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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NYT Carries IDF Attack on Murdered Gaza Medic–Reveals It’s a Smear in 20th Paragraph

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Adam Johnson / FAIR.

NYT: Israeli Video Portrays Medic Killed in Gaza as Tool of Hamas

Journalism how-not-to: New York Times (6/7/18) puts the attack in the headline, reveals it’s a smear in paragraph 20.

A reporter at the most influential paper in English-language media appears to not know the difference between a government “tightly editing” and selectively editing video. New York Times reporter Herbert Buchsbaum (6/7/18) wrote up a propaganda video posted by the Israeli Defense Force, showing Rouzan al-Najjar–a 21-year-old medic the Israeli Defense Force shot and killed earlier this month—apparently throwing a tear-gas canister, along with a brief clip of her purportedly saying, “I am here on the front line and I act as a human shield.”

The video seems to suggest that throwing a device spewing caustic gas away from people into an empty field is a sort of violence. (“This medic was incited by Hamas,” the video reads as she grabs the canister.) But the primary problem with the IDF video is that it deceptively edits her comments to distort what she said—a fact not noted by the Buchsbaum until paragraph 20, when he threw in this crucial piece of information:

In the longer video, the comment that the military translated as “I act as a human shield” was part of a sentence in which Ms. Najjar said, “I’m acting as a human rescue shield to protect the injured inside the armistice line.”

“Acting as a human shield to protect the injured inside the armistice line” has a radically different meaning than the commonly understood canard about Palestinians using “human shields” to protect “terrorists.” This hugely consequential fact should have led the story; instead, it’s casually tossed out in the third-to-last paragraph. The story here is that the IDF—as it has been doing for decades—casually lies and distorts facts to suit its narrative. Like all militaries, the Israeli military is not presenting a “dueling narrative” in good faith, as a New York Times tweet suggested; it’s manipulating video, hoping credulous journalists help them muddy the waters, as Buchsbaum did.

Indeed, the bizarre IDF press release write-up serves no other purpose than to reframe the gunning down of the unarmed medic from a clear crime committed by Israel to a Fog of War “dueling narratives between Israel and Hamas” tale of “both sidesism.” Buchsbaum vaguely alludes to—but strangely omits—the deceptive editing in the opening with his risible turn of phrase in paragraph two:

The tightly edited video shows a woman identified as the medic, Rouzan al-Najjar, throwing what appears to be a tear-gas canister.

“Tightly edited”? What does this mean, exactly? “Tight” editing is generally considered a compliment in the film and TV world, and says nothing about deliberate omissions for the purposes of misleading the viewer. When videographer Tate B. James confronted Buchsbaum about this fact, Buchsbaum appeared to think he had covered his bases:

 

Either Buchsbaum doesn’t know he’s being misleading, and is thus severely unqualified to be writing for a major paper, or he knows he’s spinning in Israel’s favor, but was hoping no one would really notice. Either way, the New York Times is once again (FAIR.org, 7/14/175/17/185/15/18) using its pages to confuse readers to the benefit of the Israeli military.

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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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Blaming the Victims of Israel’s Gaza Massacre

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Gregory Shupak / FAIR.

Israel massacred 60 Palestinians on Monday, including seven children, bringing to 101 the total number of Palestinians Israel has killed since Palestinians began the Great March on March 30. In that period, Israel has killed 11 Palestinian children, two journalists, one person on crutches and three persons with disabilities.

Monday’s casualties included 1,861 wounded, bringing total injuries inflicted by Israel to 6,938 people, including 3,615 with live fire. Israel is using bullets designed to expand inside the body, causing maximum, often permanent damage: “The injuries sustained by patients will leave most with serious, long-term physical disabilities,” says Médecins Sans Frontières.

On the 70th anniversary of Israel’s so-called “declaration of independence,” the United States opened its new embassy in Jerusalem—a city Israel claims as its own, despite what international law says on the matter—and Palestinians undertook unarmed protests in reaction to the move and as part of the Great Return March. Although to this point, the only Israeli casualty during the entire cycle of demonstrations has been one “lightly wounded” soldier, considerable space in coverage of the massacres is devoted to blaming Palestinians for their own slaughter.

Two of the first three paragraphs in an NBC report provided Israel’s rationalizations for its killing spree. The second sentence in the article says that the Israeli military:

accused Hamas of “leading a terrorist operation under the cover of masses of people,” adding that “firebombs and explosive devices” as well as rocks were being thrown towards the barrier.

Washington Post article devoted two of its first four sentences to telling readers that Palestinians are responsible for being murdered by Israel. Palestinian “organizers urged demonstrators to burst through the fence, telling them Israeli soldiers were fleeing their positions, even as they were reinforcing them,” read one sentence. “At the barrier, young men threw stones and tried to launch kites carrying flames in hopes of burning crops on the other side,” stated the next one, as though stones and burning kites released by a besieged people is violence remotely equivalent to subjecting people to a military siege and mowing them down.

The New York Times article said that “a mass attempt by Palestinians to cross the border fence separating Israel from Gaza turned violent, as Israeli soldiers responded with rifle fire,” painting Israel’s rampage as a reaction to a Palestinian provocation. Like FAIR has previously said of the word “retaliation,” “response” functions as a justification of Israeli butchery: To characterize Israeli violence as a “response” is to wrongly imply that Palestinian actions warranted Israel unleashing its firing squads.

Yahoo headline described “Violent Protests in Gaza Ahead of US Embassy Inauguration in Jerusalem,” a flatly incorrect description in that it attributes the violence to Palestinian demonstrators rather than to Israel. The BBC did the same with a segment called “Gaza Braced for Further Violent Protests.”

One Bloomberg article by Saud Abu Ramadan and Amy Teibel had the same problem, referring to “a protest marred by violence,” while another one attributed only to Ramadan is headlined “Hamas Targets Fence as Gaza Bloodshed Clouds Embassy Move,” as though the fence were Monday’s most tragic casualty. Ascribing this phantom violence to Palestinians provides Israel an alibi: Many readers will likely conclude that Israel’s lethal violence is reasonable if it is cast as a way of coping with “violent protests.”

The second paragraph of the Bloomberg article solely written by Ramadan says that:

Gaza protesters, egged on by loudspeakers and transported in buses, streamed to the border, where some threw rocks, burned tires, and flew kites and balloons outfitted with firebombs into Israeli territory.

This author—like the rest in the “Palestinians were asking for it” chorus—failed to note that Israel’s fence runs deep into Palestinian territory and creates a 300-meter “buffer zone” between Palestinians and Israeli forces, which makes it highly unlikely that the kites and balloons of the colonized will have an effect on their drone-operating, rifle-wielding colonizers, let alone on people further afield in Israeli-held territory.

The New York Times editorial board wrote as though Palestinians are barbarians against whom Israel has no choice but to unleash terror:

Led too long by men who were corrupt or violent or both, the Palestinians have failed and failed again to make their own best efforts toward peace. Even now, Gazans are undermining their own cause by resorting to violence, rather than keeping their protests strictly peaceful.

The board claimed that “Israel has every right to defend its borders, including the boundary with Gaza,” incorrectly suggesting that Palestinians were aggressors rather than on the receiving end of 100 years of settler-colonialism.

Moreover, like the Times and Bloomberg articles discussed above, the editorial attempts to legitimize Israel’s deadly violence by saying that it is defending a border that Palestinians are attempting to breach, but there is no border between Gaza and Israel. There is, as Maureen Murphy of Electronic Intifada pointed out, “an armistice line between an occupying power and the population living under its military rule” that Palestinians are trying to cross in order to exercise their right to return to their land.

Washington Post editorial called the Palestinians hunted by Israel “nominal civilians.” Apart from being a logical impossibility (one either is or isn’t a civilian), the phrase illuminates how too much of media think about Palestinians:  They are inherently threatening, intrinsically killable, always suspect, never innocent, permanently guilty of existing.

Business Insider piece by columnist Daniella Greenbaum described “Palestinian protesters who ramped up their activities along the Gaza strip and, as a result, were targeted by the Israeli army with increasing intensity.” Greenbaum’s use of the phrase “as a result” implies that it was inevitable and perhaps just that Palestinians’ “ramped up activities” led to Israel mowing down a population it occupies, 70 percent of whom are refugees Israel refuses to allow to return to their homes.

Greenbaum then climbs into the intellectual and moral gutter, claiming that:

absent from the commentary that children have unfortunately been among the injured and dead are questions about how they ended up at the border. On that question, it is important to recognize and acknowledge the extent to which Palestinians have glorified violence and martyrdom — and the extent to which the terrorist organization Hamas has organized the “protests.”

In her view, dozens of Palestinians died because they are primitive savages who take pleasure in sacrificing their own children, not because Israel maintains the right to gun down refugees in the name of maintaining an ethnostate.

In a rare instance of a resident of Gaza allowed to participate directly in the media conversation, Fadi Abu Shammalah wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that offered an explanation of why Palestinians are putting their lives on the line to march. Life for the people of Gaza, including for his three young sons, has been “one tragedy after another: waves of mass displacement, life in squalid refugee camps, a captured economy, restricted access to fishing waters, a strangling siege and three wars in the past nine years. ” Recalling the concern for his safety expressed by his seven-year-old child, Shammalah concludes:

If Ali asks me why I’m returning to the Great Return March despite the danger, I will tell him this: I love my life. But more than that, I love you, Karam and Adam. If risking my life means you and your brothers will have a chance to thrive, to have a future with dignity, to live in peace with all your neighbors, in your free country, then this is a risk I must take.

Palestinians have a right to liberate themselves that extends to the right to the use of armed struggle, yet as Shammalah wrote, the Great Return March signifies a “nearly unanimous acceptance of peaceful methods to call for our rights and insist on our humanity.” Nevertheless, based on media coverage, readers could be forgiven for concluding that it was Palestinians, not Israel, who carried out what Doctors Without Borders called “unacceptable and inhuman” violence.


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Time’s Up for Israel’s Impunity

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Sandy Tolan.

Side by side on the screen, the images could hardly be more grotesque. In Jerusalem, a beaming Ivanka Trump, clad all in white, extends her hand like a game-show hostess, unveiling the plaque of the new American embassy that bears her father’s name. Scarcely 40 miles away, dozens of unarmed Palestinians, children and a baby among them, are slaughtered by Israeli soldiers near a fence in Gaza.

In the hours following the massacre, U.S. officials followed a familiar script to convey upon Israel, yet again, a blanket impunity. As Gazans were still counting their dead, a White House spokesman blamed “a gruesome and unfortunate propaganda attempt” by Hamas. Jared Kushner declared the Gazans to be “part of the problem.” At the U.N., U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley managed to blame Iran. And the president, icon of oblivious disregard, praised the “big day” for Israel. “Congratulations!” he tweeted.

Without question, much of the cable news chattering class echoed the White House’s talking points. Yet this time, many who ordinarily provide cover for Israel found the whole thing too much to stomach. “Daddy’s Little Ghoul,” declared the front page of the New York Daily News, as the smiling Ivanka’s outstretched hand appeared to point to the carnage in Gaza. “Israel Kills Dozens of Unarmed Protesters in Gaza as Jared Kushner Speaks of Peace, in Jerusalem,” the New Yorker intoned. And The New York Times, blasted on social media for tweeting that “Palestinians have died” in Gaza (from what—a flu epidemic?) corrected its passive language in a subsequent headline: “Israel Kills Dozens at Gaza Border as U.S. Embassy Opens in Jerusalem.”

In Hollywood, criticizing Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza risked career suicide. But in late April, after Israeli soldiers had wounded hundreds of unarmed Gazans and killed 28, actress Natalie Portman pulled out of a prestigious awards ceremony in her native Israel. After Monday’s massacre, more were emboldened. “You have lost your humanity,” director and comic Judd Apatow replied to a troll on Twitter. “You watch these images and see a game, not the death of children.” Added Bette Midler: “Fifty-two people die in protest. … Thanks, asshole! Your uninformed and demented actions have consequences! Don’t you get it? Those people had families too!”

Could cracks finally be appearing in the armor of Israel’s impunity? For decades, American shade excused Israel’s criminal behavior: its theft of lands by hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers; its imprisonment of thousands of young men and children without charge; its military occupation without end; its ongoing siege of Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison. Even during the 2014 Gaza War, in which Israeli explosive power outnumbered that of Hamas by 1,500 to 1 and American-made Israeli rockets and bombs killed more than 500 children (compared with one Israeli child killed by a Hamas rocket), American politicians and punditry convinced the masses that “Israel has a right to defend itself.”

But now, before the images of thousands of defenseless Gazans being shot down by one of the world’s most powerful armies, the impunity may be crumbling. Perhaps it is the sickening juxtaposition itself—the raw imagery of carnage alongside the imperious celebrations of the callous elite—that is finally too graphic to ignore.

A cynic might say that this response is different because Trump is president, not Barack Obama. After all, it was under Obama, in 2014, that the American military resupplied Israel’s ammunition depot—in the middle of the Gaza War. And it was Obama who implored both sides to seek a peaceful resolution, just as he inked a 10-year, $38 billion pledge to renew Israel’s arsenal.

Yet the disgust with Israel’s slaughter of innocents in Gaza, as it was celebrating the 70th anniversary of its birth from the ashes of the Holocaust, is palpable. The images of Gazans yearning to live in freedom and dignity being gunned down while trying to are not something open-hearted people can un-remember.

Perhaps this moment will fade quietly into the mosaic of terrible images and memories from generations of the tragedy that is Israel and Palestine. But sometimes a single moment, and the understanding that comes from it, can change everything. Nick Ut’s image of the screaming, naked “Napalm Girl” helped shift the understanding of the American role in Vietnam. In Birmingham, the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church helped turn the tide in the American civil rights movement.

The Gaza massacre of 2018 could be a catalyst to change the way Americans think about Israel’s behavior and its blanket protections from America. Twenty years ago, when I was reporting in Gaza, a white-haired old man in a crisp blue suit forecast as much. “The Israelis think that America will always protect them,” Issam Shawa told me. “They think America will always give them arms, and they will always be the biggest power in the Middle East.

“They are now. But do you think this can prevail forever and a day?”

For the people who lived through them, the last 70 years in Israel and Palestine may only feel like forever. But it’s foolhardy to think that the political and military status quo will stand for seven decades more.

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Netanyahu: Don’t look Here Where We’re Shooting Children, Look at Iran

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

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a notorious warmonger, serial liar and supremacist racialist who used to lead the closest thing Israel has to a fascist party until parties even more extreme got elected to parliament, is attempting to bamboozle the clueless Trump into getting on a war footing with Iran.

Netanyahu’s breathless announcement that there was a potential weapons aspect to Iran’s nuclear enrichment program has been known for a decade and a half.

Netanyahu even seems to have provoked the White House to issue a communique falsely stating that Iran has a weapons program presently, which it promptly had to retract. The incident is so scary because it shows how easy it is to manipulate the erratic Trump and his not-ready-for-prime-time staff. That sort of thing, David Frum said on Twitter, can cause a war. And he should know.

But the retraction is incorrect, as well. Iran in the distant past had done some things that would be helpful if it had launched a full blown weapons program. It never did launch such a program.

Netanyahu instanced no evidence at all that Iran is out of compliance with the 2015 deal, and UN inspectors continually have affirmed that Tehran *is* in compliance. His allegation that Iran’s recent missiles are designed to be fitted with warheads is simply false.

So why try to put Iran on the front burner of American war-making? It is a desperate attempt on Netanyahu’s part to divert world attention from the ongoing Israeli Apartheid discrimination against the stateless Palestinians, which it militarily occupies (directly with jackboots and colonial settlers on the West Bank, indirectly with military encirclement and the sniping of innocent protesters in Gaza).

In recent weeks, Israeli snipers have used live ammunition to kill some 40 and wound hundreds of Palestinians who were unarmed and peacefully protesting their imprisonment in the Gaza Strip (70% of their families were kicked out of their homes in Israel and now live in squalid refugee camps while European Israelis took over their houses and farmland and are living it up). The sniping victims have including children, journalists, demonstrators distant from the Israeli confinement fence, and worshipers at prayer with the mention of God on their lips. Shooting unarmed people who pose no threat is a war crime, and doing it systematically amounts to a crime against humanity. So too is the crime of Apartheid described in the Statute of Rome as a “crime against humanity,” and Israel manifestly and robustly practices Apartheid against the Palestinians under its military heel.

The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program (to make fuel for reactors generating electricity) was designed to prevent Iran from weaponizing the program.

All nuclear enrichment via centrifuges is potentially dual use. Uranium can be enriched to 5% for reactor fuel, but if scientists keep feeding it through the centrifuges they can enrich it to 95% for a bomb. The Iran deal was designed to keep Iran from making high enriched uranium (HEU).

Iran accepted spot inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. No country under active inspections has ever developed a nuclear weapon.

Iran vastly reduced the number of centrifuges it has, which means it would take at least a year or even years to make HEU, even if it could do so without the inspectors detecting the signature at the site, which it cannot.

Iran discontinued and bricked in its planned heavy water reactor at Arak. Fissile material builds up on the rods in a heavy water reactor much faster than on a light water reactor, and so the heavy water ones can theoretically aid in making a bomb. Iran no longer even has a plan for a heavy water reactor.

Iran destroyed its stockpile of uranium enriched to 19.5% for its medical reactor. It has no enriched uranium higher than 5%, useful for its three reactors at Bushehr. Iran benefits from nuclear energy because it burns oil for electricity generation, cutting into the money it could make from instead selling it on the open market.

South Korea, Japan and France all use nuclear reactors for electricity generation just as Iran is starting to. France enriches uranium both for that purpose and to make nuclear weapons. If you don’t think Japan could construct a bomb in three weeks if it wanted to, you don’t know Japanese technology (they have a big stockpile of plutonium).

So Netanyahu and the American Right should have sighed in relief, right? Remember, Netanyahu has several hundred actual real nuclear bombs that it could drop on Iran, and Iran has bupkes. Likewise the US is bristling with nuclear warheads. Iran has some old F4 jets Nixon gave them.

In 2007, the National Intelligence Estimate of the CIA assessed that Iran did some experiments with military significance in 2003 but then halted them ever after. The 2011 NIE repeated the conclusion that Iran did not have a weapons program at that time and had not decided to pursue one.

Our sloppy and sometimes propagandistic press keeps talking about Iran’s “nuclear weapons program,” but it is a unicorn. No such thing has ever existed per se, though the experiments and programs Iran pursued as part of its civilian energy program always had potential weapons implications, and Iranian scientists did perform some occasional experiments that might have had weapons purposes.

Because nuclear enrichment is dual use, Iran until 2015 always had the option of going for broke and pursuing a bomb, using know-how gained from the civilian program. That is all the CIA was saying. It was also saying that no such decision had been taken, a conclusion echoed by Israeli politicians like Ehud Barak and by Israeli intelligence.

But the JCPOA forestalled any such decision. Iran could only make a bomb now by kicking out the inspectors and manufacturing thousands of centrifuges, in other words by putting up a huge neon sign saying “I am making a nuclear bomb here.”

Iran’s nuclear enrichment program has also always probably been intended to have deterrent effects against anyone thinking of doing to the country what Bush did to Iraq. I.e. if it was clear someone was planning to invade, Iran could in fact go for broke and try to defend itself.

Since the US right wing and the government of Israel would very much like to see Iran invaded and its government overthrown, and its legs broken, this nuclear latency or the Japan option is an annoyance they would like to remove. It is easier to execute someone if you disarm him first.

But Iran of course is already substantially disarmed, voluntarily. What is going on now is an attempt to pull the wool over people’s eyes about that and to con them into spending $6 trillion on another ruinous Middle East conflict.

That will keep everybody busy while Netanyahu finally succeeds in ethnically cleansing what is left of the Palestinians, his ulterior ultimate goal.

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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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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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In Wake of Gaza Massacre, Israeli Leaders Should Be Prosecuted for War Crimes

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Marjorie Cohn / Truthout.

On March 30, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers shot 773 unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza, killing 17 and wounding 1,400. Twenty remain in critical condition. The protesters were marching to demand the internationally mandated right of return of refugees to their cities and villages in what now constitutes Israel.

The Israeli leaders who ordered the massacre were in clear violation of international law. They should be prosecuted for war crimes.

Premeditated Use of Deadly Force Against Peaceful Protesters

The use of deadly force against the peaceful protesters was premeditated. The IDF deployed 100 snipers to the border fence between Gaza and Israel, where 30,000 to 40,000 Palestinians had gathered for the Great March of Return. In a damning tweet, later deleted, the IDF wrote, “Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.”

Jihad al-Juaidi, director of the ICU at the al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, told Al Jazeera that all of the injured people who came to the hospital were shot in the head, pelvic joints or knee joints. “This shows that Israeli forces were shooting-to-kill, or to cause disabilities,” al-Juaidi stated.

B’Tselem, a Jerusalem-based human rights organization, characterized the military orders as “shoot-to-kill unarmed Palestinians taking part in these demonstrations.”

“Israeli soldiers were not merely using excessive force, but were apparently acting on orders that all but ensured a bloody military response to the Palestinian demonstrations,” Eric Goldstein, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) Middle East and Africa division, stated.

Senior IDF officers told Haaretz before the protest that a large number of casualties was “a price we would be willing to pay to prevent a breach” of the fence at the border.

Israeli leaders fostered the false narrative that Hamas was sponsoring the protest. Jason Greenblatt, US envoy to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, followed suit, tweeting, “Hamas is encouraging a hostile march on the Israel-Gaza border” and accused Hamas of “inciting violence against Israel.”

To read more stories like this, visit Human Rights and Global Wrongs.

But the demonstration was actually organized by several Palestinian civil society organizations. “No Palestinian faction, organization or group can claim this march as its own. Hamas was simply riding the wave,” Jamil Khader wrote on Mondoweiss. Palestinian flags, not factional ones, were visible.

Conflating civilians with terrorists and framing the planned response as protection against a security risk, Israeli authorities referred to Gaza as a “combat zone.”

Lethal Force Can Only Be Used if Imminent Threat to Life

It is illegal to shoot unarmed civilians under international humanitarian law. Some protesters threw rocks and burned tires near the border fence. But HRW found “no evidence of any protester using firearms or any IDF claim of threatened firearm use at the demonstrations.” No Israeli soldiers were killed and “the army did not report any injuries to soldiers.”

“Even if a Palestinian was throwing a stone, the chances that under these conditions such an act could cause an imminent threat to life — the only situation that would justify the use of lethal force under international law — are infinitesimal,” Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, wrote on HuffPost. “Indeed, even if Palestinians were trying to climb the fence, that would not give Israel the right to use lethal force.”

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director of HRW, concurred, stating, “Israeli allegations of violence by some protesters do not change the fact that using lethal force is banned by international law except to meet an imminent threat to life.”

Indeed, the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement specifies, “intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”

“Senior Israeli leaders who unlawfully called for the use of live ammunition against Palestinian demonstrators who posed no imminent threat to life bear responsibility” for the deaths and injuries, HRW asserted in a statement. That includes Israel’s prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff.

B’Tselem, which has called for Israeli soldiers to disobey patently illegal orders, described the legal duty to disobey unlawful orders: “It is also a criminal offense to obey patently illegal orders. Therefore, as long as soldiers in the field continue to receive orders to use live fire against unarmed civilians, they are duty-bound to refuse to comply.”

Prosecute Israeli Leaders in International Criminal Court

Israeli leaders responsible for the deaths and injuries on March 30 should be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, an occupying power has a legal duty to protect the occupied. Grave breaches of the convention constitute war crimes. They include willful killing; willfully causing great suffering or serious injury; intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population; and intentionally launching attacks with knowledge they will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians The IDF committed all of these grave breaches on March 30.

Furthermore, under international humanitarian law, the IDF failed to comply with the principles of distinction and proportionality. Distinction requires parties to a conflict to direct their attacks only against people taking part in the hostilities. Proportionality prohibits an attack if the damage to the civilian population will be greater than the military advantage anticipated from the attack. The IDF violated both of those principles on March 30.

An independent commission of inquiry convened by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate Israel’s 2014 massacre in Gaza documented the deaths of 2,251 Palestinians, which included 1,462 civilian deaths and the injuring of 11,231 Palestinians. Six civilians and 67 soldiers were killed and 1,600 injured on the Israeli side. The commission concluded that Israel, and to a lesser extent, Palestinian armed groups, had likely committed violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, some constituting war crimes.

Currently, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is conducting a preliminary examination into the 2014 massacre. She should expand her inquiry to include the events of March 30, 2018.

US Vetoes Security Council Resolution Calling for Investigation

UN Secretary-General António Guterres and European Union diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini advocated independent investigations into the use of deadly force by the IDF at the border fence on March 30. But the day after the massacre, the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution that called for an “independent and transparent investigation” and affirmed the right of Palestinians to peaceful protest.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s defense minister, said the IDF soldiers “deserve a medal” for protecting the border. “As for a commission of inquiry — there won’t be one,” he declared on Israeli Army Radio.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised his troops for “guarding the country’s borders” and permitting “Israeli citizens to celebrate the [Passover] holiday peacefully,” adding, “Well done to our soldiers.”

Rabbi Alissa Wise, deputy director of Jewish Voice for Peace, noted in a statement, “The Israeli military evidently believes that any time Palestinians assert their basic rights in any way, they will be considered violent, and met with deadly violence.”

Meanwhile, the Palestinian protests are slated to last until May 15, the day Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, or the “great catastrophe” of 1948-9, when Israel expelled 800,000 Palestinians from their lands to create Israel. Approximately 70 percent of the 1.3 million Gazans are refugees.

“I think the only way truly forward is to recognize that there is a root cause: 70 years of Nakba,” Wise said.

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