Meanwhile, Gaza’s agony sharpens and deepens

Map of Gaza Strip, Stand December 2008 (WikiMedia Commons, Lencer)

Marian Houk,, 23 March 2011

What is the worth, the value, of assigning blame here? It doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t stop anything.

This weekend, Hamas went crazy, and Israel too.

There. Now, what?

It’s simply no longer possible to say who went crazy first, or who went crazy more. This discussion is sickening.

Israel attacked and killed people in Gaza on Friday. It announced on Sunday that one of the dead included a senior Hamas commander.

This is perhaps the explanation for why Hamas went crazy on Saturday morning — suddenly firing about 50 mortars into the Israeli perphery in about 15 minutes (is this possible?) — and taking responsibility for the act.

Then, it continued. There was more.

On Tuesday, the IDF announced that 7 rockets and mortars had been fired from Gaza into Israel that day — making a total of 60 projectiles fired from Gaza since the weekend, it said.

IDF attacks on Gaza — retaliation, prevention, whatever — killed some 10 Palestinians, including a number of what the IDF admitted were “uninvolved civilians”, mostly kids, and injured some 40 more. The IDF offered medical care to the wounded — a clear sign that something had gone badly wrong, and that Israel was recognizing some responsibility. And the IDF announced it was starting an investigation. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed regret, “but”…

In its statement, the IDF said its mortar fire on northern Gaza (which killed 3 kids + uncle, and wounded more) came AFTER — “a short while later” – Palestinian firing from site. The language used in the IDF statement, posted here, is very telling: “Initial reports indicate that terrorists [sic] were among the injured. Regrettably, uninvolved civilians were also present at the site and were injured. The Civil Administration offered medical assistance to those injured and the assistance is being coordinated with the Palestinian Authority in both Ramallah and Gaza”.

While the IDF usually claims that its attacks on Gaza are “prevention”, this IDF mortar attack Tuesday afternoon on northern Gaza appears to have been clear retaliation.

The Los Angeles Times has a very poignant account from Gaza posted here Tuesday on its Babylon and Beyond blog. It reported that “Relatives of those killed said they prevented a group of Palestinian militants from firing mortars into Israel from an area that is adjacent to their houses just half an hour before Israeli tanks fired the shells”.

The LATimes account, written by Ahmed Aldabba from Gaza City, continues: “But militants waited until people went for prayers at the neighborhood’s mosque and sent a round of mortar shells beyond the Israel-Gaza borderline, which is a little less than half a mile away from the bombed area. ‘I was going out of the mosque when the shells hit the kids’, said Mohammed Helo 42, the children’s uncle, at the morgue of Shifa hospital in Gaza, where the bodies were taken. ‘I did not know what was going on. All I heard was thunderous explosions then the moans of people who were just walking by. Limbless bodies were scattered all around’.”

Later, a Grad missile was fired from Gaza into Ashdod on Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning, the IDF spokesperson announced, “An Israeli Air Force (IAF) aircraft targeted a terrorist in the northern Gaza Strip, in the same location from which the Grad missile was fired towards Ashdod. A hit was confirmed”.

A short while later, a Grad missile was fired from Gaza into Beersheva.

Ashdod is north of Gaza, Beersheva is to the east — and the range is greater than ususal: it is the maximum range reached by projectiles fired from Gaza in response to Israeli attacks during the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009 (which was announced as a response to months, years, of attacks from Gaza onto Israel…

What next?

Now, Israeli Vice President Silvan Shalom has echoed on Wednesday morning the call made by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni last Friday — for a launch of Operation Cast Lead Two…

Israel had the choice, and it chose to up the ante at this time.

This was a rational, though brutal and wholly unadmirable, decision.

It was Hamas who lost its cool. Firing from Gaza into Israel periphery as revenge is crazy, futile, and also crime of war. Fear is not policy [as Israeli former Mossad Chief Efraim Halevy recently told journalists in Jerusalem]. Nor is revenge.

Was Israel trying to block the proposed Abbas visit to Gaza? [Netanyahu told the Knesset on Tuesday what he told CNN’s Piers Morgan in an interview last week: The Palestinians can’t have it both ways — they must choose between reconciliation with Hamas or peace with Israel]…

Or, was Israel making the choice to Hamas perfectly clear, making a blunt and brutal test of whether Hamas is ready to be the “address” Israel says it needs, ready to be responsible for stopping all attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip? Was it an Israeli counter-offer, in stark contrast to other uncertainties?

For, this comes in the midst of piously-announced but wary preparations for a possible proposed visit by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to Gaza for reconciliation or unity purposes.

This meeting was suggested by Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh on 15 March in response to youth protests in the West Bank and Gaza demanding an end to the Palestinian division. Abbas has since claimed credit, saying it was really his initiative.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, when Hamas claimed credit for the first time in a long time for firing nearly 50 mortars into Gaza, it also attacked youth demonstrators who had apparently been given a permit for their protests, then attacked journalists’ offices looking for photos and videos of the attacks. (Hamas later apologized for the attack on the journalists offices.)

The proposed Abu Mazen visit — which did raise Palestinian hopes and expectations — would really have been a lot of hard, difficult and embarassing work. So, it is, in a way, easier for everybody like this.

No way this proposed visit is going to happen now, of course.

Meanwhile, more people are dying, suffering, grieving, raging — and the already ready-to-blow situation is getting worse.

Tuesday night, the UN’s Robert Serry issued a statement after the IDF mortar reprisal in N Gaza: “firing into densely populated areas is extremely dangerous” + raises serious questions.

Later, UNSG BAN Ki-Moon issued a statement, though his spokesman, which “strongly condemns the killing of three Palestinian children and their uncle and the wounding of 13 other civilians by an Israeli tank shell in the Gaza Strip earlier today. He is very concerned at an escalating situation in Gaza and southern Israel. He reiterates as well his condemnation of rocket fire by Palestinian militant groups in Gaza, including from populated areas, against civilian targets in southern Israel. He calls on all to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law”. This is posted on the UN website here.

So, now what?

What is the policy, now?

Meanwhile, how does this factor into the equation? Israel has just admitted it’s holding the Deputy Director of the Gaza Power Plant, Dirar Abu Sisi, who was seized on board a train in Ukraine on 18-19 February, where he went on 18 January to join his Ukrainian wife and file for citizenship — apparently because they have concluded that life in Gaza is no longer the best choice for them or their six children. The Gazan engineer was forcibly removed from the train he was on, hooded and handcuffed and driven by car to Kiev (where he was headed by train), then taken to an apartment where he was questioned by men who introduced themselves as Mossad, and in short order flown to…Israel, where he has been in jail for over a month. A judge has just partially removed a gag order on the case, but permitted continued Israeli media restrictions on reporting for another 30 days… Abu Sisi has not been charged, he will be held in Israel for at least another day, and there is no reasonable explanation for this startling development.



Marian Houk PASSIA 2004

In the photo below, taken at a roundtable discussion in Jerusalem in July 2004, Marian Houk is the woman wearing the sort-of-orange-colored eyeglasses. Photo courtesy of PASSIA:

Marian Houk, a writer, reporter, journalist and analyst with long experience at the United Nations — in New York and in Geneva and more — as well as with the Middle East. She has reported on, and for a time also worked for, the United Nations. She is a former President of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) at UNHQ/NY (1986), and is currently based in Jerusalem.

Marian Houk is the Editor of UN-Truth news site.

Blockade ‘eased’ as Gaza starves more slowly

Gaza Children (Tales to Tell - 2009)

Jonathan Cook, 25 June 2010

As Israel this week declared the ‘easing’ of the four-year blockade of Gaza, an official explained the new guiding principle: ‘Civilian goods for civilian people.’ The severe and apparently arbitrary restrictions on foodstuffs entering the enclave – coriander bad, cinnamon good – will finally end, we are told. Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants will have all the coriander they want.

This “adjustment”, as the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu termed it, is aimed solely at damage limitation. With Israel responsible for killing nine civilians aboard a Gaza-bound aid flotilla three weeks ago, the world has finally begun to wonder what purpose the siege serves. Did those nine really need to die to stop coriander, chocolate and children’s toys from reaching Gaza? And, as Israel awaits other flotillas, will more need to be executed to enforce the policy?

Faced with this unwelcome scrutiny, Israel – as well as the United States and the European states that have been complicit in the siege – desperately wants to deflect attention away from demands for the blockade to be lifted entirely. Instead it prefers to argue that the more liberal blockade for Gaza will distinguish effectively between a necessary “security” measures and an unfair “civilian” blockade. Israel has cast itself as the surgeon who, faced with Siamese twins, is mastering the miraculous operation needed to decouple them.

The result, Mr Netanyahu told his cabinet, would be a “tightening of the security blockade because we have taken away Hamas’ ability to blame Israel for harming the civilian population”. Listen to Israeli officials and it sounds as if thousands of “civilian” items are ready to pour into Gaza. No Qassam rockets for Hamas but soon, if we are to believe them, Gaza’s shops will be as well-stocked as your average Wal-Mart.

Be sure, it won’t happen.

Even if many items are no longer banned, they still have to find their way into the enclave. Israel controls the crossing points and determines how many trucks are allowed in daily. Currently, only a quarter of the number once permitted are able to deliver their cargo, and that is unlikely to change to any significant degree. Moreover, as part of the “security” blockade, the ban is expected to remain on items such as cement and steel desperately needed to build and repair the thousands of homes devastated by Israel’s attack 18 months ago.

In any case, until Gaza’s borders, port and airspace are its own, its factories are rebuilt, and exports are again possible, the hobbled economy has no hope of recovering. For the overwhelming majority of Palestinians in Gaza, mired in poverty, the new list of permissible items – including coriander – will remain nothing more than an aspiration.

But more importantly for Israel, by concentrating our attention on the supposed ending of the “civilian” blockade, Israel hopes we will forget to ask a more pertinent question: what is the purpose of this refashioned “security” blockade?

Over the years Israelis have variously been told that the blockade was imposed to isolate Gaza’s “terrorist” rulers, Hamas; to serve as leverage to stop rocket attacks on nearby Israeli communities; to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza; and to force the return of the captured soldier Gilad Shalit.

None of the reasons stands up to minimal scrutiny. Hamas is more powerful than ever; the rocket attacks all but ceased long ago; arms smugglers use the plentiful tunnels under the Egyptian border, not Erez or Karni crossings; and Sgt Shalit would already be home had Israel seriously wanted to trade him for an end to the siege.

The real goal of the blockade was set out in blunt fashion at its inception, in early 2006, shortly after Hamas won the Palestinian elections. Dov Weisglass, the government’s chief adviser at the time, said it would put Palestinians in Gaza “on a diet, but not make them die of hunger”. Aid agencies can testify to the rampant malnutrition that followed. The ultimate aim, Mr Weisglass admitted, was to punish ordinary Gazans in the hope that they would overthrow Hamas.

Is Mr Weisglass a relic of the pre-Netanyahu era, his blockade-as-diet long ago superseded? Not a bit. Only last month, during a court case against the siege, Mr Netanyahu’s government justified the policy not as a security measure but as “economic warfare” against Gaza. One document even set out the minimum calories – or “red lines”, as they were also referred to – needed by Gazans according to their age and sex.

In truth, Israel’s “security” blockade is, in both its old and new incarnations, every bit a “civilian” blockade. It was designed and continues to be “collective punishment” of the people of Gaza for electing the wrong rulers. Helpfully, international law defines the status of Israel’s policy: it is a crime against humanity.

Easing the siege so that Gaza starves more slowly may be better than nothing. But breaking 1.5 million Palestinians out of the prison Israel has built for them is the real duty of the international community.

  • Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is

Prosecution of soldier appears likely on charges of killing Majda and Riyeh Abu Hajaj while they carried white flags during Operation Cast Lead

Human Rights Watch - White Flag

16 June 2010:  Following B’Tselem’s action, prosecution of soldier appears likely on charges of killing Majda and Riyeh Abu Hajaj while they carried white flags during Operation Cast Lead

The Ynet website reported today that a Givati Brigade soldier is to be summoned for a hearing prior to the filing of an indictment against him involving the killing of Riyeh Abu Hajaj, 64, and Majda Abu Hajaj, 37, mother and daughter. The incident was first made public by B’Tselem.

Riyeh and Majda Abu Hajaj were shot after they obeyed soldiers’ calls to leave their house and were walking in a group of civilians who were carrying white flags. B’Tselem does not know if the Judge Advocate General’s Office intends to take measures against any of the commanders involved in the incident.

B’Tselem’s investigation found that, early in the morning of 4 January 2009, a shell was fired at the building in which the Abu Hajaj family lived, in the Juhor a-Dik neighborhood in Gaza City. At the time, about fifteen members of the extended family were in the building. The only person injured was Manar Abu Hajaj, 13, who suffered a slight injury to her hand. Immediately afterwards, the occupants, women and children among them, left the building and stood in front of the building so the soldiers could see they were civilians. About fifteen minutes later, the family went to the house of a neighbor, Muhammad a-Safi, where they remained until they were informed, around noon, that the army ordered the residents to leave their houses and walk toward the center of the city.

The Abu Hajaj and a-Safdi families, a total of about 30 persons, made a few white flags from sheets and left the house. Ahmad a-Safdi, 25, and Majda Abu Hajaj, each holding white pieces of material in their hands, walked at the head of the group. When they saw tanks about 150 meters from them, the two of them waved the flags, and the children in the group sat on the ground. Suddenly, and without warning, shots were fired at the residents, killing Majda Abu Hajaj on the spot and seriously wounding her mother, Riyeh Abu Hajaj. In her testimony to B’Tselem, Farhaneh Abu Hajaj, 32, said:

Suddenly, they opened fire at us and we began to run eastward. My mother-in-law, Riyeh, who was 64 years old, was at the back because she couldn’t run. While I was running, I saw Majda on the ground. I thought she was lying there to avoid being hit by the shots. I told her, ”Get up! Get up!”, but she didn’t move. I ultimately realized that she had been hit by the gunfire.

The group ran to tin huts situated east of the Abu Hajaj family’s house, two of them carrying the wounded Riyeh Abu Hajaj. She died a few minutes later. Despite more gunfire at them, the group managed to get back to a-Safdi’s house, where they hid.

The family had to leave the two women’s bodies in the area. It was not until 19 January that their bodies, by then partially decomposed, were taken to hospital. Before then, the rescue teams that had been summoned by the family were unable to enter the area.

On 6 January 2009, two days after the incident, Yusef Abu Hajaj told B’Tselem:

We immediately called the Red Crescent and the Red Cross and asked them to remove the bodies, but the shelling made it impossible for them to get there. The next day, we realized that we had to leave the area, and we fled. Now, I am living in a school in Nuseirat. The bodies of my mother and sister are still outside. We don’t know when we can move them.

B’Tselem wrote to the Judge Advocate General on 14 May 2009, demanding a Military Police Investigation Unit (MPIU) investigation into the incident. B’Tselem attached photos of the site of the incident, including its coordinates, and also demanded an investigation into the responsibility of the command echelon and of the orders that were given to the soldiers.

Human Rights Watch - White Flag

Human Rights Watch - White Flag

In early October 2010, B’Tselem assisted the MPIU in coordinating the taking of testimonies from four witnesses, who gave their testimony on 8 October 2009 at the Coordination and Liaison Office at Erez. In addition, B’Tselem provided the MPIU with medical documents and death certificates along with documents confirming that the house of the family had been destroyed during Operation Cast Lead.

B’Tselem views positively the conclusion of the investigation and the recommendation to prosecute the soldier who fired the shots. However, it is regrettable that it took a year and a half after Operation Cast Lead ended to reach the decision. Some MPIU investigations have not yet been completed and many cases were not even investigated.

Israel refused to investigate questions regarding the policy that was implemented during the operation and settled for a few MPIU investigations of isolated incidents. These investigations do not meet Israel ‘s obligation to investigate breaches of the law, and the investigations it conducted are insufficient. Even if they lead to the filing of indictments against soldiers, only low-ranking soldiers will be prosecuted, while the officials responsible for formulating the policy will not be held accountable for their acts. Also, the investigations are carried out by an entity that is an integral part of the army; therefore, its investigations cannot be deemed independent and impartial.

By acting in this way, Israel avoids its obligation to carry out an independent and credible investigation of the responsibility of officials outside the military and of the command echelon.


  • HRW published the results of their investigation in a report titled White Flag Deaths

source: B’Tselem

HRW: Weak Mandate Undermines Flotilla Inquiry

MV Mavi Marmara leaving Antalya for Gaza on May 22, 2010
Gaza Blockade Enters Fourth Year, Continuing Collective Punishment of Civilians

(Jerusalem) – The Israeli government has undermined the credibility of the panel appointed to investigate its military’s deadly interception of the “Gaza aid flotilla” by preventing it from questioning Israeli soldiers or compelling the military to provide evidence, Human Rights Watch said today.  Human Rights Watch reiterated its criticism of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, now entering its fourth year, as a form of collective punishment against the civilian population.

The three-member panel, which the Israeli Cabinet approved on June 14, 2010, is not a full commission of inquiry as set out in Israeli law and cannot subpoena witnesses or officials.  Under its mandate, the panel must instead rely on requests for documents and “summaries of operational investigations” conducted by the Israeli military itself to determine what military personnel did or were ordered to do during the May 31 interdiction of the flotilla. Nine Turkish participants were killed and dozens wounded in the operation.

“Israel claims the panel is independent, but insists that it accept the military’s version of events,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Given the Israel’s military poor record of investigating itself in past cases of possible wrongful death, it is hard to have confidence that the panel’s dependence on the Israeli military will lead to the truth.”

The Israeli government empowered the panel to “request” testimony or other evidence from any individual or entity, whether Israeli or foreign, except “in regard to military personnel and personnel from the other security forces.” The panel may not interview soldiers or officers individually, may not see their testimony or statements, and must operate “only” by requesting documents and “summaries” of internal military inquiries, known as operational debriefings, for which soldiers are interviewed by officers in the chain of command who have no training in conducting inquiries into suspected wrongdoing. These debriefings are intended as a lessons-learned tool rather than an investigative mechanism into possible criminal actions. The panel may “request” further inquiries by an internal Israeli military team that is investigating the flotilla incident.

“The Israeli government may have valid reasons for wanting to protect the identity of individual soldiers, but there are many ways it could do that without blocking the panel’s access to those who participated in the incident,” Whitson said.

The panel’s mandate states that it may redact any information from its final report that it feels could compromise national security.

The panel’s Israeli members are Jacob Turkel, a former Supreme Court justice; Shabtai Rosenne, a jurist, and Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Horev, a former president of Israel’s Technion institute and former chairman of the board of the Rafael arms group.

The panel also includes two international “observers,” David Trimble, who won a Nobel peace prize in 1998 for his role in negotiating an end to the conflict in Northern Ireland, and Brig. Gen. Kenneth Watkin, a former Canadian military judge advocate general.  As observers, they may be prevented from seeing evidence that the chairman is substantially certain would significantly harm Israel’s national security or foreign relations, and they cannot vote on the commission’s findings.  On May 31, Trimble helped open a “friends of Israel” initiative, raising questions about the reasons for his selection.

In addition to examining the raid on the flotilla, the panel is mandated to inquire into “the conformity of [Israel’s] naval blockade [of Gaza] with the rules of international law.”  Israel’s blockade amounts to collective punishment against the civilian population and violates Israel’s international legal obligations as the occupying power under international humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch said. The blockade has crippled Gaza’s economy and caused immense hardship to 1.5 million residents there.

According to news reports, Israel’s Cabinet may soon consider changes to the blockade policy proposed after negotiations between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and international Quartet representative Tony Blair.

Israel maintains that it imposed border closures, as well as fuel and electricity cuts, in response to attacks on Israel by Hamas, which violently took over Gaza in 2007 after winning elections in 2006, and other Palestinian armed groups, and the continued detention of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was captured in June 2006.

Since 2005, Hamas’s armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, and other Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, have launched thousands of rockets at Israeli population centers.  These indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas are clear violations of international humanitarian law which Human Rights Watch has repeatedly condemned.

“Israel has every right to address its legitimate security concerns, but it can accomplish that by restricting a narrow list of military-related items rather than an arbitrary, changing, and secretive list of goods that civilians need and that present no conceivable security concern,” Whitson said.

Israel should agree to international efforts to secure the immediate and sustained opening of border crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid as well as people and commercial goods in and out of Gaza, Human Rights Watch said.

Israel, with Egypt’s collaboration, intensified existing restrictions on imports and exports to and from Gaza by completely sealing Gaza’s borders during and after fighting between Hamas and Fatah on June 14 and 15, 2007, in which Hamas gained unilateral control of Gazan territory.  Hamas had defeated Fatah in parliamentary elections in Gaza and the West Bank in January 2006; a power-sharing government collapsed in June 2007. Israel has only partly and temporarily relaxed the closure since then, as Hamas consolidated its internal control of the territory.  Israel allows for the crossing of some goods in an ad-hoc, non-transparent and arbitrary fashion. Fatah has also quietly supported the Israeli and Egyptian blockade as a way to pressure its rival.

The United Nations Security Council, the United States, and the 27 European Union member states have all referred to the blockade as unsustainable. International demands to lift it grew louder after the May 31 flotilla incident.

On June 14, speaking to EU Foreign Ministers, the representative of the international Quartet, Tony Blair, said that Israel should reverse its current punitive policy by “shifting from a list of goods that are permitted into Gaza to a list of goods that are prohibited from entering, such as weapons and combat material.” The EU’s 27 foreign ministers subsequently pledged to “contribute to the implementation” of such a mechanism.”

Although Israel removed its forces and settlements from Gaza in 2005, it almost fully controls Gaza’s land and sea borders, airspace, and population registry, making it an occupying power under international law, Human Rights Watch said. The blockade violates Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law governing military occupation to ensure the safety and well-being of Gaza’s civilian population and to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid by others.  Egypt formally relaxed its restrictions on the movement of people through Gaza’s southern border after May 31.

Israel’s restrictions on imports of food, fuel, and other essential goods, as well as on virtually all agricultural and industrial exports, have devastated Gaza’s economy.  Some goods enter Gaza through Hamas-controlled tunnels along the border with Egypt, but most residents cannot afford them.  With Gaza’s economy strangled by the blockade, approximately 80 percent of Gaza’s population of 1.5 million people receive food aid.  Even as border closures increased Gaza’s dependency on humanitarian aid, Israel further restricted that aid. Israel allowed an average of 2,807 weekly truckloads of goods into Gaza during the first months of 2007, before imposing the blockade, but only 488 weekly truckloads entered in late May 2010.

Israel has also limited the self-sufficiency of Gazans by restricting their access to farmland and fisheries.  Ostensibly to deter attacks by armed groups, Israel restricts Palestinian access to largely agricultural lands that lie near the Gaza-Israel border and comprise more than 18 percent of Gaza’s territory by firing upon Palestinians who enter the area.   In January 2009, Israel reduced the area in which Gaza fishermen can fish from six to three nautical miles from Gaza’s coastline. Prior to 2000, Gazans were permitted to fish up to 12 nautical miles from the coast. The number of fishermen in Gaza has decreased from 10,000 to 3,400 over the last 10 years, according to the UN. Israel has stated that the naval blockade is intended to prevent arms smuggling by sea.

Until now, Israel has rejected proposals to facilitate delivery of desperately needed assistance to Gaza.  There had been extensive destruction and damage to Gaza homes, schools, and infrastructure during Israel’s large-scale military operations launched, according to the Israeli government, to suppress rocket fire by Hamas and other groups into Israel. In late May 2009, the UN presented a proposal to complete US$80 million worth of housing, health, and education projects that had been stalled for two years due to the blockade.  The proposal would have allowed Israeli authorities to extensively monitor imported materials, including vetting construction contractors and storage sites for the materials, as well as periodically photographing construction sites; Israel rejected the proposal.  After nine months of negotiations, Israel approved only a few UN projects, including recently the completion of 151 housing units.

Prime Minister Netanyahu stated on May 31 that Israel restricted only weapons and so-called dual-use items that could be used for military reasons by Palestinian armed groups.  In fact, Israel continues to ban imports of items ranging from mammogram machines to fishing rods to foodstuffs, and to ban all exports apart from sporadic shipments of cut flowers and strawberries.

On June 25, 2006, a Palestinian armed group, including Hamas fighters, captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who remains in detention.  Israel has cited Shalit’s detention as well as Hamas’s refusal to recognize Israel and to renounce violence as justifications for the blockade. Those who have willfully conducted or ordered deliberate or indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli civilians are responsible for war crimes, Human Rights Watch said. And Hamas’s prolonged incommunicado detention of Staff Sergeant Shalit is cruel and inhumane and may amount to torture under international law. Shalit is unable to communicate with his family or to receive visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross. However, violations of the laws of war by one side to an armed conflict do not legitimate violations by the other, Human Rights Watch said.

Hamas officials refused Human Rights Watch’s request to visit Shalit and check on his conditions of confinement during a meeting in Gaza in May, saying that they would not take the risk that his location could be discovered, even though Human Rights Watch had offered to travel to the site blindfolded and to accept any other security precautions that Hamas wanted. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly condemned Shalit’s prolonged incommunicado detention.

“It is vital for the international community to commit to a comprehensive monitoring and control regime that will enable the free flow of goods and people in and out of Gaza based on a narrow list of specific prohibited goods,” Whitson said.

While Israel is entitled to inspect goods going into Gaza, any restrictions should be for specific security reasons and not to block humanitarian aid or ordinary commercial transactions, Human Rights Watch said. Overly broad restrictions on basic goods violate international humanitarian law, which restricts a government with effective control over a territory from blocking goods that are essential to the survival of the civilian population.


Obama sacrificed the Palestinians to win the election

Frank Hope, FutureNewsToday, Jan 23 2009

Just a few days ago Obama was saying he couldn’t comment on the Israeli assault on Gaza because there is only “one President at a time”. Now that Obama is the President and Bush has departed from the White House, what is his excuse?

Why didn’t Obama honor the request of Father Manuel Musallam, the pastor of the Catholic parish in Gaza City?

We ask that you offer to God your most ardent prayers and that no Mass or religious service be celebrated without remembering before God the tragedy in Gaza.

Where was Gaza in the prayers that were said at the inauguration? How could we forget their suffering at this time of celebration for so many in the USA? Will the “first Black President of the United States” be only the latest in a series of Presidents that have unconditionally supported Israel’s undisrupted 60 year assault on the Palestinian people?

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