Why Palestine’s Feminists Are Fighting on Two Fronts

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Fadi Abu Shammalah and Jen Marlowe / TomDispatch.

“I am here because I heard my town call me, and ask me to maintain my honor.” Fifty-seven-year-old Um Khalid Abu Mosa spoke in a strong, gravelly voice as she sat on the desert sand, a white tent protecting her from the blazing sun. “The land,” she says with determination, “is honor and dignity.”

She was near the southern Gaza Strip town of Khuza’a, the heavily fortified barrier with Israel in plain sight and well-armed Israeli soldiers just a few hundred meters away. Abu Mosa’s left arm was wrapped in a sling fashioned from a black-and-white-checkered kuffiyeh, or scarf, and a Palestinian flag. Israeli soldiers had shot her in the shoulder with live ammunition on March 30th as she approached the barrier to plant a Palestinian flag in a mound of earth. The bullet is still lodged in her collarbone. Three weeks later, however, she’s back at the Great Return March, a series of protests organized around five encampments stretching along a unilaterally imposed Israeli buffer zone on the 37-mile barrier between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

The Return March, which has just ended, was unique in recent history in Gaza for a number of reasons. Palestinians there are known for engaging in militant resistance against the Israeli occupation and also for the internal political split in their ranks between two dominant factions, Fatah and Hamas. Yet, in these weeks, the March has been characterized by a popular, predominantly nonviolent mobilization during which Gaza’s fractured political parties have demonstrated a surprising degree of unity. And perhaps most noteworthy of all, women activists have played a visibly crucial role in the protests on a scale not seen for decades, possibly indicating what the future may look like when it comes to activism in the Gaza Strip.

The Return March began on March 30th, or Land Day, commemorating the 1976 killings of six Palestinians inside Israel who had been protesting land confiscations. The March was slated to end on May 15th, the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe.” The term is used to refer to the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel and the displacement of approximately 750,000 Palestinians, as well as the depopulation of more than 450 Palestinian towns and villages. Seventy percent of Gaza’s blockaded population is made up of those who fled or were expelled from their lands and villages during the Nakba or their descendants. The vast majority of those participating in the Great Return March, including Abu Mosa, know those native villages only through family lore, yet their yearning to return is visceral.

During the March, 125 Palestinians were killed and a staggering 13,000 wounded. Abu Mosa saw many fellow protesters wounded or killed, especially on May 14th, the day the Trump administration opened its new embassy in Jerusalem when the protests escalated and some participants attempted to break through the barrier.

On that day alone, Israeli forces killed 62 Palestinians and injured 2,700 more. “Don’t ask me if someone close to me has been injured or killed,” Abu Mosa says. “All the protesters are my relatives and friends. We became one family.” After the carnage of May 14th, the grassroots committee organizing the March decided that the protests had to continue. The killings continued as well. On June 1st, a 21-year old woman volunteer paramedic was, for instance, shot in the chest and killed.

For Abu Mosa, a schoolteacher and mother of six, the March centers entirely on her dream of returning to her native town of Beer Sheva. And in its wake, she insists that she will go back, “and on my way, I will plant mint and flowers.”

Much like Abu Mosa, 20-year-old Siwar Alza’anen, an activist in an organization called the Palestinian Students Labor Front, is motivated by a deep desire to return to her native village. She is also marching “to send a message to the international community that we are suffering a lot, we are living under pressure, siege, pain, poverty.”

The Great Return March and the First Intifada

A small Palestinian flag flutters on the edge of Samira Abdelalim’s desk in Rafah, the southernmost town in the Gaza Strip. Forty-four-year-old Abdelalim serves as the director of the women’s department at the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions. Her steely eyes are framed with a simple navy-blue headscarf. Abdelalim hopes the Great March of Return will peacefully achieve the right of return to her people’s villages, self-determination, and the possibility of living “in peace and freedom” — but she’s realistic, too. “I know that the occupation will not end in one day,” she says, “but by cumulative work.”

Iktimal Hamad is on the Supreme National Commission of the Return March, the only woman among the March’s 15 lead organizers. Sitting in her Gaza City office, her light brown hair pulled into a tight bun, she speaks about her own double agenda — to end the Israeli occupation, but also to promote equality for women in Gaza. “Women can play a prominent role in the liberation of Palestine, because they are integral to the Palestinian community,” she tells us.

Abdelalim leads the March’s women’s committee in Rafah, one of five with 15 members for each of the encampments. With her fellow committee members, she organizes the women in the March, arranges logistics such as water and buses, and plans youth empowerment and cultural activities.

Her own activism began during the first Palestinian Intifada (Arabic for “shaking off”) or “uprising” and she insists that the goals and methods are the same in the present set of demonstrations. The First Intifada began in 1987 and was characterized by a highly coordinated, unarmed mass-mobilization against the Israeli occupation. Widespread acts of civil disobedience included strikes, boycotts, the creation of “underground” schools, grassroots projects to develop economic independence from Israel, and mass demonstrations. Women were that uprising’s backbone.

“The masters of the field are the protestors,” Abdelalim says of both then and now. “In the First Intifada, women and men used to stand shoulder to shoulder beside each other, struggling together.”

Abu Mosa, who is typical of many women in Gaza in not having been politically active in more than 25 years, tells us that the Return March brings back her memories of that earlier period. Even the smell of tear gas makes her nostalgic. “I feel this March is the First Intifada.”

Hamad was also a young activist during the First Intifada. Now 51, she remembers how women were “the vanguard” of that uprising. “There was a unified women’s council in 1989 and this council had the responsibility of the streets,” she recalls. Women led demonstrations and sit-ins, distributed leaflets, created neighborhood committees and participated in a unified women’s council. They even worked together in remarkable unity, whatever political faction they belonged to.

Women’s Activism After the First Intifada

The First Intifada ended with the signing of the Oslo Accords, a peace agreement negotiated in secret between the government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Made up only of Palestinians in exile, the PLO negotiation team was all male.

The Oslo Accords led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority and the return of the exiled PLO leaders to the West Bank and Gaza. Many of the grassroots activists who had led the uprising were promptly marginalized in the formation of new leadership structures — and women were excluded altogether.

According to Samira Abdelalim, the trajectory of the struggle, and particularly the role of women, then shifted radically. There was now an armed, institutional Authority governing a traditional, patriarchal society. “The male societies refused to include women in the decision-making units, and denied women’s [engagement] in policies and plans,” she explains. So, rather than confronting the Israeli occupation, Palestinian women began agitating for social, political, legal, and economic rights within Palestinian society. Abdelalim and other women activists organized around the task of creating laws to protect women from honor killings — that is, the murder of a female family member when she is perceived to have brought shame upon the family — and to prevent gender-based male violence.

The Oslo process was supposed to culminate in agreements on a set of thorny “permanent status” issues between Israel and the Palestinians. These issues included Jerusalem, water rights, border delineation, settlements, and refugees. However, trust in the process continued to erode over the years and the “final” status negotiations held in the summer of 2000 collapsed, setting the stage for the Second Intifada, which erupted on September 29th of that year.

Though that uprising initially began with large-scale demonstrations reminiscent of the previous one, it quickly turned toward armed resistance. According to political scientist Marie Principe’s research for the United States Institute for Peace, nonviolent movements create openings for a wide range of people, including women, children, and the old, to get involved in a way that violent campaigns don’t. Due to the armed nature of the Second Intifada, the space for the involvement of women, in particular, began to shrink radically. In this period, according to Abdelalim, women activists refocused their work in the international arena, attempting to expose the violence of the occupation to the world through documentation, media reports, and international conferences.

This sort of activism, however, was predominantly open only to women from a higher socio-economic class — those, in particular, who worked for NGOs, had access to university education, andhad some ability, however restricted, to reach the outside world, whether through travel or the Internet. Many of the women who had been out on the streets during the First Intifada were left without roles to play.

In 2006, Hamas (an Arabic acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement) won the Palestinian legislative elections over the previously dominant Palestinian National Liberation Movement, or Fatah. Some Gaza-based leaders of Fatah then sought to oust Hamas (with U.S. backing), leading to a bloody internecine civil war on the Strip in which Hamas violently gained control in 2007.

The Hamas-Fatah divide became a new focal point for women activists in Gaza. In those years, women generally called for Palestinian unity, remembers Abdelalim, insisting that their enemy should be the Israeli occupation, not a competing Palestinian faction. The official reconciliation negotiation team (which signed multiple unity agreements starting in 2011 that were never implemented) did not include women. Abdelalim and other women activists nonetheless held weekly demonstrations to protest the internal split in Gaza, even drafting a joint statement by women on both sides of the political divide calling for national unity.

Under the Hamas regime, however, the situation of women only continued to deteriorate. “Hamas took us back decades,” says Iktimal Hamad, noting the regime’s desire to impose Islamic Sharia law in place of the Palestinian law in force on the West Bank. “Hamas doesn’t believe in equality between women and men,” she says bluntly.

Palestinian society has indeed grown ever more religiously conservative over the past decades, especially in Gaza. Siwar Alza’anen remains among a small minority of women in that imprisoned strip of land who do not cover their hair. She admits, though, that most women in Gaza have little choice but to adhere to restrictive societal norms in dress and culture. They generally can’t even leave home without the permission of a male relative. Abu Mosa remembers protesting during the First Intifada alongside women with uncovered hair who were wearing short skirts. “Now they ask girls to wear head scarves at the age of 12,” she adds with obvious disapproval, though she herself does cover.

Yet throughout those repressive years, Hamad points out, women continued to play a central role in the Palestinian struggle through family education. Women were the mothers of the martyrs, the wounded, and the prisoners. A woman, as she puts it, remains “half of the community and the community is not complete without her contribution.”

Women Begin to Reclaim Their Activist Roles

Abdelalim and Hamad are hopeful that the current protests indicate a new phase for women’s activism in Gaza and may provide a path to greater gender equality. “What happened in this Great Return March is that women reclaimed their large role in the Palestinian struggle,” Abdelalim says. As Hamad observes, the number of women involved increased each Friday. In fact, according to Abdelalim’s estimate, women made up about 40% of the protesters, a remarkable figure given the history of these last years.

Because the protests are unarmed and popular in nature, men have even supported women’s involvement. Hamad is organizing for the first time not just with men from the national secular movements but from the Islamic movements as well, and she feels respected and appreciated by them.

Still, Abdelalim insists that women have never simply sat around waiting for men’s permission to act. “We’ve always claimed our role in the struggle,” she says.

Abdelalim, Hamad, Alza’anen, and Abu Mosa all spoke with pride about the unity exhibited during the Great Return March. As Hamad put it, “In spite of the internal political split, we succeeded in embodying the unified struggle.”

“No one raises the flag of their political faction,” adds Alza’anen. Instead, the chants for Palestine send a message of unity both to Palestinians and to the world.

Women’s participation in the March boosts their self-confidence, says Abdelalim. “The march broke the wall of silence between the women and [the rest of our] community,” she insists. And she’s convinced that this new sense of power will lead women to struggle to take part in decision-making on a larger scale, while becoming more courageous in demanding their rights. After marching at the border side by side with her father, her husband, her brothers, no young woman will be content to “stay at home waiting for men to give her small benefits.”

All four women hold expansive visions of what they want their national struggle to yield. Abdelalim says that she is “fighting to guarantee the best future” for her children. She wants her people to be free in their homeland. She imagines children playing with joy instead of fear and a future world lacking refugees, hunger, or war-related disabilities. “The future means young men and women singing, dancing, building their homeland,” she muses.

For Abu Mosa, “the future is hope and love for the homeland.” In her dream of the future, she describes an old man, right of return fulfilled, wiping away his tears so many years later. Her vision also has space for non-Palestinians. “I have no problem with Jews. If they visit me, I will host them in my house, and they can live in my country.” But, she adds, she will not tolerate the presence of the Zionists who displaced her family.

Alza’anen hopes the losses sustained during the March will not be in vain. The killings “motivate us to keep walking in the same direction, that our determination and intention will not collapse.”

Hamad is convinced that the liberation of Palestinian women is dependent on the national liberation that the Great Return March embodied. “Women,” she says, “will always be in the front lines of our national struggle.”

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Two Important International Votes Against Israeli Occupation

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Juan Cole / Informed Comment.

In a blow to the Trump administration and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted, by 120 votes in favor, a resolution introduced by Algeria and Turkey condemning Israel for deploying excessive force against Palestinians at rallies near the border of Gaza.

After a thorough investigation, Human Rights Watch concluded that there are credible grounds for charging Israeli officials with war crimes at the International Criminal Court over the tactic of sniping at unarmed civilians who posed no immediate danger to Israeli troops (while over 100 Palestinians were killed and thousands injured by live ammunition since March, no Israeli troops appear to have been so much as injured).

The resolution was backed by 12 European states, including France, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Ireland, Norway, Finland, Portugal, and Greece. 16 European countries abstained, but none voted against the resolution.

 

Although the US and Israeli ambassadors to the UN attempted to deride the vote as mere anti-Semitism, in fact world leaders have been deeply disturbed by the naked Israeli violation of basic international legal norms in Tel Aviv’s response to the Gaza protests. For an Occupying power systematically to shoot down unarmed civilians in an occupied territory for mounting protests that posed no immediate danger to anyone is clearly a war crime under the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Indeed, repeated war crimes may amount to a crime against humanity.

The resolution instructed UN Secretary General António Guterres to institute some sort of protection for Palestinians from this use against them by Israel of indiscriminate and disproportionate force.

The resolution also condemned the firing from Gaza of rockets toward Israel.

The Israeli ambassador castigated the vote as tantamount to terrorism. “Instigation” has become right wing Israeli code for any condemnation of oppression of Palestinians, and is increasingly a thought crime in Israeli itself punishable by prison. Poets and bloggers are in jail for the same “crime” of which the UN General Assembly stands accused.

A similar resolution was supported by the UN Security Council, but the US cast the sole veto.

A US resolution condemning Hamas failed to receive the necessary 2/3s majority to be voted on.

American pro-Israeli propaganda, prominent in the editorial pages of the New York Times, attempts to blame the Palestinian party-militia Hamas for the deaths and injuries of Palestinians at the border rallies. However, Hamas did not set the rules of engagement of the Israeli army or force snipers to shoot unarmed medics, journalists, children, and ordinary protesters. The US press almost never mentions that 70 percent of the families in Gaza are refugees deliberately chased out of their homes in what is now southern Israel, and kept cooped up in the world’s largest outdoor prison.

In another important international vote, the 4 million strong Indian Student Federation has voted to boycott Hewlett Packard computers and other equipment on the grounds that the company is involved in the oppression of Palestinians by the Israeli occupiers. This step seems to me among the more significant victories for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement promoted by Palestinian civil society. BDS is not practiced by the State of Palestine itself.

The Indian student vote points to the significance of the UN General Assembly resolution, inasmuch as it will encourage more such civil society boycotts of Israel, which if they grow large enough could inflict substantial pain on the far right wing Likud government.

 

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Rights Group: Israeli Lethal Force in Gaza May Be War Crime

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by ILAN BEN ZION / The Associated Press.

JERUSALEM — Human Rights Watch said Wednesday that Israel’s use of lethal force against Palestinian demonstrators in the Gaza Strip in recent weeks may constitute war crimes.

The statement was issued Wednesday ahead of an emergency U.N. General Assembly meeting to vote on a resolution condemning Israel’s “excessive use of force.” A similar Security Council resolution was vetoed earlier this month by the United States for being “fundamentally imbalanced” and “grossly one-sided,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said.

Palestinians have held near-weekly protests since March 30, calling for a “right of return” to ancestral homes now in Israel. At least 120 Palestinians have been killed and more than 3,800 wounded by Israeli fire in protests along the border. The overwhelming majority of the dead and wounded have been unarmed, according to Gaza health officials.

The Israeli military has said its soldiers adhere to the rules of engagement to defend Israeli civilians and security infrastructure from attacks cloaked by the protests.

Human Rights Watch contended in its statement that the mostly unarmed protesters didn’t pose an imminent threat to Israeli troops or civilians, and therefore the use of live fire suggests a violation of international law. The organization said eyewitnesses recounted Palestinians were shot from a great distance from the fence, and others who “had not thrown stones or otherwise tried to harm Israeli soldiers” were shot from a closer range.

Israel has been accused of committing war crimes in its three wars in the Gaza Strip in the last decade. Last month the Palestinians urged the International Criminal Court in The Hague to launch an investigation into Israeli policies and actions in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, accusing Israel of systemic crimes.

Israel has called the Palestinian move “legally invalid.” Israel is not a member of the ICC and argues the court does not have jurisdiction.

The ICC has conducted a preliminary investigation since 2015 into alleged crimes in the Palestinian territories, including West Bank settlement construction and war crimes by Israel and Hamas in the 2014 war in Gaza.

Human Rights Watch’s Mideast director called on the international community to “impose real costs for such blatant disregard for Palestinian lives.”

“The U.N. Human Rights Council inquiry should identify and call for sanctions against officials implicated in ongoing serious human rights violations,” Sarah Leah Whitson said.

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Israeli Snipers Kill Palestinian Nurse, Injure 100, at Gaza March of Return

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Juan Cole / Informed Comment.

Ma’an News Agency reports,

    “Israeli forces shot and killed a 21-year-old Palestinian woman paramedic on Friday, as she was treating injured protesters during ongoing demonstrations along the Gaza border with Israel, in the southern Gaza Strip. The Gaza Ministry of Health reported that 21-year-old Razan Ashraf al-Najjar, from the Khan Younis-area town of Khuzaa, was shot in the stomach as Israeli forces deployed near the border fence opened fire on a group of five paramedics, including al-Najjar, as they were aiding injured protesters near the fence. The spokesperson of the ministry, Ashraf al-Qidra, added that more than 100 protesters were injured on Friday, 40 of them with live ammunition, while the others suffered from tear-gas related injuries. Al-Najjar was one of at least two medics who had been killed by Israeli forces since the “Great March of Return” began in Gaza on March 30th. Since then, over 110 more Palestinians have been killed, including journalists and children.”

For the Israeli Army to shoot unarmed Palestinians who posed no danger to anyone simply because they were in a zone declared off limits within Gaza is a war crime. Shooting unarmed civilian nurses is certainly a war crime:

    • “Article 24 of the 1949 Geneva Convention I provides:

Medical personnel exclusively engaged in the search for, or the collection, transport or treatment of the wounded or sick, or in the prevention of disease, staff exclusively engaged in the administration of medical units and establishments … shall be respected and protected in all circumstances.”

The practice has nevertheless been sanctioned by the Israeli Supreme Court, a stark illustration of the Israeli Establishment’s spiral down into a form of Central European fascism and supremacist ethnic nationalism.

The 1949 Geneva Conventions were enacted to prevent the recurrence of common practices of the Nazis in Europe.

While there had been exchange of fire between Israeli fighter jets and some small rockets of the Islamic Jihad organization in Gaza earlier this week, the Friday march involved unarmed civilian activists. No clashes occurred and Ms. al-Najjar was on Gaza soil wearing clothing marking her as a paramedic. Israeli snipers have very good scopes and her death, or the injuries to a hundred other civilians, was unlikely to have been an accident. Israeli snipers have in the past been caught on camera rejoicing over their long-distance shooting of defenseless Palestinians in Gaza.

Update: The Palestinian Medical Relief Society released a statement:

    “Today the Palestinian Medical Relief Society mourns the loss of one of our own. 21-year old volunteer medic Razan Al Najjar was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper yesterday in Gaza as she was attempting to provide first aid to an injured protester. She was shot to the chest, the bullet ripping through the white vest with red emblem and PMRS logo that was marking her as medical personnel. Yesterday, 3 other PMRS first aiders were injured by live bullets: Rami Abu Jazar, Mahmoud Fa’wur and Mahmoud Odeh. In total, Israel has injured 223 paramedics since the end of April, 29 of them with live ammunition.”

Haaretz and Israeli Human Rights groups also reported on these events:

 

The YouTube site preserves an interview conducted with Razan while she was caring for wounded Palestinians.

On Friday before the carnage, Middle East Monitor had reported:

    • “Palestinians on Friday gathered along the Gaza-Israel security fence — for the 10th consecutive Friday — to take part in ongoing rallies against Israel’s decades-long occupation.

Gaza’s National Authority for Breaking the Siege, which is organizing the rallies, dubbed Friday’s demonstration “From Gaza to Haifa: Unity of Blood and Shared Destiny”.

“We also urge Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem — and inside Israel — to rise up against the occupation,” the authority said in a statement.

In Israel’s northern city of Haifa, meanwhile, Palestinian activists said they, too, planned to hold demonstrations in solidarity with their compatriots in blockaded Gaza.

For the first time last Friday, a parallel demonstration was held in Haifa to condemn ongoing Israeli violence against unarmed Gazan demonstrators.

Israeli police forcibly dispersed the Haifa demonstration, arresting 19 protesters — including one whose leg was allegedly broken later while he was in police custody.

“To our people [in Gaza] from the territories occupied by Israel in 1948: let’s act together to defend our legitimate rights,” Palestinian activist Amani Mushtahi declared in a video message broadcast from Haifa.

Activist Ayman Ali, for his part, tweeted: “We must take part in the Gaza-to-Haifa rally for the sake of our martyrs, injured and imprisoned.”

Since 30 March, at least 118 Palestinian demonstrators have been martyred — and thousands more injured — by Israeli army gunfire near the Gaza-Israel security fence.”

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After Latest Gaza Slaughter: Open an Investigation, End the Occupation

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan.

As the United States and Israel celebrated the official opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, May 14, about an hour away the Israeli military was firing on thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians were part of a massive, nonviolent protest movement called the Great March of Return. On that day alone, Israeli forces killed over 60 Palestinians and injured 2,700. Among the injured was a Canadian emergency room doctor, Tarek Loubani, who had gone to Gaza to help injured Palestinians. Since March 30, the Israeli forces have killed over 119 Palestinians and injured over 12,000.

The Israel Defense Forces had sniper posts up and down the Israeli-built fence that keeps close to 2 million Palestinians in a state of virtual imprisonment in Gaza. “We were away from the protest area, 25 meters south of the protesters. It was calm,” Tarek Loubani said on the “Democracy Now!” news hour. “We could see the sniper posts. For sure, they could see us. I was just sort of talking to the medical team. … That’s when, unfortunately, I heard a loud bang, found myself on the ground and realized I had been shot.”

Dr. Loubani described his rescue: “The first rescuer who came to me was a man named Musa, a paramedic, who was excellent and who I’ve trained with and helped train. He sort of came over, was like, ‘Look, Doctor, what have you done to yourself here?’ looked at my leg, cut my pants and started work.” A bullet had passed through both of his legs. Musa asked if the doctor wanted a tourniquet. “I knew that I needed one, but I thought, ‘We only have eight.’ One of them was in my back pocket. I took it out. I threw it to them, and I said, ‘No, use it for somebody else.’ I knew there were many more gunshots to come.”

Dr. Loubani continued: “Musa Abuhassanin was a great guy. I’m talking about him in the past tense because about an hour after he rescued me, he ended up going back to the field on a call, and, unfortunately, he was shot in the chest. There was so much fire around him and so much live ammunition that his colleagues couldn’t get to him and couldn’t treat him.”

Dr. Loubani tweeted a photo captioned: “A haunting photo, Friday, May 11. Left: Mohammed Migdad, shot in the right ankle. Hassan Abusaada. Tarek Loubani, shot in left leg and right knee. Moumin Silmi. Youssef Almamlouk. Musa Abuhassanin, shot in the thorax and killed. Volunteer unknown. Photographer: shot and wounded.”

Loubani said he or any other trauma responder could have saved Musa, but the Israeli sniper fire prevented the well-marked medical personnel from reaching him. Reporting from the same protest, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, “Democracy Now!” correspondent and Puffin Fellow at The Nation Institute, told us: “The sniper bullets don’t come in quick succession. It’s not a barrage of fire. It’s methodical. It’s patient. It’s precise. You hear a shot, and someone falls down. Then his bloodied body is carried away. You wait a few minutes, you hear another shot, and another body falls.”

As far back as 2010, then British Prime Minister David Cameron called Gaza “a sort of open-air prison.” The United Nations has declared Gaza “unlivable.”

People around the globe have expressed outrage at the slaughter, including from inside Israel. Nine prominent Israelis, including Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Knesset, wrote that they were “appalled and horrified by the massive killing of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza. None of the demonstrators posed any direct danger to the state of Israel or to its citizens. The killing of over 50 demonstrators and the thousands more wounded are reminiscent of the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 in South Africa.”

In the midst of the six-week protest, Jerusalem-born, Israeli-American Oscar-winning actor Natalie Portman declined to go to Israel for her $2 million Genesis Prize, saying in a statement: “[T]he mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values. Because I care about Israel, I must stand up against violence, corruption, inequality, and abuse of power.”

At the United Nations, the U.S. blocked a Security Council motion to launch an investigation. President Donald Trump was represented at the U.S. Embassy ceremony by his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who in his speech blamed the violence on the Palestinians.

Lies take lives. An investigation is not enough. The occupation must end, and those responsible for the slaughter must be held accountable.

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55 Dead in Gaza Protests as Israel Fetes U.S. Embassy Move

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

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip—In a jarring contrast, Israeli forces shot and killed at least 55 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,200 during mass protests Monday along the Gaza border, while just a few miles away Israel and the U.S. held a festive inauguration ceremony for the new American Embassy in contested Jerusalem.

It was by far the deadliest day of cross-border violence since a devastating 2014 war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, and further dimmed the already bleak prospects for President Donald Trump’s hoped-for peace plan.

Throughout the day, Gaza protesters set tires ablaze, sending thick plumes of black smoke into the air, and hurled firebombs and stones toward Israeli troops across the border. The Israeli military, which has come under international criticism for using excessive force against unarmed protesters, said Hamas tried to carry out bombing and shooting attacks under the cover of the protests and released video of protesters ripping away parts of the barbed-wire border fence.

Monday’s protests culminated more than a month of weekly demonstrations aimed at breaking a crippling Israeli-Egyptian border blockade. But the U.S. Embassy move, bitterly opposed by the Palestinians, added further fuel.

There was barely any mention of the Gaza violence at Monday’s lavish inauguration ceremony for the new embassy, an upgraded consular building located just 50 miles (80 kilometers) away. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials joined an American delegation of Trump administration officials and Republican and evangelical Christian supporters.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and chief Mideast adviser, headlined the U.S. delegation with his wife and fellow White House adviser, Ivanka Trump, as well as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and four Republican senators. Republican super-donor Sheldon Adelson was also present, and evangelical pastors Robert Jeffress and John Hagee delivered blessings.

“A great day for Israel!” Trump tweeted earlier Monday.

In a videotaped address, Trump said the embassy move, a key campaign promise, recognizes the “plain reality” that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. Yet he added the United States “remains fully committed to facilitating a lasting peace agreement.”

But Monday’s steadily climbing death toll and wall-to-wall condemnation of the embassy move in the Arab world raised new doubts about Trump’s ambitions to broker what he called the “deal of the century.” More than a year after taking office, Trump’s Mideast team has yet to produce a long-promised peace plan.

Trump says recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital acknowledges the reality that Israel’s government is located there as well as the ancient Jewish connection to the city. He insists the decision has no impact on future negotiations on the city’s final borders.

But to both Israel and the Palestinians, the American gesture is widely seen as siding with Israel on the most sensitive issue in their longstanding conflict.

“What a glorious day. Remember this moment. This is history,” Netanyahu told the inauguration ceremony.

“You can only build peace on truth, and the truth is that Jerusalem has been and will always be the capital of the Jewish people, the capital of the Jewish state,” he added.

The Palestinians, who seek east Jerusalem as their capital, have cut off ties with the Trump administration and say the U.S. is unfit to serve as a mediator. Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed the area in a move that is not internationally recognized.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, furious over the embassy ceremony, said he “will not accept” any peace deal proposed by the Trump administration.

The Palestinian president also urged the international community to condemn what he said were “massacres” carried out by Israeli troops in Gaza, and officials said the Palestinians would file a war crimes complaint against Israel in the International Criminal Court over settlement construction.

By nightfall, at least 55 Palestinians, including a young girl and four other minors, were killed, the Gaza Health Ministry said. It said 1,204 Palestinians were wounded by gunfire, including 116 who were in serious or critical condition.

Egypt, an important Israeli ally, condemned the killings of Palestinian protesters, while the U.N. human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, decried the “shocking killing of dozens.”

Turkey said it was recalling its ambassador to the United States over the U.S. Embassy move, saying it “disregarded the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people” and would “not serve peace, security and stability in the region.” It also recalled its ambassador to Israel following what it called a “massacre” of Palestinians on the Gaza border.

South Africa, a fervent supporter of the Palestinians, also recalled its ambassador for consultations, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, called on Israel to respect the “principle of proportionality in the use of force” and show restraint, while also urging Hamas to ensure any protests remain peaceful. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a similar appeal.

At the U.S. Embassy ceremony in Jerusalem, Kushner placed the blame on the Gaza protesters.

“As we have seen from the protests of the last month and even today those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution,” he said.

Israel says the blockade of Gaza, imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas overran the territory in 2007, is needed to prevent Hamas from building up its military capabilities. But it has decimated Gaza’s economy, sending unemployment skyrocketing to over 40 percent and leaving the territory with just a few hours of electricity a day.

The Israeli military estimated a turnout of about 40,000 at Monday’s protest, saying it fell short of what Hamas had hoped for. But officials described what they called “unprecedented violence” unseen in previous weeks.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said hundreds of protesters carried out “concerted, coordinated” attacks on the border fence.

Although the crowd did not manage to break through, he said they caused “significant damage.” The army released video showing demonstrators setting a cargo crossing on fire and appearing to climb on the fence as they lobbed flaming objects into the Israeli side.

Conricus also said Hamas militants disguised as protesters tried to infiltrate, and there were at least three instances of armed Hamas gunmen trying to carry out attacks. Israeli aircraft and tanks struck seven Hamas positions.

Monday marked the biggest showdown in years between Israel’s military and Gaza’s Hamas rulers along the volatile border. The sides have largely observed a cease-fire since the 2014 war — their third in a decade.

Since the protests began on March 30, 105 Palestinians have been killed, most of them protesters. Israel said it killed three militants trying to plant a bomb along the fence, and Palestinian security officials said several Hamas militants were also killed by Israeli shelling in northern Gaza.

Ismail Radwan, a senior Hamas figure, said the mass border protests would continue “until the rights of the Palestinian people are achieved.”

Throughout the day, sirens wailed as the wounded were carried to ambulances. Groups of young activists repeatedly approached the fence, but were quickly scattered by gunfire and tear gas.

The timing of Monday’s events was deeply symbolic to Israel and the Palestinians.

The U.S. said it chose the date to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s establishment.

But Tuesday also marks the anniversary of what Palestinians call their “nakba,” or catastrophe, a reference to the uprooting of hundreds of thousands who fled or were expelled during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation. A day of mourning and mass funerals was planned Tuesday.

A majority of Gaza’s 2 million people are descendants of refugees, and the protests have been billed as the “Great March of Return” to long-lost homes in what is now Israel.

The new embassy will temporarily operate from an upgraded, existing U.S. consulate building, until a decision is made on a permanent location. Even the current location is sensitive, located partially in an area designated “no-man’s land” in a 1949 armistice agreement. The U.N. considers that land to be occupied territory, though the U.S. says in practice the area has been in continuous Israeli use since 1949.

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Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Ilan Ben Zion in Mefalsim, Israel, Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, and Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

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Arms Embargo on Israel Needed as Military Unlawfully Kills and Maims Gaza Protesters

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Amnesty International.

Israel is carrying out a murderous assault against protesting Palestinians, with its armed forces killing and maiming demonstrators who pose no imminent threat to them, Amnesty International revealed Friday, based on its latest research, as the “Great March of Return” protests continued in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military has killed 35 Palestinians and injured more than 5,500 others – some with what appear to be deliberately inflicted life-changing injuries – during the weekly Friday protests that began on 30 March.

Amnesty International has renewed its call on governments worldwide to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel following the country’s disproportionate response to mass demonstrations along the fence that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel.

“For four weeks the world has watched in horror as Israeli snipers and other soldiers, in full-protective gear and behind the fence, have attacked Palestinian protesters with live ammunition and tear gas. Despite wide international condemnation, the Israeli army has not reversed its illegal orders to shoot unarmed protesters,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“The time for symbolic statements of condemnation is now over. The international community must act concretely and stop the delivery of arms and military equipment to Israel. A failure to do so will continue to fuel serious human rights abuses against thousands of men, women and children suffering the consequences of life under Israel’s cruel blockade of Gaza. These people are merely protesting their unbearable conditions and demanding the right to return to their homes and towns in what is now Israel.”

The USA is by far Israel’s main supplier of military equipment and technology, with a commitment to provide $38 billion in military aid over the next 10 years. But other countries, including EU member states such as France, Germany, the UK and Italy, have licensed large volumes of military equipment for Israel.

Protesters shot from behind

In most of the fatal cases analysed by Amnesty International victims were shot in the upper body, including the head and the chest, some from behind. Eyewitness testimonies, video and photographic evidence suggest that many were deliberately killed or injured while posing no immediate threat to the Israeli soldiers.

Among the victims are 23-year-old football player Mohammad Khalil Obeid, who was shot in both knees as he filmed himself with his back towards the border fence at a protest east of al-Breij Camp on 30 March.

The video, published on social media, shows the moment he was shot. In the footage, he appears to be standing in an isolated area, far from the fence, and not seeming to pose any threat to the lives of Israeli soldiers. He is currently in need of a knee replacement operation to be able to walk again.

“As a Palestinian player my life has been destroyed… I was dreaming of playing football abroad, and to raise the Palestinian flag abroad [to show] that we are not terrorists,” he told Amnesty International.

“We wanted to convey our message to all organizations, countries and heads of states so that they see what is happening to us, because no one would accept this anywhere in the world.”

Injuries not seen since the war

Doctors at the European and Shifa hospitals in Gaza City told Amnesty International that many of the serious injuries they have witnessed are to the lower limbs, including the knees, which are typical of war wounds that they have not observed since the 2014 Gaza conflict.

Many have suffered extreme bone and tissue damage, as well as large exit wounds measuring between 10 and 15mm, and will likely face further complications, infections and some form of physical disability, such as paralysis or amputation. Reports of the high number of injuries to the knees, which increase the probability of bullet fragmentation, are particularly disturbing. If true, they would suggest that the Israeli army is intentionally intending to inflict life-changing injuries.

Doctors also said that they have observed another type of devastating injury characterized by large internal cavities, plastic left inside the body but no exit wounds.

According to military experts as well as a forensic pathologist who reviewed photographs of injuries obtained by Amnesty International, many of the wounds observed by doctors in Gaza are consistent with those caused by high-velocity Israeli-manufactured Tavor rifles using 5.56mm military ammunition. Other wounds bear the hallmarks of US-manufactured M24 Remington sniper rifles shooting 7.62mm hunting ammunition, which expand and mushroom inside the body.

According to a recent statement by Médecins Sans Frontières, half of the over 500 patients admitted to its clinics were treated for injuries “where the bullet has literally destroyed tissue after having pulverized the bone”. This information has been confirmed by humanitarian NGOs as well as testimonies collected from doctors by Palestinian human rights groups in Gaza.

“The nature of these injuries shows that Israeli soldiers are using high-velocity military weapons designed to cause maximum harm to Palestinian protesters that do not pose imminent threat to them. These apparently deliberate attempts to kill and main are deeply disturbing, not to mention completely illegal. Some of these cases appear to amount to wilful killing, a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and a war crime,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.

“Unless Israel ensures effective and independent investigations resulting in criminal prosecutions of those responsible, the International Criminal Court must open a formal investigation into these killings and serious injuries as possible war crimes and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.”

According to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, as of 26 April, the total number of injured is estimated at 5,511 – 592 children, 192 women and 4,727 men – with 1,738 injuries from live ammunition. Approximately half of those admitted to hospitals suffered injuries to the legs and the knees, while 225 sustained injuries to the neck and head, 142 others were shot in the abdomen and pelvis, and 115 were injured in the chest and the back. So far, the injuries have resulted in 18 amputations.

Four children aged between 14 and 17 are among those killed due to injuries sustained during protests. Two journalists have also been shot dead, despite both wearing protective vests that clearly identified them as members of the press, while several others have been injured.

Gaza’s hospitals have struggled to cope with the large number of casualties due to shortages in medical supplies, electricity and fuel caused by the Israeli blockade and exacerbated by the intra-Palestinian divide. Meanwhile, Israel has been delaying or refusing the transfer of some patients in need of urgent specialized medical treatment available in other parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories due to their participation in protests.

In one case documented by Amnesty International, 20-year-old journalist Yousef al-Kronz had his left leg amputated after the Israeli authorities denied him permission to travel to Ramallah in the occupied West Bank for urgent medical treatment. He was eventually allowed to leave for an operation to save his other leg following legal intervention by human rights groups.

Paramedics in Gaza have told Amnesty International of difficulties evacuating injured protesters due to the Israeli army firing tear gas canisters at them as well as near field hospitals.

Unlawful killings and life-changing injuries

The organizers of the “Great March of Return” have repeatedly stated that the protests are intended to be peaceful, and they have largely involved sit-ins, concerts, sports games, speeches and other peaceful activities.

Despite this, the Israeli army reinforced its forces – deploying tanks, military vehicles, soldiers and snipers along the Gaza fence – and gave orders to shoot anyone within several hundred metres of the fence.

While some protesters have attempted to approach the fence, threw stones in the direction of Israeli soldiers or burnt tyres, social media videos, as well as eyewitness testimonies gathered by Amnesty International, Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups, show that Israeli soldiers shot unarmed protesters, bystanders, journalists and medical staff approximately 150-400m from the fence, where they did not pose any threat.

In a petition requesting that the Israeli Supreme Court order the Israeli army to stop using live ammunition to disperse protests, human rights groups Adalah and Al Mezan provided evidence of 12 videos published on social media showing unarmed protesters, including women and children, being shot by the Israeli army. In some cases, people were shot while waving the Palestinian flag or running away from the fence.

Video footage widely circulated on social media shows Abd Al-Fattah Abd Al-Nabi, aged 19, being shot on 30 March as he was running away from the fence while holding a tyre, with his back turned to Israeli soldiers. He was shot in the back of the head and died. On Friday 20  April, 14-year-old Mohammad Ayyoub was also killed by a gunshot wound to the back of the head.

Background

Over the last 11 years, civilians in the Gaza Strip have suffered the devastating consequences of Israel’s illegal blockade in addition to three wars. As a result, Gaza’s economy has sharply declined, leaving its population almost entirely dependent on international aid. Gaza now has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world at 44%. Four years since the 2014 conflict, some 22,000 people remain displaced.

In January 2015, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court opened a preliminary examination of situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, specifically looking into allegations of crimes committed since 13 June 2014.

Amnesty International has also been calling on all states to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, as well as on Palestinian armed groups, with the aim of preventing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by all sides.

Since 30 March, in addition to the protesters, seven other Palestinians have been killed by Israeli air strikes, artillery fire or live ammunition, including a farmer who was harvesting his land near the fence, and six members of Palestinian armed groups.

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Calls for Stripping Natalie Portman of Israel Citizenship for Criticizing Shooting Palestinian Protesters

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Juan Cole / Informed Comment.

“Annihilation” star Natalie Portman replied to the controversy stirred by her declining to attend the Genesis Foundation awards ceremony in Jerusalem in June because of her distress at “recent events” (the shooting down of unarmed protesters in Gaza by Israeli snipers at the order of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu).

She wrote at Instagram:

“Let me speak for myself. I chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony. Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation. I treasure my Israeli friends and family, Israeli food, books, art, cinema, and dance.’”

She added “But the mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values.”

She appears to be characterizing the Likud Party’s punitive treatment of the Palestinian civilian population of Gaza, which the Israelis have blockaded since 2007, as an ongoing atrocity and to be characterizing the assassination by Israeli marksmen of the protesters as mistreatment.

Natalie Portman Says to Skip Israeli Ceremony Due to Netanyahu Speech

Prominent Likud Party member of the Israeli parliament Oren Hazan, a former casino manager in Bulgaria, said,

“[She is] a Jewish Israeli, who on the one hand cynically uses her birthplace to advance her career and on the other is proud of the fact that she managed to avoid enlisting in the IDF [euphemism for the Israeli Army]. She’s an actress, but she is unworthy of any honor in the State of Israel . . . Sweetness can come from strength: I call on Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) to rescind Portman’s Israeli citizenship. She left Israel at age four, and has no real connection to the State.”

Hazan denies that there are any Palestinians, and is notorious for harassing families of Palestinians going to see imprisoned relatives (some Palestinians have been imprisoned for writing poetry or for Facebook posts, while several hundred children are being held for acts of protest against the Israeli military). He told one bus full of relatives, that the garbage they called loved ones would never see the light of day:

TRT World: “Israeli politician harasses Palestinians

Political scientist Ian Lustick has estimated that there are as many as one million Israeli Jews living outside Israel, out of the alleged 6 million Israeli Jews (and 2 million Palestinian-Israelis). It is possible that they or significant numbers of them are being counted in the Israeli official statistics so as to make the Jewish population look larger than it is on the ground. Perhaps MK Hazan should strip them all of citizenship?

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Gaza Flare-Up Driven by Deep Misery in Strip

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

ALONG THE ISRAEL-GAZA BORDER — The flareup of deadly violence in Gaza is of a new kind, even in the inventive annals of Mideast conflicts: Israeli soldiers shooting at Palestinian demonstrators burning tires and hurling firebombs across what looks like an international border, inflicting casualties while claiming concerns of a mass breach of the barrier.

But viewed another way, it’s just the latest reflection of basic facts on the ground: the situation for the 2 million people of Gaza is extraordinarily harsh and difficult to resolve. It’s not surprising so many would risk death by converging on the border fence, which has now happened three Fridays in a row, with dozens killed and hundreds injured.

By and large the people of Gaza — over two-thirds of them descended from refugees from what is now Israel — cannot leave their tiny strip of arid land along the Mediterranean coast. Anger toward Israel runs deep, yet dependence is great.

Israel blocks Gazans to the north and east, controlling who and what goes in and out. It blockades their waters to the west and prevents construction of sea and airports, with Egypt completing the blockade to the south.

Israel’s argument is that Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, will use materials that come into the strip for building rockets, making bombs and digging attack tunnels. The fear is well-founded.

Israel also severely restricts Gazans leaving the territory in a policy it defends on security grounds, but which often looks punitive. Every exit, even to cross Israel en route to Jordan and beyond for medical, academic, professional or personal purposes, requires the approval of Israel — or Egypt, where the anti-Islamist government also deeply distrusts Hamas.

Israel and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, expelled by Hamas from Gaza in 2007, largely control power supplies. There are just a few hours of electricity a day.

Hamas remains committed to conflict with Israel, and attempts to pressure the population against Hamas are questionable. Gazans simply don’t have the means to overthrow the well-armed group, even if they so wanted.

Meanwhile, half the strip’s workforce is unemployed. Much of the vast destruction from the last war with Israel, in 2014, still has not been rebuilt. Public entertainment is almost nonexistent and alcohol, in the name of Islam, is banned.

Adding insult to injury, the Palestinians do not have a currency. The few bills of cash in Gazan pockets are Israeli shekels emblazoned with the likenesses of Jewish religious and Zionist political figures.

Hamas says the border protests will continue through May 15, the anniversary of Israel’s founding and the “nabka” (catastrophe) for the Palestinians — a day of mourning to mark the mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of people who fled or were expelled from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s creation. It has signaled it may attempt a mass border breach, just as Israel fears. With Israel digging in its heels, and only muted debate in Israel over the high casualty count, bloodshed is likely to continue.

Here’s a look at how the players in this tragic scenario have reached this point:

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HAMAS

Hamas rose to global prominence with 1990s suicide bombings aimed at scuttling the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and during the second Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s, killing hundreds of Israelis. It built up a formidable arsenal of rockets and other weapons. Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, removing all troops and settlers after a 38-year presence, cleared the way for Hamas to violently seize control of Gaza in 2007 from its rival, the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, a year after winning elections.

Israel, which along with its Western allies considers Hamas a terrorist group, blockaded the territory along with Egypt, battering the meager economy. Jobs are hard to come by, Gaza’s beaches are polluted by untreated sewage and tap water is undrinkable. Hamas, meanwhile, stifles dissent, bans public gatherings and promotes its conservative Islamic values.

Hamas also has fought three wars with Israel, sparked in part by sustained rocket fire on Israel. Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the international community have called on Hamas to disarm. But the group, founded in the late 1980s as a branch of the regionwide Muslim Brotherhood, has held on to its violent ideology, even as conditions deteriorate.

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ISRAEL

Israel claims some humanitarian credit for keeping border crossings open, allowing food, consumer goods and some construction materials to flow into the territory and some Gazans to leave. But sweeping export restrictions cripple the economy, and getting a travel permit is extremely difficult. Applicants are often called in for interrogations by Israel’s Shin Bet security agency. Many are rejected on vague security grounds without explanation.

Israel says it does its best to ease the blockade given the security challenges. It accuses Hamas of trying to exploit and recruit civilians — a charge Hamas reciprocates against Israel.

During the three wars over the past decade, Israel inflicted heavy damage on Hamas, but also came under intense international criticism for the high civilian death toll and vast damage to Gaza’s infrastructure. Toppling Hamas seems unlikely and the prospect of another war, with its uncertain results, has little appeal to Israel — as does renewed full occupation.

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EGYPT

For years, Egypt played a double game with Gaza, restricting travel through its borders while tolerating a thriving cross-border smuggling industry. This allowed Hamas to sneak in weapons and consumer goods, enriching supporters who operated the tunnels and undermining the Israeli blockade.

Since taking power in 2014, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has taken a tougher line. He cracked down on the smuggling and largely shuttered Gaza’s border crossing with Egypt, traditionally the main exit point for Gazans traveling abroad. Last year, the border was open for just over 30 days.

Egypt has defended its actions on security grounds, noting it’s fighting an Islamic insurgency in Sinai, along Gaza’s border. At times, it has accused Hamas of aiding militants in Egypt.

But el-Sissi’s tough policies and close security relations with Israel have hurt his credibility as a broker between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Repeated reconciliation attempts, sponsored by Egypt, have failed.

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PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY

For years, President Mahmoud Abbas, based in the West Bank, tried to retain influence in Gaza by paying salaries to tens of thousands of former civil servants and funding fuel shipments from Israel to generate Gaza’s electricity. The unintended result: Abbas provided a safety net that helped keep Hamas in power.

A frustrated Abbas has taken a tougher line over the past year, scaling back electricity subsidies, reducing salaries of his former employees and now threatening to cut them off altogether.

These tough measures have added to the hardship in Gaza but had little effect on Hamas. A renewed attempt at reconciliation has deadlocked over Hamas’ refusal to disarm, collapsing last month after a bombing on the convoy of Abbas’ prime minister during a stop in Gaza.

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WORLD COMMUNITY

Much of the international donor community has boycotted Hamas, branded as a terrorist group. But it has also poured hundreds of millions of dollars of humanitarian aid into Gaza, at times at Israel’s request, in effect propping up Hamas. With little to show for their efforts, weary donors have scaled back their contributions in recent years and given a lukewarm response to Israel’s latest appeal to send more aid.

The U.S. has also cut some $300 million in money for UNWRA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Over half of Gaza’s people rely on UNRWA for assistance. The agency is now scrambling to try to make up the funding gap, raising the danger of a new humanitarian crisis.

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Federman, the AP’s bureau chief for Israel and the Palestinian territories, has covered the region since 2003. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/joseffederman. Perry, who reported from Cairo, is the AP’s Middle East editor and has covered the region since the 1990s. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/perry_dan.

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Gaza’s Hospitals Taxed by Wounded From Israeli Fire

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

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Raed Jadallah belonged to an exclusive club — a small band of surfers who escaped the claustrophobia of blockaded Gaza by riding the waves of the Mediterranean. Now he’s immobile, a metal fixation device clamped to his left leg after an Israeli bullet fractured his femur in two places.

The 25-year-old plasterer from a seaside refugee camp said he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to walk again, let alone surf.

“Sea and surfing are everything to me,” he said on Wednesday, a day after being discharged from the hospital, his lower body covered by a blanket as he rested on a sofa at his home.

Jadallah is among 1,297 Palestinians shot and wounded by Israeli soldiers, including snipers, during the past two weeks of mass protests on the Gaza-Israel border, according to a computerized count by the Gaza Health Ministry. An additional 1,554 Gaza residents have been treated for tear gas inhalation or injuries by rubber-coated steel pellets.

In addition, 33 Palestinians have been killed during this period, including 26 in border demonstrations. The latest casualties came on Thursday, when Israel said it bombed Hamas militant targets in the Gaza Strip, killing one Palestinian and wounding another.

The Israeli military has disputed the Gaza count of wounded, saying that at most dozens were struck by Israeli fire. But it has not offered supporting evidence and did not respond to requests for comment.

The casualty figures are at the heart of an intensifying debate over the military’s open-fire orders, branded as unlawful by rights groups because soldiers are permitted to use potentially lethal force against unarmed Palestinians approaching the border fence. Israel has accused Gaza’s Hamas rulers of using the protests as a cover for carrying out attacks, including a possible mass breach of the border fence, and says it has a right to defend its sovereign border. It says its sharpshooters have been careful, aiming only at “instigators” involved in attempted attacks.

The protests have been organized by Hamas, but have also been fueled by widespread despair among the territory’s 2 million people. Gaza has endured more than a decade of border closures, imposed by Israel and Egypt after the Islamic militant group seized the territory in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian parliament elections.

More bloodshed on the border is likely, with organizers calling for protests to continue until mid-May and Israel saying it won’t change its rules of engagement.

Already, the recent surge of patients with gunshot wounds has severely taxed Gaza’s clinics and hospitals.

Gaza’s health system has been buckling under years of shortages of essential medicines and equipment caused by the blockade and Hamas’ power struggle with the rival Palestinian Authority, doctors say. The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority accuses Hamas of selling medicines it sends, while Hamas accuses it of delaying medicine shipments.

The violence comes at a time when 40 percent of basic medicines are no longer in stock in Gaza hospitals, according to the World Health Organization. Equipment is also in short supply. At Gaza’s main hospital, Shifa, half of 200 available fixators had been used up for bones broken by bullets, officials said.

Doctors carefully manage scarce resources, said Ayman Sahbani, the spokesman and emergency room director at the Shifa Hospital. Those with relatively simple soft-tissue gunshot wounds are treated and sent home the same day to make room for the most serious cases and new arrivals, he said.

Earlier this week, 64 patients with complications from gunshot wounds — mainly sustained in large protests on two consecutive Fridays — were still hospitalized, filling up orthopedic and surgery wards.

A majority suffered either open, compound or multiple fractures, or damage to blood vessels, said Sahbani, adding that there is concern about permanent disability in some cases.

“A noticeable number of the gunshot injuries comprise an exit point larger than the entry point, suggesting explosive bullets,” he added.

The European Hospital in southern Gaza received 100 people with gunshot wounds last Friday, including 78 who remained hospitalized this week, said spokesman Yehiyeh Nawajha. Among the wounded are four women, he said.

Jadallah, the surfer, was among those shot last Friday. He said he had been throwing stones about 15 meters (yards) from the fence and was just leaving when he was shot.

He said he had been drawn to the protests by the organizers’ slogan of a “Great March of Return” to destroyed Palestinian communities in what is now Israel. Hamas leaders have sent mixed signals about a possible border breach, which Israel says it will prevent at all costs.

Two-thirds of Gaza residents, including Jadallah, are descendants of Palestinian refugees who fled or were forced from their homes in the 1948 war over Israel’s creation.

“We want to return to our land,” Jadallah said.

At Shifa, 17-year-old Mohannad Hamouda was in agony from a gunshot wound to the back.

He was hit March 30 while running from tear gas and gunfire toward protesters who had approached the fence. With his parents at his bedside, he would not say whether he was throwing rocks or had gotten close to the frontier.

Hamouda had joined the protests over the objections of his parents. “I was bored, life is grinding here,” he said.

Doctors said they were concerned about bullet fragments near his spine and feared surgery to remove them could cause permanent paralysis.

The Gaza Health Ministry runs a data collection system known as “e-hospital.”

Detailed injury reports are entered from field hospitals, clinics and Gaza’s main hospitals, with patients identified by name, ID number and type of injury. The system eventually detects and removes any duplicates that might occur if a patient is transferred from one hospital to another, said ministry official Hani al-Wehidi.

For example, 82 people were initially admitted to a north Gaza hospital, but four names were later removed to avoid double counting, he said.

He said the count is transparent and reliable. “Anyone can come and see our work,” he said.

The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, has sent more supplies to Gaza hospitals, including 27 essential drugs and medical supplies, including saline and glucose, critical for treating serious injuries.

An Israeli group, Physicians for Human Rights Israel, is sending eight Arab doctors from Israel to Gaza in anticipation of more injuries on Friday. It also will deliver insulin syringes collected by Israeli volunteers in a Facebook campaign.

The group called the Palestinian health care system “one of the major victims” of Israel’s blockade.

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