Saturday, February 7, 2009

Tyler Hicks: photographer's journal of Gaza

Tyler Hicks, a photographer for the New York Time's, has published his journal on-line (Feb 7, 2009). It consists of photographs of Gaza after the ceasefire and his account of being in Gaza. You can also see his series of photographs: "The War in El Atatra."

Egypt Detains Tabula Gaza blogger, Philip Rizk

Reuters reported today (Feb 7, 2009) that Egyptian police have detained Philip Rizk, the blogger who created Tabula Gaza. Rizk is a 26 year old graduate student at the American University in Cairo. His blog provides remarkable insight into conditions in Gaza where he resided for 2 years. His most recent post to Tabula Gaza (Feb 4) includes a call from the To Gaza movement, which is an Egypt-based activist group that organized a walk from Egypt to Gaza starting on Feb 6. The arrest of Rizk reveals the Egyptian government's intolerance of public support of Palestinians. Protest the arrest of Rizk.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Hamas, UNRWA and Gaza

A resolution (H.Con. Res. 29) was presented on January 28, 2009 to the US House of Representatives that targets UNRWA, and associates the UN agency with terrorism. Protest the anti-UNRWA resolution.

Then this week Hamas was accused of stealing aid from UNRWA on two occasions. The story of a Hamas raid on an UNRWA warehouse has been widely reported in the US. The February 5, 2009 headline in the New York Times reads: "Agency Says Hamas Took Aid Intended for the Needy." A second incident on the evening of Feb 5 has resulted in UNRWA suspending its aid to Gaza. A press release on the UNRWA website states: "10 truckloads of flour and rice were taken from the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom Crossing into Gaza. They had been imported from Egypt for collection by UNRWA today. The food was taken away by trucks contracted by the Ministry of Social Affairs. . . . UNRWA’s suspension of imports will remain in effect until the aid is returned and the Agency is given credible assurances from the Hamas government in Gaza that there will be no repeat of these thefts."

UNRWA plays a vital role in the Gaza Strip and its activities are crucial to the relief and reconstruction efforts. The suspension of imports by UNRWA will cause additional hardships to the residents of Gaza. Whatever the political justification offered, these Hamas actions risk alienating not only the UN agency, but also other international aid agencies. Rather than build on the massive international support for Palestinians in Gaza during the last month, Hamas has provided Israel with an opportunity to claim again that it is a terrorist organization that resorts to thuggish tactics to achieve its political goals. Even if one dismisses the assertions of Israeli officials, such as Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, who, as reported in the Jerusalem Post, "told Israel Radio that theft of humanitarian aid exposes the true face of Hamas," one cannot dismiss the damaging effects of UNRWA's suspension of deliveries.

That said, it is crucial to understand the complicated position of UNRWA, which operates as a quasi-state entity in the Gaza Strip, providing services and assistance to registered Palestinian refugees. Because the mandate of UNRWA is limited to the refugee population, non-refugees are not eligible for the aid that it provides. The limitations create a two-tier situation throughout the occupied terrorities, further fracturing the population, which is already divided geographically (West Bankers, Jerusalemites, Israeli Palestinians, and Gazans). In moments of dire crisis, such as that which prevails at present, UNRWA's limited mandate creates tensions between those Palestinians who can receive aid (i.e. registered refugees) and those who cannot (i.e the non-refugee population).

Furthermore, UNRWA is politically neutral, but Israel has targeted its facilities. An UNRWA press release notes: "According to preliminary reports . . . a total of 53 UNRWA installations, mainly schools, were damaged during the 22 days of fighting in the Gaza Strip. The IDF had been supplied with the GPS coordinates of every UNRWA installation in Gaza, moreover all UN installations are clearly marked with UN insignia visible both day and night." Israel clearly does not recognize the neutrality of UNRWA, yet UNRWA consistently asserts its neutrality in relation to Palestinian politics, refusing to align or coordinate with political forces on the ground.

These conditions have long been a feature of UNRWA operational constraints in the occupied territories and puts UNRWA employees and officials in an extremely difficult position, especially in the wake of the Israeli targeting of UNRWA warehouses and schools.

Hamas' actions can't be justified, but they are in part the result of a dire aid situation in which Israel and Egypt continue to curtail the flow of relief supplies that can be distributed more generally by Hamas. Israel and the US attempted to eradicate Hamas first by inciting Fatah to start a civil war in June 2007 (see David Rose, "The Gaza Bombshell," Vanity Fair (April 2008), then by imposing an 18-month blocake on Gaza, and last month by assaulting the entire ppopulation. Now, they are doing the same by controling relief and reconstruction aid, contributing further to the humanitarian and political crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More on Boycotting Israel

On January 26, 2009, Inside Higher Ed published an article with the following headline: "Israel Boycott Movement Comes to US." The article plays out the debate between proponents of an academic, cultural and economic boycott of Israel, such as Teachers Against Occupation member David Lloyd, and opponents who position themselves as the upholders of academic freedom, such as Columbia University president Lee Bollinger. The defenders of academic freedom in this case, clearly position themselves as defenders of Israel, but they show little interest or concern for the academic freedoms of Palestinians. As the article notes, in 2007 almost 300 presidents of US universities signed a statement written by Bollinger opposing the British academic boycott of Israel, but as a group they have done nothing to protest Israel's violations of academic freedoms in the occupied territories, or its destruction of Palestinian educational institutions during the recent assault on Gaza.

While the political terrain in the US still favors Israel, the academic and cultural boycott is certainly gaining some ground. The growth of the campaign is partly evident by the widely circulating calls to university professors and students to join the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott Israel (PACBI) and the January 2009 launching of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI). The response to the PACBI calls for support has been quite significant internationally receiving endorsements from Quebec to South Africa. In the US, responses have taken a number of different forms. For example, student activists at the University of Michigan have called with marginal success on the Michigan Student Assembly to support a boycott of Israel.

Ad hoc groups of academics and intellectuals are circulating and publishing petitions that clearly call for a boycott. For instance, Steven Salaita, a professor at Virginia Tech, has published an important statement calling for an academic boycott of Israel in Dissident Voice and in The Progressive that includes the signatures of over 50 international intellectuals, including the Black American author Amiri Baraka, the South African writer Breyten Breytenbach and the Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif.

This statement and similar petitions identify Israel as a rogue state, comparable to apartheid era South Africa, that must be made to respect international law and grant Palestinians their rights; the boycott campaign is a non-violent means of applying pressure on Israel. Even if the majority of universities do not embrace the boycott in the short term, the long term boycott campaign and the debate that it generates provides a crucial opportunity to link action in the US with Palestinian grassroots initiatives and also to expose Israel's human rights violations.

Postscript: opponents of the boycott of Israel claim that Israel is being singled out while many other countries around the world, including the US, commit far worse human rights abuses. But the truth is that the boycott campaign seeks to hold Israel to the same standards as other countries. The boycott movement calls on the international community to make Israel accountable for its treatment of Palestinians, and not to give it a pass when the Israeli army kills 1300 Palestinians in 3 weeks, establishes an 18 month blockade of Gaza, imprisons 1000s of Palestinians, and disrupts in the most humiliating ways the quotidian lives of the residents of Gaza and the West Bank. (See also Raphael Ahren, "US Professors Call for Academic Boycott of Israel," Haaretz Jan 29, 2009)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Politics of Aid to Gaza

The controversy in the UK over the BBC decision not to air the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal for aid to Gaza has brought to the foreground the politics of aid to Palestinians. According to an article in The Guardian, "The DEC, an umbrella organization for 13 charities including the Red Cross and Oxfam, has broadcast dozens of humanitarian appeals since the mid-1960s." The decision not to broadcast the DEC appeal for Gaza was ostensibly motivated by a desire to preserve the journalistic objectivity of the BBC, but never in the three-minute television appeal is Israel mentioned. In fact, the narrator states clearly at the outset "this is not about the rights and wrongs of the conflict. These people simply need your help." You can view the DEC appeal on You Tube. The BBC-DEC controversy may have provided more publicity for the Gaza appeal and also more sympathy for the Palestinians. The DEC reports on its website that contributions to Gaza relief doubled overnight increasing to more than £1 million after the appeal was aired and the BBC controversy erupted on Monday January 26.

Historically, international aid and development assistance have played a crucial role in the economy of the Occupied Territories. Palestinians have relied substantially on international aid since the 1970s because Israel not only destroyed the economic base of the Occupied Territories through land confiscations, check points, military closures, and legal barriers to Palestinian economic development, but it also shirked responsibilities to provide basic services, such as garbage removal, sewage and water treatment, public health and education services to Palestinians, counting on international agencies and Palestinian NGO's to assume responsibility for these services in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Furthermore, Israel often reaps the financial benefits of international aid and development programs as it is one of the main suppliers of building materials and consumer goods to the Palestinians. Shir Hever has written an insightful report on "Foreign Aid to Palestine/Israel" that demonstrates the enormous amount of international aid that is sent to subsidize both the Israeli and Palestinian economies and the political aspects of this aid.

The Alternative Information Center (AIC), a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization, has issued recently (January 15, 2009) a call to international donors to challenge the politics of the occupation in connection with Israel's control over aid to Gaza. AIC outlines 6 points for effective international aid:

1) Demand information: Gather, analyze and disseminate information about the situation in Gaza. Refuse to allow Israel to dictate the quality and quantity of reporting on its attacks and their consequences. Share information with other organizations and the media.

2) Hold Israeli accountable for its destruction of the Gaza Strip
: Hold Israel accountable for the destruction it has caused to infrastructure and projects funded by your agency and government in the Gaza Strip. Contact the relevant Israeli authorities and demand explanations and compensation for the destruction of civil infrastructures. Publicize those projects destroyed.

3) Use your political power to enforce international human rights, humanitarian law:
Israel is dependent on international aid to ensure the well-being of the Palestinian population, thus freeing it to take decisions unilaterally and with no consideration for the Palestinians. Donors thus have leverage over the Israeli government and can use it to demand compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law.

4) Don’t assist Israel in economically benefiting from its attacks on Gaza:
The United Nations estimates that 45% of international aid sent to the Occupied Palestinian Territories flows back into the Israeli economy. The Paris Accords often render it less expensive to import goods to the OPT from Israel rather than neighboring or European countries. Demand that Israeli taxes on emergency and humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip be frozen.

5) Demand right to freely implement emergency and humanitarian projects: Demand free passage into and out of the Gaza Strip, in addition to unhampered movement within the Gaza Strip in order to implement projects. Protest Israeli limitations on work, including the associated higher costs in storage and shipping that result accordingly.

6) Support political negotiations grounded in international law between the Palestinians, Israelis:
The Oslo Accords are irrelevant and the Annapolis process has failed. It is time the international community publicly recognizes this reality and focuses on implementation of all United Nations resolutions and international laws applicable to the Israeli occupation and the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Despite the significant ground swell of international humanitarian aid for Gaza in the wake of the Israeli attack, relief agencies continue to have difficulty entering the region, whose borders remain controlled by Israeli authorities. Israeli officials are restricting deliveries into Gaza, claiming that relief aid will bolster Hamas. An NPR report on Gaza relief efforts quotes Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev, who stated that Israel "will be part of [the] reconstruction effort but one that helps the people of Gaza, but not one that helps Hamas." While Israel impedes the reflief work of the UN and other international aid agencies, Hamas pursues its operations and reasserts its authority in the Gaza Strip, handing out $52 million in humanitarian relief payments to Gazans. (See The Guardian Jan 26, 2009 report on Hamas relief efforts and the devastation of the Gazan economy.) One of the political consequences of the massive Israeli assault on Gaza may be the restoration of Hama's popularity, which had declined in 2008 throughout the Middle East and even in Gaza, as is documented in a PEW Research Center report of January 9, 2009.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Israeli War Crimes in Gaza

While Israel has for years violated Palestinian human rights and committed war crimes in the occupied territories, it has rarely been sanctioned by the international community. The US has provided a blanket of protection for Israel at the United Nations, vetoing any significant resolution that would hold Israel accountable for its actions in the territories or in Lebanon. As a result, human rights organizations and other bodies are turning to national laws and the international criminal court to prosecute responsible Israeli officials for war crimes.

It is increasingly clear that in the assault on Gaza Israel transgressed the accepted laws of war as they are laid out in the Geneva Conventions. The Observer (Jan 18, 2009) documents a particularly obvious instance of Israel's war crimes on the village of Khuza'a. More generally, Amira Hass reports in Haaretz (Jan 16, 2009) on Israel's use of illegal weapons in the Gaza assault. Apart from the virtually indisputable fact that Israel used white phosphorous in an illegal manner on a civilian population, it apparently also experimented with DIME (dense inert material explosives) weapons, which are particularly indiscriminate in their effects.

Fear of international legal actions against Israelis who participated in the assault on Gaza has lead Israel to withhold the names of officers and to appoint a special legal task force to defend any Israelis who may face criminal prosecution abroad. (See the article in the The Telegraph Jan 23, 2009).

Posted on an Israeli website is a "wanted" list of Israeli government officials for violations of the Rome Statute and the Fourth Geneva Convention. There is also a worldwide on-line petition to try Israelis for war crimes. Over 15,000 people have signed the petition.

Perhaps the intensity of violence visited upon Gaza's civilian population will incite the world community finally to hold Israeli government and military officials accountable for their violations of international law.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Gaza Relief Efforts and Donations

Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, timed perfectly to coincide with the inauguration of President Obama, has now shifted the emphasis of solidarity from calls for an Israeli ceasefire to support for Palestinian relief and reconstruction in Gaza. UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes estimated "the humanitarian relief needs in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and the overall bill including reconstruction as likely to be in the billions." (Read the story on UN relief efforts at the UN News Center.)

For Gaza, hundreds of millions of dollars is a very large sum of money. Just to put the cost of relief work in perspective, the largest single-country donor to Palestinians in the period from 1993 to 2008 has been the United States through the USAID program. Over that 15 year period, USAID gave to the Palestinian Authority for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip close to 2.3 billion dollars, significantly less than US military grants to Israel in one year ($3 billion/year, see previous MPAO post on January 21, 2008). It is worth noting that during the four year period from 2004 to 2007, USAID gave the Government of Israel (GOI) close to $1.25 billion dollars for economic development.

The US needs to increase substantially its humanitarian and development aid to Palestinians in general and especially for the reconstruction of Gaza. The Obama Administration can channel aid through the UN and through NGOs working in Gaza.

In the meantime, individuals can make contributions for Gaza relief efforts through several very credible organizations:
1) United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)
2) Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA)
3) Palestine Children's Relief Fund (PCRF)
4) American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA)
5) SOS Palestine

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

$3 billion a year for 10 years in US military aid to Israel

On Tuesday afternoon, 4 hours after the inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama, a small group of peace activists representing several organizations in the Lansing area visited the office of Senator Carl Levin (Michigan) where they delivered a statement of the Peace Education Center and the MPAO Gaza Statement with 82 signatures. One of the main goals of the visit was to request a future meeting with Senator Levin, who chairs the Arms Services Committee, to discuss US military aid and cooperation with Israel and to call on the US to do more to rebuild Gaza.

In the wake of the Israeli assault on Gaza, it is crucial that we continue to work to change US foreign policy on Israel-Palestine. An important campaign is the effort to end US military aid to Israel. During the bombing of Gaza, Amnesty International called for an arms embargo. The Amnesty International report on US arms shipments to Israel during the siege of Gaza exposes the important role and responsibility of the US in supporting Israel's military operations. Democratic Congressman Denis Kucinich (Ohio 10 District) has emphasized Israel's violation of the Arms Export and Control Act. (Read the Democracy Now interview with Kucinich.)

While the direction of President Obama's Middle East policy still remains unclear, during the campaign he was unequivocal in stating his support for US military aid to Israel. Quoted in the Jerusalem Post in August 2007, Obama stated while on the campaign trail, that he endorsed a memorandum of understanding that would increase US military aid to Israel to $3 billion a year for 10 years in order "to ensure Israel's qualitative military edge, which will help Israel deter and repel attacks from as far as Teheran and as close as Gaza. " A very revealing statement to say the least.

Ending US military aid to Israel (see statistics from 1949 to 2007) should be a central issue for US citizens, whose tax dollars are being used to subsidize Israel's devastation of Gaza as opposed to funding public education at home.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Palestinian Right to Education, Campus Divestment and Academic Boycott

The Birzeit University Right to Educaiton Campaign has published an open letter to International Academic Institutions. On the same webpage there is a link to a letter to US Academics by Marcy Newman and Rania Masri, calling on "Americans to join the academic boycott of Israel." For several years, activist groups that oppose the Israeli occupation have argued that academic boycotts and campus divestment campaigns are one of the most effective ways to bring about change in Israel. On the general topic of boycotting Israel, see Naomi Klein's article in the January 10, 2009 issue of The Guardian, where she argues that boycotting Israel is the only way to end the occupation. (A version of Klein's article appeared in the January 7, 2009 issue of The Nation.) For more information on the boycott, divestment and sanction campaigns, see the Global BDS website.

British Professors and Artists Publish Statement Calling for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel

The January 16, 2009 issue of The Guardian newspaper published a statement signed by 300 professors that condems Israel's assault on Gaza and calls for the "British government and the British people to take all feasible steps to oblige Israel to comply with these demands, starting with a programme of boycott, divestment and sanctions." Over 25 British artists, musicians, writers and filmmakers, including Stephen Frears and Brian Eno signed the following statement: "We regard Israel's indiscriminate killing in Gaza as a crime against humanity. We protest against Israel's exterminating tactics and offer our wholehearted support to the people of Gaza."

Friday, January 16, 2009

Detroit News article on MPAO Statement

The Detroit News published an article today (1/16/09) on Michigan Professors Against Occupation (MPAO). Note that almost 70 professors have now signed the statement. Please continue to circulate the statement for additional signatures. Letters will be mailed next week to politicians.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lansing State Journal Publishes Gaza Statement

The Lansing State Journal published MPAO's Gaza Statement with a link to the blog. The on-line version has a comment form. Please add comments if you support the statement. Professors at universities and colleges in Michigan who support the statement can still add their names by e-mailing

Gaza Photos in History

Juan Cole has included on his site a brief photographic history of Gaza from the time of the British mandate to the Israeli occupation in 1967.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Israel Uses White Phosphorous in Gaza

Human Rights Watch calls on Israel to stop its use of white phosophorous. The use of white phosophorous is clearly causing widespread injury to civilians in Gaza. See Al Jazeera report and the CNN report on Israel's use of white phosphorous and its effects on the Palestinian civilian population of Gaza. On January 12, 2009 Amnesty International called on the UN Security Council to take action to address war crimes in Gaza and to hold those responsible accountable.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Scholasticide in Gaza

The Guardian Newspaper on January 10, 2009 (click on title) reports on-line on Israel's devastation of educational facilities in Gaza and its potential impact on the cultural and political future of Palestinians. See also the International Herald Tribune's January 3, 2009 article on the Israeli bombing of the International American School in Gaza, the most important secular school in the region. The school had previously been attacked by Islamist militants because of its secular and US educational program.

Protest One-sided US Senate and House Resolutions in Support of Israel

Just Foreign Policy has on its webpage (click title) an action alert encouraging citizens to call their senators and representatives protesting S Resolution 10 (voice vote on January 8, 2009) and H Resolution 39 (voted 390-5 on January 9, 2009).

Friday, January 9, 2009

Sign the MPAO Gaza Statement

If you are a university or college professor in Michigan and wish to add your name to the MPAO Gaza Statement (see below) please send an email to:

Please include your full name and institutional affiliation for verification purposes.

Gaza Statement

We are an ad hoc group of university and college professors in Michigan that condemns in the strongest possible terms the Israeli bombardment and invasion of the Gaza Strip. The Israeli assault on Gaza has caused hundreds of Palestinian deaths and the massive destruction of civilian infrastructure. Although the Israeli government and its US supporters claim that Israel is responding to Hamas rocket fire, the military operation, codenamed “Operation Casting Lead,” constitutes a disproportionate retaliatory action that indiscriminately targets the entire population of the Gaza Strip.

Since 1967, Israel has committed numerous war crimes and human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories with impunity. Once again, the international community has failed to respond substantially to Israel’s life-stifling blockade and its devastating invasion of Gaza. Furthermore, US politicians in both parties have given support to Israel’s military operation, justifying what many other international observers view as an excessive use of force on a largely defenseless civilian population.

As educators, we are particularly appalled at the destruction of educational institutions and student casualties. Human Rights Watch reported on December 27, 2008 that an Israeli air-to-ground missile struck a group of students leaving the Gaza Training College, killing eight and wounding 19 others. Israel then bombed on December 29, 2008, the Islamic University of Gaza. Most tragically, on January 6, 2009, Israel bombed a UN-operated school in Jabaliya refugee camp killing at least 40 people. These attacks against Palestinian students and educational institutions are part of a long history of Israel’s obstruction of the Palestinian right to education guaranteed in international conventions.

Despite its disengagement from Gaza in 2005, Israel remains the occupying power according to international law, and retains control of Gaza’s land borders, air space and sea ports. Israel has the responsibility to secure the safety of Palestinian civilians and to abide by the Geneva Convention and other instruments of international law. As noted by UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk, “That such a human catastrophe can happen with minimal outside interference also shows the weakness of international law and the United Nations, as well as the geopolitical priorities of the important players.”

It is urgent that we join with others around the world seeking peace and justice in the Middle East and call for an immediate cease-fire, a lifting of the blockade of Gaza and ultimately an end to the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. We believe in the need to achieve justice for Palestinians, and call on Michigan’s local, state and federal political representatives as well as the broader public to protest Israel’s violations of international law.

This statement was signed by 104 professors at colleges and universities in Michigan. For the list of signatories, please contact MPAO by e-mail.