Kandaharis Want Peace Talks

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service

2010-05-05T121705Z_1095639419_GM1E6551KBZ01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

Afghan women clad in burqas and a child receive food aid in Kabul May 5, 2010. The Afghan Ministry of Defense distributed food aid such as wheat, cooking oil, sugar and beans to 220 poor families.

REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

An opinion survey of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province funded by the U.S. Army has revealed that 94 percent of respondents support negotiating with the Taliban over military confrontation with the insurgent group and 85 percent regard the Taliban as “our Afghan brothers.”

The survey, conducted by a private U.S. contractor last December, covered Kandahar City and other districts in the province into which Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal is planning to introduce more troops in the biggest operation of the entire war. Those districts include Arghandab, Zhari, rural Kandahar, and Panjwayi.

Afghan interviewers conducted the survey only in areas which were not under Taliban control.

The decisive rejection of the use of foreign troops against the Taliban by the population in Kandahar casts further doubt on the fundamental premise of the Kandahar campaign, scheduled to begin in June, that the population and tribal elders in those districts would welcome a U.S.-NATO troop presence to expel the Taliban.

That assumption was dealt a serious blow at a meeting on April 4 at which tribal elders from all over Kandahar told President Hamid Karzai they were not happy with the planned military operation.

An unclassified report on the opinion survey was published in March by Glevum Associates, a Washington-based “strategic communications” company under contract for the Human Terrain Systems program in Afghanistan. A link to the report was first provided by the Web site Danger Room which reported the survey April 16.

Ninety-one percent of the respondents supported the convening of a “Loya Jirga,” or “grand assembly” of leaders as a way of ending the conflict, with 54 percent “strongly” supporting it, and 37 percent “somewhat” supporting it. That figure appears to reflect support for President Karzai’s proposal for a “peace Jirga” in which the Taliban would be invited to participate.

The degree to which the population in the districts where McChrystal plans to send troops rejects military confrontation and believes in a peaceful negotiated settlement is suggested by a revealing vignette recounted by Time magazine’s Joe Klein in the April 15 issue.

Klein accompanied U.S. Army Capt. Jeremiah Ellis when he visited a 17-year-old boy in Zhari district whose house Ellis wanted to use an observation post. When Ellis asked the boy how he thought the war would end, he answered, “Whenever you guys get out from here, things will get better.”

“The elders will sit down with the Taliban, and the Taliban will lay down their arms.”

The Kandahar offensive seems likely to dramatize the contrast between the U.S. insistence on a military approach to the Taliban control of large parts of southern Afghanistan and the overwhelming preference of the Pashtun population for initiating peace negotiations with the Taliban as Karzai has proposed.

Ironically, highlighting that contradiction in the coming months could encourage President Barack Obama to support Karzai’s effort to begin negotiations with the Taliban now rather than waiting until mid-2011, as the U.S. military has been advocating since last December.

Obama told a meeting of his “war cabinet” last month that it might be time to start negotiations with the Taliban, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have opposed any move toward negotiations until Gen. McChrystal is able to demonstrate clear success in weakening the Taliban.

The Taliban ruling council has taken advantage of the recent evidence of contradictions between Pashtuns in Kandahar and the U.S. military over the Kandahar offensive by signaling in an interview with the Sunday Times of London that Taliban leader Mullah Omar is prepared to engage in “sincere and honest” talks.

In a meeting in an unidentified Taliban-controlled area of Afghanistan reported Sunday, two Taliban officials told the newspaper that Omar’s aims were now limited to the return of sharia (Islamic law), the expulsion of foreigners, and the restoration of security. It was the first major signal of interest in negotiations since the arrest of Mullah Omar’s second in command, Mullah Baradar, in late January.

The report of the Glevum survey revealed that more people in Kandahar regard checkpoints maintained by the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) and ANA and ANP vehicles as the biggest threat to their security while traveling than identified either Taliban roadside bombs or Taliban checkpoints as the main threat.

Fifty-eight percent of the respondents in the survey said the biggest threat to their security while traveling were the ANA and ANP checkpoints on the road, and 56 percent said ANA/ANP vehicles were the biggest threat. Only 44 percent identified roadside bombs as the biggest threat – the same percentage of respondents who regard convoys of the International Security Assistance Force – the NATO command under Gen. McChrystal – as the primary threat to their security.

Only 37 percent of the respondents regarded Taliban checkpoints as the main threat to their security.

In Kandahar City, the main target of the coming U.S. military offensive in Kandahar, the gap between perceptions of threats to travel security from government forces and from the Taliban is even wider.

Sixty-five percent of the respondents in Kandahar City said they regard ANA/ANP checkpoints as the main threat to their security, whereas roadside bombs are the main problem for 42 percent of the respondents.

The survey supports the U.S. military’s suspicion that the transgressions of local officials of the Afghan government, who are linked mainly to President Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the head of the Kandahar province council and the main warlord in the province, have pushed the population into the arms of the Taliban.

An overwhelming 84 percent of the respondents agreed that corruption is the main cause of the conflict, and two-thirds agreed that government corruption “makes us look elsewhere.” That language used in the questionnaire was obviously intended to allow respondents to hint that they were supporting the Taliban insurgents in response to the corruption, without saying so explicitly.

More than half the respondents (53 percent) endorsed the statement that the Taliban are “incorruptible.”

“Corruption” is a term that is often understood to include not only demands for payments for services and passage through checkpoints but violence by police against innocent civilians.

The form of government corruption that has been exploited most successfully by the Taliban in Kandahar is the threat to destroy opium crops if the farmers do not pay a large bribe. The survey did not ask any questions about opium growing and Afghan attitudes toward the government and the Taliban, although that was one of the key questions that Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the head of intelligence for Gen. McChrystal, had sought clarification of.

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The Pakistani (Acting) Consul General For the West Coast of the United States

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Muhammad Khalid Ejaz

Los Angeles–April 10th–My last two articles came out of a discussion with the Indian (former) Ambassador to Afghanistan.  I was fortunate to hear a speech of the (Acting) Consul-General of Pakistan to the Western United State at the South Asian Studies Association (S.A.S.A) banquet here at U.S.C. (the University of Southern California).  His comments balanced those of Ambassador Maukapadya in Berkeley a month before.

Dr. Ejaz stated that Pakistan was the fifth most populous country in the world, but because of political disruptions over the land, (there has not been an accurate census since 1991, but it is safe to say that in early 1994, the inhabitants of Pakistan were appropriately estimated at 126 million, making it the ninth most populous country in the world although its land area, however, ranks thirty-second among nations.  Thus, Pakistan, then, had about 2 percent of the world’s population living on less than 0.7 percent of the world’s land. The population growth rate is among the world’s highest, officially assessed at 3.1 percent per annum, but privately considered to be closer to 3.3 percent for each year. Pakistan is assumed to have reached 150 million citizens ten years ago, and to have contributed to 4 percent of the world’s growth which is predicted to double by 2022.)  All this past paragraph demonstrates is that the  Consul-General’s approximation of Pakistan’s place in population today in relation to the demographics of the world probably is close to correct.

Strategically, his nation is at the intersection of four vital locales to the U.S. and to the developing world.  That is both Central and South Asia, and the Middle East and with China on its border connected by the Karkoram Highway.  Several of these regions are either oil/gas rich, or require Pakistan’s help to transport this energy to their ever-expanding economies.

During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Rawapindi was America’s most allied of (trusted) allies.  Now, NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) fulfills that function for Washington. 

In the 1980s, the two countries joined forces to help defeat the Russians in Afghanistan, but the District of Columbia deserted not only the Pakistanis, (but the Afghani and foreign fighters in the Hindu Kush Mountains. With the retreat of the Russians, and the collapse of their empire [the U.S.S.R, or [the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic], and [the whole “Second World” with it]), a five-way Civil War developed in Afghanistan, and eventually the rise of Taliban.) 

Thus, (your author consigns the blame the roots of 9/11 on the Reagan Administration ill-advised policy of not providing development aid and skills to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  This, in turn, has lead to our current War in the Pakistani-Afghanistani Mountains.  That is why your writer designates Reagan to have been one of the worst of American Presidents instead of one of the best which the vulgar declare him to be in the Metropole [the Center of Empire] here.  Besides Washington’s airport being named after, there is a movement to put his face on the fifty dollar bill!).

After the ninth of 9th of September 2001 Islamabad was (forced) to become a front line State once again.  Ejaz asserted our allied relationship with the U.S.A. should evolve into a more equitable one.  We should have a “normalized” relationship with both those in the West, (and with the Taliban)!

We (Pakistan) are, also, under the threat of terrorism whose roots reside along the Durand Line.  It is a porous border that dives a subnationality (the Pashtoons) that should have a right to regularly cross that frontier to visit their relatives on the other side!  We cannot seal the borderland where the tribes exist in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.  It is true, though, many things that happen on the Afghani side of the border deeply impact the Northwest Frontier Provinces.

With this porous borderland, there are fighters who cross into our country for sanctuary.  Thus, despite the West’s accusations, Rawalpindi has suffered high casualties!  Muhammad Khalid Ejaz called on the U.S.A. to become more involved with development in the Af-Pak territories.  There is a serious problem between Pakistan and India, too, over water rights; the great powers could help negotiate this.  Still, Pakistan, as a nuclear power, has issues with nuclear India.  He affirmed that Kashmir can be settled!

He concluded that the U.S.A. has a role in the Afghan conflict, but the tribes have to have their traditional rights of cross-border movement.

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Saudi Youth Unemployment Over 40 Pct

May 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

RIYADH – Unemployment among Saudis rose to 10.5 percent in 2009 from 10 percent a year earlier, and topped 43 percent among men and women aged 20-24, according to government figures cited by Okaz newspaper on Wednesday.

Despite continued economic growth on the back of a massive government spending program, 448,547 Saudis were without jobs, up by 32,197 from a year earlier, a report by the Central Department of Statistics and Information showed.

Joblessness among men was 6.9 percent, slightly up from to 6.8 percent in 2008. Among women, the rate was 28.4 percent compared to 26.9 percent.

The very high figures for youth underscore the problem of a rapidly growing population that, for complex reasons, is not getting jobs despite steady economic growth.

The jobless rate was 43.2 percent for men and women in the 20-24 category, rising to 46.7 percent for men alone.

The report did not give a figure for women in that age group, but said that for those between ages 25 and 29, 45.9 percent lacked jobs.

The study did not cover the eight to 10 million foreigners in Saudi Arabia — a third or more of the total population of 25.3 million.

The country heavily depends on foreign workers for everything from menial jobs, construction and the service sector to work requiring advanced skills like technology and hospital jobs.

Employers often say Saudis lack adequate training and skills, or demand too high salaries. The biggest employer of Saudis is the government, while foreigners dominate private sector jobs at many levels.

The country’s total population is growing about 2.4 percent annually, with the figure significantly higher for native Saudis.

The population is heavily weighted on the young side — more than half the population is less than 20 years old and 40 percent aged 15 or younger.

That places great pressure on the government to create long-term jobs for its citizens, and Riyadh has been pushing strongly a “Saudi-isation” policy to place native Saudis in jobs that foreigners hold.

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Islamic Pluralistic Democracy In Southeast Asia

March 11, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Berkeley–Anwar Ibrahim (b. 1947), leader of the Opposition in the Malaysian parliament and Former Deputy Prime Minister (1993-1998) of Malaysia came here to give an important speech last Fall. Early in his career, he was mentored by the then Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, but he became one of the most prominent critics of Mahathir’s administration; and, thus, ran afoul of his mentor, and was convicted of corruption in 1999 (this is ironic with Mahathir’s Administration’s infamy for the deceit of his Administration).  During 2004 this judgment was reversed by a Federal Court, but later the Deputy PM (Prime Minister) was arrested for sodomy.  (“My high hopes were betrayed…,” for homosexuality is a most serious charge under Islamic law), but, because of an international hue, this charge was, also, abandoned.  During 2008, he was recharged under that accusation, but won a Ryding (a representative seat) to Parliament, nonetheless, by a 15,000 plurality in the same month as the second accusation.  This made him the head of the opposition in government as leader of the Permtang Paug Party.

Although Malaysia does not have the population or the square miles of China or India, it is one of Asia’s tigers by its economic growth and achievement since its Independence from Colonialism.  During 1942-1945, it was occupied by the Japanese.  In 1948, the Federation of Malaysia was formed while still a dependent of London.  It included a third of Borneo and Sabah (counter-claimed by Indonesia) the Malay Peninsula, the contested oil-rich Spratly Islands and, at the time of founding, Singapore which, after Independence (1957), seceded from the union.  The Philippines claimed the entire of the new nation’s territory at inception, too! 

The CIA (the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency) describes the constitutional monarchy of Malaysia as a middle income multi-sector country with a bicameral legislature, — with an upper House, the Dawn Negara (Senate) and a lower House of Representatives.  Succinctly the Malays have adopted the English West Minister form of democracy with an adaption of the British legal system. 

Economically, electronics exports are leading the way although its GDP (Gross National Product) has been hit hard by the worldwide recession.  Yet, circa 88% literacy gives hope for even expanding development in the future when negative global pressures subside.  Further the Peninsula of the Malays is rich in natural resources.  Yet, this and industrial development has produced a pollution problem that has to be addressed for the health of their residents.  What are weak in the Monarchy’s future are the demographics of the population:  The age balance between the young and old and middle age is weak.

The Federation is diverse with the majority Islamic Malays being approximately slightly over 50%, but there are Chinese (24%), Indigenous (11%), Indians (7%) and various others (8%).  The national religious and linguistic divisions are just as varied.  Besides Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and even Shamanism co-exist within the same sphere with a population of about 24 million.

Malaysia dominates most of the Malay Isthmus and is located on the strategic Straits of Malacca.  It is roughly the size of the Western American state of New Mexico – 329,750 sq. km. to be exact, but with a tropical-based agriculture that has allowed for an expediently larger and a more diverse populace and development.

There is a high literacy rate within the amalgamated hereditary States and Territories (the latter is appointed by the Central Government) which can counter the imbalance in demographics.   It is important to remember that the super city of Kuala Lampur is not the capital of this new Muslim-dominated country, but a much smaller traditional aristocratic nucleus holds the honor of the political hub.  In this way it can be compared to Karachi and Islamabad.

Although Anwar was incarcerated for seven years in total, he still holds that “Islam and democracy are not incompatible!”  He declared that, although he was in solitary confinement for most of that period, he was able to read; and, thereby, was able to extend his education into new areas.

Although there is a rising tide of Islamaphobia, and the fear of a Muslim totalitarianism, “Sharia embodies the freedom underlying Islamic law.”  The Islamic entrance into Southeast Asia was peaceful.  “It included the seeds of pluralism” as we have seen above. Ibrahim perceives that Malaysian democracy is domiciled peacefully within Modernism.  “The citizens have [utterly] rejected radicalism” through the ballot box!

The abuse of human rights leads to terrorism!  “With free societies, we learn to cope with terrorism.”  He asserted that there were three major parties in Islam, but he failed to elaborate on his statement.  Emphatically, “We should address poverty,” though!

“The Judiciary often mimics their political masters.”  The ruling elite hinder politics.

Talking about America, “[Bush] insisted [that] security [must be] a betrayal [of his international friends].  Cowboy diplomacy has given way to [a more free] consistency.”  Your previous Presidency lacked democracy!

Therefore, optimism will [must] succeed!

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Islam in Haiti

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

haiti Haiti is a benighted country that your author knows well having made working journeys there, and serving on a Committee in my home State of California to support that nation in her struggles (the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere) for over a decade now. 

The information your essayist is to relay was a surprise to me, too, although I had intended to write about a slave rebellion that a Muslim led during the early history of Creole Hispaniola for the Observer a year and a half ago, but I could not trace the references down even in the largest academic library in Western North America which is literarily down the street from me.  With the Internet, though, I have been able to trace the history and condition of the religion on the western half of that nation’s island.

Islam came at the earliest period of the then Colony by the importation of slaves from Sub-Saharan Africa.  As the current distressing rioting in Nigeria between Christians and Muslims demonstrates, there is a significant population of Muslims from West Africa.  From an historian’s point of view, the fact that the middle men in the slave trade were Arabs (Muslims) is most disturbing.

Much of the early accounts are confused by 200 years of oral tradition (many times relayed memory), legend and mythology.  There are two mangled accounts of rebellion, but they were in another French isle in the Caribbean, Martinique, that became associated with the Haitians.  One says that the leader still wanders around Saint-Dominique, as Haiti was called then.  This is no more than mythology.

Many Muslim slaves from West Africa were forcibly baptized, but there is a belief that the Maroons (any group of slaves descended from fugitive slaves from the Seventeenth through Eighteenth Centuries) mainly held onto their Islamic beliefs.  One such slave, Dutta Boukman, who was smuggled in from Jamaica, received his name because he could read, and his French masters reported he read upside down which indicated he most likely was reading Arabic and, at that, feasibly, the Koran.  This description is an unquestionable fact although legend claims he was a Voo-Doo priest, but “revisionist” Haitian scholarship suspects that he was a Muslim.  Nonetheless, his death by decapitation in a 1791 rebellion, which he commanded, raised the demand, again, that led for freedom and the finally successful Black Haitian Revolution for Independence in which the Muslims, who were instrumental in that War,  spoke Arabic to confuse their enemies!

Before Dutta, another Maroon leader, a Marabout warrior in the Islamic tradition, François Macandal, too, attempted a rebellion, but was burned ghastly at the stake in 1758.  The Mandingos, a distinct linguistic group, from West Africa, provided much of the leadership during the Haitian Revolution, and many of them were most definitely Muslims.              

Islam had a vital impact at the birth of the Republic, and now it is beginning to assert itself once again.  Various estimates are that the Muslim population in this Creole motherland is between 3500 and 7000.  Most of the adherents to the faith live in Port-au-Prince earlier this month, where the majority of the death and destruction befell and the Mosquee Al-Fatiha stands (stood?), and the Bilal Mosque and an Islamic Center in the second largest city in the country, Cap Haitian, on the north coast is situated. (Cap Haitian, fortunately, was not impacted as much.)  There are other places of worship locally maintained throughout the land mass although your writer has not been able to confirm the comprehensive condition of the community after the disaster on January 12th. 

In the 1920s an influx of Arab immigrants entered Haiti from the Middle East – especially from Morocco although ethnically the largest of the Haitian Muslim population today are indigenous to their Caribbean country.  Your researcher did trace down some individual North American Muslims, but not their demographics within the populace.  Being an impoverished mixed assemblage, they were not able to construct their first Mosque until 1985.  It was a built from a converted residence.  The first minaret was built in 2000.  Whether that minaret is standing has not been determined by your journalist, also.

Politically, the first Muslim to enter the Chamber of Deputies (i.e., their Congress) was Nawoon Marcellus on the Fanmi Lavalas ticket, the Left-leaning party led by President Aristide. 

Your writer, who has gotten encouraging press releases from Islamic charities benefiting the citizens irrespective of belief, it is important to know that your Zakat is, further giving succor to your Muslim brothers and sisters.  The figures (0.4of the population) and institutions your writer has mentioned may have drastically been decimated.  After the situation has been solidified, rebuilding this small but burgeoning religious society remains.

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The Mythical European Umma

December 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Khaled Diab, Guardian

Muslims in Europe are secretly amassing an arsenal of the deadliest in biological weaponry: the demographic time bomb. The first phase of the Muslim invasion – or should I say reinvasion – of Europe has already begun with the deployment of an expeditionary force of womb-men: a fearsome army of mutant ninja warriors whose function is to go forth and multiply. Their turbo-charged and perhaps even genetically modified uteruses mass produce the deadly biological agent which is currently being stockpiled in Muslim homes across the continent.

And their mission: to create Eurabia – or, better said, since many European Muslims are not Arabs, to turn the EU into the European Umma. Having been driven out of Europe once and unable to reconquer it through force of arms, those crafty and cunning Muslims are back to do it through the Trojan horse of immigration and reproduction.

Some dismiss this demographic time bomb as being far-fetched and as fantastical as Saddam Hussein’s non-existent arsenal of WMD, but yet another smoking gun has been found in the Netherlands. Troubling evidence has emerged that Muhammad has become the most popular boy’s name in the country’s four biggest cities. And a similar situation is emerging in other European urban centres.

In fact, five centuries after the reconquest of Granada, that last Muslim stronghold, Eurabia has established its first de facto capital in Rotterdam. And when the number of Muhammads and other assorted Mohammedans become a majority over the coming century – as the great Bernard Lewis warned – they will form an army of mujahideen of Talibanesque horror which will subjugate the natives and make them live as second-class dhimmis under sharia law.

As far-fetched conspiracy theories go, the Eurabia myth is one of the most persistent and dangerous of recent years – and the Daily Telegraph fanned the controversy this month with its claims that it had carried out an investigation which revealed that the EU’s Muslim population would jump from the current 4-5% to an improbable 20% by 2050.The six-paragraph article gives no indication of how the projections were arrived at, nor the assumptions upon which they were based. In fact, as the BBC pointed out in a piece debunking a popular YouTube hit on “Muslim Demographics”, population projection is an inexact science. It cites, as an example, the projections made in the 1930s that the UK’s population would fall to 20 million by the end of the 20th century.

Most projections that foresee a massive increase in Europe’s Muslim population are based on certain assumptions which are hard to justify. They assume that recent immigration trends will continue indefinitely for decades to come, but this is unlikely as Europe continuously raises the immigration bar for non-EU citizens, and it is not far-fetched to expect that many European countries may call a halt to immigration or draw their future immigrants from certain more “desirable” countries. The projections also assume that European Muslims will continue to have a significantly higher fertility rate than the population at large. But evidence suggests that the fertility rates of Muslim women are gradually converging with those of the wider population. And there are signs that the fertility rate among the white population of some European countries, such as France, is recovering.

So, given that the only hard facts we can be sure of is that a small minority of about 4% of the EU’s population is Muslim, why is this fear of a coming Eurabia so strong in certain quarters? Many of the biggest proponents of the Muslim demographic time bomb myth are cheerleaders of and apologists for US imperialism in the Middle East, such as Bat Y’eor and Bernard Lewis.

Some Europeans, particularly from conservative and Christian circles and the intolerant wing of liberalism, have fallen for the myth for a variety of reasons. One is the relatively rapid shift in western Europe towards multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies in recent decades, which has caused a certain sense of alienation and insecurity, especially for those whose economic security has been undermined by neo-liberal economics and globalisation. Other reasons are the massive lifestyle and social changes. These have caused distress for traditionalists and people who still identify themselves as Christian: they have seen their religion die a slow death, while Islam seems to go from strength to strength.

Then, there is the plain old fear stoked by the overexposure given to the most intolerant Islamic fringe groups and individuals. Certainly, there are some European Muslims who want to live according to sharia and there is even a lunatic fringe who would like to see Europe incorporated into some fantastical global caliphate. But Muslims in Europe are not some unified, monolithic force. Not only are they ethnically diverse and from communities that are not the greatest fans of each other – consider the animosity between Moroccans and Algerians, for example – they are also as varied ideologically as the rest of the population.

Although Muslims tend to be more religious and conservative than the rest of society, there are also plenty of secular, non-practising, cultural and even non-believing Muslims. In addition, it is impossible to tell what kind of identities future European Muslims will have, but I suspect that the future cultural fault lines in Europe will not run along traditional religious lines, but will pit believers against non-believers, creating a kind unity of purpose between conservative Muslims and Christians intent on preserving faith in a “Godless Europe”. While Eurabia is a fantasy, Europe is almost certainly going to become more diverse in the future, and so a debate is worth having about how to adapt to this reality and what constitutes citizenship in an increasingly mobile world.

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UN: Make Israel War Crime Trial

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem

Report also censures Hamas but accuses Israelis of punishing entire population of the Palestinian Strip

Israel targeted “the people of Gaza as a whole” in the three-week military operation which is estimated to have killed more than 1,300 Palestinians at the beginning of this year, according to a UN-commissioned report published yesterday.

A UN fact-finding mission led by the South African judge Richard Goldstone said Israel should face prosecution by the International Criminal Court unless it opened independent investigations of what the report said were repeated violations of international law, “possible war crimes and crimes against humanity” during the operation.

Using by far the strongest language of any of the numerous reports criticizing Operation Cast Lead, the UN mission, which interviewed victims, witnesses and others in Gaza and Geneva this summer, says that, while Israel had portrayed the war as self-defense in response to Hamas rocket attacks, it “considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole.

“In this respect the operations were in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population for its resilience and for its apparent support for Hamas, and possibly with the intent of forcing a change in such support,” the report said.

The 575-page document presented to yesterday’s session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva was swiftly denounced by Israel. The foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the UN mission had “dealt a huge blow to governments seeking to defend their citizens from terror”, and that its conclusions were “so disconnected with realities on the ground that one cannot but wonder on which planet was the Gaza Strip they visited”.

The Gaza war began on 27 December 2008 and ended on 18 January 2009.

The UN report found that the statements of military and political leaders in Israel before and during the operation indicated that they intended the use of “disproportionate force”, aimed not only at the enemy but also at the “supporting infrastructure”. The mission adds: “In practice this appears to have meant the civilian population.”

The mission also had harsh conclusions about Hamas and other armed groups, acknowledging that rocket and mortar attacks have caused terror in southern Israel, and saying that, where such attacks were launched into civilians areas, they would “constitute war crimes” and “may amount to crimes against humanity”.

It also condemned the extrajudicial killings, detention and ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees by the Hamas regime in Gaza – as well as by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank – and called for the release on humanitarian grounds of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli corporal abducted by Gaza militants in June 2006.

While the Israeli government refused to co-operate with the inquiry – or allow the UN team into Israel – on the ground that the team would be”one-sided”, Corporal Shalit’s father, Noam, was among those Israeli citizens who flew to Geneva to give evidence.

That said, the greater part of the report – and its strongest language – is reserved for Israel’s conduct during the operation. Apart from the unprecedented death toll, the report says that “the destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a systematic policy by the Israeli armed forces”. The purpose was not to avert a military threat, but “to make the daily process of living and dignified living more difficult for the civilian population”.

The report also says that vandalism of houses by some soldiers and “the graffiti on the walls, the obscenities and often racist slogans constituted an overall image of humiliation and dehumanization of the Palestinian population”.

Amid a detailed examination of most of the major incidents of the war – albeit one carried out five months after it took place – it says that:

* The first bombing attack on Day One of the operation, when children were going home from school, “appears to have been calculated to cause the greatest disruption and widespread panic”.

* The firing of white phosphorus shells at the UN Relief and Works Agency compound was “compounded by reckless regard of the consequences”, and the use of high explosive artillery at the al-Quds hospitals were violations of Articles 18 and 19 of the Geneva Convention. It says that warnings issued by Israel to the civilian population “cannot be considered as sufficiently effective” under the convention.

* On the attack in the vicinity of the al-Fakhoura school where at least 35 Palestinians were killed, Israeli forces launched an attack where a “reasonable commander” would have considered military advantage was outweighed by the risk to civilian life. Under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the civilians had their right to life forfeited. And while some of the 99 policemen killed in incidents surveyed by the team may have been members of armed groups, others who were not also had their right to life violated.

* The inquiry team also says that a number of Palestinians were used as human shields – itself a violation of the ICCPR – including Majdi Abed Rabbo, whose complaints about being so used were first aired in The Independent. The report asserts that the use of human shields constitutes a “war crime under the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court”.

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