Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

June 3, 2010

Aftermath of the Gaza flotilla mission

Activists are returning to their respective countries and funerals are underway for the nine slain activists in Turkey, one of whom was a 19-year-old dual U.S. citizen.  However, the atmosphere of the international community continues to exhibit volatility.

More accounts of the events are pouring in as the activists return. Following the attack, Israel had created an information blackout, barring the captured activists from speaking to media in Israel, but as they return home their stories are emerging.  Bulent Yildrim, the head of the Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), said: “I took off my shirt and waved it, as a white flag. We thought they would stop after seeing the white flag, but they continued killing people.”  Norman Paech, a former German politician accounts: “The soldiers were all masked, carrying big guns and were extremely brutal.”  Haneen Zoubi, an Arab-Israeli MP claims Israeli vessels fired on her ship a few minutes before soldiers descended from helicopters.  You can also hear an account of the events from former ambassador and former CNI board member Edward Peck, here. (more…)


June 1, 2010

Update on the Gaza Flotilla

Just a few minutes ago an interview with former CNI board member and frequent host of our radio show “CNI Jerusalem Calling”, Ambassador Edward Peck, was released by ABC News, giving an insider’s account of what actually occurred between the flotilla and the Israeli navy. In the interview, Ambassador Peck recounts his experience and deportation. He mentions that he and the other people captured were kept in isolation and knew very little about what was going on. He also mentions that another US citizen, Paul Larudee, was injured and remains in an Israeli hospital.

In addition, more countries have stepped forward to condemn the Israeli actions. The EU and Russia issued a joint statement earlier today condemning Israel’s actions and use of force, even going so far as to call for an end to the blockade on Gaza. Shortly after, France joined them in calling for the release of the civilian activists being held.

Even Hamas and Fatah seem united in condemning the attacks and urging the international community to open the borders into Gaza. Today, the PA’s Interior Ministry announced that the Rafah crossing has been opened and restrictions lifted. And Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, released a statement arguing that this attack could help unify Palestinians, stating

“Israel’s crime today is an opportunity for Palestinian unity on the right national platform. It is also an opportunity for the Arab world to re-take the initiative today and to take a strong position against the Israeli bullying and to open the Rafah crossing and to end the siege once and for all.”

Could this attack provide the catalyst for re-opening negotiations between Hamas and the PA? And could it possibly push the international community to get more involved in helping the Gazans and permanently lifting the blockade?

The Gaza Flotilla

The international community is in a furor after yesterday’s events on the Gaza flotilla that left at least 9 activists dead by the hands of the IDF.  Major protests were sparked around the world, from Paris to Istanbul, against the actions of Israel.  Strong condemnation was elicited from the UN, though the U.S. had it watered down a bit, Turkish PM Erdogan, who called the raid a “massacre,” the EU, and many other nations.  It is clear that most of the world is united such condemnation of Israel, and the state is facing further isolation than ever before.

It is difficult to fathom what went wrong on this humanitarian mission, and the UN has called for an impartial inquiry into the raid.  Naturally, there are two differing narratives.  The Free Gaza flotilla left Cyprus with the intention of trying to open up three year blockade on Gaza by delivering  10,000 tons of aid.  Israel intercepted the flotilla 40 miles away from the Gaza coast, though its formal blockade of Gaza only extends 25 miles off the coast.  When the flotilla said its destination was Gaza and would not stop, Israeli forces proceeded to board the ships.  Under the UN Charter on the Law of the Sea, a vessel can only be boarded in international waters if it is suspected to be transporting weapons or weapons of mass destruction.  Seaborne special forces, which are trained for combat and not crowd control, proceeded to board. (more…)

May 27, 2010

The Gaza Blockade

Israel claims the borders of Gaza are closed in order to block out violent forces and ensure protection of Israeli citizens.  Why, then, does a Turkish-led convoy of international pro-Palestinian activists and humanitarian supply intimidate Israel?

Israel has said it would block the 9 fleet ship, which is carrying over 20 million Euros worth of supplies, and 700 activists.  If allowed, the supplies would be the largest amount given to the Palestinian territories.

The convoy is spearheaded by the Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) of Istanbul, and the fleet includes ships from Britain, Greece, Algeria, Kuwait, Malaysia and Ireland. The fact that the parties are international and non-political in their advocacy of human rights shows how paranoid Israel is through its decision to block the IHH. (more…)

May 20, 2010

Solidarity with Yemeni Women

Today I attended a discussion about Yemeni women at the Woodrow Wilson Center featuring Sultana Al-Jeham, a public policy scholar at the center and Executive Director and Chairwoman of woman’s affairs’ at the Civic Democratic Initiatives Support Foundation (CDF) in Yemen. The  discussion, titled, “Yemeni Women: Challenges and Little Hope,” was indeed a sobering account on the issues affecting Yemeni women.  Yemeni women face problems in the areas of equality, education, health, political participation, poverty and marriage. (more…)

February 5, 2010

“You can’t eradicate poverty whilst you have an occupation” ~ Oxfam officer

Filed under: Human rights,Palestinian economy,West Bank — Katya Reed @ 11:21 am

~ by Katya Reed, from the occupied West Bank

(Interview with John Prideaux-Brune, Country Director for the OPT and Israel at Oxfam GB, Part 2.  Part 1, on Gaza, was here.)

“You can have development under an occupation but you can’t eradicate poverty.” That thought-provoking statement came from John Prideaux-Brune, Oxfam GB’s Country Director for Israel and the OPTs, during the interview I conducted with him January 12 in his office in East Jerusalem.

Prideaux-Brune explained that impoverishment is now widely recognized to be a condition where one is denied control over one’s life. Poverty is about being denied a voice. “You can be the richest person in the world but if you have no voice you are still in poverty,” he said.

Military rule anywhere, of course, denies a voice to citizens. But rule by an occupying foreign army does so even more, as is generally recognized in the special provisions international humanitarian law makes to try to protect the welfare of people living under foreign military occupation.

In the West Bank and Gaza, the 4.3 million civilian residents have now been living under foreign military occupation for nearly 43 years– and the mechanisms for sustaining that occupation have become extremely complex over time.  In the West Bank, the land mass has been sliced and diced into five different kinds of governance zones:

  • East Jerusalem has been outright annexed by Israel.
  • Israel has also, more quietly, extended its civil law system to the many large areas occupied or controlled by Israel’s illegal settlements, which thereby, in effect, annexes them.
  • In other areas, not directly controlled by the settlement blocs, the Palestinian population comes under the undiluted control of the IDF’s ‘civil affairs’ branch. These expanses of land– which total around 60% of the West Bank’s entire terrain– were designated, under Oslo, as ‘Area C’.
  • Other areas of land were designated ‘Area B’. In these patches, the (‘interim’) Palestinian Authority exercises control over civilian functions while the IDF retains control over security affairs.
  • In the other small patches designated ‘Area A’, the PA is supposed to control both civilian functions and security– though in practice, the IDF still moves and operates quite freely within the cities and towns that are designated ‘Area A’.

In the interview with Prideaux-Brune, he expressed particular concern for the situation of Palestinians in Area C.  In those areas, he noted, the Israeli government continues to deny Oxfam GB and their local partners permission for water storage tanks during a drought and the rehabilitation of tin shacks for impoverished Bedouin communities.

He concluded wryly that in some portions of Area C,  “Pretty soon you’re going to have to have a permit to breathe”.


At around the time I conducted the interview, the Israeli authorities were introducing tight new restrictions on the ability of international humanitiarian-aid and development groups like Oxfam to operate in the OPTs. In early January the Interior Ministry announced that it would no longer grant work permits to Oxfam and other major international organizations working in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).  Instead, Israel issues employees like Prideaux-Brune only ‘B-1’ tourist visas that don’t formally allow the holder the right to work, even though Israeli officials have assured these employees that Israel understands their work in the OPT will continue.

The new visa restrictions do not apply to those organizations working in Israel or the settlements throughout the West Bank, in which case NGOs are simply granted work visas for Israel.  What Prideaux-Brune and others are gravely concerned about is the “slippery slope” that such policies might portend.

While at this point the tourist visas may be granted to employees on a reliable basis, Prideaux-Brune voiced his grave concern about this pattern of further constrictions on international NGOs in the OPT.  Having no legal basis to work in the country you are based in increases the stress on staff and also makes recruitment much more difficult.


Prideaux-Brune began summarizing Oxfam GB’s work in the West Bank with a disclaimer.  He emphasized that while Oxfam GB does believe it can meaningfully support Palestinian development efforts, it is well aware that no matter how expansive development efforts are, poverty will persist as long as the occupation continues.


February 1, 2010

How Israel ‘turns the buttons and dials’ on Gaza’s humanitarian crisis

Filed under: Gaza,Human rights,Humanitarian challenges — Katya Reed @ 12:44 pm

~ by Katya Reed, from the occupied West Bank

(Interview with John Prideaux-Brune, Country Director for the OPT and Israel at Oxfam GB, Part 1.)

“In all of Oxfam’s history, we’ve never seen, to my knowledge, a humanitarian crisis quite like this one in Gaza,” John Prideaux-Brune told me recently.  He emphasized that this crisis is “totally man-made… You have people sitting there, turning the buttons and dials, about what will be allowed in and what won’t.”

Prideaux-Brune, an experienced international aid manager who is currently Oxfam GB’s Country Director for the OPTs and Israel, voiced this evaluation in an interview in his East Jerusalem office, January 12.

In additon to sharing his  insights on why the man-made humanitarian crisis in Gaza is unique in Oxfam GB’s history, he also described Israel’s “no prosperity and no development” policy for Gaza, and the tragedy affecting Gaza’s growers of one of Gaza’s premier agricultural products–  “the best strawberries in the world.”

Prisdeaux-Brune noted that the challenges Oxfam GB faces in Gaza are distinctly different than those it faces in the West Bank, reflecting the tremendous schism that the political fact of the occupation has wrought among Palestinian communities.  The present blog post focuses on Oxfam GB’s struggles to provide relief in Gaza, and a second one will focus on their development efforts in the West Bank, especially in “Area C”.


Oxfam GB works in over 60 countries around the world, everywhere from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.  Prideaux-Brune noted that of course there are many crises in the world where the humanitarian conditions are far worse.  There are also governments that entirely shut down humanitarian aid from reaching the most vulnerable populations.

He continued,

You have humanitarian crises where the government just doesn’t care at all about what the international community thinks–where they just turn the dials all the way off.  But to have a government actively managing a humanitarian crisis–it’s very weird.  I can’t imagine what the people who have these jobs are thinking.

Prideaux-Brune has encountered difficulties convincing some people that a humanitarian crisis exists in Gaza since it has not yet suffered the same mass casualties from starvation and other diseases that typically result from a humanitarian crisis.  When conditions are so dire as to cause, as in Gaza, 88% of its people to be dependent on aid, fatalities from impoverishment usually soar to epic proportions.

“Because people are getting food aid we’re not seeing starvation,” Prideaux-Brune noted.  “But if we stopped all the aid we would.”


January 10, 2010

From the Frontlines of “Providing for Palestinians in a Cage”

Filed under: Gaza,Human rights — Katya Reed @ 10:17 am

Interview with Martha Myers, Country Director for the West Bank & Gaza at CARE

On January 6, I had the privilege of sitting down with Martha Myers, the West Bank and Gaza “country director” for the international relief and development group CARE International.  CARE published a report that extensively documents the humanitarian consequences caused by the siege on Gaza entitled “Humanitarian Implosion”.  The March 2008 report noted that “the situation for 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is worse now than it has ever been since the start of the Israeli military occupation in 1967.”

I interviewed Myers for both an update on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the struggles she and her organization face in addressing it.

Since the oncoming winter rains have focused media attention of the siege on Israel’s prohibition of basic building materials, I asked Myers about what arguments she hears from Israeli officials as they try to explain or justify a blockade that paralyzes reconstruction efforts.  I had assumed that Israeli officials could only justify the siege, at least in public, as a means to keep out materials that could be used for making bombs and other weapons that could kill Israeli civilians.

But Myers told me she had heard a quite different argument during a discussion on this point with Maj. Aviad Zilberman, the Head of the Coordinator’s Liasion Office at the Erez crossing.  “I asked, ‘what do you think will happen if you let in cement?  That people will walk up to the fence and lob cement bags at the IDF?'” she said.  “He told me that ‘we don’t want them building defensive structures’.”

That indicates something important about the way this Israeli official– and perhaps many of his colleagues and superiors– look at the intention of the siege.  He was arguing that the danger from reconstruction materials going into Gaza is not that they would be used to kill people, but rather to prevent people from being killed by future Israeli attacks.

The blockade has lasted over two years at this point, and has been tightened considerably since late 2008. Myers– who has worked as an NGO manager and leader in the OPTs for many years now– said it has been the response of the Gaza population that has been the greatest shock.

“If I were going to point to something in Gaza since Cast Lead, it is a community in control of itself,” she explained.   While being subjected to such dire living conditions one might expect people to “fall in on each other like wolves,” that hasn’t happened in Gaza.  “There is still a basic premise of civility that governs individual and community actions,” she noted.


December 15, 2009

Mass incarceration, Gaza, Kenya: Why Obama should care

Filed under: American attitudes,Human rights,Palestinian politics — Helena Cobban @ 11:08 am

In the long history of colonialism there is nothing new in the practice of a colonial regime imposing conditions of very brutal mass incarceration on whole segments of the indigenous population and then manipulating those conditions to try to squeeze compliance or acquiescence from the indigenes. See, for example, the very imperfect– but nonetheless revealing– account of two Palestinian brothers now living apart, in the West Bank and Gaza, that won front-page billing in today’s WaPo.

Undertaking the mass incarceration of whole communities and then manipulating its conditions is, basically, what the Israeli government has been doing in the occupied territories for many years now.  It’s been doing it with both the brutal siege it has maintained on the whole population of Gaza, and the system of movement controls it maintains in the West Bank, that’s dominated by gates and checkpoints between Palestinian areas that are opened and closed at the whim only of the quite unaccountable occupying power.

Small wonder that so many people have judged that those areas of the occupied territories that have not already been land-grabbed by the settlers constitute a “series of open-air prisons” for the Palestinians.

Pres. Barack Obama should be well aware of this situation. He should care deeply about it. (And he should, of course, be using all the instruments of U.S. national power to bring Israel’s very lengthy occupation of these territories to a complete end.)

But here’s why Pres. Obama, of all people, should care about this situation: Because his own paternal grandfather was, according to news reports out of London last year, one of the hundreds of thousands of anti-colonial activists in Kenya who in the late 1940s and 1950s were shut up by the British colonial authorities in a series of very brutal mass-incarceration encampments called “The Pipeline.”

Reporters for the London Times wrote about Hussein Onyango Obama’s experiences in the British-ruled Kenya of those years that,


December 13, 2009

Some thoughts for the holiday season

Filed under: Gaza,Human rights,Jewish history — Helena Cobban @ 12:45 pm

Many of our Jewish friends (and relatives) are now celebrating the eight days of Hannukah. Our Muslim friends have celebrated Eid el-Adha and will mark their New Year on, I believe, December 18.  Those of us who grew up in the Christian tradition are making preparations for Christmas…

(Actually, I believe that in all countries far from the Equator, the “turning of the geophysical year”– the period when the days start once again to become longer– is marked with many different kinds of joyous festivals.)

Here are a few holiday notes I wanted to share.

1.  As many of us make plans to gather together families that have become widely dispersed due the stresses of modern life, let’s spare a thought for all those whose families have been widely dispersed by circumstance but who are unable to gather their families together at holidays or any other times, because of movement-control systems, other governmental restrictions, or sheer lack of resources to travel.

2. Some Quaker friends in Ann Arbor, Michigan have designed a beautiful holiday card (PDF here), that they are selling, with the proceeds to go to UNRWA. They give this information about ordering the cards:

4″x 5″ cards are blank inside and come with envelopes. 15 cards for $15 plus postage. Email your order to <mechurchill@hotmail.com>, stating the number you want and your address, phone, & email.  Allow one week for delivery. Invoice will be sent with order.

3. Tony Karon, the brilliant author of the “Rootless Cosmopolitan” blog, had a great post December 11 in which he explored the history and meaning of the Jewish celebration of Hannukah.

He starts with this thought-provoking picture:


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