Questioning Singapore- Israel ties

7 Jan

This blog has been raising concerns on Singapore- Israeli business and diplomatic ties. In 2008, I sent a letter both to the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) and the Singapore government urging them to pressurise their Israeli counterparts on the economic blockade imposed on Gaza since mid 2007 (and is still ongoing as we speak). While I have since received a reply from Mr Zulkifli, the Senior Parliamentary Secretary, who had led a delegation trip to Israel, there has been no news from the AMP. (read the comments and letters in ‘Did Singapore raise the Gaza humanitarian crisis issue with Israel?’ and ‘Reply from Singapore authorities on their Israeli delegation trip’)


In 2009, I also commented on the purported strong military ties between Optus (a Singapore GIC based in Australia) and the Israeli government (read ‘The link between Optus and Israeli corporations’).

As we enter the first week of 2010, it has been reported that the the Singapore-Israel Industrial R&D Foundation (SIIRD) ‘will invest an additional S$10.6 million in four new groundbreaking research and development projects’. This was in fact followed closely by another six previous R&D projects valued at S$10 million in the third quarter of 2009.

This latest news report reveal that the Singapore government and the corporate sector is continuing to build close business relationships with their Israeli counterparts even though the latter is facing increasing international pressure for its ongoing human rights violations in the Occupied Territories.

Coupled with recent developments, there are at least three reasons why concerned Singaporeans should begin to question the government’s rosy relationship with Israel.

1. While Hamas (in Gaza) and Israel were both accused of war crimes during the military incursion of Gaza between 27 December 2008 – 18 January 2009, the latter has been heavily criticised by the UN Human Rights Council and various human rights groups for its disproportionate attacks against civilians, resulting in serious violation of international humanitarian and human rights law.

In late 2009, the UN issued its famous Goldstone fact-finding report on the Israel military incursion of Gaza. This report has since been named after Justice Richard Goldstone, the former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda who headed the mission.

While both sides (Hamas in Gaza and Israel) of the conflict were accused of war crimes, the mission discovered that the military campaign waged by Israel was a ‘deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability’ (p. 525). It also rejected the argument that this was a response to Palestinian rocket fire and an act of self-defence.

Two other prominent human rights groups, Amnesty International (AI)and Human Rights Watch have also released their own reports supporting similar conclusions.

According to AI,

‘… Thousands of civilian homes, businesses and public buildings were destroyed. In some areas entire neighbourhoods were flattened and livestock killed. Much of the destruction was wanton and deliberate, and was carried out in a manner and circumstances which indicated that it could not be justified on grounds of military necessity. Rather, it was often the result of reckless and indiscriminate attacks, which were seemingly tolerated or even directly sanctioned up the chain of command, and which at times appeared intended to collectively punish local residents for the actions of armed groups’ (p. 2 of Israel/ Gaza, Operation ‘Cast Lead’: 22 days of death and destruction).

Human Rights Watch has released five reports on Israel’s military campaign known as Operation ‘Cast Lead’.

In the report, ‘White Flag Deaths, killing of Palestinian civilians during Operation Cast Lead’ which documents only seven incidents of Israeli soldiers firing civilians, it discovered that ‘evidence strongly indicates that, at the least, Israeli soldiers failed to take feasible precautions to distinguish between civilians and combatants before carrying out the attack. At worst, the soldiers deliberately fired on persons known to be civilians’ (p 2).

‘Precisely Wrong, Gaza Civilians Killed by Israeli Drone-Launched Missiles’, another HRW report, which focuses on six Israeli fighter drones attack concluded that the military

‘… either failed to take all feasible precautions to verify that the targets were combatants, apparently setting an unacceptably low threshold for conducting attacks, or they failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians and to target only the former. As a result, these attacks violated international humanitarian law (the laws of war)’ (p.4).

The extensive and indiscriminate use of white phosphorus in civilian populated areas was also documented by HRW in ‘Rain of Fire, Israel’s Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza’. It stated that,

‘The unlawful use of white phosphorus was neither incidental nor accidental. It was repeated over time and in different locations, with the IDF “air-bursting” the munition in populated areas up to the last days of its military operation. Even if intended as an obscurant rather than as a weapon, the IDF’s repeated firing of air-burst white phosphorus shells from 155mm artillery into densely populated areas was indiscriminate and indicates the commission of war crimes’ (p. 1).

The other two HRW reports focused on Hamas rocket fire attacks into Israel and its political violence and control of Gaza during and after the war.

While these findings reveal that both Hamas and Israel are guilty of committing war crimes, it must be borne in mind that the latter had acted ‘disproportionately’ in response to the rocket fires. Moreover, it is the Singapore government’s business relationship with Israel that needs to be questioned in this case since the latter has flagrantly violated international laws.

The serious nature of the war crimes have since been pursed on the judicial front by human rights groups whom have since lodged their cases in the UK courts to arrest visiting Israeli officials.  This has caused its military leaders to cancel their trips to the country for fears of possible arrests under the law of ‘universal jurisdiction’ (Read The Guardian and The Independent reports). The former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni was also forced to cancel her trip due to a similar arrest warrant issued by the London court.

2. As Palestinian civil society and Israeli peace activists continues its non violent campaign against the Occupation, the Israeli authorities have retaliated with more repression.

Though the Palestinian civil society campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has increasingly gained worldwide traction, it is still considered controversial by some activists. In an opinion piece for Electronic Intifada, Sami Hermez reiterated that there are many reasons why the global civil society should support the campaign. First, the boycott campaign was initiated by Palestinian civil society which makes it ‘powerful and effective’. Second, the boycott is ‘tactical’ – meaning it is an effective tool in this particular situation (especially against apartheid and colonial repression). He wrote,

‘The case of Israel proves very salient here because it receives an almost surreal amount of aid and foreign investment from around the world, most notably the US, with which it enjoys a special status. This makes the daily operations of the Israeli state and its institutions far more accountable to the international community than a place like Sudan, frequently brought up by boycott critics because of the violence in Darfur. It also means, in the case of economic boycott and divestment, that the international community is withdrawing its gifts and support, rather than allowing it to enjoy its special status — hardly a punishment’.

In turn, Palestinian activists who have spoken out against the Occupation have been subjected to harassment. One of them was Mohammed Othman, an advocate of the BDS movement. He has been held in an Israeli military prison without trial since last September after entering West Bank from Jordan after returning from Norway after its Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen and other officials.

From within Israel, the Shimintism (youths who refuse to serve compulsory military service due to conscientious objection); scholars such as Neve Gordan and Uri Avnery; and peace activists such as Ezra Nawi and Jeff Halper have all acted courageously in condemning the ongoing Occupation. Many of the Shimintism remain in prison for refusing to take up arms while Ezra Nawi was sentenced to a month of imprisonment (with another suspended six month sentence to remain in effect for three years) for protesting against the demolition of Palestinian homes in West Bank, South Heron.

3. The humanitarian situation in Gaza deserves international attention.

According to a UN household survey, ‘Voicing the needs of Women and Men in Gaza, Beyond the aftermath of the 23 day Israeli military operations’, the researchers found that people in Gaza are facing more dire consequences after the military campaign (coupled with the ongoing economic blockade). For example, in the introductory section to livelihood and economic aspects,

‘Male and female respondents alike expressed a high degree of anguish when discussing economic hardships faced by households after the war. Approximately 40% of respondents said a household member could no longer reach their job following the war, a similar 40% said they had suffered damage and loss of assets and a full 80% said they did not have cash to re-start a business. These overall numbers are very high , with many of them likely more general expressions of a sense of acute crisis and loss caused by the trauma of Israeli military violence… The loss of economic well-being caused by the economic sanctions that Gazans have lived under for the past 2 years, added by the damage and destruction of property during the war could account for the high numbers citing loss of economic assets during the war. Finally, the high 80% of respondents stating that they do not have cash to “restart a business” alludes to the ongoing crisis of income faced by most Gaza households that precedes the war but has probably been heightened following it…’ (p 17)

On the section on mental health (p 32),

‘Approximately two thirds of respondents, (58% of male and 62% of females) report that their health is worse following the war, with the highest rate of worsened health expressed by residents in Rafah (at 80%). When asked about the nature of current health problems in their communities, the overwhelming response is “mental health, anxiety and stress” which accounts for a third of all responses. Men and the displaced report the highest levels of psychosocial trauma among men and boys (at 33% and 36% respectively), while women report the highest incidence among girls and women (also at 33%). Women and men seem to be suffering the same level of psychological trauma but do not recognize it in each other.’

Recently, a humanitarian aid convoy, Viva Palestina, managed to cross Egypt’s Rafah border after a prolonged dispute with the Egyptian authorities. The siege is however, far from over. As one of the leaders of the envoy, British MP, George Galloway, said, the mission is only “a drop in the ocean” as long as the blockade ensues.

The impetus to pressurise the Singapore government to reexamine its business and diplomatic ties with Israel is timely and urgent given that the latter’s human rights violations have been condemned by reputable human rights groups and the UN human rights council. In addition, the global community needs to join in the chorus of condemnation that has been sustained by peaceful and non-violent efforts of both Palestinian and Israeli peace activists. Lastly, maintaining a close business relationship with Israel while Gaza continues to suffer a humanitarian crisis under an economic blockade is morally questionable.

In 2007, the Burmese junta violent suppression of the indigenous democratic uprising was met with international outcry. In Singapore, concerned activists have organised forums and protests outside the Burmese embassy while questioning the PAP government’s cosy relationship with the military junta. Given the critical predicament in the Occupied Territories, there is no reason why civil society ought not pay equal attention in this case as well.

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