Middle East: powder keg blowing up

Editorial

Reports on the ground in Palestine sound a warning.

Amidst all the diplomacy and protests, Israeli tanks re-enter Gaza. Israeli jets blow-up tunnels that provide a lifeline from Egypt.

The whole region is effected.

All the international diplomacy has been for nought.

al Quds

Obama’s promises in Cairo rendered meaningless.

Hilary Clinton pleas to Netanyahu about building more settlements on the West Bank are just hot air.

Meanwhile on the ground the Middle East is a powder keg.

Yesterday (Fri 26 mar2010) Israeli tanks went into Khan Younis in Gaza, now Israeli planes are bombing the life-line of tunnels into Gaza, tomorrow Israeli soldiers will be firing live rounds at non-violent protestors in the West Bank.

Recent reports from Lebanon say that the only reason Israeli jets are not bombing Southern Lebanon is because the Israeli government is afraid that Hezbollah will retaliate with rockets of its own.

Israeli jets continue terror raids with sonic booms over southern Lebanese villages – villages gutted by the 2006 assault with people living in poverty on a scale with Gaza.

Israeli threats remain against Syria, Iraq and even Iran.

A solution to prevent Israel from blowing up the region has to be found now. For some recent background see Report on Palestine by Sameh Habeeb.

Ian Curr
27 March 2010

Fear and foreboding in the Middle East
By Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East editor

al-Quds (Jerusalem)

Israeli troops killed in Gaza clash

“An Israeli army force raided 500 metres into Palestinian territory, and was confronted by our gunmen,” Abu Obeida, a Hamas spokesman, said.

“This was our work, but was carried out for defence.”

From Al Jazeera
Video:
Israel pursues settlement growth
Israelis protest settlement freeze
Map of East Jerusalem housing plan
Focus:
Jerusalem’s religious heart
Settlements strain US-Israel ties
Jewish settlements
Riz Khan:
The Middle East peace process
The battle over Israeli settlements
Inside Story:
US and Israel poles apart
Programmes:
Israel: Rise of the right
Holy Land Grab

Al Jazeera’s Barnaby Phillips, reporting from Gaza, said: “The al-Qassam Brigades gave a press conference and said that at 2:30pm local time an Israeli incursion began into Gaza. Israeli soldiers on foot, tanks and helicopters crossed into Gaza and the al-Qassam Brigades responded with sniper fire.

“Witnesses in the area are saying that what took place is now over; it is quiet and Israeli tanks have withdrawn.

Breaking Gaza: 2 martyrs and many critically injured in Khan Younis

Friday, 26 March 2010 18:39 Added by PT Editor Omar Ghraieb
1_25_010309_gaza11

Israeli troops and tanks enter Khan Younis

All kinds of Israeli air crafts were over seeing and protecting the ground IDF during the invasion, then they missiled a playground in Khan Younis targeting a bunch of children playing football.

Three children were critically injured, Abd Rabbu, 6 years, got hit in the back and is currently in the ICU.

Muawiya Hassanein, director of ambulance and Altaure hospital sector, said that two citizens were martyred and several others wounded in artillery shelling that targeted resistance fighters in the area of New Abasan in Khan Younis in southern Gaza Strip, Friday afternoon [26 Mar 2010].

Hassanein said that ambulances headed to the area of the event, but the occupation forces prevented medical teams from evacuating dead and wounded and opened fire on the ambulances.

Israeli tanks ‘enter Gaza’ after deadly clashes

BBC Website 27 Mar 2010

Israeli tanks are reported to have advanced into the Gaza Strip following clashes with Palestinians in which two Israeli soldiers died.

Witnesses in Gaza said tanks and bulldozers were moving towards the southern town of Khan Younis.

They also said there had been firing from the Israeli navy along the Gaza coastline.

It is the first time Israeli soldiers have died in Gaza since Israel’s 22-day offensive there more than a year ago….READ MORE

3 responses to “Middle East: powder keg blowing up

  1. Free Gaza Movement to Launch Cargo Ship from Ireland

    Free Gaza Movement to Launch Cargo Ship from Ireland
    http://www.freegaza.org
    Wednesday March 31st 2010

    Yesterday the Free Gaza Movement bought a 1200 tonne cargo ship at an auction in Dundalk, Ireland.

    The vessel had been impounded a year ago following an inspection by the International Transport Federation (ITF) which found that its’ owners had exploited it’s Lithuanian crew members- not paying their wages and subjecting them to humiliating treatment.

    ITF Inspector and SIPTU organiser Ken Fleming said, ‘We are pleased to announce that this vessel which was used to subject workers to modern day slavery, will now be used to promote human rights for the people of Palestine’.

    The Free Gaza Movement now owns four ships including three passenger vessels.

    Free Gaza’s ships will take part in an international flotilla taking humanitarian aid to the besieged Gaza strip this May. Passenger and cargo ships are also being organised by the Turkish humanitarian organisation I.H.H., and by groups in Greece, Sweden, Malaysia and Belgium.

    Free Gaza has launched eight missions to Gaza over the past two years. Five were successful. The last two were violently stopped by the Israeli Navy.

    The Irish ship will be taking 500 tons of cement, as well as medicines, medical equipment and educational materials to the people of Gaza.

    Derek Graham of the Free Gaza Movement said, ‘We have international law and the conscience of the people of the world on our side. We know the Irish people will not stand by and let the people of Gaza be starved and punished by Israel any longer’.

    In preparation for the launch of the Irish ship, hospitals, trade unions, churches, mosques, families and community groups are being invited to sponsor bags of cement to help the people of Gaza to rebuild.

    Caoimhe Butterly of the Free Gaza Movement said ‘We call upon the Irish people and government to support the safe passage of our mission. The siege is a form of collective, sustained and devastating punishment. Supporting the flotilla is a way for the people of Ireland to show direct solidarity with the 1.5 million Palestinians trapped in Gaza as they attempt to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives’.

    The vessel, the MV Linda, will be re-named the MV Rachel Corrie, in memory of the 23 year old solidarity activist crushed to death in 2003 by an Israeli bulldozer as she attempted to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza. The Free Gaza Movement pays tribute to Rachel and the thousands of Palestinian men, women and children killed, wounded or imprisoned under Israeli Occupation.

    END

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  2. Union Aid Abroad–APHEDA study tour to the Middle East — Labor 4A Just Palestine Report

    Dear all
    Please find attached a report as prepared by Co-conveners of Labor 4A Just Palestine (Queensland) who were part of the recent Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA Middle East trip.
    The trip took place from 1 March – 16 March 2010 and the report focuses on our visits to the Palestinian Territories (West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza), Israel and Lebanon.
    If you are interested in a powerpoint presentation or should you have any enquiries, please contact me on 0413 874 008.
    On behalf of Evan Moorhead MP, Wendy Turner and David Forde.
    Regards
    David Forde
    Labor 4A Just Palestine

    1
    We were very fortunate to be part of the Union Aid Abroad–APHEDA led overseas study tour of 11 trade union officials and members and three APHEDA staff to the Middle East in March 2010. Five of the participants came from Queensland. This report is by three of the participants who are also Co-conveners of Labor 4A Just Palestine and who were either on all or part of the trip:
    • Evan Moorhead MP
    • Wendy Turner
    • David Forde

    The tour visited Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (West Bank East Jerusalem and Gaza) with the main purpose to examine APHEDA’s aid projects assisting Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, food security and agriculture projects with Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and projects of medical assistance to the El Wafa Medical Rehabilitation Hospital in Gaza. We also met with a broad range of stakeholders to gain as much knowledge and insight as possible, including; Palestinian and Israeli trade unions and NGOs, Israeli and Palestinian workers’ organisations including for the illegal settlements, members of the Palestinian Legislative Assembly, member of the Palestinian Peace negotiating team, the Director of UNRWA Gaza, the UN Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process, the Australian Ambassador to Israel and the Australian Representative in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. For us, as critical as humanitarian projects are, they are only a band-aid solution until a political solution is found.

    We also wanted to hear from every day people on the ground. Illegal settlements and by-pass roads. Since 1967, approximately 500,000 settlers have occupied various parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, generally on higher ground and with control over access to water. The growth of the illegal settlements continues apace. We witnessed (with photographic evidence) settlement expansion in the West Back despite the Israeli government committing to a temporary freeze in the West Bank.

    Adding to the dispossession of Palestinians from their land, the settlements are generally surrounded by no-go zones that vary in size from a couple of hundred metres to approximately one kilometre and are connected by settler-only highways which also have wide no-go zones for Palestinians. With almost 60% of the West Bank now annexed by the settlements, settler-only roads, closed military zones and the Separation Wall, Palestinians are increasingly squeezed into a small number of “districts” or “bantustans”. Traveling along an Israeli only road in the Palestinians Territories, it is apparent that the Israeli Government has created an environment where a settler traveling to an Israeli city from their settlement in the Palestinian West Bank, must feel that they are in Israel.

    2

    The Separation Wall
    Since 2002, a 700km long nine-meter high wall (fortified electrified fence in some parts) is being constructed throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The vast majority of the wall does not follow the pre-1967 “Green Line” which is the recognised international border between Israel and the Palestinian Territories; rather it cuts through Palestinian land, annexing approximately 10% of the West Bank, including prime agricultural land and important water aquifers. The path of the wall has resulted in ongoing evictions and demolition of Palestinian homes and uprooting of crops leaving families homeless and without means of subsistence. The wall also frequently cuts through Palestinian communities and towns, separating families and cutting farmers off from their land. The Israeli Government says the wall was built for security reasons and it has to be acknowledged that suicide bombings and the fear of such did prevail.

    But if the wall was really about security, why was it not built along the internationally recognised Israeli Palestinian border as the current route brings hundreds of thousands of Palestinians onto the Israeli side. The most extreme situation that we witnessed was the Palestinian town of Qalqilya (population approx 45,000), which is almost entirely enclosed by the wall with the only entry and exit point controlled by the Israeli military (in the West Bank). Very often as reported to us, this access point is closed. To witness the shear poverty imposed on the people of this town through economic starvation was of major concern. NGOs and local Palestinians reported to us how families trapped between the wall and the internationally recognised border are subjected to the most extreme conditions, including restrictions on food, access to land and external medical facilities in emergency situations – we fail to understand how this is in the name of security ? Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon articulated his solution to the Palestinian ‘problem’ back in 1988 when he stated; “you cannot dump people in trucks and go far. I prefer to pursue a positive policy of creating circumstances that will convince people to leave”. This policy appears to be endorsed by the current government through evidence of its strategies of segregation, depravation and hardship being metered out on the ground. Gaza. We were unsure what to expect on entering Gaza (the three members of the group – born in Australia – with Arabic sounding names were denied entry by Israeli security without explanation). Israel has imposed a blockade and economic sanctions against Gaza since June 2007.

    Entering Gaza was a very eerie feeling as straight away you were confronted with large scale destruction. While it may exist, we did not come across religious fundamentalism, but rather a people who were trying to get on with their lives under the most extreme circumstances. Extreme poverty and destruction was almost everywhere due to the blockade.

    3

    We did also witness some areas with limited destruction that provided evidence of some sort of economic normality before the blockade. We met with farmers who are struggling to diversify their crops to try to help subsidise food supplies. This is becoming increasingly difficult due to the contamination of soil and water supplies. Palestinians have no access to laboratory testing to check for disease and contamination levels. The issue regarding the restrictions on food entering Gaza and the critical water situation should be of concern to the federal government. Gaza is fast running out of access to clean water due to the fuel blockade as untreated water contaminates the remaining 5% of water that is drinkable.

    The lack of electricity to operate sewage treatment plants results in some 80,000 tons of raw sewage being discharged daily into the Mediterranean contaminating fish stocks and denying livelihoods, a situation that has become so dire through wide spread contamination, the sewage is now impacting on Israel’s southern coast and as far away as Cyprus. The Israeli navy also patrols a sea blockade of approximately 3 kilometres offshore from the Gaza strip. The UN in Gaza referred to the blockage as illegal, inhumane, counter-productive and contravening international law.

    Two observations were very clear; firstly, it is Hamas who benefits from the blockade though taxes from the tunnels and it is the civilian population that includes 750,000 children who suffer. Secondly, should the tunnels be shut down, there is the very real potential for mass starvation among 1.5 million people as the UN are prevented from the import of adequate foods and medicines. According to the latest UN report, aid into Gaza has dropped by 18% for 2010 compared to 2009 monthly average.

    It is our view the blockade is inhumane and counter-productive and not focused on security. The UN continually gives the Israeli Government assurances that it will monitor all aid entering Gaza including building materials to rebuild badly needed infrastructure such as schools. The Checkpoints There are over 550 military checkpoints and road-blocks (according to the UN) throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Palestinians on their way to work, even children on their way to school and students attending university are often kept waiting at these checkpoints for lengthy periods, often hours, before being permitted to proceed by the Israeli soldiers. We ourselves witnessed many Palestinians being treated in this way before being permitted to proceed through the checkpoint. The road-blocks also serve to severely restrict the Palestinian economy from functioning through denial or limitations of access while boosting the Israeli economy through priority access. This was very evident in Palestinian East Jerusalem, which appeared to be flooded with Israeli (bar-coded) goods while excluding Palestinian goods.

    4
    Palestinian workers in the Israeli settlements

    We attended meetings with the three Palestinian Union Federations GUPW, PGFTU and FIUP, the Histradut and worker advice centers (both in Palestine and Israeli), as well as speaking first hand with Palestinian workers. Here is a general outline of some of our findings; • Despite an Israeli High Court decision in 2007, Palestinian workers are still paid well below the minimum wage. • While Jewish workers in the settlements generally keep to eight hour shifts, Palestinian workers in the same settlements are denied such rights and generally finish when they are permitted (this is not a complaint against Jewish workers).
    • Most industrial zones in the settlements have been transferred from Israel into the West bank for environmental (lack of) reasons – in other words “not in my back yard”.
    • Industrial zones generally don’t have proper waste management strategies other than the Palestinian land below (most settlements are on higher ground).
    • The Palestinian unions are not allowed to represent Palestinian workers in these settlements/industrial zones.
    • The Histadrut will not represent these workers and did claim that they don’t receive any complaints. However, they are well aware that Palestinian workers cannot enter Israel to lodge any complaint without special passes that are impossible to obtain and the legal system is financially prohibitive for Palestinians.
    • Palestinian workers are denied basic rights and often subject to an environment of humiliation.
    • Palestinian workers have to purchase a licence to work in settlements and generally do not receive employment papers or pay slips.
    • Palestinian workers are tied to one employer under threat of revocation of work permits should they raise industrial issues.
    • Palestinian workers injured in the workplace are frequently either/both docked wages and sacked. The plight of the Palestinian workers in these industrial zones (including some of the people we met) is covered in an online documentary; Seeds of peace, which can be viewed on line at: http://www.march21.nl/seedsofpeace

    Palestinian Prisoners
    It is estimated that there are between 8,000 – 10,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including over 300 children and one-third of the elected Palestinian Legislative Council. Many prisoners are held in administrative detention for up to periods of 6 months without charge and limited access to legal representation. The administrative detention period can be increased by six months at the conclusion of any six-month period and without legal representation. Hamas also hold an Israeli solider prisoner as it has done since 2006.

    5

    Palestinian Refugees

    There are approximately four million Palestinian refugees as a result of the partition plan of 1947 and the war of 1967. Four hundred thousand of these refugees are in Lebanon. We visited the Palestinian refugee camp of Bouj al Barajneh (Beirut) – it was confronting and one that gave a feeling of significant concern for their plight. There are 20,000 refugees inside two sq km with very little assistance. They are denied the right to return or compensation for their former homes by the Israeli Government despite UN Resolutions addressing this issue. Their living conditions are a humanitarian shame.

    The Palestinian refugee problem is not a problem that will ‘go away’ or be resolved without greater international intervention.

    We acknowledge that it is impractical to re-house all four million refugees inside Israel/Palestine, but those countries that supported the partition plan of 1947 should be called upon to provide greater assistance through financial compensation or offers of resettlement. This is particularly the case for those refugees in Lebanon (many are tertiary educated) who are denied access to the vast majority of the Lebanese labour market due to the political situation in that country. As a result, they have basically become a people without hope, but a people who are searching for something to hope for. While not the preferred outcome, many of the Palestinian refugees in the camp stated they would gladly accept resettlement in a third country. Access to Holy sites When the 1947 Partition Plan was passed at the UN to establish the state of Israel, Jerusalem and Bethlehem were to be administered by the international community so that access was equally available to all due to the religious significance for the three Abrahamic faiths.

    It is our view that in any final peace agreement, that access to the religious sections of the Old City of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron should receive at the very least UN observer status, so as to ensure safe and secure access for everyone free of an environment of intimidation. Whether someone is religious or not, visiting these three locations and their associated religious sites underlined their significance and this is something that cannot be dismissed. Peace Process The vast majority of both Palestinians and Israeli Jews that we spoke to want a two state solution where they can remain ‘removed from the other’. Our view has strengthened in support of such an outcome because there appears to be too much resentment, mistrust and fear of domination. However, we are far more pessimistic that this can be achieved through continued Israeli settlement expansion and facts on the ground. All Palestinians and Palestinian organisations that we met, called for an end to the

    6

    Illegal occupation and a return to internationally recognised ‘1967 borders’ (UNSC Resolution 242)

    As a starting point to achieve a just and viable two state solution. To paraphrase the Director of the UN in Gaza; the peace process is ‘hurtling’ towards the cliff’s edge, its not too late to save it, but once it goes over the cliff it will affect all of ‘us’, in that we may end up with an outcome far greater than regional war. Since the expansion of Israel beyond its legitimate ‘1967 borders’, all the Palestinians have ever been offered to date is a patchwork of reservations not consistent with any viable state and not in Israel’s long-term security interests. The current situation is unsustainable and will eventually play into the hands of those who want to see an end to the state of Israel through a one state solution – this is a situation that has been acknowledged by some Israeli MPs and by Palestinians and Israelis we spoke to on the ground. Iran is not Israel’s greatest danger as Israel is the world’s fourth greatest military power; it is Israel itself through continued land expansion and colonisation of Palestinian land. The Arab league has twice offered Israel full diplomatic recognition in return for an end to the occupation and a return to ’1967 borders’.

    This would not only offer the state of Israel the greatest security guarantee by co-existing side by side with a viable Palestinian state, it would also isolate terror groups, starve global terror groups of the oxygen they draw from the conflict, ensure greater world peace and isolate any ambition Iran has to become a regional power. General David Petraeus the commander of the US Central Command described (March 2010) the Israel-Palestine conflict as a ”root cause of instability” and an ”obstacle to peace” that is playing into the hands of Iran and al-Qaeda. Israel has achieved peace with Jordan and Egypt, with Egypt it was as a result of ending the occupation of Egyptian land, which underlines that ending the occupation, is Israel’s greatest security guarantee. The Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, claims that the illegal settlements are now reaching a “tipping point” and soon a one-state solution will be the only option and Ehud Barak, former Israeli Prime Minister and current Defence Minister, has stated that “Israel will be an apartheid state if no peace deal is reached”. (Haaretz, March 7th, 2010). Conclusion based on our observations We believe that both the Israelis and Palestinians have the right to live in peace and with security within internationally accepted borders in accordance with United Nations Resolutions. We found that the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians want such an outcome in their own independent states.

    The best way for Israel to achieve genuine and lasting security is for an end to the occupation and colonisation of the Palestinian Territories. Continuation of the annexation of Palestinian land, resources and denial of basic human rights only increases an environment of maginalisation and radicalisation.

    7

    We observed limited signs of economic activity in some Palestinian cities and towns. However, until the occupation ends, the Palestinian economy will remain severally restricted as will the ability of the Palestinian Authority to operate on behalf of its people. The Palestinians are not going to accept a “this as good as it gets” out-come that does not include East Jerusalem as their capital. They as one (both Muslims and Christians), called for an end to the occupation and a return to ‘1967 borders’ as the starting point for any discussion of land swaps. Many international unions now support the call by all Palestinian Union Federations and political parties for (at a minimum) a boycott, divestment and sanctions against goods produced in the illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land and against companies involved in the construction of the settlements.

    This is a position that we can see no alternative but to support as a result of our experience.

    The British Government has also issued an advisory for UK supermarket chains to label goods produced in these settlements as such. The EU has also removed special tax concessions from Israeli goods produced in settlements. There has been much violence through this conflict and the people want and deserve peace. Violence needs to be condemned on all sides of the conflict, especially the targeting of civilians. When you remove the ‘rule of law’ in any society, the ‘rule of the gun’ prevails. There is some support for the opinion that peace is not in the interest of sections of the Israeli Government as this will mean an end to settlement expansion, just as peace is not in the interest of some radical Palestinian groups who do not accept the state of Israel’s right to exist. For these reasons we believe that the international community (including Australia) needs to take a stronger position in ensuring that a meaningful two state solution can still be achieved before it is beyond a viable option. It is time for those who support a genuine two state solution and/or who claim to be friends of Israel, to apply strong meaningful diplomatic pressure on the Israeli government to save the state of Israel from its own demise. The current situation of expansion over security is not sustainable.

    If you require any further information or seek clarification, contact David Forde on 0413 874 008

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  3. Norman Finklestein

    If I understand correctly the short response by Norman Finklestein to a tearful question in this video, he rejects European guilt over the Holocaust as justification for the taking of Palestinian land to establish the state of Israel.

    See what you think.

    Ian Curr
    March 2010

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