Saturday, March 7, 2009

Record Donations to Palestinians Raise Questions

Reuters Exclusive, March 6, 2009 - Rich states and investors have announced a record $14 billion to aid the Palestinians and their economy in a string of Western-backed meetings meant to boost President Mahmoud Abbas in his power struggle with Hamas.

But diplomats said many of the pledges made at five donor and investor conferences held since December 2007, including one in Egypt on Monday, were counted more than once, have yet to materialise or were too vague to rely on.

Much of the money depends on Israel fully opening border crossings with Hamas-ruled Gaza, and lifting restrictions in the occupied West Bank where Abbas's Palestinian Authority holds sway, or has been linked to progress in stalled peace talks and Palestinian reconciliation, casting doubt on future payouts.

One senior Western diplomat criticised the pledging process as "smoke and mirrors" because of double-counting. Another said the big-figure headlines from donors eager to look forthcoming, combined with a lack of transparency, were "getting ridiculous", noting that despite the cascade of pledges, the Authority was still struggling to pay full wages to its workers on time.

Conference organisers have disclosed little about individual donor pledges or disbursement schedules, making it difficult to track how much money was really in the pipeline for Abbas.

Donors also differ over how to deliver their aid, underscoring divisions over isolating Hamas, which has decried the pledging process as financial "blackmail" to marginalise the group after its 2006 election victory. Israel and the United States say they want to prevent any money from going to the Islamists, who they consider "terrorists".

Record Pledges

The large sums announced at conferences in Paris, Berlin, the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh and the West Bank over the last 15 months -- $12 billion from governments and $2 billion from investors -- were unprecedented by Palestinian standards, eclipsing the amount the Authority received in the previous 14 years since the 1993 Oslo peace accords.

Combined, the pledges would be the equivalent of $3,500 for every man, woman and child in the West Bank and Gaza, more than double per capita Palestinian GDP. Half of Gaza's 1.5 million population live on less than $3 a day, by Palestinian estimates.

It is unclear how much of the $4.5 billion in "new commitments", announced at Monday's conference in Sharm to help rebuild the Gaza Strip after Israel's devastating offensive, were really new, said Western diplomats who took part.

Diplomats and analysts pointed to the large discrepancy between what the Palestinian Authority asked for at Sharm -- $2.8 billion over two years -- and what was announced as an indication that the numbers were not realistic....

Audio Slideshow: Homeless in Gaza

BBC News, March 6, 2009 - Heather Sharp, Hamada Abuqammar and Paul Kerley visited and spoke with Raed al-Atamna, a 37-year-old resident of the Gaza Strip, and his family -- his wife, who is pregnant, his seven children, and his father. The father had worked his whole life to give his family their six houses. All were destroyed in the recent conflict, as well as all the family possessions and the cars that Raed had used to earn his living as a taxi driver.

With nearly 3,000 families homeless, rented accommodation is scarce in Gaza - Mr Atamna's pregnant wife and seven children are now staying with relatives, while he sleeps in a corrugated metal shack next to his pulverized house.

View the slides and hear the family stories at the link.

Audio Slide Show: Children of Gaza

BBC News, March 3, 2009 - Heather Sharp and Paul Kerley of the BBC spoke with psychiatric nurse Enas Jouna of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme and asked her to interpret the artwork of five children.

View the slides and hear her commentary at the link.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Pots of Urine, Feces in the Refrigerator - How IDF Troops Vandalized Gaza Homes - Amira Hass

Haaretz, March 6, 2009 - We had already visited this house, belonging to the Abu Eida family. It is the only one of the family's nine large houses that remained standing at the eastern edge of the city of Jabalya following Operation Cast Lead. The demolition of the family's houses and its four cement factories spells the loss of 40 years of hard work.

One Hebrew word scrawled on a wall tells the story of the 10 days when young Israeli soldiers became the ostensible prison wardens of five people. The youngest is Suheila Masalha, 55; the eldest is her mother Fatma, who is perhaps 85 or 90 or older. The only man is her brother Mohammed, 65, who is paralyzed and dependent on the women of his family. And there were two more women from the Abu Eida family - Rasmiya, 70, who owns the house, and her sister-in-law Na'ama, 56, who is blind.

"Jail" ("mikhla'a" in Hebrew), wrote the soldiers on the wall of the room where they kept the man and the four women. They did not allow them to use the toilet, but forced them to use all kinds of plastic containers kept in the room, for nine of the days.

From other graffiti you can conclude that it was the soldiers of the Golani Brigade - who were drafted in August 2007, and in January and March of 2008 - who sketched orientation maps on the walls of nearly every room. For example, "Position: entry. Direction: southeast," and a few squares that indicated the houses in the area. "Us," or "We are here," or just an X marked on square No. 5 - Rasmiya Abu Eida's house that became an Israel Defense Forces base. The soldiers kept kosher, judging by the words "meat" and "dairy" scrawled in red on the kitchen cabinets. Maybe someone was kidding around, or maybe someone thought this was going to be their base for several more months, because they also wrote "Kosher for Passover" on one of the cupboards. Also in red.

White flags

The Masalha family lived in a kind of tin shack and raised their sheep near the Abu Eida family (the shack and the sheep were destroyed). On the evening of Saturday, January 3, when the Israeli ground incursion began, they fled the shelling and sought refuge with the neighbors in concrete houses that seemed safer. But the shells and shooting from close range only increased and the children were scared; they cried and screamed and members of the extended family decided to head west, on foot, with white flags.

The adults carried the children - without suitcases and clothing, and even without ID cards. There was no one to carry Fatma Masalha and her son Mohammed, who remained behind. Na'ama and her sister-in-law Rasmiya decided to stay with the guests who had sought shelter. That was on Sunday, January 4, at around 3 P.M.

A spacious, well-kept, generously furnished home awaited the soldiers on the following morning, when they arrived. There are other houses like this in Gaza, especially on the agricultural lands in the outskirts, which over the years have become bourgeois areas. These are exactly the places where the signs of shelling and the fires caused by the phosphorous bombs made clear to the civilians that they should leave if they held their lives dear.

On January 18, when the forces pulled out, similar sights awaited people whose homes had become military bases in their absence. There were bullet-pocked walls, ripped-up sofas and armchairs, smashed televisions and computers, shards of glass and porcelain dishes and broken wooden thresholds. Clothing was ripped up. And there were mountains of very Israeli garbage - empty tin cans, cardboard boxes, empty bags of potato chips and chocolate, and full bags of sugar and raspberry-flavored drinking powder. Everything was kosher for Passover under the supervision of the Chief Rabbinate. And there were Hebrew newspapers, including the January 9 issue of the army magazine Bamahane.

In one house they left behind lots of unopened canned goods. The local people assumed that commanding army officers had stationed themselves there, as well as in other houses where there was no racist graffiti and family belongings hadn't been vandalized. Remnants of ammunition and IDF equipment were also found in and around many houses, as well as books of Psalms, the "Wisdom of the Sages" and "Hafetz Chaim," which is about rabbinical laws concerning slander and gossip.

Like ants

In the midst of all of this were plastic bottles of urine and many closed bags - in some houses, olive-colored ones - of excrement. People assumed that the commanders stayed there. There are houses where excrement was smeared on the walls, or where dry piles of it were found in corners. In many cases, the smells indicated that soldiers had urinated on piles of clothing or inside a washing machine. In all the houses the toilets were overflowing and clogged, and there was filth all around. When the Abu Eidas returned to house No. 5 in Jabalya, they discovered pots of urine and excrement in the refrigerator.

"Like ants, so many of them," says Na'ama, an Arabic teacher, of the soldiers who came into their home on January 5. She recalls that the soldiers had to be told that Mohammed could not put his hands up, and that they ordered the residents to strip. (Na'ama refused and one soldier made do with prodding and probing; they told Suheila to strip because they thought she was wearing an explosives belt.) The soldiers were amazed that the house was so large - "For just five people" - and kept saying that "this is Hamas money." They also asked, "Where are the tunnels, where is Hamas, if everyone left why didn't you leave?"....

Suddenly, Home Was Gone

Inter Press Service (reporting from Beit Hanoun), March 6, 2009 - Dates in the calendar to mark the rights of women mean little to Manwa Tarrabin (56) and her two daughters. They have lost home, and any rights to it.

Until Jan. 17, they were living in a small bungalow in the Al-Amal quarter of Beit Hanoun, within 200 metres of Gaza's eastern border, in a region declared by the Israeli authorities a 'closed military zone'.

Prior to the three weeks of Israeli air, sea and land attacks on Gaza it had been a tidy home at the top of a slight rise, surrounded by open fields and a smattering of olive and fruit trees. Following the withdrawal of Israeli troops, the house is a pancake of angles and debris, one of 80 homes demolished in the Beit Hanoun border area.

A dirt path leading to the Tarrabin house crosses agricultural land torn up by tank and bulldozer tracks, and passes numerous former homes, likewise demolished on the day before Israel unilaterally declared a ceasefire.

A farming and herding family, the Tarrabins lived off what their sheep and goats produced, and what they could sow in the fertile agricultural land around them. After the attacks began Dec. 27, they continued to stay in the house. On the afternoon of their forced eviction, Manwa and her daughter Sharifa (22) were in the house.

"I was so scared when I saw the tanks. My heart dropped to my feet," Tarrabin said, recounting how the Israeli army demolished her house.

"It was around 2.30 pm on Jan. 17, and we were inside our house when I heard the tanks. There were four of them and two bulldozers, one of them very, very large. The Israeli soldiers shouted at us over a megaphone to leave the house.

"They told me our house was now in a closed military zone," Manwa said. "They said it was a 'decision from the top' and that we had to leave immediately and walk towards Gaza. I refused, and tried to negotiate with them for time to gather our belongings. They refused."....

Amnesty Intn'l to BBC: Israeli Destruction of Homes in Gaza "Wanton," Deliberate

BBC News, March 7, 2009 - Amnesty International's has told the BBC News website the methods used raised concerns about war crimes.

Israel's military said buildings were destroyed because of military "operational needs".

The Israeli Defense Forces said they operated in accordance with international law during the conflict.

However, the use of mines to destroy homes contradicted this claim, the head of the Amnesty International fact-finding mission to southern Israel and Gaza, Donatella Rovera, has argued.

Israeli troops had to leave their vehicles to plant the mines, indicating that they faced no danger and that there was no military or operational justification, she said.

Breaking the Silence, an Israeli group that gathers and circulates the testimonies of Israeli soldiers, has also told the BBC News website that its findings from the Gaza war suggested many demolitions had been carried out when there was no immediate threat.

"From the testimonies that we've gathered, lots of demolitions - buildings demolished either by bulldozers or explosives - were done after the area was under Israeli control," said Yehuda Shaul, one of the group's members....

Editorial: Slow Boil in Gaza - Haaretz

Haaretz, March 6, 2009 - No one - least of all Israel - should be surprised that Operation Cast Lead failed to deter Hamas from firing more than 100 rockets and mortars since the end of the fighting. Deterrence works between sovereign powers whose ultimate interests are served by stability. It works between rivals who have already achieved a relative balance of power that will ensure that each side will not violate the other's sovereign space.

...Israel has failed to pursue a decisive strategy in the current round of violence vis-a-vis Hamas. Its choices since 2005 have been, and remain: toppling Hamas; pursuing a cooperative strategy by meeting Hamas' demands concerning the opening of borders; or alternating restraint and diplomacy with retaliation and occasional ground and/or air operations. The first option requires international support, which would only be forthcoming after Israel has genuinely tried the second option. Had Israel eliminated all traces of turning Gaza into an "open-air prison" prior to Cast Lead, and the rockets were still being fired, it might have had a chance to garner the support needed to go all the way in Gaza.

Instead, Israel chose the third path, the one of least resistance, but ultimately a muddled one. That path led to an ill-timed, limited war, which has left Hamas more convinced than ever that it can survive Israel's worst blows. The operation damaged Israel's international reputation, hampering its ability to respond to new provocations from the Gaza Strip with even a mini-Cast Lead operation. Instead of a new reality, we're left to another round of slow boiling, as Hamas turns up the heat at will.

Benjamin Netanyahu may want to unseat Hamas, but one would hope that he knows this option is not politically feasible in the foreseeable future, thanks to Cast Lead. Pursuing a cooperative strategy - accommodating Hamas so as to bring about a cessation of the rocket fire, while remaining aware that it will rebuild its arsenal - is anathema to the prime minister-designate. That leaves door number three....

Opinion: Adults Acting Like Children - Rami Khouri

Middle East Online, March 6, 2009 - The international pledges of some $4.5 billion in aid to the Palestinians to rebuild the Gaza Strip and promote the development of the West Bank seem like a monumental folly in view of the surrounding political context of this gesture. The financial generosity of the donors is largely offset by their political cowardice on two fronts:

• Challenging Israel to live according to the norms of law in its treatment of Palestinian land and people under its occupation; and,
• Coming to grips with Palestinian political realities, especially the legitimacy and role of Hamas.

On both counts, generous donors seem unwilling to admit that they are perpetuating a wasteful cycle of Palestinian and international construction in Palestine that is set back by repeated Israeli destruction through war, followed by repeated rounds of reconstruction. This recurring cycle is striking for its sheer waste, but also for what it reveals about the willingness of the international community to use reconstruction aid as a political tool -- a failed tool that should be abandoned in favor of a more productive approach.

It was bad enough when the Israeli government in recent years was able to convince the United States to largely adopt its positions in the Arab-Israeli conflict; it was another step backwards two years ago when the four Quartet members (United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia) also sided with Israel by refusing to deal with Hamas until the latter recognized Israel and stopped military resistance. This trend has now gone one step further by lining up a wide range of donors who seem to be willing to use their aid to try to bolster the government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, while denying Hamas any international legitimacy and ignoring Israeli actions on the ground that make peace-making seem so distant.

This occurs while Israel makes it clear that it plans to continue expanding its settlements in the occupied West Bank, and the expected coalition that will rule in Israel seems to represent a step backwards -- in its unwillingness to formally accept the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza as a realistic element of a permanent peace agreement. Throwing large amounts of money into Palestinian reconstruction while reinforcing a political context that only perpetuates Israel’s regular destruction of Palestinian institutions is wasteful folly at best, and complicity in criminality at worst....

Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon.

Copyright © 2009 Rami G. Khouri – distributed by Agence Global.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Aid as a Weapon [in Gaza] - Ben White

The Guardian (UK), March 4, 2009 - Ever since the beginning of the second intifada in 2000, there has been a familiar pattern in the Occupied Territories: Israel destroys Palestinian civilian infrastructure, and the international community foots the bill.

This has been reproduced once more, on a grand scale, as billions of dollars were promised this week at the Egypt-hosted donor conference for devastated Gaza, far exceeding the Palestinian Authority's initial target.

It remains to be seen how much of this aid will actually get through to the Palestinians imprisoned in Gaza, who continue to live in the rubble of thousands of homes, and hundreds of businesses, factories and schools. Two-thirds of the US contribution of $900 million, for example, is not even earmarked for Gaza.....

Unfortunately, the donor conference is another sign that as yet there still has been no fundamental shift in policy, three years on from Hamas's success in the Palestinian elections. You shouldn't have to live in Gaza to work out that "open borders, not handouts" are the way forward. Whether subsiding the heavily colonised West Bank, or paying for what Israel destroyed in Gaza, the international community in its approach to the Palestinian people continues to display a lack of consistency, courage, and plain common sense.

Ben White is a writer living in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He has spent several summers in Palestine/Israel based in the West Bank and written extensively on the Middle East.

Did Clinton Sabotage a Palestinian Reconciliation?

Electronic Intifada, March 4, 2009 - On Friday 27 February, the leaders of 13 Palestinian factions, principal among them Hamas and Fatah, announced they had set out a framework for reconciliation. In talks chaired by Egypt's powerful intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, the Palestinians established committees to discuss forming a "national unity government," reforming the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to include all factions, legislative and presidential elections, reorganizing security forces on a nonpolitical basis, and a steering group comprised of all faction leaders. Amid a jubilant mood, the talks were adjourned until 10 March.

Then the blows began to strike the fragile Palestinian body politic. The first came from Clinton just before she boarded her plane to attend a summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm al-Sheikh ostensibly about pledging billions in aid to rebuild Gaza....

Was the Sharm al-Sheikh summit then really about helping the people of Gaza or was it about exploiting their suffering to continue the long war against Hamas by other means? Indeed, Clinton had already confirmed the politicization of reconstruction aid when she told VOA, "We want to strengthen a Palestinian partner willing to accept the conditions outlined by the Quartet," and, "our aid dollars will flow based on these principles."....

Special Series on the Status of Palestinian Health System in the Occupied Territories Featured in Current Issue of The Lancet Medical Journal

The Lancet, March 7, 2009 - The current issue of The Lancet Medical Journal contains a number of articles and comments related to the health status of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. All are available free of charge as a public service. Only a simple user login is required.

Giacaman R, Khatib R, Shabaneh L, et al. Health status and health services in the occupied Palestinian territory. Lancet. 2009;373:837-849.

We describe the demographic characteristics, health status, and health services of the Palestinian population living in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory, and the way they have been modified by 60 years of continuing war conditions and 40 years of Israeli military occupation. Although health, literacy, and education currently have a higher standard in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory than they have in several Arab countries, 52% of families (40% in the West Bank and 74% in the Gaza Strip) were living below the poverty line of US$3·15 per person per day in 2007. To describe health status, we use not only conventional indicators, such as infant mortality and stunting in children, but also subjective measures, which are based on people's experiences and perceptions of their health status and life quality. We review the disjointed and inadequate public-health and health-service response to health problems. Finally, we consider the implications of our findings for the protection and promotion of health of the Palestinian population, and the relevance of our indicators and analytical framework for the assessment of health in other populations living in continuous war conditions....

Editorial. What is health? the ability to adapt. Lancet. 2009;373:781.

Carter J. Comment: Peace and health in the occupied Palestinian territory. Lancet. 2009;373:783-784.

Horton R. Comment: The occupied Palestinian territory: peace, justice, and health. Lancet. 2009;373:784-788.

Lancet Steering Group on the occupied Palestinian territory. Comment. Lancet. 2009;373:788-790.

Giacaman R and Khatib R. Promoting health for Palestinians. Lancet. 2009;373:801.

On a Low Simmer - Saad al-Naami

Al Ahram Weekly, March 5-11, 2009 - ....What has worried the Israelis is the fact that the Palestinians have begun to fire more advanced missiles than those fired during the war. Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot has reported the Israeli police as saying that the missiles fired by Palestinians have begun to hit the shelters built by the Israeli army.

And what has provoked the ire of decision-making circles in Israel is the growing belief among wide sectors of the Israeli public that the war on Gaza, which was widely condemned around the world as constituting a war crime, still did not meet its goals and wrought results opposite to those intended. Military commentator for Yediot Aharonot Ron Ben Yeshai has written that wide sectors of the Israeli populace are bitterly disappointed, and in particular the settlers of the south, for whom the promises of the government and the army leadership to put an end for good to the missile threats did not come to fruition. "Israel refused to reach a truce agreement with Hamas that would guarantee calm for Israel and lift the siege from the Palestinians in Gaza, indicating that the war had not met its goals," he wrote.....

Confrontations between the resistance and the Israeli army are currently on a low simmer, but if a truce agreement is not reached between Israel and the Palestinian factions that guarantees an end to invasions, a lifting of the siege, and reconstruction, the start of a larger scale confrontation will be only a matter of time.

US Offers $0 for Gaza Reconstruction - Paul Woodward

The National, March 2, 2009 - ....In the aftermath of the war on Gaza, little long-term reconstruction has taken place and aid received has barely been enough to keep residents fed and temporarily housed.

The Financial Times said: "both the Palestinian Authority and international experts agree the money will make little difference in Gaza unless Israel agrees to open its border crossings into the strip.

"Fearing that Hamas will benefit from an increased flow of goods into the territory, Israel has so far only allowed a small quantity of humanitarian supplies into the strip.

"The crucial problem at the moment is not related to funding but to access," said Benita Ferrero-Waldner the European Union external affairs commissioner. "In the aftermath of the crisis, a clear priority remains the immediate and unconditional reopening of all Gaza crossings on a regular and predicable basis."....

Daoud Kuttab, blogging with the US secretary of state's press corps in Sharm el-Sheikh, said: "In a press briefing on the eve of the 'International conference in support of the Palestinian economy of the reconstruction of Gaza' Robert Wood, the acting US state department spokesman failed to convince the US traveling press corps and a Palestinian blogger that America is indeed coming to help the people of Gaza.

"Wood tried to describe how the 'over $900 million' that will be pledged in the conference to be held in Sharm el-Sheikh Monday will be spent. But it was clear that most of this money will not make it to Gaza. The spokesman was also not sure how much of the 900 million dollars are old money (already pledged by previous administration) or new money.

"Apparently only one third of the monies to be pledged by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will make it to Gaza. Wood told the press corps that $300 million will go for urgent humanitarian needs in response to the UN Gaza appeal. He indicated that this money will be channeled through UN agencies, and through USAID. A further $200 will be pledged to help cover basic budget support of the Palestinian Authority. The PA is expecting a $1.6 billion deficit in 2009. A further $400 million will be provided to support the Palestinian Authority's Reform and Development Plan. These funds will go into institutional building as well as in support of the public security efforts of General Dayton. Dayton, a senior US military officer has been leading an effort to revamp and rebuild the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank.

"Wood and the US secretary of state appear to be camouflaging their plans to bolster the Palestinian Authority's grip of power in the West Bank with the waving of a hefty pledge, the majority of which will never make it to help the people of Gaza."

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

Gaza Solid Waste Management in Dire Straights

Irin (reporting from Gaza City), March 2, 2009 - The lack of technical means to transport and process solid waste in Gaza is posing a severe risk to people’s health in the enclave, experts say.

Many Gazans, especially children, have developed breathing problems as a result of the stench emanating from rubbish dumps and the indiscriminate burning of waste; insects attracted to the rubbish tips and ground pollution pose further health risks, according to Bahaa Alagha, planning and project manager in Gaza’s Environment Quality Authority.

Solid waste is managed by three main entities: municipalities in the main cities; local councils in towns and villages; and the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) in refugee camps. There are three official collection sites for solid waste - Rafah (south), Der Albalah (central), and Gaza City (the biggest).

Gaza Mayor Rafiq Mikki told IRIN the city’s 550,000 people produce 550 to 600 metric tonnes (mt) of solid waste a day, but that the enclave lacked the means to transport the waste to the main waste station near the Gaza-Israeli border for processing.

Mayor Mikki says the municipality does not have the capacity to solve the problem and has appealed for help from international organisations....

Human Rights Watch to Egypt: Free Detainees Who Protested Israel's Actions in Gaza

Human Rights Watch, March 4, 2009 - Egyptian authorities should immediately charge or free Diaa Eddin Gad, a blogger held since February 6, 2009, Human Rights Watch said today. Gad is among a number of bloggers and activists arrested in relation to protest in Egypt since the beginning of the Gaza offensive in late December 2008.

"Apparently it's not enough for the Egyptian government to imprison its own critics," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "It is now intent on silencing Egyptians who criticize Israel as well."....

The Israel Donors Conference - Amira Hass

Haaretz, March 4, 2009 - The extent of the funding pledged to the Palestinian Authority by donor countries reflects the extent of their support for Israel and its policies. The American taxpayers' contribution to the Ramallah government's bank account is dwarfed by the large sums the U.S. government donates to Israel every year. It's impossible to get excited over the American pledge of $900 million (two-thirds of it for strengthening Salam Fayyad's government and the rest for Gaza's recovery) and forget the $30 billion the United States has promised Israel in defense aid by the end of 2017, as last week's Amnesty International report noted.

The $900 million pledged to the Palestinians in Sharm el-Sheikh should be seen as part of the regular American aid to Israel. As an occupying power, Israel is obligated to assure the well-being of the population under its control. But Israel is harming it instead, after which the United States (like other countries) rushes to compensate for the damage.

The Clinton and Bush administrations - and Barack Obama appears to be following in their footsteps - erased the phrase "Israeli occupation" from their dictionaries and collaborated with Israel in ignoring its commitments as enshrined in international law. The billions of dollars that Israel receives from the United States for weapons and defense development - which played a significant role in the destruction in the Gaza Strip - are part of Israel's successful propaganda, which presents the Rafah tunnels and Grad rockets as a strateg
ic threat and part of the Islamic terror offensive against enlightened countries. he West has blown the Hamas movement out of proportion, exaggerating its military might to the point of mendacity; this allowed for an extended siege and three weeks of Israeli military intractability. In the Palestinian and larger Arab world, this embellishment helps Hamas depict itself as the real patriotic force.

The hundreds of millions of euros that have been donated or pledged to help Gaza, as though it were beset by natural disasters, are overshadowing the trade ties between Europe and Israel. The Western countries concerned about humanitarian aid for the Palestinians also buy from Israel arms and defense knowledge developed under the laboratory conditions of the occupation, that serial creator of humanitarian crises.

And the 1 billion petrodollars? First of all, they were generated from a natural resource that logic dictates should benefit the Arab peoples. Second, they were pledged at a conference that boycotted Gaza (neither Hamas nor business people or social activists from the Strip participated in the donors conference). This is how Saudi Arabia lends its hand to the American and Israeli veto of inter-Palestinian reconciliation....

Amira Hass is a correspondent for Haaretz.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Closed Zone: Animated Short on Gaza Blockade by Waltz with Bashir animator

Haaretz, March 4, 2009 - An animator of the celebrated Israeli war film "Waltz with Bashir" has illustrated a new film depicting the life of a fictional boy in the Gaza Strip during the Israeli blockade of the coastal territory.

The short film Closed Zone by Yoni Goodman runs only a minute and a half and was created for the NGO Gisha, a group devoted to freedom of movement.

A spokesman for Gisha said that "though the use of a single animated character, Goodman tries to cause the viewer to feel empathy for the people of Gaza and see them as they are - a million and a half people who only want to live out their ambitions and dreams, something they cannot do because of their ability to move freely."

Goodman said that when making the film, "it was very important for me to create a character that anyone can connect to. I hope that when people see the movie, they will be able to detach themselves from the automatic view of good or bad.

Goodman was a main animator for Ari Foldman's "Waltz with Bashir" which won a Golden Globe for best foreign film and a nomination for an Academy Award in the same category, but lost out to the Japanese film "Departures".

Watch the Making of Closed Zone

Despite declarations that it has "disengaged" from the Gaza Strip, Israel maintains control of the Strip's overland border crossings, territorial waters, and air space. This includes substantial, albeit indirect, control of the Rafah Crossing.

During the past 18 months, Israel tightened its closure of Gaza, almost completely restricting the passage of goods and people both to and from the Strip.

These policies punish innocent civilians with the goal of exerting pressure on the Hamas government, violating the rights of 1.5 million people who seek only to live ordinary lives – to be reunited with family, to pursue higher education, to receive quality medical treatment, and to earn a living.

The effects of the closure were particularly harsh during the military operation of Dec. 2008 - Jan. 2009. For three weeks, Gaza residents had nowhere to flee to escape the bombing.

Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement calls on the State of Israel to fully open Gaza's crossings and to allow the real victims of the closure - 1.5 million human beings - the freedom of movement necessary to realize their dreams and aspirations.

Struggle to Help Gaza's Traumatized

BBC News, March 4, 2009 - Omsyat, 12, has become nervous and aggressive, Hala, 7, has completely stopped speaking and Sobhy, 11, burned the toys he was brought with a candle, says their mother, Wafa Awersha.

Psychiatric nurse Rowiya Hamam nods as she sits on a thin mattress on floor of the tent in al-Atatra in northern Gaza.

In what is now their home, Mrs Awersha updates her on how the five children are coping with their brother's death in the recent conflict.

Ibrahim, 9, was hit by Israeli bullets on 4 January and died before his siblings' eyes, with their injured parents barely conscious nearby, the family say.

His body lay for four days outside their house before the fighting waned enough for neighbours to take it away on a donkey cart.

Israel blames civilian casualties on militants' practice of operating from populated areas and says Palestinian fighters fired at its forces during the daily unilateral three-hour ceasefire it instituted to allow emergency workers to reach the dead and injured.

Several hundred of the 1,300 Palestinian deaths were children and some accounts of civilian deaths have raised concerns of war crimes.

After Ibrahim's death, Sobhy began behaving like his sibling and asking to be called Ibrahim, Ms Hamam says.

"School's fine," he says, when asked. "I like maths." But he stares at the ground and tears soon well in his eyes.....

Photo Essay: Gaza's Samouni Street

BBC News, Undated, 2009 -

Notorious incident

Samouni Street is the scene of one of the most notorious incidents in the recent conflict in Gaza.

Palestinian human rights workers say 29 members of the extended Samouni family died, virtually all in an Israeli tank or air strike on a house where about 100 people were gathered.

The corpses and dead animals have been removed, but six weeks after the ceasefires, those left living are only beginning to grasp the extent of their losses.

BBC News visits the area where the Samouni clan used to live to survey the destruction and speak with some of the surviving family members. Photo essay (12 photos) at the link.

Despair and Rage Among Gaza's Youth

BBC News, February 27, 2009 - The flags of militant groups - Hamas, Islamic Jihad - flutter outside among the densely packed cinder-block houses of Gaza's Jabaliya refugee camp.

The area is a key haunt of the factions behind the rocket attacks that Israel's recent assault on Gaza was aimed at ending.

Its frustrated, mainly unemployed youths are prime recruitment targets for the militants.

But as the young men, sitting in coats in the unheated room, mull over Israel's 22-day operation, despair is as common a theme as revenge.

About half of the group say they have been members of armed groups at some point. Others now say they want to join.

I used to keep away from military activity," says student Ahmad al-Khateeb, 21. "I wanted to graduate and leave the country. I was sometimes afraid of death".

But now, unable to sit his exams because his ID papers are buried under the rubble of his home, he says his views have "completely changed".

Sports science student Mohammad al-Mukayed, 22, says he saw three children killed by an airstrike as they played in the street just meters away from him.

"They were just pieces of flesh. I wanted to help but I couldn't. I do think of joining a group. I would rather be killed defending my land than die like these kids, doing nothing."....

What Gets Into the Gaza Strip

BBC News, March 2, 2009 - Basic food and medical items are allowed in. Very few people and virtually no raw materials and building materials are allowed in.

Apart from a core list of humanitarian basics - fruit, dairy, flour, oil, sugar, meat, rice - items have to be approved on a case-by-case basis.

The list of items allowed in changes over time. During the six-month ceasefire in 2008, items such as clothes, shoes, car parts and agricultural supplies entered the Gaza Strip at times.

This has not been the case since the Israeli assault on Gaza started in late December 2008.

Since the conflict, shipments have mainly been limited to food, medical supplies, plastic sheeting, blankets, mattresses and hygiene and cooking kits.

The UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees says macaroni, lentils, fruit juice, sweets and paper for school books have been rejected in recent weeks. Israel says pasta, lentils and paper are now being allowed in....

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Gazans Fear Reconstruction "Empty Promise"

Middle East Online, March 3, 2009 - ....On Monday, international donors meeting in Egypt pledged some 4.5 billion dollars to the Palestinians, much of it for the reconstruction of Gaza, but the money will make little difference if Israel does not allow the import of building materials.

Donors have vowed to keep aid out of the hands of democratically elected Hamas. "Everything we hear is empty. I don't think they will rebuild a single house because Israel won't allow it," Dam said. If they don't open the crossings and allow building materials in, then the aid is pointless." Since his home was destroyed, Dam has lived in a rented storage room with his wife, five children, and mother and father. "They destroyed my spice shop too. So I have no house and no work," he said.....

What Harm Can Paper Do? - Jasmine Whitbread

Reuters AlertNet blog, March 3, 2009 - I walk out of the building at the crossing into Gaza. As far as the eye can see everything has been flattened. Houses are reduced to rubble and twisted metal. I thought this was from the recent fighting but I later learn this is from previous insurgence. My colleagues who have been waiting for hours for me to get through the crossing are relieved to see I have made it.

We drive through residential areas, some houses are totally untouched, others with windows blown out but I would say three quarters of the houses have been flattened. Amongst the rubble I spot a little boy, maybe only 3 years old, just like my son when he was a toddler. He was playing amongst the rubble. Seeing that little one, on his own, that was shocking to me.

Our first stop was an area where about 400 families are living in tents. Their homes have been bombed. The tents are tiny, overcrowded and offer little or no protection from the wind and the temperature drops to 7C (45F) at night.

Here we visit a clinic set up by Save the Children's local partners. As a woman I am allowed to go into the antenatal clinic and I am stunned. As the tent flaps in the wind I am shuffled along the dirt floor to see a worn-out examination chair and vintage scanning machine hitched up to a generator rumbling away outside the tent. The staff look exhausted but they continue to struggle on with no clean water and basic equipment. Life goes on, as they say. 3,500 children have been born since the fighting began so this clinic is vital but clearly under resourced. What a nightmare. I can only think of the stark contrast from my experience when I was pregnant and my first scan.

We drive on and stop at some of Save the Children's emergency playschools. One is in a tent, another in a donated building. The staff are amazing organising dancing and singing but I still feel the children are very subdued. We would normally run art projects to help them get over the trauma of the fighting. They would draw pictures and we would run arts and craft workshops but due to the tight border restrictions it's impossible to get hold of paper. This really hits me, how limiting these border restrictions are. What's wrong with paper, what harm can it do?....

Jasmine Whitbread was appointed Chief Executive of Save the Children UK in November 2005, and is also a board member of the International Save the Children Alliance, a confederation of 30 member organizations working in over 120 countries.

Rebuilding Gaza - Video Report from the ICRC

ICRC, February 2009 - Industries in the Gaza Strip are struggling to re-establish after January's conflict. In this brief interview, Amr Hamad from the Palestinian Federation of Industries describes the devastation and subsequent rise in the numbers of unemployed. [From the web site of the International Committee of the Red Cross].

Israel's Crimes in Gaza - Reem Salahi

Muhammad Shurrab holds pictures of his two sons, who were
killed during Israel's recent incursion into the territory
Photo: Reem Salahy

Electronic Intifada, March 2, 2009 - Having returned from Gaza, I am trying to come to terms with what I saw, what I heard and honestly, what I don't think I will ever understand -- the justification. While Israel's recent offensive has been the most egregious of any historical attack upon the Palestinians in Gaza, it is just that, one of many. Gaza has been under Israeli bombardment and sanctions for decades. Prior to the Israeli pullout in 2005, Gaza was under complete Israeli control and occupation. Nearly 8,000 Israeli settlers occupied 40 percent of Gaza while the 1.5 million Palestinians occupied the remaining 60 percent. Settlements were located on the most fertile lands and along Gaza's beautiful coastal regions and checkpoints prevented Palestinian mobility. Despite being one-fifth the size of Rhode Island, 25 miles long and 4 to 7.5 miles wide, Gaza was divided into three sections and Palestinians had to pass through multiple checkpoints to get from one section to the next. Often Israeli forces would close these checkpoints and not allow the Palestinians access to the other regions in Gaza as a form of collective punishment.

Yet with Israel's pullout in 2005, the Palestinian experience has not improved. Rather, it has become even more unpredictable and isolated. Palestinians who celebrated the exodus of the Israeli settlers and the return of some of their land could not have imagined what would follow and how Israel would subsequently unleash its brutal force against them. As the saying goes, nothing in life is free and the Palestinians have paid, and continue to pay, a dear and unforgivable price for Israel's withdrawal from their legally rightful land. Ironically, the majority of Palestinians living in Gaza are refugees who fled from their homes that were previously located in what has become Israel proper due to the influx of Zionist settlers. These refugees have yet to be restored their right to their original land and property. Now these Palestinians are even being denied their right to be refugees as Israel continues to bombard their homes in Gaza and destroy any livelihood they may have had.

Having been to both the West Bank and Gaza, I cannot begin to describe how different the two regions are despite their proximity. Unlike the West Bank, once inside Gaza, there is no fear of bumping into an Israeli soldier or waiting for hours at a checkpoint or having an Israeli soldier point an M-16 at your head while you show your identification card. Yet once inside Gaza, one is in constant fear and apprehension of what missile may fall from the skies or from the sea. The sound of Apache helicopters and drones are a constant reminder that Gaza remains at the mercy of the Israeli military.

After sunset, Gaza becomes a ghost town as Palestinians lock their doors and often sit without electricity, fearing to roam the streets. If a Palestinian is to be killed by an Israeli missile, he would rather be killed together with his family and not alone on the streets. Yet, as seen by the recent offensive, when Israel wishes to attack, it is not prevented from doing so by the time of day or by the location.

From the first moments of Israel's military campaign on 27 December, Israel's indifference to civilian casualties was clear. Its first attacks started at around 11:30am, at a time when children leave the morning session of school and the afternoon students arrive. The streets were packed with civilians -- children no less. Within moments, hundreds of Palestinians were killed and even more Palestinians were injured (at least 280 Palestinians were killed on the first day, and 700 wounded, including more than a dozen policemen attending a graduation ceremony at the Gaza City police station). A little girl in Jabaliya told me that she was in school when the attacks started. She fainted from the overwhelming fear and was not able to go home and see her family for days. When she did go home, she remembers seeing dead and injured bodies stranded all over street and hearing the thundering sound of missiles falling....

Reem Salahi is a lawyer and Bridge Fellow in the National Security and Immigrants' Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California. She recently traveled with six other attorneys and one law student to Gaza in the National Lawyers Guild delegation. This article is based on what she saw and experienced during her time in Gaza.

Israel Boycott Movement Gains Momentum

Inter Press Service, March 3, 2009 - "Standing United with the People of Gaza" is the theme of this week's Israel Apartheid Week (IAW), which kicked off in Toronto and another 39 cities across the globe Sunday.

A movement to boycott Israeli goods, culture and academic institutions is gaining momentum as Geneva prepares to host the UN's Anti-Racism Conference, Durban 2 next month amidst swirling controversy. ...

[For a roundup of the various developments in the boycott movement, see the full article at the link.]

Monday, March 2, 2009

Opinion: The Gaza Earthquake and Its Aftershocks - Atul Aneja

The Hindu, March 2, 2009 - ....Against the backdrop of the Gaza war, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Qatar, and Lebanon, backed by Hizbollah, are emerging as the backbone of the region which is undergoing a rapid realignment. Responding to the whirlwind of change, Egypt is sinking enormous political capital to ensure the success of talks being held in Cairo to cement a durable ceasefire in Gaza. Saudi Arabia is keeping its lines of communication with Syria active.

The emergence of a new political order in West Asia is still a work-in-progress, and the unscripted drama is only beginning to unfold. However, it is evident that the Gaza war has generated a tectonic shift in the politics of the region, which is set to experience a fundamental transformation.

Atul Aneja is the West Asia correspondent of The Hindu newspaper.

Reconstruction Efforts in Gaza Face Huge Obstacles

Al Jazeera English TV, March 2, 2009 - Rebuilding is an enormous project, now being done with little money, a few tools and no organization. But as billions of dollars are being pledged to fund the reconstruction efforts, the Israeli blockade is still in effect. Al Jazeera's Todd Baer reports from Gaza City.

UN: "99% Sure There Were No Hamas Fighters in School When Israel Bombed It"

Time Magazine, March 2, 2009 - United Nations investigators say they have uncovered no evidence to support a claim by the Israeli military that Hamas fighters were holed up in a Gaza school, prompting a deadly attack by Israeli forces that killed 40 civilians, many of them children.

The Israel Defense Forces Spokesman's Office asserted that militants fired mortars from inside the school at troops involved in Israel's controversial incursion into the Gaza Strip in pursuit of Hamas fighters — a military operation that is drawing fierce international condemnation as civilian casualties mount. "The IDF returned fire," according to the spokesman's office. (See pictures of Israeli soldiers sweeping into Gaza.)

But after a preliminary investigation of the Jan. 6 attack at the Fakhura girl's elementary school, "we're 99.9% sure that no militants were at the school," says Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The agency questioned survivors, including UNRWA staff that run the school under U.N. auspices....

Billions Pledged for Gaza at Donors' Conference, But How Will It Get There?

Relief Web, March 2, 2009 - As the sun set over the mountains ringing the Egyptian resort city of Sharm al-Sheikh on Monday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had reason to feel gratified.

Delegates from 75 donor countries pledged some 4.48 billion dollars over the course of a conference on the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip after Israel's 22-day offensive in late December and January.

World leaders praised Abbas and Acting Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as "responsible partners." They stressed that they would take pains not to deliver the aid to Abbas' Palestinian rivals in Hamas, who have controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007.

Persian Gulf states said that the collective 1.6 billion dollars they were contributing would go to a fund they would administer directly, but otherwise, the Palestinian president would remain the world's main contact for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, beginning her first trip to the region as US secretary of state, on Monday said the United States had "worked with the Palestinian Authority to install safeguards that will ensure that our funding is only used where, and for whom, it is intended, and does not end up in the wrong hands," in a pointed reference to Hamas.

Perhaps Abbas might have taken comfort too from the singular criticism donors levelled at Israel. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit, presenting the conference's conclusions, said that "participants stressed the crucial need to break the cycle of construction and destruction in Gaza, and demanded that Israel fully respect its obligations under international law."

It was a recurring theme from the donors.

"As a friend of the Palestinians and a friend of Israel, and as a donor, I can say that donors are faced with a dilemma," Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, who co-chaired the conference, told reporters. "Will we again rebuild what ... we built just a few years ago?"

And German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, "We hope that what will now be built will not be destroyed again."

But while the conference was surely good news for Abbas, for the Palestinian people, and for the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip in particular, as the day closed it was unclear how all the billions of dollars in aid would actually reach the people of Gaza...

See also: For Gaza's Sake This Can't Be Just Another Summit (Opinion, The National, March 2, 2009)

Action Alert: Spend Intn'l Women's Day in Gaza with Code Pink

March 5, 2009 - March 12, 2009

Join Humanitarian Delegation to Gaza for International Women's Day: Pay Tribute to the Women of Gaza

Meet up in Cairo, Egypt on March 5
Travel to Gaza on March 6
Meetings/program in Gaza March 7-10

Return to Cairo March 11
International delegates return home March 12

Cost: $600 from Cairo, includes transportation, lodging, translation, program, some meals and contribution to local groups. Scholarships available.

Program: Meetings with UN and government officials, local women (including victims of Israeli violence), humanitarian/development agencies, journalists, health workers and political analysts. Visit areas devastated by Israeli attacks.

Purpose of the trip: Provide humanitarian and emotional support to women and women's organizations in Gaza; Exert pressure on US, Egyptian and Israeli governments to lift the blockade and promote peace/human rights in the region.

Organizers: The trip is organized by CODEPINK: Women for Peace and will be led by CODEPINK cofounders Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans. Sponsoring groups include National Congress of Black Women, Global Exchange, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, American Muslim Voice and Women's Intercultural Network.

Groups in Gaza that we will be supporting include:

The Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS)

The Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP)

The Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC)

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights

For more information: Contact

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Opinion: Not as Mighty Now - Amin Howeidi

Al Ahram Weekly, February 26-March 4, 2009 - there is anything to learn from Operation Cast Lead, the codename for Israel's latest onslaught on Gaza, it is that Israel is not as invincible as it likes to think. I am not talking here about who won and who lost. In conflicts such as this a few points won here or there is not what matters. What matters is deterrence; something Israel used to have and is now losing.

By dictionary definition, deterrence is the ability to make political gains with the mere threat of force. In other words, one must have enough power and a willingness to use it, to force the enemy to make concessions. In Gaza's case, none of this worked. Israel threatened force and the resistance stood its ground. Then Israel attacked and the resistance still stood its ground. This must be scary for Israel, for it makes the future rather uncertain.

Israel used to have it easy. It maintained overwhelming force, which means that it didn't have to attack. Then, if it attacked, it had the ability to score fast victories, or retaliate with a convincing second strike. Israel likes its wars short. First, this means that it doesn't need to call in the reserves. And it obviates the need to confront angry world public opinion.

In Gaza, the war went too far. Israel had to call in the reserves. And when many countries intervened with their own initiative for a truce, Israel had to call a ceasefire -- and did so unilaterally....

Amin Howeidi is former defense minister and chief of General Intelligence of Egypt.

Israel's Death Squads: A Soldier's Story

The Independent, March 1, 2009 - The Israeli military's policy of targeted killings has been described from the inside for the first time. In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, and in his testimony to an ex-soldiers' organisation, Breaking the Silence, a former member of an assassination squad has told of his role in a botched ambush that killed two Palestinian bystanders, as well as the two militants targeted.

The operation, which took place [in Gaza] a little over eight years ago, at the start of the present intifada, or uprising, left the former sharpshooter with psychological scars. To this day he has not told his parents of his participation in what he called "the first face-to-face assassination of the intifada".

As the uprising unfolded, targeted assassinations became a regularly used weapon in the armoury of the Israel military, especially in Gaza, where arrests would later become less easy than in the West Bank. The highest-profile were those of Hamas leaders Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi in 2005, and of Said Siyam in the most recent offensive. But the targeting of lower-level militants, like the one killed in the operation described by the former soldier, became sufficiently common to attract little comment.

The incident described by the ex-soldier appears almost trivial by comparison with so much that has happened since in Gaza, culminating in more than 1,200 Palestinian casualties inflicted by Operation Cast Lead this January. It might have been forgotten by all except those directly affected, if it had not been for the highly unusual account of it he gave to Breaking the Silence, which has collected testimony from hundreds of former troops concerned about what they saw and did – including abuses of Palestinians – during their service in the occupied territories....

The Pasta, Paper, and Hearing Aids That Could Threaten Israeli Security

The Independent, March 1, 2009 - Members of the highest-ranking American delegation to tour Gaza were shocked to discover that the Israeli blockade against the Hamas-ruled territory included such food staples as lentils, macaroni and tomato paste.

"When have lentil bombs been going off lately? Is someone going to kill you with a piece of macaroni?" asked Congressman Brian Laird. It was only after Senator John Kerry, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, raised the issue with Defence Minister Ehud Barak after their trip last month that Israel allowed the pasta in. Macaroni was considered a luxury item, not a humanitarian necessity, they were told. The total number of products blacklisted by Israel remains a mystery for UN officials and the relief agencies which face long delays in bringing in supplies. For security reasons such items as cement and steel rods are banned as they could be used by Hamas to build bunkers or the rockets used to target Israeli civilians. Hearing aids have been banned in case the mercury in their batteries could be used to produce chemical weapons.

Yet since the end of the war in January, according to non-government organisations, five truckloads of school notebooks were turned back at the crossing at Kerem Shalom where goods are subject to a $1,000 (£700) per truck "handling fee".

Paper to print new textbooks for Palestinian schools was stopped, as were freezer appliances, generators and water pumps, cooking gas and chickpeas. And the French government was incensed when an entire water purification system was denied entry. Christopher Gunness, the spokesman for the UN agency UNRWA responsible for Palestinian refugees, said: "One of the big problems is that the 'banned list' is a moving target so we discover things are banned on a 'case by case', 'day by day' basis."

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said: "Israel's blockade policy can be summed up in one word and it is punishment, not security."

Opinion: Blair's Visit to Gaza Opens a Door That Must Not Be Closed - The Independent

The Independent, March 1, 2009 - Tony Blair's first visit to Gaza yesterday as envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East, comprising the EU, America, the UN and Russia, could not have been more timely. Weeks after the end of Israel's 22-day military offensive in Gaza, the work of reconstruction is being held up by two separate, albeit related, issues.

One is the unwillingness of the two states adjoining Gaza – Israel and Egypt – to open their borders freely to the passage of aid convoys....

At the same time, Arab states' financial donations towards reconstruction are being held up by the insistence of the internationally recognised Fatah-led Palestinian Authority on the West Bank that any money for Gaza should be channelled through them....

....the mere fact that Mr Blair has gone to Gaza, hot on the heels of other key Western leaders including Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, shows that everyone accepts that progress cannot be made towards a comprehensive Middle East peace by pretending Gaza – or its Hamas government – do not exist.

In fact, the parameters of the Blair trip illustrate the dilemmas Western leaders encounter when trying to draw a line between a principled rejection of Hamas's Islamist ideology and sensible recognition of facts on the ground. While Mr Blair was careful to meet no Hamas officials on his visit, it is equally clear that his team must have arranged the trip with officials from Gaza's Hamas government.

Such compromises should not be seen as messy or hypocritical but as necessary and pragmatic elements of a new more nuanced policy.

So far, the West's approach of totally isolating Hamas has failed totally to weaken the Islamists' grip on Gaza. If Mr Blair's trip, and those of others, signals the start of a more direct and active involvement on the part of the West in the affairs of the Gaza Strip, that can only be to the good.

Heavy Rains Drive Gaza Refugees Out of Tents

Photo: Reuters / Suhaib Salem

Ensuring Accountability - Jessica Montell, February 23, 2009 - Only now that the fighting has stopped are we beginning to understand the full scale of the damage in the recent Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip. While much remains to be learned, one conclusion is incontrovertible: the toll among the civilian population is immense....

The extensive harm to the civilian population is not, in and of itself, proof of violations of the laws of war. Such a judgment requires a legal rather than a purely moral reckoning, weighing this suffering in light of legal obligations like the need to distinguish between military and civilian objects and the requirement to use only the minimum force necessary to achieve military goals without causing disproportionate harm to the civilian population.

Determinations regarding distinction and proportionality in the middle of armed confrontations can sometimes be a complicated calculus. However, an initial overview of Operation Cast Lead raises grave suspicion that Israel did indeed breach international humanitarian law during the fighting. This suspicion relates not only to the conduct of individual soldiers, but also and perhaps primarily to policy decisions. For example, Israel by its own claim intentionally targeted civilian institutions like the Ministries of Housing and Labor and the Legislative Council solely because they were affiliated with Hamas. Israel also used massive firepower when striking legitimate targets such that large numbers of civilians were also killed.

The legal determination regarding Israel's behavior in Gaza depends also on an analysis of Hamas' behavior, and there are well-founded concerns that Hamas also violated the laws of war. This includes not only the deliberate firing of rockets at Israeli communities, which is clearly a grave breach of IHL, but also Hamas' conduct in the fighting inside Gaza: the hiding of weapons in mosques and other civilian areas and the extrajudicial executions of those suspected of aiding Israel. While one side's violations of the laws of war in no way grant license to the other side to do the same, they can mitigate or even shift legal culpability.

The only way to render a definitive judgment is to conduct a comprehensive, impartial and independent investigation. Such an investigation must include a commitment to hold accountable all those found to have committed grave breaches of the laws of war--these are in fact war crimes that carry individual criminal liability. Accountability is crucial--indeed, it is the bedrock of any legal system, for there can be no rights without a remedy when rights are violated....

Jessica Montell is executive director of B'Tselem: the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

Arab League Has Not Delivered on Promises for Gaza Aid

Haaretz, March 1, 2009 - A senior Arab League official says Arab countries have not delivered any of the more than $1 billion they pledged to rebuild Gaza after Israel's devastating offensive.

The official says the money pledged in mid-January has been held up because of disagreements between rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas about who should receive donations.

He says Arab countries are waiting to see whether a solution to the disagreement is reached at an international meeting on Gaza reconstruction in Egypt on Monday....

Rebuilding Pits Hamas Against Abbas as US, Iran Clash, March 1, 2009 - ....Now, a new battle is emerging over who will rebuild the roads, buildings and water lines wrecked during Israel’s offensive: Hamas, the militant Islamic movement that rules Gaza and is backed by Iran, or Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah group, which controls the West Bank and is favored by the U.S., Israel and pro-U.S. Arab countries including Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

“The wider picture is who will set the tone in the Middle East: whether it’s going to be Iran and its allies or the U.S. and its allies,” said Martin Kramer, a senior fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies in Jerusalem.

Egypt is hosting an international donors conference today in Sharm el-Sheikh, which the U.S. said it backs as a show of “support” for Abbas’s reconstruction efforts. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived yesterday for the meeting. Hamas isn’t invited.

At a Feb. 25 news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who heads the Fatah-backed Cabinet, said he will ask for $2.8 billion to rebuild Gaza.

Seeking $2.5 Billion

Mohammed Awad, the planning minister for the Hamas-led government in Gaza, said the same day that he seeks $2.5 billion. “We reject the idea of sending the donations to redevelop Gaza to the Palestinian Authority,” Mussa Abu Marzuk, deputy chief of Hamas’s politburo, said Jan. 19, the day after the war with Israel ended.

Hamas and Fatah both want to reap the political benefits of guiding the reconstruction in time for the next scheduled Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2010. They ruled together in a national unity coalition until Hamas seized full control of Gaza in 2007. While each side now claims to be the legitimate Palestinian government, their representatives began meeting in Cairo last week to discuss forging a new coalition....

Rebuilding Gaza: World Faces Daunting Challenges

Egypt News (reporting from Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip), March 1, 2009 - The seven foul-smelling lagoons of sewage near Gaza's coast were supposed to be replaced by a globally funded waste treatment plant. Instead, they epitomize the nightmare faced by foreign donors as they seek to rebuild the territory and open a pathway to peace.

The multimillion dollar project has been delayed by violence and a 20-month-old border closure that have made it difficult to bring supplies into Gaza. Now, after Israel's devastating military offensive, clearing the lagoons is just one part of a much bigger challenge.

On Monday, some 80 donor countries meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh will be asked to pledge at least $2.8 billion in aid to Gaza.

There's plenty of good will — Saudi Arabia has already promised $1 billion and the US $900 million — and the level of representation will be stellar, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and French President Nicholas Sarkozy.

But for reconstruction to move forward smoothly, toward pacifying Gaza and opening new horizons for Mideast peace efforts, a series of improbable events would need to happen....

UN Humanitarian Envoy Tours Gaza to Help Facilitate Aid, Calls for Lifting Blockade

Learns that 9,000 metric tons of unsolicited aid are stuck at border

Reuters AlertNet, March 1, 2009 - On his first visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the UN Secretary-General's Special Humanitarian Envoy, Abdul Aziz Arrukban, met with aid agency officials to discuss better ways of bringing in relief supplies and with Gaza residents to assess how much aid they were actually receiving.

"The borders are still closed and goods and building materials still can't enter," said Arrukban, a Saudi national who reports directly to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes.

Since Israel's 23-day military campaign in the Gaza Strip ended on 18 January, Arrukban has brokered more than US$50 million in humanitarian aid from two Gulf countries , channeled via UN agencies, for the dilapidated coastal territory.

Qatar donated $40 million, of which $30 million went directly to UN agencies in Gaza and $10 million to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), a stand-by UN fund established to enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those affected by natural disasters and armed conflicts [see:]. Gaza received $8 million in aid from the CERF immediately after the conflict.

Saudi Arabia donated $10.5 million, of which the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) received $6 million for emergency food assistance and $500,000 for fuel; and $4 million went to the World Food Programme (WFP).

Acting as a bridge between UN humanitarian agencies and donors, governments and the private sector in the Middle East and North Africa, Arrukban toured Gaza to see for himself the extent of the damage in the enclave and to ensure that relief supplies were actually reaching the most vulnerable people in the Strip.

Regular border closures

The most pressing issue, aid officials told him, was Israel's regular closure of border crossings into Gaza. "Aid cannot be delivered unless the crossings are opened," Christina Blunt, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Gaza, said during a briefing for Arrukban by heads of UN agencies in the enclave.

Over the past few weeks, about 120 trucks a day have been allowed to enter Gaza by the Israeli authorities, OCHA estimated, with about half that number for the private sector. In May 2007, before Hamas won elections in Gaza and a subsequent embargo was placed on the enclave, about 475 trucks entered daily.

The UN envoy held meetings with officials from the Egyptian Red Crescent to discuss a mechanism to facilitate the entry of approximately 9,000 metric tonnes of what a recent Logistics Cluster report [see:] described as "unsolicited bilateral donations" to the people of Gaza. The aid, a large portion lacking documentation and designated recipient organisations in Gaza, has been denied entry into Israel and is being held in al-Arish, Egypt.

The Egyptian government has mandated the Egyptian Red Crescent to take custody of these donations, which originate from a number of Middle Eastern countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, Yemen and Libya....

On Eve of Monday's Donors Conference, Series of High-Level Visitors Come to Gaza to Assess Damages, War Crimes

Arab League Jurists Complete Fact-finding Mission (Haaretz, March 1, 2009)

Tony Blair on First Visit to Gaza Since Being Appointed ME Envoy (Euronews, March 1, 2009)

Blair Calls for Lifting Gaza Blockade (Syrian Arab News Agency, March 1, 2009)

Blair Calls for New Gaza Strategy
(al-Jazeera English, March 1, 2009)

Douglas Alexander, UK International Development Minister, Visits Gaza and Pledges 30 million pounds in aid (ReliefWeb, March 1, 2009)

Javier Solana, EU Foreign Minister, Pays Unprecedented Visit to Gaza (Middle East Online, February 27, 2009)

Norway's Foreign Minister Visits Gaza (Middle East Online, February 27, 2009)

ICRC President: Lift Blockade on Gaza

Middle East Online, February 27, 2009 - The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that it was "urgent" to lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip as a first political measure to resolve the crisis there.

"What is needed is sustainable economic development. But that will only be possible if political steps are taken to prepare the ground," ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said in a statement.

"The first and most urgent measure should be to end the isolation of Gaza, particularly by lifting restrictions on the movement of people and goods," he added, highlighting the "drastic restrictions" imposed by Israeli authorities.

Israel has sealed off Gaza from all but limited humanitarian aid since democratically elected Hamas movement seized power in the territory in June 2007.

In the statement made ahead of the international conference on rebuilding Gaza next week in Egypt, the ICRC, one of the major aid actors in the region, stressed that reconstruction depended on a lasting peace by all sides.

"To go back to the way things were before the recent conflict would simply perpetuate Gaza's plight," Kellenberger said, as the agency reiterated that humanitarian aid could not replace "credible political steps."

Abbas Insists on Leading Gaza Rebuilding

Middle East Online, February 28, 2009 - Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Saturday insisted his government should spearhead postwar reconstruction efforts in the Gaza Strip days before a major international donors' conference. But although his Fatah party has relaunched reconciliation talks with the democratically elected Hamas movement in Gaza, the region's political standoffs could leave such efforts stillborn regardless of how much money is pledged.

"We expect rapid international aid from all parties to completely rebuild Gaza," Abbas told reporters after meeting the European Union's top diplomat Javier Solana in the Israeli-occupied West Bank town of Ramallah.

"We also expect that as in the past there will be one mechanism, the Palestinian Authority," he said, referring to his government, which was ousted from Gaza when Hamas seized power there in June 2007.

The Palestinian Authority and the Hamas have each insisted on leading the rebuilding effort, but Western countries have said they will work only with Abbas.

"I would like to insist in agreement with the president that the mechanism used to deploy the money is the one that represents the Palestinian Authority," Solana said. "I don't think there is a need for new mechanisms."

The Palestinian Authority has said it will request 2.8 billion dollars at a meeting on Monday in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, which is expected to draw representatives from more than 70 countries....

Palestinians Agree to Form Unity Government

Middle East Online, February 27, 2009 - Rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas agreed on Thursday to work together to set up a unity government after Egyptian-sponsored reconciliation talks aimed at ending long-running factional feuding.

"It is indeed a historic day," former Palestinian premier Ahmed Qorei said at a press conference announcing the creation of five joint committees, including one tasked with forming a national unity government.

Qorei, a member of the Fatah faction of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, said the committees, which will also cover issues such as security, national reconciliation, elections and reform of the umbrella group the Palestine Liberation Organisation, would complete their work by the end of March.

"We have started a new chapter of reconciliation and unity."

Earlier, officials from two smaller Palestinian factions said the groups involved in talks had agreed to form a unity government by the end of March but Qorei did not confirm this deadline.

"No doubt some of the results of the committees will be immediately implemented, such as the government will be immediately formed and take full charge in Gaza and the West Bank," Hamas delegation leader Mussa Abu Marzuk told the press conference.

As part of the agreement, the factions have also agreed to release prisoners held by Hamas and Fatah and to end a war of words being played out in the media, Qorei said.Thursday's agreement comes just days ahead of an aid meeting for Gaza being held on Monday in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where the Palestinians are seeking billions of dollars from international donors.

Egypt had originally called for Palestinian reconciliation talks in November, but Hamas withdrew at the last minute, complaining that Fatah was continuing to arrest Hamas members in the West Bank....

Spanish Judge to Pursue Crimes Against Humanity Charges Against Seven Israeli Officers

Middle East Online, February 27, 2009 - A Spanish judge has decided to go ahead with a probe into alleged crimes against humanity [from July 2002] by top Israeli military figures after studying documents received from Israel, judicial sources said Friday. The documents, received by Judge Fernando Abreu after translation by the Israeli embassy, show the Jewish state has not launched any legal procedure concerning a 2002 bombing of Gaza, the sources said.

Andreu agreed last month to pursue a complaint of crimes against humanity against seven senior Israeli military figures over the bombing.

He was acting in line with Spain's assumption of the principle of universal jurisdiction in alleged cases of crimes against humanity, genocide, and terrorism.

But he could only proceed if the alleged crimes are not subject to a legal procedure in the country involved. The judge now plans to officially notify former Israeli defence minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and six senior military officials of the inquiry, and also seek witness testimony from Palestinians, the sources said....