Entire Blockade of Gaza Must Be Lifted

On September 6th, I posted a blog concerning what I considered bad reporting by many in the mainstream media, ‘Palmer Report Did Not Find Gaza Blockade Legal Despite Media Headlines’.

Amnesty International recently signed on to a joint open letter to members of the MiddleEast Quartet — an important mediating body in the peace process that includes the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — with almost two dozen other human rights and humanitarian organizations in regards to the Palmer commission’s report on the 2010 flotilla incident and the continued closure of Gaza.

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Palmer Report Did Not Find Gaza Blockade Legal, Despite Media Headlines

gaza turkey flotillaThe media has gone crazy these past couple of days announcing that the UN-appointed panel of inquiry into the flotilla raid last summer, known as the Palmer Commission, found that the Israeli imposed blockade on Gaza is legal and that Israel used excessive force during the raid.

From the Jerusalem Post to the BBC, headlines scream that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip is legal.  This is not only completely false, it distracts from the main point of the inquiry which was to determine if excessive use of force was used by Israeli forces during the raid on the flotilla in international waters and how to avoid a similar incident like this from happening again.

The contents of the Palmer Report were made public Thursday by the New York Times.  The report itself, which was completed last February, was being delayed at the UN while Turkey and Israel negotiated over language and played behind-the-scenes politics.

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The Freedom Flotilla, Civil Disobedience and Government Collusion

Greece has offered to deliver any humanitarian aid contained on Freedom Flotilla boats to Gaza through “existing channels”.  Israel as well as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon have accepted this idea - except one thing - Greece’s offer misses the point.

In addition to the continuing humanitarian concerns, even after Israel’s ‘easing’ of restrictions and the recent ‘opening’ of the Rafah crossing by Egypt, there is the blockade itself.

Although this video was produced one year after operation ‘Cast Lead’ ended, former AI researcher, Francesca Burke, speaks about the difficulties in getting in materials to rebuild and recover from the devastation of the military conflict as well as the blockade which still holds true and relevant today.

Even if all the humanitarian needs of the population were relieved, the Israeli-imposed Gaza blockade would still violate the Gazans’ basic human rights.

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Gilad Shalit Marks Five Years Held In Secret By Hamas

Gilad Shalit is an Israeli soldier held by the Hamas in Gaza as a bargaining chip to pressure Israel for the release of some of the thousands of Palestinians detained in Israel. © Private

Corporal Gilad Shalit was only 19 years old when he was captured on June 25th 2006 by armed Palestinian groups, including Hamas’s military wing.

He is 24 years old now.  On June 25th, it will be over five years since Aviva and Noam Shalit, Gilad’s parents, have been able to touch their son or speak to him directly – even by mail.  It has been nearly two years since they’ve even seen him on video or received any other proof of life.

“As the days go by, we begin to despair of the day when we will see our son again. I know neither where he is held nor how he fares … or whether he is even alive.”  (Noam Shalit, Gilad Shalit’s father, addressing the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, July 6, 2009)

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The Crisis in Gaza and the Rafah Crossing: How Much Has Changed?

When Egypt opened the Rafah crossing into Gaza, much of the coverage fell into two camps: One raising warnings that the opening would ease transit for armed groups and lead to a rise in terrorism, the other praising it as changing the humanitarian crisis.

gaza children

More than half of Gaza's population are children.

A month later, what evidence we have seen is that the former hasn’t occurred but hopes for the later was overstated.  The humanitarian crisis in Gaza hasn’t changed significantly at all.

This shouldn’t be surprising.  The Rafah opening is the only opening between Gaza and Egypt.  It was never designed to carry commercial and humanitarian traffic, and the ability to bring commercial items, food and other goods through the single crossing is extremely limited.

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Israel's Campaign to Avoid Accountability for War Crimes Must be Rejected

Justice Richard Goldstone’s opinion piece (April 1, 2011) in the Washington Post ‘Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and War Crimes’ does not ‘vindicate’ the State of Israel as the government of Israel would have us believe, nor was the Op-Ed piece a ‘retraction’ of the report in its entirety as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal would have had us believe.

Goldstone’s opinion piece simply stated that in light of evidence presented by Israel through military investigations, he does not believe Israeli forces intentionally targeted civilians “as a matter of policy” during Operation ‘Cast Lead,’ Dec. 27, 2008 – Jan. 18, 2009.  The original report initially asserted that in certain cases, Israeli forces carried out “direct intentional strikes against civilians.”

Assessing whether specific Israeli attacks on civilians during the conflict were deliberate is extremely difficult because the Israeli military has not released the evidence that would allow independent parties to evaluate its conclusions.  Amnesty has not argued that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) targeted Palestinian civilians “as a matter of policy”, but that IDF rules of engagement and actions during the conflict failed to take sufficient precautions to minimize civilian casualties.  Justice Goldstone’s recent comments do not dispute this assessment.

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March 21st KEY Date in Human Rights Council for Gaza Conflict Victims

UPDATE Friday, 3/18/11, 7:35pm: The UN appointed Committee of Independent Experts released their updated assessment of the Israeli and Palestinian domestic investigations into violations of international law committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups during the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict.  It is this assessment which is going to be reviewed and debated by members of the Human Rights Council Monday, March 21st.  (See below).

UPDATE Friday, 3/18/11, 7:25pm: Amnesty Int’l just released their updated assessment of the Israeli and Palestinian domestic investigations.

Original Post: Next Monday, March 21st, the Human Rights Council (HRC) will consider a critical report.  The report assesses the Israeli and Palestinian investigations into serious violations of international law committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups during the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict.

This report is expected to match a similar assessment submitted to the HRC last September that concluded that both the Israeli government and the Palestinian side have failed to carry out investigations that are credible, independent and in conformity with international law.They have also failed to demonstrate a commitment to prosecuting perpetrators.  AI’s assessment concurs with these findings.

Despite clear documentation last September that both Israel and Hamas, the de facto administration in Gaza, were falling short of their obligations, Amnesty was shocked and dismayed to see the Human Rights Council fail to outline a clear plan for accountability and instead opt for delay.

AI wants HRC members to know that AI members worldwide are expecting real results this time.

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Demand Justice Now for all victims of the Gaza Conflict – Act Now

Jan. 27, 2011 UPDATE:  See new video below.

AI Norway (photo: Kristian Hvesser)

This past December 27th marked the second year anniversary of the Israeli air strikes over the Gaza Strip that killed and injured hundreds, including over 300 children as the initial attacks took place as children were leaving school.

More Palestinians were killed in that one day than in all 60 years of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories; it also was the first day of 22 long, torturous days of death and destruction.

Over 1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the conflict in Gaza and southern Israel – three of the Israelis and the majority of the Palestinian fatalities were civilians. In September 2009, a UN-mandated Fact-Finding Mission (UN FFM) led by Justice Richard Goldstone published its findings that found both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups had committed grave violations of international law, including war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the conflict. The report recommended that the relevant authorities should investigate the crimes it identified and that, if they failed to do so, the UN Security Council should refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

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Top Ten Reasons For Lifting the Blockade of Gaza

For updates on this and other stories about human rights in Gaza and Israel, follow me on Twitter.

10. 80% of the population is dependent on international aid
9.
61% of the population is food insecure
8.
Unemployment rate is around 39%, one of the highest in the world
7.
Power outages usually last 4-6 hours a day and often longer
6.
60% of Gaza’s population receives running water only once every 4 or 5 days, for 6-8 hours
5.
50 to 80 million liters of untreated or partially treated sewage are released into the sea every day
4.
About 90% of water supplied to Gaza residents is not suitable for drinking and is contaminated with salt and nitrates
3.
78% of homes with major damages from Operation Cast Lead have not been rebuilt

These are the key humanitarian indicators of Gaza as listed in a new report by a coalition of 22 development, human rights, and peace-building organizations. The report Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza Blockade (pdf) describes the lack of change in Gaza despite Israel’s pledge to ease the blockade. The report calls for the international community to renew action for an immediate, unconditional, and complete lifting of the blockade and comes shortly after Tony Blair, the international Mideast envoy, emphasized that Israel needs to ease the blockade after meeting with the Israeli prime minister:

There has been significant change in Gaza, but not nearly as much as we need

His words echo the September statement made by EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton, who stated

Gaza remains a source of great concern for me … at the present time, we think that what’s happened with Gaza is unsatisfactory, the volume of goods is not increasing as significantly as it needs to.

While the international community has relaxed its pressure on Israel, little has been done to ease the restrictions for the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, half of whom are children. According to the report, Israel has not only neglected to ease the blockade but also failed to live up to various commitments it made.

Israel promised to expand and accelerate imports of construction-materials for UN and other international reconstruction projects. Israel has thus far only approved the import of materials for 25 UNRWA schools and clinics, for which only a fraction of the necessary materials has been allowed to enter Gaza. Furthermore, the approved plans represent only seven percent of UNRWA’s total reconstruction strategy. This fall 40,000 eligible children were unable to enroll in UN schools because materials were unavailable for building construction. Additionally, the UN estimates that rebuilding houses alone will require 670,000 truckloads of construction materials, a tough number to meet when an average of only 715 truckloads per month have entered the Gaza Strip since June.

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Help a student from Gaza not miss another day of school

Want to help a student who has worked hard both academically and in his community?  Someone who has gone through the madness of applying and being accepted at a university in the United States even earning a partial scholarship?  (Not an easy task.)  Want to help someone that has already had to miss fall semester and is in danger of missing spring semester and losing his scholarship?

Abed earns his degree in 2008.

Abed Al Hadi Basheer is 24 years old and trying to better himself so he can continue to help children in his community and better care for his blind father and family.  He has been accepted into Washington State University’s College of Education Cultural Studies and Social Thought program in Pullman, WA with a partial scholarship and has received letters of support from professors who live in Pullman that met Abed when they travelled to the Gaza Strip on a Fulbright-Hays project.  He also has letters on his behalf from both Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington state.

What is wrong with him?  Or, what has he done wrong?  Nothing.  Well, he was born in the Gaza Strip.

Due to Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip, there are stringent restrictions on all movement of people into and out of Gaza.

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