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Latest One World column

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Joined: 16 Jan 2004
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Location: Norwich, England

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Great forum!

Every Saturday the EDP publishes the One World column. This column deals with environmental, development and peace type issues. Here is the latest column - published on 18 September 2004.

Why do Iraqis kill their ‘liberators’?

Experienced Middle East journalist Robert Fisk argues the Americans have faced the same problem in Iraq from the start: “explaining how Iraqis who they allegedly came to ‘liberate’ should want to kill them.” The questions raised about US tactics in Iraq by Steve Snelling in last Saturday’s EDP are thus very pertinent. The recent uprising in Najaf confirms Fisk’s thesis, however nowhere is this paradox more apparent than in Falluja, where, during a week in early April, US forces killed over 600 Iraqis and wounded over 1,000.

For the Western media, events in Falluja began with the murder and mutilation of four US private security guards on March 31. However, the Iraqis know different. In April 2003 US soldiers killed 18 protestors during a demonstration. After six months of occupation, US forces had killed at least 40 people in the city. In response to the killing of an American soldier, on March 27 US Marines undertook a “sweep” through the city, killing at least six Iraqi civilians, including an 11 year-old boy. It was in this heightened atmosphere that the private security guards were murdered.

On April 5 the US military sealed off the city, cut the power and launched military operations, using heavy artillery, cluster bombs, 70-ton main battle tanks, F-16 fighter-bombers and Apache helicopters. The US commander explained that US marines are “trained to be precise in their firepower”, and that “95% of those killed were military age males.”

However, eyewitness accounts from those who managed to flee the city, international observers and journalists contradict the official US story. During the incursion, US soldiers occupied the city’s main hospital, a violation of the Geneva Convention. Ibrahim Younis, the Iraqi emergency coordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres, said “the Americans put a sniper position on top of the hospital’s water tower and had troops in the single-story building.” Mr. Younis noted this meant many wounded died because of inadequate healthcare.

The heavy use of snipers by US forces is confirmed by testimony from both sides. A 21-year old Marine Corporal told the Los Angeles Times that Falluja was “a sniper’s dream.” He continued: “Sometimes a guy will go down, and I’ll let him scream a bit to destroy the morale of his buddies, then I’ll use a second shot.” However, it is clear US snipers killed many Iraqi civilians. Journalist Dahr Jamail saw “an endless stream of women and children who have been sniped by the Americans.” Jo Wilding, a human rights campaigner from Bristol said, “the times I have been shot at – once in an ambulance and once on foot trying to deliver medical supplies – it was US snipers in both cases.”

Contrary to US military claims of precision firepower, the director of the town’s general hospital, Rafie al-Issawi, estimated that the vast majority of the dead were women, children and the elderly.

With a few exceptions, the facts presented above have been largely ignored by the mainstream media in the UK. The chief of the Falluja delegation for the ongoing negotiations with the US said, “we are facing what can be called… war crimes.” Amnesty International said they were “deeply concerned at the ever mounting civilian death toll” and that “the parties to the conflict have disregarded international humanitarian law.” Even Adnan Pachachi, widely seen as the most pro-American member of the (then operating) Iraqi Governing Council said “we consider the action carried out by US forces as illegal and totally unacceptable.”

In Najaf, the US forces implemented similar tactics to Falluja – sniping civilians, cutting the power and limiting access to hospitals. According to American commanders as many as 1,000 Iraqi fighters may have been killed in Najaf, compared to just 11 American deaths.

Last Friday, the vision of an independent Iraq, free of US/UK troops, gained an unlikely supporter. In its editorial the Financial Times argued “the time has come to consider whether a structural withdrawal… can chart a path out of the current chaos.” And it is chaos. On Sunday 13 Iraqis were killed in Baghdad when US helicopters fired on a crowd of unarmed civilians. On Monday a US air strike on Falluja killed over 15 people, including an ambulance driver and two nurses when an ambulance was hit. On Tuesday 47 people were killed and over 100 injured in a bomb blast in Baghdad, and 12 policemen were killed in Baquba.

Only a complete Coalition withdrawal will bring this bloodshed to an end, because, as Kofi Annan said last October, “as long as there’s an occupation, the resistance will grow.”

Ian Sinclair
Thu Sep 23, 2004 9:27 am
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Joined: 16 Jan 2004
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Location: Norwich, England

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Who Dares Wins

by Marguerite Finn

Recently I wrote about five young men whose courage to refuse to serve with the Israeli Defence Forces earned them two years in jail.

Today I am delighted to report that the five – Haggai Matar, Matan Kaminer, Noam Bahat, Shimri Tzameret and Adam Maor – were released from jail on 15 September.
They had to endure several more days of nerve-wracking uncertainty as to their future before learning that they had been permanently dismissed from army service. Had they not received this dismissal, they would have been required to re-enlist or face further imprisonment if they refused. The military committee, in deciding to exempt them, particularly noted their contribution to society before they were taken into custody and also during their incarceration where they served as tutors and helped other prisoners in various ways.

Adam Maor said: “ In spite of the heavy punishment we received, we feel victorious. We will continue working to end the occupation and to contribute to society.” The loyalty and devotion to Israel of the refuseniks is unquestionable, “We refused out of love for this place and for the people who live here. All along the way, we asked to do alternative service to contribute in our own way to the community. With our release, we will work according to these principles”, affirmed Matan Kaminer.

While still at school, Haggai Matar took part in a joint summer school for Israelis and Palestinians, and subsequently he became active in various anti-occupation groups.
He visited Salfit in the Occupied West Bank and what he saw there convinced him that he had no option but “to refuse to be part of an army occupying another people and destroying Israeli society”. What he would say to anyone else considering military refusal? “I would say ‘Hey, you are already doing the most important thing – and that is considering itself’. The problem with Israeli politics these days is that the majority just doesn’t stop to think, to ask the question: ‘ What is the moral thing to do?’”

I asked him what people outside of Israel could do to help. He replied, “It is very important for us, and for future refuseniks, to get support from people all over the world. It makes you feel better in your hardest times in prison, that you are a part of something greater, international.”

Haggai told me that there is a growing movement for change in Israeli society. Israel is one of the most militarised societies on earth, yet Haggai says, “Now, there are about 40-60 percent who either don’t enlist or don’t finish their first year in the army. This is an amazing figure, not talked about too often in Israel.” Is this, perhaps, the outward manifestation of the internal struggle engaging the minds of many soldiers serving in the occupied territories: Can they treat the thousands of Palestinians passing through the road blocks like equal human beings? Dr. Ian Gibson M.P.
may have been asking the same question when the Palestinian ambulance taking him to hospital for urgent medical treatment for a stroke, was held up for 1½ hours at an Israeli checkpoint on Saturday.

Israeli culture and media portray a world in which the use of force is the normal means of solving political problems. Ilan Pappe, lecturer in Political Science at Haifa University, says, “Israel in 2004 is a paranoid society led by a fanatical political elite, determined to bring the conflict to an end by force and destruction, whatever the price to its society or its potential victims --- while the rest of the world watches helpless and bewildered.” He fears that “the critical instincts of both intellectuals and journalists have petered out in the last four years. There is an ethical void which allows the government to go on killing unarmed Palestinians and, thanks to curfews and long periods of closure, starving the society under occupation.” A recent report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) states that the Palestinian economy ‘will sink to mere subsistence’ without aid and urges immediate action to shore up small and medium-sized business in the occupied territories.

This is Haggai’s world – but it is ours too. Like Haggai, we must ask questions, like why the UN resolution 242 of 1967 calling for the withdrawal from the occupied territories has been ignored by Israel for over 35 years - with no action from the West?

We owe it to Haggai and all young Israelis fighting for justice, to demand answers.

I am grateful to Haggai Matar in Israel for his input and inspiration.

First published in the Eastern Daily Press
Tue Sep 28, 2004 12:25 pm
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