|Southwest Asia News Digest
'Not One Bag of Cement Has Been Allowed into Gaza'
Oct. 13 (EIRNS)John Ging, the director of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), left no doubt, in remarks at the New America Foundation on Oct. 13, that the Israeli siege of Gaza continues without letup. Humanitarian relief supplies are allowed into Gaza each day, but reconstruction materials, including cement and steel, are not. The consequence of this, is that the infrastructure in Gaza is collapsing. Sewage is pumped into the Mediterranean, because the sewage system can't handle it; water quality is collapsing; education is being truncated because there aren't enough school buildings. Fifty-thousand homes were damaged or destroyed by the Israeli assault on Gaza last Winter, and cannot be rebuilt. The already very weak economy has collapsed, leaving people who had jobs before the siege, living on handouts.
Even worse, Ging said, is the impact on the mindset of the people, especially the young, given that half the population is under the age of 18. People see no prospects for the future. They hear talk every day of concern for them, and talk of efforts to find a political solution, yet conditions just get worse every day. "Frustration and despair are the reality for so many people," Ging said. "The children are being shaped by this environment."
Ging said repeatedly that the siege is a violation of international law. International law provides that civilians in a conflict zone must be protected, and the Gazans are not. That means that the siege is illegal under international law. "The people of Gaza will be satisfied if the international laws of war are upheld," he said. "They don't accept that they're paying the price for this conflict and their rights are not being upheld."
UNRWA is the primary means of support for the entire population of Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, including about 1 million people in Gaza.
Rep. Ellison: Support Goldstone Report on Gaza War Crimes
Oct. 16 (EIRNS)Speaking at the annual National Council on U.S. Arab Relations in Washington, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first U.S. Congressman of the Islamic faith, fielded questions from an international audience about U.S. attitudes on the Middle East, especially human rights for Palestinians, and the issue of a Palestinian State. Ellison warned the audience of over 600 people, that certain members of the U.S. Congress are preparing a resolution denouncing the Goldstone Report, which was commissioned by the UN Commission on Human Rights, in April 2009, to investigate whether war crimes were committed in the 24 days of Israeli attacks that ended on Jan. 18, 2009. The report concluded that both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes.
Ellison said, "A resolution is being drafted right now because some members [of Congress] want to condemn the Goldstone Report," and added, "I will vote against it [the measure]." Quoting the U.S. civil rights leader and author James Baldwin, Ellison said, "Whatever can be faced, can be fixed," and that if Israel will not face what is in the report that finds that Israel did commit war crimes in Gaza, then it cannot be fixed. Ellison said that it was "a bad idea" for the United Nations, and for the Palestinian Authority to delay and defer the report. He said that the United States has done a lot of regrettable things in its historyslavery, Jim Crow, Guantanamobut that it corrected them. You cannot fix anything that you do not face, and that is the question that Israel can solve now, he said.
He criticized Israel for refusing to participate, saying that "To not participate in the process and then condemn the final product, cannot be accepted."
UN Human Rights Council Votes on the Goldstone Report
Oct. 17 (EIRNS)On Oct. 16, the UN Human Rights Council voted 25 to 6 to forward the Goldstone Report for consideration by the UN General Assembly in its 64th session. The U.S. was among those voting against; Britain and France did not vote. Other "no" votes were cast by Italy, the Netherlands, Hungary, Slovakia, and Ukraine.
The resolution is in three parts. Part A condemns all policies of Israel in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that hinder Palestinian access to holy sites; Israeli confiscation of lands and home demolitions; and the digging and excavation activities around the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Part B condemns the lack of implementation by Israel of the Geneva Conventions regarding the protection of civilians in time of war. Part C condemns Israel for its siege of the Gaza Strip, as collective punishment of Palestinian civilians.
Douglas Griffiths, the U.S. representative on the council, complained that the resolution "only exacerbates polarization and divisiveness at a time when the emphasis should be on relaunching peace talks."
Even though Britain did not vote, it appears that the British government was quite active prior to the vote. According to the Guardian, Prime Minister Gordon Brown made at least two "heated" phone calls to Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu, one on Oct. 14, and again, in the hours before the vote. A Downing Street spokesman said, "We did not participate in the vote. We were involved in discussions with Israel and the Palestinians about potentially substantive improvements in the situation on the ground and therefore asked for a delay to the vote."
The London Times quotes British diplomat Peter Gooderham blaming "wrecking tactics" by other countries for Britain's failure to vote. Britain had been involved in efforts to wrest last-ditch concessions from Israel, amid warnings that the resolution would do irrevocable harm to the peace process, reports the Times. Britain had been planning to abstain from voting over concerns that the resolution was unfairly biased against Israel, but was unwilling to risk weakening Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas by standing with Washington against it. According to the Times, that position began to unravel when it became clear that other European countries, including Italy and the Netherlands, were preparing to vote against it, which would have left Britain and France looking out of step with the rest of Europe.
British officials said that Britain and France decided they would support Netanyahu if they could get three concessions from hima settlement freeze, an independent Israeli investigation, and an immediate lifting of the blockade on Gaza. The effort was thwarted, however, when Egypt, a co-sponsor of the resolution, refused French appeals for a delay in the vote, forcing the vote before any concessions could be wrung from Israel.
The Times quotes Richard Goldstone saying the resolution saddened him, because "it includes only allegations against Israel. There is not a single phrase condemning Hamas, as we have done in the report."
Iran Seeks Nuclear Capability, Not a Bomb, Say Experts
Oct. 16 (EIRNS)Iran wants to develop the capability and the know-how to build a nuclear weapon, but has not yet made the decision to actually build one, two longtime experts said, speaking on an Oct. 15 conference call sponsored by the Israeli Policy Forum.
Columbia University Prof. Gary Sick said that Iran can develop this capability within the rules of the Non-Proliferation Treaty; he said that the recently disclosed Qom site is within the rules of the NPT, so long as no nuclear material is actually introduced.
Sick said that there are about 40 countries which have this capability without having built a bomb, and that although it's probably too late to keep Iran out of this 40-country club, U.S. policy should be to keep Iran in this "latent" stage. He said it might have been possible to keep Iran from developing a nuclear capability 10-15 years ago, if we had pursued regional cooperation, in which the U.S. and Iran had common interests; but instead we labelled them part of the "axis of evil."
Sick said that he first heard the claim that Iran was 3-5 years away from having a bomb in 1991, from Netanyahu, and that he and others have been making the same claim ever since. But in reality, Sick declared, Iran is not an imminent threat to anyone. The serious estimates are that Iran could not develop a prototype weapon in less than three years; it would have to kick out the International Atomic Energy Agency, then increase the production of enriched uranium, and then develop the technology to form it into a hemispheric globe, etc. But even then, Iran could only test it, not deploy it on a missile. And it would only have one warhead. Sick pointed out that it took other countries 6-10 years to develop a bomb, once they decided to do so.
Prof. Mohsen Milani of Southern Florida University said that no one should underestimate the extent to which Iran sees the development of a nuclear capability as a deterrent, since it is surrounded by nuclear powers, including Israel, Pakistan, and Russia.
Both Sick and Milani warned against the illusion that Iran could be stopped by a surgical military strike. Iran would retaliate in many ways against both Israel and the United States, and matters would quickly escalate into all-out war. Sick said that an attack on Iran would not halt Iran's nuclear program; it would only speed it up. It would also cause the opposition forces to rally around the regime, signalling the end of the reformist movement.