Guest Post: There are people who are hurting in Gaza

British humanitarian health workers
barred entry into Gaza

By Peter Smith and Catherine Thick

Although passage to and from Gaza via Israel’s crossing points is severely restricted by the Israeli military, until now we have been fortunate to be granted entry permits. But, our recent request for entry has been refused – without explanation — despite the Israeli general claim that restrictions are easing.

As osteopaths and acupuncturists we have volunteered in Gaza and the West Bank over the last five years, treating those with limited access to health care. We have made eight trips to Palestine since 2008 , and worked three times in Nablus before concentrating more on Gaza. Our motivation is neither political nor religious, but rather simply to help relieve suffering.

We are, however, strongly opposed to the inhumane treatment of the people of Gaza, and concerned at media under-reporting of the lives of the Palestinian people.

This leaves room for virtually-unanswered parodies about the high life lived by some of Gaza’s rich and privileged – a life which the international media sees and even shares during their visits to the Gaza Strip. These parodies have been devised and promoted by Israeli government officials whose responsibilities include dealing with the media. Pro-Israeli organizations working to influence the media have also produced similar pointed commentaries.

But, the existence of this apparent paradox does not in any way negate the reality facing many of Gaza’s 1.6 million Palestinian residents who are poor and suffering and struggling.

Waiting once at the Erez crossing, we spoke to a foreign journalist who explained that Israel banned all its journalists from working in Gaza after Israel’s “disengagement” in 2005.

While Israelis are now barred from personally witnessing what is going on in Gaza, the vast majority of Palestinians in Gaza, meanwhile, have no way to move in or out of Gaza, from which Israel carried out its unilateral “disengagement” of some 8,000 Israeli settlers and the Israeli forces protecting them in September 2005. The “protection” the Israeli forces offered in Gaza, however, was only for the Israelis; the Palestinian population living under Israel’s military occupation suffered from severe clamp-downs on their own internal movement, and the military firing that constituted much of that “protection”.

We witnessed life in Gaza under the sanctions imposed in mid-2007 by the Israeli government and administered by the Israeli military, when Hamas took control in Gaza after its rout of Fatah/Palestinian security services. There have been recurring hostilities ever since, including two large-scale Israeli military operations against Gaza.

The sanctions include denying millions of Palestinians the right to travel to and from Gaza, and are still in effect, although they were “adjusted” after the international outcry following Israel’s May 2010 interception of the Freedom Flotilla and boarding of the large Turkish passenger ship, the Mavi Marmara, during which 9 Turkish men were killed.

These sanctions, however, are collective punishment – which is forbidden under international law.

On one visit, we walked through the Israeli crossing at Erez and out through a long cage in “no-man’s land” inside Gaza, and were waiting for a car to take us to the Hamas border control, when a bomb exploded uncomfortably close. An old man sitting on the ground looked up at us and said “bad”. That pretty much sums up life for many, as we saw it, who are now locked inside Gaza.

During our work in Gaza, we treated a 65 year old man with very painful advanced osteoarthritis of the knees. He was a qualified accountant but could not get a job in his profession and works as a builder’s labourer for 12 hours every day which exacerbated his pain. He was desperate for relief so that he could continue working to support his family. “Those of us who are fortunate to have a job often have to support an extended family which puts us under great pressure”. he said. “Hourly wages are very low so we have to work long hours. We Palestinians are hard-working but we cannot use our skills. We used to manufacture and export furniture to many countries.” But now, he said gloomily, “We can do nothing.”

Another patient drove a truck, delivering and collecting goods at the commercial crossing[s]. “The catastrophe in Gaza is not an earthquake or a flood, it’s man-made,” he said. Shutdowns were frequent and truck drivers are angry about the exorbitant prices exacted by the export companies and Hamas. “They operate like a mafia,” he shouted, “Israel, Egypt, and our government, everybody, are all restricting movement at the crossing and the people of Gaza are paying the price.”

Continue reading “Guest Post: There are people who are hurting in Gaza”

Photo of the Year international – First Place General News – "Last Kiss"

Picture of the Year - First Place General News - Last Kiss - Gaza 18 Nov 2012
Last Kiss - First Place - Photo of the Year international - General News

This is a gorgeous and moving photo.  The composition, the color, the gesture, the hands — gorgeous, and immensely emotional.  It was taken in Gaza, during the IDF’s Operation Pillar of Defense or Pillar of Clouds last November.

“Last Kiss” won First Place in the General News Category of the Photo of the Year International [POYi] contest.

Its caption reads: “A Palestinian man kisses the hand of a dead relative in the morgue of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012”

The photo was taken by Spanish photographer Bernat Arnangue, of Associated Press, currently based in the Middle East covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Last Kiss” was announced as the First Place winning photo in the General News category today, and it’s published here.

H/T to journalist Ana Cardenes, currently based in Jerusalem, who Tweeted the announcement of the winning photo:
@AnaCardenesPicture Of the Year. General News. First Place @BernatArmangue´s Last Kiss. #Gaza #POY pic.twitter.com/ohvE6CJJ

Winning photographs in all categories judged during the first session are posted on the POYi Web site at www.poyi.org.

The POYi website days that “Photographs are posted without credits until judging is complete. This is to protect the anonymity of entrants across all categories because many images are entered in multiple categories. Once judging has concluded and POY has verified all winning entries, final results will be announced”. Judging judging of all categories will be concluded on 27 February. The Photo of the Year International contest [POYi] is a program of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (www.rjionline.org) at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Reflections on the Gaza war [Operation Pillar of Clouds]: Giora Eiland says Gaza is a de facto independent state, so its "national infrastructure" could have been hit harder [to deter Hamas]

This man’s remarks deserve a separate entry all to themselves.

Giora Eiland, a retired Major-General in the Israeli Defense Forces, and former head of Israel’s National Security Council, has written a piece published by YNet, here, in which he attempts to justify attacks on what he called “national infrastructure targets” – in Gaza, in this case.

Eiland — apparently trying to amend longstanding principles of international war — wrote that that national infrastructure targets should be considered more military than civilian targets. “Such targets, which include government buildings, fuel caches, communication centers, bridges and the power system, are legitimate in the event of a military conflict between two countries, and this was the exact situation between us and Hamas”.

Eiland’s new argument depends on seeing Gaza as a state. As he wrote today, “Israel is not fighting terror organizations but a state. Gaza became a de facto independent state in as early as 2007, and that’s a good thing. Israel is always better off facing a political entity which serves as a clear address, both for deterrence purposes and for an agreement, than a situation in which the government is formally in the hands of one body but the ability to use fire is in the hands of others”.

By this line of argument, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority is not a “clear address”, as the IDF rules the West Bank.

Eiland continues: “Because Gaza is a state which initiated ongoing rocket fire on Israel, in a military conflict the right thing to do is to hit all the targets serving the rival regime and allowing it to continue controlling and conducting a war against us“.

Therefore, Eiland writes, “The operation can and should be expanded against the state of Gaza, yet not necessarily through a ground offensive but by causing much greater damage to the infrastructure there”.

“Had there been an ongoing shortage of water and fuel in Gaza, had the power system been seriously damage, had the landline communication system gone out of order, had the roads connecting the different parts of the Strip been
destroyed, and had the government buildings and police stations been destructed, we could have estimated with greater confidence that deterrence had been achieved. This is an important lesson ahead of the next war, and as important in regards to Lebanon. If we conduct the ‘Third Lebanon War’ exclusively against Hezbollah’s military targets, we may lose it”.

Eiland’s argument ignores the Israeli Supreme Court ruling in late January 2008 saying that because Israel has a “historical responsibility” for Gaza, the Israeli military must ensure that it does not cause a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. [The Supreme Court, however, did not define “humanitarian crisis”…]

There it is: the reason to attack “national infrastructure” is to ensure winning a war. The justification is created separately, by merely inventing a new category in which targets, it will be argued, are not civilian [but maybe “dual-use? A lot of mileage can be gotten by trotting out a “dual use” justification.]

Eiland writes: “Hamas is the establishment in the state of Gaza … [and] we missed an opportunity to extensively damage Hamas’ ruling abilities, guaranteeing even greater deterrence, which was the main goal of the operation”.

Reflections on the Gaza war [Operation Pillar of Clouds]: Sara Roy [Boston.com] + Rashid Khalidi [NPR]+ Eyal Weizmann [LRB] + a JPost editorial

Sara Roy, a economist who’s done extensive work on Gaza over years, now senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, wrote an article entitled “Where’s our humanity for Gaza”, which is published here on Boston.com. In it, she reports that:

“The Gaza Strip is now in its 46th year of occupation, 22nd year of closure, and sixth year of intensified closure. The resulting normalization of the occupation assumes a dangerous form in the Gaza Strip, whose status as an occupied territory has ceased to matter in the West; the attention has shifted — after Hamas’s 2006 electoral victory and 2007 takeover of the territory — to Gaza’s containment and punishment, rendering illegitimate any notion of human rights or freedom for Palestinians. The Israeli government has referred to its siege policy as a form of ‘economic warfare’ … which was achieved through an Israeli-imposed blockade that ended all normal trade”.

Continue reading “Reflections on the Gaza war [Operation Pillar of Clouds]: Sara Roy [Boston.com] + Rashid Khalidi [NPR]+ Eyal Weizmann [LRB] + a JPost editorial”

Reflections on the Gaza war [Operation Pillar of Clouds]: Adam Shatz [in LRB] + Daniel Levy [The Daily Beast]

Adam Shatz has just written an article entitled “Why Israel didn’t win” in the current issue of the London Review of Books, in which he says:
“The ceasefire agreed by Israel and Hamas in Cairo after eight days of fighting is merely a pause in the Israel-Palestine conflict. It promises to ease movement at all border crossings with the Gaza Strip, but will not lift the blockade. It requires Israel to end its assault on the Strip, and Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets at southern Israel, but it leaves Gaza as miserable as ever … The fighting will erupt again, because Hamas will come under continued pressure from its members and from other militant factions, and because Israel has never needed much pretext to go to war” … This is posted here.

Daniel Levy [Senior Fellow and the Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation — and the real drafter for Yossi Beilin + the Israeli team of the Geneva Initiative] wrote in an article titled “Seven Takeaways from the Gaza Ceasefire”, published in The Daily Beast:
“At times, operation Pillar of Defence and the lessons being taken from its conclusion sounded like déjà-vu all over again: featuring an Israel that addresses political problems with military solutions and that wastes whatever quiet is achieved by refusing to take diplomatic initiatives…the Netanyahu-Lieberman axis does have its own thinking on the Palestinian question, and…Israeli politics has significantly shifted. [Netanyahu + Lieberman] have no interest in pursuing a solution that would seem decent or realistic to any neutral observer. They are not two-staters in any recognizable way”. Daniel Levy’s analysis is posted here and here.

Continue reading “Reflections on the Gaza war [Operation Pillar of Clouds]: Adam Shatz [in LRB] + Daniel Levy [The Daily Beast]”

Reflections on the Gaza war [Operation Pillar of Clouds]: B'Tselem

B’Tselem [summary executions are categorically prohibited]: “International law categorically prohibits the extrajudicial killing of civilians – regardless of the allegations against them”.  This is written in a statement concerning the public killing of 7  men during the IDF’s Operation Pillar of Clouds who were accused of being “collaborators” with Israel.  Some senior Hamas officials, including deputy politburo chief, Mousa Abu Marzook, condemned these executions. [See here.] It is not clear whose idea these executions were. This B’Tselem statement is posted here.

B’Tselem [media sites are not legitimate military targets]: “international humanitarian law is very clear on the subject: Neither reporters nor any other civilians may be intentionally targeted, and every feasible precaution must be taken to protect them from the impact of hostilities. Additionally, the media – including those belonging directly to the parties to the conflict – are not legitimate military targets, even if they are used to disseminate propaganda. Where there exists any doubt as to whether or not a target is military or civilian – that target is to be presumed to be civilian … In a statement issued by the IDF Spokesman immediately following the first attack, on the a-Shuruk Building, the Israeli military stated that the attack had been directed at ‘antennas used by Hamas for military operations against the State of Israel in the northern Gaza Strip’. In a later statement, the IDF Spokesman clarified that both attacks were directed against the communications infrastructure of Hamas, which it claims Hamas uses to communicate operational instructions and disseminate propaganda …

Continue reading “Reflections on the Gaza war [Operation Pillar of Clouds]: B'Tselem”

"Gaza is the Palestinian state" – UPDATED

UPDATE:  It seems that the premise of this post — that Ismail Haniyeh expressed support for the UNGA move planned by PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas — may [or may not] be wrong.  A Hamas spokesperson [though not Haniyeh himself] reportedly denied that Haniyeh said this.  [AFP reported later that “Last week, Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement denied a report by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA that Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya had expressed support for the UN bid in a phone call with Abbas”. The AFP account is posted on the Al-Ahram website here.] This post was amended. But, even later reports suggest that our original reporting was correct. Hamas will at the very least not oppose the move [and may actually even support it]…
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Of all the surprises that emerged from the IDF’s Operation Pillar of Clouds, one of the most significant is the pair of statements — after the cease-fire agreement — by the two top Hamas political leaders indicating their support for a Palestinian state.

Hamas was supposed to have done this before [several times], but then swiveled.

Now, just after the cease-fire, Khaled Meshal, long-time head of Hamas political bureau, said Wednesday night in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour: “I support a Palestinian state in 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital + the right to return”.  This was posted at here.  This interview can also be viewed here.

Amanpour was part of the caravan of top media stars who had flocked to Israel and to Gaza, with their entourage of producers and camera persons and assistants, during Operation Pillar of Clouds.

She had been reporting in Israel. Then, suddenly, she Tweeted on Monday that she was heading to Cairo to do the interview with Meshal.

On Friday 16 November, she Tweeted this: @camanpour — “In Israel. Reporting on growing fears of an all-out war: http://abcn.ws/U35bg7”

Then, on Tuesday 20 November she Tweeted @camanpour — “En route to Cairo for an EXCLUSIVE interview with Hamas’ political leader Khaled Mashal”.

On Wednesday 21 November, she sent out these Tweets:

@camanpour — “I’m in Cairo – just finished an EXCLUSIVE interview with Hamas’ political leader: http://on.cnn.com/XC7ESH”

@camanpour — “Khaled Meshaal says Hamas thought there was actually a deal last night, but Israel refused some points”

The cease-fire was announced late on Wednesday 21 November, in a joint media appearance in Cairo by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr, It was confirmed by a press appearance in Jerusalem by Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, flanked by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Then, by a press conference in Cairo by Hamas’ Khaled Meshal, on an adrenalin high, and Islamic Jihad’s Ramadan Shallah.

In Amanpour’s interview, aired shortly after that, Meshal spoke in the first person: “I support a Palestinian state in 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital + the right to return”.

But, what did that mean? Was Meshal indicating that this was just his personal position?

The next day, Haniyeh appeared to repeat what Meshal said.  Haniyeh and Meshal are the two top political leaders of Hamas.

However, Haniyeh noted that he would like to see a Palestinian state on “all Palestinian land”.

[In both of his statements, Haniyeh also added another condition: the freedom of the Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails.]

With these statements, Haniyeh and Meshaal seem to have dispelled concerns that they might be working for a separate state in Gaza.

More than that — Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank now appear to agree on pursuit of state recognition within the UN.

In a day-after, post-cease-fire press conference in Gaza on Thursday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh seemed to say he supported Abbas’ move to get acknowledgement and acceptance of Palestinian statehood within the 1967 borders and with Jerusalem as its capital — with the right of return.

A Hamas official later reportedly denied that Haniyeh said this.

But, even later, Hamas officials were indicating that Hamas will, at least, not publicly disagree with the Abbas move.

FURTHER UPDATE: On Monday 26 November, after the confusion described above, Ma’an News Agency posted a story saying that “Hamas chief-in-exile Khalid Mashaal telephoned President Abbas on Monday to confirm the Islamist movements’ support for the upcoming UN bid, the official news agency Wafa reported”. This is posted here. The Wafa story is posted here.

UPDATE: The New York Times reported Saturday, here, that “[Ahmed] Yousef, a former Haniya adviser who now runs a research organization…said Hamas, which has opposed the United Nations bid almost as vociferously as Israel, would no longer speak against it. Asked about his vision for a Palestinian state, Mr. Yousef’s contours echoed those of Mr. Abbas: 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital”. The NYTimes described Yousef as “an analyst close to the Hamas leaders”.

UPDATE: Daoud Kuttab wrote on the Huffington Post site here that “Mohammed Ramahi, a Hamas legislator and spokesman for the group’s parliamentary faction, has told Al Jazeera that Hamas will support the UN initiative”.

UPDATE: AFP reported that in a Ramallah rally organized to support the UNGA move, “Abbas said the attempt to secure upgraded status was backed by many UN member states and by all the Palestinian political factions…Abbas reportedly told those assembled: “Today, the UN. After that, reconciliation, and after that, our own state”.

UPDATE: Ma’an News Agency reported that “President Mahmoud Abbas met Saturday evening with Hamas figures in the West Bank at his Ramallah office, according to sources present at the meeting. The meeting discussed Abbas’ bid for upgraded UN membership, due for a vote on Thursday, as well as reconciliation between Hamas and his Fatah party, attendees said. Nasser al-Shaer, a former government minister and Hamas deputy, said after the meeting that he supported the UN bid.” This is posted here.

UPDATE: Adam Shatz has just written in the London Review of Books that “If Israel were truly interested in achieving a peaceful settlement on the basis of the 1967 borders – parameters which Hamas has accepted – it might have tried to strengthen Abbas by ending settlement activity, and by supporting, or at least not opposing, his bid for non-member observer status for Palestine at the UN. Instead it has done its utmost to sabotage his UN initiative (with the robust collaboration of the Obama administration), threatening to build more settlements if he persists”.

UPDATE: Daniel Levy [Senior Fellow and the Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation — and the real drafter for the Israeli team of the Geneva Initiative] this week wrote that Hamas has helped develop and push forward the promotion of a real Palestinian state with state status in the UN: “the idea of any future peace arrangements including a Palestinian agreement to demilitarization just became more remote … Fatah and the PLO cannot be dismissed in Palestinian politics, but their longstanding approach of currying American favor, in the hope of delivering Israel absent the creation of Palestinian leverage and assets, has run its course. They appear to have missed the boat in leading a popular campaign of unarmed struggle and the PA’s security cooperation with Israel looks distinctly unseemly in the eyes of many Palestinians…And a likely U.N. General Assembly vote on Palestine observer state status has in all likelihood been reduced to a sideshow … This past week demonstrated that Europeans not only lack a coherent policy to the Palestinians; they are also missing such a policy vis-à-vis Israel … If the Palestine vote takes place at the UNGA, Europe should vote in favor not because of some mathematical computation of strengthening one Palestinians faction at the expense of the other, but rather because it is the right thing to do if Europe is committed to a two-state outcome. Europe might also be useful in utilizing some of the leverage it has with Israel as an outrider to an America still boxed in by its own politics…Russia and China will have enjoyed embarrassing the Americans and some Europeans this week at the UN Security Council over the Palestine issue [Gaza] by siding with Arab parties. It’s something they are likely to indulge again next week if the Palestinians go for a UN vote”. Daniel Levy’s analysis is posted here and here.

Continue reading “"Gaza is the Palestinian state" – UPDATED”

After cease-fire in Gaza, IDF says it arrests senior Hamas + Islamic Jihad people in the West Bank

After last night’s cease-fire in Gaza, the IDF says it has now arrested — “in cooperation with the ISA [Israel Security Agency], Israel Police and the Israel Border Police” — some 55 people said to be affiliated Hamas + Islamic Jihad, from the north to the south of the West Bank.

According to the IDF announcement, they include “a number of senior level operatives” — but the IDF published no names.

The official IDF explanation is: it will “to restore calm”.  In the past eight days, there has been unrest and protest demonstrations around the West Bank against the IDF Operation Pillar of Clouds against Gaza, and at least 62 protesters against Operation Pillar of Clouds were detained by the IDF during the operation in Gaza.

However, almost none of these protests are organized by Hamas or Islamic Jihad, who take a quite low-key profile in the West Bank. Nor is it Hamas or Islamic Jihad who send young men out to throw stones whenever they see jeeps of Israeli soldiers in the West Bank.

Hamas officials have regularly been arrested ever since their electoral victory in 2006 Legislative Council elections. Islamic Jihad activities were “prohibited” in the occupied Palestinian territory by a decree of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on 6 October 2010.

Until last night, most of the West Bank unrest has been due to protests led by a combination of the popular committees and the younger anti-Oslo Accords, anti-PA, anti-Abbas protesters who came together last year in support of Egypt’s Tahrir Square revolution. One of their main platforms is the call for a revival of, and world-wide Palestinian elections to, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Palestine National Council [PNC]. .

Hamas is not yet a member of the PLO, despite an agreement in Cairo in 2005 that this would happen.

What prevented Hamas’ joining the PLO was a tough position by Fateh “unity” negotiators against Hamas getting an allocated percentage of seats in the PNC proportional to the more-than-60% seats it won in the local Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006 elections. The Fateh negotiators were firm that Hamas did not deserve more than 20-25% of the seats in the PNC, which the Fateh negotiators insisted was the true strength of Hamas.

Those who were arrested this week, until last night, were the younger more secular crowd.

Addameer, a prisoners support group based in Ramallah, Tweeted this: @Addameer_ps – There has been a spike in arrests across the West Bank since the Occupation attacked #Gaza last week.

Continue reading “After cease-fire in Gaza, IDF says it arrests senior Hamas + Islamic Jihad people in the West Bank”

Day 8 of Operation Pillar of Clouds – no cease-fire

Those who thought there might really be a cease-fire yesterday have been disappointed. There is no cease-fire.

There is a lot of diplomatic pressure, but it does not seem very effective.

The sudden announcement yesterday that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Clinton arrived in Israel around 21:00, and went in the dark of night to see Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. The two made a brief pre-set formalistic press appearance, and then went into a meeting.

In her public statements, Clinton first spoke of America’s “rock solid and enduring” support for Israel’s security.

A full transcript of her remarks and of PM Netanyahu’s, with a video, is posted on the State Department website here.

Clinton will have a second meeting with Netanyahu [together with his inner cabinet?] this morning, according to information just Tweeted by Haaretz journalist Barak Ravid, after a brief “consultation” with Palestinian President Abbas in the Ramallah Muqata’a.  [Proving that an escorted convoy can make it between Ramallah + Jerusalem quickly — but still not in 15 minutes, as Netanyahu recently claimed.]

@BarakRavid: SecState Clinton will meet at 11:00 am for 2nd time w Israeli PM Netanyahu, FM Lieberman & MoD Barak b4 leaving to Egypt

The Obama Administration’s first huge crisis — even before actually taking office — was the last huge Israeli military operation against Gaza, Operation Cast Lead [27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009], which ended at the insistence of Obama’s people literally hours before his inauguration ceremony. A day after being sworn in, Barack Obama’s first international phone call as President was to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He appointed Senator George Mitchell as envoy, and gave the impression that he would deal with this problem strongly and seriously. Israeli settlements were identified as the major obstacle to a political solution, and Mitchell had written an earlier report that pointed to the settlement problem. But Israel under Netanyahu, whose party won national elections in February 2009, dug in its heels. Every trick in the book was pulled out, and settlements were expanded and entrenched. The U.S. caved in and gave up. Mitchell eventually was removed as Special Envoy.

As Palestinian negotiators have said, Israeli negotiators only wanted to talk about security. So, the Obama administration changed its tactics and adopted a new strategy: from early 2010, the focus has been on reassuring Israel. The idea seemed to be that if Israel’s security needs were given “rock solid” guarantees, then Israel would be relaxed and reassured enough to negotiate more…seriously.

In the Spring of 2010, the Obama team reinforced what has been American policy for decades, but announced it in a big way: unqualified support for a “Qualitative Military Edge” [QME] for Israel, which we have written about previously on this blog.

Obama announced an increase in military spending for Israel — $30 billion dollars over the next ten years. On top of that, the U.S. gave additional money to allow Israel to develop the Iron Dome missile defense program. Just this week, Israel deployed a fifth and upgraded Iron Dome battery to protect Tel Aviv, which had never been attacked by fire from Gaza before — and was previously out of range, and Israeli officials have indicated they need a total of 13 portable Iron Dome units [at a reported cost of some $50 million dollars each] to feel sure about protecting their country.

The Iron Dome battery is not effective in short distance ranges, for the Israeli communities in the Gaza perimeter, nor for long distances, but it is portable.

So far, Israel has reportedly fired nearly 400 Iron Dome missile interceptors [which reportedly cost some $40,000 each].

The Iron Dome system has been effective in the current Operation Pillar of Clouds — but even a few failures are costly and frightening. Yesterday afternoon, a 6-floor apartment building in Rishon letZion, not far from Tel Aviv, was badly damaged by a direct hit. At least one person was injured, but no deaths. Also yesterday, a second round of long-range [M-75s, Hamas calls them] missiles was fired towards Jerusalem, where there is no Iron Dome protection. It is unclear what the intended target, but in any case it fell near the Palestinian town of Beit Ummar in the southern West Bank, landing in an open area.

That is the policy the U.S. is still backing and pursuing. In the current Israeli military operation, President Obama and every other official in the Administration who has spoken out has backed Israel’s right to defend itself. The U.S. reportedly announced a few days ago that it was sending another $300 million dollars for Iron Dome defense.

So it is in this context, as Reuters reported, Clinton spoke yesterday upon arrival — and both Netanyahu and Clinton referred to the Iron Dome system.

Reuters reported overnight that Clinton “repeated international calls for the kind of lasting, negotiated, comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian settlement that has eluded the two peoples for decades – something neither of the two warring parties seems seriously to be anticipating. ‘In the days ahead, the United States will work with our partners here in Israel and across the region toward an outcome that bolsters security for the people of Israel, improves conditions for the people of Gaza and moves toward a comprehensive peace for all people of the region’, Clinton said. ‘It is essential to de-escalate the situation in Gaza. The rocket attacks from terrorist organisations inside Gaza on Israeli cities and towns must end and a broader calm restored. The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike’.”   This report is posted
http://en-maktoob.news.yahoo.com/wrapup-1-gaza-shakes-israelis-killed-clinton-seeks-000924434.html

Netanyahu, who earlier lectured UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon [who had urged “restraint”] on the his view of the security situation, apparently said less with Clinton: “If there is a possibility of achieving a long-term solution to this problem with diplomatic means, we prefer that. But if not, I’m sure you understand that Israel will have to take whatever action is necessary to defend its people”.

But, the rigid — “rock-solid” — U.S. support for Israel’s security and for its defense against missile threat is juxtaposed against Israel’s targetted killings, which it used to start Operation Pillar of Cloud, and which it continued yesterday. Israel has justified killing journalists working for Al-Aqsa TV and for targetting media offices where Hamas officials were being interviewed.

This strategy runs counter to most interpretations of international humanitarian law. But Israel — and the U.S., in its post 9/11 policies and “war on terrorism” by any name — have put themselves outside of this consensus. They appear unmoved by the reaction. Whatever outcry there is against this is limited and reported in only part of the media.

Those European countries who have not covertly participated in these operations have chosen to look away. European leaders this week have used the same expressions as Obama officials, speaking only in support of Israel’s right to defend itself.

In this context, Clinton is at this hour about to descend with her entourage on the Muqata’a Presidential compound in Ramallah, to meet with the beleagured and sidelined Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas — more to pressure him against pursuing his planned “UN move” in the General Assembly to seek an upgrade in the status of Palestine to [observer non-member] State [because, what does Abbas have to do with a cease-fire???]
https://pbs.twimg.com/media/A8NUxT4CMAEpqBu.jpg:large - Photo by  Tweeted by @WessamH [Wessam Hammad]

Photo of Clinton arriving at Ramallah Muqata’a + being greeted by Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat

PhotoTweeted by @WissamH [Wessam Hammad]

UNSG BAN Ki-Moon, who is more sympathetic to the “UNGA move”, will visit Abbas a couple of hours later.

Then, the diplomatic scene will move to Cairo, where Egypt is charged with finding an end to Hamas rocket and missile firing…

Day 7 of IDF Operation Pillar of Clouds [a/k/a Defense Pillar]

Day 7 opened with reports from international journalists in Gaza saying it had been an unusually quiet night — but the IDF reporting some 180 overnight strikes.  The rocket fire from Gaza resumed just before the start of the business day.

UNSG Ban Ki Moon was in Egypt, and had already made a press statement from Cairo saying it would be a bad idea for Israeli to move to a ground operation inside Gaza, before a delegation of Arab Foreign Ministers headed by Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Araby headed to Rafah to go to Gaza on another solidarity visit.

European Foreign Ministers and Quartet Envoy were doing the rounds in the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem-Ramallah circuit.

A surprise announcement this morning said that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was diverted to head to the region from Thailand today, and should arrive in Israel by the afternoon or evening to strengthen efforts to conclude a cease-fire.

Then, by  mid-day the  cease-fire [vs escalation by ground invasion] roller-coaster ride picked up weight + speed.  Via Twitter:

@CNNInternatDesk – BREAKING NEWS: Israel Security Cabinet decided to put temporary hold on possible ground offensive into Gaza

RAGreeneCNN ?@RAGreeneCNN – Israel to HOLD OFF on ground offensive “for a limited time for a diplomatic solution,” Israel govt official tells CNN’s @camanpour

Earlier, veteran French TV [2] correspondent Charles Enderlin ?@Charles1045 – Avant de faire des concessions majeures au Hamas en échange d’un cessez le feu Bibi veut la preuve que le Hamas contrôle Gaza  [My translation:  Before making major concessions to Hamas in exchange for a cease-fire, Bibi wants proof that Hamas controls Gaza { !!! }]

Enderlin’s next Tweet said: je n’arrive pas a croire que Benjamin Netanyahu va conclure un accord avec des terroristes 🙂
[My translation: I Ican’t believe that Benjamin Netanyahu is going to make an agreement with terrorists : )…]

Then just after 13:hh, a Tweet from the BBC’s Lyse Doucet [@bbclysedoucet] – Mohammed Deif Head of Hamas Military wing will give “important announcement” on #Hamas TV shortly #Gaza #Israelah

But, the BBC’s Paul Danahar then Tweeted: @pdanahar – Head of the Hamas military wing Mohamed Deif in #Gaza says nothing about ceasefire he just encouraging people to keep fighting

@pdanahar – Head of the Hamas military wing Mohamed Deif in #Gaza says their fighters should be ready for a ground war with #Israel

And then from @bbclysedoucet – Deif Head #Hamas Military wing says #Israel ground invasion best way to get Pal prisoners released – by capturing Israel soldiers

Just after 14:00 air raid sirens sounded in Jerusalem. There is no Iron-Dome battery in Jerusalem. An explosion was heard. The missiles [reportedly, two] apparently hit an area of open ground. The AlQassam Brigades said they were M-75 missiles with a 75-km range. It was later reported [via Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency] that the missiles hit in a Palestinian area near Surif, Beit Ummar, in the southern West Bank.

Not long afterwards, the IDF reported they made a direct hit on a motorcycle, killing the riders who the IDF identified as the crew which fired the missiles towards Jerusalem.

After that, leaflets were dropped in certain areas of Gaza, instructing residents to leave their homes and move towards the center of Gaza City.  That should make it very crowded…

This could be an indication of an imminent ground invasion. Or, it could be a Psy-Ops operation intended to push truce negotiations forward.Leaflets dropped by the IDF in Gaza Tuesday afternoon instructing residents to move towards specified areas in the center

A translation, posted here, offered by Yousef Munayyer of the Palestine Center says:

Military Communique  

To the residents of Sheikh Ajleen, Tal Al-hawa, Al-Rimal janoob, Al Zaytoon neighborhood, Shija’eya, Al Turkman, and New Shija’eya,

The IDF is not targeting any of you and does not want to harm you or your family. For your safety, we demand you to evacuate your homes immediately and move toward the center of the city via one of the following paths: Al Qahira, Jami’at Al Dool Al Rabya, Al-Aqsa, Alqadsyah, Om El Laymon, Salah Eldeen, Almansoorah, Khalas and Baghdad. The designated area in the city of Gaza is limited to west of Salah-a-deen Road, north of Omar Al Mokhtar Road, east of AlNassir Road and south of al-Quds road. This is a temporary confrontation and in the end every person will return to his home . Obeying these IDF instructions will keep civilian residents like you from harm’s way

The leadership of the Israeli Defense Force

An alternate translation can be found here.

Yousef Munayyer notes that the area delineated is “the most densely populated area of the Gaza Strip in and around Gaza city. This is one of the most densely populated places on earth. According to UN OCHA, the population density in this area is close to 7,000 persons/SqKm. Hundreds of thousands of people are being told to immediately leave their houses”…

His post offers a larger map, published here, showing exactly the area defined. He explains: “The red area represents the neighborhoods which must evacuate immediately into the area in the blue square”.

People in the center of Gaza are advised to go be squeezed together inside an even tighter and smaller area — for how long?

Tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of terrified people, crowded overnight into a central area — without shelter, sanitation, food and water?

The Arab League delegation of Foreign Ministers did go in and out of Gaza today, rolling in impressive SUVs on some surprisingly clear streets with security guards standing in the doors of the cars as the convoy whizzed passed.  Ismail Haniyeh gave the group a brief lecture, then they went to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, where Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu showed some emotion.

AlQassam Brigades said the Turkish FM was “sharing the #Palestinian people pain and sorrow”, and Tweeted a photo of one of the moments: @AlqassamBrigade – pic.twitter.com/JHMh4PEI

Turkish FM Ahmet Davuto?lu at Gaza City's main Shifa Hospital - 20 Nov 2012

Then, two journalists working for Al-Aqsa TV [Mahmoud Al-Komi and Husam Salama ] were killed in a targetted strike moments after the Arab League delegation’s convoy left, burning to death in their struck car, which was clearly marked “PRESS”.  A third journalist was targetted a short while later, elsewhere in Gaza.   Ma’an News Agency later reported here that Palestinian press freedom group Mada “condemned the strike as a ‘heinous crime … (and) a flagrant breach of the international conventions that protect journalists’.”, and demanded an international investigation.

Six men accused of being “collaborators” — identifying targets for Israeli strikes — were pulled out of a van that pulled up on a downtown street and shot in front of surprised onlookers.  Despite the ongoing air attacks, the crowd grew when the executioners said that the men were collaborators.  One report later said Hamas was investigating.  Reuters reported that “Hamas executed six Palestinians accused of spying for Israel, who a security source quoted by Hamas Aqsa radio said had been ‘caught red-handed’ with ‘filming equipment to take footage of positions’.  The radio said they had been shot. Militants on a motorcycle dragged the body of one of the men through the streets”. This report is published here

The Gaza Mall, which also houses the offices of AFP, was targeted later.

The only explanation is this Tweet put out by the IDF: @IDFSpokesperson – Targeted in #Gaza over evening: bank used to finance Hamas operatives, command & control center, Hamas hideout & operatives’ meeting place

According to a later report on Reuters, here, “Israel’s military said it had been targeting a Hamas intelligence centre in the tower”.

The Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ] issued a statement saying that Israel “must immediately halt airstrikes targeting news offices”, apparently referring to the strikes over the past several days.  The CPJ statement is published here.

CPJ later issued a second statement, which focused a bit more on the targetted killing of the three Palestinian journalists working for Al-Aqsa TV + Radio.

“We’re alarmed by the mounting toll on journalists in Gaza,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Israeli airstrikes continue to put journalists in harm’s way. This reflects the risks journalists face while reporting on conflict, especially in such a densely populated area.” A third journalist was killed when his car was hit by a missile this evening, The Associated Press reported citing a Gaza official. Initial local news reports identified the journalist as Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of the private Al-Quds Educational Radio. The reports said his vehicle was hit while he was driving in the Deir al-Balah neighborhood, but did not say whether Abu Aisha was reporting at the time. CPJ continues to investigate the circumstances of his death. This is posted here

This morning, it was reported that 111 Palestinians had been killed since the start of Pillars of Clouds.  By 16:30, the death toll in Gaza had increased to 121… and counting. Just after 22:00, Arwa Damon of CNN posted this Tweet:

@arwaCNN – #gaza casualty toll in last 7 days – 130 dead, more than 1020 injured

The Haaretz Live Blog reported here at 10:40 P.M. “IDF: Since beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense, 1,500 targets were hit in the Gaza Strip, 133 on Tuesday. Iron Dome intercepted 389 rockets since operations’ onset, including 51 on Tuesday”…