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Calling for peace but fuelling war How US and others are helping to kill Palestinians

'How can the United States be a sponsor of the ceasefire at the same time it is sending arms to Israel?"

A Palestinian woman reacts as she stands next to her destroyed house in Beit Hanoun         Photograph: Reuters/ Suhaib Salem
A Palestinian woman reacts as she stands next to her destroyed house in Beit Hanoun Photograph: Reuters/ Suhaib Salem

'How can the United States be a sponsor of the ceasefire at the same time it is sending arms to Israel?"

This was the question reportedly thrown back at a journalist by the young Palestinian man he was interviewing in the Am'ari refugee camp in the West Bank town of Ramallah a few days ago.

The Palestinian had a point. Over the last few days the US Congress has rushed through a £134 million bill to support Israel's missile defence system.

On the July 15, a shipment of 4.3 tonnes of US-manufactured rocket motors, arrived in the Israeli port of Haifa. But the US weapons supplies didn't stop there. Over the course of the last few weeks the Pentagon has approved the immediate transfer of grenades and mortar rounds to the Israeli armed forces from a US arms stockpile pre-positioned in Israel.

These deliveries add to more than US$62 million worth of munitions, including guided missile parts and rocket launchers, artillery parts and small arms, already exported from the USA to Israel between January and May this year.

All this is nothing new of course. In the period 2008-19, the US is set to provide military aid to Israel worth $30 billion, while Israel's own annual military exports to the world have reached billions of dollars.

This exported Israeli military technology is marketed as "field-tested" and sent across the world.

European countries too are far from squeaky clean when it comes to this free flow of weapons.

In recent years, European countries have exported billions of euros' worth of weapons to Israel, and the EU has provided Israeli military companies with research grants worth hundreds of millions.

As Israel's Gaza offensive got under way in the last few weeks, there were reports that Italy perhaps more than any European Union country displayed its concrete support for the Israeli military complex with the delivery of Italian-made M-346 jet trainer aircraft to Hatzerim, an Israeli Air Force base in the Naqab (Negev).

These warplanes, say their manufacturers, are the most "advanced" of their type and will be used to train pilots for similar airstrike operations to the ones now being carried out against Gaza's 1.8 million people.

The Italian aircraft are the first in a batch of 30 M-346 trainers that Israel bought in 2012 from Alenia Aermacchi, a firm in the Finmeccanica Group, Italy's top weapons manufacturer. They are part of a $1bn "reciprocal" procurement package that largely favoured Israel and the remaining 28 aircraft are to be delivered by 2016.

In justifying the contract, Italian defence minister Roberta Pinotti said last week that "Italy does not provide Israel with weapons of an offensive nature".

She also said that Italy complies with the EU's code of conduct on arms exports, which has been legally binding since 2008.

Some observers however disagree saying that as the M-346 are military aircraft and their end-user - Israel - is occupying the land of another people, they are offensive by definition.

They point to the fact that the EU's code of conduct forbids weapons sales if the weapons in question are likely to facilitate the abuse of human rights or international law. To that end, they say there is ample evidence that Israel uses weapons to violate the rights of Palestinians and international law.

With Italy currently the holder of the EU's rotating presidency, activists say its blatant disregard for the EU's law against weapons sales to those breaching human rights is a serious cause for concern.

Last week, the United Nations stated that one Palestinian child had been killed by Israel every hour over the previous two days. On the same day that statistic was published (July 23), it was announced that Sardinia intends to host a multinational military exercise next month with the Israeli airforce scheduled to participate.

Yesterday, some of Israel's state-of-the-art weapons continued to rain down on Gaza, wreaking the havoc, destruction and suffering that has become grotesquely commonplace there over the last few weeks.

The attacks have led to human rights group Amnesty International calling on the US government to immediately end its ongoing deliveries of large quantities of arms to Israel, which it too says are providing the tools to commit further serious violations of international law in Gaza.

"It is deeply cynical for the White House to condemn the deaths and injuries of Palestinians, including children, and humanitarian workers, when it knows full well that the Israeli military responsible for such attacks are armed to the teeth with weapons and equipment bankrolled by US taxpayers," pointed out Brian Wood, head of arms control and human rights at Amnesty International.

Amnesty, it should be said, has called for a total arms embargo on all parties to the conflict. This includes Iran which has admitted to supplying arms manufacturing know-how to Hamas in Gaza while Hamas fighters have admitted to firing Iranian-type Fajr 5 missiles towards Tel Aviv.

The Hamas arsenal, however, pales against Israel's military might created with US support.

Given this, other voices have also spoken out against US complicity over the conflict in Gaza.

Among them is Josh Ruebner, political analyst, director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and co-founder of Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel.

"The United States is directly complicit in the Israeli attack on Palestinians in the occupied and besieged Gaza Strip," insists Ruebner, who says that Israel's misuse of arms provided by the US is in violation of US laws, such as the Arms Export Control Act and Foreign Assistance Act.

Ruebner goes as far as to say that the US also provides Israel with diplomatic cover to carry out what are effectively war crimes against Palestinian civilians and the deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure.

Ruebner's views are echoed by respected American journalist Ken Klippenstein, who has written extensively on the Middle East. "On July 14, the same day President Obama vowed that 'we're going to continue to do everything we can to facilitate a return to the 2012 ceasefire,' the State Department approved a possible $544m sale of AIM-9x sidewinder missiles and associated support services to Israel. These missiles can be used by F-16s to hit ground targets," Klippenstein revealed recently in an interview with Turkish news agency Anadolu.

Yesterday, as the Israel military said it was already close to its objective of destroying tunnels used by Palestinian fighters, senior government officials said it was unlikely Israel would send a delegation to truce talks in Cairo.

During an interview on Israel's Channel 10 television station, Israeli cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz said there was "no point" in trying to reach a Gaza truce with Hamas and that Israel will not send a delegation to planned ceasefire talks in Cairo.

His comments suggest that Israel plans to end the current round of fighting with Hamas on its own terms, rather than getting entangled in indirect negotiations with Gaza's Hamas rulers.

Steinitz alleged that Hamas has repeatedly violated previous ceasefire deals and that this "leads us to the conclusion that with this organisation there is no point speaking about a deal."

On the ground in Gaza yesterday, shelling exchanges continued, pushing the death toll given by Palestinian officials up to 1669, but in some areas witnesses reported Israeli tanks pulling back toward the border.
Israel said Palestinians launched 74 rockets across the border, most of which fell harmlessly wide while seven were shot down by its Iron Dome interceptor, including over Tel Aviv.

Israeli troops were said to be forcing their way deeper into Gaza following the reported capture of Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin.

Hamas has denied it is holding Goldin and suggested he may have been killed by an Israeli strike.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said 520,000 people had been displaced by the fighting - more than one-quarter of Gaza's population. Another group, the Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights, confirmed that some 3000 homes had been totally or partly destroyed.

Israel said evacuees from Beit Lahiya, a northern Gaza town of 70,000 residents, could return. But fear still gripped the townspeople.

"No-one has told us to go back," said Talab Manna, a 30-year-old father of seven camped out at a UN-run school serving as a refugee haven. "We can't risk going back and being bombed by the Israeli forces."

According to the UK's Department for International Development, since the Israeli offensive began on July 8, 136 schools - some serving as shelters - 24 hospitals and clinics and 25 ambulances have been damaged or destroyed, while eight UN aid workers and at least two Palestinian Red Crescent volunteers have now been reported as killed.

In effect, some 40% of the sixth-most densely populated area on Earth is now a warzone, with one-quarter of the Gazan population displaced.

"What is happening in Gaza is nothing short of a humanitarian catastrophe,"says International Development Secretary, Justine Greening.

As Israel's offensive continues parallels are already being drawn with its 2008-09 military campaign in Gaza, which lasted for 22 days.

When that war ended, the United Nations sent fact-finding missions, led by judge Richard Goldstone, to collect testimonies and document evidence which would implicate the Israeli army in war crimes. Ultimately, after several months, the Goldstone team presented its report only to find it was subsequently shelved.

Pro-Palestinian and human rights activists fear much the same scenario will likely repeat itself, leaving Palestinians in Gaza with little optimism for accountability for Israel's current attack.

Where governments are failing to hold Israel accountable and many like the US and some European nations continue to supply arms, many ordinary people around the globe are expressing their outrage in rallies and demonstrations.

"As the leading arms exporter to Israel, the USA must lead the way and demonstrate its proclaimed respect for human rights and international humanitarian law by urgently suspending arms transfers to Israel and pushing for a UN arms embargo on all parties to the conflict," reiterated Brian Wood of Amnesty International last week. Few people are holding their breath though for as long as it takes Washington and others to heed such a call.

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