2009/01/06:First-hand Reports about Gaza - Kathy Kelly

Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence was in Gaza during the January bombings. Hear her interview on Democracy Now!  VCNV is a new member group of WNPJ. http://www.democracynow.org.

Rafah--Traffic on Sea Street, a major thoroughfare alongside Gaza's coastline, includes horses, donkeys pulling carts, cyclists, pedestrians, trucks and cars, mostly older models.

Overhead, in stark contrast to the street below, Israel's ultra modern unmanned surveillance planes criss-cross the skies.  F16s and helicopters can also be heard.  Remnants of their deliveries, the casings of missiles, bombs and shells used during the past three weeks of Israeli attacks, are scattered on the ground. Workers have cleared most of the roads.  Now, they are removing massive piles of wreckage and debris, much as people do following an earthquake."Yet, all the world helps after an earthquake," said a doctor at the Shifaa hospital in Gaza. "We feel very frustrated," he continued.

"The West, Europe and the U.S., watched this killing go on for 22 days, as though they were watching a movie, watching the killing of women and children without doing anything to stop it.  I was expecting to die at any moment.  I held my babies and expected to die.  There was no safe place in Gaza."

 


He and his colleagues are visibly exhausted, following weeks of work in the Intensive Care and Emergency Room departments at a hospital that received many more patients than they could help.  "Patients died on the floor of the operating room because we had only six operating rooms," said Dr. Saeed Abuhassan, M.D, an ICU doctor who grew up in Chicago.  "And really we don't know enough about the kinds of weapons that have been used against Gaza."

In 15 years of practice, Dr. Abuhassan says he never saw burns like those he saw here.  The burns, blackish in color, reached deep into the muscles and bones.  Even after treatment was begun, the blackish color returned.

Two of the patients were sent to Egypt because they were in such critical condition.  They died in Egypt. But when autopsies were done, reports showed that the cause of death was poisoning from elements of white phosphorous that had entered their systems, causing cardiac arrests.

In Gaza City, The Burn Unit's harried director, a plastic surgeon and an expert in treating burns, told us that after encountering cases they'd never seen before, doctors at the center performed a biopsy on a patient they believed may have suffered chemical burns and sent the sample to a lab in Egypt. The results showed elements of white phosphorous in the tissue.

The doctor was interrupted by a phone call from a farmer who wanted to know whether it was safe to eat the oranges he was collecting from groves that had been uprooted and bombed during the Israeli invasion.
The caller said the oranges had an offensive odor and that when the workers picked them up their hands became itchy.

Audrey Stewart had just spent the morning with Gazan farmers in Tufaa, a village near the border between Gaza and Israel.  Israeli soldiers had first evacuated people, then dynamited the houses, then used bulldozers to clear the land, uprooting the orange tree groves.  Many people, including children, were picking through the rubble, salvaging belongings and trying to collect oranges. At one point, people began shouting at Audrey, warning her that she was standing next to an unexploded rocket.

The doctor put his head in his hands, after listening to Audrey's report.  "I told them to wash everything very carefully. But these are new situations. Really, I don't know how to respond," he said.

Yet he spoke passionately about what he knew regarding families that had been burned or crushed to death when their homes were bombed.
"Were their babies a danger to anyone?" he asked us.

"They are lying to us about democracy and Western values," he continued, his voice shaking. "If we were sheep and goats, they would be more willing to help us."

Dr. Saeed Abuhassan was bidding farewell to the doctors he'd worked with in Gaza.  He was returning to his work in the United Arab Emirates.  But before leaving, he paused to give us a word of advice.
"You know, the most important thing you can tell people in your country is that U.S. people paid for many of the weapons used to kill people in Gaza," said Dr. Saeed Abuhassan.  "And this, also, is why it's worse than an earthquake."
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Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) is a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org) She and Audrey Stewart have been in Gaza for the past six days.

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Voices for Creative Nonviolence
1249 W Argyle Street #2, Chicago, IL 60640
Phone: (773) 878-3815
E-mail: info@vcnv.org
web: www.vcnv.org

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Dear Friends,

Responding to reports from Kathy Kelly and Audrey Stewart (who have now returned to the U.S. from Gaza), many of you asked the question:
"What is to be done?" and, especially, "How might I contribute funds to assist with humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza?"


We at Voices would like to suggest that you consider making a contribution to one of the following organizations.  Each is an organization with which Voices has worked--either collectively as an organization or as individuals.  Each has its own means of addressing the humanitarian crisis, so we'd suggest that you look at each organization's website and decide which approach you most support.

We include both the organization's home page on the internet as well as a link to the contributions page for each organization (to help in locating the contributions page)

Middle East Children's Alliance
Home page: http://www.mecaforpeace.org
Contributions page: https://secure.groundspring.org/dn/index.php?aid=1171

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions Home page: http://www.icahd.org Contributions page: http://icahd.org/eng/18000homesdonate.asp

Free Gaza
Home page: http://www.freegaza.org
Contributions page: http://www.freegaza.org/en/donate

Palestine Children's Relief Fund
Home page: http://www.pcrf.net/first.html Contributions page: http://www.pcrf.net/can/can2.html

We'd also like to highlight the work of Direct Aid Iraq amongst Iraqis:

Home page: http://www.directaidiraq.org
Contributions page: https://secure.groundspring.org/dn/index.php?aid=20422

In Solidarity,

Voices for Creative Nonviolence

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Voices for Creative Nonviolence
1249 W Argyle Street #2, Chicago, IL 60640
Phone: (773) 878-3815
E-mail: info@vcnv.org
web: www.vcnv.org

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The Strongest Weapon of All
By Kathy Kelly
Co-Coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence January 19, 2009

Dr. Atallah Tarazi, a General Surgeon at Gaza City's Shifaa Hospital, invited us to meet him in his home, in Gaza City, just a few blocks away from the Shifaa Hospital.

Early this morning, he and his family returned to their home after having fled five days earlier when the bombing attacks on Gaza City had become so fierce that they feared for their lives.  "Believe me, when I would drive from the hospital to the place where my family was staying, I prayed all the way," said Dr. Tarazi, "because the Israelis would shoot anyone on the roads at night."

Dr. Tarzi has been practicing medicine as a General Surgeon all of his adult life.  Now, at age 61, he says he has never seen such terrible and ugly wounds as he saw during the past three weeks when he and a surgical team tried to help numerous patients with broken limbs, shrapnel wounds, and severe burns.  Neurosurgeons, vascular surgeons, orthopedic and general surgeons worked together on patients, as a team, trying to save them, but there were many whose lives they couldn't save.  He described patients with shrapnel wounds in their eyes, faces, chests, and abdomens, patients whose legs were amputated above the lower limbs. Most, he said, were civilians.

"These are strange ways of destroying the human body," said Dr.Tarazi. "Please, come tomorrow to the Burn Unit, and you will see patients suffering from the use of white phosphorous."

Dr. Tarazi said that he began to understand the extent of the trauma and danger by listening to the stories of wounded and injured patients.

"Some were sitting in their houses when a tank bomb hit them.  They didn't know what  happened to them," said Dr. Attalah. "Survivors would reach the hospital after many of their relatives had been killed."

Patients from Beit Lahia told him that in one home, an extended family of 25 people had been attacked while inside their home.  When relatives came to help them, Israeli snipers shot eight of them. Many of the wounded were left to die.  Ambulances and Red Cross relief workers weren't allowed to enter the area.

At one point, Israel announced a lull in the fighting, but then bombed the Palestine Square, near the municipal offices.  Four people came to the hospital, severely injured.  "We couldn't save them," said Dr. Tarazi.  "Seven others were injured, and they survived."

"In Gaza City, all of the important buildings necessary for maintaining a city have been bombed," said Dr. Tarazi.  "From ministries to civilian police stations, all have been destroyed.  Some were Hamas buildings, but not all."

We had just walked through the area where the buildings housing ministries of justice, education, and culture were completely destroyed.  Driving into Gaza City we saw mosques, factories, houses and schools reduced to rubble. We asked Dr. Tarazi to tell us why, in his opinion, the Israelis had attacked Gaza so fiercely.

He believes that the attacks are essentially irrational but that a main cause for the timing and the magnitude of these attacks is that certain Israeli candidates for upcoming elections want to assure the Israeli public that they are willing to use military force to insure security for Israelis.  "Palestinians all the time pay the taxes in blood," said Dr. Tarazi.

"One of the worst aspects of this war," says Dr. Tarazi, "is the lack of respect for the UN.  Three United Nations Relief and Works Agency
(UNRWA) schools were bombed.  In Jabaliyah, more than 45 people were killed at a UN school; F16s bombed UNRWA supplies and stores."

"In Shifaa Hospital, we saw plumes of smoke for day and night. All Gaza, every day, was covered with smoke and chemicals.  We don't know how it affects the health."

"Yes, 'rocklets' did go out," says Dr. Tarazi, referring to Hamas rockets fired into Israeli towns, "and we felt sympathy for any Israelis hurt by the rocklets.  But, if someone hurts you with a pin, you don't cut off his head.  You ask WHY the person tried to prick you with a pin. Consider that people here are trapped in a prison and there is a shortage of everything.  No one can repair anything. People wanted borders opened so that goods could come and go.  After six months of closed borders, people are frustrated.  Now, one side declares a cease fire, they say nothing about opening the borders, nothing about withdrawal, and yet they want NATO to help tighten the siege."

 "I hope President Obama will be much better than George Bush concerning these things," said Dr. Tarazi.  "Human beings that have such a strong army should be civilized and not behave like a terrorist group.  Fanatics can be expected to use terror, but a democratic state shouldn't use fallacious statements as an excuse for massive killing. A state which does this should be brought before an International Court of Justice."

"And yet," he said, "we must experiment with ways of love. We are trying, with Jewish people…by feelings and actions.  We need to succeed.  We need to live together.  We are trying to be in good relations with all the partners, all the views."

"The strongest weapon all over the world is love," says Dr. Tarazi, adding that he has always believed this and has said this to his colleagues, whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish, throughout his career.  He recalled declaring this same belief at the Eretz border crossing, shortly after the Israelis launched "Operation Cast Lead." He had been among the 200 Christians who were chosen (800 had applied) to cross the border and celebrate the Orthodox Christmas holiday with family members in the West Bank. When the attacks began, he ended his holiday and hurried to the border, knowing he must return to his work and his family.  At the border crossing, he greeted soldiers, "Merry Christmas."  Soldiers answered, "Do you have weapons?"  "Yes," Dr. Tarazi replied, "I have the strongest weapon of all, the weapon of love."
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Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative
Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org)   She and Audrey Stewart are writing from
Gaza.

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Voices for Creative Nonviolence
1249 W Argyle Street #2, Chicago, IL 60640
Phone: (773) 878-3815
E-mail: info@vcnv.org
web: www.vcnv.org
 

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Respite in Gaza
by Kathy Kelly
January 18, 2009, 6 p.m. in Rafah, Gaza

Late last night, a text message notified us that the Israeli government was very close to declaring that they would stop attacking Gaza for one day. Shortly before midnight, we heard huge explosions, four in a row.  Till now, that was the last attack.  Israeli drones flew overhead all night long, but residents of Rafah were finally able to get eight hours of sleep uninterrupted by F16s and Apache helicopters attacking them.

Audrey Stewart and I stayed with Abu Yusif and his family, all of whom had fled their home closer to the border and were staying in that Abu Yusif's brother-in-law, who is out of the country, loaned to him.

The family arose this morning after a comparatively restful slumber.
For the first time in three weeks, they weren't attacked by bombs
throughout the night.   This morning, while his wife prepared
breakfast, he and the children nestled together, on a mat, lining the wall.  Abu Yusif had a son under each arm, while the youngest son playfully circled his siblings and then fell into his father's lap.
Umm Yusif prepared a mixture of date preserves and pine nuts, served with warm bread, cheese and spices. Her daughter smiled in contentment, while her nephew, her husband and a close family friend talked about the news.

The family isn't confident that Israel's attacks will end, nor can they know what Hamas will choose to do, but today residents of Rafah were able to at least begin assessing the damage.  Abu Yusif and his son took us to their home very close to the border.  The house is still standing, --he'll need to repair broken windows and doors, but he is better off than many of his neighbors whose houses are now piles of rubble.

Very near his home are the remnants of tunnels that are now unusable.
A few dozen people picked through the rubble, salvaging wood for fuel.

Young boys carried pieces of wood in remnants of plastic formerly used
to cover tomato plants.   An older man told me he is afraid to carry
even a piece of wood.  Pointing upward, he explained that the unmanned surveillance planes circle the skies all day.  If it appeared that he was carrying a rocket instead of a piece of wood, he might be targeted for assassination.

Sitting around an ashcan fire, people who had maintained the tunnels tell us that they dream of freedom: freedom of movement and basic human rights.  Every person can dream, but human beings in Palestine can't dream of anything else but freedom, to sleep without bombing and to live without suffering from extreme stress.  Fida, who translates for us, tells me she has a terrible headache very day, from the stress.  She feels worse at night.  Her little sister is so terrified that she can't walk a step without help from her mother and sister.

She says that if Israel opens the border there won't be any need to open the tunnels.  If borders don't open, people will rebuild the tunnels.

Hussein tells us about a doctor who worked in an Israeli hospital.
The doctor is a Palestinian who lived in Rafah.  The Israeli hospital where he works is about 100 meters from where we sat.  Last week, the Israelis destroyed his home and killed his children. "Why do you destroy my house?" he asks.  He lost his children and his home, but he still works in the Israeli hospital.  "Israel is experimenting with us, using white phosphorous and other new kinds of bombs."

One man, a teacher, says he hasn't had one day without sorrow.  He listens to the children he teaches tell many stories about how their homes were destroyed.  He hopes his own child and other children like him can live like other children in the world.  He hopes his son, his only child, will have a better life.

"Show the world we are friendly and we don't love war," he tells us.
"Israel forces us to live under these forces.  The war is not only against Palestinians in Gaza.  It is against all Palestinians.  They want us to leave this land, but we can't leave it. They don't want us to wake up safe."

All of the men speaking with us had to leave their homes and find other places to live.

The drones still fly overhead, promising the possibility of further attack.  If Hamas is accused of breaking the cease fire, the people will pay.  Many of these residents who live near the border also fear that if they are spotted anything – even carrying even a stick, the drones overhead will spot them and mistake them for someone carrying a rocket and they will be attacked again.

Abu Yusif examines the damage done to his house.  He tries to fix a broken water heater.  His sons collect a bag of clothing so that everyone in the family can change clothes for the first time in three weeks.  Maybe, just maybe, they'll have another night of sleep.  And, an even more distant dream, perhaps they'll return to their homes in peace.
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Kathy Kelly and Audrey Stewart have been inside Gaza for the last several days.  Kathy is with Voices for Creative Nonviolence
www.vcnv.org   Audrey is a human rights worker and mother of two young
sons in New Orleans.

---
Voices for Creative Nonviolence
1249 W Argyle Street #2, Chicago, IL 60640
Phone: (773) 878-3815
E-mail: info@vcnv.org
web: www.vcnv.org

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Voices for Creative Nonviolence received the following report from
Kathy Kelly at 11:10 a.m. on January 17.  She is currently in the city
of Rafah, in southern Gaza.
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Dear Friends,

Hello from Gaza.  We're in Rafah, in southern Gaza, a small town which
has been fiercely assaulted by the Israeli Air Force for the past
three weeks.  Last night, we stayed in a family home about 450 meters
from the border between Egypt and Gaza.  We were one block away from
the area between the border and Sea Street, (Rafah's main street).
The Israeli military had dropped leaflets over the area, warning
everyone to leave because Israel planned a fierce assault.  Many
residents stay with relatives overnight, but we drove through the area
after sunset and saw numerous children playing in the streets.

Beginning at 12:30 a.m., Israel F-16s and Apache helicopters bombed
the neighborhood once every eleven minutes for about the next 46
minutes.  The bombing resumed at about 3:00 a.m. and again at about
5:00 a.m.  By morning six family homes were destroyed.

Throughout the day, today, the bombing has continued.

One humanitarian worker told us that he has heard of many groups
speaking about agreements that might be made but he said the only
reality is that people are buried in the ground.

Today, we visited Rafah's hospital, the Abu Yusif Al Najaar hospital,
where we briefly met several people who were injured by the bombing,
including two children and a grandmother.  The hospital lacks basic
common surgical tools and the area's pharmacy was destroyed during the
first days of the bombing.

We also visited with Int'l Solidarity Movement workers who told us
that ISM members in the north need more help accompanying ambulances.
At this point, we're told it would be very difficult for us to travel
north because of roadblocks.

At the World Vision office, here in Rafah, the director told us that
not one kilo of cement had come into Rafah over the last two years.
He wondered how they would rebuild after this latest  "catastrophic
and unfair war."

Several families displaced by the bombing are living in a primitive
camp, with plastic for doors, and as many as 17 people crowded into
two separate makeshift shelters, - very cramped quarters.

Very best,

Kathy

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Voices for Creative Nonviolence
1249 W Argyle Street #2, Chicago, IL 60640
Phone: (773) 878-3815
E-mail: info@vcnv.org
web: www.vcnv.org

 

"Suddenly Bombs Started Falling."
A Brief Report From Inside Gaza January 17, 2009 – 1:45 am.

We arrived inside Gaza at 5pm last night.  We were met by Anees, a 23
year old Gazan.  He has guided us around the community.  When we first
came in tonight, kids were playing soccer in the street.  We saw lots
of heavily damaged buildings, especially government buildings and
homes near border.


There was no electricity when we first arrived.  Later it came on for
a while.  People tell us that in some places electricity is on for 2
hours a day, other places as much as 6 hours a day.

We are spending the night in Rafah near Sea Street – about 450 meters
from border, about 1 and a half miles from the Egypt border crossing.
Also staying with us is Dr. Jim Jennings of Conscience International
who is delivering medicines.  Anees told us we could not stay with his
family, because their house is near the border and that is too
dangerous.  So he arranged for us to stay in the home of a friend of
his, Abed.  The rest of Abed's family fled.  Only Abed is here in the
home with us.  People brought us food and tea.  Their hospitality to
us is amazing.

Anees told us tonight that he has no longer wants to make new friends
because so many of his have died.  A new friend may die tomorrow or
disappear.  He knew Rachel Corrie and she was the main reason he
learned English.  Others told us Anees went under fire to help Tom
Hurndall get to the hospital when he was shot by IDF snipers.

At 12:24 am, we were asleep when suddenly bombs started falling.
There were explosions about every 11 minutes.   There were very loud
noises and big bursts of light and everything shook.  We could not
tell where the bombs were hitting.  At 1 am a helicopter flew over and
all the electricity in the neighborhood went out.

It is hard to imagine kids and families going through this night after night.

This is all we can write right now.  Please work to stop the bombing.

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Kathy Kelly is with Voices for Creative Nonviolence.  Audrey Stewart
is a human rights worker with Loyola University New Orleans.  They
have been in Egypt since January 8, 2009.

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Voices for Creative Nonviolence
1249 W Argyle Street #2, Chicago, IL 60640
Phone: (773) 878-3815
E-mail: info@vcnv.org
web: www.vcnv.org

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Gaza: 10 Arrested at Senator Durbin's office in Chicago
January 16, 2009

10 social justice advocates were arrested today in the Chicago office of Senator Dick Durbin in response to the Gaza crisis.

They sought a public statement from Senator Durbin that would call upon Israel to:

1) end its military offensive against Gaza;
2) withdraw all of its military forces from Gaza; and,
3) open the border crossings with Gaza to allow for the free and unfettered flow of humanitarian supplies into Gaza.

Four participants met briefly with two staff members from the Senator’s office. At the conclusion of the meeting, they informed the Senator’s staff that they would not leave the office until the Senator issued the public statement. The 10 were directed to leave the office after the meeting ended. Subsequently, ten individuals were arrested on federal charges for “failure to comply with a lawful directive to leave the office.” All have since been released.

Participants in the action came from: Voices for Creative Nonviolence; 8th Day Center for Justice; Francis of Assisi House Catholic Worker; Palestine Solidarity Group Chicago; Fight Back News; Christian Peacemaker Teams Chicago; and Strangers & Guests Catholic Worker Farm.

They delivered the following letter to Senator Durbin at the time of the action:

Dear Senator Durbin,

On 31 December 2008 you stated:

“I understand and support Israel’s defense of its borders from rocket attacks by Hamas.”

By that day, at least 315 Palestinians, including 41 children and nine women, had been killed and more than 900 injured by Israel’s air strikes on the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip that failed to differentiate between military and civilian objects. (Statistics: Al Mezan Center for Human Rights)

Israel continues to bombard the 1.5 million stateless Palestinians in Gaza — half of whom are children and refugees and because of Israel’s closure of the borders, have nowhere to flee — using US-supplied and -manufactured weaponry from the ground, sea and air.

War crimes against civilians

Israel has in all likelihood committed war crimes in its ongoing military operations in the Gaza Strip. One example of many, on 6 January 2009, 43 Palestinians who had fled Israeli shelling in other areas and were taking shelter in the United Nations-administered Fakhoura school in the Jabaliya refugee camp were killed after two Israeli tank shells exploded outside the school. The United Nations agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) had given Israeli authorities the Global Positioning System coordinates of all of its installations in Gaza and categorically denied Israeli claims, later retracted, that Palestinian armed fighters had fired on Israeli troops from inside the school.

Israel’s military operations on the Gaza Strip indicate a reckless disregard for human life and a failure to distinguish civilian from military objects. For example, as the human rights organization Al-Haq reported, Israel’s 27 December 2008 “aerial bombardment of the civil police compound in Gaza City … killed 65 out of 70 police officers who were involved in a training course.” According to Al-Haq, “[T]he Civil Police is comprised of civilian police officers whose primary task, similar to any civilian police force, is the maintenance of civic order within the Gaza Strip. They serve no military function and are therefore not combatants.” The same principle applies to representatives of the political wing of the Hamas party “who play no part in commanding or controlling the military wing of Hamas and who do not take direct part in hostilities are civilians and not a legitimate military target,” including Nizar Rayyan, who was killed along with 15 members of his family (including 11 children) when his home in the Jabaliya refugee camp was hit in an Israeli air strike. (Al-Haq Brief: Legal Aspects of Israel’s Attacks on the Gaza Strip during “Operation Cast Lead,” 7 January 2009)

Israel’s claims of self-defense

Israel claims to be carrying out its massive military campaign on the Gaza Strip to protect its population from rockets fired by Hamas towards Israel from the Gaza Strip. While Israel is obligated to protect its civilian population, any response it takes “must respect the fundamental international humanitarian law principles of military necessity, proportionality and distinction” between military and civilian objects. “The conduct of hostilities during ‘Operation Cast Lead’ can under no circumstances be considered in accordance with these principles,” according to Al-Haq.

Furthermore, a military response must only be taken as a matter of last resort and force is only lawful if peaceful attempts failed. On this principle, Israel has failed as well. During the six-month ceasefire between resistance groups in the Gaza Strip and Israel, which was brokered by Egypt in June of 2008, Hamas refrained from firing rockets from the Gaza Strip and prevented other groups from doing so as well. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ own documents illustrate that during the period of the ceasefire, the number of rocket and mortars fired from Gaza were reduced by 97 percent (see “The Hamas terror war against Israel,” Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1 January 2009). However, Israel did not fulfill its obligations to ease the embargo that it has imposed on the Gaza Strip, collectively punishing the civilian population, in contravention of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel also breached the ceasefire on 4 November 2008 when it extra-judicially executed six Hamas members. Hamas’ behavior during the ceasefire gives much indication that had Israel upheld its obligations under the ceasefire, civilians in the south of Israel could have been spared rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. By tightening instead of easing its measures of illegal collective punishment on the civilian population of the Gaza Strip — through the closure of the borders which has resulted in shortages of necessary commodities such as wheat flour, cooking gas and medicines, and by resuming its illegal extrajudicial execution operations — Israel has not only shown reckless disregard towards Palestinian civilian life, which as the Occupying Power of the Gaza Strip it is obligated to protect, but has failed to protect the lives of its own civilians as well.

The United States’ obligations to protect civilians

International human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have decried Israel’s ongoing attacks on the civilian population and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip and along with Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations, call on the international community including state parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, including the US, to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law and ensure the protection of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip.

The United States has a special role in Israel’s war crimes in the Gaza Strip as it provides arms and monetary grants to the Israeli army, despite Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and other Arab territories since 1967 — the belligerent nature of which must be noted, as the ongoing massacres in the Gaza Strip are only the latest chapter of Israel’s violent repression of Palestinians struggling for their right to national self-determination. According to an 8 January 2009 report by Inter Press Service, “The administration of President George W. Bush alone has provided for 21 billion dollars in US security assistance [to Israel] over the last eight years, including 19 billion dollars in direct military aid as freebies,” fueling Israel’s military operation in Gaza.

Particularly troubling are reports by Palestinian medics in Gaza of severe and unusual burns in the victims of Israeli strikes, consistent with the chemical weapon, white phosphorous, possibly supplied by the United States. These reports are affirmed by Human Rights Watch, whose observers have witnessed “multiple air-bursts of artillery-fired white phosphorous over what appeared to be the Gaza City/Jabaliya area” on 9 and 10 January. According to Human Rights Watch, the use of white phosphorous is permissible when used as an “obscurant,” but Israel’s use of white phosphorous “in densely populated areas of Gaza violates the requirement under international humanitarian law to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian injury and loss of life.” (Human Rights Watch, 10 January 2009) It should also be noted that Israel has banned the entry of human rights observers and international journalists (except for a few of the latter who were allowed to be embedded with an Israeli combat unit), which has frustrated the work of international human rights organizations and United Nations bodies and reporters wishing to investigate and document human rights violations in the Gaza Strip.

Demands of Senator Durbin:

1. Examination of military aid to Israel

The news agency Reuters reported on 9 January 2008 that “In September, the US Congress approved the sale of 1,000 bunker-buster missiles to Israel … The Jerusalem Post, citing defense officials, reported last week that a first shipment of the missiles had arrived in early December” and were used by Israel in its operations in the Gaza Strip.

Furthermore, on 14 January 2009, Amnesty International called for the embargo on arms to all parties engaged in the hostilities in Gaza, especially calling for the embargo of a ship which left the US on 20 December 2008 carrying a large consignment of high explosives and other munitions and which is destined to Ashdod port in southern Israel. According to Amnesty, “Tenders for two other arms shipments totaling 325 containers of US munitions were approved by the Pentagon on 31 December, four days after the start of Israel’s current attacks on targets in Gaza. … Tender documents show that these shipments contain white phosphorous, known for its potential to cause severe burns and an indiscriminate weapon when used as an airburst in densely-populated civilian areas as now alleged in Gaza.” Amnesty added, “In addition to locally produced arms, Israeli forces are carrying out unlawful attacks using foreign weaponry and other military equipment supplied mainly by the USA but also from other countries … .”

We demand Senator Durbin to immediately issue a Senate bill that calls for an examination of Israel’s compliance with the Arms Export Control Act of 1976 (AECA), considering that the vast majority of those killed in Israel’s offensive on the Gaza Strip are non-combatant civilians, more than a quarter of them women and children, and civilian objects such as schools, mosques and houses are being targeted, according to statistics made available by Al Mezan on 11 January 2009. The shipment of these arms to Israel must be suspended so long as Israel continues to target the civilian population in the Gaza Strip and commit severe breaches of international humanitarian law including war crimes there. The US must also investigate Israel’s use of white phosphorous bombs as anti-personnel munitions, and whether these bombs were supplied by, manufactured or licensed in the US.

2. Protection of the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza

In the interest of protecting the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza, the United States, through all measures at its disposal, must hold Israel accountable to international law, especially through the US’s role at the United Nations Security Council. The failure of the United Nations Security Council to call for an immediate ceasefire as soon as Israel’s air strikes began is deplorable. Israel willfully killed hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza while political considerations prevented the United Nations Security Council from urgently taking action to protect civilian life. No doubt, the United States’ historical role as Israel’s lawyer at the United Nations had a role in the two-week delay before Resolution 1860 was passed, calling for a full withdrawal of Israel forces from Gaza and a ceasefire. Shamefully, the United States abstained from the vote. By not calling for a halt to the violence, and by arming Israel, United States officials are aiding and abetting war crimes and liable to prosecution. We call upon the US to demand that Israel immediately withdraw from the Gaza Strip and end its bombardment of the occupied territory, and urge Senator Durbin to initiate a binding vote to that effect.

3. End the siege of collective punishment on Gaza and recognize democratically elected Palestinian representatives

Furthermore, as a party of the International Quartet for Middle East Peace, the United States has colluded with Israel’s nearly two-year-long siege of collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza. We call for an immediate lifting of the siege of Gaza and an end of the boycott of and the beginning of negotiations with the democratically elected representatives of the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation. The borders to Gaza must be immediately and unconditionally opened so that Palestinians in Gaza may be able to acquire commodities necessary for their right to health and a dignified life. Israel’s siege has brought economic life to a standstill, and has resulted in the deaths of patients suffering treatable diseases. Because of the Israeli-imposed border closure that has manufactured a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, on 18 December 2008, UNRWA was forced to cease its food aid distribution to 750,000 registered refugees there. The military siege of Gaza has only exacerbated the widespread lack of access to adequate food.

4. Unconditional support of Israel must be reconsidered

According to a Rasmussen poll of American public opinion towards Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip, the findings of which were released on 31 December, only 31 percent of respondents who identified as Democrats agreed with Israel’s decision to take military action against Gaza — the majority of Democratic respondents said that Israel should have tried to find a diplomatic solution first. There is a deep rift between the popular opinion of Democrats in the US and the Democratic leadership, which continues to act in lockstep with Israel. More than 1,000 murdered Palestinians in the Gaza Strip indicate that it is high time for the Democratic leadership to take a principled position and uphold Palestinian rights.

Contact: Jeff@vcnv.org

*****************************************************

Caoimhe Butterly, an Irish human
rights activist who worked with Voices in prior years in Iraq, is
already in Gaza.  Following is an article from Caoimhe.
----------

Still Breathing
By Caoimhe Butterly in Gaza
January 16, 2009

 

The morgues of Gaza's hospitals are over-flowing. The bodies- in their blood-soaked white shrouds- cover the entire floor space  of the Shifa'a hospital's morgue.
Some are intact, most horribly deformed,
limbs twisted into unnatural positions, chest cavities exposed, heads
blown off, skulls crushed in. Family members wait outside to identify
and claim a brother, husband, father, mother, wife, child. Many of
those who wait their turn have lost numerous family members and loved
ones.

Blood is everywhere- hospital orderlies hose down the floors of
operating rooms, bloodied bandages lie discarded in corners, and the
injured continue to pour in- bodies lacerated by shrapnel, burns,
bullet wounds. Medical workers, exhausted, and under siege, work day
and night and each life saved is seen as a victory over the
predominance of death.

The streets of Gaza are eerily silent- the pulsing life and rhythm of
markets, children, fishermen walking down to the sea at dawn brutally
stilled and replaced by an atmosphere of uncertainty, isolation and
fear. The ever-present sounds of surveillance drones, F16s, tanks and
Apaches are listened to acutely as residents try to guess where the
next deadly strike will be- which house, school, clinic, mosque,
governmental building or community centre will be hit next and how to
move before it does. That there are no safe places- no refuge for
vulnerable human bodies- is felt acutely. It is a devastating
awareness for parents- that there is no way to keep their children
safe.

As we continue to accompany the ambulances, joining Palestinian
paramedics as they risk their lives, daily, to respond to calls from
those with no other life-line, our existence becomes temporarily
narrowed down and focused on the few precious minutes that make the
difference between life and death. With each new call received as we
ride in ambulances that careen down broken, silent roads, sirens and
lights blaring, there exists a battle of life over death. We have
learned the language of the war that the Israelis are waging on the
collective captive population of Gaza- to distinguish between the
sounds of the weaponry used, the timing between the first missile
strikes and the inevitable second- targeting those that rush to tend
to and evacuate the wounded, to recognize the signs of the different
chemical weapons being used in this onslaught, to overcome the initial
vulnerability of recognizing our own  mortality.

Though many of the calls received are to pick up bodies, not the
wounded, the necessity of affording the dead a dignified burial drives
the paramedics to face the deliberate targeting of their colleagues
and comrades- thirteen killed while evacuating the wounded, fourteen
ambulances destroyed- and to continue to search for the shattered
bodies of the dead to bring home to their families.

Last night, while sitting with paramedics in Jabaliya refugee camp,
drinking tea and listening to their stories, we received a call to
respond to the aftermath of a missile strike. When we arrived at the
outskirts of the camp where the attack had taken place the area was
filled with clouds of dust, torn electricity lines, slabs of concrete
and open water pipes gushing water into the street. Amongst the
carnage of severed limbs and blood we pulled out the body of a young
man, his chest and face lacerated by shrapnel wounds, but alive-
conscious and moaning.

As the ambulance sped him through the cold night we applied pressure
to his wounds, the warmth of his blood seeping through the bandages
reminder of the life still in him. He opened his eyes in answer to my
questions and closed them again as Muhammud, a volunteer paramedic,
murmured "ayeesh, nufuss"- live, breathe- over and over to him. He
lost consciousness as we arrived at the hospital, received into the
arms of friends who carried him into the emergency room. He, Majid,
lived and is recovering.

A few minutes later there was another missile strike, this time on a
residential house. As we arrived a crowd had rushed to the ruins of
the four story home in an attempt to drag survivors out from under the
rubble. The family the house belonged to had evacuated the area the
day before and the only person in it at the time of the strike was 17
year old Muhammud who had gone back to collect clothes for his family.
He was dragged out from under the rubble still breathing- his legs
twisted in unnatural directions and with a head wound, but alive.
There was no choice but to move him, with the imminence of a possible
second strike, and he lay in the ambulance moaning with pain and
calling for his mother. We thought he would live, he was conscious
though in intense pain and with the rest of the night consumed with
call after call to pick up the wounded, the and the dead, I forgot to
check on him.. This morning we were called to pick up a body from
Shifaa hospital in Gaza city to take back to Jabaliya. We carried a
body wrapped in a blood-soaked white shroud into the ambulance, and it
wasn't until we were on the road that we realized that it was
Muhammud's body. His brother rode with us, opening the shroud to
tenderly kiss Muhammud's forehead.

This morning we received news that Al-Quds hospital in Gaza city was
under siege. We tried unsuccessfully for hours to gain access to the
hospital, trying to organize co-ordination to get the ambulances past
Israeli tanks and snipers to evacuate the wounded and dead. Hours of
unsuccessful attempts later we received a call from the Shujahiya
neighborhood, describing a house where there were both dead and
wounded patients to pick up. The area was deserted, many families
having fled as Israeli tanks and snipers took up position amongst
their homes, other silent in the dark, cold confines of their homes,
crawling from room to room to avoid sniper fire through their windows.

As we drove slowly around the area, we heard womens' cries for help.
We approached their house on foot, followed by the ambulances and as
we came to the threshold of their home, they rushed towards us with
their children, shaking and crying with shock. At the door of the
house the ambulance lights exposed the bodies of four men, lacerated
by shrapnel wounds- the skull and brains of one exposed, others whose
limbs had been severed off. The four were the husbands and brothers of
the women, who had ventured out to search for bread and food for their
families. Their bodies were still warm as we struggled to carry them
on stretchers over the uneven ground, their blood staining the earth
and our clothes. As we prepared to leave the area our torches
illuminated the slumped figure of another man, his abdomen and chest
shredded by shrapnel. With no space in the other ambulances, and the
imminent possibility of sniper fire, we were forced to take his body
in a body bag in the back of the ambulance carrying the women and
children. One of the little girls stared at me before coming into my
arms and telling me her name- Fidaa', which means to sacrifice. She
stared at the body bag, asking when he would wake up.

Once back at the hospital we received word that the Israeli army had
shelled the Al Quds hospital, that the ensuing fire risked spreading
and that there had been a 20-minute time-frame negotiated to evacuate
patients, doctors and residents in the surrounding houses. By the time
we got up there in a convoy of ambulances, hundreds of people had
gathered. With the shelling of the UNRWA compound and the hospital
there was a deep awareness that no-where in Gaza was safe, or sacred.

We helped evacuate those assembled to near-by hospitals and schools
that have been opened to receive the displaced. The scenes were deeply
saddening- families, desperate and carrying their children, blankets
and bags of their possessions venturing out in the cold night to try
to find a corner of a school or hospital to shelter in. The paramedic
we were with referred to the displacement of the over 46,000 Gazan
Palestinians now on the move as a continuation of the ongoing Nakba of
dispossession and exile seen through generation after generation
enduring massacre after massacre.

Today's death toll was over 75, one of the bloodiest days since the
start of this carnage. Over 1,110 Palestinians have been killed in the
past 21 days. 367 of those have been children. The humanitarian
infrastructure of Gaza is on it's knees- already devastated by two
years of comprehensive siege. There has been a deliberate, systematic
destruction of all places of refuge. There are no safe places here,
for anyone.

And yet, in the face of so much desecration, this community has
remained intact. The level of social solidarity and support between
people is inspiring, and the steadfastness of Gazan Palestinians
continues to humble and inspire all those who witness it. The level of
sacrifice demands our collective response- and a recognition that
demonstrations are not enough. Gaza, Palestine and it's people
continue to live, breathe, resist and remain intact and this refusal
to be broken is a call and challenge to us all.

----------
Caoimhe (pronounced "Cueeva") Butterly is an Irish human rights
activist presently in Gaza working in Jabaliya and Gaza city as a
volunteer with ambulance services and as co-coordinator for the Free
Gaza Movement, She can be contacted on 00970-598273960 or at
sahara78@hotmail.co.uk.

---
Voices for Creative Nonviolence
1249 W Argyle Street #2, Chicago, IL 60640
Phone: (773) 878-3815
E-mail: info@vcnv.org
web: www.vcnv.org

Last week's news: 1/6/09 About 150 people joined together at the state capitol to speak out for the victims of war, in Gaza, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan. Many members of Madison's Palestinian-American community were present, and the Israeli attack on Gaza was the subject of many of the signs carried. The marchers delivered a  letter to Senator Herb Kohl's office and to Representative Tammy Baldwin's office. A smaller group went by car caravan to deliver the same petition to Senator Feingold's office in Middleton. Neither Kohl, nor Feingold, nor Baldwin has made any public statement on the Israeli attacks on Gaza. (photo: Steve Elbow/Capital Times)

News reports:

Capital Times: Local protesters criticize U.S. lawmakers for silence on military aggression

Wisconsin Public Radio: Local Protests Staged in Response to Gaza Conflict

Wisconsin Radio Network: Ghostly specters of war

Photo: Wisconsin Radio Network