Palestine doesn’t get to have a 9/11

In September 2001, a group of terrorists from al Qaeda killed several thousand Americans in New York. US friends and enemies alike condemned the attacks and the attackers. Debates that occurred were about how discriminate America should be in seeking revenge and justice. The horrors of 9/11 are invoked whenever questions arise about US occupations of Iraq or Afghanistan. The US is allowed to use the suffering and deaths of its people to justify what it has done.

Continue reading “Palestine doesn’t get to have a 9/11”

Whatever else happens, let’s make sure we forget about Gaza

Israel didn’t stop its starvation of Gaza, nor its attacks on Gaza, simply because it also took up destroying and invading Lebanon.

No, indeed, Gaza’s people are still starving and dying in their electrified prison. Consider this statement by a group of Canadian Health Professionals, organized by Science for Peace:

As Canadian health professionals, we are deeply concerned by the silence of the Canadian government and the Canadian media about the humanitarian disaster in Gaza. We are calling on the Canadian government and the media to truthfully recognize the humanitarian situation and to respond with compassion and effective help.

Even before the capture of Cpl. Gilad Shalit on June 25, 2006, and even before the election of the Hamas government, the humanitarian situation in Gaza was dire.

* When the settlers left Gaza in August, 2005, the Israeli army left 40 percent of the land covered in millions of tons of rubble, rendering it unusable for cultivation. Israel continued to control all access to Gaza and continued to control water resources.

* After the Hamas government was elected, the Palestinian health system collapsed due to the freeze of tax revenues by Israel and the stoppage of international aid (led by Canada). Physicians for Human Rights-Israel reported at the time that Israel is responsible for the outcome of the collapse of the Palestinian civil society in general and the health system in particular. Specific to Gaza, PHR-I stated that Shifa Hospital, the central hospital in Gaza, has not received (for at least a month) the essential medicines it needs for basic care , such as furosemide (a diuretic medicine that reduces fluid pressure on the lungs and other organs) and erythromycin (broad-spectrum antibiotic). In Shifa Hospital four patients already have died as a result of the reduction in the number of their dialysis treatments from three per week to only two. James Wolfensohn, Special Envoy for Disengagement to the U.S. Foreign Relations Committee, stated on March 15, 2006, that the collapse of health services and the education system, which addresses the needs of one million children, would be a total failure for the new government, and would have tragic consequences for the Palestinian people. This should not be permitted under any circumstances.

* Six months before the capture of Cpl. Shalit, PHR-I filed a petition and a request to the Israeli Supreme Court for a temporary injunction to stop the sonic booms, deeming it a collective punishment of the civilian population that particularly traumatized children. The petition was rejected and the sonic booms persist. According to /The Guardian Weekly/ (June 16-22), daily life was violent: 3000 Qassam rockets were fired into Israel over the past five years from Gaza, killing five people; on the other side, Israel dropped 6,000 shells on Gaza since the beginning of April, claiming the lives of elderly farmers, children, and women as well as the family of Huda Ghalia on the Gaza beach; no figures were given about Israeli ground assaults in the same five year period. The June 8th report of MSF-USA, however, reports that Israeli bombing in north Gaza was particularly intense, in one incident killing 45 cows which affected the food supply; MSF continues that bombing since the beginning of the year was so intense in the north that people could not access health-care facilities. Extra-judicial executions and kidnappings by the IDF persisted, and the day before Cpl. Shalit was captured, the IDF kidnapped a Gazan doctor and his brother.

* Before the current offensive, UN aid relief workers were giving daily food rations to 735,000 Gazans, more than half the overcrowded territory’s population of 1.4 million people. 79 percent of households were living under the poverty line and unemployment was 40 percent.(U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, report July 12, 2006)

Since the capture of Cpl. Shalit, the situation is far worse in Gaza because of the destruction of the water, sanitation, food, health, and electricity infrastructure. As of July 8, 2006

* World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that the public health system is facing an unprecedented crisis. WHO estimates that though hospitals and 50 percent of Primary Health Centres have generators, the current stock of fuel will last for a maximum of two weeks. WHO, based on UNRWA’s data related to communicable diseases, stated that the total number of cases of watery and bloody diarrhoea amongst refugees for the last week in June and the first week in July has increased by 163 percent and 140 percent compared to the same period last year (also reported in Defense for Children International-Palestine section). WHO estimates that 23 percent of the essential drug list will be out of stock within one month. WHO is also alarmed by the tightening of restrictions on patients needing to leave Gaza for treatment.

* The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that in June 70 percent of the Gaza population were already unable to cover their daily food needs without assistance. As of 8 July, WFP has 20 days of emergency food stocks to cover its expanded caseload of 220,000. Given the escalating crisis, there are growing numbers of people who now need assistance. WFP believes it is essential that a humanitarian corridor for relief items and personnel remains open to avert a further deterioration in the food security situation at this critical time.

* UNICEF reports that children are living in an environment of extraordinary violence, insecurity and fear. Care givers say children are showing signs of distress and exhaustion, including a 15 percent-20 percent increase in bedwetting, due to shelling and sonic booms.

* The Office of the Co-Ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) states that since destruction of the electric plant, the lives of 1.4 million people, almost half of them children, worsened overnight. In the hottest time of the year, most Gaza residents have power for only 6-8 hours/day. In urban areas, water is available between 2-3 hours/day. The water authority has enough chlorine for two months. UNRWA reports that the Water Utility’s daily operation has been cut two thirds, resulting in water shortages and a critical situation at the sewage plants.

* On 19 July the Palestinian Human Rights Centre reports that since 28 June 2006, 115 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Gaza, 550 have been wounded, passage of food, fuel and medicine is denied, six bridges have been destroyed, and transportation and access to medical clinics is disrupted.

According to the provisions of the Geneva Conventions (1977), the onus is on the warring state to protect the civilian population from the impact of military operations. As the occupying power, the State of Israel is bound by the Fourth Geneva Convention Articles 19 and 50 to treat humanely Gaza’s wounded and sick, to protect hospitals, to protect and care for children. Article 55 states that the Occupying Power has the duty to ensure the food and medical supplies of the population. Article 56 states that the Occupying Power has the duty, in cooperation with the national local authorities, to ensure and maintain medical and hospital services, public health and hygiene. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, demand Israel’s immediate compliance with the Geneva Conventions and restoration of Gaza’s infrastructure.

The undersigned Canadian health professionals fear for the lives of Palestinian people. We ask the Canadian Government to demand that Israel fulfil its responsibilities as a signatory of the Fourth Geneva Convention and take immediate and effective measures to provide protection of the civilian population in Gaza, to reduce severe risks to public health, and to secure appropriate medical care. We ask our own government for the immediate restoration of Canadian aid to the elected Palestinian government to ensure that water, food, medicine and the necessities of life are immediately available and accessible in Gaza.

Yours faithfully,

(as of July 28, 2006)

[~90 signatories follow]

Removing the Accidental Protection

http://www.zcommunications.org/removing-the-accidental-protection-by-justin-podur

What is behind the Gaza ‘disengagement plan’? It has been spelled out clearly enough by Ariel Sharon’s own advisor, Dov Weisglass, in an often-quoted Ha’aretz interview about ‘freezing’ the peace process in ‘formaldehyde’. Palestinian activist and commentator Azmi Bishara stated it like this:

Continue reading “Removing the Accidental Protection”

Planning the Gaza Genocide

Uri Avnery is 81 or 82 years old, an Israeli activist with a group called Gush Shalom. He was in the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset). Before that, he was in the Israeli militias, some of the elite units that did ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine in 1948 to prepare for the state of Israel. He’s a very complex person with a very long political and writing career. His cause is peace and a two-state solution. He was a friend and supporter of Arafat until his death and had a very moving interview in Ha’aretz after his death.

A Jewish Israeli, an avowed Zionist, a supporter of a two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict, does not make parallels between Israel and WWI Germany easily. For some, such comparisons do come easily. But for someone like Avnery, I don’t think they do. So Avnery’s piece, ‘The March of the Orange Shirts’, which explicitly compares the settler movement in Israel to the Nazis, is even more alarming. He writes:

In the past I have often hesitated to use this analogy. We have a taboo concerning Nazi Germany. Since nothing in the world can compare with the Holocaust, no comparisons should be made with Germany of that time.

Only rarely has this taboo been broken. David Ben-Gurion once called Menachem Begin “a disciple of Hitler”. Begin for his part called Yasser Arafat “the Arab Hitler”, and before that, Gamal Abd-el-Nasser was referred to in Israel as “Hitler on the Nile”. Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, in his usual provocative way, spoke about “Judeo-Nazis” and compared the special units of the Israeli army to the SS. But these were exceptions. Generally, the taboo was observed.

Not any more. In their fight against the “rotten” Israeli democracy, the settlers have adopted the Holocaust symbols. They are ostentatiously wearing the Yellow Star that was imposed by the Nazis on the Jews before their extermination, only substituting orange for yellow. They inscribe their forearm with their identity number, like the numbers the Nazis tattooed on the Auschwitz prisoners. They call the government the “Judenrat”, after the Jewish councils appointed by the Nazis in the ghettoes, and liken the evacuation of the settlers from Gush Katif to the deportation of the Jews to the death camps. All this live on television.

Avnery is concerned about the threat this settler movement, which he calls ‘a large fascist camp’ that is attempting ‘to overturn by force the democratic system itself’, poses to Israel’s polity. He notes that ‘this is a revolutionary movement with a revolutionary ideology using revolutionary means’.

His definition of fascism is a useful one:

There is no agreed scientific definition of “fascism”. I define it as having the following attributes: the belief in a superior people (master Volk, chosen people, superior race), a complete absence of moral obligations toward others, a totalitarian ideology, the negation of the individual except as a part of the nation, contempt for democracy and a cult of violence. According to this definition, a large proportion of the settlers are fascists.

Avnery believes that if Israeli citizens do not stand up for it, Israel’s democratic system will be overthrown. I think he is right. I also think things are worse than he writes. If, as he says, there is a fascist movement in the process of overthrowing Israel’s democracy, there is also a genocide underway in Gaza.

Let’s turn to another moderate voice. Even though she wouldn’t be accepted as such by mainstream US culture, Phyllis Bennis is really a reasonable, hard-working left-liberal, and I think it’s fair to say she’s thought of that way by most leftists. In her recent piece on the Gaza ‘Disengagement’ plan to move the few thousand Jewish settlers out of the fenced-in open-air prison for 1.3 million Palestinians that is the Gaza Strip, Bennis actually calls for pro-Palestine advocates to work on sanctions and divestment campaigns against Israel:

Since governments, especially the U.S. government, have so far been unwilling to take seriously their obligations to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law, it is up to our global civil society to do it. Both Palestinian civil society organizations and the UN-based International Coordinating Network on Palestine have called for non-violent campaigns of “BDS” – boycotts, divestment and sanctions – against Israel’s occupation and the institutions and corporations that benefit from it.

Until very recently, sanctions and divestment were viewed, even by most of the left, as ultra-leftist deviation. For Phyllis Bennis to be advocating it strikes me as a sign that things are desperate. And in fact, I think they’re more desperate than sanctions. Phyllis is very clear on what ‘disengagement’ means:

Sharon’s planned “disengagement” from Gaza is not a step towards ending occupation; it is designed to change the character of Gaza’s occupation from direct troops-in-the-streets and settlers-on-the-land occupation to a kind of occupation-by-siege, in which Gaza will be completely encircled by an Israeli fence, as well as Israeli troops and military force. All entry and exit to and from Gaza will be controlled by Israel. The Israeli military will control all crossing points, Israel will control Gaza’s skies and seas, the building and operation of any future port or airport will be under Israeli permission (or denied permission), and the people of Gaza will have no ability to move in and out of their land, to ship agricultural products out or bring crucial medicines in, except under intrusive Israeli control.

On this question of ‘agricultural products’ (otherwise known as ‘food’) and medicine, it’s worth repeating yet again that the UN Special Rapporteur for Food found TWO YEARS AGO that 22% of Gaza’s children were malnourished because of the siege of Gaza (USAID reports said the same thing), a siege that has not been lifted at all since – so we can be sure that the situation has deteriorated steadily for two more years. No employment, no economy, only such food aid as Israel allows.

When I was in Gaza City in 2002, I was told by my Palestinian host that problems with mosquitoes were not as bad as they could be because the Israelis had to protect themselves from diseases, too. That won’t be the case once the settlers are gone. The settlers, who are just a few thousand, occupy something like 40% of the land. Because of the settlement strategy, their presence, despite their small numbers, is ubiquitous. But once they are gone and all of their buildings and infrastructure thoroughly destroyed, there won’t be any protection for the Palestinians of Gaza, not even the accidental protection of colonists protecting themselves.

That is what made people like Uri Davis, Ilan Pappe, and Tamar Yaron – also very reasonable people – panic. These Israeli activists are very worried about the consequences of the ‘disengagement’:

We believe that one primary, unstated motive for the determination of the government of the State of Israel to get the Jewish settlers of the Qatif (Katif) settlement block out of the Gaza Strip may be to keep them out of harm’s way when the Israeli government and military possibly trigger an intensified mass attack on the approximately one and a half million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, of whom about half are 1948 Palestine refugees.

Still another very good Israeli activist, Michael Warschawski, disagrees with the above. He replied to it suggesting that instead “the reason for the evacuation of a few thousands settlers from the Gaza Strip is to help in creating a “Gazastan,” part of the old Sharon plan of “cantonization of the occupied territories.”

Warschawski, like Bennis, thinks that the point of the Gaza evacuation is to create a ‘trauma’ that will help Sharon argue that no more settlements can be dismantled. This can be true and Davis/Pappe/Yaron can also be completely right that a mass slaughter is being planned (and in fact Warschawski admits as much in his piece).

But, because the stakes are so very high, it is important to be absolutely clear.

Israel’s policy towards Gaza is already genocidal. There is already a siege that has already starved tens of thousands of children and is killing and permanently damaging many more. There is already a vicious military with total control featuring snipers murdering little girls as they sit in their classrooms. The place is already fenced in from all sides. Indiscriminate missile attacks already kill dozens of people at the whim of some occupation officer and with no one, in Israel or outside, noticing or caring. There is really no question about whether they can get away with it because they are already getting away with it. There is also no question as to whether they care about Gaza because they have always been very clear about it. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin himself expressed his wish in 1992 that Gaza ‘would just sink into the sea’ (I collected this and some other telling quotes here).

Warschawski is right that Gaza and its 1.3 million people are utterly irrelevant to Sharon, Israel and the US (other than the settler movement, which cares about Gaza, though not its inhabitants). That does not mean those people in Gaza are not facing genocide. They will be fenced in, besieged, left to starve and to drink dirty water and die, like the Iraqi children of the sanctions, because the settlers’ water infrastructure will most certainly be destroyed and defiled and probably poisoned before the settlers finally leave. And when some of them think of revenge, trying hopelessly to launch a metal tube over the electric at their occupiers, Israel will be able to launch the heavy weaponry with an unheard of lack of discrimination, for there won’t be an Israeli life at risk in the killing.

And yes, the West Bank settlement project will be consolidated in the meantime, and yes, the settler movement will be overthrowing Israel’s democracy in the meantime, and who knows what new horrors will be happening in the ‘War on Terror’ elsewhere at the same time.

For now I disagree with Warschawski. I would rather see the settlers stay until there is a just solution than see the genocide advance to a new level of impunity.

We will all pay a horrible price if we allow this to happen.

Gaza death toll… 112 and counting

The best place to follow it is IMEMC, it seems to me.

Over the course of an invasion like this, mistakes tend to happen. Like, for example, the mistake Israeli snipers made when they shot 13-year old Iman Alhamas 20 times. Not to worry though. “Military sources… said the case was being investigated and confirmed the possibility that she had been shot from several posts.”

Egypt and Gaza

An interesting story from swissinfo, again via Newsinsider. Apparently Egypt and Israel are working on a border deal for Gaza. The idea is that Egyptian police would take over the policing of the border. The article discusses it in terms of two things — first, Egyptians would stop ‘smugglers’ of weapons… must be all those ‘tunnels’ the Israelis uncover every time they bulldoze a neighbourhood and slaughter the inhabitants. Second, the deal would give “the Palestinians unrestricted access to an Arab country for the first time since Israel captured Gaza in 1967.”

Since the smuggling weapons business is just a pretext for the Israeli raids, we can turn to the ‘unrestricted access’. I doubt it. That would conflict with the US/Israel’s vision of the Palestinian future, being one of life in open-air prisons, where people starve and die and are periodically killed by remote control if they try to revolt, but for which the US/Israel take no responsibility. I suppose all things being equal Israel would rather Egyptians be the prison guards. But I doubt that’s a foregone conclusion either, and I doubt that’s the role Egypt sees itself playing. I also doubt that, should Palestinians revolt against their future Egyptian prison guards, the whole thing could be kept up for very long — how long would the Iraqi army, or the rest of the ‘Coalition’, last against the insurgency without the US presence there. If it’s true that Israel wants out of Gaza, getting the Egyptians to take over might seem like a good plan. But I don’t see it working out the way Israel hopes. And in any case, Uri Avnery argues pretty persuasively here that Sharon really doesn’t plan to leave Gaza at all.

Homelessness in Rafah

I am reproducing below a very short press release from the United Nations refugee agency. It is self-explanatory.

Latest Israeli Operation Leaves 575 Palestinians Homeless

Gaza – The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has completed its initial assessment of the numbers of homes demolished or damaged beyond repair during the latest Israeli military operation in Rafah.

Continue reading “Homelessness in Rafah”

Gaza

I was wrong — this needs to be blogged, despite the fact that it is all over mainstream outlets. It looks like another line has been crossed, with Israel launching a missile attack into a crowd of people in Gaza, essentially a flat out massacre of civilians, without even any kind of pretext (most Israeli massacres of civilians come with a pretext). The absence of a pretext in this attack is a sign of impunity, I suppose related to the fact that the only forces that can restrain the Israeli military are the US (firmly dedicated to committing massacres with impunity and unlikely to play any restraining role) and the Israeli public (which is, actually, hopefully, less interested in these kinds of massacres).

It’s worth mentioning that apologists for Israeli atrocities always make a point of trying to differentiate Israel’s massacres of civilians from the Palestinian suicide bombers. They are not making the quantitative argument that Israel kills more civilians, which is the case, or that Israel starves Palestinians and the reverse is not true, also the case, and so on. Instead, they are saying that the Palestinian bombs are meant to kill civilians, deliberately, by design, whereas Israel kills Palestinians by accident. It was outrageous when they were using it before, but I suppose they’ll probably stop using it now.

Not that you need arguments when you have helicopter gunships and missiles.

Much more gravely, this is a glimpse of what Sharon’s ethnic cleansing plan for the Palestinians is: it has always been to use artillery against densely populated civilian areas and commit atrocities that dwarf the Jenin massacre of 2002. It is a ‘feeler’: if there isn’t a major reaction from the Israeli public or the US, there will be more such massacres, and soon.

Below is the note from the ISM.

INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
For Immediate Release

ARMY FIRED MISSILES AT A CIVILIAN DEMONSTRATION IN RAFAH
13 people, mostly youths are reported killed, more than 60 injured

[Rafah, Gaza Strip] Israeli army helicopter gunships and tanks opened fire on a nonviolent civilian demonstration in Rafah early this afternoon. 13 Palestinian are repored killed, including 2 children, and 60 injured.

Approximately 3.000 Palestinian civilians from Rafah, mostly youths, were peacefully demonstrating to protest the recent military operation in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. Eyewitnesses reported that 4 missiles were fired from helicopter gunships and tanks fired shells at the crowd of unarmed civilians.

Hospitals are overflowed and cannot handle the situation, chief hospital spokesperson said.

This recent attack raised the previous death toll to 37 people in one of the bloodiest military operation since the beginning of the second Intifada.

For more information, please contact:

Mohammed Ali (English and Arabic): 972-59 841672
Adwan (English and Arabic): 972-59 304628
Dr. Ali Musa (Director of Rafah’s Hospital): +972-8-2132-616
Sa’id Zoroub (Mayor of Rafah): +972-59-408-391 or +972-8-21-37-951 (Office)
Ali Barhoum (Rafah Municipality): +972-59-815-100 or +972-8-21-37- 951
(Office)
Dr. Youssef Musa (Director UNRWA Clinic in Gaza): +972-59-410-490

ISM Media Office: +972-2.277.4602

… and back to Gaza

After our brief excursion into optimism, let us return to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where Israel is launching missiles, artillery, and aggression into neighbourhoods. Using the IMEMC.org newswire, a valuable resource.

There was all the home destruction in Rafah.

The shelling of residental areas.

The shelling of a mosque.

Assassinations of Islamic Jihad and people anywhere near people suspected of belonging to said group.

Standard patterns of wreckage, destruction, and murder that are the daily diet of Palestinians, especially in Gaza, and especially in Rafah, courtesy of the Israeli military and the US government. These are being reported in the mainstream media as ‘retaliations’.