Column: Dispatches From the Edge: Gaza Shrapnel; Timor Haste; Turin Trouncing

By Conn Hallinan
Friday June 23, 2006

While the Israeli military is denying it had anything to do with the deaths of eight Palestinian civilians at Beit Lahia beach in the Gaza Strip, June 10, a former Pentagon battle damage expert says “all the evidence points” to an artillery shell fired by Israel. 

According to Defense Minister Amir Peretz, “The accumulating evidence proves that this incident was not due to Israeli forces.” The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) claim the deaths and injuries were caused by an explosive device buried in the sand. 

But Marc Garlasco, a former U.S. Defense Department damage expert who worked in Kosovo and Iraq, says that the shrapnel he collected, as well as the nature of the wounds, points to a land-based 155mm howitzer shell, the basic artillery round for the U.S. and Israeli militaries.  

Garlasco found one shell fragment with “55mm” on it, and he dismissed the IDF’s theory that the explosion was caused by a 155mm shell buried by Hamas militants. He said most of the injuries were to the head and torsos of the victims, wounds inconsistent with a buried device. “If this had been a landmine,” Garlasco told Donald MacIntyre of the London Independent, “I would have expected to see serious leg injuries.” He called the IDF theory “ridiculous.”  

Human Rights Watch is calling for an independent investigation, which, so far, the government of Prime Minster Ehud Olmert is stonewalling.  

While the incident has vanished from the American media, it has sparked widespread discussion in the Israeli press. Writing in Haaretz, columnist Danny Rubinstein challenged the idea that the bloodshed was “the result of a tragic error. It was clear to everyone that in the exchanges of fire in the narrow Gaza Strip, where the population density is among the highest in the world, it was just a matter of time before an entire family was hit.” 

Rubinstein says there is not only no military solution to the overall conflict, it is “increasingly clear that there is no military solution for putting an end to the Qassam rocket attacks.” 

In the past year, the IDF has fired over 6,000 shells into Gaza, demolishing houses, fields, roads, bridges and launching sites, and killing more than 80 Palestinians (in the past two years eight Israelis have died from Qassam rockets). “None of this helped. On the contrary: there are many more rockets and missiles in Gaza today than in the past,” writes Rubinstein.  

But, according to the columnist, the shelling and the refusal to talk with the Palestinians has a purpose: “It is best that the Palestinians remain extremists because then no one will ask the government of Israel to negotiate with them. How do we insure that the Palestinians remain radical? We simply strike at them, over and over, via assassinations and incessant bombings, until they drive any thought of supporting a peace policy out of their minds.” 

Israeli peace activists marched on IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz’s house in Tel Aviv to protest the Gaza killings. Among the protestors was Dana Olmert, daughter of the Prime Minister. And five human rights organizations sent a letter to Olmert and Peretz calling on them to end the killing of Palestinian civilians in the territories, and to “uproot the elements that contribute to this killing.” 




There is lots of blame to spread around for the recent riots in East Timor that killed over 30 people and paralyzed the capital, Dili. For starters, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Australia, and the U.S.  

The trigger for the unrest was a decision by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri to dismiss 600 of the new nation’s soldiers. Alkatiri was responding to pressure from the World Bank and the IMF to curb government spending and impose austerity on the debt-laden island. 

The dismissed soldiers were mostly easterners, and westerners largely dominate the present East Timor government. The media has played up this “ethnic tension” angle, although there are no ethnic differences between the two populations. What has caused tension is that the current government is mostly composed of exiles that fled during Indonesia’s 25-year reign of terror.  

When the soldiers claimed that they were being discriminated against by Dili-dominated government, Alkatiri cavalierly dismissed them. 

The real source of the problem is that East Timor was first ravaged by the Indonesians, and then quickly abandoned by the United Nations, in large part because the UN is under severe budget pressure from United States and Great Britain. The United States is opposing efforts to send UN troops back in. 

East Timor is the poorest country in Asia. It lost 200,000 residents during the 1974-99 Indonesian occupation, a kill ratio higher than Pol Pot achieved in Cambodia. When the country voted for freedom in 1999, Indonesian militias destroyed 70 percent of East Timor’s infrastructure, and herded 250,000 people into concentration camps in Indonesian-dominated West Timor. According to a study in The Lancet, Britain’s leading medical journal, one third of East Timor’s people met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder following the 1999 rampage. 

Timor’s underdevelopment is due not only to Indonesia’s rapacious exploitation, but also to Australia’s refusal to turn over billions of dollars in oil revenues from the Timor Sea. Under current international law those fields belong to East Timor, but Australia claims they are “disputed.” 

Indonesia could not have invaded East Timor without the explicit permission of President Gerald Ford’s administration (then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger personally gave the green light to Indonesian President Suharto) and without the passive acceptance of the illegal occupation by Australia and Great Britain. 

Instead of pressuring Indonesia to turn over 400 people accused of war crimes during the long occupation and 1999 rampage, the United Stated and Australia have remain largely silent on the issue The Bush Administration recently announced it would begin selling arms again to the Indonesian military. 

Indeed, the U.S. Justice Department is actively aiding Indonesia’s illegal occupation of West Papua by charging that the Free Papua Movement is a “terrorist” organization, thus giving the Indonesian army the cover it needs to try and crush the separatist movement. 

The great colonial powers—in East Timor’s case, Portugal—plundered the less powerful, throttling their economies and strangling their political evolution. Then they shake their heads and tsk-tsk about “failed states” when things go badly, as if they bear no responsibility. 




Former Italian Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi’s line on the April 9-10 razor close Italian elections was that they were a “fluke,” and that Romano Prodi’s center-left government was not long for the world. Well, the “fluke” turned into an old fashioned trouncing in local elections May 28-29, when the center right was lucky to hang onto Berlusconi’s hometown, Milan. 

The center-left’s candidate for mayor of the big industrial city of Turin crushed the center-right candidate, burying the myth that the wealthy north is right wing, while the scruffy south is left.  

Center left candidates swept 14 major cities, including Rome and Naples. The center right did hang on to the governorship of Sicily, but then again the victor, Salvatore Cuffaro, is on trial for aiding the Mafia.  

Not that Prodi will have smooth sledding. According to the Financial Times, Berlusconi’s mania for tax cutting left public finances in dreadful shape. 2006-07 will be a year of living dangerously for Prodi’s government, as it tries to fulfill promises with depleted coffers.