What about Palestinians' right to exist? EU must face responsibility
GAZA COAST WATCH
I took this picture twenty years ago.
Control has got tighter, and
harassment of Palestinian fishermen
tougher, since Sharon claimed "disengagement" from Gaza.
TWO reports this week remind us how "the only democracy in the Middle East" , which is supposedly only defending its "right to exist", does its worst to deny people under its enforced domination the right to live as human beings.
Fishing has long been a major source of food for people in the Gaza strip, and a livelihood for the fishermen. But Israeli occupation forces in Gaza always kept tight control over the area's fishermen, telling them how far they could go, and even what engines they could install in their boats. Now a report from the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, dated February 23, says that in the past six months they have virtually forbidden fishing and are harassing and humiliating fishermen caught at sea.
"B'Tselem's research indicates that, since the abduction of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, on 25 June 2006 , Israel has forbidden boats, including fishing boats, to sail off the Gaza coast. The prohibition has struck a severe blow to the fishing sector, which provides a livelihood for tens of thousands of residents of the Gaza Strip. Lacking other means of employment, and despite the Israeli navy's patrol of the coast and occasional shooting at Palestinian fishermen, some fishermen have risked their lives and violated the prohibition.
"'Adnan al-Badwil described the naval gunfire at his fishing boat:
Last Wednesday [12 December], around five in the evening, I went to sea in a small, seven-meter motorboat I own. My brother Sa'id and another fisherman who works with us, Hamdan Barhum, were also in the boat….We threw out the nets and waited for the fish to get caught…. After waiting about ninety minutes, I felt that fish were in the net, and we began to lift them out of the water….Then we started back to shore.
"When we got to about one hundred meters from shore, I heard shooting. It was about seven o'clock and it was dark. The boat started shaking a lot, we fell into the sea. I didn't see where the shots came from, but I am sure it came from the Israeli warship that was at sea. I didn't see anything else in the water….The boat was hit, apparently by a shell. The three of us were injured by shell fragments…Sa'id and I were hospitalized for three days. Hamdan was very seriously injured, so he is still in the hospital.
"In addition to shooting, in recent months Israel Navy crews have used a new method of humiliating and abusing the fishermen. B'Tselem has learned of many cases in which the sailors stopped fisherman off the coast, particularly opposite Rafah, forced them to go further out to sea and then ordered them, under threat of firearms, to undress and swim dozens of meters in the sea to the navy ship, despite the bitter cold. The sailors threatened to shoot anyone who did not want to jump in because he didn't know how to swim. The fishermen were ordered to swim to a rescue float that the soldiers threw into the water, but the soldiers yanked at the float just before the fishermen reached it. After being taken on board, the ship sailed to Ashdod Port.
"On the way, the fishermen were kept on deck in their soaked underwear, exposed to the wind and the spray of water. At the port, the fishermen were held for from fourteen to twenty-four hours, their hands cuffed and their eyes covered, and interrogated. In some cases, they were given military clothes and were offered food and a hot beverage. At the end of the interrogation, they were taken back to the ship and returned to where their boat had been anchored. The sailors then forced them to undress again and swim to their boat. In some instances, their clothes had been blown into the sea, so they had to make their way to shore in their soaked underwear. In rare cases, the fishermen were returned to the Gaza Strip via Erez Crossing".
The IDF say they restrict the fishing area off the Gaza Strip to 6 nautical miles (11 kilometers) from the coast, and that restrictions are based on security needs, primarily to prevent the smuggling of weapons and fighters into and out of the Gaza Strip, attacks from the sea in boats loaded with explosives, and the smuggling of the captive Cpl. Gilad Shalit out of Gaza.
But B'Tselem says these security needs do not justify the arbitrary detention and abuse of fishermen. It says the detention of the fishermen and the inhuman and degrading treatment were a means of adding to the pressure that Israel has put on the residents of the Gaza Strip, amounting to collective punishment. B'Tselem also points out that in September 2005, Israel completed its Gaza disengagement plan and declared the end of the military government in the Gaza Strip.
"It is not clear, therefore, on what authority Israel forbids sailing off the Gaza coast, or what is the legal basis for detaining the fishermen, who are no longer subject, according to Israel 's contention, to its control".
The Guardian yesterday had a report by Rory McCarthy on how Bedouin who fled into what was Jordan after the State of Israel was established are once again being made refugees, by the expansion of Israeli settlements and the annexation Wall.
"The bulldozers came for Hamid Salim Hassan's house just after dawn. Before the demolition began, the Bedouin family scrambled to gather what they could: a fridge, a pile of carpets, some plastic chairs, a canister of cooking gas and a metal bed frame.
"Now, with their house a wreck of smashed concrete and broken plastic pipes, Mr Hassan and his family are living in a canvas tent on a neighbour's land. Their possessions are piled outside, along with boxes of supplies, including washing-up liquid, toothpaste, corned beef, wheat flour and tomato paste, provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross."
Mr.Hassan and his family originally came from Beersheba. Now the spread of the Maaleh Adumim settlement and the Wall makes them homeless again at Azarya.
"For the 3,000 Bedouin living here, most from the Jahalin tribe, this presents an imminent crisis. 'They came and destroyed my house to protect their wall," said Mr Hassan, 62. "They really don't have enough land already that they had to come and destroy my house? We've lost everything.'
"Earlier this month the Israeli military destroyed seven huts and tents belonging to Bedouin living near a settlement in Hebron, in the southern West Bank. Another group of Bedouin living further east in the Jordan Valley have been given two months to leave their homes near an Israeli military base and a Jewish settlement.
"In each case the Israeli authorities argue the homes have been built without permits, but Palestinians say they are notoriously hard to obtain".
Negev desert nomads on the move again to make way for Israel's barrier,
Guardian, February 28
As we have reported in previous postings, the ill-treatment of Bedouin is not confined to the occupied Palestinian territories but is continuing in Israel itself. The expression "desert nomads" is misleading, since Negev Bedouin have traditional grazing lands and water rights, and many have taken up farming or paid labour, but they face clearances, crops being destroyed, and homes demolished, because they stand in the way of settlements and development, in which foreign capital is involved. The Bedouin are finding ways to resist, as best they can, supported by some Israelis, but outside, their struggle is too often ignored.
Israel in Europe
Meanwhile, did you see the news about the Swiss government deciding to expand the Geneva canton, annexing a large swathe of Haute Savoie and surrounding it with a "security wall" driven through French farmers' lands?
It came as Norway announced it was reclaiming the Orkneys and the Isle of Man, as part of its ancient lands, and would restrict fishing there (Vinland next!). No, I did not see these news items either, but reading that the Israeli government says it would like to upgrade its status with the European Union to that enjoyed by Switzerland and Norway set my imagination going.
As it is Israel enjoys privileged access to EU markets etc., with little scrutiny of of whether it meets human rights conditions. It has also broken EU laws by labelling products from the illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories as "Made in Israel" , so as to benefit from this access. Meanwhile Palestinians, even if their olive groves haven't been bulldozed, have difficulty getting their produce past roadblocks to the nearest market, let alone Europe, though they ought to be assisted if there was a genuine "road map" to peace.
Evidently the Olmert government figures a little more chutzpah is always worth it for the gains it brings. After all, the EU's only sanctions, like those of Britain and the United States, have been against the Palestinians, not Israel.
Next Monday, March 5, the Association Council between the European Union and Israel is due to meet. The Palestinian fishermen, the Negev Bedouin, the Gaza citrus grower who threw his oranges in the sea rather than watch them rot at an Israeli road block, will probably not be there. But the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network has sent a message to Javier Solano and all European Foreign Ministers reminding them of Europe's responsibility to Middle East peace and observance of human rights obligations.
Here in Britain, there's an Early Day Motion coming up in the House of Commons (see below). I've asked my MP to sign, and if yours has not already, you can ask them to do the same.
To see which MPs have signed please use this link: http://tinyurl.com/2ytrfu or visit the Parliamentary website for EDMs: http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/Default.aspx
ISRAEL'S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE EU
That this House notes that the Israeli government has expressed the desire to upgrade its relations with the EU to the same level as Norway and Switzerland; further notes that this would include the ability to have free passage of goods, people and capital between the two entities; further notes that Israel remains in consistent violation of UN Security Council Resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention, has routinely prevented the free movement of Palestinian goods and people and has withheld Palestinian funds from their people; further notes that these and other grievous human rights abuses represent a clear breach of Article Two of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which calls for adherence to human rights laws; commends the International Development Select Committee's report into development assistance and the Occupied Palestinian territories, and in particular its recommendation that `the UK should urge the EU to use the Association Agreement with Israel as a lever for change and to consider suspending the Agreement until there are further improvements in access arrangements'; and urges the Government to insist that no upgrading of Israel's relations with the EU be considered until the Israeli government has brought itself into full compliance with international law, including the permanent lifting of all barriers to freedom of movement for Palestinian goods, people and capital.