Saturday, 2 May 2009
Gaza citizens at risk from rubbish, rubble, unexploded ordnance
Report, The Electronic Intifada, 2 May 2009
GAZA CITY, occupied Gaza Strip (IRIN) - Unexploded ordnance (UXO) and the uncontrolled dumping of rubbish pose the greatest environmental and public health risks to residents of the Gaza Strip, according to the UN Development Programme (UNDP). A further study is planned by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Increased discharges of raw sewage, the contamination of ground and drinking water, polluted agricultural fields and other environmental effects stemming largely from the recent 23-day Israeli offensive in Gaza will be the focus of an upcoming UNEP assessment to be conducted by a team of eight experts in May.
Assessment results are expected by early July.
"Contamination of water and land, and the handling of hazardous waste and rubble are the most pressing issues [in Gaza]," said UNDP environmental officer Husam Tubail.
Hazardous waste includes waste from healthcare facilities, asbestos and other material mixed up with the rubble. It also includes UXO, said Tubail.
About 600,000 metric tons (mt) of rubble resulted from the bombardments -- and some of this is mixed with asbestos, as most homes in refugee camps were built of concrete and asbestos, said Gaza environment quality authority chairman Yusuf al-Ghuraiz.
"Asbestos fibers are fine and when inhaled they enter the lung tissue, causing cancer," said Gaza environment quality authority engineer Ibrahim Abdulla.
"Many houses in my neighborhood that were destroyed contained asbestos," said Makram Hanoun from the A' Tufa area of Gaza City. "I fear my children's health is at risk from the toxic fumes."
A major health threat is also posed by the accumulation of about 28,000 mt of municipal rubbish piled up across Gaza during the conflict due, in part, to movement restrictions, according to the UNDP in Gaza.
In Rafah about 10,000 mt of rubbish has been dumped by the shoreline in the Tala Sultan area and tons more are piled up east of Gaza City, said Tubail, adding that the local authorities lacked the equipment and resources to dispose of it.
The three main sites for dumping refuse in Gaza are reportedly already at maximum capacity.
The Gaza authorities are alarmed by the health risks posed by the number of children playing on or near municipal rubbish dumps, rubble and unstable substances.
Humanitarian organization MAG International and the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) are working to clear UXO to reduce the threat of death and injury, and to facilitate safe access to areas for internally displaced persons and humanitarian workers.
Seven people have been killed by UXO since the end of the conflict -- one last week in eastern Gaza -- according to Tubail.
"About 250 industrial facilities and factories -- such as textile and food processing factories, and small workshops -- were destroyed. It is still unclear what chemicals were released as a result," said Tubail.
The Israeli military has admitted using phosphorus during the campaign, which ended on 18 January 2009.
Israel "used two types of white phosphorous during its operation; the first was used to mark targets in open areas and the second was used as a smokescreen with pieces of felt built into the shell to absorb the white phosphorous to protect soldiers," Israeli military spokesman Major Avital Leibovitz told IRIN, saying both types of munitions were used according to international law.
"DIME and undepleted uranium were not used by the IDF [Israeli army] during the recent operation," said Leibovitz.
UNDP and the Gaza authorities both estimate urgent rehabilitation needs of over $25 million. However, a recent appeal appears not to have been met so far.
This item comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. All IRIN material may be reposted or reprinted free-of-charge; refer to the copyright page for conditions of use. IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
One Voice: manufacturing consent for Israeli apartheid
Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 1 May 2009
|US Middle East envoy George Mitchell meets with Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. The American effort, started by the Bush Administration and continued by President Barack Obama to impose an Israeli-friendly Palestinian leadership has failed, according to new surveys of Palestinians. (Thaer Ganaim/MaanImages)|
How do Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation and siege see their world, especially after Israel's massacre of more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians, in the occupied Gaza Strip three months ago?
Two recent surveys shed light on this question, although one -- published on 22 April by the pro-Israel organization One Voice -- appears intended to influence international opinion in a direction more amenable to Israel, rather than to record faithfully the views of Palestinians or Israelis ("OV Poll: Popular Mandate for Negotiated Two State Solution," accessed 30 April 2009). The other -- a more credible survey -- was published in March by the Oslo-based Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies and funded by the Norwegian government ("Surveying Palestinian opinions March 2009," accessed 30 April 2009).
The One Voice survey (of 500 Israelis and 600 Palestinians conducted from November to February) received considerable media attention. The group's press release unabashedly spun the results to claim popular legitimacy for the two-state solution and to discredit alternatives: "The results indicate that 74 [percent] of Palestinians and 78 [percent] of Israelis are willing to accept a two state solution (an option rated on a range from 'tolerable' to 'essential'), while 59 [percent] of Palestinians and 66 [percent] of Israelis find a single bi-national state 'unacceptable.'"
The press release failed to note that 53 percent of Palestinians polled were also willing to embrace or tolerate "one joint state" (as opposed to a federated "bi-national" state) in which "Israelis and Palestinians are equal citizens." Curiously, Israelis were not asked about this option. The high-level of potential support for a single democratic state (confirmed by Fafo as we shall see) is remarkable given the incessant drumbeat of peace process industry propaganda that there is no solution but the two-state solution. One Voice asserts that a "very conscious effort was made in this poll to cover as wide a range of potential solutions as possible." But except for the initial question about the type of state, all the other questions assume, and are primarily relevant to, a two-state solution.
Colin Irwin, of the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool, who authored the One Voice poll, has written that his techniques were used to help politicians shape political agreements in Northern Ireland and the Balkans. The method consists of using polls to "explore" opinions on each side of a divide and find areas where there is consensus and on which an agreement could be built. Such an approach might have some relevance among two equal communities, but the way he has applied it here merely legitimizes and obscures the radically unequal power relations between Israelis and Palestinians rather than providing a way to transcend them.
It is only through a stretched interpretation that One Voice manages to find a consensus around a "two-state solution" -- which looks suspiciously like long-standing Israeli proposals for a Palestinian bantustan. The treatment of refugees is a good example of this questionable approach. The poll finds that 87 percent of Palestinians under occupation consider the "right of return AND compensation" for refugees to be "essential" to a final agreement, but notes that this option was "rejected by 77 [percent] of Israelis as unacceptable." Therefore, the Palestinian preference is pushed off the table in favor of a proposal where Israel "recognizes the suffering of refugees," and all but a handful can return only to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Thus, Israeli bigotry against non-Jewish Palestinian refugees is accorded the status of a "preference" that must not only be respected, but trumps the Palestinians' universally recognized legal rights.
This special privilege is often granted to Israelis but not to others. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees assisted hundreds of thousands of refugees to return to their original homes, many in areas dominated by hostile majority communities. It did not matter if those majorities did not want to see refugees from another group return; rather it was the refugee's individual right -- a universal human right -- that trumped appeals to ethno-national purity.
The One Voice survey does confirm that the minimal consensus needed to sustain a two-state solution, were it practicable, is absent. While 78 percent of Palestinian respondents considered a full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories to the June 1967 line "essential," 60 percent of Israelis consider that "unacceptable." Predictably, the proposed "compromise" is that Israel withdraws partially. Once again 60 percent of Israelis are allowed to outvote 78 percent of Palestinians in order to maintain Israeli control of land occupied, colonized and annexed in violation of international law.
Thus, One Voice's analysis treats universal rights and international law as having less weight than Israeli prejudices and legitimizes the "facts on the ground" established through criminal behavior in open violation of UN resolutions and the International Court of Justice. It subjects these rights to a popular referendum in which the abusers exercise a permanent veto over the claims of their victims.
One Voice bills itself as "an international mainstream grassroots movement" commanding the support of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis. In fact, One Voice has support from no Palestinian grassroots organizations. It is a slick marketing outfit funded, according to its website, by "Israeli, Palestinian and other" sources. Much of its money comes from "major foundations" such as the Ford Foundation, IBM, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. One Voice also boasts of receiving money from "businessmen" including Yasser Abbas, the son of Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, who has been plagued by allegations of corruption.
Among One Voice board members are State Department Special Advisor Dennis Ross, former Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Efraim Sneh, and former Israeli military ruler of the occupied West Bank General Danny Rothschild, in addition to many American Zionists, some Hollywood celebrities and a few token Palestinians. In October 2007, One Voice canceled a planned "peace concert" in Jericho after the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) called on Palestinians to withhold their support. At the time, PACBI asserted that the concert was "being organized to promote a 'peace' agreement that is devoid of the minimal requirements of justice," and was nothing more than a "public relations charade."
One Voice's modus operandi is to recruit college students to sign a "Commitments Platform" pledging support for a two-state solution, but as PACBI pointed out, the statement is "without any commitment to international parameters -- assumes equal responsibility of 'both sides' for the 'conflict,' and suspiciously fails to call for Israel's full compliance with its obligations under international law through ending its illegal military occupation, its denial of Palestinian refugee rights (particularly the right of return), and its system of racial discrimination against its own Palestinian citizens." It is based on these signatures that One Voice claims to represent the "grassroots." Oddly, the platform has recently been removed from the official One Voice website.
There is a laudable intent to Irwin's polling approach. It attempts to identify ideas that could appeal to Israelis and Palestinians. Ultimately any new order must be able to gain consent. But the choice to exclude justice, law and rights from shaping an agreement is not a neutral one; it is in effect an affirmative choice to include, legitimize and endorse the permanence of injustice and inequality. But that is what One Voice's agenda has been all along.
Two-state solution loses support as Western strategy fails
The Fafo survey of more than 1,800 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and almost 1,500 in the West Bank offers some real insights into the state of Palestinian public opinion in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (international funders never sponsor surveys of all Palestinians, which would include those inside Israel as well as those in the Diaspora).
Fafo found that just 35 percent of Palestinians still support a two-state solution. One third preferred an Islamic state throughout Palestine, and 20 percent wanted "one state with equal rights for all," in Palestine/Israel.
Palestinians did not even agree with the common claim that the two-state solution is clearly the more "pragmatic" and "achievable" one. In the West Bank, 64 percent thought the two-state solution was "very" or "somewhat" realistic, as against 55 percent for a single democratic state. In Gaza, 80 percent considered a single democratic state to be "very" or "somewhat" realistic as against 71 percent for a two-state state solution. This is a moment when no vision carries a consensus among Palestinians, underscoring the urgent need for an inclusive debate about all possible democratic outcomes.
The American effort, started by the Bush Administration with European and Arab accomplices, and continued by US President Barack Obama, to impose an Israeli-friendly Palestinian leadership has failed. The Fafo survey indicates that Hamas emerged from Israel's attack on Gaza with enhanced support and legitimacy.
Palestinian Authority leaders in Ramallah and their Arab, Israeli and Western allies, did all they could to portray the Israeli attack on Gaza as the result of "recklessness" and provocation by Hamas and other resistance factions. This narrative has taken hold among a minority: 19 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip viewed Hamas as having "great" responsibility for the attack on Gaza (this rose to 40 percent among Fatah supporters). Overall, 51 percent agreed that Hamas had no responsibility at all for the attack (48 percent in the West Bank, 58 percent in Gaza). Just over half of those polled agreed with the statement "All Palestinian factions must stop firing rockets at Israel."
All the financial, diplomatic and armed support given by the West to Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader whose term as Palestinian Authority president expired in January, has done little to shore up his standing among Palestinians. Only 44 percent of respondents overall (41 percent in the West Bank) considered him the "legitimate" president of the Palestinians, while 56 percent did not.
Near universal dissatisfaction with the Western-backed Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is reflected in the finding that 87 percent of respondents agreed that it was time for Fatah to change its leadership. Unsurprisingly, 93 percent of Hamas supporters wanted change, but so did 78 percent of Fatah supporters.
Palestinians expressed very low confidence in institutions (by far the most trusted were UNRWA -- the UN agency for Palestine refugees -- and the satellite channel Al-Jazeera). But a plurality in the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- 32 percent overall -- considered Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's Western-boycotted Hamas-led government in Gaza to be the legitimate Palestinian government. Only a quarter overall (31 percent in Gaza, 22 percent in the West Bank) thought the Ramallah-based "emergency" government headed by Abbas's appointed and US-backed Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was the legitimate one.
Hamas leaders performed well during and after Israel's attack on Gaza. Haniyeh had an overall positive rating of 58 percent while Abbas's was only 41 percent. But among Palestinians who said they would vote in an election, 41 percent would support Fatah against 31 percent for Hamas. If that was out of step with the rest of the survey, there is a clear trend: support for Fatah was down sharply from a year earlier and Hamas doubled its support in the West Bank from 16 to 29 percent, according to Fafo.
There were some issues on which there was a strong consensus. Ninety-three percent of respondents wanted to see a "national unity government" formed, and the vast majority (85 percent) rejected maintaining the West Bank and Gaza Strip as "independent regions" if efforts to form one foundered.
Palestinians still overwhelmingly support a negotiated settlement, but the "peace process" and its sponsors have lost all credibility. Just one percent thought the US had a "great deal" of concern for the Palestinian cause, and 77 percent thought it had none at all. The "Quartet," the self-appointed ad hoc grouping of US, EU, UN and Russian representatives that monopolizes peace efforts earns the trust of just 13 percent of Palestinians.
Post-Gaza, Palestinians hold jaundiced views of all Western countries and the Arab states aligned with them. Iran and Turkey, which took strong public stands in solidarity with Palestinians, have seen support surge.
If the Fafo poll confirms that the Western-backed effort to destroy Hamas, impose quisling leaders, and blockade and punish Palestinians until they submit to Israel's demands has failed, a useful conclusion from the One Voice survey is that given a free choice, Israelis reject all solutions requiring them to give up their monopoly on power and to respect Palestinian rights and international law.
The right response to such findings is to support the growing international solidarity campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions to force Israel to abandon its illegal, supremacist and colonial practices, and to build a vision of a democratic future for all the people in the country.
Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse (Metropolitan Books, 2006).
Friday, 1 May 2009
The Kingdom of Lies
'Racism in Israel is not like racism in other states.'
By Jeremy Salt - Ankara
Racism is common to most and probably all societies. Laws never seem entirely to eliminate it. It was the essential tool in the creation of modern settler states. The United States could not have come into existence without the obliteration of North American Indian cultures and of large numbers of the people themselves. They had to die so the US could be born. In Australia the indigenous people of Tasmania were wiped out to the last man, woman and child, while on the mainland the tribes were massacred, confined, stripped of their ancestral land and eventually turned into fringe dwellers. Until recently Australia had a prime minister who could deny that aboriginal children of mixed ‘blood’ were taken from their parents up to the 1930s and refused to issue any expression of remorse for their mistreatment. More recent targets of racism have been Lebanese and Vietnamese immigrants, while the Howard federal government’s racist treatment of Iraqi and Afghan refugees and asylum seekers remains one of the most shameful chapters of Australia’s history.
In the US the election of a colored president would have been inconceivable until very recently. It was so unbelievable that people wept when Barack Obama won the elections.
Racism comes in many shades. Discrimination against people on the grounds of skin color, ethnicity or religion is a basic human rights issue, a first cousin to discrimination, harassment and denial of opportunity on the basis of gender. President Mahmud Ahmedinejad, in his recent speech at the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, drew attention to Israel as a racist state but Iran has serious issues of its own to deal with. Homosexuality in Iran is treated as a crime. Gays and prostitutes are executed in public. The Bahais have been the victims of discrimination and persecution throughout Iran’s modern history and this remains the case today. They have no legal identity in Iran. On all of these issues, Iran is itself vulnerable to criticism on the grounds of human rights, which does not, of course, detract in any way from his criticism of Israel. The outrage directed against Ahmedinajad obscured the real issue at the heart of what he was saying: is Israel a racist state?
In settler societies such as the United States, Australia and Canada, the crude racism which drove invasion and colonization mostly belongs to the past, when there was an active concept of race, allied with the categories of civilization, barbarism and savagery. The North American Indian was regarded by the white settlers as a savage, perhaps noble, mean or cunning, but a savage ‘redskin’ nevertheless. In Australia the indigenous people were scarcely counted as human beings. It was not until the 1960s that they were even given the vote. The same relegation of ‘Negroes’ to a contingent category of humanity (at best) justified slavery and segregation in the southern states of the United States. The dehumanization of all of these groups was essential to the colonizing process (including the colonization of Algeria after the French invasion of 1830) and the enrichment of white settlers.
All modern ‘western’ colonial settler states share the same characteristics, i.e. the obliteration of indigenous cultures and the displacement of people from their land. This was true of the North American settlers, the Australian colonists and the Boers who eliminated the Herero people of southwest Africa in the early 20th century. Treaties in which the indigenous people were compelled to consent to the invasion and settlement of their land were signed in North America and New Zealand but not in Australia, where the colonists regarded the indigenous people as less than human and could therefore assert that the land was ‘empty’. There are numerous parallels here with Zionism not only on the basis of an ‘empty’ land being settled or of civilization being brought to a ‘primitive’ people but in the double nature of the colonialism. In North America and Palestine, settlement was fostered by a distant government against which the settlers eventually rebelled before declaring their ‘independence’.
Gradually, mostly only in the last half century, laws and attitudes changed. This rolling process met with resistance at every stage from those who justified discrimination on the basis of the Bible or racist genetic theories. Not until the 1960s and 1970s were racially discriminatory laws eliminated from the statute books in modern settler states such as the US and Australia, which does not mean that structural racism has been eliminated. It has not. It can be measured in education, health and welfare statistics, while episodes of racism involving police and the public at large show that attitudes are harder to change than laws.
The difference between Israel and these other settler states is partly one of timing. Israel was founded not at the beginning or the middle of the historical cycle of the settler state phenomenon but right at the end. Israel is a paradox – a settler state arising at the beginning of the post-colonial era. Across Africa, southeast Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, national liberation movements challenged powers unwilling to voluntarily relinquish the territories they had seized in the 19th century. The right of native people to self-determination was expressed in the UN Charter. It was at this precise moment that Israel was established. At a time when universal values were being emphasized Israel headed in the opposite direction.
The Holocaust generated enormous emotional support across the western world for the establishment of Israel. It might not have been the ‘pretext’ for its creation of Israel, as Mahmud Ahmedinejad is reported to have said in Geneva, but it was certainly exploited by the Zionists to make sure that Israel came into existence. Refugees from Europe might have gone elsewhere, but for ideological reasons the only place the Zionist movement wanted them to go was Palestine. The media joined the chorus calling for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine as a solution to the refugee problem and an antidote to anti-semitism. In fact removing the victims from the scene of the crime was no answer to the historical problem of European anti-semitism. Their ‘solution’ allowed European governments to evade responsibility for the consequences of actions in which all of them were in some way complicit. A people who were in no way responsible for the massive crimes which had been committed against Jews were being made to pay for them. Their rights and interests were treated with as much indifference or disdain as anti-semites had traditionally treated the rights and interests of Jews. The export of the ‘Jewish problem’ to Palestine was in its own way anti-semitic.
Within the British government there were objections but only for financial reasons. Britain was broke and could not afford the extra cost of policing Palestine were 100,000 Jewish refugees from Europe to be admitted as the Zionists and President Truman were demanding in 1946. Even within the US administrations there were reservations. How, for example, could the principle of self-determination be reconciled with the denial of the right of the majority of the people of Palestine to decide their own future? Would not a ‘socialist’ Jewish state in Palestine further the ambitions of the USSR in the Middle East? And what of America’s interests and its relations with the Arab world? They could only be seriously damaged by support for this project.
Ultimately it was Truman and not the UN who decided that Israel would be created in Palestine. Without his direct intervention the partition vote would never have got across the finishing line at the UN General Assembly. It still has to remembered that the vote was only a recommendation, anyway, swept aside when Ben-Gurion, ignoring the provisions of the partition plan, made a unilateral declaration of ‘independence’ in the name of the state of Israel six months after the plan was passed. In essence it was no different from the declaration of UDI made in the 1960s by the Rhodesian Prime Minister, Ian Smith. In the name of ‘independence’, both Smith and David Ben-Gurion declared war on the right of an indigenous people to determine their own future on their own land. One got away with it and one did not.
What kind of state Israel would become was predetermined. In Israel today there are individuals and organizations fighting for coexistence with the Palestinians but since the beginning of Zionist settlement such voices have always spoken from the margins. From Herzl’s time onward it was understand within the mainstream that the Palestinians would never give up their land voluntarily and somehow would have to be removed from it. Thus Israel deliberately set itself from the beginning not just against the Palestinians but against the entire population of the Middle East, for whom Palestine (with Jerusalem at its heart) was an inalienable part of the Arab-Islamic heritage. Zionist justification rested on the argument that the ‘Jewish people’ were the true indigenous people of Palestine and that Muslims and Christians were present only as ‘caretakers’ whose role in history had now come to an end. The secondary moral position was that the suffering of Jews throughout history added up to a stronger claim than the rights of the Palestinians, a line of reasoning supported by Arthur James Balfour in 1917. The end justified the means. If it took the deprivation of Palestinian rights for a Jewish state to come into existence, so be it.
In a land in which the vast bulk of the population was not Jewish, a Jewish state could only be constructed by taking one inherently racist measure after another. If the state were to be Jewish so would land ownership and labor. The conditions written into the charter of the Jewish National Fund and other land-purchasing organizations stipulated that land once acquired could never be retained to non-Jewish hands. This ‘extra-territorialisation’ of land as it was described by a British commission of inquiry sent to Palestine fuelled the Palestinian rebellion of 1936-39. Exclusive Jewish access to the land was followed through after 1948 by the destruction of approximately 500 villages and the passage of ‘absent property’ and ‘present absentee’ laws which prevented even Palestinians remaining inside Israel from returning to the property they owned.
Security laws were another means of separating the Palestinians from their land. Consolidation of the Jewish presence on the land has continued through the attempt to erase the Palestinian presence in Jaffa and other cities inside the ‘green line’.
On the other side of the green line the tactics are cruder and more obvious. Open demographic war is being waged against the Palestinians in East Jerusalem while in Hebron the centre of the city has been closed down and residents around the market moved out in the name of ‘security’, i.e. the protection of racist and fanatical Jewish settlers living in the heights above. Across the occupied West Bank it is the armed interlopers who describe the Palestinians as interlopers and ‘infiltrators’ of their own occupied land. All of their vandalism, bullying, harassment of men, women and children, destruction of property and uprooting of olive trees and occasional killing is underwritten by the state, and yet the state is outraged when the charge of racism is raised in Geneva. The colonization of the territories is not incidental or accidental racism but the carefully thought out strategic and ideological racism of a racist state. The fact that it continues every single day is testimony to Israel’s contempt for universal values and international law.
Just as the land would have to be the exclusive possession of the Jewish ‘people’ (as 93 per cent of it is now legally classified), so it could only be worked by Jewish labor. Jewish employers were explicitly prohibited from hiring ‘Arab’ workers in the 1920s and 1930s. Until the 1960s the central Israeli labor organization, the Histadrut, would only admit Jewish members. In practice, labor discrimination has never worked perfectly because of the low cost of ‘Arab’ labor compared to ‘Jewish’ labor and because of the Palestinian need to work, a situation which has led to Palestinian laborers building the settlements being constructed on their own occupied land. When the Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir visited Gaza in the 1970s she expressed shock, not at the establishment of Jewish settlements on expropriated land, but at the use of ‘Arab’ labor to work the land for the settlers.
As Israel was the state for Jews wherever they lived and not for all the people who lived within its borders (so to speak, seeing that Israel has never actually declared its borders), the laws would have to be framed accordingly. The Nationality Law automatically conferred Israeli citizenship only on Jews (i.e born of a Jewish mother). The Law of Return granted the ‘right’ of ‘return’ to Jews who had never lived in Palestine while denying the right of return to Palestinians who had lived there for generations. Some families could trace their origins in Palestine back to the Islamic conquest of the 7th century.
The structural discrimination against the Palestinians can be measured in socio-economic statistics dealing with poverty, unemployment, access to government services and education, house construction and funding for municipalities. Taking their cue from the government, and the openly racist statements made by senior political, military and religious figures, describing the Palestinians as ‘two legged animals’, ‘drugged cockroaches’, ‘insects’, ‘snakes’ and ‘a cancer’, large numbers of Israelis polled have said they do not want to live in the same apartment blocks as ‘Arabs’ and in fact would like to see them out of the state altogether. The racism coming out of the mouths of rabbis and religious seminaries, couched in terms of an exclusive Jewish right to ‘Eretz Israel’, with many of the students or graduates of these seminaries living in the most aggressive of the West Bank settlements, is amongst the worst.
Having set out on this path Israel has followed it unswervingly. One flagrant violation of human rights must be followed by another. Without war and without racism in spirit, deed and law there can be no Zionism and no ‘Jewish state’. The Palestinians have been pursued wherever they have gone because by their presence they constitute an existential threat to Israel. Over the years the attitudes of the Israeli mainstream towards the Palestinian ‘enemy’ have grown even harsher. Palestinian armed struggle, suicide bombings and the rocketing of settlements near Gaza are not connected with the policies pursued by Israel against the Palestinians for six decades but with some ex nihilio desire to kill Jews and destroy Israel. This state of mind is deliberately cultivated from the top with the aim of keeping Israel’s Jewish citizens in a state of permanent readiness for the next war. The recent ‘war’ in Gaza was approved by more than 80 per cent of Israel’s Jewish population. The misrepresentation of a massive military onslaught on a largely defenseless civilian population as a ‘war’ allowed the civilian mainstream to justify the crimes that were being committed. Israelis looked on with indifference and even with approval as ‘our boys’ killed hundreds of people in three weeks, most of them civilians and 400 of them children. The media turned into a kingdom of lies. Every specious argument of the political and military establishment was accepted without question and transformed into truth.
The racist t-shirts printed by Israeli ‘soldiers’ engaged in the attack on Gaza were only the surface manifestation of a much deeper psychosis. The t-shirts captured the attention of the outside world in a way that slow, structural, incremental racism never does. Literally every day brings some new or continuing manifestation of Israeli state racism to the surface. After 50 years the beduin are still being driven off their traditional land in the Naqab. Palestinians married to Israelis are prevented from living inside Israel with their spouses and families. The recently declared Jerusalem Regional Master Plan is inherently racist but apparently too complex for the outside media to work out its implications. It embodies the next stage of programmed discrimination that has continued without letup since 1967. The Jerusalem municipality is itself an illegal and racist body whose ‘master plan’ is a template for the further ‘Judaisation’ of Jerusalem whatever the cost to the Palestinians. It must be remembered that until 1948 Palestinian Muslims and Christians owned about 70 per cent of the property in West Jerusalem and all but one or two per cent of the property in the east. They did not forfeit their rights to their houses and land. Their rights have simply been usurped. In normal legal parlance the appropriation of their property is known as theft. For the first time since the Crusaders massacred Jews and Christians in the 11th century Jerusalem is being transformed into a city for a people of only one religious denomination. Under Arab and Ottoman rule Jerusalem remained a polyglot city. What the Jerusalem municipality and the state of Israel both want is a city cleansed of its non-Jewish population except for tourists and a colorful ethnic remnant hanging around the old city.
Is all of this racist? Of course it is. In fact, those who care to study the UN’s Convention on Genocide, passed in 1948 as Zionist militias were still driving Palestinians off their land and destroying their villages, will see that Israel’s behavior meets some of the criteria of article 2 of the convention which describes genocide as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or part a national, ethnical, racial or religious group:
(a) killing members of the group
(b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
(c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
Israelis involved in the struggle against racism and occupation are fighting an uphill battle. The structural discrimination of the state against its non-Jewish citizens and against the Palestinians living in the occupied territories (as well as the Syrians living on the occupied Golan Heights) is a motor driving Israel and its people from one extreme to another. Thirty years ago it was regarded as unthinkable that Menahim Begin could ever be Israel’s Prime Minister but Begin was followed by Yitzhak Shamir, Benyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Olmert. All of them come out of the same school of Revisionist Zionism. Now revisionism is the mainstream, the labor movement is marginalized and Israel has again elected Netanyahu as its Prime Minister. He in turn has chosen as Foreign Minister the crude, arrogant, provocative and openly racist West Bank settler Avigdor Liebermann.
Racism in Israel is not like racism in other states, which is usually a matter of changing laws and slowly working on public opinion. In Israel racism is so deeply embedded in Zionist ideology and the structure of the state that without racism Israel cannot remain the state that it has become. Yet there are no signs that the Israeli people or the politicians they are electing as their leaders have any intention of changing direction. When they have a powerful military and when they are under no pressure from the outside world they see no reason to change. In its blockade of Gaza Israel has been supported from the beginning by the US, the EU and the Quartet. None of these venerable authorities could see any reason for Israel to be punished or restrained even after the killing of 1400 Palestinians in Gaza from late December 2008 to mid-January 2009. Their indulgence encourages a dangerous state of mind. The politicians, the generals, the rabbis, the media commentators and the academics know that they are in the right and that everyone else is in the wrong. The outrage at criticism, the arrogance, the self-righteousness, the self-justification, the endless claims of moral superiority and the contempt and hatred of the Palestinians are extremely disturbing. Israel is not a small, weak state in the middle of nowhere. It is a powerful state, armed with nuclear weapons, in the middle of the Middle East. The refusal of the ‘international community’ to restrain states which live outside the law has led to many disasters in the past. The species of animal life known as homo sapiens has a poor record when it comes to averting calamities ahead of time. In the Middle East the creation of Israel brought disaster down on the heads of the Palestinians and the surrounding Arab countries. The states which created Israel have not yet taken responsibility for the consequences of their actions, but have rather made themselves more complicit in the crimes still being committed. As long as the disaster is someone else’s (and not Israel’s) they do not seem to be concerned. How else can this be understood but as their own racism? Do they have to be pushed to the point where they are directly and unavoidably involved in Israel’s confrontation with the Palestinians and the surrounding Arab world to realize the consequences of what they have done these past six decades?
- Jeremy Salt is associate professor in Middle Eastern History and Politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. Previously, he taught at Bosporus University in Istanbul and the University of Melbourne in the Departments of Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science. Professor Salt has written many articles on Middle East issues, particularly Palestine, and was a journalist for The Age newspaper when he lived in Melbourne. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.
'The Holocaust/Palestine connection has become so inextricable.'
By Joharah Baker
As Israel jubilantly celebrates 61 years of existence, the Palestinians continue to wonder what the future holds for them. Their dream of a two-state solution seems to wane with each passing day as Israel continues nonstop in creating more facts on the ground that serve to make this dream virtually impossible. Still, the Palestinian leadership has stuck to its guns, despite the constant obstacles and impasses, insisting that it will live side by side with Israel.
As if this were not a tough enough goal to reach, new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is making it even tougher. Palestinians, he says, must recognize Israel as a Jewish state, for any kind of “peace talks” to proceed. Otherwise, no deal.
President Mahmoud Abbas was quick, efficient and to the point in his response. “It is not my job to give a description of the state. Name yourself the Hebrew Socialist Republic — it is none of my business,” he said on April 27 in Ramallah. “I do not accept it.”
There are a multitude of layers and underlying intentions behind this argument which will be difficult to map out in such a confined space. But let us suffice with some of the most crucial points why Netanyahu has demanded this and equally, why the Palestinians will hear nothing of it.
Before, however, one thing should be very clear. Prime Minister Netanyahu has given no illusions as to his intentions to back or help create a Palestinian state. He has always been against any sovereign Palestinian political entity and unlike many of his so-called left-wing predecessors, he is not afraid to say so. Since taking office, Netanyahu has evaded any clear reference to a Palestinian state, rather saying he would “work for peace” or provide an economic plan for the Palestinians as a solution. Basically, Netanyahu, who sat in the premier’s office back in 1996, is espousing the same approach towards his unwanted neighbors. Placate them with economic enticements and put off any political aspirations until there is nothing left to negotiate over.
Now that he is back in the hot seat, Netanyahu needs some new stalling methods. Historically, Israel has to answer to the United States, at least for diplomacy’s sake and President Barack Obama is not exactly George W. Bush. Regardless of whether Obama will be able to make a significant difference in the badly damaged peace process here, he is certainly making a point of engaging himself in the conflict. Practically from day one, he dispatched George Mitchell to the region as his special envoy to the Middle East and now he is bringing the region’s leaders to Washington next month to discuss his “gestures plan”. So, if nothing else, Netanyahu will have to be creative in finding ways not to jump on the American bandwagon of inclusion.
Hence, the Jewish state prerequisite. By demanding that Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jews, Netanyahu is effectively canceling out any right of return for Palestinian refugees to their original homes from which they were expelled in 1948. Netanyahu, like all Israeli leaders is well aware that this is one of the Palestinians’ basic demands, which has also become one of the thorniest sticking points in their bilateral negotiations. So, if he can extract this recognition from the Palestinians, he has scored a major achievement for Israel in any final settlement with us.
This, of course, is exactly the reason the Palestinians will not accept it. President Abbas was right to nip it in the bud from the start because even the slightest negotiation over this point would have watered down Palestinian demands for the right of return, a right which is enshrined in international law. Historically Israel has always rejected the right of return because of its ramifications on the Jewish character of Israel even though it is the longest standing refugee problem to date.
Somehow, Israel has nonetheless, sold its case to the world. The Jews needed a homeland after the horrors of the Holocaust and their long history of persecution, pogroms and exclusion. They already had religious and spiritual ties to the country and Jews had begun to settle in the land as early as the turn of the century. Palestine, it seemed, was the perfect solution for the Jews. Hence, Zionism was born.
Amid all of these emotional justifications for why Palestine should become an exclusive homeland for the Jews, the world tends to forget that the Palestinians were innocent of all of the above. Those who tilled the land for decades, handing it down to their sons for generations, were uninvolved in Hitler’s sinister plan put ultimately paid the price for the solution, which meant thousands of Palestinians were massacred at the hands of Jewish gangs and hundreds of thousands more expelled from their homes forever.
This Holocaust/Palestine connection has become so inextricable from today’s political realities that even Israelis are paying the price for questioning it. Just the other day, an Israeli docent at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum was fired because he dared to mention the massacre of Deir Yassin on one of his guided tours. "The Holocaust moved us to establish a Jewish state and the Palestinian nation's trauma is moving it to seek self-determination, identity, land and dignity, just as Zionism sought these things," he said. According to the museum’s position, “The Holocaust cannot be compared to any other event.”
So, when Netanyahu demands that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state, he is linking it with a deep and emotionally charged history that we will always refuse to accept responsibility for, especially since Israel refuses to accept responsibility for the plight of Palestinian refugees. Palestinians have no interest in equating their plight with that of the Jews in WWII. That is their history, their suffering, which any human being would sympathize with given its magnitude. That does not mean, however, that Israel can deny our history and our suffering, which was directly created as a result of the establishment of this self-proclaimed Jewish state. It seems only fair that before Netanyahu asks the Palestinians to recognize his country’s character, Israel should first put right the injustices it meted out against an innocent population 61 years ago. Doesn’t Israel demand this very thing from the rest of the world?
- Joharah Baker is a writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at email@example.com. (Published in MIFTAH – www.miftah.org)
Israel warns European critics
The Netanyahu government has yet to make clear how it will negotiate
Israel has told the European Union to stop criticising Benjamin Netanyahu's government or risk being excluded from future Middle East peace negotiations.
A foreign ministry official called EU envoys in Israel after a commissioner in Brussels suggested freezing a move to upgrade EU-Israeli relations.
The commissioner said Netanyahu should commit to talks with the Palestinians.
The warning comes ahead of the first European trip by Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's new foreign minister.
Israeli media say the warnings have been issued by the deputy director for European affairs at the Israeli foreign ministry, Rafi Barak. His main target the EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
The UK embassy in Tel Aviv has confirmed it was contacted by Mr Barak but refused to disclose details of the conversation.
"We want the European Union to be a partner but it is important to hold a mature and discreet dialogue and not to resort to public declarations," Rafi Barak reportedly told diplomats, according to a report in Haaretz.
He concluded by "warning" that Europe's influence in the area would be undermined.
"Israel is asking Europe to lower the tone and conduct a discreet dialogue," Rafi Barak is quoted saying. "However, if these declarations continue, Europe will not be able to be part of the diplomatic process, and both sides will lose."
Israeli officials have told the BBC that they requested a month-long postponement of a ministerial-level meeting in May which discusses the EU-Israeli Association agreement regulating bilateral ties.
The postponement "is to allow the new government time to formulate its policies" before the meeting, foreign ministry officials said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far refused to back the principle of a Palestinian state while Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is a "dead end".
Thursday, 30 April 2009
The Palestinian Authority's authoritarian turn
Ben White, The Electronic Intifada, 30 April 2009
|Appointed Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at the opening ceremony of the Presidential Guards College in the West Bank city of Jericho, March 2009. (Mustafa Abu Dayeh/MaanImages)|
Last week, less than two weeks after I had talked with him in his an-Najah University faculty office, Abdel Sattar Qassem was arrested by the Palestinian Preventive Security forces in Nablus, occupied West Bank.
Qassem is a 60-year-old professor of political science, and has been at an-Najah University since 1980. Imprisoned several times by the Israeli occupation, he is the author of dozens of books and papers, as well as hundreds of articles, on Palestinian politics and Islamic thought. But Qassem is also an eloquent and prominent critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and he has been arrested, and targeted by politically-motivated attacks, on a number of previous occasions.
The most recent of these was in January of this year, when his car was set alight. According to a news report from the Palestinian news agency, Ma'an, claim of responsibility was circulated by an unknown group who accused Qassem of being a "mouthpiece for the Iranian and the Syrian regimes." As reported by Asharq al-Awsat, Qassem pointed out how the statement was a "hoax," and thus a cover for individuals who did not want to openly identify themselves. The attack was condemned by a variety of public figures "in the harshest possible words," according to Ma'an.
This time, the official line is that his arrest was a civil, criminal case, the result of litigation proceedings against Qassem by two figures within the PA's security forces. The Palestinian Information Center reports that Qassem, who according to his family was arrested hours after he gave an interview to al-Aqsa TV to discuss the shooting of West Bank Hamas leader Hamid al-Bitawi, insists that the charges are groundless and politically motivated. Speaking to me on the telephone after his release, Qassem noted:
"It was evident that they didn't want to arrest me on a political basis, so they decided to fabricate something against me. Last Thursday, in court, there were many lawyers trying to represent me, because they feel like this is a national issue. They see that this is intimidation, not a genuine civil case."
The attempts to intimidate a critic of the Palestinian Authority into silence is disturbing, but is only one incident in a growing trend. The Ramallah-based political leadership, dominated by Fatah, and the PA security forces, are becoming increasingly authoritarian, encouraging a culture of militarized policing and a lack of respect for human rights and the rule of law. Now, nonviolent resistance leaders against the Israeli occupation like Sami Awad, based in Bethlehem, are saying that they "have to be ready to face any injustice even if caused by our own people, within the PA."
One aspect of this phenomenon is an assault on the freedom of the press. Back in December of last year, the Ma'an news agency carried out an investigation into what it described as "an unprecedented campaign of censorship and intimidation against West Bank and Gaza Strip journalists," carried out by the Palestinian Authority.
The report detailed how independent news agencies had become targets for "President Mahmoud Abbas's security establishment, particularly the PA's Office of the Attorney General." The same month as Ma'an's investigation, the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate demanded that the PA release journalists from West Bank prisons, noting that "some journalists had been in prison for more than three months."
Criticizing the PA, or even affording Hamas coverage, now seems enough to get on the blacklist, or become a target for the PA's security apparatus. In fact, a Nablus-based journalist "found himself in a prison cell" in January for reporting the torching of Professor Qassem's car, according to The Jerusalem Post. In February, the Post reported that "the PA's crackdown on the local media was aimed at intimidating Palestinian reporters and stopping them from reporting about financial corruption and human rights violations by Abbas's security forces."
Another worrying trend in the PA-administered areas is an increasing militarization of civilian policing. During my recent visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, one of the first things several of my friends told me about was an energetic campaign by the PA to clamp down on car-related crime. There were now impromptu checkpoints thrown up on the main roads where drivers' licenses were checked and the special permission required to drive Israeli yellow-plated cars was requested.
Nobody minded, in theory, increased efficiency in law enforcement; what was troubling was the way the PA forces were going about it. It can seem like a small thing, a friend told me, but "it's this militarization, this way of asserting a kind of domination over the people." Many complained of the disrespectful behavior of the gun-toting men checking the cars.
This focus on "law and order" has become a repeated theme in the last few years, particularly in cities like Nablus and Jenin. Just recently, in a fairly typical episode, Ma'an news agency reported that PA forces conducted a "sweep" in a village three kilometers from Nablus, arresting apparent "fugitives" and checking the registration of some 250 cars.
Consistent, genuine complaints about lawlessness and corruption in Nablus had already emerged in 2004-05, but it wasn't until the end of 2007 that the current campaign was launched by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, appointed by Mahmoud Abbas, whose official term as PA president expired in January. Beginning in Nablus, the law and order drive was replicated in Jenin in the summer of 2008. Residents have undoubtedly welcomed the increased security, but the nature of the campaign -- and the context -- is not so straightforward.
For example, the PA's infrastructure (largely destroyed by Israel in 2001-02) is completely ill-equipped. In April 2008 in Nablus, for example, Reuters reported that only 13 percent of the prison's inmates had actually been convicted; the restrictions of occupation and the inadequacy of the PA's legal system mean that many face a long wait before their guilt or innocence can be determined in a court of law.
Meanwhile, the Israeli military continues to invade PA-controlled areas, particularly at night, an arrangement which was actually a joint Palestinian-Israeli agreement. Moreover, while a weary Palestinian population is grateful for small economic upturns in their occupied cities, they are well aware that the PA's law and order focus is a welcome part of Israel's strategy in the West Bank; the BBC noted in December last year how the Israeli army was pleased with the "good job" Palestinian forces were doing.
One of the reasons for Israel's complimentary report card is the extent to which PA forces have been arresting members of groups who oppose the official "peace process," and in particular, detaining those who are either openly, or simply suspected, members and supporters of Hamas. According to the International Middle East Media Center, estimates give the number of detainees in Palestinian security forces' custody at between 500 to 600, many of whom have had no trial.
The secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Ahmad Saadat, himself a prisoner in an Israeli jail, noted just last week in a public statement that it was "impossible" for the PA "to demand freeing the detainees [from Israeli prisons] while the Palestinian prisons are full of prisoners jailed for resistance background or internal disputes."
On 4 December of last year, Reuters reported on the claims being made of torture at the hands of Mahmoud Abbas' Preventive Security forces and General Intelligence. The article cited Ghandi Rabei, a lawyer from the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) in Hebron, who told the news agency that "hundreds of civilians have been transferred to military courts without legal procedures in breach of Palestinian law and international norms." The ICHR's annual report for 2008 recorded 111 complaints of torture or mistreatment in detention in the West Bank, according to Agence France-Presse.
On 31 January, the British Daily Mail ran a story under the dramatic headline: "Financed by the British taxpayer, brutal torturers of the West Bank." The paper reported how the British government's Department for International Development had given 76 million British pounds in 2008 to the PA for what it called "security sector reform." Once the figure is broken down, 3 million pounds went directly to the PA police, while "17 million [pounds] pays the salaries of the PA's array of security organizations -- including the Presidential Guard intelligence service and the feared Preventive Security Organization."
One of the most important factors shaping these developments is the US strategy as directed on the ground by Lieutenant General Keith Dayton. Dayton started work with the Palestinian security forces at the end of 2005. While ostensibly charged with general reform of the PA security forces, it became apparent that the US was intent on building up Abbas-loyal PA forces in order to directly confront Hamas should the need arise.
Dayton's plan involved giving the PA forces an increase in funding, manpower, training and weaponry. In October 2006, The New York Times reported that the US intended to expand Abbas' Presidential Guard at a cost of $26 million. At the time, it was clear that any such plan -- which also included "the transfer of thousands of guns from Egypt" to the Presidential Guard -- would only go ahead with a "positive response from Israel," according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.
According to The San Francisco Chronicle, this "systematic effort to bolster Abbas and his Fatah loyalists to counter the political success of Hamas" suffered an embarrassing setback, of course, when Hamas forces easily triumphed over Fatah in the Gaza Strip in June 2007 and thus "inherited thousands of guns, equipment and vehicles supplied by the United States."
The only lesson learned, however, seems to have been that the US, Israel and the PA could ill-afford a similar debacle in the West Bank -- and therefore Dayton's work was to be intensified, rather than reconsidered. This, then, is what has been happening with increasing fervor in the West Bank in recent months.
On 27 February 2009, The New York Times' Ethan Bronner wrote about the 1,600 Palestinians who "have been through American-financed courses in Jordan." Dayton, the article said, "hopes to have a well-trained battalion based in each of eight West Bank cities" (plans to expand the program were also reported by Reuters this week). The Israelis, needless to say, are content to cooperate: an Israeli officer "inaugurated the firing range" at one of the US-funded Palestinian training camps.
Whether it is the "top brass" training provided by the US for Palestinian security officials in Ramallah, or the special "SWAT" team organized by Dayton, Salam Fayyad and the Jordanians, it is clear that the primary purpose of these forces is not neighborhood crime-busting. As the World Tribune reported in the case of the SWAT team, the "elite" forces can be used against "Hamas squads" and help "protect the PA." As one critic put it, the PA's security agencies in the West Bank are trained to "persecute resistance elements and provide Israel with intelligence with which to arrest or assassinate resistance leaders."
Shawan Jabarin, general director of the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq, agrees that these training programs are more about internal suppression than "law and order":
"If the senior officers who train them taught a respect for the rule of law, I'm sure we would feel that -- but our feeling is completely different. I'm not saying they are training them how to torture people, but they don't put any mechanism in place for monitoring these things. For political reasons, the Palestinians are trying to show that they are strong, that they are doing exactly what the others are asking them to do -- this happened during [Yasser] Arafat's time, and it's also [happening] these days."
If there was any doubt about the real purpose of these forces, one just needs to listen to Dayton himself. Dayton stressed to The Jerusalem Post in December that "the trainees are taught over and again that 'you are not here to learn how to fight against the Israeli occupation.'" That's why Dayton could affirm that he, the Israeli Ministry of Defense and his "IDF [Israeli army] colleagues" are of one mind: "something new is out there" and "it's worth encouraging."
It may not be new -- one only has to go back to the mid-1990s to find something similar happening -- but PA forces are certainly being encouraged to suppress dissent. While Israel was attacking Gaza in January, The Jerusalem Post described how the PA's crackdown on the opposition in the West Bank was "being carried out in coordination with the IDF and under the supervision of US security experts."
These were the very same police officers who had "received special training in Jordan and the West Bank as part of a security plan engineered by the US," and were apparently reporting directly to Salam Fayyad. Israeli "security officials" "praised" Mahmoud Abbas' "iron-fist policy" in the West Bank, reported The Jerusalem Post and "expressed satisfaction with the coordination between the PA security forces and the IDF and Shin Bet [Israel's internal intelligence agency]." Sometimes, "Hamas members were detained by the IDF only hours after they were released from PA detention centers."
So why have key elements within Fatah and the PA decided to go down this path? It seems like the Ramallah-based political and intelligence elite are primarily driven by fear; fear of losing their power and privileges, and fear of Hamas. More specifically, there is a real sense that Hamas' popularity has not suffered any kind of significant fall since 2006, and if anything, has been consolidated or increased.
At the same time as Hamas has emerged intact and uncompromising from Israel's recent Gaza onslaught, the Fatah-dominated PA has nothing to show for its strategy of softly-softly negotiations; just an entrenched, apartheid-like Israeli occupation. The "peace process" has brought Israel a degree of peace, but left the Palestinians trapped between Israel's colonies and wall. The PA's only card is that it continues to pay the salaries of thousands of desperate Palestinians -- money that is only forthcoming from the international community with strings attached.
Meanwhile in Nablus, Professor Qassem, who is considering a run for president in the future as an independent, feels like the PA "is reflecting its inner crisis against the population":
"So instead of going back to their own people they are trying to punish their own people. Why? Because there is Dayton, and the money of the donor countries, which they cannot sacrifice. If they want to go back to their own people, they will lose their salaries, and the situation in the West Bank will be similar to that in Gaza."
This is a deal that was made many years ago, but it has meant that there is a class of political leaders in the PA who are seemingly eternally wedded to the idea that the international community is directing the peace process in good faith. For reasons of self-interest, they are desperate to keep the PA, and all the assumptions of Oslo, alive -- even while sometimes admitting that in terms of obtaining basic Palestinian rights, there is, and will continue to be, nothing to show for meeting the "benchmarks" and "roadmaps."
If the US/Jordanian-trained PA security forces are the "stick" in the West Bank, then the manipulation of foreign aid is the "carrot." This is beyond the scope of this article, but it is worth mentioning in passing two recent Reuters reports on how "ventures backed by President Abbas's allies have received loan guarantees, grants and agricultural assistance."
At a critical moment for the Palestinian people, and the prospects for the region as a whole, it is arresting that many in the Palestinian leadership can sound like they are reading from Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman's speech notes, when he said that "the path forward" lay in "security" for Israel, an "improved economy" for the Palestinians, and "stability for both," as reported by The Jerusalem Post. As Shawan Jabarin said to me, "for political reasons you make a compromise and sacrifice human rights. This is what is going on these days."
These are dangerous developments, something that Professor Qassem was quick to highlight in an interview with the Palestinian Information Center after his recent arrest: "Freedom of speech and expression is a paramount issue over which there can be no compromise ... If we tolerate violations of our human rights and civil liberties, then we will be jeopardizing our future as a people."
Ben White is a freelance journalist and writer whose articles have appeared in the Guardian's 'Comment is free', The Electronic Intifada, the New Statesman, and many others. His book, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide (Pluto Press), will be published this summer. He can be contacted at ben A T benwhite D O T org D O T uk.
Tony Blair and the full measure of justice
Joy Ellison writing from Hebron, occupied West Bank, Live from Palestine, 30 April 2009
|Quartet envoy Tony Blair visits al-Tuwani near Hebron, occupied West Bank, 19 March 2009. (Mamoun Wazwaz/MaanImages)|
An elderly Palestinian woman grabbed my hand and held it over her chest. "Feel my heartbeat," she said. "We are really afraid of the settlers." Only half an hour before she took my hand, a group of 20 settlers from Maon settlement entered the village of Juwwiya and shot at her and her family as they grazed their sheep. As she clasped my hand and I looked into her face, the reality for Palestinians living in the south Hebron hills became starkly clear to me once again: a lasting peace is difficult to imagine as illegal settlements and outposts remain in the area.
On 19 March, 17 days before Israeli settlers shot at the shepherds of Juwwiya, the south Hebron hills played host to Tony Blair. As the representative of the "Quartet" (comprised of the US, EU, UN, and Russia) for Middle East peace, Blair toured the village of al-Tuwani and focused his attention on the dire humanitarian situation in the area. "It is very hard for Palestinians to enjoy the standard of living that they should enjoy and be able to develop their land as they should be able to develop in freedom," said Blair.
When asked what he would do about this situation, Blair answered, "It's got to be stopped, hasn't it?" But Blair was vague about what exactly should be stopped. "The whole way this area is looked at and administered is changed to make it fair," he said. At no point did Blair specifically mention the Maon settlement or any other of the settlements and outposts that make life in the south Hebron hills so difficult. He made no commitment to pressure the Israeli government to arrest settlers who destroy Palestinian property or attack Palestinian adults and children. He did not ask the Israeli government to follow through on the commitment it made three years ago to dismantle the Havot Maon outpost. Neither the words "military occupation" nor "international law" left his lips.
Palestinians in the south Hebron hills are enduring much more than a poor "standard of living." Since Blair's visit, Israeli settlers have shot at Palestinian shepherds in the village of Juwwiya on two different occasions. On 5 April, soldiers abducted three Palestinian shepherds, ages 10, 11, and 14, took them to Maon settlement and handed them over to six masked settlers who beat them. It's clear that for these children, changing the "way this area is looked at and administered is changed to make it fair" will not be enough to ensure their safety.
When I look the eyes of a frightened elderly Palestinian woman, I can see that only the full measure of justice will be enough.
Joy Ellison is an American activist with Christian Peacemaker Teams, an organization that supports Palestinian nonviolent resistance. She lives in al-Tuwani, a small village in the south Hebron hills which is nonviolently resisting settlement expansion and violence. She writes about her experiences on her blog, "I Saw it in Palestine" at http://inpalestine.blogspot.com.
Bethlehem – Ma’an – On Friday, 1 May, Palestinian Nael Barghouthi will become the world’s record-holder as the longest-held political prisoner.
Barghouthi will have completed more than 31 years in Israeli custody by May, said Abd An-Nasser Farawna, a Palestinian specialist in prisoners affairs. On Friday, Barghouthi will break the Guinness World Record, which is currently held by Sa'id Al-Ataba, a Palestinian who was also in Israeli custody.
According to Farawna, Barghouthi was detained on 4 April 1978. He became the longest-serving Palestinian prisoner after his fellow prisoner, Sa’id Al-Ataba, was released on 25 August 2008 after efforts made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Al-Ataba spent 31 years and 26 days in Israeli custody.
Barghouthi was born in 1957 in Ramallah in the central West Bank. He was detained on 4 April 1978 at the age of 21, and an Israeli military court later sentenced him to life imprisonment. He has already been in prison ten years longer than he was free.
Efforts to track communicable diseases in Gaza
Report, The Electronic Intifada, 28 April 2009
|A point near the Beach refugee camp where sewage, either partially treated or not at all, runs into the sea. (Wissam Nassar/IRIN)|
GAZA CITY, occupied Gaza Strip (IRIN) - UN agencies and the health ministry in Gaza are working to strengthen communicable disease surveillance systems in Gaza, in light of the fact that leaking sewage may be contaminating drinking water.
The fragile water and sewage network was damaged during the recent 23-day Israeli offensive in Gaza, increasing public health risks, according to a recent report by the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) cluster, entitled A Brief Outline of the Sewage Infrastructure and Public Health Risks in the Gaza Strip for the World Health Organization (WHO).
The WASH group, led by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), coordinates the humanitarian response by local and international organizations and UN agencies active in the water and sanitation sector in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"WHO is now analyzing if the risk of outbreak of waterborne and food-born diseases in Gaza is still high," said Mahmoud Daher, WHO officer in Gaza, explaining that the risk was high during the conflict because drinking water was not being properly chlorinated due to movement restrictions.
"During the recent war there was a mixing of drinking water with raw sewage in the Sheikh Ajleen area of Gaza City and in Beit Hanoun after a waste water carrier in Gaza City and a water and waste water carrier in Beit Hanoun were destroyed by Israeli forces during the first week of the war," said Coastal Municipal Water Utility (CMWU) director Monther Shoblak.
CMWU has asked WASH to carry out a comprehensive year-long survey on the underground water in Sheikh Ajleen and Beit Hanoun. WASH is structuring the project, said WASH director Graham Henderson in Gaza.
About 32,000 Palestinians live in Beit Hanoun and about 410,000 in Gaza City.
Two other high risk areas are Khan Younis and Beit Lahiya where the sewage system is leaking, potentially contaminating drinking water, WASH and WHO in Gaza reported.
"The relatively high nitrate level in well water in Gaza may be related to sewage infiltration from waste water treatment plants," said Henderson.
Nitrates are considered a dangerous water pollutant -- potentially carcinogenic -- according to Shoblak, and most threatening for children under six months old.
"Seventy percent of the drinking water samples tested over the past two years in the health ministry lab have shown nitrate levels higher than WHO standards [50 milligrams of nitrates per liter]," said WHO officer Daher.
New project proposed
WASH is supporting the WHO and Gaza health ministry in preventing major outbreaks of disease, and is proposing an emergency project -- estimated at $1 million -- to strengthen and monitor health ministry disease surveillance systems across the Strip, said Henderson, including surveillance by the health clinics and labs that perform testing for the health ministry to diagnose illnesses and measure water quality.
"Food and water monitoring by the health ministry resumed post-conflict, although the system is negatively affected by the long-term border closures and the subsequent lack of necessary materials," said Daher.
The UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza operates a long-standing clinic surveillance system through 20 reporting units at health centers in Gaza, according to WASH.
Fifty-four primary healthcare clinics and 13 hospitals under the health ministry, and 30 primary healthcare clinics and 14 hospitals run by NGOs or privately require a stronger disease surveillance system, say WHO officials in Gaza.
About 80,000 cubic meters of raw sewage is being discharged into the Mediterranean at six main points along Gaza's coast every day, presenting a major health risk to the Gaza population, according to the WASH report.
This item comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. All IRIN material may be reposted or reprinted free-of-charge; refer to the copyright page for conditions of use. IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Wednesday, 29 April 2009
70-year old man dies in Gaza due to kidney failure
The Palestinian Ministry of Health of the dissolved Hamas government in Gaza reported Monday evening that a 70-year old man died of kidney failure after the Egyptian Health Ministry refused to recognize transfer papers to an Egyptian hospital.
He Ministry said that Rajab Khalil Al Sahhar, 70, from Gaza City, needed dialysis but Gaza hospitals, devastated by the ongoing siege, did not have functioning equipment.
He managed to have dialysis in Egypt only one time on his own expense, but after he returned to Gaza, he could not leave again due to Egyptian restrictions and the Israeli siege.
At least 320 Palestinians patients died due to the ongoing siege, while hundreds of patients could face the same fate if they are not allowed to receive medical treatment in Egypt, Israel or elsewhere.The Ministry appealed the Egyptian government to open the Rafah border terminal and ease travel restrictions in order to save the lives of hundreds of patients who need urgent medical attention.
No Independence for the Oppressed
'This week marks the 61st anniversary of Israel’s independence.'
By Joharah Baker – Jerusalem
I can’t believe it almost slipped my mind. Walking up to Jaffa Gate with my kids the other day, I noticed an unusual buzz of activity where east meets west, just outside the large gate that takes a person out of the walled city. There is an open-air Israeli mall called Mamilla (eerily similar to Ma’man Allah, the nearby Muslim gravesite which Israel plans to build the tolerance museum over). The mall’s parking lot is even built on part of this cemetery, according to Waqf officials. Anyway, on the spacious plaza before one descends the stairs to the shopping area, booths, makeshift kiosks and a mobile zoo were set up for the hundreds of eager shoppers and frolickers that day. Just in the distance, blue and white balloons were bunched up and tied to a pole so as not to fly away and at least 30 Israeli flags blew in the brisk wind.
Oh yes, how could I have forgotten? This week marks the 61st anniversary of Israel’s independence. For Israelis this is a time of pride, of achievement and of celebration. There will be barbeques, concerts and speeches on the occasion. The country will be strung out in blue and white, with Israelis proudly boasting of its brave soldiers who took back the Jew’s “Promised Land.”
For those who don’t yet know, there is another chapter untold. The Palestinians, represent the dark side of this joy, the dirty hidden secret and the open and festering wound that will not heal as long as Israel does not recognize and make amends for their original sin.
For my children, the mobile zoo with all of its slimy reptiles, exotic birds and curious rodents, was a pleasurable experience. They walked around looking at the animals, at the children at play, happily babbling in Hebrew. They have yet to realize that these celebrations are about a country created and sustained at the expense of another people.
As for me, I was split down the middle. One part of me was happy that my children were happy, seeing things they would not necessarily experience otherwise. The other side could not feel but a sense of resentment. Ok, maybe it was not completely down the middle. If I am to be honest, the feelings of resentment and sadness were far more.
Looking at the Israelis rejoicing in their independence, I could understand how an outsider would see only that. They are a people like any other and to them, this is a country they fought for and rightly own. In this sense, they are no different than any other people taking pride in who they are. But just like the United States or Australia, hailed as leaders of the free world, there is a dark side to their independence. The Palestinians, the Native Americans, the Aborigines – we all share the same story, do we not?
In any case, I cannot celebrate Israel’s independence. There are 5.5 million Palestinian refugees – mostly descendants of the original 800,000 who were expelled from their homes in 1948 – who will not let me forget. One of the booths at the independence celebrations was selling T-shirts and trinkets calling for peace and coexistence. I stopped a second to look at the goods and I was impressed that there were Israelis there who did see the necessity of coming to a peaceful solution. But I was also acutely aware that coexistence can never really happen as long as the great injustice done to the refugees is not made right. We Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem are not the only Palestinians and a solution to our problem cannot include only us. There are those who have waited for over 60 years for the international community to step up to its responsibilities and grant their right of return. Sidelining them would be sidelining any real chance for peace.
But as long as we’re talking about us Palestinians here, Israel has ensured their independence week is not very festive for us either. A tight closure on the West Bank has been imposed for three days, ensuring that no Palestinian “crashes the party.” Israel’s closures have increased in frequency as of late, which means thousands of lives are disrupted; people cannot get to jobs, work, family, appointments, or anything else inside Israel. As of May, Israel has announced it will register all those with Israeli permits coming in and going out of the West Bank into Israel to ensure no one remains “illegally” inside the country. God forbid, a West Banker should sleep in Jerusalem.
So, as Israel carries on with its independence celebrations, I would like to take a moment to remind everyone of just who really paid the price. The western world will congratulate Israel on its fabulous achievements, its fight against terror and its ability to “make the desert bloom.” In the meantime, we know there is more to the story. As long as there are Palestinians who continue to live under the yoke of Israel’s oppressive military occupation and Palestinians who are forced to live a life of refuge away from their homes and their land, Israel’s independence celebrations will remain a painful reminder of what we are forced to endure, each and every year.
- Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Published in MIFTAH – www.miftah.org)
Israeli Use of Palestinians As Human Shields
'Cases below are examples of customary Israeli practice in violation of international law.'
By Stephen Lendman – Chicago
The Al Mezan Center for Human Rights is a Gaza-based Palestinian NGO mandated "to promote, protect and prevent violations of human rights in general, and economic, social and cultural rights in particular, to provide effective aid to those victims of such violations, and to enhance the quality of life of the community in (Gaza's) marginalized sectors."
It monitors and documents violations, provides legal aid and advocacy, and helps Gazans on "fundamental issues such as basic human rights, democracy, and international humanitarian" matters. It also produces reports and publications on its work.
In April, it published a seven-case study update of its July 2008 report titled: "Hiding Behind Civilians - The Continued Use of Palestinian Civilians as Human Shields by the Israeli Occupation Forces." This article reviews both reports to highlight what international law unequivocally prohibits. Nonetheless, it's customary IDF practice even though Israel's Supreme Court banned it on October 6, 2005.
One Palestinian woman described her experience:
"They handcuffed and blindfolded me. Then, they forced us to move out of the room, pushing me with their hands and guns to move although I was blindfolded and pregnant. I heard them pushing others to hurry up as well. I got exhausted and fell down many times. I told them that I was four months pregnant and couldn't continue but a soldier threatened to shoot me."
Other witness testimonies related similar stories, at times with tragic consequences for its victims. Israel is a party to various human rights laws and conventions. As a result, it's obligated to respect and protect the rights of people it controls.
Under Article 3 of the UN General Assembly's 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR): "everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person."
Under Article 5: "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
Under Article 9: "no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile."
The General Assembly's 1977 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) affirms the same rights. Under Article 17: "no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence."
Both international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) protect life, well-being and dignity. ILH deals with armed conflicts while IHRL applies to peace as well as war. Hague and Geneva Conventions comprise the main body of IHL, and strike a balance between military necessity and humanitarian considerations. As an occupying power, Israel is obligated under them.
Fourth Geneva protects civilians in war time, including those in Occupied Palestine. It restricts the use of force and prohibits seizing non-combatants as hostages, including persons who've laid down their arms or can't fight because of illness, injury or any other reason.
Article 34 states: "the taking of hostages is prohibited." Article 28 states: "the presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations." Article 29 states: "the Party to the conflict in whose hands protected persons may be, is responsible for the treatment accorded to them by its agents, irrespective of any individual responsibility which may be incurred."
Protocol I, Article 51, paragraph 7 states: "the presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favor or impede military operations." In other words, using civilians as human shields is prohibited under all circumstances.
Further, the International Criminal Court's (ICC) Rome Statute, Article 8 prohibits the "Taking of hostages." Israel isn't a Court member but is obligated under international law. Nonetheless, it flaunts it with impunity.
Al Mezan collected sworn testimonies of people's homes seized and used as military posts for days with their residents confined for prolonged periods, beaten and abused, prevented from normal activities, and put in harm's way.
Another practice was called the "neighbor procedure," later changed to "the prior warning procedure" to get around a Court prohibition. Israel commandeers civilians, has them knock on neighbors' doors, usually at night, to deliver military orders to submit to arrest. Hostages are put in harm's way when violence at times erupts that may result in deaths or injuries.
Finally the practice was banned, but Israel blatantly disregarded its own High Court ruling as well as its clear obligation under IHL. It continues to use civilian men, women and children as human shields.
During the Second Intifada (especially for Israel's large-scale West Bank Operation Defensive Shield incursion), Amnesty International (AI) said the following in October 2005:
AI "investigated tens of cases where the Israeli army used Palestinians, children as well as adults, as 'human shields' during military operations in towns and refugee camps throughout the Occupied Territories. Palestinians were forced to walk in front of Israeli soldiers who, at times, fired their weapons while shielding themselves behind the civilians. As well (they) were made to enter houses ahead of Israeli soldiers to check for explosives or gunmen hiding inside, to inspect suspicious objects, to stay in their houses when Israeli soldiers took them over to use as sniper positions, or to enter the houses of wanted, possibly armed, Palestinians to tell them to surrender to Israeli forces."
B'Tselem reports that Israel routinely uses "human shields (as) an integral part of the orders received by Israeli soldiers...." Al Mezan documented "dozens of cases" in Gaza in spite of specific High Court prohibitions, usually at times of incursions. Case studies below refute Israeli claims about respecting civilians, not using them as shields, and abiding strictly according to international and its own case law.
Israeli officials lie. As standard practice, they seize Palestinian civilians randomly, including women and young children, then force them into harm's way. Usually to:
-- let soldiers commandeer their homes as military posts and for sniper positions;
-- check for possible booby-traps in buildings;
-- order occupants inside to leave;
-- remove suspicious objects anywhere soldiers may go;
-- shield them from gunfire or thrown rocks; and
-- perform whatever other tasks soldiers order under very real threats they'll be shot if they refuse.
Orders to conduct these practices come from top commanders, not soldiers in the field.
Case Study Examples - 2008 and 2009
On July 10, 2008, the IDF forced Rana Mofeed Awad An-Nabaheen, age 11, to visit a relative's house delivering orders to leave. On return, she was shot in the stomach by other soldiers, unaware she was acting under orders. Family member Mahir Hamdan Mheisin An-Nabaheen provided eyewitness sworn testimony. At about 4:30AM, vehicles, helicopters and gunfire woke him.
"I peeked through a window and saw Israeli soldiers breaking into my family member's house and forcing them to get out." Rana delivered orders to leave. He then heard heavy gunfire. "I peeked out and saw Rana near the gate screaming and saying: 'I am injured.' I stepped back into the house and gave her my hand....I pulled her back into the house. The gunfire became heavier. I left Rana bleeding and took cover behind a wall. Rana crawled two steps and lay on the floor....I saw her entrails coming out of her abdomen.
A physician in military uniform came, brought a bandage, and put it on her abdomen. The commander fastened Rana to a carrier, then ordered two soldiers to carry her." This case is typical of many others.
It involves the arrest of civilians, including a pregnant woman, from the As-Sreij neighborhood in eastern Al-Qarara village in Khan Younis. They were held in an agricultural field and forced to accompany soldiers towards the separation border. The men were detained, women and children ordered to leave. They were shot at en route, then used as human shields during the operation. Out of fear of reprisals, the witness remained anonymous.
On April 3, 2008, at 7:30AM, her husband wasn't answering his mobile at the time an Israeli force entered the area where he was working. She rushed there with his ID card. "When I was on my way, I heard somebody shouting and ordering me to stop and come towards him....I tried to explain that I had come to give my husband his ID card but they threatened to shoot me."
"They led me to a room where I saw seven men and a woman with her two daughters, who were detained. The men were handcuffed and blindfolded. They handcuffed and blindfolded me. Then, they forced us to move out of the room, pushing me with their hands and guns although I was blindfolded and pregnant....They stopped for a while and took off my blindfold....I saw them taking the men across the border, and then heard one of them ordering us to leave the area....I heard heavy gunfire."
"I had to crawl for a long time to leave the area....I found (soldiers) who forced me to stop. I tried to explain what happened but they threatened to shoot me and forced me to sit down with a child of (a) family....One soldier forced the child to take his shirt off and tied his hands with it. There were many explosions and intensive firing."
"I managed to go home at around 13:00 on the same day. My husband returned home at around 21:00 on the same day. I knew he was detained in a military post close to the border line."
This is another human shield example that "demonstrates the complete disregard of the soldiers for the life of a pregnant woman and her unborn child." They were used as cover for Israeli forces to withdraw from the area.
Other cases were of medical teams forced to carry out life-threatening tasks, homes used as military posts and their residents as human shields, and a 14 year old boy used for the same purpose.
On April 9, 2009, Al Mezan presented an updated report, containing seven new case studies "based on comprehensive field investigations and witness statements," these based on incidents during Operation Cast Lead and one earlier in 2008.
"In endangering the lives of civilian men, women and children through systematically using them as human shields, the (IDF committed) crimes against humanity according to IHL." This is one of many violations against non-combatant Palestinian civilians.
Number 1: 15-year-old child used as a human shield
After being used for that purpose, the child was detained in a hole in the ground with about 100 others for four days. He now suffers from serious mental health difficulties and refuses to speak to strangers. With help from his parents, Al Mezan got him to tell his story and presented excepts from it below. At home with his parents, he was terrified by days of conflict.
"I was lying on the floor sheltering with my mother." His uncle then said: 'Come downstairs.' "So we all went downstairs. As soon as we opened the door, I saw a large number of soldiers. One of them was pointing his weapon at me....I saw my uncle and brothers lined up against the wall. I saw the soldier signaling at me to stand beside them. So I did....he wanted me to put my hands up. So I did. Another soldier came and searched me from top to bottom....He tied my hands to the hands of the people next to me."
"I stood by the wall. A few minutes later one of the soldiers came and kicked me. About two hours later, they ordered us to walk....they made us go into Khalil al-Attar's house....Then they told us all go, as a chain, into one of the rooms." They took us outside the house....I heard the sound of a huge explosion in the area. From there they took us to a farm."
"They made us sit on the ground until dawn the following day. Then they took us outside the field (and) blindfolded my eyes....they led us to a low-lying area. They made us sit on the ground....They tied my hands in front of my stomach. They searched me a third time and made me sit on the ground....After they took of my blindfold....I realized where the low-lying area was. It was a hole made by Israeli forces....south of the American school."
"We spent the whole night in this hole. I couldn't sleep. The weather was really cold and I wasn't wearing a lot of clothing. We stayed in this hole for four days....I could hear the sound of shooting and explosions" close by. We got one meal each afternoon...."On the third day I saw a soldier making a wire fence around the hole (and bring) a lot of people to the hole until the number reached around 100. On the morning of the fourth day, an Israeli soldier untied me, my brother Ali, my cousins Hussein and Khalil. They told us and the women to go to Jabalia.
Case 2: Majdi al-Abed Ahmed Abed Rabbo, male, age 40
On January 5 at 9:30AM, he was at home when he heard a loud sound and someone say, "Open the door....I arrived at the door and opened it. I was surprised to see an (IDF) soldier hiding behind a man in his twenties and pointing a gun at me. He said in Arabic, 'Take off your pants.' I took" them off. He ordered him to strip naked, then get dressed. About "15 - 20 Israeli soldiers then entered the courtyard of my house....one grabbed my neck from behind and put his gun to the back of my head."
"Two other soldiers hid behind me....They told me to lead them to the roof, where they searched pigeon coups that I keep in two rooms there." A soldier then asked about the adjacent house, belonging to his cousin and connected to his home by a common roof. "There's no space between the two houses, just the wall."
"After that, one of the soldiers brought a demolition tool and said, 'Drill a hole there.'....Then three soldiers went through the hole to (his cousin's) house." He was told to come as well along with more soldiers, then told, "Get up. Get up," and grabbed violently. "I got up and entered with them through the hole back to my roof, and they all went as a group down the stairs. This happened quickly....The whole group was running."
"The soldiers led me outside. I found myself in a mud road....One of the soldiers was holding me and making me run with him. Another soldier was bringing the young man with him the same way, and (he) had his hands tied. They pushed me in the mosque through its main door to the north....They tied my hands in front of my stomach and tied my legs and sat me down (in one corner). We entered the house adjacent to the mosque. They took us out and turned us toward another house," then sat us down nearby.
In one house, a soldier said, there were gunmen and we killed them. "Go take their clothes off and bring their guns and come back."
"I refused. I asked him to let me return to my family. I said to him:" going into that house "means death, and I don't want to die." The soldier responded, 'You are here to do what we tell you (and said) Go.'
"I walked about 200 meters to the house....I went in...I went alone....but couldn't find anyone. I expected the worst." He encountered three armed men wearing badges saying Al Qassam Brigades. He said he was forced to come. They told him to go back and say what he saw - "three gunmen in the house, still alive....then the soldier said to me, 'The officer says he's crazy and if you are lying to him he swears by his mother he will shoot you."
"A short time later, I heard the sound of heavy gunfire nearby. Twenty minutes passed....and a soldier said to me; 'We killed them now. Go get them.' I refused. I told them that they had told me that if I returned they would kill me, and he shouted at me: 'We killed them.' "
He went again and found one man seriously injured and bleeding and the others alive. He reported back what he saw, then heard heavy gunfire and a very loud explosion. A soldier said; 'Go and make sure they are dead. We bombed the house again with planes...."With difficulty, I entered the apartment. Inside, I saw the three men still living, but they were under the rubble."
Majdi al-Abed Ahmed Abed Rabbo located his wife and children after the IDF released him. His home was totally destroyed by military bulldozers, and he's deeply distressed. Numerous other examples are similar to his account - human shields illegally used by IDF soldiers in violation of international law and Israel's High Court ruling.
The above cases are examples of customary Israeli practice in gross violation of international law and Israel's High Court ruling. They endanger civilian lives and cause "long-lasting psychological trauma."
IHL considers using civilian human shields a war crime and when used systematically against non-combatants a crime against humanity. It's essential to hold parties guilty of these crimes accountable as the way to stop this heinous practice.
Al Mezan condemns Israel's disregard for the law and says that "the continued failure of the international community to fulfill its obligations and its silence on Israeli violations encourages" similar acts in the future - by Israel and others engaged in this outrageous practice.
- Stephen Lendman is a Chicago-based research associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago. Contact him at: email@example.com. (Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Monday - Friday at 10AM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national issues.)