Saturday, April 18, 2009

Gaza Changed Everything, But Its People Still Suffer - Helena Cobban

Inter Press Service, April 17, 2009 - Three months after the end of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, and nearly four months after former prime minister Ehud Olmert started it, the standoff between Israel and Hamas is as unresolved as ever.

Gaza’s 1.5 million residents, nearly all of them civilians, are still in a very tough situation, since Israel still prohibits the shipment into Gaza of many requirements for a decent life - including the building materials needed to repair or rebuild the thousands of homes and other structures the Israeli military destroyed during the war. 

But it is already clear that the war has changed many aspects of the complex political dynamics both between and inside the Israeli and Palestinian communities. 

Hamas, simply by surviving, has become stronger both within Palestinian politics and throughout the broader Middle East. 

In the Israeli elections of early February Olmert’s party was defeated - by representatives of an even more militarist trend in Israel whose rise was fueled, in good part, by the war-fever unleashed among Jewish Israelis by Olmert’s own war. 

Meanwhile, the ferocity with which Israel fought the war caused significant damage to the country’s image around the world. In the U.S., unprecedented numbers of civil society groups - including Jewish groups - expressed open criticism of Olmert’s decision to launch the war, even from the war’s very earliest days. 

All these developments have been evident during Sen. George Mitchell’s latest visit to the region, which started Wednesday. This was Mitchell’s third visit since he was named U.S. special envoy on Jan. 21. Some of the post-Gaza developments seem to make Mitchell’s peacemaking effort harder. But others, especially the new estrangement between the government of Israel and some of its former strong supporters around the world, open up new possibilities for his mission....

John Prideaux-Brune, Oxfam’s country director for the West Bank and Gaza, has described Israel’s policy toward Gaza as being one of "intentionally inflicted  de-development."

He told IPS recently, "Israel went on a rampage in Gaza during the war. You can see whole villages flattened, the cows and other livestock killed. They seem to have gone in and removed anything that could have been used for economic development - farms, factories, you name it." (Israeli sources have said that during the war, the military trucked in 100 heavy-duty bulldozers, especially to undertake this destruction.)

"It seems a mind-numbingly stupid thing for Israel to do," Prideaux-Brune said. "Where states have succeeded in suppressing terrorism, they have done so through negotiations and fostering economic development."

He said he hoped western governments would act quickly to persuade Israel to lift the siege. That, he said, would allow Gaza’s people to move back onto a path of economic development rather than continuing to live on handouts.

Many of the humanitarian aid organisations that have been providing ‘emergency’ aid to Gaza (and the West Bank) for many years are now, like Oxfam, becoming more vocal in arguing that the only thing that can really stabilise the very vulnerable situation of the Palestinians of these occupied areas is to find a speedy end to the Israel’s military occupation of their home territories.

Prideaux-Brune said that the Gaza Palestinians are currently suffering from a deliberately inflicted "dignity crisis."

"So long as Israel controls everything in these people’s lives, they will remain vulnerable," he said. "Emergency relief aid is no substitute for successful peacemaking, and that is the only way to get to real economic development."

Helena Cobban is a veteran Middle East analyst and author. She blogs at Just World News.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Aid Rots Outside Gaza

Photo: Matthew Cassel

Electronic Intifada (reporting from El Arish, Egypt), April 16, 2009 - Hundreds of thousands of tons of aid intended for the Gaza Strip is piling up in cities across Egypt's North Sinai region, despite recent calls from the United Nations to ease aid flow restrictions to the embattled territory in the wake of Israel's 22-day assault.

Food, medicine, blankets, infant food and other supplies for Gaza's 1.5 million people, coming from governments and non-governmental agencies around the world, are being stored in warehouses, parking lots, stadiums and on airport runways across Egypt's North Sinai governorate.

Egypt shares a 14-kilometer border with Gaza that has been closed more or less permanently since the Islamist movement Hamas took control of the territory in June 2007.

Flour, pasta, sugar, coffee, chocolate, tomato sauce, lentils, date bars, juice, chickpeas, blankets, hospital beds, catheter tubes and other humanitarian-based items are all sitting in at least eight storage points in and around al-Arish, a city in North Sinai approximately 50 kilometers from Gaza's border.

Three months after the end of the war, much of the aid has either rotted or been irreparably damaged as a result of both rain and sunshine, and Egypt's refusal to open the Rafah crossing.

"To be honest, most of this aid will never make it to Gaza," a local government official told IPS on condition of anonymity. "A lot of the food here will have to be thrown away."....

Penetrating the Laws of War - Amira Hass

Haaretz, April 16, 2009 - The tall young man walked into the room slowly and sat down slowly. Two nails that have penetrated his body force him to walk rigidly and carefully; one is in the upper-right part of his chest, the other in his right thigh. The man is Nahaz Abdel Daym, 25, who was wounded by two flechette shells fired by the Israel Defense Forces on January 5 during Operation Cast Lead.

When a flechette projectile explodes, it scatters between 5,000 and 8,000 nails or small darts, each about four centimeters long. They stick into anything they hit: people, trees, cement, metal. Two of Abdel Daym's brothers and three cousins were killed by darts from those two shells. About another 20 people were wounded, including one of his brothers.

The doctors decided not to operate to remove the nails, fearing they would cause irreversible damage. "I feel all the time as though needles are stuck in my body," he says. He has difficulty breathing, wakes up many times during the night and feels constant pain, which worsens on cold days. The wound suffered by his brother Mazen is not as serious: A dart hit his arm near the elbow. The doctors say that after rehabilitation, he will regain full function....

[Abd al Dayam]... is one of about 5,600 people wounded during the IDF's most recent attack on the Gaza Strip. According to the health authorities there, about 2,000 are children and 800 are women. Of the wounded, 520 have been sent for treatment abroad - most of them to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, others to Turkey and Belgium. Six died while being treated abroad. Only a few patients remain in Gaza's hospitals. In thousands of homes families are coping with the effects of their injuries: disability, pain, extra expenses and a lack of confidence in the medical care they receive. For them, the offensive did not end on January 18....

Ten Organizations Launch International Campaign of Solidarity with Gaza's Fishermen

Fishing Under Fire blog, April 14, 2009 - Ten civil and humanitarian institutions in cooperation with the Palestinian international campaign to break the siege said Monday that they embarked on preparing an international campaign of solidarity with the Palestinian fishermen to pressure all official parties around the world into stopping Israeli violations in Gaza waters.

In a news conference, the institutions called for taking actions at all levels to stop Israel from violating the rights of Palestinian fishermen in Gaza and for organizing campaigns all over the world to expose these infringements.

The institutions stressed the need for making laws regulating fishing operations and securing fish resources and the marine environment in Gaza.

They also pointed to the importance of updating fishing boats and ports in Gaza, calling for the establishment of specialized workshops to repair and maintain fishing equipment and finding a mechanism to support the fishermen financially.

In another context, the ministry of agriculture said Tuesday in a press release that the story of the fishing boat explosion near the Gaza coast is an Israeli fabrication to redouble and justify attacks on Palestinian fishermen.

The ministry added that Palestinian eyewitness reported that the boat was not booby-trapped, but it was targeted by an Israeli gunboat leading to its explosion.

It noted that the Israeli military navy stepped up recently its attacks on Gaza fishermen at sea, where they kidnapped many of them and threatened to target their fishing boats if they did not cooperate and work as agents for Israel.

The ministry pointed out that the Israeli occupation also aims, through such trumped-up story, to shrink the fishing zone which became only two miles after it had reduced it to three miles after the war.

It hailed the civil and humanitarian institutions for organizing an international campaign to support the Gaza fishermen against the Israeli violations, expressing its willingness to provide them with all information that can be utilized in this solidarity campaign.

Related stories:

Gaza boat explodes near Israeli navy vessel (April 13, 2009)

Israel abducts Gaza fishermen; ISM takes their testimonies (April 13, 2009)

Palestinian Agriculture Ministry: Boat was not booby trapped (April 14, 2009)

Al Jazeera English Television profiled the industry in a February report:

Watch ISM's video of a recent demonstration on behalf of Gaza's fishermen:

For background on Gaza's fishing industry, see:

Gaza Strips Fishing Industry of Potential (March 2009)

Gaza's Fishing Industry Reeling (March 2009)

Israel Imposes Further Restrictions on Gaza Fishing Industry, Ordering It to Keep Close to Shore
(March 2009)

Geopolitical Time Line: War, Natural Gas, and Gaza's Marine Zone (January 2009)

Too Quiet in the Harbor: Gaza Siege Largely Destroys Commercial Fishing Industry (May 2008)

Gaza's Fishing Industry Under Siege (March 2007)

OCHA Special Report on Gaza's Fishing Industry (April 2007) (available at: ) (Note: Report includes a useful map of the progressive shrinkage of the allowed fishing area off the Gaza coast)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hip Hop for Gaza

Electronic Intifada, April 14. 2009 - In the aftermath of Israel's three weeks of attacks on the Gaza Strip earlier this year, a group of young students, activists, artists and professionals from Chicago formed the Gaza Aid Project (GAP) to support Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

On 12 April 2009 GAP brought together world-renowned hip-hop artists to Chicago's Logan Square Auditorium to perform in solidarity with Gaza. The event -- titled Roots of Resistance -- aimed to raise funds and gather support for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, brought out a diverse crowd of hundreds from around the city.

The night began with performances by local Chicago artists, before the Gaza Strip's first rapper, Mohammed al-Farra took the stage. He rapped about the Gaza Strip and talked to the audience about the struggles that Palestinians in Gaza face on a daily basis under siege and occupation.

Tamer Nafar of DAM (the first Palestinian rap group, comprised of Palestinian citizens of Israel) then took the stage before he was joined by his band members Mahmood Jrere and Suhell Nafar. The group rapped about the situation in Palestine and performed their hit "Who is the terrorist." The group spoke about the influence hip-hop that originated in the African-American community has had on them as Palestinians facing Israeli oppression.

DAM also joined UK-based Palestinian hip-hop artist Shadia Mansour as she performed her song "They all have tanks." Wearing her trademark Palestinian traditional embroidered dress, she spoke to the crowd in both English and Arabic about Palestinian culture and the attacks on Gaza.

The hip-hop trio from Chicago, Rebel Diaz, now based in New York City, rapped about issues ranging from immigration and the prison system in the US to the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and the occupation in Palestine.

The five-hour-long event concluded with the night's headliner, M1 of Dead Prez. Wrapped in a scarf with the traditional Palestinian checkered design and images of Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock, M1 spoke out about the struggle that black people face in the US. He related it to that of Palestinians in Gaza, identifying imperialism as the common enemy. The evening concluded with M1 inviting all the evening's performers on stage to take part in the song "Hip Hop," which brought Dead Prez to fame....

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

British Lawmakers Meet Hamas in Syria

Haaretz, April 15, 2009 - A British parliamentary delegation on a visit to Syria has met Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal as part of European efforts to communicate with the Palestinian Islamist group, Hamas said on Wednesday.

The meeting with Meshal, who lives in Syria, took place in Damascus on Tuesday.

The British Embassy confirmed the meeting but denied a Syrian media report that Ambassador Simon Collis attended....

Calls have mounted in Britain and major European powers to engage with Hamas after Israel's offensive against the Islamist group in Gaza, which ended in January.

"I Was Born Palestinian" - Laila el-Haddad

Raising Yousef and Noor blog, April 14, 2009 - "Its not very comfortable in there is it?" said the stony faced official, cigarette smoke forming a haze around his gleaming oval head.

"Its OK. We're fine," I replied wearily, delirious after being awake for a straight period of 30 hours.

"You could be in there for days, you know. For weeks. Indefinitely. "So, tell me, you are taking a plane tomorrow morning to the US?"


It was our journey home that began with the standard packing frenzy: squeezing everything precious and dear and useful into two suitcases that would be our sustenance for the course of 3 months.

The trips to the outdoor recreation store- in preparation for what I anticipated to be a long and tortuous journey across Rafah Crossing to Gaza. The inspect repellent; the mosquito netting; the water purifier; the potty toppers for my kids and the dried fruit and granola bars and portion sized peanut butter cups. This time, I wanted to be ready, I thought to myself-just in case I got stuck at the Crossing. The Crossing. My presumptuousness is like a dull hit to the back of my head now.

In addition to all the packing of suitcases, we were also packing up our house- my husband was finishing up his residency at duke University and set to start a medical fellowship at Johns Hopkins in July. In the meantime, we were "closing shop", putting our things in storage, selling the rest, and heading overseas: me to Gaza, he to Lebanon to visit his family.

Eventually I was too meet him there (assuming i could get into Gaza, and the, assuming I could get out). Yassine is a third-generation Palestinian refugee from the village of Waarit al-Siris in nothern historic Palestine; he was born in a refugee camp in Lebanon and holds a laissez passer for Palestinian refugees. Israel denies him return to his own home- or even to the home of his spouse in Gaza. So when we go overseas, we often go our separate ways; we cannot live legally, as a unit, as a family, in our own homes.

I hold a Palestinian Authority passport. It replaced the "temporary two-year Jordanian passport for Gaza residents" that we held until the Oslo Accords and the creation of the Palestinian Authority in the mid '90s, which itself replaced the Egyptian travel documents we held before that. A progression in a long line of stateless documentation....

Laila el-Haddad, a Gazan journalist who is living in the United States, recently traveled to Egypt to try and enter Gaza and see her parents, who were stuck there during the war. She blogs at Raising Yousef and Noor.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Unemployed in Gaza

Al Jazeera English TV, April 11, 2009 - "More than 70% of Gaza residents are jobless. But Gaza's economic problems stem more from Israel's brutal assault on the territory earlier in the year than from the global recession. Besides destroying more than 20,000 homes, the Israeli offensive left hundreds of factories and businesses in ruins, with devastating consequences. Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros reports."

Interview with Karen Abu Zayd, UNRWA Commissioner General

Al Ahram English Weekly, April 9-15, 2009 - ....For Abu Zayd the issue is not about this or that Israeli government. It is rather about an international position -- with an Arab stance at the core of it -- that could secure the facilitation of UNRWA's job. UNRWA, Abu Zayd argued, was promised a considerably generous budget for its work, especially in Gaza after the recent Israeli war. However, if the crossings which link Israel to Gaza (and those linking Gaza to Egyptian territories) remain blocked to the passage of goods there is not much use for the money that has been pledged for the reconstruction of Gaza.

"If you have the money to buy construction material and if you cannot get this material inside Gaza then what use is this money if it cannot get citizens made homeless by the destruction of their houses during the war a roof over their heads?" Abu Zayd asked....

The UN versus Israel: The Gaza Fallout

The Nation Magazine, April 2009 - The appointments of universally respected human rights experts to lead two separate, independent United Nations investigations into Israeli attacks on Gaza in December and January may have put Israel on a new collision course with the UN just as the United States is moving to resume cooperation with the organization on human rights issues.

In February, Ian Martin, a former head of Amnesty International and most recently the UN's special envoy in Nepal as it was transitioning with difficulty to an elected Maoist-led government, was chosen by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to take charge of an inquiry into "incidents involving death and damage at UN premises in Gaza." The UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides food, education and medical care to Palestinians in Gaza, reported in January that more than fifty UN buildings were damaged during the Israeli air and ground offensive.

Last week, Richard Goldstone, the South African judge who was chief prosecutor for war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, was selected by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate allegations that Israel violated international laws in its assault on Gaza. The Human Rights Council is a body of nations not controlled by either the UN secretary general or the UN's high commissioner for human rights. The secretary general, the first high-ranking international official to visit Gaza after the attacks, has not tried to block what is essentially a war crimes investigation....

"Gaza is Still an Open Air Prison" - Gerry Adams

The Guardian, April 9, 2009 - Gaza is still an open-air prison, Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams said during a visit to the Middle East.

The West Belfast MP called for an end to the Israeli blockade on building materials and urged the state to enter into negotiations with Hamas, which rules Gaza.

Adams held talks in the region with Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, and is due to travel to the West Bank to meet the Palestinian Authority.

"This is a total denial of the rights of the people of Palestine. This is an open-air prison," the Sinn Féin president said. "People can't travel out of here, they can't travel in."....

A number of European politicians and commentators have urged dialogue with Hamas. But Britain and the United States say that cannot happen until the group recognises Israel, renounces violence and accepts interim peace agreements.

Adams said the border crossing from Israel into Gaza "was distinctly like being back in prison ... You had to go through airlocked areas and so on".

"It is the human problem because when you speak to ordinary decent working people on the Israeli side hit by the rocket attacks ... the ordinary people of Israel didn't cause the problem."

The Northern Irish republican leader described a scene of devastation, ruined hospitals, schools and homes, and said he urged peace on the Hamas leadership.

"There should be a complete cessation of hostilities by all sides and I stressed our opinion that dialogue is central to what's required and that is the only way forward," he added.

"The refusal to recognise the outcome of the ballot box in the Palestinian territories is also bizarre, that they challenge people to go into elections and then when they go into elections they don't recognise it."

New Documentary, "One Of..." Wins Documentary Competition in Gaza

Art work by Majed Shala - "this makes me think of the martyred medical workers"

In Gaza blog, April 11, 2009 - Tuesday April 7 was World Health Day, an annual recognition of global health issues, sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO). In honour of the day, Palestinians in Gaza hosted a short-documentary competition highlighting health issues Gazans face, with specific attention to medical care in Gaza during attacks or emergencies. The 2009 theme of the WHO is “Save lives: Making hospitals safe in emergencies”. This seems like hindsight, after Gaza endured Israel’s 3 week war in which Israeli forces actively targeted over 70 hospitals and medical clinics, along with 10s of ambulances damaged or destroyed.

16 medics were killed while in the line of duty, and another 36 medical workers, including ambulance drivers, paramedics, doctors and volunteer medical workers were injured. Israeli forces targeted the medics under the pretext of security reasons, an excuse which has been repeatedly contradicted by the testimonies of medical and emergency workers, as well as patients themselves.

Emad Badwan, a young Palestinian film-maker, decided to highlight such Israeli attacks. His documentary, “One of…” took first prize in the competition held in Gaza’s burnt-out al Quds hospital, one of the hospitals greatly-damaged after repeated Israeli shelling, including with white phosphorous. On display on the 2nd floor of al Quds are a number of vivid photographs testifying to the blaze and Israel’s attacks. Artwork in the shelled and charred cultural centre further depicts life under, and the aftermath of, Israel’s war on Gaza. [see: Art in the Ruins]

As his theme, Emad chose the sniper-shooting of Hassan al Attal, a paramedic whose ambulance I was riding in at the time. The event occurred on January 7th, the first day when Israel declared a ‘cease-fire’ period (during which, in theory, Palestinians could move, buy groceries, leave their homes without fear of attack. In reality, these ‘ceasefire’ periods meant nothing, and many were injured and killed by the IOF during these ‘ceasefires’)....

Read the full article at the link. Watch "One of..." below. View other films by Emad Badwan here.

Gaza Women's Football Team Plays Against All Odds

Middle East Online, April 10, 2009 - Palestinian sportswomen determined to represent country internationally despite Israeli restrictions
Gaza is full of stories of brave women, under the Israeli-caused rubble there are many stories of women with hopes and great expectations, pioneers in every field.

Being a Palestinian journalist in exile, there was no other way to interview my people and interact with my colleagues in Palestine but through the internet. I have started a feature by interviewing the Palestinian journalist Nelly Ismail Yassin Almasry through the net because Israel’s enforced laws made it difficult for us to meet in person. Our discussions took longer than expected because electricity blackouts happened many times in Gaza where she lives and the internet connection died with it, but I was determined to write about the other side of Gaza, the side that keeps rising from under the ashes like a bird with a thousand wings because its people refuse to surrender to defeat. Nelly is the daughter of Ismail Almasry, the Football Coach of the National Football Team in Gaza and a colleague working as a sport journalist and a member of the first women’s soccer team in Gaza.

The first Palestinian all women’s football team was established in 2003. Even though they had very limited resources, the women kept practicing and playing against other Arab women’s leagues whenever they were allowed to leave Gaza. The Gaza women’s soccer team suffered many difficulties and faced many obstacles because of the limited resources, the absence of properly built stadiums, the absence of security and the continuous closures of checkpoints by the Israeli occupation forces thus hindering them from practicing or travelling to play against other teams, even though the team wanted badly to represent Palestine on an international, level they were deprived of this dream as they were of many other dreams....