Day 2 of IDF Operation Pillar of Clouds – Today is Palestinian Independence Day

Today, 15 November, is Palestinian Independence Day. The employees of the Palestinian Authority [PA] in the ministries in Ramallah and elsewhere in the West Bank are off work for what will be a 3-day holiday. In a rare sign of solidarity, the otherwise disgruntled Palestinian East Jerusalem merchants will also close their shops to mark the date that Yasser Arafat declared the independent Palestinian state, at a meeting of the PLO’s Palestine National Council in Algiers.

In Gaza, people are reeling under [another] full-scale Israeli attack — this one, like the previous ones, designed to “bring about an improvement in the security reality and allow a normal life for the residents of the State of Israel” [Israeli Security Cabinet communique Wednesday evening 14 November].

The Security Cabinet also stated that “Alongside the military effort, Israel will, to the best of its ability, work to avoid harming civilians while honoring the humanitarian needs of the population, in keeping with the rules of international law”.

Israel’s new-found appreciation of international law dates to the fallout from its interception of the Freedom Flotilla on the high seas in the eastern Mediterranean at the end of May 2010. A handful of Israeli special forces boarding the 600-passenger Mavi Marmara in the dark were outnumbered and surrounded, and killed 9 Turkish men, including one Turkish-American high school student.

Without dwelling on the academic distinction between “international law” and “international humanitarian law [which pertains in situations of occupation, for example] it has to be said that there is wide room for various argued-understandings of the construct.

By the time the Security Cabinet convened, there were already casualties — some of those specifically targetted, like the Hamas military chief Ahmad Jaabari, and then the absolutely and completely innocent victims, like this 11-month-old baby boy, Omar Jihad al-Mashhrawi, his body held by his grief-stricken father, Jihad:

Jihad Al-Mashhrawi holding his baby son Omar, killed in Israeli strike on Gaza - 14 November 2012

Photo by Anne Paq of Activestills, posted on the Flickr photostream here.

One of the accusations against Jaabari was that he was responsible for the operation that captured IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit just outside the Gaza perimter near the Israeli crossing of Kerem Shalom in June 2006. Shalit was held somewhere in Gaza until his release in October 2011 — after Egyptian-brokered negotiations carried out with Jaabari.

Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, said on Wednesday evening after the “precision” strike that hit Jaabari’s car in Central Gaza, that Gilad was “still absorbing” the news.

The New York Times reported here that:

    “Military officials in Israel, which took credit for killing Mr. Jabari, said their forces had carried out additional
    airstrikes in Gaza targeting what they described as ‘a significant number of long-range rocket sites’ owned by Hamas that
    had stored rockets capable of reaching 25 miles into Israel. The statement said the airstrikes had dealt a ‘significant
    blow to the terror organization’s underground rocket-launching capabilities’. The Israel Defense Forces said Mr. Jabari had been targeted because he ‘served in the upper echelon of the Hamas command and was directly responsible for executing terror attacks against the state of Israel in the past number of years’. A video released by the Israel Defense Forces and posted on YouTube showed an aerial view of the attack on what it identified as Mr. Jabari’s car on a Gaza street as it was targeted and instantly blown up in a pinpoint bombing. The Israel Defense Forces later posted a Twitter message showing a mug shot of Mr. Jabari overwritten by the word ‘eliminated’.”

The UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon expressed concern over the “deteriorating situation, and called for restraint. Egypt relatively quickly made a formal request for a UN Security Council meeting [subsequently backed by the Observer Mission of Palestine and Morocco], hoping for at least a statement — though none was issued [U.S. opposition cited as the reason].  

The Egyptian letter was posted online by Matthew Lee, on his Inner City Press website here. This letter, signed by Egypt’s Ambassador to the UN, Mootaz Khalil, states that “The ongoing unlawful military operation by the occupying power that includes extrajudicial killings causing loss of life and destruction, demands the urgent attention of the international community, in particular the Security Council, to address this alarming situation that threatens the international peace and security”.

The Palestinian letter was also posted by Inner City Press, here, and in it the Ambassador of Palestine, Riyad Mansour, wrote that “the occupying Power is publicly boasting of its willful killing of Palestinians and its plans to carry out more crimes of this sort”.

Mansour’s letter noted that “This letter is in follow-up to our previous 438 letters regarding the ongoing crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in East Jerusalem, since 28 September 2000” [the date of the start of the Second Palestinian Intifada].

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — who has called the attacks from Gaza on Israel “stupid” and “useless” — called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League — and it was scheduled for Saturday, three days after the intensification of Israeli strikes on Gaza.

UPDATE: There is a report via the BBC here that the Arab League meeting may be moved forward a day, to Friday.

Hamas — which argues that the rocket fire is a “natural response” to Israeli attacks — also appealed for international intervention to stop the attack on Gaza.

Rockets continued to fly out of Gaza and Israeli attacks on the sealed Gaza Strip [one of he most densely-populated areas on earth] continued all night.

UPDATE: The death toll in Gaza was reported to be about 10 by Thursday morning. Also on Thursday morning, three people were killed in Kiryat Malchi, an Israeli community on Gaza’s perimeter.

The Israeli Security Cabinet communique of Wednesday evening authorized an even more restricted group to make further decisions concerning this Israeli operation: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with Defense Minister Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, and in consultation with other ministers as per need, [are authorized] to decide, on behalf of the Security Cabinet, regarding the actions necessary to continue with Operation Pillar of Defense here and to submit other decisions for Government approval, as may prove necessary”.

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas prepares to table a draft resolution in the UN General Assembly that would upgrade the status of the Observer Mission of Palestine to that of observer [ but still non-member] state, despite mobilized Israeli objection, the situation in Gaza which is not directly under his control has again escalated into what looks like war.

Will he be able to go ahead, in these circumstances?

{Mahmoud Abbas, as Chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO, is head of the provisional government of the State of Palestine declared in 1988, and he signed his 23 September 2011 letter asking for full UN membership as “President of the State of Palestine.]

The draft resolution may have been intended, in part, to counter objections expressed by some diplomats on the UN Security Council membership committee last year that Abbas does not control Gaza. Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor reportedly spoke Wednesday evening outside the UN Security Council and “asked asked rhetorically what Mahmoud Abbas (or Abu Mazen as he called him) had said about Gaza, snarking he hasn’t seen Gaza in years”. This is reported here.

Palestine’s Observer Ambassador Riyad Mansour told journalists a couple of hours later that “the Israeli aggression is as you know, is synchronized at the same time with our efforts of asking the General Assembly to act on our draft resolution on the 29 of this month. They are now opening a war against our people in the Gaza Strip. In order really to divert attention from the efforts in the GA and to put us in a situation, to put the energies and contacts in the Security Council. But regardless of what their intentions are, we are determined along with all of our friends to succeed in our effort of legislating in the GA the change of status of Palestine to an observer state”. This was reported by Inner City Press here.

Reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas have not succeeded, but gaining state status in the UN might be an enticement to accelerate Palestinian unification.

This would counter concerns that Hamas has been flirting with Israeli military and political officials who have urged dealing separately with Hamas — as a second Palestinian Administration — in the Gaza Strip. The Egyptian-facilitated recent visit to Gaza of the Emir of Qatar + his wife increased anxieties among the PA leadership.

Meanwhile, France, which voted for the admission of Palestine as a full member in the Paris-based UN educational and cultural organization UNESCO, and whose President [Sarkozy] appealed to Abbas in a UN General Assembly speech last 23 September 2011 to go to the UN General Assembly [instead of to the UN Security Council], has reportedly just announced that it will not vote in favor of the UNGA upgrade.

And, President Abbas is about to meet US envoy David Hale in the Swiss capital, Bern — where a possible alternative offer might be made.

If Abbas hesitates, he will lose a lot of what remains of his credibility at home. If he proceeds, there are other risks.

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