Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hamas is not the real issue

Neve Gordon in Comment is Free:
The central issue for Israel is not Hamas, but rather Palestinian sovereignty. The recent crisis reveals, once more, that Israel's August 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza was not an act of decolonisation but rather the reorganisation of Israeli power and the implementation of neo-colonial rule. . .

The experiment in Gaza is, in other words, not really about the bombardment of Israeli citizens or even about Israel's ongoing efforts to undermine Hamas. It is simply a new draconian strategy aimed at denying the Palestinians their most basic right to self-determination. It is about showing them who is in control, about breaking their backs, so that they lower their expectations and bow down to Israeli demands. The Palestinians understood this and courageously destroyed their prison wall while crying out into the wilderness for international support. Instead of the expected outrage, the only response they received was a weak echo of their own cry for help.
More >

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Phyllis Bennis: The Gaza Wall Comes Tumbling Down

From the Institute for Policy Studies:
By targeting the wall, rather than Egyptian border guards, Hamas also kept the focus on the infrastructure of occupation, rather than the personnel. The opening of the wall, and the crossing of the border by hundreds of thousands, served not only to provide food and medicine; they represented collective feats of popular defiance and the reclaiming of human and social rights.

But the collapse of the Gaza-Egyptian border wall also set in a motion a range of significant power shifts in the international, regional, and internal Palestinian political scenes, shifts which hold the potential for both positive and dangerous consequences.

Letter from Gaza: Light through the wall

the International Herald Tribune:
Life in Rafah, Gaza's southern-most city, has always been difficult. But the period since March 2006 has been the worst in my 25-year life. Israel placed Gaza under a siege after Hamas won the Palestinian elections and tightened the siege after Palestinians captured an Israeli soldier near Rafah in late June 2006. We have had little electricity, fuel, money, food or medicine since.

We felt some hope last week, however, when Palestinians knocked down the wall that Israel built along Rafah's border with Egypt, allowing us to escape our prison and cross to Egypt to buy essential goods.

The Israeli Army has destroyed about 2,000 homes in Rafah in the last seven years. In January 2004 they demolished our home. My grandmother, aunt, uncles and cousins had gathered in our house because their homes had just been demolished. Then an Israeli bulldozer started destroying our home. I helped my grandmother because she has trouble walking. My mother passed out, so I dragged her to a safer place. That day Israeli bulldozers destroyed 50 homes in our neighborhood.

When the siege intensified in late June 2006, my family and I were trapped for 14 days along with 4,000 Gazans at the Rafah border crossing trying to enter Gaza from Egypt, because Israel had closed the border. We had little food or water. Nine people died. Finally, armed men from Gaza broke the border wall, allowing us to return home.

But the last months have been the hardest, with the borders sealed, growing poverty, dwindling supplies of food, medicine and other goods, and parts of Gaza without electricity due to lack of fuel. Israel's military kills Palestinian fighters and civilians almost daily.

We are waiting for our destiny. Slow death or fast death, it's the same result. Last week eight-year-old Huda from Rafah told me, "I have kidney problems and need to visit the hospital three times a week, and now the Israelis are threatening to shut off the electricity. That means I will die."

More >

Israel's Supreme Court authorizes punitive measures against the population of Gaza

From Gisha and Adalah:
Wednesday, January 28, 2008 - Israel's Supreme Court today rejected a petition by human rights organizations to stop Israel from cutting supplies of fuel and electricity to the Gaza Strip, as part of a governmental decision authorizing punitive measures against the population of Gaza. The petitioners had claimed that cutting fuel and electricity supplies constitutes forbidden collective punishment and violates the international law prohibition against deliberately targeting civilians. The fuel cuts, which have forced Gaza's only power plant to reduce production of electricity, have severely disrupted the functioning of vital humanitarian services, including hospitals, water wells, and sewage pumps.

The court's decision allows the state to proceed with its plan to cut electricity sold to Gaza directly by Israel's Electric Company, beginning February 7. Gaza is already experiencing a 20% electricity deficit, which is forcing rolling blackouts in hospitals and other vital humanitarian institutions. The petitioners submitted extensive documentation showing that cuts in supplies of electricity and the industrial diesel needed to produce electricity will necessarily mean longer and more frequent power outages across Gaza, from which vital humanitarian institutions will not be spared.

At the last hearing held Sunday, Jan. 27, Israel's military prevented utility officials from Gaza from attending the hearing, in violation of a previous commitment to the court. The state attorneys offered oral testimony by a military official, unsubstantiated by affidavit as required, claiming that the cuts would not harm humanitarian needs.

According to Sari Bashi, Director of Gisha: "This is an unprecedented decision authorizing collective punishment in its most blatant form. The court ruling relies on unsubstantiated declarations by the military and ignores the indisputable and well-documented evidence of harm to civilians caused by the fuel and electricity cuts – with no legally valid justification."

According to Hassan Jabarin, Director of Adalah: "“According to the Supreme Court’s decision, it is permitted to harm Palestinian civilians and create a humanitarian crisis for political reasons. This constitutes a war crime under international criminal law.”
More >

UN drops Gaza crisis statement

From Al Jazeera:
The United Nations Security Council has abandoned efforts to adopt a statement on the crisis in the Gaza Strip caused by an Israel's blockade after the US refused to support it. . .

The Arab League last week proposed a non-binding draft statement expressing concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, criticising the rocket attacks by Palestinian fighters and calling on Israel to reopen the border crossings.

The draft found support among all the 15 council members except Washington.
More >

Gaza reveals the bankruptcy of both Israel's policy of collective punishment and Bush's attempt to make Mideast peace "America can't deal with the Gaza breakout, because it shows that Gaza is a jail that we own the key to. The crisis undercuts our simplistic narrative about the Middle East. If the noble "war on terrorism" turns out to include keeping a million and a half people locked up indefinitely, it's better not to think about it. The inmates should just return to their cells, behave themselves, and wait for further instructions. If it takes 40 more years for them to get out, so be it.

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" "Something there is that doesn't love a wall." Ronald Reagan's famous injunction to Mikhail Gorbachev and Robert Frost's line speak to something deep in the American conscience. But when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that conscience is asleep. Even the sight of hundreds of thousands of desperate people, one-fifth of Gaza's entire population, rushing out to buy oil and medicine and cement doesn't awaken it." More >

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Israel bars aid convoy to Gaza

From Al Jazeera:
The Israeli military has prevented an aid convoy organised by Israeli human rights organisations, peace activists, and former military personnel, from reaching needy families in the besieged Gaza Strip.

Israeli groups braved dipping temperatures and the unusually rain-sodden grounds of the Erez border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip on Saturday, hoping that Israeli authorities would allow five tonnes of food through.

As of Monday, the Gaza-bound supplies, comprising non-perishable goods, are still warehoused at Kibbutz Kerem Shalom on the southern border of the Gaza strip, awaiting army clearance to cross into the strip.

Adam Keller, of Gush Shalom, an Israel-Palestine peace bloc, said: "We are still in negotiations with the army and are trying to mobilise Knesset members. We have an appeal to the supreme court that is ready to be lodged. We hope it will not come to that, but will use it if necessary." More >
Also see: "We are all under the same sky": Adam Keller's report on the aid convoy to Gaza >

PCHR: Narratives Under Siege #2 - Beit Hanoun, Northern Gaza Strip

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights: "In order to highlight the impact of the siege and closure of the Gaza Strip on the civilian population, PCHR is publishing a series of "Narratives Under Siege." These short articles are based on personal testimonies and experiences of life in the Gaza Strip, and we hope they will serve to highlight the restrictions, and the violations, being imposed on the civilians of Gaza."

From Narratives Under Siege #2: Beit Hanoun, Northern Gaza Strip:
Jamal Swailem has lived in the same house all his life. He's now forty nine, and has 6 children, who are all at home with him and his wife. His father, Abu Jamal, who is ninety years old, has lived next door all his life. Another two brothers and their families live just metres away. Altogether, there are forty members of the Swailem family living in a row of four houses, almost adjacent to Erez Crossing. They own a small amount of land, around 17 donums, between them, and farm it together.

"We used to have citrus trees" says Jamal Swailem. "We had groves of orange and lemon and grapefruit trees, and guava as well, because the land here is very rich. Some of the trees were fifty years old. The first time the Israelis bulldozed our trees, we immediately re-planted all of them. When they bulldozed the trees again, we replanted them all again. They [the Israelis] damage and destroy, and we rebuild. This is our life. But the third time they bulldozed our trees, we decided to grow vegetables instead."
Read the entire report here >

Israeli 'Economic Warfare' to Include Electricity Cuts in Gaza

Washington Post: "Saying they were waging "economic warfare" against the Gaza Strip's Hamas leaders, Israeli officials told the Supreme Court on Sunday that the military intends to start cutting electricity to the Palestinian territory and continue restricting fuel." More >

Monday, January 28, 2008

Congresspeople to Sec. Rice: End the blockade of Gaza

Led by Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, 11 congresspeople wrote a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on January 23 asking her "to exert [her] influence to urge Israel to end its blockade of Gaza."

From the letter:
Moreover, the illegal blockade of Gaza exposes the shortcomings of President Bush's recent tour in the Middle East. Although he went to bolster a peace agreement between Palestinian and Israelis the United States blocked a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel's closure over the Gaza Strip. This reveals the Administration's inability to act as an honest broker.

The Administration has the responsibility and the authority to ensure that Israel comply with international law and protect the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza. I urge you to exert your influence to life the Israeli blockade of Gaza, to allow humanitarian aid workers to resume their functions in the territory, and to support a political solution to this conflict because Palestinians in Gaza cannot live on emergency aid forever and Israelis in southern Israel deserve to live without fear.
Read the full letter here >

Take Action: Thank Reps. for Demanding End to Gaza Blockade >

Thousands of Palestinians and Israelis Demonstrate on Both Sides of the Gaza Border Against Blockade

From the Alternative Information Center: "On Saturday, 26 January, some 1,500 Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel from all around the country, including several Members of Knesset, gathered outside the Erez border crossing into the Gaza Strip under the banner “Gaza: Lift the Blockade!” The demonstration, coordinated by a number of participating organizations, was held in protest of Israel’s collective punishment of the 1.5 million citizens of the Gaza Strip.

The demonstrators arrived to the Erez border crossing in a convoy of 25 buses and over 100 cars and trucks, loaded with over three tons of collected foodstuffs—including oil, water, flour, chocolate and sugar—and medical supplies, with the intent to transfer the goods to Gazans in need." More >

Read more about the convoy on the Gush Shalom website here >

Facts about Israel's fuel cuts to Gaza

The Israeli organization Gisha released the following statistics following the announcement that the Israeli govenment will resume fuel deliveries to Gaza:
Israel began instituting fuel cuts to Gaza on October 28, 2007, as part of a governmental decision calling for punitive measures against Gaza's 1.5 million residents. The new levels of fuel announced yesterday are significantly lower than the quantities being purchased by Gaza residents prior to the Oct. 28, 2007 cuts – and significantly lower than what they need now.
Before the cuts, Gaza residents were ordering approximately 1.4 million liters ordinary diesel per week – yesterday the state announced it would allow only 800,000 liters/week – a reduction of 43%. This is particularly detrimental, because the rolling power outages have increased dependency on diesel-powered generators.
Before the cuts, Gaza residents were ordering approximately 350,000-400,000 liters petrol (gasoline) per week – yesterday Israel announced it would allow only 75,400 liters per week – a reduction of 78%-81%.
Israel also announced it would allow Gaza residents to purchase 2.2 million liters industrial diesel/week, needed for Gaza's power plant, but the plant now needs 3.5 million liters/week plus at least 2 million additional liters to replenish reserves.
Gaza needs 240 MW electricity in the current peak winter season. Israel supplies (before the planned cut) 120 MW, Egypt supplies 17 MW, and Gaza's power plant is currently producing only 45 MW – meaning that there is a deficit of 58 MW, or 24% - even before the February 7 cuts are scheduled to take place.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

PCHR: Narratives Under Siege

From the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights: "In order to highlight the impact of the siege and closure of the Gaza Strip on the civilian population, PCHR is publishing a series of "Narratives Under Siege" on our website. These short articles are based on personal testimonies and experiences of life in the Gaza Strip, and we hope they will highlight the restrictions, and the humanitarian crisis, being imposed on the people of Gaza."

Read the first report "Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza City" here >

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Boston Globe: Ending the stranglehold on Gaza

Eyad al-Sarraj and Sara Roy: "An Israeli convoy of goods and peace activists will go today to Erez, Israel's border with Gaza, and many Palestinians will be on the other side waiting. They will not see one another, but Palestinians will know there are Jews who condemn the siege inflicted on the tiny territory by Israel's military establishment and want to see an end to the 40-year-old occupation." More >

Friday, January 25, 2008

Prison Break: Gaza’s Desperate Measure for Survival

The Palestine Center: "The 23 January 2008 border breach serves to temporarily relieve the need for some basic commodities, such as food, fuel and other supplies. The massive influx of Gazans to Egypt for medicines, food and clothing makes it imperative for the international community to assume its legal and moral obligation to ensure that Israel immediately lift its siege. Under international humanitarian law, Israel remains the occupying power and therefore holds the responsibility to secure and provide the basic needs of the occupied population." More >

Churches Decry Israel's Treatment of Gaza

Christian Post: "Churches in the Middle East denounced Israel’s blockade of Gaza as an “immoral act” that has cut off the entire country from proper food and medicine.

The Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, called the blockade of Gaza “illegal collective punishment, an immoral act in violation of the basic human and natural laws as well as International Law,” in a statement issued Jan. 22 – a day before Hamas militants destroyed the Gaza-Egypt barrier." More >

Read the statement from the Churches in the Middle East here >

Amnesty International: Gaza must not be cut off from the world

"Whatever agreement about the management of the border is reached between the governments of Israel and Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas de-facto administration in Gaza, it must respect fully the fundamental rights of the population of Gaza," said Malcolm Smart, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme. "Notably their right not to be subjected to collective punishment, including arbitrary restrictions on movement and their rights to health, an adequate standard of living and freedom of movement." More >

Thursday, January 24, 2008

U.S. Stymies Security Council Action on Gaza

IPS: "Despite intensifying calls for international pressure to address the fast deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip, observers and some diplomats say the U.N. Security Council has proved as ineffective as it has been for many years concerning issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." More >

The siege of Gaza can only breed violence

Guardian: "Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution, with the knowledge, acquiescence and - some would say - encouragement of the international community. An international community that professes to uphold the inherent dignity of every human being must not allow this to happen. . . As the head of a humanitarian and human development agency for Palestinian refugees, I am deeply concerned by the stark inhumanity of Gaza's closure. I am disturbed by the seeming indifference of much of the world as hundreds and thousands of Palestinians are harshly penalised for acts in which they have no part." More >

- Karen Koning AbuZayd, Commissioner General for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)

Hamas Blows a Hole in Bush’s Plans

From Rootless Cosmopolitan: "The hole blown by Hamas in the Gaza-Egypt border fence has finally punctured the bubble of delusion surrounding the U.S.-Israeli Middle East policy. In a moment reminiscent of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, through the breach surged some 350,000 Palestinians — fully one fifth of Gaza’s total population." More >

Also See: Israel Committee Against House Demolitions: Power to the (Palestinian) People!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Humanitarian impact of Israel's blockade of Gaza

A video from Al Jazerra English on Jan 21:

Grim statistics on water

According to a recent report from the Palestinian water authority, 40% of Gazans lack running water. The report was published by

Tightened Siege on Gaza Reaches Unprecedented Levels and Endangers the Life of 1.5 Million Civilians

Press statement from Gaza Community Mental Health Programme on Jan. 22:

"Israel has imposed a severe siege on the Gaza Strip since Hamas' winning of the parliamentary elections in January, 2006. Furthermore, Israel has tightened this siege following Hamas military domination over the Gaza Strip in June, 2007 when Israel declared that the Gaza Strip is an enemy entity." Read the statement >

PCHR Calls On the International Community to Prevent a Humanitarian Catastrophe in Gaza

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights released the following statement on January 21:

"Israel is manufacturing a catastrophic humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip that is seriously deteriorating every aspect of civilian life. To date, fourty five patients have died as a direct result of Israeli Occupying Force (IOF) closure and siege of the Gaza Strip." Read the statement >

Al-Haq: End the Siege of the Gaza Strip

A statement published by Al-Haq on January 21 urging an end to the siege:

"On Sunday 20 January 2008, Israel’s ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip, including the blocking of fuel supplies, forced Gaza’s only power plant to shut down, plunging over 800,000 Palestinians into darkness. According to the General-Director of the plant, the shortage of electricity caused by the lack of fuel will affect the provision of medical care and water and sanitation services. On Sunday morning, the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, which normally operates 130 wells as well as sewage treatment plants, stated that if the fuel supply is not restored by Tuesday, these services will cease to function throughout the Gaza Strip. Since Friday 18 January, Israel has also closed all Gaza’s border crossings and blocked all humanitarian aid, except in exceptional circumstances. With some 80 percent of Gaza’s population requiring food aid, the impact of these measures will be catastrophic. This escalation has also been accompanied by an intensifying of Israeli military attacks on the Gaza Strip in the first 19 days of 2008, costing the lives of 69 Palestinians, including four children and eight women, and the injury of over 190.

"Israel’s current policy in relation to the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million inhabitants constitutes an unmitigated violation of international humanitarian law including, but not limited to, Israel’s obligation as an Occupying Power to, at a minimum, ensure the basic needs of the population under its effective control, and the prohibitions on collective punishment, coercion and unlawful reprisals.

"Israel’s current policy and recent actions have shown a casual disregard for the lives and dignity of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, treating their suffering and the violation of their fundamental rights as little more than an inconvenience that will earn gentle reprimand from the international community and Palestinian National Authority, but will otherwise be irrelevant. With the intolerable conditions and constant state of fear that the Gazan population is now forced to live under, it is time for this position to change. Israel must not be allowed to shield itself from the implementation of its international legal obligations, nor should the international community shy away from enforcing such implementation. Inarticulate fears of disrupting a “peace process” that exists only in vague declarations and diplomatic handshakes, that treats the Gaza Strip as separate from the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and Palestinians as a divided people, cannot be an excuse for allowing the continued siege of the Gaza Strip. In fact, if any “peace process” is to succeed, the conclusion reached must embody a sense of justice. This requires, as an unavoidable starting point, that the fundamental rights of all parties be recognised and protected.

"Al-Haq therefore calls upon,

* Israel to immediately cease all military operations in the Gaza Strip and to end its policy of collective punishment, including the opening of border crossings to allow the movement of goods and people, and restoring the supply of fuel and humanitarian aid.

* the Palestinian Liberation Organisation to establish Israel’s obligations under international law in respect of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, including ending the collective punishment and ensuring access to essential medical services, food and water and sanitation, as an integral part of any negotiations.

* regional organisations and individual states to take concrete measures, including economic and diplomatic sanctions, to ensure Israel’s compliance with international law.

* all international agencies, including the UN, present in the OPT to actively draw the attention of international decision makers to the impact of Israeli policies on the Palestinian civilian population of the Gaza Strip.

* the UN Secretary-General immediately bring the situation in the Gaza Strip to the attention of the Security Council.

* concerned individuals and civil society groups to raise Israel’s violations of international law with elected officials in their home counties.

* Palestinian armed groups to immediately cease the launching of rockets targeting civilian population centres in Israel. "

Church leaders: "In the Name of God, end the siege over Gaza"

Heads of Churches in Jerusalem released the following statement: "One and a half million people imprisoned and without proper food or medicine. 800,000 without electricity supply; this is illegal collective punishment, an immoral act in violation of the basic human and natural laws as well as International Law. It cannot be tolerated anymore. The siege over Gaza should end now." Read the statement >

Gaza: An Israeli Call for Urgent Action

Text from a statement signed by Israeli groups on January 18:

"We, the Israeli organizations signed below, deplore the decision by the Israeli government to cut off vital supplies of electricity and fuel (and therefore water, since the pumps cannot work), as well as essential foodstuffs, medicines and other humanitarian supplies to the civilian population of Gaza
. Such an action constitutes a clear and unequivocal crime against humanity.

"Prof. John Dugard, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, called the Israeli government’s actions “serious war crimes” for which its political and military officials should be prosecuted and punished. The killing of more than 40 civilians this past week violates, he said, “the strict prohibition on collective punishment contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention. It also violates one of the basic principles of international humanitarian law that military action must distinguish between military targets and civilian targets.” Indeed, the very legal framework invoked by the Israeli government to carry out this illegal and immoral act – declaring Gaza a “hostile entity” within a “conflict short of war” – has absolutely no standing in international law.

"We call on the Secretary General of the UN, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, to lead the Security Council to a decisive decision to end the siege on Gaza when it meets in emergency session on Wednesday.

"We call on the governments of the world, and in particular the American government and the European Parliament, to censure Israel’s actions and, in light of recent attempts to revive the diplomatic process, to end all attacks on civilians, including the continuing demolition of Palestinian homes at an alarming rate.

"We call upon the Jews of the world in whose name the Israeli government purports to speak, and upon their rabbis and communal leaders in particular, to speak out unequivocally against this offense to the very moral core of Jewish values.

"And we call upon the peoples of the world to let their officials and leaders know of their repudiation of this cruel, illegal and immoral act – an act that stands out in its cruelty even in an already oppressive Israeli Occupation.

"We condemns attacks on all civilians, and we acknowledge the suffering of the residents of Sderot. Still, those attacks do not justify the massive disproportionality of Israeli sanctions over a million and half civilians of Gaza, in particular in light of Israel’s oppressive 40 year occupation. Such violations of international law by a government are especially egregious and must be denounced and punished if the very system of human rights and international law is to be preserved.

"The Israeli government’s decision to punish Gaza’s civilian population, with all the human suffering that entails, constitutes State Terrorism against innocent people. Only when Israeli policy-makers are held accountable for their actions and international law upheld will a just peace be possible in the Middle East.

"The Alternative Information Center * Bat Tsafon * Gush Shalom * The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) * Physicians for Human Rights * The Women’s Coalition for Peace"

Child Rights Monitor report on Gaza

This is from a recent issue of Child Rights Monitor: "During the reporting period, 25 Palestinian children were killed as a direct or indirect result of the conflict in the oPt: 17 by the Israeli military, and 8 by Palestinian armed groups. Most of them (17) were killed in Gaza, and most of them (22) were boys, according to DCI/PS. June represented the highest death toll this year, with a total of 20 children killed." Read the report >