Published: 07/09/2006 12:00 AM (UAE)
‘Genovese syndrome’ in Gaza
By James J. Zogby, Special to Gulf News
The other day I thought of Kitty Genovese. Some of you won’t remember her, but many in my generation will recall the horror and shame they felt after hearing the story of how she was raped and stabbed to death on a New York City street in 1964.
What shocked the nation was the fact that 37 witnesses heard Kitty’s cries but did nothing to help. Years later, social scientists, studying this disturbing passivity, termed it the "Genovese Syndrome".
That’s how I feel about what is happening in Gaza today. Israel is getting away with murder and the world is letting it happen.
I can hear my critics bellow, "But what about Gilad Shalit (The Israeli soldier captured and held since June 25th)?"
"What about Hamas and Islamic Jihad?"
"And the Qassam missiles?"
My responses are simple: the kidnapping of Shalit was reckless and wrong; and with regard to the tactics used by those groups who target innocent Israeli civilians, I have condemned these actions as evil and stupid.
Having said that, I must add two observations. There is no moral or political justification for the collective punishment which Israel has imposed on Gaza’s entire population. And Gaza’s humanitarian crisis began long before the June 25th capture of Shalit.
Reports issued before May of this year, describe Gaza’s situation in dire terms. One of the most densely populated areas on earth, two-thirds of Gaza’s population live below the poverty level.
This crisis in Gaza predates Hamas’ victory in 2006. For the first 25 years of Israel’s occupation (1967-1993) Gaza was a place of misery.
As Sarah Roy brilliantly describes in her book, The Gaza Strip: The Political Economy of De-development, Israel ruthlessly suppressed Gaza’s people, while denying them economic growth opportunities.
Gaza’s only hope after the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 was that its economy and infrastructure could be developed and opened up to the outside world.
While many in the West blamed Palestinian National Authority (PNA) mismanagement, the facts point in a different direction. It was the persistence of the occupation from 1994-2005 that resulted in Gaza’s continued stagnation.
When Israel unilaterally redeployed from Gaza in 2005 the situation deteriorated even further.
While Israel was able to project its removal of 7,000 colonists as a "painful sacrifice for peace", by refusing to coordinate their departure with the PNA or even to honour the agreement they negotiated with the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Israel left behind disarray and an angry and impoverished population.
By tightening their external controls on the tiny strip, Israel, in effect, created one of the world’s largest prison camps.
The economy, already crippled, worsened. With Israel refusing to open Gaza’s borders to goods, small Palestinian factories that had once sub-contracted with larger Israeli firms, were forced to close. And, this summer, tens of millions of dollars of Palestinian produce rotted at the checkpoints because Israel refused to allow them to be exported.
With the election of Hamas, Gaza’s situation became worse still. Recognising the need to resolve, at least, the crisis created by Israel and the West’s refusal to deal with the Hamas government, Palestinian leaders from across the political spectrum, launched a number of initiatives in May and June.
These were efforts to create a new national consensus that, it was hoped, could lead to a new non-Hamas government that might allow aid to be restored.
It was at this point that violence flared up again. And then came the deadly June 25th attack on an Israeli military post and the capture of Shalit.
Israel’s response has been an overwhelming, though measured, display of force. Stunned by negative reactions to their killing of Palestinian civilians in earlier attacks, Israel has mainly focused its strikes on Palestinian installations: the power plant, bridges, ministries, a university, and various offices.
But it has been the state of siege, resulting in the complete suffocation of Gaza that has taken the biggest toll.
The pre-existing humanitarian crisis in Gaza has now been magnified with hospitals and social service agencies reporting new casualties, resulting from alarming shortages of food, fuel and medicine.
Shielded from criticism by a compliant US administration and press, this siege is now in its second week. Gaza is suffering – and like Kitty Genovese’s 37 witnesses, the rest of us watch in silence with varying degrees of shameful paralysis.
The administration has not seen fit to publicly challenge the impact of Israel’s siege on civilians and the press has given only scant coverage to the humanitarian crisis.
What is occurring in Gaza today is nothing short of a crime against humanity. Meanwhile, like poor Kitty’s 37, we watch.
Dr James Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute in Washington, DC.
July 7, 2006
Without recognizing the common humanity of Israelis and Palestinians, we’ll never get our footing on the road to peace
By: Jamal Dajani *
Looking at the current crisis in Gaza, I find that its most striking characteristic is imbalance. First, there is the lack of parity between how most of the mainstream press portrays the Israeli Defense Force’s kidnappings of Palestinian civilians (which reflects the official Israeli line that they are "arresting terrorists’), and how it reports the Palestinian capture of members of the Israeli military, which in contrast is referred to as "illegitimate kidnappings of soldiers." This disparity is evident in the international media coverage of the June 25 abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit, a 19-year-old Israeli tank gunner, by three Palestinian militant groups.
The standard media treatment of any aggression against any Israeli target is to extricate it from the context in which it has occurred and ignore circumstances and tensions surrounding it. In this case, the multitude of Palestinian civilian casualties and deaths in the weeks preceding Shalit’s kidnapping is hardly mentioned. In this way, the average reader gets a foreshortened perspective of the story and is likely to view the young corporal as an innocent victim who merely happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In addition, many newspapers have also written several sensitive profiles of Shalit, enabling us to empathize with him and his family’s hope for his safe return. Because Shalit is also a French national; France has tried to intercede on his behalf by putting further pressure on the Palestinians. By comparison, coverage of the IDF’s killings of a Palestinian family of seven who were enjoying a picnic on the Gaza beach on June 9 quickly gave way to the official Israeli response that their deaths resulted from a mine planted by Hamas.
The second kind of imbalance is political. Palestinian groups holding Corporal Shalit are demanding the release of all Palestinian women and children prisoners in exchange for his return, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has refused all negotiations, defiantly declaring, "The government of Israel will not yield to the extortion of the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government, which are led by murderous terrorist organizations. We will not conduct any negotiations on a prisoner release."
The third kind of imbalance is military. Israel has responded to guerrilla actions with overwhelming force designed to crush the Palestinians’ infrastructure and terrify the population. In the first stage of an operation euphemistically dubbed "Summer Rains," Israeli aircraft relentlessly pounded Gaza, targeting much of the Palestinian infrastructure and demolishing the main electric plant, leaving the majority Gaza residents without electricity. In its subsequent land invasion, Israeli tanks and armored vehicles invaded Beit Hanoun (in the Gaza Strip) and drove tens of thousands of Palestinians from their homes, further tightening the noose on the 1.3 million inhabitants living in what has become the worlds’ most densely populated area. As of today (July 7), the IDF has killed 27 Palestinians. One Israeli soldier has also died.
What’s happening in Gaza nowadays is not something new. Israel has long felt entitled to take unilateral action and flex its military might with no regard for how much destruction or civilian casualties result. Two years ago, when I was working on my documentary, "Occupied Minds," and was filming in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, an IDF commando unit disguised as Palestinian farmers entered the Old City of Nablus and kidnapped a Palestinian man allegedly wanted for interrogation by the Shin Bet. They went into the Kasbah in broad daylight and abducted the man as he was shopping at a vegetable stand. Witnesses last saw him as he was whisked away bound, his head covered with a burlap sack. His family has not heard of his whereabouts since.
Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza can recount hundreds of stories like this that never make it into the Western media nor warrant interventions by mediating countries such as France and Egypt. Another kidnapped Palestinian does not make big headlines.
Those familiar with Gaza know that Corporal Shalit is by now being held in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, far from the battlefield. So what are the real reasons behind this disproportionate use of force? Some Israeli analysts believe Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who both have civilian backgrounds, see this as a testing ground of their military bravado and feel they must outperform their military predecessors Ariel Sharon, Ehud Barak, and Yitzhak Rabin to gain legitimacy in the eyes of Israelis.
I believe, however, that the aim behind Israel’s military operation in Gaza is to topple the democratically elected government of Hamas and impose further territorial demands on the Palestinians. It is a familiar and ineffective strategy that Israel has been engaging in for decades, trying to extinguish political problems with the use of military power.
The current Israeli policy of retaliation and reprisals will not bring lasting peace and security to the Israelis. It is improbable that it will bring the release of the captured soldier either, the reason Israeli officials have focused on to legitimize the reoccupation of Gaza.
Counterattacks by Palestinians on nearby Israeli towns with home-made rockets are only going to exacerbate the situation as well and will continue to detract from the real issues on the ground.
A real and lasting peace will only be possible when every human life, Palestinian and Israeli, is seen to be of equal value and all the followers of Abraham can participate fully in the opportunities and human rights that only a segment of the population enjoy today.
* Jamal Dajani is a producer and the director of Middle Eastern programming at Link TV. Since 2001, he has produced more than 1,000 installments of the Peabody Award-winning program "Mosaic: World News from the Middle East." In 2005, Dajani completed "Occupied Minds," a documentary on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and "Who Speaks for Islam," both aired on Link TV and PBS stations. He was born and raised in Jerusalem.
Captive in Gaza
Israel has several objectives in Gaza — all mutually exclusive, writes Graham Usher
There are four aims behind operation "Summer Rain", the Israeli army’s latest invasion of Gaza, according to ministers, officers and analysts. The first is to free "unconditionally" Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian guerrillas just outside the Strip on 25 June. The second is to end Palestinian "rocket fire" that, in the last month, has peppered Sederot and other Israeli areas on the Gaza border, so far without serious injury.
The third aim — undeclared but acknowledged — is to force the Palestinian government from office via a rising curve of pre-emptive strikes. So far this has included tightened economic and political blockades, destruction of civilian power plants and bridges, military re-occupation, rocket attacks on the prime and interior ministers’ offices and the wholesale arrest of Hamas ministers, members of parliament and local authority officers.
The ouster has little to do with the government’s refusal to recognise the legitimacy of the Jewish state — a rejection that suits Israel since it frees it from having to deal with an elected Palestinian Authority. It has more to do with Hamas’s success not only in surviving the siege but in enshrining resistance as a central policy in its and any future National Unity Palestinian government, courtesy of the recently agreed Prisoners’ Document.
The fourth aim is to repair the battered status of Israel’s "deterrence". It is now clear to most Israelis that the relative quiet they enjoyed for the last year or so was not due to their army’s military prowess. It was due to the Palestinian ceasefire, observed above all by Hamas’s military arm, Izzeddin El-Qassam (IQ). Since it was renounced, 200 mortars have been fired into Israel, four soldier abductions have been attempted or carried out and two soldiers and one settler have been killed.
Threats Hamas may now take the fight "deep into Israel" reminds most Israelis of the bloodiest days of the Intifada. It destroys the illusion that the Gaza disengagement was somehow a military success. And it casts Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s project to determine unilaterally Israel’s eastern border as absolute folly.
"The continuation of Palestinian attacks from the Gaza Strip (has) convinced Israelis the same thing will occur in areas in the West Bank which are evacuated under Olmert’s realignment plan," says Israeli analyst Daniel Ben Simon. "In such a context, the plan loses all legitimacy."
Israel’s means of restoring "deterrence" is to threaten and perhaps deliver a mighty blow in Gaza, on regime and people alike. Its quandary is that each one of the aims — and the means intended to achieve them — contradicts the other.
Save for the unlikely case of an Entebbe-like raid, it is difficult to see how Shalit can be recovered from Gaza except through negotiations, as has always been the case in the past. Hamas — political and military men alike — is aware of the history. "Hamas wants a deal similar to what Hizbullah achieved in January 2004 when Israel freed 400 Palestinian prisoners in return for Elhanan Tennenbaum and three dead soldiers," said Hamas MP, Mushier Al-Masri, last week.
This week IQ, the Popular Resistance Committees and the Islamic Army (the three militias holding the soldier) gave voice to a Hizbullah-like demand: Shalit will be freed only in return for the freedom of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including the old, the sick, women and children. "The occupation must understand the resistance factions are serious in this matter," said Abu Obeida, IQ spokesman.
The same logic applies to the rocket fire. Ever since the first mortar was fired into Israel from Beit Hanoun in 2001, the Israeli army has been invading and reinvading Gaza to take out the launchers. Hundreds of acres of land have been razed, hundreds killed, homes destroyed and thousands displaced from their homes. And, after every incursion, the mortars have returned, as they will do after this one.
The only way "pacification" might come is if the army were to remain permanently in Gaza or, in the phrase of Sederot mayor Eli Moyal, if Beit Hanoun were to be rendered permanently "uninhabitable". The first is impossible domestically, since it refutes the purpose of disengagement. The second is impossible internationally. However much the US may support the toppling of Hamas it cannot tolerate the expulsion of 20,000 Palestinians in reprisal for mortars that haven’t killed an Israeli in over a year.
The only way the mortars will end is in the context of a mutually-binding ceasefire — in which Israel also lifts its blockades, stops the rocket attacks and ends the so far sonic bombardments. And the only way that can be brokered is in negotiation with Hamas. But Israel will not negotiate. "Israel will not give in to extortion by the PA and the Hamas government, which are led by murderous terrorist organisations," said Olmert’s office on Monday.
The result is a process where the balance of power in Gaza is swinging from Hamas’ political to its military leadership. Of all the constituencies in the movement, IQ was the most cynical regarding the turn to politics, believing (accurately it seems) that democracy under occupation is an oxymoron. The militias also have the least to lose from the PA’s collapse, since they have never been dependent on it for their arms and kudos. For them Israel captive in Gaza licenses the end of the ceasefire and return to armed resistance, not only there, but against Olmert’s deepening occupation in the West Bank.
Published: 07/07/2006 12:00 AM (UAE)
Israel charges into another bloody war
Two weeks on from the Israeli incursion into Gaza and no nearer to any resolution. It is apparent that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s prediction of it being "a long war" will come true. It is a disgrace the Israeli leader can only think of perpetuating the war rather than seeking ways to end the confrontation. To hold a whole nation to ransom over the capture of one Israeli soldier beggars belief and merely serves to confirm what many critics have claimed for years: Israel has no consideration for the welfare of Palestinians.
Having made much of its partial withdrawal from limited areas of the Occupied Territories, and received a blessing from the US for doing so, Israel has returned in force in a feigned attempt to rescue its soldier. Yet it has to be asked whether the intention is not more devious, namely to retake land from Palestinians, thereby setting back any good that was done, and negating any possibility of peace between the two nations.
Olmert, on taking office as prime minister, said if Palestinians did not accept the proposals that were still on the table, then he would unilaterally declare the border between the two nations. This "take it or leave it" approach is not the precursor to a diplomatic resolution and does not endear Israel to the international community which, Russia excepted, does not recognise the democratically elected Hamas-led Palestinian government.
A quick way for Israel to lose those who have supported the embargo against Hamas is for it to continue with the aggressive line it is pursuing in Gaza which, it is apparent, is in total disregard for the lives of Palestinians. And the endorsement from the US, claiming Israel is entitled to "defend itself" merely gave it a blank cheque to do its worst.
Friday, July 07, 2006
Palestinians scramble for rations as aid runs low
By Agence France Presse (AFP)
KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip: Solfa Hamed’s 11 children were hungry and she was ready to fight anyone standing between her and the aid packages for the growing number of needy Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. "I will not leave without my bag. My 11 children are waiting at home for something to eat and my pantry is empty," shouted the 47-year-old, muscling her way past policemen trying to contain the crowd.
Hundreds of people have flocked to this impoverished neighborhood of the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis in the hope of securing a ration of almost 10 kilograms of basic food goods, including rice, dry beans and oil.
Palestinian police were deployed in force and a special unit from the Interior Ministry was also dispatched to prevent the distribution from turning violent, such is the attraction of a ration in the starved territory.
"We have 13,000 rations of food and the needs of these people are huge. There is a lot of humanitarian aid blocked at the borders and Gaza’s stockpiles are dwindling," said one of the distribution’s organizers.
The distribution, part of huge program aimed at alleviating the hardships of the overcrowded territory’s population, is organized by the London-based organization Islamic Relief.
Clutching her trophy after the stampede, panting in the shade of a tree, Solfa said she could not remember worse shortages in the Gaza Strip.
Gazans are braced for further misery as the Israeli Army thrust deep into the territory Thursday and looked set to reoccupy entire areas in a bid to create a "buffer zone."
"Even my smallest children have become used to living with the noise of bombs and gunfire. But I’m scared, could anything be worse than this?," Solfa asked.
Standing next to her, Hossam Abed concurred. Since he lost his job in Israeli industry, he has been eking a living out of odd jobs to feed his 14 children.
"When Israel and the United States decide to make life impossible for us, we lose all hope of ever getting a better life. The youth is now ready to die fighting the enemy," he said.
"In my family for example, nobody has a job. Those who actually have contracts in Israel cannot even leave Gaza," said Sorayya Aid Soubah, a 55-year-old woman with a limp.
For years, she has had to rely on charity networks to survive and is a regular at food distribution points organized by the United Nations and Islamic organizations in Khan Younis.
As he tried to elbow his way through the swarm of residents scrambling for one more ration, Abdel-Rahim Hossam said that this is the first time he has to resort to humanitarian assistance and confessed a sense of shame.
For four months now, this policeman has not received his salary from the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.
"I always thought that there were poorer people than I and I never thought I would be forced to accept charity but here I am," said Hossam as he loaded the food packages on a donkey cart.
Saturday, July 08, 2006
A swamp – not in Gaza, but in Israel’s mindset
Commentary by Rami G. Khouri
The escalating confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is surreal, as both sides repeat broad policies and tactical moves that they have used many times over during the past 40 years, ever since Israel first occupied Gaza in June 1967. In the past 48 hours we have watched Israeli forces pursue their relentless air and land assault on Palestinian communities in Gaza, while the Palestinians in some places fight back, and in most places resist by peacefully defying Israel’s military might.
None of this is new. It was particularly disquieting, though, to hear Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz say on Thursday that "we have no intention of drowning in the Gaza swamp."
He says this, of course, while creating and expanding that swamp, and while ordering his troops into its heart, soul and belly, as Israeli politicians and generals have done many times before. Are these people so stupid that they do not learn from their own experiences and pain; or are they simply obstinate in their failed policies to the point of self-flagellation? It seems that all the earlier talk about civilians leading this Israeli government, rather than the usual array of ex-generals, was a load of nonsense.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Peretz seem just as clueless about dealing with the challenge of Palestinian Arab nationalism as were former Israeli soldier-leaders like Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon. This is obvious in the current escalating conflict, as Israel regularly repeats three failed policies that it has used many times before. It hits Palestinian civilian communities hard and subjects millions of people to prolonged suffering; it assassinates Palestinian political and military leaders; and it sends its great and noble army to establish a buffer zone along a frontier to protect Israeli cities, towns and villages.
But the great and noble army is a political dud, and a source of habitual catastrophe when dealing with the Palestinians. It has earned Israel two humiliating military retreats from South Lebanon and Gaza, an intensified Palestinian and Arab desire to resist and fight, and more hard-line elected leaders from Hamas. Somebody should please tell the vaunted Israeli civilian leaders and their powerful army that Ariel Sharon tried these policies for many years on various fronts, and this week we are seeing the ugly balance sheet of the monumental futility of his efforts.
This week the Palestinians fired Qassam rockets into the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, the furthest they have ever been fired. This makes the Israeli concept of a buffer zone imbecilic, because the Palestinians will only become more determined and more proficient at firing their rockets. There is no security in geography. It is similarly foolhardy to believe that brutally punishing the Palestinians will cause them to surrender. The evidence points to exactly the contrary. Israeli attacks, occupations, assassinations, destructions of homes and orchards, and mass reprisals against civilians are creating a more decentralized Palestinian resistance movement that is harder to deter, much wider popular support for the militants fighting Israel, and the likelihood that a hard-line, united national government will group together all Palestinian factions.
This is happening because millions of Palestinians and hundreds of millions of Arabs are reaching the same conclusion: The American- and now European-backed Israeli policies have made it clear to Palestinians that they are not allowed to use any means whatsoever to resist Israeli occupation of their land and the denial of their national rights. Palestinians cannot fight Israel by attacking civilians, but Israel can do so; Palestinians cannot attack Israeli military targets as they did last week when they killed two soldiers and kidnapped Corporal Gilad Shalit, but Israel can routinely attack and destroy official Palestinian targets; and Palestinians cannot be permitted by the international community to freely choose their own representatives, as they did when they voted for Hamas, but Israel can still boast it is the only democracy in the region.
If Palestinians cannot resist, cannot fight against the Israeli Army, and cannot vote democratically for their own leaders, then what exactly can they do to
affirm and practice their humanity? Is their role in this world merely to applaud Zionist colonialism, collude in their own national disintegration, and aspire to sterile invitations to the White House?
The swamp that threatens Peretz and Israelis as a whole is not located in Gaza; it is anchored in the mindset of modern Israel, which only seems able to deal with the Palestinians through beatings, killings and occupation – while remaining blind to the fact that such policies merely strengthen the Palestinians’ will to resist and to affirm their humanity.
Stupidity and stubbornness are bad shapers of policy, and Israelis should look for something more functional and humane, because the Palestinians are not going away, are not scared, and are not simply going to roll over and surrender. Their actions almost sound like something taken from a noble page of Jewish history, defined by much wisdom, passion and determination to live in dignity – without ghettos or swamps.
Rami G. Khouri writes a regular commentary for THE DAILY STAR.
8th July 2006
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which works with 980,000 refugees, believes that Gaza is on the brink of a public health disaster. Since the strike on Gazaâs only power plant on June 28th, the entire strip is without electricity for between 12 and 18 hours every day. The Coastal Municipality Water Utility is now relying on its own backup generators to operate its 130 water wells and 33 sewage pumping plants. As it only has 5,000 liters of the 18,000 liters of fuel needed, the Water Utilityâs daily operation has been cut by two thirds, resulting in water shortages and a critical situation at the sewage plants. With restrictions on the humanitarian supply lines there is now a backlog of over 230 containers of food awaiting delivery through the Karni Crossing and the bill for surcharges arising from these delays has reached as staggering half a million dollars.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the public health system is facing an unprecedented crisis. WHO estimates that though hospitals and 50 per cent of Primary Health Care Centres have generators, the current stock of fuel will last for a maximum of two weeks. Those generators which are being used were intended for backup purposes and the malfunctioning of these generators will have grave consequences. According to WHO in the last week, there has been a 160 per cent increase in cases of diarrhea compared with the same period last year. Compounding these problems, WHO estimates that 23 per cent of the essential drug list will be out of stock within one month. WHO is also alarmed by the tightening of restrictions on patients needing to leave Gaza for treatment. Only a handful of extremely critical cases have crossed through Erez since June 25th even though prior to current developments, an average of 25 cancer patients left through Erez every week. According to WHO, the monthly referral rate of emergency patients stands now at between 500 and 700 people.
The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that in June 70 % of the Gaza population were already unable to cover their daily food needs without assistance. The escalation of hostilities has made food an increasingly critical issue. Wheat flour mills, food factories and bakeries, reliant on electricity are being forced to reduce their production due to power shortages; furthermore the loss of capacity to preserve perishable food in the Gaza heat is resulting in high food losses in the home. Supplies of sugar, dairy products and milk are running extremely low due to limited commercial supplies from Israel; as a result food prices have increased by 10% in the past 3 weeks. WFP is assisting 160,000 of the most food insecure non refugees in Gaza and is standing by to respond to additional needs as they emerge as part of a coordinated interagency response. WFP believes it is essential that a humanitarian corridor for relief items and personnel remains open to avert a further deterioration in the food security situation at this critical time.
According to the United Nations Childrensâ Fund, (UNICEF) children in Gaza are living in an environment of extraordinary violence, insecurity and fear. Electricity and fuel shortages are leading to a reduction in the quantity and quality of health care and water accessible to children. The ongoing fighting is hurting children psychologically. Caregivers say children are showing signs of distress and exhaustion, including a 15%-20% increase in bedwetting, due to shelling and sonic booms. UNICEF-supported counseling teams also report a large increase in the number of requests for assistance. UNICEF says steady supplies of fuel and electricity are needed to store safely and transport vaccine and drugs, and for operating primary health care facilities. UNICEF stressed that children are always most vulnerable to outbreaks of communicable disease brought on by lack of water and sanitation.
The use of force by Israel during its military operations into the Gaza Strip has resulted in an increasing number of deaths and other casualties amongst the Palestinian civilian population, and significant damage to civilian property and infrastructure, says the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Whilst Israel has legitimate security concerns, international humanitarian law requires that the principles of proportionality and distinction between civilians and combatants be respected at all times. The prohibition on targeting civilians is also being violated by Palestinian armed groups, launching missiles from the Gaza Strip into Israel, and must therefore end. The deterioration in the current human rights situation requires that measures are promptly taken to put an end to these actions and to ensure the protection of civilians.
The Office of the Co-Ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is calling for the continuous and unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance and fuel supplies. Nahal Oz and Karni must remain open twenty-four hours a day, if humanitarian need is to be adequately met. In addition, OCHA is calling for the opening of the Rafah Crossing, to allow in 250 passengers stranded in Egypt and to allow the passage of emergency health cases that cannot be treated in Gaza. UN operations to deliver assistance are already being hampered by the fighting. But humanitarian assistance is not enough to prevent suffering. With the bombing of the electric plant, the lives of 1.4 million people, almost half of them children, worsened overnight. The Government of Israel should repair the damage done to the power station. Obligations under international humanitarian law, applying to both parties, include preventing harm to civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure and also refraining from collective measures, intimidation and reprisals. Civilians are disproportionately paying the price of this conflict. In the immediate future, OCHA fears that the humanitarian situation could easily deteriorate, with continued Israeli military operations and artillery shelling, which could damage the remaining infrastructure and essential services.
The United Nations humanitarian agencies believe that the facts on the ground speak for themselves and carry their own imperatives to all parties. Unless urgent action is taken, we are facing a humanitarian crisis that will have far reaching consequences for the communities we work in and the institutions we work through.
Gaza siege: Whys the world silent?
9 July 2006
THE tragedy of Palestinian suffering continues to unfold. Ironically, the latest Israeli offensive, ostensibly launched in response to the capture of an Israeli corporal, has claimed scores of Palestinian lives and killed an Israeli soldier.
And with so many killings taking place on a daily basis, death appears to have lost its seriousness. Palestinian deaths are reduced to mere statistics, as Stalin would have put it.
But how long will this dance of death go on, as the rest of the world including the Arab-Muslim countries watches in morbid fascination? Arab League and the OIC have done little more than issuing regulation communiqués expressing their grave concern. The UN is equally impotent. The Leagues pitiful appeals to the US and West seeking their intervention have been, not surprisingly, ignored.
It serves the League right though for the group does not take itself seriously. Why would anyone pay attention to the League, or OIC states for that matter, when all they do is pass resolutions with little to show by way of implementation? Is it any wonder then that despite representing the worlds richest and strategically important region, the League is a lightweight on the world stage.
But, if the world is keen to avert more tragedies in the Palestinian Territories and further radicalisation of a besieged and frustrated people, it must break its deafening silence. As President Mahmoud Abbas has appealed, the world community, especially the Middle East Quartet, must intervene immediately to put an end to the siege of Gaza and the appalling humanitarian disaster that is unfolding in the Occupied Territories.
Enough blood has been shed in the land that is sacred to three great Abrahamic faiths. There is much more at stake than the life of a lone Israeli soldier or the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners. The future of the Middle East, nay, the world peace is at stake. This is no time to stand and stare.
The Quartet members, the US and EU in particular, and Arab League have to step in to end this siege of a helpless and impoverished people, persuading the two sides to return to the negotiating table. At least now, the Israeli and Palestinian leaders have to wake up to the futility of this conflict. Both Hamas and Kadima had been elected by their people because they believed the new leaders could succeed where their predecessors failed: that is, the resolution of the half-a-century old conflict. Unfortunately, those hopes have now crashed. But, maybe, its still not too late. As this paper has argued before, with the hawks in power on both sides, this may be the best chance to achieve lasting peace in the Middle East. For peace is the only way forward.