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How do we understand Gaza? by Jonathan Cook

Israel’s endless misery for Gaza is no policy at all
By: Jonathan Cook
For those trying to read developments between Israel and Gaza over the past weeks, the picture has been unusually puzzling.

A month ago European diplomats and Palestinian officials in the West Bank suggested that Israel and Hamas were taking “baby steps”, as one Palestinian analyst termed it, towards a truce.

Then earlier this month, as an attack blamed on the extremists of Islamic State (ISIS) killed dozens in Sinai, an Israeli general accused Hamas of supplying the weapons used against the Egyptian military.

A short time later, a group of Israeli army commanders urged the easing of the near-decade blockade of Gaza as a way to end Hamas’ isolation.

So what’s going on? Does Israel want Hamas weakened or strengthened?

The uncertainty reflects Israel’s increasingly convoluted efforts to “manage” Gaza faced with the fallout from its series of attacks on the enclave beginning in late 2008 with Operation Cast Lead and culminating in last year’s Protective Edge.

International activists aboard a humanitarian flotilla failed again this month to reach Gaza and break Israel’s physical siege. But more difficult for Israel is maintaining the blockade on information out of Gaza.

The problem was illustrated this month by a new app from Amnesty International that allows users to map 2,500 Israeli air strikes on the enclave last summer and interpret the resulting deaths and destruction from pictures, videos and testimonies.

The software, says Amnesty, reveals specific patterns of behaviour, including attacks on rescue vehicles and medical workers and facilities.

It allows any of us to turn amateur war crimes sleuth for the International Criminal Court in the Hague, and moves nearer the day when Israeli soldiers’ impunity will end.

The difficulties for Israel of controlling the narrative about Gaza were underscored last week. Judges at the Hague ruled that the court’s chief prosecutor had erred in refusing to investigate Israel for war crimes over the killing of 10 activists aboard an earlier flotilla, in 2010.

The judges determined that the prosecutor, in dismissing the case as lacking the necessary gravity for the Hague court to intervene, had ignored the wider, political context.

Beyond the harm done to the passengers, Israel’s attack on the flotilla delivered a blunt message to the people of Gaza and the international community: that Israel could deny humanitarian aid to the enclave by enforcing the blockade. The policy needs to be tested against the principles of international law, suggested the judges.

Not only does their ruling reopen to scrutiny the episode of the flotilla, but it puts considerable pressure on ICC prosecutors to ensure they investigate Protective Edge thoroughly too.

Meanwhile, frustration at the failure by international institutions so far to hold Israel to account is driving other ways to punish Israel, notably the grassroots boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Israel is slowly losing this battle too. The US state department declared late last month that it would ignore the provision in a new trade law passed by Congress that requires the US to protect Jewish settlements from boycotts. In effect, a limited boycott has won the White House’s tacit approval for the first time.

The shockwaves from Israel’s rampages in Gaza are having political repercussions in the tiny enclave too. Polls indicate that among a small but growing minority of Palestinians in Gaza support is shifting towards ISIS.

They blame Hamas for failing to capitalise on its relative military success last summer. Gaza is still ravaged a year on, and continuing Israeli restrictions mean the huge reconstruction project has barely begun. The people of Gaza expect their rulers to end the blockade.

Israel’s recent confusing behaviour in part reflects a belated realisation that it needs to put out these various fires.

That explains revelations in the Israeli media that Israel is quietly cooperating with the Hague court’s investigators, breaking with its past refusal to deal with international inquiries. It hopes to forestall an ICC investigation by demonstrating that it is taking action itself.

Last week Israel announced it would investigate soldiers’ testimonies of war crimes collected by Breaking the Silence, a whistleblowing group that as recently as last month the Israeli government called traitors.

In addition, Neria Yeshurun has become the first senior commander to be placed under investigation, after a recording emerged in which he stated he had ordered the shelling of a Palestinian medical centre to “avenge” the killing of one of his officers.

Asa Kasher, in charge of the army’s code of ethics, recently argued that notorious incidents such as the massive destruction of Rafah after a soldier went missing – the so-called Hannibal procedure that probably claimed more than 150 Palestinian lives – reflected operational misunderstandings rather than policy. Errors, he implied, were not war crimes.

A group of Israeli military commanders have also argued that it is time to offer Gaza some relief, by easing – if only marginally – the blockade.

None of this is being done from conscience or out of recognition of Palestinian rights.

The moves may be conducted in bad faith but they nonetheless indicate a growing realisation by some in Israel that the international community and ordinary Palestinians in Gaza need to be placated.

At the same time, according to local analysts, Israel is pursuing a dual policy towards Hamas.

On the one hand, Israel hopes diplomatic gains will bolster Hamas’ political wing against more threatening newcomers like ISIS. On the other, it wishes to weaken Hamas’ military wing to avoid it developing the ability to threaten Israel’s control over the enclave.

As ever, Israel is keen to sow divisions where possible. The Israeli government’s repeated likening of Hamas and ISIS, and the recent suggestions of military ties between the two in Sinai, are intended to remind the international community of the threat Hamas’ military wing supposedly poses to regional order.

Further, it is better for Israel that Hamas commanders are forced to contend with Egypt’s as well as Israel’s military might, stretching it on two fronts.

Israel believes it can tame Hamas’ political leadership, making them as cautious and subdued as Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. But it also wants to maintain the pressure on Hamas’ military wing by emphasizing that it is little different from the beheaders of Islamic State.

Israel’s compulsive need to dominate Palestinians trumps all – even as it finally dawns on a few generals that Gaza’s endless immiseration is no policy at all.

* Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest book, released this month, is “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is –

My opening remarks at the OR Tambo Debate and an afterword…

Originally posted on Nic Spaull:


On the 7th of July the Wits School of Governance together with the OR Tambo Foundation and the UNDP hosted the 4th debate in their series. The title was “Implementing the NDP: Achieving Basic Education Goals”, focussing specifically on accountability. I was on the panel, together with Sizwe Nxasana, the Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga and Siphiwe Mthiyane. Melissa King and Barbara Dale-Jones wrote an overview of the event for the M&G and you can read that here. I include my opening remarks and one or two comments below.

“Let me start by saying that I have immense admiration and respect for Minister Motshekga. I don’t think there is a single person in this room that is so naïve as to think that your job is easy or uncomplicated. Or that the solutions are straight-forward. In the face of an ongoing crisis in education you have worked systematically and…

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We Will Sail Again!

Originally posted on PUBLIC MATTERS:

Freedom Flotilla III has come and gone. The siege on Gaza remains.

We did not end Israel’s criminal blockade on Gaza. We did focus world attention on this illegal siege. We did highlight the fact that Israel still occupies Gaza. We did show international solidarity with the people of Palestine. We did demonstrate the power of global citizen action. And, we did bring humanitarian aid for Gaza, even though it did not reach them.

Freedom Flotilla III comprised almost 60 sailors from more than 20 nations. I was the only South African, one of a just a few academics, and the only Christian theologian.

Five boats made up the flotilla. Boat 1 – the “Marianne of Gothenburg” – was a converted fishing trawler, which had been sailing for more than a month already. It was the lead boat which would attempt to ‘break’ the siege. Boats 3, 4 and 5…

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Kairos SA: Call for a global week of prayer, fasting and discernment

Kairos logo
“Towards humanity with a Kairos consciousness”

Kairos SA celebrates the 30th Anniversary of the 1985 Kairos document from 17 – 20 August 2015.
In the week leading up to the celebration conference, we call on those who wish to join us to a week of prayer, fasting and discernment from 10 – 14 August.

Question for discernment (individually or preferably in small groups):

Is there today an equivalent to the 1985 “Kairos-moment”, in which God is challenging us?

We will discuss this question and respond to it at the celebratory conference.

For more information about this fast, conference and/or to send the fruits of your discernment, please email Rev Edwin Arrison on

Public Activism

Originally posted on PUBLIC MATTERS:

The mission advances.


Freedom Flotilla III is accomplishing much. Most of these stories will only be revealed on completion of this particular mission.

Here is the most recent video update from the FF3 Media Centre:

There is also relentless pressure from Israel to do whatever needs to be done to sabotage the mission. There will be many stories to share after the mission. The opposition has been strong, but futile in derailing the almost 50 sailors from about 20 nations from various spheres of public life.

Israel has imposed enormous pressure on port authorities around the Mediterranean Sea. Our boats were continually delayed due to attempts to sabotage the mission by port authorities failing inspections, demanding extra maintenance, and so on. To delay the sail, the Israeli regime trusts, impacts negatively on the spirit and availability of all of us. Hopefully, some of us will have to get back to our…

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Israel and Bonhoeffer a status confessionis

Originally posted on Theology in the Vineyard:

My friend Murph told me  that the King of Jordan was on Jon Stewart   the week of September 24.He stated that “until Israel and Palestine are settled (Pun intended) the rest of the Middle East is at risk.”

Many people believe this and refuse to be marginalized by Israel firsters whose main justification for its barbarous treatment of the Palestinians seems to be.”Why pick on us—why not the Sudan. Syria etc.” It is a fatuous argument which basically admits  “Yeah, we know it’s not nice but look at other countries’ behaviour.

The King of Jordan is nearer to the truth.This shocking treatmenrt of a largely Muslim people, surrounded by other Muslim countries cries out for justice.The resolution of this one-sided conflict would dampen temperatures in the whole Middle East.

For Christians it appears to me a status confessionis a make or break issue. The church of Jesus Christ must…

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Exposed: Profit shifting, transfer pricing and tax havens cost Marikana miners their lives

Originally posted on "...Through My Eyes...":

An explosive report by the Alternative Information & Development Centre (AIDC) reveals that Lonmin has for years been moving hundreds of millions out of South Africa through the use of tax havens; transfer pricing and profit shifting.

LonminReport AIDC’s latest research output.

This was done by setting up ‘daughter companies’ which invoiced Lonmin’s various South African offices, despite the companies doing the invoicing not having sold any metal or running any operations since 1999 and even having no staff in some instances.

These damning revelations show that not only could  Lonmin have afforded a R12 500 living wage for miners – a wage denied by an executive who earned twice the amount per day- but also that the company had the financial resources to provide decent work and living conditions to its employees.

Lonmin reportedly continues to deny the allegations contained in the recently launched report, despite the mounting evidence against them. That certain payments to…

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