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Wednesday, 11 February 2009

safe transit, plastic bags and text books

Meanwhile on Monday, UN officials reiterated their call for Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza and open the crossings for urgent supplies to be sent in to the Palestinian territory.
"It is absolutely crucial that Israel allow the crossings to be opened"
Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN special envoy"It is absolutely crucial that Israel allow the crossings to be opened and also expand the list of items that go in," Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN special representative for children and armed conflict, told reporters following her recent visit to Gaza, the West Bank and southern Israel.
"At the moment less than 200 [aid] trucks are going through [the crossing points into Gaza]," she said.
"We need at least 400 just for the humanitarian needs and over 1,000 once reconstruction begins."
The UN also appealed for Israel to allow plastic bags and human rights textbooks into the Gaza Strip.
"We run out of plastic bags to distribute the food," John Ging, the Unrwa director of operations in Gaza, said in a video link on Monday, adding that the process of getting the plastic locally was "unreliable" and "very expensive".
Unrwa, which only provides assistance to Palestinians holding refugee status, plays a key role in distributing aid in Gaza by handing out food aid to some 900,000 people of out of a population of 1.5 million.
(UN to resume Gaza aid operations, Al Jazeera, Feb 10 2009).
900,000 people out of 1.5 million equals sixty percent of the population. Sixty percent who, from my reckoning, would not be refugees, if borders were opened, sanctions lifted and some serious approaches towards the peace process were made.

By human rights textbooks, above, I don't think it is meant textbooks which are human rights in content as this article (Israel is being urged to explain why it will not allow basic educational materials into Gaza, February 5, 2009) details.

I was reading about the Sri Lankan woes the other day, and was struck by this newspaper article title: Civilians pour out of Sri Lanka war zone. It seems that the Sri Lankan government is employing many techniques similar to the onslaught on Gaza, including bombing hospitals and using cluster bombs. Both sides, according to articles, are heavily armed, however:

Claims by both sides cannot be verified because journalists, most aid groups and international observers are not allowed into the conflict zone.

Hundreds of non-combatants have been killed this year, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and global concern has mounted that a major humanitarian crisis is unfolding away from the public's gaze.

I have not followed this conflict closely, but I assume if recognised democracies can get away with the above, then so can any other government, or faction, on this earth. However, within the Gaza crisis, I think that the questions posed in this article should seriously be pondered: If the Hamas rockets are so lethal, why doesn't Israel swap an F-16 for some? (Mark Steel, The Independent, January 21, 2009).

In this article, Hillary Clinton and David Miliband call for Sri Lanka ceasefire with Tamils, Clinton asks for a temporary ceasefire to:

"...allow civilians and wounded to leave the conflict area and to grant access for humanitarian agencies."

There was nowhere for the civilians of Gaza to run to. Many of the civilians in Sri Lanka are trapped, too, as indicated by the above articles, but they still have tried to flee as best they can. From articles, it seems this exodus has some level of co-ordination with the government. I know there was the tragedy of a suicide bomber being amongst the civilians who were fleeing, but my point is, that there seems some hope, even if it is minimal, that there was somewhere to flee to. In a walled and closed off territory, this is not possible. That is one of the things that strikes me the most about Gaza, that and the fact it could have been very easily avoided. That, and did Rice push for a ceasefire so that the civilians could flee and the wounded could leave areas of conflict? But, that's right, where would they flee to? Maybe she spoke.

Amnesty International in the U.S. was concerned enough on the second of January to send a letter to her, some selections of which are below:
...Amnesty International USA is particularly dismayed at the lopsided response by the US government to the recent violence and its lackadaisical efforts to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Amnesty International, as indeed other human rights and humanitarian organizations, is concerned about attacks directed at or resulting in harm to unarmed civilians. We expect the US government to share this concern for all unarmed civilians, be they Israeli or Palestinians, who are caught in this conflict...

Without diminishing the responsibility of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups for indiscriminate and deliberate attacks on Israeli civilians, the US government must not ignore Israel’s disproportionate response and the longstanding policies which have brought the Gaza Strip to the brink of humanitarian disaster. While Israel has the right and the duty to protect its citizens, it must do so in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law. International law takes security concerns into consideration and allows states to use reasonable means to confront legitimate threats. However, operations must be strictly necessary, proportionate and make every effort to discriminate between combatant and civilian. The least intrusive means must be selected to confront the threat.
I have written about many of the areas covered in the letter before, so I won't quote too much more, suffice to say, it details whether U.S. provided weapons are being used legally in relation to U.S. law, and discusses the humanitarian crisis that was already in place due to the Israeli siege. But it is a short letter. It is worth reading. The letter does urge Rice to try and ensure that the following happens:
Israel must also grant the wounded access to hospitals in Israel and to Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank.
The United States should also take steps to insist that the Egyptian authorities open Egyptian hospitals to those in need of medical care which is not available in Gaza and ask that Egypt guarantees that its border guards do not resort to excessive use of force against those fleeing the bombing. Hamas must also ensure that its security forces and militias do not, under any circumstances, hinder or prevent the passage of the wounded or others patients trying to leave Gaza.
Amnesty said this. I don't know if Rice ever did, and with borders closely monitored, or closed, it is highly unlikely that the above safe transit occurred or is occurring smoothly and regularly, though it can and does occur. This August 2008, Israeli Physicians for Human Rights report attests that transfer for medical reasons often does not go smoothly:
After a patient receives a message from the Palestinian side explaining that he must undergo interrogation, he must arrive at the Erez Crossing, where he is taken down into the depths of the earth, to the GSS basement. His cellular phone is taken from him, and the numbers are extracted from its memory. Interrogators then question the patient and demand information in return for permission to access care. In some cases patients are asked to collaborate with the GSS on a regular basis. Thus testifies A, cancer patient (38): “Afterwards the interrogator told me ‘you are sick with cancer and soon it will spread to your brain. As long as you do not help us – wait for [the opening of] Rafah Crossing.”
GSS are the General Security Service (GSS- Shabac), who make the final decisions regarding exit permits, and the above report alleges that they are targeting sick patients as potential collaborators, making informing and cooperation with the GSS a pre-condition for exiting Gaza. This practice constitutes a violation of The Fourth Geneva Convention and the UN Convention Against Torture, as well as criminal law.

Though Israel opened a field clinic on the 18th of January, this was said about it:
Miri Weingarten of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said the Israeli army has repeatedly refused her group's requests to evacuate wounded Gazans during the war, and called the border clinic too little, too late.

"We think that it demonstrates a cynical use of medical care for propaganda, meaning that when Israel wants to correct its public image, it can and will evacuate the wounded," Weingarten said.

In a rare case, a Palestinian doctor known to Israeli TV audiences for his reports of human suffering during the war was able to secure the transfer of two of his daughters to Israeli hospitals after they were wounded by Israeli shells.
I just wanted to mention a fact that is not often heard in the news, in light of the Sri Lankan suicide bomber mentioned above, that Hamas has carried out only* one suicide bomb attack since 2005 keeping in line with this January 7, 2009 viewpoint put forward by Mouin Rabbani, perhaps, on why the Gaza onslaught was necessary for Israel.
Hamas’ demonstrated capacity to make and uphold agreements with Israel put Israel in a quandary, in light of the Islamists’ growing willingness, particularly since 2005, to coexist with and even support a two-state settlement. A new agreement -- particularly if augmented by one between Hamas and Abbas (the prospects of which would have been enhanced) -- would have been utilized by European states and others, who had painted themselves into a corner by singing for too long and too loudly from Washington’s neo-conservative hymn sheet, to find ways to engage with Hamas. That the movement has, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry website, carried out a grand total of one suicide attack in Israel since March 2005 (shortly before a previous ceasefire -- most others were claimed by Islamic Jihad) would only have facilitated such engagement.
*I say "only" keeping in mind the number of Palestinians that have died during this period, and the number of members of parliament and civilians who have been kidnapped and kept in Israeli jails. I do not condone suicide bombing.

To finish on a positive note, and to kind of tie into the beginning of this post, this picture of children in a Gazan classroom is stolen from Tales to Tell, the blog of an ISM volunteer (as might be the first one, I can't remember). The post that accompanies it is quite positive, which is needed, amongst all the gloom and doom. Of course all copyright remains with the photographers.

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