Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on Gaza and burning the Israeli flag

July 24th, 2014

One of the selling points in New Zealand’s campaign for a temporary seat on the Security Council is that we have a pluckily independent voice to offer on international conflicts. This image is not entirely self-delusional. When we did occupy a temporary UN Security Council seat in the 1990s, New Zealand was forthright about the need for the international community to actively respond to the Rwanda genocide. On April 14, 1994, New Zealand, Nigeria and the Czech Republic were the only nations to call for a forceful UN intervention to halt the killings. It was a proud moment in the diplomatic record of the Bolger government.

What then, is the current National government doing with respect to the slaughter in Gaza? The death toll among Palestinians stands at 690, with 4,000 injured. By UN estimates, over three quarters of those deaths are civilians, and at least a quarter of them have been children. On the Israeli side, the civilian deaths stand at three. Some 32 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the course of carrying out their offensive. The casualty numbers speak volumes about the nature of this one-sided conflict.

What then, should a New Zealand with a truly independent voice be saying? Just as the Bolger government was prepared to take a stand against the Rwanda genocide, the Key government could choose to hold the Israelis to account for their violations of Article 33 of the Geneva Convention.

No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited.

Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.

In their official commentary on Article 33 and the logic of collective punishments, the International Committee of the Red Cross said:

In resorting to intimidatory measures to terrorise the population, the belligerents hoped to prevent hostile acts. Far from achieving the desired effect, however, such practices, by reason of their excessive severity and cruelty, kept alive and strengthened the spirit of resistance. They strike at guilty and innocent alike. They are opposed to all principles based on humanity and justice and it is for that reason that the prohibition of collective penalties is followed formally by the prohibition of all measures of intimidation or terrorism with regard to protected persons, wherever they may be…

Yet regardless…over the past fortnight, Israel has been inflicting collective punishment on the penned up people of Gaza, on a massive scale. Civilian areas packed with refugees have been bombed and shelled. Medical facilities have been targeted by air strikes. Unarmed teenagers have been picked out and killed by snipers. The facilities that provide electricity and clean water have been destroyed…and so on, and so on.

So far, New Zealand’s response has been limited to this press release two weeks ago, framed in the anodyne language of international diplomacy:

“We urge both sides to show restraint and immediately de-escalate the situation. Civilian deaths are unacceptable and further civilian casualties must be prevented.

“These latest incidents reinforce the urgent need for a two state solution to be reached as part of a permanent and sustainable peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Mr McCully says.

Hardly comparable to our forthright stance on Rwanda. On 9 July, McCully had said this:

We call for an immediate end to rocket attacks into Israel and for proportionate responses that do not further escalate the situation.

Well, does McCully – and does John Key – now think that the Israelis have been conducting “proportionate responses that do not further escalate the situation?” And if not, what do Key and McCully intend to say about it? A lot of countries that will be voting on our Security Council bid would dearly like to know.

Some substance will be required. While a ceasefire and talking is obviously preferable to the current carnage, the reality is that – in the context of the Israel/Palestinian conflict – “peace talks” have been merely a figleaf for the ongoing stealing of Palestinian land, and the brutalisation of the populations of Gaza and the West Bank. An inhuman status quo cannot be the basis for peace talks that have any integrity, or future.

During the past fortnight, the only positive development has been the tentative steps towards co-operation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Naturally, these moves to Hamas/PA unification have been denounced by the Israelis.

The outraged beat-up by RNZ this morning about the burning of an Israeli flag at a demonstration occurred in a free speech vacuum. Morning Report seemed totally unaware that our Supreme Court had ruled three years ago that the burning of a flag – even a New Zealand flag at an Anzac day ceremony – is a legitimate form of political protest, protected by our Bill of Rights protections for free speech.

In the US, the Texas v Johnson case had similarly found that flag burning is symbolic speech, protected by the First Amendment. If you find that symbolic speech ruffles your feathers, the chances are that is the point of the protest. Yet it is not open slather. There are offensive forms of protest behaviour that are not protected yet flag-burning is in almost all circumstances a protected form of symbolic speech. In her dissenting Court of Appeal decision – and her stance was later vindicated by the Supreme Court – Judge Susan Glazebrook made comments that can easily be transposed to the context of the Israeli flag burning incident:

Ms Morse’s intention was to make a political statement of views genuinely held, at a time Ms Morse considered was relevant for making the points she wished to make…Indeed, a commemoration service for servicemen and women of past wars might be seen as a particularly apt time to protest against current and future involvement in wars. The content of Ms Morse’s message was clear from the surrounding circumstances as an anti-war message, which could not in any way legitimately be seen as offensive.

During the past week, the events in Gaza and the fate of flight MH 17 have made the world look like a particularly horrible place. In both cases, two major powers (Russia and the US) have put lethal weaponry in the hands of thuggish allies who have had no compunction in using them to kill hundreds of innocent civilians – many of them children – who posed no personal threat to them. If anything, Vladimir Putin comes out better in the comparison. At least the killers in eastern Ukraine seem to have shot down MH17 by accident.

Washington Phillips
In the light of the above, some consolation may be in order. The singing evangelist Washington Philips made a handful of gospel recordings in the 1920s, supposedly with a unique instrument called a Dolceola. Reportedly, he’d died in the late 1930s. Yet thanks to this astonishing piece of detective work, almost everything we thought we knew about Phillips has turned out to be wrong. The music endures, regardless. There’s nothing quite like Phillips, and his naively, intensely compassionate sermons. IMO, “Take Your Burden To The Lord” is one of the loveliest, most humane songs in American music.


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    1. 31 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on Gaza and burning the Israeli flag”

    2. By David on Jul 24, 2014 | Reply

      I hope for the sake of New Zealand’s long term reputation we don’t get a seat on the Security Council while this government is in power. Fingers crossed.

    3. By Steve on Jul 24, 2014 | Reply

      You note the death toll for Israel is now three. Ohh… and 32 IDF. I don’t get why IDF and Israeli civilians are distinguished in all figures while Hamas militants and Palestinian civilians are counted as one figure?

    4. By Steve on Jul 24, 2014 | Reply

      Also, you say that the US and Russia should be held in contempt for supplying weaponry that has resulted in unnecessary civilian casualties – I agree entirely with your condemnation. I was wondering ~ Gordon ~ are also willing to condemn the states that have been supplying weaponry to Hamas? Such as Iran. This too has resulted in the current conflict escalating and has both directly and indirectly resulted in civilian bloodshed and unnecessary destruction to property.

      While *only* three Israeli civilians have been killed, all unnecessary human life is wasteful. Further, 93 Children were wounded by rockets, of which 1 is in a severe condition (multi-trauma wounds); 2 are badly injured; 55 suffer light wounds (cuts from shrapnel etc.); 45 suffer from acute syndrome effect. Over 20,000 children were moved north to lesser threatened areas.

      People can talk about the distinction between IDF and Hamas policy – the latter’s ultimate goal is to inflict as much harm on civilians as possible. The former, although blatantly negligent, targets militants and weaponry – it considers civilian deaths tragic.

    5. By Wayne on Jul 24, 2014 | Reply

      The response of the NZ government is not the same as Rawanda, because the situation is radically different. For it to be the same, Israel would have had to have launched a Dresden or Tokyo style bombing campaign, which they haven’t.

      And as noted by Steve, there should be a distinction between combatant and civilian casualties. This is surely possible. It would give a much better sense of the extent of the level of proportionality. Mind you I am of the view that Israel is acting disproportionately, but by how much?

    6. By lyndon on Jul 24, 2014 | Reply

      Washington Post is maintaining a a breakdown of casualties

    7. By Andrew on Jul 24, 2014 | Reply

      Spot on Gordon, and thanks for having the guts to speak up in the way most of the gutless mainstream media do not.
      I take issue with your comments about Russia supplying the Ukranian rebels with heavy weaponry on a couple of fronts:
      1. The US have a spy satellite directly over the area, and despite asserting the Russians are supplying heavy weaponry, have released no images of this. Why?!
      2. The story of T-62 tanks to the rebels by Russia was an easily demonstrated lie, as the tank variant in the photos was a Ukranian army variant (those tanks were actually manufactured in the Ukraine), and not a Russian army version. Further, there were stories of rebels capturing the tanks from the Ukranian army which predated the photos.
      And remember the photos of Russian troops in the Ukraine. Photos that it turned out weren’t taken in the Ukraine at all?
      It’s entirely possible the rebels captured the BUK system from the Ukranian army, but if so, we’ll never see it on the TV.

    8. By Steve on Jul 24, 2014 | Reply

      @Lyndon. The Washington Post breakdown is very useful. What of the three Israeli teenagers who were murdered? And the Palestinian boy who was killed in an apparent reprisal? In your opinion, should they be included as casualties of the same conflict? Further, one of the Israeli casualties was a little girl. Should she be depicted as a child in the breakdown?

      So tragic! But a very good resource you have identified!

    9. By nigel gregory on Jul 25, 2014 | Reply

      Great story. And so true.
      I have spent a lifetime watching Israel steal land and demonise the Palesrinian people, no surprise at the latest escalation.
      The mainstream news is useless….fluffy filler to carry advertisements.
      I would expect no more from this gutless government.
      Cheers again.

    10. By Elyse on Jul 25, 2014 | Reply

      “People can talk about the distinction between IDF and Hamas policy – the latter’s ultimate goal is to inflict as much harm on civilians as possible. The former, although blatantly negligent, targets militants and weaponry – it considers civilian deaths tragic”

      My my Steve you’ve swallowed Israeli propaganda, haven’t you. Hamas= nasty terrorists, IDF= well meaning soldier boys.
      By now it is clear that Hamas are in fact freedom fighters. Decades of turning the other cheek will never lift the blockade and give them autonomy. The goals of Israel is to have all the land with as few Arabs as possible. Sound familiar? If Gaza was the Warsaw ghetto, Hamas would be lauded for pluckily sticking it to the Nazis. Maybe if the jews in the ghetto had fought their tormentors, history would be different.
      There is no proof of who killed the three Israeli teens, by the way.

    11. By Elyse on Jul 25, 2014 | Reply

      Meant to say: Maybe if the jews in the ghetto had been supplied with weapons by sympathetic governments in order to fight their tormentors, history would be different.

    12. By Grump on Jul 25, 2014 | Reply

      Great analysis and comment by Gordon as always.

      Steve – the IDF casualties are an invading foreign force committing a war crime. This is why they don’t get the same attention to detail here as the many civilians slain in Gaza. Soldiers dying in battle isn’t actually uncommon.

      As for the separation of Hamas vs civilians, children, elderly, women: the only numbers of Hamas militants killed comes from Israel, which I’m sure even you would admit is unreliable information at best. Israeli courts have pretty outrageous definitions. (For instance anyone that remains in their home after being told a bomb is coming is declared a ‘voluntary human shield’, therefore a legitimate ‘target’.)

      Israel must bear some responsibility for the deaths and casualties of their citizens, and all for their soldiers.

      We agree on one thing – ALL the deaths and casualties are disgraceful, not just ‘unfortunate’.

    13. By Steve on Jul 25, 2014 | Reply

      Hamas are freedom fighters… Are you serious? Israel wants to get rid of Arabs?? You must be joking. Do you realise that 1.6 million Arabs are citizens of Israel? Do you realise that Israel is the ONLY place in the middle east where Arabs are able to benefit from racial, gender, sexual equality & vote? And where they can hold the state to account through an independent secular judiciary that has the power to review executive decisions? If you’re a Palestinian Jew (descended from Jews who’ve been there since B.C.) living in Palestine – what would your suffrage be? Think about that!

    14. By Steve on Jul 25, 2014 | Reply

      And your discussion around the Ghetto is extremely offensive and exposes your clear anti-Semitic views! It is a totally different situation!

    15. By Bryan on Jul 25, 2014 | Reply

      Thanks Gordon,
      I have become more and more worried about a slide in RNZ news from the informed to the sensational/ divisive. The interview with Minto about the flag burning issue was a prime example.
      It is so hard to get a clear understanding of the Israel/ Palestine situation (apart from the current butchery that is clearly immoral and illegal). Views seem driven my emotion rather than analysis – as previous posts show. I saw an interesting online presentation by Miko Peled. Can any other readers comment on the validity of his perspective?

    16. By Nick on Jul 25, 2014 | Reply

      Good points concerning the flag burning at a protest. I heard the item on RNZ and although I haven’t checked a transcript since, I recall the item was about how Labour, the Greens and the Maori party all condemned the flag burning.
      As if the issue was burning the Israel flag rather than Israel’s atrocious, child-killing rampage!
      Pita Sharples had some particularly embarrassing drivel to say that showed no solidarity with brutally colonised people, Shearer was little better and it is disappointing if the Greens are lined up with this crap.
      Props to Harawira for standing up for Gaza!

    17. By Grump on Jul 25, 2014 | Reply

      @ Steve, Elyse
      Agreed, that’s a bit of a bummer of an argument re Jews in the Ghetto. It is a different situation. If the Jews had actually had any weapons to fight back with from within Germany, the C20th world powers would probably have responded much like now – urging ‘restraint’ on ‘both sides’, expressing ‘disappointment’ at the death of Jewish civilians and of course the German Soldiers, encouraging the Jews to lay down arms and ‘negotiate’ with the Germans, while doing nothing to help them. Which is pretty much the case until Germany invaded an ally. The US was similarly uninterested until Japan ‘pre-emptively defended’ itself against them (that last phrase of course being a US favourite).
      Hamas has a hateful ideology and access to crude weapons – the CITIZENS of Gaza are the ones that, as ever, pay the price.
      Israel is more eloquent, but has made no secret of its opinion of Jewish/Israeli supremacy, and right to do anything conceivable to achieve that. Including the atrocities described.

    18. By Joe Wylie on Jul 25, 2014 | Reply

      And your discussion around the Ghetto is extremely offensive and exposes your clear anti-Semitic views!

      Nice attempt to hijack the language. As it happens, all Arabs, including Palestinians, are every bit as much the sons and daughters of Abraham, and therefore semitic, as are the Jewish people.

    19. By Steve on Jul 25, 2014 | Reply

      So Joe, you would probably agree then that the conflict is driven by theocratic objectives – at least by Hamas. You will note that Israel has clear separation of church and state and a ‘godless’ constitution – it is not a “Jewish state”. Once more, 1.6 m Muslim Arabs are considered equal citizens in Israel. The same could not be said about Jews living in 1930’s Germany & Austria!!! There is a clear distinction between the ghettos of Germany and the situation in Palestine. Namely that is is the Palestinians who want to maintain separation on the basis of religion/ethnicity and not Israel which would quite happily remain a peaceful MULTICULTURAL country in the absence of Islamic-inspired extremism.

      Just so that you don’t call me anti-Islamic – I do not consider Hamas to be the embodiment of Islam (as they themselves seem to believe). In fact, they are highly un-Islamic because the vast vast majority of Muslims have no problem with the Jews or the mere existence of Israel.

      You will also note my concern, as expressed several times above, that Israel acts disproportionately and negligently when ‘targeting’ Hamas. That doesn’t make them NAZIs who completely removed the rights of an ethnic group, stole their property, banished them entirely from their cities, and then proceeded to systematically murder 6 million of them.

      Remember that if Hamas had the power to do that all over again, they would jump at the opportunity.

    20. By ScoopEditor on Jul 25, 2014 | Reply

      It happens that I have some moderation control over these comments – on an as-it-comes-to-my-attention basis.

      At the moment I will stand for abuse of each other’s positions but not of your persons.

      Steve: I have edited your last accordingly.

    21. By Grump on Jul 25, 2014 | Reply

      Steve you are eroding some of your good points by swearing, losing teemper and playing the anti-Semite card. Pointing out similarities does not necessarily imply equating. The nazis were the worst, we all know that. But it is true that some of the rhetoric and behaviour of Israel is increasingly and eerily similar to that of that dark era last century.

    22. By reason on Jul 25, 2014 | Reply

      Every innocent Palestinian the Israeli’s kill takes them further and further away from their god.

      This wholesale maiming, burning, terrorizing and killing of woman and children by Israel is the end game from their land stealing, ethnic cleansing and ghettoization tactics against the Palestinians.

      It’s all one big ‘reprisal’ now ….

      Anyway here’s the truth from someone who can not be called ‘anti-semite :

    23. By Steve on Jul 25, 2014 | Reply

      To the Scoop Editor and to Grump, my apologies for making personal attacks and using foul language.

      To Reason – perhaps you should reconsider which ‘side’ more closely resemble the Nazis.

      1) Hamas: literally exists to destroy another race; deliberately inflicts devastation on said race; celebrates said devastation; does not care for ‘its people'; attempts to control every aspect of ‘its peoples’ lives; is undemocratic; wages indiscriminate aggressive war on neighboring states (not just Israel FYI); considers homosexuality, sex before marriage, atheism capitally punishable offenses.

      2) Israel: Wages negligent/ reckless warfare.

      If anything, Israel more closely resembles Britain during WWII – the bombing of Dresden etc.

      And a personal question for you Elyse – which state would you rather live in? The one where you can choose your own sexuality, decide who (or whether) you want to marry, own property, vote … …

      Or the other one?

    24. By Nick on Jul 25, 2014 | Reply

      Which state would I prefer to live in?

      Pretty simple. One where my children weren’t likely to be slaughtered by my nuclear armed neighbours and where I wasn’t penned up in a open-air prison.

      Gee, that was an easy choice!

    25. By Grump on Jul 25, 2014 | Reply

      Apology accepted Steve, please keep contributing.

      The point is this – and it may boil your blood to even consider, so be warned:

      The Nazis actually thought – truly believed – that they were doing the world a favour. A few unpalatable tasks today for a certain utopia tomorrow. The end justified the means.

      The same ideology is seen in this absurd Islamic Caliphate ISIL has tried to set up. Sadly, the mindset of Israel has elements of this too – a few Palestinians here and there is an unfortunate but necessary cost for ridding the world (or at least the region) of the ‘evil’ Hamas.

      Israel at best can expect a pyrrhic victory from this aggression. At worst, well, given that they’ve got the nuke, it could be a race to the bottom – rock bottom – and we’ll all have to suffer it.

      “You got to use those powers to do good, aye. Just like in the comic books.” – crazy guy from the film ‘Boy’.

    26. By steve on Jul 26, 2014 | Reply

      Agreed regarding ISIS. But will we see any demonstrations down queen street calling for an end to that? Or will we see a March to the Iranian embassy in Haitaiti? It seems that condemnation of war is one sided and only ever directed at Western nations. Where was the Aotearoa Peace and Justice Coalition when the Mujahideen was butchering women and children in Mali? Where was their support for France’s intervention that saved tens of thousands of lives? Nowhere. But dare Israel defend itself and every leftist in New Zealand is up in arms and throwing eggs at the US consulate and making thinly veiled anti-Jewish remarks.

    27. By reason on Jul 26, 2014 | Reply

      Like most humane people I’m looking on in disgust as Israel bombs and slaughters children, woman and innocent people.

      The Israeli people are sitting on sofa’s drinking piss and watching this slaughter as a spectator sport.

      Israel is doing a spectacular job at whipping up anti-jewish feelings around the world.

      That’s what happens when you bomb hospitals in the Gaza ghetto and blow up innocent kids playing on the beach.

      Here’s another more positive link for those who would like to see the child and woman killing stop instead of listening to sickening ‘self defence ‘ slaughter apologist arguments.

    28. By Grump on Jul 27, 2014 | Reply

      @reason: Agreed. I see we’ve come more or less full-circle in this discussion and Steve is back to his pathetic argument: “Well others are doing it, don’t pick on Israel.” Steve, the article is specifically about Israel’s assault on Gaza. When Gordon writes about the Islamic State (what that has to do with the Iranian embassy I’m sure you’ll enlighten us) we’ll discuss then.

      If the Israeli position is “it doesn’t mater what we do as long as it’s not as bad as the Nazis”, then by their own voice, they are calling for Israel’s destruction. By the way, please stop saying Israel is ‘defending’ itself, it’s embarrassing and appalling. Netanyahu doesn’t bother any more, nor should you: “Netanyahu Orders Broadening of Gaza Offensive” <- Offensive, see? (

      Please read these links (and the embedded links). Educate yourself as to why people are so incensed. Not as bad as the Nazis maybe – but how close do they want to get? (obligatory disclaimer: There are some good ones.)

      I'm done on this argument.

      Jewish MP who calls for killing of mothers of potential terrorists before they're born:
      “They have to die and their houses should be demolished so that they cannot bear any more terrorists. They are all our enemies and their blood should be on our hands. This also applies to the mothers of the dead terrorists.”

      "Despite the growing number of civilian casualties in Gaza, in Israel more than 90% of Israelis support the air campaign."

      "Poll: Most Israelis Object to Ceasefire with Hamas"

      Israel's actions illegal, Hamas' not under Int'l law.

    29. By Te Kupu on Jul 28, 2014 | Reply

      Reason why no one will say much on behalf of the Palestians is that nations (and particularly the sponsorship of USA)will never stand up for fear of getting hit with the Holocaust and Anti-Semite missle! We all see the perverse irony of the nation of Israel ghettoising (the wall), using i.d. cards/systems, detaining people illegally, using torture, etc etc as totalitarian systems that mimic the Nazi regime! Until people and Govts around the globe condemn and intervene they/we are watching mass genocide with hardly a whimper!!!

    30. By Elyse on Jul 29, 2014 | Reply

      @ Steve
      “That doesn’t make them NAZIs who completely removed the rights of an ethnic group (tick, they are occupied by Israel but have none of the rights of Israeli citizens and are therefore stateless not having their own country), stole their property (tick, land, fishing rights), banished them entirely from their cities (turning them into refugees with no right to come and go from their homeland might count here), and then proceeded to systematically murder 6 million of them (there are not six million, will 1.5 do? how long will that take)”

      You pulling the anti-Semitic accusation out does’t surprise me at all. It’s typical and tiresome. Israel’s jig is up. Everyone knows it. The propaganda is no longer working.

      You might want to watch this:

    31. By Rose on Aug 4, 2014 | Reply

      Steve, you say ‘dare Israel defend itself and every leftist in New Zealand is up in arms and throwing eggs at the US consulate and making thinly veiled anti-Jewish remarks’. I think if you bothered to talk to leftists, you would find that the vast majority of them are well aware of the distinction between Zionism and Judaism, and their remarks are anti-Zionist rather than anti-Jewish. You should also note that there are a great many Jews all around the world, and in Israel itself, who vehemently oppose Zionist policies towards Palestinians.

    32. By Heather on Aug 11, 2014 | Reply

      I would like to step in and say Steve has made some great points, despite being referred to as “pathetic”, which is not the kind of behaviour one would expect in an “intelligent discussion”.

      I was very interested in how Gordon Campbell used the “scorekeeping” method to judge who has the moral high ground in this conflict.

      Yes there are many more casualties on the Gazan side, but the UN from whom Gordon quotes the figures from gets its own figures from Hamas, and anyone in their right mind will know that Hamas has in the past and will of course in this conflict distort figures in favour of supportive propaganda and garnering sympathy while demonising Israel. People like Gordon are playing right into the hands of Hamas by presenting facts this way.
      Putting that aside, I also find it interesting that Gordon has failed to, or chosen not to mention that these casualties (however many they may be) are massively due to Hamas tactics. Firing from hospitals like Shifa (built by Israel for the people of Gaza), storing weapons in schools and mosques, and launching missiles from densely populated areas, thereby placing their own people in harm’s way. There are plenty of open spaces and fields in Gaza from which Hamas can operate, and if it wanted to minimise casualties and place its militants in harms way instead of its women and children, it would do this.
      How very interesting indeed that Gordon Campbell can’t consider this in his presentation.

      New Zealand has heard enough quotes of imaginary figures that originate from the Hamas PR machine, and vicious misguided rants about how Israel is an “evil nazi baby-killing genocide machine”. It would be wonderful to hear from journalists who can see through the bollocks.

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