UN official calls Gaza devastation ‘shocking’
January 22 2009
The United Nations’ humanitarian chief suggested Thursday that Israel should pay for the hundreds of tonnes of food and other supplies destroyed when Israeli shells struck the main UN compound in Gaza.
Touring Gaza to assess what is most urgently needed in the coastal strip, John Holmes called the steep Palestinian casualty toll from Israel’s offensive “extremely shocking” and suggested the UN might ask Israel to compensate it for wartime damage to UN compounds in Gaza.
Hundreds of tonnes of humanitarian aid were destroyed by Israeli shelling that struck the main UN compound.
“We want to make sure it is properly investigated and that we get proper accountability for it and proper compensation if it is needed and I think it will be needed,” Holmes told reporters.
Israel waged a three-week war meant to end rocket fire on southern Israel from Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Nearly 1,300 Palestinians, a majority of them civilians, have died in the offensive, according to Gaza health officials. Thirteen Israelis were also killed, according to the government.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the war could help hasten the return of a captive soldier long held by Palestinians in Gaza. Israeli media said some cabinet ministers have softened their positions on releasing Palestinian political prisoners in exchange for the soldier, signalling the government is trying to work out a deal with Hamas ahead of Israeli elections next month.
Violence on both sides has marred the ceasefire and on Thursday a Palestinian man and girl walking near the shore in Gaza City were wounded by a shell fired from an Israeli gunboat, a Gaza health official said.
Another shell landed 100 metres away in an empty area near a UN aid distribution centre. And heavy-calibre bullet fire struck at least one house in the area, a witness said.
The Israeli military said it was firing to deter a Palestinian fishing vessel that had strayed off-limits.
On the first day of a five-day trip to the region, Holmes said he was looking at immediate humanitarian needs and thinking about longer-term reconstruction in Gaza. The biggest concerns, he said, are providing clean water, sanitation, electricity and shelter to people displaced by the fighting.
Gaza’s blockaded border crossings will have to be opened to allow reconstruction to begin, he said.
“Goods have to be able to get in freely and in the right quantities, including construction materials, so that reconstruction can start.”
Journalist Chris Hedges, in his “Gaza Diary,” published in Harpers describes one incident that reveals the attitude Israeli soldiers have toward killing Palestinian children:
It is still. The camp waits, as if holding its breath. And then, out of the dry furnace air, a disembodied voice crackles over a loudspeaker.
“Come on, dogs,” the voice booms in Arabic. “Where are all the dogs of Khan Younis? Come! Come!”
I stand up. I walk outside the hut. The invective continues to spew: “Son of a bitch!” “Son of a whore!” “Your mother’s cunt!”
The boys dart in small packs up the sloping dunes to the “electric fence” that separates the camp from the Jewish settlement. They lob rocks toward two armored jeeps parked on top of the dune and mounted with loudspeakers. Three ambulances line the road below the dunes in anticipation of what is to come.
A percussion grenade explodes. The boys, most no more than ten or eleven years old, scatter, running clumsily across the heavy sand. They descend out of sight behind a sandbank in front of me. There are no sounds of gunfire. The soldiers shoot with silencers. The bullets from the M-16 rifles tumble end over end through the children’s slight bodies. Later, in the hospital, I will see the destruction: the stomachs ripped out, the gaping holes in limbs and torsos.
Yesterday at this spot the Israelis shot eight young men, six of whom were under the age of eighteen. One was twelve. This afternoon they kill an eleven-year-old boy, Ali Murad, and seriously wound four more, three of whom are under eighteen. Children have been shot in other conflicts I have covered- death squads gunned them down in El Salvador and Guatemala, mothers with infants were lined up and massacred in Algeria, and Serb snipers put children in their sights and watched them crumple onto the pavement in Sarajevo-but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.’
The current Israeli offensive has involved indiscriminate killing of men, women and children; the systematic destruction of property; the cutting off of water supply; and the prevention of travel even for ambulances. It is a full-scale war against the entire population. Like the war in Vietnam, Israeli soldiers make war on the whole people, because the vast majority of the Palestinian people oppose Israel’s occupation. Thousands of Palestinian men have been rounded up, stripped, blindfolded, detained, and many tortured and beaten. Palestinians have routinely been used by Israeli soldiers as human shields to conduct house-to-house searches.
In its attacks on Palestinian refugee camps and towns from March 1 to April 28, 2002, the Israeli military reportedly killed 345 Palestinians (35 of them under the age of 18 ) and wounded 1,346. (At least eight more were killed when Israel entered Hebron on April 29.) “The mismatch in force of arms was stark,” the New York Times was forced to admit:
The Israeli Army used Vulcan antiaircraft guns, able to shoot 3,000 rounds a minute, inside the camp. It used Cobra helicopters with thermal detection capability to fire TOW missiles -intended for use against tanks on open battlefields- through the walls of houses, some with noncombatants inside. It deployed scores of Merkava tanks and armored vehicles equipped with machine guns. It used bulldozers to raze civilian homes, crushing more and more of them-but with less and less warning, Palestinians said.’
Sharon launched a major offensive into Ramallah and ordered the army to target Arafat’s own headquarters, “smashing through walls and battling room to room,” cutting off electricity to the building, and firing on his office, leaving him sitting at his desk by candlelight.’ As the army went house to house and rounded up all men in Ramallah aged 15 to 45, Israel ordered out foreign reporters and also solidarity activists trying to disrupt the army’s operation. Reporters were shot at and tear gassed as they tried to report on Israel’s operations in the West Bank. ”Journalists are banned, and [Israeli] government officials have warned that those caught [in Ramallah] could have their press cards revoked. A new list today of dosed military zones includes every city and town the army has entered.” Conditions were so grim that even the World Bank protested that “the [Israeli] army had destroyed water and electricity facilities, homes, schools and public buildings” in the towns it had occupied.’
Palestinians are routinely denied necessary health care, as this report from B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, reported on this incident in Nablus:
On April 29, 2002, at around 7:00 PM, 28-year-old Amal Afaneh who was seven months pregnant, began feeling extreme abdominal pain. ‘Afaneh’s relatives considered taking her to the hospital in Nablus by car, a distance of only 5 to 6 kilometers from their village of Azmut. They decided against it, as they feared being shot by Israeli soldiers who are positioned at the entrance to the village and along the road between Azmut and Nablus. The family called the Red Crescent and the Red Cross to request that they send an ambulance. The family was told that this could only be done following coordination with the Israeli military.
While the Red Crescent and the Red Cross worked on obtaining the required Israeli approval, the family called a nurse who lives in the village. The nurse gave ‘Afaneh preliminary treatment, and herself called the Red Crescent to urge them to hurry, as ‘Afaneh needed treatment that she could not provide.
At 9:00 PM, the family was told that approval had been received and an ambulance was on its way In fact, the Red Crescent ambulance had already arrived at the entrance to ‘Azmut, but was detained for thirty minutes by an Israeli tank crew. The soldiers ordered the ambulance driver, Samir Abu Seir, and the paramedic, Jamal Abu Hamdeh, to open the doors of the ambulance, and take off all their clothes. The soldiers then took away their identification papers, turned off their walkie-talkies, and made them sit on the ground. After searching the ambulance, the soldiers ordered the two men to return to Nablus. The ambulance was forced to leave without ‘Afaneh.
When ‘Afaneh’s relatives heard that an ambulance had been seen leaving ‘Azmut, they called the Red Crescent again, and were told that the IDF denied the ambulance entry into the village, and nothing more could be done.
At 9:30 PM, Amal ‘Afaneh gave birth. Her baby did not survive. She remains at home, still unable to reach the hospital for follow-up treatment.’
The Red Cross protested Israel’s attacks on its ambulances, and facilities, which limited its ability to “feed and provide medical care to Palestinian civilians,” while the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem petitioned Israel’s High Court “after receiving reports of torture at the Of her detention center near Ramallah.”‘
Israeli troops moved into Bethlehem, Hebron, Jenin, Salfit, Beit Jala, Nablus, and Tulkarm, and Qalqilya, conducting house-to-house searches. “In each city,” the New York Times reported, “the [Israeli] army was proving more intense, ruthless and thorough than in any prior incursion, including the raids month.” Israeli army Major General Yitzhak Eitan announced, “This operation will last as long as necessary, without a time limit,” as Israel called up 20,000 reservists for duty.
Israel‘s destruction of the Jenin refugee camp in early April was the most horrific. Terje Roed-Larsen, the United Nation’s special envoy to the Middle East, said the conditions in the Jenin refugee camp after Israel’s massive onslaught there were “horrific and shocking beyond belief . . . No objective can justify producing such suffering for the population.”
“The devastation is worse than I expected,” said one aid worker who emerged from the camp this afternoon. “I couldn’t have imagined anything worse than this.” The aid workers see the camp as the equivalent of an earthquake zone, where hundreds of homes have been flattened and thousands are in need of immediate food and housing. An estimated 3,000 people re main in the camp and 10,000 are believed to be scattered across the area. The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg said Jenin “look[ed] more like the scene of an earthquake than combat zone after it was flattened by Israeli army bulldozers.”
One eyewitness description of the Jenin “incursion” gives sense of the horror experienced by Jenin’s citizens:
Khadra Samara, 33, the wife of the hospital cook [at Razi Hospital], said she was inside her home on Rawabi Street in the Jenin refugee camp about 11:30 Sunday night when an Israeli bulldozer approached and tore through the front gate and began slamming into the house.
“We started screaming and lighting lamps and candles so they’d know someone was inside,” she said. “We were 15 women and children…. But as we screamed, a missile was fired at the house, destroying the second and third floors. The whole house shook, there was a flash of light, and all the windows were blown out.”
In a panic, Samara called her husband at the hospital and pleaded for help. Inexplicably, the bulldozer backed off. But before dawn Monday it smashed into the house again, shaking the cinder-block walls of the bedroom where the children were sleeping.
“The top of the wall started to give, and I started grabbing the kids and hauling them away from there,” she said. “They destroyed the house with everything in it. We didn’t even take one T-shirt for one child.”
Samara tried to get out the front door, but found it was blocked by rubble. She handed the children through a side window into a neighbor’s house.
“I was so furious I wanted to make a suicide bomb and use it on them,” she said. “I picked up a cylinder of cooking gas to carry with me so I could blow it up. I was so scared I was screaming. I thought I was going to die.
“When I picked up the cylinder my daughter said, ‘Mom, don’t do it! For God’s sake don’t do it!”‘
The second house provided little respite. An hour after they took refuge there, the bulldozer came again. They fled to a third house; it came under attack from missiles fired by helicopter gunships.
“From 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. we ran from bedroom to bathroom to kitchen, wherever we thought was safest to go. The children became sick from fear and started vomiting,” Samara said.
They finally emerged waving white scarves. By that time, with residents of the two other houses having joined the group, they counted nearly 30 women and children. The soldiers held them for three hours, then let them go, Samara said.
An untold number of people were buried by tanks and bulldozers under the rubble of their own homes in Jenin. Reporters and human rights workers reported seeing piles of rubble under which wafted the stench of rotting corpses. Given Israel’s closing off of Jenin after its assault and its rebuff, with U.S. acquiescence, of a UN inspection team, we will likely never know the full extent of Israel’s war crimes in Jenin.
Defenders of George W. Bush like to talk about how “plain spoken,” “honest,” and “direct” he is. But apparently the terms “without delay,” “now,” and “immediately” have eluded the president and his good friend Ariel Sharon. But even when Colin Powell and George Bush were finally pressured on April 4 into calling for an end to Sharon’s brutal assault, “Israel’s West Bank offensive continued unabated . . . as the government of Ariel Sharon sought to beat what was seen as a warning,” the Financial Times reported. “I’m not sure that we have to be concerned,” one Israeli official said of the Bush call for Israel to pull back. Indeed, Israel escalated its attacks and entered new Palestinian population centers after Bush’s statement. When Bush sent Powell to meet with the Israeli government, Powell communicated the urgency of his visit by flying to Morocco, Egypt, Spain and Jordan, before eventually making his way to Israel on April 11. Israel moved into the largest town in the West Bank, Hebron, on April 29. As of this writing-early May-Israel has not fully withdrawn to its preMarch 2002 positions.
The truth is that the Bush Administration has given the green light to Israel’s assault, calling it “self defense.” The Boston Globe quoted a defense department official saying that Powell delayed his arrival to Israel for several days in order to allow Israel to complete its offensive.
[New York Times columnist] Thomas Friedman, a supporter of Israel and its current war, has no problem with the taking of a few thousand Palestinian lives by Israeli soldiers-in fact he calls for Israel to “deliver a military blow” to crush the Palestinian resistance. Friedman is attempting to paint the Palestinian people as less than fully human. Ran HaCohen dissects Freidman’s logic:
Friedman’s focus on suicide bombers is intended to dehumanize the Palestinians. By blaming Palestinians of carelessness towards “the sacredness of every human life, starting with your own”, Friedman is claiming that they do not care about their own life. He is then patronizingly pretending that he does care about their life (more than they do!), and now, having assumed responsibility for the Palestinians, Friedman has a suggestion: “First, Israel needs to deliver a military blow”. Bravo. Look how easily the great moralist Friedman is translating the sacredness of every human life” into “a military blow”. All in the name of “the basic truth civilization is built on” – what else?
The Palestinian struggle is morally justified, even though some of its manifestations are unjustifiable. Reducing this struggle to the issue of suicide bombing is just another way of dehumanizing and thus legitimizing the killing of Palestinians, instead of removing the reasons for their horrifying desperation (remember Epictetus). Dehumanizing an entire people in the name of the “sacredness of every human life”, as Thomas Friedman has done, is an especially repulsive example of demagoguery.
One need not support the tactic of suicide bombing aimed at killing Israeli citizens-though it isn’t clear why it is more reprehensible than blowing up Palestinians with U.S.-made bombs and missiles-in order to make the important distinction between the violence of the oppressor (Israel) and the violence of the oppressed (Palestinians). In fact, Sharon, as argued above, has deliberately provoked the suicide bombings because he sees them as a good cover for Israel’s brutal invasion. But it is the purest hypocrisy to attack the Palestinians for using violent means to seek their freedom. If Israel uses tanks and bombs to invade Palestinian land and homes, bulldozing people alive, bombing and strafing their homes, do not Palestinians have a right to use violence in their defense?
Washington is anything but an “honest broker.” Palestinian children’s lives have never meant anything beside Israeli ones. Regardless of who has been in power in Washington, Israel has been given a blank check by the U.S. government for decades. Every year, the U.S. sends billions of dollars to Israel in the form of grants, low-cost loans, and subsidies. No other country in the world has received as much aid or support. And U.S. manufacturers are always ready to supply Israel with more weapons. When Israel bought nine of Boeing’s deadly AH64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters in February 2001, the Jerusalem Post noted that Israel “will be paying for the $500 million deal with U.S. military grant money.” As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in May 1999, “Israel has acquired 260 of Lockheed’s F-16s over the years, consisting of 210 new planes and 50 used ones from the U.S. armed forces. That’s the largest fleet of F-16s anywhere in the world outside the U.S. Air Force.” The Post-Dispatch’s calculation appeared two months before Israel purchased another 50 F-16s-in a $2.5 billion deal paid for with U.S. funds.
The United States has long committed itself to Israel as a strategic asset in the oil-rich and geostrategically crucial Middle East. It gives more than $3 billion a year to Israel, and provides it with invaluable military, economic, and political backing. (In its fiscal year 2001 budget, the State Department explained “The United States has a significant interest in a stable, democratic, and economically and militarily strong Israel” and is committed to “Maintaining the qualitative edge of the Israeli Defense Forces in the regional balance of power.”) As Noam Chomsky has rightly pointed out, “It is highly misleading to use the phrase ‘Israel-Palestine conflict’… It should be termed the ‘U.S./Israel-Palestine’ conflict.” That description is not only a more accurate way of understanding the roots of the problem, but it points to the urgency that activists in the United States must have to organize a movement to cut off all support the United States gives to Israel.
And What has changed? Other then not a bloody thing. The UN was shocked then too. They are shocked now. The difference is nothing. What will change “Nothing” so it seems.
Well things had better change. The World is watching. If this happens again it will be the fault of the US, Israel ,United Nations and the rest of the International bodies who are the do nothing, about everything crowd. The great pretenders.
They will all pretend they are concerned. They will pretend they are doing something. Same as the last time and the time before etc etc etc.
Fatah fears Gaza conflict has put Hamas in the ascendancy
Palestinian party created by Yasser Arafat suffers sharp decline in support
By Patrick Cockburn in Nablus
Friday, 23 January 2009
The Islamic movement Hamas is taking over from Fatah, the party created by Yasser Arafat, as the main Palestinian national organisation as a result of the war in Gaza, says a leading Fatah militant. “We have moved into the era of Hamas which is now much stronger than it was,” said Husam Kadr, a veteran Fatah leader in the West Bank city of Nablus, recently released after five-and-a-half years in Israeli prisons.
“Its era started when Israel attacked Gaza on 27 December.”
The sharp decline in support for Fatah and the discrediting of Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, because of his inertia during the 22-day Gaza war, will make it very difficult for the US and the EU to pretend that Fatah are the true representatives of the Palestinian community. The international community is likely to find it impossible to marginalise Hamas in reconstructing Gaza.
“Hamas has been highly successful in portraying itself as the party of the resistance, and Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas as the opponents of resistance at a time [when] the public wants to resist,” said Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian minister of planning. He adds that Mr Abbas was badly damaged in the eyes of Palestinians when he blamed Hamas for Israel’s assault on Gaza in the conflict’s first two days.
Mr Kadr, who says he was tortured by Israeli interrogators during detention, does not welcome Hamas’s triumph. But he is convinced that, just as Fatah’s long reign was launched by the battle of Karamah in March 1968, when Fatah fighters aided by the Jordanian army, repelled an Israeli attack on their HQ in the Jordan valley, so Hamas will gain from the Gaza war. “The Hamas era comes 40 years after Karamah began the Fatah period,” he says.
Hamas is conscious of its political success even if it was able to do little against the Israeli army. Mr Khatib, in his office in Ramallah, the Palestinian capital on the West Bank, says the first priority must be the formation of a Palestinian unity government between Hamas and Fatah. But he adds gloomily that “the chances of this happening are slim” because the Gaza war has exacerbated hatred between the two sides as Fatah supporters are hunted down and sometimes executed in Gaza.
Aside from Gaza there is another reason why President Abbas and Fatah are weak. Long years of negotiations with Israel have achieved nothing while red-roofed Israeli settlements have sprouted on every West Bank hilltop. Driving into Nablus, a city of 250,000 people that was once the bustling heart of the West Bank, the streets are empty and row after row of shops are shut.
“We had eight years of complete closure when people could not get in or out of Nablus aside from the 3 per cent who had permits,” complains the city’s mayor Adly Yaish. “Most factories shut and 60 per cent of people live below the poverty line.” The closure became a little looser three months ago, but yesterday there were long lines of vehicles at the Israeli checkpoints around the city.
The rise of Hamas and the demise of Fatah is best explained by the failure of President Abbas to achieve anything through negotiations for ordinary Palestinians. “We in Fatah have failed to remove a single Israeli checkpoint,” admits Mr Kadr. “It takes me as long to reach Ramallah 50 kilometres away as it would to fly from Jordan to Ankara.”
He believes the Gaza war has spread the seeds for another Palestinian uprising. “The coming uprising will be very hard for both the Palestinians and the Israelis,” he warns, though he does not forecast when it will occur. He points to a television in his office on which a young Palestinian girl called Dalal is shown picking through the ruins of her house in Gaza where all her family had died and only her cat had survived. “Can you imagine how Palestinians feel when they see this?” he asks.
Isn’t Torture Illegal? Five years ago, 2004.
I guess they never stopped torturing after all.
I have to wonder how many other prisoners, Israel has in it’s jails?
I wonder how many others have been tortured?
I am relatively sure Israel will not stop killing until they have either removed the rest of the Palestinians out of Gaza and the West Bank or have killed them all. Their goal is to take all of it and that has been their goal from the beginning.
They just repeat the same cycle of violence against the Palestinians and if they dare to fight back they are deemed the evil ones.
The Palestinians have a right to live and defend themselves, as much as Israel does. Equality you know. What is good for one country is good for all countries.
Why is it that Israel, can have Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Palestinians cannot?
I think Both sides should disarm.
Israel has to many “Weapons of Mass Destruction”.
Israel should also respect Palestinian rights. Under International Law they have rights whether Israel likes it or not.
It is time for the” Concentration Camp” to close.
The systematic stealing of land and resources from the Palestinians must be put to a stop one and for all. Enough is Enough.
Israel can by no means pretend it is a sweet, wonderful, country considering its history of torture, arms sales to some rather nasty recipients. They even funneled money(the Money Laundering “Funnel Tunnel” well at lest one of them) into Haiti for the US, hence saving Washington, from having to answer embarrassing questions about supporting brutal governments.
Their constant killing and staving of Palestinians. Their starting of wars and they do make sure they start, they always use the self defense scam. At this point in time that is what I see, it as. They create a reason for war. Just so they can destroy and kill. They have done this to often. It is becoming rather obvious what they do.
Like shooting at the Fishing Boat and hitting a man and his daughter. There was no need or acceptable excuse, to shoot at the boat.
This is what they do to antagonize and anger people. If the Palestinians, complain well it’s their fault. It is always their fault, no matter what.
People at checkpoints have died waiting to get to a hospital, because the Israelis wouldn’t let them through or make them wait until the sick person died. That has happened often. People are shot at going shopping. Those “prison towers” are where they are shot at from. They are “prison towers” just like any prison tower.
This war is anything but over.
Israel will attack again when it feels like it. They will continue to steal more Palestinian Land. They will never stop unless the world at large stops them. They will continue to bulldoze homes and take more land.
They have been at it since 1948 and before. If they haven’t stopped by now, they never will. They have no respect for the UN or anyone else for that matter. They don’t even respect themselves.
Personally Israel should pay for all the damage done in Gaza.
They should be made to pay for every building they destroyed or damaged, they should be made to pay for it all.
Israel creates the circumstances that leads to any war, because of their Concentration Camp, they expect Palestinians to live in.
I know a “Concentration Camp” when I see one. Don’t you?
No human being, should have to live under that type of oppression.
Those responsible should be charged with “war crimes”. Of course with all the other war crimes they have committed in the past I doubt whether it will ever happen. Of course that is because of corruption at the International level.