Israel continues to shell Gaza by air, land and sea. Palestinian death toll at 390 (including 58 children). Injuries stand at around 1800 wounded (including 45 children)
humanitarian news and analysis
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
GAZA CITY, 31 December 2008 (IRIN) – In Gaza’s main hospital, the director’s office is under virtual siege, according to an IRIN journalist in Gaza. Relatives of the injured are desperate to get their kin transferred to Egypt for emergency treatment. There is a fear here that the already overstretched healthcare system will collapse if Israel mounts a ground offensive into the tiny coastal strip, home to 1.5 million Palestinians.
As of the night of 30 December the death toll from the Israeli offensive had reached 380, with 1,800 wounded, according to the Gaza health ministry. The UN World Health Organization (WHO) said 30 children and nine women were among the dead and 250 children had been injured.
Fifteen medical patients passed through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt for emergency care on that day, said WHO.
Hospitals in the enclave have been overwhelmed by the trauma cases flowing into emergency rooms since the morning of 27 December.
An official from the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, Aed Yaghi, said at a press conference on 30 December that there were 2,053 hospital beds in Gaza, and warned it was not enough.
“One hundred and fifty patients were brought in at once,” said Khaled Abu-Najar, a staff nurse in Al-Shifa’s emergency room. “We lack beds, sterile gloves, sheets, scissors and gauze to treat patients.”
He said there were shortages of chest tubes, forceps, artery clamps, ventilators and monitors.
Nearly half of the emergency room staff are volunteers recruited since 27 December, said Abu-Najar.
“We are short of rooms and supplies, we are up to our necks,” said Ramez Zyara, one of nine general surgeons working 24-hour shifts at Al-Shifa. The small team treated hundreds of patients on 30 December for crush injuries and severe trauma.
“The buildings are falling on the heads of the patients,” said Zyara.
The intensive care (ICU), burns, orthopaedic, and surgery units have reached capacity, said Al-Shifa hospital director Hussein Ashur, while 10 of the 12 operating rooms are being used for emergency care.
There are 25 life support systems – also used to measure a patient’s blood pressure, temperature, oxygen circulation and heart activity – in the ICU of As-Shifa. “We need at least 25 more,” said Ashur.
He also said there were shortages of dressings, and gauze used in X-ray machines.
“We have not received medical supplies at Al-Shifa for three months,” said Ashur.
The first emergency medical aid deliveries reached Gaza on 30 December. Some 90 trucks – 53 supplied by aid agencies – entered via the Kerem Shalom crossing, according to WHO.
Kamal Adwan hospital
Kamal Adwan is the primary hospital serving Jabalya and Beit Lahiya. Jabalya, Gaza’s largest refugee camp, is home to 300,000.
The hospital lacks medicine, including basic antibiotics, analgesics and hydrocortisone, said hospital director Bassam Abu-Warda.
“If there is a major Israeli invasion we will collapse,” warned Abu Warda. “On Saturday [27 December] 93 patients came for emergency care; we had to set up make-shift beds.”
Since 27 December Abu-Warda has added 24 beds to the existing 71.
Paramedics at Kamal said they did not have enough staff, medical supplies or ambulances.
Magdi Hatib, 48, witnessed his brother, Akram Hatib, 35, torn apart by burning shrapnel from an Israeli missile on 27 December in the Beach Refugee Camp of Gaza City, home to Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniyeh.
“He was bleeding on the ground for 15 minutes till we could approach him, fearing a second explosion,” said Magdi. “There were no ambulances, so we took him to Al-Shifa hospital by taxi.”
Rafah tunnels bombed
Israel bombed dozens of tunnels in the Rafah area on 30 December, saying they were used by Hamas for smuggling weapons.
Health ministry spokesperson Hamam Nasman said shipments of Egyptian fuel were the only means of running his fleet of ambulances, half of which are not operating due to a lack of spare parts – a result of the border closures by Israel since June 2007 when Hamas took over in the enclave.
The tunnels have been used to import fuel, cooking gas, medicine and food supplies to circumvent the Israeli blockade.
Residents flee their homes
Meanwhile, residents in Jabalya and Beit Lahiya were fleeing their homes in anticipation of further bombardments.
“We evacuated our home last night – my wife and our two-year old son Karim,” said Sami Abu-Salem, 38, an editor, after the Israeli authorities warned residents the home of a militant leader in the area would be targeted.
“We took basic food items with us and we are still afraid to return,” said Sami.
The Coastal Municipalities Water Utility in Gaza said that if the water supply network is damaged it will be impossible to repair, due to the lack of fuel and spare parts.
Access for aid agencies to Gaza has been severely restricted since the beginning of November. A ground invasion would make matters worse.
Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani, The Electronic Intifada, 31 December 2008
|Egyptians in Cairo protest the ongoing Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip, 29 November 2008. (Matthew Cassel)|
CAIRO (IPS) – As the Palestinian death toll approaches 400, much of popular anger throughout the Arab world has been directed at Egypt — seen by many as complicit in the Israeli campaign.
“Israel would not have hit Gaza like this without a green light from Egypt,” Hamdi Hassan, MP for the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition movement, told IPS. “The Egyptian government allowed this assault on Gaza in hopes of finishing off Hamas.”
On Saturday, 27 December, Israel began a series of devastating air strikes on targets throughout the occupied Gaza Strip, internally controlled since the summer of last year by Palestinian resistance faction Hamas. According to Israeli officials, the campaign — which has included hundreds of air strikes — comes in retaliation for rockets fired by Palestinian resistance factions.
More than 200 Palestinians were reportedly killed on the first day of the operation. Four Israelis, meanwhile, have reportedly been killed by Palestinian rocket fire since the air campaign began.
In the meantime, Israel has continued to amass tanks along its border with the Gaza Strip amid predictions of an imminent ground assault.
“What’s happening in Gaza represents an unprecedented crime against humanity,” said Hassan. “Enormous military power — featuring the latest US weaponry — is being brought to bear against a poverty-stricken and largely defenseless population.”
Ever since Hamas wrested control of the Strip from the US-backed Palestinian Authority (PA) last year, Egypt — like Israel — has kept its border with the enclave tightly sealed. The border closures, in tandem with the bombing and closure of the Strip’s airports and maritime ports by Israel, has effectively cut the territory off from the rest of the world, and brought it to the brink of humanitarian disaster.
“The international community has condoned the siege of Gaza and allowed the Palestinians to be punished for democratically electing Hamas,” said Hassan, noting that the Islamist group swept the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections.
Egypt has said it cannot reopen the Rafah crossing, the sole transit point along Egypt’s 14 kilometer border with the Gaza Strip, in the absence of PA officials and European Union observers, as stipulated in a 2005 US-sponsored trilateral agreement between Israel, the PA and the EU.
Critics, however, reject this argument, and say there is no legal justification for keeping the border permanently closed to people and goods.
“Egypt isn’t even a signatory to the agreement, which expired after one year and was never renewed,” said Hassan. “Those cooperating with Israel are simply using this outdated agreement as an excuse to keep Rafah sealed.”
Despite increasingly vocal demands — by both street protestors and opposition MPs — to open the border to aid convoys in the wake of the recent Israeli assaults, the Egyptian government has dragged its feet.
“For the first two days of the campaign, the authorities forbade all aid convoys from entering Gaza,” Magdi Hussein, secretary-general of Egypt’s Islamist-leaning Labor Party (officially frozen since 2000) told IPS. “On the third and fourth days, limited aid was allowed in — but this was only due to mounting popular pressure.”
In a televised address 30 December, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak defended Egypt’s position by again referring to the 2005 border agreement. “Egypt doesn’t want to sanctify the division [between the rival political parties in Gaza and the West Bank] by opening the Rafah crossing in the absence of the PA and European observers,” he said.
For the last five days, Egypt has witnessed thousands-strong demonstrations at university campuses, mosques and professional syndicates. Amid an increasingly tight security presence, protestors have called for the permanent reopening of the Rafah border crossing and the severing of Egypt’s diplomatic relations with Israel.
“That protests are being staged all over Egypt — and will persist as long as the aggression continues — is an indication of the level of popular outrage,” said Hassan. “If the government doesn’t change its position and allow aid to flow freely into Gaza, the situation could become very dangerous.”
Demonstrators in several Arab capitals have vented their rage outside Egyptian embassies. Protestors have reportedly attacked Egyptian consular offices in Sudan and Yemen.
“Demonstrations around Egyptian embassies abroad show that the Arab and Muslim people across the region recognize Egypt’s complicity with Israel in keeping the border closed without legal justification,” said Hassan.
Suspicions of Egyptian complicity with Israel against Hamas are not limited to the border issue. Many also suspect a degree of Egyptian-Israeli coordination in advance of the air campaign — an impression reinforced by the fact that Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was in Cairo, where she met with Mubarak and Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, less than 48 hours before the assaults began.
At a joint press conference with Aboul Gheit in Cairo on 25 December, Livni vowed to retaliate against Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. “This is something that has to be stopped,” she said of the relatively ineffectual rocket salvoes. “And this is what we’re going to do.”
While Aboul-Gheit used the occasion to publicly urge restraint by both sides, many independent commentators believe that, while in Cairo, Livni received a tacit go-ahead from Egyptian officials for the campaign.
“It was at the Livni-Mubarak talks that Egypt gave Israel the green light to strike Gaza,” said Hassan. Contentiously, he went on to point to statements by Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum that Hamas had received false assurances from Egypt, immediately following the Cairo talks, that an Israeli attack on the strip was not imminent.
On Sunday, 28 December, a presidential spokesman strongly denied Barhoum’s claims. “No Egyptian official sent any assurances to Hamas in this regard,” he was quoted as saying in the state press.
Misgivings about possible Egyptian connivance with Israel against Hamas have not been limited to opposition figures and political commentators. On the campaign’s third day, thousands of demonstrators in Cairo chanted: “Oh, Mubarak, what do you say? Why was Livni here anyway?”
All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2008). Total or partial publication, retransmission or sale forbidden.
Hasan Abu Nimah, The Electronic Intifada, 31 December 2008
|An protester in Cairo holds a newspaper featuring a photo of Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit meeting with his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni, 28 December 2008. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)|
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice famously celebrated Israel’s 2006 aggression against Lebanon as “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.” She could say the same thing about Gaza today, but it will not be the birth of the Middle East she wanted.
Israel’s savage attacks on Gaza come after months and weeks of repeated threats and secret planning. The shockwaves are rumbling all over the Arab world, as much because of the official Arab silence and international cowardice and complicity as because of Israel’s barbarity.
Israel has never behaved otherwise. Right from the beginning, and even before Israel was founded, Zionist gangs led by future prime ministers were the first to introduce terrorism to the Middle East. Israel and its founders were the first to carry out political assassinations of United Nations officials and Palestinian leaders, as well as other truly terrorist attacks against hotels, railway stations and civilian Palestine government departments.
Israel brought nuclear weapons to the region and its chief innovations have been how to occupy, build settlements, usurp lands and rights by every means, commit massacres against civilians with advanced weapons, and invent new justifications for each crime. These have been its chief contributions to the region for 60 years.
Israel’s butchery in Gaza is therefore nothing new, even if its brazenness and cruelty set shameful new records. The pain penetrates deep into every soul as ordinary people in Arab capitals voice their anger at Israel, at their own indifferent governments, and the duplicity of an “international community” that automatically supports the aggressor and blames the victim.
It is true that what is happening in Gaza happened before: the massacres there earlier this year, in Lebanon in 1982, 1996 and 2006, among many other examples. The reactions are similar too. When Israel attacked Lebanon in 2006, it also had a green light from international and regional powers. Then, as now, the United States and United Kingdom refused to call for a ceasefire, to give Israel time to continue the killing and to try to achieve its goals. But in 2006, Israel failed to achieve anything but defeat, despite massive political and military support.
In Gaza, Israel created through the siege, and through the continued occupation and oppression of Palestinians everywhere, conditions that made its attack a self-fulfilling prophecy. Israel cornered itself. The indiscriminate murder of hundreds of civilians in Gaza (300 dead and 700 injured in only the first 24 hours) generated the usual bleats of “concern” from the “international community.”
Israel is ignoring the weak statement calling for an end to violence issued by the UN Security Council because it knows that the statement is meant only as political cover for those who issued it, not as a real effort to end the aggression.
As with Lebanon, Israel is quick to start a war, but the question is how to end it. Hamas — and the steadfast Palestinian people — are not an army to be defeated on a battlefield with a declaration of victory. Of course, Israel has the military might to destroy all of Gaza and kill every Palestinian there. But no matter how many atrocities it commits, the Israeli army will end its attack with no victory. Israel will reap another defeat in Gaza, to add to its harvest of defeat, and death.
With its latest massacres, Israel has ensured once and for all that it will never be accepted as a normal, permanent state in this region. That is a decision that can only be taken by the people of this region — not by declarations from their leaders — and the people have made their views clear every time they were given a chance to express themselves. For that Israel can also thank its so-called “friends” who never heeded the calls to restrain Israel even for its own good if not for the good of its victims.
Israel has been pushing events such that any chance of reconciliation and peace has been destroyed. It has embarrassed and humiliated the Arab states that signed peace treaties in the hope that this might encourage Israel itself to pursue real peace, especially with the Palestinians. It has seized every Arab opening and initiative as a sign of weakness to be exploited instead of built upon. While claiming to desire nothing but peace and security, it has all along been acting as a rogue state with disrespect, lawlessness, bigotry, racism and a savage disregard for human life.
The end of this process has not been reached. Israel will push things until even the meagre remaining peace “achievements” — the peace treaties themselves — are undone. It seems that is what Israel truly desires no matter how much it claims to want peace.
No one can say with certainty what Israel’s new aggression will unleash, but one can point to some likely outcomes.
The attack on Gaza will not destroy Hamas, and even if Israel kills every person who ever supported Hamas, the attack will not end resistance. On the contrary, resistance will be strengthened throughout the region, undermining the notion that resistance is outdated or impossible and that the only remaining “strategic choice” for the Arabs is negotiation from a position of weakness.
The Gaza attack will weaken and discredit even further the so-called “moderates” who did their best to extinguish any form of resistance and bet heavily on the failed peace process and its sponsors.
We may also see an awakening of the role of the Arab public, which has been extremely patient with the sterile negotiations and summitry conducted by its leaders. It will be impossible to counteract the now firmly rooted idea that there was official Arab complicity in the Gaza attack. No one will forget that Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni issued her threats against Gaza from Cairo on 25 December, while Egypt’s foreign minister stood smiling next to her without saying a word of protest. Neither will it be easy for Egypt to further justify its role in tightening the siege on the Gaza population by keeping the Rafah crossing closed.
The reality is that the starvation siege Israel has imposed on Gaza could not continue so long without Arab complicity. These facts leave indelible marks of shame on Arab history.
Finally, Israel may recognize what it should have learned after its invasion of Lebanon in 1982: its enemies do not have the might that it has, and it can invade and kill with impunity, but military force does not bring security. In fact, all it has done is to make Israel less secure and more hated for its crimes.
Israel continues to isolate itself, to enlarge the constituency of its enemies and, at the same time, works hard to eliminate the number of any left “friends.”
We are undoubtedly at the end of the era which started with the Madrid peace conference 17 years ago. The “peace process” that conference inaugurated, based on sidelining international law and institutionalizing Israeli dominance, has failed and cannot be revived. The alternative must not be a continuation of violence. There are other paths. One, long neglected, stands out: a return to international law, legality and accountability.
That would require real courage from an international community that has for too long abdicated its duties. Governments and international bodies may continue to evade those duties, but they should know that they will not be immune from the spreading shockwaves emanating from Gaza.
Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations. This essay first appeared in The Jordan Times and is reprinted with the author’s permission.