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Israel War Crimes: Gaza Sea… Bullet for Eac h Fish

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  • Zafar Khan
    Gaza Sea… Bullet for Each Fish Wed. Apr. 1, 2009
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 5, 2009
      Gaza Sea… Bullet for Each Fish
      Wed. Apr. 1, 2009


      GAZA CITY —Sea has always been Ibrahim Shahada's life. For years he used to join fellow fishermen heading to the shores with the first sun beams.
      Today, the 50-year old Gazan says the word sea has become a synonym of fear and death.

      "We are now terribly terrified every time we try to get into the sea," Shahada told IslamOnline.net.

      "it's not that we fear the rolling sea waves, but the much more dangerous Israeli war machines yearning for a chance to shoot at us."

      Along with the 40km Gaza seashore, Israeli military ships keep roving to threaten any Palestinian boat that dares to get any deeper into the water.

      "As soon as we log into the sea, we face a sudden burst of machine gunfire rattling from their military ships," Shahada said.

      "Many of us opt to get back to the shores."

      Abu-Lou'ai Shehata, a Palestinian fisherman in his fourth decade, says he escaped the Israel death machines with a miracle.

      "I survived with a miracle after an Israeli shell hit my boat few days ago," he told IOL.

      "Shooting fishermen is now a daily routine for Israelis that my family presses me to end my career."

      Just last week, a Palestinian fisherman was injured when Israeli naval boats opened fire on fishermen who gathered at the beach near the Beit Lahyia town in the central Gaza Strip.

      Last October, Andrew Muncie, a Scottish human rights activist, has filmed the Israeli navy firing machine guns at unarmed Palestinian fishing boats off the coast of the Gaza Strip.

      The footage, taken on September 6, showed an Israeli gunboat engaging fishing boats while international observers hold their arms in the air and scream for them to stop firing.

      During the past 12 months, Israeli naval forces have killed eight Palestinian fishermen.


      Not only the Israeli fire that turns fishermen life into a nightmare. There is also the Israeli restrictions and the stifling siege that leaves them struggling to make ends meet.

      "Even If we managed to escape the Israeli fire, we usually end up with few fishes that barely make up for the price of our boat fuel," Yasser Ramadan, another fisherman, said.

      "We r lucky if any money was left to bring food to our tables."

      The blockade Israel imposed on Gaza since 2007 is causing severe shortages of fuel and gas supplies - the backbone of the fishing business.

      Helpless and desperate, the fishermen are even using cooking oil to run the engines of their boats.

      Worse still, now after the Israeli 22-day offensive on Gaza which ended last January, fishermen say their boats and fishing gear have been damaged so much that many can't fish any more.

      "My boat was damaged by the Israel fire. I can not afford to repair it anyway," Shehata says.

      Under the Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, Palestinian fishermen have the right to sail up to 20 miles from the Gazan coast.

      After the latest offensive, Israel has reduced this limit, however, to only three miles.

      Shehata says that the real death for any fisherman is to stay at shores while his livelihood is right in front of him, but inaccessible.

      "I'm a sailor who can't sail. I'm a fisherman who has not tasted fish for months," he lamented in a sad voice.

      Shahada, the elderly fisherman, is filled with grief that being caught between Israel's fire and blockade, his longtime profession is sinking.

      "We used to hunt from 60-70 fish kgs a day. Today, we hardly get 5 kgs.

      "The good old days has gone."

      'Gaza wears a face of misery'

      By Adam Makary


      Philip Rizk, 27, a freelance journalist and blogger who has been reporting from Gaza since 2005, was arrested by Egyptian security forces after a pro-Palestinian rally in Cairo on February 6.

      He was released a few days later without being charged.

      While in Gaza, he filmed The Palestinian Life, a documentary highlighting non-violent means of resistance against the Israeli occupation.

      The film is premiering at the London International Documentary Festival on April 4. Here are excerpts from an interview Rizk gave to Al Jazeera shortly before the film’s debut.

      Al Jazeera: Why were you detained and subsequently released by Egyptian authorities at the rally in Cairo?

      Rizk: On February 6, I was part of a demonstration of 15 protesters against the Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip. We started from the outskirts of Cairo and walked in the direction toward Gaza. Some 12km later, we were stopped by security forces that singled me out from the rest. I was forced into their car; they blindfolded me and I had no idea where I was going. One of the protesters was a lawyer who had a car, so he and others followed the car which took me.

      The police set up security checkpoints to slow them down and eventually they lost my trail.

      The security men took me to three holding stations. By the time I arrived at the third destination, they gave me a number, 29, told me to forget my name and that's where I stayed for four days. They interrogated me about everything I had ever done in my life: where I was born, who I knew ... everything.

      They didn't charge me with anything, but while I was being interrogated, they accused me of being an Israeli spy. They also said I was dealing weapons to Hamas. So it seemed like they were trying to figure out what I was all about to put a file together on me.

      You've been reporting from Gaza over the past couple of years and one of the first journalists allowed access through the tunnels. Are Palestinians still using them?

      I lived in Gaza from 2005 to 2007 and worked there for an NGO called the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation.

      Gaza wears a face of misery and the living conditions are unimaginable. Unless you visit, you wouldn't be able to picture the kind of agony Gazans have to live through on a daily basis. They function with whatever is available.

      I was completely shocked when I returned in the summer of 2008. I discovered these tunnels myself and I couldn't believe how out in the open they were. In the past, I had heard the entrances were from inside people's living rooms, under their beds, or underneath a table, making it hard to find if ever an Israeli soldier would search their homes.

      Last summer, I came across hundreds of tents, and underneath each of these tents were entrance points to hundreds of these tunnels. Egyptians and Israelis were well aware of them as these tunnels were all the people had as a means of transporting food and goods.

      At least 85 per cent of the people are dependent on food aid. If the amount of aid was reduced, they would starve.

      Refugee camps receive flour, oil and rice as aid and without these donations; they would not be able to survive.

      They may be living but they're not alive. There isn't work to do; they've lost their dignity because of lack of work caused largely by the siege. Fathers have nothing to provide for their kids and in front of their wives they feel ashamed because there's nothing for them to do; they can't even provide their families with the most basic of needs.

      The ironic thing is that the main providers for employment are the NGOs being funded by international organisations, which then serve to help keep the rest of the population alive. In the meanwhile, politicians don't look for actual solutions to the conflict.

      What doesn't the media report on?

      More than 1400 people died in Israel's latest war on Gaza. But on a regular basis, Gazans die because of all sorts of causes that we don't hear sufficiently about in the media. The sewage system is horrible, water is polluted and diseases are becoming an increasing phenomenon in Gaza.

      Hospitals can't cope because they face electricity shortages; a lot of Palestinians are in desperate need of kidney dialysis, the kinds of diseases that are out there are getting worse, it's simply not a livable space.

      The line between the meaning of life and death becomes very thin. As a student, you can spend your whole life trying to do well in school, get good grades - but all that effort goes to waste because there is no future for the class valedictorian.

      Everyone alike is left completely powerless without hope and potential future. I'm even shocked at how well kids can even perform in these schools, considering how they live in a constant state of war.

      There have been reports of tensions between Palestinians and Israeli settlers in Hebron. Is this a potentially explosive situation?

      What happens in Gaza really stays in Gaza because some things aren't reported. Israel has done so well at controlling the flow of information; they control everyone who goes in and out of the strip. It is easier for foreigners that are able to come in with NGOs working in Gaza. As far as the media goes, Israel hands out the permits and from mid November till the end of January or beginning of February, Israelis weren't allowing anyone in, there was a blackout of information.

      Another thing is how there isn't so much of an interest from media organisations around the world to keep reporting on Gaza.

      To them, there's nothing new about the situation when in fact, the story there is constantly unfolding, breaking news is Gaza's middle name. But because this breaking news always holds the same kind of information, no one cares to report on it.

      So your documentary is to shed light on the situation in Gaza?

      My documentary is a response to what I witnessed in Gaza and the West Bank and they are stories that don't make it out in the media. Palestinians are so easily identified as terrorists, wearing balaclavas, holding a gun or firing a Qassam rocket.

      But they're really everyday people just trying to make the best of their lives, putting their kids through school, finding a job, doing well in their final exams.

      One thing I've noticed in the media is that the theme of violence is always associated with stories coming out of Gaza.

      Why not focus on stories of non-violent resistance? While some Palestinians return Israeli violence with further violence, the vast majority does not, and the Arabic word for such everyday acts of non-violent protest is sumoud, which means steadfastness, perseverance.

      No matter what Israelis do to the people I met, they continued fighting for their right to remain on their land, their right to stay alive. Many of the people I filmed aren't affiliated with political parties, they are normal people like you and I.

      I needed to go to Palestine to understand what was going on there. Studying and reading about it didn't make sense until I saw the wall, the settlements and physical occupation. After doing so, and going through the kinds of experiences I went through, I wanted to translate what I saw into the medium of film.

      I'm also planning a film in West Africa, and then I'd like to focus on Egypt, which is a real police state. There's red tape everywhere so it's going to be a challenge.

      For more information on Rizk's documentary, visit thispalestinianlife.org.

      Christian Samaritan for Palestine


      AL-KHALIL, West Bank — Joy Ellison came from Portland, Oregon, US, last year to promote non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation.
      Eventually, she ended up at the small Palestinian hamlet of At-Tuwani in the southern Al-Khalil (Hebron) hills where she, along with a number of mainly North American peace activists known as the Christian Peace-Making Teams (CPT), are now living.

      "I decided that I am not going to be less persevering and less resilient than the people here," Ellison told IslamOnline.net.

      Her main daily mission is to escort Palestinian children who can’t go to school and return home school unless accompanied by an Israeli army patrol to protect them from fanatical Jewish settlers.

      Still on several occasions the settlers, many of them mature, western-educated immigrants from North America, physically assaulted the children with rocks and sharp objects.

      "The settlers routinely attack the kids, chase them, steal their backpacks and shout obscenities and blaspheme at them," asserted Ellison.

      "Sometime they steal livestock animals, poison the wells and kill donkeys. They also place poison in the grazing areas to kill Palestinian sheep.

      "The army does virtually nothing about it. The settlers simply do the dirty work for the army and for the Israeli state."

      Mohammed Al-Adara, one of the local villagers, agrees.

      "You see the army and the settlers are two sides of the same coin," he told IOL.

      "The army is not authorized to arrest settlers even if they are seen shooting Palestinians.

      Law of Jungle

      Al-Adara sees the settlers' harassment and attacks as part of a larger scheme.
      "The main reason for the settler presence here is to torment the local Palestinians in order to force them to leave so that the settlers would take over their land."

      Jim, another peace volunteer from New York, shares the same conviction.

      "I think these people will just do anything, commit any crime to drive the Palestinians from the land. It is just sheer criminality," he told IOL.

      "In addition, what these settlers do is decidedly against international law and in many instances against the Israeli law."

      Jim blames the Israeli army and police for the "law of the jungle" in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially in outlaying areas where Palestinians and Jewish settlers live next to each other.

      "For the slightest misdemeanor, the Israeli army and other security forces arrest and beat Palestinians," says the New Yorker.

      "But they do nothing when the settlers commit real crimes against innocent Palestinians."

      CPT activities are not confined to escorting Palestinian school children and accompanying shepherds and farmers in areas adjacent to Jewish settlements.

      They monitor treatment of Palestinians at Israeli military checkpoints and roadblocks.

      They also join Israeli and Palestinian peace activists in replanting olive groves destroyed by Jewish settlers and take part in peaceful protests against Israel's gigantic separation wall being erected through the occupied West Bank.

      Under the pretext of building the wall for security reasons, Israel has arrogated large swathes of Palestinian farmland.

      In a landmark ruling in 2004, the Hague-based International Court of Justice branded the wall "absolutely illegal" and "incompatible with international law."


      Ellison says that non-violent resistance to the settlers, considered among the most fanatical and brutal of Jewish settlers anywhere, has not been in vain.

      "We use media, videos to document their attacks. We also go to courts as witnesses," she explains.

      "So we have been successful. We gained access to land previously declared off-limit to the local. This has infuriated the settlers, prompting them to physically attack our members," added the American peace activist.

      The CPT's daring, non-violent activism has not been cost-free.

      In September 2004, settlers attacked team members Chris Brown and Kim Lamberty as they accompanied Palestinian kids to school in al-Tuwani.

      The children, from the nearby village of Tuba, have repeatedly experienced harassment from settlers in the past.

      According to the CPT account, five settlers, dressed in black and wearing masks, attacked Brown and Lamberty with a chain and bat.

      The children escaped injury by running back to their homes.

      The settlers pushed Brown to the ground, whipped him with a chain and kicked him in the chest.

      Hospital reports stated that he sustained broken ribs, a punctured lung for which he required surgery and a contusion to his temple.

      The settlers also kicked Lamberty in the legs and as a result she couldn’t walk and she had a broken arm.

      They also stole her waist-pack which held her passport, money and cell phone.

      None of the settlers was arrested, let alone prosecuted.

      The Israeli army claimed there was no proof that the attackers were settlers since they were masked.

      However, harassment and physical assaults have failed to scare away Ellison and the other Christian peace activists.

      "We have to keep the non-violent resistance, it has become a way of life."

      Gaza's phosphorus legacy


      Three months have passed since the war on Gaza and for many people life is regaining some form of normality.

      For others however, the fallout from the conflict continues to affect their daily lives.

      Sabah Abu Halima has weekly physiotherapy sessions and regular visits to the Shiba hospital for treatment on her injuries from white phosphorus sustained during the war.

      "I was burnt from head to toe, my face, my legs, my back were burnt," she says.

      "I am still in pain, I have not recovered yet, I massage my arm where they operated it on it but it's still stiff.

      "I can't even pick up a cup of tea now, my life will never be the same."

      'Happy home'

      Sabah and her family live in a rural community in the north of Gaza on the border with Israel. Hers was a simple existence that revolved around her family.

      "We had a happy home I lived in this house with my husband and children and we lived in security. I was the happiest person in the world," she says.

      "We were 16 people. Sixteen people living in this house happily together it was heaven."

      But all of that changed when on January 4 when the Israeli army entered the village of Siyafa under the cover of a white phosphorus smokescreen.

      "At first I saw the white phosphorus shells, they fired them here nearby over the farmland, my daughter in law called me over and said look at what the Israelis are doing, we thought they were celebrating we were on the balcony and saw it land in the fields," she recalls.

      "Fifteen minutes later they dropped it on us it fell through the roof. They were like ropes like the tentacles of an octopus that spread everywhere killing and burning anything they came in contact with."

      The shell took the lives of five members of Sabah’s family. Her husband and four of her children including her youngest daughter, Shahed, who was only 15 months old.

      Her other two sons Youssef and Ali narrowly escaped.

      Tough loss

      "I was in a lot of pain we were all crying," Youssef says. "We tried to save my father and Abed but we couldn’t as they were on fire.

      "My brother Ali was sitting alone in Ahmed’s room when the phosphorus fell on us, his head was burnt here and behind his ear here."

      The war has changed the life of Sabah’s son 18-year-old Omar. He has dropped out of school and now works with his older brother on their small plot of land.

      "We used to depend on my father and now we rely on my brother to do the work, so yes I can go to school but psychologically I am tired I am worn out," he says.

      "I can't open my books because of what I saw, my father died in front of me and I had to drag his body out my brothers and sister died and I had to drag them out of the flames.

      "Before I used to come home and talk to my brothers and joke with them, I used to joke with my sister and father, now I have no one to speak to, there is only my mother, we try to calm her down to calm her down, to laugh with us but she won’t."

      The loss of her only daughter who died in her arms has been the hardest the bear for Sabah.

      "We use to love each other, we all looked after Shahed we used to always buy her biscuits and Chips I really loved her," she says.

      Omar says he "lost his mind" when his sister died.

      "I lost it," he says. "She was the only one we played and laughed with, I hate to see children now, I can’t stand to see them, she is my only sister and she died… you lose your mind."

      "Everything has changed," Sabah says. "I feel lost I don't know where to go my house is destroyed my husband has died my children have died all the happiness is gone, I am miserable."

      Israel accused of 'reckless' use of white phosphorus
      Human Rights Watch says military should be held to account for 'war crimes'
      By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem
      Thursday, 26 March 2009


      Israel "deliberately and recklessly" fired white phosphorus shells in densely populated areas of Gaza in an "indiscriminate" way that killed and wounded civilians and is "evidence of war crimes", Human Rights Watch said yesterday.

      A detailed report from the agency says the Israeli military knew white phosphorus's lethal capacity to cause intense burns, and that the firing of it in airburst artillery shells revealed a "pattern or policy of conduct rather than incidental or accidental usage."

      And the 71-page report reveals that the 15 January firing of phosphorus shells on or near the UN Relief and Works Agency compound in Gaza City, where 700 civilians were sheltering, continued for at least two hours after UN staff began making repeated telephone calls to the Israeli military asking it to stop. The shells caused an estimated $10m (£6.8m) damage and led to burning for 12 days after the attack.

      While documenting cases in which civilians were burnt to death or severely hurt and civilian property set on fire, the report says that the majority of civilian deaths were not caused by white phosphorus but from other "missiles, bombs, heavy artillery, tank shells, and small arms fire".

      But the HRW researcher Fred Abrams said senior Israeli commanders should be held account for its usage in violation of international law requirements to avoid civilian harm. While the use of phosphorus is permitted to hide troop movements in non-civilian areas, Mr Abrams added: "In Gaza, the Israeli military didn't just use white phosphorus in open areas as a screen for its troops. It fired white phosphorus repeatedly over densely populated areas, even when its troops weren't in the area and safe smoke shells were available. As a result, civilians needlessly suffered and died."

      An airburst 155mm artillery shell spreads 116 white phosphorus wedges in a range of 125 metres, which ignites on contact with oxygen and burns at up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit until nothing is left or the oxygen supply is cut. When it comes into contact with skin it creates intense and persistent burns, sometimes down to the bone. HRW says an Israeli health ministry report produced during the 22-day military offensive in Gaza said that burns to 10 per cent of the body can be fatal because of damage to the liver, kidneys and heart.

      Witness reports taken by HRW describe the killing of a bank manager, his wife and two of their children in their car during white phosphorus shelling in the Tel-el-Hawa area of Gaza City on 15 January. According to a Palestinian journalist, Fathi Sabbah, whose own building in the area came under attack, when ambulances came to take the bodies away from the partly melted car, they found "only a few bones" of the four occupants. The report quotes another witness, Muhammad Al Sharif, as saying that a piece of a skull and some teeth lay beside the car.

      The report also highlights, among a total of six cases documented in which 12 civilians were killed, the deaths of five members of the Abu Halima family and the wounding of five others. These included the badly burnt Sabah Abu Halima 44, who lost three of her children, in the Siyafa village on the edge of Atatra in northern Gaza when a phosphorus-bearing artillery shell hit their house. The accounts given to HRW broadly corroborate those given by family members to journalists in Gaza in January, including from The Independent, which found one of the sour-smelling phosphorus wedges outside the house.

      HRW says it found no evidence that Hamas was using civilians as human shields in the area at the time of the cases of white phosphorus shelling it examined. And it called on the United States, as the main supplier to Israel of white phosphorus munitions to investigate whether they were used in violation of international law. HRW says that of the white phosphorus shells it found in Gaza were made in 1989 Thiokol Aerospace, which was running the Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant at the time

      The IDF orginally denied that it was using white phosphorus but later said that it use was in accordance with international law. The HRW report says that the apparently frequent use in cases where there were not even ground troops in the area "strongly suggests that the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] was not using the munition for its obscurant qualities but rather for its incendiary effect".

      That was contested in an Israel Defence Forces response issued last night which said that the military's investigation of its use of "smoke shells" was close to conclusion and that based on the findings at this stage "it was already possible to conclude that the IDF's use of them was "in accordance with international law".

      It added that claims of indiscriminate use were "baseless". It added that the third protocol on certain conventional weapons – though not signed by Israel – did not class "weapons used for screening" as "incendiary"

      A burning issue: Weapon or flare?

      White phosphorus, known as Willy Pete, ignites when exposed to the air. It is not banned by international law so long as it is used to create a smoke screen to protect advancing troops or to illuminate targets. However, the 1980 Geneva treaty stipulates it must not be used as an offensive weapon in densely-populated areas, where civilians can sustain severe burns.

      Israeli use of phosphorus 'a crime'


      A report by an international rights group has said that Israel's use of white phosphorus during its recent offensive on the Gaza Strip is evidence of war crimes.

      Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday that the munitions were fired indiscriminately and over densely populated areas during the 23-day war, leading to many casualties.

      "In Gaza, the Israeli military didn't just use white phosphorus in open areas as a screen for its troops," Fred Abrahams, senior emergencies researcher at HRW and co-author of the report, said.

      "It fired white phosphorus repeatedly over densely populated areas, even when its troops weren't in the area and safer smoke shells were available. As a result, civilians needlessly suffered and died."

      The Israeli army rejected HRW's claims on Wednesday and said investigations had proven the army's use of white phosphorus was for "operational needs only".

      "Based on the findings at this stage, it is already possible to conclude that the [army's] use of smoke shells was in accordance with international law".

      "These shells were used for specific operational needs only and in accord with international humanitarian law," the statement released on Wednesday said.

      "The claim that smoke shells were used indiscriminately, or to threaten the civilian population, is baseless."

      'Senior approval'

      The report said that senior commanders must have approved what they saw as a pattern or policy in white phosphorus use.

      HRW has called for Israeli senior commanders to be held to account and for an international investigation to take place, since an Israeli Defence Force (IDF) inquiry is likely to be neither "thorough" nor "impartial".

      The 71-page report documents evidence of spent shells and white phosphorus found in residential areas, city streets, a hospital and a UN school.

      It follows reports by Amnesty International, the international rights group, and the UN alleging the improper use of white phosphorus by Israel.

      Armies typically use the munition to obscure their operations on the ground via the thick smoke created. It can also be used to set targets alight.

      The munitions are legal in open areas, but illegal when used unnecessarily and in civilian areas.

      'Truly terrible'

      Talking to Al Jazeera Abrahams said: "This is our first report of a series in Gaza, because what we saw was truly terrible."

      "I've covered five wars and for me personally it was a traumatic experience to go to Gaza," Abrahams said.

      "Israel repeatedly used [white phosphorus] in densely populated areas, such as downtown Gaza City," he said.

      "It is a thoroughly inappropriate way to use this munition. It spreads 116 burning wafers of white phosphorus down in an area of up to 200 metres."

      Abrahams said that Israel's past use of the munitions in the 2006 Lebanon war and repeated warnings of the proximity of their shelling to populations meant they knew the danger they were subjecting Palestinians to.

      "So to us this indicates a pattern, a policy. Investigations of small fish, low level soldiers, is not enough," Abrahams said.

      "We believe top level commanders should be investigated and where there's evidence they should be held accountable."

      Abrahams called on either the UN Security Council or Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary general, appoint an international investigation that looks at all abuses in the war not just attacks on UN locations.

      Location critical

      Chris Cobb-Smith, a security consultant who co-authored a report with Amnesty International on the munitions' use, said that the important point was not the employment of the weapon, but where it was used.

      "An important thing to remember about white phosphorus is that it is not an illegal weapons system. It is perfectly legal, but it must be used in the right way," Cobb-Smith told Al Jazeera.

      "It is illegal to fire at humans. It is even illegal to fire this weapons system at enemy troops.

      "It is purely an obscurant. It is purely to provide a smoke screen for soldiers on the battlefield.

      "But there is absolutely no military tactical reason to use white phosphorus in a built up area. It can provide no use whatsoever.

      "It was used at a time before the IDF actually commenced their ground offensive into Gaza itself. They were miles away from Gaza City when they first used this weapons system."

      Israel originally denied using the munitions during its war on the Gaza Strip which began on December 27 last year, but later said it would hold an internal investigation into its improper use.

      Clashes erupt in Israeli-Arab town


      Israeli police have used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse a protest by Arab residents of a northern Israeli town.

      The protest in Umm el-Fahm, one of Israel's largest Arab towns, erupted on Tuesday after Jewish hardliners tried to march through the town.

      Mickey Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, said police swung into action after protesters hurled stones at security men.

      He said 16 policemen had been lightly wounded and ten protesters arrested.

      Mustafa Suheil, the town's deputy mayor, said 15 protesters had been lightly wounded.

      Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Umm el-Fahm, said a group of about 100 Israeli right-wingers wanted to march in the town, home to about 15,000 Palestinians.

      He said the group's march followed a supreme court decision that allowed them to "excerise their sovereignty over the city".

      'Provocative decision'

      "They wanted to come with Israeli flags and many people thought that was a very provocative decision," he said.

      "Police have been using tear gas to try to disperse them. The Palestinians had gathered here to prevent this extreme Israeli right wing-group from entering the town.

      "Police feared that there could be a confrontation between the residents and this group."

      Mohyeldin said the police were withdrawing and the situation was calming down.

      He said police officers and Palestinians injured in the clashes had been evacuated from the scene.

      Tensions inside Israel, particularly among the indigenous Arab population, have been extremely high following the war on Gaza, Mohyeldin said.

      "And subsequently since then we have been hearing accounts of the conduct of the Israeli forces and that has angered many Palestinians inside Israel as well as peace activists."

      He said Palestinians inside Israel were complaining that they were being treated as second-class citizens - deprived of many of the same resources that the predominantly Jewish neighbourhoods in cities of Israel receive.

      Israel accused of 'new Gaza crime'


      A senior UN official has suggested that Israel should be held accountable for a "new crime against humanity" during its January assault on the Gaza strip.

      Richard Falk, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said Israel had confined Palestinian civilians to the combat zone in Gaza, a unique move which should be outlawed.

      "Such a war policy should be treated as a distinct and new crime against humanity, and should be formally recognised as such, and explicitly prohibited," Falk said in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.

      Palestinian civilians were prevented from leaving the Gaza Strip during the three-week bombardment by the Israeli authorities.

      Falk also called for an investigation into Israel's attack on Gaza, in which more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed and homes destroyed.

      Israel said it carried out the assault to stop Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel.

      Report condemned

      Falk's comments formed part of a much longer report from nine UN investigators including specialists on the right to health, food, adequate housing and education, as well as on summary executions and violence against women.

      Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN secretary-general's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, accused Israeli forces of using a child as a human shield in one incident.

      Soldiers forced an 11-year-old boy to walk in front of them for several hours as they moved through the town of Tal al-Hawa on January 15, even after they had been shot at, her report said.

      Aharon Leshno Yar, Israel's ambassador to the UN rights council, condemned the report, saying it "wilfully ignores and downplays the terrorist and other threats we face", and the alleged use by Palestinian fighters of human shields.

      The US accused Falk of being biased.

      "We've found the rapporteur's views to be anything but fair. We find them to be biased. We've made that very clear," Robert Wood, a US state department spokesman, told a media briefing on Monday.

      'War crime'

      Falk called for the probe to assess if the Israeli forces could differentiate between civilian and military targets in Gaza.

      "If it is not possible to do so, then launching the attacks is inherently unlawful, and would seem to constitute a war crime of the greatest magnitude under international law," Falk said in the report.

      "On the basis of the preliminary evidence available, there is reason to reach this conclusion," he added, saying that attacks occurred in densely populated areas.

      Falk, who has been critical of Israel in the past, was expelled from Israel during an attempt to visit Gaza in December, after he said Israel's policies on the territory amounted to a crime against humanity.

      Fighting for life: American peace activist shot by Israelis

      Parents demand inquiry into how son was critically injured by tear gas canister

      By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem
      Tuesday, 24 March 2009


      The parents of an American peace activist publicly appealed yesterday for a full investigation into how their son was shot in the head with a high velocity tear gas canister by Israeli security forces.

      Tristan Anderson, 38, remains in critical condition after three brain operations at Tel Hashomer hospital in Israel, as a result of the shooting which came at the end of a regular joint Arab-Jewish demonstration against the Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank village of Ni'lin.

      Activists say the canister round – with a range of more than 400 metres – was fired directly at Mr Anderson from about 60 metres as he was standing with three or four other activists in the centre of the village. They say he was well away from the barrier where the main protest had taken place earlier on 13 March.

      Mr Anderson suffered a multiple fracture to his skull, severe injury to the frontal lobe of his brain, and a collapsed eye socket

      The peace activists insist that neither Mr Anderson, nor his immediate companions, were throwing stones or posing any threat to the forces.

      Mr Anderson's mother. Nancy, who flew from California with her husband Michael to be at her son's bedside, said yesterday that to fire at peace protesters was "really horrifying".

      She said that tear gas canisters are designed to be fired in an arc to disperse demonstrators, but that the canister had been "shot right at his head".

      "We want the Israeli government to publicly take full responsibility for the shooting of our son," she said.

      "I don't carry any negative feelings towards the soldier who shot our son. All I feel is love for Tristan and fear for his recovery."

      Mrs Anderson praised the "excellent" care by medics at Tel Hashomer.

      Mr Anderson, who had a seasonal job in Oakland California working for a trade union setting up conventions, was in Israel for the first time.

      He was with his Jewish girlfriend on a three-month trip, after which he intended to join his parents on a holiday in Europe. He had taken part in peace demonstrations in Iraq before the US invasion in 2003, and in El Salvador and Guatemala.

      "He came to understand for himself what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was about," said Michael Anderson, his father. "It is ironic that the country in which he was shot is a democracy where it is supposed to be a duty for everyone to follow their conscience.

      "We want to know what happened and we want justice for our son."

      Jonathan Pollack, an activist with the Israeli "Anarchists against the Wall" organisation said the incident had taken place about one kilometre from the barrier after demonstrators had started to disperse. While stones had been thrown earlier during the protest, Mr Pollack, who first met Mr Anderson at a demonstration in Prague during the World Bank-IMF conference in 2000, said: "I have known Tristan for nine years and I know he was not throwing stones at that point or any other point."

      The activists say the gas canister, of a kind brought into service only four months ago, was labelled in Hebrew "40mm bullet special/long range."

      Four Palestinian residents of Ni'lin – including a 10-year-old boy – were killed during demonstrations last year against the barrier, which will divide villagers from 400 acres of their farmland, when it is complete.

      Michael Sfard, an Israeli human rights lawyer, who has filed a formal demand for an official investigation, said that of some 120 criminal investigations brought against security force members since the beginning of the intifada, there had only been one conviction – against the Arab-Israeli soldier who shot British peace activist Tom Hurndall dead in Gaza.

      Nobody was brought to trial in two other cases involving the deaths of foreign nationals. They were Rachel Corrie, who like Mr Hurndall was an International Solidarity Movement volunteer. The Israeli military has not accepted responsibility for her death. In the case of British film-maker James Miller, Israeli authorities made a substantial cash payment to his family this year, which came nearly six years after his death.

      The Israeli military said that on the day Mr Anderson was shot, some 400 rioters, “some masked”, had thrown “a massive number of rocks” at their forces. They said protesters had thrown firebombs, and directed burning tyres towards the forces, and that 73 personnel were injured in 2008 at or near Ni’lin. A spokesman said: “The violent acts of the protesters force Israeli police officers and soldiers to use internationally acceptable riot dispersal means.”

      Reporter's diary: Ayman Mohyeldin


      During Israel's war on Gaza last January, Ayman was one of the only international correspondents able to cover the story from inside the Gaza Strip.

      Return to this page for Ayman's dispatches from the field.

      Monday, March 23, 2009

      For the third time in nearly a week, the Israeli military is coming under pressure for the conduct of its soldiers. On Sunday, we visited a Tel Aviv print shop that had made controversial T-shirts designed by Israeli soldiers that depicted horrific images.

      For example, one shirt showed a pregnant Palestinian woman within a sniper's crosshairs and the caption underneath it read "one shot, two kills".

      Another showed a Palestinian boy, also within a sniper's crosshairs, with the words "the smaller, the harder".

      It is unbelievable that in any society, celebrating killing can be done so blatantly and, for the most part, with the encouragement of a society which allows this to take place.

      Apparently, in Israel, it is common for soldiers to design T-shirts once they have completed a military course, field duty or operation. But these shirts have grown increasingly brazen in recent years, depicting of killings, interrogations and violence.

      Israel is a complex society, but it is definitely one that I and others feel has become more militarised and continues to shift to the right, as reflected in the recent elections.

      When the party that was founded by Ariel Sharon, a former prime minister and a hawkish figure within Israeli politics, is considered a centrist party, then you know where the political trends lie.

      On Tuesday, we are going to Umm El-Fehm, it is an Arab town in the northern part of Israel. A group of Israeli right-wingers are coming to march in the city and police are afraid that could trigger clashes with the indigenous Palestinian population.

      It is considered a provocation for them to go there with no specific reason to hold this march and it could prove intense.

      Saturday, March 21, 2009

      Back in Jerusalem to report for the first time since the end of Israel's war on Gaza. In my first two days, two damning reports about how Israel conducted the war have emerged.

      The first was from Israeli soldiers who participated in the operation. They were speaking at a pre-military prep programme and described how lax rules of engagement allowed them to kill innocent Palestinian civilians.

      This appeared in Haaretz, a leading Israeli newspaper, which got the transcript and published the soldiers' accounts.

      A day later, Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur for human rights, published his report on Gaza which concluded the war was not legally justifiable. That report also said Israel's actions could amount to a war crime and that its siege against the Gaza Strip could amount to a crime against humanity.

      So the first two days back at work in the Jerusalem bureau have been exceptionally busy, with more to come. This week, we will look at how Palestinians are increasingly demonised in Israeli culture, media and now even in fashion with T-shirts designed by Israeli soldiers depicting Palestinians with horrific images and slogans.

      And, of course, there is always the politics. Will Benyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister-designate, be able to form a government? He has already asked for, and was granted, a two-week extension.

      Also, perhaps one of the more disturbing developments of the week, the Israeli police have banned Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem from celebrating Jerusalem as the Arab Cultural Capital of 2009.

      The police say Palestinians will not be allowed to celebrate their Arab culture because this challenges Israeli sovereignty over the city which it has illegally occupied since 1967.

      Palestinians say it is just the latest example of how Israel is suppressing and eroding the Arab identity of the Holy City in favour of solidifying its grip on the city.
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