Friday, May 30, 2008

U.S. Withdraws Fulbright Grants to Gaza

From the New York Times:
The American State Department has withdrawn all Fulbright grants to Palestinian students in Gaza hoping to pursue advanced degrees at American institutions this fall because Israel has not granted them permission to leave.

Israel has isolated this coastal strip, which is run by the militant group Hamas. Given that policy, the United States Consulate in Jerusalem said the grant money had been “redirected” to students elsewhere out of concern that it would go to waste if the Palestinian students were forced to remain in Gaza.

A letter was sent by e-mail to the students on Thursday telling them of the cancellation. Abdulrahman Abdullah, 30, who had been hoping to study for an M.B.A. at one of several American universities on his Fulbright, was in shock when he read it.

Some Israeli lawmakers, who held a hearing on the issue of student movement out of Gaza on Wednesday, expressed anger that their government was failing to promote educational and civil development in a future Palestine given the hundreds of students who had been offered grants by the United States and other Western governments.

“This could be interpreted as collective punishment,” complained Rabbi Michael Melchior, chairman of the Parliament’s education committee, during the hearing. “This policy is not in keeping with international standards or with the moral standards of Jews, who have been subjected to the deprivation of higher education in the past. Even in war, there are rules.” Rabbi Melchior is from the Meimad Party, allied with Labor.

Sari Bashi, who directs Gisha, an Israeli organization devoted to monitoring and increasing the free movement of Palestinians, said, “The fact that the U.S. cannot even get taxpayer-funded Fulbright students out of Gaza demonstrates the injustice and short-sightedness of a closure policy that arbitrarily traps 1.5 million people, including hundreds of Palestinian students accepted to universities abroad.” She said that their education was good not just for Palestinian society, but for Israel as well.

Some Israelis disagree strongly.

“We are fighting the regime in Gaza that does its utmost to kill our citizens and destroy our schools and our colleges,” said Yuval Steinitz, a lawmaker from the opposition Likud Party. “So I don’t think we should allow students from Gaza to go anywhere. Gaza is under siege, and rightly so, and it is up to the Gazans to change the regime or its behavior.”

Read the entire article here >

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

UN team 'devastated' by Gaza stories: Tutu

From AFP:
UN human rights observers led by Desmond Tutu on Wednesday met survivors of a 2006 Israeli bombing that killed 19 Palestinian civilians in Gaza, leading the South African cleric to say the group was "devastated" by what they learned.

The UN team travelled to the town of Beit Hanun in northern Gaza where residents told of the Israeli shelling on the night of November 8, 2006, that killed the civilians, including five women and eight children, in their homes.

"I was here with my son. I was holding his hand when he died. Can you imagine a mother holding the intestines of her own son," said Tahini al-Assamna through her tears, describing the attack.

She took Tutu and his UN team on a tour of her three-storey house where a hole still remains in the roof from the artillery fire. She also lost three of her brothers-in-law in the attack.

Tutu commented that the purpose of the visit was to gather information to write a report for the UN Human Rights Council, "but we wanted to say that we are quite devastated".

"This is not something you want to wish on your worst enemy," added the retired Anglican archbishop of Cape Town.

Read the entire article here >

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Latest from the U.N.: Gaza Strip Inter-Agency Humanitarian Fact Sheet

From the UN OCHA report "Gaza Strip Inter-Agency Humanitarian Fact Sheet" issued on May 16, 2008:
Israeli restrictions on fuel supplies to Gaza peaked in April when Israel halted supplies of diesel, petrol and cooking gas (LPG) to Gaza. UNRWA was forced to suspend its food distribution to 650,000 beneficiaries for four days due to the lack of fuel. Limited supplies of cooking gas and industrial diesel resumed before the end of the month. Market prices increased significantly in the month of April. Gazan militants attacked the Nahal Oz fuel terminal on April 9 and the Kerem Shalom goods crossing on April 18.Israeli military incursions into Gaza occurred almost every day in April, killing 21 children.
Read the entire report here >

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Israel says army ready for Gaza assault after rocket attack

From the AFP:
Israel warned on Thursday that its forces were prepared to launch a major military operation in the Gaza Strip after a rocket attack that wounded at least 14 people while US President George W. Bush was in Israel.

"The Israeli army has never been this ready to launch a large-scale operation in Gaza," said Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, a member of Israel's security cabinet.

Read the entire article here >

60 years since 1948: Sands of Sorrow

Today is the 60th anniversary of the end of the British Mandate and the creation of the state of Israel. Today is also recognized as Nakba Day, which refers to the ongoing displacement and dispossession of the Palestinian people. Sands of Sorrow is a documentary film from 1950 that depicts life in Gaza's refugee camps at the time.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A week in Gaza

From the Guardian:
This week George Bush flies to the Middle East in another effort to revive peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

But the one subject that won't be on their agenda is Gaza, the small, overcrowded strip of land sliding ever deeper into economic catastrophe.

All this week the Guardian reports on the effects of the crisis on the ordinary people of Gaza.
Watch videos and read reports here >

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Gaza fuel, cooking gas shortages beginning to bite

From IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:
Intense political divisions in the Gaza Strip have split people on most issues, except one: the situation has never been worse, nearly everyone agrees.

"I never remember Gaza being this bad," said one man in his early 40s. "Living here has become a game of survival." With fuel supplies nearly dry, many people no longer have cooking gas in their homes, leading some to search for alternative methods to make a meal.

"People now are starting to look through the garbage to find combustibles," a Gazan who works for a large international aid organisation told IRIN.
Read the entire article here >

Latest from the U.N.: More on the Gaza sewage crisis

From the recent U.N. report "Impact of Fuel Shortages on Gaza Sanitation – Polluting the Sea":
Gaza’s water authority, the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU), is responsible for providing water to the residents of the Gaza Strip as well as managing its sewage. It provides more than 130 million cubic metres of drinking water per year to the residents of Gaza. Around 80 percent of this becomes sewage which consists of household and commercial effluent. The closure on Gaza and the reduction in fuel and electric supply have forced the CMWU to dump 60 million litres of raw and partially treated sewage into the Mediterranean Sea to avoid flooding residential areas.
Read the entire report here >

Friday, May 2, 2008

Updates from Gaza

News articles from May 2:

The Independent: Blockade puts Gaza on brink of serious food crisis, says UN

Destitution and food insecurity among Gaza's 1.5 million residents has reached an unprecedentedly critical level, according to unpublished UN findings that they now need "urgent assistance" to avert a "serious food crisis" in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The report revealing that Gaza's population has already passed the internationally-agreed threshold at which it needs concerted measures to prevent a "deterioration in their nutrition" has been drafted on the eve of a donors' conference to discuss Palestinian political and economic prospects in London today. Read the entire article here >

Ha'aretz: Gaza sewage pumped into the sea over past three months

Millions of liters of sewage have been released over the past three months into the Mediterranean Sea from the Gaza Strip, according to a new United Nations report.

According to the report, an estimated 50-60 million liters of waste per day have been pumped into the sea. This was done in an effort to prevent an overflow of sewage in residential areas.

Normally, the sewage is pumped to prearranged sites for treatment, but the shortage of fuel in the Gaza Strip has caused disruptions in the supply of electricity. These shortages, lack of sufficient quantities of chemicals necessary for treating sewage, and spare parts, has led the Gaza officials to pump the waste into the sea. Read the entire article here >

Thursday, May 1, 2008

‘Our Dreams Are Dead’: Violence in Gaza gets the headlines. But the slow suffocation of the West Bank should get more attention too.

From Newsweek:

To spend a week among the Palestinians in the West Bank, as I recently did, is grounds for antidepressants. Not half enough has been written about what is going on there. The violence in Gaza gets almost daily press—more border attacks and rockets launched into Israel, a new retaliatory body count (including, just this week, a mother and four young children killed during an Israeli operation in northern Gaza)—but the slow suffocation of the Palestinians in Jerusalem, in Bethlehem, in Ramallah, in every village in the West Bank, gets scant attention. "Our dreams are dead," says Ali Asamil Abkhrka, a bead vendor outside a Bethlehem restaurant. "There can never be peace with the Israelis. Never." A Palestinian policeman in the Church of the Nativity echoes him: "The wall closes the earth, closes the life. Everything is going backward."

Consider the Israeli travel restrictions. No Palestinian living in the West Bank is allowed to enter Jerusalem without written permission from the Israeli government. Islah Jad lives in Ramallah and is an associate professor in gender studies at Birzeit University. When her sisters visited her recently from Egypt, they wanted to go to Jerusalem to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque. Dr. Jad went to a nearby Israeli settlement to apply for a permit. "Come back tomorrow," they said. She went back. "It's not ready. Come back tomorrow," she was told. The third time she came home without a permission slip, she gave up. "Why waste a week for a permit for a few hours," she told me. "It's humiliating." Her sisters went to Jerusalem without her.

The license plate is key. Palestinians living outside Jerusalem in Ramallah or Bethlehem or anywhere in the West Bank have green and white license plates and are forbidden to drive on the smooth, wide "settler" roads that link the necklace of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Palestinians who live in Jerusalem have yellow license plates and are allowed on the roads, but such an apparent privilege is muted at the checkpoints, some 500 of them. The blue and white ID cards, which all Israelis and Palestinians carry, identify the bearer's religion and ethnicity. The Israelis are waved through. The Palestinians are pulled aside. "As soon as they see Arabic on the ID card they say, 'Security'," says Najwa, a lovely young Palestinian woman who works in a Jerusalem hotel. "We have to pull over, and they go through the luggage, the glove compartment, the papers of everybody in the car. It can take hours to get through. I have friends in Ramallah whom I haven't seen in years. The hassle is just too great."

The checkpoints have personalities of their own. The direct road from Jerusalem to Ramallah has been blocked by the wall, funneling the traffic through twisty, rutted roads to the Qalandya checkpoint. Getting through the checkpoint to enter the Palestinian city of Ramallah is easy. Getting back is not. Unless they have yellow plates, Palestinians with permission to travel to Jerusalem have to leave their cars on the Palestinian side, walk through a series of security turnstiles on foot, show their papers to the Israeli soldier on duty and then, if cleared, continue their journeys in so-called service cars, beat-up yellow vans jammed to overflowing. The checkpoint on the direct road to Bethlehem is closed to Palestinians altogether.

Despair is the word I hear most often from West Bank Palestinians, 58 percent of whom have fallen below the poverty line. "I can't get work from the Israeli side because I am haram [forbidden], and the Palestinians can't even afford to pay me bus fare," says an architect reduced to working in a bookstore. The night offers particular terrors. Jad, who works late, recognizes the sounds of frequent Israeli raids, "explosions and hard beats on doors and screams," she says.

Read the entire article here>