Posts Tagged ‘UNRWA’

UN raises questions on Israeli plan on Gaza siege

June 23, 2010
UN raises questions on Israeli plan on Gaza siege
UN official called the blockade “absurd, counterproductive and illegal”, citing elements in Israel’s easing plan.
World Bulletin, 23 June 2010

The head of the United Nations’ Palestinian refugee agency said on Wednesday the fine print of Israel’s pledge to ease its Gaza blockade raised questions about how effective it would prove to be.

Under international pressure over a deadly Israeli raid on a relief aid flotilla bound for Gaza that killed nine Turkish activists, Israel last week announced it would ease the siege on Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office released few details about the possible changes in its three-year-old blockade, and it was not clear whether any firm decisions had been made.

But, the announcement did not specify how procedures for the import of commercial goods would change or list any specific products, saying only that cabinet ministers would decide in the coming days how to implement the new policy.

The siege has prevented Gaza from rebuilding after Israel’s deadly assault in the territory last year.

There was no mention in the statement of any change in other damaging aspects of the blockade, like bans on exports or allowing in raw materials used in industrial production.

Filippo Grandi, commissioner-general of the refugee agency known as UNRWA, called the blockade “absurd, counterproductive and illegal” and cited elements in Israel’s easing plan that left unclear how it would be fully implemented.

“They’re talking about items that will be allowed for certain times and not other times, depending on who the consignee is. So it’s still very complicated,” he told reporters in Beirut. “We have seen some broad statements of how they will do it but the devil is in the detail. We have to see how this will be done and we haven’t seen it yet.

“We’ve seen many times declarations and statements,” Grandi added. “But now we want to see facts … Believe me, it’s very urgent, because the conditions are very bad on the ground.”

Human rights groups and other critics slam the siege as collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians.

Grandi called for Gaza’s land crossings to be opened.

UNRWA has said Israel must reopen the Karni cargo terminal on Gaza’s northeast boundary that is large enough to allow industrial-scale shipments of cement, building materials and aid. Instead, trucks are now routed to a narrower crossing.

Israel’s naval blockade will also remain in force.


Peace must begin with the plight of Palestine’s refugees

December 8, 2009

Sixty years after the UN moved to address the fate of the dispossessed, we need to accept that the injustice endures

Karen Abu Zayd, The Guardian/UK, Dec 8, 2009

Sixty years ago today the United Nations general assembly voted into existence a temporary body known as UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. UNRWA’s task was to deal with the humanitarian consequences of the dispossession of some three-quarters of a million Palestine refugees forced by the 1948 Middle East war to abandon their homes and flee their ancestral lands. Just two decades later, the six-day war generated another spasm of violence and forced displacement, culminating in the occupation of Palestinian territory. Today, anguished exile remains the lot of Palestinians and Palestine refugees. The occupation of Palestinian land persists, there is no Palestinian state, and the human rights and fundamental freedoms to which Palestinians are entitled under international law do not exist.

Continued >>

Lies and Israel’s war crimes

July 29, 2009

Ben White, The Electronic Intifada, 28 July 2009

A Palestinian UN worker inspects debris after an Israeli air strike on a UN school in Gaza where civilians were seeking refuge, 17 January 2009. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)

This month marked six months since the “official” conclusion to Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip, “Operation Cast Lead.” From 27 December to 18 January, the might of the one of the world’s strongest militaries laid waste to a densely-packed territory of 1.4 million Palestinians without an escape route.

The parallel propaganda battle fought by Israel’s official and unofficial apologists continued after the ceasefire, in a desperate struggle to combat the repeated reports by human rights groups of breaches of international law. This article will look at some of the strategies of this campaign of disinformation, confusion, and lies — and the reality of Israel’s war crimes in the Gaza Strip. Very early on in Operation Cast Lead, the scale of Israel’s attack became apparent. In just the first six days the Israeli Air Force carried out more than 500 sorties against targets in the Gaza Strip. That amounted to an attack from the air roughly every 18 minutes — not counting hundreds of helicopter attacks, tank and navy shelling, and infantry raids. All of this on a territory similar in size to the US city of Seattle.

Continues >>

MIDEAST: Aid Agencies Slam Gaza Blockade

June 22, 2009

By Mel Frykberg | Inter Press Service

RAMALLAH, Jun 20 (IPS) – Forty international aid agencies and NGOs have released a joint statement condemning Israel’s blockade of Gaza, to mark the second anniversary of the coastal territory being hermetically sealed off from the outside world.

“We, United Nations and non-governmental humanitarian organisations, express deepening concern over Israel’s continued blockade of the Gaza Strip which has now been in force for two years.

“These indiscriminate sanctions are affecting the entire 1.5 million population of Gaza, and ordinary women, children and the elderly are the first victims,” read the statement, to mark the anniversary Wednesday.

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Gaza: Bombs, Missiles, Tanks And Bulldozers

June 20, 2009

Transcript of former US President Jimmy Carter’s Address to the United Nations Relief Works Agency’s Human Rights Graduation in Gaza, June 16, 2009.

By Jimmy Carter | Information Clearing House, June 16, 2009

Director of UNRWA operations John Ging, thank you for inviting me to Gaza. Distinguished guests, children of Gaza, I am grateful for your warm reception.

I first visited Gaza 36 years ago and returned during the 1980s and later for the very successful Palestinian elections. Although under occupation, this community was relatively peaceful and prosperous. Now, the aftermath of bombs, missiles, tanks, bulldozers and the continuing economic siege have brought death, destruction, pain, and suffering to the people here. Tragically, the international community largely ignores the cries for help, while the citizens of Gaza are being treated more like animals than human beings.

Last week, a group of Israelis and Americans tried to cross into Gaza through Erez, bringing toys and children’s playground equipment – slides, swings, kites, and magic castles for your children. They were stopped at the gate and prevented from coming. I understand even paper and crayons are treated as “security hazards” and not permitted to enter Gaza. I sought an explanation for this policy in Israel, but did not receive a satisfactory answer – because there is none.

The responsibility for this terrible human rights crime lies in Jerusalem, Cairo, Washington, and throughout the international community. This abuse must cease; the crimes must be investigated; the walls must be brought down, and the basic right of freedom must come to you.

Almost one-half of Gaza’s 1.5 million people are children, whose lives are being shaped by poverty, hunger, violence, and despair. More than 50,000 families had their homes destroyed or damaged in January, and parents are in mourning for the 313 innocent children who were killed.

The situation in Gaza is grim, but all hope is not lost. Amidst adversity, you continue to possess both dignity and determination to work towards a brighter tomorrow. That is why educating children is so important.

I have come to Gaza to help the world know what important work you are doing. UNRWA is here to ensure that the 200,000 children in its schools can develop their talent, express their dynamism, and help create the path to a better future.

The human rights curriculum is teaching children about their rights and also about their responsibilities. UNRWA is teaching about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the struggle for these rights all over the world, Gaza’s children are learning that as you seek justice for yourselves, you must be sure that your behavior provides justice for others.

They are learning that it is wrong to fire rockets that may kill Israeli children. They are learning that arbitrary detention and the summary execution of political opponents is not acceptable. They are learning that the rule of law must be honored here in Gaza.

I would like to congratulate both UNRWA and the children who have completed the human rights curriculum with distinction. They are tomorrow’s leaders.

In addition to the tragedy of occupation, the lack of unity among Palestinians is causing a deteriorating atmosphere here in Gaza, in Ramallah, and throughout the West Bank.

Palestinians want more than just to survive. They hope to lead the Arab world, to be a bridge between modern political life and traditions that date back to the Biblical era. The nation you will create must be pluralistic and democratic – the new Palestine that your intellectuals have dreamt about. Palestine must combine the best of the East and the West. The Palestinian state, like the land, must be blessed for all people. Jerusalem must be shared with everyone who loves it – Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

With our new leaders in Washington, my country will move into the forefront of this birth of a new Palestine. We were all reminded of this renewed hope and commitment by President Obama’s recent speech in Cairo.

President Obama’s resolve to resume the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process based on the principle of two states for two peoples must be welcomed. This vision of two sovereign nations living as neighbors is not a mere convenient phrase. It is the basis for a lasting peace for this entire region, including Syria and Lebanon.

We all know that a necessary step is the ending of the siege of Gaza – the starving of 1 ½ million people of the necessities of life. Never before in history has a large community been savaged by bombs and missiles and then deprived of the means to repair itself. The issue of who controls Gaza is not an obstacle. As the World Bank has pointed out, funds can be channeled through a number of independent mechanisms and effective implementing agencies.

Although funds are available, not a sack of cement nor a piece of lumber has been permitted to enter the closed gates from Israel and Egypt. I have seen with my own eyes that progress is negligible.

My country and our friends in Europe must do all that is necessary to persuade Israel and Egypt to allow basic materials into Gaza. At the same time, there must be no more rockets and mortar shells falling on Israeli citizens.

I met this week with the parents of Corporal Gilad Shalit, and have with me a letter that I hope can be delivered to their son. I have also met with many Palestinians who plead for the freedom of their 11,700 loved ones imprisoned by the Israelis, including 400 women and children. Many of them have been imprisoned for many years, held without trial, with no access to their families or to legal counsel. Rational negotiations and a comprehensive peace can end this suffering on both sides.

I know it is difficult now, surrounded by terrible destruction, to see a future of independence and dignity in a Palestinian state, but this goal can and must be achieved. I know too that it is hard for you to accept Israel and live in peace with those who have caused your suffering. However, Palestinian statehood cannot come at the expense of Israel’s security, just as Israel’s security can not come at the expense of Palestinian statehood.

In his speech in Cairo, President Obama said that Hamas has support among Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a full role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, accept existing peace agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

I have urged Hamas leaders to accept these conditions, and they have made statements and taken actions that suggest they are ready to join the peace process and move toward the creation of an independent and just Palestinian state.

Khaled Mashaal has assured me that Hamas will accept a final status agreement negotiated by the Palestinian Authority and Israel if the Palestinian people approve it in a referendum. Hamas has offered a reciprocal ceasefire with Israel throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Unfortunately, neither the Israeli leaders nor Hamas accept the terms of the Oslo Agreement of 1993, but the Arab Peace Initiative is being considered now by all sides.

I have personally witnessed free and fair elections in Palestine when Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas were elected president and when legislative members were chosen for your parliament. I hope to return next January for a similar event that will unite all Palestinians as you seek a proud and peaceful future.

Ladies and gentlemen, children of Gaza, thank you for inviting me and for sharing this happy occasion with me. Congratulations for your achievements.

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)

The UN in Israel’s Crosshairs

January 19, 2009

By Rannie Amiri | Counterpunch, January  16 – 18, 2009

History will record Israel’s onslaught in Gaza as noteworthy not only for the wide destruction of institutions of state and civil society, but for the deliberate targeting of the United Nations and the refugees it aided and sheltered. And it certainly would not be the first time Israel has done so.

On Jan. 15, in its most brazen act yet, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) shelled the Gaza headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Words Agency (UNRWA), the primary body responsible for feeding and assisting Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip and beyond. At the time of the attack, the compound housed more than 700 civilians seeking shelter from the war and its warehouses stored thousands of pounds of critical, and desperately needed, food and humanitarian supplies.

Even more sinister was the weapon employed: White Phosphorus (WP).

WP is known to cause severe, deep, and difficult to treat burns when it comes in contact with skin. Despite denials by the IDF, there is evidence of its use in Gaza and reports detailing significant burn injuries to civilians as a result. Its use as a weapon is a flagrant violation of international law and the UN’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

WP bombs and shells are classified as incendiary devices and the structures they hit continue burn for long periods since the fires they cause are not extinguished by conventional means (water, fire extinguishers, etc).

As food, fuel and other supplies went up in flames at the headquarters—a location well-known to the Israelis who were given its precise GPS coordinates—UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness aptly remarked, “What more stark symbolism do you need?”

Indeed, the sordid history and pattern of Israel’s intentional targeting of UN compounds and schools in Lebanon and Gaza is ripe with symbolism, as is the usual flurry of contradictory excuses, apologies and justifications that predictably follow.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak deemed this most recent attack a “grave mistake” while Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said it was justified because missiles were allegedly launched there.

This very same sequence of events has been played out time and time again: a UN facility targeting refugees Israel helped create is shelled, a subsequent apology, excuse, and justification issued (usually that it was being used by ‘militants’), then little to no evidence substantiating the attack presented.

The following all share in this tragic history; where the innocent were massacred, and the assumption that the humanitarian auspices of the UN could protect non-combatants from Israeli shelling, shattered.

Qana, 1996

The year was 1996 and Israel was only six weeks away from upcoming elections (sound familiar?). Prime Minister Shimon Peres was expecting a stiff challenge from Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu. At the time, Israel was occupying southern Lebanon. Along with its proxy militia, the South Lebanese Army, they continued to fruitlessly battle Hezbollah despite their repeated failure to eradicate the group’s resistance. What Israel really needed to do, and has done prior to all its military adventures, was provoke the enemy enough to elicit a significant response. That response would then be used as pretext for initiating an all-out assault.

It came on March 30 when an Israeli gunship fired on two men, both civilians, working on a water tower in Yater, Lebanon, killing both. Hezbollah retaliated by firing missiles into northern Israel. Then, when a teenager died after a roadside bomb exploded in the village of Barashit and Hezbollah again responded with rockets, Peres had what he needed. Under the pretense of stopping the attacks and protecting the country’s northern border, “Operation Grapes of Wrath” was launched on April 11.

It didn’t take long before Israel committed its first wartime atrocity. On April 18, a UN compound in the southern Lebanese village of Qana, where more than 800 civilians had sought refuge, was shelled. One hundred and six civilians were massacred.

Peres said, “We did not know that several hundred people were concentrated in that camp. It came to us as a bitter surprise.” The military claimed it was due to “incorrect targeting based on erroneous data.” That was hard to believe, however, considering they had long been made aware of the compound’s location. In fact, a UNIFIL soldier filmed a drone and helicopters flying above the facility at the time of the attack. Tired allegations that Hezbollah fighters were using civilians as ‘human shields’ also fell flat.

A UN investigation concluded that: “The pattern of impacts is inconsistent with a normal overshooting of the declared target (the mortar site) … as suggested by the Israeli forces; during the shelling, there was a perceptible shift in the weight of fire from the mortar site to the United Nations compound”; and it was “unlikely that the shelling of the United Nations compound was the result of gross technical and/or procedural errors.”

The investigation conducted by Amnesty International succinctly stated: “The IDF intentionally attacked the UN compound … The IDF have failed to substantiate their claim that the attack was a mistake.”

The shifting explanations and excuses the Israelis had offered were solely for appeasing the international community. They knew their real message had been delivered.

Jabaliya, 2009

The assault on Gaza, dubbed “Operation Cast Lead” is almost into itsfourth week. It was on Jan. 6, though, that the single largest loss of life since the beginning of the campaign occurred. Not surprisingly, it was another UN facility that was targeted. This time it was the Al-Fakhura girls school located in the Jabaliya refugee camp north of Gaza City. Two-hundred eighty families had taken refuge there, numbering 1,674 people. Most came from the town of Beit Lahiya to the north after being ordered to evacuate by the IDF.

Despite the school flying the distinctive UN flag and its location by GPS coordinates known, Israeli tank shells struck the school, spraying shrapnel inside and outside the building. Forty-six people were killed (including 20 children) and 55 wounded. Paramedics and eyewitnesses reported seeing “limbs and meat” in the street afterward.

As with Qana, the same justifications for the attack—conducted “according to procedures”—were put forth by the Israelis and just as quickly refuted.

It was alleged that Hamas fighters were operating out of the school. John Ging, director of the UNRWA in Gaza vehemently denied this, saying all people taking shelter there had been thoroughly vetted and there were “…no military people inside the school; it is fully controlled.”

The Israelis then decided to release footage of the purported “militant gunfire” coming from the school. But not only did the footage date back to 2007, it was of a different school, in a different city! (and not run by the UN).

It was ultimately acknowledged that no shooting came from there. According to Gunness:

“In briefings senior officers conducted for foreign diplomats, they admitted the shelling to which IDF forces in Jabaliya were responding did not originate from the school” (Haaretz, 11 Jan 2009).

Many different and often contradictory stories have since been issued by the Israelis. As before, the underlining message had been effectively delivered.

Other UN schools – Al-Shouka, Asma

Al-Shouka school in Rafah and Asma primary school in Gaza City were also bombed by the Israelis in “Operation Cast Lead”. At Asma, three cousins were killed among the 400 people housed there who had fled fighting to the north.

So what were the Qana and Jabaliya massacres and the deliberate attack on Gaza’s UN headquarters meant to illustrate?

It is that not only sympathizers, but any civilian located in remote proximity to Israel’s enemies will be targeted. In addition, retribution will not only be exacted against the UN in general for the countless resolutions it has levied against Israel, but against the UNRWA specifically for the body’s assistance and advocacy on behalf of Palestinians. All are extensions of the doctrine of collective punishment, but with a particularly ominous message for civilians:

There is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. There is not an institution or organization on earth that will be able to protect you from us.

Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on the Arab and Islamic worlds. He may be reached at: rbamiri at yahoo dot com.

Israeli atrocities in Gaza: a political impasse and moral collapse

January 7, 2009

Word Socialist Web Site, January 7, 2009

The premeditated slaughter yesterday of innocent men, women and children sheltering in the UN-run al-Fakhora school in Gaza is a war crime for which the Israeli government and military general staff are directly responsible. As atrocity piles on atrocity, it is clear that the Israeli military is using Hamas’s rocket attacks as the pretext for terrorising and subjugating the entire Palestinian population.

At least 42 people were killed when Israeli shells struck just outside the school in the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza. Another 55 were injured—at least five critically. Witnesses described a scene of horror with victims cut down by shrapnel lying in pools of blood on the street. Following the attack, a hospital official, Fares Ghanem, told the Associated Press: “I saw a lot of women and children wheeled in. A lot of wounded were missing limbs and a lot of the dead were in pieces.”

The deliberate character of the attack was underscored by the fact that the school was hit not by a loose bomb dropped from 10,000 feet, but by precisely targetted shells. John Ging, operations director in Gaza for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said that the Israeli army had been given the precise coordinates of the school, which was clearly marked. Noting the school was located in a built-up area, he said: “Of course it was entirely inevitable if artillery shells landed in that area there would be a high number of casualties.” Some 350 people were taking refuge at the time inside the school.

The Israeli military issued a statement suggesting its forces had responded to mortar fire coming from the school and that Hamas had once again used civilians as “human shields”—a claim routinely made to justify Israeli Defence Force (IDF) atrocities. UNRWA official Ging denied that Hamas fighters were using its refuges. “There’s nowhere safe in Gaza. Everyone here is terrorised and traumatised,” he said. UN official Maxwell Gaylard demanded an independent investigation, saying those responsible for any breaches of international law must be held accountable.

The Israeli shelling of the al-Fakhora school is no isolated incident. Ging reported that three Palestinians were killed yesterday in a separate Israeli air strike near another school in the area where no fighting was taking place at the time. The UNRWA has 23 schools sheltering around 15,000 refugees who have been driven from their homes by the Israeli military. Yesterday morning a building next to a UN health centre was hit by Israeli fire—injuring 10 people, including seven staff and three patients. The International Red Cross reported that an ambulance post was also hit, injuring a medical worker.

According to Reuters, at least 75 Palestinian civilians were killed yesterday—indicating a sharp jump in casualties since the Israeli army launched ground operations four days ago. Eric Fosse, a Norwegian doctor working at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza, told CNN that he had seen more women and children among the casualties on Monday than on any other day since the Israeli offensive began. Most of the wounded men were also civilians. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the death toll in Gaza reached 660 yesterday.

Today’s Financial Times reported that at least 115 of the casualties have been children. Thousands more have been deeply traumatised by the terrifying experience of constant bombing as well as the lack of electricity, running water, food and sanitation. “Even before the Israeli attacks began,” the article explained, “some 50,000 children were suffering from malnutrition in Gaza, amid the crippling blockade of the territory. This number ‘could be increased by thousands,’ warned Isama Damo, who works in Gaza with the human rights group, Save the Children. Many grocery stores have shut and fresh food such as milk, cheese and fruit is scarce.”

The targetting of the al-Fakhora school exposes the lie used by Israel and its apologists to justify its war against the Palestinian people as an act of “self defence”. The Israeli army is engaged in a desperate attempt to destroy the capacity of Palestinians to resist in any way their decades-long oppression. When Israeli officials denounce Hamas as “terrorists”, their vitriol is in reality directed at the million and a half impoverished people crushed into the narrow strip of land known as Gaza.

In a comment in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, former Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky denounced the UN for failing to eliminate what he termed the “heart of the problem”—Gaza’s refugee camps of dispossessed Palestinians. Describing the camps as “the terrorists’ unique system of control” and their schools as “indoctrination centres for martyrdom”, he accused the UNRWA of being “facilitators for the terrorists’ goal of grinding an entire civilian population under their thumb”. Sharansky’s ravings served to lay bare the fascistic rationale behind Israel’s deliberate targetting of the camps, the UNRWA and the al-Fakhora school.

Yesterday’s attack conformed to a definite modus operandi on the part of the IDF. In 2006, the army waged a similar military offensive in southern Lebanon aimed at destroying the Shiite Hezbollah militia and its base of support within the population. Repeated missile strikes on the town of Qana killed at least 57 residents, including 37 children. The Israeli military also destroyed a UN monitoring post, forcing the pullout of UN observers who were witnesses to its crimes.

The use of such terrorist measures goes back to the very origins of the Zionist state, when Israeli forces and armed gangs perpetrated atrocities against Palestinian towns and villages as the means of expelling millions of Arabs from Israeli territory. The long history of terrorist acts directed against Palestinians, including the 1982 massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, flows inescapably from the reactionary logic of Zionism: the attempt to carve out a Jewish state inevitably involved trampling on the rights of the Palestinian people.

The perspective at the heart of the assault on Gaza’s population was spelled out in a letter written in 2007 by former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, calling for the carpet bombing of the entire area. As reported in the Jerusalem Post, Eliyahu wrote that the population as a whole was morally responsible for failing to halt the rocket attacks on Israeli territory. His son, also a prominent rabbi, told the newspaper that the Israeli air force had to kill “whatever it takes to make them stop”—a 100, a 1,000, 10,000, 100,000, even a million.

These comments recall nothing so much as the methods of collective punishment employed by the Nazis during World War II in an effort to end resistance to their rule throughout Europe. They reflect the complete perplexity in Israeli ruling circles and the political dead-end that has been reached in the Zionist project as a whole. Israel’s desperate attempt to use overwhelming military force to suppress Palestinian opposition in Gaza can only lead further into the morass. One can only ask what comes next: the forcible expulsion of all Arabs from Israeli territory?

The US government’s blocking of a ceasefire has given the green light for the Israeli military to escalate its attacks. The reaction of the Bush administration to the killing of civilians at the al-Fakhora school was virtually identical to that of Israel. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told the media “not [to] jump to conclusions… What we know is that Hamas often hides amongst innocents and uses innocents, including children, as human shields.” The US military has used identical pretexts to justify its own war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While the other imperialist powers, including Britain, France and Germany, have been more discrete about their support for the Israeli war, they too place the onus on Hamas for the conflict, demanding an end to all resistance to the Israeli onslaught as the price of any ceasefire. The Israelis have also received encouragement from the various bourgeois regimes in the Middle East. All of them, whether openly backing Israel—in the case of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordon—or feigning support for the Palestinians—Iran and Syria—are seeking to exploit the crisis to pursue their own economic and geo-political aims at the direct expense of the Palestinian masses and the working class of the entire region.

Notwithstanding the universal support by the major powers and in the international media for Israel, world opinion is rapidly turning against the slaughter being carried out in Gaza. The one-sided war is provoking a wave of revulsion, including among intellectuals and class conscious workers in Israel appalled by the crimes being carried out in their name. The real ally of the Palestinian people is the international working class—including Arab and Jewish workers—which must be united against the Israeli ruling elite, the bourgeois regimes in the Middle East, and US and world imperialism on the basis of the struggle for a socialist federation of the Middle East.

Peter Symonds

The author also recommends:

Hands off Gaza!
5 January 2009

The Gaza crisis and the perspective of permanent revolution
30 December 2008

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