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Reports From Gaza

Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, wants an investigation into what she believes to be war crimes committed by Israeli forces.

She specifically highlighted a recent incident in which Israel attacked a civilian safe house in Gaza, killing more than 30 people.

Her stinging words arrived just one evening before Israel began dropping leaflets on Gaza Saturday, each warning of a coming escalation.

The UN Office for the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs reported that 110 Palestinians, all in a single extended family, were “herded” into the house and told not to leave by Israeli soldiers. Less than 24 hours later, the house was attacked.

“Those who survived and were able walked two kilometers to Salah Ed Din road before being transported to the hospital in civilian vehicles,” reads the UN report. “Three children, the youngest of whom was five months old, died upon arrival at the hospital.”

Pillay said the attack bore “all the elements of war crimes,” according to a published report.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, four infants, clinging to the corpses of what was believed to be their parents, were discovered after the attack. The children went undiscovered for over 48 hours, despite Israeli solders being mere yards away.

Pillay, from S. Africa, is a former judge with the International Criminal Court.

Israel denies the incident altogether. The UN report cites specific testimony, though does not identify the origin.

The announcement by the UN commissioner comes on the heels of Red Cross criticism. The aid agency said Israel has failed at helping injured civilians, a key rule of war.

Israel said its military “works in close cooperation with international aid organizations during the fighting so that civilians can be provided with assistance.”

“I am concerned with violations of international law,” Pillay told Reuters. “Incidents such as this must be investigated because they display elements of what could constitute war crimes.”

During the first week of January, the Red Cross criticized Israel for hampering ambulance services to embattled Palestinian civilians.

“The situation is extremely dangerous and the coordination of ambulance services is very complex because of the incessant attacks and military operations,” ICRC spokeswoman Dorothea Krimitsas said in Geneva.

“Wounded people have died while waiting for Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances,” she added.

Pakistani ambassador Zamir Akram echoed Pillay’s sentiment, in a speech delivered on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

“In their totality these constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he declared.

even the Telegraph think so


9 Responses to “Reports From Gaza”

  1. Slim said

    Black Flag / Uri Avnery:Hunt for the war criminals


    A SPANISH JUDGE has instituted a judicial inquiry against seven Israeli political and military personalities on suspicion of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The case: the 2002 dropping of a one ton bomb on the home of Hamas leader Salah Shehade. Apart from the intended victim, 14 people, most of them children, were killed.


  2. Israel is increasingly becoming the most beastly and savage state in the world of thoroghly wild beasts as its government

  3. Slim said

    War takes emotional toll on Gaza’s children
    By Anna Fifield in Gaza CityPublished: January 29 2009 00:57 | Last updated: January 29 2009 00:57Just days after a fragile ceasefire settled over the Gaza Strip, eight-year-old Hani still wakes repeatedly from the same nightmare.He dreams that the multi-story concrete buildings that surround his small tin house are being bombed by Israeli F16s, causing them to cave in on his roof. Ambulances rush to the scene to pull out the dead and injured. And then he wakes up.EDITOR’S CHOICE
    In depth: Arab Israel conflict – Nov-12Spain opens case on Israelis – Jan-30Hamas fires rockets into Israel – Jan-29Arab states want action on alleged war crimes – Jan-29Israel strikes Gaza ahead of Mitchell visit – Jan-28Atomic watchdog chief boycotts BBC over Gaza – Jan-28“It was really scary when the bombing started. Me and my friends at school were very frightened and we all ran home,” says Hani, who lives in the seafront Gaza City neighbourhood of Shati. “It’s still not good now. We can still hear the shelling.”The physical injuries inflicted during the 22-day-long Israeli assault on Gaza are slowly beginning to heal, but the psychological injuries are still raw. Half of Gaza’s 1.5m population is under 15 years of age, and the war has taken a high emotional toll on them.“For the last three or four weeks, there have been attacks, explosions, destruction, and that affects the whole population of Gaza but children are especially vulnerable,” says Mahmoud Daher, head of the World Health Organisation in Gaza. “Those found under the rubble, even adults, are going to experience symptoms of anxiety, fear, depression and aggression. This is beyond the capacity of human resilience and coping mechanisms,” Dr Daher said.Symptoms of post-conflict syndrome include anxiety, fear, aggression, increased attachment to parents or increased withdrawal, and bed wetting, experts say. Parents report that children do not want to go to schools, mosques or hospitals, all places that were bombed, because they think nowhere is safe.Parents say they don’t know how to help their children. “There is no entertainment for children here – no parks, no circus, no theatres,” says Hani’s father, shopkeeper Ramzi Abu Mohammad. “If they need some kind of therapy, where are we supposed to take them? There is nowhere to go.”Humanitarian agencies operating in Gaza are now working together to form crisis intervention teams, organising counsellors and training teachers how to help the children, many of whom returned to school on Saturday, so that they can reach as many people as possible.“The children are asking why did they do this to us? We are children. We want to get them talking about their experiences in groups so that they know that they are not alone,” says Rawya Hamam, a social worker at the Gaza Community Mental Health Project.“The children feel helpless and often they feel guilty if they think they could not save their father or their sister. We need to teach them how to regain their self-confidence and help them deal with their shock and anger and fear and guilt and rebellion,” she says.Parents and experts alike fear the lasting damage caused by the war.“This generation had heard that the Jewish soldiers were occupiers but they had never seen them with their own eyes. They have seen them shooting from their tanks, and that image will stay with this generation forever,” he says.Dr Daher says that children who grew up during the first Palestinian intifada, which began in 1987, became the leaders of the second, in 2000. “Now we have a generation that lost so much more, so we can not exclude the possibility that this wave of violence will be repeated,” he says.Ms Hamam adds that this experience will affect children morally.“We try to teach them to resolve their problems by talking and compromise, but through their lives they learn about harsh power, that talking does not work,” she says. “This is implanting hatred in children. In 10 years’ time there will be even more Hamas, even more resistance.”Ahmad, 16, whose house was destroyed on the third day of the war, confirms there is reason for such fears. “Even before the war I wanted to fight against Israel, but now I want to fight them more,” he says. “Now I feel even more hatred towards the Israelis.”

  4. Slim said

    UN to probe Gaza compound attack

    The January 15 attack destroyed much-needed food and medical supplies [Reuters]

    The UN secretary-general has announced an investigation into the attack on the UN headquarters in the Gaza Strip during Israel’s 22-day assault on the Palestinian territory.Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday that he was angered by the “unacceptable” Israeli attacks on civilians and UN relief agency (Unrwa) compounds.”Over the past several weeks, unacceptable and terrible situations have taken place against the civilian people and against particularly the United Nations compounds, where many civilians were sheltered,” he said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.The UN chief’s announcement came shortly after nine people, seven of them schoolchildren, were injured in an Israeli air raid on Khan Yunis, a city in the southern Gaza Strip.Israel seemed to be targeting a Palestinian fighter on a motorcycle, witnesses told Al Jazeera. There have been a series of raids on Gaza in recent days despite the Israeli government calling a unilateral ceasefire to end the fighting on January 17.

    ‘Upset and angered’Ban said there would be an “independent investigation to look into the case of [the]Unrwa compound bombing”.The bombing set fire to warehouses, destroying badly-needed food and medical aid.IN DEPTH

    Analysis and features from Gaza after the war

    Send us your views and eyewitness videos
    UN officials say they have evidence that white phosphorous, a smokescreen agent that can cause severe burns, was used in the attack on the UN relief agency’s main building in Gaza that left three people injured.”I myself saw and visited this compound, which has been destroyed by Israeli forces. It was just, again, unacceptable, and I was very much frustrated and upset and angered by what I had seen,” Ban said.Israel said Hamas fighters had used the compound to launch attacks on its forces but later apologised for the incident.A total of 53 installations used by the United Nations Relief and Works agency were damaged or destroyed during Israel’s Gaza campaign including 37 schools – six of which were being used as emergency shelters – six health centres, and two warehouses.Ban’s investigation will be separate from one that the UN Human Rights Council has launched into alleged violations of humanitarian law during the fighting, but he did not give details on who will carry it out and when.Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Ariel Sharon, a former Israeli prime minister, said that Israel has nothing to hide and called for any investigation to examine Hamas’s conduct during the war.”In the 22 days of the war they used their own people as human shields. This is the largest hostage situation in world history,” he said.”Israel exercised its right to self-defence, taking great care not to harm civilians.

    “Hamas has used Unrwa camps – in which armed men are not allowed, according to the UN Charter – to deploy their own weapons and fighters and brought in other people, so that when Israel fired it was turned into a crime scene and a smoking gun was pointed at Israel.”US demandsThe Security Council has yet to take a position on the UN investigation, but Susan Rice, the new US ambassador to the body, said on Thursday that Israel should carry out its own investigation into possible abuses by its forces.

    “We expect Israel will meet its international obligations to investigate and we also call upon all members of the international community to refrain from politicising these important issues,” she said.”We expect Israel will meet its international obligations to investigate and we also call upon all members of the international community to refrain from politicising these important issues”Susan Rice,
    US ambassador to UN
    In her debut speech at the UN Security Council in New York, Rice also said that Hamas was guilty of violating international law “through its rocket attacks against Israeli civilians in southern Israel and the use of civilian facilities to provide protection for its terrorist attacks”.

    George Mitchell, the US special envoy to the Middle East, is in the region as part of efforts to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians.But he warned that there could be setbacks.”The tragic violence in Gaza and in southern Israel offers a sobering reminder of the very serious and difficult challenges and unfortunately the setbacks that will come,” he said.More than 1,300 Palestinians, including 44 civilians sheltering at a UN-run school housing refugees, were killed during Israel’s war on Gaza. Thirteen Israel citizens also died during the conflict.The African Union has joined the number of international bodies condemning Israel’s attacks on Gaza.The 53-member African body called on Friday for the United Nations to investigate allegations that Israel violated human rights in a series of “massive, indiscriminate and disproportionate” raids.In Davos on Thursday, Ban also announced an international appeal to raise $613m to help rebuild Gaza.

    He said the appeal for funds covered the requirements of the UN and other organisations for the next six to nine months, providing aid such as medical care and clean water.Egypt’s foreign ministry said on Friday that the country will host an international conference in March aimed at raising $2bn for the reconstruction of Gaza.The ministry said the conference will be “organised in co-ordination” with the Palestinian Authority, which is led by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and leader of Fatah – Hamas’ main rival.
    Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

    Feedback Number of comments : 2

    United States 01/02/2009

    this money being given to gaza by israel and eqypt is guilt money. no one can pay for human lives no matter how much they give they can not recover the lives lost. they shall not be forgotten!

    United States 01/02/2009

    We saw what happen

    The UN is wasting time we know what happen and the Israel lady Livni as much as admitted it. Olmert the criminal was in on the murders too. Israel has been seen for who they really are out right murders and they steal land. Israel broke the settlement agreement and nothing can change that. I’d like the World to see a museum of the Palestine Holocaust Massacre. As Israel tells the World don’t forget the Jewish Holocaust.
    The Palestine victims should be remembered.

  5. Hammer-head said

    Unusually Large Weapons Shipment to Israel: Plan for a broader Middle East war?

    Unusually Large U.S. Weapons Shipment to Israel: Are the US and Israel Planning a Broader Middle East War?

    The U.S. shipment ordered on December 31 is of the order of 3000 tons, an unusually large and heavy cargo of “ammunition” pointing to the transfer of heavy weaponry to Israel.

    The central question is whether the Gaza invasion is part of a broader military plan directed against Lebanon, Syria and Iran, in which heavier weaponry including US made bunker buster bombs will be used.


  6. Variant issue 34 back to issue list


    The End of Israel’s Impunity?
    Muhammad Idrees Ahmad

    The assault on Gaza marks the end of an era for Israel. For the second time in two years its colonial ambition has floundered in the face of determined resistance. It may persist for some time; but the trajectory is clear – it is losing both legitimacy and power. Support for it is dwindling in Washington; its friends are alarmed. Citizens are acting where governments have failed; the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions is snowballing. Apologists are finding it more difficult to justify its persistent criminality. Rifts have emerged in the transatlantic alliance over its recent actions; EU leaders have broken with Israel and the US, questioning the wisdom of continuing to isolate Hamas. Even the pliant Tony Blair will no longer toe the line.
    This leviathan may yet be tamed, accountability restored; but what part, if any, will international law have played in this?
    At one point in Errol Morris’s 2004 documentary ‘Fog of War’, former US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara recounts a conversation he had had with General Curtis Lemay of the United States Air Force à propos the fire bombing of Japanese cities. LeMay, according to McNamara, said that if the US ended up losing the war “we would be hanged for this”. As it transpired, the US did not lose; and far from being hanged, the allied command got to play hangman.1 The trials that led to the execution of German and Japanese high command assumed a broader significance; they became the founding documents of international law. The conclusions from these trials served as the basis for the Genocide Convention (1948), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the Nuremberg Principles (1950), The Convention on the Abolition of the Statute of Limitations on War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity (1968), the Geneva Convention on the Laws and Customs of War (1949), its supplementary protocols (1977), and the International Criminal Court (2002).
    As Kirsten Sellars details in her book ‘The Rise and Rise of Human Rights,’ the Nuremberg trials and the subsequent Tokyo trials which would later provide the basis for international law were not themselves free of controversy. At the end of the war, Western powers saw Germany and Japan as potential allies in the looming conflict against the Soviet Union. However, the passions that had been mobilized against the Axis powers demanded blood sacrifice before Japan and Germany could be laundered back into the Free World. It was to satisfy this purpose that the tribunals were reluctantly instituted. While Justice Robert Jackson’s eloquent pronouncements on the rule of law in international affairs have become de rigueur in discourses on the subject, his contemporaries took a less generous view. US chief justice Harlan Stone called the whole Nuremberg exercise a “sanctimonious…fraud” accusing Jackson of conducting a “high-grade lynching party”. Justice William Douglas of the US Supreme Court accused the allies of “substituting power for principle” and creating laws “ex post facto to suit the passion and clamour of the time”. In his famous dissent at the Tokyo trials, Indian Justice Radhabinod Pal indicted the tribunal for its exclusion of European colonialism and the American use of the atomic bomb. The trial, he argued, was nothing more than an “opportunity for the victors to retaliate”. Antiwar US senator Robert Taft called it “victors’ justice”.
    Power asymmetry has defined the application of International Law since. Gaza is a case in point.

    Jus ad Bellum?
    Israel and its apologists have sought to justify its military assault on Gaza as an act of “self-defence” against Hamas rockets invoking Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.2 So pervasive was this view that even putatively antiwar voices frequently worked the word “disproportionate” into their denunciations. Israel, according to this view, has a right to defend itself but used more force than was necessary. However, this argument relies on the inversion of cause and effect and a defective legal premise.
    Israel’s assault was not meant to protect its citizens against the Hamas rockets, but to protect its colonial project and right to continue the strangulation of Gaza. Israel broke the truce on 4th November 2008 when under the cover of the US elections it launched an attack inside Gaza killing six Palestinians. The attack, writes Middle East scholar Sara Roy, was “no doubt designed finally to undermine the truce”,3 as even according to Israel’s own intelligence agencies Hamas had implemented the ceasefire with remarkable effectiveness. Though Hamas retaliated with rockets, it still offered to renew the truce provided Israel ended the siege. Israel refused.4
    Between the evacuation of its settlements from Gaza in 2005 and the beginning of its latest assault, Israel had killed a total of 1,250 Palestinians, including 222 children, and maimed many more. This despite Hamas’s 18 month unilateral ceasefire to which it strictly adhered. The situation was so dismal before the siege that the late Israeli historian and author Tanya Reinhart described it as “a process of slow and steady genocide”.5 Sara Roy saw in it a deliberate process of what she calls “de-development”. The siege, in her view, had two objectives: to reduce the Palestinian issue to a humanitarian problem; and to “foist Gaza onto Egypt”. Israel’s economic stranglehold over the territory, she said, was leading to the “breakdown of an entire society”.6
    The UN human rights rapporteur John Dugard, a South African legal scholar, has compared the situation in the Occupied Territories to apartheid. His successor Richard Falk, an American Jew and a leading authority on international law, called the situation a “prelude to genocide”. Gaza, he said, was “slouching towards a holocaust” insofar as the situation expressed vividly “a deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty”. Falk accused Israel of bringing Gaza to the “brink of collective starvation”, imposing “a sub-human existence” on a people “repeatedly and systematically” victimized. Poignantly, he added:
    “To persist with such an approach under present circumstances is indeed genocidal, and risks destroying an entire Palestinian community that is an integral part of an ethnic whole. It is this prospect that makes appropriate the warning of a Palestinian holocaust in the making, and should remind the world of the famous post-Nazi pledge of ‘never again’.”7
    On 5th November, Israel sealed all entries and exits to Gaza and intensified the stranglehold.
    For Gaza – a region whose unemployment rate is 49.1%, where the majority relies on food aid (from the World Food Program and the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the latter alone feeding about 750,000 Gazans), and 50% of whose population comprises children – the consequences were devastating. Roy reports that according to Oxfam, an average of 4.6 trucks per day entered Gaza in November 2008 as compared to 564 trucks a day in December 2005. There were three days where 20,000 went without food and on 18 December UNRWA had to suspend food distribution altogether. On top of that, the WFP had to pay more than $300,000 to Israeli businesses in November and December for storage of the food being withheld from Gaza. Thirty out of Gaza’s forty-seven commercial bakeries had to close for the lack of cooking gas; by April there will be no poultry, on which 70% of Gazans rely for their protein. UNRWA’s cash assistance to the most needy has had to be suspended. The embargo on paper, ink and glue needed for the production of textbooks would affect 200,000 students.8
    Gaza faces regular shortages of diesel, petrol and cooking gas. On 13th November, Gaza’s only power station suspended operations because it ran out of industrial diesel. Spare parts for the power station were auctioned by Israel after being held in customs for eight months. Gaza’s hospitals have had to rely on diesel and gas smuggled from Egypt via the tunnels. In an attempt to undermine Hamas, Israel’s surrogates in the Palestinian Authority (PA) withheld World Bank funds from Gaza’s Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) to pay for fuel to run Gaza’s sewage system. Israel has allowed in only 18 of the 200 tons of chlorine requested by CMWU for water purification. While medical supplies in Gaza have been running dangerously low, the collaborationist PA has been turning supply shipments away rather then send them to Gaza.9
    It was within this context that on 19th December Hamas officially ended its truce.
    All of this is significant, as in 1967 Israel used Nasser’s blockade of the Gulf of Tiran as the casus belli for its pre-emptive attacks on Egypt, Syria and Jordan – the fateful war where it captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Unlike Gaza, however, Israel faced no shortages of food, fuel or medicine – indeed, trade continued unimpeded all across its main air- and sea ports (all of which are located on the Mediterranean coast). Yet, in spite of the facts, ’67 has entered mainstream discourse as a legitimate case of pre-emptive self-defence under Article 51 of the Geneva Conventions. The precedent was even invoked by Colin Powell when on 5th February 2003 he made his case for invading Iraq at the UN Security Council. If Israel was within its rights to launch a pre-emptive war in ’67 – a highly tendentious proposition – then the Palestinians most definitely had a similar right. It is not only enshrined in the Fourth Geneva Convention, it is also accorded them by virtue of Israel’s denial of basic necessities.
    But what of international law?
    The use of force is an act of last resort under international law subject to the customary rules of proportionality and necessity. As a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, Israel has a right to defend itself against attacks; but it has no right to do so by force. In order to use force, it will have to show that other options were not available. This was clearly not the case. It had the option to end its occupation, withdraw from Palestinian land, and accept the international consensus on the two-state solution. It also had more immediate options: it could have agreed to renew the truce and end the crippling siege of Gaza. The Hamas government had made three separate peace offers over a period of two years through veteran Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, including one a mere two weeks before the assault. Relayed through a family member of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert all of these overtures were rebuffed.10 In spurning this opportunity Israel had forfeited any claims to self-defence. Had Hamas attacked after Israel had tried all these options, writes political scientist Jerome Slater, “then – and only then – would it have a true ‘right of self defense’.” It is also the only condition under which the question of proportionality would arise.
    The rocket attacks had not killed a single individual before Israel began its assault; had they done so, they would still not entitle Israel to kill 1,300 Palestinians, mostly civilians, injure 5,000 and destroy schools, mosques, homes, UN compounds and government buildings. As the occupying power Israel has no rights under the Fourth Geneva Convention, it has only obligations – including a responsibility to protect Palestinian civilians and infrastructure. And as the occupied the Palestinians have a right to resist Israel’s oppression. Writes Slater: “An oppressor is not engaged in ‘self defense’ when it uses force in order to annihilate resistance to its repression, and that holds true even if the form of resistance–attacks intended to kill civilians–is itself morally wrong”. The fact is lost on no-one, except perhaps the BBC and CNN, that Israel’s occupation predates both the rockets and Hamas. “Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defence,” wrote distinguished lawyers and legal scholars in an 11th January 2009 letter to the Sunday Times, “not least because its assault on Gaza was unnecessary”. They added:
    “As things stand, its invasion and bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes.”
    That the Palestinians also have a right to self-defence is not an issue the UN Security Council would even allow anyone to raise. Instead, there are feeble pleas for ‘restraint’. In lieu of an investigation, in the initial phase of the massacre some UN officials dignified the Israeli claim that a mere 25% of the Palestinian casualties were civilians (in fact the majority were police trainees killed at their graduation). The notoriously undemocratic executive arm of the UN continued to treat the assault as a ‘war’ even though Gaza is recognized as an Occupied Territory, according Israel the right to ‘defend itself’, albeit ‘proportionately’. In reserving their condemnation exclusively for the targeting of ‘women and children’, the UN was also declaring Gaza’s male population fair game. Despite the verdict of international law experts that Israel’s murder spree in Gaza constitutes war crimes and crimes against humanity, writes Omar Barghouti,
    “this UN discourse not only reduces close to half a million Palestinian men in that wretched, tormented and occupied coastal strip to “militants,” radical “fighters,” or whatever other nouns in currency nowadays in the astoundingly, but characteristically, biased western media coverage…it also treats them as already condemned criminals that deserve the capital punishment Israel has meted out on them.” (The Electronic Intifada, January 1st 2009)

    Jus in Bello
    Israel made no bones about its attacks on civilian targets: one army spokeswoman declared that “[a]nything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target”; another added that “we are trying to hit the whole spectrum, because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel”. The government which had only a year earlier rejected the results of an election which had seen Hamas take the majority of the vote, was suddenly willing to acknowledge the party’s popularity so it could hold it against the whole population of Gaza as evidence of their support for “terrorism against Israel”.11 As the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people all of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure was thus “affiliated” with Hamas and hence a legitimate target. In the very first hour of its assault Israel bombed the Palestinian Legislative Council, the Ministries of Education and Justice, the Islamic University of Gaza, mosques, ambulances and many homes. Palesitinian civilian infrastructure was subjected as a whole to Israeli terror. By the end, Israel had destroyed 4,700 homes completely or partially, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless.
    Sara Roy implored the world in the name of International law – and “human decency” – to protect the people of Gaza. Perhaps the appeal to human decency is a tacit acknowledgment of the irrelevance of international law where it doesn’t align with the interests of major powers. As Conor Gearty notes, the assault on Gaza “has laid bare the relative impotence of international law in the face of determined sovereign action”.12 Like Roy and Gearty, Falk also places little faith in international law for redress. It would be unrealistic, he writes, “to expect the UN to do anything in the face of this crisis, given the pattern of US support for Israel and taking into account the extent to which European governments have lent their weight to recent illicit efforts to crush Hamas as a Palestinian political force”.13
    The impotence of the mechanisms for enforcing international law was exposed in Israel’s refusal to heed the UN’s calls for a ceasefire. Israel blithely ignored the UN Security Council’s call on January 8th 2009 for “an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire”. Likewise, it ignored the strong statement by High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, the next day about the applicability of international human rights law “in all circumstances and at all times”. Pillay stressed that the violations of these laws “may constitute war crimes for which individual criminal responsibility may be invoked”. She urged the UN’s Human Rights Council to “consider authorizing a mission to assess violations” in order to establish “the relevant facts and ensure accountability”. The Council in its resolution said that it “strongly condemns the ongoing military operation” for its “massive violations of human rights of Palestinian people and systematic destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure”; it was particularly outraged at Israel’s “targeting” of UN facilities. At the conclusion of the assault, Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary General himself, visited Gaza. He said he was “appalled” by the destruction, which he found “outrageous and totally unacceptable” and called for the perpetrators to be “punished”.14 The UN has called for the attack to be investigated as a war crime.
    Writes Gearty:
    “The anger evident in all this UN activity, and in particular the passion evident in the High Commissioner’s choice of words, is founded upon the blatancy of the disregard of the law that has been evident in Gaza.”15
    In a highly unusual move, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) broke with convention to condemn the Israeli military for breaching international humanitarian law when it refused access for four days to a Zeitoun neighbourhood where four small children were later found starving among twelve corpses, including those of their mothers. The incident also occasioned one of the most extraordinary moments in the history of British journalism when Alex Thomson of Channel 4 subjected the Israeli spokesperson Mark Regev to an unrelenting interrogation ending with the plea, “In the name of humanity what is Israel doing?”16
    While Israel may have taken a hit in terms of its image – already the worst brand in the world, according to a 2006 poll17 – a wave of boycotts sweeping Europe also adds economic pressure. “But in the absence of any kind of enforcement mechanism,” writes Gearty, “the legal effect of all this international noise has been for all practical purposes zero”.18 There being no international adjudicative body to which Israel is required to defer, he writes, the worst Israel has to fear is five minutes of interrogation on the media, which is itself a rare occurrence. Israel’s claim to self-defence “might not be able to survive a few hours in a court of law”, Gearty avers, but with a mostly pliant media already humming with a chorus of friendly ‘academic terrorism experts’ and ‘defence analysts’ Israel is all but immune from accountability.19
    It was Israel’s ’67 pre-emptive attacks on neighbouring Arab states and Reagan’s March 1986 bombing of Libya – both invoking Article 51 of the UN charter – that demonstrated that unilateral action was possible without eliciting any legal repercussions. The US refusal to join the International Criminal Court, and Israel’s repeated rejection of its jurisdiction, is transforming the whole concept of international law is revealed so far to be a farce. The only people brought to trial in the Hague have all belonged to countries either on the rough end of the unipolar world’s stick, or to countries in which major powers have no vested interests. The irony of the US supporting the ICC’s prosecution of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir while itself refusing to ratify its charter is lost on few in the outside world. Under these circumstances, warnings about criminal responsibility are seen as little more than empty threats. International law has hitherto served no purpose other than to lull the aggrieved into believing that verbal indictments are somehow a substitute for justice.

    The End of Impunity?
    Concerns about prosecutions at the Hague led the Bush administration to repeal the US signature from the treaty enabling the ICC and in 2002 to pass the American Service Members Protection Act (ASMPA), more commonly known as the Invasion of The Hague Act which permits the United States to unilaterally invade the Netherlands to liberate any military personnel and other elected and appointed officials held for war crimes. The US also pressured weaker states around the world to sign ‘bilateral immunity’ policies that require them to sign a waiver stating that they will contravene the ICC in the case of Americans being arrested. Those who do not comply risk losing US military assistance: Kenya and Trinidad-Tobago, for example, learned this the hard way. According to the Observer, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is already pursuing seriously the legal instruments that would allow him to put Israelis on trial for war crimes.20 Fear of prosecution has already caused the Israeli government to launch an international campaign to defend its legal position while and at the same time redacting names written in reports and masking photographs of military personnel involved. Director of the Israel Law Center, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, has opted for bluster, urging the Knesset to legislate a law prohibiting cooperation with any war crimes tribunal and to pass an ASMPA-style Invasion of the Hague law. “Foreign countries should be made to understand we mean business”, she added.
    Obstacles remain, however, and precedents of the actual implementation of international law demand one to attenuate expectations. It is this recognition that has led some to consider using the universal jurisdiction laws enshrined in the legal codes of several European countries to bring US and Israeli war criminals to the dock. Several Israelis have already had close brushes with the law in Europe. In 2001 prosecutors in Belgium filed a war crimes indictment against Ariel Sharon and General Amos Yaron over their responsibility for the massacre of Palestinians in Lebanon. The case was later dismissed by an appeals court on a technicality. On 10th September 2005, General Doron Almog escaped arrest on arrival in London only through a last minute warning from someone at the Foreign Office. Had he disembarked, he would have faced arrest for violations of the Geneva Convention in carrying out house demolitions in Gaza.
    Using the same laws that led to the 1998 arrest of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, Spanish judge Fernando Andreu has launched an investigation of Israeli officials over a 2002 bombing where a one-ton bomb dropped on a densely populated Gaza neighbourhood killed fifteen, including nine children. Those charged include former defense minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer; former chief-of-staff, Moshe Ya’alon; former airforce chief, Dan Halutz; head of Southern command, Doron Almog; head of the National Security Council, Giora Eiland; the defense minister’s military secretary, Mike Herzog; and head of Shin Bet, Avi Dichter. The Israel lobby flexed its muscle, and foreign minister Tzipi Livni was soon claiming that she had been assured by her Spanish counterpart, Miguel Moratinos, that his government would amend its laws to diminish the possibility of investigating torture and war crimes committed outside Spain. This however was immediately contradicted by Deputy Prime Minister María Teresa Fernández de la Vega who stated defiantly that “Spain is a country ruled by law” whose justice system enjoys “absolute independence”; this fact was “made clear to Israel and we are sure they understand this”.21
    The ground is also shrinking around leading US war criminals. Henry Kissinger already can’t set foot in many European countries without risking arrest. Donald Rumsfeld likewise had to be spirited out of Paris a few years back in order to save him the embarrassment of being served a French subpoena. Recently the renowned prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi has shown how criminal law can be used to prosecute George W. Bush for murder in any of the districts where a soldier has been killed as a result of a war sold on lies.22 Until international law evolves a mechanism for enforcement that does not allow any state exemption from its purview, the potential of domestic laws to keep war criminals on their toes if not behind bars will remain indispensable.
    In the wake of the 11th September 2001 attacks, Dick Cheney and the cabal of neoconservatives around him had gone about dismantling the international legal framework which had been developed across several presidencies as a result of a growing preference for hegemony by consent rather than coercion. Given the extreme unpopularity of the last regime, Obama feels compelled pragmatically to distance himself from its legacy. The appointments of George Mitchell as Middle East envoy and Charles Freeman as the director of the National Intelligence Council have already occasioned tension between the Obama administration and the Israel lobby. The growing unease over the ascension of Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman to power in Israel is only likely to exacerbate matters. Gestures towards Syria and Iran have caused alarm among Israel-Firsters in Washington. While many rightly criticized Obama for his silence in the face of the Israeli slaughter, the standard reflex of a US politician would have been to come out unconditionally in support of the attacks.
    In a remarkable departure from her earlier stance where she opposed the impeachment of Bush administration officials, the house majority leader, Nancy Pelosi, has recently declared that “no one is above the law”.23 Maybe she only wants to one-up Senator Patrick Leahy who has proposed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But for the first time talk of prosecutions has entered mainstream discourse. What was dismissed as unthinkable only months ago appears now almost attainable. Since Pelosi controls the assignment of hearings to relevant committees in the Congress, writes the veteran journalist Alexander Cockburn,
    “this means that she could give the green light to House Justice Committee chairman John Conyers to organize hearings…equipped with a capable director and subpoena power – that is, the ability to compel testimony and documents under the threat of criminal sanction.”24
    Pelosi may or may not be serious but for the left there is a rich opportunity in all this, writes Cockburn. “Obama’s pledges in the campaign to run a lawful government were very explicit”. He clearly seeks a break with the image if not necessarily the policies of the Bush administration. The closing of Guantanamo and the categorical ban on torture is part of this new trajectory (even though unlawful detention and subcontracted torture will likely continue). This attempt to re-engage with the world will not be effective until Obama affirms US commitment to international law, including a re-signing of the ICC charter. This would also have the effect of empowering the UN rapporteurs, special representatives, tribunals and so on, Gearty argues:
    “Since its application would be general, Obama could do all this without any mention of Israel, leaving the consequences to be worked through by various bureaucracies…Were pressure from the lobbies to reach dangerous levels, the president might choose to take the issue to the American people, to discuss openly whether Israel should have an exemption from the system of values to which…the US itself will by then have signed up.”25
    While this is no doubt a scenario that the Israel lobby would want to avoid, Gearty’s otherwise original and practical proposal overlooks the fact that the Israel lobby has long exploited an existing US disposition for unilateralism to generate hostility towards the UN. The UN is undermined in general so it won’t have any legitimacy when it comes to the particular demands of making Israel abide by its resolutions. The bulk of US vetoes in the Security Council have been cast in support of Israel. Likewise, the precedent of appealing directly to the public has also failed to gain any cover for the last two presidents who tried it. Both Gerald Ford and George Bush (Snr.) ended up as one-term presidents: the former balked after receiving a letter signed by the majority of the Senate; the latter suffered a major electoral loss for which the Israel lobby claimed credit.26 However, Obama is in a unique position: he has the tide of history with him. He is also more susceptible to public pressure. The Israel lobby is on the backfoot. There has never been a time more propitious for groundbreaking change. Gaza was the catalyst. It is time demands were made of Obama to restore faith in international humanitarian law. Until then, Europe’s universal jurisdiction laws should suffice to keep the war criminals on their toes.

    Muhammad Idrees Ahmad is a member of, and the co-founder of He can be reached at

    1. Since the allies had carried out more bombings of civilians than the axis powers, the American prosecutor Telford Taylor got around the problem by declaring that “the air bombardment of cities and factories has become a recognized part of modern warfare”, hence a part of “customary law”; and that since the fourth Hague convention of 1907, which forbade bombing of civilians, had not been applied during WWII, it had lost its validity (see Sven Linqvist, ‘A History of Bombing’, Granta, 2000, n.239)
    2. Zionist propagandist Paul Berman who in his book ‘Terror and Liberalism’ ridiculed the notion that Israeli occupation might be the cause of Palestinian resentment had to resort to hyperbole in order to justify Israel’s killing of more than 400 children in Gaza. Israel, he told the American Jewish Committee’s webzine Z Word, did it to prevent ‘genocide’.
    3. Sara Roy, ‘If Gaza Falls’, London Review of Books, 1st January 2009
    4. Henry Siegman, ‘Israel’s Lies’, London Review of Books, 29th January 2009
    5. Jon Elmer, ‘Slow Genocide: Tanya Reinhart interview’, From, 10th September 2003
    6. Roy, op. cit.
    7. Richard Falk, ‘Slouching toward a Palestinian holocaust’, The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, 29th June 2007
    8. Roy, op. cit.
    9. Ibid.
    10. See Peter Beaumont, ‘Israel PM’s family link to Hamas peace bid’, The Observer, 1st March 2009
    11. Cited in John Mearsheimer, ‘Another war, another defeat’, The American Conservative, 26th January 2009
    12. Conor Gearty, ‘Sovereign wrongs and human rights’, The Tablet, January 2009
    13. Falk, op. cit.
    14. Robert Fisk, ‘So, I asked the UN secretary general, isn’t it time for a war crimes tribunal?’, The Independent, 19th January 2009
    15. Gearty, op. cit.
    16. Channel 4 News, 8th January 2008. Video of exchange available at:
    17. ‘Survey:Israel worst brand name in the world’, Israel Today, 22nd November 2006
    18. Gearty, op. cit.
    19. For example, the BBC gave platform to the very dubious Col. Richard Kemp to make pronouncements such as “I don’t think there has ever been a time in the history of warfare when any army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than the IDF is doing today in Gaza” (can be seen here: Over in the US, Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, earned his junket to Israel by declaring that it fought a “clean war” (“The ‘Gaza War’”, CSIS, 2nd February 2009). For a debunking of Cordesman, see Norman Finkelstein, ‘War Whore: A Camp Follower Who Aims to Please’,, 19th February 2009
    20. Peter Beaumont, The Observer, 2nd March 2009
    21. Staff, ‘Spain won’t annul judge’s decision’, Jerusalem Post, 1st February 2009
    22. For a succinct summation of Bugliosi’s case, see his interview with, 27th February 2009
    23. ‘One-on-one with Nancy Pelosi’, Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC, 25th February 2009
    24. Alexander Cockburn,, 27th February 2009
    25. Conor Gearty, London Review of Books, 15th January 2009
    26. Philip Weiss, ‘Did the First President Bush Lose His Job to the Israel Lobby?’, New York Observer, 17th July 2006

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    Print this page29-06-2009 Report
    Gaza: 1.5 million people trapped in despair
    Six months after Israel launched its three-week military operation in Gaza on 27 December 2008, Gazans still cannot rebuild their lives. Most people struggle to make ends meet. Seriously ill patients face difficulty obtaining the treatment they need. Many children suffer from deep psychological problems. Civilians whose homes and belongings were destroyed during the conflict are unable to recover.

    See also:

    New ICRC film From the field series Gaza: paying the price (download and order online).

    News release, 29.06.09
    See also:

    New ICRC film From the field series Gaza: paying the price (download and order online).

    News release, 29.06.09
    Gaza: 1.5 million people trapped in despair
    (PDF file/454 k) Help

    During the 22 days of the Israeli military operation, nowhere in Gaza was safe for civilians. Hospitals were overwhelmed with casualties, including small children, women and elderly people. Medical personnel showed incredible courage and determination, working around the clock to save lives in extremely difficult circumstances. Meanwhile, daily rocket attacks launched from Gaza put thousands of residents at risk in southern Israel. Medical workers in Israel provided care for the traumatized population and treated and evacuated casualties.

    ©ICRC/VII/ T. Domaniczky / il-e-00106
    Many children witnessed violence during the military operation. Bedwetting, insomnia and agitated behaviour are widespread. Thousands of children and adults need counselling to deal with emotional scars and post-traumatic stress.
    Many children witnessed violence during the military operation. Bedwetting, insomnia and agitated behaviour are widespread. Thousands of children and adults need counselling to deal with emotional scars and post-traumatic stress. ©ICRC/VII/ T. Domaniczky / il-e-00106 Many people in Gaza lost a child, a parent, another relative or a friend. Israel’s military operation left thousands of homes partly or totally destroyed. Whole neighbourhoods were turned into rubble. Schools, kindergartens, hospitals and fire and ambulance stations were damaged by shelling.
    This small coastal strip is cut off from the outside world. Even before the latest hostilities, drastic restrictions on the movement of people and goods imposed by the Israeli authorities, particularly since October 2007, had led to worsening poverty, rising unemployment and deteriorating public services such as health care, water and sanitation. Insufficient cooperation between the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and the Hamas administration in Gaza had also hit the provision of essential services. As a result, the people of Gaza were already experiencing a major crisis affecting all aspects of daily life when hostilities intensified in late December.

    Six months later, restrictions on imports are making it impossible for Gazans to rebuild their lives. The quantities of goods now entering Gaza fall well short of what is required to meet the population’s needs. In May 2009, only 2,662 truckloads of goods entered Gaza from Israel, a decrease of almost 80 per cent compared to the 11,392 truckloads allowed in during April 2007, before Hamas took over the territory.

    No reconstruction allowed, public health at risk

    Khan Younis. Public taps for drinking water, May 2009.
    Khan Younis. Public taps for drinking water, May 2009. ©ICRC
    Gaza neighbourhoods particularly hard hit by the Israeli strikes will continue to look like the epicentre of a massive earthquake unless vast quantities of cement, steel and other building materials are allowed into the territory for reconstruction. Until that happens, thousands of families who lost everything will be forced to live in cramped conditions with relatives. Others will continue to live in tents, as they have nowhere else to go.
    Emergency repairs carried out after the military operation have made it possible to restore water and sanitation services, but only to the already unsatisfactory level prevailing before December 2008. The infrastructure is overloaded and remains subject to breakdown. Although chlorine is used to disinfect the water, the risk of sewage and other waste matter seeping into the water supply network represents a major threat to public health.

    Every day, 69 million litres of partially treated or completely untreated sewage – the equivalent of 28 Olympic-size swimming pools – are pumped directly into the Mediterranean because they cannot be treated.

    Ezbet Abd Rabo, Gaza North, May 2009.
    Ezbet Abd Rabo, Gaza North, May 2009.©ICRC Thousands of homes only have access to running water on certain days. Because the water supply network cannot be properly maintained, it is leaking, making it harder to maintain sufficient water pressure. Even when water is available in the pipes, many homes do not have sufficient power to pump it into rooftop storage tanks.
    The taps of tens of thousands of people run dry when Gaza’s municipal water wells break down, which frequently happens because of insufficient supplies of new water pipes, electrical spare parts, pumps and transformers.

    The ICRC has occasionally found ways of repairing infrastructure without relying on imports. For example, it used recycled materials (including used water pipes and concrete segments of the old Rafah border wall destroyed in January 2008) to upgrade a wastewater treatment plant serving 175,000 people in Rafah.

    However, on its own this is insufficient. Other repairs and reconstruction projects are urgently needed to prevent the further deterioration of the water supply system, carry out essential maintenance and stem the steady decline of the water and sanitation system throughout the Gaza Strip. The fact that water and sanitation services could collapse at any moment raises the spectre of a major public health crisis.

    The only way to address this crisis is to lift import restrictions on spare parts, water pipes and building materials such as cement and steel so that homes can be rebuilt and vital infrastructure maintained and upgraded.

    Insufficient access to health care

    ©ICRC/VII/ T. Domaniczky / il-e-01707
    Gaza, Al-Shifa Hospital, January 2009
    Gaza, Al-Shifa Hospital, January 2009©ICRC/VII/ T. Domaniczky / il-e-01707 “I have a pancreatic tumour. At first, there was hope that I would be given an operation, but as time went by I stopped hoping. I am in pain and I know all too well that my disease is life threatening.”
    Do’aa, 26 years old, Gaza City. She has been waiting since January 2009 for permission to transit through Israel for an operation in Jordan.
    “I have a pancreatic tumour. At first, there was hope that I would be given an operation, but as time went by I stopped hoping. I am in pain and I know all too well that my disease is life threatening.”
    Do’aa, 26 years old, Gaza City. She has been waiting since January 2009 for permission to transit through Israel for an operation in Jordan. Gaza’s health-care system cannot provide the treatment that many patients suffering from serious illness require. Tragically, a number of them are not allowed to leave the Strip in time to seek health care elsewhere. Health issues in Gaza are often politicized and patients find themselves caught up in a bureaucratic maze. The procedures for requesting permission to leave the territory are complicated and involve both the Palestinian and Israeli authorities. Seriously ill patients sometimes have to wait for months before the relevant authorities allow them to leave the Gaza Strip.
    Even when patients do obtain the necessary permits to leave, the transfer through Erez crossing into Israel can be arduous. Patients on life-support machines have to be removed from ambulances and placed on stretchers, then carried 60-80 metres through the crossing to ambulances waiting on the other side. Patients who can walk unassisted may face extensive questioning before they are allowed through the crossing for medical treatment – or, as sometimes happens, before they are refused entry into Israel and turned back.

    “I loved to play football with my friends. I told the doctors that I wanted to be able to walk again – they promised that I would.”
    Ghassan, 14 years old, Gaza City. His older brother was killed and he himself was wounded during the military operation. He is waiting to be fitted with artificial limbs for both legs.
    “I loved to play football with my friends. I told the doctors that I wanted to be able to walk again – they promised that I would.”
    Ghassan, 14 years old, Gaza City. His older brother was killed and he himself was wounded during the military operation. He is waiting to be fitted with artificial limbs for both legs. The shortage of basic medicines is a constant problem for Gaza hospitals and health clinics. They depend on a timely and reliable supply of medicines from the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health in the West Bank, but the supply chain often breaks down. Cooperation between the health authorities in the West Bank and Gaza is difficult. Complex and lengthy Israeli import procedures also hamper the reliable supply of even the most basic items such as painkillers and X-ray film developers. As a result, some patients, including people suffering from cancer or kidney failure, do not always get the essential drugs they need.

    “Four of our 14 specialized ventilators for newborn babies are out of order. It is currently impossible to get spare parts into Gaza so that we can have the ventilators fixed. This is a real problem if we have many newborns in the intensive care unit at the same time.”
    Majdia Jouda, head of the neo-natal department at Shifa Hospital.
    “Four of our 14 specialized ventilators for newborn babies are out of order. It is currently impossible to get spare parts into Gaza so that we can have the ventilators fixed. This is a real problem if we have many newborns in the intensive care unit at the same time.”
    Majdia Jouda, head of the neo-natal department at Shifa Hospital. An estimated 100-150 people who lost limbs in the recent military operation are waiting to be fitted with artificial limbs. The ICRC-supported Artificial Limb and Polio Centre (ALPC) is the only physical rehabilitation centre in Gaza that can provide them with adequate rehabilitation and professional customized appliances. Being the only limb fitting centre in the Gaza Strip, the ALPC has to respond to the entire demand for artificial limbs. Yet importing prosthetic materials and components is still a difficult and lengthy process.
    Gaza’s hospitals are run down. Much of the equipment is unreliable and in need of repair. Complicated procedures for obtaining approval to import spare parts make it difficult and time consuming to bring in and maintain hospital equipment, such as CT scanners, and spare parts – even for hospital washing machines. The ICRC has had to wait as long as five months to import medical equipment for operating theatres, such as orthopaedic external fixators.

    Daily power cuts and power fluctuations continue to damage medical equipment. Most hospitals have to rely on backup generators for several hours a day, but it is never certain that enough fuel will be available to run them.

    Seriously ill patients should be given prompt and safe passage out of the Gaza Strip in order to access the specialized medical care they cannot get inside the territory. Essential medical items such as drugs, disposables and spare parts must be allowed into the Gaza Strip without delay and in sufficient quantities to ensure essential health services for the population.

    A strangled economy
    One of the gravest consequences of the closure is soaring unemployment, which reached 44 per cent in April 2009, according to the Gaza Chamber of Commerce. Restrictions on imports and exports of goods imposed since June 2007 have shut down 96% of industrial operations in Gaza, with the loss of about 70,000 jobs. This has also had a severe impact on the capacity to export products to Israel and the West Bank, which has become almost impossible.

    Ezbet Abd Rabo, Gaza North, May 2009.
    Ezbet Abd Rabo, Gaza North, May 2009.©ICRC
    The tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border do not present an alternative route to economic development and are not ensuring a sufficient supply of affordable goods for the population.
    The collapse of the Gaza economy has led to a dramatic increase in poverty. An ICRC household survey conducted in May 2008 showed that, even then, over 70 per cent of Gazans were living in poverty, with monthly incomes of less than 250 US dollars for a family of 7 to 9 members (1 dollar per household member per day, excluding the value of humanitarian assistance which they may receive). Up to 40 per cent of Gaza families are very poor; with a monthly income of under 120 dollars (0.5 dollar per household member per day). On average, each person who does work – whether as a paid employee or running their own business – has to support their immediate family of 6-7 people and a few members of their extended family.

    This increase in poverty has taken a heavy toll on the population’s diet. Many families have been forced to cut household expenses to survival levels. Generally, people are getting the calories they need, but only a few can afford a healthy and balanced diet. Poor families often substitute cheaper alternatives such as cereals, sugar and oil for fruits, vegetables, meat and fish. For tens of thousands of children, this has resulted in deficiencies in iron, vitamin A and vitamin D. The likely consequences include stunted growth of bones and teeth, difficulty in fighting off infections, fatigue and a reduced capacity to learn.

    Most of the very poor have exhausted their coping mechanisms. Many have no savings left. They have sold private belongings such as jewellery and furniture and started to sell productive assets including farm animals, land, fishing boats or cars used as taxis. They are unable to reduce spending on food any further. The declining living standards will affect the health and well-being of the population in the long term. Those worst affected are likely to be children, who make up more than half of Gaza’s population.

    Gaza’s alarming poverty is directly linked to the tight closure imposed on the territory. Local industry and other businesses have to be allowed to rebuild, to import essential inputs and to export their products. But even that would take time. The crisis has become so severe and entrenched that even if all crossings were to open tomorrow it would take years for the economy to recover.

    Farming in the danger zone

    Al Mughraqa, May 2009.
    Al Mughraqa, May 2009.©ICRC
    The closure has also badly hit farming families, which make up over a quarter of Gaza’s population. Exports of strawberries, cherry tomatoes and cut flowers used to be an important source of income. They have come to a virtual standstill. Many farmers have had their income halved as they find it difficult to sell their entire harvest inside Gaza. Even if they succeed, the price they obtain is only a fraction of what they would normally earn from exports to Israel or Europe.
    During the latest military operation, the Israeli army uprooted thousands of citrus, olive and palm groves, including those far inside the Gaza Strip. The army also destroyed irrigation systems, wells and greenhouses.

    Gaza city, Gaza beach, May 2009.
    Gaza city, Gaza beach, May 2009.©ICRC Many farmers are effectively denied access to parts of their land because of the Israeli-imposed “no-go” zone on the Gaza side of the border fence with Israel. At least 30 per cent of the arable land in Gaza lies within this buffer zone, which can extend up to one kilometre from the fence. A farmer never knows for sure if it is safe to work his land or to harvest within the zone. Farmers risk being shot at when tending to their land and incursions by the army often leave fields and parts of the harvest destroyed.
    Getting agricultural production up and running again is difficult not only because of the destruction that has occurred, but also because Israel does not allow the importation of suitable fertilizers and because many types of seedlings are difficult or even impossible to find in Gaza.

    Fishing has also been hard hit by the Israeli-imposed restrictions on movement. Last January, the area at sea within which Israel allows fishing was cut from six to three nautical miles from Gaza’s coastline, reducing catches and therefore the availability of this protein-rich food. Bigger fish and sardines, which constituted some 70 per cent of the catch before 2007, are found mainly outside the three-nautical-mile zone.

    Urgent steps must be taken to allow farmers to resume growing their crops in safety. Fertilizers, spare parts for machinery, plastic sheeting for greenhouses and fodder must be allowed into the Gaza Strip in quantities that will ensure that they are sold at prices farmers can afford. At the same time, farmers must be permitted to resume their exports of produce in order to earn a proper living. Recent restrictions on fishing should be rescinded.


    ©ICRC / A. Meier / il-e-00232
    Family members waiting at Erez crossing in 2005 in order to exit Gaza and visit a relative in an Israeli prison. Such visits are no longer allowed.
    Family members waiting at Erez crossing in 2005 in order to exit Gaza and visit a relative in an Israeli prison. Such visits are no longer allowed.©ICRC / A. Meier / il-e-00232 “Being stuck here gives me a sombre view of the future,” says Ibrahim Abu Sobeih, a 24-year-old student from Gaza. “I would like to be educated and to make something of myself. I want to be able to help my family financially. But it is very difficult when I am trapped. I feel very angry and hopeless.”
    Ibrahim Abu Sobeih, 24 years old, Gaza City: Received a scholarship from Clarion University in Pennsylvania, but was not allowed through Israel to go there. He now works for a local NGO.
    “Being stuck here gives me a sombre view of the future,” says Ibrahim Abu Sobeih, a 24-year-old student from Gaza. “I would like to be educated and to make something of myself. I want to be able to help my family financially. But it is very difficult when I am trapped. I feel very angry and hopeless.”
    Ibrahim Abu Sobeih, 24 years old, Gaza City: Received a scholarship from Clarion University in Pennsylvania, but was not allowed through Israel to go there. He now works for a local NGO. People in Gaza are trapped. Because Israel has shut the crossing points, Gazans have scant opportunity for contact with relatives abroad or for further education or professional training. The restrictions on leaving and entering the Gaza Strip also apply to Palestinian staff of international organizations such as the ICRC. To make matters worse, it is seldom possible to use the Rafah border point with Egypt.
    The emotional fallout from the closure is particularly apparent among families with relatives imprisoned in Israel. In June 2007, Israel stopped ICRC-supported visits by about 900 Gaza families to their detained relatives. As a result, many children have lost their one remaining link with a detained parent or sibling. These families must be allowed to resume visits to their relatives in Israeli detention.

    Often, university students with grants to study abroad are not allowed to leave Gaza. Those who cannot leave are left with limited options for further education within the coastal enclave. University professors, teachers and health professionals are often prevented from participating in training courses and seminars abroad that would help them upgrade their skills and expertise.

    Breaking the cycle of despair and destitution
    Over the last two years, the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip have been caught up in an unending cycle of deprivation and despair as a result of the conflict, and particularly as a direct consequence of the closure of the crossing points.

    The ICRC has repeatedly pointed out that Israel’s right to address its legitimate security concerns must be balanced against the right of the population in Gaza to lead a normal and dignified life. Under international humanitarian law, Israel has the obligation to ensure that the population’s basic needs in terms of food, shelter, water and medical supplies are met.

    Ezbet Abd Rabo, Gaza North, May 2009.
    Ezbet Abd Rabo, Gaza North, May 2009.©ICRC
    The ICRC once again appeals for a lifting of restrictions on the movement of people and goods as the first and most urgent measure to end Gaza’s isolation and to allow its people to rebuild their lives.

    The almost 4.5 billion dollars that donor countries pledged for reconstruction at an international summit in Egypt in March 2009 will be of little use if building materials and other essential items cannot be imported into the Gaza Strip.

    In any case, reconstruction alone does not offer a sustainable means of getting Gaza back on its feet. To go back to the situation prior to the latest military operation would be unacceptable, as that would only perpetuate Gaza’s plight.

    A lasting solution requires fundamental changes in Israeli policy, such as allowing imports and exports to and from Gaza, increasing the flow of goods and people up to the level of May 2007, allowing farmers to access their land in the de-facto buffer zone and restoring fishermen’s access to deeper waters.

    Humanitarian action can be no substitute for the credible political steps that are needed to bring about these changes. Only an honest and courageous political process involving all States, political authorities and organized armed groups concerned can address the plight of Gaza and restore a dignified life to its people.

    The alternative is a further descent into misery with every passing day.

    * * *

    ICRC activities in Gaza

    The ICRC has had a permanent presence in the Gaza Strip since 1968. There are currently 109 ICRC staff working there, including 19 expatriates.

    ICRC staff remained in Gaza throughout the Israeli military operation launched on 27 December 2008. In cooperation with the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), they evacuated hundreds of people – some of whom were severely wounded in the fighting. In addition, they provided hospitals with vital medicines and supplies, and ICRC war surgeons helped perform operations in Gaza’s Shifa Hospital.
    Working with local authorities, the ICRC also carried out emergency repairs on the power and water supply lines.

    In the aftermath of the military operation, the ICRC and the PRCS distributed relief items such as plastic sheeting, cooking sets, mattresses, blankets and hygiene kits to more than 72,000 Gazans whose houses had been partially or totally destroyed. ICRC delegates also gathered information on whether Israel and Palestinian groups conducted hostilities in accordance with international humanitarian law. The ICRC’s findings are being discussed bilaterally with the authorities concerned.

    At present, the ICRC is supplying eight hospitals with medicines and other medical items, equipment and spare parts, and is helping to maintain and repair ambulances. In addition, the ICRC is fitting amputees with artificial limbs and providing them with physiotherapy. It is helping to upgrade water and sanitation services and to maintain the water network. The organization is providing support for farmers and others in need through various programmes involving land rehabilitation, compost production and “cash for work.”
    The ICRC continues to visit detainees in the Gaza Strip and to promote knowledge of and respect for international humanitarian law among the authorities and weapon bearers.

  8. The ICRC report entitled :-
    GAZA 1.5 million people trapped in despair.
    June 2009

  9. You’ve made a very good story.
    If it’s ok with you, I would like to request permission to use your article as it relates to my obstruction. I will be happy to negotiate to pay you or hire you for this.

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