Sunday, November 30, 2008

Can Gaza and Sderot make common cause?

From Nadia Hijab reprinted by the Institute for Middle East Understanding:
The Palestinians of Gaza and the Israelis of Sderot are on two sides of a very wide divide. Yet an end to conflict would benefit both. Is there a way they can make common cause?

Much is known about conditions in Sderot, a pilgrimage for visiting Western dignitaries concerned about Israel's security. But little is known about the conditions in Gaza, perhaps least of all in Israel.

The people of Sderot might not be able -- or want -- to visit Gaza. But they could still find out what is going on in the besieged territory. For example,
  • Heavy rains at the end of October left many Gazans waist-high in water, sewage and garbage and swept away several houses in another sign of the Strip's ruined infrastructure. Last year a flood of sewage killed five people.
  • The Israelis never gradually lifted the blockade even though this was reportedly part of the Israel-Hamas agreement. The UN, responsible for feeding one million Palestinians in Gaza, has no reserves to call on. So even when Israel allows in a few trucks of food, the cupboard stays bare. And fishermen in Gaza waters have been arrested and their boats impounded, cutting off that source of sustenance.
  • The Red Cross just issued a damning report chronicling the rise in chronic malnutrition due to Israel's blockade. This can damage children for life. People are reportedly milling animal feed because there is nothing to eat
Israel has banned journalists from the Strip, making it harder to report conditions first-hand. Top leaders from the Associated Press, Reuters, the New York Times, ABC, BBC, and CNN, among others, filed an unprecedented protest with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Collective punishment is against the law and can constitute a war crime. Do the inhabitants of Sderot -- or any Israeli Jewish citizens -- really want such crimes committed in their name? Do the Palestinian, Arab, European, or American authorities? Does the world? Especially when it has been demonstrated that a ceasefire works?
Read the entire article here >

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

US Puts Pressure on Israel to Refrain from Attacks

From Time magazine:

U.S. officials have asked Israel to refrain from launching any major military action in the region during the waning days of the Bush presidency, Israeli sources have told TIME. Previously, some Israeli military officials had hinted to the media that if Israel were to carry out its threats to strike at Iranian nuclear installations, it might do so before Barack Obama enters the White House in January. But now a Defense Ministry official says, "We have been warned off."

Washington's concerns are not limited to the possibility of Israel attacking Iran, the sources say; U.S. officials have also cautioned Israelis against launching a ground assault inside the besieged Palestinian territory of Gaza in a bid to stop militants there from firing rockets into southern Israel. Bush Administration officials warn that such an attack could cost many lives and jeopardize the painstaking, thus far futile efforts of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to broker a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Read the entire article here >

Friday, November 21, 2008

UN: Gaza on brink of humanitarian disaster

From Reuters:
Gaza faces a humanitarian "catastrophe" if Israel continues to prevent aid reaching the territory by blocking crossing points, the head of the main U.N. aid agency for the Palestinians said on Friday.

Karen AbuZayd, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said the human toll of this month's sealing of Gaza's goods crossings was the gravest since the early days of a Palestinian uprising eight years ago.

"It's been closed for so much longer than ever before... and we have nothing in our warehouses... It will be a catastrophe if this persists, a disaster," said AbuZayd, whose agency is the largest aid body providing services to Palestinian refugees.

"They often bring us to the brink but they never have let us really be frightened about whether we are going to have food tomorrow or not," AbuZayd said.

Israel had restricted goods into Gaza despite the truce, which calls on militants to halt rocket attacks in return for Israel easing its embargo on the territory.

"This time throughout this whole truce since June none of us have been able to bring in anything extra that would create a reserve so we had nothing to call upon," she said.

She said people were sweeping warehouses because there is now nothing in them.

UNRWA's food basket, which comprised nearly 60 percent of daily needs, including milk powder and sugar, had run out, AbuZayd said. Most of the flour in mills would be consumed by end of the month.

Ailments associated with insufficient food were surfacing among the impoverished coastal strip's 1.5 million population, including growing malnutrition.

"There is a chronic anaemia problem. There are signs that's increasing. What we are beginning to notice is what we call stunting of children ... which means they are not eating well enough to be bigger than their parents," AbuZayd added.

The humanitarian plight of Gazans was by far the worst among the more than 4.6 million Palestinian refugees across the region.

"They are not just under occupation, they are under siege," AbuZayd said.
Read the entire article here >

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gazans despair over blockade

From the BBC:

There is much discussion among Palestinians as to why this sudden increase in pressure on Gaza is happening now.

Some say Israel is preparing for a big invasion; others feel there is an element of political posturing ahead of an Israeli general election in February.

Many will tell you that they feel a time of deep division in Palestinian society is being taken advantage of.

Few take Israel's explanation, that it is only protecting its citizens from the horror of rocket attacks, at face value.

"Isn't it enough that their army kills the people who fire rockets?" asks Mr Bassam Nasser, who works for an American development agency.

"We are not responsible, so why are we all being punished? It makes no sense."

He talks of the long-term impact on children in Gaza, including his own, aged six, five and two.

"It's getting harder for us to answer our childrens' questions about the situation, without instilling hatred in their minds about the people responsible for our suffering," he says.

He does not just mean the Israeli government.

"People here see everyone as responsible for their miserable lives. They see Israel closing Gaza, but they also see people around the world doing nothing.

"They see Hamas making things worse by using the blockade as an excuse not to be accountable, and they do whatever they like.

"People see the silence of the PA, [the Fatah-dominated Palestinian government in the West Bank] and blame them too," he says.

"It's so hard to see where the hope is, and so hard to stop these conditions breeding more hatred."

Read the entire article here >

The Gaza Strip: Drifting into Deeper Darkness under the Silent Gaze of the International Community

From the Al-Haq statement The Gaza Strip: Drifting into Deeper Darkness under the Silent Gaze of the International Community:

The High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions, the member states of the UN and the European Union are all legally and morally culpable on account of their collective ennui. In the absence of any concerted or effective response, Al-Haq is left to question the basic commitment to fundamental human rights of these actors, and while once again repeating the calls detailed above for the members of the international community to live up to their legal obligations, we do so with increasingly strained hope, and an increasingly hoarse voice.

The human rights community in the OPT and all those fighting for the rights of the Palestinian people will continue to do so, regardless of this wall of silence and inactivity. In the interest of peace and justice, the international community must realise, however, that it is this silence and inactivity that has now become the biggest obstacle to the realisation of human rights in the Gaza Strip. Moreover, the international community must be conscious that its own self-interest necessitates action to alleviate the humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip before it further deteriorates and regional instability proliferates.
Read the entire statement here >

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Foreign Reporters’ Group Fights Israeli Prohibition on Entering Gaza

From the New York Times:

Although Israel has often closed border crossings and halted deliveries of goods and fuel to Gaza in response to rocket fire, foreign journalists have usually been allowed to cross to report.

This time, all movement in and out of Gaza is being halted, except for essential humanitarian cases, said Shlomo Dror, a spokesman for the Israeli Defense Ministry.

“The decision is not directed against journalists,” Mr. Dror said. “The situation in Gaza is clear: There is daily firing, we have information about possible attacks on the crossings and we are limiting our activity there as much as possible.”

Mr. Dror added that he was not “shedding tears” over the journalists’ frustration. He said that Israel, in any case, considered much of their previous coverage from Gaza unfair.
Read the entire article here >

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The real goal of Israel's Gaza blockade

From Jonathan Cook:
Israel has turned a relative blind eye to the growing smuggling trade through Gaza's tunnels to Egypt. Gazans' material welfare is falling more heavily on Egyptian shoulders by the day.

The question remains: what does Israel expect the response of Gazans to be to their immiseration and ever greater insecurity in the face of Israeli military reprisals?

Eyad Sarraj, the head of Gaza's Community Mental Health Programme, said this year that Israel's long-term goal was to force Egypt to end the controls along its short border with the Strip. Once the border was open, he warned, "Wait for the exodus."
Read the entire article here >

UN human rights chief calls for end to Israeli blockade of Gaza Strip

From the U.N.: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called today for an immediate end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza. "By function of this blockade, 1.5 million Palestinian men, women and children have been forcibly deprived of their most basic human rights for months. This is in direct contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law. It must end now," she said.

The High Commissioner further called for the Israeli authorities to facilitate the urgent passage of essential humanitarian goods, including food, medical supplies, and fuel, to immediately allow the restoration of electricity, water and other essential services, and to lift movement restrictions preventing the passage of civilians for medical, educational and religious purposes. "Decisive steps must be taken to preserve the dignity and basic welfare of the civilian population, more than half of which are children," she added.

Read the entire statement here >