Saturday, December 27, 2008

Is trying to bomb an elected government out of power democracy or terrorism?

There’s a theory among ‘political scientists’ (an oxymoron if there ever was one) that one democracies don’t go to war on one another. If you needed evidence against this ‘scientific law’ then Israel’s continuing attempt to overthrow the democratically elected Hamas government by bombing and starving the whole population of Gaza provides another example of the fact that there are no scientific laws of politics.

Hamas incidentally were not only elected by Gazans but by Palestinians in the West Bank too – but the Israeli and Egyptian governments succeeded in carrying out a coup that put Fatah in sole power in the West Bank. In Gaza however Hamas gunmen defeated Fatah (gunmen armed by Israel and Egypt). Yet this is widely referred to as having been a Hamas ‘coup’. Both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Ishmail Haniyeh were democratically elected in elections declared free and fair by international obsevers, including EU delegations. Abbas is the leader of the Fatah party – which the late Yasser Arafat led. Haniyeh is a senior Hamas leader. Yet the Israeli, US, Russian, British and Chinese governments only recognise Abbas and Fatah as the Palestinian government and refuse to recognise Haniyeh or Hamas. Abbas has even appointed a new (unelected) government made up of Fatah members to replace the elected Hamas ones in the West Bank – which is against both the Palestinian constitution and the basic principles of democracy. Yet other governments and the media still refer to these appointees as Palestinian ministers. (click here for details and sources)- and also see here.

For decades Israel’s government condemned Arafat and Fatah as terrorists who could not be negotiated with. Since Hamas won the January 2006 Palestinian elections the Israeli government have referred to Fatah gunmen as ‘the forces of peace’. While claiming that they can’t negotiate with Hamas because some groups linked to it continue rocket and mortar attacks on Israelis they continue to negotiate with Abbas and Fatah – despite the Israeli foreign ministry’s own website listing killings of Israelis by armed groups linked to Fatah. after January 2006 (see e.g entries for November 19th 2007 and January 24th 2008 and three in July and August 2006 on killings of Israelis by Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade ) (1).

The reason is pretty obvious. The Israeli government aren’t trying to get peace – they’re trying to divide and conquer Palestinians – with help from the US government. (click here for details and sources).

Israeli spokesman Mark Regev, interviewed on the BBC’s News 24 today, claimed that the whole world had condemned Hamas’ ending of the ceasefire – omitting to mention that the Israeli government stated days before that it had never signed up to the ceasefire itself - which just goes to show that rewriting history is a never ending process. Israeli forces continued kidnappings and killings of elected Hamas MPs and indiscriminate bombing of Gaza just as much as Palestinian armed groups continued theirs against Israeli settlements. Both kill civilians – the only difference being that Israeli forces’ weapons are much more powerful so kill far more. Despite Israeli claims that they do everything to avoid civilian casualties the Israeli human rights group B’T Selem and others have reported every year that at least half the Palestinians killed by Israeli forces are unarmed civilians – and many are children (2). (also see here and here and here for more details and sources).

Regev said his government had ‘tried everything’ to end rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinian terrorist groups. Well that’s not quite true is it Mark? You’ve not tried talking to Hamas, even after dozens of offers of negotiations from Hamas. You’ve not tried accepting they’re the government the Palestinian people elected in 2006 – in fact your government has refused all talks with Hamas from the start and attempted to overthrow the government they elected by force or by trying to get Palestinians to replace them themselves to stop your own government continuing to kill them by the hundred through a combination of bombing and starvation.

(For anyone who claims Israel is supplying Palestinians with enough food perhaps they could explain why food shortages in Gaza under the Israeli blockade have become so bad that the UN Relief and Works Agency reports that many Palestinians are now forced to search through rubbish dumps for food. No doubt the reply will be the standard, unconvincing ‘it’s entirely Hamas’ fault and nothing to do with the Israeli government’. (3))

We have a word for it when we’re attacked by people who kill our civilians and soldiers in order to try to get our elected government to change its policy or else be replaced. We call it terrorism.

The most dishonest thing about the campaign to overthrow the elected Palestinian government is the pretence that the Israeli campaign aims to replace them with moderates in order to allow peace.

Did bombing Palestinians to try to get rid of Arafat and Fatah result in a government more acceptable to Israelis when Israel under Yitzakh Shamir, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon tried it for decades? Of course not. It hardened Palestinians’ attitudes, the same way Palestinian terrorist attacks move Israeli politics to the right – and brought Hamas to power – just as the September 11th and July 7th bombings shored up support for unpopular governments and their unpopular foreign policies in the UK and the USA.

Anyone who tells you that continuing Israeli ‘military action to defend our civilians’ will have a different result and bring peace is incapable of learning from experience or else dishonest. Decades of Israeli raids and bombings have only continued the cycle of Palestinian and Israeli ‘revenge’ attacks killing each others’ civilians.

If they’re dishonest the plan may be to ensure there can be no negotiations with a representative Palestinian government – to divide and conquer Palestinians and ensure Palestinians elect a government even more extreme than Hamas, with the plan being that then Israel can pretend its justified to bomb and starve enough Palestinians to force the rest into exile. Then Israel can take back Gaza and – more importantly – the West Bank, with its abundant water supplies and farm land – both almost as highly valued as oil in the deserts of the Middle East.

So if it’s ok to bomb and starve Palestinians in order to try to force them to replace those elected members of its government Israelis aren’t happy with then what would the Israeli government response to other governments recognizing the Israeli President but refusing to recognise its Prime Minister and cabinet ministers be? What would it be if they also kidnapped Israeli cabinet ministers and MPs or killed them? And if it killed a lot of other Israelis, including civilians in the process? Wouldn’t that be terrorism?

Hamas certainly has an armed wing and some of them are involved in terrorism. The Israeli government also has an armed wing though – its military – and it and many current and former Israeli Prime Ministers, cabinet ministers and MPs have been involved in war crimes against civilians, including , in the case of Ariel Sharon for instance, deliberate massacres. There is no entirely right or entirely wrong side here.

More attacks by either side only strengthen support for extremists on each side and weaken those who want to negotiate – people who favour negotiations exist even in Hamas – like the elected Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

Both Israelis and Palestinians have a right to elect their own governments and to have those governments recognized. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians should die as punishment for what their government has done. It’s time our governments stopped their unquestioning support for Israel and recognized the government Palestinians elected too.

The plain fact is that trying to bomb an elected government out of power won’t bring peace – it’s terrorism and will only create more terrorism by the other side.

Source notes

(1) = Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs ‘Victims of Palestinian Violence and Terrorism since September 2000’,

(2) = B’T Selem press release 3 March 2008: Contrary to Israel's Chief of Staff, at least half of those killed in Gaza did not take part in the fighting,

(3) = Observer 21 Dec 2008 ‘Israeli blockade 'forces Palestinians to search rubbish dumps for food'’,

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Asking For It?

De Menezes coroner tells jury they can't deliver a verdict of Unlawful Killing - and that Jean Charles may have been asking for it

The coroner in the inquest into the death of Jean Charles De Menezes, shot in the head without a warning by armed police according to the only impartial eyewitnesses, has told the jury in the inquest that they cannot return a verdict of Unlawful Killing based on his interpretation of the evidence, which seems to be largely the version of events given by the police involved - and one which conflicts with that of all other eyewitnesses.

He gives the opinion that anyone disagreeing with him is basing their opinions on "emotional reactions" rather than the "evidence". That's a very very subjective and emotive claim given the evidence.

It's fairly clear that the coroner has an emotional bias towards the police involved. Perhaps he's been won over by the extensive emotional displays by officers giving evidence, some crying while doing so?

They claim they shouted a warning to De Menezes that they were armed police and not to move before opening fire. Every other eyewitness present says there was no warning. The police have a fairly obvious motive for lying. What exactly is the motive of all the other eye-witnesses who were on the tube at the time? What possible motive would they have to lie?

The coroner explained that a verdict of unlawful killing could only be justified if some police officers were guilty of the murder or manslaughter of De Menezes and that the evidence shows they weren't. I'll accept it wasn't pre-meditated murder. It was too incompetent to have anything much pre-meditated about it - and that it wasn't voluntary manslaughter for the same reasons. It could well however be manslaughter as a result of gross negligence and carelessness in English law, not necessarily by or solely by the officer who actually fired the shots, but by him and his superiors to different degrees.

The coroner then goes one further by offering one possible cause of De Menezes' death which he will graciously allow them the option of choosing. This cause would be the actions of De Menezes himself - echoing police officers who claimed that De Menezes' actions caused them to believe he was a suicide bomber.

What actions were these exactly? Living in the same block of flats as the suspect and happening to leave while the lone observing officer was taking a piss? Getting on a bus? Getting on the tube? If those are accepted by the inquest as actions that could lead police to think someone was a suicide bomber who should be shot we should all be just as afraid of the police as we are of suicide bombers because we'll all be at risk of being shot in the head any time we go on public transport.

De Menezes certainly did not vault the barriers at the tube station as police spokesmen claimed to the press. Both eyewitnesses and CCTV cameras showed that was a lie - which increases the probability that the claim about a shouted warning was a lie too. Then there was the lie about wires coming out of Menezes' jacket - which, again, was shot down by non-police eye-witnesses.

Whether the policeman who fired the fatal shots is responsible or not is an open question. What isn't an open question is that the entire operation was a farce run incompetently with vague orders given by superiors like 'stop him', without specifying where or how. A lone officer was assigned to surveillance of the block of flats where one of the actual suspects lived so that he couldnt say whether the person leaving the flats was the suspect or not when he went for a piss. Is it acceptable to kill someone just in case without any actual reason to think they were a suicide bomber?

No-one as yet has been sacked or had to resign over this example of gross negligence and incompetence resulting in the death of an innocent person - which means that people who aren't competent to make life and death decisions are still making them and the same could happen again at any time. Sir Ian Blair is gone - but not because of the lies he repeated about De Menezes death, but because his own great and inflated dignity could not bear the thought that he might not have absolute control over the Metropolitan police - that he would be "in office but not in power" in his words.

Cressida Dick, the officer who gave the "stop him" order, should be sacked. Whoever allowed only one officer instead of a pair to be assigned for surveillance should be sacked.

De Menezes was allowed to get on a bus but then shot when he got on the tube. What does that tell you about the competence of the people involved when the July 7th bombings they claimed to be trying to prevent a repeat of blew up both a bus and a tube train?

And can we trust armed officers to judge whether its necessary to open fire or not when, according to all other eye-witnesses' accounts, they've lied repeatedly about the events? If the officers involved had told the truth then perhaps it should only have been Dick who should have gone. Since they've shown their own dishonesty they should go too though.

As for the coroner his own emotional reaction is crystal clear - he wants every police officer of every rank cleared to avoid upsetting any of them, whether that risks more deaths through their lack of competence at their current jobs in future or not.