Small steps forward, against bloody slide back
THE Israeli-Palestinian conflict worsened this week, despite - or more likely, because of - the supposed "peace process" backed by the great powers, and in spite of some positive developments.
Seven Palestinian policemen were killed, and ten injured on Tuesday when Israeli 'planes fired missiles at the Abasan police station near Khan Yunis, in the south of the Gaza Strip. Earlier, Israeli tanks and bulldozers had invaded areas in Rafeah, clashing with Palestinian fighters before withdrawing.
On Monday, a woman in Dimona was killed and eleven people injured, in the first suicide bombing carried out inside Israel in over a year. The attack was in a shopping centre in the northern Negev town which is the site of Israel's nuclear reactor and weapon production. The first bomber was killed when his belt packed with explosives and ball bearings went off, the other, whose bomb had failed to detonate was shot dead as he lay injured by an Israeli policeman.
Supporters of Israel's "security" measures like the annexation wall and checkpoints had kept chanting "suicide bombers" as their pretext, and when anyone pointed out there had been no bombings for a year, that this proved the policy was effective. Now after all the repression and war they are back at square one.
If the latest Gaza attacks were intended as a reprisal they were both futile and dishonest. We have been here before. Israel blames the Palestinian authorities for failing to control guerrillas and bombers operating from their territory (or not, in some cases), then attacks targets like police stations to make sure they have neither the authority nor the means to assert control. They did it when Arafat was alive, pretending the Palestinian leader who had taken their hand was the "terrorist" bogeyman.
It is especially dishonest now because, though the two Dimona attackers were reported to be from Gaza, where Hamas retains control of the police, the attack was claimed by an element within the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, stemming from Fatah. It is Fatah leader and President Mahmoud Abbas with whom the Israeli government is entering a new round of peace talks encouraged by its Western backers. Meanwhile, it declares the entire Gaza area "enemy territory", claiming the right to impose siege conditions on its inhabitants - and undoubtedly thus fostering a new generation of bombers.
Not that the Israeli military has desisted from raids on Palestinians in the West Bank. In the past week they have seized several people from their homes in Ramallah and Nablus. To further complicate the picture, after statements that the two bombers came from Gaza and entered Israel through the Sinai border with Egypt, Hamas issued its own statement on Wednesday, complete with video, claiming the two were its men, had belonged to the al Qassam Brigades, and came from the West Bank town of Hebron. At dawn today, Thursday, the Israeli army raided the home of one of the bombers, Mohammad al Herbawi, in Hebron, following with attacks on several other homes in the area.
Meanwhile the Palestinian Prisoners Society had issued a report that during January the Israeli forces had kidnapped no less than 60 people from the Hebron area, eleven of them children. Armed Israeli settlers who have frequently rampaged through Hebron attacking shops and market stalls were reported attacking Palestinian shepherds in the countryside nearby.
On the Monday that the Dimona raid took place Hamas security men were reported to be assisting Egyptian forces by holding back crowds of Palestinians as the border with Egypt was resealed with barbed wire and metal barricades. For two weeks people from Gaza had been taking advantage of a breach in the border to stream into Egypt to buy food and essentials that were being denied them because of the siege. The UN estimated some 750,000 people -half the Gaza strip's population - had gone into Egypt, most of them returning with their shopping. Not all have the money. And now Israel is reportedly planning to cut electricity and fuel supplies again.
The UN special coordinator for the Middle East, Robert Serry, said he was concerned about an Israeli high court ruling last week that rejected challenges to an Israeli government decision to reduce fuel and electricity supplies to Gazans. "We ... reiterate the secretary general's call on Israel to reconsider and cease its policy of pressuring the civilian population of Gaza for the unacceptable actions of militants and extremists," he said in a statement. "Collective penalties are prohibited under international law."
So, is there any good news to report?
Two small steps that offer faint hope. There is another way.
As we reported, the Israeli military refused to allow food and other goods collected by Israeli citizens for the convoy to Gaza to be taken through. On Wednesday this message came from Gush Shalom:
The week after Jan. 26 – day after day intense lobbying in the Knesset, towards ministries, by phone, fax and in person & a lot of protest mails from all streaks of the globe.
And … it worked: today Adv. Orna Cohen of Adallah received by fax a permit for the convoy goods to enter Gaza. Yakov Manor is now coordinating on behalf of the Convoy Coalition with the army day and hour..
A small victory for humanity, though after the other events we are keeping our fingers crossed.
The other message, from Italian MEP Luisa Morgantini is a tad optimistic perhaps, but at least she and those with her have tried to do something, when governments like ours connive at the siege.
MEPs IN GAZA STRIP IN SOLIDARITY WITH CIVIL POPULATION
Jerusalem, 7th February 2008
A delegation composed of 10 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs)
from different political groups (see the list of participants below)
and led by Luisa Morgantini, Vice-President of the European Parliament,
broke the Israeli siege and travelled to the Gaza Strip on 5th February
During a press conference, MEPs reaffirmed the need and the urgency to
lift the blockade that represents “an illegal collective punishment on
the civil population”.
Visiting the Al-Shifa Hospital, the delegation expressed its deep
concern and worry about the extreme difficulties under which the main
hospital in the Gaza Strip is obliged to operate, where patients with
cancer, but not only with cancer, do not avail of the necessary medical
drugs or treatments and at least 30 premature babies, still alive
thanks to incubators, risk dying if generators stop because of the lack
of fuel due to cuts in refuelling supplies and to the closure decided
by the Israeli Government.
In its mission to Gaza, the delegation also met many Palestinian
businessmen who reaffirmed the impossibility for them to carry out
their commercial activities because of the Israeli blockade, with
disastrous consequences for the economy and the daily life of
civilians: 80% of workers are currently unemployed without any
Refusing the idea of resorting to smuggling, currently the only channel
open to access and trade goods in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian
businessmen have on the contrary reiterated to MEPs their will and
their right to free and honest trade. Palestinian businessmen also
repeated that the siege does not affect Hamas’ political and religious
movement but that, on the contrary, the heaviest price is being paid by
the civil population, as many Palestinian intellectuals and activists
have been claiming for a long time and as they also claimed in a
meeting with the MEPs in the offices of the “End the Siege" campaign
(www.end-gaza-siege.ps; email@example.com), with the
participation, among others, of the doctor and human rights activist,
Eyad Sarraj, one of the promoters of the demonstration for the
International Day for the End of Gaza siege, on 26th January, held
simultaneously in the Gaza Strip, at the Eretz Crossing, by Israeli
peace activists, and all around the world.
The different organizations supporting the Campaign, but also many
women from Gaza, meeting the delegation, reaffirmed the need for
independence, freedom and peace for Palestinians, appealed for the
lifting of the blockade and also for the right to security for all
civilians, both Israelis and Palestinians. They restated at the same
time that “Qassam rockets are fired not by the people of Gaza, but only
by some groups of extremist Palestinians, and this must be condemned as
well as all the bloodshed of civilians due to Israeli raids perpetuated
by the army of occupation”.
In the press conference, broadcast by major Arab television channels,
the MEPs, expressing their solidarity, declared they were “deeply
impressed by the dignity and the resistance of the Palestinian people
and wished that Palestinian political parties could find unity so that
the Gaza Strip and the West Bank would not be separated."
MEPs also urged an intervention to put a stop to the ecological
disaster in Beitlaya area; that the Rafah border and all Gaza crossings
be opened thereby allowing free movement of people and goods; that the
violent spiral of action-reaction be immediately stopped. They also
called for concrete deeds for the resumption of peace negotiations
based on the freezing of all illegal Israeli settlements in the West
Bank and in East Jerusalem, the end to the military occupation and for
the establishment of a free and sovereign Palestinian State based on
the ‘67 borders in coexistence with the Israeli State.
The delegation also urged effective action by the International
Community to secure the freedom of all political prisoners and
Palestinian Parliamentarians who have been arrested, to improve living
conditions in all the Occupied Palestinian Territory and, in
particular, in the Gaza Strip, to encourage Israel to show a concrete
will for peace, that has not existed up until now and that is denied
every day through the raids, check points, roadblocks, the wall and
closures not only in Gaza but in the entire West Bank, such as in
Hebron - which the MEPs visited on 4th February - a ghost town,
occupied by hundreds of Israeli soldiers defending 400 fanatic
During the fact-finding mission, from 2nd – 7th February, the Members
of the European Parliament with 8 officials, assistants and some
journalists also visited the town of Sderot, in Israel, under daily
attack by Qassam rockets, as a sign of solidarity with the civil
population, where they met, among others, Zvi Shuldiner, director of a
Department of Safir College and peace activist.
The delegation also met the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad,
the Minister in charge of Prisoners' Affairs, Ashraf al- Ajami, Members
of the Palestinian Legislative Council of different political parties -
Fatah, Al Mubadarah, Third Way, Peoples' Party, Popular Front,
Independents and Change and Reform List (Hamas), some Members of the
Knesset- Kadima Party and Labour Party, General Pietro Pistoiese, Head
of the EUBAM mission in Rafah, EU and UNRWA Representatives, but also
peace and human rights organizations from Israeli and Palestinian civil
LONDON DEMO THIS WEEKEND: Lift the siege of Gaza!
Saturday, February 9, 4pm in Whitehall, opposite 10 Downing Street.