Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

June 21, 2010

Far from Ideal: Gaza Blockade Eased

Following international pressure and diplomatic discussions with Egyptian, US and Quartet representatives, Israel’s security cabinet announced Sunday that it would change its blockade policy for the Gaza Strip.  At present only 114 items are allowed into the Strip, but according to the announced easing of the Gaza blockade a new “black list” of unpermitted goods will replace the current highly restrictive policy. The PM Binyamin Netanyahu confirmed that all goods, other than “weapons and materials Hamas uses”, will  be allowed into the Palestinian territory while adding that a finalized list of items not allowed will be released as soon as possible.

While the exact definition of a “material Hamas uses” is not clear, the announcement certainly paves the way for humanitarian aid and some construction materials to soon enter the Gaza Strip.  Heavy limitations, however, remain on the construction materials allowed, as they must be for Palestinian Authority-approved projects and kept under international supervision.  Netanyahu described these new allowances as “eliminating Hamas’ main propoganda claim and allow[ing] [Israel]…to face [their] real concerns in the realm of security.” (more…)

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June 14, 2010

Investigation into Gaza Raid

Israel has rejected UN demands for an external probe of the Gaza raid, and instead has announced that it is to administer an internal investigation.  Israel, trying to somewhat appease the international community, has added “two foreign observers” to the commission.  The observers include Irish Nobel Prize laureate David Trimble, and Canada’s former Judge Advocate General of the Canadian Forces Ken Watkin.  David Trimble, one of the “foreign observers,” recently joined a Friends of Israel group.  If Israel is to include outsiders in the internal probe, it should at least let them be chosen by an external party.  The “observers” should also have an active participating role; simply observing the commission and not offering their input seems futile.  The structure of the commission is inhibiting in other ways as well.  The commission must use summaries of the events, as soldiers cannot be directly questioned.  It can ask for more information if not satisfied, though there is no guarantee they will receive more information (BBC).

The purposes of the commission are to: examine the “security circumstances” of the naval blockade on Gaza and whether this conforms to international law, decide if the actions of May 31st, conform to the principles of international law, and consider the actions of those who organized and took part in the flotilla “and their identities” (BBC).  The last requirement, not surprisingly, shifts the focus away from Israel and tries to make them the victims.  This culture of victimization and no sense of accountability will no doubt result in another travesty of justice. (more…)

June 7, 2010

Leaders Around the World Focus their Attention on Israel

Several days after Israeli commandos raided an aid ship headed for Gaza, heads of state around the world are focusing their attention towards investigating the events of May 31 and working towards ending the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been very vocal in condemning Israeli actions after the death of several Turkish citizens, has made a statement calling for the formation of an international investigation. According to Erdogan, the acceptance of such an investigation would be the only way to better Israeli-Turkish relations. He went on to say that if Israel refused an international investigation that, “it means that they are hiding some facts.” In addition, Prime Minister Erdogan has been reported to be considering a trip to Gaza aboard a Turkish Naval vessel. While this has caused some in Israel to threaten violence at another attempt to breach the blockade, the official tone is much more moderate and IDF leaders have made statements essentially telling their colleagues to calm down. (more…)

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…)

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…)

February 11, 2010

“When there is no coverage, the first victim is the truth…”

Filed under: Activism,Global concerns,Humanitarian challenges,West Bank — colbyconnelly @ 1:47 pm

Those were the recent words of Norway’s foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Store, in response to disparaging Israeli media coverage of his country and its policies towards Israel.  During Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s most recent assault on the Gaza Strip, to which Minister Store was referring, international media was denied access and the ability to disseminate independent information on an event of great importance. Minister Store’s evaluation of this predicament is correct. As demonstrated by the reactions to the Goldstone report, much of what took place in Gaza is still disputed between Israel, Gazans themselves, and the international community.

Yet the West Bank and East Jerusalem are in danger of facing their own kind of blockade, and the international press is largely ignoring the story. Israel has ceased to issue “B1” work visas to employees of international non governmental organizations (INGOs) operating not in Gaza, but in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (more…)

Gazans deserve political rights, not just aid

Filed under: Gaza,Hamas,Humanitarian challenges — Ellen Hunt @ 1:15 pm

In a recent talk at The Palestine Center in Washington entitled “Humanitarianism: Prolonging the Palestinian Political Plight?”, George Washington University Anthropology Professor Ilana Feldman addressed the dangers inherent in defining the tragic situation in Gaza purely in humanitarian terms.

This question is especially urgent in light of Israel’s continued blockade of Gaza. The blockade, in which the US and the EU as well as Egypt are complicit, keeps out all but a small fraction of basic subsistence items for 1.3 million Gazans and virtually all materials needed for the reconstruction of the housing and other infrastructure destroyed by Israel’s brutal December 2008 – January 2009 military assault. This, Feldman argued, is a situation in which humanitarianism can contribute to “a limited humanity,” where what is considered normal spirals further and further downwards.

Israel, she noted, continues to insist that it is helping with the situation, whereas it, in fact, contributes to its continued deterioration. Meanwhile, Israel and the Quartet (consisting of the US, the EU, Russia and the UN) ignore the legitimate political claims of the Palestinians.

Moreover, as the sanctions policy on Gaza, imposed after Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, continues to punish Gazans of all ages and political persuasions, it only serves to strengthen rather than weaken Hamas while it contributes to the further radicalization of elements of Gazan society. Ironically, even more stringent sanctions remain in force despite the evolution in Hamas’ position to the point that it has indicated a willingness to accept a Palestinian state within the June 4, 1967 borders.

The video of Dr. Feldman’s lecture is available here.

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”.

GAZA, AND WHAT MAKES IT DIFFERENT FROM OTHER HUMANITARIAN CRISES

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.”

(more…)

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