By Omar Karmi,
November 19 2008
AMALLAH, WEST BANK
Israel rebuffed a plea by the UN to open crossings into Gaza for humanitarian supplies yesterday and continued barring international media from reaching the impoverished strip of land.
Asked yesterday whether Israel intended to reopen crossings, Ehud Barak, the defence minister, told Israel Army Radio: “No. There needs to be calm in order for the crossings to be opened.”
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, telephoned Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister on Tuesday, urging him to facilitate the movement of urgently needed humanitarian supplies into Gaza, where relief agencies have had to halt food distribution and the only power station is running out of fuel.
Israel closed the crossings two weeks ago when Palestinians responded with a salvo of rockets to a Nov 4 Israeli army raid into Gaza that resulted in the killings of six Gazans.
The tit-for-tat violence has continued since, with Israeli air raids causing at least a dozen Palestinian fatalities and one Israeli wounded by a Palestinian mortar.
Hamas is understood to be trying to persuade some of the smaller Palestinian factions, including the Popular Resistance Committees and the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine who have claimed responsibility for firing rockets in the past two weeks, to desist.
Nevertheless, Hamas’s military wing yesterday also warned that it was prepared to end a five-month-old ceasefire should crossings remain closed.
It would appear to be in neither Israel’s nor Hamas’s interests to end the ceasefire, however. Israeli politicians are facing general elections in early February and although taking a tough posture with Palestinians is an oft-tried campaign strategy, barring a full-scale – and unpredictable – invasion of the Strip, Israel would seem unable to ensure calm around Gaza without the ceasefire in place.
Hamas, for its part, will be eager for the ceasefire, which officially runs out on Dec 19, to be extended to continue to consolidate its rule over Gaza and strengthen its hand in internal Palestinian negotiations over reconciliation. Nevertheless, Hamas cannot afford to be seen to have abandoned the option of armed struggle and will probably enter the fray should crossings into Gaza remain shut.
Several international relief agencies have warned of a full-scale humanitarian disaster should food and medicine continue being blocked from entering the strip. On Sunday, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency announced that it had to stop distributing food to the about 750,000 Palestinians who rely on it for their immediate needs.
On Monday, Israel allowed a limited shipment of food and medicine to reach the strip, but the army shut the border again after three rockets were fired across the border on Tuesday, and yesterday it was reported that Gaza’s biggest mill had closed because of a lack of wheat. Gazans are also suffering regular electricity blackouts as a result of the scarcity of fuel.
Foreign journalists, meanwhile, are protesting against a ban on international media entering the Gaza Strip, also in effect since Nov 4.
The Foreign Press Association, which represents journalists working for international media in the region, has slammed the decision by the Israeli government as a “serious violation” of press freedom.
In an open letter published on Tuesday, the FPA said the decision to bar journalists from Gaza was an “unprecedented restriction of press freedom” and said its protests to the Israeli government had gone unheeded.
“Never before have journalists been prevented from doing their work in this way. We believe it is vital that journalists be allowed to find out for themselves what is going on in Gaza. Israel controls access to Gaza. Israel must allow professional journalists access to this important story.”
In spite of repeated requests, the Israeli ministry of defence was not available for comment. Israeli officials had said no official decision has been made to stop journalists from reaching Gaza, but that preventing them from doing so in the past two weeks was consistent with army policy only to allow passage for essential humanitarian staff.
In Gaza, officials and human rights activists said Israel was trying to prevent foreign journalists from revealing the reality there.
“Israel doesn’t want journalists to report on the conditions in Gaza that have resulted from the Israeli siege,” said Eyad Sarraj, a psychiatrist with the Gaza Community Mental Health Project and a human-rights activist. “Israel doesn’t want journalists from all over the world to bear evidence to what they are doing here.”
Mr Sarraj also suggested that Israel was preparing a major military operation, a suspicion echoed by Ahmad Yousef, a senior Hamas official.
“Israel might be planning something. For this, they don’t want any journalists here to cover their brutality against Palestinians… Journalists are those that can open the eyes of the world by showing them what is really going on in Gaza.”
The Real Goal of Israel’s Blockade
By Jonathan Cook
November 17, 2008
The latest tightening of Israel’s chokehold on Gaza – ending all supplies into the Strip for more than a week – has produced immediate and shocking consequences for Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants.
The refusal to allow in fuel has forced the shutting down of Gaza’s only power station, creating a blackout that pushed Palestinians bearing candles on to the streets in protest last week. A water and sanitation crisis are expected to follow.
And on Thursday, the United Nations announced it had run out of the food essentials it supplies to 750,000 desperately needy Gazans. “This has become a blockade against the United Nations itself,” a spokesman said.
In a further blow, Israel’s large Bank Hapoalim said it would refuse all transactions with Gaza by the end of the month, effectively imposing a financial blockade on an economy dependent on the Israeli shekel. Other banks are planning to follow suit, forced into a corner by Israel’s declaration in Sept 2007 of Gaza as an “enemy entity”.
There are likely to be few witnesses to Gaza’s descent into a dark and hungry winter. In the past week, all journalists were refused access to Gaza, as were a group of senior European diplomats. Days earlier, dozens of academics and doctors due to attend a conference to assess the damage done to Gazans’ mental health were also turned back.
Israel has blamed the latest restrictions of aid and fuel to Gaza on Hamas’s violation of a five-month ceasefire by launching rockets out of the Strip. But Israel had a hand in shattering the agreement: as the world was distracted by the US presidential elections, the army invaded Gaza, killing six Palestinians and provoking the rocket fire.
The humanitarian catastrophe gripping Gaza is largely unrelated to the latest tit-for-tat strikes between Hamas and Israel. Nearly a year ago, Karen Koning AbuZayd, commissioner-general of the UN’s refugee agency, warned: “Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution”.
She blamed Gaza’s strangulation directly on Israel, but also cited the international community as accomplice. Together they began blocking aid in early 2006, following the election of Hamas to head the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The US and Europe agreed to the measure on the principle that it would force the people of Gaza to rethink their support for Hamas. The logic was supposedly similar to the one that drove the sanctions applied to Iraq under Saddam Hussein through the 1990s: if Gaza’s civilians suffered enough, they would rise up against Hamas and install new leaders acceptable to Israel and the West.
As Ms AbuZayd said, that moment marked the beginning of the international community’s complicity in a policy of collective punishment of Gaza, despite the fact that the Fourth Geneva Convention classifies such treatment of civilians as a war crime.
The blockade has been pursued relentlessly since, even if the desired outcome has been no more achieved in Gaza than it was in Iraq. Instead, Hamas entrenched its control and cemented the Strip’s physical separation from the Fatah-dominated West Bank.
Far from reconsidering its policy, Israel’s leadership has responded by turning the screw ever tighter – to the point where Gazan society is now on the verge of collapse.
In truth, however, the growing catastrophe being unleashed on Gaza is only indirectly related to Hamas’s rise to power and the rocket attacks.
Of more concern to Israel is what each of these developments represents: a refusal on the part of Gazans to abandon their resistance to Israel’s continuing occupation. Both provide Israel with a pretext for casting aside the protections offered to Gaza’s civilians under international law to make them submit.
With embarrassing timing, the Israeli media revealed at the weekend that one of the first acts of Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister elected in 2006, was to send a message to the Bush White House offering a long-term truce in return for an end to Israeli occupation. His offer was not even acknowledged.
Instead, according to the daily Jerusalem Post, Israeli policymakers have sought to reinforce the impression that “it would be pointless for Israel to topple Hamas because the population [of Gaza] is Hamas”. On this thinking, collective punishment is warranted because there are no true civilians in Gaza. Israel is at war with every single man, woman and child.
In an indication of how widely this view is shared, the cabinet discussed last week a new strategy to obliterate Gazan villages in an attempt to stop the rocket launches, in an echo of discredited Israeli tactics used in south Lebanon in its war of 2006. The inhabitants would be given warning before indiscriminate shelling began.
In fact, Israel’s desire to seal off Gaza and terrorise its civilian population predates even Hamas’s election victory. It can be dated to Ariel Sharon’s disengagement of summer 2005, when Fatah’s rule of the PA was unchallenged.
An indication of the kind of isolation Mr Sharon preferred for Gaza was revealed shortly after the pull-out, in Dec 2005, when his officials first proposed cutting off electricity to the Strip.
The policy was not implemented, the local media pointed out at the time, both because officials suspected the violation of international law would be rejected by other nations and because it was feared that such a move would damage Fatah’s chances of winning the elections the following month.
With the vote over, however, Israel had the excuse it needed to begin severing its responsibility for the civilian population. It recast its relationship with Gaza from one of occupation to one of hostile parties at war. A policy of collective punishment that was considered transparently illegal in late 2005 has today become Israel’s standard operating procedure.
Increasingly strident talk from officials, culminating in February in the deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai’s infamous remark about creating a “shoah”, or Holocaust, in Gaza, has been matched by Israeli measures. The military bombed Gaza’s electricity plant in June 2006, and has been incrementally cutting fuel supplies ever since. In January, Mr Vilnai argued that Israel should cut off “all responsibility” for Gaza and two months later Israel signed a deal with Egypt for it to build a power station for Gaza in Sinai.
All of these moves are designed with the same purpose in mind: persuading the world that Israel’s occupation of Gaza is over and that Israel can therefore ignore the laws of occupation and use unremitting force against Gaza.
Cabinet ministers have been queuing up to express such sentiments. Ehud Olmert, for example, has declared that Gazans should not be allowed to “live normal lives”; Avi Dichter believes punishment should be inflicted “irrespective of the cost to the Palestinians”; Meir Sheetrit has urged that Israel should “decide on a neighbourhood in Gaza and level it” – the policy discussed by ministers last week. (Criminals they are)
In concert, Israel has turned a relative blind eye to the growing smuggling trade through Gaza’s tunnels to Egypt. Gazans’ material welfare is falling more heavily on Egyptian shoulders by the day.
The question remains: what does Israel expect the response of Gazans to be to their immiseration and ever greater insecurity in the face of Israeli military reprisals?
Eyal Sarraj, the head of Gaza’s Community Mental Health Programme, said this year that Israel’s long-term goal was to force Egypt to end the controls along its short border with the Strip. Once the border was open, he warned, “Wait for the exodus.”
These are War Crimes.
Innocent Civilians are being murdered by Starvation.
This includes Children just in case we have forgotten.
What Israel is doing is in fact Illegal.
They are murdering innocent people.
That is a crime.
All “Aid” should be cut off, that is going to Israel and no one should be selling them “Weapons of Mass Destruction”.
The US does both. American tax dollars hard at work.
Israel is not to be trusted with any “Weapon of Mass Destruction”.
Israel is one of the 50 richest countries in the World. They don’t need any more aid.
Petition to End Israel’s Restrictions on Freedom of Movement and the Press
To: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
We, the undersigned, condemn Israel’s appalling treatment of Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs Gaza correspondent and author of the magazine’s regular feature, “Gaza on the Ground.” The 24-year-old Palestinian journalist was brutally assaulted by Israeli Shin Bet security officials at the Allenby Bridge border crossing on his way home to Gaza on June 26. He had just received the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, which he shared with independent American journalist Dahr Jamail. Omer’s award citation reads, “Every day, he reports from a war zone, where he is also a prisoner. His homeland, Gaza, is surrounded, starved, attacked, forgotten. He is a profoundly humane witness to one of the great injustices of our time. He is the voice of the voiceless.” (see John Pilger’s July 2 article, “From Triumph to Torture,” in the Guardian:
This is not an isolated incident, Pilger points out, but part of a terrible pattern. Israel gives its border guards and Shin Bet agents free rein to regularly harass Palestinians (as well as Palestinian Americans and American peace activists and academics) traveling to and from the occupied territories. Israel randomly abuses, searches, interrogates and humiliates travelers of every age—men and women—and frequently refuses to let them pass through Israeli-controlled borders to their homes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. We just don’t hear their voices.
Israel simply doesn’t want Palestinian voices to be heard abroad. Palestinians are routinely prevented from accepting invitations to speak in Europe or North America. Students with scholarships to study overseas are not permitted to leave. Israel is now preventing Palestinians from returning home, even for a visit, once they have left to work or study abroad. (Israel recently revoked Zeina Ashrawi Hutchison’s travel documents, and will not renew her Jerusalem ID card. She is not allowed to return home to visit her father and mother, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi.)
We, the undersigned, also urge the Israeli government to end its efforts to censor international reports from the occupied territories. The government prefers stories to be filed from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, where they are subject to censorship, and allows few, if any, international journalists to enter the West Bank and Gaza. Israel censors, harasses and even kills Palestinian journalists who are trying to report on conditions in the occupied territories.
We call on the Israeli government to protect journalists who are trying to work in the occupied territories. At least eight journalists have been killed in the West Bank and Gaza since 2001, seven of them in attacks by Israel Defense Forces, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists research.*
We call on the Israeli government to end its harassment of travelers and journalists. When Israel targets journalists it infringes on a basic pillar of democracy, freedom of the press. Human beings, even those ruled for decades by an occupying power, have the right to leave home and return safely, without interference, and the right to freedom of speech.