hours daily. At any given time, power loss threatens the lives of
hundreds of new-borns and adults in neonatal and intensive care
percent of the entire water supply in Gaza is fit for human
consumptionwith the rest contaminated and dangerous because of
untreated sewage, agricultural chemicals and a large concentration of
With the shortage of clean water looms the fear of a deadly
cholera epidemic particularly in a community with a young population
with increasing numbers showing signs of acute malnutrition and
According to the World Bank, 56
% of all Palestinians have no access to “reasonable and
customary” healthcare in Gaza. Dozens of basic drugs are
unavailable. Currently, more than eight thousand chemotherapy
patients including hundreds of children are unable to obtain life
saving treatment due to the absence of drugs needed to sustain them.
According to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI), the public
health system is not able to provide specialized treatments for
complex medical problems in a variety of fields including neonatal
care, cardiology, orthopedics and oncology.
So far this year, 30 patients have died after their exit
permits to obtain treatment were either denied or not granted in
time. Not long ago three
seriously ill babies died after permits to grant them treatment
in Israel were denied. Earlier this year, 2 children died while
waiting permission from Israel to leave for external treatment.
Seeds of Collective Punishment
In November of 1998, the Yasser
Arafat Airport, located between Rafah and Dahaniya, was opened
with much fanfare. Capable of handling some 700,000 passengers per
year, it was seen as an important step forward in the establishment
of Palestinian statehood as it provided the only transit into and out
of Gaza beyond the control of Israel. In 2001, Israel destroyed
its radar station and control tower, in a bombing attack, after the
start of the Al Aqsa Intifada in the occupied West Bank. Never again
would the airport be used.
After 38 years of internal occupation in southern Gaza, the
Israeli army and 21 “settlements” with almost ten-thousand
settlers were, in 2005, driven from the coastal enclave. Though
Israel has long claimed it was a voluntary “withdrawal” for
security reasons, it is clear that increasing confrontations and
resistance by Palestinian fighters in Gaza was the cause of the
Not long after the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian legislative
elections of 2006, Israel declared the Gaza strip “hostile
territory.” Soon thereafter it imposed a series of political,
economic and military sanctions to isolate and destroy Hamas and to
punish Gaza’s population for the exercise of its political will.
In its thirst for collective punishment, Israel imposed a naval
blockade which limited offshore fishing zones and initiated a siege
that resulted in the closure of border crossings, for people, goods
and services. It also implemented a “buffer zone” within the
These measures have had a devastating impact on the living
standards and life of all of Gaza and destroyed any prospect of
economic development or independence. They have created a grave and
protracted humanitarian crisis that has only been exacerbated by
three unwarranted and excessive military onslaughts that have killed
thousands of Palestinians and laid waste to Gaza’s infrastructure.
Thirteen years later, Israel controls Gaza’s air and maritime
space, and six of its seven land crossings; Egypt rules the seventh.
It controls Gaza’s population registry and arbitrarily decides who
comes into and out of the world’s largest open air prison. Gaza
remains dependent on Israel for its water, electricity,
telecommunications, and other utilities.
And what of that buffer zone? As shown by the Great Return March,
it’s proved deadly… as Israeli snipers decide who will live
and who will die from the safety of their mounds for the daring of
The Law of Collective Punishment
Throughout history, during times of armed conflict and occupation,
military forces have repeatedly used acts of collective punishment on
groups of persons without regard to whether or not they bore personal
responsibility for the very acts, it was claimed, that required a
response. The use of collective punishments and infliction of cruel
punitive measures upon civil populations is not new. For many years,
belligerent reprisals have been little more than illegal means of
repression or intimidation often imposed under the guise of
legitimate law enforcement.
Unable to locate insurgents responsible for so-called hostile
acts, invading armies and occupation powers have long used collective
punishment in the hopes of suppressing resistance and ensuring
willful obedience. Ultimately, the goal of deterrence is little more
than a pretext for tyranny.
International law has responded to this military ritual by
increasingly restricting and outlawing the practice of collective
Of the many prohibitions set forth under international law, the
one most frequently ignored, yet, clearly defined, is the ban on
collective punishment. The prohibition of collective punishment in
international humanitarian law is based on one of the oldest, and
most basic, tenets of criminal law… the principle of individual
3 of the Fourth Geneva Convention Section 1 Art. 33 provides
that: “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she
has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all
measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.”
This convention codifies the Hague Regulations of 1899 which
general penalty, pecuniary or otherwise, can be inflicted on the
population on account of the acts of individuals for which it cannot
be regarded as collectively responsible” The
Hague Resolution of 1907 Section 3 Art 50 affirmed this rule with
only a slight modification amending “collective responsible” to
“jointly and severally responsible.”
4, par. 2(b), of Protocol II of the Convention further defines
collective punishment as “penalties of any kind inflicted on
persons or entire groups of persons in defiance of the most
elementary principles of humanity, for acts that these persons have
not committed.” The Commentary on Protocol II emphasizes that
collective punishment should be given the widest possible application
and includes any kind of sanction.
Under International law, the law of wars (humanitarian law) is no
less applicable to conflicts between non-international combatants
than it is fighting among international forces. Accordingly, although
political debate may arise over whether which category the decades
old conflict between Israel and Palestinians in the Occupied
Territories may fall, for purposes of humanitarian law it is
difference without a distinction.
Both Israel and the resistance forces of Palestine are obligated
to observe article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949
(“common article 3”), the Second Additional Protocol of 1977 to
the Geneva Conventions (Protocol II), applicable to non-international
armed conflicts, and relevant customary international law.
In relevant part, humanitarian law forbids deliberately harming
civilians and other persons no longer taking part in hostilities,
including wounded. It also establishes specific rules on the conduct
of hostilities to minimize unnecessary suffering.
provisions prohibit violations of the right to life, torture and
other inhuman and degrading
treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention, and unfair trials. They
also provide for the rights to the protection of the home and family,
and particularized protection of children in times of armed conflict.
Persons under the control of government in an internal armed
conflict must, in all cases, be treated in accordance with
international humanitarian law, which incorporates important human
Violations of international humanitarian and human rights law
provide for personal criminal liability for those individuals found
in breach of their prohibition. Human rights abuses committed as part
of a widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population
are crimes against humanity.
In sum, international human rights laws prohibit the arbitrary
deprivation of life and, at all times, torture and other cruel,
inhuman or degrading treatment.
At their core, a fundamental principle of international
humanitarian law is that parties to a conflict must distinguish
between combatants and civilians, and may not deliberately target
civilians or civilian objects.
Protocol II states, in no uncertain terms, “civilian
population and individual civilians shall enjoy general
protection against the dangers arising from military operations.”
They are not to be the object of attack and all acts or threats of
violence with the primary purpose to spread terror among the civilian
population are prohibited.
Customary international humanitarian law prohibits attacks
directed against civilian objects, such as homes and places of
worship. Protocol II specifically
bans attacks, destruction, or removal of objects indispensable to
the survival of the civilian population including food-stuffs,
agricultural areas, crops, livestock, drinking water installations
and supplies, and irrigation works. Pillage
or plunder – the forcible taking of private property – is also
punishments are prohibited
under international humanitarian law in all circumstances. The
on collective punishments applies not just to criminal sanctions
against persons for actions for which they do not bear individual
criminal responsibility but, also, “all sanctions and harassment of
any sort, administrative, by police action or otherwise.”
Article 4 of Protocol II also sets out the fundamental guarantees
of humane treatment, which explicitly includes a prohibition on
collective punishments, acts of terrorism, and pillage.
the International Committee of the Red Cross on Protocol II and
customary international law make clear that these articles leave no
room for reprisals
in non-international armed conflict.
With respect to individual responsibility, serious violations of
international humanitarian law include the mistreatment of persons in
custody and deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian property,
and when committed with criminal intent amount to war crimes.
intent requires purposeful or reckless action. Individuals may
also be held criminally liable for attempting to commit a war crime,
as well as assisting in, facilitating, aiding or abetting a war
crime. Responsibility may also fall on persons ordering, planning, or
instigating the commission of a war crime. Even in the absence
of a formal state policy, commanders and civilian leaders may be
prosecuted for war crimes as a matter of command responsibility when
they knew or should have known about the commission of war crimes and
took insufficient measures to prevent them or punish those
The Israeli Punishment… Continued
In Palestine the use of collective punishment began long ago
through a rampage of indiscriminate bombings, kidnappings, arson and
random shootings that targeted civil society. After the establishment
of Israel, population displacement and exile turned upwards of eighty
percent of the indigenous community into stateless refugees. Ethnic
cleansing was then well underway.
In the years since the Irgun became the IDF, collective punishment
has become very much the norm as the Israeli military has routinely
embraced mass murder and reprisal as a strategic weapon of choice in
Gaza. Wholesale destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, houses of
worship and essential infrastructure has become very much the
wretched political norm in Israel.
At the same time, Israel has imposed an embargo on the import of
necessary food, medicine, water, and reconstruction materials and
placed a stranglehold on a once flourishing maritime industry while
reducing movement in and out of Gaza to a trickle. Beginning more
than a decade ago, these steps were imposed against the entire civil
society of Gaza as punishment for its political will and for the
lawful resistance acts of the few.
Although qualitatively different, collective punishment in the
occupied West Bank is no less pernicious, every bit as illegal and,
beyond question, another conscious step by Israel to strip millions
of occupied people of their indigenous identity and rights in
violation of international law.
As in Gaza, there is no shortage of evidence of Israel’s
decade’s old systematic attack upon the civil society and
institutions of the occupied West Bank. As in Gaza, ultimately, all
Israeli policies there are driven by the subterfuge of necessity.
Whether it is forced population displacement or the ever present
dividing walls and checkpoints or a dozen other illegal military
sanctions, Israel punishes some two and a half-million civilians for
the drive of their political will or the legitimate military
resistance of the relatively few.
Simply put collective punishment at its worst.
Thus, since the occupation began in 1967 mass
incarceration has become the norm with more than 800,000
Palestinians from the West Bank imprisoned. Almost all have been
denied any modicum of due process and were prosecuted, tried and
convicted by military tribunals. Jews living in the Occupied
Territory are, of course, prosecuted in civil courts and receive the
full panoply of their civil criminal rights.
Most of the 800,000 were charged on the basis of unreliable secret
evidence. Using the talisman of “security,” those imprisoned over
the years include many tens of thousands prosecuted for little more
than their politics beliefs, or their speech, association or
Prisons come in many forms. There are those with cellblocks and
bunks and others with walls and checkpoints which keep those at
liberty nonetheless prisoner to their plight. Throughout the West
Bank these walls and checkpoints not only limit movement and
illegally divide families into crafted segregated communities, but
deny students equal education and the frail and infirm quality
Throughout the occupation mass displacement of indigenous
communities, including those of Bedouin families and neighborhoods,
in East Jerusalem that date back millennium, have been undertaken or
razed to accommodate illegal settlements.
To date, more than 800,000
settlers reside in the West bank with much of it now annexed in clear
violation of international law. Often Muslims, and increasingly
Christian Palestinians, are denied the right to exercise their
religious beliefs due to their age, through embargoes on travel or
closure of Mosques or churches due to “security”
… including the Al Aqsa Mosque and compound. It has become common
place for settlers or Israeli soldiers or police to attack Al Aqsa
causing damage to the third holiest site in Islam or casualties,
including death, to those in prayer.
During other periods, East Jerusalem has been hard hit by Israeli
“security” steps… including dozens of military checkpoints and
concrete roadblocks at entrances to various neighborhoods and
internal community roads causing great disruption to the lives of
several hundred thousand Palestinian residents.
Typically, as an adjunct to such neighborhood closures, policing
operations are undertaken in which thousands of residents, of all
ages, are stopped, searched and questioned for nothing more than
living on a given street. More than a few reported abusive encounters
with Israeli police and soldiers including sexual harassment either
by comments or physical contact.
These measures, which arbitrarily targeted large segments of the
East Jerusalem population, bear no nexus to the commission of attacks
that had occurred earlier, elsewhere, in East Jerusalem. As a result
tens of thousands of Palestinians had their rights to freedom of
movement, access to healthcare and to maintain their standard of
living unreasonably disrupted.
While many of these restrictions have been lifted, some
neighborhoods continue to suffer from on-going and severe access
restrictions as well as abusive policing operations. Overall,
these arbitrary security measures have adversely impacted the local
and whole Palestinian economies and reduced employment opportunities
to a community already suffering from high rates of joblessness.
On occasion, entire villages or towns have been sealed off in the
West Bank because of military operations, once again unrelated to
local acts of violence, thereby disrupting the lives and livelihoods
of their residents. These measures constitute prohibited
Elsewhere, other Palestinians have not been so “fortunate” as
to merely suffer from checkpoint harassment on their way back home.
Punitive home demolitions have long been a mainstay of the Israeli
military targeting the families and relatives of Palestinians
allegedly involved in attacks, even in the absence of any evidence
that the families had any prior knowledge of, or participated in,
them. Although intermittent, these demolitions have destroyed dozens
of homes leaving several hundred Palestinians homeless… including
almost one-hundred children.
Punitive demolitions of Palestinian homes also violate a number of
core human rights including the right to an adequate standard of
living, the right to family life, the right to freedom of movement
and physical and mental health.
Although the practice eventually reached the Israeli High Court,
it was upheld on the basis that the destruction was necessary on
“deterrence and security grounds.” It was not the first time the
Court ignored well-settled international prohibitions against
collective punishment and if history is, indeed, the guidepost of
what is yet to come… it will not be the last.
What greater crime can there be than to steal a child’s smile…
to snatch their hope, health and happiness. Yet, today, that
heartless theft has become so much the norm throughout the world.
Neither warrior, nor foe, they have become the soft side of hard
hearts that embrace collective punishment as the sure path to
In the last three months alone, 23 Palestinian children have been
murdered by Israeli snipers; their crime… the audacity to march for
a dream. Just last week, in Yemen, 40 children lost their future to a
bomb dropped on a school bus by a Saudi Jet supplied by a US company.
Last year 50,000
Yemini children lost their lives to a measured more twisted death,
one caused by starvation or disease through an embargo that has long
denied its civil population food, medicine and water. In Syria it is
estimated children are one out of every four who have lost their
lives to bombing campaigns of the United States and Russia. Tens of
thousands of others have been killed by guns and ground explosives.
Greater than four
hundred thousand Rohingya children now live in refugee camps in
Bangladesh, fleeing genocide in Myanmar. Thousands are orphans…
many of them work in the sprawling sex trade having been greeted in
their flight by utter poverty and rape.
This is the face of collective punishment in all its horror. Our
collective future lost to our failed past.
Battered and bruised, more than a hundred and fifty years ago,
some in the community of nations began to ponder the madness that had
long consumed non combatants for the folly of a fight that was not
theirs to pick.
In the midst of the mayhem that was the US Civil War, the nascent
Red Cross began to speak of humanitarian relief. In Europe, others
stunned by seeming decades of on-going, widespread conflict began to
explore the plight of the wounded.
From this discussion grew the Geneva Convention of 1864.
Other conventions and protocols were soon to follow ultimately
extending to the protection of civilians in enemy and occupied
territories. Known simply as a ban on collective punishment, it was
to be the wishful panacea that would protect most of the world from
the ravage of the few. It has failed.
To walk down these roads from afar is a painful journey as so much
a witness to events and places that have unfolded with tragic eyes
before us, but not nearly as difficult and destructive as it has been
for those who have lived it.
We of exceptional position, whether born of race, opportunity or
mere providence, are witness today to an unprecedented attack on the
most vulnerable among us… millions lost to the callous crosshairs
of dispute and despair, some age-old, others of recent vintage.
Long ago, at the opening of the war crimes tribunal at Nuremberg,
a simple question was posed that remains no less probative or
powerful today than it was more than seventy years ago:
“Under the law of all civilized peoples, it has been a crime
for one man with his bare knuckles to assault another. How did it
come that multiplying this crime by a million, and adding fire arms
to bare knuckles, makes it a legally innocent act?”
Prohibition of collective punishment is the long settled law of
the international community. Yet it remains very much but a
tease… a sanction without a herald.
It is a message lost to the powerful. But as we approach the
midnight of our shared fate there is still time for it to become our
If not… we are all doomed, deserving victims to our own
More articles by:Stanley
L. Cohen Stanley L. Cohen is lawyer and activist in
New York City.