Funeral service for Vittorio Arrigoni in Gaza City today, burial to be in Italy

The Hamas Ministry of Interior in the Gaza Strip — which has arrested four people accused of involvement in the brutal death of Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni and which has published the photos of three more men who are wanted for the murder — has announced that the Rafah crossing from Gaza into Egypt will be open today for those wanting to travel … to perform the Umrah (or minor) pilgrimage in Mecca.

However, Vittorio Arrigoni’s body will be transported from the same Rafah crossing at 2pm today, after a funeral service at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City at 1pm. The body will then be flown from Egypt to Italy, where it will be buried in his family’s cemetary, according to reports on Twitter.

One Tweet, from @LilianeKhalil, adds this report: “Many of #Vittorio’s friends have arrived in #Gaza for the funeral, others expected to arrive in the morning. (Source: #Hamas)”…

Most of these friends will probably also arrive via Rafah (rather than via Israel’s Erez crossing)

There is considerable taunting today — by Twitter accounts clearly run by Israelis — of anyone Tweeting about Vittorio…

Here is a video now posted on Youtube, which has Vittorio’s favorite Palestinian song, Onadikum, as its soundtrack. It begins with doctors in Shifa Hospital preparing Vittorio’s death certificate…

And, here is a video made today before and during the funeral service in Gaza:

Untitled from Mohammed Al Majdalawi on Vimeo.

Anybody who's walked through Erez crossing already knows this

A report on CNN says that “A privacy group says the Transportation Security Administration is misleading the public with claims that full-body scanners at airports cannot store or send their graphic images. The TSA specified in 2008 documents that the machines must have image storage and sending abilities, the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) said.  In the documents, obtained by the privacy group and provided to CNN, the TSA specifies that the body scanners it purchases must have the ability to store and send images when in ‘test mode’. That requirement leaves open the possibility the machines — which can see beneath people’s clothing — can be abused by TSA insiders and hacked by outsiders, said EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg. EPIC, a public-interest group focused on privacy and civil rights, obtained the technical specifications and vendor contracts through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The written requirements also appear to contradict numerous assurances the TSA has given the public about the machines’ privacy protections”…

Even this picture is sanitized
CNN story on body scanners storing + transmitting images

Continue reading “Anybody who's walked through Erez crossing already knows this”

Breaking the Silence – new testimony from women soldiers

What has been revealed is not new, and it is not a surprise.  It is no longer a shock, but it is still sickening.

There are many who will, nonetheless, argue that this is distorted and not true — who will hurl accusations and denunciations, and try to damage those who collect this testimony as well as those who report it.

But, these are stories that have been told, and must be faced: the Israeli group of veteran members of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), Breaking the Silence has just published a new collection of testimony from women — soldiers, military policewomen, and female members of the Border Police — recounting what these women say is routine, habitual, “normal” and expected mistreatment of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and at the Erez crossing into the Gaza Strip.

According to an article published on the Israeli YNet website, the testimony shows that female soldiers are not more “sensitive” than their male counterparts.

To the contrary, and by their own testimony, the women have sometimes been quite remarkably cruel.

Breaking the Silence says, in an introduction to this new collection of testimonies, that its goal is “to stimulate public debate about the moral price that Israeli society as a whole has been paying in which young soldiers face a civilian population on an everyday basis and control its live” — in other words, about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

Breaking the Silence states that “In contrast to widely-held beliefs, the mosaic of testimonies that only continues to expand proves that we are not dealing with a fringe phenomenon that touches only the bad apples of the military, but a gradual erosion of ethics in the society as a whole … This is an urgent call to Israeli society and its leaders to wake up and evaluate anew the results of our actions“.

This 136-page report comes just as the Israeli Government reported to UNSG BAN Ki-Moon on the results of the Israeli military internal investigations (some of which are still continuing) into the conduct of its forces during a massive Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip just over a year ago.

Some testimony collected by Breaking the Silence about what happened during the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza was included in the Goldstone report, commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which presented nearly 600 pages of collected evidence, and called on both Israel and the Palestinians to conduct their own impartial and independent investigations into what happened.

Haaretz reported today that “In the report that Israel handed to the UN on Friday, it emphasized that its system of investigating alleged war crimes is comparable to the systems adopted by other democratic nations. ‘To date’, the Israeli report states, ‘the IDF has launched investigations into 150 separate incidents arising from the Gaza Operation. Of the 150 incidents, so far 36 have been referred for criminal investigation. Criminal investigators have taken statements from almost 100 Palestinian complainants and witnesses, along with approximately 500 IDF soldiers and commanders’.” This Haaretz report is published here.

[A few days ago, Haaretz reported that “Israel’s response to the UN is expected to include a progress report on the IDF’s
investigations into 140 incidents that occurred during Operation Cast Lead. Of these, 35 were investigated or are being investigated by the IDF’s Criminal Investigations Division. About 8 Gazans testified at the Erez checkpoint in connection to the incidents, with the
mediation of international humanitarian organizations. In the wake of the Goldstone report, which dealt with more than 30 incidents, the IDF initiated 11 CID investigations. Two of them turned out to be different reports of the same incident and were closed when the Military Advocate General’s Corp concluded that no crime was committed. The other nine cases are still being investigated”. That Haaretz report was published here.
]

Since publishing testimonies from soldiers who participated in the unprecedented Gaza military operation that lasted from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009, Breaking the Silence has been subjected to criticism because it operates, in part, on funding from foreign donors — the innuendo is that the funding comes from outsiders who have an anti-Israel agenda.

The Goldstone report itself has collected a significant number of reactions of outrage from writers and commentators around the world eager to defend Israel, and in support of statements from Israeli military commanders defending the IDF as the “most moral army in the world”.

Breaking the Silence states right up front that, indeed, the European Union and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation have sponsored this new collection of testimonies.

These testimonies are the first with a specific gender perspective, gathered from direct interviews with female soldiers.

Continue reading “Breaking the Silence – new testimony from women soldiers”

The Lancet discusses Palestinian health situation

Despite controversy over some errors of fact in a blog posting on The Lancet, a special report came out as anticipated today, and can be found through various links on this page here, where it will only be necessary to register in order to read the full articles.

Meanwhile, this is what it looks like to try to come out of Gaza via Erez crossing, as a sick child is being brought to the imposing Israeli terminal en route to medical treatment somewhere outside of Gaza. The whole time, soldiers with guns are watching every step … Let’s hope that at least the mother will be able to accompany the child — there have been times when Gazan children have had to go through all this entails, alone …

Palestinian child being brought to Erez crossing en route to medical treatment

The main articles are part of a special Series published by The Lancet called “Health Status and Health Services in the occupied Palestinian territory”, by Rita Giacaman of Bir Zeit University, Rana Khatib, Luay Shabaneh, et al. The lead article says that “… as the opening article in our Series on health in the occupied Palestinian territory shows, dimensions of suffering, especially at the community level, are measurable and often severe” Continue reading “The Lancet discusses Palestinian health situation”

"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…

Israel opens small field hospital inside Erez terminal

The Israeli government opened a small “emergency medical treatment center” on Sunday in the main building of the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza. A doctor working in the “field hospital” said that three patients had arrived from Gaza on Sunday. [UPDATE: There have also since reportedly been seven children who passed through the treatment center — most of them cancer patients wanting to resume their treatment in Israeli or Palestinian hospitals outside the Gaza Strip.]

Many people may not have known about the new “field hospital”, one of the medical personnel at the clinic said, and more are expected in the coming days.

Haaretz reported here that “Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog, who attended the clinic opening in the Erez crossing pedestrian zone, said the clinic would treat as many people as possible”.

The maximum capacity is 100 to 150 people a day.

It is actually set up more like a neighborhood clinic than a “field hospital” in the war zone that Gaza has become. The clinic does not appear to be prepared to mount a massive rescue operation of critically wounded patients. It will take a minimum of two to three hours — a minimum — to process a patient through, once they arrive at the clinic, which is set up in converted office space on the ground floor of the Erez terminal building. There is even a play area for small children.

UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post has written that “the clinic is a humanitarian gesture by Israel following the 22-day operation in Gaza”.

Patients would have to be pretty mobile just to get there, and they have to go through an Israeli security check — after passing through a Palestinian security control — before entering the terminal. There does not seem to be an operating room, although there is an emergency resuscitation room with life support machines which were used for one Gazan who had managed to walk in before having a heart attack in the terminal. Another woman was allowed to pass through to Israel to resume her cancer treatment at a Palestinian hospital in East Jerusalem. And a third patient was treated for sinusitis, before choosing to return to Gaza.

Access to the Erez terminal is now strictly controlled by the military at a point about a mile away on the Israeli side. From the Gazan side, it is a nearly two-kilometer walk on earth that is un-even because it is regularly dug up by IDF tank forays. It can be creepily empty at times, and it is occasionally shot at by both sides. Back-to-back ambulance transfers would be difficult, if they are even possible under the current security regulations.

Arriving at the large grey concrete terminal, two very large white banners are clearly visible, hanging over the line of glass doors. These banners, in three languages, prominently proclaim that here is the “The State of Israel REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER FOR THE PEOPLE OF GAZA” …

MDA photo of Erez medical center for Gazans

Meanwhile, international NGOs are complaining about their lack of access to Gaza (which now reportedly looks rather like downtown Grozny did after two Russian offensives), more than a day after the cease-fire went into effect. Cassandra Nelson of The Mercy Corps said “It’s a disgrace. There’s no transparency, no process — not even any single point person to contact. We’ve had to call all over, and we don’t know what is happening, or when we can get in”…
Continue reading “Israel opens small field hospital inside Erez terminal”

Day three: Israel presses attacks on Gaza

The death toll in Gaza rose to at least 307 persons on Monday morning, as Israeli presssed its air attacks on Gaza, and mobilized reserve troops and tank units.

UPDATE: Casualties rose in Gaza throughout the day Monday, and stood at 370 dead by nightfall, as severely wounded people succombed to their injuries, and as Israeli attacks continued. At least 1400 Gazans have been wounded.

A second Israeli death from Palestinian reprisal rocket attacks from Gaza was also reported Monday morning, when “projectiles” landed near a cultural center in downtown Ashkelon, a coastal city of some 120,000 people. It is the first death from Palestinian attack in Ashkelon, and it is apparently considered somewhat significant in Israel that the person killed by Palestinian fire in Ashkelon today was an Israeli Arab [i.e., therefore, in this context, Palestinian] construction worker. Later, Haaretz reported that the victim was a Bedouin.

UPDATE: Two more Israelis were killed by Palestinian shelling on Monday night — A woman was killed Monday evening in a Grad (or Katyusha) missile attack on Ashdod, a major coastal city with an important port installation north of Ashkelon. And someone was killed by a Qassem rocket attack on Nahal Oz — presumably the Kibbutz which is right next to the major fuel transfer point into Gaza.

A short while later, Kassam rockets landed in the smaller, and more interior, town of Sderot, with preliminary reports of injuries.

The IDF has now reportedly declared Israel’s “Gaza borderline communities”, around the perimeter of the Gaza Strip, a closed military zone. On Monday evening, rockets and missiles rained down on Israeli areas north and northeast of the Gaza strip.

The Associated Press reported that “Israel’s air force obliterated symbols of Hamas power on the third day of its overwhelming assault on Gaza on Monday … Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak told Israel’s parliament in a special session that Israel was not fighting the residents of Gaza ‘but we have a war to the bitter end against Hamas and its branches’. This AP report can be viewed in full here.

Israel’s Foreign Minister and Vice Prime Minister Tzipi Livni told the Knesset that “Since this past Saturday morning, Israel has been fighting the terrorist rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip in order to change the security situation in Israel”.

Reuters reported from London that “Oil prices rose above $40 a barrel on Monday, boosted by the weak dollar and violence between Israel and Hamas that served as a reminder of tensions that could threaten crude supplies from the Middle East”.

Israel has offered (without much explanation) to permit some of the people wounded in its IDF attacks to enter Israel for medical care in Israeli hospitals. It is not clear if any of the wounded have yet accepted this offer — but there are unconfirmed reports that a few small children, apparently unaccompanied and without even a change of clothing, have arrived from Gaza — or are about to arrive — at East Jerusalem’s Palestinian hospitals for urgent treatment. Others may be transferred to the West Bank.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas issued his strongest condemnation yet of the operation, according to the AP, calling it a “sweeping Israeli aggression against Gaza”. AP also reported what appears to be a major turnaround: Abbas also said he would consult with Hamas in an effort to end the attacks. Until now, Abbas has refused to talk to Hamas, following the ouster of Fatah security forces in Gaza in mid-June 2007 , and has insisted that Hamas must reverse the situation and restore the status quo ante, first. However, it might not be so significant: Ma’an News Agency reported merely that Abbas, at a meeting of the PLO executive committee, “urged all factions, including Hamas, to take part in consultations about Gaza”. On Sunday, Abbas reportedly said that Hamas could have prevented Israel’s assault had it only agreed to extend the cease-fire, and he urged it to do so now.

Earlier Monday, the IDF announced it is allowing the shipment of some 80 truckloads of humanitarian supplies [n.b. these are not donations from Israel] into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing where the borders of Israel, Gaza, and the Egyptian Sinai intersect.

The Erez crossing into Gaza remains closed, the Foreign Press Association advised its membership. The press group reported that its request, submitted on Sunday to Israel’s Supreme Court, for an interim order allowing immediate access to Gaza for foreign journalists “was refused on grounds of being granted the hearing on Wednesday morning, now set for 9.30 am”.

The IDF sent out a message on Monday morning, saying that “The Israeli Air Force attacked a number of Hamas targets during the night, including Hamas outposts, weapon manufacturing facilities and a center for weapon research and development. The center, located in the Rimel neighborhood of Gaza City, was targeted in a combined IDF and the ISA operation, [as] the IAF struck buildings that were used as meeting places for senior leaders of Hamas. One of the structures struck housed explosives laboratories that were an inseparable part of Hamas’ research and development program, as well as places that served as storage facilities for the organization. The development of these weapons took place under the auspices of senior lecturers who are activists in Hamas. Among the weapons that have been developed and manufactured at this site are Qassam rockets. Hamas has been working tirelessly to extend the range of the rockets, as has been shown during the past few days”.

This IDF announcement adds, tellingly, that “In February 2007 the Fatah Presidential Guard raided the facility and uncovered many weapons including approximately 100 Qassam rockets, 250 RPG launchers, hundreds of assault rifles, lathes, and materials used for rocket manufacturing”.

The Associated Press reported this morning that “Hamas leaders were forced into hiding, most of the dead were from the Hamas security forces, and Israel’s military intelligence chief said Hamas’ ability to fire rockets had been reduced by 50 percent. Indeed, Hamas rockets fire dropped off sharply, from more than 130 on Saturday to just over 20 on Sunday. Still, Hamas continues to command some 20,000 fighters. Israel’s intense bombings — some 300 air strikes since midday Saturday — wreaked unprecedented destruction in Gaza, reducing entire buildings to rubble. After nightfall, Israeli aircraft attacked a building in the Jebaliya refugee camp next to Gaza City, killing a 14-month-old baby, a man and two women, Gaza Health Ministry official Dr. Moaiya Hassanain said. In the southern town of Rafah, Palestinian residents said a toddler and his two teenage brothers were killed in an airstrike aimed at a Hamas commander. Israeli aircraft also bombed the Islamic University and government compound in Gaza City, centers of Hamas power, and the house next to the residence of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in a Gaza City refugee camp. Haniyeh, in hiding, was not home … Gaza’s nine hospitals were overwhelmed”.

This AP report added that “The [U.S.] White House was mum about the situation in Gaza on Sunday after speaking out expansively on Saturday, blaming Hamas for provoking Israel’s retaliatory strikes”.

Dore Gold, a former Israeli Ambassador to the UN (1997-99), is now President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He has just written an article attempting to refute criticism of the Israeli attacks on Gaza as being “disproportionate” — a violation of international law. Gold writes that “Israel is currently benefiting from a limited degree of understanding in international diplomatic and media circles for launching a major military operation against Hamas on December 27. Yet there are significant international voices that are prepared to argue that Israel is using disproportionate force in its struggle against Hamas … The charge that Israel uses disproportionate force keeps resurfacing whenever it has to defend its citizens from non-state terrorist organizations and the rocket attacks they perpetuate. From a purely legal perspective, Israel ‘s current military actions in Gaza are on solid ground. According to international law, Israel is not required to calibrate its use of force precisely according to the size and range of the weaponry used against it. (Israel is not expected to make Kassam rockets and lob them back into Gaza.) When international legal experts use the term ‘disproportionate use of force’, they have a very precise meaning in mind. As the President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague , Rosalyn Higgins, has noted, proportionality ‘cannot be in relation to any specific prior injury – it has to be in relation to the overall legitimate objective of ending the aggression’. (Her arguments were cited in ‘Responding to Hamas Attacks from Gaza – Issues of Proportionality Background Paper’, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, March 2008.)

Gold’s argument continues: “In other words, if a state, like Israel , is facing aggression, then proportionality addresses whether force was specifically used by Israel to bring an end to the armed attack against it. By implication, force becomes excessive if it is employed for another purpose, like causing unnecessary harm to civilians. The pivotal factor determining whether force is excessive is the intent of the military commander. In particular, one has to assess what was the commander’s intent regarding collateral civilian damage … What was critical from the standpoint of international law was that if the attempt had been made ‘to minimize civilian damage, then even a strike that causes large amounts of damage – but is directed at a target with very large military value – would be lawful’. Numbers matter less than the purpose of the use of force. Israel has argued that it is specifically targeting facilities serving the Hamas regime and its determined effort to continue its rocket assault on Israel : headquarters, training bases, weapons depots, command and control networks, and weapons-smuggling tunnels. This way Israel is respecting the international legal concept of proportionality. Alternatively, disproportionality would occur if the military sought to attack even if the value of a target selected was minimal in comparison with the enormous risk of civilian collateral damage. This point was made by Luis Moreno-Orampo, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, on February 9, 2006, in analyzing the Iraq War. He explained that international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court ‘permit belligerents to carry out proportionate attacks [emphasis added] against military objectives, even when it is known that some civilian deaths or injuries will occur’. The attack becomes a war crime when it is directed against civilians (which is precisely what Hamas does) or when ‘the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage’. In fact, Israeli legal experts right up the chain of command within the IDF make this calculation before all military operations of this sort.

Gold also wrote: “Moving beyond the question of international law, the charge that Israel is using a disproportionate amount of force in the Gaza Strip because of reports of Palestinian casualties has to be looked at critically. Israelis have often said among themselves over the last seven years that when a Hamas rocket makes a direct strike on a crowded school, killing many children, then Israel will finally act. This scenario raises the question of whether the doctrine of proportionality requires that Israel wait for this horror to occur, or whether Israel could act on the basis of the destructive capability of the arsenal Hamas already possesses, the hostile declarations of intent of its leaders, and its readiness to use its rocket forces already”.

Meanwhile, Israeli-American activist Jeff Halper, director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICADH), has also written on the massive and unprecedented Israeli attacks on Gaza that started Saturday — and on Israeli justification for those attacks — saying that “[T]he occupation, in which Israel controls Gaza under a violent siege that violates fundamental human rights and international law, is not even mentioned in Israel’s PR campaign. Speaking to the international community, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni insists that no country would tolerate its citizens being attacked, a seemingly reasonable statement were it not for Israeli sanctions on Gaza, supported by the US and Europe–sanctions that preceded the rocket fire on Israel–or the fact of the Israeli occupation, in general. Solely focusing on the rocket attacks conceals the political policy that led to them: ‘The Hamas government in Gaza must be toppled’, Livni has said repeatedly. ‘The means to do this must be military, economic and diplomatic’. The responsibility for the suffering both in Israel and Gaza rests squarely with successive Israeli governments; Labor, Likud and Kadima alike. Had there been a genuine political process (remember, the closure of Gaza began in 1989), Israelis and Palestinians could have been living together in peace and prosperity for 20 years. After all, already in 1988 the PLO accepted the two-state solution, in which a Palestinian state would arise on only 22 percent of historic Palestine, alongside the state of Israel on the other 78 percent. A truly generous offer. In Israel, however, the effort is to hide its preference for control over peace. Framing its attacks as a response to rockets from Gaza, exploiting an immediate trigger to effectively conceal deeper political intentions and policies, does that. It also conceals Israeli violations of the ceasefire. The fact that the rocket attacks could have been avoided altogether through a genuine political process means that the people of southern Israel are being held hostage by their government, as well. Their suffering, and the suffering of the people of Gaza and the rest of the occupied territories, must be placed squarely at the feet of the Israeli government”.

Halper also wrote: “We call on the Israeli government to end its aggression immediately and enter into genuine political negotiations with a united Palestinian leadership. We call on the international community to end its sanctions on Gaza immediately in accordance with international law, initiate an effective political process to end the Israeli occupation and bring about a just peace, which reflects the will of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples”.

Tom Segev — one of Israel’s most respected historians — wrote in Haaretz that “Israel is striking at the Palestinians to ‘teach them a lesson’. That is a basic assumption that has accompanied the Zionist enterprise since its inception: We are the representatives of progress and enlightenment, sophisticated rationality and morality, while the Arabs are a primitive, violent rabble, ignorant children who must be educated and taught wisdom – via, of course, the carrot-and-stick method, just as the drover does with his donkey. The bombing of Gaza is also supposed to ‘liquidate the Hamas regime’, in line with another assumption that has accompanied the Zionist movement since its inception: that it is possible to impose a ‘moderate’ leadership on the Palestinians, one that will abandon their national aspirations. As a corollary, Israel has also always believed that causing suffering to Palestinian civilians would make them rebel against their national leaders. This assumption has proven wrong over and over. All of Israel’s wars have been based on yet another assumption that has been with us from the start: that we are only defending ourselves. ‘Half a million Israelis are under fire’, screamed the banner headline of Sunday’s Yedioth Ahronoth – just as if the Gaza Strip had not been subjected to a lengthy siege that destroyed an entire generation’s chances of living lives worth living. It is admittedly impossible to live with daily missile fire, even if virtually no place in the world today enjoys a situation of zero terror. But Hamas is not a terrorist organization holding Gaza residents hostage: It is a religious nationalist movement, and a majority of Gaza residents believe in its path. One can certainly attack it, and with Knesset elections in the offing, this attack might even produce some kind of cease-fire. But there is another historical truth worth recalling in this context: Since the dawn of the Zionist presence in the Land of Israel, no military operation has ever advanced dialogue with the Palestinians”. Tom Segev’s article can be read in full in Haaretz here .

To prove the point, Haaretz reported in another story that the Palestinian chief negotiator Ahmed Qureia said to journalists at a press conference in Abu Dis that “There are no negotiations and there is no way there could be negotiations [with Israel] while there are attacks against us”.

Amira Hass reported in Haaretz that “At noon Sunday, the Israel Air Force bombed a compound belonging to Gaza’s National Security Service. It houses Gaza City’s main prison. Three prisoners were killed. Two were apparently Fatah members; the third was convicted of collaborating with Israel. Hamas had evacuated most of the Gaza Strip’s other prisons, but thought this jail would be safe. At 12 A.M. on Sunday, a phone call roused S. ‘I wasn’t sleeping anyway’, he said. ‘I picked up the receiver and heard a recorded announcement in Arabic: “This is to warn you that we will bomb the house of anyone who has arms or ammunition at home” ‘… S. saw the results of some of Saturday’s bombings when he visited a friend whose office is located near Gaza City’s police headquarters. One person killed in that attack was Hassan Abu Shnab, the eldest son of former senior Hamas official Ismail Abu Shnab. The elder Abu Shnab, whom Israel assassinated five years ago, was one of the first Hamas politicians to speak in favor of a two-state solution. Hassan worked as a clerk at the local university and played in the police band for fun. He was performing at a police graduation ceremony on Saturday when the bomb struck. ‘”Seventy policemen were killed there, not all Hamas members’, said S., who opposes Hamas. ‘And even those who supported Hamas were young men looking for a job, a salary. They wanted to live. And therefore, they died. Seventy in one blow. This assault is not against Hamas. It’s against all of us, the entire nation. And no Palestinian will consent to having his people and his homeland destroyed in this way’.” Amira Hass’ article can be read in full here .

Nir Rosen wrote in the Comment is Free section of The Guardian newspaper in London that “The democratically elected Hamas government was targeted for destruction from the day it won the elections in 2006. The world told the Palestinians that they cannot have democracy, as if the goal was to radicalise them further and as if that would not have a consequence. Israel claims it is targeting Hamas’s military forces. This is not true. It is targeting Palestinian police forces and killing them, including some such as the chief of police, Tawfiq Jaber, who was actually a former Fatah official who stayed on in his post after Hamas took control of Gaza. What will happen to a society with no security forces?” Nir Rosen’s article can be read in full here .

There was a colorful and vigorous standoff between two groups of students at rival demonstrations just outside the main gate to Jerusalem’s Hebrew University Mount Scopus Campus at mid-day on Monday. On the sidewalk next to the university was the pro-Israel-attack group of demonstrators, waving white and blue Israeli flags in the bright sunshine. They were shouting, chanting, beating drums and blowing whistles, trying to drown out the equally vigorous and noisy pro-Palestinian demonstrators on the opposite sidewalk, who waved a few green, red, black and white Palestinian flags. Most of the pro-Palestinian demonstrators were Israeli Arabs or Palestinians, but they were joined by some blond Israelis as well. They were shouting and chanting in both Arabic and Hebrew. Some of the pro-Palestinian group carried posters with hastily-attached color photos of scenes of the dead and wounded in Gaza, and one carried a poster with the words “Who wants another holocaust” scrawled in English in black marker, while other signs were written in Hebrew. Despite the animation and the energy being expended, there was no hostility. The two groups were separated by police and border police and special forces personnel, standing in the road, looking relaxed and somewhat bemused — despite the tensions in other areas of Jerusalem.

Students protest in Jerusalem  Photo: Ronen Medzizni - on YNet