Saturday, January 31, 2009

Israeli Soldiers Recall Gaza Attack Orders

Sunday Times Online (UK), January 28, 2009 - "Fire on anything that moves in Zeitoun” – that was the order handed down to Israeli troops in the Givati Shaked battalion, who reduced the eastern Gaza City suburb to little more than rubble in a matter of days.

According to Israeli soldiers who took part in the three-week offensive, the destruction of the area, a known Hamas stronghold, was designed to send a wider message to Gazans. “We pounded Zeitoun into the ground,” an Israeli soldier who was deployed in the area, told The Times.

“We knew everything was booby-trapped, we knew that they would try to kidnap us and if they did that was the end, we were finished . . . so we took no chances. We pounded them with fire; they never had a chance.”....

See also:

Al-Jazeera English reports on how Amnesty International is on the ground in Gaza, collecting evidence of illegal military tactics used during the war:

Israeli Leftists Draw Up Blacklists of Officers Who Fought in Gaza

Israel Pays Unprecedented Sum of 1.5 million pounds to Family of British Journalist Slain by Soldiers in Gaza in 2003

Analysis: Coverage of Gaza War by US Media Echoed Govt Support of Israel

cInter Press Service, January 31, 2009 - ....During both the first and second weeks of the attack, including a massive aerial attack and a full-scale ground invasion of the tiny, densely-populated Gaza Strip, the conflict was the top story on the nightly newscasts of the three major U.S. networks (ABC, CBS and NBC), where it got 55 minutes of total airtime.

But the first two weeks of fighting were "an aberration in terms of coverage by American broadcast networks", said Andrew Tyndall, of the Tyndall Report, which monitors the weekday nightly newscasts from the three major U.S. broadcast networks. "It's very rare for a foreign story to have that kind of status for two weeks."

U.S. foreign news coverage has been on the decline. In 2008 attention to international news was at its lowest since the Tyndall Report was first published in 1988....
Tyndall points out that while the number of sound bites of the conflict broadcast from the two sides was about equal, the use of quotes from official sources was not. For every quotation by a Palestinian official, the three networks quoted 10 Israelis.

"Interviews with Israeli spokesmen and ambassadors were not juxtaposed with the voices of Palestinian leaders," said Habib Battah, a freelance journalist writing for Al-Jazeera English.

In addition to disproportionate official representation, the grave disparity in casualties between the two sides was usually played down or not mentioned at all by newscasters. Nearly 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the conflict, which ended tentatively with separate ceasefires on Jan. 18.

"When the number of deaths did appear [in television news broadcasts] - sometimes as a graphic at the bottom of the screen - it was identified as the number of 'people killed' rather than being attributed specifically to Palestinians," said Battah....

Columbia Journalism Review: Borderless Journalism in Gaza

Columbia Journalism Review, January 21, 2009 - Analysis: Unlike the US networks, which parroted Israel, and Al-Jazeera Arabic, which focused on carnage and rage, the BBC, Al-Jazeera English, and CNN International offered more nuanced and objective coverage of the war.

In television terms, Gaza has been déjà vu all over again. U.S. television has been dominated by talking heads parroting Israel’s talking points, the wide shots of bombs exploding and smoke pillars that have become the white noise of Middle East conflict, and the occasional glimpse of a body bag.

Here in the Arab world, it is all blood and outrage. Coverage has been dominated by gruesome scenes of dead and wounded civilians (many of them children), angry commentators, and demonstrations on the streets of many Arab capitals.

It is the same kind of distorted prism through which Americans and Arabs have been viewing events in this part of the world since 9/11.

Standing somewhere in the no man’s land between these starkly different visions are the three main English-language broadcasters seen in this region, the BBC, CNN International, and, most importantly, upstart Al Jazeera English (AJE).

Balance is the goal of any quality news organization. But in the U.S., the quest for balance in this complex and highly-charged conflict has sometimes seemed contrived.

Take ABC anchor Charles Gibson’s lead-in to a “children of war” piece on the January 8 World News Tonight: “Youngsters on both sides of the border are being killed, injured, and traumatized by the fighting in Gaza,” he reported. But is that strictly true? By the day the piece aired, according to UNICEF, 292 Palestinian children had been killed, with hundreds more wounded. The number has since grown. Of the three Israeli civilian deaths at that point, none were children. There is certainly no doubt that the last few weeks have been traumatic for Israeli children living in towns near the border, but in the shorthand of U.S. TV news, their suffering and that of Palestinian children in Gaza became indistinguishable.

In contrast, coverage generated by the major trans-border broadcasters has been far more nuanced and comprehensive. London-based Tim Whewell’s in-depth and carefully reported five-and-a-half minute piece, “The case for war crimes,” on the BBC’s Newsnight, is not something likely to have been aired on U.S. television, while Palestinian producers, such as the BBC’s Rushdie Abualouf, have supplied a steady stream of original footage and reporting from inside Gaza.

Like the BBC, the staff of CNN International is drawn from many countries. As a result, it has been producing coverage markedly different from that seen on its sister channel in the U.S. An American diplomat here in the Middle East told me that he and a colleague were working out in the embassy gym one day with the television on. The embassy gets a feed from Armed Forces Radio and Television, so diplomats have access to CNN’s domestic service. Out of curiosity, they started switching back and forth between CNN Domestic and CNN International. “We couldn’t believe it,” he recalled. The domestic CNN was dominated by commentary supporting Israeli actions, while the international feed was focused on the devastation on the ground.

But with its mix of Arab and Western correspondents, news executives from Canadian, British, and Arab networks, and access to the regional infrastructure and expertise of Al Jazeera Arabic, Al Jazeera English is a channel born to cover this conflict....

"Palestine Today is an Open Air Prison" - Turkish PM Erdogan, interviewed by WAPO

The Washington Post, January 31, 2009 - Excerpt from interview:

Why do you have such a close relationship with Hamas, which is an arm of Iran and is run by Khaled Meshal, who lives in Damascus?

First of all, Hamas is not an arm of Iran. Hamas entered the elections as a political party. If the whole world had given them the chance of becoming a political player, maybe they would not be in a situation like this after the elections that they won. The world has not respected the political will of the Palestinian people. On the one hand, we defend democracy and we try our best to keep democracy in the Middle East, but on the other hand we do not respect the outcome of . . . the ballot box. Palestine today is an open-air prison. Hamas, as much as they tried, could not change the situation. Just imagine, you imprison the speaker of a country as well as some ministers of its government and members of its parliament. And then you expect them to sit obediently?

It sounds like you and Prime Minister Olmert were on the eve of an actual breakthrough between Israel and Syria.

I'm sharing my excitement with you....

See also Hurriyet (Turkey) on this interview: "No dialogue was published regarding the Davos crisis, signaling the interview was made prior to the incident."

Increasing Even Handedness in the Middle East - Glenn Greenwald, January 30, 2009 - It's now rather clear that the debate in the U.S. over Israel and the Middle East is becoming increasingly more balanced and open, and there are even some very preliminary though encouraging signs that the Obama administration will take a more even-handed approach. As I wrote about the other day, the truly excellent report by 60 Minutes' Bob Simon, focusing on the destructive impact of expanding West Bank settlements, was a startling departure from the rules governing what normally would be aired in such venues with regard to Israel.

As one would expect, there were angry reactions and recriminations aimed at Simon and 60 Minutes from the same groups that, for years, have been stigmatizing even-handed discussions of Israel as illegitimate, or worse. But now, there is an important counter-weight to those efforts: J Street, which is well on its way to ending the monopoly that right-wing groups have long wielded in the U.S. when it comes to purporting to speak for Americans Jews and defining the allegedly "pro-Israel" position. J Street has launched a project praising the Simon/60 Minutes report, and has organized a letter-writing campaign to CBS in support of that segment, to balance the campaigns of criticisms from the right-wing "pro-Israel" groups. You can read about J Street's position here, and participate in their letter-writing campaign to CBS here (the full, lengthier and more detailed statement sent by J Street via email is here).

Obama's decision to name George Mitchell as his Middle East envoy (as opposed to, say, the hopelessly biased Dennis Ross) may turn out to be one of the most significant steps he will take. Consider the reaction that decision has generated.

On PBS's News Hour this week, Jimmy Carter (who, with his success at forging an Israel-Egypt peace agreement, probably did more for Israel's security than any foreign leader in the last century) said that Obama's "choice of an envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, is absolutely superb, and it shows that he's going to take a more balanced position between the Israelis and their neighbors." J Street's Executive Director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, "enthusiastically" praised the selection of Mitchell, saying that it "signals the President's serious intention to inject new thinking and fresh perspectives into America's efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." Even Noam Chomsky, while questioning Obama's commitment to changing American policy in the region, said that "George Mitchell is, of the various appointments that have been made, the most decent, let's say. He has a pretty decent record."

Meanwhile, advocates like Abe Foxman are actually criticizing Obama for Mitchell's appointment on the revealing ground that Mitchell is too "even-handed" -- an absurd criticism that, unsurprisingly, is defended by people like The New Republic's Jonathan Chait, in a piece entitled "The Case Against Even-Handedness." Notably, AIPAC has said nothing regarding their position on Mitchell's appointment.

Only time will tell whether the appointment of Mitchell presages real change in U.S. behavior, but whatever else is true, the presidential appointment of a Middle East envoy with a real history of even-handedness, and who therefore prompts praise from the likes of Jimmy Carter, J Street and Noam Chomsky, and anger from the ADL and The New Republic, is a significant and encouraging departure from the suffocatingly one-sided approach that has been so destructive for both the U.S. and Israel.

Signaling a similar sea change was the rather bitter dispute that broke out yesterday on a Davos panel featuring, among others, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli President Shimon Peres. The leaders of the two traditionally close nations argued angrily over the Israeli attack on Gaza, with Erdogan accusing Peres of shrillness because he has a "guilty conscience," and then storming out after accusing the panel's moderator, The Washington Post's David Ignatius, of extreme bias in according Peres far more time to speak than the other panelists (Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations and Amr Moussa, the Arab League’s secretary general), all of whom were critical of the Israeli attack on Gaza. For his confrontation with Peres over Gaza, Erdogan arrived in Turkey yesterday to a "hero's welcome."....

Glenn Greenwald is a former constitutional law and civil rights litigator who blogs at

Every Family Has a Story, Here Are Some - Eva Bartlett Reports from Gaza

The Electronic Intifada, January 30, 2009 - There are many stories. Each account -- each murdered individual, each wounded person, each burned-out and broken house, each shattered window, trashed kitchen, strewn item of clothing, bedroom turned upside down, bullet and shelling hole in walls, offensive Israeli army graffiti -- is important.

I start to tell the stories of Ezbet Abbed Rabu, eastern Jabaliya, where homes off the main north south road, Salah al-Din, were penetrated by bullets, bombs and/or soldiers. If they weren't destroyed, they were occupied or shot up. Or occupied and then destroyed. The army was creative in their destruction, in their defacing of property, in their insults. Creative in the ways they could shit in rooms and save their shit for cupboards and unexpected places. Actually, their creativity wasn't so broad. The rest was routine: ransack the house from top to bottom. Turn over or break every clothing cupboard, kitchen shelf, television, computer, window pane and water tank....

Eva Bartlett is a Canadian human rights advocate and freelancer who spent eight months in 2007 living in West Bank communities and four months in Cairo and at the Rafah crossing. She is currently based in the Gaza Strip after having arrived with the third Free Gaza Movement boat in November. She has been working with the International Solidarity Movement in Gaza, accompanying ambulances while witnessing and documenting the ongoing Israeli air strikes and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Editorial: Barbarianism Unmasked - Paul Woodward

War in Context, January 30, 2009 - ....Yesterday’s session, “Gaza: the case for Middle East peace,” was a pivotal moment in political discourse between the West and the rest of the world. The self-righteous hubris of an enraged Israeli president collided with the outrage of those who refused to ignore his bloodied hands.

To fully understand what happened, watch the one-hour eight-minute discussion. (For readers who want to fast forward to the part where Shimon Peres starts venting his rage, drag the play marker across to 45 minutes 50 seconds.).... [Video available at the link.]

Beyond the passion of the moment, the incident exposes the hypocrisy that is embedded in the West’s view of the rest of the world.

If Hugo Chavez, or Muammar al-Gaddafi, or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or any other non-Western leader had spoken with the vulgarity, deceitfulness and rage that Shimon Peres displayed, the universal response would have been that this was unbecoming and unacceptable behavior for a political leader on a world stage.

The conceit of Western civilization (within which Israel sees itself embedded and by which Israel is treated as a full participant) is that it has nothing to learn from the dignity of others.

As the self-appointed custodians of civilization we fail to see the degree to which dignity is something we often lack, while so many of those we look down upon regard respectful, dignified behavior as a fundamental mark of humanity. Commensurate with the loss of our dignity has been the rise of our arrogance.

If Israel wants to understand why it is currently viewed with contempt by so much of the world, it should not only consider the misery it has inflicted on millions of Palestinians; it should also consider why it takes pride in having as its preeminent emissary a man who acts like a thug.

First Evidence of Damage to Gaza's Cultural Sites Emerges

The Art Newspaper, January 29, 2009 - With the fragile ceasefire still in force, The Art Newspaper has learned that Gaza’s only museum has been damaged and other heritage sites and buildings may also be at risk.

The Antiquities Museum of Gaza, privately founded and run by Gazan contractor and collector Jawdat Khoudary, was badly damaged during Israel’s 22 days of air and land strikes. The glass doors and windows have been shattered and the roof and walls have been damaged. Roman and Byzantine pottery, Islamic bronze objects and many amphorae have been destroyed, initially during shooting 20m to 200m away, and later because of nearby shelling, with one direct hit to the museum’s conference hall, Mr Khoudary said. Amphorae, clay and ceramic vessels with two looped handles, were created in Gaza and the region during the fourth to seventh centuries for storing wine, olive oil and food and trading perishable commodities.

“I am very concerned: the entire Gaza Strip is an archaeological site,” said Palestinian archaeologist Professor Moain Sadeq, who founded the Palestinian Antiquities Department of Gaza in 1994, and is currently a visiting lecturer at the University of Toronto while in contact daily with Gaza....

The $4 Billion Opportunity Off the Coast of Gaza

The Jerusalem Post, January 30, 2009 - In addition to the difficult long-term security concerns that are sure to arise from Operation Cast Lead, the long-overdue Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip has also raised a number of ancillary concerns that will need to be addressed over the coming weeks, including the future of key offshore natural-gas supplies.

About a year ago, The Jerusalem Post reported that Israel and UK-based BG Group, one of the world's largest purveyors of natural gas, broke off talks concerning the possible sale of the natural gas contained in the Gaza Marine gas field, an area about 36 kilometers off of the Gaza coast.

In 1999, after paying the Palestinian Authority an undisclosed sum, BG, along with its partner, Consolidated Contractors Corporations, acquired the concession to survey for natural gas in 1,000 square kilometers of the Gaza Marine area.

In their agreement with BG, the PA stipulated that BG must pay it at least 10 percent of the royalties from any future sales of the gas, which the PA said would be placed directly into its Palestinian Investment Fund.

BG and CCC set about conducting seismic tests to determine if the field contained the valuable gas they had hoped for; in early 2000, BG confirmed that the field contained a large quantity.

Over the ensuring six and a half years, BG and officials from the Finance and National Infrastructures ministries tried to reach an agreement to pump the gas into Israel. But the two sides could not agree on the price.

Yet even before the talks broke off, the situation shifted dramatically in June 2007 when Hamas violently ousted Fatah from power in the Gaza Strip, claiming ownership of the gas fields off the coast and the proceeds from the sale of the gas.

This posed a serious problem for both Israel, which obviously was not going to pay a portion of the money to Hamas, and to BG, which was banned by its government from negotiating with Hamas. The Post reported that had Israel and BG reached an agreement on the sale price of the gas, they would have found an alternative arrangement for the transfer of funds to ensure they did not end up funding terrorism.

Today, the estimated $4 billion worth of gas off the Gazan coast is still sitting, untapped, at the bottom of the Gaza Marine gas field. Hamas has not backed away from it claim that it is the rightful owner of the gas, even saying it deserves more than the 10% of the royalties from the sale of the gas, as originally negotiated between BG and the PA....

See also:

Deadly Gas in Gaza (Palestine Chronicle, January 22, 2009)

War and Natural Gas: Israel's Invasion and Gaza's Offshore Oil Fields (Centre for Research on Globalization, January 8, 2009)

Natural Gas Alternative for the Middle East (Green Prophet blog, July 27, 2008)

Does the Prospective Purchase of Natural Gas from Gaza's Waters Threaten Israel's Security? (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Israeli security perspective) and an article about this piece in Haaretz (October 2007)

PA, BG in Gas Processing Deal Without Israel (2005)

And for context, the recent discovery in Haifa:

Huge Gas Reserves Discovered Off the Coast of Haifa (Jerusalem Post, January 18, 2009 )

Israeli Gas Find [Haifa] Tips Energy Balance (Business Week, January 19, 2009)

Gaza Siege Intensified After Collapse of Natural Gas Deal

Electronic Intifada, January 23, 2009 - Israel claims its recent moves are retaliation for continued rocket attacks originating in Gaza that despite their consistency cause scant damage and few actual casualties. But the reasons may include motivations with roots back in 2000, when the British firm British Gas Group (BG) discovered proven natural gas reserves of at least 1.3 trillion cubic feet beneath Gazan territorial waters worth nearly $4 billion.*

The Palestinian Investment Fund (PIF), a financial holdings company owned primarily by independent Palestinian shareholders, is investing in the project and heads the negotiations in coordination with Mahmoud Abbas' government in the West Bank. BG won a majority stake in the concession to develop the Gaza Marine Field and originally targeted Egypt for the sale of the natural gas. But pressure from then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair led the company to redirect its efforts toward Israel and develop plans for an underwater pipeline that would transport the gas to an Israeli refinery at Ashkelon. That deal could have eventually provided Israel with approximately 10 percent of its annual energy requirement, and would have generated approximately $1 billion for the PIF. The Hamas election victory in 2006 put all that in jeopardy.

The Palestine Investment Fund was set up by Salam Fayyad, a World Bank veteran lauded by the United States as a practical thinker and fiscal reformist who would deliver transparency to the Palestinian Authority's financial dealings. In 2003, then PA Finance Minister Fayyad consolidated a varied collection of Palestinian Authority holdings into the fund audited by Standard & Poor's and now valued at an estimated $1.3 billion. The fund's portfolio includes Palestine's most profitable company, Paltel, and serves as the primary vehicle for private investment in Palestinian sustainable infrastructure.

The PIF is ostensibly overseen by the Palestinian Authority; revenue generated by the fund could potentially be available to a Hamas-led government. Through the deal structured with the PIF, BG owns 90 percent of the Gaza Marine license. Consolidated Contractors Company, a Palestinian owned construction firm, owns the remaining 10 percent. The Palestinian Authority retains an option to take a stake in the concession once production is sanctioned. After the 2006 Palestinian election results, Israel began stalling in its negotiations with BG. Any deal that could result in funds reaching Gaza would seriously undermine official Israeli policy toward Hamas. For its part, Hamas assured it would not interrupt development of the project, but reserved its right to restructure parts of the deal it deemed harmful to Palestinian interests. In an interview with Dow Jones Newswires, Minister of Economy Ziad al-Zaza reiterated Hamas opposition to any sale of fuel to Israel....

France Takes Back Gaza Water Plant in Row with Israel

Agence France Presse, January 30, 2009 - France is taking back a water treatment plant that would have helped civilians in Gaza after Israel prevented it from entering the Palestinian territory, the foreign ministry said Friday.

"Unfortunately, for reasons that we find hard to explain, the water treatment plant was not let in," said foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier.

Part of a humanitarian aid package, the treatment system would have provided some 2,000 cubic meters of drinkable water a day to civilians in Gaza who were cut off during Israel's 22-day military offensive.

A team of 51 civilian security officials were on hand to help set up and operate the plant.

Israeli authorities had been blocking delivery of the treatment plant at a border crossing with Gaza since Sunday, the foreign ministry said.

"It is with great regret that we have decided to repatriate it," said Chevallier. "It seems to us it would have been useful for civilians."

Aid groups have said three-quarters of Gaza households were left without water in their homes after Israel launched its offensive.

The foreign ministry summoned the Israeli ambassador Wednesday to complain about access to humanitarian aid for the Palestinians in Gaza and over a European diplomatic convoy that was blocked for six hours at a crossing....

Friday, January 30, 2009

Fear that Sewage in Gaza May Contaminate Drinking Water

IRIN, January 31, 2009 - With Gaza’s sewerage system on the verge of collapse, a top water engineer has warned of the risk of groundwater contamination in the enclave, making clean water scarcer than it already is.

Gaza is particularly vulnerable to groundwater contamination since its sandy desert soil easily absorbs water - or sewage from leaking sewage pipes. Compounding the risk is the fact that groundwater is relatively near the surface, and wells dug to access it tend to be shallow.

The aging, ill-maintained and unsafe sewerage system has suffered from an acute lack of investment. At least one waste water treatment plant at Sheikh Ajleen is also poorly sited, in a flat and sandy area, increasing the risk that sewage could seep into the water table....

Palestinian NGO Network: Position Paper on Gaza Siege

Excerpt from a position paper issued on 28 January 2009 by the Palestinian NGO Network. We call for immediate action to be taken to achieve the following:
  1. An immediate end to the internal conflict, a revival of national unity as to avoid polarization on a regional and international level, which does not serve common Palestinian goals, and formation of a National Unity Government to lead the Palestinian people through these critical times.
  2. Immediate commencement of reconstruction work in Gaza with a priority of finding homes for those without. The reconstruction of Gaza should be handled by Palestinians as their knowledge of the affected areas is second to none. Although Israel should take full responsibility for rebuilding all destroyed civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, if reconstruction is to be bankrolled by the international community, reconstruction funds should be handled exclusively by a Palestinian team, which should be selected on the basis of transparency, accountability and professionalism, and should consist of members from civil society, the private sector and the Government. This team should utilize their collective experience on a local, regional and international level and apply it as specified by the needs of the team.
  3. Co-operation with civil and popular initiatives in order to allow them the possibility to assist the victims of this war. In addition, the role and independence of civil society should also be respected.
  4. We, Palestinian NGOs declare our complete rejection of any aid coming from USAID due to the United States' constant military and financial support to Israel, or from any other parties whose support to Israel facilitated Israel's military aggression in the Gaza Strip
  5. An end of the siege on Gaza and opening of the borders and crossings. In addition, a safe and free passage that links the West Bank to Gaza should be created, whilst avoiding anything that deepens the already existing division between the West Bank and Gaza.
  6. Preservation of the freedom of expression and right to criticize the performance of any authorities involved in the war, and let them be answerable for their respective roles. We call for the release of all political prisoners and the immediate cessation of arrests, while allowing media impartiality and freedom from external influence.
  7. Conducting a comprehensive revision of Palestinian negotiating policy to ensure immediate cessation of the construction of Israeli settlements, the end of the siege on Gaza, the end of Israel's policy to isolate Jerusalem and to end all Israeli aggression. This policy should be linked with existing UN treaties, resolutions and standards of international law and should help develop Palestinian political discourse and its mechanisms. The reference of negotiation should be based on the Palestinian Political Prisoners Initiative with an emphasis on the right to resist. 
  8. The intervention of the international community in providing protection for the people of Gaza and the West Bank, ending the occupation of Palestinian territory by Israel and guaranteeing Palestinians' right to self-determination, through application of international conventions and resolutions. It is not acceptable to place the Palestinians on the same level as the Israelis; it is now clearer than ever who the oppressor is and who is being oppressed.
  9. Bringing the Israeli authorities before a war tribunal to hold them to account for the damage and destruction they have caused in Gaza, and to ensure the appropriate reparations are made. We propose to form a national committee to work on this front.
  10. Upholding the current global BDS campaign to boycott Israeli goods, support of divestment initiatives and encourage sanctions against Israel, to re-enforce its aims in light of Israel's recent war crimes in Gaza.
The Palestinian NGO Network is a civil and democratic body, which seeks to support, consolidate and strengthen the Palestinian civil society on the basis of the principles of democracy, social justice and sustainable development. It is a Palestinian NGO umbrella organization established in September 1993 and comprising 100 member organizations working in different developmental fields.

PCHR Report: Human Rights Violations on Palestinian Medical Personnel in Gaza

War on the Wounded: human rights violations perpetrated against Palestinian medical personnel in the Gaza Strip

A PCHR report on attacks perpetrated by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) against Palestinian medical personnel during the IOF military offensive in Gaza
27 December 2008 – 13 January 2009

Summary: According to PCHR investigations, which include statements from eye-witnesses, IOF have perpetrated crimes amounting to war crimes against medical personnel working in the Gaza Strip, in clear violation of the (1949) Fourth Geneva Convention, which affords special protection to medical personnel. Since the launch of their military offensive against the population of the Gaza Strip on 27 December 2008, IOF have killed seven Palestinian medical personnel, and wounded dozens of others, whilst they were attempting to evacuate and transfer the dead and injured. IOF have launched ground, sea and air attacks targeting medical personnel and medical facilities, including ambulances, and in addition have obstructed the access of medical personnel to the dead and injured.

Blatant IOF attacks against Palestinian medical personnel have undermined their work during this IOF offensive, by obstructing, and sometimes forcibly preventing, their access to dozens of dead and injured civilians across the Gaza Strip. In many cases documented by PCHR, medical personnel were only able to access the dead and injured up to 72 hours after they had been killed or injured. The Centre has also documented cases of IOF denying medical personnel access to people who subsequently bled to death. In addition, medical personnel, and their vehicles, have been obstructed whilst attempting to evacuate the dead and injured from houses and other civilian facilities that had been targeted by IOF, including houses that had been set on fire. Medical personnel were obstructed by IOF vehicles positioned in the vicinity of these houses and other civilian facilities - and, in some instances, IOF continued shelling and bombardments whilst the medical personnel were clearly evacuating the dead and injured.

PCHR calls upon the international community, especially the High Contracting Parties to the (1949) Fourth Geneva Convention, relative to the protection of civilians in times of war, to end their shameful silence regarding abuses being perpetrated by the IOF. In addition, the Centre calls on IOF to immediately cease all human rights violations, including war crimes, being perpetrated against all civilians in the Gaza Strip, including the targeting of humanitarian staff, which includes medical personnel carrying out their duties in ambulances and other civil defense vehicles. The Centre also demands that IOF immediately cease targeting medical facilities, in order that medical personnel be allowed to carry out their duties to protect, and treat, the sick and injured.

Read the full report here

60 US Lawmakers Urge Clinton to Aid Gaza, Request Israel to Allow Transport of Wounded

Middle East Online, January 30, 2009 - Sixty US lawmakers have urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to give emergency funds to the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees to help rebuild the Gaza Strip after its bombardment by Israel.

In a letter dated Tuesday, the House Democrats also said Israel should allow critically ill patients to be transported out of Gaza and into Israel, the West Bank and Jordan for treatment.

"We therefore urge you to express this concern directly to Israeli government officials," they said in the letter.

The "Arab System" After Gaza - Khaled Hroub

Open Democracy Forum, January 30, 2009 - A combination of political failures, new players and shifting geopolitics in the middle east is creating a more radicalised environment - and a desperate last hope for peaceful progress, says Khaled Hroub.

The Gaza war can be seen in part as the culmination of America's short-sighted middle-east policy in the 2000s: that is, of leaving things to take their own shape in Israel-Palestine without external intervention. The result of such indulgence of Israel and indifference to the deep-rooted and long-standing problems of the Palestinians is the emergence of new realities in the region, where pro-western Arab countries (Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan in particular) are now being forced to take harder stances as their "moderation" is exposed as ineffective.

The counterproductive effects of the Bush years have buried the aspiration of a peaceful "new middle east" and produced instead emerging signs of what might be called a "resisting middle east" - a region where the moderates have been weakened, the radicals are stronger, anti-Americanism is deeper, and Palestine as the core issue in the region is as persistent as ever....

Turkish Prime Minister Hailed as Hero After Davos Confrontation with Shimon Peres

Channel News Asia (reporting from Ankara), January 30, 2009 - Thousands of supporters mobbed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hamas hailed his "courageous stand" on Friday after Erdogan stormed out of a World Economic Forum debate with Israel's President Shimon Peres on the Gaza war.

Jubilant followers of the Islamist-rooted leader waved Turkish and Palestinian flags at Istanbul airport just hours after Erdogan marched off the stage in front of Peres and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and said he would not return to Davos.

Erdogan made the front page of newspapers across Europe and the Middle East. The battle went on Friday with Peres' office rejecting claims by the Turkish prime minister's entourage that the Israeli president had apologised....

Report: Israel Planned to Hit Hamas Leadership in Syria During Gaza War

Middle East Times, January 30, 2009 - An Israeli plan to launch an airstrike against a Palestinian camp in Syria during its recent invasion of Gaza was vetoed by the Bush administration using pressure from allies like Egypt and Turkey, according to administration officials.

"There was zip support for expanding the war," one State Department official said.

The targeted was the Hamas camp in the town of Yarmouk, Syria, some 15 kilometers east of Damascus, where Hamas opened an office in 1991 and which quickly became the operational nerve center for the group's military wing, these sources said.

More than a dozen senior Hamas leaders were to attend a meeting at the refugee camp, and the Israeli strike was designed to decapitate the group's top leadership at a single stroke including Khaled Meshaal, chief of the movement's political bureau, these sources said.....

Thursday, January 29, 2009

US Envoy to UN Calls on Israel to Open War Crimes Probe Over Gaza War

Haaretz, January 29, 2009 - Israel must investigate allegations that its army violated international law during its three-week war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, the new U.S. envoy to the United Nations said on Thursday.

"We expect Israel will meet its international obligations to investigate and we also call upon all members of the international community to refrain from politicizing these important issues," Ambassador Susan Rice said in her debut speech before the UN Security Council.

Israelis Named in Spain's War Crimes Probe for 2002 Assassination Dismiss Charges as "Ludicrous"

Haaretz, January 29, 2009 - [Israeli] National Infrastructures Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer blasted as "ludicrous" a decision by a Spanish judge to open a probe against him and six seven other current or former Israeli officials over a 2002 bombing in Gaza.

"This is a ludicrous and outrageous decision. Terrorist organizations are using the courts of the free world and the methods of democratic states to prosecute a state that works against terror," said Ben-Eliezer, who was defense minister at the time of the assassination.

The bombing in Gaza killed a senior Hamas militant and 14 other people, including nine children.

Judge Fernando Andreu said the attack by Israel, which targeted militant Salah Shehadeh in a densely populated civilian area, might constitute a crime against humanity.

"I am not sorry for my decision," said Ben-Eliezer. "Salah Shehadeh carried out the harshest attacks against our citizens. I say this explicitly: If we had not have killed him, he would have continued to perpetrate attacks to kill more Israelis."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak earlier Thursdsay lambasted Andreu's decision as "hallucinatory."

"Whoever calls the assassination of a terrorist a 'crime against humanity' is living in an upside-down world," said Barak, in a statement released by his ministry.....

Haaretz: For the First Time, US Professors Call for an Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel

Haaretz, January 29, 2009 - In the wake of Operation Cast Lead, a group of American university professors has for the first time launched a national campaign calling for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

While Israeli academics have grown used to such news from Great Britain, where anti-Israel groups several times attempted to establish academic boycotts, the formation of the United States movement marks the first time that a national academic boycott movement has come out of America. Israeli professors are not sure yet how big of an impact the one-week-old movement will have, but started discussing the significance of and possible counteractions against the campaign.

"As educators of conscience, we have been unable to stand by and watch in silence Israel's indiscriminate assault on the Gaza Strip and its educational institutions," the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel stated in its inaugural press release last Thursday. Speaking in its mission statement of the "censorship and silencing of the Palestine question in U.S. universities, as well as U.S. society at large," the group follows the usual pattern of such boycotts, calling for "non-violent punitive measures" against Israel, such as the implementation of divestment initiatives, "similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era."

The campaign was founded by a group of 15 academics, mostly from California, but is, "currently expanding to create a network that embraces the United States as a whole," according to David Lloyd, a professor of English at the University of Southern California who responded on behalf of the group to a Haaretz query. "The initiative was in the first place impelled by Israel's latest brutal assault on Gaza and by our determination to say enough is enough."

"The response has been remarkable given the extraordinary hold that lobbying organizations like AIPAC exert over U.S. politics and over the U.S. media, and in particular given the campaign of intimidation that has been leveled at academics who dare to criticize Israel's policies," Lloyd wrote in an e-mail to Haaretz Monday. "Within a short weekend since the posting of the press release, more than 80 academics from all over the country have endorsed the action and the numbers continue to grow."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Broken Dreams of Gaza - Film by Mariam Shahin

Al Jazeera English, January 26, 2009 - Between 2005 and 2009 filmmaker Mariam Shahin visited Gaza three times to record the rise and fall of the hopes and dreams of ordinary, and extraordinary, Gazans.

From an entrepreneur who had high hopes for a prosperous future, to Gazas only girls rowing team. Mariam recorded people who saw a glimmer of hope for Gaza in the period following the 2005 Israeli withdrawal but now whose main objective is mere survival.

This programme was shown on Al-Jazeera English.

Broken Dreams of Gaza - Part 1

Part 2

Israel Hits Blair's Flagship Sewage Project in Gaza

The Independent, January 29, 2009 - One of Tony Blair's flagship projects as international Middle East envoy – and one of his most concrete achievements to date – was emergency work on a sewage plant in northern Gaza to stop it overflowing and endangering the lives of some 10,000 people.

Now, it has emerged that Israeli forces severely damaged parts of the plant during their 22-day offensive and the project – which was due for completion at the end of this week – has been delayed for two months, with repairs expected to cost $200,000 (£140,000).

Although the damage to Mr Blair's project close to the border with Israel in northern Gaza is modest compared with the overall destruction across the Strip and a Gazan death toll put by the Palestinian Ministry of Health at more than 1,200, it has considerable political and diplomatic significance. It is virtually the only major development aid project which has been allowed to go ahead since Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza 18 months ago....

Officials in the Quartet envoy's office have already begun fresh negotiations with Israeli ministers to bring in replacement components for the repairs though it was not yet clear who will supply the concrete after the destruction of the Abu Eida works. Gaza's biggest ready-mix concrete factory, allowed to import cement especially to supply the sewage project, has also been flattened by Israeli bombing. Mr Blair's office confirmed yesterday that the Abu Eida works had been its earmarked concrete supplier.

According to a preliminary Palestinian Water Authority assessment, seen by The Independent, the main damage during Israel's military campaign was inflicted on the infiltration basins, including their electrical control room, and the main ductile iron pressure pipe. Their report claims that the upper chambers at five of the basins were "deliberately destroyed" by bulldozers and that fuel tanks have been badly damaged with all the diesel being poured out and one tank being thrown into one of the basins, with consequent pollution to ground water....

The Devastation of Gaza: From Factories to Ice Cream

TIME Magazine, January 28, 2009 - Yaser Alwadeya wanders past a field strewn with the remnants of gaily painted ice cream carts that were shredded by a blizzard of shrapnel. He enters the blackened innards of the Al Ameer factory, which once manufactured Gaza's tastiest ice cream and popsicles. Shaking his head, he says, "I can't figure out why the Israelis thought that Hamas had anything to do with ice cream."

Alwadeya's ice cream plant, which had been owned by his family for 55 years, was far from the only factory destroyed in Israel's 22-day assault on the Palestinian enclave. All along Gaza's factory row — which produced everything from biscuits to cement to wooden furniture — hardly a single building remains standing. It is as if a tsunami of fire had roared through Gaza's industrial district, leaving in its wake a tide-line of twisted metal and smashed buildings.

Israeli war planners had vowed to destroy the "infrastructure of terror" in Gaza, but even many Gazans opposed to Hamas believe the operation was directed against infrastructure per se — it certainly demolished much of Gaza's economy and its civil society....

Israeli Clinic Closes After Treating Five Palestinians

IRIN, January 28, 2009 - The Israeli emergency clinic at the Erez crossing [into Gaza], which opened on the day Israel declared a ceasefire in Gaza (18 January), has closed after treating only five wounded Palestinians.

The original purpose of the clinic, according to press releases, was to provide emergency care and evacuate those needing further care to hospitals in Israel.

Gynaecologists, paediatricians, general practitioners and trauma specialists were available at the clinic, which was operated by the Health Ministry and Mada (Israel’s national emergency, disaster, ambulance and blood bank service).

Foreign press and aid workers said the clinic was merely a publicity stunt. Scores of journalists were invited to its opening day.

A volunteer nurse at the clinic, who preferred anonymity, said: ''It is an extremely well-equipped clinic. We are able to treat a wide selection of medical conditions; it is a pity that only five patients benefitted from our services.'' ....

A Tale of Two Summits: Divisions in Arab World Played Out in Response to Gaza

Inter Press Service, January 27, 2009 - Despite declarations of Arab unity at a recent economic summit, Egyptian commentators say that fundamental differences between rival Arab camps - especially over the issue of Palestine - are far from over.

"The deep divisions currently plaguing the Arab world cannot be solved over the course of an official state luncheon," Mohamed Abu Al-Hadid, political analyst and chairman of the board of the state-owned Dar Al-Tahrir publishing house wrote in official daily Al-Gomhouriya Thursday (Jan. 22).

On Jan. 16, leaders and representatives of 12 Arab League (AL) member states attended a meeting in Doha, Qatar to discuss the carnage then taking place in the Gaza Strip through Israel's military campaign. The meeting followed repeated calls by Qatar for an emergency AL summit in hope of forging a common Arab stance against ongoing Israeli aggression.

Regional heavyweights Egypt and Saudi Arabia, however, declined to attend. Instead, they announced their intention to discuss the crisis at a scheduled Arab economic summit in Kuwait three days later.

The move highlighted the longstanding divide among AL members, which pits Washington's "moderate" Arab allies - including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan - against those opposed to U.S. policy in the region.

The differences between the two blocs are defined largely by their respective positions on the Israel-Palestine conflict. While the former grouping backs U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, the latter supports resistance against Israel led by Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas....

Head of ICRC Mission: Gaza Will Take Years to Rehabilitate, if at All

Inter Press Service, January 27, 2009 - IPS interviewed Katharina Ritz, head of mission of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in Ramallah. Israel's 22-day assault left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead, and decimated much of the coastal territory's infrastructure.

IPS: How long do you think it will take for Gaza to be rehabilitated?

Katharina Ritz: Gaza will take several years at the very least to recover from the Israeli military campaign. This is the best case scenario, assuming that the border crossings are opened permanently and all the necessary aid and help is allowed in unhindered.

IPS: How will the reconstruction take place, and what will this involve?

KR: There will be several stages. The initial shortages of electricity, water, food and medicine can be met, and the sewage and water systems repaired within weeks if sufficient quantities of spare parts, fuel and humanitarian aid are allowed in.

There are enough Gazans with the expertise and experience to deal with these issues.

IPS: What about repairing the damaged infrastructure?

KR: Rebuilding all the damaged and destroyed homes will obviously take several months, assuming the Israelis permit the importation of the necessary construction material, which they prevented from entering the territory even before the military operation.

But before the reconstruction can even commence it is essential for the remaining Israeli ordnances left over from the war to be cleared away to ensure the safety of the population.

IPS: The economy too is in dire straits. Was this problematic even before the Israeli operation?

KR: Yes, the next stage will require the rehabilitation of the crippled economy, and this could take several years.

Prior to the Israeli assault, the economy was barely functioning. To operate even on a basic level again, substantial investment and rehabilitation of the agricultural and private sectors is imperative.

Israel and Egypt, supported by the international community, enforced an economic blockade on the Gaza strip following Hamas's take-over in June 2007. Only a bare minimum of humanitarian aid has been allowed in sporadically since then.

IPS: What is the final step to the coastal territory's rehabilitation?

KR: The final question which will have to be addressed in the long term is the psychological scars, and the trauma which the civilian population has been subjected to....

Full interview available at the link.

Almost Everybody in Gaza Needs Psychological Help

Qatar News Agency, January 28, 2009 - Almost everyone in the Gaza Strip needs psychological support following the recent Israeli offensive that left over 1360 martyrs and more than 5300 wounded, psychologist at the Qatar Red Crescent Society (QRCS) Dr. Ma''amoun Mobayad said.

In a press conference held today, Dr. Mobayad confirmed that Gaza's children need intensive psychological treatment and support especially that they lack the ability of expressing their reactions and reasons behind what they went through. Over 30% of the Palestinian children are currently suffering from enuresis [bed-wetting], estimations showed, due to the three-week long Israeli offensive, he noted.

Other psychological problems such as insomnia and depression were also spread among the Gazans, while most people are celebrating victory or busy finding their properties, DR. Ma''moun said, adding that only 19 psychologists are serving a million and a half Palestinians in the Strip.

The Devil's Footsteps in Gaza

Time Magazine, Middle East blog, January 26, 2009 - There's something about phosphorus, the way it smoulders and burns for days, that makes it looks as though the Devil had walked by, leaving fiery footprints in the earth. I saw phosphorus today in a bombed out ice cream factory (did the Israeli gunners think Hamas had paused for a Magnum bar?). A fire was still flickering in the smoky gloom two weeks after the shell had smashed through the ice cream factory roof.

And I saw phosphorus again yesterday in the charred rooms of a house in north Gaza that belongs to the Abu Halima family. You could possibly blame the Abu Halimas for their own misfortune. You could say that they read the leaflets, which the Israelis dropped ordering everyone in the neighborhood to flee, and they chose to ignore the warnings. “The Israeli soldiers had been through here many times,” say Mahmoud. “They didn't bother us, and we didn't bother them.”

Then the shelling started, harder than anything they had witnessed before. Tank shells crashed into the houses around them, thudded into the strawberry patches, sending up sprays of dust and fruit. The father, Saadallah, gathered his wife and kids into the corridor, away from the blizzard of debris coming in through the windows. Then three phosphorus bombs crashed through the roof, right above them. Mahmoud Saadallah Abu Halima, a relative, arrived soon after at the horrifying scene.

“I saw my mother coming towards me. She was on fire. I threw a blanket around her to try to put out the flames but she kept on burning. I went to Saadallah who was lying on the ground with his three young kids wrapped inside his coat. He was trying to protect them. But the coat had caught fire, too. When I tried to pull the kids away, their flesh came off in my hands.”....

Blowback from Gaza

Fueling the cycle of hate: The Guardian, January 27, 2009 - Israeli soccer matches were suspended during the assault on Gaza. When the games resumed last week, the fans had come up with a new chant: "Why have the schools in Gaza been shut down?" sang the crowd. "Because all the children were gunned down!" came the answer.

Aside from its sheer barbarism, this chant reflects the widespread belief among Israeli Jews that Israel scored an impressive victory in Gaza – a victory measured, not least, by the death toll.....

Hatred, in other words, is the great winner of this war. It has helped mobilise racist mobs, and as the soccer chant indicates it has left absolutely no place for the other, undermining even basic empathy for innocent children. Israel's masters of war must be happy: the seeds of the next wars have certainly been sown.

Anti-Arab sentiment swells among youth in aftermath of Gaza war: Globe and Mail, January 26, 2009 - When the leader of Israel's religious-Zionist Meimad Party recently addressed a meeting of 800 high-school students in a Tel Aviv suburb, his words on the virtue of Israeli democracy for all its citizens were drowned out by student chants of "Death to the Arabs."

Not since the days of the now-illegal Kach party, and Baruch Goldstein killing 29 Muslims at prayer in Hebron in 1994, has Rabbi Michael Melchior heard such anti-Arab sentiment.

But that sentiment is swelling, and the controversial former cabinet minister Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party are riding the wave. They have emerged as the biggest political winners from the recent war on Gaza. Their unequivocal anti-Arab policies have never been more popular....

Observers worry Gaza war scarred children with hate for Israel: Orlando Sentinel, January 25, 2009 - ....Psychologists say Israel's three-week offensive inflicted more severe trauma than previous conflicts in Gaza because civilians in the crowded sliver of territory had no safe place to run. A wartime study among hundreds of Gaza children showed a rise in nightmares, bedwetting and other signs of trauma, said psychologist Fadel Abu Hein.

Counselors and aid workers fear that Gaza's children, who make up 56 percent of the 1.4 million people here, will grow up hating Israel and become easier prey for extremists.

"We are losing the next generation," said John Ging, the top U.N. aid official in Gaza. As a buffer against militancy, U.N. schools are launching human rights classes for their 200,000 students this week....

War takes emotional toll on Gaza's children: Financial Times, January 29, 2009 -....Symptoms of post-conflict syndrome include anxiety, fear, aggression, increased attachment to parents or increased withdrawal, and bed wetting, experts say. Parents report that children do not want to go to schools, mosques or hospitals, all places that were bombed, because they think nowhere is safe.

Parents say they don’t know how to help their children. “There is no entertainment for children here – no parks, no circus, no theatres,” says Hani’s father, shopkeeper Ramzi Abu Mohammad. “If they need some kind of therapy, where are we supposed to take them? There is nowhere to go.”....

Gaza conflict radicalises Muslims in UK: Middle East Online, January 28, 2009 - Britain's security and counter-terrorism minister, Lord Alan West, warned Tuesday that the conflict in Gaza has set back the government's attempts to tackle radicalism in Muslim communities here.

"There is no doubt that when you see these pictures coming back, that in the mind of people making hate, there is a linkage between the US, Israel and the UK. Without a doubt it will have set us back," he said.

West also dismissed the refusal by former prime minister Tony Blair to acknowledge the link between foreign policy and security threats.

"We never used to accept that our foreign policy ever had any effect on terrorism. Well, that was clearly bollocks," he said, according to widespread and concurring reports....

Similarly, leading British Muslims had warned Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a letter that anger over the Israeli campaign in Gaza has reached "acute levels" and was empowering extremists....

Doctor's Anguish Stirs Ugly Debate Among Israelis

The Globe and Mail (Canada, reporting from Jerusalem), January 28, 2009 - Israelis are arguing over whether they should pity or blame a Palestinian doctor for the Israeli tank shells that hit his Gaza apartment and killed his three daughters and a niece.

"I prefer to believe the Israeli army, that a sniper shot from his house, and not [to believe] the doctor," one Israeli posted on an Israeli news website.

"Is there such a thing as an Arab who is not Hamas?" asked another.

"How can anyone not believe this man?" a third wondered.....

The media coverage of Dr. Abu al-Aish's anguish forced Israelis to confront the notion that their government was responsible for killing the family of a man of peace, someone who had publicly condemned Hamas, someone who had treated Israeli patients. He'd been considering a move out of Gaza to take a job offer in Canada.

For the first time since the war began, the personal tragedy of a Palestinian civilian in Gaza grabbed Israeli headlines. Since then, Dr. Abu al-Aish's story has been endlessly debated on Israeli television and radio, discussed online and in print and argued on video on Facebook and YouTube.

Some Israelis expressed remorse, but many reacted by blaming the doctor or Hamas....

Opinion: Stripping Palestinians of the Right to Self-Defense - Stuart Littlewood

The concerted move against so-called smuggling is intriguing. An illegally besieged people bring in supplies - food and arms - by any means possible. Is that smuggling? A people under siege by an illegal occupier are entitled in international law to take up arms against their oppressor, notes Stuart Littlewood.

Middle East Online, January 28, 2009 - A pre-meditated and carefully planned slaughter binge resulting in 1330 dead, 5450 wounded and the whole place reduced to rubble… And what did the European Union’s 27 foreign ministers just do?

They sat down to dinner in Brussels with Tzipi Livni.

This must have come as a slap in the face for the millions of justice-loving EU citizens who were expecting to see Ms Livni arrested for crimes against humanity the minute she set foot outside Israel.

All is forgiven. Normal poodle service is resumed. Right now Israel's helpmates in Europe are lining up to pay with our tax money for the humanitarian mess and the economic wreckage, and to offer Israel the services of EU member states in helping to turn the screw yet again in the subjugation of a people Israel has terrorized, abused and dispossessed for 60 years.

Never mind that the EU has spent billions over the years on infrastructure projects in Gaza, only to see them wantonly smashed by Israel’s military.

[For example, see Israeli strikes leave Blair project with 140 million pounds in repairs. - Ed]

One of the services on offer is help with stopping the 'smuggling' of arms to the Palestinians, now crushed and stripped of everything amid the ruins of their homes, wrecked utilities, devastated hospitals and schools, and a public health disaster. That's what happens when people have only AK47s, RPGs and ineffective rockets to fend off a ruthless occupying force bristling with all the armour and high-tech weaponry of modern warfare.

Already six European leaders - including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and our very own British Prime Minister Gordon Brown - have pledged to provide ships, troops and technology for anti-smuggling operations....

Israel Acts to Block War Crimes Charges - Jonathan Cook

Middle East Online, January 28, 2009 - Jerusalem - Mounting fear in Israel that the country’s leaders face war crimes charges over their involvement in the recent Gaza offensive pushed officials into a frenzy of activity at the weekend to forestall legal actions abroad.

The urgency was underlined after rumours last week that Belgian authorities might arrest Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, if she attended a summit of European counterparts in Brussels on Wednesday. In an indication of how seriously the matter is judged, Ms Livni’s advisers were on the verge of canceling her trip when the story was revealed to be a hoax.
Nonetheless, officials are braced for real attempts to arrest senior political and military figures following a warning from the country’s chief law officer, Menachem Mazuz, that Israel will soon face “a wave of international lawsuits”.

In response, the government is setting up a special task force to work on legal defences, has barred the media from naming or photographing army officers involved in the Gaza attack, and has placed restrictions on overseas visits. Today, ministers were expected to approve an aid package to help soldiers fight warrants abroad for their arrest....

UN: Israel Must Allow Rehabilitation of Gaza

Scoop, New York, January 27 2009 - The top United Nations humanitarian official today called on Israel to immediately open up crossing points into Gaza for full access to relief aid following its devastating three-week offensive against Hamas militants.

“Israel has a particular responsibility as the occupying power in this context, because of its control of Gaza’s borders with Israel, to respect the relevant provisions of international humanitarian law,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told the Security Council in a report on his just-completed visit to Gaza, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“The reckless and cynical use of civilian installations by Hamas, and the indiscriminate firing of rockets against civilian populations, are clear violations of international humanitarian law,” he said. However, even taking into account Israel’s security concern to protect its own civilian population, it is clear that there are major questions to be asked about the failure of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) to protect effectively civilians and humanitarian workers in Gaza.

“Given the scale and nature of the damage and loss of life, there are also obvious concerns about a lack of wider respect for international humanitarian law, particularly the principles of distinction and proportionality. There must be accountability.”...

“Widespread destruction was caused to Gaza’s economic and civil infrastructure,” he said. “I saw for example, an entire industrial and residential area in East Jabalia which had been systematically bulldozed, an area of at least one square kilometre; one of the best schools in Gaza reduced to rubble; and much of the Al Quds hospitῡl in Gaza City burned out.

But he stressed the critical need to look forward to bring urgent relief to Gaza after 18 months of closure, which steadily weakened health, livelihoods and infrastructure even before the recent offensive.

“A massive humanitarian effort is now needed in areas such as food security, nutrition, water and sanitation, shelter, essential repairs of power, roads and other basic infrastructure, rebuilding the health system, rubble removal, unexploded ordnance and psychosocial care. As only one example, 1.3 million Gazans, almost 90 per cenῴ of the population, now need food aid, he said, noting that he would launch a Flash Appeal on 2 February.

Much freer access for goods and staff is needed, Mr. Holmes, who also serves as Emergency Relief Coordinator, declared. While Israel has allowed increased shipments of basic commodities with 120 truckloads getting in on good days, the normal daily requirement is a minimum of 500. Many humanitarian workers continue to be refused regular entry....

“The people of Gaza have continued to exist in what is effectively a giant open-air prison, without normality or dignity. Their lives have been put at risk recklessly by indiscriminate rocket attacks from their midst, which have also killed, injured and traumatized Israeli civilians in Southern Israel. They have now endured a terrῩfying assault, and must live with its devastating aftermath, he concluded.

“This is not sustainable or acceptable. It can only lead to more despair, suffering, death and destruction in the coming years, and perhaps fatally undermine the two-state solution we all seek,” he added, referring to the Roadmap plan for Israel and Palestine to live side by side in peace.

“It must therefore be in the long term interests of all parties, including Israel, to ease conditions for the people of Gaza, by opening the crossings, facilitating the provision of assistance, and allowing them to live, work and hope again.”

Addressing the same Council session before it adjourned for consultations, the head of the UN senior UN refugee official in the region cited the apparent systematic destruction of schools, universities, residential buildings, factories, shops and farms. “Every Gazan projects a sense of having stared death in the face,” UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Commissioner General Karen AbuZayd said.

“There is rage against the attackers for often failing top distinguish between military targets and civilians and there is also resentment against the international community for having allowed first the siege and then the war to go on for so long,” she added, calling for political action to end the occupation and peacefully resolῶe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Humanitarian Aid Accumulates at Gaza Border but Goes Nowhere

New York Times, January 27, 2009 (reporting from El Auja border crossing, Egypt) - France sent technical equipment to help Gazans draw water from the ground. The Swiss sent blankets and plastic tarps. Mercy Corps, a relief agency, sent 12 truckloads of food. And on Tuesday all of it, including dozens of other trucks carrying sugar, rice, flour, juice and baby formula, sat in the hot sun here going nowhere.

This normally quiet commercial crossing between Egypt and Israel has been turned into a parking lot of stalled, humanitarian aid, and in the city of El Arish there are even greater quantities of food, clothing and essential supplies, sitting, waiting and baking in the sun. Some supplies are loaded onto dozens of trucks parked on city streets, but much more is stored in the open areas of a local sports stadium, also waiting, also going nowhere. Only medical supplies seem to be getting through to Gaza.

Since the cease-fire, Israel has allowed some humanitarian supplies into Gaza, but the territory is still desperately short of the necessities. Israel closed all the crossings into Gaza on Tuesday after an Israeli soldier was killed in a bombing on the Israeli side of the border. But that changed nothing at this crossing, where the flow has been stalled for days.

Officials and volunteers in Egypt blame the Israelis, saying that even before the passage stalled Israel had allowed supplies to pass through for only 19 hours each week. Israeli officials said that Egypt had not done enough to coordinate the flood of aid coming to Gaza, and that they hoped a system would soon be in place to remedy the problem.

In the meantime, truckloads of humanitarian aid are sitting in Egypt. That includes 13 generators and Amir Abdullah’s trailer full of food....

There has been an outpouring of support for Gazans, mostly from the Arab world, but also from Europe, Venezuela and nongovernmental organizations, officials here said. Medical supplies go straight into Gaza through Egypt’s crossing at Rafah.

But Egypt will not allow anything else to pass through Rafah, insisting that all other aid travel first into Israel and then into Gaza. That is where the bottleneck has occurred. Two of the main problems have been the short window for supplies to pass and Israel’s decision to let few trucks go through, officials and volunteers here said. But another problem has to do with Egypt’s being unprepared to meet strict Israeli packing requirements, which would allow the goods to be passed through security scanners and onto Israeli trucks for delivery to Gaza.

The Egyptians tried to send through trucks carrying bags of flour and sugar, for example, only to have the Israelis send them back. Much has been repacked and reshipped, but some of the returned items are spilled out over the sandy earth at the crossing.

“The trucks get to Auja and they sit,” said Ahmed Oraby, head of the Red Crescent office in El Arish. “Many trucks that left are now coming back. They don’t take anything.”

At the United Nations, John Holmes, an emergency relief coordinator, said the scale of the destruction meant that far more than the current movement of aid was needed urgently. “Enough will always be allowed in for people to exist, but not enough for the conditions for people to live,” Mr. Holmes told reporters.

In recent days, officials and drivers at the crossing said that the trickle of trucks passing through this month had all but stopped. None went on Thursday. Friday and Saturday are days off, so nothing passed. On Sunday, a few trucks went through, aid workers said. Monday, nothing. Tuesday, nothing.

“I have been sitting here for three days, and before that I was in Arish for four days,” said Sayed Ahmed Sorour, seated in the cab of a truck hauling clothing and blankets. “Nobody is telling us anything. Not Egypt. Not Israel. Nobody explains to us why we are stopping here.”....

Human Rights Watch: International Investigation in Gaza "Essential"

Human Rights Watch, NY, press release, January 27, 2009 - An impartial international investigation into allegations of serious violations of the laws of war by Israel and Hamas during the recent fighting in Gaza is essential to establish key facts and to recommend mechanisms for holding violators accountable and providing compensation to victims, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch renewed its call for establishment of an independent, international commission of inquiry and said that the UN Security Council or UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should urgently take the necessary steps to achieve this.

"The Security Council and the secretary-general should both work to establish an independent investigation into alleged violations by both sides," said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. "Since Human Rights Watch first made this call, our on-the-ground investigations have shown that the need for such a comprehensive inquiry is all the more apparent and pressing."

On January 12, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva voted to dispatch an international fact-finding mission to investigate alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by Israel, but not alleged violations by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups. Leading UN officials have called for an investigation specifically into Israeli attacks on UN schools and headquarters in Gaza. Israeli officials have said that the government will investigate these attacks as well as certain other alleged violations, such as the use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas.

Human Rights Watch said that Israel's poor record of investigating and prosecuting serious violations by its forces, and the absence of any such effort by Hamas or other Palestinian groups, makes it essential that an inquiry be an independent international effort....

Human Rights Watch called on all members of the Security Council to support the establishment of a UN commission of inquiry with the greatest possible expertise and authority and with a mandate to address serious violations by all parties to the conflict. In the absence of such action, Secretary-General Ban should immediately take the initiative to establish such an inquiry, Human Rights Watch said...

Human Rights Watch noted that Israel's refusal to allow independent journalists and human rights monitors into Gaza during the fighting makes it all the more crucial to have an investigation conducted by independent experts willing and able to interview victims and witnesses and collect physical evidence, as well as to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Human Rights Watch is currently in Gaza investigating allegations of serious violations of the laws of war, including:

  • Indiscriminate use of weapons such as heavy artillery in densely populated areas;
  • Using civilians as human shields or otherwise placing civilians at unnecessary risk;
  • Firing on or otherwise preventing ambulances and emergency medical care from reaching persons in need;
  • Firing rockets deliberately or indiscriminately into residential areas;
  • Targeting persons seeking to communicate their civilian status with white flags; and
  • Targeting presumptively civilian installations such as police stations and government offices that were not legitimate military targets.

"The parties to the Gaza conflict have committed serious violations of the laws of war," Stork said. "The victims deserve nothing less than a legitimate and comprehensive impartial investigation that leads to full accountability and redress."

States have an obligation to investigate serious violations of the laws of war. When committed with criminal intent, such violations are war crimes. Where there is evidence that a war crime may have been committed, a state has an obligation to investigate and, if appropriate, prosecute the suspects. Non-state armed groups should take appropriate disciplinary and judicial measures against members of their forces who commit laws-of-war violations....

Monday, January 26, 2009

With Gaza, Journalists Fail Again - Chris Hedges

Truthdig blog, January 26, 2009 - The assault on Gaza exposed not only Israel’s callous disregard for international law but the gutlessness of the American press. There were no major newspapers, television networks or radio stations that challenged Israel’s fabricated version of events that led to the Gaza attack or the daily lies Israel used to justify the unjustifiable. Nearly all reporters were, as during the buildup to the Iraq war, pliant stenographers and echo chambers. If we as journalists have a product to sell, it is credibility. Take that credibility away and we become little more than propagandists and advertisers. By refusing to expose lies we destroy, in the end, ourselves.

All governments lie in wartime. Israel is no exception. Israel waged an effective war of black propaganda. It lied craftily with its glib, well-rehearsed government spokespeople, its ban on all foreign press in Gaza and its confiscation of cell phones and cameras from its own soldiers lest the reality of the attack inadvertently seep out. It was the Arabic network al-Jazeera, along with a handful of local reporters in Gaza, which upheld the honor of our trade, that of giving a voice to those who without our presence would have no voice, that of countering the amplified lies of the powerful with the faint cries and pain of the oppressed. But these examples of journalistic integrity were too few and barely heard by us....

We retreated, as usual, into the moral void of American journalism, the void of balance and objectivity....

Chris Hedges is a former Middle East Bureau Chief for the New York Times. Currently he writes a weekly column for Truthdig that is published every Monday and is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and a Lecturer in the Council of the Humanities and the Anschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton University. He has reported from more than 50 countries for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, where he spent fifteen years.

If Everything We Did in Gaza Was Kosher, Why Do We Need to Hide Soldiers' Names, Like Thieves in the Night? - Boaz Okon

Time to take responsibility

As lawsuit threat looms, our leaders must take responsibility for war decisions

Ynet news, January 26, 2009 - The government’s decision to back IDF troops is mere propaganda for domestic purposes. It won’t help any soldier who happens to be detained overseas. Rather, it constitutes the direct continuation of the odd decision endorsed by the attorney general to conceal the names of IDF officers who fought in Gaza.

If everything we did in Gaza was kosher, why do we need to hide the soldiers’ names, as if they are thieves in hiding?

In fact, the best way to protect IDF troops is to establish an independent commission of inquiry....

An inquiry is also less shameful than the attorney general’s concealment trick.

So why did the State shy away from launching such inquiry? The reason is the question mark that happens to pertain to the overall policy, which was given expression via the deputy army chief’s statement: “We are not only hitting the terrorists and rocket launchers, but rather, the entire Hamas administration.”

The bombing of buildings that are not used as firing pads or hideouts for gunmen and the razing of residential homes by bulldozers and fighter jets – if such acts were indeed undertaken – are the kind of moves that could be suspected to constitute violations of international law. Yet these acts are not the result of independent initiative by soldiers. Rather, they stem from high-level policy that was determined during discussions in government ministries and conference rooms.

So now, after our politicians praised themselves over the fighting in Gaza, the time has come to assume responsibility. As usual, the politicians and legal advisors grant permission and take the credit. Yet when the time comes to assume responsibility, they are lesser heroes.

The announcement we could expect from the government and from the attorney general is as follows: Leave the soldiers alone; they were just doing their job. If someone is responsible here, it’s only us....

Meanwhile Back at the BBC...

Furious demonstrators stage sit-down protest at BBC HQ in London

Stars vow to shun BBC for refusal to show Gaza appeal

Sit in takes place at BBC Scotland

With complaints numbering over 15,500, the BBC Trust says it will take another look at the appeal...

Sunday Times Online (UK), January 27, 2009 - ....Because of the intense public feeling about the situation, the [BBC] trust is expected to announce a verdict within days of receiving an appeal.

As the sovereign body of the BBC, it could order the corporation to screen the message or to review its decision not to do so. The committee, which includes Oxfam, Save the Children and the Red Cross, said yesterday that it had raised only £600,000 since it launched its appeal on Thursday.....

There is considerable debate within the BBC about the decision. Senior journalists who have spoken out in the past are said to have been reminded that any public comment would compromise their own impartiality and would mean they could not present items involving the row.

Timeline of developments - BBC appeal

Netanyahu Pulls Away in Polls; Likud Appears Likely to Re-take Israeli Government on Feb. 10

Financial Times, January 27, 2009 - Benjamin Netanyahu is pulling away from rivals in the race to become Israel's next prime minister.

His growing lead signals that the war against Hamas has accelerated Israel's shift to the right. Polls show that Mr Netanyahu, leader of the rightwing Likud party opposition, would win at least 28 seats. His closest rival in the February 10 election, the centrist Kadima party, is expected to secure 24 to 25.

The gap has widened, suggesting that the Gaza conflict provided only a limited boost to the parties in government. Both Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister and Kadima leader, and Ehud Barak, the defence minister and Labour leader, have seen personal ratings rise but their parties have not benefited to the same degree....

On current predictions, the future government will be made up of either a combination of the main parties - Likud, Kadima and Labour - or an alliance between Likud and ultra-nationalist and religious parties....

Kadima, the Party of Israel's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Kicks Off Election Campaign with Threat to Assassinate Hamas Leaders

Haaretz, January 29, 2009 - Israeli Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz threatened to assassinate Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and other Hamas leaders, as Kadima kicked off its election campaign in Sderot Monday.

Speaking about kidnapped [Israeli] soldier Gilad Shalit, Mofaz addressed Haniyeh. "As long as Gilad Shalit doesn't see the light of day, you won't see the light of day. As long as Shalit doesn't go free, you and your friends will not be free. We won't hesitate to send you on the the way we sent [Ahmed] Yassin and [Abdel Aziz ] Rantissi," he said, referring to previous Hamas leaders [who were both assassinated by Israel in 2004 - the former by missiles fired from
Israeli helicopters as he left a mosque in Gaza City, and the latter by a missile strike on his car, which also killed two other bystanders - Ed.].

Mofaz's hard-line stance is part of Kadima's efforts to improve its image in the campaign, following Kadima leader and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's decline in the polls after the war in Gaza....

Haaretz: World Zionist Conference Concludes that Gaza War Legitimized Equating Jews with Nazis

Haaretz, January 26, 2009 - The operation in Gaza put an end to the European taboo on equating Jews to Nazis. That message was one of the conclusions of the first international panel discussion on anti-Semitism following the Gaza invasion, which was held in Jerusalem Monday on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Speaking at the panel, which was part of the World Zionist Congress conference, Professor Dina Porat said, "the comparison has now become self-understood." She added this applied not only to Muslims in Europe, but among "leftist circles."

Porat, an international authority on anti-Semitism and head of Tel Aviv University's research body on this phenomenon, added that Operation Cast Lead has "left no doubt" that Muslims in Europe had, "prepared in advance a public campaign against Jews and Israel, which they see as one and the same."....

Anne Sender, head of the Jewish community of Oslo, spoke of an "explosion of violence" in anti-Jewish protests, which, according to her, the likes of which had never occurred in the past. She also mentioned the case of a Norwegian diplomat who, as reported by Haaretz, last week sent an e-mail saying that Jews, "learned from the Nazis."

Preliminary analyses by Jewish organizations estimate that during the Gaza operation, the volume of anti-Semitic attacks in Europe multiplied more than four-fold compared to the correlating time last year.

Editorial: The Peace Process is Irreversibly Over - Paul Woodward

War in Context, January 26, 2009 - If you did not see it already, watch Bob Simon’s report, “Is Peace Out Of Reach?” from last night’s edition of 60 Minutes [posted here yesterday - Ed]. In the history of American reporting on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, this is an exceptional piece of journalism. But don’t just watch it — share it by email, embed it on your web site and do whatever else you can to enlighten other Americans who at this time understand so little about the core issues behind the conflict....

As President Obama’s Middle East Envoy for Peace, George Mitchell, makes his way to the region this week, he should keep in mind a statement that Osama Hamdan, Hamas’s representative in Lebanon, made in a speech in Beirut yesterday. Hamdan said, “the peace process is irreversibly over.”

This bears repeating:

…the peace process is irreversibly over.

There are commentators who will say that this statement is an expression of intransigence and belligerence coming from a resistance movement dedicated to the destruction of Israel.

Far from it — it is merely a statement of fact. Indeed, it is an assessment of an objective reality that is remarkably lacking in venom.

Just suppose that we were at a juncture where 1,300 Israelis had just been brutally killed, 5,000 were wounded, many in a grave condition, 20,000 houses had been destroyed and tens of thousands were now homeless.

Suppose in such a situation Israel’s leaders were to declare that the peace process was irreversibly over, we would now be commenting on their remarkable composure. We would marvel that they would bother making a political statement and not simply a blood-curdling cry of vengeance.

Hamas on the other hand, in spite of the devastation of Gaza, is still committed to politics.

The political imperative of the moment is one of clarification. Hamas sees that Palestinian unity and a Palestinian national movement cannot be built on an illusory foundation.

Meanwhile, Tzipi Livni claims that the carnage in Gaza has advanced the peace process. This is an Orwellian, obscene, and outrageous insult to common sense. It displays a sociopathic view of human suffering.

But it also serves as a reminder and confirmation that Osama Hamdan is right: the peace process is irreversibly over.

If this is a conclusion which can commonly be agreed upon, where do we go from here? Is this not a conclusion that will feed utter despair or a justification for endless conflict?

I believe not.

Political change can only gain traction when it is rooted in objective reality. We can only advance from the conditions we actually inhabit.

For several years now the peace process has floundered because of a glaring contradiction between Israel’s stated aim — a two-state solution — and its actions, which consistently advanced in the opposite direction.

By its own choice, Israel has abandoned the goal of a two-state solution. The so-called peace process has provided the water and the sustenance that has allowed the occupation to flourish.

America has been the enabler. It has provided a stage upon which a pantomime of peace could be performed. It has quite effectively silenced those who would disrupt the performance and insisted that we all silently enjoy a show whose tedious enactment perpetually held out the promise of a happy ending.

“When Israel supports a solution of two states for two people, the pressure won’t be on Israel,” Tzipi Livni correctly observed over the weekend.

George Mitchell’s duty, the duty of the international community and of all Palestinian leaders, is to say: the game is up, the show is over. The charade has gone on for long enough. Israel has stated its position on the ground. It’s words have proved to be of no consequence.

Given the realities and ignoring the empty declarations, where does Israel want to go from here?

  • Democracy: a one-state solution in which Jews and Palestinians have equal rights;
  • Ethnic cleansing: a state that solidifies its Jewish identity by purging itself of every non-Jewish element; or
  • Apartheid: the explicit formalization of what is already a practical reality.

These, as Bob Simons correctly observers, are Israel’s choices. America can no longer serve as Israel’s shield in its efforts to conceal a painful reality.

Paul Woodward is the Editor of War in Context and Managing Editor of Conflicts Forum.