Gaza-based journalists hold sit-in to protest killing of colleagues

YouTube – Gaza-based journalists hold sit-in to protest killing of colleagues.

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PRESS TV | 16th day, update from inside Gaza

YouTube – 16th day, update from inside Gaza.

White Phosphorus Shells

Related News:
Photo shows ‘Willie Pete’ went to Gaza
Source: Press TV

Sat, 10 Jan 2009 14:47:52 GMT

Despite Israeli denial, newly found photographic evidence proves that Israel has used controversial white phosphorus shells on Gazans.

While the use of the solid, waxy synthetic chemical — also known by the military as WP or Willie Pete — against civilians is prohibited under international law, there is evidence that Palestinian civilians have been subjected to the chemical weapon.

The Times says it has identified stockpiles of M825A1, an American-made WP munition, from high-resolution pictures taken from Israeli artillery units on the Gaza border.

White phosphorus is used in munitions, to mark enemy targets and to produce smoke for concealing troop movement.

It can also be used as an incendiary device to firebomb enemy positions.

If particles of ignited white phosphorus land on a person’s skin, they burn right through flesh to the bone. Toxic phosphoric acid can also be released into wounds, risking phosphorus poisoning.

Exposure to white phosphorus smoke in the air can also cause liver, kidney, heart, lung and bone damage and can even lead to death.

There has been evidence that Palestinian civilians have been injured by the incendiary bombs. A doctor at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City Hassan Khalass told The Times that he had been treating patients who he believed had been burnt by white phosphorus.

According to Muhammad Azayzeh, 28, an emergency medical technician in Gaza City “The burns are very unusual. They don’t look like burns we have normally seen. They are third-level burns that we can’t seem to control.”

Following earlier reports that Israeli troops had fired WP shells to screen their assault on the heavily populated Gaza Strip, an IDF spokesman denied using phosphorus, adding that Israel was only using weapons that were allowed under international law.

After the emergence of the recent evidence, an IDF spokeswoman claimed that the M825A1 shell was not of a WP type. “This is what we call a quiet shell – it is empty, it has no explosives and no white phosphorus. There is nothing inside it,” she said.

However, Neil Gibson, a technical adviser to Jane’s Missiles and Rockets, is of a different opinion and insists that the M825A1 is a WP round.

“The M825A1 is an improved model. The WP does not fill the shell but is impregnated into 116 felt wedges which, once dispersed [by a high-explosive charge], start to burn within four to five seconds. They then burn for five to ten minutes. The smoke screen produced is extremely effective,” Gibson said.

Tel Aviv had previously admitted to using white phosphorus during the 2006 war with Lebanon.

The International Red Cross has urged a complete ban on phosphorus being used against humans and the third protocol of the Geneva Convention on Conventional Weapons restricts the use of “incendiary weapons” — phosphorus is considered one such weapon.

Israel and the United States are not signatories to the Third Protocol.

Earlier last week, Dr. Mads Gilbert, a member of a Norwegian triage medical team in Gaza, told Press TV that medics had found depleted uranium in some Gaza residents.

As the Palestinian death toll topped 820 on the fifteenth day of the Israeli offensive against Gaza, the tell-tale shells could spark yet more controversy over Israel’s incursion into the impoverished strip.

YouTube – white Phosphorus shells.

ei: Abettors of war crimes will be held accountable

Adri Nieuwhof and Daniel Machover, The Electronic Intifada, 10 January 2009

Israel’s military actions in Gaza cannot be justified by the self-defense argument. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)


Israel’s military offensive in Gaza is being perpetrated with enormous disregard for civilian life in violation of fundamental principles of international humanitarian law (IHL). The appallingly high number of civilian deaths and injuries and widespread damage to civilian buildings reflects unlawfully excessive, indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force by Israel.

Two weeks into the Israeli offensive, many international lawyers are raising their voices to condemn Israeli actions from every perspective, challenging Israeli claims to be acting in lawful self-defense. That is, even before examining the unlawful way Israel has deployed its military might, lawyers assessing the self-defense arguments of Israel have found as many holes as in the Gazan ground: Israeli actions were not taken as a last resort, as a necessary response to attacks. Before using force in self-defense a state must need to do so in response to an armed attack, having found no other realistic method of redress or resistance.

In other words, force is only lawful if peaceful attempts to repel the armed attacks either have not worked or would clearly be ineffective. The justification posited by Israel that their objectives of “stopping the rockets being launched from Gaza” and striking Hamas a “severe blow” necessitate the use of overwhelming military force is without legal substance. No force may have been necessary had Israel agreed on 19 December 2008 to open all Gaza’s crossings and lift its unlawful siege.

Hamas scrupulously observed the agreed ceasefire until 4 November when Israel launched an unprovoked attack inside the Gaza Strip, killing six persons. Hence the easiest way for Israel to prevent rocket fire would have been to continue to abide by, and then renew the truce it violated on 4 November.

But the threat posed by rockets fired into Israel can never justify the military actions actually taken since 27 December: figures released by the human rights organization Al Haq on 8 January 2009 indicate that 80 percent of the 671 Palestinian deaths documented until then were civilian (547) including 155 children. The morning of 9 January, Al Jazeera reports raise the Palestinian death toll in Gaza to 769, including more than 200 children. More than 3,121 people have also been wounded. How has this come about?

Despite Israeli claims of complying with the laws of war, the outrageous Israeli attack on Gaza is in line with a rather different approach to war. Under the “Dahiyah Doctrine” (named after an area of Beirut bombed by Israel in 2006), unveiled early October 2008 by Major General Eisenkot, former Israeli military secretary under then prime minister Ehud Barak, the army “… will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. From our perspective these are military bases. This is not a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorized.” In a report for Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security, Colonel (Res.) Gabriel Siboni backed Eisenkot’s statements. The answer to what Israel describes as rocket and missile threats from Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, he believes, is “disproportionate strike at the heart of the enemy’s weak spot, in which efforts to hurt launch capability are secondary.”

It is obvious that the Dahiyah Doctrine, founded on using disproportionate force to respond to rocket and missile attacks, violates IHL. It is no surprise, therefore, to find that Israel does not abide by basic definitions of “combatant” and “civilian” or distinguish between a military objective and a civilian population. One of the first of Israel’s attacks on Gaza on 27 December was on a graduation ceremony of police officers employed by the Hamas government. Police stations are civilian buildings, and police officers and law enforcement officials are classified under international law as civilians. Targeting them while they were not engaged in military action is unlawful. Israel has produced no evidence at all that the trainee police officers were preparing to fire rockets during or after their graduation ceremony, and thus they were civilians and appear to be the victims of a premeditated war crime.

Israel consistently labels civilian buildings as “legitimate military targets” that no other government on earth would successfully describe as such. Police stations, mosques, university buildings, medical storage buildings, government institutions, chicken farms and schools cannot become military targets simply by being called Hamas infrastructure.

Already on the first day of the carefully planned Israeli military operation in Gaza, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the occupied territories, Richard Falk, released a statement pointing out the severe and massive violations of IHL as defined in the Geneva Conventions, mentioning collective punishment, targeting civilians and a disproportionate military response. He noted, “Certainly the rocket attacks against civilian targets in Israel are unlawful. But that illegality does not give rise to any Israeli right, neither as the Occupying Power nor as a sovereign state, to violate international law and commit war crimes or crimes against humanity in its response.” Falk reminded all member states of the United Nations that the UN is bound to its obligation to protect any civilian population facing massive violations of international humanitarian law.

Evidence is also emerging of the use of illegal weapons, with reports and pictures showing “tell-tale [phosphorous] shells … spreading tentacles of thick white smoke to cover the troops’ advance.” An Israeli security expert explained: “These explosions are fantastic looking, and produce a great deal of smoke that blinds the enemy so that our forces can move in.” Phosphorus burning through the air causes severe injuries to anyone caught underneath. Israel admitted using white phosphorus during its 2006 attack on Lebanon.

The Geneva Treaty of 1980 prohibits the use of white phosphorus as a weapon of war in civilian areas, but there is no blanket ban under international law on its use as a smokescreen or for illumination. However, Charles Heyman, a military expert and former major in the British army, was quoted by The Times on 5 January 2009 as saying: “If white phosphorus was deliberately fired at a crowd of people someone would end up in The Hague. White phosphorus is also a terror weapon. The descending blobs of phosphorus will burn when in contact with skin.”

As director of operations in Gaza for the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), John Ging told the BBC on 6 January, the situation in Gaza is horrific, because a huge military operation is being carried out in a densely populated area. The population is terrified, there is no place to be safe in Gaza. One million have no electricity, 750,000 no water and everyone is short of food. Trucks with food arrive piecemeal at UNRWA distribution centers, seriously obstructed by the Israeli military operation. Parents have to leave their homes to collect food at centers, taking the risk of being caught in the line of fire. A recent attack on a UN convoy bringing supplies from the crossing point of Gaza caused casualties. All convoys to the main crossing point used for bringing humanitarian supplies into Gaza were suspended after the incident.

Ging also reminded the international community of its responsibility to protect the civilian population. And if it fails to do so, it should be held accountable. All states have an independent obligation to protect any civilian population facing massive violations of IHL. The members of the UN Security Council, who are all also party to the Geneva Conventions, have failed in that duty by not passing a resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter as early as 27 December, requiring Israel to cease all military operations in and around Gaza. Each day since then without a UN Security Council resolution and with the willful killings and mass destruction rising inexorably, has strengthened the case against US and UK officials of criminal complicity in Israeli war crimes, given that these veto-holding states were not prepared to call a halt to the violence.

The UN Security Council did not wait for Iraq to be ready for a resolution in August 1990 when Iraq acted with equally clear disregard for international law by invading Kuwait. What has the UN Security Council been waiting for since 27 December? No Israeli agreement to a resolution or terms of ceasefire was or is required for a resolution to be passed that has the legal effect of requiring Israel as a UN member state to cease the violence. It took the UN Security Council almost 14 days to pass a resolution that “stresses the urgency of and calls for [i.e. not ‘demands’] an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.” The US backed its ally and abstained. A series of explosions has rocked the Gaza Strip despite the UN Security Council passing a resolution calling for an “immediate ceasefire” there. Any attack after the call for an immediate ceasefire can be considered a violation of international law.

Striking populated areas with the kind of force used by Israel, even if some of the targets were in principle legitimate military targets, can never be in compliance with an ordinary understanding of the laws of war. Israel’s acts are therefore war crimes and crimes against humanity. Lawyers from Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights in the UK and other countries are committed to bringing the perpetrators of these suspected war crimes and crimes against humanity to justice, as well as third parties that have been aiding and abetting war crimes.

Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland, and Daniel Machover is an attorney and co-founder of Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights based in Great Britain.

ei: Abettors of war crimes will be held accountable.

ei: In Washington, all roads lead to Tehran

Daniel Luban, The Electronic Intifada, 10 January 2009

WASHINGTON (IPS) – As the war in Gaza approaches its third week, a chorus of influential voices in the United States media has cast the conflict as a proxy war in which the real enemy is not Hamas but Iran.

The result has been a growing tendency in the US to view Gaza as simply one battleground in a larger war between Iran and the West, and to dismiss the stated concerns of the Palestinians as a mere smokescreen for Iranian influence.

But critics charge that this way of framing the conflict is both overly simplistic and agenda-driven. By overstating the importance of Iran’s operational aid to Hamas, they claim, these opinion-makers aim to increase hostilities with Iran, to bolster an increasingly shaky Israeli rationale for war, and to curtail any inclination to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians.

For years, it has been a commonplace among neoconservatives that Iran is the real source of opposition to the US and Israel throughout the Middle East, from Palestine to Lebanon to Iraq. During Israel’s 2006 war with Hizballah in Lebanon, prominent neoconservatives urged the West to focus “less on Hamas and Hizballah, and more on their paymasters and real commanders in Syria and Iran,” as William Kristol wrote in The Weekly Standard.

Similarly, neoconservatives have taken the current war with Hamas as a sign that the West needs to take a harder line with Iran. “It’s all about Iran,” Michael Ledeen, a prominent Iran hawk based at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, wrote in National Review Online on 30 December. “[The Israelis] are left to contend with the tentacles of the terrorist hydra, while the main body remains untouched. They may chop off a piece of Hamas or Hizballah, but it will regenerate and grab them again.”

However, the belief that Hamas is merely an Iranian proxy has spread beyond neoconservative circles to be voiced by opinion-makers closer to the political center. Self-described realist Robert Kaplan wrote in The Atlantic on Monday that “Israel’s attack on Gaza is, in effect, an attack on Iran’s empire … Our own diplomacy with Iran now rests on whether or not Israel succeeds.”

In The New York Times, influential neoliberal Thomas Friedman implied that Iran was to blame for the outbreak of hostilities in Gaza, writing that Tehran can “stop and start the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at will.” In the Los Angeles Times, Israeli commentators Yossi Klein Halevi and Michael B. Oren wrote an op-ed titled “In Gaza, the real enemy is Iran,” which warned that if Hamas “manipulat[es] world opinion into the imposition of a premature ceasefire … [it] would mean another triumph for Iran.”

And in the literature released by hawkish advocacy groups such as the Israel Project, Hamas is rarely mentioned without the adjective “Iran-backed.”

It is widely accepted that Iran has in fact provided weaponry and other operational assistance to Hamas in recent years. However, there are few reliable estimates of the scope of this aid.

“I’m very skeptical whenever I see figures in the media,” former State Department intelligence official Wayne White, now of the Middle East Institute, told IPS. “Even when I was in the intelligence community, exact details were often elusive.”

Many feel that those blaming Iran for the Gaza crisis attach too much importance to Iran’s operational aid to Hamas when they suggest that Hamas is nothing more than an Iranian “proxy.”

White suggested that Iran’s relationship with Hamas is “more symbiotic than dictatorial,” and that its influence with Hamas is more limited than is portrayed in the media. “Iranian inspiration is being given far too much weight in the overall Israeli-Hamas equation. Hamas has every reason to make its own decisions, most of which are sufficiently militant to please the Iranians,” he said.

Critics charge that framing the Gaza conflict as an US-Iran proxy war is a tendentious move that is meant to advance several covert political goals.

The most obvious of these goals is to increase hostilities with Iran. Unsurprisingly, many of those espousing the “proxy war” argument, such as Ledeen, are advocates of regime change in Tehran, backed if necessary by military force.

But the proxy war argument has also been deployed to bolster the Israeli case for war in Gaza, as Israel’s war aims have become increasingly slippery and elusive over the past two weeks.

Israeli officials have at times suggested that the war is intended to halt all rocket fire from Gaza, or to overthrow Hamas rule in Gaza, but both of these goals are viewed by many as unrealistic and the Israeli government has subsequently backed off of them.

Casting the military campaign as a struggle against Iranian power provides a broader rationale for war, and has been used as a way to rally support from US policy makers who are skeptical of the campaign’s wisdom. On this analysis, Israel is doing the US’s dirty work by confronting Iranian power.

In this vein, The Wall Street Journal editorialized on Monday that the war would help US President-elect Barack Obama’s diplomatic efforts with Iran, since “the mullahs are going to be more interested in diplomacy if their military proxies have been defeated.”

And hawkish liberal Jim Hoagland suggested in The Washington Post that Israel’s attack was helping to hold off the possibility of a nuclear Iran, writing that “only Israel poses any threat of military action to halt Iran’s drive to enrich enough uranium to build a nuclear bomb.”

But one important consequence of the proxy war argument, critics say, has more to do with Palestine than with Iran. By portraying Hamas as nothing more than a projection of Iranian power, commentators implicitly reject any notion that the group may derive its influence from specifically Palestinian concerns.

By doing so, the critics argue, these commentators seek to assuage Israeli consciences by portraying Hamas as the product of a nebulous Islamist menace rather than of local grievances about occupation, refugees, or settlements.

But more than that, they seek to remove any impetus to compromise on such issues. If Iranian power is the real cause of Israel’s Palestinian problem, then a local settlement with the Palestinians would do little to alleviate Israel’s insecurity.

In response, a growing number of analysts have spoken out against this line of thinking.

“Yes, the conflict has been exploited on many sides and certainly by Iran and other hard-liners in the region,” wrote former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy of the New America Foundation on Monday. “[B]ut if the unaddressed Palestinian grievance did not exist then it would not be there to exploit.”

White concurred in his assessment of the situation.

“The [proxy war] view is a very unsophisticated one,” he told IPS. “This is at bottom a struggle between Hamas, along with many other Palestinians, and the Israelis.”

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2009). Total or partial publication, retransmission or sale forbidden.

ei: In Washington, all roads lead to Tehran.

ei: Hitting the wall

Laurie King writing from Washington, DC, the United States, Live from Palestine, 10 January 2009

The walls of cruelty must be torn down. (Haytham Othman/MaanImages)


About a year ago, I had a vivid dream. Somewhere in the West Bank, on a hot and dusty day, I was standing with a news team filming a story at the Separation Wall. A correspondent with a microphone in his hand was watching in astonishment as a long line of young Palestinian men ran up and forcefully threw their bodies against the towering concrete barrier, followed by dull thud after dull thud.

The reporter turned to me in the dream, pushed the microphone into my face, and asked, “Can you tell us what on earth they are doing? This is senseless! No one can break a wall with his body!”

Just as I was about to respond, a young man hit the wall and it cracked open. Everyone shouted for joy and began pouring through the fissure like a rush of water.

For exactly half my life, I’ve been angry and outspoken about the tragedy of Palestine. It seems like I’ve been shouting at a wall for the better part of three decades. Like others Americans who call attention to the illegality, immorality, and illogic of unconditional US support for Israel’s treatment of the people displaced by its national project, I am familiar with “hitting the wall.” Perhaps it’s more accurate to say walls — concentric walls.

Most salient is the wall of apathy. If you haven’t been to the Middle East, if you’ve never known a Palestinian who’s been dispossessed, occupied, and dehumanized, if you’ve never heard an Israeli express horror at his or her army’s actions, you probably haven’t had the occasion to be outraged by the daily violations of international humanitarian law in the West Bank and Gaza.

An even more imposing wall is an edifice of fear that halts many from voicing criticism of Israel lest they be labeled anti-Semitic. And after the 11 September 2001 attacks, criticism of America’s unwise adoption of Israel’s unilateral militarism and defiance of international law meant one risked being called anti-American, too.

In academe, few dare to say anything too publicly about the suffering in Palestine until they have tenure. Even then, it’s risky: if you want that grant, that fellowship, that book award, you’d best watch your tongue. In two job interviews for academic positions I heard some version of the question “We see you have been very outspoken about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Would you continue this if you were on the faculty here?” This is not a question one would get for being outspoken (as indeed we all should be) about massive human rights abuses in central Africa.

The wall of ignorance exists, too, of course. But it is less solid. Once people begin to see the misery in Palestine not as a battle of good against evil, or an example of identity politics gone wild, or a clash of civilizations, it’s not very hard to begin to think, feel and act. If ignorance were not such a weak wall, Israel would not be so keen to deport anyone, including UN representatives like Richard Falk, who try to see the situation for themselves at first hand. Nor would it be so vigilant in barring foreign correspondents from Gaza.

Now we reach the most implacable wall of all, which is constructed of very resilient stuff: unacknowledged but formidable boundaries of cognition, emotion, and axiomatic suppositions that “go without saying because they came without saying,” in the words of the late sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. These walls are constantly under construction and reconstruction; they set the parameters and moral cartography of our social reality by demarcating the orthodox from the heterodox.

I discovered these walls in myself in the early 1980s as a college student working on an archeological expedition in the southeast Dead Sea region of Jordan. There, I gradually became aware of the fact that the wonderful older men from the Jordanian Ministry of Antiquities who taught us to be patient excavators, who made sweet tea for us every morning over small, carefully tended fires, who taught us to sing “Yaa Mustafa!” and clapped and sang when it was anyone’s birthday, and who showed us how to dance to “banaat al-Iskandariyya” (the girls of Alexandria) with scarves tied around our hips one evening around a bonfire, that these men were all Palestinians from Hebron and Jericho.

I was taken aback. Although I had not realized it, my middle-class American worldview apparently included, as a key foundation stone, the assumption that Palestinians were evil and mean. Weren’t they terrorists? Did they not want to destroy Israel and finish off the job Hitler had started? How could I possibly like them?

One of the first phrases I learned in Arabic, besides “shway, shway!” (“slowly, carefully! Don’t erase half of the early Bronze Age trying to get that pottery shard loose!”), was “hadha wad’a sa’ab” (“This is a difficult situation”).

So I learned from Muhammad, a son of Jericho who’d learned archaeological techniques as a child in the famous Wheeler-Kenyon expedition at the edge of his hometown years earlier.

One day, as he was helping me graph the emerging contours of a stone wall in my quadrant of the dig site, the air reverberated with the sonic booms of Israeli air force jets across the Dead Sea. Muhammad sighed, told me it was nothing dangerous, and muttered that Menachem Begin (then Israel’s prime minister) was crazy. Over the next days, we talked about Palestine and Israel, and I told him that several of us were going to go see Jerusalem after the dig was over, two months hence. He said, “You will see how the situation is so difficult — hadha wad’a sa’ab.”

He was right; I did. And that was more than 26 ago, when life in the West Bank was a paradise compared to what it is now.

Today, striving to focus on other work as the television spews scenes of carnage, I am hitting another wall — one of anger, frustration, outrage, and astonishment that this situation can continue and worsen yet still garner the endorsement of the US Senate, still be presented by the US mainstream media as a necessary evil, still be dismissed by pundits as something Israel was forced to do, so please don’t think about this. Please don’t speak out about it. Please don’t push beyond the walls of thinkable thought. And please don’t imagine that you can knock down concentric concrete walls with your body or voice.

I hear another sound, though — not the thud of falling bodies, but a subtle cracking. I hear it in the comments of friends, relatives, neighbors, and even a few journalists who are alarmed that something stunningly disproportionate and unfair is happening. Maybe the Lebanon war of 2006 wore down the walls of silence and shook the architecture of axiomatic assumptions, maybe there is a limit to swallowing lies.

Maybe Americans are astonished that, even with the worst economic crisis in nearly a century, their government can still afford to give millions of dollars a day to Israel as it digs a deeper hole for itself, the Palestinians, and America.

These walls have to come down. They are killing Palestinians, deforming the Jewish people, and preventing the American government from staying true to the founding documents of the United States and the principles of the Geneva Conventions.

For nearly 30 years, I’ve been watching this ugly barrier grow. I’ve seen it devour lives, hopes, dreams, and ideals; farms, towns, friendships, and families. I’ve seen people driven up walls of acute psychological suffering as they try to live their lives in spite of, beneath, or in opposition to these imposing monoliths of injustice and cruelty.

Mr. Obama, please, please, tear down these walls.

Laurie King, a co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, was the North American Coordinator of International Campaign for Justice for the Victims of Sabra and Shatila (http://indictsharon.net) from 2001 until 2003. She is now the managing editor of The Journal of Palestine Studies in Washington, DC.

 

ei: Hitting the wall.

ei: Tunnel vision

Kathy Kelly writing from al-Arish, Egypt, Live from Palestine, 10 January 2009

Goats are smuggled through a tunnel between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, 5 December 2008. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)


As I write, we can hear the dull thud of explosions in the distance. Israeli air strikes continue to blast targets in southern Gaza. Merciless bombing of the small Gaza Strip continues into a third week. I heard some people here in Egypt wonder if the Israeli Air Force must be running out of places and people to target. But perhaps the surveillance drones we heard and saw flying over the Rafah border crossing today hunted down more spots on which bombers could fix their cross-hairs. Perhaps they spotted underground tunnels. The Israeli government has, reportedly, already destroyed 80 percent of the tunnels that connect Gaza with the outside world. It’s common knowledge that a vast network of tunnels, some say as many as 1,700, were constructed, many from outside Gaza’s territorial borders, leading into the territory. Israel claims the tunnels are legitimate targets because the Hamas government can use them to import weapons. But the buildup of the tunnel industry was fueled by desperation for goods needed within Gaza because of Israel’s policy, over the past 16 months, to tighten the thumbscrews of its blockade on the territory. If the blockade continues, and if the tunnels are completely destroyed, besieged Gazans will be cut off from secure supplies of food, medicine and fuel, yet another terrifying prospect for people who are desperate to protect their children from further harm.

Supposedly concerned for Israeli security, the US supports the Israeli government’s stated objective of eliminating Hamas’s capacity to fire primitive rockets into Israel. The extensive tunnel industry may be used for weapons transport. I believe it’s wrong to transport weapons, and it’s wrong to develop, store, sell or use them. Distant thuds reinforce this belief, but if the US and Israel believe importation of weapons via underground tunnels is wrongful, then the US transfer of sophisticated weaponry to Israel must, seen in perspective, be abominable, given the slaughter Israel has inflicted on Gazan civilians since the air strikes began on 27 December.

US taxpayers have provided Israel with F-16 fighter jets and missiles to carry out these attacks. From 2001 through 2006, the US transferred to Israel more than $200 million worth of spare parts to fly its fleet of F-16s. Last year, the US signed a $1.3 billion contract with Raytheon to transfer to Israel thousands of TOW, Hellfire, and “bunker buster” missiles. In July 2008, the US gave Israel 186 million gallons of JP-8 aviation jet fuel.

US donations of jet fuel enable Israel to fire missiles into Gazan homes, streets, schools and hospitals. Meanwhile, ambulance drivers in Gaza, also directly targeted, don’t have enough diesel fuel to bring injured and wounded people to the Rafah border crossing, where patients might be allowed to enter Egypt for critically needed care.

Within Gaza, even before 27 December, civilians lacked essential fuels to power the main power plant, which operated at about two-thirds of its capacity. Now, it’s inoperative. When trucks don’t have fuel, this means that rubbish can’t be collected. Hundreds of tons of rubbish went uncollected in Gaza because of the blockade. Furthermore, 77,000 cubic meters of raw and partially treated sewage were dumped into the sea. Farmers couldn’t operate 70 percent of their agricultural wells. Power cuts affected hospitals, water pumps, sewage treatment plants, bakeries and other facilities dependent on back-up diesel generators.

Now Gazans not only face the consequences of a destroyed health care system and rising sickness due to water-borne diseases, they also face the reality that Hamas could be forced to sign a cease-fire that doesn’t allow for opening the Rafah border and which insists that Egypt assume responsibility to prevent usage of underground tunnels. In exchange for relief from bombs fired by sophisticated weapon systems, Gazans would be required to endure slow-motion death through systematic cutoffs of their access to food, medicine and potable water. This is why it is so important for people all over the world to insist that Israel not only stop attacking Gaza, but also end the brutal and lethally punitive blockade imposed on Gaza.

Here in Egypt, the government has stated that it will undertake responsibility to be an effective partner in negotiating a ceasefire.

Israelis expect Egyptians to stop the tunnel industry. Egypt would be responsible for assuring that no one enters a tunnel, builds a tunnel, or is an accomplice to maintaining a tunnel. Already, any Egyptian caught inside a tunnel faces 15 years in prison. How much better for all concerned if the ceasefire negotiations asked the Egyptians to maintain an open border with Gaza, to lift the punitive blockade, and to assist in the immediate and ongoing transport of goods and services that could help Gaza rebuild and assume responsibility, above-ground, for maintaining its citizenry and its sovereignty.

Egypt, the second-largest recipient of military aid from the US, will be encouraged to use threat and force to curtail the tunnels, supposedly in the name of insuring security for Israel. But who will challenge the obscenely bloated so-called “defense industry” that allows elite gangs, some comfortably occupying the board rooms of major corporations, to supply a repressive, immoral and illegal occupation force with the disproportionate capacity to kill, using conventional weapons against civilians who have no means to escape?

US support for hard-line, extremist Israeli government policies again represents tunnel vision by choice. US foreign policy-makers can begin a cure for this dangerously impaired vision by recognizing the basic human rights of all of the Palestinian people, and at this crucial moment by caring for the survival and dignity of the people of Gaza, especially those for whom meeting basic needs depends on what might come through a tunnel.

Kathy Kelly, a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, is writing from al-Arish, a town near the Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza. Bill Quigley, a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola New Orleans and Audrey Stewart are also in Egypt and contributed to this article. Kathy Kelly can be reached at kathy A T vcnv D O T org.

 

ei: Tunnel vision.

ei: Sleep hard to come by in bombarded Gaza

Eva Bartlett writing from the occupied Gaza Strip, Live from Palestine, 10 January 2009

Bread is baked with a small electric stove. (Eva Bartlett)


It’s 2:50am and I can’t sleep.

Some mornings I wake up from a new explosion and realize I’ve somehow managed to fall into a sleep despite the blasts. Other mornings, I wake up disoriented, first wondering where I am, as I’m sleeping in some hospital waiting room or ambulance office, or the house of a driver since the Red Crescent office in eastern Jabaliya was first shelled and then made off-limits by the invading Israeli forces in the eastern Jabaliya region… and then in the north, the northwest, the east, the south …

Yesterday morning I awoke to an eerie near-quiet: for the time there were no bomb blasts, just the Israeli drones continuing to lord over the sky. Then the blasts came. At 8:38am I noted “resumption of loud, reverberating explosions. In the Saraya area again (the former British prison has been hit a number of times already)? 8:59 am: four very loud explosions with deep reverberations.”

At 12:15pm I’d noted and photographed the white stream of chemical clouds billowing over large expanses of eastern Gaza. At 1:05 pm: “Since last night until now, 23 persons have been killed, all civilians,” reporter Yousef al-Helo told me, adding, “This afternoon, two people — including women and children — were killed in a shelling on Beit Lahia.”

Yousef read me Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s response to the United Nations Security Council call for an immediate ceasefire: “Israel has acted and will continue to act according to its calculation in the interest of the security of its citizens and its right to self-defense.”

Yousef and I had discussed the violations of Israel’s unilaterally-imposed three-hour-ceasefire (which a Lebanese journalist summed up: “How would you like it if I was shooting at you and then told you I’d give you a minute to dance around before I kill you?”). John Ging, director of the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip, sums it up more diplomatically: “For three hours, the people of Gaza have some safety. That’s all it is.” During the first day of the supposed ceasefire between 1 and 4pm, Israeli forces killed three sisters (ages two, three and 10), one woman (31), two elderly men (60 and 87), and targeted paramedics, shooting one in the leg, as the explosions continued all over the Gaza Strip. At 6pm, two hours after the “ceasefire,” the official killing did indeed continue: a family of five dead in northern Gaza, returning from the bread lines with a prize bag of bread, bombed in their car, including three children aged 10 to 15, a 20-year-old cousin and 45-year-old father. And later, after 9pm, another medic was shot in the leg while trying to perform his duties.

With the medics last night, we’d arrived at the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, to the smoking skeleton of a multi-story, multi-family house, evaporated. Fire trucks were there ahead of us, though we all collectively ran at one point, expecting the second strike that often follows the original destruction.

Later in the night, we kept passing the ruins of buildings bombed in the last days. I’ve lost track of what was bombed when. We come to a newly-bombed building, a newly-homeless family, the adjacent building facing a similar fate soon enough as it appears the structure has been so badly damaged it will eventually collapse.

3:20 am: I’ve left the bed and given up on feigning sleep. Am watching the darkness explode with the political hatred that not only kills but silences truth. Hatred in every blast pounding Gaza.

“They will not finish until the martyrs reach 1,000,” the nurse predicts, taking a break on his night shift. “They want to make Gaza into Guantanamo,” he goes on. “All of this will not break the Palestinian people.”

In the hospital room where I tried to sleep between an ambulance shift and morning obligations, the tank shelling and firing is in the room, landing on my pillow.

It’s the shells, which crack and blast. The staccato gunfire. The drones’ whine, in menacing pitches. The fighter plane’s sudden, thundering presence.

The drone ramps up the decibels, a train wreck of disharmony.

And the inevitable whoosh before the explosion, an F-16 launch which erupts a crater where someone’s house, or a market, or a mosque once stood. The blast an hour ago was a market, another nurse tells me. “It was a beautiful market, sold everything, everything we need,” she says.

Hours later, after the sun finally rises, women are walking onto the hospital premises, large towel-covered platters on their heads. A small electric stove is plugged in, and they take turns baking bread for their families: no gas, no electricity at home. They are lucky to have the flour to bake with, and I guess that a trickle of that little aid comes in has reached them. But it’s never enough.

The shelling continuing, I get to see Osama, who I’ve not seen for weeks, although he lives near the hospital where I spend much time. His family, like most, have taken all the windows out of their house (those not already blown out), and the house is frigid with cold. We talk, ask the same questions that everyone is asking every day, about when it will end, why it must be so, what value a Palestinian life has …

A new series of explosions, we go out to see, the latest strike just a couple of streets away, but that’s nothing. Osama’s family live in front of a house slated for attack at any time. “What can we do?” they ask, everyone asks.

Eva Bartlett is a Canadian human rights advocate and freelancer who spent eight months in 2007 living in West Bank communities and four months in Cairo and at the Rafah crossing. She is currently based in the Gaza Strip after having arrived with the 3rd Free Gaza Movement boat in November. She has been working with the International Solidarity Movement in Gaza, accompanying ambulances while witnessing and documenting the ongoing Israeli air strikes and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.

ei: Sleep hard to come by in bombarded Gaza.

ei: Aid groups dispute Israeli claims in Gaza attacks

Thalif Deen, The Electronic Intifada, 10 January 2009

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) – As the Israelis try to justify the massive loss of civilian life in Gaza, their arguments and counter-charges continue to be shot down either by the United Nations or by international human rights organizations.

Did the Israelis misidentify a school run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees, UNWRA, where 43 Palestinians seeking shelter were killed in an early morning air strike? Or were there Hamas gunmen shooting from the school drawing Israeli fire?

Neither assertion is accurate, says John Ging, UNRWA’s director of operations in Gaza.

All UN schools in Gaza are clearly marked, and they fly the organization’s distinctly discernible blue-and-white flags.

Moreover, he told reporters, Israel has been provided with Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates of all of UNRWA’s installations in Gaza.

So there could not have been a misidentification of the UN school in the Jabaliya refugee camp whose compound was hit by an artillery shell early this week.

Asked if Hamas militants could have taken shelter in the school that was attacked, Ging said that UNRWA was “hugely sensitive” to maintaining the integrity of its facilities.

“We vet all those who seek shelter in our facilities to make sure militants were not taking advantage of them,” he said.

Ging said that after visiting the site, he was confident no militants had been inside the building at the time of the bombing and no fire had come from within.

However, he said, “Israel’s position on the issue had shifted to suggest that militant fire had come from the vicinity of the school rather than from inside.”

Still, Ging demanded an independent investigation to prove the UN’s credibility against the unfounded charges.

On Thursday, UNRWA was forced to suspend its relief work following the killing of one of its drivers and the wounding of another. They were in a clearly marked aid convoy.

Ging said that while the Israeli authorities had given clearance to UN aid workers to move around, “it is wholly and totally unacceptable that [Israeli] soldiers on the ground are firing on our aid workers.”

On Friday, however, UNRWA resumed its relief operations after the Israeli defense ministry provided “credible assurances” that UN personnel and humanitarian operations would be fully respected.

Told that Israeli officials were denying the existence of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes dismissed the denial by pointing out that the crisis was “worsening day by day.”

The appeals to halt the violence, he said, fell on deaf ears, both on the Israeli side and on the Hamas side.

According to the United Nations, the two-week old Israeli military operation in Gaza has killed 758 people, of whom 257 were children and 56 women, with 3,100 wounded, including 1,080 children and 452 women.

The staggering numbers were provided to the UN by the local ministry of health.

Although the UN could not independently verify the figures, Holmes told reporters “they appeared credible.”

In contrast, the total number of Israeli deaths, both military and civilian, was about 10, including by friendly fire, according to press reports.

At a news conference Wednesday, Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, said Israel had attacked police stations in Gaza on the ground they were “combatants.”

“Police were not combatants and could not represent legitimate targets unless actively engaged in hostilities,” she pointed out. “It was Israel’s burden of proof to show the police they targeted were, indeed, Hamas militants.”

Instead, she said, it appeared that Israel had targeted police stations on a “blanket basis.”

Whitson said that only combatants actively engaged in fighting were legitimate targets of Israeli attacks.

Thus, a Hamas official at the ministry of health was not a legitimate target and neither was a Hamas media broadcasting station.

The situation in Gaza is so abominable that both the UN and international human rights organizations have refused to remain silent. Israel has been accused of violating both humanitarian law and the Geneva conventions on military operations.

In a letter to the UN Security Council Friday, the London-based Amnesty International (AI) called for firm action “to ensure full accountability for war crimes and other serious abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

AI also urged the Council to dispatch international human rights monitors to Gaza and southern Israel to investigate and report on the continuing abuses by both warring parties.

Even the Vatican seemed outraged by the unmitigated violence by the Israelis.

Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, compared Gaza to a “concentration camp,” reminiscent of the horrors of a Nazi era — provoking anger from the Israelis.

“Look at the conditions in Gaza,” the Cardinal was quoted as saying, “more and more, it resembles a big concentration camp.”

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2009). Total or partial publication, retransmission or sale forbidden.

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ei: Aid groups dispute Israeli claims in Gaza attacks.

ei: Israel ignores UN Security Council resolution

Haider Rizvi, The Electronic Intifada, 10 January 2009

Gabriela Shalev, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations, addresses a Security Council meeting on the situation in Gaza, 8 January 2009. (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) – International aid organizations, including the United Nations humanitarian agency in Palestine, are calling for the immediate implementation of the Security Council resolution passed late Thursday demanding a ceasefire in Gaza.

“The Council must ensure that the words in the resolution must quickly translate into meaningful change,” said Nicole Widdersheim of Oxfam International, the London-based charity that runs humanitarian operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Thursday night, the Security Council passed a resolution calling for unimpeded provision throughout Gaza of food, fuel and medical treatment, as well as intensified international arrangements to prevent arms and ammunition smuggling.

Fourteen of the Council’s 15 members voted in favor of the resolution, with only the United States, a staunch ally of Israel, abstaining.

As a result of the Israeli military assault on Gaza, which started on 27 December, at least 800 Palestinians have been killed and more than 3,000 injured — about half of them women and children.

“Emergency personnel must be granted safe passage so that they can reach the wounded and treat them,” said Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in a statement released soon after the passage of the UN resolution.

Aid groups say they are having a great deal of difficulty reaching out to the victims of the war as Israel continues its operations in defiance of the Security Council resolution.

“We are very concerned about the casualties,” said the UN humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes Friday. “[We] are unable to provide normal service. On the health side, the situation is extremely deteriorating.”

On Thursday, due to intense shelling and bombing of various parts of Gaza, the UN decided to suspend its humanitarian operations. However, the world body resumed its operations in the area after Israeli authorities gave assurances of their cooperation.

In a statement, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, described the Israeli attacks on Gaza as “intolerable” and demanded that the ceasefire called for by the Security Council “be implemented immediately.”

Pillay is considering setting up a commission to assess war crimes in the Gaza conflict. “Violations of international humanitarian law may constitute war crimes for which individual criminal responsibility may be invoked,” she told the Human Rights Council.

On Thursday, the UN General Assembly president, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, strongly criticized the Israeli strategy to use the UN to stall a ceasefire agreement until it had archived its military objectives in Gaza.

In a statement, the Israeli foreign minister described her country’s fundamental diplomatic objective of gaining time to achieve its goals.

“Gain time for what?” d’Escoto said in a statement. “So that there can be more killing? So that there can be more destruction and more suffering of innocent people?”

According to d’Escoto, the Israeli foreign minister’s views on the need for more time were “almost the same words” uttered by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during the 2006 Israeli invasion into Lebanon.

“I think that it is not unlikely that the timing of this particular incident now is precisely to be able to do whatever they want to do before [US] President [George W.] Bush leaves,” he said.

Like d’Escoto, UN chief Ban Ki-moon also appeared frustrated at the Israelis’ behavior.

“Today, the secretary-general called the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and expressed his disappointment,” UN spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS, adding that the UN chief wants immediate compliance by Israel with the latest Security Council resolution.

Meanwhile, the General Assembly president said he has received a growing number of requests from heads of state and diplomats around the world this week to convene an emergency session to consider the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The world, he said, was “fed up” with the inability of the United Nations, in particular the Security Council acting on the Assembly’s behalf, to “fulfill its principle and founding objective of averting war and maintaining international peace and security.”

Before the adoption of the Council resolution Thursday, d’Escoto stressed that the international community should not remain “silent” and warned that a ceasefire in Gaza would not be permanent unless the root causes were fully addressed.

Though pleased with the outcome of the Security Council meeting, the Palestinian envoy, Riyad Mansour, expressed his apprehensions about the world community’s efforts to stop the Israeli aggression in Gaza.

“Israel is still violating the UN Charter and Security Council’s [latest] resolution,” he told IPS. “It should be forced to be brought into compliance with the resolution.”

On Friday, in a statement, the London-based Amnesty International said it wants the Security Council to establish full accountability for crimes committed in the Gaza conflict and for deployment of human rights monitors.

The rights watchdog said the Council must take “firm action” to ensure full accountability for war crimes and other serious abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law.

In an open letter to the Council, Amnesty also urged the Council to ensure that international human rights monitors are immediately dispatched to Gaza and southern Israel to investigate and report on continuing abuses by all parties.

Meanwhile, the US has maintained its nearly unconditional support of Israel. In Washington, the House of Representatives voted 390-5, with 22 legislators non-voting, for a resolution that explicitly blamed Hamas for both the breakdown in the ceasefire and the subsequent casualties in Gaza and called for all countries to do the same.

The Senate approved a similar resolution by voice vote Thursday.

The hawkish lobby group American Israel Public Affairs Committee supported both resolutions, while J Street, the political arm of the US pro-Israel, pro-peace movement, said it neither supported nor opposed them.

The non-binding resolutions call for the administration to “work actively to support a durable, enforceable, and sustainable ceasefire as soon as possible” and express “vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders … and its right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against acts of terrorism.”

It demands that “Hamas … end the rocket and mortar attacks against Israel, recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence, and agree to accept previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians …”

Both resolutions called for all efforts to protect civilian lives on both sides and address humanitarian needs in Gaza but neither called for an immediate ceasefire.

An anonymous poll conducted by the National Journal of 32 Democratic members of Congress and 36 Republicans on the question of “How would you characterize Israel’s use of force in Gaza?” found that 39 percent of Democrats said Israel’s use of force was excessive, while just 12 percent of Republicans said so. Fifty-five percent of Democrats said it was just right, while 82 percent of Republicans agreed with that assertion.

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2009). Total or partial publication, retransmission or sale forbidden. Jim Lobe in Washington contributed to this article.

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ei: Israel ignores UN Security Council resolution.