The isolation + demonization of Gaza

Here are some young men surfing — in Gaza.

The photo is the 9th in a photo album on daily life in Gaza published by The Guardian newspaper here

From Guardian GazaLive blogging + tweeting on life in Gaza - photo by Rex Features

And here is another photo, the 15th and last,  in the same Guardian photo album:
From the Guardian -  man in cart drawn by donkey on Gaza's beachfront - photo by Rex Features

The Guardian writes in what newspapers used to call a “special package” but which is here called a “live blog” on a day in the life of Gaza that there are 1.7 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip — slightly higher than other estimates [some of which have showed a decrease in the population from the previous 1.5 million round figure to 1.4 million].

Continue reading The isolation + demonization of Gaza

Sari Bashi [Gisha] on Israeli military use of secret evidence

About ten days ago, Sari Bashi [Executive Director of the Israeli human rights organization GISHA, which was founded to advocate for Palestinian freedom of movement. wrote [in Hebrew] about one application of the Israeli military’s use of secret evidence against Palestinian detainees.

Bashi wrote that: “In the six years in which Gisha has been providing legal assistance to Palestinians, the High Court justices have yet to deliver a decision that goes against classified material presented by the Internal Security Agency (Shin Bet)“.

She added that “Experience shows that information about security risks can be based on [1] statements made by collaborators trying to please their handlers, and [2] people can be accused as security risks based on non-violent political activism, [3] a refusal to serve as a collaborator for the ISA [Israeli Security Agency], [4] a relative’s actions against the State of Israel, and [5] even because of the mere fact that a relative was injured or killed by the military, rendering the entire family suspect of wanting to seek revenge. And yes, it’s safe to assume that [6] in some cases the classified material does contain concrete evidence of violent actions.“.

One case taken on by GISHA illustrates how this secret evidence is used: a Palestinian man was arrested in 2010, but then, on the basis of secret evidence, was taken out of prison and sent by the military to Gaza — expelled, exiled, deported — an action that was upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court on the basis of secret evidence:

    You can’t sell Bakr Haffi’s case to the mainstream media, and you can’t win it in the Israeli High Court of Justice. The 38-year-old Palestinian man, a bee keeper by trade, has not seen his wife and two daughters for two years. It all began when he was arrested in his home in Tulkarem in the northern West Bank on suspicion of being a Hamas activist. After a month of interrogation that yielded no results, a military judge ordered his release. But instead of releasing him back to his home and family in Tulkarem, the military removed him to the Gaza Strip, which is listed as his place of residence in the Israeli-administered Palestinian population registry. Israel refuses to recognize relocation from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, even for people like Bakr, who moved to the West Bank back in 1999 and established a family there”.

So, it appears — and, can it be so? — that although an Israeli military judge in an Israeli military court in the West Bank ordered this man’s release, other military officers ordered the man to be taken to Gaza. In the current circumstances, this is a one-way ticket, with no possibility of return to the West Bank [although, under all the important agreements of the Oslo process, signed by Israel and the P.L.O. in the mid-1990s. the West Bank and Gaza were specifically said to constitute a single political unit … What happened to change that? Ariel Sharon’s unilateral “disengagement” which removed 8,000 Israeli settlers, and the military + security forces protecting them, from Gaza in September 2005…]

What is not entirely clear is whether the military judge knew what was about to happen, or maybe even ordered Bakr’s removal to Gaza as part of his ruling to release him from detention? Or, did another branch of the military take it upon itself to, in effect, make its own ruling on Bakr’s fate, regardless of what the military judge decided.

Continue reading Sari Bashi [Gisha] on Israeli military use of secret evidence

Gisha makes another challenge to Israeli descrimination against Gaza residents

With a perfectly straight face, and their usual air of polite and respectful seriousness, the pioneering Israeli human rights organization GISHA is now challenging the religious discrimination that is apparent in the non-issuance of Israeli permits — to Palestinian Muslims locked inside Gaza — to pray at the third-holiest site in Islam, Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of East Jerusalem.

GISHA has filed a case — on International Women’s Day — on behalf of seven Palestinian women in Gaza who have been unable to get Israeli permits to pray at Al-Aqsa.

Continue reading Gisha makes another challenge to Israeli descrimination against Gaza residents

Gaza civilians: exposed to arbitrary IDF warning fire [though IDF says it is not arbitrary]

The Jerusalem Post’s Larry Derfner reported in the weekend Magazine that he was told by a senior Israeli defense official that, so far in 2010, Israeli troops at Gaza border have killed 30 armed Palestinians + five civilians.

According to Derfner’s article, this Israeli official knows of no “mistaken” killing during the past 1.5 years in Gaza. Another Israeli Defense official said, however, that “none … were purely innocent bystanders”.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), however, has reported that “In most cases ‘warning shots’ are fired to force people out of the area, which results in no casualties… [but a] minority of cases have resulted in the death and injury of civilians”.

Derfner mentions the coverage of the killings of two of those five Gazan civilians: on September 12 [the third day of the post-Ramadan Muslim three-day Eid holiday], “an incident near the northern part of the Gaza Strip received more than the usual, meager level of attention: An unarmed 91-year-old Palestinian farm employee, Ibrahim Abu Said, his teenage grandson and another young man were killed by an IDF tank shell a few hundred meters from the border … The army acknowledged up front that the dead suspects had been unarmed, but the investigation exonerated the soldiers who fired the shell. ‘One of the young men had picked up an RPG [shoulder-fired missile launcher] from the ground. He might have been just playing with it, but the tank unit felt threatened. They thought it was being aimed at them, so they fired. Right before that, there had been mortars fired at our positions’, a senior defense official in the northern Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post this week”.

The Derfner article also says that another one among the five civilian — but no, still not mistaken, according to the IDF official — Palestinian deaths in Gaza this year was “a man who was carrying a slingshot at the head of group of protesters headed for the border fence. ‘We fired warning shots and he didn’t leave. Then the soldiers fired with the intent to injure, not kill. They hit him around the knee, and he didn’t get proper treatment over there, and he bled to death’, said the official, noting that the reason demonstrators are not allowed near the fence is that some, often youngsters, use the opportunity to plant explosives”.

No Palestinians were questioned in the IDF investigation, said the official” “the army has no direct contact with Gaza’s population except during brief military incursions, so the Palestinian side, as a rule, is not heard in army inquiries”.

Continue reading Gaza civilians: exposed to arbitrary IDF warning fire [though IDF says it is not arbitrary]

IDF Chief of Staff Ashkenazai also takes responsibility for Flotilla Fiasco

According to a report in Haaretz, the IDF Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi testified Wednesday, at the Turkel Commission investigating the “maritime incident” which occurred when Israeli forces boarded the Mavi Marmara and five other ships sailing toward Gaza in a “Freedom Flotilla” on 31 May, that “the raid quickly became ‘chaotic’, and the soldiers had no choice but to ‘continue with the plan’ … From the moment the operation began, it was clear that the circumstances were unprecedented’, he said, adding that as commander he took full responsibility for the troops’ actions”.

Ashkenazi is the third high-ranking Israeli official to take responsibility for the Flotilla fiasco.  Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak also said the responsibility was theirs.

Haaretz also reported that “despite initial reports that military personnel would not testify before the Turkel committee, Ashkenazi has authorized Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit to testify before the panel.  Ashkenazi also approved the questioning of General (Res.) Giora Eiland, who headed the IDF’s internal inquiry into the deadly raid”.  This is reported in Haaretz here.

Continue reading IDF Chief of Staff Ashkenazai also takes responsibility for Flotilla Fiasco

INVESTIGATION: Yezid Sayegh on the Hamas economy in Gaza

Later today, the Israeli Foreign Ministry is expected to publish a new list — of items forbidden to enter Gaza. This is the revamp of Israel’s sanctions policy that was announced in the wake of the 31 May Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla attempting to “break the siege on Gaza” by sea, which resulted in the deaths of 8 Turkish men and one American student.

But why is this list being announced by the Israeli Foreign Ministry?

Probably to emphasize, first of all, that Israel and Gaza are two different entities. Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, Israel has insisted since its unilateral withdrawal, in September 2005, of 8,000 Israeli settlers and the troops protecting them, that it is no longer occupying Gaza.

Since September 2007, following an Israeli Government decision to declare Gaza an “enemy entity” or “hostile territory”, the Israeli siege on Gaza has been administered by the Israeli Ministry of Defense — and in particular, its COGAT [Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories] department — without any other government supervision or oversight, than a warning by the Israeli Supreme Court, in response to a lawsuit brought by a group of Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups [with GISHA in the lead] not to allow a “humanitarian crisis” to develop.

Some international organizations believe that a this threshold has already been passed, several years ago.

And, there are continuous reports that this Israeli policy toward Gaza is not completely unappreciated by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, who also want to subdue if not topple Hamas and restore their control in the Gaza Strip. This commonality of interests supports the Israeli “siege”.

But, to the extent that a humanitarian crisis has not — yet — become a humanitarian disaster, resulting in a huge number of deaths among the 1.5 million people trapped by the siege in the Gaza Strip, is due, some argue, to the organization and coping strategies developed by Hamas.

It is worth noting that since the Israeli naval assault on the Freedom Flotilla, COGAT as reportedly been too busy to accept many scheduled deliveries of goods into Gaza, according to some reports in Ramallah — COGAT has been preoccupied with searching and inspecting the cargo of the Freedom Flotilla. Israel promised to deliver what was not forbidden to Gaza — and the entry of this material is only taking place now. This concerns a reported 70 truckloads worth of items, including electric wheelchairs.

COGAT in the past week has managed a steady increase in the number of truckloads it is allowing to pass through to Gaza per day — it is now hovering around, or even surpassing 150 truckloads per day [this should be compared, however, to the pre-2007 levels of between 400 and 600 truckloads a day, for 1.4 million people].

Yezid Sayegh, Professor of Middle East Studies in the Department of Wars Studies at King’s College London who is currently on leave to Brandeis University [his bio also says he is a former adviser and negotiator in the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks with Israel – but doesn’t say which ones] wrote an analysis of “Hamas Rule in Gaza -Three Years On”, published in March 2010, that says:

“Gaza has developed a unique economy based on a combination of three main inputs: smuggling (through the tunnels dug under the border with Egypt at Rafah); monthly subventions worth $65 million from the Fayyad government to pay its employees and operate Gaza’s power plant; and the services and salaries provided by international NGOs and, especially, UNRWA.

“These inputs relieve the Hanieh government of a considerable burden, much as a considerably greater scale of foreign aid relieves the Fayyad government. At $540 million, the Hanieh government’s declared budget for 2010 is a fraction of the $2.78 billion budget of its West Bank counterpart; but with only 32,000 employees to the latter’s 145,000, its costs are far lower. Even so, the Hanieh government is believed to collect no more than $5 million a month in local revenue, or even less, if its own informal figures are to be believed. It has avoided taxing the tunnel trade in civilian goods entering from Egypt, with the result that commodity prices have dropped since the start of 2010. The bulk of government income derives instead from foreign sources: contributions from the Muslim Brotherhood International (Hamas’s mother organization), collections from zakat committees, and a portion of the assistance believed to reach the Hamas leadership in Damascus from Iran”…

Continue reading INVESTIGATION: Yezid Sayegh on the Hamas economy in Gaza

Israel will not loosen naval blockade of Gaza

As we reported earlier, Israel will maintain its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip even as it accedes to international demands to ease the military-administered sanctions it imposes on the coastal territory.

Israel’s security cabinet met on Sunday, as did the full cabinet. A decision was taken to allow into Gaza (via land crossings only) all materials which are not weapons or “materials used to make weapons” (this could be a very broad list, including sugar).

But boats will not be allowed to travel directly to Gaza.

Continue reading Israel will not loosen naval blockade of Gaza

Investigation: the Challenger, Israeli military sanctions

In a telephone interview from Ireland, Shane Dillon, First Mate of the Challengera U.S.-flagged ship that was one of six in the Freedom Flotilla sailing together when they intercepted by the Israeli Navy before dawn on Monday 30 May— said that the six ships were steaming ahead, slowly, at approximately 7.5 knots per hour when the Israeli naval raid at sea began. There were other ships in the area at the time, Dillon confirmed, but because there was no radar on board the Challenger, he had no idea of how many. They continued to sail, though followed by Israeli naval vessels, for about 15 to 20 minutes (during which time there were several radio exchanges).

Dillon said that the Captain of the Challenger was asleep (!) at the time that he saw the Israeli Navy prepare to board the largest ship in the Freedom Flotilla group, the Mavi Marmara (chartered by the Turkish humanitarian relief organization IHH).

[The Australian newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), published an interesting information in an account earlier this week that “Challenger One’s first mate, Shane Dillon, saw (SMH staff photographer, Kate) Geraghty being attacked and Israeli forces ripping equipment from McGeough. ‘She was just doing her journalistic duties … She advised them she was a bona fide photographer … She was just attacked’, Mr Dillon told the Herald from Dublin. He said Challenger One had attempted to outrun the Israeli boats to give Geraghty a chance to send her images. ”We were 15 minutes from the flotilla before they could board us’, he said”. This was published here.]

Questioned in the phone interview today, Dillon said that at the moment when he saw the Israeli naval forces preparing to board the Mavi Marmara, he made the decision to break away and make a run for it, as he described to the SMH. “I sounded the whistle — the Captain of the Challenger was asleep (!) at the time. We speeded up to about 22 knots”, Dillon said. The Challenger travelled for about 15 minutes or so, he said, flanked all the while by one Israeli naval vessel. Dillon explained that he only stopped at the point where a much bigger Israeli naval vessel suddenly materialized, and shined a very bright light on the Challenger. He said he was not aware of any other of the six ships travelling together in the Freedom Flotilla doing the same.

Meanwhile, there are reports that the Israeli Ministry of Defense has begun to loosen some of the restrictions it has imposed on goods entering the Gaza Strip.

And, after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington on Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama told journalists that “We – and I think President Abbas agrees with this – recognize that Israel should not have missiles flying out of Gaza into its territories. And so there should be a means by which we are able to stop the flow of arms that could endanger Israel’s security … At the same time, we’re doing so in a way that allows the people in Gaza to live out their aspirations and their dreams both for themselves and their children…we’ve already begun some hardheaded discussions with the Israelis in achieving that.” This was reported here.

Continue reading Investigation: the Challenger, Israeli military sanctions

Gaza – continued, still

The Israeli human rights organization GISHA sent around an email Tuesday stating that “In response to the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s statement that those seeking to send humanitarian assistance to Gaza by ship should transfer the goods via Israel ‘in accordance with procedure’: Gisha notes that despite a Freedom of Information Act petition pending in the Tel Aviv District Court, Israel refuses to reveal even the simplest procedures regarding how to transfer goods into Gaza, including which goods are permitted or banned. Since 2007, Israel has restricted the entrance of civilian goods into Gaza, as part of a policy of collective punishment … For more information about Israel ‘s policy restricting goods into Gaza and Gisha’s Freedom of Information Act petition, see: here.

The GISHA statement was responding to an article published in Haaretz on Monday, written by Jack Khoury + Barak Ravid, reported on Monday that “The director of European affairs for the Foreign Ministry, Naor Gilon, met separately with envoys from Turkey, Greece, Ireland and Sweden to convey the message that any of their citizens intending to set sail for Gaza would be stopped before they could reach the coastal territory. Describing such mission as provocative and in violation of Israeli law, Gilon told the diplomats: ‘Israel has not intention of allowing these sailboats in Gaza’. The Foreign Ministry message essentially entails that anybody who tries to sail to Gaza with aid, or who tries to transfer goods into the Hamas-ruled territory, must do so in accordance with procedure. The diplomats promised to pass the message along to the appropriate sources, said the Foreign Ministry, with some even offering to help prevent their citizens from attempting the mission”. This is published here.

UPDATE: The Irish Times has published a bit more information on this meeting in an article authored by Israeli journalist Mark Weiss, who says that “IRELAND’S AMBASSADOR to Israel has urged the Israeli authorities to take every precaution to ensure the safety of Irish citizens travelling aboard aid boats heading for Gaza. The plea from ambassador Briefne O’Reilly came during a meeting at the foreign ministry in Jerusalem on Monday where he was informed by the ministry’s director of European affairs, Naor Gilon, that Irish peace activists, together with other European participants in the ‘freedom flotilla’, will be turned back by Israeli naval patrols before they reach the shores of Gaza. ‘We are closely monitoring the situation and urge restraint on all sides’, Mr O’Reilly said. ‘We need to avoid escalation or confrontation to ensure a peaceful outcome which will enable the safe delivery of these humanitarian supplies’ … …Mr Gilon condemned the latest attempt to bypass Israel’s blockade on Gaza as ‘a provocation and a breach of Israeli law’. Activists aboard the [Irish-registered] 1,200-ton cargo ship Rachel Corrie, named after an American who was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer in Gaza in 2003, have vowed to defy the Israeli blockade.” This can be read in full here.

Some eight other ships are about to set sail from Greece and Turkey, and all plan to rendez-vous somewhere in the Mediterranean before proceeding towards Gaza.

Continue reading Gaza – continued, still

Israeli military now allows 81 items into Gaza Strip — for 1.5 million people

According to the new list, Israel’s military now allows 81 items into the Gaza Strip. Israel addressing the needs of 1.5 million Palestinians who are trapped in the small coastal strip.

This is up, somewhat, from the list of 10 or so categories of essential items that Israeli allowed to enter Gaza in November 2007, as we reported at the time here: According to an AP report from Gaza today, “Israel allows in 10 basic items — cooking oil, salt, rice, sugar, wheat, dairy products, frozen vegetables, frozen meat, medical equipment and medicine”..

The BBC reported that it obtained the latest list, together with several other documents the Israeli military recently submitted to court.

The new list is posted here.

What’s new, in April (this has been previously reported elsewhere, but not quite so starkly) is that wood (“for doorposts and window frames”), aluminum, and kitchenware, are now being allowed back inSoi.

What was added in March was: tahini (sesame paste), combs + brushes, clothes + shoes.

Mineral water was permitted in February 2010.

Since an Israeli government decision on 19 September 2007 (three months after a Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security forces), the Israeli military has been administering — without any supervision — a blockade affecting 1.5 million human beings in the Gaza Strip.

After ruling against court challenges by a group of Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups led by the Tel Aviv-based organization, GISHA, the Israeli Supreme Court permitted the restrictions on condition that the Israeli military not allow a “humanitarian crisis” to develop.

GISHA went back to court in January to try to get more information about the military-administered sanctions.

Since its unilateral “disengagement” in 2005, the Israeli government maintains that it is no longer occupying Gaza — but many international organizations, international law experts, and other countries disagree.

The BBC reported that “Israel has never published a list of banned items, saying it approves requests on a case-by-case basis. Items allowed have changed over time, which has left humanitarian organisations and commercial importers constantly attempting to guess what will be approved … In one document, Israel describes the import curbs as ‘a central pillar … in the armed conflict with Hamas’. It also confirms estimates were made of how many calories Gazans need, but says these were not used for policy-making … The Israeli authorities also confirm the existence of four documents related to how the blockade works: how they process requests for imports into Gaza, how they monitor the shortages within Gaza, their approved list of what is allowed in, and a document entitled ‘Food Consumption in the Gaza Strip – Red Lines’ which sets out the minimum calorie intake needed by Gaza’s million and a half inhabitants, according to their age and sex. This paper was however, the state insists, just a draft power-point presentation, used for ‘internal planning work’, which ‘never served as a basis for the policy of the authority’. But while the first three documents promise a great deal of detail, that detail is not delivered. In each case, the state argues that disclosure of what is allowed in and why would, in their words, ‘damage national security and harm foreign relations’. It offers, instead, to reveal the contents of the documents to the court in a private session with the judge”. This report can be read in full here.

As Juan Cole reminds us, on his Informed Comment blog, here, half of the population of Gaza are children. and almost half of the adult population is unemployed.

He also linked to the most recent Operational Update, published on 29 April, from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which reported that “In Gaza, the blockade imposed nearly three years ago continued to severely hinder transfers into the Strip of essential medical equipment, thus putting at risk the immediate treatment and long-term health of thousands of patients … The run-down state of medical equipment in Gaza makes it very difficult to provide adequate care. Because of the blockade imposed on the Strip, broken or damaged machines or tools can seldom be replaced or repaired … Meanwhile, a lack of coordination between the health ministries in Ramallah and Gaza, coupled with complex and lengthy Israeli procedures for transferring goods into Gaza, severely limited the supply of medicine and disposables such as colostomy bags. Stocks of 110 essential drugs and supplies have been exhausted and can no longer be found in Gaza hospitals. In its regular deliveries of supplies to the hospitals, the ICRC has endeavoured to meet the most urgent needs, for example by providing skin disinfectant and fluorescent dye used in ophthalmologic examination … Moreover, reserves of industrial fuel continued to dry up, resulting in electricity being available only 60 per cent of the time. Power cuts were unpredictable and frequent, and jeopardized the proper functioning of hospitals. All of these factors contributed to a worrisome pattern of declining health-care services. ‘It is the sick and the wounded who are paying the price of restrictions imposed on medical spare parts. It is also they who are suffering from patchy cooperation between the ministries of health in Ramallah and Gaza’, said Pierre Wettach, the ICRC’s head of delegation in Israel and the occupied territories. ‘We call on all parties to assume their responsibilities and act quickly to ease the transfer of drugs, disposables and medical spare parts needed for medical treatment’.” This ICRC Operational Update is pubished here.

The ICRC also noted, in its update, that it has still not been allowed to visit Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured in a cross-border raid in June 2006, and reportedly held in Gaza since then — nor has the ICRC been able to arrange ofr an exchange of messages between Shalit and his family. “The ICRC has again lodged a request at the highest level of Hamas for the exchange of Red Cross messages to be allowed between captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and his family, who have not had direct contact with him since he was captured in June 2006. Both this request and requests to visit Mr Shalit have been repeatedly turned down”.

After Israel’s major military operation in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead (27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009), government and military leaders said that the crossings into Gaza would not be opened, and the blockade against would be maintained, until Gilad Shalit was safely returned home from Gaza.