Israeli air strike ‘destroys Gaza ministry’
(January 18, 2008)The Hamas-run interior ministry building in Gaza was destroyed by an Israeli air strike today, witnesses said.Israeli missiles also hit two cars in Gaza City, wounding at least 20 people, Palestinian medical workers told Reuters.The interior ministry has been vacant since it was damaged in a July 2006 air strike but is situated in a residential area. Witnesses said several civilians were injured.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, denounced the attacks.
“In these days, we can only condemn gravely what happens in our cherished Gaza, this brutal attack on this cherished part of our land, every hour, which targets women, children and elderly,” he said.—Guardian Unlimited
Rocket and mortar barrage on Sderot and western Negev continues
(16 Jan 2008)
More than 100 rockets and mortars were fired from the Gaza Strip at communities in southern Israel during the past 24 hours, most targeting Sderot, where the Color Red siren was sounded 14 times on Tuesday. Toward nightfall, a rocket hit a power line and city residents remained in the dark until it was repaired.
A Grad Katyusha missile fired from northern Gaza Tuesday afternoon landed near a tennis court in a southern Ashkelon neighborhood.
At least 10 people, including a 5-year-old girl, sustained shrapnel wounds. Lior Ben-Shimol, 5, was at her neighbor’s house playing with their children when the attack occurred. The girl’s father, Yaron, said, “I heard an explosion and saw a Kassam had hit the neighbor’s house. I ran to the house and saw my daughter drenched in blood.” He said his daughter had already been given psychological help to cope with the stress of living under constant attack.
The Hamas Izz al-Din al-Qassam brigades claimed responsibility for the ongoing barrage.—Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Israel Vows to Escalate Attacks in Gaza
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has vowed to escalate Israeli attacks in Gaza where at least 14 Palestinians have died since Thursday. Olmert defended Israel’s actions saying they were needed to stop rocket attacks. Israel has also sharply reduced fuel supplies to the only electric plant in Gaza. Power is now being cut off eight hours a day inside the territory. Israel is coming under increasing criticism from Palestinian leaders and the Arab League. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa says Israel’s recent actions in Gaza and the West Bank jeopardize the talks that began in Annapolis.—Democracy Now
In my 3 trips to Gaza beginning in 2005 I can trace one major change by reporting my experiences crossing from Israel into Gaza at the northern point, Arez.
In 2005 Arez was essentially a large room connected to a tunnel made from concrete slabs. The tunnel was rough, long, dark, scary and occasionally hit by home made Palestinian rockets. Soldiers barked commands from hidden rooms. Little lighting, thick metal gates, separate passages for Palestinians and internationals, it stood foreboding and sinister. Those last two qualities have remained consistent for the past 3 years. At the other end of the corridor smiling Palestinian police greeted me and perfunctorily checked and recorded my passport.
By 2006 Israel had installed a huge full body x-ray machine for examining those exiting Gaza. Stand here, in the footprints, wait while the light turns from green to red and back again! Private security personnel replaced official army soldiers. Young army women examined my papers, made me wait while they made phone calls or looked at computer screens. The tunnel remained as in 2005.
However, on my last trip, January 2008, the facility looked like an airport terminal, an empty and hostile entity. Passport control booths, some for Palestinians, some for the rest of us, each booth contained bored looking young army women and men. Not much traffic, not much to do. I waited while the young woman held my passport, unsure what to expect. Eventually they called me to the booth and an older man interrogated me for over 30 minutes. Questions like why are you coming, who are you going to visit, why for 3 weeks when all you need really is 2 days, it’s all the same. I was allowed in, but at moments I considered my options should they deny me entry. Even tho I had a permit from Israel to enter, the sharp questioning suggested they were looking for some reason to keep me out.
Passing that point I had to walk thru 2 thick metal turnstiles, called in Arabic by a name that suggests the machine used to rip feathers from chickens, then the tunnel. It has been improved, no more crude concrete slabs but a proper thick wall. The armored personnel carriers and gun towers had disappeared. At the Palestinian end no police but a raft of young men eager to help me, porters, like at railroad stations. One loaded my luggage onto a dolly and after about 1/2 km of walking he asked me for baksheesh, the universal word for tip. I offered him 2 shekels (50 cents), he grimaced; I gave him one more. He said, “No no, 20 shekels!” I shook my head no. Another man was trying to hoist my huge backpack onto his back. Realizing what this entailed, the costs, as well as the benefit I might bring to unemployed Gazans, despite this potential for humanitarian service, I insisted on carrying my own luggage thru the rest of the fence enclosed passageway.
My entry was much easier on my two previous trips. I am not looking forward to the security I expect to be imposed on me and my belongings when I leave. In fact, because of the unrelenting violence in Gaza Israel has closed all crossings. I’m not sure when I’ll get out.
WHAT ELSE HAS CHANGED?
In 2005 the main threat was Israeli invasion, happening regularly. One night they attacked with tanks in a section of Gaza about 5 km from where I resided. I heard nothing except for a report the next day. I resided with 3 college students in the main part of Gaza city and with them explored their neighborhood on foot. No problem, even at night.
In 2006 one challenge was the interfactional violence, Fatah and Hamas dueling daily in the streets. One day after finishing a tour of water sites I was waiting in the UN compound for a ride home when firing broke out nearby. I had to wait until an armored SUV could bring me back to my flat.
The second major problem of that period, deepening now, was the international aid boycott. Hamas won the election in January 2006. Most of the world governments have designated Hamas to be a terrorist organization. Thus, no aid, despite it winning fairly in a well monitored election. No development, decreasing humanitarian services, job loss, deteriorating medical service, despair—profound despair. This is the siege, growing worse day by day.
After I left in May 2006 several internationals were kidnapped, including Alan Johnston. This has been happening periodically for years but it seemed to intensify in 2006. Held for about 4 months by what appeared to be a political faction or a family demanding ransom he was eventually freed thru the persuasion of Hamas.
2006 saw the Israeli operation “Summer Rains,” followed by “Clouds of Autumn.” Israeli F-16s and Apache helicopters, both made in the US, devastated the region, ruining the only electrical generator station, all bridges, and much of the rest of the infrastructure.
In the summer of 2007 after roughly a year of fighting, Hamas prevailed over Fatah, taking full control of the strip. So on my current trip, January 2008, the kidnapping risk has diminished because of strict Hamas controls over all factions. However, the Israeli attacks have increased to a high level, the highest number killed in one day in years, 18 on January 16. Driving in a taxi to Beit Hanoun in the north, walking in the morning around my neighborhood, even working in the Quaker Youth Program office is now charged with danger. Drones hover overhead, armed with cameras and missiles, helicopters and F-16 pummel cars and buildings, often killing bystanders. One of them could be me. I feel more at risk than ever before, and I believe I share that feeling with many of my colleagues and neighbors and friends—none of them advocating violence, all of them sorrowful and perplexed.
THE “PEACE PROCESS” AND THE INCREASING VIOLENCE
All this during the so called “Peace Process,” given more publicity by a recent visit by US president GW Bush. Israeli attacks stopped during his two days in Israel and Palestine but intensified after he’d left. One might ask, why is Israel upping the attacks—why are Palestinians launching more home made rockets at Israeli civilians? One analysis pins causation and blame on internal Israeli politics. For the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, to maintain his cabinet and the coalition government, he has to placate the right, Lieberman and company, who push for attacking Gaza. To keep his left intact, Barak and company, advocating negotiations he has to at least appear to engage in the “Peace Process.” Thus the apparent contradiction between attack and negotiation.
SITTING IN MY CHAIR
To me sitting here in Gaza the situation seems insane and suicidal, both the Israeli attacks and the Palestinian rockets. This at least has not changed in my 3 years of visiting Gaza. One additional consistency: the lack of awareness and action by the world community.