Israel Is Captive to Its ‘Destructive Process’

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

As protesters continue to be killed at the Gaza border, Truthdig is reposting a July 14, 2014, column by Chris Hedges on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A new article by Hedges will appear on Truthdig later this week.

 

Raul Hilberg in his monumental work “The Destruction of the European Jews” chronicled a process of repression that at first was “relatively mild” but led, step by step, to the Holocaust. It started with legal discrimination and ended with mass murder. “The destructive process was a development that was begun with caution and ended without restraint,” Hilberg wrote.

The Palestinians over the past few decades have endured a similar “destructive process.” They have gradually been stripped of basic civil liberties, robbed of assets including much of their land and often their homes, have suffered from mounting restrictions on their physical movements, been blocked from trading and business, especially the selling of produce, and found themselves increasingly impoverished and finally trapped behind walls and security fences erected around Gaza and the West Bank.

“The process of destruction [of the European Jews] unfolded in a definite pattern,” Hilberg wrote. “It did not, however, proceed from a basic plan. No bureaucrat in 1933 could have predicted what kind of measures would be taken in 1938, nor was it possible in 1938 to foretell the configuration of the undertaking in 1942. The destructive process was a step-by-step operation, and the administrator could seldom see more than one step ahead.”

There will never be transports or extermination camps for the Palestinians, but amid increasing violence against Palestinians larger and larger numbers of them will die, in airstrikes, targeted assassinations and other armed attacks. Hunger and misery will expand. Israeli demands for “transfer”—the forced expulsion of Palestinians from occupied territory to neighboring countries—will grow.

The Palestinians in Gaza live in conditions that now replicate those first imposed on Jews by the Nazis in the ghettos set up throughout Eastern Europe. Palestinians cannot enter or leave Gaza. They are chronically short of food—the World Health Organization estimates that more than 50 percent of children in Gaza and the West Bank under 2 years old have iron deficiency anemia and reports that malnutrition and stunting in children under 5 are “not improving” and could actually be worsening. Palestinians often lack clean water. They are crammed into unsanitary hovels. They do not have access to basic medical care. They are stateless and lack passports or travel documents. They live with massive unemployment. They are daily dehumanized in racist diatribes by their occupiers as criminals, terrorists and mortal enemies of the Jewish people.

“A deep and wide moral abyss separates us from our enemies,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said recently of the Palestinians. “They sanctify death while we sanctify life. They sanctify cruelty while we sanctify compassion.”

Ayelet Shaked, a member of the right-wing Jewish Home Party, on her Facebook page June 30 posted an article written 12 years ago by the late Uri Elitzur, a leader in the settler movement and a onetime adviser to Netanyahu, saying the essay is as “relevant today as it was then.” The article said in part: “They [the Palestinians] are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”

The belief that a race or class is contaminated is used by ruling elites to justify quarantining the people of that group. But quarantine is only the first step. The despised group can never be redeemed or cured—Hannah Arendt noted that all racists see such contamination as something that can never be eradicated. The fear of the other is stoked by racist leaders such as Netanyahu to create a permanent instability. This instability is exploited by a corrupt power elite that is also seeking the destruction of democratic civil society for all citizens—the goal of the Israeli government (as well as the goal of a U.S. government intent on stripping its own citizens of rights). Max Blumenthal in his book “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” does a masterful job of capturing and dissecting this frightening devolution within Israel.

The last time Israel mounted a Gaza military assault as severe as the current series of attacks was in 2008, with Operation Cast Lead, which lasted from Dec. 27 of that year to Jan. 18, 2009. That attack saw 1,455 Palestinians killed, including 333 children. Roughly 5,000 more Palestinians were injured. A new major ground incursion, which would be designed to punish the Palestinians with even greater ferocity, would cause a far bigger death toll than Operation Cast Lead did. The cycle of escalating violence, this “destructive process,” as the history of the conflict has illustrated, would continue at an accelerating rate.

The late Yeshayahu Leibowitz, one of Israel’s most brilliant scholars, warned that, followed to its logical conclusion, the occupation of the Palestinians would mean “concentration camps would be erected by the Israeli rulers” and “Israel would not deserve to exist, and it will not be worthwhile to preserve it.” He feared the ascendancy of right-wing, religious Jewish nationalists and warned that “religious nationalism is to religion what National Socialism was to socialism.” Leibowitz laid out what occupation would finally bring for Israel:

The Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police— mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel. The administration would suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.

Israel is currently attacking a population of 1.8 million that has no army, no navy, no air force, no mechanized military units, no command and control and no heavy artillery. Israel pretends that this indiscriminate slaughter is a war. But only the most self-deluded supporter of Israel is fooled. The rockets fired at Israel by Hamas—which is committing a war crime by launching those missiles against the Israeli population—are not remotely comparable to the 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs that have been dropped in large numbers on crowded Palestinian neighborhoods; the forced removal of some 300,000 Palestinians from their homes; the more than 160 reported dead—the U.N. estimates that 77 percent of those killed in Gaza have been civilians; the destruction of the basic infrastructure; the growing food and water shortages; and the massing of military forces for a possible major ground assault.

When all this does not work, when it becomes clear that the Palestinians once again have not become dormant and passive, Israel will take another step, more radical than the last. The “process of destruction” will be stopped only from outside Israel. Israel, captive to the process, is incapable of imposing self-restraint.

A mass movement demanding boycotts, divestment and sanctions is the only hope now for the Palestinian people. Such a movement must work for imposition of an arms embargo on Israel; this is especially important for Americans because weapons systems and attack aircraft provided by the U.S. are being used to carry out the assault. It must press within the United States for a cutoff of the $3.1 billion in military aid that the U.S. gives to Israel each year. It must organize to demand suspension of all free trade and other agreements between the U.S. and Israel. Only when these props are knocked out from under Israel will the Israeli leadership be forced, as was the apartheid regime in South Africa, to halt its “destructive process.” As long as these props remain, the Palestinians are doomed. If we fail to act we are complicit in the slaughter.

Read more

Israel Is Captive to Its ‘Destructive Process’

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

As protesters continue to be killed at the Gaza border, Truthdig is reposting a July 14, 2014, column by Chris Hedges on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A new article by Hedges will appear on Truthdig later this week.

 

Raul Hilberg in his monumental work “The Destruction of the European Jews” chronicled a process of repression that at first was “relatively mild” but led, step by step, to the Holocaust. It started with legal discrimination and ended with mass murder. “The destructive process was a development that was begun with caution and ended without restraint,” Hilberg wrote.

The Palestinians over the past few decades have endured a similar “destructive process.” They have gradually been stripped of basic civil liberties, robbed of assets including much of their land and often their homes, have suffered from mounting restrictions on their physical movements, been blocked from trading and business, especially the selling of produce, and found themselves increasingly impoverished and finally trapped behind walls and security fences erected around Gaza and the West Bank.

“The process of destruction [of the European Jews] unfolded in a definite pattern,” Hilberg wrote. “It did not, however, proceed from a basic plan. No bureaucrat in 1933 could have predicted what kind of measures would be taken in 1938, nor was it possible in 1938 to foretell the configuration of the undertaking in 1942. The destructive process was a step-by-step operation, and the administrator could seldom see more than one step ahead.”

There will never be transports or extermination camps for the Palestinians, but amid increasing violence against Palestinians larger and larger numbers of them will die, in airstrikes, targeted assassinations and other armed attacks. Hunger and misery will expand. Israeli demands for “transfer”—the forced expulsion of Palestinians from occupied territory to neighboring countries—will grow.

The Palestinians in Gaza live in conditions that now replicate those first imposed on Jews by the Nazis in the ghettos set up throughout Eastern Europe. Palestinians cannot enter or leave Gaza. They are chronically short of food—the World Health Organization estimates that more than 50 percent of children in Gaza and the West Bank under 2 years old have iron deficiency anemia and reports that malnutrition and stunting in children under 5 are “not improving” and could actually be worsening. Palestinians often lack clean water. They are crammed into unsanitary hovels. They do not have access to basic medical care. They are stateless and lack passports or travel documents. They live with massive unemployment. They are daily dehumanized in racist diatribes by their occupiers as criminals, terrorists and mortal enemies of the Jewish people.

“A deep and wide moral abyss separates us from our enemies,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said recently of the Palestinians. “They sanctify death while we sanctify life. They sanctify cruelty while we sanctify compassion.”

Ayelet Shaked, a member of the right-wing Jewish Home Party, on her Facebook page June 30 posted an article written 12 years ago by the late Uri Elitzur, a leader in the settler movement and a onetime adviser to Netanyahu, saying the essay is as “relevant today as it was then.” The article said in part: “They [the Palestinians] are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”

The belief that a race or class is contaminated is used by ruling elites to justify quarantining the people of that group. But quarantine is only the first step. The despised group can never be redeemed or cured—Hannah Arendt noted that all racists see such contamination as something that can never be eradicated. The fear of the other is stoked by racist leaders such as Netanyahu to create a permanent instability. This instability is exploited by a corrupt power elite that is also seeking the destruction of democratic civil society for all citizens—the goal of the Israeli government (as well as the goal of a U.S. government intent on stripping its own citizens of rights). Max Blumenthal in his book “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” does a masterful job of capturing and dissecting this frightening devolution within Israel.

The last time Israel mounted a Gaza military assault as severe as the current series of attacks was in 2008, with Operation Cast Lead, which lasted from Dec. 27 of that year to Jan. 18, 2009. That attack saw 1,455 Palestinians killed, including 333 children. Roughly 5,000 more Palestinians were injured. A new major ground incursion, which would be designed to punish the Palestinians with even greater ferocity, would cause a far bigger death toll than Operation Cast Lead did. The cycle of escalating violence, this “destructive process,” as the history of the conflict has illustrated, would continue at an accelerating rate.

The late Yeshayahu Leibowitz, one of Israel’s most brilliant scholars, warned that, followed to its logical conclusion, the occupation of the Palestinians would mean “concentration camps would be erected by the Israeli rulers” and “Israel would not deserve to exist, and it will not be worthwhile to preserve it.” He feared the ascendancy of right-wing, religious Jewish nationalists and warned that “religious nationalism is to religion what National Socialism was to socialism.” Leibowitz laid out what occupation would finally bring for Israel:

The Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police— mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel. The administration would suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.

Israel is currently attacking a population of 1.8 million that has no army, no navy, no air force, no mechanized military units, no command and control and no heavy artillery. Israel pretends that this indiscriminate slaughter is a war. But only the most self-deluded supporter of Israel is fooled. The rockets fired at Israel by Hamas—which is committing a war crime by launching those missiles against the Israeli population—are not remotely comparable to the 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs that have been dropped in large numbers on crowded Palestinian neighborhoods; the forced removal of some 300,000 Palestinians from their homes; the more than 160 reported dead—the U.N. estimates that 77 percent of those killed in Gaza have been civilians; the destruction of the basic infrastructure; the growing food and water shortages; and the massing of military forces for a possible major ground assault.

When all this does not work, when it becomes clear that the Palestinians once again have not become dormant and passive, Israel will take another step, more radical than the last. The “process of destruction” will be stopped only from outside Israel. Israel, captive to the process, is incapable of imposing self-restraint.

A mass movement demanding boycotts, divestment and sanctions is the only hope now for the Palestinian people. Such a movement must work for imposition of an arms embargo on Israel; this is especially important for Americans because weapons systems and attack aircraft provided by the U.S. are being used to carry out the assault. It must press within the United States for a cutoff of the $3.1 billion in military aid that the U.S. gives to Israel each year. It must organize to demand suspension of all free trade and other agreements between the U.S. and Israel. Only when these props are knocked out from under Israel will the Israeli leadership be forced, as was the apartheid regime in South Africa, to halt its “destructive process.” As long as these props remain, the Palestinians are doomed. If we fail to act we are complicit in the slaughter.

Read more

6 Reported Killed, 140 Wounded by Israelis at Gaza Fence

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by The Associated Press.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian health officials say Israeli forces have shot dead six Palestinians, four of them in a single incident, in one of the deadliest days in months of mass protests along the security fence separating Gaza and Israel.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said Friday that four were killed in one location, where the Israeli military said it opened fire on a crowed of Palestinians who breached the fence and approached an army post. No Israeli troops were harmed, the army added.

Two other Palestinians were killed in other protest locations, the ministry said, adding that at least 140 Palestinians were wounded by live bullets.

Since March, Hamas has orchestrated near-weekly protests along the fence.

The Israeli military said 14,000 Palestinians thronged the border fence areas Friday.

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Teenager Among 3 Palestinians Killed in Gaza Protest

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by The Associated Press.

Gaza’s Health Ministry says Israeli forces have shot dead three Palestinians, including a 13-year-old boy, as thousands of people protested along the fence dividing the Gaza Strip and Israel.

The ministry said the boy was struck in the chest, a 24-year-old man was shot in the back and another man, 28, succumbed to his wounds at hospital Friday.

It added that 126 protesters were wounded by live fire.

Responding to calls by Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza, thousands of Palestinians thronged five areas along the fence, burning tires, throwing rocks and chanting slogans against a stifling Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the territory.

The Israeli military said about 20,000 protesters participated. They threw explosive devices and grenades toward the troops which used tear gas and live fire to, it added.

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Palestinian Leader Controls Fate of U.S. Plan in Region

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by JOSEF FEDERMAN / The Associated Press.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been sidelined, isolated and humiliated by the Trump administration. But the embattled Palestinian leader may have the final say in determining the fate of the White House’s long-awaited vision for Mideast peace.

In recent weeks, Abbas has thwarted a series of internationally backed initiatives aimed at rehabilitating the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. With Gaza expected to be the centerpiece of the U.S. peace plan, Abbas has given himself a virtual veto over the expected American initiative. The deadlock over Gaza appears to be a key reason behind the repeated delays in unveiling the plan.

“The U.S. is trying to use the humanitarian situation in Gaza as a tool to implement its plan,” said Mohammed Ishtayeh, a top Palestinian official. “We say that Gaza is an integral part of the Palestinian lands, and solving the problems of Gaza should be in the context of a broad political framework.”

For all of its talk about bringing a new approach to Middle East diplomacy, the Trump White House is running into a familiar obstacle that has confounded its predecessors and the international community for over a decade: the Hamas militant group’s continued control over Gaza.

The American refusal to work with Hamas, which it brands a terrorist group, and its inability to oust it, has made it virtually impossible to move forward on the diplomatic front — a weakness that Abbas now appears to be exploiting.

Abbas has two main concerns. First, he fears that any interim cease-fire deal in Gaza will deepen Hamas’ control over the territory.

Second, after Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his attacks on the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, Abbas fears the U.S. is trying to remove sensitive issues from the negotiating agenda. For him, Gaza is the last obstacle preventing the U.S. from forcing what he sees as an unacceptable plan on him.

“What is left for this administration to give to the Palestinian people? Humanitarian solutions?” Abbas said in an address to the U.N. General Assembly last week.

Hamas, a militant group that opposes Israel’s existence, seized control of Gaza from Abbas’ forces in 2007. Despite three wars with Israel, an Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has devastated the economy and international isolation, Hamas remains firmly in control.

Abbas says there can be no progress on the diplomatic front until he regains control of Gaza. Attempts to reconcile with Hamas have repeatedly failed, leaving the Palestinians divided between rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza.

Abbas seeks an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. The two-state solution has widespread international support.

But since taking office, President Donald Trump’s Mideast team, led by his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, has backed away from the two-state solution. Although the Trump team has refused to reveal details of its plan, the Palestinians fear the U.S. is plotting to impose a “mini state” that would consist of Gaza and only small pieces of the West Bank.

Two senior Palestinian officials confirmed that Abbas has been working behind the scenes to scuttle U.N. and Egyptian attempts to forge a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas or to carry out large infrastructure projects that would bring relief to Gaza’s beleaguered population.

As the officially recognized Palestinian representative, Abbas’ government continues to coordinate the movement of goods through Israeli-controlled crossings into Gaza. This has given him the ability to block large-scale projects, even when approved by Israel.

Israel, which has come under fierce international criticism over Gaza’s dire state, has in recent days seized on Abbas’ moves, perhaps to deflect attention from its own policies.

On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Abbas of “choking” Gaza, warning it could “lead to very difficult consequences.”

The Palestinian officials also said Abbas has relayed messages to the U.S. through his Arab allies, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, that there can be no peace plan that excludes him from Gaza.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing internal Palestinian deliberations, said Abbas fears various plans under consideration will end up entrenching Hamas and freezing him out of Gaza.

Abbas believes there can be no significant progress in Gaza without a reconciliation deal that brings him back to power in the territory. The talks have repeatedly broken down over Hamas’ refusal to disarm.

This week, another set of Egyptian-brokered talks ended inconclusively, according to people close to the talks.

“Until yesterday, we did not reach any result worth mentioning,” said Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas official in Gaza. He accused Abbas of taking “retaliatory” action against the people of Gaza.

Abbas has taken a series of measures against the territory, slashing the salaries of thousands of former government workers in Gaza and cutting fuel subsidies to pay for electricity, all in an effort to step up pressure on Hamas.

These measures, combined with the decade-long blockade, have sent Gaza’s economy into freefall. The increasingly desperate Hamas has stepped up mass protests along the Israeli border in hopes of pressuring Israel to ease the blockade. Nearly 150 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, yet Israel shows no signs of lifting the closure.

In his address to the U.N. General Assembly last week, Abbas threatened to tighten the screws even harder, warning he could not “bear any responsibility” for Gaza if the deadlock with Hamas continues.

At the same time, Israel and international donor nations were meeting on the sidelines of the assembly to discuss ways to improve conditions in Gaza. Those talks, like similar meetings in recent months, ended inconclusively.

Jason Greenblatt, the White House’s Mideast envoy, blamed Hamas for the dire conditions in Gaza and said the U.S. “will not fund a situation that empowers Hamas.”

Yet he also voiced frustration with Abbas, urging other countries to be “direct and frank” in pushing the Palestinian Authority to forge a “new, sustainable path.”

The Gaza conundrum is just the latest obstacle for the U.S. peace plan. The Palestinians cut off ties with the White House after Trump declared Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. Embassy there.

The Trump administration has also cut hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to the Palestinians, including $300 million for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, and shuttered the Palestinians’ diplomatic mission in Washington.

Accusing the U.S. of being unfairly biased toward Israel, Abbas has already said he will not consider the American peace plan.

Greenblatt acknowledged the challenge ahead at the donor meeting. Refusing to say when his plan would be released, he pleaded for all sides to consider the proposal.

“Palestinians and Israelis deserve to read it, think about it, engage on it, and see if we can make it happen,” he said.

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Palestinians Mourn Two Young Children in Gaza

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by By Jake Johnson / Common Dreams.

After Israeli snipers massacred seven Palestinians—including two young children—and injured over 500 during protests against Israel’s brutal occupation on Friday, thousands of Gazans on Saturday attended funerals for those who were killed and demanded justice from the international community.

Among those killed by Israeli forces on Friday were 11-year-old Naser Azmi Musbeh and 14-year-old Mohammed Naif al-Houm.

As Middle East Eye reported: “At least 509 were injured, three of them in serious condition. According to Ashraf al-Qidra, the spokesperson of the health ministry, four paramedics, four journalists, and 90 children were injured by live ammunition.”

(Note: While the following video states Musbeh was 12 years old—the age initially given by the Gaza Health Ministry—Musbeh’s family told the Associated Press that his date of birth was Dec. 29, 2006.)

Friday was reportedly the deadliest day of anti-occupation demonstrations since May, when Israeli forces killed 60 Gazans and injured thousands more.

As Common Dreams reported, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted overwhelmingly in May to dispatch war crimes investigators to probe Israel’s ongoing massacre of innocent Palestinians.

“Israel’s use of deadly force against unarmed protesters on Friday is characteristic of its actions throughout the Great March of Return, during which more than 150 Palestinians have been killed, including 31 children, three persons with disabilities, three paramedics and two journalists,” Maureen Clare Murphy of Electronic Intifada noted on Saturday.

“More than 10,000 have been injured and required hospitalization, around half of them wounded by live fire,” Murphy added. “There have been 77 cases of injuries requiring amputation, among them 14 children and one woman. Twelve patients have been paralyzed due to spinal cord injury and two of them have died.”

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Israeli Troops Kill Seven Gazans at Border

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by FARES AKRAM / The Associated Press.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli troops killed seven Palestinians, two of them children, and wounded dozens more, Palestinian health officials said, in the deadliest day in recent weeks as Gaza’s Hamas rulers stepped up protests along the border fence.

Thousands of Palestinians gathered Friday at five locations along Gaza Strip’s frontier with Israel in response to calls by Hamas, the militant group that has controlled Gaza since seizing it from the Palestinian Authority in 2007.

Two of the dead were children, aged 12 and 14, the Gaza Health Ministry said, adding that all the dead had gunshot wounds. At least 90 other protesters were wounded by live fire, officials said.

Hamas has led weekly protests since March, but accelerated them in recent weeks to near daily events, pressing in large part for an end to a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas’s violent takeover of Gaza in 2007. Hamas ousted forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in an armed coup.

At the fence, protesters burned dozens of tires, using the thick black smoke as a screen to throw rocks and explosives toward Israeli troops stationed on the opposite side of the fence. The soldiers responded with tear gas and gunfire.

The Israeli military said in a statement that in response to “grenades and explosive devices” hurled at troops during the protests, Israeli aircraft carried out two airstrikes on Hamas militant positions in the Gaza Strip. There were no Israeli casualties reported in Friday’s clashes.

Hamas has led and organized the protests, but turnout has also been driven by growing despair over blockade-linked hardship, including lengthy power cuts and soaring unemployment.

Israeli troops have killed at least 143 Palestinians since protests began in late March, and a Palestinian sniper killed an Israeli soldier in August.

Israel argues it’s defending its border and accuses Hamas of using the protests as a screen for attempts to breach the border fence to attack civilians and soldiers. Human rights groups have accused Israeli troops of excessive and unlawful use of force against unarmed protesters.

Hamas and Israel came to the brink of serious conflict this summer as violence escalated along the border. The two sides attempted to reach an agreement through indirect talks mediated by the United Nations and Egypt to ease tensions in exchange for lifting some restrictions on the economically crippled enclave. But those negotiations have stalled in recent weeks.

Earlier this week, a Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, said the movement would escalate its border protests after the talks failed. He accused Abbas, who governs parts of the West Bank, of disrupting the negotiations.

Hamas vowed to continue the marches until the blockade is lifted. It also promised to accelerate protests after Abbas, speaking at the U.N. on Thursday, threatened more measures to force Hamas into surrendering power.

Abbas slashed funding to Gaza and cut salaries of Palestinian Authority employees there to pressure Hamas, making it increasingly difficult for it to govern. Hamas fears Abbas may further reduce funding to health care and other services for Gazans provided by the Palestinian Authority.

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At Gaza Protests, Medical Workers Face Great Danger

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by FARES AKRAM / The Associated Press.

KHUZAA, Gaza Strip—Each Friday, volunteer medic Asmaa Qudih goes through a tense ritual: She prays, kisses her mother’s hand and packs a bag with medical supplies as she heads off to work at the weekly mass protests along Gaza’s border fence with Israel.

Treating the wounded has become dangerous for Gaza’s emergency workers. In the past five months, three medics were killed by Israeli army fire, while dozens more, including Qudih, were hurt by live fire or tear gas canisters.

Qudih, 35, says the weekly routine is terrifying, but that national pride, religious devotion and professional ambition drive her and other medics to risk their lives.

“As long as you go to work in the field, you expect at any time to get injured or killed,” she said on a recent Friday as she prepared to head to the frontier.

Before leaving home, she inspected her red backpack, filled with bandages, sticky tape and the saline spray that soothes the effects of tear gas on the eyes and skin. She hugged her young nieces and nephews, and then solemnly kissed her mother farewell.

“She goes against my will,” said her mother, Fatma, as she showered Qudih with blessings. “But this is her decision.”

In the latest violence, witnesses said volunteer paramedic Shorouq Msameh was shot in the back Friday while standing about 300 meters (yards) from a fence during a protest east of Rafah as demonstrators tried to launch a burning tire toward Israeli territory. Msameh, who was wearing a white coat marking her as a medic, was listed in critical condition at a hospital in nearby Khan Younis.

The plight of Gaza’s medics lies at the heart of a debate over Israel’s use of force in the protests. European and U.N. officials, along with international rights groups, accuse Israel of using excessive force, citing the large numbers of civilian casualties, including medical workers. The U.N. and World Health Organization have both said Israel is obligated to allow medics to work safely.

Israel says it does not intentionally target medics and even tries to protect them but accuses militants of mixing in with the crowds. Last month, Israel said a Palestinian nurse from the group Doctors Without Borders tried to carry out a late-night cross-border shooting attack on Israeli troops. Israel apparently killed the man, but has not revealed details.

Qudih never planned to work at the protests, which are aimed in part at trying to break a blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt to weaken the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas. The marches, led by Hamas but also driven by the desperation of Gaza residents over blockade-linked hardships, typically take place on Fridays along a perimeter fence.

On March 30, the day of the first march, Qudih walked about half an hour from her home in the southern town of Abassan to the nearest protest site to watch.

She saw thousands of Palestinians marching close to the frontier, burning tires and hurling rocks and firebombs in the direction of Israeli soldiers, including snipers behind earthen mounds on the other side of the fence. Soldiers responded with live fire and tear gas.

Fifteen people, mostly young men, were killed that day, and hundreds more were badly wounded. Protesters and medics struggled to evacuate the wounded, in many cases carrying them “improperly and hastily” to ambulances or private cars, she recalled.

Noticing the shortage of paramedics, Qudih volunteered as an emergency responder.

“Seeing the injured in front of me gave me the courage to provide them the needed service,” she said.

The job has proved to be dangerous. In five months of marches, 125 Palestinians have been killed and about 4,500 others have been wounded by gunfire, according to Gaza health officials and rights groups. Palestinian officials say the vast majority were unarmed.

Among the dead have been three paramedics, including Razan Najjar, a 21-year-old woman who also worked as a volunteer with Qudih in the Khuzaa protest camp. All wore white or fluorescent uniforms identifying themselves as medics.

Witnesses said Najjar had just helped treat a protester when she was shot in the chest. Qudih, who did not see it, said word spread quickly among her colleagues.

“We collected ourselves and hurried to the hospital, all the medics,” she said. “There was big pain and shock.”

At least 100 medical workers have been injured by gunshots, shrapnel and direct hits from tear gas canisters, according to al-Mezan, a leading Gaza-based rights group. Rescuers typically walk slowly, their hands raised, when approaching the border to treat the wounded.

“They noticeably target the medical crews recently,” Qudih alleged.

Qudih herself was hit with a tear gas canister dropped from a drone on May 14, the most violent day of the marches, in which about 60 Palestinians were killed. The canister knocked her unconscious and she was briefly hospitalized to have her head stitched up.

After Najjar, a friend and neighbor, was killed, Qudih decided to work at a field hospital, far from the front lines, for three weeks. And if she felt in danger, “we would step back a little or hide ourselves behind a sand hill,” she said.

She once scolded her young nephews when she saw them at a protest. “Later, I felt embarrassed because the place was full of people and I looked as if caring for our children only.”

Her brother Loai initially objected to her going but eventually gave up. “This is who she is,” he said.

On a recent Friday, it didn’t take long for Qudih to see action. Dozens of protesters ventured toward the border fence and set tires ablaze as Israeli forces responded with volleys of tear gas and occasional live fire.

Qudih, wearing a medical coat over her full-body Islamic gown, moved quickly to treat the wounded. She darted to the front lines, sprinkling saline on people lying on the ground until paramedics carried them away. When the acrid smoke cleared, she removed her medical mask and wiped her face with tissues.

Israel accuses Hamas of using the protests as cover to carry out attacks and says it is defending its border from infiltration attempts. One Israeli soldier has been killed by a Gaza sniper.

But Israel has come under heavy criticism because of the large number of unarmed protesters who have been shot. It came under similar criticism during a 2014 war with Hamas in which 11 paramedics were killed and 24 ambulances destroyed, according to al-Mezan.

In a statement, the Israel army denied targeting medical workers but said they operate very close to the fence “and are often mixed between those carrying out attacks and those acting violently.”

It said commanders “repeatedly and emphatically” ordered their troops to avoid harming medical workers. It said troops generally stop their activities when medical personnel near the border, even though this can heighten risks to soldiers by allowing Hamas militants to approach.

“Nevertheless, despite these efforts, unintended harm to medical personnel may have been unavoidable in such volatile, challenging and chaotic situations,” it said, adding that the deaths of medical personnel are being investigated.

Professional medics from the Health Ministry, Civil Defense and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society provide most of the care. But trainees and unpaid volunteers like Qudih have played supporting roles because of the many injured, al-Mezan said.

Being unemployed, Qudih said she hopes health officials will offer her a job. Unemployment in Gaza is close to 50 percent. But she said her main motivation is her “national and religious duty” — and to remember her friend, Razan Najjar.

“We continue our volunteer work here in great part as an honor to Razan,” she said.

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U.S. Ends $300 Million Funding of U.N. Agency for Palestinian Refugees

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by SUSANNAH GEORGE / The Associated Press.

WASHINGTON—The United States is ending its decades of funding for the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees, the State Department announced Friday, a week after slashing bilateral U.S. aid for projects in the West Bank and Gaza.

The U.S. supplies nearly 30 percent of the total budget of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, and had been demanding reforms in the way it is run. The department said in a written statement that the United States “will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation.” The decision cuts nearly $300 million of planned support.

It comes as President Donald Trump and his Middle East pointmen, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, prepare for the rollout of a much-vaunted but as yet unclear peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians, and it could intensify Palestinian suspicions that Washington is using the humanitarian funding as leverage.

The Palestinian leadership has been openly hostile to any proposal from the administration, citing what it says is a pro-Israel bias, notably after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and moved the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv in May. The Palestinian Authority broke off contact with the U.S. after the Jerusalem announcement.

In 2016, the U.S. donated $355 million to the UNRWA, which provides health care, education and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, and it was set to make a similar contribution this year. In January the Trump administration released $60 million in funds but withheld a further $65 million it had been due to provide. The remaining amount — around $290 million — had yet to be allocated.

“When we made a U.S. contribution of $60 million in January, we made it clear that the United States was no longer willing to shoulder the very disproportionate share of the burden of UNRWA’s costs that we had assumed for many years,” the statement said. “Several countries, including Jordan, Egypt, Sweden, Qatar, and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) have shown leadership in addressing this problem, but the overall international response has not been sufficient.”

The statement criticized the “fundamental business model and fiscal practices” of UNRWA, and what the department characterized as the “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries.”

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes during the war that led to Israel’s establishment in 1948. Today, there are an estimated 5 million refugees and their descendants, mostly scattered across the region — a figure that has become a point of contention. Palestinian leaders assert the right of those refugees to return to land now under Israeli control.

Last Friday, the State Department announced the U.S. was cutting more than $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinians, following a review of the funding for projects in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman called that U.S. decision an attempt to force the Palestinians to abandon their claim to Jerusalem.

Speaking before the announcement on UNRWA, its representative in Washington, Elizabeth Campbell, said the withdrawal of U.S. funding would leave the agency facing a financial crisis, but noted that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and others have provided more than $200 million in new funding to help cover its budget this year.

In recent days, senior Trump administration officials publicly expressed dissatisfaction with UNRWA but stopped short of saying the U.S. would defund the agency.

On Tuesday, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, complained that “Palestinians continue to bash America” although it’s the main donor for UNRWA. Speaking at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, Haley also said, “we have to look at right of return” of those classified as Palestinian refugees. She called on Middle East nations to increase aid.

There is deepening international concern over deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the West Bank and Gaza.

The State Department statement said the U.S. will intensify dialogue with the United Nations, host governments and international stakeholders about new models and new approaches to help Palestinians, especially schoolchildren, which may include direct bilateral assistance from the U.S. and others.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

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UN Chief: New Force Could Protect Palestinians

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by EDITH M. LEDERER / The Associated Press.

UNITED NATIONS—Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a new report that options to protect Palestinian civilians under Israeli occupation range from establishing an armed military or police force to deploying civilian observers or beefing up the U.N. presence on the ground.

The U.N. chief stressed in the report circulated Friday evening that every option would require the cooperation of Israelis and Palestinians, “a sustained cessation of hostilities and additional resources.”

But the prospect of getting Israel’s consent, especially for a U.N. or non-U.N. armed force, remains highly unlikely.

Guterres was responding to a request in a Palestinian-backed resolution adopted by the General Assembly in June that blamed Israel for violence in Gaza and deplored its “excessive use of force.” It asked the secretary-general for proposals to protect Palestinian civilians and recommendations “regarding an international protection mechanism.”

In the 14-page report, the secretary-general said the combination of more than 50 years of Israeli military occupation, “constant security threats, weak political institutions and a deadlocked peace process, provides for a protection challenge that is highly complex politically, legally and practically.”

Guterres stressed that the solution to protecting Palestinian civilians is a political settlement to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Until that is achieved, he called on the 193 nations in the General Assembly to explore “all practical and feasible measures that will significantly improve the protection of the Palestinian population,” adding that the measures “would also improve the security of Israeli civilians.”

Guterres focused on four options:

— A MORE ROBUST U.N. PRESENCE ON THE GROUND: He said additional U.N. human rights, political and coordination experts could strengthen U.N. prevention capabilities, increase the organization’s visibility and “demonstrate the international community’s attention and commitment” to protecting Palestinian civilians.

— ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AND BETTER ACCESS TO ENSURE THE WELL BEING OF CIVILIANS: He said expanding current U.N. programs and humanitarian and development assistance could more effectively address Palestinian needs. But he said the U.N. appeal for about $540 million for basic services and support to 1.9 million vulnerable Palestinians is currently only 24.5 percent funded. And he said major cuts in funding to the Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, “have created an increasingly complicated and desperate socio-economic environment.” This was a reference to the U.S. cut of around $300 million in funding for UNRWA earlier this year which has resulted in a $217 million budget shortfall.

— DEDICATED CIVILIAN OBSERVERS: He said establishing a U.N. or non-U.N. civilian observer mission with a mandate to report on the protection of Palestinian civilians and their well-being “would particularly be relevant in sensitive areas such as checkpoints, the Gaza fence, and areas near settlements.” He said the observers could provide local mediation.

— PHYSICAL PROTECTION: He said the U.N. could provide armed military or police forces, if given a mandate by the Security Council, “to deter and, if necessary, ensure the safety of the civilian population.” As an alternative, he said a group of “like-minded” countries operating under a U.N. mandate to provide physical protection rather than a U.N. mission.

Guterres stressed that a U.N. civilian observer mission or a new military or police mission established by the U.N., or operating under a U.N. mandate, would require Security Council approval. He also noted that U.N. missions currently operating in the region don’t provide for the protection of civilians and it would be up to council members to expand mandates to include protection.

Israeli Ambassador Danny Damon responded to the report by saying that “the only protection the Palestinian people need is from their own leadership.”

The Palestinian Authority “incites its people to demonize and attack Jews, and Hamas, a terrorist organization, exploits those under its control by intentionally putting them in harms way,” Danon said.

The Trump administration has been a strong defender of its close ally Israel in the council, and vehemently opposed the resolution approved by the General Assembly in June that called for Guterres’ proposals. So the chances of a U.S. veto in the council on any armed force to protect Palestinian civilians or a civilian observer mission are high.

In the report, Guterres sharply criticized Israel’s expansion of settlements saying the building “continues unabated and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.” He said the high number of Palestinian casualties, including children, since protests began at the Gaza fence on March 30 “reflects an alarming trend of the use of lethal force by Israeli security forces against individuals who may not pose a threat of imminent death or serious injury.”

Guterres also criticized “the indiscriminate launching of rockets, mortars and incendiary devices from Gaza by Hamas and other Palestinian militants towards Israel” and the building of tunnels into Israel, saying these acts threaten the lives of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

He added that “incitement, provocative rhetoric and the glorification of terror attacks by Palestinian factions perpetuate the conflict, breed mistrust and diminish hope for constructive dialogue.”

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