Category Archives: War on Gaza

Stop Operation Cast Lead 2: the moral shock and awe of global silence

Richard Falk writes:

It is dismaying that during this dark anniversary period two years after the launch of the deadly attacks on the people of Gaza, code-named Operation Cast Lead by the Israelis, that there should be warnings of a new massive attack on the beleaguered people of Gaza. The influential Israeli journalist, Ron Ren-Yishai, writes on December 29, 2010, of the likely prospect of a new IDF major attack, quoting senior Israeli military officers as saying “It’s not a question of if, but rather of when,” a view that that is shared, according Ren-Yishai, by “government ministers, Knesset members and municipal heads in the Gaza region.” The bloody-minded Israeli Chief of Staff, Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi reinforces this expectation by his recent assertion that “As long as Gilad Shalit is still in captivity, the mission is not complete.” He adds with unconscious irony, “We have not lost our right of self-defense.” More accurate would be the assertion, “We have not given up our right to wage aggressive war or to commit crimes against humanity.” And what of the more than 10,000 Palestinians, including children under the age of 10, being held in Israeli prisons throughout occupied Palestine.

Against this background, the escalation of violence along the Gaza/Israel border, should set off alarm bells around the world and at the United Nations. Israel in recent days has been launching severe air strikes against targets within the Gaza Strip, including near the civilian crowded refugee camp of Khan Younis, killing several Palestinians and wounding others. Supposedly, these attacks are in retaliation for nine mortar shells that fell on open territory, causing neither damage nor injury. Israel also had been using lethal force against children from Gaza, who were collecting gravel from the buffer zone for the repair of their homes. As usual, the Israeli security pretext lacks credibility as if ever there was an occasion for firing warning shots in the air, it was here, especially as the border has been essentially quiet in the last couple of years, and what occasional harmless rockets or mortar shells have been fired, has taken place in defiance of the Hamas effort to prevent providing Israel with any grounds for the use of force. Revealingly, in typical distortion, the Gaza situation is portrayed by Ashkenazi as presenting a pre-war scenario: “We will not allow a situation in which they fire rockets at our citizens and towns from ‘safe havens’ amid [their] civilians.” With Orwellian precision, the reality is quite the reverse: Israel from its safe haven continuously attacks with an intent to kill a defenseless, entrapped Gazan civilian population.

Perhaps, worse in some respects than this Israeli war-mongering, is the stunning silence of the governments of the world, and of the United Nations. World public opinion was briefly shocked by the spectacle of one-sided war that marked Operation Cast Lead as a massive crime against humanity, but it has taken no notice of this recent unspeakable escalation of threats and provocations seemingly designed to set the stage for a new Israeli attack on the hapless Gazan population. This silence in the face of the accumulating evidence that Israel plans to launch Operation Cast Lead 2 is a devastating form of criminal complicity at the highest governmental levels, especially on the part of countries that have been closely aligned with Israel, and also exhibits the moral bankruptcy of the United Nations System. We have witnessed the carnage of ‘preemptive war’ and ‘preventive war’ in Iraq, but we have yet to explore the moral and political imperatives of ‘preemptive peace’ and ‘preventive peace.’ How long must the peoples of the world wait?


Israel jails peaceful protester for riding a bike

Joseph Dana writes:

Of all the criminals involved with the 2008 Gaza war, an Israeli leftist will be going to jail for riding his bike against the war in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv Magistrates court judge Yitzhak Yitzhak convicted Israeli leftist Jonathan Pollak of illegal assembly for his participation in a January 2008 Critical Mass ride against the siege on Gaza and then sentenced him to three months imprisonment that will begin on January 11th, 2011. Pollak was the only one detained at the said protest, and was accused of doing nothing other than riding his bicycle in the same manner as the rest of the protesters. The conviction activates an older three-month suspended sentence imposed on Pollak in a previous trial for protesting the construction of the Separation Barrier. An additional three month prison term was also imposed for the current conviction, which will be served concurrently. His imprisonment is part of a clear strategy of silencing dissent in the Israeli left.

Jonathan Pollak is one of the founders of the Israeli leftist group “Anarchists Against the Wall“, which join weekly unarmed Palestinian protests throughout the West Bank against the Separation Wall and the Occupation. Since 2008, he has served the media coordinator of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, an Palestinian umbrella organization designed to garner media attention for the unarmed struggle in the West Bank.

Pollak gave the following statement in court today:

Your Honor, once found guilty, it is then customary for the accused to ask the court for leniency, and express remorse for having committed the offence. However, I find myself unable to do so. From its very beginning, this trial contained practically no disagreements over the facts. As the indictment states, I indeed rode my bicycle, alongside others, through the streets of Tel Aviv, to protest the siege on Gaza. And indeed, while riding our bicycles, which are legally vehicles belonging on the road, we may have slightly slowed down traffic. The sole and trivial disagreement in this entire case revolves around testimonies heard from police detectives, who claimed I played a leading role throughout the protest bicycle ride, something I, as well as the rest of the Defense witnesses, deny.

As said earlier, it is customary at this point of the proceedings to sound remorseful, and I would indeed like to voice my regrets regarding one particular aspect of that day’s events: if there is remorse in my heart, it is that, just as I argued during the trial, I did not play a prominent role in the protest that day, and thus did not fulfill my duty to do everything within my power to change the unbearable situation of Gaza’s inhabitants, and bring to an end Israel’s control over the Palestinians.

His Honor has stated during the court case, and will most likely state again in the future, that a trial is not a matter of politics, but of law. To this I reply that there is hardly anything to this trial except political disagreement. This Court may have impeded the mounting of an appropriate defense when it refused to hear arguments regarding political selectiveness in the Police’s conduct, but even from the testimonies which were admitted, it became clear such a selectiveness exists.

The subject of my alleged offense, as well as the motivation behind it were political. This is something that cannot be sidestepped. The State of Israel maintains an illegitimate, inhuman and illegal siege on the Gaza Strip, which still is occupied territory according to international law. This siege, carried out in my name and in yours as well, sir, in fact in all of our names, is a cruel collective punishment inflicted on ordinary citizens, residents of the Gaza strip, subjects-without-rights under Israeli occupation.

In the face of this reality, and as a stance against it, we chose on January 31st, 2008, to exercise the freedom of speech afforded to Jewish citizens of Israel. However, it appears that here in our one-of-many-faux-democracies in the Middle East, even this freedom is no longer freely granted, even to society’s privileged sons.

I am not surprised by the Court’s decision to convict me despite having no doubt in my mind that our actions on that day correspond to the most basic, elementary definitions of a person’s right to protest.

Indeed, as the Prosecution pointed out, a suspended prison sentence hung over my head at the time of the bicycle protest, having been convicted before under an identical article of law. And, although I still maintain I did not commit any offense whatsoever, I was aware of the possibility that under Israeli justice, my suspended sentence would be imposed.

I must add that, if His Honor decides to go ahead and impose my suspended prison sentence, I will go to prison wholeheartedly and with my head held high. It will be the justice system itself, I believe, that ought to lower its eyes in the face of the suffering inflicted on Gaza’s inhabitants, just like it lowers its eyes and averts its vision each and every day when faced with the realities of the occupation.

In a profile for The Independent, Donald Macintyre wrote:

[Pollak] attended the first of very many demonstrations as a months-old babe-in-arms at the huge mass rally in Tel Aviv calling for an end to the first Lebanon war in 1982. What makes him and his Israeli comrades unusual, however, is the decision to go beyond mere demonstrations to, as he himself puts it, “crossing sides, moving from protest to joining resistance”.

A high school dropout at 15, he was a teenage animal right activist, a cause with few Israeli adherents – and most of those Israelis who were part of it were anarchists. Very much part of Tel Aviv’s young counterculture in the politically relatively relaxed Nineties, Mr Pollak became one too. He remains an anarchist and a vegan, still a strong believer in animal rights, which he sees as consistent with his wider politics. For him, “racism, chauvinism, sexism, speciesism all come from the same place of belittling the other”, he said.

A few minor brushes with the law appear to have been enough to convince the army that he was not suitable material for compulsory military service. “I don’t think they wanted me any more than I wanted them,” he said. He spent two years in the Netherlands, living in a squat, before being deported back to Israel.

By this time, the second intifada was at its peak, and Mr Pollak found himself drawn, despite the dangers for a young Israeli of visiting the West Bank at the time, to the unarmed dimension of the Palestinian cause – including, most significantly, the very first anti-barrier protests in the West Bank village of Jayyous.

According to [Ayed] Morrar [the director of Budrus], a long-term opponent of armed uprising, “Jonathan… is a man trying to prove that those who believe in occupation cannot claim to be humanitarian or civilised. He also wants to prove that resisting oppression and occupation does not mean being a terrorist or killing”.


An open letter from Gaza: two years after the massacre, a demand for justice

An open letter published by The Palestine Telegraph:

We the Palestinians of the Besieged Gaza Strip, on this day, two years on from Israel’s genocidal attack on our families, our houses, our roads, our factories and our schools, are saying enough inaction, enough discussion, enough waiting – the time is now to hold Israel to account for its ongoing crimes against us. On the 27th of December 2008, Israel began an indiscriminate bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

The assault lasted 22 days, killing 1,417 Palestinians, 352 of them children, according to main-stream Human Rights Organizations. For a staggering 528 hours, Israeli Occupation Forces let loose their US-supplied F15s, F16s, Merkava Tanks, internationally prohibited White Phosphorous, and bombed and invaded the small Palestinian coastal enclave that is home to 1.5 million, of whom 800,000 are children and over 80 percent UN registered refugees. Around 5,300 remain permanently wounded.

This devastation exceeded in savagery all previous massacres suffered in Gaza, such as the 21children killed in Jabalia in March 2008 or the 19 civilians killed sheltering in their house in the Beit Hanoun Massacre of 2006. The carnage even exceeded the attacks in November 1956 in which Israeli troops indiscriminately rounded up and killed 275 Palestinians in the Southern town of Khan Younis and 111 more in Rafah.

Since the Gaza massacre of 2009, world citizens have undertaken the responsibility to pressure Israel to comply with international law, through a proven strategy of boycott, divestment and sanctions. As in the global BDS movement that was so effective in ending the apartheid South African regime, we urge people of conscience to join the BDS call made by over 170 Palestinian organizations in 2005. As in South Africa the imbalance of power and representation in this struggle can be counterbalanced by a powerful international solidarity movement with BDS at the forefront, holding Israeli policy makers to account, something the international governing community has repeatedly failed to do. Similarly, creative civilian efforts such as the Free Gaza boats that broke the siege five times, the Gaza Freedom March, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, and the many land convoys must never stop their siege-breaking, highlighting the inhumanity of keeping 1.5 million Gazans in an open-air prison.


Wikileaks reveal Palestinian Authority’s complicity in the war on Gaza

“Israel is not the center of international attention,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted shortly before the Wikileaks released a cache of 250,000 American diplomatic cables.

If he was confident that that was the case, why would Bibi draw attention to the fact? Perhaps because he knew that some of the leaks would serve his interests in multiple ways, not the least of which being that they further damage the credibility Mahmoud Abbas as top political representative of the Palestinian people. In other words, they would help reinforce Abbas’ position as a leader possessing enough authority to negotiate but not enough to make a deal.

It has long been claimed that Abbas supported Israel’s effort to topple Hamas through the war on Gaza. Wikileaks now provides hard evidence that the Palestinian Authority was indeed given advance notice of Operation Cast Lead.

At the end of May, 2009, Israel’s defense minister Ehud Barak met a Congressional delegation from the House Committee on Foreign Affairs led by Congressman Ackerman. In that meeting, Barak “explained that the GOI [Government of Israel] had consulted with Egypt and Fatah prior to Operation Cast Lead, asking if they were willing to assume control of Gaza once Israel defeated Hamas.” Naturally both parties declined, but the point is that they were then in a position to intercede and try and prevent the war — or, sit back and wait to see whether Israel would succeed in dislodging their common nemesis.

Having colluded with Israel in this way, the Palestinian Authority then put itself in a position to be blackmailed and subsequent reports suggest that this is indeed what happened when Israel later wanted to see the Goldstone Report blocked in the UN.

In October 2009, it was reported:

The Shaliab news agency quoted informed sources in Washington as saying that a meeting between PA representatives and an Israeli delegation took place in Washington last week to persuade the PA to withdraw its support for the Goldstone Report. This report could not be confirmed by TAAN.

The source told Shahab that the PA officials initially rejected the Israeli request, until Israeli officer Eli Ofarham showed up and displayed on his laptop a videotaped file showing Mahmoud Abbas urging Israel war minister Ehud Barak to continue the war on Gaza.

The sources also revealed that the PA official also listened to a recorded telephone conversation between director of the general staff office Dov Weissglas and Abbas’s aide Tayeb Abdelrahim in which the latter called on Israel to invade the refugee camps of Jabaliya and Al-Shati and said that the fall of those camps would end the rule of Hamas.

Weissglas, according to the record, said that this would lead to thousands of casualties among citizens, but Abdelrahim stressed that they all elected Hamas and chose their own destiny.

The comfort Netanyahu is drawing from the Wikileaks revelations goes much further. The Israeli claim that it belongs to a de facto alliance with so-called moderate Arab states with whom it shares an equal fear of a nuclear-armed Iran, is now clearly substantiated.

The Guardian reports:

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme, according to leaked US diplomatic cables that describe how other Arab allies have secretly agitated for military action against Tehran.

The revelations, in secret memos from US embassies across the Middle East, expose behind-the-scenes pressures in the scramble to contain the Islamic Republic, which the US, Arab states and Israel suspect is close to acquiring nuclear weapons. Bombing Iranian nuclear facilities has hitherto been viewed as a desperate last resort that could ignite a far wider war.

The Saudi king was recorded as having “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons programme”, one cable stated. “He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the US general David Petraeus in April 2008.

Wikileaks has at this point (Sunday evening) released just 220 out of 251,287 leaked cables. They say the remaining cables will be released over the next few months. “The subject matter of these cables is of such importance, and the geographical spread so broad, that to do otherwise would not do this material justice.”

This will no doubt be an effective media strategy that serves to extend the story, but in the name of transparency, Wikileaks should explain how exactly they’ve arrived at their own cherry-picking process. As every news editor knows, picking and choosing what to highlight and when has as much if not more impact in shaping the news than the reporting itself.

If getting all this information into the public domain really serves the greatest interest, why the delay?


A message to America from Hamas

When Israeli officials are pressed to justify the fact that Israel has prevented the reconstruction of thousands of homes it destroyed during the war on Gaza, they say that if construction materials were allowed into Gaza, these would be commandeered by Hamas and used to fortify its bunkers.

In an interview Khalid Meshaal, the Hamas political bureau chief in Damascus, gave with Charlie Rose this week, the Hamas leader directly addressed this issue.

Meshaal’s message to the Obama administration and to the American people was this:

It’s time to end this embargo on Gaza, because it’s immoral, unethical and it failed in achieving its political objectives. And it is the right of the Palestinian people in Gaza to live like all other people without any embargo, because Gaza today is the biggest prison in the world and in history.

You know that Israel in the last war destroyed tens of thousands of houses, hospitals and universities, and it is the responsibility of the international community and especially of the United States of America to reconstruct what [has] been destroyed by Israel in Gaza. And we do not have it as a condition that this construction operation to be done through Hamas. No. As I told [Russia’s] President Medvedev, the international community can develop an international mechanism that is independent to introduce the construction materials into Gaza and to supervise the rebuilding, reconstruction of the houses and schools destroyed by Israel. Because our mission is to service our people. We want the Palestinian people in Gaza to live simply in houses in winter and in summer. And this is the responsibility of the international community. Unfortunately, some Palestinian leaderships lie to the Americans and to the Europeans when saying that Hamas has it as a condition to supervise the reconstruction. We do not have this as a condition. We tell the whole world, come to Gaza. Reconstruct the destroyed houses.


Masked Israeli gunmen ready to hijack Freedom Flotilla

Ynet reports:

The Navy and the Israel Air Force’s observation jets are following the various vessels en route to Gaza and are prepared to first deploy the Navy’s missile ships which are docked in Haifa, and then, the rest of the forces.

Navy to sail boats to Ashdod The Navy hopes it will not have to use its extensive force and that the flotilla will retreat once its ships’ captains are warned. If this does not happen, Shayetet 13 officers are ready to take over the ships by force. Naval officers will board the ships and sail them according to the Navy commander’s orders.

A similar force of Dvorah patrol boats and Shayetet 13 vessels will be awaiting the ships at the Ashdod Port where they will assist in the final interception and in unloading the passengers and the cargo at the port. An Israel Police force will also be waiting on the shore, in order to prevent provocations and riots by the flotilla’s passengers.

The Navy’s decision to deploy such a large force for a relatively simple mission follows a decision by the prime minister, defense minister, and forum of seven top cabinet ministers not to allow the ships to arrive in Gaza under any circumstances, even if Israel is forced to pay a hefty price in the PR arena and in the international community’s eyes.


Israel: ineffective siege of Gaza must not be broken

As the Freedom Flotilla sails towards Gaza, the Israeli propaganda machine is working at full bore. In its frenzied effort, message discipline seems to have gone out of the window.

10,000 tons of supplies being carried in the nine-ship flotilla are, the Israelis suggest, superfluous to Gaza’s needs when Israel itself is delivering 15,000 tons a week. Still, if the human rights activists insist on completing their mission, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it would be more “efficient” if the flotilla, instead of docking at Gaza City, docks at an Israeli port where everything can be transferred to Israeli trucks. Then everyone can say a prayer as they wait to see how much gets confiscated at the land crossing into Gaza. Why take a direct route when you can take a longer less certain indirect route?

Not surprisingly, The Freedom Flotilla organizers have declined Israel’s “offer.” Israel’s police and prisons service are now on standby, ready to deal with the potential arrest of hundreds of activists in the event that the Netanyahu government decides to block the flotilla’s passage. I imagine some kind of internment camp may need to be set up for holding and interrogating the peaceful activists prior to their deportation.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials are citing a Financial Times report that the 200 to 300 smuggling tunnels from Egypt into Gaza “have become so efficient that shops all over Gaza are bursting with goods.”

In effect, the Israelis seem to be saying that the combination of supplies that it delivers, along with those coming through tunnels, means that for all practical purposes Gaza is no longer under siege.

The siege isn’t working — don’t break the siege!

Strange message.

While Israeli officials selectively cite reporting by the Financial Times, here is part of the same report which makes it clear that under siege, Gaza’s economy has effectively been crippled — in spite of the availability of goods coming through the tunnels.

“Everything I demand, I can get,” says Abu Amar al-Kahlout, who sells household goods out of a warehouse big enough to accommodate a passenger jet.

However, Mr al-Kahlout regards his suppliers in Rafah with distaste. “The tunnel business is not real business. They [the tunnel operators] are not respectable: if they were able to cut off your skin and sell it, they would do so,” he says.

His criticism is echoed by other business leaders in Gaza, who insist that the smugglers are creating a false sense of economic improvement while damaging the territory’s battered private sector.

They concede that the tunnels are providing essential goods, yet the smugglers are also bringing in precisely the simple consumer items that could be manufactured in Gaza, especially if sanctions were eased.

“We are just replacing legitimate businessmen with illegitimate businessmen” says Amr Hammad, a Gaza-based entrepreneur and deputy head of the Palestinian Federation of Industries. Flush with cash, the tunnel operators will soon “govern the whole economy of the Gaza Strip”, Mr Hammad predicts.

For most Gazans, the period since the end of Israel’s three-week offensive in January last year has brought little improvement. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the number of “abject poor”, who depend on food aid, trebled to 300,000 – or one in five of all Gazans – in 2009.

One western official says the tunnels act like a “humanitarian safety valve”, but cautions that they offer no solution to economic decline. As Mr Hammad says: “An economy cannot just depend on tunnels.”

The Ma’an news agency adds:

Over 60 percent of Gaza households are food insecure as a result of the ongoing blockade Israel imposed on the coastal enclave, leading to a collapse of its formal economy, the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) said Tuesday.

AIDA, which represents over 80 NGOs, called on Israel for “full and unfettered access into and out of the Gaza Strip for materials and exports necessary for the revival of the agriculture and fishing sectors.”

As Gaza’s population becomes increasingly dependent on aid, the organizations urged Israel to implement immediate measures which include the entry of agricultural input materials such as plastic irrigation piping, quality seeds/seedlings and veterinary drugs into Gaza “needed to jumpstart the agricultural sector and allow the export of produce” and the lifting of access restrictions on farming and fishing areas.

In the name of “security” — the catchall phrase used so often to justify brutality — through its siege on Gaza, Israel has engaged in a systematic campaign not merely to deprive a society of its physical needs but in order corrode, undermine and ultimately destroy the society itself.

Israel has vandalized Gaza in every possible way in a calculated effort to try and drive this society rip itself apart — to disarm Hamas by making Gaza implode. Gestures of solidarity and support for the people of Gaza from the Freedom Flotilla and elsewhere around the world are a way of saying that we can speak out even while our governments remain silent.


Freedom Flotilla carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid to Gaza

“We recommend the world send ships to the shores of Gaza, and we believe that Israel would not stop these vessels because the sea is open, and many human rights organizations have been successful in previous similar steps, and proved that breaking the siege on Gaza is possible.”
John Ging, Head of United Nation’s Relief and Works Agency in the Gaza Strip.

Reporting for the Sydney Morning Herald, Paul McGeogh writes:

A global coalition of Palestinian support groups is taking protest to a dangerous new point of brinkmanship this week, with an attempt to crash through Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip in a flotilla of cargo and passenger boats now assembling in the eastern Mediterranean.

Converging at an undisclosed rendezvous in international waters, the four small cargo boats and four passenger vessels – ranging from cruisers carrying 20 to a Turkish passenger ferry for 600 – are a multimillion-dollar bid to shame the international community to use ships to circumvent Israel’s tight control on humanitarian supplies reaching war-ravaged Gaza.

As the first boat in the flotilla sailed from Dundalk, Ireland, to link up with others being readied at ports in Turkey and in Greece, Israel announced that it would bar the boats from landing.

View Freedom Flotilla to Gaza in a larger map

A senior foreign ministry official described the flotilla as a ”provocation and a breach of Israeli law”.

Israeli media reports say that the Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, has formally ordered that waters off Gaza become a closed zone to a distance of 20 nautical miles.

Israel already has a ”large naval force” on manoeuvre in the area; and as a confrontation at sea looms, suspicion was taking hold in both camps.

Mechanical difficulties in the boat bound from Ireland – the 1200-tonne MV Rachel Corrie, named after an American who was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer in Gaza in 2003 – prompted claims that the boat had been sabotaged. Unnamed Israeli officials have claimed elements in the flotilla would attempt to garner media attention by seeking to provoke Israeli violence.

Further complicating a tense scenario were reports of a welcome fleet of small boats attempting to put to sea from Gaza, and of an Israeli ”counter flotilla” that had assembled near Tel Aviv as a “civil initiative … not connected to any political group”.

Israel has rejected pleas by several ambassadors, most vocally by Dublin’s envoy to Tel Aviv, that their nationals on the flotilla be given safe passage to Gaza.

In the port of Agios Nikolaos, here on the Greek island of Crete, one of the lead organisers of the flotilla is the Free Gaza Movement’s Renee Jaouadi – a 34-year-old schoolteacher, formerly from Newcastle, NSW. Under the banner of the Freedom Flotilla, the protest is a $US3 million-plus ($3.6 million) operation. Apart from 10,000 tonnes of building, medical, educational and other supplies, on board are dozens of parliamentarians from around the world and professionals planning to offer their services in Gaza.

Celebrity names include the Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell and Denis Halliday, a former United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator who in 1998 resigned, protesting that economic sanctions on Iraq amounted to genocide.

On Saturday evening, attempts were under way to find a berth on the over-subscribed manifest for the activist American philosopher Noam Chomsky, who Israeli authorities last week barred from entering the West Bank where he had been invited to speak at a Palestinian university.

Five of eight previous protest boats have managed to land in Gaza. But most recently one was rammed at sea by an Israeli navy ship, and another was captured, with all on board being held in Israeli jails for up to a week before they were deported.

This is deliberately their biggest operation. Ms Jaouadi said the number of vessels and passengers in this week’s flotilla was intended to overstretch the capacity of Israel’s navy and, in the event of mass arrests, the capacity of its prisons.

“It is perfectly logical to go in by sea when entry by land and air is closed,” she said. “We are ordinary civilians doing what governments and big NGOs are refusing to do. The UN is always complaining that it can’t get supplies through: why is it not sending ships?”

A delegation from the California-based Free Palestine Movement includes Joe Meadors, a decorated Navy veteran and one of the survivors of the 1967 attack on the U.S.S. Liberty, in which Israeli fighter planes and ships killed 34 Americans and wounded 173, and Ambassador Edward L. Peck, who spent 32 years in the Foreign Service, including stints as Chief of Mission in Iraq and Mauritania, and was Deputy Director of the Cabinet Task Force on Terrorism in the Reagan administration.

“It’ll be like old home week,” said Meadors, recalling the Israeli attack he survived 43 years ago. “I’m determined to land with this internationally coordinated effort on the shores of Gaza to deliver relief to the 1.5 million inhabitants suffering under the Israeli-led illegal blockade.”

John Ging, the Director of Operations of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza, recently called upon the international community to break the siege on the Gaza Strip by sending ships loaded with desperately needed supplies .”We believe that Israel will not intercept these vessels because the sea is open, and human rights organizations have been successful in similar previous operations proving that breaking the siege of Gaza is possible.”

Explaining his decision to participate in the convoy, Ambassador Peck said many Americans oppose Israeli’s oppressive policies in Palestine and especially Gaza, and believe that they are not in anyone’s interests, especially Israel’s. “All the peoples of the Middle East will live in peace and security”, he said, “only when, and if, all of them live in peace and security.”

Explaining his decision to participate in the convoy, Ambassador Peck said he wants to show that many Americans oppose Israeli policy and believe that it is in U.S. interests to hold Israel to accountable to international law and human rights standards. “All the peoples of the Middle East will live in peace and security only when and if all of them live in peace and security,” he said.

Ismael Patel, from Friends of Al Aqsa in Britain, describes the flotilla’s mission:

The Israeli organization Gush Shalom appeals to the Israeli government to allow the Freedom Flotilla to reach Gaza:

The State of Israel has no interest in flooding television screens all over the world with footage of its navy violently assaulting against peace activists at sea. It is time to remove the suffocating siege and allow residents of Gaza to have free contact with the outside world, freely operate sea and air ports of their own like any country in the world.

The Gush Shalom movement calls upon the government to allow the eight-boat aid flotilla from all over the world to reach the shores of Gaza, where they are scheduled to arrive next week, and unload the humanitarian cargo which is urgently needed by the residents of Gaza. In a letter to Defense Minister Barak, Gush Shalom calls upon him to cancel immediately the instructions given to Israeli Navy ships off the Gaza shore to intercept the aid flotilla.

“The whole world is looking. The State of Israel has no interest in flooding the international television screens with images of Israeli sailors and naval commandos violently assaulting hundreds of peace activists and humanitarian aid workers, many of them well-known in their countries. Whose interest will it serve when hours long dramatic live reports arrive from the Mediteranean, with the world’s sympathy given to hundreds of non-violent activists, on board eight boats, assaulted by the strongest military power in the Middle East?” were the words of a letter to the Defense Minister.

No harm whatsoever will be caused to Israel from the aid flotilla reaching Gaza Port and unloading a cargo of medical supplies and medicines, school supplies and construction materials to rebuild the houses destroyed by the Israeli Air Force a year and half ago and not yet been restored. On the contrary, it would be in Israel’s best interest to declare without delay that as a humanitarian gesture, the boats’ way will not be blocked. And in general, it is time to end once and for all the suffocating siege imposed on the Gaza Strip and causing terrible suffering to its million and a half inhabitants.

The siege on Gaza utterly failed in all the goals set for it by the government of Israel. The siege was supposed to result in toppling the Hamas government – and on the contrary strengthened this government, which relied on the support of a significant part of the Palestinian People. The siege was supposed to help in gaining the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit – but on the contrary, the siege just delays that release, which could have been achieved long ago had the government of Israel agreed to the prisoner exchange deal, on which most of the details have been decided long ago. It’s time to end this cruel and pointless siege.

The residents of the Gaza Strip, like the citizens of Israel and of any other country in the world, have the right to maintain direct contacts with the outside world – to leave their country and return to it, to develop their economy, to import the products they need and export their own produce to anyone who wants to buy it, without asking or needing for permission from Israel, Egypt or any other country. Just as Israel needs no permit from any other country to operate daily the sea ports of Ashdod and Haifa and Eilat and the Ben Gurion International Airport, so are the Palestinians and their state to be entitled to run their own sea port and airport in the Gaza Strip. Let the flotilla of humanitarian aid from all over the world be given the honour of inaugurating the sovereign Palestinian Port of Gaza!

Greta Berlin, a cofounder of the Free Gaza Movement, describes what motivates her and the other activists on their latest voyage to Gaza:

We’ve all caught the fever, every one of us who works to send boats to Gaza. From August 2006, when a handful of us started the Free Gaza Movement, every one who has joined us has been stricken with a bad case of the disease. It is chronic. It sometimes causes afflicted patients to insist that if just one more voyage can be planned to this small slice of the Mediterranean, we’ll all be in remission. There is no real cure in sight… yet.

Gaza Fever has now attacked thousands of us who have a passionate sense of justice.

The disease began shortly after Israel invaded Lebanon in 2006, as a group of us were in despair that the Palestinians, once again, were the forgotten symptom of Israel’s grand designs. As the world watched the defeat of Israel by a small band of guerrilla fighters in Lebanon, Israel decided it would take its wrath out on the Palestinians, specifically the Palestinians of Gaza. We watched as Israel, in January 2009, deliberately bombed 1.5 million Palestinians into abject poverty, a man-made catastrophe bordering on genocide.

One man in Australia suggested we sail a boat from New York to Gaza in protest of the closures there. That small idea has grown into a flotilla that leaves at the end of May with 700 people on board nine ships.

We, who have traveled by boat to Gaza, come back changed, blisters of outrage forever marking us. Those who have supported us through donations, letters, outraged picketing in front of Israeli Embassies demanding Israel stop its war crimes against a civilian population are also changed, as they watched our small boats sail into Gaza five times, cheering us on our way. Then, when our last three missions were violently stopped by Israel, thousands stepped up and donated to help us buy new boats.

In July 2009, Tun Dr.Mahathir bin Mohamad, former Prime Minister of Malaysia, and his wife, Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah bin Mohamad visited the Free Gaza Movement in Cyprus. They had heard about the voyages to Gaza and what Israel had done to the last three, ramming the Dignity, turning one back under threat of fire and hijacking the Spirit of Humanity, kidnapping the 21 human rights observers and throwing them into detention for a week.

He wanted to come and see for himself the small fishing boat that had been, in August 2008, Free Gaza’s first vessel to enter the port of Gaza in 41 years. When he and his wife stepped on this small vessel, he was shocked. “You went all the way to Gaza on this small boat? You braved the sea in a boat that was barely seaworthy?”

When we replied that, indeed, we had crossed the sea in not only this small boat, but one even smaller, 44 of us challenging Israel’s blockade on the 1.5 million Palestinians of Gaza, he caught Gaza Fever.

“You need a proper boat,” he said. “I’m going back to my people in Malaysia and see how we can help you raise money to send more boats back to Gaza.”

And that’s exactly what he and his wife did.

Follow the progress of the Freedom Flotilla on Twitter and at WitnessGAZA.


The attacks on Goldstone

In Haaretz, Hagai El-Ad writes:

What will they come up with next? The campaign to discredit Judge Richard Goldstone, his fact-finding commission and the report that now bears his name seems to reach new heights every week. The latest installment in this high-drama farce has been the revelations about Goldstone’s record during apartheid-era South Africa, and the implication that his report can therefore be disregarded. The mind reels at the intensity of attempts by Israeli officials and others to do everything to dodge the real questions of accountability, policy and justice that have been lingering inconveniently since Operation Cast Lead. But inconvenient questions do tend to linger, and the attempts to deploy an ever-thicker smokescreen usually only draw more attention to what may be hidden behind it.

And yet, the recent attacks on Goldstone have been helpful in re-introducing into public discourse what is perhaps the most important question of all: moral responsibility. How must individuals behave when faced with injustice? What do we expect from our judges, public servants and elected officials? And what do we expect from ourselves? The focus on Goldstone’s past, far from enabling us to escape the lingering questions of Cast Lead – and other questions that must trouble anyone seeking justice – actually serves to throw them into sharp relief.

So here are some complementary questions about justice and those involved in its disservice. And mind you, these questions were not drawn from a far-away past, but from the here-and-now. It is the present that will determine our future – and to what extent justice will be a part of it.

Consider this: What is the reader’s moral judgment of a law that allows some people to reclaim past ownership rights but denies the same rights to others? This is the question today in Sheikh Jarrah.

How just do we deem the conduct of legal advisers who approve the evacuation of longtime indigenous residents from the center of a thriving city, enforcing almost complete separation between the hundreds who have moved in and the thousands who were displaced? This is the question today in Hebron.

What do we think of military commanders who collectively punish more than a million human beings, systematically answering their nutritional needs with provisions that keep them just above a state-secret “red line”? This is the question today in Gaza.


Israel’s unlawful destruction of property during Operation Cast Lead

In a press release, Human Rights Watch said today:

Israel should investigate the unlawful destruction of civilian property during the 2009 Gaza hostilities and lift the blockade that hinders residents from rebuilding their homes, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.

The 116-page report, “‘I Lost Everything’: Israel’s Unlawful Destruction of Property in the Gaza Conflict” documents 12 separate cases during Operation Cast Lead in which Israeli forces extensively destroyed civilian property, including homes, factories, farms, and greenhouses, in areas under their control, without any lawful military purpose. Human Rights Watch’s investigations, which relied upon physical evidence, satellite imagery, and multiple witness accounts at each site, found no indication of nearby fighting when the destruction occurred.

Israel has claimed that its forces destroyed civilian property only when Palestinian armed groups were fighting from it, or were using it to store weapons, hide tunnels, or advance other military purposes. Israel also claims that many Gazan homes were destroyed by Hamas booby-traps. The evidence in the incidents that Human Rights Watch investigated does not support such claims.

“Almost 16 months after the war, Israel has not held accountable troops who unlawfully destroyed swaths of civilian property in areas under their control,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Israel’s blockade continues to keep Gazans from rebuilding their homes, meaning that Israel is still punishing Gaza’s civilians long after the fighting is over.”

Human Rights Watch found evidence in the 12 cases indicating that Israeli forces carried out the destruction for either punitive or other unlawful reasons, violating the prohibition under international humanitarian law – the laws of war – against deliberately destroying civilian property except when necessary for lawful military reasons. In seven of the cases, satellite imagery corroborated eyewitness accounts that Israeli forces destroyed many structures after establishing control over an area and shortly before Israel announced a ceasefire and withdrew its forces from Gaza on January 18, 2009.

Israel’s comprehensive blockade of the Gaza Strip, a form of collective punishment against civilians imposed in response to Hamas’s takeover of Gaza in June 2007, has prevented significant reconstruction, including in areas where Human Rights Watch has documented destruction. Israel has allowed imports of cement for several repair projects, but United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted in late March that these were “a drop in a bucket” compared to housing needs.

Israeli officials insist that the blockade – which had already degraded humanitarian conditions in Gaza before Operation Cast Lead – will remain in place until Hamas releases Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured in 2006, rejects violence, and fulfills other political conditions. Hamas’s prolonged incommunicado detention of Shalit violates the prohibition of cruel and inhuman treatment and may amount to torture.

Many goods are being smuggled into Gaza through tunnels beneath the southern border with Egypt, and many damaged buildings have been repaired at least partially with bricks made from smuggled cement and recycled concrete rubble. However, these improvised building materials are reportedly of poor quality and cannot be used for large reconstruction projects. In the areas of Gaza where Human Rights Watch found that Israeli forces had destroyed homes in areas under their control, there has been virtually no reconstruction of destroyed buildings, indicating that the inadequate supply of reconstruction materials still leaves these materials prohibitively expensive for most of Gaza’s residents, more than three-quarters of whom are impoverished.

Egypt shares responsibility for the collective punishment of Gaza’s civilian population due to its own closure of Gaza’s southern border. Except in limited circumstances, Egypt refuses to allow the passage of goods or people through the border crossing it controls at Rafah.

The laws of war prohibit attacks on civilian objects, including residential homes and civilian factories, unless they become a legitimate military objective, meaning that they are providing enemy forces a definite military advantage in the circumstances prevailing at the time. The report examines incidents of destruction that suggest violation of the laws-of-war prohibition of wanton destruction – the term used to describe extensive destruction of civilian property not lawfully justified by military necessity. Such destruction would be a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Conventions of 1949, which is applicable in Gaza. Individuals responsible for committing or ordering such destruction should be prosecuted for war crimes.

Human Rights Watch did not include in its report cases in which the destruction was not extensive, or the evidence suggested any possibility that Israel’s destruction of the property in question could have been militarily justified or based on mistaken information.

Human Rights Watch documented the complete destruction of 189 buildings, including 11 factories, 8 warehouses and 170 residential buildings – roughly 5 percent of the total property destroyed in Gaza – leaving at least 971 people homeless. In the cases investigated in the neighborhoods of Izbt Abd Rabbo, Zeitoun, and Khoza’a, Israeli forces had destroyed virtually every home, factory, and orchard within certain areas, indicating an apparent plan of systematic destruction in these locations. The destroyed industrial establishments include juice and biscuit plants, a flour mill, and seven concrete factories. Human Rights Watch did not determine whether these incidents represent a broader pattern, but Israel should thoroughly investigate these cases – including the lawfulness of any relevant policy decisions – and appropriately punish persons found to have acted unlawfully.

“The evidence shows that, in these cases, Israeli forces gratuitously destroyed people’s homes and livelihoods,” said Whitson. “If the Israeli government doesn’t investigate and punish those responsible, it would be effectively endorsing the suffering that these civilians have endured.”

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) lawyers told Human Rights Watch that the IDF is probing many of the cases of property destruction documented in this report. However, these are not criminal investigations by military police, but so-called operational debriefings that do not involve contacting Palestinian witnesses. Of the 150 investigations opened to date into Operation Cast Lead, 36 are criminal investigations and the rest are operational debriefings. Two of these criminal cases include allegations of damage to individual buildings.

The only reported penalty imposed for unlawful property destruction during Operation Cast Lead was an unspecified disciplinary measure taken immediately by the commander in the field against one soldier for an incident involving “uprooting vegetation” in Gaza. The IDF has provided no further details regarding the incident or the disciplinary measure. Overall, to date Israel has criminally sentenced only one soldier and has disciplined four other soldiers and commanders for violations during the Gaza operation.

Notably, Israel has not conducted thorough and impartial investigations into whether policy decisions taken by senior political and military decision-makers, including pre-operation decisions, led to violations of the laws of war, such as the unlawful destruction of civilian infrastructure.

Israel has published the results of a military probe into one case documented in this report, which found an attack on a flour mill to be lawful. The probe’s conclusions, however, are contradicted by available video and other evidence. (In late March 2010, Israel announced that it had approved cement imports to repair the flour mill.) The IDF has not provided explanations for the other 11 incidents that Human Rights Watch documented and previously raised with the IDF.

Hamas authorities are not known to have taken any meaningful steps to investigate or hold accountable members of Hamas or other Palestinian armed groups responsible for serious laws-of-war violations either before, during, or since Operation Case Lead, primarily rocket attacks at populated areas in Israel. However, under the laws of war, unlawfulness by one party to a conflict does not justify unlawful acts by another.

Under the laws of war, not all destruction of civilian property is unlawful. At times, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups used civilian structures to engage Israeli forces and to store arms; they also booby-trapped civilian structures and dug tunnels underneath them.

In addition, Human Rights Watch criticized Hamas and other Palestinian groups for firing rockets from populated areas. In such cases, property damage caused by Israeli counter-strikes against armed groups may have been lawful “collateral damage.” Palestinian armed groups also may have been responsible for damage to civilian property in cases in which IDF attacks triggered secondary explosions of weapons or explosives stored by armed groups, which damaged nearby structures. The destruction of civilian property during immediate fighting or in order to permit the movement of Israeli forces because adjoining roads were mined and impassable may be lawful as well, depending on the circumstances.

Human Rights Watch’s investigations considered these possibilities and focused on 12 cases where the evidence indicates that there was no lawful justification for the destruction of civilian property. In these incidents, the IDF was not engaging Palestinian forces at the time they destroyed the property – in all cases fighting in the area had stopped – and in most cases the property destruction occurred after Israeli forces had eliminated or dispersed Palestinian fighters in the area and consolidated their control, such as by occupying houses, stationing tanks in streets or on nearby hills, and undertaking continuous surveillance from manned and unmanned aircraft.

The mere possibility of future military use by armed groups of some civilian structures in these areas – such as to set booby-traps, store weapons, or build tunnels – cannot under the laws of war justify the wide-scale and at times systematic destruction of whole neighborhoods, as well as of factories and greenhouses that provided food and other items intended for the civilian population.

Public statements by some Israeli political leaders suggest a willingness to destroy civilian infrastructure in Gaza to deter rocket attacks by armed groups against Israel. Human Rights Watch documented numerous cases in which Palestinian armed groups in Gaza launched rocket attacks against Israeli population centers during and before Operation Cast Lead in violation of the laws of war. During the fighting, approximately 800,000 Israelis were within range of hundreds of rocket attacks, which killed three Israeli civilians and seriously injured several dozen others. Individuals who willfully conducted or ordered deliberate or indiscriminate rocket attacks on civilians are responsible for war crimes. However, as noted, laws of war violations by one party to a conflict do not justify violations by another party.

Israel controls the Gaza Strip’s land, air, and sea access with the exception of a 15-kilometer border with Egypt. Since the end of the conflict, Israel has approved limited shipments of food, fuel, and material into Gaza, but these fall far short of the humanitarian needs of the population. It has allowed construction materials designated for specific projects, but continues to deny entry to cement, iron bars, and other basic construction materials. While there are valid Israeli security concerns that Hamas could use cement to build or strengthen military bunkers and tunnels, humanitarian aid organizations report that Israel has refused to consider a mechanism to ensure the independent monitoring of the end-use of construction materials. Israel should urgently seek to create such a mechanism.

“The United States, the European Union, and other states should urgently call upon Israel and Egypt to open Gaza’s borders to reconstruction materials and other supplies essential for the civilian population,” Whitson said.


The sadistic logic behind Israel’s siege of Gaza

The Israeli human rights group, Gisha, has taken the Israeli government to court in an effort to force Israel to reveal information on the import controls through which Gaza is being held under siege.

Rules that allow the importation of cinnamon but not coriander might seem arbitrary and it’s unlikely that further documentation from the Israelis will show otherwise. But there does appear to be a sadistic logic at work here. Nothing more effectively reinforces a sense of powerlessness in a population than for the minutiae of everyday life to be under the constant, arbitrary and callous control of an invisible and inaccessible power. This is the logic and practice of subjugation. It is an exercise in the crushing of human will.

Gisha’s director, Sari Bashi, says she is no security expert, “but preventing children from receiving toys, preventing manufacturers from getting raw materials – I don’t see how that’s responsive to Israeli security needs.”

And she says that some of the prohibitions appear to be absurdly arbitrary: “I certainly don’t understand why cinnamon is permitted, but coriander is forbidden. Is there something more dangerous about coriander? Is coriander more critical to Gaza’s economy than cinnamon? This is a policy that appears to make no sense.”
She argues that if there is a logic behind such decisions, the military should reveal what it is.

Now, after several months’ waiting, the state has given its response to the court, in a written submission, seen by the BBC.

It throws a small pool of light on the process behind the blockade.

The overall rationale is set out, in bold type: “The limitation on the transfer of goods is a central pillar in the means at the disposal of the State of Israel in the armed conflict between it and Hamas.”

The Israeli authorities also confirm the existence of four documents related to how the blockade works: how they process requests for imports into Gaza, how they monitor the shortages within Gaza, their approved list of what is allowed in, and a document entitled “Food Consumption in the Gaza Strip – Red Lines” which sets out the minimum calorie intake needed by Gaza’s million and a half inhabitants, according to their age and sex.

This paper was however, the state insists, just a draft power-point presentation, used for “internal planning work”, which “never served as a basis for the policy of the authority”.

But while the first three documents promise a great deal of detail, that detail is not delivered.

In each case, the state argues that disclosure of what is allowed in and why would, in their words, “damage national security and harm foreign relations”.


A view of life in Gaza

In a interview, Robert Wright speaks to Bassam Nasser, who works for the Catholic Relief Services in Gaza. Though Wright’s questions tend to be somewhat uninformed and predictable, Nasser’s responses provide a much richer and more nuanced view of life under siege and Israeli occupation than can be gleaned for standard news reports.


Michel Warschawski interview

Michel Warschawski is a writer and journalist and founder of The Alternative Information Center, an internationally oriented, progressive, joint Palestinian-Israeli activist organization.

At the end of the war on Gaza, Warschawski wrote this:

Absolutely Not! Not in Their Name, Not in Ours

Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni, Gabi Ashkenazi and Ehud Olmert–don’t you dare show your faces at any memorial ceremony for the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto, Lublin, Vilna or Kishinev. And you too, leaders of Peace Now, for whom peace means a pacification of the Palestinian resistance by any means, including the destruction of a people. Whenever I will be there, I shall personally do my best to expel each of you from these events, for your very presence would be an immense sacrilege.

Not in Their Names

You have no right to speak in the name of the martyrs of our people. You are not Anne Frank of the Bergen Belsen concentration camp but Hans Frank, the German general who acted to starve and destroy the Jews of Poland.

You are not representing any continuity with the Warsaw Ghetto, because today the Warsaw Ghetto is right in front of you, targeted by your own tanks and artillery, and its name is Gaza. Gaza that you have decided to eliminate from the map, as General Frank intended to eliminate the Ghetto. But, unlike the Ghettos of Poland and Belorussia, in which the Jews were left almost alone, Gaza will not be eliminated because millions of men and women from the four corners of our world are building a powerful human shield carrying two words: Never Again!

Not in Our Name!

Together with tens of thousands of other Jews, from Canada to Great Britain, from Australia to Germany, we are warning you: don’t dare to speak in our names, because we will run after you, even, if needed, to the hell of war-criminals, and stuff your words down your throat until you ask for forgiveness for having mixed us up with your crimes. We, and not you, are the children of Mala Zimetbaum and Marek Edelman, of Mordechai Anilevicz and Stephane Hessel, and we are conveying their message to humankind for custody in the hands of the Gaza resistance fighters: “We are fighting for our freedom and yours, for our pride and yours, for our human, social and national dignity and yours.” (Appeal of the Ghetto to the world, Passover 1943)

But for you, the leaders of Israel, “freedom” is a dirty word. You have no pride and you do not understand the meaning of human dignity.

We are not “another Jewish voice,” but the sole Jewish voice able to speak in the names of the tortured saints of the Jewish people. Your voice is nothing other than the old bestial vociferations of the killers of our ancestors.


Children of Gaza: scarred, trapped, vengeful

(h/t to Ann El Khoury at Pulse.)

The Independent previewed “Children of Gaza” which aired on Channel 4 in the UK on March 14:

Omsyatte adjusts her green school uniform and climbs gingerly on to a desk at the front of the classroom. The shy 12-year-old holds up a brightly coloured picture and begins to explain to her classmates what she has drawn. It is a scene played out in schools all over the world, but for one striking difference: Omsyatte’s picture does not illustrate a recent family holiday, or jolly school outing, but the day an Israeli military offensive killed her nine-year-old brother and destroyed her home.

“Here is where they shot my brother Ibrahim, God bless his soul. And here is the F16 plane that threw rockets into the house and trees, and here is the tank that started to shoot,” she says, to a round of applause from the other children. The exercise is designed to help the pupils at the school come to terms with the warfare that has dominated their short lives; particularly the horrors of the 2008 Israeli military offensive Operation Cast Lead, which killed 1,400 Palestinians, and destroyed one in eight homes.

Like hundreds of displaced Gazans, Omsyatte’s family have spent more than a year living in a tent on a site near their home. Little rebuilding work has been done during this time – with supplies unable to pass into Gaza because of the ongoing blockade imposed by Israel in 2007 – and groups of children now pick their way through piles of rubble, kicking footballs around the bombsites which used to be local landmarks.

Homelessness is just one of the issues facing the 780,000 Gazan children in the aftermath of the conflict, problems that are explored in a revealing new documentary Dispatches: Children of Gaza, to be screened tomorrow at 8pm on Channel 4. Perhaps the most disturbing of these is the emotional scars borne by children who have survived the conflict; the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme reports that the majority of children show signs of anxiety, depression and behavioural problems.

Small boys build toy rockets out of drinks bottles, and talk about the fake guns they are going to buy with their pocket money. While boys the world over are preoccupied with fighting and weapons, this takes on a more sinister significance when the game isn’t Cowboys vs Indians, but Jews vs Arabs, and the children’s make-believe warfare is chillingly realistic.

To find out how to help the children of Gaza visit the Children of Gaza Fund website.


Which is worse for women? Hamas oppression or Israeli oppression?

Ever since Hamas assumed full political control of Gaza in June 2007, there have been occasional reports that the Islamist movement is finding ways to impose a more rigidly conservative and religiously intolerant way of life in the Palestinian enclave — changes that would impact secular, liberal-minded women more harshly than any other social group.

The BBC spoke to five Palestinian women ranging in age from 21 to 36 to find out how they have personally been affected by living under Hamas’ rule. The consensus was pretty clear: nothing Hamas has done has had a fraction of the effect that Israel has had through imposing a brutal economic siege on the population of 1.5 million.

Mona Ahmad al-Shawa, 36, who runs the women’s unit at the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, said:

The siege of Gaza, which Israeli tightened when Hamas took control in June 2007, makes women’s lives much more complicated.

There are shortages of water, electricity and cooking gas. It is very difficult to leave Gaza for medical treatment.

And after the war in Gaza last year, things got worse because many women lost their husbands. Women lost lives too, of course.

You can’t imagine how hard it is to be a disabled woman in this society. Or a widow.
Our Sharia law means that a widowed woman will lose custody of her children when a boy reaches nine years old and a girl 11.

Since the war, Hamas has ruled that a widow can keep her children if she doesn’t remarry. This is an improvement.

Women’s priorities in Gaza are focused on practical matters – a home, clean water and electricity. Finer points of human rights are not top of the list.

We have many problems with the Hamas authority, but we are not in a big fight with them about women.

People in Gaza feel they are in a big prison, they feel have no choices in life.
Conditions change according to the political situation.

When the first intifada started in 1987 most women covered up, because people could speak badly of you, or throw stones if you went uncovered in the streets. It is not as bad as that now.


Tzipi Livni won’t be visiting the UK any time soon

To hear it from the Israeli press you’d think that the British government can now make changes to the law simply by having the prime minister write an op-ed.

Last December an arrest warrant was issued for former Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, when she was expected to arrive in Britain. According to Haaretz she no longer needs to fear getting hand-cuffed for alleged war crimes — at least not on trips to the UK:

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced on Thursday plans to stop politically-motivated campaign groups from securing arrest warrants for visiting foreign officials. In a March 3 editorial in the Daily Telegraph, Brown wrote, “Britain will continue to take action to prosecute or extradite suspected war criminals – regardless of their status or power… But the process by which we take action must guarantee the best results. The only question for me is whether our purpose is best served by a process where an arrest warrant for the gravest crimes can be issued on the slightest of evidence.”

Under the current system, British magistrates are obliged to consider an arrest warrant case presented by any individual. Gordon Brown said he will instead propose that only one government department, the Crown Prosecution Service, evaluate the merits of any case brought under international law.

This move follows an uproar last December when Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni canceled a trip to London because a pro-Palestinian group secured an arrest warrant for alleged crimes committed in Gaza. A statement from Livni’s office praised the new changes proposed by Brown and said that “the British legal system has been abused by cynical elements in the United Kingdom.”

From London The Times presents a very different story:

Britain risks a showdown with Israel today when the Government signals it is in no hurry to ease the threat of arrest for visiting politicians and generals.

Ministers will announce a consultation on the principle of universal jurisdiction, under which private citizens can secure arrest warrants for offences such as war crimes committed abroad.

The Government had promised swift action when the Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni cancelled a trip to London last year after a magistrate issued a warrant for her arrest for alleged war crimes in Gaza when she was Foreign Minister.

The issue caused embarrassment for the Government, which promised to remedy the matter quickly. Today’s announcement, however, means that the issue will not be resolved until well after the election, expected in May. When The Times reported last month that a Cabinet split could delay the issue could be delayed for months, Ms Livni threatened to travel to Britain and “take the bullet” as the only way of shaming the Government into action.

After the disclosure that agents suspected of acting for Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, used fake British passports to enter Dubai and kill a Hamas commander, however, the balance of diplomatic power has shifted.

The delay is a victory for Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, who has argued that the legal point at stake is too important to rush.

Since the British government just voted in support of a UN General Assembly resolution calling on Israel to fully investigate allegations of war crimes committed during its war on Gaza, maybe they should quietly tell the Israelis that the proposed changes on universal jurisdiction aren’t going to happen if Israel keeps running away from the Goldstone report.

The National reports:

Two unrelated diplomatic upsets have underlined growing impatience with the behaviour of the Israeli government among western countries that are traditionally supportive.

Backing from the European Union and Australia in the United Nations to sustain the issue of Israel’s alleged war crimes in Gaza more than a year ago has coincided with controversy over Israel’s apparent use of western passports in the assassination of Mahmoud al Mabhouh, a Hamas official, in Dubai.

Support for an Arab resolution last Friday at the UN – most EU countries voted in favour while others and Australia abstained – gave Israel and the Palestinians five more months to report back on progress in their respective investigations of war crimes alleged in a report by Richard Goldstone, a South African judge.


UN envoy: Gaza an open-air prison

Yousef Munayyer writes:

“To cut down on gang-related crimes, policies could be put in place to curb the African-American population growth in places like Harlem and Compton. The government could consider cutting off welfare benefits for families in these urban areas to discourage births of blacks and cut down the supply of ‘superfluous young men’ who have nothing else to do in their lives but be preyed on by criminal gang leaders who give them a sense of belonging. Ultimately these policies are an effective way to limit gang related crimes.”

The absurdity and lack of logic in the above fictitious paragraph is overshadowed only by its offensive nature. Few would welcome such a view in 2010, but this kind of argument was made recently to an audience that received it with applause instead of disgust.

Martin Kramer, a fellow at Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, made this argument at a conference in Israel last month. The only difference was that the population he sought to limit was Palestinians in Gaza to prevent “economically superfluous young men” from joining radical groups. He said that “if society cannot offer dignified pursuits for the fourth and fifth and sixth sons, then someone else will.”

He also supported lowering the fertility rate for Palestinians in Gaza and argued that this “will happen faster if the West stops providing pro-natal subsidies for Palestinians with refugee status.”


At what point will the West dump Israel?

For those of us who view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as being an issue of injustice, there’s plenty of reason to believe no resolution is in sight simply because justice is one of the weakest among the principles governing world affairs. To this extent, Israeli leaders can feel confident in their sense of impunity.

But there is another line Israel crosses at its peril: where its actions conflict with the commercial interests of its allies. Israel can be a moral liability but it cannot be a financial liability.

US taxpayers have every reason to feel that Israel, as the largest single recipient of US foreign aid, is already a massive financial liability. Even so, since most of those tax dollars get plowed straight back into the US defense industry, Washington is unlikely to become more attentive to the concerns of ordinary American citizens than it is to the interests of its corporate sponsors.

Nevertheless, there is now reason to think that with the murder of Mahmoud al Mabhouh in Dubai, Israel crossed a line that strains the limits of Western tolerance. Western governments would have paid scant attention to this event were it not for one egregious error by Mossad: its flagrant disregard for the integrity of foreign passports.

For many international travelers from Western countries, a passport might seem like nothing more than an obligatory document of no extraordinary value, yet in many ways these carefully bound and embossed permits are the lubricants of globalization. Swift passage through immigration control is one of the things that keeps the wheels of business turning smoothly.

But anyone traveling to the Middle East on an EU or Australian passport will now face a new level of scrutiny from immigration officers intent on blocking the passage of Israeli assassins.

Dubai’s police chief Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim announced on Monday that any travelers suspected of being Israeli, even if they hold passports from another country, will now be barred from entry into the UAE.

Asharq Al-Awsat reports that any foreign traveler visiting Lebanon who has a Jewish name will now be placed under surveillance.

Major General Wafiq Jizzini, director general of the Lebanese Public Security, said: “When someone comes to Lebanon on a foreign passport and the name of his family indicates that he is of Jewish origin, the border center sends the information to the central information office at the General Directorate of the Public Security. Afterward, the directorate observes this person who would have already registered his address in Lebanon. Both the visiting person and the one who receives him at the airport are observed.”

Israeli leaders such as Israel’s minister of industry, trade and labor, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who still regard the Dubai murder as a victory for Israel, have further reason to question that conclusion as fallout from the operation has now reached the United Nations General Assembly.

On Friday, the only countries willing to side with Israel in opposing a resolution that makes a renewed call for the investigation of war crimes committed during Israel’s war on Gaza, were the United States, Canada, Micronesia, Nauru, Panama, and Macedonia.

Australian government sources informed the Sydney Morning Herald that there was a direct connection between the UN vote and the Dubai affair:

Britain, France and Germany have all recently expressed anger at Israel after their passports were caught up in the Dubai plot.

One Department of Foreign Affairs source told the Herald there was no doubt the decision to abstain was intended as a sign to Israel not to take Australian support for granted.

“A number of things made it easier for us to switch our vote,” the source said.

“Firstly, the Americans helped the Palestinians to soften the wording of this resolution compared to the last one. Secondly, a number of other countries had indicated that they were toughening their own positions on Goldstone. But there is no question that the debacle surrounding our passports being used in Dubai helped to make up the government’s mind to abstain. The final decision was taken late on Friday, Australian time, just a few hours before the vote.

“Our pattern in the past has been to vote with the US when it comes to Israel, to show as much support for Israel as possible.

“We were also aware that the UK’s decision to vote in favour of the resolution was influenced by the fact that so many of their citizens had been caught up in the Dubai assassination.”

Israelis would do well to remember that even among their most effusive supporters, an allegiance to business invariably trumps all others.