Israel and Egypt Continue to Squeeze Gaza

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ann Wright, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

Two weeks ago, almost 2,000 internationals came to Egypt and Gaza in a massive show of civil society’s support for the people of Gaza. Nearly 1,400 persons representing 44 countries in the Gaza Freedom March and over 500 persons with the Viva Palestina Convoy let the people of Gaza know of their concern for the tragic consequences of their governments’ support of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade.

Yet, two weeks later, with the apparent approval of governments (United States, European Community and Canada) that support the quarantine, blockade and siege of Gaza, Israel and Egypt have tightened the squeeze to wring the lifeblood out of the people of Gaza.

US Military Team Visits Underground Wall Construction

The US government continues to assist Egypt in building an underground wall to cut off tunnels under the border of Gaza and Egypt. According to Reuters, on January 14, 2010, three US military personnel from the US embassy in Cairo visited Rafah to follow up on the barrier project. According to security sources in Rafah, visits by US military have been taking place monthly.

In a press conference this week in Washington, US State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said, “What we’d like to see is for Hamas to stop using the border crossings as methods for smuggling in weapons and let’s get the weapons smuggling stopped.” Duguid did not address the use of the tunnels to get life-saving food and materials prohibited by Israel.

In December 2009, three Palestinians were killed after a tunnel collapsed beneath the Egypt-Gaza border. The three were reported missing, and later found by rescue workers.

Deadliest Week Since Last Year’s Israeli Attack

Last week, January 6-12, was the deadliest week for the Gaza Strip in the past year since the January 18, 2009, ceasefire that ended Israel’s “Cast Lead” offensive.

According to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israeli air force bombing attacks killed seven Palestinians in Gaza, including three civilians. The attacks came in response to an increase in the number of mortar shells and rockets fired by Palestinian factions from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel that caused no injuries or property damage.

Since the ceasefire a year ago, a total of 84 Palestinians, including at least 27 civilians, and one Israeli (a soldier) have been killed. Another 160 Palestinians and seven Israelis were injured in Gaza and southern Israel.

On January 8, 2010, US aircraft flown by Israeli air force personnel bombed tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border, killing three Palestinians, including a 15 year-old boy, and wounding another two. Another Palestinian was hurt in a separate airstrike. In two other incidents, on January 6 and 10, Israeli aircraft targeted and killed four Palestinian militants, three of them in one airstrike. Five additional airstrikes, resulting in no casualties, were carried out during the week. Also this week, on four separate occasions, Israeli forces drove tanks into Gaza and conducted land-leveling operations.

Israelis Increase Border Zone Into Gaza

On January 7 this year, the Israeli air force dropped leaflets into areas next to the border fence with Gaza, warning residents to keep a distance of at least 300 meters from the border with Israel and to avoid cooperating with “smugglers” in the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border. This doubled the buffer zone along the border from 150 meters to 300 meters, but Israeli forces have opened “warning” fire at farmers as far as 1,000 meters (3,200 feet) from the border.

A parallel ban for Gaza fishermen is applied to sea areas beyond three nautical miles from the coast, though often this distance is less in practice. This week, in nine separate incidents, Israeli naval forces opened “warning” fire at Palestinian fishing boats along Gaza’s coast, forcing them to return to shore.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) reported that on January 6 and 9 this year, unknown persons detonated bombs in a pharmacy and two coffee shops in Gaza City; no one was hurt, but property damage was reported.

Two Killed in January in Tunnels and Seven Youths Burned in Tunnel Fire

In January 2010, two Palestinians died in two separate incidents involving the collapse of a tunnel under the Gaza-Egypt border while they were working inside it. At least 70 people have died and 123 others have been injured in the tunnels since the end of the “Cast Lead” Israeli attack on Gaza.

On January 16 this year, seven Palestinians from Gaza were burned in a fire that broke out in one of the tunnels connecting the border towns of Rafah, Gaza and Rafah, Egypt. The seven burned tunnel workers were treated at An-Nasser and Ash-Shifa hospitals in Gaza City.

Digging tunnels and working in them is one of the few jobs available for Palestinian youth in Gaza. Tunnel workers reportedly earn $25 per day, a huge sum in the current Palestinian economy. However, they are subjected to daily bombings by US F-16 aircraft flown by the Israeli Air Force, plus tunnel collapses and fires.

Accidents in the tunnels are frequent. According to the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Mezan, 120 people have been killed working in the tunnel trade in the past three years.

According to OCHA, no commercial gasoline or diesel fuel entered Gaza via Kerem Shalom during last week. Egyptian gasoline and diesel, which is transferred through the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, remains available on the open market, with nearly 100,000 liters of diesel and 100,000 liters of gasoline transferred into Gaza per day.

Israeli Tanks Shell Beit Hanoun

Israeli tanks operating near the northern Gaza border near Beit Hanoun targeted civilian properties with heavy artillery fire on January 15, 2010. Tank shells hit civilian homes on the outskirts of the town, causing material damages but no injuries.

Egypt Builds Anchorage for Border Patrol Boats

Egypt is continuing fortification of its borders with Gaza, this time by sea. According to Reuters, Egypt is constructing a port for patrol boats that will block sea routes into Gaza for merchandise, food and weapons.

The border patrol boats will keep Palestinian fishing boats in Gazan coastal waters. Egypt has said it believes the boats are being used to carry out smuggling operations, though there have never been reports of such incidents. “It is to secure the area. It will be used to direct fishing boats in the area to ensure they do not cross the Israeli sea border and risk getting fired at,” the security sources told Reuters.

As Egypt completes the 14-kilometer underground wall along the Rafah border, Egyptian surveillance of the Mediterranean Sea increases the strangling of Gaza. The tunnels are the only way Gazans can bring goods into the Strip. Israel has maintained a tight blockade of the area, letting in only 36 types of goods for the past three years.

Future Aid Missions Must Go Through Red Crescent

On January 6, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrators, protesting Egypt’s delay in allowing the aid convoy Viva Palestina into Gaza, as well as Egypt’s plans to build the underground steel wall, clashed with Egyptian forces at the Gaza-Egypt border. As a result, an Egyptian soldier was shot dead and 13 Palestinians were injured, including six who suffered gunshot wounds. Eventually, the convoy entered on the same day, carrying food and medical supplies.

However, in response to the clashes, Egypt introduced a new mechanism, through which future aid convoys into Gaza will go through the Egyptian Red Crescent.

No Internationals Allowed Into Gaza

During December, no internationals were allowed into Gaza through the Rafah crossing, until 92 persons from the Gaza Freedom March were allowed in for 48 hours on December 30. During January, only the Viva Palestina convoy personnel were allowed in for 24 hours. Many international persons have letters of invitation from non-governmental organizations to assist in a variety of ways. Only one other international has been allowed into Gaza in January. Egypt has denied the requests for all other internationals. The ability of citizens of the world to assist Gaza when their governments will not is tragically being strangled.

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As the Academic Year Opens in Israel:

November 1, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Ayman Quader, www.peaceforgaza.blogspot.com

Wednesday, October 21, 2009 – Once again, following the start of the academic year at many institutions of higher education around the world, some 838 Palestinian students are still waiting to leave Gaza to study abroad. The students cannot leave due to the Israeli-imposed closure of the Gaza Strip and the rigid criteria for exit via the Erez and Rafah border crossings.

According to figures provided to Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement – by the Palestinian Interior Ministry in Gaza, 1,983 students who have been accepted into educational institutions abroad have registered for permits to exit via the Rafah crossing since the start of the year, but only 1,145 students have managed to pass through the crossing. 69 additional students have left via Erez crossing.

Overseas travel is no simple matter for Palestinian students because passage through Israel is extremely limited in accordance with a long list of criteria determined by Israel, which include the possession of a “recognized” academic scholarship and enrollment to study in a country which has a diplomatic presence in Israel. In addition, since June 2008 Israel has made the exit of students from Gaza to study abroad conditional on a physical diplomatic escort (see Gisha’s report: “Obstacle Course: Students Denied Exit From Gaza”). The students also have difficulty leaving through Egypt via Rafah crossing due to the fact that it is closed most of the time. The rare openings of Rafah Crossing permit travel for only about 12% of people wishing to pass.

As a result, 838 students are still waiting in Gaza for permission to leave. An additional unknown number of students were not even eligible to register for a Rafah exit permit since they were unable to attend a visa interview in Jerusalem or the West Bank – a prerequisite for passing through the Rafah crossing. Below are three examples of students harmed by the infrequent opening of the Rafah crossing and the strict exit criteria set by Israel:

Mohammed AbuHajar, 29, was accepted into an MA program in Information Technology and Communications at the Center for Information Technologies in Athens in July 2009, and was even awarded a full scholarship by the Center. Since Israel does not consider this to be a “recognized university” or a “recognized scholarship,” and despite requests by Greek officials on his behalf, all of AbuHajar’s attempts to leave Gaza have so far led nowhere. He only just managed to register with the Palestinian Interior Ministry, but it is not known when the next opening of the Rafah crossing will take place or whether AbuHajar will be able to get through the crossing at all.

Ihab Naser, 38, who holds a graduate degree in Biochemistry, was accepted into doctoral studies in Community Nutrition at a Malaysian university in May 2009, but he has not yet managed to leave Gaza. Since Malaysia has no diplomatic ties with the State of Israel, so long as Israel continues to insist on the diplomatic escort requirement, Naser has no chance of getting out of Gaza via Israel to study abroad. Despite the fact that Naser has been on the list of students with a permit to exit via the Rafah crossing for a long time already, due to the huge crowd of hopeful travelers that converges on the crossing every time it opens, his exit has been delayed time and again.

Wesam Kuhail, 28, who holds a BA in Business Administration, was accepted into an MBA program in the USA, but has been forced this year – for the third time – to renew his application for the program. This is because Kuhail has not yet managed to get an exit permit from Gaza in order to attend a visa interview at the US Consulate in Jerusalem: “I don’t know if I’ll ever make it to the consulate under these circumstances. This wait has prevented me from making important life decisions… All I am doing is waiting for my entry permit to be approved by the Israelis.”

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