Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Four Lessons of Gaza - Lucy Nusseibeh

Open Democracy, February 4, 2009 - The Israeli army's display of overwhelming force in Gaza during the three-week war of 2008-09 has not achieved its stated goal, as rockets continue to fall on southern Israel. This campaign by one of the world's best-equipped military machines, which killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and destroyed over 18,000 homes, has not been enough to provide the Israelis with the security they desperately seek.

Why is this? The answer is in part that the kind of power the Israelis excel in goes nowhere near to solving the heart of the problem they face - which lies inside themselves as much as in the Palestinians, their "other". Perhaps the answer has to be sought not - or not just - "externally" (in actions) but "internally" (in perceptions of self and other). After all, when a system is dysfunctional, more of the same does not work: it needs to change from the inside out.

In the light of this approach, the massive Israeli attacks on Gaza - only the latest episode of a deep-rooted and increasingly dangerous conflict - offer four lessons that must be learned:

* demilitarising minds

* creating reciprocity and dignity

* overcoming fear and victimhood

* forging human connections ....

[For more on the four lessons, read the full article at the link.]

Lucy Nusseibeh lives and works in East Jerusalem. She is founder-director of Middle East Nonviolence and Democracy (MEND) and director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University. She is also a member of the International Governance Council Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP), and co-chair of the Awareness Raising Working Group at the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC).

Aid Convoy from UK En Route to Gaza Makes Its Way to Ferry to Morocco

The Dewsbury Reporter (UK), February 19, 2009 - ....The journey of nearly 5,000 miles is expected to take around 17 days, by ferry and over land, through Europe and Northern Africa.

Imran Bin Abu, of Dewsbury, is driving one of the trucks and leading the Dewsbury and Batley part of the convoy. He said: "The response and the generosity of people has been fantastic. We're ready and raring to go.

"We're looking forward to the hands-on experience and we want to be there to see what the people are going through."

Among the items are shoeboxes containing children's toys.

Imran added: "When a bomb is coming the children over there can tell whether it's from a tank, plane or boat – they've forgotten how to play.
"We hope these new toys will help them learn to play again."

Speaking by phone from Spain on Tuesday evening, he said: "We're about to board the ferry to Morocco and we've been told there are hundreds of vehicles in Libya waiting to join us.

"We've had a couple of breakdowns but people have been helping us. It's cold at night but we knew what we were up against. We're not here for a holiday."

The convoy is the result of efforts by volunteers across Dewsbury and Batley.

Members of the Jame Mosque at Henry Street, Batley, went door to door collecting goods to be taken to Gaza in the convoy.

Mayor of Kirklees Coun Karam Hussain welcomed the crowd and thanked everyone who has supported the convoy.

He said: "Our communities have made a tremendous effort to raise money and provide basic essentials for the people of Gaza."

Long Road to Rehabilitation for Gaza's Amputees

Electronic Intifada, February 20, 2009 - Amidst the thousands of people injured during Israel's three-week bombardment of the Gaza Strip are many whose lives will be permanently affected because they lost limbs.

Suheir Zemo, a 47-year-old mother of seven, lost her right leg after an Israeli missile crashed into her home in the Tal al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City in mid-January, at the height of the Israeli attack.

"I was in my bedroom when a rocket landed in the room. Suddenly my leg started bleeding severely. Then my husband risked his life and took me to hospital as ambulances were not allowed into the area, said Suheir sitting in a wheelchair at the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza.

At al-Wafa rehabilitation hospital in eastern Gaza City, a number of amputees recently began the rehabilitation process. Al-Wafa is the only private rehabilitation center in the Gaza Strip, but even it was not spared damage in the Israeli attack.

In one of the hospital's rooms lie two young men in their early twenties; the first had his right leg amputated, while the second had his lower limbs severely injured, preventing their use completely....

British Lawmakers Call for Holding Israel Accountable for Gaza

Al Jazeera English, February 18, 2009 - A visiting British parliamentary delegation on Tuesday expressed shock at seeing the enormity of destruction in the Gaza Strip and called for lifting the unjust siege and holding Israel's leaders accountable for what they did against the Gaza people.

Head of the British delegation Richard Borden told a news conference held at the Ramattan press center in Gaza city that they came to Gaza to witness the impact of Israel's aggression and to figure out what happened on the ground in order to know the best means to help the Palestinians in the Strip.

Borden underlined that the delegation would report about its visit to the British house of commons, and would demand the opening of crossings and an increase in aid.

The British lawmaker added that the visiting MPs would stress before the British parliament the need for holding Israel accountable for what it did in Gaza and for getting answers from it about the reasons for targeting schools and hospitals, noting that they would meet with Israeli officials to obtain these answers.

The lawmaker said that he and his colleagues were extremely shocked when they saw the size of destruction in reality not as shown on TV screens in Britain....

Theatre Review: Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea

The Guardian, February 20,2009 - In 2003, Justin Butcher's The Madness of George Dubya launched a series of plays attacking the war in Iraq at this tiny north London theatre. Now, Butcher has joined forces with the Palestinian writer Ahmed Masoud, the artist Jane Frere and the film-maker Zia Trench to create an 80-minute piece responding to the situation in Gaza. While it makes no pretence to objectivity, it is a deeply felt, humane and vividly expressive reaction to the current crisis.

Its title springs from a slang Arabic phrase in which "go to Gaza" is synonymous with "go to hell". The force of that becomes apparent the moment you step inside the theatre, where you are confronted, in Frere's astonishing design, by towering mounds of ashen rubble constructed out of shoes.

This becomes the setting for a series of vignettes of Gaza life loosely linked by the plight of a young man looking for a place to die: a somewhat redundant urge, as he is wryly reminded, in a blockaded territory suffering from dire water and electricity shortages, as well as intensive aerial bombardment. Politicised by the prevailing suffering, he joins the resistance forces, and finally finds the extinction he craves.

The somewhat self-conscious literary framework is less impressive than the sequences it contains. A young Gaza girl, in the midst of a fierce air raid, launches into a life-affirming dance, to her mother's horror. Similarly rejecting parental values, an Israeli woman describes how she was imprisoned for refusing to join the army. Most moving of all is the itemised reading of the names of 49 members of a Gaza family who all died after being moved, by the invading forces, to a supposedly safe house. The overall mood, reinforced by plangent songs delivered by Nizar al-Issa, is one of lamentation at the transformation of this once beautiful land into a living hell....

"Madness, Simply Madness"

Press TV, Feburary 18, 2009 - A senior Israeli defense official believes that the only way to bring the captive soldier back home is fulfilling Hamas conditions.

Israel's top negotiator in talks with Egypt on a Gaza truce, Amos Gilad, criticized Tel Aviv for linking Gaza truce to the release of Gilad Shait, saying the last moment condition disturbs the peace process.

He said that conditioning the opening of the border-crossings to Shalit's release may come at the expense of Egypt's support fro Israel.

"I don't understand what it is that they're trying to do. To insult the Egyptians? We've already insulted them. It's madness. It's simply madness. Egypt has remained almost our last ally here", Maariv daily quoted Gilad as telling a close associate.

Egypt, which has been mediating peace talks between Israel and Hamas following the deadly three-week-long war on Gaza, also believes that the issues should remain separate adding that Cairo would not change its stance on the truce.....

Gazans: IDF Used Us as "Human Shields" During War

February 20, 2009 - The question "Who is it?" was answered with: "The Israel Defense Forces." Majdi Abed Rabbo, 39, who is a Palestinian Authority (Ramallah) employee and a member of its intelligence apparatus, went down to open the door. Standing there was the son of his neighbors, Mahmoud Daher, and behind him a soldier whose rifle was jammed into Daher's back. The soldier pushed Daher aside and aimed the rifle at Abed Rabbo.

"He ordered me to pull down my pants. I pulled them down. He demanded that I raise my shirt. I raised it. That I turn around. I turned around," Abed Rabbo related. And then the room filled up with soldiers. "Twelve, or something like that."

This was in the morning of Monday, January 5, 2009, about 40 hours after the start of the Israeli ground offensive in Gaza.

The soldiers had already taken over Daher's house on Sunday evening, located in I'zbet Abed Rabbo, an eastern neighborhood of Jabaliya city. First they gathered the family on the ground floor. Gunfire rang out around the house. Then they moved the family up to the first floor. The family wondered why the soldiers had taken them upstairs, to the cold, uncomfortable room - parents, children, two infants and an elderly mother. But they could not refuse, and they did not yet know that the move upstairs brought them closer to the range of fire. Only later did they learn about the three fighters from Iz al-Din al-Qassam, Hamas' military wing, positioned in the empty house to the northeast of them. The regular occupants of the house, owned by their neighbor Abu Hatem, had long since gone abroad. Abed Rabbo's tall house stood next to Abu Hatem's narrow, empty one....

Irate Egypt Recalls Delegation Feburary 19, 2009 - Egypt's foreign ministry spokesman says Israel's demand that captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit be released before a long-term Gaza truce deal with Hamas is struck is a blow to Egyptian mediation efforts between the two sides. Hossam Zaki says linking Shalit to the truce will "hinder any chances for a ceasefire."

Israel announced on Wednesday it would not open Gaza blockaded border crossings - a key Hamas demand - until Shalit is freed. The Islamist group, which controls Gaza, condemned the announcement.

Cairo has so far refrained from commenting on the cabinet's decision to set Shalit's freedom as a condition that could not be compromised on in the framework of any agreement with Hamas.

Amidst the diplomatic tensions, a visiting Egyptian delegation in Israel for routine quarterly discussions on Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ) arrangements between Egypt, Israel and the United States – was ordered to return home at once.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Europe Opens Covert Talks with 'Blacklisted' Hamas

The Independent, February 20, 2009 - European nations have opened a direct dialogue with Hamas as the US intensifies the search for Middle East peace under Barack Obama.

In the first meeting of its kind, two French senators travelled to Damascus two weeks ago to meet the leader of the Palestinian Islamist faction, Khaled Meshal, The Independent has learned. Two British MPs met three weeks ago in Beirut with the Hamas representative in Lebanon, Usamah Hamdan. “Far more people are talking to Hamas than anyone might think,” said a senior European diplomat. “It is the beginning of something new – although we are not negotiating.”

Mr Hamdan said yesterday that since the end of last year, MPs from Sweden, the Netherlands and three other western European nations, which he declined to identify, had consulted with Hamas representatives.

the EU decision in 2003 to add the political wing of the movement to its list of terrorist organisations. “Now they know they have to talk to Hamas.”....

European Parliament Adopts Resolution Calling for Gaza Rehabilitation, February 19, 2009 - EU's foreign-policy chief wants “more strategic and long-term” approach to Gaza.

Hans-Gert Pöttering, the president of the European Parliament, will lead a delegation from the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly on a fact-finding trip to Gaza this weekend (22 February). MEPs will also visit Cairo, Ramallah, Jerusalem and Amman.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution yesterday (18 February) calling for the “financial, economic and social rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip”.

The resolution – which was passed with 488 in favour, five against and 19 abstentions – aims to turn attention to the long-term needs of Gaza, which has been devastated by internal rifts between Palestinian factions, Israeli incursions last month and Israel's stranglehold on its borders.


The vote took place after Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, had briefed MEPs on the EU's role in the Middle East.

Solana said that the EU needed to take “a more strategic and long-term view” on Gaza.

“Gaza needs to become politically and economically viable,” he said.

The Parliament's resolution “stresses again that the EU's financial support... should not be undermined by continuous destruction” and asks the European Commission for an assessment of the long-term prospects for successful reconstruction efforts.

See also: European parliament to Israel: "Enough is enough."

Opinion: Once You See What Truly Happened in Gaza, It Will Change You Forever - Medea Benjamin

Alternet, February 20, 2009 - When I traveled to Gaza last week, everywhere I went, a photo haunted me. I saw it in a brochure called "Gaza will not die" that Hamas gives out to visitors at the border crossing. A poster-sized version was posted outside a makeshift memorial at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. And now that I am back home, the image comes to me when I look at children playing in the park, when I glance at the school across the street, when I go to sleep at night.

It is a photo of a young Palestinian girl who is literally buried alive in the rubble from a bomb blast, with just her head protruding from the ruins. Her eyes are closed, her mouth partially open, as if she were in a deep sleep. Dried blood covers her lips, her cheeks, her hair. Someone with a glove is reaching down to touch her forehead, showing one final gesture of kindness in the midst of such inhumanity.

What was this little girl's name, I wonder. How old was she? Was she sleeping when the bomb hit her home? Did she die a quick death or a slow, agonizing one? Where are her parents, her siblings? How are they faring?

Of the 1,330 Palestinians killed by the Israeli military during the 22-day invasion of Gaza, 437 were children. Let me repeat that: 437 children -- each as beautiful and precious as our own.

As a Jew, an American and a mother, I felt compelled to witness, firsthand, what my people and my taxdollars had done during this invasion. Visiting Gaza filled me with unbearable sadness. Unlike the primitive weapons of Hamas, the Israelis had so many sophisticated ways to murder, maim and destroy-unmanned drones, F-16s dropping "smart bombs" that miss, Apache helicopters launching missiles, tanks firing from the ground, ships shelling Gaza from the sea. So many horrific weapons stamped with Made in the USA. While Hamas' attacks on Israeli villages are deplorable, Israel's disproportionate response is unconscionable, with 1,330 Palestinians dead vs. 13 Israelis.....

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK:Women for Peace.

For information about joining the trip to Gaza, contact

Letter on Academic Freedom in Palestine - to Columbia University President Bollinger

Below is a letter than Columbia University faculty have initiated to the president of their university about academic freedom in Palestine, including Gaza.

Dear President Bollinger,

On a number of occasions since becoming president of Columbia University you have expressed your views in public on questions of academic freedom in the Middle East. Yet you have remained silent on the actions by Israel that deny that freedom to Palestinians.

These actions include Israel's continuing blockade of Gaza, the imposing of barriers, checkpoints, and closures around and within the West Bank that make academic life unworkable, the denial of exit visas to Palestinian scholars offered fellowships abroad or invited to international conferences, including scholars invited to Columbia, and the recent three-week war against Gaza that included not only the bombing of Palestinian schools and colleges, with great loss of life, but the widespread destruction of the material and social fabric on which academic life depends.

We, as Columbia and Barnard faculty, ask you now to make public your opposition to these actions and your support for the academic freedom of Palestinians.

Faculty signatures [For the 127 signatures, see the link.]

Editorial: Global Boycott Movement Marks Its Successes - Jeff Handmaker

Electronic Intifada, February 20, 2009 - Responding to the many calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, solidarity movements around the world have marked many successes. It is important for human rights advocates to build on this momentum and seize the opportunity to do what is within their power to try and hold Israel accountable for its abuses of human rights and other international laws.

Since the initial BDS call by Palestinian intellectuals and academics in October 2003, which was followed by separate calls for sports, arts, economic and other calls for BDS, there has been a seismic shift in the global solidarity movement for human rights in Israel-Palestine. Lawyers, doctors, academics, students, trade unionists, school teachers and many other activists have marked successes around the world. Their efforts are an inspiring reflection of the South African anti-apartheid movement, where BDS was also used very effectively.

In first few weeks of 2009 alone, European, North American and South African solidarity movements have made remarkable progress.... [See full article at the link for listing.]

"EU Paying for Gaza Blockade"

Inter Press Service (reporting from Brussels), February 20, 2009 - European Union aid has been given to an Israeli oil company which has reduced the supply of fuel to Gaza as part of an economic blockade internationally recognised as illegal, Brussels officials have admitted.

Almost 97 million euros (124 million dollars) in funds managed by the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, were handed over directly to the firm Dor Alon between February 2008 and January this year. Under orders from the Israeli authorities, Dor Alon has been rationing the amount of industrial diesel brought into Gaza in order to deprive its 1.5 million inhabitants of electricity. Power cuts have been a regular occurrence in Gaza because of Israeli actions undertaken since the militant party Hamas won an unexpected victory in Palestinian legislative elections during 2006.

Charles Shamas from the Mattin Group, an organisation based in the West Bank that monitors Europe's relationship with Israel, said that the EU has been helping to accommodate the economic blockade of Gaza. This is despite how the Union's most senior diplomats, including its foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, have condemned the blockade as 'collective punishment' of a civilian population. Collective punishment constitutes a war crime, according to the 1949 Geneva convention.

"The European Union has to give aid lawfully," said Shamas. "That means a good faith effort not to conform to the wrongful acts of others. In this case, the EU is giving effect to wrongful measures by Israel. You can't really credibly call on Israel to correct its behaviour if you are adjusting what you do to fit in to that behaviour."....

Al Jazeera Announces Free Video Footage of Gaza under Creative Commons License

Al Jazeera, January 13, 2009 - Al Jazeera Network today announced the world's first repository of broadcast quality video footage released under the 'Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution' license. Select Al Jazeera video footage – at this time footage of the War on Gaza - will be available for free to be downloaded, shared, remixed, subtitled and eventually rebroadcasted by users and TV stations across the world with acknowledgement to Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera will release its exclusive Arabic and English coverage produced by the Network's correspondents and crews in the Gaza Strip online at The ongoing war and crisis in Gaza, together with the scarcity of news footage available, make the repository a key resource for anyone producing content on the current situation.

This the first time that video footage produced by a news broadcaster is released under the 'Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution' license which allows for commercial and non-commercial use.

Mohamed Nanabhay who headed New Media at Al Jazeera and launched the project stated, "As one of the only international broadcasters in Gaza, our coverage of the war has been unsurpassed. The launch of Al Jazeera's Creative Commons Repository means that our Gaza footage will be made available under the most permissive Creative Commons license (CC-BY). With the flexibility of the license we expect to introduce our outstanding coverage to an even wider audience across the world. This means that news outlets, filmmakers and bloggers will be able to easily share, remix and reuse our footage."

Lawrence Lessig, the founder of Creative Commons organization and Professor of Law at Stanford University, stated, "Al Jazeera is teaching an important lesson about how free speech gets built and supported. By providing a free resource for the world, the network is encouraging wider debate and a richer understanding".

Joichi Ito, CEO of Creative Commons and a world renowned Web 2.0 entrepreneur, added, "Video news footage is an essential part of modern journalism. Providing material under a Creative Commons license to allow commercial and amateur use is an enormous contribution to the global dialog around important events. Al Jazeera has set the example and the standard that we hope others will follow".

As a pioneer in news and media Al Jazeera is always looking for ways to make its unique content accessible to audiences across the world and the launch of Al Jazeera's Creative Commons Repository is another concrete step in this direction.

Journalists Call Israel to Account over "Premeditated and Precise" attacks on Media in Gaza

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), February 20, 2009 - The targeting of media by the Israeli military during last month's offensive in the Gaza Strip was "premeditated and precise" and in violation of international law, says the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in a report published today which calls on the United Nations to investigate the attacks and to take action against the Government of Israel.

"There should be no double-talk about this," says Aidan White IFJ General Secretary who led a mission of journalists' leaders into Gaza on January 22. "Here was reckless intimidation of media on a shocking scale that should not go unpunished. If it does, it leaves journalists and media exposed to the threat of attack in any conflict at any time in the future."

The mission of journalists' leaders from eight countries, was sponsored by the IFJ and the Federation of Arab Journalists (FAJ) and was joined by the FAJ General Secretary Makram Mohamed Ahmed. It was carried out immediately after the unilateral ceasefire declared first by Israel and subsequently by the Islamic resistance movement Hamas.

The Mission report, ‘Justice in the News: A response to Targeting of Media in Gaza', assesses the violations and threats to media workers covering the Gaza conflict and finds that media were subject to intimidation, direct military assault and were deliberately prevented from working freely during the 22-day military offensive.

The Mission report also condemns the blockade of foreign media which had been imposed by the Israeli military on November 5. The ban on foreign journalists was maintained despite an Israeli Supreme Court order of January 2 allowing access to Gaza to a limited number of journalists.

The report cites evidence of media targeting by Israeli forces on:

28 December 2008 and the bombing of the offices of Hamas' TV station al-Aqsa in the al-Nasr district of Gaza City;

9 January 2009 and the attack on al-Johara Tower, in Al-Rimal neighbourhood in Gaza City, which was hit twice by Israeli aircraft, even though the building was clearly marked as housing media staff;

15 January 2009 and the attack on the al-Shuroug Tower housing several media groups in Omar al-Mukhtar street, Gaza City;

"These actions and the ban on access to Gaza by foreign journalists is evidence of concerted efforts by Israel to intimidate, control and manage media," says the Report which calls for an investigation into violations of Geneva conventions protecting journalists in armed conflicts and disregard for United Nations Security Council Resolution 1738 which in 2006 called on member states to protect journalists in conflict zones.

But the report also condemns Hamas for its acts of intimidation of media during and after the conflict. "Threats and intimidation of media continue. There are political attempts to control media by Hamas amidst a continuing atmosphere of lawlessness and threats," says the Report.

It further says that Hamas interfered in the work of the Mission. There have also been reports of humanitarian help to media being seized and confiscated by Hamas.

The Mission report also makes a series of urgent recommendations for practical humanitarian and professional actions to assist Palestinian journalists including safety training; humanitarian aid to the media families affected by the violence; new efforts to build solidarity between Palestinian journalists in Gaza and the West Bank; and a training programme to combat manipulation of media by Palestinian political factions.

Download and read the full report

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 123 countries worldwide. For more information contact the IFJ at +32 2 235 2207

Analysis: Why Has Israel Backtracked on Shalit Deal?

Haaretz, February 20, 2009 - Israel's behavior in the past few days in the discussions for the Shalit deal and the cease-fire agreement has put the Egyptian mediators off balance.

About 10 days ago, when senior defense official Amos Gilad traveled to Cairo, the Egyptians understood that the matter was nearly closed. The tahdiyeh [lull] is within reach, and in parallel, or approximately so, the abducted soldier would be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners. The Egyptians had hoped to issue an official statement on a deal close to Election Day in Israel, but when that was not possible they assumed it would take a day or two more.

In the meantime, a week has gone by and Israel is reopening issues for discussion they in Cairo had thought were closed. Egyp
tian President Hosni Mubarak put things bluntly.

"Israel has withdrawn from its position," he said. "There was an agreement for a lull, and now the Israelis are going back a bit, but we are pressing them."

Shalit, Mubarak says, "is a different matter," and progress on it will commence only after an agreement is reached on the cease-fire.

The change during the weekend occurred on the Israeli side. It is not only the absolute linkage that Israel is making between opening the crossings into the Gaza Strip, central to the cease-fire agreement, and the release of Shalit, which was announced by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Saturday. Israel is reconsidering entirely the whole question of a cease-fire....

Lives Buried Under the Rubble in Gaza

Electronic Intifada, February 19, 2009 - Three weeks after the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip, 16-year-old Maysa al-Louh sits stoically on the pile of sand that consumes half her home in Beit Lahiya. Under the sand, churned up by Israeli bulldozers during incursions into the area on 4 January 2009 lie all her report cards and school awards that were testament to her excellent academic record.

Nearby her grandmother tries to heat water on a pile of ash. The smell of decomposing chicken carcasses is overwhelming: the family's chicken coop that provided them with eggs, as well as their vegetable garden, were all destroyed by the bulldozers and tanks.

Thirty-five people lived in the three-story al-Louh house. The contents of home life -- a refrigerator, notebooks, framed pictures, and plastic flowers, lie scattered over the area. The adjacent Sakhnin Elementary School was also damaged by artillery shells and some of its classrooms are now a masse of mangled chairs, steel rods, shattered concrete and broken glass. Israel says militants were firing rockets from the school grounds.

"We were trapped in our home for two days while the Israeli army was based in the school nearby and operating in the area," says Maysa's 32-year-old mother Najat. "I had to give my children water from the toilet cistern to keep them alive. Then they ordered us to leave our house."

"As soon as we left the house they opened fire on the area and some of our neighbors were killed. My husband and I said our goodbyes to each other when the tanks came," Najat adds. "We thought it was the end."....

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Statement from U.S. Congressmen Baird and Ellison Following Their Visit to Gaza

Office of Congressman Brian Baird, Washington's 3rd Congressional District, press release, February 19, 2009 - Washington, D.C. – Two members of Congress, Brian Baird (D-WA-03), and Keith Ellison, (D-MN-05), visited Gaza on Thursday to view firsthand the destruction from recent Israeli air and ground attacks and to meet with international and local relief agencies. This visit, which did not have the official sanction of the Obama Administration, is the first time anyone from the U.S. government has entered Gaza in more than three years.

Prior to Gaza, both Congressmen met with the chief negotiator of the Palestinian Authority, Dr. Saeb Erekat, as well as with Dr. Riad Malki Foreign Minister of the Palestinian Authority. On Friday, Baird and Ellison will tour the Israeli towns of Sderot and Ashkelon, which have been the target of numerous rockets before and throughout the recent attacks launched from within the Gaza strip.

“Staff from the U.S. State Department advised us of security concerns for our own safety, and we are well aware of the sensitive political issues involved in this visit,” said both Congressmen in an official release.

“We believe it is important to be here to see what happened for ourselves, to meet with people who have been affected, and to express our concern and support,” said Congressman Baird.

“We also want to better understand what can and must be done to recover from the destruction, address the underlying issues, and work toward a lasting, just and peaceful resolution,” added Congressman Ellison.

After spending the day visiting various locations within Gaza and meeting with civilians and relief workers, Baird and Ellison were deeply affected by what they had seen and heard.

“The stories about the children affected me the most,” said Ellison. “No parent, or anyone who cares for kids, can remain unmoved by what Brian and I saw here.”

“The amount of physical destruction and the depth of human suffering here is staggering” said Baird, “Entire neighborhoods have been destroyed, schools completely leveled, fundamental water, sewer, and electricity facilities hit and relief agencies heavily damaged. The personal stories of children being killed in their homes or schools, entire families wiped out, and relief workers prevented from evacuating the wounded are heart wrenching – what went on here, and what is continuing to go on, is shocking and troubling beyond words.”

Inquiring about the status of relief efforts, the Congressmen learned that some aid material has been allowed in since the intensity of the attacks lessened a month ago, but much is still being blocked by the Israeli defense forces. Examples of aid that has been banned by the Israeli Government include: lentils, macaroni, tomato paste, lentils and other food. Basic building materials, generator fuel and parts to repair damaged water treatment equipment have also been kept out.

“If this had happened in our own country, there would be national outrage and an appeal for urgent assistance. We are glad that the Obama administration acted quickly to send much needed funding for this effort but the arbitrary and unreasonable Israeli limitations on food and repair essentials is unacceptable and indefensible. People, innocent children, women and non-combatants, are going without water, food and sanitation, while the things they so desperately need are sitting in trucks at the border, being denied permission to go in” said Baird and Ellison.

The Congressmen’s concerns about treatment of Palestinians were not limited to Gaza. They also visited Palestinian hospitals that treat patients from East Jerusalem and the West Bank. There they met with doctors, nurses and hospital directors who described how official Israeli policies and restricted border checkpoints make it exceedingly difficult and expensive for patients, nurses, medical technicians, and other essential personnel to reach the hospital to receive or provide care.

“It’s hard for anyone in our country to imagine how it must feel to have a sick child who needs urgent care or is receiving chemotherapy or dialysis, then be forced to take a needlessly lengthy route, walk rather than drive, and wait in lines as long as two hours simply to get to the hospital. As a health care professional myself, I found this profoundly troubling, no, actually it’s beyond that, it is outrageous,” said Baird.

Responding to this and other issues the Congressman emphasized that fundamental changes and solutions are needed beyond the immediate challenges in Gaza.

“The first and most urgent priority must be helping the people in Gaza. At the same time, the rocket attacks against Israeli cities must stop immediately. Just as the people of Gaza should not be subject to what they have experienced the Israeli civilians should not have to live in fear of constant and indiscriminate rocketing. The entire region and the international community must recommit itself to making the difficult but necessary changes to bring about lasting and just peace and security for the region. President Obama has made important and encouraging initiatives, now it is up to leaders and citizens here to move forward toward that shared goal.”

Take Back NYU! Student Movement Occupies Kimmel Marketplace

Photo: NYULocal
Students for a Democratic Society, press release, February 19, 2009 - At approximately 10pm tonight (Feb. 18), students of Take Back NYU! took over the Kimmel Marketplace [on campus]. They have blockaded the doors and declared an occupation! They presented their demands to the NYU administration. They read as follows:

We, the students of NYU, declare an occupation of this space. This occupation is the culmination of a two-year campaign by the Take Back NYU! coalition, and of campaigns from years past, in whose footsteps we follow. In order to create a more accountable, democratic and socially responsible university, we demand the following:

1. Full legal and disciplinary amnesty for all parties involved in the occupation.
2. Full compensation for all employees whose jobs were disrupted during the course of the occupation.
3. Public release of NYU's annual operating budget, including a full list of university expenditures, salaries for all employees compensated on a semester or annual basis, funds allocated for staff wages, contracts to non-university organizations for university construction and services, financial aid data for each college, and money allocated to each college, department, and administrative unit of the university. Furthermore, this should include a full disclosure of the amount and sources of the university's funding.
4. Disclosure of NYU's endowment holdings, investment strategy, projected endowment growth, and persons, corporations and firms involved in the investment of the university's endowment funds. Additionally, we demand an endowment oversight body of students, faculty and staff who exercise shareholder proxy voting power for the university's investments.
5. That the NYU Administration agrees to resume negotiations with GSOC/UAW Local 2110 – the union for NYU graduate assistants, teaching assistants, and research assistants. That NYU publically affirm its commitment to respect all its workers, including student employees, by recognizing their right to form unions and to bargain collectively. That NYU publically affirm that it will recognize workers' unions through majority card verification.
6. That NYU signs a contract guaranteeing fair labor practices for all NYU employees at home and abroad. This contract will extend to subcontracted workers, including bus drivers, food service employees and anyone involved in the construction, operation and maintenance at any of NYU's non-U.S. sites.
7. The establishment of a student elected Socially Responsible Finance Committee. This Committee will have full power to vote on proxies, draft shareholder resolutions, screen all university investments, establish new programs that encourage social and environmental responsibility and override all financial decisions the committee deems socially irresponsible, including investment decisions. The committee will be composed of two subcommittees: one to assess the operating budget and one to assess the endowment holdings. Each committee will be composed of ten students democratically elected from the graduate and under-graduate student bodies. All committee decisions will be made a strict majority vote, and will be upheld by the university. All members of the Socially Responsible Finance Committee will sit on the board of trustees, and will have equal voting rights. All Socially Responsible Finance Committee and Trustee meetings shall be open to the public, and their minutes made accessible electronically through NYU's website. Elections will be held the second Tuesday of every March beginning March 10th 2009, and meetings will be held biweekly beginning the week of March 30th 2009.
8. That the first two orders of business of the Socially Responsible Finance committee will be: a) An in depth investigation of all investments in war and genocide profiteers, as well as companies profiting from the occupation of Palestinian territories. b) A reassessment of the recently lifted of the ban on Coca Cola products.
9. That annual scholarships be provided for thirteen Palestinian students, starting with the 2009/2010 academic year. These scholarships will include funding for books, housing, meals and travel expenses.
10. That the university donate all excess supplies and materials in an effort to rebuild the University of Gaza.....

Along with this, students have issued a SOLIDARITY STATEMENT: We, the students of Take Back NYU! declare our solidarity with the student [sleepovers] in Greece, Italy, and the United Kingdom, as well as those of the University of Rochester, the New School for Social Research, and with future [sleepovers] to come in the name of democracy and student power. We stand in solidarity with the University of Gaza, and with the people of Palestine.

Update: At least 30-40 more students just stormed the third floor of Kimmel, pushing past the guards who tried to trap them in the stairway....
Update II: The University has reportedly agreed to start talking to the protesters.

Live stream video from inside the NYU occupation site:

Live TV by Ustream
See also: Give Back NYU, an open letter to the protesters posted on NYULocal and Student sit-ins in solidarity with Palestine spread from UK to US.

Kerry and 2 U.S. Representatives Visit Gaza

The New York Times, February 19, 2009 - Three congressional Democrats, including Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, visited Gaza on Thursday, saying they wanted to see for themselves the destruction caused by Israel’s war last month and assess the area’s needs.

They were the first American government officials to visit this Palestinian coastal strip run by Hamas in more than three years and the first American legislators to come here since 2000, according to a spokeswoman for the American Consulate in Jerusalem.

Mr. Kerry, who is on a tour of the region, entered Gaza after seeing the remains of Palestinian rockets fired at the Israeli city of Sderot. He was accompanied in Sderot by the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, who is engaged in coalition negotiations in the wake of elections more than a week ago.

Mr. Kerry said that his visit indicated no change in American policy toward Hamas, which is labeled a terrorist group by the United States, and that he would not be meeting with Hamas leaders.

“Hamas has to change its policies,” Mr. Kerry said while visiting the ruins of the American International School in Gaza, which was destroyed by an Israeli air attack in early January. “There is no change in our policy.”

Separately, two other congressmen visited Gaza — Representative Brian Baird, Democrat of Washington, and Representative Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota. Their trip was arranged independently of Mr. Kerry’s but included similar tours of destroyed areas and meetings with United Nations officials.

Although none of the Americans saw Hamas officials, a senior Hamas leader said he was pleased by their visit.

“This is a very good step reflecting the seriousness of this administration to follow up and get information about what is happening on the ground,” said Ahmed Youssef, the deputy foreign minister in the Hamas government. “We know that we are still on the terrorist list and we know their position about not engaging with Hamas. But we are still happy that they are the ones evaluating the scale of the Israeli crimes and the destruction caused by Israel. By seeing for themselves, they can get a more balanced view than that of the previous administration.”

Mr. Kerry seemed intent on learning what Gaza needed. He spent some time talking with Sharhabeel al-Zaeem, a Gaza lawyer who is on the board of the American school, and asked him what Gaza most needed now.

Read more in the full article online

Harvard Gaza panel decries Israeli aggression

Looks at Israeli elections as cause of conflict, debates future U.S. involvement in peace process
Chris Szabla, Harvard Law Record, February 19, 2009

As Israel's general elections ended in a dead heat last week, Langdell South filled to capacity to hear a panel of academics speak on the causes and consequences of the most recent outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence, highlighted by Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip. Much of the discussion drew on the topicality of the Israeli elections and their impact on the conflict. The crowded event was also taken as a sort of litmus test on the Harvard community's opinions on events in the Mideast; Harvard Law Professor Duncan Kennedy remarked that he believed a cultural shift had taken place within the liberal intelligentsia, and that pro-Palestinian positions had become more mainstream among the American elite.

Former Simmons College professor Elaine Hagopian, Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies fellow (and native Gazan) Husain Zomlot, and Kennedy were on hand to offer their explanations, in a discussion moderated by HLS Justice for Palestine co-chair Shannon Erwin '10.

The discussion began with a brief historical exposition by Hagopian, who described Gaza, a territory one-tenth the size of Rhode Island, as a "powder-keg of bitterness", and revived memories of early links between Israeli policy and the rise Hamas, which the former nurtured in the 1980s at secular rival Fatah's expense. Hagopian went on to argue that, while "Israel did not defeat Hamas convincingly", its strategy vis-à-vis the Islamist party was to hold back aid, much as it did when it wanted to break Fatah once again, in 2002.

"A state of utter madness"

Zomlot's take on the consequences of the war were similarly ambiguous and resigned. He noted that, even after the end of Israel's "Operation Cast Lead," Hamas was still firing rockets and enjoying soaring popularity, an "axis of opposition" to Israel's actions had expanded to include Turkey and Qatar, and Israel's moral capital had been stretched to the maximum, although Hamas was "still not recognized by the main players in the international community".

For Gazans, Zomlot said, the immediate consequences were much more clear. Inside the territory, there was an "utter state of destruction. It's going to take generations to rebuild the infrastructure". He also described an "unprecedented" state of polarization in Palestinian society, which he saw as an outgrowth of longstanding Israeli policy - as a student at Bir Zeit University, Zomlot was unable to leave the West Bank to visit his mother in Gaza, an hour away. He feared a continuing process of "cantonization" of the West Bank, which would mean that "exactly what happened between the West Bank and Gaza would happen between Ramallah and Nablus".

Finally, Zomlot defended the use of tunnels underneath the Egypt-Gaza border to supply the territory with food or medicine. It was "a very human act when you are imprisoned…to find alternatives," to starvation and disease, he suggested.

Read the full article online

US Unionists Support South African and Australian Dockworkers' Call

Global BDS Movement, February 18, 2009 - Statement by individual union workers (for signatory list, see full statement at the link)

We salute the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) in Durban, and Western Australian dock worker members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), for refusing to handle Israeli cargo.

Theirs is a courageous response to Israel's attack on Palestinians in Gaza that, since December 27 alone, have left some 1,400 dead and 5,000 wounded -- nearly all of them civilians.

This action is in the best tradition of dock workers in Denmark and Sweden (1963), the San Francisco Bay Area (1984) and Liverpool (1988), who refused to handle shipping for apartheid South Africa; Oakland dock workers' refusal to load bombs for the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile (1978); and West Coast dock workers' strike against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (2008).

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) rightly "calls on other workers and unions to follow suit and to do all that is necessary to ensure that they boycott all goods to and from Israel until Palestine is free."

COSATU's appeal is particularly relevant for workers in the United States, whose government stands behind Israel's war against the Palestinians, and without which Israeli apartheid cannot continue.

In the past ten years alone, U.S. military aid to Israel was $17 billion; over the next decade, it will be $30 billion. As in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is U.S. aircraft, white phosphorous and bullets that kill and maim on behalf of the occupiers. Both the Democratic and Republican parties condone the slaughter in Gaza.

Such support bolsters Israel's longstanding role as watchdog and junior partner for U.S. domination over the oil-rich Middle East -- and beyond. In that capacity, Israel was apartheid South Africa's closest ally.....

For all these reasons, we join COSATU in supporting the growing international campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, which demands Palestinian self-determination, including an end to Israeli military occupation, the right of Palestinian refugees to return, and elimination of apartheid throughout historic Palestine.

Join us in publicizing the example of South African and Australian dock workers, and working toward the same kind of labor solidarity here at home.

Join us in demanding immediate and total:

1. End to U.S. aid for Israel.

2. Divestment of business and labor investments in Israel.

3. Labor boycott of Israel.

4. Withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces from the Middle East.


To endorse the following statement, please go to:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Controversial Play on Gaza Coming to LA March 22

Los Angeles Times, February 19, 2009 - As the often-confrontational Santa Ana storefront troupe makes its final bow, with plans to split into two new companies, the last script Rude Guerrilla will perform is "Seven Jewish Children, a play for Gaza," a new 10-minute play by eminent English dramatist Caryl Churchill that is single-mindedly critical of the recent Israeli military campaign. It will be staged once, as a reading, on March 22.

Some Jewish leaders in Great Britain have complained that the playlet crosses the line into anti-Semitism. It's currently having its premiere at London's Royal Court Theatre, as a nightcap to Marius von Mayenbug's "The Stone," about a German family's guilty concealment of what its members did during the Holocaust.

At Rude Guerrilla, the staged reading of "Seven Jewish Children" will follow the final performance of the company's last regular production, "A Number." Also by Churchill, it concerns a man who has fathered a proliferation of clones.

"It's one of those chances to talk about something that's going on right now," said Dave Barton, the theater's artistic director. "I thought it was very poetic ... and Churchill, like most of the playwrights we do at Rude Guerrilla, is just holding up a mirror and reflecting back what's being said in society. I've heard every argument in there, from both the Jewish and the Palestinian side, and it's always the same thing, back and forth.

"We don't like to question our behavior, especially when we feel God is on our side, and both the Israelis and the Palestinians think that. The questions need to be asked, they need to be continually brought up. I went with my gut, and my gut feeling says it's a nice piece of work, a good play."

Churchilll Churchill has posted her script for "Seven Jewish Children" on the Royal Court website, with instructions that any theater can perform it without paying royalties, as long as it secures her publisher's OK, agrees not to charge for admission, and takes up a collection for a London-based relief group, Medical Aid for Palestinians.

"Israel has done lots of terrible things in the past, but what happened in Gaza seemed particularly extreme," the 70-year-old playwright (right) told the Guardian last month.

In seven short scenes, "Seven Jewish Children" obliquely traces recent Jewish history, from the Holocaust to last month's invasion aimed at crippling Hamas in Gaza, which had become a launching pad for missiles targeting Israeli civilians. The dialogue consists entirely of Jews debating what they should or shouldn't tell their children about fear, violence and suffering -- their own and the Palestinians'....

See also: Churchill's Play Accused of Anti-Semitism (The Guardian, February 18, 2009)

Is a Play About Gaza Anti-Semitic? Read the Script (New York Times, February 18, 2009)

Seven Jewish Children - The Script

Caryl Churchill on Why She Was Moved to Write the Play (The Guardian, January 24, 2009)

A Life in Pictures: Caryl Churchill Turns 70 (The Guardian, September 2, 2008)

Gaza's Tunnel Owners Vent Their Fury at Egyptian Crackdown


Irish Times, February 19, 2009 -
The tunnel owners sit around the fire, passing cups of sweet tea and talking bitterly about the siege.

But on this early February morning, they’re not talking about the Israeli jets and their occasional air strike on the hundreds of tunnels that worm their way from Egypt into Gaza, slipping in supplies and, some say, weapons.

Instead, their fury is directed at the Egyptian government, which following this winter’s Israeli offensive has cracked down on the Gaza tunnel trade, choking the flow of goods. “No matter what the Israelis do, we’re steadfast,” says one owner who identifies himself as Abu Ahmed, as he sits in an outdoor courtyard within sight of the border. “But this? This could slaughter our country and our economy."

Under pressure from the US and Israel, Egypt is imposing stronger checkpoints throughout the Sinai Peninsula to prevent merchandise from reaching the tunnel zone. Here on the border in Rafah, there is talk of police using informants to seek out hidden entrances and destroy dozens of tunnels with explosives or huge water hoses.

“They seem to be taking it seriously this time,” says Musab Shurrab, a police officer stationed within yards of the border wall....

See also: War of the Tunnels: Economic Aspects of Israel's War on Gaza (Alternative Information Center, January 9, 2009) - ....Israel's continued occupation of the Gaza Strip no longer follows the classic colonial framework. Palestinian labor and natural resources are no longer exploited by Israeli companies, but this doesn't mean that Israeli exploitation of the Palestinian population has ended.

Israel found a way to exploit the Palestinians by taking a toll from the humanitarian aid efforts to Gaza (also to the West Bank, but let's focus on the Gaza Strip right now). The Gaza population is the most aid-dependent area in the world. Without the ability to export, to import raw materials, without the needed infrastructure for local industry—the Gaza Strip is unable to generate sufficient local income to sustain its population, and must depend on aid. The Israeli siege thus creates the conditions for large amounts of aid to be sent to Gaza.

This aid must pass through Israeli ports and airports, with customs, storage fees and transport fees ending up in the coffers of Israeli companies. The limitations set by Israel on the number of trucks allowed to enter Gaza and the prolonged checks the goods must go through increase the transportation and storage costs dramatically. Much of the aid comes in the form of products—food, animal feed, petrol, cooking gas, medicine, etc.—procured from Israeli companies. These companies have thus been able to find a captive market in Gaza, get paid up-front (because checks from banks in the Gaza Strip aren't accepted in Israel) and increase their sales.

Most importantly, this aid is funded with foreign currency (primarily Euros), but the goods come from Israeli companies which must be paid in Israeli currency. The result is that massive amounts of foreign currency are converted at the Central Bank of Israel into Israeli shekels in order to fund aid, and the Central Bank of Israel gets to keep the foreign currency.

In effect, the Israeli siege of Gaza has transformed the aid industry into one of Israel's biggest exports—companies that would normally provide domestic services have become sources for foreign currency, which contributes to Israel's overall economic strength and has already eliminated Israel's trade deficit almost entirely....

*Israel is officially obligated to transfer customs levied from goods intended for the Occupied Palestinian Territories to the Palestinian Authority, but rarely transfers the full amounts.

The Cost to Israel of the Gaza War

Strategy Page February 15, 2009 - Israel has put a price on their recent Operation Cast Lead. This was the 22-day campaign in Gaza, and the Israelis are spending $590 million to replace damaged or destroyed equipment and supplies used, and restore troops to their pre-campaign readiness. The Israelis expended over a thousand smart bombs and missiles, and used vast quantities of fuel and spare parts to operate the aircraft and vehicles. Reserve troops had to be paid and casualties (several hundred, although only 13 dead) taken care of. The $590 million is not the total cost of Cast Lead, but it is the bulk of it.

Belgium to Stop Arms That Bolster the IDF

New Europe, February 16, 2009 - The Belgian politicians recently reached a consensus on banning exports that would feed the Israeli arsenal and thereby 'strengthen it militarily,' local media reports confirmed last week citing a Belgian minister. Reports quoted Minister Patricia Ceysens from the Flemish regional government as saying: 'There's a consensus (among ministers) not to approve exports that would strengthen Israel's military capacity.' Ceysens said this after a discussion on policy regarding weapons exports to Israel following the operation in Gaza. A final resolution had not been passed yet, but Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht already said that 'given the current circumstances, weapons cannot be shipped from Belgium to Israel.' Meanwhile, a Brussels-based research group accused Israel of enlisting child soldiers.

According to a recently-released report by the European Institute for Research and Information on Peace and Security on Belgian arms exports to the Jewish state, Israel is the fourth largest importer of Belgian arms in the Middle East. In 2007, Belgium sold Israel weapons (mostly light firearms) to the tune of USD 5,409,223.The report, which accused Israel of human rights violations, also said that Belgium's major weapons clients in the Middle East are Saudi Arabia (69%) Jordan (17%) and the United Arab Emirates (4.2% ). The 15 page report does not deal with human rights violation in those countries. Quoting a 2003 amendment to Belgian law which forbids the sale of weapons to armies with child soldiers, the report said that Israel 'accepts and arms underage volunteers.' Further on, the report mentioned 'use of underage Palestinians as informants and sometimes human shields.'

The Israeli Defense Forces' Gadna program runs a one-week military training session on a base as part of the curriculum at most Israeli high schools. The army accepts volunteers from the age of 17 into non-combat posts. Meanwhile, 13 Belgian politicians, authors and scholars released a statement that called for a more evenhanded approach to Israel.

See also Haaretz, January 31, 2009

Letter: Museums Should Cancel These Israel Days of Science (UK)

The Guardian, February 16, 2009 - Quite extraordinarily, the Science Museum in London and the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry have both been made available (on 3 and 5 March respectively) for an event called "Israel Day of Science". The museums argue they are not sponsoring the event, but have merely hired out their premises. This subtle distinction is unlikely to be appreciated by the many thousands of all ages and faiths who have repeatedly taken to the streets round the country to protest against Israeli war crimes in Gaza.

The event is promoted by the Zionist Federation and is designed to showcase the scientific achievements of seven Israeli universities. But all of these are complicit in the Israeli occupation and in the policies and weaponry so recently deployed to such disastrous effect in Gaza. To take just one example, Tel Aviv University, in its most recent annual review, states that "the Israel ministry of defence is currently funding 55 projects at TAU", which "is playing a major role in enhancing Israel's security capabilities and military edge". The head of TAU's security studies programme was a former director of the R&D directorate of the Israel ministry of defence. He holds the rank of major-general in the Israel Defence Forces and is a member of the Knesset.

Israel Day of Science is aimed particularly at sixth-form students, who can be expected to come in parties from schools across the country. What reaction can be expected from the many young people, already disaffected from science, who will associate the science museums with this Israeli public relations exercise? The event is being billed as a celebration of science. In fact it is an attempted celebration of Israel.

In the immediate aftermath of the indiscriminate slaughter and attempted annihilation of all the infrastructure of organised society in Gaza, how can this "celebration" be allowed to borrow some respectability from the use of these distinguished institutions? The museums should cancel these unseemly events.

Charles Jencks, Mairead Maguire, Dr Ian Gibson MP, Walter Hain, Ahdaf Soueif, Professor RS MacKay (Warwick), Reem Kelani (Singer), Karl Sabbagh, Professor Steven Rose (Open University), Sabah Al-Mukhtar (Arab Lawyers Association), Professor Jonathan Rosenhead (LSE), Dr Sue Blackwell (Birmingham), Professor Jim Al-Khalili (Surrey) and 368 others

New Showdown After Dubai Blocks Israeli Player

The Associated Press (Reporting from Dubai), February 17, 2009 - Organizers of a women's tennis tournament said Tuesday that security fears were behind the decision to bar an Israeli player — a move that could force another showdown when the men's play begins next week.

The snub brought swift denunciations from the Women's Tennis Association and warnings that it could consider scratching Dubai from its calendar. The Tennis Channel canceled plans to televise the championships in protest.

Tuesday's statement by the Dubai Tennis Championships — citing fan anger at Israeli's recent incursions into the Gaza Strip — was the first detailed explanation of the last-minute visa denial for Shahar Peer, who qualified as the 48th-ranked player in the world. Monday's WTA rankings listed her 45th.

But Dubai, which is trying to become a showcase for world-class sports, is coming under increasing pressure with the men's field as Israeli doubles specialist Andy Ram hopes to be in the draw on Sunday....

The View from Qatar: Arab Unity Dead After Gaza

The Peninsula (Qatar), February 16, 2009 -After Gaza, Arab unity is dead and buried. This is the view expressed by the majority at Qatar Foundation’s Doha Debates yesterday. The motion supporting this argument was resoundingly carried with 77% of the participants voting in favour. Those who opposed the motion argued that there was more emotional unity in the Arab streets during the Israeli attacks on Gaza, while the other side maintained that unity is not “how people feel but how the leaders act.”

Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, former Qatari ambassador to the US, who spoke for the motion, opened the debate by saying, “Never there was Arab unity, whenever Israel attacked the Palestinians. The Arabs were divided when Kuwait was conquered by a neighbouring Arab country. During the attacks on Gaza, the Arab leaders couldn’t even agree to have one conference to discuss the issue.”....

Investigating War Crimes on Our Fact-Finding Mission to Gaza - Noura Erakat

The Huffington Post, February 17, 2009 - In early February Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, released a study concluding that Israel did not violate the laws of war during its 22-day offensive against Gaza. Upon returning from a National Lawyers Guild fact-finding mission in Gaza, I believe it is of the utmost importance to speak to Cordesman's resounding dismissal of international law and his turning of a blind eye to Israel's military tactics in "Operation Cast Lead."

In his 88-paged study, Cordesman writes: "...Israel did not violate the laws of war. It did deliberately use decisive force to enhance regional deterrence and demonstrate that it had restored its military edge. These, however, are legitimate military objectives in spite of their very real humanitarian costs." These baffling conclusions reveal a deeply flawed methodology.

Cordesman based his findings solely on Israeli military accounts: briefings in Israel before and after the military offensive as well as daily reporting issued by the Israeli Defense Spokesman. One need not have a law enforcement background to understand why assessing a crime scene requires surveying the scene itself as well as interviewing witnesses. Moreover, Israel's media blackout of Gaza during the offensive heightens the imperative of rigorous scrutiny. Therefore it is odd, to say the least, that Cordesman has unquestioningly accepted the Army's account and proselytized it as "truth."....

Noura Erakat is an attorney and an activist. She is currently an adjunct professor of international human rights law in the Middle East at Georgetown University. Most recently she served as Counsel for a Congressional Committee in the House of Representatives.

Letter to Gaza - Martha Myers, CARE International

CARE International, January 29, 2009 - Martha Myers is the Country Director for CARE International in the West Bank and Gaza. CARE has 18 staff living and working in Gaza, who continued to distribute emergency aid throughout the fighting. Myers was the first non-Gazan CARE staff to access Gaza since the conflict began. The following are passages of her message to CARE staff in the West Bank and Gaza.

....Hollowed-out people

The buildings are shocking – the shattered parliament building, the minarets blown off mosques, the mosques themselves, the children’s play parks – all shocking. But what arrested me was the people. On one hand the stalwart Gazans, out in the streets, going to school, sitting in front of open shops, walking with briefcases, carrying shopping bags – it all looked so deceptively normal in a sense. But when you look closely, as I studied faces, people looked hollow with fatigue, shock, stress, and fear. Many looked almost catatonic. And then the CARE staff. Can I be personal here? Hamdallah, you were the first person I saw in the office and although you looked as neat and handsome as ever, your polite smile never reached your eyes. I saw that tight control, and the shuttered eyes, again and again during that day in so many people, including Najwan, Eid and Rizek. Mamduh, you looked familiar since I have seen you in pictures almost every single day, but the fatigue has chiseled down to the bones of your face. Again, a look I saw echoed again and again everywhere I went....

The Refrigerator

There are small images that stick with you. I don’t have to tell you all that Palestinian housewives do not take a back seat to anyone. Generally, the Palestinian home, however humble, is spotlessly clean. In one of the houses in Izbet Abedrabbo, the bottom of a refrigerator protruded from the crush of concrete, contorted and tortured, but recognizable. It was on a rack with wheels so its owner could safely mop the floor with plenty of soapy water without fear of a shock and so she could move it to clean under it. Looking at it, I wondered if there was food still in it. And again, the demon of imagination refusing to go away, I wondered how I would feel if I was looking at the legs of my refrigerator sticking out of the rubble of my home – how would I feel?

And then there were the gold curtains. I know, curtains are expensive and you need to chose them carefully or they will take over your whole life. These were nice curtains and I am sure that someone chose them very carefully – an investment meant to last a lifetime - and then hung and cared for them with pride. Somehow, the house had collapsed into a shattered heap and the curtains had flown out the window and were draped, neat, clean, perfectly pressed over the front of the rubble.

Would the owner come and try to extract the curtains from the pinch of concrete and steel? And then what would she do with them? If it were me I would sit with them bundled in my arms and smell them – inhaling the smell of home and the smell of my lost world. The curtains bothered me too because something private and interior was just splayed there on the street – a violation of regard for the home as private, protected space....

Innocence Lost

Al Ahram Weekly, February 12-18, 2009 - Habeeb is a 23-year-old journalist based in the Gaza Strip, active to bring out the word of his people's suffering. Zimmerman is a 21- year-old journalist and American citizen, determined to help after seeing the crimes perpetrated in Gaza by Israel. They became friends united in the struggle to open the eyes of the world to agonies before which they are often closed. One story that has caught their attention is the personal catastrophe of Khaled Abd Rabbo.

We began our journey and were barely able to reach Abd Rabbo's town. As we drove along, our car dipped to the right and to the left. The ground was rutted from the holes that the Israelis tore into the streets with their bombs, their bulldozing, and their fires. The land was also wounded. A once lush and tranquil neighbourhood had been transformed into hell on earth. Our eyes were filled with nothing but devastation, and masses of people covered the place like flies.

Our car came to a halt and we walked down the street to Abd Rabbo's shattered home. And there was Abd Rabbo himself, sitting in the rubble of happier times.

"This house used to have four floors, and a nice garden. It brought us peace and tranquillity," he began to tell us. "The Israeli army came to this house many times before, but the last was in March of 2008."

He explains how they invaded his home and investigated him and his family. "They found nothing. I am a police officer in the Ramallah government; I have nothing to do with Hamas."....

Will Palestinians Ever Benefit from the Gas Off the Coast of Gaza?

The First Post (UK), February 16, 2009 - Wherever there is oil and gas to be found in the early 21st century, warfare is never far away. And as the smoke clears from Israel’s blitz of the Gaza Strip, and Hamas and Israel move towards a ceasefire, it is tempting to speculate whether Gaza is another "resource war", as the British government's former scientific advisor David King candidly described the Iraq invasion this week.

When Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005, the pro-Israel columnist Thomas Friedman declared that its population had the opportunity to become a "Dubai on the Mediterranean".

In 1999 BG found £2bn worth of gas reserves off the coast of Gaza

At the time this aspiration appeared unlikely in a densely populated strip of land with few natural resources, whose connections to the outside world were severely circumscribed by Israel’s continued control over its borders.

But Friedman's hypothesis was not quite as fantastic as it seemed. In 1999 the BG Group (the multinational arm of British Gas) discovered huge deposits of gas off the coast of Gaza. They were valued at £2 billion.

Some 60 per cent of these reserves were located within the maritime waters controlled by the Palestine National Authority (PNA), while the remainder fell under Israeli jurisdiction. In theory these deposits provided sufficient to meet the energy requirements of Gaza and the West Bank combined, with large reserves left over for export.

To the Palestinians, these sensational discoveries offered a potential route to economic regeneration after decades of dependency on external aid. In 2000, Yasser Arafat negotiated a deal with BG which allowed gas to be sold directly to Israel, with 40 per cent of the revenues going to the Palestinians - made up of 10 per cent to the Palestine Investment Fund and another 30 per cent to an Athens-based Palestinian construction company....

From the archives: Arafat Hails Big Gas Find Off the Coast of Gaza Strip (New York Times, September 28, 2000)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The War in Rafah Is Not Over - Louisa Waugh

Photo: Louisa Waugh

The Gaza Blog, February 16, 2009 - In my last blog, I was talking about sonic booms and drones, and the mind games Israel continues to play inside Gaza. This is a follow-up of sorts, because I've just been down to Rafah, in southern Gaza, where local Palestinians are being tormented day and night by air strikes and drones.

Faiza lives in Rafah, just 200 metres from the border with Egypt. Her house stands in front of a labyrinth of tunnels that have been dug underneath the Gaza border with Egypt. I was introduced to Faiza last year by one of my colleagues. Faiza works with kids who, for one reason or another, do not go to school, so she teaches them in their own homes. She is elegant, forthright and funny. When I came back to Gaza a few weeks ago I really wanted to see her. I knew her family had been evacuated from their house throughout the war, and had just recently returned. So I drove down to Rafah to see them....

A Month After Ceasefire, Over 100,000 People Remain Homeless in Gaza

ReliefWeb, Save the Children Alliance, February 16, 2009 - At least 100,000 people, including up to 56,000 children, remain displaced with many continuing to take shelter in tents or crowding into remaining homes with other families, one month since the Gaza ceasefire was declared.

"As hopes for a truce are dashed Save the Children are deeply concerned for all these people dependent on aid for their daily existence and everyone else affected by the conflict", Save the Children UK's chief executive Jasmine Whitbread speaking from Gaza City, said today.

Save the Children is calling on the new Israeli administration, however it is configured, to focus immediate attention on the Gaza crisis and provide free access for humanitarian assistance to aid agencies.

Around 500,000 people including 280,000 children were forced from their homes at some point during the conflict. Where whole neighborhoods were destroyed 'tent cities' have sprung up and are now home to hundreds of people, many without access to clean drinking water and toilets.

"Whole communities have pitched tents so they can be close to the remains of their homes," said Ms Whitbread. "However, the tents are small and offer no protection from the low temperatures at night that can reach less than 7-8 degrees Celsius. There is also not enough clean drinking water, while some camps of up to 40 families have to share only one or two toilets between them. This poses obvious health risks.

"Thousands of children are now living in poor conditions, struggling to keep warm and fed. Many are already severely distressed from having witnessed the fighting and now they are having to cope with losing their homes with little prospect of returning to any sense of normality," Ms Whitbread added....

Jordanian MP to File War Crimes Suit Against Israel

Ynet News, February 16, 2009 - Jordanian officials are working towards prosecuting Israeli officiali in the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the German Press Agency and the al-Jazeera network reported on Monday.

According to the report, the chairman of the Jordanian Parliament's Legal Committee, Mubarak Abu Yameen al-Abadi, is scheduled to meet with The Hague's attorney general on Thursday and file a petition to prosecute the heads of the State of Israel for committing war crimes....

Israel Readies to Deal with Legal Challenges Over Gaza War

Jerusalem Post, February 16, 2009 - Concerned about a wave of legal actions abroad against IDF officers who took part in Operation Cast Lead, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni convened an interministerial staff meeting Monday and directed it to map out, within a week, where legal problems exist abroad and how to deal with them.

Last month, shortly after the Gaza operation and as organizations abroad made clear that they would press criminal charges against IDF officers involved in the operation, the cabinet passed a resolution that it would provide legal defense for all those involved, and set up the interministerial committee to deal with the situation....

Opinion: In Morocco, Anger at Arab Collusion Against Gaza - Anouar Boukhars

The Daily Star (Lebanon), February 17, 2009 - I have just returned from Morocco where I witnessed first-hand the massive emotional reaction to Israel's brutal destruction of Gaza. Wherever I went, I could not help but notice the pervasive sense of popular anger and despair, powerlessness and humiliation, guilt and shamefulness. The country was a pot of boiling emotions and ardent indignation at both Israel's indiscriminate killing of innocent children and women and the stunning collusion of a number of Arab regimes in Israel's deadly assault on Gaza.

With few exceptions, no Arab leader has ever dared to openly legitimize and endorse a devastating Israeli war on fellow Arabs. However, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other so-called moderate Arab states showed no qualms about going to this length to tilt the regional balance of power from their "radical" Arab rivals, rather than setting aside their personal feuds, tribal mentalities and mutual antagonism for the sake of the battered people of the Gaza Strip.

The crippling divisions and political posturing of all Arab authoritarian regimes were painful to watch. In a typical authoritarian posture, the eccentric Libyan leader, Muammar Gadhafi, blasted the "cowardly and defeatist" reactions of Arab leaders, while his son and probable successor, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, criticized Arabs for not holding their leaders accountable for their inaction during the Israeli offensive.

Not to be outdone, the Algerian Parliament passed a resolution that criminalizes any diplomatic or commercial relations with Israel. The Moroccan monarch, Muhammad VI, for his part declared that he would not stoop to the level of self-ridicule by taking part in any Arab summit marred by discord and a fatal inability to respond effectively to the continuing suffering of the people of Gaza.

In the face of this organized hypocrisy, the average Moroccan, Algerian, Libyan or Egyptian citizen was stuck with two unpalatable choices: to support or join forces with radical liberation or transnational revolutionary movements whose lack of a coherent strategic vision has brought chaos and destabilization to large swaths of Arab land; or to continue to bow down to a power structure dominated by corrupt and dependent authoritarian regimes. The causes of these dangerously conflicting and, at times, polarizing sentiments of the masses about their predicament have existed for generations, though the hardening of the rift between the two extremes has never been revealed with such stark acuity as it was during the Gaza confrontation....

Anouar Boukhars is an assistant professor of political science and director of the Center for Defense and Security Policy at Wilberforce University. This commentary first appeared at Bitterlemons, an online newsletter that publishes views on Middle Eastern and Islamic issues.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Gaza Off-Limits to Activists in Egypt

The latest Israeli war on Gaza has sparked a revival in Egyptian activism tied to the Palestinian cause, but the crackdown is a clear message from the government that Gaza is off-limits.

Middle East Times, February 16, 2009 - Egypt has made it clear to activists that Gaza is off-limits. A military tribunal sentenced Labor Party leader Magdy Ahmed Hussein last Wednesday to a two-year prison sentence and a fine of 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($900) for illegally entering the Gaza Strip last month. This jail sentence continues the Egyptian government's crackdown of dissidents linked to Gaza in recent weeks.

Also on Wednesday, German-Egyptian blogger Phillip Rizk was released from detention after spending five days in an unknown location following a peace march he organized and participated in. His arrest sparked an international outcry that has rights groups questioning the Egyptian government's tactics with opposition forces.

At the same time, Diaeddin Gad, who runs the Angry Voice blog, was taken from the Nile Delta governorate of Gharbiyah, security sources confirmed, without providing any further information. He also spoke out against the government for its involvement in Gaza during the 23-day Israeli war on the Hamas-run strip.

The Egyptian government accused Hussein of illegally entering Gaza via a smuggling tunnel, a claim vehemently denied by his wife, Nagla'a al-Qaluiby.

She said that her husband had crossed through the Rafah border crossing through a "breach in the border wall" and did not use a smuggling tunnel.

In Ismailia, a town some 100 kilometers (60-miles) east of Cairo along the Suez Canal, a military court refused to allow defense attorneys to be present when the verdict was handed down....

See also: Open Season on Gaza Activists in Egypt - Common Dreams (February 15, 2009)

Gaza Aid Convoy of Over 100 Vehicles Departs London for Palestine

London News, February 14, 2009 - A huge convoy of more than 100 vehicles has snaked its way out of London on route to Gaza, where it will deliver more than £1 million-worth of aid, including ambulances and a fire engine.

The size of the convoy and the amount of aid it is carrying have exceeded the expectations of the organisers, grouped under the umbrella Viva Palestine and supported by many Muslim organisations as well as the Stop the War Coalition.

The convoy will travel 5,000 miles through France, Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, crossing into Gaza at Rafah in early March.

Hundreds of volunteers are driving the aid convoy, which includes 12 ambulances, a boat and trucks full of medicines, tools, clothes, blankets and shoe-boxes as well as gifts for children.

Respect MP George Galloway, who will help drive the convoy, said: "There is an intifada sweeping Britain. It is a massive and peaceful movement in support of the beleaguered population of Gaza and Palestine.

"It is happening everywhere, but is especially strong in the north of England and especially among young Muslims.

"This convoy is material manifestation of it. In barely a month, it has metamorphosed from an aspiration I threw out at the 100,000 strong pro-Palestine demonstration on 10 January to more than 100 vehicles and nearly 300 people from across Britain.

"We will lead the biggest convoy of British vehicles across North Africa since Montgomery."...

Opinion: Egypt's Strategy Toward Gaza is an Incremental, Long-term One - Gamal Soltan

The Daily Star (Lebanon), February 17, 2009 - ....Egypt is squeezed between Israel and Hamas. In Egypt's view, there is no lasting formula for reconciliation between today's Hamas and Israel. Only interim arrangements such as the six-month truce can be reached within these constraints. Egypt's strategy toward the situation in Gaza is an incremental long-term one, whereas the two direct parties to the conflict are rushing to achieve immediate results.

Egypt has multiple concerns regarding the situation in Gaza. Its main concern is to prevent the de facto separation between the West Bank and Gaza Strip from developing into a de jure second partition of Palestine. Egypt is also keen not to starve the people of Gaza. Their suffering places Egypt under unbearable domestic and regional pressures; the Gazans might break into Egyptian territory or treat Egypt as the instigator and therefore a legitimate target for reprisals.

Egypt believes that Hamas is a genuine force in Palestine that can neither be ignored nor eliminated. However, Egypt also believes that Hamas, as an integral part of the radical destabilizing forces in the Middle East, should be gradually contained. While Israel shares with Egypt the goal of containing radicalism, it shows indifference to Egypt's gradualist approach. The recent war on Gaza testifies to Egyptian-Israeli differences in this regard.

Egypt's dilemma stems from the fact that it is neither happy with Hamas nor capable of pressuring it beyond a certain limit. Egypt's long-term policy had sought to guide Hamas toward a safe landing in the realm of moderation and pragmatism, but the Gaza war disrupted this endeavor. While that war is also likely to help accelerate Hamas' moderation, the cost incurred by Egypt has been heavy and risky; it could have been avoided if it were not for the confrontational policies pursued by both Hamas and Israel....

Gamal A. G. Soltan is a senior research fellow at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo and a visiting professor of political science at the American University in Cairo. This commentary first appeared at Bitterlemons , an online newsletter that publishes views on Middle Eastern and Islamic issues.

Chill Settles Into Turkey-Israel Relations

Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2009 - ....In the wake of Israel's 22-day military operation, which left hundreds of Palestinian civilians dead, a distinct chill has settled into its long-cordial relations with Turkey, by far the Jewish state's closest ally in the Muslim world.

In the latest sign of continuing tensions, Turkey on Saturday summoned Israel's envoy for a dressing-down at the Foreign Ministry over remarks made by a senior Israeli commander about Turkish policies toward its Kurdish and Armenian ethnic minorities -- both hot-button topics here.

Turkey's powerful military weighed in as well, saying that published remarks by Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi suggesting that repressive Turkish policies left its government in no position to criticize the Gaza offensive could even call the two countries' military relationship into question.

"The comments have been assessed to be at the extent that the national interests between the two countries could be damaged," the army's general staff said in a statement carried by the state-run Anatolia news agency.

Turkey's unusually close military alliance with Israel, including regular joint training exercises and rare privileges such as the use of Turkish airspace for training exercises, has yielded solid strategic gains for the government in Ankara, helping cement its status as a trusted NATO ally and a moderate Muslim state with aspirations to join the European Union.

Commercial ties, too, are robust; trade between the two countries amounts to nearly $3.5 billion a year. But the close inter-government links sometimes seem to run counter to popular sentiment, particularly in recent weeks.....

See also: Commentary: Why is Palestine a Big Deal for Turkish Diplomacy? - Bulent Aras (The Daily Star, February 16, 2009)

Israeli Remarks Anger Turkey (Al Jazeera English, February 15, 2009)