The Rafah Crossing + the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access

Egypt formally reopened the Rafah crossing today.

Journalists on the scene report that the numbers of Palestinians crossing were fewer than anticipated — apparently partly because of suspicions based on long experience that things might not work out as expected, and partly because of a shortage of money among many in Gaza.

It was one of the top stories on the international agenda today.

The Egyptian decision to reopen the Rafah Crossing appears to be unilateral – though carried out after considerable behind-the-scenes consultations.

By all indications negotiations are still continuing.

Israeli and Palestinian analysts suggest that the Egyptian move appears to be a reward to Hamas in exchange for the essential concessions and compromise that allowed agreement on reconciliation between it and Fatah, the two largest Palestinian movements who have been feuding as each controls a different part of the occupied Palestinian territory.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said in Washington last week with surprising equanimity that the American government was confident that Egypt could handle the security situation at Rafah…

The earlier regime at the Rafah crossing was established in the wake of Israel’s unilateral 2005 “disengagement” from Gaza.

The 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access which technically prevailed at the Rafah border crossing between Rafah and Egypt until today was negotiated over several months with considerable difficulty, and was only be brought to conclusion after the personal intervention of then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in an all-night marathon session, on her birthday, 15 November.   It was intended to govern Israel’s immediate relationship to Gaza – which Israel argued was no longer occupied.

Within ten days, the EU managed to put together and deploy the EUBAM border-monitoring mission, and a liaison Office was set up, where EU observers worked together with Israeli and Palestinian Authority personnel.

In addition, Israeli security officials monitored the situation at Rafah in real time by live transmission of video surveillance, and by on-line computer transmissions of all the ID card numbers of the people who were crossing in either direction, Berger said.

One aspect of the Agreement that was constantly violated was the provision that “the passages will operate continuously”.

But, as it happened, the Agreement on Movement and Access was barely implemented, and for a very limited time only.

If Israel told the EUBAM observers to stay home, for example, for security reasons, the Rafah crossing would have to be closed.

The EU Representative to the Palestinian Authority, Christian Berger, explained in an interview in his office in East Jerusalem yesterday that it was originally supposed to cover both people and goods: “the original Agreement of 2005 foresaw that exports could take place right away, and if I remember one truck or two trucks were actually exported in December 2005 to Cairo. If I’m not mistaken, it was children’s toys. And then, nothing much happened. Imports were a different story: imports from the beginning had to come via Kerem Shalom [the Agreement did forsee capacity-building for handling imports direct at Rafah, after a period of one year] … However, during the period of one year, it was foreseen that with the help of the European Union but also with the help of the Israeli customs officials, Palestinian officials would be trained so they could [eventually] handle the imports themselves directly from Egypt. And at the end of that one-year period, an assessment would have been done, to find out whether the capacity was there for handling the imports. There was also a reference in the agreement for cars to be checked – traffic of private cars. Both things never happened – not at all, no. So, imports didn’t happen, and the training didn’t happen, and also the training and the capacity-building for cars didn’t happen”.

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The sad state of the Rafah Crossing

The EU Representative to the Palestinian Authority, Christian Berger, said in an interview in East Jerusalem that the EU stands ready, if asked, to “come back and resume the tasks of monitoring the [Rafah] crossing point”.

As part of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, a bilateral agreement between Israel, after its unilateral “disengagement” from Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority (PA), the EU played a required “Third Party” monitoring role in what they named their EU Border Assistance Mission, or EUBAM.  The Europeans tweaked the mandate, however, to include provision of assistance in the form of Palestinian capacity-building.

Asked if there needs to be a new agreement, now that Egypt has made an apparently unilateral decision to open its only border crossing with Gaza, via Rafah, Berger replied that this “has to be discussed with the parties, to find what they want and what they need.  Again, the European Union has offered its assistance.  So, if it’s seen necessary, if it’s seen useful, they we are ready to do this.  And we still have a small contingent in Ashkelon that can be deployed and can be expanded, if necessary, to the size as it used to be before the closure of Rafah”.

Berger said: “One important element of the agreement was that the Israeli authorities would be informed of what was going on at the crossing point.  This was partly through live feed video transmissions, and partly through on-line computer transmissions of all the ID card numbers of people who were crossing, in either way.  But, it’s an integral part of the agreement, so when these transmissions — or the work of the liaison office in Kerem Shalom — was not possible, then the border post had to be closed.  That’s an integral part of the agreement”.

The liaison office was staffed by a tripartite group of Palestinians, Israelis and Europeans.  It was  located at Kerem Shalom, near where IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit was captured in a raid from Gaza in late June 2006, just six months after the Agreement went into effect.  Shalit is still being held, reportedly somewhere in Gaza.

Continue reading “The sad state of the Rafah Crossing”

Israeli soldiers shooting tear gas

The May 15 protest at Qalandia checkpoint was something new (see our earlier post) — and something we may be seeing a lot more of in the coming months.

Look at these pictures of Israeli soldiers shooting tear gas, and standing in clouds of it, without any protection.

Qalandia on Nakba Day 2011 – Israeli soldiers firing teargas in formation without using gas masks or any other apparent protection
photo taken on 15 May by Tamar Fleishman of Machsom Watch:

Qalandia on Nakba Day 2011 - photo by Tamar Fleishman

Protesters who were on the receiving end say they’ve never experienced anything like it. One told me he felt it as if he were paralyzed. He could not move, and had to be carried to a mobile clinic in an ambulance, where he was administered oxygen.

But, look at these Israeli soldiers. Are they superhuman? Simply used to it? Or, were they given some sort of antidote.

Photos below by Iyas Abu Rahmeh – Nakba Day demonstration at Qalandia on May 15 – from Flikr via Sawt al-Manara

Soldier (no mask or protection) shooting tear gas at Qalandia at Nakba Day Protest:
Soldier shooting tear gas at Qalandia on May 15

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PA announces, Israel confirms, release of PA tax funds to bank, salaries (to be) paid

There has been a collective holding of breath in Ramallah and the West Bank for the past 12 days, waiting to see if Palestinian Authority salaries would be paid.

They have been held up this month after the announcement of a Fatah reconciliation agreement with Hamas — considered by Israel [and the U.S., as well as other members of the Quartet, major donor countries to the Palestinian Authority] as a terrorist group.

Israel’s Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz said he would not release the money as expected because some of it could end up in the hands of Hamas.

The salaries – for between 150,000 employees in the West Bank, and an addition number of at least 30,000 paid not to work since Hamas has been in power in Gaza after its rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security Forces in mid-June 2007 — are due on the 5th of every month.

On the 4th of the month, Ramallah sources said that Israeli money would be paid — this was stated just hours after the White House announcement that President Obama would receive Prime Minister Netanyahu in the White House on May 20 (now, this coming Friday). They just didn’t say when the money would be paid, but the assumption was that it would be immediately.

U.S. Administration officials public, though even-toned, statements noting that as a new Palestinian national unity government had not been yet formed, there was no reason to withhold any money at this point.

A few days later, the Palestinian Authority [PA] Ministry of Finance called the bank in Ramallah to see if the Israeli refund payments had arrived. The answer, apparently, was “No”.

PA Prime Minister then made a series of daily statements, calling on Israel, then Arab governments who had not yet paid full amounts pledged, then on the international community to send money.

The EU immediately put money in the bank — but still the PA salaries were not paid.

The money was in the bank, but the Prime Minister and probably also the President wanted to maintain pressure on all parties…

Continue reading “PA announces, Israel confirms, release of PA tax funds to bank, salaries (to be) paid”

Nakba Day demonstration at Qalandia did not end as planned

It was the first coordinated, simultaneous, united (though under different leaderships) attempt by Palestinian refugees to return to the land of their origin (if not birth, as up to three generations have been now born outside, in the worldwide diaspora  since 1947-48).

In the West Bank, the May 15 Qalandia checkpoint event was planned as non-violent.

The coalition of Manara (Ramallah’s Central Square) + Mar15 youth groups insisted on that, and appealed to the Qalandia youth not to throw stones in order to avoid provoking a forceful IDF response.

Qalandia on a good day – the photo that needs no caption
taken on 4 May by Tamar Fleishman of Machsom Watch:

Qalandia on a good day - photo by Tamar Fleishman

In the hours ahead of the planned 11 am start of the event, IDF troops and Border Police units and special forces arrived at the checkpoint. One group of about 12-15 soldiers wearing olive green uniforms moved out of the staging area and lined up along the entrance on the Jerusalem side of Qalandia as cars were passing by. They all pointed the barrels of their black automatic rifle-sized weapons up to the sky, and in unison they cocked the triggers several times, in a group ritual that was also an intimidating display.

Plenty of IDF troops on the scene at Qalandiya checkpoint were armed with weapons that could only use live bullets — but reports of the use of live ammunition, or of any injuries resulting from live ammunition, remained unconfirmed.

In any case, the stone-throwing started within an hour of the start of the demonstration…

Demonstrators say the tear-gassing began first.

Photos posted by Sawt al-Manara on Facebook
the start of Nakba Day demonstration at Qalandia
Fadi Quran, one of leaders of Manara youth coalition, in black beret:

In the black beret and t-shirt, Fadi Quran, one of leaders of Manara youth coalition

and

Demonstrators run away from tear gas barrage which affects trapped cars, businesses, and families in their homes along the street

Israeli activist Joseph Dana said at a press briefing on IMEU’s Blogtalk radio on Tuesday afternoon that the Israeli military “immediately opened fire with tear gas”, and noted that “there was a solid hour, or hour-and-a-half, at the start of the demonstration when not a single stone was thrown, yet there were dozens of injuries caused to demonstrators [by the IDF]”…

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights [PCHR], based in Gaza, reported Monday that “The demonstrators threw stones and empty bottles towards Israeli soldiers, who had been heavily deployed near the checkpoint beginning in the early morning. Israeli forces immediately fired rubber-coated metal bullets, sound bombs and tear gas canisters at the demonstrators”…

The truth is that almost nobody had a complete view of everything that happened.

Continue reading “Nakba Day demonstration at Qalandia did not end as planned”

Hundreds of Palestinians intend to cross Qalandia non-violently in Nakba Day Protest

Hundreds of Palestinians headed to Qalandia for non-violent protest starting at 11am, intend to cross thru checkpoint.

Palestinian protesters intend to cross through Qalandia checkpoint today without permits or military checks, as if it were not there… as if they were free, and not under direct military occupation.

For 1st time in a while, post-reconciliation Hamas is coming out + has joined the call to participate in non-violent Qalandia protest today.

Qalandia is a terrible cul-de-sac under IDF control where many 10s of 1000s of Palestinians must pass daily between Jerusalem and West Bank.

Qalandia, always congested, becomes terrifying parking lot w/o escape when stone-throwing meets tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets.

Palestinian Authority Security has reportedly vowed to block Palestinian protests from Area A to checkpoints…

Israeli solidarity anarchists told Palestinian youth movement organizers they will head to Qalandia from Israeli side of checkpoint today.

As Hamas in West Bank decided to come out + join #Nakba Day protest at Qalandia, Hamas leader in Damascus Khaled Meshal reportedly asked Egyptians for stop of their march across Sinai to Rafah.

"Nothing is going to happen": predictions on stand-off as Palestinian Third Intifada (non-violent, this time) said to be launched

Some of the calls for action on this weekend of commemoration of the Nakba (catastrophe), or the Palestinian dispossession that took place some 63 years ago, in the fighting that surrounded the creation of the State of Israel, said this would be the start of the Third Palestinian Intifada — which they want to be decidedly non-violent.

The coordination of demonstrations within the West Bank and Gaza, with simultaneous action by Palestinian refugees demanding return from the borders of Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, caused a serious case of jitters in the Israeli military and security establishment, who did make real preparations to prevent any upset to the current status quo.

Not-fully-trained IDF recruits were prepared to confront mass popular demonstrations along The Wall in the West Bank.

Police were deployed throughout East Jerusalem.

Other Israeli preparations were made along the borders.

This has been the talk at dinner tables and social gatherings over the last month.

However, some Palestinians predict that despite the build-up, in expectations as well as in troop deployments, not much will happen.

Certainly, they say, not much will happen if most people will continue only to discuss the matter at their dinner tables, while just a few others will be putting their bodies on the front lines. No one is willing to pay the price of the predictable reaction as long as most Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank are going to stay comfortably at home, participating mainly only virtually.

One death has already been recorded in clashes in East Jerusalem.

But, most of East Jerusalem is still quiet…

YNet is reporting here that “Israel’s political leadership instructed the IDF not to take risks and assume major precautions. Indeed, the army already reinforced its troops in the West Bank and prepared reserve forces as well. The IDF will deploy in force at potential trouble spots, in order to make its presence felt and create deterrence. In the first circles of friction with protestors, soldiers will not be carrying weapons, but rather, only crowd-control means. The orders call on soldiers to show restraint and avoid casualties, which are the tested and true recipe for escalation; we want zero funerals, as the army refers to it. In the next circles of security, there will be a response for the possibility that the protestors will also include gunmen in their midst. Soldiers have been instructed to put an end to any escalation at its early stages, using massive force. Meanwhile, Israeli officials hope that their coordination with the Palestinian Authority will remain effective, as it was in the past”.

Though nobody knows for sure, the YNet article says, and an escalation could easily happen despite the best intentions, “Officials in the defense establishment and at the Prime Minister’s Office have a feeling that the Palestinian Authority’s interest – despite the coordination with Hamas – prompts the conclusion that ‘wasting’ the public’s energies on ‘Nakba Day’ is not a worthwhile move. These energies are better reserved for September, when Palestinian statehood may be declared”…

The YNet article does note, however, that ” ‘Nakba Day’ events will be taking place at various locations, in different geographical areas, and may deeply affect each other. Hence, any pledge by any element, but it Israeli or Palestinian, to maintain restraint in the West Bank promises nothing. The situation in the West Bank may escalate to uncontrolled violence as result of external influence, such as the following: Protests by the Islamic Brotherhood and opposition elements in Jordan; marches towards that border that will be aired on TV and inflame emotions; mass demonstrations in Egypt under the banner of the ‘Third Intifada committee’; mass marches in Gaza; violence among Arab-Israelis; and a flare-up in the Middle East’s most problematic theater: Friday prayers”…

Total IDF closure of West Bank for Israeli holidays, followed by IDF build-up in preparation for Palestinian demonstrations this weekend

The tension is thick enough to cut with a knife.

The Israeli Defense Ministry declared a total closure of the West Bank from Sunday just after midnight until Wednesday just after midnight, to allow Israelis to commemorate Remembrance Day on Monday, in honor of those who have died in Israel’s wars, which segued immediately into Independence Day on Tuesday, to celebrate the creation of the State of Israel [according to the Jewish calendar].

Many visited the West Bank for picnics and barbeques, in ease and comfort. Checkpoints all around the northern West Bank town of Nablus were shut down to give extra reassurance to Israeli settlers and their friends and families. Israeli flags were everywhere, flying from windows, balconies, lampposts, and from plastic holders fixed on the front windows of both sides of their cars, like dogs’ ears.

The holidays passed uneventfully, apart from a mini-demonstration staged by the brother of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit at the important televised official ceremony on Mount Herzl during the transition from Monday’s sadness in Israel to Tuesday’s joy.

On Wednesday, as Israelis returned to work, the IDF began to deploy in watchtowers along The Wall, in preparation for demonstrations called by Palestinians for Nakba Day on March 15, to mark the catastrophic dispossession — much of it forced — of an estimated 750,000 Palestinians in the fighting that surrounded the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

The return, or right to return, of those Palestinians and their descendants is something that has been under discussion for the subsequent 63 years.

Most Israelis are adamantly opposed.

Some say, with emphasis, that this would mean war.

Others say they cannot allow any deterioration of their own lifestyle, which they are convinced would be in jeopardy with any significant Palestinian return.

Most Israelis say they don’t want to even see any Palestinians.

Proposals discussed at the unsuccessful Camp David peace talks in late July 2000 envisaged the return of Palestinian refugees only to a future Palestinian state, with strictly limited and symbolic “family reunification” of between 10,000 and 100,000 Palestinian refugees who would be allowed to enter Israel.

The recent Israeli Peace Initiative, signed by a group of some 70 Israeli ex-military, ex-security, and other officials, contains a distinctly ungenerous proposal to recognize “the suffering of the Palestinian refugee since the 1948 war, as well as of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries”.

This would apparently creates an accounting balance [of zero] on both sides of the ledger.

The Israeli Peace Initiative also notes “the need to resolve the Palestinian refugees problem through realistic and mutually agreed-upon solutions”.

The demonstrations planned this weekend by Palestinians and their supports are scheduled to take place globally — and some, perhaps many, will be on the internet.

There has been intense speculation in recent weeks about these demonstrations — which could be the first large-scale direct confrontations between demonstrators who have declared their dedication to non-violence and Israeli forces at checkpoints in the West Bank and in Gaza, as well as at the Egyptian, Lebanese, and Jordanian borders.

No one knows how many will turn out, how sustained their effort will be, or what will be the response…

On Friday 13 May, a coalition of Palestinian youth groups has announced they will be holding a training session in non-violence in Qalandiya refugee camp ahead of a planned demonstration at the massive and monstrous checkpoint on 15 May, during which time, they say, they intend to enter Jerusalem and “1948 areas” — peacefully, of course.
Also on Friday 13 May, marches were scheduled along Israel’s borders with Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

UPDATE: clashes between Israeli military, police, and private security for Israeli settlers (on the one hand) and adolescent male residents of Silwan, on the south-eastern edge of the Old City of East Jerusalem escalated quickly on Friday afternoon. A 16 or 17-year-old, Mourad Ayyash, was shot in the abdomen, and suffered massive blood loss while medical care was delayed due to a police cordon around the area; he died later in hospital after hours of surgery. According to an email from Jonathan Pollack for the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, the bullet came from a pistoMinor clashes were contained on Friday afternoon — with dozens of protestors detained — in an arc of East Jerusalem neighborhoods from Silwan to the Mount of Olives to Issawiya to Shuafat Refugee Camp to the Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah. On Saturday at mid-day, there were what Israeli media reported were “violent” clashes at the boy’s funeral procession from his home in Ras al-Amoud to a cemetary outside the Old City Wall (just north of Silwan).

On Saturday 14 May, a demonstration is scheduled to be held in Walajee, ajacent to the north/western edge of Bethlehem, to protest the imminent completion of The Wall and further loss of Palestinian land there. Demonstrators may also be intending to enter Jerusalem — without permits — but peacefully.

UPDATE: There is a demonstration on Saturday afternoon in Yaffa, an Israeli coastal city once home to tens of thousands of Palestinians who fled in 1948, south of Haifa.

On Sunday May 15, the main anticipated demonstration will be at Qalandia checkpoint, which will certainly be shut down for most of the day.

Osama Bin Laden: Post post mortem

Going over some of the newer details about the U.S. operation to take out Osama Bin Laden [OBL or UBL] here are a few answers, none from official sources:

A.) Question: Did they, or did they not, see the kill?

President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser John Brenner said to journalists on Monday afternoon/evening — not even 20 hours after the announcement that Osama Bin Laden had been killed in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, then buried somewhere [north Arabian Sea?] at sea — that President Obama and his advisers watched the American operation that killed Ben Laden “in real time”. That’s what we thought was confirmed in this photo later released by the White House [Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the only one showing any emotional reaction here]:

.

Here, now, is a very useful graphic published by the Washington Post, in an article published here, entitled “Breaking Down the Situation Room“, with contributions from a number of the WPost’s “in-house experts”:

Washington Post graphic - id of those in the photo watching the Osama kill
1. Vice President Biden
2. President Obama
3. Brig. Gen. Marshall B. Webb
4. Deputy national security adviser Denis McDonough
5. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
6. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates
7. Adm. Mike Mullen, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman
8. National security adviser Thomas E. Donilon
9. White House chief of staff Bill Daley
10. Antony Blinken, national security adviser to Biden
11. Audrey Tomason, director for counterterrorism
12. John O. Brennan, assistant to Obama for counterterrorism
13. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr.

[For some interesting excerpts from some of the WPost’s staff’s comments on this photo, see our page here.]

But, CIA Director Leon Panetta later said that the execution was, in fact,  not witnessed live in Washington, in an interview on the PBS Newshour program on Tuesday evening, which can be watched here.  Panetta told Newshour’s‘s Jim McNeil that: “Since this was a what’s called Title 50 Operation, which is a covert operation and it comes directly from the President of the United States … that direction goes to me, and I am the person who commands the mission … But having said that I have to tell you that the real director was [Vice] Admiral [William] McCraven, because he was on-site and he was actually in charge of the military operation that went in and got Osama Bin Laden … We had set up an operations post here at the CIA and I was in direct communication with Admiral McRaven who was located in Afghanistan, and we were in direct contact as the mission went forward … We had live-time intelligence information that we were dealing with, during the operation itself”.

Q: But did you actually see Obama Bin Laden get shot?
A: “No, no, not at all”...

Continue reading “Osama Bin Laden: Post post mortem”

Source: Israel relented + is releasing tax refunds to PA, at least for now…

According to a source in Ramallah on Wednesday evening, Israel has relented [under pressure, and temporarily] and is releasing tax revenues due to Palestinian Authority [PA]. This money is expected to be in bank today [Thursday], so that PA salaries can be paid this month.

This is despite the Palestinian reconciliation deal that was finalized by a public ceremony in Cairo on Wednesday.

It was the announcement of Fatah-Hamas reconciliation a week ago Wednesday [27 April] that inspired the Israeli decision, announced by Israel’s Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz on Sunday 1 May and backed by Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to “freeze” transfer of tax revenue collected at Israeli ports on behalf of the PA — money which Palestinian Authority Minister Salam Fayyad announced was needed for payment of May salaries to nearly 200,000 PA employees in government ministries and security services.

The Israeli decision was reportedly questioned by the American government.

The U.S. has said that its contributions to the PA will continue for the moment, but will be reviewed after formation of a new PA cabinet in which Hamas is asking for some key ministerial posts. Financial arrangements will be reviewed, U.S. officials have indicated, after examination of any new Palestinian post-unity government.

Palestinian statements — including earlier suggestions from Fayyad himself — are that a new PA government will be composed of “technocrats” selected on the sole basis of who can best do the job.

Problems would certainly arise, however, if some of these “technocrats” just happened to be affiliated with Hamas.

Continue reading “Source: Israel relented + is releasing tax refunds to PA, at least for now…”