The Israeli regime's month-long incursion into the Gaza Strip, which has so far claimed some 2,000 Palestinian lives, has drawn widespread international condemnation, and people from all walks of life have expressed their protest, in different ways, at the brutalities committed by Israel during the past month unwarrantedly and illegally.
Israel, which during the so-called Operation Protective Edge, pounded and destroyed a large part of Gaza's urban infrastructure and launched aerial attacks on the coastal sliver's residential areas and civilian population, is said to have committed several violations of international law and the rules of war and also failed to abide by its international obligations as an occupying power.
According to the former UN Assistant Secretary General, Israel's killing of the Palestinian citizens in the Gaza Strip constitute a violation of international humanitarian law and is considered as a form of collective punishment.
"... just as UN sanctions were collective on the people of Iraq, the murder by Israel of Palestinian civilians in Gaza is also collective in violation of international law," said Denis Halliday in an exclusive interview with Tehran Times.
Denis Halliday, who worked one year as the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, also believes that the U.S. President Barack Obama, despite being a skilled lawyer, has a special proficiency in misleading the American citizens into supporting the Tel Aviv regime blindly and sending their taxes to empower the Israeli army.
The Irish Denis Halliday holds an M.A. in Economics, Geography and Public Administration from Trinity College, Dublin. In 1998, he resigned from all his UN posts in protest at the grave humanitarian impacts of the economic sanctions imposed against Iraq and the deterioration of the Iraqi people's livelihoods as a result of the UN, U.S.-engineered sanctions.
The first part of Tehran Times' interview with Denis Halliday was published on Monday, August 18. What follows is the full text of the second part of this exclusive interview.
Q: The recent Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip which has claimed some 2,000 lives was described by many legal experts as a form of collective punishment. Collective punishment is considered a crime, a violation of the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions. Israel has also ridiculed the principle of proportionality by killing 2,000 Palestinian citizens in return for the kidnapping of three Jewish settlers, which it claims was done by Hamas. Was it really fair to kill so many innocent civilians to take revenge on a besieged people for a crime which was never proved to be committed by them?
A: There was nothing “fair” or legal about the recent destruction of Gaza from land, sea and air. It was carried out by Israel in clear violation of international laws against war crimes, crimes against humanity, human rights, and genocide.
Were the Israelis justified in responding to Palestinian homemade or simply ineffective rockets? Some will respond in the affirmative. Others will explain that as an occupying military force, the Israelis have to expect the Palestinians to employ their right under the UN Charter to defend themselves. And the miserable rockets fired into Israel were that Palestinian response because they have no access to the modern weapons used by Israel, often gifted by the USA, against a largely urban setting of 1.8 million peoples. Israel appears to make no attempt to act proportionally and that would appear to be in keeping with Zionist policies to destroy the Palestinians as a people and Palestine as a state.
As for collective punishment, just as UN sanctions were collective on the people of Iraq, the murder by Israel of Palestinian civilians in Gaza is also collective in violation of international law. The UK and the USA and others in Europe turned a blind eye and chose not to see, or intervene to stop Israel. It is an indictment of us all in Europe and the U.S.
Q: Noam Chomsky has called the U.S. mainstream media's coverage of the war on Gaza a grotesque propaganda aimed at whitewashing the atrocities being committed by Israel. What's your assessment of the U.S. media's performance during the one-month Israeli incursion into the besieged Gaza Strip? Have they told their audience the truth about what's going on in the impoverished coastal sliver?
A: I fully share the view of Noam Chomsky that media coverage in the USA is totally inadequate. However, its bias in favor of Israeli simply reflects the Congress, many corporations and the media that is beholden to the Israeli interests and lobby. The average American is under-educated and not well informed about international affairs. They are inward looking and absorbed with their problems of a weak economy, unemployment, the financial collapse and negative equity. Forty or more percent of Americans are focused on personal poverty and its avoidance. They have little concern for overseas issues that interest the White House unless they are at war, such as the invasions of Afghanistan or Iraq. The concern is placed mainly on the military minority, some two million plus families, who bear the burden of going to fight in wars of aggression, and not on the majority who do not go to war, or pay additional taxes to share the cost, or consequences of lost lives, or endanger their own.
However, the TV coverage in the U.S. of BBC and Al-Jazeera have shown in living color the terrible human and material consequences of Israeli bombing, shelling and missile attacks on Gaza and it’s civilian population. There must be realization that this is wrong. And there have been protests in the U.S. as in Europe, and elsewhere. But as the President and Congress supports Israeli aggression and killing, very few Americans can see a way to intervene if they wished to do so.
Q: In a recent press conference, President Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has supported Israel's "right to defend itself" and ostentatiously reaffirmed Washington's continued financial and military assistance to Tel Aviv. He said, "I'm proud that the Iron Dome system that Americans helped Israel develop and fund has saved many Israeli lives." Obama made no mention of 2,000 Palestinians who were butchered during the deadly onslaught, and didn't talk of the psychological trauma inflicted on the Palestinian children due to losing many of their family members. What's your viewpoint on Mr. Obama's reaction to the campaign of mass killing carried out by Washington's closest ally and number one beneficiary?
A: President Obama, despite being - we understand - a brilliant lawyer, has a capacity to mislead the American people into blind support for Israel that has been part of U.S. politics for many years. And yes, Israelis have a right to defend themselves, as does everyone under international law. What they don’t have is the right to do massacre, exterminate hundreds of Palestinians who are civilians.
And yes, the U.S. did fund the “dome” and has already gifted another $240 million to replace the warheads that make up the dome. The U.S. also invited Israel to rearm itself from U.S. military weapons and ammunition stored in Israel during the killing by the IDF in Gaza. This constitutes a simply astonishing neglect of the UN Charter, Humanitarian law, human rights etc. In the political context, Obama does not appear to see the Palestinians as people, as children where as a man and a father he must understand what his support and policies are doing to the children of Gaza. What is my view? I am appalled by his apparent indifference as a politician and commander-in-chief.
Israel in the Middle East is more to Obama and Washington than human beings; it is a presence, an ally and a centre for monitoring U.S. Arab allies and the oil they have that the U.S. still desires to have and control. Israel is useful in the context of U.S. Regional hegemonic policy. Otherwise, Israel is a financial and political burden that the U.S. cannot fully afford.
Many believe this blind support for Israel not only leads to the deaths of Palestinians, but enables and even encourages the suicidal demise of Israel itself. Many wonder [if] Israeli [can] survive when it violates international law in respect of its neighbors. The question is asked will there be dangerous consequences as the make-up of the region changes, and the results of Ottoman, and then British and France colonialism and U.S. neo-colonialism fades away, as they surely will. Some ask how will Israel survive having turned its neighbors into enemies and creating new generations of hate towards itself with the murder of families, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters in Gaza.
Q: What's your viewpoint on the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions movement against Israel and its impacts on changing the behavior and policies of the Israeli leaders? While the U.S. government offers its unconditional support to Israel, will the other countries dare to impose sanctions on the Tel Aviv regime, or at least refrain from providing it with arms and ammunitions?
A: I support the BDS movement in terms of individual boycotting of Israeli exports. And I support divestment in terms of capital movements into Israel and investment in corporations and that collaborate with Israel. However, given my personal experience of the collective punishment of UN sanctions on the innocent people of Iraq, I am opposed to sanctions on Israel that inevitably will hurt the collective civilians of the Jewish state. Impose smart sanctions on the leadership, sanctions on the military, sanctions on all military trade, but let’s not impose dumb sanctions on the civilians despite that most appear to support the policies of the current government. Perhaps propaganda has manipulated patriotism to convince them that they have no alternative, but to support military aggression and give up their sons and daughters to three years of compulsory military service.
Will states other than the U.S. sanction weapons sales to Israel? It is doubtful because weapons sales [and] the arms trade are very profitable. And secondly, other countries know the U.S. will retaliate in respect of any constraints that would weaken Israel.
Q: And finally, the American public is growing more aware and cognizant of the Israeli brutalities. Opinion polls show that young Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to the policies of the Israeli regime and widely support the cause of the people of Palestine. What do you think is the reason for the emergence of this new trend among the next generation of the American leaders?
A: I agree that more Americans are aware of Israeli atrocities and murder in Gaza, but I am not sure it amounts to a significant number, or that it represents change. Much of the U.S. population has little interest in the world overseas although current TV and on line internet coverage of the Israel killings in Gaza reach more and more young Americans. Perhaps there is reason to hope that the opinion of the young in both the U.S. and Israel itself will change for the better.
In this connection, I understand that a significant number of young Jewish Americans are horrified, embarrassed by Israeli action in Gaza. Increasingly young Jewish Americans in the USA marry outside the faith, and the influence of Jewish support for Israel may diminish. This change may be unacceptably slow and many Palestinian lives may be destroyed by Israel in the meantime. And I believe good media can and does make a difference. But we have not reached that situation yet where accuracy prevails.
For example, the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington indicates that the Gaza catastrophe of recent weeks started in 2012. I believe that is nonsense. The Gaza problem started in 1947 in the General Assembly and in 1948 when Jewish troops drove some 700,000 Palestinians out of their homes, villages and towns into refugee camps. The aggression since, and the ceasefire lines of the 1967 war in particular continue to make life for Palestinians impossible and make it equally impossible to create a Palestinian State. The military occupation [which is] in violation of the UN General Assembly [resolutions] and the UN Charter, the "Apartheid wall" and the massive Israeli settlements in the West Bank appear to have made a two-state resolution increasingly unlikely.
The tragedy of Gaza did not begin last month, or last year. It originates in mistakes, war and crimes committed since 1947. Younger, better educated and more worldly Americans are beginning to understand that blind U.S. support is misplaced and will become impossible as explained in the years ahead and as U.S. hegemonic power declines.
Is there an answer to the current and catastrophic UN failure and the possibility of Israeli demise? Yes I believe there is. And that is a long story. But in a few words.
The UN has to be globalized and made representative of all member states in North and South. Veto power and the exclusive five permanent seats in the Security Council must be abolished. Instead one could visualize regional seating so that for example, Latin Americas reserved seat in the Security Council could be held by the member state of Latin America elected to sit on it by the sovereign countries of Latin America. The seat could be rotated by the member states, and when the incumbent state speaks, it speaks for the whole region. Likewise Sub-Sahara Africa, North Africa, Europe, North America would be represented. By this change, and for the first time, every country of the world would have representation in the all-important Security Council.
I believe such a Council would find different and better solutions to peace and security and the vested interests of the current five veto powers of today would be curbed.
Regarding Israel itself, maybe it is too late and the damage is done. But let’s assume Israeli policy changes, that Zionism is abandoned and the Government sets in motion a cooperative regional development plan so that the living standards enjoyed today by some although not all Israelis would be enjoyed in Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq and further afield. With the right of return respected and integration encouraged, surely Arabs and Jews can respect each other and could achieve greater things together than they can separately.
Can one envisage a united states of the region, or the EU model? I believe we can and the sooner the better. If we cannot, then one must consider further catastrophe in the region and the possible demise of an isolated Israel. And surely none of us want to see further loss of life and diminished human well-being amongst Jews or Arabs. What we all must deeply want is peaceful coexistence, non-violent solutions and equal opportunities for human well-being for all.