Friday, March 20, 2009

Dead Palestinian Babies and Bombed Out Mosques - IDF Fashion 2009

Photo: Haaretz

Haaretz, Week's End Supplement, March 21, 2009 - The office at the Adiv fabric-printing shop in south Tel Aviv handles a constant stream of customers, many of them soldiers in uniform, who come to order custom clothing featuring their unit's insignia, usually accompanied by a slogan and drawing of their choosing. Elsewhere on the premises, the sketches are turned into plates used for imprinting the ordered items, mainly T-shirts and baseball caps, but also hoodies, fleece jackets and pants. A young Arab man from Jaffa supervises the workers who imprint the words and pictures, and afterward hands over the finished product.

Dead babies, mothers weeping on their children's graves, a gun aimed at a child and bombed-out mosques - these are a few examples of the images Israel Defense Forces soldiers design these days to print on shirts they order to mark the end of training, or of field duty. The slogans accompanying the drawings are not exactly anemic either: A T-shirt for infantry snipers bears the inscription "Better use Durex," next to a picture of a dead Palestinian baby, with his weeping mother and a teddy bear beside him. A sharpshooter's T-shirt from the Givati Brigade's Shaked battalion shows a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull's-eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in English, "1 shot, 2 kills." A "graduation" shirt for those who have completed another snipers course depicts a Palestinian baby, who grows into a combative boy and then an armed adult, with the inscription, "No matter how it begins, we'll put an end to it."

There are also plenty of shirts with blatant sexual messages. For example, the Lavi battalion produced a shirt featuring a drawing of a soldier next to a young woman with bruises, and the slogan, "Bet you got raped!" A few of the images underscore actions whose existence the army officially denies - such as "confirming the kill" (shooting a bullet into an enemy victim's head from close range, to ensure he is dead), or harming religious sites, or female or child non-combatants.....

"Shooting and Crying": Israeli Soldiers' Testimonies on Gaza War Killings

Haarez Week's End Supplement, March 20, 2009 - Less than a month after the end of Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, dozens of graduates of the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military preparatory program convened at Oranim Academic College in Kiryat Tivon. Since 1998 the program has prepared participants for what is considered meaningful military service. Many assume command positions in combat and other elite units of the Israel Defense Forces. The program's founder, Danny Zamir, still heads it today and also serves as deputy battalion commander in a reserve unit.

The previous Friday, February 13, Zamir had invited combat soldiers and officers who graduated the program for a lengthy discussion of their experiences in Gaza. They spoke openly, but also with considerable frustration.

Following are extensive excerpts from the transcript of the meeting, as it appears in the program's bulletin, Briza, which was published on Wednesday. The names of the soldiers have been changed to preserve their anonymity. The editors have also left out some of the details concerning the identity of the units that operated in a problematic way in Gaza.

Excerpt: "At first the specified action was to go into a house. We were supposed to go in with an armored personnel carrier called an Achzarit [literally, Cruel] to burst through the lower door, to start shooting inside and then ... I call this murder ... in effect, we were supposed to go up floor by floor, and any person we identified - we were supposed to shoot. I initially asked myself: Where is the logic in this?

"From above they said it was permissible, because anyone who remained in the sector and inside Gaza City was in effect condemned, a terrorist, because they hadn't fled. I didn't really understand: On the one hand they don't really have anywhere to flee to, but on the other hand they're telling us they hadn't fled so it's their fault ... This also scared me a bit. I tried to exert some influence, insofar as is possible from within my subordinate position, to change this. In the end the specification involved going into a house, operating megaphones and telling [the tenants]: 'Come on, everyone get out, you have five minutes, leave the house, anyone who doesn't get out gets killed.'

"I went to our soldiers and said, 'The order has changed. We go into the house, they have five minutes to escape, we check each person who goes out individually to see that he has no weapons, and then we start going into the house floor by floor to clean it out ... This means going into the house, opening fire at everything that moves , throwing a grenade, all those things. And then there was a very annoying moment. One of my soldiers came to me and asked, 'Why?' I said, 'What isn't clear? We don't want to kill innocent civilians.' He goes, 'Yeah? Anyone who's in there is a terrorist, that's a known fact.' I said, 'Do you think the people there will really run away? No one will run away.' He says, 'That's clear,' and then his buddies join in: 'We need to murder any person who's in there. Yeah, any person who's in Gaza is a terrorist,' and all the other things that they stuff our heads with, in the media."

NYTimes: Further Accounts of Gaza Killings Released

By Ethan Bronner, New York Times, March 20, 2009

JERUSALEM — In the two months since Israel ended its military assault on Gaza, Palestinians and international rights groups have accused it of excessive force and wanton killing in that operation, but the Israeli military has said it followed high ethical standards and took great care to avoid civilian casualties.

Now testimony is emerging from within the ranks of soldiers and officers alleging a permissive attitude toward the killing of civilians and reckless destruction of property that is sure to inflame the domestic and international debate about the army’s conduct in Gaza. On Thursday, the military’s chief advocate general ordered an investigation into a soldier’s account of a sniper killing a woman and her two children who walked too close to a designated no-go area by mistake, and another account of a sharpshooter who killed an elderly woman who came within 100 yards of a commandeered house.

When asked why that elderly woman was killed, a squad commander was quoted as saying: “What’s great about Gaza — you see a person on a path, he doesn’t have to be armed, you can simply shoot him. In our case it was an old woman on whom I did not see any weapon when I looked. The order was to take down the person, this woman, the minute you see her. There are always warnings, there is always the saying, ‘Maybe he’s a terrorist.’ What I felt was, there was a lot of thirst for blood.”

The testimonies by soldiers, leaked to the newspapers Maariv and Haaretz, appeared in a journal published by a military preparatory course at the Oranim Academic College in the northern town of Tivon. The academy’s director, Dany Zamir, told Israel Radio, “Those were very harsh testimonies about unjustified shooting of civilians and destruction of property that conveyed an atmosphere in which one feels entitled to use unrestricted force against Palestinians.” The revelations caused an immediate uproar here, with some soldiers and reservists saying they did not recognize the stories being told as accurate.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio that he believed such incidents to be exceptions, adding, “The Israeli Army is the most moral in the world, and I know what I’m talking about because I know what took place in the former Yugoslavia, in Iraq.”

On Friday,
Haaretz published much more extensive, although not complete, excerpts from the soldiers’ testimonies. It said the names of the soldiers had been changed and that some details regarding the units involved had been left out.

The lengthier accounts showed something of a religious and cultural divide between the witnesses who spoke and the soldiers whose actions they were describing and criticizing. One complained that the soldiers were being fed religious propaganda by the army’s rabbi and that they thought they were waging a holy war. "The whole sense many soldiers had in this operation was of a religious war," a soldier who was called Ram was quoted as saying.

Soldier Says Rabbis Pushed 'Religious War' in Gaza

ABC News, March 20, 2009 - Rabbis in the Israeli army told battlefield troops in January's Gaza offensive they were fighting a "religious war" against gentiles, according to one army commander's account published on Friday.

Their message was very clear: we are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the gentiles who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land," he said.

The account by Ram, a pseudonym to shield the soldier's identity, was published by the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper in the second day of revelations that have rocked the Israeli military. [The pieces are posted below - Ed.]

They were leaked from a Feb 13 meeting of armed forces members to share their Gaza experiences.

Some veterans, alumni of an Israel Defence Force (IDF) military academy, told of the killing of civilians and their impression that deep contempt for Palestinians pervaded the ranks of the Israeli forces.

Haaretz and the daily Maariv, which also published the accounts, quoted over half a dozen soldiers and airmen. The institution's director, Danny Zamir, confirmed that Thursday's published accounts were authentic.

In longer excerpts in its Friday "Week's End" edition [See "Shooting and Crying," below - Ed.], the daily quoted 'Ram' as saying his impression of the 22-day operation was "the feeling of an almost religious mission"....

"We Utterly Failed the Palestinians of Gaza" - Eyewitness Testimony - Rose Mishaan

Photo: Rose Mishaan

As posted on the blog Mondoweiss, March 16, 2009 - The following was written by Rose Mishaan, a participant on the recent National Lawyer's Guild delegation to Gaza. Rose is a student at the University of California Hastings College of Law. I know Rose from when we were both members of Jews Against the Occupation in New York. She sent this out as an email to friends and has given us permission to reprint it here. All the photos below were taken by her. - Adam Horowitz

It took me a month to write this email. In that month, I've been through a whirlwind of emotions, trying to find away to process the things that I saw. I still haven't figured it out.

I went to Gaza with a group of lawyers to investigate violations of international law. We crossed into Gaza through the Egyptian border crossing at Rafah. At first we were fairly convinced we wouldn't get through. We had heard different stories of internationals trying to get through and then getting turned away -- they didn't have the proper credentials, they didn't have a letter from their embassy, etc. It made it all the more anti-climactic when we got through with no problem. just a minor 7-hour detainment at the border, which was really nothing at all. they said we were free to go. so we boarded a bus and drove the half-mile to the Palestinian side of the crossing. when we got there, we went through the world's one and only Palestinian Authority border crossing. we were the only ones there. they stamped all our passports and gave us a hero's welcome -- invited us to sit down for tea and have some desserts. they could not believe an American delegation was there, in Gaza. as far as we learned, we were only the second American delegation to enter Gaza since the offensive -- after a delegation of engineers. We were certainly the first and only delegation of American lawyers. while we were trying to avoid the mandatory Palestinian shmooze time with tea and snacks, waiting for our cabs to arrive to take us to our hotel, we felt a bomb explode. to our unexperienced senses, it felt like it was right under us. i got immediately anxious and decided we need to get out of there. our Palestinian hosts laughed at me kindly and said "don't worry this is normal here". somehow, not that comforting. we got in our two cabs and starting heading from the border to our hotel in Gaza City. the ride from Rafah to Gaza City was about 40 minutes. as soon as we left the border gates, we began to see the bombed out buildings. one of my companions yelled out "holy shit!" and we looked to where she was pointing and saw the giant crater in the building. then my other travel companion turned to her and said "you can't yell 'holy shit' every time you see a bombed out building. we'll all have heart attacks." and she was right. the entire 40-minute drive to Gaza City, our cab driver pointed out the sights around us. he explained what each bombed out building was, who was living there and what had been a big story in the news. all we saw was decimation. one building after another collapsed into rubble....

Gaza was like nothing I'd ever seen. The reality of a very real bloodbath set in. I saw what this onslaught did to people -- real people. i looked into their eyes and heard their stories and saw their wounds. It made war realer than i ever wanted it to be. There still isn't yet a day that goes by that I don't think about what i saw and heard, and feel guilty about leaving, and sad that people are still living with such pain, fear, trauma and loss. I think the hardest part is knowing that as a world, we utterly failed the Palestinians of Gaza. We stood and watched them die and justified our own inaction. It is something that should bring a little shame to us all.

Dupes? No - We Were Telling the Truth - Johann Hari

The Independent, March 20, 2009 - For months, the opponents of Operation Cast Lead – the assault on Gaza that killed 1,434 Palestinians – have been told we are "dupes for Islamic fundamentalists", or even anti-Semitic. The defenders of Israel's war claimed you could only believe the reports that Israeli troops were deliberately firing on civilians, scrawling "death to Arabs" on the walls, and trashing olive groves, or using the chemical weapon white phosphorus that burns to the bone, if you were infected with the old European virus of Jew-hatred.

Now the very people who fought that war have confirmed we were simply describing reality. One Israeli Defence Force squad leader says of the orders he was given to target civilians: "I call it murder." As he put it: "In the end the directive was to go into a house, switch on loudspeakers and tell them 'you have five minutes to run away and whoever doesn't will be killed'." In a crowded civilian city, there are all sorts of people who cannot run away: the elderly, the disabled, the pregnant, the terrified. This soldier was told to kill them....

Johann Hari
is an award-winning journalist who writes twice-weekly for the Independent, one of Britain's leading newspapers, and the Huffington Post. He also writes for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Le Monde, Le Monde Diplomatique, The New Republic, El Mundo, The Guardian, The Melbourne Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, South Africa's Star, The Irish Times, and a wide range of other international newspapers and magazines.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

U.N. rights envoy sees Israeli war crimes in Gaza

By Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters News, March 19, 2009

A United Nations human rights investigator said on Thursday that Israel's offensive against Hamas in densely populated Gaza appeared to constitute a war crime of the "greatest magnitude."

Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said the Geneva Conventions required warring forces to distinguish between military targets and surrounding civilians.

"If it is not possible to do so, then launching the attacks is inherently unlawful and would seem to constitute a war crime of the greatest magnitude under international law," Falk said.

Violations included Israel's alleged "targeting of schools, mosques and ambulances" during the December 27-January 18 offensive and its use of weapons including white phosphorus, as well as Hamas firing of rockets at civilian targets in southern Israel.

Falk said that Israel's blockade of the coastal strip of 1.5 million people violated the Geneva Conventions, which he said suggested further war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.

The aggression was not legally justified and may represent a "crime against peace" - a principle established at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi criminals, according to the American law professor who serves as the Human Rights Council's independent investigator.

He further suggested that the Security Council might set up an ad hoc criminal tribunal to establish accountability for war crimes in Gaza, noting Israel has not signed the Rome statutes establishing the International Criminal Court.

Willful Destruction of Gaza - Photos & First hand accounts

Belkis Wille, Harvard Student visiting Gaza, March 2009

"On Thursday evening my boss took me to Northern Gaza, to the most devastated areas. The Israeli army engaged in an operation to raze to the ground all of the houses close to the border that were blocking the view from the Israeli security watchtowers. Hundreds of houses that were not Hamas targets were bombed. One case is particularly disturbing; a family was gathered in one house, and the Israeli army placed explosives under the support columns of the building, and then blew it up from a distance. An ambulance driver was in the neighboring house and got into his ambulance to drive to the house and load in the injured people. The Israeli tanks purposefully blocked his way and he had to watch the people die from 10 meters away. He returned to his house, which was blown up shortly afterwards.

I saw all the remains of phosphorus bombs, mines, F16s, etc. I heard so many awful stories about attacks that were carried out. And yet this is not what disturbed me the most; in wartime these are the unfortunate but expected results. What disturbed me more was the most disgusting damage caused for non-military purposes, but purely out of malice. You drive past hundreds of fields of grape vines that were bulldozed by the army, uprooting every single tree; only a few stumps are left. In one house that the army entered, one soldier stood on the side of the closest and fired a single bullet that pierced through every single item of clothing hanging inside. Another man had several tvs, and he came home to find a bullet in the screen of each one. A friend of mine, not a Hamas supporter, in fact he is a member of the Fatah party, evacuated his house after staying there for the first few weeks of the war. Afterwards the military entered- though it was empty- and shot doors, cupboards, closets, curtains, clothes, even the bathroom has a large bullet hole in the wall. Unfortunately the local government has its own shortcomings- because the family is Fatah, they will received no compensation.

Even more visible willful destruction is seen by simply driving on the roads in the North. Some of the tanks are armed with something like a large big pin that rips through the middle of the road as the tanks drive, ruining the road permanently. Sometimes bulldozers are used to tear up the entire street. There has not been any new asphalt in Gaza for over two years; therefore there is no way of repairing the roads- something desperately needed in Gaza.

This kind of destruction goes beyond military necessity, and goes beyond what wartime can explain. This kind of destruction is the sickening affect of power, power of soldiers to ruin the lives of Gazan civilians with simple actions that have no affect on them or their conscience."


Palestine Telegaph: First Electronic Newspaper based in Gaza

The Palestine Telegraph/PT is the first Electronic Newspaper based in the Gaza Strip, Palestine staffed by Palestinians and international volunteers; professional journalists and members of the New Fourth Estate-citizen journalists who do not take assignments from editors or paychecks from corporate controlled media.

The Palestine Telegraph will showcase a diverse community of Arab and international writers.

The Palestine Telegraph is dedicated to upholding and expressing the right of freedom of conscience, speech and dissent and encourages creative writing to attract a worldwide readership.

Board of Directors: Dr. Arafat Madi, Chairman, Dr. Rami Abdu, Deputy Chair, Sameh A. Habeeb, Executive Manager

Staff: Sameh A. Habeeb, Editor-in-Chief, Eileen Fleming/USA-World Editor, Ahmad Sabah, Chief Technical Support, Shara Rabich, Editor/Developer

When the assault on Gaza erupted on December 27, 2008 through January 17, 2009: 1,412 human beings lost their lives, the majority women and children. 3,700 babies were also born during that time of violence.

This first edition of The Palestine Telegraph is dedicated to every baby born, every innocent lost, and all who died in the cycle of violence.

NYTimes: After Gaza, Israel Grapples With Crisis of Isolation

By Ethan Bronner, New York Times, March 19, 2009

JERUSALEM — Israel, whose founding idea was branded as racism by the United Nations General Assembly in 1975 and which faced an Arab boycott for decades, is no stranger to isolation. But in the weeks since its Gaza war, and as it prepares to inaugurate a hawkish right-wing government, it is facing its worst diplomatic crisis in two decades.

Examples abound. Its sports teams have met hostility and violent protests in Sweden, Spain and Turkey. Mauritania has closed Israel’s embassy.

Relations with Turkey, an important Muslim ally, have suffered severely. A group of top international judges and human rights investigators recently called for an inquiry into Israel’s actions in Gaza. “Israel Apartheid Week” drew participants in 54 cities around the world this month, twice the number of last year, according to its organizers. And even in the American Jewish community, albeit in its liberal wing, there is a chill.

The issue has not gone unnoticed here, but it has generated two distinct and somewhat contradictory reactions. On one hand, there is real concern. Global opinion surveys are being closely examined and the Foreign Ministry has been granted an extra $2 million to improve Israel’s image through cultural and information diplomacy.

“We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits,” said Arye Mekel, the ministry’s deputy director general for cultural affairs. “This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”

But there is also a growing sense that outsiders do not understand Israel’s predicament, so criticism is dismissed.

“People here feel that no matter what you do you are going to be blamed for all the problems in the Middle East,” said Eytan Gilboa, a professor of politics and international communication at Bar Ilan University. “Even suicide bombings by Palestinians are seen as our fault for not establishing a Palestinian state.”

Of course, for Israel’s critics, including those who firmly support the existence of a Jewish state, the problem is not one of image but of policy. They point to four decades of occupation, the settling of half a million Israeli Jews on land captured in 1967, the economic strangling of Gaza for the past few years and the society’s growing indifference toward the creation of a Palestinian state as reasons Israel has lost favor abroad, and they say that no amount of image buffing will change that.

Israel’s use of enormous force in the Gaza war in January crystallized much of this criticism.

The issue of a Palestinian state is central to Israel’s reputation abroad, because so many governments and international organizations favor its establishment in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. And while the departing government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert negotiated for such a state, the incoming one of Benjamin Netanyahu says that item is not on its immediate agenda.

Javier Solana, foreign policy chief for the European Union, said in Brussels on Monday that the group would reconsider its relationship with Israel if it did not remain committed to establishing a Palestinian state.

Moreover, Mr. Netanyahu is expected to appoint Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, as his foreign minister. This alone has Israelis and their allies in Europe and the United States worried because of Mr. Lieberman’s views of Israeli Arabs that some have called racist.

IDF orders probe into allegations over Gaza war

By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent and Haaretz Service, March 19, 2009

In the wake of an Haaretz expose, the Israel Defense Forces on Thursday ordered an investigation into soldiers' accounts of alleged misconduct and serious violations of the army's rules of engagement.

Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit instructed the Military Police Investigation unit to launch the probe after soldiers were quoted as telling a military cadet academy that combat troops in Gaza fired at unarmed Palestinian civilians and vandalized property during Operation Cast Lead.

The head of the pe-military course, Danny Zamir, told Haaretz on Wednesday that he did not know in advance what the soldiers would say at the gathering, and what they said "shocked us." He said that after hearing the soldiers, he told IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi about his fears of a serious moral failure in the IDF.

The chief of staff's bureau requested a copy of the transcript of the discussion, and Zamir provided it. This week Zamir met with the IDF's chief education officer, Brig. Gen. Eli Shermeister, to discuss the matter. Zamir said he believed the army would take the matter seriously. "They do not intend to avoid responsibility," he said.

The IDF Spokesman's Office said: "As a result of the request of the head of the Rabin pre-military course, Mr. Danny Zamir, to the chief of staff's bureau, a meeting was held between Zamir and the chief education officer, Brig. Gen. Eli Shermeister. The chief education officer described to the head of the preparatory course the processes of the operational and ethical inquiries being conducted by the IDF and the chief education officer's staff at all levels."

The chief education officer also described "the actions taken before during and after the operation to inculcate the soldiers and commanders with the moral aspects of the fighting."

The spokesman said that "Brig. Gen. Shermeister also made it clear that the IDF is now conducting intensive and comprehensive inquiries, and that commanders are encouraging discussion of these matters. The IDF has no supporting or prior information about these events. The IDF will check their veracity and investigate as required. The head of the preparatory course was also asked to pass on to the IDF any information he has so we can deal with it and investigate it in depth."

Haaretz Expose on IDF in Gaza: Killing civilians, vandalism, and lax rules of engagement

Haaretz, March 19, 2009 - During Operation Cast Lead, Israeli forces killed Palestinian civilians under permissive rules of engagement and intentionally destroyed their property, say soldiers who fought in the offensive.

The soldiers are graduates of the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military preparatory course at Oranim Academic College in Tivon. Some of their statements made on Feb. 13 will appear Thursday and Friday in Haaretz. Dozens of graduates of the course who took part in the discussion fought in the Gaza operation.

The speakers included combat pilots and infantry soldiers. Their testimony runs counter to the Israel Defense Forces' claims that Israeli troops observed a high level of moral behavior during the operation. The session's transcript was published this week in the newsletter for the course's graduates.

The testimonies include a description by an infantry squad leader of an incident where an IDF sharpshooter mistakenly shot a Palestinian mother and her two children. "There was a house with a family inside .... We put them in a room. Later we left the house and another platoon entered it, and a few days after that there was an order to release the family. They had set up positions upstairs. There was a sniper position on the roof," the soldier said.

"The platoon commander let the family go and told them to go to the right. One mother and her two children didn't understand and went to the left, but they forgot to tell the sharpshooter on the roof they had let them go and it was okay, and he should hold his fire and he ... he did what he was supposed to, like he was following his orders."

According to the squad leader: "The sharpshooter saw a woman and children approaching him, closer than the lines he was told no one should pass. He shot them straight away. In any case, what happened is that in the end he killed them.

"I don't think he felt too bad about it, because after all, as far as he was concerned, he did his job according to the orders he was given. And the atmosphere in general, from what I understood from most of my men who I talked to ... I don't know how to describe it .... The lives of Palestinians, let's say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way," he said.

Another squad leader from the same brigade told of an incident where the company commander ordered that an elderly Palestinian woman be shot and killed; she was walking on a road about 100 meters from a house the company had commandeered.

Israeli military activity in Gaza war caused sewage pond breach

By Marian Houk,, by March 12th, 2009

It had been predicted — Israeli bombing could breach the earthen walls one of the ponds used to collect sewage in the Gaza Strip, and cause a large and potentially catastrophic sewage overflow. And, it is now clear that there was, indeed, a breach in one of the sewage containment walls in Gaza, caused by some form of Israeli military activity.

Not reported until now, but evident from a United Nations analysis of satellite photos, is an overflow from a sewage pond in the Sheikh Ejleen area in Gaza. The overflow was “violent”, with “indications of severe land erosion”, according to analysis of the satellite maps together with photographs taken on the ground by a UN Environment Program (UNEP) mission to Gaza.

Sari Bashi, Executive Director of GISHA, the Israeli human rights organization that has gone to Israel’s Supreme Court to try to stop Israeli military-administered sanctions against the entire Gaza Strip, said on Friday 13 March that her office had received an affadavit confirming damage from an IDF attack that hit Gaza’s sewage infrastructure.

Maher Najjar, Deputy Director of Gaza’s Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU), said in an affidavit to GISHA that “on Jan. 10, one of the sewage lagoons at the Gaza treatment plant, the third one, was hit by Israeli shelling, and the sewage has started to seep into nearby areas. The spillway has reached one kilometer, meaning that the sewage is already running one kilometer past the lagoon, contaminating homes and farmland nearby, which is highly dangerous for residents. There is an additional danger of contamination of the drinking water, if sewage leaks into the valves of the water network. We had given the coordinates of the plant and lagoons to the Israeli military, through the ICRC, and asked that it not be hit…”

Najjar confirmed in a telephone interview from his home in Gaza on Friday 13 March that “one of the earthen shoulders of a sewage lagoon of the main treatment plant in Gaza City had received two hits from F-16s, the shoulder was damaged, and 500,000 cubic meters of raw sewage spilled out”. He said this had happened in the first ten days of January. “The main problem is we are afraid of the pollution from this spill into Gaza’s underground water aquifer", [n.b. The only source of water in the coastal strip, which was already not only too saline from over-pumping, but also already polluted.]

Najjar explained that the land in the area around the sewage lagoon was rather sandy, so “the flood of spilled sewage infiltrated quickly into the aquifer”.

Monday, March 16, 2009

In Memory of Rachel Corrie: April 10, 1979 - March 16, 2003

Thoughts on the Death of Rachel Corrie
- David Bromwich, Professor of Literature, Yale University, The Huffington Post, March 16, 2009 - Today is the sixth anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie. On March 16, 2003, in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, she was run over by an armor-plated Caterpillar bulldozer, a machine sold by the U.S. to Israel, the armor put in place for the purpose of knocking down homes without damage to the machine. Rachel Corrie was 23 years old, from Seattle; a sane, articulate, and dedicated American who had studied with care the methods of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. At the time that she was run over, and then backed over again, she was wearing a luminous orange jacket and holding a megaphone. There is a photograph of her talking to the soldier of the Israel Defense Forces, in the cabin of his bulldozer, not long before he did it. None of the eyewitnesses believed that the killing was accidental. Perhaps the soldier was tired of the peace workers; it was that kind of day. Perhaps, in some part of himself, he guessed that he was living at the beginning of a period of impunity.

The Israeli government never produced the investigation it promised into the death of Rachel Corrie (as her parents indicate in a statement published today). The inquiry urged by her congressional representative, Adam Smith, brought no result from the American state department under Condoleezza Rice. Her story was lost for a while in the grand narrative of the American launching of the war against Iraq. Thoroughly lost, and for a reason. The rules of engagement America employed in Iraq were taught to our soldiers, as Dexter Filkins revealed, by officers of the IDF; the U.S. owed a debt to Israel for knowledge of the methods of destruction; and we were using the same Caterpillar machines against Iraqi homes. An inquiry into the killing of Rachel Corrie was hardly likely, given the burden of that debt and that association.

Less than a month later, on April 5, 2003, the American peace worker Brian Avery was shot in the face and seriously disfigured by IDF soldiers in Jenin. The group he was with were wearing red reflector vests with the word "doctor" written in English and Arabic. As Avery later described it, they "weren't two blocks from our apartment when an Israeli convoy of two vehicles, a tank and an armored personnel carrier, drove up the street from the direction that we were walking from. And so as we heard them coming closer, we stepped off to the side of the road to let them pass by....We stood to the side of the road, we put our hands out to show we didn't have any weapons and weren't, you know, threatening them in any way....And once they drove within about 30 meters of where we were standing, they opened fire with their machine guns and continued shooting for a very long time, probably shooting about, you know, 30 rounds of ammunition, which is quite a lot when you see them in action. And I was struck in the face with one of the bullets."

Three days ago another American peace worker, Tristan Anderson, who was protesting the new security fence in the West Bank town of Ni'lin, was shot by another Israeli soldier....

Statement from the family of Rachel Corrie,
March 16, 2009 - We thank all who continue to remember Rachel and who, on this sixth anniversary of her stand in Gaza, renew their own commitments to human rights, justice and peace in the Middle East. The tributes and actions in her memory are a source of inspiration to us and to others.

Friday, March 13th, we learned of the tragic injury to American activist Tristan Anderson. Tristan was shot in the head with a tear-gas canister in Ni’lin Village in the West Bank when Israeli forces attacked a demonstration opposing the construction of the annexation wall through the village's land. On the same day, a Ni’lin resident was, also, shot in the leg with live ammunition. Four residents of Ni’lin have been killed in the past eight months as villagers and their supporters have courageously demonstrated against the Apartheid Wall deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice—a wall that will ultimately absorb one-quarter of the village's remaining land. Those who have died are a ten-year-old child Ahmed Mousa, shot in the forehead with live ammunition on July 29, 2008; Yousef Amira (17) shot with rubber-coated steel bullets on July 30, 2008; Arafat Rateb Khawaje (22) and Mohammed Khawaje (20), both shot and killed with live ammunition on December 8, 2008. On this anniversary, Rachel would want us all to hold Tristan Anderson and his family and these Palestinians and their families in our thoughts and prayers, and we ask everyone to do so.

We are writing this message from Cairo where we returned after a visit to Gaza with the Code Pink Delegation from the United States. Fifty-eight women and men successfully passed through Rafah Crossing on Saturday, March 7th to challenge the border closures and siege and to celebrate International Women's Day with the strong and courageous women of Gaza. Rachel would be very happy that our spirited delegation made this journey. North to south throughout the Strip, we witnessed the sweeping destruction of neighborhoods, municipal buildings, police stations, mosques, and schools –casualties of the Israeli military assaults in December and January. When we asked about the personal impact of the attacks on those we met, we heard repeatedly of the loss of mothers, fathers, children, cousins, and friends. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights reports 1434 Palestinian dead and over 5000 injured, among them 288 children and 121 women.

We walked through the farming village of Khoza in the South where fifty homes were destroyed during the land invasion. A young boy scrambled through a hole in the rubble to show us the basement he and his family crouched in as a bulldozer crushed their house upon them. We heard of Rafiya who lead the frightened women and children of this neighborhood away from threatening Israeli military bulldozers, only to be struck down and killed by an Israeli soldier's sniper fire as she walked in the street carrying her white flag.

Repeatedly, we were told by Palestinians, and by the internationals on the ground supporting them, that there is no ceasefire. Indeed, bomb blasts from the border area punctuated our conversations as we arrived and departed Gaza. On our last night, we sat by a fire in the moonlight in the remains of a friend's farmyard and listened to him tell of how the Israeli military destroyed his home in 2004, and of how this second home was shattered on February 6th. This time, it was Israeli rockets from Apache helicopters that struck the house, A stand of wheat remained and rustled soothingly in the breeze as we talked, but our attention shifted quickly when F-16s streaked high across the night sky. and our friend explained that if the planes tipped to the side, they would strike. Everywhere, the psychological costs of the recent and ongoing attacks for all Gazans, but especially for the children, were sadly apparent. It is not only those who suffer the greatest losses that carry the scars of all that has happened. It is those, too, who witnessed from their school bodies flying in the air when police cadets were bombed across the street and those who felt and heard the terrifying blasts of missiles falling near their own homes. It is the children who each day must walk past the unexplainable and inhumane destruction that has occurred.

In Rachel's case, though a thorough, credible and transparent investigation was promised by the Israeli Government, after six years, the position of the U.S. Government remains that such an investigation has not taken place. In March 2008, Michele Bernier-Toff, Managing Director of the Office of Overseas Citizen Services at the Department of State wrote, “We have consistently requested that the Government of Israel conduct a full and transparent investigation into Rachel's death. Our requests have gone unanswered or ignored.” Now, the attacks on all the people of Gaza and the recent one on Tristan Anderson in Ni'lin cry out for investigation and accountability. We call on President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and members of Congress to act with fortitude and courage to ensure that the atrocities that have occurred are addressed by the Israeli Government and through relevant international and U.S. law. We ask them to act immediately and persistently to stop the impunity enjoyed by the Israeli military, not to encourage it.

Despite the pain, we have once again felt privileged to enter briefly into the lives of Rachel's Palestinian friends in Gaza. We are moved by their resilience and heartened by their song, dance, and laughter amidst the tears. Rachel wrote in 2003, “I am nevertheless amazed at their strength in being able to defend such a large degree of their humanity--laughter, generosity, family time—against the incredible horror occurring in their lives.....I am also discovering a degree of strength and of the basic ability for humans to remain human in the direst of circumstances...I think the word is dignity.” On this sixth anniversary of Rachel's killing, we echo her sentiments.

Sincerely, Cindy and Craig Corrie, On behalf of our family

In memory of Rachel Corrie
- Gila Svirsky, Co-Chair, B'Tselem Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories - I was not present in Rafah that terrible day, 16 March 2003, but I have frequently replayed in my mind the events leading up to the moment when a bulldozer rolled over Rachel Corrie. I think to myself: What compelled this young woman, neither Jewish nor Palestinian, to travel 10,000 miles from home, throw in her lot with a family not her own, a people not her own, and ultimately meet a death that came suddenly, swiftly, in an instant of shocked comprehension....

Finally, watch as Alice Walker, who just returned from a visit to Gaza, movingly read aloud the letters of Rachel Corrie some years ago, perhaps sowing the seeds for her decision to travel there and this week to bear witness.

Rachel Corrie, Rest in Peace. You may be gone, but your spirit lives on in so many ways and continues to bear witness and to move others to do so.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Author Alice Walker Marked Women's Day by Touring Gaza with CodePink

Photos: AP/Hatem Moussa
Associated Press, March 11, 2009 - Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker says a catastrophe has befallen the Gaza Strip and that she hopes she and others can help President Barack Obama "see what we see."

Walker, the U.S. author best known for her novel The Color Purple, toured Gaza this week, including an area destroyed in Israel's recent war on the territory's Islamic militant Hamas rulers....

Walker, 65, said in an interview Tuesday that she saw widespread devastation.

"Lots and lots and lots of houses of just ordinary people have been completely and utterly destroyed, and people are living in the rubble," she said, speaking in the garden cafe of her Gaza City hotel. "Some of them are struggling in tents, and some are just sitting in what remains of their homes."

Walker said her decision to visit Gaza, along with members of the U.S. anti-war group Code Pink, was spurred by the recent death of an older sister. She said she felt a connection to Gazans who lost loved ones in the war.

"I wanted very much to be with them and to bear witness to what is happening to them, this horrible, catastrophic, terrible thing," she said....

Walker said she believes Americans have mostly been exposed to the Israeli narrative since the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 and know little about the plight of the Palestinians. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled their homes at the time.

"We were indoctrinated to the song in that film Exodus, you know, `This land belongs to us, this land is our land,' meaning the Israelis, the Jews, and for so long, we were told that nobody lived here, that it was a land without people, for a people without land," she said.

Walker said she hopes she and others can make Obama more aware of the plight of Gaza.

"Believing that he (Obama) is a decent person, and I do believe this, our job then is to help him see what we see, and then he can decide how he will behave and it's on his soul, it's not on my soul."....

Behind the Scenes in Cairo: Tensions Rife at Palestinian Talks

Maan News, March 14, 2009 - Cairo – Ma’an – One-hundred and eighty Palestinian leaders, businessmen and public figures from fourteen factions making up five central, one higher and two follow up committees spent their fourth day in Cairo Saturday in a grand effort at forming a consensus government.

The 180 men and women are in two halls at the Headquarters of the Egyptian Intelligence office. The space has been divided into several rooms, one for each of the five principal committees and a sixth for the higher committee.

The members of the five principal committees (PLO, Government, Elections, Security, and Reconciliation) are joined by the Secretaries General of the Higher Committee on an as-needed basis.

According to the most recent reports, members of the PLO and Reconciliation committees have finished their work and will head home. They handed in their reports on Saturday morning and Friday evening respectively.

Member of the PPP delegation, Walid Al-Awad, said the Security committee finished its job on Saturday but will continue discussing some final issues Sunday. He explained that they agreed to combine the security services by forming a committee that will be determined by the consensus government, if and when it is formed. This new committee would then prepare instructions for combining the security systems.

The Government committee, Al-Awad said, has been in meetings since the early morning. The task of the committee is seen as the most difficult, since it is charged with deciding first the form of the consensus transitional government as well as its political program within the transitional period in addition to the members that will make it up. The Elections committee, the second most contentious, is embroiled in discussions on the most appropriate elections law. A sticking point has been whether or not to use a system of proportional representation.

The committees, according to sources at the summit, are able to agree on “obvious issues” and statements on the Palestinian Basic Law, but have been unable to come up with real answers to the sources of internal division. Mainly, the position of negotiations and international legitimacy versus the right to resist as a Palestinian collective....

Cash Crisis Forces PA Employees in Gaza Into Poverty

Maan News, March 14, 2009 - Until recently, 70,000 Palestinian Authority (PA) civil servants were among the only people who still received a steady income in the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli-led blockade has forced most industries to shut down.

However, due to an Israeli ban on cash transfers to the Strip, PA employees may soon have to start selling their belongings, as they have not been able to withdraw their salaries from banks. Two weeks into March, the civil servants still have not been paid.

Ma’an spoke to many workers who still receive their income from the PA in Ramallah, who said that the current crisis is beginning to remind of the days when due to an international boycott of the elected Hamas government, no one received their salaries.

In other words, the boycott of Hamas, which currently holds power in Gaza is also undercutting the world’s efforts to bolster the Fatah-led PA based in the West Bank....

Barak Showed Gaza Op Was Valueless

Jerusalem Post, March 8, 2009 - With the days ticking down to the end of the Olmert government, tensions again surfaced in Sunday's cabinet meeting over Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's recent decision to condition Egyptian-mediated truce negotiations with Hamas and the opening of the Gaza Strip crossings on the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

Military Intelligence Chief Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, during a briefing to the cabinet on the situation in the South, said that Hamas's current willingness to compromise more than it had in the past was evidence that Israel's deterrence had been restored.

When he said that Egypt, with Israel's acquiescence, had been talking to Hamas to get them to be more flexible, Olmert interrupted him and said that as far as he was concerned, there had never been any talk of an arrangement with Hamas. Israel would not enter into an arrangement with Hamas, he said.

After Yadlin finished his briefing, Barak said there were indeed elements of a cease-fire arrangement evolving, dealing with stopping arms smuggling and the opening of the border crossings into Gaza.

"All the country's wars ended with some kind of arrangement," he said.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who was opposed throughout Operation Cast Lead to reaching any tacit agreement with Hamas via the Egyptians, believing that Israel's deterrence would ensure quiet in the South, took issue with Barak and said that Operation Defensive Shield had also ended without an agreement.

Barak said the Gaza operation had been a success, but that the country would be in a different position right now had Israel been willing to continue talking about an agreement through the Egyptians.

Olmert then contradicted Barak, saying he knew very well there were no talks about an arrangement, because while Barak wanted such talks, Livni objected.

Olmert said he also objected, wanting first to secure Shalit's release, and then only afterward take steps that could lead to "normal life on the other side."...

Zionism is the Problem - Ben Ehrenreich

LA Times, March 15, 2009 - It's hard to imagine now, but in 1944, six years after Kristallnacht, Lessing J. Rosenwald, president of the American Council for Judaism, felt comfortable equating the Zionist ideal of Jewish statehood with "the concept of a racial state -- the Hitlerian concept." For most of the last century, a principled opposition to Zionism was a mainstream stance within American Judaism.

Even after the foundation of Israel, anti-Zionism was not a particularly heretical position. Assimilated Reform Jews like Rosenwald believed that Judaism should remain a matter of religious rather than political allegiance; the ultra-Orthodox saw Jewish statehood as an impious attempt to "push the hand of God"; and Marxist Jews -- my grandparents among them -- tended to see Zionism, and all nationalisms, as a distraction from the more essential struggle between classes.

To be Jewish, I was raised to believe, meant understanding oneself as a member of a tribe that over and over had been cast out, mistreated, slaughtered. Millenniums of oppression that preceded it did not entitle us to a homeland or a right to self-defense that superseded anyone else's. If they offered us anything exceptional, it was a perspective on oppression and an obligation born of the prophetic tradition: to act on behalf of the oppressed and to cry out at the oppressor.

For the last several decades, though, it has been all but impossible to cry out against the Israeli state without being smeared as an anti-Semite, or worse. To question not just Israel's actions, but the Zionist tenets on which the state is founded, has for too long been regarded an almost unspeakable blasphemy.

et it is no longer possible to believe with an honest conscience that the deplorable conditions in which Palestinians live and die in Gaza and the West Bank come as the result of specific policies, leaders or parties on either side of the impasse. The problem is fundamental: Founding a modern state on a single ethnic or religious identity in a territory that is ethnically and religiously diverse leads inexorably either to politics of exclusion (think of the 139-square-mile prison camp that Gaza has become) or to wholesale ethnic cleansing. Put simply, the problem is Zionism.

It has been argued that Zionism is an anachronism, a leftover ideology from the era of 19th century romantic nationalisms wedged uncomfortably into 21st century geopolitics. But Zionism is not merely outdated. Even before 1948, one of its basic oversights was readily apparent: the presence of Palestinians in Palestine. That led some of the most prominent Jewish thinkers of the last century, many of them Zionists, to balk at the idea of Jewish statehood. The Brit Shalom movement -- founded in 1925 and supported at various times by Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem -- argued for a secular, binational state in Palestine in which Jews and Arabs would be accorded equal status. Their concerns were both moral and pragmatic. The establishment of a Jewish state, Buber feared, would mean "premeditated national suicide."

The fate Buber foresaw is upon us: a nation that has lived in a state of war for decades, a quarter-million Arab citizens with second-class status and more than 5 million Palestinians deprived of the most basic political and human rights. If two decades ago comparisons to the South African apartheid system felt like hyperbole, they now feel charitable. The white South African regime, for all its crimes, never attacked the Bantustans with anything like the destructive power Israel visited on Gaza in December and January, when nearly1,300 Palestinians were killed, one-third of them children....

Ben Ehrenreich is the author of the novel "The Suitors."