Thousands of Gazans fleeing to Europe, hundreds die at sea

Haaretz reports: Thousands of Palestinians have left the Gaza Strip for Europe using tunnels, traffickers and boats, testimonies obtained by Haaretz show.

Gazans have been fleeing the Strip since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, but their escape was hardly covered in the media since they have been leaving clandestinely, with the help of paid smugglers.

The sinking of two ships carrying Palestinians from Gaza — one off the coast of Malta last week, and the other off the coast of Egypt — and the drowning of hundreds of passengers have focused attention on the trend.

The Palestinian Embassy in Greece reported yesterday that the ship that sank off the coast of Malta was carrying more than 450 passengers, most of them Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, and that it was rammed intentionally by another ship run by rival smugglers. [Read more...]

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Israeli drone conference is features aircraft recently used to attack Gaza

Quartz: A few weeks after Israel and Hamas signed an open-ended truce to end their nearly two-month-long war in Gaza, Israeli defense contractors are parading weapons used in the conflict at a conference in Tel Aviv. The annual Israel Unmanned Systems conference, which began Sunday and runs through Friday (Sept. 19), is jointly hosted with the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. According to its website, attendees include “senior officials from commercial and government entities” from Europe, Asia, North and South America.

The conference’s sponsors include the largest Israeli private defense contractors, among them Haifa-based Elbit Systems. Elbit’s Hermes 450 (pdf), a “multi-role tactical high-performance unmanned aircraft system” (UAS)—in other words, a battle drone—operated this summer in the Gaza Strip, and may have carried out attacks. [Continue reading...]

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Veterans of elite Israeli intel unit refuse reserve duty, citing mistreatment of Palestinians

The New York Times reports: Denouncing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians under occupation, a group of veterans from an elite, secretive military intelligence unit have declared they will no longer “take part in the state’s actions against Palestinians” in required reserve duty because of what they called “our moral duty to act.”

In a letter sent Thursday night to their commanders as well as Israel’s prime minister and army chief, 43 veterans of the clandestine Unit 8200 complained that Israel made “no distinction between Palestinians who are and are not involved in violence” and that information collected “harms innocent people.” Intelligence “is used for political persecution,” they wrote, which “does not allow for people to lead normal lives, and fuels more violence, further distancing us from the end of the conflict.”

The letter, revealed Friday in Israel’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper as well as The Guardian in Britain, echoes similar periodic protests by reservists over the years, including a group of 27 pilots who refused to participate in what Israel calls targeted assassinations, and 13 members of the vaunted commando unit known as Sayeret Matkal, both in 2003. But it is the first public collective refusal by intelligence officers rather that combat troops. Unit 8200 has a special role in Israeli society as a coveted pipeline to its high-technology industry.

“After our service we started seeing a more complex picture of a nondemocratic, oppressive regime that controls the lives of millions of people,” said one of the group’s organizers, a 32-year-old sergeant major who was on active duty from 2001 to 2005. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because the military prohibits Unit 8200 members from being publicly identified. [Continue reading...]

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For Gaza’s children, ‘safety’ is just a word

Samer Badawi writes: As the smoke clears over Gaza and its residents begin to assess the damage of Israel’s 50-day war, no group has been more traumatized than this enclave’s children. They represent roughly half of Gaza’s population and, according to a report released on August 27, died at a rate of twelve a day, every day, during the conflict. Their parents, too, have perished in unprecedented numbers, leaving more than 1,500 of Gaza’s children orphaned.

Alaa Balata is one of them.

I met Alaa during one of the war’s temporary ceasefires. Israeli drones buzzed overhead, and the 17-year-old was surrounded by relatives who had been keeping a close eye on him since his parents perished. It had been fewer than two weeks since the incident, and Alaa spoke in the steady understatement of a person in shock, damming the sadness — at least for now.

When I asked him what happened, Alaa gestured toward the heap of rubble that was his uncle’s home. We were sitting on plastic chairs in a dirt alley flanked by cinder-block walls — a familiar scene in any Palestinian refugee camp. But here, in the heart of Jabalia, the path was strewn with shrapnel—the same dense metal that tore through every member of Alaa’s immediate family on the afternoon of July 29.

“It was the second day of Eid,” Alaa told me. A day earlier, on the first day of the Muslim feast marking the end of Ramadan, Alaa’s father decided to move the family to his brother’s house, which was was deep inside the camp and farther from the Israeli tanks shelling everywhere along Gaza’s border.

“He thought we would be safer here,” Alaa said. [Continue reading...]

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Noam Chomsky: The fate of the Gaza ceasefire

Is there nowhere on the face of the Earth where opinion polls aren’t taken? In the wake of the 50-day Israeli assault on Gaza, parts of that tiny strip of land now look, according to photographs, like a moonscape of destruction. At least 10,000 homes were obliterated and thousands more damaged; at least 175 major factories were pummeled into the dust. Its only power plant was destroyed, damaging electricity, water, and sewage systems. Large apartment houses, as well as the ministry of education, schools, and other sites, were hit and sometimes reduced to so much rubble. It was all part of a massive Israeli assault on Hamas, several of whose senior leaders were assassinated, but also on the Palestinian population, involving what looked like collective punishment for its support of that organization or simply living in proximity to it. And indeed, with almost no hope of rebuilding much of their world any time soon, you might think that Palestinians would hold the Hamas leadership at least somewhat responsible for the destruction that has rained down, as assumedly the Israelis wanted them to. But a recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), begun in the last day before the ceasefire took hold, and carried out, in part, amid the rubble that is now Gaza, suggests otherwise.

It finds that Palestinian opinion couldn’t be clearer.  Support hasn’t been this high for Hamas since 2006, when it won a fair and square democratic election. If a presidential vote were held today, the pollsters of PSR discovered, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would beat Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas hands down. Here are just a few of the findings: “79% [of Palestinians] believe that Hamas has won the Gaza War; 3% believe Israel came out the winner; and 17% believe the two sides were losers… If new presidential elections are held today and only two [candidates] were nominated, Haniyeh, for the first time since we have started asking about his popularity about eight years ago, would receive a majority of 61% and Abbas would receive 32%. [The] vote for Haniyeh stands at 53% in the Gaza Strip and 66% in the West Bank. Abbas receives 43% in the Gaza Strip and 25% in the West Bank… A majority of 53% believe that armed confrontation is the most effective means to establish a Palestinian state next to the state of Israel. Only 22% believe negotiation is the best means to establish a Palestinian state and 20% believe that popular non-violent resistance is the most effective route to statehood.”

As historically has often been the case, massive bombings and other assaults do not destroy the support of populations for movements or governments, but tend to solidify it. In other words, Israeli policy is reducing civilized life for Palestinians in a major way and yet increasing the urge both to fight on and the desire for revenge. It’s an ugly pattern and, as TomDispatch regular Noam Chomsky (whose latest book, Masters of Mankind, is due out this week) indicates today, it’s been going on in this same fashion for a remarkably long time, as Israel continues to gobble up Palestinian lands on the West Bank, while working to hem Palestinians in yet further in the Gaza Strip. Tom Engelhardt

Ceasefires in which violations never cease
What’s next for Israel, Hamas, and Gaza?
By Noam Chomsky

On August 26th, Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) both accepted a ceasefire agreement after a 50-day Israeli assault on Gaza that left 2,100 Palestinians dead and vast landscapes of destruction behind. The agreement calls for an end to military action by both Israel and Hamas, as well as an easing of the Israeli siege that has strangled Gaza for many years.

This is, however, just the most recent of a series of ceasefire agreements reached after each of Israel’s periodic escalations of its unremitting assault on Gaza. Throughout this period, the terms of these agreements remain essentially the same.  The regular pattern is for Israel, then, to disregard whatever agreement is in place, while Hamas observes it — as Israel has officially recognized — until a sharp increase in Israeli violence elicits a Hamas response, followed by even fiercer brutality. These escalations, which amount to shooting fish in a pond, are called “mowing the lawn” in Israeli parlance. The most recent was more accurately described as “removing the topsoil” by a senior U.S. military officer, appalled by the practices of the self-described “most moral army in the world.”

[Read more...]

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For Israel, the beginning of wisdom is to admit its mistakes

Avi Shlaim writes: Israel has a habit of justifying its actions in the occupied Palestinian territories, however illegal and indecent, in the name of security. But denying any security to the other side only perpetuates the conflict.

Five days after reaching a ceasefire with Hamas to end the latest round of fighting in Gaza, the Israeli cabinet decided to appropriate 988 acres of land on the West Bank, near the place where three Israeli teenagers were recently abducted and murdered, to make way for another illegal Jewish city. This is the biggest land grab in three decades. As the justice minister, Tzipi Livni, pointed out: “It was a decision that weakens Israel and damages its security.” What it proves, if further proof is needed, is that Israel’s leaders are determined to prevent a two-state solution to the conflict.

Operation Protective Edge, which came to an end after 50 days of fighting, was the third and deadliest war in six years between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement that rules Gaza. Israel lost 66 soldiers and six civilians. On the Palestinian side, the war left 2,104 dead, mostly civilians, and 12,656 injured; 17,000 houses were destroyed or damaged; 520,000 people, out of a population of 1.8 million, were displaced. The damage to buildings and to the civilian infrastructure, estimated at $6bn, will take many years to repair.

What did Israel gain by unleashing the deadly firepower of the IDF against the caged population of this tiny coastal enclave? Virtually nothing. [Continue reading...]

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Failure in Gaza

Assaf Sharon writes: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long ago become a shouting match over moral superiority. With seventy Israelis and more than two thousand Palestinians, most of them civilians, dead, the latest round of violence in Gaza, too, is being analyzed and discussed mostly on ethical grounds. But as fighting goes on, moral condemnation will likely do little to prevent the next round. Understanding how we got to this point — and, more importantly, how we can move beyond it — calls for an examination of the political events that led up to the operation and the political context in which it took place.

In Israel, endless controversy over Gaza has overlooked one question: How did we get here in the first place? Why, after a considerable period of relative calm, did Hamas resume rocket fire into Israel?

Before the current operation began, Hamas was at one of the lowest points in its history. Its alliance with Syria and Iran, its two main sources of support, had grown weak. Hamas’s ideological and political affinity with the Muslim Brotherhood turned from an asset into a burden, with the downfall of the Brotherhood in Egypt and the rise of its fierce opponent, General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi. Egypt’s closure of the Rafah crossing and the tunnels on its border with Gaza undermined Hamas’s economic infrastructure. In these circumstances, Hamas agreed last April to reconciliation with its political rival Fatah, based on Fatah’s terms. For example, the agreement called for a government of technocrats largely under the control of the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas.

But Benjamin Netanyahu viewed the reconciliation as a threat rather than an opportunity. While the separation of Gaza from the West Bank may not serve Israel’s interest (namely, effective government in the Palestinian Territories), it benefits Netanyahu’s policy of rejecting solutions that would lead to a separate Palestinian state. The reconciliation agreement robbed him of the claim that in the absence of effective rule over Gaza, there is no point in striking a deal with Abbas. [Continue reading...]

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The Hannibal Directive: How Israel killed its own troops and massacred Palestinians to prevent soldiers’ capture

Max Blumenthal writes: In the southern city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, Aug. 1, 2014 is known as Black Friday. This was the day the Israeli military bombarded the city with almost every mode of destruction available to it, from F-16 missiles to Apache rockets to naval shelling to drone strikes and mortars.

Bulldozers ripped down homes at random while tanks barreled through neighborhoods, shelling anything in sight. In a matter of hours, at least 500 artillery shells and hundreds of missiles were dumped on the city, almost entirely in civilian areas. By the end, at least 190 people had been killed, so many that unequipped local hospitals were forced to store their corpses and body parts in ice cream coolers.

The target of the operation was not necessarily Rafah’s civilian population, though attacking it was part of the Israeli military’s underlying logic. Instead, the army apparently aimed to kill one of its own. Indeed, Israeli forces had invoked the Hannibal Directive, opening up an indiscriminate assault on the entire circumference of the area where one of its soldiers, Lt. Hadar Goldin, was allegedly taken captive by an ambush team from the Hamas military wing known as the Qassam Brigades.

It was one of possibly three instances during Israel’s 51-day war with Hamas that it initiated the Hannibal Directive. [Continue reading...]

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Britain ‘deplores’ Israel decision to seize West Bank land

Reuters reports: The British government said on Monday it deplored an Israeli decision to appropriate a large swathe of land inside the occupied West Bank, saying the move would seriously damage Israel’s international reputation.

On Sunday, Israel announced the appropriation of land in the Etzion Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem, a move which an anti-settlement group said was the biggest such claim in 30 years.

“The UK deplores the Israeli government’s expropriation of 988 acres (1.54 square miles) of land around the settlement of Etzion,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in a statement which echoed U.S. calls to reverse the decision.

“This is a particularly ill-judged decision that comes at a time when the priority must be to build on the ceasefire in Gaza. It will do serious damage to Israel’s standing in the international community.”

Some 500,000 Israelis live among 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory that the Jewish state captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

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U.S. urges Israel to reverse planned West Bank land appropriation

Reuters reports: The United States sees Israel’s announcement on Sunday of a land appropriation for possible settlement construction in the occupied West Bank as “counterproductive” to peace efforts and urges the Israeli government to reverse the decision, a State Department official said.

Israel laid claim to nearly a thousand acres (400 hectares) in the Etzion settlement bloc near Bethlehem, a move which an anti-settlement group termed the biggest appropriation in 30 years and a Palestinian official said would cause only more friction after the Gaza war.

“We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” the U.S. official said. “ This announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, planning step they approve and construction tender they issue is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.” [Continue reading...]

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Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza neighborhood shocked the Pentagon

Mark Perry writes: The cease-fire announced Tuesday between Israel and Palestinian factions — if it holds — will end seven weeks of fighting that killed more than 2,200 Gazans and 69 Israelis. But as the rival camps seek to put their spin on the outcome, one assessment of Israel’s Gaza operation that won’t be publicized is the U.S. military’s. Though the Pentagon shies from publicly expressing judgments that might fall afoul of a decidedly pro-Israel Congress, senior U.S. military sources speaking on condition of anonymity offered scathing assessments of Israeli tactics, particularly in the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza City.

One of the more curious moments in Israel’s Operation Protective Edge came on July 20, when a live microphone at Fox News caught U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry commenting sarcastically on Israel’s military action. “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” Kerry said. “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation.”
Rain of high-explosive shells

Kerry’s comment followed the heaviest bombardment of the war to that point, as Israeli artillery rained thousands of high-explosive shells on Shujaiya, a residential area on the eastern edge of Gaza City. A high-ranking U.S. military officer said that the source of Kerry’s apparent consternation was almost certainly a Pentagon summary report assessing the Israeli barrage on which he had been briefed by an aide moments earlier.

According to this senior U.S. officer, who had access to the July 21 Pentagon summary of the previous 24 hours of Israeli operations, the internal report showed that 11 Israeli artillery battalions — a minimum of 258 artillery pieces, according to the officer’s estimate — pumped at least 7,000 high explosive shells into the Gaza neighborhood, which included a barrage of some 4,800 shells during a seven-hour period at the height of the operation. Senior U.S. officers were stunned by the report. [Continue reading...]

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Reflections on the war on Gaza

Azzam Tamimi writes: First: For the people of Gaza, the recent ceasefire deal between the resistance and Israel did not accomplish all they were seeking. Yet, at the same time, it achieved none of what the Israelis were hoping for. Perhaps the reason the two sides managed to agree, finally, on a ceasefire, was their conviction that there was no way any of them could achieve more under the prevalent circumstances.

It is true that the Israelis have enjoyed unprecedented Arab support in their war against Gaza and continuous encouragement from certain Arab quarters to inflict as much damage as they could on Gaza to pressure Hamas into capitulation. Yet, they have not been able to cripple the resistance or force it to surrender. As for the resistance, it has indeed enjoyed the full and unconditional backing of the people of Gaza, despite the siege and the pain, in the hope that this latest round of conflict would led to lifting the siege that has been imposed on the Strip for nearly eight years. Yet, it has not been possible for the resistance to obtain guarantees that the siege would finally be ended.

Second: The artillery and the rockets have gone silent and the annoying buzzing and whizzing of Israeli warplanes in Gaza’s skies is no longer there, yet the propaganda warfare will continue for some time to come. Each side will seek to prove it came out victorious having achieved its objectives.

The Israelis consider the continuation of the siege a sign of their success whereas the resistance considers the failure of the Israelis to impose demilitarisation a sign of victory. However, one can see a marked difference between the two sides. As soon as the ceasefire deal went into effect, the masses in Gaza took to the streets to celebrate and express joy over what they truly believed was victory.

On the other side, the Israeli masses seemed confused and even distressed. Few Israelis believe that the war has accomplished much for them. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu started the offensive against Gaza with high expectations. He promised his public that he would dismantle the military infrastructure of Hamas and the other resistance factions, that he would destroy the tunnels and that he would put an end to the firing of the rockets from Gaza. However, none of this was achieved. [Continue reading...]

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Panoramic views of the destruction of Gaza

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More opposition to ISIS among Gazans than Europeans

Max Fisher writes: 85 percent of polled Gazans said they oppose ISIS. That’s awfully high, especially considering that Europeans were much less likely to say they held an unfavorable view of the group:

Though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been arguing that ISIS is indistinguishable from Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules Gaza (he is wrong for a number of reasons), it turns out that at least Palestinians in Gaza see a strong distinction. While the Gaza poll did not ask for Hamas approval/disapproval, it did return favorable-sounding results on two questions: “Was the Palestinian resistance prepared for this aggression [by Israel against Gaza],” to which 58 percent said yes; and “do you support disarming the Palestinian resistance,” to which 93 percent said no and 3 percent said yes.

Again, Gazans and Europeans were asked slightly different questions by different polling agencies, but it is still awfully striking that more Gazans gave the anti-ISIS response than did Western Europeans.

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Gaza, victim of history

Jean-Pierre Filiu writes: The current conflict in Gaza is the third since 2008. If nothing is done to address the root causes, any cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas will only be a pause before the next outbreak of violence. The collective impotence of the world’s leaders is striking, since the Gaza Strip is, within the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a far less complex issue to handle than East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

All parties have endorsed the Gaza Strip’s borders, which were drawn in 1949 at the end of the first Arab-Israeli war. The last Israeli settler left Gaza in 2005, after Ariel Sharon opted for a unilateral withdrawal, similar to Ehud Barak’s disengagement from southern Lebanon in 2000. There is no religious site in the Gaza Strip to be contested by Muslims, Jews and Christians.

Many Israelis dream of waking one morning to discover that Gaza has gone away (or been annexed by Egypt, a softer version of such a fantasy). But Gaza is there to stay, with its 1.8 million people crowded into 141 square miles (365 square kilometers). How did this tiny slice of the Mediterranean coastline become one of the most wretched spots on earth?

Over the centuries, travelers have remarked on the fecundity of Gaza’s vegetation. The Gaza Valley, which runs down into the Mediterranean coast, south of the modern city, is a refuge for migrant birds and small animals. Gaza was once the leading exporter of barley in the region; more recently, it has been a producer of citrus. Perched between the Levant and the Sinai and Negev deserts, Gaza has had the misfortune of being at the crossroads of empires. [Continue reading...]

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Life returns to Gaza as truce holds

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Is this Gaza-Israel ceasefire different?

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Gaza ceasefire: Israel and Palestinians agree to halt weeks of fighting

The Guardian reports: Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to an indefinite ceasefire, putting an end to seven weeks of catastrophic loss of life and destruction – but on terms that are likely to leave many on both sides of the conflict wondering what had been achieved.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the main militant groups in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority and Israel agreed to stop fighting on Tuesday evening, bringing relief to civilians on both sides of the border after rocket fire and air strikes continued in the hours running up to the ceasefire. One Israeli was killed and several injured by a mortar ahead of the announcement, according to Israeli media.

The terms of the deal – brokered by the Egyptian government, and reached on the 50th day of the conflict – are expected to be similar to those agreed at the end of the previous war 21 months ago. Israel will open crossings on its border to allow the movement of people and goods, and extend the permitted fishing zone off the coast of Gaza. Rafah, the border between Gaza and Egypt will also be opened; reconstruction of Gaza will begin.

More difficult issues will be deferred for further talks in about a month. They include Hamas’s demands for an airport and seaport in Gaza and the release of Palestinian prisoners, and Israel’s insistence of the disarmament of militant groups and the return of the remains of two of its soldiers killed in the fighting. [Continue reading...]

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