Assaf Gavron writes: We seem to be in a fast and alarming downward swirl into a savage, unrepairable society. There is only one way to respond to what’s happening in Israel today: We must stop the occupation. Not for peace with the Palestinians or for their sake (though they have surely suffered at our hands for too long). Not for some vision of an idyllic Middle East — those arguments will never end, because neither side will ever budge, or ever be proved wrong by anything. No, we must stop the occupation for ourselves. So that we can look ourselves in the eyes. So that we can legitimately ask for, and receive, support from the world. So that we can return to being human.
Whatever the consequences are, they can’t be worse than what we are now grappling with. No matter how many soldiers we put in the West Bank, or how many houses of terrorists we blow up, or how many stone-throwers we arrest, we don’t have any sense of security; meanwhile, we have become diplomatically isolated, perceived around the world (sometimes correctly) as executioners, liars, racists. As long as the occupation lasts, we are the more powerful side, so we call the shots, and we cannot go on blaming others. For our own sake, for our sanity — we must stop now. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: On a humid night in Rafah recently, six Palestinian smugglers sat around a backyard table, ticking off the damage that Egypt has done to their tunnels over the past two years.
It dropped dynamite and floated poison gas into them. It filled them with sewage.
Last year, it took the extraordinary step of razing more than 3,000 homes on its side of the border to create a buffer zone that would seal off access to the tunnels, creating a humanitarian catastrophe in the process.
Now, the smugglers fear that Egypt has settled on a strategy that could spell doom for their trade: flooding the tunnels so they collapse. Within the past month, Egypt has flooded part of the nine-mile border area twice, causing two tunnels to cave in completely and damaging 10 or so more.
Only about 20 of 250 tunnels are still operating — the worst situation smugglers can remember. They find themselves waiting nervously for the flooding to begin again. [Continue reading…]
Ma’an reports: The World Bank has warned of the “high risk” of renewed Palestine-Israel conflict following the third straight year of increasing poverty in the occupied Palestinian territory.
In a report released Tuesday, the World Bank pointed to war, reduced donor aid, the suspension of revenue payments, and ongoing restrictions by Israel as having had “a severe impact on the Palestinian economy.”
“The persistence of this situation could potentially lead to political and social unrest,” the report said.
“In short, the status quo is not sustainable and downside risks of further conflict and social unrest are high,” said the World Bank.
The percentage of the population living under the poverty line has reached 39 percent in Gaza and 16 percent in the West Bank. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: A new United Nations report says Gaza could be “uninhabitable” in less than five years if current economic trends continue.
The report released Tuesday by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development points to the eight years of economic blockade of Gaza as well as the three wars between Israel and the Palestinians there over the past six years.
Last year’s war displaced half a million people and left parts of Gaza destroyed.
The war “has effectively eliminated what was left of the middle class, sending almost all of the population into destitution and dependence on international humanitarian aid,” the new report says. [Continue reading…]
Sara Roy writes: Not long ago, I had a conversation with an official I know from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The official told me about a conversation he had with a senior Israel Defense Forces officer. In that conversation, my UN colleague asked the IDF official to describe Israel’s policy toward Gaza. The answer was just seven words long: “No development, no prosperity, no humanitarian crisis,” by now a common refrain within Israel’s military and political establishment.
As shocking as this statement is, it offers a remarkably accurate reflection of Israel’s near 50-aear policy in Gaza. While Israel did allow a limited degree of prosperity during the first years of the occupation, it has, nonetheless, aimed to prohibit any form of economic development in the territory—and, hence, the emergence of a Palestinian state. This approach has been especially ruinous for Gaza over the last decade, during which Israel imposed a strangling blockade that eliminated virtually all exports, shrank the manufacturing sector by as much as 60 percent, and reduced Gaza’s GDP by 50 percent, according to the World Bank. Israel has further launched three major military assaults on Gaza since the end of 2008—the latest and largest of them last summer (Operation Protective Edge)—leveling neighborhoods, destroying infrastructure, and inflicting immeasurable damage on the tiny strip and its nearly 2 million inhabitants. [Continue reading…]
Amnesty International: On 8 July 2014, Israel launched a military operation codenamed Operation Protective Edge, the third major offensive in Gaza since 2008. It announced that the operation was aimed at stopping rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli civilians. A ground operation followed, launched on the night of 17-18 July. According to the Israeli army, one of the primary objectives of the ground operation was to destroy the tunnel system constructed by Palestinian armed groups, particularly those with shafts discovered near residential areas located in Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip.
On 1 August 2014 Israel and Hamas agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire that would take effect at 8am that day. Three weeks after Israel launched its military offensive on Gaza, thousands of Palestinians who had sought refuge in shelters or with relatives prepared to return to their homes during the anticipated break in hostilities.
In Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip, a group of Israeli soldiers patrolling an agricultural area west of the border encountered a group of Hamas fighters posted there. A fire fight ensued, resulting in the death of two Israeli soldiers and one Palestinian fighter. The Hamas fighters captured an Israeli officer, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, and took him into a tunnel. What followed became one of the deadliest episodes of the war; an intensive use of firepower by Israel, which lasted four days and killed scores of civilians (reports range from at least 135 to over 200), injured many more and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes and other civilian structures, mostly on 1 August.
In this report, Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture, a research team based at Goldsmiths, University of London, provide a detailed reconstruction of the events in Rafah from 1 August until 4 August 2014, when a ceasefire came into effect. The report examines the Israeli army’s response to the capture of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin and its implementation of the Hannibal Directive – a controversial command designed to deal with captures of soldiers by unleashing massive firepower on persons, vehicles and buildings in the vicinity of the attack, despite the risk to civilians and the captured soldier(s).
The report recounts events by connecting various forms of information including: testimonies from victims and witnesses including medics, journalists, and human rights defenders in Rafah; reports by human rights and other organizations; news and media feeds, public statements and other information from Israeli and Palestinian official sources; and videos and photographs collected on the ground and from the media. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: A series of explosions destroyed several vehicles belonging to officials of the militant Islamist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad on Sunday, the latest in a series of attacks in Gaza attributed to extremists who have aligned themselves with the Islamic State group.
Witnesses told local journalists that there were four explosions at three sites in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of the Palestinian coastal enclave of Gaza around 6 a.m. At one location there was new graffiti of the Islamic State flag with the declaration “Shariah will win,” referring to the legal code of Islam based on the Quran.
Health officials in Gaza said two people in nearby homes were injured by shattered glass. Photographs posted to social media showed a dark gray truck with its back blown off and the shell of a badly burned sedan.
“Some sinful hands are trying to undermine the resistance,” the military wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said in a joint statement. “The perpetrators put themselves in the box of treason,” the groups added, saying such attacks serve Israel’s “objectives” in destabilizing Gaza. [Continue reading…]
We’ve just passed the first “anniversary” — if such a word can even be used with such a catastrophe — of Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s third invasion of the Gaza Strip in recent years. That small bit of land has now suffered more devastation than just about any place on the planet. In the wake of the third war since 2008, more than 100,000 displaced Gazans remain homeless or crowded in with relatives. Whole neighborhoods, destroyed in the conflict, have yet to be rebuilt. A year later, there is still next to no electricity, the area’s sole power plant having been taken out by Israeli air strikes, and the situation when it comes to sewage and potable water, is disastrous. Blockaded and devastated by repeated wars, Gaza’s manufacturing sector has almost disappeared, while its economy is “on the verge of collapse,” according to the World Bank. In short, by any standard, Gaza is not a livable place and yet 1.8 million people (more than half of them under 18 years old, 43% under 15) are crammed into it with nowhere to go and in most cases nothing to do. After all, Gaza now has what may be the highest unemployment rate on the planet at 44%, with youth unemployment reaching 60%.
The great Israeli reporter Amira Hass, author of the classic book Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege, recently put the matter this way: “In practice, Gaza has become a huge, let me be blunt, concentration camp… This is not a novelty… This did not start, unlike what many people think, with the rise of Hamas… This policy of sealing off Gaza, of making Gazans into… defacto prisoners, started [in 1991]… So if I want to sum up the reality of Gaza: it is a huge prison… It is an Israel-meditated, pre-meditated, pre-planned, and planned project to separate Gaza from the West Bank.”
Max Blumenthal’s new book, The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, catches the nightmare of the third war in this tiny piece of land in the last six-and-a-half years in a uniquely gripping way. In its pages, you follow him directly into the devastation of the Israeli invasion. (He entered Gaza during the first extended truce of the war.) I doubt there could be a more vivid account of what it felt like, as a Palestinian civilian, to endure those weeks of horror, massive destruction, and killing. Today at TomDispatch, he looks back on that experience and forward to what he doesn’t doubt will be the fourth war of its kind. If he’s right, then sadly, in the years to come, some reporter will be writing yet another book on a Gaza war. Tom Engelhardt
The fire next time
Before homes are even rebuilt in the ruins of the Gaza Strip, another war looms
By Max Blumenthal
“A fourth operation in the Gaza Strip is inevitable, just as a third Lebanon war is inevitable,” declared Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in February. His ominous comments came just days after an anti-tank missile fired by the Lebanon-based guerrilla group Hezbollah killed two soldiers in an Israeli army convoy. It, in turn, was a response to an Israeli air strike that resulted in the assassination of several high-ranking Hezbollah figures.
Lieberman offered his prediction only four months after his government concluded Operation Protective Edge, the third war between Israel and the armed factions of the Gaza Strip, which had managed to reduce about 20% of besieged Gaza to an apocalyptic moonscape. Even before the assault was launched, Gaza was a warehouse for surplus humanity — a 360-square-kilometer ghetto of Palestinian refugees expelled by and excluded from the self-proclaimed Jewish state. For this population, whose members are mostly under the age of 18, the violence has become a life ritual that repeats every year or two. As the first anniversary of Protective Edge passes, Lieberman’s unsettling prophecy appears increasingly likely to come true. Indeed, odds are that the months of relative “quiet” that followed his statement will prove nothing more than an interregnum between Israel’s ever more devastating military escalations.
Jadaliyya interviewed Nathan Thrall:
Jadaliyya (J): One year after Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, how would you describe the popular mood in the Gaza Strip? Is OPE still relevant for people, and if so, how? Do people reflect back on achievements, losses, or both?
Nathan Thrall (NT): There is widespread consensus among Gaza’s residents today that conditions there have never been worse. There is also widespread fatalism about the unlikelihood of breaking from the pattern of recurrent war with Israel. Walking in neighborhoods that were completely destroyed during the war, such as Shuja’iyya in Gaza City and parts of Beit Hanoun, I heard residents state pridefully that Israel had achieved nothing during the war and that they were ready to face Israel again. In the same breath, however, many of these same people then asked warily whether I thought a new war was coming. It’s clear that Gazans desperately want a normal life, free of war and free of the blockade. It’s also clear that they are quite likely to continue living with both.
The war looms behind the most quiet and normal scenes of daily life in Gaza. During the war, a close friend in Gaza City made each member of his family pack a small bag containing his or her most valuable documents, photographs, and belongings before placing the bag beside the front door. That way he and his wife, sons, and daughters would be able to evacuate the building quickly, without having to waste time arguing about which belongings were worth risking their lives to retrieve. Nearly one year later, those bags still sit beside the front door.
Since the war concluded there have been a number of bombings in Gaza. Some of these were Israeli airstrikes following a rocket launching that Hamas was unable to prevent. More often they were bombs detonated by Gazans, either salafi-jihadis or unidentified attackers targeting the homes and offices of Hamas and Fatah officials. In one instance in May, several died and dozens were injured when Israeli ordinance from the war exploded in Beit Lahiya. When I have been present in Gaza for some of these incidents, the first worry of Gaza residents I spoke with — in some cases, the first rumor spread among them — has been that the explosion marked the beginning of a new war with Israel.
The problems that helped precipitate the war not only remain unresolved but in many cases have become more acute.[Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: One bomb hit a Hamas security checkpoint in northern Gaza. A few days later, another exploded in a trash can. Another blew up next to a Gaza City high-rise, and a small one targeted a chicken store owned by a Hamas intelligence official, Saber Siyam.
The four attacks in May — among at least a dozen this year, documented by a local human rights group — were aimed not at infidels, collaborators or criminals but at the ruling Islamist group, Hamas. The suspected perpetrators were Hamas’s emerging rivals: extremist Islamist groups that see Hamas as insufficiently pious, and that vow loyalty to the Islamic State.
While the extremists are unlikely to challenge Hamas’s firm grip on the Gaza Strip in the foreseeable future, they complicate matters by occasionally shooting rockets into Israel that could touch off a wider conflagration, if the rockets kill or maim Israeli citizens.
They could also seek to join forces with the far more dangerous, deadly branch of the Islamic State in neighboring Egypt’s Sinai Desert, possibly derailing the slowly improving relations between Hamas and Egyptian authorities that have recently led to the Egypt-Gaza border crossing’s being opened for brief moments for the first time in years. [Continue reading…]
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…]
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…]
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…]
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…]
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…]
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…]