Israeli military clears itself of wrongdoing over Gaza war airstrikes

The Guardian reports: The Israeli military has cleared its forces of wrongdoing in a string of deadly incidents that took place during the 2014 Gaza war – including an airstrike that killed 15 members of a single family and the bombing of a United Nations school.

Israel’s investigative process is at the heart of a Palestinian case to press for war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The Palestinians say that Israel has a poor record of prosecuting wrongdoing in its ranks.

In a statement on Wednesday, the military said it had closed a total of seven investigations without filing charges after a special team collected testimony from Gaza residents and Israeli officers. [Continue reading…]

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Israel launches up to 50 strikes on Gaza after rocket attack on Sderot

The Guardian reports: The Israeli military has launched dozens of strikes on Gaza in an unusually strong response to a rocket fired from Gaza that landed between two houses in the Israeli community of Sderot.

Responsibility for the rocket attack on Sunday was initially claimed by Ahfad al-Sahaba, one of the small Salafi groups – ultra-conservative Sunnis – that have recently become more active in Gaza, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. It prompted a wave of up to 50 retaliatory attacks, according to Israeli military sources, hitting several of Gaza’s armed Palestinian factions.

A security source said raids targeted Hamas’s Izzedin Qassam Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s Quds Brigades and the PFLP. Artillery shells also hit the area of al-Bureij in central Gaza and Beit Hanoun in the north. Several Palestinians, including a 17-year-old boy, were reportedly wounded.

The raids broke the pattern of limited Israeli retaliation during periods of relative quiet, leading the Islamist group Hamas to accuse Israel of escalating tensions. According to reports, the Israeli response came in two waves, the first immediately after the rocket attack, the second during the night, involving three Israeli jets and tank fire. [Continue reading…]

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What’s really behind Israel’s attack on Christian charity World Vision?

Ali Abunimah writes: Israel grabbed global headlines on Thursday with sensational allegations that tens of millions of dollars from the Christian relief and advocacy organization World Vision had been diverted to the military wing of the resistance group Hamas in Gaza.

But a day later, the Israeli claims look more than ever like sloppy propaganda. A World Vision official says Israel’s sums don’t add up and it has also emerged that a Mossad-linked Israeli group has been stoking allegations against the charity for years.

An Israeli general has said that Israel is relying on a “confession” extracted by an intelligence agency which is notorious for using torture.

Israel has also instructed its diplomats to smear World Vision, especially among Christian communities around the world.

But if Israel’s intention was to damage international humanitarian efforts in Gaza, it can chalk up a success, at least for now. [Continue reading…]

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Turkish aid flows into besieged Gaza Strip

Al Jazeera reports: The night before Eid, Basem Abu Attia received a call from a local official with some good news: His food package was ready for pick-up.

“I was very surprised,” Abu Attia told Al Jazeera. “I wasn’t expecting anything … I had nothing to give my family, so when the aid came I was overjoyed.”

More aid from Turkey has started flowing into Gaza this week under the terms of the recent Turkey-Israel deal, after the Social Affairs Ministry spent weeks organising the material. Distribution to about 75,000 families dependent on government subsidies began on Tuesday, although delivery was previously expedited to some of the neediest families, including Abu Attia’s.

The aid package included rice, oil, olives, dates and flour – basic items that Abu Attia, who lives in the Nuseirat refugee camp, cannot afford himself. His 10 children, the youngest of whom is three, were elated, he said – “especially with the chocolates”. He hopes that later deliveries will include toys for his children.

Just a week into receiving the package, however, all that remained was a bag of rice and a can of olives.

“We need a long-term programme, and we’re hoping the Turks will help us with this,” said Talla Abu Jomaa, the Social Affairs Ministry representative in Nuseirat camp, who delivered the aid package to Abu Attia.

Uncertainty was cast over the Turkey-Israel deal after a failed coup attempt by members of the Turkish military last week. But as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerged in control, Turkish officials confirmed that the agreement remains on course. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli minister wants to annex half of West Bank and kick out the Palestinians

The Washington Post reports: A top Israeli minister said he wants the government to take complete control of more than half of the West Bank and remove the Palestinian residents of the territory.

While traveling with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a state visit to Russia on Tuesday, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel told the Times of Israel that the world should forget about a Palestinian state.

“We have to aspire to the annexation of Area C; these are areas where there are no Arabs at all,” Ariel said. “We would remove a few thousand, who do not constitute a significant numerical factor.”

According to the Oslo Accords, the West Bank is divided into three areas. Area C comprises more than 60 percent of the West Bank and is under complete Israeli military control, both for security and civil affairs. [Continue reading…]

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Is another Gaza war imminent?

Shane Harris writes: Israel ended its last military operation in Gaza almost two years ago. But among some Israeli military officials, national security experts, and activists here, there is a palpable sense that another war is imminent, and that soon Hamas rockets will again be raining down on Israeli cities, prompting a crushing military response on the beleaguered, 25-mile long strip.

The signs, to hear these people tell it, are plain to see: Despite Israeli efforts to increase the flow of goods in and out of Gaza, its economic health remains desperate. Hamas militants also may be under pressure to move now to strike Israeli neighborhoods along the Gaza border before a network of tunnels that gave them free entry into Israel is sealed up. Recent Israeli intelligence suggests that Hamas fighters have closely studied Israeli tactics from the last war, possibly in preparation for another conflict. And Israel’s new defense minister, sworn in this week, has threatened to assassinate the leader of Hamas, in turn prompting him to dare Israel to enter Gaza again.

“The feeling is now we’re on a countdown. There’s going to be another war,” said Sharon Stav, with the Movement for the Future of the Western Negev, an activist group whose members live in neighborhoods along the Gaza border and have been pressuring the Israeli government to find some diplomatic or humanitarian solution to the conflict with Hamas — anything short of another war. Stav and a colleague met with a delegation of U.S. and European visitors, which I joined, in the town of Netiv HaAsara, which came under daily rocket fire during the 2014 Gaza operations. The house where we met sits just feet from a guarded security barrier — a combination of concrete barricades and barbed wire fences — that seals Gaza off from Israel, at least above ground. [Continue reading…]

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The Israeli generals who shoot and cry and shoot again

Gideon Levy writes: And here they come, those new-old sensitive heroes, soldiers who shoot but cry over it, a 2016 version of the Six-Day War soldiers featured in “The Seventh Day: Soldiers Talk about the Six-Day War.” In the Six-Day War, they were soldiers who shot and cried and were therefore considered moral. After the second intifada that broke out in 2000, there were the old-boy “gatekeepers,” (the former Shin Bet security service directors) who suddenly sobered up and were deemed men of conscience.

Now it’s the turn of the most senior commanders in office who are sobering up and sounding the alarm, the threesome of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan. It could have impressed and inspired respect had it not been for one tiny problem. The three aren’t doing a thing to change the situation that they are taking exception to.

These nice and principled military figures are beloved on the center-left, which has always dreamed about ethical generals who make eloquent Holocaust Remembrance Day speeches, but they are nothing more than empty salves to the conscience of the purportedly enlightened tribe.

Ya’alon, Eisenkot and Golan said some things that are correct and resounding. Ya’alon warned against the army becoming bestial. For his part, Eisenkot doesn’t want soldiers to empty their ammunition cartridges on 13-year-old girls. And last week on Holocaust Day, Golan said he saw concerning signs reminiscent of pre-Holocaust Germany in Israel.

It’s hard not to appreciate their courage, but we cannot ignore the fact that these are not three observers from the sidelines. All three bear direct and heavy responsibility for the situation that they are criticizing and have contributed for years to bringing it about.

They head the IDF, which is one of the most major agents of damage to Israeli society. They are in charge of an army most of whose operations consist of maintaining the occupation through brutal force. And anyone who heads an occupation army, who has commanded some of its worst military operations, lacks the necessary moral authority to preach morality — unless they have truly changed. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli convicted of Palestinian murder that helped trigger 2014 war

AFP reports: The Israeli ringleader in the beating and burning alive of a Palestinian teenager in 2014 has been convicted of his murder.

Yosef Haim Ben David, 31, was found in November to have led the assault, but a verdict was delayed after his lawyers submitted last-minute documents saying he suffered from mental illness.

The court ruling on Tuesday said that Ben David “was not psychotic, fully understood the facts, was responsible for his actions, had no difficulty in understanding reality and had the capacity to prevent the crime”.

A sentencing hearing has been set for 3 May.

The family of the teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, welcomed the decision but said they hoped judges followed through with a life sentence for Ben David.

At the hearing Mohammed’s mother wore a heart-shaped pendant containing an image of her son wearing a baseball cap, and his father said the decision “should have been made a long time ago”.

“We knew that he wasn’t mad,” Hussein Abu Khdeir told Agence France-Presse. “It was all a big lie to get off from the crime which he carried out. Even if they sentence him for life, this will never bring Mohammed back again. Our hearts are wounded from what happened.”

In February, a court sentenced Ben David’s two young Israeli accomplices to life and 21 years in prison for the killing, which was part of a spiral of violence in the run-up to the 2014 Gaza war. [Continue reading…]

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From Israeli jail, Marwan Barghouti initiates ‘nonviolent’ bid to ‘free Palestine’

The Times of Israel reports: A group of people close to leading Fatah activist Marwan Barghouti, jailed in Israel for murder, have reached an understanding with the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaderships overseas on a comprehensive plan to jointly campaign against the Israeli occupation until it is brought to an end, Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel.

The plan includes unprecedented steps within the framework of what is dubbed “nonviolent resistance” which, the sources predicted, could prove immensely problematic for Israel. The goal is to force Israel out of all areas beyond the pre-1967 lines via a nonviolent intifada coordinated by a unified Palestinian leadership under Barghouti, who has been jailed by Israel since 2002 after being sentenced to five life sentences for involvement in murder.

The contacts were managed secretly in meetings that took place over recent months by four senior Fatah officials: Barghouti, Qadura Fares, Sarhan Davikat, and Mohammed Horani. All of them were considered senior members of the Palestinian Tanzim organization during the 90s and the latter three are known to be personal friends of Barghouti. Bargouti also intends to run for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority in the next elections, and even has Hamas support for the move, the sources said.

The four met with all of the Hamas leadership, including Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas’s political wing, who is based in Doha, Qatar. Afterwards, they continued with meetings in Istanbul with the participation of Hamas leaders Moussa Abu Marzouk, Salah al-Aruri – considered to be behind many terror attacks against Israeli targets in the West Bank and in Israel – Osama Hamdan, Husam Badran and others. [Continue reading…]

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Companies are leaving the West Bank as international boycott campaign gains ground

Vice News reports: For the past 28 years, the Israeli cosmetics giant Ahava has manufactured its line of Dead Sea mud-based skincare products in a settlement located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. But this month, the company announced it would build a new facility 10 miles to the south, just across the internationally recognized border separating Israel proper from the Palestinian territory.

Though the company did not link the move to political pressure, instead citing “expanding production needs due the success in marketing Ahava products around the world,” it has long been targeted by activists who protest Israeli companies operating in the West Bank, which much of the international community regards as illegally occupied.

Ahava is not alone — a number of companies have chosen to abandon their operations in the West Bank, according to a new report by the Israeli anti-occupation group Gush Shalom that was compiled from publicly available information and published as a wiki-entry.

Twenty years ago, Gush Shalom drew up a list of Israeli companies doing business across the Green Line, the pre-1967 boundary between Israel and the West Bank that has been a sticking point in negotiations over a future Palestinian state. As of March, between 20 and 30 percent of those companies are no longer operating there. [Continue reading…]

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The Syrian refugees of Gaza

Creede Newton reports: On a bustling Gaza street lined with restaurants, juice vendors and shawarma stands, one facade immediately catches the eye: A large, modernist black cube sits atop the entrance to Syriana – Arabic for ‘our Syria’.

“The rest should be here soon,” says Wareef Kaseem Hamdeo, the visibly tired chef and proprietor of the restaurant, as he sits down for his first break of the day. It is early afternoon and he has been here since early morning.

The 35-year-old Syrian left Aleppo in 2012 when the bombs of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces began falling onto the city in an attempt to stamp out the then-nascent armed resistance to his rule.

He travelled to Turkey and then to Egypt, enduring a 44-hour voyage across the Mediterranean Sea. As a seasoned chef with his own restaurant in Aleppo and a degree in mechanical engineering, Hamdeo felt confident that he would find work in Egypt.

He did. It was mostly informal employment – cooking and decorating hotels. But after two months, a Syrian who had eaten in his restaurant back in Aleppo offered him work as a chef in Cairo. A second opportunity came along to open a restaurant in Poland. Both options were tempting, but as he pondered over each one, a third emerged: a job in Gaza.

He immediately and resolutely refused. But when a Palestinian acquaintance urged him to visit, he tentatively obliged. Hamdeo fell in love with the seaside enclave. “It reminded me of Syria,” he says.

Now, three years after he first travelled through the dark, damp tunnels connecting Egypt and Gaza, which are constantly at risk of collapse or flooding by the Egyptian military, his life has changed considerably: He has survived Israel’s 2014 attack on the Gaza Strip, found love with a Palestinian journalist who had interviewed him shortly after his arrival, and successfully opened his own restaurant.

In spite of this, Hamdeo feels he has to leave, and it is now or never. He reads the news and hears that relations between Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, and Egypt are deteriorating; he sees growing tensions with Israel and believes further trouble is looming. He is, simply, tired of war. [Continue reading…]

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Israel feels the heat of U.S., EU and U.N. criticism

Reuters reports: The United States, European Union and the United Nations have issued unusually stern criticism of Israel, provoking a sharp response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and raising Palestinians’ hopes of steps against their neighbor.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday described Israel’s settlements as “provocative acts” that raised questions about its commitment to a two-state solution, nearly 50 years after occupying lands the Palestinians seek for a state.

Ban also laid some of the blame for four months of stabbings and car rammings by Palestinians at Israel’s door, saying “as oppressed peoples have demonstrated throughout the ages, it is human nature to react to occupation, which often serves as a potent incubator of hate and extremism”.

Netanyahu’s response was quick and furious. Ban’s remarks “give a tailwind to terrorism”, he said, and ignore the fact “Palestinian murderers do not want to build a state”. [Continue reading…]

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