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Stephen Zunes
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Saturday 1 December 2012
“The draft resolution blocked by the United States explicitly condemned all acts of terrorism and violence towards civilians, reaffirmed the right of all states to live in peace within secure and recognized borders, and called for an immediate and durable cease-fire.”

Obama’s Unconscionable Decision

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The November 22 cease-fire between Israeli and Hamas forces is a huge relief for the civilian population on both sides -- the primary victims of the conflict. But the Obama administration's unconscionable decision the previous week to block a cease-fire effort by the UN Security Council not only resulted in additional civilian deaths but also serves as an indication that, despite the president owing his reelection to the hard work of his progressive base, his foreign policy will continue to lean to the right.

The draft resolution blocked by the United States explicitly condemned all acts of terrorism and violence towards civilians, reaffirmed the right of all states to live in peace within secure and recognized borders, and called for an immediate and durable cease-fire. It reiterated that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could only be resolved through peaceful means and called for an immediate resumption of a substantive bilateral negotiating process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

This even-handedness was too much for the Obama administration, however, which promised to prevent the passage of any statement or resolution that didn't explicitly put the blame for the violence solely on Hamas. The administration's blockage of any consideration of any other effort made it appear as though President Obama would rather have the slaughter continue.

It is doubtful that many people at the United Nations will take Ambassador Susan Rice seriously again when she complains about Russia and China vetoing UN Security Council resolutions trying to stop the slaughter in Syria after her own blocking of UNSC efforts trying to stop the slaughter in Gaza.

Though Rice has appropriately condemned Palestinians when Islamist radicals fire rockets into Israel, she has also opposed nonviolent forms of resisting the occupation as well, such as rejecting recommendations by the UN's independent special rapporteur on human rights (who happens to be an American Jew) for a boycott of companies supporting Israel's illegal colonization of the West Bank as "irresponsible and unacceptable." The United States has also threatened to block any effort by the Palestine Authority to upgrade its status at the United Nations or raise its concerns about ongoing Israeli violations of international humanitarian law with the International Court of Justice or the UN Human Rights Council.

The administration has also adamantly opposed the use of strategic nonviolent action to help ease the suffering of the people of the Gaza Strip, defending Israel's attacks on unarmed ships on the high seas seeking to bring relief supplies. It appears that the United States wants the Palestinians to instead simply trust the "peace process" -- brokered by world's primary military, economic, and diplomatic supporter of their occupier -- with a right-wing government that rejects the necessary territorial compromise for a viable Palestinian state.

Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai has acknowledged that the goal of the offensive was to "send Gaza back to the middle ages," but Obama insisted that Israel's massive assault on the densely populated enclave was simply about "self-defense." While the rest of the world acknowledged that both sides were wrong, Obama insisted it was all the fault of the weaker party.

More than 25 times as many Palestinian civilians died from Israeli attacks than Israelis died from Palestinian attacks in the recent fighting, yet the Obama administration insisted that only the Israelis had the right to resist. Obama proclaimed that "There's no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders." Yet he insisted that Palestinians must somehow tolerate much greater destruction without striking back.

Indeed, in response to the outcry at the growing number of civilian casualties from the Israeli bombardment of civilian areas of the Gaza Strip, Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes insisted, "The Israelis are going to make decisions about their own military tactics and operations." When pressed as to whether the Obama administration would support international efforts to try to prevent an Israeli ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, Rhodes replied, "they'll make their own decisions about the tactics that they use in that regard."

Meanwhile, both the U.S. Senate and House passed by unanimous consent resolutions defending Israel's ongoing war on the Gaza Strip. Unlike the Obama administration's statements in support of Israel's attacks, these resolutions failed to call on both sides to exercise restraint and expressed no regret at the resulting casualties. In contrast to similar resolutions four years ago in support of Israel's deadly Operation Cast Lead, there was nothing in these most recent resolutions calling on the parties to avoid civilian casualties or work towards a durable and sustainable ceasefire. Nor was there any call for the president to try to calm the situation.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) noted how this supposedly "unanimous" vote supporting Israel's war on Gaza was taken with "no notice, no committee hearing, no discussion and no debate," adding, "In such a fashion, we achieve unanimity on great matters related to the Middle East."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was no doubt emboldened in launching his recent offensive by the strong support Israel received from the United States four years ago. For example, the U.S. House of Representatives -- in a direct challenge to the credibility of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Red Cross, and other reputable humanitarian organizations -- passed a resolution in January of 2009 declaring that the Israeli armed forces bore no responsibility for the large numbers of civilian casualties from their assault on the Gaza Strip. The resolution put forward a disturbing reinterpretation of international humanitarian law: that, by allegedly breaking the cease-fire, Hamas was responsible for all subsequent deaths, and that the presence of Hamas officials or militia members in mosques, hospitals, or residential areas made those locations legitimate targets.

The human rights investigations from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the UNHRC, and elsewhere examined Israeli claims that Hamas' alleged use of "human shields" was responsible for the large number of civilian casualties. While these probes sharply criticized Hamas for at times having men and materiel too close to civilian-populated areas, they were unable to find even one incident of Hamas deliberately holding civilians against their will in an effort to deter Israeli attacks, the legal definition of using human shields. The Obama administration and congressional leaders, however, insisted that they knew more about what happened inside the Gaza Strip than these expert human rights monitors and respected international jurists on the ground. They made similarly dubious claims to justify the most recent wave of Israeli attacks on civilian population centers.

As Amnesty and other human rights groups have observed, however, even if Hamas were using human shields, it would still not justify Israel killing Palestinian civilians. Indeed, if a botched bank robbery resulted in a hostage situation, it would not justify the police killing the bank's customers and tellers on the grounds that the robbers were using them as human shields.

In February 2009, Amnesty International called for an international arms embargo on both Israel and Hamas to prevent the kind of tragic attacks on civilians in which both sides are currently engaging. As an indication of his lack of support for international humanitarian law, Obama categorically rejected Amnesty's proposal and instead increased U.S. military aid to Israel to record levels. We saw the tragic results during the most recent wave of attacks. As it did four years earlier, Amnesty International has again called for an international arms embargo on both Israel and Hamas. Once again, however, it appears Obama and Congress will ignore it.

If Obama, as a private citizen, gave a gun to someone whom he knew would likely use it in a crime and a crime was committed with that gun, he could go to jail. He could not get away with saying, "This guy lives in a dangerous neighborhood and I thought he might need it for self-defense." As president, however, Obama can provide Netanyahu with billions of dollars' worth of weapons, some of which he knows would likely be targeted in populated neighborhoods resulting in civilian deaths, and never face the consequences.

The latest and most deadly round of fighting began when the fragile truce was broken by the assassination of Hamas military leader Ahmed al-Jabari. The Israeli media has reported that al-Jabari was in the process of negotiating a permanent truce. The Israeli government has had a history of killing Palestinian leaders once they moderate their activism.

And Hamas and other extremist groups have a history of lobbing rockets towards civilian-populated areas inside Israel, which is not only illegal and immoral, but is incredibly stupid in terms of hardening Israeli attitudes even further. Indeed, Hamas' actions set back the cause of Israeli moderates. And Israel's actions set back the cause of Palestinian moderates. More salient to those of us in the United States, Obama's actions hurt both.

The great wish of the early Zionist leader Theodor Herzl was that Israel would be treated like any other state. And there are certainly those who do unfairly single out Israel for criticism. It is just as wrong, however, to unfairly exempt Israel from criticism for its violations of international humanitarian law in its ongoing aerial bombardments of civilian neighborhoods, as the Obama administration has done.

Those of us who supported Obama's reelection have a special obligation to challenge his unconscionable support for Israel's attacks against civilian population centers in the Gaza Strip. It was wrong when Bush did it four years ago. And it's wrong now.



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ABOUT Stephen Zunes

Dr. Stephen Zunes is a Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, where he chairs the program in Middle Eastern Studies. A native of North Carolina, Professor Zunes received his PhD. from Cornell University, his M.A. from Temple University and his B.A. from Oberlin College. 

 

Facts? Armed Jews began

Facts? Armed Jews began killing Palestinians in 1947 and began at gunpoint removing the Palestinians from Palestinian homes and homelands and forced them into concentration camps/areas. No dispute, fact, the Jews/Israelis fired the first shot in the Israeli/Palestinian War. So, since 1947, the Palestinians have been doing nothing more than defending themselves from an armed invading force trying to steal their territory.

Accepting the slaughter of

Accepting the slaughter of civilians is not unconscionable?

Why are we even involved in

Why are we even involved in this dispute?

I agree with Curtis Smay.

I agree with Curtis Smay.

I admit that I don't fully

I admit that I don't fully understand what is going on here. But can anyone say they do? All I see is the madness of war unleashed time and time again on ordinary people who just want to live in peace. The latter is something I can understand, not the crooked excuses for selling arms to this side or that and the unwillingness of those in power to stop the atrocities for the simple reason that they're making money out of it. One good thing happened though, the UN now officially recognizes the Palestinian State. This was brought about by 'ordinary' people who managed to swing the vote through petitions and sheer people power, despite attempts to block it from the high and mighty. If it wasn't for us, the situation would continue as was. Now, however, there is at last an international recognition of Palestine as a country. I hope this will lead to serious peace negotiations and an end to this insane war. Peace to Palestine, peace to Israel. Peace on Earth. The People wish it so.

Sorry Mister B, I can't agree

Sorry Mister B, I can't agree that Zunes is up to preparing students to be servers at McDonalds. Those servers, after all, have to rely on key known facts and on common-sense logic, and that's not what Zunes provides here.

FACTS? According to Zunes, the Gaza fighting was escalated by Israel killing Jaberi. No mention of the prior weeks escalation of Hamas rocket attacks. Zunes credits such attacks with being resistance to an 'occupation' - but Israel's occupation of Gaza ended in 2005 - indeed in 80% of Gaza and almost all Palestinian heavily populated areas (in both Gaza and West Bank) it ended in 1994. And Israel's maritime blockade of Gaza is to block import of weapons and military construction materials, not of 'relief' supplies - which abound aplenty in Gaza (thanks to the region being the highest per-capita recipient of world and indeed USA and European aid, via UN and NGO agencies).

COMMON SENSE? Zunes finds 'unconscionable' that the USA doesn't go along with the typical UNGA version of 'even-handedness' , i.e. moral equivalence given to two conflicting aims or 'causes': the Hamas aim to destroy Israel, and the Israel aim to survive. The general UNGA principle is clear: when two parties fight, both must be equally at fault: even if one exists (indeed is self-chartered) precisely in order just to make war on and destroy the other. Zunes refines this logic a bit: he finds that the party (Hamas) which incurs more civilian casualties (because - whether with or without the civilians' consent - it deliberately launches its rockets from populous areas) inherently has equal or greater rights to 'resist' (i.e. make war).

It's doubtful whether McDonalds - or any usual USA enterprise - could long survive this UNGA/Zunes logic. According to that logic, when the cops finally come to rein in the robbers, inherently the cops and the robbers are equally to blame - and the cops are if anything more to blame in case fewer cops than robbers get hurt.

Zunes certainly can point to a lot of UN and NGO agencies (like AI and HRW) and their various reports and condemnations and made-up 'international law' and twisted terminology directed uniquely at Israel - more than at all other targets combined. All these agencies have gone into the business of appeasing and even pandering to the doctrinally anti-Israel bloc of largely repressive regimes which makes up a large proportion of the UN membership. Zunes can also point to vocal anti-Israel American Jews. Their existence is not surprising. Various groups have long been the target of systematically propagated hate, and each of these groups inevitably spawns its Uncle Toms and its victims of Stockholm syndrome: guys who are extra keen to been seen to have ditched loyalty to the group and its projects and to identify with the haters or at any rate to find or invent reasons that supposedly would validate the hatred.

"Man will never be truly free

"Man will never be truly free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest"-Denis Diderot

The author points out that

The author points out that palestinian civilians are not being used aas human Shields. He fails to note, however, that civilians who offer to participate in ways that place them potentially in harms way do so knowingly AND voluntarily.

If a customer in a bank witnesses a robbery in progress, and then offers to shield the criminals they are not a human shield. Assuming their cooperation is wholly voluntary, they are able to avoid the risk by simply going somewhere else.

"Jews have been the most

"Jews have been the most persecuted people and have experienced the most atrocities of anyone in the world"
Not true simply because they claim it so. Nor is it justification for them to persecute and wage atrocities upon others.
Many other groups of peoples have been completely removed from the face of this Earth by the violent actions of others, including the ones the Jews boast about exterminating in the old testament..

Israel has been repeating

Israel has been repeating this cycle for as long as I can remember , And Palestine has proved every time that they lack the ability to govern themselves . So why does the USA keep insisting in this non productive exercise. Israel will never be safe unless they go down there and take down the flag and put up their own and put police in there to control this terrorist actions. After all these people are like all the people of the world and they have to support some government to exist .

I agree with you, maybe that

I agree with you, maybe that is why should go in there like we did in Afganistán, and teach them how to govern.

The problem is as it always

The problem is as it always has been. Voodoo politics. The insistance that God "chooses" on race or group of people as superior to another based purely on myth. America is afraid of 'offending' God by NOT turning a blind eye to the atrocities commited by his "chosen" people because the Jews, in writing, claim to be God's superior 'Master Race' ordained to wage death, destruction and genocide upon whom ever they wish. Plus, affirming the actions of "God's Chosen People" panders to God for blessings to get away with the same.
Until we seperate the bullshit in religions from the truths in religions, the recurring nightmare of Hilter's Germany in this the Israeli/Palestinian War and countless other manifestations will continue to be visited upon us.
What we have as religions now is still no different than throwing virgins into a volcanoe. Big pontificating ceremony, someone dies and the volcanoe still erupts. But, from a pragmatic view, on a small island with limited space and resources, there's many mouths less to shelter and feed by killing off a female. Which goes back to one of the root causes of religion, males not being able to keep their dicks in their pants and blaming the females for there being too many mouths to feed.
Unless of course you're 'God's Chosen People', then you can be fruitful and multiply because you have the universal commandment to go forth and take the land, resources and food of others by throwing those people into the volcanoe with out the blink of an eye..

We (USA) don't have to

We (USA) don't have to seperate the truth from BS. We don't forward issues with no substansiation in firm ground to either side. The neighbors know they can whip each other into a frenzy claiming red shoe ownership entitles the owner to the deep water in the Sea of Galelee and they know better than ask us to bless or forward those kinds of premises. The US doesn't back the taking of land on the Palestinian side because of the 5 planeloads of Russian Violin players 7 days a week, landing in Tel Aviv every day of the year because God wants them in Israel. Israel has to honor their open imigration. The US finds that Palestinians sell their land to Israelis and are acquired legally. For too long there has been a distinction between ethics and business ethics. No president wants to tied up with Israel. They never get loose. I don't want our political process constipated by Israeli politics. Israel has it's own president, mine shouldn't be tied up solving problems another president should be fixing The Palestinians never take recommendations. We're not going to get a return from anything we try to shoe horn in a land populated by Palestinians and Israelis. If they tried half as hard as we do they could make life alot easier.

I've worked in Israel for a year. It's a busy modern place. It's quite enjoyable. But damn, they're as bull headed as the Palestinians. Both sides feel they're the most needy problem there is and the President stopping in a village in Africa or anywhere else to be with vicitims of a natural disaster is dissing them. Both sides have to develope some appreciation for our place in world politics.

I cannot think of anything to

I cannot think of anything to add, ANONO; you said it perfectly.
Primitive desert sky-god religions concerned only about "their" women, increasing their "tribe", and its survival.
Thank you.

That's funny. The Jews

That's funny. The Jews have been the most persecuted people and have experienced the most atrocities of anyone in the world. That is why their number are so small. I guess God didn't do a very good job of looking out for his Chosen People.

You are right never the less

You are right never the less in proportion they are controling our Congress...
Can you say God did it ?

I see nothing to indicate god

I see nothing to indicate god had anything to do with this debacle. If people would study enterprise and philosophy in stead of superstition and myth this world would be more prosperous.

Keep bombing them until they

Keep bombing them until they are back to the stone age.

Obama's decision wasn't

Obama's decision wasn't right wing and it wasn't unconscionable. It was the correct path to follow. Zunes needs to0 get his head on straight. Anytime I see in a professor's profile which says they are involved in some kind of studies, I think it's a safe bet they are preparing students to become servers at McDonalds. Certainly a respectable profession but not one they should attend college for.

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