Amira Hass interviews Jonathan Pollak

Jonathan Pollak, the Israeli anti-occupation activist who has just been sentenced to three months in jail for participating in a demonstration against tightened IDF-administered sanctions that affect over 1.5 million people in the closed Gaza Strip, has spoken to Haaretz’s Amira Hass about his conviction, and his convictions.

The interview is published today, here.

Pollak was told to report to jail on 11 January to begin the sentence. Like many people who imagine the possibility of going to jail, he thinks he will be able to pass the time usefully by reading. But, asked by Amira if he were afraid of prison, he replied “Yes. I’m not yet sure of what, but I am”.

He was given a suspended jail sentence earlier, stemming from a demonstration against the construction of The Wall in the West Bank (which the International Court of Justice said was illegal, in a ruling on 9 July 2004).

Now, he has been ordered to serve the two sentences, simultaneously.

It is not known yet if he will appeal…

Pollak told Amira Hass that he was arrested “in the middle of our cycling route, on Bograshov Street in Tel Aviv. I was in the midst of the crowd. Two plainclothes policemen who know me and I know them approached me and took me off my bike. They said something to me like: “We told you if you raised your head, we would cut it off,” and took me to a police van. The rest of the cyclists continued without any interference. No one else was arrested”.

The prosecutor apparently asked for a six-month jail term, plus a fine, arguing that the demonstration was “illegal”. Pollak commented: “I am not a jurist but to the best of my knowledge, the police orders demand a permit for a demonstration in which more than 50 people participate. The prosecutor, who is a policewoman, is supposed to know that. We were about 40 people”.

But, he told Amira Hass, he would, personally, not have asked for a permit even if more activists had gathered, “Because I don’t believe that when you are demonstrating against a regime, the regime is the one that has to approve the demonstration”.

The demonstration that is sending Pollak — and only Pollak — to jail took place in Tel Aviv on 31 January 2008 — just days after the Israeli Supreme Court decided on 28 January against a petition brought by GISHA and a group of nine Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations who asked the Court to stop IDF-administered deliberately tightened sanctions against the entire population of the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli government had issued a declaration on 19 September 2007 that the Gaza Strip — ruled solely by Hamas after its rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security Forces in mid-June 2007 — had become an “enemy entity”, or “hostile territory”.

The Israeli government gave the Israeli mililtary the sole and entire responsibility for deciding on and administering the regime of deliberate sanctions, which the military announced would be tightened on a regular basis. These sanctions went into effect at the end of October 2007, and the military said that fuel and electricity supplies would be reduced by an additional 15 percent each month. The Supreme Court allowed the fuel reductions to continue, but stopped the reductions in electricity until its decision on 28 January 2008, when they were allowed to go ahead. (However, after a brief trial, the Israeli military apparently realized that the electricity cuts could not be stopped so easily, and without greater damage).

For the final Supreme Court Hearing on the matter, on 28 January 2008, two Palestinians from Gaza who had agreed to testify to the Israeli Court and who had been issued permits to come to Jerusalem to testify, were held up that morning at Erez checkpoint until just before the Supreme Court hearing had adjourned. One of the men was from the Gaza Power Plant, the other was from the Coastal Municipalities Water Society. When they were finally allowed through, they jumped into a waiting taxi and raced to Jerusalem, but arrived after the hearing had completely ended…

The Israeli military was allowed to do whatever it decided in Gaza, without any independent governmental oversight or any other civilian supervision of the IDF-administered sanctions that were applied against 1.5 million people in Gaza.

The absurdity and cruelty of the situation was evident, but difficult to monitor precisely, as the military kept all details until very recently — after the Flotilla Fiasco on 31 May. when 8 Turkish men and one Turkish-American high school student were killed in the Israeli naval boarding at sea of the Mavi Marmara.

In any case, GISHA’s petition argued that such sanctions were collective punishment. But the Supreme Court allowed them to go ahead, on the sole condition that the Israeli military must take care to ensure that no “humanitarian crisis” should ensue.

There was no definition given by the Court of what constitutes a “humanitarian crisis”, but many people believe that one certainly exists in Gaza — one which was exacerbated by the massive IDF attack on the Gaza Strip from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009.

In his discussion with Amira Hass, Pollak explained: “I don’t know what other option there is in so extreme a situation, in which four million people are being kept under a military regime without democratic rights by a country that is interested in presenting a democratic image. In a situation where there is a blockade and collective punishment of 1.5 million people, can one hesitate at all whether to hold a very minimalist protest in Tel Aviv? It seems to me part of the duty of a human being, the least we can do. The question is not why I need all this mess but why so few people join in”.

Pollak, 28 years old, has been a member of the Israeli group, Anarchists against The Wall, and is now on the coordinating committee of the Palestinian-led Popular Struggle Coordination Committee.

Deportation: ho-hum, jaded indifference?

Why such jaded indifference to deportation?

Four Palestinian politicians from East Jerusalem – Mohammed Abu Tir, Mohammed Totah, Khaled Abu Arafa, and Ahmed Atoun — all affiliated with Hamas, were recently ordered by Israeli police to turn over their Jerusalem ID cards, which are also their residence permits, and told they must leave “the country” within a month — which would be by the end of this week.

Two weeks ago, the Israeli human rights organization Adalah petitioned to the Israeli Supreme Court to stop the expulsions.

Just a week ago, the Supreme Court declined to hear the petition now on an urgent basis — because it has already scheduled a hearing in September to take up an appeal against the revocation of residency.

Meanwhile, of course, the “deportation” orders may be carried out. But, according to the Supreme Court, that’s no big deal — it is not irreversible.

Continue reading Deportation: ho-hum, jaded indifference?

Amira Hass on killing of Ziad Julani + one question

Haaretz has published an article today entitled: “Witnesses: Police shot hit-and-run driver instead of arresting him“.

It is written by Amira Hass. She reports that: “A motorist from East Jerusalem who ran over and wounded several Border Police officers Friday was shot twice in the face from close range while still lying on the ground, eyewitnesses said. Neighborhood witnesses said the fatal shots were fired once the officers no longer had reason to fear that their lives were in danger, and could have easily arrested the suspect. Witnesses in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz told Haaretz that the motorist, Ziad Jilani, suddenly swerved his car and hit the group of officers walking further up the road. They said, however, that they believed the collision was an accident, and not committed intentionally as initially reported” …

Continue reading Amira Hass on killing of Ziad Julani + one question

Israel refuses Noam Chomsky's entry via Allenby Bridge to West Bank

Israel’s Ministry of Interior has today denied entry to the West Bank via the Allenby Bridge from Jordan of renowned American academic Noam Chomsky, a professor emeritus of linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who has often criticized Israeli and American policies.

Chomsky, who 81 years old, was held at the Allenby Bridge crossing and interrogated for over four hours before being turned back.

Continue reading Israel refuses Noam Chomsky's entry via Allenby Bridge to West Bank

Palestinians: "It's only four months…"

Palestinian officials are saying that they were under too much pressure from the Europeans and the Arabs to resist any longer accepting an American proposal to undertake “indirect” or “proximity” talks with Israel after more than a year of no negotiations. “It’s only for four months”, Palestinian officials say, apologetically, with a shrug of the shoulders. “Then we’ll know whether Israel is serious or not…”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) took the proposal to a meeting of Arab League Foreign Ministers last week, which on Wednesday gave him the go-ahead, the green light, the fig leaf he felt he needed.

Reports vary: the Arab League Foreign Ministers reportedly said the UN Security Council would be engaged straight away if there are no concrete results after four months. There are other reports that the U.S. has made, or will be asked to make, a pledge that it will not exercise its veto power in the UN Security Council to protect Israel from the consequences of a failure in the negotiations. There are reports that a definition of borders will — or will not be — the first item of business.

But, the Palestinian leadership’s previous position that it will not engage in talks as long as Israel does not halt its settlement activities throughout the West Bank (including East Jerusalem).

Despite the Arab League Foreign Ministers endorsement of Abbas’ proposition to participate in renewed negotiations, Ma’an News Agency reported, the Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit — who was “present” during the Arab League Foreign Ministers meeting in Cairo on Wednesday — said a day later that “he believed Palestinians should not enter into direct talks with Israel in light of the current controversy over heritage sites. Speaking from Cairo after a meeting of the Follow-up Committee for the Arab Peace Initiative, Abul Gheit said delegates shared his sentiments, a stark contrast to the announcement of the Arab Foreign Ministers meeting, which gave its blessing for talks to continue. ‘The committee will not remain silent over all what is going on … The Arab Follow up Committee will not make any concessions and will not support direct negotiations unless Israel changes its positions’, he said.” It is difficult to reconcile these statements. The Ma’an report is posted here.

Many Palestinians — individually and as members of political movements ranging from Hamas to Fatah, as well as the various smaller “factions” of the Palestinian left — are scornful of the decision to re-engage in talks.

Yet, the resumption of talks appears almost inevitable — unless something extremely dramatic happens. There are very persistent rumors — it is a daily topic of conversation — about an impending “third intifada”. Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass, who lives in Ramallah, wrote Friday that “Judging from articles written by both Israelis and Palestinians, the next intifada is already in the air. They are predicting it is on the way and the most punctilious know it will be ‘popular’. Bil’in and Na’alin [n.b. where there have been regular Friday demonstrations against The Wall which are almost always dispersed with bursts of tear gas] are perceived as its models. Some Palestinians are guessing it will first erupt in Jerusalem”.

Hass also wrote that “the supreme challenge facing the initiators of the next uprising – if it indeed erupts – is to prevent its descent into a so-called armed struggle, which inevitably will expropriate the street and the struggle from the public. The militarization of the second intifada led to grave disasters – personal, collective and geo-political. Off the record, many admit this but a number of factors are still preventing frank, public debate. For years the theory of armed struggle, until liberation and independence are achieved, has been held sacred. Many people feel ill at ease to criticize the militarization publicly, as though they would thereby dishonor the dead, the wounded, the prisoners and their families … The truth is that the suicide attacks on civilians gave Israel a golden opportunity to implement plans, which had always existed, to confiscate more and more Palestinian lands, using the excuse of ‘security’. The use of weapons did not stop the colonialist expansion of the Jewish settlements. On the contrary. And the use of weapons only accelerated a process Israel began in 1991: disconnecting the Gaza Strip from the West Bank … many of the young men played with weapons in order to obtain social and economic status in the movement and the PA. When Fatah people dare today to renounce the sanctity of the armed struggle, their collective reputation as corrupt automatically detracts from peoples’ faith in their arguments, even if those arguments are logical. Another challenge facing the initiators of the popular uprising, if it indeed erupts in the near future, is actually a challenge that Israeli society must face. Will it once again adopt the deceptive narrative of the IDF and the politicians (‘the Palestinians attacked us’, ‘terror’) and allow them, as in the two previous intifadas, to suppress the uprising using disproportionate and deadly means? These are the deadly means that, in the Palestinians’ eyes, make Israeli rule look like a series of bloody acts from 1948 to this day”. Amira Hass’ article can be read in full here.

Meanwhile — and unless the much-discussed third intifada, or something equally dramatic, happens — one Palestinian woman in the news business commented that there is now an attitude of “do what you have to do”; on the other hand, she said, “people don’t give a damn any more”.

The Fatah Central Committee (all wearing grey business suits with dress shirts + ties) met in the Muqata’a Presidential Headquarters in Ramallah on Saturday to discuss the impending U.S.-mediated talks . After the meeting, road traffic was held up for nearly ten minutes by Presidential security guards wearing olive green camouflague jumpsuits and burgundy red berets — holding big black automatic weapons with their fingers on the triggers — before an 11-car convoy (including two black vans each bristling with a crown of antennas that Palestinians say can temporarily disrupt local communications) escorting a black sedan carrying President Abbas careened around the corner as he travelled from the Muqata’a to his heavily-guarded home in small villa in northern Ramallah on Saturday afternoon.

The Executive Committee of the overall Palestine Liberation Organization (P.L.O. — which groups Fatah and the Palestinian “factions” other than Hamas) will meet to discuss the proposal on Sunday.

U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell arrived back in the region on Saturday night, and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is due to arrive on Sunday.

Haaretz’s veteran correspondent Akiva Eldar reported on Friday that “The United States government has committed to playing a role in indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and promised that if the talks were to fail, the U.S. will assign blame and take action, according to a document sent by the U.S. to the Palestinian Authority, which Haaretz obtained on Friday. The U.S. government sent the document to the Palestinians responding to their inquires regarding the U.S. initiative to launch indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians. ‘We expect both parties to act seriously and in good faith. If one side, in our judgment, is not living up to our expectations, we will make our concerns clear and we will act accordingly to overcome that obstacle’, it was written. This commitment by the U.S. was a determining factor in the Palestinians’ and the Arab League’s decision to agree to the U.S. proposal on indirect talks. The document also reveals that U.S. involvement will include ‘sharing messages between the parties and offering our own ideas and bridging proposals’. The U.S. also emphasized that their main concern is establishing a Palestinian state. ‘Our core remains a viable, independent and sovereign Palestinian State with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967’, the document read. Regarding the settlements, the U.S. noted its continued commitment to the road map, which dictates that Israel must freeze all construction in the settlements, and dismantle all outposts erected since March 2001″. This Akiva Eldar report can be view in full here.

But, the Jerusalem Post reported that “The indirect ‘proximity talks’ between Israel and the Palestinians likely to begin next week will not pick up where the discussions between then-prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas broke off in late 2008, The Jerusalem Post has learned. This issue has been a key sticking point for months, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rejecting the Palestinian demand that the talks begin from the point where they ended with Olmert. Olmert offered the Palestinians nearly 94 percent of the West Bank, a land swap to compensate for most of the rest, an arrangement on Jerusalem, and the return of a small number of refugees into Israel as a ‘humanitarian gesture’ … The Post has also learned that the proximity talks will not immediately focus primarily on borders, another Palestinian demand, with Israel saying there can be no credible discussion of borders without first knowing what security arrangements will be in place”. This JPost report is published here.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian family of six from the West Bank village of Silwad was killed when their car crashed into an Israeli military Hummer on Friday near Bir Zeit, north of Ramallah, and their funerals took place on Saturday. The Jerusalem Post reported here, that “Apparently, the Palestinian car had a flat tire, causing it to divert from its course”. It is not clear what interaction there had been between the forces in the Hummer and the Palestinian family car, but the Jerusalem Post said Israeli police were investigating. But, very upset local Palestinian witnesses said on the Palestinian Television nightly news Friday saying that it was clear that Israel did not want peace.

Also on Friday, a fourteen-year-old Palestinian boy remained in critical condition after being shot in the head by Israeli Defense Forces using rubber bullets at a demonstration in Nabi Salah area near Ramallah.

Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Haram ash-Sharif mosque esplanade [which Israelis call the Temple Mount, because it is believed that the Second and possibly also the First Jewish Temple were situated somewhere on that site] in the Old City of East Jerusalem ended very badly after a sermon critical of the Israeli government decision a week earlier to name the Ibrahimi (Abraham) Mosque in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem as “heritage” sites. Israeli Border Police stormed the mosque esplanade after, they said, Muslim worshippers began throwing rocks that hit Jewish worshippers standing at the Western Wall Plaza just below Al-Aqsa Mosque. Israeli forces used tear gas and stun grenades were used on the mosque esplanade and in various nearby areas of East Jerusalem as disturbances spread. Though the Israeli police have denied that rubber bullets were used, the Jerusalem Post reported that “Ron Krumer, a spokesman for Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center, confirmed an Arab woman was wounded in the head by a rubber bullet [n.b. – it is not clear where in East Jerusalem this woman was when injured] and hospitalized in serious condition”. The Jerusalem Post also reported that “Having restored calm by use of stun grenades, and following helpful intervention by other Muslim worshipers to defuse the clash, police eventually withdrew in coordination with the Waqf to allow older worshipers to leave the Temple Mount. Eight of the injured policemen were hospitalized in light condition. Five suspects were arrested during the riots”. The Qalandia “border crossing”/checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah was tense, but open, late on Friday afternoon. There were no Palestinian traffic police visible as Israeli soldiers were sitting in khaki-colored hummers surrounded by a number of large rocks that had clearly been thrown at them not long earlier. Two soldiers were outside the vehicles, escorting a young teenager they were bringing back under detention. Between 50 to 100 meters further inside, a group of at least 60 even younger boys were on both sides of the street, watching intently to see what the Israeli forces were doing. Some of these younger boys were sitting on a low concrete divider in the middle of the road, and there were large rocks placed on the divider next to them. Adults were going about their business as if nothing special was going on.

Earlier in the week, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barakat announced a radical new proposal to develop municipal planning — for the first time time since the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem in June 1967 — for various neighborhoods of East Jerusalem that would mean some Palestinian (and some Israeli) housing would be legalized, while other Palestinian housing would be demolished. The new proposal was presented as an attempt to offer some nominal equality between the two communities, but there was a great lack of clarity about how it would work out in actual practice. Immediately after the proposal was announced, Prime Minister Netanyahu asked the Jerusalem mayor to carry out further consultations with the local communities before proceeding.

Twenty-four hours later, renewed disturbances were reported in northern East Jerusalem areas of Shuafat refugee camp and Al-Isawiya, and reports linked these clashes to the post-Friday prayer events.

The UN Security Council on Friday “called for restraint by all sides and an early return to the negotiating table, while voicing their concern at the current ‘tense’ situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem”, according to a report by the UN News Centre [the UN uses British English spelling]. The report added that the current UNSC President for the month of March, Ambassador Emmanuel Issoze-Ngondet of Gabon, told journalists after closed-door Council deliberations that the 15 members ‘urged all sides to show restraint and avoid provocative acts’, and ‘stressed that peaceful dialogue was the only way forward and looked forward to an early resumption of negotiations’.” And, the report added, “The situation in the Middle East was also among the issues discussed yesterday during a meeting between Mr. Issoze-Ngondet, in his capacity as Council President, and General Assembly President Ali Treki [of Libya]”. This UN News Centre story is posted here.

Haaretz later reported that “The permanent Palestinian observer to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, welcomed the council statement, adding that the U.S. decision not to block it ‘is a signal that the United States wants this effort to succeed’ and Israel to restrain itself. A U.S. official, however, told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the American delegation had not agreed with the statement and said it was adopted due to what the official described as ‘procedural confusion’.”  This Haaretz report is posted here.

In a regular monthly briefing to the UN Security Council on 18 February, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe (of the U.S.) said: “We call for the resumption of talks on final status issues, implementation of Road Map commitments, continued efforts to improve economic and security conditions, and a different and more positive approach to Gaza.” Pascoe was speaking on behalf of UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon — and his statements usually represent an important organizational statement that is pre-negotiated with major powers, and certainly, in this case, with the Quartet of Middle East negotiators who include the UN, the U.S., Russia, and the European Union. According to a UN summary of his statement, Pascoe told the UNSC that “Israel had indicated its readiness to accept indirect talks proposed by George Mitchell, Special Envoy of the United States to the Middle East, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had been engaged in intensive consultations and had sought clarifications. ‘The Secretary-General hopes that President Abbas will move forward on the basis of that practical proposal so that serious talks can begin … He notes Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s stated commitment to a two-State solution, although confusion as to the Government’s intentions arises from statements by various Government officials’.” The UN statement said that Pascoe had urged “Israel to extend its current 10?month freeze on the building of settlements in the West Bank to a comprehensive freeze there and in East Jerusalem”. Pascoe stated that “The status of Jerusalem is to be determined through negotiations, and we believe that a way must be found through negotiations for Jerusalem to emerge as the capital of two States”. He noted, however, “that, since his last briefing on 27 January, the Israeli authorities had identified violations of restraint orders in at least 29 settlements, while the Defence Ministry had stated that it was issuing demolition and stop-work orders against violators”. On the other hand, Pascoe said, “The fact that Israel had not evicted Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem or demolished those homes was a ‘positive development which we hope will continue’, and he called for “the reopening of Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, in accordance with Road Map obligations”. This is a point that European Union leaders have recently emphasized.

Pascoe also told the UNSC that Israel’s ongoing closure of crossing points into Gaza is “counterproductive”, and “causing unacceptable hardship for the civilian population, more than half of whom are children”.  A UN press release describing his statement is posted here.

There has been recent high-level mention (by American as well as French officials) about the possibility of finally taking up a long-standing Russian proposal to hold a conference to push for progress in Israeli-Palestinian and/or Israeli-Arab negotiations — and news reports have suggested that such a conference may be convened in Moscow on or around March 19th.

That is, if nothing dramatic happens in the meantime…

"We didn't know he was a journalist" + "There was no security concern" — so why detention pending deporation?

This story gets better and better [do I have to say, “irony alert“?].

“There was no security concern”, an Israeli official said about the detention since Tuesday in difficult and uncertain conditions of an American journalist who is awaiting a deportation hearing on Sunday — and the deportation that was carried out already of his girlfriend.

So, these actions must be a form of disciplinary measure…

Continue reading "We didn't know he was a journalist" + "There was no security concern" — so why detention pending deporation?

Amira Hass — arrested upon her return from Gaza

On 12 May, as Haaretz reported, its correspondent Amira Hass [a Jewish Israeli who now lives in Ramallah after living for several years in Gaza in the 1990s] was arrested after leaving the Gaza Strip following several months reporting from the spot.

Haaretz wrote that “Israel Police on Tuesday detained Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass upon her exit from the Gaza Strip, where she had been living and reporting over the last few months.
Hass was arrested and taken in for questioning immediately after crossing the border, for violating a law which forbids residence in an enemy state. She was released on bail after promising not to enter the Gaza Strip over the next 30 days … Last December, Hass was arrested by soldiers at the Erez Checkpoint as she tried to cross into Israel after having entered the Gaza Strip aboard a ship run by peace activists from Europe. [At that time, Hass had entered on one of the Free Gaza expeditions from Cyprus]. Upon discovering that she had no permit to be in Gaza, the soldiers transferred her to the Sderot police. When questioned, Hass pointed out that no one had stopped her from entering the Strip, which she did for work purposes. Hass was released then under restriction, and Nahmani said her case would be sent to court. Israel Press Council chairwoman Dalia Dorner, a former Supreme Court justice, commented then that even journalists are subject to the law and the council cannot defend a reporter who breaks the law. Instead, she said, local journalists ought to petition the High Court of Justice against the army’s order”. This Haaretz story can be read in full here.

For this stay in Gaza, Hass did not enter on a Free Gaza expedition, because they were all stopped. She did not enter through Israel’s Erez Terminal, because Israelis and residents of Israel have been banned from travel into Gaza since Israel’s unilateral September 2005 “disengagement”. She said to us simply, “I have my ways”, and laughed.

Her case, if brought to court as promised, could challenge the 19 September 2007 unilateral proclamation by the Israeli cabinet that the entire Gaza Strip, with its 1.5 million inhabitants, is “hostile territory”, or an “enemy entity”. That government decision is the basis for the very tight commercial sanctions that the Israeli military has imposed — with the consent of the Israeli Supreme Court — ever since. The Israeli military did promise the court, however, that it would not permit a “humanitarian crisis” to develop in Gaza.

However, it appears that what is really preventing not just a crisis but a real humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza is only the not-so-secret (and Hamas-authoritzed) smuggling through tunnels under the border from Egypt at Rafah.

In today’s Haaretz, Amira Hass reported that “There is no point in clearing away the ruins of the 4,000 buildings and homes that have been totally destroyed, so long as Israel does not permit building materials to be brought into the Strip. The Gazan Ministry of Public Works also warns citizens not to clear away ruins through private initiative: It’s too dangerous. At least 50,000 people, members of 8,000 families whose homes have been destroyed, know that the temporary solution they have found is liable to become a long-term one. ‘And that’s not a solution’, says [Hussein] Al Aaidy, whose family is now dispersed among several houses, far from the plot of land they bought years ago and cultivated with a great deal of love”.

Amira Hass recounts the Al-Aaidy’s experience with the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead. On 3 January, at about 8 in the evening, before the ground invasion began, something fell from the air and damaged the three-story family house, and shrapnel wounded the 80-year-old matriarch of the family, her sister-in-law, and four grandchildren. “They contacted friends and relatives to call for medical assistance. They discovered that the IDF was not allowing rescue teams access to them.
Haaretz accompanied the efforts of Physicians for Human Rights to have them rescued, and reported daily and in real time about the situation: They were almost without food, without medicine, little water, cold, shelling and firing all around. But only on Friday, January 9, almost seven days after they had been wounded – after exhausting negotiations on the part of PHR and phone conversations conducted by Hussein al Aaidy himself with soldiers or officers in the Coordination and Liaison Authority for the Gaza Strip – was the first evacuation allowed: four of the wounded and four escorts. They walked for about 1.5 kilometers, the healthy ones carrying the seriously injured on stretchers: The wounds of the children Ragheda and Nur, who were injured by shrapnel all over their bodies, were beginning to become infected; they began to lose consciousness. Before their evacuation, Hussein had cut into Ragheda’s flesh with a knife – two of his brothers held her as she screamed and cried – and sterilized the wound with salt water. The grandmother, Kamela, shakes her head as she tells us this, as though she wanted to chase away the memory. The next day, Saturday morning, a week after they were shelled, the healthy ones and the two wounded women also left. They understood that it was dangerous to remain in the area, as ‘every moment we expected another shell to fall on us, to be wounded again, perhaps killed’, explains Hussein, almost apologizing for ‘abandoning’ the house. Their departure was preceded by negotiations over the phone conducted by Al Aaidy, who speaks Hebrew, with an officer or soldier in the liaison office. ‘They wanted us to take a six-kilometer detour: I refused’, he recalls. ‘They demanded that we go south, to the area of Netzarim. I refused. In the end, they agreed to let us go north, near the Karni Crossing. But there were conditions: That each of us would be a meter away from the next person. That we wouldn’t stop. That we wouldn’t put down the children, whom we adults were carrying on our backs. That we wouldn’t put down my mother, whom two of us carried together. They told me: If we can’t count the 22 people who left the house, anyone who sees you from a helicopter or a tank, will fire at you’. One of the conditions was that they would carry a white flag, and that scared them most of all. ‘I was in all the wars and none of them was so difficult. In none of them did they kill people waving white flags, as they did this time’, explained Kamela. ‘And when we marched, I was already in despair, I wanted them to put me down. Leave me on the road and I’ll die, I told my sons’. The exhausted convoy marched for about 700 meters, according to Hussein al Aaidy’s estimate, until they encountered a group of tanks. One soldier got out of the tank, aimed his rifle at the convoy and ordered them to stop. ‘That was lucky, that way we could rest a little, we put down the children and Mother’, recalls Al Aaidy with a little smile. The soldiers ordered him to approach. ‘There was a dog with the soldiers. They cocked their weapons. As though they wanted to scare us. I told the soldier: We’re leaving by prior arrangement, contact your commanders. And the soldier answered me: ‘I won’t contact anyone.’ We waited like that for 20 minutes. The way a person waits for death.” The three kilometers until they reached the ambulances took about an hour and a half to two hours – they no longer remember precisely. And since then they can’t find a place for themselves, says Al Aaidy. When the attack stopped, they were astonished to discover that the IDF had blown up their house”…

The IDF’s comment, which Amira Hass dutifully solicited and recorded, is that “From the moment of the attack, direct contact was established between the affected residents [this reference appears to be all the people in the Gaza Strip, and not just this particular family] and the army, and an attempt was made to evacuate them from the Gaza Strip, so they could receive medical care in Israel. ‘The residents were evacuated at the first opportunity at which they would not have been exposed to mortal danger from the fighting that was taking place in the area. In order to provide additional information about the attack, we would need precise location coordinates. As we were not provided with that information, we are unable to clarify the matter’.”
This report by Amira Hass can be read in full here.

"Spoiled crybabies"

This would be hilarious, if it weren’t so serious: Dion Nissenbaum wrote on his blog yesterday that “When the head of the Israeli Government Press Office tells The Jerusalem Post that there was no ban on journalists entering Gaza during the recent military operation, the appropriate response would be to laugh … One can argue about why there was a ban, but there is no denying that Israel barred journalists from entering Gaza during the war. It is harder to disprove claims that 9/11 was a US government conspiracy than to demonstrate that Israel imposed a ban on journalists entering Gaza … [And] if there was no ban on reporters entering Gaza, then Israel’s high court spent a lot of time and energy debating an illusion. The wisest legal scholars in Israel must be demented to have actually issued a ruling tossing out the non-existent ban”.

Dion dumps on the JPost, and then takes on Danny Seaman, saying that he has “every right to argue that reporters are Hamas sympathizers” (though Danny Seaman did not make that argument, as far as I have seen — nor does the fact that a couple of American news organizations that Dion named, including his own, might be looking into a Hamas crackdown on Fatah rivals disprove it, contrary to Dion’s suggestion). Dion says that “Danny Seaman also can’t be blamed for trying to belittle reporters now in Gaza as ‘spoiled crybabies’ who are a ‘disgrace to the profession’. If he thinks that’s the best way to approach his job, that’s the Israeli government’s prerogative” …

Coming to one of the main points, Dion tackles what we questioned in our earlier post here, when we wrote that Danny “really should be asked to explain exactly where and how he thought more-intrepid journalists could have entered the Gaza Strip, which has been practically hermetically sealed by the IDF since Israel’s unilateral ‘disengagement’ in 2005“.

Dion writes: “Danny Seaman argues that any reporters who were willing to put in ‘a little effort’ could have gotten into Gaza. But, so far as I can tell, the only way for reporters to get into Gaza for most of the war would have been to use one of the smuggler tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. And, considering that Israel was repeatedly bombing the tunnels during the war, they probably were not the most reliable route into Gaza. (Though one can guess that Danny Seaman probably would not have shed many tears for Fig Leaf Reporters buried alive by Israeli bombers.) Reporters were repeatedly prevented from entering Gaza through any of the Israeli land borders. An Israeli Naval boat rammed one boat from Larnaca carrying reporters trying to get into Gaza. Then Israeli ships fired warning shots to prevent a second boat full of journalists from breaking the Israeli Naval blockade. Egypt did not let any reporters into Gaza until the final days of the war. And that came only after journalists had jumped through a series of bureaucratic hoops in Cairo. The Israeli military brought a few selected reporters into Gaza for a few hours to see things from their perspective. It is true that no reporters tried to parachute into Gaza. Nor did any journalist I know explore the possibility of taking a hang glider into Gaza … In this regard, the journalistic community of ‘spoiled crybabies’ was indeed negligent. Perhaps, with a little more effort, reporters could have catapulted into Gaza”. Dion’s blog post on Danny Seaman’s remarks and the JPost coverage of them can be viewed in full here.

Dion also mentions, as we did earlier, the case of Amira Hass, who entered Gaza from the sea, on board the second Free Gaza expedition from Cyprus, writing: “And if, as Danny Seaman told The Jerusalem Post, Israel never arrested anyone for entering Gaza, that will come as welcome relief to Amira Hass, the Israeli journalist who was arrested for entering Gaza”. A comment made on Dion’s blog post, from “Bob” — who actually sounds rather a lot like Danny Seaman — says: “Dion, Amira entered illegally and is barred by a law which prohibits Israeli citizens from entering Gaza due to the danger of abduction – and she fled Gaza because she was threatened by Hamas just to prove the point. No foreigner has been arrested for entering Gaza. But this is very typical of your reporting to forget such ‘minor’ details that completely disprove your opinion. Maybe that is why even fewer people read your blog than the JP [JPost]… Why am I reading this?”

As Danny Seaman told me earlier, when I was preparing my story, if Amira were to be kidnapped while in Gaza, “that’s the last thing we need — she’s an Israeli, and the Government of Israel would have to negotiate for her release”.

This comes after a Brigade Commander was reported in the Israeli media to have instructed his troops to fall on a grenade if they were about to be kidnapped — death is preferable, and maybe some of the adversaries would be killed too, the Commander said — to avoid becoming another Gilad Shalit (who, French President Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly said earlier tonight, is still alive, despite the three-week Israeli military offensive in Gaza).

And, meanwhile, Amira Hass — no “spoiled crybaby” — is back in Gaza, she told me when I called her this afternoon. How did she get there? “I have my ways”, she giggled…

Aid might go in to Gaza, but journalists do not

Yesterday, the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel “requested that the international media be allowed to enter Gaza together with the aid via the other crossings given that EREZ is closed”.

Today, that apparently did not happen, despite the three-hour “humanitarian respite” that the IDF promised, on rather notice, for Tuesday afternoon.

The FPA also issued a statement on Tuesday saying that it was “appalled by the statement made this morning on BBC TV by the Israeli ambassador in London indicating tha the reason the foreign media have not been allowed into Gaza is due to ‘infighting’ in the FPA. The FPA wishes to categorically state that the organization has been in full compliance with the decision of the Israeli Surpeme Court. A complete list of names was provided to the authorities who confirmed receipt of the list. The FPA repeats the request to allow the foreign media to enter Gaza without delay”.

The McClatchy newspaper group’s Jerusalem correspondent, Dion Nissenbaum, highlighted today on his blog, Checkpoint Jerusalem, a statement made by Danny Seaman, Director of Israel’s Government Press OffIce (GPO) to an Israeli media publication, that was then picked up and published in an Ethan Bronner story in the New York Times, that “Any journalist who enters Gaza becomes a fig leaf and front for the Hamas terror organization, and I see no reason why we should help that.”

Dion Nissenbaum took issue with Danny Seaman’s remark, and wrote that “in all my years of covering Gaza, I have never had a Hamas minder and never had Hamas try to censor my copy (while, in fact, I and other reporters here operate under Israeli censorship rules). In the past, Hamas has arrested, detained and tried to intimidate local Palestinian journalists, which makes it all-the-more-important to have outside reporters there to cover what’s going on”.

Ethan Bronner, in his NYTimes piece, wrote that “for an 11th day of Israel’s war in Gaza, the several hundred journalists here to cover it waited in clusters away from direct contact with any fighting or Palestinian suffering, but with full access to Israeli political and military commentators eager to show them around southern Israel, where Hamas rockets have been terrorizing civilians. A slew of private groups financed mostly by Americans are helping guide the press around Israel. Like all wars, this one is partly about public relations. But unlike any war in Israel’s history, in this one the government is seeking to entirely control the message and narrative for reasons both of politics and military strategy … This attitude has been helped by supportive Israeli news media whose articles have been filled with ‘feelings of self-righteousness and a sense of catharsis following what was felt to be undue restraint in the face of attacks by the enemy,” according to a study of the first days of media coverage of the war by a liberal but nonpartisan group called Keshev, the Center for the Protection of Democracy in Israel … There are other ways to construe the context of this conflict, of course. But no matter what, Israel’s diplomats know that if journalists are given a choice between covering death and covering context, death wins. So in a war that they consider necessary but poorly understood, they have decided to keep the news media far away from the death. John Ging, an Irishman who directs operations in Gaza for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, entered Gaza on Monday as journalists were kept out. He told Palestinian reporters in Gaza that the policy was a problem. ‘For the truth to get out, journalists have to get in’, he said”. Ethan Bronner’s piece can be read in full here .

In a separate NYTimes article, former Jerusalem bureau chief Steven Erlanger quoted Israeli sources comparing the situation to Israel’s “Second Lebanon War” as saying: “This time, there is no illusion about winning a war only from the air. This time, the military chief of staff has kept his silence in public, all cellphones have been confiscated from Israeli soldiers, and the international press has been kept out of the battlefield … even the close circle of senior Israeli political and defense correspondents have been getting far less access than before to decision makers, said Aluf Benn, a senior correspondent with the daily Haaretz. ‘We get briefings, but they’re more like talking points’, Mr. Benn said. The senior military officer said, ‘The chief of staff is not talking in public, and the special press know what they need to know, but the army is not speaking’ … Yaakov Amidror, an Israeli major general, now in the reserves, who ran the research and assessment branch of Israeli military intelligence, said that Israeli intelligence had never lost its contacts in Gaza, as it had in southern Lebanon. ‘To leave Gaza you have to go through Israel’, he said, and numerous Gazans were recruited as intelligence sources. Gaza uses the Israeli shekel, and nearly all imports and exports go through Israel, too. ‘All this helps keep the network alive in Gaza’, he said, which helped the accuracy of the early air campaign. What matters most, General Amidror said, are three changes: coordination between the infantry and the air force; having commanders on the ground with a clear mission and flexibility to achieve it; and methods to keep Hamas in the fog of war, which includes disinformation and impediments to real-time press coverage on the ground … The less Hamas understands, the better, he said”. Steve Erlanger’s piece can be read in full here.

Meanwhile, Ali Waked has reported in YNet — and this could of course be disinformation – the piece cites multiple unnamed sources — that “Six Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel have been executed in the past two days by Hamas security officers in the fighting zone in Jabalya, Ynet has learned … A source in Hamas referred to the report, saying that ‘assassination or an air strike cannot take place without guidance from the ground, and all these guys confessed to the act’ … [And] Reports on executions have also been received from other places across Gaza, but the exact number of victims is unclear”. This report mentions other executions of what it calls “suspected collaborators”, who it said “were executed about a week ago, after IAF jets bombed Gaza City’s main prison in the Saraya compound which houses Hamas’ government offices and security organizations. The suspected collaborators escaped from the prison after the bombing, but were seized by Hamas members and the families of the collaborators’ victims”. Similar stories were circulated in Ramallah in recent days, without mentioning that those prisoners who were reported to have been executed by Hamas after the prison was hit by an IDF airstrike. Accusations of being a “collaborator” are difficult to verify, especially in complicated situations. This report can be read in full on YNet here.

UPDATE – Amira Hass reported in Haaretz on 8 January corroborating information of Hamas summary and secret executions since the IDF Operation Cast Lead began on 27 December: “Members of the group have confirmed the executions took place, and said the victims had admitted giving information to the Shin Bet security service that resulted in the deaths of Palestinians, or had already been sentenced to death by a Palestinian military court but the sentences were delayed for various reasons. Independent sources said that among the dead were those not known publicly to have been collaborators, as well as others long suspected of cooperation with Israel, or those arrested and later released. Estimates of the number of suspects executed range from 40 to 80, but amid the prevailing conditions shelling, fear of walking the streets and media blackouts it is virtually impossible to verify the numbers or identities of the dead. Executions are carried out secretly. In Rafah, for example, at least some of the victims were killed in a caravan erected in the area formerly occupied by the Rafiah Yam settlement, and the victims’ relatives were invited to take away the bodies”. Amira’s story can be read in full here

On weapons being used in the attack on Gaza, there were early reports of IDF use of cluster bombs in open fields.

Then, there is this from a post by Jason Sigger on, about the controversy over the IDF’s possible/probable use of white phosphorus bombs during Operation Cast Lead: “With the media blackout over Gaza, detailed knowledge of what the Israelis are doing is in short supply. Maybe they’re targeting Hamas fighters with WP; maybe they’re putting up a quick screen of smoke between Hamas snipers/anti-tank gunners and their forces; maybe they’re marking targets for further artillery strikes. Based on the evidence available and lacking any formal statement from the Israeli government, it appears likely that the use of WP munitions in Gaza is legitimate. However, the use of WP munitions in an urban setting continues to be a controversial tactic, given the potential impact on civilians and their homes. As one of my more learned colleagues noted, the repulsion here is not that noncombatants become casualties during war, it’s that nations make war on each other for the wrong reasons”. This post can be read in full here.

Sigger also wrote that “The fact is, there are both legitimate [as defined in the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons – Protocol on … Incendiary Weapons] and illegitimate uses for white phosphorous rounds. And right now, we don’t know what the Israelis did with those munitions”.

Earlier, in a posting on the same blog, Nathan Hodge picked up on another interesting item from the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency and the Jerusalem Post, and wrote (on 30 December, the third day of the unprecedented Israeli attacks on Gaza) that: “The Israeli Air Force has debuted a highly accurate — and U.S.-supplied — smart bomb in its air campaign over Gaza. Back in September, Israel received congressional authorization to buy up to 1,000 GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs … According to the Jerusalem Post, the first shipment of the bombs arrived earlier this month. Israeli fighters reportedly employed the bombs to target Qassam rocket launchers during the initial bombardment. They were also used in the bombing of a network of tunnels in Rafah on Sunday”. Hodge’s posting can be read in full here.

The earlier JPost story, written by that paper’s Yaakov Katz, who is very well-connected in the Israeli Ministry of Defense, reported that the small smart bombs were “used successfully in penetrating underground Kassam launchers in the Gaza Strip during the heavy aerial bombardment of Hamas infrastructure on Saturday [27 December, the first day of the Israeli attacks]. It was also used in Sunday’s bombing of tunnels in Rafah. The GPS-guided GBU-39 is said to be one of the most accurate bombs in the world. The 113-kg. bomb has the same penetration capabilities as a normal 900-kg. bomb, although it has only 22.7 kg. of explosives. At just 1.75 meters long, its small size increases the number of bombs an aircraft can carry and the number of targets it can attack in a sortie”. Katz’s JPost piece is posted here.

And a hat tip (HT) for another related item to Helena Cobban on her Just World News blog here for the alert that the U.S. has published a tender for shipping ammunition from Greece to Israel “That’s a considerable amount of ammunition. Its type was not stated”, Cobban wrote, and she then added that: “US arms shipments to Israel are sent (free of cost to Israel) for the express purpose of ‘self defense’ … ”