Saturday, March 28, 2009

Analysis: Are Religious Soldiers to Blame for Alleged Abuse?

The Jewish Forward, March 25, 2009 - Two months after the cease-fire that ended the recent fighting in Gaza, Israel finds itself bombarded with war crimes accusations. They come from a wide spectrum of critics, but none has drawn a more emotional reaction in Israel than the graphic descriptions by a group of Israeli combat troops of abuses they saw during the war.

As widely reported, the soldiers’ accounts — including wanton vandalism and two alleged killings of civilians — emerged during a private discussion February 13 at a pre-military academy in the Galilee, named after Yitzhak Rabin. The academy’s director, Dany Zamir, is reported to have transcribed the alarming stories and sent them to army headquarters, where they were treated dismissively. Zamir then published the transcript in the academy’s newsletter, which ended up in the hands of two senior military correspondents: Amos Harel of the left-leaning Haaretz, and Ofer Shelah (a former Forward correspondent) of the right-leaning Ma’ariv. Their reports, published March 19, spawned a worldwide blizzard of breathless news coverage of alleged Israeli brutality — and furious denials that Israelis would do such things.

That much is common knowledge. Less familiar are the quiet discussions among some army insiders and close observers — reserve officers, military correspondents, politicians — who insist the abuse reports are substantially true and think they know the reasons for the abuse. One key reason, many say, is the “special character” of the infantry units that carried the brunt of the fighting in Gaza: the Golani and Givati brigades. They talk about the units’ religious character — the high proportion in these brigades, especially Golani, of militant reli-gious nationalists motivated by a messianic sense of mission to save the Land of Israel.

“Golani has a great many religious soldiers, and many of them are Jewish fundamentalists,” said former Knesset member Avshalom Vilan, a Meretz party leader who served with Benjamin Netanyahu in the commandos and remains close to him. “It’s important not to generalize — I’m talking about a minority among religious soldiers. But there is a phenomenon of officers from a certain group of fundamentalist yeshivas and academies who are trying to change the basic values of the army.”

It’s widely believed in the senior ranks and reserves, Vilan said, that these “fundamentalist” soldiers, many of whom serve in special religious platoons with their own religious officers, were the source of much of the abuse. “I’m not talking about the woman who turned left instead of right and got shot,” he said, referring to one of the allegations highlighted by Zamir. “Those things are terrible, but they happen in every war. I’m talking abusive attitudes — soldiers trashing Arab homes, threatening women and children, that sort of thing. That’s something new, and it doesn’t appear magically out of nowhere.”....

Al Jazeera Reports: Gazans Tell of Being Targeted with White Phosphorus During War

Al Jazeera English TV, March 26, 2009 - "According to Human Rights Watch, Israel's use of white phosphorus in their offensive on the Gaza Strip constitutes a war crime, which Israel strenuously denies. Phosphorus ignites in oxygen in temperatures of more than 30 degrees Celsius and daily temperatures were much hotter than that when the war was carried out in Gaza in January. It is almost impossible to put out, and if it comes into contact with human flesh it can burn to the bone. Sabah Abu Halima, who lost her husband and four of her children in the war tells her story."

New IAF Analysis: 99% of Gaza Aerial Attacks Hit Targets Accurately

Israel Defense Forces blog, March 23, 2009 - The Israel Air Force has expressed its satisfaction with its operations during Operation Cast Lead, after the completion of an internal evaluation of the operation in the last few days. The data compiled by the IAF determined that 99% of aerial attacks hit their target precisely. The evaluation also showed that 80% of the bombs and missiles used by the IAF were precision munitions which significantly decrease the chance of hitting uninvolved civilians. During the second Lebanon war only 36% of the munitions used were precision munitions.

In addition, for the first time during an IDF operation of this scale, no IDF ground forces were injured by the IAF, despite the fact that more than 2000 bombs and missiles were fired close to ground forces and in a dense and complex urban territory.

The IAF was also pleased with its ability to minimize the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israeli territory, by destroying weaponry launchers and storage facilities. Throughout the operation 650 rockets were fired onto Israeli territory, killing three Israelis, injuring hundreds and causing significant damage to property. However, at the start of the operation the IDF had estimated that the Hamas would be able to fire a much larger number.

Another outstanding aspect of the operation was the close cooperation between the IAF and the ground forces during the operation, especially with regard to the use of UAVs. Each brigade was constantly accompanied by a number of UAVs, flying at a lower altitude than fighter jets. The main function of the UAVs was to collect information, to direct the ground forces and to direct IAF aircraft to attack targets that were designated by the ground forces....

Opinion: Egypt Errs in Playing Rough at Rafah Border - Daanish Faruqi

Daily Star, March 29, 2009 - Abdullah al-Ghoul was assured a safe voyage into Gaza, his homeland, from Egypt's Rafah border crossing. In order to see his family after three years of involuntarily exile in Egypt, where he is currently completing a degree in film studies, on March 6 Abdullah joined a 60-person delegation into Gaza sponsored by Codepink, in solidarity with Gazan women on International Women's Day. Miraculously, Egyptian authorities deviated from standard protocol and opened the border crossing to our delegates. Abdullah was casually allowed passage into Gaza, after paying an additional 250 Egyptian pounds, with a promise that he'd be granted a safe return to Egypt after completing his visit.

Unfortunately, upon Abdullah's return Egyptian authorities had reneged on their agreement, citing issues with his paperwork. Instructed to seek assistance from Ramallah to straighten out his file, Abdullah was flatly denied entry back into Egypt. His ability to complete his studies, consequently, is currently on hold.

Abdullah's case is frustrating and heartbreaking. After all, it seems spectacularly unfair to be forced to choose between completing one's studies and seeing one's loved ones after years of separation based on border policies. But his denial of entry into Egypt is far more than an isolated personal anecdote. Indeed, it elucidates the utter arbitrariness of Egypt's policy at the Rafah border, and ultimately Egypt's complicity in the humanitarian disaster in Gaza.

The official policy of the Egyptian government at present is that Rafah must remain hermetically sealed, for reasons beyond Egypt's control--notably, the threat of "insurrectionary spillover" from Palestinians pouring into Egypt and radicalizing the Muslim Brotherhood there. But if this were a legitimate concern, and if the Egyptian regime's hands are genuinely tied, then why was our delegation allowed free entry through Rafah without so much as an official peep from the authorities? Sadly, our entrance was allowed primarily in the name of public relations....

Daanish Faruqi, senior Egypt liaison to the Washington-based Voices for a Democratic Egypt (, recently returned from a fact-finding delegation to the Gaza Strip sponsored by Code Pink: Women for Peace. He wrote this commentary for The Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon.

Arab Leaders Seek Show of Unity at Annual Summit This Week

Kuwait Times, March 29, 2009 - Arab ministers met yesterday ahead of an annual summit, seeking to put on a show of unity as a rightwing government prepares for power in Israel in what is seen as a threat to Middle East peace. But a Qatari official said only 16 leaders from the 22-member Arab League would be attending the summit in the Qatari capital which opens tomorrow, highlighting their lingering differences. Arab states are trying to overcome rifts which emerged largely over the response to Israel's three-week onslaught on the
Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, and discuss the growing influence of Shiite Iran in the region.

We have to live up to our responsibilities and work towards closing ranks," Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani said at yesterday's meeting of foreign ministers. But Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak - whose country is mediating Palestinian reconciliation talks and efforts to forge a sustainable Hamas-Israel truce for Gaza -will be among the heads of state staying away....

Egypt Releases Detained Blogger After 7 Weeks

Reuters (via Kuwait Times, reporting from Cairo), March 28, 2009 - Egyptian authorities have released a 22-year-old blogger and activist after holding him for nearly seven weeks, a human rights group said yesterday. Police detained Diaa Eddin Gad on Feb. 6 outside his home in the Nile Delta province of Gharbiya. London-based rights group Amnesty International said in February that his incommunicado detention at an unknown location put him in danger of torture.

Dia was released at dawn (on Friday) ... He was ill-treated in the period where we did not know where he was being held," said Gamal Eid, director of the Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.

Eid said police beat the Egyptian blogger in a car immediately after picking him up and during his detention in State Security offices. Police beat and kicked Gad, threatened to electrocute him, and electrocuted others in front of him, according to Eid. The government says it prosecutes torturers. Gad's blog Sawt Ghadib or "An Angry Voice" ( contained pro-Gaza slogans and news and commentary on Gaza during the three-week Israeli offensive on the coastal strip, as well as strident denunciations of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and the security services.

Eid said police interrogation of Gad focused on such criticism, and on his references to Mubarak as "Ehud Mubarak", an apparent reference to Israeli Defence Minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The government has faced rising public anger over its enforcement of a blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, especially since the Israeli offensive in Gaza on January.

Egypt has been less tolerant of criticism of its Gaza policy since the Israeli offensive. This increased Egyptian public opposition to Cairo's participation in an Israeli-led blockade of the Hamas-run territory. Egyptian authorities have stepped up measures against bloggers and web activists in recent weeks....

Amidst the Ruins: The Grief

The Gaza Blog (via the New Internationalist Blog), March 20, 2009 - For the last few days the sun has been shining and Gaza has been bright and warm. It makes you feel better, everyone says; more optimistic about the day ahead. But when it comes, the rain in Gaza is ferocious; it lashes down in torrents, soaking the streets, flooding the roads and chilling the bones.

The rain is particularly miserable for people whose homes were destroyed in the recent military offensive, many of whom have nowhere to go except tents or the overcrowded houses of their relatives, some of whom are hosting 30 or 40 people in their homes. At the end of last week I took two British lawyers to Izbat Abed Rabbo in the northern Gaza Strip. As we drove north from Gaza City the sky got darker and cloudier, and then just as we arrived, the rain began to lash down.

Izbat Abed Rabbo lies about one kilometre from the border with Israel. During the recent offensive it was decimated by the Israeli military, who drove their bulldozers over some houses, dynamited others and occupied many more. The soldiers trashed the homes they occupied; tearing the furniture apart, writing obscenities on the walls, shooting bulletholes into the beds, and sometimes even leaving bags of shit for the Palestinians to clear up afterwards. The area is now in ruins....

Louisa Waugh is a writer who is currently living in Gaza. She is the author of Hearing Birds Fly: a nomadic year in Mongolia, which won the 2004 Ondaatje Literary Prize, and Selling Olga: stories of human trafficking and resistance. She blogs weekly at The Gaza Blog.

No Option Left

Al Ahram Weekly, March 28, 2009 - The shops owned by Mohamed Abu Kirsh and Sobhi Khalil in Al-Ramal area of Gaza City are only 50 metres away from the mosque they pray in. Despite this, it takes them 20 minutes to make it back to their shops following the noonday prayer due to their debating the likelihood of success for Palestinian national dialogue. Both optimistic Abu Kirsh and pessimistic Khalil fervently hope that the next dialogue session will close with a final agreement that will put an end to the state of division in Palestinian politics.

"If the faction leaders don't succeed in reaching an agreement, they'd better not come back to us, for in my view that would clearly show a lack of responsibility," Abu Kirsh told Al-Ahram Weekly. Khalil holds that all of the points of difference preventing an agreement are marginal in comparison to the threats facing the Palestinian national cause.

The likelihood of the dialogue's success is currently the focal point of burning debate on the Palestinian street, where people are keeping their fingers crossed for an agreement. Although a date has not been set for resuming national dialogue sessions, they are expected to reconvene soon.

An informed Palestinian source told the Weekly that the impressions of Egyptian General Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman during his meetings with American officials were extremely important and would indicate whether the American administration would recognise the new national accord government or not. This source suggested that should Egypt not obtain guarantees that the world would recognise the new government, then Cairo's attempts would be reduced to mere leaps into the air. As the faction leaders prepare to return to Cairo again, they realise that this will be their last chance.

Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) politburo member Ramzi Ribah says that the faction representatives are expected to reach agreements on three primary points of difference they had been unable to concur on during the dialogue sessions that ended late last week. In a statement to the Weekly, Ribah said that the first point of difference concerned the powers of the national body that would run Palestinian affairs until elections are held for the Palestinian National Council (PNC). Ribah said that Hamas insists that this temporary entity has sole responsibility for making important national decisions related to Palestinian affairs. In contrast, Fatah and some other factions hold that this body's powers should not conflict with those of the agencies of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

Ribah says that the second point of difference is related to the electoral system, whereby Hamas wants to continue with the current system that combines proportional and district systems, while Fatah and the other factions want to use only the proportional system. The third point of difference, Ribah says, concerns the programme of the national accord government. Hamas holds that it must be based upon the programme of the national unity government that was formed following the Mecca Agreement, whereby it includes reference to the government "respecting" the agreements signed between the PLO and Israel. Fatah, however, insists that the programme text makes reference to the new government's "commitment" to the signed agreements....

Incriminating Evidence of Israeli War Crimes in Gaza

Centre for Research on Globalization, March 25, 2009 - Stephen Lendman reviews a variety of sources that have come out in recent weeks about this issue, synthesizing a fair amount of evidence. He then concludes:

Planned months in advance, Israel's attack was premeditated, and under Article 8(2)(a)(1) and Article 8(2)(b)(1) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) constitutes a war crime. It's also a crime against humanity under the statute's Article 7(1) relating to the deliberate killing of civilians or deliberately attacking non-combatant ones.

Further, attacking government buildings and institutions is also a war crime under Article 8(2)(a)(1), Article 8(2)(b)(8), and Article 8(2)(b)(13) of the Rome Statute that prohibits the destruction of property and civilian objects for non-military necessity reasons.

Even though Israel is not party to the Statute, its Articles 7 and 8, relating to crimes of war and against humanity, reflect customary international law under which Israel, its officials, and military commanders at all levels may and should be held accountable.

Under international law, responsibility relates to perpetration, planning, inciting, and/or ordering a crime to be committed as well as "vicarious" (indirect) responsibility of civilian leaders and commanders for crimes committed by their subordinates. These conditions apply in the case of the 22 day Gaza attack - planned well in advance by high-level government and military officials and launched with overwhelming force against multiple targets on December 27.

Again, the evidence is clear, unequivocal, overwhelming, and conclusive that high-level Israeli government and military officials planned and willfully committed systematic crimes of war and against humanity of such gravity that justice demands they be held to account in an international court of law - either the ICC in the Hague or a special International Criminal Tribunal for Israel (ICTI).

Doing so will warn future Israeli governments and all others that no one is exempt from the law and they, too, will be prosecuted if evidence provides justification. The rule of law is sacrosanct, especially for wanton killing that when ongoing for sustained periods satisfies the definition of genocide. Israel long ago passed that threshold. No longer can its lawlessness go unpunished.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He blogs at SteveLendmanBlog and hosts The Global Research News Hour on Monday - Friday at 10 AM US Central time.

In Gaza, Mothers Are at a Loss - Jawad Harb

Photo: Reuters (Ibrahim Abu Mustafa)

Reuters AlertNet, March 25, 2009 -
It is three months since the first bombs began to fall on Gaza, and I see that this war left much more damaged than just houses. For the past two months, I have been meeting with communities, hearing their experiences, their fears. I realized that it left very deep injuries for these women and families. It changed their life styles, the way they think and live together, where they sleep, how they cope. Everything is changed.

At the meetings, the women started to tell stories. You would be amazed by what the women say how their children behave after the war, their attitudes and behaviour change at home and school. Most women say their children refuse to move alone. They refuse to sleep alone in their own rooms. Children do not go to play outside like they used to do, play football or traditional games, because somebody told them that other children were killed out in an airstrike. So now the children are afraid.

There is anxiety, fear, sleep disorders, bed-wetting, even for 14-15 year olds. Some children became violent and aggressive, and want to watch the news, want to know if there's going to be another war.

They are watching the news instead of watching cartoons, or children's movies.

This has put new burdens and responsibility on the mothers, and they're not equipped with the skills to cope with this. CARE is working together with women in community groups across Gaza to help them access psychosocial support for themselves and learn how to counsel their own children.

Before the war, most action plans of the women's groups we work with weren't focused on psychosocial support; most were talking about income-generating projects for women such as rabbit-raising, supporting female farmers, sewing. But after the war, the priorities changed. People need an immediate response to the psychological trauma....

Jawad Harb is a Palestinian living in Rafah, Gaza, with his wife and six children. Harb has worked with CARE since 2002, managing a program supporting women's centres in Gaza.

More Fallout from Gaza Op: B'Tselem Reports Sharp Rise in Israeli Security Forces' Violence against Palestinians in the West Bank

B'Tselem-Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, March 24, 2009 - Since the beginning of Operation “Cast Lead” at the end of 2008, there has been a sharp rise in reports of violence perpetrated by security forces against Palestinians in the West Bank. During this nearly three-month period, B'Tselem documented 24 cases in which police officers and soldiers beat Palestinians, using rifle butts, clubs and other means of injury. 16 of the cases were especially serious and their victims suffered heavier injuries.

As it is impossible for B'Tselem to document each and every case of violence by security forces in the West Bank, the above figures necessarily reflect only a portion of the violent incidents that actually occurred, and it is likely that other attacks went unreported.

The documented cases took place throughout the West Bank – some at checkpoints, others in Palestinian homes, and some on roadways. In one case, testimonies given to B'Tselem indicate that soldiers stopped Na’im ‘Awad at the Huwara checkpoint and beat him. His brother, Muhammad, arrived at the checkpoint by chance and asked the soldiers why they were beating his brother. An argument ensued between him and one of the soldiers, who then slammed him hard in the head with his rifle butt, causing him irreparable speech damage and weakness on the right side of his body.

In another case, soldiers encountered a Palestinian by the side of the road next to Tuqu’ and beat him for several minutes. The victim, Majed Hajahjeh, related in his testimony:

They beat me all over my body, especially my head. I covered my head with my hands to protect myself. My hands were bloody from the blood from my head. I went down onto my knees and cried out in pain. The soldiers continued to beat me with clubs and to kick me in the neck, back, and hands. My right hand hurt in particular. It hurt so much, I thought I was going to die. (to read the full testimony click here)

Later in his testimony, Hajahjeh stated that the soldiers had left him lying by the road, bleeding, his arm broken.

B'Tselem referred all the documented cases to the law-enforcement authorities – the Judge Advocate General’s Office and the Department for the Investigation of Police, in the Ministry of Justice. Although some of the cases occurred more than two months ago, the authorities have yet to complete the investigation in even one case....

Gaza's Children Need Your Help

Reliefweb, March 27, 2009 - Tens of thousands of children in Gaza remain at serious risk of physical and psychological harm more than two months after a cease-fire ended the 22-day conflict that began on Dec. 27, 2008, Save the Children reported today.

"Many children in Gaza are trying to survive in neighborhoods that have been reduced to rubble," said Annie Foster, who is leading Save the Children's humanitarian response in Gaza.

"Children are going to sleep hungry every night, often with no bed to sleep on. Many are not able to get a decent meal or bathe properly or even have access to clean drinking water. The plight of these children is drifting off the world's radar screen at a time when they need our help now more than ever.

"The biggest obstacle to helping these children is our limited access to provide critical materials for relief and reconstruction," said Foster. "During the past month, there has been virtually no progress in improving access for humanitarian agencies.

"We are calling for full access and an end to the 19-month embargo so that the recovery and reconstruction efforts can proceed," Foster said.

Despite enormous obstacles, Save the Children continues to work in Gaza, assisting more than 100,000 individuals, including 56,000 children. The agency has provided tens of thousands of children with food and water, basic hygiene materials such as soap, tooth paste and tooth brushes, as well as diapers, baby cribs, clothes and shoes....

Tough Times for University Students in Gaza

IRIN, March 26, 2009 - Many university students who lost relatives or whose homes were destroyed during the recent 23-day Israeli offensive are finding it difficult to cope, according to university officials and students.

Some have been unable to register for the new semester due to lack of funds; others are still traumatised.

Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza said 14 of the 15 higher education institutions in the Strip (most are in and around Gaza City) were damaged by Israeli forces. Six came under direct attack.

Three colleges - Al-Da’wa College for Humanities in Rafah, Gaza College for Security Sciences in Gaza City, and the Agricultural College in Beit Hanoun (part of Al-Azhar University) - were destroyed, according to Al-Mezan communications officer Mahmoud AbuRahma.

Six university buildings in Gaza were razed to the ground and 16 damaged. The total damage is estimated at US$21.1 million, according to the Palestinian National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan for Gaza....

Interviews Back IDF Misconduct in Gaza

Photo: Abir Hijeh with her children (AP), March 27, 2009 - Resident's account of a sniper firing on civilians, along with soldiers' graffiti and destruction seen by Associated Press in homes they commandeered, lend support to allegations of Israeli army misconduct during Gaza offensive.

When Israeli soldiers expelled Abir Hijeh, her five children and their neighbors from homes in a Gaza war zone, she said they warned her in broken Arabic: Go south or you might get shot.

The group went the wrong way and came under fire from Israeli soldiers. Hijeh was wounded and her two-year-old daughter was killed.'

Hijeh's account of a sniper firing on civilians, along with soldiers' graffiti and destruction seen by The Associated Press in homes they commandeered, lend support to allegations of Israeli army misconduct during the onslaught in Gaza.

In recent testimony, Israeli soldiers told of vandalizing homes they seized to use as army posts, as well as relaxed rules of engagement, including hasty shooting at civilians. The soldiers, who spoke to a military prep school in a closed-door session, described an incident with similarities to the shooting of the Hijeh family....

Return to Gaza - Sherine Tadros

Al Jazeera English, March 27, 2009 - Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros reported from the Gaza Strip during Israel's 23-day offensive that ended via unilateral ceasefires in the middle of January. Here she describes what the territory is like on her return.

A porter gives me my first greeting as I cross to the Gazan side of the Erez border with Israel.

"You said you'd be back in a couple of weeks, it's been more than a month!"

It's nice to know I have been missed. Strangely, it felt like I was coming home.

In fact, it's been almost two months since I left Gaza, shortly after the end of Israel's offensive on the territory.

Everything looks exactly the same. Everyone looks exactly the same and, worst of all, as I quickly discover, everyone still feels exactly the same - frustrated and isolated.

In two months, there has been no reconstruction, the siege has tightened and Israel has kept its crossings with Gaza almost permanently closed.

Subtle changes

However, Israel has made subtle changes in the last few weeks.....

Dancing in the Ruins

Tales to Tell, March 26, 2009 - The building in the shelled Telal Howa Red Crescent complex (which includes Al Quds Hospital, burned with phosphorous) that was worst hit during the attacks was the Red Crescent Theatre, which I believe also had a music school in it. It pretty much burnt down, and its ruins will be demolished. But this afternoon the Palestinian Brotherhood of Tunisia sponsored cultural groups, including the Watar Band, in a performance “at the scene of the broken Red Crescent“, and it was inspiring....

Friday, March 27, 2009

Gaza Witness: IDF Troops Told Us "Go South or You'll Be Shot"

Haaretz, March 28, 209 - When Israel Defense Forces soldiers expelled Abir Hijeh, her five children and their neighbors from homes in a Gaza war zone, she said they warned her in broken Arabic: Go south or you might get shot.

The group went the wrong way and came under fire from Israeli soldiers. Hijeh was wounded and her 2-year-old daughter was killed.

Hijeh's account of a sniper firing on civilians, along with soldiers' graffiti and destruction seen by The Associated Press in homes they commandeered, lend support to allegations of IDF misconduct during the onslaught in Gaza.

In recent testimony, Israeli soldiers told of vandalizing homes they seized to use as army posts, as well as relaxed rules of engagement, including hasty shooting at civilians. The soldiers, who spoke to a military prep school in a closed-door session, described an incident with similarities to the shooting of the Hijeh family.

The accounts, exposed in Haaretz last week, further fueled international outrage over the Gaza offensive ....

Cast Lead Expose: What Did the IDF Think Would Happen in Gaza? - Haaretz

Haaretz, March 28, 2009 - GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant's meticulous planning for Operation Cast Lead was mapped out to the last detail. The information gathered by the Shin Bet security service over the preceding two years provided excellent intelligence. But the General Staff also knew that hovering above was a conflicted political triumvirate, one member of which (Prime Minister Ehud Olmert) was eager to amend the dubious legacy he left behind in Lebanon, while the other two (Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni) were preoccupied with the impending election. In the backdrop was a fickle public and an impatient and demanding media. The General Staff expected that Israelis would have trouble accepting heavy Israel Defense Forces losses.

The army chose to overcome this problem with an aggressive plan that included overwhelming firepower. The forces, it was decided, would advance into the urban areas behind a "rolling curtain" of aerial and artillery fire, backed up by intelligence from unmanned aircraft and the Shin Bet. The lives of our soldiers take precedence, the commanders were told in briefings. Before the operation, Galant and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi painted a bleak picture for the cabinet ministers. "Unlike in Lebanon, the civilians in Gaza won't have many places to escape to," Ashkenazi warned. "When an armored force enters the city, shells will fly, because we'll have to protect our people."

The politicians promised backing. Two weeks before the incursion, a member of the General Staff, talking to a journalist, predicted that 600-800 Palestinians civilians would be killed in an Israeli operation....

A large part of the operation was conducted by remote control. "The Palestinians are completely transparent to us," says A., a reservist whose brigade was posted in the Gaza Strip. "The Shin Bet has people everywhere. We observe the whole area from the air and usually the Shin Bet coordinator can also tell you who lives in what house." The Shin Bet defines the enemy and, for the most part, someone who belongs to Hamas' civilian welfare organizations (the da'awa) is treated the same way as a member of its military wing, the Iz al-Din al-Qassam.

Essentially, a person only needs to be in a "problematic" location, in circumstances that can broadly be seen as suspicious, for him to be "incriminated" and in effect sentenced to death. Often, there is no need for him to be identified as carrying a weapon. Three people in the home of a known Hamas operative, someone out on a roof at 2 A.M. about a kilometer away from an Israeli post, a person walking down the wrong street before dawn - all are legitimate targets for attack.

"It feels like hunting season has begun," says A. "Sometimes it reminds me of a Play Station [computer] game. You hear cheers in the war room after you see on the screens that the missile hit a target, as if it were a soccer game."

The one who makes the final decision of whether to fire is usually not the brigade commander (who is with the forward forces in the field), but the "director" of combat, stationed at a command center in the rear: the deputy brigade commander, the headquarters' chiefs or majors who are studying and return to the brigade in times of combat. Another change in operational methods involved reducing reliance on the independent judgment of Israel Air Force personnel, who are located relatively far from the field.

'Little racists'

After the intense firepower employed at the outset, the forces were surprised to discover that they were not fighting in a "sterile," civilian-free environment as they had in Lebanon, 2006. Soldiers' testimonies, from graduates of the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military preparatory course at Oranim Academic College in Tivon, and also from the watered-down descriptions supplied by the army's Bamahaneh weekly magazine, make this crystal clear. There were civilians who were too frightened to flee or who didn't read the leaflets dropped by the IAF, and remained in their homes. As in every war, prolonged time in the field led to brutish behavior in some of the units.

"The impact of the long confrontation with the Palestinians cannot be ignored," says a senior reserve officer, "and one should also bear in mind what sort of values inductees have when they come to us these days. Every year, the education system produces a significant number of little racists."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

NYTimes reports on Bipartisan Statement for U.S. Middle East Peacemaking

New York Times, March 26, 2009 - Pressure on President Obama to recast the failed American approach to Israel-Palestine is building from former senior officials whose counsel he respects.

Following up on a letter dated Nov. 6, 2008, that was handed to Obama late last year by Paul Volcker, now a senior economic adviser to the president, these foreign policy mandarins have concluded a “Bipartisan Statement on U.S. Middle East Peacemaking” that should become an essential template.

Deploring “seven years of absenteeism” under the Bush administration, they call for intense American mediation in pursuit of a two-state solution, “a more pragmatic approach toward Hamas,” and eventual U.S. leadership of a multinational force to police transitional security between Israel and Palestine.

The 10 signatories — of both the four-page letter and the report — include Volcker himself, former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, former Senator Chuck Hagel, former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, former U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills, former Congressman Lee Hamilton and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Thomas Pickering.

My understanding is their thinking coincides in significant degree with that of both George Mitchell, Obama’s Middle East envoy, and Gen. James Jones, Obama’s national security adviser who worked on security issues with Israelis and Palestinians in the last year of the Bush administration, an often frustrating experience.

This overlap gives the report particular significance.

Of Hamas, the target of Israel’s futile pounding of Gaza, the eminent Group of 10 writes that, “Shutting out the movement and isolating Gaza has only made it stronger and Fatah weaker.” They urge a fundamental change: “Shift the U.S. objective from ousting Hamas to modifying its behavior, offer it inducements that will enable its more moderate elements to prevail, and cease discouraging third parties from engaging with Hamas in ways that might clarify the movement’s view and test its behavior.”

Although this falls short of my own recommendation that the United States itself — rather than European allies — engage with moderate elements of Hamas, such a shift is critical. Without Hamas’s involvement, there can be no Middle East peace. Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader and president of the Palestinian Authority, is a beleaguered figure.

The report goes further: “Cease discouraging Palestinian national reconciliation and make clear that a government that agrees to a cease-fire with Israel, accepts President Mahmoud Abbas as the chief negotiator and commits to abiding by the results of a national referendum on a future peace agreement would not be boycotted or sanctioned.” In other words, stop being hung up on prior Hamas recognition of Israel and watch what it does rather than what it says. If Hamas is part of, and remains part of, a Palestinian unity government that makes a peace deal with Israel, that’s workable.

Henry Siegman, the president of the U.S./Middle East Project, whose chairman is Scowcroft and board includes all 10 signatories, told me that he met recently with Khaled Meshal, the political director of Hamas in Damascus. Meshal told him, and put in writing, that although Hamas would not recognize Israel, it would remain in a Palestinian national unity government that reached a referendum-endorsed peace settlement with Israel. De facto, rather than de jure, recognition can be a basis for a constructive relationship, as Israel knows from the mutual benefits of its shah-era dealings with Iran.

Israeli governments have negotiated a two-state solution although they included religious parties that do not recognize Palestinians’ right to statehood. “But,” Siegman said, “if moderates within Hamas are to prevail, a payoff is needed for their moderation. And until the U.S. provides one, there will be no Palestinian unity government.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Rain of Fire: Human Rights Watch Report Details Israel's Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza Op

Human Rights Watch, March 24, 2009 - This newly released 71-page report, "Rain of Fire: Israel's Illegal Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza" provides witness accounts of the devastating effects that white phosphorus munitions had on civilians and civilian property in Gaza. Human Rights Watch researchers in Gaza immediately after hostilities ended found spent shells, canister liners, and dozens of burnt felt wedges containing white phosphorus on city streets, apartment roofs, residential courtyards, and at a United Nations school. The report also presents ballistics evidence, photographs, and satellite imagery, as well as documents from the Israeli military and government.

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

Israeli Army Rabbis Criticized for Stance on Gaza Op

Los Angeles Times (reporting from Jerusalem), March 25, 2009 - The winter assault on the Gaza Strip was officially portrayed in Israel as an attempt to quell rocket fire by militants of Hamas. But some soldiers say they also were lectured about a more ambitious aim: to banish non-Jews from the biblical land of Israel.

"This rabbi comes to us and says the fight is between the children of light and the children of darkness," a reserve sergeant said, recalling a training camp encounter. "His message was clear: 'This is a war against an entire people, not against specific terrorists.' The whole thing was turned into something very religious and messianic."

As armies elsewhere use chaplains, the Israeli military inducts rabbis to serve religious soldiers. Their traditional tasks include ensuring that kitchens are kosher and religious services are available.

But soldiers now going public with allegations of misconduct in Gaza portray the military rabbinate as a corps of self-appointed holy warriors whose sermons and writings demonized Palestinians....

Waiting to Enter Gaza - Kris Peterson

The Israeli-controlled Erez crossing terminal, through which most foreigners
who wish to enter the Gaza Strip must pass. August 2007.

Photo: Kris Peterson
Electronic Intifada, March 25, 2009 - If there is a single act that characterizes the plight of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation, it is waiting: waiting in lines to pass through the hundreds of checkpoints scattered across the West Bank, waiting for Israel to issue an identification card, waiting for permission to travel to the next village or out of the country, waiting for loved ones languishing in Israeli prisons to be released -- waiting for peace, waiting for justice.

And for nearly two months, I found myself sharing the experience of waiting -- for Israel to allow me into Gaza....Applying for entry into Gaza through the Israeli military authorities is a Kafkaesque and constantly evolving process. One is not allowed to even approach the Erez military checkpoint on the boundary between Gaza and Israel without prior security clearance and already within a year's time, the application for such clearance had changed dramatically.

Because I had been approved without difficulty in the past, I felt confident that my application would be successful this time as well. The process should have taken no more than five working days, but assuming the situation might be unpredictable, I applied for clearance nearly one month in advance of my arrival in the region. How naive I was....

Kris Petersen is a graduate student who worked for the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in the Gaza Strip between September 2007-January 2008.

Guardian Investigation - Videotaped Testimonies

The Guardian (UK), March 21, 2009 - The Guardian newspaper conducted an investigation of war crimes charges against Israel in Gaza. The videotaped testimony is now available via YouTube. If you have not yet seen these videos, please take a moment to watch them.

A family was blown to bits while drinking tea in their back yard:

Three Palestinian brothers described how they were abducted by the IDF and forced to serve as human shields for days while their parents were unaware of their fate:

The high rate of death of medical personnel in the Gaza War is investigated and Palestinian medics share their hair-raising experiences.

UN: Situation in Gaza One of 'Impasse and Uncertainty'

By Margaret Besheer, Voice of America, March 25, 2009

The United Nations top political official says that in the two months since unilateral cease-fires ended a 22-day Israeli offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, the situation remains fraught with "impasse and uncertainty."

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that little progress has been made on key issues between the Palestinians and Israelis, including on establishing a proper cease-fire, free access for humanitarian aid, opening crossing points, prevention of arms smuggling and intra-Palestinian reconciliation.

Pascoe told the Security Council that the situation at the crossing points into Gaza is "intolerable." He said it remains the key obstacle to bringing help and hope to people there.

He said that between February 15 and March 21, more than 3,600 truckloads of supplies entered Gaza. But while there has been an increase in the amount of goods getting in, Pascoe said the quantity and quality are insufficient compared to what is needed.

"Roughly 85 percent of all imports consisted of foodstuffs and medical supplies, whereas construction materials, spare parts and other industrial goods remain almost totally banned," he said.

Pascoe said there also continue to be severe shortages of industrial and cooking fuel, as well as cash.

He urged Israel to abide by its obligations under international humanitarian law and open the crossings for emergency supplies and reconstruction materials, saying that without those supplies there would be no way to rebuild Gaza.

Human Rights Watch: Israel's illegal use of phosphorus shells in Gaza

Reuters, March 25, 2009 - The Israeli army unlawfully fired white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas of the Gaza Strip during its recent military offensive, needlessly killing and injuring civilians, U.S.-based rights group Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.

Citing Israel's use of white phosphorus as evidence of war crimes, the group said the army knew the munitions threatened the civilian population but "deliberately or recklessly" continued to use them until the final days of the Dec. 27 - Jan. 18 operation "in violation of the laws of war."

It called on senior Israeli military commanders to be held to account, and urged the United States, which supplied the shells, to conduct its own investigation.

The Israel Defense Forces have announced an internal probe, the results of which have yet to be made public.

White phosphorus ignites on contact with oxygen and continues burning at up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit (816 degrees Celsius) until none is left or the oxygen supply is cut. It is often used to produce smoke screens, but can also be used as a weapon, producing extreme burns if it makes contact with skin.

When used in open areas, white phosphorus munitions are permissible under international law.

But Human Rights Watch said Israel "unlawfully" fired them over populated neighborhoods, killing and wounding civilians and damaging civilian structures, including a school, a market, a humanitarian aid warehouse and a hospital.

In Gaza, the Israeli military didn't just use white phosphorus in open areas as a screen for its troops," said senior Human Rights Watch researcher Fred Abrahams. "It fired white phosphorus repeatedly over densely populated areas, even when its troops weren't in the area and safer smoke shells were available. As a result, civilians needlessly suffered and died."

The group gave no precise casualty figures, citing the difficulty of determining in every case which burn injuries were caused by white phosphorous.

Human Rights Watch researchers found spent shells, canister liners, and dozens of burnt felt wedges containing white phosphorus on city streets, apartment roofs, residential courtyards and at a United Nations school.

The report documented several attacks involving white phosphorus, including one on January 4 that killed five members of Ahmad Abu Halima's family in northern Gaza, saying it found remnants of the substance at their home.

Remote Control Death: Israeli Drones in Gaza


March 20, 2009

"It buzzed like bees around me." Muhammad Allaw, 13, was describing the sound made by an Israeli unmanned drone overhead moments before it fired a rocket that killed his 10-year-old brother Mo'men, crushing his legs and scattering tiny identical cubes of shrapnel throughout his chest. The family had been sitting on the roof of their home at noontime in the al-Shaaf area of Gaza City on January 5. No Israeli ground forces or Palestinian fighters were nearby when the drone struck, literally out of the blue.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have become ubiquitous in Gaza's skies in recent years and are key to the notion that Israel can use high-tech precision weaponry to distinguish between combatants and civilians. The facts, however, suggest that any weapon is only as discriminating as the people using it.

Israel is the world's leader in drone technology. It has modified US designs for its own use and even for export (despite the recent diplomatic spat between Israel and Turkey, a drone purchase deal between the two countries appears to be on track). Israel's primary armed model, the Hermes, is the Israel Defense Force's answer to the Predator, which is used extensively by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Hermes can hover at 18,000 feet for up to twenty hours at a time. Its sensors can discern people on the ground--they can even distinguish between adults and children. Drones can carry a variety of munitions; those used in Gaza appear to rely primarily on a variant of the US-made Spike anti-tank missile, with a lethal blast radius of ten to twenty meters.

Little wonder, then, that drones were the IDF's weapon of choice when Israel launched its military campaign on December 27 with an attack on the Gaza City police headquarters, which killed at least forty cadets during a police academy graduation ceremony. According to the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, the proposal to attack this event was hotly debated within the IDF for months. IDF lawyers knew that these policemen were presumptively civilians under international law, which would consider them legitimate targets only if they were directly participating in hostilities against Israel. At the site of this attack Human Rights Watch researchers found hundreds of perfectly cubic pieces of metal shrapnel, circuit boards and other parts (including some marked with Motorola serial numbers), and four small impact craters--all consistent with drone-fired missiles.

The assault that killed Mo'men Allaw was one of six drone attacks that Human Rights Watch researchers in the Gaza Strip investigated, in which twenty-nine civilians were killed. Five of six took place in broad daylight, and all of them without any evident military targets in the vicinity, in civilian areas that were removed from fighting and, because they were so densely built-up and distant from border areas, were unlikely sites for launching rockets into Israel. In addition to interviewing more than a dozen witnesses, we gathered extensive physical evidence consistent with drone attacks, such as telltale cubic pieces of shrapnel, and took photographs of the blast patterns left behind in walls and items of clothing speckled with dozens of tiny square holes. Other human rights groups have documented dozens of similar incidents.

One of the deadliest drone attacks occurred a few hours after the initial December 27 air assault. A drone fired a missile at a group of youths who had gathered around a radio as they waited for a bus near the United Nations Relief and Works Agency headquarters in Gaza City. The missile killed twelve young men, mostly students at the UNRWA-sponsored Gaza Training College across the street.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Report: Racist Attacks Against Arabs in Israel Increase Tenfold in 2008; Gaza War Seen as "Chief Agitator"

Ynetnews/com, March 24, 2009 - The year 2008 saw a sharp rise in racist incidents against Arabs in Israel, the Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel reported Saturday, estimating the increase at tenfold those recorded in 2007....

"What we are witnessing is a moral collapse, and it's time to shout out against racism," said Jafar Farah, director of the Mossawa Center. "The data is especially worrying in regards to civilian violence, and definitely attests (to the fact that) a Knesset member's extremist message permeates and leads to the involvement of more and more citizens."

A total of 32 violent incidents were recorded in Jerusalem alone in 2008, most of them occurring during soccer matches. Twenty-two such incidents were recorded in Akko. Tel Aviv, in third place, witnessed 13 racist incidents according to the center.

The Mossawa Center's report states that "if not for the elections and the war in Gaza, we would be witnessing a sharp decline in data from the soccer field", thereby relating most of the racist incidents occurring in 2008 to Israel's offensive in Gaza, which began in late December of that year.

"These attacks are not the hand of fate, but a direct result of incitement against the Arab citizens of this country by religious, public, and elected officials," the report says.....

Monday, March 23, 2009

New Report by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel: "The Military Repeatedly Violated Medical Ethic Codes During its Gaza Offensive"

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel press release, March 23, 2009 - Prevention of medical assistance from the trapped and the wounded, severe difficulties to emergency medical evacuation, attacks on medical personnel and medical facilities, and de facto prevention from the chronically ill and gravely wounded referral to medical care outside Gaza. "We call for an outside independent body to investigate the events" say representatives of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.

The new report, published today by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, gives room for concern that during the operation in Gaza, Israeli soldiers repeatedly acted in violation of the army's code of ethics, the medical code of ethics, and basic human values. These actions suggest repeated violations of the International Law regarding the treatment of the ill and the wounded and the protection of medical personnel.

The report examines six topics: the situation of the Gaza health system on the eve of the military operation, the difficulties in evacuating the wounded to medical centers outside Gaza, attacks on medical personnel, difficulties in internal evacuation of the wounded, attacks on medical facilities and injury to chronic and acute patients.

Based on numerous first hand testimonies that were brought to the attention of PHR-Israel during the attack, the report depicts a grave picture of the realities in Gaza during those 22 days. In some of the cases revealed to PHR-Israel, the army did not allow for the evacuation of wounded and trapped civilians for days on, leaving them in isolated pockets with no access to food, water and medical treatment. The army did not assist these civilians but even more, it prevented the Palestinian emergency vehicles and staff from reaching these civilians. In other cases, the soldiers did not give medical assistance to wounded human beings that were within several feet from the soldiers. This, in serious violation of the army's Ethical Code for the War on Terror of 2004 that states that "soldiers are obliged to provide adequate health services, as conditions allow, equally to themselves and to the enemy."....

See also Haaretz, IDF Killed 16 Medical Workers During Gaza Op, March 23 2009

More on the Israeli T-shirt Story

Photo: Yanai Yechiel for Sky News
T-shirt on the left reads "Sniper Unit" in Hebrew.
T-shirt on the right reads, "The smaller... the harder!" [ie, to target/kill]

Al Jazeera English TV, March 23, 2009 -
Haaretz recently published a story (posted below) about T-shirt designs sported by Israeli soldiers who had fought in the Gaza Operation "Cast Lead" and others. The T-shirts have disturbing designs that boast of violence committed against Palestinian women, pregnant women, and children. The army's response was to dismiss the shirts as "tasteless and unbecoming." Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera's Gaza correspondent, reports from Tel Aviv about the T-shirt phenomenon -- where it comes from, how it happens, and what it portends about Israeli society.

Opinion: Euros Do Not Buy the Palestinians Political Rights - Pepijn van Houwelingen

Electronic Intifada, March 24, 2009 - The carnage of Israel's recent invasion of Gaza spurred great numbers of dismayed Europeans to participate in demonstrations against the war. In major cities such as Madrid, Brussels, Rome, Berlin and London, tens of thousands took part in demonstrations to make clear to their governments that what was happening was unacceptable. Yet, their objections to Israel's massive use of deadly force were not reflected in the declarations and actions of their countries, as represented by Europe's most significant political body, the European Union, which did not alter its policy of status quo relations with Israel.

Despite these and other remarks, however, the EU undertook no action that could have been perceived as even vaguely critical of Israel and much effort was put into not "singling out" the country. This apparent ambiguity is typical of the EU's approach. In early December last year, the European Parliament suspended voting on whether or not to upgrade relations with Israel. Yet, only a few days later this decision was bypassed by the EU's Council of Ministers, where all 27 European foreign ministers voted in favor of the upgrade, allowing Israeli ministers to meet with their European counterparts on a regular basis so as to enable dialogue on various strategic issues. Even though plans to make Israel a "privileged partner" have been put on hold, it has been emphasized that this is not a sanction and constitutes merely a "pause" (see Ian Traynor Europe stalls on closer Israel links in Gaza protest Guardian, 14 January 2009). It is therefore likely that talks will be resumed at a later time, which in effect means that Israel is still on its way to become part of the single European market as a sort of semi-member of the EU.

Access to European markets and the ability to influence European decision-making are extremely important to Israel. While the EU lacks the moral authority of the UN and the political visibility of the US, it is, indeed, an important player in the region. Currently the EU constitutes Israel's biggest market for exports as well as its second-largest source of imports (after the US). Furthermore, the EU is a member of the so-called Middle East "Quartet" -- with the hardly credible Tony Blair as its envoy -- which supports a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Practically speaking, the EU's dedication to this solution has primarily been expressed through the medium of euros. In 2008, 486 million euros ($666 million) were donated to the Palestinians, most of it (258 million euros) directly to the Palestinian Authority (see European Commission External Relations, EC Assistance to the Palestinians 19 January 2009). Other beneficiaries include the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) and various Israeli and Palestinian civil society organizations.....

Being the largest donor of aid to the Palestinians and Israel's main trading partner, the EU has the potential to play a much more significant role in supporting and protecting Palestinian rights. This would give substance and credibility to its discourse on defending human rights and acting as a "force for good." Yet, by taking a seemingly neutral approach and abiding by the positions of the Quartet, which typically represent the lowest common denominator imaginable, EU member-states reveal a disinterest in protecting Palestinians from anything other than starvation.....

Pepijn van Houwelingen is a Dutch PhD candidate at the department of Politics and International Relations of Royal Holloway, University of London. He is affiliated with the department's Centre for European Politics ( His PhD research is concerned with the impacts of European Foreign Policy towards the Middle East.

Palestinians in Gaza Have No Meat to Eat as Chicken Prices Hike

Photo: Rafah Today

China View (via Xinhua), March 23, 2009 -
In Remal neighborhood in Gaza City, Ahmed Mattar, 56, asked Abu Omar Abu Karsh, who sells chicken in a store across the street, about the price of a slaughtered chicken.

He was surprised when he learnt that a net kilogram of a slaughtered chicken now costs 35 Shekels (9 U.S. dollars).

Mattar, a physician who works at one of Gaza hospitals and has a family of five children, said "I used to buy two slaughtered chicken per week, each weighs 2 kilograms and I used to pay 25 Shekels for each kilogram. It is really so expensive."

Most of the meals the Gaza households cooked were made up of chicken due to the increasing prices of beef and lamb meat, but the recent Israeli war against the territory, together with previous restrictions, made the prices of chicken skyrocketing.

"Chicken is the only meat that the poor can afford but the increase of the prices forced the people to turn away from buying and my sales decreased by 90 percent," Abu Karsh said as he sat idly in his once the busiest shop.

Before the 22-day offensive, which started in December, the price of the living chicken was between 10 to 12 Israeli Shekels per one kilogram. Nowadays, the prices jumped for 100 percent, said Abu Karsh.

The net kilogram of slaughtered chicken, which used to be sold for around 25 Shekels, is now sold for 35 Shekels "and during the war we sold it for 55 Shekels," according to Abu Karsh.

During the war, the Israeli bulldozers completely destroyed three of the 11 chicken hatcheries while two more suffered variable degrees of damage.

The majority of the Gaza families have already given up the fresh meat since one kilogram cost 70 Shekels, compared with 30 Shekels a few years ago. Now people are dependent on the limited amounts of frozen meat and fish Israel allowed in.

Israel imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip in 2007 after Hamas seized control of the territory....

Gaza's Fishing Industry Reeling

Photo: Tom Spender

IRIN (reporting from Gaza City), March 12, 2009 -
A combination of damage to fishing resources caused by the Israeli offensive, and a restriction on the zone in which Gazans are allowed to fish is reducing catches and adversely affecting people’s diets in Gaza, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In January 2009 the Israeli authorities reduced the area in which fishermen can fish from six to three nautical miles from Gaza’s coastline.

In Rafah (southern Gaza) fishing has almost completely stopped due to the damage inflicted on fishing gear and boats during the 22-day war which ended on 18 January.

Fishing nets, rope, twine and gas mantles are in short supply due to the Israeli blockade of Gaza since June 2007, according to OCHA, along with engines and spare parts.

“During Operation Cast Lead a naval closure was imposed on the Gaza Strip. Following the end of fighting the navy decided to allow fishing from up to three miles from the coast,” said an Israeli military source who preferred anonymity. “The closure was imposed to prevent the smuggling of weapons and ammunition into the Gaza Strip by sea.”

Gazan fishing was permitted up to 12 nautical miles from the coast before 2000, but was reduced to six after 2000, according to OCHA. Under the Oslo Accords signed in 1993 fishing off Gaza was allowed within 20 nautical miles of the coast.

Parlous state

In 2008 fishing accounted for 1.5 percent of Gaza’s economy (agriculture and fishing together accounted for 10 percent), according to the agricultural ministry in Gaza.

The fishing industry was in a parlous state even before the 27 December 2008 Israeli attack on Gaza.

“Today there are about 3,500 fishermen in Gaza; in 2000 there were 10,000,” said agricultural minister Mohammed Agah. “The main obstacle for fishermen before the war was the lack of fuel, but now they are having greater difficulties.”

Petrol and diesel were last allowed into Gaza via Nahal Oz for public use on 2 November 2008, reports OCHA, and according to the Gas Station Owners’ Association, no fuel has been delivered to Gaza through the tunnels under the Gaza-Egyptian border since 26 February 2009.

Protein intake down

The restrictions on fishing - and imports of such things as animal feed and livestock - have effectively reduced Gazans’ protein intake since the war, said Agah, who says daily protein intake is 50 percent less than average daily protein intake across the Arab world - something that would affect child development, he said....

Arab Interim Parliament Condemns Israeli Atrocities

The National (reporting from Damascus), March 23, 2009 - DAMASCUS: Concluding its first ordinary session here yesterday, the Arab Interim Parliament (AIP) condemned the continuing Israeli atrocities against the Palestinian people, most notably the barbaric offensive on Gaza Strip early this year.

The session, chaired by AIP President Jassem Al-Saqr called on the national parliaments of the Arab countries, as well as regional and international parliamentary organizations, to support call for taking the Israeli leaders who perpetrated the massacres of Gaza to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on charges of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The Arab parliamentarians called on the Arab countries to lodge a lawsuit with the ICJ prosecutor against the Israeli political and military leaders for perpetrating crimes against humanity and war crimes and violating international humanitarian law and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. The legal action against Israel should be brought through coordination with the Arab Lawyers' Union (ALU), they said, recommending the formation of a joint legal team between the ALU and the AIP.

They held Israel fully responsible for the violations committed in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon They also urged an acceleration of the relief efforts for Gazans and the reconstruction of the war-ravaged enclave.

They hailed Egypt's efforts to host the Palestinian national dialogue and asked the Palestinian factions to unify their ranks in the face of the mounting challenges against the backdrop of the imminent formation of an Israeli far right-wing government....

Children in Gaza Need More Support - UNICEF

IRIN (reporting from Gaza City), March 23, 2009 - UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Ann M. Veneman recently paid a visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory to assess the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, with special focus on children. As of 5 February, 431 Palestinian children had died and 1,872 had been wounded in the 22-day Israeli offensive which ended on 18 January, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Veneman spoke to IRIN in Gaza City during her visit.

IRIN: After visiting Gaza, what are your first impressions and priorities?

Veneman: We focused on the impact of the conflict on children. So often children are the ones that are hurt by the wars of adults. The total population of Gaza is about 1.4 million, of which 56 percent - approximately 793,520 - are children, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Humanitarian access to all, especially to the most vulnerable, must be unhampered.

IRIN: How are the health and nutrition standards for Gaza’s children since the recent war?

Veneman: UNICEF remains concerned that the nutritional status and general health of children in Gaza is likely to deteriorate given the dependency of Gazan families on food aid and cash assistance, as well as the lack of access to clean tap water.

From mid-January, UNICEF has provided basic essential supplements of vitamin A and D, and iron-folate, to 50,000 infants and children under five through health ministry centres and UNRWA [UN agency for Palestinian refugees] clinics.

We saw lines of people [in Gaza] queuing for gas, fuel and food aid. Right now many families are living in tents and with relatives. Certainly a lack of adequate housing can lead to a lack of clean water.....

At the end of February, an UNRWA assessment indicated that 2,350 families need to have their homes reconstructed; 10, 500 families have homes needing repair, and these figures are likely to rise.....

Guardian Investigation Uncovers Evidence of Alleged Israeli War Crimes in Gaza

The Guardian, March 23, 2009 - The Guardian has compiled detailed evidence of alleged war crimes committed by Israel during the 23-day offensive against Gaza earlier this year, involving the use of Palestinian children as human shields, the targeting of medics and hospitals, and drone aircraft firing on civilians.

Three Guardian films based on a month-long investigation, add weight to calls this week for a full inquiry into the events surrounding Operation Cast Lead, which was aimed at Hamas but left about 1,400 Palestinians dead, including up to 300 children.

The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) refused to respond directly to the allegations made against its troops, but issued statements denying the charges, and insisted international law had been observed.

The Guardian's investigation follows soldiers' evidence published in the Israeli press about the killing of Palestinian civilians and complaints by colleagues involved in the military operation that the rules of engagement were too lax.

Amnesty International has said Hamas should be investigated for executing at least two dozen Palestinian men in an apparent bout of score-settling with rivals and alleged collaborators while Operation Cast Lead was under way.

Human rights groups say the vast majority of offences were committed by Israel, and that the Gaza offensive was a disproportionate response to Hamas rocket attacks. Since 2002, there have been 21 Israeli deaths from Hamas rockets fired from Gaza and during Operation Cast Lead there were three Israeli civilian deaths, six Israeli soldiers killed by Palestinian fire and four killed by friendly fire.

"Only an investigation mandated by the UN security council can ensure Israel's co-operation and it's the only body that can secure some kind of prosecution," said Amnesty's Donatella Rovera, who spent two weeks in Gaza investigating war crimes allegations. "Without a proper investigation there is no deterrent. The message remains the same: 'It's OK to do these things – there won't be any real consequences.'"

Some of the most dramatic testimony gathered by the Guardian came from three teenage brothers in the al-Attar family. The trio describe how they were taken from their home at gunpoint, made to kneel in front of tanks to deter Hamas fighters from firing at them and sent by Israeli soldiers into Palestinian houses to clear them.

"They would make us go first so if any fighters shot at them the bullets would hit us not them," 14-year-old Al'a al-Attar said....

Read the rest and view the three videotapes of testimony at the link.

Gazans Struggle for Clean Drinking Water

Inter Press Service, March 17, 2009 - As environmental experts, NGOs and government officials gather in Istanbul this week to attend the Fifth World Water Forum, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has drawn attention to the critical water situation in Gaza.

"ICRC teams are repairing water and sewage systems in Gaza that were badly damaged during the three-week Israeli military operation in January," the ICRC says in a media release.

"According to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, one-fifth of the population had no direct access to drinking water, and relied on water purchased from private suppliers. Today, thousands of people still have no access to running water."

Much of Gaza's infrastructure was destroyed during Israel's military assault on the coastal territory during Operation Cast Lead, which created a critical humanitarian situation on the ground.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says 150,000 Gazans still remain affected by inadequate and unsafe water supply. Of these, about 50,000 remain without any water while the remainder receive water only every five to six days.

The OCHA adds that approximately 28,000 children in the Gaza Strip have no access to piped water. An additional 56,000 children have access to water only every week or so.

Gaza's Coast Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU), which handles water and sewage treatment, says the water crisis will continue until Israel allows sufficient spare parts and repair materials into Gaza.

Israel's continuing blockade of the strip means that construction material, most spare parts and repair materials have been prevented from entering. This has made it impossible to rebuild the thousands of destroyed and damaged buildings. It has also severely restricted repair of vital infrastructure such as waste and water treatment plants.

Continual electricity blackouts have further limited the treatment plants' operating capacity, while severe restrictions on the import of fuel have limited the ability of emergency generators....

A Judicial Document - Uri Avnery

Gush Shalom, March 24, 2009 - The most important sentence written in Israel this week was lost in the general tumult of exciting events....

In this cacophony, who would pay any attention to a sentence written by lawyers in a document submitted to the Supreme Court?

The judicial debate concerns one of the most revolting laws ever enacted in Israel.

It says that the wife of an Israeli citizen is not allowed to join him in Israel if she is living in the occupied Palestinian territories or in a “hostile” Arab country.....

As usual with us, the pretext was security. After all, the Arabs who are naturalized in Israel could be “terrorists”. True, no statistics have ever been published about such cases – if there are any – but since when did a “security” assertion need evidence to prove it?

Behind the security argument there lurks, of course, a demographic demon. The Arabs now constitute about 20% of Israel’s citizens. If the country were to be swamped by a flood of Arab brides and bridegrooms, this percentage might rise to – God forbid! – 22%. How would the “Jewish State” look then?

The matter came before the Supreme Court, The petitioners, Jews and Arabs, argued that this measure contradicts our Basic Laws (our substitute for a nonexistent constitution) which guarantee the equality of all citizens. The answer of the Ministry of Justice lawyers let the cat out of the bag. It asserts, for the first time, in unequivocal language, that:

“The State of Israel is at war with the Palestinian people, people against people, collective against collective.”

One should read this sentence several times to appreciate its full impact. This is not a phrase escaping from the mouth of a campaigning politician and disappearing with his breath, but a sentence written by cautious lawyers carefully weighing every letter.

If we are at war with “the Palestinian people”, this means that every Palestinian, wherever he or she may be, is an enemy. That includes the inhabitants of the occupied territories, the refugees scattered throughout the world as well as the Arab citizens of Israel proper. A mason in Taibeh, Israel, a farmer near Nablus in the West Bank, a policeman of the Palestinian Authority in Jenin, a Hamas fighter in Gaza, a girl in a school in the Mia Mia refugee camp near Sidon, Lebanon, a naturalized American shopkeeper in New York – “collective against collective”.

Of course, the lawyers did not invent this principle. It has been accepted for a long time in daily life, and all arms of the government act accordingly. The army averts its eyes when an “illegal” outpost is established in the West Bank on the land of Palestinians, and sends soldiers to protect the invaders. Israeli courts customarily impose harsher sentences on Arab defendants than on Jews guilty of the same offense. The soldiers of an army unit order T-shirts showing a pregnant Arab woman with a rifle trained on her belly and the words “1 shot, 2 kills” (as exposed in Haaretz this week).

These anonymous lawyers should perhaps be thanked for daring to formulate in a judicial document the reality that had previously been hidden in a thousand different ways.

The simple reality is that 127 years after the beginning of the first Jewish wave of immigration, 112 years after the founding of the Zionist movement, 61 years after the establishment of the State of Israel, 41 years after the beginning of the occupation, the Israeli-Palestinian war continues along all the front lines with undiminished vigor.

The inherent aim of the Zionist enterprise was and is to turn the country – at least up to the Jordan River – into a homogeneous Jewish state. Throughout the course of Zionist-Israeli history, this aim has not been forsaken for a moment. Every cell of the Israeli organism contains this genetic code and therefore acts accordingly, without the need for a specific directive....

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with the Israeli movement Gush Shalom.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Aftermath: The Writings on the Walls

Photo: (c) Kent Klich

PHRC, March 18, 2009 - The Palestine Human Rights Center in Gaza has been publishing a series of testimonies about how Palestinians in Gaza are coping in the aftermath of the war. In this, the fifth in the series, homeowners describe some of the graffiti they found Israeli soldiers had scrawled on the walls of their homes when they returned.

Alongside the 1,000s of homes partially or completely destroyed by bulldozers, tank shells and bombs dropped by F-16 fighter jets, are the homes that have been defaced by graffiti left by individual Israeli soldiers and the vandalisation of civilian property within them.

At Mos’ab Dardona’s home in Jabal Al Rayes, northeast Gaza, Israeli soldiers who had taken up positions in civilian houses in the area left behind intricate drawings on the walls, some depicting soldiers urinating on toppled mosques, or devouring Palestinian villages. In the house next door, belonging to Ibrahim Dardona, soldiers left behind dozens of bags of faeces in the bedrooms, despite the presence of a functioning toilet,and left rude sexual diagrams on the walls.

“The writing left by Israeli soldiers in the homes in Gaza provides an insight into the disturbing culture of hatred and racism towards Palestinians and Arabs which exists among parts of Israeli society,” says Hamdi Shaqqura, PCHR’s director of democratic development. “In light of the evidence PCHR has gathered of the wilful and wanton killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, this graffiti is even more disturbing.”...

The complete series of testimonies is available here.

Tough Times for Gaza's Children

Photo: Al Arabiya News Channel

Al Arabiya, March 22, 2009 - Ahmed Saud Basal is an eleven-year-old boy from Tuffah, a village in the middle of Gaza. He lives in a two room house along with five brothers and sisters, his parents and a grandmother. Times are tough, much harder than before. The two-year-long siege of Gaza has been devastating and its effects will continue to take a toll. Education, health care, transportation, economy and every aspect of a normal society lie in ruins. The result of a campaign of collective punishment was clear, disregarding not only the international human rights law but also underlying values of every major religion.

Ahmed and his family aren’t starving. This isn’t Somalia. Gaza was never the so-called “third world,” but hierarchies of suffering miss the point. Compared to before, when factories were open, when farms could bring their products to market, when students could study at night by electricity rather than by candles; life today has grown desperate. Unemployment hit 80%. Skyrocketing prices for basic necessities, such as food, clothes and medicines, force people to survive hand to mouth. In such an economic crisis, parents, however reluctantly, must enlist their children as wage earners.

Beginning early each morning, Ahmed and his ten-year-old sister, Hadia, go to work with their father. The three of them sell tea in the street. For an eight hour day, each of the children earns between 6-10 shekels ($2-3.50). Added to what their father makes, the family brings in $12 a day, not much when beef costs $15 a kilogram and fruit, which Ahmad hasn’t tasted in a year, $3 a kilogram.

UNWRA food packages help, but the rations, which are given out four times a year, are basic: 30 kilograms of flour, 5 kilograms of rice, 5 kilograms of sugar, 3 kilograms of lentils, 6 liters of oil; and sometimes, 5 250-gram cans of sardines. For a family of eight, this doesn’t go far....