Archive for Tunnels

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

_____

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.

Advertisements

Egypt ‘to open Rafah border permanently’

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Gaza, Hamas, International community, Palestine, Pictures, Siege with tags , , , , , , , , on 25/05/2011 by 3071km

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.

No windows, pens in Gaza’s classrooms

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Fatah, Gaza, Gaza reconstruction, Hamas, International community, Israeli occupation, Operation Cast Lead, Pictures, Siege with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 10/09/2009 by 3071km

Date published: 10th September 2009

Source: The Electronic Intifada

_____

No windows, pens in Gaza’s classrooms
Report, The Electronic Intifada, 10 September 2009

Elementary school students in the Gaza Strip. (Erica Silverman/IRIN)

GAZA CITY, occupied Gaza Strip (IRIN) – Some 1,200 students at al-Karmel High School for boys in Gaza City returned to class on 25 August without history and English textbooks, or notebooks and pens — all unavailable on the local market.

Severe damage to the school, caused during the 23-day Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip which ended on 18 January, has yet to be repaired. Al-Karmel’s principal, Majed Yasin, has had to cover scores of broken windows with plastic sheeting.

“The entire west side of the school was damaged adjacent to Abbas police station which was targeted on 27 December,” said Yasin. “We have yet to repair the $65,000-worth of damage, since glass and other building materials are still unavailable.”

Educational institutions across Gaza are still reeling from the effects of the Israeli offensive, compounded by the more than two-year-long Israeli blockade (tightened after Hamas seized power in June 2007), according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

At least 280 schools out of 641 in Gaza were damaged and 18 destroyed during the military operation. None have been rebuilt or repaired to date due to continued restrictions on the entry of construction materials, OCHA reported.

At the start of the new school year, all 387 government-run primary and secondary schools serving 240,000 students — and 33 private sector schools serving 17,000 students — lack essential education materials, according to the education ministry in Gaza.

“The war had, and continues to have, a severely negative impact on the entire education system,” Yousef Ibrahim, deputy education minister in Gaza, said. “About 15,000 students from government schools have been transferred to other schools for second shifts, significantly shortening class time.”

He said the damaged schools lacked toilets and water and electricity networks; their classrooms were overcrowded, and they also suffered from shortages of basic items such as desks, doors, chairs and ink for printing.

UNRWA schools affected

More than 80 percent of government-run schools and those run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) now have a second shift, according to Ibrahim.

The 221 primary and secondary schools run by UNRWA (in addition to government- and privately-run schools) are also struggling to accommodate 200,000 students this school year.

“We have only provided the minimum amount of stationery and textbooks to our students, since it is very difficult to bring in these materials and they are unavailable on the local market,” said UNRWA spokesperson Milina Shahin in Gaza.

UNRWA schools are also missing items such as lab equipment, calculators, desks, tables, chairs and even crayons, said Shahin.

UNRWA planned to build 100 new schools this year, but has had to give up the idea due to a lack of building materials. Thirty-five UNRWA schools are still without windows as a result of the offensive, due to a lack of glass, Shahin said.

Truckloads of stationery await clearance

Since the beginning of 2009, Israel has allowed 174 truckloads of educational materials to enter Gaza. Of these, only two were carrying stationery, in July and August, OCHA said.

According to the Palestine Trade Centre (PalTrade) and local suppliers, there are nearly 120 truckloads of stationery awaiting clearance to enter.

Ghazi Hamad, head of borders and crossings under the Hamas-led government in Gaza, said some educational materials, such as notebooks and clothing, had entered Gaza via underground tunnels from Egypt, but this was only a token amount.

Teaching has also been affected by the Fatah-Hamas rift: Of the 11,000 teachers in Gaza, 7,000 are employed by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah (occupied West Bank). Half of these did not return to teach this school year, according to deputy education minister Ibrahim.

“We had to replace them with less qualified teachers, while they chose to stay at home,” he said.

This item comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. All IRIN material may be reposted or reprinted free-of-charge; refer to the copyright page for conditions of use. IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Israeli air raid kills 4 civilians in Gaza

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Gaza, IDF, Operation Cast Lead, Pictures, Siege with tags , , , , , , , on 25/08/2009 by 3071km

Date published: 25 August 2009

Source: Press TV

_____

israeli-f16-gaza-war-raid-deadIsraeli warplanes have attacked near the southern city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip killing at least four and injuring six other people in a second round of attacks since Monday. Palestinian security officials say Israeli fighters struck near the southern city of Rafah.

The victims were inside tunnels – which Palestinians say are used to import food, medicine and other vital supplies into the blockaded Gaza– when the Israeli air force bombed the area.

The impoverished Palestinian sliver has been under an Israeli siege since June 2007.

An Israeli military official says the air-raid was in response to the firing of a mortar round from the Gaza Strip into Israel.

Palestinian mortar attack took place after Israeli soldiers on Monday killed one Palestinian and injured another in the town of Beit Lahya in northern Gaza, medical sources told a Press TV correspondent.

Israeli troops say that Palestinians were trying to approach them.

Israeli forces opened fire on the three young men in the al-Atatra neighborhood on the northern edge of the Gaza Strip.

According to none of the Palestinians were known to be members of any Palestinian faction.

The Israeli army says shortly after that incident three mortar rounds were fired from Gaza into Israel, wounding one soldier. The soldier was only slightly injured after hitting his head while seeking shelter.

The killing and injuring Palestinians is the latest violation of a truce signed after Israel’s massive military aggression known as the 22-day war on Gaza. Operation Cast Lead launched December 27, 2008.

During the massacre, the city of Gaza suffered extensive structural damage. Ensuing air strikes and ground incursions left over 1,350 Palestinians, at least 1100 of whom were civilians, dead.

An estimated 5,450 people were reported injured; most were women and children.

In addition to the human cost, the onslaught cost the Palestinian economy at least $1.6 billion, destroying some 4,000 residential buildings and damaging 16,000 houses.

UN reports confirm that Tel Aviv began the bloodshed by breaking the truce it had with the authority in the territory of 1.5 million Palestinians.

NAT/SC/DT
Press TV

Hamas starts the ‘Islamisation’ of Gaza

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Gaza, Hamas, Israeli occupation, Palestine, Siege with tags , , , , , , , , on 14/08/2009 by 3071km

Date published: 14th August 2009

Source: El País (translated from Spanish into English by 3.071 Km)

_____

The population rejects the plan of the fundamentalists to impose a strict Islamic morality – female lawyers will have to use the ‘hijab’ in court.

A group of young people enter a store and advise the owner to remove the dummy from the window. Underwear for all to see -sometimes suggestive lingerie-  is a long-outdated indecency. As it is that men walk along the beach of Gaza with their uncovered chest.

The police has also requested documentation to couples walking down the street to check whether they were married, although the measure was quickly cancelled after some angry reactions and protests by several NGOs in the Palestinian territory. Guns have fallen silent over the past six months, but Hamas and its government are working in other fields. They now encourage or attempt to impose certain behaviors that are appropriate to Islamic law and morality.

“The campaign is in accordance to our religion and traditions. We have seen some dangers for our youth and our role is to warn our people about these things,” said Taleb Abu Shaar, Minister of Religious Affairs. Although Abu Shaar ensures that no one is forced to do something they dislike, the campaign has met with a rejection greater than expected. And not only among the laity.

Many streets of Gaza are full of posters that encourage, for example, not smoking. It would be very, very strange to see a leader of Hamas cigarette in hand. “Those who do this are not always civil servants, but they are members of Hamas. The posters call for maintaining a decent performance,” said Maru, who lives in the neighboring refugee camp of Jabalia, and is sympathetic to the fundamentalist movement.

The Islamist government and its judicial bodies have decreed that from September the 1st all female lawyers must go to court with the hijab. There are thousands of women working in companies, ministries, hospitals or schools. Of course, driving. Gaza is not Saudi Arabia. The authorities claim that they only seek to apply a law in force since 1930, which regulated the mode of dress of lawyers and judges. It is perhaps the most relevant of a number of measures that cause discomfort in the laity, but also among many of the religious people of the Strip. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights based in Gaza, has criticized the blatant illegality of the initiative.

“Of course, the laity do not like this to happen. But many people who sympathize with Hamas, either. Not that fervently oppose the measures, but they think the Government could focus on more important matters,” Maruan explained. Institutions operate at half gas: Sixteen departments were razed during the war launched by Israel last December. The Palestinian Authority, bitter rival of Hamas, pays from Ramallah the payroll of their former employees with the only condition that they do not work for the islamist government, which has forced the government of Ismail Haniya in Gaza to recruit inexperienced staff. Complaints are heard. “Yes, they might be polite, but they are incompetent,” Maruan adds.

The slow process of Islamisation of the Palestinian society started decades ago. Because religious practices are by no means unique to Gaza. In many cities in West Bank -ever ruled in the past 15 years by a secular-nationalist government- you can not buy a can of beer in a store. Walking by a Muslim woman in Hebron or Nablus who does not cover her head is an equally complicated task. And Ramadan is scrupulously respected in public spaces. Hamas will not be the one to slow down this trend.  “I,” says the director of an NGO in Gaza, “I tried my 16 years old daughter not to wear the hijab. No way. She uses it because she wants to. All her friends wear it.”

As it regards to many other hot topics, Hamas is not monolithic. Several leaders called for further implementation of the controversial decisions. Others preferred to stop. A member of Hamas recognised recently in this newspaper: “Society is not yet ready to implement Islamic laws.” In three years of almost complete dominance of the Strip there were few decisions that led Hamas to further Islamicise the Strip’s society, which has raised harsh accusations from Al Qaeda against the Palestinian Islamist party.

It is difficult to know whether this warm way launched by Hamas  will reduce its sympathies. It may lose from one side what gains from the other. “Old style entrepreneurs are always satisfied to bring a few bags from Israel. The Israeli blockade has left them without any goods. But the blockade is creating a new business network that thrives on the tunnels of Rafah, an industry that  the fundamentalist movement controls,” says the head of the mentioned NGO in Gaza.

Hamas is building its own economic structure, having restored the judiciary and police. “I don’t really think it is losing popular support, although the  discomfort of many people with certain decisions is undeniable,” he concludes.

Two years after Hamas won Gaza

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Gaza, Hamas, History, International community, Israel, Israeli occupation, Palestine, Siege with tags , , , , , , on 14/06/2009 by 3071km

Written by Ayman Mohyeldin

Date published: 14th June 2009

Source: Al-Jazeera English

_____

On June 14, 2007, Hamas drove Fatah out and gained complete control over Gaza [GALLO/GETTY]

Two years to the day after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip, the lives of Palestinians in Gaza have seemingly become inextricably defined by two crises.

An internal political impasse has fragmented Palestinian society, reduced the credibility of Palestinian political leaders in the eyes of the public and derailed their people’s momentum for national liberation.Meanwhile, an Israeli-imposed, western-backed siege has created a humanitarian crisis for the 1.5 million people trapped inside Gaza.

What happened on June 14, 2007 depends on whom you ask. Even the language used among Palestinians to describe the events of that day reflects their deep ideological divisions.

A difference of perspective

In the eyes of Hamas and its followers, it is known in Arabic as “el hasm” – or “decisive affirmation”.

For them, Hamas decided to end Gaza’s lawlessness, crime and corruption and US-engineered attempts by the subversive Fatah movement to undermine Hamas’s legitimate right to govern after winning the 2006 elections.

The failure of various power-sharing agreements between Fatah and Hamas, national unity governments and attempts to reform the fragmented security services into one cohesive apparatus between the elections in 2006 until June 2007 set the stage for confrontation.

Those who do not share Hamas’s narrative of events call June 14, 2007 the “enqelaab” – the “coup”.

They say that Hamas violently ousted the legitimate Palestinian Authority, overrunning all government institutions with its loyalists.But the critics say the movement and its paramilitary forces were not prepared to govern, nor were they accustomed to the dissent found in the plurality of a democratic society.

Hamas, they say, wanted to dominate Palestinian politics by ballots and by guns – thus jeopardising years of struggle for statehood lead by the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO).

Regardless of the classification, those fateful days when Hamas gained and solidified its complete control of Gaza have been a defining moment for the Palestinian people and for the region.

Kareem Lebhour, a reporter for Radio France International, was one of the few international journalists who was in Gaza during the takeover.

He believes that the events of June 14 have been exploited by Arab regimes, the US and Israel for their own political agendas.

“Nobody wanted to see Hamas succeed in governing [after the elections they won in 2006],” he said.

Fearful of losing power to Islamist movements, governments across the region have been very cautious in allowing fair, democratic elections.

Instead, they have pointed to the Hamas takeover as a warning, as fitting the image of “Muslim men in beards with guns” taking over power, Kareem said.

In a near complete reversal from its earlier objective of promoting democracy through the Arab world, the administration of George Bush, the former US president, eased off calls for more democratic reforms across the region, fearing Hamas’s popular win could repeat itself in strategic American allies such as Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States.

Instead, the international community turned its back on the legitimate winners of the Palestinian elections, setting the tone for internal political divisions and bloody clashes between the Hamas movement and its political rivals in the US-backed secular Fatah organisation.

Ignoring Gaza’s reality

If there is one conclusion that all regional players and the US have reached over the past two years, it is that ignoring Gaza’s reality is done at their own peril.

More than 80 per cent of Gaza’s population rely on some sort of assistance [AFP]

If Fatah and the PLO want to carry out elections across the Palestinian territories, they must incorporate Hamas.

If Hamas wants to extend its influence across the geographic divide into the West Bank and cast off its international pariah status, it must tolerate political, social and cultural plurality and demonstrate pragmatism in its dealings with those it ideologically opposes.If the US is serious about achieving a lasting and just peace in the region, it must acknowledge Hamas and what it stands for among the Palestinian people.

And if Israel is to achieve any semblance of security, it will have to deal with Hamas either directly or indirectly.

Life in Gaza

The past two years have been lost time.

Many believe the greatest casualty has been the deliberate social, economic and humanitarian degradation of 1.5 million people forced into abject destitution.

Since 2007, Gaza has passed through isolation, economic sanctions, a brutal Israeli assault – both physical and psychological – and a stifling siege that has made life intolerable.

It has been allowed to happen because of the complicity of the US, European countries, and Arab governments.

Every measure of life in Gaza has grown increasingly worse – from education to health care to economics.

What was once classified as a modest economy has now been reduced to an aid-dependent society with more than 80 per cent of the population relying on some sort of assistance.

Today, the most thriving industry is smuggling, through the tunnels along the border between Egypt and Gaza.

Nearly 1,000 tunnels have been dug to smuggle everything and anything needed in Gaza.

From basic food to medicine, the tunnels have become Gaza’s lifeline to the outside world and a testament to the indomitable will of the Palestinian people to survive these past two years.

There has been little apparent progress in Gaza since 2006, but some credit Hamas with re-establishing law and order.

Officials in Gaza are quick to cite the reduced crime rate and the security that has been restored by the Hamas-run government and security services.

However, human rghts organisations say it has come at a price.

Political and civil liberties in Gaza have shrunk and they accuse Hamas and its security services of often going beyond the rule of law to enforce the law.

A recent crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank by the Palestinian Authority resulted in Hamas security detaining dozens in Gaza.

It is a vicious cycle of revenge, attacks and detentions that has marked and marred the last two years of Palestinian rivalry.

‘The way ahead’

The way ahead for the Palestinians is unity.

Time and time again, from pundits to experts, from the factional leaders to ordinary Palestinians, calls for national unity have become the rallying mantra.

Every round of talks aimed at ending the two-year-old political infighting brings the people a little closer to hope that their lives may soon change.

The way ahead for Gaza will largely depend on how much more the international community – predominantly the US and its Western allies – is willing to tolerate these dire humanitarian conditions.

In his recent speech to the “Muslim World”, Barack Obama, the US president, said that the “humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security interests”, a suggestion that the status quo is untenable.

Whether the US will mount more pressure on Israel to change the reality on the ground remains to be seen and more of that will be gleamed when Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, outlines his cabinet’s diplomatic agenda for peace on Sunday, the same day as the anniversary of the Hamas’s takeover of Gaza.

Until either one of these crises is resolved, Palestinians in Gaza will undoubtedly find themselves living in the balance between internal political paralysis and external international intransigence to their suffering.

Two die in air raid on Gaza tunnels

Posted in Gaza, Hamas, IDF, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Operation Cast Lead, Pictures, Siege with tags , , , , on 02/05/2009 by 3071km
Date: 2nd May 2009

Source: Al Jazeera English

The Rafah tunnels are used by Palestinian groups to  ferry supplies covertly into Gaza [AFP]

The bodies of two Palestinians have been recovered from a tunnel in Gaza bombed by Israeli aircraft, medical workers say.

The air raids, which targeted several tunnels each running between Gaza and Egypt, took place on Saturday near the near the border town of Rafah, the Israeli military said.

The bombing came shortly after three mortar rounds were launched into Israeli territory from the northern Gaza Strip, causing no casualties.

The Palestinian Resistance Committees, an armed group in Gaza, said that it had fired the mortars.

Raids resume

The raids on Saturday came a day after Israel bombed several tunnels, saying they were used to smuggle weapons into Gaza.

The coastal territory is under the de facto control of Hamas, an armed Palestinian political group that does not explicitly recognise the Jewish state.

The latest round of Israeli air raids are the first to target Palestinian tunnels in nearly two months.

Missile fire by Palestinian rocket squads has diminished since Egypt began efforts to ensure that a January 18 truce that ended Israel’s 22-day offensive on Gaza holds.

Israel launched its war on Gaza with the stated aim of preventing armed groups in Gaza from firing rockets towards its territory.

At least 1,417 Palestinians were killed during the war, of whom 926 were civilians, a Palestinian human rights organisation says.

The Israeli military says the death toll was 1,166, of whom 295 were civilians. At least 13 Israelis, including three civilians, died over the course of the conflict.