witnesses/witnessing gaza

al jazeera english’ program “witness” has been running some great short documentaries over the past few weeks, some old, some new, that help to tell many stories about gaza before the latest onslaught of aggression from israeli terrorists. here is one of those documentaries. broken dreams of gaza is a film shot between 2005-2009 by miriam shahin and focuses on a variety of different palestinians in gaza, including a female rowing team.

but in gaza it is not just dreams that have been broken. israeli terrorists work very hard to break people, too, as when they torture palestinian political prisoners:

This morning seven Israeli human rights organizations appealed to the Military Judge Advocate General, Brigadier General Avichai Mandelblit, and to Attorney General Meni Mazuz concerning the appalling conditions in which Palestinians arrested during the fighting in Gaza were held, and the humiliating and inhuman treatment to which they were subjected from the time of their arrest until their transfer to the custody of the Israel Prison Service.

The complaint, written by Attorneys Bana Shoughry-Badarne, from the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Lila Margalit, from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Abeer Jubran-Dakuar, from Hamoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, was submitted on behalf of those organizations and on behalf of Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, B’Tselem, Yesh Din and Adalah. It is based on statements collected from detainees by lawyers from the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, as well as on testimony given to Hamoked: the Center for the Defense of the Individual.

The evidence described in the letter provides a shocking portrayal of the harsh, inhuman and degrading conditions in which Palestinian prisoners were held during the initial days of their incarceration. The reports indicate, among other things, that many detainees — minors as well as adults — were held for many hours — sometimes for days — in pits dug in the ground, exposed to bitter cold and harsh weather, handcuffed and blindfolded. These pits lacked basic sanitary facilities which would have allowed the detainees appropriate toilet facilities, while food and shelter, when provided, were limited, and the detainees went hungry. More seriously, some of the detainees were held near tanks and in combat areas, in gross violation of international humanitarian law which prohibits holding prisoners and captives in areas exposed to danger.

or the continued assault on gaza that is raising the toll of the dead and wounded palestinians:

Nine Palestinians, most of them children were wounded when an Israeli warplane fired a missile aimed at two Palestinian fighters in the city of Khan Younis, in Southern Gaza on Thursday morning.

Witnesses said that the strike was aimed at two An-Nasser Brigades gunmen who were on a motorcycle in front of the Nasser Hospital. Eight young students were injured and were taken inside the hospital for treatment. Medics said some of the eight are seriously injured, and others moderately. The Israeli military has not yet confirmed the report.

The attacks, along with an overnight airstrike, are the most severe Israeli actions in Gaza since a unilateral ceasefire was declared nearly two weeks ago.

Also on Thursday a Health Ministry official said that the corpse of a woman from the Abu Sultan family returned from Egypt after doctors failed to save her life. Muawiya Hassanein, the director of Ambulance and Emergency services in the Palestinian Health Ministry said that the overall death toll from Israel’s war on Gaza has climbed to 1,355.

and it is not just people, but animals too, animals that are part of palestinians’ livelihood in gaza as sameh habeeb reports:

On 5 January, many Israeli tanks, troops and bulldozers advanced into the al-Zeitoun neighborhood south east of Gaza City. In this area, called al-Samouni, Israel killed 49 members of the Samouni family, after soldiers ordered them to gather into a single home, which was shelled several hours later.

A number of chicken farms are located only a few meters away from the Samouni house. These farms came under fire by Israeli forces and were totally bulldozed. Thousands of chickens were caught in their sheds, as the bulldozing destroyed their cages. Some died immediately, others slowly without food or water for four days.

Abu Ahmed al-Sawafari, an owner of a chicken farms owners, was sitting amidst the rubble of his destroyed farm. He explained that “I have been working on that profession for long years. I have been growing my business by all efforts. Israelis came then left causing an earthquake in the area. They have killed these chickens, they are equal to human souls. They were suffocated and died due to hunger. I wonder why the Israelis killed these chickens? Were they firing rockets into Israel?”

eva bartlett who has been detailing the lives of so many palestinians in gaza has a powerful, long article on electronic intifada sharing many people’s stories of living under terror. she shares some of the stories and photographs of what people found when they returned to their homes, including this assessment from amnesty international:

Amnesty International sent a fact-finding team to Gaza following the Israeli attacks. Chris Cobb-Smith, also a military expert and an officer in the British army for almost 20 years, said “Gazans have had their houses looted, vandalized and desecrated. As well, the Israeli soldiers have left behind not only mounds of litter and excrement but ammunition and other military equipment. It’s not the behavior one would expect from a professional army.”

And that was just one family’s story.

amnesty international has a petition on their site that you can sign to call for an impartial (read: one not done by israeli terrorists who committed the crimes) investigation:

Given the recent ceasefire by both Israel and Hamas, the level of devastation experienced by the civilians in Gaza is becoming apparent with evidence that there have been both war crimes and crimes against humanity. Amnesty International is calling for an impartial international investigation into offenses by all parties to the conflict and urges the US to support this measure so that those responsible might be held accountable.

and there is much work to be done by impartial investigators, including further research on israeli terrorists’ using palestinians as human shields:

After yet another fierce, 45-minute gun battle, Majdi Abed Rabbo was ordered once again to negotiate his perilous way across the already badly-damaged roof of his house, through the jagged gap in the wall and slowly down the stairs towards the first-floor apartment in the rubble-strewn house next door. Not knowing if the men were dead or alive, he shouted for the second time that day: “I’m Majdi. Don’t be afraid.”

All three men – with Kalashnikov AK-47 rifles, wearing camouflage and headbands bearing the insignia of the Izzedine el Qassam brigades – were still alive, though one was badly injured and persuaded Mr Abed Rabbo to tighten the improvised bandage round his right arm. The youngest – perhaps 21 – was taking cover behind fallen masonry from where he could see the Israeli troops who had sent the visitor. Nervously, Mr Abed Rabbo told them: “They sent me back so I can take your weapons. They told me you are dead.” It was the youngest who replied defiantly: “Tell the officer, ‘If you’re a man come up here’.”

When the soldiers had arrived at about 10am, Mr Abed Rabbo, 40, had no inkling that over the next 24 hours he would make four heart-stopping trips, shuttling across increasingly dangerous terrain between the Israeli forces and the three besieged but determined Hamas militants who had become his unwelcome next-door neighbours. He would recall every detail of an episode which, in the telling, resembles the more melodramatic kind of war movie, but which was all too real for a man who by the end had lost his house and thought (wrongly) that his wife and children were dead. He had also witnessed at too close quarters the last stand of the men from the Qassam brigades in the face of relentless Israeli ground attacks and Apache helicopter fire.

these are just some of the more recent narratives from the survivors. there will be more. and what stories get told, how they get told, if they get told, and what language is used to tell them is all political. (if you’re in the u.s. it’s all relatively nonexistent). mark steel’s excellent op ed in the independent the other day shows how political it is and indeed how partial media outlets like the bbc and sky news are:

THE BBC is right. If they broadcast that appeal for aid to be sent to Gaza it would be taking sides. The Israeli Defence force could legitimately say “We’ve gone to enormous lengths to kill people, then you go and help keep them alive. How do you square that with your remit to be neutral?”

So the BBC needs to look at other areas in which its ‘impartiality’ could be called into question. To start with they’ll have to scrap Crimewatch, which clearly takes the side of the murdered against the murderers. Maybe they could get round this by having a new balanced Crimewatch, in which the police plea for witnesses to a crime, but then the presenter says, “Next tonight – have you seen this man? Because Big Teddy and his gang are desperate to track him down and do him in for ringing us up earlier. So if you have any information please call us, where Nobby the Knife is ready to talk to you in complete confidence.”

It’s impossible to be entirely neutral about anything, especially an appeal for money. Appeals are made for injured veterans of World War II, but I don’t suppose they’d take them off air if they got a letter saying, “Dear BBC, I’m a Nazi war criminal but I pay my liscence fee just like everyone else, and as such I was appalled by the biased images of the Battle of Normandy used to promote your financial appeal. There are two sides to every story, and I thought you had a promise to be impartial. So come on BBC, us Kommandants watch tv as well!”

Appeals have been made for victims of wars in the Congo, Darfur and Bosnia, keeping people alive and thereby undermining the efforts of the armies who tried to wipe them out. But if the current stance carries on, if anyone feels their block of flats collapsing they’ll think, “I hope this is an earthquake and not an invading army or we won’t get a penny via the BBC.”

reflecting on the bbc’s immoral decision as well, robert fisk offers us parallel contexts in afghanistan and iraq to consider:

Then there was Afghanistan and all that “collateral damage” and whole villages wiped out and then there was Iraq in 2003 and the tens of thousands – or half a million or a million – Iraqi civilians killed. Once more, at the very start, we were back to our old tricks, bombing bridges and radio stations and at least one civilian estate in Baghdad where “we” believed Saddam was hiding. We knew it was packed with civilians (Christians, by chance) but the Americans called it a “high risk” operation – meaning that they risked not hitting Saddam – and 22 civilians were killed. I saw the last body, that of a baby, dug from the rubble.

And we don’t seem to care. We fight in Iraq and now we’re going back to fight in Afghanistan again and all the human rights and protections appear to have vanished once more. We will destroy villages and we will find that the Afghans hate us and we will form more criminal militias – as we did in Iraq – to fight for us. The Israelis organised a similar militia in their occupation zone in southern Lebanon, run by a crackpot Lebanese army major. But now their own troops “go wild”. And the BBC is worried about its “impartiality”?

it is not just impartiality that we should be concerned about. it is also a complete fabrication of reality due to the fact that lazy journalists continue to merely take israeli terrorist propaganda as fact and don’t bother to investigate for themselves. the tunnels in rafah, for example, is a perfect example. these are almost always characterized as tunnels for smuggling weapons in the west. while i’m sure they are used for that, too, and hope that this will continue, these tunnels are also used to bring in much needed items for palestinians basic living needs. al jazeera’s mike kirsch went down into the tunnels to report on them and show what they look like and how they are used:

nathalie abou shakra who has been writing really compelling reports from gaza added an important addendum to her writing about the language that gets used to describe the kind of work she does, which i think is crucial:

I extremely despise it when someone categorizes me as a journalist, or as a “humanitarian activist”… I am neither. My activism is political and social… radical. Please do not call me humanitarian. We live in the midst of the era of human rights production and matters of the sort. We witness humanitarian international law being broken daily… do you think we want to be labeled as “humanitarian”? No! My role, our role, is greater than that… much greater than that… we are a revolution, we support an armed struggle and an armed resistance for liberation… Fanonians par excellence… Hasta la Victoria Siempre! Free Palestine! Down with totalitarian Arab regimes, down with colonialism, imperialism, occupation and oppression! No negotiations are allowed after massacres, genocides and schemes of ethnic cleansing… the vocabulary and diction used in such times are extremely important…

it is political and it is global as abou shakra makes clear. just look at the connections fidel castro drew in his speech yesterday:

Fidel Castro, the former Cuban president, has attacked Barack Obama, the US president, accusing him of supporting “Israeli genocide” against the Palestinians.

Castro, who had recently praised Obama as “honest” and “noble”, said in a column posted on a government website that Obama was continuing the policies of George Bush, his predecessor, by supporting Israel.

The former Cuban leader, who was succeeded by his brother Raul as president in February, accused the US of having enabled Israel to become an “important nuclear power”.

He also accused the US of giving Israel military aid with which it “threatens extreme violence against the population of all the Muslim countries”.

Castro highlighted statements made by the Obama administration that reiterated its strong support for Israel, which recently carried out a 22-day assault on Gaza in which more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed.

Obama has repeatedly reiterated his strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks by Palestinian fighters.

Fidel Castro also criticised Obama for suggesting Cuba would have to make concessions before it considers returning the territory of the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

“Maintaining a military base in Cuba against the will of the people violates the most elemental principles of international law,” Castro said.

indeed. imperialism emanating from the united states runs far and wide. and here is yet another analysis of the closing of guantánamo and what it really represents by ian thompson:

Closing Guantánamo is designed to rehabilitate the global image of the U.S. government, which has become synonymous with torture and extreme racism. Obama went out of his way to avoid looking like he was challenging the military that ran the prison. At the announcement ceremony, he surrounded himself with 16 retired generals and admirals who have pushed for the closure of Guantánamo prison on the premise that it impedes the prosecution of the “War on Terror”—a slogan masking the true goals of the war drive in the Middle East and Central Asia. The new administration could close Guantánamo today if it wanted. As it stands, the closure of Guantánamo will do little to reverse to reverse Bush’s “War on Terror” policies. A prison that once held over 600 “enemy combatants,” mostly from the Middle East, now only holds 245. These remaining prisoners likely will be sent somewhere else for detention. The vast majority have no charges pending against them.

The same is true about the Democratic administration’s superficial engagement with the Middle East. On his first full day in the Oval Office, Obama called U.S.-puppet leaders King Abdullah in Jordan and President Mubarak in Egypt, along with pro-imperialist Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The new White House team did this to show their commitment to “peace” in the region.

Yet, the White House did not call the leaders of Hamas in Palestine, or the leaders of Iran or Hezbollah in Lebanon. Why contact leaders either guilty of or complicit with the commission of heinous war crimes and not the victims and their allies?

The engagement with pro-imperialist leaders in the Middle East is a way to show U.S. support for their corrupt regimes in the wake of Israel’s war of aggression on the Palestinians in Gaza. Abdullah and Mubarak, both deeply unpopular throughout the Arab world for their collusion with U.S./Israeli war crimes, are shaky and fear being overthrown. Abbas has lost the little credibility he once had. And Olmert heads the Israeli state, which is fully funded and backed by the U.S. capitalist class. For Washington, “peace” in the Middle East means supplication to U.S. domination.

it is this sort of global, anti-imperialist analysis that must be at the forefront of any liberation movement regardless where it is located. students in canada, and it seems now in the united states, are planning israeli apartheid week 2009. here is a video from last year’s campaign in canada and i hope many american students will mobilize to spread this around. here is a video from last year’s talks in canada that shows the global nature of this campaign. listen to salim vally, a south african professor, ward churchill, an indgenous american professor, who make it clear how this struggle for palestinian liberation is connected to global struggles between the rulers and the ruled:


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