Security Council Renews Call for Greater Humanitarian Access to Gaza

The UN Security Council adds their voice to those deeply concerned about the situation in Gaza:

The United Nations Security Council again voiced deep concern today about the humanitarian situation in Gaza following Israel’s military offensive against Hamas and stressed “the importance and urgency that more needs to be done. []”

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Latest Guardian Article on Occupations and Sit-Ins

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/feb/14/gaza-student-protests

Students angered by Gaza revive sit-ins
The Guardian, Saturday 14 February 2009
Alexandra Topping

A new wave of student activism sparked by events in Gaza has seen dozens of university buildings occupied in Britain, with some of the UK’s top educational establishments agreeing to set up scholarships for Palestinians or disinvest in arms companies linked to Israel.

Though the assault on the territory ended three weeks ago, lingering anger over the attack has prompted students to stage sit-ins at 21 universities, many organised via blogs, Facebook and text messages.

Students at Glasgow and Manchester are refusing to leave the buildings until their demands are met, after similar occupations at other universities provided tangible results in what is being seen as a new era of highly organised student activism.

Katan Alder, 22, one of 50 Manchester University protesters who have occupied a university building for nine days, said students were abandoning diplomatic tactics in favour of direct action.

“There is a new level of anger among students that we haven’t seen before,” he said. “There is definitely a new confidence among students who are beginning to realise that if they want to achieve anything simple negotiation won’t work, our actions have to escalate.”

Students at Goldsmiths, University of London, ended their occupation yesterday after their demand – two scholarships for students from Palestine’s al-Quds university – was met. The students campaigned for a year without success, but their demands were met within 24 hours after they occupied Deptford town hall, which houses the university management offices, said James Heywood, 21.

“We were getting ignored and patronised, so when we saw what was happening at other universities we took direct action,” he said.

Technology has played an integral part in the protests. Within minutes of starting the occupation students at Goldsmiths were blogging, and a recent protest that gathered 2,000 students was organised almost entirely by viral text messaging, said Heywood.

Student demands include a call to end all investments in arms companies that may trade with Israel, scholarships for Palestinian students and humanitarian assistance.

At King’s College London, students gained scholarships and donations to institutions in Palestine.

A seven-day Cambridge University occupation, which saw students denied access to food before being threatened with a court injunction on 1 February, achieved little in the way of concessions.

But last week 60 academics at the university sent an open letter to the vice-chancellor deploring the “heavy-handed” tactics used to crush the protest and supporting the students’ calls for disinvestment from the arms industry and scholarships for Palestinian students.

Prof Priyamvada Gopal, one of its signatories, said: “It was only when the students became galvanised that we looked at writing a group letter from the academics following the lead of the students.”

She believes the movement is the first signs of a new political awareness. “As yet this is a small but vocal minority, but I think we are seeing an emergence from the froth and apathy of the 1990s.”

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Report from Gaza by US National Lawyers Guild Delegation

February 9, 2009

http://www.counterpunch.org/nlg02092009.html

A Report from Gaza
Strong Indications of Israeli War Crimes By NATIONAL LAWYERS GUILD

Gaza City.

We are a delegation of 8 American lawyers, members of the National Lawyers Guild in the United States, who have come here to the Gaza Strip to assess the effects of the recent attacks on the people, and to determine what, if any, violations of international law occurred and whether U.S. domestic law has been violated as a consequence. We have spent the last five days interviewing communities particularly impacted by the recent Israeli offensive, including medical personnel, humanitarian aid workers and United Nations representatives. In particular, the delegation examined three issues: 1) targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure; 2) illegal use of weapons and 3) blocking of medical and humanitarian assistance to civilians.

Targeting of Civilians and Civilian Infrastructure
Much of the debate surrounding Israel’s aerial and ground offensive against Gaza has centered on whether or not Israel observed principles of proportionality and distinction. The debate suggests that Israel targeted Hamas i.e., its military installations, its leaders, and its militants, and in the process of its discrete military exercise it inadvertently killed Palestinian civilians. While we have found evidence that Palestinian civilians were victims of excessive force and collateral damage, we have also found troubling instances of Palestinian civilians being targets themselves.

The delegation recorded numerous accounts of Israeli soldiers shooting civilians, including women, children, and the elderly, in the head, chest, and stomach. Another common narrative described Israeli forces rounding civilians into a single location i.e., homes, schools which Israeli tanks or warplanes then shelled. Israeli forces continued to shoot at civilians fleeing the targeted structures.

We spoke to Khaled Abed Rabbo, who witnessed an Israeli soldier execute his 2-year-old and 7-year-old daughters, and critically injure a third daughter, Samar, 4-years old, on a sunny afternoon outside his home. Two other Israeli soldiers were standing nearby eating chips and chocolates at the time on January 7, 2009. Abed Rabbo recounts standing in front of the Israeli soldiers with his mother, wife and daughters for 5 – 7 minutes before one of the soldiers opened fire on his family.

We spoke to Ibtisam al-Sammouni, 31, and a resident of Zaytoun neighborhood in Gaza City. On January 4th, the Israeli army forced approximately 110 of Zaytoun’s residents into Ibtisam’s home. At approximately 7 am on January 5th, the Israeli military launched two tank shells at the house without warning killing two of Ibtisam’s children: Rizka, 14 and Faris, 12. When the survivors attempted to flee Israeli forces shot at them. Her son Abdullah, 7, was injured in the shelling and remained in the home among his deceased siblings for four days before Israeli forces permitted medical personnel into Zaytoun to rescue them. After medical personnel removed the injured persons, an Israeli war plane destroyed the house and it crumbled over the lifeless bodies. The dead remained beneath the rubble for 17 days before the Israeli Army permitted medical personnel to remove their bodies for burial.

We spoke to the family of Rouhiya al-Najjar, 47, who lived in Khoza’a, Khan Younis. Israeli forces ordered her neighborhoods residents to march to the city center. Rouhiya led 20 women out of her home and into the alley. They all carried white scarves. Upon entering the alley, an Israeli sniper shot Rouhiya in her left temple killing her instantly. Israeli forces prevented medical personnel from reaching her body for twelve hours. These are only some of the accounts that we’ve collected.

Israeli forces also destroyed numerous buildings throughout the Gaza Strip during the recent incursion. Guild delegates viewed the remains of hundreds of demolished homes and businesses – in addition to the remains of the American School in Gaza, damaged medical centers, and the charred innards of UNRWA warehouses. While in situations of armed conflict, collateral damage and mistakes can occur, the circumstances surrounding the cases that the delegation investigated indicate deliberate targeting rather than collateral damage or mistake. Specifically:

The American School at Gaza, which was hit with two F-16 missiles on January 3, 2009, killing the watch guard on duty. According to Ribhi Salem, the school’s director, the Israelis gave no warnings. Mr. Salem stated that the school had come to an agreement with resistance groups not to use school grounds and there had never been resistance activity on the property.

United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)

John Ging, the Director of Gaza Operations for UNRWA reported that Israeli forces fired missiles at UNRWA schools in Gaza City, Jabalyia and Bet Lahiya. The United Nation compound in Gaza city was also hit with white phosphorous shells and missiles. Ging noted that al United Nations buildings and vehicles all fly UN flags, are marked in blue paint from the top, and that during hostilities the UN personnel remained in constant contact with Israeli authorities.

Misuse of Weapons

Our delegation has heard allegations of the use of DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosive) weaponry, white phosphorus and other possible weapons whose use in civilian areas is prohibited. We have also heard of the use of prohibited weapons, such as fleshettes. We have found our own evidence of the use of fleschette shells, which we will combine with evidence collected by Amnesty International to push for further investigation. We have not found any conclusive evidence of the use of DIME, though we believe that this warrants further investigation and disclosure by the Israeli military.

Our findings overwhelmingly point to the use of conventional weapons in a prohibited manner, specifically, the use of battlefield weaponry in densely populated civilian areas. Customary international law forbids the use of weapons calculated to cause unnecessary suffering. We found evidence that Israel used white phosphorus in extensively throughout its three-week offensive in a manner that led to numerous deaths and injuries. For example, Sabah Abu Halima, 45, lived in Beit Lahiya with her husband, seven boys, and one girl. It was midday and she and her entire family was home. Within minutes she felt her home shaking and missiles fell through the rooftop. She fell to the ground upon impact. When she looked up she saw her children burning.

Preventing Access to Medical and Humanitarian Aid

Under customary international humanitarian law, the wounded are protected persons and must receive the medical care and attention required by their conditions, to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay. Parties to a conflict are required to ensure the unhindered movement of medical personnel and ambulances to carry out their duties and of wounded persons to access medical care. Speaking to medical workers and the family of victims, NLG delegates documented serious violations of this provision. Among the stories documented include:

Zaytoun neighborhood, which came under attack and invasion by ground foces on January 3, 2009. The Palestinian Red Crescent received 145 calls from Zaytoun for help, but were denied entry by Israel. Bashar Ahmed Murad, Director of Emergency Medical Services for the Palestinian Red Crescent Society told us that “a lot of people could have been saved, but hey weren’t given medical care by the Israelis, nor did the Israeli army allow Palestinian medical services in.” When paramedics were finally allowed to enter on January 7, Israeli forces only gave them a 3-hour “lull” to work and prohibited ambulances into the area. Instead they forced paramedics park the ambulances 2 kilometers away and enter the area on foot. Murad told delegation members how they had to pile the wounded on donkey carts and have the medical workers pull the carts in order to help the most people possible in the short time they were given. After the 3 hours were over, the Israeli army started shooting toward the ambulances. The Red Crescent was not able to reach that area again to evacuate the dead until January 17, 2009 when the Israeli army pulled out.

Al-Shurrab Family

On January 16th, Israeli forces shot at the jeep of Mohammed Shurrab, 64 years of age, and two of his sons, Kassab and Ibrahim, aged 28 and 18 as they were returning from their fields. Mohammad was shot in the left arm and Ibrahim was shot in the leg. The elder son, Kassab, sustained a fatal bullet wound to the chest, being shot multiple times after being ordered out of the car. Mohammad, bleeding from his wound, contacted the media, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and a number of NGOs via mobile phone in order to acquire medical assistance. Israeli forces denied medical relief agencies clearance to reach them until almost 24 hours after Mohammad, Ibrahim and Kassab had been shot. Earlier that morning, Ibrahim had succumbed to his wound and died. Mohammad Shurrab and his sons were shot during a so-called “lull” in Israeli ground operations, which Israeli forces had agreed to in order to allow humanitarian relief to enter and be distributed in the Gaza Strip. As such NLG delegates fail to see how this denial of medical access to the wounded Shurrab family could have been absolutely necessary and not simply arbitrary.

International humanitarian law also prohibits attacks on medical personnel, medical units and medical transports exclusively assigned to carry out medical functions. Delegate members saw ambulances seriously damaged and destroyed, some apparently deliberately crushed by Israeli tanks. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society and the Palestinian Ministry of Health informed delegates that 15 Palestinian medics were killed and 21 injured in the course of Israel’s assault.

Conclusions

This delegation is seriously concerned by our initial findings. We have found strong indications of violations of the laws of war and possible war crimes committed by Israel in the Gaza Strip. We are particularly concerned that most of the weapons that were found used in the December 27 assault on Gaza are US-made and supplied. We believe that Israel’s use of these weapons may constitute a violation of US law, and particularly the Foreign Assistance Act and the US Arms Export Control Act.

A report of our initial findings will be compiled and submitted to, among others, members of the United States Congress. We intend to push for an investigation by the United States government into possible violations by Israel of US law. We also hope to contribute our finding and efforts to other efforts by local and international lawyers to push for accountability against those found responsible for the egregious crimes that we have documented.

MEMBERS OF THE LEGAL DELEGATION

Huwaida Arraf (New York, Washington DC)
huwaida.arraf@gmail.com
Palestine: 0599-130-426
USA: 1-202-294-8813

Noura Erekat (Washington DC)
noo194@yahoo.com
Palestine:
USA: 1-510-847-4239

James Marc Leas (Vermont)
jolly39@gmail.com
Palestine:
USA: 1-802 864-1575 and 1-802 734-8811(cell)

Linda Mansour (Ohio)
Lindamansour@aol.com
Palestine:
USA: 1-419-535-7100 and 1-419-283-8281 (cell)

Rose Mishaan (California)
roseindigo7@gmail.com
Palestine:
USA: 1-917-803-2201

Thomas Nelson (Oregon)
nelson@thnelson.com
Palestine:
USA: 1-503-709-6397

Radhika Sainath (California)
radhika.sainath@gmail.com
Palestine:
USA: 1-917-669-6903

Reem Salahi (California)
reemos@gmail.com
Palestine:
USA: 1-510-225-8880

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Israel’s forgotten Palestinians

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Oxford Mail article on our BBC Protest and a Cartoon by Nidal Elkhairy on the Corporation’s Shameful Stance

bbc-cartoon1BBC chief targeted over Gaza decision
6:04pm Monday 9th February 2009http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/search/4113207.BBC_chief_targeted_over_Gaza_decision/

Student campaigners tonight staged a protest against BBC director general Mark Thompson as he gave a speech in Oxford.

The 20 protesters, many of whom were involved in last month’s occupation of Oxford University’s Clarendon Building in Broad Street, were angry at the corporation’s decision not to broadcast the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Gaza appeal.

Mr Thompson was talking about values in the media at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin in High Street.

The students collected money for the DEC appeal after the event.

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Two articles on the movement

Two new articles looking at the wave of occupations as a whole have come out. The independent writes:

Around the UK, thousands of students have occupied lecture theatres, offices and other buildings at more than 20 universities in sit-down protests. It seems that the spirit of 1968 has returned to the campus.

Juliette Harkin, a St. Anthony’s post-grad, journalist, and core member of our organisation writes in the Eastern Daily Press:

Young students, some of whom who have never been involved in political activism, have been moved in large numbers to express the outrage that British people feel about the mass carnage in Gaza. In doing so the myth of student apathy has been completely debunked and it looks like a new generation of activists are here to stay.

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Israel’s Assault on Gaza’s Cultural Treasures

First evidence of damage to Gaza’s cultural sites emerges
Antiquities museum hit; fears grow for excavated archaeology

The Art Newspaper Lauren Gelfond Feldinger | 28.1.09 | Issue 199

http://www.theartnewspaper.com/article.asp?id=16827

JERUSALEM. After a 3,500-year history of invasions, the latest war on the beleaguered coastal strip of Gaza has once again put historic sites at risk.

With the fragile ceasefire still in force, The Art Newspaper has learned that Gaza’s only museum has been damaged and other heritage sites and buildings may also be at risk.

The Antiquities Museum of Gaza, privately founded and run by Gazan contractor and collector Jawdat Khoudary, was badly damaged during Israel’s 22 days of air and land strikes. The glass doors and windows have been shattered and the roof and walls have been damaged. Roman and Byzantine pottery, Islamic bronze objects and many amphorae have been destroyed, initially during shooting 20m to 200m away, and later because of nearby shelling, with one direct hit to the museum’s conference hall, Mr Khoudary said. Amphorae, clay and ceramic vessels with two looped handles, were created in Gaza and the region during the fourth to seventh centuries for storing wine, olive oil and food and trading perishable commodities.

“I am very concerned: the entire Gaza Strip is an archaeological site,” said Palestinian archaeologist Professor Moain Sadeq, who founded the Palestinian Antiquities Department of Gaza in 1994, and is currently a visiting lecturer at the University of Toronto while in contact daily with Gaza.

“Historical sites and buildings in Gaza are adjacent to urban areas, so any location that was hit as a target also put the nearby historical sites and buildings in danger,” he said.

Major sites where damage is expected because of heavy fighting in adjacent areas include: Tell es-Sakan, an early Bronze Age settlement that is the largest and oldest walled Canaanite city in the local region, and the oldest Egyptian fortified site outside of Egypt; Tel el-Ajull, an important middle and late Bronze period city that was an important trade hub between ancient Egypt and the Levant; and the remains of Anthedon, a Hellenist port. The Byzantine church of Jabalya was also near heavy fighting, and was the site of partial damage by Israeli tanks during an incursion in 2005. Al-Zeitoun residential quarter in Gaza’s Old City, a medieval historic district, has also been largely destroyed, Professor Sadeq added.

Archaeologists are expecting assessment of all of Gaza’s historical sites to be slow. As humanitarian assistance is the urgent priority, serious archaeological surveys of historic sites will be delayed.

“I hope that Israel and the Palestinians will work to restore the sites. I am worried about Gaza sites that were excavated and are above the ground because I am sure during the military activity that some sites have been damaged,” Dr Yigal Yisrael, of the Israel Antiquities Authority Ashkelon region and Western Negev said.

The first mention of an invasion in Gaza dates back approximately 3,500 years to the annals of Pharaoh Tuthmosis III. At least a dozen empires have controlled Gaza in its 6,000-year known history, including the ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Muslims, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans and British, and the modern states of Egypt and Israel.

Artefacts from ancient Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities are routinely discovered.

Even so, Gaza has not been widely excavated. In recent history, the Palestinian authorities have faced shortages of funding, staff, equipment and conservation facilities.

Local artefacts could previously only be viewed in foreign museums, such as in Istanbul, London and Jerusalem, until Mr Khoudary opened his museum in August with his private collection of artefacts salvaged from land and sea, during two decades in the construction business. The museum was originally planned as a national museum, with backing from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, until Hamas took authority in Gaza in 2007.

Since 1994, seven major sites in Gaza have been excavated by the Palestinian Antiquities Authority, but in late 2000 activity stalled with the rise of the intifada.

According to American archaeologist Professor Lynn Swartz Dodd, of the University of Southern California, the latest war in Gaza has also set back plans for joint Israeli-Palestinian excavation projects in the West Bank, including a heritage preservation field school.

Professor Dodd with Professor Ran Boytner of the University of California, Los Angeles, oversaw a five-year secret committee of Israeli and Palestinian archaeologists that culminated last year in the publication of a 39-point archaeological joint heritage plan, dubbed “the archaeological peace plan”. This group also published the first public database of archaeological work in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967.

“A significant educational and training endeavour and the intended investment in a heritage resource that would have been made through that partnership have become invisible causalities of [the] conflict,” Professor Dodd told The Art Newspaper.

Professor Sadeq says that the next step is to invite colleagues from abroad to come and assist in Gaza. New historical sites may also emerge from such an effort, as scores of buildings were erected without salvage excavations first, before he founded the Gaza Antiquities Department in 1994, he adds.

“We need expertise, technical support and various types of help with conservation,” Professor Sadeq said.

Swiss experts from Geneva’s Museum of Art and History, which hosted the first satellite show of Gaza antiquities in 2007 from Mr Khoudary’s collection, have already voiced plans to assist with assessment and conservation.

“I hope other international organisations will also help,” Mr Khoudary said. “If there is peace, antiquities should be a priority, after humanitarian aid.”

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