The standard dictionary definition of terrorism is the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion (see note). As a condition, terror is a state of intense fear or anxiety. As an act, terror is violent or destructive behavior motivated by a desire to intimidate a population or government into changing course or granting a demand. Although, as with any term, there is no universal definition of terrorism, the consensus is that terrorism refers to acts intended to terrorize people (not merely the destruction of property or sabotage), that are systematic and motivated by political goals, and that either deliberately target or consistently disregard the safety of non-combatants (civilians).
Granting this understanding, and setting aside contrived definitions of terrorism found in self-serving law codes created by specific states to advance particular interests, it is difficult to argue that those individuals who attacked the Navy destroyer the USS Cole in October 2000, while harbored in the Yemeni port of Aden, are terrorists. True, seventeen American sailors were killed in the attack. But sailors are not non-combatants. Whether you agree with the motive of those who carried our the bombing, the USS Cole was a legitimate military target. In March of 2007, a federal court ruled that the Sudanese government was responsible for the bombing, arguing the al-Qaeda operatives who carried out the attack could not have done so without the assistance of the Sudanese government. This ruling means that the attack on the USS Cole was an act of war. It follows, then, that those held by US authorities at Guantanamo Bay are to be treated in a manner consistent with the Geneva Convention and other international principles concerning the treatment of prisoners or war. To consistently identify the case of the USS Cole as part of an ongoing war on terror (whatever this war is really about) is inappropriate.
In contrast, the acts of Israel in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, which started on December 27, 2008 and lasted until January 18, 2009, killing more than 1300 Palestinians, injuring thousands more, and destroying hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property, do constitute terrorism, as the acts amounted to the systematic use of terror as a means of coercing Palestinians into ceasing acts of resistance to Israeli colonization and occupation of Palestinian land. The Israeli policy of both targeting civilians (around 70 percent of those killed were civilians, one third were children) and consistently disregarding the safety of civilians was intended to terrorize Palestinians. Yet, the United States not only backed Israel all the way, but is now seeking to prevent Palestinians access to weapons to defend themselves from violence and resist colonization while continuing to sell weapons to Israel (including DIME and white phosphorus ordinance).
Note: Coercion is often defined as restraining or dominating by force or to achieve by force of threat. But it is also defined as an act or situation that compels persons to act certain ways or choose certain things. To compel means to drive or urge forcefully or irresistibly. Hunger, for example, compels one to behave in ways that increase the likelihood of food, since hunger compels one to eat (failure to eat causes death, therefore any policy that causes starvation is homicide). For example, a situation in which land is monopolized by a few, and the many are forbidden to freely seek food, compels the many to act in ways they otherwise would not, by either submitting themselves to the wishes of the few or organizing to overthrow the rule of the few (for those who own the land inevitably rule those who do not). The former usually takes the form of some type of servitude, ranging from chattel slavery (where persons are outright owned) to wage slavery (where persons are compelled to rent their bodies). Any situation becomes coercive when there are few or no alternatives to acting in ways contrary to the actor's wishes. Not all coercion is wrong. Ideally, the criminal law is designed to coerce people into making socially-appropriate choice, these designed to enhance the freedom of society as a whole.
Friday, February 20, 2009
The standard dictionary definition of terrorism is the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion (see note). As a condition, terror is a state of intense fear or anxiety. As an act, terror is violent or destructive behavior motivated by a desire to intimidate a population or government into changing course or granting a demand. Although, as with any term, there is no universal definition of terrorism, the consensus is that terrorism refers to acts intended to terrorize people (not merely the destruction of property or sabotage), that are systematic and motivated by political goals, and that either deliberately target or consistently disregard the safety of non-combatants (civilians).
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Caryl Churchill, one of Britain's leading playwrights has written a short play, called Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza, which is a ten minute history of Israel, ending with the bombing of Gaza. Thirteen performances are taking place on the main stage of the Royal Court in London. Churchill has said "It came out of feeling strongly about what's happening in Gaza - it's a way of helping the people there. Everyone knows about Gaza, everyone is upset about it, and this play is something they could come to. It's a political event, not just a theatre event…. Anyone can perform it without acquiring the rights, as long as they do a collection for people in Gaza at the end of it."
The Guardian’s Michael Billington writes “The work consists of seven cryptic scenes in which parents, grandparents and relatives debate how much children should know and not know. It moves, implicitly, from the Holocaust to the foundation of the state of Israel through the sundry Middle East wars up to the invasion of Gaza. At first, the advice indicates the deep divisions within Israel ("Tell her they want to drive us into the sea" / "Tell her they don't"); at the end, it becomes a ruthless justification for self-preservation ("Tell her we're the iron fist now, tell her it's the fog of war, tell her we won't stop killing them till we're safe")…What she captures, in remarkably condensed poetic form, is the transition that has overtaken Israel, to the point where security has become the pretext for indiscriminate slaughter. Avoiding overt didacticism, her play becomes a heartfelt lamentation for the future generations who will themselves become victims of the attempted military suppression of Hamas.”
An extract of the play is below:
“Don’t tell her how many of them have been killed
Tell her the Hamas fighters have been killed
Tell her they’re terrorists
Tell her they’re filth
Don’t tell her about the family of dead girls
Tell her you can’t believe what you see on television
Tell her we killed the babies by mistake
Don’t tell her anything about the army
Tell her, tell her about the army, tell her to be proud of the army. Tell her about the family of dead girls, tell her their names why not, tell her the whole world knows, why shouldn’t she know? tell her there’s dead babies, did she see babies? Tell her she’s got nothing to be ashamed of. Tell her they did it to themselves. Tell her they want their children killed to make people sorry for them, tell her I’m not sorry for them, tell her not to be sorry for them, tell her we’re the ones to be sorry for, tell her they can’t talk suffering to us. Tell her we’re the iron fist now, tell her it’s the fog of war, tell her we won’t stop killing them till we’re safe, tell her I laughed when I saw the dead policeman, tell her I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out, the world would hate us is the only thing, tell her I don’t care if the world hates us, tell her we’re better haters, tell her we’re chosen people, tell her I look at one of their children covered in blood and what do I feel? Tell her all I feel is happy it’s not her. “
The full text of the play can be downloaded from:
The URL for the Royal Court is:
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
BRINGING IT HOME
By Jake Lynch
I live in the northern Sydney suburb of St Ives, in an area known as Ku-ring-gai, so called after the Aboriginal people who are its traditional owners and custodians. Ku-ring-gai was named in a survey last year as having the highest quality of life of anywhere in Australia. Australia being, at the same time, top of the UN’s Human Development Index, we could be said to enjoy the highest quality of life anywhere in the world (that grinding sound you can hear is the local real estate agents sharpening their pencils).
It was people like me, no doubt, who Rihab Charida had in mind when she told a Sydney audience recently that they could have “literally no idea” what life was like for Palestinians. As I listened to her, I remembered how I found, on my first trip to the West Bank, that nothing I had read had quite prepared me for the day-to-day realities confronting the friends who made us feel so welcome.
And nothing encountered on short visits can give anything more than a general impression of the impotence, unpredictable peril and sheer randomness of living under Israel’s military occupation.
Charida is known to many of us as the Australia correspondent for the Iranian television news channel, Press TV, in which capacity she has been to interview me several times. She’s also the daughter of Palestinian refugees, and she was speaking at a weekly gathering that has become a Sydney institution, Politics in the Pub.
The pub looming large in many Australian communities, there is a sense in which the exchanges there, which actually take place in a local Gaelic club, serve to bring world events home to us in our privileged and largely sheltered part of the world. Every Friday evening, a different panel of speakers take it in turns to make statements and answer audience questions.
This particular evening was opened by the celebrated stage and screen actress, Judy Davis. She risked – and, through exquisite comic timing, carried off – an anecdote about her attempt to cater for a Jewish dinner guest, which went awry when the meal she’d prepared turned out, inadvertently, to infringe on religious observances. She went on to recall conversations she’d had, over the years, with showbusiness colleagues, about the conflict with the Palestinians.
Davis’ humorous yet moving contribution ended by inviting us to join her in saluting the courage of those who speak out, like Charida, and fellow panellist Antony Loewenstein, the journalist and author who has specialised in raising, from within Sydney’s Jewish community, questions that many would rather remain unasked.
One of these questions brings the conflict home as far as leafy St Ives itself. The suburb boasts a branch of the chocolate café chain, Max Brenner. It’s a hang-out for local youth – preferable, no doubt, to their parents at least, to having them drawn to the pub – but it also makes us complicit in the conflict, and even in the behaviour of the so-called ‘Israeli Defence Force’. Recently, Loewenstein has been alerting us to boasts by the café’s corporate owners of how they support the troops.
Under the heading, ‘In The Field With Soldiers’, the Strauss group tells browsers of the ‘Corporate Responsibility’ page of its website that:
“Our connection with soldiers goes as far back as the country, and even further. We see a mission and need to continue to provide our soldiers with support, to enhance their quality of life and service conditions, and sweeten their special moments. We have adopted the Golani reconnaissance platoon for over 30 years and provide them with an ongoing variety of food products for their training or missions, and provide personal care packages for each soldier that completes the path. We have also adopted the Southern Shualei Shimshon troops from the Givati platoon with the goal of improving their service conditions and being there at the front to spoil them with our best products”.
The Givati platoon took part in ‘Operation Cast Lead’, the assault on Gaza which began on December 27, 2008, and the Golani platoon are carrying out their reconnaissance in territory that Israel illegally seized from Syria in 1967, and has illegally hung onto ever since.
It therefore places Max Brenner on a different front line, the one looming large in the minds of anyone who – like many in the audience at Politics in the Pub – has asked: what can I do, in response to the naked brutality and lawlessness of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians?
The chocolate on sale in Max Brenner is imported from Israel, so profits go directly to support the country’s economy and the company – by its own account – goes out of its way to support the military. It therefore falls squarely into a category singled out by Naomi Klein as a valid target for boycotting.
It’s one of a number of persuasive comparisons between the situation facing the Palestinians and that of blacks in Apartheid South Africa. Indeed, the then South African Intelligence Minister, Ronnie Kasrils – a veteran Communist of Jewish descent – said a couple of years ago, on a visit to the occupied territories, that the architecture of segregation he had witnessed was worse than the bad old days in his homeland.
“The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to Apartheid”, Klein wrote, in The Nation, as the pounding of Gaza was at its height.
Back in the 1980s, I remember attending the massive anti-Apartheid demonstration in London, where exiled ANC leader Oliver Tambo spoke, along with the Reverend Jesse Jackson. “It’s not the destitute, or the prostitute”, Jackson intoned, to the assembled masses in Trafalgar Square, “but the man in the three-piece suit that is keeping Apartheid alive in South Africa today”. It was a plea to put the bite on businesses, which ultimately depend on our custom and goodwill to survive.
Sport was also seen as a means to bring pressure to bear. “Sports and business have a lot of common ground”, the Strauss website burbles. “It is no wonder that the language of business often uses terms from the world of sports such as team work, friendship, tolerance and support”.
One of the classic anti-Apartheid posters, which festooned our student bedsits, showed a South African policeman wielding a sjambok on a crowd of black protestors, above the slogan, “If you could see their national sport, you might be less keen to play them at rugby”.
I can imagine handing out leaflets outside Max Brenner in St Ives, perhaps showing a stricken Palestinian family being lowered over by a gun-toting Israeli soldier with some wording such as, “If you could see what they have for breakfast, you might be less keen to eat their chocolate”. It could cause ructions.
St Ives is home to a sizeable Jewish community, although we should not leap to the conclusion that its members automatically support Israel, any more than does Antony Loewenstein – indeed, many may very well be emboldened to speak out for what they believe is right, by his courage and example. Another notable contingent locally is South African émigrés, many of whom were glad to see the end of Apartheid, only to become disillusioned at the country’s continuing problems, and vote, with their feet, to leave.
Activists in Australia are now redoubling their lobbying efforts to get the government to take a firmer line. Pronouncements by the acting Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in the early days of the latest crisis, proclaiming Israel’s “right to defend itself”, became a focus for particular discontent. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has now agreed to meet a deputation, which will call on Australia to:
“Use its diplomatic leverage to:
· Request that the Quartet on the Middle East and its Special Envoy Tony Blair, and the US Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell, expedite a just peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by ending Israel’s economic blockade and illegal occupation of Palestinian Territories.
· Demand full and unimpeded humanitarian access for humanitarian staff and assistance, including of food, fuel and medical treatment.
· Secure the immediate lifting of the Israeli blockade on Gaza to allow freedom of movement of people and trade in and out of Gaza”.
The letter sent to Smith continues:
“We also urge the Australian Government to increase its humanitarian commitment to the Palestinian civilians affected by the conflict:
· By immediately increasing its allocation of funding and resources for relief and reconstruction efforts for long-term recovery.
· To immediately provide in-kind support to civilians, and specific support and resources for women and children, affected by the conflict to ensure access to adequate health services (including treatment in third countries - and/or Australia as needed).
· To immediately increase access to education services for Palestinians, including scholarship programs in Australia, to build capacity for long-term reconstruction in Gaza”.
This last point brings the issue home in a different way, of course, since we university academics would, in many cases, gladly accept Palestinian scholarship students on to our degree programs. Another option, that is often raised, would find us more divided, however. Should we extend our boycott from the men in suits at the Strauss Group to men and women in academic gowns?
When this question arose at Politics in the Pub, Rihab Charida had a ready answer – only shun contact with academics and institutions clearly complicit in the regime. That’s a relief for me, since I have enjoyed good cooperation and collegiality with Israeli colleagues who work courageously, in both professional and personal capacities, for peace. They deserve our support.
There is a phenomenon of social psychology known as ‘the bystander effect’. The more onlookers there are, at an incident of danger or depravity, the less likely it is that any one of them will take decisive action to bring it to an end.
The murderer witnessed in the act by fifty people will get away, because everyone will assume someone else has called the police. Michael Ignatieff, in The Warrior’s Honor, argues that television’s global reach has now made the inequalities of today’s world into everyone’s business, and an implicit moral challenge to all of us. But it may simply have increased the number of bystanders.
My colleague, Annabel McGoldrick, has found that the way conflicts are reported tends to make us feel ‘disconnected’ from any prospect of a solution to the all-too evident problems. It has to start somewhere, though – so it may as well start here, with a chocolate melt.
Monday, February 16, 2009
February 14, 2009
Scenes from the 'new Nakba'
The following report was written by a delegate on a recent National Lawyers Guild delegation to Gaza.
The Second Nakba
By: Reem Salahi
History repeats itself. With the key to her demolished home around her neck, the middle-aged Palestinian woman standing before me had escaped the first Nakba (meaning 'Day of Catastrophe' marking the exodus of Palestinians from their homes with the creation of the State of Israel) of 1948 only to live through the second Nakba; the Nakba of 2009, which was more destructive and deadly than the first.
In order to reach the tent city in Jabalia, we walked down a long road of pure destruction and demolition; destroyed homes, mosques, buildings, bakeries and stores.
I had wanted to see the tent city in Jabalia to take pictures and talk to the residents living there. Undoubtedly, these people were the most affected by Israel's recent offensive as their livelihoods were minimized to nothing more than a 6x8 foot white tent which had no amenities and housed up to fifty persons per tent.
Wherever we looked there was destruction and children; children who had lost the roof over their heads and now stood vulnerable to not only the elements, but also to Israel's continued bombing of border villages. One child walked up and down the road with a piece of rubble tied to a long cord. It was his new toy since his old toys were lost under the ruins of what used to be his home. Men stood around, drinking tea and talking. With the backdrop of mounds of rubble and tents was another man, praying, on a piece of tarp. While the Israelis had taken away everything else of his, they did not take away his God, and to this, he bowed his head in gratitude.
These Palestinians stand under the burning sun day-in and day-out living their lives for no particular purpose. Many of them used to be farmers. Most of them had lost multiple family members. All of them had lost their homes and farms. An older woman sat in the sand swatting flies. We approached her, as we were told by the residents of this tent city that she had lived through both Nakbas – the Nakba of 1948 and the Nakba of 2009.
Born in 1945, Sabha Yousef Mohammad Abed had lived through the first Nakba but had lost her husband and her farm in the second. Sabha had left her home in Brett (sp?) near Jaffa in what is currently considered Israel-proper when the Zionist forces had first come. Her family fled from one village to the next to escape the Zionist forces until she eventually landed in Gaza, in the village of Jabalia, a few months later. After the first Nakba, she lived for a few years in tents but slowly her life improved as the tents changed into block rooms and from block rooms to actual homes and farms. While Sabha was very young during the first Nakba, she remembers the fear and the constant fleeing from one village to the next. She remembers being shot at and losing family members. She remembers the uncertainty of life and the tents and the running sewage. But more so, she remembers building her life block by block from scratch and establishing a home for herself and her family. Sabha lost this home during the first week of Israel's offensive and is now living in a tent with her children.
While Sabha has never experienced complete stability due to ongoing wars and bombardment from Israeli forces and settlers, she had never seen the magnitude of bloodshed and brutal force used against Palestinians as she saw in Israel's recent offensive. Israeli forces began their aerial strikes against Jabalia on the second day of the offensive. Israeli forces bombed homes and civilians indiscriminately as her neighbors tried to flee. Many of those who tried to flee were taken as hostages by Israeli soldiers and many others were killed or fatally injured. Those who were only mildly injured bled to death due to the lack of medical access and the ambulance drivers' inability to drive the less than one kilometer stretch from the headquarters of the Palestinian Red Cross Society to the bombed-out areas.
As Sabha spoke about Israel's recent offensive, she shook in anger. Tell me where are the militants, she kept asking. Are these children militants? Does any human being deserve to live the way we live, fifty people to one tent with no blankets, no food, no water. And where do we defecate? They have even taken away our dignity. We are less than animals in their eyes. Even animals have more rights than us. To Sabha, Israel's objectives were nothing short of genocide. The Zionists fled from a holocaust and created a new one. They want a land with no people, she stated simply. A land without people for a people who have been purged from their land. For Sabha, this was not a war with Hamas, it was a massacre, and its only objective was to eliminate the Palestinians, to wipe them from the face of the earth.
Sabha told us of how the Israeli soldiers entered their village in midday and separated the men from the women. The soldiers' faces were painted black and they shot at the villager's feet. When Sabha saw her sons being taken away as hostages, she left her aging husband and farm behind and hid in the home adjacent to the hostages. The other women were made to march to the city center under the aerial strikes and constant bombing. Those who resisted or turned back were immediately shot. All around the streets were the dead and injured. The area smelled of phosphorus and rotting bodies. Sabha stayed in hiding for many days. During that time, her husband was forced from their farm as Israeli bulldozers demolished the farm and bulldozed the walls of the farm over their goats, sheep, chicken and camels. Sabha's husband, who stood on the street and watched his farm and home being demolished before his eyes, was killed moments later by an Israeli missile. One of the farm's walls fell over his dead body, and his body lay rotting for days.
As Sabha spoke, the entire village surrounded us. Even the children stood around in a circle and added to Sabha's narrative. One girl, about seven or eight years of age, tugged at my sleeve. That was my home over there, she whispered, pointing at rubble. She was in school when the bombing started. Embarrassedly, she admitted that she was so scared during the bombings that she fainted and peed on herself. Her brother was killed as was many of her extended family.
Sabha is not alone in her anger. I have not met one Palestinian in Gaza who was not shocked and angered by the extent of Israel's brutality in the recent offensive. After conducting an interview with one of the delegates, anchorman and filmmaker Ashraf Mashharawi from British Channel 4 spoke with me about his 16 year old cousin, Ahmad, who was sliced in half by what is believed to be a DIME missile. DIME or Dense Inert Metal Explosives produce an unusually powerful blast within a small area and cause strong biological effects. The blast does not cause bleeding, but rather slices a body as smoothly as though the body was amputated. While Israel's use of DIME has not been officially confirmed, it has been unofficially confirmed by weapons experts and doctors who have visited Gaza.
Ahmad along with Ashraf's younger brother, Mahmoud, age 11, were playing on the rooftop when they were targeted by a drone missile. Both Mahmoud and Ahmad were killed on impact and Ahmad was sliced in half. Days later, the bottom portion of Ahmad's body was located a few kilometers from the rooftop that both Mahmoud and Ahmad were playing on. Parts of Ahmad's legs and one of his arms similarly separated from his body and were found on the rooftop by family members.
Having seen pictures of these DIME-caused amputations, I must admit that it is the most horrifying sight one can imagine. One of the doctors at Al Awda Hospital showed me a video on his cell phone of a baby girl who was similarly sliced in half. Her top half was black from the blast and her bottom half was gone, cleanly cut from the waist down as her guts and insides were exposed for the world to see. In the video, when the doctor – who had undoubtedly seen death in all its forms – approached to see her, he fell to the ground and started wailing. I cannot describe the sight of the girl. Even now as I write about it, I feel light-headed and nauseous. No news station, not even Al-Jazeera, agreed to film this girl. Having seen the doctor's video, I can only sympathize.
Today is Israel's elections. Yet for the Palestinians, the question is not who will take over Ehud Olmert's position, but rather, when will be the next Israeli offensive, how many more Palestinians will be killed, and what will the next genocide that will undoubtedly wipe the memory of all Palestinians living in Gaza look like. Before leaving the tent city in Jabalia, I told Sabha that insha'Allah I will come back to see her in better days, in happier days. She laughed and patted my hand. When you come back, she said, you will be lucky to see any Palestinian left alive here. But maybe its better that we are killed, this life has been hard and painful. I have only wanted peace and stability throughout my life, and have gotten neither. Now I have lost hope. I have lived through many wars, yet I have never seen any war like this before. That is why I know that Israel is out to eradicate us. It failed to eliminate us this time, but will not fail next time. That is why I don't think you will come back and find us next time. Alhamdulillah (thanks to God), that is all I can say. Alhamdulillah.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
A convoy of 110 vehicles is due to leave London for Gaza to deliver £1m of humanitarian aid.
Hundreds of volunteers will act as drivers during the mission, which is organised by umbrella body Viva Palestina and backed by Muslim groups.
Its 5,000-mile route will pass through France, Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.
Respect MP George Galloway, who will help drive the convoy, said a peaceful "intifada" was sweeping the UK.
The Gaza Strip is facing a humanitarian crisis following Israel's recent three-week offensive.
About half of Gaza's population is dependent on UN food aid.
Other backers of the mission include the Stop the War Coalition, the Respect Party, the Anglo-Arab Organisation and several UK trade unions.
It will include 12 ambulances, a boat and trucks full of medicines, tools, clothes, blankets and shoe-boxes as well as gifts for children.
Mr Galloway said it would be the largest convoy of British vehicles to north Africa since the days of Field Marshall Montgomery.
"There is an intifada sweeping Britain," he added.
"It is a massive and peaceful movement in support of the beleaguered population of Gaza and Palestine.
"It is happening everywhere, but is especially strong in the north of England and especially among young Muslims."
Friday, February 13, 2009
Posted: 11 February 2009
Video from artists says war crimes should not be ignored
'There's almost a conspiracy of silence over war crimes in Gaza' - Kate Allen
Acclaimed actors, directors and other artists are spearheading a new drive for accountability over war crimes committed during the Israel-Gaza conflict.
In a new video featuring the former Monty Python star and author Terry Jones, as well as Annie Lennox, Thandie Newton, Alexei Sayle, Mike Figgis, Katharine Hamnett and Jason Flemyng, the artists voice their support for Amnesty International's ongoing efforts to secure justice for both Palestinians and Israelis who suffered gross human rights abuses during the conflict.
The artists in the video also make an impassioned call for Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza, an action that Amnesty has denounced as 'collective punishment of Gaza's civilian population'.
Speaking in the video the film director Mike Figgis says:
'The targeting in particular of civilians, for whatever reason, let's be clear about this, this is a war crime.'
Meanwhile, Terry Jones says:
"Those within Hamas and the Israeli government must be held responsible, even if it means arresting senior people.'
Amnesty International and other human rights and humanitarian organisations have amassed significant evidence of war crimes committed by the Israeli Defence Forces and by armed Palestinian groups during the 22-day conflict. Amnesty researchers found undeniable evidence of war crimes, including the use of civilians as 'human shields', the indiscriminate firing of rockets into civilians areas, and the IDF's use of 'white phosphorous' shells in residential areas of Gaza.
Amnesty is now pressing for an independent international investigation into these violations of international law, with the perpetrators being brought to justice in fair trials.
Another supporter of the effort to tackle war crimes in Gaza is the former international Development Secretary, Clare Short MP, who said this week:
'It's depressing but predictable that, as things stand, with little word from the UN Security Council, no-one looks likely to be held responsible for the wiping out of hundreds of civilian lives in the three-week Gaza war.'
Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
'The more people that speak out about war crimes committed during the Gaza conflict the better and it's vitally important that the UK government breaks its own silence on this. There's almost a conspiracy of silence over war crimes in Gaza that's totally unacceptable. Speaking out is one way of trying to stop this horrible cycle of violence beginning all over again.'
The video is available at www.amnesty.org.uk/gazacrisis
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Petition seeks Jews critical of Gaza action
February 11, 2009
WASHINGTON (JTA) -- A group of Jewish intellectuals and clergy is appealing to Jews who are "supportive of Israel but troubled by the Gaza campaign."
An advertisement soliciting signatures for a petition condemning Israel's recent action in the Gaza Strip as "unjust" and creating a "humanitarian disaster" is set to appear Thursday in The New York Jewish Week.
"We condemn Hamas and Israel for violating the human rights of civilians on both sides, although we do not necessarily declare these violations to be morally or legally equivalent," the petition reads. "We affirm the rights of both Israeli and the Palestinian peoples to self-determination and self-defense, as we affirm the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
The petition is organized by two bloggers, Richard Silverstein and Jerry Haber, who have been critical of Israel's policies on Palestinians.
Rabbis and cantors are among the 350 signatories to date, as well as leftist intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Murray Polner.
Organizers plan to run the ad in an Israeli newspaper as well.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Steadfast Before Goliath
By Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi
February 6, 2009
When I am asked about Palestinian identity, one idea keeps coming to mind. I was told it would be translated into English as "steadfastness." I looked up what a steadfast person would be like and the dictionary says, "One marked by firm determination or resolution--not shakable--of firm convictions and strong resolve. A man of unbendable perseverance and unwavering loyalty."
That's pretty close to what I had in mind, but somewhat incomplete--it is hard to capture an entire people in a word. Steadfastness refers to our Palestinian character of never giving in. It refers to our standing up to overwhelming odds time and again, without a friend in our corner. It is about our being beaten and abused in every way known to man, only to get back up with our heads held high.
This is impressive, but if it is understood only in this way steadfastness could easily be exchanged for a different, less appealing word: stubbornness. In itself, refusing to give up is not an admirable quality. After all, the rather unsavory and racist group of settlers in Hebron could also be described as steadfast. They too display "unwavering loyalty" and "firm convictions," and they too seemingly never give in.
What makes our steadfastness admired around the world is not only our perseverance but the justice of our cause, which is freedom, democracy and plurality. It is important to remember this broader definition of our character and our steadfastness. It is even more important for us to more loudly trumpet this, our true identity, throughout the world.
The reason is simple: Israel has dedicated an enormous amount of resources to perverting our identity and the character of our struggle. It has gained a significant degree of influence over the media, especially in the West, and has used this strength to transform and manipulate reality to its own ends. Thus despite our being slaughtered in the streets of Gaza, we are told that we are not only to blame but that the siege we are enduring is unworthy of international intervention.
Despite having thousands of our civilian brothers, sons, fathers, sisters, mothers and daughters in Israeli prisons routinely subjected to torture, we are told to immediately release a single captured Israeli soldier--or face another wave of high-tech brutality.
Despite the fact that we have international and human rights law on our side, it is said that we are "stubborn" because of our refusal to surrender the remainder of our historic birthright to Israeli occupation. We Palestinians are depicted in much of the media as steadfast only in our savagery, irrationality and propensity for violence.
From the 1920s onward, Palestinian resistance has been overwhelmingly nonviolent. The number of peaceful, unarmed Palestinian martyrs of this conflict far outweighs those of us who have fought the enemy on its own violent terms. From boycotts to business and hunger strikes, from demonstrations to diplomacy, we Palestinians are engaged daily in nonviolent struggle against the occupation of our land and the constant abuse of our dignity and security.
The international media do not focus on this, of course; instead they choose to emphasize the rare instances of Palestinian violence to such a degree that in the eyes of the international community, they appear to be comparable to the massive crimes of our occupier. There is no better example of this than the international coverage of the slaughter of our brothers and sisters in the Gaza Strip.
The world is told, and thus believes, that a "war" was being waged between two equals, rather than an asymmetric massacre being carried out by the world's fifth-largest military-industrial complex upon one of the world's last remaining stateless peoples.
Israel has not only killed hundreds of women, children and civilian men; it has systematically destroyed the economy and infrastructure of the tiny coastal Strip. It has employed illegal incendiary weapons against heavily populated civilian areas and munitions that burn through our skin, straight to the bone. Israel has killed doctors, journalists and aid workers alike in its "war against Hamas and terror" - and it remains brazenly unapologetic.
Our death toll has climbed well over 1,000 while the aggressor mourns the loss of little over a dozen - most of them soldiers, and many of whom have died as a result of Israeli army "friendly fire." Yet the world is still told it is watching a war unfold rather than a massacre.
The main reason so much effort is put into distorting the character of Palestinians is that if the world were to really know what is going on here, the collective emotion would shift from apathy toward our struggle to one of anger at our oppressor. Israel knows that if the world were able to see Palestine, it would have to draw conclusions and make comparisons. Americans allowed to watch the daily brutality committed against peaceful protesters would immediately connect our plight to that of the African-American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s.
If Africans were allowed to see the conditions of occupation in the West Bank, they would be unable to disassociate this from the South African anti-apartheid movement of the 1970s and '80s - which led to the triumph of the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela.
If the world were allowed to see what is actually taking place in Gaza right now, it would be unable to avoid comparisons with the Nazi ghetto-ization of Jews in the 1930s and '40s -- which culminated in systematic slaughter. But the world is not allowed to see these truths; instead, it is fed a daily dose of rhetoric taken out of context, or images from the occasional backlash of a Palestinian with nothing left to lose.
Despite the fact that our nonviolence goes unnoticed by a world biased in favor of our oppressor, we continue unabated. We continue not because nonviolence, resilience and the steadfast pursuit of justice is a "strategy" we hope will one day turn the tide of public opinion in our favor; we continue because this is who we are. It is our integrity that guides our struggle - not the constant humiliation and provocation of our oppressor.
This integrity, the justice of our cause and the means by which we pursue it are the gravest threat to Israel and the Zionist agenda for our land - far graver than homemade rockets or suicide bombers. Israel understands this, and thus works hard to pervert this reality in the minds of Israelis and the international community.
Their fear is evident in the means by which they suppress popular nonviolence throughout the West Bank. In Ni'lin over the past six months, four nonviolent youth have been turned into martyrs by the Israeli army. Countless others have sustained serious injuries, from tear-gas asphyxiation and beatings to bullets - the live kind and the rubber-coated steel sort.
Recently in Bi'lin, protesters donned the striped garb of Jews at the Warsaw Ghetto to remind Israel how its actions today are reflections of the crimes committed against Jews by the Nazis. This statement so incensed the Israeli soldiers that they abandoned their positions and chased the protesters right into the heart of the village. A number of them were beaten - presumably for reminding Israelis of their past and injuring their contemporary sensibilities.
On a regular basis, peace activists are humiliated, blindfolded and shot in the kneecaps, sprayed with sewage and chemicals, deafened and "microwaved" by newer and ever more sadistic methods of crowd control, imprisoned and tortured. They do it over and over again, usually on Fridays but often throughout the week. They engage the military more often than any or all of the armed militias in Palestine, and they go unarmed -- or at most with stones -- to fight Goliath again and again.
Out of fear and in retaliation, the Israelis resort to the only weapon available to those who neither possess integrity nor follow a just cause: violence. They do so in the hope that we will respond in kind -- that we will fight on their terms instead of our own. They do so in the hope that they can change what it is to be a Palestinian: steadfast in our pursuit of justice. Their efforts have failed and will continue to fail. Our character and our steadfastness are unshakable - and we will have the justice we deserve, in this life or the next.
Israel's most recent crime against our people in the Gaza Strip is only another attempt in its quest to undermine our identity and pervert our methods. The occupier screams from his watchtowers and F-16s, "We only understand violence! Fight! Fight! Fight!" They plead with us to take the bait and dehumanize them as they have done so completely to us.
We are steadfast in our cause and in our methods. We are armed with truth, justice, signs, flags and sometimes stones - nothing more. We will be marching again on Friday throughout the West Bank, and again the Friday after that, and again, and again...until we have defeated Goliath. A defeat that will finally liberate Palestinians and Israelis from the cancer of occupation and apartheid and that will open the way for our dream, where all human beings--whether they are Palestinian or Israeli--will be treated equally, with dignity and without prejudice.
About Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi
Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, a physician, is general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative. He is a member of the Palestinian Parliament and was a presidential candidate in 2005. He is a campaigner for grassroots democracy and internal reform as well as a leading figure in the nonviolent, peaceful struggle against the occupation. more...
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Remembering these children:lists each of these 1179 deaths. Arranged chronologically by date of death, each entry includes the child’s name, hometown,
Too many of these children died in the course of what should have been normal childhood pleasures—playing soccer, eating pizza, shopping for candy, or going to or from school. Others were at home, looking out their window, eating dinner or playing in their front yard.
Even infants and the unborn have not been spared.
Monday, February 9, 2009
NLG Members in Gaza Document Executions of Civilians, Blocking of Humanitarian Aid, and Destruction of Civil Property
Monday, February 2, 2009, 10:51 AM
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—February 2, 2009
Contact: Paige Cram, NLG Communications Coordinator, 212-679-5100, ext.15
The National Lawyers Guild announces the arrival of a nine-member fact-finding mission to Gaza to assess the effects of the recent attacks on the people there. It will also determine what, if any, violations of international law occurred and whether U.S. domestic law has been violated as a consequence.
All, including Israel, recognize the disastrous effects of the attack on the civilian population of Gaza, and prior Guild delegations have recognized the importance of U.S. support to Israel. The delegation seeks to learn first-hand, and report its findings, how Gaza was affected and what the consequences of the attack have been. Jimmy Leas, one of the delegates, said: “We are looking forward to investigating the ongoing military and economic attacks by Israel that have devastated the civilian population of Gaza and to examining the pivotal role the United States played in those attacks.”
The members of the mission—seven lawyers and one law student, accompanied by a documentary filmmaker—come from varied backgrounds. They hope to remain in Gaza for more than one week, and will work closely with the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and the Al-Mezan Centre. They will interview communities particularly impacted by the recent Israeli offensive, including medical personnel, humanitarian aid workers and United Nations representatives. Upon returning to the U.S., the members will compile a fact-finding report, and share its analysis with the U.S. Congress, the press, and audiences at universities across the country.
The National Lawyers Guild, founded in 1937, is the oldest and largest public interest / human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state. It is also a member of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, which plans to send its own delegation. Both organizations plan to work closely with one another upon their return from Gaza to publicize their findings and help find a path to peace with justice in Palestine.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
35 minutes ago
JABALIYA, Gaza Strip (AFP) — The homes of some 30,000 Palestinians were destroyed during last month's devastating 22-day Israeli onslaught, which killed more than 1,330 people and carved a vast swath of destruction across the besieged territory.
In recent days Gaza's Hamas-run government has partnered with international aid groups and local charities to erect hundreds of tents in the most devastated areas, a sight that stirs deep memories for Gaza's 1948 refugees.
Majid Asamna lived in a refugee tent in Gaza after fleeing what became Israel in 1948 -- now a new war has left him homeless again, along with tens of thousands of other Palestinians.
"I thought if I left I might never return, just like in 1948. And when I did come back, after the war, everything was destroyed," Asamna, 65, says as he surveys the sprawling ruins of six family houses crushed by Israeli troops.
"I'll never go back to (the Israeli town of) Ashkelon, and my children may never come back to this place. When they come in and kill people like this they make it impossible for anyone to live here."
Israel said the offensive was aimed at halting Palestinian rocket fire on towns and farms near the Gaza border -- including Ashkelon -- which have killed 21 civilians inside Israel since 2000.
But for Palestinians the war was the latest chapter in a tragedy that began 60 years ago, one in which bleak rows of tents are a recurring motif.
More than two-thirds of Gaza's 1.5 million residents are UN-registered refugees descended from the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were expelled from what is now Israel in the 1948 war.
Palestinian and some Israeli scholars have said Jewish militias expelled more than 700,000 Palestinians before and during the war that followed the creation of the Jewish state in a deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Palestinians refer to the expulsion as the Nakba, or catastrophe.
Other historians have said they were urged to leave by invading Arab armies and radio broadcasts. The fate of the refugees and their descendants -- now numbering 4.6 million -- is a core issue in the Middle East conflict.
During last month's war Asamna remained in his home after troops backed by tanks and helicopters roared into his neighbourhood, huddling inside with his 60 children and grandchildren for 11 days.
Then, after running out of food and water, they raised a white flag and marched out one by one, walking four kilometres (2.5 miles) to a relative's house in a neighbouring town, he says.
"They were still shooting. They shot at us while we were walking away."
When they returned after the war their farmstead had been flattened. Two six-door Mercedes taxis -- on which they made most of their living -- were crushed and half-buried in orchards plowed over by bulldozers.
Just up the dirt road from Asamna's ruined homestead local volunteers have in recent days erected dozens of white canvas tents surrounded by a short sand berm. They call it Camp Dignity.
The camp is just a few kilometres (miles) away from Jabaliya Camp, which was established in 1948 for some 35,000 refugees who were provided tents until the UN refugee agency (UNRWA) could build more permanent housing.
Camp Dignity is one of five new camps containing around 700 tents that have been established by the Hamas-run government to provide shelter to some of the 30,000 people it says lost their homes in the three-week conflict.
"We hate the tents, and would never want to return to them," says Dr Munir al-Bursh, a senior health ministry official overseeing the construction of the new camps. "But as you can see, they are still with us."
Most of the tents have been provided by the Palestinian Red Crescent society and UNRWA, Bursh says, adding that requests to import hundreds more have been denied by Israel and Egypt, which control Gaza's borders.
Since the Hamas takeover in June 2007 Israel and Egypt have prevented all but basic humanitarian aid from entering Gaza. Building materials are scarce, and reconstruction has been held up by the restrictions.
The Hamas-run government has demanded the opening of Gaza's border crossings as part of a long-term truce, while Israel -- which along with the West blacklists Hamas as a terror group -- has said the rockets must stop first.
On a recent day a few hundred people milled around the camp, sipping tea and socialising under the tents. Few appeared to have moved in permanently.
"It's worse than in 1948," says Ibrahim Shannan, a father of three whose house lies in ruins a few dozen metres (yards) from the camp.
"They have put a man on the moon, and here we are, living in tents," says the 27-year-old, whose family is from Gaza. "Now we are all refugees."
Shannan is still staying with relatives at night, sleeping 15 people to a room. He doesn't think the tents are thick enough to keep out the winter cold.
Others are afraid to stay in the tents after dark for fear Israeli troops will return. Bursh said he saw Israeli special forces prowling near one of the camps on Wednesday night.
Israel withdrew all ground troops from Gaza after it and Hamas declared separate ceasefires on January 18 but has launched tit-for-tat strikes as Palestinian militants have sporadically fired rockets from the territory.
Asamna, who fled in 1948, says this time he is determined to remain on his ruined land as long as he can.
"I don't expect things will ever get better," he says. "The Jews could come back anytime. No one who does something like this could possibly want peace."
By Gary Hupfer
Following are the Twelve Golden And Infallible Truths That The Media Is Obligated To Adopt:
1. In the Middle East, the Arabs always attack first and Israel always defends itself. This defense is called "retaliation."
2. Neither Arabs, Palestinians nor Lebanese have the right to kill civilians. This is "terrorism."
3. Israel has the right to kill civilians. This is called "legitimate defense."
4. When Israel massively kills civilians, the Western powers ask it do it with courtesy or politeness. This is called "reaction of the international community."
5. Neither Palestinians nor Lebanese have the right to capture Israeli soldiers inside military installations with sentry and combat positions. This has to be called "kidnapping of defenseless civilians."
6. Israel has the right to kidnap as many Palestinians or Lebanese as they wish and at any time or place. Their present figures are about 10,000 imprisoned, 300 of whom are children and 1,000 women. They do not need any evidence about their culpability. Israel has the right to detain such kidnapped prisoners indefinitely, even if they are people democratically elected by Palestinians. This is called "imprisonment of terrorists."
7. Whenever the word "Hezbollah" is mentioned, it is compulsory to add in the same phrase, "supported and financed by Syria and Iran."
8. When "Israel" is mentioned it is absolutely forbidden to add "supported and financed by the United States." This could give the impression that the conflict is uneven and that Israel's existence is not, after all, at risk.
9. In any statement about Israel, any mention of the following phrases is to be avoided: "occupied territories," "U.N. resolutions," "human rights violations" or "Geneva Convention."
10. Palestinians, as well as Lebanese, always are "cowards" hiding behind a civilian population that dislikes them. If they sleep in military accommodation with their families, this has a name: "cowardice." Israel is entitled to annihilate with bombs and missiles such barracks where they sleep. This is to be called a "surgical, high-precision action."
11. Israelis speak English, French, Spanish or Portuguese better than the Arabs. That is why they deserve to be interviewed more frequently and have better opportunities to explain to the audience at large the above rules. This is called "media neutrality."
12. Any newspaper in disagreement with the above rules is to be branded a "highly dangerous anti-Semitic terrorist media source." Right?
Hupfer lives in Cadott.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
That is why Gaza exists: because the Palestinians who lived in Ashkelon and the fields around it – Askalaan in Arabic – were dispossessed from their lands in 1948 when Israel was created and ended up on the beaches of Gaza. They – or their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren – are among the one and a half million Palestinian refugees crammed into the cesspool of Gaza, 80 per cent of whose families once lived in what is now Israel. This, historically, is the real story: most of the people of Gaza don't come from Gaza.
But watching the news shows, you'd think that history began yesterday, that a bunch of bearded anti-Semitic Islamist lunatics suddenly popped up in the slums of Gaza – a rubbish dump of destitute people of no origin – and began firing missiles into peace-loving, democratic Israel, only to meet with the righteous vengeance of the Israeli air force. The fact that the five sisters killed in Jabalya camp had grandparents who came from the very land whose more recent owners have now bombed them to death simply does not appear in the story."
Robert Fisk: Why bombing Ashkelon is the most tragic irony,
The Independent, Tuesday, 30 December 2008
From The TimesDecember 31, 2008
We must adjust our distorted image of Hamas
Gaza is a secular society where people listen to pop music, watch TV and many women walk the streets unveiled
Last week I was in Gaza. While I was there I met a group of 20 or so police officers who were undergoing a course in conflict management. They were eager to know whether foreigners felt safer since Hamas had taken over the Government? Indeed we did, we told them. Without doubt the past 18 months had seen a comparative calm on the streets of Gaza; no gunmen on the streets, no more kidnappings. They smiled with great pride and waved us goodbye.
Less than a week later all of these men were dead, killed by an Israeli rocket at a graduation ceremony. Were they “dangerous Hamas militant gunmen”? No, they were unarmed police officers, public servants killed not in a “militant training camp” but in the same police station in the middle of Gaza City that had been used by the British, the Israelis and Fatah during their periods of rule there.
This distinction is crucial because while the horrific scenes in Gaza and Israel play themselves out on our television screens, a war of words is being fought that is clouding our understanding of the realities on the ground.
Who or what is Hamas, the movement that Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, would like to wipe out as though it were a virus? Why did it win the Palestinian elections and why does it allow rockets to be fired into Israel? The story of Hamas over the past three years reveals how the Israeli, US and UK governments' misunderstanding of this Islamist movement has led us to the brutal and desperate situation that we are in now.
The story begins nearly three years ago when Change and Reform - Hamas's political party - unexpectedly won the first free and fair elections in the Arab world, on a platform of ending endemic corruption and improving the almost non-existent public services in Gaza and the West Bank. Against a divided opposition this ostensibly religious party impressed the predominantly secular community to win with 42 per cent of the vote.
Palestinians did not vote for Hamas because it was dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel or because it had been responsible for waves of suicide bombings that had killed Israeli citizens. They voted for Hamas because they thought that Fatah, the party of the rejected Government, had failed them. Despite renouncing violence and recognising the state of Israel Fatah had not achieved a Palestinian state. It is crucial to know this to understand the supposed rejectionist position of Hamas. It won't recognise Israel or renounce the right to resist until it is sure of the world's commitment to a just solution to the Palestinian issue.
In the five years that I have been visiting Gaza and the West Bank, I have met hundreds of Hamas politicians and supporters. None of them has professed the goal of Islamising Palestinian society, Taleban-style. Hamas relies on secular voters too much to do that. People still listen to pop music, watch television and women still choose whether to wear the veil or not.
The political leadership of Hamas is probably the most highly qualified in the world. Boasting more than 500 PhDs in its ranks, the majority are middle-class professionals - doctors, dentists, scientists and engineers. Most of its leadership have been educated in our universities and harbour no ideological hatred towards the West. It is a grievance-based movement, dedicated to addressing the injustice done to its people. It has consistently offered a ten-year ceasefire to give breathing space to resolve a conflict that has continued for more than 60 years.
The Bush-Blair response to the Hamas victory in 2006 is the key to today's horror. Instead of accepting the democratically elected Government, they funded an attempt to remove it by force; training and arming groups of Fatah fighters to unseat Hamas militarily and impose a new, unelected government on the Palestinians. Further, 45 Hamas MPs are still being held in Israeli jails.
Six months ago the Israeli Government agreed to an Egyptian- brokered ceasefire with Hamas. In return for a ceasefire, Israel agreed to open the crossing points and allow a free flow of essential supplies in and out of Gaza. The rocket barrages ended but the crossings never fully opened, and the people of Gaza began to starve. This crippling embargo was no reward for peace.
When Westerners ask what is in the mind of Hamas leaders when they order or allow rockets to be fired at Israel they fail to understand the Palestinian position. Two months ago the Israeli Defence Forces broke the ceasefire by entering Gaza and beginning the cycle of killing again. In the Palestinian narrative each round of rocket attacks is a response to Israeli attacks. In the Israeli narrative it is the other way round.
But what does it mean when Mr Barak talks of destroying Hamas? Does it mean killing the 42 per cent of Palestinians who voted for it? Does it mean reoccupying the Gaza strip that Israel withdrew from so painfully three years ago? Or does it mean permanently separating the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank, politically and geographically? And for those whose mantra is Israeli security, what sort of threat do the three quarters of a million young people growing up in Gaza with an implacable hatred of those who starve and bomb them pose?
It is said that this conflict is impossible to solve. In fact, it is very simple. The top 1,000 people who run Israel - the politicians, generals and security staff - and the top Palestinian Islamists have never met. Genuine peace will require that these two groups sit down together without preconditions. But the events of the past few days seem to have made this more unlikely than ever. That is the challenge for the new administration in Washington and for its European allies.
William Sieghart is chairman of Forward Thinking, an independent conflict resolution agency
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
February 2nd 2009
The Wounds of Gaza
Two Surgeons from the UK, Dr Ghassan Abu Sittah and Dr Swee Ang, managed to get into Gaza during the Israeli invasion. Here they describe their experiences, share their views, and conclude that the people of Gaza are extremely vulnerable and defenseless in the event of another attack.
The wounds of Gaza are deep and multi-layered. Are we talking about the Khan Younis massacre of 5,000 in 1956 or the execution of 35,000 prisoners of war by Israel in 1967? Yet more wounds of the First Intifada, when civil disobedience by an occupied people against the occupiers resulted in massive wounded and hundreds dead? We also cannot discount the 5,420 wounded in southern Gaza alone since 2000. Hence what we are referring to below are only that of the invasion as of 27 December 2008,
Over the period of 27 December 2008 to the ceasefire of 18 Jan 2009, it was estimated that a million and a half tons of explosives were dropped on Gaza Strip. Gaza is 25 miles by 5 miles and home to 1.5 million people. This makes it the most crowded area in the whole world. Prior to this Gaza has been completely blockaded and starved for 50 days. In fact since the Palestinian election Gaza has been under total or partial blockade for several years.
On the first day of the invasion, 250 persons were killed. Every single police station in Gaza was bombed killing large numbers of police officers. Having wiped out the police force attention was turned to non government targets. Gaza was bombed from the air by F16 and Apache helicopters, shelled from the sea by Israeli gunboats and from the land by tank artillery. Many schools were reduced to rubble, including the American School of Gaza, 40 mosques, hospitals, UN buildings, and of course 21,000 homes, 4,000 of which were demolished completely. It is estimated that 100,000 people are now homeless.
The weapons used apart from conventional bombs and high explosives also include unconventional weapons of which at least 4 categories could be identified.
Phosphorus Shells and bombs
The bombs dropped were described by eye witnesses as exploding at high altitude scattering a large canopy of phosphorus bomblets which cover a large area.
During the land invasion, eyewitnesses describe the tanks shelling into homes first with a conventional shell. Once the walls are destroyed, a second shell - a phosphorus shell is then shot into the homes. Used in this manner the phosphorus explodes and burns the families and the homes. Many charred bodies were found among burning phosphorus particles.
One area of concern is the phosphorus seems to be in a special stabilizing agent. This results in the phosphorus being more stable and not completely burning out. Residues still cover the fields, playground and compounds. They ignite when picked up by curious kids, or produce fumes when farmers return to water their fields. One returning farming family on watering their field met with clouds of fumes producing epistaxis. Thus the phosphorus residues probably treated with a stabilizer also act as anti-personnel weapons against children and make the return to normal life difficult without certain hazards.
Surgeons from hospitals are also reporting cases where after primary laparotomy for relatively small wounds with minimal contamination find on second look laparotomy increasing areas of tissue necrosis at about 3 days. Patients then become gravely ill and by about 10 days those patients needing a third relook encounter massive liver necrosis. This may or may not be accompanied by generalized bleeding , kidney failure and heart failure and death. Although acidosis, liver necrosis and sudden cardiac arrest due to hypocalcemia are known to be a complication of white phosphorus it is not possible to attribute these complications as being due to phosphorus alone.
There is real urgency to analyze and identify the real nature of this modified phosphorus as to its long term effect on the people of Gaza. There is also urgency in collecting and disposing of the phosphorus residues littering the entire Gaza Strip. As they give off toxic fumes when coming into contact with water, once the rain falls the whole area would be polluted with acid phosphorus fumes. Children should be warned not to handle and play with these phosphorus residues.
The use of DIME (dense inert material explosives) were evident, though it is unsure whether depleted uranium were used in the south. In the civilian areas, surviving patients were found to have limbs truncated by DIME, since the stumps apart from being characteristically cut off in guillotine fashion also fail to bleed. Bomb casing and shrapnel are extremely heavy.
Fuel Air Explosives
Bunker busters and implosion bombs have been used . There are buildings especially the 8 storey Science and Technology Building of the Islamic University of Gaza which had been reduced to a pile of rubble no higher than 5-6 feet.
People in Gaza described a silent bomb which is extremely destructive. The bomb arrives as a silent projectile at most with a whistling sound and creates a large area where all objects and living things are vaporized with minimal trace. We are unable to fit this into conventional weapons but the possibility of new particle weapons being tested should be suspected.
Survivors describe Israeli tanks arriving in front of homes asking residents to come out. Children, old people and women would come forward and as they were lined up they were just fired on and killed. Families have lost tens of their members through such executions. The deliberate targeting of unarmed children and women is well documented by human right groups in the Gaza Strip over the past month.
Targeting of ambulances
Thirteen ambulances had been fired upon killing drivers and first aid personnel in the process of rescue and evacuation of the wounded.
The first patients wounded by cluster were brought into Abu Yusef Najjar Hospital. Since more than 50% of the tunnels have been destroyed, Gaza has lost part of her lifeline. These tunnels contrary to popular belief are not for weapons, though small light weapons could have been smuggled through them. However they are the main stay of food and fuel for Gaza. Palestinians are beginning to tunnel again. However it became clear that cluster bombs were dropped on to the Rafah border and the first was accidentally set of by tunneling. Five burns patients were brought in after setting off a booby trap kind of device.
As of 25 January 2009, the death toll was estimated at 1,350 with the numbers increasing daily. This is due to the severely wounded continuing to die in hospitals. 60% of those killed were children.
The severely injured numbered 5,450, with 40% being children. These are mainly large burns and polytrauma patients. Single limb fractures and walking wounded are not included in these figures.
Through our conversations with doctors and nurses the word holocaust and catastrophe were repeatedly used. The medical staff all bear the psychological trauma of the past month living though the situation and dealing with mass casualties which swamped their casualties and operating rooms. Many patients died in the Accident and Emergency Department while awaiting treatment. In a district hospital, the orthopaedic surgeon carried out 13 external fixations in less than a day.
It is estimated that of the severely injured, 1,600 will suffer permanently disabilities. These include amputations, spinal cord injuries, head injuries, large burns with crippling contractures.
The death and injury toll is especially high in this recent assault due to several factors:
No escape: As Gaza is sealed by Israeli troops, no one can escape the bombardment and the land invasion. There is simply no escape. Even within the Gaza Strip itself, movement from north to south is impossible as Israeli tanks had cut the northern half of Gaza from the south. Compare this with the situation in Lebanon 1982 and 2006, when it was possible for people to escape from an area of heavy bombardment to an area of relative calm - there was no such is option for Gaza.
Gaza is very densely populated. It is eerie to see that the bombs used by Israel have been precision bombs. They have a hundred percent hit rate on buildings which are crowded with people. Examples are the central market, police stations. Schools, the UN compounds used as a safety shelter from bombardment, mosques (40 of them destroyed), and the homes of families who thought they were safe as there were no combatants in them and high rise flats where a single implosion bomb would destroy multiple families. This pattern of consistent targeting of civilians makes one suspect that the military targets are but collateral damage, while civilians are the primary targets.
The quantity and quality of the ammunition being used as described above.
Gaza’s lack of defense against the modern weapons of Israel. She has no tanks, no planes, no anti-aircraft missiles against the invading army. We experienced that first hand in a minor clash of Israeli tank shells versus Palestinian AK47 return fire. The forces were simply unmatched.
Absence of well constructed bomb shelters for civilians. Unfortunately these will also be no match for bunker busters possessed by the Israeli Army.
Taking the above points into consideration, the next assault on Gaza would be just as disastrous. The people of Gaza are extremely vulnerable and defenseless in the event of another attack. If the International Community is serious about preventing such a large scale of deaths and injuries in the future, it will have to develop a some sort of defense force for Gaza. Otherwise, many more vulnerable civilans will continue to die.
Dr Ghassan Abu Sittah and Dr Swee Ang
By Aleem Maqbool
BBC News, Gaza City
Twenty-year-old Yahya Abu Saif lies in his hospital bed looking wide-eyed, gaunt and scared.
He was lucky to survive an Israeli air strike. But, like so many others in Gaza, his life was transformed in an instant.
He lost his right leg in the explosion. The left side of his body is paralysed.
"I had just left the mosque near my home and was going home after prayers," he says, with a little difficulty.
"They dropped a bomb on the mosque and I was thrown in the air, but I don't remember what happened after that.
"My family told me 15 people were killed and 20 people injured, including me."
Yahya says he used to go to university and wanted to be a teacher one day.
"Now I will have a life of hospitals. I know I will just need medical care forever."
As we left the room, we found Yahya's elder brother outside, wiping away tears.
Al-Wafa Hospital, to which Yahya has been admitted, is the only one in Gaza which specialises in treating amputees.
At a time when hundreds more people need its care, the hospital itself was shelled and damaged in the fighting.
"It was a miserable time for us and the patients," says Dr Tariq Dardas.
"From midnight on 16 January until 9am, there was constant shelling. We called the Red Cross and civilian defence to help us leave, but nobody would come to this area under those circumstances.
"All the staff members were scared but, of course, we could not leave our patients.
"Many of them had spinal injuries or were paraplegic. It was so difficult for us to move them all to the other side of the building, but thank God we did. One elderly patient sustained head injuries, but it could have been much worse."
Dr Dardas shows us parts of the building he says were hit by tank shells.
"Ninety percent of the windows have been broken, some rooms have been totally destroyed. About one-third of our new building has been destroyed. It has had a big impact on what we can do," he says.
"We estimate several hundred people have lost limbs and are in need of rehabilitation here. We feel shy to tell patients that they can't come here; they have a right to come, but we have no choice."
The health system in Gaza is under tremendous strain. Not just because of the thousands of injured following the Israeli offensive, but also because of the physical damage done to medical facilities like Al-Wafa.
There also continue to be the difficulties of bringing supplies into Gaza while the crossings into the territory are tightly controlled.
To ease the pressure, scores of patients were allowed through Gaza's border with Egypt for short-term treatment abroad. But most will soon return.
Al-Wafa Hospital is one of the few places in Gaza which could provide them with specialist psychiatric assistance to come to terms with their new realities.
Right now, Al-Wafa itself is appealing for help.
Story from BBC NEWS:
CARE country director sees devastation firsthand
Martha Myers is the country director for CARE in the West Bank and Gaza. CARE has 18 staff living and working in Gaza. They continued to distribute emergency aid throughout the fighting. Myers was the first non-Gazan from CARE to access Gaza since the conflict began. The following is her message to CARE staff in the West Bank and Gaza.
January 29, 2009
As most of you know, I finally got to go to Gaza on Tuesday — and immediately got stuck there. The borders were closed due to the fighting that broke out, so I got to spend overnight in Shejaiya. I was glad to be there.
It is hard to say anything about Gaza. Either you just feel the words stuck someplace in the middle of your chest, unable to come out, or you feel like you are murmuring platitudes — hackneyed phrases. None of these words stuck in my chest are nice words. Grief, sorrow, pain, suffering, devastation, destruction, malice, cruelty.
War is simply brutal. It can't be prettied up, no matter how many laurels of civilization you attempt to lay around its throat.
I was sad. On the left in the fields as you walk from Erez to Khamsa there had been two or three farmhouses. I had often wondered at their aspect of peace and quiet there in the midst of crops and grasses right under the miasma of Erez. They aren't there anymore. Heaps of rubble. Where are the boys I used to see trotting their donkeys up the lane towards home? Where are the women I used to see working in the fields?
Everything is full of bullet holes. Not little bullet holes. Bullet holes that you could easily put a tennis ball through. It is clear that areas, buildings, shops, were just sprayed with bullets. I wonder, what do you do and how do you feel as those lines of bullets come punching through the walls of your living room and your bedroom? Everywhere I go, people make sounds imitating the different kinds of munitions. Recounting the near misses and coloring the stories with onomatopoeic embellishments seems to help.
The buildings are shocking — the shattered parliament building, the minarets blown off mosques, the mosques themselves, the children's play parks — all shocking. But what arrested me was the people. On one hand the stalwart Gazans, out in the streets, going to school, sitting in front of open shops, walking with briefcases, carrying shopping bags — it all looked so deceptively normal in a sense. But when you look closely, as I studied faces, people looked hollow with fatigue, shock, stress, and fear. Many looked almost catatonic.
And then the CARE staff. Can I be personal here? Hamdallah, you were the first person I saw in the office and although you looked as neat and handsome as ever, your polite smile never reached your eyes. I saw that tight control, and the shuttered eyes, again and again during that day in so many people, including Najwan, Eid and Rizek. Mamduh, you looked familiar since I have seen you in pictures almost every single day, but the fatigue has chiseled down to the bones of your face. Again, a look I saw echoed again and again everywhere I went.
Mohammed Elwan, I was humbled by the depth of your concern, sorrow and care for Mohammed Samouni (editor's note: Mohammed Samouni, who worked for CARE's Fresh Food distribution project, was killed in an attack on January 5) and your determination that his widow not be lost in the shuffle. Although you are thin and sad, what did you want to talk about? You wanted to talk about how we can help potato farmers stand up again. You give definition to the word selfless.
Jawad, how do you do it? Your face is lined with care and yet you still make us laugh with your ironic humor.
Naema, you are so strong and you radiate firmness, control, and resolution — but I have wanted to cry ever since we talked about you losing your best friend. Your best friend and your house. We can help you with your house — but to have an old friend that you talked to on the phone one minute and who was gone the next — how does one assimilate that?
Ola, we know you are still frightened, but you should know that you are surrounded by friends.
You all are the best of Gaza and you embody it.
I have to say that it was Izbet Abedrabbo that stopped me in my tracks. Look around you and there are heaps of concrete that used to be homes, contorted cars, uprooted trees and ground that has been roiled into an impassible sea of mud by the tanks going back and forth.
No single thing has been left intact or standing. No blade of grass or tree. Everything stinks of sewage and rot. Sitting in front of the contorted heaps of concrete and steel are entire families, some warming their hands at fires. Just sitting and waiting. Of course, what else could they do? What else would they do? In Gaza there is no cement, steel, glass, glue, wood, pipes, paint wires. So even were one lucky enough to be able to purchase materials to start putting things together again, there is nothing to do that with. Most aren't lucky anyway.
So they sit and wait.
I try to imagine how it feels to sit in front of your vaporized home in the middle of a choppy sea of mud. It is too painful to bring this in close and in focus, so I take the cowardly route and don't allow my imagination to run away with me.
And then there were the gold curtains. I know, curtains are expensive and you need to chose them carefully or they will take over your whole life. These were nice curtains and I am sure that someone chose them very carefully — an investment meant to last a lifetime - and then hung and cared for them with pride. Somehow, the house had collapsed into a shattered heap and the curtains had flown out the window and were draped, neat, clean, perfectly pressed over the front of the rubble.
Would the owner come and try to extract the curtains from the pinch of concrete and steel? And then what would she do with them? If it were me I would sit with them bundled in my arms and smell them — inhaling the smell of home and the smell of my lost world. The curtains bothered me too because something private and interior was just splayed there on the street — a violation of regard for the home as private, protected space.
At the Erez border crossing, feeling guilty and heart-sick as I always do — why can I just walk out of here and others can't? What stupid accident of birth confers this unbelievable privilege on me? I ended up in line behind a dozen or more journalists. Things were going very slowly because of all their cameras and gear. For them, the story is over and they are moving on to the next flash point. This is their job, and I respect them enormously and appreciate the role they play. Nonetheless, it made me feel angry and disillusioned to see this symbol of diverted attention. It isn't over. In fact, it is only just beginning in Gaza.
Yes, it is just beginning, but Gaza is not abandoned and you, Ghazazwa, are not abandoned. We will walk down this path together.
With affection and regard,
Monday, February 2, 2009
Monday, 2 February 2009
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So that's that then, is it? Gaza is done and dusted? Very satisfying, I'm sure, for the Israeli leadership and their devoted allies at the BBC. But not so fast. For the one and a half million traumatised and wounded souls in that small strip, unendurable agony goes on. The very earth they stand on burns and cracks. And I am not here indulging a writer's tendency to hyperbole or neat metaphor.
Up to 60 per cent of the best farmland in Gaza has been systematically destroyed, livestock too. Christine van Nieuwenhuyse, a director at the World Food Programme, says this deliberately blighted land "may not be exploitable again". The lemon trees and noisy chickens must have been hiding Hamas rockets. Israel is also keeping some of the remaining arable land beyond the reach of the Palestinians who own it by making it into a buffer zone. Almost all the infrastructure has been flattened too. The resulting perpetual humiliation and dependency, one assumes, is part of Israel's strategic plan.
President Obama has sent forth George Mitchell, a skilled and respected negotiator, to start dialogues that could eventually lead to a durable settlement. We must hope he can achieve the impossible. But even if he does, that alone cannot ensure the kind of peace that all the people in that region sorely need and surely deserve.
There is too much unfinished business, too much reckoning left over. Peace without equality and credible scrutiny is itself a violation of human rights, an affirmation that some nations are beyond the reach of the law. Mitchell would not have been able to achieve peace in Northern Ireland if Britain had, with impunity, bombed the Catholic areas and slaughtered civilians. Israel is today a ruthless nuclear state, with arsenals of artillery, missiles, chemical and biological weaponry. It respects no international laws and conventions (originally set up to stop Jewish persecution) and does what it pleases.
But why pick only on Israel? Western nations, including Britain, supply some of the killing machines used on children in Gaza. The US and UK have never been hauled through any independent judiciary to explain their lies spun to justify the war on Iraq, or the cluster bombs dropped on civilians, the massacres in Fallujah, the million dead and many more who are born deformed.
We may at long last learn about what happened in the run-up to the war in Blair's cabinet meetings. Many of the ministers who colluded – Hoon, Straw – or acquiesced have gone on to further great success. As have several "ethnic minority" MPs and Peers always happy to oblige. Blair has enriched himself faster than any recent British PM I know of – an indication of how low is his sense of public morality and of those who pay him for his services. All is forgiven and forgotten. He is even our most trusted Man in the Middle East – who must have known about Israel's plans in Gaza and did F all.
Henry Kissinger is in the same happy position. Instead of being tried for actively supporting Pinochet, bombing Cambodia etc etc, he became a sought after statesman, rich and famous enough to stroke the fair arms of Princess Diana. How shocked he was when, a few years ago, Jeremy Paxman interrogated him on Start the Week on his unethical foreign policies. (Paxo's finest hour in my view) and Kissinger walked out of the studio. Such men do not expect to answer such questions. They are above all that. Watch this space and George Bush Jnr will be raking in loot and obsequies. That is what power gets you – immunity and pleasures untold.
We are still basking in Obama's radiance and are heartened that he so soon announced the closure of Guantanamo Bay concentration camp. But again that cannot be the final word on the crimes committed there. The men evoked by the new American president would understand why. Thomas Jefferson's words at his own inauguration speak up clearly from the grave: "Equal and exact justice to all men ...freedom of the person under the protection of the habeas corpus and trail by juries impartially selected – these principles form the bright constellation that has gone before us".
Martin Luther King also warned: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice around the world." The west too often fails these truly noble ideals. What happens to those who established the camp and its methods? To the torturers and prison guards? Binyam Mohammed, a British resident is said to be close to death and may well leave in a coffin. But apparently nobody is responsible.
Only Third World and ex-Communist bastards ever get to face international condemnation and trials. If the Sri Lankan government carries on shelling Tamil civilians, it will be ( rightly) censured and held responsible by the UN and other bodies. Not so-called "leading nations" when they ignore binding conventions. Sure, a few unfortunate soldiers or policemen are forced through weak, domestic investigations to prove that rule of law is respected. They are merely sacrificial goats. People of real of power or influence in the west or Israel, or Russia, now China and India, know they will never be dragged off to The Hague.
Corrupt individuals with the kind of money that makes western politicians salivate are always safe and clean. Accountability will not come knocking at their doors. The freemasons making torture equipment and arms thrive, protected in perpetuity by official secrecy. Individuals in those hidden crypts will never stand in the dock. Peace without fairness and due process is worthless. Even in South Africa, where Mandela virtuously put reconciliation before justice, furious urban blacks still feel that the settlement on that basis was profoundly unjust because whites who cruelly administered Apartheid policies got away with it.
Millions around the world, the young in particular, will not accept that double international standards are as immutable as laws of nature. They are now connected up, sharing rage and frustration. The beneficiaries are Mugabe (a hero for many), Bin Laden, Hamas, suicide terrorist cells, violent nihilists and real anti-Semites. And so there will be no peace. The great anti-slavery judge William Mansfield said in 1768: "Fiat justitia, ruat coelum" – Let justice be done, though the skies may fall. If the powerful don't understand that, they deserve the contempt increasingly heaped on them.