Israeli navy intercepts ship in flotilla sailing toward Gaza Strip

The New York Times reports: Israeli Navy forces intercepted a ship that was sailing toward the Gaza Strip early Monday to protest a maritime blockade of the coastal enclave, military officials and activists said.

The ship was intercepted in international waters and was being led to the southern Israeli port of Ashdod, a military statement said.

Pro-Palestinian activists have repeatedly sought to reach Gaza by sea, an action that Israel regards as highly provocative, to protest restrictions on the movement of both people and material in and out of the enclave. [Continue reading…]

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Another futile report on Israel’s wild adventure in Gaza

Gideon Levy writes: The United Nations Human Rights Council’s report did not tell us anything new. We did not need to wait a year to know that Israel (and Hamas) committed war crimes; there was no need to impanel a committee to know that Israel went wild in Gaza; there was no need to bother judge Mary McGowan Davis in order for her to tell us that it is unacceptable to drop a one-ton bomb in the middle of a neighborhood. We have known that for a long time.

The UN report also did not tell us anything new about Israel’s response. There was no need to publish it to know the scope of unreceptiveness and denial within Israeli society, the low level to which the Israeli media stooped in finally allowing itself to become an agent of propaganda, and the lack of interest that all this killing and destruction in Gaza arouse in Israel. We have known all that for a long time.

The world knows the fundamental truths, and every commission repeats them like a parrot, and nothing changes: Israel ignores international law. It is convinced that it applies to all countries, except for itself. According to its combat theory, when the life of one Israeli soldier is at stake it is alright to wreak havoc with everything, and when Israel says everything it means everything. There is no chance Israel will change its doctrine of death and destruction, unless it is punished severely. Therefore this report, like all its predecessors, has no value at all.

If the Goldstone Report, which described in harsher colors a less brutal attack, did not prevent Operation Protective Edge, then why do we need all these reports? If the international community, which knew in real time what the Israel Defense Forces was doing in Gaza, did not respond immediately with actions that would stop it, then there is no reason for these commissions of inquiry after the fact.

If in the wake of this commission, too, the international community does not take practical steps against war criminals, then there is no further reason for commissions. [Continue reading…]

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Obama administration restates its commitment to shelter war criminals

UPI reports: The Obama administration opposes bringing a United Nations report on the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip to the Security Council for a vote, the State Department said.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday the United States continues to review the U.N. report that found evidence of war crimes on the part of both the Israeli and Hamas-led Palestinian forces. Kirby said the United States calls into question the U.N. Human Rights Council’s process of appointing the investigative committee because of a “very clear bias against Israel.”

“We challenge the very mechanism which created it. And so we’re not going to have a readout of this. We’re not going to have a rebuttal to it. We’re certainly going to read it, as we read all U.N. reports,” Kirby said. “But we challenge the very foundation upon which this report was written, and we don’t believe that there’s a call or a need for any further Security Council work on this.”

The 200-page report found, among other things, 1,462 Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli fire, noting over one-third were children. It added a large number of families lost three or more members in airstrikes against residences. Six Israeli civilians died during the conflict. [Continue reading…]

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UN report on Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza says those responsible for war crimes ‘must be brought to justice’

The Guardian reports: A United Nations inquiry into the 2014 Gaza war has accused Israeli and Palestinian factions of multiple potential violations of international law including suspected war crimes.

Calling on Israel to “break with its lamentable track record” and hold wrongdoers responsible, the hard-hitting report commissioned by the UN human rights council laid most of the blame for Israel’s suspected violations at the feet of the country’s political and military leadership. The commission said leaders should have been aware as the war progressed that their failure to change course was leading to huge civilian casualties.

“Those responsible for suspected violations of international law at all levels of the political and military establishments must be brought to justice,” it says. [Continue reading…]

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Israel needs Hamas to prevent ISIS gaining a foothold in Gaza

The Associated Press reports: Nearly a year after a devastating war, Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers appear to have formed an unspoken alliance in a common battle against the shared threat of jihadis aligned with the Islamic State group.

While Israel and Hamas remain arch-enemies, both have an interest in preserving an uneasy calm that has prevailed since the fighting ended in a cease-fire last August — a stalemate that is largely the result of a lack of options on either side.

More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in last year’s fighting, according to Palestinian officials, and Hamas suffered heavy losses. It is isolated internationally, Gaza’s economy is in tatters and reconstruction efforts have moved slowly. A renewal of hostilities would be devastating for Gaza’s 1.8 million people.

On the Israeli side, 73 people, including 67 soldiers, were killed in last year’s fighting, and the summer-long war disrupted the lives of millions of people as they coped with repeated rocket attacks and air-raid sirens. But Hamas, which seized power in Gaza eight years ago, has survived three wars, and the cost of toppling the group would be extremely high, so Israel appears content to contain Hamas and keep things quiet.

Hamas officials say that efforts are underway, through Qatari mediators, to work out a long-term cease-fire. The deal would call for Israel to ease a stifling blockade on Gaza in exchange for Hamas pledges to disarm, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing sensitive negotiations. It is unclear whether any progress has been made in the cease-fire efforts, which include Hamas demands to reopen sea and airports in Gaza. Israeli officials declined comment. [Continue reading…]

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Israel rules out legal action against its soldiers who killed children in Gaza

The Washington Post reports: The Israeli military has decided not to pursue criminal charges against soldiers involved in missile strikes in the Gaza Strip last summer that killed four children playing on a beach.

The Military Advocate General Corps investigated the notorious incident, which took place on July 16 in view of the hotels where international journalists were staying, and concluded that there was no criminal wrongdoing.

The four young cousins who were killed were sons of the extended Bakr fishing family, ages 9 to 11. Four other youths were injured by shrapnel. Images of the dead and wounded children being rushed from the beach toward ambulances were broadcast around the world. A reporter for The Washington Post witnessed the attack.

The children were playing on the breakwater jetty in the Gaza City harbor when the aerial assault began. After the first salvo was fired, they ran toward a beach hotel where journalists were working, and a second Israeli strike was fired directly at the group.

In a summary of the criminal investigation released Thursday night, the Israel Defense Forces said its troops believed they were targeting militants from the Hamas navy. [Continue reading…]

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Gaza: Palestinians tortured, summarily killed by Hamas forces during 2014 conflict

Amnesty International: Hamas forces carried out a brutal campaign of abductions, torture and unlawful killings against Palestinians accused of “collaborating” with Israel and others during Israel’s military offensive against Gaza in July and August 2014, according to a new report by Amnesty International.

‘Strangling Necks’: Abduction, torture and summary killings of Palestinians by Hamas forces during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict highlights a series of abuses, such as the extrajudicial execution of at least 23 Palestinians and the arrest and torture of dozens of others, including members and supporters of Hamas’s political rivals, Fatah.

“It is absolutely appalling that, while Israeli forces were inflicting massive death and destruction upon the people in Gaza, Hamas forces took the opportunity to ruthlessly settle scores, carrying out a series of unlawful killings and other grave abuses,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

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Gaza Strip economy on ‘verge of collapse,’ World Bank says

The New York Times reports: Gaza’s war-battered economy is on the “verge of collapse,” dragged down by soaring unemployment rates that followed last summer’s war with Israel, border restrictions and government dysfunction, the World Bank says in a new report.

Infighting between Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, the report said, is delaying reconstruction of the tiny territory, which suffered widespread damage during the war.

The report, issued late Thursday, said Gaza’s unemployment rate now stood at 44 percent, 11 points higher than before the war — and the world’s highest level. The youth unemployment rate, at 60 percent, is the highest in the Middle East, the report noted.

The report said that 40 percent of Gaza’s nearly 1.8 million Palestinians lived in poverty, even though around 80 percent received some sort of aid. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas says ISIS has no foothold in Gaza Strip

Reuters: Islamic State sympathizers in the Gaza Strip are making their presence felt on social media, but the enclave’s Hamas rulers said on Thursday the group has no real foothold in the Palestinian territory.

Statements signed “Supporters of the Islamic State” have appeared recently on Twitter and several websites, accusing the Islamist group Hamas of arresting dozens of jihadists and threatening attacks in Gaza unless they are released.

Hamas said it had detained what it described as “lawbreakers” after an explosion earlier this month near a Hamas security headquarters and another blast outside the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

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In sign of Palestinians’ mood, Hamas wins vote at a West Bank university

The New York Times reports: Lina Halsa certainly made a splash at the student rally for the Islamist Hamas movement here at Birzeit University last month. Wearing a sleeveless top, tight jeans, and with her hair in a ponytail, Ms. Halsa’s attire was revealing even by the standards of this liberal, secular campus. But it was downright scandalous according to Hamas norms.

Yet, Ms. Halsa was the very image of Hamas success on the campus, where the Islamist party beat out the more moderate Fatah faction in student elections. A photograph of her waving the faction’s signature green banner rocketed around social media, followed by a video in which she explained that she voted Hamas in part because her clothing “shows how much they are able to embrace other people.”

A headline in the Pan-Arab daily Al Hayat trumpeted: “A Blonde Turns Birzeit Green.”

The April 22 election was about far more than clothing, of course. Student elections are seen as an important benchmark of the Palestinian political mood, particularly since there has been no national balloting since Hamas won the legislative contests in 2006, and president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is starting the 11th year of what was to be a five-year term. The nod to Hamas was broadly interpreted as another indication of just how unpopular President Abbas and his government have become. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas cracks down on Salafists in Gaza Strip

Asmaa al-Ghoul writes: The confrontation between the Salafist jihadist movement and Hamas-led security services in the Gaza Strip has returned to the surface following a two-year truce between the two sides.

Strong tensions returned after security services arrested Salafist Sheikh Adnan Mayt, a prominent Salafist jihadist activist, April 6. This was followed by the arrest of other Salafists and raids of their homes, an April 29 statement by Ansar al-Dawla al-Islamiya (Arabic for “supporters of the Islamic State”) said.

The arrests increased following the two roadside bomb blasts that detonated in the Gaza Strip on April 18, which the Interior Ministry described as “primitive.” One of the blasts exploded near the outer wall of the UNRWA headquarters, and the other went off near the UNRWA general prosecutor’s office. A third explosion took place a day earlier near the Abu Mazen roundabout in western Gaza. [Continue reading…]

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In Gaza, rubble lies on top of rubble

Matthew Duss writes: Two weeks ago saw the latest blow to the on-again-but-mostly-off-again reconciliation between the two leading Palestinian political factions, Hamas and Fatah. A Fatah delegation from the West Bank entered Gaza for what was planned as a weeklong visit to address the sticky issue of payment to some 40,000 Hamas government employees, which was one of the main drivers of Hamas’ decision to accept a reconciliation agreement in April 2014, largely on Fatah’s terms. Instead, the Fatah delegation stayed only one day, departing after claiming that Hamas had prohibited it from traveling from their beachfront hotel to their offices. Hamas, for its part, responded that the makeup of the delegation had not been appropriately cleared in advance.

A few days later, as Israelis celebrated their Independence Day, the first rocket was fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip in four months. An Israeli tank barrage into Gaza followed shortly after.

It was not the first rocket launched since the August cease-fire that ended Operation Protective Edge, the summer of 2014’s hugely destructive Israeli assault on Gaza that lasted 52 days. Back in February, Hamas lobbed two rockets into the Mediterranean, ostensibly to test their launch system and intimidate Israel. Omar Shaban, a Palestinian analyst who runs the small think tank, PalThink, in Gaza, had a different interpretation. “They’re sending you a message,” he told me. “You should be wise enough to hear it.”

The message is that Gaza is creeping toward another explosion. It’s a depressingly similar pattern. Just like after previous conflicts, Israel’s cease-fire demands have been met. Hamas has prevented rocket fire, while the group’s demand for an end to the blockade that has suffocated Gaza for nearly a decade has not. Last month I visited the coastal strip to view the damage from the summer’s war, assess the state of reconstruction, and explore the possibilities of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

I’d last been to Gaza in February 2012. There have been two wars since then, in addition to a number of smaller incursions and exchanges of fire. In February 2012, much of Gaza City remained in rubble from December 2008-January 2009’s Operation Cast Lead. This time, there was rubble lying atop the rubble.

Shaban pulled up next to a huge pile of broken cinder block and twisted metal. “Here’s the Finance Ministry.”

Despite Hamas’ role in the escalation that led to the war, however, polls have shown that the group retains a significant measure of public support. One poll taken immediately after Operation Protective Edge found, for the first time since 2006, Hamas would best its rival Fatah in both presidential and parliamentary elections. Part of this has to do with Hamas being seen, unlike Fatah, as a party willing to fight the status quo. Part of it has to do with Hamas’ strategic distribution of resources to activists and supporters. But it’s also related to the fact that their civil servants are actually respected for the work that they continue to do in hugely difficult circumstances. [Continue reading…]

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Ex-U.N. official John Dugard: Israel’s crimes are ‘infinitely worse’ than in apartheid South Africa

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‘Kill anything': Israeli soldiers say Gaza atrocities came from orders for indiscriminate fire

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The IDF’s new tactics

Neve Gordon writes: Several months ago, a young woman working in Kibbutz Dorot’s carrot fields noticed a piece of paper lying on the ground with a short inscription in Arabic. It looked like a treasure map. She put it in her pocket. Some time later, she gave it to her friend Avihai, who works for Breaking the Silence, an organisation of military veterans who collect testimony from Israeli soldiers to provide a record of everyday life in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Avihai was in the middle of interviewing soldiers about their experiences during Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip last summer. He recognised the piece of paper as a leaflet that had been dropped by an Israeli plane above Palestinian neighbourhoods in the northern part of the Strip; the wind had blown it six miles from its intended landing point.

The leaflet helps explain why 70 per cent of the 2220 Palestinians killed during the war were civilians. The red line on the map traces a route from a bright blue area labelled Beit Lahia, a Palestinian town of 60,000 inhabitants at the north edge of the Strip, and moves south through Muaskar Jabalia to Jabalia city. The text reads:

Military Notification to the Residents of Beit Lahia

The IDF will be undertaking forceful and assertive air operations against terrorist elements and infrastructure in the locations from which they launch their missiles at the State of Israel. These locations include:

From east Atatra to Salatin Street. From west [unclear] to Jabalia Camp.

You must evacuate your homes immediately and head toward southern Jabalia town along the following road:

Falluja Road, until 12 noon, Sunday 13 July 2014.

The IDF does not intend to harm you or your families. These operations are temporary and will be of short duration. Any person, however, who violates these instructions and does not evacuate his home immediately puts his own life as well as the lives of his household in danger. Those who take heed will be spared.

‘The significance of this leaflet,’ Yehuda Shaul, the founder of Breaking the Silence, told me, ‘cannot be appreciated fully without reading our new report.’ The report is made up of 111 testimonies, provided by around seventy soldiers who participated in the fighting.

One thing is immediately clear from the interviews: the IDF’s working assumption was that once the leaflets were dropped, anyone who refused to move was a legitimate target: [Continue reading…]

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Pro-ISIS group in Gaza says Hamas is ‘worse than Israel’

RFE/RL reports: Tensions are rising in Gaza between the Palestinian group Hamas and Jamaat Ansar al-Dawla al-Islamiya Fi Bayt al-Maqdis (The Supporters Of Islamic State In Jerusalem), a Salafist faction that considers itself loyal to the Islamic State (IS) group.

The flare-up was sparked on May 3 when Hamas destroyed a mosque belonging to the Supporters Of Islamic State In Jerusalem (SISJ) in the coastal enclave’s Deir al-Balah city.

SISJ responded to the demolition of the mosque by issuing a statement threatening to carry out actions against Hamas targets if the Palestinian group did not release several SISJ militants who were detained in Gaza last month. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli soldiers cast doubt on legality of Gaza military tactics

The Guardian reports: Testimonies provided by more than 60 Israeli soldiers who fought in last summer’s war in Gaza have raised serious questions over whether Israel’s tactics breached its obligations under international law to distinguish and protect civilians.

The claims – collected by the human rights group Breaking the Silence – are contained in dozens of interviews with Israeli combatants, as well as with soldiers who served in command centres and attack rooms, a quarter of them officers up to the rank of major.

They include allegations that Israeli ground troops were briefed to regard everything inside Gaza as a “threat” and they should “not spare ammo”, and that tanks fired randomly or for revenge on buildings without knowing whether they were legitimate military targets or contained civilians.

In their testimonies, soldiers depict rules of engagement they characterised as permissive, “lax” or largely non-existent, including how some soldiers were instructed to treat anyone seen looking towards their positions as “scouts” to be fired on. [Continue reading…]

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Banksy finds a canvas and a new fan base in Gaza’s ruins

The New York Times: Very little of Abu Shadi Shenbari’s family home remains in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip. Only a concrete bathroom wall was left standing when Israeli forces flattened the neighborhood near the border with Israel during the war with Hamas last summer.

Though Mr. Shenbari had all but abandoned that last panel of erect concrete, in recent days he began building a wood and wire-mesh fort with a flimsy nylon roof to protect the bombed-out bathroom wall, which is now home to a 10-foot-tall depiction of a kitten.

The spray-painted mural was created by the elusive British graffiti artist Banksy, who slipped in and out of Gaza in February, leaving his mark on three slabs of rubble left from Israel’s 50-day fight with Hamas, the Islamic group that controls Gaza.

Gaza residents, largely preoccupied with the slow pace of reconstruction after a cold and wet winter in this impoverished and isolated Palestinian coastal strip, have been waking up to the value of the Banksy artworks that appeared amid the ruins.

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