Saturday, 5 September 2009
Os Estados Unidos manifestam descontentamento peladecisão de construir mais umas centenas de casas, nos colonatos da Cisjordânia, que o primeiro-ministro israelita, Benjamin Netanyahu, deverá aprovar na próxima semana.
Israel admite uma paragem temporária na construção de colonatos - mas só depois de finalizadas as construções aprovadas, e apenas por um período de seis meses, apesar de os Estados Unidos apelarem a uma extensão do prazo para nove meses.
Flying Home: Created by the Children of Lajee Center
By Jim Miles
Kite flying activities go well beyond the physical phenomenon of wind blown materials flying tethered to their earth bound launchers. It is an activity including local knowledge of winds and landscapes, knowledge of how to physically shape the kite in order to have it fly. It is an activity that challenges the artistic creativity of the kite maker, a challenge to make the kite not only fly-worthy, but also decorative, and through that decoration, to make a statement from and about the flyer and kite maker. The statements can be several at a time, from simply being 'I am the best kite maker and designer' through the many nuances of challenging others to fly higher, or as in several Middle East regions, to challenge others in manipulating their kites to cut others down - the kite runners then chasing down the now freed kites.
And that is the ultimate statement from kites, a message of freedom. More specifically, the tension towards freedom, as the kite pulls with the promised freedom of the wind, the promise of freedom to fly above it all, to have the freedom of the birds, to be free to come and go wherever one is able to move. It is about the dreams of freedom, freedom lost to be regained. It is the physical metaphor through which the human spirit expresses its desire to be unbound from the earth, to be free of its trials and tribulations, the freedom from worries and cares of everyday life that for many occupy every moment of their existence.
Lajee Center - Aida Refugee Camp - West Bank
These images - the freedom of the birds, the freedom of the kite, the desire to be able to go home, that is expressed in Lajee Center’s latest production from its children, Flying Home. While it is a children’s story, it is also an adult story. For the children, it is a well expressed and well photographed story of a kite and its return home, just as the boy and his grandfather wish they could have their freedom. For the adults, for those that care about the children of the world, it provides the same message, ungarnished by the usual rhetoric of politics and beliefs. It is the basic yearning for human freedom, for a homeland, for a return to a homeland denied, all simply expressed through the metaphor of birds, kites, and wind.
The creators of the book express this desire in different terms on the back cover. One wishes to become a doctor “as I want all children to have a future.” They talk of land, space and freedom, but not only for themselves but for others, that the “children in the rest of the world can learn what this book means and understand our live in Palestine, and they can learn how to love their land.”
Given the chance and the openness for discussion, Flying Home can serve as a strong method to develop the message of freedom and homeland. It is a message that not only can serve the needs of expression of students, but is fully capable of opening dialogue and discussion among adults beyond their own inculcated views of the world, to be able to return to a more progressive world view beyond the often narrowed perceptions that develop with growing up.Gaza
The expression of freedom, the simple freedom of being able to go to a beach, test the wind and fly a kite attained a particular significance for the people of Gaza this past summer. In attempting to break the Guinness world record for group kite flying, the children and families of Gaza gathered on the beaches of Gaza and under regulated observation made the challenge to the record.
This attempt, as reported in Palestine Chronicle earlier, also carries the same dreams and aspirations of those of Lajee Center in Bethlehem. As reported by al-Jazeerah, this attempt allows the children under siege to “believe that despite the odds they face on a daily basis, they can be the best at whatever they want.” As with the message from Flying Home, their remains the broader message, the metaphor of freedom denied, freedom to be gained.As of this writing, I checked with the Guinness World Record website and they have yet to post this record as adjudicated by the International Red Cross. While much could be read into this, it could be a simple matter of time lapse between verification and posting. But could it also be the denial of even the metaphor, the denial of freedom, the denial of even the dream of freedom? That message would at least be consistent with the expectations of the occupying forces that deny the physical freedom but find it impossible to quell the desire for peace, for a homeland, for the freedom to fly a kite and just play with the wind.
Ultimately, the dream of freedom cannot be denied. It will be passed on from generation to generation, from grandfather to grandson, fostered by the childhood innocence of flying kites.
- Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles' work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.
O fundo de pensões do governo norueguês vendeu sua participação de $5.4 biliões de dolares na empresa israelita Elbit Systems, alegando razões de fundo ético, já que a companhia forneceu equipamentos de vigilância para a barreira que separa Israel da Cisjordânia, disse o governo da Noruega na passada quinta-feira.
O fundo, que acumula mais de US$ 400 bilhões, segue directrizes éticas estabelecidas pelo governo, e no passado já se recusou a investir em mais de 20 empresas que produzem armas nucleares ou munições de fragmentação, prejudicam o meio ambiente ou cometem abusos aos direitos humanos e laborais.
Mas a remoção da Elbit do seu portfólio pressupõe uma crítica a acções do governo de Israel, o que torna a decisão mais política do que exclusões anteriores do fundo.
"A liberdade de movimentos das pessoas que vivem no Território Ocupado (Cisjordânia) tem sido inaceitavelmente restringida," disse ela.
Just World News
Norwegian Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen today announced that the country's $400 billion-strong sovereign wealth fund, the Oil Fund, has divested itself of all investments in the large Elbit company, based on Elbit's involvement in the building and maintenance of the illegal Wall built by Israel deep inside the occupied West Bank.
Elbit, based in Haifa, makes surveillance systems used by Israel on the wall.
Bloomberg reports that Halvorsen told a press conference in Oslo today that,
- "[I]nvestment in Elbit constitutes an unacceptable risk of contribution to serious violations of fundamental ethical norms.”
... “The International Court of Justice has ruled that the building of this barrier violates international law and the Norwegian authorities have expressed the same opinion... The decision to exclude this company is not on the background of its nationality. The surveillance system Elbit delivers to the Israeli authorities is a central component of this separation barrier, or wall.”
- Norway's pension fund is invested in 41 different Israeli companies.
A research project by the Coalition of Women for Peace called "Who profits from the occupation" found that almost two thirds of those firms are involved in West Bank construction and development.
Norway's decision on Elbit is a breakthrough. The Bloomberg piece gives more details about the operations, thinking, and other recent ethics-related decisions taken by the country's Finance Ministry regarding the investment portfolio of the Norwegian Oil Fund.
It tells us that before today, the ministry, based on the advice of the ethics council that the Oil Fund established in 2004, had previously divested itself from 30 other companies, though some of these bans were later rescinded. For example, a ban was earlier imposed on Thales, Europe’s biggest maker of military electronics, because it was making cluster munitions; when that production stopped, the ban was rescinded.
I hope that portfolio managers in other institutions with large investment portfolios-- including of course, pension funds and universities in the US-- are looking closely at Norway's latest decision and, crucially, the reasoning behind it.
Divesting from direct financial entanglement with Israel's large-scale and continuing construction and control projects in the occupied territories strikes me as unquestionably the right thing to do, regardless what one thinks about the issue of a broader divestment from Israel as a whole so long as its government continues with these illegal policies.
Yehuda Hiss: Missing Link in Palestinian Organ Theft?
The army's possible role in supplying corpses needs investigation.
By Jonathan Cook - Nazareth
The hyperventilating by Israel's leaders  over a story published in a Swedish newspaper last month  suggesting that the Israeli army assisted in organ theft from Palestinians has distracted attention from the disturbing allegations made by Palestinian families that were the basis of the article’s central claim.
The families’ fears that relatives, killed by the Israeli army, had body parts removed during unauthorised autopsies performed in Israel have been overshadowed by accusations of a “blood libel” directed against the reporter, Donald Bostrom, and the Aftonbladet newspaper, as well as the Swedish government and people.
I have no idea whether the story is true. Like most journalists working in Israel and Palestine, I have heard such rumours before. Until Bostrom wrote his piece, no Western journalist, as far as I know, had investigated them. After so many years, the assumption by journalists was that there was little hope of finding evidence - apart from literally by digging up the corpses. Doubtless, the inevitable charge of anti-semitism such reports attract acted as a powerful deterrent too.
What is striking about this episode is that the families making the claims were not given a hearing in the late 1980s and early 1990s, during the first Intifada, when most of the reports occurred, and are still being denied the right to voice their concerns today.
Israel’s sensitivity to the allegation of organ theft - or “harvesting”, as many observers coyly refer to the practice - appears to trump the genuine concerns of the families about possible abuse of their loved ones.
Bostrom has been much criticised for the flimsy evidence he produced in support of his inflammatory story. Certainly there is much to criticize in his and the newspaper’s presentation of the report.
Most significantly, Bostrom and Aftonbladet exposed themselves to the charge of anti-semitism -at least from Israeli officials keen to make mischief -through a major error of judgment.
They muddied the waters by trying to make a tenuous connection between the Palestinian families’ allegations about organ theft during unauthorized autopsies and the entirely separate revelations this month that a group of US Jews had been arrested for money-laundering and trading in body parts. 
In making that connection, Bostrom and Aftonbladet suggested that the problem of organ theft is a current one when they have produced only examples of such concern from the early 1990s. They also implied, whether intentionally or not, that abuses allegedly committed by the Israeli army could somehow be extrapolated more generally to Jews.
The Swedish reporter should instead have concentrated on the valid question raised by the families about why the Israeli army, by its own admission, took away the bodies of dozens of Palestinians killed by its soldiers, allowed autopsies to be performed on them without the families’ permission and then returned the bodies for burial in ceremonies held under tight security.
Bostrom’s article highlighted the case of one Palestinian, 19-year-old Bilal Ahmed Ghanan, from the village of Imatin in the northern West Bank, who was killed in 1992. A shocking picture of Bilal’s stitched-up body accompanied the report. 
Bostrom has told the Israeli media that he knows of at least 20 cases of families claiming that the bodies of loved ones were returned with body parts missing,  although he did not say whether any of these alleged incidents occurred more recently.
In 1992, the year in question, Bostrom says, the Israeli army admitted to him that it took away for autopsy 69 of the 133 Palestinians who died of unnatural causes. The army has not denied this part of his report.
A justifiable question from the families relayed by Bostrom is: why did the army want the autopsies carried out? Unless it can be shown that the army intended to conduct investigations into the deaths - and there is apparently no suggestion that it did - the autopsies were unnecessary.
In fact, they were more than unnecessary. They were counterproductive if we assume that the army has no interest in gathering evidence that could be used in future war crimes prosecutions of its soldiers. Israel has a long track record of investigations into Palestinian deaths at the hands of its soldiers, and carried on that ignoble tradition in the wake of its recent assault on Gaza.
Of even greater concern for the Palestinian families is the fact that at around the time the bodies of their loved ones were whisked off by the army for autopsy, the only institute in Israel that conducts such autopsies, Abu Kabir, near Tel Aviv, was almost certainly at the centre of a trade in organs that later became a scandal inside Israel.
Equally disturbing, the doctor behind the plunder of body parts, Prof Yehuda Hiss, appointed director of the Abu Kabir institute in the late 1980s, has never been jailed despite admitting to the organ theft and he continues to be the state’s chief pathologist at the institute.
Hiss was in charge of the autopsies of Palestinians when Bostrom was listening to the families’ claims in 1992. Hiss was subsequently investigated twice, in 2002 and 2005, over the theft of body parts on a large scale.
Allegations of Hiss’ illegal trade in organs was first revealed in 2000 by investigative reporters at the Yediot Aharonot newspaper, which reported that he had “price listings” for body parts and that he sold mainly to Israeli universities and medical schools. 
Apparently undeterred by these revelations, Hiss still had an array of body parts in his possession at Abu Kabir when the Israeli courts ordered a search in 2002. Israel National News reported at the time: “Over the past years, heads of the institute appear to have given thousands of organs for research without permission, while maintaining a ‘storehouse’ of organs at Abu Kabir.” 
Hiss did not deny the plunder of organs, admitting that the body parts belonged to soldiers killed in action and had been passed to medical institutes and hospitals in the interests of advancing research. Understandably, however, the Palestinian families are unlikely to be satisfied with Hiss’ explanation. If the wishes of a soldier’s family were disregarded by Hiss, why not Palestinian families’ wishes too?
Hiss was allowed to continue as director of Abu Kabir until 2005 when allegations of a trade in organs surfaced again. On this occasion Hiss admitted to having removed parts from 125 bodies without authorization. Following a plea bargain with the state, the attorney general decided not to press criminal charges and Hiss was given only a reprimand.  He has continued as chief pathologist at Abu Kabir.
It should also be noted, as Bostrom points out, that in the early 1990s Israel was suffering from an acute shortage of organ donors to the extent that Ehud Olmert, health minister at the time, launched a public campaign to encourage Israelis to come forward. This offers a possible explanation for Hiss’ actions. He may have acted to help make up the shortfall.
Given the facts that are known, there must be at least a very strong suspicion that Hiss removed organs without authorization from some Palestinians he autopsied. Both this issue, and the army’s possible role in supplying him with corpses, needs investigation.
Hiss is also implicated in another long-running and unresolved scandal from Israel’s early years, in the 1950s, when the children of recent Jewish immigrants to Israel from Yemen were adopted by Ashkenazi couples after the Yeminite parents had been told that their child had died,  usually after admission to hospital.
After an initial cover-up, the Yeminite parents have continued pressing for answers from the state, and forced officials to reopen the files.  The Palestinian families deserve no less.
However, unlike the Yemenite parents, their chances of receiving any kind of investigation, transparent or otherwise, look all but hopeless.
When Palestinian demands for justice are not backed by investigations from journalists or the protests of the international community, Israel can safely ignore them.
It is worth remembering in this context the constant refrain from Israel’s peace camp that the brutal, four-decade occupation of the Palestinians has profoundly corrupted Israeli society.
When the army enjoys power without accountability, how do Palestinians, or we, know what soldiers are allowed to get away with under cover of occupation? What restraints are in place to prevent abuses? And who takes them to task if they do commit crimes?
Similarly, when Israeli politicians are able to cry “blood libel” or “anti-semitism” when they are criticized, damaging the reputations of those they accuse, what incentive do they have to initiate inquiries that may harm them or the institutions they oversee? What reason do they have to be honest when they can bludgeon a critic into silence, at no cost to themselves?
This is the meaning of the phrase “power corrupts”, and Israeli politicians and soldiers, as well as at least one pathologist, demonstrably have far too much power - most especially over Palestinians under occupation.
- Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are“Israel and the Clash of Civilizations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net. He contributed this article to PalsestineChronicle.com.
A big thank you
Ilan Pappe, The Electronic Intifada, 4 September 2009
|Israel's wall as seen from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. (Fadi Arouri/MaanImages)|
3 September 2009
Today was a unique day in the history of media coverage and discussion in Israel. All the electronic agencies, radio and television alike, discussed the occupation and the oppression of the Palestinians and more importantly, the possible price tag attached to it. It lasted only for 12 hours and tomorrow the obedient Israeli media will return to parrot the governmental new message to the masses that the "conflict" has ended and is about to be solved. On the one hand, you already have happy-go-lucky Palestinians in the West Bank (see the latest reports by Thomas Friedman in The New York Times and Ari Shavit in Haaretz). And on the other, alas, those who opted out from the blissful new reality: the oppressed Palestinians who still live under Hamas' dictatorship in the Gaza Strip.
Tomorrow we all will go back to the dismal reality in which Palestinian students are imprisoned daily without trial in Nablus, Palestinian children are killed near Ramallah, as also happened today. We will return to the reality of house demolitions as occurred two weeks ago in Jerusalem, of the continued strangulation of the Gaza Strip and the overall dispossession of Palestinians, wherever they are. But today of all days, those of us who happened to be here on the ground saw a light, a very powerful light, illuminating for a very short moment, the horizon of a different reality of peace and reconciliation.
And it was all due to the decision of the Norwegian government to withdraw its investments in the Israeli hi-tech company Elbit (due to the latter's involvement in the construction and maintenance of the apartheid wall). We have to keep a proportional view on this: only one section of Elbit, Elbit Systems, was affected. But the significance is not about who was targeted, but rather who took the decision: the Norwegian ministry of finance through its ethical council. No less important was the manner in which it was taken: the minister herself announced the move in a press conference. This is what transformed for a short while the media scene in the Zionist state.
Usually matters of foreign or military relevance are discussed in the Israeli media by generals or recruited political scientists from the local academia who provide the interviewers with what they want to hear as commentary. In this case, as one could gather from the questions they have posed to the individuals they invited, they wished to hear that the Muslim minority in Norway is behind this. Or that traditional anti-Semitism explains it and that the newly formed Elders of anti-Zion, with the new recruits -- the Iranian and Libyan governments -- concocted it. But since the target was a hi-tech company, the commentators invited to the live bulletins were either experts on economy and finance, such as the economic correspondents of the local dailies or captains of the local industry and hi-tech companies. The views of these commentators are a far cry from those usually expressed here in this and similar venues. But they do deal with economic realities and facts of life, and less with mythology and ideological fabrications. And they explained, on prime time, that it is actually the Norwegian sensitivity to human rights that begot this last action and quite likely similar actions will be taken in the future. For the readers of this site, this may sound boring or too elementary, but the average listener and viewer in Israel has not been exposed to such a clear deduction in the mainstream media by mainstream journalists and personalities for a very long time.
The significance of this alas, short lived exposure of what lies behind the apartheid wall and the fences that encircle the West Bank and the Gaza Strip stems from the seniority of Kristin Halvorsen, the Norwegian finance minister who herself announced the decision to divest. It is the first official act of this kind by a Western government. It is reminiscent of the first day when governments heeded the pressures of their societies in the West to act against apartheid South Africa. We were all moved, and rightly so, when brave trade unions took such decisions against Israel; we were all very hopeful when the International Court of Justice ruled against the wall and when courageous individuals, the last one being the filmmaker Ken Loach, took a firm stand against participating in anything which officially represents Israel. But now there is an evolution, a quantum leap forward and a momentum we have to keep and maintain!
This is a clear message for all the good people in the West looking for ways of helping the Palestinians in their moment of nadir. They want to march and sail peacefully to Gaza, they wish to facilitate more meetings between Israelis and Palestinians and are adamant despite all the hurdles to volunteer in the occupied territories. These are all noble actions but changing the public opinion in the West, is what people in the West can do best. And if one government has already shifted significantly the name and the rules of the game -- be it in a very minor decision that may still be revised under the tidal Zionist reaction, others will surely follow. For the time being all we can say is a huge thank you to a brave politician that will enter the pages of history as someone who paved the way to a better future for everyone in Israel and Palestine.
Ilan Pappe is chair in the Department of History at the University of Exeter.
Friday, 4 September 2009
Obama Must Bring Israel to Heel
Obama has expressed his preference to engagement of Islamic groups.
By George S. Hishmeh
As the stage has reportedly been set for US President Barack Obama to spell out his much-awaited ideas on a Palestinian-Israeli settlement at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly later this month, two issues remain regrettably overlooked or sidelined. The persistent neglect of these twin problems has the potential to derail a peaceful settlement. The twin issues are the failure of the Obama administration to engage Hamas, and its inexplicable refusal to identify Israeli colonies in the occupied West Bank as illegal under international law. It is like burying one's head in the sand and hoping all will be well. Several Egyptian attempts have been launched to reconcile the two key Palestinian groups, Hamas and Fatah, but no headway has been achieved. Hamas, which won the first Palestinian parliamentary elections three years ago, much to the surprise of all, especially Fatah, feels it is entitled to a bigger slice of the ruling Palestinian National Authority and its governing infrastructure.
This internecine squabbling has resulted in a successful coup by Hamas whereby it now controls the Gaza Strip and its strategic location on the eastern Mediterranean. But this split has weakened the Palestinian side, raising doubts about how it will contribute to a fair Palestinian-Israeli settlement, hopefully by 2011. But this is where the Obama administration should step forward. Why not try and engage Hamas given that several of the group's leaders in Damascus and Gaza have expressed their willingness to live alongside Israel? After all, Obama has time and again expressed his preference to engagement rather than ostracising several regimes or Islamic groups that the Bush administration had unwisely boycotted.
Besides Iran, there has been talk of engaging the Taliban and Cuba diplomatically. Israel has also been in touch with Hamas, albeit indirectly, to come to an agreement on an exchange of prisoners. Interestingly, senior US military officers have lately championed new ideas in tackling foreign policy issues and have severely criticized past practices. General David H. Petraeus, commander of the US Central Command, feels that the Arab-Israeli conflict is "very central" to the mission of US troops and policy in the Middle East. This point has been repeatedly made by many Arab leaders, but without much success. Israel, on the other hand, always downplayed the significance of the relationship, preferring to have the Obama administration focus on Iran and its alleged nuclear ambitions.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also maintains that the US military is bungling its outreach to the Muslim world and squandering goodwill by failing to live up to its promises. He recently wrote in a US military journal that "each time we fail to live up to our values or don't follow up on a promise, we look more and more like the arrogant Americans the enemy claims we are".
Although Obama has admirably delivered on his promise to give top attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict upon assuming office last January, he has so far avoided resorting to a more blunt approach. It may be argued that he is overwhelmed by domestic problems, but he could, nevertheless, still utter the magic word in discussing expanding Israeli colonisation in the Occupied Territories: Illegal. Yes, all these colonies are illegal and they have to be evacuated, sooner rather than later. Allowing for 'natural growth' is certainly a waste of money and time.For one, Obama can begin by cleaning his own house as in the case of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, a non-profit US organisation that has been sending millions of dollars worth of donations to Israel every year "for clearly political purposes, such as buying Arab properties in [Occupied] East Jerusalem". It is, however, registered in the US as an organization that funds educational institutes in Israel, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz revealed. The US tax code enables non-profit organizations to receive tax-exempt status only if they engage in education, charitable, religious or scientific activities. To date, the paper reported, Friends of Ateret Cohanim has bought dozens of Arab buildings for Jews to live in. Gideon Levy of Haaretz hit the nail on the head when he commented that "an America that will not pressure Israel is an America that will not bring peace".
George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: email@example.com.
Taking Desperate Measures to Educate Gaza's Youth
With no alternative, UNRWA opened a school of cargo containers in Nuseirat Camp.
By Najwa Sheikh - Gaza
The month of Ramadan has come this year to the people of Gaza along with the new school year reminding them of the hard living conditions they have endured with the crushing blockade that Israel imposed on Gaza for the third year; A blockade that does not allow even for the basic needs such as medications, flour, building materials, papers, books and stationary for the new school year.
With such deteriorating living and financial conditions, the people of Gaza have lost the taste of the joyful Ramadan nights. Before, they used to go to the markets to buy various goods available especially in this holy month, but this year, children even found themselves unable to have the regular Ramadan “fanous” (lantern) due to the high price of even these simple toys. Most children were satisfied with homemade lanterns fashioned from empty juice or cola bottles.
However, the effect of this inhumane blockade did not allowed people to live normal lives, and has added more stress to the work of the largest relief organization in the gaza Strip. UNRWA is providing education, healthcare, social services, and emergency aid to over one million refugees living on the Strip all of whom are entirely dependent on the services provided by the agency.
Providing education to the refugee children is one of UNRWA’s largest activities and accounts for half of its regular budget. The school enrollment for 2009/2010 is 206,180 children – 8,000 more than in 2008-2009.
Due to the continuous Israeli policy of not allowing any of the basic needs including building materials in to Gaza, UNRWA faced a great challenge with the increasing number of students on its schools. With no other alternative, the agency opened a school of cargo containers in Nuseirat Camp, called Nuseirat elementary boys School, on a piece if land of 3.800sq.m donated by the local community. This school includes 19 classrooms of the fourth, fifth and sixth grades only.
The classrooms are containers with a capacity of 36 students only; the wall surrounding the school is a blue plastic pavilion, and with the current regular power cut, the situation is unbearable for both the students and the teachers on this hot weather.
Mr. Hamdan Jaber El Hour, the School headmaster says “90% of the basic needs of the school are available like the books, classes, but the school still in bad need for fans or even air conditioners to alleviate the heat of the containers especially on this time of the year which considered the hottest days of the year.”
“Unlike other schools in Gaza with two shifts this school is a one shift which encourages the students and their parents to continue, besides it is an open school therefore, there is less noise heard from the other classes.”
“The only reason for this situation is the blockade, we can not have building materials to build the school on time, nonetheless such situation will affect the quality of the services provided for the refugees, but it will not stop us as UNRWA employees and teaching team from working hard to continue this project.” Mr. Al Hour comments.
When I asked Mr. Al Hour about the number of parents who came to transfer their children to other schools, he said “I admit that the school situation is not so encouraging, but we are at the beginning yet. Some parents came to transfer their children specially the excellent ones, because of the school condition, and this is a problem that will affect the school performance at the end of the year.”
Speaking about the equipments available for the school he said “we have a place for the science lab, the computer lab, and a library, but till this moment we did not receive any of the needed equipment.”
I walked through the school yard and met with Mr. Ahmed El Sharif, the Arabic language teacher, who commented and said “we are at the beginning of the school year, the weather is very hot inside the containers, and this will affect the student’s capacity to concentrate especially with fasting Ramadan.”
Ahmed Mizher, a student at the fifth grade said “I am happy at this school, but the container under the sun becomes so hot, and we are fasting and feel very hot inside it.”
While Shihab Abu A’reban, another student said “ I wish that the school administration will work to complete the school, the yard is mud, with the rain in winter it will be sticky and it will be difficult to walk without slipping, beside the classes are very hot now.”
Despite this difficult situation in the boys school, the students and the teacher’s resilience continues. This is a spark of hope that the blockade will never put out.
- Najwa Sheikh is a writer based in the Gaza Strip. She contributed this article to PalestineChroicle.com.
Faithful warned against buying "occupation dates" this Ramadan
Adri Nieuwhof, The Electronic Intifada, 2 September 2009
Israel's largest produce exporter, Agrexco, is once again under fire because of its dates produced in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. This year, the company's dates arrived in time for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, during which faithful Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and traditionally break their fast by eating a date.
Agrexco, which sells flowers, vegetables and fruit, including dates, produced in both Israel and the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, expects a ten percent increase in the export of Carmel dates. However, sales might be hampered by growing calls from solidarity organizations in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, South Africa and the United Kingdom for a boycott of Israeli dates this Ramadan because of the company's involvement in Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian land.
It's not the first time that Agrexco has been targeted by Palestine solidarity activists. The company is half-owned by the government of Israel and has been the focus of boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign efforts for years, mainly because of its settlement-based operations that are in violation of international law.
According to the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, Israel's 470,000 settlers in the West Bank enjoy control over 40 percent of the land, including the fertile Jordan Valley. Agriculture activities in the settlements have resulted in the seizure of relatively large tracts of stolen land and drain Palestinian water resources. Settlers dig deep for water, while Palestinians are forbidden by the Israeli military rule to pump deeper than nine meters.
Agrexco admitted to its activities in the West Bank during a UK court case against Palestine solidarity activists who had blockaded the company's UK distribution center with wire fences and bicycle locks. In 2006, Amos Orr, Agrexco's UK general manager, admitted in court that the company exported between 60 to 70 percent of all produce that is grown in settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The company has also benefited from the Israeli government's efforts to intensify the colonization of the Jordan Valley. In 2005, the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture started a two-year, $22 million program to double the number of settlers in the fertile region through the construction of houses and the provision of grants for agricultural development. These farming subsidies have allowed Agrexco to increase its production and its flowers, fruits and vegetables from Israel and the illegal settlements. Grown on occupied land, these agricultural products are marketed in many countries through the company's branches throughout Europe, Latin America, Africa and East Asia.
Meanwhile, Palestinians have been suffering from Israel's imposition of more severe movement restrictions and other rights violations in the Jordan Valley. Last November, the Palestinian group Stop the Wall reported that houses in the nearby Palestinian villages of al-Hadidiya and Humza were bulldozed in August 2007, leaving the affected families homeless. Stop the Wall explained that the Israeli military performed this action at the request of the settlement Ro'i, which supplies Agrexco. The Israeli military had previously destroyed the villages' traditional wells. In its report, Stop the Wall claims that Ro'i's settlers are planning to use the expropriated land to expand its agricultural activities for the company.
In addition to producing goods on occupied Palestinian land, Agrexco has a regional office in the occupied Jordan Valley and is using a settlement as a distribution point for its products.
Despite its involvement in Israel's illegal settlements, Agrexco has profited on the European market because Israeli produce exports to Europe benefit from lower tariffs. However, produce originating from Israeli settlements is not entitled to benefit from the preferential tariff treatment under the Association Agreement between Israel and the European Union. In 2005, due to pressure by human rights activists on governments and the EU to monitor imports originating from settlements, the EU insisted that Israeli exporters provide proof of the place of production of their goods in order to claim the trade benefits. It is not clear if and how EU member states police the Association Agreement.
Similarly, the UK's customs and tax department has intensified checks on Israeli products. During the first quarter of 2009, 529 proofs of origin were rejected and resulted in demands of #338,000 (more than $540,000) in customs duties, indicating that the goods had been wrongly imported under the preferential trade agreement. It is most likely that the products stated they originated from Israel and not the occupied West Bank, a practice The Electronic Intifada reported on in 2007.
Recently, Palestine solidarity activists in the Netherlands and South Africa disseminated thousands of flyers in French, Dutch, Arabic and Turkish at markets, mosques and shops, calling on consumers and traders "not to forget Gaza," and check the labels of the dates before they buy. On the flyer were pictures of the logo of the Israeli brands to be boycotted, including Agrexco's Carmel and Jordan Plains. The call was also heard during Friday prayers at mosques in the Netherlands and South Africa, and has been widely circulated on the Internet.
Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.
Why Israel is after my son
Fouad Sultani, The Electronic Intifada, 3 September 2009
Rawi, a 23-year-old law student and a political activist of the NDA, is being charged in the district court of Petach Tikva with having contact with Hizballah members in order to deliver information on the whereabouts of the Israeli army's chief of staff.
The Israeli media rushed to spin the story and it became even juicier with claims that the purpose of these activities is a plot to hurt the chief of staff. Yet, the inflated indictment itself does not go that far. The indictment does not accuse Rawi of being a Hizballah agent or operative but merely being in contact with one. Although the indictment does not show criminal intent (mens rea) on Rawi's part, the Israeli media assumed its existence. Rawi's national and political affiliation seems to be behind this assumption.
Even worse, Israeli media are not only uncritical of the government line when it comes to security-related affairs, but have also proven to be highly unprofessional. To take one prominent example, leading journalist Roni Daniel -- the military and security correspondent for Israel's Channel 2 -- admitted in an interview in which we both participated on Israeli radio on 1 September that he had not even read the indictment. However, that did not prevent him from appearing on TV the night before to confidently report on and discuss the case in an authoritative voice.
Nevertheless, the fantastic story-line is baseless and is an out-of-proportion interpretation of one careless sentence said by my son during a National Arab Youth annual summer camp in Morocco attended by young activists from all over the Arab world. Rawi was part of an NDA delegation attending the conference. Sending these delegations to such conferences helps break the isolation of the Palestinian minority inside Israel from the Arab world, an isolation we have been suffering from since the establishment of Israel. The purpose of such allegations and indictments, then, is to prevent Palestinian activists from breaking this isolation, causing a chilling effect to silence political activities disliked by the Israeli security apparatus.
Rawi was among the conference attendees who watched a movie on the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006. During the film several characters showed up on the screen such as the chief of staff and a lawyer of Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. Rawi bragged that he knew the latter and trained in the same gym with the former. It turned out later, according to the Israeli intelligence allegations, that one attendee -- a student from Lebanon -- was a Hizballah member. Hizballah is a legitimate political party in Lebanon and an integral part of the Lebanese government and society, notwithstanding its label by Israel and the US as a "terrorist organization."
This sentence is largely the basis for the indictment against Rawi. From here the indictment goes on to build a story of hostile activity in which Rawi was asked to deliver information on the chief of staff's visits to the gym. The facts however are that Rawi has not entered the gym for more than a year, the same year mentioned in the indictment, and I canceled his membership a long time ago because he did not use it. Thus, it is weird to argue that he had in that year any information to give on the chief of staff's visits to the gym and the security around him. The information he knew -- the mere membership of the chief -- was known and not secret, at least to all those who attended the gym. It thus becomes odd to maintain that Rawi monitored the chief of staff's movements given the fact that no such monitoring is mentioned in the indictment itself. In addition, the forum in which Rawi's statement was made was not secret or illegal according to Israeli law and took place in a country that has friendly (albeit not full diplomatic) relations with Israel.
Yet, one should understand the context of the indictment:
First, a month ago it was revealed that an Israeli Jewish soldier penetrated the chief of staff's office and stole his credit card and pistol and sold them to criminals. The Israeli intelligence was embarrassed by this discovery and therefore had to demonstrate that it is doing its work and needed to show an achievement, and as quickly as possible. My son's case, which in other circumstances might have gone without an indictment, was available. It turns out that Rawi and the other Palestinian Israeli attendees of the conference, all of them NDA activists, were under constant surveillance at least since the conference and for about a year. Yet, the timing of my son's arrest, after the credit card affair, shows that it only comes to cover up the intelligence's failure in the latter case. Had my son's alleged spying been real and dangerous the security around the chief of staff would have been tightened or changed and the credit card affair would not have occurred. Had my son's alleged spying been real and dangerous he would have been arrested a long time ago and would not be allowed to leave the country. After all, there were no new developments in the investigation of the case at least since December 2008.
Second, the need for an achievement was even more crucial with the backdrop of the success of Lebanese intelligence in unveiling Israeli spying networks in the country. Again, they needed an achievement to boost the Israeli national morale which sagged after the 2006 war.
Third, this indictment is part and parcel of the attack on Arab political activists who oppose the Zionist policies of oppression. Accordingly, the purpose of such high-profile arrests and indictments is to criminalize Arab political activity and thus transfer the political and ideological struggle from the public arena to courtrooms. It also aims at delegitimizing Arab political activists, restricting their movement, and intimidating their constituency from following in their footsteps or identifying with them.
This intimidation is revealed not only by the orchestrated media coverage but also by the dramatization of the case: a comprehensive and tight gag order, incommunicado detention and orders preventing lawyers from meeting Rawi, closed-to-the-public courtroom proceedings, and most importantly, show-arrests in daylight of Rawi and his friends using a large number of policemen and Shabak agents so that all the town will know and hear. These tactics make it difficult for Rawi to have a fair trial before unbiased judges. Studies and experience show well-entrenched bias against Palestinian citizens in courtrooms in general and in security-related issues in particular. Now with the hysteria in the media it is even harder for Rawi to have his day in court with the presumption of innocence on his side.
The charges chosen by the authorities further reveal the political nature of the indictment. "Contact with a foreign agent" and "delivering information to the enemy" are vaguely and widely construed in Israeli law. That is why it is a convenient tool for the Shabak to prosecute political activists. Behind the veil of "national security" the Shabak enjoys freedom of action unhindered by meaningful judicial review or public scrutiny. The Shabak decides who is a "foreign agent" even retroactively (and a journalist can be considered a "foreign agent," as in the Bishara case). It also has the sole discretion to decide who is the "enemy," but the Arab world is not our enemy and we cannot be expected to ask Arabs we meet abroad to have a security clearance before they talk to us. Moreover, even well-known public facts can be the reason for a legal conviction under this law. In a real democracy, such draconian legislation would be narrowly construed to minimize restrictions on freedom of speech and legitimate political activism.
In recent years, the NDA -- to which both myself and my son are proud to belong -- was a main target of such attacks on political activists in Israel's media and the courtrooms. The party's relationship with the Arab world and the relentless opposition to occupation and oppression are among the reasons for this attack. The accusation of "contact with a foreign agent" against NDA member of Knesset (Israel's parliament) Said Naffa is only one of the last episodes of this attack. Indeed, the indictment itself highlights that Rawi was an NDA activist and the media has emphasized that I, as a lawyer, represented Azmi Bishara and the NDA in legal proceedings when his case became public.
Following Rawi's case, some right-wing lawmakers in the Knesset have already begun inciting against the NDA and Arab citizens in general. One of them asked the Attorney General to look for ways to discontinue state funding for the NDA. It is unsurprising then that with the current right-wing government in Israel, which demands "loyalty" to Zionist narratives and promotes legislation to encroach upon the rights of the Arab citizens, Rawi's case became a jumping board for Zionist extremists to inflame racial hatred.
Rawi's case reveals the predicament of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Rawi's trial is the trial of the NDA and the Arab minority as a whole.
We need all possible help from our friends in our struggle towards freedom and equality.
Attorney Fouad Sultani is the father of Rawi Sultani and a leading figure in the National Democratic Assembly and a board member of Adalah -- The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.
Gaza Fishermen and the Sea: Sharing a Common Sorrow
While I was there, I realized how sad the sea and the fishermen are.
By Ayman Quader - Gaza
Everyday in the news, I hear about the suffering of the Gaza fishermen - one was killed, others wounded, and the Israelis are firing on still others. And I wanted to shed a light on their pain. So I went to the main Gaza port. While I was there, I realized how sad the sea and the fishermen are. Boats are stuck and fishermen are looking at the sea with no hope.
The Palestinian fishermen have been consistently harassed by the regular Israeli attacks on them, as they abuse the fishermen for pursuing their livelihood. Furthermore, they are prevented to work for far distances inside the sea. The allowed distance for them is just around 4.5 Km. Unfortunately, once they reach that distance, they find themselves under Israeli fire.
Around 3000 fishermen are now despondently jobless and in a real tragedy. The tragedy began with the complete blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip. The fishermen are prohibited from going to a deeper and richer area of fishing, and they have been dramatically affected with these restrictions from the Israeli navy forces. Indeed, they now have very low incomes with which to feed their families.
Ismael Kalilo is a 65-year old fisherman in Gaza City, who has spent 50 years of his life in the sea, and now lives in the Beach Camp. "I am totally satisfied to be a fisherman in Gaza, but completely exhausted by the conditions imposed on us."
The aged fisherman is also a father of 8. I asked him how he takes care of his dependents, and how he feeds them: "No one can bear the situation that the fishermen are living with. He should go to the sea and see how much they suffer. We were peacefully fishing before the time of the siege on Gaza, as we just depended on our livelihood. We have become unable to secure even the basic needs of our life.
I asked him about his own experience regarding the Israeli navy forces. He took deep breath, then pointed at his son to tell us the story. Ahmed is 24 years old, and is also a fisherman.
"I was with my boat about a year ago at Sudania coast, north of the Gaza Strip," he said. "With no alert and at 10 pm, I found that the Israeli ship started firing missiles toward my boat, exactly at my net. They ordered me to get back without my net. I tried to save my big net, which costs around $2000, but it was in vain. Then I found myself obliged after staying in the sea from 10am to 7am to get back home, and they took the net - including what I had fished. That even had increased our tragedy, as they took the net which we all depend on for fishing."
"We are passing through a rough time, and we are suffering," said Ismeal, as he took me to see the bullets still in the boats, the fishermen unable to get them repaired. "The siege has suffocated us for almost 3 years."
Ismeal finished his interview with me, calling upon all of those people who claimed humanity, to stand beside the Palestinian people, their besieged people in Gaza, and to take responsibility for ending this daily suffering.- Ayman Quader is a 23 year old writer and activist from the Gaza Strip. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.
Thursday, 3 September 2009
A UN Special Focus on Gaza Under Siege
Gaza has endured a crisis that is reflected in every aspect of life.
By Stephen Lendman - Chicago
In August 2009, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) published a special report titled: "Locked In: The Humanitarian Impact of Two Years of Blockade on the Gaza Strip." It focuses on import and export restrictions, the travel ban on "livelihoods, food security, education, health, shelter, energy and water, and sanitation." It explains how violence and human rights abuses increase the suffering of 1.5 million people.
Following Hamas' January 2006 electoral victory, all outside aid was cut off. Sanctions and an economic embargo were imposed, and the democratically elected government was falsely accused of being a terrorist organization and isolated. Stepped up repression followed as well as IDF attacks, killings, targeted assassinations, property destruction, and more. Gazans have been imprisoned ever since. In silence, the world community sanctions Israeli crimes and shares guilt for their commission.
In June 2007, Israel placed the Territory under siege and imposed an unprecedented blockade on nearly all movement and supplies in and out of the Strip, "triggering a protracted human dignity crisis with negative humanitarian consequences." At its heart is the "degradation (of) living conditions," the erosion of livelihoods, the lack of vital services in the areas of health, water, sanitation and education, and the collapse of essential infrastructure in the wake of Operation Cast Lead.
Over the past several months, Israel allowed in only small amounts of vital goods and services, far below quantities essential enough to relieve a grave humanitarian crisis. Despite the urgings of the UN, ICRC, a few nations, and numerous human rights organizations, Israel continues its blockade that includes:
- The closure of border crossings, including Karni, the largest and best equipped commercial one, except for a conveyor belt for the transfer of inadequate amounts of grains;
- Tight restrictions on the import of industrial, agricultural, construction, and essential to life products, services, and materials;
- Suspension of nearly all exports;
- Restricted amounts of industrial fuel (for Gaza's sole power plant), benzene, diesel, and cooking gas;
- Except for a limited number of humanitarian cases, a ban on Palestinian traffic through Erez, the only passenger crossing to the West Bank;
- Other than intermittent openings, the closure of Rafah, the Egyptian-controlled crossing; and
- Restricted (to close to shore) fishing and accessibility to farmland.
- Gaza's economy was wrecked;
- The UN report way underestimates the number of job losses at 120,000 and unemployment at 40%;
- On May 1, the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce reported that unemployment reached 65%, poverty hit 80%, and the longer the siege continues, the higher these figures will go; in addition, 96% of Gaza's industrial capacity is shuttered, and well over 80% of the population is aid-dependent; yet most get below minimal amounts of everything;
- Gazans have had to shift from a high-nutritional diet to a low-cost cereals, sugar and oil one, "which can lead to micro-nutritional deficiencies, particularly among children and pregnant women;"
- OCHA identified 1,383 (mostly civilian) deaths, including 333 children during Operation Cast Lead;
- Israel's ban on construction materials prevents the rebuilding of homes and other structures;
- Many thousands of Gazans now live with relatives, in tents, or if lucky in rented apartments, much fewer in number post-conflict;
- Inadequate fuel supplies cause up to eight-hour-a-day blackouts for 90% of the population; the other 10% have no power;
- Many thousands have no running water and none of it meets WHO sanitary standards because of high pollution levels; more on that below;
- 80 million liters of raw and partially-treated sewage are discharged daily, thus causing serious sea and underground aquifer pollution, detrimental to human health;
- Medical facilities are severely strapped by shortages of everything plus a lack of essential equipment, drugs, and capacity to handle a growing population; few patients needing specialized treatment are permitted to leave Gaza to get it;
- Education is undermined by over-crowding, a lack of materials for rebuilding and repairs, and shortages of virtually all teaching materials; and
- Post Operation Cast Lead and after over two years under siege, a state of humanitarian crisis exists for most Gazans with continued deterioration daily.
- The Systematic Destruction of Livelihoods
- The combination of unemployment, poverty, and vast areas of Gaza destroyed, damaged, or in disrepair has left most people struggling to survive.
"The private sector has been devastated by the blockade" and conflict. Replacing it are improvised coping mechanisms by Hamas authorities and the growth of the "tunnel economy" discussed below. A May 2008 ICRC survey found 70% of Gazans live on less than $1 dollar a day per person, and around 40% of families at half that amount, excluding whatever humanitarian aid is accessible.
For over two years under siege, average truckloads of goods entering Gaza delivered less than one-fifth the tonnage than in the first five months of 2007. About 70% of it consists of food products because most industrial, construction and other materials are banned or greatly restricted. Currently, 1,700 containers of goods are in Israel or the West Bank, prohibited from entering the Strip. Exports have been totally prohibited except for small amounts of cut flowers and strawberries.
Industry is 96% shut down, and agriculture also has been heavily impacted. What provides the livelihood for 40,000 farmers, herders, fishermen, and farm laborers is severely hurt by a lack of seedlings, livestock, fuel, spare parts, and pesticides for those who use them.
Operation Cast Lead exacerbated already intolerable conditions, according to a Gaza Private Sector Council survey. It reported:
- 268 establishments totally destroyed and another 432 damaged, resulting in millions of dollars in losses;
- 40% of those affected are small and medium-sized industrial companies involved mainly in producing food, textiles, garments, and furniture while the other 60% were commerce, contracting and fuel establishments;
- 20 out of 29 ready-mix concrete factories and 39 other construction-related businesses were destroyed or damaged;
- Extensive losses of productive agricultural assets were sustained.
Farmers and herders now working close to the Israeli border face extreme restrictions and dangers. After Israel's summer 2005 "disengagement," a 150 meter-wide buffer zone was created where Palestinian access is prohibited. Warning shots are fired at farmers working anywhere near it. Then on May 23, 2009, the zone was expanded to 300 meters and at times to 1000 meters on an ad hoc basis.
Since the siege began in June 2007, 33 Palestinian civilians were killed, including 11 children, in border-related incidents. Another 61 were injured, including 13 children. That's besides many others by incursions and targeted assassinations.
Fishermen have also been greatly impacted by being prohibited from fishing beyond three nautical miles from shore - severely undermining their catch because deep waters are most productive, so exclusion caused some to abandon fishing altogether. As a result, monthly tonnage now is around one-fourth as much as pre-siege, and prices are much higher making fish less available and unaffordable for most.
Restrictions on cash entering Gaza were also imposed. The Palestinian Monetary Authority (PMA) estimates that 43 bank branches need about 200 million New Israeli Shekels (NIS) monthly for regular needs, while international agencies require additional amounts for theirs. Severe cash shortages put added pressure on Gaza's economy. Salaries can't be paid regularly, and daily affairs can't be conducted normally.
At times of duress, innovative solutions are employed. Gaza's tunnel economy is one - over 1,000 into Egypt for vital goods, including food, fuel, medicines, livestock, construction materials, generators, other basic necessities, and even cash. This constitutes around 90% of economic activity and employs thousands of Gazans digging, smuggling, and transporting essential items. Tunnels are about three-tenths of a mile long, as deep as 50 feet, require several months of hard labor, and cost from $50,000 - $90,000 to build. As long as the siege persists, they provide a lifeline for essential goods that are still way short of what's needed. When Israel bombs and destroys some, Gazans rebuild - to survive and keep resisting an intolerable situation.
OCHA reports that over 80% of Gazans are food-insecure (other estimates say 96%), up from about 50% in 2006 after Hamas was democratically elected. "Food insecurity exists when people lack sustainable physical or economic access to safe, nutritious and socially acceptable food to maintain a healthy and productive life." It's the daily ordeal for Gazans because of the siege and destruction of agricultural land, crops and assets during Operation Cast Lead. Higher food prices have also hurt badly as well as restrictions on what Israel lets in and their amounts.
On March 22, 2009, Israel nominally lifted food entry restrictions, but its decision remains unimplemented. Many items are still prohibited and most in short supply even though more staple items are permitted. Still, over 80% of Gazans remain aid-dependent, mainly from the World Food Program and UNWRA, and most have sub-nutritional diets.
Pervasive Insecurity and Lack of Civilian Protection
Under occupation, Gazans have experienced it for over 40 years, but especially under siege with its regular cycles of violence and constant threats to their well-being. Post-imposition in June 2007, over 2,000 Palestinians were killed and another 6,700 wounded. Three weeks of Operation Cast Lead took the greatest toll in lives lost, numbers wounded, and property of all kinds destroyed or damaged.
Israeli attacks continue intermittently, and Gazans remain at risk from numerous conflict-related factors, including unexploded ordnance (UXO) and other hazardous residues from legal and illegal munitions. In addition, large rubble amounts contain asbestos and dangerous substances that pose a serious threat to human health.
Reconstruction of Homes Prevented - Thousands of Families Still Displaced
Israel prohibits construction material imports, including cement, gravel, wood, pipes, glass, steel bars, and more compared to an average of 7,400 monthly truckloads pre-siege. Israel calls them "dual use" items that Hamas can use for military purposes. Their ban, in fact, is to harass, hold 1.5 million Gazans hostage, break their will to resist, hope many will give up and leave, and for those who stay destroy them by slow-motion genocide.
Besides essential food and medical care, Gazans' most urgent need is for construction materials to repair and rebuild homes and other structures now in ruin. A joint UNWRA - UNDP survey showed that 3,540 homes were totally destroyed, 6,400 heavily damaged, and another 52,900 less so. As of July 2009, many thousands are still displaced, their lives severely disrupted, especially for those living in tents.
"Anecdotal evidence suggests that children are among the worst affected by displacement, including many who were relocated to alternative schools closer to their place of alternative accommodation."
Besides homes, many thousands of other structures need to be rebuilt or repaired, including many with major damage. But without construction materials, it's impossible except for rudimentary, make-do ingenuity such as efforts getting the most out of whatever materials are available.
In other ways, humanitarian agencies help out by supplying blankets, tents, mattresses, clothing kits, kitchen sets, and other items Israel lets in. Some families also get small cash assistance through UNWRA for refugees and UNDP for others, but serving the needs of 1.5 million people means precious little gets done overall.
Despite the obstacles and Israel's hostility, a number of organizations, including UN agencies, are actively seeking ways to help, including initiating vitally needed reconstruction. The UN Special Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory asked Israel's Defense Minister to open border crossings and let in construction materials to begin work on housing, health and education facilities, suspended for over two years. Thus far, no response was received, but not enough pressure is put on for it, nor does any come from nations mattering most like America.
A Protracted Energy Crisis
After Gaza was declared a "hostile entity" in September 2007, Israel cut the amount and types of fuel let in, including benzene, diesel, cooking gas, and industrial fuel. A protracted crisis followed affecting key services gravely and Gazans' ability to run their households.
Electricity is the main problem because Gaza's sole power plant can't supply enough of it. Production levels were previously cut after Israel destroyed six electric transformers in June 2006 during Operation Summer Rain in Gaza and Operation Change of Direction against Hezbollah in Lebanon during which vast amounts of carnage were inflicted and many hundreds of lives lost in both conflicts combined.
At full capacity, Gaza's power plant supplies less than one-third of the Strip's needs. Lacking enough fuel, it's operating at three-fourths capacity at best. When available, the rest is bought mainly from Israel plus smaller amounts from Egypt. As a result, public institutions rely heavily on backup generators and other devices that are extremely dependent on a spotty availability of spare parts, so are very vulnerable to breakdowns.
A Challenged Health System
Gaza's ability to deliver proper health care is severely compromised by a lack of virtually everything, including building materials to expand for a growing population. Power shortages force suspension or postponement of vital surgeries because of the risk to patients. Proper medical equipment is in short supply, and what's available is hampered by a lack of spare parts and the ability to get them. Inadequate amounts of pharmaceuticals and other supplies are a constant problem. As of July 2009, 77 essential drugs and 140 disposable items were out of stock with no easy way to replace them due to blockage restrictions.
In addition, few patients can leave Gaza for vital treatment elsewhere. Getting approval is time consuming, arduous and uncertain, thus compounding a dire situation, even for the severely ill who without access to a full-functioning facility have little chance to survive. Some give up after trying. Others die awaiting approval that doesn't come. The Gaza Ministry of Interior estimates that hundreds of patients can't travel due to the lack of a passport alone and no simple way to get one.
During and in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead, Gazan medical teams were severely challenged to work around the clock under dangerous conditions to provide care for the hundreds of patients in need, many with very severe injuries. They performed courageously and tirelessly treating an estimated 5,300 injured, many with multiple and complex wounds. They also treated hundreds with chronic illnesses, but not optimally given the lack of vital resources.
Psychological trauma also proved challenging, especially for children given the lack of safe havens and almost constant bombardments and ground attacks. As a result, people lost "the most basic sense of security, which is one of the foundations of overall psychological well-being." WHO estimates that from 20,000 - 50,000 will suffer long-term consequences, and for some it will be permanent.
Problems, especially for children, are sleeping disorders, loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating, inability to conduct normal activities like dressing, washing, household chores, and for about one-fourth of them repeated bed-wetting.
Operation Cast Lead's Effect on Women
Very negatively given the vast amount of destruction, loss of life, and disabling injuries to loved ones. "The inability of women to carry out their normal (caretaker) roles significantly contributed to their psychological suffering." A UN survey showed they feared disability and dependency more than death, and pregnant women were especially affected. Miscarriages, neonatal deaths, and premature births rose sharply, and obstetric complications necessitated a greater number of Caesareans. Also, women giving birth during the conflict were discharged within 30 minutes to free beds for the critically injured. The increased trauma to mothers and newborns caused further complications.
Water and Sanitation Infrastructure: A Health and Environmental Hazard
Inadequate resources prevent water and sanitation maintenance, creating a significant public health and environmental problem. As mentioned above, around 80 million liters of untreated and partially-treated sewage pollutes sea water and underground aquifers. In addition, the Gaza wastewater treatment plant with a daily 32 million liter capacity now handles about 50 million liters. As a result, discharged effluent contains twice the amount of biological pollution and suspended solids, and a project to upgrade the plant's capacity to 70 million daily liters remains in its early planning stage because of siege-related restrictions.
Contaminated seawater along coastal areas poses a severe health hazard for all Gazans through potentially contaminated sea food as well to people using beaches for recreation. Aquifer contamination is just as worrisome as it's Gaza's sole fresh water resource. Over time, it's become increasingly salinized and polluted, now exacerbated by higher levels. "Currently, only 5 - 10 percent of the extracted water is considered drinkable," according to WHO standards, and the Khan Younis governate is one of the worst affected areas.
Detected water well nitrate levels were over three times the safe WHO level making the water unfit to drink. Consumption with concentrations this high compromises the transmission of oxygen in the blood, potentially causing lethal "blue-baby syndrome" in infants. Poor sanitation is also responsible for greater levels of watery diarrheal disease (WDD) among children aged 9 - 12 months. In Khan Younis, 88% of them are affected and in north Gaza 77%.
The siege and Operation Cast Lead have severely affected education in Gaza. At least 280 schools were damaged, including 18 totally destroyed. Construction materials aren't available for rebuilding or repairs. At the end of the last academic year, 88% of UNRWA schools and 82% of government ones operated on shifts to accommodate growing numbers of children. Students in north Gaza may have no school to attend because of conflict-caused destruction.
Power outages and lack of essential educational items are hugely disruptive, even though some amounts of previously banned items now get in. The pre-conflict effects on students were evident in their academic performance as only 20% of 16,000 sixth graders passed standardized math, English, science, and Arabic tests.
Higher education is also impacted. Gaza has five universities offering a limited undergraduate curriculum and even fewer post-graduate choices. Yet Israel prohibits students from exiting Gaza to pursue their studies. Even seven Fulbright recipients were denied until a public outcry loosened restrictions to let a limited number of students go abroad on condition they have a scholarship from a recognized university and a diplomat from the host country accompanies them through the Erez Crossing, across Israel and the West Bank until entering Jordan.
From July - September 2008, Israel let 70 students leave Gaza through Israel. Hundreds of others not awarded scholarships or unable to get diplomatic escorts were denied, even though a few exited through Rafah to Egypt from where they continued to planned destinations.
For over two years under siege, including months post-conflict, Gaza has endured "a protracted (humanitarian) crisis that is reflected in almost every aspect of daily life:" their livelihoods, income, enough food, too little of the nutritious kinds, medical care for the seriously ill, enough electricity and fuel, no homes for many thousands, the ability to rebuild, and other collective punishments.
Pre-siege, over 4,000 products, commodities, medicines, materials, and other items entered freely. Now it's around three to four dozen in limited quantities, gradually being increased to include small amounts of others. Yet most basics are denied - most food items, medicines called "dual use," light bulbs, fabrics, needles, candles, matches, mattresses, blankets and sheets, cutlery, books, coffee and tea, cigarettes, clothing and shoes, and much more, things posing no threat to Israel or planned for "dual use."
As a result, most Gazans "report a growing sense of being trapped: physically, intellectually and emotionally." Their ability to cope and survive is severely challenged. Efforts by humanitarian organizations are no match for Israel's malicious intransigency. The UN's most senior humanitarian official, John Holmes, expressed frustration saying:
"Protection, food, water, healthcare, and shelter are basic human needs, not bargaining chips. This fact must be recognized by all parties responsible for the immense suffering in Gaza."
Many others express similar sentiments to marshal support for global action, hold Israel accountable under international law, free Gazans now entrapped, and end an illegal occupation so Palestinians can live freely on their own land without fear.
- Stephen Lendman is a research associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago. 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. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Esta é uma conversa imaginária descrita, em 2 de Agosto passado, por Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, escritor, Prémio Nobel da Paz, entre ele e Barack Obama, Presidente dos Estados Unidos da América, à mesa de um café argentino, que foi publicada no site da Adital -Agencia de Información Fray Tito para América Latina.
A publicação que aqui fazemos é parcial, quem a quiser ler na totalidade basta seguir o link acima indicado.
Invité a Barack Obama a tomar un café en el tradicional Café Tortoni, en la Av. De Mayo, en Buenos Aires. Llegó bastante agitado y preocupado desde Washington, dijo que la Casa Blanca está llena de fantasmas y que hay días que no puede dormir, que hacen mucho ruido y que por la mañana cuando va al Salón Oval, encuentra todo revuelto. Yo no creo en los fantasmas, pero que los hay, los hay.
Estimado Barack, siento que tengas tantos problemas; aquí también tenemos nuestros fantasmas que recorren el país haciendo estragos y revuelven todo. Me alegro que estés aquí y podamos conversar tranquilos. El café es bueno, aunque esperaba convidarte con unos mates amargos de los nuestros, pero considerando que ya tienes muchas amarguras como el golpe de Estado en Honduras; no quiero que te amargues más.Vas a necesitar un guía espiritual que haga un exorcismo en la Casa Blanca y expulse los fantasmas porque te van a complicar la vida.
Ahí están los militares hondureños que corren al trote a Washington para informar que cumplieron las órdenes de dar el golpe de Estado al Presidente Zelaya, según lo programado. Quieren la recompensa y las palmaditas de aprobación en la espalda, están como los cachorros que esperan que el amo les haga una caricia y le tire un hueso.
Muchacho, estos hechos ponen en evidencia que llegaste al gobierno, pero no al poder. Debes reconocer que te dieron una patada en el trasero; no tienen piedad y te van a dar con todo. ¿Que tal el café, te sienta bien?
El golpe cívico - militar en Honduras es una amenaza para todo el continente, buscan imponer la dicta-blanda y es un test para saber la reacción de gobiernos y sociedades. Me parece bien que hayas declarado el no reconocimiento del cuerpo diplomático de la dictadura hondureña. Es un gesto claro en defensa del derecho. Pero bien sabes que las cosas no son lo que son, lo que aparenta no es la realidad. La Secretaria de Estado Hillary Clinton dice que Zelaya comete una imprudencia si regresa a Honduras.
Debe saber que la dignidad tiene sus costos y Zelaya no puede quedarse tranquilo sin hacer nada y esperar que Hillary le diga que tiene que hacer. Volver a imponer los golpes de Estado es peligroso para todos.
Es necesario tomar decisiones claras y concretas, ayudar a que el presidente Zelaya retorne al cargo de presidente de Honduras, sin condiciones y sin imposiciones del Pentágono, la CIA y el Departamento de Estado ¿Sabes de la brutal represión de los militares hondureños contra el pueblo, de la persecución y censura contra los periodistas? Para justificar lo injustificable la dictadura de Micheletti, acusa al presidente de Venezuela Hugo Chávez de todos los males. Bien sabes que la CIA se especializa en desestabilizar gobiernos y provocar golpes de Estado.
Sí, no pongas cara de asombro, no puedes ignorar lo que pasa. ¿Dime Barack, para qué quiere EE.UU. poner tres bases militares más en Colombia?- No me digas que es para luchar contra el narcotráfico, eso no lo cree tú, ni nadie.
Me acabo de enterar que tu gobierno y el Comando Sur invierten millones de dólares en promover la "democracia" en Venezuela, Bolivia y el Ecuador, países que están construyendo otros paradigmas de país, que no son justamente lo que les interesa a los EE UU.
¿Dime Barack, vas a continuar la misma política de los anteriores gobiernos, o quieres cambiar y construir una democracia que signifique derecho e igualdad para todos y el respeto a la vida y la dignidad de los pueblos? Te sugiero que todo ese dinero que quieren invertir en "la democracia que ustedes piensan", la inviertas en fortalecer la democracia dentro de los EEUU, que tiene muchos problemas de discriminación, pobreza, hambre y desempleo- ¿Te parece justo o no?...
Buenos Aires, Café Tortoni, a 2 días del mes de Agosto del 2009
Liberation, not a fictitious Palestinian "state"
Hasan Abu Nimah and Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 2 September 2009
|Appointed PA prime minister Salam Fayyad has been showered with Western support as the US pushes for the creation of a fictitious Palestinian state under Israeli control. (Mustafa Abu Dayeh/MaanImages)|
Late last month, Salam Fayyad, the appointed Palestinian Authority (PA) prime minister in Ramallah, made a surprise announcement: he declared his intention to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip before the end of 2011 regardless of the outcome of negotiations with Israel.
Fayyad told the London Times that he would work to build "facts on the ground, consistent with having our state emerge as a fact that cannot be denied." His plan was further elaborated in a lengthy document grandly titled "Program of the Thirteenth Government of the Palestinian National Authority."
The plan contains all sorts of ambitious ideas: an international airport in the Jordan Valley, new rail links to neighboring states, generous tax incentives to attract foreign investment, and of course strengthening the "security forces." It also speaks boldly of liberating the Palestinian economy from its dependence on Israel, and reducing dependence on foreign aid.
This may sound attractive to some, but Fayyad has neither the political clout nor the financial means to propose such far-reaching plans without a green light from Washington or Tel Aviv.
Fayyad aims to project an image of a competent Palestinian administration already mastering the craft of running a state. He boasts, for instance, that the PA he heads has worked to "develop effective institutions of government based on the principles of good governance, accountability and transparency."
But what is really taking shape in the West Bank today is a police state, where all sources of opposition or resistance -- real or suspected -- to either the PA regime, or the Israeli occupation are being systematically repressed by US-funded and trained Palestinian "security forces" in full coordination with Israel. Gaza remains under tight siege because of its refusal to submit to this regime.
In describing the Palestinian utopia he hopes to create, Fayyad's plan declares that "Palestine will be a stable democratic state with a multi-party political system. Transfer of governing authority is smooth, peaceful and regular in accordance with the will of the people, expressed through free and fair elections conducted in accordance with the law."
A perfect opportunity to demonstrate such an exemplary transfer would have been right after the January 2006 election which as the entire world knows Hamas won fairly and cleanly. Instead, those who monopolize the PA leadership today colluded with outside powers first to cripple and overthrow the elected Hamas government, and then the "national unity government" formed by the Mecca Agreement in early 2007, entrenching the current internal Palestinian division. (Fayyad's own party won just two percent at the 2006 election, and his appointment as prime minister by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas was never -- as required by law -- approved by the Palestinian Legislative Council, dozens of whose elected members remain behind Israeli prison bars.)
From 1994 to 2006, more than eight billion US dollars were pumped into the Palestinian economy, making Palestinians the most aid-dependent people on earth, as Anne Le More showed in her important book International Assistance to the Palestinians after Oslo: Political Guilt; Wasted Money (London, Routledge, 2008). The PA received this aid ostensibly to build Palestinian institutions, improve socioeconomic development and support the creation of an independent state. The result however is that Palestinians are more destitute and aid-dependent than ever before, their institutions are totally dysfunctional, and their state remains a distant fantasy.
PA corruption and mismanagement played a big part in squandering this wealth, but by far the largest wealth destroyer was and remains the Israeli occupation. Contrary to what Fayyad imagines, you cannot "end the occupation, despite the occupation."
A telling fact Le More reveals is that the previous "programs" of the PA (except those offered by the Hamas-led governments) were written and approved by international donor agencies and officials and then given to the PA to present back to the same donors who wrote them as if they were actually written by the PA!
Everything we see suggests Fayyad's latest scheme follows exactly the same pattern. What is particularly troubling this time is that the plan appears to coincide with a number of other initiatives and trial balloons that present a real danger to the prospects for Palestinian liberation from permanent Israeli subjugation.
Recently, the International Middle East Media Center, an independent Palestinian news organization, published what it said was the leaked outline of a peace plan to be presented by US President Barack Obama.
That plan included international armed forces in most of the Palestinian "state"; Israeli annexation of large parts of East Jerusalem; that "All Palestinian factions would be dissolved and transformed into political parties"; all large Israeli settlements would remain under permanent Israeli control; the Palestinian state would be largely demilitarized and Israel would retain control of its airspace; intensified Palestinian-Israeli "security coordination"; and the entity would not be permitted to have military alliances with other regional countries.
On the central issue of the right of return for Palestinian refugees, the alleged Obama plan allows only an agreed number of refugees to return, not to their original homes, but only to the West Bank, particularly to the cities of Ramallah and Nablus.
It is impossible to confirm that this leaked document actually originates with the Obama administration. What gives that claim credibility, however, is the plan's very close resemblance to a published proposal sent to Obama last November by a bipartisan group of US elder statesmen headed by former US national security advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Moreover, recent press reports indicate a lively debate within the Obama Administration about whether the US should itself publish specific proposals for a final settlement once negotiations resume; so there is little doubt that concrete proposals are circulating.
Indeed there is little of substance to distinguish these various plans from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's concept of "economic peace" and a demilitarized Palestinian statelet under overall Israeli control, with no right of return for refugees. And, since all seem to agree that the Jordan Valley -- land and sky -- would remain under indefinite Israeli control, so would Fayyad's airport.
Similar gimmicks have been tried before: who remembers all the early Oslo years' hullabaloo about the Gaza International Airport that operated briefly under strict Israeli control before Israel destroyed it, and the promised Gaza seaport whose construction Israel forbade?
There are two linked explanations for why Fayyad's plan was launched now. US Middle East envoy George Mitchell has repeatedly defined his goal as a "prompt resumption and early conclusion" of negotiations. If the kinds of recycled ideas coming from the alleged Obama plan, the Scowcroft-Brzezinski document, or Netanyahu, are to have any chance, they need to look as if there is a Palestinian constituency for them. It is Fayyad's role to provide this.
The second explanation relates to the ongoing struggle over who will succeed Mahmoud Abbas as president of the PA. It has become clear that Fayyad, a former World Bank official unknown to Palestinians before he was boosted by the George W. Bush Administration, appears to be the current favorite of the US and other PA sponsors. Channeling more aid through Fayyad may be these donors' way of strengthening Fayyad against challengers from Abbas' Fatah faction (Fayyad is not a member of Fatah) who have no intention of relinquishing their chokehold on the PA patronage machine.
Many in the region and beyond hoped the Obama Administration would be a real honest broker, at last bringing American pressure to bear on Israel, so that Palestinians might be liberated. But instead, the new administration is acting as an efficient laundry service for Israeli ideas; first they become American ones, and then a Palestinian puppet is brought in to wear them.
This is not the first scheme aimed at extinguishing Palestinian rights under the guise of a "peace process," though it is most disappointing that the Obama Administration seems to have learned nothing from the failures of its predecessors. But just as before, the Palestinian people in their country and in the Diaspora will stand stubbornly in the way of these efforts. They know that real justice, not symbolic and fictitious statehood, remains the only pillar on which peace can be built.
Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations.
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).
A version of this article first appeared in The Jordan Times and is reprinted with the authors' permission.