Renewed Gaza truce holds
JERUSALEM: Israel and Palestinians in Gaza were holding their fire Thursday after a new truce got off to a shaky start with overnight Palestinian rocket fire followed by Israeli airstrikes.
Late on Wednesday, negotiators in Cairo brokered an 11th-hour extension to an existing truce, with the warring sides agreeing to lower their guns for another five days to allow for continued negotiations over a long-term cease-fire.
But even beforehand, a rocket struck southern Israel with another hitting in the following hours, the army said, without specifying whether they were fired before or after the new truce came into effect at midnight local time.
Israeli warplanes hit back with four airstrikes, Palestinian security officials said, saying the skies fell silent at around 3:00 a.m.
“An agreement to extend the cease-fire for five days has been accepted by both sides to allow more time for negotiations,” an Egyptian foreign ministry statement said.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Azzam Al-Ahmed said the delegations had reached “agreement on many points” over lifting Israel’s eight-year blockade on Gaza, although they needed more time to settle a number of remaining disputes.Israel also confirmed its acceptance of the Egyptian proposal.
On the ground, there was great uncertainty among both peoples about the latest extension.
“It’s very, very difficult not to be at home, enough!” said Michal Admoni, an Israeli who has been living away from her home in kibbutz Kfar Aza for more than a month.
Just a few kilometers across the border, in Gaza’s battered Shejaiya neighborhood, Mohamed Ibrahim Aateysh was brewing sweet mint tea inside his destroyed home with his family.
“The cease-fire is nonsense. We want stability in the country,” he said wearily.
Since the conflict began on July 8, 1,962 Palestinians and 67 on the Israeli side have been killed.
If observed, the latest truce should herald potentially the longest period of calm in the five-week conflict and allow more time for talks on the thorniest issues separating the two sides.
An earlier truce collapsed in a firestorm of violence on Aug. 8.As the deadline approached, dozens of Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers approached the Gaza border, raising fears the violence could resume.
“We have already sacrificed 64 men and it is possible we may have to sacrifice more,” chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said at a military ceremony.
In Cairo, Egyptian mediators proposed that talks on a seaport and airport in Gaza be delayed until a month after a permanent cease-fire takes effect, according to documents seen by AFP.
Negotiations over the exchange of the remains of two dead Israeli soldiers for the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel would also be postponed.
An Israeli-imposed buffer zone inside the Gaza border would be gradually reduced, and eventually policed by forces under Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Israel has said it will facilitate Gaza’s reconstruction only if the enclave is fully disarmed, a demand rejected by the Palestinians.
Palestinian resistance factions and civil society in Gaza demand that Israel abide by international law and lift the seven-year-long siege and blockade, enforced by Egypt, as part of the terms for a lasting ceasefire.
Gaza-based professor, scholar and boycott activist Haidar Eid says that even if Israel and Egypt lift the siege and allow unrestricted reconstruction materials into Gaza via its seven crossing points, it could take up to ten years to restore Gaza to the state it was in even before the attacks began last month.
Since Israel’s onslaught began on 7 July, the United Nations estimates that 16,800 homes belonging to “16,735 families, consisting of approximately 100,410 individuals, have no home to return to as they were totally destroyed or heavily damaged.”
The Electronic Intifada interviewed Eid on Wednesday evening Palestine time. He had just returned from a day visiting people in Khuzaa town near Khan Younis in southern Gaza, where it was recently revealed that Israeli soldiers had summarily executed fleeing civilians carrying white flags and fired on paramedics and rescue workers.
“You could also see resilience”
“The level of the devastation is something … that I cannot really describe,” Eid recounted. “The destroyed houses, the demolished houses. There are still dead animals there, that people couldn’t even move. Hundreds of them. Hundreds of sheep, hundreds of cows.
“And the smell — the smell of some of the dead bodies, corpses under the rubble. And the stories that you are told by people — you could see the pain and the horror in the eyes of the people, but you could also see resilience.”
People in Khuzaa whom Eid met told him that they support the ongoing resistance by Palestinian fighters against Israel’s occupation army.
“People would complain and tell you about what Israeli soldiers would do,” Eid said. “But at the same time, they would say: we support resistance. And we think that resistance should go on, because we cannot go on living like this. We cannot go on living like animals. We want an end to this siege, but the end of the siege must also lead to our own freedom.’”
Why Gaza Fought Back
Time changes everything. Time has changed Gaza. But the strip was never a passive place of people subsisting on hand-outs or a pervasive sense of victimhood. Being a freedom fighter preceded any rational thinking about life and the many choices it had to offer growing up in a refugee camp, and all the little kids of my generation wanted to join the Fedayeen.
But options for Gazans are becoming much more limited than ever before, even for my generation.
Since Israel besieged Gaza with Egypt’s help and coordination, life for Gazans has become largely about mere survival. The strip has been turned into a massive ground for an Israeli experiment concerned with population control. Gazans were not allowed to venture out, fish, or farm, and those who got even close to some arbitrary “buffer zone,” determined by the Israeli army within Gaza’s own borders, were shot and often killed.
With time the population of the strip knew that they were alone. The short stint that brought Mohammed Morsi to power in Egypt offered Gaza some hope and a respite, but it soon ended. The siege, after the overthrow of Morsi became tighter than ever before.
The Palestinian leadership in Ramallah did very little to help Gaza. To ensure the demise of Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority carried on with its “security coordination” with Israel, as Gaza suffered a Draconian siege. There was no question, that after all the failed attempts at breaking the siege and the growing isolation of Gaza, Gazans had to find their own way out of the blockade.
When Israeli began its bombardment campaign of Gaza on July 6, and a day later with the official launch of the so-called Operation Protective Edge, followed by a ground invasion, it may have seemed that Gaza was ready to surrender.
Political analysts have been advising that Hamas has been at its weakest following the downturn of the Arab Spring, the loss of its Egyptian allies, and the dramatic shift of its fortunes in Syria and, naturally Iran. The “Hamas is ready to fold” theory was advanced by the logic surrounding the unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah; and unity was seen largely as a concession by Hamas to Abbas’ Fatah movement, which continued to enjoy western political backing and monetary support.
The killing of three Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank in late June was the opportunity for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to test the misleading theory on Hamas’ weakened position. He launched his war that eventually mounted into a genocide, hoping that Hamas and other resistance groups would be forced to disarm or be completely eradicated – as promised by various Israeli officials.
But it didn’t. From the very first days of the war it became clear the resistance could not be defeated, at least not as easily as Netanyahu had expected. The more troops he invested in the war on Gaza, the more Israeli army casualties increased. Netanyahu’s response was to increase the price of Palestinian resistance by inflicting as much harm on Palestinian civilians as possible: He killed over 1,900, wounded nearly 10,000, a vast majority of whom were civilians, and destroyed numerous schools, mosques, hospitals, and thousands of homes, thus sending hundreds of thousands of people on the run. But where does one run when there is nowhere to go?
Israel’s usual cautious political discourse was crumbling before Gaza’s steadfastness. Israeli officials and media began to openly call for genocide. Middle East commentator Jeremy Salt explained:
“The more extreme of the extreme amongst the Zionists say out loud that the Palestinians have to be wiped out or at the very least driven into Sinai,” he wrote, citing Moshe Feiglin, the deputy of the Israeli Knesset, who called for “full military conquest of the Gaza strip and the expulsion of its inhabitants. They would be held in tent encampments along the Sinai border while their final destination was decided. Those who continued to resist would be exterminated.
From Israeli commentator Yochanan Gordon, who flirted with genocide in “when genocide is permissible,” to Ayelet Shaked, who advocated the killing of the mothers of those who resist and are killed by Israel. “They should follow their sons. Nothing would be more just. They should go as should the physical houses in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise more little snakes are raised,” he wrote on Facebook.
References to genocide and extermination and other devastatingly violent language are no longer “claims” levied by Israeli critics, but a loud and daily self-indictment made by the Israelis themselves.
The Israelis are losing control of their decades-long hasbara, a propaganda scheme so carefully knitted and implemented, many the world over were fooled by it. Palestinians, those in Gaza in particular, were never blind to Israel’s genocidal intentions. They assembled their resistance with the full knowledge that a fight for their very survival awaited.
Israel’s so-called Protective Edge is the final proof of Israel’s unabashed face, that of genocide. It carried it out, this time paying little attention to the fact that the whole world was watching. Trending Twitter hashtags which began with #GazaUnderAttack, then #GazaResists, quickly morphed to #GazaHolocaust. The latter was used by many that never thought they would dare make such comparisons.
Gaza managed to keep Israel at bay in a battle of historic proportions. Once its children are buried, it will once again rebuild its defenses for the next battle. For Palestinians in Gaza, this is not about mere resistance strategies, but their very survival.
Ramzy Baroud is a PhD scholar in People’s History at the University of Exeter. He is the Managing Editor of Middle East Eye. Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).
Water Disaster Hits Every Single Person In Gaza
By Ali Abunimah
14 August, 2014
Right now, none of the 1.8 million Palestinians living in the occupied and besieged Gaza Strip has access to a safe and secure supply of water.
The water situation was already severe before Israel’s bombardment began on 7 July. But now water experts are calling it a disaster.
Ninety percent of wells, wastewater treatment plants and desalination plants cannot operate due to power cuts and lack of fuel.
Monther Shublak, director of Gaza’s Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, says that much of the infrastructure has been damaged by Israeli bombing.
This includes Gaza’s central sewage pumping station which was recently upgraded with German taxpayer funding.
The wastewater treatment facility in Gaza was hit twice, he says, and could cause an environmental disaster in Gaza City.
Three wells and “a long list of water carriers and wastewater carriers” were damaged or destroyed all over the Gaza Strip, he says.
The Beach Well, which provides seawater to the only functioning desalination plant, was also destroyed.
Water workers killed
Trying to maintain the flow of water to people has been incredibly dangerous. Seven water technicians were killed while on duty at the height of the Israeli attack when almost half of Gaza’s territory was declared a no-go zone (see infographic below).
One of the workers, technician Zeyad Al Shawi, died on 14 July from critical injuries he suffered during an Israeli airstrike on 12 July as he opened valves to supply water to people in Rafah, southern Gaza, the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility reported.
Due to the risks, workers could not access areas to carry out repairs or to operate pumps and open and close valves to direct water to different neighborhoods.
Repairs are also hampered because Israel’s eight-year-long siege prevents the importation of needed materials.
Water experts estimate the damage to be at least $20 million.
“The money of taxpayers or UN agencies is again and again wasted … during these endless wars,” Shublak says, referring to the constant cycle of donor-funded infrastructure being destroyed by Israel and then repaired with international aid.
Living without water
Fatma, a 45-year-old mother of nine from the heavily bombed Shujaiya neighborhood speaks about the difficulty of living with the unsanitary and health-threatening conditions caused by the water crisis.
She and her family were displaced to a school run by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees. Three thousand people took shelter in that school alone and Fatma and her family are living in a classroom with 41 people.
“Contamination of water and lack of hygiene in the bathrooms can cause health problems,” she says. “We have so many children experiencing diarrhea and fever and they have to be treated now. We don’t want to risk the health of our children.”
A quarter of Gaza’s population was displaced at the height of Israel’s attack. As of yesterday, 370,000 people remain in temporary shelter, according to the UN.
Up to 100,000 people will need to be permanently rehoused because their homes were destroyed or severely damaged.
Gaza water disaster
The infographic below, produced by EWASH (the Emergency Water and Sanitation-Hygiene Group), highlights some of the facts about the Gaza water disaster.
It summarizes key facts about the critical damage to the water, sanitation and hygiene sector during the Israeli assault on Gaza, between 8 July and 5 August.
EWASH (ewash.org) is a coordinating body made up various stakeholders in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector in the occupied Palestinian territories. These include national and international nongovernmental organizations, UN agencies, academic and research institutions, the Palestinian Water Authority, the West Bank Water Department and the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility in Gaza.
You can also download the infographic as a PDF.
EWASH also produced and published both of the videos included in this post.
Ali Abunimah is Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.