Saturday, April 4, 2009

Israeli Exporters Hit by European Boycott After Gaza Attacks

The Guardian April 2, 2009 - A fifth of Israeli exporters report drop in demand as footage of Gaza attacks changes behaviour of consumers and investors

Israeli companies are feeling the impact of boycott moves in Europe, according to surveys, amid growing concern within the Israeli business sector over organised campaigns following the recent attack on Gaza.

Last week, the Israel Manufacturers' Association reported that 21% of 90 local exporters who were questioned had felt a drop in demand due to boycotts, mostly from the UK and Scandinavian countries. Last month, a report from the Israel Export Institute reported that 10% of 400 polled exporters received order cancellation notices this year, because of Israel's assault on Gaza.

"There is no doubt that a red light has been switched on," Dan Katrivas, head of the foreign trade department at the Israel Manufacturers Association, told Maariv newspaper this week. "We are closely following what's happening with exporters who are running into problems with boycotts." He added that in Britain there exists "a special problem regarding the export of agricultural produce from Israel"....

UN to Israel: End Devastating Gaza Blockade

Haaretz, April 3, 2009 - The top United Nations aid official in the Gaza Strip urged Israel on Friday to ease restrictions on the flow of goods into the conflict-torn territory, saying they were "devastating" for the people.

"It's wholly and totally inadequate," John Ging, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, said about the amount of goods Israel permits into the territory, where some 1.5 million Palestinians live.

"It's having a very devastating impact on the physical circumstances and also the mindset of people on the ground," he said.

Ging said access to goods was still a severe problem.

"We need access," he said. "It's the number one issue. It's the number two issue. It's the number three issue, and so on. Until we get it, there's nothing as important as solving the access issue."

Israel fears opening the borders would allow Hamas to smuggle more weapons and ammunition into the territory.

Ging said that all the crossing points from Israel into the Gaza Strip should be opened, and those that were currently opened in a limited way to only elected people or goods should be fully opened.

In addition to restrictions on what it deems luxury goods, such as cigarettes and chocolates, Israel has blocked entry of materials such as cement and steel for rebuilding because it says they could be used for bunkers and rearming....

Was Gaza Israel's Waterloo? - John Goekler

Counterpunch, April 3-5, 2009 - ....It was the January 2009 Israeli invasion of Gaza, however, that shifted the issue from intellectual to visceral. Whereas previous AIPAC moves had stirred discussion, its blind support of Israeli actions in Gaza spurred disgust. Not only did Israel destroy the meager remnants of its David versus Goliath mystique by using fighter bombers, tanks and helicopter gunships against a minor militia equipped only with small arms, it also surrendered forever what remained of its “good guy” image by intentionally leveling hospitals, clinics, schools and mosques.

The effect of this on American Jews was chilling. In recent decades, American Jews have comprised the core of the American liberal movement. They were a persistent voice of conscience through the civil rights era, Viet Nam, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Iraq 1 and 2, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. They remain among the most passionate advocates for social justice in the world. That they were largely unable to apply that advocacy to Israeli excesses was a bitter, but often unspoken schism that separated the Holocaust generations from their activist children and grandchildren.

Now, the denial many American Jews have maintained around Israel’s immoral and illegal behaviors is evaporating. True change, after all, occurs when the inconsistencies between actual and desired realities become too great – when the resulting tension compels action. The Israeli mugging of Gaza, and AIPAC’s unexamined and unfettered support for it, has clashed with the Jewish ideal of tikkun olam – “repairing the world”....

John Goekler is a trainer and consultant specializing in applying emerging scientific understandings to organizational effectiveness, transformative policy and global security. He is the founder of Change Factors, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Personal Testimonies from Gaza by PCHR

Palestinian Center for Human Rights, March 30, 2009

In this new series of personal testimonies, PCHR looks at the aftermath of Israel’s 22 day offensive on the Gaza Strip, and the ongoing impact it is having on the civilian population.

As farmer Jamal al-Bassyuni plucked a stalk of ripening wheat, a posse of young men danced in his field. The dancers were flanked by a lively crowd, many of them women wearing the traditional Palestinian embroidered thob dress. Despite the nearby rubble of destroyed houses, and tracts of land laid to waste by bulldozers and tanks, the mood was defiantly sunny. Local farmers and their supporters were celebrating Palestinian Land Day.

Land Day was launched in 1976, as a commemoration of the deaths of six Palestinian citizens of northern Israel killed by the Israeli military as they demonstrated against expropriation of their land. It has become an important symbolic day of action across the Occupied Palestinian Territory, highlighting the plight faced by farmers like Jamal Bassyuni and his family, who live in Izbat Beit Hanoun on the northern edge of the Gaza Strip.

‘I have worked on this land with my brothers for sixteen years’ says Jamal. His family owns 360 donumms of land that stretch right up to the infamous Erez border crossing.

‘If you had visited here even ten years ago you would have seen why we love this land so much. There were trees everywhere: we had apple, orange and lemon trees, and we grew olives, grapes, pears, almonds, pomegranates, dates and mirabella plums. Beit Hanoun was a garden.’

Local farmers across Izbat Beit Hanoun were renowned for their citrus fruits, especially the orange trees whose blossom famously perfumed the air. But these days there is only a smattering of fruit trees left. Since the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000, Israeli bulldozers and tanks have destroyed more than 42,000 donumms of agricultural land in the Gaza Strip, the vast majority of it in border areas like Izbat Beit Hanoun and the farmland in the eastern Gaza Strip.

Jamal says his land has been bulldozed many times. ‘When our trees were first destroyed in 2002 we replanted them’ he says. ‘But our land was bulldozed again in 2003, then 2004, and the following years as well. Every time we replanted, the bulldozers would come back and destroy our work again. We had been living here for a long time, but the Israelis finally drove us off our own land.’

After years of Israeli incursions onto their land, the al-Bassyuni family eventually left their farmhouse and moved to a house on the edge of nearby Beit Hanoun town. They worked on their land during daylight hours, and employed a local man, thirty six year old Mousa Mohamed al-Jeraitli, to guard the farmhouse at night. On 5 January, Mousa Jeraitli and his family were inside the farmhouse when it was struck by an Israeli projectile. Mousa was killed and one of his sons was injured in the attack. The farmhouse was also destroyed.

During the recent military offensive in Gaza more than 14,000 homes were destroyed or damaged and several thousand more donumms of land were ravaged by tanks and bulldozers. The scale of destruction of land and civilian property across Gaza indicates Israel’s intention to systematically destroy Palestinian homes and their livelihoods.

Israel on Trial - NYTimes Op-ed by George Bisharat

By George Bisharat, Op-ed Contributor, New York Times, April 3, 2009

CHILLING testimony by Israeli soldiers substantiates charges that Israel’s Gaza Strip assault entailed grave violations of international law. The emergence of a predominantly right-wing, nationalist government in Israel suggests that there may be more violations to come. Hamas’s indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli civilians also constituted war crimes, but do not excuse Israel’s transgressions. While Israel disputes some of the soldiers’ accounts, the evidence suggests that Israel committed the following six offenses:

• Violating its duty to protect the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. Despite Israel’s 2005 “disengagement” from Gaza, the territory remains occupied. Israel unleashed military firepower against a people it is legally bound to protect.

• Imposing collective punishment in the form of a blockade, in violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In June 2007, after Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip, Israel imposed suffocating restrictions on trade and movement. The blockade — an act of war in customary international law — has helped plunge families into poverty, children into malnutrition, and patients denied access to medical treatment into their graves. People in Gaza thus faced Israel’s winter onslaught in particularly weakened conditions.

• Deliberately attacking civilian targets. The laws of war permit attacking a civilian object only when it is making an effective contribution to military action and a definite military advantage is gained by its destruction. Yet an Israeli general, Dan Harel, said, “We are hitting not only terrorists and launchers, but also the whole Hamas government and all its wings.” An Israeli military spokeswoman, Maj. Avital Leibovich, avowed that “anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target.”

Israeli fire destroyed or damaged mosques, hospitals, factories, schools, a key sewage plant, institutions like the parliament, the main ministries, the central prison and police stations, and thousands of houses.

• Willfully killing civilians without military justification. When civilian institutions are struck, civilians — persons who are not members of the armed forces of a warring party, and are not taking direct part in hostilities — are killed.

International law authorizes killings of civilians if the objective of the attack is military, and the means are proportional to the advantage gained. Yet proportionality is irrelevant if the targets of attack were not military to begin with. Gaza government employees — traffic policemen, court clerks, secretaries and others — are not combatants merely because Israel considers Hamas, the governing party, a terrorist organization. Many countries do not regard violence against foreign military occupation as terrorism.

Of 1,434 Palestinians killed in the Gaza invasion, 960 were civilians, including 121 women and 288 children, according to a United Nations special rapporteur, Richard Falk. Israeli military lawyers instructed army commanders that Palestinians who remained in a targeted building after having been warned to leave were “voluntary human shields,” and thus combatants. Israeli gunners “knocked on roofs” — that is, fired first at corners of buildings, before hitting more vulnerable points — to “warn” Palestinian residents to flee.

With nearly all exits from the densely populated Gaza Strip blocked by Israel, and chaos reigning within it, this was a particularly cruel flaunting of international law. Willful killings of civilians that are not required by military necessity are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and are considered war crimes under the Nuremberg principles.

• Deliberately employing disproportionate force. Last year, Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, head of Israel’s northern command, speaking on possible future conflicts with neighbors, stated, “We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction.” Such a frank admission of illegal intent can constitute evidence in a criminal prosecution.

• Illegal use of weapons, including white phosphorus. Israel was finally forced to admit, after initial denials, that it employed white phosphorous in the Gaza Strip, though Israel defended its use as legal. White phosphorous may be legally used as an obscurant, not as a weapon, as it burns deeply and is extremely difficult to extinguish.

Israeli political and military personnel who planned, ordered or executed these possible offenses should face criminal prosecution. The appointment of Richard Goldstone, the former war crimes prosecutor from South Africa, to head a fact-finding team into possible war crimes by both parties to the Gaza conflict is an important step in the right direction. The stature of international law is diminished when a nation violates it with impunity.

George Bisharat is a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Access to buffer zone key to agricultural recovery

IRIN, April 2, 2009 - Gaza’s battered agricultural sector has the capacity to recover but only if there is access to the buffer zone, and only if Gaza’s commercial crossings are fully opened, according to a recent UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report on Gaza.

FAO says the area inside the buffer zone along the northern and eastern borders with Israel contains nearly a third of Gaza’s arable land, but it has been inaccessible to farmers, residents and UN agencies since 27 December 2008 (when Israel launched a 23-day assault on Gaza in retaliation for continued Hamas rocket-fire from Gaza into Israel).

The width of the buffer zone is 0.5-1km along the eastern border and 1.8-2km along the northern border, according to FAO. The buffer zone extends about 55km along the length of Strip from northwest of Beit Lahiya to southeast of Rafah, but the area is not clearly marked.

“In different areas there is a certain ambiguity regarding the exact border between Israel and the Strip,” according to an Israeli military source, who added that the fence that delineated the Gaza Strip today did not necessarily reflect the final border that would be determined by the two sides in a final status agreement.

Severely affected

Gaza’s agricultural sector has been severely affected by the recent Israeli military operation: Cultivated land, livestock, poultry farms and agricultural infrastructure have been destroyed.

The use of weaponry and the movement of tanks and military bulldozers during the Israeli offensive destroyed 14.6% of Gaza’s total agricultural land, according to the Palestinian National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan for Gaza.

Before 27 December there were about 16,997 hectares of agricultural land in Gaza, including about 1,214 hectares of greenhouses.

The Plan estimates direct agricultural losses caused by the operation at about US$181 million and $88 in indirect losses.

Buffer zone resources

The buffer zone contains rain-fed crops including wheat, barley, beans and various vegetables, as well as olives, almonds and citrus trees, according to Gaza-based Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC) officer, Ahmed Sourani.

Most of Gaza’s animal production is concentrated in the zone, which also contains important infrastructure such as wells and roads, according to FAO....

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Opinion: Israel's Most Moral Army - Rachel Shabi

The Guardian, April 1, 2009 - You could all but hear the leftwing jaws thudding to the ground. Shortly after opening an investigation of war crimes in Gaza, the Israeli military police has just snapped it shut.

Those soldiers who described unlawful practices in the Palestinian strip were just relaying "hearsay" and rumours, was the swift conclusion. And just as fast came the stunned reaction from those who wondered if the investigation was, well, just a bit too swift. Amos Harel of Ha'aretz newspaper pointed out that it took just 11 days, including two non-work days. Israeli human rights groups deemed it suspicious and called for an independent investigation. Others pointed out that the review focused only on the veracity of soldier testimonials – without examining copious evidence from other quarters.

Now, some Israelis are questioning the purpose of the inquiry. "It doesn't seem like they were trying to find out the truth, but more that it's an attempt to silence the debate," says Yehuda Shaul of Breaking the Silence, a group of army veterans that collates the experiences of soldiers who serve in the occupied West Bank. The fact that the military police knew about those soldier testimonials but did not activate an inquiry until there was a public furore over them seems to back Shaul's observation....

See also:

Either troops are liars or the IDF is pure as the driven snow, Haaretz, March 31, 2009 - One would be hard-pressed not to express astonishment at the speed and efficiency demonstrated by the Military Advocate General, Brigadier-General Avichai Mendelblit, and the Military Police investigation unit in probing the "combat soldiers' testimonials affair" that took place at the Rabin pre-military training academy. The investigation into Moshe (Chico) Tamir's all-terrain vehicle accident made its way from desk-drawer to desk-drawer over the course of almost 18 months, yet the military advocate general needed just 11 days (including two Saturdays) to probe the accounts of combat soldiers in order to completely dispel the allegations.

There is something soothing in the exhaustive investigation by the military advocate general. The IDF emerges from it (and from the Gaza Strip) as pure as snow. Yet at the same time there is a disconcerting message emanating from the closure of the investigation, one which, at least according to Brig. Gen. Mendelblit, a group of combat soldiers and officers serving in some of the finest units in the IDF has proven to be nothing but a bunch of liars and exaggerating storytellers, men who have not uttered one truthful word....

Barak welcomes IDF decision to end Gaza probe, Haaretz, March 31, 2009 -....In a press release issued Monday, the army said that Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit instructed the Military Police Investigation unit to close the case after a preliminary investigation into the testimonies revealed that they "were based on hearsay and not first-hand experience."

"There is no other army in the world that is as introspective as the IDF, that scrutinizes its conduct in such a genuine and serious way after an operation," Barak continued. "I'm happy these as the results [of the investigation], and that once again our claim that the IDF is the most moral army in the world ? top commanders and low-ranking soldiers alike ? has proved truthful." [verbatim from original post - Ed.]

Gaza Orphans in the Spotlight

IRIN April 1, 2009 - An estimated 1,346 children were left without one or more of their parents as a result of the recent 23-day Israeli assault on Gaza, according to Islamic Relief in Gaza.

An orphan is defined by Islamic Relief as a child under 18 who has lost the parent considered the head of the household, most often the father, according to a child welfare programme manager for Islamic Relief Mahmoud in Gaza, Abudraz. The official UNICEF definition of an orphan is a child who has lost one or both parents.

There are currently about 5,200 orphans under Islamic Relief’s definition in Gaza.

“There has been a dramatic increase in [the number of] requests for sponsorship [of such children] in Gaza,” Abudraz said.

Over 500 such requests have been made recently and Islamic Relief has responded positively to 200 of them. Eligible orphans must be under 14 and in the care of a low-income family (earning 1,000 shekels - US$240 - per month or less) with more than four members.

Extended families in Gaza cannot support the orphans in the long term, said Abudraz....

Opinion: Disposable Justice - Gideon Levy

Haaretz, April 2, 2009 - Anyone who cares about the rule of law and Israel's moral image, and is worried that its soldiers may have carried out war crimes in the Gaza Strip, can now sigh with relief. The military advocate general, Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit, ordered that the investigation into soldiers' testimonies on their experiences in Operation Cast Lead be closed. A flash operation of instant justice buried a story that had rocked worlds. There are judges in Jerusalem, and a military advocate general in Tel Aviv. All he needed was a day or two - no Palestinian testimonies were deemed necessary. There was no real investigation whatsoever - the case was instantly disposed of.

Mendelblit's effective and scandalously quick conduct proved beyond doubt what everyone already knew: His office is a propaganda machine, part of the Israel Defense Forces' information activities. It has the same relation to justice as military marches do to music, to borrow a phrase from French statesman Georges Clemenceau.

It is inconceivable that the IDF would investigate itself. It doesn't have the slightest intention to do so....

Gideon Levy is a columnist for Haaretz daily newspaper in Israel.

See also: IDF: Case Closed on Gaza Testimonies - Jerusalem Post, March 30, 2009, and

Haaretz Editorial, Repression Campaign:
....The defense establishment was quick to rejoice at the closure of the case and the conclusion that [IDF] soldiers had told tall tales or embellished unfounded rumors that they had heard elsewhere. The defense minister and the chief of staff repeated the cliched statement that the IDF is "the most moral army in the world."

It is difficult to accept this. If the ranks of the combat units are filled with liars and exaggerators, then the IDF has a serious discipline, if not moral, problem.

One cannot shake the impression that the swift probe and its findings are part and parcel of the IDF's and Israeli society's campaign of psychological repression. This repression is palpable in the wholesale rationalizations made in explaining away the harm to Palestinian civilians and their property as an unassailable, operational necessity in the fight against terrorism; in ignoring the grave accounts from Palestinians in Gaza, which were revealed by Amira Hass in Haaretz and presented by foreign journalists and human rights organizations, all of which is viewed as the product of hostile propaganda; and in the tendency to automatically deny every claim of illegal behavior by the IDF and its troops.

If the IDF aspires to be the most moral army in the world, it must "look the truth in the eye," in the words of Ehud Barak's election campaign, and genuinely and courageously probe the reasons for the killing of many "noncombatants" during the fighting in Gaza. It ought to punish those who deviated from their superior's commands and it must define rules of engagement that, above all, will ensure the protection of innocent individuals and their property.

Cynthia McKinney Reports from London on Gaza Conference There

London, March 31, 2009 - What an impressive Conference put on by the Government of Malaysia and the Kuala Lumpur Foundation to Criminalise War (KLFCW). Absolutely incredible. And the audience was packed with information....

The Malaysian Foreign Minister, Dr. Rais Yatim, spoke passionately this morning about the need for accountability in the face of war crimes. And so too, did the founder of the KLFCW, Tun Dr. Mahathir. Dr. Mahathir spoke of the long history of Zionism, starting with the Balfour Declaration, and explained that we were in London because there had been a request from a British citizen in Malaysia attending our Forum for Palestine there, to take this information to the source of the problem--England. Dr. Mahathir recommended that we remember the Balfour Declaration and all the events leading up to the creation of the state of Israel for a better understanding of the challenges we face on our road to peace....

See also Arab News: Malaysia Calls for 'Genocide in Gaza' Tribunal at London Conference, March 2, 2009 - The main speakers [at the London conference] comprised an interesting motley. Apart from [Former Malaysian Prime Minister] Mahathir and [current Malaysian Foreign Minister] Yatim, there were Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law of Tony Blair and a prominent human rights activist; Cynthia McKinney, former US congresswoman and 2008 US presidential candidate for the Green Party; Tony Benn, former Labour minister and veteran anti-war campaigner; Sir Gerald Kaufman, veteran Labour MP and former aide to Harold Wilson; and Rabbi Aharon Cohen, leader of the Neturei Karta, an international body of Orthodox Jews united against Zionism.

They all had one thing in common -— they are united by their abhorrence of the savagery and injustice of the wanton Israeli attack on Gaza and the hapless Palestinian population there last December and January, and their effort to criminalize war.

Mahathir revealed that Malaysia would go ahead in starting the process to convene an Israeli War Crimes Tribunal in Brussels under due international legal process....

Witness to Israel's War Crimes - Interview with James Leas

Socialist, March 27, 2009 - James Leas is a lawyer and longtime activist in Burlington, Vt. He works with Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine-Israel, and he recently traveled to Gaza with a National Lawyers Guild (NLG) delegation to investigate the impact of Israel's 22-day offensive against Gaza. He spoke with Leah Linder Siegel about what he witnessed there.

Did observations and experiences on the ground in Gaza confirm that Israel committed war crimes during its attack?

WE SAW an enormous amount--with our own eyes. We saw the aftermath of the war, but there were a few bombs that went off during the time we were there, because Israel was bombing the tunnels. When we were crossing into Gaza from Egypt, we heard an explosion.

Most of what we actually saw was the destruction of buildings and rubble--in residential areas as well as government buildings and humanitarian supplies. We also saw the aftermath of the bombing of the UN compound, where we saw residue of white phosphorous [weapons] on the floor. These buildings had been gutted--they had been destroyed by fire.

We saw the rubble of schools and medical facilities that had been attacked. We saw a number of ambulances and United Nations vehicles that had been destroyed.

We also interviewed people who had been victims or whose families had been victims of attacks. In one neighborhood, where many of the houses included people from the same extended family, we interviewed a woman whose two daughters had been killed and whose two sons and husband were wounded severely.

The sons and husband are now receiving medical care in Saudi Arabia. She told us how the Israelis fired tank shells at her house after telling people in all the neighboring houses to come to her house. There were over 100 people in her house, and they stayed there all night.

Then, in the morning, the Israelis fired tank shells at the house. They must have known there were civilians in there because they weren't getting any resistance; they had control of the neighborhood. And then, when people tried to escape from the house, after the tank started shelling, the Israelis shot at the people running away. Many of them did get away.

There were some left in the house who were too wounded to escape. The Israelis didn't allow humanitarian aid workers or ambulances to come get them for days. One of her sons was left with the dead and wounded for four days until the Israelis finally allowed aid workers to come get him.

The Israelis didn't even allow the ambulance to come close; the aid workers had to actually walk a couple of kilometers and remove the wounded on donkey carts. And they couldn't use the donkeys; they had to actually pull the carts themselves. So it was humiliation on top of interference with humanitarian aid. It was just one violation of international law after another....

Seymour Hersh on Obama's Role in Ending Israeli Bombing of Gaza

Syria Calling: The Obama Administration’s chance to engage in a Middle East peace.
By Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, April 6, 2009

When the Israelis’ controversial twenty-two-day military campaign in Gaza ended, on January 18th, it also seemed to end the promising peace talks between Israel and Syria. The two countries had been engaged for almost a year in negotiations through intermediaries in Istanbul. Many complicated technical matters had been resolved, and there were agreements in principle on the normalization of diplomatic relations. The consensus, as an ambassador now serving in Tel Aviv put it, was that the two sides had been “a lot closer than you might think.”

At an Arab summit in Qatar in mid-January, however, Bashar Assad, the President of Syria, angrily declared that Israel’s bombing of Gaza and the resulting civilian deaths showed that the Israelis spoke only “the language of blood.” He called on the Arab world to boycott Israel, close any Israeli embassies in the region, and sever all “direct or indirect ties with Israel.” Syria, Assad said, had ended its talks over the Golan Heights.

Nonetheless, a few days after the Israeli ceasefire in Gaza, Assad said in an e-mail to me that although Israel was “doing everything possible to undermine the prospects for peace,” he was still very interested in closing the deal. “We have to wait a little while to see how things will evolve and how the situation will change,” Assad said. “We still believe that we need to conclude a serious dialogue to lead us to peace.”


The Obama transition team also helped persuade Israel to end the bombing of Gaza and to withdraw its ground troops before the Inauguration. According to the former senior intelligence official, who has access to sensitive information, “Cheney began getting messages from the Israelis about pressure from Obama” when he was President-elect. Cheney, who worked closely with the Israeli leadership in the lead-up to the Gaza war, portrayed Obama to the Israelis as a “pro-Palestinian,” who would not support their efforts (and, in private, disparaged Obama, referring to him at one point as someone who would “never make it in the major leagues”). But the Obama team let it be known that it would not object to the planned resupply of “smart bombs” and other high-tech ordnance that was already flowing to Israel. “It was Jones”—retired Marine General James Jones, at the time designated to be the President’s national-security adviser—“who came up with the solution and told Obama, ‘You just can’t tell the Israelis to get out.’ ” (General Jones said that he could not verify this account; Cheney’s office declined to comment.)

After Israel's Invasion: An Eyewitness Account from Gaza, the West Bank and Israel

By Marie Kennedy, Grassroots International, March 27th, 2009

After 3 weeks in the West Bank, Israel and Gaza, I returned to Los Angeles in a state of stunned disbelief. I had last been in Palestine in 1995, a time when many were hopeful of a peaceful transition to two-states, as outlined in the Oslo accords. Even at that time I was pessimistic about a solution to the conflict-already Palestinians were prevented from freedom of movement, subject to arbitrary detention by the Israeli military, and land seizures for new and ever expanding settlements were rampant. Now, things are immeasurably worse, not only in Gaza (although that is the most extreme), but also in the West Bank and for Palestinian citizens of Israel. I will share a few brief impressions and some facts, starting with Gaza, the world's largest open-air prison-a 140 square mile strip of land in which 1.5 million people are crowded together. Even before the recent Israeli offensive, the people of Gaza had been subjected to a punitive blockade for 18 months.

Massive destruction was evident the moment we cleared the border from Al Arish in Egypt to Rafah in Palestine, on March 9, 2009. The further north we went, the worse it got. Houses, apartment buildings were shot or bulldozed down; mosques, all police stations, all government buildings, including parliament were destroyed; huge sections of the walls of schools were blasted away, the American International School was obliterated, the United Nations Refugee School was bombed, as was the Islamic University of Gaza; the walls of hospitals were pocked with bullets; lone houses stood in plains of rubble. What little Gaza had of economic infrastructure was re-engineered into swaths of upturned concrete and twisted metal. Olive trees were uprooted and crops bulldozed under. Thousands of people were living in tents, hastily constructed hovels, or in the ruins themselves. These were the things I saw with my own eyes. The stories I heard were even more devastating.

Even though we were there during the "ceasefire", the war continued by non-explosive means. Nothing in-food, fuel, medicines, people with essential emergency skills; nothing out, including people in need of critical medical care not available in Gaza. Of course, it wasn't a total ceasefire-every night we heard loud explosions-we were told that the Israelis were continuing to bomb the tunnels and to fire artillery at fishing boats.

Israel carpet-bombed the 140 square miles of the Gaza strip. The attack was supposedly to teach Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israeli villages. Of course, wars are never about only one thing and the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is so long and complex that it almost defies sorting out.

Boston Globe: Gaza conference chides US policy

Senior U.N. official Craig Mokhiber speaks about human rights law at the 2009 MIT/Harvard Gaza Symposium. Image by Karen L. Ding at the Harvard Crimson
By James F. Smith, Boston Globe, March 30, 2009

CAMBRIDGE -- Several academics at a Harvard-MIT symposium on Gaza today were fiercely critical of US policy -- including that of the Obama Administration -- for not putting serious pressure on Israel to respect the rights of Palestinians in Gaza.

The two-day event includes a number of academics who have long criticized the United States for coddling Israel. Several cited the recent Israeli invasion into the Gaza Strip, which left an estimated 1,300 people dead, as fresh evidence of what they described as Israel's willingness to punish all Gazans to achieve its strategic objectives. Israel contends it had no choice but to act militarily to stop constant barrages of rockets from Hamas fighters within Gaza aimed at civilians in Sderot and other Israeli communities.

Congressman Brian Baird, a Democrat from Washington state, described the widespread destruction he saw in Gaza in February when he visited there with two other legislators, including Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry and Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat. Baird said that while he absolutely condemned the rocket attacks from Gaza, they did not justify the full-scale Israeli military response. He called it "collective punishment" of Gazans.

He said that while walking through Gaza, little children came up and said, "Barack Obama, Barack Obama," suggesting the hopes people are placing in Obama. He said the new administration needs to move urgently to pressure Israel as well as the Palestinians for concessions to unlock the negotiating process.

Baird also said that Obama's message to the new Israeli government, expected to be led by right-wing politician Benjamin Netanyahu, should push Israel to start meeting longstanding conditions on settlements and other issues. If it doesn't, he said, then the US should consider imposing constraints on US military support of some $3 billion per year.

Other speakers, including some who have long track records of attacking Israel and US policy toward Israel, were less conciliatory.

Irene Gendzier, a Boston University professor, said of the Obama administration's response to Israel's incursion into Gaza: "The silence has been overwhelming." She said the new administration is preoccupied with Pakistan and Afghanistan, and is considering openings to Syria and Iran only with an eye toward undermining Hezollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank.

Gabriel Piterburg, a history professor at UCLA, described Israelis as settler-colonialists who set out to destroy the indigenous people in their way. He said what distinguished Palestinians from native peoples in countries such as his native Argentina, Australia and the United States was that the Palestinians escaped political extinction.

The resulting frustration of Israelis, he said, prompts exponential levels of violence. "They cannot resign themselves to accept [Palestinians] as an equal partner. Somehow there needs to be a recognition of the indigenous population as equal partners," he said, whether that be in a single state, in two states side by side or some other negotiated solution.

The conference concludes on Tuesday with a session at Austin Hall at Harvard Law School, with sessions on human rights and the reconstruction of Gaza.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Israel's choke-hold in America loosens - Rami Khouri

By Rami G. Khouri, The Daily Star, April 1, 2009

One of the important, even historic, changes taking place in the United States these days is the slow but steady erosion of the once absolute taboo to speak about the excessive influence of pro-Israeli groups in the United States. Pro-Israeli forces in politics and the mass media can still destroy a public career, especially for a politician, but the stranglehold on discussing this phenomenon is slowly loosening.

I witnessed one example of this earlier this week when I participated in the second annual symposium on Gaza, jointly organized by and hosted at two outstanding universities, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Equally noteworthy was that it was sponsored by mainstream units at the universities, including MIT's Center for International Studies and the Program on Human Rights and Justice, and Harvard's Middle East Initiative at the Kennedy School, the Center for Middle East Studies, and the Human Rights Program at the Harvard Law School.

A respected member of Congress who had recently visited Gaza, Brian Baird from Washington State, made the opening comments, which were strongly critical of Israeli actions in Gaza - especially the excessive and disproportionate use of force - and of the American position supporting Israel.

Most of the speakers criticized Israel and supported Palestinian rights, pointing out the importance of the "resistance" of the Palestinians in Gaza who refused to be removed from history or from their land by the force of Israeli settler-colonialist violence. Boston University Political Science professor Irene Grendzier suggested that two phenomena have defined events in the Middle East in recent years - the problem of weapons of mass destruction, but also the problem of "weapons of mass deception" in the United States public arena.

The deliberate deception of the American people about realities on the ground in Israel and Palestine was one reason the US government and public could take a position of "overwhelming silence" on the recent Israeli assault on Gaza, and its continuing strangulation of that society.

"The deception is breaking down slowly, however" she said, because of the availability of alternative sources of news available to anyone who sought it out on the internet or non-American television services. This meant that "we are witnessing the public beheading of Israeli myths on events in Palestine."

Other speakers - Arabs, Americans, Israelis, Europeans - made similar points that emphasized how the gravity and often the criminality of Israeli actions in Gaza were at once facilitated and exacerbated by American and other foreign policies. Oxford University lecturer Karma Nabulsi said that a consistent aim of American-Israeli policies was to deny the Palestinians the right to represent themselves, and then also to deny them the right to resist when faced with occupation and assault.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Aftermath: Violence Against Women in Gaza is Rising

IRIN, March 24, 2009 - The UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in Gaza, local Palestinian NGOs and mental health professionals are reporting increased incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault against women in Gaza since the beginning of 2009.

An unpublished UNIFEM survey of male and female heads of 1,100 Gaza households conducted between 28 February and 3 March indicates there was an increase in violence against women during and after the 23-day war which ended on 18 January.

“According to our staff, and through clinical observation, there was increased violence against women and children during and after the war,” said public relations coordinator for the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP), Husam al-Nounou.

“We can attribute this to the fact that most people were exposed to traumatic incidents during the war, and one way people react to stress is to become violent.”

GCMHP, which runs six clinics and treats an estimated 2,000 mental health patients a year, carried out a post-war assessment, interviewing about 3,500 Gaza residents, said al-Nounou.

“This war was extremely harsh, people felt insecure, vulnerable and unable to protect themselves, their children and their families; when people were trapped at home this increased the stress and anxiety,” said al-Nounou.


Sahar (who wanted her family name omitted), aged 36, divorced her husband in February due to the physical and psychological abuse she endured leading up to and during the war.

“He beat me severely and I was fainting from the stress,” said Sahar. “He forced me to engage in sexual intercourse against my will.”

Sahar brings her two-year-old daughter to the Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR) to visit the daughter’s father. The court ordered supervised visits after Sahar’s ex-husband and his brothers tried to take her daughter away by force.

“Before the war the centre was facilitating supervised visits for 30 families, but now it is doing this for 60 families,” said Bakr Turkmani, an attorney at the PCDCR....

Aftermath: "The Only BMW Store in Gaza"

Nasser Al Amoudi outside the symbolic tent erected on the site of his destroyed BMW spare parts shop
Photo: Malian/PCHR.

Palestinian Center for Human Rights, March 29, 2009 - In this new series of personal testimonies, PCHR looks at the aftermath of Israel’s 22 day offensive on the Gaza Strip, and the ongoing impact it is having on the civilian population.

Nasser Al ‘Amoudi, with his biker’s jacket and sunglasses, embodies the of a car enthusiast. For years he has been the owner of the only BMW spare parts shop in the Strip. People would travel from every corner to purchase secondhand parts from his shop. Now Nasser’s and garage, which were worth $300,000 before the Israeli army destroyed them during their latest offensive, lie in tatters, and his financial security has gone.

Al ‘Amoudi BMW Spare Parts is situated on a main street running through the Salateen area of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza. This area was one of the worst affected during Israel’s ground offensive – hundreds of houses and greenhouses were completely destroyed in Salateen, thousands of trees were uprooted, and there are still 100 families living in a tent camp just a few metres away. This predominantly fishing community has sustained many Israeli incursions over the years but the scars of the latest one are all pervasive and have made the area almost unrecognisable to its residents. Even the cemetery with its cracked gravestones and deep tank tracks, was not spared.

“This land belongs to me and my family and we have had this business for 22 years,” says 38-year-old Nasser, his hand leaning on the edge of the tent he has erected on the site of his shop. “I worked in the garage when I was a small boy, and I took over from my brother when I was old enough. We had customers from Gaza City, from Khan Yunis, and Rafah. This was the only place to find good used spare parts for BMW cars. All of Gaza knew this shop.”

Nasser used to have friends in Germany whom he did business with to secure the spare parts, but everything collapsed with the closure of Gaza’s borders two years ago: “People were still coming here before the war, but business had slowed down, almost to a standstill. Gaza has been closed off from the outside world for two years, and it’s impossible for businesses like mine to function under those conditions.”

The economic blockade and closure of Gaza’s borders since June 2007 has had a devastating impact on the Strip’s economic sectors. Most production facilities have ceased operations and the import and export of goods are severely limited. Israel’s policy of collective punishment has left the territory unable to secure basic foods, medicines, or other supplies and the result has been a skyrocketing of poverty rates and unemployment.....

Over 120 industrial and commercial workshops were completely by Israeli Occupation Forces between 27 December and 18 January 2009, and at least 200 others damaged, as well as some of Gaza’s largest producing soft drinks, concrete, and other basic items.

The high civilian death toll and the extensive destruction to public and private property indicate that one of the objectives of the Israeli political and military establishments was to cause the maximum possible damage in Gaza. As Nasser Al ‘Amoudi, rearranges the metal sign hanging from his tent, it is apparent that the Israeli army achieved that objective....

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Aftermath: Gazans Share War Experiences

Live from Gaza blog, March 26, 2009 - Blogger Lina al-Sharif, a 20-year old student of English literature at Islamic University in Gaza, produced some home videos called Remember the War (Parts 1 and 2) so she could shared her experiences during the Gaza War with her readers. The videos were posted on her blog, Live from Gaza, and are accessible below:

New Poll of US Jews: Although 75% Supported Gaza Op, 69% Thought Response was "Disproportionate" - Richard Silverstein

The Guardian, March 29, 2009 - J Street has just released its latest poll (full results, analysis) about American Jewish attitudes toward the Israeli-Arab conflict. As usual, it contains some heartening results and some worrisome ones. Perhaps the most important trend noted is that American Jews support a muscular US policy that actively encourages the warring parties to resolve their differences through negotiation....

Sixty-nine percent would support Israeli and American engagement with a Palestinian unity government, even if it included Hamas. This is an especially important finding – both because Palestinians are right now earnestly negotiating towards this goal in Egypt, and because the recent budget bill passed by Congress contains some truly bizarre, draconian provisions that would outlaw any US involvement with a Palestinian government that did include Hamas....What is important to note here is how completely off the reservation congressional Democrats have gone in accommodating the Aipac holy warriors.

Sixty-nine percent of Jews reject Avigdor Lieberman's call for loyalty oaths for Israeli Arabs, as well as his more bellicose anti-Arab positions like support for killing Knesset members who back Hamas. But surprisingly only 29% had an unfavourable view of him, while 27% had a favourable view.

American Jews reject the contention of many pro-Israel hard-liners that public disagreement with Israeli policy is not acceptable for Jews. Fifty-eight percent disagree....

Seventy-five percent of Jews supported Israel and its invasion of Gaza. An earlier Pew study found that 55% of Democrats opposed the Gaza war – which means there is a real split between Jews and Americans when it comes to such matters. The difference in levels of Israeli and diaspora war support is significant, though I am disappointed there wasn't more opposition here and in Israel....

Forty-one percent of Jews believe the Gaza war did nothing to increase Israel's security and 18% believe it harmed it. Forty-one percent believe it made Israel more secure....

Despite my disappointment at the numbers supporting the Gaza war, 69% believe Israel's response to Hamas rockets was "disproportionate". Fifty-six percent believe Israeli military actions that involve killing civilians "create more terrorism". Sixty-five percent believe that Israel's siege against Gaza and the notion of collective punishment is wrong....

Richard Silverstein writes Tikun Olam, a blog dedicated to resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict. He also contributed to the Independent Jewish Voices essay collection A Time to Speak Out.