Sunday, April 26, 2009

The War on Gaza: In the Company of Stories and Images

By Tania Tamari Nasir
December 27, 2008-February 17, 2009

It is the 27th of December 2008 and the dreaded war on Gaza has just begun. Horrified, we are glued to the TV watching. I have to admit that I have always felt something a bit immoral in the act, in sitting comfortably in one's room eavesdropping, peeping, an uninvited spectator on what is screened in front of one. How much more so now when I am exposed to the intimate, almost private scenes of life and death, to pain and suffering, spread out for all to see. How much more so, now, when your own flesh and blood are in the battlefield? With oscillating emotions I watch; I cannot help it. It is the least I can do, regardless of the acute feeling of almost betrayal that permeates my being. I am here, in the West Bank, they are there, in Gaza. We should be together. We are Palestinians. We share the same fate. The unfairness is shattering, the reality cruel. In a state akin to a survivor guilt syndrome I decide to write, to find meaning, seeking solace, seeking forgiveness from Gaza, from myself, from all who are there, dying for Palestine.

* * * *

The early morning ritual of making coffee brings some sanity to my heart. I stir the sweet heavy coffee in the pot and my thoughts wander to a woman in Gaza. Is she making coffee too? I desperately want to believe that there is still a semblance of the ordinary in Gaza. That the normality of every day, is still possible. How dare I even think of that? Embarrassed, this morning's coffee tastes of pain.

* * * *

The War is raging. “Operation Cast Lead" they name it, product of a diabolic mind, a demented psychopath that has to sugarcoat his crime with civilized words, a selling ploy, for infected merchandise. Does a camouflage make the murder any less murderous, the terror any less terrorizing, the immoral act a rightful one?

* * * *

I live in the company of images. I sit spellbound in front of the TV screen: live from the skies of the Gaza Strip unravels what could have been the grand extravaganza of an Olympic Games opening celebrations, the fireworks for the New Year, the Cirque du Soleil in a brand-new show choreographed in the skies or a sound-and-light spectacle like never before. But it is none of these things at all; it is the living inferno of the war on Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas in the world. It is the bombs, the missiles, from land, air, and sea, pouring down their wrath on everything: on men, women, children, on orange groves, on olive and palm orchards, on animals, birds, and fish. The highlight, the crème de la crème of this Neronic feast, is the display of the white phosphorus bomb explosions; images that will probably haunt me forever, not only because of the horrors embedded in them but because of how I find myself victimized by their bewitching formations. Daringly I succumb to the artistic streak in me and I see, mangled with the ugliness of the lethal weapon, dazzling images that shamelessly rise from its monstrosity: tumbling from the belly of a war plane there came a giant dandelion, a sea-anemone, an octopus, all ablaze, like wedding tiaras, exploding into cascading petals and tentacles of effervescent gossamer ribbon, bridal veils that would soon enshroud the landscape below, annihilating everything in its wake. I shudder at the thought and yearn to pluck out the insane images from my mind, but they ferociously linger, kneaded with images of burnt flesh, gaping smoldering wounds still fuming where the shrapnels of white phosphorus continue digging, tortuously reaching down, to the bone, to the marrow, to the essence. Yes, they want to destroy the essence.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

First Hamas-Affiliated Bank Opens in Gaza

Agence France Press. April 21, 2009 - The first bank affiliated with the Hamas movement running Gaza opened on Tuesday in the Israeli-blockaded coastal strip which lies outside the Palestinian Authority's control.

"We are opening the bank today and are beginning to offer our services to the public," Alaa al-Rafati, head of the National Islamic Bank, told AFP.

The National Islamic Bank has 20 million dollars in start-up capital and will operate under Islamic finance rules, he said.

With offices on four floors of a building in central Gaza City, the bank will hold the accounts of 6,000 Hamas employees whose salaries are to be deposited in the bank.

Rafati did not say how the Islamist movement acquired the start-up capital in a territory under Israeli embargo since Hamas, which is pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state, violently seized power in 2007.

Because of the blockade, which has prevented all but essential humanitarian goods from entering the territory, Gaza's banks have faced a virtually constant liquidity crisis.

Rafati said no such problems would plague the new bank.

"We have absolutely no crisis of liquidity, be it shekels or dollars. This will allow us to win the confidence of customers."

Although the vast majority of the board of directors are members of Hamas, including Rafati, he said the bank was "a private enterprise aimed at making profit and is not associated to Hamas or to the government in Gaza."

The Palestinian Authority -- which Hamas loyalists booted out of Gaza in a week of deadly street fighting in June 2007 -- has refused to issue the bank a licence and called for it to be boycotted.

The Gaza Strip has been outside the control of the PA and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas since the Hamas takeover.

Opinion: America's Jews Must Speak Up Over Gaza - Richard Silverstein

The Guardian, April 20, 2009 - ....There can be no doubt that horrors such as Gaza serve as moral ice-breakers in the psyche of diaspora Jews. Ideas that hitherto might have been taboo or "anti-Israel" become suddenly legitimate. As Israel drifts farther to the right, American Jews are challenged to respond morally. In this context, the forbidden becomes acceptable. Boycotts, divestment, sactions and war crimes investigations now appear tools through which to try to draw Israel back from the brink.

No major American-Jewish peace group has called for a Gaza war crimes investigation. It is a sensitive subject among diaspora Jews. But if Israeli human rights organisations can make such a call, there is no reason why Americans should be

My motivation in writing this is not to avenge the deaths of innocent Palestinians. Nor is it for pure justice. It is rather to bring Israel back from the brink. Like one of the slogans of the Israeli military during the Gaza war – "baal habayit hishtageya" ("the boss has lost it") – Israel's policy has verged on madness. Nor has it achieved its objective of pacifying Gaza or toppling Hamas. And isn't one of the definitions of madness to repeat a behaviour even after it has failed, with the conviction that it will succeed the next time? When you see a loved one or family member descending into self-destruction, you reach out and help. My goal is to turn Israel away from the path of madness.

Richard Silverstein writes Tikun Olam, a blog dedicated to resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict. He also contributed to the Independent Jewish Voices essay collection A Time to Speak Out.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Prisoner's Day Demonstrations in Gaza

International Solidarity Movement blog, April 16, 2009 - 

Human Rights Watch Releases New Report Charging That Hamas Engaged in Political Killings, Torture During and After Gaza War

Human Rights Watch press release, April 20, 2009 - Hamas should end its attacks on political opponents and suspected collaborators in Gaza, which have killed at least 32 Palestinians and maimed several dozen more during and since the recent Israeli military offensive, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Human Rights Watch called on Hamas authorities in Gaza to hold those responsible accountable.

The 26-page report, "Under Cover of War: Hamas Political Violence in Gaza," documents a pattern since late December 2008 of arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, maimings by shooting, and extrajudicial executions by alleged members of Hamas security forces. The report is based on interviews with victims and witnesses in Gaza and case reports by Palestinian human rights groups.

The spate of attacks began during Israel's military operation, from December 27, 2008, to January 18, 2009, including the summary execution of 18 men in Gaza, most of them suspected collaborators with Israel.It has continued in the three months since, with 14 more killings, at least four of them of people in detention.

"During Israel's attack on Gaza, Hamas moved violently against its political opponents and those deemed collaborators with Israeli forces," said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division. "The unlawful arrests, torture, and killings in detention continued even after the fighting stopped, mocking Hamas's claims to uphold the law."....

Human Rights Watch urged the Hamas authorities to prosecute vigorously any security force member found to have violated the law. "Four investigations into 32 deaths are not enough," Stork said.

Most of the 18 Palestinians executed during Israel's military operations were men accused of collaboration with Israel, Human Rights Watch said.  Along with others, they had escaped from Gaza's main prison after Israeli aircraft bombed parts of the facility on December 28. Gunmen believed to be from Hamas then tracked down and shot the men.

During the Israeli operations, Hamas security forces also physically attacked known Fatah members, especially those who had worked in the Fatah-run security services of the Palestinian Authority prior to June 2007. The widespread practice of maiming people by shooting them in the legs is of particular concern.

According to the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), the human rights ombudsman organization of the Palestinian Authority, masked gunmen shot at least 49 people in the legs between December 28 and January 31....

Abductions and severe beatings are another major concern, Human Rights Watch said. According to the ICHR, unidentified perpetrators broke the legs and arms of 73 Gazan men from December 28 to January 31. Human Rights Watch interviewed three Fatah supporters, all men, who were violently assaulted by men believed to be from Hamas....

On the other side of the internal Palestinian divide, the Fatah-run authorities in the West Bank have increased repressive measures against Hamas members and supporters there, Human Rights Watch said. From December 28 to February 28, Palestinian human rights groups recorded 31 complaints of residents who said they had been tortured by Fatah-led security forces. They also recorded one known death in custody and the arbitrary detention of two journalists from a private television station considered pro-Hamas.

United States and European Union donors who finance and train Fatah-run forces in the West Bank have expressed no public criticism of these serious human rights violations....

The abuses committed in both Gaza and the West Bank violate Palestinian law. The Palestinian Basic Law, considered to be the interim constitution, guarantees the right to equal treatment before the law, freedom of expression and association, and fundamental due process rights. It prohibits torture and other mistreatment....

Norwegian Lawyers File Charges Against Israel in Geneva Over Gaza Attack

Kuwait News Agency, April 20 (Geneva) - A group of Norwegian lawyers has submitted a complaint to The National Authority for Prosecution of Organised and Other Serious Crime against a number of Israeli officials among them Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Former Minister of Foreign affairs Tzipi Livni, Former Minister of Defence Ehud Barak in the Olmert former government and leading generals of the army. The complaint is submitted pursuant to the Norwegian Penal Code Articles 102 to 109 and concerns crimes of war and gross violation of international humanitarian law and is directed against Israel's attack on Gaza in the period from 27th December 2008 till 25th January 2009.

The Norwegian lawyers said that it is clear that Israel, during the course of the actions have contravened basic regulations of international law, pertaining to warfare, hereunder the duty to discriminate between military and civil targets. It is also obvious that, to the extent Israel has engaged military targets, the civil damages are of such a magnitude that they cannot be defended by the military advantages gained.

The Norwegians lawyers are requesting that the subjects of this complaint be arrested, should they come to Norway, alternatively that they be searched for and arrested through the international police collaboration in which Norway participates. Moreover, it is requested that they be indicted and punished. Norway has both a duty and a right to see to it that such prosecution be made.

The Norwegian lawyers are attorneys Loai Deeb, Pal Hadler, Bent Endresen, Geir Hoin, Harald Stabellog, Kjell M. Brygfjeld.

Iran Convenes Conference of Legal Experts from Muslim Countries to Discuss Accountability for Gaza

PressTV (Iran), April 20, 2009 - Tehran steps up efforts to bring Israeli authorities to justice by opening an international conference on their war crimes against Gazans.

While the horrors of Israel's 22-day assault on Gaza sink into oblivion in the international community, some 200 legal experts from various Muslim countries will convene in Iran to put forward a case against the Israeli leadership.

The two-day summit--which will open in Tehran on Tuesday--is slated to explore legal and judicial ways to prosecute Israeli political and military officials for resorting to acts of genocide and crimes against humanity in the war against Palestinians.

As a signatory to the Geneva Convention, the Islamic Republic reserves the right to prosecute Israel as culpable for war crimes.

Meanwhile, the victims of Tel Aviv's three-week offensive on Gaza have taken to the Iranian Judiciary a criminal lawsuit against the Israeli leadership.

“The Gazan victims have lodged a complaint with Iran's Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi and have compiled detailed evidence of Israeli war crimes to defend their case,” said Iranian Prosecutor General, Saeed Mortazavi, on Monday.

Mortazavi asserted that Tehran would pursue a request for the International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO or Interpol) to issue an international Red Notice security alert for the 25 Israeli leaders who were involved in the 22-day Israeli offensive on Gaza.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Commemorating Palestinian Prisoners - Reham Alhelsi

Palestine Think Tank, April 18, 2009 - Every year, on April 17, Palestinians commemorate the Palestinian Political Prisoners Day. On 17.4.1974 the first Palestinian political prisoner, Mahmoud Baker Hijazi, was released from Israeli prisons in the first prisoner exchange deal with Israel. That same year, the Palestinian National Council declared the 17th of April a day of solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners, to be commemorated every year. In Occupied Palestine prison and imprisonment are as common as sunrise and sunset. There is almost no family that had not been subjected to Israeli imprisonment one way or the other. Palestinians are being detained on a daily basis, making them the most imprisoned people on earth. It is difficult to estimate their number, but several sources put the number of Palestinians detained or imprisoned by Israel since 1967 at over 750,000 Palestinians, making 20% of the total Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories, and approximately 40% of the total Palestinian male population. With the outbreak of the 2nd Intifada in September 2000 until September 2008 some 65,000 men, 750 women and 7,500 children were arrested by Israel. According to the ICRC, in October 2008 there were 10,500 Palestinians in Israeli prisons. Addammeer puts the number at 9,493, 750 of which are administrative detainees, 349 aged 18 and under, and 75 are females. Among those detained are political figures and some 47 Palestinians parliamentarians. 

The IOF [acronym to denote "Israeli Offense Forces," a popular Palestinian adaptation from the usual IDF, which stands for "Israeli Defense Forces." - Ed.] can arrest anyone and anywhere, without giving a reason. Palestinians are arrested at home, on the way to school or work, at universities, in hospitals, at checkpoints. Mass arrests, as form of collective punishment, are also very common. Curfews would be imposed on villages, towns or refugees camps, houses would be raided and Palestinians arrested. I have witnesses a number of these mass arrests, but never did the IOF bother to tell the residents why they were forced to leave their homes in the middle of the night and stand in the cold and the darkness for long hours. Under the cover of darkness and the curfew, the IOF would demand with loudspeakers that all men, usually those between 16 and 45, gather in the school yard or on the main street. We used to sit in the darkness at the windows and try and recognize the men standing in line and questioned by the IOF; relatives, friends and neighbours. Sometimes the men are blindfolded and handcuffed. They would wait for this to end, while being harassed, shouted at and kicked by the Israeli soldiers. We would wait with them, behind windows, hoping that they would all be released soon and come home safe. Sometimes, they are all sent back home after a night of harassment, but often this ends with mass arrest for no given reason..... [Much more information on Palestinian prisoners can be found at the link.]

Opinion: A Step Toward Ending Israel's Impunity - George Bisharat

The Baltimore Sun, April 17, 2009 - The appointment of Richard Goldstone to head a United Nations fact-finding mission to the Gaza Strip represents an important first step toward ending Israel's impunity from international law. Mr. Goldstone - a former supreme court justice in South Africa and chief prosecutor in the international tribunals for Rwanda and Yugoslavia - and three other esteemed experts will investigate both Israel and Hamas for possible offenses before, during, and after Israel's invasion of Gaza. 

Evidence, indeed, suggests that Israel committed war crimes and crimes against humanity before, during, and after its winter assault on the Gaza Strip. Long before the attack, Israel had imposed a ruinous siege on Gaza, collectively punishing its residents for choosing Hamas in democratic elections in January 2006. During the December-January invasion, Israeli troops apparently killed civilians without justification, wantonly destroyed civilian infrastructure and private property, used weapons illegally, and abused Palestinian detainees. Since a January cease-fire, Israel has blocked relief supplies to Gaza, and it continues to attack and kill Palestinians. 

Individual misconduct does not explain Israel's offenses during the invasion; lax rules of engagement were the root problem. Israeli military lawyers classified any Palestinian who remained in an area after a warning of an impending attack as a "voluntary human shield" and therefore a combatant subject to attack. Warnings were issued via leaflets, cell phone calls, and in some cases, bombing of a building's corners (before the roof was collapsed by additional fire). Yet Gaza Palestinians were barred refuge outside of the tiny strip, and thus were denied effective flight. Israeli jurists also approved the bombing of a police cadet graduation ceremony; in total, some 250 civilian Palestinian policemen lost their lives during the invasion. Military rabbis exacerbated matters, counseling that Israeli soldiers show no mercy to Palestinians.

Such elastic definitions of "combatants" defy well-settled international law. Yet Daniel Reisner, the former head of the International Law Division of the Israeli Military Advocate General, recently claimed: "If you do something for long enough, the world will accept it. The whole of international law is now based on the notion that an act that is forbidden today becomes permissible if executed by enough countries ... International law progresses through violations."....

George Galloway, in CA, Challenges Americans to Send a 500-truck Convoy to Gaza, ala Viva Palestina

Al Ahram English Weekly, April 9-15, 2009 - As part of the Siege-Buster Tour of America 2009, long-time supporter of the Palestinian cause, veteran British MP George Galloway spoke in San Diego, California on "Resisting War From Gaza to Kandahar". Galloway, the leader of the recent successful Viva Palestina Aid Convoy to Gaza, author and talk show host, spoke to a crowd of 400 at one of two events hosted by Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition.

"I came here to recruit you to the next stage in the saving of Gaza, which is dying. And to forward the liberation of all Palestine and the right of all Palestinians to return to it," said Galloway to loud applause

Galloway passionately spoke about the "injury" of Palestinians having lost their homeland, their country "wiped off the map", scattered as refugees worldwide and forbidden to return, while "foreigners play with their houses and their gardens". This is made worse by "the insult that they -- the victims of terrorism -- are the 'terrorists'. And that the terrorists, the perpetrators of terrorism, are called the victims of terrorism," he said.

Galloway praised the Palestinian resistance and condemned Israel's 22-day offensive launched in December, in which more than 1,400 Palestinians died. Galloway characterised the firing of rockets by Palestinians as a "cry of despair" and a "cry of rage" over decades of Israeli apartheid.

"The wonder is not of why some people are sending rockets but of why all people are not firing rockets everyday because they've been locked up for the last 60 years in refuge camps that are no more than open air concentration camps," Galloway said, "the entrances of which are guarded by the very same people who on 27 December rained down death's destruction on the million and a half living on this tiny piece of land."....

Action Alert to Americans: "Viva Palestina US" - Send a Bigger Convoy to Gaza: "We aim for $10 million in aid and 500 vehicles"

Viva Palestina blog, April 14, 2009 - Fresh from the success of the Viva Palestina aid convoy which took over 100 vehicles to Gaza from Britain , George Galloway MP has linked up on his US tour with the Vietnam veteran and peace campaigner Ron Kovic to launch a similar, but bigger venture from the States.

Galloway announced the initiative at a 1000-strong meeting in Anaheim, South California, rounding off a packed-out, coast to coast speaking tour highlighting the Palestinian cause.

“There's a new atmosphere in the US over Palestine,” says Galloway, “the phenomenal response to this tour demonstrates that.”

Ron Kovic, whose story was immortalised in Oliver Stone's Born on the Fourth of July, will be the co-leader of the convoy, which will form up in Egypt and make its way to the Rafah crossing and into Gaza.

Organisers are aiming for 500 vehicles and $10 million of aid.

“And what better day to head off,” says Galloway , “Than July 4 – Independence Day!"