A Norwegian surgeon who worked in Gaza shares his experiences during the latest Israeli offensive on the besieged Strip.
During the latest Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip, war planes dropped bombs on the enclave day and night. The people there, besieged on all sides, had no place to go.
As in previous wars, Israel says it was responding to attacks from Hamas. But the war in the summer of 2014 was different, according to Dr Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian surgeon working in Gaza in the operating rooms of the Shifa hospital.
“This is a genocide. This is a massacre. And I hope that somebody is being held accountable for it,” Gilbert told the media from the site of one of the attacks this year.
“Israeli impunity has gone so far now that they think they can do whatever, with whoever, and they don’t consider Palestinians even human, according to how they treat them now.”
After voicing his indignation, the Israeli response against Gilbert was swift. When he returned to Gaza recently, the Israelis stopped him from entering the Palestinian enclave.
“I went back to Gaza after the last attack in July/August. I went back in October to follow-up on the medical work, research, teaching and patient care … And [the Israelis] stopped me at the gates to Gaza,” Gilbert tells Al Jazeera.
“I asked why, I have everything, I never did anything wrong. And they said it was ‘a security issue from the higher security authorities’ – and I was denied access.”
“I think the situation for the Israeli government, and the reputation of Israel on the international scene, is so damaged by these repetitious attacks – particularly the last one because it was extremely horrible – that they don’t want these tales to get out,” Gilbert says.
“I think the concern is public opinion … People are questioning this one-sided support for Israel through the years, and people are questioning the Israeli narrative about what is going on, [asking] ‘is it really Israel defending itself against the Palestinians, or is Israel attacking a besieged and occupied people?'”
This week on Talk to Al Jazeera, Dr Mads Gilbert sits down with Jane Dutton to discuss what he saw in Gaza’s Shifa hospital in the summer of 2014 that affected him more than it did in the past, and why he believes the Israelis are out to stop him.
During the Israeli bombardment and shelling of the Gaza Strip last summer, an Israeli soldier approached a 74-year-old Palestinian woman Ghalya Abu-Rida to give her a sip of water. He gave her the water, took a photo with her and then he shot her in the head from a distance of one metre. He then watched as she bled to death, the Palestine Information Centre reported.
This is how Ahmad Qdeh, a journalist in Al-Aqsa TV, described the scene that he witnessed during the latest Israeli aggression. The spokesman of the Israeli army, Avichay Adraee, shared the photo of an Israeli soldier holding the water bottle and helping the old woman drink as an example of the “humanity” of the Israeli army towards the civilians in the Gaza Strip.
The field executions were among the stories Qdeh reported during the Israeli aggression on Gaza Strip. He said: “Ghalya Ahmad Abu-Rida lived in the Khuza’a area in the east of Khan Younis city. I live in that area too and I made a television report on her story after the Israeli soldiers executed her during the aggression.”
“During the aggression, an Israeli soldier approached the old woman and took a photo for another soldier while giving her water. They then executed her by shooting her in the head from a distance of one metre and let her bleed until she died,” he added.
Ghalya was born in 1941. She lived by herself in a room near her brothers’ house in the Abu-Rida neighbourhood of Khuza’a. She had no children. Her neighbourhood was one of the first places invaded by the Israeli army during the aggression.
Majed Abu-Rida, Ghalya’s nephew, confirmed to the media that his aunt was visually impaired and could hardly see. He said that the Israeli army had falsely claimed humanity while executing his aunt in cold blood.
Ghalya, with her weak body and white hair, refused to leave her house after the Israeli army ordered the residents of Khuza’a to evacuate. She thought her old age would protect her from being a target so she stayed in her home and refused to join the majority of the residents who left the area as the invasion began.
On 3 August, the Israeli forces announced a truce and allowed medical staff to reach the Khuza’a area. Ghalya was found dead after she bled to death as she was shot in the head near her house, Al-Aqsa TV confirmed to MEMO. Her brother confirmed that the photo shared by the Israeli army supported the family’s belief that Ghalya was in the hands of the Israeli army. The family also believed that the area in which Ghalya appeared in the photo and in which she was found asserted that the Israeli forces killed her after taking the photo for the media.
Professor of media at the universities of Gaza, Ahmad Al-Farra, said: “The photo the Israeli army spokesman shared is misleading propaganda by the Israeli army to present a humane portrait of its soldiers. It can enhance the opportunity to pursue the Israeli army’s soldiers as war criminals before the International Criminal Court.”
“This photo proves the confusion of the Israeli army spokesman in defending his army. It proves that they killed civilians,” he added.
He continued: “The Israeli occupation lies and misinforms in an attempt to affect international public opinion. It exploits the Arab media and Palestinian diplomacy in exposing the Israeli occupation’s crimes.” He demanded launching a large campaign to expose the Israeli lies and falsifications.
Al-Farra stressed the need for a media enlightenment campaign to go side by side with the field battles to correct the false image that Israel presents about its army and the resistance.
Israel carried out a 51-day war that claimed the lives of around 2,200 Palestinians and wounded around 11,000 others.
Source: Middle East Monitor
Israeli conduct during last summer’s war in the Gaza Strip increased the number of civilian casualties, an independent report has said, by failing to differentiate between military targets and civilian populations.
Despite claims to the contrary, the military did not give sufficient warning for civilians to evacuate residential areas before striking them, according to the report partly commissioned by Physicians for Human Rights’ Israeli branch and carried out by eight independent medical experts.
The report also cited potential violations of humanitarian law and indiscriminate strikes that led to the deaths of medical workers, and called for a full inquiry into the 50-day conflict.
The war between Israel and Hamas killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and has caused growing instability in Gaza, where 100,000 people whose homes were destroyed or damaged remain displaced.
Another 73 died on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers,
“Attacks were characterized by heavy and unpredictable bombardments of civilian neighborhoods in a manner that failed to discriminate between legitimate targets and protected populations,” said the report, which was published Tuesday.
“In numerous cases, double or multiple consecutive strikes on a single location led to multiple civilian casualties and to injuries and deaths among rescuers.”
The 237-page report was based on visits during and after the war, using interviews with 68 people wounded during the fighting, autopsies on 370 people killed and the review of dozens of medical files.
The army accused the report as “based on one-sided and incorrect data assumed from biased sources,” saying its “credibility should be questioned.”
“The IDF (Israel Defense Forces), in accordance to international law, went to extensive and unprecedented lengths in order to minimize civilian collateral damage,” a statement said.
“Many of the practices of the IDF have far exceeded its obligations under international law.”
The report said Israel’s “early warning” procedures — including phone calls, text messages and dropping preliminary non-explosive missiles on buildings before striking them — were inconsistent and often did not provide enough time for evacuation.
Only seven percent of interviewees reported receiving early warnings.
Palestinian NGO Al-Mezan has said the ineffective use of preliminary warning strikes could constitute a war crime.
The Palestinians are attempting to sue Israeli officials over alleged war through the International Criminal Court, having formally joined the body earlier this month.
The report added that in Khuzaa, in southern Gaza, the “reported conduct of specific troops in the area is indicative of additional serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.”
It recommended a “legal determination of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, whether through local or international justice mechanisms.”
Source: Ma’an News
Palestinian head teacher Abdel-Hakim Abu Jamus has just given his last shekels to his daughter for school and has nothing left to feed his family of eight.
Like tens of thousands of Palestinian public sector workers, he has not been paid since December after Israel suspended millions of dollars in tax revenues which should have been transferred to the Palestinian Authority, as punishment for joining the International Criminal Court.
“I gave my daughter the last money I had and now I don’t know how we’re going to manage tomorrow,” said Abu Jamus, who runs a school in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
On Jan. 2, the Palestinians formally presented a request to join the Hague-based ICC in a first step toward suing Israel for war crimes.
Israel reacted furiously, freezing $127 million in tax revenues that are usually transferred to the Palestinian Authority – a move often employed as a punitive measure during diplomatic disputes.
Under an economic agreement between the sides signed in 1994, Israel transfers to the PA tens of millions of dollars each month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports.
Although the sanction has been imposed many times, it has rarely lasted more than one or two months, except in 2006 when Hamas won a landslide victory in Palestinian legislative elections.
On that occasion Israel froze the funds for six months.
Blocking the money deprives the PA of more than two-thirds of its monthly budget, excluding foreign aid, and prevents it paying its roughly 180,000 employees, which costs almost $200 million a month.
“We know very well that Israel freezes the money for political reasons to put pressure on the Authority, but as civil servants we need to see the situation resolved quickly,” Abu Jamus said.
Dalal Yassin, who works for Palestinian TV, also has not been paid since Israel froze the transfers.
But she is in a better position than most because her husband works in the private sector.
“I see my colleagues struggling to pay their monthly bills and going through a really difficult time,” she told AFP.
The Palestinian government has managed to raise enough funds to start paying 60 percent of the December salaries “through loans, Arab aid and its own resources.”
Yasser Mussa, who runs a shop in Ramallah, is hoping that the partial payment of salaries will mean some of his customers pay off their outstanding debts.
“Every month, we extend credit to our clients, but this time, the salaries have not been paid at the same time as a major storm hit the region and we have had to sell many products on credit,” he said.
Ahead of a major winter storm earlier this month, many Palestinians went out and bought heaters to combat a cold snap which has only just begun to ease.
Arab foreign ministers have promised to provide the Palestinians with a monthly “safety net” of $100 million, but the commitment has rarely been activated.
The funds could offer vital assistance for the PA, economist Nasser Abdel-Karim said.
“Since the second intifada [the Palestinian uprising in 2000-2005], the economy has experienced a major downturn,” he said, with about 140,000 Palestinians who previously worked inside Israel losing their jobs.
In order to counter the soaring unemployment rate, the Palestinian public sector enlarged its ranks – and with it, its monthly spending on salaries.
But the Palestinian government is facing an even bigger employee-related problem than the salary freeze.
In 2007, when Hamas seized power in Gaza, forcing out forces loyal to the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, roughly 70,000 government employees were left jobless. Hamas then took on 50,000 new workers who have served the Gaza administration for the past seven years.
Since a national unity government took office in June, ending seven years of separate administrations in the West Bank and Gaza, the Hamas employees have not been paid.
News that the consensus government plans to rehire the 70,000 staff who were employed before 2007, in place of the Hamas workers, has sparked a series of angry protests and strikes.
The dispute threatens a fragile reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas which took effect last April and led to the establishment of the unity government.
Source: The Daily Star
The Israeli Police in occupied Jerusalem released, on Monday evening, five Palestinian women after detaining and interrogating them for several hours, and ordered three of them away from the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and its yards, for 15 days.
Hamza Qteina, of the “Lawyers For Jerusalem,” said the Police kidnapped the five women while heading towards the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and took them to the al-Qashla Police Station for interrogation.
The Police alleges the women “violated public safety”, and the “public right to reach holy sites,” despite the fact that the police has been severely restricting, and largely denying, access of Palestinian Muslims into the mosque, while allowing Israeli far-right groups to march into its yards demanding its destruction, and “rebuilding the temple” in its place.
Qteina said the five women are Hiba al-Husseini, 28, Safa’ Seyaj, 26, Jumana Abu ‘Arafa, 23, Bara’a an-Natsha, 17, and Ansam Moghrabi, 17.
The Police ordered Hiba al-Husseini, Safa Seyaj and Ansam al-Moghrabi away from the Al-Aqsa Mosque, its yards and gates for 15 days, while Bara’a and Ansam were allowed to go to their school, Al-Aqsa Sharia School for Girls in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, from eight in the morning until two in the afternoon.
Israel urging ICC member-states to cease funding the court after launch of preliminary inquiry into possible war crimes.
Palestinians are facing a slew of retaliatory measures after signing the Rome Statute, paving the way to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), The Hague-based legal body that prosecutes perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
After Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed the guiding treaty of the ICC on December 31, 2014, Israel announced a freeze on the tax revenue it collects on the Palestinians’ behalf, affecting the salaries of some 160,000 PA civil servants.
Israel also said it would lobby ICC member-states to defund the court after prosecutors launched a preliminary inquiry into possible war crimes in the Palestinian territories. “We will demand that our friends in Canada, Australia and Germany simply to stop funding it,” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio.
“This body represents no one. It is a political body,” he said. “There are a quite a few countries that also think there is no justification for this body’s existence.” Neither Israel nor the US are ICC members.
The inquiry by the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, is the first step that could potentially lead to charges being filed against Israelis. “The office will conduct its analysis in full independence and impartiality,” she said in an announcement on the ICC’s website.
Palestine’s court membership comes into effect on April 1, 2015, but the ICC’s jurisdiction is recognised from June 13, 2014, a period that covers Israel’s summer military offensive on Gaza – Operation Protective Edge – which resulted in the death of more than 2,000 Palestinians and 70 Israelis.
Legal experts said the choice of jurisdiction served two purposes: Going back too far in time would call into question accountability for suicide bombings, and Palestine’s non-member status at the UN, which was upgraded from “observer entity” to an “observer state” in 2012. In 2009, Palestinians asked the court to investigate Israeli crimes during that year’s three-week war in Gaza, but were rejected because of their status at the UN.
“Going to the ICC should have taken place a long time ago,” said Shawan Jabarin, who heads al-Haq, the West Bank affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva. “But now that it has, we can say that it’s a good thing, especially because it can look into settlements as a war crime, and the crimes perpetrated in Gaza.”
The absence of peace talks and increasing pressure from the Palestinian public and parties paved the way for joining the ICC after months of threats to do so, politicians said. Khalida Jarrar, who heads the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – a left-wing faction constantly in conflict with the president – said her party and several others have been pushing Abbas to take this step after years of him threatening to do so.
“We have been exerting pressure on Abbas for a long time to go to the ICC,” Jarrar said. “So we welcome this move, but unfortunately until now, we have had no clear strategy, just knee-jerk reactions. We must stop betting on negotiations, on the Americans, and we should take our case to the UN alone.”
Abbas has come under renewed pressure as of late, and likely feels cornered by a slew of opposing forces. Washington has called the ICC move “counterproductive” towards a peace settlement, and warned that US aid to the PA could be impacted.
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would fight the ICC prosecutor’s decision to launch an initial inquiry into war crimes, which he dubbed “the height of hypocrisy and the opposite of justice”. According to a Haaretz report, Netanyahu also decided to launch a “media campaign” to discredit the ICC and Chief Prosecutor Bensouda.
Aides to the Palestinian president said the ICC move comes at a time when the Israeli occupation has become entrenched in every facet of Palestinian life.
Netanyahu has never negotiated in good faith and Israel has not missed an opportunity to undermine Abbas’ governance and break previous agreements, revealing the lopsided dynamic between the two parties, they contend.
“Pressure was constantly being applied on the president not to head to the UN and not to apply for membership in international bodies, but he did those anyway,” said Ahmad Assaf, a spokesman for Fatah, the West Bank’s ruling party which Abbas heads. “He has succeeded in placing the Palestinian cause in the international arena limelight.”
But critics believe that internationalising the Palestinian cause and relying on diplomacy may not be enough. There are already signs that the Palestinians may withdraw their ICC appeal if Israel were to freeze settlement construction, according to a Times of Israel report.
“The Palestinian leadership’s signature move has become issuing a series of empty threats,” said Hani al-Masri, a Ramallah-based political analyst. “There won’t be an end to security coordination for example. Diplomacy cannot be a tool used in isolation. It must be part of a strategy that takes other tools into consideration, like boycotting Israel economically and non-violent resistance.”