Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Scottish people must have their say on what additional devolved powers we choose from - not just to take or leave a package deal cut by big parties - Smith Commission on Additional Devolved Powers Submission

Thank You

First I’d like to thank you for giving the people of Scotland this opportunity to have a say on what additional devolved powers Scotland needs.


Need for additional devolved powers decisions not to be just a deal between party leaders
that the Scottish people can only take or leave

While I was a Yes campaigner, I recognise that the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2014 showed the majority of people in Scotland wanted additional devolution or “devo max” as an option in the vote, and always thought this should have been an option people could have voted for (1).

As Lord Ashcroft’s post referendum poll found 25% of No voters said they had voted No primarily because Scotland would get additional devolved powers, and assuming the vast majority of Yes voters will back additional powers too, a majority of Scottish voters of somewhere around 58% want more devolved powers (25% of the 55% who voted No would be 13.75% of all voters. The 45% of voters who voted Yes plus 13.75% would be 58.75%) (2).

While the various Scottish and British political parties, pro and anti-independence,  each have their own positions on what the additional powers should be, and clearly have to have input into the final decision, the Scottish people must also get a major part in making this decision.

It should not be reduced to just being given a Yes or No vote on  a package the parties agree among themselves to offer us. It should include the wider public getting to decide which options the whole country will choose from. Additional devolved powers are a more complicated issue than independence and cannot be reduced to a Yes or No without taking much of the say from the public.

Another Scottish Constitutional Convention? Elected this time?

One month is a very short period for such a consultation. I’d argue that the next stage should be a longer consultation period to a new Scottish Constitutional Convention elected by Single Transferrable Vote (STV) , allowing for candidates from smaller parties, and representatives of Scottish society who don’t represent any party, to be involved in drawing up the options (3) – (4).

STV allows voters rather than party officials to rank candidates in order of preference, and ensures that no one’s vote is “wasted” by going to a candidate who is not elected. It allows voters to vote positively for the candidate or party they support most, rather than just negatively to try to keep the large party they dislike most out of power (5).

While an elected constitutional convention would take longer to put proposals for additional devolved powers together, due to the time required to elect it, those options would be more likely to reflect the views of the whole population rather than just a deal cut between the leaders of the largest political parties.

While the Electoral Reform Society and the British Labour Party propose a UK Constitutional Convention this would risk become bogged down in disputes that can’t be resolved like English Votes for English Laws; as well as whether further devolution in England should happen at all, and, for those who want it, whether it should be to an English parliament or regional ones (6) – (8).

There is no reason why additional devolved or federated powers for Scotland should not be decided separately to ensure they are not delayed indefinitely.


How the Scottish people , rather than just political parties, can be given a real say on further devolved powers even if there isn’t another Scottish constitutional convention

Even if another Scottish Constitutional Convention is not formed though, the Scottish people’s views can still be taken into account. First through public consultations like this one. Second by looking at opinion poll results on what powers people in Scotland think should be devolved (though bodies accepted as neutral by all parties would have to be given a remit to conduct polls, as what results polls come up with depend on what questions are asked and how they’re phrased).

Finally by making the final referendum on the proposed additional powers a multi-question one with voters able to approve or reject each major additional power or group of them, rather than just a single Yes or No question to approve or reject all of them.

Opinion polls since the referendum already show majority support for devolution of welfare policy and budget to the Scottish parliament and government, as well as pensions, corporation tax and VAT (9).

These polls show that the public want far more powers devolved than the main two UK parties plan. Other polls during the referendum campaign showed that two-thirds of voters did not know what additional powers these parties were offering in the event of a No vote (10).

If the actual powers delivered are a disappointment to the majority of people in Scotland another independence referendum is likely within 5 to 6 years (or sooner if the UK leaves the EU).

Labour politicians have raised reasonable concerns about this leading to competitive reductions in corporation tax across the UK, reducing tax revenues. While such competition does already take place between countries, it is arguably unhelpful (11).

There is no reason, though, why the UK government could not continue to set the rates for these taxes, while the  majority of revenues from them went directly to the Scottish government, assuming the majority of domestic governmental powers were devolved to the Scottish government.


Each devolved power must include full control of the budget for that policy area – and devolving the politically sensitive income tax alone would be merely party political manoeuvring and unacceptable

All devolved powers must include power over the budget for that power, or else the power has been devolved in name but not in reality.

It also has to be emphasised that the plans for limited additional devolution amounting to little more than powers over income tax plus a “proportionate” cut in the devolved Scottish budget by the Labour and Conservative party leaderships are dubious and may well be motivated by an attempt to gain party political advantage over the SNP (12) - (14).

Income tax is the tax most reported on by the media, most noticed by the electorate and so most politically sensitive. As a result UK governments have for decades avoided any rise in the basic rate of income tax. A devolved budget cut plus income tax powers would seem to be a trap set for the Scottish government, forcing it either to raise the most unpopular of taxes or cut services.

(I’d add that I’m not an SNP member and have stood (and lost my deposit repeatedly) as an independent candidate in more than one election).


Why many No voters will have expected full federalism based on Brown’s statements.
Why full federalism is practical for Scotland in the UK.

Gordon Brown MP, the former UK Chancellor and Prime Minister, greatly influenced the result of the referendum and the establishment of your own commission. However his opinions should not over-ride the views of the majority of the people of Scotland any more than any other politician’s. The terms he used are also likely to have given most people the impression that he and the UK party leaders were offering considerably more devolution than he or those party leaders actually plan to.

During the referendum campaign Mr Brown claimed that a No vote would result in “as close to a federal state as you can be in a country where one nation is 85 per cent of the population” and “nothing less than a modern form of Scottish Home Rule” (15) – (16).

While ‘devo max’ has never been clearly defined and ‘Home Rule’ similarly has no universally accepted definition, it’s likely that most people would see these phrases as meaning the same as federalism - the devolution of almost all domestic policy – full control of the budget and policy making for domestic policy – i.e everything except foreign and defence policy. While the degree of devolution of powers in existing federal systems like the US, Germany and Switzerland varies, it is high in every case.

As close to a federal state as you can be in a country where one nation has 85% of the population” would imply the maximum level of devolution as in Germany and Switzerland. While there are some grey areas on what is foreign policy and what is domestic policy (international trade policy etc) which would be matters for negotiation, the majority is easy to define.

Mr Brown has implied that as Scotland has less than 10% of the population of the UK this precludes full federalism as “majority rule” must be maintained.

Earlier this month he stated thatYou see, in the United Kingdom, England is about 84% of the United Kingdom. Scotland’s 8%, Wales is 5%, Northern Ireland’s 3%. And you’ve got to find a fair distribution of power that recognises the majority rule but also recognises the minorities and that they have special needs that have to be met.” (17).

This concern with maintaining “majority rule” is doubtful for two reasons. First existing federal systems include states with massively different populations, of far greater orders of magnitude than the differences between Scotland and England.

In 2010 Perlis, the smallest state in Indonesia, has a population of under 250,000 people, while Selangor, the largest, has a population of over 5 million – a ratio of about 20 to 1 between the largest and smallest states, double the roughly 10 to 1 between England and Scotland (This does not include the smaller federal territories which are not states) (18).

Bremen, the smallest state in Germany has a population of around 660,000 compared to over 17 million for North-Rhine Westphalia, a ratio of 25 to 1  (19).

Eight states of the U.S had an estimated population of under 1 million in 2013 and another two populations of only just over 1 million, while California has a population of 38 million, a ratio of over 38 to 1 between smallest and largest (20).

In any case it is likely that if the UK became a federal state England would be split into several regions with populations of a similar size to Scotland’s, as Gordon Brown himself has suggested, making the relative populations of the different nations in the UK irrelevant, as the devolution would probably not be only on the basis of nations, but regions of England (21).


Why “majority rule” does not exist in the UK,
Would not be particularly democratic if it did,
And is not a barrier to full federalism

Second “majority rule” is a doubtful definition of democracy in the UK . First, due to the unrepresentative First-Past-The-Post voting system for UK General Elections, most UK governments have not had a majority of the votes cast. Most have had large majorities of seats in the UK parliament, sometimes even over 60% of the seats, while getting only 39 to 48 per cent of the vote (22) – (26).

The current Coalition government is the only one in the last 66 years which was elected by a majority of voters, but it has also failed to represent the majority of voters in many ways (e.g by Nick Clegg MP breaking his main election pledge on tuition fees and in letting private companies run more NHS services despite public opposition – and by e.g the fact that many Lib Dem voters would have preferred them to form a coalition with Labour, or leave the Conservatives to run a minority government by not forming any coalition).

So majority rule is the exception rather than the rule in UK politics. It is usually largest minority rule, but with that minority behaving as if it had a huge majority of the votes cast for every policy it implements, when in fact it has the support only of the largest minority, and on some policies, which were not brought up in the party’s election campaign or its manifesto, not even that.

Second defining democracy as “majority rule” would lead to many undemocratic implications. In Northern Ireland “majority rule” under “Home Rule” led at one point to the Protestant, Unionist majority being given free reign implement policies that disadvantaged the Catholic minority.

Third “majority rule” is a dubious definition of democracy. Is it democratic if a small majority completely over-rule the wishes of a large minority, or even if, as more often happens in UK politics, the largest minority completely over-ride the wishes of the majority?

Surely real democracy involves everyone having an equal say, not winners and losers?

Finally defining “majority rule” as the defining democratic principle of the UK would mean that on every important matter the opinions, wishes and interests of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish minorities would remain irrelevant. On every issue the majority in England would over-rule them. Scotland has just 59 MPs out of 650 in the UK parliament. Frequently a majority of Scottish MPs will vote the opposite way to the majority of English MPs on an issue. As the Reverend Stuart Campbell has shown on his ‘Wings Over Scotland’ blog, MPs elected in Scotland have only changed the results of UK elections four times since 1945, and in each case only marginally (27).

The House of Commons Library blog has largely confirmed Campbell’s analysis, finding that the overall result of all but four of the 18 UK General elections since 1945 would have been the same with or without MPs elected in Scotland (28).


Need for the power to regulate banks and other financial firms in Scotland

Scotland desperately needs the powers to regulate banks, hedge firms and other financial sector firms operating here in order to avoid another financial crisis and recession. We also need to stop banks foreclosing mortgages on the homes of taxpayers who bailed them out, and letting viable businesses collapse through refusal to even provide bridging loans.

If the British government was willing to effectively regulate the financial sector this would not be a problem, but UK governments of all parties have failed to even institute any law banning high street savings banks from also being involved in dubious “investment” banking (often effectively high risk bets like the trading in futures). Even the US had such a law, the Glass Steagall Act, gradually repealed in the 1980s and 1990s, with disastrous results more recently (29).

The Conservative party gets more than half its funding from banks and hedge funds. Predictably Chancellor George Osborne has not instituted a full legal separation on the types of banking, instead referring to ‘Chinese walls’,  ‘firewalls’ and ‘ring fences’ between the two arms of the same bank, which amount to the lack of a legal ban that would prevent another crisis (30) – (32).


Need for power to establish a nationalised national bank for Scotland
and local ones for local authorities

For similar reasons Scotland needs the power to set up a nationalised bank to provide secure savings for savers and low interest loans and grants to small and medium sized businesses, as well as the power for local councils to set up local government banks similar to the regional and local ones in Germany. The UK Labour party has said that it intends to establish something similar, but is not guaranteed to get a majority in the UK parliament for this after the next election.


Going beyond devolution to the Scottish parliament – the principle of subsidiarity

Some have pointed to the sizeable minority vote for the Conservatives in the 2010 General election (16% of the vote) and the election of a UKIP MEP in Scotland in the last European Parliament elections as signs that unionism and conservatism are stronger in Scotland than has been assumed.

This may be true, but they remain a minority. The Eurosceptics and pro-Europeans share one principle though – the idea of subsidiarity, that decisions should be taken at the lowest level possible for that kind of decision (33).

This would imply that if they wish to have more decisions taken by the UK government rather than the EU, they would have to approve the maximum devolution of powers from the UK government to the Scottish government, from it to local councils, and from local councils to community councils, too, based on the same principle (34).

If they want to do the first but none of the rest then they are clearly basing their decision not on democracy or subsidiarity, but blind nationalism, merely blind British nationalism rather than blind Scottish nationalism – and that is not a principle worth upholding, it’s not a principle at all.

The SNP’s tendency to want to centralise all the powers devolved to Scotland in the Scottish parliament equally needs to be challenged by the principle of subsidiarity, with both more powers transferred from the UK parliament to the Scottish parliament, from it to local councils and from them to community councils. This should include budgets and revenue raising powers.


Power to decide electoral system for the Scottish parliament – need to avoid changes made purely to maintain position of dominant parties

While the principle of devolving the power to decide the electoral system for the Scottish parliament to the Scottish parliament is a good one, care has to be taken that it does not give the two largest parties in Scotland – Labour and the SNP – the power to change it to a purely First-Past-The-Post system that would benefit them but be as poor in terms of democracy as the Westminster voting system. Several Labour MSPs have suggested in the past that the Holyrood voting system be changed to the supposedly “fairer” FPTP and referred to SNP list MSPs as having been “defeated” and as “sneaking into the Scottish parliament through the back door”. There has to be some suspicion that the Labour party proposals to devolve this power might be about party political advantage.

While the SNP has not made similar suggestions on changing the voting system to FPTP for Scottish parliament elections so far, it’s possible that, if they win most seats in Scotland in the 2015 General Election under FPTP, as polls suggest they could, they might be tempted to do so.

The current voting system , designed by Labour to prevent the SNP ever getting a majority, failed to do so. So it will not prevent Labour or the SNP from pushing through changes to the voting system made purely for party political advantage either.

One way to reduce this risk would to require a 66% majority in the Scottish parliament, followed by a referendum, to make any change in the voting system. The referendum could be held on the same day as the subsequent Scottish parliament elections to avoid voter fatigue or low turnout, and to reduce costs. Any resulting change in the voting system would not be made until the Scottish parliament elections after those.

On the other hand some senior Scottish Labour and Lib Dem figures have in the past suggested changing the voting system to Single Transferrable Vote, which could be a step forward from the current Additional Member System, so a balance has to be struck between making electoral reform possible, and blocking backwards steps taken for party political advantage (35) – (36).

However when the Single Transferable Vote was used for council elections in Scotland in 2012 and Labour lost seats to the SNP, some Labour MSPs, and the largely pro-Labour Daily Record, began to criticise the voting system as “too complicated” and claiming that the “over complicated” voting system had resulted in a reduced voter turnout, despite the turnout actually having been higher than in the previous council elections, and higher than in the 2012 council elections in England (37) – (38).

 This underlines the risk of big parties given the power to change the electoral system using it to change it to their advantage even if this reduces choice for voters.


Need for written constitution and constitutional court to define the division of powers between the Scottish and British governments – but section relating to Scotland does not need to wait on other nations and/or regions

Almost every federal system in the world has a written constitution defining what powers are held by the different levels of government, and a constitutional court to adjudicate disputed and grey areas.

This would be beneficial for a Scotland with devolved federal powers, but the complications and earlier stages of devolution to the rest of the UK do not need to delay Scotland getting additional powers.

The section of a written constitution relating to Scotland could be written separately and before those relating to other nations and/or regions of the UK.

Federalism rather than Devolution?

Devolution in the UK has involved asymmetric division of powers in which some policy areas are Reserved, with only the UK government able to legislate or make decisions on them, while others are Devolved to the Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish and London parliaments or Assemblies. The UK government however retains the power to legislate or make decisions even on devolved matters, with the limit that it only do so with the consent of the devolved parliaments being a “convention” rather than an absolute restriction. So far the UK government has not broken this convention, but most people in the devolved areas do not realise that it retains the power to do so (39).

In a Federal system the central government would not retain this power, with the division between regional/national and central government powers being absolute and symmetrical (i.e neither could encroach into the other’s specified policy area), other than for a few grey areas of joint responsibility.

I would argue that Scotland’s devolved powers should become policy areas in which the UK government cannot act or legislate without a majority vote in the Scottish parliament permitting them to do so on a specific issue, and similarly for devolved or federally divided powers in other regional/national parliaments and assemblies.



(1) = Scotsman 18 Feb 2014 ‘Scottish independence: Most Scots back ‘devo max’’,

(2) = 20 Sep 2014 ‘Scottish independence: poll reveals who voted, how and why’,

(3) = Wikipedia - Constitutional convention (political meeting) ,

(4) = Wikipedia – Single Transferable Vote,

(5) = Electoral Reform Society – Single Transferable Vote,

(6) = Electoral Reform Society Briefing 19 Sep 2014 ‘Time for a Constitutional Convention’,,%2019th%20Sep.pdf

(7) = Guardian 19/20 Sep (website/print edition)  ‘Labour proposes devolution settlement to 'shape own futures'’,

(8) = BBC 14 Oct 2014 ‘Hague and Brown clash over 'English votes for English laws'’,

(9) = STV 21 Sep 2014 ‘SNP on course to win third Holyrood term, according to new poll’, , (see 2nd last paragraph ‘A total of 80% of people questioned supported Scotland having control over welfare, with 62% saying it should be in charge of pensions. Almost three quarters (71%) of people back the devolution of income tax while 62% want to see Scotland get control of corporation tax and 61% say Holyrood should be in charge of VAT.’)

(10) = Sky News 17 Sep 2014 ‘Sky Poll: Scots Unclear Over No Vote Powers’,

(11) = Scottish Labour Devolution Commission March 2014 ,  all of it, but especially page 6,

(12) = See (11) above

(13) = Scottish Labour’s Devolution Commission Final Report March 2014 ‘Powers for a Purpose :

Strengthening Accountability and Empowering People’,

(14) = BBC News 9 Sep 2014 ‘Scottish independence: What new powers might Scotland get?’,

(15) = Scotsman 15 Aug 2014 ‘Gordon Brown backs federalism in event of No vote’,

(16) = Telegraph 08 Sep 2014 ‘Gordon Brown unveils cross-party deal on Scottish powers’,

(17) = Guardian 12 / 13 October ‘David Cameron ‘playing fast and loose’ with constitution, says Gordon Brown’,

(18) = Wikipedia - States and federal territories of Malaysia, , (Wikipedia states source as "Laporan Kiraan Permulaan 2010". Jabatan Perangkaan Malaysia. p. iv. Retrieved 24 January 2011.)

(19) = Wikipedia - States of Germany,

(20) = Wikipedia - List of U.S. states and territories by population , based on US Census Bureau reports and statistics,

(21) = Scotsman 15 Aug 2014 ‘Gordon Brown backs federalism in event of No vote’,

(22) = Electoral Reform Society – First Past the Post,

(23) = Political Science Resources – ‘British Governments and Elections since 1945’,

(24) = House of Commons Briefing Paper SN/SG/2632 (2010) ‘General Election results 1979 - 2010’, http://www.

(25) = David Butler (1989) ‘British General Elections since 1945’ Blackwell, Institute of Contemporary British History, London, 1989 ; Appendix I Election Results 1945 – 1987, pages 121 to 123

(26) = David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh ‘The British General Election of 1997’ MacMillan Press, London , 1997,  Appendix I The Voting Statistics, pages 254 to 255 (includes 1992 and 1997 election results)

(27) = Wings Over Scotland 10 Jan 2012 ‘Why Labour doesn’t need Scotland’ by Rev Stuart Campbell,

(28) = Second Reading - House Of Commons Library Blog 19 Jan 2014 ‘General Elections without Scotland, Part 1: 1945-2010’,

(29) = Wikipedia – Glass Steagall Legislation,

(30) = Bureau of Investigative Journalism 08 Feb 2011 ‘Tory Party funding from City doubles under Cameron’,

(31) = BBC 15 Jun 2011 ‘Banks must ring-fence retail operations, Osborne to say’,

(32) = Telegraph 21 Nov 2012 ‘Big banks are good for society, says George Osborne’,

(33) = Wikipedia – Subsidiarity,

(34) = The Scottish Government – Community Councils,

(35) = BBC News 27 Aug 2003 ‘Voting system change mooted’,

(36) = Electoral Reform Society – Additional Member System,

(37) = Daily Record 05 May 2012 ‘Local council elections 2012: Fears over turnout as numbers system puts off voters’,

(38) = Dr Alastair Clark, LSE Blog, 2012 ‘Scottish local elections in 2012 show that voters have understood the STV system and are not put-off by it’,

(39) = The Scottish Parliament - Devolved and Reserved Matters,

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Netanyahu’s government have been telling Israelis they’ll never give Palestinians their own state – and taking the world for mugs

You know how the Israeli government is meant to be in favour of allowing a Palestinian state? Read the quotes below and you’ll see that Netanyahu and every minister in his government have been saying the opposite to Israelis for years and taking the whole world for mugs.

(credit for finding all quotes except the first two goes to Rashid M, who quoted them in comments on this ABC news article)

'The uncertainties were swept aside on Friday afternoon, when the prime minister, for the first time in ages, gave a press conference on Day Four of Operation Protective Edge. He spoke only in Hebrew...He made explicitly clear that he could never, ever, countenance a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank…The priority right now, Netanyahu stressed, was to “take care of Hamas.” But the wider lesson of the current escalation was that Israel had to ensure that “we don’t get another Gaza in Judea and Samaria.” Amid the current conflict, he elaborated, “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”
Daniel Horovitz, Times of Israel 13th July 2014 quoting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s press conference of 11th July, which was conducted entirely in Hebrew

(Note that Netanyahu and most of his Likud party opposed removing the Israeli settlements from Gaza. Judea and Samaria is the biblical name used by all Israeli governments for the West Bank)

I think we made a mistake with land for peace…The conflict is not about the establishment of a Palestinian state. It’s about the existence of a Jewish national home.”
Moshe Ya’alon, Israeli Defense Minister, 10th June 2014

I will do everything in my power, forever, to fight against a Palestinian state being founded in the Land of Israel.
- Naftali Bennett, Israel's Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor, January 2013.

In this way, we will try, slowly but surely, to expand the circle of settlements, and to afterwards extend the roads that lead to them, and so forth. At the end of this process, the facts on the ground will be that whatever remains [of the occupied West Bank] will be merely marginal appendages… - Yariv Levin, Coalition Chairman in the Knesset for Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling Likud Party, January 2013.

"One thing must be clear: A Palestinian state is not the solution. The state of Israel made a harsh mistake when it created the impression that it is prepared to accept two states for two nations. ”- Uzi Landau, Israeli Minister for Tourism, May 2013.

This is our land, and it’s our right to apply sovereignty over it. Regardless of the world’s opposition, it’s time to do in Judea and Samaria [the occupied West Bank] what we did in [occupied East] Jerusalem and the Golan.” - Ze'ev Elkin, Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel, July 2012.

We are opposed to a Palestinian state... [Netanyahu's declaration of support for a Palestinian state at Bar-Ilan University was] a tactical speech for the rest of the world. ” - Tzipi Hotovely, Deputy Minister of Transportation, December 2012.

The Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. We oppose a two-state solution.” - Avi Wortzman, Deputy Minister of Education, February 2013.

All the military and infrastructural targets will be attacked with no consideration for ‘human shields’ or ‘environmental damage’. It is enough that we are hitting
exact targets and that we gave them advance warning. Gaza is part of our Land and we will remain there forever. Liberation of parts of our land forever is the only thing that justifies endangering our soldiers in battle to capture land. Subsequent to the elimination of terror from Gaza, it will become part of sovereign Israel and will be populated by Jews. This will also serve to ease the housing crisis in Israel.
” – Op-Ed by Moshe Feiglin, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party, July 15 2014.

How is this any different from Hamas spokespeople who repeatedly tell foreign journalists and politicians that they back a two state solution, while telling their own people that they will never give up an inch of the former Mandate of Palestine?

There is one way it’s different. Hamas don’t have even 1% of the military power to destroy Israel, but Israel has more than enough military power to make every Palestinian they don’t kill into a stateless refugee.

The  blockade on Gaza and refusal to negotiate with the entire elected Palestinian government – Hamas and Fatah – are about creating a never ending war with Hamas to distract the world’s attention from the fact that Israel doesn’t intend to ever give up an inch of the West Bank, ever allow Palestinians the same rights Israelis have.

How can any politician believe any longer that the Israeli government has any moral superiority over Palestinian groups’ leaders? Every government should be demanding that Israel provides Palestinians with either their own sovereign state in the West Bank and Gaza, or else provides all Palestinians with full and equal citizenship in a single binational Jewish and Arab state.


Saturday, August 02, 2014

Israel’s blanket “our enemies are hiding behind civilian human shields" excuse covers up the Israeli military's deliberate targeting of civilians

Summary : Israel’s story about every civilian killed being the fault of their enemies is shown false by neutral investigations into every war it has ever fought. While some civilian deaths are collateral damage, evidence from every human rights groups' investigations shows Israeli forces also often target unarmed civilians, even when no fighting is going on.

Over three thousand Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli forces since 2000, but only 6 Israeli soldiers jailed for killing civilians since 2000, the longest sentence being 7 months.

History shows that “hiding among civilians” is not the tactic of the morally worse side but the worse armed one. The Zionist militias that later became the IDF used it against the British military in the 1920s to 1940s and two of the three main Zionist militias also targeted civilians in terrorist bombings.

There’s an endless repetition by Israeli government and military spokesmen that Hamas are responsible for the death of every civilian killed by Israeli forces in Gaza because they are “cowards” who “hide behind civilians”, using them as “human shields”, while Israeli forces supposedly “do all they can to avoid civilian  casualties”.

In fact Israeli forces have always done a fair amount of targeting civilians during wars and even when there is no fighting going on – just as much as their enemies have targeted Israeli civilians.

The 1948 War

In the 1948 Israeli “War of Independence” Israeli forces operated Plan D, which involved massacring Palestinian fighters and civilians alike in towns across the former Mandate of Palestine in order to terrify as many of them as possible into fleeing into neighbouring countries, before refusing to allow them to re-enter the country.

The historical evidence for this has been given in great detail by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe in his book ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’, by Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi in his book ‘The Iron Cage’ and by American academic Norman Finkelstein, both of whose parents were holocaust survivors, in his book ‘Beyond Chutzpah’.

Operation Defensive Shield 2002

The propaganda line about Israel’s enemies causing all civilian deaths was used in 2002  in ‘Operation Defensive Shield’ when Israeli forces carried out an offensive in Jenin and Nablus in the West Bank. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Israeli human rights group B’TSelem found many of the 497 civilians, including 70 children, killed, were killed by Israeli bulldozers destroying their homes, or shot in the street by Israeli forces, including firing on ambulances and ambulance crews and killing a disabled man in a wheelchair.  Israeli soldiers also used Palestinian civilians as human shields by forcing them to walk ahead of them (1) – (6).

The 2006 Lebanon War and parallels with Gaza today

After the 2006 Lebanon War, Human Rights Watch found Hezbollah hadn’t fired rockets from villages Israel attacked, as Israeli spokesmen had claimed, but from hills several miles away. It also found Israeli forces targeted clearly marked ambulances across the country (7) – (8).

In the Lebanon War, as in Gaza today, the Israelis made a great show of warning civilians to leave areas where “terrorists were operating”. Leaflets were dropped across the whole of Southern Lebanon ordering the entire population to leave for Northern Lebanon. Many had no cars to travel the distance fast enough. Many of those who did have cars were too scared to use them since Israeli forces were already bombing civilian vehicles, roads and bridges.

After this Israel’s Justice minister Haim Ramon announced that “All those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah”. More intense bombing and drone strikes began, resulting in many civilian deaths, including the 2006 Qana massacre, which bore great similarities to the 1996 Qana massacre also committed by Israeli forces (9) – (11).

In Gaza today the same warning propaganda is used. Leaflets are dropped ordering civilians to leave one area, but wherever they go there are Israeli attacks. They can’t leave Gaza as Israeli forces prevent anyone leaving into Israel or by sea.

The border with Egypt is closed, as Hamas are allies of the elected Muslim Brotherhood government which the Egyptian military overthrew.

Israeli forces also target the family homes of members of Palestinian militant groups for destruction (often killing entire families in the process). This makes
many Gazans scared to leave their own neighbourhood, in case they end up being killed in an Israeli strike on the home of a militant who they didn’t know lived there (12) – (16).

The 2008/2009 Gaza “War” – Operation Cast Lead

The  “human shields” propaganda was recycled by Israeli spokespeople again in the 2008 to 2009 Gaza war (‘Operation Cast Lead) , which, like the current war, was more of a one-sided massacre. Amnesty found Israeli forces killed hundreds of civilians, many where there was no fighting, some in their homes, others ambulance crews. It said many couldn’t be “collateral damage”. Human Rights Watch found multiple cases of unarmed civilians waving white flags shot where no fighting was happening (17) – (19).

Only two Israeli soldiers have ever been charged, prosecuted and jailed for their actions in Operation Cast Lead and neither on charges of deliberately killing civilians. One was given 45 days for “illegal discharge of a weapon” (into a Palestinian civilian woman and her daughter, killing her). Another got 7 months for stealing a credit card. (20) – (22).

Targeting civilians Even When There’s No Fighting

Even when there’s no fighting anywhere, Israeli soldiers regularly kill Palestinian children and teenagers who are unarmed, some in their own homes, playing in the street, or throwing stones when protesting against the occupation in the West Bank as much as in Gaza. 

This included two 16 year olds killed in May by Israeli forces. Another Palestinian teenager was among the eight Palestinians killed so far in West Bank protests against Israeli killings of civilians in Gaza. In the case of the first two the Israeli military came out with three different stories to try to deny the facts – that Israeli forces had not fired live ammunition (disproven by the autopsy), that CCTV video of the shootings showing Israeli forces fire on them had been edited (disproven by Israeli human rights group B’TSelem’s analysis of the video), and that Palestinian gunmen had shot the two boys (with zero evidence whatsoever) (23) – (28).

For a list of Palestinians killed in the West Bank in the last 5 years and the circumstances see this page from Israeli human rights group B’TSelem (currently offline to people outside Israel due to a cyber-attack on its website, almost certainly by the Israeli government or military) (29).

From 2004 to 2005 British and Palestinian doctors and journalists in Israel and the occupied territories, along with B’TSelem, found a disturbing number of Palestinian children being killed by Israeli sniper fire to their heads and chests in their homes, in school or playing in the street (30) – (34).

Israeli soldiers later confirmed they had often been given orders to fire on any Palestinian they saw in the occupied territories, armed or unarmed, in their own homes or outside them (35) – (36).

Not one Israeli soldier has been jailed or even discharged from the army over any of these killings.

Human Rights Watch reports that “Since September 2000, Israeli forces have killed more than 3,000 Palestinians who did not participate in hostilities in the West Bank and Gaza, according to B’Tselem’s data. But the military justice system has convicted only six Israeli soldiers for unlawfully killing Palestinians, with seven-and-a-half months as the longest jail sentence, according to Yesh Din, another rights group.” (37).

Gaza Today - Operation Protective Edge

By 3.00 pm Israeli time on the 1st of august Palestinian armed groups had killed 3 Israeli civilians and 59 soldiers (all the soldiers having died since the Israeli ground offensive into Gaza began), while Israeli forces had killed around 500 armed Palestinians and over 900 civilians including 286 children (38).

There have been attacks on civilian targets including strikes on over 100 UN buildings, including schools and aid depots, several attacks on every hospital in Gaza, hundreds of attacks on the family homes of members of Palestinian armed groups, as well as the family homes of Palestinian doctors with no links to any armed group (e.g Dr Nasser El Tatar), TV stations, and Gaza’s only power station (39) – (41).

A reporter from the UN’s Channel 4 news in Gaza saw Israeli forces open fire with small arms and artillery on Palestinian civilians during the short-lived 7th July ceasefire when the civilians attempted to return to their homes and farms to check on them  (42).

If an isolated Israel was genuinely fighting for its survival against heavily armed Palestinian forces, or had suffered many deaths from rocket fire, at least some of the civilian casualties caused in Gaza, those which were the result of collateral damage and not deliberate targeting, might be more understandable.

But in fact Israel has thousands of the most advanced tanks, fighter jets, armoured personnel carriers, drones and helicopters in the world, while the Palestinian armed groups have some light arms including rocket propelled grenades and mortars. They also have some inaccurate rockets – mostly pretty much “home made”, but some longer ranged Chinese or Iranian made ones.

Israel also has the whole of NATO plus Egypt and Jordan as allies. The Palestinians have only Iran.

History shows hiding among civilians is the tactic of the worse armed side,
not the morally worse side

Jewish resistance fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto wore no uniforms and hid in the middle of a city, because they had only light arms against a heavily armed military – and because, much like Gaza under blockade, there was nowhere else they could go.

The Zionist militias during the British Mandate of Palestine in the 1920 to 1940s, like the Irgun and Lehi, whose members later became part of the Israeli military, used not only the urban guerrilla tactics used by the Haganah, but also terrorist attacks against both British and Arab civilians. These initially poorly armed militias were fighting the much better armed British military.

Far from being outcasts in the new state of Israel, members of these groups became senior members of the Israeli military and government. Menachim Begin, a former commander in the Irgun, became the Israeli Prime Minister at the time of the Sabra and Shatila massacres. Yitzakh Shamir, a Lehi leader, also went on to become Prime Minister.

So before Israelis had their own state, when they were up against much better armed enemies, they behaved exactly the same way Palestinians do in the same situation, up against the massively better armed Israeli Defence Forces. The supposed moral superiority of Israel’s leaders and military over Palestinian political leaders and armed groups is mythical.

(1) = BBC 18 Apr 2002 ‘Jenin 'massacre evidence growing'’,

(2) = Amnesty International 2002 ‘Israel and the Occupied Territories
Shielded from scrutiny: IDF violations in Jenin and Nablus’,

(3) = Human Rights Watch May 2002 ‘Jenin: IDF Military Operations’,

(4) = UN 2002 ‘Report of the Secretary-General prepared pursuant
to General Assembly resolution ES-10/10’, ; On the 497 Palestinians killed on the Operation see Paragraph 37 Section E;
For figures from Physicians for Human Rights see Paragraph 57

Palestinian Testimonies , Soldiers’ Testimonies’,

(6) = B’Tselem Mar 2002 ‘Impeding Medical Treatment and Firing at Ambulances
by IDF Soldiers in the Occupied Territories’,

(7) =HRW 06 Dec 2007 ‘Why They Died : Civilian Casualties in Lebanon during the 2006 War’

(8) = HRW 19 Dec 2006 ‘The “Hoax” That Wasn’t : The July 23 Qana Ambulance Attack’,

(9) = BBC News 27 Jul 2006 ‘Israel calls up army reservists’,

(10) = See (7) above

(11) = Human Rights Watch (1997) ‘ISRAEL/LEBANON "OPERATION GRAPES OF WRATH" The Civilian Victims’,

(12) = Human Rights Watch 09 Jul 2014 ‘Palestine/Israel: Indiscriminate Palestinian Rocket Attacks - Israeli Airstrikes on Homes Appear to be Collective Punishment’,

(13) = Human Rights Watch 16 Jul 2014 ‘Israel/Palestine: Unlawful Israeli Airstrikes Kill Civilians’,

(14) = Amnesty International 11 Jul 2014 ‘Israel/Gaza: UN must impose arms embargo and mandate an international investigation as civilian death toll rises’,

(15) = B’TSelem 09 Jul 2014 ‘Bombing family homes of activists in armed Palestinian groups violates international humanitarian law’,

(16) = Guardian 22 Jul 2014 ‘Gazans flee Israeli bombardment – into the path of more bombs’

(17) = Amnesty 02 Jul 2009 ‘Impunity for war crimes in Gaza and southern Israel a recipe for further civilian suffering’,

(18) = Amnesty UK 02 Jul 2009 ‘Gaza conflict: First comprehensive report says both sides committed war crimes’,

(19) = Human Rights Watch 13 Aug 2009 ‘White Flag Deaths  - Killings of Palestinian Civilians during Operation Cast Lead’,

(20) = Ynet news (Israel) 11 Aug 2009 ‘Soldier who stole credit card during Gaza op jailed’,,7340,L-3760488,00.html

(21) = BBC News 13 Aug 2012 ‘Israeli ex-soldier cleared of Gaza manslaughter charge’,  ‘Court approves plea bargain for soldier charged with ‘Cast Lead’ manslaughter’, ‘Israeli prosecutors have dropped a manslaughter charge against a former soldier in connection with the deaths of a Palestinian woman and her daughter during the offensive on Gaza in 2009. But the sergeant was jailed for 45 days after being convicted of unlawful use of a firearm in a separate incident as part of a plea deal, his lawyer said.’

(22) = Haaretz 12 Aug 2012 ‘IDF soldier sentenced to 45 days for death of mother, daughter in Gaza war’,

Paul Mason’s blog ‘In the midst of Gaza’s bloody ‘truce’’,  , ‘As we drove back, on the road north to Gaza City, you could see the dust of Israeli tanks in the distance. Three times shell fire came close enough to the main road to smell the cordite…. what I saw followed a fairly consistent pattern: shelling into farmland where Palestinians were trying to return, and aimed small-arms fire at civilians.

(23) = AP 15 May 2014 ‘Two Palestinians shot dead by Israeli troops in West Bank’,

(24) = Guardian 21 May 2014 ‘Video footage indicates killed Palestinian youths posed no threat’,

(25) = Guardian 13 Jun 2014 ‘Palestinian boy's autopsy: wounds consistent with live ammunition’,

(26) = Guardian 23 May 2014 ‘Footage of Palestinian boys being shot is genuine, says Israeli rights group’,

(27) = Guardian 26 Jul 2014 ‘Gaza violence spreads to West Bank with six Palestinians reportedly killed’,

(28) = Sydney Morning Herald 28 Jul 2014 ‘Palestinian toll tops 1000 as Israel ceasefire called to recover Gaza dead’, (see last two paragraphs on 8 Palestinian protesters killed and 250 wounded by Israeli forces in West Bank)

(29) = B’TSelem ‘Palestinians killed in the West Bank since the end of Operation Cast Lead’

(30) = Guardian 20 May 2004 , ‘Palestinian doctors despair at rising toll of children shot dead by army snipers’,,,4928224-103552,00.html

(31) = Guardian 28 Jun 2005, ‘Snipers with children in their sights’,2763,1516362,00.html

(32) = Derek Summerfield ‘Palestine – The Assault on Health and Other War Crimes’, British Medical Journal 16 October 2004

(33) = BT’Selem eyewitness testimonies – IDF soldier shoots and kills a 14 year-old boy playing with his friends, in Tubas, north of Nablus, January 2005 - witness Abu Muhsen -

(34) = BT'Selem eyewitness testimonies - IDF soldier shoots and kills a 14 year-old boy playing with his friends, in Tubas, north of Nablus, January 2005 - witness Daragmeh -

(35) = Guardian 6 Sep 2005, ‘Israeli troops say they were given shoot-to-kill order’,,1563476,00.html

(36) = Guardian 6 Sep 2005, ‘Israeli soldiers tell of indiscriminate killings by army and a culture of impunity’,,,1563255,00.html

(37) = Human Rights Watch 03 Aug 2014, ‘Israel: Shooting Deaths after West Bank Protest - Evidence Points to Unlawful Killings by Israeli Forces ’,

(38) = UNocHA Occupied Palestinian Territory: Gaza Emergency Situation Report (as of 1 august 2014, 1500 hrs),

(39) = UN News Centre 31 jul 2014 ‘UN, US announce Gaza parties agree to 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire’,

(40) = Guardian 14 Jul 2014 ‘A knock on the roof, then another Gaza home destroyed by Israeli missile’, , ‘A mile or so from Alaa Hadeedi's house…Dr Nasser Tatar, director general of Gaza's largest medical facility, the Shifa hospital, is examining the ruins of his own house …"The IDF called my nephew with a 10-minute warning saying that they planned to destroy my house... I got my family out …they hit my house with a rocket and then a second’

(41) = Guardian 30 Jul 2014 ‘Gaza's only power plant destroyed in Israel's most intense air strike yet’,

(42) = Channel 4 News Blogs – Paul Mason 01 Aug 2014 ‘In the midst of Gaza’s bloody ‘truce’’,