Written by: Sherine Tadros
Date published: 29th May 2011
Source: Al Jazeera English
The image of Palestinians crossing Rafah on Saturday was heart warming. Not only did it signal the release of Gazans from their mental and physical prison, but also Egyptians from a moral responsibility they have evaded for four years.
Israel’s response has been much like a disappointed parent – shaking its head at Egyptian officials and warning of what’s to come from their foolishness.
Israel is worried. Not so much about the opening of Rafah but because in so doing Egypt did what they promised they wouldn’t and Israel feared they would – they went back on a previous agreement. For years, Israel handled former president Hosni Mubarak, now it has to handle 80 million Egyptians.
The Gaza end game
Since the start of the siege, analysts have written about Israel’s strategy in Gaza – pushing it towards Egypt in hope of washing its hands of the territory. The West Bank is useful, symbolic, resourceful, key for the settlers and Israel’s security. Gaza is a pain Israel can do without.
So for the past four years, Israel has been increasing its buffer zone area on the border (for “security reasons”) effectively squeezing Gaza. That has meant that the most fertile land in the Strip has been taken away; instead Gazans were pushed southwards. Israel systematically deprived Gaza of electricity, which made the Strip’s residents have to increasingly rely on Egypt as a power source.
As the siege tightened, Egypt was forced into the position of either helping Gaza or being complicit in the siege. At first it did a little of both, turning a blind eye to the hundreds of tunnels being built underground connecting the Strip to Egypt while keeping the Rafah crossing closed.
The result of tunnel trade is the creation of an Egyptian economy in the Strip. Egyptian cigarettes, coke, detergent, fridges – all smuggled in…even the Egyptian pound is used in some places in southern Gaza.
Gaza has been turning lock stock and barrel into an extension of Egypt.
The Israelis didn’t mind. Egypt did. There is no economic or strategic benefit to annexing Gaza right now.
Opening Rafah may end up completing a process that has been taking place for years. Egypt is right to open its gates to Gazans, but this does not absolve Israel of its legal responsibility towards the people they are occupying.
A window has been opened to the outside world, but the door is still locked and only Israel holds the key.
Date published: 25th May 2011
Source: Al Jazeera Online
Egyptian state news agency quotes military sources as saying the border with Gaza will be opened starting from Saturday.
There have been several attempts, some successful, to break the blockade on the Gaza Strip [GALLO/GETTY]
Egypt will permanently open its Rafah border crossing starting from Saturday, the country’s official news agency reported, easing a four-year blockade on the Gaza Strip.
The news agency MENA said on Wednesday that Egypt’s new military rulers set the date for the opening of the crossing as part of efforts “to end the status of the Palestinian division and achieve national reconciliation”.
It said the Rafah border crossing would be opened permanently starting on Saturday from 9am to 9pm every day except Fridays and holidays.
“Sources in national security told Al Jazeera that the military intended to open up the border,” our correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from the capital, Cairo, said.
“A senior member of Hamas visiting Egypt has also confirmed that they have been notified that military will open the border,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston, reporting from Gaza, said, “It comes with no surprise, people of Gaza and Egypt have been waiting for the news for the last few weeks.”
However, it will not be a full opening as there will be some conditions on exit.
“It will allow basically all women to leave Gaza, also children under the age of 18 years will be allowed to leave as well as men over the age of 40 years. However, those between the age of 18 and 40 years will require Egyptian visa,” she said.
“Visa would have to come from Ramallah. Sources in Hamas say, they have been told by the Egyptian authorities over the last few weeks that they [Egyptians] do intend to open some sort of representative office inside Gaza so that people can get the visa from there.”
Sharp departure from past
The decision is a sharp departure from the policies of former president Hosni Mubarak, who had restricted the movement of people and goods through the Egyptian-Gaza border.
Our Cairo correspondent said that “mechanisms in place at the border are going to be very important to watch”.
“In fact, one of the military’s first and important announcements was to abide by all international agreements that the previous government had committed to,” he said.
“One of those agreements that have been previously made had to deal with the opening of the border in Gaza, particularly that the Rafah border had to be under the supervision of European monitors. Our sources indeed tell us that European monitors have not been notified that the border will be opening on Saturday.”
Concerns for Israelis
Certainly this is going to cause some concerns for Israel particularly Europeans as to what mechanism is going to be put in place,” our correspondent said.
Sources at Rafah say that it is unlikely all the mechanisms needed to be put in place can actually arrive and assume the kind of flow that is suspected to come out, he said.
“One of the biggest problems for Gazans besides a shortage of food and supplies has been the psychological impact of not allowing 1.5m people to move freely. There’s no doubt if the border is opened freely for all, there’s going to be a massive influx of Palestinians who would want to get out for the first time since the seize was put in place.”
A year ago Israel significantly eased its restrictions on cargo entering Gaza, but it still severely limits entry and exit of Gazans through its northern crossing into Israel.
Gazans have circumvented the blockade by operating hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the 15km Gaza-Egypt border.
The tunnels have been used to bring in all manner of products, as well as people.
Israel charges Hamas has used the tunnels to import weapons, including rockets that can reach main population centres in Israel’s centre.
The crossing has been mostly closed, in line with an Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip, since 2007 when Hamas took control of the coastal territory.
Date published: 19th May 2011
Source: Al Jazeera Online
On the issue of Palestine, Obama said: “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognised borders are established for both states.
“The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
“As for security, every state has the right to self-defence, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat.”
Reacting to the address shortly afterwards, Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said a Palestinian state should not be established at the “expense of Israeli existence”. He appreciated the US president’s address but rejected any withdrawal tp “indefensible” 1967 borders.
Al Jazeera’s Nisreen El-Shamayleh, reporting from Jerusalem, said: “In different parts of his speech Obama shifted from a view closer to the Israeli approach to negotiations and at other times closer to the Palestinian approach.
“He supported the Palestinian’s idea of territorial contingency – meaning that the Israelis would have to withdraw from some of the settlement blocks in order for the Palestinian state to be viable and enjoy that contingency.
“He also talked about settlement construction had to stop. That is obviously another thing the Palestinians would like to hear from Obama.
“Obama more importantly talked about the status quo and how it was unsustainable. That is bad news for [Binyamin] Netanyahu [the Israeli prime minister].
“On the other hand, Obama supported other approaches of the Israelis that they share in common.
“In that Jerusalem will be discussed later … refugees will be discussed later … the Palestinian state has to be demilitarized … Israel must enjoy security.”
Obama’s speech came a day ahead of a visit to Washington by Netanyahu.
On Thursday, the Israeli interior ministry requested and received the approval of Netanyahu’s office ahead of his US visit to begin holding hearings on an additional 1,550 housing units in the settlements of Har Homa and Pisgat Ze’ev, both located beyond the 1967 borders.
Obama must take “concrete steps” not issue “slogans,” the Palestinian Hamas movement said on Thursday following the president’s speech.
“What Obama needs to do is not to add slogans but to take concrete steps to protect the rights of the Palestinian people and the Arab nation,” said Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman.
During his address to the US state department on Thursday, Obama said Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, must either lead his country through a democratic transition or “get out of the way”.
Obama said Syria’s brutal crackdown on pro-reform activists was unacceptable.
He said Assad could no longer rule through repression and must change course if he wants international acceptance.
More than 850 people are believed to have been killed in two months of unrest in Syria.
Obama’s speech came a day after he imposed sanctions on Assad and six other officials for human rights abuses during the crackdown.
The president said two leaders in the region had stepped down and that more may follow. The president also said the future of the US was bound to the region.
Turning to Bahrain and Yemen, Obama said: “We must acknowledge that our friends in the region have not all reacted to the demands for change consistent with the principles that I have outlined today.
“That is true in Yemen, where President [Ali Abdullah] Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power. And that is true, today, in Bahrain.
“We have insisted publically and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and will not make legitimate calls for reform go away.
“The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.
“The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.”
The president also said that Iran had “tried to take advantage of the turmoil there”.
Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Cairo, said the speech basically translated to “democracy good, repression bad”.
“He slapped a few American allies, saying if people want change you can’t stand in the way,” Fisher said.
Addressing the death of Osama bin Laden, the president said the al-Qaeda leader was a mass murderer, not a martyr, whose ideas were being rejected even before he was killed.
Turning to Libya, he said: “In Libya, we saw the prospect of imminent massacre, had a mandate for action, and heard the Libyan people’s call for help.
“Had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed.”
Obama also laid out a major economic initiative in the Middle East to encourage democratic change in the region, beginning with Tunisia and Libya.
The president said the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a US government agency, “will soon launch a $2bn facility to support private investment across the region”.
“And we will work with allies to refocus the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development so that it provides the same support for democratic transitions and economic modernisation in the Middle East and North Africa as it has in Europe,” he said,
Date published: 15th May 2011
Source: Al Jazeera English
Several killed and dozens wounded in Gaza, Golan Heights, Ras Maroun and West Bank, as Palestinians mark Nakba Day.
”]Several people have been killed and scores of others wounded in the Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, Ras Maroun in Lebanon and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as Palestinians mark the “Nakba”, or day of “catastrophe”.
The “Nakba” is how Palestinians refer to the 1948 founding of the state of Israel, when an estimated 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled following Israel’s declaration of statehood.
At least one Palestinian was killed and up to 80 others wounded in northern Gaza as Israeli troops opened fire on a march of at least 1,000 people heading towards the Erez crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
A group of Palestinians, including children, marching to mark the “Nakba” were shot by the Israeli army after crossing a Hamas checkpoint and entering what Israel calls a “buffer zone” – an empty area between checkpoints where Israeli soldiers generally shoot trespassers, Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston reported from Gaza City on Sunday.
“We are just hearing that one person has been killed and about 80 people have been injured,” Johnston said.
“There are about 500-600 Palestinian youth gathered at the Erez border crossing point. They don’t usually march as far as the border. There has been intermittent gunfire from the Israeli side for the last couple of hours.
“Hamas has asked us to leave; they are trying to move people away from the Israeli border. They say seeing so many people at the border indicates a shift in politics in the area.”
Separately in south Tel Aviv, one Israeli man was killed and 17 were injured when a 22-year-old Arab Israeli driver drove his truck into a number of vehicles on one of the city’s main roads.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the driver, from an Arab village called Kfar Qasim in the West Bank, was arrested at the scene and is being questioned.
“Based on the destruction and the damage at the scene, we have reason to believe that it was carried out deliberately,” Rosenfeld said. But he said he did not believe the motive was directly linked to the anniversary of the Nakba.
West Bank clashes
One of the biggest Nakba demonstrations was held near Qalandiya refugee camp and checkpoint, the main secured entry point into the West Bank from Israel, where about 100 protesters marched, Al Jazeera’s Nisreen El-Shamayleh reported from Ramallah.
Some injuries were reported from tear gas canisters fired at protesters there, El-Shamayleh said.
Small clashes were reported throughout various neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem and cities in the West Bank, between stone-throwing Palestinians and Israeli security forces.
Israeli police said 20 arrests were made in the East Jerusalem area of Issawiyah for throwing stones and petrol bombs at Israeli border police officers.
About 70 arrests have been made in East Jerusalem throughout the Nakba protests that began on Friday, two days ahead of the May 15 anniversary, police spokesman Rosenfeld said.
Tensions had risen a day earlier after a 17-year-old Palestinian boy died of a gunshot wound suffered amid clashes on Friday in Silwan, another East Jerusalem neighbourhood.
Police said the source of the gunfire was unclear and that police were investigating, while local sources told Al Jazeera that the teen was shot in random firing of live ammunition by guards of Jewish settlers living in nearby Beit Yonatan.
Meanwhile, Syrian state television reported that Israeli forces killed four Syrian citizens who had been taking part in an anti-Israeli rally on the Syrian side of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights border on Sunday.
Israeli army radio said earlier that dozens were wounded when Palestinian refugees from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights border were shot for trying to break through the frontier fence. There was no comment on reports of the injured.
Meanwhile, Matthew Cassel, a journalist in the Lebanese town of Ras Maroun, on the southern border with Israel, told Al Jazeera that at least two Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon were killed in clashes there.
“Tens of thousands of refugees marched to the border fence to demand their right to return where they were met by Israeli soldiers,” he said.
“Many were killed. I don’t know how many but I saw with my own eyes a number of unconscious and injured, and at least two dead.
“Now the Lebanese army has moved in, people are running back up the mountain to get away from the army.”
A local medical source told the AFP news agency that Israeli gunfire killed six people and wounded 71 others in Ras Maroun.
‘End to Zionist project’
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu condemned Sunday’s demonstrations.
“I regret that there are extremists among Israeli Arabs and in neighbouring countries who have turned the day on which the State of Israel was established, the day on which the Israeli democracy was established, into a day of incitement, violence and rage”, Netanyahu said at the start of a cabinet meeting.
“There is no place for this, for denying the existence of the State of Israel. No to extremism and no to violence. The opposite is true”, he said.
Earlier Sunday Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of Hamas-controlled Gaza, repeated the group’s call for the end of the state of Israel.
Addressing Muslim worshippers in Gaza City on Sunday, Haniyeh said Palestinians marked this year’s Nakba “with great hope of bringing to an end the Zionist project in Palestine”.
“To achieve our goals in the liberation of our occupied land, we should have one leadership,” Haniyeh said, praising the recent unity deal with its rival, Fatah, the political organisation which controls the West Bank under Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’ leadership.
Meanwhile, a 63 second-long siren rang midday in commemoration of the Nakba’s 63rd anniversary.
Over 760,000 Palestinians – estimated today to number 4.7 million with their descendants – fled or were driven out of their homes in the conflict that followed Israel’s creation.
Many took refuge in neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and elsewhere. Some continue to live in refugee camps.
About 160,000 Palestinians stayed behind in what is now Israeli territory and are known as Arab Israelis. They now total around 1.3 million, or some 20 percent of Israel’s population.
Published: 14th May 2011
After 63 years of the Palestinian Nakba, and despite 20 years of unsuccessful peace negotiations, the Palestinian people continue to be denied their most fundamental and inalienable rights to self-determination, national independence, sovereignty and return to the homes and properties from which they have been forcibly displaced. Living under the Israeli apartheid regime and in forced exile away from the towns and villages, hills and olive groves that they call home, the Palestinian people remain steadfast in their struggle to end the systematic human rights violations committed against them and return to their homes of origin.
Meanwhile, the international community, especially the USA and the dominant member states of the UN continue to shield Israel from accountability and maintain extensive economic and diplomatic ties which finance and subsidize the Israeli regime. This persistent support has taken place under the guise of a ‘peace process’ which has worked to embellish Israeli violations with the facade of peace; a situation Israel has exploited to increase its international and regional economic and diplomatic links. As the pretense of negotiations falls away, so too does the cover it provides Israel to continue its policies, a reality reflected in the growing civil society response insisting upon the application of international law to end Israeli impunity.
An accounting for the collapse of the peace process, a failure now a recognized reality by all parties involved in it for the past 20 years, inevitably leads to the need to establish a strategy which puts the realization of Palestinian rights at its center and focuses on the practical action needed to bring Palestinian rights into reality, combining grassroots, civic struggle on the ground with international pressure on Israel to respect the rights of the Palestinian people.
The latest agreement between the two main Palestinian factions is an encouraging first step towards establishing such a strategy. However, genuine national reconciliation and unity can only come about through the inclusion of the Palestinian people in their entirety in contributing to and deciding upon the way forward for the Palestinian people. It is in this vein that the campaign for direct elections to the highest decision making body of the Palestinian people, the Palestinian National Council (PNC) was relaunched, to ensure that the voice of all Palestinians, including those with Israeli citizenship and refugees living forced exile are included.
These attempts at national unity take place against the backdrop of political transformations in neighboring Arab countries which reassert the power of people to take their fate in their own hands in seeking freedom, justice and equality. In 2011, the year of revolutions, it is as clear as ever that the Palestinian people are at the centerpiece of a regional-wide yearning for rights, denied to them by powers concerned more with geopolitical influence than upholding the rule and values of international law. Ending the particular systematic denial of rights suffered by Palestinians as a result of Israel’s regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid is therefore intrinsically tied in with fate of the millions of demonstrators on the streets of the Arab world.
On the 63rd commemoration of the Nakba and as part of activities to confront ongoing forcible transfer of Palestinians by Israel, We the undersigned organizations call:
On the Palestinian leadership to:
• To adopt a coherent strategy which places at its forefront a just and permanent solution for Palestinian refugees and IDPs, based on their right to return and in accordance with international law, universal principles of justice and UN resolutions 194 (1948) and 237 (1967);
• Ensure genuine national reconciliation and unity as a matter of urgency, and rebuild the PLO as a legitimate and credible platform representing the entire Palestinian people and its political organizations through initiating direct elections to the PNC;
• Support and activate popular resistance in all forms permitted under international law.
• Establish a consultative mechanism with professional civil society organizations to support the efforts of the PLO in international fora.
On Civil Society, Governments, UN Members States, Organs and Agencies to:
• Support civil society led direct actions in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle such as the Gaza freedom flotilla;
• Build and expand the civil society-led movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and exert stronger pressure on states to implement sanctions and adopt decisions and resolutions which support the global BDS Campaign;
• Redouble efforts for investigation of Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity and prosecution and punishment of those responsible, as well as efforts to prevent Israel’s accession and integration into international and regional organizations.
• Implement international protection standards for Palestinian refugees and IDPs.
– BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights
– The Occupied Palestine and Syrian Golan Heights Advocacy Initiative (OPGAI)
– Defense for Children International/Palestine Section
– Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association
– Housing and Land Rights Network: Habitat International Coalition
– Joint Advocacy initiative -The East Jerusalem YMCA and YWCA of Palestine-
– Kairos Palestine
– The Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign
Filmaker: Johan Eriksson
Date published: 12th May 2011
Source: Al Jazeera English
We follow a Palestinian girl’s gradual rehabilitation after she was shot and blinded in Gaza.
In March 2003, 12-year-old Hoda Darwish was sitting at her desk in a UN elementary school in Khan Younis on the Gaza Strip when an Israeli high-velocity bullet was fired through her classroom window. It hit Hoda in the head. The doctors at the hospital said that she would never awaken from her coma.
But after two weeks she started to recover. When she woke up she slowly discovered that her life would never be the same again – she had lost her sight.
This poignant film looks at Hoda’s gradual mental and physical rehabilitation at the Rehabilitation Centre in Gaza, as she copes with the daily pain and suffering of her injury and how she rebuilds her confidence, all in a place full of fear and tragedy.