217 "humanitarian" truckloads of goods to be passed into Gaza today

This is news. For months, the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s “Coordinator of [Israeli] Government Activities in the Territories” or COGAT, has been putting Gazans on a very strict “diet”. Only when a high-level American delegation was in town, or maybe Tony Blair, were there even 100 to a max of 112 or so truckloads worth of goods allowed into Gaza on a daily basis. Most days, the number was 66, 71, 88, or maybe 90 or so. Today, it is 217 truckloads worth of goods and materials! What is going on? Is it just in preparation for the big Eid coming up on the 27-28 of November?

Even so, there is a shortage of cooking gas, we are informed by Ma’an News Agency — so if foodstuffs are getting in, many people won’t have any way of cooking anything. Maybe today’s supplies are canned goods …

[As to this designation of the goods as “humanitarian” — well, it has to be made clear that these are not gifts donated by either the State or people of Israel. They might include donations by international organizations, or aid agencies, but for the most part they are goods ordered by the Palestinians (from Gaza, through Ramallah, to Israel) and paid for by the Palestinians themselves (by Gaza and/or by Ramallah). These are not Israeli humanitarian donations. The use of the word “humanitarian” refers to the Israeli Military’s way of implementing the Israeli Supreme Court decision that the tightened military-administered sanctions ordered by the Israeli government in September 2007 must not cause a “humanitarian crisis”. These goods, which are NOT donated by Israel, are the means by which a “humanitarian crisis” is being staved off — sometimes, by not much more than a hair. Some international officials have said, at various points, that a “humanitarian crisis” already exits. (The tunnels that Palestinian entrepreneurs have developed at the Egyptian border at Rafah, and in which over 100 young Palestinian workers have lost their lives, have played a possibly even bigger role in preventing a true humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.)]

Other interesting news today: the Jerusalem Post’s well-connected military correspondent Yaakov Katz reports an IDF official scoffing at the idea of UN membership for a Palestinian State, endorsed by the UN Security Council (as the Europeans have encouraged some PA officials to imagine — and it might well work). Katz writes: ” ‘The Palestinian Water Authority wouldn’t last a day on its own’, an IDF source said. ‘We allocated them a piece of land on the coast to build a desalination plant and they have decided not to build it’.”

On the coast? Exactly where, and on what coast? He must mean in Gaza… So who would have refused to build it, and why? He must mean the PA in Ramallah. And if they refused, it must be because Hamas is in control in Gaza…

UPDATE: Yaakov Katz kindly responded to an email request by referring me to an article he published in the JPost on 4 August this year, in which he wrote that Lt.-Col. Amnon Cohen, head of the civil administration’s infrastructures department, told The Jerusalem Post … in an interview earlier this week [that] Israel recently allocated a piece of beach land next to Hadera for the Palestinians to use to build a water desalination plant, which, if operated, would provide over 100 million cubic meters of water annually. ‘The land was allocated over a year ago and the Palestinians have yet to move forward with the project’, he said. This JPost report can be read in full here.

Katz also writes, in his piece published today, about “security cooperation”, which, he reports, “has significantly increased over the past two years, since Hamas violently took control of the Gaza Strip. Next month, the fifth Palestinian battalion trained by US Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton in Jordan will return to the West Bank for deployment. Another one will then depart for four months of training in Jordan. Despite the deployment of these forces – which IDF officers openly admit are doing a good job cracking down on Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank – whenever PA President Mahmoud Abbas travels outside of Ramallah to another Palestinian city, the IDF, Shin Bet and Civil Administration are all involved to coordinate and ensure his safety. ‘When Abbas travels it is like a military operation’, one officer explained. ‘Everyone is involved since the PA forces cannot yet completely ensure his security’.” Well, that’s for sure. And this is not only when Abu Mazen is outside Ramallah, but also when he is inside the PA’s current capital city. And, it was previously reported that the same type of “military operation” is mounted whenever the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad moves around, as well…

Katz then gives an interesting insight into what is happening in the corridors “of the IDF’s Central Command and Planning Division”, in reaction to the flurry of reports in recent days about possible moves to have the UN Security Council endorse a Palestinian state (which he refers to as a “unilateral” declaration, actually another separate alternative): “The understanding in the defense establishment is that with all the hype surrounding the possibility that the Palestinians will unilaterally declare a state, it is more likely a ploy aimed at getting Israel to be serious about negotiations on the two-state solution. The idea is to get other countries to put pressure on Israel to start making real concessions – such as a freeze on settlement construction – so the talks can begin. While this may be true, the corridors of the IDF’s Central Command and Planning Division were buzzing with talk about the potential fallout, both diplomatically and militarily. If the Palestinians declare statehood, then Israel will likely come under major international pressure to take action to show it recognizes the new state. The government will then go knocking on the IDF’s door. Ultimately though, Israeli moves will be dictated by political decisions. Israel cannot order the IDF to completely pull back from the West Bank while settlers still live there. It can, on the other hand, lift more roadblocks and even allow the Palestinians in the interim to ‘have’ their new state in Area A parts of the West Bank which are already, for the most part, under Palestinian control”. This interesting article by Yaakov Katz in the Jerusalem Post can be read in full here.

An editorial in the JPost today reveals another interesting detail about the supposedly-secret “historic” and “unprecedented” offers that the Palestinians have received from Israel (but failed to accept, or even to respond to) in the past decade: “Successive Israeli governments have offered to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank and in Gaza. But Abbas rejected Ehud Olmert’s offer of 93 percent of the West Bank, plus additional lands from Israel proper to make up the difference, all of Gaza, and a free passage scheme between the Strip and West Bank. Under Olmert’s proposal, Israel would retain its strategic settlement blocs – but all other settlements and outposts on the ‘Palestine’ side of the border would be uprooted. Ehud Barak made slightly less generous offers to Yasser Arafat at Camp David in July 2000 and at Taba in January 2001. Barak, like Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in his June 2009 Bar-Ilan address, asked that Palestine be demilitarized”… This JPost editorial accuses the Palestinians of trying “to lobby the UN Security Council to, in effect, junk Resolution 242 – the edifice upon which the entire peacemaking process is constructed – and give its imprimatur to a new Palestinian declaration of independence claiming 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza (though the Strip is under Hamas suzerainty) plus all of east Jerusalem including the Jewish holy sites”. It can be read in full here.

What, exactly, are the “strategic settlement blocs”???

On Salam Fayyad, an interesting item (though not new), the Jewish Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) has done its SECOND study of his transition plan for developing the institutions of a Palestinian state by the year 2011, by former Foreign Ministry legal adviser Alan Baker, which is posted here. In it, Baker reports (though we knew it already) that “Interestingly enough, one of the elements of the Palestinian leadership that does not appear in the [Oslo Accords] Interim Agreement is the Office of the Prime Minister, i.e., Salam Fayyad’s own function, which was not foreseen. See article III of the Interim Agreement which deals with the structure of the Palestinian Council, and article V which refers in subparagraph 4 (b) and (c) to the appointment of members of the Executive Authority and others, but makes no mention of a “prime minister” as such. The post was created with Israeli concurrence in March 2003 immediately prior to the publication of the Roadmap, when Abbas was appointed prime minister under the presidency of Yasser Arafat. Neither he nor his successors as prime minister have ever been elected to this post …”. Baker also writes that “The Roadmap goes on to lay down, as part of its first phase, a program for ‘Palestinian Institution Building’ which includes a specific reference to the newly-created office of ‘Interim Prime Minister’.”

This suggests what we already knew — that, in fact, the office of Palestinian Prime Minister (first occupied by Mahmoud Abbas, then later by Salam Fayyad) was actually created by the Quartet (more specifically, by the Quartet’s leading member, the U.S.) rather than by the Oslo “bilateral” negotiations directly between the two parties themselves. But, as Baker significantly notes, “The post was created with Israeli concurrence”…

(We’ll write more on the Baker (and JCPA) analysis of the Fayyad plan in a future posting.)

And, the JPost reported today that “IDF soldiers arrested seven Palestinians in West Bank operations overnight Sunday.
The detainees were transferred for interrogation”. This news is posted here.

BTW, I was wrong yesterday to write that the JPost and Ma’an News Agency are the only two media sources reporting this stuff — Ma’an has stopped, and is not even bothering anymore…

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”

Why is Israel opening border crossings into Gaza this morning?

Despite the fact that IDF is continuing to prepare for an operation in Gaza, and that “projectiles” including Qassam rockets and mortal shells continued to fly into Israel on Thursday night, the Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has ordered that several border crossings into Gaza be opened on Friday morning for the transfer of what Israel considers vitally-needed goods.

One reason is, of course, the explanation offered in the Israeli media this morning: An unnamed defense official said that “We will make every effort to prevent a humanitarian crisis” in Gaza.

So, from this it is possible to deduce that the situation is really, actually, pretty bad.

The goods that will be allowed into Gaza are not Israeli donations — they are either bought and paid for by the Palestinians themselves, or they are donations from the United Nations, the European Union, and other international or non-governmental organizations.

YNet is reporting Friday morning that “A security official said that despite Hamas’ conduct ‘we must keep mind that there are segments of the Palestinian population in Gaza which do not support terror, and we cannot neglect them”. Many voices have been calling on Israel to keep this in mind for well over a year.

The YNet story adds that this official said: “”The hardships of the civilians may not matter much to lecHamas, but we will make every effort to prevent a humanitarian crisis”.

The Israeli Defense Ministry is under obligation — according to a promise it made to the Israeli Supreme Court at the beginning of this year — not to allow a “humanitarian crisis” to develop.

It has not been clear, however, exactly what the Defense Ministry would understand as a “humanitarian crisis”. It would apparently necessarily involve deaths, according to Israeli-American Attorney Kenneth Mann, legal advisor to GISHA, an Israeli NGO which has fought [valiantly, but unsucessfully] in court to block the Israeli military-administered blockade on Gaza.

Today’s deliveries — if they actually take place, because, as the same YNet article reports, Brig.-Gen (Res.) Bezalel Treiber, head of the Crossings Directorate in the Defense Ministry, said that Israel “has various intelligence indicating that terror groups intend on targeting the crossings” — will supply “basic provisions, including sugar, rice and flour will enter Gaza. Five of the trucks will be carrying goods donated by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s wife Suzanne” … [Question: what crossing will these enter through — will it be via Egypt through Rafah, which has been closed for months, but which Hamas wants opened?]

This YNet report can be read in full here .

The YNet report continues: “Wheat will be transferred into the Strip through the Karni crossing, and fuel trucks will enter through the Erez crossing”.

It is not clear if this is a journalistic or editorial error — the Erez crossing is only for human beings. The normal fuel transfer point is through a complex of underground pipes and storage tanks at the Nahal Oz crossing along the western border of central Gaza — but it is a point which has been particularly targetted for attack since last January.

According to an Associated Press report picked up and published elsewhere on YNet’s website, “The army said the first of an expected 90 trucks have started to deliver medicine, fuel, cooking gas and other vital goods on Friday to Gaza. Israel’s Defense Ministry agreed to open two of the three main cargo crossings into Gaza as part of its policy of avoiding a humanitarian crisis there. The move comes ahead of an expected Israeli incursion into Gaza to stop rocket launchings from the coastal strip. The crossings into Gaza were scheduled to be opened earlier in the week but were shut after Gaza militants bombarded Israel with the heaviest barrage of rocket fire since before an Egyptian-mediated truce took effect in June”. This report can be read in full here .

Some of the Jerusalem Post’s heavy-hitting correspondents (Herb Keinon, Yaakov Katz and unnamed others), with contribution from the AP news agency, reported on Friday that “Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided Thursday to open the Kerem Shalom and Sufa crossings to allow the transfer of the humanitarian supplies to Gaza. [Kerem Shalom is at the south-western tip of Gaza, where Israel, the Egyptian Sinai, and Gaza all intersect. Sufa is not far away, a little further north along the Gaza perimeter]. The shipment was originally scheduled to enter Gaza on Wednesday but was postponed due to the rocket fire. The Defense Ministry said the decision was made to permit the transfer after Barak received a number of requests from international organizations … Diplomatic officials said Thursday that while there was broad international condemnation of the Hamas attacks on Israel, there was also a great deal of concern about the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. The officials also said that the barrage of rocket and mortar attacks over the last few days had not been covered that widely in the international press, which is currently focusing on Christmas holiday stories. Though an argument could be made that this would be a good time for a military operation, because much of the world is currently on vacation and not focusing on the Middle East, others say that because the world has not paid sufficient attention over the last two days to the pounding of the western Negev, any massive IDF attack now would seem inexplicable”. The full JPost report can be read here.

And some of Haaretz newspaper’s heavy-hitting correspondents (Amos harel, Barak Ravid and Avi Issacharoff, with contributions by various unspecified news agencies) wrote on Friday that “Reportedly, a ‘limited operation’ will begin within days that will combine an air attack with some ground operations against Hamas and other Gaza terror groups. The cabinet has given the go-ahead for an operation of a few days’ duration with clearly defined goals. On Sunday, the prime minister will hold a series of consultations ahead of a possible military action. No major move will apparently be made until these discussions have concluded … The meetings Olmert is expected to hold on Sunday will relate to three issues. The first is preparation of the home front: Olmert wants to know what reinforcement of buildings can be completed before military action is taken, and to urgently complete whatever can be completed in terms of reinforcement. The second issue involves humanitarian aid shipments to Gaza which Israel is to approve during the week. Olmert wants reports on stockpiles of essential items to ensure that a humanitarian crisis does not break out in the Strip during military action. The third issue involves diplomatic moves to garner international support for military action against Hamas. A government official in Jerusalem said there would be no moves before all necessary preparations are in place … Israel is planning a relatively short operation that will cause maximum damage to Hamas “assets.” The defense establishment says the operation would not necessarily limit itself to stopping rocket launches and that during the operation, daily massive rocket launches can be expected. Hamas might fire rockets with a range beyond the 20 kilometers it has used so far … Although Hamas operatives are behind most of the rocket launches, Palestinian sources in the Strip said Thursday that the Islamist group still wants to renew the cease-fire. The sources said Hamas is under pressure by Gaza residents and other factions to significantly improve the terms of the cease-fire, particularly regarding the opening of the crossings in light of the increased distress of the civilian population. The sources warned that an Israeli ground operation would result in many civilian casualties in Gaza, especially in the refugee camps … Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip Thursday there were long lines at bakeries, and sales were limited to NIS 3 [three shekels is less than one dollar, and is now worth maybe about 80 cents] worth of bread, less than a large family needs per day. Electrical power and water was cut several times Thursday. Cooking is difficult due to a gas shortage. ‘It is impossible to live like this’, a Gaza man told Haaretz. We have to come to some resolution – either a full cease-fire or full-scale fighting with Israel.” This Haaretz report can be read in full here.

Just on the cooking and other problems from daily life, Ma’an News Agency earlier this week published an article from Gaza that reported: “Some have begun mixing salt with gasoline and used the concoction as cooking gas; others have invested in the newly designed mud-stoves fueled with wood. Generators and solar panels are used when possible, and most are able to charge cell phones during the 8 hours of power supplied by either Israel or Egypt. As the Israeli blockade of Gaza tightens a strange mix of old and new has come to coexist in Gaza. Abu Ahmad, who recalls the war of 1948 and being displaced during the Nakba, says the current situation reminds him of life 60 years ago when his mother would make dinner in a refugee camp over a pile of wood. It is not uncommon to see someone tending supper over a mud-stove in the front of a home answer their mobile phone. This isn’t as strange as it seems, said Abu Ahmad. ‘We used to live without electricity or gas or anything’, he recalled, ‘but now people find it difficult to survive for too long without these things’. He has his own secrets for surviving the current situation, saying he adds nylon, paper and cardboard to his cooking fire to make the wood last longer. Um Salem described her struggle with the daily necessity of feeding her family. ‘It takes me six hours to cook!’ she said. So she wakes up at dawn to begin preparing the bread, since most bakeries are closed and she still has some flour left. The smell from the old paraffin burner she uses is awful, she explains, but with a baby around the home she refuses to use an open fire … The first time the electricity was cut, after gas ran out and before she had the paraffin stove was repaired, Umm Salem was in the middle of baking bread in the oven. ‘I went outside and collected as many old olive branches as I could and made a fire in front of the house’, she explained. ‘I put some papers and old sheets on the fire and just continued to cook the bread’. My family had to eat dinner, she shrugged. Umm Sami sighed and said, ‘The blockade controls everything, even what I make for dinner’.
Most life routines have been disrupted in Gaza. Doctors have reported seeing an increase in the number of skin irritations and rashes being diagnosed in infants, which are being attributed to the shortage of disposable diapers in the area. Since 2006 they have been named a prohibited item by Israeli authorities and have been smuggled in only through the tunnel network. Washing cloth diapers isn’t an alternative for many families, since several neighborhoods across Gaza face severe water shortages, and frequent disruption in water availability on account of poor maintenance of water lines. Repair equipment is unavailable. Services and products taken for granted my many are now unavailable to most Gazans. While almost anything can be smuggled into the area through the tunnels from Egypt, most cannot afford the high tariffs charged by smuggling traders. So from Pampers to Tylenol, Gazans, most of who are urbanites born and raised on modern convenience, are learning to live without; at least on a temporary basis”. This report can be read in full here.

The Foreign Press Association sent around a notice to its members on Friday morning saying that “We have just been informed [by the IDF] that the Erez Crossing [which is only for people, and not for goods] is open to journalists today until 2 p.m.”

Normally, the Erez Crossing is open until 8 p.m. every day — though it was closed for weeks in November and December.

The cargo crossings normally close on Friday for Shabbat and re-open on Sunday morning. Of course, a life-saving emergency could alter this schedule, under Jewish law …

Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist who lived in Gaza for three years before moving to Ramallah in 1997, was able to return briefly by sailing across the Mediterranean with one of the recent Free Gaza expeditions that made a round-trip from and back to Cyprus. Amira, however, was deported by Hamas after a few weeks writing from Gaza, allegedly on the basis of concerns for her own security and safety. She was taken by Hamas and escorted to the Erez crossing, where she was promptly arrested and jailed by Israeli forces for violating a ban on travel of Israeli Jews into Gaza. She is still facing criminal charges in court.

This week, Amira wrote an article in Haaretz entitled: “The sewage is about to hit the fan in Gaza” , in which she reported that an artificial sewage lake in northern Gaza that overflowed catastrophically two years ago [in March 2007] during winter rains — drowning five people in the filthy water — has only continued to grow since then.

In her article this week, Amira reports that this one large sewage lake has only grown in size, and now covers “a total area of 350 dunams that is one kilometer long and contains 2.5 million cubic meters of effluent water with depth ranging from eight to 13 meters. The site of the lake overlooks an inhabited agricultural area of over 1,000 dunams with a population of 10,000. The dirt embankments surrounding the lake could collapse for a variety of reasons: heavy rainfall, stray Qassam rockets, mortars launched by the Israel Defense Forces, exchanges of gunfire … In 1976, Israel’s civil administration constructed a wastewater treatment plant in the northern Gaza district. It was intended to serve a population of 50,000 in the city of Jabaliya and to treat 5,000 cubic meters of sewage daily. After 1994, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and the Palestinian Authority connected additional regions in the northern Gaza Strip to the central sewage system and to the plant, which today serves a population of 250,000. Experts estimate that 18,000 cubic meters of sewage water reach the plant daily. The increase in volume has created two problems. The effluent water is not thoroughly treated and the accumulating amounts have produced an artificial lake whose heavy foul odor has spread over a wide area over the years. Between 2001 and 2004 alone, the level of water in the sewage lake rose by 2.5 meters. In the 1990s, the UNRWA and the PA commissioned preliminary surveys for the construction of a new sewage treatment facility. However, donor states left the project out of its funding programs until 2005. The completion of the emergency sewage project has been delayed since late 2005, although the original plans called for completing it within a year, that is, by the end of 2006. The delays are the result of a combination of factors: the election of a Hamas-led government in Gaza, the imposition of a boycott on that government, the abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, and the closure of border crossings … Because of the delays, contractors avoided bidding for the public tender that was issued in December 2006 for the construction of the new treatment facility; they feared that they would not be able to obtain the necessary construction materials. Next January, a new tender will be issued. It was only the disaster of March 2007 that led to the renewal of the emergency work and to Israel’s granting permission for the transport of raw materials and gasoline for the project into the Gaza Strip. Negotiations with the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) on the introduction of specific components, most of them produced in Israel (such as 2- to 6-inch diameter pipes) went on for months. When security clearance was finally given [n.b., this happened only after the specifications were changed so that the pipes would be plastic, and not steel — which the Israeli military feared could be used to launch rockets], another few months passed before the Israeli bureaucratic mechanism operating the border crossings allowed the entry of these components. The military confrontation between Hamas and Fatah has also produced delays. ‘If we are lucky, after June 2009, we can begin construction of the treatment plant, which will be 25 times the size of the one that was constructed in 1976’, Ali [Palestinian Water Authority engineer Saadi Ali]said. ‘The construction work will take at least three years. However, the most urgent task is to empty the sewage lake’. If the electric power cuts stop, if the gasoline is supplied, if the electrical engineer expert from Bethlehem arrives and if the diesel fuel for the giant generators is provided, then, according to Ali, the ’emptying of the sewage lake can be carried out within eight months to a year’.
This is what he said in mid-November. Today, given the delay of more than a month in the initial operation of the pumping station, even that projection seems overly optimistic”.

Amira also reports in the article that “The long, frequent electric power cuts are much more than simply ‘inconvenient’. They are causing serious environmental harm that will also affect Gaza’s Israeli neighbors. The flooding of the region surrounding the sewage lake would not only endanger the lives of many people, it would also inflict damage on fields and fill the open irrigation wells with sludge that would immediately contaminate the aquifer. ‘About a month ago, the electric power cuts lasted between six and eight hours, and we tried to navigate our way around them’, Ali said in a telephone conversation with Haaretz on Monday from Gaza. ‘Today, every electric power cut lasts 12 hours, and the power is then supplied for six hours. Since there is a shortage of natural gas for cooking, many people use electricity – when it is available – and the current is too weak to operate the [pumping station’s] machines’ … Out of dozens of vital infrastructure projects, including those for sewage treatment, the drainage of rainwater, and the replacement of water pipes, this is the only one whose implementation Israel has permitted for the entire Gaza Strip. NGEST and NGWWTP is the only project Israel has defined as humanitarian, life-saving and one to which its policy on the shutting down of border crossings does not apply”.

This article can be read in full in Haaretz here.

And, of course, the winter rains have started in the region — which will both fill up the sewage lake and weaken its embankments.

[n.b. – A World Bank expert told me in a conversation recently after a conference on water held in Jerusalem that the IDF had on more than one previous occasion in previous years threatened to bomb this sewage lake if it released too much pollution into the Mediterranean Sea near the coastline Israel shares with Gaza. However, since Gaza’s power plant shut down last January due to a lack of fuel resulting from military-administered sanctions tightened against Gaza, some 30 to 40 million liters of untreated or partially treated waste water flows into the sea daily…]