Gaza Updates – Suffering & Injustice Continues

Many thousands of people are still homeless after Israel’s attack on Gaza. Dwellings for rent are scarce as hen’s teeth, rents are soaring, as are prices for even rudimentary bedding.

Some 4,000 homes were destroyed and about 17,000 badly damaged, according to a recent UN Gaza flash appeal. Some 50,000 people took shelter in UNRWA (UN agency for Palestinian refugees) facilities during the height of the conflict and tens of thousands have been staying in very cramped conditions with family and friends.

No’oman (who declined to give his family name) told IRIN he, his two wives and 10 children were given five minutes to evacuate their home in Neusarat on 8 January. His 16-year-old cousin was killed in the attack which completely destroyed his home.

“Our family lost everything – furniture, two cars, more than $500,000,” said No’oman, who reckoned his home was targeted because his brother works with Islamic Jihad.

Hamas has given the family $2,000 as emergency relief compensation.

The family has taken shelter in a nearby unfinished building. The bare-bones structure lacks heating or a decent water supply.

Mattresses, blankets and plastic sheeting are hard to find in Gaza and have gone up in price. Thin mats can be found for 200 shekels (about $200); tents are not available, according to local residents.

“Hamas is providing quick relief for those whose homes were destroyed – between $500 and $2,000 per household,” Hamas political leader Ghazi Hamad, head of borders and crossings, told IRIN. “And food assistance, like sugar, oil and blankets.”

UN agencies like UNRWA and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), as well as international aid organisations like CARE, are looking to buy building materials and emergency relief items on the local market, but say they are unavailable.

“We have allowed humanitarian supplies to enter Gaza. The question is about goods that might have dual uses, like fertilizer which can be used to manufacture explosives,” deputy spokesperson of the Israeli Foreign Ministry Andy David told IRIN by telephone.

And cement is somehow linked with explosives?

“I found an apartment for the family for $180 per month, which is expensive,” said Ahmed, now sleeping in his car. “I can’t find a mattress – I am looking for blankets, but so far all I have is glass and a cooking gas cylinder.”

Chris Gunness, an UNRWA spokesperson, said there was no longer anyone living in UNRWA schools or facilities and that 8,000 people had been relocated to apartments with monthly rent assistance from UNRWA. He also confirmed that hundreds of tents had been distributed.

In the north of Gaza, farmers and activists are being shot at by the Israeli military. The mainstream media are remarkably blind to the many acts of attrition committed by Israel since its declaration of a ‘unilateral’ truce, yet when a puny militant rocket lands in Israel damaging a car, the story dominates the news, and Israel retaliates with devastating air strikes.

This report is from the brave volunteers of ISM.

Israeli soldiers again opened fire on Palestinian farmers and international Human Rights Workers (HRWs) on Thursday 5th February, as they attempted to harvest parsley in agricultural land near the Green Line.

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 farmers and international accompaniment. Bullets were heard to whiz past, close to people’s heads.

This behaviour on the part of the Israeli soldiers was an almost exact repeat of their response to the presence of the farmers and internationals, in the same area of farm-land, two days before. On the Tuesday, however, the group was able to harvest for two hours before soldiers began to shoot. Whilst farmers had hoped to be able to wait-out the shooting, in order to continue harvesting, it quickly
became clear that the situation was too dangerous for that to be possible.

The farmers of Al Faraheen are particularly aware of the level of danger they face when entering farm lands that are within 1 km of the Green Line – after watching their friend and colleague, 27 year old Anwar Il Ibrim, from neighbouring Benesela, killed by a bullet to the neck while he was picking parsely in the same area, just one week before.

Ma’an is reporting that moves to a truce are proceeding and are likely to be concluded with the existing Israeli government after the election. The new government won’t be installed till 6 weeks or so after the election

Israel is continuing its collective punishment of the Gazan people by disallowing the transportation of cement through the borders.

Meanwhile, an Egyptian source said that Hamas and other factions will most likely agree on a truce on Monday.

Raffi Eitan, Israeli Minister of Pensioner Affairs, stated Sunday that a prisoner-swap deal could be conducted within the coming weeks.

Eitan, who is currently in charge of evaluating the demands of Hamas regarding the release of 1400 detainees, said that a swap deal could be concluded before a new coalition government is formed in Israel.

In an interview with the Israeli Army Radio, Eitan said that there is a strong possibility that such a deal will be concluded with Hamas by the current Israeli government.

“By experience, we know that forming a new government could take up to six weeks”, Eitan added.

Furthermore, Israeli online daily, Haaretz, reported that according to Egyptian sources, Hamas agreed to the Israeli demand of linking the issue of fully opening border terminals with the issue of releasing Shalit.

Haaretz added that this issue allowed further progress towards declaring a ceasefire by connecting a full opening of the border terminals with the release of Shalit.

Yet, the Egyptian sources said that it remains unclear when a breakthrough would be achieved.

Haaretz reported that Egypt is promoting a plan which includes opening the crossing to function 80% of their capacity when a ceasefire deal is reached.

But Israel is still demanding to ban certain materials from entering the Gaza Strip; this includes cement and iron among other materials. Banning the entry of cement and Iron would prevent rebuilding thousands of homes and facilities destroyed during Israel’s “Cast Lead” offensive.

Israel said that an agreement on cement and other materials would only be allowed reached after the release of Shalit, thus linking the fate of thousands of homeless residents with this issue, and placing further pressure on Hamas to accept the Israeli stance.

Here’s another result of the inhumane border blockages – UNWRA may suspend aid delivery due to a lack of plastic bags.

The distribution by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency may end Monday because there are not enough plastic bags to hand out the food, a UNRWA spokesman told the Jerusalem Post.

The shortage is caused by a restriction on imports of raw materials into Gaza out of fear they will be stolen by Hamas. The pellets used to manufacture the bags are on the restricted list.

According to Press TV, republished in Palestinian Pundit, ICC lawyers intending to investigate Israeli war crimes, have been prevented by Egypt, for now at least, from entering Gaza.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) set up the committee. Four French and Norwegian lawyers comprise the committee. The ICC had earlier started preliminary analysis into alleged Israeli war crimes in the Gaza war.

French and Norwegian lawyers from Amnesty International on Thursday had attempted to enter the impoverished Palestinian sliver through Egypt’s Rafah crossing with Gaza.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, as well as B’Tselem, and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, have filed a lawsuit with the International Criminal Court (ICC) against alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza.

The criminal case is expected to focus on the Israeli atrocities, including charges of using disproportionate force, white phosphorous bombs and depleted uranium in the densely populated area.

The group intended to collect evidence and testimonials on “Operation Cast Lead” which killed over 1,300 Palestinian and wounded nearly 5,500 others, a large number of them women and children. The evidence was to be submitted to the International Court before Sunday, February 8th.

Egyptian authorities, however, prevented the four member group from crossing the border, arguing that for now only displaced Palestinians can enter the territory thought the crossing.

Free Gaza activist Theresa McDermott has turned up in an Israeli dungeon.

Scottish activist Theresa McDermott has been found in Ramleh prison four days after she was “disappeared” by the Israel government after being forcibly removed from a seaborne Lebanese aid mission to Gaza. In early February Theresa responded to a call for support from internationals from the organizers of a Lebanese humanitarian aid voyage to Gaza aboard the Togo flagged ship, Tali. Theresa was one of only 9 passengers aboard the cargo ship on February 4, 2009 when Israeli gunboats intercepted it, boarded and forced the ship to Ashdod port in Israel.

All the passengers and crew aboard were released on Thursday, February 5 except Theresa. Between Thursday evening and Sunday morning there was no word about Theresa’s whereabouts except several false stories saying that “Britons” had departed to London. Finally on Sunday, Theresa was able to call her brother John in Scotland to say she was in Ramleh prison in Israel.

According to Al Jazeera journalist Salam Khodr, when the ship was boarded, the passengers were beaten and kicked by Israeli soldiers before being removed from the ship.

No information has been provided by Israeli officials about why Theresa has been detained, what the charges are if any and why her detention was concealed. When the British Consulate in Israel was contacted for assistance in finding Theresa, staff refused to help locate Theresa saying they couldn’t provide assistance to a UK citizen unless she personally requested it. Members of the Scottish Parliament including Pauline McNeil and Hugh O’Donnell, who were part of a fall delegation to Gaza aboard the Free Gaza boat, Dignity, are working with the British government to ensure that Theresa receives the protection and assistance to which she is entitled.

Theresa went to Gaza with the first Free Gaza boats in August and returned with the ship Dignity for a second voyage. She is a respected, long time human rights activist who has worked with the International Solidarity Movement in Palestine as well as with Free Gaza. At home in Scotland she works for the Post Office. The Israelis found only medical and other humanitarian aid on the Tali but refused to return the ship. The status of its humanitarian cargo is unknown.

Other snippets:

Israel war leaves crude graffiti in Gazan homes

Hamas is going all out to secure international recognition of Palestine’s unique position as a nation of occupied, oppressed people yearning for a state.

Instead of offering a hudna with the Occupier, Marshouk wants only a tahdia – a period of calm.

Hamas regards its offer as a Tahdia, an Arabic word indicating non-aggression in a stand-off, usually described as a “calm”. A longer-term Hudna, or ceasefire, would be withheld until a peace agreement that would see Israel withdraw from Palestinian territory.

“Israel owns the West Bank and Gaza Strip right now but if it withdrew from these and let the Palestinians have access to Jerusalem, we would turn our face to rebuild our lives and live alongside as in other parts of the world,” said Mr Marzouk.

Two strands of indirect negotiations with Israel have converged. One arrangement would allow the rebuilding of shattered parts of the Gaza Strip in return for an end to rocket attacks. Another deal would see the release of a captured Israel soldier, Cpl Gilad Shalit, in return for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas are proving to be skilful negotiators – capitalising on Israel’s abysmal stature in the world, an increase in Hamas popularity throughout Palestine and the advent of George Mitchell, for whom it appears they have respect. Holding out for an end to the occupation is the just, appropriate tactic and hopefully timing is right to achieve it.

“History has shown that you have to take by force your rights from Israel,” said Mr Marzouk. “You can’t make peace unless you make Israel pay the price of occupation. It’s the only strategy.”

Ultimately Hamas is waiting for President Barack Obama and his regional envoy George Mitchell to abandon what it describes as George W Bush’s “with us or against us” approach, probably after the new Israeli government emerges after Tuesday’s election.

“George Mitchell is a unique American, the first official to make a report calling on Israel stop the settlements,” said Mr Marzouk. “He made peace in Ireland by allowing the Republicans to hold their dream while dealing with a different reality on the ground.”

Tony Blair, the Middle East peace envoy, recently declared that direct negotiations with Hamas are inevitable but Mr Mitchell has insisted the US boycott will continue.

But Hamas senses its moment has come and is emboldened enough to claim its covert discussions with the West occur more frequently than in most alliances. “We talk to many official and unofficial agencies, sometimes two or three daily,” he said. “They choose to keep the dialogue secret and we respect that, after all we can’t say we are a normal country or a normal state party.”

Secret communications with Hamas which should have averted a wasteful, criminal war against the Gazan people had not Israel’s insane warmongers already planned their massacre several months prior are revealed by Gershon Baskin.

My talks with the Hamas leader in Europe focused on two main issues: convening a secret direct back channel and linking the prisoner exchange for Schalit’s release to the renewal of the cease-fire and the ending of the economic siege on Gaza. For about two years Hamas has rejected the linking of the prisoner exchange with the cease-fire and the end of the siege. Since, however, this was the initial position of Hamas immediately following the abduction of Schalit, as was communicated to me some three weeks after the abduction – a call for a cease-fire, opening the borders and the prisoner exchange – I appealed to the Hamas leader to go back to the original demands, but to include an agreement to bypass the Egyptian mediators through a direct secret back channel.

I returned to Israel and 10 days before the war broke out I wrote to Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that Hamas was willing to open a direct secret back channel for a package deal that would include the renewal of the cease-fire, the ending of the economic siege and the prisoner exchange for the release of Schalit. I further indicated that Hamas would be willing to implement the agreement on Rafah which included the stationing of Palestinian Authority personnel loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas in Rafah and a return of the European monitors. I communicated the same message to Noam Schalit and asked him to make sure that Ofer Dekel, who is charged with the Schalit file by the government, received the Hamas “offer.”

I waited for a response from one of the people who received my letter.

Nothing. No response. When the war broke out I understood that the decision to go to war had already been taken and that the government preferred to teach Hamas a lesson rather than negotiate a new cease-fire and the release of Schalit. I understood that the leaders believed that they could bring about a regime change in Gaza, even if this was not the stated goal of the war. Why would we negotiate with Hamas if we expected to bring about the fall of Hamas?

OVER THE PAST DAYS the media has been filled with reports that there is a new breakthrough in the talks for the release of Schalit: “Hamas is willing to link the end of the economic siege with the release of Schalit.” When I read this I said to myself – enough lies and spins.

What did this war achieve? What has changed? Has Israel gained its military deterrence? Has Israel changed the security reality in the South? Is Gilad Schalit at home? Has Hamas reduced its basic demands for the release of Schalit? No, no and no! Israel is negotiating now for exactly what could have been achieved without going to war. Israel spent $1 billion on the war, caused some $2 billion worth of damage in Gaza, more than 1000 people have been killed, thousands of lives have been destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis lived through weeks of terror; millions of Palestinians suffered the bombardment of their towns, cities and refugee camps – what is the result? More hatred, more extremism and more support for fanatics and their ideas – on both sides of the Gaza border.

If the transition government of Olmert does bring Schalit home before the new government is formed, it will pay the exact price that it could have paid nearly 950 days ago. The price then was as unreasonable as it is today; the problem is that there is simply no other way of bringing Gilad home. Hamas has not changed its price. The war in Gaza did not create any positive developments. It has not changed the price. It has not enabled a new breakthrough. It has weakened the moderate leadership of Abbas. It has weakened the moderates in Gaza. It did not achieve the goals that our leaders hoped it would.

The war was supported by 94 percent of Israelis because they really believed it was a “war of no choice.” Lies, lies and lies. There was a choice. That choice was made – our leaders preferred war regardless of the cost. We don’t negotiate with terrorists. We won’t talk with Hamas. They don’t recognize our right to exist, and we don’t recognize that they were elected in democratic elections. Instead we hit them first and then we talk. We planned the war rather than planning how to avoid the war. That is the doctrine of the government. Now we can talk with Hamas? Isn’t that what the government is doing today?

Perhaps the talks are not direct, but we are negotiating with Hamas.
The agreement that will be reached will be exactly what I proposed to Olmert, Barak and Livni 10 days before the war began.

More background information on the dispossession of the people of Palestine by the Zionist enterprise, by Stephen Lendman in his article, “A Short History of the Israeli – Palestinian Conflict: Past Is Prologue”.

Al Jazeera offers a stellar interview with senior Hamas political leader Mahmoud al-Zahar who favours truce with Israel.

My attendance, along with a delegation of senior [Hamas] figures, reflects the real desire of Hamas’s leadership inside and outside the Palestinian territories to end this crisis by upholding the truce in a way that guarantees the rights of the Palestinian people. To give them back their rights in rebuilding what the occupation has demolished via a ceasefire.

Al Jazeera: Is it believed such a truce would be for the benefit of the Palestinian people and Hamas and to lift the siege imposed on the Strip?

Zahar: Absolutely. Our project is not “armed action”. The “armed action” is a part of the resistance.

We have repeatedly explained the concept of resistance. The resistance is, first rejection of the occupation and the injustice, the resistance is rejection of abuse of rights. This idea led to [the emergence] of Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement, under this name, before it fired a single bullet at the Jews.

Therefore, we want to continue the comprehensive programme of the resistance. But we also want to give ourselves a chance to rebuild what the occupation has demolished – as long as the Israeli side will stop its aggression against the Palestinian people.

Those who view Hamas as an enemy to Egypt are wrong. Those who believe that Hamas may be dangerous to the national security of any Arab state are wrong.

Al Jazeera: Do you view your movement as a resistance group or as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood group?

Zahar: This is not the issue. Syria has very good relations with Hamas, but terrible relations with the Muslim Brotherhood group. More than 24,000 people were killed in 1982 by the Syrian regime and the Muslim Brotherhood group.

It is wrong to be confined by a particular experience.