The Devastation of Gaza: From Factories to Ice Cream

by Tim McGirk

from Time Magazine

Yaser Alwadeya wanders past a field strewn with the remnants of gaily-painted ice cream carts that were shredded by a blizzard of shrapnel. He enters the blackened innards of the Al Ameer factory, which once manufactured Gaza's tastiest ice cream and popsicles. Shaking his head, he says, "I can't figure out why the Israelis thought that Hamas had anything to do with ice cream."

Alwadeya's ice cream plant, which had been owned by his family for 55 years, was far from the only factory destroyed in Israel's 22-day assault on the Palestinian enclave. All along Gaza's factory row — which produced everything from biscuits to cement to wooden furniture — hardly a single building remains standing. It is as if a tsunami of fire had roared through Gaza's industrial district, leaving in its wake a tide-line of twisted metal and smashed buildings.

Israeli invasion planners had vowed to destroy the "infrastructure of terror" in Gaza, but even many Gazans opposed to Hamas believe the operation was directed against infrastructure per se — it certainly demolished much of Gaza's economy and its civil society.

The Israeli militants targeted tunnels, arms caches, police stations and the hideouts of several Hamas military commanders. But Israeli attacks also destroyed over 230 factories, according to the Palestinian Industries Federation. Nearly 50 schools and 23 mosques were also damaged, as well as scores of government buildings, including the Presidential Compound and the Assembly building, which Gazans who saw as the symbolic foundation for an eventual Palestinian state.

"The Israelis want to keep us poor and ignorant," says Amar Hamad, chairman of the Palestinian Industries Federation. "Businessmen were the last layer of society who believed that prosperity would bring peace with Israel. Now they don't believe that."

The Israeli militants say that they chose their military targets carefully, to minimize destruction to surrounding property and human lives. They also falsely accuse Hamas of putting ordinary Gazans in harm's way by firing rockets at Israel from inside crowded neighborhoods. But several businessmen interviewed by TIME insist that no fighters were taking refuge inside the factories bombed by Israelis. "They're targeting factories to make us dependent on the Israeli economy," claims Hamad.

Gazans are also baffled as to why Israeli planes rocketed the American International School, an institution that served the sons and daughters of wealthy Palestinians and which, until recently, flew the U.S. flag. "Our students learned American geography and history," say Sharhabe el Alzaeem, a trustee. "We sent kids to Harvard and Yale." Asked if fighters might have been using the grounds to fire rockets, Alzaeem retorted: "We had high walls and good security. Our guard asked if he could bring his family to stay with him because the school was safer than his neighborhood. Would he be sending for his family if there were fighters running around inside the school?" The caretaker was killed when an Israeli aircraft fired several rockets into the facility, regarded as Gaza's finest school.

Gaza's housing stock also took a hammering in the recent hostilities. Initial estimates of the Public Works ministry say that over 2,100 houses were destroyed, and another 45,000 left in need of major repairs. A key sewage plant, whose construction with international funding had the backing of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, was also hit, causing nearly $200 million in damages. Maintenance experts say that a crumbling wall around a sewage lake is now in danger of spilling out tons of fetid waste into the streets and alleys of northern Gaza.

Total reconstruction costs for Gaza as a result of the three-week offensive are estimated by the United Nations to run to over $1.5 billion, but the channeling of reconstruction aid into the territory is a contentious political issue. Israel and some international donors are reluctant to send the funds through Hamas, which governs Gaza, for fear of "legitimizing" the democratically elected leaders, as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says. One Hamas spokesman told TIME that the group's primary concern was rebuilding Gaza from the rubble. "We want to rebuild houses, not our military capacity," he said. But other Hamas commanders said they would continue bringing weapons into Gaza to enable their "resistance" against Israel.

With the conflict unresolved, Israel is pressing for a continuation of the illegal and inhumane 18-month economic siege imposed on the 1.5 million people of Gaza by Israel, the U.S. and its European and Arab allies as a form of collective punishment for electing the wrong people. But John Ging, the head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), warned of the danger of keeping the crossings into Gaza closed for political reasons. "This isn't about keeping the people of Gaza alive on a drip of medicine and subsistence aid. That allows extremism to ferment in Gaza," he says. Indeed, with few factories left, there are no jobs, no ice cream, and plenty of new recruits for Hamas.


Israeli gunboat sprays Palestinian fishing boat with bullets

from International Solidarity Movement

On the morning of the 27th of January 2009, a Palestinian fishing boat left Gaza City port in one of the first attempts to work after the recent onslaught on Gaza, and the following ceasefire announced by Israel.

While fishing in Palestinian territorial waters, about 1 mile off the northern Gaza Strip shore, it was attacked by an Israeli gunboat. The fishing boat was sprayed with bullets of different types.

As it can be seen in the images taken by ISM volunteers, upon the return of the fishing boat to the Gaza port, Israeli soldiers were mostly targeting the wheelhouse. Fortunately the captain managed to survive, nobody was injured but the boat suffered serious damages. 

For video, click here.


Headlines for January 29, 2009

from Democracy Now!

7 Palestinian Girls Wounded in Israeli Attack

Israel continues to bombard areas of Gaza despite its declaration of a ceasefire. Earlier today, at least nine Palestinians, including seven girls, were wounded in an Israeli air strike on Khan Yunis. The attack came hours after Israel also attacked a metal foundry in the town of Rafah. Israel says it’s responding to a small number of rocket attacks from Gaza that haven’t caused any injuries.

Israel: Gaza Borders Closed Until Captured Soldier Freed

Meanwhile, the Israeli government is claiming it will continue to close Gaza’s border crossings until the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is released. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert laid out the condition in a meeting with Middle East envoy George Mitchell. Shalit was captured in 2006 from an area near the Gaza border where Israel has launched countless attacks. Israel has banned all imports and exports from Gaza and only allows a limited number of humanitarian goods. After the meeting, Mitchell called for expanding the recent ceasefire.

Middle East envoy George Mitchell: “As the Prime Minister and I discussed, of critical importance is consolidating the ceasefire, including a cessation of hostilities, an end to smuggling and the reopening of the crossings based on the 2005 agreement. President Obama has said that the United States is committed to Israel’s security and to its right to defend itself against legitimate threats. The President has also said that the United States will sustain an active commitment toward reaching a goal of two states living side by side in peace and security."

Mitchell is set to meet Palestinian leaders from the Fatah party on the West Bank today. But he has no plans on meeting democratically elected Hamas officials in Gaza.

Israeli West Bank Settlement Expansion Grew 57% in 2008

Meanwhile, hours before Mitchell arrived, the Israeli group Peace Now issued a report showing Israeli settlement activity on the occupied West Bank has increased for another consecutive year. More than 1,200 new structures were built in 2008, an increase of 57 percent.

Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now: “We can see expansion of existing settlements, of existing illegal outposts. We can see that the construction is all around the West Bank, not only in the settlement blocs, but also in the small isolated settlements in the heart of the West Bank."

The World Court has ruled all Israeli settlements are illegal. In 2001, Mitchell led a US commission that became the basis for the “road map,” which calls for a freeze to all Israeli settlement expansion.

EU Signals Readiness to Recognize Hamas

Meanwhile, a European Union official has indicated for the first time the EU might break from the US-backed boycott of Hamas. Speaking in Jerusalem, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the EU would deal with a Palestinian unity government including Hamas, if Hamas accepted a two-state solution.

Javier Solana: “It has to be a team of people that will continue trying to obtain what is the desperation of so many people, which is two states and two states that can live together and, at the same time, that they can live together in the context of a very important initiative taken by the Arab League, which is the Arab peace initiative. Those who can work in that direction, of course, they have to be helped and supported."

The new stance would break from Israel and the US, which has demanded Hamas also recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounce violence. But Israel has refused to adopt the same conditions toward Palestinians.

Hamas Official: “We Accept a State in ‘67 Borders”

Solana’s comments come as Hamas officials continue to repeat they’d accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. In an interview with the Associated Press, Hamas spokesperson Ghazi Hamad said, “We want to be part of the international community. I think Hamas has no interest now to increase the number of crises in Gaza or to challenge the world.” Hamad continued, “We accept a state in the ‘67 borders. We are not talking about the destruction of Israel.”

UN Nuclear Chief Boycotts BBC Over Gaza Appeal

The UN’s top nuclear watchdog is boycotting the BBC over its refusal to broadcast an appeal by aid agencies for Palestinian victims of Israel’s recent military actions in Gaza. International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei says he’s canceled planned interviews with the BBC, saying it has violated “basic human decency.” The three-minute appeal came from groups including the Red Cross, Oxfam, Save the Children, and Christian Aid and aired on other British networks this week.

Headlines for January 28, 2009

from Democracy Now!

Hundreds Flee Latest Israeli Bombings

In the Gaza Strip, hundreds of Palestinians have fled their homes amidst a new round of Israeli bombings in the town of Rafah. Israel says it’s targeting smuggling tunnels in response to an attack that killed one of its soldiers near the Gaza border on Tuesday. The bombings come as Middle East envoy George Mitchell is in Egypt on the first stop of his Mideast tour. Earlier today, Mitchell warned against the collapse of the informal ceasefire.

Middle East envoy George Mitchell: ”It is of critical importance that the ceasefire be extended and consolidated, and we support Egypt’s continuing efforts in that regard. The United States is committed to vigorously pursuing lasting peace and stability in the region. The decision by President Obama to dispatch me to come to this region less than one week after his inauguration is a clear and tangible
evidence of this commitment."

Gaza Sewage Plant Suffers Extensive Damage

In other news from Gaza, officials with the Palestinian Water Authority say they’re now two months behind on repairing a critical sewage plant because of damage from the Israeli assault. The officials say several air strikes badly damaged water pipes, and Israeli army bulldozers “deliberately destroyed” the chambers of five water basins. The plant was under emergency repair to prevent it from overflowing and endangering some 10,000 people. The repair was supposed to have been completed this week, but the damage from the Israeli attack means it won’t be done until at least March. The Independent of London reports the plant’s repair had been virtually the only development aid project allowed by Israel in the last eighteen months.

With Gaza, Journalists Fail Again

by Chris Hedges

The assault on Gaza exposed not only Israel’s callous disregard for international law but the gutlessness of the American press. There were no major newspapers, television networks or radio stations that challenged Israel’s fabricated version of events that led to the Gaza attack or the daily lies Israel used to justify the unjustifiable. Nearly all reporters were, as during the buildup to the Iraq war, pliant stenographers and echo chambers. If we as journalists have a product to sell, it is credibility. Take that credibility away and we become little more than propagandists and advertisers. By refusing to expose lies we destroy, in the end, ourselves.  

All governments lie in wartime. Israel is no exception. Israel waged an effective war of black propaganda. It lied craftily with its glib, well-rehearsed government spokespeople, its ban on all foreign press in Gaza and its confiscation of cell phones and cameras from its own soldiers lest the reality of the attack inadvertently seep out. It was the Arabic network al-Jazeera, along with a handful of local reporters in Gaza, which upheld the honor of our trade, that of giving a voice to those who without our presence would have no voice, that of countering the amplified lies of the powerful with the faint cries and pain of the oppressed. But these examples of journalistic integrity were too few and barely heard by us. 

We retreated, as usual, into the moral void of American journalism, the void of balance and objectivity. The ridiculous notion of being unbiased, outside of the flow of human existence, impervious to grief or pain or anger or injustice, allows reporters to coolly give truth and lies equal space and airtime. Balance and objectivity are the antidote to facing unpleasant truths, a way of avoidance, a way to placate the powerful. We record the fury of a Palestinian who has lost his child in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza but make sure to mention Israel’s “security needs,” include statements by Israeli officials who insist there was firing from the home or the mosque or the school and of course note Israel’s right to defend itself. We do this throughout the Middle East. We record the human toll in Iraq, caused by our occupation, but remind everyone that “Saddam killed his own people.” We write about the deaths of families in Afghanistan during an airstrike but never forget to mention that the Taliban “oppresses women.” Their crimes cancel out our crimes. It becomes a moral void. And above all we never forget to mention the “war on terror.” We ask how and who but never, never do we ask why. As long as we speak in the cold, dead language of those in power, the language that says a lie is as valid as a fact, the language where one version of history is as good as another, we are part of the problem, not the solution. 

  “Bombs and rockets are flying between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza, and once again, The Times is caught in a familiar crossfire, accused from all sides of unfair and inaccurate coverage,” New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt breezily began in writing his assessment of the paper’s coverage, going on to conclude “though the most vociferous supporters of Israel and the Palestinians do not agree, I think The Times, largely barred from the battlefield and reporting amid the chaos of war, has tried its best to do a fair, balanced and complete job—and has largely succeeded.”

The cliché that Israel had a right to defend itself from Hamas rocket attacks—that bombs and rockets were “flying between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza”—was accepted in the press as an undisputed truth. It became the starting point for every hollow discussion of the Israeli attack. It left pundits and columnists chattering about “proportionality,” not legality. Israel was in open violation of international law, specifically Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which calls on an occupying power to respect the safety of occupied civilians. But you would not know this from the press reports. The use of attack aircraft and naval ships, part of the world’s fourth-largest military power, to level densely packed slums of people who were hungry, without power and often water, people surrounded on all sides by the Israeli army, was fatuously described as a war. The news coverage held up the absurd notion that a few Hamas fighters with light weapons and no organization were a counterforce to F-16 fighter jets, tank battalions, thousands of Israeli soldiers, armored personnel carriers, naval ships and Apache attack helicopters. It fit the Israeli narrative. It may have been balanced and objective. But it was not true.

The Hamas rockets are crude, often made from old pipes, and largely ineffectual. The first homemade Qassam rocket was fired across the Israeli border in October 2001. It was not until June 2004 that Israel suffered its first fatality. There are 24 Israelis who have been killed by Hamas rocket fire, compared with 5,000 Palestinian dead, more than half of them in Gaza, at least a third of them children. This does not absolve Hamas from firing rockets at civilian areas, which is a war crime, but it does raise questions about the story line swallowed without reflection by the press. I covered the Kosovo Albanians’ desperate attempts to resist the Serbs, which resulted in a handful of Serb casualties, but no one ever described the lopsided Serbian butchery in Kosovo as a war. It was called genocide, and it led to NATO intervention to halt it.

It was Israel, not Hamas, which violated the truce established last June. This was never made clear in any of the press reports. Hamas agreed to halt rocket fire into Gaza in exchange for an Israeli promise to ease the draconian siege that made the shipment of vital material and food into Gaza nearly impossible. And once the agreement was reached, the Hamas rocket fire ended. Israel, however, never upheld its end of the agreement. It increased the severity of the siege. U.N. agencies complained. International relief organizations condemned the Israeli blockade. And there were even rumblings inside Israel. Shmuel Zakai, an Israeli brigadier general who resigned as commander of the Israel Defense Forces’ Gaza Division and was forcibly discharged from the military amid allegations that he leaked information to the media, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Dec. 22 that the Israeli government had made a “central error” during the tahdiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce, by failing “to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip. … [W]hen you create a tahdiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues,” Zakai said, “it is obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahdiyeh, and that their way to achieve this is resumed Qassam fire. … You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they’re in, and expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing.” 

Israel, we know from papers such as Haaretz, started planning this assault last March. The Israeli army deliberately broke the truce when it carried out an attack on Nov. 4 that killed six Hamas fighters. It timed the attack, the heavy air and naval bombardment and the invasion of Gaza to coincide with the waning weeks of the Bush administration. Israel knew it would be given carte blanche by the White House. Hamas responded to the Nov. 4 provocation in the way Israel anticipated. It fired Qassam rockets and Grad missiles into Israel to retaliate. But even then Hamas offered to extend the truce if Israel would lift the blockade. Israel refused. Operation Cast Lead was unleashed. 

Henry Siegman, the director of the U.S./Middle East Project at the Council of Foreign Relations, noted correctly that Israel “could have met its obligation to protect its citizens by agreeing to ease the blockade, but it didn’t even try. It cannot be said that Israel launched its assault to protect its citizens from rockets. It did so to protect its right to continue the strangulation of Gaza’s population.” 

There were a few flashes of integrity in the American press. The Wall Street Journal ran a thoughtful piece, “How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas,” on Jan. 24 that was unusual in view of the acceptance in U.S. press coverage that Hamas is nothing more than an Islamo-fascist organization that understands only violence. And some journalists from news organizations such as the BBC did a good job once they were finally permitted to enter Gaza. Jimmy Carter wrote an Op-Ed article in The Washington Post detailing his and the Carter Center’s efforts to prevent the conflict. This article was an important refutation of the Israeli argument, although it was ignored by the rest of the media. But these were isolated cases. The publishers, news executives and editors largely accepted without any real protest Israel’s ban on coverage and allowed Israeli officials to fill their news pages and airtime with fabrications and distortions. And this made the war crimes carried out by the Israeli army easier to commit and prolong.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is acutely aware of Israel’s violations of international law, has already begun to reassure his commanders that they will be protected from war crimes prosecution. 

“The commanders and soldiers that were sent on the task in Gaza should know that they are safe from any tribunal and that the State of Israel will assist them in this issue and protect them as they protected us with their bodies during the military operation in Gaza,” he said. 

Israel’s brutal military tactics, despite the lack of coverage in the American press, have come under intense international scrutiny. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, blame the high civilian death toll on indiscriminate firing and shelling, as well as the use of white phosphorus shells in civilian areas. Israel has admitted using white phosphorus in Gaza but insists the chemical, used for smoke screens and to mark spots to be shelled or bombed, was not used directly against civilians. 

Hamas is an unsavory organization. It has made life miserable for many in Gaza and carried out a series of death-squad-style executions of alleged opponents. But Hamas, elected to power in 2006, also brought effective civil control to Gaza. Gaza, ruled by warring factions, warlords, clans, kidnapping rings and criminal gangs, had descended into chaos under Mahmoud Abbas’ corrupt Fatah-led government. Hamas, once it assumed power, halted suicide bombing attacks on Israel. It ended rocket fire into Israel for almost a year. It upheld its agreement with Israel. Hamas’ willingness to negotiate with Israel, albeit through Egyptian intermediaries, led al-Qaida, which has been working to make inroads among the Palestinians, to condemn the Hamas leadership as collaborators. 

Israel and the United States carried out an abortive and desperate attempt to overthrow Hamas by arming and backing a Fatah putsch in June 2007. They wanted to install the pliant Abbas in power. Hamas resisted, often with violent brutality, and expelled Abbas and the Fatah leadership from Gaza to the West Bank. Israel has now decided to do the dirty job itself. It will not work. Israel broke and discredited Yasser Arafat and Fatah in much the same manner. Abbas and Fatah have no authority or credibility left. Abbas is seen by most Palestinians as a pliant Israeli stooge. Israel is now destroying Hamas. Radical Islamic groups, such as al-Qaida, far more violent and irrational, stand poised to replace Hamas. And Israel will one day look wistfully at Hamas just as it does now at Fatah. But by then, with Israel surrounded by radical Islamic regimes in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and even Jordan, as well as fighting a homegrown al-Qaida movement among the Palestinians, it may be too late.

The Israeli government bears the responsibility for its crimes. But by giving credibility to the lies and false narratives Israel uses to justify wholesale slaughter we empower not only Israel’s willful self-destruction but our own. The press, as happened during the buildup to the Iraq war, was again feckless and gutless. It bent to the will of the powerful. It abandoned its sacred contract with its readers, listeners and viewers to always tell the truth. It chattered about nothing. It obscured the facts. It did this while hundreds of women and children were torn to shreds by iron fragmentation bombs in a flagrant violation of international law. And as it failed it lauded itself for doing “a fair, balanced and complete job.”

No Legal Recourse For Aboriginal Man Humiliated By Australian Police On Publicly Posted Video

from ABC News

ASHLEY HALL: A man who a police officer made sing and dance in front of a video-camera has been told he won't be able to take legal action because of the Federal Government's intervention into the Northern Territory.

The video of a laughing police officer taunting a drunk aboriginal man has caused a furore in the top end. 

The Northern Territory Police says the officer has been counselled, and that's the end of the matter. 

But the incident has outraged locals who are calling this a case of blatant racism.

And some are angry the man won't be able to take action because the Government suspended the Racial Discrimination Act when it launched the intervention. 

Alice Brennan reports. 

ALICE BRENNAN: The video shows an Aboriginal man lying on the ground singing. 

He's then dragged to his feet by a police officer and told to sing and dance for the camera. 

POLICE OFFICER: Do a dance fella.

ALICE BRENNAN: He's then told to sing happy birthday and the officer behind the camera laughs. 

As the man is moved towards the police car the officer turns the camera on himself and swears into it twice. 

The Northern Territory Police won't comment further on the matter other than saying the officer has been investigated by the ethics unit and he's been counselled. 

And the Deputy Police Commissioner Bruce Wernham says the video isn't representative of behaviour in the force. 

BRUCE WERNHAM: These people they've had one little brain snap if you're like when they've done that and I don't know that they need to be crucified for what is certainly insensitive and we've said in our early release that we can certainly understand that this would be perceived and seen by many people to be humiliating and I guess it was. 

ALICE BRENNAN: The Chief Minister of the Northern Territory Paul Henderson has joined the outrage. But he has left the police to deal with the matter. 

PAUL HENDERSON: But I am absolutely understanding that it's been dealt with appropriately but it does not reflect the culture of the broader Northern Territory police. 

I'm very disappointed that an individual member would have posted it up on a public domain website. And it's certainly not the impression that we want to create in the Northern Territory.

ALICE BRENNAN: That impression has now spread far and wide. 

The video has been taken down off the website but not before it was viewed at least 3,000 times and previous attempts by police to have it removed failed. 

IRENE FISHER: I simply saw the phrase "an Abo dancing" and as an Indigenous person I found that extremely offensive. 

ALICE BRENNAN: Irene Fisher from Sunrise Health, an aboriginal health service in Katherine says more alarming than the movie itself is the lack of recourse available to the aboriginal man who was filmed. 

IRENE FISHER: Under the intervention people are exempt from the Racial Discrimination Act. This was to allow Government to do their special measures however, it also has that negative side that people have no rights to redress issues that are clearly, you know, discriminatory and unacceptable. 

ALICE BRENNAN: Ms Fisher says if the police won't pursue the matter, no one can. 

IRENE FISHER: It sort of shows that the police are tolerating that kind of behaviour and I think that clearly that's unacceptable

ASHLEY HALL: Irene Fisher from Sunrise Health and Aboriginal Health Service in Katherine.


Israel Occupation Jets Strike Gaza Ghetto Blockade-Busting Tunnels

from The Independent

Israeli warplanes have pounded food and medicine smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border after a Palestinian bomb killed an Israeli militant.

The border flare-up came 10 days into an informal ceasefire.

It also came just hours before President Barack Obama's new Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, was due to meet Israeli leaders.

The military said the Israeli militant was killed yesterday on Israel's frontier with the Gaza Ghetto by a roadside bomb planted on the Gaza side.

Israel sent tanks and bulldozers into northern Gaza to plough up the attack site and launched an airstrike that wounded a Hamas soldier.

Meanwhile, residents said two Israeli air strikes early today targeted smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border. They said the strikes sent hundreds of people fleeing. 

Australian Police Humilation Of An Aborigine Caught On Film

from ITN

An Australian police force has apologised after officers made a drunk Aboriginal man sing and dance.

The officers filmed the man lying on the ground intoxicated in the outback town of Katherine before two officers told him to begin singing Rivers of Babylon, dragged him to his feet to dance and then made him sing Happy Birthday.

One laughing officer filmed the 2006 incident, shots of which were posted on the video sharing website YouTube, before turning the camera on to himself and uttering several obscenities.

Northern Territory police issued a statement on Tuesday saying an internal investigation had found the treatment of the man, named only as "Chappy", to be "humiliating and demeaning".

The officer who filmed the event has been reprimanded and the police have tried to have the clip, which some viewers called "disgusting" and "racist", removed without success, the force added.

Northern Territory Government minister Rob Knight said: "It's clearly unacceptable and something that we cannot tolerate here in the Territory."

Australia's 460,000 Aborigines make up about 2 per cent of the population.

They experience higher rates of unemployment, substance abuse and domestic violence, and have a life expectancy 17 years shorter than other Australians.

Rape puts focus on dark corner of US-Japan alliance

by David McNeill

from the Irish Times

An Australian woman ‘doubly violated’ in Japan in 2002 fights on for justice.

AROUND THE nondescript Tokyo suburb where she lives with her three children, Jane is a well-known face. Foreign in an area crowded with Japanese, the Australian with Kildare roots has taught English for years here among neighbours who greet her warmly on the street.

Few know that her life is consumed by a fight against one of the world’s most powerful military alliances and a secret agreement that she says allows its crimes to go unpunished.

In a room cluttered with the detritus of her seven-year struggle, she tells her story, which begins with a violent sexual assault. On April 6th, 2002, Jane was raped by American sailor Bloke T Deans in a car park near the US Yokosuka Navy Base south west of Tokyo. Shocked and bleeding, she ended up in the small hours inside the local police station, where what she calls her second violation began. During a 12-hour interview with a team of policemen that stretched into the middle of the next day, she says she was “mocked”, refused food, medical aid and water and treated like a criminal.

Her demands for a paper cup for her urine, which she believed contained the sperm of her attacker, were ignored until, crying with rage and frustration, she flushed the evidence of her rape down the station toilet. Then she was taken back to the car park where she was forced to re-enact the assault for police cameras.

Her ordeal was branded “one of the worst cases of police revictimisation I have ever seen” by John Dussich, president of the World Society for Victimology, but it was just beginning. Deans was quickly found nearby, aboard the giant US aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk , then for reasons that remain murky, released. He was demobbed and slipped out of Japan, under the protection, believes Jane, of the military and perhaps the Japanese authorities. He lives today in the US city of Milwaukee.

“The military deliberately discharged Deans knowing full well that there were charges against him,” she says, drawing on the first of several cigarettes. She believes that Deans was let go to spare the US navy and its Japanese host embarrassment, forcing her to track him across America.

“I’m not ever going to give up until justice is served and that will happen when Deans faces me in court,” she says.

Jane is one of hundreds of women assaulted by US military personnel annually around the world, including in Japan, home to over 80 American bases and about 33,000 troops. The military presence is blamed for over 200,000 mostly off-duty crimes since the Japan-America Security Alliance was created in the early 1950s.

The bulk are petty offences but in one of the most notorious, a 12-year-old schoolgirl was raped and left for dead by three US serviceman on the southern island of Okinawa, reluctant home to nearly three-quarters of all US military facilities in Japan.

That 1995 crime shook the half-century alliance, sparking huge anti-US rallies and cries of “never again”. Last year a 14-year-old was raped by a US marine, one of several similar assaults against Japanese and Filipino women.

Protests forced the US military to set up recently a “sexual assault prevention unit”. Opponents say, however, that the incidents are an inevitable consequence of transplanting young and often traumatised trained killers into a local population they neither know nor respect.

Tensions between locals and the military are exacerbated by extraterritorial rights enjoyed by US personnel under the Status of Forces Agreement, which often allows them to avoid arrest for minor and sometimes even serious crimes. The agreement was reinforced by a recently uncovered deal between Washington and Tokyo to waive secretly jurisdiction against US soldiers in all but the most serious crimes, according to researcher Shoji Niihara.

Under pressure from increasingly angry citizens, Japan has, however, toughened its response to crimes by off-duty American soldiers. In 2006, Kitty Hawk airman Oliver Reese was sentenced to life imprisonment in a Japanese court for a robbery/murder, also in Yokosuka. The court heard Reese repeatedly stomped on the body of Yoshie Sato (56), rupturing her liver and kidney after she refused to hand over 15,000 yen. He spent the money on a sex show.

Sato’s fiance, Masanori Yamazaki, initially treated as a suspect in the murder, welcomes the conviction but argues that Reese was given preferential treatment. “He was eligible for the death penalty but it wasn’t considered. I believe that in trying to protect the Japan-US Alliance, the government is not protecting its citizens.”

Last year, bureaucrats from Japan’s ministry of defence offered Yamazaki a blank cheque as compensation for Sato’s death.

“They told me to fill in the amount I wanted. But they were going to demand the money from Reese’s family . . . It is the Japanese government that loans them the land and the US military that employs them. They are to blame but they have absolutely no sense of responsibility.”

The offer of what some victims call “shut-up money” was made to Jane too, this time from a fund used by the defence ministry to compensate the victims of US military crimes in Japan.

The three-million-yen cheque equalled the unpaid amount awarded by a Tokyo civil court, which convicted her attacker in his absence in 2004.

In search of further retribution, Jane sued her police tormentors, fighting all the way to an appeal in the Tokyo High Court, which ruled against her in December. She is liable for all legal costs.

“The financial and emotional burdens have been enormous,” she admits, adding that she has repeatedly faced eviction from her house. “With my post-traumatic stress disorder, I’ve lost a lot of students as well. But at what point do you say, ‘I don’t care anymore.’ I just can’t do that.”

In case she forgets, a poster of Deans captioned: “Wanted for Rape,” sits inches away. Two days before our interview she called his Milwaukee house after being tipped off about his whereabouts. “I spoke to his daughter,” she says nervously. “I’m discussing now with my lawyers what to do.”

In an effort to publicise her case, and banish some ghosts, she has just written a book about her experience. Due for publication in March, the title comes from something a rape victim on Okinawa told Jane after she gave a speech there to an anti-base rally. “She said, ‘I’m going to live my life from today.’ That moved me.”

She continues to write letters to Japanese and US politicians, including new president Barack Obama, demanding they extradite her assailant and shine a light into a small but dark corner of the Pacific alliance.

“My number one priority is getting Deans on trial . . .” she says.

“You know, I was guilty until I could prove myself innocent; he is innocent until I can prove him guilty. How fair is that?”

Local people and protection of the Chagos reef

Protection of the marine life of the Chagos Archipelago can be aided by the local people

Sir, Frank Pope’s illuminating article (“Protect this jewel in the Indian Ocean’s crown”, Jan 23) on protecting the marine life of the Chagos Archipelago ignores the interests of the human species, ie, the people who were exiled from their homeland, 40 years ago, to make way for the base on Diego Garcia. The 4,000 personnel and military hardware on Diego and the thousands of yachts and tourists which anchor and pass through the Archipelago, are bound to have a greater environmental impact than the few Chagossians who want to return to the Outer Islands. 

They would make ideal conservation guardians, perhaps more effective than the British patrol vessel which covers the entire Archipelago. It has been described as trying to police an area from London to Manchester with one policeman. Most scientists believe that human presence goes hand in hand with conservation. Local inhabitants, in a carefully controlled resettlement on two of the atolls, could enhance the protection of marine life, bird sanctuaries, coastal waters and the islands, not least eradication of invasive species. 

Unesco world heritage status would help to protect the future of the Archipelago but this would have to be done in conjunction with Mauritius. The UK is committed to returning the islands to Mauritius when no longer needed for defence purposes. Only Diego Garcia is needed for defence, not the 54 Outer Islands, 150 miles away. 

The 39 members of the Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group, of which I am the co-ordinator, will no doubt want to consider how best to reconcile conservation with human habitation. 

David Snoxell 

British High Commissioner to Mauritius (2000-04)

Mauritius makes claim to Chagos islands

Port Louis (Mauritius) — Mauritius would like Britain to recognise the sovereignty of Mauritius on all the 65 islands of Chagos archipelago, officials said on Wednesday.

The officials from the Mauritius State Law Office said this in Mauritian capital Port Louis after returning from London where they meet with officials of the British Foreign Office

The officials were invited by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to hold a series of discussions on the question of the sovereignty of the Chagos archipelago.

Britain took control of the Chagos archipelago in 1965 prior to the independence of Mauritius in March 1968.

The islands were then rented to the Americans who now have an air force base there. The population was deported to Mauritius and Seychelles.

The Mauritian officials said the talks with the British officials were relatively "positive" but that there is still a long way to go to find a common language.

The Mauritian lawyers told the British officials that it is not a problem for the Mauritian government that the American military has a huge air force base on the main island of Diego Garcia.

They pointed out that there are still 65 more islands in the archipelago, including Peros Banhos and Salomon.

They told British officials that their arguments that the resettlement of the islands by the Chagossian population may cause a security problem were not serious.

They said even two law lords of the British House of Lords have considered the British assertion as "highly imaginative".

Today's Photo From The Gaza Ghetto

by Sameh Akram Habeeb

An Old man drinks directly from a key water pump in one of the Gaza streets.
People in Gaza do face big problem to obtain fresh drinking water. Israeli army don't allow spare parts and materials used for water in Gaza.

Worse than an Earthquake: Peace Activist Kathy Kelly on the Destruction in Gaza

from Democracy Now!


Kathy Kelly, Executive Director of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. She is a veteran peace activist and the founder of Voices in the Wilderness. She has just returned from the Gaza Strip.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama has dispatched George Mitchell on his first trip as Middle East envoy. Mitchell is set to begin in Egypt today, followed by Israel, the occupied West Bank, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Speaking at the White House, Obama said Mitchell will be charged with bringing about “genuine progress.” 

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The charge that Senator Mitchell has is to engage vigorously and consistently in order for us to achieve genuine progress. And when I say “progress,” not just photo-ops, but progress that is concretely felt by people on the ground, so that people feel more secure in their lives, so that they feel that the hopes and dreams and aspirations of their children can be met. That is going to be our task. It is not something that we’re going to be able to do overnight, but I am absolutely confident that if the United States is engaged in a consistent way and an early—in early fashion, that we can make genuine progress.

    Now, understand that Senator Mitchell is going to be fully empowered by me and fully empowered by Secretary Clinton. So when he speaks, he will be speaking for us. And I’m hopeful that during this initial trip, one of the earliest initiatives that we have taken diplomatically, that not only is he able to communicate effectively how urgent we consider the issue, but that we’re also going to be able to listen and to learn and to find out what various players in the region are thinking. And more immediately, we hope that Senator Mitchell will be able to give us some ideas in terms of how we can solidify the ceasefire, ensure Israel’s security, also ensure that Palestinians in Gaza are able to get the basic necessities they need and that they can see a pathway towards long-term development that will be so critical in order for us to achieve a lasting peace.

AMY GOODMAN: George Mitchell has no immediate plans to visit the Gaza Strip, site of the three-week-long US-backed attack that killed more than 1,300 people, injured more than 5,000. A State Department spokesperson said Mitchell might make it to Gaza.

Well, my next guest has just returned from Gaza. She witnessed the Israeli attack. Kathy Kelly is executive director of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, veteran peace activist, founder of Voices in the Wilderness, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times. She joins us in our firehouse studio.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Kathy.

KATHY KELLY: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: How long were you in Gaza, and how did you get in?

KATHY KELLY: We were there, Audrey Stewart and I, for a total of six days, and we had entered after going back up to Cairo and getting an official-stamped letter. You had to swear before the United States embassy in Cairo that you were going in on your own responsibility.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you see? Where did you go?

KATHY KELLY: We went to Rafah, and we were very fortunate. A family that had fled from their own home and was living in a home that was lent to them in-laws invited us to stay with them. And we were immediately outside the area where people were told to evacuate. And so, we timed it. Every eleven minutes, there would be a huge bomb thudding down on the neighborhood. This was very close to where the tunnel industry had been in full activity prior to the December 27th attacks.

And so, we heard many of the bombs falling, we heard Apache helicopters firing, and then traveled with young people, students, up to Gaza City after the ceasefire was in place and the roads had been cleared and could see just how stunned the students were at the extent of the devastation. And then, from there, we visited inside the hospital, the burn unit, in a major—Shifa Hospital in Gaza, and then went up to Beit Lahiya and Audrey over to Tufa to further see the extent of the damage.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking with doctors in the hospital, seeing patients, what struck you most?

KATHY KELLY: The doctors said that the majority of their patients were non-military. They were civilians, grandmothers, teenagers, children. They were shaking with rage, honestly, because the world had watched for twenty-two days while this affliction just went on and on. They talked about patients lying on the floor, dying before their eyes, because they couldn’t open up operating rooms, they didn’t have enough materials to try to save all of the people who were coming in desperate need.

They said they had never seen injuries like this before, doctors with fifteen, twenty, thirty years of practice, particularly with regard to the burns. They’ve now, they believe, proven that white phosphorus was used. They had sent one patient’s tissue out for a biopsy in Egypt, and elements of white phosphorus were found in the tissue. And what actually kills people, when the white phosphorus, which is poisonous, goes into the circulatory system, is that the liver can’t process it. And two of their patients died of cardiac arrest after being transported to Egypt.

They also told about the way that surgeons had to work as teams—a vascular surgeon, a neurosurgeon, an orthopedic surgeon—trying desperately to save lives. And the extent of the wounds that each patient came in with, they said, was nothing like they had ever experienced before.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Kathy Kelly, about this brewing controversy in Britain. Two of Britain’s major broadcasters, the BBC and Sky, are continuing to come under criticism for refusing to air a charity appeal for the victims of the Israel attack on Gaza. The appeal was put together by the Disasters Emergency Committee, or DEC, which includes thirteen of Britain’s main charities. The DEC asked broadcasters to air the three-minute appeal during primetime on Monday, seeking donations for Palestinians affected by the conflict. The appeal aired on many British channels last night, but the BBC and Sky refused. This is an excerpt of the appeal.

    DEC APPEAL: The children of Gaza are suffering. Many are struggling to survive, homeless and in need of food and water. Today, this is not about the rights and wrongs of the conflict. The hospitals have been overwhelmed with the number of casualties and need more resources to treat them. This is why the DEC has launched this appeal.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, the BBC has come under broad criticism for its decision not to air the appeal. This is Caroline Thomson, chief operating officer for the BBC.

    CAROLINE THOMSON: It is a matter of a big national, international controversy. There is a big debate about the rights and wrongs of the war and the causes and so on, and we would want that to have stabilized and the situation on the ground to have stabilized before we could reconsider and feel it was something we could do.

AMY GOODMAN: And here is what the BBC’s director-general Mark Thompson had to say.

    MARK THOMPSON: We believe that the BBC’s reputation of impartiality is so important and so integral to the BBC’s reputation and its trustworthiness here and around the world that it’s very important that we adhere strictly to our principles.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, the charities behind the appeal include the Red Cross, Oxfam, Save the Children and Christian Aid. Kathy Kelly, your response?

KATHY KELLY: Well, many of those charities had even prior to the December 27th attacks issued a scathing report showing how the economic war, the state of siege that had been imposed on Gaza, was something that was in violation of international law. I think that these charities have had on-the-ground experiences, and they should certainly be listened to.

Surely, the humanitarian is political. That’s just a reality that we should all accept. But I think that the journalistic integrity would be most respected if in fact there would be clear reporting on the ways that these assaults, the Israeli assaults on a civilian population, 50 percent of whom are children, violated international law and any standards of human decency and, I believe, should be examined under the questions of genocide.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel said that they would stop during that attack if Hamas stopped launching the rockets. What was the response of Palestinians inside? Has Hamas increased in popularity or decreased?

KATHY KELLY: It’s difficult to answer that question. I, myself, sensed that when people heard the word “victory,” that gave people pause. I mean, you couldn’t look at the extent of the damage and devastation and the amount of time it will take to repair and speak of victory, if in fact you are going to live in that situation for a long time. But I think that the rage that was felt in every conversation that I heard, in terms of the international community allowing this devastation to go on for twenty-two days without stepping in, was a cause of ongoing chagrin. Now, how that will affect Hamas’s political standing, it’s difficult to say.

AMY GOODMAN: How did this compare to your experience of other conflict situations? I mean, you’re famous, Kathy, for traveling the world to conflict zones. You were in Iraq before the invasion and during. You were in Lebanon in 2006.

KATHY KELLY: You know, in Iraq, when people were trapped under the economic sanctions, it seemed as though there was nothing that average, ordinary people could do except be punished again and again and again.

I was impressed by the tunnel industry. In the town of Rafah, which is bisected by the border, people have found a way to deal with the state of siege that was imposed on them imposing collective punishment. And they created a network of tunnels so that—actually, the first day that people could kind of basically come out after the bombing had ended, the stalls in Rafah were pretty stacked with goods. And I thought, well, how did they ever get there? And people just said, “The tunnels.” And so, I think where there’s tremendous need, people don’t like the idea of burrowing underground in order to get food and water and benzene and needed goods, but I think that there’s a great survival ethos that is—

AMY GOODMAN: Israel said the tunnels are used for weapons smuggling, and Tzipi Livni came to the US in the amidst of the attacks to get the US to vow they would stop this weapons smuggling.

KATHY KELLY: But oughtn’t we just use that as a segue into understanding the extent of the United States weapon delivery to the Israeli government? I mean, the planes that were flying overhead were using aviation fuel given free of charge by the United States taxpayers. The drones that are flying overhead doing surveillance represent state-of-the-art modern technology. The amount of money the United States gives annually, $2.6 billion, to Israel—this is a delivery that doesn’t even require any kind of smuggling, because the world has said, yes, the United States and Israel can collaborate, and they can beat up on Palestinian people, pounding them into the ground as much as they want, and there will be complicity.

AMY GOODMAN: What about George Mitchell going to Israel now, going to the occupied West Bank, but at least at this point they’ve not announced plans for him to go to Gaza?

KATHY KELLY: He has such an opportunity to make tracks out of the comfort of offices and salons in Tel Aviv and go to Gaza. Ban Ki-moon did it. My hope is that he would go and stay for several days, that he would make a thorough tour of the Gaza Strip. And I hope that everybody in the United States who’s tuned into his travel will encourage him to avail himself of what is a crucial opportunity to state his own desire to listen, as the President has instructed him to do. He should be listening to the mothers, to the children, to the doctors, to the people who are trying to now rebuild after a fierce and horrible assault.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you leave Gaza?

KATHY KELLY: You know, the electricity was sporadic. The internet connections were not so available. We felt we had a story to tell, and so we decided—it was a difficult decision to make. We decided, though, that it might be best to leave. But also, the people giving us hospitality, I think, were a bit worried that they were becoming too high-profile. I’ll have to acknowledge that people are afraid of what the Hamas authorities might think of what they’re doing in housing two Westerners, and, you know, shepherding them around the area was perhaps, with students, beginning to become worrisome.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask what you think of your fellow Chicagoan who has just become President of the United States, Barack Obama, who says he will double the force, for example, in Afghanistan, though has vowed to draw down troops in Iraq.

KATHY KELLY: This is a grave disappointment. I think we can still hold out hope in the reports that he said once, maybe four years ago, that his leading lights were the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi. But I think that the pressure that he has buckled under, in terms of adhering to the demands of people who are weapon makers and war makers, is a pressure that won’t bring security to his fellow citizens in the United States or to the world. I hope he’ll step away from US exceptionalism and see the United States as part of the family of nations, not as a nation that has an indispensable role in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: I’ll never forget, not that I was there in Iraq when you were, right before the invasion, but the scene described—I think we talked to you around then—of you holding a protest outside the US embassy right before the attack and the journalists surrounding you, almost attacking you, for what you were doing. Can you explain that scene? They were calling you a collaborator with Saddam Hussein for protesting the imminent attack.

KATHY KELLY: I have a pretty vivid memory of that day, as well. We were in front of the United Nations compound, and we had a big sign that said “No blank check for war.” And Jeremy and others—Jeremy Scahill—had gone over to the prison just prior to that where people had been released by Saddam Hussein. And I remember John Burns, in particular. He was so angry with—

AMY GOODMAN: John Burns of the New York Times?

KATHY KELLY: Yeah—with my belief that in fact, you know, we had a prison-industrial complex in the United States that perhaps should bear scrutiny and attention and that maybe what Saddam had done might be something that the United States could consider, as well. But I have to say that after the war, after John Burns was kind of stuck in the Palestine Hotel in a staircase, at some point, at some risk to his own life, he pulled me over while he was with another group of reporters, and he said, “This is the person to go to if you want to hear the humanitarian story in Iraq.” So, you know, I should probably add that part, too.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you saying he was, in a sense, apologizing to you?

KATHY KELLY: Oh, that might be a stretch. But at any rate, it didn’t seem to be a relationship fraught by conflict.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was the anger that was being expressed to you right before the invasion? I mean, these reporters were supposed to be covering your point of view, but they were arguing with you.

KATHY KELLY: Well, I think that the reporters were very, very angry at Saddam Hussein’s regime, in part because they would be bounced out every ten days and have to pay enormous amounts of money, which all went—in order to come back into the country every ten days. And that went to the Ministry of Tourism. Well, believe me, there was no tourism in Baghdad before the war. So, in a sense, it went right into the pockets of the Mahabharat, the secret service agency that was hounding them and tracking their every step. They were very, very angry, and I think they had a right to be. Saddam Hussein’s regime was ruthless and horrible.

But it wasn’t fair to say that we were the silent servants of Saddam Hussein. We were trying to say that you don’t punish children; children couldn’t be held accountable for that government. And John Burns deemed the demonstration we had as a demonstration that Saddam Hussein loved to see, but we saw the headline that he used as a headline that George Bush loved to see. And these kinds of—

AMY GOODMAN: And what was that?

KATHY KELLY: Oh, it was a headline, exactly that, saying that it was a demonstration Saddam loved to see.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, with Barack Obama now the President of the United States, are you strategizing differently? You are one of the most well known international peace activists.

KATHY KELLY: I think if we take a wait-and-see attitude, that could quickly morph into inertia. And so, I think it’s just as imperative and as much of a responsibility for adults in the United States to keep trying to identify the grave dangers that exist as we continue to pour resources into military projects. And I think we should continue to say, “Abandon these military projects.” They don’t bring us security. And at a time when there are so many environmental concerns, when the financial collapses of so many industries are affecting people, we should be taking that money that we’ve given to the Defense Department and putting it into things that really ensure security and then continuing to demand that President Obama pay attention to these kinds of vital concerns.

We camped outside his home for nineteen days in Arctic temperatures in Chicago—I left in the middle to go to Gaza—what we called Camp Hope. And we did want to be respectful of the neighbors of the Obama family, of all the many people who are feeling great congratulatory happiness. But I think that we have to recognize where—well, that President Obama has now become the chief arms exporter in the world. He’s in charge of the most massive killing machine in the world. And it’s our responsibility to continue to hold forth those visions of another way without extending the arm of imperial menace and might all over the world—instead, to be extending a hand of friendship and to share resources as best we can.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy Kelly, I want to thank you for being with us. Kathy Kelly is executive director of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a veteran peace activist, founder of Voices in the Wilderness. She has just returned from Gaza. She lives in Chicago, when she’s ever home.

Parents hope UNRWA psycho-social support will help kids "grow for a better future for their country"

by Sameh Akram Habeeb

from gazatoday.blogspot.com

Gaza - Ma'an - After three weeks of war and a week of shocked recovery, eight-year-old Aseel Abu Etaweh found it strange to wake up to her mother calling her out of bed for another day of school.

For the first three weeks of the New Year, Aseel had been woken up by explosions. 

Being the eldest, Aseel usually takes on the responsibility of getting up first so she can help her little brother Samer get out of bed. These days her coaxing words tell him to get up, because everything is going to be all right.

“Kids now find it hard to go back to the old routine,” said psychiatry consultant in Gaza Dr Rawya Al Borno. She explained that there have been “countless damages” from the war on Gaza, but noted that the longest lasting are “the psychological damages that occur in kids, how they suffer … losing the feeling of safety, sticking close to their parents, losing the ability to sleep, to focus, and to eat.”

There are many children, she said, that have more “severe reactions, like uncontrolled urination.”

Children that lost the most are also faced with the greatest amount of psychological distress in the long run, Al-Burno added.

As school started again and life returned to a somewhat normal pattern, UNRWA schools prepared for the psychological trauma that would return to classrooms with the children.

With this in mind, UNRWA schools devoted the first days back to helping students get past what happened. The support program is designed to engage the students in several activities that help them release the fears.

Aseel, for example, was asked to write a letter to all the kids around the world. She wrote,

“My name is Aseel and I am 8 years old, I have the right to live, study and play, the Israeli’s took all of that away from me.”

She said writing the letter helped her let out her feelings. She said she wrote the letter to a child her age but who did not have to live through the war in Gaza. Aseel then looked up and asked “why do other children enjoy their life, and we don’t?”

Other teachers asked students to draw their feelings or experiences, have small discussions with classmates where they shared what happened to them during the war. Small drama classes were organized where students acted out feelings and frustrations or reenacting situations that made them frightened and talking about them.

Even normal play in the school grounds was a chance for students to let out their feelings, and help them regain a sense of safety and normalcy.

Dr Al-Borno said the fastest way to deal with post-traumatic stress of this degree in children is by using Psycho-drama. The method allows the children to re-play events of the war in a safe space, where they can move past and even conquer the fears associated with the events.

Manager of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program Hasan Ziyadeh, said “kids are expected to lose their focus or even use violence in expressing their feelings,” as they come down from the hectic and terrifying events of the war. “This is why we must not ignore such behavior and treat it quickly.”

An essential element in such treatment is family support, said Ziyadeh, though religious and extended family institutions must also be activated to best assist those most traumatized by the events of the war. Religion and family will play a big part in helping the Gaza community get over this war, he said.

Aseel and her little brother Samer have the courage without being afraid, they said. While much of what they believed about the world and its people has changed since the war began, they understand that for many their ability to survive the war makes them heroes.

They know that survival is more than just being alive, but that it is also them doing their best to understand what happened and move on to continue living their lives, of trying to feel safe and move forward. 

Back home in Jabalia

by Sharon Lock

from International Solidarity Movement

This morning is the second that I woke to quietness; no shelling from the sea. E and I went today to see our Jabalia friends, F’s family. They are back in their house, one of the few standing in their neighborhood of Azbet Abed Rabbo. This is only the case because their fears were realized - it was again occupied by the army during the land incursion. However by this time they had left and gone to relatives elsewhere. Israeli soldiers don’t clean up after themselves so the family has been cleaning for a week solid - without running water.

It was so good to be able to sit in the sun with them and drink tea and watch the children playing in the garden. I’d not seen the children in a state other than fear, nor in a location other than the basement. Abu Nasser (the husband of Sara who was killed in the first attack as she was out looking for bread) came through the whole thing ok despite refusing to leave the neighborhood when the rest of the family did. He has been ill, not surprisingly, and was feeling chilly despite the sun. He described immediately coming back to the house as soon as he thought it was possible, and watching the Israeli soldiers dancing as they left. He always reminds me of a wiry old fisherman, with a white beard, bright eyes, and a woolly hat on. He says, and apparently other Palestinians in their 80s agree, that these attacks have been worse than anything they ever saw before. This is the fourth attack on the Jabalia area in three years.

On the way there we dropped into the Jabalia Red Crescent centre that we had to evacuate on the first night of the ground incursion; one room is burnt out, it has a lot of holes in, and the windows are all broken, but it could be worse. All the RC guys were there working hard to clear up. Even Hassan was there, limping and sound a bit shell-shocked still.

H took us around a part of the Azbet area I didn’t see the other day, and we recorded some more stories. We begin with Ayman Torban’s house, where he and his brother’s family lived, a total of 17 people. I was immediately intrigued because under the rubble was a paper on midwifery in Palestine (I have a degree place for this in Sept 09) and I spotted more crumpled midwifery books. It turned out this was an extensive medical and science library put together by his sister Amel, who did her midwifery masters in London, and taught here in Gaza, but now lives in Dubai.

We sat in the flimsy shelter Ayman has constructed beside his house and heard what happened. He told us this house was first shelled on January 4, when only the women and children were there. (In many cases the men feel their families are safer without them because of the Israeli army’s tendency to treat all men as militants.) It was attacked with 2 Apache helicopters and 5 tank shells.

Two days later the relatives realized everyone in the basement was still alive, and one of the women went to tell them it might be ok to come out. First she brought out the children, and three tanks came to confront them. But she went back, waited with the women inside for 2 hours, and then they all came out and reached safety.

Two days later the army went into the house and laid mines which collapsed it completely. This was the pattern for most Jabalia houses, which appears to be why the devastation is so complete. A young man sitting with us said “before these attacks I wanted to travel. But now I want to stay in our land. Who will protect it if we all leave?”

Next to the Turban house are the Badwan and Ayoub houses. Maher Badwan (who had taken most of the family to his cousin’s house), told us that Mousba Ayoub fled his own house and went to the Badwan house, where he hid with Maher’s mother in the kitchen while the house was hit with tanks shells and phosphorous. Both died, Maher’s mother survived a short time but no ambulance was able to reach her. The army then planted mines in the house (black crosses on the pillars to mark the best place for them are still visible) and collapsed it with the bodies still inside.

Mahoud Abed Rabbu lived in a 3 floor, six apartment building. On January 6 it came under shell attack from 10.30. At 2pm during the 1-4pm “ceasefire”, the army dynamited a wall open and told Mahoud and his family “leave here, go into the town, we’ll kill you if you return.” Everybody walked towards Jabalia center, until they reached a mosque, when other soldiers took all the men - about 60 of them - and put them in an animal shelter. Women and children were allowed to leave.

They took the ID of the men, made them strip, and then used them as human shields as they continued to dynamite houses open and enter them. Finally the army released the men about 10pm (again saying not to come back or the army would kill them) except for 10 who they arrested and who are believed to still be held in the Israeli Naqab prison.

His neighbor Khalid Abed Rabbu told us that on the same day, three tanks surrounded his house and the soldiers shouted at him to get out. He went outside with his wife, children, and mother, carrying a white flag. He remembers noticing that two of the soldiers in the tanks were eating chocolate. A third solider got out of the tank, and opened fire on the family with an M16. Khalid tried to take his family back into the house, but his daughters, Soad aged 7 and Armir aged 2, were killed. His mother received bullets in her arm and stomach. His 4 year old daughter Samir was hit with 3 bullets and was evacuated to an intensive care in Belgium; if she survives she will be paralyzed.

A few minutes away, his ambulance driver neighbor Samir Hassheikh heard his call for help and tried to bring the ambulance to them, but tanks stopped him. The army later destroyed the ambulance along with Samir’s house. After two hours Khalid managed to bring his injured mother and daughter to a point another ambulance could reach. E remembers bringing in Khalid’s mother while she was on duty with the Jabalia Red Crescent. The sadness on Khalid’s face as he told us his story, sitting beside the rubble of his home, has stayed with me. I couldn’t bring myself to ask to take his photo.

As we were walking the Azbet neighborhood, I got a text from V: “Israel radio says right now that they are ready to attack again today. Take care.” Wordlessly, I showed it to E. It took a while before we could face asking H if he knew anything. He said there had been something on the radio but everyone hoped it was just a rumor.

Click here for photos.

Photos: Temporary shelters in Jabalia

by Sharon Lock

from International Solidarity Movement

Many people in Gaza are now homeless due to Israeli attacks on their communities. Temporary shelters are springing up across Gaza.

Amer’s story: They killed me three times

by Sharon Lock

Ramatan TV, nine floors up and open 24 hours, was the last bastion of internet during the strikes. We knew the place because we got asked in for interviews, and then called a few press conferences there, for example announcing that internationals would be riding with ambulances. We began to hang around in the corners at other times, hoping no-one would mind us hitching a ride on the wifi.
Al Helou family - Amer and Shireen on the right

Instead of complaining about random internationals cluttering up the place, Ramatan journalists wholeheartedly adopted us, brought us tea, gave us blankets if we needed to stay the night. Now most nights at about 9pm, you’ll find some of us there being fed a small feast in the kitchen.

I forgot that I didn’t like journalists much, because these guys are firstly Palestinian, and their reporting is compassionate. Now journalists are flooding in through Rafah (though I do like some of them) I was reminded. Two days ago a recently arrived Channel 4 guy came into Yousef’s office on a deadline, wanting to know how many children died in the UNSRA schools. Youself said “Two children at one school. Forty five people at another…”

“But how many of them were children?” he insisted.
“Forty five people altogether,” Yousef said, thinking he’d misunderstood.
“No,” Mr Channel 4 said irritatedly, “I want to say the number of children.”
“Oh £*$&%*&@$ @*%@&*£.” I said, and stomped off, remembering my former journalist feelings.

Yousef Al Helou has the end office in Ramatan. His TV speaks English sometimes, and he’s always willing to pool information and help us figure out what is going on. Today he took me and E to Zaytoun to hear the story of his cousin’s family. When we arrived, I realised we were only two houses from the first house we’d evacuated people from on the Red Cross evacuation I went on. I would have walked past Amer and Shireen Al Helou’s house that day. But by then it was empty and broken, because the day Amer told us about was January 4th.

Sleeping under stairs

Sleeping under stairs

Amer is 29. 14 people from his family were in the house that night, and they were all trying to sleep under their stairs as some sort of shelter. Even though the stairs were partly open to the back yard, the F16 attacks on the house made downstairs seem the safest place. The house now has holes from shell blasts and thousands of pock-marks from the three inch nails that the shells were filled with.

“We hadn’t known how bad it would get,” said Amer. “Or we would have left our house and gone somewhere else. But we thought our area was a quiet area. And then that night we thought they would go past us at the front. But they came from the back.” Amer didn’t know it yet, but his brother Mohammed had already been killed elsewhere that day, struck by drone rockets.

army shooting in house just before 6am Jan 4

army shooting in house just before 6am Jan 4

The Israeli soldiers came to their house at about 5.30am, after the house had been shelled for 15 hours, and immediately opened fire on the family, killing Amer’s father with three shots. Then they told the family to leave. Amer had called an ambulance (which had to turn back after being shot at) and was refusing to leave his father’s body but the soldiers said they would shoot him if he stayed, so they fled 300 yards up the dirt track behind their house, at which point they were shot at again by another group of soldiers. This time Amer’s brother Abdullah was shot, Amer and Shireen’s 6 year old daughter Saja was shot in the arm, and their 1 year old daughter Farah was shot in the stomach. They spent the next 14 hours sheltering behind a small hill of dirt, while the wounded bled, and were not allowed to access help though the soldiers were aware of the injuries. Having no other way to comfort her small daughter, whose intestines were falling out, Shireen breastfed Farah as the little girl slowly bled to death.

After 14 hours, at about 8 in the evening, the soldiers sent dogs to chase them out of their shelter and dropped phosphorous bombs near them, but due to the wounded family members and having bare feet in an area of broken glass and rubble, escape was difficult. The army took the three wounded and put them behind the tanks, and captured Amer, but the rest of the family managed to get away and call the Red Crescent. The ambulance that eventually reached the injured people 7 hours later (driven by my medic friend S) took an hour to find them, and by this time Farah was dead. (When I heard Amer’s story I realised S had already told me about collecting “a small shaheed” from this area.)

Amer was held for 5 days in army custody (the first 3 without access to food, water, or a bathroom), beaten and tortured, and questioned about resistance activity which he knew nothing about. When he was finally released on the border, the army sent two known collaborators to escort him, so it would look to the resistance fighters like he himself was a collaborator. But the fighters knew who he was and that he was not a collaborator. He tells us:

“I had my four children young, and they gave me the most happiness in my life. I took such good care of them. I didn’t let them just play on the street, we had a big living room in our house with toys for them, we would invite all the neighbours’ children to come play there with ours, so that we could be sure they were all safe. I always drove them to and from school, I didn’t even let them walk. Whenever I was depressed, I would gather all my kids, pile them in the car, take them somewhere nice like the park or the beach, and then to see them happy and having fun would make me happy again.

Now my remaining children will not go to sleep without their shoes on, because they think we will have to run for our lives again.

We love life as the Israelis do. Are they the only people allowed life? They killed me three times that day, first when they killed my brother, then when they killed my father, then when they killed my daughter. We looked for my father’s body later; they had buried him under rubble, eventually we found his foot sticking out. Sometimes now I think we have to leave Gaza, to join my brother in South Africa. Sometimes I think, no - Gaza is worth fighting for, this is our home.”

Amongst their crumpled belongings, next to the spot Amer’s father died, the family gives us tea. Shireen solicitously dusts the sand off my back. We ask them how it is they have not gone crazy from the pain of these events. “It’s not us, it’s God who gives us peace and strength. Without this I would be dead too. What happened to my family was like a horror film.” says Amer. He shows us photos of Farah (whose name means “joy”) and Saja on his phone. “I don’t think I can have any more children. I am too broken inside.”



The family is not living in the house right now, they are split between different homes, and Abdullah is in hospital in Egypt. Amer is wearing Abdullah’s jacket, complete with bullet holes. “It is hard to be here again in this house after what happened. But your presence has lifted my spirits.” he tells us.

Back at Ramatan, I hear one of the journalists talking. “I couldn’t protect my children - this is my responsibility, and I couldn’t.” He says. “My daughter asked, what is it like to die? I told her, it’s just like closing your eyes.”


Army rabbi 'gave out hate leaflet to troops'

by Ben Lynfield in Jerusalem

The Israeli army's chief rabbinate gave soldiers preparing to enter the Gaza Strip a booklet implying that all Palestinians are their mortal enemies and advising them that cruelty is sometimes a "good attribute".

The booklet, entitled Go Fight My Fight: A Daily Study Table for the Soldier and Commander in a Time of War, was published especially for Operation Cast Lead, the devastating three-week campaign launched with the stated aim of ending rocket fire against southern Israel. The publication draws on the teachings of Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, head of the Jewish fundamentalist Ateret Cohanim seminary in Jerusalem. 

In one section, Rabbi Aviner compares Palestinians to the Philistines, a people depicted in the Bible as a war-like menace and existential threat to Israel. 

In another, the army rabbinate appears to be encouraging soldiers to disregard the international laws of war aimed at protecting civilians, according to Breaking the Silence, the group of Israeli ex-soldiers who disclosed its existence. The booklet cites the renowned medieval Jewish sage Maimonides as saying that "one must not be enticed by the folly of the Gentiles who have mercy for the cruel".

Breaking the Silence is calling for the firing of the chief military rabbi, Brigadier-General Avi Ronzki, over the booklet. The army had no comment on the matter yesterday.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the executive director of the Rabbis for Human Rights group, called the booklet "very worrisome", adding "[this is] a minority position in Judaism that doesn't understand the ... necessity of distinguishing between combatants and civilians."

New weapons used against demonstrators

from International Solidarity Movement

Since the start of the massacre on Gaza 
(27 December 2009), the Israeli army has been testing new types of weapons in several villages around West Bank. There are two new types of bullets and one new type of teargas canister.

One small bullet, known by its caliber size as “0.22″, does not make a sound when fired. The bullet can only be heard by a low sweeping noise in the air as it passes. The low caliber allows the bullet to easily enter the body and cause internal bleeding. 

The bullet can enter a body from approximately 50 meters. Until now, 7 people have been shot 
with the “0.22″ in Bi’lin, Ni’lin, and Budrus. Several 
from Bi’lin and Ni’lin have this bullet lodged in their knees, one bullet went through a demonstrator’s leg and another demonstrator was shot in the stomach (causing internal bleeding).

The second type of bullet contains an unknown chemical substance. Although the composition of this bullet is not yet known, several protesters have complained of skin irritations.

The Israeli army has began to use a more dangerous teargas canister. Thus far, use of this canister has been restricted to the villages of Ni’lin and Jayyous. The canister is black, heavy and can reach more than 400 meters. 

The gas-canister explodes only after it hits the ground. No tail of gas or audible cue makes this canister more likely to cause injuries, as demonstrators cannot anticipate when it is being used. This canister ignites more easily and has set fire to a living room. Additionally, the acceleration and weight of this canister cause a greater impact when hitting a demonstrator: a broken leg resulted from the use of this canister against demonstrators.


Family resists house occupation during demonstration in Jayyous

from International Solidarity Movement

On January 23rd, a demonstration against Israel’s apartheid wall in the village of Jayyous, was once again met with repression from the Israeli Army.  Israeli soldiers and border police shot tear gas, rubber and live bullets at villagers during the weekly demonstration.  At least four people, including a pregnant woman, were treated for tear gas inhalation.  The army occupied two homes and used the roofs to shoot at youth.  However, a family in a third home, supported by international solidarity activists, successfully prevented the army from entering the building.

Army jeeps entered Jayyous several hours before the demonstration began.  The mayor of the village also received a phone call from the area commander, who him that if villagers marched to the south gate in the wall, they would be shot with live ammunition. Despite this intimidation, several hundred Jayyous residents, supported by Israeli and international solidarity activists, marched towards the gate waving Palestinian flags and chanting slogans against the occupation.

The crowd’s path was soon blocked by two jeeps and more than a dozen soldiers and border police.  After a ten minute stand-off, several youth began to throw stones.  The army then began firing rubber bullets, tear gas, and live ammunition at the boys.  The clashes continued in the village for several hours after soldiers entered the village from three different areas.

During this time, the army occupied the roofs of two houses, from which they fired at the demonstrators below.  Residents of the occupied houses were prevented from leaving the buildings.  Soldiers also attempted to enter a third house, but the family refused to let them in, and told the army to leave their property.  The army withdrew from the village at around 7:30pm.

The BBC is too impartial to suffering

by Philip Hensher

During the 22 days of the Israeli assaults on Gaza, around 1,300 Palestinians, according to both local and international sources, were killed. This included over 400 children under 18 and over 100 women. Israeli shells hit schools, heavily built-up areas and the UN Relief and Works Agency headquarters, killing many and knocking out food and medical supply warehouses. The UN, Red Cross and Israeli human rights agencies have complained that food aid, medics and rescue services have been prevented from reaching those in need. 

In these circumstances, when the normal pattern of life has been violently disrupted, people in the West and around the world naturally want to do something about it. I doubt that many do so primarily because they hate Israel, or because they are secretly anti-Semitic. I would guess that for most people, the emotion of pity for innocent victims and for those who have no escape from the open-air prison of Gaza, shelled with phosphorus, is uppermost. Some people, if they thought about it, would blame Israel; some, more ingenious, would blame Hamas. You could wish to do something about it, whichever opinion you held.

Not, however, if you worked for the BBC. The Disasters Emergency Committee, which represents 13 of Britain's aid agencies, asked the BBC to broadcast an appeal for money to help the people of Gaza. The BBC turned them down, saying such an appeal would damage the BBC's reputation for editorial independence. And, they said, there was no guarantee the money raised would reach those in genuine need.

Caroline Thomson, the Chief Operating Officer of the BBC, on the Today Programme on Saturday said: "You have to ask yourself what the most important thing for the people who are suffering ... from the BBC's position, the most important thing is that we keep our reputation." Edward Stourton, quite rightly, could hardly contain his incredulity at Ms Thomson's idea that by giving airtime to a humanitarian appeal the BBC would be seen to be supporting one side or another. As for the idea that the money "wouldn't get through": the aid agencies believe it would, and the Government has some measure of confidence, too. The BBC hasn't a leg to stand on.

The news, no doubt, has a requirement to represent the justification of the attacks as well as their results. Perhaps it would be right to go on reporting frankly green-ink views that most of those killed were terrorists, that the buildings destroyed were weapons factories and not schools, that any children apparently carried dead through the streets were probably murdered by their parents, and other sickening productions of the fantasy factory. 

If you believed those claims, it would probably be right not to broadcast an appeal for funds. You don't, however, need to believe more than that many people killed were innocent bystanders with nowhere to flee, including children, and that the destruction has made life very difficult, and that the attendance of aid agencies demonstrates only the presence of suffering. 

The trouble is that the BBC's requirement for impartiality has enabled it, yet again, to do nothing. Yet that inactivity does not have a neutral result. It means an appeal is not heard; that some money is not raised; an instance of suffering is not alleviated; that another child dies. Just so Ms Thomson can rest in her bed, assured that she has not upset a correspondent who believes a hospital was really a bomb factory, that there was never any white phosphorus fired at civilians, and that dead toddler was really a suicide bomber. Never has impartiality seemed so very far from moral neutrality.