Israel keeps its promise of a 'Holocaust' in Gazaimc-uk-features 05 Mar 2008 23:33 GMT
The Gaza Strip, with a population of some 1.5 million, has been placed under a total siege by the Israeli army since June 2007, shortly after Hamas took control over the strip from Fatah. Later that year, in September, the Israeli government declared Gaza a "hostile entity" and stepped up its military attacks. In January 2008, Israel decided to further reduce the amount of fuel, electricity, food and water supplies into Gaza, justifying the collective punishment as a 'response' to the Palestinian resistance firing home-made shells at the nearby Israeli town of Sderot (see this report about the humanitarian implications of the siege).
The decision by the Israeli government to reduce electricity supplies to the Gaza Strip came after the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a petition against the plan filed by ten Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups. The human rights groups said the measures "violate international laws" as they deliberately cause harm to the civilians and deprive them from the basic energy they need to run vital services. The cut of diesel supplies had already contributed to 20% electricity deficit in Gaza, with power outages of over eight hours a day and directly affecting hospitals, medical centres, water pumps, public transportation and other vital services.
On February 17th, the ambulance service in Gaza announced a complete halt of work due to what the Health Ministry described as "severe shortage of fuel." Many patients have also been denied necessary medical treatment outside due to the siege, in what some described as "a matter of revenge". According to Palestinian medical sources, well over a hundred Palestinian patients, including many children, have so far died because of the siege [ 1 | 2 | 3 ].
As Gazans scrambled for supplies, Palestinian resistance fighters blew open the Israeli-built steel walls that make the borders between the Gaza Strip and Egypt on January 23rd. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians poured into Egypt's Sinai peninsula, breathing a collective sigh of relief following a half-year of total closure of all Gaza border crossings. However, the Egyptian border guards soon started sealing off the iron border again. The Rafah crossing, south of Gaza, is the sole outlet to the outside world for Gaza's 1.5 million residents since June last year.
On February 20th, several European Union lawmakers urged Israel to refrain from inflicting "collective punishment" on the Palestinian residents in the Gaza Strip. In a press conference titled "Coming back from Gaza and Sderot", with the participation of members from different political groups of the European Parliament who took part to the fact-finding mission to Israel and Palestine between 2 and 7 February, 2008, Jill Evans MEP (Green) affirmed that "the situation in Palestine is reaching breaking point. The siege is an inhuman and illegal collective punishment of the people in Gaza and is causing huge suffering. It has to be stopped. There has to be international action to lift the siege, end the occupation and resume peace negotiations."
Concluding a visit to Palestine and Israel, the United Nations' Undersecretary General for humanitarian affairs John Holmes made similar remarks and called for reopening the borders of the Gaza Strip in order to relief the suffering of the residents.
Earlier that year, a report authored by the UN Special Rapporteur John Dugard concluded that "Palestinian terrorism" is the "inevitable consequence" of Israeli occupation. While "Palestinian terrorist acts are deplorable," it added, "they must be understood as being a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation."
On February 26th, just before the escalation started, the report was briefly flagged up by Associated Press. Israel was quick to reject the 'claims' as "inflammatory" and the report has since been ignored by the Western corporate media in a continuation of their biased reporting on the Israeli aggression against Palestinians (see this MediaLens alert).
'Holocaust' in Gaza
On February 29th, the Israeli deputy Defense Minister provoked outrage after threatening Palestinians with a "holocaust". Matan Vilnai told the Israeli army radio that "the more [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they [the Palestinians] will bring upon themselves a bigger holocaust because we will use all our might to defend ourselves." The same twisted logic is used by the far-right and Holocaust deniers to blame Jewish people for the Nazi Holocaust.
However, preparations for a large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip seem to have been under way long before that provocative comment. The Israeli government had reportedly already approved a military plan, similar to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. According to the Jewish Press website, Israeli sources said that a plan, drafted by the Israeli military's general staff, had been endorsed by the Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak.
On February 7th, during a visit to an Israeli military base in the south of Israel, Barak said the Israeli army will "intensify its military operations" in the Gaza Strip, allegedly to stop Palestinian home-made Qassam rockets that continue to be launched from Gaza at Israeli targets. He added that Israel will eventually "put an end" to the attacks by continuing its military operation and imposing punishments and fortifying the nearby Israeli communities surrounding the Gaza Strip. On February 10th, the Defense Minister confirmed that his army will carry out more strikes on Gaza.
Meanwhile, another Israeli minister called for the "total annihilation" of some Gaza neighbourhoods. Me'air Shetrit called for responding to what he termed "sabotaging operations" by "totally annihilating some Gaza neighbourhoods" so that "the residents of the Gaza Strip will understand how serious the Israeli threats are." Other Israeli politicians have made similar comments.
On February 11th, Barak stated that he had ordered the Israeli army to start preparing for the wide-scale offensive in Gaza. He told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Security Committee that his troops are "attacking the Palestinian coastal region day and night, with a high chance for those attacks to expand." On February 17th, he again vowed to strike back heavily against Palestinians, particularly the ruling Hamas in Gaza, as home-made shells continue to hit Israeli areas adjacent to Gaza. At the same time, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, while giving a speech at a conference of Jewish agencies leaders, granted the Israeli army the "upper hand" in deciding how to strike what he called "perpetrators of terror", first and foremost those who belong to Hamas.
Since coming to power after the 2006 democratic elections, the Islamist group has repeatedly proposed a long-term truce with Israel. Israel, however, has repeatedly shunned such offers, branding Hamas a "terrorist group". In June 2007, Israel imposed a total siege on Gaza after Hamas took over the coastal territory, amidst a power struggle with Fatah, president Mahmud Abbas's party, which has been committed to 'peace negotiations' with Israel (see this interesting Vanity Fair article).
Last year, after killing more than 300 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in air strikes and ground offensives, Israel still failed to stop the home-made shells fired by Palestinian fighters into adjacent Israeli towns.
Since the siege started in June 2007, Israeli air strikes and ground incursions, allegedly targeting Palestinian militants, have become an almost daily occurrence, often killing civilians and destroying residential buildings.
For example, on February 7th, Palestinian medical sources reported that six Palestinians, including one teacher, were killed and several residents were injured in three separate Israeli air strikes that were supposed to target groups of Palestinian militants in different areas in the Gaza Strip. On February 15th, eight Palestinians, mainly members of one family, were killed and nearly eighty others injured when the Israeli air force fired missiles at the house of one of the leaders of the Islamic Jihad in Al-Boreij refugee camp in central Gaza. (Many more incidents can be found on the IMEMC, PNN and IE websites.)
On February 14th, an undercover Israeli force attacked several Palestinian homes in the eastern side of Rafah, southern Gaza, and rounded up 30 men, aged between 15 and 50, and took them to a nearby military base at the Rafah-Israel border. The area located near the Gaza International Airport has suffered frequent Israeli attacks since the beginning of the Palestinian Intifada (uprising) in September 2000.
On Wednesday, 27 February, 2008, the Israeli army stepped up its air strikes and ground 'incursions' in what many observers described as a "full-scale, one-sided war". According to the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B’Tselem), 106 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip between February 27th and March 3rd, and at least 54 of them, including 25 children, did not take part in any fighting. Al-Mezan Center For Human Rights put the number at 107, including 55 civilians, of whom 27 were children and 6 women. The Israeli Chief of Staff had claimed that 90 percent of those killed were "armed".
On Wednesday evening, an Israeli strike on the northern part of Gaza killed three Palestinian children, bringing the death toll within 24 hours to 12. Palestinian medical sources confirmed that the three children's bodies reached hospital dismembered, while at least 17 others were wounded, including 6 children. By Friday, the Israeli government announced that its army has completed preparations for a wide-scale offensive against Gaza (more).
Around 1am on Saturday, at least 30 tanks and bulldozers, supported by a battalion of infantry troops attacked the Jabalyia refugee camp in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. Palestinian medical sources reported that at least 26 Palestinians killed and 62 injured, bringing the death toll since Wednesday to 56. Eyewitnesses said Israeli troops and tanks invaded Jabalyia and opened fire at resident homes, while Israeli helicopters were firing missiles at civilians homes and cars (more).
Even civilian facilities, such as medical centres, were not spared. On February 28th, for example, an Israeli air strike aimed at the Ministry of the Interior building in Gaza also destroyed the nearby Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) head office. PMRS is one of the largest non-governmental health service providers in Palestine, reaching 1.4 million Palestinians in over 490 cities, towns and villages. The attack also hit a nearby residential building, killing a five-month-old baby. The The disability rehabilitation sector in Palestine, part of the Network of the Non-governmental Organizations, also reported that the Israeli army had targeted several facilities that deal with rehabilitation and killed Hammad Mirshid, 47, who suffered a hearing impairment. The army also broke into a rehabilitation facility, causing a lot of damage, and used it as a military post.
By now, the war in Gaza had attracted the international community and media's attention. The Palestinian Ministry of Health announced that some hospitals in Gaza could no longer provide medical care because they have no electricity or medical supplies. Medical crews reported that they came under fire as they tried to evacuate the injured from Jabalyia refugee camp. The Al-Jazeera Arabic correspondent in the Gaza Strip, Hiba Abu Shamalih, also reported that she came under fire along with her camera crew as they were covering the events in Gaza. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Saturday that the ongoing Israeli attacks on Gaza were "more than a holocaust."
Meanwhile, the Israeli army announced that Palestinian militants killed two Israeli soldiers and destroyed a military vehicle on Saturday. Palestinian resistance groups also fired 13 home-made shells at nearby Israeli areas, injuring three civilians in the southern Israeli town of Sderot that borders the Gaza Strip. The Al-Qassam brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, said that 8 of its fighters were killed on Saturday during armed clashes with the Israeli army. The Al-Quds brigades of the Islamic Jihad also said that three of their fighters were killed in clashes on that same day.
Israeli forces pulled out on Sunday-Monday overnight after five days of bloodshed. But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned that the withdrawal of troops from Gaza does not mean Israel's military operation there is over, adding that "what happened in recent days was not a one-off event."
Indeed, just after the Israeli army announced ending its offensive in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian medical sources reported that 8 Palestinians, said to be Hamas fighters, were killed by Israeli shells on different parts of Gaza on Monday dawn (more).
Later on, a senior Israeli official, quoted by Reuters, said Israel had called a "two-day interval" while US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits Jerusalem and the West Bank on Tuesday and Wednesday, which is meant to move Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations forward. Rice, however, has already told reporters in Egypt that Hamas is "trying to destroy the peace talks." Hamas's spokesperson, Sami Abu Zuhri, said Rice's statement was part of her intention to "give the green light" to the ongoing war on the Hamas movement and the Palestinian resistance. Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas had formally suspended contacts with Israel in protest at its attacks on Gaza.
Protests and solidarity
Since the start of the siege in June 2007, there have been many mass protests inside Palestine and Gaza itself. A massive demonstration was held at the Erez Checkpoint in Beit Hanoun, north Gaza, on January 26th, where people assembled on both sides of the fence to protest against the siege and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. On February 11th, flower farmers in the city of Beit Lahiya, north Gaza, decided to destroy about 500,000 square meters of flower plants in protest at their inability to export their produce due to ongoing Israeli blockade on Gaza. On February 14th, a large number of Gaza vehicles stopped engines for half an hour in protest at the continued Israel cut of fuel supplies to the region. On February 25th, thousands of women, children and men formed a human chain around the Gaza Strip in protest at the Israeli siege (more). Peaceful demonstrations also took place in Bethlehem, Nazareth and other places in Palestine and Israel.
Many defiant actions by Israeli activists have also been reported. For example, a convoy of food supplies, provided by a group of Israeli peace activists, entered Gaza on February 19th through the Israeli-controlled commercial crossing of Sufa in southern Gaza.
More recently, the entirety of the West Bank was on strike on Sunday, February 2nd, in solidarity with the mourners and lost souls of the Gaza Strip. The streets of Jenin and Nablus were filled with protesters, while in Ramallah Hamas and Fateh called a joint demonstration. Kids were seen at the Wall in Ramallah throwing stones, and the same happened in Bethlehem at Rachel's Tomb. The air was said to have been full of acrid smoke as children set tires on fire and dumped out garbage cans and set them ablaze (report).
Palestinian protests were often violently attacked by Israeli forces. Seven Palestinian teenagers were injured on February 2nd when Israeli troops attacked a demonstration organised by the villagers of Bil'in, a village near Ramallah known internationally for its non-violent protests (more). On the same day, one Palestinian boy was killed and at least 45 were injured when the Israeli army attacked protests standing in Hebron, south West Bank, in solidarity with the people of Gaza. On February 3rd, Israeli forces imposed a curfew on a western Jenin village, which saw a non-violent demonstration against the Israeli aggression in Gaza. A Palestinian teenager was killed and several others injured on the same day when Israeli army troops attacked a protest organised by school students in the village of Al-Mazra'a Al-Sarqiya, near Ramallah.
Since the start of the siege, there have also been numerous solidarity demonstrations and actions throughout the world. To list only a few of those reported on Indymedia sites worldwide, the past few months have seen protests in Israel, Portland, Washington DC, St. Petersburg (FL), Seattle, Berkeley, Dublin , The Hague, Berlin, London [2 | 3 | 4 | 5] , Manchester, Sheffield , Wales and elsewhere.
Called by the Popular Committee Against the Siege (PCAS), February 23rd saw a global day of action against the Israeli blockade on Gaza. Mass demonstrations and protests took place in around 30 countries across Europe, Asia, Africa and the two Americas. In many cities, lights also went off for half an hour in solidarity with the people of Gaza (see also the End Gaza Siege website). As the chairman of the Gaza Committee Jamal al-Khudari put it: "The demonstrations we saw on TV screens in many countries indicate a genuine support for the Palestinian people."