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!"

Israel Won't Work with UN's Gaza War Crimes Probe

The Jerusalem Post, April 15, 2009 - Israel will not cooperate with a UN Human Rights Council investigation into whether war crimes were committed during Operation Cast Lead earlier this year, a Foreign Ministry source said Wednesday evening....

Jerusalem views the Geneva-based UN Council as badly biased against Israel. For instance, in its three years of existence, the council has passed 32 resolutions, 26 of them against Israel. The Foreign Ministry official said the move not to cooperate was made after it was determined that the Human Rights Council's decision to set up the investigation was "one-sided" against Israel. The official pointed out that Israel had cooperated earlier with a UN team set up by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon investigating allegations that the IDF had shelled UNRWA facilities in the Gaza Strip.

In New York, Human Rights Watch on Tuesday urged both sides to cooperate with the investigation because it will be led by Richard Goldstone, a widely respected South African judge and former chief UN prosecutor of war crimes in Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Human Rights Watch noted that it had criticized the UN Rights Council in the past "for its exclusive focus on Israeli rights violations."

However, Goldstone has the "experience and proven commitment to ensure that this inquiry will demonstrate the highest standards of impartiality," the group wrote to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and 27 European foreign ministers....

Israel's Attack on Gaza: An Unjust War? - Henny Ziai and Nabeel Qureishi

Open Democracy, April 17, 2009 - Israel's attack on Gaza on December 27, 2008 has evoked strong emotions that frequently obscure rational discussion of the situation. With such a high human cost, objective and factual analysis is vital. In this article, we explore whether Israel's attack was justified under the principles of just war theory, as codified in international law. International law makes a distinction between the justness of a state's decision to go to war (jus ad bellum) and the justness of a state's conduct during war (jus in bello). We have chosen to focus on Israel's case for going to war. There are at least four necessary conditions for a just war: i) just cause; ii) last resort; iii) effectiveness in achieving aims; and iv) proportionality.

Did Israel have just cause?

Legally, there are two just reasons for war: self-defence (Article 51 of the UN Charter) or with a UN Security Council mandate (Article 42). Israel did not have a mandate to go to war.

We will therefore focus on whether Israel's attack was defensive. To understand why Israel's war cannot be deemed defensive some context is required. This means we must look at both the immediate context of the ceasefire, as well as the broader context of the conflict.

There was a 6-month ceasefire declared on June 19, 2008 and broken by Israel on November 4, 2008. Under the terms of the ceasefire, Israel was expected to ease its blockade on Gaza and there were to be negotiations on the release of prisoners, such as the one Israeli, Gilad Shalit, and the roughly 11,000 Palestinians. Negotiations on the latter took place; however, Israel has not lifted its blockade at any point. All evidence shows that this was a successful ceasefire with respect to the primary condition: that both sides stop firing. Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister, confirmed that there were no rockets fired by Hamas during the ceasefire. The Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Centre stated in a report that "Hamas has been careful to maintain the ceasefire". Hamas also made a number of arrests of violators during this period.

Israel broke the ceasefire 4½ months in when the IDF raided a tunnel and killed 6 people alleged to be members of Hamas. Though widely reported (e.g. The Guardian, Reuters, New York Times) this was largely ignored in light of the US presidential elections, which took place on the same day.

As well as breaking the ceasefire, Israel's lack of interest in sustaining it was evident in their decision to attack in spite of Hamas's calls for a renewal of the ceasefire. A delegation to Egypt on December 14 said that Hamas was prepared to stop all renewed rocket attacks. Furthermore, at an Israeli cabinet meeting on 21st December the head of Israel's Internal Security Agency, Yuval Diskin, told the cabinet that Hamas is interested in continuing the truce conditional on (a) an end to the blockade and (b) a ceasefire in the West Bank. Despite this, Israel invaded Gaza six days later.

It makes little sense to see Israel as a state on the defensive. Israel is currently occupying large swathes of Palestinian land; it also actively encouraged the 2007 civil war between Hamas and Fatah. First, Israel is currently occupying territory and building settlements on land that does not belong to it under international law. This is any territory outside its pre-1967 borders. 75% of these settlements are even against Israeli law. In 2008, Israeli settlement construction increased by 60%; by the end of 2008 there were a total of 479,500 settlers in the West Bank.

Second, Israel has built a wall that cuts through the West Bank, annexing the most fertile Palestinian land - such as the Jordan Valley - and using it for settlement expansion. In 2004 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) called construction of the wall "contrary to international law".

Third, the economic blockade: since June 2007, Israel has allowed little basic humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip, meaning that food, fuel and medical aid were largely unable to reach the population. For example, a quarter of children in Gaza suffered from malnutrition. This illegal (under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 33) collective punishment of a civilian population has been condemned by human rights organizations from both within and without Israel.

Israel has also been on the offensive by interfering in Palestinian politics. In January 2006, Hamas won a democratic victory in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections over the ruling party, Fatah. Fatah and Hamas formed a unity government in March 2007 and began pushing for a long-term cease-fire. Israel rejected that offer and, with American backing, supplied Fatah with both money and weapons and encouraged the coup that led to a brutal civil war....

Gaza's Policewomen Back to Work

Photo: The Palestine Telegraph

The Palestine Telegraph, April 19, 2009 - Every morning Mariam Al-Bursh prepares a bottle of milk for her 1-year-old baby. Then she gets her badge and gun.In the Gaza strip, which is controlled by the Islamic resistance movement Hamas, a female police officer's day begins, in several ways, like that of many of her counterparts around the world.

But there are key differences.

There's the uniform, for instance, in a society where ultra-modest dress codes mean the typical female apparel is a long wide gown, or Jilbab, and head scarf. Sometimes it's even a face-covering veil with only a slit for the eyes.

The new female police force in Gaza--formed a year and a half ago, with about 1,000 police officers and growing--adapts by wearing a long, dark blue skirt, a blue tunic and a head scarf.

They also have their own special routine.

In addition to processing office paperwork, they undergo physical training to help police handle girls and women during raids and to break up altercations between women and female teens.

Thrust Into New Roles

But the new female forces in Gaza only had a year on the job before catastrophe struck. On December 27, 2008, more than 60 police stations and compounds were hit by Israeli missiles as part of the 23-day-long war. Many policewomen were thrust into the role of evacuating civilians from dangerous buildings.

One of them was Mariam Al-Bursh.

At one point during the concerted late-December attacks on the police facilities she was helping lead people from a police compound, Eman Hasan, a colleague of hers, said in a recent phone interview.

Hasan said Al-Bursh had to guide people past the dead body of her own husband, who had been killed in one of the air raids on the building.

"Mariam was the top leader among us," Hasan told Women's eNews. "Everything went crazy and hundreds of our policemen colleagues were killed, including her husband, but she held it together and evacuated us all." Ghada Hassan, 30, a member of the police's legal division, helps to prepare cases for court.

"We are well trained on dealing with dangerous situations and defending ourselves and others, especially women," she said. "It's this sense of duty that keeps us going. Even when the attacks started we were able to handle it well, although no one had seen it coming since we are policewomen and policemen, not terrorists."

Little Family Support

Many of the policewomen say they get little encouragement or support for the path-breaking line of work they have chosen.

"My mother and brother didn't agree with the idea of a girl working as a police officer, or anything of that kind," Hanady Karso, 26, a recruit in the investigation division, said.

But she added that her mother and brother will probably understand one day. "I believe that my colleagues and I are doing a big favor for people in Gaza by protecting women and giving them more privacy. We also help our male colleagues when raiding houses of suspected drug dealers or criminals."....

23 Prominent International NGOs Slam Governments for Failure to Help Gaza

Maan News, April 17, 2009 - Twenty-three high-profile international NGOs accused much of the world of “standing by” as “Gazans sift through the rubble,” noting that thousands “are still homeless and without basic services such as piped drinking water three months after the 18 January ceasefire.”

Released three months after the end of hostilities in the Gaza Strip, the statement, signed by CARE, Oxfam, Defense for Children International and more than a dozen other organizations, the statement offered scathing criticism to the international community.

More than “lip service to the needs of the people of Gaza” is required, the statement said. IT had particularly harsh words for the European Union, set to review its trade and economic relations with Israel in the coming weeks.

“If the EU does not put the brakes on the process to strengthen ties with Israel, it will be sending a dangerous signal to the world that maintaining a destructive policy of closure is acceptable,” said Martha Myers, country director of CARE West Bank and Gaza.

“Gaza’s industry, including the agricultural sector, has almost completely collapsed and reconstruction has proved a near impossible task. Operation Cast Lead destroyed Gaza’s economy which was already severely weakened after months of blockade. It makes no sense to continue depriving ordinary people the opportunity to earn a living and support their families. The crossings must be opened now to allow the normal flow of commerce. If they are not, the people of Gaza simply will not recover,” added Myers.

Reconstruction in Gaza is severely constrained. Materials such as cement and reinforced steel rods are still being denied entry by Israel, the statement said.

Highlighting the ramifications of the decision the joint statement said, “This means that the 20,000 families – or at least 140,000 people – whose homes were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable as a result of the conflict are unable to rebuild their lives. Many are living in tents and in makeshift shelters constructed with salvaged bricks and plastic sheeting, with no end in sight.”

Country Director for Oxfam Great Britain in Jerusalem John Prideaux-Brune said bluntly that “There has been zero progress in allowing construction materials in to help people rebuild their lives. This is unacceptable, full stop.”

He called on world leaders to “take practical steps to fully open the crossings and exert as much pressure on Israel and all parties to ensure that families can finally see a light at the end of what has been a very long and dark tunnel. A drip-feed of food aid and medicines is simply not enough.”

The NGO coalition responsible for the statement includes:
  • CARE West Bank and Gaza 
  • Oxfam International 
  • War Child Holland 
  • Medical Aid for Palestinians-UK 
  • Action Against Hunger 
  • Norwegian Refugee Council 
  • Caritas Jerusalem 
  • Lutheran World Federation 
  • Diakonia 
  • Austcare 
  • Gruppo Volontariato Civile 
  • The Swedish Organisation for Individual Relief 
  • Defense for Children International/ Palestine Section 
  • Norwegian Church Aid 
  • ACSUR-Las Segovias 
  • Medico International 
  • Campaign for the Children of Palestine: CCP-JAPAN 
  • Paz con Dignidad 
  • Mennonite Central Committee 
  • CISS - Cooperazione Internazionale Sud Sud 
  • Japan International Volunteer Center 
  • ACTED 
  • MPDL: Movimiento por la Paz, el Desarme y la Libertad

Gaza, Remember? - Gideon Levy

Haaretz, April 19, 2009 - ....It's exactly three months since the much-talked-about war, and Gaza is once again forgotten. Israel has never taken an interest in the welfare of its victims. Now the world has forgotten, too. Two weeks with hardly a Qassam rocket has taken Gaza completely off the agenda. If the Gazans don't hurry up and resume firing, nobody will take an interest in their welfare again. Although not new, this is an especially grievous and saddening message liable to spark the next cycle of violence. And then it will be certain they won't get aid because they will be shooting. 

Somebody must assume responsibility for the fate of the Abu-Aun family and other victims like them. If they had been injured in an earthquake, the world probably would have helped them recover long ago. Even Israel would have quickly dispatched aid convoys from ZAKA, Magen David Adom, even the IDF. But the Abu-Aun family was not injured by a natural disaster, but by hands and flesh and blood, made in Israel, and not for the first time. The response: no compensation, no aid, no rehabilitation. Israel and the world are too preoccupied to rebuild Gaza. They have become speechless. Gaza, remember? 

From the ruins of the Abu-Aun family sprouts a new desperation. It will be more bitter than its predecessor. A decent family of eight has been destroyed, physically and psychologically, and the world stands aloof. We should not expect Israel to compensate its victims or rebuild the ruins it caused, even though this would clearly be in its interest, not to mention its moral obligation, a topic not even talked about. 

The world once again has to clean up Israel's mess. But Israel is setting more and more political conditions for providing emergency humanitarian aid ? empty excuses to leave Gaza in ruins and not offer aid that Gaza deserves and desperately needs. [Question mark in the original - Ed.] Gaza has once again been left to its own devices, the Abu-Aun family has been left in its tent, and when the hostilities resume we will be told once again about the cruelty and brutality of ... the Palestinians.

Gideon Levy is a columnist for the Haaretz newspaper in Israel.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Gaza Changed Everything, But Its People Still Suffer - Helena Cobban

Inter Press Service, April 17, 2009 - Three months after the end of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, and nearly four months after former prime minister Ehud Olmert started it, the standoff between Israel and Hamas is as unresolved as ever.

Gaza’s 1.5 million residents, nearly all of them civilians, are still in a very tough situation, since Israel still prohibits the shipment into Gaza of many requirements for a decent life - including the building materials needed to repair or rebuild the thousands of homes and other structures the Israeli military destroyed during the war. 

But it is already clear that the war has changed many aspects of the complex political dynamics both between and inside the Israeli and Palestinian communities. 

Hamas, simply by surviving, has become stronger both within Palestinian politics and throughout the broader Middle East. 

In the Israeli elections of early February Olmert’s party was defeated - by representatives of an even more militarist trend in Israel whose rise was fueled, in good part, by the war-fever unleashed among Jewish Israelis by Olmert’s own war. 

Meanwhile, the ferocity with which Israel fought the war caused significant damage to the country’s image around the world. In the U.S., unprecedented numbers of civil society groups - including Jewish groups - expressed open criticism of Olmert’s decision to launch the war, even from the war’s very earliest days. 

All these developments have been evident during Sen. George Mitchell’s latest visit to the region, which started Wednesday. This was Mitchell’s third visit since he was named U.S. special envoy on Jan. 21. Some of the post-Gaza developments seem to make Mitchell’s peacemaking effort harder. But others, especially the new estrangement between the government of Israel and some of its former strong supporters around the world, open up new possibilities for his mission....

John Prideaux-Brune, Oxfam’s country director for the West Bank and Gaza, has described Israel’s policy toward Gaza as being one of "intentionally inflicted  de-development."

He told IPS recently, "Israel went on a rampage in Gaza during the war. You can see whole villages flattened, the cows and other livestock killed. They seem to have gone in and removed anything that could have been used for economic development - farms, factories, you name it." (Israeli sources have said that during the war, the military trucked in 100 heavy-duty bulldozers, especially to undertake this destruction.)

"It seems a mind-numbingly stupid thing for Israel to do," Prideaux-Brune said. "Where states have succeeded in suppressing terrorism, they have done so through negotiations and fostering economic development."

He said he hoped western governments would act quickly to persuade Israel to lift the siege. That, he said, would allow Gaza’s people to move back onto a path of economic development rather than continuing to live on handouts.

Many of the humanitarian aid organisations that have been providing ‘emergency’ aid to Gaza (and the West Bank) for many years are now, like Oxfam, becoming more vocal in arguing that the only thing that can really stabilise the very vulnerable situation of the Palestinians of these occupied areas is to find a speedy end to the Israel’s military occupation of their home territories.

Prideaux-Brune said that the Gaza Palestinians are currently suffering from a deliberately inflicted "dignity crisis."

"So long as Israel controls everything in these people’s lives, they will remain vulnerable," he said. "Emergency relief aid is no substitute for successful peacemaking, and that is the only way to get to real economic development."

Helena Cobban is a veteran Middle East analyst and author. She blogs at Just World News.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Aid Rots Outside Gaza

Photo: Matthew Cassel

Electronic Intifada (reporting from El Arish, Egypt), April 16, 2009 - Hundreds of thousands of tons of aid intended for the Gaza Strip is piling up in cities across Egypt's North Sinai region, despite recent calls from the United Nations to ease aid flow restrictions to the embattled territory in the wake of Israel's 22-day assault.

Food, medicine, blankets, infant food and other supplies for Gaza's 1.5 million people, coming from governments and non-governmental agencies around the world, are being stored in warehouses, parking lots, stadiums and on airport runways across Egypt's North Sinai governorate.

Egypt shares a 14-kilometer border with Gaza that has been closed more or less permanently since the Islamist movement Hamas took control of the territory in June 2007.

Flour, pasta, sugar, coffee, chocolate, tomato sauce, lentils, date bars, juice, chickpeas, blankets, hospital beds, catheter tubes and other humanitarian-based items are all sitting in at least eight storage points in and around al-Arish, a city in North Sinai approximately 50 kilometers from Gaza's border.

Three months after the end of the war, much of the aid has either rotted or been irreparably damaged as a result of both rain and sunshine, and Egypt's refusal to open the Rafah crossing.

"To be honest, most of this aid will never make it to Gaza," a local government official told IPS on condition of anonymity. "A lot of the food here will have to be thrown away."....

Penetrating the Laws of War - Amira Hass

Haaretz, April 16, 2009 - The tall young man walked into the room slowly and sat down slowly. Two nails that have penetrated his body force him to walk rigidly and carefully; one is in the upper-right part of his chest, the other in his right thigh. The man is Nahaz Abdel Daym, 25, who was wounded by two flechette shells fired by the Israel Defense Forces on January 5 during Operation Cast Lead.

When a flechette projectile explodes, it scatters between 5,000 and 8,000 nails or small darts, each about four centimeters long. They stick into anything they hit: people, trees, cement, metal. Two of Abdel Daym's brothers and three cousins were killed by darts from those two shells. About another 20 people were wounded, including one of his brothers.

The doctors decided not to operate to remove the nails, fearing they would cause irreversible damage. "I feel all the time as though needles are stuck in my body," he says. He has difficulty breathing, wakes up many times during the night and feels constant pain, which worsens on cold days. The wound suffered by his brother Mazen is not as serious: A dart hit his arm near the elbow. The doctors say that after rehabilitation, he will regain full function....

[Abd al Dayam]... is one of about 5,600 people wounded during the IDF's most recent attack on the Gaza Strip. According to the health authorities there, about 2,000 are children and 800 are women. Of the wounded, 520 have been sent for treatment abroad - most of them to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, others to Turkey and Belgium. Six died while being treated abroad. Only a few patients remain in Gaza's hospitals. In thousands of homes families are coping with the effects of their injuries: disability, pain, extra expenses and a lack of confidence in the medical care they receive. For them, the offensive did not end on January 18....

Ten Organizations Launch International Campaign of Solidarity with Gaza's Fishermen

Fishing Under Fire blog, April 14, 2009 - Ten civil and humanitarian institutions in cooperation with the Palestinian international campaign to break the siege said Monday that they embarked on preparing an international campaign of solidarity with the Palestinian fishermen to pressure all official parties around the world into stopping Israeli violations in Gaza waters.

In a news conference, the institutions called for taking actions at all levels to stop Israel from violating the rights of Palestinian fishermen in Gaza and for organizing campaigns all over the world to expose these infringements.

The institutions stressed the need for making laws regulating fishing operations and securing fish resources and the marine environment in Gaza.

They also pointed to the importance of updating fishing boats and ports in Gaza, calling for the establishment of specialized workshops to repair and maintain fishing equipment and finding a mechanism to support the fishermen financially.

In another context, the ministry of agriculture said Tuesday in a press release that the story of the fishing boat explosion near the Gaza coast is an Israeli fabrication to redouble and justify attacks on Palestinian fishermen.

The ministry added that Palestinian eyewitness reported that the boat was not booby-trapped, but it was targeted by an Israeli gunboat leading to its explosion.

It noted that the Israeli military navy stepped up recently its attacks on Gaza fishermen at sea, where they kidnapped many of them and threatened to target their fishing boats if they did not cooperate and work as agents for Israel.

The ministry pointed out that the Israeli occupation also aims, through such trumped-up story, to shrink the fishing zone which became only two miles after it had reduced it to three miles after the war.

It hailed the civil and humanitarian institutions for organizing an international campaign to support the Gaza fishermen against the Israeli violations, expressing its willingness to provide them with all information that can be utilized in this solidarity campaign.

Related stories:

Gaza boat explodes near Israeli navy vessel (April 13, 2009)

Israel abducts Gaza fishermen; ISM takes their testimonies (April 13, 2009)

Palestinian Agriculture Ministry: Boat was not booby trapped (April 14, 2009)

Al Jazeera English Television profiled the industry in a February report:

Watch ISM's video of a recent demonstration on behalf of Gaza's fishermen:

For background on Gaza's fishing industry, see:

Gaza Strips Fishing Industry of Potential (March 2009)

Gaza's Fishing Industry Reeling (March 2009)

Israel Imposes Further Restrictions on Gaza Fishing Industry, Ordering It to Keep Close to Shore
(March 2009)

Geopolitical Time Line: War, Natural Gas, and Gaza's Marine Zone (January 2009)

Too Quiet in the Harbor: Gaza Siege Largely Destroys Commercial Fishing Industry (May 2008)

Gaza's Fishing Industry Under Siege (March 2007)

OCHA Special Report on Gaza's Fishing Industry (April 2007) (available at: ) (Note: Report includes a useful map of the progressive shrinkage of the allowed fishing area off the Gaza coast)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hip Hop for Gaza

Electronic Intifada, April 14. 2009 - In the aftermath of Israel's three weeks of attacks on the Gaza Strip earlier this year, a group of young students, activists, artists and professionals from Chicago formed the Gaza Aid Project (GAP) to support Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

On 12 April 2009 GAP brought together world-renowned hip-hop artists to Chicago's Logan Square Auditorium to perform in solidarity with Gaza. The event -- titled Roots of Resistance -- aimed to raise funds and gather support for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, brought out a diverse crowd of hundreds from around the city.

The night began with performances by local Chicago artists, before the Gaza Strip's first rapper, Mohammed al-Farra took the stage. He rapped about the Gaza Strip and talked to the audience about the struggles that Palestinians in Gaza face on a daily basis under siege and occupation.

Tamer Nafar of DAM (the first Palestinian rap group, comprised of Palestinian citizens of Israel) then took the stage before he was joined by his band members Mahmood Jrere and Suhell Nafar. The group rapped about the situation in Palestine and performed their hit "Who is the terrorist." The group spoke about the influence hip-hop that originated in the African-American community has had on them as Palestinians facing Israeli oppression.

DAM also joined UK-based Palestinian hip-hop artist Shadia Mansour as she performed her song "They all have tanks." Wearing her trademark Palestinian traditional embroidered dress, she spoke to the crowd in both English and Arabic about Palestinian culture and the attacks on Gaza.

The hip-hop trio from Chicago, Rebel Diaz, now based in New York City, rapped about issues ranging from immigration and the prison system in the US to the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and the occupation in Palestine.

The five-hour-long event concluded with the night's headliner, M1 of Dead Prez. Wrapped in a scarf with the traditional Palestinian checkered design and images of Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock, M1 spoke out about the struggle that black people face in the US. He related it to that of Palestinians in Gaza, identifying imperialism as the common enemy. The evening concluded with M1 inviting all the evening's performers on stage to take part in the song "Hip Hop," which brought Dead Prez to fame....

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

British Lawmakers Meet Hamas in Syria

Haaretz, April 15, 2009 - A British parliamentary delegation on a visit to Syria has met Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal as part of European efforts to communicate with the Palestinian Islamist group, Hamas said on Wednesday.

The meeting with Meshal, who lives in Syria, took place in Damascus on Tuesday.

The British Embassy confirmed the meeting but denied a Syrian media report that Ambassador Simon Collis attended....

Calls have mounted in Britain and major European powers to engage with Hamas after Israel's offensive against the Islamist group in Gaza, which ended in January.

"I Was Born Palestinian" - Laila el-Haddad

Raising Yousef and Noor blog, April 14, 2009 - "Its not very comfortable in there is it?" said the stony faced official, cigarette smoke forming a haze around his gleaming oval head.

"Its OK. We're fine," I replied wearily, delirious after being awake for a straight period of 30 hours.

"You could be in there for days, you know. For weeks. Indefinitely. "So, tell me, you are taking a plane tomorrow morning to the US?"


It was our journey home that began with the standard packing frenzy: squeezing everything precious and dear and useful into two suitcases that would be our sustenance for the course of 3 months.

The trips to the outdoor recreation store- in preparation for what I anticipated to be a long and tortuous journey across Rafah Crossing to Gaza. The inspect repellent; the mosquito netting; the water purifier; the potty toppers for my kids and the dried fruit and granola bars and portion sized peanut butter cups. This time, I wanted to be ready, I thought to myself-just in case I got stuck at the Crossing. The Crossing. My presumptuousness is like a dull hit to the back of my head now.

In addition to all the packing of suitcases, we were also packing up our house- my husband was finishing up his residency at duke University and set to start a medical fellowship at Johns Hopkins in July. In the meantime, we were "closing shop", putting our things in storage, selling the rest, and heading overseas: me to Gaza, he to Lebanon to visit his family.

Eventually I was too meet him there (assuming i could get into Gaza, and the, assuming I could get out). Yassine is a third-generation Palestinian refugee from the village of Waarit al-Siris in nothern historic Palestine; he was born in a refugee camp in Lebanon and holds a laissez passer for Palestinian refugees. Israel denies him return to his own home- or even to the home of his spouse in Gaza. So when we go overseas, we often go our separate ways; we cannot live legally, as a unit, as a family, in our own homes.

I hold a Palestinian Authority passport. It replaced the "temporary two-year Jordanian passport for Gaza residents" that we held until the Oslo Accords and the creation of the Palestinian Authority in the mid '90s, which itself replaced the Egyptian travel documents we held before that. A progression in a long line of stateless documentation....

Laila el-Haddad, a Gazan journalist who is living in the United States, recently traveled to Egypt to try and enter Gaza and see her parents, who were stuck there during the war. She blogs at Raising Yousef and Noor.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Unemployed in Gaza

Al Jazeera English TV, April 11, 2009 - "More than 70% of Gaza residents are jobless. But Gaza's economic problems stem more from Israel's brutal assault on the territory earlier in the year than from the global recession. Besides destroying more than 20,000 homes, the Israeli offensive left hundreds of factories and businesses in ruins, with devastating consequences. Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros reports."

Interview with Karen Abu Zayd, UNRWA Commissioner General

Al Ahram English Weekly, April 9-15, 2009 - ....For Abu Zayd the issue is not about this or that Israeli government. It is rather about an international position -- with an Arab stance at the core of it -- that could secure the facilitation of UNRWA's job. UNRWA, Abu Zayd argued, was promised a considerably generous budget for its work, especially in Gaza after the recent Israeli war. However, if the crossings which link Israel to Gaza (and those linking Gaza to Egyptian territories) remain blocked to the passage of goods there is not much use for the money that has been pledged for the reconstruction of Gaza.

"If you have the money to buy construction material and if you cannot get this material inside Gaza then what use is this money if it cannot get citizens made homeless by the destruction of their houses during the war a roof over their heads?" Abu Zayd asked....

The UN versus Israel: The Gaza Fallout

The Nation Magazine, April 2009 - The appointments of universally respected human rights experts to lead two separate, independent United Nations investigations into Israeli attacks on Gaza in December and January may have put Israel on a new collision course with the UN just as the United States is moving to resume cooperation with the organization on human rights issues.

In February, Ian Martin, a former head of Amnesty International and most recently the UN's special envoy in Nepal as it was transitioning with difficulty to an elected Maoist-led government, was chosen by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to take charge of an inquiry into "incidents involving death and damage at UN premises in Gaza." The UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides food, education and medical care to Palestinians in Gaza, reported in January that more than fifty UN buildings were damaged during the Israeli air and ground offensive.

Last week, Richard Goldstone, the South African judge who was chief prosecutor for war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, was selected by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate allegations that Israel violated international laws in its assault on Gaza. The Human Rights Council is a body of nations not controlled by either the UN secretary general or the UN's high commissioner for human rights. The secretary general, the first high-ranking international official to visit Gaza after the attacks, has not tried to block what is essentially a war crimes investigation....

"Gaza is Still an Open Air Prison" - Gerry Adams

The Guardian, April 9, 2009 - Gaza is still an open-air prison, Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams said during a visit to the Middle East.

The West Belfast MP called for an end to the Israeli blockade on building materials and urged the state to enter into negotiations with Hamas, which rules Gaza.

Adams held talks in the region with Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, and is due to travel to the West Bank to meet the Palestinian Authority.

"This is a total denial of the rights of the people of Palestine. This is an open-air prison," the Sinn Féin president said. "People can't travel out of here, they can't travel in."....

A number of European politicians and commentators have urged dialogue with Hamas. But Britain and the United States say that cannot happen until the group recognises Israel, renounces violence and accepts interim peace agreements.

Adams said the border crossing from Israel into Gaza "was distinctly like being back in prison ... You had to go through airlocked areas and so on".

"It is the human problem because when you speak to ordinary decent working people on the Israeli side hit by the rocket attacks ... the ordinary people of Israel didn't cause the problem."

The Northern Irish republican leader described a scene of devastation, ruined hospitals, schools and homes, and said he urged peace on the Hamas leadership.

"There should be a complete cessation of hostilities by all sides and I stressed our opinion that dialogue is central to what's required and that is the only way forward," he added.

"The refusal to recognise the outcome of the ballot box in the Palestinian territories is also bizarre, that they challenge people to go into elections and then when they go into elections they don't recognise it."

New Documentary, "One Of..." Wins Documentary Competition in Gaza

Art work by Majed Shala - "this makes me think of the martyred medical workers"

In Gaza blog, April 11, 2009 - Tuesday April 7 was World Health Day, an annual recognition of global health issues, sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO). In honour of the day, Palestinians in Gaza hosted a short-documentary competition highlighting health issues Gazans face, with specific attention to medical care in Gaza during attacks or emergencies. The 2009 theme of the WHO is “Save lives: Making hospitals safe in emergencies”. This seems like hindsight, after Gaza endured Israel’s 3 week war in which Israeli forces actively targeted over 70 hospitals and medical clinics, along with 10s of ambulances damaged or destroyed.

16 medics were killed while in the line of duty, and another 36 medical workers, including ambulance drivers, paramedics, doctors and volunteer medical workers were injured. Israeli forces targeted the medics under the pretext of security reasons, an excuse which has been repeatedly contradicted by the testimonies of medical and emergency workers, as well as patients themselves.

Emad Badwan, a young Palestinian film-maker, decided to highlight such Israeli attacks. His documentary, “One of…” took first prize in the competition held in Gaza’s burnt-out al Quds hospital, one of the hospitals greatly-damaged after repeated Israeli shelling, including with white phosphorous. On display on the 2nd floor of al Quds are a number of vivid photographs testifying to the blaze and Israel’s attacks. Artwork in the shelled and charred cultural centre further depicts life under, and the aftermath of, Israel’s war on Gaza. [see: Art in the Ruins]

As his theme, Emad chose the sniper-shooting of Hassan al Attal, a paramedic whose ambulance I was riding in at the time. The event occurred on January 7th, the first day when Israel declared a ‘cease-fire’ period (during which, in theory, Palestinians could move, buy groceries, leave their homes without fear of attack. In reality, these ‘ceasefire’ periods meant nothing, and many were injured and killed by the IOF during these ‘ceasefires’)....

Read the full article at the link. Watch "One of..." below. View other films by Emad Badwan here.

Gaza Women's Football Team Plays Against All Odds

Middle East Online, April 10, 2009 - Palestinian sportswomen determined to represent country internationally despite Israeli restrictions
Gaza is full of stories of brave women, under the Israeli-caused rubble there are many stories of women with hopes and great expectations, pioneers in every field.

Being a Palestinian journalist in exile, there was no other way to interview my people and interact with my colleagues in Palestine but through the internet. I have started a feature by interviewing the Palestinian journalist Nelly Ismail Yassin Almasry through the net because Israel’s enforced laws made it difficult for us to meet in person. Our discussions took longer than expected because electricity blackouts happened many times in Gaza where she lives and the internet connection died with it, but I was determined to write about the other side of Gaza, the side that keeps rising from under the ashes like a bird with a thousand wings because its people refuse to surrender to defeat. Nelly is the daughter of Ismail Almasry, the Football Coach of the National Football Team in Gaza and a colleague working as a sport journalist and a member of the first women’s soccer team in Gaza.

The first Palestinian all women’s football team was established in 2003. Even though they had very limited resources, the women kept practicing and playing against other Arab women’s leagues whenever they were allowed to leave Gaza. The Gaza women’s soccer team suffered many difficulties and faced many obstacles because of the limited resources, the absence of properly built stadiums, the absence of security and the continuous closures of checkpoints by the Israeli occupation forces thus hindering them from practicing or travelling to play against other teams, even though the team wanted badly to represent Palestine on an international, level they were deprived of this dream as they were of many other dreams....

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Report from Human Rights Organizations: Who Is Really Closing the Rafah Crossing?

Gisha News Release,March 25, 2009 - A New Report from Gisha and Physicians For Human Rights-Israel Reveals: Who is Really Closing Rafah Crossing?

The report reveals that all parties – Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas – are preventing passage between Gaza and Egypt for political reasons. All the parties are denying their own accountability, while pointing an accusatory finger at the others. The responsibility falls first and foremost on Israel; however, all parties involved are contributing to the systematic violation of the rights of Gaza residents. The right of 1.5 million people to enter and exit the Gaza Strip is not a political issue but a fundamental human right.

A new report on Rafah Crossing and the parties involved in its closure was published today by Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel). The report "Rafah Crossing: Who Holds the Keys?" dispels the fog concerning responsibility for Rafah Crossing, answering the question, who is really responsible for the closure of Rafah Crossing – and therefore for the violation of the rights of Gaza residents.

After almost two years of a nearly hermetic closure and following a military operation which left behind thousands of victims and caused immense destruction, all parties involved continue to deny responsibility and claim that the opening of Rafah Crossing will be resolved through political negotiations. In light of the current political deadlock, Gisha and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel demand that all the parties controlling Rafah Crossing – Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Egypt – end this futile political game and take immediate and concrete action to open the crossing. All the parties concerned bear an obligation to rise above their narrow interests and to respect the rights of 1.5 million people being used as pawns in political negotiations....

Hamas-Fatah Rift Leaves Gaza Patients Stranded

IRIN April 9, 2009 - The rift between the two main Palestinian movements - Fatah which controls the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Hamas which controls Gaza - has impeded the availability of health care in Gaza, say officials.

“The health ministry in Ramallah [West Bank] has refused contact with the health ministry in Gaza since Hamas took control in June 2007,” said Gaza health ministry spokesperson Hamam Nasman: “Only 24 percent of the medicine and medical supplies allotted to Gaza under the 2008 PA budget were received.”

All referrals abroad for medical patients in Gaza were halted after Hamas took control of the PA’s Referral Abroad Department in Gaza on 22 March, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). As a result, thousands of patients with serious and complicated conditions have been affected, said sources in the Gaza health ministry....

UN Humanitarian Coordinator Max Gaylord and the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a joint statement on 30 March expressing serious concern, while the WHO in Gaza has been mediating between the Gaza and Ramallah health ministries to resolve the crisis....

More than 150,000 Gazans Still Without Tap Water

IRIN April 7, 2009 - Over 150,000 Palestinians in Gaza (around 10 percent of the population) are struggling without tap water as a result of the damage caused to wells, pipes and waste water facilities during the recent 23-day Israeli offensive which ended on 18 January.

"Our requests via the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to the Israeli military during the conflict to allow shipments of construction materials and spare parts to repair wells and facilities damaged during the war were denied," Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) director-general Monther Shoblak told IRIN.

Shoblak estimates that 50,000 people lack tap water after losing their homes, while a further 100,000 have dry taps because of damage to the water supply network.

Eleven of Gaza’s 150 wells, the only source of drinking water for Gaza’s 1.4 million people (apart from expensive bottled water and water trucked in by aid agencies), are not functioning. Six were completely destroyed, according to CMWU.

Many residents in the north and in Rafah have water from their taps only every 4-7 days. CMWU is working to rectify the situation, Shoblak said, but is hampered by lack of supplies....

Monday, April 6, 2009

Awni al-Heteni School, North Gaza

Free Gaza blog, April 7, 2009 - A day in the life of ordinary Socio-Psychological Support Workers in a recent war zone:

Israeli Navy Abducts 8 Gaza Fishermen 100 Meters Off Gaza Coast

Free Gaza blog, April 7, 2009 - Israeli Naval forces have abducted eight Palestinian fishermen (including two minors) from the Salateen area in north of the Gaza Strip. Additionally, the fishermen's four hassakas (small fishing boats) have been taken by the Israeli Navy. According to eyewitnesses, the fishermen were only about 100 meters from the coast at the time of their abduction.

Initial information received regarding the fishermen's details are as follows:

- Esshaq Mohammed Zayed, 45
- Rassam Mohammed Zayed, 25
- Hafez Assad Al Sultan, 25
- Ahmed Assad Al Sultan, 17
- Safwat Zayed Zayed, 35
- Nashaat Zayed Zayed, 10
- Hammada Joma Zayed, 22
- Joma Mollok Zayed, 50

During the last month the Israeli Navy has escalated its attacks against Gazan fishermen by injuring at least three of them, abducting a further 24 fishermen, and stealing 10 hassakas and one shansula fishing boat.

Last week dozens of Salateen fishermen, joined by the Director of the General Syndicate of Marine Fishers, Palestinian activists from the Beit Hanoun Local Initiative and International Solidarity Movement activists, demonstrated against the Israeli attacks, demanding the release of the stolen boats....

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and Palestine Medical Relief Society Jointly Issue Report on Medical Impact of Israel's Gaza Attack

Physicians for Human Rights - Israel, April 6, 2009 - An independent fact-finding mission of medical experts commissioned by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) published today its special report on the Israeli attack on Gaza.

In their report, the experts detail 44 testimonies by civilians who came under attack and by medical staff who were prevented from evacuating the wounded. The report provides first-hand evidence regarding the broader effects of the attacks on a civilian population that was already vulnerable on the eve of the offensive.

The experts collected samples of human tissue earth, water, grass and mud suspected to be contaminated by unidentified chemicals. These were sent by the team to laboratories in the UK and South Africa for analysis.

During the military operation in January, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel called for an external independent investigation into the events, for the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip and for the opening of the Crossings.

Five independent experts in the fields of forensic medicine, burns, medical response to crises and public health, from Germany, Denmark, South Africa and Spain, immediately answered the call and traveled to Gaza between 29 January and 5 February 2009 for their first fact-finding investigation, and then to hospitals in Egypt, where some of the most seriously wounded were being treated.

The medical experts are: Professor Jorgen Thomsen from Denmark, expert in Forensic pathology; Dr. Ralf Syring from Germany, an expert in Public Health in crisis regions; Professor Shabbir Ahmed Wadee from South Africa, an expert in Forensic pathology; Professor Sebastian Van As from South Africa, an expert in Trauma surgery and Ms. Alicia Vacas Moro from Spain, an expert in International health.

From the conclusion of the report:

"...Besides the large-scale, largely impersonal destruction that the team witnessed and heard of, it was especially distressing to hear of individual cases in which soldiers had been within seeing, hearing and speaking distance of their victims for significant stretches of time, but despite the opportunity for 'humanisation', had denied wounded people access to lifesaving medical care, or even shot at civilians at short range..."

A PDF of the full report is available at the link.

National Lawyers Guild: New Findings That Israel Violated Intn'l Law; Domestic Law Implicated

National Lawyers Guild Press release, April 2, 2009 - Israel violated international law by targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, misusing weapons, deliberately denying medical care to the wounded and attacking medical personnel, the National Lawyers Guild Delegation to Gaza said today upon releasing a 37 page report containing new evidence on the facts surrounding Israel’s 22 day military offensive in Gaza. The full report can be viewed at Photos are also available upon request.

“Our findings join a growing chorus of voices—which include Israeli soldiers themselves—asserting that Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians during the Gaza offensive,” said Radhika Sainath, one of the attorneys who initiated the seven-day fact-finding delegation to Gaza. “On a number of occasions, Israeli soldiers shot and killed young children as well as unarmed civilians holding white flags—both violations of the laws of war.”

The Delegation also uncovered evidence of Israeli soldiers using Palestinians as human shields, acts that constitute war crimes, as well as evidence that the Israeli military targeted civilian infrastructure and grossly misused weapons. Further, Israel denied the wounded access to medical care and routinely fired on emergency medical teams attempting to reach those in need of help. Paramedics and doctors reported to the Delegation that many civilians could have been saved if the Israeli army allowed Palestinian medical services access to the wounded. “On one occasion, when Israeli forces did allow Palestinian medical services to enter an area after four days, soldiers prohibited their ambulances from approaching and paramedics were forced to pile the injured on donkey carts,” reported Reem Salahi, a California-based civil rights attorney. “Medical workers were then forced to pull the carts to their ambulances two kilometers away.”

The Delegation is calling on the Obama Administration and Congress to investigate the possible misuse of U.S. defense articles by Israel during the Gaza offensive. The Delegation is also calling for the Obama Administration to immediately suspend military aid to Israel until protocols are in place to assure compliance with international humanitarian law. “The United States must take action to ensure that its U.S. foreign assistance is not used in violation of international law,” said Thomas Nelson, an Oregon-based attorney specializing in national security law.

A National Lawyers Guild delegation of seven attorneys and one law student traveled to the Gaza Strip from February 2-8, 2009, to investigate the 22 day Israeli military offensive into Gaza that began on December 27, 2009. The objective of the Delegation was to investigate the circumstances that led to the massive Palestinian casualties, to determine what, if any, violations of international law occurred, and whether U.S. domestic law was implicated as a consequence.

Founded in 1937, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York, and it has chapters in every state.

Land of Ruins: Special Report on Gaza's Economy

Democracy Now, April 6, 2009 - Democracy Now! producer Anjali Kamat files a report on the state of the Gazan economy, where unemployment and poverty rates are among the highest in the world. Despite international pledges of over $5.2 billion to rebuild Gaza, in the four months since Israel’s assault the siege has not been lifted and only one truck carrying cement and other construction materials has been allowed entry into the Gaza Strip. [includes rush transcript]

Big Powers Moving in on Gaza

Inter Press Service (Reporting from Cairo), April 3, 2009 - Nine NATO member states agreed last month to utilise naval, intelligence and diplomatic resources to combat the alleged flow of arms into the Gaza Strip. Some Egyptian commentators see the move as a surreptitious means of cementing foreign control over the region.

"These new protocols aren't really about halting arms smuggling," Tarek Fahmi, political science professor at Cairo University and head of the Israel desk at the Cairo-based National Centre for Middle East Studies, told IPS. "Rather, they aim to establish foreign control over the region's strategic border crossings and maritime ports."

On Mar. 13, a major conference was held in London aimed at "coordinating efforts" to stop alleged arms smuggling - by land or sea - into the Gaza Strip, governed by Palestinian resistance faction Hamas. Participants at the conference included high-level representatives from nine member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), including the U.S., Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Italy and Norway.

At the close of the event, participants signed an agreement "to develop an effective framework for international cooperation, supplementary to measures taken by regional states, to prevent and interdict the illicit flow of arms, ammunition and weapons components to Gaza."

According to a final statement, participant governments hope to accomplish these objectives with the use of a series of measures, including "maritime interception, information sharing and diplomatic pressure." The international community "has a responsibility to support prevention and interdiction efforts," the statement reads, noting that such efforts may involve "diplomatic, military, intelligence and law enforcement components."

The London conference follows an earlier meeting devoted to the same issue held in Denmark in early February. A third, follow-up meeting is expected to be held in Canada in April to "work out details" of the pact, according to diplomats close to the talks.

Although Egypt reportedly received an invitation to attend the London gathering, it disdained to send a delegate. Palestinian representation, too - from either Hamas or the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority - was conspicuously absent. Israeli officials, meanwhile, reportedly attended the meeting as "observers".

Shortly afterwards, Mark Regev, spokesman for outgoing Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, lauded the agreement. "The principle is clear - the international community will act to prevent the transfer of weapons," he was quoted as saying.

But Egyptian analysts say the agreement represents a furtive attempt to "internationalise" the longstanding siege of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip....

According to diplomats close to the talks, only "non-coercive" methods will be brought to bear against arms smuggling. Under the terms of the agreement, for example, maritime vessels suspected of carrying contraband can only be boarded for inspection with express permission from the vessel's captain.

Mazloum, however, was not reassured by the ostensibly "non-coercive" nature of the agreement. "These voluntary, supposedly non-coercive inspections will no doubt, over time, become compulsory," he said.

"The West, along with Israel, is attempting to establish regional domination on multiple fronts," said Fahmi. "The plan to redraw the map of the Middle East - from Sudan and Somalia to Palestine and Iraq - is progressing apace, and the hopelessly divided Arabs appear unable to do anything about it."