Category Archives: Occupied Palestine

Elementary school bombings by Israel not considered war crimes by UN Commission…

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The High Level International Military Group—a UN-commissioned group made up of 11 former chiefs of staff, generals, senior officers, and political leaders from the U.S., Germany, Spain, Holland, the U.K., Italy, Australia, and Colombia—dismissed all charges and allegations of Israel’s war crimes after investigating last summer’s attack on Gaza.

The report was issued on Saturday following the group’s five-day trip to the region in March. It ultimately claims that Israel acted responsibly and with much restraint when the IDF bombarded Gaza last summer during what is known as “Operation Protective Edge.” The report even refers to the attack as “legitimate.”

An excerpt from the report states the following:

“We were well aware of the allegations made by some governments, the United Nations, human rights groups and the media, that Israel acted outside the laws of armed conflict in Gaza. Some have suggested that the IDF lacked restraint or even deliberately targeted innocent civilians.”

Nevertheless, the investigators drew the following conclusion:

“We examined the circumstances that led to the tragic conflict last summer and are in no doubt that this was not a war that Israel wanted. In reality Israel sought to avoid the conflict and exercised great restraint over a period of months before the war when its citizens were targeted by sporadic rocket attacks from Gaza. Once the war had begun, Israel made repeated efforts to terminate the fighting. The war that Israel was eventually compelled to fight against Hamas and other Gaza extremists was a legitimate war, necessary to defend its citizens and its territory against sustained attack from beyond its borders.”

The report appears to be nothing close to the results of a “fact-finding mission,” as was claimed, but rather a written defense of the Israeli government.

It also claims:

“But none of us is aware of any army that takes such extensive measures as did the IDF last summer to protect the lives of the civilian population in such circumstances.”

Those extensive measures included killing 2,191 Palestinians, 519 of whom were children, injuring 11,231 Palestinians, damaging 61,800 Palestinian homes, displacing 108,000 Palestinians, damaging 220 Palestinian schools, 278 worship centers, and 62 hospitals, and overall costing a total of $7.8 million in damages.

The report gets worse:

“The measures taken were often far in excess of the requirements of the Geneva Conventions.”

If that is the case, then maybe we should revise the Geneva Conventions! But wait, they’re not finished yet:
“We understand that over 2,000 people died in Gaza during the conflict. In a population of approximately 1.8 million, over a 50-day period many would have died of causes unrelated to the fighting.”

This is tantamount to saying, “Eh, well, they would’ve died anyway. So who cares?”

Furthermore, the report went on to say that that the members of the group are in agreement “on the record,” with U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey, who said last November that “Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties.”

By far, one of the most blatant statements that points out the biased nature of the report is the closing statement. It reads:

“The project was sponsored by the Friends of Israel Initiative.”

Overall, it is hard to find this report entirely “factual,” as it has been called by its commissioners. How can an investigation of a war that lasted 50 days be carried properly in a matter of only five days? Furthermore, how can they reduce the value of over 2,000 lives and treat those lives as if they were merely collateral damage, and that such a loss was to be expected anyhow? To say the least, this letter should be considered nothing more than a distastefully written doctrine of Israeli superiority and righteousness, bigotry toward Palestinians, and a testimony of utter disregard for human life. It is nothing short of appalling that it is being passed off as a formal, investigative report.

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Stephen Hawking supports Israel boycott…

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A standard objection to the Palestinian campaign for the boycott of Israel is that it would cut off “dialogue” and hurt the chances of peace. We’ve heard this again in the wake of Professor Stephen Hawking’s laudable decision to withdraw from Israel’s Presidential Conference in response to requests from Palestinian academics – but it would be hard to think of a more unconvincing position as far as Palestinians are concerned.

One of the most deceptive aspects of the so-called peace process is the pretence that Palestinians and Israelis are two equal sides, equally at fault, equally responsible – thus erasing from view the brutal reality that Palestinians are an occupied, colonised people, dispossessed at the hands of one of the most powerful militaries on earth.

For more than two decades, under the cover of this fiction, Palestinians have engaged in internationally-sponsored “peace talks” and other forms of dialogue, only to watch as Israel has continued to occupy, steal and settle their land, and to kill and maim thousands of people with impunity.

While there are a handful of courageous dissenting Israeli voices, major Israeli institutions, especially the universities, have been complicit in this oppression by, for example, engaging in research and training partnerships with the Israeli army. Israel’s government has actively engaged academics, artists and other cultural figures in international “Brand Israel” campaigns to prettify the country’s image and distract attention from the oppression of Palestinians.

The vast majority of Palestinians, meanwhile, have been disenfranchised by the official peace process as their fate has been placed in the hands of venal and comprised envoys such as Tony Blair, and US and EU governments that only seem to find the courage to implement international law and protect human rights when it comes to the transgressions of African or Arab states.

When it comes to Israel’s abuses, governments around the world have offered nothing but lip service; while dozens of countries face US, EU or UN sanctions for far lesser transgressions, it has taken years for EU governments to even discuss timid steps such as labelling goods from illegal Israeli settlements, let alone actually banning them. Yet the peace process train trundles on – now with a new conductor in the form of John Kerry, the US secretary of state – but with no greater prospects of ever reaching its destination. So, enough talk already.

The Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) aims to change this dynamic. It puts the initiative back in the hands of Palestinians. The goal is to build pressure on Israel to respect the rights of all Palestinians by ending its occupation and blockade of the West Bank and Gaza Strip; respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees who are currently excluded from returning to their homes just because they are not Jews; and abolishing all forms of discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel.

These demands are in line with universal human rights principles and would be unremarkable and uncontroversial in any other context, which is precisely why support for them is growing.

BDS builds on a long tradition of popular resistance around the world: from within Palestine itself to the Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Historically, boycotts work.

During the 1980s opponents of sanctions against apartheid South Africa – including, notoriously, the late Margaret Thatcher – argued instead for “constructive engagement”. They were on the wrong side of history. Today, Palestinians are lectured to drop BDS and return to empty talks that are the present-day equivalent of constructive engagement.

But there can be no going back to the days when Palestinians were silenced and only the strong were given a voice. There can be no going back to endless “dialogue” and fuzzy and toothless talk about “peace” that provides a cover for Israel to entrench its colonisation.

When we look back in a few years, Hawking’s decision to respect BDS may be seen as a turning point – the moment when boycotting Israel as a stance for justice went mainstream.

What is clear today is that his action has forced Israelis – and the rest of the world – to understand that the status quo has a price. Israel cannot continue to pretend that it is a country of culture, technology and enlightenment while millions of Palestinians live invisibly under the brutal rule of bullets, bulldozers and armed settlers.

1,881 to 67 (Video)

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There’s a tendency in some Gaza reporting to treat both sides as tough, equally-matched adversaries. Israel must stand up to those evil, deadly Hamas terrorists before the nation is overrun, eek! But if the measure of success in this conflict is the combatants-to-civilians body count ratio (and it is), then Hamas is winning handily.

Google Play app game lets you kill Palestinian women and children..

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In “Bomb Gaza” users control an aircraft decorated with the Israeli flag and drop bombs and rockets on cartoon Hamas militants and Palestinian women holding children. According to the game’s description, users are to drop bomb on “terrorists” only, but as noted in the Vine preview inadvertently killing the civilians and children is impossible since they’re stacked on top of one another.

Just about 300 children have been killed in the real war going on between Israel and Palestine over the last month.

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Israeli strike on Gaza school kills 15 and leaves 200 wounded…

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International scrutiny of Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip intensified on Thursday when more than 15 Palestinians were killed and 200 injured in a strike on a UN school in northern Gaza crowded with hundreds of displaced civilians.

Most of the injured were women and children. Among the dead was a mother and her one-year-old baby. UN staff had been attempting to organise the school’s evacuation when the attack took place.

Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the UN, condemned the attack, which came hours after the agency had warned that Israel’s actions in the Palestinian enclave could constitute war crimes. “Today’s attack underscores the imperative for the killing to stop and to stop now,” Ban said.

The Israeli military first claimed, in a text sent to journalists, that the school could have been hit by Hamas missiles that fell short. Later, a series of tweets from the Israel Defence Forces appeared to confirm the deaths were the result of an Israeli strike.

“Today Hamas continued firing from Beit Hanoun. The IDF responded by targeting the source of the fire.”

“Last night, we told Red Cross to evacuate civilians from UNRWA’s shelter in Beit Hanoun btw 10am & 2pm. UNRWA & Red Cross got the message. Hamas prevented civilians from evacuating the area during the window that we gave them.”

Chris Gunness, spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works agency said there had earlier been “firing around the compound” and his organisation had asked the Israeli army for time to evacuate civilians. “We spent much of the day trying to negotiate or to coordinate a window so that civilians, including our staff, could leave. That was never granted … and the consequences of that appear to be tragic.” Gunness said the Israeli military were supplied with coordinates of UN schools where those displaced were sheltering. UN sources told the Guardian a call was placed to the Israeli military at 10.55am requesting permission to evacuate but their call was not returned.

The deaths in Beit Hanoun raised the overall Palestinian death toll in the conflict that began on 8 July to at least 751. Israel has lost 32 soldiers – all since 17 July, when it widened its air campaign into a full-scale ground operation – and three civilians.

Hours after the attack, a trail of bloody footprints could be seen crossing a deserted playground littered with abandoned possessions. There were pools of blood both inside and outside the school building; more blood splashed over wooden school desks.

The Israeli military, which said it was “reviewing the incident”, claimed the incident had occurred during “heavy combat” in the area and accused “terrorists” of “using civilian infrastructure and international symbols as human shields”.

Although missiles belonging to Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups in Gaza do sometimes fall short, there was no visible evidence of debris from broken Palestinian rockets in the school. The injuries and the number of fatalities were consistent with a powerful explosion that sent shrapnel tearing through the air, in some cases causing traumatic amputations.

The surrounding neighbourhood bore evidence of multiple Israeli attacks, including smoke from numerous artillery rounds and air strikes. One building was entirely engulfed by flames.

Thursday’s assault on the school – one of the grimmest incidents of the war – occurred at about 2.50pm as the playground was crowded with families waiting to be ferried to safety. According to survivors, one shell landed in the schoolyard followed by several more rounds that hit the upper stories of the building.

Most of the wounded were moved initially to a local hospital where terrified women and children clung to each other, waiting for news of relatives. A shell exploded about 50 metres from the hospital building as they waited.

Nour Hamid, 17, was hoping for news of her sister. As she attempted to comfort her terrified nephew, she said: “We were packing up to leave when the attack happened. We were standing outside when they started hitting us, some of the women holding their babies. My sister-in-law was one of the injured. There were bodies everywhere, most of them women and children.”

Laila al-Shinbari told Reuters: “All of us sat in one place when suddenly four shells landed on our heads … Bodies were on the ground, [there was] blood and screams. My son is dead and all my relatives are wounded including my other kids.”

Sabah Kafarna, 35, had also been sheltering at the school. “At about 11.30 someone from the municipality came to tell us that we were going to be moved because it was too dangerous. But the buses didn’t come. That’s why [there were] so many people all outside when the shells landed,” she said. “The shells came one after the other. I was inside by the windows when they smashed.”

Ayman Hamdan, medical director at Beit Hanoun hospital, told the Guardian that medical staff were treating multiple shrapnel injuries and damage to internal organs. “Some of the bodies were blown apart. Such a massacre requires more than one hospital to deal with it,” she said.

The dead were ferried along with the most seriously injured in a fleet of ambulances to the relative safety of the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahia. Frantic relatives crowded the morgue looking for loved ones. The hospital’s emergency room was plunged into chaos as doctors struggled to cope with the influx.

One father, his white singlet stained with blood, sat on the floor cradling the body of his injured daughter as another relative held a drip above her. Two more children were brought in – one girl injured by shrapnel, and another body whose torso was covered in blood.

Several UN schools have come under fire in the last week. On Tuesday, a school in Maghazi, central Gaza, sheltering about 1,000 people, was hit by Israeli shells as an UNRWA team inspected damage caused by an earlier strike. Thursday’s strike occurred during a day of heavy fighting across the territory as Israel pressed ahead with its operation to halt rocket fire from Gaza and destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels.

Israel-Gaza conflict: The myth of Hamas’s human shields

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What used to be a three-storey house had been turned into debris sunk into a deep crater with twisted steel rods jutting out. Twenty-six people were killed in the mostly deadly air-strike so far in this bloody conflict. Twenty-four of them were from one family, the Abu Jamaa.

Around the same time that attack was taking place on Sunday evening, Benjamin Netanyahu was charging Hamas on TV with using “human shields” to gather “telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause”. It has long been the Israeli case that the militants cynically and deliberately carry out attacks and store weapons in residential areas and have also stopped people living there from evacuating homes when fighting breaks out, reports British newspaper The Independent.

There have been instances in the 13 days of the current war when the Israelis have sought to provide evidence proving their case. After warplanes targeted the al-Farouq mosque, near the Nuseirat refugee camp, for instance, the military issued aerial photographs which, it stated, showed that the building was being used to store rockets. We have also had the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, announcing that it had discovered 20 rockets hidden in one of its disuse schools in a “flagrant violation” of international law. And rockets are seen to be regularly fired from stretches of open ground close to homes.

Are militants also deliberately placing themselves in residences which are then attacked? On the day that Al-Farouq was attacked, the Israeli military also carried out a missile strike on a home for the handicapped in Beit Lahiya, killing two disabled residents and injuring four others. A neighbour claimed that a member of the Islamic Jihad group and his wife had also lived in the building; but he could provide no names or dates for this.

Jamilla Alaiwa, a 59 year old social worker who founded the home 24 years ago told me that this was categorically untrue. “If the Israelis have proof of this let them make it public. There was no one from Islamic Jihad or Hamas living there. We are not involved in politics.” The Israeli military stated they were investigating what happened; their conclusions have not reached Gaza. Were they, perhaps, fed false information?

Some Gazans have admitted that they were afraid of criticizing Hamas, but none have said they had been forced by the organisation to stay in places of danger and become unwilling human-shields. The Bani Sobeila area, near Khan Younis, where the Abu Jamaa deaths took place received leaflets dropped from the air last week warning them to leave.

But almost all stayed. One reason for that was many of the houses belonged to the Abu Jamaa clan who felt there was safety in staying together. Another reason was given by a neighbour, Abdullah al-Daweish: “Where do we go to? Some people moved from the outer edge of Khan Younis to Khan Younis centre after Israelis told them to, then the centre got bombed. People have moved from this area to Gaza City, and Gaza City has been bombed. It’s not Hamas who is ordering us in this, it’s the Israelis.”

Why did they think the house targeted? “We don’t know,” said Saied Abu Jamaa, a cousin who was in his home next door when the blast took place. “Tawfiq, who is the head of the family, is a policeman, but why should he and his family and his neighbours die for that?” Tawfiq Abu Jamaa, 40, distraught figure in a brown jellabiya at the funeral was also at a loss to understand why he had lost his wife and eight children. The sole survivor has Nour, a son of four.

There were 10 recently destroyed buildings on the half-hour drive from Khan Younis to Shujaiya, a town where 90 people had been killed in a 24 hours, an onslaught condemned by the Palestinian government of Mahmoud Abbas as a “heinous massacre”: and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as “ an atrocious action”.
Members of families who owned six of the buildings had moved in with relations and neighbours in the area. Their reason for staying behind was primarily because there was, they said, nowhere else to go. There were also declarations about not giving up one’s land, not giving in to invaders.

There was denial of coercion by Hamas. “I am not going to go because I can do something Hamas cannot do”, maintained Nabil al-Masri. “I know from times before that if Israeli soldiers get into an empty house they will ruin it on purpose. Hamas cannot stop them going into my house if we leave, but, by staying here we can try to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Hamas can, however, be accused of making people complacent, repeatedly stating in the media that the Israeli warnings were psychological games and asking the population to ignore them. Some mentioned this as a reason for staying behind; returning home having initially left.

The counter-argument to that was the need to prevent panic spreading. Almost 85,000 people have been on the move, overwhelming the shelters set up by the UN by sheer numbers. Classrooms meant for 30 now hold up to 70, one typical example was the Girls Preparatory Secondary School, at a suburb of Beit Lahiya in the north, with a capacity of 800 which has taken in 1600. Homes of relatives, a traditional source of refuge, are also feeling the strain.

Yasir Hamidi had six additional mouths to feed, along with his family of four, once the bombing began; five more relatives had joined since the ground invasion. His salary from the Ministry of Health stopped even before the conflict started because Gaza’s Hamas administration is bankrupt. “The family members brought some money, but they had to leave almost everything else behind: we are living on my savings, but it will not last for long. After that, who knows?” Mr Hamidi spread his hands in resignation.

Gazans point out that the outside world remains largely unaware just how small and confined the place is – just 25 miles long and just a few miles wide. It is blocked in by closed borders to Israel in the north and east and Egypt in the south. There is no route out by the sea to the west with an Israeli naval blockade. Getting to travel abroad is an excruciatingly long process.

This may be due to Hamas and Islamic Jihad exporting violence, as Israel and Egypt claim, but it is the increasingly large percentage of the 1.7 million population being pushed by the violence into the already heavily congested centre, who are suffering as the relentless bombings and shootings continue.

At the funeral of the Abu Jamaa family, as another body in a shroud was lowered into the grave, Saied, the cousin said: “ That is the only escape many of us will have from here.”