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Thursday, 22 January 2009

Another letter to President Obama

If we can kill them, we can talk to them.

Another letter to President Obama: In the Mideast equation, settler outposts are the Qassams of the Jews (Mr Obama, grant Hamas the freedom to fail, Ha'aretz, Bradley Burston, 21 January, 2009). I guess the title says it all, though the article explains further. Maybe Burston's letter is not as moving as this one, but is very interesting with good links giving lots of background. Especially this one (Hamas - If we can kill them, we can talk to them,17/12/2007,Bradley Burston, Ha'aretz), which suggests negotiation as a option, not yet tried and perhaps the most viable one, the one least likely to shed blood, you would think.

One of our ex-prime ministers, Malcolm Fraser, in contrast to our current prime minister, also endorses that not too radical an idea, as he talks about Australia's policy towards Israel (which changed in March of last year), and about the work that Jimmy Carter has done towards trying to achieve peace (Balanced policy the only way to peace, The Age, May 10, 2008).

Aid needs and delays.

Meanwhile, aid is delayed all over the place as leaders squabble about who and where to send it.

The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon toured Gaza's rubble-strewn streets on Tuesday and described the destruction he witnessed as heartbreaking.
He estimated that £240 million
[ approx $507 million AUD, $330 million USD] is needed for urgent aid in the coastal enclave and reconstruction may cost close to £1.5 billion [approx $3 billion AUD, $2billion USD], according to Palestinian and international estimates.

Although aid agencies said they planned a massive inflow of supplies through Israeli crossings, help will be complicated by the Western boycott of Hamas as a terrorist organisation and an Israeli blockade on many items, including building materials, that can be used to make weapons (Israel completes Gaza withdrawal, ITN, 21 January, 2009).

The Arab countries are muddling along, undecided where they should send their contributions, too (Gaza agreement eludes Arab leaders, Al Jazeera, 20 January, 2009).

Well, Israel's always willing to help (Western diplomats: Israel seeks to control reconstruction of war-torn Gaza, Ha'aretz, 19 January, 2009) rebuild infrastructure it tore down.

As an aside, Moon, who is obviously in the area, was reported to say the following on the 19th of January when he attended the Kuwait Economic Summit:

In his speech in Kuwait, Ban reiterated that Israel must reopen border crossings with Gaza, allow humanitarian aid in and withdraw from the Gaza Strip. Likewise, he urged Hamas to stop firing rockets at southern Israel.

But a permanent solution, he said, would require a return to the stalled Middle East peace process.

"A true end to violence, and lasting security for both Palestinians and Israelis, will only come through a just and comprehensive settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict," he said. "The (Israeli) occupation that began in 1967 must end."
(, Ban urges Arabs to back Abbas in Gaza crisis).

Well the article was from the 19th, so the (short-term) withdrawal has been completed. In theory.

There is further here about Ban's visit, too. (UN chief pays 'heartbreak' visit to Gaza, SBS World News, 21 January, 2009). Funny how the word 'heartbreak' was hardly used in a headline in Australia while the war on Gaza was in process.

Back to aid: The World Health Organization has this to say:

"Right now, we very sadly see ideal conditions for outbreaks of disease," WHO director general Margaret Chan said at the opening of the executive board's annual meeting.

"Densely packed and displaced populations are weakened by hunger, little power for cooking and heating, and severe psychological trauma. Drinking water is scarce, sewage lines have been broken, and garbage is piling up," she said.

"Immunization, along with most routine health services, has been interrupted for more than three weeks. An outbreak under such conditions would be another health crisis that should not happen," Chan said.

"Medical staff, including surgical teams, are exhausted," she said, noting that there are only 2,000 hospital beds in Gaza. And might I add, more than 5000 injured people, many seriously so.

Not only that, but hospitals, ambulances, medical centres and so on were targeted during the attacks by Israeli forces, so that basic infrastructure is missing too. Photos of the destruction uploaded by the Israeli Human Rights Group, B'Tselem, can be seen here.

There are problems with sewage, too, as forewarned here (Amira Hass, Officials warn: Gaza infrastructures near breaking point, Ha'aretz, 6 January, 2009). Also, not to forget,that the UN compound which stored all the UN food for the area, and supplies was targeted by IDF forces and burnt to the ground. Gaza has been under Israeli and western-backed sanctions since 2006, and is, accordingly, largely dependent upon aid. As Australian labor MP Julia Irwin foretold in her pro-Palestinian piece:

And who will pick up the pieces when the bloodshed has finally stopped? The rest of the world will, of course. Through the world's contributions to the UN, its largest budget item is the UN Relief and Works Agency. With an annual $700 million budget going to support Palestinian refugees, the biggest component is being spent on Gaza (Getting away with murder, SMH, Jan 11, 2009).

Let's hope the rest of the world can get its act together to get some aid through to Gaza, pronto.

War Crimes

And Israel think they might have, kind of, could have, maybe used white phosphorous (Israeli phosphorus use 'clear and undeniable', SBS World Australia, 20 January, 2009 - another heading it seems Australia hardly ever got near to using during the onslaught). As for the tricky Dime weapons, no word on them yet.

From the Guardian, 21 January, 2009. Israel admits troops may have used phosphorus shells in Gaza:

Palestinian doctors have reported treating dozens of cases of suspected phosphorus burns.

According to senior IDF officers, quoted today in the Ha'aretz newspaper, the Israeli military made use of two different types of phosphorus munitions.

The first, they insisted, was contained in 155mm artillery shells, and contained "almost no phosphorus" except for a trace to ignite the smoke screen.

The second munitions, at the centre of the inquiry by Col Alkalai, are standard phosphorus shells – both 88mm and 120mm – fired from mortars.

About 200 of these shells were fired during Israel's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, and of these – say the IDF – 180 were fired on Hamas fighters and rocket launch crews in northern Gaza.

Alkalai is investigating the circumstances in which the remaining 20 shells were fired, amid compelling evidence on the ground that phosphorus munitions were involved in the attack on a UN warehouse and a UN school.

The mortar system is guided by GPS and according to Israel a failure of the targeting system may have been responsible for civilian deaths. However, critics point out the same explanation was used for mis-targeting deaths in Beit Hanoun in Gaza in 2006.

The brigade's officers, however, added that the shells were fired only at places that had been positively identified as sources of enemy fire.

The use of phosphorus as an incendiary weapon as it now appears to have been used against Hamas fighters – as opposed to a smoke screen – is covered by the Convention of Certain Conventional Weapons to which Israel in not a signatory.

However, Israel also is obliged under the Geneva Conventions and customary international humanitarian law to give due care to protecting the civilian population when deciding on appropriate military targeting and response to hostile fire, particularly in heavily built up areas with a strict prohibition on the use of indiscriminate force.

"They obviously could not have gone on denying the use of phosphorus," Donatella Rovera, Amnesty researcher for Israel and the Occupied Territories, told the Guardian yesterday.

"There are still phosphorus wedges burning all over Gaza including at the UN compound and at the school.

"It is clear they are not using it as smoke screen as they claimed. They used it in areas where they had no forces, and there are much less problematic smoke screens that they could have used."

Did you take note of that small piece of information?: The mortar system is guided by GPS.

The IDF had the GPS of the schools they shelled, of the compound they shelled, and of the press offices they shelled (and hospitals and so on). As for the claim above that the shells were fired only at places that had been positively identified as sources of enemy fire... Remember these words from Christopher Gunness, spokesman for the UN refugee agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, after 40 civilians died whilst sheltering in a UN run school which was bombed (No militants in bombed gaza school, The Age, Jan 7, 2009)?

"Following an initial investigation, we are 99.9 percent sure that there were no militants or militant activities in the school and the school compound" (Israel to halt bombings as diplomacy steps up, SBS World News Australia, 7 January, 2009).

Israel at first had said there were militants in the school, then outside the school, and then finally said no there were no militants, or it was all a terrible mistake, and human shield, human shield! The school Gunness was at is not the school in question, but the same excuses were used for shelling both, and for destroying the compound. At least four schools were attacked by Israeli forces throughout the onslaught on Gaza (these should have been safe houses for civilians, and the IDF had their GPS).

To re-quote the article, critics point out the same explanation was used for mis-targeting deaths in Beit Hanoun in Gaza in 2006, and as detailed in this article .

Well, as Al Jazeera said January 19, 2009 ( Outcry over weapons used in Gaza): The likelihood of either side being subject to a war-crimes action seems remote as the International Criminal Court (ICC) has no jurisdiction to investigate because the Gaza Strip is not a state.

In addition
[as stated above], Israel has not signed the Rome Statute that enshrined the ICC so any investigation would require a UN Security mandate - likely to be vetoed by Israel's ally, the US.

Human rights groups will try, let's hope. And I suppose there are other crimes,such as these , and these which will never see the light of day as they are testimonies. (*Edited, 22 January, 2009).
Which I guess brings us to this (UN chief pays heartbreak visit to Gaza, SBS World, Australia, January 21, 2009):

Palestinians doubt Obama will bring change in the Middle East

Gazans say the tide of global hope that has surged with Obama's election victory has not washed over their homeland."Obama won't bring my husband back to life," said Leila Khalil. "He was martyred and left me with six children to feed on my own. And Obama won't repair our house that was damaged in the (air) raids."

For Khalil, Obama, who has been inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States, will not alter the historically pro-Israel US policy on the Middle East. "No one cares about us," she said. "If we can't even count on Arab presidents, what can we hope for from an American president when they've always supported Israel?" The Palestinian bureau of statistics reported 4,100 homes totally destroyed and 17,000 others damaged in the offensive.

Let's hope they are wrong, and that Obama leans more towards Carter than Bush, despite indications to the contrary, regarding relations with Israel and Palestine.

*Note: 22 January, 2009. Well, things seem to be moving on Guantanamo, and a radio report just heard indicated that Clinton does not seem to be so strident in her foreign policy outlook as she was a couple of weeks ago, looking at "principles and pragmatism, not rigid ideology." Ooh, those news reports were from the 13th. Oh, I see why I missed it, because of this diplomatic stance from the same day (Clinton rules out Hamas negotiations, SBS World News, 14 January, 2009). Anyway, fingers crossed, wait and see.

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this cutie was taken by Crazyegg95 in 2005 and is from flickr