When security isn’t enough: Separating Gaza and the West Bank

When the Dutch prime minister offered a way to safely transport goods from Gaza to the West Bank, Prime Minister Netanyahu made sure to put the kibosh on the plan. Why? Because. That’s just the way it is. Security reasons.

Palestinian youth on a cart in the no-go zone along the Gaza-Israel border fence, February 14, 2012

You may have read in Haaretz that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the Dutch prime minister this week to explain a few things about Israel’s national security. Maybe you didn’t quite understand why this is a story. That’s not surprising. The story is Gaza, and it’s a story that doesn’t make it to the news too much. So, if you’re interested, and you should be, here’s a little context:

Try to imagine an economy without exports. It’s not self-contained, because it does not really supply all its own needs. It is simply an economic entity that sells almost no goods outside its territory – a large-scale economic experiment. That’s what the Gaza Strip is today.

Why is this the case?

The only crossing used for transporting goods outside of Gaza is Kerem Shalom, which is controlled by Israel. Israel allows goods to exit Gaza, but only if they are not sold in the West Bank or inside Israel itself. Goods that exit Gaza are transported on Israeli soil, and shipped to Europe via the Ashdod seaport. Goods exit Gaza, get shipped through Israel and the West Bank to Jordan. Goods are transported to Ben-Gurion International Airport in Israel and flown to the USA. These same goods cannot be sold here, or in the West Bank. Why? It’s unclear. The only reason Israel has given is the “separation policy,” i.e., separating and distinguishing the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from one another. What are the reasons for this policy? Well, it depends who you ask. Who conceived and implemented this policy? Unclear. When? Unknown. Why? Because.

Why is this important?

Because before the closure, 85 percent of the goods shipped out of Gaza, were sold in Israel and the West Bank. These are the main markets for Gaza’s products. European markets are too far, and the cost of shipping is very high. In fact, it is so high that the Dutch are funding about half the agricultural products chosen to be part of the European export project. It’s more of a humanitarian project than an export project, and it looks like it too. Before the closure, 1,064 trucks left Gaza every month. In October, only 10 trucks left. Ten trucks in an entire month.

So what does an almost export-less economy look like?

Like this: 32.5 percent unemployment in the third quarter of 2013. Before the closure, 400 farmers grew strawberries. Ahead of 2011, there were only 75. In 2007, 150 farmers grew sweet peppers. Ahead of 2011, the number dropped to 13. Only 13 farmers in an area that has a population of 1.7 million. There are more figures. We could talk about that 51 percent or so of factories in the Gaza Strip which are either entirely out of commission or operating at half capacity or less (this is a 2010 figure, the situation has likely gotten worse). We could talk about people, usually children, who collect gravel in the “buffer zone”, risking getting shot by the Israeli army, because they have no other work. But never mind, you get the point.

Now, The Netherlands has decided to do something about this export ban. If there are security problems, the Dutch said, we’ll buy a new scanner for the Kerem Shalom crossing that can check the goods shipped out of Gaza. The Dutch hoped that Israel would then withdraw its objection to the sale of Gaza-made goods in the West Bank. Millions of Euros and over a year of work went into this project, and the scanner has changed nothing. Israel still refuses to allow the sale of Gaza goods in the West Bank, giving no reasons.

So, the prime minister meets with the Dutch prime minister, and instead of explaining why this ban is in place he says: “You have to understand that sometimes it gets abused.” He doesn’t explain how. He just gives the tunnel as an example. What does the tunnel have to do with it? Unclear. Why does Israel allow goods from Gaza to be shipped through its territory, but doesn’t let the same goods be sold in the West Bank? Unclear. That’s just the way it is. Security reasons.

So this is the context. You’re welcome to decide for yourselves if Netanyahu’s explanations are convincing. I’m not convinced. Israel has real security problems when it comes to the Gaza Strip (and the Palestinians in general). There are real risks and real challenges, but Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon cynically use them to justify a policy that was never explained to the public and that no one has ever taken responsibility for – a policy that looks a little too much like collective punishment.

And nobody’s talking about it. It’s too complicated. It’s Gaza. And besides, we left Gaza, so what do you want from us anyway? It’s Egypt’s problem.

(Source / 11.12.2013)

Fast Proof of Nerve Gas in Syria

A high-tech investigation confirmed the use of neurotoxins in the Syrian chemical attacks.

man-mourns-after-gas-attack

A man mourns over a dead body after a poison gas attack in Damascus, Syria in August.

Scientific advancements rarely become the crux of diplomacy. But in September, labs working with the United Nations used faster and more sophisticated analytic techniques to show that Syrian civilians were killed by the chemical weapon sarin on Aug. 21 — evidence crucial to debates about whether the global community should intervene.

U.N. inspectors were not able to visit the attack sites in Damascus until five to eight days after rockets struck. In the past, this delay could have made the poison difficult to detect. But today’s mass spectrometers, which determine the molecular makeup of a sample by exactly measuring the mass of its components, are roughly 1,000 times as sensitive as those used in 1995, when sarin was released in a Tokyo subway, says Maarten Nieuwenhuizen, a senior chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear protection consultant at TNO laboratories in the Netherlands.

Although the U.N. report offers few details, Nieuwenhuizen says the devices likely pinpointed molecules that formed when neurotoxins react with blood proteins — a signature that can persist in the blood up to 90 days. The analysis played a role in garnering a Nobel Peace Prize for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

(Source / 11.12.2013)

Bahraini court jails 12 anti-regime demonstrators

A court in Bahrain has sentenced 12 anti-regime protesters to prison for allegedly attacking a car warehouse as the Al Khalifa regime steps up its crackdown on dissent.

On Wednesday, the court sentenced the protesters to 15 years in jail each, accusing them of setting the car warehouse ablaze near the capital Manama where 59 cars were damaged in February 2012.

The court also accused the defendants of participating in “an unauthorized demonstration” and “possessing Molotov cocktails.”

The Bahraini court slapped a total of 383,000 dinars (USD 1 million, 700,000 euros) in fines on the group for the cars damaged in the warehouse.

On December 8, a court in Bahrain sentenced 12 anti-regime protesters, including three minors, to prison terms of up to five years.

The court sentenced the nine adults to five years in jail each. The three minors were also given three-year prison terms each.

Manama has accused the defendants of attacking a police patrol with petrol bombs.

According to Bahrain’s main opposition party, al-Wefaq, the Manama regime’s harsh clampdown on pro-democracy activists has intensified over the past months.

In October, Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, said, “The [Bahraini] authorities simply slap the label ‘terrorist’ on defendants and then subject them to all manner of violations to end up with a ‘confession’.”

Bahrainis have been staging demonstrations since mid-February 2011, calling for political reforms and a constitutional monarchy, a demand that later changed to an outright call for the ouster of the ruling Al Khalifa family following its brutal crackdown on popular protests.

Scores have been killed, many of them under torture while in custody, and thousands more detained since the popular uprising started in the kingdom.

Physicians for Human Rights says doctors and nurses have been detained, tortured, or disappeared because they have “evidence of atrocities committed by the authorities, security forces, and riot police” in the crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Protesters say they will continue to hold anti-regime demonstrations until their demands for the establishment of a democratically-elected government and an end to rights violations are met.

(Source / 11.12.2013)

To end the occupation, dissolve the Palestinian Authority

View of the backs of riot police at a demonstration

The Palestinian Authority stands in the way of liberation.

My head feels like it will explode. There are many urgent questions but, like most Palestinians, I feel a sense of incomprehension as I listen to the news about John Kerry’srecurring visits, and the talk of a Palestinian state and lasting peace.

When people step away from their TV screens and go out into the street, they experience a different reality. They experience heavily armed soldiers storming, killing and imprisoning.

They experience checkpoints dotting the roads. They experience bulldozers and equipment uprooting their olive trees and building houses for Israeli settlers on their land.

What is happening? Where is the peace? Where are the negotiations? And who is Kerry anyway?

To the Palestinian Authority negotiators, I ask: What are you doing?

Israel gains time

Allow me to travel with you twenty years back in time to the start of Oslo negotiations, which also marked the beginning of the attempted eradication of our dream of an independent Palestinian state. The Zionists have always aimed to gain time in order to impose a fait accompli on the Palestinian people.

More time is tantamount to more construction of colonies; the number of colonies that were constructed since Oslo has doubled, bringing the number of Israeli settlers in the occupiedWest Bank — including East Jerusalem — to as many as 650,000, according to some figures.

More time means more checkpoints and more separation walls, all of which put the entire Palestinian people in ghettoes and Bantustans where they cannot move securely through the barriers of humiliation and the gates of indignity. That’s what negotiations have brought us.

Brazen

And now, shamelessly and brazenly, you are talking about a Palestinian state on twelve percent of historic Palestine? Where is this Palestinian state? And what are its borders?

Who gave you the right to negotiate on my behalf? Who gave you the right to prevent my children from visiting the sea, which is not farther than 25 kilometers from where we live? They have not seen it in their whole lives.

Who gave you the right to prevent my children and me from visiting Jerusalem? That great city is only 20 kilometers from my home, but we can only hear about it in the news and see it in pictures.

Who gave you the right to negotiate on my right to live in freedom, peace and security? Such rights are inalienable and cannot be usurped or surrendered by anyone.

And when will your negotiations come to an end? Will any agreement be subject to a popular referendum in which the entire Palestinian people living in Palestine and in the diaspora participate?

You recognize quite well that these negotiations are absurdly hollow and meaningless, and that you are certain that the primary beneficiary from these negotiations will be the Israeli occupation. So why do you cling on to these negotiations with tooth and claw?

I am quite sure that these negotiations will not achieve peace, or a Palestinian state.

Doomed to failure

Reality suggests that Israeli occupation forces will not abide by the outcome of these negotiations, just as Israel has refused to abide by the outcome of previous negotiations — under the pretext of security.

If the negotiations fail — and I’m sure they are doomed to failure — what will happen next? What are the alternatives and what are your plans? What is your strategy for ending the occupation?

I am disheartened to say that after these failed negotiations there will be more failed negotiations. You are divided and quarreling among yourselves.

Your goals are not national. You do not work in the best interests of the people, but for partisan and factional interests.

What a pity that you do not believe in our right to live in freedom, like other peoples of the world.

Freedom is not something that is given to people. It is something that is gained.

We will not gain our freedom except through popular resistance, in which all segments of the Palestinian people are unified against the occupation, in an organized popular intifada.

There will not be a popular intifada before the Palestinian Authority is dissolved, and a unified, principles-centered national leadership is formed. Only such leadership can take forward a global intifada to end the occupation once and for all.

(Source / 11.12.2013)

Prisoner visits canceled due to clashes in Israeli jail

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — Family visits for Palestinian detainees in Israel’s Megiddo jail were canceled on Wednesday after clashes broke out between prisoners and Israeli prison guards.

Relatives of prisoners told Ma’an that their visits were canceled due to the clashes, with witnesses saying that Israeli guards fired tear gas into prison courtyards.

Israeli media reported that detainees began throwing objects at guards and set a laundry room on fire in protest against the transfer of two inmates from a wing of the jail.

Three detainees were injured during the clashes.

Palestinian detainee Arafat Jaradat died in Megiddo jail in February after being allegedly tortured during an interrogation by Israeli forces.

There are around 5,000 Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails.

The transfer of detainees to jails within an occupying power’s territory is illegal under international law.

(Source / 11.12.2013)

Administrative detainees to go on strike

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — Palestinians in administrative detention in Israeli jails will hold a hunger strike on Thursday in protest of their detention, the minister of prisoners affairs said.

Issa Qaraqe said that detainees will continue their protest steps despite the arbitrary punishments imposed on them by the Israeli prison administration.

Over 300 Palestinians are held without charge in administrative detention in Israeli prisons, using laws dating back to the British Mandate period.

(Source / 11.12.2013)

Yemen warning closes U.N. offices in Sanaa Thursday

Yemeni military personnel visit the scene of the attack on the Yemeni defence ministry that took place on December 5.

A warning of a possible attack in the part of Yemen’s capital where U.N. offices are located has prompted an order for staff to stay home on Thursday, a U.N. source said.

“Staff of the U.N. mission and U.N. agencies have received instructions not to turn up for work on Thursday,” the source said.

The source said it was a “precautionary measure following advice from Yemeni security authorities”.

The guidance warned of the “risk of possible acts of terrorism in certain places, particular Hida,” the south Sanaa neighborhood where the U.N. offices are located, the source said.

A government spokesman told AFP that Western embassies were not affected by the alert.

“Additional security measures will be taken around certain key installations and foreign interests, including the offices of (French energy giant) Total,” the spokesman said.

However, he added that the American School, in a northwestern suburb of Sanaa, will close on Thursday.

Security forces have been on high alert in the city since a brazen daylight attack on the defense ministry’s sprawling headquarters on December 5 killed 56 people, among them expatriate medical staff.

Information gleaned during the investigation into that attack, which was claimed by al-Qaeda, led to the discovery of two cars packed with explosives and a massive search for five more suspected to be still inside Sanaa.

In August, a security alert prompted an unprecedented closure of American embassies across and beyond the Middle East, which was mirrored by the British and French missions in Sanaa.

(Source / 11.12.2013)

Charity condemns Israeli role in UK drone project

War on Want claims technology to be used in Watchkeeper drones has been field tested in attacks on Gaza
Hermes 450 drone

An Elbit Systems Hermes 450 drone.

A campaigning charity has criticised the UK’s deal with an Israeli firm to develop a new drone, Watchkeeper, which the charity claims has been “field tested” in attacks on Gaza that left many Palestinians dead.

War on Want, an anti-poverty charity that also campaigns for justice for Palestine, called for an embargo by the European Union on arms trade with Israel, a move that would end collaboration between Thales UK and Israel’s Elbit Systems, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of unmanned aircraft.

The Ministry of Defence has awarded a succession of contracts for the long-delayed Watchkeeper project, now totalling nearly £1bn, to a joint venture between Elbit and Thales UK to build 54 drones. After a series of technical problems, Watchkeeper finally received its “statement of type design assurance” in October from the Military Aviation Authority, giving the MoD the green light for airworthiness and safety tests.

The joint venture, UAV Tactical Systems, will oversee the Watchkeeper programme with work subcontracted to a number of other British companies. The design and technology of Watchkeeper is based on Elbit’s Hermes 450 model, which Israel has used extensively over Gaza. British forces have used unarmed Hermes drones in Afghanistan.

In a 23-page report (pdf) published on Wednesday, War on Want refers to reports of armed Israeli UAVs killing Palestinians in Gaza. About 800 Palestinians have been reported killed in Israeli raids by drones between 2006 and 2011, the charity claims, citing the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. However, it is not known whether the strikes were by Elbit drones or by other Israeli unmanned weapons systems or aircraft.

War on Want’s senior campaigns officer Rafeef Ziadah said: “By supporting the arms trade with Israeli companies, the British government is sending a clear message of approval for Israel’s aggression against the Palestinian people. The European Union is sending a similar message through its research funding for Israeli arms companies. It is high time both the UK and the EU ended their support for Israel’s violations of international law.”

The charity’s report also says the previous Labour government rejected Israeli assurances that UK arms would not be deployed against civilians in Palestinian territory, but there were now 381 extant British arms licences to Israel, worth £7.8bn.

A MoD spokesperson told the Guardian: “Watchkeeper is an unarmed, remotely piloted air system that will provide ground troops with vital surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence that will help save military and civilian lives. There is no intention to arm Watchkeeper, which like all the UK’s unmanned air systems will be operated by highly trained pilots.”

Elbit Systems said it had no comment to make.

This week the Guardian reported that new guidance published by UK Trade and Investment, which promotes British businesses in foreign markets, stated there were “clear risks” related to economic and financial activities in West Bank settlements, and it did not encourage or offer support to such activity.

The guidance said: “Financial transactions, investments, purchases, procurements as well as other economic activities (including in services like tourism) in Israeli settlements or benefiting Israeli settlements, entail legal and economic risks stemming from the fact that the Israeli settlements, according to international law, are built on occupied land and are not recognised as a legitimate part of Israel’s territory.”

Ziadah, who is on the national committee of the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, seized on the guidance, saying: “The UK government has realised that its condemnations of illegal settlements are falling on deaf ears, and has started to address the huge amount of economic support that the illegal settlements receive from UK businesses.”

(Source / 11.12.2013)

Syria: US and UK suspend aid after Islamist fighters seize weapons stores

‘Non-lethal’ aid suspended after newly formed Islamic Front seizes warehouses in north-west Syria
A Syrian rebel fighter aims his weapon at pro-government forces in Aleppo

A Syrian rebel fighter aims his weapon at pro-government forces in Aleppo.

The US and Britain have suspended all non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels after Islamist fighters seized control of headquarters and stores belonging to western-backed opposition forces.

The sudden decision highlights the hazards of backing rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad at a time when extremist groups are in the ascendant.

The US embassy in Ankara said on Wednesday it had suspended “all non-lethal assistance” into northern Syria after members of the newly formed Islamic Front took over premises belonging to the Free Syrian Army’s Supreme Military Council, which is aligned to the anti-Assad opposition National Coalition.

Louay Meqdad, a spokesman for the FSA, urged “our friends” to reconsider the decision. Washington and London have supplied communications equipment, vehicles, body armour, medical supplies, cash and food to rebels fighting under the authority of the FSA. Arms are generally paid for and supplied by the Gulf states.

The Islamic Front, which comprises six rebel brigades, seized warehouses reportedly containing dozens of anti-aircraft weapons and anti-tank rockets at the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Turkish border last weekend. The group is backed by Saudi Arabia.

a UK Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are currently investigating events that took place over the weekend. While that investigation is under way, we will not be making any deliveries of equipment to the SMC. We intend to resume support as soon as we and the SMC are satisfied the conditions on the ground allow the SMC to take safe delivery of equipment provided.”

The US said there had been no change in its policy of providing non-lethal support to the moderate opposition.

In the House of Commons, David Cameron warned against the idea that the entire Syrian opposition was extremist and stressed the need to continue working with its moderate members. He said Britain should remain “fully engaged” in all efforts to end the civil war. “We must not allow this argument to develop that the only opposition in Syria is an extremist opposition,” he said.

The opposition is under heavy pressure to attend a peace conference on Syria in Geneva in the third week of January. Divisions in the rebel camp have weakened their efforts to bring down Assad. The conflict began with peaceful protests in Deraa in March 2011 and has descended into outright civil war that is estimated to have killed more than 126,000 people from both sides.

Wednesday’s announcements do not affect humanitarian support because that is distributed through aid groups and the United Nations. The first UN relief airlift to Syria from neighbouring Iraq will deliver food and winter supplies to the mostly Kurdish north-east over the next 10 days.

Thirteen international news organisations including the Guardian have written to Syrian rebel groups urging them to desist from kidnapping journalists and asking for the release of an estimated 30 who are believed to be held hostage.

Addressed to “the leadership of the armed opposition in Syria,” the letteris signed by news agencies, leading US newspapers, the BBC, the Daily Telegraph and the Economist. It is being emailed to the FSA and sent via social media to the leaders of other groups including the Islamic Front.

It was revealed on Tuesday that two Spanish journalists – Javier Espinosa, an El Mundo reporter, and Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, a freelance photographer – are being held in Syria. They are thought to be in the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in north-eastern Raqqa province. Another group with links to al-Qaida, Jabhat al-Nusra, has abducted other journalists.

(Source / 11.12.2013)

Soldiers Kidnap Two Palestinian In Gaza

[Wednesday December 11, 2013] Israeli sources have reported that the army kidnapped two Palestinians who crossed the “border fence” between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

File - Image By PNN
The sources said that the two were unarmed, and likely tried to enter Israeli searching for work.

The two have been moved to an interrogation facility in an Israeli settlement close to the border with the besieged and impoverished Gaza Strip.

There have been dozens of similar incidents as the Gaza Strip remains under strict Israeli siege, despite Israeli claims of easing it, and allowing a limited number of trucks carrying urgently needed supplies into the coastal region.

It is worth mentioning that dozens of Palestinians have been killed or wounded, and dozens have been kidnapped, for approaching the border fence area, while most of them were working in Palestinian lands close to the border, and did not even come near the fence.

Israeli considers Palestinians lands close to the border fence to be a “no-man zone”, and anyone who enters it is subject to direct army fire without a warning.

(Source / 11.12.2013)