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"...the flagrant violation of international humanitarian law is quietly set aside while the carnage continues and the bodies pile up."


Richard Falk

Understanding the Gaza Catastrophe

Richard Falk

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories

Huffington Post

January 2, 2009 


For eighteen months the entire 1.5 million people of Gaza experienced a punishing blockade imposed by Israel, and a variety of traumatizing challenges to the normalcy of daily life. A flicker of hope emerged some six months ago when an Egyptian arranged truce produced an effective ceasefire that cut Israeli casualties to zero despite the cross-border periodic firing of homemade rockets that fell harmlessly on nearby Israeli territory, and undoubtedly caused anxiety in the border town of Sderot. During the ceasefire the Hamas leadership in Gaza repeatedly offered to extend the truce, even proposing a ten-year period and claimed a receptivity to a political solution based on acceptance of Israel's 1967 borders. Israel ignored these diplomatic initiatives, and failed to carry out its side of the ceasefire agreement that involved some easing of the blockade that had been restricting the entry to Gaza of food, medicine, and fuel to a trickle.


Israel also refused exit permits to students with foreign fellowship awards and to Gazan journalists and respected NGO representatives. At the same time, it made it increasingly difficult for journalists to enter, and I was myself expelled from Israel a couple of weeks ago when I tried to enter to carry out my UN job of monitoring respect for human rights in occupied Palestine, that is, in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as Gaza. Clearly, prior to the current crisis, Israel used its authority to prevent credible observers from giving accurate and truthful accounts of the dire humanitarian situation that had been already documented as producing severe declines in the physical condition and mental health of the Gazan population, especially noting malnutrition among children and the absence of treatment facilities for those suffering from a variety of diseases. The Israeli attacks were directed against a society already in grave condition after a blockade maintained during the prior 18 months.


As always in relation to the underlying conflict, some facts bearing on this latest crisis are murky and contested, although the American public in particular gets 99% of its information filtered through an exceedingly pro-Israeli media lens. Hamas is blamed for the breakdown of the truce by its supposed unwillingness to renew it, and by the alleged increased incidence of rocket attacks. But the reality is more clouded. There was no substantial rocket fire from Gaza during the ceasefire until Israel launched an attack last November 4th directed at what it claimed were Palestinian militants in Gaza, killing several Palestinians. It was at this point that rocket fire from Gaza intensified. Also, it was Hamas that on numerous public occasions called for extending the truce, with its calls never acknowledged, much less acted upon, by Israeli officialdom. Beyond this, attributing all the rockets to Hamas is not convincing either. A variety of independent militia groups operate in Gaza, some such as the Fatah-backed al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade are anti-Hamas, and may even be sending rockets to provoke or justify Israeli retaliation. It is well confirmed that when US-supported Fatah controlled Gaza's governing structure, it was unable to stop rocket attacks despite a concerted effort to do so.




What this background suggests strongly is that Israel launched its devastating attacks, starting on December 27, not simply to stop the rockets or in retaliation, but also for a series of unacknowledged reasons. It was evident for several weeks prior to the Israeli attacks that the Israeli military and political leaders were preparing the public for large-scale military operations against the Hamas. The timing of the attacks seemed prompted by a series of considerations: most of all, the interest of political contenders, the Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in demonstrating their toughness prior to national elections scheduled for February, but now possibly postponed until military operations cease. Such Israeli shows of force have been a feature of past Israeli election campaigns, and on this occasion especially, the current government was being successfully challenged by Israel's notoriously militarist politician, Benjamin Netanyahu, for its supposed failures to uphold security. Reinforcing these electoral motivations was the little concealed pressure from the Israeli military commanders to seize the opportunity in Gaza to erase the memories of their failure to destroy Hezbollah in the devastating Lebanon War of 2006 that both tarnished Israel's reputation as a military power and led to widespread international condemnation of Israel for the heavy bombardment of undefended Lebanese villages, disproportionate force, and extensive use of cluster bombs against heavily populated areas.


Respected and conservative Israeli commentators go further. For instance, the prominent historian, Benny Morris writing in the New York Times a few days ago, relates the campaign in Gaza to a deeper set of forebodings in Israel that he compares to the dark mood of the public that preceded the 1967 War when Israelis felt deeply threatened by Arab mobilizations on their borders. Morris insists that despite Israeli prosperity of recent years, and relative security, several factors have led Israel to act boldly in Gaza: the perceived continuing refusal of the Arab world to accept the existence of Israel as an established reality; the inflammatory threats voiced by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad together with Iran's supposed push to acquire nuclear weapons, the fading memory of the Holocaust combined with growing sympathy in the West with the Palestinian plight, and the radicalization of political movements on Israel's borders in the form of Hezbollah and Hamas. In effect, Morris argues that Israel is trying via the crushing of Hamas in Gaza to send a wider message to the region that it will stop at nothing to uphold its claims of sovereignty and security.


There are two conclusions that emerge: the people of Gaza are being severely victimized for reasons remote from the rockets and border security concerns, but seemingly to improve election prospects of current leaders now facing defeat, and to warn others in the region that Israel will use overwhelming force whenever its interests are at stake.


That such a human catastrophe can happen with minimal outside interference also shows the weakness of international law and the United Nations, as well as the geopolitical priorities of the important players. The passive support of the United States government for whatever Israel does is again the critical factor, as it was in 2006 when it launched its aggressive war against Lebanon. What is less evident is that the main Arab neighbors, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, with their extreme hostility toward Hamas that is viewed as backed by Iran, their main regional rival, were also willing to stand aside while Gaza was being so brutally attacked, with some Arab diplomats even blaming the attacks on Palestinian disunity or on the refusal of Hamas to accept the leadership of Mamoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority.


The people of Gaza are victims of geopolitics at its inhumane worst: producing what Israel itself calls a 'total war' against an essentially defenseless society that lacks any defensive military capability whatsoever and is completely vulnerable to Israeli attacks mounted by F-16 bombers and Apache helicopters. What this also means is that the flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, as set forth in the Geneva Conventions, is quietly set aside while the carnage continues and the bodies pile up. It additionally means that the UN is once more revealed to be impotent when its main members deprive it of the political will to protect a people subject to unlawful uses of force on a large scale. Finally, this means that the public can shriek and march all over the world, but that the killing will go on as if nothing is happening. The picture being painted day by day in Gaza is one that begs for renewed commitment to international law and the authority of the UN Charter, starting here in the United States, especially with a new leadership that promised its citizens change, including a less militarist approach to diplomatic leadership.


Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-falk/understanding-the-gaza-ca_b_154777.html

 

 
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Why is Israel afraid of a few boats?
By Yousef Munayyer

The Jerusalem Fund: The Palestine Center
27 May 2010
This originally appeared as an article at Foreignpolicy.com.


Hundreds of activists are on their way to the blockaded Gaza strip via a "flotilla" of boats carrying humanitarian and reconstruction supplies, which are badly lacking in the impoverished Palestinian territory.



Israel has promised to intercept the good-willed boats and arrest and deport the activists. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has exerted great effort in the past few days to convince onlookers to this confrontation on the high seas that the activists carrying humanitarian goods are terrorist sympathizers, and that everything is just fine and dandy in the Gaza Strip. The ministry has portrayed Israel (the country enforcing the blockade of Gaza's ports) as a benevolent victim, who despite the threat from Gaza's Hamas government is still caring for the civilian population.

There comes a point when an oppressive regime's propaganda crosses a threshold from mere lies to utter lunacy so extreme, in fact, that objective onlookers find it almost comical. This point came yesterday when the Government Press Office disseminated a link to a Gaza restaurant which appears to be luxurious. So what Israel is essentially saying is: "There you have it. There is a website for a restaurant with cloth napkins in Gaza. How can there be any problems?"

The reality is, of course, that the situation in Gaza is very dire. A slew of reports from human rights organizations attest to the hardships faced by most Palestinians in Gaza. In the densely populated strip where 80 percent of the population are refugees, a similar percentage relies on international aid organizations for daily sustenance. That number was only ten percent a decade ago. That's how bad things have become. Malnutrition in children has reached ten percent and critical medicines are not available, according to the World Health Organization.

But no one is starving to death in Gaza--at least not suddenly. A tunnel industry has evolved and become the main supplier for most goods. That's all part of the plan. Israel seeks to squeeze the strip to the point of near catastrophe, bad enough to make people suffer, but just short of having to take responsibility for it. It's a form of torture kind of like water-boarding under the Bush administration: the objective is to bring the subject to the edge and break his will, but not kill him (lest they be charged with murder). But just because Gaza's civilian population has managed to keep its collective head above water doesn't mean things should be this way.

Like life in most prisons, if you "know a guy," anything is available for a price. Generators, for example, are in high demand because of the shortages of electricity. The shortages are due to the destruction of Gaza's only power plant in 2006 by Israeli jets. Since then, Israel has never permitted the full reconstruction of the power plant, forcing perpetual dependence of Gaza on Israel and Egypt, who take an eye-dropper approach to supplying Gaza with electricity. But even though generators smuggled through Gaza's tunnels provide some light, there is also a dark and often unheard downside that comes with them: explosions and fires. Several reports in the past few years of civilians being killed or maimed from overworked and exploding generators have become common. These are just some of the siege-related causalities we do not hear about.

The 10,000 tons of supplies aboard the Gaza aid ships are a drop in the bucket for what Gaza really needs. Israel's spokesmen have pointed out that they have permitted the entry of supplies in the past and argued that the aid boats are unnecessary. The reality is that aid which Israel does permit into Gaza is purchased by Palestinians, vetted and often rejected or held up for months. Israel has calculated the precise minimum necessary caloric intake for Palestinians in Gaza, and has often rejected things like pasta, lentils and coffee. So it's easy to understand why international humanitarian organizations and the activists aboard the aid boats are not about to trust the welfare of Gaza's civilians to Israel's benevolence.

The aid boats will have a far greater impact, however, than the 10,000 tons of aid they are bringing to Gaza. The aid boats compel us to have this discussion, a discussion that Israel desperately wants to avoid at a time when its international reputation has never been lower.

Hundreds of unarmed civilians carrying humanitarian aid are approaching a blockaded piece of land where 1.5 million civilians suffer from a life of uncertainty and despair, and Israel is going to stop them. While much of the focus on the Israeli-Palestinian issue has been on the settlements, the failed peace process and the long-awaited restart of talks about talks, Gaza has been forgotten. To their credit, the few hundred non-violent activists-turned-sailors have found a way to maximize their power as individuals to force one of the world's most powerful regimes into a corner. Whether the boats make it to Gaza or not, this is a tremendous victory for civil society in international affairs.

Headlines and stories covering this confrontation at sea will shift the focus back to Gaza, even if only for a few hours. For Israel, Gaza is the tortured and famished step-child it locks in the basement when visitors arrive, and the activists on these boats seek to expose what Israel is doing in the strip: imposing a draconian siege to collectively punish civilians for political aims.


Yousef Munayyer is Executive Director of the Palestine Center. This policy brief may be used without permission but with proper attribution.

The views in this brief are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.


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Tribute to the people of Gaza

by Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate


May 27, 2010

National Solidarity Movement


I never cease to be amazed at the power of the human spirit to survive. During my last visit to Gaza in October 2008 I was amazed and deeply moved by the power of the people I witnessed. In a triumph of hope over adversity and tremendous suffering, love still abides.


(Right: Mairead Maguire. Photo by Michael Collopy.)


Gaza comprises a small strip of land 27 miles long and 6 miles wide. This coastal strip is bordered by Israel on the one side, the Mediterranean Sea on the other and to a lesser extent by Egypt at the southern end. With one and a half million inhabitants Gaza is the fifth most densely populated place on the planet, 50% of which are under the age of 18. Two thirds of the total population hold refugees status, and comprise the victims and their descendants of previous acts of Israeli aggression.


Gaza’s people have suffered an Israeli occupation for over 40 years and even though Israel withdrew from Gaza in August 2005 it has continued to control every aspect of life in the tiny coastal strip. Hamas was democratically elected to power in the 2006 Palestinian elections and has governed the Gaza strip since the summer of 2007. It was at this time in 2007 that Israel commenced its devastating blockade of the strip. Essentially the blockade represents a draconian policy by Israel. A minimum amount of basic subsistence goods are allowed to enter the strip with the intention of holding a malnourished population just short of outright starvation. Coupled to the severe food shortages are the restrictions / ban on basic essentials such a medicine and desperately needed reconstruction materials. This blockade constitutes “Collective Punishment” of a civilian population an act illegal under Article 33 of the fourth Geneva Convention. But the Culture of Impunity, under which Israel operates, means Israel continues to ignore International Law with many of the World’s Governments and international bodies’ remaining silent.


In the words of one Israeli Professor, Israel has made Gaza into the largest open air prison in the world. Whether by land, sea or air the one and a half million inhabitants of Gaza are trapped, their 6 border crossings are closed (including the Raffah crossing with Egypt), their airport destroyed and their port and coastal waters shut down by a naval blockade. The people are forced to live a suffocating life of misery and hardship. The closure has impacted every imaginable aspect of their existence both physical and emotional. Lives are constantly lost for lack of access to hospital treatments unavailable in Gaza. Bright and willing students are deprived of an opportunity to progress their studies; places offered abroad in universities can not be accepted as student are unable to leave. The Israeli policy of divide, blockade and conquer used against the Palestinian people strikes right to the heart to family life. Families in Gaza can no longer visit their relatives in the West Bank. Wives are torn from husbands and husbands from wives. Many are forced to live apart some in the West Bank others in Gaza. All across the Occupied Palestinian Territories there is a common shared experience of humiliation. The West Bank is constantly shrinking under a deluge of illegal Israeli Settlements and new settlement construction. The countless thousands of Gazans left homeless after the Israeli bombings can find a paler shadows of the same existence among their friends and family in East Jerusalem where forced evictions and house demolitions are a daily occurrence.


The children of Gaza are the ones who suffer most. During my visit to Gaza in October, 2008 I went to visit the area of Khankhounis. In all my years of visiting areas of poverty and devastation, I have never witnessed anything so terrible. The area had been hit by floods which had washed away the roads forming a river which flooded the houses, of many hundreds of people, with mud. We walked through home after home completely destroyed and yet some families made vain attempts to salvage what they could and live in the midst of this horrific destruction. The children played on the destroyed roads and footpaths, amidst raw sewerage and the mothers did their best to protect their young ones all too aware of the dangers of disease lurking in the open puddles which, children being children persisted in playing in. Community leaders explained that they were unable to reconstruct homes, roads and repair open sewers as Israel would not permit the materials and equipment to enter Gaza. Teachers had no writing materials, the doctors not enough medicines and the children were suffering from malnutrition and showing signs of stunted growth. One father asked ‘if I give you some money, next time the Free Gaza boat comes in will you bring in some milk, the children have no milk’. (In June, 2009, twenty-one of us tried to sail on the Freegaza boat to Gaza, but our boat was hi-jacked in International waters by Israeli navy and we were all forcibly taken to Israel, put in prison for a week and then deported).


Since 2008 all of this suffering has only magnified and worsened due to the shattering effect of operation “Cast Lead” Israel’s brutal attach on Gaza which took place in December/January 2008/2009. Disease from raw sewerage and shortage of medicines are not the worst things to affect the children these days. During the Israeli assault on Gaza, bombs and white phosphorus were dropped on Palestinian civilians and of the l,400 people who died, over 400 were children. The agricultural land is now radiated with depleted uranium and holds it own terrible dangers for the people of Gaza. Many who depended on the land for their livelihood have seen their stock and crops destroyed and the soil poisoned.


Where is the hope? Where is the love in the midst of such suffering and injustice? The international community has all but failed in its duty of care and seems unwilling or unable to take a stand against Israeli brutality but thankfully there are those who still refuse to stands aide. And so in an expression of love and solidarity the “Freedom Flotilla” takes to the water in an attempt to breach the siege on Gaza. The Freedom Flotilla comprises 8 boats, in a joint effort including Turkey and Greece, over 600 People from over 60 countries, will sail to Gaza in May, 2010. The flotilla will be joined by a cargo boat from Ireland, the MV Rachel Corrie. Its large cargo includes tonnes of construction material, cement, medical equipment and a special donation of printing paper from Norway. This trip will again highlight Israel’s criminal blockade and illegal occupation. In a demonstration of the power of global citizen action we hope to awaken the conscience of all.


We hope the Freedom Flotilla will provide a way to open up the sea. When we arrived in Gaza on the Freegaza boat in October 2008 last we stayed at Marna House, the hotel owner was overjoyed as he invited us to sign the register. He explained his joy telling us that, with closure of their Port to the outside world, we were the first people to enter Gaza by port and stay in his hotel in over 40 years of Israeli occupation. It would be wonderful if the sea passage could be permanently opened for the people of Gaza so they can freely enter and leave their own land, and be reunited again as a part of the Mediterranean family, selling their produce and buying what they need without let or hindrance.


This journey, by boat, will be my third with The Freegaza Movement and it has shown me that people can make a difference. The Free Gaza Movement was started by a few people with an idea and the courage to make it happen. If people wish to support their work and follow us on the boat journey to Gaza visit their website at freegaza.org


But above all we are inspired by the people of Gaza whose courage, love and joy in welcoming us, even in the midst of such suffering gives us all hope. They represent the very best of humanity and we are all privileged to be given the opportunity to support them in their nonviolent struggle for human dignity, and freedom.


Source: http://palsolidarity.org/2010/05/tribute-to-the-people-of-gaza/