December 2009

December 31, 2009

Hundreds of activists protest against Gaza blockade: BBC

Gaza activists surrounded by Egyptian riot police in central Cairo

Gaza activists surrounded by Egyptian riot police in central Cairo

Several hundred people have joined demonstrations on the Israel-Gaza border to protest against the Israeli blockade of the territory. The demonstrators, who marched to the Erez crossing point from both sides of the border, included dozens of international activists. The Egyptian authorities have allowed about 80 protesters to cross into the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Dozens more, however, scuffled with police in the capital Cairo. Some report say protesters were injured by Egyptian police. More that 1,000 international activists had gathered in Cairo in the hope of being allowed into Gaza but were refused because of what Egyptian officials called the “sensitive situation” in the Palestinian territory. Israel maintains a strict blockade of Gaza, tightened in 2007 when Hamas took over the strip, banning virtually all exports and allowing in only humanitarian basics. Egypt’s border is open to only occasionally, to people not goods. Much of what Gazans need is supplied through illegal tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border. Israel says this is also a supply route for weapons.

It has become almost impossible to work out what happens in Cairo. While this is covered on local media in Egypt, there is nothing on the western media outlets. We depend on emails from the activists and on the Gaza Freedom March messages:

Internationals In Cairo Set Off On March To Gaza In Protest Of Siege

Contact: Ann Wright, Egypt (19) 508-1493
Ziyaad Lunat, Egypt +20 191181340
Medea Benjamin, Egypt +20 18 956 1919
Ehab Lotayef, Egypt +20 17 638 2628 (Arabic)
(Cairo) Following Egypt’s refusal to allow the Gaza Freedom Marchers to enter Gaza, the more than 1,300 peace-and-justice activists are setting out on foot. Despite police blockades set up throughout downtown Cairo in an attempt to pen the protesters in and prevent them from demonstrating in solidarity with Palestinians, the internationals are unfurling their banners and calling on supporters of peace around the world to join them to demand the end of the siege of Gaza.
Egypt’s offer to allow 100 of the 1400 marchers to enter Gaza was denounced as insufficient and deliberately divisive by the organizers. Meanwhile, the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs has sought to spin this last-minute offer as an act of goodwill for Palestinians and isolation of “troublemakers.” The Gaza Freedom March categorically rejects these assertions. Activists are in Cairo because they are being prevented by the Egyptian government from reaching Gaza. “We do not wish to be here, Gaza has always been our final destination”, said Max Ajl one of the marchers.
Some individuals managed to overcome the police barricades and began the march at the meeting point in Tahreer Square in downtown Cairo. They were joined by Egyptians who also wished to denounce the role of their government in sustaining the Gaza siege. The authorities have sought to separate international from the locals. The police is brutally attacking the nonviolent marchers. Many plain clothes police officers have infiltrated the crowds and are violently assaulting them. “I was lifted by the Egyptian police forces and literally tossed over the fence,” said Desiree Fairooz, one of the protesters. Marchers are chanting and resisting the attempt to disperse them vowing to remain in the square until they are allowed to go to Gaza. The GFM banner is hanging up high in a tree in the square. Some marchers are bleeding and riot police destroyed their cameras.
The Gaza Freedom March represents people from 43 countries with a diversity of backgrounds. They include peoples of all faiths, community leaders, peace activists, doctors, artists, students, politicians, authors and many others. They share a commitment to nonviolence and a determination to break the siege of Gaza.
“Egypt has tried every way possible to isolate us and to crush our spirit,” the march organizers say. “However, we remain as committed as we ever to standing up against tyranny and repression. We will march as far as we can towards Gaza, and if we are stopped by force, we will hold our ground in protest. We call on those committed to justice and peace everywhere to support our stand for freedom for Palestinians.”
Among the participants are Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Walker, Filipino Parliament member Walden Bello and former European Parliamentarian Luisa Morgantini from Italy. More than 20 of the marchers, including 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, have launched a hunger strike against the Egyptian crack-down and are now entering their fourth day.

New year in Gaza reopens wounds of old: The Electronic Intifada,

Eva Bartlett, 31 December 2009

New Year’s in Gaza is time to honor the dead. (Eva Bartlett) GAZA CITY, occupied Gaza Strip (IPS) – For many survivors of the last Israeli war on Gaza, time has not healed their wounds, physical or emotional.

Halil Amal Samouni, 10, still suffers vision problems in her right eye. The shrapnel remaining in her head causes her constant pain and she is unable to concentrate at school.

Her concentration is broken, also, by memories of her martyred father and younger brother, both of whom she saw shot dead at close range by Israeli soldiers during the 2008-2009 winter war on Gaza.

The name Samouni has become well known for the high number of martyrs in the extended family, and for the brutality with which many victims were killed, the Israeli army’s prevention of medical access to the injured, and the thorough and systematic destruction of homes, farms, and civilian infrastructure in the Zeitoun district in eastern Gaza, and all throughout Gaza.

In the wake of Israeli tanks, bulldozers, warplanes and Apache helicopters, the once tree-laden area was left a muddy pitch of rutted earth and tree stumps. Chicken farms were destroyed, along with plastic greenhouses, farm equipment, water piping, and the tens of homes, agricultural buildings and the local mosque.

Many of the remaining houses were taken as military positions, sniper holes bored through walls, soldiers’ excrement, clothing, spent ammunition and food provisions were routinely left among the trashed belongings of the house. Hate graffiti was found throughout homes in the Samouni neighborhood and all over Gaza.

Most horrifying was the targeted shooting of the family — including children — and the deliberate shelling of homes they had been forced into by Israeli soldiers.

Amal Samouni was among the least fortunate of survivors.

When Israeli soldiers came to her home early on 4 January, they shot her father Atiyeh dead at close range, then fired continuously into the room full of family members. Amal’s younger brother Ahmed, 4, was seriously injured by the shooting. Denied medical care, he died the following morning, roughly ten hours after Israeli soldiers prevented medical rescuers from entering the area.

“They killed my dad and my brother. They destroyed our house,” Amal says simply. She has told her story to journalists many times. “But it hasn’t done any good, nothing has changed.”

Zeinat Samouni, Amal’s widowed mother, shows the single room her family of eight are crammed into, cracked asbestos tiling covering the roof.

“The roof leaks. We put plastic jugs on the floor to catch the water,” she says. “And because we can’t buy cooking gas, we cook over a fire instead.”

Aside from their physical discomfort, it is memories of the massacre and fear of a new attack that trouble them.

“I was terrified he would choke,” she says, gesturing to a child she holds. “He was only a few weeks old at the time.”

She recounts the trauma of having another child die in her arms, seeing him shelved in an overcrowded mortuary freezer, and all the while desperately wondering whether Amal was still alive.

“Even now, I’m still so afraid for my children, afraid that another war will come. The UAVs (unmanned drones) are always over us, and often at night the helicopters come.”

In northern Gaza’s Ezbet Beit Hanoun, families and friends of the Abd al-Dayem and Abu Jerrad families gather on 26 December, holding a candlelight vigil in remembrance of their sons, wives and husbands killed during a series of Israeli flechette (dart-bomb) attacks a year back.

The first to be killed in that area of Gaza by the razor-sharp nails was medic Arafa Abd al-Dayem, 35, on the morning of 4 January. Along with other medics, Abd al-Dayem had been on duty in the Attatra region, in Gaza’s north, retrieving wounded and martyred. As the medics loaded the ambulance, Israeli soldiers fired a flechette shell at the clearly marked vehicle, spreading thousands of darts at high velocity. Abd al-Dayem died an agonizing death, his internal organs and lungs shredded by the darts.

Khalid Abu Saada, a medic and the driver of the ambulance, testified to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights: “The shell directly hit the ambulance and 10 civilians, including the two paramedics, were injured.”

The following morning, the Abd al-Dayem family and friends gathered at a funeral tent erected for Arafa. Israeli tanks again fired flechette shells, striking the gathering multiple times, killing five at the tent, one down the road, and injuring at least 25.

“The pain is still fresh, I still can’t move on since my sons’ murders,” said Sabbah Abd al-Dayem, mother of two martyrs in their twenties.

Jamal Abd al-Dayem, father of the young men, recalls: “It was clearly a mourning house, on the road, open and visible. Immediately after the first strike, the Israelis fired again. I lost two sons. One of them was newly married, his wife eight months pregnant.”

Said Abd al-Dayem, 29, died of dart injuries to his head one day later in hospital. Nafez Abd al-Dayem, 23, died immediately from the darts to his head.

Nahez Abd al-Dayem, 25, survived but retains two darts in his abdomen, one in his chest, with only the dart in his leg removed. Islam Abd al-Dayem, 16, a cousin, died after three days in hospital from the darts to his neck. Arafat Abd al-Dayem, 15, a cousin, died instantly.

Human rights organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, and B’Tselem, among others, have criticized Israel’s use of flechette bombs in civilian areas in densely populated Gaza, where the darts have a “wide kill radius,” and indiscriminately target civilians.

Wafa Abu Jerrad, who was 21 and pregnant, lived down the street from the mourning tents. She was with her husband Muhammad, their two children, and relatives outside their house when Israeli soldiers fired the dart bombs.

Muhammad Abu Jerrad was stepping into the doorway, their two-year-old son Khalil in his arms, when the bomb hit. Wafa dropped to ground, struck by flechettes in the head, chest and back. She was killed instantly.

Sitting outside his family’s tent in the Attatra region, Saleh Abu Leila says, “Everything I worked for is gone.”

Since their two-story home was destroyed by Israeli soldiers during the war on Gaza, Abu Leila and 13 other family members have crowded into two small tents. During the summer, they sweltered in stifling heat. Now that winter is setting in, they are struggling to keep warm and dry.

Over 21,000 houses were destroyed or seriously damaged during the 23 days of Israeli attacks throughout Gaza that finally ended 18 January.

Since the end of the Israeli war on Gaza, Israeli authorities continue to block entry to cement and other necessary building materials. Glass, along with wood, piping and many other items, is considered potentially dangerous by Israeli authorities. The bomb-blasted windows of homes and buildings remain un-repaired one year later; the luckier families making due with plastic sheeting.

A small portion of Gaza’s 1.5 million people can afford to buy the overpriced, poor-quality cement smuggled in through the tunnels running between Gaza and Egypt. For those hardest hit, however, this is out of reach.

Hundreds of families, like the Attars, still remain in substandard shelters, insufficient for winter cold and rains.

Many Gazans do not welcome the New Year, they fear what it will bring.

More information from Gaza (sent by Jenny Morgan)

Images from Gaza, it seems, though the opening line of commentary says ‘Palestinians and Israelis come together to protest…’.

Some mobile phone footage from Cairo from a few days ago — demo led by Egyptians

Today’s march from the Israeli side of Erez

France24 from Dec 28

Interesting print discussion here

And interesting material in this tv blog:

Fascinating Amy Goodman interview with Ali Abunimah, intercut with interesting footage

There is no deluxe occupation: Haaretz Editorial

The High Court of Justice’s decision, in a panel headed by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, to end the ban on Palestinians using Route 443 is one of the most correct and just decisions the court has made in recent years.
Ever since the outbreak of the intifada, more than nine years ago, this road – which runs from the Ben Shemen interchange to the Ofer Base junction – has become a route for Israelis only. The ban even applied to the 10-kilometer portion of the road that passes through the West Bank, including on lands that were expropriated for public use. As a result, residents of nearby villages, including the owners of the land that was expropriated, who seek to reach the West Bank’s main cities are forced to use roundabout ways of getting to their destinations.
Over the course of 42 years of occupation, an approach has taken root which holds that the security and even convenience of the settlers take precedence over the property rights and welfare of the Palestinians. In order to ensure the safety of Israelis, dozens of bypass roads were paved in the West Bank and hundreds of roadblocks were put up. The route of the separation fence, which was supposed to separate the West Bank from the territory of the State of Israel, was also adjusted to the settlements’ expansion plans. To this end, thousands of dunams of land were expropriated from their owners and farmers were separated from their fields, the source of their livelihood.
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As was to be expected, MKs from the right attacked the Supreme Court with the questionable assertion that removing the roadblocks at the entrance of the villages near the road would undermine the security of travelers. These MKs ignore the principle behind the court’s ruling and the rules of international law, which enable the military administration to violate property rights only if this is done for the benefit of the local population. The term “local population” does not include those citizens of the occupying country who choose to live in the middle of occupied territory. Democratic and moral countries do not expropriate both the land and the right to make use of it.
The barring of Palestinians from Route 443 was one of the ugliest aspects of a deluxe occupation. Real security cannot be achieved by roadblocks, fences and separate roads, but only by a fair peace accord that will bring an end to the occupation.

Some more information as it arrives: MondoWeiss

After three days of vigils and demonstrations in downtown Cairo, Suzanne Mubarak’s offer to allow just 100 of 1,300 delegates to enter Gaza was rejected by the Gaza Freedom March.

Coordinating Committee as well as many of the larger contingents – including those from France, Scotland, Canada, South Africa, Sweden and New York State (U.S.).

“We flatly reject Egypt’s offer of a token gesture. We refuse to whitewash the siege of Gaza. Our group will continue working to get all 1362 marchers into Gaza as one step towards the ultimate goal for the complete end of the siege and the liberation of Palestine” said Ziyaad Lunat a member of the march Coordinating Committee.

The clip from Democracy Now above features an interview with Ali Abunimah giving the latest update (starts around 30:00). Abunimah states that between 50-80 people did board a bus to head to Gaza for various reasons, and according to this twitter update the bus may have been turned back at the Suez canal. Abunimah explained his own decision not to go to Gaza on his blog:

This was a very difficult morning. Many delegations to the Gaza Freedom March rejected the Egyptian offer of two buses to Gaza. Personally I wanted nothing more to be in Gaza. I did get on a bus. But I could not go when people I know and trust in Gaza did not want us to come under such conditions and when there was so much opposition to this. For me that was the bottom line. Their fear is this small delegation would be used by the Egyptian government for propaganda and there was great anger at the statements made by the Egyptian foreign minister last night maligning the Gaza Freedom March. I understand the agony of people on those buses who wanted to reach Gaza. I felt that. But it was impossible. We need to keep up the struggle to end the siege. We’ve come this far. Solidarity means standing together and continuing the struggle.

It’s been difficult to piece the situation together online, but clearly the march was put in a near impossible situation by the Egyptian offer and any decision regarding the offer would have been controversial. Here is a fascinating update on how march participants handled the news of the offer, and it’s clear that critics who felt that Egypt was using the march to whitewash their own complicity in the Gaza blockade won out. This decision was supported by Palestinians who were coordinating the march inside Gaza. Here is a statement from the Gaza-Gaza Freedom March Steering Committee:

Gaza 30.12.2009

Over the past week we, representatives of various civil society sectors in Gaza, have been humbled by the sacrifices that you, 1400 people, have made in order to come and support us in breaking the siege.

Despite our grave disappointment that we can not yet meet you all that we are still separated by this medieval siege we feel that your arrival in Cairo has already borne fruits. Your insistence to break the siege in order to be in solidarity with us has inspired many and shamed many others. Thanks to your presence with us, a network to break the siege and free Palestine has been established.

We support any decisions taken by the Gaza Freedom March Coordination Committee about the entry of just 100 of 1400 delegates into Gaza instead of all the delegates presently in Cairo. Obviously it is, as all previous decisions, a majority decision. We, at the Gaza- GFM Steering committee have reiterated our position, namely, that it is up to The Gaza Freedom March Coordination Committee in Cairo to decide. We initially felt that if representatives of all forty some countries can go to Gaza and join a march along Palestinians it would convey a very strong message to the world public opinion. Had they decided to go through with the Egyptian offer, we would have welcomed them in Gaza and deeply appreciated their solidarity.

The decision to send 100 delegates, however, seemed too divisive for the growing solidarity campaign with the Palestinian people. The unity of the global solidarity campaign is of utmost importance for us, the besieged Palestinians of Gaza. We have repeatedly argued that the march itself is not supposed to be only a symbolic gesture, but rather a part of a series of events which will lead to the end of the siege, once and for all. We want to intensify and continue building the solidarity campaign, not divide it.

We salute the GFM delegates and thank them for the tremendous amount of work they have been doing and whatever decision they came up with.

Gaza-GFM Steering Committee

Egyptian Police Beat Protesters from Gaza Freedom March: Democracy Now

Eighty-six international activists and journalists have reportedly entered Gaza carrying humanitarian aid, but the Egyptian government is continuing to block more than 1,200 other other activists with the Gaza Freedom March from crossing the border. Organizers said Egypt’s position has prevented more aid from entering Gaza. Meanwhile, in Cairo, plainclothes Egyptian police officers beat members of the Gaza Freedom March as they staged a demonstration to demand the right to enter Gaza. Protesters were reportedly beaten with blows to the head and forcefully kicked. Other activists were detained in hotels. One Belgian protester named Maude said Egyptian security forces were tightly controlling their actions in Cairo.
Maude: “There was a lot of events in the street, in the street during the last few days. And now there is a big manifestation, but it’s not possible for us to join our group, because the police is making a circle and we can’t enter in. It’s not possible now.”

Gaza militants fire Grad rocket into Netivot: Ha’aretz

Gaza militants fired at least one Grad rocket into the southern Israeli town of Netivot Thursday evening, following a long lull in violence.
Police were looking into reports of a second explosion.
The Color Red early warning system did not go off, giving the resident no indication of the coming attack.
One woman suffered shock and no damage was reported.
The rocket marked the first such attack on Netivot in nine months. The last Grad rocket to hit the city exploded near a synagogue, and caused some damage.
Netivot Mayor Yehiel Zohar contacted the Israel Defense Forces demanding to know why the early warning system failed to work.
The unusual Grad attack came hours after hundreds of demonstrators gathered on both sides of the Gaza border to mark one year since Israel’s offensive in the Strip last winter.

Journey to nowhere: Ha’aretz

By Gideon Levy
Well, here we are. A new year begins at midnight, and for the Middle East, 2010 will be a year of negotiations. Peace envoys are warming up at the starting line, document writers are polishing draft agreements for the envoys, advisers are coming up with their own phraseology, pundits are piling up verbiage, photographers are aiming their cameras, and diplomats are packing their bags and sharpening their tongues. George Mitchell will be here soon, Benjamin Netanyahu has already been to Cairo, Mahmoud Abbas is on his way. In the end there will be a summit. In Washington they’ll be elated, in Europe they’ll be exhilarated, the settlers will fulminate and the leftists will somnambulate. Yet another scene in the theater of the absurd, another act in the endless grotesque burlesque. Here we are again: The season of negotiations is upon us, negotiations that amount to nothing.
Already the archives are bursting at the seams with plans and initiatives, outlines and parameters, all already thick with dust. Never before has there been so dangerous and so protracted a conflict with so many wars and so many peace plans. From the first Rogers Plan of December 1969 to the second and third Rogers plans and up to the present, it’s been a horrifyingly dreary tale of sterile diplomacy, a 40-year journey to nowhere.
Everything has already been written and all the plans are amazingly similar, which isn’t surprising. If you want peace, just go to one of the drawers and randomly pluck out any of the plans, it really doesn’t matter which, and start implementing it. And if you want a “peace process,” you’re invited to join the coming festivities, including the killer hangover.
One could, for example, pull the original Rogers Plan out of the mothballs. William Rogers himself has been dead for years, but everything is right there in his plan: withdrawal to the 1967 borders, recognition, sovereignty, peace. It was Israel that rejected it. Forty years on, and we are wallowing in the exact same spot. You want to be a little more up-to-date? Take Bill Clinton’s plan – everything’s there too. So why start off yet again on another campaign of tortuous language? Why do all the Uzi Arads and George Mitchells have to wear themselves out?
Benjamin Netanyahu has already undergone his “historic turnabout,” he’s reportedly ready to discuss, certainly discuss, the ’67 borders, with territory swaps and security arrangements. Even the timetable has already been set – two years, of course it’s two years, it’s always two years, two years more. At the end, Israel’s ultimate triumph will be declared: There’s no partner. Again we’ll hear that the Palestinian president is “a chicken with no feathers” or that the Palestinian leaders are “a gang of terrorists,” and again we’ll hear that there’s no one to talk to.
There is no Palestinian partner, because there is no Israeli partner who is ready to take action. The day that Israel starts acting, together with the Palestinians, the partner will be there. Even Nelson Mandela wasn’t the Mandela we know until he was freed from prison and South Africa was placed in his hands. He too refused to give up armed resistance for decades, but when he was given a true opportunity, he followed a path of peace. The key was in the hands of F.W. de Clerk, not those of Mandela. Israel, too, has that key. Now that it is no longer possible to halt everything because of terrorism, since there is almost none, Israel has lost one of its best weapons. When there is terrorism, one cannot act, and when there is no terrorism, there’s no reason to act. But don’t worry, it will be back, if nothing happens. The experience of the disengagement won’t help either, because the continued imprisonment of the Gazans means that nothing has changed in their lives.
The last person to touch the dream was Ehud Olmert. Countless “excellent” meetings with Abbas, photo ops and bold speeches in abundance. Almost courage, nearly accord, a “shelf agreement” any minute now. Meanwhile, at the edge of the shelf are two lost wars and more settlement construction. All the fine words were rendered worthless by the action on the ground. Because this is the supreme test: It doesn’t matter what the Israelis say, it matters what they do.
The time for words is over. Stop negotiating, start doing. Lifting the blockade on Gaza and declaring a perpetual freeze on building in the settlements would do more than a thousand formulations. Someone who wants two states doesn’t build even one more balcony. This is the litmus test of Israel’s true intentions. Without taking these steps, everything else is a waste of time, the time of the negotiators and of all of us. Does Netanyahu mean to take any of these steps? That is very doubtful, troublingly so.

Israeli Arab MK: Barak enjoys classical music and killing Gaza children: Ha’aretz

Some 1,000 people, among them all of Israel’s Arab MKs and community leaders, gathered Thursday at the Israeli side of the Gaza border to express solidarity with the residents of Gaza, one year after Israel’s offensive there. MK Taleb A-Sana relayed Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s message to the Israeli side via a mobile phone.
During the rally, Israeli Arab MK Jamal Zahalka directed harsh criticism at Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who he said enjoys “classical music and killing children in Gaza.”
The terror emerging from the Gaza Strip was a result of Israel’s actions against Palestinians, Zahalka told the protesters.
Haniyeh told activists gathered on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the Gaza border that residents of the besieged territory had not given up hope and would never stop fighting for a state, with Jerusalem as its capital.
“Because of international solidarity and your support, we have become stronger,” Haniyeh declared. “The Palestinian nation will never give up its national aspirations or its right to Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine and the Islamic people.”
On the Gaza side of the border, nearly 100 international activists joined about 500 Palestinians, chanting and carrying signs denouncing the blockade.
Egypt allowed 84 pro-Palestinian foreign activists to march into Gaza, Egyptian officials in the North Sinai governorate said.
Some 1,400 activists from 43 countries have gathered in Cairo since Sunday to mark the first anniversary Operation Cast Lead. Egypt said 100 activists were allowed to pass through
“Egyptian authorities made an exception and opened the Rafah border on Wednesday and allowed activists from the Gaza Freedom March to pass through,” Alhamy Aref, secretary-general of the North Sinai governorate, said.
The Israeli Arab protesters on the Israeli side waved the flag of the Palestine Liberation Organization as they rallied against Israel’s continued blockade of Gaza, accusing Israel of starving the Palestinian people.
The 86 international activists began touring the Gaza Strip on Thursday, in an expression of solidarity with Palestinians living there under the Israeli blockade.
They were also scheduled to tour areas hit in the Israeli bombardments, visit Gaza’s Shifa hospital, and meet with community leaders, said Hamdi Shaath, the head of the pro-Hamas Committee to Defeat the Blockade.
Tighe Berry, the spokesman of the group, said Hedy Epstein, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, had remained behind in Cairo

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December 30, 2009

Get out of my Land, by Latuff

Get out of my Land, by Latuff

While his security police harass the Gaza Freedom March demonstrators from across the globe, and block their travel to Rafah, Mubarak found the right moment to meet with the Israeli PM, and offer him brotherly support. One US lackey supports another, naturally.

Egypt and Israel differ over peace: Al Jazeera online

“]Netanyahu, left, and Mubarak discussed issues including a prisoner exchange deal [EPA]

Netanyahu, left, and Mubarak discussed issues including a prisoner exchange deal [EPA]
Israeli and Egyptian leaders have met in Cairo to discuss US-backed efforts to relaunch peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Neither Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, nor Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s president, spoke to journalists after the meeting on Tuesday, though the Israeli PM’s office said “talks were in-depth and friendly”.
However, Ahmed Abul Gheit, Egypt’s foreign minister, said peace talks could not be relaunched until Israel halts its settlement activity.
“We have seen that the Israeli prime minister wants to move ahead (with negotiations), and he insists on moving ahead, but we insist on an agreed platform,” Abul Gheit said.
“There are conditions … we will not negotiate while settlement continues.”
Egypt also wants to see a defined time frame for the talks.
“Any negotiation, for which a basis and a goal is agreed, must have a time-frame,” Abul Gheit said.

Prisoner swap
The two leaders also discussed a prisoner swap between Israel and the Palestinians that would see the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured in Gaza three and half years ago.
Abul Gheit said the deal was still “suspended” and that a Hamas delegation currently in Syria was to head back to Cairo for talks with officials on the issue.
Fahmi Huwaidi, an Egyptian political analyst, told Al Jazeera that a deal on a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas could be reached during the visit.
“Israel seeks by this visit to confirm the importance [it] gives to Egypt’s role in this matter, particularly after Germany began to mediate.
“The Israeli prime minister seeks to gain concessions from Hamas in the prisoners exchange deal, after the pressure currently being put on the movement.
“This visit is also an attempt by an ally to save his ally, after the criticism against the Egyptian leadership concerning the building of a steel wall on the Egypt-Gaza border.”
Egypt has been criticised for keeping closed its border with the Gaza Strip, the only Gazan border not affected by an Israeli blockade, and building a wall along the divide.

‘New initiative’
The US administration of Barack Obama, the US president, is said to be drafting letters of guarantee for Israel and the Palestinians to serve as a basis for the relaunch of peace talks, stalled for almost a year.
“We’ve been hearing increasing reports that the Americans may be about to unveil a new diplomatic initiative,” Mouin Rabbani, a senior fellow at the Institute of Palestinian Studies, told Al Jazeera.
“The mere fact of Mubarak meeting Netanyahu in Egypt is in and of itself an instrument of pressure on Mahmoud Abbas [the Palestinian president] to accept whatever conditions the Americans may be putting forth.
“The message that is coming from the Egyptian leadership now is that what the Americans are going to propose is good enough for the most important Arab state and therefore it should be good enough for the Palestinian leadership,” he said.
One Arab diplomat in Cairo was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying that George Mitchell, the US special envoy to the Middle East “will present two draft letters of guarantee, one for Israel and one to the Palestinian Authority during his next visit to the region”.

Arrest request
Egypt had already asked for written US guarantees before peace negotiations could resume, in order to ensure that their aim is the establishment of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders.
But peace efforts have already been overshadowed by Israel’s announcement on Sunday that it had invited tenders for the construction of hundreds of new homes for Jewish settlers in occupied Arab East Jerusalem.
The announcement prompted criticism from the US and EU, alongside Egypt.
Netanyahu announced a 10-month moratorium on new housing projects in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank in November, but that suspension was not applied to East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel in 1967.
Separately, four Egyptians filed a request with the country’s prosecutor general demanding Netanyahu be arrest over his treatment of the Palestinians.
In their request, the activists stated they were “filing this on grounds that the constitution states that Egypt is part of the Arab nation … and that the Palestinian issue is the central Arab cause”.

Israel court rules Palestinians can use highway:BBC

Israel’s Supreme Court has ordered the military to let Palestinians use a road that runs through the West Bank.
Palestinians were barred from the Jerusalem to Tel Aviv Highway 443 in 2002 when militants shot dead a number of Israelis in their cars.
The case was brought by Palestinians who live in the villages along the 12.5-mile (20-km) West Bank section of the road.
Human rights groups hailed the decision saying it was “a huge victory”.
The court said the military did not have the authority to impose the kind of sweeping limitation that “in effect transforms the road into a route designed for ‘internal’ Israeli traffic alone”.
‘Huge victory’
The road was built on land appropriated from the villagers who lived along its course.
But villagers are prevented from getting on the highway by concrete barricades and military checkpoints along its length.
The military have five months to implement the ruling and dismantle the barriers.
It is the second time in recent months the court has ordered the military to open roads to Palestinians.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which provided legal representation to the Palestinians, said it was “a huge victory”.
But the ruling was condemned by Israeli right-wingers.

Cairo blocks Gaza aid convoy: Financial Times

By Heba Saleh in Cairo
Published: December 28 2009 02:00
Egypt has blocked a humanitarian aid convoy for Gaza and barred more than 1,000 international campaigners from visiting the territory, writes Heba Saleh in Cairo .
The campaigners want to gain access to Gaza via the Rafah border crossing to show solidarity with the Palestinians on the first anniversary of Israel’s military operation against the enclave,
Some 150 aid trucks organised by the Viva Palestina campaign led by George Galloway, a British member of parliament, are stuck in the Jordanian port of Aqaba, because the Egyptian authorities have refused to grant them permission to enter the country through the nearby Red Sea port of Nuweiba.
Egypt says the convoy would be allowed to enter Egypt only if it arrived in the port of Al Arish on the Mediterranean coast because that is the approved “mechanism” for delivering aid to Gaza. This would add days and costs to the journey, as it will entail hiring ships and sailing around the Sinai peninsula through the Suez canal.
Egypt has also separately barred 1,300 campaigners from travelling overland from Cairo to Gaza to join a march with local people to publicise the plight of the besieged Gazans.
The decisions are likely to stoke further criticism of the Egyptian government by an electorate uneasy about the country’s participation in the blockade against Gaza. The unease deepened this month after it emerged that Egypt has been constructing what is described as an underground steel wall along the 14-kilometre border to prevent the supply of goods and weapons to Gaza through smugglers’ tunnels.
The foreign minister was quoted as saying that any construction work being undertaken was to protect Egyptian national security.

Israel’s offensive, blockade strangling Gaza, its people: jsonline

Posted: Dec. 28, 2009
One year after Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s military offensive against Gaza that began on Dec. 27, 2008, residents there are still struggling to recover from the worst attack against Palestinians since the Six Day War in 1967.
A blockade of Gaza’s borders implemented by Israel, now well into its third year and made worse after Operation Cast Lead, has crippled the economy and has prevented the Palestinians of Gaza from rebuilding their lives after last winter’s war, which killed 1,409 people – including 355 children – and destroyed hospitals, water treatment plants, factories, schools and mosques.
Israel’s blockade is slowly strangling Gaza, a tiny strip of land roughly two-thirds the size of Chicago that is bordered by Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea.
The siege prohibits the export of Palestinian goods and severely limits the import of humanitarian supplies, such as food, medicine and reconstruction materials. The United Nations reports that Israel allows into Gaza less than 25% of the goods it did before the siege began in June 2007. It has crippled Gaza’s economy and plunged 90% of its 1.5 million inhabitants into poverty. Unemployment stands at more than 50%.
This fall, Israel permanently closed the Nahal Oz crossing, the sole oil and gas terminal serving Gaza. Severely restricted supplies – less than 20% of what is needed – are shipped through another crossing. Palestinian media report more than 30 service stations have closed for lack of fuel. Hospitals have ceased cooking food or doing laundry – both of which negatively affect hygiene and health in those institutions.
Health care is one of the blockade’s biggest casualties. At least 362 people have died since June 2007 because they could not access appropriate medical care, according to the Palestinian National Authority Ministry of Health. Twenty-two people died in the first eight months of 2009 alone. As of June, nearly 20% of essential drugs for things like kidney and heart disease were depleted, according to the Gaza Central Drug Store.
International law guarantees everyone the right to an adequate standard of living – to work, food and water. Israel’s blockade denies the Palestinians of Gaza these rights. The Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, stipulates that occupiers must protect the people it occupies – including providing adequate medical care. The U.N. says Israel’s blockade amounts to collective punishment, prohibited under international humanitarian law.
The United States makes aid to foreign countries contingent upon human rights practices. Yet the U.S. annually awards Israel more than $3 billion in unconditional military and other aid. Washington’s infrequent warnings to Israel about human rights abuses carry no weight so long as the equivalent of $7 million per day continues to flow to Israel with no strings attached.
The U.S. recently vetoed a measure in the U.N. Human Rights Council supporting the Goldstone Report, the U.N.-sanctioned study of Operation Cast Lead that said Israel committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. This veto – along with the continuing billions of dollars in foreign aid – allows Israel to act with impunity. U.S. support of Israel hurts our standing in the Arab and Muslim worlds and weakens our negotiating stance with all parties to the conflict.
As Americans, we should be outraged our tax money supports Israel and its illegal and inhumane siege of Gaza. As the New Year approaches, perhaps leaning on our elected officials to hold Israel accountable by threatening to withhold aid should be on our list of resolutions.

Munjed Ahmad is a Milwaukee attorney and vice chairman of American Muslims for Palestine.

28 kilometers of distilled apartheid: Ha’aretz

By Gideon Levy
This highway has told the whole story. They pave a road, expropriate Palestinian land and the High Court of Justice approves the expropriation, in its words, “provided that it is done for the sake of the local population.”
Afterwards they prevent the “local population” from using the road, and finally they build a wall with drawings of creeks and meadows so we don’t see and don’t know that we are driving on an apartheid road, that we are traveling on the axis of evil.
Apartheid? What are you talking about? It’s just a freeway to the capital, because that’s how we like it best. Going (quickly) along with the occupation and feeling like there is none. That way the highway has fulfilled another secret national wish – that they get out of our faces.
How many of the masses of travelers on this high road to the capital have looked to their left and right? How many of them have noticed the 12 roads blocked by iron roadblocks and piles of garbage? (Is there another country that blocks roads with garbage?) And what about the 22 confined and concealed villages alongside the road? How many people have asked themselves how it is possible that a road that was paved in the heart of the Land of Palestine has no Palestinians traveling on it? How many have noticed the sign that leads to the “Ofer [army] camp”, another whitewashed name for a detention facility or the hundreds of prisoners detained there, some without trial?
How many have observed the inhabitants trudging over the rocky ground to get to the neighboring village? It’s 28 kilometers of distilled apartheid: the Jews on top on the freeway becoming of the lords of the land. Palestinians down below, going on foot to the Al-Tira village girls’ school, for example, through a dark, moldy tunnel.
I, too, have deliberated more than once whether to take Highway 1 with all of its traffic jams or 443 with all of its injustices. In my transgressions, sometimes I have opted for the injustices. It’s like shooting and crying. First you kill and then you are struck with grief over what you have done. I have driven and cried.
The High Court of Justice has again proven how essential it is. Too late and too little, and strangely imposing a delay of five months in the implementation of its ruling. It is not a beacon of justice with regard to everything related to the occupation, but it is at least a small flashlight shining a faint beam: beware, apartheid.
Justices Dorit Beinisch and Uzi Vogelman should be commended. They have reminded us what had been forgotten. There are judges in Jerusalem, and periodically they even come out against the injustice of the occupation. See you in another five months. By then maybe the state will find a range of rationales and excuses not to enforce the ruling. Palestinian cars on Highway 443? You’re making me (and the army) laugh.

What a pity that Obama does not read Ha’aretz! He could learn so much very quickly.

State approves new building plan for West Bank settlement: Ha’aretz

In an unusual step, the state announced on Tuesday its plan to promote planning and construction in the northern West Bank settlement of Kiryat Netafim, Army Radio reported Wednesday.
Left wing human rights group Peace Now petitioned the High Court of Justice recently against the construction of 14 structures that were illegally built, some of them on Palestinian land without any authorization, according to the petition. In response to the petition, the Defense Ministry approved the Kiryat Netafim construction plans, to legalize the construction of the 14 structures in question.

This decision was surprising, especially in light of the fact that the government recently declared a 10-month settlement construction freeze. Army Radio reported that there are several other areas where the Defense Ministry wants to approve construction, because every step of the planning has been in complete accordance with the law, but the ministry refrains from approving these plans due to fear of international criticism.
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Peace Now Secretary General Yariv Oppenheimer told Army Radio that while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls for relaunching peace talks with the Palestinians, in practice he and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are doing everything in their power to promote new construction plans in the West Bank and to “authorize illegal construction in outposts and settlements.”
“The settlement freeze is turning out to be no more than media spin with no connection to reality,” Oppenheimer told Army Radio.
Residents of Kiryat Netafim welcomed the decision, telling Army Radio that “this announcement sparked a wave of excitement. We are grateful to the Peace Now activists for raising this issue before the court.”
“Immediately after we receive the authorizations, we will begin building. We are hopeful that our neighbors in Judea and Samaria will enjoy similar treatment,” they added.

That well-known anti-semitic institution committed to the destruction of Israel, has proved its credentials yet again… Why don’t stop singling out Israel, and instead look at Mars or Venus, which as is also well known, are hardly democratic.

UN expert repeats call for threat of sanctions against Israel over Gaza blockade: UN News

29 December 2009 – The United Nations independent expert on Palestinian rights has again called for a threat of economic sanctions against Israel to force it to lift its blockade of Gaza, which is preventing the return to a normal life for 1.5 million residents after the devastating Israeli offensive a year ago.
“Obviously Israel does not respond to language of diplomacy, which has encouraged the lifting of the blockade and so what I am suggesting is that it has to be reinforced by a threat of adverse economic consequences for Israel,” Richard Falk, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, told UN Radio.
“That probably is something that is politically unlikely to happen, but unless it happens, it really does suggest that the United States and the Quartet and the EU [European Union] don’t take these calls for lifting the blockade very seriously and are unaffected by Israel’s continuing defiance of those calls,” he said, referring to the diplomatic Quartet of the UN, EU, Russia and US, which have been calling for a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), the main UN body tending to the needs of some 4 million Palestinian refugees, said today Gaza had been “bombed back, not to the Stone Age, but to the mud age,” because UNRWA was reduced to building houses out of mud after the 22-day offensive Israel said it launched to end rocket attacks against it.
“The Israeli blockade has meant that almost no reconstruction materials have been allowed to move into Gaza even though 60,000 homes were either damaged or completely destroyed. So we in UNRWA have been saying ‘let’s lift this senseless blockage,’” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told UN Radio.
“We are the United Nations and we always hope that diplomacy will prevail, and it will prevail above the rationale of warfare. But if you look at what is going on in Gaza, and if you look at the continued blockade and the fact that that blockade is radicalizing a population there, then one has to have one’s doubts.”
In a statement last week, Mr. Falk stressed that the “unlawful blockade” was in its third year, with insufficient food and medicine reaching Gazans, producing further deterioration of the mental and physical health of the entire civilian population.
Building materials necessary to repair the damage could not enter Gaza, and he blamed the blockade for continued breakdowns of the electricity and sanitation systems due to the Israeli refusal to let spare parts needed for repair get through the crossings.
Mr. Falk also deplored the wall being built on the borders between Gaza and Egypt.
“I’m very distressed by that, because it is both an expression of complicity on the part of the government of Egypt and the United States, which apparently is assisting through its corps of engineers with the construction of this underground steel impenetrable wall that’s designed to interfere with the tunnels that have been bringing some food and material relief to the Gaza population,” he told UN Radio.
“And of course, the underground tunnel complex itself is an expression of the desperation created in Gaza as a result of this blockade that’s going on now for two and a half years, something that no people since the end of World War II have experienced in such a severe and continuing form.”
As a Special Rapporteur, Mr. Falk serves in an independent and unpaid capacity and reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.
In a new policy brief, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), entrusted with promoting the integration of developing countries into the world economy, reported that more than 80 per cent of Gaza’s population are now impoverished; 43 per cent unemployed; and 75 per cent lack food security. “In view of the eroded productive base, poverty is likely to widen and deepen unless reconstruction begins in earnest and without further delay,” it warned.

Update from The Electronic Intifada

Dear Friends,

Over the past few days, I have been in Cairo with more than 1,300 people from 43 countries, as part of the Gaza Freedom March. Part of the reason I personally decided to go Gaza is to meet some of the individuals in Gaza who have written for The Electronic Intifada (EI), and to see and hear for myself how people there continue to struggle and survive in the wake of last year’s Israeli attack amid a tight blockade calculated to make recovery, reconstruction and civilized life impossible.
In face of the Egyptian government’s efforts to prevent us from reaching Gaza, marchers have been staging peaceful actions to highlight the devastating effects of the ongoing blockade of Gaza and to demand the border be opened.
This experience has brought home to me the importance of the work The Electronic Intifada team does to break the information siege every day, by ensuring that the voices and stories of Palestinians in Gaza and throughout Palestine are not silenced, and that the incisive, prescient and independent analysis you can’t get anywhere else continues on EI.
While I have been in Cairo, my EI team colleagues have continued their work, as they do every day, to bring a first class publication to thousands of people around the world.  Your support is critically important to this effort. If you have not already done so, please consider making a donation to EI before the close of the year so that we can remain strong in 2010.
To learn more about how your support makes our award-winning coverage of Palestine possible, please see our 2009 Appeal: http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10951.shtml

To make a tax-deductible donation now, go to:

https://secure.groundspring.org/dn/index.php?aid=10090

With best wishes for the new year

Ali Abunimah
On behalf of The Electronic Intifada Team

The next piece by John Pilger is not directly related to Gaza, but discusses the future before us, and is too good to miss:

Welcome to Orwell’s World 2010:ICH

By John Pilger
December 30, 2009 – “Information Clearing House” — In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell described a superstate called Oceania, whose language of war inverted lies that “passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’, ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past’.”
Barack Obama is the leader of a contemporary Oceania. In two speeches at the close of the decade, the Nobel Peace Prize winner affirmed that peace was no longer peace, but rather a permanent war that “extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan” to “disorderly regions and diffuse enemies”. He called this “global security” and invited our gratitude. To the people of Afghanistan, which America has invaded and occupied, he said wittily: “We have no interest in occupying your country.”
In Oceania, truth and lies are indivisible. According to Obama, the American attack on Afghanistan in 2001 was authorised by the United Nations Security Council. There was no UN authority. He said the “the world” supported the invasion in the wake of 9/11 when, in truth, all but three of 37 countries surveyed by Gallup expressed overwhelming opposition. He said that America invaded Afghanistan “only after the Taliban refused to turn over [Osama] bin Laden”. In 2001, the Taliban tried three times to hand over bin Laden for trial, reported Pakistan’s military regime, and were ignored. Even Obama’s mystification of 9/11 as justification for his war is false. More than two months before the Twin Towers were attacked, the Pakistani foreign minister, Niaz Naik, was told by the Bush administration that an American military assault would take place by mid-October. The Taliban regime in Kabul, which the Clinton administration had secretly supported, was no longer regarded as “stable” enough to ensure America’s control over oil and gas pipelines to the Caspian Sea. It had to go.
Obama’s most audacious lie is that Afghanistan today is a “safe haven” for al-Qaeda’s attacks on the West. His own national security adviser, General James Jones, said in October that there were “fewer than 100” al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. According to US intelligence, 90 per cent of the Taliban are hardly Taliban at all, but “a tribal localised insurgency [who] see themselves as opposing the US because it is an occupying power”. The war is a fraud. Only the terminally gormless remain true to the Obama brand of “world peace”.
Beneath the surface, however, there is serious purpose. Under the disturbing General Stanley McCrystal, who gained distinction for his assassination squads in Iraq, the occupation of one of the most impoverished countries is a model for those “disorderly regions” of the world still beyond Oceania’s reach. This is a known as COIN, or counter-insurgency network, which draws together the military, aid organisations, psychologists, anthropologists, the media and public relations hirelings. Covered in jargon about winning hearts and minds, its aim is to pit one ethnic group against another and incite civil war: Tajiks and Uzbecks against Pashtuns.
The Americans did this in Iraq and destroyed a multi-ethnic society. They bribed and built walls between communities who had once inter-married, ethnically cleansing the Sunni and driving millions out of the country. The embedded media reported this as “peace”, and American academics bought by Washington and “security experts” briefed by the Pentagon appeared on the BBC to spread the good news. As in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the opposite was true.
Something similar is planned for Afghanistan. People are to be forced into “target areas” controlled by warlords bankrolled by the Americans and the opium trade. That these warlords are infamous for their barbarism is irrelevant. “We can live with that,” a Clinton-era diplomat said of the persecution of women in a “stable” Taliban-run Afghanistan. Favoured western relief agencies, engineers and agricultural specialists will attend to the “humanitarian crisis” and so “secure” the subjugated tribal lands.
That is the theory. It worked after a fashion in Yugoslavia where the ethnic-sectarian partition wiped out a once peaceful society, but it failed in Vietnam where the CIA’s “strategic hamlet program” was designed to corral and divide the southern population and so defeat the Viet Cong — the Americans’ catch-all term for the resistance, similar to “Taliban”.
Behind much of this are the Israelis, who have long advised the Americans in both the Iraq and Afghanistan adventures. Ethnic-cleansing, wall-building, checkpoints, collective punishment and constant surveillance – these are claimed as Israeli innovations that have succeeded in stealing most of Palestine from its native people. And yet for all their suffering, the Palestinians have not been divided irrevocably and they endure as a nation against all odds.
The most telling forerunners of the Obama Plan, which the Nobel Peace Prize winner and his strange general and his PR men prefer we forget, are those that failed in Afghanistan itself. The British in the 19th century and the Soviets in the 20th century attempted to conquer that wild country by ethnic cleansing and were seen off, though after terrible bloodshed. Imperial cemeteries are their memorials. People power, sometimes baffling, often heroic, remains the seed beneath the snow, and invaders fear it.
“It was curious,” wrote Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four, “to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. And the people under the sky were also very much the same, everywhere, all over the world … people ignorant of one another’s existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same people who … were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world.”
www.johnpilger.co

Protests held against Gaza siege: Al Jazeera online

Members of Gaza Freedom March, denied entry to Gaza, demonstrated in Cairo [Ali Abunimah]
Activists, both from Gaza and abroad, have held demonstrations on either side of an Israeli border crossing to the Palestinian territory, protesting against its continued siege by Israel.
Hundreds of protesters gathered around the Erez crossing on Thursday, to denounce the blockade that has caused immense suffering to those living in Gaza.
Nisreen el-Shamayleh, Al Jazeera’s correspondent who was on the Israeli side of the crossing, estimated that about 600 protesters were present, many from mainly Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.
“They represent Israeli-Palestinians as well as other Arab civil society organisations inside Israel and also with the support of some Israeli groups,” she said.
“Their major demand is for Israel to stop the siege on Gaza and to stop the suffocation of Gazans living under this blockade. They’re also calling on the international community to intervene.”
The Gaza Strip has been under Israeli blockade since 2007 when Hamas seized power in the territory.
The Erez crossing is the main entry and exit point to and from Gaza used by medical patients, journalists, diplomats and aid groups.

International support

On the Gaza side of the border, the demonstration was slower to get started, but protesters there were joined by 86 activists from the Gaza Freedom March, an international group that has been trying to get into Gaza with food and supplies.
Most of the Gaza Freedom March’s 1,300-strong group were refused entry into Gaza by Egypt, which controls the Rafah crossing point, because of what Egyptian authorities said was the “sensitive situation” in the territory.
Many of those remaining in Egypt held separate demonstrations in Cairo.
Ali Abunimah, the co-founder of the Electronic Intifada website, who was at the Cairo protest, told Al Jazeera the group had been surrounded by the police.
“I’ve spoken to some people who were pushed or kicked by police and a few people have [had] their cameras taken away,” he said.
“I’d say there are about 200 people here. We had anticipated quite a few more, but earlier today police barricaded some of the hotels where we are staying … I can’t tell you how many people have been prevented from joining us.”
A separate aid convoy has also been trying to reach Gaza through Jordan’s Red Sea port of Aqaba.
Lorries from the Viva Palestina convoy began crossing from Jordan into Syria on Thursday.
The events around Gaza coincide with the one-year anniversary of Israel’s devastating 22-day war on Gaza which left about 1,300 Palestinians dead. Thirteen Israelis also died in the conflict.


Permalink Print

December 29, 2009

The behaviour of the Egyptian government, while not surprising, is most infuriating indeed. That they will so carefully protect the Israeli occupation against their Arab brothers and sisters, and in the interests of the US, is a message of sorts to the Egyptian people. One certainly hopes they will pick it up and act. While throughout last week the western media was full of detailed reports about event in Iran, and especially in Tehran, there was nothing whatsoever about events in Cairo and Aqqaba. That is infuriating indeed. We should all complain to the news outlets in our own countries, which is the least we can do!

Just arrived from Cairo: Special dispatch

Gaza’s border must be opened NOW: The Electronic Intifada

Pam Rasmussen, 29 December 2009

This time is clearly different.

I have traveled to Gaza twice this year, in groups ranging from 40 to 60 persons, and although there was a lot of behind-the-scenes work involved in “greasing the wheels” with the Egyptian authorities, we pretty much sailed in. CODEPINK (the group that organized both of my previous trips) developed a well-earned reputation for being able to pull just the right levers to open the doors to the isolated enclave of Gaza — even more so than George Galloway’s Viva Palestina convoy, which is typically allowed in for only 24 to 48 hours (versus our four days).

But too many months have gone by with no change in the crippling isolation of Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt, and it was time to risk our privileged access to take our efforts to break the siege up a notch. Our numbers had to be massive enough to threaten the jailers’ growing complacence and broad enough to send the message that this is a global movement that won’t stop until the Palestinian people are given the freedom and justice they deserve. Thus, this time CODEPINK allied with a number of other organizations around the world, and the number of participants quickly ballooned to more than 1,300 from 43 countries. Likewise, while we have collected or purchased thousands of dollars’ worth of school supplies, winter clothing and electronic devices (such as computers — currently only available via the tunnels and thus too expensive for the average Palestinian in Gaza), our message is also unapologetically political: the borders must be opened, to everyone, all the time. NOW.

To read the whole article and see the photos, use link above.

Gaza Freedom March Video

NOAM CHOMSKY: “Gaza: One Year Later”

On December 27, 2008, Israel began one of the bloodiest attacks on Gaza Since 1948. The three week assault killed some 1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. One year later, little to no rebuilding has taken place and the siege in Gaza continues.

Speaking in Watertown, Massachusetts on December 6, 2009, linguist and social critic Noam Chomsky delivered a talk entitled “Gaza: One Year Later.”

Thanks to Robbie Leppzer for filming this event.

To watch this video

Egypt controversial Gaza policy: Al Jazeera online

The Egyptian foreign ministry says the Viva Palestina aid convoy to the Gaza Strip must go through the Mediterranean port of Al Arish.
The decision delays the arrival of much needed goods, while criticism continues over its closed border with the territory.
The Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt is the only crossing point into Gaza not subject to Israel’s blockade.
In the past Egypt has helped Palestinians in need to cross the border from Palestine.
However, during Israel’s offensive on the strip at the end of 2008, it would only allow medical supplies in and casualties of war out.
The debate surrounding Cairo’s policy is continuing, as Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh reports.

Email just receieved from Gaza Freedom March people in Cairo

There are actually a number of people on hunger strike. Yesterday before they go the go ahead for moving back to Syria and sailing from there for al Arish there were 30 VP on hunger strike. Not sure how many are on huger strike here but it is more than just wonderful Hedi !

What is worrying me is that we have had hell thrown at us here in Cairo. God only knows what state VP are in … We have been subject to LOCKDOWNS (this is our term) everywhere. In hotels, in bus stations, outside Embassies. I cannot quyite work out how the lid has been kept on things …

Yesterday I was in a group of French people outside the Embassy on the pavement and could not get out of a tiny patch of the pavement. Around 200 of us. We had two toilets! It was hell. As soon as the riot police changed shift an American group came in (were allowed in because of their passports) and I followed them out mingling in … Just to get out … Once out I ran up the road with others making my overweight body move like lightening and then it was straight into a taxi and away … I went bak to day to give support and things were more relaxed … You could move in and out of the camp for toilet use. This has been hell. I went to meet some Left Wing Egyptian journalists two nights ago at the lawyers syndicate (a kind of coffee garden) byt the courts and there were more riot cops than I have ever seen surrounding the place. Inside were about 30 journalist and lawyers and there were line after line of riot cops separating us foreigners from these people … It was like Korea !!!

So if things are not getting out it is not because nothing is happening here. The Egyptian authorities have controlled our movement 24 hours a day … We cannot meet and we have to do everything like theives in the night ! At one point all the boats on the Nile were stopped because they thought we were meeting on several boats !!!

It has been hell … But I tell you this everyone here is solid … We are more for Palestine than ever …

Weekly Protest March from the Mashbir plaza to Sheikh Jarrah – 25-12-09

Following the stone throwing and violence on Friday night, on Saturday settlers attacked the families in Sheikh Jarrah again.
About 50 settlers entered the neighborhood during the day and threw stones at Palestinians. 2 children were injured and sent to the hospital, and several adults were lightly injured. The police that were summoned to the area detained several settlers. As a continuation of the persecution of internationals in the neighborhood, the police also detained an international activist for no reason.

The Israeli activist who was arrested during the demonstration yesterday spent the night in arrest. He will be brought before a judge today at the Magistrate Court in Jerusalem. A solidarity vigil outside the court this evening has already been organized.

As the violence is becoming more severe we could use reinforcements for day and night shifts. We will be happy if you sign up for a shift- Maya 0547423044 or mayou22@gmail.com

Egypt blocks US activists’ march: Al Jazeera online

Gaza Freedom Marchers are campaigning against the siege raised on the Palestinian territory [AFP]
Egyptian security forces have attempted to prevent dozens of US activists from reaching their embassy in Cairo.
Hoping to ask the American ambassador for help in reaching the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, some 41 American citizens instead found themselves surrounded by riot police.
All those rounded up were members of the Gaza Freedom Marchers organisation, a group planning to travel to Gaza to protest an Egyptian and Israeli blockade of the besieged territory.
However, one activist, Ali Abunimah, a co-founder of The Electronic Intifada website, told Al Jazeera that the US embassy did eventually allow US citizens to enter their embassy in groups of ten.
“We met with a political rep. in the embassy, Greg Legrefo, and talked about the dire situation in Gaza and international complicity for more than hour …. but the bottom line is the US supports the siege of Gaza.
“The US Army Corps of Engineers is even providing technical assistance to build an underground wall [to stop the Gaza tunnel networks from operating].”
Demonstration
An impromptu demonstration, reported on the Twitter micro-blogging service, began as soon as police prevented the groups progess on a side street near the embassy, keeping them there for hours.
“We believe the US Embassy asked Egyptian State Security to act against its own citizens and prevent them from entering the Embassy,” Gael Murphy, one of the activists, said.
“We are outraged as US citizens about being detained simply for trying to get to our embassy,” she said.
US embassy spokesmen could not immediately be reached for comment.
Organisers of the Gaza Freedom March say 1,300 people from around the world came to Egypt to try to enter Gaza to deliver aid and to participate in a peaceful march protesting the closure of the Gaza Strip’s borders.

Since the activists were told last month that they would not be able to march on Gaza, they have staged a series of small protests around Cairo.
US citizen Hedy Epstein, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, on Monday said she would go on hunger strike to protest Egypt’s refusal to allow the march to proceed.

The BBC has today discovered that something is amiss in Cairo, after many of us have written to them, as listeners, viewers but also as owners of the BBC, a public service broadcaster which we all pay for:

Gaza marchers on hunger strike in Egypt: BBC

Protesters trying to march into Gaza a year after an Israeli offensive are on hunger strike after Egypt blocked them from crossing the border.
Hundreds of people in Cairo have been prevented from getting close to the border with Gaza.
A group who got as far as the Sinai port of El Arish have been detained by the Egyptian police.
A separate convoy of vans delivering medical supplies is stuck in the Jordanian port town of Aqqaba.
At least 38 people of various nationalities were picked up by Egyptian security services in El Arish and held in their hotel rooms, AFP news agency reported.
‘Whatever it takes’
In Cairo hundreds of activists are camped outside the United Nations mission in Cairo trying to get them to pressure the Egyptians to let them cross the border with the Gaza Strip.
The marchers have gone on hunger strike and want the UN to help them
“I’ve never done this before, I don’t know how my body will react, but I’ll do whatever it takes,” 85-year-old Hedy Epstein told AFP.
The American activist is a Holocaust survivor, the agency reported.
Meanwhile a convoy of vans carrying supplies which travelled all the way from London to Jordan has been told by Egyptian officials it must go all the way back to Syria to get into Egypt.
The “Viva Palestina” convoy, led by British MP George Galloway, has been blocked from getting on a ferry from Aqaba to the Egyptian town of Nuweiba where it planned to continue by road to the Rafah border crossing.
But now the convoy faces a potentially budget-draining journey back through Jordan to the Syrian port of Latakia, followed by several ferries to El Arish.
‘Sensitive situation’
Earlier in December, Egypt rejected a request to allow activists to march across the border into the Gaza Strip to mark the anniversary of last year’s conflict.
The Egyptian foreign ministry said the march could not be allowed because of the “sensitive situation” in Gaza.
Over 1,000 activists from 42 countries had signed up to join “the Gaza freedom march” to mark the anniversary of the Israeli military incursion into Gaza last year.
Palestinians and human rights groups say more than 1,400 Gazans were killed in the 22-day conflict that ended in January, but Israel puts the figure at 1,166.
Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians, were killed.
Gaza is under a tight Israeli and Egyptian blockade, tightened since Hamas took over the strip in 2007.
Most medicines are allowed into the territory, but their transfer can be slowed by Israeli and Palestinian bureaucracy, and the entry of medical equipment and other supplies is limited.
The World Health Organization says that at the end of November 2009, 125 of 480 essential drugs were at “zero level”, meaning there was less than one month’s stock left.
Israel says the military operation was – and the continuing blockade is – targeted at Hamas, not Gaza’s civilians.
The Islamist movement has controlled Gaza since June 2007, and has launched thousands of rockets and mortars into Israel in recent years.

The Guardian has found it necessary and acceptable to publish a Palestinian writing on the Gaza situation, only if balanced by an Israeli racist war-monger. Read both below, and also my letter to the Guardian, which I will be most surprised if they publish:

The terrorists’ power has been blunted: The Guardian

But a year after Operation Cast Lead, communities close to the Gaza strip are not naive enough to think the calm is assured

By Shai Hermesh

A year ago, Israeli forces entered Gaza in Operation Cast Lead. The purpose of the operation, regarded in Israel as a success, was to bring an end to eight years of brutal terrorism suffered by communities situated next to the Gaza Strip. These difficult years were marked by the firing of more than 8,000 Qassam rockets and thousands of mortar bombs. These missiles levelled the homes of residents in Sderot and the defenceless rural settlements around the Strip and took a bloody toll on their vulnerable citizens.
About 30 years ago, my wife and I established our home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, a few kilometres from the Gaza Strip, and raised our five children. I know what it means to live in the “Gaza envelope” – the communities close to the Gaza Strip that are home to tens of thousands of Israelis. By any measure, the relative calm of the last 12 months does not provide time to heal the wounds of the residents. Some have lost loved ones, others their homes; and many are wounded, often with psychological trauma from which they might never fully recover.
Qassams often hit the ground before the warning sirens sound. When the sirens do work, there remain 15 seconds of grace before a bomb falls, and nobody knows where it will land.
Children born and raised under eight years of terror and uncertainty have learned to pronounce the words of the warning alarm before forming the words “father” and “mother”. They can count to 15 before learning to do so at kindergarten or school. This is a generation who will bear the scars of terrorism to the end. It is a generation for whom every knock on the door or backfiring of a passing car returns them briefly to their nightmares.
A year after the operation, the fields around the communities are today being ploughed in a picture of rural calm. Parents taking children to school do not radiate to the casual visitor a sense of threat. But we fear the calm we have enjoyed since Operation Cast Lead is deceptive. We feel as though we are at the foot of a volcano that could erupt again at any moment without warning.
When we read in the papers about repeated attempts by the terrorists to cross from Gaza into Israel, none of the 50,000 residents of the border region is naive enough to think that the current calm is assured. But for now we are satisfied to use this time to try to heal. The Israeli government, after eight years of pressure from the residents, is building more than 10,000 protected security rooms in anticipation of future attacks.
From the beginning it was clear that an Israeli military operation would arouse more feelings of hatred among the residents of Gaza. However, the feeling in Israel is that – despite the fact that this hatred is a huge political asset for Hamas – it was necessary to blunt the military power of the terrorists. We also knew with sorrow that innocent residents of Gaza might be hurt, but we felt there was no other choice for our government but to act in our defence. For Hamas, targeting Israeli civilians has become a legitimate means of striking at the soft underbelly of Israel. Israelis who live close to the Gaza Strip feel that the free world is indifferent and lazy in not bothering to distinguish between attacker and attacked. The same terrorists who targeted innocent Israelis used innocent Palestinians as human shields.
Instead of the world condemning Hamas for firing deadly rockets from backyards, homes, schools and mosques, the world condemned Israel for daring to attack the sources of fire.
Israeli papers have reported the economic improvements in Sderot and the surrounding rural settlements over the last year. Most of the population did not abandon their homes, and those who did have returned. The Sderot college, one of Israel’s largest, has expanded its numbers; but even here you will find things you don’t expect to see in a university campus. The classrooms are protected by thick walls, and sirens are ready to sound the alert. Scattered round the campus are signs instructing people what to do when they hear the alarm.
Unfortunately while we are trying to return to a normal life, on the other side of the border Hamas is rearming through tunnels and smuggling from the sea. Now they are experimenting with long-range missiles to spread our experience of living under threat to hundreds of thousands of citizens of Israel.

This is not humane. We need dignity: The Guardian

A year on from Operation Cast Lead, the Gaza blockade is preventing people from leading a minimally respectable civil life
Sami Abdel-Shafi
On my way to visit a friend in the Abed Rabbo district, north of the Gaza Strip, the taxi driver handed me a small pack of biscuits for change. There are nearly no copper coins left here so cab drivers barter a half Israeli shekel for biscuits brought in from the tunnels between the southern city of Rafah and Egypt’s northern Sinai. Some Gazans, who once earned a respectable living, resorted to melting coins and sold the copper for food supplies.
This was not the first time I was forced into arcane methods of barter. A few weeks ago I was told that oil filters for our British-made electricity generator could only be brought in through the tunnels. One alternative was to fit a refurbished car-engine filter to the generator.
We had wood-fired coffee next to the rubble of my friend’s family’s former homes – all levelled during Israel’s three-week war on Gaza that started one year ago. His only source of income, a taxi, was crushed by Israeli tanks during the assault. He agonises about how his children no longer respect him as their father. He is unable to provide them with the security of a house and an independent family life; they lost everything.
The family is spread around relatives’ homes. But the family’s old man just moved into a 60sq m house built from mud and brick, standing next to the rubble of his 400sq m three-story house for which he saved for a lifetime. It was one of the first the UN Relief and Works Agency built after having seemingly lost hope in any Israeli intention to allow construction materials into Gaza. My friend’s daughter earns the highest grades in her class and is eyeing a scholarship for one of the universities in Gaza when she leaves high school. But this young woman’s resilience and motivation will go nowhere as long as Gaza is blockaded.
Almost nothing has been more deceitful than casting Gaza as a humanitarian case. This is becoming exponentially more problematic a year after the war. Gaza urgently needs far more than merely those items judged by the Israeli military as adequate to satisfy Gaza’s humanitarian needs. This list of allowable items is tiny compared to people’s needs for a minimally respectable civil life.
Gaza is not treated humanely; the immediate concerns about the situation have clearly given way to long-term complacency, while failed politics has now become stagnant. The humanitarian classification conceals the urgent need to address this. Moreover, many in the international community have conveniently resorted to blaming Palestinians for their political divisions, as though they were unrelated to Israel’s policies – most notably Gaza’s closure after Israeli disengagement in 2005.
It seems evident that most officials in the US, UK and other powerful nations in Europe and the Middle East do not – or perhaps cannot – pressure Israel to reverse its policy of forcing Palestinians into eternal statelessness. How Palestinians are forced into degrading living standards in Gaza, and how they have no means to repel the ongoing demolition and confiscation of property and land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, is abhorrent. How Palestinians are still divided despite the increased suffering of their people is no less abhorrent. However, no one should fool themselves into believing that their reconciliation would alter Israel’s policy.
The international community must surely adopt a new approach – where it would not be seen as acquiescent to Israel’s policies. If the current policy continues then, at least, let it not be at the expense of Palestinian self-respect. Palestinians are a dignified people, as competitive and civilised as any other people in the world. It is far too humiliating for Palestinians to endure not only being occupied but to be made beggars
For years it has been impossible not to suspect that Israel does not want peace. Of late, the US-backed state has consistently created impossible conditions for fair and equal negotiations with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and it continues to undermine moderate voices and drive people towards extremism in Gaza. The fact that Palestinians still genuinely want peace should not allow Israel to reject the simplest rules of civility. The US and the EU should come to Gaza; then they could draw their own conclusions on an Israeli policy they have backed and funded without ever witnessing its consequences on ordinary civilians’ lives. Surely then they could not fail to see that changing their policy is a moral imperative.

Haim Bresheeth’s letter to the Guardian

I was very surprised to learn that the Guardian (“The terrorists’ power has been blunted”, December 29, 2009) found it necessary to publish a piece, which I assume was commissioned, by the Israeli war-monger Shai Hermesh, well known in Israel for his calling for the kind of operation undertaken by Israel a year ago; immoral, illegal and brutal as it was, it has not, as he argued, ‘resolve the problem’. The problem, of course, is not the Qassam rockets, which in eight years have killed less people in Israel than die in a single weekend of road accidents. The problem is Israel’s continued, brutal and illegal occupation of Palestine. To read Mr. Hermesh, one gets the impression that what was faced by the Israelis around Gaza was worse than a combination of Auschwitz, the Blitz and Hiroshima, when in reality, the ones facing the Blitz are the Palestinians in Gaza, who had over one hundred dead (over 1400) for each Israeli killed (13, 4 of those killed by the IDF itself…). The idea of paralleling the two articles is also quite disturbing, I must admit. This equality of voice and stance is sickening. Would the Guardian think of giving a voice to a supporter of Apartheid beside a voice against it, in the 1980’s? Would it make sense, indeed, to give an equal voice to a Nazi propagandist, beside a Jew writing about Kristalnacht in 1938? To equate occupier and occupied, the powerful and the powerless, is unwise not only on moral grounds, but also on political ones.
I have a Dean at Sapir College, then controlled by Mr. Hermesh, until 2001, when I have left Israel because of its racist and aggressive policies, which I was always against, and could no longer stomach. Mr. Hermesh not only supported the illegal occupation, but was a consistent voice fanning the flames of conflict, and the fact you have chosen him to illuminate your readers on Israel’s brutal attack on Gaza, is highly questionable. While you are quite happy to give him a voice, you seem reluctant to afford the same right to those Jewish and Israeli voices of reason, arguing against Israeli atrocities, war crimes, and the continued illegal occupation. You may wish to review such a stance, if you wish to contribute to a lasting, just peace in the Middle East.

Prof. Haim Bresheeth

University of East London

The Guardian moderator has removed my letter and all the replies to it! I have now inserted it again… Comment is Free?

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December 28, 2009

I have yesterday published on this blog a report, which appeared in Redress.com, and is of somewhat doubtful nature. While I checked out the quotations from Alderman and they are accurate, there is an assumption here that ‘whistle blowers’ from the various Jewish organisations have assisted in the collecting and phrasing of this ‘report’. This is unlikely, to say the least, but I cannot prove my doubts, so decided to leave this and see whether some proof emerges. To not publish can be seen as some form of censorship, I feel.

Video of the Demonstration in London, 27th December 2009, Part 1

Video of the Demonstration in London, 27th December 2009, Part 2

Gaza aid convoy led by George Galloway declares hunger strike: Ha’aretz

More than 400 members of an international aid convoy to Gaza declared a hunger strike on Sunday to protest Egypt’s refusal to allow them entry into the Hamas-ruled territory via the Red Sea.
Alice Howard, a spokeswoman for British-based Viva Palestina, said the group was consuming only liquids, as it remained stranded in the Red Sea port of Aqaba.
Led by British MP George Galloway, 150 vehicles were carrying hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid. They had hoped to enter Gaza on Sunday, the first anniversary of Israel’s offensive against Hamas in the coastal strip, Operation Cast lead.

Egypt refused to let the group enter through the Red Sea. It says they should use a Mediterranean route closer to the Gaza border.
Howard said Turkey is trying to mediate.
Galloway, a controversial lawmaker who was expelled from the ruling Labor party, visited Gaza earlier this year at the head of a similar aid caravanaid caravan. Upon his arrival, a senior Hamas official thanked Galloway for the “noble goodwill gesture” and called him a “hero.”

Marchers Marchers facing hundreds of police at the UN building in Cairo, photo by Ali Abunimah

Marchers Marchers facing hundreds of police at the UN building in Cairo, photo by Ali Abunimah

Just arrived from Cairo:

Sent: (from Cairo) on Monday, December 28, 2009 6:21 PM

GMS Bulletin #

Hi everyone,

It is proving harder than I thought to fit in writing these bulletins in a timely fashion.
Yesterday was a great day.  We went down to a major bridge across the Nile and tied cards of rememberance and flowers to the bridge railings.  These were removed almost immediately by the police who follow us everywhere.  It
is evident that there are spies at our meetings. The police challenged us to move on, but in  a very restrained manner.  It is obvious that at this stage they are treating internationals with kid gloves, unlike their own  nationals.

It is theoretically forbidden to gather in groups of more than 6.  However we have found that  in greater numbers we can prevail.  We had planned yesterday to hire small boats on the nile and float 1400 candles in memory of the people killed in Gaza last year.  A good photo op for the media. An easy gentle media event that should not push the police prohibitions. But the police would not allow it. So there we were, all gathered 1400 of us, and we began a strong loud street demo.  It was wonderful – songs in a variety of languages. Banners (forbidden) were unfurled. Silly buggers, if they had let us use the boats  , there would have been just a few boats and candles floating down the Nile.  But they still treated us with kid gloves.

The authorities have prevented us hiring buses to go to AL Arish as planned for today.  Various groups have gone on ahead but have been arrested at Al Arish.

As well as the Gaza freedom march, there are a number of other groups operating independently but coordinating together.: The French have been successful in getting the co-operation of their Embassy to help get them buses., there are the Spanish and a whole lot of other groups.  It is all wonderfully fluid and anarchic.  I cannot praise the women of Code Pink highly enough.  They are all  very experienced operators, operating in the best feminist model, facilitative, clear, not top down like the traditional left, male models. Very competent and nurturing, no bloody ego – yay!

Well it looks as if I will be able to get this sent to you as I write.

Cheers

Vivienne

To read frequent reports from Cairo on the Gaza Freedom March, please connect to Ali Abunimah’s Gaza Freedom March blog.

Filipino MP Walden Bello reports back to Gaza Freedom Marchers after meeting with Egypt UN head James Rawley to request support for effort to bring aid, marchers to Gaza and open the border.

Filipino MP Walden Bello reports back to Gaza Freedom Marchers after meeting with Egypt UN head James Rawley to request support for effort to bring aid, marchers to Gaza and open the border.

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December 27, 2009 (Part 2)

Was Israel’s Gaza offensive worth it?: Ha’aretz

Free Ahmad Sa'adat, by Latuff

Free Ahmad Sa'adat, by Latuff

By Gideon Levy
Today offers us an ironic conjuncture of commemorations: the fast of the 10th of the Hebrew month of Tevet and the first anniversary of Operation Cast Lead. On the day of the fast, which commemorates the Babylonian siege on Jerusalem, few Israelis are thinking about Gaza, under Israeli blockade for twice the time ancient Jerusalem was besieged. On the anniversary of the attack on Gaza, few people are doing any real soul-searching.
One way or another, the year since December 27 was a year of shame for Israel, greater shame than any other time. It is shameful to be Israeli today, much more than it was a year ago. In the final tally of the war, which was not a war but a brutal assault, Israel’s international status was dealt a severe blow, in addition to Israeli indifference and public blindness to what happened in Gaza.
Even those who still believe that the attack was justified and necessary, that the firing of Qassam rockets would not have been halted except by such a cruel attack, cannot ignore the political and moral price extracted from Israel because of its violence. Its image in the world, not in the eyes of its citizens, is much uglier than a year ago.
Today it is more shameful to be an Israeli because the world, as opposed to Israelis, saw the scenes. It saw thousands of dead and injured taken in the trunks of cars to something between a clinic and a primitive hospital in an imprisoned and weakened region one hour from flourishing Tel Aviv, a region where the helpless had nowhere to run from Israel’s arsenal. The world saw schools, hospitals, flour mills and small factories mercilessly bombed and blown up. It saw clouds of white-sulphur bombs billowing over population centers, and it saw burned children.
The world refused to accept the excuses and lies of Israel’s propaganda. It was not prepared to compare Sderot’s suffering to Gaza’s suffering; it did not agree that the sulphur mushroom clouds were for self-defense, that the killing of dozens of police on a parade ground was legitimate, that telephoned warnings for people to leave their homes cleared Israel of criminal responsibility for the bombing of those homes.
The world saw the Israeli Goliath strike mercilessly at the Palestinian David. It saw the balance of killing: one Israeli to every 100 Palestinians, and the Israel Defense Forces’ new and terrifying doctrine by which almost everything goes if it prevents casualties on our side. The world knew that in this case a democracy was striking a region that does not enjoy self-determination, whose inhabitants lack basic human rights – refugees and the children of refugees living under siege. So the world responded with justifiable severity toward us; it refused to forgive and be silent.
The world also saw Israel wrap itself in sick apathy despite what was happening. It saw the town squares almost empty of protesters, the cafes in Tel Aviv full of people having a good time. It even saw Israeli families who went to visit the hills around Gaza to show their children the bomb strikes. Later, it also saw that Israel was not even prepared to investigate what it had done, but rather lashed out at all its detractors.
And the world also quickly forgot. A year later, with $4.5 billion collected to rehabilitate Gaza lying in banks’ basement vaults because Israel refuses to open Gaza’s gates to let in supplies, the world is silent, leaving Gaza to its fate, to its ruins. But Gaza has not forgotten its wounds – it cannot forget them. The 325,000 people whose homes were destroyed, 1,300 bereaved families and thousands of injured and disabled, debilitated by anxiety and terror, remain in Gaza. Their suffering has not dissipated.
On the first anniversary of the attack, in the face of such a negative political and moral balance, Israelis must at least ask themselves if all this was worth it. But on the first anniversary, Israel is much busier with the political future of MK Eli Aflalo than its political and moral future. Shame or no shame – what counts is that we feel so good about ourselves.

Mother Palestine: Gaza border, by_Latuff

Mother Palestine: Gaza border, by_Latuff

How many times do we have to tell you, guys? No criticism of Israel is allowed by anybody!

U.S. official’s criticism of Israel ambassador sparks furor: Ha’aretz

A recent remark by the head of the U.S. administration’s Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal, has sparked a wave of harsh criticism in Jerusalem.
Rosenthal told Haaretz earlier this week that comments made by Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, against the liberal Jewish lobby J Street were “most unfortunate.”
Senior government officials told Haaretz on Friday that “We were surprised at Ms. Rosenthal’s remarks, as reported in Haaretz.” The officials stressed that he comments “don’t reflect the nature of the relations between Israel and the U.S., nor do they reflect the great respect and appreciation of the ambassador and his staff felt both in Jerusalem and in Washington.”
J Street was established a few years ago as a new pro-Israel lobby to counterbalance the strong, veteran group AIPAC, considered to be toeing a more right-wing conservative line. Under the motto “pro-Israel, pro-peace,” J Street began to promote issues like a freeze on settlement construction and a two-state solution.
In the interview, published Thursday, Rosenthal, who once served on J Street’s board of directors, lamented Oren’s rejection of an invitation to take part in a J Street conference earlier this year. While the U.S. administration embraced J Street, which lends its unqualified support to U.S. President Barack Obama, the Israeli government turned a cold shoulder to the group. Obama’s national security adviser, General James Jones, gave the keynote speech at the conference, while Israel sent a low-level official, claiming that J Street works against Israel’s interests.
The Israeli Embassy in Washington requested clarification from the U.S. administration over Rosenthal’s remark. Senior Israeli officials told their American colleagues that it was unacceptable for an administration official to publicly criticize Israel’s ambassador over his relationship with Jewish organizations.
Jewish community leaders and White House officials also demanded clarifications. In the wake of the storm Rosenthal’s remarks stirred, the White House asked the State Department to issue a clarification notice.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, issued a statement distancing himself from Rosenthal’s remarks. Statements were also delivered to the Israeli embassy in Washington stating that Rosenthal’s sentiments do not reflect the position of the U.S. administration.
Feltman told Haaretz on Thursday that the U.S. maintains relations with groups representing the entire political spectrum, and that the fact that so many groups aim to strengthen U.S.-Israel relations is commendable.
He added that the U.S. State Department has developed a close relationship with Michael Oren and the embassy staff.
Alan Solow, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and a confidant of U.S. President Barack Obama issued a condemnation of Rosenthal’s remarks, casting doubt over her ability to fulfill her responsibilities as an opponent of anti-Semitism.
“As an official of the United States government, it is inappropriate for the anti-Semitism envoy to be expressing her personal views on the positions Ambassador Oren has taken as well as on the subject of who needs to be heard from in the Jewish community. Such statements have nothing to do with her responsibilities and, based upon comments I am already receiving, could threaten to limit her effectiveness in the area for which she is actually responsible,” said the statement.

Here is Ali Abunimah writing from Cairo about the Gaza Freedom March, which the Eguptian authorities have turned into something quite awful, by detaining and delaying the marchers, as well as the Viva Palestina convoy:

Egyptian security forces detain and harass Gaza Freedom Marchers GFM

Egyptian security forces detain internationals in el-Arish, break up memorial actions in Cairo
When: Sunday, December 27, noon: the Egyptian security forces detained a group of 30 internationals in their hotel in el-Arish and another group of 8 at the bus station. They also broke up a memorial action commemorating the Cast Lead massacre at the Kasr al Nil Bridge

At noon on 27 December, Egyptian security forces detained a group of 30 activists in their hotel in el-Arish as they prepared to leave for Gaza, placing them under house arrest. The delegates, all part of the Gaza Freedom March of 1,300 people, were Spanish, French, British, American, and Japanese. The Egyptian security forces eventually yielded, letting most of the marchers leave the hotel, but did not permit them to leave the town. When two younger delegates, a French and Japanese woman, attempted to leave el-Arish, the Egyptian authorities stopped their taxi and unloaded their luggage.

Another group of eight people, including citizens from American, British, Spanish, Japanese and Greece, were detained at the bus station of Al Arish in the afternoon of December 27. As of 3:30 PM, they were still being held.

Simultaneously, Egyptian security police broke up a commemoration of the Israeli invasion of Gaza organized by the Gaza Freedom March at Kasr al Nil Bridge, one of the main bridges connecting Zamalek Island, in the middle of the Nile, to Cairo. As a nonviolent way of commemorating the more than 1300 Palestinians killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza that began a year ago on December 27, 2008, Gaza Freedom Marchers tied hundreds of strings with notes, poems, art and the names of those killed to the bridge.

“We’re saddened that the Egyptian authorities have blocked our participants’ freedom of movement and interfered with a peaceful commemoration of the dead,” said Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK, one of the March’s organizers.

Benjamin added that the Gaza Freedom March participants are continuing to urge the Egyptian government to allow them to proceed to Gaza. They visited the Arab League asking for support, various foreign embassies and the Presidential Palance to deliver an appeal to President Mubarak. They are calling their supporters around the world to contact Egyptian embassies and urge them to free the marchers and allow them to proceed to Gaza.

One year on, Gaza war violations still unpunished: HRW: IOA

JERUSALEM — Human Rights Watch on Saturday accused Israel and Hamas of failing to take punitive action against members of their own forces accused of atrocities during Israel’s war on Gaza a year ago.
The New York-based rights group also criticised the Israeli blockade which “created massive humanitarian need and prevented the reconstruction of schools and homes” in the Hamas-run Palestinian territory.
“Both Israel and Hamas have failed to punish those responsible for serious violations during the fighting,” Fred Abrahams, HRW senior emergencies researcher, said in a statement on the eve of the first anniversary of the Gaza war.
“Some rocket attacks continue and the Israeli blockade of Gaza has prevented basic reconstruction. The only things getting built in Gaza are desperation and despair,” he was quoted as saying.
Human Rights Watch accused Israel of “drone-launched missile attacks that killed 29 civilians, the killing of 11 civilians holding white flags, and the use of white phosphorus munitions in densely populated areas.”
It said the Jewish state’s forces also destroyed many unjustified targets including farms, factories and much of Gaza’s water and sanitation network, with most of it still unrepaired.
The Islamist movement Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups were accused of firing hundreds of rockets into populated areas of Israel, and using the 22-day war as an excuse to kill and torture political rivals.
“Israel has so far punished only one soldier, a sergeant, for wartime abuse, sentencing him to seven and a half months in prison for stealing a credit card,” said the statement.
“Human Rights Watch does not know of any investigations by Hamas authorities in Gaza into laws-of-war or human rights violations during the fighting.”
Some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the conflict, which was brought to an end by a January 18 ceasefire.
Last week 16 rights groups including Amnesty International and Oxfam issued a joint statement saying the world has “betrayed” civilians in the Gaza Strip by failing to end the Israeli blockade of the enclave.
Israel and Egypt have allowed only vital humanitarian aid into the territory since Hamas seized power there in June 2007.

B’Tselem: IDF may have executed unarmed Palestinian militants: IOA

An investigation into an overnight Israel Defense Forces operation in the West Bank city of Nablus early Saturday suggests that Israeli soldiers may have executed two of the three Palestinian militants who were killed, the left wing rights group B’Tselem said Saturday.

The rights group urged the IDF to launch an investigation into the allegations, offering to turn over testimonies and other materials in its possession.
In the operation, the IDF killed three Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades operatives, whom officials said were responsible for a shooting attack on Thursday which killed 40-year-old father of seven Meir Hai of the settlement of Shavei Shomron. The troops surrounded the homes of the three and called for them to exit, and killed them when they refused to surrender.
According to B’Tselem, in two of the three cases the troops behaved as if they were preparing for an execution, not an arrest. Relatives and eyewitnesses told B’Tselem that the two were unarmed and did not attempt to flee, and that the soldiers weren’t trying to stop them, but rather shot them from close range once their identity was revealed. There were no witnesses to the shooting of the third man.
Meanwhile Saturday, a senior IDF officer rejected claims that the militants had been executed, telling Channel 10 news that “the soldiers called on the terrorist to surrender and turn himself in. He refused and hid in his room and sent his wife out toward us. In cases where there is a threat to our troops and a wanted militant refuses to surrender, IDF forces are permitted to open fire in order to neutralize the threat. I am pleased that none of our fighters were hurt, but the risk factor was very high in this operation.”
Another senior IDF official told Israel Radio that the three militants had not fired at Israeli troops and that two of them were unarmed, but that the Israeli soldiers knew that the terror squad that carried out Thursday’s attack, to which the three belonged, were highly skilled and had access to firearms and therefore posed a threat. He stressed that the operation was carried out in accordance with IDF regulations, and that the soldiers first fired protest dispersal ammunition, then fired at the walls, and only later fired at the militants.
According to Israel Radio, a fourth wanted militant turned himself in to Palestinian authorities.

At last a BBC program, BBC Gloucester radio, is covering in its news bulletins the Viva Palestina Aid Convoy Hunger Strike!

Spencer Evans at BBC Gloucester airs the news of the convoy

Evans talks with Viva Palestina’s Alice Howard on why convoy members are taking a stand with a Hunger Strike and live interview with Gloucester Viva Palestina member Abdur Rahman Motara.

Also see 3min compilation [not BBC] of photos of the UK protests against the Israeli slaughter of Gaza and siege

One year on from Israel’s invasion,  MPs demand end to blockade of Gaza

A group of British MPs have called for an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip, in an open letter published today.

One year on from Israel’s invasion of Gaza, which left over 1,300 Palestinians dead, the signatories, including leader of the Liberal Democrats Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP and Chair of the Britain Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group Richard Burden MP, call for an to the siege that still prevents reconstruction materials and humanitarian aid from reaching the territory’s shattered infrastructure and population.

Operation Cast Lead, destroyed or damaged 50,000 Palestinian homes, 280 schools and kindergartens as well as numerous hospitals. A total of 352 children lost their lives during the 22-day campaign, whilst tens of thousands more suffer from iron and vitamin deficiencies as a result of the blockade, in place since June 2007.

The letter calls for the British government to apply meaningful pressure upon Israel to fulfil its obligations under international law and end the blockade, asserting that “the confinement and punishment of an entire population is no way to bring about peace for all of the people of the Middle East.”

Richard Burden, Chair of the Britain-Palestine APPG said:

“The people of Gaza are sheltering throughout the winter in inadequate accommodation, living off food aid and wondering why the world has forgotten about them. This intolerable situation is not the result of an act of nature
however, it is the result of a political decision. The suffering could end tomorrow; Israel must abide by UN Security Council Resolution 1860, lift the blockade and allow reconstruction materials and humanitarian aid reach those
that so desperately require it.”

Graham Bambrough, Parliamentary Officer at the Council for Arab British Understanding, welcomed the publication of the letter:

“This letter demonstrates the level of concern that exists within the British parliament for the people of Gaza. I hope that the UK government will apply meaningful pressure upon Israel to fulfil its obligations under international law and end this collective punishment of an entire population.”

Full text of letter and signatories

One year on from Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip the Israeli government continues to imprison 1.5 million Palestinians and prevent the rebuilding of its shattered infrastructure. Israel’s blockade of Gaza, described by the UN
Fact Finding Mission as “collective punishment”, stops reconstruction materials and all the necessary humanitarian aid from reaching those that so desperately require it, whilst the continued lack of access from the Rafah crossing on the border with Egypt only adds to the suffering of the population.

Over 1,300 Palestinians, including 352 children, were killed during Operation Cast Lead, which damaged or destroyed 50,000 homes, 280 schools and kindergartens, as well as numerous hospitals.

As a result of the blockade however homes cannot be rebuilt and the civilian population is forced to survive in the most appalling conditions, with many Palestinians, now suffering in the grip of winter, forced to live in temporary shelters or partially destroyed homes. Essential food items and fuel are routinely prevented from entering the territory, with the result that over two thirds of the population currently live in poverty and require United Nations aid merely to survive. Tens of thousands of children meanwhile suffer from iron and vitamin deficiencies.

We call upon all parties to alleviate the suffering of the people of Gaza and specifically the British government and the international community to apply meaningful pressure upon Israel to abide by UN Security Council Resolution 1860, to end this flagrant abuse of international law and lift the blockade. The confinement and punishment of an entire population is no way to bring about peace for all of the people of the Middle East.

Signed,

Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP
Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Richard Burden MP
Chair of the Britain Palestine APPG

Ed Davey MP
Shadow Foreign Secretary, Liberal Democrats

Michael Moore MP
Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, Liberal Democrats

Tony Lloyd MP

Dr Brian Iddon MP
Secretary of the Britain Palestine APPG

Christine Russell MP
Treasurer of the Britain Palestine APPG

Martin Linton MP
Chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East

Jo Swinson MP
Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, Liberal Democrats

Baroness Northover
Spokesperson on International Development, House of Lords, Liberal Democrats

All signatures

John Austin MP, Chair of the Council for Arab British Understanding
Roger Berry MP
Clive Betts MP
Colin Breed MP, Chair of the Council for Arab British Understanding
Peter Bottomley MP
Richard Burden MP, Chair of the Britain Palestine APPG
Alistair Carmichael MP
Nick Clegg MP, Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Michael Connarty MP
Ed Davey MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary
Neil Gerrard MP
David Hamilton MP
Dr Brian Iddon MP, Secretary of the Britain Palestine APPG
David Lepper MP
Tom Levitt MP
Martin Linton MP, Chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East
Tony Lloyd MP
Andy Love MP
Bob Marshall Andrews MP
Michael Moore MP, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development
Baroness Northover, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on International Development, House of Lords
Christine Russell MP, Treasurer of the Britain Palestine APPG
Alan Simpson MP
Andrew Slaughter MP
Dr Phyllis Starkey MP
Lord David Steel
Jo Swinson MP
Sarah Teather MP
Derek Wyatt MP
Sir Robert Atkins MEP

Total racism, total war: Al Ahram Weekly

On the first anniversary of Israel’s war on Gaza, shocking revelations are appearing on the methods and reasoning behind the war, writes Saleh Al-Naami

Mahmoud Hussein tries to hold back his tears as he looks at his 30-year-old brother Ahmed who suffers from colon cancer. The family is impatiently waiting for the Gaza border to open so Ahmed can travel abroad for treatment, since in light of the Israeli imposed siege, medical facilities in Gaza cannot treat his condition. Ahmed, who lives in Gabalya, north of Gaza, is not the only Palestinian who developed cancer at a relatively young age.
According to Palestinian medical sources, the number of patients with cancerous tumours residing in areas that the Israeli army targeted during its war on Gaza is on the rise. As the first anniversary of the war on Gaza approaches, the Palestinians are shocked to discover more of its damaging effects. A Palestinian woman whose house in the district of Al-Shaaf, east of Gaza City was targeted with white phosphorous missiles gave birth to a baby with a deformed heart. Doctors reported another pregnant woman in north Gaza, whose home was attacked with the same chemical agent, gave birth to a baby with the same deformity.
The infant’s chances of survival are very low because under siege medical services in Gaza are not equipped to treat such cases. The mother told doctors that during the war she inhaled excessive amounts of white phosphorous smoke because of repeated attacks on her area. White phosphorous is a chemical incendiary agent that is highly combustible when mixed with oxygen. It burns through skin, body tissue and bones; the corpses of white phosphorous victims are usually heavily charred.
In a report marking the first anniversary of the war, the Dameer Centre for Human Rights reported “high levels of deformed births and miscarriages”, and that the use of radioactive and toxic ammunition by the Israeli army on Gaza resulted in significant deterioration in the health of Palestinians. The report was based on a survey that found that health and environmental conditions in the Gaza Strip are worsening by the day as a result of Israel’s aggression and border closure by occupying forces for the third consecutive year.
Meanwhile, Italian researchers revealed that the soil in Gaza now contains carcinogens and toxins as a result of Israel’s use of internationally prohibited weapons during the last war on Gaza. In a news conference in Gaza City, experts said that these toxins and carcinogens are a high risk to unborn children, and called on the Palestinian Health Ministry to test all Palestinians in areas that were bombed during the war. The Italians, who carried out fieldwork in these areas, further warned that many Gazan residents would suffer from chronic gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses.

According to these experts, tests that were carried out inside Gaza indicated that 12 toxins and radioactive materials were released by Israel’s abundant use of internationally prohibited weaponry. Such weapons led to the bodies of many victims being mangled.
More disturbing facts are being disclosed. Adala Human Rights Centre asserted that the Gaza Strip is now home to the highest number of disabled people in the world. Some four per cent of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, or 70,000 residents, have some form of disability. Their suffering is compounded further by Israel’s refusal to allow the passage of necessary medication and rehabilitation materials for them. At the same time, Israel prevents any of them from travelling abroad to seek medical help.
As Palestinians mark the first anniversary of the war, Israelis are revealing the reasons behind their army’s savage treatment of Palestinians during the war. An edict by Chief Military Rabbi Brigadier General Avi Ronzki to Israeli troops on the first anniversary of the war called for no mercy or compassion for Palestinians. The edict, quoted in the Israeli media, stated that, “the goal of the recent war on Gaza aimed to destroy and annihilate the enemy, not to take prisoners.” It continued that, “some 80 jets focussed on various targets in Gaza; then the tanks began their assault. We fought the gentiles with all our willpower and force.”

Oren Yiftahel, political science professor at Ben Gurion University in the Negev, described Israel’s atrocities during the war. “It was expected Israeli behaviour and an extension of Zionist policy that believes in the annihilation of the Palestinian people, and erasing their history and existence. It ignores the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, which they are entitled to, and not out of Israeli charity.”
Yiftahel argued in an article in Haaretz newspaper that, “Israel’s invasion of Gaza was not purely a military operation to end missile attacks, or an attempt to restore Israel’s deterrence capability or even an effort to impose order on others and oust the elected Hamas government. The war was a continuation of a long-standing strategy to deny, erase and eliminate any historic reference to the Palestinians and their existence.”
He further accused all Israelis of participating in the hostile plot against the Palestinians, noting that Israeli politicians, artists, the media, university researchers and intellectuals supported this war with enthusiasm. Yiftahel asserted that Israel’s war on Gaza, and Hamas specifically, came in reaction to Hamas’s rise to power that undermined the possibility of reaching a two-state solution. “This solution is ideal for Israel because it would mean Israel could continue its settlement project indefinitely,” he stated.
According to Yiftahel, the appointment of Ismail Haniyeh, who was born to a refugee family, as prime minister of the Hamas government gave Palestinians another reason to insist on the right of return for Palestinian refugees, which Israel believes is an issue that threatens its very existence. “Instead of confronting reality with all its complications, Israel resorted to state terrorism,” wrote Yiftahel. “More bullets, explosives, killing of children and burning down towns will not succeed in silencing history. The time lost to war drums will be restored after they are muted.”
Israeli historian Tom Segev believes that “one of the main goals of the war on Gaza was to exercise a principle rooted in Zionism, namely the necessity to strike against Palestinians to teach them a lesson. This is one of the main bases of the Zionist project since its inception.” Segev explained that the thinking behind this is that “we, the Jews, represent modernisation and civilisation, logic and ethics. The Arabs are primitive savages of irrational violent tendencies, who are ignorant and must be disciplined and educated in the proper ways of thinking with the use of a carrot and stick.”
Segev continued that Israel believed the war would topple Hamas from power, “out of another Zionist belief, namely the need to impose on the Palestinians a moderate leadership which will concede on national aspirations.” Segev described Israel’s reasons and goals of the war on Gaza as “revisiting failed beliefs, but Israel continues to rehash them from one war to the next.”
In fact, Israeli political and military analyst Ofer Shelah was the first to point out that the assault on Gaza marked the birth of “a new defensive doctrine for Israel, namely for Israel to act as a rogue nation in the face of enemies who adopt a strategy of attrition and shelling at a distance.” In other words, “to respond to sources of gunfire with a savage and massive military operation, irrespective of the number of casualties in its ranks.”
These arguments explain the shocking outcome of the war on Gaza. During this war, Israel acted on a clear security principle of settling confrontation with the Palestinian people regardless of losses in civilian ranks.

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December 27, 2009 (Part 1)

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Help to stop the next war! Support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of the Israeli regime

Support Palestinian universities – spread the BDS campaign – it is what people under the Israeli jackboot ask you to do!

Israeli War Criminals – to the International Criminal Court, NOW!

Make Zionism History!

One year since the Gaza Carnage by Israel’s murderers! We shall not forget!

Across the globe, many thousands are today marking the anniversary of the Israeli barbarity started in December last year during the month-long attack on Gaza. There are numerous publications on this topic today, far beyond what can be included in a daily blog, so I have tried to have some of the main one, but included here only part of the text. The whole text can be accessed by using the link above each item.

One year to the Gaza Carnage

Mother Palestine: Settlements, by Latuff

Mother Palestine: Settlements, by Latuff

One year on, we need progress in Gaza: The Observer

IN THE 12 months since Israel’s devastating assault on Gaza in Operation Cast Lead, conditions in the Strip “remain wretched”, to use Amnesty International’s phrase. The Israeli economic siege has remained in place since Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections and enforced its rule within Gaza. Almost no work has been done to repair an estimated $1bn worth of damage because of restrictions on the import of building materials.
Indeed, since the end of the conflict in January, only 41 truckloads of building materials have entered Gaza when thousands are needed. The economy is dependent on the Hamas-regulated warren of tunnels on the southern border with Egypt.
For Israel itself, the consequences of its war on Gaza have been more difficult to assess. Rocket fire by the Palestinian factions has finally been halted, but the cost to Israel of a war that claimed almost 1,400 Gazan lives has been serious. The use of white phosphorous against civilian targets, as well as other suspected breaches of humanitarian law, have corroded the country’s moral standing even among its most robust supporters. Israeli politicians and officials have been forced to confront the fact that they risk arrest in a number of countries including, for now at least, the United Kingdom. The impact on Israel has been pernicious in another way. The principle of deterrence has been crucial for its defence. So its failure to dislodge Hamas from Gaza, coming so close after the disaster of its adventure in Lebanon in 2006, has seen its military diminished.
But the assault on Gaza had other consequences that it is, perhaps, easy to forget. The conflict was conducted in the febrile conditions of an Israeli general election which saw all main parties aggressively endorsing the war. It returned Binyamin Netanyahu as prime minister in a coalition that has included Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister, a man notable for demanding Israeli Arabs swear an oath of loyalty or face expulsion. Unsurprisingly a peace process, already moribund, has faltered further.
Netanyahu has carefully managed a new style designed to derail US demands for a freeze to further settlement in the West Bank by offering the most partial of freezes, in the knowledge it cannot possibly be acceptable to the Palestinian leadership. If Netanyahu has succeeded in this policy thus far it is because he has been allowed to by an American president who promised so much in his Cairo speech and yet has delivered so little. While it is fair to say Barack Obama has been preoccupied with other issues, it is a truism in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that no movement has ever been achieved without the full, vigorous engagement of the US president.
So what we have is an increasingly dangerous stasis in which all issues, save for the stop-start negotiations for prisoner exchange, are on hold. Palestinian national reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the West Bank and Gaza, has made little headway; Israeli-Palestinian talks are on hold; the economic stranglehold of Gaza goes on. All largely ignored by the international community.
The peril of this lack of movement has been starkly visible in the last week, as Israel yesterday shot dead six Palestinians in two separate incidents in the West Bank. What is required, if there is to be any movement, is an urgent new sense of commitment that must begin in Washington. But equally, there needs to be moves to relieve the plight of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents.
They must be allowed access to markets so that they can rebuild, and at least makes some attempt towards lives of dignity. Moreover, stasis suits Hamas, its enemy a sense of opportunity and purpose among those it governs. It is not good enough for the world to ignore this problem while a new generation grows up frustrated and alienated in what is effectively an enormous prison. That is no solution, merely tragedy deferred. Violence will follow.

One year on, Ban bemoans lack of ‘durable’ Gaza cease-fire: Ha’aretz

Ban Ki-moon’s spokesperson on Sunday said the United Nations Secretary-General was “deeply concerned” by the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead, on the first anniversary of Israel’s campaign against Hamas in Gaza.
“While violence has been at lower levels this year, incidents continue and there is no durable cease-fire in place,” said the spokesperson in a statement.
“The quality and quantity of humanitarian supplies entering Gaza is insufficient, broader economic and reconstruction activity is paralyzed, and the people of Gaza are denied basic human rights.”
The Israel Defense Forces began the 3-week offensive on Dec. 27, 2008 with a wave of aerial strikes, a few days after Hamas declared that a cease-fire in Gaza had ended.
Israel’s stated goals in the 3-week offensive were to halt cross-border rocket fire by Gaza militants, which had terrorized the country’s South for eight years, and to curb weapons smuggling into the Hamas-ruled territory.
In the statement, Ban urged Israel to end the “unacceptable and counterproductive” blockade of Gaza, which it maintains with Egypt, and to facilitate economic activity and civilian reconstruction and uphold international law.
“There is a sense of hopelessness in Gaza today for 1.5 million Palestinians, half of whom are under eighteen,” the statement said. “Their fate and the well-being of Israelis are intimately connected.”
He also called on Hamas to “bring an end to violence” and fully respect international law.
Ban made no mention of the damning UN report on the conflict authored by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, which accused both sides of committing war crimes, but focused mainly on alleged Israeli offences.
Israel says around 1,100 Gazans were killed during the offensive, of whom the majority were militants. But Palestinian human rights groups say more than 1,400 Gazans were killed, most of whom were civilians. Thirteen Israelis were also killed during the hostilities: ten IDF soldiers and three civilians.

Gazans mark anniversary of war: Al Jazeera online

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are marking one year since the start of Israel’s 22-day offensive on the territory, which left hundreds dead and damaged millions of dollars worth of infrastructure.
Hamas officials held a ceremony on Sunday outside the destroyed Palestinian Legislative Council building in Gaza City – one of the first targets of the assault.
Air raid sirens were turned on at 11:20am (9:20 GMT), the exact time that the aerial bombardment began.
Ismail Haniya, the deposed Palestinian prime minister, was expected to unveil a plaque commemorating the 1,600 people that Hamas officials say were killed during the war.
Other estimates put the Palestinian death toll closer to 1,400, the majority of whom were civilians, including around 400 children.
Thirteen Israelis were also killed during the war – 10 soldiers and three civilians.
A month of events are planned to commemorate the war in Gaza.
Sombre mood
Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, who was among one of the few international broadcasters to report on the war from inside the territory, was at the scene.
She said that “the message here isn’t just one of sombreness and sadness to mark one of the darkest phases of Palestinian history, but also one of defiance by the Hamas government, who continue to maintain control, law and order here in the Gaza Strip”.
The stated aim behind Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” was to cripple the ability of Hamas and other Palestinian groups from launching rockets into southern Israel.
Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokesperson, told Al Jazeera on Sunday that the operation had been successful.
“This [goal] was achieved as, a year after the operation, we are seeing very little rocket fire. In that sense, it has been a success,” she said.
Palestinian armed groups have slowed, but not stopped, their indiscriminate rocket attacks, but the factions claim that is by choice.
Hamas defiant
Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin was granted exclusive access to a rocket-manufacturing site, where they demonstrated that their capabilities have not been diminished.
The 22-day offensive heavily damaged the infrastructure of the Gaza Strip In a rare interview, the spokesperson for Hamas’ military wing the al-Qassam Brigades, known as Abu Obeida, dismissed Israeli claims that his group had been weakened by the war.
“We were affected by this war, but we were able to regroup even during the battle, before it finished and the impact on our military capabilities was marginal. We were capable of rearming and much more.”
Dr Ahmad Yousuf, a senior Hamas official and former advisor to Haniya, said that the political movement also remained strong despite the devastation caused by the Israeli offensive.
“The Israelis failed their objectives on all accounts,” he told Al Jazeera from Gaza City.
“Hamas is still there and we try to help our people, but we are still under occupation and suffering from sanctions.”
Human Rights Watch, an international advocacy group, has accused both Israel and Hamas of failing to take punitive action against members of their own forces who are accused of rights violations during the war.
Shattered infrastructure
Mustafa Barghouti, an independent Palestinian politician and former minister of information, criticised Israel for refusing to allow in supplies to rebuild Gaza’s shattered infrastructure.
“Today 25,000 houses in Gaza remain unrepaired because Israel is not allowing a single sack of cement or a piece of glass into Gaza,” he told Al Jazeera from the West bank town of Ramallah.
Barghouti also criticised international governments for failing to put sufficient pressure on Israel.
“My question is why does Europe and other donor countries not send ships with materials for construction. They can have Nato investigating these ships to make sure there is no security risk.”
Last week, 16 rights groups including Amnesty International and Oxfam issued a joint statement saying the world has “betrayed” civilians in the Gaza Strip by failing to end the Israeli blockade of the enclave.

The following piece, which appeared in Redress.com, is of somewhat doubtful nature. While I checked out the quotations from Alderman and they are accurate, there is an assumption here that ‘whistle blowers’ from the various Jewish organisations have assisted in the collecting and phrasing of this ‘report’. This is unlikely, to say the least, but I cannot prove my doubts, so decided to publish this and see whether some proof emerges. To not publish can be seen as some form of censorship, I feel.

Britain’s Jews in crisis over national loyalty, identity and Israel: Redress

Whistleblowers say top Zionist institutions in unprecedented crisis
By Redress Information & Analysis
26 December 2009
Britain’s leading Jewish institutions are facing their worst crisis in living memory as their loyalty to the United Kingdom and support for basic universal principles of human rights and common decency come under growing scrutiny.
In recent weeks Redress Information & Analysis has been approached by a number of existing and former employees and volunteers of prominent Jewish bodies, all pointing to an acute internal crisis within their institutions.

Breaking ranks
The first to make contact with us were two whistleblowers from the Board of Deputies of British Jews. They explained to us the nature and scope of the crisis gripping Britain’s top Jewish institutions and offered to put us in contact with people in the Office of the Chief Rabbi and the Jewish Chronicle newspaper. We took up the offer.
Naturally, we were curious as to why our interlocutors chose or were willing to talk to Redress Information & Analysis rather than voice their concerns to a national media outlet such as the Guardian, the Independent or the BBC. All said that they were worried that their names would be leaked back to their institutions or published in the press and that, as a result, they would be sacked or ostracized by their Jewish relatives and friends. Some feared the possibility of “moles” in the national media, or people in these media who have “special relations” with the Jewish institutions, doing the leaking.
We have gone to extraordinary lengths to corroborate the identity of our contacts and can confirm that they are all genuine – that they are who they said they are and that they work, or have worked, for the institutions they said they worked for.
Our contacts agreed for us to publish their concerns and to quote them but strictly on condition of anonymity. Consequently, we have undertaken not to publish their names, gender or the dates on which we made contact with them, although, to emphasize once again, their identity and the Jewish institutions for which they currently work or have recently worked have been verified beyond any doubt.
Our Jewish contacts expressed common concerns, focusing on questions about their identity and loyalty to Britain – the country of their birth – and on the attitude of their institutions towards the State of Israel, especially in the wake of the Israeli onslaught on the Gaza Strip in 2008-09, in which Israel killed 1,400 Palestinians, injured more than 5,000 and wreaked carnage and destruction on the 1.5 million inhabitants of the Strip.

Board of Deputies of British Jews – under “unbearable pressure”
Our contacts at the Board of Deputies of British Jews described the crisis ripping through Britain’s Jewish institutions in stark terms. One said:
Our support for Israel, especially its attack on Gaza in 2008-09, is creating ruptures in the wider Jewish community in Britain and placing institutions such as ours under unbearable pressure. The fact that the Board of Deputies’ support for Israel is couched in relatively anodyne terms and in a superficially impartial context no longer works. The wider Jewish community, and the general public at large, are beginning to see through this.
For the first time in my memory, we are being pressed by British Jews to answer questions that have always been in the backs of our minds but which we can no longer brush aside. Are we British or are we Israelis? If we are British, then is it not incumbent upon us to question, as the wider British public is questioning, the policies and behaviour of the State of Israel without harbouring any feelings of disloyalty – because our loyalty is to the UK and not to Israel?

Our second contact at the Board of Deputies of British Jews added:
Israel purports to speak on behalf of us as Jews. Many in our community are telling us that we therefore have a special responsibility – more so than Britons of other faiths or those of no faith – to condemn Israel’s violations of human rights and common decency when dealing with the Palestinians. Many others are saying that we should say explicitly and unequivocally – both as individuals and through our community institutions – that our loyalty is to Britain first, second, third and fourth ad infinitum, that we have no special loyalty or allegiance to Israel and that, for us, Israel is just another country, like France, Italy or Spain.
They say that we should distance ourselves from Israel and be the first to condemn its policies and actions towards the Palestinian people. A small but growing minority – a minority that is growing exponentially, I hasten to add – tell us that we should go further and take the lead in calling for the boycott of Israel until it implements all United Nations resolutions, including Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967, and until it begins to behave as a civilized and responsible member of the international community.
But I would say that the question of our allegiance is the one that is the most serious and damaging in the long term. It does not help in this regard when some of our Jewish ministers, such as the foreign secretary, David Miliband, and the Foreign Office minister, Ivan Lewis, are either openly pro-Israel or are seen to be supporters of Israel. This casts doubt on the loyalty of all of us to Britain, our country.

Office of the Chief Rabbi – “living in a time warp”

According to our contact at the Office of the Chief Rabbi, the problems facing Jewish institutions in Britain have been compounded by the failure of these institutions to adapt in the light of international developments and a sea-change in British public opinion. The contact said that this failure applied to the Office of the Chief Rabbi as much as to any other Jewish organization in the UK. In the contact’s own words:
The Office of the Chief Rabbi, the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Chronicle and many other Jewish organizations up and down the country – at universities, for instance – are living in a time warp, as if today were 1948 or the eve of the 1967 war.
The world has changed, and the information the community has available to it shows that we Jews are not in peril – on the contrary, Jews in the UK and throughout Europe are prospering like never before. Anti-Semitism – by which I mean racist, anti-Jewish feeling – has all but vanished. In fact, it is the Muslims, not the Jews, who are bearing the brunt of racism in Europe. Islamophobia, spurred on by neo-Nazi parties and neo-conservatives, is what we Jews, as members of a wider multi-cultural community, should be fighting against.
In fact, I would say that thanks to an abundance of reliable information now available on the internet, even those who live in a time warp are living a fiction in a time warp built on myths. Israel was never in danger from its impotent but bombastic neighbours: we saw this in 1956, when it invaded Egypt together with Britain and France, and we saw it again in 1967, which we now know was being planned for by Israeli leaders ever since the 1956 fiasco.
Yet, our community leaders, including – I am sorry to say – the Office of the Chief Rabbi, would never publicly acknowledge this. I have no idea what they think or believe in private, in their own conscience, between themselves and God, but I cannot imagine any intelligent, well-educated and open-minded person not recognizing matters as they are. And if they are conscious of reality but act differently, what does that make them? I think I’ll leave you to answer that question.
It pains me to say this but our self-appointed leaders, including the Chief Rabbi, have built our community institutions on foundations that are more appropriate to 1930s Germany than the Europe of the 21st century. You cannot have healthy institutions based on a make-believe world of fear and distrust of everyone and everything that is not Jewish. If we Jews are to have Jewish institutions per se, then these institutions should have as their primary objectives community cohesion, including full integration into our wider society, British society. We cannot – and should not want to – live in a ghetto. Our focus should be on our own country, the UK, not on promoting, speaking on behalf of, answering or apologizing for Israel.
As far as Israel is concerned, our approach should be no different than that of any other British organization, be it Amnesty International, a trade union or a professional association. In other words, we should condemn it when it is in the wrong and we should praise it when it does the right thing. In other words, our approach should be based entirely on merit. Unfortunately, I see no signs of this happening any time soon.

The Jewish Chronicle – “engaging in subterfuge”
Our whistleblower at the Jewish Chronicle gave a damning assessment of the internal crisis engulfing the UK’s Jewish institutions, as reflected in the Chronicle, Britain’s top Zionist newspaper and Israeli mouthpiece.
According to the whistleblower, the newspaper is “in denial” and “sticking its head in the sand” in response to the changes in UK public opinion, especially following Israel’s onslaught on Gaza. Echoing some of the views expressed by our source at the Office of the Chief Rabbi, our contact at the Jewish Chronicle said that, instead of acknowledging the changing reality around it and adapting accordingly, the paper’s management has “gone in the opposite direction” and is “engaging in subterfuge”. However, our contact says, this “isn’t washing and it won’t wash”.
According to our whistleblower, the Jewish Chronicle is making a conscious effort to brand itself as a moderate newspaper that is focused on the affairs of Britain’s 280,000 Jews and in tune with mainstream British public opinion. However, our whistleblower says, in reality it is “embracing the neo-conservative agenda on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, lock, stock and barrel”, and its primary concern is “to be on-message with Israeli foreign policy, whatever Israeli government is in power – Likud, Kadima, Labour or some abominable ultra-far-right party”.
Our whistleblower was especially scathing about the Jewish Chronicle’s editor, Stephen Pollard, describing him as “uncharismatic, myopic and an inarticulate and clumsy spokesman” who has “bought a one-way ticket to a parallel universe”. The whistleblower said that Mr Pollard “is so detached from reality and so out of touch with British public opinion that the notion that anyone with just an average intelligence might see right through what he’s doing could not even cross his mind”.
According to our whistleblower, the idea of breaking with tradition and recruiting Martin Bright in September 2009 as the Jewish Chronicle’s first-ever non-Jewish chief political editor was Mr Pollard’s “master-plan for creating an image of the Jewish Chronicle as a mainstream newspaper and to boost its circulation, which currently stands at just over 30,400 for the UK and the Republic of Ireland – slightly more than your average local newspaper rag”.

Shortly after his appointment Mr Bright told the Independent: “The idea is to broaden the scope of their [the Jewish Chronicle’s] political coverage. It would be fair to say that they want to move the political coverage away from the more parochial approach they have had in the past and rather than saying ‘What will interest our Jewish readers?’ they are saying that what interests readers will be what interests anyone in politics.”
But, our whistleblower says, Mr Pollard “picked the wrong goy” [gentile] because “not only is Martin Bright a media has-been, but he’s also a card carrying neo-conservative with strident views against Muslims and a strong affinity to Israel and, therefore, would carry little credibility with the wider newspaper-reading public”.
Martin Bright’s career has followed a trajectory that has taken him from the national to the fringe media. After a steady rise between 1993 and 2005, which saw him move from a minor BBC magazine to the Guardian (national, circulation: 430,000), the Observer (national, circulation: 500,000) and the New Statesman (national, circulation: 30,000), where he was appointed political editor, in 2009 Mr Bright left the magazine under a cloud, amid speculation that his strong support for Israel, especially after the slaughter in Gaza, was too much for it to stomach. His career prospects then took a dive when, in September 2009, he joined the Jewish Chronicle (fringe, circulation: 30,400) as chief political editor.
A self-proclaimed leftist, Mr Bright subscribes to a broadly neo-conservative agenda on Islam and the “war on terror”, and believes that opposition to Israeli policies and actions “on the left was only explicable as anti-Semitism”. He is the author of a pamphlet for the right-wing think-tank Policy Exchange in which he attacked UK government dialogue with Muslims, a pamphlet that was warmly praised by the leading US neo-conservative Richard Perle. His friends include Observer columnist Nick Cohen who infamously declared after meeting Iraq war architect Paul Wolfowitz for drinks at the Mayfair nightclub Annabel’s: “I was in the presence of a politician committed to extending human freedom.” Since his appointment at the Jewish Chronicle, Mr Bright has begun writing for the website of the right-wing Spectator.

Our contact at the Jewish Chronicle said:
As a strategy for extending the scope of the Jewish Chronicle’s appeal, the choice of Martin Bright as our chief political editor just underlines how out of touch with the real world Stephen Pollard is. It isn’t just a question of Martin’s neo-conservative and Israel baggage – and the circumstances under which he left the News Statesman – but what about the rest of the Jewish Chronicle’s coverage?
Take a look at some of our commentators and columnists. The average British reader would take one glance and say “What a rogues gallery!” You have Tzipi Livni, that broken record Melanie Phillips and, worse of all, Geoffrey Aldeman. For God’ sake, Geoffrey Alderman is one of our regular columnist, believe it or not! For a newspaper that’s struggling to keep its readers, the choice of Geoffrey Alderman is a damn strange one, but that’s Stephen Pollard for you.
Mr Alderman believes that Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are legal, even though they are universally acknowledged as illegal under international law.
Moreover, in an article published in the Jewish Chronicle, he said that Islam was founded “in part, on an explicit anti-Jewish discourse”.
Most controversially, in early 2009 Alderman argued that according to Jewish religious law, it was “entirely legitimate to kill” every Palestinian in Gaza who voted for Hamas.
For our whistleblower at the Jewish Chronicle, the fact that Mr Alderman was still a regular columnist for the newspaper after making these comments was not just “bad, bad public relations”, but was “scandalous and outrageous, morally and politically”. The whistleblower said:
Geoffrey Alderman spits out stuff that not even the British National Party, Combat-18 and the Ku Klux Klan would dare say these days.
Just imagine what would have happened if a British Muslim columnist said that it was fine to kill Israelis who voted for a government that slaughters Palestinian civilians. The whole country, from Westminster to the media, from the tabloids to the so-called “quality papers” to the BBC and ITN, would be up in arms with condemnations day and night, day after day for weeks on end. Politicians and others would be calling for prosecutions, Stephen Pollard would be rushing from one TV studio to another bellowing “anti-Semitism”.
But here we go, Alderman in effect condoning the murder of innocent civilians and he still writes for the Jewish Chronicle. What a way to appeal to the broader public! What morality!
All of our whistleblowers, some of whom are not quoted here but who nevertheless gave us an invaluable insight into the Jewish institutions to which they are affiliated, said that their experience in their institutions had been life-changing, in that it had altered their views of Britain’s Jewish “leaders”, Israel and the Palestinian cause in a most profound way.

Israel attacks Gaza: The Observer

John Ging, a UN relief director, on why hope endures despite three weeks of bloodshed in the Gaza strip

I got back into Gaza in the first days of January. I’d been on Christmas holidays in Ireland with my family, when I’d seen the aerial bombardment unfolding on my TV screen. It took a couple of days to get in because the Israeli ground operation had just begun. A small group of Red Cross doctors and I were the only people allowed in or out.
When we crossed into Gaza the scale of devastation and the eeriness were immediately striking. Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas on earth, and on the journey into UNRWA headquarters we travelled down empty streets with rubble and destruction everywhere. The only sign of human life was a single family scurrying across a narrow street with a couple of suitcases. I’d been in Lebanon, Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo, and in times of conflict you would find certain dangerous areas that would be very quiet and in other areas a lot of movement. I quickly came to realise that in Gaza there was no safe haven: everyone was terrified. This operation was unprecedented in scale and scope.
At the main hospital the ambulances were streaming in endlessly. The quantity and nature of the injuries and the number of young children killed was particularly harrowing to see. The doctors bore the physical signs of exhaustion and bewilderment – there had been no let-up for them. High on their list of anguish was the nature of the injuries; phosphorus burning was very difficult to control and they were talking about other injuries that they couldn’t fathom – wounds that wouldn’t respond to conventional treatment. There were an extraordinary number of multiple amputations.
My job now was solely about getting humanitarian aid into Gaza and out to the people. As the invasion was raging this involved difficult decisions, balancing staff safety and humanitarian need. We were going out in convoys of trucks with UN insignia and being shot at by the Israeli Defence Force. A number of our staff paid with their lives. The problem seemed to be a breakdown of communication between the higher command and the soldiers on the ground.

To read the rest of the article, use link above

Gaza ceasefire in jeopardy as six Palestinians are shot: The Observer

Eruption of violence comes as Israelis who opposed the war a year ago say they are being silenced and vilified

Israeli troops yesterday shot dead six Palestinians in two separate incidents, as evidence emerged that an increasingly fragile ceasefire between armed groups loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement and Israel appeared to be in danger of breaking down.
The shootings, the most serious violence in months, came a day before today’s first anniversary of the outbreak of Israel’s war against Gaza in which almost 1,400 Palestinians died – and as allegations have emerged from Israeli human rights campaigners who opposed the war that they are facing concerted attempts to silence them.
Three of the Palestinians were killed in an airstrike just inside the Gaza border. According to Israeli officials they had been scouting the area for a possible infiltration operation, but according to Hamas officials and medics they had been searching for scrap metal to salvage.
More serious in its implications, however, was the shooting dead of three members of Fatah’s armed wing – the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades – in a raid on the northern West Bank city of Nablus, apparently in retaliation for the shooting of an Israeli driving near the settlement at Shavei Shomron. Relatives who witnessed the Nablus shootings said soldiers fired at two of the men without warning. An Israeli army spokesman, Major Peter Lerner, said troops fired after the three men failed to respond to calls to surrender.
It also follows the discovery of an improvised explosive device on a busy road leading to the huge Israeli settlement at Modi’in with a letter from an al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades unit claiming responsibility. The two incidents have followed recent warnings from both Israelis and Palestinians that frustration among a younger generation of al-Aqsa members – which signed an amnesty deal with Israel in 2007 – over the lack of progress in the almost moribund peace process was in danger of boiling over.
An aide to Abbas described the killings as a “grave Israeli escalation” which showed “Israel is not interested in peace and is trying to explode the situation”.
The shootings have come as Israeli human rights campaigners issued a stinging critique of how Israelis who opposed the war in Gaza have been treated by the state, claiming that they have been silenced, accused and vilified.
In its annual report, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel states: “Instead of taking an honest look at its reflection, Israeli society and its institutions chose to smash the mirror.”
Although much attention has been focused on the continuing plight of Gaza’s residents, still suffering under a prolonged Israeli economic siege that has prevented rebuilding of the war-damaged coastal strip, there has been less focus on the treatment of those Israelis who campaigned against the war and for the ending of the blockade.
“There has been a huge change in the way the government treats those who dissent,” says Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer representing several human rights groups. This process, he adds, has accelerated in the year since the attacks in Gaza: “The gloves have come off.”
Sari Bashi, director of human rights group Gisha, says Israeli campaigners in this field “know that red lines were crossed in Gaza, that the Israeli military relaxed its restraints on the use of force and that terrible violations were taking place”. But she accuses the Israeli government of using a “shoot-the-messenger” tactic to deal with such concerns.
“Instead of addressing credible claims of human rights violations, there have been attempts to undermine the legitimacy of anyone trying to raise awareness,” she says.
One prominent issue has been a scrutiny of the funding of human rights groups. In June 2009, Breaking the Silence, a group of veteran Israeli soldiers, released shocking testimonials from combat soldiers who served during the Gaza assault. The Israeli army dismissed these reports, while the government pointed out that the group receives funding from the EU, as well as from Britain, Spain and the Netherlands.
Foreign governments were asked to stop funding Israeli groups critical of the Israeli army. The Israeli media swarmed with denouncements of Breaking the Silence, partly on the grounds that it was serving “foreign interests”.
This year, Knesset members initiated a draft law that would require Israeli civil society organisations to state their funding sources in every document and every media interview. But Bashi points out that such financing is already transparent. “We report our sources of funding to three separate organisations and on our website,” she says.
Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, says the concern is over whether groups defined as non-governmental organisations should receive contributions from overseas governments. “No one has in any way inhibited their activities,” he said of human rights groups in Israel. He described the complaints of de-legitimisation as “attempts to create a bogeyman”.
But campaigners hold that, as a consequence of attempts to discredit them, their motivations are more discussed than the actual content of their reports. Breaking the Silence says the group is still struggling to raise discussion of the details of its testimonials – and not just the fact of their release – within Israel.
Several commentators point out that, in an increasingly “us-and-them” society, it is not just groups reporting on Gaza that have become targets of denunciation. Campaigners for the rights of foreign workers in Israel are also decried, sometimes at ministerial level: one foreign ministry official wrote that the Israeli Hotline for Migrant Workers, “represents criminals and helps them extinguish morality from the land of Israel”.
Campaigners focused on Gaza’s plight complain that they are still as marginal as ever. “I am a very lonely voice,” says Naomi Zion, a peace campaigner who lives near Sderot. Zion finds it “almost impossible to ask critical questions about Israel’s actions”.
“We lost the ability to see the other side; people just don’t care,” she says. “We lost our empathy skills – and when you lose that, you lose your humanity.”

‘They Planted Hatred in Our Hearts’: New York Times

Footnotes in Gaza, by Jo Sacco

Footnotes in Gaza, by Jo Sacco

Joe Sacco’s gripping, important book about two long-forgotten mass killings of Palestinians in Gaza stands out as one of the few contemporary works on the Israeli-Palestinian struggle likely to outlive the era in which they were written.
Sacco will find readers for “Footnotes in Gaza” far into the future because of the unique format and style of his comic-book narrative. He stands alone as a reporter-cartoonist because his ability to tell a story through his art is combined with investigative reporting of the highest quality.
His subject in this case is two massacres that happened more than half a century ago, stirred up little international attention and were forgotten outside the immediate circle of the victims. The killings took place during the Suez crisis of 1956, when the Israeli Army swept into the Gaza Strip, the great majority of whose inhabitants were Palestinian refugees. According to figures from the United Nations, 275 Palestinians were killed in the town of Khan Younis at the southern end of the strip on Nov. 3, and 111 died in Rafah, a few miles away on the Egyptian border, during a Nov. 12 operation by Israeli troops. Israel insisted that the Palestinians were killed when Israeli forces were still facing armed resistance. The Palestinians said all resistance had ceased by then.
Sacco makes the excellent point that such episodes are among the true building blocks of history. In this case, accounts of what happened were slow to seep out and were overshadowed by fresh developments in the Suez crisis. Sacco, whose reputation as a reporter-cartoonist was established with “Palestine” and “Safe Area Gorazde,” has rescued them from obscurity because they are “like innumerable historical tragedies over the ages that barely rate footnote status in the broad sweep of history — even though . . . they often contain the seeds of the grief and anger that shape present-day events.”
Governments and the news media alike forget that atrocities live on in the memory of those most immediately affected. Sacco records Abed El-Aziz El-Rantisi — a leader of Hamas (later killed by an Israeli missile), who in 1956 was 9 and living in Khan Younis — describing how his uncle was killed: “It left a wound in my heart that can never heal,” he says. “I’m telling you a story and I am almost crying. . . . They planted hatred in our hearts.”
The vividness and pace of Sacco’s drawings, combined with a highly informed and intelligent verbal narrative, work extremely well in telling the story. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how any other form of journalism could make these events so interesting. Many newspaper or television reporters understand that the roots of today’s crises lie in obscure, unpublicized events. But they also recognize that their news editors are most interested in what is new and are likely to dismiss diversions into history as journalistic self-indulgence liable to bore and confuse the audience.
In fact, “Footnotes in Gaza” springs from this editorial bias against history. In the spring of 2001, Sacco and Chris Hedges (formerly a foreign correspondent of The New York Times) were reporting for Harper’s Magazine about Palestinians in Khan Younis during the early months of the second Palestinian intifada. They believed the 1956 killings helped explain the violence almost 50 years later. Perhaps predictably, however, the paragraphs about the old massacre were cut.
American editors weren’t the only people who found their delving into history beside the point. When Sacco returned to Gaza to search for witnesses and survivors in 2002 and 2003, with Israeli forces still occupying the area, young Palestinians could not understand his interest in past events when there was so much contemporary violence.
Sacco’s pursuit of Palestinian and Israeli eyewitnesses as well as Israeli and United Nations documentation is relentless and impressive. He details the lives of those who help him, notably his fixer Abed, and brings to life two eras of the Gaza Strip, its towns packed with refugees in the early 1950s as they are today.
It was an atmosphere filled with hate. Few Israeli leaders showed any empathy for the Palestinian tragedy. But early in 1956, the Israeli chief of staff Moshe Dayan made a famous speech at the funeral of an Israeli commander killed on the border with Gaza. What, Dayan wondered, explained the Palestinians’ “terrible hatred of us”? Then he answered his own question: “For eight years now they have sat in the refugee camps of Gaza, and have watched how, before their very eyes, we have turned their lands and villages, where they and their forefathers previously dwelled, into our home.” He added that Israelis needed to be “ready and armed, tough and harsh.”
What this meant in practice became clear as Israeli troops took over Gaza six months later. The killings in Khan Younis were relatively straightforward, according to eyewitnesses and a few survivors. The men of the town were told to line up in the main square and were then systematically shot so their bodies lay in a long row. Some who stayed in their homes were killed there.
The episode in Rafah was more complicated and took place over the course of a day, when people were summoned to a school so the Israelis could determine if they were guerrillas or soldiers. Here there were many more survivors than in Khan Younis; they describe how some were shot on their way to the school and others beaten to death with batons as they entered the school courtyard. The Israeli Army did order two officers to conduct an inquiry into the “Rafah incident,” as a top-secret communiqué called it. (The same communiqué said 40 to 60 people were killed and 20 injured.) Sacco’s researcher found no report in military archives.
Gaza has changed radically since Sacco did his research. In 2005, Israel unilaterally dismantled Jewish settlements and withdrew its military forces, although it remained in tight control of Gaza’s borders. In 2007, Hamas seized control, and in 2008-9 the enclave came under devastating Israeli attack. In this bewildering torrent of events, Sacco’s investigation into the 50-year-old killings is one of the surest guides to the hatred with which Palestinians and Israelis confront one another.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq.”

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December 26, 2009

The new Christmas

A day before the Gaza carnage anniversary, thousands of marches, meetings and actions are being prepared across the globe, to commemorate the dead and horrors of Israeli atrocities, and make a repeat less likely. Below is a partial list of international actions; if you know of others, please send me details!

International Campaign in Support of the Gaza Freedom March

Thousands of Unison Actions Assembled around the World

A massive mobilization between December 27, 2009 and January 1, 2010 with candlelight vigils, concerts, marches, demonstrations, art installations and movie screenings will assemble all over the world to send a clear message to world leaders: end the siege on Gaza.
To tackle the blockade against Gaza, grassroots activists are moving quickly and acting in unison for an absolutley crucial time. Dec. 27 will mark one year since the Israeli attack and invasion of the Gaza Strip. Although the Israeli tanks have left, the complete closure of the borders continues.
In order to unite the public to influence public leaders behind the Gaza Freedom March goals, solidarity action organizers harnessed the power of the internet to coordinate a global week of actions. There will be actions at many places around the world: France, United Kingdom, Turkey, Ireland, Germany, Spain, United States, Afghanistan, Australia, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Jordan, Canada, Israel/Palestine, Poland, Denmark, and Greece.

On December 31, 2009, more than 1,400 citizens from across the world will travel to Cairo to join the Gaza Freedom March. This historic non-violent action has been organized by The International Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza. Its objective is to draw international attention to the siege and blockade of Gaza which are illegal under international law.

According to the United Nations, the most recent invasion left 1,400 Palestinian civilians dead, thousands injured and hundreds of thousands homeless, many of whom still live in tents. Many more are living in the ruins of their houses or with relatives. It is now one year later, and no progress has been made. In fact the situation is more dire than ever. Hospitals lack many medicines and supplies to provide even routine medical care. Building materials so desperately needed after the last winter’s invasion by Israel are not permitted into Gaza.

Israel’s blockade of Gaza is a flagrant violation of international law that has led to mass suffering. The U.S., Egypt and the rest of the international community are complicit. The law is clear. The conscience of humankind is shocked. Yet, the siege of Gaza continues.

For more information about the Gaza Freedom March global actions visit:
http://www.gazafreedommarch.org/solidarity

For full list of actions: Gaza Freedom March December 2009

Egypt urged to allow Gaza aids: Al Jazeera online

George Galloway MP speaking of the delay

George Galloway MP speaking of the delay

British politician George Galloway has appealed to Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, to allow a humanitarian aid convoy to cross to Gaza through the Red Sea port of Nuweiba.
The Viva Palestina convoy, containing some 210 vehicles and 500 people, is currently stranded in Jordan with Cairo refusing to allow it passage to Gaza through Nuweiba.
Galloway made the appeal through Al Jazeera: “Please Mr President Hosni Mubarak, allow us to pass through Nuweiba. We are here only four hours away from Gaza.
“Otherwise, we should go all the way through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean. All fingers should point now against Israel not Egypt. This is not what we want.”
But Hossam Zaki, an Egyptian port official, insisted that there would be “no entry from Nuweiba”, saying “entry can only be through El-Arish”.
El-Arish is a port on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, while Nuweiba is on the Red Sea.
The Egyptian decision means the convoy would have to travel hundreds of kilometres by ferry around the Sinai peninsula and through the Suez Canal.
The lorries are laden with European, Turkish and Arab aid – both food and medical supplies.
Egyptian condition
In a statement, the Egyptian foreign ministry said: “The Egyptian government welcomes the passage of the convoy into the Gaza Strip on December 27, on condition that it abides by the mechanisms in place for humanitarian aid convoys to the Palestinian people.
“This includes most importantly, the entry of convoys through the port of El-Arish”.
Gaza has been under a stifling Israeli siege since a Hamas election victory and its decision to push Fatah armed forces from the territory in June 2007.
The blockade has severely restricted essential supplies and placed Gazans in a dire situation, made worse by Israel’s military assault last winter that reduced much of the territory to ruins.
According to the latest UN report on the situation in Gaza, the ongoing Israeli blockade has triggered a “protracted human dignity crisis” with negative humanitarian consequences.
“At the heart of this crisis is the degradation in the living conditions of the population, caused by the erosion of livelihoods and the gradual decline in the state of infrastructure, and the quality of vital services in the areas of health, water and sanitation, and education,” adds the report.

Israel’s illegal extra-judicial killing squads continue murdering Palestinians daily, as an integral part of the IOF (Israel Occupation Forces) activities. Such actions hardly raise an eyebrow in Israel, the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’… Will they ever be made to pay for there unending war-crimes?

IDF kills 3 Palestinians linked to murder of settler: Ha’aretz

Six Palestinians were killed early Saturday in fighting with Israel, shattering a long period of relative calm in the territories.
In pre-dawn raids in the West Bank city of Nablus, Israel Defense Forces soldiers killed three Palestinian operatives belonging to the Fatah-linked Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
The men were known by Israeli authorities to be involved in a shooting attack in a West Bank settlement Thursday which killed Rabbi Meir Hai.
Also on Saturday, Israel killed three Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
An IDF spokeswoman said three Palestinians were killed in an air strike and ground fire on suspicion they were trying to infiltrate from Gaza.
A Hamas security source said the three shot in Gaza were apparently civilians collecting scrap metal in an industrial zone near the Israeli border.
The Nablus operation ended an extended lull during which the IDF refrained from any activities in the heart of Palestinian towns in the West Bank.
IDF troops entered the casbah of Nablus as well as the Ras al-Ayin region.
One of the dead Palestinians has been identified as Anan Subeh, 33, of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. The other two Palestinians were who were killed are Raed a-Sarkaji, 38, and Raghsan Abu Sharah, whose brother was regarded as a top commander with the organization.
During the operation, a-Sarkaji’s wife was wounded and transferred to hospital for medical care.
Palestinian security sources report that IDF troops encircled the Nablus casbah at around 4:00 A.M. on Saturday. Then, the IDF surrounded one of the homes in the area before proceeding to forcibly enter. The Palestinians had refused Israeli soldiers’ calls to surrender.
Israeli defense officials said that the Palestinians were implicated in various terrorist actions in recent years, and that the IDF moved against them after they had refused to cease their activities as part of the pardon agreement.
One of the Palestinians was said to have maintained contact with terrorist operatives abroad, including those belonging to Hezbollah.
The IDF operation is considered unusual given the calm that has taken hold in the West Bank over the course of the last two years.
The raid occurred less than two days after an Israeli from the West Bank settlement Shavei Shomron was killed in a shooting attack near his home.
Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades have claimed responsibility for the attack, the Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported.
An aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Israeli actions on Saturday, accusing Jerusalem of escalating the violence.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, the aide, told Reuters after the killing of three militants of Abbas’s own Fatah movement and three Gaza men “this grave Israeli escalation shows Israel is not interested in peace and is trying to explode the situation.”
“Israel is torpedoing international and American efforts to restart peace talks,” which stalled a year ago, Rudaineh said. Israel has insisted it was ready to resume negotiations immediately.

Israel Kills Six in West Bank: New York Times

Published: December 26, 2009
NABLUS, West Bank (Reuters) – Israeli soldiers shot and killed six Palestinians in two separate incidents on Saturday in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in one of the deadliest outbreaks of violence in months.
Three of those who were killed belonged to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, and his top aide accused Israel of inflaming tensions and seeking to torpedo U.S.-backed efforts to renew stalled peace talks.
The violence came a day before the anniversary of a three-week Gaza war that killed some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. Peace talks have been frozen since.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said soldiers shot and killed three Palestinians suspected of trying to infiltrate from Hamas-ruled coastal Gaza, and three West Bank militants accused of killing a Jewish settler in a roadside shooting on Thursday.
A Hamas security source said the three shot in Gaza at daybreak were apparently civilians collecting scrap metal in an industrial zone near the Israeli border.
In the West Bank, Palestinian medics and witnesses said soldiers surrounded the homes of three members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant group of Abbas’s Fatah group, and then killed all three.
The shootings infuriated Palestinian leaders.
“This grave Israeli escalation shows Israel is not interested in peace and is trying to explode the situation,” Nabil Abu Rdainah, a top aide to Abbas, told Reuters.
“Israel is torpedoing international and American efforts to restart peace talks,” Rdainah said.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said troops had launched a “pinpointed raid to capture the perpetrators of the shooting attack and during the operation three who were involved in carrying out that attack were killed.”
At least one of the militants was armed during the raid and four rifles and ammunition were found at the scene, the spokeswoman said.
The settler had been the first Israeli killed in a Palestinian attack in about eight months in the West Bank, territory Israel captured in a 1967 war and which Palestinians seek for a state.
Sources in Fatah said those who were killed in the West Bank raid belonged to their group. At least one had been on an Israeli wanted list, the sources said.
Abbas has demanded a halt to Jewish settlement building before peace talks delayed since a Gaza war in January may resume, and has rejected a temporary building freeze announced last month by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as insufficient.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Abed Qusini and Hassan Titi in Nablus and Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Richard Williams)

Israeli troops kill Palestinians: Al Jazeera online

Special forces of the Israeli Army killed three Palestinians in the West bank [EPA]
Israeli soldiers have killed six Palestinians in two separate incidents.
Three of the deaths occurred when Palestinians trying to cross the security barrier from the Gaza Strip into Israel were shot on Saturday, news agencies reported citing a Palestinian medical source.
Palestinian medics and sources said the other three Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers during a West Bank raid.
An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed that soldiers shot and killed three Palestinians suspected of trying to infiltrate from Gaza, which is governed by Hamas.
However, a Hamas security source said the three were apparently civilians collecting scrap metal in an industrial zone near the Israeli border.

West Bank killings
Describing the West Bank raid, Palestinian medics and witnesses said Israeli soldiers surrounded the homes of three members of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed group loosely linked to Fatah, the party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and then killed all three.
The Israeli army had no immediate comment on the raid, which took place two days after the same group was one of two to claim responsibility for the fatal shooting of an Israeli settler on Thursday on a West Bank road.
The Israeli was the first to get killed in a Palestinian attack in about eight months in the West Bank, territory Israel captured in a 1967 war and which Palestinians seek for a state.
Sources in Fatah said the three men targeted by the Israelis had been disarmed under security measures taken by Abbas’s police force.
At least one had previously been on an Israeli wanted list.
The violence came a day before the anniversary of a Gaza war that killed some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, and underscored rising tensions as US-sponsored peace talks have remained stalled for a year.

Six Palestinians killed in West Bank, Gaza attacks: BBC

Israeli troops have killed six Palestinians – three in the Gaza Strip and three in the West Bank.
The Israeli military said three Palestinians suspected of trying to infiltrate from Gaza were killed in an air strike near the Erez crossing.
Separately, Israeli forces said they killed three men in the West Bank city of Nablus who are suspected of shooting dead a Jewish settler two days ago.
It is the largest number of deaths in a day since the Gaza conflict a year ago.
Palestinian sources in Nablus say two of those killed were militants from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the militant faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party.
The faction was one of two groups which said they killed the settler, a father-of-seven – the first fatal shooting of an Israeli by militants in the occupied West Bank for eight months.
Eyewitnesses said the Israeli raid began in the early hours of the morning and lasted for several hours.
They said there had not been a raid like this in Nablus for about a year and a half, the BBC’s Bethany Bell reports from Jerusalem.
An Israeli army spokesman said a statement on the raid would be released soon.
The violence came a day before the anniversary of the Gaza war that killed some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

While the following article is thoughtful and timely, as well as surprisingly perceptive, it is interesting that it is published at a time of great tension in Gaza and around it, as the anniversary of the December 2008 carnage is approaching, and the large international group of protesters and activists are being prevented by the combines and coordinated actions of Israel and Egypt from reaching Gaza with food and solidarity…

How Gaza became a rich canvas for Palestinian art: The Independent

Art is flourishing in the carnage left behind by Israel’s military onslaught last year. Donald Macintyre reports.
Saturday, 26 December 2009
The prematurely ageing apartment block on the edge of Jabalya overlooks a forbidding stretch of wasteland. There is a lift shaft but no lift.
But if this is no surprise in a Gaza starved of building materials and spare parts, the interior of the spotless and stylishly furnished fourth-floor flat, where Maha El-Daya lives and works, certainly is. The walls are covered with her own (and her artist husband’s) paintings: haunting land and seascapes, a portrait of a child; the living room table on which coffee is served is covered with a dark red and black cloth she hand-stitched in the pattern of a chess board, the chairs scattered with cushions decorated with her own kaleidoscopic embroidery.

Ms El-Daya’s studio and home in the northern neighbourhood of al Saftawi betrays little sign of the turbulence and bloodshed of the three-week Israeli military onslaught on Gaza which began a year ago tomorrow. Nor does the painting she chose for the annual auction of Palestinian art organised this month in Jerusalem by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), which sold for $900.
At first sight, it is an abstract against a vibrant blue background but, examined more closely, it is pregnant with traditional Palestinian motifs: the feathers seamstresses attach to a needle and thread instead of a knot; the bag containing Koranic verses once worn by women, the grain used in baking bread. The blue is the colour of the Mediterranean; the brown that of the desert land it laps against.
Ms El-Daya, 33, is one of a growing, younger generation of talented painters helping to bring Gaza – and indeed Palestinian – art to the well deserved attention of a wider public. If Gaza’s economy has ground to a standstill, its modern art appears to be flourishing. And remarkably, the majority of the richly varied works on display in the “Colours of Hope” exhibition at the Alhambra Palace this month make little or no overt reference to last winter’s war.

In the case of Ms El -Daya, who has a daughter Salma, six, and a three-year-old son, Adam, this isn’t because she was unaffected by the war; quite the opposite. “I couldn’t draw anything,” she says. “I was living in a depression during and after the war. I was very afraid and very worried by the bombardment and the Israelis came very near to us.”
Her husband Ayman was stranded in Egypt, where he is studying for a Master’s degree in fine arts. The trade union headquarters near her flat was bombed. Twenty-two members of the extended El-Daya family were killed when an Israeli F16 fighter bombarded their four-storey family apartment block in one of the worst incidents of the war – later explained by the military as an “operational error”. Practical as well as multiply creative, and mindful that a prominent Hamas figure and potential target, Ismail Radwan, lives in her neighbourhood, Ms El-Daya painstakingly removed the glass from her windows on the first day of the bombing, replacing them as soon as the war was over. She says she could see the white phosphorus used in the bombing of nearby Atatra, adding “We saw the ball of fire, like an octopus”. But though her words testify to her painter’s eye, she had no inclination to commit it to canvas, seeing such immediate events as unsuitable for the lengthy task of constructing a work of art.

It was two months after the end of the war before Ms El-Daya picked up her brush again and, if her work had a theme (though she denies it is political), it was that of recovery. Her first post-war painting was of a fishing boat being repaired on the Gaza City beach. Repeatedly, her work returns to scenes of Gaza’s coast: boats, the sea, the decay of Gaza’s old port. One Palestinian expert has suggested that some of her beach scenes specifically evoke the siege of Gaza imposed in June 2007 after Hamas’s enforced takeover. This Ms El-Daya rejects, saying only that “everyone can do his own translation” of the work.
She does admit, however, to wanting to record scenes that are vanishing, or threatening to, in Gaza’s ever-changing landscape. “I want to tell the world that there was a harbour here.” Similarly with her pastoral pictures of the now bulldozed farmland of Beit Lahiya. “It’s not there any more,” she says. “People are trying to get it back now but it won’t be what it used to be.”
Ms El-Daya has much in common with her fellow painter Shareef Sarhan. The work of both has been shown and sold as far afield as Britain and the US. But while the paintings can travel – often thanks to diplomats – their creators, because of the closure, could not even get to this month’s show in Jerusalem. Both have difficulty in bringing in good quality paints from Israel and the West Bank. And both have jobs to help support their families – Ms El-Daya teaches children to draw in a programme run by the Palestinian Red Crescent and Mr Sarhan, also 33, is a photographer for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
But Mr Sarhan’s painting – which fetched $800 at the UNDP auction – is unmistakeably of the war. Like Ms El-Daya, he did not paint during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead; instead he alarmed his wife and four children by photographing its impact both in the streets and, even more dangerously, from the sixth-floor roof of the family home in Gaza City’s Sabra district. Though he sold some photographs, others he posted for free on his website, attracting 40,000 hits in the process. It was only in the following weeks that he began to paint the series of war studies which culminated in the work for the UNDP auction. “Sometimes the artist looks to express the events he lives through immediately,” he says. “Sometimes it’s after a period.”
He argues that his paintings of the “aggression”, as he calls it, though informed by both his memory and the photographs he took from his roof, are essentially “from the imagination”. But Mr Sarhan is also not, by preference, a war painter. His entry at the 2008 UNDP auction, which sold for $1,100, was a cityscape with an environmental theme, buildings packed between two trees, in which he has painted – as he often does – the grey/brown urban housing of Gaza in startlingly bright colours.

Nor has he, Ms El-Daya or the other painters represented in this month’s show, resorted for financial reasons, as some others have, to political murals and the “martyr” portraits of those killed in conflict, frequently commissioned by the armed factions. “I’m not angry with them; I found a job but maybe they had no other option. But I won’t do it,” Mr Sarhan says.
The problem he has is finding the time to paint as much as he wants. Not only does he need to earn his living but he is also, as a founder member of the “Windows from Gaza for Contemporary Art” group, a tireless champion of younger artists, helping to arrange two to three exhibitions a month. There were “difficulties” at first in attracting a Gaza audience for shows including video and installation art as well as paintings. But now, he says, 150 to 200 will routinely attend an opening.
Mr Sarhan says Hamas officials have nether intervened against nor encouraged the contemporary art movement here. He also points out that the painting sold in last year’s UNDP auction by Ms El-Daya’s husband, Ayman Eisa, included the outline of a nude woman. Though painted here, it almost certainly could not be exhibited in socially conservative Gaza, Hamas or no Hamas. Accepting that there are “differences between artists and the government” he remains politically neutral. “I am not Fatah or Hamas,” he explains. “I am Shareef.”

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December 25, 2009

boycott-israel-anim2

Help to stop the next war! Support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of the Israeli regime

Support Palestinian universities – spread the BDS campaign – it is what people under the Israeli jackboot ask you to do!

Israeli War Criminals – to the International Criminal Court, NOW!

Make Zionism History!

The anniversary of the Gaza Carnage by Israel’s murderers is in TWO days! We shall not forget!

Palestinian state proposal, by LatuffPalestinian state proposal, by Latuff

The first Anniversary of the Gaza Massacres – Gaza Freedom March

You must all be aware of the large peace march from Egypt towards Gaza, with thousands of people arriving today and tomorrow, trying to join a large aid convoy organised by Viva Palestina and including over 230 large trucks with food supplies. The Egyptians have now banned all meetings, marches, and any crossings into Gaza. It also seems from emails we are now getting, that they plan mass arrests of the incoming activists, and not just preventing their entry into Gaza. The UK and international media have been totally silent about this. If you can spread this – do what you can, write to your national media outlets, and try to spread the news on this awful and dispiriting behaviour by the Egyptian authorities! I am copying below some email from our one of our BRICUP members, who is in Cairo, and will continue to publish anything which he or anyone else is sending out of Cairo/Sinai/Gaza about this latest atrocity against the people of Gaza.

Where further information on the march can be found:

Gaza Freedom March

Codepink

Viva Palestina

PSC

and the most up to date news are on the convoy link:

Convoy link

Emails from Gaza/Cairo

25th December, 15:03

I am in Cairo

All Gaza marches and so on have been banned. Viva Palestina cannot get across from Aquba and are being denied entry. Code Pink and all the other delegations are not allowed to meet in public in groups of more than 6 otherwise we can be arrested. Most of the delegates do not start arriving until tomorrow. But we cannot use travel facilities. We cannot meet and it is getting very difficult. Hedi Epstein is threatening to begin a hunger strike tomorrow. We need appeals \going to the Egyptians, the Arab League in London and any organisation that might make statements and give help. Do what you can signed

25th December, 14:54

I am in Cairo

Things are very difficult. Code Pink and other groups have been banned from meeting in public places in groups of more than six. Viva Palestinia have been denied entry at Aquba. Heidi Epstein is threatening to go on hunger strike tomorrow … We are not all owed to travel … My fear is that there is going to now be lots of arrests and a lot of horrid violence against us … Can you get representation to the media. To the Egyptian authorities and Arab League? We need a lot of publicity at your end because it is only now that the delegates on the march are statring to arrive. Do what you can …. signed You may also wish to write to the UK Foreign Secretary, Mr. David Miliband, as I have just done: Dear David Miliband MP I am sorry to have to disturb you on Xmas Day. I have just received a large number of emails from various contacts in Cairo, all reporting that the Egyptian government has stopped the large Viva Palestina food supply convoy to Gaza, as well as forbade the large number of people arriving for the Gaza Freedom March, to use transport, on the first anniversary of the Gaza Carnage a year ago. I am aware that you have proven time and again that your position towards the crisis is far from objective, and have supported Israel unconditionally, including your recent call for special new measures in the UK which will make it impossible to prosecute Israelis for war crimes committed in Gaza. Do you do not have enough respect for the UK legal system to operate under the law in the matter of war crimes? Could this be because the government your are a member of is finding itself facing accusations of war crimes in Iraq? I wonder if your unconditional support for Israel also excludes any action in support of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, or the supporting the right of UK and other citizens to do what they legally can and assist the Gaza citizens, who have been illegally blockaded by Israel for almost three years now, with little action from yourself and HM Government against this breach of international Law, not to mention basic human rights. Would you now prove that you are not a racist, and join our urgent call for the illegal and immoral Israeli blockade to end NOW?. Would you join the call for the Egyptian government to allow the food convoy of Viva Palestina into Gaza? Or will you indeed continue to ignore the human and political rights of the Palestinians? Prof. Haim Bresheeth University of east London His email at Westminster is: milibandd@parliament.uk You may wish to be nicer to him than I was, but I cannot see what this might achieve, or why it is justified…

Gaza Freedom Marchers face Egyptian u-turn: Examiner.com

An unconfirmed report is that at at 8:30pm tonight, December 24, 2009, the Egyptian Foreign Minister said on Egyptian TV Channel 2, that neither the Gaza Freedom March nor persons accompanying the Viva Palestina convoy would be allowed to enter Gaza. The Foreign Minister’s comments confirmed statements made to Ann Wright and Tighe Barry of the Gaza Freedom March steering committee during their meeting this afternoon with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director of the Office of Palestinian Affairs Hisham Seif-Eldin and officer Ahmed Azzam. Barry and Wright went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the December 20 disapproval of the entry into Gaza by the Gaza Freedom March. Mr. Sief-Eldin said that Egyptian embassies in Europe and North America had received a large number emails and phone calls since the announcement of the disapproval. He was visibly upset by what he described as the “tone” of some of the emails received and forwarded to him by Egyptian embassies in Europe and North America and said that emails contained threats to Egyptian interests by tourist boycotts and personal attacks and derogatory language toward staff members. He said the position of the security and intelligence services of Egypt in disapproving transiting the Rafah border crossing had “hardened.” Sief-Eldin said that the permit we had requested to hold an orientation meeting on December 27 at 7pm at the Holy Family complex was cancelled and that the permit for a press conference at the Pyramisa Hotel on December 27 would not be approved. “At the meeting we presented a written request to hold a conference on Gaza for delegates only on December 28 and 29 either at the American University Cairo or at hotel. Mr. Azzad said the Foreign Ministry would forward the request to the security agency but did not believe it would be acted on in a timely manner.” The conference would be considered a “political” conference and would have to be approved by the Office of the Prime Minister. Sief-Eldin in the strongest terms said security services would not permit gatherings with signs or banners. He said that no group would be permitted to travel to al Arish or Rafah. He said we should tell the 1360 delegates to “not come to Egypt” unless they were going to do only tourist things. He said that in a change from yesterday, the Viva Palestina convoy has not heeded the Government of Egypt’s decision on where the convoy should enter Egypt and none of their delegates will be allow to enter Gaza, but the vehicles will enter eventually through a checkpoint in Israel. We asked again why the Government of Egypt did not make its refusal decision early in the five months process that the Gaza Freedom March has been coordinating with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a decision that would have notified delegates not to spend thousands of dollars on airfare to get to Egypt. Seif-Eldin responded that the government makes its decision on its own time schedule, not on the time schedule of others. He ended by saying that in Egypt, things are not done in the same manner as in the United States or Europe. The security services will not permit demonstrations or protests and will deal with them quickly. (See MoreCODEPINK:Gaza Freedom March http://www.facebook.com/l/971af;www.gazafreedommarch.org) Ottawa Canadian coordinators for the historic Gaza Freedom March were joined by Members of Parliament Libby Davies and Irene Mathyssen for a press conference to kick off a month of events in Canada and around the world, demanding that Israel lift its illegal siege of the Gaza strip.

Palestinian officials confiscate merchandise produced in settlements: Ha’aretz

By Amira Hass Palestinian officials are confiscating merchandise produced in West Bank settlements as part of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s plan to remove all goods made in the settlements from Palestinian markets by the end of next year. Although the government banned goods from settlements some time ago, it only launched a concerted effort to enforce the ban a few months ago. Sources in the National Economy Ministry said that NIS 651,982 worth of goods were confiscated and disposed of in the second week of December alone. The goods included Ahava cosmetics and toiletries, plastic products, long-life milk made in the Golan, Mei Eden mineral water and pastries from the Atarot industrial park. The campaign kicked off five weeks ago with the confiscation of merchandise on four trucks that had left the Barkan industrial zone near Ariel carrying metal products and raw material for diapers. A committee consisting of officials from several ministries was set up to supervise the process. Economy Ministry officials and customs agents are seizing merchandise directly from the distributors rather than trawling shops and marketplaces for forbidden goods. The ministry first warned merchants via regional chambers of commerce that dealing in goods from the settlements was prohibited and such merchandise would be seized. A ministry official said he realized, after a recent meeting with a British minister, that “we can’t demand that others do what we’re not doing ourselves.” Products from the settlements are widespread in the West Bank, making it difficult for the authorities to remove them, officials said. For example, the offices of many Palestinian ministries have doors made by Mul-T-Lock in its plant near Barkan. But according to the Israeli web site whoprofits.org, Mul-T-Lock’s owner, the Swedish corporation Assa Abloy, has promised to relocate the plant inside the Green Line. In violation of both the Oslo accords and Israel’s “economic peace” policy, Israel makes it almost impossible to market Palestinian merchandise, a ministry official said – not only in Israel, but even in the Palestinian Authority. And trade between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is all but nonexistent. However, said National Economy Minister Hassan Abu Libdeh, the PA is not taking steps against Israeli-made goods, only against products made in the settlements – “which are in violation of international law, steal our land and natural resources and damage our industry and produce.”

Palestinians celebrate Arab film at Gaza festival: The Electronic Intifada

Rami Almeghari, 23 December 2009 Last Thursday marked the end of a one-week film festival in Gaza City. The Palestinian Film Forum, an independent Palestinian community organization, sponsored the event with 33 films produced in six Arab Gulf states. Ranging from documentaries to educational and short films, this is the first film festival in Gaza since Israel placed the territory under a tight blockade more than 30 months ago. Held at Gaza City’s al-Meshal Cultural Center, the films were attended by scores of Palestinians from across the tiny coastal territory. Rajab Abu Seriya, a Gaza-based filmmaker and chairman of the forum, explained that the purpose of the festival was for Gaza to participate in the celebration of Jerusalem as capital of Arab culture for 2009. He added that it was also to introduce “the people of Gaza to other forms of cinema.” Abu Seriya explained that the greatest difficulty was bringing the films into Gaza. “We spent about one month and a half trying to bring [the films] here. Finally we asked an independent Palestinian dignitary to bring them from Cairo.” He added that officials with the Hamas party currently in control of Gaza did not object to the festival and it was coordinated with the Ministry of Information. Both the festival and the films shown were well received by Gazans in attendance at the festival. “I am a resident of Rafah, 18 miles away from Gaza City, however I wanted to attend the festival. This is a unique event, especially here in the Gaza Strip, where I have been raised without observing cinema or theater,” said Ismail Matter, a 20-year-old university student. Sahar Yaghi, a media and Arabic language student, echoed these sentiments. “I think the shows are very interesting. Unfortunately, we don’t have cinemas in Gaza so it has been a very good opportunity for me and others to attend such shows.” Gaza’s cinemas have been closed since the first Palestinian intifada in 1987. They remained shuttered after the Oslo accords were signed in 1993 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization and were never reopened by the Palestinian Authority. Instead, many of the cinemas were either abandoned or have been turned into public libraries. Director Ashraf al-Hawari, who has been working on documentary films for several Arab TV stations for 16 years and attended the festival, explained that there is no independent cinema production in Gaza and most of the related work in the territory is usually for local TV channels. “Gaza-based film production is going in the right direction. For the past three years, there has been development in terms of documentary films, but there needs to be some sort of progress technically. Also, young filmmakers are in need of a specialized body that supervises such productions. I remain pessimistic toward better filmmaking in Gaza unless an official body takes care of the arts,” al-Hawari added. Atemad Abu Tahoun, another local filmmaker, added, “I have been working in the field of filmmaking since 2007, and I have found that there are a growing number of women filmmakers. Yet Gaza has only a few actresses and if we want to have successful filmmaking, there should be more actresses.” The festival also served to demonstrate the possibilities for Palestinian filmmaking based on the example of the Arab Gulf films. Fayeq Jarrada, a Gaza director who works with the Media Group production company, explained that “Gulf-based cinema production reflects real progress. Despite the fact that Gulf-based cinema is recent, it is quickly developing technically and artistically. Directors from the Gulf states are young people who have studied cinema in well-known international schools.” Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.

Gaza march puts spotlight on ongoing siege: The Electronic Intifada

Andrea Borde, 23 December 2009 UNITED NATIONS (IPS) – More than 50,000 people are expected to take to the streets of Gaza on 31 December for a mass march designed to send a message to the United States, a key supporter of Israel’s army, that the situation in Gaza violates international human rights laws. The idea behind the “Gaza Freedom March” comes from CODEPINK, a women’s peace group committed to drawing attention to the humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, among other campaigns Organizers say the main catalyst for the mobilization was the Goldstone Report, commissioned by the United Nations and written by renowned South African jurist Richard Goldstone. The 575-page report, released in September, detailed gross human rights violations and war crimes committed by both Israel and Hamas in Gaza during the 27 December, 2008 to 18 January, 2009 conflict. However, it was particularly critical of Israel, calling the military campaign “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate, and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.” It also described Israel’s longstanding economic blockade of Gaza a form of “collective punishment” against the population and cited a number of attacks on civilian targets during the operation for which there was “no justifiable military objective.” “I think we have to recognize that the importance of the Gaza Freedom March as a way of drawing attention to the blockade is crucial,” said Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, at a news conference to announce the march last week “But what really changed here is the world’s understanding of what’s really happening in the occupied territories in the West Bank, and Gaza, and in East Jerusalem,” he said. The three-mile march from Gaza to the Erez Crossing in Israel intends to bring together 51,350 people from 43 nations, of whom 50,000 are Palestinians. Each participant has signed a code of conduct committing to non-violence during the march. Ratner said he plans to attend with his family, who he said want to show solidarity as Jewish Americans with the people of Gaza. “I want to break the blockade, I want to see the damage done by the weapons from my tax dollars, and I want it understood: Israel does not kill in my name. I want to follow words with action, and that’s why me and my family are going to Gaza,” he said. Currently, the US gives about three billion dollars per year in military aid to Israel, he added. Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK and also a Jewish American, has visited Washington numerous times to lobby for a reduction in aid. She hopes the march will influence the way the international community had responded to the attacks on Palestinian civilians. “I think it’s a recognition that Israel can no longer hide under the idea that it somehow is exceptional, that it can create and engage in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, and do so with impunity. It can’t continue to impose collective punishment on the people of Gaza. It can’t deliberately attack civilians,” said Benjamin. “The fact that so many people around the world are coming really gives heart and inspiration to the people in Gaza that shows that they have not been forgotten,” she said. Benjamin said that the participants come from diverse backgrounds, including civil society activists, students, university professors, members of trade unions, business people, people from refugee communities, women’s organizations and journalists, among many others. “We [even] have people in their seventies and eighties. Quite a large portion of the people are of Jewish decent. One is an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor,” said Benjamin. Benjamin equated the situation in Gaza to historical struggles for human rights throughout the past century. “We are doing this in the spirit of Martin Luther King, of Mohandas Gandhi, of Nelson Mandela, of non-violent resistance worldwide,” she said. Abdeen Jabara, a member of the Steering Committee for the Gaza Freedom March, also compared the struggles of African Americans for civil rights during the 1950s to Palestinians today, emphasizing the importance of non-violent, peaceful resistance. “For centuries, black people in America suffered from segregation, but it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding,” said Jabar. “We fervently hope that this effort in some small way could break the siege, [and] will register in [Washington,] DC, and the other capitals of the world.” The Goldstone report has been affirmed by both the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. However, Israel dismissed it as biased, and US Ambassador to the UN Alejandro Wolff also rejected the report as “deeply flawed” and “unbalanced.” The US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly last month to condemn the report, as well. According to statistics compiled in 2008 by the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), there are 1,059,584 refugees in living in impoverished conditions in Gaza. The blockade has created a situation where often even basic supplies of medicine and food cannot pass through Israeli checkpoints. The hope of CODEPINK is that the Gaza Freedom March will create vibrations throughout the world, and especially in the US, to stop these gross human rights violations from occurring and to end its aid to Israel once and for all. “Israel has no place to hide,” said Jabara. All rights reserved, IPS — Inter Press Service (2009). Total or partial publication, retransmission or sale forbidden.

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