Meanwhile, in Gaza… (re-mix)

Journalist Ashley Bates [Mother Jones] has posted an interesting video on the Haaretz website, reporting the views of Gaza residents’ at the present moment:

Waiting for the Flotilla in Gaza (English) from Ashley Bates on Vimeo.

At about the same time, a debate took place on Russia Today’s Crosstalk program about the current situation in Gaza. The participants were: Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah, UNRWA’s spokesperson Chris Gunness and the Jerusalem Post’s Defense Correspondent Yaacov Katz — what a line-up! The video is posted on the Electronic Intifada website, here and on Youtube:

Israeli human rights groups testify to Turkel Commission on Flotilla fiasco

Three of Israel’s most distinguished and respected human rights groups testified before the Israeli-government-appointed Turkel Commission on Wednesday in a six-and-a-half hour marathon public session (with two 10-minute breaks).

One Israeli media report afterwards described the rather mainstream groups [(1) B’Tselem(2) Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, and (3) GISHA] as “left-wing”, and B’Tselem’s Director Jessica Montell as a “radical leftist activist”, — which says a lot about the atmosphere in the country. See story here

The polarization increased geometrically after the massive Israeli military operation in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead [27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009] — during which Israel first announced its formal naval blockade of Gaza’s maritime space, on 3 January 2009, as the ground phase began.

And, the polarization was all too obvious in Wednesday’s hearing.

The Turkel Commission [website here – H/T to Jessica Montell] says it is an independent public inquiry looking into what they call the “maritime incident” of 31 May 2010 [or, the Flotilla fiasco] which occurred in the pre-dawn hours that day when Israeli naval missile boats and helicopter-borne Israeli commandos intercepted the Freedom Flotilla, and killed 9 men [8 Turkish, one American high-school student from a Turkish family] on board the larger Turkish passenger ship, the Mavi Marmara.

It is Israel’s main state-appointed body of inquiry on this matter, which was one of the main news stories in the world for several weeks.   An outpouring of international criticism followed the brutality of the interception.

GPO photo

The Commission’s website notes that it “was asked to relate to an assessment of the security circumstances of placing the maritime closure on the Gaza Strip and the maritime closure’s compatibility with the rules of international law”.

Continue reading Israeli human rights groups testify to Turkel Commission on Flotilla fiasco

More news: IDF schedules 213 truckloads of basic goods to go to Gaza today

This, Madame Secretary [Hilary Clinton], is positive reinforcement:  when the IDF, exceptionally, schedules over 200 truckloads of what they call “humanitarian aid” — really, the most basic goods — to enter Gaza, it is worth writing about.

This is the third time in the past two weeks that we’ve had such an astonishing development.  It is the third time since 19 September 2007 that over 200 truckloads worth of goods have been permitted to enter Gaza from Israel.  Since the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead last winter, nearly a year ago (27 December – 18 January), anything approaching 100 truckloads a day has been good news.

We previously posted about this (so far publicly unexplained) new development on 16 November here and again on 19 November here. Usually, there is a temporary liberalisation of the draconian sanctions regime when there is strong international pressure from the right quarters. This time, there may also be other (so far unclear) reasons…

However, before the Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security Forces in mid-June 2007, the daily average was 400 to 600 truckloads per day…

This is not, however, “humanitarian aid” from Israel — it is, perhaps, partly including aid from international organizations and non-governmental organizations.  But it is also normal consumer goods purchased by the Palestinians themselves (some from the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and quite a lot purchased by Gaza merchants themselves, through orders corrodinated with the PA in Ramallah.

But it is designed to prevent a “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza — which some have said has been in place for the past two years or more, and what is now being prevented is a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

The important thing here is that the  Israeli Supreme Court  told the IDF, in its final ruling on the matter after a lengthy court battle led by a grouping of Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations — that preventing a “humanitarian crisis” is a requirement for maintaining the policy of sanctions or blockade that the IDF has been authorized by the Israeli government to impose on Gaza… and the IDF has been doing so without any other effective Israeli government oversight.

The 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza have been basically locked into the Gaza Strip since Israel’s unilateral “disengagement”  that removed some 8,000 Israeli settlers and the Israeli soldiers protecting them, which was completed by September 2005.

The policy of tightened sanctions was imposed by the Israeli Military in October 2007, and has been in effect, by what looks like not much more than whim, since then, including during and after the three-week IDF military offensive last winter.

And, of course, there is another side to this policy of allowing “humanitarian aid” into Gaza: Haaretz reported yesterday that “Israel Air Force planes struck targets in Gaza early Sunday, wounding seven Palestinians, medical workers said, a few hours after Hamas said militant groups in the coastal strip had agreed to halt cross-border rocket fire. An Israel Defense Forces spokesman said the strikes were in response to a rocket attack Saturday by militants in the Hamas-ruled Strip. He said they had targeted two factories in the central and northern Gaza used to make weapons and a smuggling tunnel under the border with Egypt”… This Haaretz article can be read in full here.

For, we should remember that we are talking about 1.5 million people, at least three-quarters of whom are refugees, who are not where they are by choice, and who are locked into one of the most densely populated places on earth…

The Israeli military and the IDF are just lucky that there has not been a full-blown catastrophe so far… the line is fine, and human lives are fragile…

Israel deports all but two Free Gaza activists captured at sea

Almost a week after they were confronted by Israeli naval vessels and towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod, the Free Gaza Movement indicates that its activists captured at sea on board a boat flying a Greek flag and sailing from Cyprus to Gaza were “accused of entering Israel illegally”, but that all charges were dropped.

The activists refused to sign any documents in order to be able to leave Israel, they said on Twitter.

Former U.S. Presidential Candidate for the Green Party, and a former Democratic congresswoman who served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, Cynthia McKinney is arriving back to the US on Monday afternoon via New York City. She wrote that ” The Israeli authorities have tried to get us to confess that we committed a crime… I am now known as prisoner number 88794 (in Israel’s Ramle prison). How can I be in prison for collecting crayons [for] kids?”

She will apparently be accompanied by the other Americans detained at sea on board the Free Gaza boat, Spirit of Humanity.

21 activists set sail from Cyprus a week ago on a ship laden with humanitarian aid.

Do a search for Free Gaza on this site to see our other posts on this story.

Continue reading Israel deports all but two Free Gaza activists captured at sea

Cyprus and the Free Gaza movement

The Jerusalem Post reported yesterday that “The Cypriot Embassy in Tel Aviv issued a statement following the incident, saying ‘The Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus in Israel would like to inform that the “Spirit of Humanity” boat, sponsored by the Free Gaza Movement, that attempted in the early hours today to reach Gaza was given permission by the competent Authorities of the Republic of Cyprus to sail off the port of Larnaca in Cyprus on the basis of its declaration that its intended destination was the port of Port Said in Egypt’.” This JPost report is posted here .

A Cypriot diplomat in the region said that “They signed and they said they were going to Port Said. With that destination, they were covered by international law all the way”.

Of course, the Free Gaza activists always said publicly that their destination was Gaza, and they were determined to go to Gaza.

Continue reading Cyprus and the Free Gaza movement

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”.

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”.

Israeli military permits 350 cows into Gaza — first in nine months — for 1.5 million human beings

Apparently, it takes American pressure to get the Israeli military to allow 350 cows into Gaza today — the first in nine months. This, it should be noted, is for 1.5 million human beings.

However, the Israeli military’s “Coordinator of (Israeli) Government Activities in the Territories” (COGAT) has reportedly determined, after a supposedly-careful and somehow-scientific analysis redolent of other notoriously disastrous historical precedents involving social engineering experiments on a captive population, that 300 cows per week are the minimum needed in Gaza in order to avoid a “humanitarian crisis”.

Continue reading Israeli military permits 350 cows into Gaza — first in nine months — for 1.5 million human beings

Israel: not budging

“Freezing settlements is not an option”, a Jerusalem Post headline reads today, quoting Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman at a press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in Washington on Wednesday.

“We cannot accept this vision absolutely, completely freezing these settlements. I think we must keep natural growth”, Lieberman said.

For her part, Clinton said, according to the JPost report, that “she disagreed strongly with the notion that the Bush administration had reached agreements with Israel that allowed for continuing some construction. Lieberman had alluded to these arrangements when he said: ‘We had some understandings with the previous administration, and we tried to keep this direction’. Clinton, for her part, said: ‘Looking at the history of the Bush administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements’, saying that position had been ‘verified’ by accounts from former Bush administration officials…

Continue reading Israel: not budging