Saturday, April 11, 2009

Report from Human Rights Organizations: Who Is Really Closing the Rafah Crossing?

Gisha News Release,March 25, 2009 - A New Report from Gisha and Physicians For Human Rights-Israel Reveals: Who is Really Closing Rafah Crossing?

The report reveals that all parties – Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas – are preventing passage between Gaza and Egypt for political reasons. All the parties are denying their own accountability, while pointing an accusatory finger at the others. The responsibility falls first and foremost on Israel; however, all parties involved are contributing to the systematic violation of the rights of Gaza residents. The right of 1.5 million people to enter and exit the Gaza Strip is not a political issue but a fundamental human right.

A new report on Rafah Crossing and the parties involved in its closure was published today by Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel). The report "Rafah Crossing: Who Holds the Keys?" dispels the fog concerning responsibility for Rafah Crossing, answering the question, who is really responsible for the closure of Rafah Crossing – and therefore for the violation of the rights of Gaza residents.

After almost two years of a nearly hermetic closure and following a military operation which left behind thousands of victims and caused immense destruction, all parties involved continue to deny responsibility and claim that the opening of Rafah Crossing will be resolved through political negotiations. In light of the current political deadlock, Gisha and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel demand that all the parties controlling Rafah Crossing – Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Egypt – end this futile political game and take immediate and concrete action to open the crossing. All the parties concerned bear an obligation to rise above their narrow interests and to respect the rights of 1.5 million people being used as pawns in political negotiations....

Hamas-Fatah Rift Leaves Gaza Patients Stranded

IRIN April 9, 2009 - The rift between the two main Palestinian movements - Fatah which controls the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Hamas which controls Gaza - has impeded the availability of health care in Gaza, say officials.

“The health ministry in Ramallah [West Bank] has refused contact with the health ministry in Gaza since Hamas took control in June 2007,” said Gaza health ministry spokesperson Hamam Nasman: “Only 24 percent of the medicine and medical supplies allotted to Gaza under the 2008 PA budget were received.”

All referrals abroad for medical patients in Gaza were halted after Hamas took control of the PA’s Referral Abroad Department in Gaza on 22 March, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). As a result, thousands of patients with serious and complicated conditions have been affected, said sources in the Gaza health ministry....

UN Humanitarian Coordinator Max Gaylord and the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a joint statement on 30 March expressing serious concern, while the WHO in Gaza has been mediating between the Gaza and Ramallah health ministries to resolve the crisis....

More than 150,000 Gazans Still Without Tap Water

IRIN April 7, 2009 - Over 150,000 Palestinians in Gaza (around 10 percent of the population) are struggling without tap water as a result of the damage caused to wells, pipes and waste water facilities during the recent 23-day Israeli offensive which ended on 18 January.

"Our requests via the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to the Israeli military during the conflict to allow shipments of construction materials and spare parts to repair wells and facilities damaged during the war were denied," Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) director-general Monther Shoblak told IRIN.

Shoblak estimates that 50,000 people lack tap water after losing their homes, while a further 100,000 have dry taps because of damage to the water supply network.

Eleven of Gaza’s 150 wells, the only source of drinking water for Gaza’s 1.4 million people (apart from expensive bottled water and water trucked in by aid agencies), are not functioning. Six were completely destroyed, according to CMWU.

Many residents in the north and in Rafah have water from their taps only every 4-7 days. CMWU is working to rectify the situation, Shoblak said, but is hampered by lack of supplies....

Monday, April 6, 2009

Awni al-Heteni School, North Gaza

Free Gaza blog, April 7, 2009 - A day in the life of ordinary Socio-Psychological Support Workers in a recent war zone:

Israeli Navy Abducts 8 Gaza Fishermen 100 Meters Off Gaza Coast

Free Gaza blog, April 7, 2009 - Israeli Naval forces have abducted eight Palestinian fishermen (including two minors) from the Salateen area in north of the Gaza Strip. Additionally, the fishermen's four hassakas (small fishing boats) have been taken by the Israeli Navy. According to eyewitnesses, the fishermen were only about 100 meters from the coast at the time of their abduction.

Initial information received regarding the fishermen's details are as follows:

- Esshaq Mohammed Zayed, 45
- Rassam Mohammed Zayed, 25
- Hafez Assad Al Sultan, 25
- Ahmed Assad Al Sultan, 17
- Safwat Zayed Zayed, 35
- Nashaat Zayed Zayed, 10
- Hammada Joma Zayed, 22
- Joma Mollok Zayed, 50

During the last month the Israeli Navy has escalated its attacks against Gazan fishermen by injuring at least three of them, abducting a further 24 fishermen, and stealing 10 hassakas and one shansula fishing boat.

Last week dozens of Salateen fishermen, joined by the Director of the General Syndicate of Marine Fishers, Palestinian activists from the Beit Hanoun Local Initiative and International Solidarity Movement activists, demonstrated against the Israeli attacks, demanding the release of the stolen boats....

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and Palestine Medical Relief Society Jointly Issue Report on Medical Impact of Israel's Gaza Attack

Physicians for Human Rights - Israel, April 6, 2009 - An independent fact-finding mission of medical experts commissioned by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) published today its special report on the Israeli attack on Gaza.

In their report, the experts detail 44 testimonies by civilians who came under attack and by medical staff who were prevented from evacuating the wounded. The report provides first-hand evidence regarding the broader effects of the attacks on a civilian population that was already vulnerable on the eve of the offensive.

The experts collected samples of human tissue earth, water, grass and mud suspected to be contaminated by unidentified chemicals. These were sent by the team to laboratories in the UK and South Africa for analysis.

During the military operation in January, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel called for an external independent investigation into the events, for the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip and for the opening of the Crossings.

Five independent experts in the fields of forensic medicine, burns, medical response to crises and public health, from Germany, Denmark, South Africa and Spain, immediately answered the call and traveled to Gaza between 29 January and 5 February 2009 for their first fact-finding investigation, and then to hospitals in Egypt, where some of the most seriously wounded were being treated.

The medical experts are: Professor Jorgen Thomsen from Denmark, expert in Forensic pathology; Dr. Ralf Syring from Germany, an expert in Public Health in crisis regions; Professor Shabbir Ahmed Wadee from South Africa, an expert in Forensic pathology; Professor Sebastian Van As from South Africa, an expert in Trauma surgery and Ms. Alicia Vacas Moro from Spain, an expert in International health.

From the conclusion of the report:

"...Besides the large-scale, largely impersonal destruction that the team witnessed and heard of, it was especially distressing to hear of individual cases in which soldiers had been within seeing, hearing and speaking distance of their victims for significant stretches of time, but despite the opportunity for 'humanisation', had denied wounded people access to lifesaving medical care, or even shot at civilians at short range..."

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

National Lawyers Guild: New Findings That Israel Violated Intn'l Law; Domestic Law Implicated

National Lawyers Guild Press release, April 2, 2009 - Israel violated international law by targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, misusing weapons, deliberately denying medical care to the wounded and attacking medical personnel, the National Lawyers Guild Delegation to Gaza said today upon releasing a 37 page report containing new evidence on the facts surrounding Israel’s 22 day military offensive in Gaza. The full report can be viewed at Photos are also available upon request.

“Our findings join a growing chorus of voices—which include Israeli soldiers themselves—asserting that Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians during the Gaza offensive,” said Radhika Sainath, one of the attorneys who initiated the seven-day fact-finding delegation to Gaza. “On a number of occasions, Israeli soldiers shot and killed young children as well as unarmed civilians holding white flags—both violations of the laws of war.”

The Delegation also uncovered evidence of Israeli soldiers using Palestinians as human shields, acts that constitute war crimes, as well as evidence that the Israeli military targeted civilian infrastructure and grossly misused weapons. Further, Israel denied the wounded access to medical care and routinely fired on emergency medical teams attempting to reach those in need of help. Paramedics and doctors reported to the Delegation that many civilians could have been saved if the Israeli army allowed Palestinian medical services access to the wounded. “On one occasion, when Israeli forces did allow Palestinian medical services to enter an area after four days, soldiers prohibited their ambulances from approaching and paramedics were forced to pile the injured on donkey carts,” reported Reem Salahi, a California-based civil rights attorney. “Medical workers were then forced to pull the carts to their ambulances two kilometers away.”

The Delegation is calling on the Obama Administration and Congress to investigate the possible misuse of U.S. defense articles by Israel during the Gaza offensive. The Delegation is also calling for the Obama Administration to immediately suspend military aid to Israel until protocols are in place to assure compliance with international humanitarian law. “The United States must take action to ensure that its U.S. foreign assistance is not used in violation of international law,” said Thomas Nelson, an Oregon-based attorney specializing in national security law.

A National Lawyers Guild delegation of seven attorneys and one law student traveled to the Gaza Strip from February 2-8, 2009, to investigate the 22 day Israeli military offensive into Gaza that began on December 27, 2009. The objective of the Delegation was to investigate the circumstances that led to the massive Palestinian casualties, to determine what, if any, violations of international law occurred, and whether U.S. domestic law was implicated as a consequence.

Founded in 1937, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York, and it has chapters in every state.

Land of Ruins: Special Report on Gaza's Economy

Democracy Now, April 6, 2009 - Democracy Now! producer Anjali Kamat files a report on the state of the Gazan economy, where unemployment and poverty rates are among the highest in the world. Despite international pledges of over $5.2 billion to rebuild Gaza, in the four months since Israel’s assault the siege has not been lifted and only one truck carrying cement and other construction materials has been allowed entry into the Gaza Strip. [includes rush transcript]

Big Powers Moving in on Gaza

Inter Press Service (Reporting from Cairo), April 3, 2009 - Nine NATO member states agreed last month to utilise naval, intelligence and diplomatic resources to combat the alleged flow of arms into the Gaza Strip. Some Egyptian commentators see the move as a surreptitious means of cementing foreign control over the region.

"These new protocols aren't really about halting arms smuggling," Tarek Fahmi, political science professor at Cairo University and head of the Israel desk at the Cairo-based National Centre for Middle East Studies, told IPS. "Rather, they aim to establish foreign control over the region's strategic border crossings and maritime ports."

On Mar. 13, a major conference was held in London aimed at "coordinating efforts" to stop alleged arms smuggling - by land or sea - into the Gaza Strip, governed by Palestinian resistance faction Hamas. Participants at the conference included high-level representatives from nine member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), including the U.S., Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Italy and Norway.

At the close of the event, participants signed an agreement "to develop an effective framework for international cooperation, supplementary to measures taken by regional states, to prevent and interdict the illicit flow of arms, ammunition and weapons components to Gaza."

According to a final statement, participant governments hope to accomplish these objectives with the use of a series of measures, including "maritime interception, information sharing and diplomatic pressure." The international community "has a responsibility to support prevention and interdiction efforts," the statement reads, noting that such efforts may involve "diplomatic, military, intelligence and law enforcement components."

The London conference follows an earlier meeting devoted to the same issue held in Denmark in early February. A third, follow-up meeting is expected to be held in Canada in April to "work out details" of the pact, according to diplomats close to the talks.

Although Egypt reportedly received an invitation to attend the London gathering, it disdained to send a delegate. Palestinian representation, too - from either Hamas or the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority - was conspicuously absent. Israeli officials, meanwhile, reportedly attended the meeting as "observers".

Shortly afterwards, Mark Regev, spokesman for outgoing Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, lauded the agreement. "The principle is clear - the international community will act to prevent the transfer of weapons," he was quoted as saying.

But Egyptian analysts say the agreement represents a furtive attempt to "internationalise" the longstanding siege of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip....

According to diplomats close to the talks, only "non-coercive" methods will be brought to bear against arms smuggling. Under the terms of the agreement, for example, maritime vessels suspected of carrying contraband can only be boarded for inspection with express permission from the vessel's captain.

Mazloum, however, was not reassured by the ostensibly "non-coercive" nature of the agreement. "These voluntary, supposedly non-coercive inspections will no doubt, over time, become compulsory," he said.

"The West, along with Israel, is attempting to establish regional domination on multiple fronts," said Fahmi. "The plan to redraw the map of the Middle East - from Sudan and Somalia to Palestine and Iraq - is progressing apace, and the hopelessly divided Arabs appear unable to do anything about it."

Abbas to Dispatch Aides to Gaza; Hamas Welcomes Step

International Middle East Media Center, April 7, 2009 - Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, instructed on Monday two Fateh officials to visit the Gaza Strip in order to observe the destruction caused by the Israeli offensive, and to hold talks with different factions, including Hamas. Hamas movement welcomed the decision of Abbas.

The two Fateh officials who will be heading to Gaza are Marwan Abdul-Hamid, Abbas’ advisor on development and construction, and Abdullah Al Efranji, in charge of Fateh’s External Relations.

Al Efranji stated that this visit aims at listening to all factions in the Gaza Strip, to observe the destruction caused by the Israeli offensive, and to observe the effects of this assault on Fateh’s institutions, educational facilities and different institutions in Gaza.

Al Efranji added that this visit is not a replacement to unity talks, but it comes to advance internal dialogue.

“We want to listen to our brothers in Gaza, “he stated, “We do not want to be isolated from what is happening in the Gaza Strip”.

“We will observe the damage caused by the Israeli offensive,” AL Efranji state, “This is very important since we have talks and relations with different parties, institutions and countries abroad, we need to give them a clear idea on what happened there”.

He added that talks with Hamas and other factions aim at achieving unity, and would resume in Cairo.

On his part, Abdul-Hamid said that this visit is also related to the internal talks held in Cairo, and was made under instructions from president Abbas.

“This visit is a message to all Palestinians; we are one nation”, Abdul-Hamid stated, “What happened in Gaza holds a top priority is the president’s agenda, that’s why he sent us to Gaza”.

Meanwhile, Hamas movement stated that the Gaza Strip is opened to every person and every side, except to the occupation.

Ismail Radwan of Hamas said that his movement agreed with Fateh to hold further talks and meetings in Gaza and elsewhere, and welcomed all efforts that aim at resuming internal dialogue.

Radwan added that although the last internal talks session could not resolve the remaining points of conflict, yet Hamas is determined to achieve a unity deal, and instructed its negotiators to be open-minded in the talks and to facilitate a deal.

Palestinian Factions, Meeting in Cairo, Report Resolution of Many Issues in Unity Talks

International Middle East Media Center (reporting from Cairo), April 4, 2009 - Khalid Al Batsh, representative of the Islamic Jihad movement at the Cairo internal talks, stated on Friday that Palestinian negotiators from the different factions managed to resolve 15 out of 18 main points obstructing a unity deal.

Al Batsh stated that the 15 issues were resolved through five committees discussing; the unity government, elections, reconciliation, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and security.

He added that the talks were positive with good intentions being shown by both Hamas and Fateh, and that the movements showed real willingness to end the internal conflict and move towards achieving national reconciliation.

Al Batsh also said that his movement does not accept the need recognize the previously signed peace deals between Israel and the PLO, nor Fateh’s position which demands that Hamas them.

Furthermore, Al Batsh said that the new Israeli government headed by Netanyahu and his coalition partners, especially the extremist Yisrael Beiteinu party, headed by Avigdor Lieberman, is another factor that pushes the Palestinians towards unity....

Gaza Wears a Face of Misery - Interview with Philip Risk

Al Jazeera English TV, April 6, 2009 -

....Q: What doesn't the media report on [in Gaza]?

More than 1400 people died in Israel's latest war on Gaza. But on a regular basis, Gazans die because of all sorts of causes that we don't hear sufficiently about in the media. The sewage system is horrible, water is polluted and diseases are becoming an increasing phenomenon in Gaza.

Hospitals can't cope because they face electricity shortages; a lot of Palestinians are in desperate need of kidney dialysis, the kinds of diseases that are out there are getting worse, it's simply not a livable space.

The line between the meaning of life and death becomes very thin. As a student, you can spend your whole life trying to do well in school, get good grades - but all that effort goes to waste because there is no future for the class valedictorian.

Everyone alike is left completely powerless without hope and potential future. I'm even shocked at how well kids can even perform in these schools, considering how they live in a constant state of war....

One thing I've noticed in the media is that the theme of violence is always associated with stories coming out of Gaza.

Why not focus on stories of non-violent resistance? While some Palestinians return Israeli violence with further violence, the vast majority does not, and the Arabic word for such everyday acts of non-violent protest is sumoud, which means steadfastness, perseverance.

No matter what Israelis do to the people I met, they continued fighting for their right to remain on their land, their right to stay alive. Many of the people I filmed aren't affiliated with political parties, they are normal people like you and I....

Philip Risk is a writer and filmmaker. He blogs at Tabula Gaza and just completed a film about non-violent resistance in Gaza called This Palestinian Life. He was recently held by the Egyptian authorities for four days.