UK NGOs: urgent need to end sanctions against Gaza

A group of British non-governmental organizations has just called for an urgent end to sanctions against Gaza, and for Palestinian dialogue and reconciliation.

The report, issued collectively, is available on the Oxfam website.

It says that “The blockade has effectively dismantled the economy and impoverished the population of Gaza. Israel’s policy affects the civilian population of Gaza indiscriminately and constitutes a collective punishment against ordinary men, women and children. The measures taken are illegal under international humanitarian law. Israel has the right and duty to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks against its civilian population, but the current policy fails to provide Israel with increased security and has led to increasing polarisation … International efforts should be directed towards securing a swift end to the blockade of Gaza. Israel’s current policy of isolation and refusal to engage with all elements of the Palestinian leadership only closes doors to negotiations while reinforcing the political and humanitarian crisis. There is an urgent need for Palestinian dialogue and reconciliation in order to create and sustain a credible and effective peace process with Israel. The international community must provide the political support to facilitate such an undertaking. To date, failure to address the situation in Gaza has harmed both Palestinians and Israelis and has been detrimental to the broader peace process itself”.

The report also called “on the UK government and EU to ensure that the Israeli government lifts movement and access restrictions throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories to facilitate long-term Palestinian economic development”.

The EU is the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority. The UK government is the only one from any European or major Western country to call — as it did at the end of January, and in early February — for a stop to the Israeli sanctions against Gaza, particularly the sanctions affecting fuel and electricity.

This report can be read in its entirety here .

European Parliament "lambastes" Israel over Gaza seige

Today, the European Parliament adopted a resolution saying that “The policy of isolation of the Gaza strip has failed at both the political and humanitarian level … The civilian population should be exempt from any military action and any collective punishment.”

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, using reporting from Reuters and its own reporting as well, added that the resolution also said: “The European Parliament calls on Israel to cease military actions killing and endangering civilians, and extrajudicial targeted killings”.

The lawmakers also urged the Gaza Strip’s rulers Hamas to prevent the firing of rockets into Israel.

However, the report noted, “EU lawmakers have no power over the bloc’s foreign policy” … This Haaretz story is posted here.

Meanwhile, in another story with a Europe angle, the Jerusalem Post reported that “An Israeli prime minister has never visited Brussels on a formal diplomatic mission. ‘It’s just never worked out’, the diplomatic official said … Part of Israel’s strategy to strengthen relations with Europe is to de-link those ties from the vicissitudes of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In the past, Israeli-European ties fluctuated parallel to progress, or the lack thereof, on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. ‘The Europeans are, in general, not pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli, they are pro-peace process. Progress with the Palestinians meant better relations with Europe’, the Israeli diplomatic source said. Jerusalem’s new strategy is to enhance cooperation with Europe in a variety of fields and to demonstrate that Israel can help with some of the EU’s many interests in the region. To that end, Israel has in the past few weeks sent a detailed plan to the European Union asking to enter into negotiations on cooperation in nine fields. The cooperation would entail ‘significant’ Israeli inclusion into an array of EU institutions in fields such as finance, education, environment, youth development, law enforcement, security cooperation and scientific research collaboration … Another aspect of Jerusalem’s strategy to strengthen ties with Europe is increasing contact with the continent’s growing Muslim communities. ‘Europe is becoming more and more Muslim, and we have identified a need to reach out to these populations’, the diplomatic official said”. This JPost article is posted here.

"It's only going to be temporary and things are likely to get worse again"

Here is a probably correct comment from a rueful Palestinian interviewed by The Guardian in Al-Arish, the northern Sinai: ” ‘We were hoping that opening the borders with Egypt would bring us relief’, he said. ‘But it doesn’t solve the problem. It’s only going to be temporary and things are likely to get worse again’.” Comment from an article in The Guardian here.

Israel could have bombed its own power station to punish Gaza…

Israeli political commentator Nahum Barnea has just written an article, published on Ynet, heaping scorn on Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s recent authorization of a phased tightening of sanctions imposed against Gaza due to Hamas’ victory there.

Here are some juicy excerpts: “Something is happening to Ehud Barak in his second term in office. He is so smart in his mind, so ripe and ready and worthier than anyone else, that being smart is no longer good enough for him. Now he’s a smartass too. His latest decision, to cut off the power in Gaza in response to Qassam attacks, is an excellent example of the difference between being smart and being a smartass: There has been plenty of commentary about it, piles of analytical explanations, a series of winks from those in the know, but nobody dares to say openly what everyone is quietly whispering: It’s a dumb decision.

“I would not be using such a blatant term had this decision not revealed a rare combination of flaws. First, it does not punish Qassam launchers, but rather, the Gaza population, and pushes it into the arms of Hamas and terrorism. Secondly, it contradicts any moral or international law norm. Instead of disconnecting Israel from the occupation, at least in matters pertaining to Gaza, it worsens Israel’s image as a cruel occupier. Thirdly, it is incommensurate with the effort to renew dialogue with the Palestinian Authority and with moderate Arab regimes. The foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia, not to mention Mahmoud Abbas, would not be able to quietly sit in Annapolis when Barak is keeping Gaza in darkness.

“Barak did not invent a smart new move.

“The idea to cut off Gaza’s power was raised in the past. It tempted IDF major generals because it did not require an effort or risk on their part. We just cut off the power and that’s it. To their surprise, they discovered that the Israel Electric Company refuses to cooperate: It signed a contract with the Palestinian Authority and it cannot violate it.

“The IDF could have, in line with Joseph Heller’s satirical novel Catch-22, bombed the Israeli power station in Ashkelon [n.b. which supplies nearly 30% of Gaza’s current electricity — that would be one way to ensure a cut-off in Gaza, Barnea is saying], but that idea was rejected as well, for practical reasons. As there was no other choice, the Air Force bombed the transformers inside Gaza [n.b., in late June 2006, after Palestinian militants seized Israeli Corporal Shalit, who is still being held prisoner in Gaza, nearly a year and a half later]. The bombing angered the Americans, who invested money in the Gaza power station. Moreover, this move did not prevent the launching of even one Qassam rocket …
The Nahum Barnea commentary on the new Israeli sanctions being implemented against Gaza is here.

Gaza official appeals to Israelis

Israel’s Ynet news is this afternoon publishing a commentary signed by Maher Najer, deputy director of Gaza’s water company. It is interesting that it was published — and that it was published here. The Gazan official is clearly trying, though he seems both exhausted and exasperated, to reach out to Israeli public opinion.

Here are large excerpts from his article:

“The Israeli government decided, according to reports, to use the supply of water and fuel and the transfer of goods as a legitimate tool for sanctions against Gaza’s civilian population, and in the same breath declared that it would ‘refrain from creating a humanitarian crisis’. However, limiting the supply of electricity and fuel would hurt first and foremost medical devices, refrigerated food, and other essential elements.

“The Israeli government’s decision to cut the supply of electricity and fuel would also hurt the water supply, because Gaza’s pumping stations, just like sanitation systems, are operated by electricity. However, there would be nothing new about this; Israel is already undermining Gaza’s water infrastructure, and the Strip is already seeing the emergence of a severe water crisis, whose implications could bring about a humanitarian and environmental disaster in Gaza and outside of it as a result of the pollution of sea water and beaches in Israel as well and the possible spread of disease.

“In recent months, Israel is not allowing the transfer of spare parts and equipments for Gaza’s water infrastructure. The stocks of spare parts are running out, and some pumps no longer have any spare parts at all. The absence of major infrastructure and equipment components would lead to the collapse of the water and sanitation systems, and such collapse would certainly cause floods and the leakage of sewage into the sea and drinking water.

“Israeli officials claim that when it comes to humanitarian issues, Gaza’s needs are addressed. The truth is far from it. Safe access to clean water is a basic humanitarian right, which is apparently absent in the minds of Israeli decision-makers. Polluted water and a lack of hygiene constitute the 10th leading cause of the death in the world.

“Most of the 1.5 million of men, women, and children who reside in the ‘hostile territory’ of Gaza do not plot any malicious acts against Israel and are not a party to the firing of Qassam rockets. Most of us aspire for normalcy and peaceful life with our neighbors, who would do well to remind their government that undermining the water supply can be just the same as playing with fire”.
The Gazan official’s commentary for Ynet news is posted here.

Palestinians report several Israeli attacks on Gaza –and more Qassam attacks on Israel

The two independent Palestinian news agencies, Ramattan and Ma’an, are both reporting an upsurge in Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Ramattan is reporting that “Witnesses told RNA that Israeli bulldozers has destroyed on Monday the pipelines that provide Gaza with fuel at al-Montar (Karni) crossing, east of Gaza. The witnesses said that in Israeli bulldozer uprooted the network of the fuel tubes in the crossing”. The Ramattan report on the destruction of fuel pipelines at the Karni crossing from Israel to Gaza is here.

Ma’an has a report on multiple Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) attacks, with a number of casualties — including, so far, three Palestinian deaths and 11 injured, and one IDF death: “…Israeli forces invaded the Gaza Strip in several places Monday morning … Israeli forces killed one Palestinian fighter, twenty-two-year old Ahmad Abu Tahun, affiliated with Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades, near Sufa border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip on Monday morning. Israeli sources said two soldiers from the Golani Brigade were injured in a battle with Palestinian fighters south of Sufa crossing. The soldiers were evacuated to Soroka hospital in Beersheba. Ma’an later learned that one injured soldier died of his wounds.” Ma’an also reported IDF attacks with casualties in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza strip, including the death of one disabled Palestinian. And, Ma’an reported that “Earlier, two Al-Qassam Brigades fighters were injured while attempting to block an advancing Israeli unit in a village near the city of Khan Younis. The Al-Qassam Brigades said they lobbed an explosive device and seven mortar shells at the invading forces. Israeli forces also invaded the city of Dier Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, seizing five Palestinians over 24 hours…”

Ma’an additional reported that “Palestinian resistance groups struck Israeli targets in response to Israel’s renewed incursions. The military wing of the Popular Resistance Committees, the An-Nasser Salah Addin Brigades said they launched a homemade projectile at the Israeli border town of Sderot, near the Gaza Strip. The An-Nasser Brigades also claimed to have fired two mortar shells at the Israeli military base at Kisufim”.
The Ma’an report on Monday’s attacks in Gaza is here.

Interestingly, a week ago, on Saturday 20 October — while the Israeli Defense Ministry was preparing plans for a phased program of escalating sanctions against Gaza if Qassam attacks continued — Maan reported that “Israeli forces completely demolished the main electricity transformer in the northern Gaza Strip on Friday evening. Local residents of northern Gaza reported spending Friday night completely immersed in darkness after the destruction of the transformer which supplies power to the area. Eyewitnesses stated that an Israeli tank launched a shell towards the transformer located near the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun … The area of Beit Lahiya was also subjected to Israeli gunfire and has had a suspension of electricity”. The Ma’an report of a 20th October attack on the main electricity transformer in the northern Gaza strip is posted her.

Israel cuts Gaza fuel

Israel has apparently not yet implemented phased sanctions against Gaza in retaliation for Qassam rocket attacks against Israel… but fuel supplies to Gaza have reportedly been stopped.

The Israeli High Court of Justice will rule next week on petitions submitted by a number of Israeli human rights groups seeking to stop an Israeli cut-off of vitally needed supplies, such as the fuel on which the Gaza power plant operates since a June 2006 Israeli air strike destroyed all the plant’s generators.

But, the Israeli military has closed the Sufa crossing through which the fuel is delivered from Israel to Gaza. So, one way or another, the fuel is cut off.

A separate decision to cut-off direct Israeli suspension of electricity supplies to Gaza is still pending, according to Israeli officials.

See Israel starts phased Gaza sanctions here.