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.

12-4

UN: Make Israel War Crime Trial

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem

Report also censures Hamas but accuses Israelis of punishing entire population of the Palestinian Strip

Israel targeted “the people of Gaza as a whole” in the three-week military operation which is estimated to have killed more than 1,300 Palestinians at the beginning of this year, according to a UN-commissioned report published yesterday.

A UN fact-finding mission led by the South African judge Richard Goldstone said Israel should face prosecution by the International Criminal Court unless it opened independent investigations of what the report said were repeated violations of international law, “possible war crimes and crimes against humanity” during the operation.

Using by far the strongest language of any of the numerous reports criticizing Operation Cast Lead, the UN mission, which interviewed victims, witnesses and others in Gaza and Geneva this summer, says that, while Israel had portrayed the war as self-defense in response to Hamas rocket attacks, it “considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole.

“In this respect the operations were in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population for its resilience and for its apparent support for Hamas, and possibly with the intent of forcing a change in such support,” the report said.

The 575-page document presented to yesterday’s session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva was swiftly denounced by Israel. The foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the UN mission had “dealt a huge blow to governments seeking to defend their citizens from terror”, and that its conclusions were “so disconnected with realities on the ground that one cannot but wonder on which planet was the Gaza Strip they visited”.

The Gaza war began on 27 December 2008 and ended on 18 January 2009.

The UN report found that the statements of military and political leaders in Israel before and during the operation indicated that they intended the use of “disproportionate force”, aimed not only at the enemy but also at the “supporting infrastructure”. The mission adds: “In practice this appears to have meant the civilian population.”

The mission also had harsh conclusions about Hamas and other armed groups, acknowledging that rocket and mortar attacks have caused terror in southern Israel, and saying that, where such attacks were launched into civilians areas, they would “constitute war crimes” and “may amount to crimes against humanity”.

It also condemned the extrajudicial killings, detention and ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees by the Hamas regime in Gaza – as well as by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank – and called for the release on humanitarian grounds of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli corporal abducted by Gaza militants in June 2006.

While the Israeli government refused to co-operate with the inquiry – or allow the UN team into Israel – on the ground that the team would be”one-sided”, Corporal Shalit’s father, Noam, was among those Israeli citizens who flew to Geneva to give evidence.

That said, the greater part of the report – and its strongest language – is reserved for Israel’s conduct during the operation. Apart from the unprecedented death toll, the report says that “the destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a systematic policy by the Israeli armed forces”. The purpose was not to avert a military threat, but “to make the daily process of living and dignified living more difficult for the civilian population”.

The report also says that vandalism of houses by some soldiers and “the graffiti on the walls, the obscenities and often racist slogans constituted an overall image of humiliation and dehumanization of the Palestinian population”.

Amid a detailed examination of most of the major incidents of the war – albeit one carried out five months after it took place – it says that:

* The first bombing attack on Day One of the operation, when children were going home from school, “appears to have been calculated to cause the greatest disruption and widespread panic”.

* The firing of white phosphorus shells at the UN Relief and Works Agency compound was “compounded by reckless regard of the consequences”, and the use of high explosive artillery at the al-Quds hospitals were violations of Articles 18 and 19 of the Geneva Convention. It says that warnings issued by Israel to the civilian population “cannot be considered as sufficiently effective” under the convention.

* On the attack in the vicinity of the al-Fakhoura school where at least 35 Palestinians were killed, Israeli forces launched an attack where a “reasonable commander” would have considered military advantage was outweighed by the risk to civilian life. Under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the civilians had their right to life forfeited. And while some of the 99 policemen killed in incidents surveyed by the team may have been members of armed groups, others who were not also had their right to life violated.

* The inquiry team also says that a number of Palestinians were used as human shields – itself a violation of the ICCPR – including Majdi Abed Rabbo, whose complaints about being so used were first aired in The Independent. The report asserts that the use of human shields constitutes a “war crime under the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court”.

11-40

Cynthia McKinney Demands Immediate Release After Her Gaza-Bound Boat is Seized by Israeli Navy

July 2, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Former U.S. lawmaker and Green Party leader Cynthia McKinney, a longtime activist for the Palestinians, says her boat, the Spirit of Humanity, was carrying medical supplies, cement, olive trees and children’s toys to Gaza when it was seized by an Israeli navy ship.

Former U.S. lawmaker and Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney, whose relief boat was seized by an Israeli naval ship Tuesday for the second time in a year, is demanding the immediate release of her and 20 other activists.

McKinney, a longtime supporter of Palestinians, said her Greek-flagged boat, the Spirit of Humanity, was carrying medical supplies, cement, olive trees and children’s toys to Gaza when it was boarded by the Israeli navy.

“This is an outrageous violation of international law against us,” said McKinney. “Our boat was not in Israeli waters and we were on a human rights mission to the Gaza Strip. President Obama just told Israel to let in humanitarian and reconstruction supplies, and that’s exactly what we tried to do. We’re asking the international community to demand our release so we can resume our journey.”

The Israeli military issued a statement Tuesday saying that the boat had attempted to break a blockade of Gaza and was forced to sail to an Israeli port after ignoring a radio message to stay out of Gaza waters.

The statement said navy personnel boarded the freighter Arion without any shots being fired, and those on board were to be handed over to immigration authorities. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel was planning to free the crew and passengers.

“Nobody wants to keep them here,” he said. “They will be released as soon as they are checked.”

The humanitarian cargo was also to be trucked into the Gaza Strip after a security check.

In a statement released by the Green Party, McKinney said she had sent appeals to Obama and the State Department for assurances of protection for the relief mission. She said the boat was sailing in international waters when it was seized.

The White House nor the State Department was immediately available for comment.

This isn’t the first time a boat carrying McKinney has clashed with an Israeli navy ship. In December, McKinney was among 16 people aboard a medical supply boat that collided with an Israeli naval ship as it tried to enter coastal waters around Gaza.

At the time, the group claimed the Israeli military fired machine guns into the water in an attempt to the stop the boat’s progress. But a spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry said “physical contact” was made only after the aid boat failed to respond to radio contact and he denied any gunfire had occurred.

Israel launched an offensive in December against Gaza in an attempt to halt years of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel. The two sides reached a cease-fire in January.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

11-28