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Recalling Operation Cast Lead with Richard Falk, part 1 of 2
December 26, 2018 Helena Cobban

Recalling Operation Cast Lead with Richard Falk, part 1 of 2 (28:40)

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Date: December 26, 2018

By: Helena Cobban

This episode of our podcast is part of a special mini-series we’re releasing as part of our “Cast Lead Plus Ten” project, which will run for 22 days, December 27, 2018 through January 17, 2019, to mark the tenth anniversary of Israel’s brutal “Operation Cast Lead” assault against Gaza, which ran for precisely those same 22 days, ten years ago. 

In the first episode in this mini-series you can hear the first half of a conversation I had about Cast Lead with the distinguished international jurist Richard Falk. In this episode, we covered the period from when Falk was named the UN Human Rights Council’s Special rapporteur on the rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, earlier in 2008, through the main aspects of the 22-day assault, concluding with the ceasefire reached on January 17, 2009.

Episode Transcript

Speaker 1:0:01Hello listeners everywhere. I'm Helena carbon, the president of just World Educational, a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding the discourse here in the United States and worldwide on vital issues of peace and justice, especially in the long troubled Middle East. This episode of our podcast is part of a special mini series we're releasing as part of our cost lead plus 10 project, which will run for 22 days, December 27th, 2018 through January 17th, 2019 to mark the 10th anniversary of Israel's brutal operation cast lead assault against Gaza, which ran for precisely those same 22 days 10 years ago. If you're on social media, we're using the Hashtag Hashtag cost lead plus 10 with the 10 in new roles to draw together. The numerous activities will be running on our twitter and facebook accounts throughout this 22 day campaign. Do follow us on both platforms. If you're able on twitter, we're at just world Ed.

Speaker 1:1:15In the first episode in this mini series, you can hear the first time for the conversation I had recently about cost lead with a distinguished international jurist, Richard Folk. In this episode, we covered the period from when fault was named the UN Human Rights Council special rapporteur on the situation, the occupied Palestinian territories earlier in 2008 through the main aspects of the 22 day assault. Concluding with the ceasefire five reached on January 17th, 2009 in the coming episodes. You can hear the second half of my conversation with Richard Fault in which we discussed the strategic impact and lasting legacy of operation cast lead and just separate conversation I had with the Veterans Social Justice activist Joe k John, who recently joined just world educational as our director of outreach in it. Joe Talks about how costs lead was a big factor, galvanizing his interest in the Palestine issue and also about the time he spent in Gaza from early 2011 through fall 2014, a period which sought to further Israeli assaults on Gaza assaults. That almost certainly would have been prevented if Israel had been held accountable for the crimes that are committed in the 2008, 2009. Assault here then is the first half of my conversation with Richard Folk.

Speaker 2:2:52I'm delighted to be joined here by Richard Falk, who, who's a member of our board directors at the of educational and a very, very distinguished international jurist who from 2008 to 2014 was the special rapporteur for the UN Human Rights Council for the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. So I'm Richard to your. Tom began just before a little few months before cost lead happens. Could you tell us how your, your appointment was, was received by the Israelis and what happened on your first attempt to go and visit Palestine?

Speaker 3:3:40Yes, of course. Let me first say that I'm happy to join you in this conversation. And going back to the appointment was made in June of uh, 2008. I succeeded John to guard who was a South African jurist who had gradually become more critical of Israel's behavior as an occupying power and this, uh, angered Israel so that they lobbied very hard to get someone that they would consider sympathetic with their overall position. And we're a visibly disappointed by my selection because I was perceived as more critical than jogged to guard who had been the target of their anger to begin with. Uh, the UN, uh, ambassador from the United States at that time was John Bolton, the present national security advisor to trump who greeted my, uh, appointment by saying not only was I approved cake is a is, but also my selecting me showed, uh, how a terrible the UN was as an organization.

Speaker 3:5:18And I didn't really deserve a serious support. So when I came, my first, uh, so-called mission was to meet with Palestinian Authority leaders, including a Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. And I had an approved, a temporary that we had shown to the Israeli embassy in Geneva. And the visas had been granted to my two assistants. So, uh, I assumed and the people in Geneva with experience convinced that I would have no difficulty entering to carry out the mission. But as it turned out, I was detained at the airport and expelled under the pretext that I had been warned not to come. Which was a kind of live that was told to the media at the time and I spent some hours in a prison cell not far from the airport and came back to the US and tried to explain what has happened to the media and I think it was partly a consequence of this not wanting me to be there just prior to plans to launch cast lead and the theories that kind of indication that they were nervous about having a car, a UN, uh, official, uh, authenticate the breaking of the truth and the launching of this massive attack on Gaza in the days, uh, just following the Christmas holiday

Speaker 2:7:19so you will, not in Palestine or Israel during cost led, but presumably watching it from afar. So the operation started on December 27 and um, wasn't very brutal assault from land, sea and air. Well starting off with her and see attack against Gaza. And then, um, the Israeli military about two weeks in or 10 days in sentence land forces as well to try to root out cms central leadership. They fail to do that, but they inflicted obviously very, very serious casualties on the whole population of, of God that which was then about one point eight or one point 9 million people and I'm devastated. A lot of the physical infrastructure and the housing stock in, in Gaza and we will be providing on the website a lot of information about the losses and about what happened day by day. So some way you were looking at the report and getting the report from the UN. People who were in guys I would, Anwar and UNICEF and other UN bodies. What was your feeling about the kind of about the behavior of the Israeli military and then also obviously

Speaker 3:8:56Palestinian Pfizer's during that it was hard to get a very clear picture of what was happening except the, uh, the basic realities of Israel was using a highly sophisticated modern technology of war against a completely vulnerable society that had comparatively primitive weaponry. And I think the comparison of the casualties is revealing in that respect because, well, a, an estimated 1400 Palestinians were killed. Only 13 Israelis died. And of those, at least for were results of friendly fire and this, these kind of casualty, a imbalances does remind one of colonial wars or the wars between the, uh, early American settlers and the American native Americans and suggests the kind of unacceptable reliance on excessive force that has been a characteristic of the Israeli occupation and indeed suppression of the Palestinian people as a whole, ever since 19, the 1948 war. And so in that sense, this was the whole approach in, um, to Gaza in cast lead, which was also tied to an upcoming election in Israel where the leadership as has been it's practice and other occasions tries to demonstrate both that Israel is subject to security threats and those threats will be met by overwhelming force.

Speaker 3:11:09Uh, that Castle Ed is a kind of a example of that's a characteristic Israeli policy. And it was also away at the time of signaling to Iran and other adversaries in the region, uh, that Israel will not hesitate to use overwhelming force if it's security interests are in any way challenged. And so this was a very important, a set of events beyond the cruelty and, uh, excessive violence, um, that was used to really terrorize the Palestinian population in Gaza as a whole and probably to try to convince the Palestinians that unless they got rid of Hamas as their, uh, leaders, uh, or as their, as the governing force in Gaza, they would continue to be victimized in this way. And so not only was it excessive force, but it was a collective punishment, which is a explicitly prohibited by article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and is widely considered to be a crime against humanity on its own.

Speaker 3:12:49So there was very serious encroachment, um, uh, what a, what a political conflict should involve. And that condition was aggravated by the fact that Israel, as the occupying power had particular responsibility to minimize any suffering of the civilian population. That was the whole point of the Geneva Conventions, is to create a framework where when occupation occurs, it should be carried out in a manner that is as protective of the civilian population as it's possible to be. So that contrasts with the Israeli a approach which is to terrorize the civilian population with excessive force that is administered punitively. So I think it does a to remind us of what in concrete terms, this occupation, uh, involves for the Palestinian people and the responsibility that should be engaged with respect to Israel and its leadership.

Speaker 2:14:20So the Israelis, well, many Israelis and they're supportive in this country, claim that, um, by withdrawing the soldiers and settlers from the house of Gaza in 2005, the Israeli government therefore is no longer the occupying power in the same way or in any way they claim that it's not the occupying power. What do you think about that?

Speaker 3:14:50Well, I think it's an extremely misleading, a construction of the reality and has been consistently rejected by the United Nations and, uh, almost all objective observers because the disengagement, uh, that occurred in 2005, uh, involve withdrawing to borders but controlling entry and exit and has been compared to a prison in which, uh, the guards maintain control over the borders of the prison. But don't enter into the grounds themselves except when there's a trouble or some kind of a operation of the sort. This cast lead represented in, uh, at night 2008, even someone as conservative as David Cameron when he was prime minister called, uh, the administration of Gaza, the largest open air prison in the world. And numerous people have made numerous conservative leaders and others have made a similar comment. So that, uh, the notion that disengagement involved an end to the occupation, uh, was a really cruel joke in a way because it was never a harsher for, uh, the people of Gaza.

Speaker 3:16:39The occupation was probably more tolerable condition of occupation or more tolerable form of occupations because after 2005 and after the Hamas won the elections in 2006 and took over from fat, uh, uh, the governing of Gaza in 2007, a blockade was imposed. And the people there were unable to import lots of things they needed for health and for the reconstruction of the homes that had been destroyed during a cast lead. So in every, a genuine way a gossip remains occupied, Israel remains responsible and under international law and the UN, uh, is completely in accord with that line of interpretation

Speaker 2:17:55and, and actually is Israel wasn't the occupying power in an illegal sense then the attacks that it launched in 2008 and then again in 2012 and 2014 would have been wars of aggression. Surely.

Speaker 3:18:14Yes, they then, and that is a question that should have been investigated. Uh, you know, if you accept the, as you say, the Israeli Line of defense, they're guilty of the worst crime under international criminal law that, uh, when the Nuremberg trials were held after World War II, the judgments, the crime against peace, which is what we are referring to when we talk about aggression, is a crime that embraces all the other crimes. And is the supreme crime against a international, uh, uh, peaceful relations. So it is true that the, uh, that Israeli construction of the reality is a subject to this kind of criticism. Of course, the Israelis say that they were engaged in a reasonable security undertaking that involve responses to rocket fire from Gaza and were generated by the realization that a Hamas was building tunnels that could have imperiled a Israeli security.

Speaker 2:19:51And interestingly, now we hear the same allegations from Israel against Lebanon, but

Speaker 3:19:58death, and of course some have pointed out if that was the real rationale for the attack, it could have been handled completely differently because since they knew the, uh, location of the tunnels, they could easily have a blocked them from the other end and there was no need to, uh, launch this extremely devastating. And for Vocativ operation,

Speaker 2:20:36how much has been accused of deliberately targeting civilians? What's your view of that?

Speaker 3:20:46Well, I think

Speaker 2:20:49responded with the weaponry they possessed, which is, as I said earlier, rather primitive and isn't capable of being guided to a precise target. So it's more than that. They have indiscriminate weaponry rather than they target civilians. Uh, and, uh, that is a violation of international customary law and is something that, uh, should be prohibited at the same time if you compare it to what a Gaza has been subjected to. It is very trivial by comparison to the firepower and destructiveness of what Israel has been doing. So it relates indirectly to how one conceives of the right of resistance in circumstances of this sort where a population including it's a civilian elements is subjected to persistent overwhelming violence. Is there nothing that can be done to protect that's a society by way of resistance, particularly in the absence of the international community, taking some responsibility for engaging in some sort of protective peacekeeping.

Speaker 2:22:37The UN was very proud of the norm responsibility to protect which was invoked in 2011, uh, to justify the intervention in Libya and was misused there. But nevertheless, it would be quite appropriate to protect the people of Gaza by engaging in that kind of undertaking. A that could be validated by responsibility to protect a rationale. But of course in the Security Council, which would have to decide to do that, uh, the UN, the US with certainly a veto, any such initiative, unless Israel, uh, unexpectedly were to get their agreement to that. Um, so, so later, this question of where the hemis deliberately targeted civilians, I think it came up with the Goldstone report, which we'll get to in a moment, but I spend looking at the casualty figures. So only during the 22 days of cost lead in Israel, there were 10 soldiers killed of whom, as you mentioned, for what killed by incendiary fire incident. So six of them were presumably killed by, by Hamas and three civilians were killed in Israel, which makes me question whether Hamas was targeting civilians because you know, there are a lot more civilians in the south of Israel. Then there are members of the military. And actually what it looks like just from those sectors is that they were targeting the military as much as they were capable of targeting anybody. And I think most of those military losses happened during the phase of the war when

Speaker 2:24:49five.

Speaker 3:24:50That's quite correct. And if you think about the proportion of civilian to a combat deaths on the Israeli side, three times more combatants were killed than civilians tend to three, whereas on the Palestinian side, at least a 926, uh, civilians were killed and only 200 and some, uh, combatants, uh, which, uh, among the verified casualties, and that would suggest the four times as many civilians were killed by Israel than a combat, which is just the reverse of what the Palestinians did. So it raises the question, who were the terrorists in this engagement? And if, if the essence of terrorism is use the use of violence against civilians, certainly the casualty tow a totals, a racist suspicions about Israel's identity.

Speaker 2:26:15I think that's a very good point. I mean, I think definition of terrorism is you use of or threat of use of violence against civilians for political purposes. And clearly the Israelis had a political purpose which was to remove or unseats or dismantle the governing authority. Um, but at the end of the day, if we race forward to January the 17th, I'm after some friendlies, international diplomacy from which of course Washington was kind of absence because it was the lendup stage of the George W dot Bush presidency and everybody was eagerly awaiting the fresh presidency of Barack Obama. So the international aspects of the diplomacy would handled much more as I recall by front and so froth and Egypt, um, sort of brokerage, another ceasefire, um, on January 17th, which was not wholly successful but have remained in power. And then I think the Israelis went fairly speedily to that election that you talked about and it would almost had already been, um, I think displaced from being at the head of his parties list. So then we went into, into internets on Yahoo, I think. Yes.

Speaker 1:27:57Hey there. Just to remind you on December 30th, we'll be releasing the second half of this conversation with Richard Falk. This mini series on just world podcast is part of our board at cost plus 10 campaign. You can find more information about the campaign on our website@wwwdotjustworldeducational.org. If you click on the donate tab on the website, you can learn about how you can help support our cost plus 10 campaign and the rest of our community education programs. We really appreciate any financial or volunteering help you can give us. Thanks and stay well.

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