Saturday, January 31, 2009

'Destruction of all means of life'

Gaza desperately short of food after Israel destroys farmland
The Guardian: Officials warn of 'destruction of all means of life' after the three-week conflict leaves agriculture in the region in ruins. Gaza's 1.5 million people are facing a food crisis as a result of the destruction of great areas of farmland during the Israeli invasion... Between 35% and 60% of the agriculture industry has been wrecked by the three-week Israeli attack, which followed two years of economic siege...

'Before the blockade and the attack,' said Ahmad Sourani, director of the Agricultural Development Association of Gaza, 'Gaza produced half of its own food. Now that has declined by 25%. In addition, a quarter of the population depends on agriculture for income. What we have seen in large areas of farmland is the destruction of all means of life.

'We have seen a creeping process of farmers being forced out of the buffer zone around Gaza's border. Before 2000 we could approach and farm within 50m of the fence. After Israel's evacuation of the settlements in 2005, the Israeli army imposed a buffer of 300m... Now there are areas, depending on the situation, where farmers cannot reach their farms in safety... It is indirect confiscation by fear... Bear in mind that 30% of Gaza's most productive land is within that buffer zone.'

The wholesale destruction of farms, greenhouses, dairy parlours, livestock, chicken coops and orchards has damaged food production, which was already hit by the blockade. Buildings heavily damaged included much of its agricultural infrastructure... Scores, perhaps hundreds, of wells and water sources have been damaged and several hundred greenhouses have been levelled...

As well as the physical damage done by Israeli bulldozers, bombing and shelling, land has been contaminated by munitions, including white phosphorus, burst sewage pipes, animal carcasses and even asbestos used in roofing. In many places, the damage is extreme... 'We can clear the ground in two weeks. Then what? The well is gone. The pump has been destroyed. And where will the trees come from to replant the land?'

Image source here.

Demographic problem? Shoot children

Bullets in the brain
The Telegraph [UK]: Doctors at a hospital near Gaza are almost overwhelmed by the number of Palestinian children needing treatment for bullet wounds to their heads. Dr. Yahia, a professor of neurosurgery who has worked in both the United States and Britain, believes that the bullet was shot from close range... 'I can't precisely decide whether these children are being shot at as a target, but in some cases the bullet comes from the front of the head and goes toward the back, so I think the gun has been directly pointed at the child'... 'We've had one child with two bullets in the head and nowhere else,' he said. 'We think that this shows something.'

The Guardian:
Mohammad Abu Hallma, 16, was shot dead by Israeli troops as he tried to take his injured relatives from the burning house in Atratra to hospital on 4 January...
Amal Abed Rabbo, two, was shot dead by Israeli soldiers outside her family's five-storey house in the village of Izbit Abed Rabbok in eastern Gaza on 7 January...
Shahed Abu Sultan, eight, was sitting on her father's lap mid-morning on 5 January, just outside the entrance to their small home in the Jabaliya refugee camp. An Israeli helicopter was flying overhead and, according to the family, was shooting down towards their houses. Shaded was hit by a single bullet to the head that killed her instantly...
Adham Mutair, 17, was shot by Israeli troops at his home near Beit Lahiya, in northern Gaza, on 9 January. Israeli tanks had taken up positions in the area around the houses and the family had been trapped inside their home for a week. Adham went upstairs to the roof to check on their pigeons, which were housed in a large hut. As he stepped out into the open, he was shot three times... He died the next day...
Lina Hassan, 10, was killed by an Israeli shell as she walked to the shops next to the UN school in Jabaliya on January 6. 'She asked me for a shekel to go to the shops to buy something for her and her brothers and sisters,' said her father, Abdul, 38. 'I heard the shell and ran out. I saw her body lying on the ground -- part of her head was missing.'...
Mohammed Shaqoura, nine, was killed by the Israeli shelling at the UN school in Jabaliya on 6 January... 'I went to help the injured. I didn't realize Mohammed was one of them,' said his father, Basim, 40... 'The injury was in the back of his head.' [Italics added.]
Image: Amal Abed Rabbo; source here.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The wrong side of history

The Wrong Side
Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom: Between Israel and the United States a gap has opened... a narrow gap, almost invisible -- but it may widen into an abyss. The first signs are small. In his inaugural speech, Obama proclaimed that 'We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers.' Since when? Since when do the Muslims precede the Jews? ... The very next morning, Obama phoned a number of Middle East leaders... placing the first call to Mahmoud Abbas, and only the next to Olmert...

Instead of the group of American Jews who had been in charge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during both the Clinton and Bush administrations, Obama, on his very first day in office, appointed an Arab-American, George Mitchell... These are not good tidings for the Israeli leaders. For the last 42 years, they have pursued a policy of expansion, occupation and settlements in close cooperation with Washington. They have relied on unlimited American support, from the massive supply of money and arms to the use of the veto in the Security Council. This support was essential to their policy. This support may now be reaching its limits.

Fred Reed: The practical question regarding Israel's recent invasion of Gaza is not 'Who is right?' but 'Can Israel last?' ... Israel today is not the country once dreamed, in which Heidelberg professors escaped from Europe would work the soil with their hands on kibbutzim and play chess and the violin at night. It looks more like what the professors fled. Brutal conflicts breed brutal people. Atrocities engender counter-atrocities, extremists come to the fore, and military solutions seem the only solutions... Say I, either the country finds peace with its neighbors or it goes the way of the Crusader Kingdom...

The Israelis appear to be trapping themselves... They continue their annexation of the West Bank,... which rules out a two-state solution. To control a large hostile population, you need harsh methods, which keep the population hostile... Sooner or later, the question will be: Democratic, or Jewish? America killed its indigenous population, the Spanish married theirs, but Israel can do neither. Now what? ...

Israel depends entirely on a foreign country, namely America, for its survival. The US provides the weaponry, the financial aid, the vetoes in the UN, and the last-resort military support... Without this support, Israel could not last... Methinks a faint smell of doom hangs over Tel Aviv... Nothing Israel is likely to do looks workable in the long run. The demographics are terrible, regional Arab hostility assured, the military balance only able to deteriorate, the whole enterprise hanging by a lobby... Unless something changes, and I don't have any bright ideas, I don't see a happy ending.
Image source here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Invention of 'the Jewish people'

Controversial Bestseller Shakes 
Foundation of Israeli State
What if the entire tale of the Jewish Diaspora is historically wrong? 

What if the Palestinian Arabs who have lived for decades under the heel of the modern Israeli state are in fact descended from the very same 'children of Israel' described in the Old Testament? And what if most modern Israelis aren't descended from the ancient Israelites at all, but are actually a mix of Europeans, North Africans and others who didn't 'return' to the scrap of land we now call Israel and establish a new state following the attempt to exterminate them during World War II, but came in and forcefully displaced people whose ancestors had lived there for millennia?

What if the entire tale of the Jewish Diaspora -- the story recounted at Passover tables by Jews around the world every year detailing the ancient Jews' exile from Judea, the years spent wandering through the desert, their escape from the Pharaoh's clutches -- is all wrong?

That's the explosive thesis of When and How Was the Jewish People Invented?, a book by Tel Aviv University scholar Shlomo Zand (or Sand) that sent shockwaves across Israeli society when it was published last year. After 19 weeks on the Israeli best-seller list, the book is being translated into a dozen languages...

Zand's central argument is that the Romans didn't expel whole nations from their territories. Zand estimates that perhaps 10,000 ancient Judeans were vanquished during the Roman wars, and the remaining inhabitants of ancient Judea remained, converting to Islam and assimilating with their conquerors when Arabs subjugated the area. They became the progenitors of today's Palestinian Arabs, many of whom now live as refugees who were exiled from their homeland during the 20th century...

And if both groups in fact share common biblical ties, then it begs the question of why the entirety of what was Palestine under the British mandate should remain a refuge for people of one religion instead of being a country in which Jews and Arabs are guaranteed equal protection -- equal protection under the laws of a state whose legitimacy would never again be open to question.
Image source here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cleaning up after the US

The World Won't Buy 
Unlimited US Debt
Peter Schiff, The Wall Street Journal: Barack Obama has spoken often of sacrifice... What he might have said was that the nations funding the majority of America's public debt -- most notably the Chinese, Japanese and the Saudis -- need to be prepared to sacrifice. They have to fund America's annual trillion-dollar deficits for the foreseeable future. These creditor nations, who already own trillions of dollars of US government debt, are the only entities capable of underwriting the spending that Mr. Obama envisions and that US citizens demand...

It is also clear from the political chatter that the policies most favored will be those that encourage rapid consumer spending, not lasting or sustainable economic change. So when the effects of this stimulus dissipate, the same unbalanced economy will remain -- only now with a far higher debt load... If any other country were to face these conditions, unpalatable measures such as severe government austerity or currency devaluation would be the only options... Just like all other bubbles in world history, the US debt bubble will end badly.

William Pfaff, Truthdig: NATO is not real; one might think it the more important organization, since it (or parts of it) makes war, but its independent existence is virtual; it is an adjunct of the United States, and serves no other purpose... NATO has no coherent overall purpose and has not had one since the end of the Cold War. The neoconservatives wanted it to replace the UN, but no one else did. Any number of redefinitions and reorganizations have been proposed or tried and have proved unsatisfactory because no one can explain what it is that NATO really does or is for, other than to clean up behind the United States.
Image source here.

'There's too much guilt to take on'

Globe and Mail: Israelis are arguing over whether they should pity or blame a Palestinian doctor for the Israeli tank shells that hit his Gaza apartment and killed his three daughters and a niece. 'I prefer to believe the Israeli army, that a sniper shot from his house,' one Israeli posted on an Israeli news website. 'Is there such a thing as an Arab who is not Hamas?' asked another...

The Israeli campaign in Gaza raged for 22 days and claimed the lives of more than 1,300 Palestinians, hundreds of them children... Despite the high number of civilian casualties, few Israelis protested. Many expressed indifference or claimed it was 'unavoidable.' An overwhelming 94 per cent supported the war...

One of the most discussed reactions came from Levana Stern, whose three sons were soldiers in Gaza. She pushed past the reporters interviewing the doctor a day after the shelling, and yelled: 'Who knows what weapons you had in your house... If there hadn't been fire coming from the house they wouldn't have fired on it.' She lashed at the reporters, calling them 'crazy' for listening to his 'propaganda.' The doctor dropped his head in his hands and cried: 'They don't want to know the truth. They don't want to know the truth.'

Larry Defner, an American-Israeli columnist at the Jerusalem Post, said that the truth is too painful for Israelis to accept, so some just refuse to believe that innocent civilians were killed. 'The worse it gets, the harder you have to defend it,' he said. 'There's too much to admit, there's too much guilt to take on.'

Globe and Mail: When the leader of Israel's religious-Zionist Meimad Party recently addressed a meeting of 800 high-school students in a Tel Aviv suburb, his words on the virtue of Israeli democracy for all its citizens were drowned out by by student chants of 'Death to the Arabs.'
Image: Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish; source here.

All in the family

UN crime chief says drug money flowed into banks
Reuters: The United Nations' crime and drug watchdog has indications that money made in illicit drug trade has been used to keep banks afloat in the global financial crisis... Vienna-based UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said in an interview released by Austrian weekly Profil that drug money often became the only available capital when the crisis spiralled out of control last year.

'In many instances, drug money is currently the only liquid investment capital,' Costa was quoted as saying by Profil. 'In the second half of 2008, liquidity was the banking system's main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor.'

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime had found evidence that 'interbank loans were funded by money that originated from drug trade and other illegal activities,' Costa was quoted as saying. There were 'signs that some banks were rescued in that way.'

Profil said Costa declined to identify countries or banks which may have received drug money and gave no indication how much cash might be involved.
Image source here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

'I don't understand it. This is life in Gaza.'

One Core Question Among Gazans: Why?
The New York Times: Why had civilian institutions been hit?... The Ministry of Justice, Parliament, the central police station, Islamic University... Many Gazans say that the strikes felt more like an attack on them as a society, a direct hit against the rule of law and the structure of the state. 'The war was not against Hamas,' said Rahmi el-Kheldi, the owner of a flower shop in central Gaza. 'It was against me, my shop and my city. Their aim was chaos, to disrupt society.'... Abu Aymad, 52, who has worked in Gaza's police force as a prison guard since 1994, long before Hamas came to power, [said] 'The police is a civil institution. It serves the people, not the parties. They hit the police building because they wanted to create anarchy.' ... The destruction felt profound and shocked even the most hardened observers. 'It's something very massive, beyond imagination.'

Time: Fearful that Israeli commanders could be targeted for arrest while traveling abroad as private citizens, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz ordered the Israeli media to refrain from revealing the names of any military personnel who took part in the 22-day offensive. Officers who want to travel abroad are now required to first check in with the office of the Judge Advocate, which will determine if the soldier is on a foreign watch list... 

Among the allegations are claims that Israel targeted ambulances and medical crews, improperly used incendiary bombs, prevented the evacuation of wounded carrying white flags, and targeted schools, hospitals, supply convoys and a UN compound where over 1,000 civilians had taken shelter.

Legal experts doubt that Israel could be hauled before the International Court of Justice in the Hague, because Israel, like the US, is not party to the treaty that created it, and also because the US and European governments would likely prevent such a course of action. What worries authorities in Jerusalem is that many European countries are signatories to a Geneva Convention that allows their courts to arrest and prosecute individuals accused of committing war crimes in other countries.

The Independent: Erik Fosse, a Norwegian doctor who worked in Gaza's hospitals during the conflict, said that Israel was using so-called Dime (dense inert metal explosive) bombs... packed with tungsten powder, which has the effect of shrapnel but often dissolves in human tissue... His colleague, Mads Gilbert, accused Israel of using the territory as a testing ground... Other foreign doctors have reported injuries they cannot explain... A cardiac consultant from Sudan said that two of his patients had had uncontrollable bleeding... 'Something was interfering with the clotting process. I have never seen such a thing before.'

Washington Post: Many fear that young will suffer psychological effects of war for decades.

The Guardian: Mohammed Zayid returned to his northern Gaza neighborhood after the war to find nothing as it was. Tank blasts had blown the front off the local bakery, bullet holes riddled the hall where his son was married and airstrikes had collapsed into rubble the store where he bought tea for guests. His home with its view of the Mediterranean was gone except for a pile of concrete... 'I lost my head when I saw it,' the 55-year-old fisherman recalled. 'My whole house was gone. I felt dead right there.' ... On Friday, Mohammed woke early and walked to the ocean to fish for the first time since the war started. He and two of his sons had caught only three fish when an Israeli navy gunboat fired on them. As they reached shore, the boat shot their cart and the donkey they had brought to pull their catch home... 'We have always lived from the ocean and now we have no idea what we'll live from.'

The Guardian: Along a row of shattered houses a veiled woman sat in a chair surrounded by broken pieces of furniture and concrete. She waved towards the sandwiched layers of flattened concrete where her six-story home once stood. 'When Israel does this it just makes us stronger,' she said. 'We have even more sympathy with Hamas now.' ... Back in the centre of Rafah, Abdul Kareem, a young student, standing outside his burnt-out home, was at a loss to explain why the house was targeted... He and his family had fled after the first missile landed; two further missiles followed. Looking at the remains of his bedroom, he began sobbing. 'I don't understand it,' he said. 'I don't understand what I should do now. I cannot do anything. This is life in Gaza.'
Image: ruins of Gaza Parliament; source here

Monday, January 26, 2009

Silence, resistance, and reality

Songs about Palestine and Gaza

Sandy Tolan, TomDispatch: Essential for George Mitchell in all of this will be an openness and a creativity absent from American diplomacy since the violent birth of Israel and the Palestinian catastrophe in 1948. Increasingly, small groups of Palestinians, a handful of Israelis, and even motivated outsiders are looking at the possibility of a third way. The alternatives differ sharply: some call for a one-state solution; others for a binational state; others for an Israeli-Palestine confederation or a Middle East Union. The words 'single state' spark a visceral fear among many Israelis who see this, too, as the end of the Jewish state... But 'No problem,' said Einstein, 'can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.'

Ilan Pappe, The Electronic Intifada: Every act whether it was ethnic cleansing, occupation, massacre or destruction was always portrayed as morally just and as a pure act of self-defense reluctantly perpetrated by Israel in its was against the worst kind of human beings... This shields the society and politicians in Israel from any external rebuke of criticism... The self-righteousness is a powerful act of denial and justification... There is only one way forward: challenging head-on this righteousness as an evil ideology meant to cover human atrocities.

Der Spiegel: Israelis do not understand a world that reproaches them for what they have done... They brush aside concerns about civilian casualties and stories about Palestinian suffering are relegated to the back pages... All of this happened less than an hour's drive from Tel Aviv. But no one in Israel seems to be talking about the consequences... There is no public discourse about the ethical boundaries soldiers and officers should have observed. Nobody asks how many children it was acceptable to sacrifice.

Time: Israel's blockade has left Gaza's 1.5 million residents relying on the tunnels as their economic lifeline... 'If Israel keeps the borders sealed off, we'll keep digging and only Allah can stop us. Let the Israelis drop their bombs. Without the tunnels we can't survive anyway... And if a bomb catches me underground, well, they won't have to dig my grave.'

Ramzy Baroud, Global Research: Isn't 60 years of suffering and survival enough to convince Olmert that the will of the Palestinians cannot be broken? How many heaps of wreckage and mutilated bodies will be enough to convince the prime minister that those who fight for their freedom will either be free or will die trying?... It is strange that conventional wisdom still dictates that 'the Arabs understand only the language of force.' If that were true, then they would have conceded their rights after the first massacre in 1948. But following more than 60 years filled with massacres new and old, they continue to resist.
Image source here.

'Precisely the idea'

CBS: For peace to have a chance, Israel would have to withdraw from the West Bank, which would then become the Palestinian state. It's known as the 'two-state' solution. But, while negotiations have been going on for 15 years, hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers have moved in to occupy the West Bank. Palestinians say they can't have a state with Israeli settlers all over it, which the settlers say is precisely the idea.

CBS: As Bob Simon reports, a growing number of Israelis and Palestinians feel that a two-state solution is no longer possible.

Paul Woodward, War in Context: As President Obama's Middle East Envoy for Peace, George Mitchell, makes is way to the region this week, he should keep in mind a statement that Osama Hamdan, Hamas's representative in Lebanon, made in a speech in Beirut yesterday. Hamdan said, 'the peace process is irreversibly over.'... 

Just suppose that we were at a juncture were 1,300 Israelis had just been brutally killed, 5,000 were wounded, many in a grave condition, 20,000 houses had been destroyed and tens of thousands were now homeless. Suppose in such a situation Israel's leaders were to declare that the peace process was irreversibly over, we would now be commenting on their remarkable composure. We would marvel that they would bother making a political statement and not simply a blood-curdling cry of vengeance. Hamas, on the other hand, in spite of the devastation of Gaza, is still committed to politics.

Given the realities and ignoring the empty declarations, where does Israel want to go from here?

* Democracy: a one-state solution in which Jews and Palestinians have equal rights;
* Ethnic cleansing: a state that solidifies its Jewish identity by purging itself of every non-Jewish element; or
* Apartheid: the explicit formalization of what is already a practical reality.

These, as Bob Simons correctly observes, are Israel's choices. America can no longer serve as Israel's shield in its efforts to conceal a painful reality.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Says it for me

Muriel Gray, in The Sunday Herald (Scotland): ... But then, in this finely crafted, tightly honed speech, where not a word was out of place, we had this: 'Know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more.' ... Now there's no doubt that everything America does has an effect on the world, catastrophically so under Bush, from his wholesale slaughter in the Muslim world to the sly undermining of democracy in South America. But US can indeed change the global economy, global climate, international peace, and it will bring about those changes mostly as a consequence of protecting its own interests. But precisely in what sense does it 'lead'?... Since we rightly had no say in his election, representing as he does his American citizens and not us, he's going to have to watch it with that 'leading the world' stuff.

Waltz with Bashir: film and graphic memoir

Gary Kamiya, Salon: In a strange case of art imitating life, at the same time that Israel [was] blasting a defenseless population enclosed in a tiny area, an Israeli film has appeared that depicts an earlier war in which Israel was complicit in an appalling massacre. The film's moral lessons apply not just to the terrible events that took place 28 years ago but also to what is happening today.

Waltz With Bashir is about [Ari] Folman's attempt to recover his lost memory of his experiences as a soldier during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and in particular the Sabra and Shatila slaughter of Palestinian civilians in two refugee camps. Carried out by Lebanese Christian militiamen, under Israeli protection and with its leaders' complicity, it was one of the most notorious massacres of the 20th century... Whether he himself gains any catharsis from his quest is not clear, for at the very end of the film he abruptly abandons both his personal narrative and his animated technique and simply shows filmed images of the slaughtered Palestinians heaped up like cordwood in the alleys of the camps...

Sooner or later the patriotic fervor will fade, and Israelis will realize that their leaders sent them to kill hundreds of innocent people for nothing. And perhaps in 2036, some haunted filmmaker will release 'Waltz with Hamas.' ... Then as now, Israel went to war in the deluded belief that it could defeat a nationalist movement by smashing it into submission. Then as now, America signed off on this wrongheaded tactic. Then as now, Israel won a short-term tactical military victory that ultimately weakened its security and severely damaged America's interests. And then as now, both Israel and America justified massive civilian casualties by incessantly invoking 'terrorism' and dehumanizing the Palestinians...

As the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy pointed out, the Gaza war is 'maybe the only war in history against a strip of land enclosed by a fence.'

TomGram: Waltz with Bashir, the animated documentary film [Ari] Folman directed in which he explores his own nightmarish, half-suppressed memories... has already won six Israeli Academy Awards, best foreign film at the Golden Globes, and is now nominated for an Oscar as best foreign film... A no less remarkable graphic memoir, Waltz with Bashir, was developed in tandem with the film. It can be ordered here (or in Canada, here).

New Website: Virtual Gaza

'Virtual Gaza is an independent, civic media initiative established by a collective of scholars, media activists and Palestinian residents of Gaza in response to the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip in December 2008-January 2009. 

'For years, Israel has been gradually tightening its stranglehold on the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, sealing its borders and cutting off adequate food, fuel, and medical supplies, bringing the economy and infrastructure to the point of collapse.

'Israel has also sought to control how Gaza's story is told to the outside -- from its sophisticated 'public relations' campaigns to blocking the entry of foreign journalists.

'Virtual Gaza is a space where ordinary Palestinians under siege can describe their experiences in their own words, and where the destruction of the Gaza Strip can be documented by those experiencing it directly. The diary entries, photographs, and video material gathered here have been contributed by residents of Gaza. For safety reasons, authors are located in neighborhoods, but their precise location has been randomized.

'Virtual Gaza invites you to help break the information blockade.'

A collaboration between the Alliance for Justice in the Middle East at Harvard University and the MIT Center for Future Civic Media

Saturday, January 24, 2009

No regrets

In Israel, detachment from reality is now the norm
Patrick Cockburn, The Independent: On returning to Jerusalem 10 years after I was stationed there as The Independent's correspondent between 1995 and 1999 I find that Israel has changed significantly for the worse. There is far less dissent than there used to be and such dissent is more often treated as disloyalty. Israeli society was always introverted but these days it reminds me more than ever of the Unionists in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s or the Lebanese Christians in the 1970s. Like Israel, both were communities with a highly developed siege mentality which led them always to see themselves as victims even when they were killing other people. There were no regrets or even knowledge of what they inflicted on others and therefore any retaliation by the other side appeared as unprovoked aggression inspired by unreasoning hate.

Donald Macintyre, 
The Independent: The sight that greeted Mahmoud, 20, is one which will presumably haunt him for the rest of his life. The rest of his family had been eating lunch in one of the rooms but when they first heard shooting had moved -- fatally -- into the hallway for safety. The corpse of his 45 year old tenant farmer father Sadallah, directly hit from a shell -- one of three all the family say arrived in quick succession -- was, Mahmoud said, 'stuck together' with the bodies of his three still smouldering sons, Abed, 14, Zaid, 10 and Hamza, 8 seemingly having hugged them to him in his last seconds. His 15 month old sister Shahed was lying separately after, in the words of her severely burned mother Sabah, also 45, she 'melted away' as the missiles struck while she was being breast-fed...

About a mile from the Abu Halima house, two donkeys still lay dead beside the road, just as the decomposing body of Shahed Abu Halima did for four days and those of her father and three brothers for nine until the Red Cross could reach them. The family say that while relatives got Sabah Abu Halima through to hospital in the first truck the second two vehicles were fired on from tanks a few hundred metres down the road, killing two members and leaving the rest of the passengers to flee and abandon the bodies...

The family insists that no gunmen were operating round the home when it was shelled as the Israeli forces occupied their commanding position here overlooking Beit Lahiya. In Shifa, the wounded and bereaved Sabah, who voted Hamas in 2006, threatens to become a suicide bomber and says she wants Tzipi Livni to 'burn as my children burned.' But her cousin Ibrahim, 58, says none of that. 'We are all farmers. We have no connection to the factions. Why are the Israelis doing this to us?'

IPS: In the 1967 movie classic 'The Battle of Algiers,' which recreated Algeria's war of independence against France, a handcuffed and shackled insurgent leader, Ban M'Hidi, is brought before a group of highly-partisan French journalists for intense interrogation. One of the journalists asks M'Hidi: 'Don't you think it is a bit cowardly to use women's handbags and baskets to carry explosive devices that kill so many innocent people [in cafes and night clubs]?' Responding with equal bluntness, the Algerian insurgent retorts: 'And doesn't it seem to you even more cowardly to drop napalm bombs on unarmed villages on a thousand times more innocent victims? Of course, if we had your fighter planes, it would be a lot easier for us. Give us your bombers, and you can have our handbags and baskets.' ...

'Perhaps it would be interesting to see the roles reversed: the Palestinians with American fighter planes and battle tanks and the Israelis with homemade rockets,' says one Arab diplomat, striking a parallel with the Algerian insurgency. Besides F-16 fighter planes, the Israelis also used a wide array of US weaponry, including Apache helicopters, M60 battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers and heavy artillery.
Image: burning white phosphorus at UNRWA warehouse; source here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Israel: End the economic siege of Gaza

UN wants all Gaza borders opened
AP: UN humanitarian chief John Holmes said... a top priority will be to get all border crossings opened not only for food and medicine but for desperately needed construction materials which Israel has refused to allow in since June 2007. Holmes told reporters 'it's absolutely critical' that cement, pipes and other building materials are 'unbanned' by Israel and allowed into Gaza to start rebuilding the war-ravaged Palestinian territory. 'Otherwise, the reconstruction effort won't get off first base.'

Paul Woodward, War in Context: One of the primary causes of the war on Gaza was Israel's unwillingness to lift the siege. Hamas wasn't firing Qassams at Sderot in the hope of destroying Israel; its aim was to get a crippling economic embargo lifted. So when Obama calls for the borders to open 'to allow the flow of aid and commerce' he is posing a challenge to Israel.

AP/Patrick Cockburn: The rebuilding of Gaza after the Israeli bombardment already faces unique problems and is likely to be the most difficult reconstruction project in the world. This is because of the sheer scale of the devastation, the economic siege of the Palestinian enclave by Israel and Egypt, and the attempt to exclude Hamas, the elected rulers of Gaza, from any role in the rebuilding.

The difficulties are all the greater because of the destruction of much of the tunnel system linking Gaza to Egypt... The 'tunnel economy' has been the way in which food, fuel and everything else has reached Gaza since Israel and Egypt sealed off the Strip 18 months ago... Military supplies were always a very small part of Gaza's imports through the tunnels...

The Palestinian tunnels and the Israeli-Egyptian border closure were two issues at the centre of the war and their future is still unresolved. Until Gaza has continual access to the outside world, any real reconstruction will be impossible.
Image source here.

Israel's war crimes, old and new

Israel accused of war crimes
Al Jazeera: Human rights group Amnesty International has accused Israel of war crimes, saying its use of white phosphorus munitions in densely populated areas of the Gaza Strip was indiscriminate and illegal... Human Rights Watch made the accusation on January 10 and the UN has also said Israel has used the munition during its offensive in Gaza.

The Guardian: Abu Shabaan, who was trained in Egypt, Britain and the United States and has been head of the Shifa burns unit for 15 years, said he and his staff had been stunned by the 'unusual wounds' they found... 'It starts with small patches and in hours it becomes wide and deep.'... He described one patient, a three-year-old girl, who was sent for a scan because of a head wound: 'After about two hours she came back, we opened the wound, and smoke came out."... Surgeons used forceps to pull out a substance from the wound that was 'like dense cotton and it started to burn. The piece continued to burn until it disappeared.' The child, who was from Atatra, in Beit Lahiya, in northern Gaza, died... 'I have never seen something like this.'

IPS: Israel's refusal to allow civilians any exit route from Gaza as its defence forces rained bombs down on schools and houses appears unprecedented in modern warfare... Richard Falk, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, described the sealing off of the Gaza Strip in order to ensure that nobody could flee it as 'a distinct, new and sinister war crime. For the first time in a military operation, the civilian population as a whole has been locked into a war zone. No children, women, sick people or disabled people were allowed to leave. For the first time, the option of becoming a refugee has been withheld.'

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he expected Israel to provide urgently a full explanation of attacks on UN facilities in Gaza and said those responsible must be held accountable.

The Telegraph: One nine-year-old boy said his father had been shot dead in front of him despite surrendering to Israeli soldiers with his hands in the air. Another youngster described witnessing the deaths of his mother, three brothers and uncle after the house they were in was shelled. He said his mother and one of his siblings had been killed instantly, while the others bled to death over a period of days. A psychiatrist treating children in the village of Zeitoun on the outskirts of Gaza City... described the deaths as a 'massacre.' Rawya Borno, a Jordanian doctor, said civilians, including children, were rounded up and killed by Israeli troops.

The Independent: Grieving Palestinian says children were killed after family obeyed order from troops to leave Gaza home... Mr. Abed Rabbo stood near the wreckage of his destroyed home... and described how a tank had parked outside the building at 12:50 on 7 January and ordered the family in Arabic through a megaphone to leave the building. He said his 60-year-old mother had also been shot at as she left waving her white headscarf... 'We are not Hamas. My children are not Hamas. And if they were going to shoot anyone it should have been me... What did the kids do to them? What did my house do to them? They destroyed my life.'
Image source here.

Lies, delay, and fear of an 'honest broker'

Israel's Lies
Henry Siegman, in the London Review of Books: Western governments and most of the Western media have accepted a number of Israeli claims justifying the military assault on Gaza... Middle East peacemaking has been smothered in deceptive euphemisms, so let me state bluntly that each of these claims is a lie... Why then are Israel's leaders so determined to destroy Hamas? Because they believe that its leadership, unlike that of Fatah, cannot be intimidated into accepting a peace accord that establishes a Palestinian 'state' made up of territorially disconnected entities over which Israel would be able to retain permanent control.

Paul Woodward, War in Context: For as much as Israel likes to assume the posture of an indomitable military power, the simple truth is that Israel's military might is utterly dependent on America's patronage -- hence the threat posed by America as honest broker, as opposed to loyal defender. As honest broker, America cannot perpetually provide Israel with the option of choosing war instead of peace.

Tony Karon, at TomDispatch: Hamas has demonstrated beyond doubt that it speaks for at least half of the Palestinian electorate. Many observers believe that, were new elections to be held tomorrow, the Islamists would probably not only win Gaza again, but take the West Bank as well. Demanding what Hamas would deem a symbolic surrender before any diplomatic conversation even begins is not an approach that will yield positive results...

'Recognizing' Israel is difficult for Palestinians because, in doing so, they are also being asked to renounce the claims of refugee families to the land and homes they were forced out of in 1948 and were barred from recovering by one of the founding acts of the State of Israel... Such recognition could never be a precondition to negotiations, only the result of them... A two-state solution, if one is to be achieved, will have to be imposed by the international community, based on a consensus that already exists in international law (UN resolutions 242 and 338), the Arab League peace proposals, and the Taba non-paper that documented the last formal final-status talks between the two sides in January 2001.

Interviewed by Sameer Dossani in Foreign Policy in Focus
There's a theme that goes way back to the origins of Zionism -- 'Let's delay negotiations and diplomacy as long as possible, and meanwhile we'll 'build facts on the ground.' So Israel will create the basis for what some eventual agreement will ratify, but the more they create, the more they construct, the better the agreement will be for their purposes. These purposes are essentially to take over everything of value in the former Palestine and to undermine what's left of the indigenous population...

Every time you see Hamas in the newspapers, it says 'Iranian-backed Hamas which wants to destroy Israel.' Try to find a phrase that says 'democratically elected Hamas which is calling for a two-state settlement' and has been for years... There's no question about it but the West doesn't want to hear it.... They're willing to accept a political settlement. Israel isn't willing to accept it and the United States isn't willing to accept it. And they're the lone hold-outs.
Image source here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Truth about Gaza can't be bulldozed

Campfires flicker in annihilated Gaza garden suburb
Reuters: The destruction is total, as if a terrible earthquake had struck. But this was no natural disaster. Once there were citrus orchards and olive groves here, locals say, big homes with courtyards and scratching chickens. Now there is nothing but shattered buildings, thrown up in the air and half-buried, tossed in a pitching sea of ploughed-up earth, a bizarre vista of devastation... 

Palestinians surveyed the broken, blackened wreckage of East Jabalya, a neighbourhood with the misfortune to occupy a high ridge above the city of Gaza.  Israeli forces wanted it. They pounded it with bombs, blasted it with tanks, then bulldozed the trees and gardens to get a clear firing platform overlooking the streets below... But most civilians had already fled to the shelter of UN-run schools in the city. 

Now roofless, they squat among the twisted concrete of what used to be their homes, cooking scraps of food over camp fires in blackened living rooms missing their outside walls... 'We were not even sure at first where the house had been, because the streets are gone,' says one man. Now there is nothing but red-raw earth, ripped up and smashed down again under tank and bulldozer tracks, fruit trees flattened to a fibrous pulp, their branches skinned.

IPS: When Israel went on a military rampage during its 22-day air strikes and artillery attacks on Gaza, it largely singled out residential neighbourhoods, hospitals, schools and UN buildings on the pretext of targeting Hamas fighters.

But John Ging, director of operations for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), based in Gaza, kept insisting there were no Hamas fighters anywhere in the vicinity of UN-run schools or warehouses. 'What we have regretted in the past is that we have not been given a hearing.'... He charged that most of the allegations made by Israel were 'unsubstantiated, unfounded -- and continue to be repeated.'...

Nadia Hijab, senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Palestine Studies, told IPS: 'The scale of the devastation is such that Israel and its supporters are unlikely to be able to bury or bulldoze it out of the collective consciousness of the world.' There have already been calls to bring war crimes charges against Israeli leaders.' ... 

Although the formal wheels of international justice may grind slowly, citizens are not waiting. 'Trade unions in different parts of the world are calling for a boycott. Israel's fruit shipments are rotting in its warehouses as importers in Scandinavia, Jordan and the UK cancelled orders,' she said. In an open letter to the London Guardian last weekend, Israeli citizens themselves called on world leaders to impose sanctions against their own country: 'This is the only road left. Help us all, please!'
Image: Mahmoud AbuKhaled

'Time to start talking to Hamas'

Gideon Levy, Haaretz: This goes beyond the profound moral failure... We have gained nothing in this war save hundreds of graves, some of them very small, thousands of maimed people, much destruction and the besmirching of Israel's image... The conclusion is that Israel is a violent and dangerous country, devoid of all restraints and blatantly ignoring the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council while not giving a hoot about international law.

Mousa Abu Marzook, in The Guardian: What did it achieve? The killing of large numbers of civilians, children and women, and the destruction of homes, ministry buildings and other infrastructure with the most advanced US weapons and other internationally banned chemical and phosphorus elements. Almost 2,000 children were killed and injured in desperate pursuit of political goals. Many international organisations called these attacks war crimes, yet barely a word of denunciation was uttered by any western leader... Palestinians can never be broken by either starvation, economic strangulation or brutal attack. European leaders have only one option: to recognise the outcome of a democratic process they had called for and supported.

David Grossman, Haaretz: When the guns become completely silent, and the full scope of the killing and destruction becomes known, to the point where even the most self-righteous and sophisticated of the Israeli psyche's defense mechanisms are overcome, perhaps then some kind of lesson will imprint itself on our brain. Perhaps then we will finally understand how deeply and fundamentally wrong our actions in this region have been from time immemorial -- how misguided, unethical, unwise and above all, irresponsible, time after time... 

We must speak to the Palestinians... Reality is not just the story we are locked into, a story made up, in no small measure, of fantasies, wishful thinking and nightmares. We must speak, because what has happened in the Gaza Strip over the last few weeks sets up a mirror in which we in Israel see the reflection of our own face -- a face that, if we were looking in from the outside or saw it on another people -- would leave us aghast. We would see that our victory is not a genuine victory, and that the war in Gaza has not healed the spot that so badly needs a cure, but only further exposed the tragic and never-ending mistakes we have made in navigating our way.

BBC: The political leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, says that the time has come for the West to lift its boycott on his Palestinian Islamist movement. In a speech aired on Arab satellite TV, the exiled chief said it was 'time to start talking to Hamas.'... 'I tell European nations... three years of trying to eliminate Hamas is enough.'
Image: Mahmoud AbuKhaled

'We have become the racists ourselves'

How Israel drowns dissent
The Guardian: Firefighters turned their hoses on a peaceful anti-war protester last week... Their actions were, while wholly illegal, none the less emblematic of a massive shift in Israeli public opinion over the last few years, according to Sharon Dolev, the woman on the receiving end of the assault... "We used to hold signs at protests reading 'The occupation will corrupt' ... Now, we can see that it has [come to pass]. As a society, we have lost our ability to see clearly; we have let fear blind us. Once, calling someone a racist was the harshest accusation you could make. Later, you began to hear people say 'I know I'm a racist, but...'; nowadays [during Cast Lead], we heard 'I know I'm talking like a Nazi, but at least the Nazis knew how to deal with their enemies.'" ... She believes that history has come full circle, and that instead of learning the lessons of the Holocaust, "we have become the racists ourselves."

The Guardian: Yitzchak Ben Mocha: 'In the past the army used to put refuseniks in jail for weeks. When they were released, sometimes they would be arrested again and this would go on for months. But now it seems the army doesn't want to admit publicly there are refuseniks... It would to against the image of the whole army and country united.'... No'em Levna, a first lieutenant in the Israeli army, was sent to a military prison for 14 days. 'Killing innocent civilians cannot be justified,' he said. 'Nothing justifies this kind of killing.'...

[Ben Mocha] says he joined the Israeli army believing he would be fighting 'terror organisations,' He found himself suppressing Palestinian aspirations for freedom and putting down protests of Palestinian farmers 'against the incontinent theft of their lands.' He also saw abuses, such as Israeli troops sending Palestinian women and children into houses to ensure they were not booby-trapped, and using civilians as human shields. 'I am not a pacifist. I recognise the necessity of Israel to have a strong defensive army but I'm no longer going to play a part in 40 years of occupation. I told the army I will report for training so that I can always be ready to defend Israel, but attacking Gaza and perpetuating occupation is not defending Israel.'...

Recently the military has preferred to pretend simply that dissenters don't exist -- as hundreds of soldiers and reservists signed petitions refusing to enforce the occupation. The government was particularly embarrassed when 27 pilots said they would no longer carry out killings of Palestinian leaders in Gaza, and when a group of elite commandos refused to serve in the occupied territories.

[Ben Mocha] is disturbed that most of the Israeli public and much of the media is blind to the fact that hundreds of Palestinians have been cut to pieced by Israeli fire power. 'In the long run, it's not a war of defence... In the long run, we are creating more terror.'