Saturday, February 7, 2009
Friday, February 6, 2009
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
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
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
2) Hold Israeli accountable for its destruction of the
3) Use your political power to enforce international human rights, humanitarian law:
4) Don’t assist
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
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
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
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
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
Saturday, January 17, 2009
British Professors and Artists Publish Statement Calling for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel
Friday, January 16, 2009
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Monday, January 12, 2009
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Friday, January 9, 2009
Please include your full name and institutional affiliation for verification purposes.
We are an ad hoc group of university and college professors in
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
Despite its disengagement from
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
This statement was signed by 104 professors at colleges and universities in Michigan. For the list of signatories, please contact MPAO by e-mail.