Israel is “every bit as repellent” as Bin Laden, says The Guardian

April 22, 2002


1. "It's time to snap out of Arab fantasy land" (By Mark Steyn, National Post, April 18, 2002)
2. "The battle for the truth" (Leader, Guardian, April 17, 2002)
3. "There was no massacre in Jenin" (Editorial, Ha'aretz, April 19, 2002)
4. "MP accuses Sharon of 'barbarism'" (Guardian, April 17, 2002)
5. "Can Tom Paulin be serious?" (Guardian, April 17, 2002)
6. "Parallel universes" (Guardian, April 17, 2002)
7. "Analysis: Evidence of Israeli contempt for Geneva convention" (Guardian, April 17, 2002)


[Note by Tom Gross]

In a rare column in the European press, Rod Liddle writing in the London Guardian, acknowledges that Jewish concerns about anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism might be correct.

Liddle writes that he has been shaken out of his "Wasp-ish complacency. I'd been inclined to dismiss as paranoid repeated complaints from British Jews that there was a new mood of anti-Semitism abroad: I was wrong."

He writes that people in the UK "generally from the left, who, when cross-examined about their opposition to what they call Zionism, reveal a dark and visceral loathing of Jews. There is a theory, loosely based on Freud, that the left's demonisation of capitalists was simply a displaced anti-semitism; and it's true that the old communist caricatures of big businessmen were almost identical to the Nazi depiction of the 'filthy Jew,' with his business suit, venal expression and relentless appropriation of other people's money. But the whole thing seemed too neat, too glib a theory, to be convincing. But I can see the displaced anti-semitism at work in the catch-all, ill-defined term "anti-Zionism".

The full article (which isn't particularly good) can be read at,3604,685552,00.html

While The Guardian should be given credit for printing Liddle's article, less anyone suppose that it has changed the general hostile tone of its coverage, the four headlines in that same day's edition of The Guardian read:

Israel faces rage over 'massacre'
Disaster zone hides final death toll
MP accuses Sharon of 'barbarism'
Evidence of Israeli contempt for Geneva convention

The lead editorial in that day's Guardian says the Israeli fight with gunmen in Jenin is "every bit as repellent" as the attack on the world trade center on September 11. It says "Jenin already has that aura of infamy that attaches to a crime of especial notoriety."

Further down this email is the full editorial followed by quotes from members of the British parliament denouncing Ariel Sharon "as a war criminal" who was "staining the Star of David."

The Guardian's claims and tone are mirrored in many other European newspapers, such as the Independent (UK) which calls Jenin "a monstrous war crime."

I also attach an editorial from Israel's leading liberal newspaper, Ha'aretz, titled "There was no massacre in Jenin."

Before that is a piece by Mark Steyn in the (Canadian) National Post.

-- Tom Gross



It's time to snap out of Arab fantasy land
By Mark Steyn
The National Post (Canada)
April 18, 2002

So what do you think of this Israeli "massacre" at the Jenin refugee camp?

"All British officials tend to become pro-Arab, or, perhaps, more accurately anti-Jew," wrote Sir John Hope-Simpson in the 1920s wrapping up a stint in the British Mandate of Palestine. "Personally, I can quite well understand this trait. The helplessness of the fellah appeals to the British official. The offensive assertion of the Jewish immigrant is, on the other hand, repellent." Progressive humanitarianism, as much as old-school colonialism, prefers its clientele "helpless," and, despite Iranian weaponry and Iraqi money and the human sacrifice of its schoolchildren, the Palestinians have been masters at selling their "helplessness" to the West.

Odd, isn't it? The Americans are routinely accused of being (in Pat Buchanan's phrase) Israel's amen corner. But Washington is at least prepared to offer the odd, qualified criticism of Sharon. The rest of the world, by contrast, is happy to parrot Yasser's talking points without modifying a single semi-colon. In the last month, I've found as many Jew-haters on the Continent as in the Middle East, but the difference is that the Arabs are fierce in their hatred, no matter how contorted their arguments, while the Europeans are lazy, off-hand Jew-haters – they don't need arguments, they're happy to let the Arabs supply the script. Thus, the extraordinary resolution this week by the UN Human Rights Commission which accuses Israel of many and varied human rights violations, makes no mention of suicide bombers, and endorses the movement for a Palestinian state by "all available means, including armed struggle" – i.e., terrorism. The resolution could have been drafted by the Arab League or the PLO. Forty of the 53 nations on the Commission approved it, including six EU members: Austria, Belgium, France, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. Only five countries could summon the will to vote against: Britain, Canada, Germany, the Czech Republic and Guatemala. (The U.S. is not a member of the HRC, having been kicked off by a coalition of Euro-Arab schemers.)

This is only the most extreme example of how the less sense the Arabs make the more the debate is framed in their terms. For all the tedious bleating of the Euroninnies, what Israel is doing is perfectly legal. Even if you sincerely believe that "Chairman" Arafat is entirely blameless when it comes to the suicide bombers, when a neighbouring jurisdiction is the base for hostile incursions, a sovereign state has the right of hot pursuit. Britain has certainly availed herself of this internationally recognized principle: In the 19th century, when the Fenians launched raids on Canada from upstate New York, the British thought nothing of infringing American sovereignty to hit back – and Washington accepted they were entitled to do so. But the rights every other sovereign state takes for granted are denied to Israel. "The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews," wrote America's great longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer after the 1967 war. "Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem ... But everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab ... Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace. Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world." Thus, the massive population displacements in Europe at the end of the Second World War are forever, but those in Palestine a mere three years later must be corrected and reversed. On the Continent, losing wars comes with a territorial price: The Germans aren't going to be back in Danzig any time soon. But, in the Middle East, no matter how often the Arabs attack Israel and lose, their claims to their lost territory manage to be both inviolable but endlessly transferable.

So even the so-called "two-state solution" subscribes to an Arafatist view of the situation. Creating yet another fetid Arab dictatorship in the West Bank would be, technically, a "three-state solution" and, indeed, a second Palestinian state, Jordan, whose population has always been majority Palestinian. It was created in the original "two-state settlement" 80 years ago, when the British partitioned their new Mandate of Palestine, carving off the western three-quarters into a territory called "Transjordan" and keeping the surviving eastern quarter under the name "Palestine." They did this for two reasons: First, they needed to stop one of the Hashemite boys, Abdullah, from marching on Syria and the best they could come up with was to halt him in Amman and suggest he serve as interim governor; but secondly, Churchill, as Colonial Secretary, thought the fairest way to fulfill Britain's pledges to both Arabs and Jews during the Great War was by confining Zionists to a Jewish National Home west of the Jordan and creating a separate Arab entity in Palestine east of the Jordan. The only thing he got wrong was the names: If instead of inventing the designation "Transjordan," he'd just called the eastern territory "Palestine" and the west "Israel" (or "Judah"), the Arafatist claim would be a much tougher sell.

The Zionists have been trading "land for peace" ever since the Great War, and the result is they've got hardly any land and less peace than ever before. As early as 1921, Chaim Weizmann wrote to Churchill protesting the ever shrinking borders of the potential Jewish homeland. To the north, Britain had surrendered traditionally Palestinian land to France in fixing the Mandate's border with Lebanon and Syria and, by giving the eastern three-quarters to Abdullah, had removed the rich fields of Gilead, Moab and Edom. The 1947 UN Partition took more land – a partition of the previous partition – but the Zionists accepted it. In 1993, Oslo was the biggest gamble yet, the creation of a mini-fiefdom for their bloodiest enemy. The "Palestinian Authority" was an unlikely bet for a state but, from Arafat's point of view, it would make an ideal launch-point from which to kill Jews in the very heart of their tiny sliver of territory.

Other than that, what's the point? I'm sure the Middle East can always use another squalid corrupt dictatorship, but at the very least it ought to be a viable squalid corrupt dictatorship. An Arafatist squat on the West Bank and Gaza would be insufficient. If Israel is, to the French, a "shitty little country," this would be littler and shittier. Therefore, Arafat would seek to augment it with territory from either west or east, Israel or Jordan. The likelihood is that he'd be able to destabilize Jordan far more quickly than he could destroy Israel. If it's a choice between an Arafat sewer straddling the Jordan River or the Hashemites, I know which I'd prefer.

Israel should take what it needs of the West Bank for a buffer, round up every terrorist it can, and announce that the Jordanians are welcome to what's left. If King Abdullah doesn't want it and chooses to call in the UN blue helmets in perpetuity, so be it. But the last eight years should have taught Israel that it cannot live within its 1967 borders next to a thug statelet whose sole purpose is to liquidate it. The Arabs have succeeded in luring the West into their bizarro alternative universe, where land lost by a foolish king is mysteriously transformed into the personal property of a terrorist organization, where the "armed struggle" of wired schoolgirls is UN-approved, and where the "right to exist" is something to be negotiated. Fantasy land is fun, but we've encouraged the Arabs in their peculiar dementias for too long. It's time to get real.



The battle for the truth
What really happened in Jenin camp?
The Guardian
April 17, 2002

Jenin camp looks like the scene of a crime. Its concrete rubble and tortured metal evokes another horror half a world away in New York, smaller in scale but every bit as repellent in its particulars, no less distressing, and every bit as man-made. Jenin smells like a crime. The stench of decaying flesh, of dead bodies left to rot or buried unabsolved under collapsed buildings greets those aid workers and reporters who manage to gain access. What cruel deficit of pity denies those who died the benefit of departing grace? Jenin feels like a crime. No sentient person can sift this evidence of broken lives and homes; witness the dry-eyed children, their minds shocked and twisted beyond words; look upon the detritus of a frugal, refugee existence – tin plates in a kitchen sink, cheap bathroom tiles, abandoned sleeping mats – turned into ownerless rubbish by bullets, bulldozers and rockets; and not demand an urgent reckoning. Jenin already has that aura of infamy that attaches to a crime of especial notoriety. The story of Jenin, as yet still half-told, is set to live on in memory and myth, as nightmare and as heroic apocalypse, gaining a separate existence and significance in the history of the Palestinian struggle. As the leading peace campaigner, Uri Avnery, points out, Jenin, like the Jews' Massada, could be the stuff of legend upon which dreams are built, informing, defining (and perhaps warping) the consciousness of the emerging Palestinian nation state.

Such myth-making and nation-building hardly formed a part of Ariel Sharon's plan when he sent his soldiers into Jenin. But nor is it entirely proper to portray the camp battles, in which still unknown numbers of people were killed or wounded, as victories for either side, moral or otherwise. Both are losers; and if the leaders of the "international community" had been more resolute Mr Sharon would have been no more able to mount his West Bank invasion than Hamas would have been allowed to pursue its suicidal attacks. Yet while Mr Sharon's talent for wanton destruction has once again proved deeply counter-productive, is he also guilty, as the Palestinians claim, of a heinous and exceptional crime? In short, what really happened inside Jenin?

The world needs to know. To that end, Jenin must be treated like a crime scene, investigated without delay, before the evidence disappears or is destroyed. The UN human rights commission has ordered an inquiry led by Mary Robinson. Israel and the Palestinians should cooperate fully – and even if they cannot agree a general ceasefire, in Jenin at least the truce must hold. The EU's aid commissioner says Israel breached the 1949 Geneva convention by blocking the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Jenin. Israel must ensure that all restrictions on aid agency and media access are lifted forthwith. These and other aspects of its behaviour in Jenin in respect of civilian rights, treatment of prisoners and the disposal of bodies must also be investigated – as should Israeli claims that Palestinian gunmen used civilians as human shields.

The world needs to know what really happened in Jenin if only to be better equipped to stop it happening again. Both Israelis and Palestinians need to know, because more disinformation, more denial and lies, and yet more tragic myth-making only feed the hatred and deepen the divide. Most of all perhaps, the children of Jenin need to know. The future of this land, if it still has one, lies with them. To deny them the truth would be yet another crime.



There was no massacre in Jenin
April 19, 2002

The claim that there was a "massacre" in the Jenin refugee camp has been taken up by many news media around the world, human rights groups and even among many governments. This claim, originally made during the height of the fighting in the refugee camp, reverberates with gravity, seriously damaging Israel's political campaign to justify its self defense against terror and the legitimacy of the means it is using in that campaign.

In Israel, too, suspicions were raised that there was truth to the Palestinian claims. Many feared that Jenin would be added to the black list of massacres that have shocked the world. The IDF contributed to those fears when it issued a preliminary estimate of hundreds of dead in the camp (it turned out that several score were killed, with the exact number still unknown) and by blocking journalists from entering the camp to report what was happening inside. That was an invitation to another charge, also widely reported, of an alleged cover-up.

In recent days, journalists – including Ha'aretz reporters – have visited the camp, gathering their own first-hand impressions and eyewitness testimony about the IDF's operations. Ha'aretz reporter Amira Hass spent several days in the camp, and her report appears in today's pages. There is evidence of intense combat, but, with appropriate caution, it can already be said what did not happen in the Jenin refugee camp. There was no massacre. No order from above was given, nor was a local initiative executed, to deliberately and systematically kill unarmed people.

In Israel of 2002, there is practically no way to cover up atrocities. Testimony by commanders and fighters in Jenin, many of whom were civilians called up into reserves for the purpose of the operation, as well as testimony by those who observed the events through various means refute the claims of a massacre. The fighting was intense, as could be expected in built-up areas, and especially against the background of rapid Israeli successes in other areas, particularly the Nablus casbah. Armed Palestinians shot, blew up and mined houses and alleyways. The soldiers, who had difficulty progressing, used bulldozers and suffered heavy losses – 23 soldiers were killed. Under such circumstances, civilians were also harmed. That is a terrible, sorrowful fact, resulting from the nature of the fighting, and in some specific cases there should be an examination to determine whether everything necessary was done to prevent civilian casualties. But declaring the fighting in Jenin a "massacre" is a mistake on the part of the naive, and a slander by others.

Palestinian propagandists have made perverse use of legends that, in part, were invented outside Jenin. Leading these propagandists were officials of the Palestinian Authority who issued baseless charges of "executions," fanning the flames of hatred against Israel. The readiness of international elements, including the heads of the European Union, to accept the Palestinian version without question, is testimony to their character, to Israel's fragile situation and to Ariel Sharon's negative image.



Yesterday in Parliament
MP accuses Sharon of 'barbarism'
All sides condemn West Bank incursions
By Nicholas Watt
The Guardian
April 17, 2002

The veteran Labour MP and prominent Jewish parliamentarian, Gerald Kaufman, yesterday launched a ferocious attack on the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, denouncing him as a "war criminal" who was staining the Star of David.

Speaking in a Commons debate on the Middle East crisis, in which MPs from across the house condemned Israel's incursions into the West Bank, Mr Kaufman likened Mr Sharon's tactics to the actions of Zionist terrorists in Palestine in the 1940s.

In an emotional speech, in which he described himself as a lifelong friend of Israel, the former shadow foreign secretary said: "Sharon has ordered his troops to use methods of barbarism against the Palestinians ... It is time to remind Sharon that the Star of David belongs to all Jews and not to his repulsive government. His actions are staining the Star of David with blood. The Jewish people, whose gifts to civilised discourse include Einstein and Epstein, are now symbolised throughout the world by the blustering bully Ariel Sharon, a war criminal implicated in the murder of Palestinians in the Sabra-Shatila camp and now involved in killing Palestinians once again."

To nods of approval from MPs, Mr Kaufman condemned Palestinian suicide bombers. But he added that it was important to ask why Palestinians resort to such tactics. "We need to ask how we would feel if we had been occupied for 35 years by a foreign power which denied us the most elementary human rights and decent living conditions."

Mr Kaufman then likened the suicide bombers to the Zionist Irgun and Stern gangs, which launched a series of terrorist attacks in Palestine in the run-up to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

"We need to ask what the Jews did in comparable circumstances," he said. "In 1946 the Irgun controlled by Menacham Begin blew up the King David hotel in Jerusalem, slaughtering 91 innocent people. In 1948 the Palestinians denounced what they described as a massacre in the village of Deir Yassin ... The difference between the Deir Yassin massacre and what happened in Jenin is that Deir Yassin was the work of terrorist groups denounced by mainstream Jewish groups. The horrors in Jenin were carried out by the official Israeli army."

A Blair loyalist, Mr Kaufman warned that Mr Sharon's conduct had made it impossible for Britain and the United States to take action against Iraq. "To do so would unite the whole Muslim world against the US, the coalition against terrorism would disintegrate, western economies could suffer a shock comparable to the oil shock of 1973."

Mr Kaufman's attack on the Israeli government were echoed across the chamber. The former Tory cabinet minister, John Gummer, said that a fundamental distinction should be drawn between the actions of the Israelis and that of the Arabs.

"Israel is a state, with the trappings of a state which claims the legitimacy of a state and the more that it rightly claims that legitimacy, the more it has to be judged by the standards of a state and the standards of democracy," he said.

Amid such a serious Middle East crisis it was irresponsible of Washington to take such a tough stance against Iraq, Mr Gummer warned. He criticised the "kind of approach that says that we judge what is in our self-interest and our self-defence and thereby can do anything we like, irrespective either of international law or the UN or indeed frankly of the evidence before us".

Ann Clwyd, the Labour backbencher who has just returned from a visit to the Jenin refugee camp with the UN, said the EU should consider economic sanctions against Israel. Apologising for her croaky voice, caused by dust from Israeli tanks, she said it was not enough for European countries to "simply bleat condemnation".

Ms Clwyd added: "They need to withdraw European ambassadors from Israel. They need to impose an arms embargo as Germany has already done, and they should consider what economic sanctions can be put in place."



Can Tom Paulin be serious?
By Rod Liddle
The Guardian
April 17, 2002

There is a wonderful phrase in Arabic which I would like to share with you, if I may: "Ayoha al-motsaeb, al satheg, al-fahesh, al-makhodo'a!"

Beautifully alliterative, isn't it? Roll it around your tongue a while. Shout it at the neighbours – if you feel so disposed – and see if the dogs bark and the caravans move on.

It means "naive, deluded, self-righteous, egregious bigot". But it sounds much better in Arabic and any journalist, you might think, would be proud to write it on the page.

So it is a mystery, then, why the respectable Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram decided instead to describe Tom Paulin simply as an "intellectual". Perhaps they thought my phrase contravened the journalistic convention of neutrality – but then, "intellectual" is hardly a neutral phrase either, as it implies that Paulin is generally in the habit of – at the very least – thinking about stuff before he opens his mouth.

Paulin was interviewed by Al-Ahram about the situation in the Middle East. Among other things, he opined that the US-born Jewish settlers should be shot dead. "They are Nazis, racists," he said, adding – unnecessarily, you might argue – "I feel nothing but hatred for them."

He also pronounced that the state of Israel had no right to exist, that Tony Blair's government was "Zionist", and that the suicide bombers were an expression of "deep injustice and tragedy". However, he advised that more conventional guerrilla warfare would, tactically, stand a greater chance of success than murdering busloads of civilians – an approbation which, I'm, certain, convinced young Palestinian militants in Jenin and Hebron and Ramallah to reluctantly unbuckle their explosive belts and settle back down in front of the television.

I know that the Middle East is a crisis in which so many of us feel impotent and bereft of answers; we blunder around blindly in search of help or guidance. And I suppose, like the famous chimp at the typewriter who will, given infinity, produce by random chance, Macbeth, we, in our infinite bewilderment, will, by the same procedure, eventually end up with Paulin as our mentor or pedagogue. Maybe this is why Al-Ahram approached him.

Or perhaps I've got it all wrong and, over in Egypt, Paulin is revered as a sage and a prophet and his views frequently sought out. The only way to find out for sure was to ring Al-Ahram and ask them.

Except that, at Al-Ahram in Cairo, they'd never heard of Paulin. "Don't know him. Is he a person?" I was asked, mysteriously. They told me to ring the London office and track down the interviewer, Omayma Abdel Latif.

But they hadn't heard of Paulin in London, either. "Who's he?" they said, again. They'd heard of Omayma, though, which was promising. Omayma's based in Oxford, where she's studying at the university, they explained.

Ah, well, now we have either a coincidence or a possible answer to our conundrum. Because Paulin lectures in 19th- and 20th-century literature at Oxford University, a post from which, some have argued, he should be removed for his latest intemperate opinions.

Perhaps they met in one of those fragrant cloisters, Paulin brimming with fury, Omayma desperate for a bit of copy. Omayma hasn't returned my call just yet so we will simply have to wonder about the fortuitous meeting which resulted in so much outrage.

Anyway, I forwarded to Al-Ahram a list of names of alternative Middle East pundits should they, one day, tire of Paulin. Lee Bowyer, Dale Winton and Kelly Brook were my top three. I also offered them 800 words on why the Egyptian government are corrupt and incompetent jackanapes, but, oddly, this semi-official newspaper demurred. "We publish things when they are based upon hard facts, not just, how can I say, bad feeling." Oh yeah?

Still, the Paulin business shook me out of my Wasp-ish complacency. I'd been inclined to dismiss as paranoid repeated complaints from British Jews that there was a new mood of anti-semitism abroad: I was wrong.

Paulin will undoubtedly claim that his remarks are not anti-semitic, but merely anti-Zionist. He may even believe that himself. So might the others, generally from the left, who, when cross-examined about their opposition to what they call Zionism, reveal a dark and visceral loathing of Jews.

There is a theory, loosely based on Freud, that the left's demonisation of capitalists was simply a displaced anti-semitism; and it's true that the old communist caricatures of big businessmen were almost identical to the Nazi depiction of the "filthy Jew", with his business suit, venal expression and relentless appropriation of other people's money. But the whole thing seemed too neat, too glib a theory, to be convincing.

But I can see the displaced anti-semitism at work in the catch-all, ill-defined term "anti-Zionism". And if you doubt it look at Paulin's words – not the stuff about the rights of Palestinians, which we might all agree with – but, quite simply, in this: "hatred" and "shot dead".



Parallel universes
Most of the world sees Palestinians as the victims, but in Israel and the US events are given a different meaning
By Jonathan Freedland
The Guardian
April 17, 2002

Of all the stories and testimonies emerging from the ruins of Jenin, one detail, picked up by the Guardian's Suzanne Goldenberg, captures completely the strange tragedy unfolding in the Middle East. It does not convey the horror wrought in that West Bank town, nor the suffering of its victims. But it says everything about why this disaster is happening.

Goldenberg describes a line of graffiti, written in "neat blue ink", on a wall in the home of Aisha Salah. She is a Palestinian whose house was seized by Israeli soldiers, for use as a base of operations. Before they left, one of them took up his pen and wrote on the wall: "I don't have another land."

That was no spur of the moment doodle. That is a phrase ingrained in the Israeli, and wider Jewish, consciousness. Ein Lee Eretz Acheret is even the title of a favourite Hebrew folk song, the kind of standard that will be performed at countless Israeli Independence Day celebrations later today.

That simple, almost apologetic phrase, "I have no other land" expresses how Israelis and Jews see themselves in this conflict – as a victim nation, exiled, dispossessed and desperate for their own home – and how far apart that is from the way almost everyone else sees them. It goes to the heart of the strange truth about the current conflict: that the two sides are living in parallel universes, where the same set of facts has two entirely different meanings depending where you stand.

Palestinians are clear on what they see. They are the victims of an aggression so brutal it has shocked even them, a people who have suffered so much. In the Battle of Jenin, as Palestinian national myth will no doubt come to know it, they have seen a town shaken and upended as if by man-made earthquake: homes sliced, whole blocks flattened and reduced to rubble.

The streets are strewn with corpses, and there are more underneath the wreckage. Palestinians say bodies were piled up and taken away in trucks; that men were lined up, thinking they were under arrest, and shot; that homes were hit by helicopter gunships even as civilians cowered inside. Among the dead are the elderly and the very young, left to die, it is said, because no ambulance was allowed to get near. For Palestinians, Jenin 2002 is a tragedy on a par with Beirut 1982, when Christian Phalangists massacred hundreds in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, unhindered by the Israeli army which then ruled the city.

The Palestinians' friends around the world will draw a similar conclusion. Most of world opinion will be outraged by the images at last coming out of Jenin: the front page of every broadsheet newspaper in Britain yesterday adopted the same tone of shock and fury at the havoc Israel had wrought.

Britons and others will see an already beleaguered people taking yet another pounding from a regional superpower which has no business being there in the first place. They will see the home-made pipe bombs and booby-traps, discovered by the Israelis, and see only the meagre tools of resistance – the puny weapons of a powerless people confronting a mighty occupier.

The arrest of the key Palestinian leader, Marwan Barghouti, will just confirm the view that Goliath is trying to choke David. The images of the small, uniformed Barghouti led off by Israeli soldiers will evoke memories of every dissident detained throughout history, jailed by the hated regime he was struggling to depose. If he is put on trial, it will be seen as a show trial – an attempt by Israel to crush a political challenge by legal means.

Yet just a few short miles away, in Israel, these same events mean something else completely. Israel is a small nation, just 6 million people, that has faced an onslaught in recent months unimaginable in any other western country: every day bringing carnage to the high street, the wedding celebration, the religious service. Just as Americans were determined to wipe out the "hornets' nest" which had sent the 19 hijackers of September 11 their way, so Israel has finally set to work rooting out the terrorists who have made Israelis' lives a daily hell. In this view, Jenin is Israel's Kandahar, dispatching nearly one in four of the suicide bombers who have deliberately murdered civilians, often targeting the young and defenceless.

There is damage, to be sure. But, say the Israelis, it's not much worse than the way parts of Afghanistan looked after the US military set to work on al-Qaida strongholds there. Some civilians were killed, but that's what happens when terrorists hide among the innocent. To support the US battle against the Taliban only to oppose Israel's own war against terrorism is to be guilty of a double standard. What would the critics have Israel do? Sit there and take it? Israel asked Yasser Arafat to clean out the terrorists and he didn't do the job – just as the Taliban never booted out al-Qaida. So, following a lead set by George Bush and Tony Blair, Ariel Sharon did what he had to do.

Those weapons stashes found in Jenin, like the armed men who shot back, killing 23 Israeli soldiers, only go to show what kind of terror academy the town had become. As for Barghouti, would anyone have raised an outcry if the Americans arrested Mullah Omar? Yet, say the Israelis, there is ample evidence linking Barghouti to the young "martyrs" who kill themselves and others: he gets the credit for wresting the suicide tactic out of the hands of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and getting Arafat's own Fatah movement in on the action.

Judged like that, Operation Defensive Shield is messy, yes, but wholly justified. And this is not only the view of Sharon and the hardliners in his cabinet. A poll conducted last week, admittedly before the truth of Jenin came to light, found 86% Israeli support for the military campaign in the West Bank. That would include a large number of people who once identified with the peace camp and the left.

And they do not inhabit this universe alone. On Monday an estimated 100,000 people, mainly American Jews, gathered at the steps of the US Capitol to protest in favour of Israel. They note the rise in anti-semitism worldwide, see an Arab "street" inherently hostile to any Jewish state in their midst, and reflect on the suicide bombers and their choice of targets – the latest, biggest one during a Passover seder – and believe that, not for the first time, Jews are facing an existential threat. And remember, like the song says, they have no other land. So they carry placards comparing Sharon to Winston Churchill, glad that someone is fighting back.

These are the two universes, now living in parallel. In Washington, thousands gather to demand justice for the endangered people of Israel. In London, 36 hours earlier, 50,000 gather demanding justice for the endangered people of Palestine. Both sides believe they are the victim, both sides are fighting for their very lives. And, like parallel lines, they never touch.



Analysis: Evidence of Israeli contempt for Geneva convention
By Suzanne Goldenberg
The Guardian
April 17, 2002

The accusation from British and Palestinian politicians that Israel has been involved in war crimes raises questions about the extent to which its military incursion into the occupied territories may have broken the terms of the Geneva convention.

Human rights workers say the definition of a war crime hinges on a cardinal principle of a body of international humanitarian law, including the Geneva convention. "The spirit and soul is to limit the effect of armed violence on those not taking part in the fighting," said Antonella Notari, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. "It is primarily the responsibility of those fighting the war to look after the wellbeing of civilians."

On that count, Israel has failed on a massive scale – and not just in Jenin. Nineteen days of curfew and siege on West Bank towns have deprived one million Palestinians of access to medical care, food and drinking water. Israeli tanks trundled over water mains, and ploughed through electricity and phone wires, depriving most neighbourhoods of basic services.

In Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Nablus, as well as Jenin, there is indisputable proof that the Israeli army denied Palestinian civilians the basic protection of medical care. Bodies rotted in homes and streets for days; the wounded bled to death because the Israeli army banned ambulances from entering the battle zones.

In Jenin, junior surgeons performed brain surgery from phone instructions given by leading practitioners in Jordan. Likewise in Ramallah several mothers were talked through the delivery of their children over mobile phones.

There are also widespread accounts from Palestinians in Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin that the Israeli army regularly seized male civilians from their homes and used them as human shields. They forced the men to walk ahead of soldiers as they searched homes in camps and towns, putting them first in the line of fire from Palestinian fighters.

As well, there are scattered accounts of Palestinian civilians killed inside their homes by machine-gun fire from Israeli helicopter gunships and from tank shells in Jenin, Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem, generally at the start of each invasion.

Although the laws that govern war focus on the protection of civilians, they also require armies to afford some protection to combatants. "Combatants must be treated humanely and must be given a fair trial," Ms Notari said.

In Ramallah, however, captured Palestinian policemen were forced to strip to their underwear and were held in appalling conditions at a nearby Israeli army base, denied food, water and shelter for hours. A few were also shot as they were on the verge of surrender.

The Israeli roundups also made no distinction between fighter and ordinary Palestinians. In Nablus, Jenin, Ramallah and other cities, 5,000 males from their teens to their 40s were detained.

But the destruction visited on the Jenin refugee camp – and in the old city, or casbah, of Nablus where dozens of stone houses were demolished – is a far murkier affair. Although much of the devastation in Jenin and Nablus appears wanton, international law remains unclear on destruction of homes in combat zones.

The nature of the fighting in Jenin and other cities further complicates the matter. The Israeli army says it was forced to demolish civilian homes because they were occupied by Palestinian gunmen. That argument may become much hardier to sustain, though, when the full scale of the damage inflicted on Palestinian towns becomes clearer in the coming days.

However, yesterday's calls for Israel's military campaign to be classed a war crime are unlikely to be translated into any legal action.

The international war crimes tribunals now in existence were established specifically to investigate atrocities that occurred in the Balkans and in Rwanda. The UN international criminal court, which has just been ratified, does not come into force until July 1 and cannot act retrospectively.

The most likely legal avenue at the moment to investigate Israel's offensive remains the Israeli supreme court – which is not politically practical.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.