Gaza: 22 days of death and destruction

Six months after the 18 January ceasefire which ended the Israeli assault on Gaza, Amnesty International published Operation Cast Lead: 22 Days of Death and Destruction. The report details the Israeli use of overwhelming firepower and modern arms technology against defenceless Palestinian civilians. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has also reported on the human effects of the continuing Israeli siege.

The Amnesty report gives comprehensive accounts and examples of Israeli war crimes – the use of banned weapons such as white phosphorus, the use of human shields and the targeting of medical workers and vehicles:
‘White phosphorus... was repeatedly fired indiscriminately over densely populated residential areas, killing and wounding civilians and destroying civilian property. It was often launched from artillery shells in air-burst mode... Each shell ejected over a hundred felt wedges impregnated with highly incendiary white phosphorus, which rained down over houses and streets, igniting on exposure to oxygen and setting fire to people and property.’

The report uses the testimony of survivors to give many concrete examples of the indiscriminate massacre of Palestinian families:
‘In the afternoon of 4 January 2009, members of the Abu Halima family were shot by Israeli soldiers as they were taking to hospital relatives who had been injured in a devastating white phosphorus attack on their home in the Sayafa area, in the northwest of Gaza. Matar Abu Halima, 27, and his cousin Muhammad-Hikmat Abu Halima, 19, were both killed. Matar’s mother, Nabila Abu Halima, told Amnesty International: “After Sabah’s house was shelled I ran over there. She was on fire and was holding her baby girl Shahed, who was completely burned. Her husband and some of the children were dead and others were burning. Ambulances could not come because the area was surrounded by the Israeli army. We put some of the injured in a wagon tied to the tractor to take them to hospital... As we got near the school, on the way to Al Atatrah Square we saw Israeli soldiers and stopped, and suddenly, the soldiers shot at us. My son Matar and Muhammad-Hikmat were killed.”’

Amnesty details the devastation caused by the onslaught to the Palestinian economy and agriculture with between 600-700 factories, workshops and businesses destroyed or damaged, with the Israelis targeting cement and construction factories, bakeries, chicken farms and Gaza’s only fish farm. According to UN agencies between 35 and 60% of the agricultural sector was destroyed:
‘Animal pens and greenhouses were smashed and cultivated orchards were churned up by bulldozers. Not only were the farms destroyed but the animals were also killed. In Izbet Abed Rabbo and other areas in the east of Gaza the fields surrounding the crushed animal pens were littered with dead cows, goats and sheep, some crushed by bulldozers, others seemingly killed as they ran away.’

The Zionists aimed to destroy the agricultural economy of Gaza so that its population would become completely dependent on food imported through the border crossings the Israelis control.

The ICRC report says that ‘restrictions on imports are making it impossible for Gazans to rebuild their lives. The quantities of goods now entering Gaza fall well short of what is required to meet the population’s needs. In May 2009, only 2,662 truckloads of goods entered Gaza from Israel, a decrease of almost 80 per cent compared to the 11,392 truckloads allowed in during April 2007, before Hamas took over the territory.’

Israel has completely blocked the import of any construction material into Gaza. Houses cannot be built or repaired to accommodate those whose homes were destroyed in the onslaught. Basic infrastructure of Gaza cannot be properly repaired, so that, for instance, ‘Every day, 69 million litres of partially treated or completely untreated sewage – the equivalent of 28 Olympic-size swimming pools – are pumped directly into the Mediterranean.’
Bob Shepherd

West Bank settlement expansion

In the West Bank, Israel continues to increase the size of its colonial settlements. A June report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stated that Israel has expropriated nearly 30% of the West Bank as closed military zones and for nature reserves. Together with Israel’s more than 100 illegal settlements, home to approximately 500,000 settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Israel has stolen approximately 40% of the West Bank. OCHA also reported that during the last few months building restrictions have tightened for Palestinians in areas in and around the West Bank’s Jordan Valley, as well as Bethlehem and Hebron. About 300 Palestinians, including 170 children, received evacuation and demolition orders from the Israeli army in May alone.

The Zionists plan to build over 73,000 new housing units in the illegal West Bank settlements. At the beginning of July, Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak met with George Mitchell, Obama’s special envoy dealing with Israel. Barak declared that Israel would demolish 23 illegal outposts in the West Bank. This is a sham: the same promise was made five years ago without any real action. The disagreements between Israel and the US over settlement expansion are about appearances: Obama wants Israel to tone down its arrogance and give the appearance of listening to the concerns of imperialism’s allies in the Middle East, whilst for the moment Israel is refusing to make even this gesture.

FRFI 210 August / September 2009


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