“No other country in the world does what Israel does”, say some of my Israeli friends. “We tell the people to evacuate when we are going to bomb”.
Yes, but where do they think the evacuees are going to go?
There is really nowhere to go.
Nowhere in Gaza is prepared to handle thousands and thousands of large families.
And, one might ask, what provisions has the IDF made to help these fleeing families?
There were no preparations for this on the Hamas side, because it was hoped the ground invasion could be frightened off, with slogans like, “We have prepared a grave for you”, etc … It was actually hoped this would not happen.
Al-Jazeera aired a report of families walking almost aimlessly in downtown Gaza City. There is nowhere to go, those interviewed complained.
Some went to UNRWA schools. This morning, an UNRWA school, apparently full of displaced refugees, was hit.
Apparently not just one, but two, UNRWA schools were attacked on Tuesday, according to AP: “It was the second deadly Israeli attack to strike a UN school in the past few hours”, AP reported here .
One was in Jabaliya, the other one was in Gaza City. In one of them — it now appears to be the one in Jabaliya — the death toll is now given as 40, and rising.
The IDF later said that an “initial inquiry” into this “incident” — apparently meaning the school that was attacked in Jabaliya — “indicates that a number of mortar shells were fired at IDF forces from within the Jabalya school. In response to the incoming enemy fire, the forces returned mortar fire to the source. “This is not the first time that Hamas has fired mortars and rockets from schools, in such a way deliberately using civilians as human shields in their acts of terror against Israel”.
The IDF even offered old footage of another incident, as illustrative proof: “This was already proven several months ago by footage from an unmanned plane depicting rockets and mortars being fired from the yard of an UNRWA school. This footage has been released in the past, and is now being re-released, and is available via JCS – Jerusalem & Tel Aviv: 02-6701771 or 03-6238840”.
UPDATE: The Israeli Foreign Ministry has just called this “incident” a “heartrending tragedy”, and added that “initial investigations indicate that Hamas terrorists fired mortar bombs from the area of the school towards Israeli forces, who returned fire towards the source of the shooting. The Israeli return fire landed outside the school, yet a series of explosions followed, indicating the probable presence of munitions and explosives in the building. Intelligence indicates that among those killed were Immad Abu Iskar and Hassan Abu Iskar, two known Hamas mortar crewmen”.
In any case, you can’t find any of this out from the UNRWA website — if you land on the UNRWA website there is no information, just a Flash Appeal, as this catastrophe is yet another good occasion to ask for more donations, by credit card or wire transfer … and the death toll in one of the schools is now given as 40, and rising.
AP reported from inside the Gaza Strip that “Israeli forces edged closer to Gaza’s major population centers on Tuesday and attacked new sites, including a U.N. school, claiming more civilian lives after ignoring mounting international calls for an immediate cease-fire…where hundreds of people from a Gaza City refugee camp had sought shelter from Israel’s blistering 11-day offensive against the Hamas militant group … U.N. officials say they provided their location coordinates to Israel’s army to ensure that their buildings in Gaza are not targeted. The Israeli army had no comment on the latest strikes, but in the past has accused militants of using schools, mosques and residential neighborhoods to store weapons or launch attacks … ‘The battle is bitter but unavoidable. We set out on this operation in order to deal Hamas a heavy blow and to alter living conditions in the south of the country and to block smuggling into the Gaza Strip’, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. … In Geneva, the international Red Cross said Gaza was in a ‘full-blown’ humanitarian crisis. Its head of operations, Pierre Kraehenbuehl, said the few remaining power supplies could collapse at any moment … ” The AP report can be read in full here
There have been over 630 Palestinian deaths over the past 11 days, and at least 3,000 wounded. “There are so many amputations”, one doctor said. “Israel must be using some new kind of weapon”.
Some 525 “projectiles” have been fired from Gaza onto nearby Israeli areas, during the same period.
Many Israelis in the communities bordering Israel have been suffering from constant fear and anxiety — and many have been treated for hysteria. Four have been killed in the last 11 days.
Palestinians in Gaza have also been terrorized.
Nobody knows really what is happening, except from IDF sources, IDF footage, IDF photos — and a bit of footage also from Gaza-based Ramattan News Agency. Even Israel television buys their footage…
The Foreign Press Association (FPA), very frustrated, send this statement out: “The FPA strongly protests the Israeli government’s decision to continue the ban on international journalists entering Gaza despite the Supreme Court ruling requiring it to allow access. The unprecedented denial of access to Gaza for the world’s media amounts to a severe violation of press freedom and puts the state of Israel in the company of a handful of regimes around the world which regularly keep journalists from doing their jobs. We call on the Israeli authorities to lift this ban immediately in line with the decision of their own country’s Supreme Court and the basic principles of democratic statehood”.
But, McClatchy bureau chief here, Dion Nissenbaum, reports on his Checkpoint: Jerusalem Blog that, as more and more journalists continue to arrive every day in hopes of getting into Gaza, the IDF seems to have hardened its position: ” ‘The ruling was issued not in the time of a full-blown military operation that is taking place now’, said Maj. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for Israel’s defense ministry”.
Dion also reported that, on Monday, “the first eight reporters selected in a surreal and secretive process by the local Foreign Press Association once again packed their bags today and camped out at the border crossing in hopes of getting in. They were supposed to go in last Friday, but Israeli officials at the time said they were too busy letting about 300 foreigners who live in Gaza get out before they launched the ground offensive. Today, Israel let in convoys from the UN and the Red Cross who passed into Gaza while the journalists cooled their heels and waited. Eventually, the Israelis said there were ‘security alerts’ and warnings of an attack on Erez, so they sent the reporters home”.
Ramattan has on its website a letter sent to Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which makes complaints about other mistreatment of the press, particularly the local Palestinian press in Gaza: “The Committee to Protect Journalists urgently demands an explanation for the bombing of Al-Aqsa TV headquarter in Gaza City by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on Sunday. We are also dismayed by the army’s decision to declare Gaza’s northern boundary with Israel and other parts of the territory ‘closed military zones’. This latest move, along with previously stated restrictions, prevents journalists from effectively reporting from the Gaza Strip. On December 27, Israeli authorities officially denied a request by Gaza-based Ramattan news agency to transport cameras and other equipment from Ramallah to Gaza in an effort to cover unfolding events in Gaza, according to the news agency’s Web site. Members of the news media must be allowed to report on the situation in Gaza while retaining the protections guaranteed by Security Council Resolution 1738, as well as other universally accepted instruments of international law….” This can be viewed on the Ramattan website here.
Haaretz’ Yaakov Katz reported on Sunday on the beginning of the ground invasion on Saturday — which was not reported, apparently by censorship rules, until almost 8:30p.m — that: “The explosions started to escalate at around 4 p.m. as the IDF let loose its artillery cannons along the Gaza border, with the aim of ‘softening’ open areas in the Strip that are believed to be filled with booby traps and land mines. At the same time, thousands of troops from a wide range of infantry, armored and engineering units began taking up positions along the border before the invasion … Meanwhile, all along the border, an electrical blackout was imposed on communities to hide the IDF preparations and deployment. At several points – near Erez, Kfar Aza, Nizmit and Kerem Shalom – large contingents of journalists gathered to see the gunfights in the Gaza Strip. Bullets could be seen flying in both directions as well as into the air, likely attempts by Hamas to shoot down IAF attack helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles”. Katz’s report is posted here.
Yet other journalistic sources reported that the IDF attacks began to grow in intensity around 6p.m. on Saturday night — two and a half hours before the first reports were allowed to be published.
One journalist — who did not have a press card, and who therefore would not have been asked to sign the obligatory form accepting IDF censorship — was reportedly arrested on Monday for having violated the censorship regulations by reporting too early that the ground invasion had begun. According to a report in Haaretz: “A reporter for Iranian television [n.b., it was not official Iranian television – Press TV says the report was working for Al-Alam] was arrested by Israeli authorities on Monday for a dispatch which broadcast news of the Israel Defense Forces’ entry into the Gaza Strip. The journalist is alleged to have violated military censorship laws which forbade the news media from releasing information during the initial stages of the ground incursion. The reporter, a resident of the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al Amud, was questioned by the police international investigations unit. He turned himself into authorities via his attorney”. This report can be read in full here.
Another story in Haaretz reported that “According to Danny Seaman, the director of the Israel Government Press Office, the reporter had been refused a press card for security reasons. The approach is stricter in general, Seaman explained, because ‘too many times we have spoken in too many voices. This time it’s clear that the system is unified and serious. That was also one of the Winograd Committee’s conclusions, but this time there won’t be censorship violations that won’t be dealt with’.” This Haaretz story also said that “Israel says it does not want the foreign press in Gaza due to concerns that something might happen to them that will hamper Israel’s operations. ” ‘What if one of these media stars gets hurt? Even if it isn’t Israel’s fault, it will be perceived as fundamental for the Palestinians’, an Israeli source said. That is apparently only part of the reason. Keeping the foreign journalists in Israel, sources say, is good for Israel’s image because the media is experiencing the war from the Israeli side. As soon as the IDF gets a hold in the Strip, it is expected that the IDF Spokesman will let Israeli and foreign journalists in with the army. For the time being, the only presence documenting events is the spokesman’s office”. This Haaretz report can be found here.
The Jerusalem Post reported that “GPO [n.b., the Israeli Government Press Office] head Danny Seaman said Monday that a crater caused by an Israeli shell on the Palestinian side of the road near the crossing was the reason the foreign press had not been let in Monday. ‘The eight aren’t going in today because of a technical problem on the Palestinian side – a crater caused by a shell overnight that disabled the road’, Seaman explained. He added that efforts would be made to repair the area so that reporters could go in on Tuesday. Lerner said he knew nothing about a crater in the road. Meanwhile, the FPA, which represents foreign journalists in Israel and the Palestinian territories, expressed growing exasperation Monday with the ongoing press ban, and suggested that Israel was mixing genuine security concerns and games. ‘We are waiting day by day, hour by hour’, said Glenys Sugarman, executive secretary of the FPA. ‘We just don’t know when we will get in’. Sugarman said that she had been told Monday that there was a suicide bomber on the Palestinian side of the border, which was why the border was quickly closed as a group of foreign nationals were leaving the Palestinian territory. ‘There are security issues, but there is playing around as well’, she said”. This JPost report can be found here .
The National, an English-language newspaper published in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., reported that “The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) regards the Israeli ban as a dangerous violation of press freedom that adds to ‘ignorance, uncertainty and fear’ in the region. ‘The Israeli ban on foreign news media from Gaza since Dec 27 raises concerns that there is a systematic attempt to prevent scrutiny of actions by the Israeli military’, said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. ‘The eyes of the world are on Gaza, but Israel is trying to censor the news by keeping the media at bay’. Human Rights Watch urged the Israeli government to abide by the Israeli high court ruling and allow foreign media into Gaza. The presence of journalists and human rights monitors in conflict areas provides an essential check on human rights abuses and laws-of-war violations, Human Rights Watch said”. This report is posted here .
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department Spokesperson, Sean McCormack, has told journalists that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is going to New York today to attend a UN Security Council meeting on Gaza: “There is a UN Security Council meeting, and this is previously scheduled. It was called by the chair [President] of the Security Council for this month, and that is France. I think Foreign Minister Kouchner expects to be there. So she will participate in that discussion. She will also have a series of meetings, bilateral as well as other configurations, that are intended to try to move forward on the pathway that we talked a little bit about yesterday – these three elements. And just to review, the three elements being an end to rocket fire coming out of Gaza, a – steps to address smuggling, as well as steps to open up the crossings going into Gaza using the 2005 Movement and Access Agreement, elements thereof perhaps, as a model or basis for opening up those access points and having those be secure as well … We would like an immediate ceasefire, absolutely, an immediate ceasefire that is durable and sustainable and non-time-limited. So you know, we can sort of go round and round with these – with the semantics. But of course, we – look, nobody wants to see violence. We would like to see the violence end today. But we also want to see it end in a way that is sustainable and durable, so that we aren’t – you know, you don’t have my successor up here three months, four months, six months from now, talking about the same thing … I fully understand the situation in Gaza. It is – the humanitarian situation there is dire, and we are working to try to address that in terms of getting goods in – into Gaza, as well as once they are into Gaza, to the people who need them. And we’re working with the Israelis as well as others on those questions … I would expect today that there would be a discussion, perhaps tomorrow there would be a follow-up session.”
Asked by a journalist if this was being viewed as a way to get the Palestinian Authority back [in contzrol] in Gaza, the spokesman replied: “No, it’s a side effect, perhaps, of having an agreement that’s consistent with the 2005 agreement, but it’s not the – that’s not the main objective. The main objective is to actually encourage legitimate trade across those borders in a secure fashion, so that on one side the Israelis can feel confident in the fact that those are secure crossing areas; and for the Palestinian people, they can actually engage in legitimate commerce and thereby improve in some form or fashion the situation on the ground”.
McCormack also said that “the schedule is still coming together at the moment, but I would expect that she [Secretary Rice] would meet with some of her Arab foreign minister counterparts. She will try to meet with [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas, who will be up in New York, as well as to have other side meetings”.