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Erdogan: Turkish navy to protect Gaza aid September 9, 2011

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Turkish prime minister says he is
ready to deploy warships to accompany Gaza-bound vessels delivering humanitarian
aid.
Last Modified: 09 Sep 2011 08:07,

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies

Turkey’s naval forces would escort Turkish humanitarian aid ships bound for
the Gaza Strip, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister has said,
following Israel’s refusal to apologise for its deadly raid on an aid flotilla
heading to the besieged Palestinian territory in May 2010.

“We have humanitarian aid to be sent there. And our humanitarian aid will not
be attacked anymore, as happened to the Mavi Marmara,” he told the Al
Jazeera on Thursday.

“Turkish warships will be tasked with protecting the Turkish boats bringing
humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.”

Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara, the ship which aimed to
break Israel’s naval blockade, and killed nine people – eight Turks and one US
citizen of Turkish origin – in international waters, causing a diplomatic row
between the two countries.

Erdogan also said that Turkey would closely monitor international waters and
had taken steps to prevent what he called Israel’s unilateral exploitation of
natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Responding to Erdogan’s interview, Dan Meridor, Israel’s intelligence
minister, told Israel army radio: “These remarks are grave and serious, but we
have no wish to add to the polemic.

“It is better to stay quiet and wait – we have no interest in aggravating the
situation by replying to such [verbal] attacks.”

Opposition critical

Turkey’s opposition too criticised Erdogan’s comments on Friday.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s
Party, said Turkey’s Red Crescent was already sending aid to Gaza without
breaching the blockade.

He called on Erdogan to “justify” in parliament the threats to send warships
to escort aid ships.

Turkish-Israeli relations hit a low last week after a UN report on the deadly
Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship said that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza
was legitimate but its raid on the flotilla trying to break the blockade was
“excessive and unreasonable.”

Turkey has since expelled top Israeli diplomats, cut military ties with the
country, pledged to lobby other nations in support of the Palestinians’
statehood bid at the UN in September and promised increased Turkish naval
patrols in the Mediterranean.

Israel has expressed regret for the loss of lives aboard the flotilla,
but has refused to apologise, saying its forces acted in self-defence.

Turkey, however, is still seeking an apology in order to normalise a
relationship once seen as a cornerstone of regional stability.

 

Turkey to Challenge Gaza Blockade at International Court of Justice September 4, 2011

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Published on Sunday, September 4, 2011 by The Guardian/UK

Turkish announcement appears to rebuff attempts by UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon to end its row with Israel

  by David Batty and agencies

Turkey is to challenge Israel’s blockade on Gaza at the International Court of Justice, amid a worsening diplomatic crisis between the once close allies.

Turkey’s foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Ankara would challenge the Gaza blockade at the International Court of Justice. (Photograph: AP)

The announcement by Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu appears to rebuff UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s attempt to defuse the row over Israel’s armed assault on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in which nine people were killed.

Turkey dramatically downgraded its relations with Israel, cutting military ties with its former ally and expelling the country’s ambassador over his government’s refusal to apologise for the killings of eight Turkish citizens and a Turkish American last May.

Ban said today that the two countries should accept the recommendations of a UN report that examined the incident. The report found Israel had used “excessive and unreasonable” force to stop the flotilla approaching Gaza, but that it was justified in maintaining a naval blockade on the Palestinian enclave.

But Davutoglu later dismissed the report, stating it had not been endorsed by the UN and was therefore not binding.

“What is binding is the International Court of Justice,” he told Turkey’s state-run TRT television. “This is what we are saying: let the International Court of Justice decide.

“We are starting the necessary legal procedures this coming week.”

Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said his country had nothing to apologise for and accused Ankara of raising tensions for its own reasons.

“The problem here is on the Turkish side …. They were not ready for a compromise and kept raising the threshold,” Ayalon said on Israeli TV. “I think we need to say to the Turks: as far as we are concerned, this saga is behind us. Now we need to cooperate. Lack of cooperation harms not only us, but Turkey as well.”

The UN investigation, chaired by Geoffrey Palmer, a former New Zealand prime minister, focused on the events on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish-flagged vessel which was the largest ship in a flotilla aimed at breaking the Gaza blockade, on 31 May last year. It was boarded by Israeli commandos who were met with resistance by spro-Palestinian activists on board, nine of whom died.

Davutoglu said the investigation contradicted an earlier report by the UN Human Rights Council in September, which found Israeli forces violated international law, “including international humanitarian and human rights law”.

He warned Israel that it risks alienation among Arab nations by resisting an apology.

“If Israel persists with its current position, the Arab spring will give rise to a strong Israel opposition, as well as the debate on the authoritarian regimes,” Davutoglu said.

The UN secretary general said earlier that strong ties between Turkey and Israel, which both share a border with Syria, were important for peace and stability in the Middle East. “I sincerely hope that Israel and Turkey will improve their relationship,” he added.

“Both countries are very important countries in the region, and their improved relationship will be very important in addressing all the situations in the Middle East, including the Middle East peace process.”

But Ban, speaking in Canberra on Saturday after talks with the Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, would not be drawn on findings of the UN report on the flotilla incident last summer.

“I’m not in a position to say any specific comments on the substance of the findings and recommendations of the panel’s report,” he said.

“My only wish is that they should try to improve their relationship and do what they can to implement the recommendations and findings.”

Turkey said on Friday that the Israeli ambassador, Gabby Levy, and other senior Israeli diplomats would have to leave their posts by Wednesday and that Turkey’s representation in Israel would be downgraded to the junior level of second secretary.

© 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited

Alice Walker: Why I’m Joining the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza June 27, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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The Guardian / By
Alice Walker

Pulitzer prize-winning writer Alice Walker is on board an
international flotilla of boats sailing to Gaza to challenge the Israeli
blockade.

June 26, 2011  |

//

Photo Credit:
AFP

Why am I going on the Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza? I ask myself this, even
though the answer is: what else would I do? I am in my 67th year, having lived
already a long and fruitful life, one with which I am content. It seems to me
that during this period of eldering it is good to reap the harvest of one’s
understanding of what is important, and to share this, especially with the
young. How are they to learn, otherwise?

Our boat, The Audacity of Hope, will be carrying letters to the people
of Gaza. Letters expressing solidarity and love. That is all its cargo will
consist of. If the Israeli military attacks us, it will be as if they attacked
the mailman. This should go down hilariously in the annals of history. But if
they insist on attacking us, wounding us, even murdering us, as they did some of
the activists in the last flotilla, Freedom Flotilla I, what is to be done?

There
is a scene in the movie Gandhi that is very moving to me: it is when the unarmed
Indian protesters line up to confront the armed forces of the British Empire.
The soldiers beat them unmercifully, but the Indians, their broken and dead
lifted tenderly out of the fray, keep coming.

Alongside
this image of brave followers of Gandhi there is, for me, an awareness of paying
off a debt to the Jewish civil rights activists who faced death to come to the
side of black people in the American south in our time of need. I am especially
indebted to Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman who heard our calls for
help – our government then as now glacially slow in providing protection
to non-violent protesters – and came to stand with us.

They
got as far as the truncheons and bullets of a few “good ol’ boys’” of Neshoba
County, Mississippi and were beaten and shot to death along with James Chaney, a
young black man of formidable courage who died with them. So, even though our
boat will be called The Audacity of Hope, it will fly the Goodman, Chaney,
Schwerner flag in my own heart.

And
what of the children of Palestine, who were ignored in our president’s latest
speech on Israel and Palestine, and
whose impoverished, terrorised, segregated existence was mocked by the standing
ovations recently given in the US Congress to the prime minister of Israel?

I
see children, all children, as humanity’s most precious resource, because it
will be to them that the care of the planet will always be left. One child must
never be set above another, even in casual conversation, not to mention in
speeches that circle the globe.

As
adults, we must affirm, constantly, that the Arab child, the Muslim child, the
Palestinian child, the African child, the Jewish child, the Christian child, the
American child, the Chinese child, the Israeli child, the Native American child,
etc, is equal to all others on the planet. We must do everything in our power to
cease the behaviour that makes children everywhere feel afraid.

I
once asked my best friend and husband during the era of segregation, who was as
staunch a defender of black people’s human rights as anyone I’d ever met: how
did you find your way to us, to black people, who so needed you? What force
shaped your response to the great injustice facing people of colour of that
time?

I
thought he might say it was the speeches, the marches, the example of Martin
Luther King Jr, or of others in the movement who exhibited impactful courage and
grace. But no. Thinking back, he recounted an episode from his childhood that
had led him, inevitably, to our struggle.

He
was a little boy on his way home from yeshiva, the Jewish school he attended
after regular school let out. His mother, a bookkeeper, was still at work; he
was alone. He was frequently harassed by older boys from regular school, and one
day two of these boys snatched his yarmulke (skull cap), and, taunting him, ran
off with it, eventually throwing it over a fence.

Two
black boys appeared, saw his tears, assessed the situation, and took off after
the boys who had taken his yarmulke. Chasing the boys down and catching them,
they made them climb the fence, retrieve and dust off the yarmulke, and place it
respectfully back on his head.

It
is justice and respect that I want the world to dust off and put – without
delay, and with tenderness – back on the head of the Palestinian child. It
will be imperfect justice and respect because the injustice and disrespect have
been so severe. But I believe we are right to try.

That
is why I sail.

The
Chicken Chronicles: A Memoir by Alice Walker is
published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson. A longer version of this article appears
on Alice Walker’s blog:
alicewalkersgarden.com/blog

Israeli Attack on Gaza Aid Ship Violates International Law May 31, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Published on Monday, May 31, 2010 by Canada.comby Paul Jay

Last night, Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish aid ship on its way to Gaza. It is reported that they killed ten to fifteen activists and injured thirty more.

The flotilla was attacked in international waters, 65km off the Gaza coast.  Organizers said the flotilla was carrying 10,000 tones of humanitarian aid headed to Gaza challenging the Israeli blockade.  

The Israeli Army Radio said soldiers opened fire “after confronting those on board carrying sharp objects”.  Israel says they offered to deliver the aid if the ships turned back.

The Free Gaza Movement, the organizers of the flotilla, however, said the troops opened fire as soon as they stormed the ships. They also said they were fully within international law delivering the aid directly to Gaza.

Turkey in a written statement condemned Israel over the deadly attacks: “This deplorable incident, which took place in open seas and constitutes a fragrant breach of international law, may lead to irreparable consequences in our bilateral relations,” it said.

Turkey is a member of NATO and one of the few majority Muslim countries that has diplomatic relations with Israel.  Although Israel has been a major supplier of arms to Turkey, diplomatic relations have been tense following the 2008-2009 Israel attack on Gaza.

Prior to the attack on the aid ship, Israel ‘s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, “The aid convoy is violent propaganda against Israel, and Israel will not allow its sovereignty to be threatened in any way, in any place – land, air, or sea. There is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza strip.”  The UN and numerous NGO’s have described the conditions in Gaza as a humanitarian disaster.

Lieberman has openly talked about ethnically cleansing Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin. In late May 2004, Lieberman proposed a plan in which the populations and territories of Israeli Jews and Arabs, including some Israeli Arabs, would be “separated.” According to the plan, also known as the “Populated-Area Exchange Plan,” Israeli Arab towns adjacent to Palestinian Authority areas would be transferred to Palestinian Authority, and only those Arab Israelis who migrated from the area to within Israel’s new borders and pledged loyalty to the Jewish State of Israel would be allowed to remain Israeli citizens.

I was in Israel in April of this year, my first visit since 1998.  I interviewed Michel Warschawski, founder of the Alternative Information Centre, who spoke about the significance of Lieberman: “it’s not anymore a small lunatic right wing, like [Meir] Kahane gang 20 years ago. He’s minister of foreign affairs. He’s government. He’s part of the coalition, an important part of the coalition. So what we have is the blatantly racist language and measures that were on the margin of Israeli politics are now in the middle.”

 After Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2008, the UN appointed a Fact Finding Mission to investigate alleged war crimes. The mission, led by renowned South African jurist Richard Goldstone, produced a report that accused both Israel and Palestinian militias of war crimes.

The UN human rights council referred Goldstone’s report to the UN General Assembly in Washington for follow-up, but under US pressure, the report never reached the Security Council for possible referral to the International Criminal Court. The Canadian government joined the US in denouncing the report.

On Thursday Amnesty International accused the US and European states of obstructing justice by using their position on the UN Security Council to shield Israel from accountability for war crimes committed in Gaza.

As long as the American, Canadian and European governments continue to allow Israel to flout international law without consequence, defend and expand illegal settlements, maintain a “secret” stockpile of nuclear weapons, sustain the siege of Gaza . . . Israel will continue on this road with impunity.

The American and Canadian elites support such actions of Israel not because they love Jews or care about a Jewish state. A long history of North American and European anti-Semitism says otherwise. They do so for their own geo-political objectives.  Like most issues in the Middle East, it’s mostly about oil and maintaining a system of regimes, Israeli and Arab, which make sure that fabulous oil revenues remain in very few hands.

I think most ordinary Americans and Canadians, including those of Jewish origin, do not agree with a policy of unconditional support for the increasingly fanatical direction of Israeli policy.

© 2009 – 2010 Canwest Publishing Inc.

Paul Jay is the CEO and Senior Editor of The Real News Network. He is an award-winning filmmaker, founder of Hot Docs! International Film Festival and was for ten years the Executive Producer of the CBC Newsworld show counterSpin.

Did Clinton sabotage a Palestinian reconciliation? March 6, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Hasan Abu Nimah and Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 4 March 2009

www.electronicintifada.net

Hillary Clinton speaks at a press conference at the International Conference in support of the Palestinian Economy and Reconstruction of Gaza, 2 March 2009. (Victoria Hazou/Sipa Press)

 

Still reeling from the Israeli massacres in the occupied Gaza Strip, Palestinians have lately had little to celebrate. So the strong start to intra-Palestinian reconciliation talks in Cairo last week provided a glimmer of hope.

An end to the schism between the resistance and the elected but internationally-boycotted Hamas government on the one hand, and the Western-backed Fatah faction on the other, seemed within reach. But the good feeling came to a sudden end after what looked like a coordinated assault by United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, European Union High Representative Javier Solana, and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas whose term as president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) expired on 9 January.

On Friday 27 February, the leaders of 13 Palestinian factions, principal among them Hamas and Fatah, announced they had set out a framework for reconciliation. In talks chaired by Egypt’s powerful intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, the Palestinians established committees to discuss forming a “national unity government,” reforming the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to include all factions, legislative and presidential elections, reorganizing security forces on a nonpolitical basis, and a steering group comprised of all faction leaders. Amid a jubilant mood, the talks were adjourned until 10 March.

Then the blows began to strike the fragile Palestinian body politic. The first came from Clinton just before she boarded her plane to attend a summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm al-Sheikh ostensibly about pledging billions in aid to rebuild Gaza.

Clinton was asked by Voice of America (VOA) whether she was encouraged by the Cairo unity talks. She responded that in any reconciliation or “move toward a unified [Palestinian] Authority,” Hamas must be bound by “the conditions that have been set forth by the Quartet,” the self-appointed group comprising representatives of the US, EU, UN and Russia. These conditions, Clinton stated, require that Hamas “must renounce violence, recognize Israel, and abide by previous commitments.” Otherwise, the secretary warned, “I don’t think it will result in the kind of positive step forward either for the Palestinian people or as a vehicle for a reinvigorated effort to obtain peace that leads to a Palestinian state.”

The next strikes came from Ramallah. With the EU’s top diplomat Solana standing next to him, Abbas insisted that any national unity government would have to adhere to the “two-state vision” and abide by “international conditions and signed agreements.” He then demanded that Gaza reconstruction aid be channeled exclusively through the Western-backed, but financially bankrupt and politically depleted PA. Solana affirmed, “I would like to insist in agreement with [Abbas] that the mechanism used to deploy the money is the one that represents the Palestinian Authority.” Solana fully endorsed the campaign waged by Abbas ever since the destruction of Gaza that the PA, plagued by endemic corruption, and which only pays salaries of workers deemed politically loyal, be in sole charge of the funds, rather than neutral international organizations as Hamas and others have suggested.

Was the Sharm al-Sheikh summit then really about helping the people of Gaza or was it about exploiting their suffering to continue the long war against Hamas by other means? Indeed, Clinton had already confirmed the politicization of reconstruction aid when she told VOA, “We want to strengthen a Palestinian partner willing to accept the conditions outlined by the Quartet,” and, “our aid dollars will flow based on these principles.”

Hamas warned that Clinton’s and Abbas’s statements set Palestinian reconciliation efforts back to square one. “Hamas will not recognize Israel or the Quartet’s conditions,” said one spokesman Ismail Radwan, while another, Ayman Taha, said Hamas would “reject any preconditions in the formation of the unity government.” Khaled Meshal, head of the movement’s political bureau, insisted that the basis for national unity must remain “protecting the resistance and the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Such statements will of course be used to paint Hamas as extremist, intransigent and anti-peace. After all, what could be more reasonable than demanding that any party involved in a peace process commit itself to renouncing violence, recognizing its enemy, and abiding by pre-existing agreements? The problem is that the Quartet conditions are designed to eliminate the Palestinians’ few bargaining chips and render them defenseless before continuous Israeli occupation, colonization, blockade and armed attacks.

None of the Western diplomats imposing conditions on Hamas have demanded that Israel renounce its aggressive violence. Indeed, as Amnesty International reported on 20 February, the weapons Israel used to kill, wound and incinerate 7,000 persons in Gaza, half of them women and children, were largely supplied by Western countries, mainly the US. In a vivid illustration, Amnesty reported that its field researchers “found fragments and components from munitions used by the Israeli army — including many that are US-made — littering school playgrounds, in hospitals and in people’s homes.”

For Palestinians to “renounce violence” under these conditions is to renounce the right to self-defense, something no occupied people can do. Palestinians will certainly note that while Abbas stands impotently by, neither the US nor the EU have rushed to the defense of the peaceful, unarmed Palestinians shot at daily by Israeli occupation forces as they try to protect their land from seizure in the West Bank. Nor has Abbas’ renunciation of resistance helped the 1,500 residents in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan whose homes Israeli occupation authorities recently confirmed their intention to demolish in order to make way for a Jewish-themed park. A cessation of violence must be mutual, total and reciprocal — something Hamas has repeatedly offered and Israel has stubbornly rejected.

While Israeli violence is tolerated or applauded, Israel’s leaders are not held to any political preconditions. Prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu emphatically rejects a sovereign Palestinian state and — like his predecessors — rejects all other Palestinian rights enshrined in international law and UN resolutions. When told to stop building illegal settlements on occupied land, Israel responds simply that this is a matter for negotiation and to prove the point it revealed plans in February to add thousands of Jewish-only homes to its West Bank colonies.

Yet Quartet envoy Tony Blair, asked by Al-Jazeera International on 1 March how his masters would deal with a rejectionist Israeli government, said, “We have to work with whoever the Israeli people elect, let’s test it out not just assume it won’t work.” Unless Palestinians are considered an inferior race, the same logic ought to apply to their elected leaders, but they were never given a chance.

It is ludicrous to demand that the stateless Palestinian people unconditionally recognize the legitimacy of the entity that dispossessed them and occupies them, that itself has no declared borders and that continues to violently expand its territory at their expense. If Palestinians are ever to recognize Israel in any form, that can only be an outcome of negotiations in which Palestinian rights are fully recognized, not a precondition for them.

During last year’s US election campaign, Clinton claimed she helped bring peace to Northern Ireland during her husband’s administration. Yet the conditions she now imposes on Hamas are exactly like those that the British long imposed on the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, thereby blocking peace negotiations. President Bill Clinton — against strenuous British objections — helped overturn these obstacles by among other things granting a US visa to Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, whose party the British once demonized as Israel now demonizes Hamas. Like Tony Blair, who as British prime minister first authorized public talks with Sinn Fein, Hillary Clinton knows that the negotiations in Ireland could not have succeeded if any party had been forced to submit to the political preconditions of its adversaries.

Former British and Irish peace negotiators including Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume, and former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami made similar points in a 26 February letter they co-signed in The Times of London. “Whether we like it or not,” the letter states, “Hamas will not go away. Since its victory in democratic elections in 2006, Hamas has sustained its support in Palestinian society despite attempts to destroy it through economic blockades, political boycotts and military incursions.” The signatories called for engagement with the movement, affirming that “The Quartet conditions imposed on Hamas set an unworkable threshold from which to commence negotiations.”

Those who claim to be peacemakers should heed this advice. They should allow Palestinians to form a national consensus without external interference and blackmail. They should respect democratic mandates. They should stop imposing grossly unfair conditions on the weaker side while cowering in fear of offending the strong, and they should stop the cynical exploitation of humanitarian aid for political manipulation and subversion.

There are many in the region who were encouraged by US President Barack Obama’s appointment of former Northern Ireland mediator Senator George Mitchell as Middle East envoy. But in all other respects the new president has continued the Bush administration’s disastrous policies. It is not too late to change course, for persisting in these errors will guarantee only more failure and bloodshed.

Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations.

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse

(Metropolitan Books, 2006).

A version of this article first appeared in The Jordan Times and is reprinted with the authors’ permission.

Israel’s ‘Crime Against Humanity’ December 15, 2008

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Dec 15, 2008

AP photo / Hatem Moussa

A Palestinian worker sweeps out the empty storeroom of a U.N. food distribution center in Gaza City.

, www.truthdig.com

By Chris Hedges

Israel’s siege of Gaza, largely unseen by the outside world because of Jerusalem’s refusal to allow humanitarian aid workers, reporters and photographers access to Gaza, rivals the most egregious crimes carried out at the height of apartheid by the South African regime. It comes close to the horrors visited on Sarajevo by the Bosnian Serbs. It has disturbing echoes of the Nazi ghettos of Lodz and Warsaw.

“This is a stain on what is left of Israeli morality,” I was told by Richard N. Veits, the former U.S. ambassador to Jordan who led a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations to Gaza to meet Hamas leaders this past summer. “I am almost breathless discussing this subject. It is so myopic. Washington, of course, is a handmaiden to all this. The Israeli manipulation of a population in this manner is comparable to some of the crimes that took place against civilian populations fifty years ago.”

The U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, former Princeton University law professor Richard Falk, calls what Israel is doing to the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza “a crime against humanity.” Falk, who is Jewish, has condemned the collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza as “a flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.” He has asked for “the International Criminal Court to investigate the situation, and determine whether the Israeli civilian leaders and military commanders responsible for the Gaza siege should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international criminal law.”

Falk, while condemning the rocket attacks by the militant group Hamas, which he points out are also criminal violations of international law, goes on to say that “such Palestinian behavior does not legalize Israel’s imposition of a collective punishment of a life- and health-threatening character on the people of Gaza, and should not distract the U.N. or international society from discharging their fundamental moral and legal duty to render protection to the Palestinian people.”

“It is an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe that each day poses the entire 1.5 million Gazans to an unspeakable ordeal, to a struggle to survive in terms of their health,” Falk said when I reached him by phone in California shortly before he left for Israel. “This is an increasingly precarious condition. A recent study reports that 46 percent of all Gazan children suffer from acute anemia. There are reports that the sonic booms associated with Israeli overflights have caused widespread deafness, especially among children. Gazan children need thousands of hearing aids. Malnutrition is extremely high in a number of different dimensions and affects 75 percent of Gazans. There are widespread mental disorders, especially among young people without the will to live. Over 50 percent of Gazan children under the age of 12 have been found to have no will to live.”

Gaza now spends 12 hours a day without power, which can be a death sentence to the severely ill in hospitals. There are few drugs and little medicine, including no cancer or cystic fibrosis medication. Hospitals have generators but often lack fuel. Medical equipment, including one of Gaza’s three CT scanners, has been destroyed by power surges and fluctuations. Medical staff cannot control the temperature of incubators for newborns. And Israel has revoked most exit visas, meaning some of those who need specialized care, including cancer patients and those in need of kidney dialysis, have died. Of the 230 Gazans estimated to have died last year because they were denied proper medical care, several spent their final hours at Israeli crossing points where they were refused entry into Israel. The statistics gathered on children—half of Gaza’s population is under the age of 17—are increasingly grim. About 45 percent of children in Gaza have iron deficiency from a lack of fruit and vegetables, and 18 percent have stunted growth.

“It is macabre,” Falk said. “I don’t know of anything that exactly fits this situation. People have been referring to the Warsaw ghetto as the nearest analog in modern times.”

“There is no structure of an occupation that endured for decades and involved this kind of oppressive circumstances,” the rapporteur added. “The magnitude, the deliberateness, the violations of international humanitarian law, the impact on the health, lives and survival and the overall conditions warrant the characterization of a crime against humanity. This occupation is the direct intention by the Israeli military and civilian authorities. They are responsible and should be held accountable.”

The point of this Israeli siege, ostensibly, is to break Hamas, the radical Islamic group that was elected to power in 2007. But Hamas has repeatedly proposed long-term truces with Israel and offered to negotiate a permanent truce. During the last cease-fire, established through Egyptian intermediaries in July, Hamas upheld the truce although Israel refused to ease the blockade. It was Israel that, on Nov. 4, initiated an armed attack that violated the truce and killed six Palestinians. It was only then that Hamas resumed firing rockets at Israel. Palestinians have launched more than 200 rockets on Israel since the latest round of violence began. There have been no Israeli casualties.

“This is a crime of survival,” Falk said of the rocket attacks. “Israel has put the Gazans in a set of circumstances where they either have to accept whatever is imposed on them or resist in any way available to them. That is a horrible dilemma to impose upon a people. This does not alleviate the Palestinians, and Gazans in particular, for accountability for doing these acts involving rocket fire, but it also imposes some responsibility on Israel for creating these circumstances.”

Israel seeks to break the will of the Palestinians to resist. The Israeli government has demonstrated little interest in diplomacy or a peaceful solution. The rapid expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank is an effort to thwart the possibility of a two-state solution by gobbling up vast tracts of Palestinian real estate. Israel also appears to want to thrust the impoverished Gaza Strip onto Egypt. There are now dozens of tunnels, the principal means for food and goods, connecting Gaza to Egypt. Israel permits the tunnels to operate, most likely as part of an effort to further cut Gaza off from Israel.

“Israel, all along, has not been prepared to enter into diplomatic process that gives the Palestinians a viable state,” Falk said. “They [the Israelis] feel time is on their side. They feel they can create enough facts on the ground so people will come to the conclusion a viable state cannot emerge.”

The use of terror and hunger to break a hostile population is one of the oldest forms of warfare. I watched the Bosnian Serbs employ the same tactic in Sarajevo. Those who orchestrate such sieges do not grasp the terrible rage born of long humiliation, indiscriminate violence and abuse. A father or a mother whose child dies because of a lack of vaccines or proper medical care does not forget. A boy whose ill grandmother dies while detained at an Israel checkpoint does not forget. All who endure humiliation, abuse and the murder of family members do not forget. This rage becomes a virus within those who, eventually, stumble out into the daylight. Is it any wonder that 71 percent of children interviewed at a school in Gaza recently said they wanted to be a “martyr”?

The Israelis in Gaza, like the American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, are foolishly breeding the next generation of militants and Islamic radicals. Jihadists, enraged by the injustices done by Israel and the United States, seek to carry out reciprocal acts of savagery, even at the cost of their own lives. The violence unleashed on Palestinian children will, one day, be the violence unleashed on Israeli children. This is the tragedy of Gaza. This is the tragedy of Israel.

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