Posts Tagged ‘israeli attack on Gaza’

Christian by name and by nature

May 11, 2009

Morning Star Online, Sunday 10 May 2009

Father Manuel Musallam, the Catholic priest in Gaza, has finally retired at 71. His will be a hard act to follow.

Many thought that ill health had forced Musallam to hang up his cassock last year, but he returned to the fray to be with his community during its darkest hour when Israel, with a nod and a wink from the US and the EU, unleashed its lethal assault intended to finally crush the isolated and half-starved Gazans.

I was privileged to meet the crusty old churchman in 2007, when things in Gaza were already unbearable after 18 months of blockade and savage sanctions.

For nine years, Musallam had been unable to leave the strip to see his family in the West Bank for fear that the Israelis would block his return and leave his church and school without a priest. We were the first visitors from the outside world he had seen for many months.

Musallam has frequently spoken out about the torment and hardship inflicted on the Gazan people. He has said in plain language what other churchmen – and politicians and diplomats – are afraid to.

He told reporters that, after 14 years as the parish priest, he had seen the humanitarian situation get drastically worse. And he warned that the people were becoming more aggressive. “There is a lot more hate towards the situation they are in – especially among the young.”

Musallam was also greatly troubled by the exodus of Christians to escape the never-ending Israeli oppression and seek a better life elsewhere, reflecting the worry expressed by many others that Christendom is allowing itself to be “religiously cleansed” from the Holy Land with scarcely a murmur of protest.

He has seen Gaza’s Christian contingent dwindle to just 5,000 souls out of a tight-packed population of 1.5 million.

Musallam also speaks with anguish of the 1,400 Gazans killed in the latest blitz, the many thousands left homeless and the hundreds of thousands without running water, sanitation, a proper diet or medical care – thanks to the already overburdened infrastructure having been blasted to smithereens by US-supplied weaponry and explosives.

In January, at the height of Israel’s killing spree, Fr Manuel sent this message from the smoking ruins to anyone who would listen.

“Our people in Gaza … eat but remain hungry, they cry, but no-one wipes their tears. There is no water, no electricity, no food, only terror and blockade … Our children are living in a state of trauma and fear. They are sick from it and for other reasons such as malnutrition, poverty and the cold … The hospitals did not have basic first aid before the war and now thousands of wounded and sick are pouring in and they are performing operations in the corridors. The situation is frightening and sad.”

A few days later, he wrote: “Hundreds of people have been killed and many more injured in the Israeli invasion. Our people have endured the bombing of their homes, their crops have been destroyed, they have lost everything and many are now homeless.

“We have endured phosphorus bombs which have caused horrific burns, mainly to civilians. Like the early Christians our people are living through a time of great persecution, a persecution which we must record for future generations as a statement of their faith, hope and love.”

Yet the leaders of the West turned their backs while their “ally,” with whom they claim to share so many values, committed these and other atrocities. It was their duty to intervene but they didn’t. As if this infamy weren’t enough, humanitarian aid and reconstruction materials for Gaza are still obstructed by Israel and the international community is too spineless to ensure that they flow.

Musallam’s Catholic school in Gaza is highly regarded by Muslim families and many send their children there.

The only official tribute I’ve seen to Musallam says that he “has done great work over the many years he has been in Gaza where he has given a lot to support the Christian community and many others.”

Is that it? Is that all the church can find to say about one of its most remarkable representatives, who has served his God and community for many perilous years in the world’s most notorious hell-hole?

Let us hope the Pope, during his trip to the holy land this week, manages to find time between visits to the Yad Vashem memorial and the Wailing Wall and hob-nobbing with the great and good of the zionist regime, to say hello to Musallam and acknowledge the dedication and courage of this extraordinary man.

The Vatican describes the Pope’s visit as a pilgrimage, which usually suggests a journey of high purpose and moral significance. Will his holiness be joining the queue of Palestinians at the Bethlehem crossing into Jerusalem and waiting in line for the three humiliating hours it often takes before being allowed to shuffle through the steel-barred cattle pens to start a full day’s work?

He has decided to skip Gaza so he will miss the state-of-the-art dehumanisation process at the Erez crossing and the experience of being forced to strip to his underwear like so many others.

It’s a shame he won’t see Gaza. He’d weep like he has never wept before. Then at least he would have had something morally significant to say to Israel’s dignitaries.

As for Musallam, I doubt if his God has finished with him just yet. There’s a mountain of work to be done and good men are hard to find.

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UN: Gaza still awaiting aid pledged for reconstruction

May 6, 2009

Haaretz , Israel, Friday, May 1, 2009

By Reuters

None of a $4.5 billion package of reconstruction aid recently pledged for the Gaza Strip has got through because of border restrictions, a top United Nations official said on Thursday.

International donors pledged the aid money in March to help the Palestinian economy and rebuild Gaza after a three-week Israeli military offensive against the coastal strip’s Hamas rulers.

But John Ging, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, said Gaza had still not benefited from any of the aid because of restrictions on the flow of goods into the territory.

“There is no prospect of recovery or reconstruction until we can get access for construction materials,” Ging said.

“Billions of dollars were pledged for recovery and reconstruction and yet none of that can actually connect with those whose lives were destroyed,” he told a news briefing during a trip to European Union headquarters in Brussels.

Israel has said it had opened Gaza’s border to larger amounts of food and medicine since the December-January offensive against Hamas militants who control the Palestinian territory and were firing rockets into Israeli towns.

The war destroyed some 5,000 homes and, according to figures from a Palestinian rights group, killed over 1,400 people. Israel has challenged this figure, stating that a total of 1,166 Palestinians were killed in the operation, the majority of whom were Hamas militants.

Since Hamas ousted Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah from Gaza in a bloody 2007 coup, Israel has tightened its blockade of the 45-km strip in an effort to weaken Hamas’s hold on power.

Egypt has also restricted crossings at its border with Gaza.

Ging said the international community should find a solution to the border crossings issue and provide more access to goods and services for the inhabitants of Gaza.

“Today the money is out there in pledges and the people of Gaza continue to subsist in the rubble of their former lives and the attention of the world has sadly moved on, which compounds the despair that people feel,” he said.

Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said on a visit to Gaza on Thursday the situation was alarming and warned that issues such as Palestinian reconciliation and secure borders had to be addressed.

“In the absence of real progress on issues like Palestinian reconciliation, open crossings, secure borders and a prisoners- exchange, the potential for renewed violence is ever-present,” Serry said in a statement.

Dictator Mubarak’s Expanding Enemies List

April 28, 2009

Rannie Amiri |Ramallahonline.com, April 28, 2009

A telltale sign of a dictator’s waning influence is increasing paranoia. And this is exactly what Egypt’s U.S.-backed dictator, President Hosni Mubarak, is suffering from.

At a time when criticism over Egypt’s abetting  of the Israeli siege and attack on Gaza is intensifying, and its traditional role as leader of the Arab world is being eclipsed, Mubarak’s standing and legitimacy in the eyes of his people has plummeted. His paranoia, conversely, has skyrocketed.

This was on display when the state-controlled Egyptian daily Al-Ahram published an article last Saturday accusing the following nations, people and organizations of attempting to destabilize the country, or in the words of the paper, to “ … bring Egypt to the brink of chaos and facilitate a coup”: Iran, Syria, Qatar, Hezbollah, Hamas, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, Hamas chief Khaled Meshal, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood Mahdi Akef, and the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news network. Lebanon also joined the ever-expanding list a few days later.

Relations had already deteriorated earlier in the month when Egyptian security officials made public that they had uncovered a Hezbollah-sponsored “espionage ring” and “terrorist cell” operating in the Sinai. Twenty-five “agents” were arrested, and the hunt continues for an equal number more. Nasrallah did admit that one of those captured was a Hezbollah member, tasked with helping to smuggle arms into Gaza. He denied however, the constantly shifting Egyptians claims that the group’s real objective was to instigate the Sinai bedouin population against the government, attack tourist sites in the Sinai, topple the regime, or to launch attacks on the Suez Canal, Egypt or Israel.

“If helping the Palestinians is a crime, I officially admit to my crime … and if it is an accusation, we are proud of it,” Nasrallah replied.

According to Al-Ahram, the alleged “conspiracy” to depose Mubarak was first hatched when Hamas violated the ceasefire agreement with Israel – quite a remarkable plot indeed, considering the purported breach by Hamas never occurred. This is a myth routinely peddled by the Israeli government to justify their Gaza onslaught, and now one apparently being parroted by Egypt.

The reality is that Hamas abided by the ceasefire and only responded with rocket fire when Israel violated it, as they did on Nov. 5 when seven Palestinians were killed in an unprovoked airstrike. This is notwithstanding the inhumane 18-month siege to which Gazans were subjected; denying them food, clean water, medicine and basic humanitarian supplies. This embargo was not just a flagrant breach of international law but a prima facie act of war (and one in which Egypt, by keeping the vital Rafah border crossing with Gaza closed, was complicit).

The juvenile tone the Egyptian government-controlled press has adopted in discussing the current tension mirrors that of the leadership well. The Al-Ahram article called Qatar – Egypt’s new rival in the Arab world – a “tiny state.” According to the Los Angeles Times, one Egyptian columnist referred to that country’s emir, Sheikh Hamad Ibn Khalifa Al-Thani as “the chubby prince” while the state-owned Al-Gomhuria called Nasrallah a “monkey sheikh.”

Such childish language speaks poorly of the state of journalism and reporting by these mouthpieces (as one might expect). More important though is how Mubarak’s rousing conspiracy theories and deepening paranoia have caused Egypt to align itself closer to Israel than at any time past, yet further alienating him from ordinary Egyptians and the rest of the Arab world.

Although busy identifying enemies all around, Mubarak surely has not forgotten his greatest one: the Egyptian people. By attempting to distract them by laying blame on phantom menaces, he believes the credibility he lost during the Gaza war will somehow be restored.

But it will not. Nor will the people believe in the validity of his enemies list or the claims of his hired journalists.

Why?

Because they know that when Mubarak’s regime falls, it will not be at the hands of outside forces, but at their own.

– Rannie Amiri is an independent Middle East commentator.

George Galloway stoned in Egypt

March 9, 2009
March 9, 2009

MIDEAST: ‘EU Paying for Gaza Blockade’

February 22, 2009

By David Cronin | Inter Press Service

BRUSSELS, Feb 20 (IPS) – European Union aid has been given to an Israeli oil company which has reduced the supply of fuel to Gaza as part of an economic blockade internationally recognised as illegal, Brussels officials have admitted.

Almost 97 million euros (124 million dollars) in funds managed by the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, were handed over directly to the firm Dor Alon between February 2008 and January this year. Under orders from the Israeli authorities, Dor Alon has been rationing the amount of industrial diesel brought into Gaza in order to deprive its 1.5 million inhabitants of electricity. Power cuts have been a regular occurrence in Gaza because of Israeli actions undertaken since the militant party Hamas won an unexpected victory in Palestinian legislative elections during 2006.

Charles Shamas from the Mattin Group, an organisation based in the West Bank that monitors Europe’s relationship with Israel, said that the EU has been helping to accommodate the economic blockade of Gaza. This is despite how the Union’s most senior diplomats, including its foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, have condemned the blockade as ‘collective punishment’ of a civilian population. Collective punishment constitutes a war crime, according to the 1949 Geneva convention.

“The European Union has to give aid lawfully,” said Shamas. “That means a good faith effort not to conform to the wrongful acts of others. In this case, the EU is giving effect to wrongful measures by Israel. You can’t really credibly call on Israel to correct its behaviour if you are adjusting what you do to fit in to that behaviour.”

Christiane Hohmann, spokeswoman on external relations for the European Commission, said that the diesel provided by Dor Alon is used in a power plant that meets 30 percent of Gaza’s electricity requirements. Schools and hospitals are the primary beneficiaries of the EU’s aid, she added, stating that Dor Alon delivered more than 96 million litres to Gaza as a result of the money it received from the Commission over the past 12 months. Dor Alon has also benefitted from aid granted by Germany and Belgium, both EU member states.

“This is not abetting the blockade,” she said. “It is not part of it. What we are always saying to the Israelis is that they need to open the crossings (into Gaza). The heavy diesel needs to get in.”

The Commission’s aid is administered through a mechanism known as Pegase. Beginning its operations last year, Pegase is designed to bypass Hamas, while supporting activities run by its rival Fatah, the party in charge of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Hohmann stressed, however, that aid to Dor Alon is paid to the company itself and “doesn’t go through any Palestinian structure.”

A spokesman for Dor Alon said that any reduction in its deliveries to Gaza has been the result of Israeli government policies. “Dor Alon is a private company, it has to do whatever the ministry of defence tells us to do,” he added. “I cannot tell you that we deliver more one day and less another day. That doesn’t concern us. We follow orders in that matter.”

One of the four largest fuel companies in Israel, Dor Alon also owns two chains of convenience stores, Alonit and AM:PM. As well as its activities in Gaza, it runs a network of petrol stations and shops in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

“What’s happening here is that the Israeli economy is controlling access to the Palestinian markets to ensure the benefit of certain Israeli companies,” said Merav Amir, campaigner with the Coalition of Women for Peace, an organisation that studies how Israeli firms can profit from the occupation of Palestine.

Amir pointed out that all international aid destined to the Palestinian Authority has been routed through Israel since the Oslo accords. Signed between Israel’s president Shimon Peres, then foreign minister, and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in 1993, this was the first agreement negotiated face-to-face between the two sides. Yet while its official title referred to the self-government of the Palestinians, many observers feel that Israel has used the agreement to reinforce its control over the West Bank and Gaza.

“Israel holds a lot of money that actually belongs to the Palestinian Authority,” added Amir. “With some of that money, it pays the suppliers in a way that sustains the dependence of the Palestinian economy (on Israel). The European Union is in a position to pressure Israel to change how all of this is done.”

Chris Davies, a British Liberal member of the European Parliament, this week described how the blockade of Gaza, which he recently visited, is having devastating consequences in a densely populated area that is struggling to come to terms with the 22-day bombardment that Israel launched in late December last year.

Although 500 lorry loads of food and other supplies are needed each day in Gaza, Israel is only allowing 130 to pass through checkpoints controlled by its troops. “Paper for schools, nappies, water purifying tablets, concrete for rebuilding, they are all prohibited,” he said. “The normal life of a big city is impossible.”

Siegman: Israel’s Lies

January 26, 2009

Henry Siegman | London Review of  Books, January 29, 2009

Western governments and most of the Western media have accepted a number of Israeli claims justifying the military assault on Gaza: that Hamas consistently violated the six-month truce that Israel observed and then refused to extend it; that Israel therefore had no choice but to destroy Hamas’s capacity to launch missiles into Israeli towns; that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, part of a global jihadi network; and that Israel has acted not only in its own defence but on behalf of an international struggle by Western democracies against this network.

I am not aware of a single major American newspaper, radio station or TV channel whose coverage of the assault on Gaza questions this version of events. Criticism of Israel’s actions, if any (and there has been none from the Bush administration), has focused instead on whether the IDF’s carnage is proportional to the threat it sought to counter, and whether it is taking adequate measures to prevent civilian casualties.

Middle East peacemaking has been smothered in deceptive euphemisms, so let me state bluntly that each of these claims is a lie. Israel, not Hamas, violated the truce: Hamas undertook to stop firing rockets into Israel; in return, Israel was to ease its throttlehold on Gaza. In fact, during the truce, it tightened it further. This was confirmed not only by every neutral international observer and NGO on the scene but by Brigadier General (Res.) Shmuel Zakai, a former commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division. In an interview in Ha’aretz on 22 December, he accused Israel’s government of having made a ‘central error’ during the tahdiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce, by failing ‘to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip . . . When you create a tahdiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues,’ General Zakai said, ‘it is obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahdiyeh, and that their way to achieve this is resumed Qassam fire . . . You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they’re in, and expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing.’

The truce, which began in June last year and was due for renewal in December, required both parties to refrain from violent action against the other. Hamas had to cease its rocket assaults and prevent the firing of rockets by other groups such as Islamic Jihad (even Israel’s intelligence agencies acknowledged this had been implemented with surprising effectiveness), and Israel had to put a stop to its targeted assassinations and military incursions. This understanding was seriously violated on 4 November, when the IDF entered Gaza and killed six members of Hamas. Hamas responded by launching Qassam rockets and Grad missiles. Even so, it offered to extend the truce, but only on condition that Israel ended its blockade. Israel refused. It could have met its obligation to protect its citizens by agreeing to ease the blockade, but it didn’t even try. It cannot be said that Israel launched its assault to protect its citizens from rockets. It did so to protect its right to continue the strangulation of Gaza’s population.

Everyone seems to have forgotten that Hamas declared an end to suicide bombings and rocket fire when it decided to join the Palestinian political process, and largely stuck to it for more than a year. Bush publicly welcomed that decision, citing it as an example of the success of his campaign for democracy in the Middle East. (He had no other success to point to.) When Hamas unexpectedly won the election, Israel and the US immediately sought to delegitimise the result and embraced Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Fatah, who until then had been dismissed by Israel’s leaders as a ‘plucked chicken’. They armed and trained his security forces to overthrow Hamas; and when Hamas – brutally, to be sure – pre-empted this violent attempt to reverse the result of the first honest democratic election in the modern Middle East, Israel and the Bush administration imposed the blockade.

Israel seeks to counter these indisputable facts by maintaining that in withdrawing Israeli settlements from Gaza in 2005, Ariel Sharon gave Hamas the chance to set out on the path to statehood, a chance it refused to take; instead, it transformed Gaza into a launching-pad for firing missiles at Israel’s civilian population. The charge is a lie twice over. First, for all its failings, Hamas brought to Gaza a level of law and order unknown in recent years, and did so without the large sums of money that donors showered on the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. It eliminated the violent gangs and warlords who terrorised Gaza under Fatah’s rule. Non-observant Muslims, Christians and other minorities have more religious freedom under Hamas rule than they would have in Saudi Arabia, for example, or under many other Arab regimes.

The greater lie is that Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza was intended as a prelude to further withdrawals and a peace agreement. This is how Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weisglass, who was also his chief negotiator with the Americans, described the withdrawal from Gaza, in an interview with Ha’aretz in August 2004:

What I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements [i.e. the major settlement blocks on the West Bank] would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns . . . The significance [of the agreement with the US] is the freezing of the political process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And all this with [President Bush’s] authority and permission . . . and the ratification of both houses of Congress.

Do the Israelis and Americans think that Palestinians don’t read the Israeli papers, or that when they saw what was happening on the West Bank they couldn’t figure out for themselves what Sharon was up to?

Israel’s government would like the world to believe that Hamas launched its Qassam rockets because that is what terrorists do and Hamas is a generic terrorist group. In fact, Hamas is no more a ‘terror organisation’ (Israel’s preferred term) than the Zionist movement was during its struggle for a Jewish homeland. In the late 1930s and 1940s, parties within the Zionist movement resorted to terrorist activities for strategic reasons. According to Benny Morris, it was the Irgun that first targeted civilians. He writes in Righteous Victims that an upsurge of Arab terrorism in 1937 ‘triggered a wave of Irgun bombings against Arab crowds and buses, introducing a new dimension to the conflict’. He also documents atrocities committed during the 1948-49 war by the IDF, admitting in a 2004 interview, published in Ha’aretz, that material released by Israel’s Ministry of Defence showed that ‘there were far more Israeli acts of massacre than I had previously thought . . . In the months of April-May 1948, units of the Haganah were given operational orders that stated explicitly that they were to uproot the villagers, expel them, and destroy the villages themselves.’ In a number of Palestinian villages and towns the IDF carried out organised executions of civilians. Asked by Ha’aretz whether he condemned the ethnic cleansing, Morris replied that he did not:

A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population. It was necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads. It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on.

In other words, when Jews target and kill innocent civilians to advance their national struggle, they are patriots. When their adversaries do so, they are terrorists.

It is too easy to describe Hamas simply as a ‘terror organisation’. It is a religious nationalist movement that resorts to terrorism, as the Zionist movement did during its struggle for statehood, in the mistaken belief that it is the only way to end an oppressive occupation and bring about a Palestinian state. While Hamas’s ideology formally calls for that state to be established on the ruins of the state of Israel, this doesn’t determine Hamas’s actual policies today any more than the same declaration in the PLO charter determined Fatah’s actions.

These are not the conclusions of an apologist for Hamas but the opinions of the former head of Mossad and Sharon’s national security adviser, Ephraim Halevy. The Hamas leadership has undergone a change ‘right under our very noses’, Halevy wrote recently in Yedioth Ahronoth, by recognising that ‘its ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future.’ It is now ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state within the temporary borders of 1967. Halevy noted that while Hamas has not said how ‘temporary’ those borders would be, ‘they know that the moment a Palestinian state is established with their co-operation, they will be obligated to change the rules of the game: they will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original ideological goals.’ In an earlier article, Halevy also pointed out the absurdity of linking Hamas to al-Qaida.

In the eyes of al-Qaida, the members of Hamas are perceived as heretics due to their stated desire to participate, even indirectly, in processes of any understandings or agreements with Israel. [The Hamas political bureau chief, Khaled] Mashal’s declaration diametrically contradicts al-Qaida’s approach, and provides Israel with an opportunity, perhaps a historic one, to leverage it for the better.

Why then are Israel’s leaders so determined to destroy Hamas? Because they believe that its leadership, unlike that of Fatah, cannot be intimidated into accepting a peace accord that establishes a Palestinian ‘state’ made up of territorially disconnected entities over which Israel would be able to retain permanent control. Control of the West Bank has been the unwavering objective of Israel’s military, intelligence and political elites since the end of the Six-Day War.[*] They believe that Hamas would not permit such a cantonisation of Palestinian territory, no matter how long the occupation continues. They may be wrong about Abbas and his superannuated cohorts, but they are entirely right about Hamas.

Middle East observers wonder whether Israel’s assault on Hamas will succeed in destroying the organisation or expelling it from Gaza. This is an irrelevant question. If Israel plans to keep control over any future Palestinian entity, it will never find a Palestinian partner, and even if it succeeds in dismantling Hamas, the movement will in time be replaced by a far more radical Palestinian opposition.

If Barack Obama picks a seasoned Middle East envoy who clings to the idea that outsiders should not present their own proposals for a just and sustainable peace agreement, much less press the parties to accept it, but instead leave them to work out their differences, he will assure a future Palestinian resistance far more extreme than Hamas – one likely to be allied with al-Qaida. For the US, Europe and most of the rest of the world, this would be the worst possible outcome. Perhaps some Israelis, including the settler leadership, believe it would serve their purposes, since it would provide the government with a compelling pretext to hold on to all of Palestine. But this is a delusion that would bring about the end of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Anthony Cordesman, one of the most reliable military analysts of the Middle East, and a friend of Israel, argued in a 9 January report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the tactical advantages of continuing the operation in Gaza were outweighed by the strategic cost – and were probably no greater than any gains Israel may have made early in the war in selective strikes on key Hamas facilities. ‘Has Israel somehow blundered into a steadily escalating war without a clear strategic goal, or at least one it can credibly achieve?’ he asks. ‘Will Israel end in empowering an enemy in political terms that it defeated in tactical terms? Will Israel’s actions seriously damage the US position in the region, any hope of peace, as well as moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process? To be blunt, the answer so far seems to be yes.’ Cordesman concludes that ‘any leader can take a tough stand and claim that tactical gains are a meaningful victory. If this is all that Olmert, Livni and Barak have for an answer, then they have disgraced themselves and damaged their country and their friends.’

15 January

Cornering of Civilians Unprecedented, Says UN Official

January 24, 2009

By David Cronin BRUSSELS | Inter Press Service

Jan 22 (IPS) – Israel’s refusal to allow civilians any exit route from Gaza as its defence forces rained bombs down on schools and houses appears unprecedented in modern warfare, a United Nations investigator has said. Richard Falk, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, described the sealing off of the Gaza Strip in order to ensure that nobody could flee it as “a distinct, new and sinister war crime.” “For the first time in a military operation, the civilian population as a whole has been locked into a war zone,” he told a meeting of the European Parliament by telephone. “No children, women, sick people or disabled people were allowed to leave. For the first time, the option of becoming a refugee has been withheld.” Arguing that the conduct of the three-week offensive against Gaza could amount to a “horrible abuse of Israel’s role as the occupying power,” he noted that international law – particularly the 1949 Geneva convention – obliges the occupier to provide adequate food and medical facilities to the population it seeks to control. The 18-month blockade which preceded Operation Cast Lead was “unlawful”, he added. Aged 78, Falk boasts a lengthy record as an academic, and as a campaigner for disarmament and human rights and on environmental issues. Yet his outspoken defence of Palestinian civilians has made him something of a persona non grata for the Israeli government. Last year it refused to allow him to enter the occupied territories, accusing him of an anti-Israel bias. Zvi Tal, deputy head of Israel’s embassy to the European Union, sought to defend the attacks on Gaza by describing the situation there as “a very peculiar one.” Since the Islamic organisation Hamas fought its rival Fatah over who should administer Gaza in 2007, the territory has had the status of a “hostile entity”, he said, claiming that Israel bombed UN schools because some gunmen had taken shelter there “in order to drag us in.” “Sometimes in the heat of fire and the exchange of fire, we do make mistakes,” Tal told IPS. “We’re not infallible.” Of the 1,330 people killed during the operation, 904 were civilians. The Palestinian ministry of health has stated that the dead included 437 children, 123 elderly men and 110 women. By contrast, 13 Israelis, three of them non-combatants, lost their lives. Raji Sourani, Gaza-based director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, noted that more bodies are continuously being extricated from the rubble of razed buildings. He said 27 persons died Jan. 21 alone from injuries in the bombing. He castigated the EU for not taking a firm line against Israel’s actions. The Union abstained from voting on a motion put before the UN Human Rights Council earlier this month on the need to investigate violations of human rights and humanitarian law by Israel. The Czech Republic, which holds the EU presidency, said the motion “addressed only one side of the conflict.” Sourani also protested at the decision of EU governments in December to go ahead with a planned upgrading of their relations with Israel. Despite numerous reports that Israel was systematically discriminating against Palestinians, the EU agreed to continue with moves to make Israel a ‘privileged partner’. This would integrate Israel into the EU’s single market to a large degree. “It is a shame to see the conspiracy of silence from official Europe,” Sourani added. “It is a shame that Europe rewarded Israel’s de facto apartheid system and its economic and social suffocation of Gaza by upgrading relations with Israel.” Next week, the EU’s foreign ministers will assess the situation in Gaza when they meet in Brussels. A Cypriot member of the European Parliament (MEP) Kyriacos Triantaphyllides, urged them to call off efforts to develop closer ties with Israel. “We can’t talk about upgrading relations with Israel at the moment,” he said. “I’m sorry, we just can’t.” Hélène Flautre, a French Green MEP, dismissed claims by Israel that it had to bomb schools because Hamas may have been firing from them. “Just because a fighter is in a school, you cannot go and kill a hundred civilians,” she said. “That is not allowed under international law.” Normally, the Red Cross, a humanitarian organisation, refrains from making public comments. Yet it has strongly denounced Israel’s activities in Gaza, complaining about how children have been found hungry beside the corpses of their parents because aid workers had been preventing from reaching them. Vincent Cassard, deputy head of the organisation’s Middle East division, complained that “a number of people died because of lack of access to healthcare” and that half of Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants do not have proper access to water or sanitation. He also protested at how the Al-Quds hospital, run by the Palestinian Red Crescent society, had been targeted by Israeli forces. Filippo Grandi, deputy chief of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said that up to 50,000 people sought refuge in schools operated by his agency. On at least three occasions civilians were killed inside or in the immediate vicinity of those schools. He argued that unless the blockade of Gaza is lifted and progress made towards resolving the underlying political problems there, recovery from Israel’s offensive “will be difficult and I fear impossible.” (END/2009)

Israel admits using white phosphorous in attacks on Gaza

January 24, 2009

January 24, 2009

Palestinian civilians and medics run to safety during an Israeli strike over a UN school in Beit Lahia

(Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

The incident being investigated is believed to be the firing of white phosphorous shells at a UN school in Beit Lahiya on January 17

After weeks of denying that it used white phosphorus in the heavily populated Gaza Strip, Israel finally admitted yesterday that the weapon was deployed in its offensive.

The army’s use of white phosphorus – which makes a distinctive shellburst of dozens of smoke trails – was reported first by The Times on January 5, when it was strenuously denied by the army. Now, in the face of mounting evidence and international outcry, Israel has been forced to backtrack on that initial denial. “Yes, phosphorus was used but not in any illegal manner,” Yigal Palmor, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told The Times. “Some practices could be illegal but we are going into that. The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) is holding an investigation concerning one specific incident.”

The incident in question is thought to be the firing of phosphorus shells at a UN school in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip on January 17. The weapon is legal if used as a smokescreen in battle but it is banned from deployment in civilian areas. Pictures of the attack show Palestinian medics fleeing as blobs of burning phosphorus rain down on the compound.

A senior army official also admitted that shells containing phosphorus had been used in Gaza but said that they were used to provide a smokescreen.

The Ministry of Defence gave lawyers the task before the attack of investigating the legal consequences of deploying white phosphorus – commonly stocked in Nato arsenals and used by US and British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan – inside the Gaza Strip, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, and one of the most densely populated places in the world.

“From what I know, at least one month before it was used a legal team had been consulted on the implications,” an Israeli defence official said. He added that Israel was surprised about the public outcry. “Everyone knew we were using it, and everyone else uses it. We didn’t think it would get this much attention,” he said.

Because Israel is not a signatory to the treaty that created the International Court of Justice in The Hague, it cannot be tried there. Any country that is a signatory to the Geneva Convention, however, can try to prosecute individuals who took part in the Gaza operation as culpable of war crimes.

Despite a denial when The Times first reported the use of white phosphorus, an army spokeswoman said yesterday that the military had never tried to cover up its deployment. “There was never any denial from the beginning,” she said.

– President Sarkozy of France ordered the deployment of a frigate to international waters off Gaza to patrol against arms smuggling into the territory. Preventative measures against arms trafficking are one of Israel’s demands for a peace deal with Hamas. The warship will conduct surveillance with Egypt and Israel, the French presidency said.

CHANGING TUNE

January 5 The Times reports that telltale smoke has appeared from areas of shelling. Israel denies using phosphorus

January 8 The Times reports photographic evidence showing stockpiles of white phosphorus (WP) shells. Israel Defence Forces spokesman says: “This is what we call a quiet shell – it has no explosives and no white phosphorus”

January 12 The Times reports that more than 50 phosphorus burns victims are taken into Nasser Hospital. An Israeli military spokesman “categorically” denies the use of white phosphorus

January 15 Remnants of white phosphorus shells are found in western Gaza. The IDF refuses to comment on specific weaponry but insists ammunition is “within the scope of international law”

January 16 The United Nations Relief and Works Agency headquarters are hit with phosphorus munitions. The Israeli military continues to deny its use

January 21 Avital Leibovich, Israel’s military spokeswoman, admits white phosphorus munitions were employed in a manner “according to international law”

January 23 Israel says it is launching an investigation into white phosphorus munitions, which hit a UN school on January 17. “Some practices could be illegal but we are going into that. The IDF is holding an investigation concerning one specific unit and one incident” Source: Times database

Gazing On Gaza

January 22, 2009

By Ninotchka Rosca | PinoyPress, Manila, Jan 22, 2009

The pale moon ruled over my last three nights in Hawaii, laying a magical veneer over an already perfect landscape. As I watched it from the 25th floor lanai (balcony), I wondered if it was refusing to shine over Gaza, so as not to witness a continuing inhumanity of human beings upon human beings.

Years ago, I used to wonder how Israel could do what it was doing to the Palestinians, or even to ally itself with the apartheid government of White South Africa – but since then, I’ve seen the abused take on the persona of the abuser – prisoners doing the guards’ work, women maligning other women – all to align themselves with brute authority. Underlying the repetitive cycle of violence is survival at all costs – and Israel has bluntly used and overused this to justify the most extreme measures taken against a people whose land and patrimony it expropriated in successive acts of violence.

The siege of Gaza underscores the senselessness of what has gone on with the Palestinians: the assault began for no reason, continues with no clear far-reaching objective and ends without any goal reached. Population control, perhaps?

For the last 50 years, Israel has gotten away with this by stoking the guilt feelings of the West by elevating victimhood as the hallmark of its history. The Germans, if for nothing else, owe the Palestinians a great debt of gratitude for having taken their place as villains in Israel’s self-image as victim and for enduring collective punishment for a Holocaust they did not commit.

Deeper still, behind all these surface relationships, lies the Bush administration’s determination to leave as much of a mess as possible for the new political leadership. Make no mistake about it: this was Bush’s last war. Israel would not have embarked on this silly adventure without a go-signal from the US government. It was a last flip of the finger to the people of the US – to the millions who marched against the invasion of Iraq and those who now march against the siege of Gaza.

There are those who leave an office or a residence neat and clean, ready for the next occupant; there are those who improve on what they find and leave behind potential for even greater achievement; and there are those who make sure that they’ve thoroughly messed up the terrain so that it would be impossible to accomplish, much less change, anything. Legacies are determined not simply by accomplishment but what doors have been opened, what new pathways have been created, what possibilities have been made clear… Bush’s legacy is a complicated political terrain that leaves his successor very little maneuverability.

The old leadership refuses to let go while the new hasn’t crystallized a vision for how it will govern. And we are all held hostage at this between the intake of breath and its release.

Does the moon also shine over Gaza?

Chomsky: Undermining Gaza

January 21, 2009

By Sameer Dossani |January 16, 2009

Foreign Policy In Focus

Editor: Emily Schwartz Greco

Noam Chomsky is a noted linguist, author, and foreign policy expert. Sameer Dossani interviewed him about the conflict between Israel and Gaza.

DOSSANI: The Israeli government and many Israeli and U.S. officials claim that the current assault on Gaza is to put an end to the flow of Qassam rockets from Gaza into Israel. But many observers claim that if that were really the case, Israel would have made much more of an effort to renew the ceasefire agreement that expired in December, which had all but stopped the rocket fire. In your opinion, what are the real motivations behind the current Israeli action?

CHOMSKY: There’s a theme that goes way back to the origins of Zionism. And it’s a very rational theme: “Let’s delay negotiations and diplomacy as long as possible, and meanwhile we’ll ‘build facts on the ground.’” So Israel will create the basis for what some eventual agreement will ratify, but the more they create, the more they construct, the better the agreement will be for their purposes. Those purposes are essentially to take over everything of value in the former Palestine and to undermine what’s left of the indigenous population.

I think one of the reasons for popular support for this in the United States is that it resonates very well with American history. How did the United States get established? The themes are similar.

There are many examples of this theme being played out throughout Israel’s history, and the current situation is another case. They have a very clear program. Rational hawks like Ariel Sharon realized that it’s crazy to keep 8,000 settlers using one-third of the land and much of the scarce supplies in Gaza, protected by a large part of the Israeli army while the rest of the society around them is just rotting. So it’s best to take them out and send them to the West Bank. That’s the place that they really care about and want.

What was called a “disengagement” in September 2005 was actually a transfer. They were perfectly frank and open about it. In fact, they extended settlement building programs in the West Bank at the very same time that they were withdrawing a few thousand people from Gaza. So Gaza should be turned into a cage, a prison basically, with Israel attacking it at will, and meanwhile in the West Bank we’ll take what we want. There was nothing secret about it.

Ehud Olmert was in the United States in May 2006 a couple of months after the withdrawal. He simply announced to a joint session of Congress and to rousing applause, that the historic right of Jews to the entire land of Israel is beyond question. He announced what he called his convergence program, which is just a version of the traditional program; it goes back to the Allon plan of 1967. Israel would essentially annex valuable land and resources near the green line (the 1967 border). That land is now behind the wall that Israel built in the West Bank, which is an annexation wall. That means the arable land, the main water resources, the pleasant suburbs around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and the hills and so on. They’ll take over the Jordan valley, which is about a third of the West Bank, where they’ve been settling since the late 60s. Then they’ll drive a couple of super highways through the whole territory — there’s one to the east of Jerusalem to the town of Ma’aleh Adumim which was built mostly in the 1990s, during the Oslo years. It was built essentially to bisect the West Bank and are two others up north that includes Ariel and Kedumim and other towns which pretty much bisect what’s left. They’ll set up check points and all sorts of means of harassment in the other areas and the population that’s left will be essentially cantonized and unable to live a decent life and if they want to leave, great. Or else they will be picturesque figures for tourists — you know somebody leading a goat up a hill in the distance — and meanwhile Israelis, including settlers, will drive around on “Israeli only” super highways. Palestinians can make do with some little road somewhere where you’re falling into a ditch if it’s raining. That’s the goal. And it’s explicit. You can’t accuse them of deception because it’s explicit. And it’s cheered here.

DOSSANI: In terms of U.S. support, last week the UN Security Council adopted a resolution calling for a cease fire. Is this a change, particularly in light of the fact that the U.S. did not veto the resolution, but rather abstained, allowing it to be passed?

CHOMSKY: Right after the 1967 war, the Security Council had strong resolutions condemning Israel’s move to expand and take over Jerusalem. Israel just ignored them. Because the U.S. pats them on the head and says “go ahead and violate them.” There’s a whole series of resolutions from then up until today, condemning the settlements, which as Israel knew and as everyone agreed were in violation of the Geneva conventions. The United States either vetoes the resolutions or sometimes votes for them, but with a wink saying, “go ahead anyway, and we’ll pay for it and give you the military support for it.” It’s a consistent pattern. During the Oslo years, for example, settlement construction increased steadily, in violation of what the Oslo agreement was theoretically supposed to lead to. In fact the peak year of settlement was Clinton’s last year, 2000. And it continued again afterward. It’s open and explicit.

To get back to the question of motivation, they have sufficient military control over the West Bank to terrorize the population into passivity. Now that control is enhanced by the collaborationist forces that the U.S., Jordan, and Egypt have trained in order to subdue the population. In fact if you take a look at the press the last couple of weeks, if there’s a demonstration in the West Bank in support of Gaza, the Fatah security forces crush it. That’s what they’re there for. Fatah by now is more or less functioning as Israel’s police force in the West Bank. But the West Bank is only part of the occupied Palestinian territories. The other part is Gaza, and no one doubts that they form a unit. And there still is resistance in Gaza, those rockets. So yes, they want to stamp that out too, then there will be no resistance at all and they can continue to do what they want to do without interference, meanwhile delaying diplomacy as much as possible and “building the facts” the way they want to. Again this goes back to the origins of Zionism. It varies of course depending on circumstances, but the fundamental policy is the same and perfectly understandable. If you want to take over a country where the population doesn’t want you, I mean, how else can you do it? How was this country conquered?

DOSSANI: What you describe is a tragedy.

CHOMSKY: It’s a tragedy which is made right here. The press won’t talk about it and even scholarship, for the most part, won’t talk about it but the fact of the matter is that there has been a political settlement on the table, on the agenda for 30 years. Namely a two-state settlement on the international borders with maybe some mutual modification of the border. That’s been there officially since 1976 when there was a Security Council resolution proposed by the major Arab states and supported by the (Palestinan Liberation Organization) PLO, pretty much in those terms. The United States vetoed it so it’s therefore out of history and it’s continued almost without change since then.

There was in fact one significant modification. In the last month of Clinton’s term, January 2001 there were negotiations, which the U.S. authorized, but didn’t participate in, between Israel and the Palestinians and they came very close to agreement.

DOSSANI: The Taba negotiations?

Yes, the Taba negotiations. The two sides came very close to agreement. They were called off by Israel. But that was the one week in over 30 years when the United States and Israel abandoned their rejectionist position. It’s a real tribute to the media and other commentators that they can keep this quiet. The U.S. and Israel are alone in this. The international consensus includes virtually everyone. It includes the Arab League which has gone beyond that position and called for the normalization of relations, it includes Hamas. Every time you see Hamas in the newspapers, it says “Iranian-backed Hamas which wants to destroy Israel.” Try to find a phrase that says “democratically elected Hamas which is calling for a two-state settlement” and has been for years. Well, yeah, that’s a good propaganda system. Even in the U.S. press they’ve occasionally allowed op-eds by Hamas leaders, Ismail Haniya and others saying, yes we want a two-state settlement on the international border like everyone else.

DOSSANI: When did Hamas adopt that position?

CHOMSKY That’s their official position taken by Haniya, the elected leader, and Khalid Mesh’al, their political leader who’s in exile in Syria, he’s written the same thing. And it’s over and over again. There’s no question about it but the West doesn’t want to hear it. So therefore it’s Hamas which is committed to the destruction of Israel.

In a sense they are, but if you went to a Native American reservation in the United States, I’m sure many would like to see the destruction of the United States. If you went to Mexico and took a poll, I’m sure they don’t recognize the right of the United States to exist sitting on half of Mexico, land conquered in war. And that’s true all over the world. But they’re willing to accept a political settlement. Israel isn’t willing to accept it and the United States isn’t willing to accept it. And they’re the lone hold-outs. Since it’s the United States that pretty much runs the world, it’s blocked.

Here it’s always presented as though the United States must become more engaged; it’s an honest broker; Bush’s problem was that he neglected the issue. That’s not the problem. The problem is that the United States has been very much engaged, and engaged in blocking a political settlement and giving the material and ideological and diplomatic support for the expansion programs, which are just criminal programs. The world court unanimously, including the American justice, agreed that any transfer of population into the Occupied Territories is a violation of a fundamental international law, the Geneva Conventions. And Israel agrees. In fact even their courts agree, they just sort of sneak around it in various devious ways. So there’s no question about this. It’s just sort of accepted in the United States that we’re an outlaw state. Law doesn’t apply to us. That’s why it’s never discussed.

Sameer Dossani, a Foreign Policy In Focus contributor, is the director of 50 Years is Enough and blogs at shirinandsameer.blogspot.com


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