Archive for the Israeli occupation Category

Easing the siege or passing the buck?

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Gaza, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Palestine, Pictures, Siege with tags , , , , , , , on 29/05/2011 by 3071km

Written by: Sherine Tadros

Date published: 29th May 2011

Source: Al Jazeera English

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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.

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Obama seeks Palestine state on 1967 borders

Posted in Gaza, Hamas, History, International community, Israel, Israeli occupation, Palestine, Peace process, USA foreign policy, West Bank with tags , , on 19/05/2011 by 3071km

Date published: 19th May 2011

Source: Al Jazeera Online

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US president says borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps.
Barack Obama, the US president, has laid out his vision for the Middle East and North Africa during a key speech in Washington.

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.”

Israeli reaction

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.

Hamas response

“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.

Iran ‘meddling’

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.

Economic investment

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,

Palestinians killed in ‘Nakba’ clashes

Posted in Activism, Everyday life in Gaza, Everyday life in the West Bank, Fatah, Gaza, Hamas, History, Israel, Israeli occupation, Palestine, West Bank with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 15/05/2011 by 3071km

Date published: 15th May 2011

Source: Al Jazeera English

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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.

‘Palestinians killed’

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.

Joint-Statement: Nakba at 63 – Confronting the Ongoing Nakba

Posted in Activism, Fatah, Gaza, Hamas, History, International community, Israeli occupation, Non-violent resistance, Palestine, Peace process, Siege, USA foreign policy, War crimes, West Bank with tags , , , , , , , , on 14/05/2011 by 3071km

Authors: various

Published: 14th May 2011

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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.

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– 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

Israel’s blockade of Gaza is cracking

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Fatah, Gaza, Hamas, International community, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Palestine, Siege, USA foreign policy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 09/05/2011 by 3071km

Written by: Noura Erakat

Date published: 9th May 2011

Source: Al Jazeera English

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Sealing coastal territory undermines past diplomacy – and siege is likely to be broken by post-revolution Egypt.

Egypt has announced that it will open its border crossing with Gaza on a permanent basis, thereby reversing Egypt’s collusion with Israel’s blockade regime. The interim Foreign Minister, Nabil al-Arabi, has described support for the blockade by the previous Egyptian regime as “disgraceful“. While Israeli officials have responded to this announcement with alarm, they have limited capacity to undermine the new Egyptian government’s prerogative.

Since the capture of Israeli soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit in June 2006, the Rafah crossing has been closed to Palestinians in Gaza, except for “extraordinary humanitarian cases”. In June 2007, after Hamas’ ousting of Fatah, Israel imposed a naval blockade on Gaza and sealed its five border crossings with the territory. Egypt’s closure of Rafah made the siege comprehensive, and effectively cut off the 360sq mile Strip from the rest of the world.

The devastating impact of the blockade on Gaza’s 1.5million population, where food aid dependency has risen to 80 per cent,  has been defined as a humanitarian crisis by a broad range of international human rights and humanitarian aid organisations – including Human Rights Watch, UNRWA, Amnesty International, and the World Health Organisation.

Under the presidency of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak, Egypt only opened the Rafah border in response to exceptional crises, including during Israel’s Winter 2008/2009 offensive against Gaza and in the aftermath of Israel’s fatal raid on the humanitarian flotilla in June 2010. Rafah’s closure demonstrated Mubarak’s shared interest with Israel in undermining Hamas’ leadership.

Egypt’s post-revolution government is eager to reverse this policy – as evidenced by its successful brokering of a unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas and, shortly thereafter, its announcement that it will end its closure of Rafah. Egypt’s decision comports with enduring border-crossing agreements that have been suspended since 2007.

Egypt’s decision is a resumption of the status quo ante

According to the Agreement on Movement and Access(AMA), brokered by the US and the European Union to facilitate the transfer of authority for crossings from the Government of Israel to the Palestinian Authority following Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza, Egypt is authorised to control the Rafah crossing on its side of the border, in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.

Following internecine fighting in 2007, in which Hamas forces were routed from the West Bank but took control of the Gaza Strip, the border crossing agreement, along with Egyptian and EU participation was suspended -but not terminated.

The European Union’s Border Assistance Mission to Rafah (EUBAM), deployed to support a smooth transfer of authority at the border, has conditioned its presence on cooperation with Mahmoud Abbas’ Force 17, or the Presidential Guard.  Since Fatah’s ousting from the Strip the EUBAM has “maintained its operational capability and has remained on standby, awaiting a political solution and ready to re-engage“.

The EUBAM has extended its mission four times since suspending it in 2007, indicating the EU’s willingness to cooperate with the PA, should a political solution be reached between the rival Palestinian political parties. As recently as late March, the EUBAM Chief of Mission reaffirmed to Egypt’s ambassador to Israel the mission’s readiness to resume its tasks at Rafah.

Arguably, the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation removes impediments to EU and Egyptian cooperation at the Rafah crossing.

Vague though it may be, the agreement between Fatah and Hamas stipulates the rehabilitation of Palestinian security forces and a mandate to end the siege and blockade of Gaza. Although hostilities between the rival parties are ongoing, in theory, technical hurdles undermining the opening of the Rafah crossing have been overcome.

Accordingly, Egypt’s decision to open the Rafah crossing is commensurate with existing agreements and signals a resumption of the status quo ante. Israel can do little to challenge this policy on legal grounds and it lacks the political credibility to maintain the comprehensive siege by force.

Israel lacks political credibility to maintain Gaza blockade 

While 29 Democratic Senators have urged President Barack Obama to suspend US aid to the Palestinian Authority should Hamas join the PA government, European and international support for the unity government is robust.

On May 6, the EU announced that it will provide an additional US$85million in aid to support the PA in light of Israel’s withholding of $105million of tax revenue belonging to the Palestinian Authority. Similarly, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon – along with a coalition of donor nations – have urged Israel to release the Palestinian funds. Meanwhile, the United Nations’ envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, has described the unity government as “overdue“, demonstrating general international support for the unity government that includes Hamas.

Similar international support exists for ending the siege on Gaza. Especially since Israel’s raid on the Gaza flotilla in May 2010, support for the debilitating siege has steadily dwindled. In the aftermath of the fatal attack in international waters, even the US described Israel’s blockade as “untenable” and called on Israel to change its policy toward Gaza.

The White House not only supports an easing of the siege, but it also supports Egypt’s post-revolution government. Shortly after Mubarak’s departure, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Egypt to congratulate the new government – and promised it diplomatic support as well as economic aid. Although not impossible, it is unlikely that the US will challenge Egypt’s decision, which reflects the US’ blockade policy as well as the US-brokered AMA, and risk undermining the government’s nascent development.

Finally, within Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lacks the political support necessary to take any significant risks. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni has accused Netanyahu of isolating Israel and stated that her Kadima party would not join a Netanyahu-led coalition even in the face of September’s “political tsunami”. Livni also opposes the Palestinian unity government, but explains “there is a difference between defending Israel and aiding the survival of a prime minister that only damages the country”.

In light of broad support for the Palestinian unity government, frustration with the ongoing blockade, enthusiasm for Egypt’s new government, and Netanyahu’s tenuous domestic standing, it is neither likely that Israel can mobilise significant political opposition to Egypt’s new policy, nor use force to respond to opening of the Rafah crossing.

Buoyed by impunity, the cover afforded by turmoil in the region, and the desire to establish its qualitative military edge in the region, Israel may nevertheless employ a military option to respond to the reopened crossing. Even if it does not use force at Rafah, it may brandish its military prowess by targeting the forthcoming Gaza flotilla, which will set sail for Gaza’s shores in late June. In light of the political balance, Israel’s choice to use force without a tangible military threat will exacerbate its already waning legitimacy.

Escaping this political trapping leaves Israel with little other choice than to urge the US to act on its behalf. Whether the Obama administration is willing to do so (the US Congress has already demonstrated its willingness) remains unclear in light of a fast-transforming Middle East, where US interests continue to hang in the balance.

Noura Erakat is a Palestinian human rights attorney and activist. She is currently an adjunct professor at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies in Georgetown University. She is also a co-editor of Jadaliyya.com.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Due to Gisha’s Petition: Israel Reveals Documents related to the Gaza Closure Policy

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Gaza, International community, Israel, Israeli occupation, Siege with tags , on 11/11/2010 by 3071km

Date published: 21/10/2010

Source: Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement

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Thursday, October 21, 2010: After one and a half years in which Israel at first denied their existence and then claimed that revealing them would harm “state security”, the State of Israel released three documents that outline its policy for permitting transfer of goods into the Gaza Strip prior to the May 31 flotilla incident. The documents were released due to a Freedom of Information Act petition submitted by Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement in the Tel Aviv District Court, in which Gisha demanded transparency regarding the Gaza closure policy.  Israel still refuses to release the current documents governing the closure policy as amended after the flotilla incident.
“Policy of Deliberate Reduction”
The documents reveal that the state approved “a policy of deliberate reduction” for basic goods in the Gaza Strip (section h.4, page 5*). Thus, for example, Israel restricted the supply of fuel needed for the power plant, disrupting the supply of electricity and water. The state set a “lower warning line” (section g.2, page 5) to give advance warning of expected shortages in a particular item, but at the same time approved ignoring that warning, if the good in question was subject to a policy of “deliberate reduction“. Moreover, the state set an “upper red line” above which even basic humanitarian items could be blocked, even if they were in demand (section g.1, page 5). The state claimed in a cover letter to Gisha that in practice, it had not authorized reduction of “basic goods” below the “lower warning line”, but it did not define what these “basic goods” were (page 2).
“Luxuries” denied for Gaza Strip residents
In violation of international law, which allows Israel to restrict the passage of goods only for concrete security reasons, the decision whether to permit or prohibit an item was also based on “the good’s public perception” and “whether it is viewed as a luxury” (section c.b, page 16). In other words, items characterized as “luxury” items would be banned – even if they posed no security threat, and even if they were needed. Thus, items such as chocolate and paper were not on the “permitted” list. In addition, officials were to consider “sensitivity to the needs of the international community”.
Ban on Reconstructing Gaza
Although government officials have claimed that they will permit the rehabilitation of Gaza, the documents reveal that Israel treated rehabilitation and development of the Gaza Strip as a negative factor in determining whether to allow an item to enter; goods “of a rehabilitative character” required special permission (section g, page 16). Thus, international organizations and Western governments did not receive permits to transfer building materials into Gaza for schools and homes.
Secret List of Goods
The procedures determine that the list of permitted goods “will not be released to those not specified!!” (emphasis in original) (section j, page 17), ignoring the fact that without transparency, merchants in Gaza could not know what they were permitted to purchase. The list itemized permitted goods only. Items not on the list – cumin, for example – would require a special procedure for approval, irrespective of any security consideration, at the end of which it would be decided whether to let it in or not.
Calculation of product inventory
The documents contain a series of formulas created by the Defense Ministry to compute product inventory (pages 8-10). The calculations are presumed to allow COGAT to measure what is called the “length of breath” (section i, page 8). The formula states that if you divide the inventory in the Strip by the daily consumption needs of residents, you will get the number of days it will take for residents of Gaza to run out of that basic product, or in other words, until their “length of breath” will run out.
According to Gisha Director Sari Bashi: “Instead of considering security concerns, on the one hand, and the rights and needs of civilians living in Gaza, on the other, Israel banned glucose for biscuits and the fuel needed for regular supply of electricity – paralyzing normal life in Gaza and impairing the moral character of the State of Israel. I am sorry to say that major elements of this policy are still in place“.
*Pagination is counted in the order the documents were received by the Ministry of Defense.
For translated excerpts of the state’s response initially refusing to reveal the documents for “security reasons”, click here.
To view the documents revealed by the state (translated from the original Hebrew into English), click here.
To view the FOIA petition submitted by Gisha (in Hebrew), click here.

No Gaza optimism over easing blockade

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Fatah, Gaza, Hamas, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Pictures, Siege with tags , , , , , , , , , on 20/06/2010 by 3071km

Written by Jon Donnison

Date published: Sunday 20th June 2010

Source: BBC News

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Fishing boats in Gaza City's harbour

“I don’t need ketchup or mayonnaise from Israel. I need my business back,” says Nasser al-Helo standing on a busy street in Gaza City.

Mr Helo used to run a business making steel doors in the Gaza Strip. Before the blockade he was able to import metal from Israel and would produce more than 300 doors a month.

“Now, it’s a big zero,” he says. “I’ve lost $300,000 in the past three years.”

Private industry has been devastated by Israel’s blockade, which was tightened in 2007 after the Islamist group Hamas seized control of the coastal territory.

Factories making anything from furniture to textiles, floor tiles to biscuits have gone under.

The Israeli blockade has starved them of the raw materials they need to produce their goods.

Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs. The United Nations estimates unemployment is at 40% in Gaza. Mr Helo used to employ 32 people at his factory. Now there are only four.

‘Not enough’

The overwhelming feeling among Gazans is that Israel’s announcement on Thursday that it is “easing the blockade” is simply not enough.

Omar Shabban

The details of how the blockade will be “liberalised” are still not clear, but reportedly the Israeli authorities will allow more civilian goods to enter, including all food items, toys, stationery, kitchen utensils, mattresses and towels. Construction materials for civilian projects will be allowed in under international supervision.

“Of course it’s not enough,” says Omar Shabban, an economist at the Gaza-based think tank PalThink.

“What about the blockade on people for starters?” he asks.

“One-and-a-half million people are trapped in a prison unable to leave.”

Israel maintains tight control of the border with Gaza, only allowing out a limited number of people to seek medical treatment. Israel says this is needed to protect itself from “terrorist” attacks.

The Rafah crossing into Egypt has also been closed since 2007, although special medical cases are also sporadically allowed to pass through it.

Desperate vendors

Mr Shabban argues that what is really needed in Gaza is not a few more food items – many of which are already available through smuggling tunnels running under the Egyptian border – but a total lifting of the blockade to allow people to work in Israel, as over 100,000 people used to do.

GOODS ALLOWED INTO GAZA

Coriander

  • Canned meat and tuna, but not canned fruit
  • Mineral water, but not fruit juice
  • Sesame paste (tahini) but not jam
  • Tea and coffee but not chocolate
  • Cinnamon but not coriander

Details of Gaza blockade revealed

Gaza also used to export many goods to Israel and beyond. Strawberries and flowers are still two of Gaza’s most famous products, but most of them never get beyond the barrier into Israel.

Instead, in strawberry season in January they are sold dirt-cheap off huge wheelbarrows on street corners, the vendors desperate to sell them at any price before they rot.

Israel has argued that the blockade is necessary to put pressure on Hamas.

The group came out top in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, but the EU, the US and Israel refused to recognise Hamas in government unless it renounced violence and its commitment to destroy Israel.

Then in June 2007, Hamas ousted its secular rival, Fatah, and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority security forces from Gaza.

Rockets

Over the past decade, Hamas has fired thousands of rockets into Israel, killing more than 20 Israelis.

Man selling strawberries in Gaza

But since Israel’s major offensive on Gaza in 2009, which devastated the territory and left more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead, the number has dropped dramatically. One person – a Thai farm worker – has been killed in southern Israel by a rocket fired from Gaza in the past 12 months.

Hamas has tried to rein in rocket fire, but it does not control all the militant groups in Gaza and sporadic, usually ineffective rocket fire continues.

Israel says it is the responsibility of the Hamas authorities to stop all rocket attacks, and that the blockade is necessary to stop weapons being brought into Gaza.

But at least until now the list of items banned from entering Gaza has gone far beyond weapons. Coriander, chocolate and children’s toys have famously been excluded.

Low expectations

In actual fact, such things are readily available in the supermarkets in Gaza.

Millions of dollars worth of goods are smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt.

Butcher in Gaza City

There is food on the shelves and in the markets but the blockade means it is too expensive for most people to afford. A kilo of beef smuggled from Egypt costs around $15, more than most Gazans earn in a day.

“We are living on a black-market economy,” says Mr Shabban.

Gazans have little faith in Israel’s announcement. At best, they will wait and see if anything changes in the coming weeks and months.

Indeed, like most places in the world, people here are more preoccupied with the World Cup. The cafes of Gaza City on Friday were full of people cheering on Algeria as they thrashed out a dire draw with England.

The beaches in Gaza are packed this weekend with thousand of children enjoying summer camps and frolicking in the Mediterranean Sea.

But as they play in the water, a reminder that the blockade of Gaza is still very much in place – the sound of machine-gun fire just a few kilometres off the coast.

Israeli navy ships, which continue to occupy and control Gaza’s territorial water, regularly open fire on Palestinian fishing boats that stray beyond the limits of where Israel allows them to fish.

Yet most of the children did not even bat an eyelid at the gunfire.

The blockade here has been come a way of life. Few people are optimistic that will change.

KEY ENTRY POINTS INTO GAZA

map of Gaza showing key entry points• Rafah – under Egyptian control. Since flotilla deaths, opened indefinitely for people only. Has been closed for the vast majority of the time over the last three years. Makeshift tunnels in this area used to smuggle in goods, including weapons

• Erez – under Israeli control. Crossing for pedestrians and cargo. Access restricted to Palestinians under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority and to Egyptians or international aid officials

• Karni – main crossing point for commercial goods

• Sufa – official crossing point for construction materials

• Kerem Shalom – for commercial and humanitarian goods. These last three crossings have been frequently closed by Israeli army since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007

• Opening of seaport and bus routes to West Bank had been agreed in 2005 but plans since shelved

• Airport – bombed by Israel in early years of the 2000 Intifada

• ‘Buffer zone’ inside Gaza where it borders Israel. Gazan farmers forbidden to enter the zone