Saudi Arabia to donate $1 billion to rebuild Gaza

The Saudi king said Monday his country will donate $1 billion to help rebuild the Gaza Strip after the devastating Israeli offensive and told Israel that an Arab initiative offering peace will not remain on the table forever.

King Abdullah’s comments at an Arab economic summit in Kuwait City were his first since Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas declared a fragile cease-fire to halt three weeks of violence in Gaza that killed more than 1,250 Palestinians.

“Israel has to understand that the choice between war and peace will not always stay open and that the Arab peace initiative that is on the table today will not stay on the table,” said Abdullah during a speech. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Will Israel’s leaders be troubled by King Abdullah’s warning? I doubt it. What Saudi Arabia, Jordan (whose own Abdullah still insists the 18-year old peace process should not be abandoned) and Egypt have showcased over the last three weeks — whatever they might assert — is their own political impotence. If there is going to be any new initiative it seems more likely it will come from Ankara, Damascus of Doha.


    Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan criticized world leaders for leaving Hamas out of the peace process, saying it was a democratically elected political party.

    He also warned that the situation in Gaza could take on a very different dimension if “Western countries” did not show appropriate sensitivity toward Hamas.

    “This political party Hamas won an election with nearly 75 percent of the vote. The West, which has shown no respect for this embracing of democracy, is responsible for this situation,” Erdogan told a news conference.


    Syrian President Bashar Assad says he’s prepared to work with US President-elect Barack Obama. “The new American government must be prepared to engage in a serious peace process. We are prepared for any form of cooperation,” Assad told Spiegel in an interview. But he has a few conditions.

    Until now, Bashar Assad says, his country has waged war against Israel, viewed Americans as its opponents and offered Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal and other top leaders exile as well as employment opportunities. Nevertheless, Assad says, he sees opportunities for less violence. “We would be happy to do our part to stabilize the region,” he told Spiegel in an interview to be published on Monday.

    But he also insisted that his country’s relations with Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran would not be dictated by outsiders.

    “Good relations with Washington cannot mean that we have bad ones with Tehran,” he said.

Parsing gains of Gaza war

The Israeli theory of what it tried to do here is summed up in a Hebrew phrase heard across Israel and throughout the military in the past weeks: “baal habayit hishtageya,” or “the boss has lost it.” It evokes the image of a madman who cannot be controlled.

“This phrase means that if our civilians are attacked by you, we are not going to respond in proportion but will use all means we have to cause you such damage that you will think twice in the future,” said Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser.

It is a calculated rage. The phrase comes from business and refers to a decision by a shop owner to cut prices so drastically that he appears crazy to the consumer even though he knows he has actually made a shrewd business decision.

The Palestinians in Gaza got the message on the first day when Israeli warplanes struck numerous targets simultaneously in the middle of a Saturday morning. Some 200 were killed instantly, shocking Hamas and indeed all of Gaza, especially because Israel’s antirocket attacks in previous years had been more measured.

When Hamas’s prime minister, Ismail Haniya, appeared on Hamas television from his hiding spot last Monday, he picked up on the Israeli archetype, referring in Arabic to the battle under way as “el harb el majnouna,” the mad or crazy war.

For most, of course, feeling abused like this has created deep rage at Israel.

“If you want to make peace with the Palestinians, they are tired of bombs, drones and planes,” said Mohammad Abu Muhaisin, a 35-year-old resident of the southern city of Rafah who is affiliated with Fatah, the rival to Hamas that rules in the West Bank and was ejected from Gaza in June 2007. “But a guy whose child has just been killed doesn’t want peace. He wants war.” [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — As Tzipi Livni makes her own personal assessment of gains from the war, she cannot have failed to notice that despite frequent reports that Kadima was being bolstered by the military campaign, their polling numbers have actually got worse. On December 27, AP reported:

    A poll by the Dahaf Research Institute showed Livni’s Kadima Party winning 29 of parliament’s 120 seats — the same number it has now — and Netanyahu’s Likud taking 26 if elections were held today. A TNS Teleseker survey gave Kadima 31 seats to Likud’s 29.

The Jerusalem Post today reports that a Channel 2/Ma’agar Mohot poll predicted a 31-23 Likud victory over Kadima, while a Channel 10/Dialog poll said Likud would win 29-26.

As for what Ehud Olmert hopes to gain from the war, perhaps it could be viewed as one of the most audacious efforts at jury tampering in history.

A return to square one

On Saturday evening, Israel announced not a ceasefire – in the sense of an agreement between the parties to end a conflict – but a decision that its forces will unilaterally halt their fire. It said it would await the Hamas response, any timetable for a withdrawal of Israeli forces being contingent on an end to rocket fire from Gaza.

Yesterday, the resistance movements in Gaza, including Hamas, unilaterally announced a cessation of military action for one week, by the end of which time they demand that all Israeli forces should have departed Gaza. Implicit in this initiative is the threat that, were they to fail to leave within seven days, Hamas and the other groups would resume the firing of rockets into Israel.

At one level, this unilateralist outcome resolves none of the core problems that were at the source of the conflict in the first place. Hamas remains in control in Gaza; its military capacity has not been substantially degraded: 40 missiles were fired at Israel on Saturday, and at least a further 16 were launched before Hamas announced the ceasefire yesterday. And nothing has been settled in terms of the opening of the crossings from Israel into Gaza, or in respect of the Rafah crossing from Egypt into Gaza. The release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli captive, has not advanced. [continued…]

Israel fears wave of war crimes lawsuits over Gaza offensive

Israel is preparing for a wave of lawsuits by pro-Palestinian organizations overseas against Israelis involved in the Gaza fighting, claiming they were responsible for war crimes due to the harsh results stemming from the IDF’s actions against Palestinian civilians and their property.

Senior Israeli ministers have expressed serious fears during the past few days about the possibility that Israel will be pressed to agree to an international investigation of the losses among non-combatants during Operation Cast Lead; or alternately, that Israelis will be faced with personal suits, such as happened to Israeli officers who were accused of war crimes in Britain for their actions during the second intifada.

“When the scale of the damage in Gaza becomes clear, I will no longer take a vacation in Amsterdam, only at the international court in The Hague,” said one minister. It was not clear whether he was trying to make a joke or not. [continued…]

‘Tungsten bombs’ leave Israel’s victims with mystery wounds

Erik Fosse, a Norwegian doctor who worked in Gaza’s hospitals during the conflict, said that Israel was using so-called Dime (dense inert metal explosive) bombs designed to produce an intense explosion in a small space. The bombs are packed with tungsten powder, which has the effect of shrapnel but often dissolves in human tissue, making it difficult to discover the cause of injuries.

Dr Fosse said he had seen a number of patients with extensive injuries to their lower bodies. “It was as if they had stepped on a mine, but there was no shrapnel in the wounds,” he said. “Some had lost their legs. It looked as though they had been sliced off. I have been to war zones for 30 years, but I have never seen such injuries before.” However, the injuries matched photographs and descriptions in medical literature of the effects of Dime bombs.

“All the patients I saw had been hit by bombs fired from unmanned drones,” said Dr Fosse, head of the Norwegian Aid Committee. “The bomb hit the ground near them and exploded.” His colleague, Mads Gilbert, accused Israel of using the territory as a testing ground for a new, “extremely nasty” type of explosive. “This is a new generation of small explosive that detonates with extreme power and dissipates its power within a range of five to 10 metres,” he said.

According to military databases, Dime bombs are intended for use where conventional weapons might kill or injure bystanders – to kill combatants in a house, for example, without harming people next door. Instead of being made from metal, which sprays shrapnel across a wide area, the casing is carbon fibre. Part of the motive for developing the bombs was to replace the use of depleted uranium, but Dr Fosse said the cancer risk from tungsten powde was well known. “These patients should be followed up to see if there are any carcinogenic effects,” he said. [continued…]

Gazans confront shattered lives

All day, thousands of Gazans have been rushing back to their neighbourhoods to see what is left after Israel’s campaign of bombing and shelling.

Gaping holes and fire-blackened cars litter the streets in the areas hit hardest by the fighting.

I have spoken to some people who say they have not even been able to find their way round their bomb-damaged neighbourhoods, never mind find the remains of their homes.

Many simply turned round and returned to the UN-run schools they fled to amid the fighting.

But for some Gazans even attempting to return home is virtually unimaginable. [continued…]

Scale of Gaza destruction emerges

The full scale of devastation in Gaza following Israel’s three-week offensive is becoming clear, after both Israel and Hamas declared ceasefires.

UN official John Ging said half a million people had been without water since the conflict began, and huge numbers of people were without power.

Four thousand homes are ruined and tens of thousands of people are homeless. [continued…]

Another war, another defeat

Even before Hamas came to power, the Israelis intended to create an open-air prison for the Palestinians in Gaza and inflict great pain on them until they complied with Israel’s wishes. Dov Weisglass, Ariel Sharon’s closest adviser at the time, candidly stated that the disengagement from Gaza was aimed at halting the peace process, not encouraging it. He described the disengagement as “formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” Moreover, he emphasized that the withdrawal “places the Palestinians under tremendous pressure. It forces them into a corner where they hate to be.”

Arnon Soffer, a prominent Israeli demographer who also advised Sharon, elaborated on what that pressure would look like. “When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.”

In January 2006, five months after the Israelis pulled their settlers out of Gaza, Hamas won a decisive victory over Fatah in the Palestinian legislative elections. This meant trouble for Israel’s strategy because Hamas was democratically elected, well organized, not corrupt like Fatah, and unwilling to accept Israel’s existence. Israel responded by ratcheting up economic pressure on the Palestinians, but it did not work. In fact, the situation took another turn for the worse in March 2007, when Fatah and Hamas came together to form a national unity government. Hamas’s stature and political power were growing, and Israel’s divide-and-conquer strategy was unraveling.

To make matters worse, the national unity government began pushing for a long-term ceasefire. The Palestinians would end all missile attacks on Israel if the Israelis would stop arresting and assassinating Palestinians and end their economic stranglehold, opening the border crossings into Gaza. [continued…]

The violence network

After several days of following the Al-Jazeera coverage of Gaza, I’ve never seen a live interview with an Israeli, neither a politician nor a civilian. In the Al-Jazeera version, the Gaza conflict has only two participants: the Israeli army – an impersonal force represented as tanks and planes on the map – and the Palestinian civilians, often shown entering the hospital on makeshift stretchers. There are few Hamas rockets and no Israeli families. It’s not hard to see why Al-Jazeera is accused of deliberately inflaming regional enmity and instability.

But in a larger sense, Al-Jazeera’s graphic response to CNN-style “bloodless war journalism” is a stinging rebuke to the way we now see and talk about war in the United States. It suggests that bloodless coverage of war is the privilege of a country far from conflict. Al-Jazeera’s brand of news – you could call it “blood journalism” – takes war for what it is: a brutal loss of human life. The images they show put you in visceral contact with the violence of war in a way statistics never could.

For an American, to watch Al-Jazeera’s coverage of Gaza is to realize that you’ve become alienated not just from war, but even from the representation of war as a real thing. As Americans, we’re used to hearing the sound of heavy artillery, machine guns, and bombs in action films and video games. Yet here on the news, they seem strangely out of place. You could argue that Al-Jazeera uses images of civilian violence to foment public outrage against Israel. This might well be true. At the same time, these images acknowledge human suffering and civilian death and stand strongly against them – and in doing so, foment outrage against war itself. [continued…]

Hamas rising

I have just returned from the Middle East and witnessed how Israel’s assault on Gaza is radicalizing mainstream Muslim opinion. Shown endlessly on Arab and Muslim television stations, the massive killing of civilians is fueling rage against Israel and its superpower patron, the United States, among mainstream and moderate voices who previously believed in co-existence with the Jewish state. Now, they are questioning their basic assumptions and raising doubts about Israel’s future integration into the region.

Many professionals, both Christian and Muslim Arabs, previously critical of Hamas, are bitter about what they call Israel’s “barbaric conduct” against Palestinian noncombatants, particularly women and children. No one I have encountered believes Israel’s narrative that this is a war against Hamas, not the Palestinian people. A near consensus exists among Arabs and Muslims that Israel is battering the Palestinian population in an effort to force it to revolt against Hamas, just as it tried to force the Lebanese people to revolt against Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. But Hezbollah weathered that Israeli storm, acquired a sturdier immune system and became the most powerful institution in Lebanon. In so doing it shattered Israeli deterrence, delivered a blow to US Mideast policy and expanded the influence of Iran, Hezbollah’s main supporter in the region.

In my recent travels I was struck by the widespread popular support for Hamas — from college students and street vendors to workers and intellectuals. Very few ventured criticism of Hamas, and many said they felt awed by the fierce resistance put forward by its fighters. Israel’s onslaught on Gaza has effectively silenced critics of Hamas and politically legitimized the militant resistance movement in the eyes of many previously skeptical Palestinians and Muslims. Regardless of how this war ends, Hamas will likely emerge as a more powerful political force than before and will likely top Fatah, the ruling apparatus of President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority. [continued…]

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