Israel to strip Palestinian prisoners' rights

from Ma'an News Agency

Israel plans to strip Palestinian political prisoners of certain rights in order to pressure Hamas to accept a deal involving the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Palestinian prisoners are facing severe limitations on family visits, access to media, and transfers of money for use at the prison canteen. Prisoners may also be denied the right to take high school matriculation exams or take university correspondence courses.

Israel is seeking the release of soldier Gilad Shalit who was captured by in 2006. Hamas is demanding the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange.

The Israeli cabinet voted to adopt these tactics at a meeting on Sunday after being briefed by security officials and by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann.

"It is true that we are the only democracy in the Middle East, but we can't let ourselves become the only suckers and we mustn't show weakness," Friedmann said, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Mounir Mansour, the head of the Palestinian Prisoners Committee, said on Sunday that Hamas prisoners are considering a hunger strike in protest of the sanctions.

Mansour told Israel Radio that the Israeli prison administration has already begun to revoke prisoners rights, including cutting family visits and access to Arabic-language television. Some prisoners belongings were also seized, he said.

There are more than 11,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons.

Gazan fishermen abducted by Israeli forces

from International Solidarity Movement

Since Friday 13th March 2009, 16 fishermen from the Gaza Strip have been abducted by the Israeli Navy.

12 were abducted while fishing off the coast of Beit Lahia;

Zaki Mostafa Tarowsh, 44; Ismaeen Zaki Tarowsh, 16; Thaher Mahmoud Zayad, 45; and Nedal Thaher Zayad, 23 were abducted on Friday 13/02/2009.

Kamel Deeb Alankah, 57; and Yoness Deeb Zayal, 36 were abducted on Wednesady 18/03/2009.

Ramzy Mostafah Alsultan,36; Anes Mohammed Alsultan, 20; Ashraf Hossan Alsultan, 34; Mohammed Hossan Alsultan, 23; Mahmoud Mohammed Zayad, 23; and Fahme Salah Abu Reash, 18 were all abducted on Thursday 19/03/2009.

4 were abducted on Wednesday 25th March while fishing near Rafah;

Mohammed Abulah An Najjar, 26; Khalil abdullah an najjar, 20 ;Yousif Abdullah An Najjar, 18 ; and Ali Hasan an Najjar,18.

The fishermen were forced at gunpoint to strip naked and swim from their boats to the Israeli warships. After being taken to Ashdod they were all released within 24 hours. The Israeli Navy have however impounded all of their boats - 7 in total.

International law, and various agreements to which Israel is a signatory indeed recognise that the Fishermen from Gaza have a right to fish at least 12 miles from shore at a bare minimum. In practice however a “law of the gun” has been enforced by the Israeli Navy, and this right has been denied to them.

According to numerous reports from the international media the Israeli Navy were enforcing a no fishing zone 6 miles from shore prior to the wholesale attacks on the population of the Gaza Strip. It has been commonly reported that in the wake of these attacks, this limit has been reduced to 3 miles.

The fishermen abducted from Beit Lahia however say that this is not the whole story, and that for them, the limit has been reduced to a mere 200m. Were this not bad enough, all of them were actually within this limit when they were abducted. Several of them say that whilst in captivity, when they told Israeli investigators where they had been abducted from, the investigators expressed surprise and told them “… but that is not a forbidden area.”

It is unclear what the Israeli military regard as the official “forbidden” area. There are no official channels of communication open between the Israeli Navy and the fishermen from Gaza. All the information regarding this that the fishermen have is delivered at gunpoint, and is inconsistent with the actions of the gunboat crews. Experience informs the fishermen that at any moment any portion of Gaza’s territorial waters can be deemed “prohibited” by the gunboat crews, no matter how close to shore, and irrespective of what the gunboat commanders have previously decreed (the status of these decrees as both arbitrary and illegal in the context of international law should also be noted).

This uncertainty is further compounded by what the fishermen say are unusually high levels of aggression by the gunboats. On the 17th March 2009 a gunboat crew shot Deeb Alankah, in the arm and the back. He was less than 200m from shore near Beit Lahia, and says that no warning was given to him nor demand made before he was shot. Other fishermen confirm that typically when the Israeli gun boats begin shooting at them, they now do so without warning.

Deeb’s father Kamel Deeb Alankah was one of the fishermen abducted on the day after his son was shot. He says of his interrogation;

“A colonel in the intelligence said “We shot Deeb by mistake.”

I told him “why you shot at us, on the sands and the small boats, you killed us.”

He said all of this by mistakes, I said “no its not by mistake, when the shots hit a boat 3 meters long? Is that by mistake?””

Israel is refusing to return the 7 fishing boats - the sole means of income for fishermen already greatly impoverished by the siege on the Gaza Strip.


Hundreds of actions in Palestine, worldwide for Land Day March 30th

by Saed Bannoura

Palestinians and their supporters around the world are organizing protests, demonstrations, teach-ins and actions on Palestinian Land Day, which has also been declared the 'Global Day for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel'.

Land Day began 32 years ago, on March 30th, 1977, when Israeli forces attacked a non-violent demonstration against widescale land confiscation in the Galilee, in northern Israel. On that day, Israeli forces killed 6 Palestinians, injured 96 and arrested 300. Palestinians inside Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza, and refugee camps in nearby Arab countries, declared the day to be 'Land Day', to commemorate the loss of Palestinian land, which is still ongoing, to the creation and expansion of the state of Israel. 

According to the grassroots 'Stop the Wall' campaign, “The call for a global day of action on March 30 came out of the World Social Forum in Belem (Brazil) and aims to promote BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] as the most effective tool to stop Israeli policies of land theft and colonization and the discrimination, massacres and ethnic cleansing that have been carried out against the Palestinian people in pursuit of these goals.”The group's statement continues, “Actions all across historic Palestine tie the ongoing defense of Palestinian land and agriculture from the Wall and settlement project to the call for boycott of Israeli products and institutions. Where farming becomes a form of resistance, choosing Palestinian over Israeli products is an essential part of the Palestinian struggle for justice, freedom, and return. Where a people is besieged, bombed and starved with the complicity of governments around the world, the call for global BDS becomes an essential tool to break the siege.”

Actions are planned in cities and towns across the globe, with hundreds of cities participating. Inside Palestine itself, and inside Israel, dozens of protests are also planned. Worldwide, participating cities include New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Hague, Buenos Aires, Tunis, Caracas Venezuela, a dozen cities in Italy and many, many more.

A full list of global actions can be seen here:

A full list of actions inside Palestine can be seen at:

Settlers using government transition to step up construction

by Amos Harel

from Haaretz

Construction activity on West Bank settlements has increased in the transition period between the February general election and the formation of the new government, Haaretz has learned.

One notable example is the extensive earthworks being carried out in preparation for the construction of a road connect the settlement of Eli, north of Ramallah, with the Hayovel outpost Yuval, just south of the Arab city.

The earthworks are being carried out on private land owned by residents of the Palestinian village of Qaryut. The mayor, Abd al-Latif Lavum, plans to submit a petition today to the High Court of Justice demanding the issuing of a stop order to the Civil Administration to halt the work.

In fact, the Civil Administration, a government body that governs civilian aspects of daily life in the West Bank, has itself already issued an order to stop the work but it has not been enforced.

Dror Etkes, Lands Project Coordinator for the nonprofit organization Yesh Din, which is facilitating the High Court petition, said that the organization's records show the Eli-Hayovel road to be the largest such roadwork project related to the illegal outposts since since the publication of the Sasson Report on activity in the outposts in 2005.

Etkes, who has been monitoring Jewish construction in the West Bank for years, said that the construction began in Eli about two weeks ago. A dirt road was built between the two communities in 2003, but further development of the road was halted.

Etkes said that dozens of trucks brought gravel and earth over the past two weeks for the foundation of the 1,400-meter-long road. The cost of the project is estimated at a few million shekels. More than 90 percent of the road's course passes through privately owned Palestinian lands.

"While public attention was focused on the fighting in Gaza and the election campaign, we have been seeing a renewed effort on the part of settlers in outposts to increase construction," Etkes said.

He said this renewed effort put an end to a period of relative inactivity that he ascribed to criticism from the United States of construction in the territories combined with tighter enforcement by Israeli authorities.

In addition to the Eli-Hayovel road, Yesh Din has documented recent work at the Havat Gilad outpost, west of Nablus, where settlers built a road to the Nablus bypass road.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement that Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the defense establishment are committed to enforcing law and order in the West Bank and have prevented the creation of new outposts as well as removing people from existing ones.

"Minister Barak has instructed law enforcement authorities to act with determination against violations during the transition period as well," the statement said.

The Yesha Council of Jewish Settlements said the High Court petition was "a legal provocation."  

Palestinian shepherds resist settler violence and disruption

by Christian Peacemaker Teams

from International Solidarity Movement

South Hebron Hills, West Bank

[Note: According to the Geneva Conventions, the International Court of
Justice in the Hague, and numerous United Nations resolutions, all Israeli
settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are
illegal. Most settlement outposts are considered illegal under Israeli law.]

In three recent incidents Palestinian shepherds asserted their right to
graze their sheep on their own land, despite Israeli settlers’ attempts to
intimidate the Palestinians and disrupt their agricultural work.
Palestinians in the South Hebron hills have responded to recent violence
and incursions on their lands with a law suit and a nonviolent grazing

The morning of March 22, as shepherds from the village of At-Tuwani grazed
their sheep in nearby Humra valley, a settler brought his flock to the
area from the Israeli settlement outpost of Havot Ma’on. The settler
called the police and army, claiming that one of the Palestinians had
thrown a stone at him. When the police arrived, they detained the accused
Palestinian and took him to Kiryat Arba police station. Internationals
who had been present and videotaped the scene showed the police video and
pictures demonstrating that the shepherd had not thrown stones, and the
man was released. The following day the Palestinian shepherd returned to
the police station with papers proving his ownership of the valley. He
has filed a suit against the settler for trespassing.

On March 25, while Palestinian shepherds grazed their sheep on land
belonging to the village of Juwayye, twenty Israelis approached from the
settlement of Ma’on and shot at the shepherds. Despite the presence of
Israeli soldiers and the Ma’on settlement security guard at the time of
the shooting, no Israelis were arrested. Palestinian shepherds continued
to graze their sheep for two hours after the shooting, but were then
forced from the land by soldiers claiming they were too close to road 317.

On March 28 shepherds from Tuwani and other villages in the South Hebron
Hills responded to recent harassment by gathering peacefully with their
families to graze sheep in Khoruba valley near Tuwani. After they had
been in the valley for about an hour four settlers, two with their faces
covered, walked out from Havat Ma’on outpost into the flocks and among the
shepherds and their children. In response, Palestinian shepherds sat down
and refused to remove their sheep from the area. Israeli soldiers,
police, and border police arrived but did nothing to prevent the settlers
from disrupting the grazing sheep.

Palestinians in Tuwani and the surrounding villages face continued threats
of violence and intimidation from setters. With the start of the grazing
season, villagers say they expect the actions of the settlers will become
increasingly disruptive, but that the villages remain committed to
nonviolence as they confront the incursions.


Palestinians benefit as Israel-Turkey ties sour

by Jonathan Cook

A legal battle being waged by Palestinian families to stop the takeover of their neighbourhood in East Jerusalem by Jewish settlers has received a major fillip from the recent souring of relations between Israel and Turkey.

After the Israeli army’s assault on the Gaza Strip in January, lawyers for the families were given access to Ottoman land registry archives in Ankara for the first time, providing what they say is proof that title deeds produced by the settlers are forged.

On Monday, Palestinian lawyers presented the Ottoman documents to an Israeli court, which is expected to assess their validity over the next few weeks. The lawyers hope that proceedings to evict about 500 residents from Sheikh Jarrah will be halted.

The families’ unprecedented access to the Turkish archives may mark a watershed, paving the way for successful appeals by other Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank caught in legal disputes with settlers and the Israeli government over land ownership.

Interest in the plight of Sheikh Jarrah’s residents peaked in November when one couple, Fawziya and Mohammed Khurd, were evicted from their home by an Israeli judge. Mr Khurd, who was chronically ill, died three days later.

Meanwhile, Mrs Khurd, 63, has staged a protest by living in a tent on waste ground close to her former home. Israeli police have torn down the tent six times and she is facing a series of fines from the Jerusalem municipality.

The problems facing Mrs Khurd and the other residents derive from legal claims by the Sephardi Jewry Association that it purchased Sheikh Jarrah’s land in the 19th century. Settler groups hope to evict all the residents, demolish their homes and build 200 apartments in their place.

The location is considered strategic by settler organisations because it is close to the Old City and its Palestinian holy places.

Unusually, foreign diplomats, including from the United States, have protested, saying eviction of the Palestinian families would undermine the basis of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The help of the Turkish government has been crucial, however, because Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire when the land transactions supposedly took place.

Israel and Turkey have been close military and political allies for decades and traditionally Ankara has avoided straining ties by becoming involved in land disputes in the occupied territories. But there appears to have been an about-turn in Turkish government policy since a diplomatic falling-out between the two countries over Israel’s recent Gaza operation.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, accused his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Olmert, of “lying” and “back-stabbing”, reportedly furious that Israel launched its military operation without warning him. At the time of the attack, Turkey was mediating peace negotiations between Israel and Syria.

Days after the fighting ended in Gaza, Mr Erdogan stormed out of a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, having accused Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, of “knowing very well how to kill”.

According to lawyers acting for the Sheikh Jarrah families, the crisis in relations has translated into a greater openness from Ankara in helping them in their legal battle.

“We have noticed a dramatic change in the atmosphere now when we approach Turkish officials,” said Hatem Abu Ahmad, one of Mrs Khurd’s lawyers. “Before they did not dare upset Israel and put us off with excuses about why they could not help.”

He said the families’ lawyers were finally invited to the archives in Ankara in January, after they submitted requests over several months to the Turkish consulate in Jerusalem and the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Officials in Turkey traced the documents the lawyers requested and provided affidavits that the settlers’ land claims were forged. The search of the Ottoman archives, Mr Abu Ahmad said, had failed to locate any title deeds belonging to a Jewish group for the land in Sheikh Jarrah.

“Turkish officials have also told us that in future they will assist us whenever we need help and that they are ready to trace similar documents relating to other cases,” Mr Abu Ahmad said. “They even asked us if there were other documents we were looking for.”

That could prove significant as the Jerusalem municipality threatens a new campaign of house demolitions against Palestinians. Last week, Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called the recent issuing of dozens of demolition orders in Jerusalem “ethnic cleansing”.

Palestinian legal groups regularly argue that settlers forge documents in a bid to grab land from private Palestinian owners but have great difficulty proving their case.

Late last year the Associated Press news agency exposed a scam by settlers regarding land on which they have built the Migron outpost, near Ramallah, home to more than 40 Jewish families. The settlers’ documents were supposedly signed by the Palestinian owner, Abdel Latif Sumarin, in California in 2004, even though he died in 1961.

The families in Sheikh Jarrah ended up living in their current homes after they were forced to flee from territory that became Israel during the 1948 war. Jordan, which controlled East Jerusalem until Israel’s occupation in 1967, and the United Nations gave the refugees plots on which to build homes.

Mrs Khurd said she would stay in her tent until she received justice.

“My family is originally from Talbiyeh,” she said, referring to what has become today one of the wealthiest districts of West Jerusalem. “I am not allowed to go back to the property that is rightfully mine, but these settlers are given my home, which never belonged to them.”

Uri Avnery's Column: Biberman & Co.

by Uri Avnery

IS THIS the government of Biberman (Bibi Netanyahu and Avigdor Liberman) or perhaps of Bibarak (Bibi and Ehud Barak)?

Neither. It is the government of Bibiyahu.

Binyamin Netanyahu has proven that he is a consummate politician. He has realized the dream of every politician (and theatergoer): a good place in the middle. In his new government he can play off the fascists on the right against the socialists on the left, Liberman’s secularists against the orthodox of Shas. An ideal situation.

The coalition is large enough to be immune from blackmail by any of its component parties. If some Labor members break coalition discipline, Netanyahu will still command a majority. Or if the rightists make trouble. Or if the orthodox try to stick a knife in his back.

This government is committed to nothing. Its written “Basic Guidelines” – a document signed by all partners of a new Israeli government – are completely nebulous. (And anyhow, Basic Guidelines are worthless. All Israeli governments have broken their agreed Basic Guidelines without batting an eyelid. They always prove to be rubber checks.)

All this was acquired by Netanyahu on the cheap – a few billions of economic promises that he would not dream of fulfilling. The treasury is empty. As one of his predecessors in the Prime Minister’s office, Levy Eshkol, famously said: “I promised, but I did not promise to keep my promises.”

He also bestowed ministries on all and sundry. This little country will have 27 ministers and six deputy ministers. So what? If necessary, Netanyahu would have given a ministerial chair to each of the 74 members of the coalition.

THE PINNACLE of his achievement was the acquisition of the Labor party for his government.

In one stroke he turned a government of lepers, which would have been viewed by the whole world as a crazy bunch of ultra-nationalists, racists and fascists, into a sane and balanced government of the center. All this without changing its character in the least.

The most ardent supporter of this feat was Liberman, the new Foreign Minister of Israel. This extreme racist, this spiritual brother of the French Jean-Marie Le Pen and the Austrian Joerg Haider (I hope both, the living and the dead, will not feel insulted), was very anxious about what was awaiting him. In his imagination he saw himself extending his hand to Hillary Clinton and being left with his arm dangling in the air. Leaning forward to kiss Angela Merkel only to see her draw back in horror. Unpleasant.

The addition of the Labor Party solves everybody’s problem. If the social democrats are joining the government, all this talk of fascism must be nonsense. Obviously, Liberman has been misunderstood. He has been misrepresented. He is not a fascist at all, God forbid. He is not a racist. He is just a traditional right-wing demagogue who exploits the primitive emotions of the masses to garner votes. Which elected politician could object to that?

Indeed, the whole government has been given a kosher certificate by Ehud Barak. He continues the glorious Labor Party tradition of political prostitution. In 1977, Moshe Dayan entered the new government of Menachem Begin and gave it a kosher certificate, when the entire world considered Begin a dangerous nationalist adventurer. In 2001, Shimon Peres entered the new government of Ariel Sharon and gave him a kosher certificate, when the entire world saw in Sharon the man responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacre.

WHY DID Barak do this? And why did the majority of the Labor Party support him?

Labor is a government party. It has never been anything else. As early as 1933 it took over the Zionist movement, and since than it ruled the Yishuv (the pre-1948 Jewish community in Palestine) and the state without interruption until Begin’s ascent to power in 1977. For 44 consecutive years it held unchallenged power over the economy, the army, the police, the security services, the education system, the health system and the Histadrut, the then all-powerful labor federation.

Power is encoded in the party’s DNA. It’s much more than a political matter – it’s its whole character, its mentality, its world view. The party is unable to be an opposition. It does not know what that is, and even less what to do with it.

I observed the Labor members in the Knesset, during the short periods they were stuck in opposition. They were downcast and mournful. Dozens of them were wandering forlornly around the corridors, like phantoms, lost souls. When they went up to the rostrum, they sounded like government spokesmen.

The Likud suffers from the opposite syndrome. Their predecessors were in opposition throughout the days of the Yishuv and during the first 29 years of the state. Opposition is in the blood of Likudniks. Even now, after many years (with interruptions) in government, they behave like an opposition. They are the eternal discriminated-against, miserable and bitter, people from the outside looking in, full of hate and envy.

Ehud Barak personifies the syndrome of his party. Everything is owed to him. Power is owed to him, the Ministry of Defense is owed to him. I would not have been surprised if he had insisted on a clause in the coalition agreement appointing him Minister of Defense for life (and his yeoman, Shalom Simchon, Minister of Agriculture for life). Governments come and governments go, but Ehud Barak must be the Minister of Defense – be the government rightist or leftist, fascist or communist, atheist or theocratic. It does not matter how he functions in his job – his appraisal can be nothing less than perfect.

SO WHAT will this government do? What can it do?

As far as the most important matter is concerned, there is complete unanimity. Liberman, Netanyahu, Barak, Ellie Yishai of Shas and Danny Hershkovitz of the “Jewish Home” party are in total agreement about the Palestinians. All of them agree on the need to prevent the establishment of a real Palestinian state. All of them agree not to talk with Hamas. All of them support the settlement enterprise. During Barak’s stint as Prime Minister, the settlements grew even faster than during Netanyahu’s tenure. Liberman is himself a settler, Hershkovitz’s party represents the settlers. All of them believe that there is no need for peace, that peace is bad for us. (After all, it was Barak, not Netanyahu or Liberman, who coined the phrase “We Have No Partner for Peace”.)

So what will be the real platform of this government?

In four words: Deception for the fatherland.

ON THIS government’s chosen path there lies a huge rock: the United States of America.

While Israel made a big leap to the right, the US has made a big leap to the left. One can hardly imagine a greater contrast than that between Binyamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama. Or between the two Bara(c)ks – Barack Obama and Ehud Barak

Netanyahu is conscious of this problem, perhaps more than any other Israeli leader. He grew up in the US, after his father, a history professor in Jerusalem, felt himself deprived of his rightful place in academia because of his extreme right-wing views and went to America. There Binyamin attended high-school and university. He speaks the fluent American English of a traveling salesman.

If there is one thing that unites practically all Israelis, from right to left, it is the conviction that the relationship between Israel and the US is critical for the security of the state. Netanyahu’s main concern is, therefore, to prevent a serious break between the two countries.

Barak was admitted to the government precisely in order to avoid such a clash. Netanyahu wants to visit the White House with Barak, not Liberman, at his side.

The clash seems inevitable. Obama wants to create a new order in the Middle East. He knows that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict poisons the atmosphere against America in the Arab, and indeed in the entire Muslim world. He wants a solution to the conflict – exactly what Netanyahu and his partners want to prevent at any price, except the price of a breach with the US.

How to do this?

The solution is written in the Bible (Proverbs 24:6): “For by ruses thou shalt make thy war.”

(In the King James version, the Hebrew word Takhbulot is translated as “wise counsel”. In Modern Hebrew it means ruses, tricks, ploys – and that is the way it is understood by all Hebrew-speakers today.)

FROM THE beginnings of Zionism, its leaders have known that their vision necessitates a large measure of make-belief. It is impossible to take over a country inhabited by another people without disguising the aim, diverting attention, hiding the acts on the ground behind a screen of flowery words.

All states lie, of course. 400 years ago, a British diplomat, Sir Henry Wotton, observed: “An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” Because of the special circumstances of their enterprise, the Zionists have had to use deceit perhaps a bit more than usual.

Now the task is to present to the world, and especially the US and Europe, a false picture, pretending that our new government is yearning for peace, acting for peace, indeed turning every stone in search of peace - while doing the exact opposite. The world will be submerged by a deluge of declarations and promises, accompanied by lots of meaningless gestures, conferences and meetings.

People with good ears are already hearing Netanyahu, Liberman and Barak starting to play around with the “Arab Peace Initiative”. They will talk about it, interpret it, accept it ostensibly while attaching conditions that empty it of all content.

The great advantage of this initiative is that it does not come from the Palestinians, and therefore does not require negotiations with the Palestinians. Like the deceased “Jordanian Option” and others of its kind, it serves as a substitute for a dialogue with the Palestinians. The Arab League includes 22 governments, some of which cooperate on the sly with the Israeli leadership. They can be relied on not to agree among themselves on anything practical.

BUT DECEIVING, like dancing the tango, takes two: one who deceives and one who wants to be deceived.

Netanyahu believes that Obama will want to be deceived. Why would he want to quarrel with Israel, confront the mighty pro-Israel lobby and the US Congress, when he can settle for soothing words from Netanyahu? Not to mention Europe, divided and ridden by Holocaust guilt, and the pathetic Tony Blair moving around like a restless ghost.

Is Obama ready to play, like most of his predecessors, the role of the deceived lover?

The Biberman/Bibarak/Bibiyahu government believes that the answer is a resounding yes. I hope that it will be a resounding No.

Maryam, the Girl who kept hearts of millions

from The Palestine Telegraph

It was an ordinary morning December 2008. Children were playing and having fun. They were digging between the rocks to get some space for their childhood.

This is the story of Ahmad , a little boy without sin who was killed
on that morning. Ahmad was known among his friends as lively, bustling boy.

Ahmad and his family live in Al Zahra district in the middle of the Gaza Strip, exactly next to the building of the Civil Defense. On the morning of December 27th, Ahmad took his breakfast, put on his boots and went out to go for playing in his nearby garden.

"We are an extended family living in a house that comprises four floors. My family and I live in the second and my father in the first floor" says Ahmad’s father. When he noticed that Ahmad and his sister Mariam were going to play in the garden of the house, the father tried to stop him as the family was waiting for Mohamed, the older brother to take an early lunch. But his attempt was in vain.

"It was like an earthquake hitting our house and everything was shaking" said the father. Doors and windows were broken, too. The Father tried to find out what had happened outside and searched for the source of the terrible noise he had heard. A cloud of smoke was covering the sun. “There was nothing else to do than to assure myself about the family as another explosion shocked the nearby building. I tried to make sure that everyone was inside the house, and then I
convinced myself to feel safe.” Suddenly Mariam cried out: "Daddy, daddy, Ahmad, Ahmad…" The little girl Mariam broke out in tears, terribly afraid about her brother. "Her shouts froze my body" said the father.

Ahmad was found under the rubble of stones at the entrance of the house. The father immediately took Ahmad and rushed to search a car to bring him to the Hospital Shuhad'a Al Aqsaa. "While I was holding him, I realized that Ahmad was dead" said the father. Ahmad’s head was
partially smashed; part of his brain on the ground and his back was filled with shrapnel. "I stood on the doorsteps, trying to understand the situation outside, searching for a car to drive my son to the
hospital. I am a doctor myself, but now I could not help him any more" the father said. “When I left my home, I discovered that the Headquarter of the Civil Defense had been destroyed completely.”

"The sight at the hospital was tremendously dreadful when I arrived.
It was full of dozens of killed and wounded young men on the floors".
Ahmad was sent to the emergency department and although he still had
some signs of life, after a while he passed away. At this moment, silence came over the father; there were no more words in him. Blood was everywhere and particularly the sight of young children who always are the symbol of innocence.

"I wondered what Ahmad and the other children might have done to be killed by this Israeli aggression. They always dreamed of safety and to live like any other child in the world" said the father.

While the father was sitting on a chair and thinking about the situation, his mind was busy at the same time with thoughts about his family living near the targeted building of the Civil Defense. Only when he arrived home later, he saw the massive destruction at the
building of the Civil Defense. As he reached the house he was devastated to find out that most of his family members had been wounded in the attack. So the father decided to go back to the hospital to get news about his family. He found out that also Mohamed, the oldest brother, who was coming home at the time of the attack, had been wounded in his head as well.

The story of Ahmad in short sentences: by his father

Ahmad was a lovely little five-year old boy. His smiles will never be forgotten. He was the youngest brother and he was so clever.  Any one who saw Ahmad immediately liked him. He was a very active boy. His favorite pass times were playing football, using the computer and take
care of the birds. He left an empty space in our house - he was the most loved boy in our family. His sister Mariam will never forget Ahmad as she was with him in the last moments before he was killed. She said that she will stay waiting for her bother… Wait… and wait … and wait… - Waiting for the world to answer!!!

What was the sin that those young kids committed to merit the way they died? What they needed was to grow up safely and in happiness.

"We are not seeking to fight, to attack, to have weapons and all those means of death" were words always repeated by Ahmad before he was killed.

First Account by Father. Translated and devolped by Ayman Quaider Ayman is a Peace Activist, Humanitarian and Child Relief Worker


Robert Fisk’s World: A brave man who stood alone. If only the world had listened to him

by Robert Fisk

I wish I had met Tom Hurndall, a remarkable man of remarkable principle.

I don't know if I met Tom Hurndall. He was one of a bunch of "human shields" who turned up in Baghdad just before the Anglo-American invasion in 2003, the kind of folk we professional reporters make fun of. Tree huggers, that kind of thing. Now I wish I had met him because – looking back over the history of that terrible war – Hurndall's journals (soon to be published) show a remarkable man of remarkable principle. "I may not be a human shield," he wrote at 10.26 on 17 March from his Amman hotel. "And I may not adhere to the beliefs of those I have travelled with, but the way Britain and America plan to take Iraq is unnecessary and puts soldiers' lives above those of civilians. For that I hope that Bush and Blair stand trial for war crimes."

Hurndall got it about right, didn't he? It wasn't so simple as war/no war, black and white, he wrote. "Things I've heard and seen over the last few weeks proves what I already knew; neither the Iraqi regime, nor the American or British, are clean. Maybe Saddam needs to go but ... the air war that's proposed is largely unnecessary and doesn't discriminate between civilians and armed soldiers. Tens of thousands will die, maybe hundreds of thousands, just to save thousands of American soldiers having to fight honestly, hand to hand. It is wrong." Oh, how many of my professional colleagues wrote like this on the eve of war? Not many.

We pooh-poohed the Hurndalls and their friends as groupies even when they did briefly enter the South Baghdad electricity station and met one engineer, Attiah Bakir, who had been horrifyingly wounded 11 years earlier when an American bomb blew a fragment of metal into his brain. "You can see now where it struck," Hurndall wrote in an email from Baghdad, "caving in the central third of his forehead and removing the bone totally. Above the bridge of his broken nose, there is only a cavity with scarred skin covering the prominent gap..."

A picture of Attiah Bakir stares out of the book, a distinguished, brave man who refused to leave his place of work as the next war approached. He was silenced only when one of Hurndall's friends made the mistake of asking what he thought of Saddam's government. I cringed for the poor man. "Minders" were everywhere in those early days. Talking to any civilian was almost criminally foolish. Iraqis were forbidden from talking to foreigners. Hence all those bloody "minders" (many of whom, of course, ended up working for Baghdad journalists after Saddam's overthrow).

Hurndall had a dispassionate eye. "Nowhere in the world have I ever seen so many stars as now in the western deserts of Iraq," he wrote on 22 February. "How can somewhere so beautiful be so wrought with terror and war as it is soon to be?" In answer to the questions asked of them by the BBC, ITV, WBO, CNN, al-Jazeera and others, Hurndall had no single reply. "I don't think there could be one, two or 100 responses," he wrote. "To each of us our own, but not one of us wants to die." Prophetic words for Tom to have written.

You can see him smiling selflessly in several snapshots. He went to cover the refugee complex at Al-Rowaishid and moved inexorably towards Gaza where he was confronted by the massive tragedy of the Palestinians. "I woke up at about eight in my bed in Jerusalem and lay in until 9.30," he wrote. "We left at 10.00... Since then, I have been shot at, gassed, chased by soldiers, had sound grenades thrown within metres of me, been hit by falling debris..."

Hurndall was trying to save Palestinian homes and infrastructure but frequently came under Israeli fire and seemed to have lost his fear of death. "While approaching the area, they (the Israelis) continually fired one- to two-second bursts from what I could see was a Bradley fighting vehicle... It was strange that as we approached and the guns were firing, it sent shivers down my spine, but nothing more than that. We walked down the middle of the street, wearing bright orange, and one of us shouted through a loudspeaker, 'We are International volunteers. Don't shoot!' That was followed by another volley of fire, though I can't be sure where from..."

Tom Hurndall had stayed in Rafah. He was only 21 where – in his mother's words – he lost his life through a single, selfless, human act. "Tom was shot in the head as he carried a single Palestinian child out of the range of an Israeli army sniper." Mrs Hurndall asked me to write a preface to Tom's book and this article is his preface, for a brave man who stood alone and showed more courage than most if us dreamed of. Forget tree huggers. Hurndall was one good man and true.

Headlines for March 27, 2009

from Democracy Now!

US Says Israel Carried Out Sudan Bombing

US officials have confirmed that Israel was behind a deadly air strike that killed dozens of people in Sudan this past January. The US says Israel attacked a convoy of seventeen trucks suspected of carrying weapons intended for smuggling into the Gaza Strip. Estimates of the death toll range from thirty-nine to more than 100. In Israel, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declined to comment on the specific attack but said Israel can “operate near and far.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: “We are taking action wherever we can strike terror infrastructure, in places that are nearby and not that close. We are hitting them, and in a way that strengthens deterrence and the image of deterrence.”

US officials say they believe the alleged weapons could have come from Iran but haven’t offered evidence. Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip, senior Hamas official Osama al-Muzaini denied receiving outside weaponry.

Osama al-Muzaini: “Hamas does not receive weapons from any country or any other side. To have convoys driving weapons to Hamas is a false statement and comes under the mockery and censorship which Israel always tries to execute. We affirm that Hamas has their own means, which are far from the official and international means, to get weapons.”

Supporters of Palestinian rights have long criticized Israeli and US indignation at Palestinian efforts to arm themselves, when most of Israel’s military arsenal is funded and supplied by the United States.

Israel Minimizes Civilian Toll in Gaza Attack

The Israeli government has released an investigation downplaying the number of civilian deaths in its attack on the Gaza Strip. On Thursday, the Israeli military gave a death toll of 1,166 and said most of the dead were combatants. In Gaza, Khalil Abu Shmale of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights dismissed the Israeli claims.

Khalil Abu Shmale: “All the international human rights organisation emphasized that Israel committed war crimes against the Palestinians. Israel will try to deceive the people, will try to deceive the international public opinion in order to show that they did not kill this huge number of the civilians during the last aggression on the Gaza Strip.”

Palestinians say Israel killed more than 1400 people, most of them civilians.


IWPS: Army incursion in Haris, over 150 minors and youths arrested

from International Solidarity Movement (ISM)

A major military operation took place today in Haris between 2am and 5pm. Around 15 jeeps, 2 border police jeeps and vans belonging to Israeli Intelligence Shabak entered Haris and arrested around 150 people including large number of minors.

A number of people reported injury by the soldiers including several cases of beatings of small children and women. Soldiers also destroyed furniture, appliances, walls and various food products in at least 4 houses.

At 4:30pm most of the people who were arrested were released. At present IWPS is aware of 4 youths all aged 16 who have not been released and whose whereabouts is currently unknown. There are strong indications that more people were taken away and we are hoping to have more accurate figures soon.

At 2 am soldiers and jeeps entered Haris in a major military operation which lasted 15 hours. The soldiers raided most houses in Haris, arresting youths and interrogating them about their friends, family members and the layout of the houses. The IWPS has heard from many parents and adults that soldiers gave them a piece of paper with a number and photographed them holding this paper.

All those arrested were blindfolded, handcuffed and taken to the primary school in Haris. Here they were seated in the classrooms and in the playground and interrogated one by one by Shabak and the military. Those released were given a paper so that other soldiers would not re-arrest them as the arrests continued throughout the day.

The IWPS members witnessed several of the arrests and we have managed to secure photographic evidence and statements form a number of victims and their relatives.

IWPS also received a report of a man who suffered a back injury due to excessive use of force by the soldiers. The IWPS called for an ambulance which arrived shortly after but was denied entry into Haris by the soldiers, in spite of being urged by the IWPS and the villagers living near by. The reason given was that if a person was injured it would be army’s responsibility to take care of them and provide the ambulance. However, the Israeli ambulance parked nearby was not called by the soldiers to treat the injured man.

Two photojournalists who managed to enter Haris close to the primary school where shortly after escorted by the border police out of the village. In addition, a TV van and two other journalists were denied entry into Haris.

The army incursion finished around 4.30 and villagers fear that it might continue in the near future.

When questioned about the purpose of the incursion, IWPS members were told by the army that they were updating their database of information of Haris residents. Last Saturday 21st March there was another army incursion into Haris where army jeeps and Shabak vans parked in front of the primary school and took photos of the school.

IWPS is concerned about the current wave of arrests of residents of Haris and especially minors and youths. IWPS is also very concerned about the violent behavior of soldiers during the arrests and the use of primary school for detention and interrogation purposes. In addition the media access has repeatedly been denied and there is limited flow information including about the very serious human right abuses mentioned above.

To view the International Women’s Peace Service (IWPS) website click here.

This Week's Message: FIG LEAVES

from Gush Shalom

For a handful of ministries
Ehud Barak & Co.
Have agreed to serve
As fig leafs for
Netanyahu’s Government of
Occupation and settlement.

On the same day,
A public opinion poll showed
That most American Jews,
Whose support is essential,
Do not want
Fig leaves anymore.
They will support
President Obama
If he acts rigorously
To put an end to
The occupation.

Ad in Haaretz, March 27, 2009

J Street poll

Cheques to help us continue the ads to: Gush Shalom, P.O.Box 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033

No to Jerusalem of Occupation and Discrimination, Yes to Jerusalem as the Capital of Two Peoples!

from The Alternative Information Center (AIC)

The Silwan Popular Committee* invites the general public—Palestinian and Israeli—to participate in a protest march against house demolitions and land confiscations, and in commemoration of the 33rd Land Day (30 March) on Saturday, 28 March at 6.00 pm.   

Enough of transfer! Enough to demolitions! Enough of settlements! 

No to Jerusalem of occupation and discrimination, yes to Jerusalem as the capital of two peoples! 

On 30 March 1976, 28 years after the deportation of a majority of the Palestinians from their homeland, and ten years after the annulment of the Israeli military government, which was imposed on Palestinian areas from 1948-1966, the Palestinian public in Israel declared “Land Day” as a day of general strike, and as protest of the Israeli policies of confiscations of Arab land in general (a policy resulting in a reduction of private ownership of land by Palestinians from 96% in 1948 to 20% in 1976 and to approximately 4% today) and the confiscation of the “Almal land” (area 9)—almost 21,000 dunam from Palestinian villages including of Arabe, Sahknin and Deir Hanna in order to create Jewish areas (mitzpehs) as part of the plan to “Judaise the Galilee”. 

Various Israeli security forces attempted to prevent the strike, utilizing threats of being fired from places of employment, preventative detentions and during the night prior to the strike, attacking demonstrators and passers-by in various Galilee towns, killing six Palestinians, wounding tens and detaining hundreds.  

The 33rd Land Day will occur at a time when the Israeli policies of land confiscation and house demolitions are increasing. Each week, tens of homes in the “unrecognized” Palestinian-Bedouin villages of the Naqab are destroyed; approximately 500 homes of Palestinian families in Jaffa are under threat with the excuse of “illegal construction”. 

Since the election of Nir Barkat as Jerusalem mayor, the Jerusalem Municipality has increased its demolition of homes in occupied East Jerusalem. This, and in accordance with plans of settler associations Elad and Ateret Hacohenim, Barkat is now attempting to bring about the total destruction of the Bustan neighborhood of the Silwan village, where 1,500 residents live in approximately 88 homes, and to establish in their stead an “archaeological park”. As the Bustan neighborhood, like all neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, has no master plan, its residents requested to submit a detailed alternative plan for development of the area, but the Jerusalem Municipality and its Planning Committee rejected this proposal outright, refusing to even discuss it. With this plan, the Jerusalem Municipality is attempting to implement the largest deportation of Palestinians from the city since the 1967 occupation. 

On 28 Marc 2009, on the eve of the 33rd Land Day commemoration, we will join hands in solidarity with the residents of East Jerusalem in general and the neighborhood of Bustan in general, and will participate in a demonstration organized by the Silwan Popular Committee, in protest and opposition to the Jerusalem Municipality plans to destroy Bustan. 

*The event is held in cooperation with the Alternative Information Center, Bat Shalom, Combatants for Peace, Communist Party of Israel, Hadash, Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, and the Women’s Coalition for Peace.

Headlines for March 26, 2009

from Democracy Now!

U.S., Israel Accused of Deadly Sudan Bombing

The U.S. and Israel are being accused of killing up to 39 people in a bombing attack in Sudan this past January. According to reports, U.S. or Israeli forces allegedly attacked a convoy of seventeen trucks suspected of carrying weapons intended for smuggling into the Gaza Strip. A Sudanese government minister confirmed the strike, saying a “major power” carried it out.

HRW Accuses Israel of War Crimes in Phosphorous Attacks

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of unlawfully attacking densely populated civilian areas with white phosphorous during its three-week attack on Gaza. In a new report, Human Rights Watch says the white phosphorous killed at least twelve Palestinian civilians and destroyed millions of dollars worth of property. Bill Vanesveld of Human Rights Watch says the phosphorous use likely amounts to a war crime.

Bill Vanesveld: “It looks like that evidence is consistent with war-crimes being committed. A war-crime is when there is either intent or recklessness with regard to targeting civilians, or civilian institutions. What we’ve got here is a lot of different civilian institutions being burned down. A lot of different civilians being injured and it continued to happen for no apparent justification–that’s why we’re concerned.”

Vowing to Seek “Peace”, Netanyahu Omits Mention of Palestinian State

In other news from Israel, the incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to become what he called a “partner for peace” with the Palestinians.

Benjamin Netanyahu: “I think that the Palestinians should understand that they have in our government a partner for peace, for security and for rapid economic development of the Palestinian economy. Peace: It’s not the last goal. It’s a common and enduring goal for all Israelis and all Israeli governments—mine included, this means that I will negotiate with the Palestinian Authority for peace.”

Despite vowing to work for peace, Netanyahu’s speech failed to even mention the creation of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu has consistently rejected Palestinian statehood and backed the ongoing expansion of Jewish-only Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank.


Aqraba village to host festival on popular resistance to Israeli occupation

from International Solidarity Movement (ISM)

On Friday, the 27th of March at 1.30pm, Aqraba village, southeast of the city of Nablus, will hold a festival of popular resistance in response to recent house demolition orders issued by Israeli authorities.

The festival will take place in the Aqraba high school.

Aqraba village was given demolition orders last month for 15 structures, including homes, barns, a mosque and a water well. These structures are situated on the outskirts of the township, in an area known as Khirbit Al Taweel.

Israeli authorities want to displace the residents of Khirbit Al Taweel, which is located in Area C, under direct Israeli military control. The Israeli military has informed the owners of the 15 structures that they have until the 26th of March to evacuate their homes.

The festival, organized by the Aqraba municipality, the Agricultural Popular Committees, and the Local Council for Popular Resistance, will draw attention to the recent rise in home evictions and demolitions orders throughout Palestine.

A resident of Shiekh Jarrah, a neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem facing mass evictions, will speak about the shared struggle Palestinian communities face under Israeli occupation policies.

Palestinian, you are on your own!

by Natalie Abou Shakra

He said, “Your wife is beautiful, I want to sleep with her.” During the interrogation, they would hit us extensively. They prevent us from sleeping, urinating, drinking and eating. During my friend’s interrogation, they brought in his wife. They touched her breasts, her sensitive areas in front of him. They wanted him to admit to their accusations. Imprisonment by the occupation forces is the attempting to murder a resistant spirit… all that we have against their state-of-the-art weaponry .

Gilad Shalit “who turned 22 in captivity, will have been a hostage of Hamas for about 1,000 days,” writes Isabel Kershner on March 8th 2009, in the New York Times . ِAround 11,700 Palestinians resisting illegal occupation, including children under the age of 18 and elderly, are held hostage by Apartheid Israel, writes the history of the oppressed. Most of those detained, according to Ali ‘Olwan a lawyer at the Ministry of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs in Gaza, have spent more than twenty years in captivity. These prisoners are held under inhumane conditions, says ‘Olwan, in denial of medical examination, no visits by their families and children are allowed, in addition to being subject to various torture techniques. Majdi, who is now 43, hasn’t seen his brother, Bashir, who has been in captivity since 1986, 23 years of age then. “My mother’s wish is to see her son before she dies. It has been 15 years that she last saw his face.”

After collecting information about you, they would break into your house one night. The Shin Bet would arrest you, take you into prison, remove all your clothes off. Sometimes with underwear, sometimes without. Undressing you is a must. Then, they begin the hakirah , which includes extensive interrogation… and hitting. They would then bring you clothes with an acrid smell, and begin to use their torture techniques. Have you heard of the shabeh ?

Ihab Bidir, 30, arrested by the IOF on the Mata’hin checkpoint in Gaza six years ago after being accused of affiliation with Hamas, was released on the 27th of January, 2009. Before his release by four days, Bidir, in his testimony, admitted that he was taken into a special division of the Naqab prison, called division 1, which is not under the jurisdiction of the Israeli Prisons Authority, but under the military’s control. He specified being accused as an “enemy combatant” and that the officer investigating his case denied him access to legal representation and an independent and impartial court claiming his file as “top secret” and that this was “not a legal matter, but entirely political.” He was released after spending four nights in division 1, in solitude. Bidir was clueless as to why he got to be placed in, and why he was later released.

The chair would be made of metal. A low seated chair, with a low back support. They’d tie your hands to the back, so that your spine would be inclined against the metal low back support. Being seated as such for hours, the pain resulting from the back, and the spine, would be intolerable. And, then, they would ask you to spread your legs wide open, and begin to whack your member- you would go insane!

After the Israeli Occupation Forces claimed withdrawing its troops from Gaza in 2005, while redeploying them, it stopped implementing administrative arrest codes, but begun placing the detained under the category of “enemy combatant.” This category was used by Israel in dealing with Hezbollah detainees. Prof. Peter Jan Honigsberg of the University of San Francisco School of Law writes that “enemy combatant did not and does not exist under international law,” that it was a “generic term until February 2002,” and that the US administration created it for the case of its detainees (Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghreib) since it “circumvent[ed] the Geneva Conventions and the international human rights laws,” in addition, he continues, to “shelter individual members of the administration from being charged with war crimes.” Since January 18, 2009, after the 22 day genocidal attacks on Gaza, Israel has placed more than 20 Palestinian detainees under the category of “enemy combatant”, says Ali ‘Olwan, and the number is increasing, making each individual placed under this category unprotected by international law.

They would ask if you smoked, and then try to lure you into admitting into their accusations by allowing you a cigarette, or with food, water, or by admitting you to go to the bathroom. If you wet yourself, they would rub your body against the liquid on the floor and strike you. Did I tell you about placing detainees in refrigerators?

The Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War in its 13th, 14th, and 15th articles states that the detainees must be treated humanely, with no violence and “physical mutilation” in cruel treatment and torture, in addition to no offenses upon “personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment”, along with “free of charge medical attention.” In placing prisoners under an internationally unrecognized category such as “enemy combatant,” the state of Israel adds on to the growing list of crimes against humanity yet another heinous violation. Kershner in her article published in the New York Times, states that “in a small country where 18-year-olds are conscripted into the army complete strangers feel intimately connected to the Shalits.” On a land whose non-Jewish natives underwent ethnic cleansing genocidal wars since 1948, it is time for the world to stand in solidarity with and be “intimately connected” to the six million refugees worldwide, the remaining families of martyrs, those men, women and children burnt alive, those who became physically challenged, those who live below the poverty line, those who cannot have an education, those who are racially discriminated against, those who want no help in fighting for their right to live with dignity on their land, those who choose to resist, limited resistance against the largest nuclear power in the region. What Kershner also needs to realize is that Shalit is an illegal occupier, and that the 11,700 detained Palestinians have the legal right to defend themselves, their land against any occupier, or modern-day colonizer.

More than 11,000 of us are in there. Is Shalit-the-occupier more human than us? 

Situation at Gaza crossings is "intolerable" - U.N.

by Louis Charbonneau

The situation at the borders between Israel and the Gaza Strip is "intolerable" and restrictions on imports into the Palestinian territory must be eased, a top U.N. official said on Wednesday.

"The intolerable situation at Gaza's crossings remains the key impediment to bringing help -- and hope -- to the people of Gaza," U.N. Under-Secretary-General Lynn Pascoe told the U.N. Security Council during a monthly debate on the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Earlier this week, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised Western donors that Israel would lift restrictions on food supplies entering Gaza after a row with Washington over blocked convoys of macaroni and cheese.

But Pascoe, a former U.S. diplomat, told council members that while there has been an increase in the amount of goods allowed into the Gaza Strip, "the quality and quantity of imports are insufficient."

He said the United Nations urged Israel "to abide by its obligations under international humanitarian law and open crossings for emergency supplies and construction materials, without which there will be no way to rebuild Gaza."

Israel says it has opened Gaza's border to larger amounts of food and medicine since its December-January offensive against Hamas militants who control the Palestinian enclave. The war destroyed some 5,000 homes and -- according to figures from a Palestinian rights group -- killed 1,417 people.

In addition to restrictions on what it deems luxury goods, such as cigarettes and chocolates, Israel has blocked entry of materials such as cement and steel for rebuilding because it says they could be used for bunkers and rearming.

Pascoe also expressed concern about the lack of a permanent ceasefire despite Egyptian efforts to broker a deal on one.

"In the absence of a ceasefire, violence continues," he said. "During the (mid February-mid March) reporting period more than 100 rockets and mortars have been fired into Israel from Gaza. These attacks, targeting civilian areas, are irresponsible and must cease."

A history of modern Palestine

by Tom Charles 

Early 20th Century Imperialism and Zionism: The situation for the Palestinian people is what Nelson Mandela calls ‘The greatest moral issue of our age’. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, after visiting the Occupied Palestinian Territories declared that ‘it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa…the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.

Modern Palestine and its predicament have their roots in the historic link between Zionism and imperialism. Prevalent in the early 20th century, Zionism was founded upon the idea that Jews and non-Jews are incompatible and that it would be possible to establish, with the backing of the world’s great powers, a Jewish state in an ‘undeveloped country’ outside Europe. This state would be where Jews could settle unopposed as they would build a ‘civilised’ European society, an ally to the great powers. Zionism’s character was conservative, exclusivist and colonialist. 

The Zionist colonisation of Palestine was legitimised by Britain in the 1917 Balfour declaration. Britain knew the Zionists were anti-Marxist and could act as a buffer for British power against Arab Marxism. Over the next 20 years the settler community set about building the base upon which Israel would be founded, building a Jewish ‘enclave’ economy and boycotting Arab goods. Anti-colonial Arab nationalism swept the region and many Palestinians hoped for a union with Syria. Britain chose to side with the settlers in their conflict with the Palestinians. While publicly criticising both sides, Britain in fact suppressed Palestinian protests and helped the settlers establish a Zionist militia. Jews working for the British were paid much higher wages than their Arab counterparts, and any British officials opposing Zionist policies were removed. Britain’s policy in Palestine was classic colonial ‘divide and rule’. While Britain had formal relations with the settlers, they courted reactionary Arabs, fixing elections so that anti-imperialist anger was diverted towards the settlers and away from the British. In the 1920s and 30s, Jewish purchasing of land and British concessions to the Zionists, combined with the accelerated Jewish immigration left the Palestinians with very little.

Intellectual Arab society organised a mass movement of non-cooperation with the British and the Zionists in 1936 to oppose the increasingly desperate situation. The movement was met with extreme brutality by the British and after the Arab leadership surrendered, activists went to the hills as guerrilla warriors. Air strikes on villages, the execution of captured guerrillas and a large-scale demolition of insurgent villages ensured military rule prevailed. Settler economic power and confidence soared as they raced ahead of their neighbours, becoming suppliers to the British war effort to the extent that by 1945 the whole settler community was part of the Zionist military apparatus. Meanwhile, Arab Palestinians were disarmed and politically paralysed by the killing or imprisonment of its leaders.

By operating within the limits of British Middle East concerns the Zionist movement had strengthened massively. It now had land, an economic and military base and an intelligence service which could form the basis of an exclusively Jewish state. Zionist leaders knew that to gain an independent state, a final conflict with the Palestinian Arabs was necessary.

Israel is born…the 1948 war

In the post-war world, the Zionists knew that the US, not Britain would be the major power broker in the Middle East. The Zionists undertook a successful campaign of lobbying the US congress, who, like Britain, favoured a pro-western presence in the region as they were worried about Soviet communist influence. The US government was influenced by reports of the Nazi holocaust, which generated sympathy for the Zionist cause. In 1947, the UN approved by 33 votes to 13 the partition of Palestine and the recognition of a Jewish state. US and Russian lobbying, which included the threat of a withdrawal of aid to any countries not agreeing, helped gain the Zionist victory. Unequal clashes between Arab Palestinians and well-organised Jewish militias intensified. The momentum was with the Zionists and on May 14th 1948 the state of Israel was declared, recognised by the US 11 minutes later.

Expulsions and ethnic cleansing soon began. It took only a month for the first Palestinian village to be wiped out. Israel seized as many British military and civilian installations as possible, and set about removing as many Palestinians as possible from the new state. Explosions and sniper fire terrorised citizens. Fears were heightened by massacres in towns and villages, while Israeli commanders believed they could commit atrocities which would be vindicated retrospectively by Israeli leaders. By May 1948, when the British left, a third of the Palestinian population had already been evicted. Israel, obtaining arms from Eastern Europe, intensified the campaign with random air bombardment of civilian targets and heavy shelling of neighbourhoods in mixed towns.

Within Israel, rural Palestine almost completely disappeared. People refusing to leave villages were forced on to Lorries and driven to the West Bank. A typical Israeli tactic was to execute a few inhabitants of a village in order to scare the others in to leaving. Any forceful Palestinian resistance led to the village being blown up. Spared villages were used for cheap labour.

During the winter of 1949, out of the 850,000 Palestinians living in land designated by the UN as Israel, only 160,000 remained on or close to their land and homes and they became Israel’s Palestinian minority. Urban Palestine was similarly crushed by massacre and humiliation. Towns that remained intact were overpopulated by refugees. Three quarters of a million Palestinians became refugees, mainly in tents provided by international charities, and with a UN promise of a return home.

The war left Palestine with three political entities: The West Bank; annexed to Jordan with no popular consent or enthusiasm, the Gaza Strip; in limbo under military rule, its population prevented from entering Egypt proper, and Israel. This period is known as the Nakbah, or catastrophe, in which Israel set about Judaizing every part of Palestine, uniting the Palestinians in to a national movement. Arab nationalism and socialism grew in the 1950s, and here Israel proved its worth to the West as an ally that could defeat and deter any Arab army. In 1959, the US made its first military loans to Israel. American military loans increased steadily in the 1960s, and by 1967 Israel’s armed forces were superior to the combined power of the neighbouring Arab states. The opportunity to test this firepower in a Western-backed conflict came in 1967.

The 1967 War

The six day war in June 1967 saw Israel destroy much of Egypt’s army and air force and cripple Jordan and Syria. Israel seized the West Bank of the Jordan River from Jordan (half a million Palestinians in the West Bank were now living in Israel), the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and all of Jerusalem. This was a near-total victory for the now-nuclear Israel. The Zionists had long coveted these territories, and the occupation allowed them to divert the flow of water in to Israeli towns, killing off Palestinian farming communities. Israel also gained valuable markets for its goods and a cheap labour market of Palestinians (via checkpoints) for menial jobs. Israel erected fortified walls throughout its new territories, and built new roads, enabling illegal settlements to be built. The Israeli government made it illegal to fly the Palestinian flag or read ‘subversive’ literature. Protestors against the situation were killed or wounded, imprisoned without trial and their homes were demolished. While Israelis prospered with new construction projects, Palestinians lived lives of abject poverty, with more and more refugees living in increasingly over crowded camps. UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) stopped aiming for repatriation and resettlement, and became simply a relief agency that spent less than 13 dollars a year on each refugee. People had to survive on 1,500 calories a day from flour, sugar, rice, pulses and oil. Less than four dollars per person a year was spent on health and less than 12 dollars on education. Post-1967, these amounts were reduced. In 1966, the head of UNRWA had described the living conditions of the refugees as ‘unfit for human habitation’.

After 1967, the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) became a regulator of life in the refugee camps. Its welfare service assisted the families of those killed in the struggle, dealt with unemployment, provided a hospital service and ran workshops that made household commodities. Their guerrilla raids in to Israel and their declaration that the way to maintain a Palestinian identity was to struggle against the oppressor made the PLO a political force. The PLO had been created by Arab leaders who were worried about the destabilising impact of the Palestinian movement regionally and wanted a moderate group to represent the Palestinians.

Frustrated young Palestinians were attracted to Fatah, a resistance group advocating mass struggle to increase the pressure on Arab leaders to act against Israel. Fatah was committed to acting through Arab regimes, but not toppling them, expressing Palestinian aspirations within the limits of Arab nationalism. After the 1967 war, Fatah’s guerrilla troops fought with some success against the Israeli forces. In 1969, Fatah took leadership of the PLO, boosted by Arab funding which pushed the PLO to centre stage. In 1970, the PLO was based in Jordan, but its popularity was perceived as a threat to King Hussein. When the King’s forces, backed by Israel and the US, attacked the PLO, 3,000 Palestinians were killed and much of the PLO’s infrastructure broken up. This defeat to one of the weakest regimes in the region highlighted the fundamental problem of the PLO from the outset: it wanted to work within the system, while the people it claimed to represent needed it to work against the system. The situation dictated a confrontation between the PLO and the Arab-Israeli alliance, but the Fatah leadership was unwilling, and moved to the refugee camps of Lebanon even more insistent that Arab rulers should be respected. This ideology was enforced by Fatah’s links with the police state of Saudi Arabia, who armed Fatah on the condition that they were pursuing policies the Saudis approved of. 

1973 War

In 1973, a joint Egyptian-Syrian attack nearly defeated Israel as the two countries attempted to reclaim what had been lost in 1967. While the conflict didn’t directly affect the Palestinians, it did mark a significant swing to the right in Israeli politics towards the Likud party.

After the 1973 war, the US offered the PLO a ‘mini state’ in the West Bank and Gaza in return for Palestinian recognition of Israel within the 1948 borders. Fatah accepted this proposal, dropped their principal aim of liberating Palestine, and accepted Zionist domination. This massively unpopular move meant that most Palestinians would never see their homes again and that their ‘mini state’ would be policed by Israel and the Arab regimes. In return, the PLO was recognised at the UN as the representative of the Palestinian people. The PLO was now locked in a web of diplomacy in which Arab leaders would fund them but not exert any pressure to gain concessions from Israel. 

War in Lebanon

In 1975, Lebanese right-wingers attacked Palestinian refugees in the camps of Beirut. Fatah maintained its policy of non-interference until it was forced to fight back when Syria sent 40,000 troops to aid the Lebanese forces. The PLO emerged damaged and was confined to small areas of Lebanon, which was controlled by Syria.

In 1982, an Israeli blitzkrieg attack on Lebanon laid siege to Beirut. It is estimated that 14,000 Palestinians and Lebanese were killed and 20,000 wounded in just two weeks. According to UNICEF, 10 children were killed for every one Palestinian fighter killed. The PLO found itself isolated as not one Arab ally offered tangible assistance. Palestinian fighters left Lebanon by ship, but the women and children stayed behind in the camps. Led by future Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel carried out the cold blooded massacres of between 3000 and 3500 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps. The elderly, women and children were systematically murdered. No evidence existed that there was a single terrorist in the camps. The UN General Assembly called it ‘an act of genocide’. In Israel, Sharon was hailed as a hero.

In 1983, the ‘mini state’ idea was dropped by the US, who had no intention of pressing Israel to make concessions. Supported by Israel, President Assad of Syria was intent on the destruction of the Lebanese Palestinian refugee camps. Only the determined resistance of PLO guerrillas prevented further massacres.

Palestinians were now more vulnerable than ever. In 1987, the Arab League did not even have Palestine as a major item on its agenda for discussion. Likud had come to power in Israel in 1977, and increased the number of settlements so that by 1988 55 per cent of West Bank land and 30 per cent of the Gaza Strip were in Israeli hands, guarded by the Israeli army and settler militias.

Israel seized the water resources of the West Bank. Between 1967 and 1983, not one Palestinian received permission to drill a well, while Israeli settlers could drill up to 27 new wells. Hundreds of water pumps were shut off and at least one irrigation canal was bulldozed, destroying Palestinian communities. Palestinian rural employment dropped massively as the Israelis wanted Palestinians to provide cheap labour and undertake jobs even the least privileged Jews did not want (despite large numbers of Palestinians having had secondary education). Palestinian workers could not join unions and did not have pensions, unemployment insurance, injury compensation or extended child benefit. Workers were forbidden to stay overnight in Israel and were forced to go through check points to get to work in a society from which their people were excluded. The balance in taxes raised in the occupied territories but not spent on Palestinians was kept by the Israeli state. Israel systematically discriminated against Palestinians, manipulated tariff barriers in favour of Israeli goods, allowed only Israeli banks to exist (which kept Palestinian industry small scale), and used the growing populations of the West Bank and Gaza for its second largest export market. Meanwhile, Israel pushed for ‘moderate’ Palestinian politics by attempting to assassinate any leaders who could be the focus of opposition to Zionism. The violence continued against the Palestinians, and infrastructure was allowed to decay to the extent that Palestinian health and education systems were on the verge of collapse.

The first Intifafa

In 1987, the intifada (uprising) put Palestine back on the international agenda and showed that the Palestinian people could not be physically eliminated or totally marginalised. The intifada was an uprising of non-compliance and protest against the occupation expressed in nationalist terms across the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and among Palestinians living in Israel. The racist division of labour, the occupation and the failure of Palestinian leadership to express the concerns of the Palestinian people triggered events. Workers refused to travel to Israel, and strikes, demonstrations, boycotts of Israeli goods and the development of self-help initiatives were widespread. As all Palestinian leadership had been repressed, Israel had no way of mediating the conflict, so it responded by detaining over 30,000 Palestinians by the end of 1988, placing 5,000 in administrative detention and holding 1,100 in extremely harsh conditions at the Ketziot camp.

While Israel was clearly worried by the intifada, and Palestinian confidence was boosted, the Israeli economy was never seriously threatened because replacement cheap labour was found and many Palestinians simply couldn’t afford to strike for too long. Israeli society was united in its response, with no working class or left-wing movement questioning Israel’s right to decide the fate of the Palestinians. The PLO, despite leading the intifada, didn’t offer a way forward which could channel the anger and political energy of the Palestinians, who were increasingly drawn to Islamic organisations. The PLO had been given freedom from Arab leaders by the intifada, but its leader Yasser Arafat pushed the organisation back in their direction. Palestinians were a symbol around the region of the struggle against Israel, misery and degradation but, because of its ties to the Arab regimes, the PLO didn’t call for regional solidarity. Instead the PLO opted to declare a state of Palestine in the occupied territories and recognised the state of Israel.

International negotiations began, but on Zionist terms. Fatah accepted Israeli and Western definitions of the Palestinian national movement, equating the violence of the oppressed with the violence of the oppressor. While the populations of the occupied territories were opposed to the ‘mini state’ ideas, the PLO were becoming increasingly distant from those they were supposed to represent, at pains to show the world that a Palestinian state would not disturb the status quo. At the same time, the Israeli government hardened its stance and increased the settlements on the West Bank. Settler militias promised civil war if their right to West Bank land was questioned. They were championed by Ariel Sharon, who viewed Jordan as the Palestinian state and saw nothing wrong in the idea that Palestinians should be transferred there if they wanted their homeland.

Talks were pushing Palestine towards being a Luxembourg or San Marino of the Middle East: no army, no power, a pool of cheap labour for the dominant Israelis. The PLO proposed formalising this situation, its leadership so conservative that at the top of the agenda in 1989 was how to stop Palestinian terrorism.

1993 Olso Talks

By 1993, Arafat had shifted the three precepts of a Palestinian national ideology (the refugees’ right of return, stopping the illegal settlements and Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine) so that they were now negotiable factors. The Oslo declaration left these three issues to be dealt with at a later date, only addressing with the issues created by the 1967 war, and ignoring those generated in 1948.

In 1994, Israel increased the pace of settlements and land confiscations in breach of the Oslo document. Settler evictions were now highly unlikely. Article 31 of the agreement had stated that the West Bank and Gaza Strip was a single unit and their status must be kept until further negotiations take place. However, Israel built bypasses and tunnels to divide the areas, creating an alternative map in which Jews now lived, literally, above Palestinians, protected by military barriers. The Palestinian Authority was created at Oslo, and the Palestinians were given the symbolism of flags and Arabic place names, but no substantial improvement in their lives. Gaza had become effectively a huge prison guarded by Israeli soldiers. In response to the growing popularity of Islamist organisations, borders were kept closed. In violation of the Oslo document, life carried on as normal and Israeli soldiers and police were able to inflict physical and mental abuse with impunity at checkpoints.

After Oslo…the second Intifada

Much of the West Bank and Gaza Strip came under occupation and were in conflict with Israel. By 1995, Palestinians had written off the Oslo agreement as an act of imperialism and as conditions worsened under Israeli occupation, Islamic militants began their terror campaign and the first Palestinian suicide bombings took place. A tunnel for tourists (mainly Jewish) was built under Haram al-Sharif, Islam’s third holiest site. When Ariel Sharon visited the site surrounded by 1,000 police officers, the second intifada was sparked. Israel’s retaliation (‘Operation Defensive Shield’) was stronger than ever, and included a massacre at the Jenin refugee camp.

At Camp David in 2000 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians withdrawal from 12 per cent of the occupied territories, said Israel would never give back any part of Greater Jerusalem, stated that most illegal West Bank and Gaza settlements would stay, and suggested that the Palestinians would have to forever give up their right of return. This would have left Palestine as 15 per cent of what it had been pre-Israel. The international response, endorsed by the US, EU, UN and Russia, was the Road Map in 2003. Offering little to the Palestinians, the suicide bombings continued followed by Israeli re-occupations. Israel maintained its domination of Palestinian life through border closures, house demolitions, assassination of political activists, mass arrests and the building of a wall separating the West Bank from Israel. Gaza was experiencing unemployment at 75 per cent, 50 per cent of houses were in ruins, lawlessness reined and people couldn’t travel or safely reach hospitals, schools or businesses.

The second intifada saw the growth in popularity of Islamic resistance. Although at odds with Islamic principles, suicide attacks were the Palestinian response to Israeli F-16s, Merkava tanks and Apache gunships, and the only way the Palestinians had found to strike fear in to Israelis. Martyrs were recruited from a people living a life of military occupation, poverty and deprivation with no hope for a political solution. There was a massive increase in numbers of those willing to fight and martyr themselves for Hamas, a resistance group popular because of its strong message against the occupation, its social wing and its potential to be a pragmatic political party.

Hamas implemented a ceasefire, as they knew any attack on Israel would be met with a brutal response. This lasted for 18 months. When Israel assassinated Hamas leader Mahmud Abu Hanud in 2001, they knew this would shatter the ceasefire. Hamas attacked Israeli settlements near the Gaza Strip. The Israeli response was predictable: military attacks against Palestinians and political assassinations. Ariel Sharon had become a popular Prime Minister who planned the future Palestine to consist of Gaza Strip and half of the West Bank; a dependency with no sovereignty or economic infrastructure. Each time it looked like the Palestinians were willing to pacify the situation, Israel would assassinate a Palestinian activist. When Hamas showed willingness to participate in the 2006 elections, many of its prospective candidates were arrested.

Palestinian democracy

In 2006, in free and fair parliamentary elections, Hamas were elected to office. They had already shown their pragmatic side, willingness to recognise Israel and had a long-standing ten year ceasefire offer for the Israelis. Despite this, the Palestinians were punished for voting for Hamas. Millions of dollars in taxes owed to the PA by Israel and aid promised by the EU was withheld. A humanitarian crisis engulfed the Palestinians. In the Gaza Strip, 1.4 million people, mainly children are ‘living in a cage’ according to a senior UN official, cut off by land, sea and air, with no reliable power, little water, hunger, disease and incessant attacks by Israeli planes and troops dominate their lives. Palestinians starve to death because they freely voted for Hamas. Israeli journalist Gideon Levy reports that ‘there are thousands of wounded, disabled and shell-shocked people unable to receive any treatment…the shadows of human beings roam the ruins…they only know the Israeli army will return and what this will mean for them: More imprisonment in their homes for weeks, more death and destruction in monstrous proportions’.

In June 2006, Israeli warships fired on families picnicking on a Gaza beach, killing seven people, including three children, shattering the latest ceasefire. Attacks like this are part of Israeli policy, as is starving the Palestinians. Dov Weisglass, adviser to Prime Minister Olmert joked that ‘the idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet’. The victims of this policy are mostly children. After the Hamas victory, the US House of Representatives voted 361-37 to cut off aid to non-government organisations that give to the occupied territories. According to the Geneva Convention this is a crime against humanity. In 2004, the British Medical Journal reported that in the previous four years ‘Two thirds of the 621 children killed by the Israelis at checkpoints…on the way to school, in their homes, died from small arms fire, directed in over half the cases to the head, neck and chest – the sniper’s wound’. One quarter of Palestinian infants under five are acutely or chronically malnourished and the Israeli wall is isolating people from the medical care they need. Soldiers are known to refuse to let seriously ill children pass to get to hospital.

The Gaza Strip has a population of which half are children. A Gaza community health project revealed that 99.4 per cent of the children they studied suffer trauma, 99.2 per cent had had their homes bombarded, 97.5 had been exposed to tear gas, 96.6 per cent had witnessed shooting and a third had seen family members or neighbours injured or killed.

Tom Charles works for Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East in the UK. He has a Master's degree in International Politics from the university of Sheffield.

Israel accused of 'reckless' use of white phosphorus

by Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem

Human Rights Watch says military should be held to account for 'war crimes'

Israel "deliberately and recklessly" fired white phosphorus shells in densely populated areas of Gaza in an "indiscriminate" way that killed and wounded civilians and is "evidence of war crimes", Human Rights Watch said yesterday.

A detailed report from the agency says the Israeli military knew white phosphorus's lethal capacity to cause intense burns, and that the firing of it in airburst artillery shells revealed a "pattern or policy of conduct rather than incidental or accidental usage."

And the 71-page report reveals that the 15 January firing of phosphorus shells on or near the UN Relief and Works Agency compound in Gaza City, where 700 civilians were sheltering, continued for at least two hours after UN staff began making repeated telephone calls to the Israeli military asking it to stop. The shells caused an estimated $10m (£6.8m) damage and led to burning for 12 days after the attack.

While documenting cases in which civilians were burnt to death or severely hurt and civilian property set on fire, the report says that the majority of civilian deaths were not caused by white phosphorus but from other "missiles, bombs, heavy artillery, tank shells, and small arms fire".

But the HRW researcher Fred Abrams said senior Israeli commanders should be held account for its usage in violation of international law requirements to avoid civilian harm. While the use of phosphorus is permitted to hide troop movements in non-civilian areas, Mr Abrams added: "In Gaza, the Israeli military didn't just use white phosphorus in open areas as a screen for its troops. It fired white phosphorus repeatedly over densely populated areas, even when its troops weren't in the area and safe smoke shells were available. As a result, civilians needlessly suffered and died."

An airburst 155mm artillery shell spreads 116 white phosphorus wedges in a range of 125 metres, which ignites on contact with oxygen and burns at up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit until nothing is left or the oxygen supply is cut. When it comes into contact with skin it creates intense and persistent burns, sometimes down to the bone. HRW says an Israeli health ministry report produced during the 22-day military offensive in Gaza said that burns to 10 per cent of the body can be fatal because of damage to the liver, kidneys and heart.

Witness reports taken by HRW describe the killing of a bank manager, his wife and two of their children in their car during white phosphorus shelling in the Tel-el-Hawa area of Gaza City on 15 January. According to a Palestinian journalist, Fathi Sabbah, whose own building in the area came under attack, when ambulances came to take the bodies away from the partly melted car, they found "only a few bones" of the four occupants. The report quotes another witness, Muhammad Al Sharif, as saying that a piece of a skull and some teeth lay beside the car.

The report also highlights, among a total of six cases documented in which 12 civilians were killed, the deaths of five members of the Abu Halima family and the wounding of five others. These included the badly burnt Sabah Abu Halima 44, who lost three of her children, in the Siyafa village on the edge of Atatra in northern Gaza when a phosphorus-bearing artillery shell hit their house. The accounts given to HRW broadly corroborate those given by family members to journalists in Gaza in January, including from The Independent, which found one of the sour-smelling phosphorus wedges outside the house.

HRW says it found no evidence that Hamas was using civilians as human shields in the area at the time of the cases of white phosphorus shelling it examined. And it called on the United States, as the main supplier to Israel of white phosphorus munitions to investigate whether they were used in violation of international law. HRW says that of the white phosphorus shells it found in Gaza were made in 1989 Thiokol Aerospace, which was running the Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant at the time

The IDF orginally denied that it was using white phosphorus but later said that it use was in accordance with international law. The HRW report says that the apparently frequent use in cases where there were not even ground troops in the area "strongly suggests that the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] was not using the munition for its obscurant qualities but rather for its incendiary effect".

That was contested in an Israel Defence Forces response issued last night which said that the military's investigation of its use of "smoke shells" was close to conclusion and that based on the findings at this stage "it was already possible to conclude that the IDF's use of them was "in accordance with international law".

It added that claims of indiscriminate use were "baseless". It added that the third protocol on certain conventional weapons – though not signed by Israel – did not class "weapons used for screening" as "incendiary"

A burning issue: Weapon or flare?

White phosphorus, known as Willy Pete, ignites when exposed to the air. It is not banned by international law so long as it is used to create a smoke screen to protect advancing troops or to illuminate targets. However, the 1980 Geneva treaty stipulates it must not be used as an offensive weapon in densely-populated areas, where civilians can sustain severe burns.