Free Gaza ship boarded by Israeli forces about 24 miles offshore Gaza, towed to Israeli port of Ashdod, passengers taken by Israeli immigration authorities

The IDF announced this afternoon that “an Israeli Navy force intercepted, boarded, and took control of the cargo boat ‘Arion’ [renamed by the Free Gaza movement for this voyage the “Spirit of Humanity”] which was bearing the flag of Greece and was illegally attempting to enter the Gaza Strip/Gazan Coastal Waters”

Yes, the formal Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip — announced on 3-4 January as the IDF began the ground phase of Operation Cast Lead against Gaza — is still in force, the IDF announcement confirmed: “Yesterday evening, the Israeli Navy contacted the boat while at sea, clarifying that it would not be permitted to enter Gazan coastal waters because of security risks in the area and the existing naval blockade. [But] Disregarding all warnings made, the cargo boat entered Gazan coastal waters. As a result of the actions taken by the boat crew, an Israeli Navy force intercepted, boarded, and took control of the boat, directing it towards Ashdod, Israel. No shots were fired during the boarding of the boat. The boat crew will be handed over to the appropriate authorities. Humanitarian goods found on board the boat will be transferred to the Gaza Strip, subject to authorization. The IDF Spokesperson Unit would like to emphasize that any organization or country that wishes to transfer humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, can legally do so via the established crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip with prior coordination”.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said that the passengers and crew on board will be “checked by the immigration authorities”, then released.

AP reported that “The ship arrived at Ashdod port after nightfall”. It added that “The ship was flying a Greek flag, but no Greek citizens were aboard. The Greek government issued a statement saying it sent a message to Israel demanding that it release the ship, crew and passengers. 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.” This AP report can be read in full here.

Agence France Presse £(AFP£) reported that “After the navy boarded the converted ferry it towed the vessel toward the nearby Israeli port of Ashdod, the spokesman said, adding that the activists on board would be handed over to authorities … Greece quickly protested the seizing of the Greek-flagged vessel, saying ‘we remonstrated with the Israeli side and asked for the ship, the crew and the passengers to be released immediately’, foreign ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras said in a statement. ‘As we have said in the past, all legal activity by non-governmental organisations must enjoy freedom’, he said … On December 30, shortly after the Gaza war erupted, an Israeli navy vessel collided with a Free Gaza boat, almost sinking it, in what activists called a ‘deliberate ramming’. Earlier on Tuesday, the Free Gaza movement said that Israeli warships had surrounded the Spirit of Humanity and threatened to open fire if it did not turn around. At one point, the Israelis jammed the boat’s instruments, blocking their GPS, radar and navigation systems ‘in direct violation of international maritime law’, the group said. The Israeli foreign ministry said the boat’s owners had lied before departure from Cyprus about the vessel’s destination, saying it was bound for Port Said in Egypt. The ministry also said that under the 1993 autonomy accords struck with the Palestinians, Gaza’s territorial waters, like its land borders, were Israel’s responsibility”. The AFP report can be read in full here.

The latest Twitter message from the Free Gaza movement, sent about 730 PM Jerusalem time, said: “Spoke to Shlomo Dror who likes to scream. He insisted that Israel has right to inspect cargo even though Cyprus already inspected”.

Earlier Twitter messages said that the Free Gaza group was “Waiting to hear from attorneys about kidnapped passengers. Boat going to Ashdod … Boat towed. Passengers turned over to immigration, ironic since we don’t WANT to be in Israel.”

Before that, a Twitter message read: “They’re about to come on board, they’re about to come on board. Then the line went dead … They are 24 miles away from Gaza”.

The Green Party in the United States has released a statement quoting Cynthia McKinney, the Green Party’s 2008 candidate for President of the United States assaying that “This is an putrageous violation of international law against us. 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 Green Party added that “Ms. McKinney had earlier sent appeals to President Obama and the State
Department for assurances of protection for the relief mission. The Spirit of Humanity was sailing in international waters when it was seized”.

Five days ago (on 25 June), Cynthia McKinney posted a Twitter message that can be found in the chain here saying that “The Cyprus Port Authority has just noticed us that they will destroy the boats (for our safety, of course) to prevent us from sailing”.

Israeli warships to Free Gaza boat: "You will not be allowed to proceed to Gaza"

The Free Gaza expedition that left Cyprus by sea Monday morning must now be near Gaza’s maritime space, which has been under a formal Israeli naval blockade since the start of its ground offensive in Gaza on 3-4 January.

Or maybe not — can the careful wording of some of the Israeli communications suggest that the formal naval blockade might have ended when Israel put its own unilateral cease-fire into effect on 18 January???

For the past 8 hours, the one Free Gaza boat now at sea has been travelling with intermittent contact with accompanying Israeli naval warships.

This Free Gaza boat, The Spirit of Humanity, is sailing under a Greek flag.

A journalist and cameraman from Al-Jazeera television are onboard, according to the group’s
latest passenger list, published yesterday.

The Free Gaza movement had been warned by multiple sources not to try to undertake this expedition, but they felt they had to stand up to what they called Israeli “intimidation”. When the Free Gaza movement began its expeditions from Cyprus to Gaza by sea last August, they declared their intention to break the siege of Gaza.

At that time, the Israeli government let them pass, saying they did not want to give the Free Gaza movement a propaganda victory.

In an email message this morning, Free Gaza supporters said “We’re a little concerned that the Israelis may be following the same protocol they did when they boarded the Lebanese ship back in February & arrested everyone. If they are following the same protocol, then we could expect an attack as early as 10-11am our time, 8-9am GMT. UPDATES: here.

Here are the latest updates, via Twitter:

Spirit is about 60 miles off Gaza, just received a HELP message

ALL WE WANT IS TO REACH GAZA. WE DO NOT SEEK A CONFRONTATION, Surrounded by 5 Israeli warships. Told to turn back. Still going forward

2 hours ago
Keep the pressure up. Someone turned the GPS and SPOT back on [navigation equipment restored]. We hear every ten minutes. Passengers/crew are fine. Soon to turn to Gaza

4 hours ago
“You will not be allowed to proceed to Gaza, and the boat that should return to Larnaca.” Message from Israeli gunboats. Spirit continues.

7 hours ago
Passengers are fine, but everything is jammed. Heading west to avoid Israeli waters and remain in International waters

Group of Israeli human rights organizations submit report to Goldstone Fact-Finding Mission on the conflict in Gaza

Though the Israeli government has refused, so far, to cooperate with the UN Human Rights Commission’s Fact-finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, a group of seven Israeli human rights organizations has presented a collective report of their own detailed findings which, they said, “should be investigated”.

The Fact-finding Mission, led by Justice Richard Goldstone of South Africa, is looking at events before, during, and after Operation Cast Lead (27 December – 18 January) — and the mission has said that events since a June 2008 cease-fire between Israel and Hamas would be “relevant” to its investigation.

The Israeli human rights organizations asked the Goldstone mission, additionally, “to review the policy of closing the Gaza border passages before, during, and after the military operation” — because, they said, “the events of Operation Cast Lead cannot be viewed independently of the closure on the Gaza Strip, which was imposed almost two years before the attack and has continued ever since”.

They said in a statement that they “believe that the Goldstone Committee’s mission of seeking the truth is of critical importance, in particular due to the refusal by Israel’s Attorney General of the organizations’ request to order a domestic, independent, and impartial inquiry into the Gaza events”.

They again called on the Israeli government to cooperate with the Fact-Finding Mission.

And they said that “as human rights organizations based in Israel , it is their mandate to report on issues under Israel ’s control and responsibility”.

For form, the Israeli groups demanded that suspicions that Hamas violated the laws of war be investigated — as Justice Goldstone has already said the Fact-finding Mission intended to do.

The Israeli human rights organizations also said that “reliable, thorough, and impartial investigations are an essential tool for the protection of human rights and for extending maximal protection to civilian populations in wartime”.

The Israeli human rights groups said that the findings they submitted to the Goldstone mission examined “violations of the laws of war that the Israel military allegedly committed during its attack on the Gaza Strip, dubbed ‘Operation Cast Lead’, which should be investigated, referring mainly to policies of collective punishment used against the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. The report details Israeli military offensives that failed to discriminate between combatants and civilians, damage to civilian government buildings for political objectives, attacks on medical rescue teams, damage to public infrastructure, holding detainees in conditions that violate Israeli and international law, and collective punishment”.

The seven Israeli human rights groups are: Association for Civil Rights in Israel ACRI); Gisha: The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel; HaMoked: The Center for the Defence of the Individual; Yesh Din; Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel; and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.

In their statement, the Israeli human rights groups said that the main points examined in their document were the following:

(1.) “Even before the military offensive started, the prolonged closure policy that the State of Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip has led to a grave humanitarian crisis there. Since 1967, and as part of established Israeli policy, Gaza ’s basic civilian infrastructure including its medical infrastructure and power plants has become totally dependent on the State of Israel”.

(2.) “Public remarks made by Israel’s political and military leadership and the manner in which the offensive was carried out give rise to suspicions that Israel adopted a disproportionate military assault strategy that mainly aimed at harming civilians and causing deliberate destruction to civilian targets, for purposes of deterrence and collective punishment, and not at specific military targets. If this is the case, a heavy cloud of suspicion hangs over the legality of the entire operation”.

(3.) “The fact that attacks by the Israeli military hit targets located within a civilian population, coupled with data concerning the large number of civilian fatalities and casualties, gives rise to serious suspicions of gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by Israel . Many casualties of the Gaza offensive had their limbs amputated and maimed (12-15% of the total number of wounded), some of whom were injured by previously unknown weapon types”.

(4.) “Bombing Civilian Buildings and Institutions: Israel systematically and methodically attacked civilian institutions, deviating from the principle that bans attacks against civilian targets in pursuit of political objectives: 68 government buildings were destroyed, more than 4,000 residential houses were totally demolished, and some 17,000 were partly destroyed, leaving tens of thousands homeless”.

(5.) “The Gaza health system nearly collapsed. During the fighting, local hospitals had to operate while coping with an erratic power supply, and with the fact that 16 medical crew members were killed and 25 wounded while attempting to evacuating casualties; in addition, 34 medical institutions and 29 ambulances were damaged. The Israeli army avoided – in advance, knowingly, and deliberately – extending direct aid to the Palestinian casualties and intentionally prevented Palestinian rescue services from doing so“.

(6.) “Palestinians who were captured in the Gaza Strip and placed in Israeli detention were held in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions, and Israeli soldiers and interrogators used violence against them in some cases. The detainees were held in 2-3 meter-deep ditches, exposed to the cold weather, handcuffed, and often blindfolded. Some of those ditches were dug in what were clearly combat zones, each holding an average of 70 individuals. The army failed to carry out its duty to notify the detainees’ families of their detention and location, and even failed to report their whereabouts to external bodies”.

(7.) “Despite the fact that the Israeli army had precise information about the location of every water, power, and sewage facility in the Gaza Strip, it bombed them and left Gaza without vital infrastructure systems. The Gaza power plant was non-operational for 12 of the 21 days of fighting. Gaza received merely 25% of its required power supply for several days during the assault. In addition, some 800,000 civilians were cut off the supply of running water, and the shortage of power and cooking gas seriously impaired the supply of bread”.

(8.) “Israel ’s absolute control over the Gaza ’s border crossings before and during the operation remains in effect, and the closure prevents Gaza’s Palestinian population from exercising freedom of movement, as well as the import of many goods and raw materials. As long as Israel bans the import of concrete, cement, and other materials essential for the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip, it will remain impossible to make use of the billions of dollars committed the international community for Gaza’s reconstruction”.

Meanwhile, the Fact-Finding Mission wrapped up its two days of public hearings in Gaza on Monday. At the end of the sessions, Justice Goldstone said that all information received by the Mission would be taken into account, whether it be during the public hearings or as part of the continuing investigations.

According to a UN press release, Justice Goldstone “underlined that the hearings form a part of the United Nations activities in promoting and defending human rights and that the Mission members ‘Fully expect and require that all of those who have participated in the hearings are afforded the full protection due to them as recognised in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders’.

He noted that “Appearing at the public hearings had not been without cost to the victims … ‘Every re-telling of their ordeals and tragedies carries a heavy emotional toll as well as personal security risk. We are fully aware of this. We express our deep gratitude for their willingness to share their painful testimonies with us as we endeavour to identify the truth of allegations of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law’.”

And, he said, “As fellow human beings we would like to put on record how deeply moved we were by many of the accounts of profound suffering and grief we have heard in the last two days.”

The UN press release added that “members of the Mission had wished to hold hearings in southern Israel, where the population has been on the receiving end of rocket attacks launched from the Gaza Strip, and to hold hearings on the West Bank. That is not possible as the Government of Israel is so far not cooperating with the Mission. The Mission members will therefore hold public hearings in Geneva, on July 6 and 7, where they will hear from victims of the alleged violations in Israel and on the West Bank, where there are also allegations of violations in the context of Operation Cast Lead”.

The UN will presumably be paying for the travel expenses and per diemallowances for those who will have to travel to Geneva to testify because Israel made it impossible for the hearings to be held locally, due to its decision to refuse to cooperate.

It is not clear exactly what this West Bank involvement will turn out to be.

In yet another note of alarm about the situation in Gaza (and the West Bank as well), the normally discrete International Committee of the Red Cross, which often refuses to speak out publicly — and when it does, it means that its efforts to persuade the State Party concerned through private communication have failed — said in a press release accompanying their latest “Household Economy Assessment” that their research “reveals a significant deterioration of the household economies in both the West Bank and Gaza over the last four years. About 60 percent of the households in both areas fall into categories described by their own communities as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’. The situation in Gaza, where extremely high levels of poverty were detected, is especially bad … Households in the areas surveyed by the ICRC’s Assessment fall well below the World Bank’s poverty line if their cash income alone is considered. ‘Poor’ households normally supplement their cash income with ‘coping mechanisms’ such as humanitarian assistance, support from relatives, credit or loans, sale of property and possessions, small-scale commercial activities, additional income generated by women and children, and even delaying higher education. However, these ‘coping mechanisms”have grown fragile: most of them have been in use for four years … According to the Assessment, the economic situation of ‘middle’ and ‘better-off’ households is also worsening, and these groups are a major source of informal economic and social support.
Dominik Stillhart, head of the ICRC delegation for Israel and the occupied territories, concludes that ‘Humanitarian assistance alone, in whatever form, will not solve the problem in a sustainable way. It is the responsibility of the State of Israel, as the occupying power, to ensure that Palestinians can meet their basic needs’.”

Israeli Navy surrounding Free Gaza ship halfway from Cyprus to Gaza

The latest messages from the Free Gaza expedition, received about an hour ago, in the middle of the night (about 2 am local time) in the middle of the trip (halfway from Cyprus to Gaza) and in the middle of the Mediterranean (middle) Sea:

“Israeli Navy surrounding SPIRIT and threatening to open fire. ‘You Cannot Open Fire on Unarmed Civilians’.”

“Boat is in INTERNATIONAL WATERS. This action is piracy and is illegal under maritime law”.

“Israeli Navy Illegally Jamming Radio; Preventing Navigation Systems from Working. Israel WILL BE responsible for safety of passengers”

Can there be investigative journalism in Palestine?

Nabhan says he thinks not.

He attended a workshop last week in Ramallah on this issue, and he later explained that he came to the conclusion that it is impossible to carry out investigative journalism in Palestine — not just because of the political division between the two main Palestinian factions (Fatah and Hamas), and not just because of the constant pressure and regular incursions of the Israeli military occupation.

No, Nabhan says he thinks investigative journalism is impossible because, as he explains, Palestinian culture is a culture of reconciliation, where direct confrontation is avoided and intensely disliked.

I do see Nabhan’s point.

Formulaic appeasement, especially when accompanied by smiling and smooth stroking, is an art form here, highly admired. Honesty is often detested as vulgar aggression, as “trouble-making”. Back-stabbing may be painful to the victim, but it is considered preferable to straight talk, which is thought of as bad form.

Getting a flat tire at Qalandia checkpoint

I once drove through the Ar-Ram checkpoint with two flat tires, just praying that the soldiers wouldn’t be more difficult than usual, so I could get to a garage to put in enough air to get to a place where I could have the tire repaired.

That time, my tires were probably deliberately punctured in the war being waged by my neighbors over parking spaces.

Hair-raising as that was, it was nothing compared to suddenly having a flat tire at Qalandia checkpoint last Sunday afternoon, in the peak heat of the day, as traffic trying to get out of Ramallah began to get out of control, and a collective electric road rage took over. Nobody was in a mood to help, needless to say. And the traffic pressure was increasing, and the heat was unbearable, and then the wilder drivers began driving on the other side of the road, and on the space on the side of the other side of the road, where I had pulled over to get out of the way and to try to think what to do next. They kicked up more dust, the hot wind was blowing, and they drove directly toward me in a stupid game of chicken, trying to bully me to get out of their way (they were really not where they were supposed to be, but that didn’t matter at all to them). They didn’t even think that I might have been there because I had a totally collapsed tire. No, for them, I was there just to be annoying and to bother them by getting in their way. It was, to be perfectly honest, scary. And hot.

The traffic gets out of control at Qalandia for one simple reason — too much traffic is funneled through a too-narrow space, and there is no traffic control allowed by the Israeli military near the checkpoint. So, it becomes a laboratory of the law of the jungle, where the strongest rule. And a multi-hour gridlock ensues.

I was trying to think what to do next. Then, I called Ibrahim, who I had just seen at his worksite, and who had big responsibilities. But he said without hesitation: “I am coming”, and he came right away, with his assistant, and they saved me, really saved me, an act of kindness and sympathetic solidarity for which I am extremely grateful. And all the time, as Ibrahim and his assistant were changing my tire, they were being greeted and exchanging greetings with friends slowly passing by in the gridlocked traffic, in the hot sun as the wind blew up gusts of sand, just outside Qalandia checkpoint. Then got back into their car and drove back to ar-Ram, merging easily back into the slow flow, headed back to the soccer/football stadium that is really just on the other side of The Wall from where I live, but so far away. Yet, coming back around from Jerusalem I can see the bright lights of the stadium lighting up the skyline. And, sitting here at my computer, I can hear the cheers and shouting and singing, whenever there is a soccer match on the other side of The Wall.

Shoafat refugee camp – bursting with life, bursting at the seams

Today I went back to Shoafat Refugee Camp — the only Palestinian refugee camp inside Jerusalem, and inside Israel (excluding the West Bank and Gaza).

It is still part of the “Greater Jerusalem” area that was unilaterally declared by Israel after its conquest in the June 1967 war.

But it is one of the places in “Greater Jerusalem” that Israel has, de facto, unilaterally now decided to sever from Jerusalem, and turn it back to the West Bank, by the construction of The Wall.

There is also an enormous new “terminal” being built at the Jerusalem edge of the camp — nobody has much information, but residents tell me that a Supreme Court decision allowed construction to continue, ruling only that it should be more “aesthetic”.

Speculation is that the size of the “terminal” under construction means that large trucks will be passing through, as well as passenger cars, emergency vehicles, school busses, public transportation — and pedestrians as well. Of course, nobody knows for sure. But, in the warren of narrow streets inside the already over-crowded area, it is hard to imagine a steady stream of huge trucks carrying construction materials getting through, at least not very easily, and without creating a major nuisance.

Now, the Shoafat Refugee Camp, technically part of Greater Jerusalem, is completely, but completely, cut off from Jerusalem by The Wall, and can only be accessed through a horrid and horrible military checkpoint manned by Border Police personnel and private contractors, all carrying big guns.

In the morning rush hour, when employees (mostly men) need to go to work, or when children need to travel to schools outside Shoafat Refugee Camp, the jam of people who must pass through the checkpoints is enormous, and a mess.

Inside the area, there are now tall buildings being built, on almost every inch of land, because there is no more space inside the cramped area. They are building where houses were previously demolished (now that Shoafat Refugee Camp is surrounded by The Wall, the residents figure the Israelis will not bother to come and demolish any more).

Even more astonishing, it seems that people are leaving the Old City of East Jerusalem, because it is too crowded – but where they at least have freedom of movement — and coming to build apartment buildings or to buy one of the newly-created apartments in or just around the Shuafat Refugee Camp.

These people from the Old City who are moving to Shoafat Refugee Camp would still, technically, be living in Jerusalem, at least up until now. But many Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem fear that this will not continue, as long as Israel continues along its present course, without any change in policy. Of course, because this is a situation of occupation (and, more precisely, according to experts in International Law, this is a belligerent military occupation), there is no published information on which people could make decisions about their lives — there are only rumors.

Another factor creating congestion is the fact that people are moving from the nearby village of Anata, in the West Bank, into the “Dahiet as-Salam” that is sandwiched between Shoafat Refugee Camp and Anata. One resident of Dahiet as-Salam said that many West Bankers, even including a number of petty criminals, are moving into his neighborhood in order (1) to be able to claim they are living in Jerusalem because those living in Dahiet as-Salam pay the Jerusalem City Tax, or Arnona, which is one of the requirements to have a “Blue” or Jerusalem ID, and (2) to be able to avoid the jurisdiction of Palestinian Authority security and other law enforcement officials. Of course, the Israeli Army and Border Police can go anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea (and between Lebanon and the Egyptian Sinai) — but, now that The Wall is doing part of their job (or so they believe), they generally stay away these days.

It is a really amazing and disturbing sight — the people inside are full of life, and living lives of quiet joy (thought young men are having a particularly hard time, see below, as are the even younger women they are marrying). From what I saw, many camp residents are there because they are loving their family and friends, and defying what fate has dealt them so far.

Yousef M., who kindly agreed to show me around his community, said that he did not want to leave, because the human solidarity that he finds within the camp does not exist outside.

Yet, tomorrow, there will be an event at the camp’s Women’s Center. Diplomats are expected. Palestinian notables are expected. Many invitees will be there. And they will hear that in a survey of women’s needs, 70% of the respondents said that drug rehabilitation programs are their number one priority. There is a serious drug problem in the camp. It’s not hard to wonder why. The young men are so frustrated, there is no where to go, the future is so uncertain, the injustice is so enormous, and the pressure is so great.

And, residents of Shoafat Refugee Camp report, though drugs most often are coming from the West Bank, drugs sales go on right in front of the Israeli checkpoints, with absolutely no control or interference from the armed Israeli personnel on the spot.

Meanwhile, two Israeli human rights organizations — the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICHAD), and Rabbis for Human Rights — issued a statement today noting that “twenty thousand (20,000) Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem housing 180,000 people currently have demolition orders”

That means that two-thirds of all Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are living in fear that their houses might be demolished.

The joint statement noted that “The Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem himself, Yakir Segev, revealed that in 2008 only 18 permits were issued for building in the Palestinian parts of the city, home to some 270,000 Palestinians. It was the Municipality’s policy of granting so few permits that was driving Palestinians to construct illegally. ‘To get a construction permit in East Jerusalem you have to be more than a saint’, said Segev”.

Even more shocking are these figures, particularly the amount of the fines, according to the joint statement: “In 2008 the Municipality demolished 87 Palestinian homes, issued 959 demolition orders and collected $3.6 million/€2.5 million in fines from Palestinians, 70% of whom live below the poverty line“.

The joint statement was issued in response to an announcement, yesterday, that the Jerusalem Municipality is considering a freeze on the demolition of 70% of “the so-called ‘illegal’ Palestinians homes built without a permit”.

The joint statement added that “While we welcome any change of policy that reduces home demolitions, we must protest the continuation of that policy, even if parts of it are ‘frozen’.

The two human rights groups noted that “Freezing the demolition of 70% of them means that 6,000 homes would still be slated for demolition. In fact, the Municipality has indicated that it intends to remove completely those 6,000 homes. It seems to believe that offering compensation will legitimize that action … This is not merely a game of numbers. Lying behind the plan is the intent to leave intact ‘unauthorized’ Palestinian homes in areas of East Jerusalem of little interest to Israel – those on the periphery of the city in particular – while targeting those in areas that Israel wishes to annex. The targeted 30% are therefore in the most politically sensitive areas subject to conflict: the Old City, the Silwan area adjacent to the al-Aqsa mosque (already renamed the ‘City of David’), the Mount of Olives, Sheikh Jarrah and other strategic locales … We call on the Jerusalem Municipality and the Government of Israel to end their policy of demolishing Palestinian homes altogether, whether in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza – or inside Israel, where the homes of Palestinian and Bedouin citizens of Israel are also targeted”.

One Free Gaza boat left Cyprus for Gaza with 21 aboard

The Free Gaza movement announced this morning that one of two boats that were supposed to constitute their eighth expedition from Cyrus to Gaza actually did leave Cyprus this morning, after days of negotiations and hesitation.

Israel has said they will not allow this ship to pass.

The Free Gaza movement said in a press release that “the ‘Spirit of Humanity’ departed Cyprus at 7:30am on Monday, 29 July. Twenty-one human rights and solidarity workers representing eleven different countries were aboard. The passengers include Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire and former U.S. congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. The ship also carries three tons of medical aid, children’s toys, and rehabilitation and reconstruction kits for twenty family homes”.

Further information can be found on the Free Gaza website here.

Gaza in Despair

The ICRC is not alone in saying, as they do in a new report, that Gaza’s 1.5 million people are trapped in despair.

During the 22-day IDF military operation, there was no safe place for civilians in the Gaza Strip, the report says. The small coastal strip is cut off from the outside world.

Now, it says, “Six months after the end of Israel’s military operation in Gaza, the people living there find themselves unable to rebuild their lives and are sliding ever deeper into despair”.

According to the report, “the stringent [Israeli military] restrictions on movements of persons and goods into and out of Gaza over the two past years” is “one of the main causes of the crisis”:
– Thousands of Gazans whose homes and belongings were destroyed half a year ago remain without adequate shelter.
– Every day the equivalent of 28 Olympic-size swimming pools of sewage is pumped directly and more or less untreated into the Mediterranean.
– Hospitals are struggling because complex and lengthy Israeli import procedures slow down the delivery of basic medical necessities such as painkillers and X-ray film developer, and seriously ill patients are not getting the treatment they need.
– Gazans are increasingly struggling to make ends meet: “The poorest residents in particular have exhausted their coping mechanisms and often have to sell off their belongings to be able to buy enough to eat,” according to Antoine Grand, head of the ICRC’s sub-delegation in the territory. People are generally getting the calories they need, but only a few can afford a healthy and balanced diet, the report notes.

The report can be read in full here.

The report says that “A lasting solution requires fundamental changes in Israeli policy”.

The ICRC said, it is demanding that the restrictions on the movement of people and goods be lifted, including:
– reopening terminals to improve the flow of people and goods into and out of the territory;
– easing imports of medical equipment;
– allowing the entry of building materials such as cement and steel;
– lifting restrictions on exports from Gaza,
– allowing farmers access to their land in the buffer zone, and
– restoring safe access to deeper waters for fishermen.

The International Committee said it “calls on the States, political authorities and organized armed groups concerned to do what is needed to reopen the Gaza Strip and safeguard the life and dignity of its civilian population”.

Goldstone Mission: Open call for submissions

The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, led by Justice Richard Goldstone of South Africa, has issued a call to “all interested persons and organizations to submit relevant information and documentation that will assist in the implementation of the Mission’s mandate”.

The Goldstone mission, an International Independent Fact Finding Mission established by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, is mandated “to investigate all violations of International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009 whether before, during, or after”.

The Mission said that “events since June 2008 are particularly relevant” to the “armed conflict that took place between 27 December 2008 and 19 January 2009” — the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead.

Israel and Hamas began a cease-fire in June 2008 that was variously called either “open-ended”, or for six months, renewable. At the time, Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, said that they were simultaneously preparing for a big operation in Gaza, if necessary — apparently seeking to assuage Israeli concern that such a cease-fire would only be used by Hamas to build up its military potential

The Mission said that “Due to time constraints the Mission would be grateful to receive submissions in English, but will also accept submissions in Arabic or Hebrew.” — presented as concisely as possible.

It said that “Unless otherwise indicated by the author, the Mission will assume that submissions can be made public. Please indicate whether you wish parts or whole submissions to be treated as confidential”.

The information can be submitted by email addressed to, or by postal mail to the Secretariat of the Fact-Finding Mission c/o OHCHR, G. Motta 48, Geneva 1202, Switzerland.

Earlier, the Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict advised that “anyone wishing to make contact with the Mission during its visit to Gaza may contact the Mission by telephone at: (+970) 0597 444 158 or (+970) 0597 444 159.

The deadline for submission is 30 June 2009.

Our earlier post on the Goldstone Mission’s work in Gaza can be read here