Thursday, January 31, 2008

International Law and Gaza: The Assault on Israel's Right to Self-Defense. Part I


By Abraham Bell

1st part of 2

International law authorizes Israel to initiate military countermeasures in Gaza. If Gaza is properly seen as having independent sovereignty, Israel's use of force is permissible on the grounds of self-defense. If Gaza is properly seen as lacking any independent sovereignty, Israel's use of military force is permissible as in other non-international conflicts.

*       The rule of "distinction" includes elements of intent and expected result: so long as one aims at legitimate targets, the rule of distinction permits the attack, even if there will be collateral damage to civilians. The rule of "proportionality" also relies upon intent. If Israel plans a strike without expecting excessive collateral damage, the rule of proportionality permits it. Israeli attacks to date have abided by the rules of distinction and proportionality.

*       Israel's imposition of economic sanctions on the Gaza Strip is a perfectly legal means of responding to Palestinian attacks. Since Israel is under no legal obligation to engage in trade of fuel or anything else with Gaza, or to maintain open borders, it may withhold commercial items and seal its borders at its discretion.

*       The bar on collective punishment forbids the imposition of criminal-type penalties to individuals or groups on the basis of another's guilt. None of Israel's actions involve the imposition of criminal-type penalties.

*       There is no legal basis for maintaining that Gaza is occupied territory. The Fourth Geneva Convention refers to territory as occupied where the territory is of a state party to the convention and the occupier "exercises the functions of government" in the territory. Gaza is not territory of another state party to the convention and Israel does not exercise the functions of government in the territory.

*       The fighting in Gaza has been characterized by the extensive commission of war crimes, acts of terrorism and acts of genocide by Palestinians, while Israeli countermeasures have conformed with the requirements of international law. International law requires states to take measures to bring Palestinian war criminals and terrorists to justice, to prevent and punish Palestinian genocidal efforts, and to block the funding of Palestinian terrorist groups and those complicit with them.

Since Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in August 2005, Palestinian groups including Hamas, Fatah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Popular Resistance Committees have launched thousands of rocket attacks at Israel. All the attacks have been on civilian targets, with no more than a handful of possible exceptions. The brunt of the Palestinian assault has been borne by the town of Sderot. The attacks have killed several residents and injured dozens, struck houses and public buildings like kindergartens, and so traumatized residents that three-quarters of all Sderot children between the ages of 7 and 12 suffer from post-traumatic anxiety.

Faulty Arguments Made by Opponents of Israel

Unsurprisingly, in the wake of Israeli countermeasures, persistent critics of Israel have strongly objected to Israel's defensive actions to date, while remaining mostly mute on the crime under international law committed daily by the Gazan militias' attacks on Israeli civilians. As will be explained below, it is evident that the criticisms are without legal basis. Israeli responses to the Palestinian terror attacks emanating from Gaza correspond to the requirements of international law, and the claims that Israel has violated international law are without merit.

One widely reported criticism came from John Dugard, a professor of international law who has accepted a permanent appointment as special rapporteur on human rights in the "occupied Palestinian territories" from the discredited UN Commission on Human Rights and its successor UN Human Rights Council. Dugard has publicly and repeatedly interpreted his mandate as requiring him to criticize only Israel and on January 18, 2008, true to form, Dugard criticized Israeli defense measures for alleged illegality in the high-profile Sunday New York Times (Jan. 20, 2008).

First, Dugard claimed that Israel's attack on Hamas headquarters in a Palestinian Interior Ministry building in Gaza was illegal because the target was "near a wedding venue with what must have been foreseen loss of life and injury to many civilians." However, contrary to Dugard's insinuation, the building was certainly a legitimate target under the international humanitarian legal rule of distinction as it makes a definite contribution to Hamas' hostilities. That one Palestinian civilian lost her life in the Israeli strike is unfortunate, but not a violation of the rule of proportionality, which authorizes collateral damage to civilians where justified by military necessity.

Second, Dugard asserted that Israel's closure of its borders with the Gaza Strip constitutes illegal "collective punishment." Yet there is nothing in international law that requires Israel to maintain open borders with such a hostile territory, whatever its sovereign status. Exercising legal counter-measures against a hostile entity does not constitute "collective punishment" under international law. Dugard's refusal to level the same charge against Egypt, which also kept closed its border with the Gaza Strip, underlines the bias that accompanies the legally inaccurate statement.

Dugard was not alone. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour denounced Israel's "disproportionate use of force." UN Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe told the UN Security Council that collective penalties were prohibited under international law (Financial Times, Jan. 22, 2008). UNRWA Commissioner General Karen Koning Abu Zayd joined the chorus by criticizing Israel's "sporadic" electricity supply to Gaza and its border closures and called on the international community to act (Guardian, Jan. 23, 2008). Unfortunately, these skewed assertions and misstatements of international law by UN officials framed how international public opinion views the illegal Palestinian actions in Gaza and the merits of Israeli defensive actions, and especially Israel's legal right to defend itself.

Some parties had the courage to reject the one-sided and faulty arguments. In the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Canada, a state that prides itself in making the defense of human rights and international law a significant factor in its foreign policy, voted against a resolution condemning Israel for the Gaza fighting. While the European state members abstained in the Human Rights Council vote, some European officials, such as Frano Frattini, European Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, correctly defended the legality of the Israeli actions, and others, such as Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen, criticized UN bias against Israel. Finally, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad told the UN Security Council on January 22, 2008, that Hamas was "ultimately responsible" for the current situation in Gaza.

This essay nevertheless attempts to construct a rational legal basis for evaluating Israeli behavior and potential criticisms. This is no easy task as many of the criticisms of Israel's conduct are made in conclusory fashion, without reference to legal doctrines or legal materials in support of the charges, or, alternatively, based on a misunderstanding of the requirements of the law and the factual context.

This essay examines, in turn, the six distinct bodies of law that could potentially affect the legality of Israeli counterstrikes:

*       the laws of initiating hostilities (jus ad bellum);

*       international humanitarian law, which governs the conduct of military actions;

*       the laws of occupied territory, which some have argued applies to Israeli actions against Gaza-based terrorists;

*       human rights laws;

*       laws on genocide; and

*       anti-terror laws.

A careful examination of the relevant law demonstrates that Israeli counterstrikes to date, and its potential future counterstrikes (both economic and military), conform to the requirements of international law. Moreover, Palestinian commission of war crimes and acts considered under international conventions to be terrorist acts and acts of genocide require Israel and other countries to take steps to punish Palestinian criminals for their acts in the Gaza fighting.

A final preliminary note is in order. The legal status of the Gaza Strip is an extremely complex puzzle in international law and is beyond the scope of this essay. Fortunately, it turns out that many of the legal conclusions regarding the Gaza fighting are not affected by the precise nature of Gaza's status. The essay notes those instances where Gaza's status does affect the ultimate legal determination.

1. The Legality of Israeli Military Actions under Jus ad Bellum

The law of jus ad bellum, as codified by the UN Charter, prevents using military force against another state. However, Article 51 of the Charter excludes self-defense from this ban on the use of force. Furthermore, jus ad bellum does not restrict the use of force in non-international conflicts.

Israel's right to use force in defending itself against Palestinian attacks from Gaza is clear, notwithstanding the uncertain legal status of the Gaza Strip, which makes it difficult to determine the grounds on which Israel's actions should be analyzed. If Gaza should be seen as having independent sovereignty, Israel's use of force is permissible on the grounds of self-defense. On the other hand, if Gaza is properly seen as lacking any independent sovereignty, Israel's use of military force is permissible as in other non-international conflicts.

2. The Legality of Israeli Military Actions under International Humanitarian Law

International humanitarian law regulates the use of force once military action is underway, irrespective of its legality under jus ad bellum. The two most basic principles of international humanitarian law are the rules of distinction and proportionality. Israel's counterstrikes have abided by both these rules.


The rule of distinction requires aiming attacks only at legitimate (e.g., military and support) targets. The rule of distinction includes elements of intent and expected result: so long as one aims at legitimate targets, the rule of distinction permits the attack, even if there will be collateral damage to civilians and even if, in retrospect, the attack was a mistake based on faulty intelligence. Israel has aimed its strikes at the locations from which rockets have been fired, Palestinian combatants bearing weapons and transporting arms, Palestinian terrorist commanders, and support and command and control centers. Locations such as Interior Ministry buildings from which Hamas directs some military activities are objects that make a contribution to Hamas' military actions and are therefore legitimate targets, even though they also have civilian functions.

By contrast, the Palestinian attacks are aimed at Israeli civilians and therefore violate the rule of distinction. Moreover, one of the corollaries of the rule of distinction is a ban on the use of weapons that are incapable, under the circumstances, of being properly aimed at legitimate targets. The rockets and projectile weapons being used by the Palestinian attackers are primitive weapons that cannot be aimed at specific targets, and must be launched at the center of urban areas. This means that the very use of the weapons under current circumstances violates international humanitarian law.


The rule of proportionality places limits on collateral damage. While collateral damage to civilian and other protected targets is permitted, collateral damage is forbidden if it is expected to be excessive in relation to the military need. Prosecutions for war crimes on the basis of disproportionate collateral damage are rare, and it is difficult to see how a credible claim can be made that any of Israel's counterstrikes have created disproportionate collateral damage. Moreover, like distinction, the rule of proportionality relies upon intent. If Israel plans a strike without expecting excessive collateral damage, the rule of proportionality permits it, even if, in retrospect, Israel turns out to have erred in its damage estimates.

All reported Israeli strikes in the latest round of fighting have been aimed at legitimate targets and none has caused excessive collateral damage. Legal advisors attached to Israeli military units review proposed military actions and apply an extremely restrictive standard of both distinction and proportionality, in accordance with expansive Israeli Supreme Court rulings. It is thus likely that future Israeli measures will continue to abide by the rules of distinction and proportionality.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


International Law and Gaza: The Assault on Israel's Right to Self-Defense. Part II


By Abraham Bell

2nd part of 2


Israel's imposition of economic sanctions on the Gaza Strip, such as withholding fuel supplies and electricity, does not involve the use of military force and is therefore a perfectly legal means of responding to Palestinian attacks, despite the effects on Palestinian citizens. The use of economic and other non-military sanctions as a means of "punishing" other international actors for their misbehavior is a practice known as "retorsion." It is generally acknowledged that every country may engage in retorsion so long as the underlying acts are themselves legal. Indeed, it is acknowledged that states may even go beyond retorsion to carry out non-belligerent reprisals-non-military acts that would otherwise be illegal (such as suspending flight agreements) as countermeasures. Since Israel is under no legal obligation to engage in trade of fuel or anything else with the Gaza Strip, or to maintain open borders with the Gaza Strip, it may withhold commercial items and seal its borders at its discretion, even if intended as "punishment" for Palestinian terrorism.

Collective Punishment:

While international law bars "collective punishment," none of Israel's combat actions and retorsions may be considered collective punishment. The bar on collective punishment forbids the imposition of criminal-type penalties to individuals or groups on the basis of another's guilt. None of Israel's actions involve the imposition of criminal-type penalties.

Examples of retorsions are legion in international affairs. The United States, for example, froze trade with Iran after the 1979 Revolution and with Uganda in 1978 after accusations of genocide. In 2000, fourteen European states suspended various diplomatic relations with Austria in protest of the participation of Jorg Haider in the government. Numerous states suspended trade and diplomatic relations with South Africa as punishment for apartheid practices. Obviously, in none of these cases was a charge raised of "collective punishment."

3. The Legality of Israeli Military Actions under the Laws of Occupation

Some groups have claimed that the Gaza Strip should be considered "occupied" by Israel according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, in which case Israel would be required to "ensure the food and medical supplies of the population," as well as "agree to relief schemes on behalf of the...population" and maintain "public health and hygiene."

Due to internal political considerations as well as rulings by the Israeli Supreme Court, Israel continues to maintain the flow of basic humanitarian supplies such as food, medicine and water to the Palestinian population of Gaza. In a recent case (Albassiouni v. Prime Minister, HCJ 9132/07), the Israeli Supreme Court implied that it interpreted domestic Israeli administrative law to require the Israeli government to maintain a minimum flow of Israeli-supplied necessary humanitarian goods when engaging in retorsional acts such as the cutting off of Israeli supply of electricity to Gaza. Thus, even if there were a legal basis for considering Gaza Israeli-occupied territory, Israel would be fulfilling its duties under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

However, there is no legal basis for maintaining that Gaza is occupied territory. The Fourth Geneva Convention refers to territory as occupied where the territory is of another "High Contracting Party" (i.e., a state party to the convention) and the occupier "exercises the functions of government" in the occupied territory. The Gaza Strip is not territory of another state party to the convention and Israel does not exercise the functions of government-or, indeed, any significant functions-in the territory. It is clear to all that the elected Hamas government is the de facto sovereign of the Gaza Strip and does not take direction from Israel, or from any other state.

Some have argued that states can be considered occupiers even of areas where they do not declare themselves in control so long as the putative occupiers have effective control. For instance, in 2005, the International Court of Justice opined that Uganda could be considered the occupier of Congolese territory over which it had "substituted [its] own authority for that of the Congolese Government" even in the absence of a formal military administration. Some have argued that this shows that occupation may occur even in the absence of a full-scale military presence and claimed that this renders Israel an occupier under the Fourth Geneva Convention. However, these claims are clearly without merit. First, Israel does not otherwise fulfill the conditions of being an occupier; in particular, Israel does not exercise the functions of government in Gaza, and it has not substituted its authority for the de facto Hamas government. Second, Israel cannot project effective control in Gaza. Indeed, Israelis and Palestinians well know that projecting such control would require an extensive military operation amounting to the armed conquest of Gaza. Military superiority over a neighbor, and the ability to conquer a neighbor in an extensive military operation, does not itself constitute occupation. If it did, the United States would have to be considered the occupier of Mexico, Egypt the occupier of Libya and Gaza, and China the occupier of North Korea.

Moreover, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that foes of Israel claiming that Israel has legal duties as the "occupier" of Gaza are insincere in their legal analysis. If Israel were indeed properly considered an occupier, under Article 43 of the regulations attached to the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907, it would be required to take "all the measures in [its] power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety." Thus, those who contend that Israel is in legal occupation of Gaza must also support and even demand Israeli military operations in order to disarm Palestinian terror groups and militias. Additionally, claims of occupation necessarily rely upon a belief that the occupying power is not the true sovereign of the occupied territory. For that reason, those who claim that Israel occupies Gaza must believe that the border between Israel and Gaza is an international border between separate sovereignties. Yet, many of those claiming that Gaza is occupied, like John Dugard, also simultaneously and inconsistently claim that Israel is legally obliged to open the borders between Israel and Gaza. No state is required to leave its international borders open.

4. The Legality of Israeli Military Actions under International Human Rights Law

Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Israel is required to ensure the protection of certain rights "within its territory" including the right to life. The application of the covenant to Israeli activities in the Gaza Strip is questionable as it is unlikely that the Gaza Strip should be considered Israel's territory. Nonetheless, Israel has abided by the requirements of the convention, if it applies to Gaza. In combat situations the meaning of the rights in the convention is established by the rules of international humanitarian law. Thus, Israel is protecting the human rights of Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip by abiding by international humanitarian law.

5. Duties of Israel under the Genocide Convention

Article Two of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide defines any killing with intent "to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such" as an act of genocide. Given _expressions of intent by some of the Palestinian terrorist groups to kill Jews as a group due to their ethnic identity (such as the Hamas charter's call for an armed struggle against all Jews until judgment day), all the members of such groups who carry out killings are guilty of the crime of genocide under the convention. Under Article One of the convention, Israel and other signatories are required to "prevent and punish" not only persons who carry out such genocidal acts, but those who conspire with them, incite them to kil,l and are complicit with their actions. The convention thus requires Israel to prevent and punish the terrorists themselves, as well as public figures who have publicly supported the Palestinian attacks.

6. Duties of Israel under Anti-Terrorism Conventions

The International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism requires Israel (like other state parties to the convention) to prevent the collection of funds intended to support terrorist attacks. The Palestinian attacks fall under the definition of terrorist attacks under Article 2(1)(b) of the convention because they are aimed at Israeli civilians in violation of the rule of distinction, and they are intended to kill or seriously injure civilians in order to intimidate a population. If Gaza is considered "territory of [the] state" of Israel, Israel is legally required to establish jurisdiction over Palestinian terrorist crimes under the convention; if Gaza is not Israeli territory, Israel is permitted to establish jurisdiction over the terrorist crimes.

Additionally, the convention establishes that Israel is not only permitted to impose certain economic sanctions on the de facto rulers of the Gaza Strip, it is required to do so.

Under a related convention, the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, it is a crime to bomb public places (such as city streets) with the intent to kill civilians, by persons who are non-nationals of the state of which the victims are nationals.
Under this convention too, the Palestinian attackers must be considered international terrorists and Israel is either required or permitted (depending on whether Gaza is Israeli "territory") to assume criminal jurisdiction over the Palestinian terrorists committing these acts. Additionally, other states signed on the convention-such as the United States, Russia, Turkey and France-must cooperate in helping to combat such Palestinian terrorist acts.

Finally, Security Council Resolution 1373 requires states to "deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support, or commit terrorist acts, or provide safe havens" and "prevent the movement of terrorists or terrorist groups." The resolution was adopted under Chapter VII and is therefore apparently binding on all states, although some have argued that the resolution is not binding because the Security Council is not authorized to enact quasi-legislation. While the resolution does not define terrorism, it references the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, making it clear that the Palestinian attackers from Gaza fall within the scope of the international terrorists covered by the resolution. Consequently, if binding, this resolution requires Israel to take steps to deny safe haven to Palestinian attackers from Gaza and to prevent their free movement. 


The Palestinian-Israeli fighting in Gaza has been characterized by the extensive commission of war crimes, acts of terrorism and acts of genocide by Palestinian fighters, while Israeli countermeasures have conformed with the requirements of international law.

International law requires states to take measures to bring Palestinian war criminals and terrorists to justice, to prevent and punish Palestinian genocidal efforts, and to block the funding of Palestinian terrorist groups and those complicit with them.

Dr. Avi Bell is a member of the Faculty of Law at Bar-Ilan University, Visiting Professor at Fordham University Law School, and Director of the International Law Forum at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.



Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Stop Them with a Clear-Cut Victory Part I


by Moshe Sharon

1st part of 5

"We shall fight on the seas and oceans we shall fight with growing confidence… we shall fight in the fields and in the streets…we shall fight in the hills…we shall never surrender."

Winston Churchill 4 June 1940


The failure in Lebanon

The year is 2007; it is the beginning of September. I am writing this for readers in the future so that they will be aware of period in which this document was composed.

This time one year ago, the northern half of the tiny state of Israel was under constant attack of missiles that fell not only on villages, and on towns, conveniently called "the periphery" on such occasions, but also on Haifa, the major port of Israel, the centre of its heavy industry, oil refineries, and vital chemical plants. Any normal country would have retaliated by laying waste the territory from which such indiscriminate attacks were aimed at civilians and civilian installations. Any normal country would have declared war immediately on the country from which these attacks came and would have given orders to its army to conquer that country or at least those parts of it that were used as bases for the missile attacks.

The government of Israel did not declare war. Paralyzed by fear of the word "occupation" it announced that it would not conquer the enemy's territory, and prevented the army from responding by attacking civilian settlements even when the Hizbullah used Lebanese civilians as human shields, and turned schools, mosques and hospitals into missile launching sites. Moreover, the government did not understand the importance for Israel of achieving a clear-cut, indisputable major victory in this war; it failed to perceive the unusual harm Israel would suffer in the long run, if the Hizbullah could claim victory as it actually did. It failed to understand that without conquering the territory used for the launching of the missiles and by not retaliating against vital civilian as well as military installations first in Syria and then in Lebanon, the war could not be won.

Extraordinarily grave damage was done. The enemies of Israel, comprising all of the Arab countries in the Middle East (including Egypt and Jordan) as well as the rest of the Islamic world, are now convinced that Israel is a temporary entity that can be defeated and destroyed, and that its Jewish population can be exterminated. This notion has already infiltrated the minds and convictions of many in the West, particularly those who belong to the Left, who believe that the establishment of the State of Israel was a mistake, both moral and political, and one way or another must be eliminated.

Peace in the Middle East – no such option

The Western world, in particular the United States and Israel, have not yet come to grips with the gravity of the global conflict, which is developing rapidly on a daily basis. This is a war that fanatic Islam, which now engulfs the whole Islamic world, has declared on the West. The eradication of Israel by force from what is regarded to be the heart of the Islamic world is regarded to be a much needed major triumph and a necessary step for the successful march to victory in the rest of the world. The naming of Israel as the "Small Satan" represents this idea: once the small abomination is eliminated, the big one will also be destructible.

The failure of Israel and the United States, as well as Europe, to see that the world is in a state of war is characterised by the seasonal birth of "peace initiatives." That Israel has convinced itself that "peace is an option," even "the only option," in spite of the fact that its enemies are actively engaged in preparing its destruction, is one of the astonishing phenomena of our times. The Arabs read the signs coming from Israel correctly, and act accordingly. On the one hand, they are arming themselves to the teeth and preparing for war and, on the other hand, they talk "peace" and occasionally release "peace plans," which aim at turning Israel into an indefensible narrow strip of land that can be conquered in a single attack.

Successive governments of Israel, and the Saudi-influenced American State Department, backed by deluded, uninformed and defeatist media, have convinced themselves and the public over the years that once the Arabs sign an agreement, whether it is called a "peace treaty" or any other "accord," they are bound to honour it. Meanwhile, they have always demanded that Israel pay for such pieces of paper with territory vital for its security. Time and again, the Arabs have proved that they will keep the parts of any agreement as long as it suits them, and for the length of time it suits them.

After the signing of the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, it is said that the late President, Sadat remarked "Poor Menahem (Begin), I gave him a piece of paper, and he gave me the whole of Sinai." How right the Egyptian president was! Of the "peace treaty" with Egypt not much more has remained than a "piece of paper" representing an extended armistice, much like the one which existed between 1956-67, 1968-1973, and 1973-1979.

Egypt leads the world in the publication and dissemination of anti-Semitism, and this is only one of the clear violations of the peace treaty with Israel. Even Jordan, whose sheer existence is dependent on Israel's protection, is not observing all the clauses of the more recent peace treaty that it signed, and its media spreads anti-Israeli venom.

Moshe Sharon

Professor Emeritus of Islamic History and Civilization.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Stop Them with a Clear-Cut Victory Part II

by Moshe Sharon

2nd part of 5

Peace plans and refugees– tools in the war against Israel

All the Arab countries, led by the Arab League, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, support and arm terrorists that are fighting Israel. At the same time they are very busy in all the international bodies and media seeking to harm Israel by isolating it worldwide, and singling it out as a pariah nation, blackening its name in every possible way. Concurrently, they also publicize their seasonal "peace plans," all of which are but weapons in their war against Israel. These "peace plans" always contain three components: the withdrawal of Israel to the pre-1967 armistice lines, the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem its capital and "the return of the Arab refugees" into the diminished state of Israel. The aim of such plans is clear: to create the strategic conditions that render Israel defenseless, and to destroy it from within by flooding it with the Arab "refugees."

Who are these "refugees?" How is it that they have been on the world's agenda for the past 60 years? To understand this, the most astounding abnormality of modern times, it should be emphasized that the term "refugees" in the case of the Arab ones has been constantly used by the general media, by the international community, by the United Nations and by every individual country in the world both inaccurately and dishonestly. Every war creates refugees, but in all other cases, the term "refugee" describes a temporary condition. In the case of the "Arab refugees" ("Palestinian" is a rather new term) this temporary condition has been successfully turned into a permanent status bequeathed and inherited, transmitted from one generation to another. This is the only case in history wherein refugees breed refugees. The amazing thing is that the whole world has been actively cooperating with the Arabs in perpetuating this status. The United Nations has spent billions until now in creating and keeping the sophisticated machinery of UNRWA, formed not to solve the refugee problem but to keep it alive, knowing very well that by now hardly a few thousands of the original refugees from 1948 are still alive. The dishonesty of the international community cries out to heaven because it is clear that the Arabs are keeping this ever-multiplying, unique refugee problem for only one purpose – the destruction of the Jewish state. Nobody is interested in the over six hundred and fifty thousand Jewish refugees who were thrown out of the Arab countries following the establishment of the State of Israel, and were settled by Israel. These Jewish refugees have also multiplied, but as free and rehabilitated human beings. They and their descendents also number several million people. However, Israel, like any other civilized country, does not regard "refugee" to be an inherited status.

As I write these words on 1 August 2007, it has been announced that Saudi Arabia, reacting to President Bush's idea of convening a "Peace Conference," has said that the President's plan has "positive elements." When the Arabs say "positive elements," it means that these elements are in full accord with their own plans for the elimination of the Jewish state. The "positive elements" which the Saudi king found in the American suggestion were "the dismantling of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and a solution to the refugee problem." In plain language, it means returning Israel to the indefensible borders of the pre-1967 ceasefire lines and precipitating the process of destroying its Jewish character.

Why the penny doesn't drop is a mystery. How is it that at least intelligent people in the West do not follow the policy of "benign neglect," and keep on falling into the trap of seasonal "peace plans?" How is they still do not comprehend that three generations of efforts to achieve peace through negotiations have only led to more violence and instability? How can they not see that cheating and deception are intrinsic components of Arab diplomacy and are cemented into every agreement they sign, even among themselves.

The Arab ideas aimed at the elimination of Israel, which have remained unchanged since its establishment in 1948, are now shared by the Arab citizens of Israel who openly define the establishment of the State, whose prosperity and security, freedom and democracy they enjoy, – "nakbah" – "catastrophe." Their representatives in the Knesset, who swear allegiance to "the State and its laws" as well as the media that speaks for them, demand the elimination of the Jewish character of Israel, and the abolishment of the "Law of Return" which guaranties that the State of Israel is the Jewish Home. They also demand that all its Jewish symbols (flag, emblems, national anthem) should be eliminated, and that it should become "the State of all its citizens," - in other words, it should be prepared to turn into an Arab state.

Although this analysis relates only to the Israeli-Arab conflict, it is described by most of the world media as influencing the well-being of the entire world. The Europeans and, to a large extant, the majority of the American political leaders and media, have fallen victim to years of Arab-Leftist-anti-Jewish-anti-Zionist propaganda and they are convinced that, by accepting the Arab demands and establishing another Arab state on the tiny territory of Palestine, all the conflicts in the world, or at least most of them, will come to an end. There is no need to explain, yet again, the fallacy of these ideas.

The validity of the Islamic factor

There is no way that the Arabs in particular, and the Muslims in general, can or will accept the permanent existence of a Jewish, that is to say a non-Arab, non-Muslim state, in the heart of what is regarded to be an Arab-Islamic homeland. There is no Muslim leader who would dare to relinquish any portion of the Holy Land, small as it might be, in order to allow the "Jewish infidels" to establish their legitimately, independent presence on it. Palestine, as far as the Muslims are concerned, contains only Muslim holy places and is regarded to be a Muslim, religious endowment. In their eyes, it is exclusively Islamic, and the claim of any non-Muslim to any part of it on historical or religious grounds is false. It belongs to all the Muslims and any Muslim who dares to give up any of the Muslim rights to it should know that he signs his own death warrant.

No Muslim leader would venture to accept officially, even for a limited period, the equality of the Jews to the Muslims by recognizing the legitimacy of their independence and sovereignty. Moreover, any agreement with the Jews, which contains anything beyond a limited armistice or ceasefire, is by its very nature null and void. The only agreement with non-believers that is permitted by Islamic law is one that enables Islam to strengthen itself, so that when the time comes it can resume the war of Jihad in better conditions and from better positions. Such a ceasefire or armistice is based on the postulation that the infidel enemy will surely mistake it for peace, lower its defenses and slide into a slumber of tranquility, thus turning itself into an easy target. In Arabic armistice is called hudnah but it can be rendered by the word sulh, which is the term used by the Muslims to describe a treaty concluded with a defeated enemy. In European languages and in Hebrew the last term is mistakenly translated as "peace." This translation suits the Muslim Jihadi plans very well: the infidels rejoice in the "peace" and Islam can meanwhile gather its forces for the "next round."

If in the past one was told that these laws of Jihad were theoretical and inapplicable to our modern times, along came the Islamic terrorist activity of the past generation all over the world, and proved that they are certainly valid, and form the basis of the relations between the Muslim world and the West.

The Islamic factor, therefore, is an axiom in world affairs. It should be regarded as a vital component in the assessment of any activity, whether political or military, in the Middle East as well as in the world at large.

Moshe Sharon

Professor Emeritus of Islamic History and Civilization.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


Stop Them with a Clear-Cut Victory Part III

by Moshe Sharon
3rd part of 5

Replace "peace" with strength and determination
Considering the fact that the only possible relations between the Muslims and the non-Muslims are war or a limited ceasefire, it follows that the word "peace" should be deleted from Israel's lexicon and that of the West in general. However, since we are concerned at the moment only with Israel, which is constantly exposed to mortal danger, it must be emphasized that not only the word "peace" should be removed from Israel's lexicon but also the notion of peace with the Arabs as a viable, political possibility. The maximum that Israel can aim for is a limited ceasefire or an armistice, taking into consideration that the Arab side will violate it at any time, as the Palestinians have been proving on a daily basis since the signing of the Oslo Accords in eptember 1993.
Since a ceasefire can turn into war at any moment, Israel must retain the territory needed for its defense, and maintain a deterrent military power to prevent the enemy from surprising her. Any sign of weakness is a clear call to the Muslims to renew Jihad, as they have been doing in the Gaza Strip, especially after the unilateral evacuation and the destruction of the whole Jewish region there. It should always be remembered that the Arab Islamic side calls for a ceasefire only when confronted by a strong, determined enemy, and keeps the ceasefire to some extant for as long as the enemy remains strong. There is, therefore, only one guarantee against war and the annihilation of Israel: military strength and the constant display of this strength by winning small skirmishes as well as major wars. Anything that even seems like an Israeli military setback is an invitation to another war. The Arabs and Muslims observe ceasefires only under the threat of terrible retribution. Nothing else. Any Israeli or Western leader who thinks that the Arab signature on a document guarantees that it will be kept, is deluding himself, and displaying dangerous ignorance.

No peace with Egypt
The "peace" treaty between Israel and Egypt is usually quoted as being a successful agreement, which has been kept for nearly thirty years by now. This is an impressive length of time but it is also a false assessment. There is no real peace between Israel and Egypt. To begin with, President Sadat who signed the treaty was assassinated soon after, precisely because Muslim fanatics in his own country regarded his mere signing of the treaty an act of treason. In their eyes, and in the eyes of countless Muslims all over the world, he broke a golden rule by legitimizing the Jewish state, which had been established on Islamic territory. Since then, the Egyptians have done everything they can to play down the nature as well as the effectiveness of the peace treaty, and have turned it into a mere armistice agreement. Consequently, Israel is not treated as fully independent partner to peace but more as a dhimmi state, subordinate to Egyptians whims and compelled to accept the Egyptian, self-declared, superiority. At the same time, eager to prove to itself that the "peace" is "working", Israel chooses to ignore all the Egyptian violations of the treaty including the Egyptian anti -Semitism, and the intensive Egyptian anti Israeli activity in every international forum. Apart from the no-war situation that exists between the countries, which admittedly, is not a minor matter, and the maintenance of a minimal diplomatic representation, none of the lofty expressions adorning the peace agreement have been honoured. An example of this can be found in some of the provisions in annex III to the peace treaty that deal with economic and cultural relations.

Article 2 of annex III says:
1. The Parties agree to remove all discriminatory barriers to normal economic relations and to terminate economic boycotts of each other upon completion of the interim withdrawal.
2. As soon as possible … the Parties will enter negotiations with a view to concluding an agreement on trade and commerce for the purpose of promoting beneficial economic relations.

Article 3 of the same annex says:
1. The Parties agree to establish normal cultural relations following completion of the interim withdrawal.
2. They agree on the desirability of cultural exchanges in all fields, and shall, as soon as possible and not later than six months after completion of the interim withdrawal, enter into negotiations with a view to concluding a cultural agreement for this purpose.

Article 5 of the same annex states:
1. The Parties recognize a mutuality of interest in good neighbourly relations and agree to consider means to promote such relations.
2. The Parties will cooperate in promoting peace, stability and development in their region. Each agrees to consider proposals the other may wish to make to this end.
3. The Parties shall seek to foster mutual understanding and tolerance and will, accordingly, abstain from hostile propaganda against each other.

The most blatant violation of the agreement is the anti-Semitic propaganda which has been spreading constantly from Egypt to the whole world and which includes anti-Semitic publications such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf of Hitler as well countless "original" publications by Egyptian and other Arab "intellectuals." In this horrific anti-Semitic festival, the most prolific is the state-controlled and state-directed media. Israel is presented as the ultimate enemy that must be annihilated, the Jews are portrayed as the scum of the earth and Egyptian writers, artists, cartoonists, and intellectuals in general, compete with each other as to who can be more inventive in degrading the Jews and vilifying Israel. If there is any tourism, it is one-sided: A few Israelis go to Egypt but no Egyptians come to Israel. The economic relations between the two countries consist of not much more than the purchase of oil and gas from Egypt by Israel. In spite of explicit clauses speaking about the establishment of cultural relations (Annex III article three, above), and the great efforts made by Israel, there are no real cultural relations between the countries. An exception is the Israeli Academic Centre in Cairo that Israel virtually compelled Egypt to accept. Hardly any Egyptian dares to come near the Centre, and the Hebrew courses it offers have been used mainly by Egyptian intelligence officers. No similar Egyptian academic centre has been established in Israel.

Moshe Sharon

Professor Emeritus of Islamic History and Civilization.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Stop Them with a Clear-Cut Victory Part IV

by Moshe Sharon

4th  part of 5

"Peace Plans" – methods to reward the Arab aggressors

In short, it is peace on paper for which Israel has paid dearly, foolishly setting a regrettable precedent according to which the aggressor is rewarded by the victim of his aggression. Egypt lost four wars that it initiated against Israel, losing territories from which it committed its acts of aggression as a result. In the 1967 war, it lost the whole of Sinai and the Gaza Strip, both of which it had been holding illegally. However, under the 1979 peace agreement, Israel returned to the Egyptian aggressor everything it had lost (Egypt never demanded the return of Gaza). Such a thing has never happened before in the history of warfare between nations. No aggressor has ever been rewarded for his aggression by the victorious victim of his aggression. However, in the case of Israel and the Arabs, Israel has created the precedent making aggression a "no-lose gamble" for the aggressor. The Israel-Egypt agreement established the model for all the later "peace" negotiations between Israel and the Arab countries (including the Palestinian Arabs) that are actively contemplating its destruction. They are all looking for the same style of "no-lose" treaty. Instead of the Arabs having to pay for the privilege of having peace with Israel, Israel has established the abnormal equation that it pays with vital strategic interests for a piece of merchandise called "peace" which the Arabs do not have in their stores to sell. The latest bid of Syria is the most striking.

The Syrian lost the Golan Heights in two successive wars of aggression against Israel in 1967 and 1973. Only an abnormal country would seriously think of rewarding the Syrian aggressors by showing readiness to return to them the highly strategic territory they lost, knowing full well that the Syrian army is preparing for war. It is as if Germany were to be given back the 44,310 square miles it lost following its aggression in World War II. Regarding this, Professor Lloyd Cohen of the School of Law, George Mason University, remarked:

The Israeli case is even stronger. Unlike belligerent Syria, Germany is now a peaceful country, and an ally to its neighbors. In addition, the land taken from Germany was land of historic German settlement and development (East Prussia, Lower Silesia, Breslau). Under those circumstances were it to be given sovereignty over, let us say, the Kaliningrad Oblast (East Prussia) it would be far more reasonable than granting Syria sovereignty over Jewish villages in the Golan.

Meanwhile Egypt also is preparing for war. It has built an army of one million soldiers; one may ask against whom? Who are the enemies of Egypt that compel her to keep such a huge army backed by many thousand of the best American tanks produced locally by permission of the USA, a huge air force, and a gigantic arsenal of missiles. If the countries bordering on Egypt are all Arab brothers who then is the enemy, against whom are the soldiers urged to fight? Whom are they taught to hate? Which armies are they supposed to defeat? Which country are they supposed to conquer? Is there any doubt concerning the answer to all these, and similar, rhetorical questions? Isn't it clear that Israel, its people, its land, and its army are the targets of these extensive, intensive, and expensive Egyptian preparations. Isn't it rather strange, or rather disloyal, even treacherous that the building, equipping and supporting of this huge Egyptian military buildup against Israel is carried out with the full knowledge, support and encouragement of the United States of America, and financed by the American taxpayer? It is treacherous because while Israel is the most faithful ally of the United States in the whole world, it is impossible that the American government does not realize that this huge Egyptian army could at any moment move on Israel with or without a pretext.

As far as the Palestinian signature on agreements with Israel is concerned, here the picture is just the same. It took Arafat just a few days after he had signed the Oslo agreements before he announced, on May 10, 1994, in front of a cheering Muslim crowd in Johannesburg: "I do not consider this agreement it to be more than the agreement which was signed between our Prophet Muhammad and Quraysh." (See Arafat Johannesburg speech )

There was hardly a Muslim who did not understand the message: the Prophet Muhammad concluded a ten years armistice agreement with the tribe of Quraysh at Hudaybiyah near Mecca in 628. He annulled it unilaterally once he had finished building up a strong army. (See chapter V below) However, at the time of Muhammad, the agreement held for about two years; Arafat sent his bombs to explode in buses and restaurants in Jerusalem, and elsewhere in Israel, within weeks of solemnly signing the document announcing the inauguration of the "era of peace." He never planned to keep the agreement. 'Abd al-Bari 'Atwan the famous editor of al-Quds al-Arabi felt free to report in the Lebanese television an interview which he had conducted with Arafat in Tunisia in 1994. Arafat said:

"By God I shall drive them mad. I shall turn these agreements into a disaster for them. Not in my days, but in your time you shall see the Jews running away from Palestine. Only be patient."

Terrorizing the effeminate infidel enemy

The Arabs, led by the Saudis, have now issued an ultimatum to Israel: either Israel accepts the Arab "peace" plan which means putting her on a direct route to disappearance within a few years, or "bear the consequences." The government of Israel and the Americans are elated: the Arabs are "talking peace." The official reaction of the Israeli government, instead of being a forthright rejection of this impudent Arab deceitful maneuver that has been attempted several times in the past, said that "it was a good basis for negotiations". The Israelis still do not understand that the only peace the Arabs will accept is a peace that comes from victory and the annihilation, or subjugation, of their Jewish enemy. The "peace" diplomatic maneuvers are merely another path to that result. The core point is that the acceptance of Israel as a strong free Jewish state is not on the table for the Arabs, which simply means that no peace as the Israelis would understand it is available.

The frightening part of this Arab plot is that it excited the President of the United States of America so much that he has decided to convene a "peace conference" to promote it. At this conference Israel will be the defendant facing its accusers: the Arab League, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, the Americans (influenced, to some extent at least, by the traditional pro-Arab views of the State Department), and probably the European Union as well.

What do the Muslims, particularly the perpetrators of the concentrated attacks on the Americans and Israel that began in the early 1990s, make of this development? Wouldn't they think that they are on the way to victory not only over Israel but also over the West in general? The Saudis, who are the largest supporters of Muslim terrorism all over the world, enjoy immunity in the United States, and have a direct influence on shaping the American foreign policy. Does it not mean that the Americans and Israelis are ripe for the next attack?

On 7 March 2007, in a lecture delivered at the annual dinner of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy and Research in Washington D.C, Professor Bernard Lewis remarked that the Muslims believed that they had caused the fall of the Soviet Union which they regarded a truly deadly opponent. "Dealing with the soft, pampered, and effeminate Americans would be an easy matter." (To this it can be added that after what the Arabs regard as the defeat of the Israeli Army in Lebanon by the Hizbullah, Israel looks no less effeminate than the Americans.)

"This belief appeared to be confirmed," says Professor Lewis, "when the world saw one attack after another on American bases and installations with virtually no effective response of any kind – only angry words and expensive missiles dispatched to remote uninhabited places. The lessons of Vietnam and Beirut (1983) were confirmed by Mogadishu (1993). In both Beirut and Mogadishu, a murderous attack on Americans, who were there as part of UN-sponsored missions, was followed by a prompt and complete withdrawal. The message was understood and explained. "Hit them, and they'll run." This was the course of events leading to 9/11. That attack was clearly intended to be the completion of the first sequence and the beginning of the new one, taking the war into the heart of the enemy camp."

Are not these words true for Israel as well, and even more so? Was the war not taken into the heart of the Israeli camp? Bombs exploded in Israeli towns and villages, missiles are repeatedly hitting the south of Israel, an Israeli soldier was kidnapped from inside pre-1967 Israeli territory, endless acts of terror have been carried out by the terrorists who belong to the militias of the Palestinian authority, and this is only a short list. The Israeli reaction has been virtually no reaction: except for words, and not even angry words, in which the Jewish government has announced innumerable times: "the Palestinian Authority is not doing enough to stop terror." The army has been given orders to shoot into open spaces that, in the Israeli laundering of words, were defined as "spaces used for launching missiles." For more than a year now three Israeli soldiers, two in Lebanon and one in Gaza, are kept captive and the only reaction of Israel is an offer to release thousands of terrorists from its prisons to get at least one of them back. What the Arabs understand from this behaviour is that the Israelis have lost the ability to defend themselves let alone to retaliate. When they retaliate as they did in Lebanon it was with so many restrictions that the retaliation ended with the Islamic side stronger, bolder, more daring, and ready for the next encounter, and the Israeli side divided, frightened, and indecisive.

The Muslims are now convinced that terror is the most effective weapon in their arsenal. They have found out that they can kill civilians without being punished, even without being condemned. They have discovered that no matter what they do, the chorus of the Western media will condemn the Israelis and the Americans. They also hear the voices that tell them that terror has become an acceptable phenomenon. Some writers in the West have even defined terror as "the weapon of the weak;" a very understanding, even supportive, definition: since the weak are the under-privileged, according to the false concepts of the Left in the Western world, it follows that its weapon of terror should gain our sympathy. The weak cannot be defeated because they have nothing to lose etc. etc.

Moshe Sharon

Professor Emeritus of Islamic History and Civilization.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Stop Them with a Clear-Cut Victory Part V

by Moshe Sharon

5th part of 5

There is only a military solution to terror

It is a fact that both the Israelis and the Americans seem to succumb to these false notions. The Muslim terrorists are even encouraged by Israeli "experts" who, like parrots, keep repeating: "there is no military solution to terror." The hasty Israeli withdrawal from Gaza for no reason and without any gains whatever, the destruction of two-score thriving and productive villages, and the turning of ten thousand Jews into refugees has been the best proof that terror is an efficient tool. The high-flown words and fiery promises of the Israeli government that "now", following the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, Israel would retaliate with full force against even a single shot, was proved within one day to be as false and as empty as all such hollow pronouncements in the past.

Gaza has become the forefront of Muslim terror. Israeli towns and villages are being attacked from it daily, the border with Egypt is almost totally open for the constant flow of arms, ammunition, missiles and explosives in huge quantities and of excellent quality, but Israel has not stopped talking about the need of the Palestinian Authority "to do more" to fight terror.

Why should the Authority fight terror when it is a terrorist body itself, organizing and supporting terror groups like the Tanzim, the Aqsa Brigades and similar bodies, some even disguised as the armed forces of "Abu Mazen" – the walking joke called the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority who, in reality, is one of the small warlords of the Palestinians, supported by American, Israeli and European money.

Neither America nor Israel need another false and damaging "Peace Conference" at this point This might disappoint Condi and Tzipi, but what Israel and America really need on all fronts is a clear-cut VICTORY. Victory is the key word not peace, because peace is not an option in this part of the world, and because there is only one solution to terror: a military solution. You do not talk to terrorists, you fight and defeat them.

Victory is needed to prove to the Muslims in general and the Arabs in particular that against their ethos of death stands the ethos of life, protected by the arms of democracies that are resolved to punish them where it hurts most. This is the only way to stop the warlords of Syria who were encouraged by Hizbullah's performance in the last encounter with Israel. This is the only way to stop in mid-course the messianic saber-rattling of Ahmadinejad in Tehran who aims at using the atom bomb whenever he can produce it, even with possible disastrous consequences for himself. This is the only way to prevent Lebanon from becoming a Shi'ite country, and the forefront position of Iran, before it is too late.

In the Middle East, negotiations are a method to win time. Time is exactly what the Hamas and some dozen Palestinian terrorist groups need: They need time to arm themselves with more deadly missiles for more effective attacks on Israeli citizens. The Syrians need time to absorb the huge amounts of modern weapons supplied by the Russians and paid for by the Iranians. The Hizbullah needs time to upgrade its arsenal of weapons and entrench itself deeper in South Lebanon. Ahmadinejad in Iran needs time to complete the enrichment of enough nuclear material to produce his first A-bombs. Iran poses a mortal danger to Israel, but if Israel is strong, and proves this strength, no amount of time will permit Syria, Hamas and Hizbullah to pose a real existential threat to Israel. They can, however, cause casualties, and more important make clear, that Israel is not a normal nation as Israelis wish to delude themselves into thinking.

Do not negotiate – fight

Saudi Arabia has been deflecting attention from all of these belligerent neighbours by proposing a futile, rehashed "peace proposal", thus providing this much needed time, although she should be the first to worry about a nuclear Iran.

The Americans and the Israelis, seem to have lost their wish to fight, otherwise it is incomprehensible why they consider an Arab move that places all the advantages in the hands of their opponents.

Negotiations come only after victory, not before victory and not instead of victory. Negotiations before victory are the ultimate sign of weakness and are a clear sign of fear and defeatism; it is a sure recipe for a devastating war. The enemy aims in negotiations such as these to improve its positions in the forthcoming war, which it has planned before the negotiations and while negotiating. Thus, Syria wishes, by negotiations, to improve its strategic position by luring Israel into giving up the Golan Heights and exposing the whole north of Israel to a Syrian surprise attack that could be disastrous. The same can be said of the Palestinians and their Arab brethren who wish to turn Israel into a strip of a coastal, indefensible piece of land. The Arabs have learnt from recent history that democracies can be lured to agree to terms that endanger their very existence if these terms are written down on paper and are accompanied by a signature.

Who can forget Neville Chamberlain returning from Munich after succumbing to Hitler demands, waving with piece of paper and announcing "peace in our time"? This was the introduction to the most horrible war in human annals. Similarly, one can hardly forget the pictures of Rabin, Peres and Arafat first at the Noble Peace Prize ceremony in 1994 and then in front of the White House in 1995 ("Oslo 2") – all smiles and handshakes, announcing the end of the conflict. These "peace" prizes and promises led directly to the most terrible terror war Israel has ever experienced, resulting in the death of over 1500 men women and children, the injury of over 5000, and the creation of a permanent terror entity in its midst.

Unfortunately not every one is ready to learn the lessons of the past. Peres and the others who were responsible for the debacle of Oslo had the audacity to describe the victims of Arafat's terrorists, by the most egregious oxymoron: "victims of peace." Most of the Oslo fools are ready to go the same way again. After all it was Peres who has pronounced more than once that there is nothing to be learnt from history.

The deadly words "peace" and "negotiations" should have long been obliterated from the Israeli and Western lexicons. These are seductive words; they addle the brain and lead one to do stupid things, and as long as they are not replaced by that one wonderful word: "victory," Israel and Western civilization are in mortal danger. It is because the Islamic enemy is triumphant and war-like by nature. Islam thrives on the ethos of Jihad and therefore does not know any other concept save "victory." From its very inception, Islam has been guided by the principals of war against non-Muslims: triumph and conquest. Victory and conquest have always been regarded as clear signs of divine approval and support. If Israel and the West wish to live, the Islamic triumphal drive must be confronted on the battleground with the same weapon of victory and triumph backed by the moral superiority of life-cherishing civilizations and the scientific superiority of modern weaponry.

Moshe Sharon

Professor Emeritus of Islamic History and Civilization.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.