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Friday, 27 February 2009

craftiness, witchcraft or skill? gareth evans joins the fray.

I will write about Malaysia, with lots of photos to boot, but I just wanted to quickly observe the following. It is interesting the number of Australian, and politicians of other nations, who find their voice and conscience once they actually leave the craft (as in craftiness, or witch craft, or skill? I'll let you decide) of politics.

Joining Malcolm Fraser as another ex-politician of repute, Gareth Evans, a former Labor foreign minister and ex-deputy prime minister, along with former peace negotiators, has urged Israel and the greater world at large (that being the U.S. and the European Union - though you may as well throw Egypt into the mix) to take the commonsense action of negotiating with Hamas. Hamas (who were elected) have shown a consistent willingness to negotiate since they were elected to power. Israel (and the U.S.) have shown consistent stubbornness in not approaching the negotiation table.

Evans' current post is President and Chief Executive of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG), an independent multinational non-governmental organisation with 90 full-time staff on five continents which works, through field-based analysis and high-level policy advocacy, to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.

Monday, 16 February 2009


I'll be leaving in about an hour to go to Malaysia. Our school is working on a Habitat for Humanity project. After that, I'll be heading home for a couple of weeks. I might blog from Australia, maybe not. I am nervous as I always am before I travel, but it will be good to be in the warmer weather. I know I don't get too many readers, but enough for me. Keep an eye on things, and keep yourselves well.

australian news

Australians are urging people to boycott Max Brenner chocolates. Here are contact details (at the end of the article) for those in Sydney (or elsewhere) who may want to help.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

stories and controversies

I have lifted this whole from the Mondoweiss blog, so shout out to it, and all the good work it does:

The following report was written by a delegate on a recent National Lawyers Guild delegation to Gaza.

The Second Nakba

By: Reem Salahi

History repeats itself. With the key to her demolished home around her neck, the middle-aged Palestinian woman standing before me had escaped the first Nakba (meaning 'Day of Catastrophe' marking the exodus of Palestinians from their homes with the creation of the State of Israel) of 1948 only to live through the second Nakba; the Nakba of 2009, which was more destructive and deadly than the first.

In order to reach the tent city in Jabalia, we walked down a long road of pure destruction and demolition; destroyed homes, mosques, buildings, bakeries and stores.

I had wanted to see the tent city in Jabalia to take pictures and talk to the residents living there. Undoubtedly, these people were the most affected by Israel's recent offensive as their livelihoods were minimized to nothing more than a 6x8 foot white tent which had no amenities and housed up to fifty persons per tent.

Wherever we looked there was destruction and children; children who had lost the roof over their heads and now stood vulnerable to not only the elements, but also to Israel's continued bombing of border villages. One child walked up and down the road with a piece of rubble tied to a long cord. It was his new toy since his old toys were lost under the ruins of what used to be his home. Men stood around, drinking tea and talking. With the backdrop of mounds of rubble and tents was another man, praying, on a piece of tarp. While the Israelis had taken away everything else of his, they did not take away his God, and to this, he bowed his head in gratitude.

These Palestinians stand under the burning sun day-in and day-out living their lives for no particular purpose. Many of them used to be farmers. Most of them had lost multiple family members. All of them had lost their homes and farms. An older woman sat in the sand swatting flies. We approached her, as we were told by the residents of this tent city that she had lived through both Nakbas – the Nakba of 1948 and the Nakba of 2009.

Born in 1945, Sabha Yousef Mohammad Abed had lived through the first Nakba but had lost her husband and her farm in the second. Sabha had left her home in Brett (sp?) near Jaffa in what is currently considered Israel-proper when the Zionist forces had first come. Her family fled from one village to the next to escape the Zionist forces until she eventually landed in Gaza, in the village of Jabalia, a few months later. After the first Nakba, she lived for a few years in tents but slowly her life improved as the tents changed into block rooms and from block rooms to actual homes and farms. While Sabha was very young during the first Nakba, she remembers the fear and the constant fleeing from one village to the next. She remembers being shot at and losing family members. She remembers the uncertainty of life and the tents and the running sewage. But more so, she remembers building her life block by block from scratch and establishing a home for herself and her family. Sabha lost this home during the first week of Israel's offensive and is now living in a tent with her children.

While Sabha has never experienced complete stability due to ongoing wars and bombardment from Israeli forces and settlers, she had never seen the magnitude of bloodshed and brutal force used against Palestinians as she saw in Israel's recent offensive. Israeli forces began their aerial strikes against Jabalia on the second day of the offensive. Israeli forces bombed homes and civilians indiscriminately as her neighbors tried to flee. Many of those who tried to flee were taken as hostages by Israeli soldiers and many others were killed or fatally injured. Those who were only mildly injured bled to death due to the lack of medical access and the ambulance drivers' inability to drive the less than one kilometer stretch from the headquarters of the Palestinian Red Cross Society to the bombed-out areas.

As Sabha spoke about Israel's recent offensive, she shook in anger. Tell me where are the militants, she kept asking. Are these children militants? Does any human being deserve to live the way we live, fifty people to one tent with no blankets, no food, no water. And where do we defecate? They have even taken away our dignity. We are less than animals in their eyes. Even animals have more rights than us. To Sabha, Israel's objectives were nothing short of genocide. The Zionists fled from a holocaust and created a new one. They want a land with no people, she stated simply. A land without people for a people who have been purged from their land. For Sabha, this was not a war with Hamas, it was a massacre, and its only objective was to eliminate the Palestinians, to wipe them from the face of the earth.

Sabha told us of how the Israeli soldiers entered their village in midday and separated the men from the women. The soldiers' faces were painted black and they shot at the villager's feet. When Sabha saw her sons being taken away as hostages, she left her aging husband and farm behind and hid in the home adjacent to the hostages. The other women were made to march to the city center under the aerial strikes and constant bombing. Those who resisted or turned back were immediately shot. All around the streets were the dead and injured. The area smelled of phosphorus and rotting bodies. Sabha stayed in hiding for many days. During that time, her husband was forced from their farm as Israeli bulldozers demolished the farm and bulldozed the walls of the farm over their goats, sheep, chicken and camels. Sabha's husband, who stood on the street and watched his farm and home being demolished before his eyes, was killed moments later by an Israeli missile. One of the farm's walls fell over his dead body, and his body lay rotting for days.

As Sabha spoke, the entire village surrounded us. Even the children stood around in a circle and added to Sabha's narrative. One girl, about seven or eight years of age, tugged at my sleeve. That was my home over there, she whispered, pointing at rubble. She was in school when the bombing started. Embarrassedly, she admitted that she was so scared during the bombings that she fainted and peed on herself. Her brother was killed as was many of her extended family.

Sabha is not alone in her anger. I have not met one Palestinian in Gaza who was not shocked and angered by the extent of Israel's brutality in the recent offensive. After conducting an interview with one of the delegates, anchorman and filmmaker Ashraf Mashharawi from British Channel 4 spoke with me about his 16 year old cousin, Ahmad, who was sliced in half by what is believed to be a DIME missile. DIME or Dense Inert Metal Explosives produce an unusually powerful blast within a small area and cause strong biological effects. The blast does not cause bleeding, but rather slices a body as smoothly as though the body was amputated. While Israel's use of DIME has not been officially confirmed, it has been unofficially confirmed by weapons experts and doctors who have visited Gaza.

Ahmad along with Ashraf's younger brother, Mahmoud, age 11, were playing on the rooftop when they were targeted by a drone missile. Both Mahmoud and Ahmad were killed on impact and Ahmad was sliced in half. Days later, the bottom portion of Ahmad's body was located a few kilometers from the rooftop that both Mahmoud and Ahmad were playing on. Parts of Ahmad's legs and one of his arms similarly separated from his body and were found on the rooftop by family members.

Having seen pictures of these DIME-caused amputations, I must admit that it is the most horrifying sight one can imagine. One of the doctors at Al Awda Hospital showed me a video on his cell phone of a baby girl who was similarly sliced in half. Her top half was black from the blast and her bottom half was gone, cleanly cut from the waist down as her guts and insides were exposed for the world to see. In the video, when the doctor – who had undoubtedly seen death in all its forms – approached to see her, he fell to the ground and started wailing. I cannot describe the sight of the girl. Even now as I write about it, I feel light-headed and nauseous. No news station, not even Al-Jazeera, agreed to film this girl. Having seen the doctor's video, I can only sympathize.

Today is Israel's elections. Yet for the Palestinians, the question is not who will take over Ehud Olmert's position, but rather, when will be the next Israeli offensive, how many more Palestinians will be killed, and what will the next genocide that will undoubtedly wipe the memory of all Palestinians living in Gaza look like. Before leaving the tent city in Jabalia, I told Sabha that insha'Allah I will come back to see her in better days, in happier days. She laughed and patted my hand. When you come back, she said, you will be lucky to see any Palestinian left alive here. But maybe its better that we are killed, this life has been hard and painful. I have only wanted peace and stability throughout my life, and have gotten neither. Now I have lost hope. I have lived through many wars, yet I have never seen any war like this before. That is why I know that Israel is out to eradicate us. It failed to eliminate us this time, but will not fail next time. That is why I don't think you will come back and find us next time. Alhamdulillah (thanks to God), that is all I can say. Alhamdulillah.

This post about the construction of a community oven to bake bread, gives some small hope.

However, Israel has tightened the fishing limit off the coast of Gaza from six miles to just three miles

Israel has enforced a six-mile limit since October 2006. The Olso [sic] peace agreement guarantees Palestinians the right to fish out to 20 nautical miles from Gaza.

But further hope, maybe even stronger, as the U.S. is involved:
U.S. fends off Israeli pressure, decides to help plan 'Durban 2'. The Obama administration said late Saturday it would participate in planning a United Nations conference on racism,
this is despite the U.S. and Canada having boycotted it previously (along with Israel), due to allegations of anti-Semitism, and, according to Ha'aretz:
Israel is boycotting the conference because a declaration equating Zionism with racism is expected to be made there. In addition, it is expected that the organizers and participants will charge that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians (go figure).
The Obama government has not decided to participate in the conference itself, yet, only the planning. Depending upon what kind of pressure the U.S. exerts, that could be a good or a bad thing. The United Nations in 1975 passed resolution 3379 an explanation of which, from the archives of the United Nations Chronicle summarising the 70s, follows:
...the most controversial issue arising under the auspices of the Decade was the adoption on 10 November 1975 of resolution 3379 (XXX), which determined that “Zionism is a form of racial discrimination”. As a consequence of that action, several States withdrew their support for the activities to be undertaken in the context of the Decade, including financial support for the convening of a world conference. That action notwithstanding, the First World Conference to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination was held in Geneva from 14 to 25 August 1978 and attended by 125 States and a number of international organizations and observers. The Conference adopted the Programme of Action to further the objectives of the Decade. The Programme was a further source of controversy as it contained a number of references unacceptable to many Member States and regional groupings, especially the provision condemning the “existing and increasing relations between the Zionist State of Israel and the racist regime of South Africa”. It also referred to the “expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland, the practice of racial discrimination against them and their right to self- determination”. There was also a growing connection between considering the question of racism and that of the self-determination of peoples. In Africa, in particular, these two issues were inseparable in relation not only to South Africa, but also to Namibia, Northern Rhodesia and other (Portuguese) territories.

It was drawing on the

Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, adopted by the General Assembly by resolution 1904 (XVIII) of 20 November 1963,

[which] [re]affirms that: any doctrine of superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous, and that there is no justification for racial discrimination, in theory or in practice, anywhere,
Reaffirming also its conviction that discrimination between human beings on the grounds of race, colour, religion or ethnic origin is an obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations among nations and is capable of disturbing peace and security among peoples and the harmony of persons living side by side even within the same State.
See also, UNGA Resolution 3379 on the elimination of all forms of racism.
The resolution was repealed in 1991, but you might want to look at this 2009 United Nations Annexe which lists a few of the many resolutions that Israel has rejected, and actions it has committed, to see why such a resolution might have come into being in the first place.

It seems, though, that, according to this article, that the United Nations' power, if it had any, to protect freedom of speech is being twisted in light of the increasing power of religious organisations and governments around the world.

hebron - west bank

Israeli soldier assassinated 14 year old Izz Al-Din Al-Jamal in the Abu Sneineh neighborhood near the Ibrahim Mosque on 13 February 2009. Around half past two on Friday, a few stones were thrown at the Abu Al-Rish checkpoint and Israeli forces responded by shooting teargas. A soldier and border police then occupied a rooftop next to the checkpoint and the soldier from a sniper position began shooting live ammunition at an empty house across the street where a few young boys were standing. Izz Al-Din Al-Jamal was shot in the heart and died instantly. He was brought to the hospital and brought back to the Abu Sneineh neighborhood for a burial at the graveyard before sunset. Read more

Saturday, 14 February 2009

electing to recognise human rights for all

According to the CIA Factbook, African Americans make up 12.85% of the U.S. people. Israeli-Arabs (mostly of Palestinian descent), make up 23.6% of the population in Israel. These are the Palestinians who live in Israel "proper" (it hasn't defined its borders), not Gaza nor the West Bank. The government that is currently being formed in Israel is extremely right-winged. Avigdor Lieberman, who will play a major role, has run a platform of "No loyalty, no citizenship," directed towards the Arab population of Israel. He is an immigrant from Russia, having arrived in Israel 20 years prior. His policy is that people who were born on the land, have lived on the land for years and years and years, who, for the most part, are not Jewish, must make a pledge of allegiance to the Jewish state. If they do not, they will be shipped out:
Yisrael Beitenu's [Lieberman's party] manifesto was that 1.5 million Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel (indigenous survivors or descendants of the Palestinian majority ethnically cleansed in 1948) be subjected to a loyalty oath. If they don't swear allegiance to the "Jewish state" they would lose their citizenship and be forced from the land of their birth, joining millions of already stateless Palestinians in exile or in Israeli-controlled ghettos. In a move instigated by Lieberman but supported by Livni's allegedly "centrist" Kadima, the Knesset recently voted to ban Arab parties from participating in elections. Although the high court overturned it in time for the vote, it is an ominous sign of what may follow.

Lieberman, who previously served as deputy prime minister, has a long history of racist and violent incitement. Prior to Israel's recent attack, for example, he demanded Israel subject Palestinians to the brutal and indiscriminate violence Russia used in Chechyna. He also called for Arab Knesset members who met with officials from Hamas to be executed.
That's almost 24% of the population. Could this idea even come into light of day in modern-day United States, or Australia? I will concentrate on the United States, because it has a sizable African American minority who have had to fight for their rights. The Palestinians are indigenous, but their numbers are far higher than the indigenous population that exists now in the United States and Australia. In countries like India, and Indonesia (Dutch East Indies), which were also colonised, the populations were too huge to seriously contemplate such ideas (in expulsion, anyway. I'm sure there were loyalty pledges dreamt up). In Australia, too, Aborigines were not citizens in their own country until the 1960s, had curfews imposed upon them, were only allowed to work in certain jobs, were not allowed to own houses, and so on. But many steps have been made to rectify wrongs, and they are still being made (with varying degrees of success), and as has been pointed out many times before, wrongs committed in one country do not condone wrongs in another. These colonial times are meant to have been left behind.

So, if you will, imagine a politician, not born in the United States, gaining power in the United States, and ordering a large minority of existing citizens born in the country to pledge allegiance to a Zionist concept, or else. No matter if you were born in the country, or not. No matter how many generations your family had been in the country (in the case of the Palestinians, for pretty damned long) or not.

Why do we allow such ideas to perpetuate when we won't stand for it in our own countries? In Australia, most immigrants take a pledge of commitment when they become citizens, and even then, they have the choice of a pledge that refers to God or not, but native-born do not need to go through this procedure. Why do we stand for such ideas, and encourage them when we have supported struggles against such ideas in the past, and no longer legally impose them on our own indigenous* or minority populations? Why do people support these ideas with their tax dollars, especially in light of the recession? (Of course, the solution from strong elements in the States seems to be to no longer provide aid to the occupied territories, rather than to stop supporting the rather robust Israeli economy, and sending it arms). Why do they support it with their silence? (I know the main stream media plays a huge role there). The other politicians who will hold power in Israel are just variations on the theme when it comes to the rights of the Palestinians in Israel and in the occupied territories.

*Australia's treatment of its indigenous population is still contentious, and rightly so. The Howard government introduced many restrictions and took away many rights as detailed in this Dec 2008, article. The [current] federal government declared that it will introduce reforms to allow the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act (which introduced these restrictions and interventions) to be lifted, in a year. Groups argue it is not soon enough. In current times, though, our government has not taken to strafing the population with F16s, and in theory, people are free to travel the whole country. There are no official checkpoints, watchtowers or separation walls keeping populations separate.

It seems that very few of our politicians, at present, will ever see their way through to recognising human rights on this issue, and will, instead support the suppression of same. The following (at the end of this paragraph) was written by Ali Abunimah for the Electronic Infitada, and I think his last comment on boycotts, divestment and sanctions is probably true. Apartheid did eventually cease in South Africa, and initially, it was not through international governmental action, but through the actions of concerned citizens, institutions and companies from various countries. I wish our politicians were braver, but it seems the lure of money and power will mean that the only human rights they ever hold sacred are their own.
What does not help is brazen western hypocrisy. Already the US State Department spokesman affirmed that the Obama administration would work with whatever coalition emerged from Israel's "thriving democracy" and promised that the US would not interfere in Israel's "internal politics." Despite US President Barack Obama's sweet talk about a new relationship with the Arab world, few will fail to notice the double standard. In 2006, Hamas won a democratic election in the occupied territories, observed numerous unilateral or agreed truces that were violated by Israel, offered Israel a generation-long truce to set the stage for peace, and yet it is still boycotted by the US and European Union.

Worse, the US sponsored a failed coup against Hamas and continues to arm and train the anti-Hamas militias of Mahmoud Abbas, whose term as Palestinian Authority president expired on 9 January. As soon as he took office, Obama reaffirmed this boycott of Palestinian democracy.

The clearest message from Israel's election is that no Zionist party can solve Israel's basic conundrum and no negotiations will lead to a two-state solution. Israel could only be created as a "Jewish state" by the forced removal of the non-Jewish majority Palestinian population. As Palestinians once again become the majority in a country that has defied all attempts at partition, the only way to maintain Jewish control is through ever more brazen violence and repression of resistance (see Gaza). Whatever government emerges is certain to preside over more settlement-building, racial discrimination and escalating violence.

There are alternatives that have helped end what once seemed like equally intractable and bloody conflicts: a South African-style one-person one-vote democracy, or Northern Ireland-style power-sharing. Only under a democratic system according rights to all the people of the country will elections have the power to transform people's futures.

But Israel today is lurching into open fascism. It is utterly disingenuous to continue to pretend -- as so many do -- that its failed and criminal leaders hold the key to getting out of the morass. Instead of waiting for them to form a coalition, we must escalate the international civil society campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions to force Israelis to choose a saner path
(Israel Lurches into Facism, February 13, 2009).
If you want advice by a writer commissioned by the US army, on part of this issue, (or on HAMAS's international terrorist standing - in that Israel, the US, and the western world uses the word 'terrorism' to justify all Israeli actions), I urge you to read all of this report (HAMAS and Israel: Conflicting strategies of group-based politics). She expands upon many of the things touched upon in the above quote, such as the US sponsored coup. I did post it before, and hopefully will summarise parts of it later, needless to say, HAMAS are not quite the ogres the mainstream media leads us to believe, though I am not painting them as angels, and actions are grounded in history and context. So saying, times also change. She calls for, as do I, recognising an elected government and electing to recognise human rights, for all.

americans harassing americans within america

It seems that students of Hampshire College of Amherst, MA in the States, who put forward a motion to said college to divest from companies with a strong interest in Israel and Palestine (the interest of which, aid and abet misery, whether deliberately or not), are being intimidated by forces far bigger than them. The college, following many British colleges and universities, did choose to take note of the students' petitioning and did choose to divest. Apparently it was the first college in America to divest from apartheid South Africa, in 1977, for which it should be proud. Along with the students, the college has also been pressured for its moral stance, which means that it, like the Church of England (which has recently disinvested - their word - from Caterpillar), has claimed that its reasons for divestment are financial or vaguely ethical, though the Church of England has now clarified its position, and says that divestment is due to:
[t]he majority in the Synod [being] clearly particularly unhappy with the idea of the church profiting from one specific and controversial security policy. The demolition of Palestinian homes [by bulldozing], in recent years has been a regular source of controversy, and raises moral issues of some seriousness. [Is due] to [a wish to] register our concern over this and to review whether we should or could continue with an investment policy which appeared to accept something with which we were deeply uneasy.
There is information of the intimidation here, and you can trace it back through the Mondoweiss blog. The students' action has the endorsement of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, by the way.

Students at Cornell College who made a very peaceful protest, in that it didn't even involve people, by placing 1300 black flags around their college to represent 1300 Gazan deaths, and by putting up signs quoting United Nations and Amnesty International statements on deaths and war crimes in Gaza, had their flags uprooted and signs destroyed within the day. If one reads the comment sections on the newspaper article linked, it seems that some students (I wonder) were intimidated by the flags as they walked to their school. It's just as well they didn't have to face phosphorous or dime bombs then. I wonder what the sight of those would have done to them if flags could reduce them to babbling messes (okay, okay, I exaggerate on the babbling mess). Anyway.

Further developments and discussion can be found at the Mondoweiss blog. He provides lots of links within a post, so you can click back through them.

A lot bigger than Hampshire.

Three of 900 people protesting.
Have been wanting to add this letter from Antony Lowenstein's blog for a few days. 300 signatories. I will quote directly from the entry:

The following letter was endorsed by 300 participants at the meeting on February 6 and sent to federal ministers and Labor backbenchers.

from: Sydney Public Meeting*,
Politics in the Pub, Gaelic Club,
Surry Hills, Sydney, NSW
February 6th 2009


The Gaza Catastrophe: An Independent Australian Foreign Policy
The killing of over 1300 people in Gaza, a large proportion of whom were children, plus the devastation of homes and basic infrastructure prompts the question, ‘Where is the respect for human rights?’ This question also addresses Hamas firing of rockets which, during the long siege of Gaza, killed at least eleven Israelis.

In relation to the Gaza catastrophe, we ask that your Government cease the practice of treating Israel as an exceptional State, above international law , able to ignore UN resolutions, steal more land for settlements and able to kill at will. Please also find the courage to challenge Israeli spokespersons’ explanations and excuses for their brutality.

We also ask you and your colleagues to find the courage to develop an independent Australian policy which recognizes that peace with justice for the Palestinians, as identified by the rulings and principles of international law, would also provide security for Israel. Dialogue for a just peace, including meetings with Hamas, is the least costly, the most visionary and the only non violent way to address this decades old injustice.

Yours sincerely,

Stuart Rees,
Chair, * Public Meeting, letter endorsed by 300 + participants on 6/2/09
Sydney Peace Foundation
Box 54, Holme Building, Univ. of Sydney, NSW 2006

I think a lot of Australians wish that the government, and members of government, whether in power or opposition - the members that they elected - could and would follow the above.

Friday, 13 February 2009

carnations for valentines, or the history of throwing oranges into the sea

The story of farmers who have been allowed to export their carnations from Gaza to the Netherlands in time for Valentines is a lot sadder than it seems.

Ha'aretz reports on February 12 that Israel allowed the export of 25,000 carnations to the Netherlands. The word allowed there kind of clues you in to the fact that the farmers themselves do not have much control over the process.

The article then goes on to say that The amount of carnations allowed out of the Gaza Strip was only a fraction of what farmers produce. Many farmers say they have no choice but to feed the crop to sheep. That's a livelihood we're talking about there. The story is also reported here.

Israel tightened its blockade of Gaza after Hamas Islamists wrested control of the territory from President Mahmoud Abbas's secular Fatah faction in 2007. Israel allows in aid, but exports are banned with few exceptions.

B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights watch group, reports on these exports. They can go out the Rafah border, which is the Egyptian border, but as most exports are destined for Israel or Israel's ports, there is not much sense in this. Imports are not allowed into the Rafah border.

They summarise it much better, (also in the report linked below) and in more detail than I can, so here is the following (my emphasis):
Imports and exports: Israel continues to exercise complete control over the movement of goods into the Gaza Strip. The three crossing points designated for this purpose - Karni, Sufa, and Kerem Shalom - are under Israel's sole control. Rafah Crossing, the administration of which was handed over to the Palestinian Authority, has a terminal for the crossing of goods, but according to the November 2005 agreement, the crossing is limited to exports. The importance of the PA's independent ability to export goods via Rafah Crossing is limited, given that most of the exports are intended for Israel or are shipped abroad via Israeli ports. As a result, most exports pass through Karni. Israel's almost complete control of the movement of goods to and from the Gaza Strip has far-reaching consequences: Israel 's decision to close the commercial crossings, a frequent occurrence, paralyzes the Gaza Strip economy and causes a shortage of basic goods, including food and medicines.

Due to the inefficient operation of the Karni crossing, Gaza exporters and merchants are prevented from competing fairly in foreign markets. The delays and frequent disruptions in the passage of goods make it hard for them to plan a production and marketing schedule for their goods, and do not allow them to commit to supply dates. This causes them to lose existing and potential customers. In addition, the delays lead to a great increase in shipping and storage costs of goods, and in some cases goods rot or are damaged before they reach their destination. As a result, import and export industries have been paralyzed, businesses have collapsed and many residents of Gaza have lost their source of employment.

The bottleneck at the Karni crossing stems from the illegitimate and faulty conduct of both Israeli and Palestinian actors. In order to completely release this bottleneck and to enable optimal movement of goods, therefore, conduct on both sides of the crossing must be improved. However, the State of Israel, which as stated above holds effective control of the crossing, has to do everything in its power in order to improve the movement of goods into and out of Gaza , thereby reducing the economic distress of Gaza residents. This is the case even if the faulty operations on the Palestinian side of the crossing are not rectified.

A substantial step in this direction could be made if Israeli authorities would enable operation of an airport or sea port from Gaza , or if they would operate additional land crossings for goods. A significant improvement would also result if the authorities would improve a few grave failures in the way they operate Karni:
Repeated and unnecessary closing of the crossing ・the proper balance between Israel's security needs and the needs of Gaza residents requires abstaining from closing the goods crossing between Gaza and Israel except at those times and places where it is essential to neutralize a security threat.

Convoluted and unnecessary checks carried out at the crossing - Investment in appropriate technologies and adopting more efficient checking procedures would enable much more rapid movement of goods without harming Israeli security interests in any way.

Limited operation of the crossing - Israeli authorities must invest the necessary funds in order to expand the hours of operation of the crossing and the number of personnel employed there.

Corruption and exploitation of the crossing's faulty operation - the authorities responsible for the operation of the crossing must supervise their employees and sub-contractors in a more efficient way in order to reduce the phenomenon of corruption
Women in Gaza preparing carnations. This feelgood (?) picture appeared in Ha'aretz today (13 Mar, 2009, severed from the article linked above, in the online version, anyway. Though, if you clicked on the picture, it took you to the article.

Some of those convoluted and unnecessary checks and procedures include unloading the truck on the Palestinian side, reloading another truck on the Israeli side, and checking all produce by hand, it seems. Scanning technology has been bought by the Palestinians that would avoid this, but it is not used by the Israeli side, therefore goods are bruised and damaged and often mixed with other goods to their detriment. At various checkpoints, goods are often checked more than once, too, which, in the case of fruit, vegetables, flowers and so on, can only lessen their value. There are other methods of technology which could be employed to ensure Israeli safety, such as hermetically sealing the goods once they have been checked, to avoid multiple checking. If you want more information on the points above, B'Tselem has this document Blocked Arteries:Israel's responsibility for Gaza's failing foreign trade. Also, this quick factsheet.

In a 12 May 2008 report in the Guardian,'A disaster for everybody', one of the United Nations representatives in Gaza, John Ging, had this to say on the result of stricter and even more strict (draconian?) border controls:
"The civilian population are not lost to civilisation. They have not given in to violence as the only way," Ging said.

"They are actually struggling to protect themselves against that and they are getting no support. If this were understood - that Gaza is not lost to violence, that Gaza is not hopeless rather that the majority of people in Gaza are civilised - then the whole equation would change," he said

"People respond much more positively to help than they do to force, coercion or violence."
The report goes on to say, as has been detailed by many other human rights groups, that
Israel has significantly reduced the amount of fuel it sells to Gaza and there are now such shortages of diesel and petrol that many cars run on cooking gas or vegetable oil and that many schools can now longer bus their pupils to class.

Israel only allows 2.2m litres of industrial diesel into Gaza for the strip's sole power plant each week, which means it can produce just 45-55mW of electricity, compared to 80mW if it was fully fuelled, and the more than 100mW it was able to produce before the plant's transformers were bombed by Israeli aircraft two years ago. On Saturday, the power plant cut back its output even further, leaving most of Gaza City in darkness for several hours, because not enough fuel had been supplied.

Fuel shortages have affected water systems, leaving the 70,000 people who rely on water from fuel-pumped wells with a precarious supply, and meaning that 60m litres of raw and partially treated sewage are being pumped straight into the sea every day. More than two-thirds of Gaza's 4,000 agricultural water wells rely on fuel-powered pumps, and shortages are leaving crops to die. The World Bank said last month that poverty rates in Gaza were now close to 67% and that economic growth was zero last year.
That was written in May of last year, and even in that time, and before that time, Palestinian amenities were bombed and destroyed, and now that so much of Gaza has been reduced to rubble, including further amenities, the chances of them ever being self-sufficient are certainly slim (Conflict leaves Gaza's agriculture in ruins, New Scientist, 30 Jan, 2009).

Israel controls the water that is available in Gaza and the West Bank. In the case of the West Bank, mostly, through its diversion and use of the Jordan River, and and in Gaza, mostly, at least of 2003, due to Israel stopping the flow of water from Wadi Gaza in Hebron to the Gaza aquifer which results in over-pumping . The wadi used to partially renew the source. Read below. It is over-pumped as a source, too, because wells are destroyed (by Israel) and new wells are not allowed to be built, and Palestinians are not allowed the parts to fix them.
The portion of the Coastal Aquifer underlying Gaza has an annual safe yield of 55 million cubic meters (mcm) but is now being overpumped. The aquifer used to be partially recharged from the Wadi Gaza coming from Hebron but Israel stopped its flow. There are approximately 3,850 wells in the Gaza Strip, pumping 122 mcm of water a year. Mekorot supplies an additional 5 mcm.
For facts at a glance, which mostly look at the West Bank, look at this CESR fact sheet, and for more detail on Gaza, look at page 35 and 36 of this report Thirsting for Justice; Israeli Violations of the Human Right to Water, A Report to the 30th Session of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Center for Economic and Social Rights, May 2003. Really look at it! I doubt very little, regarding access to water, has changed, apart from the fact that the settlers are no longer in Gaza. Rafah wells and houses were regularly being bulldozed and destroyed in other ways as reported in 2003, and that has continued up until today.

From the fact sheet:
After 1967, Israel took control over all water resources in the newly occupied Palestinian territories by a series of military orders that negated all previous and existing settlements of water disputes, set pumping quotas and forbade construction of new wells by Palestinians without permission from the area Israeli military commander. Since 1967, permits have been granted for only 23 new wells.

I am not sure if that number of permits applies to the West Bank only, or if the Guardian article rounded up the number of wells in Gaza. Even so, the water situation in either place is not new, and the above policy (and many others) isn't new; it can't be said it was implemented to collectively punish people for voting Hamas.
Between March and May of 2002 alone, the World Bank, UNDP and USAID estimate that damage to West Bank water supply and sewerage infrastructure by the Israeli military reached US$7 million.
Again, this was before Hamas became government. All people took part in that election. Not just the Palestinians in Gaza. If Hamas were the sole reason for Israel's current blockade and restrictions on Gaza, what were and are their reasons for these punitive actions on all Palestinians before Hamas were even elected?

This is from the larger report:
Researchers from MIT estimate that within 20 years, agriculture will no longer be possible in Gaza due to the salinity of the groundwater. Currently agriculture provides about one-third of Gaza’s GDP and is becoming increasingly important as a means of income and food security for Gazans, many of whom have lost their jobs as wage laborers in Israel due to the intifada. Already the increasing salinity has affected the types of food grown, eliminating most citrus fruit— which are sensitive to saline — in favor of salt-tolerant vegetables and flowers.
That report was 2003, when things were bad, but before the siege and definitely before the latest massacre and effective destruction of much of Gaza's infrastructure. I wonder if the researchers from MIT would now say: within the next 10 years, or less, agriculture will no longer be possible.

Anyway, back to the carnation growers. Apart from water access difficulties, and no guarantee that they will be able to export their crops, and all the extra costs involved in exporting them, which it seems that businessmen and farmers in many other areas in the world do not have to face, there is no guarantee, of course, that they won't get shot while they are picking their flowers.

As reported in Tales to tell blog, and in the news, recently (just after the 'ceasefire' ) a farmer was killed by a bullet to the neck (from Israeli forces) while trying to harvest his parsley crop. A week later, international volunteers accompanied Palestinian farmers and workers trying to get their crops in before they withered (water is not in constant supply), and while there was still some chance they might get a return from their investments by being able to pick them (the crops) in a timely manner. They were fired upon. The international workers, too. It is in the blog. In two entries. There is a clip uploaded to youtube, if you want to see. Follow this link and this one and this one. Ah, what the hell, let's embed the clip, but the stories are at the other links (I have posted them before). The youtube is originally on the In Gaza blog, as is the first link (the two writers are both ISM volunteers).

One more word from B'Tselem:
As a result of the siege, the stocks of imported food products in Gaza are dwindling, driving their prices sky-high, while fruit and vegetables that were intended for export are being sold in Gazan markets at a loss. Many families cannot afford to buy them, however, due to the high poverty rate in Gaza. 80 percent of Gazan households now live below the poverty line, subsisting on less than 2,300 shekels a month for a family of six. Households in deep poverty, living on less than 1,837 shekels a month, currently comprise 66.7 percent of the population. 80 percent of all Gazan families would literally starve without food aid from international agencies.
And this poignant observation from Sara Roy, who wrote for Counterpunch in October 2006 ("79 Percent of Gazan Households are Living in Poverty", The Economy of Gaza) (my emphasis):
In one of many reports and accounts of economic life in the Gaza Strip that I have recently read, I was struck by a description of an old man standing on the beach in Gaza throwing his oranges into the sea. The description leapt out at me because it was this very same scene I myself witnessed some 21 years ago during my very first visit to the territory. It was the summer of 1985 and I was taken on a tour of Gaza by a friend named Alya. As we drove along Gaza's coastal road I saw an elderly Palestinian man standing at the shoreline with some boxes of oranges next to him. I was puzzled by this and asked Alya to stop the car. One by one, the elderly Palestinian took an orange and threw it into the water. His was not an action of playfulness but of pain and regret. His movements were slow and labored as if the weight of each orange was more than he could bear. I asked my friend why he was doing this and she explained that he was prevented from exporting his oranges to Israel and rather than watch them rot in his orchards, the old man chose to cast them into the sea. I have never forgotten this scene and the impact it had on me.

Note: May 1st: An updated report on the water situation. World Bank finds Israel’s water policy hard to swallow. April 28, 2009.

here's to hoping

The recommendations from this December 2008 report from the U.S. army Strategic Studies Institute, make a lot of sense, so I figure they will be routinely ignored. There is the qualifier that it expresses the views of the author, and [does] not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S.Government. It is a government document, however. The recommendations are at the end of the report, the number one recommendation being:
Let HAMAS fulfill its electoral promise to the Palestinians. The International Crisis Group recommended in the summer of 2006 that HAMAS be allowed to govern and should cease hostilities against Israel. Further, the boycott should end, as it has caused terrible hardship for Palestinians
There are a further eleven recommendations.
Hamas And Israel:Conflicting Strategies Of Group-Based Politics, Sherifa Zuhur.

If this plan ever comes into being, things could lighten up for a while. But as shown in posts before, it is rare that Israel keeps its end of the deal. But here's to hoping.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

pure as the driven snow

Yes, 'glo. The title is deceiving, but it is mentioned.

I was thinking this yesterday (and nearly inserted parentheses into the Glenn Grenwald article). I wonder how often it will get mentioned or noticed, or reflected upon.
A 2006 article, (Making (Non) Sense of the Funding Cut-Off; Hamas and Israel's "Right to Exist", Virginia Tilley)[scroll down]

taken from

Eva's latest blog entry.


Gideon Levy from the Israeli paper Haaretz (12 February, 2009)and the stuff that Israeli papers show us, but local papers don't.



And so people in Gaza have a right to ask us, how do you manage? How do you keep going? How can you sit back and watch while your taxes pay to massacre us? If it is wrong to send rifles and bullets and primitive rockets into Gaza, weapons that could kill innocent Israelis, then isn't it also wrong to send Israelis the massive arsenal that has been used against us, killing over 400 of our children in the past six weeks, and maiming and wounding thousands more?

It is quite an arsenal, if you read that article.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

opinion and lies, lies and lies

Israel's elections and U.S. Policy (Glenn Grenwald, February 9, 2009).

This is a country that has waged two brutal wars against largely defenseless neighbors in the past three years, that just banned certain Arab political parties from existing (a ban reversed by its Supreme Court), and that continues expansions on land that does not belong to it despite those expansions being universally condemned and declared illegal in numerous international tribunals. And now, it is turning to political leaders who believe that these measures have been insufficiently aggressive and who vow far more aggression and, in the case of Lieberman, even more internal repression of its own ethnic and religious minorities.

Israel, like all countries, has the right to choose what leaders it wants
. But as is also always true, other countries have the right -- and, in the case of the U.S. as the enabler of virtually everything Israel does, the responsibility -- to react appropriately. It's bad enough that we have tied ourselves so blindly and inextricably to Israel as it has existed over the past several years. But an Israel led by Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman produces whole new responsibilities for the U.S. not to continue on this path of uncritical support for a government like that.
The election results are in, but undecided, but will be right-winged. Shout out to Antony Lowenstein where I first read this.


I also found this on Antony's blog, from the Jeruselem Post (February 9, 2009, Encountering Peace: Spins and lies: Schalit, Hamas and Olmert,Gershon Baskin):

The war was supported by 94 percent of Israelis because they really believed it was a "war of no choice." Lies, lies and lies

I still hold that very few must read the news in Israel, or maybe this is tucked away in the darkest corners, or people have got used to the obsfucation.

there are solutions

This photo is from last year.

It seems I'm in the mood to post today. I'll be on holidays soon, so you will all (oh, how I kid myself :smiley: ) get a bit of respite.

Well, there is this news from Ireland where
Trade unionists are to launch a boycott of Israeli goods as part of a major campaign to secure a peaceful settlement in the Middle East...
Last year:
ICTU [Irish Congress of Trade Unions] President Patricia McKeown led the Middle East visit that involved 11 senior members of the umbrella group representing trade unions across Ireland, including 36 trade unions with 250,948 members in Northern Ireland.

The delegation met Israeli trade unionists and politicians, plus Hamas political leaders, but said they were shocked by the conditions they found in Palestinian areas.

"I was profoundly shocked by what we found," said Ms McKeown.

"I didn't expect the denial of human rights and the discrimination to be so evident and to be an obvious part of daily life.

"To see unemployment on the West Bank rising to 80%, to see people having to get up at three in the morning, and virtually sleep outside the the army controlled crossings in order to get into work - that's something we didn't expect to see."

The ICTU trip took place more than a year ago, but its campaign will move up a gear this year with a major conference to highlight the Palestinian/Israeli situation, while research on a boycott of Israeli goods to press for a settlement will also be finalised.
The article states:
"Unless the international community and that includes the Irish government, the British government, the EU and the US government exercises its considerable influence and authority, any relaxation of the current assault on Gaza will only bring a short respite for citizens there."

He said a sustained international effort was needed to secure a durable settlement and added: "If the conflict here taught us anything, that is that no conflict is intractable. There are solutions."
As said above, there are solutions, and who better to know than those from Northern Ireland.

hollow support

An interesting article from yeterday's Guardian on the Egyptian arrest and subsequent 'disappearing' of a pro-Palestinian Egyptian-German campaigner (it seems he has since been returned to his family as of today).

Abducted in Egypt: The detention of protesters highlights Middle East governments' Middle East governments' ambivalent attitudes towards support for the Palestinians, Ben White.


An article by Randall Kuhn, January 14, 2009 from The Washington Post.

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.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The personal story is second to the end.

Well, in the past Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, Bush 1 and even Bush 2 have at times withdrawn aid or reduced loan agreements, prevented the export of cluster bombs, condemned or verbally disciplined Israel over many of its actions as can be seen in an Americans for Middle East Understanding (AMEU) report up to 2002, here. It seems Obama so far is not willing to enter similar waters. This reflection from an Egyptian columnist seems reflection he thinks wise to tune out (Why the Muslim World Can't Hear Obama, New York Times, Alaa Al AlSwany, Feb 7, 2009), though the article still holds some hope.

We saw Mr. Obama as a symbol of this justice. We welcomed him with almost total enthusiasm until he underwent his first real test: Gaza. Even before he officially took office, we expected him to take a stand against Israel’s war on Gaza. We still hope that he will condemn, if only with simple words, this massacre that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, many of them civilians. (I don’t know what you call it in other languages, but in Egypt we call this a massacre.) We expected him to address the reports that the Israeli military illegally used white phosphorus against the people of Gaza. We also wanted Mr. Obama, who studied law and political science at the greatest American universities, to recognize what we see as a simple, essential truth: the right of people in an occupied territory to resist military occupation.

But Mr. Obama has been silent. So his brilliantly written Inaugural Speech did not leave a big impression on Egyptians. We had already begun to tune out. We were beginning to recognize how far the distance is between the great American values that Mr. Obama embodies, and what can actually be accomplished in a country where support for Israel seems to transcend human rights and international law
This was said of Colin Powell in 2001:
... perhaps more than other senior official [sic], Secretary Powell has recognized the deep resentment and anger in the Arab and Muslim world toward the United States because of the Palestinian crisis. Asked by the Jazeera television network six days after the attacks why America is hated in the Muslim world, Secretary Powell acknowledged that violence in the Middle East had created a ''sense of hopelessness'' and that terrorism is fueled by these ''grievances.''

In the interview, Secretary Powell stressed that it was ''essential to move quickly in order to jump-start the Palestinian economy again, let people get to work and remove the level of humiliation that exists in the region.'' That reality ''adds to the anxiety and the aggressive activity and behavior on the part of so many people,'' he said.
(Powell Poised To Announce New Strategy In Middle East, New York Times, November 15, 2001).
I wonder what happened to that strategy?

Earlier that year, in May 2001 the U.S. was voted off the United Nations Commission on Human Rights for the first time since the committee’s establishment in 1947. The AMEU claims that "The Financial Times of London suggest[ed] that Washington, by vetoing U.N. resolutions alleging Israeli human rights abuses, showed its inability to work impartially in the area of human rights. Secretary of State Colin Powell suggests the vote was because “we left a little blood on the floor” in votes involving the Palestinians (House Threatens To Hold U.N. Dues in Loss of a Seat, David E. Sanger, New York Times, May 9, 2001). The Financial Times articles only go back to 2004, but Powell's words can be verified through the New York Times, though the article hardly dwells on them.

It would seem that if some fairness were shown, especially in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, crisis, call it what you will, everyone would be a lot less at risk. Everyone.

Well, it's difficult to fight money, and it's difficult to fight fanatics (Kahane won, Gideon Levy, Ha'aretz, February 10, 2009), and when the fanatics are fully backed financially, it's almost damned near impossible. This 2008 CRS report, U.S. aid to Israel, shows that there is little hope really to expect the U.S. to do little other than encourage the current conflict, whether that is their desire or not, it is the definite result. An interesting 2008 article here.

Encouragingly, there are some protests across the U.S. in the BDS movement, and also at some colleges. More so in the U.K. where the following has occurred:

Around the UK, thousands of students have occupied lecture theatres, offices and other buildings at more than 20 universities in sit-down protests. It seems that the spirit of 1968 has returned to the campus.

Beginning with a 24-hour occupation at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) on 13 January, the sit-ins spread across the country. Now occupations have been held at the LSE, Essex, King's College London, Birmingham, Sussex, Warwick, Manchester Metropolitan, Oxford, Leeds, Cambridge, Sheffield Hallam, Bradford, Nottingham, Queen Mary, Manchester, Strathclyde, Newcastle, Kingston, Goldsmiths and Glasgow.

Among the demands of students are disinvestment in the arms trade; the promise to provide scholarships for Palestinian students; a pledge to send books and unused computers to Palestine; and to condemn Israeli attacks on Gaza.

"This is something different to anything we've seen for a long time," ... "There is genuine fury at what Israel did."

Establishments that have not previously been known for their activism have also become involved. Fran Legg was one of several students to set up the first Stop the War Coalition at Queen Mary, a research-focused university in London, a month ago. Now they are inundated with interest
(Students are revolting; The spirit of 68 is reawakening, The Independent, 8 February, 2009).
Maybe there is hope. Anyway stories always tell the tale better. A bone of contention has always been the building of illegal settlements, and the development of the apartheid wall throughout the occupied territories. Well, at least they are things that the U.S. government has occasionally condemned and even withdrawn aid to Israel for, due to their development and spread. So here, after a little more rambling from me, is a story from a friend of mine.

I used to work in Oman, and I shared an office with him and another teacher for six months. He is Palestinian and grew up under the occupation. His parents had a farm in Qabatya. He did his undergraduate studies in Manila and his postgraduate studies in India. He now has a Jordanian passport, and that is where he returns on his holidays with his wife and children. He used to make me laugh a lot. He was a witty, generous and thoughtful friend. This is from an email he sent me a short while ago:

One time in 1986 0r 1987, I don't remember very well, when I was in Manila, my older brother (Shaheen), he is 2 years older than me, was driving his car in Qabatya town in the West Bank when an Israeli car deliberately crashed into him. He almost died. His two thighs (legs) were severely broken. The hospital in my district (Jenin) refused to admit him because of the seriousness of his case, so they transferred him to another city called Nablus. A doctor performed an operation on Shaheen. He stayed in the hospital more than six months. Belal [my friend's younger brother] was very young at that time. He left his school and stayed home all the time to look after Shaheen in the hospital. After Shaheen left the hospital he stayed in bed at my parents' house in Qabatya for more than a year. and then for more than a year he used to walk on sticks. The doctor who did the operation is the best doctor in Palestine his name is Dr. Mahmoud. Now Shaheen's legs are very good, and I guess he does not have any problem with them at all.
My friend's family is lucky it has money, I would say. The settlers are not gentle souls. The land they are on, is not theirs, though they will claim that God gave it to them. Yet, expansion into the lands is encouraged. Most are immigrants, particularly from Russia, and there are many Americans among them too. Probably some Australians as well, given their prominence as military mouthpieces at the moment. The CRS report linked before talks of them, and so do the blogs listed in the volunteers section of the blog roll, on the left, and the Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem. I know we took land from the Aboriginal people, the Maori people, and the Native American people, and committed genocide left, right and centre. Does that condone these actions now? Doesn't time and human awareness march on and evolve? Plus, bad and shocking as that was, it was done without the gaze of the world, and the subsequent, more than likely, anger of a large proportion of the world. This is a fairly young crisis. Don't be fooled. 100, 60, or 40 years old, depending upon which standpoint you take your history from. The late 1880s were when the Zionists started coming into the area. The pictures below and above are of Palestinians being displaced from their lands, by the way, not of Zionists and displaced Jews (from Europe after the Nazi atrocities) coming into the land.

From the United Nations:
One of the two States envisaged in the partition plan proclaimed its independence as Israel and in the 1948 war expanded to occupy 77 per cent of the territory of Palestine. Israel also occupied the larger part of Jerusalem. Over half of the indigenous Palestinian population fled or were expelled. Jordan and Egypt occupied the other parts of the territory assigned by the partition resolution to the Palestinian Arab State which did not come into being.

In the 1967 war, Israel occupied the remaining territory of Palestine, until then under Jordanian and Egyptian control (the West Bank and Gaza Strip). This included the remaining part of Jerusalem, which was subsequently annexed by Israel. The war brought about a second exodus of Palestinians, estimated at half a million. Security Council resolution 242 (1967) of 22 November 1967 called on Israel to withdraw from territories it had occupied in the 1967 conflict
The Palestinians don't call it Nakba (the catastrophe) for nothing.

Monday, 9 February 2009

bats and bushfires

My Melbourne brother went for a walk nowhere near (I hope) the fires that have been raging in Victoria and which have claimed a hundred plus lives. It has been 46 degrees Celsius, which is 114 degrees Fahrenheit, or thereabouts, over there. He said there were bats dead in the trees, and one that was alive (the last photo). Or were they sleeping? Probably dead. Why would they be out in the open like that in broad daylight otherwise? I am guessing that the general heat got them, or that they were fleeing the bushfires and died from a mixture of the heat, exhaustion, disorientation and smoke inhalation. Any information from bat experts out there would be welcome.
* Note: It seems from this article that this hanging about in the daylight hours is quite normal. I'll have to ask my brother just which part of bushland he walked in. Also seems they are Flying foxes or Fruit bats. Still, cool photos.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

posts from posts

I keep lifting posts from posts, but as long as the word gets spread around, somewhat, I don't feel too guilty about it. And I do provide links.

The following is a question that anyone who can actually find a news article about Gaza in Australia might be asking (the question is in the second paragraph):
Israel must lift its ban on materials to rebuild Gaza after its offensive in a territory resembling "hell" where children have to sleep outside shattered homes, the European Union's Middle East envoy said in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

"What encouragement to terrorism would it be to rebuild the sewage system, have clean water, have kids going to school, have clinics that work, have mothers delivering their babies in safe conditions?" Marc Otte asked following Operation Cast Lead - Israel's devastating 22-day assault in the Hamas-ruled territory
(EU envoy: Israel must ease aid restrictions on 'hell-like' Gaza, Ha'aretz,February 5, 2009).
The response to the above information and question at Jews sans frontieres was pithy and ended with this observance:
Your question [Mark Otte] should be directed at the governments that sent you. Ask them this:
For how long are you going to support and defend the criminals instead of supporting bringing them to justice? For how long are you going to support the murder of children in defense of the dispossession of their parents?

Though the UN and international human rights presence are necessary in the area, (I sometimes think it is the sole reason that the Palestinians haven't been wiped out as a whole - yet?), Gabriel's (the person who wrote the post) questions are straight to the point, and are ones that we should be asking governments. In that, why is it necessary to have such a strong and continuing UN presence in the area?

It is a question I ask of the Australian government, which unconditionally supports the Israeli government and all that it does. Aside from supporting Israel's obvious disregard for human life, Australia gives full support to the Israeli government's blatant destruction of buildings and infrastructure and other forms of aid that we have provided again and again. By never offering criticism, but always supporting a one-sided 'right of defense' we do this. Treatment of the wounds is essential, as is trying to give people a modicum of a life, but why not address what causes the wounds, rather than continuously trying to get the plasters through Israeli blockades each time another incursion occurs, another home is bulldozed, another farmer shot in his fields?

picking parsley 2

One can only hope that the fairly ineffective international presence in Gaza can stop the Palestinian's current and future lives from being totally decimated. But it doesn't seem likely:

From Eva Bartlett, a freelancer and ISM volunteer in Gaza, on the testimonies she hears from the Israeli assault on Gaza:
the general theme is one of being held captive in one’s house or a neighbour’s for 3-5 days in general –in miserable conditions, without food, water, medicine, toilets…–and either having family members shot or being terrorized as captives who when finally released tried to run away only to be sniped or accosted by further Israeli snipers and soldiers positioned in occupied houses and on the streets.

Of those who survived the ordeal, or had evacuated before the land invasion, many came back to partially or completely destroyed homes. With no where else to live, some have erected tattered tents in the place of their houses, some are moving into refugee tents reminiscent of the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland (the “Nakba”), when over 750,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes, left to miserable conditions in refugee tents which have evolved into the densely inhabited refugee camps throughout Gaza and the West Bank (as well as those in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria).

While many buildings were evidently hit by missiles from F-16s, Apache helicopters, and the massive tanks occupying the area, others were leveled by bulldozers and by explosives, the remnants of which were littered in and around houses in the region.
Read more
And further on the farmers who are trying to harvest their parsley, from the blog - Tales to Tell:
Returning to farm-land of Al Faraheen village, in the Abassan Jedida area, east of Khan Younis, where soldiers had opened fire on Tuesday 3rd February, farmers and HRWs were able to harvest the parsley crop for only half an hour, before soldiers again began to shoot. A number of shots were fired into the air, before the soldiers started to aim in the direction of the farmer and international accompaniment. Bullets were heard to whiz past, close to people’s heads.

The soldiers continued to shoot on the group, despite the fact that many members of the group had their arms in the air and were wearing fluorescent vests to make them highly visible, and identify them as Human Rights Workers; had erected a banner indicating that the farmers and accompaniment were civilians; contact had been made with the Israeli army to advise them that Palestinian civilians and internationals would be working in the area; the various international embassies had been advised of the planned accompaniment; and the internationals were announcing their presence via a megaphone - demanding that the soldiers stop shooting on unarmed civilians.

“We are unarmed civilians! We are farmers and international Human Rights Workers! Stop Shooting!”

With internationals acting as human shields, the farmers - after initially lying down to avoid being shot - attempted to continue harvesting. After a few moments, however, the shooting intensified and farmers decided to leave the area, rather than be killed. Internationals announced on the megaphone that the group was leaving the area - asking that the soldiers halt their fire. Instead, as the group started to leave, the shooting further intensified in rapidity and proximity. Even after the group had taken refuge in a house, approximately 1km from the Green Line, the soldiers continued to shoot at nearby houses that were demolished during the recent Israeli Operation Cast Lead.
Read more
Australia doesn't get much maritime trade with Israel, but this step from the Maritime Union of Australia, in my home state of Western Australia, in light of the above and a multitude of similar stories, is a step in the right direction, as far as I am concerned. As of January 27, 2009, they have decided to do the following:
1. This delegates’ meeting of the WA branch of the MUA [hereafter this meeting] calls on the Rudd government to denounce the latest Israeli aggression against Gaza, and to cut all economic, diplomatic, cultural and political ties with the Israeli state until this aggression and the Israeli siege of Gaza ends.

4. We will participate fully in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign when it is initiated and support actions related thereof when they are called by either Friends of Palestine WA or other interested parties (including other trade unions). We call on the ACTU and Unions WA to join us in supporting the BDS campaign and specific actions related thereof

5. In furtherance of resolution 4, this meeting recommends State Conference adopt a position of boycotting all Israeli-registered vessels, and all vessels known to be carrying either goods destined for Israel or goods sourced from Israel.
I lifted that information from the blog The Bureau of Counterpropaganda. It can also be found here.

The posts on the Bureau of counterpropaganda are very informative, and I found this one from January 26, 2009, Change we can believe in particularly incisive. The whole article does not talk about stories which are written and then which disappear, as happened to Australia's Michael Blackman in the Age recently, apparently due to anti-Semitic content; the apparent being whether the content is anti-Semitic or not. Anti-Israel, and especially anti-Israeli military and government, yes. But anti-Semitic? Well, I guess it's for the people with the best lawyers and public relations to decide. But it is touched upon, and I might expand upon this in a later post. As I say, that is only part of the post.

It delves into ideas related to this gem from Joseph Massad, an Associate Professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University in New York:

…while Israel has the right to defend itself, its victims have no similar right to defend themselves. In fact, the logic is even more sinister than this and can be elucidated as follows: Israel has the right to oppress the Palestinians and does so to defend itself, but were the Palestinians to defend themselves against Israel's oppression, which they do not have a right to do, Israel will then have the right to defend itself against their illegitimate defense of themselves against its legitimate oppression of them, which it carries out anyway in order to defend itself legitimately.
That is the kind of headspin logic that is used in repressive societies the world over, I guess. I think Dwight Eisenhower hit it on the head with this quote:

I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it

- Dwight Eisenhower

And the media, Dwight, or it should step into the fray and show responsibility.

Dwight, as with most leaders, was not really one to pursue peace while in leadership, but maybe he mellowed in his old age, and because a bit more astute, in the tradition of Carter and Fraser.
this cutie was taken by Crazyegg95 in 2005 and is from flickr