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: http://www.house.gov/apps/list/press/ma01_olver/ERMA130.html)


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: http://vcnv.org/worse-than-an-earthquake

"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, http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10259.shtml

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> http://www.un.org/ga/president/63/statements/onpalestine150109.shtml

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 www.bernardavishai.com. Sam Bahour is a management consultant and entrepreneur living in Ramallah. He blogs at epalestine.blogspot.com.

To Read the full article> http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=1054157&contrassID=2&subContrassID=4&sbSubContrassID=0

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.
Read the entire article here >

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.

TAKE ACTION

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> http://villagesgroup.wordpress.com

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 epalestine.blogspot.com.
To Read the entire articel> http://tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/01/10/no_other_option/

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." http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/08/opinion/08khalidi.html?th&emc=th

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: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/06/gaza-israel-hamas

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: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1052348.html

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.
Read the entire article here >

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.

Sincerely,

Mary Ellen McNish
General Secretary,
American Friends Service Committee