Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gaza Families Down to a Meal a Day

By Erin Cunningham
IPS News, Inter Press Service
May 13, 2009

Um Abdullah cannot remember the last time she was able to feed meat to her eight children. She does know that for the past week the single meal she cooked for them each day consisted only of lentils. And that on one day, she had received aid coupons from the United Nations, which she subsequently sold to buy tomatoes and eggplant at the local market.

Um Abdullah is a 42-year-old dressmaker and hails from Jabaliya, a cramped refugee camp on the outskirts of Gaza City. Stories like hers are commonplace across the Gaza Strip, where years of sanctions, siege and now war have battered the territory's economy and put many essentials out of reach for the majority of the population.

"We live day to day, nothing more," says Um Abdullah, who made less than three dollars in profit over the last three days. "If we can eat once a day, that is good enough for us."

While the prices of food and other goods have cooled off from the record highs they hit during Israel's three-week assault, the World Food Programme (WFP) reports that a number of items, many of them basic, remain more expensive for Gaza's residents than they were before Operation Cast Lead.

Sugar, rice, onion, cucumber, tomato, lemon, pepper, chicken, meat, fish and garlic were all more expensive for Gaza's residents in March 2009 than they were in December 2008, the WFP says.

The price of pepper per kilogram doubled, while the cost of onions jumped 33 percent. Fresh chicken is now 43 percent more expensive than before the war, a result of the destruction of a number of poultry farms across Gaza throughout the assault.

The decimation of wide swathes of agricultural land, as well as cattle and sheep farms, has added to Gaza's growing food insecurity.

But the war only intensified an already dire humanitarian situation, economists say, which has its roots in Israel's economic siege that hermetically sealed Gaza's borders in June 2007.

The shortage of all but "essential" goods and a flow of only a trickle of fuel have sent prices of food and other products skyrocketing over the past two years, making them unaffordable to many households in the Gaza Strip.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the food portion of Gaza's consumer price index (CPI) - an economic indicator used to measure the average price of goods and services purchased by households - rose 28 percent in 2008.

In Israel, by comparison, the CPI's food segment increased by less than 5 percent from March 2008 to March 2009, Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics reports.

"A negative economic growth rate coupled with an extreme shortage of goods is causing what we call stagflation in Gaza and that is what is behind the high prices," says Dr. Ibrahim Hantash of the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute.

"The rampant smuggling also sends prices of basic goods through the roof, because there is no control. It's all black market."

After the war, the majority of Gazans are now living below the income poverty line, says the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It defines the line as a family of six subsisting on 500 dollars per month.

More than half of those families living below the poverty are living in extreme hardship, on less than 250 dollars each month, or approximately 1.35 dollars per person per day.

And because Gaza's households spend most of their dwindling monthly income on food, the IMF says, 75 percent of the population has been forced to reduce the quantity of food they buy, while 89 percent reduced the quality.

This has meant many households, like Um Abdullah's, have had to forego certain sources of protein, including meat and eggs.

"Gazans face an acute shortage of nutritious, locally-produced and affordable food," says a report released by the WFP and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in March.

Gazans have consequently reduced their daily calorie intake, mainly by no longer eating items like red meat, rice, oils and fats, and fruits and dairy products – leading to nutritional deficiencies like anaemia, the report says.

Jalal Ataf Al-Masari has been running a fruit stand at the heart of the crowded Beach refugee camp in Gaza City for ten years, and he says he has never seen prices so high and business so low.

"At the beginning of the siege, it was only the poor that stopped buying fruit," Al-Masari says. "Now, nobody buys fruit. Life has become increasingly worse."

To read the entire article >

Friday, May 1, 2009

Gaza: Not nearly back to normal

Apr 30th 2009 | GAZA CITY
From The Economist print edition
Three months after Israel’s war ended, life for Gazans is still dismal

MUHAMMAD KHADER places some rugs and blankets amid the ruins of his house. Sometimes he goes there to rest when the tent he shares with his wife and six of their daughters gets too crowded. They ran away from their home earlier this year when it was hit by a missile during Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip, and fled to their only married daughter’s house in Jabaliya, a Palestinian refugee camp originally built for villagers fleeing in 1948 from what is now Israel. The daughter did not have enough blankets or mattresses for everyone but the neighbours helped out.

As soon as the Israeli troops pulled out of Gaza in mid-to-late January the Khader family went home—to find a pile of rubble. Even their chicken pen had been bulldozed. It had been their sole source of income since Mr Khader, along with thousands of other Gazan men, lost his permit to work in Israel after the second Palestinian intifada (uprising) started in 2000. Now he sits amid the debris and gazes at the green tents with Rotary International logos which an Arab charity has pitched on a muddy, desolate field on Jabaliya’s eastern edge. Before the war, olive and citrus trees grew there. “We used to work in Israel,” he says, lighting another cigarette. “We worked for them, built their houses. And now look what they’ve done to us.”

Mr Khader is one of tens of thousands of Palestinians who became homeless in the recent Gaza war. UN agencies estimate that 4,100 houses were destroyed and 15,000-plus damaged; 50,000-odd people sought refuge in UN schools during the fighting. Most went home after the truce or found other places to live. But thousands are still huddling in tents in makeshift refugee camps.

A mining bulldozer noisily clears away the ruins on the fringe of Jabaliya but there is virtually no reconstruction anywhere in Gaza. At an international donors’ conference in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in March, $4.5 billion was pledged for reconstruction. But three months after the ceasefire, repair work has yet to begin.

Israel is still enforcing the sanctions it imposed on Gaza after the Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas, took over the strip in June 2007, violently ousting its secular rival, Fatah. The Israelis still refuse to let in most imports except food and vital medicine. They still bar building material such as concrete, steel and pipes, as well as industrial equipment. They say they fear that Hamas and other militant groups would use them to build bunkers or weapons, such as the home-made rockets they still sometimes fire at nearby Israeli towns.

Supplies for repairing the water and sewage system and the electricity networks damaged during the war are also stuck at the border terminals. A good 90% of the people suffer from power cuts; the rest have no electricity at all. While 32,000 people in a population of 1.5m have no running water, 100,000 or so get water once in every two or three days. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which looks after Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, says that the rate of infectious diseases, including diarrhoea and viral hepatitis, which result from bad water and sanitation, has risen.

To read the entire article, go to:

Monday, April 27, 2009

Israel's Gaza report 'lacks credibility': Amnesty International

Thursday, Apr 23, 2009

The Israeli army's investigation into its recent war in Gaza "lacks credibility" and is no substitute for an independent probe, London-based rights organisation Amnesty International said Thursday.

The Israeli army on Wednesday defended its conduct during the 22-day offensive against Hamas, saying five investigations carried out by the military found the army "operated in accordance with international law."

But Amnesty said the army briefing "lacks crucial details" and failed to explain the overwhelming majority of civilian deaths during the war, including incidents involving shooting at medical facilities.

"In the absence of the necessary evidence to substantiate its allegations, the army's claims appear to be more an attempt to shirk its responsibilities than a genuine process to establish the truth," it said in a briefing note.

"Such an approach lacks credibility."

Amnesty urged Israel to cooperate with a UN commission headed by former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone to probe allegations of crimes during the offensive.

It said: "The Israeli army's probe is no substitute for a thorough, independent and impartial investigation."

A major charge against the Israeli military concerned its use of white phosphorous shells, which are allowed under international law for use on open battlefields to create a smokescreen for troops, but prohibited in densely populated areas.

The army said it had acted in accordance with international humanitarian law, but Amnesty said its assurances "could not be further from the truth."

"Amnesty International researchers on the ground found hundreds of white phosphorus-impregnated felt wedges in residential areas all over Gaza, still smouldering weeks after they had been fired," it said.

It added: "The Israeli army must provide specific, detailed information about why targets were chosen and the means and methods of attack used in order to assess their conclusion that the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) complied fully with international humanitarian law."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gaza needs more aid

By Mel Frykberg,
The Electronic Intifada,
12 April 2009

RAMALLAH, occupied West Bank (IPS) - John Ging, head of the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza, has urged Israel to ease aid flow restrictions that are having a devastating effect on the 1.5 million inhabitants.

Ging says the amount of aid being allowed into Gaza at present is "wholly and totally inadequate. It's having a very devastating impact on the physical circumstances and also the mindset of people on the ground," Ging told IPS.

According to a report released last month by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), on average 127 aid trucks a day are entering Gaza.

OCHA stated that this was insufficient and way below the 475 that entered daily one month prior to Hamas's takeover of Gaza in June 2007.

"We need access," Ging said. "It's the number one issue. It's the number two issue. It's the number three issue, and so on. Until we get it, there's nothing as important as solving the access issue."

"Eighty percent of the goods that are allowed in comprise food," Mike Bailey, an Oxfam spokesman told IPS. "The rest is medical and other relief supplies. However, agricultural products such as seedlings, water pipes and fertilizer essential for reviving the agricultural sector have either been denied or delayed."

"The education sector has also been crippled. Computers, books, stationery and other educational accessories are also being denied entry," said Bailey.

"Additionally, concrete, cement, steel and glass are barred, thus preventing the tens of thousands of homes that were destroyed and damaged during the Gaza war from being rebuilt and repaired," he added.

Antoine Grand, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) sub-delegation to Gaza, says that the ICRC is still negotiating with the Israelis to allow waste water and water plant spare parts and repair equipment into Gaza.

"We have been waiting for several months but so far we have not been permitted to import this equipment which is essential for the projects we have under way to repair sewage and water plants damaged during the Gaza war," Grand told IPS.

About 150,000 Gazans are still deprived of access to sufficient quantities of safe drinking water, while 90 percent experience intermittent power cuts. Gazans in need of medical attention abroad are struggling to get permits.

To read the entire article:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Israeli Military repeatedly violated Medical Ethic Codes during its Gaza Offensive

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel
March 23, 2009

Prevention of medical assistance from the trapped and the wounded, severe difficulties to emergency medical evacuation, attacks on medical personnel and medical facilities, and de facto prevention from the chronically ill and gravely wounded referral to medical care outside Gaza. "We call for an outside independent body to investigate the events" say representatives of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.

The new report, published today by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, gives room for concern that during the operation in Gaza, Israeli soldiers repeatedly acted in violation of the army's code of ethics, the medical code of ethics, and basic human values. These actions suggest repeated violations of the International Law regarding the treatment of the ill and the wounded and the protection of medical personnel.

The report examines six topics: the situation of the Gaza health system on the eve of the military operation, the difficulties in evacuating the wounded to medical centers outside Gaza, attacks on medical personnel, difficulties in internal evacuation of the wounded, attacks on medical facilities and injury to chronic and acute patients.

To read the report on line:

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Young Gaza couple begin married life in a tent

Live from Palestine Reports
Rami Almeghari
March 2, 2009

Last Thursday, relatives, friends and local community representatives attended an unusual wedding party in Gaza. The celebration was held in a newly-erected refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip town of Jabaliya.

"My wife and I planned to marry at my house, where we furnished an apartment, just shortly before Israel's war on Gaza. Yet, as you see, we were forced to stay at this tent in the al-Rayyan refugee camp," said newly-married Ahmad al-Hersh of Jabaliya refugee camp.

"We had no other option; after the war, there have been so many difficulties to find a house to rent, as the demand is higher than before. My wife Eman initially objected but later on she agreed as we don't have any other choice. And thanks to those who helped furnish this marriage set," recalled Ahmad while sitting at his tent's bedroom.

Ahmad used to live in a three-story house in the al-Khulafa neighborhood inside the town of Jabaliya, before it was bombed by Israeli warplanes during the 22-day siege of Gaza. The tent where the newly married Palestinian couple will live has a bed, table, cupboard and a small bathroom.

Ahmad explained that "I am not totally pleased but what can I say. But I look forward to the reconstruction of Gaza soon, so I and many others like myself get relief. I am a victim of the Israeli war."

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Palestine Red Crescent Society, Israeli shelling and missiles during the 22-day-long siege destroyed more than 2,800 homes completely and damaged an additional 1,900, leaving tens of thousands homeless. To accommodate the large number of internally displaced Palestinians, a number of small refugee camps have been erected in different parts of the Gaza Strip, mainly in northern Gaza, through assistance by international organizations such as the UN agency for Palestine refuees, UNRWA. Ahmad's special tent was funded by a local charity in Jabaliya, via a Kuwaiti grant.

To read the entire article go to:

US Congress members report on their visit to Gaza

Videos from the visit of Congressman Baird and Congressman Ellison's visit to Gaza

And a report back at the New American Foundation event:
(some audio difficulties)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

US Members of Congress visit Gaza

Express Shock at Gaza devastation
Agence France-Presse
February 20, 2009

US Democratic representatives Brian Baird and Keith Ellison expressed shock at the plight of the war-shattered Gaza Strip during a rare visit to the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave today.

"The amount of physical destruction and the depth of human suffering here is staggering," Mr Baird said jointly with Mr Ellison during their visit which coincided with a similar trip by US Senator John Kerry. The visits were the first by US MPs since Hamas, an Islamist movement Washington blacklists as a terrorist organisation, seized control of the overcrowded territory in June 2007.

Mr Ellison, a representative from Minnesota, harshly criticised restrictions on the delivery of desperately needed goods into the coastal strip that has been under a crippling Israeli blockade imposed after the Hamas takeover. "People, innocent children, women and non-combatants, are going without water, food and sanitation, while the things they so desperately need are sitting in trucks at the border, being denied permission to go in," he said. "The stories about the children affected me the most," said Mr Ellison. "No parent, or anyone who cares for kids, can remain unmoved by what Brian and I saw here."

Mr Baird, from Washington state, said the situation he saw was "shocking and troubling beyond words". "The personal stories of children being killed in their homes or schools, of entire families wiped out, and relief workers prevented from evacuating the wounded are heart wrenching," he said.

Mr Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the US Congress, hailed US President Barack Obama for acting "quickly to send much needed humanitarian funding to Gaza for this effort". "However, the arbitrary and unreasonable Israeli limitations on food, and repair and reconstruction materials are unacceptable and indefensible," he said.

Mr Ellison and Mr Baird both said that their visit did not have the official sanction of the Obama administration. They said they held talks with civilians and relief workers, while Palestinian officials stressed they did not meet with any representatives of Hamas. During their visit, the pair visited Izzbet Abed Rabbo, a community in northern Gaza devastated during the deadly 22-day Israeli offensive that ended on January 18. An estimated 14,000 to 20,000 homes and other buildings were damaged or destroyed during the military offensive in which more than 1300 Palestinians were killed.

"The first and most urgent priority must be to help the people in Gaza. At the same time, the rocket attacks against Israeli cities must stop immediately," Mr Baird and Mr Ellison said. "Just as the people of Gaza should not be subject to what they have experienced, the Israeli civilians should not have to live in fear of constant and indiscriminate rocketing," they said.

Today, the two planned to tour the Israeli towns of Sderot and Ashkelon, which are regularly targetted by the almost daily rocket attacks from Gaza.,27574,25081418-23109,00.html

Thursday, February 12, 2009

After ceasefire, Gazans still don't feel safe

Report, Palestine Centre for Human Rights
10 February 2009

Foreign correspondents and camera crews have now begun to leave Gaza, in search of the next headline-grabbing location. But ongoing air strikes and violations of international law are a stark reminder that there is no real end to Israel's offensive here.

Since Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire on 18 January it has continued to launch strikes against targets in the Gaza Strip. Some families in the southern town of Rafah have been evacuated from their homes up to 10 times in the last 15 days.

Faten al-Shaer, a 31-year-old mother of one, lives just 150 meters from Gaza's southern border with Egypt. This area, known as the Philadelphi Route has been repeatedly targeted and is now a mass of rubble, sand and bomb craters. Her home is one of the few left standing here, surrounded by the grey concrete remains of homes, and the shreds of tarpaulin that once covered smuggling tunnels.

"I was baking bread when the bombing of the border area began on 28 December," says Faten. "Thousands of people took to the streets, trying to escape. Everybody was on the move. My mother, my five-year-old daughter Nagham and I ran to my uncle's house, which is further from the border." Other family members were scattered at the homes of relatives.

"During the war there was daily bombing of this area -- sometimes in the morning, sometimes at midnight," says Faten. "It went on for 22 days. When the ceasefire was declared we came back to the house but had to evacuate it again the next day because they started bombing again."

Faten and the 35 members of her extended family have still not spent the night at their home. They come back during the day but always leave before darkness falls.

"The children are suffering real trauma," Faten adds, as her green-eyed daughter Nagham clings to her. "Some of them are incontinent and they wake up in the night and start crying. My daughter Nagham has to hold onto me all the time. They understand it's a war."

The impact of the air strikes and incursions on the children of the Gaza Strip has been acute. Faten's seven-year-old nephew Dia was in school a few days ago, when he heard an unmanned Israeli drone in the sky. He automatically picked up his schoolbag and ran home, crying "The drones are still over my head. I can't take it anymore."

To read the full article>

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gaza Children Traumatized by War - UN

UN envoy: Gaza's children traumatized by war, despite ceasefire
Ha'aretz, February 10, 2009

Children in the Gaza Strip continued to suffer and feel insecure despite a ceasefire that has mostly ended three weeks of intense fighting between Israel and Hamas, the UN special envoy for children and armed conflict said Monday.

Radihika Coomaraswamy said grave violations of child rights had been committed during the fighting that began on December 27 when Israel Defense Forces launched airstrikes against Hamas militants who had been firing rockets and mortars into southern Israel.

She said those violations included killing and maiming, and denial of humanitarian access. Fifty-six per cent of Gazans are children under 18.

"During the recent hostilities, there were no safe space for children and the crossings out of Gaza were, and remain, virtually sealed," she said.

The fighting killed more than 1,300 people in Gaza, one-third of them children and women. Thousands of people were injured.

Turning to children in Israel, Coomaraswamy said: "There is no doubt that children live in constant fear of missile attacks in southern Israel. The need for psycho-social support has increased recently."

Coomaraswamy, who recently visited Ashkelon in southern Israel, said the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Hamas against Israel clearly violated international humanitarian law and should not be ignored simply because it was less severe than the Israeli airstrikes against Gaza.

She said children in both Gaza and Israel have expressed "anger and despair as a manifestation of their desire for accountability."

She supported an international investigation into the killing.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) released Monday a telephone survey of 1,815 households in Gaza, those that still have landline phones, showing that 75 per cent of those surveyed expressed insecurity because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and border closing.

The survey said 45 per cent of households that still have a telephone reported war-inflicted damage to their homes, ranging from artillery shells to shattered windows.

Two-thirds of households polled said they needed assistance, identifying emotional and psychological aid as a top priority (28 per cent), followed by unemployment (16 per cent) and financial support (14 per cent).

The survey said half of respondents considered emotional and psychological aid as a priority for children because of their signs of stress such as bedwetting, nightmares, aggressive behaviour and anxiety.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

After Gaza War, Daunting Curbs On Rebuilding

Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, February 8, 2009

BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip -- Mohammed Irhaiem's former home was a spacious 1,500 square feet and was built from solid concrete blocks. It had views of the Mediterranean and fruit trees in the yard.

His new home, which he surveyed for the first time this week, measures 12 by 6 feet and is made of sheets of canvas held aloft by three wooden poles. His is one of 90 bright white tents that have sprouted in neat rows amid a sea of gray rubble, the wreckage from homes -- including Irhaiem's -- that were destroyed during the 22-day Gaza war between Israel and Hamas.

"It's humiliating," said Irhaiem, 49, clutching the hand of his barefoot young grandson as he contemplated life for himself and 24 relatives in the tent colony.

But it will have to do: Three weeks after the war's end, the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip has scarcely started, caught in a web of political battles that aid workers worry could prevent the work from ever getting done.

The most daunting obstacle is the lack of construction supplies, which are badly needed to rebuild the approximately 4,000 homes that were destroyed in the fighting and repair an additional 17,000 that were damaged. The United Nations estimates that as many as 100,000 people were rendered homeless by the war.

But Israel has banned raw materials from entering Gaza, reasoning that goods such as cement and steel could be used by Hamas to build bunkers or manufacture rockets.

To Read the entire story go to:

Saturday, January 31, 2009

$20.3 million to fund humanitarian Needs

US Members of Congress Press for Humanitarian Aid to Gaza

(A letter was circulated in the US Congress to urge Sec. of State Clinton to have "the United States play a leading role in alleviating the suffering of civilians in Gaza." 61 Congresspeople signed the letter which can be read here:

Washington, D.C. - Congressman John Olver today applauded the Obama Administration for authorizing the use of $20.3 million from the U.S. Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA) Fund to address critical post-conflict humanitarian needs in Gaza.

On January 28, Congressman Olver spearheaded a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requesting the State Department release ERMA funds for reconstruction and humanitarian assistance. Sixty-three Members of Congress joined Congressman Olver as signatories to the letter.

Congressman John Olver said, “As is the case with any humanitarian crisis, time is of the essence. There is a dire need on the ground for food, fresh water, medical assistance and electricity. The longer the people of Gaza go without these essentials, the worse this tragic crisis will become. I am very pleased that the Administration recognized the urgency of our request and responded so decisively.”

Of the $20.3 million in new ERMA funds, $13.5 million will go to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), $6 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and $800 to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). These organizations are distributing emergency food assistance, providing medical assistance and temporary shelter, creating temporary employment, and restoring access to electricity and potable water to the people of Gaza.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Worse Than an Earthquake

From Kathy Kelly, Voices for Creative Nonviolence
January 21, 2009

Rafah—Traffic on Sea Street, a major thoroughfare alongside Gaza’s coastline, includes horses, donkeys pulling carts, cyclists, pedestrians, trucks and cars, mostly older models. Overhead, in stark contrast to the street below, Israel’s ultra modern unmanned surveillance planes criss-cross the skies. F16s and helicopters can also be heard. Remnants of their deliveries, the casings of missiles, bombs and shells used during the past three weeks of Israeli attacks, are scattered on the ground.

Workers have cleared most of the roads. Now, they are removing massive piles of wreckage and debris, much as people do following an earthquake.

“Yet, all the world helps after an earthquake,” said a doctor at the Shifaa hospital in Gaza. “We feel very frustrated,” he continued. “The West, Europe and the U.S., watched this killing go on for 22 days, as though they were watching a movie, watching the killing of women and children without doing anything to stop it. I was expecting to die at any moment. I held my babies and expected to die. There was no safe place in Gaza.”

He and his colleagues are visibly exhausted, following weeks of work in the Intensive Care and Emergency Room departments at a hospital that received many more patients than they could help. “Patients died on the floor of the operating room because we had only six operating rooms,” said Dr. Saeed Abuhassan, M.D, an ICU doctor who grew up in Chicago. “And really we don’t know enough about the kinds of weapons that have been used against Gaza.”

In 15 years of practice, Dr. Abuhassan says he never saw burns like those he saw here. The burns, blackish in color, reached deep into the muscles and bones. Even after treatment was begun, the blackish color returned.

To Read the entire article:

"Gaza Will Take Years to Recover" -- ICRC

Katharina Ritz (International Committee of the Red Cross):
"Gaza will take several years at the very least to recover from the Israeli military campaign. This is the best case scenario, assuming that the border crossings are opened permanently and all the necessary aid and help is allowed in unhindered.

But before the reconstruction can even commence it is essential for the remaining Israeli ordnances left over from the war to be cleared away to ensure the safety of the population....

The threat of the outbreak of disease due to contaminated water is still a concern as raw sewage is flowing through the streets of parts of Gaza.

An embankment of a main sewage treatment dam in the Zeitoun area of Gaza City collapsed during the fighting, causing sewage to flow into agricultural fields. This was exacerbated by rotting animal carcasses and the corpses of Gazans buried underneath rubble.

Emergency teams have started repairs to the sewage and water treatment plants. Our contractor has managed to isolate this dam and is repairing the embankment.

For over a year Gaza's Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) has been forced to pump tons of untreated sewage into the sea, which filtered back into the underground water table, contaminating drinking supplies....

All the humanitarian aid in the world will not alleviate the human suffering if a political resolution to the conflict is not found."

Read an interview with Katharina Ritz, head of the mission of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), posted on the Electronic Intifada,

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Israeli Human Rights Organizations: Open Gaza's Crossings to Goods and Civilians

From the Gisha website:
Human rights organizations in Israel today called on the State of Israel to immediately and fully open the crossings of the Gaza Strip to the passage of goods and people. The organizations are especially demanding the unimpeded passage of medical equipment, medical personnel and wounded people as well as fuel and spare parts for the humanitarian infrastructure.

On "the day after" the fighting in Gaza, the magnitude of the death and destruction continues to come to light. Bodies are still being pulled out of the wreckage, bringing the death toll to well over 1,300, and hundreds of thousands of people are contending with water, sewage, and health systems that are in a state of collapse.

Despite the wreckage that is still being uncovered these very days, the Israeli Supreme Court last night rejected two petitions submitted by human right organizations in Israel, demanding the evacuation of wounded from the Gaza Strip and the supply of electricity to Gaza's humanitarian infrastructure, especially the health, water and sewage systems. The court rejected the petitions without even waiting for the explanations the State was supposed to submit today, in response to claims by the human rights groups that Israel was not permitting evacuation of those injured in the Gaza Strip.

The collapse of the humanitarian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip was expected, as it was a result of a planned and deliberate Israeli policy of closure of the Gaza Strip. For the last 14 months Israel has deliberately and consistently restricted the supply of fuel and other goods into the Gaza Strip. That policy of punitive measures against the residents of Gaza drained Gaza's humanitarian institutions, especially the health, water and sewage systems, of the fuel, medical equipment and spare parts they needed to cope with the devastating effects of three weeks of fighting. Despite repeated warnings by human rights groups, Israel continued, with the sanction of the Supreme Court, to consistently and methodically limit the volume of goods entering Gaza. The result is the collapse of Gaza's humanitarian systems – in the absence of the fuel, electricity, and spare parts needed to run water wells, sewage pipes, and the health care system – badly damaged by the bombing.

The organizations said: "Israel itself brought the humanitarian systems in Gaza to the brink of collapse – and then gave them the final push. The tremendous number of injured – over 5,000 – requires substantial investment in rehabilitation. It is incumbent upon Israel to allow the movement of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip."

The organizations who petitioned the court are: Adalah * Gisha * Physicians for Human Rights-Israel * Association for Civil Rights in Israel * Bimkom * Hamoked * The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel * Rabbis for Human Rights * Yesh Din

Monday, January 19, 2009

Statement by General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto

by Miguel d'Escoto,
General Assembly President

New York, 15 January 2009

We here in United Nations headquarters have remained too passive for too long as the carnage continues. I am responding to the growing number of Member States, particularly those of the Non-Aligned Movement, who have demanded a resumption of the 10th Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly as soon as possible. Every day, we receive messages from Gaza and from around the world asking, indeed pleading, for the UN to stop the violence, protect civilians and attend to the humanitarian needs. Our business here today is urgent.

During this assault, more than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed, one-third of them children. More bodies remain buried under the rubble, out of reach of humanitarian workers because the shelling is too intense – the living would be killed trying to reach the dead. If this onslaught in Gaza is indeed a war, it is a war against a helpless, defenseless, imprisoned population.

The fact that Gaza’s population is imprisoned – they cannot leave, they cannot run, they have nowhere to hide from air strikes, artillery, or naval attacks – is particularly important to us in the United Nations, keeping in mind our obligations under Article 1 of our Charter to defend international law....

The violations of international law inherent in the Gaza assault have been well documented: Collective punishment. Disproportionate military force. Attacks on civilian targets, including homes, mosques, universities, schools.

I remind you, Excellencies, that last week an Israeli air strike against one of our schools, a United Nations school, killed at least 43 people. Many of them were children. And all of them were beleaguered and frightened families seeking shelter from bombs and air strikes. They sought shelter from the United Nations when their homes were bombed, when they were warned to flee an approaching bombing raid but had nowhere else to go, when they faced the most desperate decision any parents are ever forced to make – how to keep their children safe.

Those families turned to us, to the United Nations, and we failed in our obligation to keep them safe....

I know that you share my sense of urgency and our collective commitment to make good on our so-far unmet obligations to the occupied people of Gaza. We need serious and expeditious diplomacy, not false promises.

For the people of Gaza, the human catastrophe continues. Twenty days later, people continue to die. Our obligation is clear. We, the United Nations, must call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and immediate unimpeded humanitarian access. We, the United Nations, must stand with the people around the world who are calling, and acting, to bring an end to this death and destruction. We must stand with the brave Israelis who came out to protest this war, and we must stand with those in the frightened city of Sderot who called for “Another Voice” to answer the fear of rocket-fire with reconciliation and not war.

We must stand with the hundreds of thousands of people who have stopped the trains, petitioned their governments, poured into the streets around the world, all calling for an end to war. That is our obligation, our responsibility, our duty, as we work, mourning so many deaths, for an immediate ceasefire.

To read the entire speech>

Thursday, January 15, 2009

No Military Solution to Gaza Crisis

By Bernard Avishai and Sam Bahour
January 15, 2009

"Israel and Hamas are not equals on the battlefield - not at all, clearly - and when the power to harm or control others is this uneven, it is meaningless to speak about moral symmetry. But as the current onslaught in Gaza unfolds, it is sadly evident that both sides are continuing to respond to real provocations in ways that are not morally right, or even politically smart.

If Hamas thought that lobbing missiles into Israeli civilian neighborhoods was a decent or proportionate response to the grim realities of the occupation, they were wrong. On the other hand, if Israel thinks it can bludgeon the Palestinians into political surrender, or get Hamas - or the Palestinian community at large, for that matter - to acquiesce to military occupation then it, too, is wrong.

There is no military solution to this conflict. Until both sides fully grasp this, the world can expect only continuing violence and vendetta, with civilians on both sides paying the price for leaders who - because of pressure, ambition or hubris - feel that they must do the most damage, fire the last shot or make the most credible threat. Indeed, it is sad, and repellent, to hear military correspondents speak of "teaching a lesson," "increasing pressure," "making a statement," achieving "deterrence," when those they are reporting on are really trying to control the news cycle, or win arguable (and in any case temporary) psychological advantage, by killing, or accepting the deaths of, people at random on the other side.

…. The critical point, surely, is that one cannot do in two weeks with force what you need to do over a generation with reciprocity. Even as it worked toward an overall solution to the conflict, Israel could have respected international law regarding occupation, observed the Geneva conventions, helped build Palestinian civil society, stopped settlement construction, invited international monitors, and allowed Palestinians to compete non-violently, politically, economically and socially. It could have, in short, allowed for unity and rationality in Palestinian politics. This is not, well, rocket science."

Bernard Avishai is an author and management consultant who lives in Jerusalem. He blogs at Sam Bahour is a management consultant and entrepreneur living in Ramallah. He blogs at

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

History did not begin with the Qassams

Amira Hass writing in Ha'aretz:
The siege of Gaza did not begin when Hamas seized control of the Strip's security organs, or when Gilad Shalit was taken captive, or when Hamas was elected in democratic elections. The siege began in 1991 - before the suicide bombings. And since then, it has only become more sophisticated, reaching its peak in 2005.

The Israeli public relations machinery happily presented the disengagement as the end of the occupation, in brazen disregard of the facts. The isolation and closure were presented as military necessities. But we are big boys and girls, and we know that "military necessities" and consistent lies serve state goals. Israel's goal was to thwart the two-state solution, which the world had expected to materialize once the Cold War ended in 1990. This was not a perfect solution, but the Palestinians were ready for it then.

Gaza is not a military power that attacked its tiny, peace-loving neighbor, Israel. Gaza is a territory that Israel occupied in 1967, along with the West Bank. Its residents are part of the Palestinian people, which lost its land and its homeland in 1948.

In 1993, Israel had a one-time golden opportunity to prove to the world that what people say about us is untrue - that it is not by nature a colonialist state. That the expulsion of a nation from its land, the expulsion of people from their houses and the robbery of Palestinian land for the sake of settling Jews are not the basis and essence of its existence.

In the 1990s, Israel had a chance to prove that 1948 is not its paradigm. But it missed this opportunity. Instead, it merely perfected its techniques for robbing land and expelling people from their houses, and forced the Palestinians into isolated enclaves. And now, during these dark days, Israel is proving that 1948 never ended.
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Israeli Human Rights groups: Clear and present danger to the lives and well-being of tens of thousands of civilians

From the B'Tselem website:

Since the beginning of the campaign in Gaza on December 27, a heavy suspicion has arisen of grave violations of international humanitarian law by military forces. After the end of the hostilities, the time will come for the investigation of this matter, and accountability will be demanded of those responsible for the violations. At this point we call your attention to the clear and present danger to the lives and well-being of tens of thousands of civilians.

The level of harm to the civilian population is unprecedented. According to the testimony of residents of the Gaza Strip and media reports, military forces are making wanton use of lethal force which has to date caused the deaths of hundreds of uninvolved civilians and destroyed infrastructure and property on an enormous scale. In addition, Israel is also hitting civilian objects, having defined them as "legitimate military targets" solely by virtue of their being "symbols of government."

Caught in the middle are 1.5 million civilians in extreme humanitarian distress, whose needs are not being adequately met by the limited measures taken by the army. That distress is detailed in the Appendix to this letter. Its main points are as follows:

  1. The fighting is taking place throughout the Gaza Strip, whose border crossings are closed, so that residents have nowhere to flee, neither inside the Gaza Strip nor by leaving it. Many are unable to escape from the battle zone to protect themselves. They are forced to live in fear and terror. The army's demand that they evacuate their homes so as to avoid injury has no basis. Some people who did escape are living as refugees, stripped of all resources.

  2. The health system has collapsed. Hospitals are unable to provide adequate treatment to the injured, nor can patients be evacuated to medical centers outside of the Gaza Strip. This state of affairs is causing the death of injured persons who could have been saved. Nor are chronic patients receiving the treatment they need. Their health is deteriorating, and some have already died.

  3. Areas that were subject to intensive attacks are completely isolated. It is impossible to know the condition of the people who are there, whether they are injured and need treatment and whether they have food, water and medicine. The army is preventing local and international rescue teams from accessing those places and is also refraining from helping them itself, even though it is required to do so by law.

  4. Many of the residents do not have access to electricity or running water, and in many populated areas sewage water is running in the streets. That combination creates severe sanitation problems and increases the risk of an outbreak of epidemics.

This kind of fighting constitutes a blatant violation of the laws of warfare and raises the suspicion, which we ask be investigated, of the commission of war crimes.

The responsibility of the State of Israel in this matter is clear and beyond doubt. The army's complete control of the battle zones and the access roads to them does not allow Israel to transfer that responsibility to other countries. Therefore we call on you to act immediately as follows:

  1. Stop the disproportionate harm to civilians, and stop targeting civilian objects that do not serve any military purpose, even if they meet the definition of "symbols of government."

  2. Open a route for civilians to escape the battle zone, while guaranteeing their ability to return home at the end of the fighting.

  3. Provide appropriate and immediate medical care to all of the injured and ill of the Gaza Strip, either by evacuating them to medical centers outside of the Gaza Strip or by reaching another solution inside the Gaza Strip.

  4. Allow rescue and medical teams to reach battle-torn zones to evacuate the injured and bring supplies to those who remain there. Alternatively, the army must carry out those activities itself.

  5. Secure the proper operation of the electricity, water and sewage systems so that they meet the needs of the population.

Participating organizations:

Adalah - The Legal Center For Arab Minority Rights In Israel, Amnesty International Israel Section, Bimkom - Planners For Planning Rights, B’Tselem - The Israeli Information Center For Human Rights In The Occupied Territories, Gisha - Legal Center For Freedom Of Movement, Hamoked - Center For Defence Of The Individual, Physicians For Human Rights - Israel Public Committee Against Torture In Israel, Yesh Din - Volunteers For Human Rights.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Durable Ceasefire Requires an End to the Siege and Occupation

From the Palestine Center:
Since the start of the December 2008 Israeli military assault on the Gaza Strip, the most often asked question has been how to achieve a durable ceasefire. Pundits have given various answers to that question, most of which revolve around the same point—a durable ceasefire can only be achieved once Israel destroys Hamas’s military capability—and for some, the definition includes the elimination of Hamas’s role in Palestinian politics. This narrow approach which takes into consideration the interests of only one side and avoids the root causes for the continued violence is why a durable ceasefire remains elusive.

A sustainable and durable ceasefire starts with an immediate halt of Israel’s military offensive against the 1.5 million Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip and the opening of the Rafah border crossing, a legitimate and secured crossing, to allow uninterrupted passage of medicine, food, fuel and people rather than the forced reliance on underground, unmonitored tunnels. Diplomatic talks, which must include Hamas recognized as an elected political party, should focus on lifting the 18-month old siege, not the easing of the siege.
Read the entire article here >

Support Congressional Resolution for Immediate Ceasefire in Gaza

From the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation:

Last Friday, the House of Representatives voted 390 yes, 5 no, and 22 present to pass H.Res.34, “recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself” and “reaffirming the United States strong support for Israel.” To see if your Representative cosponsored this resolution, click here. To see how your Representative voted, click here.

Last Thursday, the Senate voted on a similarly worded resolution, S.Res.10, which passed by unanimous consent. To see if your Senator cosponsored the resolution, click here.

The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation opposed these resolutions because they failed to call for an immediate ceasefire and unimpeded humanitarian access to the occupied Gaza Strip as required under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1860. The resolutions also blamed the victims—the Palestinians—for the civilian casualties and humanitarian catastrophe Israel is inflicting upon them and absolved Israel of any responsibility for its actions.

Thankfully these resolutions will not be the final words of Congress on the issue. This week, Rep. Dennis Kucinich plans to introduce a resolution calling for “an immediate and unconditional ceasefire” and “unrestricted humanitarian access” to the occupied Gaza Strip. The US Campaign is supporting this resolution, which can be downloaded by clicking here.


1. Call your Representative NOW at 202-224-3121. Thank your Representative if he/she voted “no” or “present” on H.Res.43. and ask her/him to cosponsor Rep. Kucinich’s resolution. If your representative voted “yes” on H.Res.43., then express your disagreement with the vote and ask them to cosponsor the Kucinich resolution.

2. Call your Senators NOW at 202-224-3121. Express your disagreement with your Senators’ vote on S.Res.10 and ask them to introduce a resolution in the Senate similar to Rep. Kucinich’s resolution in the House.

3. Get your organization to endorse Rep. Kucinich’s resolution. Organizations wishing to endorse Rep. Kucinich’s resolution should send their endorsement directly to his Congressional office by clicking here. Let’s make sure that Rep. Kucinich knows that hundreds of organizations support his legislative effort.

4. Join us for a conference briefing call on Thursday, January 15, 9PM Eastern to discuss our next legislative steps. To RSVP for the call and to get call-in info and an agenda, send your name, city, and organizational affiliation (if any), to us by clicking here.

5. Let us know what the offices of your Members of Congress are saying. Let us know how your call went and how the offices of Members of Congress are responding to your concerns. Send us your name, the Congressional offices you contacted, and their feedback to us by clicking here.

In addition to contacting Congress, we have many ideas for action that you can take to demand an immediate ceasefire and unimpeded humanitarian access to the occupied Gaza Strip. For more information, click here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sderot War Diary

by Nomika Zion, Sderot
January 8, 2009
Translated from the Hebrew by Assaf Oron

“I talk with Sderot people and everyone’s cheeks are rosy again”, boasted Fuad on the war’s second day [Fuad is Benjamin Ben Eliezer, a long-time centrist Labor minister - Assaf]. “The heavier the blow we deliver - the more our hearts widen”.

Hey Fuad, not everyone. Even if I was the only one around Sderot feeling differently - and I am not - my voice should be heard.

Not in my name and not for me you went to war. The current bloodbath in Gaza is not in my name and not for my security. Destroyed homes, bombed schools, thousands of new refugees - are not in my name and not for my security. In Gaza there is no time for burial ceremonies now, the dead are put in refrigerators in twos, because there is no room. Here their bodies lay, policemen, children, and our nimble reporters play acrobatically with Hasbara strategies in view of “the images that speak for themselves”. Pray tell me, what is there to “explain”? [Hasbara literally means "explanation" - Assaf] What is there to explain?

I got myself neither security nor quiet from this war. After such an essential calm, that helped all of us heal emotionally and mentally and experience some sanity again [Nomika is referring here to the first 5 months of cease-fire, which were observed by both sides - Assaf] - our leaders have brought us back to the same wounded, anxiety-ridden place. To the same humiliating, terrified sprinting to shelter.

Don’t mistake me. Hamas is an evil, terrible terror organization. Not just for us. First and foremost to its own citizens. But beyond that wretched leadership there are human beings. With hard labor, ordinary people on both sides build small bridges of human gestures. This is what the Kol Aher, a group of people from Sderot and elsewhere on the Gaza border of which I am a member, has been doing. We have tried to lay down a human route to the hearts of our neighbors. While we have won a five-month calm, they continued to suffer under the siege. A young man told us he does not wish to marry and have kids, because in Gaza there is no future for children. A single airplane bomb drowns these human gestures in depths of blood and despair....

It is extremely hard to live in Sderot nowadays. At night, the IDF pounds infrastructure and human beings, and our home walls shudder. By morning, we get Qassams - more sophisticated ones each time. A person going to work in the morning, does not know whether their home will be found standing by evening. At midday, we bury the best of our sons, who have paid with their lives for yet another “just” war. In the evening, after many difficulties, we manage to make contact with our desperate friends in Gaza. They have no electricity, no water, no gas, no food, nowhere to hide. And only the words of N., the 14-year-old whose school was bombed and whose classmate was killed, don’t leave my head. She writes us in perfect English, an email that her mom somehow managed to send:

“Help us, we are human beings after all”

No, Fuad, my cheeks are not rosy, they are not. A ton of Cast Lead is weighing on my heart, and my heart cannot contain it.

To read the entire posting>

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Road Not Taken: Avoiding Death and Destruction

No Other Option?!
By Sam Bahour
January 10, 2009

"... I am a Palestinian American based in Al-Bireh, the sister city of Ramallah in the West Bank. I can see how an observer from abroad could be blind to the facts, given the blitz of Gaza war propaganda orchestrated by the Israeli military. But I know better. Like all other Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, I am not an observer from abroad. We live every day under the bitter burden of Israeli military occupation and we know that this question, presented as rhetorical—did we really have an option? —has a rational answer. Allow me, from my vantage point as an economic development professional, to touch on some of the other options that could have been chosen. Moreover, many of them will be forced on Israel anyway, sooner or later, whether after the next “war,” or in the coming days under the ceasefire agreement and the Egyptian-sponsored implementation mechanism being discussed as I write this. Meaning: all this death and destruction could have been easily avoided.

Dear Israeli citizen, short of ending the occupation, you could have:

1. Opted to agree on how to disagree: There are two bodies of law that deal with international relations in this world, International Law and the Law of the Jungle. Until today, your government—and maybe you—refuse to accept the global consensus that the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are all militarily occupied territory. The occupying power is Israel—as attested in dozens of United Nations resolutions over the past four decades. By ignoring this fact that Israel is an occupying power, thus removing (unsuccessfully, of course) any internationally recognized baseline for the conflict, you have created an environment that can only be described as the “Law of the Jungle,” where might is right and where, as we see in Gaza now, anything goes. You could have accepted international humanitarian law, as stipulated in the Fourth Geneva Conventions regulating occupations, and avoided many of the seemingly impossible positions you find yourself in today: from the albatross of the settlement enterprise to the reality of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip.

2. Opted to allow for an international presence in the occupied territory: For over 30 years – yes, 30 years! – the Palestinians have begged the international community to create and maintain a serious presence in the occupied territory, something to stand between us and protect the civilians on both sides. Israel repeatedly refused to consider this. Instead your government chose to deal with the Palestinian territory as if it was its own, always behaving in line with its meta-objective: getting a maximum of Palestinian geography with a minimum of Palestinian demography. You could have avoided dealing directly with the natural reaction of any occupied people to resist their occupation, by allowing international players to get involved and serve as a sort of referee between you and those you are occupying militarily.

3. Opted to accept lawful non-violent resistance to your occupation: For over 40 years, Palestinians have tried everything to remove the Israeli boot of occupation from our necks (all documented, for anyone interested enough to do the research): tax revolts, general strikes, civil disobedience, economic development, elections, and on and on. Your response every time was to rely on violence, on control; your message was that you respect nothing other than your own desires....

4. Opted to accept the results of Palestinian democracy: For Palestinians, and believe it or not Israelis too, the best thing that happened in the recent past was when Hamas was chosen in peaceful elections to take over the governance of Palestine. Prior to those elections, where was Hamas? They were in their underground bunkers carrying out atrocities that were disrupting your daily agenda—and mine—with absolutely no accountability whatsoever. When they accepted the Oslo process and ran for office and were duly elected, they stopped, for all intent and purpose, attacking inside Israel (by which I mean, inside the Green Line). Your citizens become significantly safer! Your government (and the U.S.) responded by refusing to accept the results of our elections and imposed sanctions on the elected Palestinian government. This was long before any violent infighting took place in Gaza between Hamas and Fatah.... You could have accepted Palestinian democracy instead of propping up your own version of a failed Palestinian leadership.

5. Opted not to interfere in Palestinian internal politics: When Hamas violently struck at Fatah in Gaza—for reasons that have been well documented elsewhere—your government chose to punish all 1.5 million Palestinians by installing a hermetic seal on Gaza and allowing only a trickle of normal traffic to go in or out, meeting only a small fraction of Gaza's needs. Lest you suspect me of indulging in empty clich├ęs, I shall explain. International agencies have estimated that Gaza’s daily basic needs amount to 450 truckloads a day. For 18 months prior to your aggression on Gaza, your government allowed 70 truckloads a day on average. Yes, seventy! And these were allowed to enter only when the border crossings that you control were open, which was only 30% of the time. You could have chosen not to use food, medicine, education, cement, water, electricity, and so forth, as tools of repression. If you saw yourselves accurately as the occupying power you are, you could have kept in place a lawful security regime on the borders without creating a humanitarian disaster which led to irrational acts (such as missiles being lobbed over the border) by those you tried to starve into submission. You could have made a firm distinction between your political desires and your humanitarian obligations as an occupying power.

This list could go on and on.

The fact of the matter is that you had a long list of options open to you! So many, indeed, that it boggles the mind that your government has apparently been able to blind you to all of them so that today, as the bombs shriek over Gaza, you can say, and evidently sincerely mean it: We had no other option.

Nevertheless, even with all these options effectively invisible to you, there is nothing on this earth—not law, not politics, not even a desperate and lengthy campaign of rockets creating widespread fear and even some civilian deaths on your side of the border—there is nothing that can justify, by Israel or any other country on this earth, the decision to opt for a crime against humanity as your chosen response. Nothing! ....

You may not see us over the Separation Wall you built; you may not see us from the cockpits of your F-16s or from the inside of your tanks; you may not see us from the command and control center in the heart of Tel Aviv as you direct your pilots to launch their ton of munitions over our heads. Still, I can assure you of one thing. Until you wake up and demand that your leaders choose a different path, a path toward a life as equals and neighbors instead of trampler-on and trampled-on, you and your warrior sons and daughters will continue to see us—all of us, living and dead—in your nightmares, where we will continue to demand peace with justice.

Sam Bahour is a management consultant and entrepreneur living in Ramallah; he is co-editor of “Homeland: Oral History of Palestine and Palestinians,” and blogs at
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Thursday, January 8, 2009

What you don't know about Gaza

By Rashid Khalidi
January 7, 2009, The New York Times

Nearly everything you’ve been led to believe about Gaza is wrong. Below are a few essential points that seem to be missing from the conversation, much of which has taken place in the press, about Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip.

THE GAZANS Most of the people living in Gaza are not there by choice. The majority of the 1.5 million people crammed into the roughly 140 square miles of the Gaza Strip belong to families that came from towns and villages outside Gaza like Ashkelon and Beersheba. They were driven to Gaza by the Israeli Army in 1948.

THE OCCUPATION The Gazans have lived under Israeli occupation since the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel is still widely considered to be an occupying power, even though it removed its troops and settlers from the strip in 2005. Israel still controls access to the area, imports and exports, and the movement of people in and out. Israel has control over Gaza’s air space and sea coast, and its forces enter the area at will. As the occupying power, Israel has the responsibility under the Fourth Geneva Convention to see to the welfare of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.

THE BLOCKADE Israel’s blockade of the strip, with the support of the United States and the European Union, has grown increasingly stringent since Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006. Fuel, electricity, imports, exports and the movement of people in and out of the Strip have been slowly choked off, leading to life-threatening problems of sanitation, health, water supply and transportation. The blockade has subjected many to unemployment, penury and malnutrition. This amounts to the collective punishment — with the tacit support of the United States — of a civilian population for exercising its democratic rights.

THE CEASE-FIRE Lifting the blockade, along with a cessation of rocket fire, was one of the key terms of the June cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. This accord led to a reduction in rockets fired from Gaza from hundreds in May and June to a total of less than 20 in the subsequent four months (according to Israeli government figures). The cease-fire broke down when Israeli forces launched major air and ground attacks in early November; six Hamas operatives were reported killed.

WAR CRIMES The targeting of civilians, whether by Hamas or by Israel, is potentially a war crime. Every human life is precious. But the numbers speak for themselves: Nearly 700 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed since the conflict broke out at the end of last year. In contrast, there have been around a dozen Israelis killed, many of them soldiers. Negotiation is a much more effective way to deal with rockets and other forms of violence. This might have been able to happen had Israel fulfilled the terms of the June cease-fire and lifted its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

This war on the people of Gaza isn’t really about rockets. Nor is it about “restoring Israel’s deterrence,” as the Israeli press might have you believe. Far more revealing are the words of Moshe Yaalon, then the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, in 2002: “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.”

Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at Columbia, is the author of the forthcoming “Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East."

This brutality will never break our will to be free

by Khalid Mish'al, head of the Hamas political bureau
January 6, 2009, The Guardian

For 18 months my people in Gaza have been under siege, incarcerated inside the world's biggest prison, sealed off from land, air and sea, caged and starved, denied even medication for our sick. After the slow death policy came the bombardment. In this most densely populated of places, nothing has been spared Israel's warplanes, from government buildings to homes, mosques, hospitals, schools and markets....

This river of blood is being shed under lies and false pretexts. For six months we in Hamas observed the ceasefire. Israel broke it repeatedly from the start. Israel was required to open crossings to Gaza, and extend the truce to the West Bank. It proceeded to tighten its deadly siege of Gaza, repeatedly cutting electricity and water supplies. The collective punishment did not halt, but accelerated - as did the assassinations and killings. Thirty Gazans were killed by Israeli fire and hundreds of patients died as a direct effect of the siege during the so-called ceasefire. Israel enjoyed a period of calm. Our people did not.

When this broken truce neared its end, we expressed our readiness for a new comprehensive truce in return for lifting the blockade and opening all Gaza border crossings, including Rafah. Our calls fell on deaf ears. Yet still we would be willing to begin a new truce on these terms following the complete withdrawal of the invading forces from Gaza.

.... Once again, Washington and Europe have opted to aid and abet the jailer, occupier and aggressor, and to condemn its victims. We hoped Barack Obama would break with George Bush's disastrous legacy but his start is not encouraging. While he swiftly moved to denounce the Mumbai attacks, he remains tongue-tied after 10 days of slaughter in Gaza. But my people are not alone. Millions of freedom-loving men and women stand by its struggle for justice and liberation - witness daily protests against Israeli aggression, not only in the Arab and Islamic region, but worldwide.

Israel will no doubt wreak untold destruction, death and suffering in Gaza. But it will meet the same fate in Gaza as it did in Lebanon. We will not be broken by siege and bombardment, and will never surrender to occupation.

To read the entire article go to:

Monday, January 5, 2009

And There Lie the Bodies - Gideon Levy

From Ha'aretz correspondent Gideon Levy:

As Israel has been preoccupied with Gaza throughout the entire week, nobody has asked whose blood is being spilled and why. Everything is permitted, legitimate and just. The moral voice of restraint, if it ever existed, has been left behind. Even if Israel wiped Gaza off the face of the earth, killing tens of thousands in the process, as a Chechnyan laborer working in Sderot proposed to me, one can assume that there would be no protest....

Here lie their bodies, row upon row, some of them tiny. Our hearts have turned hard and our eyes have become dull. All of Israel has worn military fatigues, uniforms that are opaque and stained with blood and which enable us to carry out any crime. Even our leading intellectuals fail to speak out on what havoc we have wreaked. Amos Oz urges: "Cease-fire now." David Grossman writes: "Hold your fire. Stop." Meir Shalev wants "a punitive operation." And not one word about our moral image, which has been horribly distorted.

To read the entire article:

U.S. to foil any Arab bid to push Security Council resolution for Gaza cease-fire

From Ha'aretz:
Reliable sources at the UN say that the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, has received explicit instructions from his superiors at the State Department to torpedo any initiative proposed by the Arab bloc which is designed to grant the Security Council the status of an official arbiter that will have direct involvement with disentangling the Gaza crisis.

This directive can explain Washington's persistent opposition to even a non-binding declarative statement issued by the Council, as it did during an emergency meeting late Saturday night.
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Thursday, January 1, 2009

AFSC Open Letter to President Bush and President-Elect Obama

December 31, 2008

Dear President Bush and President-Elect Obama,

As an organization with 60 years of experience working in the Gaza Strip and committed to a peaceful future between Palestinians and Israelis, we are saddened and distressed at the spiraling violence in Gaza over the past five days. As a Quaker organization that cares deeply about the life, dignity, and security of all people, we ask you to take immediate action to end this spiral of violence.

We urge you to take all steps necessary to end the Israeli attacks against Gaza, which have as of this writing taken more than 370 lives, injured thousands, and destroyed many homes and properties. The military strike is in addition to a two year-old siege imposed by the Israeli government, and supported by the U.S. government, that has severely restricted the importation of food, medicine, fuel and other essential goods necessary to maintain the well-being of more than 1.4 million people in the Gaza Strip.

The disproportionate Israeli siege and military assault continue a policy of collective punishment. The time has long-passed to end this policy.

At the same time, we recognize that Hamas's decision to launch rocket attacks into Israel has threatened the safety of Israeli civilians and incurred tragic consequences for the people of Gaza.

So the cycle of violence deepens. Even today, Hamas threatens to increase the number of rockets fired into Israel in retaliation for the Israeli siege and air strikes. Israel justifies the siege and the attacks because of the rocket attacks. It's an untenable situation that need not continue.

Violence must be replaced with negotiations. Both the air strikes and the embargo should end immediately. Israel should engage in diplomacy with the Palestinians, including Hamas as elected leaders of the Palestinian legislature. And every effort should be made through the good offices of the Arab states to urge Hamas to re-establish the cease fire and put forth a good-faith effort to end the current violence.

Given its tremendous regional influence, the United States can move the parties toward a peaceful resolution. The U.S. supports Israel militarily, financially, and politically. You have the power to end weapon sales to Israel; weapons that are often used against civilians. We urge that you also stop supporting the embargo on Gaza.

The U.S. government has supported an Israeli militarist strategy that has not, and will not, lead to a lasting peace. Only a solution based in fairness, respect, and security for both Palestinians and Israelis will offer the peace that all so desperately seek and deserve. Only creative dialogue and negotiation, not military force, can lay the path to that solution.

We urge you to use your power and influence well so that U.S. policy can move further along the path to peace. We hope that this New Year is a more peaceful one, in the Middle East, the U.S., and throughout the world.


Mary Ellen McNish
General Secretary,
American Friends Service Committee